In 2014 I returned to Europe and the UK, where I explored Belgium, soaked up Parisian life, and road tripped through the UK with my brother. Here are seven moments that left an impression on me this year:
Finally spending time in Belgium
In 2010 I spent around three hours in Belgium – the time it took for the tour bus I was on to drive from Germany, stop at a Belgian roadside cafe for lunch, and then continue on into France. Despite since visiting all of the countries around it, I never thought about going back to Belgium.
That is, until my brother and I were planning a Europe Trip and had no idea when or where we should go. A search for festivals in November turned up the Brussels Light Festival, and we thought why not start our trip in Brussels, and throw in a side trip to Bruges?
We ended up splitting our time between Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. Aside from the area between the palaces and the Grand Place, Brussels didn’t have that quaint feel of being hundreds of years old, but it did have the frites and waffles we were looking forward to, as well as quirky comic strip, figurine and street lamp museums, and the strangely cool Atomium.
Bruges was exactly how everyone who’s been there describes it – beautiful. I visited Michaelangelo’s Madonna statue in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk after learning about it from the movie the Monuments Men, battled with the steps of the Belfry, sought out windmills in the pouring rain, and went on a Belgian chocolate crawl down Katelijnestraat.
We weren’t expecting the old town of Ghent to be as pretty as it was. We explored Gravensteen Castle, took a stroll down by the colourful houses along the canal, and walked circles around Ghent’s many churches.
Getting blown away at Hadrian’s Wall
I didn’t want to visit just any section of Hadrian’s Wall – I wanted to visit the area known as Sycamore Gap, where the wall passes near a sycamore tree. Why? Because it was featured in one of the early scenes in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The only catch was that no matter how many web searches I did, no one would give me clear instructions on how to get there. So we were pretty impressed with ourselves when, despite a whipping wind, we followed the wall along and were eventually rewarded with the sight of Sycamore Gap (some of the other walkers must have thought I was crazy, getting so excited over a tree)!
Seeing Christmas come alive at Chatsworth House
Visiting Chatsworth House has been on my travel bucket list for a long time – ever since watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series and seeing Chatsworth act as the setting for Pemberley. It looked like we weren’t going to get there for a while – after ninety minutes sitting in a queue of cars we were thinking of giving up. Little did we know we had come on the weekend of the Christmas Markets! The house had been decorated for Christmas and while we saw little of the house’s decor, we were instead transported to the magical and crazy world of Alice in Wonderland.
Chasing Robin Hood from Nottingham to Sherwood Forest
Robin Hood stories have always captured my imagination, and I managed to convince my brother that we should spend some time in Nottingham as a stopover on our UK road trip. While Nottingham and Sherwood Forest did not meet my expectations (I’m not sure what I was wanting – a theatrical set up of an outlaw camp next to Major Oak?), my brother and I took full advantage of the shops and a trip down in to the caves underneath Nottingham was one of the more unique experiences I had.
Hugging Stones at Avebury
We were cramming a lot of Heritage Sites in to one day: Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Old Sarum, Silbury Hill, a Chalk Horse and Avebury were all on our hit list. Out of all of these important places, it was Avebury that is my favourite memory of that day. Maybe it was the light as dusk began to fall. Maybe it was the last sight at the end of a long day. Maybe it was the freedom to walk around the stones and up and down the mounds. Whatever the reason, walking around the muddy fields at Avebury is one of my favourite memories from my UK road trip.
Seeing the sea of poppies at the Tower of London
When I first heard about the project to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and to remember the 888,246 fallen British soldiers and saw images on the news of people adding their ceramic poppies to the moat surrounding the Tower of London, I knew it would be an awesome sight when completed. Unfortunately, I was at home in Australia at the time. By Remembrance Day on the 11th November, my travels had taken me to Edinburgh, and I was sure that by the time I arrived in London on the 23rd the poppies would have been all packed up. They mostly were, save for the corner section between the Tower entrance and the Thames. It was a sight I will never forget.
Spending time with my brother
I spent November travelling around Belgium, France and Great Britain with my brother. Though it did not always go smoothly, I wouldn’t go back and change it – we now have stories that we can talk about for years!