I’ve seen quite a few people write year-end travel wrap-ups on their blogs, and I thought it would be a nice way for me to reflect on my year of adventures and sum up all the beautiful places that I was able to go, even if I was restricted by a student budget. This year, due to the generosity of kind friends who played host to me, I was able to travel to some amazing places across two continents. This was a year of flying to Europe to visit one of my best friends in her new Dutch home, of taking a whirlwind roadtrip to the only Atlantic Canadian province that I had never visited before, and exploring my new-ish Ontario home a bit more. Every time I set foot in a new place, I am struck by how lucky we are to live on such a beautiful and diverse planet.
My travel year started off with a bang in the third week of February, when I went to visit one of my best friends and roommates from my exchange where she was studying for her masters in Amsterdam. On the way there, however, I hit a little snag – my long-haul flight from Toronto to Zurich was delayed by an hour and a half, meaning that I missed my connection to Amsterdam. What I thought would be an hour-long detour in the Zurich airport turned into six hours, and rather than freaking out and dissolving into a panic attach (which I very nearly did), I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and go out into the city.
The public transportation systems in Switzerland are among the best I’ve seen in Europe, meaning that I could board a train at the airport and be in the city centre in just ten minutes. I had to be back at the airport two hours before my new flight was due to leave (at 1:30 p.m.), so I had about four hours to explore the city on foot. I walked around the old town, marvelled at the beautiful churches – particularly the Grossmünster – and then spent an hour or so relaxing by the docks at Lake Zurich. Sitting there, you can see the Swiss Alps – my first time seeing such big mountains! Flying out of the city later on, I also got beautiful views of the Alps from my window.
It may not have been a long visit – literally only 4 hours – but it gave me a wonderful taste of Switzerland and was enough to make me want to go back and explore the country in more depth.
Amsterdam and Zaanse Schans, the Netherlands
Amsterdam was the primary destination of my trip to Europe in February. We had a lovely time, meandering through the canals and stumbling on the most picturesque little scenes. We visited lots of museums – I particularly enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum – and had lots of good food.
We had planned to journey south to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Kinderdijk windmills, but slept in on the day that we were meant to go, so we went to the much closer town of Zaanse Schans for sunset to walk about and enjoy my last day there. It was stunning, and I ended up enjoying it way more than I think I would have enjoyed the long day of train journeys to the Kinderdijk.
Dublin and Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
In the middle of my visit to the Netherlands, Emily and I hopped on a plane and made our way to Dublin, Ireland. We had visited Ireland quickly together while we were on exchange in Scotland, but didn’t get to see a lot of the things we wanted to due to things out of our control. We had nearly two full days in Dublin, and visited some favourite places: Temple Bar, Trinity College, and Ulysses Rare Books, where I bought the crowning jewel of my antiquarian book collection: a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from 1897. Dublin is one of those cities that, like London, I always feel at home in.
We did a couple of day trips, and the one that I probably enjoyed the most was the Cliffs of Moher. For ease and comfort, we booked a day tour with Paddywagon Tours, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my year.
Belfast and Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
The second day trip that Emily and I took while in Ireland was another day tour with Paddywagon Tours – this time to Northern Ireland to see the Dark Hedges, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and the Giant’s Causeway, with a quick stop in Belfast for dinner. Emily and I had visited Belfast together before, so we took our time there to enjoy a nice meal. We did, however, take advantage of every second that we had in all of the other places. I absolutely loved the Dark Hedges – it served as the filming location for the Kingsroad in Game of Thrones, and is a stunning place to visit. Our time at the Giant’s Causeway was spoiled a bit by a complete downpour of rain, but us going there was three years in the making and we were damned if a bit of a rain was going to stop us. Although I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it hadn’t been raining, I certainly won’t forget the Giant’s Causeway anytime soon.
I visited Toronto twice in 2019 – once in April to see Ariana Grande, and one in June for a fun weekend with one of my best friends who lives there. It’s a city that I never thought I would like before I visited it, but that I fall in love with more each time I go. This year, some favourite Toronto places were the Allan Gardens Park and Conservatory, Graffiti Alley, the Gooderham Building, and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Cape Split and Five Islands, Nova Scotia
If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that I’m from the East Coast of Canada. One of my favourite places to spend time in when I’m home is Nova Scotia. Every area of the province seems to have hidden corners filled with incredible beauty. When I was home visiting my family in July and August, I made a few day trips to go hiking in some of Nova Scotia’s provincial parks. The first was Cape Split Provincial Park, and the second was Five Islands. Both are incredibly beautiful and filled with stunning hikes.
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland
Newfoundland is the one Eastern Canadian province that, before now, I had never visited. In August, my best friend Taylor and I went on a whirlwind road trip to Newfoundland. On the way there, we made a stop of a few hours in the Cape Breton Highlands to do a hike. I had visited before, but the natural beauty of this Nova Scotian island never ceases to amaze me.
In Newfoundland, we went on a very quick trip to Gros Morne National Park. We were staying in the Port-aux-Basques region, so it was a four-hour-drive there and back. We got up early, and were back by 9:30 p.m. in the evening. The national park was beautiful; we stopped at all the viewpoints we could, and instead of doing some hikes, we did a beautiful two-hour boat tour on the famous Western Brook Pond – my main reason for wanting to go to Gros Morne.
Our last day in Newfoundland saw us driving around the Port-aux-Basques/Isle aux Morts region where we were staying. The rocky landscapes of this region are stunning, and reminded me a lot of certain areas of Scotland. It might have been a very quick trip – we technically hit all four Atlantic provinces in seven days – but I enjoyed every minute.
Hiking in Southern Ontario
Between the end of August and the beginning of October, I did quite a few hikes in and around where I live in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. I went to Gatineau Park a few times, and marvelled at the views from King Mountain, and brought a visiting friend to hike Eagle’s Nest in the Calabogie Peaks. When the fall foliage started to peak through, one of my school friends and I hiked Rock Dunder, which is just outside of Kingston, Ontario, just under two hours from Ottawa.
My favourite Ontario hiking spot of the year was Algonquin Provincial Park, which is famous for its beautiful foliage in the autumn. I went when the colours were at their brightest, but on a Monday morning so as to avoid the big crowds that flock to the park from Toronto and other surrounding cities on the weekends in October. Aside from a little rain in the last few kilometres of the main trail that I hiked (Centennial Ridges, just over 10 kilometres long), the day was perfect.
So there you have it! Writing this post has made me realize how incredibly lucky I have been to visit so many beautiful places this year. From Europe to North America, and Central Canada to Eastern Canada, I have adored all of the new places I’ve set foot in, and enjoyed revisiting a few old favourites.
If you enjoy reading these little posts and want to follow more adventures in the coming months, then keep checking back every once in awhile (or follow my blog!). It is my biggest hope for 2020 that I will be able to dedicate more time to blog writing, and share some insights and stories about all of the places that I’ve been able to visit in the last five years. I have so many ideas of things to write about – let’s just hope that I can get those ideas out of my head.
In case I don’t write again before the end of the year – which, let’s be honest, I probably won’t – I wish you all the best for a beautiful New Year filled with as much love, happiness, and adventures as you could have.
Until next time,