The Year Everything Changed

As I reflect on the past 12 months, I almost can’t believe how much I’ve seen and experienced. I traveled more in 2012 than I have in the past 3 years combined.

As I pour over photographs, photographs I took with my own hands, of places I saw with my own eyes, I have to keep asking myself, did I really do this? Is this me?

This time last year I decided I was going to make travel a priority in my life. Two weeks a year wasn’t enough and I wanted more. It’s as though I finally woke up and knew that traveling and seeing the world would make me a happier, more fulfilled person.

And it has! Here’s a look at where I traveled and what I experienced in 2012:

January

I started the year with the decision to travel more on the weekends and visit more places in North Carolina. In January we visited Wilmington and I realized how enjoyable winter at the beach can be.

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February

We took a road trip to Williamsburg, Virginia and spent the weekend visiting the historic Jamestown settlement, battlefields, and wandering through the university campus of William and Mary.

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April

With the warm spring weather, we started hiking and took day trips to the North Carolina mountains. My favourites were Stone Mountain and Linville Falls.

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May

I took a girls trip to Asheville, a hippie town near the Blue Ridge Parkway. We enjoyed the sun and outdoor markets and drank some amazing coffee.

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In May I also took a quick weekend trip to my favorite South Carolina vacation spot, Seabrook Island. It’s a private island full of sandy beaches, beautiful southern homes and untouched wildlife.

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June

School finished for the year and I hopped on a plane bound for Budapest, Hungary. It was my third time visiting, but this time it was just Luke and I. We arrived in the middle of a fierce heat wave and spent most of our time at the baths, especially Szechenyi.

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After a few short days in Budapest (we would return later), we hopped on a night train to Serbia and spent a day in the busy capital of Belgrade, eating burek and drinking beer in an attempt to cool off from the oppressive heat wave we were still stuck in.

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After only a day, we hopped on another night train and headed to Sofia, Bulgaria for a couple days. I fell in love with the religious architecture, struggled to find decent food that wasn’t pizza, got ripped off, and had some of the most authentic experiences of my life interacting with locals.

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From Sofia, we started the last leg of our train journey to Istanbul. Visiting Istanbul was a dream come true. It was as magical as I thought it would be. I found my favorite mosque, cruised the Bosphorus, visited the grand bazaar, and fell in love with all the cats. I also learned that I won’t stay in Sultanahmet next time and will never again visit in the summer.

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After 5 days in Istanbul, we flew to Bucharest and then hopped on a train to Brasov. We got off to a rocky start, but still managed to visit Bran Castle and explore the city center. Unfortunately Luke became ill and I spent our last day in Brasov drinking mojitos at our guesthouse while Luke slept on their couch.

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July

We went back to Budapest for two weeks to learn some Hungarian and explore the city more. I fell hard for Budapest this time wouldn’t hesitate for a second to call this city home at least for a year or two. I discovered so many places I had ever been to, including Margaret Island, some amazing restaurants, the Shoes on the Danube Promenade, and the opera house to name a few. I was sad to leave but I know I’ll return in the near future.

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Next, we took a bus through Slovakia and ended up in Krakow, Poland, a city much smaller and simpler than I expected. We spent most of our time stuffing our faces with delicious Polish food and made a somber trip to Auschwitz.

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Next came a 9 hour train ride from Krakow to Berlin and a lifelong dream fulfilled for Luke. He has wanted to visit Berlin since he was a kid and even though I complained about the high prices and how modern everything felt, I secretly enjoyed myself. We rode bikes around the city, visited the East Side Gallery, and even found some beer/ food festivals.

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Next it was time for my dream destination… Salzburg. It was better than the Sound of Music portrayed it and we spent three days hiking Untersberg, wandering down side streets, secretly looking for sound of music locations, and I even found a dessert I didn’t like.

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At the end of July, we reached the last country of our trip and argueably the most beautiful, Slovenia. We ate fresh trout, swam in Lake Bled, rowed a boat on Lake Bohinj, ate plenty of cream cake, went for long walks, and enjoyed the unbeatable combination of a glacier lakes and mountains.

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August

Only days after our arrival back in Charlotte, we took a road trip to Georgia and visited Driftwood beach and the artsy, yet old feeling city of Savannah.

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October

In October didn’t travel much but managed take a day trip to the mountains to do some hiking. He hiked to McCrae’s peak, the summit of Grandfather mountain.

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December

My last trip of the year still hasn’t happened yet! On Dec 26th, we are taking a road trip to Key West, Florida and Miami for 5 days. I am so excited to visit a tropical place and live on island time.

Looking back at the lessons I learned, 2012 has been one hell of a year, but my hopes are that 2013 will be filled with even more travel and self-discovery.

What do you think? Did we visit similar places? What was your favorite travel experience of 2012?

 

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