We have a tradition. Every year during the first few weeks of January, we sit down together to create our travel wishlist for the year ahead. It’s become somewhat of a ritual - opening a good bottle of wine, reflecting on last year’s adventures, breaking out the new year’s calendar and consulting our travel fund to determine which trips we can make a reality. But this year is different.
Until last March, we hadn’t gone more than six weeks without traveling. Now, after nearly nine months with very little exploration, we’ve been reminded that open borders and cultural integration is a privilege that we’ll never again take for granted. The absence of travel has slapped us in the face with the realization of how much we love it. It’s not just our hobby, or our business, or a good vacation or a way to escape everyday life. It enriches us, opens our minds and brings us joy. The rush of excitement and anticipation we feel when we touch down in a new country… well, there’s no feeling in the world like it. This, combined with nurturing the friendships and relationships that are most important, is our focus in 2021. So with new perspective (and a lot of time on our hands), we’ve created our 2021 Travel Wishlist. And we are ready to go.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t check off the majority of the destinations on our 2020 Wishlist. Pre-pandemic (a lifetime ago) we traveled through Malaysia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka for five glorious weeks, meeting activity partners and visiting boutique hotels to include in our Custom and Designed Trips. Mid-way through our trip, we heard rumblings of a virus spreading in China, and began wearing masks at major airports and passing through temperature checks at customs. Like everyone else in the world, we never imagined how the next 11 months would unfold.
Fast forward to summer 2020, when Italy successfully managed the virus and we had the opportunity to travel to each of the destinations that will be included in our inaugural Italian Origins small group trip: Florence, Chianti, Cinque Terre, Parma, and Lake Como. In early September with case numbers still low, we hopped over to the islands of Rhodos and Symi, in Greece, where we spent a week basking in the sunshine, eating a stupid amount of feta cheese and feeling sincere gratitude for the escape. We were welcomed home with a (free!) COVID test, fall weather and, soon after, Europe’s second wave. And the rest is history - we’ve been in our living room ever since.
The 2021 List
Goal #1 - (Safely) reunite with family & friends
We haven’t been to the states in what feels like forever - January 2019(!). COVID threw a wrench in our plans to visit friends and family last year so this coming June, after our parents get the vaccine (and us too, fingers crossed) we’ll be taking off for a long overdue trip to both Colorado and California. A couple of weeks drinking good beer and spending some QT with family in Boulder before we fly west to Sonoma, where we'll meet up with our mates from London for camping in Yosemite and a road trip along Highway 1. (Quick note: If anyone wants to come to Italy to hang out with our pup Mac for a few weeks, holla!).
After living in Valencia for 3 ½ years, Spain became our home away from home. We miss our friends, our old neighborhood, El Carmen, and long runs through the Turia. Not to mention tapas, tasty Tempranillo, the beach, and that glorious Spanish sun. At this point we’re just a little bit nostalgic for our old home, so as soon as the time comes, we’ll be hopping on a quick flight back to Valencia to relive old times and reunite with our amigos.
Goal #2 - Visit 5 new countries (bonus if they’re inexpensive)
We heard some rumblings back in 2019 about Belgrade. It was a place we’d probably never considered going before, but various travel blogs and websites were claiming that it might now be the trendiest city in Europe. It’s not supposed to be the most beautiful city in the world, but the combination of cool coffee houses, socialist housing blocks, and the rejuvenated Savamala quarter along the Sava river, make it a gloriously enticing 2021 destination. For us, it’s new, different, and unexpected. And we’re all about it.
Lviv, located in western Ukraine, is considered to be one of the country’s most interesting cities, with a blend of Polish and Austro-Hungarian architecture, as well as influences from both Western and Eastern Europe. It also happens to be quite an inexpensive city with non-stop, round trip flights from Pisa for less than $100, making it the perfect candidate for an interesting long weekend. What’s not to like about that?
Krakow has been on our travel wishlist for what seems like an eternity, but somehow we haven’t gotten there yet. Set near the border of the Czech Republic, it was spared major bombing during World War II and it’s medieval center and Jewish Ghetto are well preserved to this day. It was on the list last year, but then stupid COVID happened. So, here’s hoping 2021 is the year we finally get to visit this historic and beautiful city.
The Adriatic Coast, Croatia
In 2015, after nearly four months traveling through Southeast Asia and Europe, we landed in Split, Croatia. Within a few hours we knew this was somewhere we’d visit again. Split, and the entire Adriatic Coast of Croatia, offers one of the world’s best combinations of history, architecture, and natural beauty. The islands straddling the coast ensure some of the calmest, most serene waters we’ve ever experienced and the tile-roofed stone buildings are the perfect backdrop for soaking up the strong southern European sun. Now that we’re in road-trip-range of Croatia, a 2021 repeat visit to this stunning coastline is definitely in the cards. And while we’re in the area, we may just head east to...
Mostar & Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ever since planning a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina for clients in 2018, we’ve been dying to explore Mostar and Sarajevo. Mostar, located in the southwest corner of the country and just a short drive from Dubrovnik, is a historic city most known for the enchanting Stari Most (Old Bridge) that arcs high above Neretva River below. Sarajevo, the country’s capital, has a complex history in large part due to its religious and cultural diversity. The place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, instigating the first World War and was under siege for nearly four years during the Bosnian War in the early 90’s. Needless to say, we’re excited to learn more and experience the one-of-a-kind diversity of this unique country.
Kotor & Budva, Montenegro
The last stop on what promises to be a long, but beautiful road trip full of new experiences, is Kotor & Budva, coastal gems in the small Balkan nation of Montenegro. The Bay of Kotor is unlike many others in this part of the world, winding its way inland past steep limestone fjord-like cliffs, with the quaint town of Kotor at one end. Next, we’ll drive a few miles south, to the town of Budva, which hugs the Adriatic’s rocky shores. Known for its beaches, Venetian stone walls, and nightlife, we hope to explore pretty much everything but the nightlife. No more raves for these 30-somethings, sadly.
Goal #3 - Get to know Italy on a deeper level
Puglia, Sicily, & Sardinia, Italy
Although we’ve spent a ton of time traveling through Italy, we're really looking forward to exploring some of the not-so-well-known spots in 2021. We’ll start with the south (again, on last year’s list). Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot, offers a stark contrast to our home region of Tuscany. It’s full of amazing, whitewashed towns like Lecce, Alberobello, Otranto, and Polignano a Mare, as well as incredible beaches and lots of sun. We’re not sure whether we’ll drive, fly, or take the ferry to Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island set just off the “toe” of the boot, but are sure the Sicilian culture will offer a lot to discover that’s vastly different than central and northern Italy (including grantias for breakfast, which we're 100% here for). Sardinia is also an obvious choice for us - just a short flight southwest from Pisa, to either Alghero or Cagliari and home to some of Europe’s best beaches.
2021, we're ready for ya! Here's to a brighter year full of exploration! Happy New Year, and happy (safe) travels to you.
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