The Awe-Inspiring Destinations We Traveled to in 2017
In 2017, we visited 4 countries, walked thousands of kilometres, swam hundreds of miles and as 2018 begins, I can’t wait to start all over. 2017 brought us a lot of joy and unforgettable moments, and I would need several books to talk about all of our travels and adventures. But for now, I’ll just have to settle for this year in review post.
Two years ago, on New Year’s Eve I decided for the first time in my life it was time to set personal goals for the years to come. In 2016, I wanted to be happy. In 2017, I wanted to travel. Happy to say, both years went even better than I expected.
I would have never imagined we would get to travel so much in 2017, but once we were bitten by the adventure bug, it was hard to stop. From May to late September, we traveled on and off almost every week. When we weren’t out for the entire week, we would make sure we’d get to escape in weekends. For the first time in years, I finally felt like I had the energy to do it all: mountain adventures, city breaks, snorkeling trips, lavender farm and work. I spent the entire summer with sand in my bags and shoes, and I wished it would never end.
Rome in March, 3 - 6 (Italy)
Rome was our first big trip of the year and it was the perfect way to start our adventures. We had planned this trip a few months earlier, when we stumbled upon some really cheap tickets through a low-budget airplane. The fact that we were visiting Rome in early March went unnoticed until the moment we landed and realized it was a bit colder than what we imagined.
But the cold only gave us more reasons to visit the local restaurants, pubs and cafes. We had so much street food, Italian pasticceria, ice cream, beer and wine, pasta and pizza! But no regrets. We needed the energy to walk 10 to 20 km a day.
We explored the ancient streets of Rome, entered almost every church or cathedral on our way, got lost in the Vatican museum, enjoyed the view at Castel Sant’Angelo, the amazing architecture in Foro Romano and the ruins full of history in the Baths of Caracalla. We waited for the sunset on the Spanish steps, we laughed at the parrots in the city park, we gawked at the art exhibition in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporana and took a moment of silence in the Pantheon. We marveled at the architecture in Piazza Navona and Piazza San Pietro, we threw nickels for good luck in the Trevi Fountain and ran through the Colosseum up and down.
4 days were not enough. We need to return some day.
Oh, and we got engaged. Move over Paris, Rome is just as romantic.
Macin Mountains in April 29 - 1 May (Romania)
In recent years, we have made it a habit to return to Macin mountains, an awesome spot in south-east Romania. This place has something to offer year-round, but best of all, it is a quiet, wild place that attracts a lot of wilderness explorers. The place is still wid and packed with animals of all sorts. You will see (or at least hear) boar and deer, and tortoises and small field mice, foxes and birds of all kinds.
Our trip to Macin mountains was a 3-day camping trip packed with hikes, beautiful forests and an amazing starry sky. To make things better, we brought our cat along. You can read more and see the awesome pics from our hikes in Macin Mountains below:
Ischia in May, 3-10 (Italy)
In the last 4 years, I’ve been to this beautiful island near Napoli, Italy at least once a year. Ischia is a paradise on earth. It was my first island experience and I fell in love with the nature, the people and the amazing food. There’s so much to see. If you’re ever around make sure you catch a sunset from the top of the island, on Mont Epomeo.
I owe this luck to my mom, who works on the island for most of the year. I get to visit her in this amazing place and have the most spoiled holiday ever. Having mom there makes it feel like home and it’s a special one.
Peloponnese in May 31 - June 7 (Greece)
The trip to the Peloponnese region of Greece was one of our best adventures of the year. We flew to Athens, rent a car and went camping from beach to beach in Peloponnese for almost a week. It was a packed, sunny, awe-inspiring trip that left us in love with Greece, its sights, food and people.
We had a huge itinerary. Catalin went all in and found some fantastic places for us to see and while it has been exhausting, it was all worth it. We left Peloponnese feeling envy for the senior tourists, driving their camper vans throughout Greece for one month at a time.
There’s something here and here, but I promise to write more about it in the coming months. Till then, here’s a list of our favorite places in Greece’s Peloponnese. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the region.
Saint Spyridon abandoned rock city
Even if these two are in Attica, near Peloponnese, if you’re around Athens, put them on the list.
Bulgaria all through the summer
In 2017, we both explored our love for the underwater world to a whole new level. We bought two snorkeling masks from Decathlon and we became inseparable. The entire summer we planned for snorkeling trips. That was all that I wanted. Every weekend if possible. So when we did make time (4 or 5 weekends), we packed our tent, our masks and went to Bulgaria to explore its Northern sea shore. And we were not disappointed.
For the most part, we stayed around Tyulenovo or its surroundings. This is a quiet little fishermen village up north from Balchik, most popular for its snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. The little harbour can be packed in the high season with tourists having dinner and enjoying a stunning moon view over the sea. But if you drive 5 or 10 minutes in any direction, you will find perfect places for camping at night. And if you’re eyeing Google Maps just the right way, you will find dozens of roads going to the brim of the high cliff sea shore and a couple of paths leading you to secluded bays.
Here are some points of interest in the region. For a list of beautiful beaches near Tyulenovo, read here.
Semenic Mountains in August, 1 - 6 (Romania)
One of our favorite things each year is going on a one-week camping trip in the mountains of Romania. Together with our friends, we go off-the-grid for the week and enjoy the great outdoors. We sleep in tents, walk barefoot in the green grass, take baths in the rivers and live a natural life. We hike through forests, up the hill towards high peaks and explore valley in the search of waterfalls and great places for baths. It’s a great way to explore the country and get to know the locals. Plus, we get in touch with us, far away from social media and emails.
This year we camped in Semenic mountains. A beautiful, wild and hot as balls area in West Romania. In all fairness, that week the entire country was under a red weather code for scorching heat temperatures. We moved camp 2 times throughout the week looking for a good spot. But we loved it nonetheless.
The best day was our trip in Cheile Carasului, a trip following the contour of a mountain river, going up in the mountains, towards a cave. The weather was perfect for a bath, “menthol” cold as one of our friends would say. Butterflies, fish and birds all around. Even our cat, Bro, enjoyed the trip, and actually walked most of the 5 hrs journey.
Another great find was Lake Gozna, near Valiug, where we swam two days in a row and enjoyed the coolness of the water when the temperatures were in the 35 - 40 C degrees.
Thassos in September, 14 - 19 (Greece)
Last year we started a new tradition on my birthday. Pack up and go travel. The first time we did it, we hiked to Malaiesti Valley, a gorgeous spot in the Bucegi mountains and spent the afternoon with horses.
However, for our second year, we had something bigger in mind. In the summer, we bought a 2001 van which we want to convert into a fully functional camper van. For my birthday, we took 5 days to test the car in a snorkeling expedition on the Greek island of Thassos.
Every day, we would go explore a new beach. All while enjoying the ultimate freedom a camper van gives you. No rush to hurry back to the hotel, no 8 am all you can eat breakfast, no horns, no noises, just us and the nature.
We had been to Thassos before, 6 years to be precise. We fell hard for the island the first time, and know we love it even more. The place is great for snorkeling and while you might think it’s too touristic, know that the island hides a treasure of perfect places to enter the underwater world and discover its riches. We saw dozens of species of fish, octopi and even a sepia, we dove for sea urchins and explores the underwater cliffs.
Oh and the food… don’t even get me started. Thassos is delicious. That’s all that I’m going to say. You will stuff your face! Try the lamb and sweets. You’ll never want to leave. One more thing, the island smells of honey and pine. Just think of that for a moment.
This camper van trip to Thassos turned out to be a perfect way to celebrate my 30th birthday and an excellent way to test the camper van life. We learned a lot that trip, and if you’re planning to go on a camper van trip yourself, here’s the six things we learned during our own trip to Thassos.
Budapest in November, 10 - 15 (Hungary)
For Catalin’s birthday, back in May, we bought tickets to a Gorillaz concert in Budapest. Since this trip would have been our last big trip of the year, we wanted to keep it under budget. And luckily we did. We found cheap airline tickets and a nicely priced double room near Budapest Parliament and we were ready to go.
With all that happened throughout the year, I almost forgot about this trip. I was on a serious work binge when it dawned upon me: tomorrow we’re flying to Budapest. Crap! Took me one day of walking through Budapest and a couple of beers to chill, but by the end of day 1, we were both in awe with this stunning city.
There’s a lot to see in Budapest. And to do. Once you start ticking off the popular sights, you will discover you’re just scratching the surface. And the place is mesmerizing. Even with November’s cold, wet, dark days, it’s easy to get caught up in the city’s magic. The architecture is inspiring, a mix of old and modern, and of west and east, the atmosphere is calm, almost like you’re in some place from Scandinavia.
November might not be the best time to visit Budapest, but the place was packed with happy, curious tourists, traversing the bridge in front of Buda Castle, enjoying mulled wine in the city’s Christmas market or taking a ride in the huge wheel, right near the city center.
For the 5 days we were there, we saw almost every sight and took a tour of Budapest’s street food scene. In our defense, it was cold, sometimes raining, but the high calorie packed warm food did keep us going. At least from restaurant to restaurant. (PS: if you’re ever in Budapest and hungry try the Transylvanian beef stew at Meatology and the Cubano at Panineria)
Here are some of the places we saw while in Budapest:
Sinaia all through the year (Romania)
All though my folks are from Sinaia, I never get to spend as much time as I’d like to here. I’m lucky for growing up in a little mountain town, right in the heart of Bucegi Mountains, home to a beautiful castle and entry to stunning mountain trails.
In other years we managed to find our ways to the mountains a lot more often, but even so, this year we went on two hikes, both of them off the path and into the wild. It’s something we love to do. We’re the kind of travelers who go in for the nature, we listen to the birds, watch the trees, move quietly and happily to take in the entire beauty of the forest and the stunning sights the mountain tops offer.
In our first trip we met a friendly, mighty shepard dog. He came along in our adventure and we became friends, sharing the food and hugs.
Well, that’s it for our travels in 2017. We had a great year and we hope you did too. Here’s to an even better 2018! We are blessed and thankful to have been able to discover these beautiful places and return happy, recharged and inspired. As we prepare for our new adventures, we wish you all to have the best year yet, travel to new places, meet amazing people and have awe-inspiring experiences.
This year we are hoping to go on a second campervan trip, another Greece session and a two-week trip to an exotic destination. We kind of have our hearts set for Sri Lanka, but if you have any other suggestions us, nature addicts, would geek out about, please share.
As for me, personally, in 2018 I want to read more, work less and spend more time with family and friends. As for travels, I don’t need to make it a goal any more. It has become so deeply ingrained in my DNA that I couldn’t imagine life without it.