Journal

My Top Experiences of 2017

Well, it’s about that time of the year again! 2017 has come and gone, and a new year is upon us. Last year, I shared with you all my top experiences of 2016. This year has been another whirlwind and I am so grateful that my adventures took me to so many different places and that I got to experience so many different things.

Of all the moments, experiences, and things that happened to me this year, I thought I’d share my top ones with you. In no particular order, here are my top 20 experiences of 2017!

1) White Nights in St. Petersburg

Of all the moments of the year, out of every single one, my top experience and the best night of my life was White Nights in St. Petersburg, Russia. During the summer months, the northern city of St. Petersburg has very late sunsets and very early sunrises. And the entire city comes out to party and celebrate. And this year, I got to as well: I went up to the colonnade of St. Isaac’s Cathedral at midnight, stayed out to see the sunset and the sunrise, drank beer from a paper bag along the Neva River, and wandered through a completely empty Palace Square at 3:30 in the morning. It was magical. And even more magical that I got to share it all with the person I love most. That night was one for the books. I am so happy I got to experience it, and it’s a moment I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

Read More: A Guide for St. Petersburg’s White Nights, 25 Things St. Petersburg

2) Discovering the Lake District

Despite a year studying abroad and many trips over the years, I had somehow still never been to the Lake District National Park until April of this year. It was one of my favorite experiences and by far one of my new favorite places in the country. My first day was spent hiking up the Old Man of Coniston, and the weather gods blessed us with blue skies and plenty of sun. It was so wonderful, I decided to go back and spend my birthday weekend in September in a different part of the Lakes! Every tough hike was so worth it for the unbelievable views and the breathtaking scenery. I will definitely be back.

Read More: Hiking the Old Man of Coniston in the Lake District, The Lake District: Keswick and Beyond

3) Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

There are some places that I visit that are serious dream destinations for me. As in, I actually dream about them—once the idea is in my head, I’m hooked. It becomes a kind of obsession. I envision what it’ll be like to be there, to see it first hand. When I started planning my trip to Lithuania, I knew that I had to get to the Hill of Crosses. No matter what. This monument represented both the religious and national identity for Lithuanians over centuries of history, and I knew I had to go. So I went, and walking through the crosses felt like being in an eerie, but magical, mystery. It was incredible. I was so grateful to be able to experience it first hand. If you go to Lithuania, you absolutely must swing a visit to the Hill of Crosses.

Read More: Amazing Sights: Visiting the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, 7 Places You Need to Visit in Lithuania

4) Returning to Russia

When planning my summer trip, I knew the main focus and first destination had to be Russia. The country has a special place in my heart and I was longing to go back. That first moment when I walked through Red Square and saw the onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, it finally hit me. I was back. I had made it back, and not only was I there, but I got to share this special destination with the person who meant the most to me. It was a dream come true. And unlike my first trip, I didn’t get sick and have to miss out on things. Instead, I got to visit places I missed the first time around, like the stunning Peterhof Palace. I loved every second, and my heart was so incredibly full. I believe every person has a place in the world where their heart belongs—and Russia is one of mine.

Read More: On Returning to Russia, 25 Things You Must Do in Moscow

5) Explorations in Yorkshire

Living in York, I have been blessed to be able to explore the surrounding area. And man, does Yorkshire have a lot to offer. Especially now that we have a car, it is so easy to go away for a day somewhere and explore. Yorkshire really has it all: big, vibrant cities, beautiful coastline, charming small towns, impressive abbey ruins, the moors and the dales… I could go one. Some of my favorite places would be Whitby, Fountain’s Abbey, Rievaulx Abbey, the charming village of Thornton-le-Dale, the market town of Beverley, and the North York Moors (more below!). For those of you who are thinking of visiting England and wanting to see more of the country besides London, I highly suggest taking a trip up north to “God’s Own Country!”

Read More: A Perfect Day in Whitby, Visiting Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley in North Yorkshire, Thornton-le-Dale: Why You Need to Visit this Charming Yorkshire Village, Beverley: One Place You Can’t Miss in East Yorkshire.

6) Having so many friends coming to visit me!

This year, I was so fortunate to have several good friends come and visit me in York and England. My good friends from college, Sarah and Lisa, came in late January to York for a few days before heading to Scotland and looping back down England to London. At the end of August, I got to see 4 of my best friends from Polish class all get together in York! Adam and I haven’t all been together with Ashley, Laura, Maddi, and Sam since I left my study abroad in June 2014, and it was so much fun seeing everyone and catching up. I am so grateful to have them in my life, and that even when we can go months (or years) without seeing each other, we’ll all still be good friends.

In November, my friend Bailey who I used to work with at Black Dog took a big solo trip, and spent a bit of time in York before heading to London. The next week in November, my friend Braydon who I met in Moldova came to York for a long weekend. I had so much fun with so many different friends, and it was so great to show them my town and my house and share my world with them. Living so far away, it really makes me appreciate my friendships even more—especially when I finally get to see them in person. I am so blessed!

7) Meeting up with a friend in Bulgaria!

While it’s so much fun getting to share my life with people when they come visit, it is also wonderful for me to get to see my friend’s lives. Over Easter, I visited one of my friends from my college Russian classes, Kolya, in Bulgaria. He’s in Sofia teaching English and I loved not just getting to see him and hang out, but getting to see this part of his life that just doesn’t get translated during Skype calls! I loved getting to see Sofia, finally getting to the Rila Monastery, and hiking up a mountain to see Boyana Waterfall.

Read More: A Quick Guide to Sofia, Visiting the Rila Monastery, One Place You Can’t Miss in Bulgaria

8) Hiking in the Peak District

This March, I had a wonderful weekend hiking in the Peak District National Park. I got to see Winnat’s Pass, Mam Tor, the charming village of Edale, the Ladybower Reservoir, and more. I got so lucky and had amazing weather, and I even made a vlog of it! It was rejuvenating and liberating and exactly what I needed at that point in time. The scenery was incredible!

Read More: Postcards from the Peak District Part 2, The Peak District: Hope Valley, Castleton, Mam Tor, and More, and watch my Peak District vlog here!

9) Cocktails in El Pushka in Minsk

Every once in a while, you have to decide to be a baller, splurge, and treat yo’ self. When you’re in a country like Belarus, it can be seriously affordable to do so! The most expensive day of my whole trip this summer was the day that I decided to drink cocktails all night at a Latin-themed bar called El Pushka in Minsk. The mojitos were probably the best of my life, and I had so much fun ballin’ on a budget!

Read More: 17 Things You Must Do In Minsk

10) Falling in love with Kiev

When I travel, I can generally tell if I really like a city within the first day. But Kiev was something totally different. I knew instantly that I would love it—and fall in love with it I did, immediately and powerfully. It is a phenomenal city, insanely affordable, beautiful and vibrant and with some of the most passionate people I’ve encountered. The architecture, the churches, the history, the pride, and the food—all amazing. And for just a fraction of the price you’d find elsewhere in Europe. Kiev is one of my favorite cities in Europe, and my top pick for a budget destination.

Read More: A Guide to Kiev

11) Perfect days on the beach in Varna

When planning my big trip this summer, I decided to tack on a few days at the end in Varna, Bulgaria, to relax and enjoy the beach life on the Black Sea. It was, quite simply, the perfect way to end the trip (horrific sunburn aside). I loved slowing down, spending all day in the sun on the sand in the sea, with the only real question being which flavor of ice cream I’d eat next. It was so relaxing and such a great way to finish off a crazy 6 weeks!

Read More: Varna: Bliss on the Black Sea

12) Seeing the purple heather at the Hole of Horcum

One of my favorite trips to the North York Moors National Park was at the end of August, when I went hiking around the Hole of Horcum. The heather was blooming and the moors were a picturesque sea of purple. Having seen so many photos of the heather from last year, I was absolutely dying to go and see it in all its glory this time around! It did not disappoint and I plan to go hiking next year during the same season.

13) Road tripping Southern France

On my trip to France this fall, I did something I don’t normally do: we rented a car! It gave us so much freedom to explore so many more places than we’d be able to get to with public transportation. Being based in Carcassonne, my favorite places were Albi, Cordes-sur-ciel, and Abbaye de Saint Papoul. I loved having the freedom to just pull over and take photos, or seeing a sign for something interesting and taking the next exit. I definitely plan to consider car rental more often during my travels for the freedom it gives!

Read More: Carcassonne, Toulouse, and More: What to See in Southern France’s Mid-Occitane Region

14) Being the only tourist in Belarus

While I know I spend a lot of time in off-the-beaten-path destinations, nowadays it’s very rare for me to be somewhere where I’m the only tourist or non-local there. This summer, I visited one of the least-touristy places: Belarus. Very few people go to Belarus, in part due to the country’s strict visa policy and restrictive visa-free regime. But being literally the only tourist at some places was definitely an experience! I used my Russian more in 5 days in Belarus than in 16 days in Russia, just because of how few people spoke English. I loved feeling like it was a trip back in time. I have a feeling that Belarus will be seeing a lot more visitors soon, as the country opens up more to tourism. Go now, while you can!

Read More: Visiting Belarus Visa-Free For 5 Days: Everything You Need to Know, A Daytrip to Mir Castle from Minsk

15) Exploring Chernobyl

One of the top experiences, although sad and creepy as it was, was going to Chernobyl in Ukraine. Visiting the site of this nuclear disaster was emotional at times, but in many ways it was just seriously cool to go to a place that time forgot. I saw school rooms and kindergartens, empty swimming pools, old amusement park rides, and climbed to the rooftop of a 16-story building to admire the views of the reactor site and ghost town of Pripyat. It was an incredible experience and one I am so glad I did. If you’re visiting Kiev, I highly recommend doing a Chernobyl daytour!

Read More: Visiting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine

16) Hiking in the North York Moors in the snow

Earlier in December, England received a real batch of snow (a rarity!). And it actually stuck around for a few days! So when we went out hiking on the moors, I felt like a kid in a candy store, tramping around the snow and feeling like I was right back home in Minnesota. It was a wonderful winter experience, and definitely made me miss home even more. Despite getting hopelessly lost, I loved this hiking day—and hope to go back in the summer weather!

17) The Taco Bell UK VIP Launch Party for York’s Taco Bell

Okay, so this isn’t technically a travel experience, but of everything from this year I was pretty excited for this one! When I found out that Taco Bell would be opening up in York, I got pretty excited and posted the photo from the Nottingham Post of Adam and I on the Facebook page. I ended up getting invited to the VIP Launch Party for York’s opening! It was an amazing night of free burritos, tacos, slushy cocktails, and lots of fun. I even met the regional manager of Taco Bell UK, who remembered Adam and I from the Nottingham opening!! It was seriously one of the most awesome times of my life!

18) Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit at the British Library

On my most recent visit to London, I had my heart set on seeing the latest Harry Potter exhibit at the British Library. And it did NOT disappoint! It was one of the most fantastic exhibits I’ve ever seen! I loved getting to explore all the history behind the myth, and seeing J.K. Rowling’s hand-written notes was a dream come true. Of all of the exhibits and museums I’ve been to this year, this one was a special one for this Harry Potter fan.

19) Special firsts with Adam!

This year was the first full year Adam and I got to spend together. And we got to share so many important anniversaries and moments! We spent our first Valentine’s Day together, which we celebrated with a weekend to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. We spent our first wedding anniversary together, which we celebrated with kebabs. And while we’ve spent my birthday together before, we also go to spend Adam’s birthday together for the first time ever! It was so special and reflecting back on it, I feel so fortunate to be able to spend so much time with the person I love.

Read More: Hiking in the Yorkshire Dales: Malham

20) Coming HOME to Minneapolis for Christmas!

What can I say?! There was nothing more important for me than coming home to my hometown of Minneapolis for Christmas this year. Having been so homesick the past few months, getting to see my family and friends has been absolutely amazing. I am so grateful to have these people in my life, and to be able to spend Christmas in this amazing city. Minneapolis is such a wonderful place to visit, with so much to offer—freezing temps aside. I am so thankful to be here. What a wonderful Christmas!

Read More: The Top 25 Things to Do in Minneapolis, My Favorite City

Thank you to everyone for following along with another year of adventures! I couldn’t have done it without the support of you all. Wishing each of you a wonderful year ahead!

What were your top experiences of 2017?! What goals do you have for 2018?

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