It has been quite a year so far! I have been blessed to visit 14 countries and islands, with Australia still to come, created a travel product shop and started a course in travel journalism. From my solo travels this year, I have learnt more about myself, gained new friends and it has given me a thirst for visiting even more new destinations in 2020.
These are some ‘must do’s’ for each country I visited on my 2019 solo travels…Amsterdam, Florence, Antigua, Dubrovnik, Athens, Crete, Corfu, Montenegro, London, Madrid, Sardinia, Porto, Paris, Ghent.
Amsterdam is a diverse city which ticks a lot of boxes for the solo traveller. It is also a place that had me wishing there were a few things I had known before I went! This does not include learning that coffee shops are not the same as they are in the UK either! My 3 most memorable moments from my trip to Amsterdam were…
Pllek is an entertainment area with a difference. The venue, which is made from old shipping containers benefits from a manmade beach, a vibrant bar/restaurant and a variety of live music events. At the end of the day, the idyllic spot by the seawall, is perfect for enjoying your favourite tipple while the sun sets.
Imagine eating a ‘burger’ with an avocado bun! Every dish in this fabulous restaurant is made with avocado. The Avocado Show is a unique eatery and a ‘must do’ when in Amsterdam. The food and presentation is incredible.
A trip to Amsterdam isn’t complete without a cruise along its picturesque canals while the sun starts to set. It is a wonderful way to view the city from a different angle while learning a little of its history at the same time.
Following my original flight being cancelled, after already having passed through security at the airport, I rescheduled for the end of April. What a blessing in disguise, as the weather was glorious! This charming, compact city can be appreciated even if you are on a bit of a budget. Highlights included…
A truly authentic Italian restaurant with menus in Italian, no English translation. The warm evening allowed for outdoor dining and an opportunity to try exquisite burrata for the first time.
Of all the wonderful piazzas in Florence, Piazzale Michelangelo is incredibly special and my firm favourite. Standing proud in its centre, is a replica of Michelangelo’s Statue of David. Purchase a glass of the local Sangiovese from one of the food and drink trucks and marvel at the far reaching 360° panoramic views of the city while the sun sets.
Florence’s oldest bridge spans the narrowest part of the River Arno. It is the only bridge to have survived the Nazi World War II bombings and is now lined with shops selling gold. Standing on the bridge fills you with a sense of peace and tranquility and the most amazing sunsets can be seen from here.
From my solo travels to Antigua, I have taken part in many exciting activities and stayed at some wonderful places, both on an all inclusive and room only basis. This years’ visit left me with 3 wonderful memories…
An outstanding cookery school that gives you the opportunity to learn how to cook a range of Caribbean dishes within the comfort of a welcoming family home. Sip home made rum punch, laugh, share stories with new friends, before a little rum tasting session and dining together. Just brilliant!
The wind whipped through my hair as the water shuttle took me across the harbour to delightful La Brasserie. This super friendly, family run French restaurant complete with pet dog roaming around, serves exceptionally good food. The steak is outstanding, the best I have eaten anywhere, cooked the old fashioned way with cognac. La Brasserie offers a relaxed dining experience in a beautiful, harbour-side setting, where you can watch the lights twinkling on the water.
Meeting Grace in her restaurant before her retirement was such a pleasure. A local lady who has been serving traditional local food to tourists and locals alike for over 30 years. Delicious rotis and freshly squeezed juice are to be enjoyed in this brightly painted wooden bungalow.
4. Croatia, Dubrovnik
I came here with friends and sadly, we were only here for half a day. However, walking around the picturesque port is a pleasurable experience, surrounded by hillside properties with orange rooftops. Stumbling across Peppers Eatery with its outstanding langoustine was an excellent find!
A steep uphill walk in 37 degrees without shade was not the easiest of walks. However the views of the city and the Acropolis on arriving at the top were well worth it!
Chania is the second largest city on the island of Crete. As well as the historic, old town full of traditional streets with interesting shops, there are also many tavernas, a stunning marina and lighthouse. The two highlights of this day trip for me were…
A one hour round trip with friendly staff onboard with a 20 minute stop for optional snorkelling in clear, cool water. The most memorable part of this trip was drinking the shot of aniseed tasting, raki, presented to me once back onboard. It is an acquired taste that’s for sure!
Lunch at Monastiri Taverna
Exceptional service from a lovely Greek waiter. This restaurant comes highly recommended for outstanding food and service, if you are in this part of the world. He took photos, taught us some Greek words and served the most delicious cheese with salad.
Shopping in the maze of leather scented, cobbled streets was a great experience. Souvenirs are good quality and you can also purchase their locally produced kumquat liqueur.
I have two strong memories of Montenegro. Firstly, how strikingly beautiful the landscape is as the cruise ship sails into the Port of Kotor. It is unspoilt with vast mountain views, deep green water and clusters of houses.
The Blue Caves
A fast speed boat ride, cutting through waves, choppy in places, was an exhilarating way to arrive at The Blue Caves. Initially, the entrance appears too small for the boat to fit inside. The blue water is spectacular to look at and refreshing to jump into!
As London is so local to me, I am privileged to visit often between my solo travels overseas. My 2 highlights from this year’s London day trips have been…
An interesting guided tour learning about the horrific Jack the Ripper murders in the East End of London. The guide takes you to various murder scenes and points of interest. His storytelling was captivating. This is a well run tour which is included in the price of the Hop on Hop off Bus Tour.
Laki Kane – rum making course
Courses always make great solo activities. You are with likeminded people with a common interest. This was a fantastic course, starting with an introduction to rum and its history, followed by a tasting session and then creating your own brand. The evening ends taking home your own bottle which you can re-order if desired.
An early September visit to Madrid left me with some incredible memories…
Dining in the oldest restaurant in the world – Sobrino de Botin
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sobrino de Botin is the oldest restaurant in the world. It was founded in 1725 and still retains its original 18th century firewood oven. Traditional dishes such as roast Castilian style lamb and roast suckling pig are two of the most recommended dishes to order, the latter was incredible. The restaurant has featured in a couple of Ernest Hemingway’s novels as he dined at the restaurant on a number of occasions.
This was an emotive experience for me. I started off apprehensive because I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how suitable it was to go to alone… relief! When it began, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. But then, WOW, the passion from the cast, the talent, the speed at which they move their feet and the combination of music, song and dance became an absolutely exhilarating experience. The whole evening was so enjoyable and made extra special by having a photograph taken with the cast afterwards.
With the solo travels I had been on throughout the year, there were not many occasions for complete down time to relax. I chose a luxurious hotel to do just that! The hotel oozed luxury and I had an amazing time here and took away many special memories. I had fun learning Italian with one of the friendly bar staff during his quiet moments. I enjoyed a relaxing massage in the open air spa, followed by a delicious fresh fruit platter. I swam in gin coloured waters filled with tiny fish at the adjoining beach and relaxed in a hammock. To round off a fantastic holiday, I was served exceptionally good food at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. It really did serve the best quality food I have ever eaten in a European hotel.
Lobster Mess at Il Ragno Blu
I will never forget indulging in a superb lobster and spaghetti meal at the beautiful restaurant, Il Ragno Blu. It was fancy. White clothed tables, chandeliers, sunset views… I made the most terrible mess on the table cloth, broke the tools for my lobster, over ordered and wasn’t sure if I had enough money to pay for it! Altogether it was quite a stressful evening, though very memorable!
You cant come to Porto without trying port. You may love it or hate it but the different varieties need to be tasted. Tasting sessions are offered in a number of places for Euros 5 for 5 small tasting glasses. It really is worth doing. I discovered that the types I thought I wouldn’t like, I actually preferred.
Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
A last minute decision to come to Paris made it all the more exciting. I had no time to prepare and decide what to do so I just went with the flow… A couple of minutes walk from my hotel was a hop on hop off bus stop. The bus was there so I jumped on for a 2 hour tour of the city by night. Driving along the Champs Elysees at night on the open top bus in the cold night air was an exhilarating experience and well worth doing if you are solo in Paris.
From my 2019 solo travels, Ghent was amongst my favourites. I knew little about it and that was one of the main attractions. Ghent is an incredibly beautiful city, fairytale like in places. Top memories for me were….
Reflections on the River Leie
A rather comedic, audio tour of this 12th Century Castle of the Counts is a great way to learn about the history of the castle and an ideal solo activity.
The dragon atop the Belfry is the symbol of Ghent and was placed here in the late 14th Century to watch over the city. I climbed the medieval tower measuring 91m in height to enjoy far reaching views across the City. This was particularly enjoyable around sunset but I lost my stomach looking down…
This is a fantastic restaurant away from the main touristy area. Meme Gusta serves authentic Belgian cuisine, just how grandma used to make it. Menus are mainly in Dutch. Google translate came in very useful as translation was difficult to communicate by the staff.
Suggested Further Reading:
Solo Travel Products – recommended items to purchase for solo travel
Blog – frequent blog posts on all destinations I have been to on my solo travels
Solo Travel Tips – tips from my solo travels