My Favourite Travel Memories of 2013

The end of the year is always a good time for reflection, and, as 2013 comes to a close, I will look back on it as a year with many personal achievements. I somehow managed to juggle demanding post-graduate courses, writing jobs and social activities along with my ever-present travel needs. As I am currently spending the Christmas holidays with my parents in peace and quiet, I have finally found the time to sit back, kick my shoes off, put my feet up and ponder the question: what are my favourite travel memories of 2013? After much deliberation I finally composed a top five of places that planted vivid memories in my mind (in random order). Here's one to 2014!

1. Swimming in Lake Michigan, Chicago (U.S.A.)
During the summer months, Chicago can be a rather sweaty and sticky place. Luckily for us, the grand city is perched on Lake Michigan, which means you can unashamedly sport a pair of swim shorts or a bikini underneath your clothes. Chicago boasts around 40 kilometers of public beaches, some sandy, some stony, some popular, some secluded... I myself decided to take a leap off a stone platform just north of Oak Street Beach. Not only was the water incredibly refreshing and blue (and much needed after a long bike ride), the panorama view of the skyline was truly breathtaking. Being used to swimming with crowded beaches or waving trees in my back, I loved the backdrop of a whole city towering over me.

Jumping into Lake Michigan, Chicago. ©Maaike 
2. Smokey Mountains Get-away, Pigeon Forge (U.S.A.)
After spending countless nights in cheap hostels, I had almost forgotten what it was like to stay in luxurious hotels... Until I got to sleep in a huge cabin in the heart of the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee with nine friends. Although I only stayed for two nights, the location and log chalet were so impressive that I wondered whether I could 
comfortably sleep in a bunk bed in a hostel ever again. With a theatre room, hot tub, four king bedrooms, a fabulous mountain view and a National Park right on our doorstep, our weekend getaway could not have been better. 

The Smokey Mountains were indeed very, very smokey. ©Maaike 
3. Climbing the steps of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country (Spain)
The weather in the Basque Country can be temperamental at times: the coast along the Bay of Biscay is marked by waves frequently breaking upon cliffs with incredible fury, and it rains more often than not in Northern Spain. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. Abundant rain leads to bursts of green which, combined with turbulent swells, makes a dramatic coastal scenery. Gaztelugatxe is a perfect example of this. Surrounded by crashing waves, this green little islet stands at the heart of the Biscay coastline. The hermitage of San Juan, which can be accessed via a bridge built on the rocks, stands out on top of it. Whether you're down at the foot of the bridge or at the top of the zig-zag stairs, the sights are spectacular. A must-see in the Basque Country.

The winding staircase of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. ©Maaike
4. Hiking the Tatra Mountains (Poland)
To be honest, I really didn't know what to expect when travelling to Southern Poland. But, as I wrote in this article, the region has one of the most underrated natural sights in Europe: the Tatra Mountains. Mountain lakes glistening in the sun, blooming flowers and mountains coloured in all shades between light green and dark grey: Poland's Tatras easily rival the Alps as a summer mountain destination. It is a place for families as well as avid hikers, as trails range from short, easy and paved to long, steep and rugged. Every walking enthusiast will love it here!

One of the mountain lakes in the Tatras. ©Maaike
5. Living in a typical American suburban house in Indianapolis (U.S.A.)
During my stay in the U.S., I visited many different states, but nowhere did I feel so at home as in good ol' Indiana. Whenever I came back from a long journey, I was always delighted to see the buildings gracing the Indianapolis skyline. One reason why Indy proved to be such a good home base was my house, a typical American suburban home with porch and outdoor swing chair. It was spacious and totally different from the 12 square meter rooms I had lived in during my early student years. How could I not miss this place after having spent days and days on my favourite recliner, walking our German Shepherd and chatting to my flatmates-turned-friends?

My American house. With porch swing. ©Maaike
As far as travel goals and resolutions are concerned: I have none. Lists of must-see destinations do not encourage me to travel; on the contrary, they will inevitably lead to disappointment if I can't meet these goals for whatever reason. Instead, I prefer taking things as they come (a successful formula, as 2013 has proven). I hope you will do the same: chase your dreams, but do so realistically. :-) On this note, I wish you a happy and healthy 2014!

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