In March 2023 we ticked the last country off our 2019 travel list. It took a bit longer than we expected. At the time of compiling the list I had no idea how COVID, a War in Ukraine, a surprise Baby, and record Inflation would impact our lives and travel plans. From lockdown, to homing refugees to changing nappies and trying to pay electricity bills, things were a bit of a struggle but we managed still to see some cool places.
What ended up happening
Of the 6 countries on our 2019 list of counties we visited 3, Ukraine and Moldova in December 2019 while driving our Nissan Micra back from Greece to Finland (Part 4 of our Micra road trip around Europe) and Albania with the kids in the summer while driving across Southern Europe(Part 3) . Israel also happened in October 2019 but it wasn’t to be for Georgia and Cyprus. This was mostly because we prioritized a trip to Australia early March 2019 as well as driving the Micra around the Iberian Peninsula (Part 1 and Part 2) in early 2019.
Georgia was originally booked for April 2020 but lockdown ended that. We refocused our efforts and manage to get in an Epic 5,000 km Norway Summer camping trip before they shut down the borders. Earlier that year in March 2020 there was a lot of drama when Tania went back to Russia to attend her father’s funeral. Russia locked down the border the day after she left and it took a lot of effort, time and luck to get her back. It was the President’s office in Moscow that granted an exception when every other avenue had failed.
We focused the latter part of 2020 and first half of 2021 on travelling in Finland. The most memorable trip was cycling the Åland archipelago with the older kids, with the then 3 month old baby sleeping in the air conditioned support car. Koli in autumn and Kuusamo in the winter were also spectacular. Towards the end of 2021 Spain opened up so we took a trip to Mallorca and later Tenerife.
Cyprus happened in April 2022. We had our then 11 month baby with us which was easy enough to manage. We also spent a few days also in Northern Cyprus which turned out to be our favorite part. In the summer of 2022 we did a camping road trip with the 3 kids in Eastern Finland. I took paternity leave in the latter part of 2022 and we headed to the south of Russia by train.
Georgia was the most elusive destination on the list. It was only in March 2023 that we found affordable tickets and time to get there. The place wasn’t quite what I expected but I’m glad we went there anyway. We also got to see neighboring Armenia as well.
Our detailed travel log from Jan 2019 to March 2023 is here. I needed it to remember what we got up to.
Highlights and Surprises from the 2019 Shortlist
Israel stands out as the most fascinating place on the list, especially the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee. Jerusalem is a bit like Rome in that history is built on top of history. The country is expensive though and there is a subtle feeling of tension in the air that is hard to shake off – Jews, Arabs and Christians packed into a tight space that’s held together with a fragile peace.
Cyprus was our next favorite destination. We preferred the Turkish side to the Greek side mostly because it was less developed and had more beautiful nature. It was also a lot cheaper. The Greek side still had some nice places like Cape Greco Peninsula and most of the ancient archeological sites were on that side too. The island as a whole was also a lot more windy and dry than we expected.
The big drawcard to Albania was the mountains but it turned out the white beaches in the south we loved the most. The weather was perfect. We found stunning accommodation overlooking the water that was costing us €30 a night. Fish could be bought directly from the fishing boats and grilled on the balcony. From the paved roads we took, the mountains in the north felt less accessible. If I were to try again a dirt bike and a bit more research might give a better outcome.
Georgia was probably my biggest disappointment on the list. I idolize their cuisine so it came as a horrible shock that Georgians prepare their food a lot more salty than we eat it. Their saving grace was sweet pastries. Windy mountain roads would have turned the tide but we stuck to lowlands and trains to avoid the risk of icy roads. I am not ready to write Georgia off until I get back with a dirt bike. Hopefully by then they will have fixed their trash problem; there was far too much plastic floating in the rivers.
Ukraine was on the list for family ties and curiosity. I am not much for cities but we had a fun time in Odessa and Kiev. Restaurants were cheap and we found a bunch of other fun activities. We also visited our good friends in Kiev. Little did we know the country would explode into a war zone some short 2 years later. Very sad.
Moldova was a country I put on the list mostly so I could cross it off. I was surprised to learn they had the biggest winery in the world with over 300 km of underground tunnels and a Russian backed separatist conflict in their Transnistria breakaway region. We visited both the winery and the breakaway region as well as some nice churches. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to go back but am glad we dropped in.
Favorites from the other places we visited between 2019 – 2023
The Norway trip was by far my favorite. You feel so incredibly close to nature when camping and hiking. Every part of the country has different landscapes and vegetation. Senja and Lofoten in the north stand out as well as Geiranger, Flåm and Lysefjord in the south. I plan to do a lot more writing about the place.
We saw a lot of Finland, especially during the COVID times. Our favorite places were Savonlinna, and the Åland Archipelago. I wrote this article telling about some of the other places as well.
Tenerife has become my new spiritual winter home in Europe. Being able to go from -15°C, darkness and a half meter of snow to 26°C, sunshine and T-shirts in 6 hours gives me hope in the world. The place has some incredible nature and is relatively cheap. Even though the island has 1 million inhabitants it is not as noticeable as in Mallorca.
Mallorca is beautiful, especially the mountains in the north and the beaches to the south. The only complaint would be the number of people. The airport on the island is Spain’s 3rd busiest, processing 30 million people a year with a permanent island population of 1 million inhabitants. That is a lot of people in an island the equivalent size of 60 km x 60 km (3640 km). I might go back again in the off season but definitely not in summer.
The other parts of Spain we loved were the Pyrenees Mountains in the north and Tarifa in the south next to Gibraltar. Both of these places are surrounded by beautiful mountainous scenery. French cuisine is a short drive away in the north or British in the south if you prefer your fish and chips.
Portugal is about as close to Australian coast as you will find in Europe -there are decent waves and even eucalyptus trees. The south east corner would be my pick as its not so populated. The prettiest beaches though are in the northwest corner, just before the border to Spain. Portugal is also very affordable but the pace of life outside of Lisbon is slow which some people might like or hate.
Croatia has a stunning coastline. Everywhere you go there is aqua blue water and rocky pebble beaches. Our favorite part was always easily finding a shower to rinse of the salt water. Their seafood is also nice but you have to pay similar prices to what you might in Italy or France.
Our visit to Australia focused on Victoria and Southern New South Wales. Favorite places that we visited were the Great Otway National park where Tania met her first wild Koala, the Yarra Ranges where we visited some wineries and Wilson Promontory National Park on the way up the Victorian coast. The Araluen Rd between Moruya and Braidwood was also a lovely drive with our favorite part being the pub at Araluen. I should probably also mention the Great Ocean Rd and Jervis Bay.
Tania and I have been discussing our short list for 2023 onwards. I will put the link to it here when it is finalized.