2018 has been a year of upheaval. After four-and-a half-years living in The Hague we relocated 700km east to start a new chapter of life in Berlin. Truth be told, we didn’t want to leave our Dutch lives behind, but circumstances don’t always give you the choice. So, with heavy hearts, we loaded up our belongings for the third time in seven years and headed towards a new beginning.
Six months in Berlin has been enough to underscore the cultural chasm between the two countries – plus it’s over 250km to the beach from here. As we adjust to our new world there will be opportunities to explore Germany’s fascinating regions, and to look further east (Poland is a 100km away) and after sampling Berlin’s winter, I’m already looking forward to the Berlin spring.
These are my 2018 highlights (France features ‘biggly’, to quote the US President) … and here’s to 2019, the Year of the Bear.
Leaving the Netherlands
If there’s one thing to be said for leaving a country, it’s that it gives you pause to recall all the wonderful places you’ve visited. For me, it also meant a few days photographing and writing about the city we called home, The Hague. We hadn’t planned to move to the Netherlands, but it is a country that has seared its way into our affections in a big way. Each photo is a place I’d like to return to, at least once I’ve visited the places we missed the first time around.
Arriving in Berlin
Contemporary Berlin comes with huge expectations: history and culture merge with a reputation as one of the coolest cities on the planet. Yet our early impressions were of dealing with bureaucracy and trying to find an apartment in a hostile housing market. This took place in a heatwave, temperatures hovering around 35ºC. Uncomfortable in our new home in more ways than one, we’re slowly adapting to Berlin life and trying to learn basic German.
Seafaring history in Bremen and Hamburg
An early summer road trip introduced us to two of Germany’s great North Sea port cities, Bremen and Hamburg. I’d never been to either and both left a lasting impression. They suffered massive damage in the war but both have reinvented themselves for the modern era. Bremen mixes Hanseatic history with cultural riches and good food; while Hamburg became my favourite city of 2018, effortlessly cool, relaxed, friendly and full of culture.
Remembering da Vinci in the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a place filled with glories. Beautiful landscapes hide magnificent château, ancient towns and world class vineyards. I’d been bouncing around the French countryside and stopped in the utterly beguiling town of Amboise. Dominated by the Château d’Amboise, this is where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years, dying in the town and buried in the Royal château. My final day was spent at the extraordinary Château de Villandry.
World Cup fever in Metz
Just before we left the Netherlands, there was one final road trip to France – it won’t be so easy to hop in the car and head to Champagne, Burgundy or the Loire from Berlin. It was a trip of firsts that included the city of Metz, home to the Pompidou Centre and where I got to experience the massive street party that was France winning the World Cup. It was a crazy few days of culture, good food and partying.
The wine routes of Alsace
We stopped in the distinctly French town of Nancy en route to Alsace. The difference between it and the decidedly Germanic Alsace region came as a bit of a surprise. That didn’t take away from the rolling landscapes and the even more extraordinary historic villages of timber-framed buildings that we encountered. Our journey through Alsace’s vineyards was fantastic and introduced us to German wine varieties – which, ironically, has subsequently come in handy.
Roman history and foodie heaven, Segovia
Rarely a year goes past without a visit to Spain. 2018 was no different, with a few days in Madrid followed by a trip to nearby Segovia. I’d heard of this historic town but was unprepared for just how beautiful it was, especially coming with a backdrop of snow covered mountains. There is so much to admire in the town, from the 12th century Alcázar to the lamb and suckling pig specialities, but it is the Roman aqueduct that takes centre stage.
24 hours in Copenhagen
It’s been nearly 30 years since I last visited Copenhagen, a few hours of wandering its historic centre had me wondering why it had taken so long to return. It was a shame that, after spending a week in various meetings and at a conference, I only had a day to reacquaint myself with the city. It was enough to make sure we’ll be returning when the weather improves in the spring.
A Sicilian adventure
Italy remains an under-explored country for me. This trip to Sicily was a first visit to the country’s most southerly region. We immersed ourselves in millennia of history while enjoying excellent seafood and local wines; took in ancient hilltop villages that are a byword for baroque architecture; ate fresh fish on the Mediterranean in a former tuna fishing village; and visited the Ancient Greek and Roman ruins of Morgantina and Villa Romana del Casale. The highlight though, was the near-mythical city of Syracuse.