I know 2016 hasn’t been a very good year for many of you. Some of you have been looking forward to 2017 and made plans already. I have compiled a travel wishlist for next year, too! But I have to say 2016 was pretty awesome for me! Full of new places (Canada was my country #62!), old places that I’ll never get bored of (that’s you, London! ♥) and fantastic experiences all around the world!

I’d love to share with you my favourite moments of last year (in no particular order):

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1) Doing extreme sports on my birthday

Right when I thought I was too old for such things and that this chapter was completed after having tried skydiving and hang gliding in the past, this happened! The Shotover Canyon Fox in Queenstown, New Zealand is something like a zip line with a little bit of a free fall!

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What I learned:

I enjoyed it so much and it proved to myself that no matter how much you prepare mentally about how safe these activities are, the survival instinct and the fear of danger always kick in in time to give you a new adrenaline rush and a unique fun and terrifying experience! Bring on the next adventure!

How about falling from the edge of a cliff tied to a plastic chair?  Erm… I might have to think about that a bit more!

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2) Walking on water

Well, not really! But I loved walking in the shallow waters of the Negombo Lagoon in Sri Lanka! It was the perfect closing of an unexpectedly fun and full of activities day! Not many people bother to explore Negombo and only stay there for its convenience due to its proximity to the Colombo International Airport. But there are so many things to do and I managed to do most of them on that day.

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What I learned:

There’s always something to do, even in the not so touristic places. All you need is extra research, positive and fun mood and if you can’t find a travel guide, make one!

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3) Adding one more country to my list

I’m not the person to make lists and try to tick off as many countries/world wonders/cities/landmarks as possible because I find that one misses the point of travelling by doing so. But I hadn’t been to a new country for a long time, so it was pretty cool to add one more to the list, especially one that’s so big and with some spectacular sights, like the Niagara Falls! Canada was my 62nd country!

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What I learned:

The world is so big! 62 countries is only a small part of it, so there’s still a long way to go! And that’s something that motivates me to carry on travelling for as long as I can!

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4) Watching live and getting to hug one of my favourite artists of all time!

Many of you who haven’t lived in Australia, New Zealand or France or were too young in the ‘90s probably don’t recognise the name Tina Arena. For sure you know her song I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You from the Mask of Zorro soundtrack and a couple of other ones, but she really is one of the most successful and underrated (at the same time) australian artists of all time and definitely one of my favourite ones!

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So, I was very excited to see her perform live at a very small venue in Dubai last January! You don’t get to see international artists of her calibre performing so close to you and get to experience an amazing voice and performance from such a short distance! I love it when my favourite artists perform in places I happen to be visiting and, luckily for me, it’s not very rare!

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What I learned:

When she left the stage and walked through the audience I literally made her (in a nice way!) listen to my words of appreciation, had a photo taken and gave her a hug. It taught me to grab the chance when it comes my way and not feel shy or intimidated. Especially when it comes to expressing love and appreciation. With anyone.

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5) Experiencing the Rio Carnival

Some events in the world sometimes are bigger than the place they take place in! Some of them are legendary and people travel to certain places just for them! The Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is undoubtedly one of those! Despite not having many days in the city and having been unable to book tickets for the Big Parade at the Sambodrome, just partying in the streets, mingling with happy locals and visitors, dancing and sharing the good spirits of everyone were enough for taking in the vibe and the atmosphere of the whole event! And I’m glad I did it with great company! Unforgetable experience!

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What I learned:

Letting loose and enjoying an event that I never liked while growing up proved to me that sometimes letting go every so often is not so bad after all! It may have disappointed the parents and teachers of your childhood, but your responsible grown up self can have so much fun and make great memories!

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6) Seeing the Northern Lights

Nothing beats experiencing the Aurora Borealis phenomenon somewhere beautiful in Iceland or Scandinavia, but my time came when I was flying to San Francisco. And the view from the flight deck was not too bad either!

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What I learned:

You can take a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature from many different angles. You just have to have your eyes and senses open!

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7) Rediscovering Budapest

You never forget your first love they say and for me that’s Budapest, Hungary when it comes to travelling! It was the first city I visited when I first started travelling abroad and it was love at first sight! Going back after 13 years and having seen so many more places in the meantime made me nervous: Would I still appreciate it? Would I still like it even? But as soon as I got there the answer was clear and it was a big YES! Not only did I love all the sights I loved the first time, but I was happy to discover new places and things to do, as well as see some of the old beauties with a new eye: Walking around the Vajdahunyad Castle at night revealed to me a magical side that I still cherish!

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What I learned:

Never underestimate your first love and try to go back to it from time to time and see it with a fresh eye!

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8) Babysitting around Holland

2016 was the year that I spent a lot of time travelling around the Netherlands. It’s a beautiful country that combines picturesque views with a contemporary and forward way of life and I love it! What’s made it unique though is that one of my best friends who lives there has a child! So, on a few occasions it’s escorted us while travelling around! Have you tried babysitting while travelling?

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What I learned:

It’s shown me that it’s possible to travel with babies and small children as long as there’s will and correct preparation. And it’s beneficial for both the adults and the children! I wish it was more common!

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9) Celebrity spotting in London

We’ve all pretty much bumped into someone (little or very) famous at some point in our lives! But 4 of them on one random Tuesday evening in London was a bit too much and it was so much fun! It started with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant at the world premiere of Florence Foster Jenkins and from there on we saw Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones and Glenn Close at random places and while wandering around the city without a plan!

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What I learned:

You never know when and where exciting things take place! Just go out and go with the flow! Feel the vibe of each place and who knows what or who will end up coming your way!

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10) Exploring some fabulous yet morbid attractions

My last visit to Munich, Germany was pretty uneventful in terms of sightseeing. I had a good time, but I didn’t get to see something exciting. Until I decided to visit this church just a bit off the busy Marienplatz and see one of those rare and offbeat things I had written down in my travel notebook for a while: the bejewelled relic of a Catholic Saint, Santa Munditia! How unusual! How unique! How weird!

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What I learned:

Sometimes the most unexpected sights are hidden away in or around some of the main sights and end up being overlooked! For equally unusual and similarly morbid attractions around the world, have a look here!

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11) Amazing culinary experiences

Last year I had the chance to:

try over the top milkshakes in New York City

taste greek salad using a shovel in Athens

-have dinner in complete darkness while being served by visually impaired waiters in Moscow

-eat a dessert that looked like a plant in a flower pot full of soil in New York City

-dine with friends in a quirky restaurant, which is, also, the atelier and the gallery of a famous argentinean artist, as well as a live music stage! All that located in an old train depot, located behind the main railway station of Buenos Aires and

-have breakfast in a café that used to be public urinals in London!

WOW!

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What I learned:

I’m glad I incorporated more food tasting and quirky dining in my travels in 2016 and I’ll try to do the same in 2017, too! What took me so long?

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12) Spending the night in an old style caravan

Not suitable for everyone, definitely different and good only if you can live somewhere without internet, this beautiful accommodation in the middle of a forest in Northern France is  truly one of a kind! I will always remember the retro and cosy ambiance of its interiors and I’d go back with my eyes closed. And with a mobile data plan! 😀

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What I learned:

Once in a while it’s great to stay somewhere surrounded by the different elements of nature, including mosquitoes! Fear not! Insect repellent is provided!

Or even without internet! There! I said it!

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13) Spending time in places that inspired art

It’s not every day that you find yourself in places that were depicted in famous paintings or that famous artists got to visit. Not only did this happen to me in 2016, but I, also, visited the house Claude Monet himself used to live in and where the famous water lily pond that inspired the majority of his work is located!

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What I learned:

Why not include more places depicted in works of art in 2017?

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14) Visiting a piece of Italy in the UK

A definite highlight of my 2016 travels and another dream come true! Yes, it’s fake, it doesn’t match the rest of the country and it’s ended up being there for commercial purposes nowadays, but Portmeirion, Wales is simply gorgeous! Its little seaside town character is very charming and represents the beauty of Italy very well and it’s a nice break from the otherwise spectacular scenery of Wales and its many beautiful castles!

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What I learned:

Look for the unexpected anywhere you go! And sometimes visiting a foreign looking place could be just a few kms down your local motorway!

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15) Discovering landmarks from new angles!

I chose to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge each one of the 3 times that the road led me to San Francisco. But the 3rd time I chose a breathtaking viewpoint to admire it, Kirby Cove! Wow!

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What I learned:

Look for unusual points of view while revisiting all time classic landmarks and give a breath of fresh air to your perspective! 2017 will definitely see me experimenting with different viewpoints and angles!

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16) Putting nature under the spotlight

In November 2016 I chose to spend my holiday in a place that’s more famous for its landscape more than anything else: New Zealand. And yes! New Zealand does know how to do spectacular and breathtaking landscapes like no one else!

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What I learned:

This holiday helped me realise multiple things:

-I should be more open to new experiences

Nature can be a sight by itself and a reason to go on holidays (nothing new there, but I never treated it as such as all these years)

I’m not yet a big nature lover. Though I appreciated the awesomeness of the country, I did miss my history, castles and ruins! I know New Zealand has it, too, but it’s not as prevalent as in other places that I normally travel to.

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Who said travelling doesn’t make you wiser and doesn’t broaden your mind? Most likely someone who doesn’t travel!

Let’s go cliché all the way and repeat the over-repeated, yet very true, quote that so many Instagrammers out there love:

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!

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Dear 2017,

I’m ready for you to make me richer!

And so is my bank account! 😀