2016, what a year. What a blast!
Tom and I travelled much more than I initially thought was possible with our workloads and busy schedules: to the Final Frontier, SoCal, The Windy City, Bourbon Country and the Big Apple.
We celebrated our anniversary of living in the USA. I climbed more mountains than ever before, camped under the stars, pushed myself to my physical limits, and explored more corners of Washington State.
Most of all, I grew to understand the diversity of America, where often crossing state lines feels like entering a new country. I learnt that the small towns are often even more interesting than the big cities.
Possibly the best thing about living overseas is getting visitors from home – and we’ve had a lot this year! Seeing the beauty of the area through their eyes was a great reminder of how lucky we are to live here.
I visited Canada countless times, and two international trips came off that I wasn’t sure would, enabling us to celebrate weddings in Fiji and the United Kingdom.
While the year hasn’t been without its challenges – there have been some testing times for sure – the sunshine and rainbows overwhelming outnumber any negatives.
Life is what you make it, and so far we’re making it pretty damn good!
Here’s a recap on the travel and adventures from the past year. It’s no wonder I’m constantly exhausted and elated.
January: San Diego
My first interstate trip of 2016 was a long weekend in San Diego. While I was greeted with some un-Californian rain, there was still plenty of sunshine, wandering the beaches, parks, museums and even a trip to the zoo. San Diego is probably my favourite place in the country for an evening of fish tacos, craft beer and rooftop bars.
February: Whistler, BC
Taking advantage of another public holiday weekend, we made the three hour drive north to mega-ski resort Whistler. My days were spent
tearing tumbling down the mountain at high speed, and learning that while it’s not always wise to follow your ski buddies down a mogulled out black run, a few cheeky afternoon beers makes me So. Much. Faster. No fear! Evenings were spent catching up with our lovely friends and hosts, relaxing in the hot tub, and hitting up the awesome restaurants and bars in the village.
March: Olympic National Park
Eager to try a snow sport of a different kind, we headed to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Snowshoeing at Hurricane Ridge was such a fun experience. It’s an easy skill to pick up, so we quickly ventured to beautiful lookout points and quiet hamlets in the snow. Snowshoeing is such fun change of pace from skiing (quite literally!), but one that allowed me to stop and pay more attention to my surroundings – to enjoy being in the snow, watching how it gathers on the trees, forming teardrops as it slowly melts.
Further reading: snowshoeing in Olympic National Park
April: Boston and New York
While I need no convincing to visit the east coast, meeting my sister there as she embarked on her own travels was pretty special! I had visited both cities in 2013, so I felt confident playing tour guide and excited that I knew my way around.
Boston was all about two things: history and food. It was a nice reminder of how much I still have to learn about American history, as we followed the Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail, and toured through Cambridge University. Hailee had her first cannoli, and we dined on a United Nations of cuisines: Japanese, Italian, Ethiopian and South American.
I made sure we rented an apartment in West Village, my favourite NYC neighborhood. Some days we were content to wander the villages’s streets, hang out in Washington Square Park and eat from all the best cafes. Other days we travelled around the city – highlights being a very indulgent afternoon at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn, and watching Something Rotten on Broadway.
May: West Coast Road Trip
Three weeks, two sisters, one big adventure! A month after I left Hailee in New York, we reunited in LA with plans to drive to Seattle via the prettiest beaches, vibrant cities and wild national parks.
My favourite stops if I had to choose: Bend, Oregon wins coolest outdoorsy city. San Francisco wins best food and best street art. Crater Lake and Yosemite’s Glacier Point tie for best views.
Best moments? Impromptu picnics and car karaoke, even if there was a little too much of The Biebs for my liking!
Further reading: West Coast Road Trip and Discovering San Francisco’s Mission District Street Art
June: Orcas Island
June brought many adventures thanks to hosting my parents and sister. In addition to a whale watching trip, the highlight was two days camping in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. We hiked as many of the trails as we could: Cascade Falls, Sunrise Rock, and the big kahuna – Mt Constitution. We ate like kings at the campsite, indulged in more calories via smores than what I burned on the mountain, and watched the fire crackle long into the evening.
Even if we did get woken up at 3am by some mischievous raccoons. I appreciate that Hailee didn’t murder me for waking her up to ‘see if she could also hear the weird sounds’. Oops.
The quickest long haul jaunt of the year was one of my favourites: Fiji!
In just four short days we celebrated with friends, snorkeled, scuba dived and drank cocktails on the Coral Coast – soaking up some sunshine and enjoying the company of old familiar faces. While the trip wasn’t kind on my wallet, it was worth every penny.
Everything is so epic in Alaska that the world itself begins to lose meaning. It’s hard to compare when one day you’re kayaking through Kenai Fjords, the next you’re spotting Beluga whales at Turnagain Arm, hiking beside North America’s biggest mountain, or coming within metres of a grizzly bear (from a shuttle bus thankfully!).
Favourite moments: ice hiking to Exit Glacier – so physically strenuous but so rewarding. And watching ice calving from the giant glaciers. The sound was phenomenal.
Don’t be fooled though, as Alaska’s not all just beautiful landscapes and wildlife. The food is world class and the local brewing scene is kick arse.
September: The South
I knew I would enjoy the South, but I never expected to love it so much.
I learnt so much more about America on this trip, and saw how completely different it is from Washington. The birthplace of the civil rights movement, the birthplace of rock and roll. Southerners really are as amazingly friendly and welcoming as they say, and the food as delicious. I would consider giving my remaining kidney for another taste of those Memphis sweet potato pancakes!
I discovered the intricacies of bourbon, and hung out with bison in The Land Between The Lakes. I went to my first ever country music gig, and loved every second. I understand why Nashville is one of America’s biggest party cities – the only place in the world that can keep me in the bar after 2am.
October: North Cascades & Olympia
Exhausted from back to back interstate trips, October was the month of Washington weekenders and enjoying the best of fall. An impromptu camping trip to North Cascades National Park offered some of the best scenery in the state, along with two of the prettiest hikes I’ve done all year.
In total contrast, we headed to Olympia for a city escape when the next weekend’s camping plans washed out. The state capital is also the capital of cool! I’m glad I finally visited to experience the vibrant food and bar scene and beautiful architecture.
More than any other city I visited this year, Chicago gave me a real feeling of ‘I could live here’. I can’t put my finger on what it is about the Windy City, but I just felt so relaxed there. We had five days to wander, eat amazing food, visit some quirky museums, drink Gluhwein at the Christmas market, check out some comedy and live music. A highlight was the Crime and Gangster walking tour, which uncovered the city’s complex history in a very interesting way, while giving me a front row seat to the best architecture in the world.
December: Leavenworth and London
Leavenworth is a quintessential winter experience in Washington, and one that I’d happily repeat every year – as touristy as it may be! Snow, Christmas lights and mulled wine is my ultimate December getaway.
London was so special to return to. Another ‘I could live here city’, no doubt in part due to the amount of family and friends that call the city home. A real perk of returning to a city you know is the lack of pressure to do a lot. I was more than content catching up on our lives over a pint and some classic British food. Just being in London itself is an experience.
To another year of learning, exploring and being kind to those around us. Wishing you all the best for 2017!
PS: This is just the highlights reel. Get the complete month by month at my Expat Escapades page!
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2016 in review. 2016 in review.