How is it possible that 2021 is over already?

We’ve done a yearly review for a while now by summing up the travel lessons we learned. For 2021, we want to do something different.

Even though we got to travel more in 2021, Covid still had a huge impact not just on us but on the whole world. Our travel lessons this year strongly resemble the ones from 2020, and we think it’s more practical (and also much more fun for you to read) if we instead focus on our highlights of 2021.

So here they are—a lot of ups and downs, but also lots of great moments that we enjoyed.

Make sure to also check out our review from the previous years:

Our year 2021 in review

3 weeks in Greece

View of St Nicholas Anapausas Monastery

Our highlight of 2021 was, without a doubt, our trip to Greece.

Daniel and I both work full-time jobs, so our time off is limited to a few weeks a year. We always try to make the most of it, and this year, we decided to go to Greece for three weeks.

As we were fascinated by the country’s history, we decided to spend most of our time on mainland Greece. That way, we visited some of the most famous Greek ruins, like the Parthenon or Delphi, and learned about the Byzantine Empire in Mistras or the Mycenean culture.

Do you know who the Myceneans were? They were basically the Greeks before the Greeks (in a very simplified way) and one of the great Bronze age cultures. The best way to learn more about them is by visiting Mycenae, which you can reach on a day trip from Athens.

We also visited Meteora, a place both Daniel and I had wanted to go to for a long time. Our hike here was one of the highlights of our trip.

After two weeks on the mainland, we took a ferry and explored Paros and Santorini. The contrast between the Greek islands and the mainland is so strong, it was almost like travelling to a different country.

Boats and blue chairs in the Naousa Port

We absolutely loved Paros, with its photogenic towns, and we also had a great time in Santorini. The latter was a bit too touristy for us, though, so we would likely not come back here if we returned to Greece.

Going off the beaten path in Greece

We love going off the beaten path, which is why we decided to visit some lesser-known corners of Greece.

Have you ever heard of the Pelion peninsula?

The day we arrived in Athens, I saw a picture on the website of the Greece tourism board, showing a dreamy mountain village. It took us a while to figure out where this village was, but once we did, we decided to add this area to our itinerary.

View of Makrinista, one of the villages of Pelion

Compared to the rest of the country, very few international tourists visit the Pelion peninsula. We decided to base ourselves in Volos, a seaside town known for its unique food traditions. From here, we caught a bus into the mountains and visited two unique villages.

While we never made it to the dreamy mountain village whose image had inspired me to visit the area (it was too remote for our relatively short trip), we had a fantastic time. It was only two days, but I’m glad we took them to get off the beaten path.

Spending a week in Spain

Ilona in a street of Patones, Spain
Patones, a beautiful village near Madrid we visited

For Daniel’s birthday in September, we decided to spend a week in Spain with his family.

His parents live close to Madrid, and due to Covid, we hadn’t been able to see them much lately. Spending a week with them was a great decision.

Not only did this week give us a much-needed rest, but we also managed to see some of Daniel’s friends. The incidence was low in Spain, and the vaccination rate was high, so we took advantage of the situation.

We even went to the cinema for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic! The movie was in Spanish, so I didn’t understand everything, but it was great to be out and feel a bit normal again.

Two trips to the Rhine Valley

View of Bacharach, Rhine Valley

Living in Frankfurt, we are only an hour away from the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

Yet, until this year, we had never been there. To make up for it, we decided to go twice.

The first trip took us to Rüdesheim, a cute town on the shores of the Rhine. It’s famous for its atmospheric Old Town and its vineyards. Plus, we took two cable cars across the vineyards, hiked through the forest and finally returned by boat. It was only a day trip, but we easily could have spent more time there.

That’s why we decided to come back later in summer. This time, we stayed for a whole weekend and based ourselves in Bacharach, a bit further down the river.

Street in Bacharach Rhine Valley

The Rhine Valley is famous for its many castles, and we tried to see as many of them as possible. We also went on another boat ride, discovered a Spanish restaurant and took hundreds of photos.

We highly recommend adding the Rhine Valley to your Germany itinerary if you’re planning a trip to this country. It’s easily one of our favourite areas that we’ve visited.

Visiting Heidelberg

View of Heidelberg

The Rhine Valley is not the only great place we visited close to home.

About an hour away from Frankfurt, you can find Heidelberg. This university city is famous for its castle, which towers above the romantic Old Town.

Daniel and I have talked about visiting Heidelberg for a long time already, and this year, we finally made it. The city is easy to reach on a day trip from Frankfurt, and we had a wonderful time. During just one day, we strolled through the Old Town, took a funicular up to a nearby mountain top and explored the castle.

We enjoyed Flammkuchen, a regional pizza-like dish, for lunch and went for a walk on the other side of the river in the afternoon, from where we had fantastic views of the Old Town.

Spending half a year at home

View of the Romerberg in Frankfurt

Reading all of the above points, it almost sounds as if we had a normal year.

That was not the case. In fact, we spent the first six months of the year pretty much in lockdown. While we tried to go for walks around our neighbourhood, there were weeks when our most exciting “trip” was going to the supermarket.

In Germany, shops and restaurants remained closed until May 2021. Even after they reopened, Daniel and I remained cautious as we waited for our vaccination appointments. In retrospect, I can’t even remember much of those months. They passed in a blur of working from home, working on the blog and staying in our small apartment.

We eventually pulled through, and things improved significantly after we got our vaccinations in summer. Even at the end of the year, when infection rates peaked again in Germany, we didn’t have to go back to the lockdown we’d had before.

Let’s hope it stays like this in the future!

Exploring close to Frankfurt (Hanau, green belt, Biebrich Palace etc.)

Even though for the greatest part of the year, we couldn’t really go anywhere, we at least tried to explore the area close to home.

And by close to home, I mean really close.

Both Heidelberg and the Rhine Valley are only about an hour away, but even that seemed far for many months. That’s why we tried to discover the nicest corners of Frankfurt and the immediate surroundings.

Frankfurt, the city forest & the green belt

We love the Old Town of Frankfurt. But we also found lots of unique places in other neighbourhoods. Nordend, for example, is one of my favourites. We like to go for walks in that direction. The area is home to stylish old mansions, cute cafes and small shops.

Bergerstrasse in Frankfurt

We also discovered the Green Belt of Frankfurt. It’s a circular area on the outskirts of Frankfurt, which is full of nature. In spring, we went hiking here and even saw some nutrias, oversized rodents that live in a river close to the city.

Maybe we overdid it a bit with the hike, as after half a year of staying inside, it only took us an hour of walking to feel completely exhausted. We still had a fun time.

Besides the green belt, Frankfurt also has a city forest. It’s a bit close to the airport, so you won’t always find peace and quiet here, but it’s still perfect for a quick escape into nature.

Bavarian villages with friends

Square in the Old Town of Miltenberg

In summer, two friends asked if we wanted to explore some nearby villages with them. We rented a car and drove to Miltenberg, which looks exactly how you’d imagine a German town.

Half-timbered houses line the pedestrian zone in the Old Town, and you can easily spend half a day walking around and exploring the small shops. Or you can sit down in one of the cafes and enjoy a drink or an ice cream.

We also explored the nearby forest, where we hiked on a barefoot path. If you’ve never been to one of those, we can highly recommend them as it’s an unusual experience. The small twigs on the ground were surprisingly pointy, but overall, we still had lots of fun.

Hanau, Darmstadt & Wiesbaden (neighbouring cities)

View of Darmstadt Mathildenhoe

Did you know that the Grimm Brothers were born in a town close to Frankfurt?

This year, we finally made it to Hanau, their birthplace. We visited the Old Town, which is famous for its many statues representing scenes from the Grimm fairytales. Nearby, we also explored a castle that now houses the Grimm Museum.

Besides Hanau, we also returned to Wiesbaden. We had been here before, but we didn’t have enough time to see Biebrich Palace during our last visit. This year, we came here just for the palace and to explore the gardens around it.

Then, in summer, my parents and my grandma came to visit, so we decided to go to Darmstadt.

People looking at art in Darmstadt Mathildenhoe Park

The city is famous for the Mathildenhöhe, a neighbourhood that was once an artist colony. UNESCO recognised it as a world heritage site earlier in the year, and we were excited to go and see the place ourselves.

The Mathildenhöhe is known for its Jugendstil buildings, which is the German counterpart of the Art Nouveau style. I am, to be honest, not the biggest fan of this architectural style, but I still think it was worth visiting. If you’re in the area and have an extra day, consider checking out Darmstadt.

Christmas markets are back

Gluehwein mugs at Frankfurt Christmas Market

Something exciting happened towards the end of the year.

The Frankfurt Christmas Market opened.

For a long time, we were unsure whether it was going to be cancelled. The incidence kept going up and other German states decided to skip the Christmas markets again this year.

Frankfurt, on the other hand, went ahead and opened the market. We weren’t very keen on the crowds that Christmas markets attract, so we decided to go there during our lunch break instead of going out in the evening.

This turned out to be a great idea. We ended up going multiple times to grab lunch at the Christmas market, and there were never any crowds.

Flammlachs sold at Christmas Market
Flammlachs is one of our favourite Christmas market foods!

If you’re visiting Frankfurt in December, try going to the market during the week because it is much more enjoyable than on the weekend.

On a not so positive note, we had been hoping to visit the Christmas market in the Ravenna Gorge this year. We even bought tickets in late October. Unfortunately, the market had to be cancelled, so we hope the situation gets better in 2022.

Getting engaged

While we had fantastic travel experiences, we also had other positive news in 2021.

Daniel and I got engaged!

We are already super excited about our wedding, even though it won’t take place until 2023. At the moment, we are busy scouting locations (our dream would be to get married in a castle) and just dreaming about how great it’s going to be when we’re finally husband and wife.

Keep following us, and we’ll let you know how everything goes!

Getting serious about our blog

Daniel sitting in front of St Stephen Monastery with a cat

Even though we’ve been blogging for a while, we were never too serious about this blog. It was a fun hobby, but we didn’t have a strategy in place for growing it.

In 2021, we wanted to change that.

We had already registered our blog as a company at the end of 2020, but we struggled to increase our traffic. That’s why we decided to join a course and learn more about what it takes to become a successful blogger.

It turns out we had a lot to learn. And we still do. We are experimenting with different kinds of posts to find out what you guys prefer, and we’re learning what it takes to write articles that can help you with your next trip.

We also learned a lot about monetising our blog, which brings us to our next point.

Earning our first income with the blog

Ilona sitting in Varlaam Monastery in Meteora

In 2021, we earned our first income with this blog.

Even though it wasn’t much, and we didn’t even earn enough to cover our expenses, it was a massive achievement for us. I find it exciting to see some money trickle into our account, no matter how little it is.

We will definitely keep working on our blog in 2022, so hopefully, we can bring it up to a more steady income. If we reach this point, we might start publishing income reports, so keep your eyes open if you’re interested in knowing how difficult it is to make money with a travel blog.

That’s it for 2021.

So what comes next?

Well, 2022 is an exciting year for both of us. Daniel has agreed on a sabbatical with his company and will be leaving on an overlanding trip to Africa at the end of March. I won’t be able to come with him initially, but my plan is to join him in July so we can travel together for a while.

Where? We have no idea yet. If 2021 has taught us anything, it’s that it’s best to be flexible with these kinds of plans. So let’s wait and see what this year brings!

How about you? What were your highlights of 2021, and what are your plans for 2022?

Until your next adventure!

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Ilona is a world traveller passionate about sharing her experiences and giving advice to fellow travellers. Having visited over 70 countries, she is always excited about her next trip.

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