Dates don’t mean much to us. As the days, then the hours and finally the seconds flow past and mark the end of 2017, we are not ones who would expect to wake up in 2018 feeling renewed, nor even a little changed. The “New Year, New You” wave of enthusiasm that every TV programme, newspaper and magazine claims to be sweeping the nation is definitely not something that we agree with in our household. As the fireworks start at midnight on New Year’s Eve, we usually enjoy a quiet night at home with our family. There are a glass of champagne and a slice of cake, sure, but that’s as wild as it gets.
And still, the Winter Holidays (yes, capitalised) are THE time for some reflection on the year that has been and the one that will come – if only because they’re a good time for relaxation and a little bit of introspection, away from computer screens and the mobile phones on which we otherwise depend for pretty much every single waking moment.
As a log burns lazily in the stove, the sound of an old pendulum clock providing an almost hypnotising backdrop to the flames, we reflect on the year on the road that 2017 has proved, somewhat unexpectedly, to be; and, with no attempt at disguising enthusiasm, we look forward to the adventures 2018 will bring us.
The year that ends brought more time on the road than we originally thought. It brought us to countries we had never been, in touch with cultures and people very different from our European background. As a family, we’ve been to the edge of the world – quite literally – challenging our limits, both physical and mental. We have met old friends, we have made new ones.
Fulfilling our long-held dream of visiting Svalbard was the highlight of the year. We had fantasised of the islands’ barren landscapes, snow-capped peaks and delightful loneliness for more than we can remember: to finally be at one with nature, alone in the immensity of the tundra in a part of the world whose existence may come as a surprise to most people, was to be in our element. It was a moment for introspection, as always happens when confronted with the power and majesty of nature: a reminder that humans can, at best, tame the wild only partially and fleetingly. It was a moment for adventure, too: a time for scaling mountains, visiting creepy abandoned mining villages, sailing past glaciers while always on the lookout, trying to spot an elusive polar bear.
We hit the road in Italy once more – this time tackling the Alps and possibly the most beautiful road in Europe (or the world), the Stelvio pass. We hiked on the Dolomites, out in the elements at the Cime di Lavaredo as the rain lashed down. We put ourselves in cheese coma (the most beautiful kind). We got worried we’d be chased by a raging bull (but that’s a different story).
Or travels took us to lands near and far – from Bahrain to Budapest, from China to the Caucasus. We dined in medieval French villages and swam at dusk in the Sardinian sea. It was a whirlwind year, a memorable one under so many aspects – and yet, it’s time to look on to 2018.
Never ones to spend too long looking back at what has been, we are eagerly awaiting what the new year will bring us. It will be another 12 months of ticking boxes, adding to lists, discovering what’s new and breaking boundaries. New countries, new foods – we can hardly wait. And heaven knows the temptations are many! Can our wandering spirits resist the never-ending flirting of the Arctic? The call of the cold (yes, even in August) is always strong with us. Having been everywhere else in the Great North, 2018 could be the year we finally visit the Faroe islands, a mystic land of Viking tales, seafaring folk, myths and legends suspended in the raging Northern Seas. It may be a good time to visit Sicily, experiencing Italy at its most Mediterranean and exploring the island’s Norman, Arab and Greek past – a melting pot of cultures that played such a crucial role in the history of one of our home countries.
And of course, there’ll be more. There will be unplanned adventures, surprises and last-minute hop-on-and-go trips. After all, isn’t the unexpected the best you can sometimes get?