The year started out quite busy travelwise, but our 2019 travels slowed down a bit between the end of August and the beginning of November. Altogether we visited nine countries in 2019, two of them – New Zealand and Lebanon – for the first time.
We launched our 2019 travels with a short visit to Antwerp with Isa’s family. It was our first time in this small Belgian town and we would give a 3 out of 5 for the sightseeing, but we enjoyed the family time with waffles, fries and beer.
January/ February: Qatar/New Zealand
At the end of January we left for a long-planned trip to New Zealand. Six years earlier, we had already booked tickets and made a lot of reservations, but had to cancel the whole trip due to a knee surgery. This time we made it to the other side of the world with only one missed flight and a 24 hour layover in Doha/Qatar. For one month we explored New Zealand’s North Island by rental car. Read about the highlights of this trip here. Although we thoroughly enjoyed the hiking and paddling as well as the good coffee and pastries, we remain baffled by the hype about New Zealand. Nature there is beautiful, but not overwhelming, and a lot of places were quite crowded.
March/ April: Japan
March and April, as always, were blocked by tour guiding work in Japan during the cherry blossom season.
May seems to be the perfect season to travel to Scotland. It is already a little bit warmer (although we had some nights with freezing temperatures) and there are no midges yet. We hiked a part of the wonderful Hebridean Way, which covers a distance of 156 miles over 10 islands on the Outer Hebrides.
After that we met up with friends for one intensive week of whisky tasting on the island of Islay.
June 2019 we spent mostly in Germany writing and researching guidebooks and preparing research trips. Our only brief travel diversion was a paragliding introductory course in Stubai Valley/Tyrol.
In July we went to Kyoto to do research for our new Kyoto guidebook that is going to be published in spring 2020. After two weeks of visiting Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and ancient tombs we flew to Hokkaido in Northern Japan for some hiking.
As on previous trips to Hokkaido, the weather was quite rainy but we managed to climb another two of Japan’s “100 famous mountains” (hyakumeizan), among other things. And we saw some brown bears at the Shiretoko National Park.
After only a few days in Berlin, we left again for Tyrol/ Austria – the new edition of our Tyrol guidebook needed some in depth research. We had a fun-filled month with hiking, climbing and a lot of good food. We even tried stand-up-paddling and Forest Bathing (shinrinyoku). At the end of August Natascha tore her meniscus again and had to have knee surgery in Tyrol.
September to November: mostly Berlin
We stayed most of the time in Berlin writing: Our new guidebook about Kyoto and Osaka had to be written from scratch, and we also worked on the relaunch of our Tyrol guidebook. Isa went for two weeks of tour guiding work to Japan, while Natascha was busy in Berlin with physical rehab for the knee.
November: St. Petersburg
We did however squeeze in a short trip to St. Petersburg at the beginning of November. Piter (as the locals say) has been on our wish list for some time, and Russia in general is a destination we want to visit more, not least because we have been learning Russian for years. The city met all our expectations – despite the frosty winter temperatures that made even walking around a challenge. Wonderful museums, beautiful buildings, yummy food – and lots of Lenin statues!
December: Lebanon, Belgium (again) and Netherlands
After such a long time staying home, the urge to travel struck us again in December. We had planned our trip to Lebanon early. When the Lebanese revolution started in October we wavered but then decided to go anyway. Although there were still some protests and street barricades, we managed to visit a great deal of this small country. The Roman ruins were superb and the people very friendly and helpful. We were a little bit disappointed by the food that has such a good reputation, but for vegetarians it was a lot of hummus and falafel.
Last travels of 2019!
After spending Christmas in Cologne we went to Belgium for the second time this year. This time it was to see the newly opened Africa Museum in Brussels and some other sights. We finished this trip with one night in Rotterdam, enjoying a wonderful Indonesian rice table and a harbour cruise through Europe’s largest harbour (among other things).