After 2020 became a year like no other, I hoped 2021 might see a return to travel as I’d previously known it with lots of exciting new adventures. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts the idea of the 12 trips challenge is to do at least one trip a month and I had lots planned in 2021, including quite a few that had been postponed from the previous year.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t over and once again plans had to change. But the great thing about the challenge is that it can be trips that are near or far, a long trip or a day trip. The point is to make the time to get out, explore and enjoy yourself. So even with the continued limitations of lockdowns and restrictions on travel, I still managed to rise to the 12 trips challenge in 2021.
1. January – discovering Bushy Park
After Christmas was all but cancelled, England headed straight into another lockdown and for me, it was the hardest one. The short days and cold weather invariably make January a tough month and with nowhere to go and no indication of when the lockdown would end, this year was worse than usual. But Zoom drinks with friends and walking trips kept my spirits up, first with another visit to Esher Commons and then discovering the delights of Bushy Park. It’s only a 30 minute walk away but I hadn’t been before and didn’t realise how big it is. Lots of space for all the deer and the other lockdown walkers!
2. February – walking and a virtual wine tour
February continued in a similar vein with more walks to Bushy Park and nearby Home Park which I’d previously only been into for the Hampton Court Flower Show. It looks quite different and much quieter without that underway. Later in the month I virtually ventured overseas to Italy with an excellent online wine tasting, before finishing the month with a return to the Molesey section of the River Thames. Can’t beat a river walk on a sunny winter’s day.
3. March – gourmet food trip
Lockdown continued into March though we at least had a roadmap out of it by now. I decided to celebrate with a virtual trip to local restaurant No 97. They provided all the courses for a gourmet dinner and instructions ready for you to cook at home. My friend and I were very surprised at how professional our efforts looked! The rest of the month saw more walking, but I think my favourite trip was to the local community centre to get my first Covid vaccine.
4. April – outdoor celebrations
Finally, in April we were able to visit family. It was outdoors only but I ordered a delicious chocolate treat from the local patisserie and headed off to Gloucester for Easter lunch in my sister’s garden and a cuppa in my brother’s garden. Yes were following the rules in April, unlike those setting them in Downing Street!
I took the rest of the week off work so paid a visit to lovely Polesdon Lacey to do their Wellness Walk. Then later in the month pubs and restaurants could open for outdoor dining. So there were trips locally and up to London to meet friends and make the most of our newfound freedom, albeit well wrapped up and armed with a blanket!
5. May – drive-in movie and a Deal staycation
There was more walking and outdoor dining in May but also a new experience. A trip to a drive-in cinema at nearby Sandown Park to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A fab classic film and a great experience. Then as the Uzbekistan trip was moved on another year it was off for a staycation in Deal on the Kent coast.
Unfortunately, it was a rainy week but luckily indoor dining was allowed a couple of days after we arrived. So we dodged the showers to explore the local area and enjoy some excellent meals, as well as drinking wine at Le Pinardier which is so French it felt like we were across the Channel. I chose Deal because it’s becoming known for food and drink and I would really recommend checking it out. You can read more in my Deal blog post.
6. June – more wine and a wedding
I started the month with a trip to England’s biggest vineyard Denbies which fortunately for me is just a half-hour drive away. It’s a great spot for an alfresco lunch followed by one of the National Trust walks around Denbies Hillside. Then at the end of the month, it was time for a long-awaited event, my godson’s wedding. Like many others, it had been postponed more than once by the pandemic so it was fabulous to finally get to see the happy couple tie the knot in a gorgeous Hampshire venue.
7. July – on a flight at last!
International travel started to be possible from around mid-May but the ‘green list’ was very limited until late June when the Balearic Islands were added. The planned New York trip wasn’t possible and while Majorca hadn’t been on my travel list previously, a week there turned out to be a great tonic.
We spent three nights in the island’s beautiful capital Palma followed by four at the beach in Alcudia. You can read more about both in the Spain section of my blog. Later in the month saw a trip to Painshill Park for some excellent outdoor comedy and visits to some private local gardens that opened their gates for fundraising. It’s a great opportunity to see behind the fences!
8. August – the return of the theatres
Finally, in August the theatres started to open again so there were a couple of rescheduled trips and one new booking. First was a return to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to see the musical Carousel. It’s such a special venue, if you haven’t been do try and check it out this year. Then it was a trip to the Rose Theatre in Kingston for Educating Rita and to the West End to see Constellations – not the cast we booked to see but it was still excellent. And so was the visit to Pick and Cheese, a sushi-style cheese restaurant in Seven Dials.
The month also saw a return to a Lazy Jazz Sunday at Polesdon Lacey and then ended with a trip to see the family in Gloucester. The visit included finally being able to do another postponed trip – to the Three Choirs Vineyard. The tour and tasting were great and it’s a really lovely place to walk around.
9. September – books, Belfast and Puglia
September is always a busy month and it started with a trip to another live event, this time it was the launch of Elizabeth Day’s new book Magpie at the Barbican. I’m a big fan of Elizabeth so it was a real treat to see her IRL. Then it was the return of our annual girls weekend. Not to Krakow as planned, but to Belfast which turned out to be a brilliant place for a long weekend. We stayed at the fab Bullitt Hotel and also fitted in a trip up the Antrim coast to Giants Causeway. I’m a bit behind on blog posts but a Belfast one will be coming soon(ish).
A week later it was my birthday and a first time trip to London’s Sky Garden with its excellent London views before seeing the fabulous Michael Ball in Hairspray. Then it was my third flight of the year for a two-week road trip around Puglia in Southern Italy. The first stop was beautiful Ostuni which you can read about in this post. Then it was Lecce with its stunning churches and amphitheatres and which will likely be the subject of the next post I publish.
10. October – more Puglia plus magical Matera
I started the month staying in one of Alberobello’s intriguing Trulli houses. They are so unique and unusual it had to be done. Then we crossed the regional border from Puglia into Basilicata to visit Matera, a really special place with a very interesting history. The whole trip to Italy was fab but Matera probably edged it as the favourite.
Then it was back into Puglia for a final few days of rest and relaxation in pretty Polignano a Mare. At the start of the year, I honestly didn’t think any overseas trips would be possible and though none were the ones I originally planned I felt very lucky every time I managed to get away. Blog posts about all of these places will also be coming at some stage. I’d love to do it more quickly but with a busy job, a house to look after and trips to be taken I have to find the right balance between living life and writing about it!
11. November – fireworks, art and fromage
The days are getting short by November so I decided to add some sparkle by going to Surrey’s biggest fireworks display at Imber Court. Bit chaotic but a fab display. Then the following week was a trip to the Royal Academy’s delayed Summer Exhibition. Not the best one I’ve been to but still worth the trip and followed by an excellent champagne and cheese afternoon tea at quirky Champagne+Fromage in Covent Garden. Then we ended the day trip with a classic cocktail at old favourite Joe Allens which had finally reopened after closing for the first lockdown. Welcome back Joe’s!
12. December – theatre, Christmas lights and hope
I had a great start to Christmas month with a visit to the National Theatre to see my cousin performing in Hex, a musical retelling of Sleeping Beauty. My sister and brother-in-law came up for it too and although it was cold it was a great day to walk along the Southbank before the show.
Other trips this month included two to the Southwark Playhouse to see Gatsby which was cancelled the first time we tried! In between was a trip to see the lights at Christmas at Kew which is always wonderfully festive. Then it was back into London for a pre-Christmas Sunday lunch with the girls at the Green Room.
Happy to say that with no new restrictions I was then able to head down to Gloucester for Christmas. Thanks to Covid’s new variant it didn’t all go as planned but was still lovely. And although my New Year’s Eve booking was also scuppered by Omicron, I ended the year with a visit to Claremont Landscape Gardens in beautiful sunshine and then cooked dinner for friends. You can’t ask for a much better end to the year than that and despite the continuation of the pandemic, I’m hopeful that 2022 will be the year when life starts to feel normal again – and the trips I originally booked for 2020 finally happen. Here’s hoping!