2018 was slow and quiet when it came to travel. For the past few years, I’ve kept my wanderlust locally. It feels like dreams of big adventures faraway are behind me. Give me a road trip around Dorset against backpacking in Vietnam any day. I don’t know if it’s my eco-consciousness weighing heavier or if it is a desire for simpler things that comes with age, but this year my travelling footprint has been kept on an even tighter leash. While 2017 brought me to new horizons, 2018’s explorations were strictly confined to the limits of my two ‘homes’, Ireland and Belgium.
And I’ve zero regret about that. I discovered some fantastic new places (to me) in Dublin but also gave a second chance to Belfast which had previously left me indifferent and saw it with complete different eyes!
Keep reading to find out my 5 favourite travel discoveries of 2018!
HOWTH CASTLE DEMESNE (DUBLIN, IRELAND)
Back in June, during the rhododendron season, I went to Howth Castle for the very first time. The Howth peninsula located on the coastline of Dublin has always been one of my favourite haunts. This little seaside village has charm by the bucketload but up until recently I had no idea that the rows of trees at the back of the port were hiding the splendid Howth Castle Demesne.
My favourite part in the estate was the ancient rhododendron garden. The jungle of bright bushes of flowers and their tangled roots is not something you’d expect to find in Ireland. It certainly has quite an exotic look about it. At the top of the rhododendron hill is one of the most magnificent views you’ll find in Dublin. From the Ireland’s Eye to the Poolbeg Chimneys, Dublin felt it was completely mine from up there that afternoon.
TWO GARDENS IN WICKLOW (IRELAND)
In September, I didn’t want to let Summer go. Despite being the longest I’ve known since living in Ireland, it still wasn’t enough and I was feeling the Autumn anxiety settling in. Now, I think the best way to hold on to Summer a little longer is to visit a beautiful garden. So I visited two that day, in my favourite county: Wicklow.
They’re located just outside Blessington and they belong to two siblings: June Blake’s Garden and Jim’s Hunting Brook Gardens. They were absolutely delightful in very different ways. I was extremely happy to catch the dahlia season and see those glorious pompoms featured heavily in both gardens. This flower is so nostalgic to me and seeing all the beautifully jewel-toned varieties June and Jim picked for their gardens made the transition to Autumn just that little smoother.
14 HENRIETTA STREET (DUBLIN, IRELAND)
Last year saw the opening of a rather exciting new museum in Dublin. 14 Henrietta Street tells the story of tenement housing in the Irish capital city. I was so eager to see it that I booked a ticket for the museum’s pre-launch tours. Henrietta Street is one of the most beautiful streets here, it features in many English and Irish films as it makes for the perfect period drama set. I was really intrigued to finally see the inside of one of these tall Georgian houses that tower over this cinematic cobbled street. The restoration of 14 Henrietta Street is absolutely brilliant and it was edifying to learn about its many residents. The story the museum tells resonated with me as it echoes so acutely the devastating housing crisis Dublin is experiencing at the moment.
Whenever I’m visiting home, I always make a point to explore something new (to me) whether it is a quarter in Brussels or a whole new city. This time, it was lovely Ghent in the Flanders region. I think it lives a bit in the shadow of Bruges, unjustly so as it really oozes pizzazz. I only spent a quick afternoon there in the Autumn and although the city is tiny, it definitely wasn’t enough time. I was truly mesmerised by the charmed life unfolding along the canals.
BELFAST (NORTHERN IRELAND, UNITED KINGDOM)
In December, I really embraced the festive spirit and visited lots of lovely Christmas markets. I was especially looking forward to checking out the Belfast one. It is the Rolls Royce of the Irish festive calendar, after all. Unfortunately the market was a bit of a let-down for me (it was so crowded that it became impossible to really enjoy what the stalls had to offer) but I discovered that I actually really like Belfast! It came as a complete surprise as I had previously visited the Northern Irish capital and it had always left me rather cold. But with a few recommendations sent by some of my very kind instagram subscribers, I felt the city finally opening itself to me. I can’t wait to go back and explore it on a warmer day!
For 2019, I hope to continue to keep my travels very locally. My heart does not long for exotic horizons at the minute. Ireland, Belgium and the UK sound just right for me. I do want to spend more time near the sea so I’d love to do some kind of road trip along the coastline in the South of England. I’m also toying with the idea of cycling the Waterford Greenway in Ireland in the Spring. Finally, as mentioned above, another trip up to Belfast will hopefully be on the cards! That’s the extent of my travel wishes for 2019 but I’m very conscious of the looming Brexit cloud and I’m really not sure how it will affect travelling to the UK from Ireland. Tell me, do you have any exciting trip(s) planned for 2019?