Head trip

This time last year I was close to a month out from my Mega-Fun Times Euro Trip-pin’ the Light Fantastic. Or, Euro trip, for short. I would have been obsessively reading hotel reviews on Trip Advisor, bandaging my blisters in an attempt to hurriedly wear in my new summer sandals, and counting down my last days of employment.

One year on and I’m employed again, but with no trips to plan for — except the ones in my head. My destination wish list is growing steadily, helped along by a new job where I spend hours searching through stock photos for pictures of exotic locales to accompany travel articles. It’s not quite the same as booking flights and planning itineraries, but, these days, I’ll take what I can get.

Have you ever picked a holiday spot based entirely on one photo? An image can be a powerful thing. I’ve just added two new places to my travel bucket list thanks to a couple of bright & shiny pics that caught my attention. Best of all, they’re both places I know practically nothing about, making the prospect of travelling there one day even more exciting.

First up: Crimea. Show of hands anyone who’s familiar with it. It’s not just me, right? I really hope I’m not alone in my ignorance, because the embarrassing truth is I’m not entirely sure I even knew it existed. I mean, yes, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of the Crimean War, but did I know that Crimea is an ‘autonomous republic within Ukraine’? Nope. Nor did I know that, with its gorgeous coastlines cradling the Black Sea, it’s considered the Riviera for Russians and Ukrainians. After looking at a photo like the one below, I’m a believer.

Swallow's Nest, Crimea. Photo by И. Максим

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to rectify my lack of knowledge and spend some careful time researching this new (to me) place. It’s amazing what five minutes on Wikipedia will turn up. Crimea, sometimes known as The Crimea (but not to be confused with British band The Crimea, which seems like an odd choice for a band name. Like calling yourself Canada when you’re three blokes from Australia), is a country rich in history, thanks to being fought over and occupied by various groups over the past several centuries. It’s currently part of Ukraine, but was previously Russia’s gem, handed over by the then-Soviet Union in 1954 as a gesture of goodwill. As a consequence, it features a mix of identities, including Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars (who suffered a few atrocities under Stalin’s rule) and more.

A Crimean cathedral

From the tourist’s perspective, Crimea has an appealing array of activities on offer — scuba diving, wine tasting, ruins touring, to name a few — from its mountains to its beach towns. Best of all, thanks to its Eastern European location, prices are apparently much more wallet-friendly than what you’d find in Mediterranean hotspots. Look at me now — I’m practically selling you the place. Aren’t you desperate to get there yourself? I am!

The next place I fell in love with via photo is Budapest (and before you think it, yes, I have heard of Hungary’s capital). It happened while searching for a picture to go with a Danube river cruise story. (Side note: a Danube river cruise has also, independently, made the wish list.) Budapest just looks pretty fantastic. Check it out:

Budapest on the Danube

Doesn’t that just scream European grandeur and importance? Those deliciously spiky, Gothic towers make up the Parliament buildings — which look even more impressive from inside, where guided tours are on offer. Budapest (quirky fact: it was originally made up of two separate cities, Buda and Pest) is a popular tourist destination and boasts a number of World Heritage Sights, including Buda castle and the banks of the Danube.

One thing I know I’d be doing in Budapest after a hard day of sightseeing on its cobbled streets is a visit to some thermal baths. Known as the City of Spas (does it get better than that?), Budapest features numerous baths that date back to Roman times, in venues from traditional to modern. And after letting the medicinal waters work their magic, I’d definitely be ready to tuck into a tasty feast of … you guessed it … Goulash! Needless to say, I’ve got my future visit all planned out.

So there you go. I might not be able to drop everything and jet off for a holiday right at this moment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be productive and think about where I could go one day. And in the meantime? I learned a few things. Horizons: broadened.

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