2022 was the year we finally got out to see the world again, post-pandemic! Here’s a rundown of my travel highlights from the past 12 months…
Travel highlights 1: Utrecht
The Other Half and I have been fans of the Norwegian folk duo The Kings of Convenience for many years now and go and see them play live whenever possible. When we saw that they were doing a concert in Utrecht in March 2022, we immediately bought tickets. And we kept our fingers crossed that the new and delicate freedom from lockdown would hold long enough for us to get there.
It did! After spending a pleasant couple of days in Amsterdam, we took the train to Utrecht. What a great place! Big enough to be interesting and have a lot going on, but small enough to be able to cover the sights on foot. And almost no crowds to speak of.
The classic tall, thin Dutch houses crowded along canals, the cathedral long since cleaved in two, and a world class rail museum. The city also has a thriving nightlife and a multitude of charming shops, cafés and bars to browse and discover. Utrecht easily combines historic charm with youthful energy (pictured above).
We stayed at Hotel Muze, which was an absolute delight. Taken over and lovingly renovated by a brother and sister after the deaths of their respective spouses, Muze is obviously a labour of love. Utrecht’s status as a university town has carried over into the décor of the rooms: each one is themed to match a different faculty. We stayed in the “Science” room, complete with old microscopes, test tubes and specimens suspended in what looked like formaldehyde.
One takes breakfast in the shared dining/sitting room downstairs or the attached conservatory. Muesli with rich natural yoghurt, bread, jam and butter, fruit salad, coffee…you don’t start your day hungry, that’s for sure! Here’s an introductory video made by the hotel proprietors which tells you a bit more about their story (only in Dutch):
Travel highlights 2: Genoa
The Other Half and I are keen walkers and take part in IML (= International Marching League) marches whenever possible. This year, we decided to head on down to Genoa in the Italian province of Liguria to take part in the annual march at Arenzano (about half an hour away from Genoa on the train).
All I knew about Genoa beforehand was that it has been a busy port and centre of learning for hundreds of years. And that many wealthy families lived there, leaving magnificent villas strewn around right, left and centre.
Now, I am no newbie to Italy. I’ve been several times (to Rome, Milan and South Tyrol) and always enjoyed my time there. But I never fully understood why people raved about it so. Our trip to Genoa in 2022 finally brought enlightenment. Italy has a flair and a vibe like nowhere else. There is just an energy and a drive to live life to the full — la dolce vita, darling! — that I hadn’t appreciated fully in my previous trips. Now I get it! It was definitely one of my travel highlights for the year.
Cimitero die Staglieno – mind the mozzies!
The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Cimitero di Staglieno, a half hour bus ride out of town. We’d already seen the bombast of Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale in 2010 and went out to Cimitero di Staglieno not expecting it to compare. Gosh, how wrong we were. Staglieno is worth a whole daytrip! Artfully crumbling edifices house tomb after tomb of the Genoese elite (and Oscar Wilde’s wife, Constance Lloyd), topped with the loveliest and most expressive funereal sculpture I have ever seen.
I could have spent hours there, exploring each staircase and hidden nook…but the mosquitoes drove us away after just half an hour. Genoa is plagued by these nasty little critters and the shady, tree-lined alleys of Cimitero di Staglieno offer the perfect breeding ground for them. Caught short without fly repellent, it was impossible to stand still for even ten seconds without being attacked en masse. Since I react badly to mozzie bites and am often left with scars from them, I had no other choice but to hotfoot it off the premises. Surveying the damage back at our hotel, I counted over 25 bites — almost one for each minute I was there. Ouch.
But, no fear — I am determined to go back there. Just with every inch of my body slathered in fly repellent first.
3. Kutna Horá
Our spring tour of the Czech Republic took in a series of towns from Ceské Budejovice to Pardubice. Yet Kutna Horá was the unexpected runaway star of the trip. It was here that I would celebrate my 40th birthday. While I was sure that the town would not disappoint on the historical front, I had kind of fancied a more glamourous place to ring in the changes. But, my goodness, did Kutna Horá come up with the goods! It definitely has its place among my 2022 travel highlights.
Kutna Horá (or Kuttenberg, as it was called in German) became prosperous from the rich seams of silver buried under the town. The enormous wealth this generated sucked in all manner of movers and shakers in the Europe of the Middle Ages. As can be seen from the wealth of architectural gems populating the streets there, such as the awesome St. Barbara’s cathedral and the Italian Court. The ossuary at Sedlec adds a slightly macabre touch and is definitely worth a visit, even if you do go away feeling a bit queasy.
Looking for a suitable way to spend the last night of being thirty-something, we checked out Trip Advisor to see what bars looked good. Bar 22 had positive ratings and wasn’t too far from our hotel. So we headed over there after lining our bellies with some straight-up Czech stodge.
Best. Cocktail. Bar. Ever. I kid you not — whoever designed the cocktails should be working in the Raffles in Singapore, not in a town at the end of a branch line in the Czech Republic, however lovely it is.
Art in a glass
This was some seriously impressive stuff. No — it was ART. In every way. Cocktails were designed based on various well-known works of art, from Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup to Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
TOH chose Starry Night, while I chose “Heroic Revolutionary”, based on Alberto Korda’s famous photo of Che Guevara. “Starry Night” featured CBD oil, which the waitress dripped onto the surface of the cocktail as it stood on the table. She gave the glass two brisk 90° turns to the left, the oil swirled. “Starry Night”, she said simply…and by golly if it wasn’t an alcoholic representation of the famous painting!
My cocktail had Maraschino cherry liqueur listed in the ingredients. And yet I couldn’t see any trace of red in the glass as the waitress set it down in front of me. Before I could ponder this Very Pressing Question in any depth, the genius waitress holds up an empty bullet casing between her glittering acrylic fingernails for me to see. With a flourish, she drops it into my yellow cocktail, releasing a swirl of blood-red liqueur. Voilà! A cocktail fit for a Cuban revolutionary — and a British bird about to turn 40!
Bar 22 in Kutna Horá folks — it’s the business. You heard it here first.