“A postponed journey means a very special future opportunity.”
So say I after having to cancel two booked trips last January, which have now been re-scheduled for early 2020.
More of those later, what about the trips actually undertaken in 2019?
A late February stay in our central Athens apartment so we could visit family & friends was made extra special as my regular travel buddy Hamish joined us for a long weekend.
We have all experienced the Greek capital’s finest on many occasions before, so instead paid a visit to Lycabettus Hill to take in the interesting little chapel of St George and the stunning view of Athens across to the Acropolis and out to Piraeus and the Aegean.
On the way down we hopped into St George’s Hotel, venue of our year 2000 wedding reception. It was the first time in nineteen years that Athenian Mrs Wilbur, my best man Hamish & I had entered the building. Memories immediately flooded back of our first dance, cutting the cake and my very poor attempt at Greek dancing!
A rooftop beer to witness sunset over the Acropolis was a fitting way to bring the day’s proceedings to an end.
Next day we undertook a very pleasant 90-minute train ride to the coastal town of Halkiva. The train meandered through lemon groves and woods of pine before hugging the deep blue sea. The last part of the journey saw us loop around the bay to come to a final halt at the waterside station.
Our first port of call was the cliff top fort with its enclosed extremely pleasant ethnographic museum, before we retired to a sunny restaurant with a panoramic view.
A three-hour lunch and short promenade later, it was time to return to the capital.
A Book & A Presentation
May saw the publication of my book, ‘Wilbur’s Travels Part One – Travelling By Train Across The Balkans’ and my presentation of ‘The Railroad To Damascus’ at the Globetrotters Club in London. No actual travelling but plenty of reminiscing on epic journeys undertaken in my past.
Aleppo Station, Syria
The birthday weekend of a very good friend saw Mrs Wilbur and I make our first proper visit to Scotland’s biggest city.
As well as the host of celebrations we also went to the fabulous Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, took high tea at the atmospheric Mackintosh at the Willow Tea Rooms and witnessed the architectural splendour of the Cathedral.
We took another train trip too, this time to Balloch, gateway to picturesque Loch Lomond, for a boat journey across and a stroll around the loch.
Slovenia, Austria & Slovakia
In June, Mrs Wilbur and I undertook a train tour in three countries. We started in Slovenia’s splendid capital Ljubljana.
Not only did we enjoy the picturesque city laid out on the banks of River Ljubljanica, but were also lucky enough to visit during the city’s jazz festival.
With stages dotted around the city, there were plenty of very decent free concerts on offer. We also indulged in a couple of paying gigs to see the highly talented Mammal Hands and the amazing rabble of brilliant musicians who make up Snarky Puppy.
A side trip to the Adriatic resort of Piran was also very welcome. A very attractive coastal town with wide open squares, relaxing seaside cafes and some of the best gelato north of Italy.
The train to Lake Bled was an enjoyable experience in its own right as we skirted through the Julian Alps past winding rivers, evergreen forests and brooding mountains.
Bled was for relaxing for two days with slow ambles around the lake, leisurely meals & drinks overlooking it, and more tasty gelato.
We did also take a boat out to Bled Island, home to an interesting chapel with its bell tower offering great views of the lake and surrounding countryside.
From Bled we took another train further through the mountains for a night at the Austrian city of Klagenfurt. Much of the journey flanked the impressive lake Wörthersee, affording great views of much boat activity and small lakeside towns.
Klagenfurt itself was well worth the stop with its impressive architecture and flower strewn traffic-free squares.
Our next train took us to the ski resort of Semmering high up in the Austrian Alps.
Refreshing mountain air inspired us to do some alpine walking, before it was time for the next train journey. This was a special one, the iconic Semmering Railway to Vienna.
We opted for the slow stopping train and were rewarded with some wonderful views along the way. Thanks to Europe by Rail for the idea. What they do not know about iconic rail travel in Europe is not worth knowing.
Having only ever visited Vienna in the winter before, we saw it in a whole new hot & sweaty light. 35 degree temperatures made exploring uncomfortable, but this did not stop us having great fun.
We bought a tram pass and just zipped around for much of our first full day, hopping off when we wanted for snaps & refreshment.
Our whole trip had been predicated on going to see talented Canadian jazz musician Diana Krall in concert at the beautiful Wiener Konzert Haus. Diana didn’t disappoint with a dazzling performance.
Culture didn’t stop there however, as we managed to secure tickets to go and see Aida at Vienna’s stunning opera house. We had been before in January 2005 to see The Barber of Seville, but were pretty excited having never seen Aida before. Again we were treated to a gem of a performance.
The final act of our summer trip was to go to Bratislava, the nearby capital of Slovakia just an hour away by train.
Bratislava is often described as a mini Prague and the compact old town certainly scores highly in the aesthetics stakes.
We waved goodbye to the Slovak capital from the Danube as we took a boat trip back to the Austrian capital. A windswept experience but great fun.
Business trips to the Czech capital in July & October rekindled my love for the majestic Bohemian city. I first fell in love with Prague in ’92, but it fell out of my favour in 2007 due to the unbearable crowds and stag/hen parties.
These most recent trips enabled me to walk many miles through its cobbled streets to bear witness once more to probably my favourite city in Europe. Love is forever it seems.
My third consecutive visit to the Fringe was its usual hoot. We have decided that 2020 will be a lay year though to preserve the fun for future years.
Our annual visit to the capital of romance was reserved for our anniversary at the beginning of September.
We stayed in uber cool Quartier Latin on the Left Bank. It was our first visit since the devastating fire at Notre Dame and indeed it was sad to see the great cathedral so badly stricken.
It was mighty hot weather wise and we made a pledge that Paris would be reserved for winter/spring in future. Despite this, Paris can never fail to deliver and we managed to see more of the Latin Quarter than we had ever managed before, including our first visits inside the Pantheon and the Church of St Séverin.