Abitofculture’s review of the year 2016


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Another year is almost over, and I’d like to wish my readers a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year. So, what’s happened on the blog in 2016?

I only actually went abroad twice in the last year – repeat visits to two European capitals, with a side-trip to what quickly became one of my favourite small cities.

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January saw a cheap Ryanair getaway to Bratislava in Slovakia. I’d been there before ten years previously on a memorable stag-do, but had always thought I’d like to see it again one day sober. This time, with its cosy wine bars, amazing city views and quirky statues it definitely didn’t disappoint, and I wrote about it being the best short city-break in Europe as well as comparing the trip with my wife to the stag-do.

White castle: January 2016

The next time I saw the inside of a plane (and it was that shockingly bright yellow of a Ryanair 737 again) was for a few days in Spain for a mate’s 40th in July. The main event involved a couple of nights in Madrid, a city I’d been to before to watch Real Madrid play in the days of McManaman and Raúl.

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It was as big, hot and energetic as I’d remembered it, and we enjoyed plenty of cervezas in the city’s beautiful squares and its late night/early morning bars. Ticked-off my Madrid must-do list this time was churros and hot chocolate for breakfast.

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So, what’s this side trip to a new favourite I hear you ask? That would be Toledo, a beautiful old hill-top city built in a meander of the River Tagus, and only 33 minutes south of Madrid by high speed train. We spent two nights there and really didn’t want to leave the place famed for its steel and marzipan, which I wrote about here. It’s popular with day-trippers from Madrid, and can get busy but we had it almost to ourselves at night.

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After Spain I didn’t leave the country again, but enjoyed a few trips down to see the wife’s family in Cornwall (what do you think to my top-10 of Cornwall?) I also fell in love with Symonds Yat, a gorgeous little resort on the River Wye in Herefordshire.

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Abitofculture has now been going for over four years, and although I still absolutely love travel writing, sometimes I’ve struggled a bit this year for content. I’ve only posted 32 blogs (including this one) in 2016 – my lowest output yet.

I thought I might have found a solution in October, when I was approached by a company who said they would pay me for publishing their content. I wasn’t too sure at first if I wanted someone else’s writing on my blog (which was of a poorer standard if I may say so myself), but needed some cash and thought I’d give it a go. This explains two rogue posts – one on Indonesia (somewhere I’ve never been) and one on Monaco. I was paid twice in two days, and thought “hold on, I could make a fair bit of money here” – but I’ve not heard from the company since! I’d be grateful for your thoughts – do these sponsored posts add anything to my blog, or do they cheapen it?

What’s coming up in 2017?

As well as my quarterly visits to Cornwall, I’m excited to announce trips to two of my bucket-list destinations.

First up is Northumberland, an area I’ve been keen to visit for ages. We’ll be staying in the village of Bamburgh, with its famous castle and some pretty special beaches nearby. If we’re lucky, we might visit Lindisfarne, go on a boat trip to the Farne Islands and spend time in the border town Berwick upon Tweed, although five days of relaxing and beach walks sounds right up my street. Any tips for places to eat and things to do would be greatly appreciated!

The only other trip for 2017 will take me to a new country – the United States of America. In fact, the furthest west I’ve been up to now is Tenerife.

I was lucky enough to win a pair of return flights from any UK airport to any US city, via Dublin, in an Aer Lingus competition held on the streets of Birmingham. One lunchtime, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike was doing some promotional work for the Irish airline in Victoria Square. All people had to do to be put into a draw to win free flights was have their photo taken with Marilyn and post it on twitter.


A couple of weeks later, Aer Lingus tweeted me to say I’d won, and after the initial shock and scepticism, I’ve just about settled on a trip to New York next Christmas.

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Categories: MiscellaneousTags: , , , , ,

21 comments

  1. New York for Christmas with free airplane tickets?lucky you!happy 2017!

  2. Nice review Richard. There are some great flight bargains out there at the moment – especially Easy Jet Loads of return flights to Europe for £50 or so. In May Iceland for £45, Sicily for £52 and Sardinia £46!

    As regards sponsored posts, I don’t really like them. My blog is my blog! I was offered a couple of commissions to Spain to travel and report but I thought I might be compromised. I like to give an honest, personal opinion and thought that might be difficult if someone else was paying.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas to you both and happy travels in 2017.

  3. Wow, lucky you – free tickets to New York! I’m a bit obsessed with travelling to the US as you might have noticed. I don’t plan to return in the Trump era – but if someone handed me free tickets I’d revise that PDQ. As for Northumberland, we had a weekend there earlier this year, see https://anabelsblog.wordpress.com/tag/northumberland/ We went to Bamburgh and Alnwick Castles and Lindisfarne, all great. It’s a big county! Kielder Forest is great. The Roman Wall is good to walk along or visit forts e.g. Vindolanda which is next to my town of birth, Haltwhistle.

    Not keen on sponsored posts, I like to read something that shows the personality of the writer and they don’t usually.

    Finally – a very happy Christmas to you and yours.

    • Thanks Anabel, I’ll take a look at your Northumberland posts. Looking forward to it. Sounds like sponsored posts are a bit of a no-no, so I’ll try to steer clear next year. And merry Xmas and happy new year to you too!

  4. All the best to you also.

  5. I never win anything, and I never know anyone who wins anything, so I’m very excited for you and your NYC trip! Your travels may have been less frequent, but they were good ones; I enjoyed your posts on Bratislava, Madrid, Toledo, and your closer-by trips this year. As for sponsored posts or blog-related moneymaking: I’ve been solicited and tempted, but ultimately can’t pull the trigger. Beside confusing readers, I think these posts often make the blogs and their authors sound like shills rather than travelers/writers, and I skim those articles or just delete them pretty fast. Happy holidays and 2017!

  6. Restores my faith too! You do wonder if anyone ever wins these things, so I’m glad it’s you 🙂 🙂
    All I can say on the sponsors is ‘you’re better than that, Richard’. A great Christmas and health and happiness in 2017!

    • I’ll be honest, I’ve won quite a few prizes over the years, but this is the biggest win so far. As for the sponsored posts, Lexklein sums it up above with my new favourite word, shill! Same to you Jo – have a good’un!

  7. I loved our trip to Bamburgh and Northumberland has to be one of my favourite English counties – so much to see and do. Congrats on your flights win – New York at Christmas is high on my wish list – hope you’ll be using those posh luggage tags!. I like to keep my blog for my own writing – it’s my baby after all 🙂

  8. A great review of 2016! How lucky that you won those flight tickets. I never win anything that way ha ha.

  9. Loved Madrid this year and am going to have to make it out to Bratislava sometime soon! Well done on the New York winnings and hope you enjoy Northumberland, such a gorgeous part of the country.

  10. Wow! That’s a brilliant prize. Lucky you 🙂 With regards to the sponsored posts I suppose it depends on what you want to do with the blog. If you want to make some money out of it, then why not? I agree with what people are saying though, that it can be confusing and dilute the quality. But if there is a way to control the sponsored posts so that they are relevant i.e. destinations that you have already featured. And you could introduce the sponsored post with your own intro to explain that it is a sponsored post and why you have featured it etc. I would love to be able to make money from my blog (a pipe dream probably) and have it as a full-time job or at least part-time, so I suppose I might be a bit more open to these things.

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