Is there anyone on the planet that isn’t happily waving 2020 bye bye? I’ve never looked forward to New Year’s Eve with such anticipation. The beginning of a new year always feels like a fresh start, a clean slate, a carte blanche. There’s nothing significant about the date but New Year’s bestows permission to acknowledge lessons learned and let go, to move forward. It strikes me that 2021, however, represents the awesome opportunity for the whole of mankind. Here’s to fresh opportunities and, heavens above, how we all need that feeling of hope.
The past year has been an unprecented challenge for everyone. On a personal level, although I managed to meet with family during the summer respite from lockdown, it wasn’t the same. Spending Christmas solo wasn’t a bundle of laughs either. Also, part of why I love what I do is that I get to meet people and I’ve missed that interaction terribly. This year finding work as a freelance writer, when I’ve not been going anywhere at all, has been tough, both professionally and socially. Like all travel writers, my trips were cancelled along with opportunities to attend press previews and review hotels in the UK. I needed to be ultra resourceful and creative in finding stories to write for publication.
Reasons to be cheerful
So as I sit here thinking about the past 12 months, from when we first heard any mention of COVID-19 in February and through three lockdowns (my area is currently in tier 4), I wasn’t sure what I could find to be grateful for. I certainly don’t want to be a Pollyanna and post off-the-peg positive affirmations all over the place. But, looking back over my photo archives, I start to find the silver linings and there have been many.
Virtual events in 2020
Clockwise from top left: Dame Joan Collins on the panel of webinar, Empowering Women, chaired by daughter, writer, broadcaster and producer, Tara Newley; exclusive performance by violinist extraordinaire, Charlie Siem, live from Florence; Christmas cracker workshop, courtesy of Belmond Travel; wedding bouquet demo by Sharon Santorini of My French Country Home; it was a joy to watch his cooking demonstration with Raymond Blanc; Simon Lycett made creating a Christmas wreath look so simple; Dame Joan’s fellow panelists included Clare Balding.
Connection is one of psychologist Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and something we’ve all appreciated in 2020. I welcomed with open arms the many virtual events that took place, thanks again to everyone who organised these and sent me invitations. It felt positive to have dates in my calendar. Too many to include them all here, from sublime live performances, such as the exceptionally brilliant violinist, Charlie Siem, to participating in a fascinating coffee tasting workshop live from Colomobia. These little gems provided both distraction and much-appreciated enjoyment.
Gifted products include clockwise from top left: a botanical brew from Pentire drinks, Cornwall; single-origin honey from Master honey sommelier at Mêl Gwenyn Gruffydd; UK-exclusive Italian wines from Independent Wine; Totally Wild foraged Foods; and Coffee & Kin.
Unable to travel, I really appreciated working with brands. Gifted food and wines provided the opportunity for features for publication, and it brightened my day when a parcel arrived with goodies to try! No small thing in a pandemic where any good news is welcome. These included: Tom Savano Cocktails; Pentire Drinks, Cornwall; Independent Wines; Totally Wild foraged foods; honey from Mêl Gwenyn Gruffydd; Cornish coffee roasters Yallah Coffee; and many more.
Clockwise from top left: La Union Coffee Farm in Colombia; the Mercado da Ribeiro, Lisbon; single estate San Alberto coffee; Growing coffee cherries in Colombia; and Estonia.
This year I visited Slovenia to hear more about traditional cooking by top chefs including Chef Ana Roš who heads up Hiša Franko in the beautiful alpine Soca Valley. Slovenia is to be named a European Region of Gastronomy in 2021 and the ‘trip’ provided the material for an article Green Gastronomy in Slovenia. In Colombia I enjoyed a fascinating live coffee tasting workshop, having been sent the kit all the way from La Union Coffee Farm in the Andes. I joined a live briefing in Italy with hotelier, Sir Rocco Forte of Rocce Forte Hotels, and took a tour of the Shizuko region of Japan, a destination I hope to visit. I dropped into the beautiful city of Lisbon to explore the food markets.
In the press
Published articles were varied as I branched out in these difficult times, and even reviewed a book Primal Living: How To Optimise Your Health With Nutritional Expert, Pauline Cox, which was both enjoyable and educational.
My innate need to explore has been met in part this year by regular walks, especially venturing into new areas locally. But walking closer to home purely for the daily exercise has surprised me in that I’ve naturally slowed down and noticed nature’s seasons changing. It’s felt like a treature trail, seeking out wildflowers in summer and acorns in autumn. It has reminded me of my childhood when we would take our bikes and a picnic (jam sandwiches and a bottle of lemon squash) and go roaming for the day. It’s partly because it sparked those happy memories that it felt comforting in the midst of the chaos.
Walking in nature year-round has been a joy and a comfort.
Art and culture
Normally, I get to review exhibitions in person, something I enjoy immensely. This year I wrote reviews following virtual press launches, not ideal but nonetheless they went a long way to providing a much-missed dose of culture. In fact, the online sessions provided a good opportunity for face-to-face discussions with curators and artists, and an interview session with Nick Knight, fashion photographer and image creator.
Live online literary festivals included Liverpool Literary Festival with Stephen McGann and Adele Parks. The Hay Festival Digital 2020, featured stars of film and TV; Helen McRory (Peaky Blinders); Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock amongst others); Stephen Fry (needs no introduction); actor Toby Jones; Jonathon Price (James Bond villain Tomorrow Never Dies); Tom Holland (Rev and The Night Manager); Margaret Attwood, and more wonderful performers and writers.
The beach was another favourite haunt and I often went early in the morning, taking a breakfast picnic, whatever the weather. Stormy seas as well as becalmed waters when the tide was far out, meant the chance to walk for miles in wide open spaces, just the sand, the waves, soaring gulls, a few dog walkers in the distance and windsurfers. These trips to the beach were a life-saver, an antitidote to the restrictions of lockdown
I didn’t have as many pieces published as I would have liked but it was surprising how many I achieved in the circumstances. This in itself provided an outlet for my creativity, something to get out of bed for, when it would have been too easy after months of lockdown to pull the duvet over my head.
It’s been a surprisingly busy year with plenty to enjoy and get creative about. But nonetheless, the travel industry is suffering, with a knock-on effect on journalists, the communities, artisans and other businesses involved. I hope with all my heart that things improve quickly for everyone in 2021.
Have a very Happy New Year and I wish you joy and peace in the coming months ahead. Stay safe and well.
If you would like to work with me in 2021, whether an editor, a tourism board, a travel company or a brand/product, I would love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch through the contact page (which goes straight to my email box, so I can respond very quickly), or DM me on Instagram.
As always please check the Foreign travel advice web site for the latest on domestic and international travel guidelines.
Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted. In addition, during the current pandemic I haven’t had the chance to review any of the hotels, resorts and so on.