What a sweet, sweet year you were, 2014! In 2014, I had the clarity I lacked the previous year. I traveled, and traveled, and then traveled some more, and made the very easy decision to return to Spain for round two. After 39 flights, handfuls of trains and buses, nine new countries and dozens of new cities, I can only look back with a massive grin on my face knowing I milked 2014 of all its worth.
I brought in the New Year playing tour guide with my dear grandparents. They spent a week with us here, and somehow it managed to rain every single day. I couldn’t believe it. I recently learned that Madrid has 2,769 hours of sunshine a year… but there wasn’t one second of it the entire week they were here. Sigh. Nevertheless, in typical Connolly fashion, the sights were seen, beer was consumed, cards were played, and a wonderful time was had by all.
In mid-January, I chased my heritage to Ireland and we enjoyed a long weekend in Dublin and Howth. It was everything and more than I ever could have hoped for.
At the end of the month, we took advantage of another long weekend and ventured south to Marrakech, Morocco. Talk about sensory overload! But after a day of adjusting to the chaos, I grew to appreciate the hustle and bustle (and found me some sweet souvenirs!).
In February we decided to escape winter and headed to the Canary Islands, specifically Tenerife! We whale watched (my own personal heaven) and relaxed on the beaches with hundreds of elderly British people. It was here we learned an important lesson: Sunscreen matters.
Later that month, we ventured to the coast with our gal-pal Christina in tow! We enjoyed Valencia from a darling Airbnb with a fabulous view. It was here some of us learned another important lesson, this time about Negrita rum. (Hint, it wasn’t me for once!)
In early March, we headed back to Spain’s eastern coast, rented a car and toured the gorgeous Costa del Sol. We flew into Malaga, then stopped by the tourist trap that is Gibraltar, stayed two nights in Spain’s windiest and most southern town, Tarifa, and eventually made our way back to Malaga, stopping in Marbella. It was a beautiful whirlwind of a trip. And it was our first rental car success in Europe!
Finally, it was spring break! We packed our backpacks and attempted to survive Venice on a budget.
After Venice, we found ourselves in Budapest—one of my favorite destinations thus far!
And we ended our trip in Barcelona. We wanted to see what all of the hype was about, but I just didn’t love the city like most people do. Maybe it was because it rained everyday, but I found it too touristy and crowded.
In May we took a long weekend with some of my favorite Spanish friends and stayed at their family’s beach house in Huelva, Spain. There’s not much to do in Huelva, but that was just what we needed.
In late May, I took a trip home for several days. I ate all the Mexican food, loved on my pups and spent precious time with family and friends.
Little did I know that I would be returning two weeks later! My family was hosting a surprise party for my grandpa’s 80th birthday in San Antonio and the thought of missing a Connolly party nearly killed me. So I jumped on a flight and surprised my whole family there and returned to Spain a whopping 48 hours later. It was exhausting, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. *Shoutout to the standby gods for working with me that weekend.
Finally, in late June, we moved out of our tiny piso and back to the good ole’ US of A for the summer. I was so ready and excited to come back for a couple of months, especially because my family had just rescued a little girl golden doodle, completing our pack of doodle dorks. Magnolia and Moe are pictured below! Not pictured, our yorkie, Harley, who rules the pack.
In July, my extended family and I journeyed to Alaska where we whale watched, sailed the fjords, fished for salmon, river rafted, kayaked, told stories around campfires, and created the sweetest of memories while having the time of our lives. Alaska has officially secured the No. 1 spot on my list of favorite destinations.
After Alaska, I headed to another one of my favorite places in the world, Granbury, Texas, for a week at my home away from home, Camp El Tesoro de la Vida. I loved on some grieving kids, laughed (and cried) with the other volunteers, and played some classic camp pranks. Year five at camp was certainly a continued success.
August brought me to Tucson to visit those grandparents I keep referencing. We drank mojitos (and of course, beer), watched countless sunsets, told stories in the hot tub, and scouted out wildlife.
A week or so later, it was time to move my littlest little brother to his new home in Malibu, California. Dropping him off at Pepperdine ended up being a little more emotional than I had expected, but he is exactly where he needs to be and I couldn’t feel more proud!
At last, it was time to say goodbye to Texas and Chipotle, as Spain was calling. On my flight back to Madrid, I found myself in good hands as my dad was my pilot! This definitely made the transition a little less daunting.
After a very frustrating week of searching, we finally found our perfect piso—it’s about 5,679 times better than the hole we lived in last year.
Once we got settled, that travel bug came calling again. This time, we found the most stunning beaches I could have ever imagined in Sardinia, Italy. The island was warm and welcoming and we had our best Airbnb experience yet.
Here, I managed to find myself in three countries in three days. Italy, to Spain, to the USA! Before school started, we needed to make one last trip back to DFW (once again, thank you standby gods!) to see my best friends marry each other in what was the most elegant and joyous wedding I’ve ever witnessed.
Quickly after, it was back to Madrid where we finally developed a routine with school and private lessons.
In November, we were itching to travel some more, so we hopped on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany, to spend a weekend with some of my high school friends who are based in Wiesbaden. They were excellent hosts and tour guides, taking us up and down the Rhine River, showing us the most picture-esque German villages I’ve always dreamed about.
In between all of the craziness that was this fall, dad was in and out of Madrid quite frequently. We were able to spend Thanksgiving together in Cuenca, and we finished out the evening back in Madrid, feasting on Mexican food.
To bring 2014 to a close, we traveled to and fell in love with Amsterdam.
We spent Christmas in Salzburg, Austria.
Followed by a couple of days in Vienna.
And bookended the year eating our way through Krakow, Poland. We even checked off a bucket list item with an emotional experience at Auschwitz.
Phew! This was easily one of the best years of my life and as I look back and reflect, my eyes fill with tears of joy and gratitude. I’ve realized that in 2014, from start to finish, I lived the life I always hoped to create. The first half of 2015 is sure to be adventurous, but to be honest, it’s the second half I’m scared of. My contract in Madrid ends in June and I have no idea as to what will come next! A lot of changes are coming my way, and if you know me, you know I’m not a fan of the “c” word. I’m completely aware that this is going to be the hardest adventure to let go of, I think about it all the time, but here’s to insisting that no matter what comes next, travel, photography, and adventure continue to play a big role. Here’s to trusting that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to, like it always has. Here’s to chasing dreams and gratitude and happiness and kindness and growth!
To end this novel of a post, here’s my wish for you in 2015, a quote by Neil Gaiman:
“I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.”