My year 2022 in travel

Somehow I have stolen the fun out of this blog. What started as a hobby, as a little creative outlet became over time so overburdened with rules and strategies, even demands to become at some point an income not only for me but for the whole family.

I remember very clearly when the idea of this blog came to my mind. We were hiking Via Valeriana near Lake Iseo in Italy – me walking in front, my husband Zsolt carrying baby (10 months old) Mark in a carrier behind me. It was November, and the air turned from very cold or almost summery warm, dry to humid, depending on how high the hiking path took us. But at that exact moment when I had an idea to start a travel blog it was humid, we were on a part of the path going through a forest. It was dark-ish around us, and I was watching carefully not to slip on fallen wet leaves.

I had this sudden idea to start writing, again, something I haven’t done in ages, and one little seed led to a whirlpool in my head, growing from a tiny one to bigger and bigger, swallowing and including in itself other parts of me, who were longing to do something else – become something else again rather than just being a full-time mom.

When I was around 8, I started writing my first diary. When I was 15 or so, I started my first blog. This was a big difference. From writing completely uncensored thoughts it was suddenly something my friends and classmates would read and react to. A curious feeling: when something is given to you – reactions, dialogue, discussions, admiration sometimes in exchange for what you write. And something is taken away from you: the ease with which you would put thoughts on paper, the lack of second-guessing the morality of them and what others would think. 

My diary started in the times of no internet in our household (yes, I am that old). I had those little locks on all my diaries – and a strong belief that this lock protected my thoughts, making it impossible for anyone to peek into them. Well, maybe only unless I have shared the key and am standing nearby, while this best friend of mine is reading a page I have allowed her to – just that one, and no more.

But I have missed writing the blog. It’s less personal than writing a diary and more censored, but at the same time I also have a much lesser image of the audience or a reader than when I write on my social media. The blog is me, but somehow a little less me than writing right under my photo and full name on Facebook. This slow Merry-Go-Round is just one step removed from Ana – very nicely, the way it makes me comfortable.

This post contains affiliate links and I may receive commissions for the booking made through this link at no extra cost to you. It is though very important to note that none of these hotels provided any free services to me, and all reviews are honest.

January: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

I am still not used to taking trips without my family – and at the same time, I am much more used to those trips. I travelled without kids for 30 years of my life and with only for 6 years, but somehow they made these 6 years feel long and the 30 feel little. Kids have all kinds of magic powers.

So, that first trip of the year was to Amsterdam with my friend. I booked a great hotel – called Hotel Roemer – while we were already halfway there on a bus from Brussels (the luxury of spontaneity in these child-free trips!) and I recommend it. We had a quiet room, an exit to a semi-private garden, a huge bathtub and a really nice location: further away from the busy city, but close to the canals in the area of Vondel Park.

That trip was not loaded with any great goals or expectations. I have been to Amsterdam before, and this takes away the pressure I sometimes feel to see all the main sights (as if otherwise, visiting to the city doesn’t count). But in Amsterdam, I did just this – walking around the canals, stopping for a mulled wine or coffee, visiting a bookshop or a curious vintage boutique.

February: Ghent and Uccle, Belgium

We didn’t make it far in February. We went to Ghent with our family. Ian-the-toddler got upset by one of the bridges there and could only be consoled by a postcard with different Belgian beers (he keeps it near his bed to this day, and I keep remembering to hide it before we have guests – I don’t know what they would think).

In January we finally decided on the type of school for the children and realised it was located in the opposite part of Brussels from the one where we lived. The new neighbourhood was called Uccle, and so we started to look for a flat there and at the same time to explore the neighbourhood, taking long tram trips there on Saturdays and Sundays.

By the end of February, the right flat was found, the neighbourhood felt a little less unknown, and then the war started in Ukraine.

March: Many mental trips to Ukraine

My grandparents from my mother’s side come from Ukraine, and their families – my relatives still live there. When I was little, we used to go visit them in summer but stopped in the mid-90ies, as it got to be too expensive, and Europe opened up and became cheaper. The contact became weaker, but it is still there, so it was surreal to have war hit so close to us. The privilege I have and was never aware of was to live so long without being touched by war.

At work, we have also started projects supporting our colleagues over there, and as the only Russian speaker (and probably the most emotionally affected one) in my NGO I dove right into those projects. I feel like I have spent March there – studying the map for all the names I knew from my grandmother’s stories, from my friends and colleagues – now mentioned on channels like BBC and CNN. 

April: Valencia, Spain

Some time ago we planned a grand family holiday at the end of March 2020. It was supposed to be in Southern Spain, my parents would come from Lithuania, my sister and her family from the UK and we from Belgium. It would be a carefree family reunion, where kids run wild on the beach, the grandparents enjoy their time with the wild grandkids, and relaxed parents sip sangria. And then covid came.

We have rescheduled our trip again and again but never fully gave up on it: and the stars finally came into position this year for the trip to happen. Valencia (or a little town called El Puig not far from it, to be precise) instead of Malaga, but the family was there, the Mediterranean was there and even the sangria was there. The sun was out less than we would want it, and there was an episode happening on the trip which I would rather describe in my locked paper diary, but other than that (or because of that) it was a holiday to remember.

The hotel here was also very nice: not expensive, not fancy, but very family-friendly, used mostly by locals and had everything we needed. It is called Valhotel Residencia Tiempo Libre El Puig.

May: Ireland, Leuven and Wallonie, Belgium

In May the travels picked up. 

I went to Ireland for a work trip, to visit our colleagues and the Traveller community living in Dublin and the areas around it. It was one of my work trips, so I was torn between feeling blissfully alone and missing my kids.

Speaking of contrasts, Dublin proved to be full of them. The friendliest people chatting up to us at the bar, and also completely racist policies when it came to accepting refugees of Roma origins from Ukraine (while the white refugees were welcome).

The most beautiful walk in the Glendalough area, and at the same time heartbreaking talks with Travellers, the exclusion they face and discrimination from using the resources of the otherwise very rich country.

Learning about all the big companies, investors and startups, but at the same time chatting with friends of friends – settled girls with good careers, explaining that despite this they will likely never be able to afford a flat of their own in their home city of Dublin.

Oh, the hotel in Dublin I really liked: it is one of the cosy ones, not really standing out, but located just next to the city centre, the perfect balance of being close to the things, but a little out of the noise and action. The rooms have decent size and comfortable, and the breakfast has both European and Irish options. It is called Cassidys Hotel, and I would really recommend it.

And we also went to the village of Gembloux in Belgian Wallonie to visit a Ukrainian family from Kharkiv, who stayed with us for a week or so in April, and later moved there. Borsch was provided by our Ukrainian friends, and a pony ride – by the Belgian host family. Towards the end of the day, my kids discovered a little puddle with tadpoles. They took some of them to Brussels, where these tadpoles lived a moderately unhappy life on our balcony in the biggest bowl I could find for them. After a couple of weeks, the strongest of them were finally let out into the pond in the local park.

And then Leuven, a town in Belgium just half an hour from Brussels with so much to see and even more to eat and drink. God knows why we don’t come more often. Although no, I do know: because Ian still has a nap in the middle of the day, making most of the day trips quite a hassle. But Leuven, just wait, he has almost dropped the nap and in 2023 I hope we will come to finish what we haven’t eaten, drunk and seen.

June: London, United Kingdom

This London was not just London, it was a present from my sister for my birthday in January, given to me even earlier than that. This London included something amazing: the real ABBA concert.

I remember the two of us – my sister and I – also in London, but being 18 instead of – well, roughly twice as much. It’s summer, and we have the task to clean the apartment before we can go out to skate, and she puts on the Mamma Mia musical, which is supposed to make the cleaning faster. It doesn’t make it quicker, because now we spend half of the time dancing in the middle of the living room. It does make it more fun. It’s the brightest and the happiest memory of cleaning something I have in my life. 

But somehow with ABBA, there was always this little sadness – that it all ended, ended before I could see it live, that somehow I was late for the party. And now, roughly 18 years later this sadness is replaced. We – my sister and I – were at the concert, seeing maybe not the live, but very real ABBA in performance even better than a live concert. I hope we – my sister and I – are just as cool and willing to try new things as they are when we are roughly 80 years old.

There were also the christening of my little niece, spending time with my other not-so-little-niece, and talks and cuddles on a sofa, Queens Platinum Jubilee and that walk I took alone aimlessly, photographing London like I am a tourist, and sometimes it felt like this was a life of some alternative Ana, who took different turns and arrived at another place.

July: Vilnius, Lithuania

July travel is always the only destination. I come home, open the terrace door, invite my neighbour for a coffee, and everything is right in the world.

August: Lakes around Vilnius

And it’s only in August when “just being home” starts getting a little repetitive and I want to go somewhere. But not too far away, this time we ventured to a maximum of 30 km from our house. The water in the lakes comes in different colours, and this August my favourite ones were: 

  • White clay lake called Gela
  • Amber lake is surrounded by pine trees, with water going from light gold to pine bark brown called Tapeliai
  • And finally the emerald green Green lake.

September: Maldegem, Belgium and Budapest, Hungary

Budapest was another work trip, which I combined with spending time with my friend and my godson, stepping in the middle of the Margaret Bridge (a place I know for sure is magical), hugging some people I have missed and also bringing home covid (my second one, so not too exciting) as a souvenir.

Ah, here I have to mention the hotel too. It is called The Three Corners Downtown Edition Hotel and in that September 2022 just opened a couple of weeks before my visit. It has a sauna and champagne for breakfast, making it very very hard to focus on work.

I think travelling alone is slowly becoming a little more normal as if some solid parts of me come up to the surface after they were laying deep down in those murky waters of motherhood.

October: Vilnius, Lithuania and Stockholm, Sweden

When my son Mark was little, and there was no Ian yet, we used to travel – the two of us. We went to Crete, we went to London several times. The dynamic of travelling (or just spending time) with one child is completely different than with the two of them, and I decided that my youngest son Ian also needs to experience this. Also, I could use any excuse to spend time in Vilnius.

So we went there for a week in October, Ian and I. I worked, and he was for the first time the only grandson of my parents, bathing in their full attention. We picked cold apples from the ground, went to chat with our neighbours, had friends over, and prepared the house and the garden for the coming winter. Something I want to keep doing in the next year.

Oh, and another work trip, to a conference on the subject of Roma Holocaust and Remembrance which I was in equal parts excited about (to be a listener) and dreaded (to be a speaker). The Hotel C, where I stayed, turned out to be literally right on the station, I could see people walking past my window with their suitcases. But in my experience in Scandinavia and Finland, the general level of hotels is rather high. In addition to all the quality, this one also had a bathtub and an ice bar (contrasts!).

After the greatest breakfast of herring, curd and rye bread (oh, Sweden is so good with breakfast!) and a very bad coffee (as good it is in breakfast, as bad it is with coffee) I walked as much as I could. And then, already a little tired and very much frozen by only 10 am, I tried – against all my concepts of what is cool and uncool to do as a traveller – the duck bus/boat tour. A bus takes you around the streets of Stockholm as a bus, and then rolls into the water and takes you around the rest of the city as a boat.

Sliding on a bus into the Baltic sea to the sounds of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” soundtrack was the highlight of the trip.

November: London for Halloween, Aachen (Germany) for Christmas Market

We wouldn’t go to the US for Halloween, so the biggest after that was the UK – and because this meant seeing our family in London once again and also not flying, it was an easy decision. We took the kids trick-or-treating to Maida Vale (the part east of Abbey Road) and the fun these two Counts Dracula had walking around the decorated streets and shouting “trick or treat” was something I will remember.

And Aachen – oh, here I could keep this traditional travel blogger voice and bullshit you with the idea we went to Aachen because it is a “quiet yet charming town in Western Germany”. But no, we went to Aachen because we had a Deutsche Bahn voucher about to expire and we felt tired and not motivated to travel anyway. And Aachen was the closest place, praised now more for its DM shops and Christmas market than for the Charlemagne route.

It was a good trip. We booked a hostel called a&o Aachen Hauptbahnhof with bad beds, but a good breakfast right next to the train station. In the end, Mark remarked that this was the best hotel ever because it had a bunk bed and a machine making small pancakes – a gadget that kept my kids occupied throughout the whole breakfast.

We had sausages and a beer sampling kit, froze our toes off while admiring the Christmas market, and got lost in DM and a shopping centre (we hadn’t visited one in ages, and it was such an attraction in rainy weather). We briefly considered going to the Spa, but small kids of Ian’s age are still not allowed, so we gave it a pass.

December: detour through Riga, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania

Coming home for Christmas was tricky this year. Our direct flight Brussels-Vilnius was changed to Brussels-Zurich-Vilnius, then to Brussels-Frankfurt-Vilnius and finally cancelled just one day before the journey.

We rescheduled it to a new one through Riga, and the plane ended up getting stuck in the airport (and we ended up getting stuck inside the plane) for over 3 hours. We missed the connection and arrived in Riga at 2 am, with two square-eyed exhausted kids.

So we decided to stop with all that flying for this year, went to sleep in a hotel in Riga and the next day took a bus to Vilnius. It is a 4-hour journey, but a familiar one – the one I used to take several times a year for many years since I was little. After a claustrophobic plane, the bus felt like a luxury: all the fresh air in abundance, the leg space, starting on time and especially (a bonus for me) the solid feeling of being on the ground and not hanging somewhere in the air for hours.


  • I wish I could say we will fly less next year. Air travel being a hassle, it is still so much cheaper and faster than trains and even a car (when you take into consideration overnight stops). But I don’t enjoy flying, so we will try to choose on-the-ground means of transport as much as we can.
  • Travelling alone without the family helped me to start feeling like myself again. Not only as a mum, a caretaker, and a wife – but as someone I’ve used to be before. I am not sure who, the view is still foggy, but it looks like some solid shapes are starting to come out of it. Starting to work helped. Travelling helps too.
  • I love travelling with my family. Yes, it is doing the same parenting routine, just in another location (and often under more pressure). But it does shake us up a little. 
    Travelling with just one of the kids (or staying at home with one of them, while the other one goes away with Zsolt) is again very different from travelling alone and travelling as a family, and is also something I want to do regularly in the coming years.

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