Memorable Moments From a Year of Full-Time Travel (2023)

Boats docked in Old Town Dubrovnik
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Last Updated on: 11th March 2024, 04:19 am

It’s always fun to look back over our travels for the past year. As Steve and I wrap up our sixth year of full-time travel, we continue to be awed by this amazing world.

Our year was busy with visits to 32 cities and towns, so there was ample opportunity to collect memorable moments. We were in Florida twice, first in March to attend a wedding in Key West and then in December to spend Christmas with our daughters, Stephanie and Laura.

There was sad news in December when Steve’s oldest brother, Arthur, passed away after a long illness. We were on a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean at the time and weren’t able to attend his funeral. This was difficult for Steve, but we honored his memory by supporting St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the fire company where he volunteered.

Below, I will share our 13 top travel experiences of 2023. I promise that this is not just a walk down memory lane. Throughout this post, you can find helpful and (hopefully) inspiring information.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

1. Exploring Marrakesh (January)

We started 2023 in Morocco, spending time in Tangier, Rabat, Tetouan, Chefchaouen (the Blue City), Marrakesh, and Casablanca. Of all these places, Marrakesh has stayed in my heart. I find this odd as I was not fond of it when we were there because of the crowds, especially in the medina (the old part of the city).

We stayed in a riad, which you can learn about here. What I remember most about our Marrakesh riad is the huge breakfast we were served every morning, along with the requisite mint tea. We were there in January, so it was cold in the morning. We ate with our jackets on while a space heater struggled to keep us warm.

So why do I remember Marrakesh so fondly? Possibly because it was so different from my other travel experiences. Making your way through the crowds in the medina while clutching your purse to your body and trying not to get hit by a motorcycle while escaping the clutches of the merchants is as real as it gets.

Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh
A busy square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, in Marrakesh

There is no shortage of places to see in Marrakesh. The medina has the 19th-century Bahia Palace, the 16th-century El Badi Palace ruins, and the serene 16th-century Ben Youssef Madrassa, a former Islamic school.

Outside the medina, you can visit Jardin Majorelle, a captivatingly colorful botanical garden restored by Yves Saint-Laurent and his one-time love, Pierre Berge. There is also the fun and funky Anima Garden, which features artist Andre Heller’s works among the plants.

Learn more about Marrakesh in our post “Marrakesh: Colorful, Crowded, and Just A Little Crazy.”

Eight months after our visit, Marrakesh and surrounding areas were devastated by an earthquake that claimed almost 3,000 lives. I believe these tragedies touch us more when we’ve visited a place, interacted with the residents, and experienced the culture.

We only spent four nights in Marrakesh, opting for more time in the capital of Rabat after reading about how hectic Marrakesh is. I would gladly trade our time in Rabat for more time in Marrakesh.

2. Sharing Athens With Our Daughters (April)

For two weeks in April, we shared the sights of Athens and the Island of Aegina with Steph and Laura. Steve and I had spent a month in Athens in the fall of 2022, so we were prepared to share the highlights with them.

Of course, we saw the Acropolis and the modern Acropolis Museum. We also wandered the grounds of the Ancient Agora, toured the Panathenaic Stadium, and strolled the streets looking for souvenirs.

Decorated penises for sale on the street
Prettily painted penises, a tribute to Dionysus, the god of fertility, are everywhere in Athens

We also had fish pedicures, went out for fancy drinks, and checked out the Alice in Wonderland-themed décor at Little Kook.

Four people having a fish pedicure
Laura, me, Steph, and Steve enjoying a fish pedicure (well, I’m not so sure about Steph)

This was the second time Steph and Laura joined us in our travels, the first time being in Budapest. Both trips were resounding successes and inspired me to write “9 Reasons Why Traveling with Adult Children Rocks.”

3. Walking the City Walls in Dubrovnik (April)

After Steph and Laura headed home from Athens, Steve and I headed to Croatia, where we worked our way up the Adriatic Coast. We spent time in Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, and Pula. Even though we aren’t Game of Thrones fans, Dubrovnik was fun to explore.

One of the most popular things to do in Dubrovnik is to walk the city walls. The walls are 1.2 miles or 2 km long, and you can easily spend a few hours savoring the views. Entrance to Dubrovnik’s City Walls isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth it.

Ft. Lovrijenac, as seen from the City Walls in Dubrovnik
One of the many outstanding views from the Dubrovnik City Walls

There are many other things to see in Old Town, including the Franciscan Church and Monastery (don’t miss the wide variety of carvings on the courtyard pillars), the Dominican Monastery, the Rector’s Palace (a large Gothic building), and the Dulcic Masle Pulitika Gallery.

The War Photo Limited museum in Old Town displays powerful photos of wars and conflicts around the world. The subject matter is difficult, and the images are unsuitable for children, but I found it worthwhile.

Fort Lovrijenac stands just outside of Old Town. If forts are your thing, it’s worth a short visit.

4. Strolling Pula, Croatia’s Adriatic Coast (June)

The main tourist attraction in Pula is the 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater, also called the Pula Arena. It is one of the largest surviving amphitheaters in the world and is a must-see in Pula.

The Pula Aquarium is worthwhile, too. Over 200 species of sea life are housed in a 130-year-old fortress. As a bonus, the hallways are full of naval memorabilia.

If you stop by the 14th-century St. Francis Monastery and Church, you can get a little surprise. Dozens, if not hundreds, of tortoises live in the courtyard.

Another cool place is the House of Istria Olive Oil Museum. The exhibits were interesting, and our entrance fee included an olive oil tasting.

However, my favorite memory of Pula was spending several hours strolling the coastline. The water was as clear and blue as any Caribbean Island can offer.

Two photos from Pula, Croatia: the Adriatic Sea coast, a cuttlefish in the Pula Aquarium
The Pula coast (can you believe that blue?) and a cuttlefish at the Pula Aquarium

5. Revisiting Plitvice Lakes National Park (May & June)

Four photos from Plitvice Lakes National Park
There is no end to the beauty at Plitvice Lakes National Park

We’ve seen so many beautiful places that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is definitely on the list.

Plitvice Lakes is a series of sixteen terraced lakes. Well-kept boardwalks lead you around the lakes and waterfalls. There are three hotels and two campsites in the park.

The park is a two-hour-long bus ride from Zadar. It is also a two-hour-long ride from the capital of Zagreb. You can find tours to the park from either of these cities, but I recommend visiting for at least two days on your own as the park is easy to explore, and the hotels are decent.

We were at the park twice this year. The first time was from Zadar. It rained the entire time we were there, so we returned a month later from Pula. The weather was perfect that time.

Since Plitvice Lakes is six hours away from Pula by bus, we stopped in two Croatian towns along the way, Opatija (more on that below) and Rijeka, to break up the ride.

6. Relaxing in Opatija, Croatia (June)

We weren’t impressed with Rijeka but fell in love with the resort town of Opatija. The town lies on the Kvarner Gulf on the Istrian Peninsula.

Opatija has grand 19th-century villas and charming gardens and is walkable. The best part is the 12 km or 7-mile-long seaside promenade, the Lungomare, which passes through Opatija as it goes from the towns of Volosko to the north and Lovran to the south. It is a pleasure to walk.

A majestic building in Opatija, Croatia
One of the many majestic buildings in Opatija

Learn more about all there is to do in this peaceful town in “Why You’ll Fall in Love with Opatija, Croatia.”

7. Venturing to Venice (June)

The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs

Venice lies west of Pula across the Adriatic Sea, and we took the opportunity to spend a few days there.

I was a bit skeptical about Venice. I knew it would be crowded as we were going during high season. It is also notoriously expensive, and I had heard that some visitors were disappointed in it. I wondered if Steve and I would be.

We were not disappointed. Seeing the places I have often read about was a dream come true. We had a tour of Doge’s Palace, which included a walk through the Bridge of Sighs. St. Mark’s Basilica was more magnificent than expected, and I enjoyed having the city almost to myself during an early morning photo shoot.

We only stayed for three nights, but it was long enough to see the highlights and get lost in the streets a few times. And if you don’t get lost, have you even been to Venice?

Steve and I agreed that despite the crowds, we had a great visit and would like to return for a longer time in the shoulder season.

8. Returning to Bucharest (July)

After Venice, we headed to Bucharest, Romania, because we had to leave the Schengen Area for 90 days. We had been to Bucharest in 2018 and had good memories of that trip. That time, we stayed far from the city center, which we could reach via the metro but cut into our sightseeing time.

This time, we stayed in the city center so we could walk to most of the tourist attractions and many stores. Even though it was hot, we managed to see quite a bit.

If you love books and beauty (and who doesn’t?), you can’t go wrong with a visit to Carturesti Carusel. This is one of several Carturesti stores, and it is a vision in white.

Inside the Carturesti Carusel bookstore
The glorious Carturesti Carusel

We came across another store in this chain: Carturesti Verona. The vibe is entirely different but no less charming.

We spent time at well-known tourist attractions like the Palace of Parliament (the heaviest building in the world), the Stavropoleos Monastery, and the National Museum of Art.

The Palace of Parliament, the Stavropoleos Monastery, and the grand staircase at the National Museum of Art
The Palace of Parliament, the Stavropoleos Monastery, and the grand staircase at the National Museum of Art

The National Museum of Art is in the former Royal Palace. It has two art galleries. One features Romanian art, and the other features European art. In between the two is the Throne Hall, where you can get a glimpse of the elegance of the palace. I fell in love with the yellow marble used in the halls and stairway of the Throne Hall.

We also made several trips to Therme Bucuresti, a wellness center that combines thermal and mineral pools, saunas, waterslides, and a botanical garden in a gorgeous environment. Check out our post, “Therme Bucuresti: The Most Beautiful and Relaxing Place in Bucharest,” to learn about this must-visit place.

Not far from Therme is an excellent auto museum called the Tiriac Collection, where you can see over 200 vehicles from 1899 to the present. The collection is owned by Romanian businessman and former athlete Ion Tiriac.

9. Finally Seeing Sinaia (July)

After Bucharest, we checked out the Romanian town of Sinaia. It is in the Bucegi Mountains and is just 86 miles or 140 km north of Bucharest. It is most famous for being the home of Peles Castle.

Peles Castle
Peles Castle

Steve and I had seen a little of the town in 2018 when we took a bus tour to Peles Castle, and we wanted to see more. There is enough to keep you busy for several days, and the cooler mountain climate was a welcome relief after the heat in Bucharest.

Beside Peles Castle, we toured two smaller castles, Pelisor Castle and Stirby Castle. The town center is worth exploring, too, as is the Sinaia Monastery. Learn more about Sinaia in this post.

10. Soaking Up the Kitsch in Skopje (August)

We spent most of August in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. It is one of the most unique places we’ve been.

Due to the Skopje 2014 Project, many buildings have a neoclassic façade, and there are over one hundred statues in the city. Some statues are of historical figures, while others are more lighthearted.

Steve and I were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the museums, including the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia, and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence.

The Archaeological Museum and the Bridge of Civilization in Skopje
The Archaeological Museum and the Bridge of Civilization in Skopje

We chose Skopje because it was an inexpensive place outside of the Schengen Area. We weren’t sure what to expect but relished its kitschy vibe.

Learn more about Skopje in “What is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review” and “What You Need to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

11. Discovering Rome (November)

Our 2023 plans included a Transatlantic cruise from Rome to New York City so we could spend Christmas in Jacksonville, Florida, with our daughters. The ship left from Civitavecchia, a town close to Rome, so we spent the week before the cruise in the Eternal City.

Our week was full of activity. We had fantastic tours of the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We saw Colonna Palace, a private palace full of incredible art. We were awed by the chapels in the Capuchin Crypt, where the bones of Capuchin friars have been arranged to make patterns on the walls and ceiling. Skeletons and mummified remains, clothed in the Capuchin habit, are placed throughout.

Steve in front of the Colosseum
Steve in front of the Colosseum

12. Cruising Across the Atlantic (December)

Fifteen days of relaxation featuring fabulous food and world-class entertainment? Sign me up. In 2018, Steve and I started our full-time travel journey by sailing from Florida to Barcelona on the Norwegian Epic. We loved it. This time, we returned to the U.S. on the Norwegian Gem.

During port stops, we got to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa (once is enough), get acquainted with Marseille sufficiently to know we won’t go back, and tour Casa Batllo in Barcelona (the one place we missed when we were there in 2018).

3 photos from a Transatlantic cruise: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Norwegian Gem, contestants in a shipboard game
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, our ship, Steve (black shirt, tan pants) participating in a game

For me, the best part of cruising is not the ports; it’s the shipboard life. From the food to the daytime activities to the evening entertainment, it is relaxing but never boring.

13. Hitting the Highlights in Manhattan (December)

Our ship docked in Manhattan a few days before Christmas. Steve and I spent four nights there before heading to Florida.

We loved our time in New York. It was clean, and we felt safe. Even though it’s a busy city, we had more elbow room than in many European cities since Americans value their personal space.

Despite the winter chill, we packed a lot into our short stay. First on the list was the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Frankly, I was not impressed with the design of the two fountains but loved that the names of all those who lost their lives that day are displayed. I thought the museum’s displays were well done.

The 9/11 Memorial
One of the 9/11 memorials on a winter day

We took a long walk through Central Park (again, very clean and safe) and saw the Blue Man Group. We also braved the crowds and shared a $26 brisket sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen. And, of course, we had to check out the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

I was disappointed with the tree and the city’s decorations. They didn’t come close to what we saw during our two Christmases in Budapest.

On our last day in the city, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We only spent a few hours there, but both loved what we saw. We agreed we must go back and visit over several days to experience all this epic museum has to offer.

Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed reading about our top thirteen travel experiences for 2023. Hopefully, you got some inspiration for your future travels. As always, Steve and I love hearing from our readers, so feel free to drop a comment in the comment section below.

Happy traveling,

The featured photo is of a small harbor in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

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