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The last days of summer: from the Balkans & Sicily, back to London

Today I’m flying back from Sicily to London, marking the distinct end of my summer and a brutal confrontation with autumn. From what I hear from the UK, it’s been autumn there for a good while, whilst over here in Sicily the sun has really been clinging on, with temperatures around 26-32°C for the last few weeks. Yesterday I was relaxing on a beach and swimming in the sparkling clear sea north-west of Palermo, while tomorrow in London I’ll likely have the central heating and a jumper on.

         I’ve had a heavenly hot summer to be honest! I finished my last semester in May and I don’t start my new job until October, so I’ve had a whole 4 months to play with (except for a couple of weeks of university-related escapades in Poland and the Netherlands). In some ways I’m repeating my summer of 2012, when I again had 4 months off between university and a new job, which I also spent very happily travelling around the Mediterranean.

         This summer I’ve had the time to take the long extended trips that I always dream of, to travel without hurry or a set itinerary, and it’s been bliss. I spent the whole of August travelling around the Balkans, Hungary and Sweden, and I’ve just spent 3 weeks of September in Italy (mostly in beautiful Sicily). At times it’s been as hot as 40°C (a Saharan heatwave reaching Albania and Montenegro) and other times as low as 3°C (up at 2,920m altitude on Mount Etna it’s far colder than you’d think!) but on the whole I’ve been decked in sundresses, espadrilles and sunglasses for the last two months, with no need for jumpers, jackets or boots.

         Today that all comes to an end as I fly back to London and next week I’ll start my new job. At once I’m disappointed that my favourite season of the year is really truly over and that I’m bidding farewell to decent amounts of daylight for the next 6 months, and at the same time I’m really excited about everything I’m going to learn in my new job. It’s been the perfect summer of travel to set me up for the next few years of solid work.

August: The Balkans & Hungary

         The Balkans were truly fascinating and taught me so much history that I didn’t know. It was a busy and tiring trip but one that’s taught me more than I could ever glean from a course or the internet. Albania is currently completely off the radar of most tourists and was the perfect introduction to the region: great food, beautiful coastline and amazing landscapes. Kotor Bay in Montenegro is more firmly on the tourist map and is really popular for good reason: just take a look at my Instagram photos to find out why. Bosnia was my favourite country of them all because of its rich and captivating history, firstly exploring its Ottoman past in Mostar and then the country’s 20th century tragedies in Sarajevo, not to mention the capital city’s fantastic film festival. Belgrade in Serbia was an altogether bigger giant, but sweetened with daytrips to nearby medieval fortresses. Budapest in Hungary was far grander and majestic than I’d expected, completely erasing any preconceptions or assumptions I’d previously held about Central Eastern Europe.

September: Padua and Sicily

         I’ve long said that Italy is my favourite country in the world and once again I was not disappointed! I’d already visited the city of Padua once back in 2014 so this trip focused on exploring the Euganean Hills and hiking in the Dolomite Mountains. After that we flew down to Sicily to finally visit the mystical island that I’ve admired from countless episodes of Inspector Montalbano over the years. We hugged the coastline clockwise from Catania to Palermo for nearly 3 weeks, taking in Mount Etna, Taormina, Catania, Siracusa, Noto, Agrigento (for the ancient temples and the Scala dei Turchi), the island of Favignana, Cefalù and Palermo itself. Vast quantities of food, wine and Aperol Spritz consumed, non-stop practice for my Italian, several days of listening to waves lapping onto pristine beaches while soaking up the sun, too many rainbow-coloured sunsets to count – it was altogether seriously relaxing and I now wholeheartedly understand all the rave about Sicily. I’m already planning next year’s trip, hopefully sailing around the Aeolian Islands…

October onwards: London

          I’ve now got a week to settle back into my flat, dig out the work clothes that have been stashed in the attic for the last 13 months, and prepare for the next chapter. I realise how fantastically lucky I’ve been to have yet another summer of travel like 2012, so I’m not complaining in the slightest that the time has come to head home. I’ve still a lot of Sicily photos yet to share on Instagram / Facebook / Twitter, so my feeds will be full of turquoise water and deep blue skies for a few days yet, but apart from that, I’m well and truly ready for autumn.

Have you been to the Balkans, Hungry or Sicily, or discovered any great new spots this summer? Have you been clinging onto summer with any September travels?

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