Our 2020 – Bhutan, Bad Hofgastein, Broken Bones, Bang Bang, Brexit BS and Bubonic Plague

Ellie and I are very grateful, that, given the circumstances, we have not been affected more severely by Covid so far. We are acutely aware that many people face much more serious challenges. Throughout the crisis we have made every effort to comply with the rules that applied in the respective locations.

We started 2020 in London, just having returned from a lovely one-week trip to Strasbourg. As usual, when in Old Blighty, we didn’t do much to ring in the New Year.

Out and about

I don’t think we’ve ever been so active. We started going on one-day hiking trips even before Covid kicked off. On a number of occasions we went hiking for long weekends, including in Wales, the Lake District, and the Peak District. We tried many new things, like caving, axe-throwing, bouldering, mountain-biking, roller-skiing, packrafting, racing Rage Buggies, and quad-biking. Several times we met up with fellow travel bloggers, inluding Jim & Janina from Stromfield Adventures and Jane from AbFabTravels. We also made several new friends on some of the hiking trips.

Collaboration with Fellow Travel Bloggers

We were extremely lucky that some of the best travel bloggers out there contributed to a collaboration we set up about “My Favourite Holiday Destination in my Home Country.” To this day it is one of the most popular posts on our website.

A very generous friend

In early January a good blogger friend of ours made us aware that a travel agency in Bhutan called Bhutan Norter had approached her to offer a free one-week stay in the country, all expenses bar the return flights paid. She had already accepted another offer, so was not available. Would we be interested?

We couldn’t believe our luck and our friend’s generosity of telling us about the opportunity. A few phone calls and about five dozen whatsapp-messages later, we had everything arranged and started reading up on this Himalayan mountain kingdom.

Bad Hofgastein

We had also already put another trip into our diaries many weeks earlier: an extended weekend skiing with my 82- and 76-year old parents in Bad Hofgastein, Austria. It was going to be my 26th visit and Ellie’s 3rd to this ski resort. At some stage in the planning process our intention had been to fly from Salzburg to Paro in Bhutan, but in the end we scheduled it so that there was a ten-day gap between our return to London from Munich and our departure from London to South Asia.

The skiing holiday turned out to be great fun. Among others we checked out our Go-Pro Hero 8 for the first time. The weather was mostly very sunny, the snow conditions close to perfect. It was good to catch up with the family.

A Skiing Accident

And then I broke my arm. I had been going at a slow speed, no more than 40km/h, when my left ski got held back by a bump in the snow surface, decelerating me to zero on the spot and making me plough my shoulder into the ground.

The first doctor I consulted, diagnosed a couple of minor hairline fractures and told me to take it easy for two weeks, as that was likely to be how long it would take to heal. The following day my whole arm and shoulder turned pitch black. This was a tad unsettling, considering I couldn’t know for sure, what caused it, at that stage. Luckily Ellie’s and my flight back to London was that same evening.

In London, they diagnosed that my arm had broken straight through in three places right next to the shoulder. Blood had seeped out from the marrow through the cracks and had given the tan to my skin. Long story short, I was told to come back for checks regularly. It would take a year to heal, I was advised. There was a good chance that they’d have to break the arm again and then put titanium screws into it. As it was so close to the shoulder, it was not possible to put it in a cast. Instead I was given a triangular bandage.

Ten months after the incident, the arm is nearly as good as new. It didn’t grow back together quite the same way it was before. The bits of bone had moved up to half a centimetre each, but the surface of the bone remained relatively even for the most part. In any case, back then, the doctor strictly advised against travel or physical activities for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, he had travelled to the Himalaya himself. He was not going to make me cancel the trip. Good man.

The Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan was then perhaps the most exciting trip Ellie and I have ever done. We stopped over in Nepal for two and a half days on our way there. My arm and shoulder were still black, because the blood continued to seep out of the bone marrow.

Two days before our last day of the trip, Bhutan’s first case of Covid occurred in the hotel next-door to ours and the whole country went into lockdown with immediate effect. For a short while we were worried, that we might be stuck in the country. However, it soon turned out that we wouldn’t even have to reschedule our flight back. We were able to continue our trip.

Chaos in Kathmandu

On our 8-hour stopover in Kathmandu we met many travellers who were stuck. They had already attempted to get back to where they were from via various airports, but as soon as their flight departure was nigh, the respective flight was cancelled. We felt for every one of them and knew we were very lucky to be able to get back to London without any trouble.


The rest of the year, in my memory, was mainly a downward journey. Every single trip we had booked in January for the rest of the year got cancelled: Provence, Germany, Norway (Lofoten & Spitsbergen), Iceland, and Greenland, as well as a dozen domestic trips. Ellie managed to keep her job. I was struggling, though. My last longer assignment as self-employed freelancer had finished end of December 2019. Since then, I had only managed to get paid work for a few days per month, a week here, two weeks there, and at a much lower day rate than usual.

Schnitzels, Strudels… the Sweet Life

It took me until the beginning of October to find another ‘full-time’ assignment: two months, five days per week, working mainly from the Vienna office of the client. Most people who know me, know that I love Vienna. It’s one of my favourite cities in Europe. For the first time in my career as a freelancer, I also had a huge expenses account. Quite often, when I have to pay for everything out of my own wallet, I stay at crappy hotels and eat relatively cheaply. This time, however, I was splashing out and not feeling bad about it.

Terror Attack

On Monday, 2 November, I had enjoyed a quick but pleasant dinner at Gasthaus Puerstner in central Vienna, a stone’s throw away from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I walked straight to my hotel. When I opened the window in my 6th story hotel room, I heard sounds that could have been shots, from very far away. I didn’t worry about it at the time.

Perhaps ten minutes later I hear a guy below my window shout “Help! I have been attacked! Help!”. The police arrive a short time later. By that time I had received a whatsapp message from a work colleague telling me about the Islamist attack and asking if I was okay.

We know now that the police initially thought that the attack had been committed by several terrorists. For at least 24h they were screening the area where my hotel is located at for those missing terrorists. There was a lot of false information on the media that night. On the map that was shown on national television, my hotel is located in the middle between three alleged shooting sites. Several times that night it looked as if police were about to enter our building to look for the terrorists.


Two dozen heavily armed policemen were shouting commands while keeping their automatic rifles pointed at my hotel. A few days later it became clear that there had only ever been one shooter. All five casualties and more than two dozen serious injuries had happend around one single street block about 500m away from my hotel. I’m not ashamed to say that during the night in question I hid under my hotel bed each time when it looked like the situation was escalating.

Halloween High School Shooting in Texas

I’m a cautious person and strongly believe in the motto “better safe than sorry”. When I was 16, I witnessed a high school shooting at pretty much the same time of the year, Halloween. It was in Longview, Texas, where I had been an exchange student at that time. The students who got shot that day mostly had not taken cover, because they thought the sounds were Halloween crackers. I ducked behind the locker bank and sure enough a few seconds later both of the two shooters passed by on the other side of that locker bank no more than two metres away from me while firing shots.

More Lockdown & Quarantine

The following day the national Covid lockdown started in Austria as planned, combined with a strict stay-indoors order in the area around my hotel. Another day later I was on a plane to London. Two weeks of quarantine were very difficult to do, because I really enjoy my exercise and crave the sunlight, but somehow I managed to get through those two weeks. It was nice to be back at home with Ellie.

Soup Kitchen

The two of us started helping out at a soup kitchen once or twice a week. I had done this before and like back then, I find it inspiring how many of these people manage to keep a smile on their face. How they plough on with their lives despite everything fate has put on their plate.

When the soup in the pot is running low towards the end of the evening, guests regularly ask for only half a cup, so that others will be able to get some soup too. One of the regulars is an outright comedian and entertains all of us with his funny stories and jokes.

He used to be dating a World Surf League Champion, travelled every year with her from Bali to Hawaii, then Cape Town to the Algarve, living the sweet life. The way he describes some of the locations I know, leaves no doubt in my mind he is telling the truth. Then she left him. He started suffering mental health problems, his drug use got out of hand.

What a year…

The lockdown measures here in London have been increased, we know now that there will definitely be no Agreement with the EU in place on January 1. There is a new, more dangerous strain of the virus. Other countries have closed their borders for UK citizens and goods. It seems a matter of certainty that the UK will face large-scale shortages, including in certain foodstuffs and medical supplies. Many millions are already living in poverty and fear. Let’s try and stay as positive as possible.

Wishing you all a great festive season and a happy new year. Hope to see you back here soon.

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  1. One of the main reasons I’ve never learned to ski, despite living in Utah most of my life, is fear of injury (and also an intense dislike of cold and snow). Quite a year for you Stefan! I have a lot of hope for 2021 though 🙂

  2. What a year you and Ellie have had! I’m glad you’ve continued to stay safe – a black arm sounds truly awful though. Glad it didn’t prevent your trip to Bhutan. I would love to visit there one day and Nepal as well.

    1. Thank you, Becky. Oh.. I’m sure you’d love Bhutan and Nepal. You’re much closer than we are too. I really love HK and enjoy reading your blog posts.

  3. Oh my Stefan, I’m so sorry to hear about your broken arm! 2020 has been a tough year for freelancers, but you stuck gold with the Austria gig. So much good food in Vienna, judging my those photos. I can’t wait to eat cake there. Glad to hear you’ve got good use of your arm now and were able to see your family before lockdown. Here’s hoping for better things in 2021!

    1. Thank you for leaving such a kind comment, Cynthia. Yes, fingers crossed for 2021… We’ve literally gone from Tier 2 Lockdown to Tier 3 Lockdown to Tier 4 Lockdown (Highest Level) all within the past three weeks or so, the last upgrade was 45 minutes ago, announced 6 hours in advance… It’s all a bit of a mess. Hope you and your loved ones are staying safe too.

  4. i enjoyed this story and finding out about your year.
    Walking around with a broken ankle at the moment so I empathise with you. and cant believe how brave you are to continue your travels. Looks like there was a lot of drama in your life this year!but makes for a good story haha Happy New Year!

  5. A full year despite Covid. Glad you were able to squeeze in Bhutan before the madness. And the black arm sounds really scary. Glad it improved. Here is to a better 2021!

    (I was just working my 2020 wrapup.

    1. Thank you, Gaz. I’m looking forward to reading your wrap-up. From your previous posts I take it that Thailand during lockdown was quite pleasant.

      To a better 2021. Here in Britain we are all pretty much certain that Brexit will finally bring us the freedom of having blue passports and being safe from Europe while eating locally produced digestives and baked beans haha….

      🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Wow, what a crazy year you’ve had!!! On the upside, your trip to Bhutan sounds like it was AMAZING! I’m so glad your arm has healed well too, and at least you still managed to go on your trip (you broke your arm before Bhutan, right?). And it sounds like you got back to the UK just in time, too. Then getting caught up in Vienna – wow, I would have been hiding under the bed too, probably for several days after that!! I’m so sorry to hear about your experience in Texas as well, I know it was probably a long time ago now but that will have stayed with you, geez. Still… interesting stories you have to tell, that’s for sure! Hope you both have a lovely Christmas & let’s hope things start looking up soon. 🙂

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment and the wishes, Clazz. Same to you, of course. Yes, overall Ellie & I feel grateful that the year went as it did, considering the circumstances. I hope your new Edinburgh home will be everything you hoped it would be. We love this town and hope to visit again next year. Especially Ellie often sounds like she’s a Scot in her heart haha…

  7. First of all good to see a Brexit trade agreement. That’s good for all.

    At the start of the blog I was going to say how unlucky you are with your arm. Then I read about the shootings and realised luck is on your side. Wow. You should write a book.

    You had an interesting year, more so than most. Fascinating read.

    1. What a lovely compliment, John. It’s really appreciated. I’m very much looking forward to reading your wrap-up once it’s live. You’ve had an exciting year. I especially like all the hiking tours you did.

  8. It was great that you found so many fun outdoor activities in early 2020. Although not great that your ski trip resulted in a broken arm. As the year progressed, it did indeed seem like the world became smaller. And so much tragedy everywhere. A wild year for sure. It was great to see vaccinations starting in the end of the year but it will still be a tough 2021 for some time. But as you say, we still have it much better than many others. Here’s to much brighter memories when we hit this time next year.

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