I will begin by thanking those of you who have sent their greetings over the holidays. Many thanks! I especially appreciated the comments on my blog, travel stories and the Flickr photo site. Please do not hesitate to send through more feedback – every comment is welcome. It doesn’t even have to be too positive. Mildly positive is enough.
Ok, it can also be moderately negative. But only moderately.
Goodbye, 2010! Seeing off the Old Year in style
I was very glad to see many of you welcome 2011 in style – activity choices ranging from staying at home with the family (in the former Communist world, we do not have an established tradition of Christmas and often make a much bigger family deal out of New Year instead. Really) to flying halfway across the world to join a loud street party somewhere in, say, Bangkok. Some of you also chose to stay in London. I never quite understood what the UK capital had on offer for the calendar change other than 15 minutes of fireworks followed by a mass rush for the Tube – but there you go. If only to prove me wrong, nobody seemed to be bored!
And what did I do for New Year’s? I am almost embarrassed to answer. The long story is narrated in full in one of my posts covering the Vietnam journey. None of you will believe this, but I actually spent my last moments of the departing year – and first moments of the new one – on a moving train. On an OLD moving train, crouched on a top berth in a 6-berth compartment where every other berth had not one but TWO Vietnamese people in it. It is a more economical way to travel, you see, when two people share one berth. Especially when the people are as petit as the Vietnamese.
I also hope I will not shock anyone by saying that the crucial 2011 moment did not even find me awake. Yes, I slept through my first New Year. I will never remember raising a glass of champagne to the sound of chiming clock, surrounded by like-minded New Year enthusiasts – our breath bated in anticipation of the grand breaking point. Because there was no champagne. No chiming clock. No New Year enthusiasts. And every breath in that 6-berth compartment was certainly deep and even. Everybody was sound asleep to the rhythm of the monotonously echoing train wheels. That was my New Year. It certainly began in a very unusual way.
2010 is dead, long live 2011!
In my 2010 newsletter, I described the past year as “the most exciting ever“. Having begun in a bit of a quirky way, 2011 is already popping out to earn the title of “the craziest“. Here are only a handful of activities I have planned:
(1) Northern Lights in Tromsø. My passion for the Great North is not a secret to anyone; neither is my passion for photography. Putting the two together on the first weekend of February, I will be flying to the north of Norway – Tromsø – to try and capture Northern Lights.
I have planned this visit very carefully in terms of time of year, moon phase, location and company. Kjetil Skogli – Norway’s famous Northern Lights enthusiast and photographer, featured in a thematic BBC documentary on this stunning natural phenomenon – Kjetil Skogli himself will be my guide. Together with a group of like-minded hardliners, I will kick myself out of the comfort of the indoors and spend seven hours driving like crazy around the Troms area – all in the hope of finding perfect Northern Lights.
And oh, we have been told to bring our passports along. Just in case we need to cross over to Finland. You never know where the evasive light cloud leads you. I certainly hope it will not run too far away, and that this blog will soon see some quality Northern Lights images.
(2) Wedding in Rio de Janeiro. I love planning ahead. As an example, I am currently scanning flight options for the next winter break. This means one year in advance – long enough to secure the best price or even seats. It makes perfect sense. At least to me.
And then a good friend sends me a wedding invitation. For a wedding in Rio de Janeiro, with a two-and-a-half-month notice. For the avoidance of doubt, I consider 2.5 months a VERY short notice, especially to travel outside a 5-hour flight radius from London. And Rio, ladies and gentlemen, is a 12-hour flight away. My first reaction is therefore to refuse. I run a few apologetic letter scripts in my head and put my fingers to keyboard to write my friend a “sorry, but…” kind of email.
After which I open Google Chrome, type “opodo.co.uk“, search for return flights from London to Rio and swiftly book one. Yes, I, a planning freak, book a 3-day visit to Rio within hours of receiving the lead email. By the time I figure out I had a different kind of message for my friend, it is too late.
So there – stay tuned for a recap of my 3-day visit to Rio in March, full-blown Brazilian wedding included. Don’t know about you, but I am absolutely bursting with excitement.
(3) Midnight sun in Svalbard. The UK is a strange country in many ways. For a start, there isn’t a single national holiday most normal countries have. There isn’t an Independence Day or a Day of the National Revival kind of thing. Instead we here rely heavily on artificially created “bank holiday Mondays”. A good thing about them is that they always fall on a Monday. As you might have figured out already.
There are two bank holiday Mondays in May. I had initially planned to spend the second one on the Greek island of Chios and in the Turkish city of Izmir. After which British Airways had thoughtlessly cancelled their Izmir flight. Worry not though – my search for an alternative sunny destination was a huge success. I found a very sunny destination indeed. A destination where the sun never even sets between April and August. Oh yes, I had my perfect destination all there. I had found my Svalbard.
I will leave you all to google Svalbard in peace. Let’s just say it is the closest I can ever get to the North Pole and that the indigenous population of the archipelago – that of polar bears – far exceeds the migrant population of about two thousand miners, researchers and other crazy folk. I had always wanted to visit – just never quite thought I would replace a +28C destination with one of +1C.
(4) Random foreign languages. I have always been a supporter of self-teaching foreign languages. Outside help seemed totally unnecessary and a waste of money. Recently, however, I had decided to stage a public experiment and sign up for evening classes. Evening classes in two of my favourite foreign languages – very useful ones at that. Spanish and Chinese? Give me a break. I actually mean Norwegian and Greek.
Why, I hear you say? Well, I might get to use my Norwegian on Svalbard. I hear those polar bears are among the world’s most educated. As for Greek, you never know what life brings. So you might as well be prepared.