To regular followers of the life of anjči, 2012 may seem somewhat less exciting than the recent years. Indeed, I have “only” been absent from the UK on 104 days this year – almost a full month less than in each of 2011 and 2010. I have spent time in no more than 20 different countries – hereby unilaterally granting Greenland a status of a separate country for the purposes of this blog, in a desperate attempt to beautify the slightly lagging statistics. And of the 20 countries visited, there were “only” five first-timers: Cuba, Cyprus, Greenland, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, again below the high benchmark of the recent past. The fact that I have all but abandoned this blog halfway through the year certainly hasn’t made my case any stronger, either.
This trough underpins one of 2012’s major new developments. It was sometime during 2012 that I felt more at home in London than ever, mounting the efforts to cosy up the same old flat in Bermondsey where I have spent nearly four years. Lengthy travels have become more of an inevitability to reach new places than an adventure of their own. The high-profile events in London this year – what with the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics and all – are possibly to blame. 2012 was undoubtedly the most patriotic year in the UK on my modestly short memory, encouraging many of us Londoners to stick around and share in the excitement.
New developments aside, some things have hardly changed at all. 2012 has not been much different to its recent predecessors as far as my friends’ baby activity is concerned. I have been proven dramatically wrong to think most family additions would have depleted themselves by 2011. By now I have hopelessly lost the count of babies residing in my friends’ households at any given point in time. Let alone names and ages, I fail to remember even genders of individual new arrivals. From my heart, I congratulate everyone who has seen a first, or a new addition to their family in 2012. I may have waited out yet another year without joining your ranks – but at least I have got this much closer by shrinking the shortlist of my future children’s father hopefuls to one. Which is not exactly the most unimportant preparatory step.
Without further ado, however, let us embark on the recap of this year’s events in order.
2012 IN REVIEW: WINTER
Following rather unglamorous New Year’s “celebrations” of 2011 – when I welcomed 2012 asleep, aboard an old Vietnamese train moving into darkness in the company of nine local strangers sharing a 6-berth compartment (don’t ask), I entered 2012 in a little more style. Udaipur, the “Lake City” of Rajasthan, did not feel very wintery, and it was only when hundreds of fireworks exploded overhead – reflecting in the many lakes surrounding this stunning Indian city – that the end of 2011 finally dawned upon me. With mango lassi in one hand and my trusty Nikon in the other, I stood atop my hotel’s roof, watching locals exchanging greetings in the streets below and receiving a string of media messages from what was still “last year” – Europe and the Americas. I vouched to myself never to stay asleep on New Year’s Eve again. Unless, of course, I happen to be on a train in Vietnam.
My first couple of days in 2012 were fairly rushed as, having strolled endlessly in beautiful Udaipur, I returned to foggy Delhi and boarded a flight to London – my journey back to reality. The reality did not prove to be such a welcome concept, however, and, soon after returning to Britain, I headed off again – this time to an entirely different environment. The Arctic city of Tromsø in Norway was hosting its annual international film festival, and no destination looked like a better candidate to numb the pain of my recent separation from the spectacular India. And perfect it was! The film festival was fascinatingly diverse, my new friend Hanneke’s hospitality second to none, and the Northern Lights – which duly made appearance in time for my arrival – as ever, breath-taking.
A surprisingly uneventful February followed when my attempted break from travel turned sour days after it started. My brightest memory is joining Syrian friends for a demonstration in support of anti-government movements in the Middle East, organised by Amnesty International on London’s Trafalgar Square on 11 February 2012. That finished, I started getting dangerously bored in frozen London – when spring finally came, bringing with it an end to this self-imposed break from travels.
2012 IN REVIEW: SPRING
As if to compensate for a lingering, dull February, March came down like a phoenix. It felt like all I did was getting on and off the plane. It began with a weekend trip to Spain’s Seville and Cadiz, two cities in gorgeous Andalucía that reminded me just how intertwined the cultures of Spain and North Africa once were. Pre-Easter carnivals had taken over the streets of little Cadiz, with dozens of chirigota performers making laugh even the sternest of passers-by. I, however, had to bid them farewell and return to London for about four hours – before embarking on a business trip to Dunaújváros, an industrial town in Hungary. A visit to a fully functional (and endlessly smelly) paper mill provided quite a contrast to colourful Spanish festivities, which by then seemed like a distant memory.
Back in London for a luxurious 12 hours, I repacked in record times and was off again – this time on a long weekend in… Mumbai. Yes, you may have noticed that long weekends in faraway destinations have become a sort of a tradition on these blog’s pages. I am unlikely to beat my own record of three days in Rio de Janeiro in 2011; but four days in Mumbai, too, raised their share of eyebrows. The trip was worth every penny – Holi festivities, untouristy streets of Kamathipura, early mornings on the Juhu beach, the Gateway of India, tour of Dharavi slum, shopping in Santa Cruz, cricket to a rather western cup of coffee on modern Linking Road – the contrasts were almost as overwhelming as the rest of this incredible country called India. Many thanks to my friend Avi and the rest of the Mehta family for giving me an unforgettable welcome. I cannot wait to see you all in Mumbai in less than a month; more about this later.
Steady on, those three short trips only bring us to the second half of March. Within days of returning from Mumbai, I made a dash to Cyprus, for exactly 36 hours – arguably enough time to tick off a handful of items on my list. The undisputed highlight was the crossing of the so-called Green Line, the guarded frontier splitting the capital of Nicosia and indeed the rest of the island into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot parts. It was just as I had imagined – lives on adjacent sides of the border seemed to be abiding different rules while my (allegedly) beautiful Athenian Greek became decidedly useless in Turkish neighbourhoods.
I returned to London, only to fly promptly back pretty much in the same direction – this time to Turkey proper, where I combined work in Istanbul with a weekend visit to the region of Cappadocia. The towns of Nevşehir, Göreme, Avanos and Ürgüp all took my breath away with their surrounding moonlike scenery and rich cultural heritage. Finally, a couple of days later, I found myself on another business trip, in Slovenia. The power generating unit my employer is financing there is almost complete, and I was lucky to ride a lift up its newly built cooling tower, over 100 meters tall. The surrounding views were stunning, and subsequent work visits to Zlatoličje and Maribor confirmed the well-known truth: I absolutely, dearly love my job.
March was finally over, but spring continued its brisk pace. I was pleasantly impressed by how lovely the allegedly overdeveloped island of Mallorca was on a weekend trip there in April. Rapidly improving European weather prepared me for a major holiday that was to follow in May. Off I set for the faraway rebellious island in the Caribbean: Cuba, amigos. During the 12 days there, I travelled most of the island’s length overland, from Havana to Santiago. Havana charmed me with its decadence scruffy look propped up by decidedly outdated American cars (I was less impressed by their less outdated but far worse looking Soviet counterparts); Santiago sported a rich blend of cultures; Trinidad’s colonial heritage had been beautifully preserved; while the Caribbean – the beautiful, pleasantly warm Caribbean – needed absolutely no introduction. With some of the most captivating personalities I have met around the world to date, Cuba was quite simply surreal.
2012 IN REVIEW: SUMMER
June marched in, opening grandiosely with Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee festivities in London. At the risk of jeopardising my loyalty to the Crown, I shamelessly left the country for the warmer shores of Greece instead –and, after two failed attempts to visit the Aegean island of Chios in the past, luck was finally on my side. I spent nine wonderful days zooming around Chios on ancient buses, catching lifts with locals, talking politics, cycling to quieter beaches for evening dips, hiking over hills to UNESCO protected monasteries, getting forest fireguards to show me the way and wondering how, how it was possible that one of Greece’s wealthiest islands – housing a reasonable number of ship owners – could look ever so understated. It was only later that a Greek friend explained to me I would have to fly over Chios to spot a few palace-like properties from above. On taxman’s eye level though, it was all low profile.
Quick stopovers in Porto and Riga later, I found myself halfway through July – and getting ready for another week of holiday. I had made no secret of my ardent dream to visit the world’s largest island and dependent territory, Greenland. This time it all finally came together when I spent nine days exploring the highlights of this vast Arctic area: the massive icebergs floating off Ilulissat, the magic light of the midnight sun descending mildly upon remarkable glaciers, the thickest morning mist I had ever, ever experienced – and, decidedly unforgettable, the enormous humpback whales gazing out of the water within close distance from our boat. I may have been eaten alive by the omnipresent mosquitoes in the unusually warm weather, but the holiday itself was worth every bite. I might never revisit Greenland – getting and staying there is both cumbersome and expensive – but, for now, I am happy enough to have ticked it off my immediate wish list.
The holiday in Greenland also broke a major trend of the recent years: that of me refusing to do anything remotely special on my birthday. The last few birthdays had me come to work sporting a mysterious smile, sit through the day without breaking the news to anyone and head home – while laboriously responding to benefactors’ well wishes on social media. It all changed this year in Greenland, when my 29th birthday had me ascend into skies on a helicopter flight over Ilulissat and the surrounding glaciers. It may sound glamorous; however, I fear that was the last time I ventured to mark my birthday in any way. Perhaps I should have saved the whole extravaganza for my 30th.
The rest of the summer went by swiftly. Everybody in London seemed to be talking the Olympics; that opening ceremony certainly made me proud to live in a country with such stunning heritage of history and music. I even went as far as attending one sports event, a non-finalist allocation in men’s water polo. Perhaps I should have capitalised “men’s”, as, ladies and gentlemen, the sight was so breath-taking that I ended up dropping my Nikon onto lower benches and damaging the lens beyond repair. But worth the view? It certainly was.
After a quick family reunion in Ventspils, Latvia – the five people I am related to besides my parents all live there – August concluded with two visits to Scandinavia. The first one was the baptism of my friend Dasha’s two children in Copenhagen, Denmark – a very special occasion indeed. The second was a belated visit to my once frequented Norway, where I travelled on the picturesque Rauma Railway from Dombås to Åndalsnes, visited the Art Nouveau city of Ålesund, took a Hurtigruten ship down the stunning Geiranger fjord, and enjoyed some amazing local hospitality in Molde. It was a perfect end to a perfect summer.
2012 IN REVIEW: AUTUMN
The autumn began in some style when, on 2 September 2012, I found myself cheering for England at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Many of you will remember how passionate about cricket I claim to be; an 8-hour match against South Africa went by in a flash. And while my search for a “perfect cricket mate” did not prove to be a success, I managed to score even better by selling my spare ticket to a stranger. At almost double the price. And did I mention England won, too?
Another busy travel spell followed. After a rushed visit to the familiar sights of Helsinki, I was off to Uzbekistan on my first ever trip to Central Asia. During the 11-day break, I travelled from the capital city of Tashkent to historic Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, and further to industrial Nukus and sleepy Muynak. The latter was once a thriving port on the Aral Sea, but, the sea all but wiped out by the authorities’ mindless devotion to cotton industry, the only reminder of Muynak’s fishing past were rusty ship carcasses resting in the stretching desert – the so-called “ship cemetery”. As sad as I was to see the prevailing poverty in Uzbekistan, I remained absolutely awed by the hospitality of the locals. On many an occasion I was invited to local homes, fed simple but delicious food, given keepsakes to take home and even accommodated for the night when my designated hotel in Tashkent was suddenly cordoned off by police – all courtesy of kind strangers.
Back in London, I started my evening language classes – continuing Greek and, for the first time, taking on Arabic. In-between work and studies, I managed to squeeze in a couple of other trips, including a weekend getaway to Cork and Dingle in Ireland and a fifth visit to Riga this year. My passport was meanwhile mercilessly expiring, prompting me to apply for a replacement and declare a self-imposed 7-week break from travel. The ordeal turned out to be a rather difficult one, and, eventually, I bent my own rules (as one does) and made two day trips in England – one to the Viking inspired city of York and the other to the pretty, cathedral-topped Lincoln.
Another highlight during this lengthy travel abstinence was watching my first live rugby match at England’s home grounds of Twickenham, where England faced Fiji. England are famous for pulling out a rather patchy performance at times, but this time it all went well. I walked out of the stadium carrying a newly bought England rugby top and vouching to return. Add Lord’s and the Olympics, 2012 in the life of anjči was certainly rich for sports events.
JUST ANOTHER YEAR THEN
Which neatly brings us to December! My new passport issued and the first visa already glued into it, I am making final revisions of my impending 2.5-week itinerary in India. On my third visit to this remarkably colourful country, I will briefly visit Delhi and Mumbai, stop in Varanasi and Kolkata, and spend a week zooming through the southern state of Kerala. With four domestic flights, three rail journeys and a couple of car transfers, I can only pray that no hiccups await along the way. And, even if they do, there are worse things in life than being stuck in India for a few extra days.
2012 was a truly special year. I will always remember it for the newly discovered travel destinations, the feeling of firmly belonging in the UK and the patriotic vibe brought by Her Majesty’s Jubilee and the Olympic Games in London. In the run-up to 2013, I would like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year, in whichever order you prefer. Many thanks to everyone who found the time to see me and especially to host me in a variety of countries in 2012. Thank you to those of you that kindly bestowed me with your visits – my door in London is open a lot of the time, so please keep on stopping by. Thank you for your friendship and presence in the life of anjči during 2012. I hope that I can keep in touch with and continue seeing many of you in 2013, and beyond.
View my 2012: Year in Pictures post.