Among my resolutions this year is to try and update this blog a bit more. I admit I have neglected this website all too often in 2012, for which I apologise. As I wrote in both of my latest posts (2012: Year in Pictures and 2012 Newsletter), a drop in blogging activity certainly did not result from the lack of news to report. 2012 was an exciting, fulfilling year – the year I travelled to such diverse destinations as India, Cuba, Greenland and Uzbekistan. I should really have made more effort to tell you about those travels here, but honestly, a full-time banking job, occasional photo assignments and a budding romance have all somewhat limited my presence in the cyberspace. Ask my Facebook buddies.
I have also been busy devising my travel plans for 2013. This world is such a great, fascinating place that only ever seems to expand its perimeter the more I travel. 2011 may have been a year of Norway as I made five trips to the Scandinavian country and spent my long summer holiday there. 2012 would have been a year of India, as last year both started and ended there, with a further little bit of India in-between. And 2013? I am not sure if this year will be underpinned by any common theme. The highlights of my travel schedule are below; I will leave it up to you readers to decide.
(1) Weekend for two in Paris (March). While Paris may not be an exotic destination – especially to any of us Londoners – my imminent visit there is special in a different way. Most of you will remember my firm preference to travel alone wherever I go (Why I love travelling alone). Indeed, bar occasional short-haul overground transfers, I have not sought company on the road since early 2009. I selfishly admit that I have not really suffered from this self-imposed travel solitude; but time is high to start changing the comfortable status quo.
I have a small confession to make here: in case any of you remember my search for a “perfect cricket mate” (Wanted: A perfect (cricket) mate), you may have wondered if the search actually took place and, if yes, whether it has been successful. In a nutshell, yes and yes. The perfect mate in my life may not be all that great a cricket player, but he follows the game with interest, is not giving up hopes of converting yours truly to rugby sometime soon, and generally strikes me as a rare but fine example of male perfection. The weekend in the world’s most staple destination for couples – Paris, what else – will be our first step on the way to grander things. And, if everything goes as planned, why shouldn’t the whole world be our oyster. Or snail, whatever.
(2) Educational visit to Auschwitz (March). Romantic getaways aside, this spring I will finally fulfill my long-term ambition of visiting Auschwitz. Arguably the gloomiest place on earth, Auschwitz continues to attract over a million visitors per year, and does so for a reason. The insight into not-so-recent history of mankind is believed by many to be life-changing. In fact, a visit to Auschwitz should well be made mandatory to everyone.
On a brighter note, I will have a second chance to explore the beautiful city of Krakow, where I haven’t set foot since 2006. Back then, my Polish vocabulary was limited to “gdzie jest sklep” (“where is the shop”), the sole phrase I used to navigate, not without success, around a small village near Nowy Sacz where my friend’s parental home was located. While I suspect I may need a bit more Polish to get around a city as big as Krakow, I stand ready to face the challenge.
(3) Cherry blossom in Japan (April). Stuck in an hour-long business meeting with lawyers last September, I used time productively to shortlist possible travel destinations for Easter 2013. My original plan was to hit Hong Kong – the city I miserably failed to visit courtesy of a certain Icelandic volcano back in 2010. I almost moved my finger to “make booking” when, somehow, Japan sprang to mind.
It turned out that the 2013 cherry blossom season – a major attraction point for many visitors to Japan – coincided beautifully with Easter in the West. Flight fares still reasonable, my friend Tomoko happily residing in Kanagawa-ken, and Japan not exactly the least interesting world’s country all meant that my fate was sealed in seconds. I am yet to settle on a detailed 17-day itinerary in Japan, but it will most likely cover the usual suspects of Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Mt. Fuji and Osaka. As well as involve a VERY expensive railway pass. And ultra-sleek, ultra-clean trains. And flashing urban streets. And high-tech interactive toilets. And luscious flower gardens. And raw fish. And – oh, did I ever mention – lots and lots of cherry blossom.
(4) Escaping it all on Madeira (May). Ever wondered about the outermost region of the European Union? Greenland (an autonomous region of Denmark) may seem the most obvious candidate but is in fact the only territory to have chosen to exit the EU a long time ago, in a 1982 referendum. The Faroe Islands of Denmark aren’t all that far and never even joined the EU in the first place. What’s left is Madeira – an autonomous region of Portugal, the remote archipelago lies as far as a thousand kilometers off the European continent, in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.
Remote in the life of anjči equals interesting, and I am finally getting my act together to visit Madeira on the first bank holiday in May. With surprise, I discovered not one, not two but THREE direct flight connections between London and the island. I remain in denial – while others seem to have discovered and explored Madeira long before me, I still intend to come and see for myself.
(5) Greek immersion on Milos (June). My Greek lessons continue, as do my annual visits to the stunning Greek islands. Following last year’s escapade to Chios, a joint tour of Amorgos and Astypalea in 2010 and the summer of 2008 (spent almost entirely in Greece), I have admittedly struggled to settle on an island this time. No, I haven’t visited them all yet. I am not even close, in fact – but the circle of remote, less frequented islands with decent transport links to Athens is invariably shrinking.
Finally I have selected Milos – the southwesternmost island of the Cycladic group with permanent population of no more than 5,000 and not overly developed, it was an easier choice. A couple of years since Amorgos, I have missed the whitewashed buildings of the Cyclades and the stunningly gorgeous blue of the southern Aegean. I have likewise missed quiet harbours, remote mountain villages, rocky beaches and the locals’ pandemic excitement to see off an occasional big passenger ferry. I have missed Greece like crazy. There is simply no alike sunny destination anywhere in the world.
(6) Defying the summer heat of Cairo (August). I have never had more candidates for an August bank holiday than this year. My first idea to roll that weekend into a long escape to Asia (see below) fell through as my friend Marianne decided to get married on the 17th of August. My second idea to visit one of Scotland’s outer archipelagos discovered a dire lack of decently priced flight connections from London. My third idea to visit Dubai hit the wall when I remembered the pain and expense I went through last time I applied for an UAE visa. The vision of Dubai in my mind as a soulless plastic paradise didn’t help, either.
After checking flights to ALL Caribbean islands (I am famous for weekend escapes to ridiculously faraway places, remember) and even Hong Kong, I seem to have finally settled. On Cairo, the capital of Egypt. One, I have good friends there. Two, it isn’t a 10-hour flight away. Three, it is interesting. And four, I get visa on arrival. The unimportant details of daytime temperatures overshooting high 30s, recent revolutions and, reportedly, aggressive street vendors remain, well, unimportant.
(7) TWO people’s republics of the East (September). I seem to have become famous for visiting rather controversial pockets of the world. Name a dictatorship regime or a leadership crisis, and you’ll probably find me there sooner than later. From Syria to Uzbekistan, from Cuba to Vietnam, I seem to have been methodically ticking off them all, one by one. So apparent is my passion for undemocratic regimes that a certain friend asked me recently in jest if, by any chance, I had put down Pyongyang for my next visit.
To which I shrugged and said yes. I have in fact always entertained hopes of visiting North Korea. Remarkably closed to the rest of the world, it offers but one chance for us outsiders to peep through its firmly shut doors – that being an organised tour with a Beijing-based travel agency. Yes, I am aware that I will not be able to step outside without a guide. Yes, speaking freely to locals will be a taboo. Yes, it isn’t your typical “fun” destination. And yes, it seems endlessly fascinating despite all of the above. The 7-day tour originates and concludes in Beijing, meaning that I will have a chance to explore some of China, too. Two birds and one stone spring to mind.
(8) Back in India (December). And the best for last – I have originally sketched New Zealand as my big destination for winter 2013, but my recent trip to India ruled otherwise (see photos here). I simply cannot see myself outside India for longer than a year. I yearn to discover the myriad of India’s regions I missed on my three previous trips. I want to fly into historic Hyderabad, explore the stunning, temple-rich Hampi, stop by in buzzing Bangalore, head to Gokarna and Goa for some seaside fun, catch a train up to Pune and, traditionally, finish it all off with a shopping spree in my favourite city in pretty much the whole of Asia, Mumbai. New Zealand can wait – I absolutely long for India. And heck, am I going back next winter.
For now though, may I once again wish you a most wonderful, rewarding year. May it be filled with pleasant mind-challenging new discoveries, both through travel and otherwise. Stay tuned!