Year in Pictures
Happy New Year to you all again!
Towards the end of 2018, while frantically finishing up for the year, I had this seemingly genius idea to postpone my annual Year in Pictures post until early 2019. It would solve the problem of having to scribble up another blog post in a rush and would free up the time I desperately needed to prepare for my big winter trip to Eritrea, the country blessed with a variety of terrains and climates that made packing for the said trip somewhat challenging.
Fast forward to 2019, and I found myself torn between cancelling the Year in Pictures altogether or churning it out without my soul quite in it. At this time of year, I would much rather be typing up the post revealing my travel plans and resolutions for 2019 (not like I haven’t already been pouring out spoiler alerts all over social media, pardon my chattiness) or committing myself to a several-thousand-word essay about that recent trip to Eritrea (not dreading that at all… really).
But, as much as I am ready to close the 2018 chapter, I am not at all keen to let a good tradition die for reason no other than my chronic laziness. Besides, keeping the Year in Pictures alive is a good excuse to preview some of my photos from Eritrea – these posts have traditionally been published before Christmas and therefore did not cover any of my winter trips.
So here goes! Follow my travels of 2018 through selected pictures and not so many words. Last year was eventful here on ANJCI ALL OVER, with me travelling to seven new countries (19 in total), namely Afghanistan (twice), Sudan, Libya, Eritrea, Bahrain, Tajikistan and Costa Rica. I did visit “normal” places, too, finding my way back to Greece, my cultural haven, on three occasions to clock up four new islands and reach my goal of having visited 50 Greek islands in total. And I prioritised places where I have lived in the past, paying eight visits to my hometown, Riga, and two to my adopted hometown of Helsinki. As it happens, I do not focus on photography when I am in such places, and you will have to pardon a certain lack of visuals here.
Without further ado, here are a few illustrations to my 2018!
Winter in Pictures: Nicaragua and Latvia
1-5 January: My year started in the streets of Granada, Nicaragua’s pretty colonial city which rolled out some seriously festive preparations for the big night. While I was in the early stages of a (very) long spell of bronchitis and struggled to appreciate staying up until midnight, surrounded by loud festive folk, I found Granada’s colourful streets undeniably pretty. Shortly into 2018, Alan and I travelled on to Isla Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua, which ended up being the highlight of our entire stay in the country. We hiked up the muddy trail to the Maderas Volcano to see precisely nothing but fog inside its crater and plunged into the pleasantly calm lake every night to wash off the day’s turmoils. It was perfect! I highly recommend the Hacienda Merida guesthouse on Ometepe.
~Granada and Isla Ometepe / NICARAGUA
That is me getting all artistic against a sunset viewed from Hacienda Merida on Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua… only slightly embarrassing
Volcano Concepcion as viewed from the hike to Ometepe’s other peak, Volcano Maderas
Bird performing a yoga stance. I bet you don’t see that every day.
Throughout 2018: Despite zooming around the world at every opportunity, I rarely made the effort to explore tourist sites in my own backyard, the pretty city of Riga, before 2018. Last year though, I embarked on a challenge to cross as many tourist attractions in Riga as possible, visiting the viewing platform of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, the Riga Radio and TV Tower, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation and the spire of St. Peter’s Church. I had unexpected company in my pursuits: while my practically minded mother does not care much for sight-seeing, my dreamer of a father suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands and very enthusiastic to explore Riga together. It might just have been the best year ever for joint family activity, and I am infinitely grateful for that. Stay tuned – Dad and I have our eyes firmly fixed on the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and are pondering a return to the Latvian Academy of Sciences, currently our favourite view of Riga.
~Riga / LATVIA
My beloved Riga, as viewed from St. Peter’s Church. The high-rise building to the left is the Latvian Academy of Sciences, built in the “Stalin skyscraper” style.
Spring in Pictures: Sudan, Afghanistan, Greece and more
3-4 March: By early March last year, I found my career somewhat in shambles when a long-pending promotion at my day job failed to materialise yet again. Devastated, I flew to Faro, Portugal, to take my mind off things. I enjoyed peaceful walks on the Atlantic beach near Faro and stuffed my face with delicious garlic shrimp all weekend, but somehow ended up returning in an even worse state than when I left. Not to blame Portugal, of course.
~Faro / PORTUGAL
Faro Beach where I spent hours strolling along thinking about the sorry state of affairs in my life… so much for the first world problems
17-18 March: I had a business trip to Bucharest scheduled to meet one of our investee companies, and used the opportunity to stay the weekend and visit Sibiu, a beautiful Transylvanian city some 6-hour train ride away (I had already been to Brasov, another obvious choice for a weekend trip from Bucharest). With its walkable size, hearty food and a seemingly unlimited supply of palinca shots, Sibiu was just what the doctor ordered. What made the trip even more entertaining though was my return trek to Bucharest: my train having been 332 minutes delayed, I risked losing my flight to London and resorted to hitch-hiking the 140 km to Brasov, from where buses left straight for Bucharest airport. My driver, a local of Codlea called Paul, could not have been better company: I am humming the song by Pasarea Colibri, the Romanian rockers we sang along to all the way to Brasov, as I type this.
~Bucharest and Sibiu / ROMANIA
Nearly all of Sibiu magically fitted into this super-wide lens
24 March: I still cannot believe that, one freezing morning last March, I dragged Alan on a mission to try and penetrate Skrunda-1, a former Soviet military camp and radar station in Western Latvia. Totally out of character, don’t you think? We ended up getting extremely lucky, as, instead of heading straight for the front entrance – from where we would have inevitably been turned away – we decided to take a shortcut through the forest and, the crossing of one frozen moat later, slipped into Skrunda-1 through a side entrance. The place was eerily full of discarded Soviet memorabilia and other artefacts nostalgically reminiscent of my childhood in the early 1990s – I could have spent many hours there, but we had only managed a couple before an armed guard intercepted us. It turned out that Skrunda-1 had already been handed over to the Latvian army as the urban warfare training ground and made off-limits for civilian visitors. We could in all likelihood have been the last such to enter Skrunda-1, a fascinating open-air monument to the past I will never forget.
~Skrunda-1 / LATVIA
This could be the last remaining image of Lenin in the entirety of Latvia
30 March – 2 April: I had wondered whether visiting Sudan for a long weekend over Easter would make much sense, but I needn’t have worried: my time in the country was cut even shorter when a strong sandstorm hit Khartoum, grounding flights and leaving me stranded in Doha for a day. Keen to regain as much ground as possible when I did eventually reach Sudan, I ended up zooming around Khartoum pretty much non-stop for two days and rushing to the stunning Pyramids of Meroe on the third. I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the locals, many of whom invited me to share cups of tea and gave me small trinkets as gifts. Above all, I enjoyed the surreal experience of speaking Greek at the Hotel Acropole, the oldest in Khartoum, which is owned by three Pagoulatos brothers of Greek descent. Khartoum used to have a vibrant Greek community, of which only a tiny fraction remains, with most of Greek cultural activities mainly concentrated at the Acropole.
~Khartoum and Meroe / SUDAN
Local man and his camel at the Pyramids of Meroe
The perfectly unspoilt desert sands of Meroe
Camel market in Khartoum
28 April – 10 May: My first big trip of 2018 was, in many ways, the defining force for the rest of the year. I travelled to Afghanistan for two weeks at the time when my emotional stability was failing and when depression had started taking a devastating toll on my health. Traditionally the peak of the Taliban activity, spring was decidedly not the best time to visit Afghanistan, and a number of terrorist attacks were carried out during my stay in the country. However, my visit to Afghanistan ended up being the catalyst of my emotional recovery: travelling to Kabul, Mazar-i Sharif, Herat and Panjshir Valley, among other places, I connected deeply with this troubled country, vouching to return later in 2018. I wrote at length about my journey out of depression here.
~Kabul, Istalif, Mazar-i Sharif, Balkh, Herat and Panjshir Valley / AFGHANISTAN
Girl in yellow and a Chinook in the background: just another day in Kabul
Two boys spotting defeated kites from Bibi Mahru Hill in Kabul: possibly my favourite image of the year
Watching a Sufi man in Herat, one of my most memorable moments of 2018
11-13 May: From Afghanistan, I flew to Bahrain for three days of doing not exactly much besides helping myself to beer at Happy Hour and wandering around to some truly uncomfortable levels of dust and humidity. I also accidentally befriended a local man called Jawad and his little sidekick Jamila, the daughter of Jawad’s Filipino tenants, and we toured Bahrain’s modest tourist attractions together – luckily for me, as I doubt I would have had the energy to venture out too far on my own.
~Manama / BAHRAIN
Alfateh Grand Mosque, the most happening photo I took of Bahrain in three days
26-29 May: After trips to three conservative Muslim countries (let alone that trek through an abandoned military camp in Latvia), I hope I can be excused for madly looking forward to my first trip of the year to the Greek islands, my epitome of relaxation. Using up a free flight voucher from the Aegean Airlines, I randomly picked Samos, one of the larger islands in the Dodecanese archipelago a mere 3km away from the shores of Turkey. Samos ended up amazing me with the hospitality of its locals: many residents of Pythagoreion (where I was staying) soon greeted me by name and Greeks in other villages casually invited me to share food and ouzo with them. Add to it some incredible beaches, and you can understand why I am planning a return to Samos in 2019. Wait, that was a spoiler alert!
~Samos / GREECE
Pretty seaside village of Kokkari on Samos
Summer in Pictures: Tajikistan, UAE and more Greece
30 June – 5 July: And my next trip to Greece wasn’t that far away! At the end of June, I finally managed to fit the remote Cycladic island of Anafi into my plans. Anafi’s nearest neighbour is Santorini, but the two islands are indeed worlds apart: few tourists make that extra stretch of a journey to reach Anafi whose sunsets remain a quiet, intimate affair. Anafi is widely known as a hikers’ paradise among Greek islands’ enthusiasts, and Alan and I tested several of the island’s hikes, including the steep trail to the top of Mount Kalamos, at 420m one of the Mediterranean’s highest monolithic rocks. Otherwise, we did our best to avoid nude sunbathers (of which there were surprisingly many on Anafi) and lucked out to meet the legendary Manolis Pelekis, in all probability the most charismatic Anafiotis in existence. The latter threw us a live performance on his hand-made tsambouna (bagpipe-resembling musical instrument) and poured us home-made tsikoudia until we seriously feared for our ability to drive back and had to take a naked dip ourselves to sober up… Memories, memories.
~Anafi / GREECE
A mandatory shot of the author posing on a perfectly whitewashed roof on a Greek island
One of those instantly recognisable white Greek churches. I love you, Anafi.
Mount Kalamos, the said monolithic rock on Anafi towering over the surface of the Aegean
6-8 July: From Anafi, we sailed to another Greek island, Ios (because why not?) for a couple of days of wondering why we had, in fact, picked one of Greece’s most popular islands towards the start of the high season. Ios’ undeniably picturesque Chora (main town) dominated by three perfectly perched white churches sadly became besieged by Instagrammers every sunset, making me nearly lose all will to live – there is a reason I usually plan my trips to Greece earlier in the summer. My best memory from Ios was cheering for Team Russia at the World Cup so loudly that the staff of the restaurant where we were watching the game presented me with a Russian flag – for the record, my first – at the end of it all.
~Ios / GREECE
Ios’ iconic sunset spot so crowded in the evenings was blissfully quiet in the early mornings. Recommended!
25-26 August: I love Dubai. I first stopped there en route Turkmenistan in 2017, and have since been trying to make it a tradition to spend a couple of weekends a year in Dubai when transiting to (or from) a more challenging destination. This time Alan and I were on our way to Tajikistan: stopping over for a blissful couple of days in Dubai, we didn’t do much besides swimming in a perfect pool in a perfect hotel in downtown Dubai during the day and walking across to watch that perfect dancing fountain in the backdrop of the perfect Burj in the evenings. I may be an adventurer at heart, but the unashamed convenience of everything in Dubai is just too tempting not to love.
~Dubai / UAE
Opening my window to a quintessential Dubai view… this must be life.
27 August – 9 September: And, it turned out, I really needed my night in Dubai before entering Tajikistan! We arrived to an extremely tight itinerary starting in the capital city of Dushanbe and extending to the west of the country, in the Fann Mountains and Panjakent, as well as the east, looping along the world-renowned Pamir Highway before returning to Dushanbe. We spent hours every day in a moving car, and this truly felt like a hardcore adventure. Inevitably, I got horrible food poisoning within days, right before the only major hike on the agenda; needless to say that I was on my slowest pace ever. Besides questionable hygiene, Tajikistan featured countless phenomenal mountain vistas and some of the best-looking locals (especially the ladies, as much as I am no expert) I have seen anywhere in the world. We will be back!
~Dushanbe, Iskanderkul, Panjakent, Fann Mountains, Kalai Khum, Vamd, Jizev, Khorog, Ishkashim, Langar and Bulunkul / TAJIKISTAN
School girls heading to school on the 1st of September, the first day of a new school year
Local boy and his bicycle in Vamd village near Rushan
Bridge over a mountain river in the Pamir region
Autumn in Pictures: Turkey, Afghanistan, Libya and more
22-23 September: I know, I know… you have already started to wonder how long it would be before another Greek island made its way into this post. Soon after returning from Tajikistan I flew to Skyros, my first Greek island in the Sporades archipelago… and my 50th Greek island overall! I won’t lie, I had planned the trip specifically so I could close the gap to 50 before the end of 2018 (talk of questionable life goals). Besides revealing itself to host a major Hellenic Air Force base thanks to the island’s strategic location in the middle of the Aegean, Skyros positively impressed me as one of the prettiest Greek islands I ever visited. Positioned on a rock, the island’s main town overlooks a view of unforgettable beauty; see below for yourselves!
~Skyros / GREECE
The promised unforgettable view from Skyros’ Chora
29 September – 3 October: It was already looking to be a very busy autumn when I had to fly to Istanbul for a 3-day workshop organised by my beloved employer. I arrived early, jetting off to Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, for a weekend of thoughtful walks and boat-watching on the city’s vast Aegean promenade. I also fulfilled my long-held ambition to visit Cesme, Western Turkey’s holiday town, although being there in late September mostly meant soaking under a wild thunderstorm. It was all wonderfully worth it: rain forced me into a local café where I ended up befriending the owner and getting a ride in his car back to Izmir. My Turkish colleagues are to this day mortified that I accepted a lift from a “stranger”. Oh, and Istanbul was, as ever, magnificent.
~Izmir, Cesme and Istanbul / TURKEY
One of the many sea views observed from Izmir’s Aegean promenade…
…and a timeless view of Istanbul
6-14 October: And, just like that, I was back in Afghanistan! I was heart-broken not to have had the chance to visit Bamyan, the country’s gorgeous mountainous province, on my first trip to Afghanistan and knew that I had to return to rectify this. After not being fully happy with the Western company I booked my first trip with, I roped in Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan, a local establishment, for the follow-up – and couldn’t have had a better time! Afghanistan was, hands down, my most special travel experience of 2018, so much that I am already planning my third visit. Again, spoiler alert!
~Kabul, Mazar-i Sharif, Balkh, Bamyan and Panjshir Valley / AFGHANISTAN
Afghan man on Ki Faroshi Bird Street in Kabul
One of Band-e Amir’s magnificent blue lakes. Bamyan was my absolute highlight of Afghanistan.
Adisa, the face at Sakhi Shrine in Kabul I remember vividly
20-21 October: Remembering the good times I had in Sibiu earlier in the year, I ventured out to another Romanian city, Constanta on the Black Sea coast. The surrounding region of Dobrogea had recently started making a serious effort to attract visitors outside the sunbathing season, and a good friend of mine used to live in Constanta, ensuring that I was curious to visit. Alan and I (is it me or Alan accompanies me on most trips these days?) walked Constanta’s modest historic centre over and over again, ate good food and were generally happy to chill.
~Constanta / ROMANIA
Built in the Art Nouveau style, the superb Constanta Casino currently stands closed and abandoned
3-5 November: Carrying on with the theme of challenging destinations, somehow we decided that throwing Libya into the mix seemed like a good idea. I used my remaining unallocated annual leave to fly to Tripoli for 3.5 days of eating masses of food (which somehow seemed to be the main part of the tour), trying to avoid the multiple layers of police (which I, naturally, failed) and being stuck in some truly horrendous traffic. On the plus side, Leptis Magna and Sabratha had some of the best Roman ruins I had seen anywhere and I did appreciate crossing another “difficult” destination off my list.
~Tripoli, Sabratha and Leptis Magna / LIBYA (via TUNISIA)
That El Emad Towers in Tripoli are said to resemble whiskey bottles turned upside down, ironic for a “dry” country like Libya
This superb sunset in Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia made me wonder why most seats at Cafe des Delices were positioned to face away from the view
Happy New Year!
22-31 December: And the end was finally near! We flew to Eritrea towards the close of 2018 to attempt to cover everything the country had to offer (or, rather, everywhere foreign visitors could hope to get the permit to visit) over two weeks. We admired the superb examples of Modernist architecture in the capital city of Asmara when we weren’t gorging on amazing local food. Travelling down the spectacular decent to the port of Massawa on the Red Sea coast, we lingered here to soak up some heat before chartering a boat to the paradise islands of the Dahlak archipelago. Returning to the mainland, we only had the time to visit the city of Keren before 2019 came knocking on the door. We welcomed the New Year sipping cold Asmara beer on Harnet Avenue, the capital’s main thoroughfare, to curious looks of locals passing by. Rumour has it that a couple of fireworks went off in the area, but we didn’t see any – a perfect summary to the chilled affair that Eritrea turned out to be.
~Asmara, Massawa, Dahlak archipelago and Keren / ERITREA
Fiat Tagliero Building, the work of a genius and a symbol of Asmara
Local kids in Massawa take a break from begging us for pens or biscuits (we did buy the latter)
Paradise Dur Gaam island in the Dahlak archipelago at sunset
HAPPY NEW YEAR! HAPPY NEW YEAR! HAPPY NEW YEAR!