Last year I visited 25 countries and spent 65 per cent of my weekends out of London. Looking back at my 2014 travel itinerary, I feel excited at the amazing memories – yet just a little bit tired, too.
It is bad taste to complain about the privilege that is travel but I would be lying to say I enjoyed every one of my last year’s trips. While most places I visited were fantastic, the whiney little person in me found, say, Lyon in France fairly dirty and impossibly buried in dog poo last October. It then failed to get the point of the pompously royal and expensive Luxembourg in March. And, in the same month, it was slightly uninspired by Poland’s freezing, empty city of Gdansk.
I see two reasons for my failing to appreciate the places most people would be grateful to visit. Firstly, I visited them in the colder months. The backdrop of bare trees, rain-washed buildings and grey clouds is unlikely to tilt anyone’s scales to a positive impression. Besides, as a keen but amateur photographer, I feel coldly about long hours of darkness when I can make little to no sense of my camera’s manual settings.
Secondly, I simply crammed too many destinations into a short time. My visit to Spain in October was followed by Portugal and France in a matter of two weeks. While I greatly enjoyed Santiago de Compostela and Lisbon, by the time I reached rainy Lyon I was burnt out and uninterested – and would rather have just stayed in London in retrospect. As a result, I did not do France’s second largest city the justice it deserved.
That brings me to obvious conclusions and resolutions for 2015. I plan to travel less on weekends, especially less so to places that turn gloomy and lifeless in the winter. Larger gaps between travels will do me good and give me the time (and budget!) to plan individual trips better as a result. I definitely do not need to exceed the count of 20 countries every single year, either.
In a word, while I will of course continue planning my big holidays with the same zeal and excitement – and as annoyingly long in advance as always – I want to slow down my weekend travels. I am slightly bored of Western European cities and will take a break from them in 2015. It is my resolution to visit as few as 10 countries this year, with not more than four as first-timers.
To compensate for lower numbers, I hope to approach each of my destinations with longer preparation time and deeper understanding. I hope that this will all lead to infinitely better quality of both my travel and my everyday life at base in London.
With that eloquent speech in mind, here are only some trips I have planned for 2015.
(1) First-timer in Bratislava, Slovakia (March)
Bratislava may not sound that exciting until one is reminded that Slovakia is among three three European countries I have never set my foot in (the other two are Kosovo and Moldova). Please don’t ask how I have managed to miss Slovakia and not any of its five neighbours; this will soon be rectified. On a weekend this March, I hope to explore Bratislava’s charming Old Town and perhaps take a day trip to one or two castles nearby. Since it will be cold, I very much count on Slovakia making something similar to Polish mulled beer. Regular beer will of course be welcome, too.
(2) Unveiling Iran (April)
Iran will be my first major trip of the year. Leaving a few days before Easter, I will fly to Iran’s north-western city of Tabriz, from where I will make my way to Shiraz using overland transport. I have not crystallised my itinerary yet – and various sanctions make it cumbersome for me to pre-arrange hotels from London – but I am unlikely to miss Tehran, Kashan, Esfahan and Yazd along the way. If I were to visit Na’in and Kerman too, I would be most pleased.
The preparations for my trip are already in full swing. Obtaining an Iranian visa is a multi-stage process: I have so far used a travel agency to get an authorisation number from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and have asked them to take my passport to the Iranian Consulate in Frankfurt (the one in London is still closed and the one in Dublin is tiny). Yes, I currently have no travel document besides an EU national ID but hopefully my passport will be coming back, duly stamped, in a few weeks’ time. Meanwhile I try on my Indian salwar, kurtis and dupattas daily to find the best combination – an Islam-friendly dress does not need to mean inelegant!
(3) Couple’s retreat on the Andaman Islands, India (May)
Not long after Iran, my boyfriend Alan and I will fulfil our long-standing dream to visit India together. We have been to India only separately before, and Alan’s last time was over a decade ago. Needless to say we have picked an entirely new place for both of us: the Andaman Islands.
This archipelago lies much closer to Burma than India and can only be reached by boat and plane from the Indian mainland. We plan to spend a couple of days saree-shopping in Chennai (luckily for me, Alan is even more enthusiastic about buying colourful sarees for me than I am) before flying to Port Blair, the principal town on the Andamans. From there, we will catch a ferry to Havelock island best known for its heavenly beaches, a resident elephant and absence of any form of telephone reception. May is not the best time to visit the Andamans (even less so the sweltering Chennai), but we plan to make the most of it.
(4) Long weekend on Agistri island, Greece (May)
My love for the Greek islands has been widely advertised in this blog. To date I have visited 33 of them – that is 33 ahead of my boyfriend. Yes, Alan has never actually been to Greece despite his lovely lady sporting semi-fluent Greek on every occasion and making yearly pilgrimages to the country’s rustic villages and sparkly Aegean.
Time to correct that then – in May, we will spend a long weekend on the Greek island of Agistri in the Saronic Gulf. It is one of Greece’s smaller islands and just an hour’s ferry ride from the port of Piraeus. I have heard only good things about Agistri and there really isn’t one Greek island not worth visiting. We hope to spend three heavenly days in the village of Skala and everywhere else they could fit in a seaside taverna serving iced ouzo. Opa!
(5) Ascending Kjerag, Norway (July)
I first visited Stavanger in 2011 when I followed the trail to Preikestolen, a famous 600-meter flat-topped cliff on the northern side of Lysefjord. While Stavanger did not become my favourite Norwegian city, Lysefjord – named “light fjord” for the hazy blue light shining out from its core – certainly beat all the odds to become my all-time favourite fjord.
The good news is, the Stavanger area is famous for other spectacular trails. In July, I hope to do a rather challenging hike to the top of the 1,084-meter Kjerag peak amid what promises to be breath-taking scenery. I am not sure if I will venture all the way up to Kjeragbolten, a round rock in a mountain crevice made popular by hikers posing on it – but, given that a mere thought of doing it sends my stomach plummeting to the ground, the chances are low.
(6) Fabrics shopping in Mumbai, India (August)
In August, Alan and I will recycle our Indian visas for a fleeting weekend visit to Mumbai. The official reason is to shop for beautiful fabrics for the flat we recently bought in Riga; the more fun reason is that we both absolutely love Mumbai – undisputedly India’s most exciting city. We plan to visit the major sights (Haji Ali tomb, Chowpatty beach and Dhobi Ghat all spring to mind) and dedicate the rest of the time to shopping (of course), drinking masala chai and visiting my dear friends, the Mehtas. We may even squeeze in an hour or two of sleep.
(7) Off-season trip to Nisyros and Tilos islands, Greece (September)
Let us not be deceived by this subtitle – September is less of an “off-season” and more of a “Scandinavian pensioners’ season” in Greece. It has obvious advantages though: the beaches are decidedly quieter than in high summer, the Aegean becomes almost velvety in its warmth and softness and my favourite fig fruits fill the air with their dizzyingly appetising scent.
And so it is official – for the first time since 2008, I will be visiting Greece in September this year rather than in the summer. I will avoid Athens by flying directly to the touristy Kos in the Dodecanese archipelago and escape the crowds immediately by crossing over to smaller Nisyros, best known for its volcanic origin and a fully blown caldera. I will then continue to Tilos where I hope to visit as many of its eerie abandoned villages as possible before returning to Kos for my return flight.
(8) 10-day cultural discovery of Bhutan (October)
I have finally learned to balance my travel budget enough to take my most expensive trip to date – to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The country is among the world’s least visited and one of the few which require foreign tourists to travel exclusively on guided tours. I have only ever done a guided tour in North Korea before; another heart-stoppingly expensive country to get into, it nevertheless seems a bargain now that I have seen Bhutan’s price tag.
Since I am taking a private tour, the itinerary will be tailored to my interests, but I hope to travel from Paro to Bumthang valley via Thimphu, Punakha and Gangtey. In Bumthang, the highlight of my stay will be the Jakar cultural festival, which is supposed to be a great way of getting a taste of Bhutan’s folk traditions. I am desperately trying to get excited but can barely believe I have voluntarily signed up to pay three thousand pounds for 10 days in one country. It better be good.
(9) Winter craze in Colombia (December)
All of the above brings us to December, my favourite time of the year for remorse-free holidays. I originally planned to visit New Zealand (again), but simply could not wait another year to experience the land of fun that is Colombia.
My tickets are already booked: I will fly from London directly to Bogota where I will linger for a day before continuing to the Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia. After returning to Bogota, I will travel by bus to Villa de Leyva, Barichara and Santa Marta where I hope to meet Alan arriving from Europe. Together, we will explore the Tayrona National Park and transfer to Cartagena for some New Year’s fun and paradise seaside surroundings. Call us lazy, but there is close to zero excuse for rushing it in a country like Colombia.
And there goes the plan! I promise to make every effort to reflect some of these upcoming travels in this blog – that failing, I seem to be much better at posting the photos to my Flickr page so take a look there, too. Have a wonderful year ahead!