In my last year's newsletter, I described 2009 as the “quickest” year of my life. If we are going to start labelling here, then 2010 will definitely have to settle for the “most exciting” year.
Let me make a disclaimer. 2010 may not have featured the dramatic changes that used to accompany my life in the past. I have not obtained an academic title, changed jobs or moved to another country. I have not even gone as far as moving house and am still admiring the amazing City skyline from the flat I have been renting in Bermondsey, London, for almost two years.
Neither has my life seen the major developments experienced by many of my friends. I have not purchased a property, got married or given birth to a child. I do not keep a pet in the house or drive my own car. As a matter of fact, I am not even at the point of being able to drive at all. May I ask you all please to keep this embarrassing fact to yourselves.
And yet, 2010 has been exciting in every respect. Professionally, I have had a wonderful year doing my dream job at EBRD – exactly the kind I spent months looking for. Compared to investment banking, EBRD is much more compatible with social life, diverse interests and a busy travel schedule. The work itself is fun, too. I love the sector I cover and have been blessed with interesting and rewarding projects, four of which were signed in 2010. In short, I have finally joined the ranks of happy employees – the few of us who look forward to coming to work every morning. Monday to Friday only, naturally.
There were some GREAT travels this year
2010 has also been an outstanding year for travel. A year ago, I set myself a challenging target of visiting 20 countries within 12 months – which I have met comfortably. Within a week, Vietnam will become the 25th country in my 2010 travel calendar. Seven countries of 25 featured in my list for the first time, including Albania, Georgia and Iceland. I spent a total of 120 days travelling in 2010.
The horizons for my world discovery have expanded, too. After three years of focusing on Europe – in my defence, typically its less intuitive locations – I have finally broken out of the loop and resumed long-haul travel, including Mexico and the USA. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to planning my trips and especially to those who found the time to meet me abroad. I am very lucky to have wonderful friends like you, in multiple parts of the world.
Increasingly more of my friends are dedicating their lives to professional photography. With respect to photographic achievements, 2010 was quieter for me than its predecessor. I have not won any photo contests and continue working on my photographic style and skill. I would like to thank many of you for serving as inspiration and sharing valuable tips! I never cease to admire your braveness and spirit for choosing photography as a career – something I doubt I could ever do myself.
Riga, Latvia. "Shelter from the snow". Published by Photography Monthly's "The World of Photography" bookazine, Volume 1, Autumn 2010.
2010 recap: Winter
Let us start from the beginning though. I welcomed 2010 in my mother's quiet company in Riga (Latvia) – where the two of us raised our champagne not once but twice, to celebrate the New Year according to both Moscow and Riga time. Heavy snowfall covered the whole of Latvia in the following few days, creating the most wonderful winter mood. It had been a long while since I celebrated New Year in the Baltics, and it was a nostalgic occasion – if only a bit of a chilly one.
As my return to London brought little improvement in outdoor temperatures, I was soon off to Barcelona (Spain) for a well deserved snow-free weekend. Christmas decorations and festive spirit were still filling up this amazing city, where the sun always seems to be shining. I will never cease to wonder why on earth wouldn't every establishment in the world choose to headquarter itself in Barcelona.
Crimson sunset in Barcelona, Spain
The seven weeks that followed marked a dark spot in my calendar. Some of you have already read a more detailed account of events in my blog. It was a very sad and confused period of my life, which one side of me wishes to forget and the other welcomes as an insightful lesson. I wish none of you, ever, to compromise your individuality for anyone's sake. True friends will accept you as you are – not try to rebuild your character to suit themselves.
2010 recap: Spring
Thankfully, the dark phase soon ended, and my life resumed at double speed. After a short business trip to snowed-in Ljubljana (Slovenia), I spent a week in Tirana (Albania) in early March. My discovery of Tirana was not in the least interrupted by pouring rain, insane traffic and – unsurprisingly – intense client meetings. Albania reminded me of both Italy and Greece, at that firmly retaining its distinct Balkan character. I just hope it will not rain as much on my consequent visits.
Polytechnic University in Tirana, Albania
I flew back to London only to return to the Balkans a few hours later – this time to Zagreb (Croatia). Few of you will believe that the sole reason I came all the way to Croatia was to visit Vukovar. The infamous city was almost entirely destroyed during the war in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Many buildings – including Vukovar's symbolic water tower – have not been renovated and remain standing as silent monuments to war. Seeing Vukovar was a very emotional experience for me. I recommend a visit to everyone.
The water tower of Vukovar, Croatia
The flying marathon continued, as, within days, I went on to attend a signing ceremony for one of my projects in Riga and then spent two leisurely days in Aix-en-Provence (France). It was my first visit to the south of France. I fell in love with the picturesque mountain scenery of Provence, which once inspired the likes of Paul Cezanne.
By the time I returned to London, Easter was slowly beginning to loom ahead. I find it most special when Catholic and Orthodox Easter times overlap, and had planned in advance to spend my first Easter in an Orthodox country. My chosen destination – Bulgaria – turned out to be a success. No country in the world reminded me so vividly of Russia, my mother's homeland. During the four days in Bulgaria, I explored the capital Sofia, the ancient city of Plovdiv and the historic village of Koprivshtitsa – at all times enjoying the famed hospitality of the locals.
Spring in Borisova Gradina park - Sofia, Bulgaria
Troyan pottery in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Frequent trips to the Baltics and the Balkans made me feel somewhat saturated by the repetitive surroundings of Eastern Europe. I was looking forward to a welcome change during my holiday in Hong Kong – when most unpredictable circumstances ruled otherwise. Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland's then unknown volcano, rose into fame overnight as it grounded thousands of flights for weeks – including my flight to Hong Kong. I am grateful to have been stranded in London instead of halfway across the world though. My cancelled holiday also meant that I could attend the only London concert of Croatia's magic maestro – Oliver Dragojević, whose music I continue to love and appreciate – in the company of fellow Balkan enthusiasts from EBRD. It was a fantastic night.
Eager to face the naughty volcano in person, I prayed for the ashes to clear away. Fortunately, Keflavik airport duly reopened in time, allowing me to spend incredible four days in Iceland. I had never before seen a country so fascinating, intriguing and unique – as well as boasting such stunning natural beauty. Shivers run down my spine as I remember Iceland's impressive volcanic terrain, multicolour landscape, steaming geysers, playful dolphins, plunging waterfalls, blissful Blue Lagoon and – of course! – Eyjafjallajökull itself. No, I did not miss my chance to take the trip to the foot of the volcano. Watching the eruption from a distance of only 4 km was among my highlights of 2010.
Painted in watercolour... except it's a photo. Golden Circle, Iceland
Forever famous! Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland
Finally, at the close of spring, I followed in the footsteps of the rest of the world's population and visited New York (USA). The city was exciting but just a little too overwhelming; I doubt I could ever live there permanently. A more relaxing occasion was my short trip to Washington, DC, exactly six years since I spent a summer studying at Georgetown University there. Memories were overflowing as I caught up with many special friends around the region. Sincere thanks to everyone who had time to see me! I hope it will not be too long before I re-visit DC.
Sunset from Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, USA
Perhaps indirectly inspired by the volcano eruption, I gave up my seasonal Oyster pass in April and have been using the bicycle as main means of transportation around London ever since. London is not the world's friendliest city for cyclists, but even the few accidents I had have not led me to regret my choice. Yet. I avoid the Tube as much as possible, and my quality of life has seen major improvements.
2010 recap: Summer
Spring was coming to an end, but ahead was the summer – soon officially to become the most travel-active summer of my life. I began with a short trip to County Kerry (Ireland), where I had an unforgettable night watching the locals support the USA in FIFA World Cup, just because it happened to be England they were playing against. I am not known for supporting the USA in anything, but the atmosphere in that provincial country pub was simply indescribable.
It isn't me, but still. County Kerry, Ireland
The month continued with a week-long training course organised by EBRD in sunny Cambridge (England). Despite an intense study programme – and thanks to fabulous weather, fun punting and festive graduation atmosphere – it was my most enjoyable non-holiday week of the year. I wish they would send me to Cambridge more often! Many thanks to the organisers and the fellow participants for the great time and company.
Please please please can I go back to Cambridge?...
The end of June was marked by a weekend in Zurich (Switzerland), where I reunited with the friends I made during my 2004 student exchange programme in Kalmar (Sweden). Other than refreshing my German, I had an amazing time resurfacing the memories of what now seems such a distant period of my life. Many thanks to my fellow BBS-ers! I look forward to our reunion next year, and am hoping it will be in Stockholm.
July was likewise an active month for work and travel. I first refreshed my disappearing Greek during 10 wonderful days on the Aegean islands of Amorgos, Astypalea, Donoussa and Koufonissi. The intense blue of the Aegean fills up every one of the 2,000 pictures I brought back. I remain convinced that Greece rightfully holds its crown as Europe's top holiday destination. At least on those few days when there isn't a general strike.
Ready, steady, go! Donoussa, Greece
Blue as the skies in Amorgos, Greece
Shortly after returning to London, I was blessed with my most exotic business trip to date. Having started with some leisure in Florence (Italy), I flew out to Istanbul (Turkey) and Tbilisi (Georgia). The entire sequence took seven days, involving three very different countries, languages and cultures. I was particularly impressed by Georgia – its incredible food, highly educated population and rich history. Business took me all the way near the Turkish border where my colleagues and I visited the Cave City of Vardzia. I would love to return to Georgia for a longer stay.
Two magnificent sunsets in two days: Istanbul, Turkey
Two magnificent sunsets in two days: Tbilisi, Georgia
Last but not least came August – when I managed to spend every single weekend outside London. Many thanks to very special friends I saw in Prague (Czech Republic), Copenhagen (Denmark), Belgrade (Serbia) and Podgorica (Montenegro). I still smile as I remember my 13-hour spectacular (but exhausting) rail journey from Belgrade to Bar (Montenegro) – nobody said it was going to be easy, did they? It all seemed well worth it by the time I reached Dubrovnik (Croatia) – truly the jewel of the Adriatic.
Belgrade to Bar by train: not for the faint-hearted
Just a side street in pretty Copenhagen, Denmark
A view from Dubrovnik's city walls: 2nd prize in EBRD Photo Competition
My absolute highlight of the summer, as well as the whole of 2010, was a visit to a destination not all of you will have heard of – the Faroe Islands. I was breathlessly enchanted by the Faroes' amazing scenery, so reminiscent of Norway and Ireland – combined with the incredible warmth and hospitality of the locals. Upon my return to London, I wrote a blog story about the Faroe Islands, which became an immediate online hit and attracted abundant commentary, including from the mother-in-law of Denmark's Prime Minister. I became famous, if only for one day! Needless to say that I have already booked my second visit to the Faroe Islands, planned for July 2011.
Gjógv village, Eysturoy, Faroe Islands
Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Near Funningur, Streymoy, Faroe Islands
2010 recap: Autumn
By September, I was getting tired of restless travelling and was looking forward to a break. Thankfully, there were only a handful of trips left. The autumn started with two consequent weekends in the country of perfect fjords and impressive mountain peaks – Norway – where I visited Bergen and Sognefjorden, as well as my much loved Lindseth family in Horten. Also in September, I started teaching myself Norwegian and will begin a proper course in January 2011. It would all be perfect – if only it didn't mean that my once existent Swedish (there are living witnesses) has all but turned into Norwegian, too. Tyvärr!
Bryggen in Bergen, Norway
In October, I was ready for my main holiday of the year and travelled around Mexico for two weeks. I had the most amazing time. From paradise beaches of the Caribbean to luscious jungle of Chiapas, high-altitude colonial settlements, indigenous villages, archaeological sites and lively population hubs – Mexico was incredible. Many thanks to you who contributed with ideas and company. I highly recommend a holiday in Mexico to everyone.
The Caribbean sunrise in Tulum, Mexico
A local in San Cristobal, Mexico
Travel had been an exhausting kind of entertainment; but by mid-October, I had officially wrapped up my travel programme for the year. Finally I had time to meet my London friends – who were by then close to forgetting what I looked like. I also used the free time to carry out full service on my well-travelled camera and lenses. The £400+ bill clearly showed just how badly that was needed.
The highlight of November was my best friend Gintas's visit to London. His departure marked the end of my six-week non-flight mode, as I saw my mother in Riga for the last time in 2010. While in the Baltics, I also had an opportunity to explore the beautiful city of Tallinn (Estonia) – which I had passed at least 30 times on my way from Riga to Helsinki but never managed to see properly. Many thanks to everyone who took care of me there.
Toomkirik, Tallinn, Estonia
All the exciting activities meant that I could not adequately prepare for what was to follow in early December – my CFA Level 1 exam. I remain convinced that I have failed; the incredible time I had in 2010 was well worth it though. Some things in life are certainly more important than studying.
Let's wait and see, it may well be... a perfect year
As I prepare to leave for my final trip of the year – to Vietnam – I would like to thank all my friends for making 2010 such an exciting year. I wish you a most wonderful Christmas and a great start of the New Year.
May 2011 be filled with interesting travels, the presence of dear people and rewarding professional tasks. I hope to see those of you whom I had no chance of seeing in 2010. Please keep in touch, and I promise to do the same.