And it was. But only this much: for, by and large, I ended up repeating many things I had done already. Travel (Holiday addict) and foreign languages (A foreign language freak) are admittedly not new to this blog. 2011 might have featured a whole lot of new destinations (some more extreme than others) as well as foreign languages (please point me to someone else simultaneously perfecting Greek, Norwegian and Serbian – I'd like to have a wee word) – but different? That 2011 surely wasn't. My everyday life continued in a usual fashion: same job, same flat, same cycling trips to Greenwich – and, let's face it, same old romantic disappointments (Three less-than-perfect men).
In short, 2011 might have been “eventful” (2011 Newsletter) but brought with it nothing ground-breaking. And I won't lie: I have nothing revolutionary planned for the year to come, either. The good old travel-and-random-foreign-languages formula has served me well in the past and is worth sticking to in 2012, too.
HERE GOES THE PLAN
Here are just a few trips I have already planned for this year. Provided I soon get my act together and catch up on those long overdue posts from last year – on Canada, Oman and India, among others – all of the following destinations will be covered here in 2012.
(1) A long weekend in Bombay (March). That's right. I am going back to India! When I boarded my return flight in Delhi a few weeks ago, I already knew I was destined to return to India soon. And it is just too lucky that (a) the Indian High Commission in London gave me a multiple entry visa valid until May; (b) Avi, one of the nicest people I have ever met and a dear friend resides happily in Bombay and has been inviting me over for years; and (c) I was able to shuffle days around to free up some room for a repeat visit to India. Bingo!
As a side note, I wasn't actually able to free up that much. Which leaves only four full days for Bombay. I solemnly promise to use them to the full – you all know what that means.
(2) Crossing the Green Line in Nicosia (March). Most of you will remember just how fascinated I am by controversial areas, for which pockets of land under territorial disputes most certainly qualify. Take Cyprus. A significant portion of the island is currently occupied by Turkish forces and proclaims itself an independent state. The partition zone between northern and southern Cyprus is controlled by the UN and commonly known as the Green Line. Crossings used to be heavily restricted; not now, however. An EU citizen like yours truly can cross from the Greek into the Turkish side and back, including in the city of Nicosia, the world's only capital to be divided by a border.
So there goes – I am flying to Cyprus for literally 36 hours to cross the notorious Green Line, take a wee peek at Nicosia's two ethnic groups, speak to locals (now THAT is where my semi-fluent Greek comes in handy for once) and add another magnet to my fridge. As you can see, all good reasons to fly.
(3) A journey through Cuba (May). After flirting with the idea of visiting Cuba for years, I am finally being serious. One of the world’s few remaining communist leaders is soon approaching an age most respectable, and an egoist in me is rushing to visit the self-proclaimed territorio libre en America before its ideological guru saddens millions of hearts with his inevitable departure. I already missed a similar chance with North Korea and don't have any more time to waste.
What exactly will I be doing in Cuba? It remains to be decided. Let's just say that there will be lots of retro overnight trains involved. And that scores of vintage Havana cars will be mercilessly photographed. And that colourful local residents will likely see the same fate. And that a certain amateur photographer will have a time of her life. See you in Cuba, folks!
(4) Take three at Greek island of Chios (June). Chios is a very special island. This is where my ex-boyfriend did his army service and where we were planning to explore together during my nonchalant residence in Greece a few years back. I got a job in London though, so our plans (and plane tickets) were sorrowfully cancelled. My later attempt to reschedule a visit (this time sans beau) bundled Izmir into the route and unluckily so: this time it was British Airways that ruined the sun feast, cancelling its flights out of Turkey's third largest city. And, while I found a decent weekend replacement – the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, logically – Chios remained unvisited.
Well, the good news is that this summer I am giving Chios one last chance. Optional nearby destinations include the fellow Greek island of Samos and Çeşme in Turkey. All to be seen during the first week in June – so gracefully shortened for us courtesy of Her Majesty, whose Diamond Jubilee is celebrated this year with an extra UK bank holiday. Monarchy never had me more supportive.
(5) Exploring the Greenland shores (July). My passion for the North is, well, legendary. Only in the last year did I visit each of Northern Norway, Svalbard, the Faroe Islands and Western Canada. And, while layers of Goretex are certainly wearing off their charm, I feel that a recent holiday in balmy Oman – and the upcoming ones in Cuba and Greece – will refuel my longing for the North in no time.
Enter Greenland – the world's largest island. Formally ruled by Denmark but enjoying substantial autonomy in all but foreign and financial affairs. Sandwiched between the Arctic and the Atlantic oceans. The least densely populated country (or dependency) in the world. With four weekly flights to Copenhagen and even fewer to Iceland, Greenland is decidedly not the easiest place to reach. Which, combined with its northerly location, makes up for a perfect destination. I plan to stick to the paved route (as paved as the wild Greenland can get, anyway) and explore the island's western side along the Arctic Circle. It might just end up being too great for words; but I’ll try to leave a written record here regardless. Stay tuned.
(6) Sailing the Geiranger fjord, Norway (August). Few would accuse me of not dedicating enough blog space to Norway. In fact, the oil-rich Scandinavian country could almost qualify for a regular column in this blog, so frequently does its author travel there. As a brief snapshot: in the past year alone, I watched the Northern Lights in Tromsø twice (Tromsø: Land of the Northern Lights), explored the Arctic shores of Svalbard (Svalbard, an eerie Arctic land), hiked up the Preikestolen Rock (Wuthering heights: Ascending Norway’s Preikestolen Rock) and completed a marathon northward trip from Trondheim to Kirkenes via the Lofoten islands (Northern Norway: The land of the midnight sun in Part I and Part II). I spent a month's worth of time in Norway in the last 12 months, folks. No joke.
And yet, despite this hyper activity, I seem to have missed what is often regarded to be the jewel in Norway's crown. What else than Geiranger fjord, the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Nature category? Located in the vicinity of Norway's celebrated Art Nouveau capital, Ålesund, Geiranger fjord attracts countless visitors. And it looks like I will be finally joining their ranks! Check back next August when I will be boarding the Hurtigruten coastal steamer for a sea voyage on the Geiranger fjord, with visits to the cities of Ålesund and Molde. It will be well worth it, I promise.
(7) Reliving mama's memories in Uzbekistan (October). It was about two years ago that I listed 20 countries (and remote dependent territories) I wanted to visit most. While that list deserves a separate blog post, the gradual elimination of Svalbard, Canada, Oman and India meant that a certain ex-Number 5 country has steadily progressed all the way to the top. Ladies and gentlemen, the winner is...
…Uzbekistan! Yes, currently ranked 1st in my travel bucket list, Uzbekistan is a natural candidate for an imminent visit. I haven’t booked any tickets yet – but, with my holiday allowance running out in September, the trip is likely to happen later in the autumn. What makes Uzbekistan personally interesting is it being the only country where my mother has been and I have not. Quite unbelievably, my mum doesn't care one bit for travel but LOVES looking through my pictures and has even started Google-translating this very blog. The photos I will be bringing back from Uzbekistan will no doubt make mum relive the distant memories from her only ever long-haul trip. Wait for this, mum – I'm on a mission here.
And beyond October? I have no idea what I will be doing yet, but it is almost a tradition that I forfeit travel during the last two months of the year and hang around London instead. Before the winter break, of course; come Christmas, and all I will want will be to board some long-haul flight in snow-bewildered Heathrow, stick in those flimsy inflight entertainment headphones and zoom off swiftly into the night. So long, world.
I haven't yet decided where I will be holidaying next winter, either. I might stick to the master plan and travel halfway round the world to the distant shores of New Zealand. Or head the opposite direction to this steaming place called Argentina. Or even give in to my new passion – India – and direct my steps to its southern state of Kerala. Time will only tell. I rarely commit to New Year plans before March, anyway.
One thing for sure though: 2012 will not be special in any ground-breaking kind of way. And you know what? It may not be such a bad thing.