In April, I took a solo overland trip from Tabriz to Shiraz in Iran where I managed to go for 2.5 weeks (almost) without any alcohol as well as see one of the most incredible countries on my memory. In May, my fiancé Alan and I enjoyed a week-long getaway in sweltering Chennai and the Andaman Islands in India to celebrate our engagement. I was extremely fortunate to take not one, but entire two business trips to my all-time favourite country to visit for work – Georgia – in March and June, including the seaside city of Batumi, the mountainous region of Svaneti and precious free time in what is one of my favourite cities in the world, Tbilisi.
In a somewhat masochistic way, I had a whale of a time in August on an exhausting 20km hike on varied terrain between the villages of Mavrovo and Galicnik in FYR Macedonia’s Mavrovo National Park. In September, I embarked on an off-season island-hopping experience in the Greek archipelago of the Dodecanese, visiting the islands of Kos, Nisyros, Tilos and Kalymnos. In October, I spoilt myself with a 10-day slightly overpriced extravaganza in the self-proclaimed Himalayan paradise of Bhutan, discovering the country’s unique cultures and stunning mountain views.
And in only a few days (yes, I am counting) I will board a plane heading to the welcoming shores of sunny Colombia to spend two weeks enjoying peace – and taking many a beautiful picture to share with you later. I will include Colombia in this post in the new year.
Don’t forget to take a look at my traditional 2015 Newsletter where the happenings of the departing year will be described in more detail (and fewer photos). As always, all my photo albums can be found on Flickr.
Without further ado though, let’s recap the photos by which I would like to remember the departing year.
Himalayan vistas en route Bhutan
1-4 January: The welcoming of 2015 is probably the most fun New Year celebration in my life, ever. Having come to Sri Lanka to attend the wedding of our friends the day before, Alan and I spend the first night of 2015 dancing away wildly on top of a high-rise hotel in central Colombo, sparkly hats and all. We eventually make it to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s sacred city and a former capital, after missing a series of trains as we spend the following morning recovering from the spectacular celebration. Having admired the Kandy Lake and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Buddha, we spend our last day in Sri Lanka on the Negombo beach – positioned ever so conveniently in the vicinity of the airport.
~Colombo / Kandy / Negombo, Sri Lanka
Kandy Lake panorama, Kandy
Two young Buddhist monks, Kandy
Fisherman at sunset, Negombo
28 February – 1 March: After two months of winter “hibernation” and hardly leaving London, I finally venture out for a short weekend in Poland. I expect close to nothing from Wroclaw, but it instantly becomes my favourite Polish city – beating even Krakow – for its lack of tourists, provincial feel and beautifully restored central streets. I manage to find only a dozen of Wroclaw’s iconic dwarf figurines (“krasnale”) scattered around the city in much greater numbers, before it is time to board a bus to Kudowa-Zdroj, a small spa town on the Czech border. I spend a wonderful 24 hours there in the company of Pierre-Yves and Urszula, possibly the most travelled retired couple I know. Their youthful spirit almost makes me long for retirement! As a bonus, we cross over to Czech Republic – for about 5 minutes – in what seems to be a most mundane occasion in Kudowa-Zdroj.
~Wroclaw / Kudowa-Zdroj, Poland
Solny Square, Wroclaw
One of those famous “krasnale”, Wroclaw
View towards Swietego Krzyza Church from Piasek Island, Wroclaw
3 March: This date will forever be remembered and celebrated in the life of anjči for two important milestones. First, following almost a year’s delay on the Home Office side, I finally get granted British citizenship in February 2015 and am invited to attend the citizenship ceremony on 3 March to seal my allegiance to Britain. Second, Alan and I use the opportunity to announce our engagement on the very same day. Yes, despite the popular belief, Alan did not in fact go down on one knee in the Southwark Register Office! It is among the happiest days of my life – and I even get to sing God Save The Queen in my entirely new capacity.
~London, United Kingdom
14-15 March: I travel to Slovakia to, strangely enough, see “something new”! Despite having travelled widely around Europe, I have never been to Slovakia before and spend a short weekend rectifying the situation. There is hardly enough time to give justice to what turns out to be a charmingly beautiful country, but I have plenty of fun in the capital of Bratislava and venture out to the smaller town of Trenčín and the Devín Castle in the outskirts of Bratislava – not forgetting to consume shameless amounts of locally brewed dark beer and enough bryndzové halušky (potato dumplings with cheese) to feed a small family.
~Bratislava / Trenčín, Slovakia
Street art, Bratislava
17-20 March: A week before, I spend a few days in not-exactly-my-favourite-country-to-visit-for-work – I’ll let you guess but the clues are (i) horrific traffic, (ii) meetings full of cigarette smoke, and (iii) need to don modest dress. Thankfully I am soon on my way to the exact opposite, the gorgeous gem of Georgia. After a couple of days meeting clients in the stunning capital of Tbilisi, we drive to the port city of Batumi to celebrate the financial close on one of our transactions. It is a massive event featuring the Prime Minister, the Minister of Energy (best known as former footballer, Kakha Kaladze), a constellation of international development institutions – and, last but not least, spectacular traditional Georgian dancers. I cheer so loudly Mr. Kaladze almost gives me a red card.
~Tbilisi / Batumi, Georgia
View from Narikala Castle of central Tbilisi
Odd street art, Tbilisi
Batumi panorama on a cloudy off-season day
3-18 April: Planning my trip to Iran is challenging in many ways. First, I need to take enough currency, in US dollars, to last me for my entire stay as my credit cards won’t work in Iran. Second, I need to plan out my outfits in detail to appear both Muslim-friendly and elegant – bearing in mind I avoid trousers as much as possible. Third, the Iranian embassy in the UK is closed, and obtaining a visa has suddenly become a lengthy and expensive procedure. I gradually manage all of the above; there is a mistake in my visa which no-one notices, and I cross uneventfully into Iran! My trip is spectacular: I explore the UNESCO heritage bazaar in Tabriz, shop frantically for gold at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, discover the beautiful merchant houses of Kashan, lose all words at the beauty of Esfahan, party madly with a local family in Yazd, ditch my headwear in the solitude of the Kaluts sand formations and nearly miss my morning flight from Shiraz back to the secular world after overdosing on… red wine. I promise to tell that story one day in this blog.
~Tabriz / Tehran / Kashan / Esfahan / Yazd / Kerman / Shiraz, Iran
Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah on Naqsh-e Jahan Imam Square, Esfahan
Woman in traditional dress in Abyaneh village
Kaluts sand formations near Kerman
Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah, Esfahan
Masjed-e Agha Bozorg, Kashan
3-9 May: Alan and I fly to Chennai for a couple of days of saree shopping before continuing to the chief gateway of the Andaman Islands, Port Blair, and a more remote island of Havelock. Albeit a part of India, the islands actually lie and look much nearer Burma. We see many an Indian newly wed couple on honeymoon, consume an enormous amount of seafood and never fail to be amazed by the ever-so-Indian casual rubbish dumping habit even in such an idyllic location. Back on the mainland, we also take a day trip to Puducherry, France’s former stronghold in India – which proves decidedly too hot to bear at the height of the hot season in May.
~Chennai / Andaman Islands / Puducherry, India
Triplicane street scene, Chennai
Sunrise on Havelock
Paradise turquoise beach on Havelock
A quick bite on Havelock
23-25 May: May proves to be a couple’s getaway month for Alan and I: having returned from India recently, we promptly jet off to the Greek island of Angistri not far from Athens. Albeit small, the island somehow fits in about a thousand people in permanent population. Unbelievably, it becomes my 34th Greek island and Alan’s very first. The introduction to cosy tavernas, ouzo on a hot day and chilled island living – all the things I love above Greece – proves successful, and Alan talks about buying a house on a Greek island ever since.
Fresh octopus and squid in Skala
Church of Agioi Anargyroi, Skala
View of Mesochori from Metochi
Sunset from Skala
20-21 June: I make a number of trips to Latvia in 2015, but this one is particularly memorable. Alan is again by my side as we visit my relatives in the port city of Ventspils in the west of the country. My family certainly do their best convincing my poor English fiancé of their crazy side: endless shots of vodka alternate serious spanking with birch branches in the Russian sauna while my aunt’s dog nibbles on my cousin’s tortoise amid all the fun (the tortoise survives with barely a scratch). No family photos here but do take a look at this shot from Riga where Alan and I enjoyed a professional photo shoot.
~Riga / Ventspils, Latvia
28 June – 2 July: Within only three months, I return to Georgia on a much more versatile work trip than before. I visit three hydroelectric sites in the regions of Racha and Svaneti, with a stopover in Georgia’s second largest city, Kutaisi. The highest inhabited area in the Caucasus, Svaneti leaves me speechless – though I never manage to get far enough to see the highest peaks – and entertained at the numerous anecdotes Georgians have mastered about Svans, local residents. This is likely among my last visits to Georgia in professional capacity as the country has been transferred to another team, and I lament the imminent loss as I wave Georgia goodbye from my plane window.
~Tbilisi / Kutaisi / Svaneti, Georgia
My favourite view of Tbilisi Old Town
Horse grazing in the Racha region
Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi
View down the Darchi river in the Svaneti region
4-5 July: Having visited the island of Guernsey a couple of years ago, this time Alan and I descend on its bigger counterpart, Jersey. Best known as a tax haven, Jersey comes out as somewhat more developed and therefore less exciting than Guernsey. We inadvertently manage to plan our trip to coincide with the closing of the Island Games 2015 – yes, believe it or not, there is a regular international sporting event where only residents of islands compete! We spot jerseys from the remotest corners of the world – the Falkland Islands and St. Helena included – and learn to recognise the flags of the Isle of Wight and Gotland. Not forgetting, of course, to explore as much of Jersey as we can.
~Bailiwick of Jersey
Plemont Bay beach, Jersey
MP2 fortification tower and Corbiere lighthouse, Jersey
Corbiere Point and lighthouse, Jersey
11-12 July: I use Stavanger as a convenient hub for exploring Lysefjord, my favourite fjord in Norway distinct for its hazy blue colour. It is my second visit – the first time, in 2011, I hiked to Preikestolen – and I venture further afield to the Kjerag mountain. The hike is both easier and harder than I thought (don’t ask!) and of course I refuse to have a photo of me taken on the Kjeragbolten boulder at the end of the hike. Wedged in the rock, Kjeragbolten looms about 1km over Lysefjord’s surface with pretty much nothing inbetween. My stomach still sinks heavily just thinking about it.
~Stavanger / Kjerag, Norway
Stavanger harbour on a rare sunny day
Sheer drop from Kjerag towards Lysefjord
Kjeragbolten and two shamelessly brave Norwegians
7-9 August: I unexpectedly receive a bonus day off and use it up immediately to buy the cheapest ticket I could find – to Skopje, FYR Macedonia. The facelift the city has recently received – featuring massive statues of Greek heritage figures and tacky mock baroque facades – leaves me with mixed feelings, and I escape to the Mavrovo National Park. The place is better known for its skiing, and the summer is decidedly a great time to visit to avoid crowds of tourists. I hike 20km from Mavrovo village to Galicnik and do not meet a single other hiker on my way – only lone shepherds accompanied by their herds and angry dogs. The nature here is superb, as are the wine, the fresh vegetables and the welcoming locals. I am a fan!
~Skopje / Mavrovo, FYR Macedonia
Predictably, “Macedonian salad” – in Mavrovo
Galicnik village – a relieving sight after 6 hours of hiking
Old St. Nicholas’ Church in Mavrovo
Macedonia Square and “Warrior on a Horse” statue, Skopje
18-19 August: It’s that time of year again: I travel to Slovenia, my favourite country to visit for work after Georgia. The visit goes very much the way they always do, starting with the capital city of Ljubljana and ending in the coal-fired power plant I am diligently monitoring. The views from the top of the main building are as fabulous as always and the food at the end of the working day – absolutely exquisite. Slovenia truly is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.
Town best known for its coal-fired power plant
29-31 August: I am well known for my passion to travel long distances for mere weekends, but this time Alan catches the bug, too: we recycle our (still valid) Indian visas and visit Mumbai for literally a couple of days. In the city Alan and I both love, we get spoilt rotten with a panoramic view of the Gateway of India and an outdoor pool at the Taj Hotel. We also shop to distraction for textiles and clothes, catch up with dear friends, the Mehtas, and get a flavour of wealthy parts of the city at a spontaneous birthday celebration of another friend. Just enough activities to make a weekend!
Relaxing on Oval Maidan
Marine Drive and beach view
The (promised) Taj Hotel outdoor pool
19-27 September: This is the first time I have my Greece holiday in September rather than the summer; I plan a circular trip encompassing four islands: Kos, Nisyros, Tilos and Kalymnos. I avoid the popular Kos as much as I can and leave within hours. The other three islands are fantastically different, each offering their special side. I admire the spectacular volcano caldera and lush vegetation on Nisyros, feel breath-taken by the eerie abandoned Mikro Chorio village and superb hill paths on Tilos and am amazed by the hospitality of the chattiest islanders I have ever met in Greece, on Kalymnos. As a bonus, I also discover the flipside of the offseason: a true Aegean storm that lasts for 24 hours, accompanied by uninterrupted lightning, torrential rain and thunder. Needless to say next year I get back on the summer schedule.
~Nisyros / Tilos / Kalymnos, Greece
Prophet Ilias chapel on the highest point of Nisyros
Caldera, Nisyros’ most famous sight
Abandoned Mikro Chorio village on Tilos
Eccentric (and kind) shop owner in Vathy, Kalymnos
Tourists sailing to Telendos islet from Kalymnos
Boats moored in Myrties, Kalymnos
3-4 October: Unable to wait till next summer, I return to Greece within a week to dedicate a second weekend to Kerkyra (Corfu) in the Ionian Sea – I hardly had enough time to see the island on my first weekend there last year. The island is still in the holiday mode, and the sea is pleasantly warm. I visit scenic villages of Palaiokastritsa and Lakones, swim off beautiful beaches of Liapades and Agios Stefanos, and get appalled by heavy development of what must once have been a quaint settlement of Sidari. Oh, and Corfu Town – the island’s largest city – is as pretty as ever.
~Kerkyra (Corfu), Greece
Spectacular view towards Palaiokastritsa from Lakones village
Agios Stefanos beach
Authentic Greek salad in Sidari
Corfu Town harbour before sunset
5-6 October: It feels shameful to complain about a free trip to Dubrovnik, but this one is with my colleagues. Forty of us descend on the city for two days of social activities which do not seem to end: we tailgate a guide bearing our company logo around Dubrovnik and strip down to our swimwear on the Elaphiti Islands as we take our first corporate dip together. Thankfully, it all comes to an end eventually.
Šipan island harbour
View towards Franjo Tudman Bridge from Lapad, Dubrovnik
Lopud island’s promenade and beach
15-25 October: Undeterred by the hefty price tag, I travel to Bhutan for 10 days. The only way to visit Bhutan for westerners like me is on an organised tour: I find constant presence of a guide restrictive but Bhutan is impressive enough to compensate. From Thimphu – the only capital city in the world without a single traffic light – I travel to the fertile Punakha valley, the Phobjikha valley famous for nesting black-necked cranes, the cultural heartland of Bumthang and Paro, the gateway to superb nearby sites including Bhutan’s most celebrated sight, Tiger’s Nest Monastery. My absolute highlight is the tsechu (festival) in Bumthang featuring loud drums and masked dancers in bright costumes – something completely out of this world.
~Thimphu / Punakha / Phobjikha / Bumthang / Paro, Bhutan
Tsechu at Jakar Dzong, Bumthang
Young participant of Jakar Tsechu, Bumthang
Prayer flags along the Taktshang Goemba hike
Trongsa Dzong, Trongsa
Young girl smiling from a car, Bumthang
7-8 November: Alan and I finally visit Edinburgh together, and the city duly rewards us for our loyalty: it pours pretty much non-stop! Weather failing us dramatically, we do nothing but wander up and down the Royal Mile and meet my friends and their offspring – oh, and enjoy a fabulous dinner at the Skerries restaurant near Murrayfield.
View towards Scott Monument
Water of Leith on a clear evening
View of rained-down Edinburgh from Calton Hill
28-29 November: I book the flight to Sicily on a whim earlier in the year and am determined to use all the time I have to explore the largest island of the Mediterranean. Palermo turns out to have many pretty corners – and even more shady ones – while the popular seaside town of Cefalù is blissfully quiet at the end of November. And Sicily even has a rail link! Cringing at the messy surroundings, I nevertheless regret I cannot stay longer.
~Palermo / Cefalù, Sicily, Italy
Random street café in Palermo
Cefalù town and beach
Cefalù rooftops from above
19-31 December: It is time for my last adventure of the year, and I am off to Colombia – only the third ever South American country I have visited to date. I cringe at the overcrowded capital of Bogota and escape to Colombia’s Caribbean islands for some peace. With its chilled Raizal culture, the Providencia island seems like a true paradise – I skinny dip on glorious empty beaches every morning and fill up on tropical fruits. Unfortunately, I lose an entire nine hours of my life after a suspected drink spiking by an overzealous bartender, and it takes me a whole day to stop feeling weird. In the meantime, I am already back on the mainland, exploring the colonial gems of Villa de Leyva and Barichara. I then reunite with Alan in Santa Marta: together, we have an absolute blast there and in Cartagena – the true highlight of our visit to Colombia.
~Bogota / San Andres / Providencia / Villa de Leyva / Barichara / Santa Marta / Cartagena, Colombia
Manzanillo beach in Providencia
Sleepy village of Guane near Barichara
Art for sale in Las Bovedas arches, Cartagena
Cartagena’s best view of Puerta del Reloj (Clock Gate)
Sunset over Bahia de las Animas, Cartagena
Here goes to many more travels and adventures in 2016!
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!