As is becoming a tradition on this blog, here’s a 2013 Travel Review. The first half of the year was packed, so packed that I hardly had time to sit down and properly take in all the experiences. The second half is more mute, and on hindsight, more introspective. I finally sat down and sorted out photos. Still slowly writing out the blog entries, and while doing so, reliving the great memories of 2013.
Before that. A look back at travel resolutions. I realised I did not write an entry for 2013, but looking back at 2012’s entry, I’ve crossed off another 4 from that list: The Wakhan Corridor, Iran, Central Asia and Georgia. Good times.
Without further ado, here is a summary of the places and countries I visited in 2013.
Romania – Counted down the New Year the square outside Bucharest’s Parliament Palace. Had a hair-raising time sliding on ice covered sidewalks in Translyvania trying not to break my neck.
Bulgaria – Went traipsing around medieval castles, ancient monasteries and rolled about in the knee-high snow. After a month in Europe I was getting used to the winter and starting to enjoy myself.
Macedonia – A brief stay in Skopje, amazed by the sheer number of monuments that has been put up. Highest concentration of statues in one place I’ve ever seen.
Kosovo – My whirldwind tour of the Balkans takes me to Kosovo. Youngest European country and youthful to boot, with an median age of 26. I spent time in local cafes mingling and making friends in Prizren.
Albania – What I remember from Albania, besides the beautiful cities of Berat and Gjirokastër is that it’s very wet. Six days in Albania and five of them in the rain. I loved exploring the Roman ruins of Butrint alone, underneath my umbrella.
Greece – Greece was a stopover, en route to Turkey. Liked it more than I expected, and that was largely due to the sun, after almost two months of snow and rain. I did not visit any of the islands though, so a return visit in the future is warranted.
Turkey – A full three weeks in Turkey. Yet I was barely able to explore the country. Cappadocia which I was skeptical about lived up to its reputation as a wonderful unique destination. A highlight was finding out about an annual travel industry fair in Istanbul, where I got to experience the multitude of cultures in and around Turkey.
Cyprus – The unique experience of going to Cyprus by barge ferry (and flying back into Turkey). And Nicosia is the last divided capital city in the world.
Republic of Northern Cyprus – I would classify this anomaly as a country on its own. Occupying the northern part of the island of Cyprus, it is very Turkish, compared to the Euro-centric Greek southern half of the island.
Georgia – Everybody I cannot recommend Georgia enough, and it’s easy to see why. Tbilisi ranks as one of the best cities I’ve visited this year. Perhaps I’m biased because I spent a total of 6 nights there. And trudging through thigh-high snow up to the Kazbegi Monastery? Unforgettable.
Abkhazia – This was always planned when I set out on my long trip. An unrecognised state that is de jure part of Georgia. English was completely useless here, only Russian works. The abandoned city feel throughout the capital Sukhumi is prevalent.
Azerbaijan – Not my favourite country. Most people were friendly enough, but between getting an 8 day visa despite paying through my teeth and a visa process that took even longer than 8 days, and getting my bags emptied each time I took the metro, I was not really a fan of Baku.
Armenia – Loved Armenia. Met lots of people who showed me around. The churches were especially picturesque.
Nagorno-Karabakh – Since I was on a roll visiting countries that don’t exist, why not visit Nagorno-Karabakh. Officially part of Azerbaijan, it is a mountainous country that feels like an extension of Armenia, with its churches and friendly people.
Iran – My favourite country by far. Perfect for the history buff in me. Couple that with the most welcoming people I’ve ever met and some beautiful architecture. A life-changing highlight is getting stranded in the Valley of the Assassins and almost dying.
Uzbekistan – Always on my bucket list, Uzbekistan lived up to my expectations. The definitive silk road city. Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand are gems.
Kazakhstan – The most modern of the Central Asian states. Almaty is a good place to relax and just recover from travel fatigue. Streetside cafes and fashionable brands everywhere.
Kyrgyzstan – Ranks up there as one of my favourites. Horse-trekking and hikes through spectacular hills and lakes can be interspersed with relaxing in Bishkek and navigating the bazaars of central asia.
Tajikistan – The Pamir Highway is an obvious attraction, but my Tajikistan leg was defined more by walking through the central asian bazaars and towns of Khorog, Istaravshan and Khojand.
Afghanistan – A brief jaunt into the Wakhan region of Afghanistan. I regret not travelling beyond Eshkashem, but nonetheless, this was a unique experience.
China – The finale of my trip takes me back a full circle into China. This time in the Xinjiang region, and going east to Beijing overland. I was in high spirts, and everything – the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, the Terracotta Army in Xi’an – seemed fantastic.
What didn’t go well – Not much really, it has been a great year. I failed to get a visa into Turkmenistan, so that’s certainly something to go back to. And South Ossetia, Moldova and Transnistria were on my “maybe can do” list on the trip, but visas were too much of a hassle considering the time constraint. And Syria: When I began the trip in 2012, I thought that the country would be OK by the time I reached it. Sadly, it was not true.
So that’s 2013. Twenty new countries, lots of memories.