A 2017 Travel Review

It’s the time of the year again at The Furious Panda where we go through and summarise the travels of the past year. I know it is only November, and there are still two months to go, but let’s just get on with the post, since I’m feeling inspired.

Before that, a look at 2017’s travel resolutions. There weren’t many and they weren’t well planned out if I’m being honest. Possible destinations floated at the start of the year were Bhutan, Japan, Morocco, Tunisia, the Natuna Islands of Indonesia, and Ilocos Norte in the Philippines. Of these, I managed to make it to Natuna. However, my target was to go to 2 new countries, so the final tally of 6 new countries (7 if you count one unrecognized country) is an achievement. Throw in the fact that I have Sara travelling with me on some of this year’s trips, and the arrival of little Hana this September, 2017 went really well. Add to that all the work travel, making 2017 was a very good year.

Without further ado here is a summary of the places I visited in 2017.

January 2017

I made a trip over the New Year long weekend to Batam. Not very interesting, but it’s on this list because Sara at 7 months tagged along for her first fast ferry trip and first visit to Indonesia!

February 2017 – Jakarta

I was in Jakarta for work, making it two years in a row that I have visited the capital. This time round, I did not do much walking around, and the best photo I have is one of these GoJek motorcycles. With the crazy traffic jams in Jakarta, getting around on hired motorcycles is a viable choice. Think Uber, but instead of cars, you book motorbikes through the GoJek app. Grab is the other big player here, and they too have GrabBikes on the roads.

1 GoJek. I should have tried it while there!

March 2017 – Hong Kong

Another work trip, this time passing through Hong Kong. I walked down the Tsim Sha Tsui district, and basically thought of the last time I was back here way back in 2011 as I passed by Chungking Mansions, my really cramped residence back then. The city doesn’t sleep, this scene below was taken at 1am!

2 Hong Kong, the city that never sleeps.

May 2017 – Natuna Islands, Indonesia

My first solo travel of the year, and this was to Natuna Islands. Part of the Riau Islands province in Indonesia, and grouped together with Batam, Bintan and Karimun. Though if you google these places on the map, you will find that they are nowhere near Natuna. I made it a destination, seeing that it is at the northern edge of Indonesian waters, and is often mentioned in the news when Indonesia asserts sovereignty over Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

It was worth the hassle of getting to Batam and flying from there to Natuna. The highlights were undoubtedly the natural stone formations of Alif Stone Park, and visiting a traditional kampung on stilts in Pulau Tiga. I even met royal descendants of Riau kings, and chatted officials at the holding area for Vietnamese fishermen caught illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

3 Alif Stone Park, steps have been cut into the stones and wooden planks join them together.

4 The peaceful village of Desa Pulau Tiga. Natuna, Indonesia.

May 2017 – London, Paris, Luxembourg

A major trip of 2017, with family. Bringing an 11-month-old baby in a stroller and having to carry that up and down multiple flights of steps is no easy task (Paris and London metro are not baby stroller friendly). But we persevered, and I completed my maiden visit to the UK and France before I turned 40. Sara the Explorer on the other hand, travelled there before she turned 1.

London

We visited most of the major tourist landmarks. Actually, it became a game of delicate positioning of Sara and her stroller for photo ops. Sara in front of the Tower Bridge? Check. Sara in front of Westminster Abbey? Check.

5 Sara in front of Buckingham Palace? Check.

6 This was taken in the British Museum. Having seen a couple of the Lewis chess pieces when the British Museum loaned some of their artefacts at our local Singapore museum – it’s great to see the rest of them on display here.

7 Sara the Explorer on the quintessential London bus ride.

Paris

The Eurostar train makes getting from London to Paris very easy. In Paris, we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral (Sara at site, check!), the Sacre Coeur Basilica and wandered quite a bit around the 10th arrondissement at the pretty Canal St Martin area. Not enough, but as an introduction to Paris, it will have to do. Oh yes, we also had the best ice-cream in Paris at Berthillon.

8 Sacre Coeur on a pretty summer day.

9 Sara the Explorer in front of Notre Dame. Check. Sara the Explorer covered by pigeons in front of Notre Dame? Even better.

We even managed to squeeze in a day trip to Luxembourg, where my highlight was a tram tour around the Bock Casemates. Sara’s highlight however was undoubtedly the carousel at Luxembourg’s summer fair.

10 One more round, mama!

June 2017 – Hangzhou

There is this Chinese saying that goes “上有天堂,下有蘇杭”. Translated, it means “There is heaven above and there is Suzhou and Hangzhou below”, alluding to the beauty of these two cities. I have been to Suzhou back in 2012, so it has always bothered me that I have yet to go to Hangzhou. When the opportunity arose to visit Hangzhou for a work trip, I was elated. Visiting the UNESCO listed West Lake did not disappoint, despite the inevitable crowd.

11 In contemplation when looking out to the waters of West Lake. Actually it’s more probable that she’s looking at her phone, but where’s the romanticism in that.

In the same trip, I was also in Ningbo, and spent a time in the spruced up old town pedestrian area.

12 Ningbo old town has some creative murals. Note the yellow Ofo bikes parked in the front, looks like a scene out of Singapore!

July – Guangzhou

Work travel brings me back to China. In Guangzhou, last visited in 2012. I went to tranquil Shamian Island, where the British and French Concession were once located. It was a welcome respite from the bustle of Guangzhou.

13 Statues like these depicting life on Shamian in the 19th centre can be found all over the island.

August 2017 – Ukraine, Moldova, Transnistria, Belarus

This was the other big trip this year, this time by myself. Easing of visa restrictions this year meant that it was possible to get visa on arrivals, and visa free entry to these countries, previously the bane of Singaporeans seeking to travel there.

My first stop was Dubai, UAE. I realised that all my previous visits to Dubai have been in the cool winter months. Well, Dubai weather in August is a b*tch. I ended up hiding inside malls the two days I was there.

14 This was taken outside Deira City Centre shopping mall, just after the sun set. I could still feel the heat in the air.

Ukraine.

Ukraine was a surprise, much friendlier and more pleasant than I had imagined it to be. I visited Kyiv, Lviv and Odessa, all three of which were vastly difference from each other. First was Kyiv the capital. Prices were cheap, and it could have been the summer, but people were just easy-going and ready to chill. The other fascinating thing about Kiev are the metro stations. I posted a 4 and a half minute video of me just ascending from the station to ground level on the escalator.

15 It was 9pm, and the summer sun was only setting. Everyone was still out there relaxing along the main drag, closed to traffic on weekend evenings. Performances, street dancing and wannabe karaoke artists put on their best acts.

16 Of note too are the wonderfully designed interiors of the metro stations in Kyiv. This is one of the interchange stations.

From Kyiv, I joined a 1-day tour of the Chernobyl nuclear accident exclusion zone. Now a safe and well touristed area, the levels of radiation there remain higher than normal at certain spots.

17 “Pripyat 1970”. Pripyat was the town most affected when the nuclear accident occurred in 1986.

18 Scenes like this one taken in Middle School no. 3, within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

19 Geiger Counters like this one were used to measure the radioactivity in the area.

20 Proving once and for all that Pokemon exist in Chernobyl.

Next up was the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Very different from the capital, Lviv has more of a Central European city vibe about it. It has a town square, a city hall with belltower and many dining restaurants about town. My highlight was however the sprawling necropolis for the wealthy deceased of Lviv, the Lychakiv Cemetery, located just outside of the city centre.

21 An overhead view from the bell tower in the middle of the Lviv city square.

22 If there was ever any doubt… the difference between varenekis, mantis, pelmenis and khinkalis, this restaurant in Lviv will educate you!

23 Mourning over the dead in Lychakiv cemetery.

Odessa is a fun seaside city, even more so in summer. Everybody was at the beach, or they strolling along the promenade. I made it to the Potemkin Stairs, a giant stairway named for the battleship Potemkin, whose crew rebelled in 1905 and influenced the events leading to the Russian Revolution.

24 An optical illusion meant that when viewed from the base of the Potemkin Stairs, you could only see the stairs, and from the top, you could only see the flat landing. This would have been intimidating for attackers landing at the foot of the steps.

25 Another famous optical illusion in Odessa (they love these, don’t they), this building seems to be 2-dimensional. The Witch’s House as it is called is actually triangular, like a cake slice.

Moldova

A bit of an enigma for me, until I researched before the trip. But Chisinau the capital has much to offer, including an easily walkable main drag, their own version of the Arc de Triomphe, and parks galore.

26 A statue of Modovan hero Stefan cek Mare (Stephen the Great) in Chisinau. #nofilter

27 I stayed in Hotel Cosmos, an old Soviet era hotel in Chisinau. Think dimly lit, dank musty corridors.

Transnistria

Officially known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, this country is actually a sliver of land belonging to Moldova that declared independence in 1990. This was however not recognized and today the Republic is only recognized by 3 other non-entities. I had wanted to go since 2013 when I was in the region, so finally being able to visit is super.

28Alexander Suvorov on a horse, in the foreground as the flags on Tiraspol and Transnistria fly.

29 A giant statue of Vladimir Lenin still stands here in Tiraspol. The tour group is in hot soup as one of the members had just pulled out a drone, leaving his tour guide to talk to the two police officers.

Belarus

Next and final stop in this Eastern European adventure was Minsk, Belarus. Probably the most Soviet of the three countries, my passport at the airport was scrutinised using a magnifier, twice. Within the capital itself was the KGB was still called the KGB, and an exhibition proudly displays “Symbols of the Soviet Era”.

30 A heady mix of capitalism, Soviet worker’s party murals, and law enforcers policing the streets.

31 Tank monument in Minsk, Belarus

32 Weeping angel on the Island of Tears, a memorial area set in the middle of Minsk in remembrance of Belarussian soldiers who fought for the then USSR against Afghanistan.

August 2017 – Shanghai

At the end of August, I visited Shanghai for work. My last visit was back in 2012, and I went to the same areas. I re-visited the la mian noodle stall from 5 years ago. And I think the kid has grown up!

33 The beef noodles broth is delicious. Order more bowls!

September 2017

No travels this month. Baby Hana joins the family!

November 2017 – Guangzhou

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November 2017 – Beijing

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December 2017 – Penang

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And that’s that for 2017. I am leaving some space here to include another upcoming (leisure this time) trip to Guangzhou. That should be about it. I am thankful for the opportunity to go to so many places, and the varied experiences. Next year is exciting, with trips to Eritrea, Bahrain and the US territories of Guam and Saipan already planned. Watch this space!

A 2016 Travel Review

As is tradition on this blog,  I go through the favourite places I have traveled to each year, as a form of giving thanks, and a little summary for myself to look back on.

The year 2016 was a relatively muted one from a travel perspective. No fantastical round-the-world trips, no overly exotic destinations and no crazy travel incidents that make people go “Red, you must be absolute nutters to go there!” Let’s just say  having a new baby curtails your travel plans quite a bit. 🙂

I still managed my fair share of travelling though. Two new countries, and re-visits to places I have previously been to. Below is a summary of the highlights of the past year.

Bogor, Indonesia (Feb’16)
Travelled with the wife to Jakarta to check out the common tourist sights. Took a day trip to the nearby city of Bogor, where I had a wander in the Bogor Botanical Gardens. Within the garden is the Istana Bogor, the residence of the Sir Stamford Raffles when he was Lieutenant-Governor of Bogor.

Chap Go Meh, Singkawang, Indonesia (Feb’16)
The city of Singkawang is on the east coast of Kalimantan. I flew into Pontianak airport and took public transport up to Singkawang. This was the site of big Chap Go Meh celebrations. The festival, which takes place on the 15th day of Chinese New Year, is extra special here. It is celebrated by both the local Chinese and Dayak community. A procession of devotees, many with their faces and bodies pierced with sharp objects, parade across town in a trance, seemingly oblivious to the watching crowd. The guy here is holding on to a chicken, whose unfortunate head had been ripped off.

Porto & Lisbon, Portugal (Mar’16)
One of two new countries visited this year, we just managed to visit Porto and Lisbon. The highlight for most would have to be Belem, where the Tower of Belem and the Jeronimos Monastery are located. For me though, the highlight is the food, specifically Polvo a Lagareiro, or octopus cooked portuguese style. Delicioso!

Santiago de Compostela, Spain (Mar’16)
From Portugal, we took a detour north to the Galicia part of Spain. Visited the famed pilgrim’s destination town of Santiago de Compostela. The town marks the end point of the El Camino Santiago, the walk that leads to the shrine of the apostle St James. We also visited A Coruna, and climbed the Tower of Hercules, a UNESCO listed Heritage Site.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia (Sep’16)
A revisit, this time with the wife, to the Kratons of Yogyakarta, a stay in the Manohara Hotel to catch the sunrise at Borobudur, and a day excursion to Prambanan. Indonesia is still my destination of choice, despite so many previous visits.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Thailand (Oct’16)
The beaches of Phuket are a draw for most, but I was here for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The festival happens in Phuket Town. Devotees would walk in their processions, often pierced and in a trance-like state, as onlookers stand by. Sounds like the Chap Goh Meh in Singkawang earlier? Yes, it is very similar. Relative to that festival, the Vegetarian festival is a more staid affair, though first time visitors will still be overwhelmed by sheer noise and colours surrounding them. Oh, and firecrackers exploding all around you is the norm.

Ayutthaya, Thailand (Nov’16)
The first of many trips with the little one, 5 month old at the time. While Bangkok is all shopping and food, I took a little side-trip by myself to see the ruins of Ayutthaya. The rich, ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya was the second major Thai kingdom in history, after Sukothai. Easily reachable from Bangkok, the ruins consists of temples, statues and walled forts and one highlight, a tree with the Budhha’s visage.

Kuching, Malaysia (Dec’16)
Again another revisit, but I was glad to go back to Kuching. The laid back city is a food haven. Highlights are the Sarawak Cultural Village, and a visit to see orang-utans in Semenggoh Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, no orang-utan appeared to feed in the time we were there, but it was a good opportunity to do a little nature hike, with the little one and the missus.

And that’s not all the trips in 2016. There was plenty of work-related travel around the region, to Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia as well. 2017 is going to be another great year, one with more fantastic destinations.

A 2014 Travel Review

It is December again and time for the annual travel review here at The Furious Panda. Every year around this time, I look back to the previous year’s travel and basically give thanks for all the opportunities I’ve had to travel.

You can take a look at past years’ travel review at these links: 2011 review, 2012 review, 2013 review.

The theme for 2014 was travelling with friends, and visiting festivals in the region. I managed the former OK I think, almost half of the year’s trips were with friends. The festivals bit not so much, but not for lack of trying. Considering I was not on an extended year’s break like in 2012-2013, I think the past year has been a pretty decent year of travelling. Many micro-adventures around the region. Let’s take a look at what was accomplished in 204.

Jan – Indonesia (Medan) – A solo trip. There is a distinct focus on cultural and historical places for this year’s trips. Medan of course, is a common Indonesian city to visit. But I also visited the Batak region of Sumatra, around Lake Toba. A highlight was the largest Batak museum in the little visited town of Balige.

April – Malaysia (Tioman) – This must be my third visit to Tioman for diving. Just a weekender, but a fun trip nevertheless, with colleagues and friends.

April – Indonesia (Jakarta) – Indonesia is my happy hunting ground. My destination of choice whenever I need a getaway. But I’ve yet to spend any time in the capital. So Jakarta visiting a friend means a proper introduction to Indonesian lingo. And food, especially food.

May – Thailand (Sukothai) – One of my favourite solo trips this year. Thailand was my go to place back then (Five trips to various parts of Thailand from 2003 to 2008). So it is a pleasant return to the Land of Smiles. The Buddhist temples of Sukothai are wonderful. Even more wonderful are the obscure satellite towns of Kamphaeng Phet and Si Satchanalai, both sites of the ancient Sukothai kingdom.

May – Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) – Everyone knows KL, but my little tour of the Seven Wonders of KL, is a pleasant diversion from the usual exploratory trips this year. I got to visit parts of KL I would never have visited on my own.

Aug – Indonesia (Tana Toraja, Ambon “The Spice Islands”) – This is one of two highlight trips this year. The elaborate funeral festival of the Toraja people has always been on my bucket list. To be able to see an actual Toraja funeral up close is a treat. The icing is the impromptu decision to fly to Ambon, one of the Spice Islands of the Moluccas.

Aug – Taiwan (Taipei) – Not so much a personal trip, I nevertheless spent a morning spotting Taipei’s major tourist sites during this work trip.

Oct – Lebanon (Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, Tyre, Baalbek) -The other highlight trip of 2014 and the only one this year out of South-east Asia (not counting Taiwan). After plans to visit Iraqi Kurdistan got canned (no thanks to ISIL!), I decided to go to Lebanon. The return to the Middle East and the welcome return to familiarity: the falafels, the language, the people – made the long journey there worthwhile.

Oct – UAE (Dubai), Oman (Ras Musandam Peninsula) – Together with Lebanon, I met up with a friend and we went on a road trip to the Ras Musandam strip, that little sliver of Oman separated from the rest of the country. It was my second visit to Oman, but the first to this region.

Nov – Indonesia (Batam) – A weekend trip to nearby Batam, for the foodie in me.

Dec – Myanmar (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay) – To close off the year, I went up to Myanmar to see the famed pagodas of Bagan. And broke my collarbone in an electric bike accident.

In summary, it was a pretty eventful year, despite not going too far out of Singapore. I managed one new country (Lebanon) and many revisits to once familiar countries. 10 trips out, with only 2 of them being solo trips.

2015 is going to be a very exciting year for me. It looks like I’m going to have a permanent travel buddy. 🙂

2013 Travel Review

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.

January

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.

February:

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.

March

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.

April

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.

May

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.

A 2012 Travel Review

Greetings from Belgrade. It’s the end of December and time for another Travel Review. This is where I look back at the previous year’s travel experiences. In last year’s review, I had multiple short trips out of Singapore, and visited a total of 4 new countries.

This year however, has been a blast. But first, let’s take a look at last year’s travel resolutions and see how much of that I managed to accomplish. Out of 10 items on the list, I managed to complete a mere 3 items: North Korea, Petra in Jordan and the Karakoram Highway. No big deal. But when we look at the things I instead DID manage to do this year, I can only be thankful.

Of course, being on an extended trip allows me to do so much more. So here is a summary, for everyone who has not been following the blog posts regularly.

  • Mar: China – Travelled for 2 months within inner and coastal China, cavorting with giant pandas, almost getting kicked by a horse off the cliff edge of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, dancing with tribes in Guangxi, awed by the bright lights of Shanghai, experiencing cultural Beijing and the serene gardens of Suzhou, ogling at the pretty ladies of Dalian and admiring the Great Wall.
  • Apr: North Korea – A short but memorable trip during Juche 101, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the eternal leader of the North Koreans, Kim Il Sung.
  • Apr: Mongolia – Homeland to Genghis Khan, and where I had my first taste of the Cyrillic alphabet. Horse riding in the steppes. Well worth the butt-ache.
  • Sep: India – Up the Malabar coast, from Kerala to Goa, from Mumbai to Aurangabad. And the Rajasthan Loop, including the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
  • Oct: Pakistan – Experienced the natural beauty of mountainous North Pakistan, in the Karakoram Mountains, and the unrivalled hospitality of the Sindh region, in the south.
  • Nov: Oman – Just a few days in the country, but what friendly people. The fortresses and sea views are spectacular.
  • Nov: UAE – A second visit to the Emirates of Sharjah and Dubai, this time with more depth. Sharjah has some amazing museums and is a cultural gem.
  • Nov: Jordan – Jordan is a tourist’s paradise. Small but with so many attractions packed in. Travelled through Roman ruins, Petra, Wadi Rum, swum in the Dead Sea and dived in the Red Sea.
  • Nov: Israel – The confluence of 3 of the world’s major religions, Israel has even more to offer. I read through stacks of Wikipedia info to familiarise myself with the history, which spanned thousands of centuries.
  • Dec: Italy – A decision to detour into Eastern Europe first took me to Italy, where I lived my Assassin’s Creed fantasies in the cities of Florence and Venice.
  • Dec: Slovenia – My first country in the Balkan region, Slovenia is friendly, compact with much to offer, especially since the winter celebrations were ongoing in Ljubljana.
  • Dec: Croatia – I didn’t expect to stay so long in Croatia: I ended up staying nights in the cities of Zagreb, and city hopping along the Dalmation coast cities of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik.
  • Dec: Montenegro – The rainy weather made the trip short, but it was enough to see the beautiful Bay of Kotor.
  • Dec: Bosnia & Herzegovina – One of the countries I eagerly wanted to visit, Bosnia did not disappoint. The food was fantastic. Mostar’s old bridge evoked a wistful sense of wonder and Sarejevo’s museums and post-war buildings made me sit down and reflect.
  • Dec: Serbia – Belgrade is a vibrant capital which contributed even further to my burgeoning knowledge of the countries in the region.

And here were some highlights.

Experiencing my first major snowfall.