The end of the year is nigh, so it’s time for looking back to see what little lurks in the deep recesses of my failing memory.
Three continents, fourteen countries, some excellent meals and some terrible coffee are in there somewhere. Most of the many queues, airports and train stations have fortunately been forgotten, though an October night sleeping on the carpet at Singapore’s Changi Airport was memorable for the wrong reasons.
Here, in no particular order, are ten experiences I intend to remember for a long time…
1. Best cycling of the year was the Great Victorian Bike Ride. It’s crowded and it poured with rain, but the organisation was brilliant and the route across northern and central Victoria was comfortably challenging. We particularly enjoyed the leg from Nagambie to Seymour via Heathcote, and the hills around Yea.
2. Best sports event I was privileged to attend was the Giro d’Italia, Amsterdam, Netherlands. I also went to see the Tour de France leave Rotterdam, but the Giro wins because it was possible to get closer to the riders. The course itself also offered more variety than le Tour and it made for a better race.
3. Most relaxing place – Riau Islands, Indonesia. It’s become an annual event for me to make a pilgrimage to Telunas Beach Resort. Yes, I get paid to go there and teach writing classes, but I’m yet to tire of waking with the South China Sea lapping under the floorboards of my hut.
4. Best quick weekend away - Melaka, Malaysia. I was lucky to have a couple of days free between teaching jobs in Singapore. Whipping up to the old colonial town of Melaka was a very good decision.
5. Best new (to me) place in the Netherlands – Deventer I only stayed in Deventer because it was a convenient hub for a cycling trip in Overijssel with my brother-in-law. It turned out to be one of the nicest Dutch towns I’ve ever visited – and I’ve seen most of them.
6. Happiest accident - Turin, Italy. We didn’t plan to visit Torino, but when we were offered a one week apartment swap there we didn’t hesitate to accept. And we were very glad we did.
7. Most OTT architecture - Riga, Latvia. Those Art Nouveau architects didn’t know where to draw the line. ‘Less is more’ was not in the lexicon.
8. Tolerable tourist trap – Bruges, Belgium. Okay, I know Bruges is popular, but it’s for very good reasons. What the Belgians weren’t able to preserve, they reconstructed to make it look preserved. For a small town, it still has a few quiet corners.
9. Unexpected pleasure. Tallinn, Estonia. To my shame, I knew little about Estonia and had no expectations of Tallinn. It quickly became one of my favourite European cities.
10. Best walk – Himalayas, Nepal. Well, of course it was. There would be few hikers who’ve been here who didn’t rate their time in Nepal as a lifetime highlight. We walked a part of the busy Everest Highway up towards the famous base camp. Even better than the views of the big mountains I found the less travelled paths around the villages in the Paphlu area. There were few other trekkers and exceptionally friendly local people. Fantastic scenery was a given.
All in all, a very good year.
May 2011 be just as good for us, dear readers of RT’s LOTR. Suggestions for new, unexplored destinations will be gratefully accepted!