Seasons Greetings to all friends and family for 2016 and best wishes for 2017!
2015 was wow and amazing and transformatory as I moved continents, and 2016, while feeling more chill in my books (but probably not compared to most people), still had some pizzazz. This really should be two separate blogs its that long, but it's not so if you only care about 2016, scroll down!
So let's start with 2015...
1. The Caribbean:
A short video of flying from Guyana to Suriname.
Heading back to Colombia briefly, I wrapped up my 3 years in South America. I caught up with friends there and heard all their travel stories. I packed my many bags and took off for home. I flew, a roundabout way, via Miami and Los Angeles, to take up a Business Class ticket bought on miles on Fijian airways. How does one go back to economy after that!? I arrived home into Auckland and picked up my rental car to drive around and visit some family. So lovely to see everyone up north. Then back to Queenstown and immediately off to see Three Dog Night and hangout in town. Loved being home so much. I love my hometown! I often wonder why I'm not living there still. After discovering that every job in town goes to backpackers, I eventually started relief teaching at Wakatipu High School. What a bizzare feeling to wander those halls of pre-teen years again. Relief teaching being what it is means that no one really treats you well, but it was interesting nevertheless. While at home I was thrilled to catch a lunar eclipse, and really enjoyed working on cloud timelapses and star photography.
A timelapse of the Remarkables from our balcony!
|Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak|
Of course, I was not to stay hanging around! I was off to Asia for 3 weeks! Hadn't been to Asia since I left Myanmar in 2008, and I missed it so much! First to Singapore to catch up with several friends there and bask in the warmth and modernity. Then to Bangkok, where I revisited all my old haunts. David and Sandra obligingly came with me up to Kanchanaburi to the River Kwai ANZAC Day ceremony -- which was far too big and over extended! Still, what a lovely little riverside hotel we had. Third city on the list was Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to see various friends and reaquaint myself with that cute little city. Then it was to Hong Kong where I visited several friends' schools, and finally climbed Victoria Peak which I wish I'd done decades before! The trip wouldn't have been possible if it were not for the generous hospitality of friends in all four cities -- how lucky I am to know so many people in such great places!
Back to New Zealand to hunker down and do some more IB marking. Why do I set myself up for it?
4. Eastern and Southern Africa:
|A lioness in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.|
Elephants in the Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya
Giraffes near the Serengeti plains
Lion jumping out of tree
Lion feast in the Serengeti
I have wanted to visit Namibia for years, and I must say this visit only tempted me to come back and visit again. It was without question, my favourite country on the trip. We spent a few nights in the north where we stayed at Etosha National Park. The game drive was the single worst game drive of the trip where we did not really see a single animal of note, but the watering hole that we could watch through the night was spectacular, with several rhinos, lions, giraffes, elephants and other animals coming to drink as we sat snuggled in heavy blankets sipping hot chocolate. The rock formations near Spitzkoppe were super, as were the Sossouvlei and Dead Vlei sand dunes. I saw whales off the coast at Swakopmund/Walvis Bay, and even went sand boarding. We stayed at Fish River Canyon before crossing over into South Africa at the Orange River. South Africa was really quite a short part of the trip (only the Cedarburg Wine Region and Cape Town), but it was great to come back again as I do enjoy my time time there.
|The 'Green Man' of |
|The Romer Square in Frankfurt|
|Canyoning with Grade 8 in Austria|
|The Taunus Mountains in August|
October break saw a friend and I exploring Bavaria and southern Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, returning via Switzerland. We saw the famed Oktoberfest, revisited Neuswanstein Castle and Dachau Concentration Camp, and spent a night in a charming little Austrian mountain village.
|The view from the Heidelburg Christmas Market|
Onwards to 2016...
It was mum's idea to go to Carnac, and what a good idea it was! Lots of prehistoric standing stones, megaliths, and stone mysteries! Predating Stonehenge by 100 years or so, there are more than 3000 upright stones in the biggest concentration of megalithic sites in the world. As you can imagine -- heaven for us! It was the first big sojourn for my little car, bought a few weeks earlier, and must say I'm very proud of Bertie! We came back via Mont St. Michel, which really is so beautiful and impressive. It was vastly different in terms of tourist infrastructure than it was in 1993 when we were there. You used to drive out across the causeway and park at the base, but now you have kilometres of car park on the mainland and you have to be shuttled out!
|Tyne Cot Cemetary, Belgium|
We stopped in Ypres on our way back east. Impressively (or perhaps more like propaganda to some), there has been a sunset remembrance ceremony every night in Ypres since the war (except for brief periods in WW2). We went down to listen to the Last Post (Reveille) and the brief ceremony, and we were to come back in June to very different sized crowds at the summer ceremony. In a way, this year had quite a few instances of 'going back' to places I'd been before. Theme of 'revisiting', perhaps? We spent a day going to several wet and miserable cemeteries to find mum's World War I relatives. Being the 100 year anniversary of the Somme battles, it was very fitting to visit the Western Front. We found Harold Wilson Bolton's plaque at Tyne Cot Memorial, and Aylmer Henry Windsor in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetary, which was next to a hospital so had very good records. The third was Henry Marston Windsor who was at Caterpillar Valley cemetery, which we would find in June.
I think my colleagues here all think I'm a bit crazy, because for Easter, I planned a trip to Sudan and Tunisia to catch up with friends in both places. It's started a trend so that before each holiday, they ask me what place on the 'don't go' list I'm going to now. Khartoum was the dusty desert city you may imagine, but I really loved getting out of the city and visiting the ancient city of Karima where the sphinx-shaped rock shadows the Nile near several small pyramid tombs. Merowe, where several pyramids atmospherically disappear into sand dunes, was also great. Despite less than a week in Tunisia, I managed to cover some ground in my little rental car, seeing the Roman ruins of Dougga, the Islamic pilgrimmage center of Kairouan, and the ampitheatre at El-Jem. I loved Tunis and Carthage, and Sidi Bou Said was so evocative of Morocco that I felt homesick for it!
I think I need to plan more long weekends away, as the next time I travelled was over the summer. Perhaps the IB marking (which I've sworn not to do this year) didn't really help!
Mum and Dad arrived in early June and came for a visit. I joined the whole family in the UK for a brief trip to Manchester and then to Whitstable before driving back to Europe. We visited Ypres again before heading down to Luxembourg - a lovely little country only 3 hours from Frankfurt! Dad headed home while Mum and I flew down to delightful Albania.
|The 'Accursed Mountains' near Theth, Albania|
After exploring Tirana, we headed north to the 'Accursed Mountains' and had quite an adventure after visiting the Shkodra castle and trying to get to Theth, where there was a delightful new road to the pass, but an awful rough track down the other side that we were perhaps a bit overambitious and overzealous going down! But what a spectacular valley on the other side! We had a romantic night in a little farmhouse with traditional Balkan food. From there we drove south to Berat, and it's beautiful white windows and tiled roofs. Gjirokastra was the stone city that was superbly described by the Man Booker prize winner Ismail Kadare's winning novel, 'Chronicle in Stone'. It's an Ottoman-era mansion filled town, with an impressive hilltop fortress, complete with a downed American plane to ensure you don't forget that you're in a former-communist forbidden land. It was also the dictator Enver Hoxha's hometown. We headed even further south to the Roman city of Butrint and laughed at how Google maps sent us the very long way around to end up on the wrong side of the canal and no bridge! Enterprising local ferry owners saved the day by getting us across. We swam in the beautiful Ionian Sea/Adriatic near Saranda and I convinced Mum that we should drive back via the spectacular Llogaraja Pass above the sea. A marvellous little Roman site took us inside a military base, past thousands of the infamous bunkers, discarded on the beach. We stopped at Apollonia near Fier on our way back to Tirana, and wished we had much more time in Albania as a whole!
October break this year saw me revisiting two places I love - Istanbul, Turkey and Baku, Azerbaijan. Both were places with lots of memories and spent with good friends catching up. Baku has changed incredibly since I lived there, with many new buildings and complexes mushrooming up across the city, but many of my favourite haunts were still there. I also felt quite proud and nostalgic when I went to the TISA International Day/25th birthday celebration.
This brings me almost to the end of 2016. Congratulations (and thank you) if you made it this far! I am so lucky to have such an amazing life and I hope this doesn't make me sound like a spoiled rich woman! This week I will keep true to form and visit a place on the 'watched' list with travel warnings. I am revisiting Turkey, and this time going inland to explore the many places I've wanted to go for a long while. Will have to report on that next time! Speaking of reporting, I've been quite slack on my 1000 Amazing Places blog of late, but vow to do more in 2017!
Life rolls onward with all sorts of surprises, challenges, delights and expected/unexpected turns. I hope that your holidays are joyous and that the new year arrives positively and that you are surrounded by happy reflections, good memories and that my good-wishes to you join the many others from your family and friends to buoy you into 2017 with anticipation and great plans.