In Summary: 12 in 2012 (Part II)


(continued)

Orient Express

July saw a dream I didn’t imagine would come true in my youthful years come true. I travelled on the Orient Express. There is no way of expressing the myriad of emotions I felt throughout the entire 31-hour journey from London to Venice, a city I had never set foot in. There was excitement at the novelty of the experience, trepidation at the fact I would be spending an entire 31 hours cooped up in a train (this is also why I’ve never been a big fan of cruiseships), frustration at the dangling carrot that the experience of zooming past countries and cities I have yet to set foot in (Switzerland, Verona, Milano) is, some more frustration that I wouldn’t be in London for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, and relief at arriving in Venice because the second day of our journey made the historical train carriages unbearably hot. Still, despite the fact I was held by Italian carabinieri at the Venice airport enroute back to London, the Orient Express trip ranks quite high up there on the lost of my top three travels this year.

Watching the men's triathlon final during this year's Olympics in London.

Watching the men’s triathlon final during this year’s Olympics in London.

August was all about the 2012 Olympics. I loved being in London during this magical time. It was just as novel an experience as actually travelling to another country, if not more, because the whole world converged here (on a larger scale than usual). People were unusually nice and cordial, and it really felt like I was in a small party town for the entire duration of it. Londoners, who I actually find quite nice despite their reputation, showed themselves from their best sides. TFL (Transport for London) wardens turned in their frowns for smiles the minute the whole world started trickling into the capital, and only collected them after the guests had left. Parks all over the city turned into arenas of celebration, with the public gathered around large outdoor screens, cheering on athletes as they broke records and suffered heart break. It was, in a word, magical. I imagine this is the kind of story you tell grandchildren several decades later.

The summer also saw me go back to Malta, a little island country I first visited in 2003, eager to see what happens when you revisit a destination many years later. My travel experiences can at best be described as a bit ADHD. I want to see as much of the world as possible, in as little time as possible, which, with the world overflowing with destinations calling out my name, leaves little time to revisit places I’ve already been to. Malta, however was where I first caught the travel bug, so it was only fitting that I return to the scene of the crime.

The little island country, which has the dubious honour of having more of its nationals living outside it than within, was as fearful of “foreigners”, as us non melanin-challenged people are called, as ever, perhaps even more. This never stops me from using my God-given mandate to explore the world so I simply took note of the situation and kept it moving. There wasn’t much to write home about, unless alternating nights clubbing with days sleeping away hangovers by the Mediterranean is your idea of a good time. Malta turned out to be like my very first crush, full of possibilities but none of them likely to be fully realised in a satisfactory manner. The highlight of this trip, however, were the three Corinthia hotels I stayed at, and being once again able to swim in the azure-blue waters of the Mediterranean, which I had not done since 2009.

2012-06-20 DebrecenSeptember found me in Debrecen,  Hungary’s second largest city. Most famous for its university which attracts students from all over the world, it had precious little to offer (other than what students find fun, obvs.). Its environs, however offer more than enough first-time experiences for curious travellers like myself. In Hajduszoboszlo, Europe’s largest bath complex, I bathed in a thermal spa containing brownish, bromide-containing water that is used for all manner of therapeautical treatments before moving on to The Great Northern Plains of Eastern Hungary, or the Puszta as locals call it, which got inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage in 1999 for demonstrating harmonious interaction between the pastoral communities in the area and the delicate ecology of the area.

Today, the plains and the Hortobagy National Park within it has a lot to offer nature enthusiasts like myself. To begin with, the landscape itself, thanks to the plains being largely alkaline, is like something out of the Maasai Mara. Vast and bare as far as the eye can see due to its being hospitable only to plants that tolerate salt, it sometimes gives rise to fata morganas in the intense heat of the summer. (temperatures of up to 40 degrees in June are completely normal). Then there are the birds that make Hortobagy their resting place during their migrations to and from Northern Europe and Africa, making the park a bird-watcher’s paradise. I got carried away (literally and figuratively speaking) by a show put on by traditional herdsmen clad in traditional blue garb, with some of them riding 5 horses at once, before allowing me to ride a horse for the very first time.

2012-10-02 Ireland and East Midlands

For the last three months of the year, I found myself wanting to not travel too far afield after a year of liberally boarding planes to far-flung places.  October, therefore, had me hopping on to a Virgin Train to neighbouring Dublin, Ireland. Here I attempted to conduct a Leave No Michelin Restaurant Unexplored tour but due to time (and stomach space constraints), only ticked off three. (Reviews forthcoming). My favourite remains the Chapter One restaurant, which managed to heal my beetroot phobia after 29 years of diligently avoiding the vegetable. If my travels continue to not only expand my world-view but also my palate, I’ll be standing in good stead.

In November I continued seeking the familiar, having spent 2012 doing just the opposite. I came of age in Oslo, Norway and lived there for 12 years before moving to London to pursue a career in International journalism three years ago. I used to think it was the dullest, provincial big city in the world, with very little or nothing to offer me. Now, as I grow older, I find its size and stability comforting, and surprise myself by missing it in the same way some miss ex-lovers. In November I returned to its warm (emotionally, not physically) and predictable embrace only to find it in the process of a great transformation. Old buildings were being replaced by shiny new ones in cutting edge architectural design, the city seemed to have gotten an even more international feel in the years I have been away, and perhaps most surprising, my fellow nationals did not seem as closed off as they used to be. The future seems brighter now, I can’t wait to see what it hold for Oslo and myself in 2013.

December 2012 372

Mr. LTB is Danish, so December always finds us going back to Copenhagen, the city where we first nurtured our fledgling relationship years ago, and Nyborg, a small island town in Fynen, where he is from. I love the peace and quiet this time of the year affords me, with most mornings spent walking on the beach in deep reflection. I’m thankful for how much 2012 stretched the boundaries of my mind (and palate!), the mountains I climbed, the valleys I crept out of, the people and places I won over and fell in love with, and those I lost and fell out of favour with. Still, there is nothing as intoxicating as a brand new start. May 2013 be as wonderfully serendipitous, full of happy coincidences and most of all, hopes and dreams that take flight.

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