Well that year flew by in the blink of an eye did it not?! And as so many fellow writers have alluded to over the last few months, that hasn’t always been for the cheeriest reasons. From the tragic passing of some high-profile figures to the tragic and unfortunate rise to power of others, from the divisive politics of xenophobia to the senseless politics claiming innocent civilian lives – and that says nothing of the ups and downs we all go through in our own personal lives; if there is one thing that many of us have witnessed this year, it is that life is full of uncertainty and unpredictability.
In my line of work, I am reminded of that every day. Lives can change in an instant, they can be lost in an instant. I could fill this blog with heartbreaking true stories which exemplify that and I have learned, accordingly, to be grateful for each day and that if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to live out your dreams, then live them.
That’s the reason I travel the globe with such fervour and spend so much time with my family – because I have never yearned for suburban mansions or expensive cars, for business class flights or designer clothes, those indulgences failing to accelerate my heart rate. My pulse, instead, dances to the dream of urban life in my exhilarating and chaotic city, caring for the public as best as I can by day, spending time with ma famille in between and witnessing our incredible planet with my own eyes with any time left thereafter.
Who knows where the road may lead me in 2017 (Alaska, Colombia and India have been mentioned in passing?) Either way, I will cherish this year’s travels that took us to incandescent, flaming sunsets, postcard-esque panoramas, waters possessing the clarity of diamonds and destinations that showered our hair with fragrant petals dispersed from swaying cherry blossom trees.
10 of my Most Bizarre Travel Memories from 2016
There was, however, another side to our travels of 2016 and that was the one filled with slivers of weirdness, whimsy and bizarre twists. So, to make a change from my 15 highlights of 2015, my Bali to Chile in 2014 round-up and my 2013 travel summary, this year, I bring you my most bizarre, “huh?!?” moments and I’d love to hear your weird travel moments of the year too.
Going to an Underground Hospital in Budapest, Hungary
Before you show compassionate concern, fear not, our first trip of the year did not end with any broken bones or dodgy hearts.
Rather, we went in search of the Hospital in the Rock Museum in Budapest, a once fully functioning hospital that saved lives, operated on the wounded and delivered babies during war-time and the aftermath in Hungary. We’ve worked in our fair share of UK hospitals but have never seen one quite like this.
You can read all about it in my round-up of Budapest’s best museums.
A cosy night’s kip at Narita Airport, Tokyo
Pumpkin had put hours of hard graft into planning an epic trip to Japan. Well aware of the cultural and language barriers that would face us, for the first few days in Tokyo, we decided to book a well-located, luxury hotel in Shinjuku.
Our actual first night’s accommodation couldn’t have been any more different in comparison, when we found ourselves sinking into an air mattress, drowsy from exhaustion on the airport floor in Tokyo. (Curious about this disastrous first night? Here’s the full airport sleep story!)
Dancing on a Carousel in Harajuku, Tokyo
It was a start as you mean to go on situation in Tokyo in terms of bonkers Japan moments. When we popped into the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku for a quick coffee to scope out the psychedelic interiors of the place, I never could have predicted being picked out of a crowd randomly and being dragged up to dance on a rotating carousel…
If ever there was a time to use the word, mortificado, then that was it. The full version of the story will be coming to the blog in 2017 so stay tuned!
Visiting the North Korean Border
If you had asked me a year ago whether I would volunteer to go to the most heavily fortified military border in the world, where landmines are scattered in the soil like Smarties and where I would count more guns in a day than I have seen in my life, then I’d have unsurprisingly said no.
Yet thanks to the adventure-seeking Pumpkin, that was exactly what we found ourselves doing on a sunny April day this year during a visit to the DMZ- demilitarisation zone between North and South Korea.
Eating & Drinking Hello Kitty in Seoul, South Korea
As a child, I always had a soft spot for Hello Kitty so when I learned there was an entire cafe dedicated to her in Seoul, there was no question that I had to see it.
What I hadn’t realised was that it would be the most overwhelmingly pink place I have ever visited and the look of grumpiness sported by my man remains unparalleled! If you’re prepared for the assault of pink tones, you can read my review of the Hello Kitty Cafe in Hongik.
Walking on the roof of the Oslo Opera House
We Brits are (rightly or wrongly) known for our orderly queue formations, our impeccable courtesy and our in-built “mustn’t be seen to be making a fuss” approach. London is filled with architectural masterpieces and ornate buildings but you would certainly never catch me walking on the roof of the Royal Opera House here anytime soon.
I think that’s why it felt so liberating and almost rebellious having the opportunity to walk, jump and star-jump on the roof of the stylistically contrasting Oslo Opera House and on Easter Weekend of all times!
(Plenty more from the Norwegian capital on my 4 days in Oslo guide.)
Going on a Port Tour in Portugal (when you don’t drink Port)
There seems to be a counter-intuitive trend emerging over in this neck of the woods, which is the tendency for me to check in to alcohol-focused activities, even though I don’t actually drink! The first was when I visited a German beer house in Munich during my Christmas market break (and drank an OJ).
The second was on our anniversary weekend in Porto this year when I desperately wanted to visit the UNESCO-listed Douro Valley region, which is an easy day trip from Porto and is world-renowned for its Port wine. However, having left it only a few days to organise a tour and with no flexibility on dates, the cultural and historical tours I found were fully booked, meaning we either gave up on the idea altogether or go with the Port tour in Douro.
When the day arrived, I told Pumpkin that we could decline my Port servings but having paid the same fare as the drinkers, Pumpkin was having none of that, instead selflessly offering to drink my portions. Let’s just say that by the end of the day, he never wanted to see another glass of this ruby-bodied potion again so his face was priceless when he returned to our theatre-themed hotel to find a free bottle waiting for us as an anniversary gift.
Hiking through woodland to reach…a nudist beach in Croatia
Let me start by clarifying (for any colleagues or parents reading) that this was accidental and I am not a nudist. Far from it in fact, as you will never even find even find me walking along the beach in swimwear if I can help it and body-confidence is not my forte. Why then did we decide to head to a nudist beach?
We didn’t. We just got lost. Very awkwardly lost.
During a trip to the Pakleni islands near Hvar, we found ourselves walking through woodland with not a single other soul in view, muddling through overgrown branches and shrubbery in an attempt to reach the beach we thought we had read about.
When we finally arrived, we found a tranquil, unspoilt stretch of coastline with no amenities, restaurants or bars and a boat inhabited by three American nudists…I have never felt so silly in my knee-length, polka dot frock but it would have taken a few bottles of that Port and then some) before I was about to start coming out of my (clothing) shell.
Walking by a cliff edge and being told to jump in Santorini, Greece
Skim readers might panic but it’s not nearly as depressing as it sounds. The Caldera views in Santorini are one of the most coveted after qualities of this stunning volcanic island. Hotels with Caldera-facing rooms can charge a small fortune for this perk or you can easily get it for free by doing the renowned Oia-Fira hike.
It was during that 5 hour walk when Pumpkin suggested I jump. Thankfully, we were a wide wide berth away from anywhere even remotely risky and I think (sincerely hope) that he meant it for photographic effect only!
Travelling for 10 hours in Myanmar….to see a rock
If you were coming to London for just a week or two and I suggested that you give up a day and a night to travel for 10 hours to reach the middle of Bulgaria to see a rock, would you do it? I thought not (and even if you did, I suspect it would still take you less time than this journey took us!) I am not sure what possessed us to embark on such an exhausting mission but that’s the power of a striking visual.
Travelling from Lake Inle (pictured at the start of this post) to the Golden Rock Temple involved no less than a boat, a car, a flight, another car, a truck and a walk but there was nothing quite like the feeling of euphoric relief when we reached just in time for sunset at the Golden Rock Temple and found ourselves facing this:
Was it worth traversing the country for? It most definitely was and it was a spiritual, serene and simply glorious setting to be rounding off (mind the pun) an exhilarating, energy-consuming and educational year in travel.
What were your weirdest travel moments of the year?
Happy New Year to you all. Thank you for reading along and for sharing your travels and stories with me. Wishing you happiness, health and plenty of globe-trotting in 2017!