I’ve been doing end-of-year wrap ups ever since I started this blog, and they have always been very focused on my travel experiences (duh, this is a travel blog after all!) – 2010, where I took several trips around Europe during the year I moved to Switzerland, 2011, the year when I finally achieved my goal of finding a way to leave and work permanently in Australia, and prepared to do so the following year, and 2012, when, quitting my 3 jobs in Switzerland, I spent 2 months in Vietnam and Singapore, then landed in Australia and did a short trip to New Zealand.
It was all amazing, but 2013 was even amazing-er (so amazing it deserved the creation of a new word). There was, of course, travel involved this year, even if to a lesser degree than during previous ones, as there is no way I will ever be cured of my chronic travel bug. Here are the places I travelled to and some of my favourite moments and places.
I cannot think of a country I wanted to visit more than Japan. The year before I had opted for Vietnam instead because I could easily spend three months there for the price of 2 weeks in Japan, and at the time I needed the long break. But this year, I didn’t want to keep making any more excuses. The Yen was at an all time low, several Japanese friends had offered to host me and Boyfriend and several more wanted to show us around their home towns, so I booked tickets to visit in May. In the space of three weeks, we did a lot without it feeling to rushed. we started in Tokyo, taking day trips to Mount Fuji, then flew down to Fukuoka where a friend took us around the magnificent island of Kyushu. Next up were Hiroshima and Miyajima, then a quick train up to the Kansai region where we explore Osaka, Nara, Kobe and Kyoto.
Finally, we headed off to Nagoya to be with friends, and got to explore the city, plus some other areas like Ise and the Japanese Alps, where we saw some late blooming cherry trees. From here, we returned to Tokyo to catch the flight back home.
Giant Gundam in Odaiba, Tokyo
Eating black eggs (boiled in the sulfuric water) in Hakone
The Peace dome, Hiroshima
The plains beneath Mount Aso, Kyushu
People gathering under the Torii gate, Miyajima
Feeding the deer, Nara
Koi Fish and Boat in Nagoya
Seriously everything – the amazing food (if you are a bit open minded), the natural scenery with the beautiful Mount Fuji, covered in snow, the ancient architecture (Temple fatigue does not exist for me) and the amazing friendly people who opened their homes to me, took me out to memorable meals and showed me their Japan – apart from one thing, which brings me to…
The fact that smoking is allowed in eating places. Japan is filled with small traditional hole-in-the wall places to eat, but Japanese men will always be smoking there. In fact, I was a bit surprised as to how many of them smoke. Only more modern establishments seem to (not always) have different zones, though sometimes the divider is nothing but an invisible line on the floor.
Melbourne and Victoria
I am still calling Melbourne and Victoria home, and have no plan on leaving. I never wanted to be a nomad. The reason why I moved countries and travelled so much is because I was looking for Home. Melbourne is Home. The weather never gets too cold or too humid and hot, the food is amazing and there are great restaurants everywhere, the public transport is frequent, reasonably priced and efficient, and you can have a comfortable life even if you’re not a lawyer, a banker or a doctor. Here are my favourite photos and experiences in and around Melbourne from this year.
Discovering street art during a Melbourne lane ways and arcades tour
Beach and Surfer along the Great Ocean Road
Feeding Wallabies and stroking Koalas at the Moonlit Sanctuary
Spending my Birthday at Nepean National Park
I must admit that, for some reason, I just never felt the urge to go to Thailand. To be even more honest, I loathed the idea. All that came to mind when I thought about Thailand were scams at every corner, old European men buying local women and tacky tourist shops and inedible Asian-Western food. When I got the opportunity to visit Thailand for ‘work’ and to travel a bit more off the beaten track, I thought that I couldn’t possibly be this prejudiced towards a country I had never visited, so I thought I’d give it a go.
I started in Bangkok, travelled up to Sukhothai where I was lucky enough to be in time for the Festival of Lights celebrations, went up to Lampang and visited the world’s first elephant hospital, then did a home stay in the outskirts of Chiang Mai before moving to the city proper for a couple of days.
Stupa illuminated for the festival of lights, Sukhothai
Elephant at the Elephant Hospital, Lampang
Festival of lights, Night Market, Lampang
Doi Suthep temple, Chiang Mai
Lady restoring mural at Wat Po, Bangkok
Model posing for Japanese photography tourists, Sukhothai Historical park
I really enjoyed Thailand. Because I had read up on all the scams, it was easy to avoid them. The people were extremely friendly, and while Bangkok and Chiang Mai are very touristy (which is ok) the places I visited in between were less so and absolutely stunning. I am a sucker for beautifully preserved ancient ruins and temples (can’t get enough of Buddhas) and rice fields frames by soaring mountains.
This is entirely my fault (because the trip was quite fast and I was not staying in a particular place long enough), but I found it really difficult to find authentic Thai food. The closest places to eat (so again this is my fault because I did not take the time to go out of my way) were these weird, 100-page-menu places with bad Thai and tasteless Western dishes (which I didn’t want as I don’t travel to eat Western food abroad). My best meals were those were locals cooked for us at homestays, straight out of their kitchen. Everything else was…meh.
This obviously means that I need to go back and find proper, amazing Thai food.
So what’s in store for 2014?
In January, I am off for a week in the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. I haven’t had a beach holiday in ages, so I am really looking forward to that. Then in May is the big trip back to Europe to visit friends and family. All together I will be visiting Dubai, Malta, Italy (for the first time!), Switzerland and Singapore before coming back home 3 weeks later.
While this is all I have planned at the moment, I am quite sure I will be able to squeeze in another trip to an Asian country, though I am not entirely sure where. I am really intrigued by mainland Malaysia though…
And of course, Australia still has plenty to offer.
ON A DIFFERENT NOTE…I had plenty of fantastic non-travel moments too.
After a dark start to the year, I managed to go from a job I really hated and which was affecting me physically and emotionally, to one I really loved (within the same company, which is great – sometimes something just isn’t the right fit). I reached my goal of being financially comfortable. After years, I finished my first novel (!!!!!) and am now embarking in the long and complicated process of finding a publisher. My head is already buzzing with the next book, the second in what will eventually be a trilogy.
How about you? What were your best 2013 travel moments (feel free to post a link!) and what have you got planned for 2014? What were your best non-travel moments?
-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @www.theartofslowtravel.com