I wasn’t planning on looking back at 2013 and had almost forgotten what a busy year it was until I checked my calendar. My memory (never good) was replaced by furtive glances at my diary which revealed the year was full of discovery, self-fulfilment and magnificent travel.
As I might say if I drank, “It was a very good year.”
I discovered new places, as befits a travel writer
A dream of mine came true
I first read Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo years ago and since the 1980s when I worked at the World Wildlife Fund I’ve wanted to see the strange monkeys with noses that looked like penises, to watch the glorious sunsets of the South China Sea, to visit indigenous people… I finally did and Sabah is now etched in my soul.
I revisited places I’d known and loved
The last thing I expected to do this year was visit Gruyères, the storybook Swiss town which makes the cheese of the same name – and I discovered it is anything but a traditional Swiss village.
I returned to Madrid, scene of my adolescence, just long enough to have a bite. If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll know I was blown away by Bilbao, and fell in love with the Basque country – I went back for a day to visit Guernica, scene of the horrendous bombing that inspired the Picasso mural of the same name.
I visited Genoa and Rotterdam, both of which I had sailed into by ship as a child. I spent my birthday living like a local in Istanbul, one of my favorite cities on Earth, in part because of its food but also because of the feelings, the smells and the textures of the Grand Bazaar.
I traveled extensively in my own backyard
On weekends my partner and photographer Anne and I drive, usually no more than a few hours, to places we’ve never been, courtesy of the local Rhône-Alpes tourist office. If you visit Lyon or Geneva, these are perfect day trips:
- The Beaujolais: If it happens to be December, the village of Oingt shows off its 100 mangers – and I met a countess who makes Beaujolais wine
- The Ardèche: I shared a meal with Madame Chestnut and tasted Lou Pisadou, a chestnut cake
- The Alps: I rediscovered Evian’s Belle Epoque setting and learned from a water taster whether Evian was really the best water. I also met a fisherman-photographer who specializes in shooting the beauty of Lake Geneva (when he’s not bringing in the fish). I stretched myself (I hate the cold) by freezing in Megève watching waiting for the sun to rise in subzero temperatures during La Grande Odyssée, a major dogsledding race.
- The Loire: I discovered the Loire region – not the one with all the chateaux, but the other Loire, with its funky museums and hilltop villages and artists of a different kind.
And yes, all this IS right in my backyard.
I got my own Harry Potter scar
My forehead seems to have a wound that doesn’t want to leave me so I’m perpetually wearing a stylish, discreet bandage to keep the curious away. The bandage finally came off and I’m left with my very own, personalized Harry Potter scar. I’ll spare you.
I made my yearly pilgrimage to NYC
Each year, I attend a meeting in New York City for the UN agency that employs me (and from which I will be retiring in 18 months). It’s a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with one of my favorite cities on the planet, one which I almost forget in-between visits. This time around I ventured off Manhattan to Brooklyn, where I roamed around Red Hook taking pictures of street art with Sheila Archer of Brooklyn Photo Adventures.
I took a walk down memory lane
My old French farmhouse is nowhere near finished but I’m starting to unpack my office… Rummaging through old boxes I discovered a stash of 35mm photos (with captions!), a high-school transcript, a reference letter from my first ‘real’ job in Montreal, and all the notes to my Master’s thesis (*throws box into ‘to burn’ pile*). Those flashes of memory remind me I’ve led a blessed, fortunate life and I’m filled with gratitude for that.
I met up with fellow bloggers who have become friends
Lisa Lubin of LLWorldTour came to visit for the second time (she writes here about her first); Laurel Robbins of Monkeys and Mountains was doing the Tour du Mont Blanc and dropped by for lunch; and in New York City I had what is becoming a yearly tradition: dinner with Larry Closs of Trekworld (and author of the novel Beatitude) and Jeff Dobbins of Walks of New York. This year, as an added bonus, I grabbed a quick meal with Jennifer Dombrowski of JDombs Travels, who was in town writing about Christmas.
I did what I do at the end of every year
I made my new year resolutions, personal and travel-related. Some of them look awfully familiar (lose weight, exercise more) and others are new (experiment with writing styles, write a book on my cross-Africa journey).
Since my brother and his family moved to Washington DC (they used to live in Annecy, half an hour away) we celebrate Christmas differently, on Skype!
This is also the year Christmas came early and late… early because my family was headed to Gettysburg for Christmas so we celebrated before they left (who doesn’t like getting presents a day early?) and late because at home I’d forgotten to take the Christmas fowl out of the freezer in time.
This is also the time I remember my mother, since shopping together was ‘our special thing’. She’s been gone seven years but whoever said the pain went away didn’t know what they were talking about. Hi Mom – the sales are on again!
The year ended on a sour note
Just before Christmas, Uganda passed its dreaded bill criminalizing being gay, at a time when many countries are trying to eliminate discrimination. The country’s president can still veto it: let’s hope common sense and kindness prevail in 2014. I could say the same for the many countries at war or in turmoil. May 2014 bring them a breath of hope and the beginning of a new, better time.