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Looking Back at 2013, When Christmas Came Early and Late

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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

After living in Europe for three decades I somehow had never made it to Ireland and I found Dublin was a bit different from what I’d been told to expect. And I also believe Dublin may be haunted.

Dublin in the sunshine

Who says it always rains in Dublin? Here’s some cold, hard evidence

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.

Rungus traditional costumes

Having donned their traditional clothes for a dance performance, these young girls from the Rungus tribe take a break to look through some photographs. Photo Anne Sterck

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.

Gruyeres Chateau

The medieval village of Gruyeres and its chateau at sunset on a winter day. Photo Anne Sterck

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:

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.

bandaged scar

Rather stylish and discreet, don’t you think?

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.

Street art in Red Hook, Brooklyn

One of many creative street art expressions I found throughout Red Hook in Brooklyn

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!

Skype Christmas

Transcontinental Christmas (a day early) via 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.


  1. Gaelyn on December 28, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Funny how a year goes by so fast that in the blur we forget all we’ve done in such a short time. Then pause and look back for the many memories. I’d say you’ve had a wonderful year. Well except for the Harry Potter thing.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 28, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Thanks Gaelyn, I’ve decided to take notes next year to try and capture things in a slightly different way – a little experiment. I’ll see how it turns out. And yes, I was definitely a very good year. All the best to you in 2014!

  2. Lisa | LLworldtour on December 29, 2013 at 12:14 am

    Mwah! I feel so lucky to have visited and stayed with you and Ann again this year. And to have met your brother and family the first time I was there.
    I just love how travel and these silly little blogs of ours have brought us together and I so appreciate how we’ve both stayed in touch.
    And I don’t recall any hideous scar on your forehead…so that’s good!
    (can you believe that “Leyla” is literally playing off my iTunes radio right now?!)

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 29, 2013 at 12:18 am

      Lisa, you came in-between scars – it is still feeling at home on my forehead… and while sometimes I rail about everything that now happens online instead of in person, we never would have met without ‘online’ and would not have become friends so – I won’t rail again!

  3. Dyanne@TravelnLass on December 31, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Well yes – all those great experiences this year, Leyla plus… you got to Skype with ME! 😉

    Hope your 2014 brings all the good things you could possibly wish for!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 31, 2013 at 10:15 am

      They were great experiences and I know I live a wonderful lifestyle – always grateful! And yes, Skyping with you was fabulous and thank you for telling me all about Geocaching (ladies, stay tuned, you’ll be hearing more about this exciting game soon!) Have a wonderful 2014, filled with discovery!

  4. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) on December 31, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Sounds like it was a chock full travel year—the way most of us who consider ourselves Boomer Travel Bloggers like them. I’m bookmarking this post so I can go back and read the posts behind your links as we make our way to Southeast Asia — in one week(!!!). Here’s hoping 2014 will be as fulfilling for you and that your wish for world sanity will somehow miraculously come true. Happy New Year. If you’re ever on the east coast visiting your brother, come to Philly to say “hi”. I’ve really enjoyed the travel bloggers I’ve met virtually and in person.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 31, 2013 at 10:12 am

      Thanks Suzanne – I most certainly shall do that! Have a wonderful trip to Southeast Asia, one of my absolute favorite parts of the world. I’m planning on trying to get back there next year, to Myanmar I hope… happy 2014

  5. Marcia Frost on December 31, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Especially love the pics! I never really thought about a roundup on my blog and now I want to do it!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      You absolutely must, Marcia! It’s fun to do, and my readers have told me they enjoy these too – they get to see posts they missed or had forgotten. Go for it!

  6. Neva Fels on January 1, 2014 at 5:33 am

    What an amazing year of travels. I loved all the pictures and descriptions made me feel like I traveled with you.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 1, 2014 at 9:17 am

      Thanks Neva, I’m glad to hear that – because that’s exactly my intention! Happy New Year!

  7. Wesley on January 14, 2014 at 5:22 am

    I love this blog post.
    Looks like you guys had a great time in 2013

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 14, 2014 at 7:37 am

      Did indeed! Thanks, Wesley.

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