Well, 2010 was a great year of travel for me. Every trip I took was unique and not comparable with the other but just to give it some order and sift through and narrow down the really marvellous ‘wow’ moments:
1. Does Santa Claus really exist? My trip to Finnish Lapland was in many ways a return to innocence and childhood. The magical landscapes, the adventurous activities like husky safari, snowmobiles, ice fishing made it a nature-intensive experience. The trip to the cheesy Santa Claus Village and my Finnish traditional sauna experience including a roll in the snow were the top 2 here!
2. My first glimpse of Lake Bled, Slovenia would definitely take spot no 2 for its sheer picturesque quality and otherworldliness. A turquoise lake, an island with a church and a castle on the hill... definitely a ‘glass slippers’ moment of the year!
3. Reaching Rovinj, Croatia at sunset...After a day driving through green Istria, medieval towns like Motovun and olive oil tasting, Rovinj was the cherry on the cake. Picture-perfect, pastel homes hanging on to the cliffs, cafes and artists galleries and a harbour which you could spend your life looking at.
4. A walk through Auschwitz Poland: was in many ways the culmination of years of interest in the dark Nazi period of history which started with Anne Frank’s diary and then moved on to Elie Wiesel, Victor Frankl and others. Terribly heart wrenching experience. Dark tourism or not this is one trip that I am glad I took. A life-changing moment, indeed...
5. A night at Castle Leslie, Monaghan, Ireland. An eccentric owner, a haunted castle and a beautiful backdrop. One of the top experiences of the year. A candle-lit dinner around the family table, the hysterical laughs of my friends and ghost stories and finally the tense night waiting for para-normal happenings- this was one travel moment that will stay with me for a long time!
6. Watching the Impression Show at Guilin: An epic outdoor opera in Guilin, China with mountains as props and the sky as the backdrop was one of the most dazzling productions that I have seen. To see the production you first take a cruise along the Lijiang river, a surreal journey through a ‘Chinese painting’ of limestone karsts and fisherman in conical hats.
7. Floating on the Dead Sea and Petra: Not what I expected, the Dead Sea was much more ‘alive ‘than I thought it would be! There was no way I could have a photo-op with a book in one hand and a drink in another...but memorable all the same, bobbing like a cork on one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. Jordan continued to weave its magic on me with Petra, miles and miles of the ancient city of the Nabateans, the treasury was only the tip of the iceberg. Want to go back some day to spend at least three days in Petra!
8. Climbing the Great Wall: Though we chose the Labour Day weekend when the Wall was swamped with locals and tourists, it did not deter us from the mystical quality of the Wall. Like a slithering serpent, this engineering marvel with its stunning watchtowers and panoramic views of the landscape was truly a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. Breathtaking is the only word that comes close to describing it.
9. Strolling through Tallinn, Estonia: Truly my find of the year. Smaller in scale than Prague and without the crowds (at least as of now- it’s the European Capital of Culture in 2011) it has a heady mix of architecture, culture and food. Accessible from Helsinki by a short ship journey, this is the city of the future.
10. A trip to see the Terracotta Warriors and Xian: No matter how much you have heard about the mysterious terracotta warriors guarding the First Emperor of China’s tomb, seeing is believing! This retinue of eerily life-like statues has to be seen with an articulate guide. We had one in Anthony. Hollow figures with a myriad expressions, hairstyles and weapons and their amazing re-construction, truly an exciting visit!