It clearly wasn’t easy to choose my Top 10 moments and narrow it down... I am really thankful for all the exciting opportunities which came my way, and here is the list of my Top 13 Moments....
1. Transfixed by the jadeite Bok choi: I kicked off 2011 in the most perfect way, in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan which I did not expect much from, but which turned out to be a great city. The highlight for me was the National Palace Museum with treasures spirited away from Beijing’s Forbidden City. One of the best museums that I have seen to date. The jadeite Bok choi cabbage in a glass case, from the Qing Dynasty with translucent white to deep green leaves is something that I can’t forget easily. Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world was another not-to-be-forgotten experience! This is one country that I want to explore outside the capital, on my next visit.
2. Modern architectural high: I am generally not a fan of manmade wonders as compared to natural ones, but the lotus-like Art Science Museum at the Marina Bay Sands was a stunner. Meeting the great architect Moshe Safdie, exploring the world that is Marina Bay Sands (what we call an Integrated Resort), was a unique experience. The travelling exhibition that I saw there( from the Smithsonian) called’ Shipwrecked’ about a ship laden with treasures that sank off the coast of Indonesia, appealed to my romantic soul.
3. My first Glimpse of Lake Louise- My trip to Canada needs its own Top 10 or 25 moments! Banff and Jasper National Parks were certainly the high points of the entire year...A symphony of rugged and craggy mountains piercing the skies, with glacial capes and evocative names, deep avalanches, emerald lakes, thundering waterfalls vying for attention on both sides of the ribbon of tarmac, wildlife at every turn (Bears and elks lumbering along the roads)-the drive along the Ice fields parkway, with a glacier walk thrown in was the highlight of the trip. The stay at Fairmont Lake Louise and the views from the window took my breath away! The absolutely, adventurous ‘aha’ moment - zip lining through the temperate rain forests of Whistler! Can’t believe I did that!
4. Bonding in Nam - At the risk of sounding Oprah-esque a truly life changing mom- and- daughter trip. Vietnam- warm people, amazing food and the most fascinating culture. Had a glimpse of both dark moments in history like the Cu Chi Tunnels and the modern face of the country in HCM City. The pick of the trip was Hoi An- a small town in Central Vietnam filled with art, ready-in-a-day tailors, and fascinating history. The atmospheric My Son ruins, a kind of Vietnamese Angkor Wat was an eerie but time- travel experience. Our road trip through the country from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue and then Hoi An as well as two days on the Mekong River, with a guide gave us so many memorable vignettes.
Shrined out in Angkor: Angkor War was a long cherished dream- amazing place, so much to see that I have put it on my list of places to re-visit. Bayon, Angkor Thom...the list is endless. The artistry, the history and the jungle encroaching on the ruins- this is one destination that can never be over-rated!
5. On a chocolate high in Flanders: Chocolates and canals, carillons and arched bridges, brick facades painted a salmon pink -Bruges in Flanders was again a dream come true! Gothic architecture, Michelangelo’s Madonna and child, sessions with famous chocolatiers, this was one of the top destinations of the year for me. Belgium itself was a great destination in terms of the compact distances and the variety of sights- Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels too were unique and enjoyable, Put them on your list- Now.
6. Time warp in Cesky Krumlov: Prague has been my favourite European city, This year I discovered the Czech Republic beyond Prague- picture book cities like Cesky Krumlov which are great value destinations too. Cesky Krumlov has the most incredibly picturesque setting with a river and a hilltop castle; we rafted the Vltava, ate on the riverside cafes, walked the winding streets and fell in love with this small town. Top Bizarre moment of the year- the Bone Church in Sedlec with decorations made from yes, bones!
7. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef: I went back to Queensland after many years, and the Whitsundays was a dream destination. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cuddling a celebrity koala on Hamilton Island, a trip on a 100 year old ship, landing on Paradise Bay Resort (which has only twenty people at a time) from a seaplane, feeding manta rays, Ocean rafting...this trip was just one thrilling experience after another!
8. Cruising the Fjords and a night in Flam: The fjords...Norway- Bergen and beyond was the most ethereal experience of 2011. Lego like farms with red roofs, green pastures with shaggy goats, gargantuan walls of lofty mountains, the grey waters below, low hanging clouds like lost spirits, this was like an Impressionist painting come alive. If you want pristine, untouched, spectacular landscapes, put Norway and the fjords on your list. Recommended trip-Norway in a Nutshell.
9. One day in watery Stockholm: This was such a picturesque city, that I regretted the fact that I could not spend more time there. Stunning architecture, a buzzing cafe culture, a museum built over a restored warship, green spaces and postcard views at every corner- Stockholm is firmly on my list of places to re-visit!
10. Queen for three days at Ahilya Fort and Mandu, India. Closer home, my trip to Maheshwar and Ahilya Fort and the ruins of Mandu was a back-in-time top experience of the year. Poised women with copper pots, children swimming in the waters and locals washing clothes on the Ghats against a backdrop of elegant honey coloured temples with shikara towers, this was a scene out of medieval India. Staying at the atmospheric and intimate heritage hotel- Ahilya Fort, was an incredible experience! A surreal world of elegant palaces, magnificent mosques, crumbling towers and medieval reservoirs with tales of love and death, victories and losses weaved in … my day trip to Mandu was magical!
11. Going Retro in Riga-Stylish balconies and windows, with stucco images of seashells, stylised plants, chestnut leaves, peacocks, reeds and poppies, Greco Roman nymphs and gods entrancing at every turn- Riga the capital of Latvia was another revelation of 2011. Great Art Deco architecture, rich culture, great shopping and a value destination- this is still an under-rated city.
12. Zen Time in Koh Samui –This was an idyllic time- the perfect place to kick back, lounge on the sands and the pool and catch a bit of culture and good food. Loved this island, its quirky sights like the Grandfather Rock (see my article) and the easy vibe.
13. Coasting along the Great Ocean Road: The close of the year saw me in Melbourne, Australia. The drive along the iconic Great Ocean road was certainly the high point here. Pristine beaches lashed by brutal waves, bush land, cathedral like arches, pretty-as-a-postcard seascapes, a smorgasbord of ocean views and even emerald canopies of rain forests- my road trip was completely a high-on-nature experience. And I actually saw koalas in the wild- incredible! The Twelve Apostles from a helicopter was the icing on the cake.
Though my time spent in Langkawi did not make it to the List, it was a tropical beauty! Helsinki was a repeat trip- a beautiful Scandinavian city made for walking! For everyone reading, I have to say that it’s powerful to write a list like this for yourself and reflect back on everything you’ve done in the past year (not confined to travel) that’s brought you great happiness. Happy travels in 2012!