When people look back on 2016 they will see it as, quite frankly, a shit year. Back in June The UK made the baffling decision to leave the EU after a long and arduous battle marred by lies, mistruths and xenophobia. In the US there was the election of Donald Trump after an equally toxic campaign. Worldwide we seem to have had more terrorist attacks than ever before bringing pain and anguish to communities across the globe. Add to that the deaths of cultural icons such as Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali, there hasn’t been too much to celebrate. If this is all seeming too much of a downer for you, and i know that a travel blog isn’t really the place for political musings, then carry on reading because i’ll try to at least salvage a shred of positivity from this shit show of a year.
Back in 2015 I had an incredible year, travel-wise at least. The year began with a rooftop celebration in Cali, watching the fireworks when the clock struck midnight. Things got even better as I made my way across the South American continent. In 2015 I travelled across 10 countries by train, bus, boat and plane, stopping at over 60 cities/destinations and travelling tens of thousands of miles. On this bucketlist ticking trip I managed to see Easter Island, Machu Picchu, and Iguazu Falls. I hiked in blizzards, rode bikes down volcanoes and along the world’s most dangerous road, hang glided and partied at Rio Carnival. 2015 would take a lot of beating.
Personally for me, 2016 wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t quite the thrill ride of 2015 due to being back in the UK and having to start working in order to replenish my travel funds. However, I still managed to fit in a fair bit of travel time and back in October/November I started Man Vs Globe! So, what were my favourite moments of 2016? Check out my list below.
5. Feeling on top of the world in Dubai
When browsing Skyscanner I saw that one of my flights was changing over in Dubai I made the spur of the moment decision to extend the layover and spend a couple of days in the City of Gold. I had never visited the U.A.E before and was intrigued to see what Dubai was all about. Sometimes these quick decisions work out great and sometimes you look back and think ‘Why the hell did I decide to do that?’ This decision was definitely the latter. I didn’t like Dubai to put it mildly. I found it to be a soulless monument to opulence and consumerism and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a great deal to be positive about.
So, why is it on my list?
There were somethings I liked about Dubai; Arriving at night to see the huge, shimmering skyscrapers rising out of the desert was awe-inspiring in a Blade Runner-esque way – I never got sick of wandering around those engineering marvels. I had a great afternoon wandering around the old town, taking a boat ride on Dubai Creek and finishing it off by watching the sun set behind the Burj al Arab. I went on a vomit inducing dune bashing trip in the Dubai Desert with Arabian Adventures. All great experiences.
Non of these quite live up to my highlight of Dubai – Taking the lift up to the top of the Burj Khalifa to take in the majestic view of the city from above. Being on a tight budget, I almost passed up the rather expensive chance to visit the worlds tallest building but decided that seeing as I’m probably not going to be in Dubai again for quite a while, this may be my only chance.
The Burj Khalifa holds countless records such as world’s tallest building, the world’s tallest free standing structure and to get to the top I had to take the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world up to the highest observation deck in the world.
To say that the view was spectacular is an understatement. From this vantage point we could see right to the edges of the city, taking in the major spots such as the Palm Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab. The skyscrapers that were towering over me earlier that day look minuscule from this height. I dragged out my stay at the top as long as I could in order to get a birds eye view as the sun set over the city.
Dubai may not be for me but I still managed to find something that left me speechless.
Believe it or not, until this year I had never visited Germany. So when a friend invited me to a stag party in Berlin I jumped at the chance to go. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Berlin has blossomed from a historic capital with a tumultuous past thanks it’s 24 hour nightlife, flourishing art and culture scene and unique atmosphere to become one of the world’s coolest cities.
Due to the nature of my visit i spent the majority of my 3 days in the city viewing it through the bottom of a beer glass (I was in Germany after all) guided by local boy and stag party member Andy. We ate incredible amounts of meat at Hoffbrau, drank copious amounts of gin in the east side of the city and posed for photos in the many Photoautomats.
Between the drinking there was little time for sightseeing. I did manage to slip away for a few hours to take in some of the more well known locations in the city such as the East side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in a whistle stop tour.
I had an awesome weekend with the best people but feel I didn’t really see all of what Berlin has to offer. It’s a city I will definitely be back to, even if its just to see what i missed.
3. Christmas in Budapest
With Christmas fast approaching I had the feeling that work was getting me down and it had been a little too long since I had left the country. December lends itself to travel in Europe as cities fill their squares with Christmas markets and the frosty chill in the air adds to the festive feeling. I didn’t know too much about Hungary before I visited and even less about Budapest so I was intrigued to see what it had to offer.
I had 3 days to take from work so planned to spend 5 in Hungary’s capital, allowing me to take it in at a slower pace and relax in the run up to Christmas.
Like most capital cities, Budapest has the great system of putting on ‘pay as you feel’ walking tours of all the major sights. I took 3 during my stay starting with a general tour that started in Vörösmarty Square and over the course of three hours meandered around the old town, across the famous chain bridge and culminated at Fisherman’s Bastion with an awesome night time view over the stunning Hungarian Parliament building.
Next up was a walking tour taking in the Jewish quarter and the tragic history of the Jewish population in the country. Although incredibly sad, the tour was enlightening and ended in a trip around the newly revitalised area that was once the Jewish ghettos. This part of the city was by far my favourite and is now home to incredible eateries, coffee shops, flea markets and Budapest’s famous ruin bars (also a highlight). This is the hipster side of the city and is more in line with what I expected Berlin to be – effortlessly cool with out the pretentiousness you get in other cities.
The Communism tour we took before leaving was lead by someone that had lived through this period in the country’s history and was quite eye-opening in telling the details of what it is like to live with a communist government.
Other than this we visited the thermal spas that Budapest is known for – I can tell you that bathing outside when the air temperature in the minuses can be quite a shock to the system but the hot pools were a welcome break after walking miles around the town.
The Christmas markets were a sensory overload of lights, delicious food and the smell of spiced wine. Each day I wandered to Vörösmarty Square to gorge myself on booze, goulash and chimney cake. If there’s one thing the Hungarians do well, it’s food. Stalls lined the square frying up langos, sausages and ham hocks while customers warmed themselves with cups of hot booze. I’m sure I left the country a stone heavier than I arrived.
Barcelona has been high on my bucket list for a while and my 30th birthday seemed like a prime opportunity/excuse to visit. I’m used to travelling on the cheap but as it was a special occasion we decided to stay at Praktik Vinoteka – A wine themed hotel with bottles lining the walls and the concierge greeting you with a glass of red when you arrive. With a newly found taste for Spanish wine We spent 5 days working our way around the city sampling as much tapas as we could stomach and trying a fair few delicious reds.
A few highlights:
Barcelona is well known for being the location of many of Gaudi‘s best works, including his materpiece – the Sagrada Familia. This architectural marvel was top of my list of things I wanted to see and it didn’t disappoint. I feel that photographs cannot do justice to the scale, intricacy and beauty of it. Casa Mila had one of the most beautiful rooftops I have ever seen and Casa Batllo was great from the outside but after forking out for entry to the previous two buildings, the 20 Euro price tag was a little eye-watering.
What trip to BCN would be complete without a visit to Camp Nou. We had just missed out on seeing Barcelona play at home (We arrived the day after a recent home game, their 7-0 drubbing of Celtic which I was inconsolable that I had missed) but this cathedral to the beautiful game was worth visiting non the less just to see the scale of the ground and take in the museum lined with champions league trophies.
While we were waiting for our entry to Park Guell we decided to take the funcular up Tibidabo, the highest point in the city and home to an old amusement park. The views from the top are spectacular and if you can stomach it, it’s worth hopping on some of the rickety old attractions to get an even higher vantage point.
The last day of our trip was my birthday so it came down to me to choose the days activities. I plumped for renting bikes to ride around the city and all along the cities coast line, before relaxing with beers on the beach.
Barcelona gets a lot of love from other travel bloggers and now I can see why. It has so much to offer and in the next few years I hope to be back.
1 Sri Lanka
Back in March I was in the need of a much earned break. After getting back from South America I had taken a job in the blood sciences department of the local hospital, functioning on barely any sleep after working night shifts and a ridiculous number of hours per week. With my notice handed in, I booked tickets to Sri Lanka, my first foray in to Asia. Sri Lanka seemed the perfect choice as it is relatively compact meaning i would be able to see a decent chunk of the island in the few weeks that I had.
Landing in Colombo, I journeyed by train, taxi and tuk tuk to Kandy, Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Minneriya National Park, Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Mirissa and Galle. A fairly intense and action packed itinerary to squeeze in to a few weeks. here is far too much to go in to here so i’ll just share 3 of my highlights.
Elephant Safari in Minneriya National Park
I knew that I would want to see elephants while travelling in Sri Lanka but was unsure which of the numerous national parks to visit. I wanted to avoid visiting an elephant orphanage as although they claim to be rescuing the animals, I had read reports on animal welfare sites and other blogs that this was not the case (as well as hearing from locals in Sri Lanka). I don’t want to willingly support companies making money from animals under the guise of rehabilitation. I wanted to head over to Yala or Udawalawe for a safari but was unsure if I would find the time so when a taxi driver mentioned that his uncle organises safaris in Minneriya, I decided to go along with it with the thought that if it doesn’t work out or I see no elephants, then I can head south to Yala.
I was sceptical at first, one thing you soon realise in Sri Lanka is that everyone has an ‘uncle’ that can help you out but as soon as we pulled up and I saw his jeep and credentials, I relaxed. It has been known for ‘guides’ to just drive tourists around the edges of the park and never take them in so I was relieved when we passed through the checkpoint in to Minneriya.
We were warned that it was late in the day so we might not see many elephants and after 15 minutes of driving around, this seemed to be the case. That was when we saw other jeeps ahead pulling up to get a view of, at first, one elephant. Then another emerged. Then another. Before we knew it, everywhere we drove we would see elephants. occasionally a lone bull, other times a large group with calves.
The park forms part of an elephant corridor linking various other national parks and during the dry summer months the elephants converge here for “The Gathering”, the largest meeting of Asian elephants anywhere in the world due to the reliable water source here. We were a few months early for the gathering but it didn’t feel like it, everywhere we looked we saw elephants.
I had no need to head to any other national parks and it taught me that sometimes when someone says their uncle can help you, then may be they can.
Sunrise over Sigiriya
Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is Sri Lanka’s most iconic sight. A mountain top fortress rising from the forest around it. We were in the area to climb to the top of these ancient ruins but beforehand the owner of the homestay we were sleeping at had a better idea. He mentioned that if we wanted he would wake us up at 5am, drive us to nearby Pidurangala Rock on his tuk tuk and climb up with us so that we can watch the sun rise over Lion Rock.
Half asleep, we ascended the steep sides of the rocky outcrop, occasionally having to scramble up and climb the steep sides. As we arrived at the top exhausted and sweating we were greeted with an incredible sight. The sky gradually transformed from black to a deep purple and then pinks as the sun rose, shining light over lion rock. It was something that even climbing Sigiriya itself could not compare to and one of the best sunrises I have ever seen.
The Train Ride to Ella
Train rides are usually a great way of getting from one destination to another but in Sri Lanka, the train ride from Kandy to Ella is an attraction in itself. Considered by some to be one of the world’s most beautiful train rides, this 7 hour ride takes you from the city in to the hilly tea fields of central Sri Lanka.
I spent the full journey sat by the doors of the carriage, dangling my legs out of the compartment watching the rolling hills of tea pass by, just moving to let on the various vendors boarding at each station to sell rotis, corn and fruit from their baskets.
At just a few £ for a ticket (i’m pretty sure it was around £3) this was the best money I spent all year. Not only that, the scenic views were one of my highlights of the year.
On to 2017
So far, nothing much has been planned travel wise for this year. Last week I booked a ticket to Vietnam for February (leave me tips in the comments below guys!) and in June/July I have a week in the Lake district scheduled. Other than that everything is up in the air but I will be sure to get away even more than I did in 2016.
Let me know what you think of my 2016 in the comments.
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