As the new year gets into the swing, it is time to look back on 2015. Our world has many natural and cultural riches and I was fortunate to be able to experience some of them.
The first big trip of the year was to Ethiopia, a country with a wonderful mix of culture, history and breathtaking natural beauty. Lalibela in the north is known for its rock-hewn churches, while the ruins of magnificent royal palaces at Gondar – once the country’s capital – have been dubbed the Camelot of Africa. Walking through the Simien Mountains and enjoying the views across deep valleys was a delight which I shall treasure for a long time.
My travels then took me south to Cape Town where I finally managed to go up Table Mountain, even though swirling clouds quickly limited the views across the city. I also took the opportunity to visit the Winelands to the east of Cape Town with their picturesque towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.
Click on the photographs to enlarge and see the captions:
It was in Cape Town that I boarded the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, one of the last Royal Mail ships still in service, to sail to St Helena and Ascension Island.
It took five days to reach Jamestown, the diminutive capital of St Helena, but taking a slow boat had its charms in a world that seems to spin ever faster. The two volcanic islands lie in the South Atlantic off the west coast of Africa.
It was on St Helena that Napoleon was exiled and ended his days. As a military base, Ascension Island was for many years off limits to visitors and even today one has to apply for permission to go there. Ascension’s beaches are an important nesting ground for green turtles and seeing baby turtles hatch turned out to be a special treat. Flying back to the UK with the RAF was fun, too!
Sadly, the RMS St Helena will sail for the last time this year when the island’s first airport opens. No doubt, the airport will change the dynamics of the small island’s economy as well.
Turkmenistan is perhaps not high on everyone’s list of places to visit, but it offers a quirky range of things to do and see, from fascinating archaeological sites of ancient cities to swimming in underground lakes and from a flaming gas crater to a brand new Caspian Sea resort. And on top of that, its capital holds the world record for the most white marble buildings and the world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel.
In the autumn, I travelled to three cities that I had wanted to see for a long time: Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau. Each city has its own dynamic and it was fascinating to compare the three, reflect on their common heritage, and observe the mark left by their individual colonial histories.
At the end of 2015, I returned to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, but tales of that trip will be for another posting! In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed the descriptions and pictures of last year’s travels!