In 2017, I actually got around quite a bit. So much that my passport fell apart. But instead of souvenirs, I only brought back dozens of notebooks, filled with stories to be told, and a few photos to accompany them. (Actually, some of you did get souvenirs, but that’s for the elite circle of supporters of this blog.)
2018 will be a much quieter year, with a focus on university and on publishing articles about past travels. To help me decide with which stories to begin, I’ll give you an overview of what happened in 2017 and expect your comments on what you are most curious about.
The year 2017 began at one of the most beautiful places, at Lake Titicaca in South America. First in Puno on the Peruvian side, then in Copacabana on the Bolivian side.
And wow, was I happy to be back in Bolivia, which remains my favorite country. If I ever have to pick one city to live for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t hesitate to move to Cochabamba. But that time, I decided to stay in La Paz until April.
I was lucky to be there on 21 February, the anniversary of the constitutional referendum, with manifestations from both sides.
But even if I had missed that, I needn’t have worried. There were protests and marches every day. Living quite centrally, I was awoken by drums or fireworks regularly.
It was almost too late, however, that I discovered a wonderful hiking group, Free Trek, and so I could only join them once. Valle de las Animas looks like out of this world, but it’s actually just a short walk from the bustling city.
But the best adventure during that time was my walk to Chacaltaya.
In April, it was time to fly to Colombia, where I was very positively surprised by Bogotá. An organized, bicycle-friendly, green, cultural city full of bookshops, exhibitions and chess players in the street.
But I had to move after a few days because I had already rented a small house in the countryside.
I was about to leave Colombia and South America by boat, so I had to go to Cartagena, the port city in the Caribbean. Cartagena looks beautiful, but it’s the opposite of Bogotá: hot and humid instead of mild and pleasant, hedonistic instead of intellectual, and superficial instead of cultural. Where Bogotá had chess players, Cartagena had beauty queens.
By May, I was already looking forward to return to Europe and happy to get on the cruise. Two weeks on the high seas sounded like an enticing prospect, but it wasn’t really as relaxing as my first cruise. Maybe it was too much Cartagena and not enough Bogotá.
But that way, I got to some islands which I would otherwise never have visited. On Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, I even had a friend waiting for me, who took me around the island, providing lots of information on the politics, economics, social structure and race relations of the island. And when we crossed from Sint Maarten to Saint Martin, I was already back in the European Union – in the middle of the Caribbean!
A few weeks later, everything was destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
The same fate befell Antigua, where I was surprised by how British-colonial everything still looked, despite most people being the descendants of slaves, who, by the way, staged a revolt in the 1730s. Yes, the climate was so hot and humid that I preferred to spend a few hours at the local history museum in St John’s.
The last island stop on the cruise was Madeira. Returning to Europe was as beautiful as I had hoped, with mild climate, flowers blooming, and finally a city where I could sit in the park and read a newspaper without having to listen to everybody else’s music at inhumane volume. I almost wanted to quit the cruise and stay in Funchal for longer.
But luckily, I stayed aboard until we reached mainland Portugal. I already liked Lisbon, where I only stayed briefly, but Sintra blew me away. Castles and monasteries, hidden in the forest or perched on mountaintops, all connected by hiking paths, and with beautiful gardens, romantic ponds and mysterious tunnels. A magical place!
And then I was back in Germany. Well, at least it was summer, so it was sunny, green and perfect for hiking. And not having to worry about anacondas and piranhas was a bit of a relief.
But somehow, I can never stay in Bavaria too long without getting depressed by the petite bourgeoisie there, so already for my birthday in July, I fled to the Caucasus.
In Tbilisi in Georgia, I was lucky to stay in a part of town that hadn’t been modernized yet. Beautiful old courtyards, crooked buildings, wooden balconies, with elements of Persian architecture.
It immediately struck me as a city where I could imagine living, but Kutaisi and Zugdidi were nice, too.
Yerevan had more concrete than green, but still a nice cultural vibe, while Dilijan turned out to be the hiking paradise in Armenia.
In Azerbaijan, I felt the weight of the one-family autocracy in Ganja, while Göygöl was completely different and welcoming.
But the biggest surprise on my Caucasus tour was Abkhazia. The capital Sukhum has the grandeur of a Black Sea resort with a long tradition, but, as an effect of war, flight and emigration, a decimated population. Even at the height of summer, the city was never crowded.
As some of you know, I have been toying with the thought of moving to a Russian-speaking place to learn Russian. Because nobody in Abkhazia expects anyone to learn Abkhaz and because almost everyone is bilingual, but not many people speak English, it seems like the perfect place for such language studies. (Transnistria would be another alternative.)
As I returned to Germany, I met a former classmate of mine who was living in Britain at the time, in Lancashire to be exact. It was wonderful to see how well we got along after not having seen each other for at least ten years, and he invited me to visit him in Lytham St Annes, that “bubble of happiness”, as he called it.
But we also had time to explore the seedy side of Blackpool, watch an impressive airshow in Southport
and go hiking in the Lake District.
Once again, I realized how perfect Britain is for hiking. Not only the beautiful landscape, but also a really good infrastructure, with public transport, pubs in every small village and even food deposited by friendly people along the path.
And then I returned to university in October, and traveling was over. Well, I did go to Hagen in Northrhine-Westfalia for one week. Allegedly, it’s Germany’s most boring city, but I honestly didn’t find it too bad. But maybe that was due to an intensive week of history lectures.
Now that she is retired, my mother is becoming more interested in traveling, and so she suggested a trip to Prague for a couple of days in autumn. It turned out to be the perfect time because it was still warm, but the leaves were already golden and red.
In Germany however, November was becoming more and more depressing. I urgently needed to escape and chose to move to Kotor in Montenegro for three months. I had been there before and liked it a lot, but this longer stay reconfirmed that Kotor really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – even in winter.
So, now it’s up to you. Let me know what you are most interested in, and I will get cracking on the articles, edit the videos and publish more photos.
(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)