Travels in Europe, Asia & The Americas
It is the time of the year to reflect back on the year’s adventures and look forward to what 2019 may bring.
There is something different for me this year however. A recent nine-day hospitalisation has given me time to think about what the privilege of travel really means.
You will see below that I crammed in a lot this year, maybe too much. Travel was becoming a numbers game, hell bent as I was to bolster my travel CV. I even nearly crossed a bridge from Argentina, with lengthy customs to go through at each end, just so I could say I had ‘visited’ Paraguay!
My illness has helped make me see sense and I have already cancelled a whirlwind January visit to Liechtenstein that I had booked – why go just so I could tick that country off my list?
Travel for experiences, knowledge and relaxation will always be a big passion in my life, always an enhancement, never an obsession. Just maybe I was becoming obsessed.
Despite my travel reappraisal, I very much enjoyed all of my trips in the year. 2018 started with three trips in January.
Seven hours in Berlin
First up I took a solo birthday day trip to Berlin, which happened to coincide with the second anniversary of the death of the great David Bowie.
My very first port of call therefore had to be the flat where Bowie lived in the city during the late 1970s, a period that saw him record three iconic studio albums – the Berlin Trilogy of Low, “Heroes” & Lodger.
I reached Hauptstrasse 155, a bland apartment building in the Schöneberg district of the city, by bus. I lingered for 45 minutes and listened to “Heroes” as I paid my respects to one of Britain’s greatest ever cultural geniuses.
After a bratwurst lunch, I walked to Potsdamer Platz and up to the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Bundestag and Reichstag, before taking a bus to the wonderful DDR museum to learn all about life in the old East Germany when Berlin had been a divided city.
Finishing with more sausage and a beer, I reflected with satisfaction on what had been a speedy but fun visit to Germany’s capital.
Mid January saw me make a business trip to the Big Apple and with a little date manipulation I was able to tack on a leisure weekend.
NY is probably the most exciting city to visit in the world in my opinion and I was to be duly exhilarated just by being there, even though it was blessed cold.
Highlights of this visit included traversing the Roosevelt Island Cableway, taking a boat across the Hudson River to see the Statue of Liberty, walking across Brooklyn Bridge, going up to the Rock on Top (the roof of the Rockefeller Center) with the awesome views, meeting the original Winnie the Pooh and his pals at the Public Library, eating peanut butter & blackcurrant jam bagels for breakfast in a midtown deli, plus taking in such icons as the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, The Ground Zero Memorial and the Oculus, the city’s newest amazing travel hub.
Oh and not forgetting a lovely wintry stroll through Central Park.
Towards the end of the month and into February, Mrs Wilbur and I toured Norway for a few days, retracing many of my former inter-rail tracks from ’89 & ’92, only this time against a backdrop of thick snow.
First up came the capital Oslo where we spent a full day exploring the city by bus and tram.
Highlights included a trio of magnificent museums, the Folklore Museum with its superb wooden stave church, the Viking Ship Museum showcasing two miraculously preserved long-boats and the Fram Polar Ship Museum housing the magnificent wooden ship Fram that Roald Amundsen sailed to the South Pole, famously beating British explorer Robert Falcon Scott as the first to reach it.
For somebody not always over-enamoured by museums, I was blown away by these three.
Next up came Trondheim, Norway’s former capital and home to a magnificent cathedral.
This however was just a staging post for what was to be a real trip highlight – a train ride that was to take us up just below the Arctic Circle to a small city named Fauske.
This was a journey that I had undertaken twice before, but this was to be the first time during daylight hours as well as the first time my journey had arrowed through a Winter wonderland. A simply stunning eight hours or so.
My last retraced footsteps were the incredibly scenic bus/ferry ride from Fauske further north to the port of Narvik, well inside the Arctic Circle.
Activities in Narvik included an unsuccessful but fun all the same snowshoe trek into the mountains in search of the Northern Lights and a train trip on the Iron Ore Line to Abisko in Sweden.
The final leg of the journey took us on another glorious bus journey to enchanting Tromso. Here we really pushed the boat out to go both husky and reindeer sledding. No luck again with the Aurora though unfortunately, but we both fell in love with the alluring city that is spread across several islands.
On the 4th April I boarded the inaugural Eurostar service to Amsterdam with much fanfare.
I actually decamped at Rotterdam having visited its bigger Dutch brother on many occasions. I enjoyed my few hours in the city, especially my time spent in the ancient quays and canals.
May saw us take the Eurostar all the way from London to Marseille in Southern France.
The journey itself was great as our comfortable train whisked us through Brussels, Lyon, Avignon and down to the capital of Provence as we sipped champagne.
We absolutely loved our time in the lively port city, helped by our Airbnb apartment with its stunning views down over the rooftops of the Old City, through the Old Port and out to the Mediterranean.
Apart from the general fabulousness of the port city, perhaps the highlight was the Catholic basilica known as Notre-Dame de la Garde. Architecturally inspiring and providing wonderful views of the whole city and beyond.
We also took a rewarding side train trip to colourful Aix-en-Provence, the lovely university city some 33 km northwards.
Poland & Portugal
As is the norm, we spent the Summer in England pursuing al fresco music, picnics and cricket. Some very nice weekends in Suffolk, Devon, Bristol, Brighton & Castle Combe assuaged my lust for travel in the main.
However work did take me to Warsaw & Lisbon on four occasions apiece. I managed to squeeze in a couple of extra days by taking trains to Krakow & Sintra for a night spent in each. Both were wonderful locations, as indeed are their capitals.
Krakow was gloriously sunny, showing off its fabulous buildings splendidly. Sintra was so foggy that you could not see the UNESCO Heritage Site of Pena Palace even when stood right next to it!
The beguiling Quinta da Regaleira with it’s simply sumptuous gardens however more than made up for the misty disappointment.
I also managed to squeeze in my 4th visit to the Edinburgh Fringe, this time taking the Caledonian Sleeper from London.
All year I had been in planning mode for a September tour of Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan with my great travel buddy Hamish.
The fabulous trip started in amazing Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital, before taking in the awesome Darvaza Gas Crater and the modern and ancient cities of Mary & Merv.
After crossing the border into Uzbek territory, we were to be completely blown away by the stunning majesty of Samarkand, Bukhara & Khiva. Simply mesmerising.
The Gūr-i Amīr Mausoleum of the Asian conqueror Timur (also known as Tamerlane)
The final trip of the year took Mrs Wilbur & I to Argentina and Brazil, during which we also took a very worthwhile day trip to Uruguay (Colonia del Sacramento).
We had actually been due to go in April but postponed our journey due to a family medical issue.
The whole trip starting in Buenos Aires onto Iguazú Falls and finally on to Rio de Janeiro was fantastic.
All the usual highlights with the Falls, a performance at Colon Theatre in BA, the cable car up to the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain and taking in top flight football matches in both countries, being the pick of an impressive bunch.
So that was me in 2018. A very busy travel year and I am expecting 2019 to be a case of less is more.
2019 Travel Plans
Mrs Wilbur, our great pal Chris and I will be off to Riga & Tallinn next month, with us taking a train between the Baltic capitals.
March will find me, Mrs W & Hamish in Athens, city of my wife’s birth.
It is time to get planning again for a foray into Central Asia. This September time it will be Kazakhstan, Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan, all being well.
That just leaves me to wish you all a happy and healthy 2019. May all of your travel dreams come true.