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2008 Travel round up part 3: My Year in Photos

The final bit of my ’08 round-up is a quick photographic journey through the most memorable travel moments of the year. (In case you’re interested, you can see all my 2008 photos over at Flickr)

Wat Phou

January: Wat Phou

Wat Phou is an Angkor-era temple in southern Laos. It’s much less well-known than Laos’s other World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang, and hence gets much fewer tourists. It can’t compete in terms of size with Angkor Wat, but its beautiful hillside setting overlooking the Mekong and lack of crowds make it worth a detour.
Coffee beans drying

February: Coffee beans drying

Another Lao highlight was a visit to the Bolaven Plateau, home to most of the country’s coffee production. Everywhere we went we saw piles of coffee beans drying in the sun.
Crispy Frog

January: Crispy Frog

Moments later, I ate this crispy, deep-fried Mekong Frog, which is not something I ever expected to do. Surprisingly lovely. And no, it didn’t taste of chicken.
Stowe House

February: Stowe House

A beautiful, crisp, cold winter day walking through the grounds of Stowe House, some of the finest landscaped grounds in England.
Alpine view

March: Alpine view

I’d resisted skiing for years. Why did no-one tell me one of the best bits of the experience would be the breathtaking beauty of the mountains?
Bobsleigh!

March: Bobsleigh!

1500 metres downhill on the 1994 Olympic track. Over 100kph, inches from the ice. The best 72 seconds of my life.
Bounce

April: Bounce

You don’t need to spend a fortune on a bobsleigh run to have fun though: an afternoon bouncing on the trampoline at my sister’s house in Essex was nearly as fun.
Wet & windy Snowdon

June: Wet & windy Snowdon

Freezing rain and winds so strong you could barely stand up – but making it to the top of Wales’s highest mountain was worth it.
Completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

June: Completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

Before I did it, I thought 26 miles of hiking up and down three hills would be a bit tough. I ended up running the last few miles. And I even got a certificate to prove I’d done it too (I’m like a child when it comes to external validation).
My new favourite building

June: My new favourite building

The restored De La Warr pavilion is absolutely stunning, and utterly incongruous to find in town like Bexhill.
View over Glastonbury (madness not pictured)

June: View over Glastonbury (madness not pictured)

Even more fun than usual, thanks to the absence of mud and flooding. I’ll miss the madness in 2009.
the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia

July: the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia

Recovering from festivals by going on holiday straight after is totally the way ahead.
24 hours in Ibiza

August: 24 hours in Ibiza

…except it wasn’t even that. We spent nearly as long in Madrid airport as we did on the island.
Boat envy in Formentera

September: Boat envy in Formentera

Still, I made up for it by having a fantastic four days there the following month, seeing how the other half live. Although it did give me boat envy.
Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos

October: Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos

Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos, one of my favourite photos of the year. The town is pretty great too.
Faro - ghost town

October: Faro - ghost town

Unlike Faro, which was just plain weird. Also: I assumed Pigeon-racing was one of those weird eccentric English things. Turns out the Portuguese do it too.
Krakow market square

November: Krakow market square

We kept being told it was the largest square of its kind in Europe. We never did find out what that meant exactly. Lovely place to spend my birthday (although I think Uluru in 2009 may just top it). Just don’t mention the borscht.
View over Windermere

December: View over Windermere

If there’s been one thing that’s really stood out from my travels this year, it’s been falling in love with the mountains, and it’s certainly something I’ll be doing a lot more of in 2009.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented in 2008. It’s been a bit of a dry run while I get the hang of writing (the only writing I’ve done for the last decade has been on Powerpoint slides, which is really quite different) and posting pictures. Hopefully 2009 and the start of my long-term travels will make this an even better read going forward!

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Camping and Karaoke

I’ve always loathed Karaoke. In fact I’d go so far as to say that the only thing I hate more in the world is mushrooms. And maybe the Daily Mail. But in the great scheme of things it’s pretty loathsome. Why on earth anyone would want to spend an evening listening to people who think they can sing wail along to a selection of dull power ballads and 80s ‘classics’ is beyond me. Actually choosing to be one of those people is even more incomprehensible.

So I’ve managed to get away with doing it twice in my life so far, both times under duress, and when I found out that my friend had hired a karaoke booth for his birthday I was of course filled with horror and vowed not to join in. Until the beer intervened…

The international sign of rock

The international sign of rock

I’d like to point out that contrary to appearances I am not enjoying myself. Karaoke is the work of the devil.

Still, the weekend wasn’t all traumatic, and the unexpected choice of accommodation was a highlight.

The problem with Brighton being every Londoner’s favourite seaside escape is that it’s always impossible to get a hotel (well, if you’re me that is: other people are organised enough to actually plan these things a bit further in advance), and even if you do you have to book them for at least two nights. So I was left with two options: for out £300 for a posh hotel, or camp.

Now camping is something I always associate with the countryside, not cities. In fact, I’ve never even considered the idea of camping in a city, and only ended up doing it this time because I’d run out of options. Turned out to be a fantastic option – £18 for the pitch, in a quiet park in the East of the city, only a short walk from Kemptown (the nicest bit of Brighton, in my opinion). It was so nice waking up in the morning to fresh air and a beautiful view out over the sea (well, when it wasn’t raining that is), and so I definitely think I’ll do it again – I’ve spent a fortune on hotels in some cities in the past, and then end up spending no time in them as I’m out sightseeing and partying.

I must be getting old

I remember the time when London Pride was the highlight of my summer, especially the two years it came to Clapham. What better way to have fun than spending the day in the park with mates, getting drunk, going on the funfair, seeing bands on the stage, dancing like and idiot and generally marvelling at the diversity of 200,000 gays and lesbians partying together without a care in the world.

London has changed so much in that time, getting so much more liberal, to the extent that I just don’t feel the need to go to London Pride any more, it just feels a bit pointless now that no-one cares if you’re gay anymore, and the party itsself just feels a bit like a retreat back into the ghetto. Although I must admit I think it may be more that I’ve changed more, and it’s just the idea of several hours of unbridled hedonism in the streets of Soho surrounded by people half my age has for some reason lost its appeal.

But despite all that I’ve kept going to Brighton Pride – it’s nice to get out of the city and head down to the coast (even if that bit of the coast is just London-on-sea), the party is still in the park, and it just seems so much more friendly and laidback compared to the insanity of the London one. So as usual, I travelled down with mates for the weekend, and do you know what? I hated it. Far too many people, too much noise, too many queues for absolutely everything – and ended up leaving the park after an hour to head back into town and found myself a nice straight pub to settle down in for the evening to avoid the mayhem going on around me. As I sat there, it suddenly dawned on me that the problem was clearly not Pride, but me: I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.

I have no idea how that crept up on me – it’s only a couple of months ago that I was enjoying myself in far bigger crowds at Glastonbury – but I discussed it with friends and they all agreed with me. And pointed out other symptoms I hadn’t considered. Drinking real ale instead of lager? Old. Choosing weekends walking in the countryside rather than getting pissed in London? Old. Finding myself agreeing with Tory politicians sometimes? Old (and scary).*

The whole thing made me want to go and do something crazy in attempt to fend off the ageing process. And then I realised I will be: I’m quitting my job to head round the world for a year, with nothing to come back to. Which made me feel a whole lot better.

*the alternative explanation for all of these symptoms would have been even scarier: I’m finally turning straight.