2014: the best bits

Another good year! And yet – other years, a post of annual highlights has poured out of me, but this year I’m not sure what to write. Could it be because I’m blogging much more and I’ve already said it all? I’ve almost tripled the number of posts (89 as opposed to 32 in 2013) and, gratifyingly, page views have gone up by almost the same factor. I have one thing to thank for that: The A to Z Challenge, which encourages you to blog every day (except Sundays) in April and meet other bloggers doing the same thing. It certainly got me into the habit of writing more (last January, I had a queue of post ideas from 2013 still waiting to be written; this year I have only one.) I also made some good blogging friends whose posts I still follow and who still appear to read mine occasionally too!

Anyway, writing that paragraph and looking at my 89 posts has focused my thoughts and I now know what my two stars of the year are. Ta da! The first is – the weather! The sun has shone on us when it mattered this year (does that make us righteous?), even unseasonably when we didn’t expect it – Bruges (March/April) and Cornwall (September/October). This is not something I could say every year. The blob of pink in the first photo is me enjoying an al fresco lunch in Bruges, while on the right John enjoys coffee on the roof terrace of Tate St Ives.

My second star is Scotland. We had a momentous year politically, with the independence referendum decided in an exemplary display of democracy and with an unprecedented level of political engagement which shows no sign of going away. However, that’s not the main reason for my choice. I was amazed to find that, despite writing about lots of exotic places, particularly during the Challenge, my 5 most read posts of the year were all Scottish! They were:

  1. Jupiter Artland
  2. Great Tapestry of Scotland
  3. Kinneil and Bo’ness
  4. Costumes and quilts at Dalgarven Mill
  5. Celtic Connections 2014

By W. L. Tarbert (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By W. L. Tarbert (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Many of my blog visitors come from outwith Scotland and if it makes even one of them think about visiting the country I’ll be well-pleased. In the same vein, I also found myself listed as “the serial traveller” on Wow 24/7’s list of 10 essential Glasgow blogs, so hopefully that should reach a few more potential visitors too.

So what of 2015? I mean to keep up-to-date with current travels and carry on with the original purpose of this blog, to write a retrospective travel diary (for my own satisfaction) back to 1999! The A to Z Challenge helped a lot with that in 2014, so I have fewer gaps to fill in. I definitely intend to take part in the Challenge again – my theme is picked out and I’ve started collecting thoughts and pictures. And I hope to keep the friends I made in 2014 and maybe make some new ones.

So, finally, thanks to everyone who visited last year, to read or comment, or just to look at the pictures. I hope 2015 is good for you all – happy travelling!

Reflections – #AtoZchallenge

Eilean Donan pano
Reflections on Loch Alsh by Eusebius © Guillaume Piolle / CC-BY-3.0, via Wikimedia

So how was the A to Z Challenge for me? I think it worked pretty well as I’ve managed to write 26 posts covering 13 different countries. I explained at the beginning that I wanted this blog to be a retrospective record, as well as a current travel diary, and A to Z has certainly allowed me to make a substantial start on that. I just need to keep up the momentum, and I’ve learned that it’s much easier to do that with a challenge. In future, I’m going to set myself some mini-targets in the hope that it helps.

What about the social aspect? I wasn’t sure I’d be very good at that, as we were travelling for one of the weeks early on and later had family to stay. However, I found time to get into it (though commenting on mobile devices is not always easy, unless it’s another WordPress blog) and have met some really great bloggers – some on travel, and some on other topics. I’ve just checked, and I have 32 blogs in the A to Z section of my RSS feed. That might have to be pruned a bit, but I’m looking forward to keeping up with many of them once normality resumes.

I’ve got new ideas too: for example I’ve bookmarked Corinne’s post on Namibia on Reflections Enroute because I really, really want to stay in the tree house she describes. Similarly, as a library geek, I feel I must see the Geisel Library at University of California, San Diego, as described by Donna on Palawan – it seems to grow out of the trees AND it’s named after Dr Seuss (real name Theodore Geisel). What’s not to love? In fact, Donna on San Diego, Calli and Travis (Have Blog Will Travel) on British Columbia and Donna (a different one, Donna’s New Day) on Washington DC have all given me inspiration for next year. I thought I’d only do this once, as I was running out of destinations, but they have all shown that it’s possible to complete the challenge on quite a narrow geographical spread. I could do the A to Z of Scotland, or even Glasgow. I’ve met some book bloggers too, so they’ve made me think I could do something on books and reading on my library blog at the same time. That would be fun! Or possibly crazy.

A-to-Z Reflection [2014]

So what are my resolutions for the future?

  • Keep blogging about my current travels and keep chatting to new friends.
  • Write up the holiday we had in Bruges while the challenge was on.
  • Write some “join the dots” posts – several holidays appeared more than once in A to Z and could be completed very easily.
  • Work my way through other holidays – my aim is to go back as far as 1999 when we went to Galapagos, the holiday of a lifetime.

That should keep me busy till next year’s A to Z!

Finally, thanks to all at A to Z for administering such a great challenge, everyone who read and commented on my posts, everyone who wrote the great posts that I commented on, and Mary, aka Viola Fury, aka Homeless Chronicles in Tampa of #TeamDamyanti for her encouragement.

survivor-atoz [2014] - SMALL


Z is for Zaanse Schans

Zaanse Schans is a small village just outside Amsterdam. It’s a living and working community, but also a heritage site with multiple windmills, some working, and small topical museums such as the Clock Museum and the first Albert Heijn store which started in 1887 and is now a major supermarket chain. Not everything was here originally – many of the buildings were moved from elsewhere – but it does give you a picture of what life must have been like in the past. I was interested to find out the different functions of windmills – sawmills, dye mills and oil mills – as I had just imagined they were all for grain.

And that’s it! The A to Z Challenge accomplished. Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my posts. It’s been great fun.

Y is for Yorktown

Yorktown is the final point in Virginia’s Historic Triangle. (See also J is for Jamestown and W is for Williamsburg.) Although the 13 American colonies had declared their independence in 1776, the last major battle of the Revolution was here in October 1781 when George Washington’s army defeated the British under Lord Cornwallis.

The large brick house below is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Virginia. It was built in 1729 by a Scottish merchant, Thomas Nelson, whose grandson was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. The smaller Cole Diggs House is Yorktown’s oldest brick residence (c1720). As you can see, it served as a café when we were there (2008) – I remember having a very good lunch! Always important when travelling.

X is for Xian

Xian (pronounced She-an) was part of my first trip to mainland China in April 2003. Visiting the Terracotta Warriors was undoubtedly the highlight – thousands of them marching towards you, as they have been for 2000 years, and many more still to be excavated. Amazing. Less pleasantly, I remember the toilet arrangements at the Small Wild Goose Pagoda being the worst I have ever encountered. And that’s saying something – there might be a book in there someday!

W is for Williamsburg

Williamsburg is part of Virginia’s Historic Triangle which encompasses the whole of America’s colonial history – see also J is for Jamestown and Y is for Yorktown. Colonial Williamsburg, its Historic Area, has been recreated to look exactly as it did in the 1770s, when the town served as Virginia’s capital. Staying there is like living in a great big museum.

V is for Vientiane

L is for Luang Prabang covered some of our trip to Laos in 2002. On either side of that visit, we stayed in Vientiane, the Lao capital. It’s set on a bend of the Mekong River and, like Luang Prabang, has many old temples.

The other place we stayed in Laos was Vang Vieng, a much smaller place on the Nam Song. As it also begins with V, I’ll include it. We travelled around by (very) small boats and tuk-tuks, and stayed in small bungalows by the river. Lovely!

U is for Utah

When we visited Arizona in 2009, we crossed into Utah one day. Monument Valley straddles the state line and, after thoroughly exploring it – we went round the 17 mile loop road once with a guide and once in our own car – we decided to drive on a little further to see what we could find. That turned out to be Mexican Hat – a weird rock formation with a little town (blink and you’d miss it) named after it. As we had a coffee in a little motel by a bend in the river I said “wouldn’t this be a lovely place to stay?” It wasn’t long before we had bought a map of Utah and vowed to return. Which we did, the very next year. We even stayed in that little motel, the San Juan Inn, but that’s a whole new story for a series of much longer posts.

This visit followed on from P is for Page and Lake Powell.

T is for Tenerife

Many people visit Tenerife for its beaches. We were there to walk – well, after British Airways stopped interfering with our plans, that is. Our luggage didn’t arrive until 24 hours after we did, so in the absence of walking boots we spent the first day touring by car. We saw the Piramides de Guimar, which are (probably) temples for worshipping the sun, and Candelaria with its impressive Basilica and weird waterfront statues of Guanche chiefs.  As you can see, most views in Tenerife are dominated by the volcanic Mount Teide which we visited twice. The day we moved accommodation, from Guimar to Garachico, we stopped there and did the 11k trail round the caldera, and on our way back to the airport we took the cable car up to the top. This was March (2006), so there was still snow at the summit, although most days were far hotter than we normally get in the summer at home.

We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary during this trip. This was slightly less romantic than it could have been, because it was the day we were wearing yesterday’s clothes. Thanks, BA.

S is for Shanghai

Shanghai was another of the Chinese cities we visited in 2006 – see also C is for Chengdu. We stayed on the super-modern Pudong side of the river with good views over to the Bund, with its European architecture, and also visited the old Chinese areas and the former home of Zhou Enlai (first Premier of the People’s Republic) in the French Concession. Truly a city of contrasts.