Yes, now it’s time to take a few select pickings from my adventure October to December 2019 (you know the one, I write about it a LOT!) and declare them the ‘highlights’ of the trip. Yes I did CRAM an awful lot into seven weeks, and as I look back on it, I am able to see many things as ‘highlights’, but today I want to narrow it down to five. So – here goes!
- Hiking the ‘Seven Lakes’ in Tajikistan
Tajikistan is undoubtedly a beautiful and quite undiscovered country filled with natural beauty to burn. I got to see some of it, in the north-west of the country, and it’s fair to say that it’s combination of mountains and lakes provides a stunning backdrop to any hike. The seven lakes are a short 4WD journey from Panjakant, a town around 30 kilometres from the Uzbek border. I had a guide and stayed at a ‘homestay’, I had my own room with my own fire to keep me warm.
Now, in some ways I might argue this was a ‘lowlight’ of the trip on the basis that my fitness did not come close to standing up to hiking up a mountain. The Seven Lakes are a series of seven (for true) lakes (you probably didn’t see that coming!) that feed off each other, connected by a fast flowing series of rivers, partially underground at points.
We stayed overnight near the fourth lake, the bottom-most lake being considered lake number one (although I contest that the numbering should have started from the top as that’s ‘source’ lake) which we passed along with lakes two and three on drive to lake four. The hike took seven and a half hours, should have taken much less time but hey – I was damned slow! – and a total of 23 kms including both the uphill and downhill journeys. Little villages dotted the path, people dug into the side of the mountain for coal, and the rivers, cedar trees and lakes were stunningly beautiful. The weather was very cold – I don’t think it ever rose to zero, staying firmly in the minus territory the whole day, but the sky was a clear blue and somehow, I did it. It was the furthest I’ve walked in a single days for many years, and half of that was uphill. I had frostbite at the end of it and a smegload of photos. I was and am very glad to say that I did it!
- Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan
You know, this is one of the places I REALLY wanted to go on the trip. And although in itself it’s probably not as amazing as I had expected – I think in the back of my mind I imagined it was completely full of fire, but the reality is a bunch of small fires in a crater much bigger than I imagined – just arriving somewhere like this in such a remote location and staying in a yurt, it was certainly worthwhile.
There was something about travel in Turkmenistan, on a tour for one, we would sometimes get somewhere and it would be like ‘okay, well, here it is’ and Dervaza was a bit like that. I spent a lot of time fiddling around with my camera’s settings in taking photos. There was a small crowd of people there. To get there we went off road across dunes and the 4WD kept slipping out of gear or something and at times it felt like we mightn’t even make it, and then you go over a dune and there in the middle of nowhere (seriously, look at a map) is this crater with reddish light coming out of it. Well, to me at least, it was very cool.
- Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Like the Darvaza Crater, the Sagrada Familia was simply something that I had to see, a single place that Barcelona a city to visit. And really, it’s an incredible structure which they have been working on now for well over a hundred years and it still isn’t finished! They hope to complete it by 2026.
I saw my fair share of churches on this trip, but let me say simply that there is no church in the world like the Sagrada Familia, as far as I am concerned it is Gaudi’s finest work. It’s original, it’s filled with light and colour, the towers are scary and amazing, it transcends anything the visitor imagines a church might be and takes it to a level imagined. It is way bigger than you think it is, and the next thing to do is to get the earliest possible entry – entries are timed – and go in as they open because give it 30 minutes and the place is pretty packed. But for the first fifteen minutes I got to wander around – albeit with the annoying audio guide – and take in this awe-inspiring building with relative space. There is no doubt it lived up to expectations!
- Opera in Minsk, Belarus
The whole city of Minsk was itself a highlight. I’d taken the opportunity to go there because Australians (and others from many other countries) had visa restrictions lifted and could visit for five days visa-free (I believe it’s now 30 days) and I thought ‘why not?’ I found the place to be incredibly charming.
It’s a spread out city in many ways, quite flat, with lots of parks and despite the chilling sub-zero temperatures, it was actually nice to walk around. And the best of all was going to the opera at the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera Theatre, a great venue, nine rows from the front at a cost of around $15 AUD, and a great quality cast doing Tchaikovsky’s ‘Iolanta’, not a great story, but a great night out with great performances. And despite the chilling wind, the locals turned out in their droves!
To take in a performance when you’re visiting a place always adds something to your stay and I thoroughly recommend it if you can. It makes a great change from stomping from one tourist attraction to the next!
- Seville, Spain
The whole city of Seville is just a pleasure and a real gem in this part of Europe. It’s cobbled streets and alleyways lead from one square to another, and I think it would make the perfect city for exploring without a map at all or any preconceptions.
There are a number of tourist highlights in Seville, the Toros de (the Bullring), the Cathedral with its tower and of course the Alcazar Palace are just brilliant. The last two may be at the top of the visitor’s ‘to do’ list, but that is because they are completely worth it. The cathedral is the resting place of Christopher Columbus too, so there is some historical significance to it. And some of the rooms you have access to with your ticket are pretty impressive.
And then you have the imposing, garish yet breathtaking Plaza de Espanya. It’s big, in a beautiful park, is great for photos, and you can gave a boat or horse ride and when we were there there were people giving Flamenco performances. And that’s just of the tip of the Seville Iceberg!
And now I’m home. Have you ever been to any of these places? What were YOUR travel highlights of 2019? Please do let me know – by commenting below! May the Journey Never End!