New Year, New Travel – what will 2018 have in store?

Yeah yeah, typical, writing this thing about travel plans when half the year is almost over. And I have no excuse.

Does this happen to you, when your plans, great and totally practicable in January, become a bit woozy in February, then change again later, only to fall apart and become forgotten halfway through the year?

Travel Plans for 2018

I thought I was doing great. I started a new job at the beginning of January where I get 35 days annual leave and work 35 hours a week. Perfect, considering I worked about 60-80 hours per week before. However, I soon missed the hospital just a bit and started working part-time in the hospital again, and I picked up studying and some voluntary research work.  Oh, well! We’re back at 60-80 hours, but at least I can do the extra hours to a schedule that suits me. Still, 35 days annual leave! That is very generous for Europe, when you’re an full-time employee.

The good news is: I have had a pretty bloody good trip already this year. It doesn’t matter that the original plan was to travel from Kashgar to Xi’an in Western China, got changed to vague plans to travel the Silk Route in Uzbekistan, then turned into an Istanbul-Edirne-remote bits of Northeastern Anatolia-Ani-Batumi- and maybe Kutaisi, and hey, why not Lake Van-too itinerary (which would be completely un-do-able in two weeks? So, checking the flights situation, and my boyfriends’ general reservation about travelling to Turkey, and swiftly turned the grandiose Silk-Road-travel plans into a neat two-week trip to Armenia and Georgia.

Zvartnots Cathedral Armenia
Spring time in Echmiadzin (basically, Greater Yerevan, Yerevan is an excellent base for trips)

What’s with that Silk Road fascination?

Still leaves a rather large bit of the Silk Road. Perhaps it will be okay if I stop watching Silk Road documentaries on Arte. The one with very good-looking Adventurer Alfred is the most entertaining one. I really wonder how he got away with tasting everything without ever buying, though. The Swiss one with Peter Gysling has more historical and political interest, presented by Gysling like a benevolent slightly patronising  grammar school teacher.

The German Seidenstrasse2.0 is low on pretty travel content but focuses on economy but hey, lets watch it anyway. We stopped watching the Mario Casella  one after one hour of crossing remote Afghan mountain passes on skis – we like off the beaten path travel, but not when cold and potential vertigo come into the equation.

So, Silk Road is still high on the wish list. Is there any place that you’ve been and that you would recommend for travelling independently?

Most feasible, in the next year or two, would probably a not-so-far Europe trip via a cheap flight to Istanbul, trip to Edirne, then on to the Greek Island of Samothraki  via Alexandropouli, and flying back from Thessaloniki  to visit its  amazing  Byzantine Churches once again.

Beautiful views from the White Tower of Thessaloniki - an underrated but wonderful base in Northern Greece
Thessaloniki: sea, culture, great food, Byzantine churches…what’s not to love?

Alternatively, Tashkent in Uzbekistan is pretty well connected via either Frankfurt or Moscow from Central Europe, and you get a good deal on flights. And although it involves a bit of overland travel, it is straightforward to travel on to Bukhara  and Samarkand.  It seems straightforward to get a visa – at least as a EU citizen. And I love their textiles.

Some countries are more difficult than others

So far, so good. But there is Iran as well. I would love to visit but getting a visa seems a bit… difficult. What if you’ve been to Israel? I get conflicting messages about this, but surely the trip would end at the Consulate in Berlin if Iran is no go with a history of a visit to Israel. But Iran is  a biggie, I would think at least two week to do justice to this large country full of cultural heritage. Also, my partner has to travel to the US regularly for work. He was already interviewed by the police in Newark International for daring to travel with his new passport as a new German citizen. Surely if they pick up on this, they pick up on Iran?

If you have travelled to Iran, whether with a group or independently, I would love to hear from you!

Okay, lets start again. Start small.

Upcoming Trips

I’ve actually booked flights to spend a weekend in Florence in July to meet up with a friend.

Travel Plans
Tuscany: Not a road trip this time. This picture is from 2005, and we hired a more sensible modern French car

Then, and this has been on the list for two long, I’ve wanted to travel to Lower Silesia to go find some of my roots in a small village near Trzebnica. My great-uncle has already been and said not much was left of the family home, so time to go before all traces disappear. And while I’m there, why not check out the Black Madonna of Czestochowa as well? I know this is an obscure one unless you’re Catholic. But perhaps, if you’ve been, is it worth a visit?

One thing that is almost certain is a family reunion later this year. The majority of the family (not me) chose Vienna. Vienna is lovely. But given my rediscovered passion for beton brut and faded Soviet style, Vilnius would have been top choice. Maybe you have some tips for Vienna to see some crazy concrete architecture? Or some other cool things? We’ll undoubtedly get to see the major sights, and I have been to the Secession and the Prater back when I sat my exams in winter 2014.  Otherwise, I’ll just sit in a cafe and eat the Sachertorte and do whatever the in-laws please.

Pilgrim Routes are great, by the way. Hello, we live a stone’s throw near a St James Route, and thinking of that, I dream of cycling that one day. Not walk, it would kill me. But I thought of starting in my beloved Toulouse, then cross the Pyrenees somehow, and then cycle all the way to Santiago de Compostela?

Stop stop stop. Way tooo grand already. Thirty-five days, remember, and at least ten are needed to, god willing, renovate and move house.

And then… I have seen far too little of the West Bank. I was too chicken and ran out of time to visit Hebron and some other historical places that night be there (there is little information on places outside Bethlehem)  I haven’t been to the Dead Sea, and I would love to travel in Jordan. Petra is obviously high on the wish list, but there are some ancient monasteries and undoubtedly other great places to see as well besides Petra.

Travel Plans
Large Banksy mural on the side of a garage, courtesy of my taxi driver. This is as far as I dared to venture into the West Bank

Utilize Budget airline routes to somewhat unusual places

But hey – Wizzair now flies all sorts of previously far-off the way places now, and my old friends Air Baltic fly to Odessa… I see a Chisinau-Tiraspol-Odessa itinerary becoming possible with whatever is left of the annual leave. But damn, are these flights expensive already.

Oh, wait! A search on my to-go website for really cheap flights to obscure airports revealed flights to Bucharest for 39 EURO return. I can take the train to Chisinau, what’s roughly 500km when you can go in a time warp Soviet sleeper train? So, for the price equivalent of a meal in an average restaurant here, I just bought the tickets on a whim. If I don’t fancy a whistle-stop tour of three Eastern European countries, Bucharest will be an excellent place to start a more leisurely tour of the Black Sea Romania and Bulgaria. I’ve visited both countries before, ca. 1985, so they won’t exactly be new countries, but they will be very different now, especially Romania, which I do not remember so well (potholes, streets ending abruptly in Bucharest, we took all our provisions in the car because you could not really buy much food, and drove through Romania as quickly as we could). According to World Bank,  Romania received roughly 10 million foreign tourists in 2016, Bulgaria about 8 million, and Moldova 120.000, so it’s not gonna be crowded. And from Bucharest… even Edirne would be do-able via a Scenic Black Sea route… I’d have to figure out transport, and I don’t fancy staying at a large resort, so that one would require a bit of planning.

Why so cheap? God willing, I will be completely skint in September. And yes, for once, that’s a good thing. So, back out comes the old backpack I bought for £2.50 at a car boot sale, makes an excellent disguise for the rather pricey camera gear, a couple hundred EURO, and hopefully some nice private accommodation like the great places we had in Armenia and Georgia.

What about the Far East?

Last not least… my favourite ever destination, Japan, has not sen a visit for ten years. Who cares if I’ve visited three times already? Two visits were short trips, and I have a long list of places I wish to visit.  Second after that, Thailand. The last trip (Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Isan and Hua Hin, a perfect balance of touristy and off the beaten track) is four years back already.

Travel Plans
Khmer era ruins in Isan: I didn’t get up at 5am. There are really no crowds.

Okay, I think that’s it. Travel plans pretty sewn up with possibly room for a few very spontaneous decisions. I’ll keep working on a way to travel extensively while working in a full time job. If you have any ideas (no, please don’t say sabbatical –  a very nice idea in theory, but my employer will not take kindly to that – two weeks apiece, that’s the maximum).

So far, so good, 2018…. live long and wander.

Travel Plans pin

 

 

 

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