2016 through my eyes
Globally its been a strange year. The Syrian Civil War entered into its fourth and bloodiest year, yet in the West we were obsessed with the deaths of celebrities. As spring turned to summer, the UK voted to leave the EU in the biggest political decision of my lifetime. In any other year, that would be the biggest newstory, but 2016 outdid itself in the autumn when the US elected Donald Trump as its leader. President Donald Trump, I still can't say it with a straight face.
I began the year by taking a trip to Madrid with my friend to visit an old flatmate. We stayed in his house (more like an mansion) just outside of the city and he showed us around the city and the trip was topped off with a game at the Bernabeu, a stadium that had been on my 'must see' list for a long time. I then took two trips to Valencia, both stag parties with different groups of friends and completely different experiences. I stayed in the beautiful old town of Valencia during my first stay (in an apartment with the most incredible view), and stayed in a more modern part of the city near the beach a few weeks later. Sandwiched in the middle of my trips was another stag party with yet another group of friends, this time to Prague.
I took an extended trip to South America, travelling along the Pacific Coast all the way across to the Atlantic. I began in Peru where I visited a number of cities and did a 3 day climb to Machu Picchu. After a run in with the police, I went to the salt flats in Bolivia via La Paz, followed by an almost 18 hour bus journey to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. After visiting a friend in Santiago I finished my trip with almost a week in Rio.
After this I attended a summer school in Spain at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and ended the year with a Christmas trip to Paris to catch up with some friends. The year saw me visit 2 of the 7 Wonders of the World. Not bad considering I hadnt been abroad till my early twenties when I could finally afford to pay for holidays. Here are a collection of my favourite pictures I took this year (click on any of the blue links to read my in depth posts on each location)..
Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain
After watching a Barcelona game in the Nou Camp in 2014 and then watching Aston Villa in the final of the FA Cup in 2015 at Wembley, my visit to the Bernabeu to watch Real Madrid meant I had watched a game in 3 of the 5 largest stadiums in Europe. It was a largely one sided game but the stadium and the atmosphere was amazing. It didnt quite have the visual impact that the Nou Camp had, but it remains one of the most incredible stadiums I have been to.
Old Town, Valencia
My first of two trips to Valencia this year was centered on the old town. I found the entire area fascinating, with buildings as old as any city you will find in Europe. However, my favourite part was the view from my apartment balcony, a panoramic view of the entire quarter.
Las Fallas, Valencia
My visit to Valencia coincided with the festival of Las Fallas, an annual event that runs for 5 days and 5 nights. Everywhere I went there were people dressed up, brass bands and the loudest fireworks I have ever experienced in my life. It was one large, continuous street party.
15k Nocturna night race, Valencia, Spain
Another annual event, I didn't realise there was a mini marathon going on until I saw a large crowd, next thing I know people are doing laps of the city. It was the strangest thing as it was so unexpected.
Prague, Czech Republic
About as European as a city gets, the architecture of Prague was gorgeous, but it was another stag party that brought me to the capital of European stag parties. The tram system in the city was one of my favourite things, making Prague look almost picture perfect.
Powder Gate, Prague, Czech Republic
The 15th century Gothic Powder Gate was originally a decorative entrance to the city before it became a gunpowder store in the 17th century and its how it got its modern name.
Tyn Church, Prague, Czech Republic
This is one of the reasons Prague is known as the city of a thousand spires, the spires from Tyn Church extend 80 metres into the sky. Located in the old town square my two favourite buildings from this area were either the Tyn Church or the similarly aged astronomical clock just across the square.
Miraflores, Lima, Peru
The Pacific coast was my first stop in South America, and the views from the Miraflores area of the Peruvian capital, Lima, were incredible. The entire area is susceptible to earthquakes and landslides and so the entire cliff edge was covered in a man made steel mesh to stop loose rocks from falling down.
Sacred Valley, Urubamba, Peru
Starting in Cusco and going to Ollantaytambo, I passed some of the best natural landscapes I have seen. At times I felt I was on a completely different planet and the mountainous terrain gave way to some breathtaking views across the traditional Inca heartlands.
The town of Ollantaytambo is almost exclusivey geared towards hiking and its not hard to see why. Surrounded by mountains, I'm not sure I've seen a more beautiful town. My favourite part of this picture is the imposing structure of the mountain over this small, quiet town.
Other than one main road, most of the roads in the town were rough and bumpy with narrow streets, only the smallest and most agile vehicles could get from one side to the other, perfect for little tuk tuks.
No matter where I was in town, there was always a view of the mountains that look like they close the town off from the outside world. This was taken from outside the room where I was staying.
Quarry Trail, Peru
I decided to take the Quarry Trail hike to Machu Picchu as it was quieter, more off road and went higher than the Inca Trek. Highlights included a waterfall, Mount Veronica, the Sun Gate and the Perolniyoc look out point. The latter was a spectacular view over the Sacred Valley.
Quarry Trail, Machu Picchu
We built our camps high atop the mountains and that led to some problems I didnt anticipate. Firstly with no lights we had to take torches everywhere, secondly, the altitude sickness felt like constant motion sickness and finally the cold. I was told to wrap up warm, but I couldnt have ever imagined how cold it got at night, I accidently touched the side of my tent one night and it was like touching a block of ice.. With that being said, the good definitely outweighed the bad, the morning sunrises and the density and brightness of the stars at night are memories that will stay with me forever.
Quarry Trail, Machu Picchu
During our descent, there were desolate, rolling green hills cut only by the white topped peak of Mount Veronica, so it was a massive surprise to turn the corner and see a large bull, just chilling on the cliff edge. I wont lie, I was convinced I was hallucinating, thought the coca leaves had got to me.
Sun Gate, Quarry Trail, Machu Picchu
Talking about surreal, the descent had a couple more surprises, one of which was the ancient Incan Sun Gate, standing on its own, on the edge of the mountain. It felt like something from Stargate SG1, it seemed otherwordly when you saw it from a distance, and only got more odd close up.
Mount Veronica, Peru
One of the highlights of the Quarry Trail is seeing the snow capped peaks of Mount Veronica, and I was lucky enough to get a clear view on my trip. The Incans worshipped the mountains and all their tombs in the local vicinity were built facing the mountain.
Quarry Trail, Peru
The final surprise on the descent was getting a new companian. I woke up to the sound of panting outside my tent and opened the zip to find a stray dog. The dog followed the descent for about 4 hours and I was beginning to get attached to it before it disappeared almost as quickly as it joined me.
Machu Picchu, Peru
You know when you go to a restaurant, order some food and it looks nothing like the photo's on the menu? Machu Picchu looked like all the photo's I had seen and so much more. One of the last holdouts of the Inca against increasing Spanish incursions, the well preserved historical site gives an insight into the way the Inca lived.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
After a short stop in La Paz (via a Peruvian police station!), I came to the salt plains of Uyuni. The first thing our tour guide told us was to make sure we had sunglasses and as soon as we hit the salt flats we understood why. The sun reflected off the brilliant white surface of salt to create a near blinding glare. It also led to an alien looking landscape with a dry air.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The Salar hosted a leg of the famous Dakar rally, and the monument to the rally stood out in an otherwise incredibly flat area. The only part of the salt flats that stood out in homogenous scenery was the Dakar rally monument, the flags of different nations and the Incahuasi island in the middle of the salt flats.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The flat terrain, coupled with the white surface of the salt means that the Salar is the perfect place to take pictures that alter the viewers perspective. The guide brought along a few propers (including a dinosaur) and would put us in various positions and out came some pretty cool and pretty surreal photo's.
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Said to be the loneliest and driest place on Earth, going past small towns on my way to the Atacama desert made me wonder about the lives of the people who lived in this unforgiving climate, what their day to day must be like and what their social lives must consist of. The bus that I was on stopped in this small town by the Bolivian and Chilean border and it looked like something out of the 1950's.
Costanera, Santiago, Chile
I met a friend out in Santiago who showed me around the Chilean capital. One of my favourite views was from the Gran Torre, the largest skyscraper in Latin America. Stylistically not too dissimilar from the Shard, the Gran Torre looked over the city of Santiago and Andes in the distance. Coinciding with the sunset, the city had a golden glow over it.
Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile
Its the second highest hill in the city and affords a great panoramic view of the Santiago. Unlike the Gran Torre, there is no glass between you and Santiago which gives it a much more intimate feel. The hill itself is used by runners and cyclists as an exercise point and just the atmosphere of the place was nice to be around.
Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If there was on spot I could have stood for hours at, this was it. Watching planes fly directly past you as they headed to land in Rio's airport just feels weird. You can see each of the windows in the planes they get so close. The first time I saw it, I couldnt believe just how close they were. I would recommend this to anyone who gets a chance to go to Rio.
Christ the Redeemer, Mount Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
No trip to Rio would be complete without visiting one of the Wonders of the World. Cristo Redentor is a relatively modern Wonder, but still one of the most impressive. Standing at over 30m tall, the statue is one of the most recognisable in the world and I stood in awe facing it, taken aback by the sheer size. I mean I knew it was big, but standing in front it makes you realise just how big it really is. Cristo Redentor has a small chapel at its base where services are still carried out and there are also the usual market stalls on its perimeter.
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I stayed at the Copacabana, and there is no doubt that beach is larger, more lively and there is much more to do. However, I liked the scenery of the Ipanema beach a little more. What's more, there was something a bit more stylish and upmarket around this particular beach when compared to the Copacabana, even though its only a short walk away.
Rocinha Favela, Rio de Janeiro
I saw some beautiful parts of Rio; the cathedral, the university, Lapa, the Atlantic coast, but nothing was more enriching than a visit to the largest Favela in the Americas. Rocinha has over 70,000 inhabitants and is a city within a city. The lifestyle of this part of Rio is completely different from other parts of the city and it looked like something straight from the film the City of God. Nevertheless I found the people very friendly (even with the sound of guns going off in the background) and I would recommend a visit.
Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona, Spain
I attended a summer school at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and the campus was right next to one of the largest parks in Barcelona. The fountain is over 100 years old and is a fairly imposing sight. You can walk right underneath the Cascada and get close to the statues and sculptures. It's certainly one of the most impressive fountains I have seen.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
I could have put any one of 10-15 pictures up that showcase the beauty of the inside of Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece. I quite like the sun shining through the stained glass windows on this one, but believe me, this is one church that you have to see to believe, no description does it justice.
Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Spain
Skyscrapers are cool. They're especially cool when you dont expect them. Riding on my cycle around the quiet streets of the city, I turn a corner and see this infront of me. The bright blue and red of the Torre Agbar against a quiet residential area. The dichotomy between the two is captured in this photo, making it one of my favourites of the year.
Bunkers, El Carmel, Barcelona, Spain
Peru had the perfect views of the natural world. Bunkers had the perfect views of the man made world. The climb to Bunkers is steep and the surrounding area is pretty run down, but its all worth it to see this incredible view of the city. You can see all the main landmarks; the port, Sagrada Familia and the Torre Agbar.
Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
It's been a tough couple of years for Paris, but this photo caught the incredible energy of the city. The Arc, commissioned by Napoleon, stands at just over 50m tall, enough to give you great panoramic views of the city. La Defense, Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower are all visible, and the above photo shows the Champs-Elysees all the way to Place de la Concorde which was hosting the Christmas Market.
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
It seemed like everywhere I went in Paris, there was a Christmas market. This one was right infront of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, heavy fog and pollution meant that only two thirds of the Tower was visible, but it was enough to give me a sense of scale, it was much taller than I expected, largely because the rest of the city is built to strict height regulations.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
There has been a cathedral at this spot for over 1000 years, from an early Norman Church, to the large Gothic cathedral that stands there today. As impressive as it is from the outside, its nothing compared to the beauty within. Tall arches and intricate stained glass windows in a dimly lit hall almost transported me back to another age.
St Pauls Cathedral, London
After almost three years in London, I have done most of the 'touristy' things, however, it wasnt until 2016 that I finally managed to go inside St Pauls Cathedral. In contrast to Notre Dame, St Pauls was very well lit and unlike the Gothic exterior of its French counterpart, St Pauls is built in a Baroque style making a direct comparison difficult. What I will say is that its infinitely harder to take a photo in St Pauls.
Canary Wharf, London
Ever since I moved to London, I have stayed in one apartment, and it has an amazing view. Everynight I went to sleep looking at the lights of Canary Wharf and the River Thames and every morning I'd be greeted to the same lights turning off one by one. I'll miss the view, but I'm sure 2017 will bring along new sights to wake up to.
What are your favourite pictures from 2016? As always leave comments below or tweet me @travellingsingh or see some more pictures on my instagram account @thetravellingsingh.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.