2018 through my eyes
This is the third time I'm writing an end of year review, and it's always nice to have a look back on the places I've been lucky enough to visit.
You can read my end of year review for 2017 here.
You can read my end of year review for 2016 here.
For the first time, I didn't do an extended trip, but instead took a large number of smaller trips to cities in Europe, Asia and North America.
I kicked off the year in Italy, visiting Rome (including a quick stop in the Vatican), Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. I then went to Asia where I returned to Singapore after 5 years. I then experienced a personal highlight exploring Kuala Lumpur and the nearby Batu Caves. It was back to Europe as I visited Vienna, Frankfurt and Zurich in quick succession. I then had a change of pace as I climbed the 'Rock' during my time in Gibraltar. I finally got to visit a city I've wanted to see for a long time when I made the trip to Berlin. As summer turned to autumn I returned to Amsterdam before ending the year with short trips to New York and Edinburgh.
As with the posts the last two years, you can click any of the blue links to read in depth reviews of each location.
I started the year with a trip to the smallest sovereign state in the world, the Vatican.
The Vatican was once the centre of the Papal States, an area encompassing most of central Italy, but Italian unification in the middle of the 19th century limited the territorial extent of the state to a small area around St Peter's Basilica. It's a place I've always wanted to visit and I wasn't let down by what I saw.
Queues can be quite long, and I was waiting for a while to get into St. Peter's Basilica but the view from the dome overlooking Rome was worth the wait. However, the standout moment for me was the Vatican museum. The Church has spent almost two millennia either commissioning or collecting some of the best artwork in the world - the highlight of which is the incredible Sistine Chapel.
You can check out the view from the dome in my detailed review here.
The Vatican is an enclave within the city of Rome which is one of the most important cities in the history of western civilisation.
Describing Rome as a living museum would do a disservice to the modern cosmopolitan city that it has become, however, I've never been anywhere where there is something historically and culturally significant at almost every turn. My favourite part of the city was the area around Via del Coronari made up of small side streets that become almost maze like. This photo was taken at the Chiostro del Bramante, a church off one of these side streets famous for its fresco by Raffael, the Renaissance era artist.
It isn't all history and culture though. I loved the food in Rome. In fact, my favourite pizzeria wasn't in Naples, but in Rome, located in the Trastevere area. You can find out what it was in my detailed review here, or skip to the 5 things I loved about Rome, here.
Pompeii & Herculaneum, Italy
I remember learning about Pompeii at school and immediately being fascinated by the notion of an ancient city, hauntingly preserved due to the effects of a massive volcanic eruption from nearby Vesuvius. It's been something on my to-do list for a long time, and it lived up to expectations.
As you can see in the photo, I was lucky enough to go on a day where the entire site was almost empty. I managed to hit a fairly warm day in the off season, and by going early enough I had the place almost to myself. I originally planned to spend a couple of hours or so checking things out but ended up staying half a day. Words can't do this place justice. It's as beautiful as it is tragic - you can still see plaster models of dead bodies caught in their last moment, sometimes whole families, overcome by the heat or suffocated by the poisonous gasses..
Pompeii has the size, but if you want to get really immersed, Herculaneum is a must-see place - less well known than its sister city, but in my many respects, better preserved. The walls in some of the houses still have coloured frescos.
Did you know they had 'beware of the dog' signs in front of their houses during the Roman period? It was probably the funniest thing I saw and you can see the photo, and the rest of my review of Pompeii here.
I continued south towards Naples and wasn't sure what to expect from a city other than its famous pizza, ice cream and being a little rough around the edges.
However, nothing prepared me for the shock I got when I walked out of the train station into the chaos of the Neapolitan streets - and I was hooked. Naples has a raw, gritty beauty that most major European cities are slowly losing as they become more standardised in an increasingly globalised world. Naples is still different. Naples is....well, still Naples, and not just another global city, a carbon copy of every other.
Here's the thing. I'm not sure it will be like this for much longer. The world is changing, and the proliferation of cheap travel that turns cities into tourist traps (Venice, Barcelona etc.) seems like an unstoppable juggernaught. My advice, go see Naples now - while it's still unique. Before it becomes like everywhere else. While you can still walk down a graffiti covered hill, with a glimpse of chaotic streets below (as in the picture).
Check out my full review of Naples here, or a shorter 5 things I loved about Naples here.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
I definitely hadn't planned on going to the Amalfi Coast when I flew out to Italy, after all, it's a very 'coupley' place, and I was flying solo. However, by the time I reached Naples and realised how close (and cheap) it was to get there, I decided to check it out.
I visited three towns along the coast; Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi. I wasn't a big fan of Sorrento but Positano was a whole different story. The jagged cliffs were filled with houses, bars and restaurants and it looked postcard perfect - the picture above is one of many that captures just a fraction of the beauty. While it might be cheap to get to the Amalfi Coast, it certainly isn't cheap while you're out there - food can be extortionate so bare that in mind.
You can read all about my trip to the Amalfi Coast here including tips for food and hotels.
Return to Singapore
My first trip to Singapore, 5 years ago, left me wanting more, and thanks for my job, I managed to return for a week and see parts of the city state that I hadn't managed to see before.
Chinatown was a particular highlight for me - the sights, smells and sounds combining east and west in an unparalleled way. I met an old friend of mine who took me to the Geylang neighbourhood, a complete antithesis of the Singapore we see on TV. In a city that can sometimes be a little sterile, Geyland added a lot of character.
Singapore is leading the way in terms of building a city that works in balance with nature and there are plenty of examples of urban architecture being developed with the natural world in mind. However, I don't think anything is more visually spectacular than the Gardens by the Bay. The Supertree Grove feels like something out of this world and exotic flora and fauna transports you to a tropical world away from the urban life of the city.
You can read about my first trip to Singapore (including walking the treetops of Supertree Grove) here, my trip in 2018 (including my visits to Chinatown, Little India, Geylang and Arab St) here, and 5 things I loved about Singapore here.
Kuala Lumpur & Batu Caves, Malaysia
Sometimes places live up to expectations, and sometimes they don't. Rarely, you go into a place with little expectation and it turns out to be something incredible. If that happens, it stays with you forever.
I was lucky enough for that to happen to me twice in 2018. Naples was one, and Kuala Lumpur was the other. I loved everything about it. The city has a low cost of living, so food, drink and transport is all relatively cheap but there is so much to do from the urban city, to the incredible Batu Caves which are located a short journey north of KL.
If you've read my blogs before, you'll know that seeing the Petronas Towers in person was a childhood dream come true. I remember reading all about super tall skyscrapers all around the world as a 9 year old. I could tell you the heights of buildings, when they were built and how they ranked against other tall buildings. But growing up in a single parent home in a council estate, these exotic skyscrapers were nothing more than distant dreams for me. Standing in front of the Petronas Towers was one of the most emotional moments of my life.
It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. I got lost and was convinced I was about to get into a fight. You can read all about that here. You can also read about my trip to the Batu Caves here. And if you want something a little shorter, why not check out 5 things I loved about Kuala Lumpur here.
From the manic streets of KL, to the quintessential European city, Vienna is about as far from Kuala Lumpur as you can get culturally.
Everything in Vienna is so uniform, homogenous, almost standardised. And I don't mean that in a bad way. In fact, that's its greatest strength. It creates a city that is almost unmatched in terms of its architectural beauty. My personal favourite part of the trip was a chance to get up close to the Austrian Crown Jewels at the Imperial Treasury. The museum takes you on a trip through Austria's past with jewels and robes belonging to Emperors and even relics such as a fragment of the 'one true cross' or the 'holy lance' that was used to pierce the skin of Jesus.
For almost every rule there is an exception, and in the middle of uniform architecture there is the Hundertwasserhaus, an expressionist building that looks like the by-product of an architect who experimented with one too many hallucinogenics. I wouldn't be surprised - by the beginning of the 20th century, many of Vienna's most famous residents (such as Sigmund Freud) dreamed up their craziest ideas whilst intoxicated on one thing or another.
You can read about some of the places they visited, including the magnificent Central Cafe here, or if you prefer a shorter list - check out 5 things I loved about Vienna here.
Frankfurt was a short detour for me, so it would be tough for me to judge a city on the small amount of time that I spent there. But what I did see was.....meh.
Frankfurt gets a bit of a bad reputation, and while not all of it is deserved, I can kind of see why. Other than Romer, a recent reconstruction of a bygone era, it reminded me of a concrete jungle - not the New York kind, but the 1990s Birmingham kind. There were definitely pockets of beauty, and the vibe and atmosphere at the Mainkai area was very chill, but on the whole it's probably not a city I will rush back to. I hear Christmas is supposed to be pretty magical here though.
You can check out my detailed review of my admittedly short stay, here.
Another city that seems to get a bad reputation is Zurich and this time I think it's entirely unwarranted.
Often called grey, or corporate - I found the city to be beautiful, stimulating with a fair bit to see and do. The views from Grossmunster, a 13th century Church are incredible, with panoramic views over the city and Lake Zurich. The views from Lindenhof Hill, a short walk from Grossmunster aren't too shabby either. However, the highlight for me was a chance to visit the FIFA Football Museum and see the FIFA World Cup trophy. As much as I hate FIFA as an organisation, this museum does everything right and I managed to spend hours making sure I took in every last exhibit.
I also ate raclette for the first time - and I loved it. You can read all the things I loved about Zurich here, and if you want to read a detailed review of time out there, check out the link here.
A little slice of England in the sun.
After a stag do in Marbella, I decided to take an extra few days and make the short trip to Gibraltar via a bus. I've always been curious about this little part of the UK, thousands of miles from the mainland. The main town itself is pretty much the same as any High Street in Britain - a little dated, slightly tacky, but very familiar. However, the 'Rock' is something else. I made the stupid mistake of deciding the climb the hill with dodgy shoes, and not even a bottle of water. It took a fair bit of time but it's definitely rewarding. The views from the top were reminiscent of those from Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.
One memory that sticks out is a bridge connecting two parts of the hill, with a steep drop below. As I reached a third of the way, a gust of breeze started rocking the bridge from side to side. Definitely got my energy levels up after the long climb.
You can read about my full review, including the climb and everything else I saw (including the colony of monkeys) here.
I've been to Amsterdam a few times now - but this was the first time outside of trips with friends or stag parties. A chance to experience the real Amsterdam, and I wasn't let down.
The highlight for me was the poignant and moving Anne Frank house - a permanent reminder to the horrors of war and genocide. For those who don't know, Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl, caught up in the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. Forced into hiding, the young Anne Frank started to keep a journal of her time, noting down her hopes, fears - as well as observations of everyday life in what must have been terrifying circumstances. She was eventually caught, along with her family, and sent to a concentration camp where she died. This museum, built on her hiding place captures - to a small extent - some of the horrors she would have faced. It's beautifully designed and powerful reminder of the outcomes when a group of people are demonised and considered subhuman.
You can read about the rest of my trip - which I promise isn't all as gloomy - at the link here.
Berlin seems to be the fashionable city at the moment, and I can understand why.
The last 150 years of Berlin reads as the last 150 years of Europe. Rise, devastation, and then a slow rise again. I'd describe it as the hipsters city. Very different, relatively cheap (but getting more and more gentrified), without too many mainstream tourist attractions. The wall is one, Brandenburg Gate is another and the Reichstag is a definite third (and my favourite). It manages to converge traditional neb-baroque architecture with a unique modern twist. I mean - look at how futuristic that photo looks!
You can read about all the things that I loved about Berlin here, or if you prefer, you can read a detailed review here.
Return to New York, USA
After spending much of 2017 living and working in New York, I welcomed the chance to go back, see old friends, and tick off a few remaining things.
The big one for me was the only American sport I didn't get to see during my stay in NYC, American Football. I've never been particularly keen on the NFL, I don't understand the rules of American Football but I've got to say, I enjoyed watching the game in the incredible MetLife Stadium in nearby New Jersey. The stadium was huge, the atmosphere wasn't bad, and I found myself really getting into the game toward the end.
I've wrote a tonne of articles on my time in New York, and here's links to a selection of them below:
You can read about my experiences with all American sports here.
You can read about my favourite New York museums here.
If museums aren't your thing, check out my favourite NYC skyscrapers (and where best to view them) here.
If pizza is more your things, I ranked my five favourite NYC pizzerias here.
I experienced historical New York and the July 4th celebrations. The irony of armed rebellion for a nation that prides itself on peaceful protest wasn't lost on me - read my thoughts here.
I found New York to be an incredibly friendly place, and you can read 9 other things I learned about NYC here - or you can read about my very first impressions here.
My last trip of 2018 was to capital of Scotland, and a city I've heard great things about. As with most cities on this list Edinburgh didn't disappoint.
Similar to Vienna in terms of its physical beauty, Edinburgh had the perfect mix of history, culture, opportunities to hike, great views, amazing food - and a friendly vibe. The castle is the city's most famous attraction, and I really enjoyed visiting it. However, I loved exploring the small alleyways jutting out from the Royal Mile. Some of these looked spectacular, especially at dusk when the light was getting low. It felt like I'd gone back 100 years in time. There's just something about not knowing where you're going to come out on the other side that makes it a little magical.
You can read all about my trip, from castle to a fantastic walk up Arthur's Seat here, or if you are short on time, you can read the 5 things I loved about Edinburgh here.
And that's it for another year. Feel free to leave comments below, or tweet/Instagram me using the social icons at the top of the page.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.