2019 through my eyes
It's the end of another year, and just as I have done before, it's time for another end of year review looking back at all the trips I've taken over the past 12 months.
You can read my end of year review for 2018 here.
You can read my end of year review for 2017 here.
You can read my end of year review for 2016 here.
I took the least amount of time outside the country since starting this blog in 2015. I began the year with a short trip to Lisbon for a friends' stag do. My next trip was a return to Paris after 2 years (and I ended up going twice this year). My longest trip of the year took me to Seoul, and then a personal highlight when I finally managed to go to Hong Kong, a city I've wanted to see for years. I had another stag do in a random place as I crossed the Irish Sea to Belfast, before a short trip to Brussels (and that second visit to Paris) ended my year.
As always, you can click any of the blue links to read in depth reviews of each location.
I started the year with a stag do in Lisbon with a group of friends, and I loved my time there.
It's a city of great contrast; the beautiful older areas of Alfama and Bairro Alto, mixed with some horrible Brutalist architecture in the business district. Bairro Alto in particular was an area I really liked. There's something about narrow cobbled streets, and tightly packed buildings that I've always really liked. What makes Bairro Alto particularly special is that this old town transforms into a bustling party area in the evening, with people spilling out onto the streets - the quiet picturesque area transformed into a hive of energy.
My other big highlight was watching a Sporting Lisbon game at the incredible Jose Alvalade Stadium. Portuguese teams are well known for producing some of the best talent in the world, and Sporting Lisbon are one of Portugal's "big three" teams.
You can read my detailed review of Lisbon here, and the 5 things I loved about Lisbon here.
I made two trips to Paris this year, although I only wrote about the first trip - mainly because my most recent trip included things that I've already written about over the past for few years during my trips to Paris.
There was one thing I hadn't done before that I really wanted to do and that was to check out the view from Montparnasse Tower. At €15 tickets aren't cheap, but the view from the top is incredible. Paris has strict building regulations, with most buildings in the city centre (with the exception of the Eiffel Tower, and even that was contentious) built to a uniform height. This means that when you get slightly outside the core of the city centre and find a tall building, the views extend for miles.
You can read about my trips to Paris here and here, and the 5 things I loved about Paris here.
Seoul, South Korea
Every year I come across a city that surprises me - last year I had little expectations before going to both Kuala Lumpur and Naples and ended up absolutely loving them. This year it was Seoul.
When I booked a last minute flight on short notice, I had no idea what to expect, but I left with a deep appreciation for a very unique city. A city that had all the things I love about far eastern cities, but the comforts and conveniences of a western European city. I visited three of the five Grand Palaces, and Gyeongbokgung was probably my favourite. It's spread over a large area, and because visitors wearing the traditional Korean Hanbok clothing get free entry, it really did feel like I was being transported into another age.
The city is more than just historical palaces, the food is great, the markets incredible and I loved an evening watching baseball - an experience completely different to the one I had watching the Yankees in New York.
You can read my detailed notes about Seoul here, and you can read 5 things I loved about Seoul here.
Hong Kong, China
I described Hong Kong like New York on crack...if that crack was on meth....and that meth was on steroids.
Honestly, an assault on the senses is an understatement. It's the only city in the world where I got exhausted without taking a single step. I managed to pack a lot into my time, from visiting the Tian Tan Big Buddha, to seeing the "secret view" from Victoria Peak, sailing across Victoria Harbour, checking out the incredible night markets in Kowloon, experiencing the nightlife at La Kwai Fong and visiting the Walled City Park (and so much more).
It lived up to the high expectations I had of it but it's a shame that in the months since my visit the territory has become an almost war zone of constant protest and counter protest regarding sovereignty.
Even with the difficult political situation, this is one city that I will definitely be returning to, and it's one of the few places in the world that I've visited where I would happily live for a short while.
You can read my detailed notes about Hong Kong here, and the 5 things I loved about Hong Kong here.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
What a strange place!
Not sure what else to say. Let's be honest, most cities are divided between the rich and the working class, but it's all hush hush and hidden - no one really likes to talk about it. Well Belfast is smack-you-in-the-face type of segregated, there is no effort to hide it.
On one side you have the loyalists/unionists who constitute the majority of the population. They are mainly Protestant and are descended from British settlers and have an affinity to the crown. These are the "haves'. Then you have the nationalists/republicans who constitute the minority of the population. They are mainly Catholic and have an affinity to the Republic of Ireland. They are the "have-nots".
How divided is this city? I visited during the marching season and there's an actual wall that separates the two communities. It's insane this happens in 2019, and crazier still that it's in the UK. Honestly, you want to see the outcomes of division, then this is the city to visit.
That being said, there were large parts that I liked about this city. I thought Crumlin Road Gaol was well worth the visit, and the nightlife around the Cathedral Quarter is very fun, And while divisive, the murals on Shankill Road and Falls Road tell important stories.
You can read about my trip to Belfast here, and the 5 things I loved about Belfast here.
And that brings us onto the final city for the year, Brussels.
This was probably my least favourite city of the year. It didn't have the vivid imagery of Belfast, the laidback beauty of Lisbon, the high octane energy of Hong Kong, the history of Paris or the surprises of Seoul. It was just...okay. I mean, I didn't hate it, and it certainly felt safe to travel to as a Sikh - but it just wasn't very memorable.
Well, other than the Grand Place. And this is why reviewing Brussels is so difficult. I can't recommend visiting the city, but not seeing the Grand Place once in your life would be a shame. The square is the most visually stunning square I've ever been too. The Town Hall with it's incredible Gothic architecture would make a top 10 list of best buildings I've seen.
It may not be the most fashionable city, but you can read about my trip to Brussels here, and 5 things I loved about Brussels here.
That brings another year to a close. Pretty much every city on this list felt completely safe to travel as a Sikh, and for the first time since starting this blog, I didn't have any significant issues at airports. This is obviously good news and I'm hoping the result of increased education and training on the part of airport staff around the world. That being said, while airports might feel a little better, there's no doubt that society at large is becoming more divided, particularly in the west, and inevitably Sikhs due to our appearance are likely to feel the brunt of this.
But this year has also raised questions about my travelling. I've always wanted to see the world, both as a way of broadening my experiences but also showing the world who Sikhs are. However, the impact of frequent flying on the environment is something we can't hide from, and something that doesn't sit well with me. It's a question I hope to explore at some point during this year.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.