After two years of living in a pandemic, 2022 is when the world slowly started to re-open. It also meant that after a travel free 2021, my 7th edition of a yearly review has some interesting places.
My end of year review for 2021 is here
My end of year review for 2020 is here
My end of year review for 2019 is here
My end of year review for 2018 is here
My end of year review for 2017 is here
My end of year review for 2016 is here
My first trip after the re-opening was to France, focusing on Brittany and Normandy. I continued my European adventure with another trip to Amsterdam, followed by my second trip to Rome. In Italy, I also visited Florence, Pisa, and Parma. I hopped across the Irish sea to Dublin before I moved to Washington DC. While on the East Coast, I made a trip to New York, 6 years after living there, before switching to the West Coast and visiting San Francisco for the second time. I went back to South-East Asia when I finally visited Lao, stopping off in Vientiane, and then in Luang Prabang. A third trip to Bangkok followed, before a first ever visit to Kuwait. I finally made it to Greece with a visit to Athens, before I went back to the Middle East for my second visit to Dubai and ended the year in Mauritius. Yep, it has been a busy one, and I still don't know how this council estate boy has managed to grow up visiting so many places - but I am grateful.
As always, you can click any of the blue links to read in depth reviews of each location
This year, my big change when travelling is to always seek out and write about local Gurdwaras. In the past, I perhaps haven't spent as much time as I should visiting local Gurdwaras, but what started as a curiosity has turned into a genuine passion.
Most Gurdwaras around the world are influenced by Sikh architecture that hasn't changed much since the mid-19th century, but I always enjoy the twists that communities add so that Gurdwaras reflect their local community and country. At times, some Gurdwaras are completely different, reflecting either the past use of a repurposed building, or a new vision inspired by their new countries.
In 2022, most of the Gurdwaras that I visited were in Europe and the UK, and my lists reflect my travel itineraries. In the future, I hope to have broader lists based on travels in North America, and the rest of the world.
All Gurdwaras are beautiful as they are the home to our eternal Shabad Guru, and these homes should reflect the humility espoused by Guru Nanak. But this is rarely the case, and I have mixed feelings about this. Often, I think the money could be better spent on community projects, but with the growth of Sikh community projects, particularly in the UK, I am beginning to understand more the desire of our elders to build beautiful Gurdwaras.
From an aesthetic perspective, visiting Gravesend Gurdwara is a memory that will stay with me for a long time, but seeing a Gurdwara in the Italian countryside on the outskirts of Parma was pretty special too.
You can read my list on 5 Gurdwaras in the Midlands here
You can read about 5 more Midlands Gurdwaras here
You can read about Gurdwaras in London and the South-East here
You can read about Gurdwaras in Europe here
Staying close to home
I kept my first overseas trip as close to the UK as I could - mostly because it was relatively cheap and if any lockdowns happened I'd keep any losses to a minimum.
I'd visited Brittany fairly recently but on this occasion I spent a little more time discovering small towns and villages throughout the region. I had written about Ploumanac'h and Perros-Guirec, so on this trip I spent more time in places like Rennes, Laval, Lannion, Dinan, and Treguier. Of those, Dinan is the one that really sticks out with the views from La Tour De l'Horlage absolutely incredible. The historical centre of Rennes was also beautiful, the half-timber framed buildings around Rue de Chapitre were particularly magical.
It was my first trip to Normandy since a school trip back in year 8, and I'd barely paid attention to the world around me then. Going back, I was able to appreciate things very differently, for example actually appreciating the historical importance of the Bayeux Tapestry. I thought Mont St. Michel was very nice, albeit completely packed full of people - so full you could barely see the actual architecture. For me, the standout landmark was the cathedral of Rouen, an imposing Gothic structure that will leave you breathless when you first see it.
While Brittany and Normandy hug the UK's south coast, on the south-east is the Netherlands, and my fourth trip to Amsterdam. It's a fun city and I always enjoy walking through the narrow streets and along the many canals. My goal this year was to visit a Gurdwara, and I ended up seeing two, the city centre Maan Sarovar Sahib, and the slightly further out Guru Nanak Gurdwara. While the latter was larger, I found Gurdwara Maan Sarovar Sahib particularly interesting as it was housed in a traditional style Amsterdam townhouse.
Finally, on the UK's western coast is Ireland, and Dublin. It's been a strange omission on my travels, and I was very happy to finally visit it. While it's a relatively small city, there's still a lot to see and do. I thought the Little Museum of Dublin was a great tourist attraction, and one of the more fun interactive museums that I have visited, and I also took the time to visit Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar.
You can read about my trip to Brittany here
You can read about my trip to Normandy here
You can read about my trip to Amsterdam here
You can read about my trip to Dublin here
I ventured a little further into southern Europe visiting both Italy and Greece.
My second trip to Rome was a fairly relaxed one. Having done a lot of the main tourist landmarks during my first visit, I spent this second trip relaxing and enjoying the city more. In particular, I spent the time in Trastevere, one of my favourite parts of Rome. Outdoor dining and a culture of sitting outside and enjoying the company of others transforms Trastevere from a relatively quiet but architecturally beautiful part of the city during the day to an incredibly lively and busy part of the city at night, and every corner of the neighbourhood seems to have something interesting happening.
I spent a fair bit of time in Florence, and the city is an absolute masterpiece. While there is a lot that I will remember, Florence Cathedral stands out in my mind as one of my favourite memories. The intricate facade featuring red, green and white marble gives a visual unlike anything else I've seen in my life and I spent a lot of time staring at it - from the Plaza del Duomo right outside it, from the roof of the dome, from the large Giotto's Campanile opposite the dome, from the View on Art rooftop bar, or even from Piazza Michelangelo which is slightly outside the main historical core. The only thing that was slightly annoying was the unbelievably loud American tourists which dominate this city - almost all quite well-off young white women - many of which seem to have main character syndrome.
I actually preferred Parma, a city to the north of Florence that is more laid back, but no less beautiful. The cathedral at Parma, with its painted walls, columns and ceilings is uniquely aesthetic, both inside and out. The city is also home to two Gurdwaras, a smaller one closer to the city that was being refurbished called Gurdwara Singh Sabha, and the spectacular Darbar Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, a large Gurdwara that was about a 25 minute cycle from the city centre.
I was less enamoured with Pisa. While the leaning tower certainly leans and is a landmark worth seeing - and experiencing - the rest of the city was a little rundown, with overpriced restaurants and a few tourist traps. It's a shame, because the city has a phenomenal history.
I've wanted to visit Greece for a long time, and I finally got the opportunity this year with a trip to Athens. There's a lot I liked about the city, and much like Rome, parts of the city feel like an open air museum. The Temple of Hephaestus, completed in 415 BC, was probably the stand out landmark for me. The temple is still in a remarkable condition, perhaps one of the best kept monuments from Classical Greece, and this is largely due to the fact it was in almost continuous use since its construction. I also got the chance to visit Guru Nanak Darbar, a Gurdwara in the Tavros neighbourhood that is located in what seems to be an industrial estate. While the Gurdwara building is relatively low key, it's spread over three floors and was fairly busy on the day I attended.
You can read about my trip to Rome here
You can read about my trip to Florence here
You can read about my trips to Pisa and Parma here
You can read about my trip to Athens here
Across the Pond
In my yearly review last time out, I wrote that I would likely move to Washington DC, and that's exactly what happened, although I continue to spend a fair bit of my year in the UK.
It's safe to say that my initial impressions of Washington DC were not overly positive, and while I still don't love the city, it's slowly starting to grow on me. Maybe there will come a point where I actively like the place, but I think I'll need a little more time before I get there. The city is one of extremes - extreme wealth, and extreme poverty, extreme heat and humidity, and extreme cold and dryness. But, for the few weeks of the year when the temperature is just right, it's a pretty pleasant place to be.
I took the opportunity of being back in the States to visit New York, a city where I lived several years ago. I think it reminded me just how much better it is than DC when I revisited some of my favourite places like the High-Line, and places I hadn't seen before, like the Gurdwara in Flushing.
I also flew out to the West Coast for my second trip to San Francisco. While I didn't do too many new things, the two things that stand out were finally getting to visit Alcatraz, and visiting El Sobrante Gurdwara, a beautiful Gurdwara built into the hillside on the outskirts of San Francisco. And while this next memory isn't quite San Francisco, I couldn't do this yearly roundup without mentioning San Jose Gurdwara, comfortably one of the most beautiful Gurdwaras in the world.
You can read about my first impression of Washington DC here
You can about New York here
You can read about San Francisco here
If you've read my blog for any number of years, you'll know I really enjoy this part of the world. It just feels so different from home, and Thailand was my first long solo trip, 8 years ago! I'd visited pretty much every country in the region, but somehow not managed to do Lao, so I was incredibly excited when I realised that I would have the chance to tick it off my list.
I visited the capital city, Vientiane, as well as the historical city of Luang Prabang. Vientiane is a functional capital city, and although it's the gateway to the country, there isn't really much to write about. It had a half-decent night market, but horrible traffic that made walking anywhere in the city near impossible. In fact, it is the only time in my life I have felt dizzy after a walk because I was subjected to an insane level of pollution.
On the other hand, Luang Prabang is beautiful beyond words. I was lucky to visit it within a week or two of reopening after covid, which meant the city was quiet, with very few tourists. I loved everything about it - Phousi Mountain, Wat Xiengthong, climbing Kuang Si waterfalls, exploring the Luang Prabang Night Market, and seeing some of the strangest sights ever at the Morning Market. I loved the French architecture, and just how beautiful the city is - from the beauty of the natural landscape, particularly across the Mekong - during the day, to the buildings all lit up on the main street at night. Perhaps the city isn't as nice during a busy season filled with tourists, but when I went, it was perfect. One of my favourite cities that I have visited.
I also made a third trip to Bangkok, a city that feels wilder and more intense everytime I go (or perhaps I'm just getting older). I had only one goal this time around, and that was to visit some of the Gurdwaras, and that's exactly what I did, in fact I visited three. And while I loved them all, nothing quite prepared me for Sri Guru Singh Sabha, one of the oldest Gurdwaras in the world outside of Panjab. I can't begin to describe the incredible beauty of the darbar sahib. The golden throne, the open hall, the beautiful decorations. I could have sat there all day.
You can read about my trip to Vientiane here
You can read about my trip to Luang Prabang here
You can read about my trip to Bangkok here
The Middle East
I was back in the Middle East this year and back in Dubai for the first time since 2014. I was surprised by just how much the city has grown and developed in that time, although it still feels a little too much style over substance for me. That being said, a friend showed me another side of Dubai that did open my eyes just a little bit to other things that the city offers rather than being a little tacky and more than a little trashy.
And some of the new landmarks are genuinely interesting to explore. I thought the Frame was one of the most fascinating pieces of architecture that I've ever seen. I revisited the Gurdwara which remains one of the most beautiful in the world and noticed that in the intervening years the area now also has a Coptic Church and a Hindu Mandir.
But this was also balanced out by the Global Village, easily one of the worst "attractions" I have ever had the misfortune of visiting.
I took my first trip to Kuwait, spending time in a state that is often overlooked. It's not spoken about much for good reason - there isn't much to do here, and it is a pretty conservative country. However, that's not to say it has nothing to offer. I loved the coastal area of the city around Marina beach - the rocky coast broken up by a small but beautiful man-made beach, filled with cats. The architecture, a strange mix of east and west, seems ugly at first, but I quickly came to appreciate the eclectic mix of buildings. I dislike shopping centres, and even I liked The Avenues - one of the largest shopping centres in the world, and an "Around the World" type immersive experience.
You can read about my trip to Dubai here
You can read about my trip to Kuwait City here
I started this article talking about how grateful I am for this strange life that has taken me from below the UK poverty line, to travelling the world, but it didn't really hit me just how lucky I am until I found myself in Mauritius - an island paradise that I was neither planning, nor expecting to visit.
But that's exactly where I found myself towards the end of the year, and it was a fantastic experience. I'm not big on beaches, but even I found the deep turquoise colours of Pereybere Beach to be mesmerising. One of my favourite experiences of the entire year was climbing Le Pouce, the third largest mountain on the entire island, and one with a near vertical ascent at the end. The views from the top were just breathtaking.
But Mauritius is more than just beaches and mountains, there's a lot of interesting landscapes to explore further inland. The area around Chamarel was a great experience, seeing the large Chamarel Waterfall, and the hypnotic Seven Coloured Earth Geopark. Flic en Flac is a nice seaside village that gets lively during the evenings.
The island also has a small Sikh population, which also means there is a Gurdwara. I had a great experience visiting Gurdwara Singh Sabha on the outskirts of the capital city, Port Louis. The Gurdwara is a decent size and serves langar to the local community which is full of both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.
You can read about my trip to Mauritius here
I'm already a month into 2023, and it seems like I might have another busy 12 months of travelling. Hopefully I can continue sharing my experiences and it's always interesting when I read back my entries from the previous year to see how much things have changed and whether I have done the things I thought I would.
I'm not going to make any predictions for 2023, because things can change in an instant, but a planned trip to Japan is something that excites me the most.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.