I can't believe this is the 8th time that I'm doing this, but here we are. In 2023 travel returned to normal almost everywhere and I managed to visit cities in Asia, Europe, North America, and even an island off the coast of South America.
My end of year review for 2022 is here
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
I started with a trip to Japan, exploring both Kyoto and Tokyo, before visited the Turkic lands of Kazakhstan and Türkiye. In the Americas I visited Miami and Trinidad and Tobago while in Europe I visited Spain including Madrid as well as cities in the north, followed by Germanic lands of Germany and Austria. I ended the year back in the far east with a trip to China and finished in the Middle East with trips to Doha and Abu Dhabi. In the middle of it all I split my time roughly in half between Washington DC and the UK.
Trips in the Americas
Several years ago, I visited a number of countries in South America, but since then I haven't passed anywhere nearby, so I was happy to get the opportunity to get close to the continent when I visited Trinidad and Tobago, a country just 7 miles from the coast of South America.
I spent my time in the capital, Port of Spain, and it was a fun visit. The security situation in the city isn't as safe as it once was, but I managed to get out and about and explore a fair amount of Port of Spain. Within the main city I enjoyed the area around Queen's Park Savannah, the world's largest roundabout, especially the Magnificent Seven, buildings around a century old that were beautifully constructed. Neighbourhoods closeby, particularly the stretch called the Avenue was fun to hang out in during the evenings, while the Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary was a nice way to see the beautiful and unique landscape of the country.
Outside the main city, I thought the views from Fort St. George and Paramin Lookout were phenomenal and even though the weather wasn't amazing during my stay, the views (particularly from Paramin) were incredible. The lush greenery surrounded by the blue of the ocean provides for a picture-perfect contrast.
On the way to Trinidad and Tobago I stopped over in Miami, my second visit to the city. During my visit I spent more time in neighbourhoods that I had neglected the first time around, particularly Little Havana, but I also revisited Wynwood, which was my favourite area the first time around (I loved it the second time around to). An important part of my second visit was to finally see the local Gurdwara which was small but beautiful and located in a residential neighbourhood between Miami and Fort Lauderdale (visiting Gurdwareh is a pattern you'll see across my trips this year).
You can read about my trip to Trinidad and Tobago here
You can read about my trip to Miami here
The Turkic Countries
The Turkic people dominate the lands between the Bosphorus and across the steppes of Central Asia right into western China. They're also mentioned frequently in puraatan Sikh literature (although the mentions aren't always friendly).
I visited three Turkic cities across two countries this year. The first was a trip to Istanbul in Türkiye, the heartland of the Turkic people. It's a city I've wanted to visit for a long time, and it definitely lived up to my expectations. Seeing the Hagia Sophia in person was a highlight and one of the few landmarks in the world that is more impressive in real life than it is in the pictures. There were also some unexpected surprises like the underground Basilica Cistern, the important relics at the Topkapi Palace, and the bustle of the Grand Bazaar.
While Istanbul is one of the most visited cities in the world, Kazakhstan is completely different. Other than being linked to Borat (which didn't exactly paint the country in a great light), it is a country less well travelled. I visited both Astana and Almaty, and I came away with broadly positive albeit different opinions of the two cities. I thought Almaty was effortlessly cool, with beautiful landscapes, and a nice pace of life. Conversely, I found Astana to be something different, trying too hard to become a "Dubai like" city (although I dont know why). Its architecture is.... varied and doesn't quite seem to fit together, although it does host one of the largest mosques in the world and a collection of weirdly shaped buildings.
You can read more about my trip to Istanbul here
You can read more about my trip to Astana here
You can read more about my trip to Almaty here
The Spanish Cities
I've been to Spain more times than any other country in the world and over the years I've visited cities across the country, although its mostly in east and south, but I haven't spent much time in the north of the country.
This year I had a chance to fix that by exploring some of the major cities along the northern coast. I thought every city I visited had something unique to offer, from the history and architecture of Oviedo (especially the Catedral de San Salvador de Oviedo) to the beachside vibes of Santander. My favourite city was Gijon which I thought combined different facets of modernity, history, function and beauty in one city. I know it's not a city for everyone, and perhaps I was influenced by the incredible Gijon Airshow, but it's a city I'd absolutely love to return to.
However, my favourite city was across the border in the Basque Country. I'd heard this area, famous for being quite insular (similar to other Celtic cities in France and the UK), isn't too welcoming to "others" but I found the people here more friendly than almost anywhere else in the world. I loved walking around the Casco Viejo (the old town) and eating Pinxos, but a personal highlight was a visit to Estadio San Mames, a football stadium that is home to Athletic Bilbao and has won many awards over the years for its design.
I also returned to Madrid, a city I visited a long time ago. This time, my aim was to visit the local Gurdwara, which I did. The Gurdwara is located in a very sketchy area outside the main city, but I was very happy to be there. Most of Spain's Sikh community is located in the east of the country, particularly in Barcelona, so it was important and nice to see a Gurdwara in the capital and largest city.
You can read about my trip to Oviedo here
You can read about my trip to Santander here
You can read about my trip to Gijon here
You can read about my trip to Bilbao here
You cam read about my trip to Madrid here
The Germanic Countries
Spanish and Germanic countries are often compared as opposites and this comparison seemed even more obvious given I was in Spain during the summer and Germany during the winter. But I loved them both, albeit for different reasons.
In Germany, I finally managed to visit Munich, one of the richest cities in the world having visited Trier and Berlin previously. It's also a city that I really enjoyed. It's got some great architecture, especially in the Marienplatz area, while I thought both Frauenkirche, Asamkirche were magnificent buildings - the latter especially was uniquely and richly decorated. I visited Munich Gurdwara, a very well designed but relatively small Gurdwara in a beautiful and quiet neighbourhood.
Across the border, I revisited Vienna in Austria after a few years away. This time I spent some time with a local who showed me around the city and introduced me to its famous cafe culture. I don't like drinking coffee but after a week in the city I really began to appreciate it in a new and different way. The city is incredible, definitely one of the better places I've visited. Like Munich, I also took the opportunity of this visit to check out Vienna Gurdwara, a relatively large Gurdwara on the edge of the city and a short ride on the metro.
You can read about my trip to Munich here
You can read about my trip to Vienna here
The Middle East
I've visited the Middle East on a few occasions and my experiences are quite mixed. The people are all wonderfully welcoming, big hearted, and always happy to make others feel at home, particularly in the northern part of the Arab world.
In the Gulf countries, money seems to be more important and while these cities are safe and ambitious, I feel like they lack authenticity, character, something that makes them unique. This year I visited both Doha and Abu Dhabi.
I spent a week in Abu Dhabi and visited different parts of the city. I really enjoyed landmarks like the Abrahamic Family House and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and it was great to see the local Gurdwara, located in the middle of the city, which is quite rare in this part of the world. To me, it felt like a more open and breathable Dubai, with less of the pretentiousness.
Doha was pleasant for what it was, but certainly not a city that I'll be rushing back to. Much like other cities on this side of the Arabian Peninsula, it's very new, very shiny, but more style than substance. Visiting the Doha Expo was a nice experience, and I enjoyed Souk Waqif, an old market that preserves some of the heritage of the old city. My favourite part of the city was the Gurdwara. It's located a long way outside the main city and hidden behind a wall in an old warehouse, but the Sikhi I experienced here is easily one of the most pure I have ever seen.
You can read more about my trip to Abi Dhabi here
You can read more about my trip to Doha here
The Far East
I started and ended my year in the Far East. At the beginning of the year, I reached Japan, a country whose culture I am very familiar with, but one that I hadn't - until now - had the privilege to visit.
Tokyo is everything that I thought it would be and so much more - a city that would comfortably be near the top of a list of my favourite cities. I covered a lot of ground during the couple of weeks that I was there, and every neighbourhood and area had a great vibe. I particularly liked the Akihabara and Ikekeburo areas as they just felt so much different to anywhere else I've been before - with bright lights and built around a manga and anime style, but honestly, the whole city was just on another level, a megacity in every sense of the word. And the food is among the best I've ever had.
Kyoto was different but just as good. I went during the off-season, shortly after the country reopened so my experience was one of a slower, quieter city - although I hear that during peak season the city is filled with tourists. There's a lot to love about the city, the beautiful landscapes and architecture (you can see both at Kiyomizu-dera), and tasty food. One of my favourite experiences was a midnight climb up a hill to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha, a temple that also provides spectacular views of the city.
At the end of the year I made my first visit to mainland China, a country that polarises opinion around the world. My initial trip was a short crossing across the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, a brand new city that within the span of a generation has become one of the largest in the country (and the world). I spent over a week in the city, and I enjoyed it. Now, I wouldn't recommend it as much as I would Kyoto or Tokyo, but it's a nice introduction to China. The city is so vast it seems never ending, with skyscrapers that extend into the distance. My favourite part was Dafen Oil Painting Village, a chilled out neighbourhood on the edge of the city.
You can read about my trip to Tokyo here
You can read about my trip to Kyoto here
You can read about my trip to Shenzhen here
As I wrote last year, I've given up on predicting the future of my travels, but I know for sure there will be more of China as I will visit Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou.
My goal is to continue visiting as many Gurdwaras as possible in different cities and see how Sikh communities around the world live.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.