2013

PANO_20130201_172821It was some year, different to others in its intensity and focus but still a worthy entrant. I feel I say this every year but it’s certainly true. Apart from living and experiencing the Middle East while in Qatar, a memorable experience in itself, I travelled to Dubai, Oman, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Lebanon, Poland twice, Romania three times, Nepal, Czech Republic, Armenia, Georgia, England three times, Scotland, Italy, Barcelona and Turkey seeing the capitals and plenty of other places in all. I’ve seen the mountains and the beaches, the sun and the snow. Friends have been made, re-met and re-made. I’m going to say with confidence it was a good year.

Newcomer of the Year Nancy in Doha. Great fun, funny sense of humour and wicked to boot.

Gary O’Connor deserves an honourable mention too. Great boss, Good drinker. Newcastle United supporter. Mildly crazy.

My Christ Its Been a Long Time

Meeting Jim in Dubai after 5 years Seeing Andy Carlin after a few years for a few hours opposite Reading Station

20130831_155848Meal of the Year

Eating Hungarian food in the middle of Romania Seafood in Cambodia

What the hell happened Last Night

Happy shakes in Cambodia

Vodka in Tbilisi

Sights of the Year

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Edinburgh in summer

Inside the Sagrada Familia

The Tyne Bridge in glorious sunshine

The mountains of Nepal

Random Moment Award

Being in an Indian dance bar in Muscat. Truly surreal.

Cultural Event of the Year

The political protest in Armenia over the bus price hike. A direct and effective protest that puts our consumerism to shame. Want to get something done, dont subsidise the enemy!

Red Bull Flugtag event in November????

Sports event of the Year

Spain vs Uruguay

Meeting Seb Coe and Sergei Bubka001

Films of the Year Cloud Atlas – grand, pretentious, over-ambiitous, stirring, thought-provoking and visual stunning.

Musical moment of the Year Queens of the Stone Age in Gdansk

Book of the Year – I really didn’t read last year which tells its own story. Maybe Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman or the History of the Middle East to garner some background. Ahh no, The Life and Times of the Penis! Interesting read. But sadly I might only have read 3 books that year šŸ˜¦

Bar of the Year Beach bars in Cambodia

Scariest moment of the Year The landing through the storm just before Christmas. Scariest of my life.

Big Balls Moment Mosh pitting in Gdansk with Olivia at the Heineken Opener in Gdansk.

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Person of the Year Olivia. It was a fun time from the music to the mountains to the cities.

Would I do it all again? Hell yeah. Iā€™d like to thank everyone for helping me along the way šŸ™‚

Roll on 2014. This is gonna be good šŸ™‚ Hope to see you soon

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Muscat

PANO_20130201_172821In all my travelling days, I’ve rarely been more excited about a trip and then satisfied by it. Muscat was as fantastic as they say.

From hearing at the airport that I didn’t need to pay for a short-term visa by the flat, turban-wearing immigration to being greeted by Ajit at his flat with a beer, I knew I’d be happy here. I applied to work in Muscat a few years ago on a whim after seeing an advertisement. I never really followed it up. I should have.

IMG_20130201_150037Muscat is essentially three towns strung along the coast making it a long city. The reason for the trio is clear enough as I hailed a shared minibus from the Grand Mosque area to Ruwi, the Indian business area and the middle town. The tree-lined highways have wide grassed central reservations than curl between huge rocky outcrops that divide up the towns. Or huge sand dunes with young Omanis surfing down. No building can be higher than 6 storeys and can be only certain light colours giving the city a colonial-era feel.

shot_1359730800163The first day I took the minibuses through Ruwi to Murat, the corniche area and then walked around the numerous small bays to Old Muscat. The pavement was accompanied by grassy verges and beds of flowers. Curious, nautical statues dedicated to the sea marked the route. Old Muscat is littered with trees and grand government building but above it all, on every outcrop sits a fort built to ward off invaders from inland and as a look-out to sea. Being Friday it was very peaceful. That afternoon I ate Omani bread with honey and cream and drank some beers with Ajit. We ended up in an Indian dance bar, a weird, weird place about which I talk about more later.

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The next day I went to the Grand Mosque, the third largest in the world and again a model of restrain from the outside. Being only 8 years old and tended to by a legions of cleaners, it looks immaculate. I caught another minibus into the centre and searched out the souq which as usual is just a tourist trap selling the usual trinkets and crap. The colonial merchant houses on the promenade give clues to the trading history of the city.

IMG_20130202_123852That night I took in more beers with Ajit and swapped travelling stories. I talk of him as an old friend when in fact I was couchsurfing there. But he made the stay so comfortable from the off and had enough stories himself from his days as a surgeon in the Indian Army, I did feel like I’d known him for a while. The last day I met another couchsurfer Qu who showed me round some of the old ruins on the outskirts of the city. I am not sure how good company I was. My head ached from the booze but it was insightful.

Ajit gave me a lift to the airport late that afternoon and I flew back in for work the next day. The old Middle East of Baghdad and Samarkland, Persia and Muscat never seemed so real as those few days in Oman. The grandness of the views are awe-inspiring. I’ll be back for sure and will be trying for at least two of the three above this year. Another adventure begins.