Year in Review: 2011 | Here, there, everywhere… and even from Mars

Before jumping into 2012 with both feet, I thought I’d do my annual Year in Review post. This time, thought, I am doing things a little differently and instead of making a list of all of my favorite posts, like I did last year, I have picked just one post from each month of 2011. Some of the posts I chose are more informative, while others are more fun to look at than to read (and vice versa), but I enjoyed browsing through all of them and hope you will like the trip down memory lane too. Good times!

In the spirit of reflection that unavoidably comes with a retrospective post like this, I have to admit that looking through my archives has made me realize the continuous fortune I’ve had in the past year of being surrounded, reunited, encountered with, hosted, welcomed and accompanied by wonderful, fun, lovely, inspiring and gracious people, some of whom are mentioned in the posts below. Without them none of my travels would not be what they are, if they were to be at all. So this review is also a big THANK YOU to all of them, for making 2011 a great year for me.

So, here goes. My highlights of 2011, month by month, were:

January 2011:

On the threshold, where nothing is permanent | Mahabalipuram and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
My whole trip to India was nothing short of amazing for many reasons, one of which was that it coincided with the Pongal harvest festival, which meant there were beautiful, colorful hand-drawn decorations on the ground to be seen everywhere.

February 2011:

Blue Valentine | Kuwait

March 2011:

Oh so pedestrian | Sofia, Bulgaria
Not really much of a choice here, since I only posted once in March, but actually one of the texts that was the most fun to write this year.

April 2011:

Nobody puts Baby in a corner | Sofia, Bulgaria
A clear example of my belief that anything is worth writing (ok, blogging) about.

May 2011:

Eat Pray Love | Sofia, Bulgaria
Doing some of my favorite things with my favorite twins.

June 2011:

In the Palace | Balchik, Bulgaria
Not just because I was at the seaside, nor just because I was at a pretty fun and exciting film festival, but also because I was with one of my favorite friends at the most beautiful place on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

July 2011:

La belleza de las letr¡ah!s | Madrid, Spain
I have been pining to go back to Madrid and this year, ever since I saw the Letras neighbourhood, whose streets are beautifully engraved with literature several years ago. Cute guys lying down on the ground for my photo-taking pleasure were not part of the plan, but are always welcome.

August 2011:

Bits and pieces, in pairs | Barcelona, Spain
Probably the happiest, most carefree trip of the year. Luckily for me, though that was neither the first nor the last time I went to enchanting Barcelona and got to hang out with my friend Slavka.

September 2011:

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree | Moscow, Russia
I didn’t get to go to Moscow myself, but the photo comes from my beloved jet-setter dad, with a short text from me, whose writing led to the discovery of the idea of Kilometer Zero markings, which I had been unaware of until now, despite previous sightings.

October 2011:

Off-season girls | Bodrum, Turkey and elsewhere
My trip to Bodrum was a real joy, not just because of the treat of swimming in the Adriatic in the beginning of October, but mostly for the chance it gave me to meet and spend time with a group of wonderful, amazing and inspiring women, some of which contributed to this post, and all of whom left a lasting trace in my heart.

November 2011:

Finding my feet | Montpellier, France
A bit of a nostalgic post, but a real pleasure to write.

December 2011:

Martian, like the planet | Lake Salagou, Languedoc Roussillon, France
…and, as promised, finishing off the year with a post from another planet!

Raining cats and dogs | Toulouse, France

It rained the proverbial cats and dogs in Toulouse, but in fact the only thing falling from the clouds was – disappointingly, although rather not surprisingly, water drops. The skies did not open up to shower us, as advertised,…

… with neither a rainfall of candy…

… nor of birds.

Now that I think about it, though, a possible explanation for my disappointment may be that I simply didn’t stand in the indicated spots long enough to witness the promised candy or birds falling from the sky. At any rate, it wouldn’t have been the first time that happened.

Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain | Montpellier, France

I came across a tourist brochure advertising Montpellier’s charms, which claimed that the region boasts, on average, a total of 340 sunny days per year.

So, it seems that I have caught exactly those 25 other days, the ones that went unmentioned, the ones tourist brochures would gloss over conveniently. Because, let’s see (making a quick calculation in my head)… yup, for just over three weeks now, the skies have been almost constantly overcast, dark and cloudy and rain has been pouring out of them pretty much incessantly.

In addition to making it hard to believe in the promises of eternal sunshine and be enraptured by the alleged charms of southern France, the constant rain and clouds also take away the pleasure of walking through autumn leaves – when they are soggy, they no longer rustle.

On a more practical level, though, constant rain makes for wet feet, causes me to miss open-air farmers’ markets, results in the interruption of the running of trams and poses a danger of flooding. (On the bright side, though, it meant that I just had to buy a cute polka-dotted raincoat from the kids’ section.)

But I am a firm believer in statistics. (That, and whatever information is advertised in tourist brochures.) So, relying on those, as well as the visible, albeit slight, opening up of the skies, it actually looks like the gloomy and wet spell is now coming to an end and the sun will finally come out. Let those 340 days of sunshine begin!

When it rains, it pours | Bodrum, Turkey

Lately, it seems that every time as I leave some place where the weather has been nothing but wonderful throughout my stay, the skies suddenly open up and all the rain and gloom that have been collecting in them during my cloudless sojourn pour out precisely as I make my way to the airport (cases in point: Barcelona in early September and now, Bodrum).

This definitely makes for a dramatic departure and adds nostalgia to the already melancholy feeling that leaving brings with it, but also – adding insult to injury on a more practical level, it means that I am stuck in damp clothes for the much of the trip that follows. But, as we all know, there is nothing like pretzeling yourself around a public toilet hand-dryer to make you forget your sadness.

A magic vantage point | Sofia, Bulgaria

After a slightly panicky trip to the stadium, frantically trying to get a hold of and meet some friends in the crowds in front, finicking with the tickets, worrying about whether it was going to rain, some stressful waiting in line, a nerve-wrecking show of passes and bag check (we all had spots in different sections and some of is were carrying umbrellas in their bags!), some minor claustrophobia attacks while pushing through the crowds into the arena and being annoyed at not being able to see the beginning of the concert properly, my friend Maria and I finally spotted the perfect place from which to watch Sting perform, together with the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra.

Just where the two rows of chemical toilets met, before the wire fence separating the stadium from the restricted access area began, there was a small corner of space – enough to fit three or four people comfortably, which afforded a great, unobstructed view of the stage. Finally, we could really enjoy the concert and get mesmerized by Sting without interruptions – there was no need to push or try to peek over people’s shoulders to see, nobody was stepping on our toes and being obnoxious.

The slight whiffs of powerful disinfectant chemicals were a small price to pay for the great vantage point and the easy access to the loos, which also meant we could drink all the beer in the world without having to worry about making our way through hoards of people. Also, it never rained.

It was magic, I tell you. Maybe not exactly the kind Sting sang about, but magic nevertheless.

The winter of my [dis]content | Kuwait and Sofia, Bulgaria

In the span of 24 hours, I went from this:

To this:

And, yes, there is something more disturbing about those two pictures than my unfortunate choice in footwear in the second one (to my defence, it was a lapse in judgement caused by the rush with which I ran out, to buy some bare necessities after coming home to a fridge whose only content was a half-full milk carton with milk that had gone very, very bad in the two months I wasn’t here): What’s more unfortunate, in case you’re missing the point, is that I went from +25 °C to – 5 °C. So, please stop staring at my ugly boots.

The 30-degree difference in temperature didn’t make my coming back to Sofia any easier or less sad than it already is. Besides the standard drop in spirits that usually accompanies coming back from a long trip, I miss the sun and the sea, I miss my mom and my dog, I miss my old high-school friends and the new exciting and cool people I met, I miss dancing every other day, eating good food, the constant feeling of ease and leisure I had there. Not necessarily in that order.

It’s not all bad news, however. On the flip side, there are reasons I’m happy to be back and things I’ve been looking forward to: I get to see the rest of my family; I start working; I’m home, hanging stuff on the walls and watering the plants that miraculously survived my long absence and neglect; it’s been great catching up with friends whom I’m very excited to see and who seem genuinely happy to have me back. Also, I’ve missed being able to have a glass (or two) of good wine, perhaps more than I’d like to admit.

Snow in the desert | Dubai, United Arab Emirates

That, on the other side of the glass, is actual snow. Inside an actual shopping mall. In Dubai, where the average temperature in January (the coldest month of the year!) is about 20 °C. Just one of this place’s mind-blowing extravagances, which seem to know no limit.

Even though skiing isn’t really my thing, I was tempted to rent some skis and go inside for a little slide down the slopes and a ride on the ski lift, just to say I have. But after I thought about it for a second, I realized how little (read: not at all) I miss winter. So, I stepped outside and had an ice-cold lemonade instead. My only regret was that I didn’t wear flip-flops today.

Happy October! | Sofia, Bulgaria

After a brief, but powerful appearance at the beginning of September, which was thankfully cut short by several weeks of Indian summer, it seems that autumn is finally here to stay…

… or, at least, until it is replaced by winter. brrrrrrrr….

Time to bring out the knee-high boots, the wool scarves and the warm hats. The novelty and excitement of wearing them, after four months of summer, wear out pretty quickly. Staying warm doesn’t.