2013: a year in the world

Sri Lanka masks

Happy New Year!
By now, most of you in the northern hemisphere should be scrounging around for the asprin or box sets of Dr Who - or, judging from Facebook, run a marathon or some other such oxygen-sucking activity. Here in the southern hemisphere, there are thoughts of work tomorrow. Ugh. Let's not go there.

It's raining here, the Christmas pudding is back on the boil and it's time for tea and reflection. The tea is Russian Earl Grey, from Harrods, which seems a good way to kick off a year in the world...

...I'm not going to win points for originality, but I fell in love with London again: the cheesy, the touristy, the lot, from Harrods to London Bridge. The city's on a high, with energy levels up there with the London Eye. The Tate Britain has just opened after a £45-million renovation, the Shard glimmers over Southbank, the grungy quarters have reinvented themselves as edgy design destinations, cashing in on their bad old days, when the High Street might be known as the Murder Mile... it was all fabulous (except the serious cold snap, but hey, that's London in November).

Leopard spotted in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

For sheer sell-your-pants-off stories, Sri Lanka left all other destinations in the shade. It didn't hurt that the Lonely Planet named it one of 2014's must-visit countries.The food, the fabulously quirky fantastic shopping, the leopard spotting and the warmth and security of the country all stitch together for a great holiday destination, without overwhelming the sub-continental novice.

This was also the year I learned to make gnocchi, rekindling a post-Aitkin love of pasta. The destination: the King Valley, in northern Victoria, just a shade under our modest little Alps. The teachers: the Pizzini and the Simone families. Forget milk and honey, this is the land of pork and prosecco.

The year 2013 also finally brought a return to Egypt, this time to bring the Small Girl to her other spiritual (and ethnic) home. I saw how a population can survive when all the news reports we see tell us they are being gassed in the streets and chased by tanks. They just keep going on: going to work, to school, to the market. And they just keep hoping the generals and the politicians - the big men - treat them better than pawns on a chessboard.
Fashion parade in Thimphu, Bhutan

I know Egypt will recover, hopefully soon after the next presidential elections. But in the meantime, Tahrir Square, the scene of the revolutions, is lush and green, well maintained and clean. I have never seen it look better. So there is some good come out of this whole, messy Arab Spring.

The most unexpected experience was attending Bhutan's first indigenous fashion parade, beneath the stars in the mountain kingdom. Visiting two tiny countries at either end of India - Sri Lanka and Bhutan - was an eye-opener as to the powerhouse of the sub-continent, and how these tiny nations fight to maintain their identities in the face of 'a billion shouting Indians' (their words, not mine).

This year and next mark a flurry of solar activity, resulting in the best showings of the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis.
Deck 9, Midnatsol,

About the same time as I was teetering on a rolling deck of the Hurtigruten, somewhere in northern Norway, trying to take a photo that wasn't just a series of squiggles, the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis, were reportedly putting on a great show in Tasmania, about an hour's flight from home. With another winter of high solar activity ahead, maybe that's next year's goal?

Here's wishing you peace and happiness for 2014 (with the Year of the Horse promising prosperity, to complete the trifecta).

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