Friday 1 December 2017

2017: My Year in Travel

I was hosted on the trips mentioned below by the relevant local tourism authorities.

Everyone else in the media publishes 'year in review' round-ups at this time of the year, so I'm jumping on the bandwagon. Here are personal highlights from my travels over the past twelve months...

1. Admiring the Asian-European 'fusion architecture' of Macau.

I didn't know much about this former Portuguese territory before visiting it in February, but I quickly learned its European connection had lasted much longer than that of Hong Kong. The Portuguese were in Macau for over four centuries, from 1557 to 1999; by comparison, Hong Kong was under British rule for just over 150 years.

As a result, there's quite a mix of Asian and European influences in Macau's architecture, with striking contrasts. The best example I saw was a former covered marketplace in Taipa Village (pictured above), which has Greek pillars and a Chinese roof.

For more, read my blog post about about my favourite place in Macau.

2. Riding the narrow trams of Hong Kong.

I enjoyed lots about Hong Kong on my first visit there - the food, its cultural attractions, the busy urban streets. One thing that stood out was the city's tram system, which runs along the north side of Hong Kong Island.

I love trams, and these ones are particularly atmospheric. In addition to being double-decker, they're rather narrow, lending them a charmingly improbable fairytale look. It can be hard to get a seat on them sometimes, but they're hands-down more fun than catching the MTR underground railway.

3. Visiting Ballarat on a White Night.

Having missed Melbourne's annual White Night arts event while I was in Hong Kong, I took the chance to attend the first regional staging of it in Ballarat. It was loads of fun, being out until 4am on busy streets full of happy locals ogling illuminations which drew on the city's rich gold rush and Aboriginal history.

I wrote about the experience here.

4. Discovering First Nations culture in Vancouver.

I was impressed by Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology when I visited the Canadian city in July. It houses a wonderful collection of Indigenous art from the past two centuries, with an impressive new gallery in which modern-day First Nations artists comment on the cultural underpinnings of the art of their forebears.

Read my post about the museum here.

5. Cruising the Alaska Marine Highway.

Not all Alaskan cruises are on huge luxury cruise ships. Embarking at Prince Rupert, Canada, I took the MV Matanuska to the Alaskan state capital Juneau, then on to former gold rush town Skagway.

These car ferries (with cabins) are used by locals as much as visitors, providing a great way to see the beautiful scenery on the Inside Passage while not being tied to a cruise itinerary.

I wrote about cruising the Alaska Marine Highway in this article for Lonely Planet.

6. Taking the train to Yukon.

There had to be a train in this list, right? You know how much I like rail travel. And a ride along the White Pass & Yukon Route railway is spectacular, with the narrow-gauge train chugging up from the Alaskan coast at Skagway through the mountains across the Canadian border to Carcross, Yukon. It's a brilliant journey, with magnificent scenery.

7. Meeting a crocodile on the Sunshine Coast.

While attending the annual Australian Society of Travel Writers conference in Queensland in August, I was able to explore the late Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo.

It's a lovely place to visit, with plenty of interesting animals, but the highlight for me was the arena show in which a couple of staff members (and a foolhardy white bird) hung around very close to a big saltwater crocodile - see my video clip above.

You can read more about my Australia Zoo visit here.

8. Walking Hadrian's Wall in the UK.

I like a bit of walking, but I'm not one for multi-day treks. So when I learned about the hop-on, hop-off bus which serves key points along what was once the Roman Empire's border wall, I realised it'd be possible to do a shorter hike between bus stops.

So Narrelle and I spend over two hours strolling west of the former Roman fort at Housesteads - then transferred to the bus and headed off for lunch.

Walking the undulating trail next to Hadrian's Wall was harder than I'd expected, but I'm glad we did it. Not only was it good to get out of my urban comfort zone, I felt I'd become closer to the inhabitants of the Roman era, otherwise so distant in time.

I wrote about our Hadrian's Wall visit for the Globe & Mail newspaper in Canada; read it here.

So... how was your year in travel?

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