Although I’ve been hopping around the world for several years now collecting cost of living data and researching the far-flung corners of the globe for all things expat related, 2011 was a particularly hectic year with a real eclectic mix of countries to explore. Highlights for me were the more obscure locations which you’re unlikely to see in your local travel agent – Greenland, Turkmenistan, Iraq and Liberia to name just a few.
With global companies expanding to all reaches of the world now, I will get to go to many lesser known places. With this new blog of mine I’m going to share my experiences – both the good and the bad!
For my first real-time blog I will be reporting back during a month-long trip to India starting at the beginning of February but for now here is just a taster with a few highlights from last year and some of the many, many photos which I snap whilst out and about.
The year started with a relatively stress-free trip to the Arabian Peninsula, although a couple of weeks after I left Bahrain I was shocked to see the Pearl Roundabout in Manama on the news swarming with protesters only yards from the hotel where I stayed. On the upside of the trip I managed to squeeze in time to fly around on the world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi.
March saw me taking in the extremes of America’s hot and cold with trips to Las Vegas in the desert and Anchorage in the freezing winter of Alaska. Even colder was a visit to Nuuk in Greenland where the temperature reached an unbearable minus 20 degrees centigrade. Still, at least the supermarkets sold shotguns to keep those polar bears away!
Back in warmer climes I found myself in the bizarre city of Ashgabat, capital of the rather secretive nation of Turkmenistan. With futuristic bus stops and gold statues galore the place really has to be seen to be believed. Not far from here I also had the fortune to see a side of Iraq which is rarely portrayed in the Western media – the peaceful, friendly and ancient city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of the country. It was quite a surprise to find Western style shopping malls complete with the familiar clothing chains so ubiquitous to other parts of the world. And the warmth of the people and their hope for the future of their country was a pleasing thing to find.
I took in more ‘Stans’ with my second visit to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. They were celebrating 20 years of independence whilst I was there and so the festival atmosphere, coupled with a week of cloudless skies, made the trip far more memorable than my previous mid-Winter experience of greyness and drabness.
An introduction to the gritty side of life in West Africa greeted me on my arrival in Sierra Leone where I landed in the middle of the night and had to cope with a very bumpy boat ride in pitch black to get to the capital Freetown. Monrovia in Liberia was a similar story and walking the roads of the capital was a fascinating, and sometimes scary, experience – switching in and out from the poverty on the streets to the air-conditioned ‘expat’ shops which seemed to sell more international brands than my local supermarket in South London!
Towards the end of 2011 I did a trip taking in 12 Caribbean islands including a rather daunting first visit to Port-au-Prince in Haiti. The city and its people were ravaged by the devastating earthquake of 2010 and much of the city was still in chaos when I was there although, like Monrovia, it was strange to discover how well stocked the supermarkets are – although Gucci is still yet to open a branch there!
With many more new locations to visit already on my agenda for the coming year I hope you can pop in from time to time to see how I’m getting along. After India I’ll be covering various places including Azerbaijan, The Gambia, Mongolia and Pakistan, all of which will be new countries for me, so I look forward to sharing my experiences.