A Toast to Travels Both Made and Unknown

Colombo, Sri Lanka

I don’t yet have any specific travel plans for next year, just as I didn’t have any at this time last year.

This time last year, it’d been nearly 6 months since I returned home to New York after living abroad in Bangkok for a spell. Given the circumstances, my chances of getting any extended time off from work the rest of the year were slim, and by the time the annual holiday visit to see friends and family in Michigan had come and gone, I was feeling antsy. Restless. Distracted.

I needed to get out of New York, soon, but making plans, picking a destination, and setting dates was difficult.

Bangkok was still in the rearview mirror of my not-too-distant past, as were all the places we’d visited during our time there. Japan. Taiwan. Malaysia. South Korea. Southern Thailand. I longed to return to Asia, both to places seen and unseen, but now budget constraints and limited vacation days loomed large over our trip plans. We’d have to stay closer to home this time, and while I’d love to one day travel to the Caribbean, Central America, and parts of Canada I’ve yet visited, at the risk of sounding a snob, none of those places carried as much luster at the time. My heart was still in Asia, and to make matters worse I was still in the deep, dark throes of “reverse culture shock”, too; the last thing I wanted to do was travel within the States.

And Then It All Started Coming Together

On January 18, my travel fortunes suddenly changed dramatically. I was essentially handed the keys to the world, and I used them to unlock romantic, faraway places that up to that point were nowhere near my travel radar.

Four months later I was pouring sweat in Sri Lanka on a bench inside the Colombo Fort Railway Station, waiting for the InterCity Express train that would take us inland to Kandy. There we met Kumar, the kind live-in manager of Kandy Cottage. He helped arrange a driver to take us to the ancient rock temples of Dambulla and onwards to imposing Sigiriya rock, which we scaled in spite of oppressive midday heat. The tea tree-covered hills of Nuwara Eliya were next, followed by safari in Tissamaharama, beachcombing along the southern shores, and quiet, rainy days in Galle.

South Africa

In the Maldives (the Maldives!), we luxuriated in relative exclusivity for a few days on Furanafushi Island before heading to South Africa via Doha. In Johannesburg the legacy of apartheid hit hard, while in Kruger National Park I walked in the hoof prints of giraffes, elephants, and rhinos.

Further south, I felt exhilirated as we rounded the Cape of Good Horn, driving down the western coast of the tip of the Africa and heading back up the eastern. We embarked on an indulgent marathon tour of the Cape Winelands. I fell in love with mall sushi (miss you, Willoughby & Co.), stared wide-eyed at my luxurious accommodations in The Table Bay, and looked upon Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain.

Oddly enough, that day I shared Table Mountain with, amongst many others of course, the fine gentlemen of Uriah Heep and Deep Purple.

Until Finally…

Those five straight weeks of country-hopping held us over through November, when we somewhat randomly packed our bags for Copenhagen, Denmark. There we basked in the hygge of the season, strolling through Christmasy Tivoli Gardens, warming up one afternoon in front of a crackling fireplace with mugs of decadent hot chocolate at Nimb Hotel, and sipping cups of glögg and pints of fragrant Tuborg Julebryg at various pubs around downtown.

We paid a visit to the world’s most famous mermaid; one night we did what needed to be done.

As I sat here in my Brooklyn apartment at this time last year, I could not have dreamed my travels would take me to all of these places… maybe to any of them. I have nothing planned now as I had nothing planned then, but as ever, I know I’ll go somewhere. I can’t wait to find out where.

Photos Copyright Brian Spencer

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