As a watershed year draws to a close, we reflect on the top 10 posts that our readers most enjoyed
Last year, our annual roundup had a certain tone; one of unmistakable melancholy. Peter and I – and the rest of the world – had suffered two years of lockdowns and restrictions and were running out of stamina. In the piece, I talk about ‘trying to focus on the good things’ and ‘doing what we can’. The optimism is feeble, never quite reaching cheer.
Thankfully, this year has been completely different: one of lifetime highs and goals. We were finally able to go on our twice-postponed expedition to Antarctica, crossing the Antarctic Circle and landing on the continent.
On a later trip, we found ourselves at the other end of the world: at 81°17’5’’ N, only 500 miles from the North Pole. We revisited Argentina, the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, and took a rail journey through Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Hungary, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and San Marino, as well as an end-of-year trip in Central America.
In addition, Peter managed a trip to Georgia, Armenia and Switzerland. He also contributed to a number of books including Unforgettable Journeys Europe, Run: Races and Trails Around the World and Europe by Train – all out in 2023.
Meanwhile, I was delighted to hit a bestseller list with Next of Kin and to win this year’s Adult Fiction Diverse Book Award.
Overall, it’s been a fantastic year – one we feel we deserved after the two years before it. As is custom, we’re ending the year with our annual roundup of the top 10 posts that readers most enjoyed.
1. Antarctica: why my seventh continent was more than just an ego trip
Read Antarctica: why my seventh continent was more than just an ego trip
My childhood was happy and messy and loud, but as soon as I entered my teens, I found myself shunted to a different orbit: home, school, library. My sisters and I were no longer allowed to roam, thanks to our parents’ conservative views on what young Asian women should and should not be. We each adjusted in our own way but for me – a reader fuelled by tales of adventure – home quickly became stifling; a place of confinement I couldn’t escape. In this post, I explain why my trip to Antarctica was more than just an ego trip and how it finally gave me a sense of peace.
2. Trekking the Highlander Svaneti in Georgia
Read Trekking the Highlander Svaneti in Georgia
Just 20 years ago, Svaneti was considered a danger zone. Located in the remote northwest of Georgia, on the slopes of the mighty Caucasus Mountains near the border with Russia, this wild and mysterious region has suffered a tumultuous history including marauding Mongols and murderous blood feuds. Fortunately, decades of investment have seen the region open up. On his visit of the summer, Peter found a landscape packed with mighty mountain vistas, peaceful leafy valleys and picturesque tower-house villages. In this post, he explains why he was enchanted.
3. a surreal trip to Svalbard
Read Under the midnight sun: a surreal trip to Svalbard
Svalbard in the High Arctic crackles with a sense of foreboding; of being on the edge of things. It’s a place of vast tundra, of epic polar feats and a wild, elemental beauty. In July, Peter and I visited the archipelago on a small ship with Albatros Expeditions. In this post, I talk about what it was like to visit ‘the last stop before the North Pole’ and the surreal experience of drinking cocktails in the midnight sun, of sailing to the edge of the Arctic pack ice, of plunging into near-freezing water and seeing our first polar bear.
4. Bogshoeing in Latvia
Read Bogshoeing in Latvia: silly but outrageously good fun
Despite Latvia’s tiny size, it devotes a substantial amount of space to nature, says Peter. In this post, he heads to the swamps of Ķemeri National Park for the rather unique activity of ‘bogshoeing’.
Bogshoeing is essentially snowshoeing but instead of using the lightweight large-footprint shoes for walking over snow, they’re used in much the same way for walking over springy waterlogged terrain. Peter gets a crash course from his guide (a geographer and cartographer) and learns some surprisingly interesting facts about bogs, marshes and swamps (note: there is a difference).
5. Visiting Ny-Ålesund
Read Visiting Ny-Ålesund, the northernmost settlement in the world
There are places and moments in my life which have felt far removed from civilisation. These places have one thing in common. They are untamed and uninhabited. They have felt wild because they are wild. They can be dangerous, even fatal, in the wrong conditions – but none have felt so strikingly bleak as Ny-Ålesund on the island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard. In this post, I share my experience of visiting the northernmost settlement in the world – and explain why I was pleased to leave it.
6. When nature calls
Read When nature calls: why going to the toilet in the outdoors may be about to change
The number of people using public lands in the US has been steadily increasing for years. The pandemic accelerated the trend as lockdown-weary Americans flocked to outdoor spaces in record numbers. Naturally, the upsurge in hikers and campers has seen an increase in people going to the toilet in the outdoors. As such, land managers and scientists are debating if it’s time to change the way we poop in the woods. Peter investigates in this light-hearted but informative piece.
7. Back to Baros
Read: Back to Baros: what happened when we returned to our island paradise
When, in 2012, my editor at Asian Woman Magazine sent me on a trip to the Maldives, I couldn’t quite believe it. A week at the luxury private island of Baros with flights, accommodation and all excursions paid for seemed thoroughly fantastical. Peter and I dined on a private sandbank, sailed with dolphins, guzzled champagne on a dhoni vessel and sampled a nine-course menu. What we didn’t know then is that Baros Maldives would set an impossibly high watermark against which to compare our future trips. In this post, we go back to Baros on our own dime and ask: should you ever try to recreate the perfect trip?
8. In photos: 22 reasons to visit Antarctica
Read: In photos: 22 reasons to visit Antarctica
Visiting Antarctica was a watershed moment for us. It was everything we had expected: wild, isolated, beautiful, enormous, and home to some of the most extraordinary animal life we’ve seen. It was also a photographer’s dream, as evidenced by Peter’s shots from the expedition. There’s a posing leopard seal, a lonely Adélie, a colony of Gentoo penguins and a sleeping baby humpback whale. Vast icebergs, glaciers and peaks set the perfect backdrop to these scenes, as you can see in this photo-led piece.
9. Visiting Auschwitz
Read: Visiting Auschwitz from Kraków
The famous gates of Auschwitz startled me, not because they were sinister but the very opposite. Usually depicted in menacing monochrome or veiled in evocative fog, these gates have featured in myriad Holocaust films and documentaries. When we visited, however, they were bathed in sunlight with a blazing blue sky behind. Beyond them stood an avenue of pretty green trees – a thoroughly disconcerting experience. In this post, I visit Auschwitz and remember Leon Greenman, a Holocaust survivor whom I met in my youth.
10. Kayaking in Svalbard
Read: Kayaking in Svalbard: ice and isolation in the high Arctic
There were nine of us low on the water with nothing but a wafer-thin rotomoulded sheet of fibreglass between us and the Arctic Ocean. Just metres from us, icebergs – the remnants of glaciers formed over thousands of years – floated by indifferently. Beyond, sat their source. A body of ice so dense and large, it constantly moves beneath its own weight, calving its way into the sea. In this post, Peter finds a moment of stillness that shows him the true magic and magnitude of nature in the Arctic.