And so another year ends. I don’t know how it was for you guys but my 2011 rocketed by.
I suspect the year appeared to zoom by because it was so eventful. One minute I’m blagging my daughter onto the end of a closed queue to meet Rapunzel from Tangled at Euro Disneyland, the next I’m on a gallery crawl in Prishtina with some of Kosovo’s most exciting new artists. And that’s not to mention a crazy absinthe-fuelled evening in a Bohemian castle with the guys from The Adventurists. Or a ride deep into the Accursed Mountains in a London Black cab. Or appearing on a TV chat show in Kenya, based in the back of a matatu.
A difficult task, to be sure, but I’ve made an attempt to collate my highlights of 2011. I suspect if I put my mind to it, I could quite easily come up with another eight or so.
1. My Associate Web Editor gig at Wanderlust magazine
A part-time gig that gives me time to do my other stuff – and allows me to interview some of my all-time heroes like P J O’Rourke? What’s not to like?!
2. Finally visiting my 100th country
It was a long time coming. And there were a few false dawns. (A trip to Iraq cancelled because of a certain Icelandic ash cloud, being the most disappointing). But in July I was finally able to tick my 100th country visited. Luxembourg. I couldn’t go hardcore, so I went lame.
3. Pulp at the Brixton Academy
Reputedly their last ever gig in London and suitably epic. If my mate Richard hadn’t had his phone nicked in the moshpit it would have been nigh on perfect.
4. The Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi
One of the Hay Festival family of international literature festivals, Storymoja was a real blast. The Kenyans were super enthusiastic, I made some great new friends (Samir Dave, Neil Shah, Ben Okri, Neil Hennessy et al) and re-aquainted myself with Nairobi’s notorious nightlife at the Black Diamond in Westlands. I also learned something about myself – according to this interview, I studied Medieval Sciences at university.
5. The Mongol Rally
Well, a little bit of it, anyway. I was ’embedded’ with team Genghis Carnage on the first leg from London to Prague. Enough time to visit my 100th country, sleep in a Belgian cornfield and see men dressed as harem girls drinking absinthe in a medieval Czech castle. I must do the whole thing one day!
6. Watching St George win the World Club Challenge
Typical. The team I’ve supported all my life hasn’t won a premiership for 30 years and they go and do it while I’m living in London. Thankfully, as the premiers in Australia they came over to play the UK Super League winners, Wigan, in the World Club Challenge. They won. And I got to go back to Wigan, one of my favourite places in the UK.
I visited Europe’s newest country as part of Wanderlust’s Under £250 challenge and had an absolute awesome time. It was real ‘old skool’ trip, the perfect mix of incredible hospitality, affordable prices and unexpected adventures. When I arrived at an old kulla in Junik, for example, I was plied with free beers and some guys at the next table pulled out some traditional two-string and three-string guitars and started playing old Albanian folk songs. Keep an eye out for ebook about my adventures called The Blackbird of Dardania, coming out soon.
8. Dinner at the 805 with Ben Okri
Ben’s partner Rosemary Clunie invited me to a private viewing of her new exhibition at the Menier Gallery. And afterwards we all bundled into a cab and headed up 805 Old Kent Road, a fantastic Nigerian restaurant hidden behind etched glass windows. Not only was the food superb, I felt like I’d walked on to the set of a Nollywood movie. Brilliant.
What were your highlights?