The end of 2017 marks my sixth full year of writing this blog.
When I first started this journey in January 2012, with a short post about how frustrating I found the queue at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 (read it here), I never in my wildest imaginings thought it would keep going for so long.
But this little corner of the internet, where I get to self-indulgently write to my hearts’ content, has endured. And what began as a random hobby has, over time, become a defining plank of who I am. In many respects writing is now my drug of choice: I can’t live without it. So thank you for your continued support and readership – it really does mean the world to me.
If I look back over the past year, it turned out to be a pretty good one for me. I suppose after the fairly crappy nature of 2016 that was always going to be the case. Like they say in Hebrew, “in life, everything passes”.
Still, it was a great relief when many of the bush fires that 2016 threw my way burned themselves out in 2017. Problems got resolved, crises subsided, and the way forward started to reveal itself. There are of course challenges yet to be dealt with, and a few tough decisions to be made in the coming year – that’s life. But after the low point that was 2016, things sure felt a heck of a lot better in 2017.
The past 12 months also turned into a bit of an unexpected travel bonanza. A combination of work obligations, family needs, and circumstance meant that I spent much of the year running around the world. Even more so than normal, which says a lot given how much I “normally” wind up running around…
To start with, I got to add a bunch of new countries to my “places I have been” list.
In April, I visited Jordan for the first time. I saw Petra, which was just as amazing as I had expected, ticking off one of my longest held bucket list desires in the process (read about it here). Although the rest of Jordan – the desert, the Dead Sea, Amman – was equally amazing (read about it here). As travel destinations go, Jordan rocked.
A few months later a cheap plane ticket and cancelled work meetings led to an unplanned 10 day trip to the Balkans – Croatia (read about it here), Montenegro (read about it here), Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Again, these were all fabulous, especially the food (read about it here), which was off-the-charts incredible.
Then in August, a snap decision to attend the Christening of a friend’s baby expanded into a last-minute Guatemalan trip. Once again I got to knock off some bucket list destinations – Lake Atitlan (read here), Antigua (post coming soon!), and the Mayan ruins around Tikal (post coming soon too!). And like Jordan and the Balkans, Guatemala was so unexpectedly wonderful I can’t wait to return.
Finally, another last-minute trip in November, over the North American Thanksgiving holiday, got me to Mexico for the first time. There I spent a week on the beach in Tulum, which was heavenly.
In Australia, I made a first visit to Uluru in the Northern Territory. I got to walk through the truly outstanding Field of Light art installation, fly over Uluru in a helicopter, and witness the rare magic of a thunder and lightning storm in the desert.
In the USA, I made a number of first time trips as well: to Boise in Idaho (read about it here), to Annapolis in Maryland (a wedding), to Jackson Hole in Wyoming (skiing), and to Las Vegas in Nevada (yes, I know, hard to believe I had never been to Sin City before. But at least I popped my Vegas cherry in style, so to speak, with Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Tiesto and a Cirque du Soleil show, all in one sleepless 24 hour binge).
And in September I spent ten days in Black Rock City, a “pop-up” community of 80,000 people in the Nevada desert, for the annual Burning Man festival. Mind-blowing doesn’t even begin to describe what I experienced there – I am still struggling to find a way to write something that makes sense of it all for this blog.
On top of all that, my 2017 travel list also included return trips to places I have been before: USA (Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Houston, the latter including a most excellent visit to NASA); Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane); UK (London and surrounds, Bath, Manchester); France (Paris); Italy (Milan); Spain (Barcelona); Portugal (Faro and the Algarve); Israel (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Negev desert and Eilat – a first time visit to Israel for my kids; introducing them to Israel was a personal highlight of my year – read about it here); Turkey (Istanbul); Singapore; Thailand (Phuket); Cuba (Havana, including a day with the Jewish community there – read about it here); and The Bahamas.
So in travel terms, 2017 really was a bumper year. I clocked a lot of miles, and made a lot of flights. And even though every year I say that I would like to travel a bit less in the future (I do mean it quite sincerely – life on the road can be exhausting) I am not complaining. The travel Gods continue to smile on me, and I am grateful to have a job and a lifestyle which allows me to do the things I love to do – travel, explore, eat and write.
Speaking of writing, on that front 2017 has also been a watershed of sorts, in that I finally finished writing my first book. And I made substantial progress on my ambition to see it (and a couple of anthologies of stories from this blog) published. The fruits of which will, with a bit of luck, become apparent in 2018. Exciting stuff to come, I hope, so stay tuned.
As in the last five years, I am ending 2017 on a beach. Specifically, I am in my home town of Sydney, enjoying the Australian summer with my kids, family and friends. So I thought that a quick end of year story about a visit to the beach might be an appropriate way to conclude another year of blogging.
This particular story takes place on my first day back in Sydney, when I went to meet an old and very dear friend for breakfast. We have one of those wonderful friendships where we might not see each other for months or even years on end, but then when we do it is as if we just saw each other the day before.
We agreed to meet at Clovelly Beach, one of Sydney’s lesser known ocean beaches. It is wedged in between Bondi, Coogee and Bronte, and as with these bigger, more famous siblings, Clovelly sits at the heart of a Sydney suburb. Meaning that around the beach are bustling shops and cafes, busy streets, and rows of residential homes and apartment blocks. All located not fifty meters away from the sand.
The beach at Clovelly is quite small, a patch of sand in front of a neat grassy park. But it is held in the crook of a deep, pronounced bay, formed between two long, low headlands. So the ocean in front of the Clovelly Beach is a bit like a very large, v-shaped swimming pool, that stretches directly out to sea.
The shoreline of these headlands has been concreted over, and many people use the concrete as platforms on which to lay out their towels, set up umbrellas, tan, picnic, and generally just hang out. All of which makes Clovelly a bit unique in Sydney terms, in that it has a distinctly European feel: less your average Aussie-style sandy beach, and a lot more like the pebble and concrete beaches often found around the Mediterranean.
Anyway, on the day I visited, Clovelly Beach was packed. There were toddlers wading in the shallows under the watchful eye of parents; kids on school holidays; couples sunning themselves side-by-side; office workers enjoying the start of their Christmas break; groups of rowdy teenagers, life-guards, swimmers, a few divers, gawking tourists, and backpackers from around the world.
My mate had brought with him two sets of snorkels and fins, and we decided to go for a quick dip before breakfast, to work up an appetite.
The sea was quite choppy, with a decent size swell surging in and out from the ocean beyond the headlands. So it took quite a bit of effort to swim into the center of the bay. The water there was pretty cold, but also really clear, so we could see everything below us: the sandy seabed, rocks and bleached stumps that were once coral, billowing strands of seaweed, and schools of small fish, darting back and forth.
After about 15 minutes I signaled to my friend that perhaps we should head in. It was, as I mentioned, a tiny bit cold. And I was also hungry. But he shook a finger at me. “No, we aren’t leaving until we see a groper,” he said.
I must have looked a bit confused, because he quickly explained: “Relax, I’m not talking about Harvey Weinstein. There are two big blue groper fish that live at Clovelly Beach. If you hang around long enough, you are almost guaranteed to see one. And I’m not going in until I do.”
So we splashed around a little bit longer, scouring the water. And sure enough, a few minutes later, my friend tugged at my arm and pointed to a clump of rocks about three meters below the surface. There, nibbling on the sea grass, was a massive blue fish. And by massive, I mean seriously massive – probably about a third the size of me.
Although even more extraordinary than the presence of this enormous fish, right in the middle of a super busy city beach, was its complete “fuck you” attitude.
You see, the blue groper did not give a damn that we, or anyone else, were there. It was oblivious to the flailing arms and legs of the swimmers and snorkelers passing right above it. The fish didn’t flinch even when my friend dived down and petted it like a domestic animal. It just kept on nibbling away at its lunch, fearless and indifferent to our presence.
When we swam back to the beach I was feeling pretty ecstatic. I had, after all, just got up close and personal with a giant blue groper. Something I most certainly had not been expecting as a warm-up to breakfast.
My friend summed it up well. “Wasn’t that amazing? I mean, we are in the middle of the city. In most other places you’d have to drive hours to get to a beach as nice as this one, and to see a fish like that. But in Sydney we can roll out of bed, swim, see a big fish, and be drinking our coffees five minutes later.”
In 2017 I was lucky enough to visit so many amazing places, old and new, all around the world. Along the way I was privileged to see many incredible things, meet many wonderful people, and create many memories that will live with me forever.
And yet, if that blue groper at Clovelly Beach has taught me anything, it is that sometimes we don’t need to travel anywhere to experience moments of wonder and joy. Sometimes, the things we should be most grateful for are just underneath our noses.
Things like sipping a frothy cappuccino in the summer sunshine. Like spending precious time with family and loved ones over the holidays. Like a swim in the sea, by a beautiful beach, in the middle of the city. Like lifelong friendships that transcend time and space. And like getting to casually hang out with a magnificent blue groper, in its home at the bottom of the ocean, before breakfast. As if that was no big deal.
With 2017 fading away and the promise of 2018 almost upon us, I want to thank you for another year of reading my blog. And I want to wish you, wherever you may be, a very Happy New Year.
I hope that in 2018 you have many opportunities to feel blessed and grateful. Especially for all the many wonderful, amazing things that might be right there in front of you.