Over the past couple of years, I’ve marked the anniversary of my blog launch with a reflection on the past year, my hopes for the coming 12 months and a look at where I think Travelling Tom will end up. But this year, my blog hasn’t progressed exactly how I would have liked.
My social following hasn’t grown that much, although my website traffic has considerably, I haven’t had more than the one press trip that I took at the beginning of the year and I’ve succumbed somewhat to the pressures of a full time working, travel-heavy life.
But that’s nothing to be ashamed of, and by the end of 2018 I’ll have set foot in 18 countries, taken well over 30 flights and done so while working 40 hours a week. Not spending enough time on my side hustle is understandable, so instead of beating myself up for not becoming a global superstar in 2018, I’m going to commemorate the third year of Travelling Tom by looking back at my best travel moments over the past 12 months.
5. Visiting country number 60
Hardly a must-do attraction or chowing down on an incredible meal, my fifth top experience of the past year was visiting Malaysia, my 60th country. There was no fanfare or special feeling as I stepped off the plane, but I was delighted to hit another milestone and inch closer to the coveted 196.
I’ve also decided that for every tenth country I visit, I’m going to take the country’s flag with me, get a photo with it and attach it to the previous flag – so, for Malaysia, it will be tied to Montenegro. I had to get my picture in as well, so I went for one under the Petronas Twin Towers.
4. Being in attendance to see AEK win the Greek Super League
Being a fan of teams like Everton, Roma and the New York Jets, Knicks, Rangers and Yankees (since 2011), I’m an absolute stranger to sporting success. I was at Wembley the day we lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, and they’re the only team I’ve ever seen lift a major honour. But in April this year that all changed.
A trip that we were taking to Athens for my birthday fortuitously coincided with the third to last round of fixtures in the 2017/18 Super League Greece season, and although I was hoping we’d get to see Olympiacos in action, we struck it lucky as AEK, another Athens-based outfit, were a win away from securing their first league title in 24 years.
Although they play their games at Athens’ Olympic Stadium, their average attendance hovers around 12,500. But, for this game, it felt like half the city had turned up with over 50,000 people on hand to witness history.
We knew it was going to busy as we waited for a Metro train to take us to the game, although we had to wait for several as the first few were so packed, we couldn’t get on. When we eventually arrived, the Olympic complex was awash with yellow and gold, with stands selling AEK merchandise, hordes of fans sporting their team’s shirt, and flag-bearing motorbikes and mopeds whizzing past in every direction.
As we approached the stadium and queued up at the turnstile we could hear the roar of the crowd come from within, heightening our anticipation before we became a part of the raucous crowd. The match itself delivered, and while AEK could have won by five or six, they wrapped up the league title with a 2-0 win and three points, sparking jubilant celebrations and an evening me and four of my mates will never forget.
3. Wandering around Singapore at night
I expected big things of Singapore after hearing only positives about the micronation, yet I was still surprised at just how good it was. One of the obvious highlights of our three days in Singapore was simply walking around at night. While the many skyscrapers and structures are impressive in the day, they come to life at night and create one of the world’s most remarkable skylines.
From the light show at Marina Bay Sands to the illuminated track of the Singapore Grand Prix’s night race, there’s so much to see and so after the sun goes down that Singapore is, like New York, a city that never sleeps. It’s also a photographer’s heaven, and I got many incredible snaps including the one above.
2. Seeing the murals on the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine border wall
When I headed to Jerusalem over Easter weekend, I knew it would be a two-for-one deal. Not only would I get to visit a new country in Israel, but I could double up and visit another country, Palestine, as well. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to visit at a time that there would be more unrest in the region, with members of the Israeli military shooting, and killing, unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
It happened the day before my trip to Bethlehem, which is over the border, and in a state of national mourning, most of the major museums and attractions were shut, with the exception of the Church of Nativity which remained open for worshippers to visit during the religious festival.
But one thing they can’t close in Palestine is the border wall, which is home to an incredible array of street art. From large murals of political figures such as Benazir Bhutto and Donald Trump to incredible neon-style pieces, flags and sports shoes, I was taken aback by the sheer volume and quality of work on this unusual canvas. The border wall art is truly one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen on my travels and shows that contained behind the border is a pool of incredibly talented artists whose work deserves to be seen the world over.
1. Exploring Moscow
This isn’t very specific like the ones above, but my favourite trip in my third year of being Travelling Tom was the first – Moscow at the end of 2017. Some people think Russia is unsafe, and we visited seven months before the start of the World Cup, but what we found was an incredible city full of fascinating attractions, brilliant food, friendly locals and a distinct lack of tourists – which certainly was a good thing and meant a lot less queuing and much better photo opportunities than places like Paris and Amsterdam.
We explored the jaw-dropping Red Square which proudly features Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, GUM shopping centre and even had a fantastic winter wonderland Christmas market. We bartered for cheap souvenirs at the Izmailovo Kremlin and were awestruck by the colourful, fairytale-esque buildings, got competitive at the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines, cheered on CSKA Moscow to a 6-0 win and feasted on incredible baked goods at I Love Cake.
It was the perfect snowy city break, with so much to see, do and eat. Getting a visa may be a pain, but it is a worthwhile outlay of time and money for the reward you get at the end. If I was to advise someone who had never been to Europe before to visit five cities on the continent, Moscow would definitely be in there as it has everything you’d want from a city break, it’s safe and it is fairly budget-friendly. Moscow is a place I will never forget and hope to visit again.