Every year at the end of December I complete the Annual Review exercise. I first got an idea for this tremendously useful annual ritual from Chris Guillebeau’s blog. This is the fourth time I’m doing the exercise: I’ve reviewed 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2014; the 2012 review was even published on this blog. Below is the (somewhat abridged) review of 2014.
1. The first part of the review is to ask myself these two questions: What went well this year? and What did not go well?
What went well in 2014?
Looking back, 2014 was probably the most amazing year of my life. I spent the whole year literally on the road continuing my Round the World trip that I started back in July 2013. During 2014 I visited 29 countries, many of them for the first time. A whole list of incredible experiences happened on the way, of which the most memorable were:
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Despite its small size, the township of Tarifa is widely known. Firstly, although Gibraltar gave its name to the Strait and controls it militarily, the Southern tip of Europe is in fact in Tarifa. Secondly, due to this geographical fact Tarifa faces the open water on both sides – and therefore it is extremely windy. The winds have made Tarifa a veritable Mecca for all sorts of surfers – from wave surfers to windsurfers to kitesurfers. Thirdly, due to the permanent extreme sports community a kind of a mini-Woodstock atmosphere has formed here.
I arrived in Tarifa at the time when the season was winding down, though not the winds. Tarifa stood half-empty, and yet the weather was warm and of course windy. A dreamy mood at the beach:
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To visit Gibraltar always sounded to me as somewhat fantastic. Yes, it’s in Europe; and yet no other place feels like the limit of Europe. Had I just posted the photo below and asked, where is it, I don’t suppose many would have immediately guessed! I for one have never seen this flag before.
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Look at Spain and try to imagine the point closest to the ocean. The one point from where you would try to launch a Trans-Atlantic journey. Well, Cádiz would be it. The lower left corner, the one that almost looks achingly (or greedily?) towards the riches of Latin America. This strategic position immediately behind the Pillars of Hercules, as well as its ideal natural harbour, made Cádiz probably the oldest town in Europe. The Phoenicians founded it in the days when the world was still young and no empire had ever set its sights on the European continent.
Cádiz’s location is surreal. Old Cádiz is found on a peninsula connected to the mainland only by a sliver of narrow land. As if a classical ruler had decided in his flight of fancy to build a fairytale city based on a project imagined by a court philosopher. In our days the town no longer fits to the peninsula and has steadily grown towards and onto the mainland.
When Columbus discovered America, the first base where the riches flowed and where they were counted and distributed was Sevilla. Sevilla is the point where the river Guadalquivir loses its navigability, hence that was where the ships had to stop and unload. Later a disaster struck: Guadalquivir silted and the unloading point with all the riches was moved here, to Cádiz, bringing with it an unimaginable wealth. This went on until the fall of the Spanish colonial empire in the beginning of 19th century.
Here in the distance you can see the narrow strip of land that leads towards the mainland (it has the wide sand beach, whereas Old Cádiz only offers a boring and narrow stone beach).
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Spain is surprisingly heterogenous. Compared to Italy, its geography looks more like a single entity, and yet culturally it is more diverse – take for one the fact that so many of its regional languages and dialects remain in active use. (Gastronomically though Italy is the clear champion.) This means you just have to visit different parts of Spain. And I’ve been to quite a few, though I always wanted to spend a bit more time in Andalusia. My brother spent one winter in Granada with his family and I visited them there, but it was a short visit and Andalusia has many other interesting places apart from Granada. Therefore this time I headed South West from Barcelona – and the first stop was Jerez de la Frontera.
Jerez is most famous thanks to sherry, the famous fortified wine that originates here. The very word sherry is a linguistic derivative of Jerez. The wine is rather strong, up to 20 degrees. I was surprised to find the amazing variety of various sherries to be found in any Jerez restaurant. Wikipedia has a wealth of info on all of them, I will say that I liked the sweet varieties the most – such as Pedro Ximenez.
Continue reading Welcome to Andalusia: Jerez de la Frontera