Best of 2022 (in photos)

After a Covid break for 2020 and 2021, Are We There Yeti’s best of is back. You can see previous years: 200920102011,  2012201320142015, 2016, 2017  2018 and 2019.

I only really got going halfway through the year, but I made it matter. I have never been one to count countries, or to think to hard about how many I’ve been too, but I did a lot of travelling this year. In the end, I visited 21 new countries this year. My count, for what it’s worth, is up to 48, so close to half the countries I’ve been to I saw this year for the first time

Now, I’m more of a slow traveler by inclination. Traditionally I aim for a minimum of one month per country and try to return to see more. For example, I’ve been to Thailand 10 times, Malaysia just short of that, Nepal 4 times and so on. That did not happen this year. Some countries I spent as little as 2 nights in. (Sorry, Slovakia!) I also had to leave out some places that I really wanted to see (like Budapest, like Tbilisi) but it’s just a good reminder that travel is about the places you see, not the places you didn’t.

It wasn’t just a year of Europe. My sister took me on a surprise trip to San Diego for my birthday. It was my first time back since I lived there in 2006. And in March I went to Chicago, and also to Wisconsin, for the first time for a role-playing game convention.

It was a year up with the halcyon highs of 2013/14 and 2019. Perhaps it even exceeded them.

The rules are, as always, one photo per month, but that hardly seems fair. I may also do a follow-up with at least three photos per country.

January 2022

January – A hike at one my favorite places: Cape Horn. This hike is good year round but in the winter, with snow in the mountains, it’s fairly exceptional. It’s nice little climb up and if you have time it makes for a great long loop.


February 2022

February – The afore-mentioned trip to San Diego took me to one of my favorite restaurants of all time. Pokez! Incredibly, it hadn’t changed (other than prices) since I was last there in 2002 or 2003. Yeah it’s a sloppy photo but sometimes you just gotta embrace the slop. The entire trip was great, with visits to Hillcrest Balboa Park, the cactus garden, Pacific Beach and some glorious sunsets and a good run along the waterfront.


March 2022

March – This is the house that Dungeons and Dragons was invented in. In March, I went to Gary Con with my best friend. Gary Con is a convention for old school roleplaying games (named after Gary Gygax) and Wind and I had an amazing time, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I even got my dice blessed at the shrine to Gary Gygax.


April 2022

April – Pretty much my favorite thing ever is the UK show Taskmaster. I got my friends to gather in the park with me and play Taskmaster for several hours. I don’t know if I have ever laughed so hard and I can’t imagine a much better way to turn a year older. This was at Rocky Butte, which is another one of my favorite places in Portland.


May 2022

May – There is a place called Fernhill Wetlands close to my mom’s house. I go running there sometimes but next to Fernhill is a farm with baby goats. For reasons I can’t guess at but am so grateful for, these baby goats jump all over me when I go by.


June 2022

June – The trip began in Berlin. I love that city. It’s so walkable, and so vegan-friendly and the funky Kreuzberg area feels so much like Portland. Berlin feels smaller than I was expecting but in a good way. It’s a place you can walk for hours and hours and see so much good stuff. They have also have the best vegan donuts I’ve ever seen.


July 2022

July – I had a job in Poland. It ended very badly but I really liked Warsaw. It’s an amazing city but to be fair, Krakow is the more beautiful place to visit for a day or two. It’s such an atmospheric city, gorgeous in the rain, and there is a fire-breathing dragon. But this wildflower and palace combo took place in a rare break from the rain so I really appreciated it.


August 2022

August– The Baltics were a place I wanted to visit for decades and they didn’t disappoint. Lithuania was the kind of country I would like to live. Latvia is a wonderful place; I met so many great new friends in Riga. But Tallinn, Estonia stole my heart. It’s a top 5 city in the world for me. My Estonian friend Merit helped me to see places outside the city: we saw a WWII submarine, a Soviet era quarry/prison, a forest lacking mushrooms but full of berries, a haunted castle, and this bog, which was so nice for swimming.


September 2022

September – Slovenia was another country I had wanted to see for at least two decades. Ljubljana didn’t live up to my high expectations, but Lake Bled exceeded them. Swimming in the lake was one of the single-best experiences of my summer. Even the sunbeams seem to agree that Bled is a special place.


October 2022

October – I spent October traveling the Balkans with my sister. We met in Bosnia, bussed to Montenegro, then went to Albania, Northern Macedonia, and Kosovo. Kosovo is probably the second friendliest country I’ve ever been (hard to top Myanmar). but our hike in Kotor, bookended by laps full of purring kittens, was another perfect travel day, even if we did hike a bit more than we expected.


November 2022

November – At some point I realized I had to be in Romania for Halloween. My sister was going to Budapest but I was all out of Schengen days. With Transylvania so close I had to go. Many travelers don’t, but I loved Bucharest. However, Romania gets better when you get up into the traditional parts. I spent long enough in Sighisoara that people thought it was weird (it’s a very small town) but that was in October. I spent a chilly morning exploring Brasov and it was all vibes.


December 2022

December – I spent 6 weeks in Turkey, house and catsitting for a friend I worked with in South Korea. Istanbul is a great city, very historical, and hilly as anywhere I’ve ever been. This view of the full moon over the Martyr bridge in the district I was staying is one that a picture really can’t capture but a good embodiment of my time there.


Friends

I wouldn’t be able to do a count, but I had so many days and nights of meeting new people and making new friends. Especially the crew at the Naughty Squirrel but almost every place I stayed I had a great chat with the people around me. That’s a huge, mind-expanding part of travelling. There are definitely people I want to go back and visit and I owe thanks my friends Merit, Jade and Sabrina, Joni, Esther, and Josi for hosting and showing me around some cool places.

Budget

With flights, more expensive accommodation than expected, and getting shorted a month’s salary by my school in Poland, it was an expensive year. I’m a budget traveler and even 8 bed hostels were as much as 50 euros a night. Luckily, eating from the grocery store is still manageable and some places are more reasonable for housing. My sister is my travel hero, both loaning me money and often footing the bill when we traveled. It means I was able to do everything I did for about 800 a month.

Future Plans

Still taking shape but I’m hoping for some big hikes next year.

Truth is less strange than fiction

Some areas have such a strong sense of place that to visit them is to halfway live in a story. These places depend on the person of course, but you can imagine the first time you visit Tokyo or Paris or Rome and feeling the surreality of being in such a famed place. Crater Lake in Oregon has always been like that for me. This fall, I found another place.

I came to Transylvania to celebrate my favorite holiday of the year. The train that goes up the country passes farms and men in horse carts. Yellow and red trees and small ponds dot the countryside In fact the descriptions that Bram Stoker used in Harker’s diary are pretty spot on. I spent four nights in the small town of Sighișoara mostly because it’s where Vlad Țepeș was born. And I gotta tell you: this place is packed a horror story clichés. Luckily, we’re talking the Act I, vaguely ominous clichés rather than anything truly terrifying.

People on the streets give me grim-faced stares. Every yard has a dog that barks like mad when I go by. One street had a dead cat splayed out grotesquely in the street, surrounded by street dogs. The smell (and sight) of woodsmoke is everywhere. There are ruins even in the city center and yellow leaves dot the cobblestone streets. The mornings and evenings are chilly and foggy and there are strange harvest effigies (not to mention a mysterious locked door to nowhere) in my hostel room.

I climbed up to a plateau behind the city today where a group of shepherds sitting around a fire had to shout at their pack of dogs, who definitely felt like I had encroached on the territory of them and their sheep. These were big dogs that are responsible for keeping the sheep safe from bears, wolves, and lynxes. It’s hyper-real to be in a place that drips with so much of the exact atmosphere you expect.

The list goes on but the point is I’m fascinated that these elements that make me feel like I’m in the beginning of a story would make such a poor story. The village with unwelcoming members is as tired as any trope can be, and barking dogs might be even more tired. But they sure feel real when you’re there.

If anyone was writing a horror story in 2022 with those elements, they would be either getting ready to subvert these ideas or writing a very unoriginal story.

But here’s the thing. Being here and experiencing these boring ass story elements is fully the experience I could. This might explain why so many stories use boiler plate templates for plot and story. But real life doesn’t need subversion. Real life is happy to stumble from one cliché to another. Real life is, in short, far more boring and far more complex than fiction.