[Where I’m At; a monthly update of what I’ve been up to, site news, and where I’m going next.]
Where I’ve Been
Greetings from Tokyo! The month began at Singapore Changi, which set the pace for a busy travel month. It’s been years since I’ve done so much travel, and certainly the most since my back injury last year.
I visit Europe once a year which always begins London. This is a tradition that began in 1999 when I moved to London to work for 2 years. I’ve been back every year since, making London my longest travel run for any destination. The yearly visits has also made Heathrow my second most visited airport (yes I keep track of such things). It’s still a pain to pass through when a bunch of long-haul flights have disgorged themselves first thing in the morning. I’ve since passed the point where I wished to live in London, but it still remains as one of my favourite cities in the world.
When I visit Europe I like to pick some destinations I haven’t visited so this year I went to the Baltics. I’ve been to Tallinn before but it made more sense to visit the three Baltic states together. I was last here in 2000, so I barely remembered what it was like. I was also interested to see what the city is like in the age of the digital economy and the e-residency program. I wrote a longer post about my observations (see below).
I was on my way to visit Riga in 2000 when I got a bus from Tallinn. It turned out that Australians needed a visa to visit Latvia (or a visa from any Baltic state) to enter. This was before the Baltic states joined the EU, and I never considered that I would need a visa if I was freely allowed into Estonia. I was turned back at the border so I had to get the bus back to Tallinn. I said I would return, so 17 years later I did.
Riga a damn cool city. It has an old town with winding, cobbled streets, and outside that the newer-but-still-old town is reminiscent of the Pest side of Budapest. It has a good mix of old world charm and Euro city grit.
I finished the Baltic trio in Vilnius. Like Riga and Tallinn it also has a UNESCO World Heritage Old Town. It’s set on a pleasant little river, and they have sensibly put the new business district on the other side. Each Baltic capital is about 4 hours about by a comfortable bus, so I spent a day and a half in each city. This was a very easy 6-day trip that felt like a holiday.
When I was planning my trip to the Baltics I saw that Minsk is close to Vilnius. The visa to Belarus used to be costly and involve tedious paperwork. Since 2017 there is a free 5-day visa for 80 countries, so I took the opportunity to visit. See my trip report below.
With the Belarus visa requiring an entry and departure from Minsk airport I just picked a nearby city to fly out of, which happened to be Berlin. I keep saying that I will spend a month in Berlin one year. This year is not that year, but a two day revisit is better than nothing. I have a few friends there as well, so it was good to catch up with while I was there.
From Berlin I flew back to Saigon via Frankfurt and Singapore. I wouldn’t normally book two trips so close to each other, but seeing I rent a room here it felt good to have a base to return to.
Yes, Sydney! I am in Tokyo on behalf of a Japanese tourism board based in Australia, which required a Sydney departure for my trip. So instead of flying from Saigon to Tokyo I went SGN > SIN > SYD > HND.
I haven’t been to Sydney for maybe 10 years, and that was only a day when I had a long transfer between flights. I confused many of my Australian friends that I was in Sydney for a day, and not even in Melbourne. I stayed in the city so as soon as I dropped my bags off I walked straight to the harbour, which is always an impressive sight.
I visited Tokyo for 5 days in 2007, and I’m sitting here wondering why I didn’t come back sooner. Tokyo is considered as the biggest city in the world (depending on which metric you use) so it’s no surprise that I love this city. Being based in Vietnam this is like an infrastructure holiday, and I am in awe and envy of the railway system. I also didn’t appreciate Japanese food last time I was here, so this time I am eating well.
ICYMI – Last months posts
Notes on Tallinn – Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town, old warehouses, hipster area, and the E-Residency program.
Visiting Minsk on the free 5-day visa for Belarus – Visiting Belarus used to be a costly process, but now visitors from many countries can get a free 5-day visa upon arrival.
Wow, you got around this month … hope Tokyo is treating you well!
ravi Sachdeva says
Excellent article and really informative at the same time. It’s great to read something fresh. You take remarkable pictures. Sadly, I have never get the opportunity to tour such a lovely place, but willing to. Hope my time will come soon.
Ryan Biddulph says
Awesome dude. You have seen quite a bit.
I love how you are sampling a handful of places, staying long enough to soak up experiences before you move on.
We do more of the slow travel bit mostly but sometimes move through a bit more quickly. All depends on how we plan it and also, if we are doing house sitting or not. Usually our sits are longer term.
Tokyo looks fun. My wife taught English in Hiroshima nearly a decade ago. She fell in love with that wonderfully weird country, its kind people and its fascinating culture.
Thanks for sharing James.
Greg hallett says
Not meaning to be an arse.. from a rationale perspective how do you reconcile your aviation and subsequent carbon footprint with the projected impacts of climate change.. particularly on areas of the world where you live.. ie Mekong delta etc. The effects are already being felt and the science seems to be very clear…