2008 will go down in my memory as a pivotal year in my life, mostly due to a job change that enabled two lifelong dreams to come true: I finally had the opportunity to live in another country (Austria) and I traveled extensively. I traveled so much that I actually lost count of how many countries I passed through. I think I went to 25 countries. But I'm not sure. I went to every continent except Africa and Antarctica this year. I saw Mount Everest and K2, the barren landscape of Mongolia, and lush coastline of Queensland from the air. I drank kvass in Moscow, frogs egg tea in Taipei, and apfelwein in Frankfurt. I ate bibimbap in Seoul, paella in Barcelona, and all kinds of meats at a churrascaria in Sao Paulo. One day a few weeks ago when I had nothing better to do, I calculated my airline mileage, and concluded that I flew almost 92,000 miles this year (and my first reaction was: "Dang! If only I'd gone to ___, I might have made 100,000 miles.")
All that travel may sound glamorous (OK, it was! Mostly.) but it also has its drawbacks. I was away from home for about seven and a half months this year. In addition to missing family and friends, I missed out on my nephew's high school graduation. And I was too jet-lagged to celebrate my tenth anniversary. Thankfully, my family stayed in good health while I was away - and for the most part, I did, too. Sure, there was the sinus infection from hell when I was in Portugal, and the two instances of barotrauma, and oh-yeah that nasty bug I brought back from India. But overall, it was a healthy year and I didn't break any bones or cut myself with kitchen implements this year.
Thankfully, all of my travels were safe. Despite the aborted landing in Mallorca when my plane had a "Lufthansa moment" due to windshear. Despite the attempted pickpocketing in Buenos Aires. Despite the people shouting "Hello, English! Give money!" and getting all up in my face in Shanghai. And all those late night walks home - alone - in Vienna. I truly believe that I had a band of angels following me around everywhere I went this year, and I'm grateful to them.
A highlight of the year was finding Jaana, my BFF from freshman year in college. Jaana is from Finland and we were as thick as thieves, but we lost touch in 1988 or thereabouts. I found her on Facebook (actually, I found her daughter on Facebook) and while I was living in Europe I went up to visit her and her family in Helsinki. It was as if no time at all had passed!
Sometimes when I think back on this year, I'm not sure it really happened. It seems like a dream. Only the blog I kept while I was away, and the photos I took, and of course, the memories - serve as proof. But I'm home now and it's good to be home.
The other major thing about 2008 that I will always remember is this year's Presidential election. If you had asked me in January how it would turn out, I'm not sure I could have predicted the outcome. I had been feeling for quite a while now that the country was so divided on everything, and I certainly never realized that both my home state and my current state would ever possibly move from "red" to "blue." But it happened. And now we have 20 more days until our new President takes office. He sure has a big job ahead of him!
None of us know what next year will hold. As for me, I'm feeling optimistic. Welcome, 2009. Happy New Year to All!