2018 Year in Review : Hiking Mountains, Volcanoes and Churches

Pipeaway blogger Ivan Kralj balancing on the boulder in Kjerag mountain, Norway, photo by Ivan Kralj

At about this time last year, I’ve published the article entitled 2017 Year in Review: 3 Continents, 14 Countries and One Big Adventure. When I’ve calculated 2018 travel score, can you guess what did I come up with? I visited exactly three continents and fourteen countries last year as well! It could sound like repeating myself, but this year was very, very new. It brought a lot of changes and further personal reflections in my life. But here I present you 2018 year in review through the lens of my blog. Pipeaway is in its second year now! This is where it brought me, and hopefully you too!

Dangers of overtourism

First of all, let me wish you all the best for the starting year! May 2019 bring you great experiences, whether you gain them by traveling or by staying at your home!

I’ve spent my New Year’s Eve in Zadar, an old city on the coast of Croatia, where I worked last summer for a week, helping out on colleagues’ festival.

Running away from the civilization, while finding out that other people are running away to the same place, makes you wonder about what it is that we are trying to take a break from

That time, the workload was so overwhelming that I couldn’t even find the time to take a dip in the famous Adriatic Sea! Except for that one occasion. In the middle of the night, on the spot where Alfred Hitchcock saw the most beautiful sunset in the world, I went skinny-dipping. Joining the festival artists in mooning at Zadar’s seafront was our contribution to the less famous vistas of this town.

Zadar did launch the tradition of swimming on the first day of the New Year. But I’ve decided I will pass that freezing experience this time, and wait until I get to more supportive tropical temperatures.

Zadar’s famous Sea Organ, an experimental musical instrument played by the ocean waves, was providing so much nicer concert in these winter days than in August when the tourist inflow reached its summer peak.

I learned this year that I should avoid overcrowded touristic destinations if I can. As my trip to Rome taught me, tourist attractions can be indeed distracting. By following the crowds, we could miss the best bits of our trips!

Searching for the solitude

Maybe the fear of overtourism was the reason why my most enjoyable experiences of 2018 were hiking to the less easily reachable places.

Turquoise blue acidic crater lake of Kawah Ijen Volcano behind the dry trees, with clouds floating through, East Java, Indonesia, photo by Ivan Kralj
Ijen crater lake has unearthly color

Some of my favorite experiences involved climbing up the volcanoes. Unlike on incredibly blue Kawah Ijen in Indonesia, where I felt truly one with nature, my hike to Erta Ale, the part of Ethiopian Danakil Depression, the hottest place on Earth, was affected a lot by the presence of other loud tourists who joined the group. Later I climbed Hallasan on Jeju Island, the highest peak of South Korea (I still owe you an article on that!), and enjoyed the views of Santorini’s caldera and swimming on its black beaches.

Even when I went to Norway, the European country of the most fantastic hike routes, I felt I was searching for being away from the others. Running away from civilization, while finding out that other people are running away to the same place, makes you wonder about what it is that we are trying to take a break from.

Even if I am not a practical believer, I found some of the protection from the crowds while visiting churches. Especially the ones that require hiking to reach them. I know, who likes taking effort when searching for God? My church hiking included some lovely secluded chapels in Greece, set in the mountains or on the sea rocks, but also some exhausting hikes to the sacred caves of the Ethiopian mountains. In the monasteries of Mount Athos, I’ve spent three nights, and learned that one would need to isolate oneself for decades if one wants to find that enlightenment.

A person taking a selfie in front of the abyss at Preikestolen, Pulpit Rock in Norway
Norway offers the edgiest selfies one can find in the mountains!
Favorite new country

In 2018, the number of countries I’ve visited reached 42, six of them for the first time. By alphabetical order, the list included Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Netherlands, Norway and South Korea.

If I needed to name one that was a personal favorite, it would have to be Norway. Sure, it was also one of the most expensive countries to visit. But in the end, I felt the investment paid off.

Exploring natural gems in places such as Preikestolen, Kjerag or Flørli was the highlight of my Lysefjord trip. But I can also highly recommend the beautiful Aurlandsfjord, as well as Bergen, the European rainiest city. It surprisingly didn’t rain there at all during my 5-day visit!

Favorite new city

If someone would analyze my 2018 itinerary, one could think that I fell in love with someone in Hungary. I’ve visited Budapest four times! One of the reasons bringing me to this city, again and again, was the fact that it is a major travel hub. Flying to specific destinations turns out a lot cheaper from there than flying from my hometown of Zagreb. Also, with international train ride connections priced at just 9 Euros, I’ve found out that Budapest was a perfect city break destination for me. Every time I come, I make sure I don’t miss its amazing thermal baths. It’s therapy!

Street art mural in Kapana District of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the oldest city in Europe, photo by Ivan Kralj
Two faces of Plovdiv – being the oldest city in Europe doesn’t mean that it cannot be a street art capital as well

However, when talking about the new cities I visited in 2018, the top place has to go to Plovdiv, the oldest city in Europe. This charming Bulgarian town is the European Capital of Culture in 2019, so there will be a lot going on! Make sure to check at least some of the points of my itinerary!

If you prefer to think ahead of time, do check Kaunas in Lithuania! The city is changing a lot while preparing to take on ECC title in 2022. I’ve visited and written about the Devil’s Museum, but there is so much more to explore!

If you are a history buff interested in the early civilizations, I would recommend visiting Delphi in Greece, the center of the world, or Aksum in Ethiopia, one of the oldest continually inhabited places in Africa.

Sunbeds at the terrace of Limalimo Lodge, overviewing the misty Simien Mountains during sunrise, photo by Ivan Kralj
The views of the mountains from Limalimo Lodge are heavenly
Favorite hotel stay

As usual, in 2018, I’ve stayed in various types of accommodation. From monasteries to Couchsurfing couches, from hostels to guesthouses, from nice beachfront hotels to remote wildlife lodges

My favorite stay of the year was however in Limalimo Lodge, the boutique eco-resort in the Simien Mountains. It was a perfect place to relax from the hectic environment of the Ethiopian towns! Located in the national park, the hotel is on the daily migrating paths of Gelada monkeys, the favorite animals I interacted with in 2018. And I remind you that this was in a tight competition with feeding the hyenas in Harar, swimming with crocodiles in Doho Lake, and encountering tons of cats in Greece that made me reflect on life.

If you want to know which engine I usually use to find hotels, it is Booking.com. Consider using this link if you want to receive 10 percent of your first stay back!
Pipeaway blogger Ivan Kralj and Couchsurfer Yunrok Lee sitting around the table full of various food in the rice wine pub in Jeonju, South Korea, photo by Ivan Kralj
Only in Korea: you order one liter of wine, and you get all this food with it for free!
Favorite food experience

If we talk about tasting new flavors, I would like to put a spotlight on Korean cuisine. I will certainly still write about this, especially the crazy Korean desserts. But in general, the experience of eating a dozen of side dishes felt like a celebration every time I wanted to indulge in food during my one-month stay.

Probably the most special eating experience in South Korea was visiting the traditional rice wine pub in Jeonju. This is where I tried silkworms for the first time! It was not something I would introduce into my daily diet any time soon. But it was also not as disgusting as Westerners would typically perceive any insect-based menu!

Pipeaway’s top articles of 2018

Here is the top list of articles we published in 2018! If you haven’t read them yet, make sure to check what dragged the attention of the other readers!

Two chairs on a terrace in the abandoned Hotel Belvedere Dubrovnik, Croatia, with a view of the seaside and the Old Town, photo by Ivan Kralj1. Hotel Belvedere Dubrovnik: Farewell to King’s Landing Combat Arena

Even if the title might be misleading, this is not a review of a hotel. Hotel Belvedere is an abandoned property in Dubrovnik, one of the most famous Croatian tourist destinations. With its rich history, culture and famous walls around the old town, setting it as a “Game of Thrones” filming location only propelled the city among the stars. Hotel Belvedere acted as a set for one of the fighting scenes in the series, but now it goes through demolition. Check out this urbex tour of the site!

The drawing of the final GWK Bali product - landscape dominated by the waterfall and the largest statue in the world - Geruda Wisnu Kencana2. GWK Bali: Face-to-face with the Largest Vishnu Statue in the World

When I visited NuArt Sculpture Park in Bandung, Indonesia, I have photographed the sculpture of the largest Vishnu ever made. In the meantime, they erected Garuda Wisnu in Bali. I am looking forward to visiting and seeing the completed monument when I return this May. The artist Nyoman Nuarta, who made this masterpiece, also expressed the wish to meet me. I hope he will not objurgate me for the sneak peek photo I provided to Pipeaway readers. Check out how this statue weighing over 3.000 tonnes came into being!

Mandarin oranges stranded on the shores of Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia, after Chinese girls threw them into the sea in hope to find Mr. Right on Chap Goh Mei, Chinese Valentine's Day, photo by Ivan Kralj3. Chap Goh Mei: Chinese Valentine’s Day with Oranges instead of Tinder

Valentine’s Day is approaching fast, but if you are still searching for Mr. Right, consider heading to Penang! This Malaysian island practices an unusual tradition on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year when the singles throw oranges into the sea. Read on if you want to learn how can this possibly bring you love! If you wish to participate in this custom yourself, Chap Goh Mei falls on 19th of February this year. You can technically get a second chance just after that Valentine’s Card on Feb 14th doesn’t arrive!

Some of the articles published in 2017 also entered the list of most-read articles in 2018. This is their top three!

1. Selecting a Plane Seat: 5 Reasons why Last Row should be First Choice
2. Naked Hiking: When I am Nude, All My Fears Disappear
3. Sayonara, Nara Dreamland: Ghostly Amusement Park Exists No More

And then, your all-time favorite article on Pipeaway.com is the one that got viral in Indonesia, so much that it threw American readers off the throne. Read why Selfies as Declaration of Stupidity: #Instaidiots Raping Art Galleries gained more than 35 thousand views!

Is social media dying?

Anyone running a blog knows how social media demand can be overwhelming. The pressure of being always present is probably comparable with the urge the Indonesian girls felt when they decided to make those selfies in Jakarta’s Galeri Nasional.

At some moments of 2018, I even deliberately switched myself off. It made me reflect a lot on the superficiality of the concept most of us are all slaves of.

Grid of Pipeaway's nine most liked images on Instagram in 2018
You sent us Instagram love 45.633 times in 2018! Thank you!

The truth is that many people are leaving social media networks. Many social media change rules or disappear altogether. Our accounts on social media are not really ours, and they can suspend them whenever!

That is why I’m very proud that in 2018, the majority of Pipeaway’s traffic came through organic search. That is 80 percent of all traffic, which is a great progress comparing to 18,1 % in 2017! I must be getting better and better with SEO!

This certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve neglected any of Pipeaway’s social profiles. On the contrary. Pipeaway’s Facebook page still has significant 12k followers and publishes content on a daily basis. Pipeaway’s Instagram followers’ base almost tripled in 2018, reaching 5765 at the end of the year. Pipeaway’s Twitter account is followed by 862 users (compared to 276 in 2017), while Pinterest followship grew from 551 in 2017 to 687 in 2018, with 4,2k monthly viewers. Pipeaway’s Youtube channel has only 47 subscribers, but as it is not my primary objective at the moment, I am happy with that one too. The most popular video there is the one from Japan’s Kanamara Matsuri festival. The video has reached 6,7k views.

Using social networks for a social cause

I am happy that two of my most liked images on Instagram came from my collaboration with Arba Minch Circus. This social circus group works with disadvantaged youth taking them off the streets and bringing them back to school while teaching them acrobatics along the way!

One of the "Circus of Postcards" postcard: Contortionist girl from Arba Minch Circus feeding a donkey in an unusual backbending pose, Arba Minch, Ethiopia, photo by Ivan Kralj
Get this postcard and help Ethiopian youth train in better conditions!

T work of their teacher Tesfahun Mergia impressed me a lot. Therefore, I’ve decided to do all I can to help them continue saving children from the street by securing proper training facilities. At the moment, they train in conditions that are not adequate, and that’s why we launched the project #circusofpostcards.

Call me a dreamer for believing in humanity, but if one percent of you takes a look into this project and decides to help, the goal might be achievable. Buy off the postcards with Arba Minch Circus motives before January 31st and support building the Circus of Postcards!

Stealing images has consequences

My photograph of Dubrovnik sunset that was shared numerous times on Instagram, and liked more than 60 thousand times, was an object of very unfair games in 2018.

The colorful sunset over the turquoise Bane Beach and fort walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia, received more than 20.000 likes on the official Instagram account of Croatian National Tourist Board, making it the second most liked image in 2017, photo by Ivan Kralj
This Dubrovnik photograph is constantly an object of theft

After reposting it on their Instagram profile, one Dubrovnik hotels search engine declined the need to give the image a proper credit. They reposted the picture dozens of times! While Instagram was promptly taking the photos down, the owners of this particular page believed that the benefits they get with publishing them are higher than any punishment Instagram could give them. In the end, the whole account was taken down. But it seems that some never learn their lesson! In 2018, they started to post my image on their new profile too (how saucy!). Again without my credits, which means I will need to urge Instagram to react again.

However, one other theft of the same image felt even more severe. One agency provides digital nomads an opportunity to live and work in Croatia. While they are offering the pricing policy which charges digital nomads 2800 dollars a month for their service, they never considered the need to even ask for the permission for using my image in promoting their project, or adequately compensate for that use, as it is obvious they did it to gain profit. I guess my lawyer will be busy in 2019 too!

Reaching out to new media

In January, Pipeaway launched its newsletter. While I originally imagined it as a monthly thing, I’ve sent out eight of them so far. It will certainly not clog your mailbox, while you will have a greater insight into Pipeaway. So please subscribe through the link! It is free content, and it enables us to stay connected even when social media dies off!

In July, I was invited to join the project “Strolls in Sound” (“Skitnje u zvuku”) on Croatian Radio, and delivered a documentary about sleeping during my Asian travels. This was certainly not the last time we cooperated, so stay tuned!

Thank you

Again, my travels wouldn’t be possible without the support of people. I am thinking of all those couches I surfed in Trieste, Rome, Bahir Dar, Lalibela, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Athens, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Busan, Budapest and Vienna! This space cannot fit all of you in, but you know who you are, as I’ve thanked you personally as well.

I’m also profoundly grateful to the previous cultural connections that still invite me to amazing places where I could hardly travel myself. I am talking about Circostrada Network, Gintare Masteikate, Sverre Waage… People who put Ethiopia, South Korea, Lithuania and Norway on my map.

Then there are hotels and hostels which recognize the value of working together with me, which is a boost of confidence in itself! Thank you for supporting Pipeaway’s journeys!

Mladen’s place in Athlone, the center of Irish nowhere, is where I go to disconnect. It is always comforting to know there’s a harbor to anchor a ship there!

Where next?

After finishing this text, I will start packing! I know, it all might sound crazy, especially as I was the one who coined the term travel fogginess, and still advocates that we should all travel at a much slower pace.

But I also want to believe in Seljan Brothers’ theory on travel microbe, and Asia is calling! What can I do?

The itinerary of the first half of my 2019 includes visiting and living in Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.

I plan to spend summer in Europe, including Switzerland and Croatia, with the possible shift over the Atlantic, into Northern and Central America. I don’t have a precise plan for this period yet.

But there is plenty of projects lining up! Some of them I cannot talk about yet, but they are the exciting new steps that I really look forward to in 2019!

If you are in any of the mentioned locations, whether you are a part of the travel industry or just an interested reader, I’d love to connect with you! Please drop me a message in the comments! I highly appreciate all ideas and propositions. I also look forward to learning where do you plan to pipe away this year!

Sail well in 2019!

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For Pipeaway blogger Ivan Kralj, the year 2018 was a year of hiking mountains, volcanoes and churches. In search for the most extraordinary places on the planet, this article gathers the most important parts of the journey and plans a year ahead. Wanna join this epic route?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on them and make a purchase, Pipeaway may make a small commission, with no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our work!
Ivan Kralj

Editor

Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

6 Comments
    1. Thanks, Pamela!
      Weekend trips are the best!
      I think we tend to forget how quickly we can recharge our batteries, just by making a little break in our everyday schedule.
      Weekend adventure is certainly one of such remedies!

  1. Wow, congratulations. You covered exciting countries in the world, many of which are on my top lists to visit in 2019 – Hungary, Croatia, Norway. I’m saddened to hear about the theft in photography. I’m disappointed to read about the reaction from Instagram. I hope 2019 brings you more exciting opportunities in that arena.
    On our end, 2019 will be about discovering at least 3 new continents, at least 5 new countries and a dozen new cities. We are still finalizing our plans and we will share them soon. I’m writing this from Thailand, a familiar country with new food experiences. Best wishes for 2019.

    1. Thanks for your nice wishes, Rosemary!
      Your 2019 plans sound exciting!
      Even your present sounds exciting!
      I’ll come to Thailand in March. Looking forward to exploring new food myself!

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Pipeaway

* pipe away ['paipǝ'wei] (vt, mar) = to give the whistling signal
for the ship about to leave the harbor

Mapping the extraordinary since 2017.

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Pipeaway is a travel blog mapping the extraordinary people, places and passions.
Founded and run by Ivan Kralj, Croatian award-winning journalist and editor.
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