View of city rooftops and a large white church
Lens-Artists,  Travel in general

Celebrating birthdays abroad, near and far

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

In recent years (well, not very recent, for obvious reasons!) I’ve often enjoyed celebrating my October birthday abroad. Sometimes these have been short trips planned just for that purpose; other times we just happened to be travelling at that time. Either way, it’s always a pleasure to mark the day with the variety of experiences that other countries offer.

Here for John’s Lens Artists challenge is a selection of photos and reminiscences from my most memorable birthdays.

1999

In 1999 we were in Stone Town on Zanzibar. We’d spent the first week of our holiday on the mainland in Tanzania, enjoying our first ever safari. The second week was split between Stone Town and a beach hotel on the island’s east coast. On the day of my birthday we went on a boat trip to a ‘deserted’ island where we had a wonderful picnic of barbecued fish. In the evening we had dinner at a restaurant we’d enjoyed a few days before. It was my first experience of celebrating a birthday outside Europe, but not my last!

Door to a shop with traditional shields
Shop in Stone Town
Street with blue house and men sitting on a step
In Stone Town
Tropical beach with boats drawn up and a few people
The ‘deserted’ island
2001

In 2001 we were in Brazil for my birthday, near the end of a trip that had taken us to Rio de Janeiro, Paraty, Iguacu, the Amazon and San Salvador. Those last few days were spent at a beach resort in Bahia, Praia do Forte. The nearby village had a turtle rescue centre which we visited but otherwise it was a place to relax and enjoy the sun before heading home to face the start of the English winter.

View of a beach from the sea, with a small white church
The beach in Praia do Forte village, Brazil
2005

For my fortieth birthday my husband had planned a surprise visit to Paris, my favourite European city. Our photos of that trip, which was my first birthday abroad, remain undigitized, but I do have some from our repeat trip for my fiftieth in 2005.

Old fashioned sign saying Metro
Metro sign in Paris
Large cathedral with flying buttresses
Notre Dame from the east
Church with tall delicate spire
The Sainte Chapelle
2012

In 2012 we were in Ecuador, near the start of the trip that would finish with a week cruising the Galápagos Islands. After a few days in Quito we did an overnight tour with a driver/guide to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa. My birthday fell on the first day of that tour and I was excited to be visiting Cotopaxi as I love mountain scenery. Unfortunately I was hit with the worst case of altitude sickness I’ve ever had (I’m usually OK) and couldn’t face walking any higher than the car park as my head was pounding so badly.

Snow-covered mountain
Cotopaxi from the parking area

We spent the night in a picturesque but chilly hosteria. The tour company had obviously told them it was my birthday and they laid on a special desert, a slice of chocolate cake with a candle in it. Disappointingly however it was actually less tasty than the desert my husband and our guide were served, plus I hadn’t felt able to have a birthday drink because my headache was still pretty bad. A memorable birthday for sure, and I was still thrilled to have seen Cotopaxi!

Formal garden with old white house at the end of the path
My birthday lodgings!
2015

I think my 2015 birthday has to be the most memorable of all, to date. We were nearing the end of our trip around Rajasthan. I started my birthday in Bundi, one of my favourite places on that trip. We had breakfast on the roof of our lovely little hotel there, overlooked by the fort and palace. We then visited the palace, with its faded grandeur and stunning murals, before driving north to Ranthambore National Park.

Room with walls covered in paintings
Bundi Palace: the picture gallery

That afternoon we had our first game drive there and as someone (our tour company? our hotel?) had told our guide that it was my birthday, he was determined to find me a tiger. For a while though it seemed we would be unlucky, although we enjoyed getting our first views of the park which is, as I have said, very pretty. And there were plenty of other wildlife sighting.

Hills with rocky outcrops and trees
In Ranthambore NP

Then our guide got a message that a tiger had been seen in one of the neighbouring zones and was walking towards ours. The jeep was turned around and we headed back to a likely spot, where several other vehicles had also gathered, lining the road and looking towards an area of long grass. And we waited … and waited …

Our guide finally spotted movement at the edge of the grass. Most of us could see nothing at first but then we saw him; a solitary male, some distance away. He lingered for a while, turned and followed the edge of the grass for a distance, then disappeared into it again. Our first drive and we had seen a tiger!

Tiger in long grass
My birthday tiger
2017

In 2017 it was back to Paris for my birthday, celebrating with breakfast in a café in the Place Saint Sulpice, near our hotel. Then a sunny walk in the Butte-aux-Cailles district, photographing the street art before taking the Eurostar home.

Large church with ornate fountain in front
Saint Sulpice
Man photographing wall with road sign and street art
Street art in La Butte aux Cailles
Mural of a couple kissing
Street art in La Butte aux Cailles
2018

My most recent birthday abroad was in Lucca in Italy. We had mixed weather for our weekend, as you can see in the photos, but had a lovely time. If Paris is my favourite European city, Italy is my favourite country on the continent. I love the ambiance and the architecture, not to mention the gelati and aperitivi!

Sign pointing to ice cream shop
Gelati this way
Glass with orange drink on a cafe table at night
Aperol spritz in Lucca

My birthday was quite sunny, so we walked the walls before descending to wander its streets and climb one of the several towers for beautiful views over the city.

People walking along a tree-lined path
On the old city walls of Lucca
Path by a field with an old stone tower
On the old city walls of Lucca
View of city rooftops and a large white church
View over Lucca, looking towards the cathedral

Of course I have also celebrated at home, and sometimes with trips in this country. In 2019 we went to St Ives in Cornwall, as we weren’t long back from our North Korea trip. Covid restricted me to marking 2020 with a lunch at a smart London restaurant (luckily restrictions were relatively loose at that time) and 2021 with a weekend in Dorset. As to this year, all being well I’ll be far from home again – watch this space!

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