So, six weeks, about twenty-six different beds and over 26,000 miles...what's the conclusion? Absolutely bloody amazing, in short. Part of the reason for this trip was to see whether it was possible to enjoy whizzing round the world in such a short space of time (six weeks) and at an, ahem, slightly more advanced age than most who hit a similar trail. The answer is YES to both questions, although tiredness was a factor at times.
Throughout this blog I've tried to avoid naming too many specific hotels and companies for fear of it looking like a PR-sponsored jamboree. Its an accusation often levelled at travel writing, that we are just endlessly nice about people/companies who arrange the trips we go on. The joy of this blog is that I don't owe anything to anyone - the travel features I'll be writing tick those boxes - so anything mentioned here is because I genuinely think its a great place.
So in that vein, I hereby announce the inaugural Fogg Blog Awards - a few suggestions, tips and recommendations for anyone lucky enough to do a similar trip - or just planning a holiday to one of the countries I visited.
The 'I Know This Country Like the Back of My Hand' Award for Best Tour Operator
This one has to go to New Zealand In Depth (www.newzealand-indepth.co.uk). They put together a fantastic itinerary that showed me the best of the North Island, staying at a great mix of places, from lakeside cabins to swanky B&Bs. Everywhere I went the property owners had met and knew the owner of the company, and had only good things to say,
The 'This Could Go on For the Rest of the Day' Award for Best Lunch
Sydney wins this one hands down with two fantastic restaurants; Coogee Pavilions (merivale.com.au) on Coogee Beach - a great sprawling brasserie of a place, great for families and long lunches of cold white wine and seafood platters. And also the Grounds of Alex (thegroundsroasters.com),
tucked away in a residential area of the city, a huge warehouse and fairylit garden, serving up fabulously hearty food, home-made pastries and cakes and freshly-ground coffee.
The 'I Have Actually Found Heaven' Award for Best Beach
Forget Bondi or Santa Monica, beautiful, isolated, unspoilt Kuaotunu Beach
on New Zealand's breathtaking Coromandel Peninsula wins by a mile. My 5pm swim on a sunny Sunday afternoon was one of the highlights of the trip.
The 'Lets Do Something a Bit Worthy This Afternoon' Award for Best Museum
Another joint award; Chicago's amazing Art Institute (artic.edu) has to be a winner, with a spectacular collection of art, including Impressionist galleries that rival anything the Met or the National can offer. On a much smaller scale, the Burma-Thai Railway Museum in Thailand
was a fascinating, sobering, but gently-done exploration of the horrors of the 'Death Railway' in the Second World War.
The 'I'll Be In the Dining Car Waiting for Cary Grant' Award for Best Train Journey
Only one contender here, the E&O Express that glides between Thailand and Singapore;
all polished teak dining cars, white-gloved attendants and the fabulous jazz pianist in the bar. Amtrak might compete on scenery but it doesn't quite match it for luxe-ness.
The 'I'll be Exercising Absolutely No Self-Control' award for Best Dinner
Two very different winners here; the lipsmacking (and mouth-burning) supper we ate on the Yarowat Road in Bangkok's Chinatown; fish steeped in chillis and garlic, crispy shrimp, oyster-sauce coated greens and egg fried rice, with cold Tiger Beers and the traffic rushing past. And then Chicago's renowed Girl and the Goat (girlandthegoat.com); some of the most inventive (and tasty) food I've eaten in a while.
The 'Meeting People is What Its All About' for Best Character
One of the biggest joys of the trip was the amount of interesting, charming people I met. Favourite of all was Mr Cliff, an ageing photographer who sold beautiful pictures on the square in Santa Fe; his grandfather's photographs touched up and reimagined with new digital technology. 'Ah spent a lotta time gettin' drunk in your pubs' he drawled at us, grinning. We loved him.
Honourable mention should also go the truly lovely Maurice, a Maori grandfather who showed me his local marae and revealed a few rainforest secrets to me.
The 'I'm Changing the Locks and Never Leaving' Award for Best Hotel
Tricky this one, because there are so many to choose from. Budget-wise, Citizen M New York (citizenm.com) takes a lot of beating (it even has a rooftop bar) but you have to not mind the pod-style rooms. The King & Queen Suites in New Plymouth (kingandqueen.co.nz) was a great example of a new, fresh hotel with great values...but Crosby Street (firmdalehotels.com) still rocks it for me.
The 'I'm Really Quite Grateful' Award for Making it All Possible
An entirely gratuitous plug, admittedly, but this trip would never have happened without the wonderful STA Travel (statravel.co.uk) - who were keen to get the message across that whizzing around the world is not just for twentysomethings. It's a message I'll be making sure I get out there.
So that's it. The washing is on, the suitcase stowed and it's time to close the blog. It's been an awfully big adventure. I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.