Personal best and personal worst of travel in 2022

Good riddance to a year contaminated by Covid travel restrictions and multiple failings of travel enterprises, from airlines that overpromised to a UK rail industry that has ministers and rail unions seemingly locked in a death spiral while the hapless passenger watches and waits. And waits.

But amid all the general misery, I have been fortunate to enjoy many memorable experiences – most of them good.

New discovery

Best: northern Quebec

The gorgeous capital of the province of Quebec became reconnected with Gatwick in the summer of 2022. But the history, intrigue and beauty (of Quebec City, not Gatwick) is merely an overture to the wonders further north.

Start with spectacular Montmorency Falls, a water feature 30 metres (100ft) higher than the rather better-known Niagara. Continue north beside the mighty St Lawrence River to reach Tadoussac: the riverside equivalent of a seaside resort, with an exquisite setting.

Then go inland, beside a fjord that matches any in Norway, to Saguenay – once known as the Chicago of the North, now the home for some haunting industrial archaeology.

Commendation, also, for Hibbing, Minnesota – the small northern town where the Greyhound bus was born and Bob Dylan was raised.

Worst: idiot-unfriendly airline website

If no seats are on sale for the day you request at BA.com, you get diverted to the nearest available date. If, like me, you’re an idiot, you don’t notice that you’ve booked the wrong day until it is too late.

Travel bargain

Best: Germany’s amazing all-you-can-travel-in-a-month deal, price €9 (£7.80)

The government in Berlin decided to get people back on public transport by launching the travel deal of the century.

Trains (up to and including Regional Expresses), buses, city ferries and trams, including the marvellous Dangling Tram of Wuppertal, all included for barely more than the cost of a rail journey in from the airport. The deal operated only in June, July and August 2022. But a permanent version, priced €49 for a month (or £1.40 a day), is promised to return early in 2023.

Worst: taxi from Sydney airport to the Opera House (A$80/£44)

On the day in February when Australia opened up to tourists, the rail workers went on strike consigning new arrivals to taxis tangled in traffic jams. To make matters worse, the driver didn’t appear to know the way to Sydney’s most prominent feature.

Bright and beautiful: the Old City in Rabat

(Simon Calder)

City

Best: Derry, Northern Ireland and Rabat, Morocco

A tie for first place between these two fine, walled waterfront cities, full of friendly folk. I spent a stormy January weekend being reminded of the triumphs, tragedies and hopes of the northwesternmost city in the UK, and a bright October day in the Moroccan capital. I can’t wait to get back to both.

Northern sky: beach outside Derry

(Simon Calder)

Worst: Lusail, Qatar

My enduring belief that there is no such thing as a bad city – because they are intense distillations of humanity – was tested when I reached parched, dusty and soulless Lusail, the second city in Qatar, in February.

But then, in December, Lusail Iconic Stadium goes and hosts the finest World Cup final in football history.

Flight

Best: Japan Airlines, Heathrow-Tokyo

In February I was aboard a two-thirds-empty (in economy at least) Japan Airlines Boeing 777, with three seats to myself and outstanding food, drink and service. This was before the skies were closed over Russia so the journey was quick; today the trip is at least two hours longer, taking a southerly routing.

Worst: Air Canada, Chicago-Montreal

All four of my Air Canada flights this year were delayed, uncomfortable and expensive, but this one had the added disbenefit of departing three hours late and depositing me at a deserted airport at 2am.

Interaction with the emergency services

Best: UK ambulance

On the last day of September I successfully hitched a lift in an ambulance for the first time. Obviously I can’t say where, but I can say that it was a fascinating half-hour learning about the stresses and strains of working for the service, while being transported safely and comfortably from X to Y.

NB: there was no patient on board and it wasn’t racing to answer a call.

Commendation for the Lithuanian policewoman who, on sighting my travelling companion and me vainly trying to thumb across the border to Riga in Latvia on a bitterly cold day in March, phoned a friend and persuaded him to act as an ad-hoc taxi.

Dodgy character: vainly hitchhiking on the E77 highway from Lithuania towards Riga

(Julian Eccles)

Worst: Sicilian highway patrol

Also a hitchhiking incident, this time in Brolo, northern Sicily, in August. Due to that rarest of phenomena, a Sicilian train leaving early, I was stranded 50 miles from Messina with a boat to catch.

My cunning plan to hitch there along the E90 autostrada did not rest well with the traffic police, who made me do the walk of shame off the slip road and back to the toll booth with their blue light flashing and all the traffic backing up.

No charges were pressed, and I miraculously thumbed a ride a little later with a marvellous Algerian tourist named Mohammed, reaching the ship with seconds to spare.

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