Tell a Mexican you’re going to Oaxaca and you will undoubtedly be hit with a barrage of delectable recommendations: moles, tamales, posoles, quesillo and chocolate, to name a few. While it’s true that Oaxaca is a culinary thrill for anyone into new flavors, the state is also home to a few special treats for the exceptionally adventurous of tongue and steely of stomach. Oaxaca de Juarez, the artsy oasis of a capital city at the junction of the Valles Centrales, teems with dining options, from classy, sit-down restaurants that serve plates worth a small fortune in pesos to budgeting itinerants, starving artists and penny-pinching English teachers, to crowded street stalls with standing room only, where one is often forced to reach over a few shoulders to retrieve one’s tacos. Mind the taxi traffic. The city’s pervasive population of North American snowbirds keeps the gourmet places abuzz with English chatter about whatever entertains those who move to a foreign country and never bother to learn the language. Places like these tend to incorporate traditional Oaxacan delicacies into their bourgie, impeccably presented plates: some grasshoppers in your guacamole, maybe. They’re easier to stomach that way.
It’s undeniable that the tourist trails throughout Southeast Asia are well trodden upon. In Thailand and Vietnam, travellers seem to have permeated every nook; they can do their laundry, book bus tickets, take inclusive tours and order food, all with relative ease. Cambodia and Laos, though slightly less visited and more susceptible to pockets of trouble, are still both fairly easy enough to breeze through. Though reviews and travellers’ tales of all four abound online and in guidebooks, there are still more adventurous paths to find. The overland route from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia is one of these unmapped and unpopular routes, although it nevertheless possesses a little charm and is a wallet friendly alternative.
As I gaze at the landscape below, I wonder if I’ve landed on Mars or perhaps have been transported into one of Dali’s surrealist paintings. Picture a spectacular topography of vast plains and valleys, rolling hills, rugged mountains and extinct volcanoes. Then visualize bizarre rock formations - or ‘fairy chimneys’ – in mushroom, pinnacled, capped and conic shapes, scattering the area and giving it an otherworldly appearance. Yes, it’s easy to believe I’m on another planet. But, no, I’m in Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey, about three hours’ drive south of Ankara. Cappadocia covers nearly 3,900 square kilometers in the country’s Central Anatolia Region.
It is tough to know where to begin with a place like Vienna, a city seemingly maintaining its historical appearance with rare exceptions. The tourist guides offer a never-ending list of attractions to see, including the splendiferous Schonbrunn and Hofburg Palaces, a number of museums, the Vienna Opera and, of course, Mozarthaus, the former home of the famed composer. Each of these is a must see, to be sure. But frequently on our journeys there is a lot to be gained from simply strolling up and down random streets and admiring the sometimes eclectic mix of architectural styles, even if you don’t know their names.
Imagining what Doha is like is really not possible unless you’ve had the good fortune of walking along the city’s Corniche on a not-too-hot summer's day, with the breeze tickling your hair and the Arabian Gulf lapping peacefully at your feet. The city's Corniche - the nearly seven kilometer promenade along the coast - is a picture postcard indeed. It's an almost-surreal vision for joggers, walkers and those who cannot help but stroll and marvel at the architects, designers and workers who have built a spectacularly beautiful city out of the desert in such a short time, all the while maintaining some very traditional ways of life. Without a doubt, this city is amazing!
As the stars fade and the colours of the sky slowly begin to change, the dark shadows of the immense temple walls gradually emerge. The anticipation builds among the hushed crowd as the temple’s towers and their reflection in the moat surrounding the vast complex become increasingly clear. And then, this visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking scene reveals itself in full glory, rendering viewers speechless; its a truly amazing moment. Seeing Angkor Wat was just one of many such 'pinch me' moments I had during my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with Journeys Within, an award-winning Southeast Asia tour company. I actually stopped counting them after just a few days into my fascinating cultural odyssey; they came so fast and furious, one after another, all I could do was continue to pinch myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming.
Bulgaria, often a summertime destination or pit stop for those visiting the southern part of Europe, is frequently overlooked as a great continental winter break. This needn’t be the case, however, as this hidden European gem offers both spectacular mountain scenery and winter sports at fabulously low prices, all with the very finest of international standards. Being so far to the south, this small country gets the best of both the Mediterranean sun and the Carpathian snow, which if you’re lucky, come together to make for a charming winter wonderland. There's nothing quite like blissfully lounging near a mountain top café and soaking in the sun before donning your skis or hopping on your snowboard and picking a path through an ancient snow-filled forest to the ski centers below.
A small triangular island south of Melbourne, Tasmania floats in the Southern Ocean with Antarctic winds bringing slightly chilly weather for most of the year. The island's shape has lead some Australians to cheekily refer to a part of the female anatomy as her “map of Tasmania”, but otherwise few people talk about this distant corner of the country. Rich in natural beauty and wrapped in a hint of wild, Tasmania is a must-see destination for all outdoor buffs, thanks to its range of with pristine national parks that can only be explored by foot. Dense rainforests with huge ferns as tall as trees will amaze you and make you think of the land time forgot! The weather can be a little off-putting for sun-seekers, particularly from May to December. While this may not be a part of Australia blessed with sunshine, though, the coastline is still one of the most beautiful in the country.
It’s hard to believe that Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia or, indeed, of any country at all. Among the approximately 400,000 people living there, it seems that half of them are either indoors or perhaps on holiday elsewhere. There are no subways and trams seem to be more prominent than buses. Don’t get me wrong, no complaints here; it's just an observation. On arrival via boat from Vienna, it is possible to walk, without getting lost, the kilometre or so to the hostel. The staff member who checked me in on my arrival was so bursting with information and ideas that it seemed she hadn’t spoken to any tourists in weeks! And that is a good thing for the uninitiated in Bratislava.
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