Monthly Archives: June 2016

Interesting Things That You Should Know in ALBANIA

Albania often doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. The country still suffers from the echoes of its Communist past: few people travelled in or out for decades during Enver Hoxha’s dictatorial rule, and as travel in Europe developed, Albania got left behind.

It’s now somewhat overlooked by tourists, who would rather opt for Greece’s famously pretty islands, Italy’s gorgeous countryside or the romance of Croatia. But Albania’s low visitor numbers are no reflection on its offering for travellers. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know you could do in Albania.

1. HAVE THE BEACH TO YOURSELF

Think of Albania and you probably don’t think of the beach – but you should. The country has around 476km of coastline lapped by the warm Mediterranean sea. There are lively resort towns like Durrës in the north and Saranda in the south, but it’s the almost-untouched parts that will impress the most.

Hire a car and drive the coastal road from Durrës to Saranda stopping off in any of the remote fishing villages and towns along the way – the likelihood is, you’ll find a stretch of sand all to yourself somewhere.

2. EAT SUPERB SEAFOOD

Albanian food takes its flavours from a variety influences: the Ottomans, the Greeks, the Italians… But it’s the ocean that gives the country some of its best dishes. All along that gorgeous coastline you’ll find fish and seafood fresh off the boat.

For a perfect antidote to the meaty cuisine further inland, try a shellfish pasta or risotto, or have the catch of the day grilled with the ubiquitous white cheese dip Albania does so well.

3. HIKE THROUGH ALPINE COUNTRYSIDE

In the far north, only accessible by boat across Lake Koman or via the motorway that runs through neighbouring Kosovo, the valley of Valbona is a picture-perfect wilderness. Thanks to its remote location, tourist numbers here are pretty low, but those that do come are greatly rewarded with panoramic views of the looming mountains and superb hiking in one of the most biodiverse places in the country.

There are hikes of varying lengths for all abilities, but they’ve all got one thing in common: each offers an insight into the seriously rural lifestyle of the locals in Valbona. You’ll walk through orchards, forests and farmsteads that defy gravity on the steep slopes of the Dinaric Alps, and can stop off in one of the valley’s stans (shepherd’s huts) for lunch with a local family.

There’s ample camping and a few excellent lodges along the one road through the valley, but most of the activity centres around Hotel Rilindja, where Alfred and his American wife Catherine have been marking up trails and making their own maps for visitors for years.

4. EXPLORE UNDERGROUND NUCLEAR BUNKERS

Albania is often defined by its relatively recent affair with communism: specifically the reign of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. From 1944–85 he ruled the country with a heavy hand and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of politicians, academics and civilians who were persecuted as “enemies of the people” due to their political beliefs.

While Albania is very much moving on from some of its hardest times, small concrete bunkers all over the country serve as a reminder of that dark past, and a few larger structures remain.

Bunk’Art, in the capital Tirana, is a 106-room nuclear bunker turned museum and art gallery. Built by the military to house the dictator and his highest ranking officials in the event of an attack, today there’s a permanent exhibition on the Communist period, plus changing art exhibitions and a theatre showing films.

A similar but far more eerie bunker lies beneath the picturesque city of Gjirokastra – untouched for decades, it’s now just a damp warren of rooms suitable only for the brave.

Best Destinations in Asia

images-2Perhaps because of its low-key reputation, Taipei does not often get recognized for the cheap paradise it is. While taxis and hotels can be more expensive that the other places on this list, it’s the food and shopping that really matter. The endless night markets provide a way to indulge in conspicuous consumption and stuff your face on the cheap. The subway fees are also incredibly reasonable, topping off around US$2. The city contains all the international comforts of home on a great price scale, perfectly mixing ease and excitement.

Penang, Malaysia

Malaysia tends to be left behind on must-see lists, but the country is cheap and gorgeous, and the food is delicious, providing a trifecta of reasons to visit. Penang offers a dazzling mix of cultures, architecture and food so that all visitors are sure to find something to fit their budget. Must-see museums like the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion costs just US$4 for a guided tour, while climbing Penang Hill or the Temple of Supreme Bliss is free. The wide range of culinary delights, whether from street stalls, Little India or local pastry shops keep bellies and wallets happy.

Bohol, The Philippines

The Philippines is a country of cheap delights. Even places like Palawan and Boracay, which are no secret to hoards of tourists, remain easy to do on the cheap. Bohol is notable for it’s nature, whether man-made, like the mahogany forest, or natural, like the decidedly unnatural-looking chocolate hills. Crossing the rickety bamboo hanging bridge costs a few cents, and the Tarsier Sanctuary is an unforgettable, if short, experience.

Sri Lanka

Yala National Park is one of the more expensive ways to spend a day in Sri Lanka, where the entrance fee, jeep rental and driver’s tip will set you back about US$30. The emphasis on natural beauty and ancient sites keep even the most restless occupied. Visit a turtle hatchery, hang out with elephants, climb Adam’s Peak and check out all eight World Heritage sites. Taking the train not only ingratiates visitors to a local way of life, but it’s also a super cheap way to travel. Hanging out of the beach is of course the cheapest way of all to laze away a vacation, and eating endless amounts of curry keeps stomachs and wallets stuffed.

A leopard resting in the Yala National Park. Photo credit Buddhika Gammudali.
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand’s capital remains cheap and cheerful, but it’s the northern part of the country that really satisfies wanderlust and a tight fist. Even splashing out on a hotel doesn’t necessarily mean a busted budget. Cheap eats abound, and the night markets are also wallet-friendly. In Chiang Mai, there are a plethora of free or insanely cheap things to do, many with an tinge of adrenaline to them. Cliff jump, go zorbing, or ride an elephant for nothing or next to it, and then relax at the hot springs or with a massage at the women’s prison.

DRACULA CASTLE

Bran Castle – all ramparts and towers – sits on precipice surrounded by impressive mountains in Transylvania, Romania, just like the castle described as belonging to the vampire in Bram Stoker’s novel. However, links between fictional Dracula and the castle are somewhat tenuous, as Stoker is said to have never visited Romania.

Whether or not it might have once been home to a fang-toothed blood-sucker, though, a stay in Bran Castle is still bound to make your hair stand on end. Its interior is all wooden beams, creaking floorboards and elaborately carved four-poster beds, and outside wolves roam throughout the mountains.

If you’re brave enough to try it out, take note of the house rules before you apply: no garlic, no silver jewellery, don’t cross your cutlery and know that “the count is not a fan of mirror selfies”.

When travelling with your laptop, camera and other valuables, concerns about being robbed are hard to dispel. While you can’t completely avoid this unfortunate possibility, travel insurance makes the worst case scenario more manageable. Remember to keep valuables on your person and expensive items hidden away in a rucksack so that your holiday doesn’t end up costing far more than you anticipated.

Delhi belly – whether you’re in India or elsewhere – is (often) impossible to avoid. In a new country, the cocktail of new bacteria in everything from the food to the sanitation facilities is a recipe for a bad stomach.

That said, you can still minimize the risk. Invest in alcohol gel hand sanitizer, drink bottled water (and use it to clean your teeth) and pick your dining spots carefully. If there’s a decent assortment of locals of all ages eating there, you’re probably onto a winner.

PLANET EARTH

If you love nature, you’re going to love this. The BBC’s original Planet Earth documentary was a feast for the eyes when it came out in 2006, and now they’re back with a second instalment: the imaginatively named Planet Earth II.

This month they released the extended cut of the new trailer and it’s possibly one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever seen. It promises to show viewers “life in all its wonder closer than ever before”, and shots are cut to an epic soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer.

You can watch an agile monkey navigating a forest canopy (0:16) and see lions in action on the African plains (1:44). There are face-planting foxes (1:19) and swimming sloths (1:22), and skip to 2:04 to see an adorable bear with an itchy backside.

The show will be broadcast on the BBC in the UK in November 2016 and will be shown on channels around the world at later dates. Whenever you plan to watch it, this trailer will no doubt inspire you to see more of the beautiful world we live in.

Think of Albania and you probably don’t think of the beach – but you should. The country has around 476km of coastline lapped by the warm Mediterranean sea. There are lively resort towns like Durrës in the north and Saranda in the south, but it’s the almost-untouched parts that will impress the most.

Hire a car and drive the coastal road from Durrës to Saranda stopping off in any of the remote fishing villages and towns along the way – the likelihood is, you’ll find a stretch of sand all to yourself somewhere.

Best Countries in Europe

Record numbers of travelers are hitting the skies each year, as global tourism continues to boom, and no destination is hotter than Europe. Cities like Paris, London and Barcelona each receive tens of millions of visitors each year and are near the top on the list of world’s most visited cities. But what about Europe’s overlooked countries? The following 10 countries don’t receive 10 million annual tourists combined, with some visited by as few as 11,000 tourists each year. So, if you’re looking for a hidden gem or you just want to impress your friends with your obscure travels, look no further.

This list is compiled using data from the World Bank on international arrivals and the numbers only include overnight visitors. Kosovo is excluded from the World Bank’s data and is one country that might give these countries a run for their money.

Luxembourg with 905,000 visitors each year

In between Germany and France, against all odds, lies the country of Luxembourg. Small and known for its immense wealth, Luxembourg offers an interesting mish-mash between French and German cultures, which is evident in everything from its history to cuisine. Though Luxembourg City is the last place one would go for nightlife or a thrilling time, tourists looking for charming scenery and great wines could do a lot worse than Luxembourg.

Serbia with 810,000 visitors each year

Serbia is one of three countries that formerly constituted Yugoslavia to make it onto this list, which reflects how difficult it has been for the countries, outside of Croatia, to bring back tourists after the brutal civil war that occurred when the country fragmented in the 1990s. Still, the fact that Serbia receives less visitors annually than most cities is a shame, as Serbia offers one of Eastern Europe’s most rewarding travel experiences. Start with the hip nightlife scene in Belgrade and go from there.

Iceland with 673,000 visitors each year

Belgrade is one of Europe’s most happening cities, so give it a chance. You won’t regret it.

There’s only so many visitors that a small island (population 320,000) in the middle of the North Atlantic with a name like Iceland can expect to attract, and, all things considered, Iceland has done a pretty good job to get twice as many visitors as residents. For those who do make the journey, Iceland has a slew of attractions awaiting them: hot springs and geothermal spas, waterfalls, whale watching, glaciers and a friendly capital city, Reykjavik. Icelandair connects the country with the rest of Europe and to North America and typically offers some really great deals on flights to Reykjavik.

Bosnia and Herzegovina with 439,000 visitors each year

The name Bosnia still evokes images of conflict for many, as the country’s civil war deteriorated into international conflict in the 1990s, but the country has been fairly peaceful in the almost 20 years since. The country is, however, one of the least developed in all of Europe, as its fragile political system reflects how the nation splintered on ethnic lines after the war. Still, if you’re a traveler looking to see a charming capital city that’s patrolled by European Union peacekeepers, there’s no better place than Sarajevo.

6. Macedonia, FYR with 351,000 visitors each year

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, not to be confused with the Greek region of Macedonia, is slowly emerging out from under the shadow of Yugoslavia. The country, however, is still one of the least visited in Europe. Though Macedonia is home to an interesting ethnic mix of Orthodox-Christian Macedonians and Muslim ethnic Albanians, its lack of key-note attractions keep it from rising to the top of the tourist charts.

All about travelling

Travelling turns you into a brave adventurer, whether you venture where no one has set foot before or stick to a more trodden route. But it’s easy to be put off exploring the globe with worries about safety, money or travelling alone.

Forget whatever’s holding you back: here’s how to avoid letting the ten most common fears stand in the way of your next adventure.

1. IT’S TOO DANGEROUS TO TRAVEL RIGHT NOW

Threats of natural disasters, economic crises and terrorism might have you questioning whether you should be booking your next flight. But while various government bodies might warn against travel in some countries, the reality is that the vast majority of the world remains safe for travellers.

Get peace of mind by checking your government’s travel advice before departure, set up email news alerts about your chosen destination and identify the nearest embassy or consulate in case of emergencies.

2. I DON’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE

If you’re an English speaker, you’ve been gifted one of the finest travel luxuries: the globe’s lingua franca. Unfortunately, in places where this language doesn’t carry the same linguistic weight, communication is problematic.

But even without a common tongue, gestures and a smile are universal and learning the words for “please”, “thank you” and “I would like” can also make you sound polite – a guaranteed means of inspiring others to help you.

3. I WON’T MEET ANYONE TRAVELLING ALONE

The biggest fear for anyone embarking on a solo trip is that you won’t encounter others along the way. Given solo travellers now account for a quarter of all global trips abroad, there are plenty of others in the same boat. In fact, travelling is one of the easiest ways of meeting like-minded people.

Stay in hostels with large communal areas or put yourself into situations such as group activities or tours where you have no choice but to strike up a conversation. You’ll soon have an abundance of new travel companions.

4. EATING BY MYSELF? NOT MY CUP OF TEA

It might seem trivial, but the prospect of dining solo can leave even the bravest of souls quaking in their hiking boots. Don’t view it as a lonely lunch date. Instead, treat it as quality “me-time” and take a book or journal to plan the next step of your itinerary or write about your experiences that day.

Don’t be surprised if you actually end up enjoying it; the feeling of eating alone is a strangely liberating experience – once you take the plunge.

Great America Destinantion

From urban legends passed down for centuries to real-life harrowing tales, America’s closet is filled with skeletons. These cities will put a chill down your spine and make your hair stand on end with their history and folklore. Indulge your morbid curiosity and explore some of America’s spookiest places.

1. BANNACK, MONTANA

When you think about quintessential ghost towns in western movies, you think of a places like Bannack. Abandoned by its residents and forgotten by time, it’s a place full of tragic stories hidden inside the dilapidated, rotting walls of its buildings.

With the major discovery of gold in 1862, Bannack was established and the hope of a thriving city emerged. Soon, though, things went horribly wrong. The sheriff, Henry Plummer, was a well-known criminal and leader of a gang accused of over a hundred murders.

Cut off from the rest of the world, with the only way in or out of the town being the Montana Trail, residents of Bannack abandoned their homes by the 1970s. Today, travellers can visit this ghost town and explore the abandoned buildings as a reminder of a dark place in America’s history.

2. ESTES PARK, COLORADO

Nestled deep in the mountains of northern Colorado, the town of Estes Park is best known as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Yet amid the alpine attractions is one structure that lures your eye with eerie fascination: the legendary Stanley Hotel.

Best known for its role in Stephen King’s The Shining, this behemoth has spooked more than a few guests and staff members since its opening in 1909, and today is reputed to be one of America’s most haunted hotels.

Spend a night in this lavish estate, and you could find yourself among guests both living and dead, including the spirit of Flora Stanley, the late wife of the original owner. Supposedly, if you listen closely at night you can sometimes hear her play her cherished piano.

3. CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

Charleston is one of America’s prettiest towns, boasting a historic district packed with multicoloured homes and a sedate palm-lined waterfront. But look beneath the surface and you’ll find a darker side to this popular destination.

The infamous Old City Jail housed many of Charleston’s most dangerous criminals – including America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher. A few blocks away, St Philip’s Graveyard is said to be haunted by the ghost of Sue Howard, a woman who tragically died shortly after giving birth in 1888. Legend has it that in 1987, a local photographer snapped a photo of Howard’s ghost roaming the cemetery.

4. SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS

The Salem witch trials were one of the deadliest witch hunts in American history. From 1692 to 1693 many residents of Salem were accused of witchcraft and 19 were executed by hanging on Gallow Hills, now said to be haunted by their ghosts.

Another notable landmark is the House of Seven Gables, built in 1668 by sea captain John Turner, which is said to have a secret room where he could hide his sisters from the overzealous witch hunters that often frequented a nearby tavern. Today it’s open to visitors to explore if they dare – many believe the house to be haunted.