Monthly Archives: February 2017

The heart of southern Serbia

When it comes to words difficult to translate, Serbian  merak’ makes the list. It stands for the pleasure derived from the simple things in life. An old traditional song claims that the masters of merak’ are Niš locals: ‘Nišlije – meraklije’. And truth be told, Serbia’s third-largest city captivates with laid-back charm, tonnes of history, great food and music that will make you dance.

Thanks to an increasing number of low-cost flights to Niš, the city has recently popped up as an interesting stop on the Balkan tourist map. Road-trippers can hop on a train from Belgrade or catch one of the buses that leave the Serbian capital every hour. It’s also easy to get here by bus from Sofia or Skopje. Book a room at traditional Garni Hotel Duo D if you want to stay in one of the most historic streets in Niš, bohemian Kazandžijsko sokače (Tinkers’ Alley), or choose ArtLoft Hotelfor a more modern treat in the city centre.

 

Time-travelling: Naissus and beyond

Name an epoch you want to go to and Niš will take you there in the blink of an eye. Once known as Naissus, southern Serbia’s main city was the birthplace of Constantine the Great, famous for issuing the Edict of Milan and making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The archaeological site of Mediana (Constantine’s 4th-century residence) features recently renovated mosaics and other remains from the Roman period. To learn why Naissus was of one of the major stops on the ancient Romans’ Via Militaris, visit the Archaeological Hall.

Niš fortress, in the heart of the city, hides several Ottoman-era architectural beauties including the Hamam (a lavish Turkish bath turned into a restaurant) and the gorgeous 16th-century Bali-Beg Mosque. A gruesome yet fascinating sight, Ćele Kula (Skull Tower) tells the story of the struggle for the liberation of Niš in the early 19th century: yes, it was built from real skulls – the ones of Serbian soldiers – as a warning to all who tried to rebel against the Ottoman Empire.

There are more fight-for-freedom stories to be found in Niš. The Red Cross Concentration Camp is one of the few preserved Nazi concentration camps, from which the first mass escape in then occupied Europe was organised in 1942. The local spirit of liberty also lives on at the memorial park on nearby Bubanj Hill, where three gigantic fists rising from the ground symbolise fighting and sufferings of men, women and children, the victims of WWII.

Things to do in Glasgow

Glasgow has reinvented itself as one of the coolest destinations in Britain. In the early 1900s, a fifth of the world’s ships were built in the ‘Second City of the Empire’. Since its rebirth as a cultural powerhouse in the 1980s, Scotland’s largest city has blossomed into a place that’s every bit as enthralling as its age-old rival, Edinburgh.

 

Think grand Victorian architecture, world-class art and music scenes, fantastic museums, parks, restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and, above all, the warmest of welcomes. Not for nothing is Glasgow known as the friendly city. Which is just as well because it rains – a lot. Here are ten of the best things to do in town.

 

Cruise the Clyde

One of the best ways to experience Glasgow’s history is from its world-famous river. Cruises down the Clyde sail past landmarks including the Riverside Museum, the working shipyards of Govan, and venues from 2014’s Commonwealth Games. If you’ve got more time, the Doon the Watter cruise heads 22 miles downriver to the historic, castle-topped Dumbarton Rock and back.

 

Go to a gig

In any given week in this UNESCO City of Music, an average of 130 music events take place, from country to classical, electronica to mainstream pop. It’s the atmosphere that makes a Glasgow gig legendary, whether catching indie royalty at East End institution the Barrowland Ballroom or a random tiny (and deafening) gig at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, hailed as ‘quite possibly the finest small venue in the world’ by the NME. Basically if you haven’t been to a gig in Glasgow… you haven’t been to Glasgow.

 

Check out the contemporary art scene

Glasgow is home to a thriving community of artists and has a reputation for producing some of the most exciting contemporary art in Europe. Exploring some of the smaller and grungier galleries makes for an unbeatable day out. Check out the established Modern Institute, Transmission, and Trongate 103 in the Merchant City, while in north Glasgow the Glue Factory is a newer industrial venue producing work across art, design, architecture, and music. The West End is home to converted warehouse SW3G, renowned for its multi-disciplinary arts programme and hosting more than 120 artists and designers.

Best wildlife experiences

Spanning six time zones, three oceans and the world’s longest coastline (at 202,080km), Canada is one heck of a big country, and it’s filled to the brim with some of the most epic wildlife adventures you’re ever likely to experience. Nature gives you a giant bear hug the minute you go beyond the cities and into the land of the boreal forests, alpine hideaways or to its remote coast.

Be it singing with belugas or seeking out spirit bears, there’s never been a better time to tune into Canada’s wilderness than as the country celebrates its 150th anniversary.

The ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World’ is Churchill’s nickname and with good reason. Nowhere on Earth are the odds of glimpsing one of nature’s mightiest beasts higher, with sightings pretty much guaranteed. Mellower in summer, these cuddly-looking predators can be spotted chilling on the tundra during safari tours run by a raft of local operators. But the colder days of October and November are really prime time, as this is when the polar bears traipse back from their summer habitat to Hudson Bay as the pack ice begins to form. When it freezes over, it becomes their winter seal-hunting ground. Operating out of their remote, coastal eco lodge, Churchill Wild gets ever closer to the bears on walking tours that will have you burning up the pixels in your digital camera

 

Swimming the salmon run

Where: Campbell River, Vancouver Island

When: late July to October

It’s the summer rush hour on the Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and the water is bumper to bumper with pink, coho, chinook and sockeye salmon, as thousands dash upstream to their spawning ground. Swimming with them is the ultimate thrill. Kitted out in a mask, neoprene suit and flippers, simply let yourself trust the current of this fast-flowing, bitterly cold river to carry you along, eyeballing some of the world’s biggest salmon as they flash past like silver darts. If you’d rather go with a group than go it alone, Destiny River runs salmon snorkeling adventures.

Top five day trips

Hua Hin’s strategic position on Thailand’s upper gulf coast makes it the ideal base for excursions into the outlying countryside. Awaiting you are national parks honeycombed with caves and teeming with wildlife, vineyards offering a tempting wine-filled day out, little-visited beaches and pagoda-packed provincial towns. All these places make for a straightforward day trip, so what are you waiting for?

 

Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

Hugging the coastline 40km south of Hua Hin, Khao Sam Roi Yot is visited by Thais in their droves. What draws them here is Tham Praya Nakhon, a spectacular, light-filled cave that houses a meeting hall built for King Rama V in 1890. Once you’ve marvelled at this cave there are many other less-visited caverns to explore, glistening with stalactites and stalagmites, such as Tham Kaew and Tham Sai.

The park is a paradise for bird-watchers too – it sits at the intersection of the East Asian and Australian migration routes and is home to 300 different bird species – and you’ll also find Thailand’s largest freshwater marsh here, as well as sandy beaches accessed by boat.

 

Getting there

A taxi from Hua Hin will cost 1500B for the day. Alternatively, sign up for a tour with Hua Hin Adventure Tour.

 

Kaeng Krachan National Park

Thailand’s largest national park, Kaeng Krachan is nestled surprisingly close to civilisation, its southern edge a mere 35km from Hua Hin, but sees relatively few visitors, especially during the week. In the mornings, a mist hangs over the park, the peaks of the highest hills poking through it, before clearing to reveal a genuine wilderness: an extension of a huge rain forest that stretches deep into neighbouring Myanmar, complete with waterfalls, tangled jungle trails, a lake and two rivers.

All manner of wildlife roams here: elephant herds, wild deer, leopards, even the odd tiger. The animals you’re most likely to encounter are various varieties of monkeys: gibbons, macaques and langurs, as well as over 400 species of birds and countless different butterflies fluttering around. And everywhere you look, the park is bursting with extravagant fauna.

Most of the animals lurk deep in the park, making it best to visit here with both transport and a guide who knows the place.

 

Getting there

Hua Hin Adventure Tour runs regular trips, some of which offer the option of mountain-biking through the park.