Guatemala: Friendly Faces

GUATEMALA CITY has the quiet air of a village grown over-large. The narrow streets, paved in concrete with high, red-painted curbs, struggle to cope with the mass of traffic. The sidewalks are narrow and shops spill out onto them, with black-clad armed guards a presence in many. Sun-faded paint covers walls that are broken up with iron-barred windows and bursts of political graffiti. Continue reading “Guatemala: Friendly Faces”

Galapagos: Enchanted Islands

AT THE top of Bartolomé Island, my legs aching from the long climb up its steep wooden stairway, I look out over the Galapagos Islands. The black volcanic landscape at my feet looks otherworldly, relieved by a flash of greenery between the two beaches that curve away far below. The horizon is filled with islands and a single cloud, dark with the elusive promise of rain, that hangs over a tranquil ocean living up to its “Pacific” name. Continue reading “Galapagos: Enchanted Islands”

China: Great Wall

THEY say every journey starts with one step. Sometimes it starts in farce, too. Knowing it is essential to set off early from Beijing to visit the Great Wall before the tourist masses arrived, I arrange with my Chinese friend Qian for an 8am start. She holds out for 10.30am. We haggle and eventually compromise on 9am. Qian turns up at my hotel at 9.30am and then drives to a Starbucks for breakfast. Continue reading “China: Great Wall”

Greenland: Climate Change

IF THE colour of Greenland is the deep blue-white of ice and snow, then its sound is of dogs howling. The Greenland dog is a hardy animal, living outdoors in compounds sullied with its own waste or just chained up beside a house, and fed irregularly. At the end of each day, they howl at the moon, and each other, and their lament carries in the absolute stillness of the Arctic night. Continue reading “Greenland: Climate Change”

Tokyo: One Moment

WHAT is the secret of Japanese food? Tokyo is a city of restaurants, some 80,000 of the 600,000 in Japan as a whole. But even more impressive is the quality. The Michelin Guide has recognized Japan’s capital as also being the world’s gourmet capital for the best part of a decade. And that was even before the French food bible started to list traditional Japanese “washoku” cuisine. Continue reading “Tokyo: One Moment”

Northern Ireland: Coast Road

FROM Torr Head, on the coast of Northern Ireland, I can see the lighthouse on Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre, only 17km away. The North Atlantic and Irish Sea meet here, surging around Rathlin Island to create a maelstrom of tides and rough seas that has left a legacy of wrecks. Ancient stories tell of a fleet of 50 currachs, the hide-covered canoes still used in Galway, being swallowed up by a whirlpool while trading across the channel. Continue reading “Northern Ireland: Coast Road”

Rome: Hidden History

“ROME IS like Kuwait,” says archaeologist Marco Mancini. “In Kuwait, no matter where you dig, you hit oil. In Rome, you hit historical treasure. It is not a city – it is a museum.” We are at the famous Trevi Fountain, although there are none of the crowds you usually associate with this most famous of Rome’s landmarks. Continue reading “Rome: Hidden History”

Virginia: Civil War

IN RICHMOND, the Museum of the Confederacy occupies a Colonial brick building that sits back from the White House of the Confederacy next door. Both huddle in the shadow of the skyscraper blocks of a modern hospital, cast high and dry by the passing tide of history in the century and half since President Jefferson Davis made his home here in 1861. He lived in this White House for the next four years of what later came to be called the “War Between the States“ during which some 620,000 soldiers died – one in four of those who fought. Continue reading “Virginia: Civil War”

Netherlands: Dutch Masters

AS THE efficient NS Dutch train system carries me effortlessly across the country, I look out to the distant horizon. The flat landscape makes the blue sky seem even higher, causing my thoughts to soar, while the many waterways reflect and soften the light. This is the light that has inspired so many Dutch painters and I am on a journey to visit the homes of some of the most famous. Continue reading “Netherlands: Dutch Masters”

Lapland: Sámi Ways

“LET’S JOKE! You can joke your friends, joke a beautiful mountain or just joke being sad or happy.” Anna-Reetta Niemelä, a teacher of Sámi language and culture in the village of Karesuvanto, high in northern Lapland, has me baffled for a moment. Clad in her bright red and blue “gákti” tunic, her thick accent – different from the usual Finnish one – takes me some time to tune in to. Continue reading “Lapland: Sámi Ways”