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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”

The Hague: Peace Central

THE TRAIN to Den Haag Centraal pulls in past one of the largest greenhouses I have ever seen, a kilometre or more of blooms under glass. The land is flat and criss-crossed with neat drainage ditches and canals. I can’t escape the thought it is only borrowed temporarily from the North Sea. Nothing has come easily to the Dutch. It is a land where every field is made by hand, and you depend on a well-ordered infrastructure – and your fellow citizens – to survive.Continue reading “The Hague: Peace Central”

Zanzibar: Island Life

THE STREETS of Zanzibar’s Stone Town are a maze of meandering alleys that lead you in circles. The best you can hope for is to emerge from their dark shadow, squinting against the bright sun, at an unexpected corner of the shore. Around the central tourist area, they are lined with shops whose shaded interiors hide mostly crafts – beads, paintings, fabrics and souvenir T-shirts. Further back, they start to supply more local needs: charcoal, soap powder, shoes and bread.Continue reading “Zanzibar: Island Life”

Morocco: Imperial Cities

IT IS always easy to get lost in Fes. The narrow alleys lined with shops at the center of the medina give way to even narrower cobbled paths that meander, take sudden right-angled turns or end suddenly at a wall. Of course I can ask anyone for directions and they will happily point me the way or even show me to my door – perhaps at the cost of a detour to their cousin’s shop. A cousin who will not take “no” for an answer. “If I didn’t try to sell a carpet to everyone who says they do not want one, I would never sell a carpet,” as one salesman says.Continue reading “Morocco: Imperial Cities”

Amsterdam: Life Cycle

OUTSIDE Amsterdam Centraal Station is a sprawling multi-story parking facility. For bikes. Row after row stretch into the distance, more than you could easily count. There is very little variation in style; most bicycles are beaten-up, old-fashioned, sturdy and black, with little personality but lots of rust. Continue reading “Amsterdam: Life Cycle”

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”

Dublin: Irish Pubs

“WHEN you have everything, what do you want? What else will make you happy?” I’m in the Palace Bar in Dublin’s Fleet Street discussing the meaning of life, via football and young Russian oligarchs with enough money to buy English football teams. My philosophical companion, supping a lunchtime pint of Carling lager, possibly not his first nor even his third of the day, is a complete stranger and his thick Dublin accent means I understand only every other word. The Palace is a long, narrow but high-ceilinged room that opens into a larger, bright, glass-roofed space, filled with regulars who all give me a glance as I step in before going back to their pints. The only noise is a quiet hum of conversation and the clink of glasses.Continue reading “Dublin: Irish Pubs”

Iceland – Cold Blast

“IT’S A beautiful country. It will be even more beautiful when it is finished!” My Icelandic friend Jens laughs as we dodge the hot spray from Strokkur geyser. It is a more regular performer than nearby Geysir, which gave us our English name for these spouts of hot water, issuing from deep within the earth where the process of volcanic creation continues.Continue reading “Iceland – Cold Blast”

Botswana: Okavanga Delta

JUST AFTER dawn, I go for a walk. Low on the horizon, the sun is gathering strength for what will soon be another shimmering day. The ground underneath is sandy, with ankle-grabbing holes hidden by long, dry grass and broken up by tall termite mounds. Thorns of all shapes and sizes grab at my clothing from the shrubs and trees that dot the landscape. A giant baobab – the “upside-down tree” – thrusts its stumpy limbs into a cloudless sky. Used to the dull, grey skies of Europe, my spirit soars to see the heavens so open above me.Continue reading “Botswana: Okavanga Delta”

Malta: Knights’ Treasure

FROM my restaurant terrace, I can look out over Grand Harbour towards the fortifications of Valletta. Intimidating even now, in the age of aerial assault and cruise missiles, the massive walls must have seemed impregnable when they were first built. Made of the same honeyed sandstone as the island of Malta itself, they grow organically out of the rock. It is hard to believe they are the work of mere men and best not to think of the suffering endured by the slaves who built them here under the searing Mediterranean sun.Continue reading “Malta: Knights’ Treasure”