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”

Vancouver: East West

“WE believe we live in the best place on earth. We know it, we love it, we feel it and we want it. We are surrounded by the ‘haves’ and we want it all.” Even a tipsy woman in the trendy Opus Bar, where I am enjoying an evening cocktail, sings the praises of her city. Kate was pushed over from a giggling bachelorette party with some risqué questions, before I turned the tables by asking her to define a Vancouverite. Continue reading “Vancouver: East West”

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”

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”

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”

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”