It may not be the first place you think of when you hear the name Switzerland, but this not-so-little town has a lot to offer. It is a major hub for trains heading to bordering France and Germany, as well as having the Rhine River pass through its centre, so if you find yourself passing through, stop and see what it has to offer. Officially Switzerland’s third largest city, the population is supported by some large international pharmaceutical companies with many foreign staff living and working here. This, combined with the close proximity to France and Germany give Basel an international feel.
With a largely intact old centre, Basel has a lot of character and historic buildings to admire. Divided into Gross Basel and Klein Basel (big and small Basel) by the Rhine River, several bridges link the two sides. Traditionally the wealthier and more important side being Gross Basel, most of the sites are on this side. A large church, known as the Munster, perches on top of Basel and is distinctly visible from the Rhine. It’s possible to go up the tower to the top where you will get a spectacular view out over the city. A large market place (Marktplatz) is the heart of the city with a perfectly maintained city hall that is painted red with a brilliant gold roof that shines in the sunlight. On many days the Marktplatz has a market selling a range of cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables. The main shopping streets radiate out from this centre and on a busy day the streets bustle with shoppers, buskers and people-watchers taking it easy from the street-side cafes as they enjoy the scenes of the day unfold.
It was on the third round trip that worry, maybe even fear, began to overtake me.
The tropical sun was scalding and I was sweating, the dust of the red dirt road trailing behind us like a cyclone. The scooter I was driving - more like managing to keep upright - was coated in the dust, dirt and grime of two previous trips back and forth to the island’s only hospital, a mere thirty kilometres away. We were on Phu Quoc Island, my girlfriend and I, and we were in the midst of experiencing, the hard way, why every traveller should always be prepared for emergencies, big and small.
If you follow a winding dirt road across a one-lane bridge, through a fertile valley and up a steep mountainside two hours south of San Agustin, Colombia, you'll eventually end up in a remote community lodged in a rocky hillside. No more than a few hundred people live in the immediate area, leaving it well off the tourist map and perhaps a few other maps as well. There are a few small stores stocking provisions that the community can't create for itself, and a small square dotted with local homes and a simple chapel. There's a basketball court that moonlights as a soccer field a few nights a week, a butcher shop with no freezers and a small candy store that'll pull out a plastic table and some chairs if you're in the market for a beer. There are no hotels, gas stations or restaurants. No malls, movie theaters or coffee shops. For all the surrounding pueblos, this is the epicenter of life. It acts as the collective center of commerce, a transportation hub and a medium for social interaction. This is Quitoro.
The orange rolls are reason enough to visit Morrison’s Rogue River Lodge in southern Oregon. These sweet, melt-in-your-mouth dinner muffins are reminiscent of cinnamon buns, but with an orange twist. They’re addictive, making it impossible to eat just one. And don’t try asking for the recipe; it’s a closely guarded secret, known to only a few insiders. One of the lodge’s former owners, Elaine Hanten, is credited with their creation. Though she is no longer alive, her orange rolls - as well as a number of her other delectable dishes - continue to be served at the lodge today.
Located sixteen miles downstream from Grants Pass on the banks of the famed Rogue River, Morrison’s is an authentic log lodge with individual cottages interspersed among groves of evergreen maple and oak trees. Built in 1945 by river guide and lumber mill worker Lloyd Morrison, the lodge has grown over the years along with its clientele, which includes fishermen, rafters, gold panners, rock hounds and active outdoor-lovers of all ages. It’s also become a well-known destination for weddings, family reunions and other special events due to its picturesque setting, rustic charm and gracious hospitality. I stayed at Morrison’s last summer when I booked a lodge-to-lodge rafting trip with Rogue River Raft Trips. It was the “lodge-to-lodge” description that hooked me from the start. The idea of rafting during the day and then retreating to a warm bed and home-cooked meal at night greatly appealed to me. Accustomed to camping-only raft trips, where setting up your own tent each evening is par for the course, I was thrilled at the possibility of being tent-free for once. It’s not that I mind sleeping in a tent. Actually, I like it. It’s the setting-up and taking-down process that gets old.
Edinburgh, the vibrant, modern, chic capital of Scotland, is home to some of Northern Europe’s oldest buildings, most pompous castles, ancient alleyways, grand parks and stylish boutiques. The city is not only the one that offered up inspiration for JK Rowling's Harry Potter novels; it's also a great place to begin a tour of the country. It is well served by an international airport, with rail and air links to the larger cities of Glasgow and London. Accommodation in the capital varies from grand luxurious hotels to convenient castle cavern youth hostels, which cater for all tastes and budgets. Fine dining, evening entertainment and cultural delights are abundant in both the modern financial hub and in the antiquated hillside quarter of the town. The city is home to a number of highlight must sees, as well, not to mention the lengthy list of must do's.
Since coming to South Korea I’ve developed a strong interest in North Korean affairs. Consequently, and perhaps strangely, I’d now love to go to Pyongyang, for the uniqueness of it if for nothing else. There is no other city like it on the planet. Or so I thought. Now, I realize that such a visit would be entirely unethical and I’ve also seen enough documentaries on the place to kind of feel like I’ve been there. Throw in the extortionate cost of a visit, having to bite my tongue for the entire stay and enduring the ridiculous, absurd and monstrous propaganda of the regime and, frankly, the whole thing puts me off, to be honest. Not to mention that food would probably be in short supply so I’d have to make do with yet more kimchi and rice, which would make me very fortunate by North Korean standards, but given the fill I've had living here in the South, it's just one more reason why a trip to Pyongyang is off the cards, for now at least. But imagine my surprise when I learned a similar kind of city exists in Burma.
A while ago, my parents bought me a Christmas trip to Spain, so instead of spending my holidays with them, I embarked on a ten-day trip to the land of flamenco, fantastic food, amazing beaches and Picasso. The last two days of the trip were spent in Barcelona or “Bartha” as it is affectionately known by those who live there. By that point of the journey, I was rather exhausted; our tour director was a bit authoritarian and her obsession with forced seat rotations on the tour bus and threats of having to replace the expensive triple batteries in our ‘whisperers’ - devices that are used to listen to lectures - were getting a little old. I also had enough of her detailed lectures on the production of olive oil; I could have had a PhD in the process by the time we reached Barcelona! But all that frustration melted away as son as we entered the city on our overheated bus; it was amor at first sight. The windy streets, amazing architecture, great food and wonderful atmosphere were enough to energize anyone and everyone on the tour. The best part was that we had a day of freedom to explore the city on our own.
We take so many things for granted in America, from our creature comforts to our freedom of speech. We expect transportation to operate efficiently, technology to be readily accessible and emergency personnel to respond quickly in times of distress. We assume there will always be electricity, plumbing and clean drinking water. And we don’t give a second thought to the fact that our children’s public education is free and that citizens eighteen and older have the right to vote. We nonchalantly presume that these 'givens' will always be there and it is only when we leave the country and travel somewhere else that we realize our good fortune; to say that travelling opens your eyes and widens your world perspectives is an understatement.
I had the opportunity last fall to visit Nepal, a place coveted for its magnificent mountains, age-old cultures, adventure opportunities and spirituality. For many travelers, this country at the top of the world, with its mystical allure, is paradise on earth. Look beyond the scenic grandeur and the beautifully adorned temples, however, and you will see that Nepal is a developing country with numerous economic, political and societal challenges. It quickly becomes very clear that the Nepalese don’t take anything in their lives for granted. Not food, power, employment or education. Not even libraries. Twenty years ago, such meccas of literacy were foreign to the majority of the people here, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas. It was a time in the country’s history marked by failed projects, hospitals without doctors, little to no infrastructure, dilapidated schools and a 30 percent literacy rate. Education among rural villages in particular was severely lacking and books were almost nonexistent. One woman was about to change this situation.
In March 2010 I packed a suitcase, sold my car, gave most personal items to my parents for safekeeping and boarded a bus from Aberdeen station to Glasgow to spend the night on the first step of a journey to the southern hemisphere - to Jakarta - where I would be working and living for at least a year. Indonesia is an incredible place. The atmosphere of the cities is intensely cosmopolitan. Going for a car ride with some local friends through downtown it’s possible to see a corporate utopia, gleaming glass towers of wealth standing tall and proud in the tropical heat. A ride through the downtown of any of its larger cities will probably result in a strained neck from marvelling at the post-modern architecture as the buildings, statues, flags, monuments and palm-treed streets bid a warm welcome to Indonesia. The capital city of Jakarta is one so full of contrasts - big and small, ostentatious and modest, astronomically rich and devastatingly poor - that it, like the rest of the country, simply has to be seen to be believed.