A traveller's top 10 cities to visit
OBVIOUSLY you enjoy some places more than others when travelling. Some locations stick in your memory for their fun, beauty, people, mystery, adventure, history, culture, or just for the time in your life that this place occupied. Over the past five years I have travelled to 30 countries, and spent time exploring, meeting locals, viewing sights, relaxing, and learning about life and the world. Here are my top 10 places that linger in my memory as special.
#10 Supetar, Croatia
A sleepy hamlet on the island of Brac off of the Croatian coastline, Supetar serves as the arrival port and exploring centre of the island. The little port is hugged by restaurants and moored boats, and in the crystal waters, little boats bob over schools of fish. The town is on a gentle rise, so you have an ever expanding view of the town and back towards the mainland and the town of Split. The streets are quiet and the yards filled with vegetables and pomegranate trees.
#9: Tokyo, Japan
For the biggest megacity on Earth, Tokyo has so much heart. Each district feels like a small, quaint village, despite being part of the sprawl. Massive trains of thousands of commuters roll through stations, but once you leave the platform you are struck with the stillness and quiet of the suburb. Despite this, you are in a gigantic, endless playground of the senses. You can explore crowded places, neon-soaked roads and technological wonderlands.
#8: Arles, France
Once the home of Vincent Van Gogh, Arles is a typical French experience. The small streets with steep houses, curling roads and hanging street lights is not only reminiscent of many European villages, but after the sun sets, the town becomes deserted and ghostly. There is a long history of Roman civilisation and art that extends to the present day. One can explore the town, following the sites of Van Gogh, and even find the scene for Starry Night.
#7 Pokhara, Nepal
The lovely Phewa Tal provides a tranquil exit from the bustling streets of the old town, but also provides the idyllic, leafy middle ground of the Lakeside. Purely set up for tourists, but catering to the feel of unexplored Asia 40 years ago, Lakeside abounds with jewellery stalls, cafes and pirated DVD shops where you can sample for weeks and always find something new.
#6: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
For a capital tucked away on the Mongolian steppe, Ulaanbaatar is a booming town of surprising architecture and high fashion. After traversing hours of grassy, undulating hills or desert depending on where you have come from, Ulaanbaatar provides as much civilisation as anyone could need. The centre of town is host to glassy skyscrapers and large, traffic-clogged avenues, and, a shock to the unprepared, young Mongolians parade around in clothes fit for a European catwalk. Mongolia has experienced a massive GDP rise from Gobi Desert mining in the past few years, and new apartments and roads are springing up around town.
#5: Khorog, Tajikistan
Khorog sits along on the Pamir Highway on the roof of the world. The nearest main entries are Dushanbe, a harrowing 14 hours away by car, or along the high-altitude Pamir Highway from Murghab, about seven hours away, the last Soviet outpost during The Great Game. Murghab is nestled among rocky hills, fed by mountain waters of the Pamir, and two kilometres in a straight line from the border with Afghanistan. Despite this remoteness and proximity to a war-torn country, Khorog flourishes in the hills, with quiet streets and parks, and friendly locals.
#4: Vladivostok, Russia
Russia's eastern seaport booms around the Golden Bay, yet it somehow seems forgotten by the rest of Russia. The distance from the economic and modern cultural centres of Russia makes it feel like a different world, yet undeniably Russian. The small streets cradle hidden golden-domed churches and dirty underground markets. The haphazard feel is also identifiably Russian, as paths wind broken and uneven up hills to lookouts. You can head into town and watch the sunset before heading to many developing craft beer and trendy bars that dot the main central business district.
#3: Kashgar, China
China's westernmost city is in the final jutting finger of China in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Another area annexed by China in the early 20th century, Han Chinese pressures have slowly encroached on the Islamic centre of Kashgar in recent years. The Old Town of Kashgar is being destroyed block by block and replaced with the standard sites of Chinese cities. But while the beautiful, antiquate Old Town remains, Kashgar is a beautiful place to explore, eat massive street naan and watermelon for less than 50 cents and talk to the locals whose culture is slowly being absorbed. On Sundays, one of Asia's biggest markets spills from the bazaar, where endless lanes sell every good imaginable, and all in good humour.
#2: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo is a study in survival. Renowned as a harmonious mixing pot of cultures and religions, it became synonymous with some of the most heartbreaking events of the 20th century; the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in 1914, which started the First World War, and the devastating Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern history, between 1992 and 1996. The city became the centre of the Bosnian War with Serbia, and for four years the city was isolated, starved, pummelled and humiliated by the siege. The resilience of the citizens is the stuff of legends; tunnels built under the airport for supplies, underground beauty pageants and lovers dying together after being targeted by snipers. Now Sarajevo bustles, with trams trundling along streets, beautifully restored buildings and old men playing chess in the main square.
#1: Yazd, Iran
Yazd can fulfil all your preconceived images of Iran and the Middle East. Leafy courtyards, towering mosques, screeching prayers and, of course, falafels. It lies in a caldera of dry mountains in the centre of Iran and, to escape the belting sun, locals have adapted their lodgings to funnel winds down into shady courtyards. These lodgings are surrounded by twisting, confusing, seemingly endless lanes that weave through mudbrick infrastructure. The night brings relief from the heat, and you can climb to the flat roofs to look across the lanes and hear the sounds of family life, and of course, the prayers. The mosques light up in technicolour including one of my favourite pieces of architecture, the Jaame Mosque.