Winter is truly settling in but Christmas is still five rain-soaked weeks away. This week, then, we will set our sights on beautiful faraway places, steeped in culture and history. Think charmingly narrow streets, ancient towering spires and fortifications, and bustling markets selling every kind of local ware imaginable.
Visiting Bukhara today still feels like stepping into another age, in the heart of the ancient Silk Road. Turquoise domed mosques, ornately tiled medressas, and cobblestone streets lined with colourful stalls selling spices, textiles, ceramics and more are all a vital part of modern Uzbekistani cities. At the silk and spice markets, the stall keepers are warm and friendly, willing to let you linger and get a good look at the piles of textiles in every hue possible. In fact, if you visit Uzbekistan in the summer, be sure to go for the annual Silk and Spice festival. This festival is a faithful recreation of what the atmosphere must’ve been like at actual stops on the Silk Road.
Zanzibar, technically a part of Tanzania, has its own distinct culture shaped by its importance on historical trade routes. Most tourists come here to while away some peaceful time on the gorgeous white sand beaches of Nungwi or Kendwa but remember to check out Stone Town – the capital of the island, a colourful and confusing maze of passageways. Zanzibar is known for its importance in the historical spice trade. You can take a tour of the spice-growing farms and even try your hand at cooking the local food. Tanzanian fare is a blend of different cultures: Indian, Arabian, African, Chinese and Portuguese cuisine. The island does not gloss over the fact that it was also an important stop in the slave trade. Visit slave caves to learn about this part of its history.
Cartagena de Indias is truly a gem of the Caribbean. It was a city famed for its riches and grandeur and constantly plagued by pirates and buccaneers. In response to these troubles, the Spanish built castle San Felipe. Located atop a hill, its series of formidable batteries and parapets are impossible to miss whether one approaches by land or by sea. You might see the colourfully attired palanqueras, women selling fruits, on the streets of the Old Town. They come from a tradition stretching back centuries, dating to the first slaves who were able to declare themselves free people in the New World. Finally, traverse the fairy-tale like streets of Old Town, and see the houses with bougainvillea spilling down their brightly painted walls.
There is a lot more to Jordan than just Petra but this rose-hued city lives up to the hype. Wind your way through the Siq, the twisty high-walled gorge that marks the entrance to Petra. You will emerge from the high red stone walls to come upon the iconic facade of Al-Khazneh. The name is Arabic for the treasury, as local legend has it that bandit loot and treasure lie behind its intricately carved walls. Visit other architectural wonders nearby, also built by the Nabatean people. There are the royal tombs, and a monastery known as Ad Deir. In addition, be sure to visit Little Petra. It is a suburb to the main city, and also displays stunning examples of Nabatean architecture and culture. You can see tombs, temples, water channels and frescoes.
Lonely Planet named Zadar as one of their top cities to visit in 2019, and it is easy to see why. Dubrovnik might have the distinctive architecture but Zadar can claim a heritage influenced by at least four different cultures. Specifically, the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, and the Byzantines have all claimed this island town at some point in time. It is these changing circumstances that lend the town an air of pastiche. More recent additions to the townscape are the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation. The Sea Organ is a living instrument, operated by sea water running beneath the white stairs descending into the ocean. Similarly, the Sun Salutation, installed by the same person who built the Sea Organ, creates an ocean-powered light show at sunset. Visit Zadar to experience this blend of old and new cultures.