Category Archives: Education

The heart of southern Serbia

Time-travelling: Naissus and beyond

Name an epoch you want to go to and Niš will take you there in the blink of an eye. Once known as Naissus, southern Serbia’s main city was the birthplace of Constantine the Great, famous for issuing the Edict of Milan and making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The archaeological site of Mediana (Constantine’s 4th-century residence) features recently renovated mosaics and other remains from the Roman period. To learn why Naissus was of one of the major stops on the ancient Romans’ Via Militaris, visit the Archaeological Hall.

Niš fortress, in the heart of the city, hides several Ottoman-era architectural beauties including the Hamam (a lavish Turkish bath turned into a restaurant) and the gorgeous 16th-century Bali-Beg Mosque. A gruesome yet fascinating sight, Ćele Kula (Skull Tower) tells the story of the struggle for the liberation of Niš in the early 19th century: yes, it was built from real skulls – the ones of Serbian soldiers – as a warning to all who tried to rebel against the Ottoman Empire.

There are more fight-for-freedom stories to be found in Niš. The Red Cross Concentration Camp is one of the few preserved Nazi concentration camps, from which the first mass escape in then occupied Europe was organised in 1942. The local spirit of liberty also lives on at the memorial park on nearby Bubanj Hill, where three gigantic fists rising from the ground symbolise fighting and sufferings of men, women and children, the victims of WWII.

Nišville: jazz Balkan-style

Mixing Serbian folk, Romany and Turkish tunes with various other influences and genres, Niš has created its unique musical identity that’s nowadays best represented by the widely popular Nišville International Jazz Festival. Held between the walls of Niš fortress, Nišville is acclaimed as one of the top European events of its kind, attracting big-name jazz, R&B, soul, funk and reggae acts from around the world every August.

Fans of pop, rock or electronic dance music are sure to have some fun at the city’s other festivals, Nisomnia and Naissus Fest. Adding to its merak credentials, Niš was also the home town of the legendary Roma singer Šaban Bajramović, hailed across the Balkans as the ‘King of Romany music’. Today the late musician is honoured with a monument on the quay by the Nišava River, a popular place for taking a stroll or just chilling out over drinks with friends.

Foodie feast: the home of burek

According to the old saying, you can’t put a price on merak and anyone who visits Niš will quickly learn that. Compared to Balkan capitals and other popular regional cities, the gastronomic offer in Niš is exceptionally tasty and incredibly cheap. With dozens of charming Serbian kafane (taverns), Kazandžijsko sokače (Tinkers’ Alley) is a must-visit for both food lovers and party-goers.

If you’re already familiar with local carnivore favourites ćevapčići and pljeskavica, don’t miss the famous grilled ribs with kajmak (delicious, creamy dairy product) at Kod Rajka for less than €4 – or try ham hocks baked in cabbage with bacon on top at traditional Čardak restaurant for the same price. Add to the list a large portion of šopska or moravskasalad on the side and a pint of a cold local beer (hint: there’s even a beer called Merak).

For Balkan basics, any fan of burek probably knows there are a few versions of this mega-popular pastry. The round burek, which is usually cut in quarters, is the all-time-favourite in most of the region. Fun fact: it’s believed burek was actually created in Niš in mid-15th century – so head over to Kalinka, a small but very well-known bakery, for the best burek in town.

Niš adventure: up above and down below

Merak isn’t the only thing that matters in Niš. The surrounding area is a paradise for all sorts of outdoor activities. Sićevo and Jelašnica Gorges (both a 15km bus ride from the city) are the perfect setting for some adventure in untouched nature. Adrenaline junkies can choose between free climbing on the gorges’ limestone rocks and paragliding – since Niš was the host of the 2017 Paragliding World Cup, it’s safe to say that the location won’t disappoint.

If you’re not a fan of heights, try venturing deep into the ground and visit impressive, more than 6km-long Cerje Cave, some 14km from Niš. Over two million years old and rich in ornamentation (including seemingly gravity-defying helictites), this massive cave is only partially explored and it’s still not regularly open for tourists;

Visiting the northern half of divided Cyprus

Visiting the northern half of divided Cyprus is a bit like holidaying in the 1970s. It might lack a certain slickness, but there’s also a pleasing lack of development. Some of the Med’s most unspoilt sands are here, especially along the wild Karpaz Peninsula, where you’re more likely to see donkeys and turtles than other people. Indeed, turtles visit North Cyprus regularly, and from June to late September, the Society for the Protection of Turtles runs guided, eco-sensitive night tours to view them from its base at Alagadi Beach, just east of Kyrenia’s harbour.

September is a fine time to visit: the crowds have gone but weather and waters are warm. It’s ideal for hiking between ruined Crusader castles in the Kyrenia range or strolling the well-preserved ancient city of Salamis. Don’t miss Lefkoşa, the world’s only divided capital. Amble the minaret-speared streets before passing a checkpoint for a weird wander into the bullet-scarred no man’s land that separates Turkish north and Greek south

Enjoy a trulli tasty break in Puglia, Italy – without the crowds

In September, Puglia is the place to lose the crowds, still enjoy warm sunshine and indulge in both autumnal bounty and year-round local specialities, such as Burrata cheese, orecchiette pasta, seafood, endless breads (the Salento region alone has over 100 types). Hunker down in a converted masserie (fortified farmhouse) or, better, one of Puglia’s trulli– mysterious conical limestone dwellings that pepper the peaceful countryside. Explore from your atmospheric base.

Learn to dive in Whitsunday Islands’ bath-warm, translucent waters

Some places are easy sells for tourist boards. Exhibit A: the Whitsundays, a string of 74 emeralds ringed with white gold, afloat in warm turquoise seas sheltered by the Great Barrier Reef. See? September, with rain-free days and clear seas, is prime time to explore.

Many visitors simply loll on the deck of a yacht or find a patch of pristine sand – perhaps Whitehaven, which regularly tops world’s-best-beach polls – but this is also a great place to learn to dive or develop your sub-aqua skills with short courses and liveaboard dive vessels cruising among the islands and out to the Great Barrier Reef. As well as seeing countless dazzling reef fish, you could observe sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and manta rays, which feed around the fringing reefs from May to September.

The Île de Beauté is beautifully un-busy

There’s barely a straight road on the wildly rumpled Mediterranean isle of Corsica. Tarmac has to twist around mountains and through the herby maquis shrubland that blankets the interior. As such, you don’t want to tackle these roads in high summer, when the whole of Francedecamps to Corsica’s gorgeous shores. Instead, wait until September, when the air and sea are still warm, and the beaches – arguably Europe’s best – are empty again.

Also amble the precipitous, cliff-perched town of Bonifacio; feel the introspective vibe in hilltop Sartène; hit the Napoleon trail in lively Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte; or tour the tiny fishing ports of offbeat Cap Corse. The seemingly impenetrable interior is laced with hiking trails, including the tough but epic GR20. Tackle it all, or just a section, or book a villa in the hills, crack a Pietra beer, nibble brocciu cheese and simply contemplate the wilderness instead.

Europe’s oldest languange

From my car window, I watched Spain transform. From Madrid in the country’s centre to the coastal north, empty land and grazing cows turned to misty green mountains and a shimmering harbour full of boats. I had driven north before, but this was the first time I’d stopped in Getaria, a medieval fishing village with beaches, vineyards and the 15th-Century baptismal church of native son Juan Sebastian Elcano, the first person to sail around the world.

In the early afternoon, on a narrow street, hot smoke rose from seabream sizzling on an outdoor charcoal grill. Two men standing behind a seafood delivery truck were speaking a language I’d never heard before. The staccato sounds they exchanged mingled with the light drips of rain on the pavement that March day. Later, I realised they were speaking an ancient language that has teetered on the brink of extinction.

Euskara, spoken in the autonomous communities of Navarre in northern Spain and the Basque Country across northern Spain and south-western France, is a mystery: it has no known origin or relation to any other language, an anomaly that has stumped linguistic experts for ages.

“Nobody is able to say where [the language] comes from,” according to Pello Salaburu, professor and director at the Basque Language Institute at The University of the Basque Country in Bilbao. “Scholars used to research this problem many years ago, but there are no clear conclusions.”

The distinct language is a point of pride for Basques. An estimated 700,000 of them, or 35% of the Basque population, speak it today. But it was a target for Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, who enforced the use of Spanish and forbade other languages, including Euskara (also called Basque), during his rule from 1939 to 1975.

When Karmele Errekatxo was a child in the 1960s and 1970s, she attended secret classes in a church basement in Bilbao, Spain, the Basque Country’s most populous city and home of the famed Guggenheim Museum. It was here that she learned the forbidden language of Euskara.

If you take language from a place, it dies

“Language is the identity of a place,” said Errekatxo, now a teacher in Bilbao who speaks Euskara in her classroom. “If you take language from a place, it dies. The dictatorship knew that and wanted Euskara to disappear.”

A group of parents set up a hidden Basque school, or ikastola, in 1944. By 1970, these secret learning institutions had more than 8,000 students, according to Salaburu.

Salaburu was required at his 1951 baptism to take the name ‘Pedro Maria’, the Spanish version of his Basque name. He spoke only Euskara as a child and learned his first Spanish words at a non-Basque school in Navarre when he was six years old.

Bilbao, the Basque Country’s most populous city, is home to the Guggenheim Museum (Credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images)

At this time Euskara was still spoken in isolated towns and farms in the Pyrenees Mountains and along the coast of the Bay of Biscay, where it was the only language many families knew. But it was silenced in cities, where informants reported Euskara speakers to the police.

“Euskara was relegated to the intimate domain of the home,” Errekatxo said. “But in the cities, even the walls seemed to be listening.”

Euskara was relegated to the intimate domain of the home, but in the cities, even the walls seemed to be listening

One day in the 1940s, Errekatxo’s grandmother was heard speaking Euskara to Bilbao food vendors from her hometown of Bermeo, a small seaside village 34km north-east of Bilbao. She was arrested, taken to jail and forced to pay a fine. Before she left, her jailers shaved her head to humiliate her.

As a result, her grandmother did not pass Euskara to her children, including Errekatxo’s father.

“The repression against the language had repercussions,” Errekatxo said. “Many families that spoke Euskara, because of fear, were losing the language. The language was not transmitted in some generations. It came to a sudden stop.”

Francisco Franco forbid the use of Euskara, so Basque schools were established to teach Euskara in secret (Credit: Oscar Fdez. Santana/Alamy)

But Euskara outlived the dictatorship, just as it had inexplicably survived several millennia.

Speleologists recently discovered an ancient cave in Errenteria, a town in the province of Guipuzcoa in the Spanish Basque Country, where people left drawings about 14,000 years ago. Other prehistoric caves in the Basque Country (including Santimamiñe in Biscay and Ekain in Guipuzcoa) were inhabited by people about 9,000 years ago.

“We don’t know the language spoken in the caves, of course,” Salaburu said. “But, unless we have other data proving the contrary, we should assume that that protolanguage is related in some sense to current Basque.”

When people from the East, or Indo-Europeans, began arriving in Europe 3,500 years ago, they brought their own languages from which most European languages originated. But Euskara does not have the same Indo-European roots, and is instead “completely different in origin,” Salaburu said. It’s the only living language in Europe with no relation to any others, he said.

The abandoned Island

Sailing to a place where time stopped long ago. Ahead, on the cusp of the horizon, a whaleback island rose up, caught between surging tides and the setting sun. A little-known, uninhabited isle in the Orkney archipelago, just north of Scotland’s mainland, this was Eynhallow: a place of pilgrimage and ritual, folklore and ghosts.

If Scotland had an Atlantis, Eynhallow would be it.

As the island drew near, the boat continued its westward chug, passing farmsteads, pastures and peaty fields. The passengers chatted excitedly. An American family, feverish and camera-ready at the prow, even had crossed an ocean to be Scotland. A Spirit of its own.

 

“I see it every day,” said Bob Nelson, a retired farmer who watches the island from his house across the water. “And yet I don’t understand it at all.”

Now, the boat made landfall and the scramble to shore began.

Comparisons with Plato’s legendary island may be far-fetched, but they are apt. If you consult a large-scale map of the Orkney Islands, you’d struggle to place Eynhallow. Squashed beneath the larger islands of Mainland and Rousay and measuring no more than a half mile (900m) across, the heart-shaped isle barely gets a speck of ink on an atlas. It lies low, reaching only 40m at its highest point, and is characterised by little more than heaps of leather-like seaweed and storm beaches made of weather-beaten stones. It has the same colours and contours of thousands of other Scottish skerries. But unlike them, everything here is paused, almost at a standstill.

Seaweed, storm beaches and the sense of time standing still characterise Eynhallow (Credit: Mike MacEacheran)

Like Atlantis, Eynhallow has its fair share of mysteries. Orcadians grew up listening to stories about the haunted island. According to legend it was under the spell of mythical sea trows – evil Norse spirits who would make the island vanish into thin air should anyone attempt to set foot on it. Others were told more fantastical stories about the finfolk, or mer-people: watery shape shifters who only came on land in summer.

This oral history has helped make the island an enigma. References to Eynhallow throughout time are spurious and its precise beginnings are difficult to identify. In the Orkneyinga saga, the historical narrative written in the 13th Century about the Orkney Islands, Eynhallow is only passingly mentioned. But while many of the archipelago’s other islands have a beginning, Eynhallow’s true origins have almost completely disappeared.

“Locals say the island exists between worlds – both geographically and historically – and there’s plenty of truth in that,” said Dan Lee, an archaeologist from the University of the Highlands and Islands. “A plague hit in 1851, causing the families that lived here to flee. Then to disinfect the land and make sure no one would return, the Laird dismantled all the roofs of the houses. And it’s been uninhabited ever since.”

We crossed an overgrown field of flourishing thistles and wildflowers before stopping at the ruins of an ancient stone monastery. Here, Lee explained, archaeologists had found echoes of a refectory, cloisters and bell tower, as well the rounded archway of a nave. Beside the chancel walls, there were traces of medieval land use patterns in the dykes, ridges and furrows – all pointing to a much older history. Prehistoric sites had been found, as had burial mounds and Stone Age walls. All of it was a map to an undiscovered world.

“Eynhallow translates as the Holy Isle, or ‘Eyin Helga’ in Old Norse, but the importance of this was something the island residents never fully understood,” said Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, another archaeologist from the University of the Highlands and Islands. “Orkney is the only place in Western Europe without a confirmed monastery, yet everything points to it being on Eynhallow. And this one could date back to the 11th Century.”

Such a wealth of archaeological mystery would normally be rewarded with research grants. But with so much competition for resources in archaeology-rich Orkney, Eyhallow’s riddles never have been fully scrutinised.

Wonderful Of Traveling

1. You’ll find a new purpose

Traveling is an amazingly underrated investment in yourself. As you travel you’re exposed to more new people, cultures, and lifestyles than you are living in your homeland all the time. With all the newness in your life, you’re also opened to new insights, ways of seeing the world and living, which often gives people a new purpose for their lives. If you’re feeling stuck on what your purpose is, what you want to do with your life, the career or educational path you want to pursue, go travel…you might just be surprised about what you discover as a new sense of life purpose and direction.

“All travel has it’s advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson

When we spend time away from home, especially in a place where we don’t have the same luxuries readily available to us…like a village in Fiji that runs without electricity…we become more aware and appreciative for the luxuries we have back at home. I remember a time where I visited my cousin in Argentina after she’d been living there for about a year. I was visiting her around Christmas time and brought her the new Harry Potter book along with some basic goods that you can find almost anywhere in Los Angeles. She was over joyous and filled with gratitude, like she just got the greatest gift in the world. In other parts of the world, like India and Ethiopia, people don’t have as much access to clean drinking water…especially from what’s readily available on tap. Traveling through areas like that really make us appreciate what we do have, and often can spark the movement of something to support people living there experience a greater quality of life.

3. You’ll realize that your home is more than just where you grew up

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

 The more we travel, the more we realize that our home is so much more than the town, city, state and even country that we’ve grown up in; we realize that our home is the world, this planet, and we become more conscious of how we can harmoniously live and support one another. And in that knowingness and state of consciousness, people like those supporting the movement of charity:water come into fruition.
4. You’ll realize how little you actually knew about the world

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

There’s concept, and then there’s experience. When we travel, we may notice that some of the things we’ve heard about the world end up being very different than what we were indoctrinated and conditioned to believe. Many of the initial myths that get dispelled are often about traveling itself. Where you once may have thought it was too expensive and dangerous, you may realize how you can actually save more on your lifestyle expenses traveling the world than you do living at home. You may also realize how kind and friendly strangers can be, and how they are even willing to take care of you with a place to sleep at night. Beyond that, you have the whole world to learn about with every place you discover, every person you meet and every culture you experience.

5. You’ll realize that it’s extremely easy to make friends

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

One of the first things I learned from traveling solo is how easy it is to make friends. Something magical happens in how people can show up more raw and real when they’re out of their conditioned environment and open to express themselves without feeling judged. That rawness and realness ends up inspiring others to be authentic, and that’s how you can become best friends with people when you’ve only known them for a few hours.

6. You’ll experience the interconnectedness of humanity

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

Just as we notice how we share similar needs, how our perspective of our home expands, and how we become close friends with others from different backgrounds and cultures, we begin to realize how we are all connected. This state of awareness is a jump in consciousness, and what I mean by that is in the way we perceive the world, the life experience and ourselves. Ken Wilber speaks about consciousness as spiral dynamics

 , each level of consciousness inclusive of the one previous. I feel that traveling often helps people experience a world-centric view of consciousness, and some even on that’s integrated…able to see, understand and accept all states of consciousness, and utilizing the gifts of whatever is best and most appropriate in the moment.

Steps to Write the Perfect Travel

1. Have an Adventure

No one wants to read how about how you checked Facebook from your hotel room all day. If you want to become a travel writer, you have to have stories to tell.

One great way to find adventures worth writing about is to ask your friends and family what sites they would want to see, food they would want to try, and experiences they would want to have. Once you arrive, ask the same questions to locals and expats. By inviting other people into your planning process, you help get a feel for what will interest people in your writing.

As you go on your adventure, make sure to bring your notebook, and when you encounter other people on your journey, write down their names and where they’re from. These little details make your story more memorable.

2. Choose One Moment

As important as capturing all of your memories in your journal is, most of them won’t make very good stories. Instead, read through your journal, and then choose just one moment to build your article around.

For example, I recently wrote about our terrible eighteen hour travel day to Paris. When I first journaled about the experience, I wrote nearly 2,500 words, far too long for an article. And so I decided to focus on just one piece of the trip, how we almost missed our flight, a moment that had enough excitement and drama to carry the whole article.

What’s nice about this is that your journals while your journals don’t directly become published articles, they’re instead turned into a fertile field of stories. I could write five or six articles from one day’s worth of journals.

3. Expand the Story

Next, take your single moment and expand it, illustrating the story with the following:

  • Dialogue
  • Description and Setting
  • Research (like the name of the street you were on and historic and contextual information)
  • Small details (such as what people were wearing)
  • Your own emotions

This is where your article goes from being just a sketch and turns into a real story.

Here, I also try to insert my own voice into the story, adding tone, humor, and dramatic shifts. Do you want this to be a funny story about your travel misadventures or do you want this to be a serious, reflective look at culture and identity? Whichever you choose, try to add it to your story.

4. Revise With Your Subjects in Mind

One of the tricky parts of writing about your travels is that you’re writing about real people. In many ways fiction is easier because you don’t have to worry about offending other people. However, when writing about real people you have to consider their feelings.

If you’re able, it’s always a good idea to send your story, or at the very least, the quotes, to your subjects for permission. If you can’t contact the people in your stories, read and revise with them in mind. How would you feel if this was printed about you? You may also want to change the names of your subjects to protect their identity.

The best travel

Vanessa Chiasson, a traveller who has ventured around the world and writes at TurnipseedTravel.com, a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Bagan, Burma, provided that jaw-dropping, heart-pounding moment of pure joy.

Ironically, it came after she had experienced her worst travel moment ever – 20 hours of hell on a train trip in the region. But this adventure far outweighed that nightmare ride.

I try to never lose track of how lucky I am that my work as a travel writer introduces me to extraordinary locations, experiences and people. Never has this been more in focus than during a recent hot air balloon ride over the spectacular ancient temples of Bagan. Without a doubt it stands alone as the most incredible, breathtaking travel experience of my life.

There are over 2200 temples and pagodas on the plains of Bagan, most constructed between the 11th and 13th century, the final markers of what was once a thriving kingdom. The plains of Bagan are home to the largest concentration of religious buildings in the world and, in addition to the religious and spiritual significance, the region holds special meaning for archaeologists, historians, seismologists, architects, linguists and artists.

To say that there’s truly nothing like it in the world would be an understatement. Bagan is the place where travel dreams come true.

The sunrise hot air balloon rides are popular so it’s best to book well in advance, but last minute travellers need not despair as standby tickets are often available at a slightly reduced rate 48 hours before departure.

We (Vanessa was travelling with her husband Ryan Wright) were given strict instructions to be ready for pick up at 5.10am and, true to their word, our bus arrived right on time – no small feat considering the state of some roads and the tardy habits of travellers.

It was a special ride. The Canadian built wooden bus that picked us up was brought over in World War II for the purposes of transporting troops. At the end of the war, the cost of shipping all the buses back to Canada was prohibitive and so they were left behind. Today the fleet has been lovingly restored and they must be some of the most unique buses in the world!

 The unique bus. Picture: Ryan Wright/Turnipseed TravelSource:Supplied
After picking up some additional guests, we made our way to the launch field. The pilots introduced themselves and explained the basics of ballooning. They were warm, friendly and funny and set my nerves at ease.

The pilots divided us into groups to balance out the baskets and gave us complimentary baseball hats. These were souvenirs with a practical purpose, as dust can enter the balloon while it is filling and later drop down on the passengers (we never noticed any falling dust, but we were thrilled to have the souvenirs). It was fascinating to watch the balloons being prepared. From the metres upon metres of rippling silk to the roar of the fire, it was an incredibly intricate process to observe.

The balloons are huge. Picture: Ryan Wright/Turnipseed TravelSource:Supplied

A few pointers for all the other anti-adventurist folks out there: There is no graceful way to get into a hot-air balloon basket. There are little grooves for your toes as you climb up the side but essentially you just tip in. Happily, there’s no chance of tipping out! The basket went up to my chest and its walls had very sturdy grips.

There’s also no chance of the basket swaying or shaking in the sky. It’s huge, weighs nearly 500 kilograms and is divided into different compartments to distribute the weight. The basket is also very comfortable – inside each little compartment is a padded bench in case you wanted to sit down and the sides and edges are also padded.

There’s a lot of padding. Picture: Ryan Wright/Turnipseed…Source:Supplied

Just before our launch pilot Graeme noticed that a passenger was not well and seemed to be suffering from a panic attack. The decision was made that the man should not fly and the situation was handled with discretion. Then, before I even realised what had happened, we were off the ground.

A small village

Our gentle landing went off without a hitch and we were soon back on solid land. A small group of souvenir sellers were on hand to greet us, but none were pushy. Clean, wet facecloths were handed around so we could refresh and remove dust. A circle of chairs was set up for us to enjoy a light breakfast, consisting of sparkling wine (or lemonade), croissants, banana bread, and sliced fruit (banana and papaya).

Hot air balloon rides are an incredible travel experience and I cannot think of a more exhilarating location to enjoy them than in Bagan. It was the most stunning travel experience of my life.

Travel Changes Your Perspective

1. It inspires curiosity.

I went on one of those “See a Million Italian Cities in Ten Days” in high school, but came back with not much more than a sunburn, a suitcase full of limoncello, and fake Venetian masks. It wasn’t until I invited myself to an ecotourism homestay in Umbria that I began to understand and appreciate the complex culture (and pasta shapes) of Italy. From that point, I learned all of the Italian kitchen terms (which gradually upgraded to opera lyrics and the passive subjunctive tense), cheese names, grape varieties, and soil varieties from Sicily to Aosta.

Finding a meaningful volunteer or adventure abroad opportunity places us in contact with activities and people that can fuel our current interests, or inspire an entirely new one. Traveling expands our horizon to include rhythms, languages, social causes, histories, and sports we didn’t even know existed.

2. It forces us to grow up.

Meaningful travel— especially off-the-grid or solo, is a crash course in responsibility and humanity. Exposure to new cultures and tasks exponentially boosts our maturity, which creates well-balanced global citizens with a good sense of direction (literally or figuratively; take your pick), real life credentials, and a deeper understanding for the world around us.

Whether it is during a semester abroad in Zimbabwe or a nursing internship in India, we step out of our comfort zones and are required to pack our own lunch, read bus schedules in foreign languages, and haggle for our produce at the local market. We come in contact with daily situations that change our perception of how things work, which is great motivation to change how we function ourselves.

3. It redefines “home.”

Traveling slowly, becoming part of new communities, and seeing how other people live in all corners of the world helps us define what “home” is – and isn’t – to us. When we get homesick (inevitably), it makes us appreciate people or aspects of daily life we left behind or took for granted, and it opens our eyes to what holds houses together.

Most of the time, it’s not the terracotta bricks or bamboo walls that make us feel at home. Rather, it is the sense of comfort that comes from certain people, familiar foods, favorite songs, or shared traditions. “Home” becomes a comforting cloak we begin to carry around with us, rather than something concrete that ties us down or something we need to look for.

4. It shatters stereotypes.

I confess that when I went to a language school in Mexico, I was a little bit surprised to find out that Mexico isn’t just desert, cacti, tacky sombreros, and spicy food (although there is a fair share of all of the above). This is a narrow preconception, but it’s even worse when I mention that I grew up in Texas, just across the border. I should have known better, huh?

Within 24 hours, Mexico became my favourite country— and it still stands high on the list. This is to say that we don’t know people and places, even if they are in our own backyard, until we go there with an open mind. We cannot understand cultures until we experience them, taste them, talk to them, learn from them. And, along the same thread, meaningful travel breaks others’ conceptions of us (the traveler) and the country we are serving as ambassadors for. Breaking down stereotypes and boundaries, one positive interaction at a time. This is the most literal example of how travel changes your perspective.

5. It leaves a thumbprint.

Meaningful travel isn’t tourism en masse. Instead of marching among endless herds through the Colosseum, down the Champs d’Elysee, or up the Empire State Building, meaningful travel leads us to create our own path down unexplored territory – oftentimes, this is barefoot, muddy, and full of tangles. And most of the time, this leaves us in peaceful clearings or at the edge of an oasis.

We come in contact with people, places, and situations not accustomed to tourism. These interactions are, as a consequence, more significant and intimate. Names are matched to faces, stories are told, and new trails are blazed. Thumbprints are left upon new territories (but, not literally), upon others’ memories, and upon our hearts.

6. It slows down time.

There is a common fear of running out of time, of not seeing everything, of not doing enough. And while there are always a million things to do and places to be at the same time, traveling at the pace of our heartbeat roots us in the here and now.

It’s not about being on time for the next activity on the packed group tour itinerary; it’s about being on our own time, in the right place. There is no reason to rush the sunset, wait to eat until we are hungry, or worry about making the connecting flight next week. It’s about breathing in and focusing on what is in front of us.7. It helps sort out our priorities.

This is the big one, the truest example of how travel changes your perspective. Meaningful travel makes us realize what we do – or don’t – need in life. If we miss individuals, climates, diets, or bureaucratic procedures, we add more value to them by trying to incorporate them in our long-term goals. If we can go weeks without even thinking about checking our work schedule, the latest football scores, or talking to Christopher from government class, chances are, they do not require an allotted space in our hearts.

Seeing how the world lives inspires us to re-evaluate what we actually require to be happy and ‘successful.’

More often than not, what we need is a lot less, and a lot more simple than imagined. Life becomes more about experiences and connections, rather than money and job titles and the latest car models. Memories take over physical things and quality tends to dominate over quantity.

Departure screens read like bucket-lists of all the places you want to go – and will go – someday.

Beirut offers a mezze of cultural attractions

Lebanon currently sees no more than a trickle of western tourists, others discouraged by political turbulence. The UK Foreign Commonwealth Office labels the no-go zones – and these I avoided. Sadly the list includes some of Lebanon’s premier sites and notably the colossal and remarkably preserved Roman temples of Baalbek.

But the areas I did see were completely relaxed and unthreatening, with an apparent easy ethnic mix. In rebuilt Downtown Beirut you could be in any smart European capital – albeit with some restored Ottoman-era facades. There are glossy shops, sophisticated restaurants and stylishly-dressed Lebanese living life to the full. Go at sunset to the achingly cool rooftop Iris Bar, overlooking the Med, to witness the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by the youth of Beirut.

Unmissable landmarks in Beirut

Muhammad Al-Amine Mosque

Al Amine Mosque (or Hariri Mosque), Beirut (c) Susie Boulton

Beirut my sightseeing starts at the Muhammad Al-Amine Mosque, a city landmark with its dazzling blue dome and lofty minarets. Although I’m covered from head to toe I’m told to don a huge black-hooded cloak – a stark contrast to the scantily-clad Lebanese ladies shopping in the designer boutiques a stone’s throw away.

Sursock Museum

I head to Christian East Beirut to see the Sursock Museum in the affluent quarter of Achrafieh. This elegant Italian/Lebanese 1912 mansion reopened in 2015 after a major overhaul and is now a cutting edge 21st-century cultural institution, devoted to modern and contemporary art.

National Museum

Directly to the south, and right on the former ‘Green Line’ separating East and West Beirut, is the National Museum, home to a superb archaeological collection, much of it heroically saved by staff from destruction during the civil war.

Special places along the coast

Lebanon is such a tiny nation you can base yourself in Beirut, and make excursions to other attractions. Jeita Grotto, 18km northeast of Beirut, is a colossal cavern of stalactities and stalagmites which would thrill even the most jaded speleologist. On the coast at Jounieh the Téléférique (cable car), dubbed the Terrorifique, climbs steeply up to the heights of Harissa. Here a striking white statue of the Virgin of Lebanon commands spectacular coastal views.

The ancient site of Byblos

Byblos Centre (c) Susie Boulton

But the real highlight along the coast is the ancient site of Byblos, a picturesque fishing port, occupied by the Phoenicians and said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. I climb to the top of the Crusader Castle and explore the ruins of ramparts, temples and a Roman theatre, set amid wild flowers above the sea.

Qadisha Valley

From Byblos I head inland through the scenic Qadisha Valley to the peaceful mountain town of Ehden, where Lebanese come in summer to escape the heat and in winter to ski on the Cedars Mountains’ slopes. I stay at the swish new Mist Hotel, above the town and built into the rocks.

Pool at Mist Hotel, Ehden (c) Susie Boulton

Soaking up the mountain scenery, in absolute tranquillity, and exploring Ehden’s beautiful nature reserve, it’s impossible to believe that this picturesque resort was the scene of a massacre, with around 40 deaths, between rival Christian factions during the civil war.

A stroll along the Corniche

My final day in Lebanon ends with a stroll along Beirut’s seafront Corniche, where locals come to jog, bike, socialize and see the sunset. Following the coastline the Bay Rock Café makes the perfect spot for a cocktail or nargileh as the sun sinks behind the iconic 60-metre high Pigeon Rocks, standing offshore like sentinels.

Pigeon Rocks (c) Susie Boulton

Heading back to my base I pass the lavish 5-star Phoenicia Hotel, a haunt of celebrities in the 1960s. Behind it rises the bullet-ridden Holiday Inn, built in 1974, just one year before it became embroiled in the ‘Battle of the Hotels’. Overlooking the city the disfigured facade stands as a monument to the city’s war-torn past. But there are plans to renovate or rebuild, perhaps into another glittering development, following Lebanon’s journey from Armageddon to Armani.

Jane Austen trail across Britain

Jane Austen and Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon in Hampshire. She is also buried in the county’s Winchester Cathedral. She did most of her writing in Hampshire and even penned her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, here. So, it makes sense that this county is the focal point for the Jane Austen 200 commemorations.

Jane Austen House (c) Visit Hampshire/Laura McCready

Start your trip at Jane Austen’s House Museum (her former home) and Chawton House Library in the village of Chawton, which is hosting changing exhibitions, talks, activities and other special celebrations up until December.

In the meantime, Winchester Cathedral is running “Tours and Tea” every month until November exploring Jane’s life and in Basin

Jane’s footsteps in Bath

The South West Spa city of Bath is a great place to get to know Jane Austen, where she lived between 1801 and 1806. The city’s perfectly preserved Georgian architecture remains unchanged from the streets depicted in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Visitors can step back in time with a free downloadable audio walking tour of the city In the footsteps of Jane Austen, that includes extracts from her novels and letters, which brilliantly describe Bath as it would have been in its Georgian heyday. Be sure to stop off at the Jane Austen Centre, located in a Georgian town house just a few doors down from where she once lived and home to an exhibition of costumes, manuscripts, and film clips to bring the author’s world to life and explore the city’s influence on her work, as well as the all-important Regency Tea Rooms (£11 per adult and £5.50 per child).

Jane Austen Festival (c) VisitBath

And for true enthusiasts, visit between 8-17 September to join the largest gathering of Jane Austenenthusiasts at the Jane Austen Festival. Previous years have seen fans donning full regency garb at the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, meeting their very own Mr Darcy at the Country Dance Ball, and dancing their sense and sensibilities away at the Regency Costumed Masked Ball. 2017 will see the 17th edition of the annual festival. Tickets on sale now.

Explore Jane Austin’s seaside sojourns in Lyme Regis

Jane is known to have visited and loved Lyme Regis. In her letters to her sister Cassandra she described walking on the Cobb and tellingly her last novel Persuasion was set in the Dorset seaside town.

It’s easy to explore the area especially with a guided tour with Literary Lyme who offers a several walking tours of Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast that follow in the footsteps of several authors who lived or visited Lyme Regis. In the mix is a visit to the Golden Cap, the highest point in Southern England, which features in a film adaptations of  Persuasion – 90 minute tours cost from £10 per person.

Literary Trails and film buff locations in Berkshire

Jane Austen went to school at Abbey Gateway, Reading between 1785 and 1786. It was the only time in her life she lived away from home.

To get an insight explore the area on a Readipop Reading Literary Trail, a free walking tour developed by a group of young locals, as part of a heritage project called Reading on Tour to uncover Reading’s hidden history.

Film buffs may like to visit the 18th-century Palladian mansion of Basildon Park. It had two roles, one as Mr Bingley’s house, Netherfield and the other it was the dreamy location for Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy.

With both its impressive exterior and many of its indoor spaces featuring in the lavish production, Basildon is instantly recognisable to fans. Entry to Basildon Park costs £14 per adult; £7.50 per child.

Jane and her family were regulat visitors to Goodnestone Park and gardens. Set amidst 14 acres of 18th century parkland, the house retains a lot of original features from Austen’s time taking guests back to the dinners and dances she would have attended there.

As well as being home to Austen’s heritage, Kent is home to a number of locations for well-known film and TV adaptations of her books.

BBC’s adaptation of “Emma” starring Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller showed off the idyllic village of Chillham, which represented 18th Century Highbury and Squerryes Court in Westerham, which doubled as Emma’s family home.

The Keira Knightley big screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also found its home in Kent with Groombridge Place in Tunbridge Wells providing the perfect visualisation of the Bennet’s family home. Visitors can take in the gardens and enchanted forest year-round (from £10.95 per adult and £8.95 per child).

Jane Austen by the sea in East Sussex

The seaside town of Brighton makes an appearance in Pride and Prejudice as the place where the flirtatious Lydia Bennett flees with her roguish lover, George Wickham.

The author’s relationship with coastal resorts is explored in an exhibition “Jane Austen by the Sea” at The Royal Pavilion (until 8 January 2018) looking at life in Brighton during her time, to mark the bicentenary of her death.

It paints a picture of the fashionable watering hole in the early 1800s, when it was a thriving garrison town featured in Austen’s novels alongside other towns all along the south coast.

Curator Dr Alexandra Loske has gathered items including highlights such as King George IV’s personal, specially-bound copy of Emma at the Royal Pavilion for the first time, a mourning brooch containing a lock of Jane Austen’s hair, one of her music books, and important rare manuscripts and letters including unfinished novel, Sanditon, set in a seaside town in Sussex.

These sit alongside prints, paintings and caricatures of the resorts and fashions popular with coastal visitors in Austen’s lifetime, and original Regency costumes from Brighton & Hove’s own collection.