Satiating your wanderlust with the top 10 places to visit in 2015
It is undisputable that travel broadens horizons. The more we travel, the more we see so-called ‘different’, the more we realise that we are all alike. We learn to accept people as they are and not try to change them into ‘our’ mould.
I mean, even in the so-called ‘exotic’ places, parents frown upon their children for coming home late and spouses squabble over the monthly housekeeping budget and life goes on as usual. This is when you discover that people are all alike underneath.
I pride on having visited many places but wanderlust is something that can never be satiated. The thrill of visiting new places, trying to mentally ‘connect’ them to your own heritage, searching for some rationale behind their specific rituals, behaviour, practices, habits and beliefs, tasting new cuisines, hearing the local language and guessing its meaning, and trying out their local costumes are just some of the few things that must be felt first-hand.
After consulting friends and relatives, I made a list of 10 enticing places that you may not have considered visiting before but should definitely do so in 2015:
1) Fernando de Noronha – Brazil
Forta Leza is a big town in the East of Brazil. A mere two hour flight from this town will take you to an unspoilt and breath-taking island. At any given point of time, only an approximate number of 500 tourists are allowed on this island. It’s a volcanic island and is very famous for scuba diving. Apart from the exotic marine life swimming by nonchalantly, you also get to view rich coral reefs. They say even the sharks there are friendly with the visitors.
The not-to-be-missed place is the site of shipwrecks (most likely Portuguese) on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not easy to dive several feet down to visit the wreck remains but it can be clearly seen when you are swimming on the surface. Expert and daring swimmers can go inside the wreck and visit room by room. Non-swimmers need not worry as they are ‘tied’ with a rope and let into the water. The guide accompanies you with a water proof camera so you don’t have to worry about taking pictures yourself.
Many restaurants there offer buffet and food is sold by the ‘kilo’. Visitors can go around filing their plates and it will be weighed before charging. The entire island can be covered leisurely in two days. Understandably, much of the accommodation on the island is pretty basic because the tourists are not expected to stay cocooned inside their rooms. There are very few star hotels on the island for overnight stay.
2) Sidi Bou Saiid – Tunisia
This pretty post card village which is on the north of Tunisia is a relatively unknown place with the non-locals. It’s a majorly beach area and is a small village known for its extensive use of blue and white in everything including its Andalusian architecture and pottery.
A visit to the souk (local bazaar) is a must, which houses a large variety of trinkets and spices (many with uncommon names like chab used to heal cuts). The village is best explored by walk or on a bicycle. Many vendors rent out bicycles by the hour. Needless to say, this place, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is best known for its sea food and locally grown dates. The ambitious tourist is advised to go armed with basic knowledge of French or Arabic.
3) Azores – Portugal
This island is exactly in between the United States and Europe, in the Atlantic Ocean. A three-hour flight from Lisbon, Portugal, will take you to this exotic place. This volcanic island belongs to Portugal and is the only place in the whole of Europe that grows tea. It’s a pretty big place and houses the Azores University.
It has many star hotels where week-long conferences or training sessions can be held. You can eat a meal cooked on volcanic fire. Because there is so much smoke and steam that comes out of the ground at irregular intervals, the food is buried inside the ground and it comes out all cooked and ready to eat in just 10 minutes. A vegetarian meal would consist of mainly eggs and vegetables.
4) Verona – Italy
Verona is the setting of the famous love story Romeo and Juliet; it draws more tourists than Rome or The Vatican and because of its popularity, it has many star hotels. A popular destination for lovers (young or not), it comes alive especially on Valentine’s Day when guided tours around the rumoured houses of Romeo and Juliet are fully booked.
Among other attractions, they have a love letter writing competition. It’s not uncommon to find grieving, forlorn lovers burying their love notes near the famous balcony of these houses in the hope that they will finally be together with their lover despite all hurdles. Vegetarians need not feel any measure of dread as they can walk into any restaurant and they are sure to get at least a tomato and mozzarella pizza or pasta. Florence and Padua are the big towns nearby
5) Limoges – France
This is a homemaker’s delight. Just a mere five hours drive from Paris, this town is known for its ceramics. Among other types, it manufactures fragile ceramic ware so transparent that you can see how much your cup is filled with wine or coffee from the outside. A guided tour to the ceramic factory leaves you enthralled; here is when you get to see how an intricately exquisite frilly flouncy flowery vase is manufactured in just a few minutes. On a quiet Sunday, you can stroll about town window shopping the scores of ceramic selling outlets and not feel time pass you by.
It is considered a privilege to gift monogrammed Limoges cups or table sets to new parents or newly married. Many high-end ceramic designers, like Guy Degrene, have their factories nearby bordering the town.
6) Baden-Baden – Germany
Literally meaning ‘baths baths’ in the German language, it’s a mere one and a half hour flight from the capital Berlin. It houses many natural thermal springs and is a popular destination for spa goers. Many people from nearby countries own holiday homes in this village and they come regularly to soak in the naturally hot (not just warm) springs.
It is a gateway to the Black Forest – the place where the famous cuckoo clocks are manufactured. Many of these spas have ladies-only timings. Once known as the summer capital of Europe, the spring water rich in minerals is supposed to be the panacea for a variety of illness like arthritis, blood pressure, heart problems, respiratory problems and the likes. Many commercial spas offer services like massages, yoga and adults-only timings. They offer to take care of the children while the adults are away in the baths. English is widely spoken thanks to the increasing number of international clients pouring in year after year. So if you are one to enjoy a little bit of pampering, this is definitely the place for you!
7) Lesotho – South Africa
This is an island of sorts; it’s completely surrounded by South Africa, inhabited by a proud race. While driving to and from Cape Town, you can drive hundreds of kilometres without seeing a single habitation. Apart from the breath-taking attractions in the form of natural reserves, waterfalls, botanical gardens, trekking routes, it also houses Africa’s highest pub which serves a locally brewed mild alcoholic drink called Malooti.
Dinosaurs have roamed on this side of the planet and their foot prints can still be found etched deeply in the sands of time. Bunny chow is a dish not to be missed in Lesotho and South Africa. It’s a cousin of the traditional Indian meal – meat and rice with bread. It’s a popular wholesome dish with the ethnic community. Its vegetarian version is called bunny beans and has only red kidney beans with rice. The most common food, however, is Borotho – eggless bread made of only flour and water with a little yeast.
Many locals rear their own sheep and knit their own woollen items. A visit to the ski mountain of Afriski is a must there and tourists can travel with the entire family over there, which means being accompanied by seniors and children. Skiing equipment and guides can be easily rented at reasonably low prices.
8) Merzonga – Morocco
This is a village in the desert island of Morocco. One can imagine the famous traveller Ibn Battuta travelling through these dunes (well… if not Merzonga then such types) from Morocco on his way to the subcontinent in his search for knowledge. The sands can be scary, though not very dangerous, with big lizards and scorpions crawling in day time.
Camel safaris are a common mode of transport. The village stands on the edge of a big sand dune and many people with ailments come there to be buried neck deep in the hot sand, as it is believed to solve many ills like joint pains. Climbing those dunes provides a good exercise for your calf muscles.
Moroccan cuisine has much in common with that of the subcontinent. The most common being red split lentil (masoor dal) used liberally in their cuisine. If nothing, then the incorrigible vegetarian traveller can have this with some roasted vegetables on the side. A camel ride is relaxing and it soon becomes clear why great religions flourished near the Sahara (not Morocco in particular). For days and months, people need to travel extensively, non-stop and since there is nothing to be done, they start contemplating.
It’s rumoured that Astrology was born in these parts as travellers started using stars and the moon to map and forecast their paths.
9) Melaka –Malaysia
Getting just as popular as the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, this port city was the trade centre of the subcontinent with its nearby countries. The cuisine, language and architecture show a heady mix of the Chinese, Indian, Dutch, Thai and Portuguese influences. It’s a world heritage site and houses many ancient churches and cemeteries.
Along with the freely available sea food, they use a lot of rice and coconut in their cuisine. Many variations of rice can be found – rice noodles, flavoured rice, aromatic rice, rice with chicken or vegetables, sticky rice, dry rice, rice desserts, rice wine, rice with coconut milkshakes, rice vinegar and the list, I’m afraid, goes one. Many road side shops offer to sell ‘real antiques’ but if you are lucky and picky enough, you may actually end up buying something as old as 300 years.
10) Nagarkot – Nepal
It’s a hill station not (yet) as popular as Katmandu or Pokhara. It’s the nearest point from the capital Katmandu, from where the highest peak Mount Everest can be viewed on a clear day. Tourists flock around the mountain range each morning at 3am to view the sun playing hide and seek behind snow-capped peaks. It offers many trekking and walking activities.
Many star hotels work throughout the year. It’s an experience to simply sit in your balcony and view the mighty majestic Himalayan ranges the whole day to wash away all your fatigue – mental and physical. Vendors make a quick buck selling momos (steamed rice cakes stuffed with meat, chicken or shredded vegetables) at strategic tourist locations.
This was my round-up of the top 10 places you must try and visit in 2015. Experiencing different places, people and cultures, and travelling to places that are not as mainstream can be quite enthralling. If you have other exotic destinations to add to this list please go right ahead and leave a comment – I am sure there are lots of places I could add to my list too.
Bon voyage and a very Happy New Year to everyone in advance! Cheers!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.