Malta & Gozo
I’ve been to the Maltese Islands twice in my life – once in my early teens with my family, which turned out to be the best family holiday we ever had, and again during my student days to visit friends from Malta I had met at a conference a few months before and with whom I am still in touch. My first visit was good largely because my mother, who had worked hard to pay for our (only) package holiday, was determined that we make the most of it – we saw everything from churches, tombs and ancient cities to pleasant fishing villages, beaches and boat rides. We saw how glass was made on Gozo and enjoyed the Festa of St Paul in Rabat where some rather spectacular (and dangerous) handmade Maltese fireworks haphazardly lit up the busy streets.
When I returned as an adult, I hung out with my friends, doing some more sightseeing – of both things I remembered, and things I hadn’t yet seen – cycled from San Gwann on the eastern side of Malta to the very northern end of Gozo, camped in the countryside, enjoyed the food and drink and generally had a good time. Perhaps it was having friends there; perhaps it is the laid back way of life, the friendliness towards British people, and the good weather or maybe that so much history and culture crammed onto such a small land mass that made my times there so memorable. Whatever the reason, if the flights were there and I had the time, I would certainly consider another visit to the happiest islands in the Mediterranean.
My first experience of Salzburg was changing trains of the way to a conference deep in the Austrian Alps; I had brief glances of the city as sun streamed in through the carriage windows. Something within me yearned to discover the culture that clearly oozed from every surface. 2 years later I finally got my wish, making a romantic weekend getaway from Munich. Staying in a quiet guesthouse on the edge of town, my then-boyfriend showed me the cultural sites in the city centre, such as the Mirabel Gardens and the fortress, while I enthusiastically dragged him to the impressive (and very cold) Eisriesenwelt ice cave, high in the alps (one of my top 5 underground destinations). Another (amusing) highlight was getting wet under from the trick fountains at Schloss Hellbrunn, and there were many other cultural gems I didn’t have time to see. Most importantly the food was great, especially having some traditional pastries at a bakery street café, and I will confess to consuming sekt (sparkling wine) and Mozartkügeln (balls of pistachio and marzipan covered in chocolate) in bed one evening. Definitely small, but very intimate, Salzburg is also one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to, and I highly recommend it as a romantic alternative to of Paris and Venice.
In 2013 I made short trips to Singapore 3 times and had a great time. The tiny island nation is taking full advantage of stopover tourists, encouraging them to extend their transfer from a few hours to a few days. It’s easy to see why so many travellers are doing this: not only everything in Singapore is compact and easily accessible by public transport (3 day tourist rail passes are available at the stations in Changi Airport), but what is on offer is high quality. People often complain that it’s an expensive destination, but personally I found it cheaper than London (alcohol is the noticeable big expense, but it is definitely possible to see Singapore on a budget, and what you pay for is of good quality. There’s a lot of cultural diversity crammed into a small area, Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street, the westernised feel of Marina Bay… so there is something to cater to everyone’s tastes. Speaking of tastes, the food courts are a great (and affordable) way to enjoy your dinner – lively, with a whole plethora or cuisines to choose from, and it all tastes so good!
Myanmar is one of the places I’ve written most about and for good reason: it was the best country I’ve ever worked in and I’ve said on many occasions that I would pay to go back there. I spent most of my time in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), as well as a short break to see the temples of Bagan, however I had to miss out on Mandalay, Inle Lake and some other sights. The country is changing so fast that everyone’s experience of the country is different, and there is always something new to discovered as Burma becomes more open to foreigners. As well as the impressive temples and extensive history and culture, Yangon also offered something else: a buzzing social life as being a small, centralised city with a close-knit community of expats even if you had nothing planned you could go out alone yet still stay out until the early hours with old friends or new acquaintances you might bump into.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The coolest of the cool, 4 days in Rio was not long enough! I would gladly revisit or even move to this city if the opportunity arose. Yes, things are expensive there and mostly likely going to continue getting more expensive (it is the most expensive city in the southern hemisphere I’ve heard), especially around major events such as Carnival, but for a city this iconic and vibrant, the price is more than worth it, especially if you know some Carioca people to help you get acquainted with the city, often at a fraction of the cost; for example the Paõ de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) cable car is half price if you present a valid student card. There are the patterned seafronts of Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, the towering imperial palm trees in the botanic gardens, and the giddy train ride throug the Tijuca Forest to the top of Corcovado where Cristo Redentor stands majestically over the city. Rio’s iconography is unrivaled, and the city is also much safer after intensive investment in security in preparation for major events such as the World Cup and Olympics. I regret not staying longer, and not seeing more of what Rio de Janeiro has to offer – definitely one to revisit in the future.