My Boss Sent Me Down to Cabo

Of course I am supposedly here to work, but it does not look much like that. The funny part is that he is going to end up writing off the entire thing on his taxes and it is going to be a huge sum of cash. I was here to make deals, or at least to flesh out the fine details of them. However no one really ever got around to that so far. We are staying in an incredible luxury villa rentals for Cabo San Lucas. There are about a dozen people here, myself, my wife, the boss and this girl that busted up his marriage along with three huge clients and their guests.

Touring Croatia Game of Thrones locations

The cult-like grip of HBO’s blood-and-lust fantasy series has drawn veritable Dothraki hordes of fans to the Croatian sites where large chunks of seasons two through six were filmed. The Dalmatian coast’s walled towns and fortresses provide the perfect backdrop for flights of fancy, whether your passion is for the actual bloodthirsty events of history or the dragon-augmented version offered by Game of Thrones.

 

Maraud through the streets of King’s Landing in Dubrovnik

An absolute must-see (and not just for Thrones fans), Dubrovnik’smarble streets and honey-coloured battlements jutting over azure waters made it an obvious choice for King’s Landing. Before you even set foot in the historic Old Town you’ll run a gauntlet of touts selling Thrones-themed tours, many of which are extremely entertaining.

If you’d rather indulge in your own Walk of Shame, start with a whizz around the mighty city walls, where Tyrion Lannister saved the fictional city during the Battle of the Blackwater. Along the way look out for Minčeta Tower, which was used for the exterior shots of Qarth’s House of the Undying, where Daenerys Targaryen retrieves her dragons at the end of season two.

Many scenes were filmed in the Old Town’s cobbled maze of lanes. The area around the Dominican Monastery was used for crowded market scenes, while Cersei Lannister started her naked penitential walk on the stairs leading from the St Ignatius of Loyola Church to Gundulić Square. If you fancy a visit to Littlefinger’s brothel it’s easily arranged, although you may be disappointed to find that it actually houses a rather earnest Ethnographic Museum. Meanwhile, the Rector’s Palacewas such a good fit for the atrium of the Spice King of Qarth’s palace that they didn’t even bother removing the 17th-century statue of Dubrovnik citizen Miho Pracat.

Exit the Old Town via Pile Gate and duck down the stairs to the sheltered little harbour – a location instantly recognisable as the departure and posthumous returning point for Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s daughter Myrcella. Towering above is Fort Lawrence, Kings Landing’s legendary Red Keep. A few hundred metres further along is Gradac Park, the site of the Purple Wedding feast where super-brat Joffrey discovered that kingship really can be a poisoned chalice.

 

Ascend the Iron Throne on Lokrum Island

A 10-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik’s Old Harbour lands you on the island of Lokrum, where Daenerys Targaryen was welcomed to Qarth in a scene set in the cloister of the island’s former Benedictine monastery. The monastery now houses a Game of Thrones exhibition with displays about the filming and a replica Iron Throne awaiting your most imperious selfie pose.

The perfect African adventure for families

With easy access to wildlife, the world’s largest sandpit to explore, well-managed tourist access to local tribes and fewer potential health risks than elsewhere on the continent, Namibia has much to recommend it to families seeking a safe African adventure.

Sure, there are long distances to be covered on gravel roads, accommodation does get booked up quickly and anti-malarials can be on the cards if you go to Namibia at certain times of the year, but all these obstacles can be surmounted with some sensible planning.

 

Wildlife watching is child’s play

Namibians are rightly proud of how incredibly easy it is to see wildlife all over their country, and your children will love being able to spot herds of zebras, wildebeests and springboks during a long day’s driving. But for a family safari, nothing compares to visiting the astounding national park of Etosha in Namibia’s north. With a well-established self-drive infrastructure, it allows you to bring your hire car inside and go at a pace that works for your children (shorter and more frequent wildlife drives usually keep little ones happy) and crucially you can return to the rest camps for comfort breaks without having to disrupt anyone else’s viewing. You can also use books, snacks and games to keep small people entertained when they’ve had enough but you want to keep going.

However, what makes Etosha really perfect for families are the accessible, safe and floodlit watering holes located in rest camps which attract so many of the local wildlife, especially at night. Elsewhere in Africa the wildlife watching tends to end when you are back at camp, in Etosha it’s just getting going. Okaukuejo Camp is particularly known for the atmospheric encounters at its watering hole around sunset, and for that extra-special frisson of excitement the park offers guided night drives too (with a minimum age of six).

Tip: George, nine years old, recommends taking wildlife books so you can become an expert at identifying the different antelopes and the beautiful variety of birdlife you see.

A great art city on the rise

It’s time to hail Havana as one of the world’s great art cities. The Cuban capital has never lacked artistic credentials, but a growing band of small private galleries, fresh interest in outlandish street art and the emergence of the extraordinary art collectives has sparked a creative renaissance that has truly put the city on the map.

 

Artistic roots

Havana’s artistic roots go deep. The city is home to the oldest arts academy in Latin America, the Academia de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, housed in a colonnaded building in Marianao. Founded in 1818, the academy has bred generations of precocious talent, most notably in the 1920s when it spawned the Vanguardia, a loose collection of painters and sculptors who, rejecting the contemporary penchant for mundane landscapes, invented Cuba’s avant-garde.

 

Where to start

For an introductory exposé to the heady world of Cuban art, proceed directly to the bedrock of Havana’s art scene, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a huge multifarious art museum spread over two campuses in Centro Habana. The ‘Arte Cubano’ section is the finest collection of Cuban painting in the world. Artists to look out for include Victor Manuel Valdés, executor of the haunting Gitana Tropical, a painting sometimes referred to as the ‘Latin Mona Lisa’ that today is seemingly reproduced on every shower curtain and umbrella in Cuba. Another star is Wilfredo Lam, a colleague of Picasso who absorbed his Spanish amigo’s envelope-pushing spirit, but also nurtured distinctive Cuban themes such as Santería. Lam dominates the middle section of the museum with his dark, abstract works, including his most graphic, Tercer Mundo.

Family friendly fun in Detroit

If Detroit isn’t on your list to consider for a family vacation, it should be. This historic city has automobile and music legends to spare, plus unique outdoor spaces, which add up to plenty of kid-friendly activities.

From chowing down on Detroit-style pizza to learning about automotive history in nearby Dearborn, here are 10 suggestions for family fun in the Detroit area.

 

Catch a game at Comerica Park

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, is worth a visit for the action both on and off the field. There’s a carousel where kids big and small can go ’round and ’round on the back of – what else? – snarling tigers, and the Fly Ball Ferris Wheel, where you can get a bird’s-eye view of the park from a baseball-shaped capsule. Booster seats are available for smaller kids. At least half of the fun of checking out a game is the food, so don’t forget the hot dogs.

 

Make a sand castle at Campus Martius Park

The city of Detroit is decidedly urban, but that doesn’t mean it’s all concrete and tall buildings. Residents and visitors can find plenty of grass (and sand and ice!) at Campus Martius Park. During the summer there’s a sandy beach here, even though the only water in sight is spurting out of the various fountains. Set up a beach chair and umbrella and relax while the kids build a sand castle. Winter finds the park ready for the holidays, with an ice skating rink and an annual tree-lighting ceremony.

 

Grab a slice, Detroit-style

Detroit-style pizza isn’t as well-known as New York- or Chicago-style pizza, but it should be. Square and deep, a Detroit-style pie places pepperoni and other toppings under the cheese – and plenty of it, going right up to the crispy, buttery edge of the pie. Sauce is drizzled on top. Give it a taste in the place it all began: Buddy’s Pizza, which has been serving up thick, crunchy slices since 1946.

Life lessons from long-term travel

Long-term travel is undisputedly one of the most life-changing things you can do – and once that travel bug has bitten, there’s no antidote. Nothing beats the thrill of packing your bags and stepping out of your front door knowing you won’t be back for several weeks, months or even years!

When you return you’ll have a bag full of souvenirs (and usually sand), a mind full of amazing memories and most importantly – aside from a great tan, of course – an arsenal of valuable life skills. Here are some of the key lessons you’ll learn on the road.

 

Expect the unexpected

You plan and plan, and then everything gets turned on its head. Perhaps your flight gets cancelled so you miss that event you were so excited about. Maybe you get food poisoning and spend a week in bed instead of exploring a city you’ve been dreaming about since you were a kid; your luggage gets lost; your wallet gets stolen. You can’t control every situation on the road, so take a beat, deal with any incidents calmly and try to go with the flow. Remember, unexpected circumstances can lead to unexpected adventures.

Where you can, build in a few safety nets. Stock up on medication and first-aid supplies (looking for a chemist at an ungodly hour is never fun), pack a spare set of clothes in your hand luggage, keep some emergency money or a spare credit card stashed in a secret place and always have travel insurance.

Lessons from the road: I arrived in Ecuador with a day to spare before hopping on a cruise – unfortunately my luggage wasn’t so punctual and didn’t arrive until three days later. Thankfully my travel insurance allowed me to pick up some essentials in the meantime, but I’d have been a lot less stressed had I packed an extra set of clothes in my cabin bag.

From painted forests to pink lakes

Confident that you’ve ticked most, if not all, of the planet’s extraordinary sights off your bucket list? Then it’s time to think again.

Look beyond the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower and Angkor Wat and you’ll find a shadow world of marvels that you never knew existed. Some of them are astounding natural phenomenon; others are man-made yet no less magical for that; and all of them are under the radar.

In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Secret Marvels of the World, we take a whistle-stop tour of some of the most mysterious, mesmerising and downright bizarre places on Earth.

 

Rainbow eucalyptus trees, Hawaii, USA

The road to Hana is one of the most incredible drives anywhere on the planet, featuring an overwhelming abundance of sights, sounds and colours as the road winds its way down to the sleepy town nestled in the fragrant bosom of Maui’s rainforest.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing you’ll see on this journey is the ‘painted forest’ of rainbow eucalyptus trees: a quirk of nature producing trees that literally look like frozen rainbows. The reds, purples and greens are particularly vivid within these spectacular oddities of evolution, thanks to sections of bark shedding at different times during the year. The real beauty of this phenomenon, however, is that the process is ongoing, so the multicoloured streaks continuously evolve, forming a grove of living kaleidoscopes.

The rainbow eucalyptus grove can be found at mile marker 7 on Maui’s Hana Highway in Hawaii. You can also see some of the trees at the nearby Keʼanae Arboretum.

 

Zhāngyē Dānxiá National Geopark, China

Bands of colour from vermilion to pale green cover a mountainous 500 sq km site in Gansu province, where more than 20 million years of geological movement have pressed the sandstone into a multicoloured layer cake. Over centuries, the sandstone was weathered into pillars, while extreme desert temperatures split the rock to form creeks and cliff faces hundreds of metres high.

Adventure in Icelands Westfjords

‘Oh, it looks like there has been a small avalanche here.’ Óli, our guide, peers out of the bus window. ‘Yes, just a few hours ago.’ We’re in remote northwestern Iceland, driving to Dynjandi waterfall via Rte 60, a rutted road that winds around the Westfjords’ highest mountain, Kaldbakur (998m). Nature is calling the shots.

Burly and bright-blue-eyed with a matching bandana wrapped around his head, Óli is also a local physio, firefighter and paramedic. Despite the adrenaline rush, I’ve never felt safer. The Westfjords is the least-visited part of Iceland, wonderfully wild, largely uninhabited and relatively inaccessible, and the exhilarating rush of stepping outside your comfort zone cannot be underestimated.

Óli alights from the bus into a wind that blows the elastic band right out of my hair. We’re on our way from the fishing village of Suðureyri, and the stretch we’re on has recently re-opened; it’s closed for six to eight months of the year. After assessing the road, our snow whisperer gives us the all-clear to continue: ‘I will call my colleague. He will clear the road for us on our way back.’ I remember my heart pounding on this precarious yet stunning route on my first visit to Iceland in 2009. ‘Driving around the Westfjords is not for the faint-hearted’ began my travel diary from that trip, one that I’ve recommended to everyone since.

An hour or so of riveting road trip later – the bus twists and turns up and down the soaring mountains, round and round paintbox-blue fjords – we arrive at Dynjandisvogur. The wind abruptly vanishes and as we take the 15-minute walk from the car park up to the mighty Dynjandiwaterfall, I’m torn between which is the better view: the falls themselves or the perspective back down the 100m rocky escarpment to the bright blue waters of the bay below. Encouraged by Óli (‘this is solid rock, it’s safe, it does not move’), my dilemma is solved: I let him hold me at the waterfall’s edge while I take a photo of the falls cascading down to the sea.

Explore a more accessible Caribbean

Imagine dipping your feet into crystal clear waters along miles of golden sands, hearing your own breathing as you scuba dive, and seeing the sparkle of gold, silver, and gems in quaint shops. These alluring Caribbean travel experiences have historically not been accessible to wheelchair users, but fortunately that is changing.

Traveling internationally has always posed huge challenges for people with mobility impairments, and the nature of most Caribbean destinations – old buildings, cobblestone streets, and deep sand – has kept many seniors and wheelchair users away. However, more and more islands are now filled with experiences accessible to everyone.

 

The larger islands: Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Barbados

The Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas is an enormous Caribbean playground that provides excellent access for wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments. The resort provides guests with disabilities a detailed access guide with information about accessible rooms, attractions, and more. Atlantis is one of the many Caribbean resorts where people with impaired mobility can enjoy many refreshing zero-entry (sloped) pools. All that being said, the property covers an area a mile long, and the resort shuttles are not accessible. Manual wheelchair users would be wise to seek assistance, or rent an electric scooter for their stay.

Many of the major sights in Puerto Rico are at least partly accessible, like the majestic El Morro fortress and the Bacardí distillery in San Juan. Luquillo Beach, about 45 minutes outside of San Juan, has an accessible area for mobility-impaired visitors. Puerto Rico also offers some options for wheelchair-friendly tours using vans with lifts, like Rico Sun Tours. This is often the best way to see Old San Juan, which is riddled with cobblestones and very steep streets. It’s bad enough to spill your rum; you don’t want to spill out of your wheelchair.

The island country of Barbados can be circumnavigated by car in just four hours, but offers numerous accessible attractions. Visitors can hire local transportation company Blessed Rentals for a visit to Harrison’s Cave, which takes guests through stunning caverns in a tram—with a wheelchair accessible car. Beware the hair! The caverns are a full-frizz zone; it “rains” inside.

World Heritage anniversary

In the early 20th century, Shell’s oil refinery opened and workers poured in from the Windward Caribbean islands. The packed inner city was already in disrepair. Stichting Monumentenzorg, Curaçao’s oldest running Monuments Foundation, was formed and began restoration work, but it was too great for a single body. In addition, on May 30, 1969, several buildings in the heart of Punda and Otrobanda went up in flames during the major oil worker revolt.

Willemstad’s neglected state finally attracted help in the 1980s, thanks to a combination of government funds from Holland and private projects. Massive building restoration took place, and more organizations formed to help with funding and oversight. It took ten years to restore nearly 200 buildings, and a Monuments Plan was put in place in 1990. The idea then came to apply for the World Heritage designation. The Kingdom of Netherlands submitted the application – Curaçao was then under Dutch rule – and it was approved on December 4, 1997.

Twenty years in, Willemstad remains firm on the UNESCO list, with a whopping 750 protected buildings across four distinct colonial districts.

Here’s how to celebrate now and enjoy one of the Caribbean’s most well-preserved heritage cities.

Explore on foot with Dushi Walks CuraçaoA Dutch transplant with Indonesian roots, Shirley Bal’s love for her island home shines as she takes you on a two-hour neighborhood walking tour of Otrobanda or Scharloo with her company Dushi Walks Curaçao. You’ll explore the main avenues, but also go off-the-beaten track into side alleys, along the most local parts of these vibrant colonial districts.

In Otrobanda, you’ll learn about the neighborhood’s architecture and history, meet locals, and hear about the area’s socioeconomic struggles. You’ll walk past colonial buildings in ruins – like Willemstad’s former fashion district – as well as elaborate facades, and enter Curaçao’s oldest Catholic church. Street art is revealed along the way, showcasing artist initiatives to engage communities in preserving their neighborhoods.

In Scharloo, you’ll explore the architecture of elaborate mansions built by Jewish merchants, and tour the new life-sized murals that are reviving the district. You’ll even stop in at a local’s home, and get a personal tour of his 19th century abode.

The icing on the cake: Dushi Walks Curaçao uses over 50% of tour fees to support the local communities visited, and you can see the donations posted on Facebook.

 

Shop local art on Middenstraat

Beyond architecture, Willemstad’s culture-filled spirit is also reflected in its art. Shopping for locally sourced handicrafts is part of the experience, and the options are becoming more plentiful. Around the bend from the well-known Serena’s Art Factory and Nena Sanchez gallery, is a narrow street – Middenstraat – home to newcomer SilvanyRoss.

The artist cooperative store stocks one-of-a-kind items made by local entrepreneurs, from a set of wooden coasters carved with local phrases, to hand-woven purses, and island-inspired paintings on slabs of wood.