Not a lot of things came to mind when I thought of the Isle of Man. Shameful, I know. Having lived in the UK for 10 years, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time exploring continental Europe but not necessarily what lay closer to home. In fact, all I knew was the Isle of Man was under some vague category of UK control. And that it was a tiny island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland (thanks to the many times I pored over the route map in airline inflight magazines). So when an opportune long weekend came up, and my routine bedtime Skyscanner searches yielded a cheap EasyJet return flight to the island, I blinked twice and booked a two day visit.
Guilty confession: I would have never guessed that San Marino – a nation of 33,000 people – is the world’s oldest surviving republic. It’s said to have been founded in the fourth century by a saint, a Dalmation stone-mason called Marinus, who sought refuge here when fleeing religious persecution. The steep ridge of Monte Titano is certainly a good defensive stronghold. I went in expecting a tax haven similar to Monaco, with only expensive restaurants and unimpressive buildings on relatively flat terrain. I was wrong on all accounts. Instead I saw a glimpse into a world of fairytale castles, views that never get boring and more importantly, how the resolve and determination of a tiny nation helped navigate the complex political battleground to retain its independence.
Pine-fringed beaches, bogs, wetlands with therapeutic mud, medieval castles and winding valleys would definitely not have been a list I rattled off, if asked to think of Latvia. Yet this is what I came across the moment I ventured outside Riga. Further reinforcing the notion that to see a country’s true beauty, you need to venture outside its capital city. This certainly was natural beauty I never expected to find. The best part? Most of it is an easy day trip from Riga.
Because of its geographical position, Latvia has always been interesting to a number of people. As a result, it’s had many different rulers over the last 8 centuries. Partly due to this, Riga’s architecture ranges from wooden buildings to Art Nouveau, and Modernism to Gothic – depending on which part of the city you’re in. I expected the city to be pretty grey and very ex-Soviet, but was quickly corrected. It looked more like Paris, Vienna or some part of Scandinavia. The vibe of the city, the culture and its people seemed far more Northern European than I would have expected. Here’s what I did in my few days in Riga before I explored other parts of the country.
‘Mir wëllebleiwewatmirsinn’ means ‘we want to remain what we are’. This refers to Luxembourg’s history of ownership by foreign powers and their wish to remain independent now and in the future. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg may be known for just being a hub for EU organisations and companies that are seeking to benefit from […]
I waited with an impatient anticipation as we were landing in Jersey, to see what life was like in the Channel Islands. Would it be an extension of England? A little version of France, given it was just off the French coast? Or something completely different? Many people don’t understand what status Jersey holds, myself […]