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Photo of the Week

#13 Shiraz, Iran

Iran is a country of many beautiful mosques and while I’ll admit I’d probably have a hard time listing the prettiest (because there are so many!), whenever I think about it there’s always one that immediately comes to mind: the Pink Mosque. Its actual name is Nasir al-Mulk Mosque and it is located in Shiraz, a city that does not lack spectacular attractions. While the mosque itself doesn’t differ much from most of the other mosques in the country (it is actually a bit underwhelming in comparison to some, which is crazy given how impressive they all are) it stands out for different reasons.

So, what makes it so special? Well, this is a mosque that you should visit early in the morning in order to witness a unique spectacle; once the sun reaches a certain height in the sky and the rays start peeking through the coloured glass panels, the whole prayer room transforms itself into a massive kaleidoscope. It’s unbelievably beautiful, and a truly surreal experience. Those who get out of bed early are rewarded with the chance to briefly enjoy the moment in peaceful silence before the groups of noisy tourists eventually arrive to completely ruin the mood. Worth it, though!

#12 Durdle Door, England

One of the downsides of living in London is the lack of wild nature. There are plenty of parks, but fans of the outdoors like me are unlikely to be fully satisfied with a green lawn and some trees. Thankfully there are a few good options just a couple of hours away by train, one of them being Durdle Door – a massive rock formation on the Dorset coast that is nothing short of stunning. You can reach it the easy way by driving there, or the hard way by taking an early train to Weymouth and walking to Lulworth Cove for the train back to London.

This is actually a very popular hike (not as popular as the Seven Sisters, though) and chances of being completely alone are quite slim. Still, the 18-kilometre trek offers excellent views of rocky cliffs throughout. It also offers a decent physical challenge since some of the cliffs are very steep and the wind is relentlessly ever-present. Despite this, since the Durdle Door is located near the end of the trail, the reward for the effort couldn’t be better. One of the funnest day trips from London, no doubt.

#11 SE3 Train, Vietnam

One thing that always breaks my heart is talking to people who’ve been to Vietnam and learn they took a bus from Hue straight to Hoi An. A bus! It’s a shame because, even though it may be easier, it doesn’t quite compare to the beauty that is riding the SE3 train. Granted the train doesn’t go all the way to Hoi An and a taxi may be needed to complete the last stretch of the ride, but with views like this does it really matter?

The train ride starts slowly but quickly picks up the pace. For about an hour or so nothing really happens apart from passing the odd town, but then… the quick change of scenery hits you like a brick. Suddenly you’re surrounded by lush greenery that seems to swallow the train whole, not to mention the outstanding views of the sea! This stretch of the SE3 route is considered one of the most scenic in the world for a reason, too bad so many tourists overlook it.

#10 Chichen Itza, Mexico

For lovers of ancient civilisations, few places are as exciting as the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico. The amount of incredibly preserved Mayan ruins to discover, each one better than the next, makes it an authentic playground for explorers and history lovers alike. While not my favourite of the lot (that would have to be Palenque), Chichen Itza is by far the most impressive. There’s a reason it is the most recognised Mayan ruin in the world!

Contrary to popular belief, the famous limestone pyramid is actually called Temple of Kukulcán and is part of a much larger (and very interesting) complex called… Chichen Itza! The pyramid sits in the middle of an archeological site where a large Mayan city existed some 1,500 years ago. While the surrounding ruins are extremely well preserved and a delight to explore, its imposing scale unsurprisingly makes Kukulcán the crown jewel of Chichen Itza.

#9 Seville, Spain

When it comes to public squares, Europe is a hard place to beat. That’s a fact. There are thousands of them, each one prettier than the next. Spain, for example, is well known for its magnificent plazas. And even though I haven’t yet had a chance to visit them all, I think Plaza de España will forever be my favourite. Located in Seville, the capital of the Andalucia region, it takes little time to conquer the heart of anyone who visits it.

Built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, this huge half-circle square is a marvel to look at. While the walls feature impressive tiles representing each of the Spanish provinces, its most striking detail is the artificial lake that runs across its length. During the day boats can be rented and visitors make the most of it by rowing up and down the lake. It’s a fantastic sight, and one of the reasons that make it one of my favourite squares in the world.

#8 Baños, Ecuador

I’m not much of a waterfall kind of guy. I mean, I do like them when they’re big and spectacular but otherwise they just fail to grab my attention. As such, you won’t be surprised to learn that when I travel I’m very cautious about going out of my way to see a waterfall. It’s a rare occasion, let’s put it that way. The Pailón del Diablo, however, is one of those exceptions that didn’t make me think twice. I simply had to see it.

Located near the small town of Baños, the best way to get there is by renting a mountain bike and making your way through the spectacular Ruta de las Cascadas. What awaits at the other end is the aptly named Pailón del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron: an impressive waterfall with a viewpoint that’ll make you feel like you’re in a Lord of the Rings movie. You’ll get very close to the waterfall and obviously drenched, which is part of what makes it so much fun!

#7 Doha, Qatar

Back in 2016 I did a small trip to the Persian Gulf to see what the fuss was about. Truth be told, I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of countries I visited but… I quite liked Qatar. Doha, the capital, has a different vibe from the other cities in the gulf and somehow feels less artificial. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the amount of museums, and good ones at that!

The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha’s flagship museum, is by far the most impressive. It features an interesting collection of Islamic art throughout the centuries housed in a gorgeous modern building designed by I. M. Pei (the same guy who designed the iconic Louvre Pyramid!). The main hall is its most striking feature, especially this ginormous window overlooking the Doha skyline at the opposite end of the Corniche. It’s a beautiful museum, and better yet: free!

#6 New York City, USA

I’ve been fortunate to have been able to visit New York City a few times and always look forward to the next one. It’s a city that, perhaps thanks to Hollywood, we all sort of already know even before we get there. The Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Times Square… who doesn’t know these landmarks? They are all so iconic. Yet my favourite thing to do in New York is just wander about aimlessly. From the Upper West to the Lower East, Times Square and across the bridge – it doesn’t really matter.

I know some people prefer to stay in places like Brooklyn but for me the Big Apple is all about the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. I took this photo on a snowy day while walking on NYC’s most famous avenue (the 5th!) with a privileged view of the Empire State Building. It’s a fantastic sight that will leave anyone with a sore neck from constantly looking up. Make no mistake, views like this are part of what makes New York such a special place!

#5 Uyuni, Bolivia

Welcome to one of the most stunning places on Earth: the Uyuni Salt Flat! Not just any salt flat, mind you, the world’s largest salt flat. Part of what makes it so incredible is the fact that it’s a desert of salt, sort of. This high-altitude adventure set above 3,500 metres is usually done as a multi-day trip from Uyuni (in Bolivia) to San Pedro de Atacama (in Chile). 

During the tour you are presented with a multitude of spectacular sceneries, each one crazier than the other. But the most impressive thing for me was the vastness of the salt flats. Since there are no roads or marked trails, the drivers really need to know their way around. How they manage, I don’t know. But damn, it is impressive. To this day I’m yet to have a more spectacular “5-minute break” anywhere in the world!

#4 Versailles, France

I’m always gutted when people tell me they went to Paris and didn’t go to Versailles. I get that the crowds can be a bit overwhelming to endure (to put it mildly) but this has to be one of my favourite buildings in the world. It serves almost as a window into the past! The palace is not fully open to the public but the fair few rooms that are will likely make any common mortal drool.

Especially the majestic Hall of Mirrors, by far my favourite in the palace – for obvious reasons. Did you know this is where the Treaty of Versailles (that officially ended World War I) was signed in 1919? Well, now you do! And in case you’re wondering why the room was nearly empty when I visited, well… it was -8 degrees Celsius and snowing outside!