On our world tour in 2016, the world taught us a lot of things. Here is what we learnt from the world –
- What happens when you miss your flight
Your first reaction will be that there must be something that can be done – stop the plane! Shut down the airport!” said our self-confessed “wazzock”, who missed a flight from Gatwick in May.
“But as this sense of injustice and self-entitlement slowly dissipates, a feeling of complete helplessness washes over you as you realise there is nothing to be done.” Here’s what happened.
“When all’s said and done, you’ll look back on that missed flight and laugh. And you sure as dickens won’t miss one again”
- We’ve been doing cruises wrong
Meet Torbjørn C. Pedersen, a Danish guy who’s spent the last three years travelling the world by container ship, racking up 122 passport stamps – for just £16 a day. His favourite stop-offs? “Greenland and Cuba have surprised me the most as countries I cannot compare with others. They are absolutely unique and memorable. And Iran is a pearl of a country.”
- Where to find the finest custard tarts
Head to Portugal for some mind-blowing pasteis de nata. Those from Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon are genuinely worth queuing for its a million times better than anything you have tasted before.
4. The best place to see dolphins in Europe
Dolphin pods regularly pass back and forth in front of Rovinj, Croatia, and there’s no better place to watch them than from La Puntulina, a restaurant boasting tables perched on the coastal rocks.
- Pollution in Delhi really is ridiculous
Experts claim that breathing Delhi’s smoggy air is as dangerous as smoking 40 cigarettes a day – and in the first week of November it peaked at the most hazardous levels ever recorded.
The pollution got so bad that residents and visitors posted “smog selfies”, using the hashtag #MyRightToBreathe
- Magaluf is turning over a new leaf
The Majorca resort is one year into an ambitious five-year plan to revamp its image, with an increase in the number of four-star hotels and as much as €240million (£214m) of investment.
- Hot tub rollercoasters are happening
At least, according to the mayor of Beppu, a spa resort on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. What to expect from the world’s first spa-themed amusement park? Ferris wheels and cable cars with built-in bathtubs, pools of hot spring water, and steam-room style gaming areas.
- Silicon Valley ‘feels like a benign dictatorship’
Silicon Valley has become a tourist destination, with visitors rolling along the area’s (still largely) residential roads to peek at the headquarters of the new masters of the universe: Apple, Google, and Facebook.
- There are still some quiet places in Venice
When you grow weary of the crowds around St Mark’s Square, it’s a relief to find that Venice still has some quiet corners to enjoy and artistic delights to relish – you just need to know where to look.
Relatively few visitors make it to the central campo of Murano, home of San Donato church.
- And Dubrovnik has some too – at least after dark
Walk around the old town at night, preferably after dinner at Proto (Široka ul. 1, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia), and you’ll find plenty of empty streets. Not bad, considering Croatia was probably one of Europe’s most popular destinations this summer.
- Your new favourite island-hopping destination? The Philippines
If you’re looking for palm-fringed south-east Asian islands that haven’t been spoiled by raucous beach bars and student backpackers, look no further than the Philippines. It has around 7,500 islands to its name: some with thriving cities and towns, and some that are completely deserted. All are utterly beautiful.
For the best island-hopping trip, try the wonderful sustainably-minded Tao Philippines, which plies the waters of Palawan on real off-grid adventures, camping on sugar-white beaches every night. Go now – before the rest of the world catches on.
A lagoon on the coast of El Nido, Palawan
- Pilots have the best offices…
Cruising above the Earth at 35,000 feet, they have a unique vantage point on our beautiful planet, witnessing everything from extreme weather events to dazzling sunsets. And then happily for us, they share it all on Instagram.
- …But that doesn’t stop them from falling asleep
According to research by the British Airline Pilots’ Association, half of all pilots have fallen asleep in the cockpit.
- Life’s a drag (but that’s not always a bad thing)
drag queens, risqué singalongs and sequins galore as he followed in the stiletto-steps of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – and had the time of his life.
“Firstly there are some simple rules of engagement. Flash photography is strictly… mandatory!”
- There is such thing as an ‘airport security goat’
Kathmandu International Airport has one. In October, the critter in question escaped onto the runway of the Nepalese airport, forcing a pilot to abandon his landing.
- Monkeys are not good at sharing
As Oliver Smith, our digital editor, found monkey mother who doesn’t share with her baby- when he ventured to India (and finally escaped Delhi’s smog).
- India’s temples really do live up to the hype
India’s best bit, after those monkeys? The temples of Rajasthan – especially the spectacular Jain temple of Ranakpur. It’s between Jodhpur and Udaipur, and well worth a detour. “If you’re exploring Rajasthan, be sure to alternate hectic city with rural retreat,” advises Oliver. “You’ll need time to recover from the crowds and breakneck auto rides. Try the Rawla Narlai: with its courtyards, pool and dreamy views it’s like a slice of Provence deposited deep in India.”
The quirky splendour of the Rawla Narlai
- To always buy currency before momentous events
We’re still not entirely sure what Brexit will mean for holidaymakers, but one thing’s for certain: the decision to ditch the EU has hit us right in the wallet. After years of plenty, with a pound purchasing up to €1.40 in May 2015, it tumbled to €1.10 after the EU referendum, with some airport bureaux selling at below parity. Further fluctuations can be expected once Article 50 is triggered, and rarely has keeping an eye on the currency at your destination of choice been so important.
- We’ve found the best holiday for animal lovers
…And better yet, it’s free.
- Uzbekistan is a hidden gem
From April next year, Uzbekistan will be dropping its visa process for British citizens – saving you a bit of money, and (what feels like) several hours of unforgiving paperwork. A rich and varied destination awaits, with eye-poppingly ornate Silk Road mosques and palaces, mighty Soviet relics in the capital (Tashkent), and vast sweeping deserts with just a few camels for company.
The ancient walled city of Khiva, in Uzbekistan
- New York is (unexpectedly) wild
The Big Apple has the world’s highest concentration of peregrine falcons, which set up their nests on bridges and skyscrapers around the city. “Thousands of animal species are found in the city’s parks; Staten Island hosts hundreds of bird species, white-tailed deers, cotton-tailed rabbits and snapping turtles,”
- Pilots love Heathrow
We quizzed 15 international pilots on their favourite airports around the world. One of the most popular? Heathrow, would you believe. “On a clear day the views of the city approaching Runways 27L and 27R from the north are amazing,” said Aer Lingus captain Sonya Bissett. “The air traffic controllers here are second to none. It always amazes me the outstanding job they do.”
- Who Beryl Markham is
Eighty years ago, Beryl Markham became the first woman, and only the second pilot, to fly solo east-to-west across the Atlantic. It didn’t go entirely to plan: she had hoped to touch down in New York, but 20 hours into the flight her plane suffered fuel starvation and she crash-landed in a bog in Nova Scotia.
She was a hardy soul. Having taken nothing more than flasks of coffee and chicken sandwiches as sustenance, she was famished and exhausted, and had to trudge for two hours across what she described as “engulfing mire” before two fisherman picked her up. Read her incredible life story here.
- Where the world’s best loos are
They’re in East Sussex, in the brilliantly bonkers Bell Inn. Gents, head straight to the urinals, where you can relieve yourself in a flugelhorn.
- The real reason why cabin lights are dimmed
Why are aircraft lights dimmed before takeoff and landing during hours of darkness? Because your eyes need time to get used to the dark, in case of emergency. “Dimming the lights allows your eyes to pre-adjust to darkness, so that you’re not suddenly blinded if something happens and the power goes out,” explained Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential. So now you know.
- Soon, you could fly to New York for £60
While some airlines have trained their eye on flying their planes as far as possible, others are more concerned with making their fares as cheap as possible. The growth of the low-cost, long-haul market has seen the likes of WOW air and Norwegian competing with increasingly startling headline-grabbing fares, such as New York for £60 – starting in summer 2017.
New York: on next summer’s hit list
- Where to find Europe’s most surprising summer destination
Where do Berliners go for short-haul winter sun? To ‘Tropical Island’, of course, a gigantic aircraft hangar on a Nazi-built airfield about 30 miles outside of Berlin. It is, indeed, a tropical paradise – with a constant air temperature of 26C and a humidity of 60 per cent; more akin to a mild day in the Maldives than a field in Brandenburg.
Germany’s answer to Centre Parcs
The park is bespeckled by whirlpools, jacuzzis, waterslides, pools, soil and sand, as well as a “ball waterfall” for kids and a number of slides, including Germany’s tallest at 27 metres. The water temperature of the Lagoon is 32C; the Sea is 28C. We know where we’re headed in January.
- You can live the ‘Come Dine With Me’ dream
We gave VizEat – the ‘Airbnb for food’ – a go this year, and weren’t disappointed. The website connects diners with amateur cooks all over the world, for a kind of Come Dine With Me experience.
Our social media editor Hannah Meltzer feasted at a French family’s table in Paris. “Conviviality was the overriding atmosphere of the evening, helped along by the flowing kir that made an appearance on arrival.” And the food? “Simple, hearty, delicious… baked camembert, a hearty slab of tuna quiche, and cooked pear covered in gooey chocolate to finish.”
- We’re not the only ones who find ski lifts terrifying
With wobbly legs, the simple sequence of standing, sitting and gliding away can be much more difficult than it looks. Just ask these poor souls. We’re just going to leave this video here…
- Poland has the world’s most beautiful cycle lane
A new glow-in-the-dark cycle lane, powered entirely by the sun, was unveiled near Lidzbark Warminski in northern Poland in October. It’s eco-friendly and gorgeous – and we’d love to give it a go.
The technology uses synthetic particles called luminophores to ‘charge’ the asphalt with sunlight
- What happens when you tell someone they’re beautiful
Turkish photographer Mehmet Genç travels the world taking photographs of people he meets, capturing their reactions before and after he tells them they’re beautiful. The premise might sound just a little creepy, but the results are rather wonderful.
- The secret to stress-free travel… is a pig
If you’re travelling through San Francisco International Airport, look out for Lilou, a Juliana-breed pig with a winning personality and keen sense of fun – one look at her outlandish outfits and “painted nails” will soothe your world weariness.
- Having a third child will ruin your holidays
British families now have an average of 1.92 children (down from the apocryphal 2.4) and parents are often penalised by travel firms if they dare to breach the average. Our reporter found that the cost of a child-friendly holiday cottage for a family of five was nearly three times the cost for a family of four.
- Florida’s Disney World is as big as San Francisco
That’s more than 43 square miles to be precise. Find 17 more surprising facts about Disney World here.
The traffic jams are better in Disney World, though
- A whole country ran out of beer
Thanks to its thaw in relations with the US, Cuba has welcomed a wave of American tourists, aircraft and cruise ships, placing increasing pressure on infrastructure. The first casualty? The island’s beer supply, which dwindled in April this year. State-run bars were the worst hit, running dry as the government failed to keep up with demand.
In December, four British tour operators announced they were no longer taking bookings for Cuba holidays as accommodation, food and amenities had “not been up to the right standard” for guests.
- Your next city break should be Bucharest
Romania’s capital boasts super-cool shops, beautiful windmills, and terrifically cheap plum liqueur. Sounds like a great recipe for a weekend break, if you ask us.
- What it’s like to ski Europe’s steepest slope
“If you fall on this you’re probably not going to stop until you get to the bottom,” quipped former Olympic skier Graham Bell when he filmed his descent of Harikari, Europe’s steepest piste, for us. Try it if you dare…
- You can time travel in Finland
No, really. The border between Finland and Sweden is also a time-zone marker. Finland is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, Sweden just one hour. This means that if you hop the frontier from east to west, you “regain” a full 60 minutes of your life – good fun on December 31, when you can ring in the new year twice.
- Rome’s Colosseum was not called “The Colosseum”
At least not when it was first built, which was between 72 and 80AD. Back then, it would have been referred to as the “Amphitheatrium Flavium”, because it was constructed by the Flavian dynasty of emperors – notably Vespasian, who started it, and Titus, who finished it. Catchy.
- Why planes still have ashtrays
It’s a very silly reason, really.
- Lithuania has great 4G
The Government’s National Infrastructure Commission has warned that Britain is “languishing in the digital slow lane” with 80 per cent of rural premises lacking 4G coverage. In a world ranking of 4G, the UK came 54th (out of 78) – while South Korea, Japan and Lithuania topped the charts.
- Reinhold Messner is the world’s greatest living man
Messner was the first man to climb every mountain over 8,000 metres – and he conquered them all without supplementary oxygen. He climbed his first mountain aged five, crossed Antarctica on skis, and now lives with yaks in a castle.
- And Sir Edmund Hillary is very quotable
Struggling to find the willpower to fulfil those New Year’s resolutions? Sounds like you need a pep talk from Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first people to reach the top of Mount Everest. “People do not decide to become extraordinary: they decide to accomplish extraordinary things”, was one of his best one-liners.
What did he say after he summited Everest? “We knocked the bastard off.”
- Grenada is wonderfully wild
It’s harder to reach from the UK than its better-known Caribbean neighbours, but Grenada is well worth the effort for a blissful back-to-nature break. Snorkel through its underwater sculpture park, help with the cocoa harvest at the island’s chocolate factory, or watch wild turtles lay their eggs on the beach by moonlight.
With coconuts, mangoes, papaya and pretty much every other tropical fruit blossoming on its trees, Grenada is also a top destination for veggies and vegans. Head to Mango Bay restaurant for the island’s best vegetarian fare, served up with truly breathtaking sea views. Owner Peggy and queen-of-the-kitchen Denyse are a delight, with real passion for sustainability and community projects on the island.
- Why British passports are red
’Tis a complicated matter.
- Planes could soon have play areas
The news that Thomson is looking to trial children’s play areas on board some of its flights was met with predictably mixed reactions. While it’s great they’d have somewhere fun to hang out, could the creche be sound-proofed we wonder? Only time will tell.
- Behold, the world’s most badass doctor
While travelling on an Air China flight, he saved the life of an epileptic man using just a spoon and some toothpicks. What a hero.
- Wroclaw loves dwarves
If you’re visiting the Polish city of Wroclaw, keep an eye out for its tiny inhabitants: there are 163 dwarves (known as krasnale) dotted around in various guises.
Mostly bronze, often cheeky, and each about a foot tall, the dwarves can be spotted drinking beer, gardening, sleeping, riding pigeons and reading books. Hugh Morris spent a happy weekend searching for them all over the city.
- Our geography isn’t as good as we’d hoped
What is the name of Moldova’s capital? Where is Nukuʻalofa? Who lives in Moroni? These questions – and plenty more besides – left us stumped when we put together the world’s hardest geography quiz.
- Synchronised animals are amazing
The sheer joy of a symmetrical wildlife encounter. You can’t beat it.