Monday, 26 February 2018

The people of Suriname 

Words and photos by Brett Goulston  

Our guide is Tony. He is a lovely young man from Paramaribo who has an amazing story to tell. His heritage is like many others from the country in that he comes from a multitude of backgrounds. I ask him where his parents and grandparents were from and I received the most amazing answer (which I needed him to repeat several times… 

“My grandmother on my mother's side was part Chinese and part Amerindian. My grandfather was part Indian and part Creole. On my father’s side, my grandmother was Creole and Amerindian and my grandfather was a Dutch Jew”.  

The ethnic make up of Suriname is evident in every direction you look. It’s best described as a cultural cocktail. There are the indigenous Amerindians, “Hindustanis” (the name given to the Hindus from India), a large Dutch population, Javanese, Jews from Europe, Portuguese and Africans who are descendants of slave labour. It’s a wonderfully exotic cultural mix and noticably unlike most places I have visited.  

Suriname was colonised by the Spanish, Portuguese, British and Dutch from the 1600’s and became independent in 1975. The main language is Dutch but most also speak Surinamese which is a combination of Dutch and a local language. There’s a story which suggests the Dutch and British fought over the region many times and in the end, the Dutch swapped Manhattan Island for what is now Suriname. Not sure how true a tale it is but it is widely accepted.

The villagers living along the river nearer to the capital are mainly descendants of African slaves who fled from their captors in the mid 1800’s when slave labour was abolished. Their ancestors were brought to the region during the 17th and 18th centuries by the Dutch, English and Spanish colonialists of the time. There are also villages populated by indigenous Amerindians who have lived here for centuries.  

To meet this wonderful mix of people and experience their diverse and colourful culture, join Blue Dot Travel on our small group tour to Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. Click here for more information.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Can I recommend Corsica? Course I can!

The former capital of Bastia is the economic power of the island and mixes old with new
Words and photos by Marion Fagan

What an island of surprises Corsica proved to be. It may not have been on my radar as a destination but having visited recently, its many delights deserve to be shared. Barely an hour’s ferry ride from the northern tip of Sardinia, the final approach into Bonfacio is breathtaking and immediately, the scenery and vibe is different, intriguing and inviting. Starting with the towering cliffs of chalky white limestone topped with an expansive fortress, it draws you in and compels you to find out more.

We explored the island from south to north, east to west and while Corsica is definitely chock full of nuts, three things in particular stood out for me …

Geographically, Corsica is deliciously diverse. The roads twist and turn and rise and fall as they trace the challenging topography. Around every corner is the promise of something different – steep mountain ranges and plunging deep valleys; expanses of scruffy desert or forests of tall leafy timbers; raw rocky coastlines and charming historic villages hugging equally rocky inland tors.

The island’s colour palette is that of a gifted French painter. The eye is continually drawn by rich hues, be it steely grey granite shrouded in white cloud, bold red pinnacles reflecting the sun or glowing golden sandstone. The legendary blue of the Mediterranean provides the island’s surrounding sea and sky delivers in spades. The colourful patchwork of the quaint villages offers splashes of character and variety. It’s visually gorgeous.

The stories the island tells are endless and fascinating: its prehistoric standing stones, its numerous and centuries-old Genoese watch towers, its many impressive cliff-top citadels, its thorny relationship with Bonaparte … and somewhat with mainland France, its cities blending old with new, its warm and inviting culture of fine food and excellent wine.

Our small group came away both surprised and delighted with how we fell under the spell of this enchanting island with its strong sense of identity and independence. There’s so much to appreciate, it stands alone and proud as a great destination. 

Visit Corsica with Blue Dot Travel as part of the itinerary to three very different and lovely Mediterranean Islands, including Malta and Sardinia, with two departures in 2018. What’s not to like? Click here for more information.
Corsica lies an hour's ferry ride north of the tip of Sardinia
Bonifacio's citadel, perched on the high white limestone cliffs, extends a striking welcome

Bonifacio's fortress guards its harbour

The roads twist and turn, rise and fall through Corsica's varied topography
The calanques near Porto are imposing to wander through
The old town of Corte is a former capital of the island from medieval times
The seaside citadel of Calvi glows in the setting sun
History in spades - the 1,000 year old tree and its massive trunk was wider than the 11 of us side-by-side

Monday, 12 February 2018

Bukhara - an ancient city in Central Asia's Uzbekistan

Kalon Mosque and Minaret

One of my favourite Silk Road cities is the town of Bukhara, located a few hours west of Samarkand. Like Samarkand, Bukhara is also home to significant and stunning architectural sites (like the Ark, Po-i-Kalyan and Char Minar), however while they may not be as grand in size and scale, it is the city as a whole that makes Bukhara a truly special destination. The Old Town in particular has an atmosphere and feel that in moments will make you feel as if you have travelled back in time. You will see people living their day-to-day lives, in their beautiful courtyard houses, whilst also being surrounded by historic architecture and significant monuments.

The heart of the Old Town is Lab-i-Hauz, a beautiful pool and courtyard-like area, surrounded by old Madrassas (buildings for Islamic education). It makes for a great place to rest under the shade and take time out when exploring the city - especially in the scorching hot summer. In fact, you’ll notice the town has a few ponds dotted throughout, another unique feature. These were much more common and were once Bukhara’s main source of water, however most were filled in during the 1920s to stop the spread of disease. However, on my visit they were being used by local kids as spot for swimming.

Your Uzbekistan trip should include another highlight is the Taqi-Zargaron market, also known as the Trading Domes, and is the spot for picking up a gorgeous souvenir. There are carpet sellers, antique dealers and jewellers all under the one roof, which happens to be a collection of beautiful (and quite minimal) domes. You will find the usual mass produced items here, but you will also find some truly unique Silk Road treasures, especially of the textile variety. Suzanis (embroidered blankets which were used as part of a dowry), ikat fabrics (dyed fibres that are woven, creating beautiful patterns) and traditional clothing items are all here in various shapes and sizes.  

After travelling throughout Central Asia you may start  to feel a bit fatigued with the Blue Domes and Madrassas, however the Old Town of Bukhara and it’s inhabitants are what make this city a really special experience and a standout on your Silk Road journey.
Tour Uzbekistan and the rest of ‘the Stans’ with Blue Dot Travel! Click here.
Map of Uzbekistan

One of the many characterful faces of Bukhara
The Ark of Bukhara

Traditional ceramics

Kalon Mosque

Lab-i Hauz

Some of the local wild life

Colourful Ikat fabrics
Bukhara Old Town

Black tea

A traditional Bukhara mansion

Overlooking Bukhara

Samarkand, Uzbekistan on the Silk Road - the ancient trade route linking China to the Mediterranean

Exploring Samarkand


Samarkand. It conjures up so much when you say the name. One of the oldest inhabited cities of Central Asia, Samarkand was a legendary stop along the Silk Road, being strategically situated between China and Europe, in modern day Uzbekistan.

During the 14th century, Samarkand came under the rule of the conqueror Tamerlane who had a passion and commitment for the arts. In fact, it is said that while being ruthless with his enemies, he would spare the lives of skilled artisans and craftspeople and bring them to Samarkand to improve the city - and the result of such compassion is clearly seen through the city’s ornate architecture. With an impressive skyline of domes and minarets you can easily see why Samarkand is the star destination of Uzbekistan. Looking more closely at each of these sights reveals an incredible amount of intricate detail with the use of ornate tile work in an array of blues and turquoises.

No trip to Uzbekistan would be complete without visiting these notable architectural marvels:
The Registan - a public square surround by three madrasas, Ulugh Beg, Tilya Kori and Sher-Doh.
Babi-Khanym - one of the most important buildings in Samarkand - it was once the largest and grandest mosques in the world.
Gur-e Amir - a mausoleum which contains the tombs of Tamerlane and his sons.
Shah-i-Zinda - a necropolis that contains a cluster of mausoleums and areas for religious rituals.

Not only is Samarkand an architecturally significant city, it still is home to many craftspeople and artisans, and thus you will see an abundance of hand made textile and ceramic pieces including embroidered suzanis and hand painted dinnerware, which make for a special Silk Road souvenir for your home.

After exploring each of the amazing sights in Samarkand, sit back, have some tea and enjoy the incredible city skyline that sits before your eyes.   The best time to visit Uzbekistan is Spring (April to May) & Autumn (September to early November).

Book your trip to Uzbekistan and the rest of ‘the Stans’ with Blue Dot! Click here.

Map of Uzbekistan

Tile details at the Registan

Sher-Dor Madrasah

Handcrafts for sale at local markets

Blue Dot on tour
The entrance to Gur-e Amir
Inside Gur-e Amir

Dried fruits and nuts at a local market

The ornate and stunning Shah-i-Zinda

Beautiful tile details at Shah-i-Zinda

Walking through Shah-i-Zinda

Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Enjoying the peace and quiet

The Samarkand skyline