Our travel-mad staff share their recent adventures from enjoying cookery classes in Queensland to exploring architectural beauties in Andalucía and sitting in the shadow of thousands of bats flying out to feast in Cambodia.
Getting a fine-art fix in Andalucía, Spain
Some visitors to North Africa who pick up a bug can shake it after a few days, but the one I’ve acquired is going to stay with me for life. I’ve been infected with something like tile-itus, and now I seem to only be able to plan holidays that involve scouting out those colourful, geometric patterns that adorn everything from mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools) to fountains and flats. These tiles, called zellige in Arabic, spread across the Muslim world, which for centuries included the Andalucía region of southern Spain.
Inside the Moorish palaces of Real Alcázar in Seville and the Alhambra in Granada, where room after room is covered top to toe in tiles and other Islamic adornments, I got a healthy dose of the colourful medicine I now require, and I instantly found bliss wandering in silence amongst those millions of tiny blocks. But now that I’m back, where do I get my next fix?
Lauren Keith, Destination Editor for the Middle East and North Africa. Follow her on Instagram @noplacelike_it.
Braving the ‘cold’ to see bats in Cambodia
My family and I were in Cambodia this past Christmas. Even though we sweltered in the heat, the Cambodians we met were quick to tell us this was the coldest winter they’d experienced in recent memory. This was fully realised one evening in Battambang, as we sat just down the road from the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau. Having scrambled to the mouth of an unmarked cave we lay waiting for the nightly exodus: thousands of bats, awoken from slumber, streaking across the sky in search of their first meal of the day. We checked the time. Any moment now… As the sun started to go down, our guide said, ‘They feel lazy. Maybe it’s too cold tonight.’
When the first bat darted out into the sky, it was barely noticed. Then, all at once, a deluge of them flowed from the mouth of the cave, chirping in unison as if to sing, ‘It may be cold, but a bat’s gotta eat!’ We watched the show against a perfect pinky sunset for half an hour. I don’t think I’d ever seen anything so amazing and so unexpected.
Rucy Cui, Publicity Associate. Follow her tweets @rucycui.
Marvelling at the seemingly impossible in Meteora, Greece
With numerous rock pinnacles rising hundreds of metres from a forest of oak in central Greece, Meteora is one of the most peculiar landscapes I’ve ever seen. What’s even more impressive is how monks have been making their homes on top of these rock giants for centuries – first in natural caves and later in architecturally astounding monasteries. Once a place to be alone with God, these days it’s rarely a place for solitude.
A handful of the two million people who visit each year come in February, and most drive between the best-known monasteries. A more rewarding way to do it is on foot. So we set off from the village of Kalambaka with our guide Christos to hike to one of the less-accessible monasteries. It was an hour-long walk on an unbeaten path through the forest to Ypapanti Monastery. Built into a rock cavity, it’s difficult to spot from ground level, so we wound our way up to the hilltop opposite. From here, the impossibility of how these enormous rocks could be inhabited really struck us.
We walked on until we finally emerged at Varlaam, one of the biggest monasteries. Cloud had begun to form around the base of the rocks, and the meaning of the name Meteora (suspended in the air) became apparent. For a moment, I too felt suspended, in awe of the wonder of nature and resilience of humankind.
Hazel Lubbock, Digital Platform Editor. Follow her on Instagram @hazellubbock.
Conquering a cookery class in Noosa, Queensland
The latex gloves were an unusual, slightly off-putting start to the cookery class. ‘To stop your hands getting stained’ was the reason given after my partner in cooking crime and I were told we would be preparing beetroot three ways. Glamorous they might not have looked, but the gloves took one for the team as I followed the recipe and got messy trying to create something that could sit proudly alongside the dishes being prepared by the rest of the class. The chef at Wasabi in Noosa, Queensland, was admirably patient as I chopped, fried, pureed and carefully arranged a variety of different coloured and sized beetroot. ‘Add some saffron flowers,’ he suggested. I sprinkled some on obligingly, turning over the last page of the now red-stained recipe book to check we hadn’t missed anything. We hadn’t. ‘Yours definitely looks the best of the lot,’ the chef said. He might well have said the same to the other pairs as they finished their dishes, but, as I pulled off my latex gloves with a satisfying snap, I didn’t care. Beetroot three ways. Clean hands. Cookery class complete.
Clifton Wilkinson, Destination Editor for Great Britain, Ireland and Iceland. Follow his tweets @Cliff_Wilkinson.
Clifton travelled to Queensland with support from Tourism Events Queensland. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.