Howdy all, today I’m doing one of those ol’ lists where I suggest a few places you might not have considered visiting but I thoroughly recommend. Perhaps you have some countries you consider ‘hidden gems’, here’s a list of five from me!
Here’s one that previously I might not have put on the list, but after my visit last year has gone up considerably in my opinion. Although, I didn’t have a negative opinion in the first place. It just didn’t stand out to me.
But after just three days there last year, combining with my 2011 experiences, it’s really become the MUST VISIT destination of Central Asia. Firstly, the main reason I now rate Uzbekistan so highly, is that it has become far more welcoming and accessible in the last few years. Whereas in the past I had to get a visa, an experience which included a security blaming me for something I didn’t do and then trying to extort money out of me for it, and being pulled into a room at the Tashkent Airport and having my bags thoroughly searched and then questioned whilst the security there waited for me to give them money, this time the experience was a complete 180 degree turn.
I mean, no visa now and I crossed at a land crossing in and out of the country, where I was greeted with smiles and friendliness and even preferential treatment. No annoying entry card to fill in either – which is only written in Uzbek or Russian. Super-fast trains now running, comfortable seats, more accommodation options which represent really good value for money – you’ll be comfortable on $40US a night or even less, and towns like Samarkand and Khiva with much more information and tours and possibilities for the overseas traveller.
And it’s a beautiful country, with a number of historical cities – Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are just the start – and if you want to see Sufi/Islamic architecture in a safe environment, well look no further than Uzbekistan. People are also raving about what a great city Tashkent is these days, it is quite beautiful, it’s not an expensive country, the food is good (but then, I do like plov!) and the people are ultra friendly. In fact, screw the rest of this list, just go to Uzbekistan!
Ok, well, no, I’d better continue…
Ok, so plenty of people go to or consider going to Spain, but still, it’s often not on the top of the list of Europe’s top countries, and after a short visit to a couple of Spanish cities last year, I am scratching my head as to why I hadn’t been before.
It is well connected with fast trains too (trains are always a priority!) and there are plenty of cities with international airports. It has different climatic zones as well, cooler in the north, the south in summer can really sizzle (and therefore I wouldn’t be going there at that time!) and I think the best thing is that it’s a lot more relaxed than many European countries. Being a large country, there is a lot of variation environmentally and in architecture and people too.
I have only been to Barcelona and Seville, in fairness, but some of the cities like San Sebastian in the north look brilliant, and I hear Grenada and Malaga are worth visiting. Not to mention people rave about Madrid these days.
Barcelona showed me that Spain is really an artist’s delight. Velasquez might be a name you’ve heard of, more of a classical painter rather than a painter into the strange and different, but Spain was home to Picasso, Dali and Gaudi. Barcelona’s modernism streak in architecture makes the city feel so unique.
Then Seville was far more classical, with palaces and churches, and a charming old city. I was surprised just how much I liked Seville. Plenty of tourists there, but yet I feel many overlook Seville, and those people who do are certainly missing out!
Spain is one place we certainly must return to. I feel it holds so much more we didn’t see. Strangely, as much as I liked Portugal, I have no real desire to return. Spain, on the other hand…
The Ukraine is the one country on this list I haven’t, as yet, visited. It’s one place I am keen to visit – in particular the capital Kiev and the city of Lviv. I have read posts on other blogs from people who have visited the Ukraine absolutely loved it, and the pictures of the cities and countryside are stunning. I have really enjoyed visiting ex-Soviet states over the years, and the Ukraine is now one of the few I haven’t made it to as yet.
I think that whilst Western Europe and places like Czech Republic continue to see more and more tourists, the Ukraine could be the perfect foil. Of course, parts of the Ukraine are well off limits at the moment – primarily the Crimean coast and it’s a country you’ll want to know of the ‘on the ground’ situation before going there, but still I really think it looks like a place worth visiting. I have a rough plan that will see me visit in around 5 years time, but that’s still some time off and things change…
Although I freely admit to not having a brilliant time in Iceland, over 20 years ago now when I visited, I still think it of a place that if I was in the right frame of mind and wasn’t trying to do it on $50 a day that I would have loved. It’s one for those who enjoy the outdoors, with a population of a bit over 300,000 sparsely scattered over the island, but it is a beautiful, wild country with mountains, lakes, hot springs and more. And it boasts the world’s most northern capital city in the enigmatic Reykjavik.
The dream is to one day get the chance to hire a car and have the freedom to move around the island at will rather than be stuck to the bus schedule, also giving the chance to pull over when it suits to take photos. To see the puffins and reach more out of the way places which is 1999 I had no real opportunity to get to. I have always loved ‘out-of-the-way’ places, and Iceland is just that in many respects. Go with a sense of adventure and a full wallet!
So maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t have put Ghana on this list. My go to recommendation for a sub-Saharan country in Africa is Ethiopia, and I certainly still agree with that sentiment, but Ghana does offer an introduction to Africa in an English-speaking environment (and if I was French I might recommend Senegal) with very friendly, warm people, colour and life.
Again, like Iceland I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I visited Ghana, which was my first taste of sub-Saharan Africa, and I can only confess to have a bit of a miserable time there. But I regret that now. It’s really quite beautiful, full of rhythms and life, and as a white person confronting at times too, which is certainly should be. And some regard Ghana as the birthplace of African Independence from colonials, being one of the first (if not the first) to declare its independence thanks to its leader Kwame Nkrumah who is seen as the father of independence in many countries across the continent.
Factor in that since I was there in 2006 no doubt there has been a lot of change and development of infrastructure, this is a country that one day I would definitely like to revisit and see afresh, as with Iceland.
As always, I try to mix in a few places that you might not have considered, which is exactly what this post has been all about. I hope you enjoyed it. What countries would you put on such a list were you to make one? Let me in the comments! And May the Journey Never End!