Planning a trip? A guide to the world’s most bizarre travel destinations

Tuva, which is in the heartland of Central Asia, was once as independent nation. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 22 March 2017
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Planning a trip? A guide to the world’s most bizarre travel destinations

DUBAI: Calling all avid explorers, if you feel like you’ve been there and done that, this is the travel list for you.
There is a litany of locations across the world that are not recognized as nation states but claim autonomy or are culturally unique and many are easily accessible.
So, if North Korea isn’t daring enough or Bhutan sounds boring, give these destinations a try on your next trip abroad.
Tuva
Tuva, which is in the heartland of Central Asia, was once an independent nation but tilted toward the Soviet sphere of influence in the 1930s and 40s.
Eventually, Tuva sought admittance into the Soviet Union and is today part of Russia but the area retains unique cultural practices and is a popular holiday jaunt for the likes of President Vladimir Putin.

Wildlife spotting is popular and the region is home to lynx, ibex and wolverine.

Christiania
This plot of land is a social experiment started by hippies in central Copenhagen in 1971.
They declared the 0.34-kilometer-square former military barracks the Freetown of Christiania and within a year the Danish government granted them use of the land on the condition that they paid their utility bills.
Members of the highly democratic community were known to dabble in hard drugs and now face a dilemma – they must either pay the government for the land by 2018 or face eviction.
Somaliland
The 3.1 million people of Somaliland, located in the Horn of Africa, have sought independence from Somalia since 1991.
The self-declared borders reflect those of the former British Protectorate of Somaliland and the capital is called Hargeisa.
The area can be accessed via direct flights from Nairobi.
There are beaches aplenty and 5,000-year-old cave paintings just 50 kilometers from the capital.

Seborga
Close to the Italian border with Monaco, Seborga was headed by Giorgio Carbone, the former head of a flower-growers’ cooperative who titled himself His Tremendousness during his tenure as prince.

Carbone discovered that the town was not mentioned in the documents that outlined the formation of Italy and became prince after a 1995 referendum, until his death in 2009.

Mayotte
Mayotte in the Comoros Islands rebuffed decolonization and opted to stay under French control in 1975.

The island is administered by France as though it were a territory in Europe and it is a regular stop on the French presidential campaign trail.

Visitors can hike up Mont Choungui or scuba dive in crystal-clear waters.


Magical Madrid: The unique charms of the Spanish capital

Madrid the capital of Spain. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 November 2018
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Magical Madrid: The unique charms of the Spanish capital

  • Madrid is a European capital like no other
  • Madrid’s blockbuster sights regally lived up to their generations-old hype

LONDON: It was bad luck that brought me to Madrid — or perhaps fate. Midway through a two-month road trip around Southern Europe, diligently skirting the coasts of Portugal and Spain, but with no intention of venturing inland, my 20-year-old campervan broke down in the scorching Andalusian planes, some 30 km outside Seville, officially the warmest city in Europe.
My fate was sealed by the calendar as much as the location: It wasn’t just that I blamed the searing summer sun for overheating my ancient engine, but also for thwarting any chance of its repair. For the month of “Agosto,” I soon learned, the south of Spain simply shuts down. There wasn’t a garage in town with the faintest bit of interest in fixing my motor. And so, after a fortnight of shade-seeking 40-degree days and flamenco-filled nights in Seville, I impulsively rented a car and made a spontaneous six-hour road trip to Madrid. And whatever the repair bill ended up being, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Arriving exhausted at dusk, I emerged from my air-conditioned car to find the climate completely transformed, temperatures hovering in the pleasant mid-twenties, surrounded by commuters ambling amiably to street-side tavernas rather than racing to the metro — or hiding indoors like their southern compatriots.

Hurried logic (and a whiff of luck) had brought me to the south-western edge of the central Sol barrio, a maze of winding streets with colorful cafés and tapas joints that seem to be as busy for breakfast as in the early hours, entertaining a constant flow of customers and an insistent throb of lively chat. It was the perfect tonic for the breakdown blues.
Arriving without preconception or preparation had its benefits. I was free to follow whims, enjoying the kind of aimlessness which can only be bred through enforced limbo. Evenings drifted by nibbling gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and pimientos de padrón (padrón peppers), while practicing my newly acquired Spanish with friendly locals at Bodegas Melibea, an audaciously decorated café with wide open windows offering cooling vistas of the ever-changing street scene.

Madrid’s blockbuster sights regally lived up to their generations-old hype. The Plaza Major really could not be better named — a bright rectangular space built around the turn of the 16th century, lined with interconnected regal rows of identical three-story buildings, sporting a total of 237 tiny balconies.
Grander still is the Royal Palace of Madrid, a magnificent maze of 3,418 rooms which make it Europe’s largest royal residence. Be sure to stop at the nearby Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple donated to Spain and incongruously rebuilt in the early 1970s.
I had heard of the Prado Museum, of course, and held some inkling of its famed depth and breadth, but little could prepare me for the boggling floorplan and epic catalogue of art, which stretches from the 12th to 20th centuries. At any one time, only about 1,300 of the institution’s collection of more than 20,000 works is on display — but that still means that if you entered at 10 a.m., stayed until closing time at 8 p.m., and took zero breaks, you would have the equivalent of 27 seconds to view each work. Time is likely to be considerably tighter when an extension is unveiled next year, coinciding with the Prado’s 200th anniversary.

Temple of Debod. (Shutterstock)

More manageable and equally essential is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, one of Europe’s greatest exhibitors of 20th-century artists which pays homage to the country’s headline exports Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí — including staging the former’s epic “Guernica,” a stark, monochrome Spanish Civil War epic which rightfully ranks among the century’s greatest cultural achievements. At 7.7 meters wide, it’s a work that no postcard or textbook reproduction can do justice to — a statement which needs to be experienced in the flesh, and studied up close, to appreciate even a jot of its power, scope or intent.
Madrid is simply magical. Not in that quaint, stately, Western European way of Vienna or Prague, nor with the pretentious powerhouse vibe of Paris or London. And nothing like the crumbling grandeur of Mediterranean neighbors Rome and Athens. It’s a European capital like no other — and it’s the one I’d move to in a heartbeat.