Your New Year’s resolution? Get out of your comfort zone with these travel spots

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Travelers can find stunning sites in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
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The colorful Argentine capital will flourish as a hub for sports, politics and the arts throughout 2018.
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Bhutan is full of monasteries, fortresses and incredibly-dramatic landscapes.
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Ethiopia is a surprising destination for many.
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The ruins of the Zvartnos Cathedral in Yerevan, Armenia.
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Kenya’s island of Lamu is oozing with heritage.
Updated 02 January 2018

Your New Year’s resolution? Get out of your comfort zone with these travel spots

Planning your next big holiday is one of the joys of travel, but where do we even begin? Destination trends come and go, but whether you are a daydreamer or a high roller, it is always better to catch a trend before the crowd gets there first — so make 2018 the year of travel and choose from these 10 destinations to get the ball rolling.

South Korea, as they say, has Seoul. But beyond the Gangnam style of the capital city, travelers can find stunning sites in Pyeongchang County, known for Odaesan National Park, with trails crisscrossing the Taebaek Mountains. With Buddhist temples, rural vistas and winter sports galore, the cozy region is a nice contrast to the stereotypical high-rise life that most tourists would expect. The area will also host the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics – so expect this cool destination to get very hot, very quickly.

If it is global events you are after, the Argentine capital will flourish as a hub for sports, politics and the arts throughout 2018. The eyes of the world will be on the G20 Summit, almost every nation on earth will participate in the Youth Olympic Games and the yearlong Art Basel initiative will ensure bursts of visual brilliance around the city. But “BA” already has world-class art galleries and all the gourmet brilliance to bring out your inner bon vivant.

Bhutan, the last great Buddhist kingdom on edge of the Himalayas, is unsurprisingly replete with monasteries, fortresses (known as dzongs) and incredibly-dramatic landscapes. You will need a head for heights — and lungs for altitude — if you really want to explore some of the peaks, but lodgings vary for every budget. Expect ultra-affordable accommodations dotted around the diminutive nation, as well as luxurious new openings, such as Amankora in Bumthang. The country has only been developing tourism since 1974 — and just 287 visitors showed up that year.

Portugal’s volcanic archipelago is now served by more flights than ever. And while Sintra and the Algarve are impressive enough destinations, places like São Miguel Island are a hybrid of worlds, blending European culture with South American exoticism on the cobbled streets of Ponta Delgada and UNESCO’s Angra do Heroismo, a charming 18th century city. There is also oodles of nature across the nine main islands, with geothermal hot springs, incredible flora and whale watching at Faial or Pico, 1,643km west of Lisbon.

The cradle of human civilization and the birthplace of the coffee bean, Ethiopia is a surprising destination for many. Made famous for famine and crises, the nation is often written off as a destination for leisure, but Addis Ababa is a great base from which you can explore — and has much to offer in its own right. Highlights include the fourth century home of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant and the medieval castles of Gondar. And if you fancy yourself as the modern Indiana Jones, the 12th century churches of Lalibela, carved from stone, and the grass-roofed monasteries of Lake Tana, from where the Blue Nile flows, are essential viewing.

What sounds like an obscure location to the uninitiated, Uzbekistan was once the heart of the iconic Silk Road trading route, which passed through Bukhara and Samarkand. The modern former-Soviet nation has retained so much of its rich history, evident through its striking architecture, and the Muslim-majority nation is both affordable and safe for all-comers. People have inhabited Bukhara for more than 5,000 years and a visit to the UNESCO-listed city center is tantamount to a trip back in time. Expect a crossroads of cultures, with Persian and Russian influences, evident in food, art and more.

Norway is often hidden in the long winter shadow of its Scandinavian sisters, but the country’s capital is set to celebrate a special year. Queen Sonja and King Harald V with celebrate 50 years of marriage, while each blowing out 80 candles for their respective birthdays. Visitors can expect an incredible roster of events, including celebrations for the 10th birthday of the Oslo Opera House. But irrespective of when you visit, expect cultural delights at an array of museums and plenty of Instagram opportunities across the quaint city spots — not to mention the nearby scenic fjords.

While Sharm El-Sheikh has waned in popularity and Cairo is more stifling than ever, many Egyptian locals choose to staycation in El-Gouna. The modern resort town on Egypt’s Red Sea, near Hurghada, is built along the shore and on small islands and is known for its lagoons, coral reefs and sandy beaches. It is a kitesurf paradise and the bustling Abu Tig Marina is decked with vibrant restaurants and bars. Literally translating to “The Lagoon,” the dedicated tourist resort dates back to 1989 and boasts 18 hotels — one for every hole on the golf course designed by Gene Bates and Fred Couples.

One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, Yerevan dates back to the 8th century BCE and with the growth of the Armenian economy, tourism is now a delight. Gourmet restaurants, shops, and street cafés were not commonplace during the Soviet era, but the capital city now blends the aesthetics of its past with modern sensibilities — all for a snip of the price of many European alternatives. From the dancing fountains of the Republic Square to the ruins of the Urartian city of Erebuni, Yerevan has charm galore.

While millions are pinning Zanzibar on their Pinterest boards, there are alternative options along Africa’s east coast that deliver just as much for your money. With Arab and Portuguese forts, medieval towns and the deserted ruins of Swahili, the island of Lamu is dripping with heritage. Expect well-appointed, authentic townhouse accommodations, serene beaches, sleepy markets and surprises around every corner in the narrow streets of Lamu Town. Unlike other Swahili settlements which have been abandoned along the East African coast, Lamu has continuously been inhabited for over 700 years and it is no wonder UNESCO has named it a Heritage Site.

First space tourist flights could come in 2019

Updated 13 July 2018

First space tourist flights could come in 2019

WASHINGTON: The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights — though neither has set a firm date.
Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests — with both companies using radically different technology.
Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.
Having paid for a much cheaper ticket — costing $250,000 with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin — the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 250 miles (400 kilometers) from our planet.
The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins — either the Karman line, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles, or the 50-mile boundary recognized by the US Air Force.
At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly.
With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.
The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft — the WhiteKnightTwo — from which it will then detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters.) Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.
Then, the passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.
The descent is slowed down by a “feathering” system that sees the spacecraft’s tail pivot, as if arching, before returning to normal and gliding to land at Virgin’s “spaceport” in the New Mexico desert.
In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California’s Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 21 miles, heading for space.
In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.
The company has now also reached a deal to open a second “spaceport” at Italy’s Tarente-Grottaglie airport, in the south of the country.
Branson in May told BBC Radio 4 that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, Virgin said.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.
On this journey, six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the top of a 60-foot-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory several miles toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 66 miles.
After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.
From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.
Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin’s West Texas site.
But one of its directors, Rob Meyerson, said in June the first human tests would come “soon.”
Meanwhile, another company official, Yu Matsutomi, said during a conference Wednesday that the first tests with passengers would take place “at the end of this year,” according to Space News.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport NASA astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays — a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.
“If you’re looking to go to space, you’ll have quadruple the menu of options that you ever had before,” Phil Larson, assistant dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, said.
Longer term, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years — but the project is still in its early stages.