Summer escapes: Our favorite travel destinations

Summer escapes: Our favorite travel destinations
Iceland is known for its dramatic landscapes, with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields aplenty. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 13 July 2024
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Summer escapes: Our favorite travel destinations

Summer escapes: Our favorite travel destinations

Arab News writers share their favorite destinations to spark your wanderlust. 

ICELAND 

I had an inexplicable affinity to Iceland before I’d ever visited (how is there not a word for that?). And when I did visit, it exceeded all my expectations. Despite its harsh terrain, it’s the most picturesque country I’ve ever seen, and unlike any other I’ve experienced. And despite the geographic isolation and extreme winters, Icelanders are among the friendliest, warmest and most progressive people I have met. Iceland’s size means one can stay in the capital and easily visit the country’s many attractions. Despite all the odds, this land of volcanoes and glaciers has spawned one of the most egalitarian, eco-friendly and happy societies in the world. And if all that was not enough, its people and government are supporters of the Palestinian cause! It’s odd that I, as a foreigner, would feel pride in Iceland’s achievements, but such is my love for this country, which I plan to visit for the third time this year. 

Sharif Nashashibi 




The Godafoss waterfall in Iceland. (Shutterstock)

FLORENCE 

It sounds cartoonish, but I stopped dead in my tracks the first time I saw Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Seeing the glittering marble façade of what was the largest church in the world when it was consecrated in 1436 remains one of my all-time travel highlights. Florence, home to Michaelangelo’s “David” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” is a maze of Renaissance ingenuity and perfect for anyone who fancies fueling their cultural awakening with mounds of gelato. The city is so full of art history that I stumbled across Botticelli’s grave by accident in the quiet Franciscan church Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti. I’m not even sure I was supposed to be in there — I was the only visitor. That experience is emblematic of Florence, a city where you’ll discover masters and masterpieces in the most unexpected of places.   

Saffiya Ansari 




Florence is the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. (Shutterstock)

MARBELLA 

Marbella, on Spain’s stunning Costa del Sol, is known for its upscale resorts, elite social scene, and gorgeous Mediterranean beaches. Stroll through the charming Old Town, with its narrow cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings, and delightful plazas. Be sure to visit the iconic Orange Square, with its stunning Baroque architecture and lovely central fountain. Stop for tapas at one of the many lively restaurants and bars. Browse the high-end boutiques and galleries that line the Golden Mile, Marbella’s ritzy commercial district. For outdoor adventures, head to Río Verde, a scenic nature reserve perfect for hiking, birdwatching, and exploring. Or spend a day relaxing on the soft sandy beaches, taking a dip in the azure waters, and soaking up the Andalusian sun. In the evenings, Marbella truly comes alive. You can dance the night away at one of its renowned nightlife spots, or eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Or both. Marbella is the chic Spanish escape. 

Rahaf Jambi 




The resort area lies on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol, part of the Andalusia region. (Shutterstock)

EDINBURGH 

Scotland’s capital is a memorable mix of history, stunning architecture, rich culture, breathtaking natural scenery, and warm people. The Old Town boasts an array of medieval castles and Victorian tenements, and houses the famous Royal Mile leading to the majestic Edinburgh Castle, perched high on its rocky crag and framed by the serene Princes Street Gardens. Don’t miss curved Victoria Street with its colorful, multi-story buildings — home to cozy cafés and quirky stores, including a beloved Harry Potter shop. Just minutes away is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano with 360-degree city views. Nearby, discover Dr. Neil’s Garden, a hidden gem with diverse herbs and plants by a serene river. Edinburgh truly feels like a place out of a fantasy book — fitting for a country whose national animal is the unicorn. 

Sherouk Maher 




Don’t miss curved Victoria Street with its colorful, multi-story buildings. (Shutterstock)

HONG KONG 

Going to a bucket-list country can be like meeting your idols — somewhat of a letdown as you discover their many flaws. But when I looked out of my Hong Kong hotel room window and saw the runway of the former airport that planes would thread their way through the skyscrapers to reach, it sent shivers down my spine. The city’s skyline is spectacular, whether seen looking up from the Star Ferry as it crosses the vibrant bay, or down from The Peak, the iconic towers standing tall in the foreground, nestled among the refreshing greenery of the city’s parks. There’s so much to see that it’s exhausting — but that’s OK, because this is also a foodie’s paradise. And as you sit in one of the many dumpling restaurants, or tuck into a bowl of noodles, you can be planning where next to indulge yourself as you discover just how much more the city has to offer. 

Peter Harrison 




Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated territories in the world. (Shutterstock)

 

BUDAPEST 

Sitting pretty on both banks of the majestic Danube River, Hungary’s capital (comprising Buda and Pest) showcases the best of what Central Europe can offer, whether you’re looking for history, culture, food, or nightlife. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Buda Castle Quarter, Andrassy Avenue and Danube River Panorama) as far as the eye can see, the city provides a portal into the past with its towering castles, museums and galleries, ruin bars and healing thermal baths that date back centuries. (No trip here is complete without ‘taking the waters’ at the Szechenyi Thermal Bath, built in 1913.) 

But don’t let the gothic and Art Nouveau architecture fool you. Budapest is more than the sum of its historic parts and will surprise you with its sophisticated modern touches: from Michelin-starred restaurants and trendy cafés to sleek spas and up-and-coming design stories. 

Shyama Krishna Kumar 




Hungary’s capital (comprising Buda and Pest) showcases the best of what Central Europe can offer. (Shutterstock)

NEW YORK 

Very few cities can put all five senses into overdrive. New York tops the list. The archetypal melting pot, the city where you can find anything you need or want. Let’s start with standard New York fare: bagels. Every New Yorker swears by “their guy,” and who am I to judge? (But clearly Russ & Daughters’ Everything Bagel with Lox and Veggie Cream Cheese is the best — soft and chewy with bits of crunchy vegetables that make your tongue tingle with excitement.) Grab your bagel and make straight for the High Line, one of my favorite walks ever. It takes you through the Meatpacking district to Chelsea and on to the otherworldly Vessel in Hudson Yards. Lush with greenery and solely pedestrian, it’s a welcome oasis from the insanity of the traffic. As is Washington Square Park — featured in at least one scene of every NYC-based film. This small plot has a wildly diverse array of people. From a man with a typewriter claiming to be scripting the next “Schindler’s List” to a guy offering free hugs. It makes for ideal people watching in the original concrete jungle.  

Tarek Ali Ahmad 




The High Line takes you through the Meatpacking district to Chelsea. (Shutterstock) 

OXFORD 

From the grandeur of the historic Bodleian Library (the location of several “Harry Potter” scenes) to the architectural masterpiece that is the Radcliffe Camera, England’s famous university city is a treasure trove of ancient wonders. As you wander the cobbled streets, you’ll stumble across hidden gems such as the History of Science Museum, which houses a blackboard preserved from a lecture by Albert Einstein in 1931. You can also visit Edmond Halley’s enchanting house, where, in 1682, he made his groundbreaking discovery of the famous comet that now bears his name. With its picturesque parks and gardens, charming cafés, and bustling marketplaces, Oxford is a city that stimulates the mind and nourishes the soul.  

Ghadi Joudah 




England’s famous university city is a treasure trove of ancient wonders. (Supplied)

TOKYO

At first, Tokyo can be an overwhelming assault on all of your senses — the vivid colors, the wild mix of smells from the street food, the sheer number of people, the noise, the general speed of it all… But you soon realize that this is a benign chaos, offering you the chance to experience so much in so little time. And the shock of Tokyo’s hyper-modern environment is countered by both its rich history, and by the hospitality, grace and kindness of its people. We felt so welcomed by so many Tokyo residents, who went out of their way to help us navigate the city and make the most of our time there — whether recommending one of the many odd-but-wonderful stores, or the most fantastic noodle houses slightly off the beaten track, or some of the city’s many serene areas of greenery where it’s easy to forget you’re in one of the busiest cities on Earth. Before long, Tokyo felt like home.

Adam Grundey




Beyond its benign chaos, Tokyo offers you the chance to experience so much in so little time. (Shutterstock)

 


Azimuth music festival returning to AlUla

Azimuth music festival returning to AlUla
Updated 23 July 2024
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Azimuth music festival returning to AlUla

Azimuth music festival returning to AlUla
  • Popular musical extravaganza will return for its fourth edition from Sept. 19-21 ahead of Saudi National Day on Sept. 23
  • Features a diverse lineup of local, regional and international artists, set against AlUla’s stunning landscapes, blending music, art and culture

JEDDAH: The Azimuth music festival is returning to AlUla as the city’s Moments calendar goes into full swing.

The popular musical extravaganza will return for its fourth edition from Sept. 19-21 ahead of Saudi National Day on Sept. 23. The 2024 theme is “Until the Sun Comes Up.”

Azimuth has become a key event in the regional music scene, attracting loyal fans.

It features a diverse lineup of local, regional and international artists, set against AlUla’s stunning landscapes, blending music, art and culture.

This year’s performances will take place under the grand Qa’a Al-Haj.

Renowned artists like Ben Bohmer, James Blake, The Blaze, Cosmicat and Ghostly Kisses have been announced, with more to come. Past headliners include Jason Derulo, The Chainsmokers, Tinie Tempah, The Kooks, Jorja Smith, Peggy Gou and Thievery Corporation.

Azimuth launched in 2020, followed by editions in 2022 and 2023.

The AlUla Moments calendar also features five festivals covering art, culture, music, nature, wellness, equestrianism, dining and astronomy.

Early Bird tickets are available until Aug. 14, starting from SR760 ($202). For details and purchases, visit experiencealula.com.


Movies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation to feature at Venice Film Festival

Movies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation to feature at Venice Film Festival
Updated 23 July 2024
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Movies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation to feature at Venice Film Festival

Movies backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation to feature at Venice Film Festival
  • International jury led by acclaimed French actor Isabelle Huppert

DUBAI: Two films backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Foundation are to be screened at the upcoming 81st edition of the Venice Film Festival.

Tunisian director Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s “Aicha,” which was supported by the Red Sea Fund and the Red Sea Souk, will feature in the competitive Orizzonti section, which highlights international films that represent the latest aesthetic and expressive trends.

“Aicha” is Barsaoui’s second feature following his award-winning drama “A Son.” The film’s plot revolves around a young woman living in a backwater in southern Tunisia who attempts to build a new life in Tunis after she is reported as having died in a tragic bus crash.

Egyptian filmmaker Khaled Mansour’s “Seeking Haven For Mr. Rambo,” which was part of the Red Sea Lodge development program in 2021 and supported by the Red Sea Fund, will have its world premiere in the Orizzonti Extra section of the festival, which highlights young talent in international cinema.

The film follows a young man as he confronts the fears of his past and embarks on a journey to save his dog and best friend from an unknown fate.

Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice” — starring Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Justin Theroux, Monica Bellucci, Jenna Ortega, and Willem Dafoe — is the out-of-competition opener at the event.

This year’s international jury will be led by acclaimed French actor Isabelle Huppert, and includes James Gray (“Ad Astra”), Andrew Haigh (“All of Us Strangers”), Agnieszka Holland (“Green Border”), Kleber Mendonca Filho (“Bacurau”), Abderrahmane Sissako (“Bamako”), Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”), Julia von Heinz (“Treasure”), and Zhang Ziyi (“Memoirs of a Geisha”).
 


Gigi Hadid stuns at ‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ NYC premiere

Gigi Hadid stuns at ‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ NYC premiere
Updated 23 July 2024
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Gigi Hadid stuns at ‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ NYC premiere

Gigi Hadid stuns at ‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ NYC premiere
  • Ensemble from Miu Miu’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection
  • Hadid posed on the red carpet alongside friend Blake Lively

DUBAI: US-Dutch-Palestinian model Gigi Hadid turned heads at the “Deadpool & Wolverine” premiere in New York City this week wearing an ensemble from Miu Miu’s Spring/Summer 2024 Ready-to-Wear collection.

The outfit featured a yellow bandeau top that was paired with a matching mustard yellow skirt in a knee-length cut and flowing silhouette. Hadid’s look was accessorized with a brown belt, black strappy heels and a yellow handbag.

Her jewelry included large gold hoop earrings and a statement gold chain necklace. She wore several chunky bangles in brown and gold, and a glitzy diamond anklet on her left ankle.

Hadid posed on the red carpet alongside her friend Blake Lively. (AFP)

Her blonde bob was styled sleek and smooth, with her bangs shaped into a bouncy, old Hollywood-inspired swoop.

Hadid posed on the red carpet alongside her friend Blake Lively, who was there to support her husband, Ryan Reynolds, who stars as Deadpool in the film.

Lively donned a striking off-the-shoulder jumpsuit from Atelier Versace. The outfit was crafted from a deep red, satin-like material and featured intricate black lace detailing throughout.

Lively accessorized the look with statement earrings and several rings. Her hair was styled in a sleek high ponytail, completing the ensemble.

Both Hadid and Lively continued their fashionable night with new outfits for the film’s after-party.

Both Hadid and Lively continued their fashionable night with new outfits for the film’s after-party. (Getty Images)

Hadid opted for a vibrant yellow trench coat made from a glossy, vinyl-like material from LaQuan Smith. The coat featured a classic trench silhouette with a wide lapel, belted waist and flared hem that fell just below the knees.

Meanwhile, Lively wore a head-turning Balmain minidress with a red and blue color scheme. The off-the-shoulder ensemble was adorned with large, three-dimensional red roses along the neckline and hemline.

The upcoming superhero film “Deadpool & Wolverine” is based on Marvel Comics characters. In addition to Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, the film features Hugh Jackman reprising his role as Wolverine.

The plot centers on Deadpool teaming up with a recovering Wolverine to face a common enemy. The film delves into the dynamic between the two characters, exploring their regrets and quarreling relationship.

The film is directed by Shawn Levy and is set to release in Saudi Arabia on July 25.


REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel
Updated 23 July 2024
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REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

REVIEW: Book censor falls victim to the malady of imagination in Kuwaiti novel

NEW DELHI: Getting lost in a good story is an occupational hazard and a crime in “The Book Censor’s Library,” a dystopian political satire with elements of magic realism. The story follows an unnamed narrator whose life unravels after he reluctantly begins working for an all-powerful government.

With a spellbinding and smooth translation from Arabic by Ranya Abdelrahman and Sawad Hussain, Kuwaiti literary icon Bouthayna Al-Essa’s novel warns against the loss of originality and personal freedoms in its depiction of the transformation of a man into a reader and his inevitable fall down the rabbit hole of books and imagination.

Set in the near future “in a place that would be pointless to name, since it resembles every other place,” the novel follows the book censor in the New World as he combs through manuscripts, looking for any offending word or idea that would render a book unfit to publish.He is a “guardian of surfaces,” and his task is to ensure that books that carry depth and ideas should be identified and removed from the shelves because “one curious person who picked up a volume and read a few lines could poison the entire society.”

In a swift turn of events, the protagonist himself is swept away by classics like “Zorba the Greek,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “1984,” his dreams and waking hours engulfed in the siren song of good storytelling.

As the world around him slowly regains color, he falls into the throes of an existential crisis, torn between doing his duty as a simple cog in the machine and the secret society of “Cancers” attempting to restore books to their former glory and preserve the collective memory of humanity.

Drawing from the power of timeless stories, El-Essa’s Orwellian tale delves into the terrifying heart of darkness to remind us that “cancer cells are the only ones that thrive in a dying body.”


‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome

‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome
Updated 22 July 2024
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‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome

‘Those About to Die’ stars talk new swords-and-sandals series set in Ancient Rome

DUBAI: British-Yemeni actor Moe Hashim (“Ted Lasso”) and Iceland’s Johannes Haukur Johannesson (“Succession”) spoke to Arab News recently about playing gladiator frenemies in new swords-and-sandal series “Those About to Die,” streaming in the Middle East on Starzplay.

The action-packed series set in Rome in 79 A.D., stars the legendary Anthony Hopkins as Emperor Vespasian, the founder of the Flavian dynasty, and is inspired by Daniel Mannix’s classic non-fiction book of the same name.

Johannes Haukur Johannesson and Moe Hashim star in ‘Those About to Die.’ (Courtesy of Starzplay)

Hashim, known for his minor role as footballer Moe Bumbercatch in hit Apple TV + series “Ted Lasso,” plays Kwame, a lion tracker, who has been taken to train as a gladiator and now faces an existence that means fighting for his life every day.

When asked what drew him to the series, Hashim said: “For me, (it was) Kwame where he was from and what he represents. And I was very excited because I was like: ‘This is a character that is not really spoken about or has been documented too much in the Roman Empire.’

“And when I did the research on North Africans and the influence they had in the Roman Empire, I was like: ‘Oh, I definitely want to be part of this for sure.’”

Johannesson, in turn, plays an imposing Norse gladiator who befriends Kwame in arena training. His main draw to the show was the grittiness of daily gladiator life. “I thought it was really beautiful to see how the gladiators, who were essentially prisoners made to fight till their death, fought for their lives daily, the way they found humanity and friendship, I thought that was really, really beautiful. That really stood out to me,” said Johannesson.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The show also marks the television directorial debut of blockbuster director Roland Emmerich (“Moonfall”, “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Independence Day”).

Said Johannesson: “Roland is a whirlwind to work with. He sweeps you along. He’s very intense, which is enjoyable. You sort of step on set and you just jump on the Roland Emmerich train. It’s an express train.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Added Hashim: “It was also fun getting to know him on a personal level. We practically did a tour of every restaurant in Rome, we had all types of pasta and, you know, during those dinners, you kind of get to see who Roland really is.

“A man at that point of his career still making time to listen to my stupid questions about ‘Independence Day’ and him being so happy to tell me about all the stories and willing to answer my questions.”