Edinburgh & Barcelona
James Wilkinson, former Music & Nightlife editor
Live in Dubai for any length of time and you’ll find your sense of normality shifting subtly. ‘Yeah, of course we keep our ski slope in a shopping mall,’ you’ll find yourself saying. ‘Where would you put it?’ As a result, when you leave Dubai you might find other places a little… well, let’s not say boring. But less crazy. Cities with the volume turned down.
But coming off the back of two years in the sunshine, that wasn’t what I wanted. No, I wanted my cities turned up to 11. All the madness I could get.
So I tried the Scottish city of Edinburgh, home of the 63-year-old Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in Europe (August 5-29 2011, www.edfringe.com). Walk down the Royal Mile and you’ll be surrounded by magicians, musicians, actors and comedians. It’s the only time in your life that you’ll find yourself accosted by a bagpiper, a Japanese mime and a nun on stilts – outside of a particularly freaky dream, at least.
But still I wanted more. So I headed to La Tomatina, the Spanish tomato-throwing festival (held the last Wednesday in August, during the week of festivities of Buñol, www.tomatina.es). Alas, 49,999 other people had the same idea. Six hours of standing shoulder to sweaty shoulder ensued; six hours of shoving, fainting and airborne flip flops. And tomatoes, of course: tantalisingly out of reach, in the churning mass of feet beneath us.
It was in Barcelona that I finally found what I was looking for. There were elements of Edinburgh’s theatricality everywhere – even on the beach, where a man called Rude Boy Van Damme told me his life story (he is, apparently, the real-life Terminator) while balancing a rock on his head. But it was the city itself that won me over, especially the dreamlike, elaborate Sagrada Família church: 128 years old and still in the making. It’s not Dubai, but it’ll do.
Barcelona: HostelOne Sants provides cheap, charming and central accommodation. See the Facebook page for details.
Edinburgh: Book ahead only for the biggest events. Spontaneity is the key to the Fringe and there’s nothing better than finding a hidden gem.
Mark Smith, former Books & Film editor
After nearly 18 months of living in Dubai, my sense of what’s appropriate had adjusted a little bit. Returning to London to visit friends and family, I was scandalised by the sight of commuters on the Tube kissing furiously mere centimetres from my head.
Safe to say, then, that when I accepted a job on the launch team of Time Out Amsterdam, I suspected I’d be in for something of an adjustment. Little did I know that, fresh off the plane, my first editorial assignment would be attending a party entitled ‘Drop Your Pants and Dance.’ I think that was the day I learned the true meaning of the term ‘culture shock’. In fact, I spent a good part of the evening in tears.
Truth is, pant-free parties notwithstanding, Amsterdam is no more defined by its postcard caricature as a hotbed of liberal abandon than Dubai is defined by its own coverage in Western newspapers as some kind of blinged-up bedlam of obscene excess. Here, I’ve fallen in with a nice bunch of expats and super-tall locals; we pootle about the canals in fancy dress on sunny Saturday afternoons and obsess about finding the superlative apple pie.
Sure, during my time in the UAE I’d write breathless dispatches for fashion websites about sheikhas dropping twice my annual salary on a Swarovski-encrusted coffee machine, but my real memories of Dubai are of the fine friends I made there, the kindnesses bestowed on me by strangers (Ivy at the Garhoud branch of Sumo Sushi, I’m talking to you), and the sense that everyone has a story to tell.
Wherever you happen to drop your anchor, it’s easy to fantasise that the grass is greener elsewhere. Pre-Metro, my own Dubai bugbears were toll booths, tricksy taxi drivers and roadside meltdowns. I can assure you that all these annoyances pale into insignificance now when compared with my Monday morning bicycle rage.
Amsterdam, amazing though it sounds, only has one gondola. You can rent it by the hour at www.gondel.nl. Look out for ‘Best of Amsterdam’ stickers all over town. More than 20,000 people voted in Time Out Amsterdam’s city-wide survey.
South-East Asia & South America
Katy Morrison, former designer
After saving hard for a year, paying an extortionate amount for a couple of guidebooks and scribbling graffiti on countless maps, we started our year-long ‘great escape’ in Hong Kong and China. From there we ventured south along the eastern coast of Vietnam, eating our body weight in spring rolls, then made a U-turn, heading north into Cambodia to marvel at the temples of Angkor. Since then we’ve been pinballing our way around South-East Asia, only skipping Myanmar.
We are currently in a beach hut (we’re grudgingly lugging around a netbook) on Malaysia's Tioman Islands, where we're resting for a few days before heading to what will be our 35th visited country, the Philippines. To round off the trip, we’ll make our way south again to Malaysian Borneo, Brunei and Indonesia, finally heading back into Thailand and Malaysia before flying to Argentina, when a whole new six-month adventure will start.
Since leaving the UAE, I’ve finally had time to get back into some hobbies. I've taken more photos than I have since I left art school and I’ve been learning how to cook one dish from each country we’ve visited – by the time this trip is finished I should hopefully be able to whip up something from any one of 27 countries.
Picking an overall highlight is difficult, but looking at our plans it seems unlikely our upcoming 11-day cruise to Antarctica will be bettered. I’ve been fascinated by travelling since I was 15 years old, and visiting a part of the world that only a tiny fraction of humanity has ever seen will be something special.
Of the things we have done, you can take your pick from hurtling around central Laos on a motorbike that I wasn’t qualified to ride; to getting lost in the hills of northern Vietnam; to snorkelling with fish and coral of every colour this very morning.
Don’t plan too much; take your guidebook’s advice with a pinch of salt (if it isn’t Time Out, that is); and never expect a bus in Asia to arrive on time – or even to be en route to where it claims to be going.
Time Out team’s favourite destinations Holly Sands, Music & Nightlife and Film editor: Bangkok
‘Fantastic street food, great nightlife and hundreds of exciting markets. Watch out for the tuk tuk drivers, though, and be sure to tell them “no stops!”’
Jade Bremner, Community, Travel and Time In editor: Tibet
‘Quite literally the roof of the world. Horses and carts share roads with the odd Range Rover filled with explorers desperate to catch a glimpse of heart-fluttering Himalayan vistas. However, the food, at 5,000 metres up, tastes like aeroplane slop, so take snacks.’
Becky Lucas, deputy editor: Sydney
‘Just like a sunnier, prettier UK, Sydney is all about outdoor healthy living and beachy-bohemian style. Grab the ferry anywhere. And don’t trust shark nets.’
Ross Brown, editor: Chamonix
‘Snug, smoky log cabins and hot baked camembert and bread in the snow, combined with a mountain range you could spend a lifetime exploring.’
Oliver Robinson, Food editor: Zanzibar
‘Arrive in Stone Town by boat and head down to sample fresh seafood at the night market before checking into one of the enchanting Arabian-themed hotels.’