Travel to these Five Destinations Off The Beaten Track and you’ll never be the same!
I often say that the best relationship I have is with my passport – yes, it’s a Pakistani passport and presents multiple visa hassles, but my wanderlust is insatiable and no travel challenges will keep me away from what I consider essential to my existence! Travel helps me travel to explore cultures, meet people, experience a slice of their lives, get enchanted with the history of towns and cities I travel to.
Here are some off beaten destinations from my travelogue that are worth taking a trip to.
1. Bruges – The Chocolate Bite of Belgium
My cultural and geographical knowledge of Belgium was never beyond Belgian Waffles and Chocolates until I took a trip to this quiet, serene and beautiful Medieval town, capital of West Flanders in the Flemish region of Belgium. The center point of the town is Belfry and Town Hall with the entire UNESCO heritage city around it. Grothe Market a neo-Gothic style marketplace from 958 framed by the majestic Belfry Tower and Provincial Palace, seat of the West Flanders Provincial Court. The Markt (Market Square) is bustling with tourists and bicycles crisscrossing past statues of medieval freedom fighters Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.
Little cafes and stores, bars, winding canals, and lovely old architecture, horse-drawn carriages on narrow cobbled streets whisking tourists around, every element of a well-preserved picture-perfect medieval European town. I immediately knew that this was going to be a photo-walk of a lifetime. The hour-long boat ride around the canals is like being part of a fairy-tale as it meanders between medieval architecture. Out of the 2000 chocolate stores in Belgium some of the best ones are located in Bruges, sampling them at stores in every corner of the city was a treat I never had in any city ever. The whiff of Belgian waffles and fries were another gourmet delight to enjoy, Bruges is the birthplace of potato fries and there is an entire museum dedicated to it. The town is best explored by trekking, one day is enough, though overnight gives more time to explore some of the museums and soak up the romance and tranquillity the city has to offer.
2. The Game Drive at Masai Mara- Kenya
Nothing compares to the thrill of watching wild animals in their natural habitat and enjoying nature at its best. I explored the natural game reserves of Kenya quite a few times over the years. A five day trip to Maasai Mara, located at the Great Rift Valley are open grasslands and presents endless possibilities to watch and photograph Kenya’s big five. I got to live in luxurious and very safe camps from where I can watch hippos playing in mud or cross path with herds of Tomlin gazelles walking from tent to the dining room of the camp. Once on a pitch dark night, I mistook glaring eyes of hyenas in bushes as light bulbs. There were morning and afternoon game drives, the drives knowing their way very well drove me around the 1510 sq. Kilometers of wilderness densely packed with wildlife. All set with my telephoto lens perched on an open roof safari van I would spend time endlessly clicking away at herds of elephants as big as 200 of them in a single pack. Enjoyed real close the sight of lion pride and their playful cubs sunbathing on grassy patches, laid back zebras and giraffes grazing around. Lion, Cheetah, Elephant, Hippo, and Buffalo are called the ‘big five’ of Africa and anyone visit ought to spot all of them. Besides there are endless grazers, feathered beauties and nature is witnessed at its best. My best moment was to spot leopard it came running from the jungle climbed the roof of the van with me sitting still inches away, only to have fraction of seconds to shoot some pictures on burst as soon as it gets down.
A half day trip to a close by Masaai Kraal (Masai Village) is interesting, I got to be part of and document their Neolithic tribal life. I booked all my trip online through a travel company that specializes in all-inclusive wildlife safaris and found it most safe hassle-free and reliable. The best time to visit is between July and October to witness the greatest game show in the nature when the herds migrate.
3. Essouira – Morocco’s Coastline
This indigo and the white coastal town of Essaouira was love at first sight.
A two and half hour bus ride from Marakesh with a stop on the way to see dozens of goats perched up on olive trees feeding on olives. Looking around the mystic walled city of Essaouira I found a unique intermingling cultural influence of Portuguese, Berber, Jewish, Dutch and French are reminding the history of invasions, colonization, and trades. I had the best seafood lunch sitting at the terrace of a restaurant along the long stretch of beach. A calming sight looking at people having fun enjoying surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing, some riding camel, flying kites, musicians and singers roamed around entertaining with their traditional Berber performances wandering around Essaouira’s walled medina (old town).
4. Mysterious Sofia – The Bulgarian Capital
I was thrilled for my maiden trip to Southeastern Europe kicking off from Sofia-Bulgaria. The quaint town has 7000 years of history, it turned out to be one of those memorable journeys I will always cherish.
What impressed me most were the people; highly courteous and polite with no hang-ups or suspicion about Pakistanis. The Free Sofia Tour is a great NGO that is proud to show around the beauty for this perfectly manicured city free as part of an interactive walking tour. Following this, it got so easy to explore the city in depth for the rest of the week of my stay. Bulgaria is famous for producing flowers, the horticulture industry is very huge here. The entire city is decorated with huge vertical flower pots. Bulgaria is one of the largest producers of rose, rose soaps and cosmetics are a novelty to bring back.
Being at the crossroad of various civilizations, the culture, music, food, architecture and above all traditions in Sofia reflect influences of Greek, Romans, Ottoman, and very recent communist regime. I had a fun time exploring some of the monuments and photographing them. Over the weekends it was sheer enjoyment when the city transforms from a quiet work environment to one of party, fun, socializing. The main squares, streets and public places looked like celebrating some festival. People living in the nearby block of flats socialize with friends and family on the streets and public places, with tourists joining all the fun. Street performers including, bands, jazz, dancers and different present a very pleasant sight. Ensuring a weekend is part of your stay is must during a trip to Sofia.
5. Time Travel at the Amish Village of Pennsylvania, USA
Just a couple of hours from the political powerhouse at Washington DC is located this small farming town with scenic landscapes, rich culture and warm people, the town is a blessing for any photographer. It has subject and scenes, both! This is an Amish community of New Holland, where I am hosted by a very amicable family on a farmhouse amidst corn fields at one side and drying tobacco fields on another. My bedroom overlooked the cobbled street where there are frequent clip-clops of horse-driven buggies that amazes me every time I saw one.
The Amish here are European migrants of 1700swho came to the US for religious freedom known for following the lifestyle of their ancestors from 300 years back. They refuse to use any modern technology or developments, including electricity. They are identified by their simple lifestyle, including plain dresses, houses, and absence of any modern technologies from their life. As a result, they have become known for their craft skills, unique rituals and way of life that rely on subsistence farming. For a week I was time traveled centuries back and experienced a lifestyle unlike what the USA is definitely not known for.
These hot travel destinations can feed your wanderlust soul and take you to the epic journey where you can appreciate the nature in all its glory. Get ready and pack your bags to have a blissful experience roaming on the street of mysterious Sofia or feeling the earth beneath your bare feet at the Amish Village. Trust me, you can recall this experience for the rest of your life!