Top 10 photo galleries from Europe
© John Smith
Republic of Artsakh (previously known as Nagorno-Karabakh) is one of those republics not recognised by many. It lies inside Azerbaijan but is "occupied" by Armenians - the Armenians have always lived in Artsakh, but the region was given to Azerbaijan during the Soviet times. When USSR dissolved, the conflict reemerged with fierce fighting going on in 1991-1994 which left many towns shattered or totally demolished. Today it is possible to visit Republic of Artsakh, but only from Armenia - you will not be able to enter Azerbaijan later on if your passport shows proof of any trip to Artsakh. There are a handful of interesting historical sites, but the main reason for any Artsakh trip should be to witness first handed this troubled slice of land.
Disclaimer: We are not political here on Globe Spots, so the reason why there is a Artsakh guide under Armenia is because you can only enter the region through Armenia.
When people are talking about enchanting Tallinn, they are talking about Old Town. It's a neat, UNESCO-listed maze of old houses, hidden courtyards and spire-topped churches dating back to the 14th century. Large parts of the huge medieval town wall still stand with imposing gates and tall towers (one even has cannonballs embedded in the wall). The maze is made up of narrow, cobbled lanes - it can hardly become more photogenic than this. Even the occasional Russian tour group seems to fit in well. That said, there are more amber/knitting/souvenir shops than you can poke a stick at (along with a fair share of strip bars), but Old Tallinn has managed admirably to keep its charm without being tarted up or tacky.
The Pyrenees is a rather small mountain range, but every top and every valley offer amazing nature and great trekking opportunities. In summer the French Haute Pyrene (High Pyrenees) is lush with an ever-changing carpet of alpine flowers covering the slopes. Peaks and high passes can in the early summer still be covered in snow, which will then feed the many alpine lakes and roaring mountain streams through out the summer. Staffed refuges (huts) are abundant and offer food and a bed within a day's hike, so you don't have to lug tent and cooking gear. If you have the time and stamina it's possible to trek the GR10, Grand Randonnee, that traverse the full length of the Pyrenees from the Atlantic Ocean to Mediterranean Sea, an 866 km trek taking about fifty-something days.
Svaneti is a picture-perfect mountainous region. Here you can find traditional villages with strange soaring defensive towers set in lush valleys on a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The alpine scenery here can easily compete with the crowded Alps. The main town in Svaneti is Mestia which can be reached by a winding mountain road or a often-cancelled flight. From here there are plenty of good trekking opportunities (pick any direction), either just day treks or, for those with the right gear, multi-days treks to, for example, the base of some of the highest peaks in Caucasus. You can also continue further to the UNESCO World Heritage enlisted town of Ushguli at the foot of Mt Shkhara (5068 m), the highest mountain in Georgia.
Svaneti is slowly but surely turning into a hot travel destination for nature lovers, trekkers and backpackers, and Mestia is already gearing up for the boom. It got a new (tiny) airport, ancient Svaneti towers are getting restored, homestays and even hotels are shooting up and the town square is getting totally rebuilt. So come to Svaneti, the sooner the better.
Don't let the bustling market area outside Central Market distract you for a visit inside the giant halls, for it's absolute fabulous. Just the building itself is worth a visit. The roof is constructed of five huge, used zeppelin hangars, giving the indoor market an very airy fell. Each hall deals with one kind of food products like meat, fruit, dairy, fish and pastries. It's all fresh stuff, straight from the farms, making the neighbouring supermarket's range looks a bit sad. It can get packed and vendors can seem a bit reserved even unfriendly at first, but it's possible to get a smile from them.
From a distance the Hill of Crosses doesn't look like much, just a small knoll with some crosses. But as you approach the collection of crosses, you will suddenly realise just how many crosses there are. The hill is literally covered in crucifixes of all sizes, materials and colours left by pilgrims through the last couple of centuries. It's estimated that there are more than 100,000 crosses - and more are coming every year.
Tiraspol is, besides being the second biggest city in Moldova, the capital of the unrecognized republic of Transdniestr. It is a true ex-soviet city with a wide main boulevard, Strada 25 Octombrie, vacuumed for traffic, but lined with odd military monuments and crowned with a fine Lenin statue. There are hardly any restaurants or shops in town, so shopping can be a difficult task unless you are looking for a bottle of Kvint, the quasi-famous local Transdniestran cognac. There is a small market in classic Eastern-Bloc style behind the main square on Strada Karl Marx, but otherwise the main attraction is just to walk around and soak up the strange Soviet-era atmosphere.
Longyearbyen is the northernmost real town on the planet with university, supermarket, bank, library, and yes, even night clubs. The town is located so close to The North Pole (1300 km... yes, that's close) that it's in the dark half of the year and enjoys the midnight sun the other half. During autumn and spring, there is a good chance of catching northern lights waving up and down the sky in the most amazing hues of greens and violets. Svalbard has a big population of polar bears, so Longyearbyen is probably the only place on the planet where students are allowed to carry firearms to uni (we kid you not). Polar bear protection (firearms) also need to be carried when venturing into the amazing raw arctic wilderness, which lies unspoiled beyond the settlement. Just grab your ski, snowmobile, dog sled or hiking boots and off you go - just remember your rifle... or better, join a tour.
In 1935, a local wood carver started to make artistic crosses for the local graveyard in the small town of Săpânța. He succeeded turning the otherwise sad symbol into a cheerful monument by painting the crosses in bright colours and pictured the deceased in either their occupation or what they liked to do (which could be drinking). A funny poem or a small story from the deceased's life is carved under the picture and is often written in the first person, as if the deceased himself/herself were telling the story. Other stories on the crosses describe how the person died and one even warns visitors not to wake up a dead mother-in-law. When you see some of the pictures among the 800 crosses, you wish you could read Romanian.
Besides being (maybe) the most heavily used subway system in the world (competing with Tokyo's), the metro of Moscow is also home to extravagant decorated stations, built more like palaces than transport hubs. Some of the most elaborated stations boast marble columns, bronze statues, mosaics or stained-glass pieces while ceilings can be ornamented or even lit up by large chandeliers. The end walls are usually fine examples of Socialist art that celebrate the Communist past. Enjoy these masterpieces while getting around in Moscow, or make them a destination in themselves.