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Skopje – dazzling capital or monumental folly?

Take a walk for the first time through central Skopje and you’re bound to scratch your head in bewilderment. Mammoth statues of warriors adorn the main public spaces, while neo-classical palaces dominate the banks of the Vardar river. Figures of dozens of poets, musicians and artists line the bridges and embankments. And the bulldozers and […]

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An unremarkable bus journey through northern Kosovo

As border crossing go, it was one of the quickest I’ve ever encountered. A burly policeman boarded the bus, shook hands with the driver, exchanged a few jokes with the passengers at the front and left, waving us through. We had crossed from Serbia to Kosovo or, according to the border police and every one […]

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Erm, erm, erm… Mr President

It’s not every day you address the person sitting across the table from you as Mr President. Neither is it every day that you interview a man for whose freedom you marched as a teenager. Whether or not these are sufficient reasons to explain my bumbling questioning of Lech Wałęsa, Poland’s first democratically-elected president after […]

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Imber – Britain’s abandoned village

You don’t expect to find a church completely surrounded by a double ring of barbed wire in the heart of the English countryside. But then St Giles is no ordinary church, with very few services and access to the building allowed for a maximum of 50 days a year. For the rest of the time […]

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The true British tourism champions (no fancy campaigns required)

It was a story that led me to Aldeburgh in the first place. I recently read Scapegallows by Carol Birch, a book that follows the life of Margaret Catchpole, a feisty young lady who was twice sentenced to hang and eventually shipped off to Australia. Her true-life account is told in the context of the […]

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Catalina on Vatersay: a plane wreck with more than one story

If you take a walk around the island of Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides, you’re likely to stumble upon a very interesting discovery, behind which lies a tragic tale. Just off the road (there’s really only one) as it runs around the east of the island you will find a black stone memorial, and scattered […]

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Nan Madol: the lost city of the Pacific

Approaching Nan Madol by boat there is little sense of the scale of the ruins that are about to surround us. The choppy waves of the Pacific subside as we make our way through narrowing mangrove channels until finally we see the first basalt columns above the clear water. A moment later there is no […]

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Lübeck, York and the Baedeker Raids

What links the German city of Lübeck, a well-known guidebook and the several of England’s more attractive cities? Wandering around Lübeck recently I was struck by the way the city has been so comprehensively rebuilt since the end of the war.  As with much of central Europe Lübeck was not spared the ravages of war and […]

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On the trail of the Tatars in Poland

Drive through many of the villages in the north east of Poland and the eerie silence might lead you to believe there is no-one left to tend the miles of flat farmland, stretching beyond the horizon in every direction. A handful of ramshackle wooden homes occupy well-defined plots along either side of the road. An […]

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From Palau to Rotherhithe: the story of Prince Lee Boo

  Less than two months after discovering this picture in the blissful air-conditioned cool of the Etpison Museum in Palau’s main town of Koror, I stood by a south London graveside, teeth chattering in the bitter cold despite my hat, scarf, gloves and multiple layers. The two settings couldn’t be further apart, geographically or in […]

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