What makes a food strange? After all, plenty of people shudder at the thought of Scottish favourite haggis, while others wouldn’t touch escargots or frogs’ legs (all of them delicious, by the way).

But some of the world’s most bizarre foods really do need a strong stomach – and preferably a weak sense of smell. And perhaps a blindfold.

1. Sannakji, Korea

In this Korean dish, chefs chop the tentacles off a live octopus, then douse them in sesame oil and seeds. As the tentacles are still wriggling, the diner should bear in mind that they haven’t lost their power of suction. Chew carefully – and consider the ethics before you indulge.

2. Khash, Afghanistan

Can you imagine the smell in the kitchen after a cow’s head, feet and stomach have been boiling for hours? No, probably not. And we don’t want to either. But this is what goes into the Afghan dish, khash, and it’s one of the foulest-smelling broths ever created. It looks as bad as it smells, too.

4123687273_e74bd8a91a_bImage by fjords on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

3. Smalahove, Norway

This Norwegian name literally translates as sheep’s head – and that’s precisely what you get. Each lucky diner gets half a head that had been smoked or dried and then boiled for several hours. They usually start with the eyes and ears, and chase it with liberal quantities of akvavit – anything to take the taste away of what the Norwegians regard as a pre-Christmas treat.

4. Sea anemones, across Europe

These ethereal sea creatures that are distantly related to jellyfish and coral aren’t obvious candidates for a seafood lunch. But in the hands of the right chef – and lightly fried in a tempura-like batter – they do actually taste quite good. You can try them in Andalucía, Spain, where they’re known as ortiguillas.

5. Ikizukuri, Japan

Lovers of sashimi think nothing of scoffing raw fish in Japan. But even they might baulk at the dubious fish delicacy ikizukuri, which is filleted while it’s still alive. Not only that, but it’s served with its beating heart on the plate or, failing that, its head with the gills still moving.

singapore-314915Pixabay / CC0

6. Durian fruit, Southeast Asia

If the thick spiky husk doesn’t put you off, the stench of this Asian fruit should. Its smell is so strong that some hotels and public transport in the region have banned anyone carrying this noxious part of your five-a-day. While the flavour has a hint of almonds and is perfectly palatable, the odour has more than a hint of raw sewage.

7. Damamian, Taiwan

Pork is one of those meats that we’re always told has to be cooked thoroughly. So what were the Taiwanese were thinking when they came up with damamian? This is raw pork that’s been fermenting merrily away in a pot for 30 days and served with rice.

8. Cockscomb, Italy

Chicken feet are common in Chinese cooking, but many people don’t realise that the pointy bits on the head go into the pot too. These gelatinous growths are blanched and skinned before being braised slowly in broth. It’s not just the Chinese who love a bit of cockscomb in their dim sum: the Italians are big fans too, adding the cooked combs to an offal feast of testicles and livers. Waste not, want not, etc.

bats-65612_1280Pixabay / CC0

9. Fruit bat soup, Palau

Before Western diets became common, the people of Palau always made the most of what was freely available on this Micronesian island. That included the little fruit bat, which, as well as being a useful part of ecosystem by pollinating plants, was a big source of protein. The soup, flavoured with chilli and ginger, has since become an expensive delicacy, even if its appearance – with large chunks of floating bat – is less than appealing.

10. Bamboo worms, Thailand

As any traveller in Asia will tell you, insects aren’t a rare and bizarre food – even if the idea is a bit off-putting. They’re everywhere, which is why Thais are always plundering the bamboo shoots during the rainy season for these squiggly worm-like insects. Full of protein, they make a satisfying sizzle when dropped into hot oil.

11. Ortolan, France

Although the eating of these tiny songbirds has been banned from restaurants in France, some of the country’s top chefs, including Alain Ducasse, are asking the government to reconsider. There’s no wonder they were banned: first, these tiny birds – small enough to fit in your palm – are drowned in a vat of Armagnac before being plucked and roasted. Diners then cover their head with a napkin and chomp on the bird whole – head, bones, organs and all. Those who’ve tried it say it’s one of the most sublime things they’ve ever eaten. Hmm…

1410666863_0d07dd8032_bImage by Wrote on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

12. Surströmming, Sweden

There’s a good reason why this Swedish herring dish is usually eaten outdoors. After the fish has been salted, it’s then fermented for at least six months before being gingerly opened and eaten. The taste isn’t nearly as overpowering as the smell, thankfully.

13. Rattlesnake, USA

Deep fried, stewed, baked, skewered – there’s no end of ways of enjoying this otherwise deadly reptile. And most of the time you don’t even need to catch the slithery viper yourself – you can buy it already cleaned and ready to be cooked in the USA.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay/CC0.

Backpacking Thailand can mean staying in fun-packed hostels and idyllic beach bungalows, eating noodles so tasty and so cheap you’ll swear off all other food groups and climbing aboard everything from an overnight train to a lolloping elephant.

But it also means following a well-worn route – one that has sprouted an entire industry to service it, and sometimes, sadly, to take advantage of it.

Sidestep those scams and dodge the dangers with our top tips for making the most of backpacking Thailand.

1. Be respectful – know the etiquette

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, but those smiles can quickly disappear if you don’t respect the culture. The feet are considered the lowest part of the body so never point them (especially the soles) towards somebody, especially if that somebody is a statue of Buddha. The head is considered most sacred so don’t touch people on the head, even children.

2. Eat bravely

One of the best things about travelling in Thailand is the food and you’ll find the tastiest – and cheapest – Thai noodles and curries at the street food stalls.

Be brave and follow the locals, they know which places have the highest standards, and the more people eating means more turnover and fresher ingredients.

Street food, Thailand

3. Embrace public transport

Yes, the tuk tuk is an experience you mustn’t miss but to get proper mileage under your belt (and to get between Bangkok and the highlights of Chiang Mai, the southern islands and Kanchanaburi) you’re going to need to get to grips with the Thai bus service (Baw Khaw Saw or BKS).

Government-run, it’s reliable and extensive, with a BKS station in almost every town. Book your tickets here the day before you want to travel if and take the overnight first class bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

These generally stop somewhere en route for you to eat and will have reclining seats and a toilet on board. Bring a warm jacket to wrap up in, earplugs and an eye shade and prepare to arrive very early in the morning.

4. Timing is everything

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the monsoons finish for the year and temperatures are at coolest. This is also peak season though so if saving money and avoiding crowds is more important to you than sunbathing, the wet season (May to October) could be a better bet. To see all the highlights at a reasonable pace you’re going to need at least a month, though two is better.

Phuket, buses, Thailand

5. Don’t be fooled

That tuk tuk driver stopping you on the street to tell you it’s a national holiday and that temple you’re about to visit is closed? It’s almost certainly not, he or she may just want to take you to their cousin’s carpet factory or sister’s gem shop.

Don’t be fooled by official looking uniforms, cheap or free tuk tuk tours or one day only gem sales either – unfortunately all are scams set up to part you from your travel funds, usually in exchange for a worthless ‘gem’ you can sell when you get back home

And don’t even think about getting involved in the sex industry – prostitution may be rife in Thailand but one thing it’s not is legal.

6. Agree a price before you ride

Be it a taxi or a tuk tuk, you need to agree a price for your journey in advance. Taxi drivers are meant to use the meter so ask them to and if they say no move on along the rank to the next driver.

Tuk tuks should be haggled over – ask your hostel for a rough estimate on current rates and stand firm. Though it also pays to remember that haggling over 20 baht is about equivalent to getting in a stress over 40p or 60 cents – sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

Morning Alms Round, Young monks on alms round, Mae Hong Son, THAILAND

7. Pack light

You’re going backpacking for the freedom – so don’t weigh yourself down. Buy a light backpack and fill it only with the essentials.

You’ll need layers for those chilly bus journeys, a few items of underwear you can wash repeatedly, a waterproof jacket, earplugs, your phone charger and adaptor and insect repellent. Here’s a backpacking checklist to help you plan your backpack.

8. Use hostels

Thailand has a great network of hostels and you’ll not only save money over hotels, but also meet more people and get more local recommendations. Hostel staff are also a reliable source of advice and information on everything from avoiding the latest scam to where to get the best noodles, so talk to them.

9. Go with the flow

Thailand is a place to chill. So stay on somewhere if you love it, move on if you don’t, and if you hear about a cool new bar or restaurant, or a party on the beach, go. Unpredictable sometimes, unforgettable always.

setting off hot air balloons, Loy Krathong festival

Explore more of Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

I say “sake”, you say… The lowest form of wit? No, not “sarcy” – as in sarcastic – but sake, as in the Japanese drink. So actually, you say “cheers,” or “kanpai!”

This Japanese drink is the traditional alcoholic accompaniment to food in Japan, and it’s something you’ll come across wherever you go in the country. But few people really understand sake, and even among young Japanese, it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. To get you on your way, here’s our guide to drinking Japanese sake – just make sure you brush up on Japanese etiquette, too.

So what is sake?

Sake is an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice. Lots of people think it’s a spirit – like vodka, whiskey, gin or tequila – but whereas spirits are distilled, sake is not.

It’s often said sake is “brewed like beer, but drunk like wine” and that’s a pretty good way of understanding how it fits into the booze family tree. It might be brewed, but the alcohol content is generally 14–16%, so you won’t want to swill pints of it.

Right – fermented and brewed rice juice… Sounds disgusting. Is it?

You could say that about a lot of alcoholic drinks. Most of them come from processes and ingredients that look pretty unappealing written down. But, with care and skill, the final products are delicious.

And that’s the case here – accomplished sake makers are shokunin, a term used to describe traditional Japanese artisans who have perfected a particular craft. They channel centuries-old lore into making something simple absolutely exquisite – be it sushi or ramen or washi paper or candles or, indeed, sake.

Japanese sake making

Thanks to their skill, sake is a whole world of flavour. Of course, it’s different to beer and wine, and your taste buds will take a little adjustment. But the more sake you drink, the more you’ll appreciate it – and no, not in a “one drink leads to another” way.

There’s junmai sake and honjozo sake and daiginjo sake. There’s earthy sake, fruity sake, cloudy, unpasteurised sake; mature sake and sake so fresh it fizzes. There are the kinds that are better warmed. These definitely have their merits, but it’s best to start with a more refined, artisanal sake (generally around 2000 yen).

Junmai and honjozo and daiginjo – what makes those sakes different from each other?

Well, there are lots of processes and factors in sake production, but one of the most important is an early stage: the polishing of the rice.

Polishing is actually just a fancy term for “milling”, the process whereby the outer layers of the rice are worn and worn away to get rid of the bran, leaving just the inner nugget of starchy goodness behind.

Sake bottles, japanese sake

The best grades of sake have been polished the most. Daiginjo, the top stuff, has had at least 50% of its bran removed.

Do the Japanese still drink sake, even though they’ve discovered beer and wine and whiskey now?

They do, but beer and wine especially have chipped away at its popularity in Japan. For the Japanese, beer and wine and whiskey are relatively exotic and new. It’s taking a new breed of sake brewers to revitalize it with the country’s youth.

How do I know if it my sake is good?

Well, that’s really a very subjective business.

A lot of people think of sake as being average at best and at worse like licking the end of a battery. But you shouldn’t sip sake and expect it to taste like white wine – only certain sakes will have that fruity sort of profile.

You need to sample a few, get a feel for the territory, and then judge one sake against another, rather than against wine.

USA - Food Shopping - Mitsuwa Japanese Supermarket

So where in Japan should I drink it?

You can drink it in bars and restaurants, of course, but it’s fun to actually visit sake breweries and take a tour.

The more artisanal breweries are super cute, too: really small scale, often wood built, full of atmospheric corners. And there’s this tradition of hanging a beautiful cedar ball outside them – when the ball, called a sugidama, turns brown, that means the sake being brewed inside is just about ready.

The Niigata region has lots of lovely breweries and is known for its high-quality sake. Thanks to its low-profile on the tourist trail, you’ll find everything pretty affordable.

Japanese sake brewery

Make sure you check out the wall of sake dispensers they have inside a shop at Niigata station. These tiny little token-operated boxes each have a map showing where the sake was brewed, a description of the flavour, and a plus or minus figure showing how dry or sweet they are. You buy five tokens for 500 yen (that’s about £3 or $4.50). A perfect tipple before the bullet train.

Explore more of Japan with the Rough Guide to JapanCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Feature image Pixabay / CC0.

Japan has long captivated the imaginations of travellers around the globe, seeming to both baffle and beguile all who venture there.

Between language barriers and Japan’s rather deceiving size (roughly stretching the length of Miami to Montreal) it’s all too easy to miss out on the country’s best spots during the trip-planning process. From countryside almost mystic in its tranquility to the addictive buzz of urban life, there’s a lot to pack into a single itinerary.

Let this video serve as a starting point – a one-minute guide on which to base your Japanese odyssey. Whether you decide on the seaside or the mountains, big city backstreets or rustic villages, one thing’s for sure: you’re bound to discover a culture like no other.

Greeks love their food. They love to eat and love to feed others; this is one place you’re guaranteed never to feel hungry. Unlike the typical British or American three square meals a day, the Greeks eat up to five times a day.

Greek food uses mainly fresh local ingredients such as Mediterranean vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice, various types of fish and meat, as well as grains. Dishes are flavoursome and packed with variety of fresh and dried herbs. If you’re heading to the Mediterranean to graze on Greek food – five times a day, of course – then you should have room for at least a few of these delicious dishes.

1. Moussaka

One of Greece‘s most famous dishes, moussaka consists of layers of fried aubergine, minced meat and potatoes, topped with a creamy béchamel sauce and then baked until golden brown. Some restaurants will also serve an equally delectable vegetarian version.

Moussaka, Greek food, best Greek dishes

2. Fasolatha

Another of Greece’s national dishes, although not so well known internationally, is this classic white bean soup. It’s a simple, yet hearty affair consisting of beans, crushed tomatoes, and vegetables such as onions, carrots and celery. It’s often flavoured with thyme, parsley and bay leaves.

3. Koulouri

Walk around any of the big Greek cities such as Athens or Thessaloniki in the mornings and you’ll often see locals on their way to work munching on koulouri – large soft bread rings covered in sesame seeds. They’re often sold from yellow street carts and eaten on the go with a cup of coffee.

Greek food: Woman serving LoukoumadesImage by Spyros Papaspyropoulos on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Loukoumades

A Greek delicacy loved by children and adults alike, loukoumades are small fried doughnut-like balls drenched in honey syrup and sprinkled with various toppings such as cinnamon or crushed walnuts. People usually order a large plate of them to share with friends or family.

5. Souvlaki

Perennially popular all over the world, these grilled meat (usually pork) skewers are often served with tzatziki (a sauce made from yoghurt, cucumber and mint), pita bread, salad or rice.

Greek food: Dolmades

6. Dolmades

Eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal, dolmades are vine or grape leaves stuffed with herby, lemony rice and folded over to create a small parcel, which is then steamed. You can also find them filled with meat or vegetables.

7. Spanakopita

The Greeks love their pies and you can find many varieties, from those made with enriched dough to those made from flaky phyllo (also filo) pastry and filled with anything from aubergines or meat to greens or cheese. The most classic is the spanakopita – phyllo pastry layered with feta cheese and spinach and flavoured with dill. Another favourite is tyropita – crunchy phyllo pastry wrapped around a savoury cheese filling.

Spanakopita from Greece, best greek food

8. Gyro

A bit like a kebab, a gyro is a typical Greek sandwich. It consists of pieces of meat (usually chicken, pork, lamb or beef) cooked on a rotisserie and wrapped in a flatbread or pita along with salad, onions and a variety of sauces. Vegetarian versions can include grilled halloumi (a salty Cypriot cheese made from a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk) or feta cheese instead of the meat.

9. Galaktoboureko

These sweet custard slices, made with layers of flaky phyllo pastry and sprinkled with cinnamon, are worth a visit to Greece alone, even if you don’t do anything else. They’re best eaten warm, straight from the oven.

Greek food: baklava in a trayImage by Ellen Munro on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

10. Baklava

Found all over Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, baklavas are small sweet pastries soaked in honey-like syrup and layered with crushed nuts such as walnuts or almonds. In central Greece they are made with almonds, in the eastern regions with walnuts and in northern Greece with pistachios.

11. Pastitsio

Similar to Italian lasagne, but made with small macaroni instead of pasta sheets, this is Greek comfort food at its best. It’s made by layering ground beef or lamb with macaroni and béchamel sauce and is often flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and Greek herbs. Sometimes it’s also topped with grated cheese before being baked in the oven.

Explore more of Greece with the Rough Guide to GreeceCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

rough guide india coverWhether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will always be an adventure.

But you’ll need your wits about you, and preparation is key – here are our top tips to making your journey as smooth as possible.

1. Eat where the locals eat

Restaurant meals are often dampened down for tourists. If you want an authentic curry, follow the locals and find the busy places; empty restaurants are often quiet for a reason.

2. Swot up on trainspotting

Using the extensive Indian train network is an excellent way to get around this huge country. Trains book up fast and the booking system – as with many processes in India – can be highly convoluted.

The train information website The Man in Seat 61 has a comprehensive breakdown of the complex process. If you’re getting a sleeper train, try to book the upper or side-upper berths, for more privacy and security, and give sleeper class a go at least once.

While a/c is more comfortable, the tinted windows mean you won’t see nearly as much scenery, nor will you have such an interesting and diverse mix of fellow passengers.

Train in India, AsiaHelen Abramson

3. Agree a price before you do anything

When taking a rickshaw or taxi (if it has no meter), hiring a guide, staying in a hotel or going on a tour, always check what you’re expected to pay first – and, in many cases, haggle for it. If a restaurant menu has no prices on it, check how much your food will cost before ordering.

When buying a product in a shop, check the item for its MRP (Maximum Recommended Price), which should be printed on it in small letters.

4. Purify your water

Tap water in India should be avoided. However, think about how many plastic bottles you’d get through buying mineral water over a fortnight, and then imagine eight million foreign tourists doing the same thing every year. That’s a lot of plastic. A greener option is to purify your own – there’s an increasingly effective range purifying filters which destroy even the tiniest bacteria and viruses.

The most advanced systems, such as the Water-to-Go bottle filters, turn the stuff of murky brown lakes into crystal clear, fresh-tasting water. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in many restaurants in India, reversed osmosis (RO) water is available – it’s free, environmentally friendly and completely safe to drink.

Temple in Madurai, IndiaHelen Abramson

5. Bring your own toilet roll

Indians use their left hand and a jug of water or a hose instead of toilet paper. Aside from in the most upmarket or touristic destinations, you shouldn’t expect toilets to have paper, and the toilet itself may be just a hole in the ground. Although getting used to using the hose is no bad thing, it’s a good idea to carry toilet paper – and hand sanitizer – around with you.

6. Be respectful

This is a country with a rich cultural heritage and strong, deep-rooted religious traditions. Your experience of travelling through India’s rich and mysterious landscapes will be much more positive if you remain mindful of local social etiquette.

Women should always cover their shoulders and wear loose fitting clothing that comes below the knee. In Muslim areas, midriffs should be covered.

Eat with your right hand (the left is for toilets), don’t point the soles of your feet at anyone, take your shoes off before entering a temple and avoid public displays of affection.

Taj Mahal, IndiaPixabay/CC0

7. An apple a day won’t keep the doctor away

Fruit and vegetables may be washed in untreated water; eat peeled fruit such as bananas and mangoes, and avoid raw veg.

8. Find the festivals

From huge national holidays to tiny village festivals, there’s always a cultural or religious celebration of some kind going on somewhere in India, often incorporating music, dance and striking costumes. If you can fit a festival into your stay, you won’t regret it.

As Hindus make up 80 percent of the population, most of the festivals are based around Hindu gods and stories, such as colourful Holi Festival, but there are dozens of others too. Try the camel fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, every November, or the Buddhist Hemis Festival in Ladakh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

11402684_10101611479381198_3406237572446824808_nHelen Abramson

9. Stay safe

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you, and protect your valuables in crowded places such as train stations. Take a mobile phone and get an Indian SIM card so you can make a call in an emergency.

Women especially should dress conservatively and never wander alone in the dark or plan to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. If you feel you’re being hassled, be confident rather than polite, and call loudly for help.

10. Try the street food

Sampling street food is a key part of a trip to India. Mumbai has an especially appealing range, with cheap treats such as pani puri (crispy deep-fried bread filled with tamarind, chilli and potato), bhel puri (sev, puffed rice, chopped onion, potato and chutney), vada pav (soft roll stuffed with deep-fried potato) and much more.

Make sure you can see the food being prepared in front of you and the ingredients look fresh.

Street food, IndiaPixabay/CC0

11. Take earplugs

Earplugs are a basic essential to ensure a good night’s sleep on trains and buses, or in thinly walled beach huts and noisy hotels.

Women carrying water IndiaHelen Abramson

12. Get off the beaten track

Foreign travellers tend to hit roughly the same destinations and routes in India. Branching out from these areas allows visitors to experience a side of this country that hasn’t been affected by the massive tourist industry, and thus gives a more genuine insight into Indian life.

13. Go with the flow

India can be a challenging place to travel. You’ll enjoy it to its fullest if you’re open to new experiences and can accept that strange and unpredictable things will happen every day. Patience is vital, and a sense of humour will go a long way. And if you’re invited to a wedding, accept!

Explore India with The Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Planning your first trip around the world can be daunting. There’s an awful lot to discover out there, from retina-burning white beaches tapering off into gin-clear waters to mountain ranges hiding echo-bending canyons and fascinating wildlife.

rough guides first time around world coverTo celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, packed with tips and insights for your first big trip, here are 20 ideas to kick-start your inspiration.

Whether you’re dreaming of kicking back on a white-sand beach, partying until dawn or leaving the tourist trail behind, read on…

1. Participate in a festival

There’s a world of opportunities to celebrate out there. Get covered in coloured dye at Holi, hurl oranges in Italy, take part in Spain’s biggest food fight or don a costume and join a Brazilian samba school.

myanmar / Eastern Burma / Taunggyi / Balloon Festival

2. Learn a language

Private and group lessons are a bargain in many countries, and are a great way to gain a greater understanding of your destination. Think about learning Spanish in South America or even try to break the ice with a few words of Mongolian.

3. Be awed by nature

Whether you want to tick the seven wonders of the world of your bucket list or get off the beaten track, there are some stupendous sights to discover. The unfathomably stunning Grand Canyon, for instance, is even still deepening at the rate of 15m per million years.

4. Take a cookery course

Even if you just learn to make one great dish, your friends and relatives will be grateful for years. You could master Indian cooking in Kerala or take a popular Thai cookery course in Bangkok.

Banh Xeo, rice pancake, green leaf salad and bowl of dressing, close-up

5. Shop at a local market

Practice your language skills, meet locals and get a good price all at the same time by exploring local markets. You could hit the bazaars of Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco, where you’ll find more than 10,000 fascinating alleys to explore, or join the crowds at Belgium’s oldest Christmas market.

6. Take a literary journey

Connecting the sites from your favourite foreign book or following in the footsteps of an author is a great way to see another side of a country. Get started with our 10 great literary journeys or try one of these 20 breaks for bookworms.

7. Find your own dream beach

There’s nothing like finding a hammock with your name on it and staying still until you’ve recharged your wanderlust. Thailand doesn’t have a monopoly on Southeast Asia’s great beaches, but many travellers simply can’t seem to return home without an obligatory white-sand sizzle on one of its palm-tufted strands.

Beautiful and definately Caribbean, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

8. Attend a sporting event

Don the local team’s colours and make a few new friends as you attend a match or game, be that rugby in New Zealand, cricket in India or ice hockey in Canada.

9. Try the street food

Street food meals may be the most memorable of your entire trip. We’ve picked 20 of the best street foods around the world to whet your appetite.

10. Climb a mountain

Start slow by taking on a classic trekking route or take a mountaineering course and scale a more intimidating peak. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is a popular first challenge: the storybook mountain silhouette you first learn to draw in primary school, it’s typically hiked in five or six days.

New Zealand, Taranaki, Mt Egmont, Mt Taranaki, New Plymouth

11. Sample the local firewater

Leave the backpacker bar behind at least once to try something new. It could be an unusual beer in the Czech Republic, a daiquiri in Havana or gintonic in Barcelona. You could even making learning about the local drinking culture the focus of part of your trip on one of these 20 boozy breaks.

12. Try out a new sport

This is the time to give a sport a go that you’ve always been curious about – or even one you’ve never heard of. Try these extreme sports and daredevil experiences for ideas.

13. Spend a few days in the jungle

Whether it’s in Costa Rica, Peru or Indonesia, you’ll learn a lot by spending at least a few days in the jungle. Just be sure to go with a guide who can both tell you about the indigenous animals and plants – and help you find your way back.

Costa Rica, Monte Verde, Monte Verde Cloud Forrest, Rope Bridge

14. Sleep somewhere unusual

A night suspended 300m high on a cliff face sound a little nerve-wracking? Don’t worry, there’s lots more unusual accommodation out there, from magical treehouses to desert campsites.

15. See a performance

Tickets for plays and concerts might be pricy, but the experience is one you’ll never forget. Even at Australia’s famous Sydney Opera House, seats are readily available for many performances.

16. Get to grips with ancient history

From Bagan to Tikal, the opportunities to get lost in your own historical adventure are endless. No round-the-world trip would be complete without spending some time discovering an ancient civilisation or lost city.

Myanmar / Western Burma / Bagan / sunrise from Shwesandaw

17. Marvel at some of the world’s finest architecture

Architectural wonders abound, although few match the splendour of Agra’s Taj Mahal in India. Built in 1632–1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal,
the Taj is an architectural marvel that has been crafted down to the most minute detail.

18. Go on a great journey

Embark on an epic road-trip in the USA or Europe, spend a week on the Trans-Mongolian Railway or embrace the concept of slow travel with a gentle boat journey among Kerala’s backwaters.

USA, California, Amboy, Route 66, car on cracked highway

19. Book a safari

But make sure you also get out of the minivan and view the wildlife on foot, or even from a canoe. The Maasai Mara in Kenya is one of the most fantastic destinations for wildlife-spotting, stretching for 3000 square kilometres and home to elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes among numerous other photogenic species.

20. Spend some time in the world’s great museums

The Louvre could eat most sports stadiums for breakfast and still have plenty of room left over, London’s British Museum houses an astonishing 70,000 exhibits, and New York’s Met is home to a whopping 2 million artworks.

rough guides first time around world coverPlan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts more than 700 million people, in excess of 450 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. This means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip…

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, many travellers see this city as a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Metéora, GreecePixabay/CC0

4. Row down the Danube, Hungary

Rowing and kayaking are both possible on the Danube. In Budapest, you can rent boats, kayaks or canoes on Margaret Island or along the Romai River Bank.

5. Sip an espresso in Tirana, Albania

Albania’s colourful capital, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars is better for strolling than sightseeing – but there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

6. Admire Kotor, Montenegro

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Kotor is Montenegro’s only major tourist spot, with tiled roofs and a clear Venetian tilt to its architecture. This is not a sunbathing destination, but there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Montenegro, Bay of Kotor, view from the Ladder of Cattaro road

7. Have a night out in Belgrade, Serbia

Explore the nightlife and café culture of Serbia’s hedonistic, hectic capital – at its best in spring and summer when all ages throng the streets at all hours.

8. See the northern lights, Norway

You don’t need to head up to Hammerfest as Bill Bryson did in his book Neither Here Nor There; this celestial show can be viewed across the country (October, February and March are ideal, but the rest of winter is also good).

9. Cycle across the Netherlands

You can easily rent a bike and find your way around Amsterdam, but there’s really no reason to stop there. Dedicated signed trails lead you from town to town.

Bike, AmsterdamPixabay/CC0

10. Get a sense of history in Kraków, Poland

This southern city emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, making it one of UNESCO’s 12 greatest historic cities in the world and an architectural treasure trove. It may look like a history lesson, but the city is very much alive and buzzing.

11. Spend a weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourists), and there’s a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Mark’s Square by the time you visit. But go now and stroll around the city when the crowds are at their smallest (off season, or at sunrise), and it’s sure to be every bit as magical as you’d imagined.

12. Go wine tasting in Slovenia

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans, so it’s not surprising that they figured out how to do it well over the years. There are 14 distinct wine-growing regions to explore here.

Slovenia, vineyardsPixabay/CC0

13. Soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Situated near the southern border with Serbia, this 1300-year-old architectural city gem has been lovingly rebuilt, stone by stone, since the intense shelling in 1991, and is looking better than ever.

14. Discover Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria

This famous border town is not only worth a visit to pay homage to the man, but also has churches so cute you want to pinch them, plus plenty of art, pretty city squares and chocolate galore.

15. See the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Resting majestically atop an enormous citadel in the centre of Granada, the Alhambra is a visual overload. The structure’s Moorish columns and domes and light-reflecting water basins inspire even the weariest traveller.

View of Alhambra and Sierra Nevada from Mirador de San Nicolas Granada, Granada Province, Andalucia

16. Be wowed by Bruges, Belgium

The most popular tourist attraction in Belgium is this entire town, the best-preserved medieval city in Europe. On some streets you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum’s thirteenth-century installation.

17. Be awed by the Palace of Versailles, France

Louis XIV certainly knew how to live. There’s the grand entrance, endless gardens that require an army of pruners, and a hall with more mirrors than a Las Vegas magic act. It’s good to be king.

18. Bathe on the Black Sea Riviera, Bulgaria

Arguably Bulgaria’s greatest asset, the beaches of the Black Sea rightfully fill up during the summer holidays. The best ones can be found northeast of Varna.

Bulgaria, Sinemorets, people on narrow beach on lush Black Sea coast

19. Stroll Prague’s Staromestske namesti, Czech Republic

You can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve visited Prague, and never seen the Old Town square. This 17,000-square-meter centerpiece is the heart of the city, and has been since the tenth century.

20. Be a big kid at Legoland, Denmark

The little plastic snap-together blocks have got a good deal more sophisticated than they once were, but their simplicity is still their strength, and a visit to their Danish birthplace should cap off any lingering childhood fantasies about an entire Lilliputian Lego city.

21. Wander Tallinn’s Old Town, Estonia

Often compared to Prague, Estonia’s capital is an up-and-comer on the budget travel scene, as is its burgeoning nightlife. Check out the area round Toompea Hill, where the aristocracy and clergy once lived.

Estonia, Tallinn from aerial view, showing red rooftops, Niguliste Church tower and spire, Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky and Dome Church spire

22. Soak in Baden-Baden, Germany

Germany’s most famous spa lies in the heart of the Black Forest. Its famed curative mineral waters bubble up from thermal springs at temperatures over 68°C.

23. Surf Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Portugal’s waves aren’t in the same league as Hawaii’s, but there are enough breakers around the country to keep most beginner and intermediate surfers happy.

24. See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, England

A reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse, the Globe Theatre in London is Shakespeare’s backyard. The season runs from April to October.

Gate outside Shakespeare's Globe, London

25. Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Guinness may look like discarded brake fluid, but this thick stout with a scientifically measured head of foam is worshipped like a minor deity. And the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the high altar.

26. Make a beeline for Bratislava, Slovakia

Low-key charm, a museum of wine, and pavement cafés aplenty can all be found in the Old Town centre of Bratislava, Slovakia’s “little big city“.

27. Visit Bran Castle, Romania

Also known as “Dracula’s Castle”, this popular castle actually has no ties to Vlad Tepeş, the medieval prince associated with the vampire extraordinaire, but none of this seems to deter visitors from coming.

Bran Castle, Bran, Transylvania, Romania

28. Hike Sarek National Park, Sweden

The glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes of this remote northern park cover 2000 square kilometres. Note that the trails are demanding and best suited for advanced hikers.

29. Ski in Zermatt, Switzerland

This glam skiing and mountaineering resort is tied to the fame of perhaps the most visually stunning Alp: the Matterhorn (4478m).

30. Shop in Helsinki’s Stockmann Department Store, Finland

You can’t miss it in Helsinki: it’s one of Europe’s largest department stores, selling everything you need and even more that you don’t.

Plan more of your first trip to Europe with The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe

Cuba’s cocktails chart the country’s ambivalent relationship with its neighbour to the north, America. This is most obviously demonstrated by the Cuba Libre – a blend of Cuban rum and Coca-Cola with lime – but it’s the Daiquiri that most associates with the capital, Havana.

In the year when American visitors are finally allowed to fly directly to Cuba, there is no better time to look closer at this legendary drink.

The history of Cuban rum

The Cuban writer Fernando G. Campoamor wrote: “There never has been and never will be rum as good as ours.”

This isn’t strictly true: in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Cuban rum had a terrible reputation. The Spanish didn’t want alcohol producers in their colonies to compete with brandy and wine from the mother country so whilst the Jamaicans and Barbadians were perfecting rum distillation and learning how wood ageing mellowed their product, production in the Spanish empire remained primitive and strictly for local consumption.

Cuban rum

Things changed in 1862 with the arrival Spanish immigrant, Don Facundo Bacardí. At Santiago in the south of the island he made a lighter and smoother style of rum using technology from the cognac industry. Spain had relaxed its protectionist laws and Bacardi took full advantage of the the opportunity to exploit the export and home markets. By this time, Havana was one of the richest cities in the Americas.

But Cuba was politically unstable, most of Spain’s other American colonies had become independent following a series of wars in the early nineteenth century, and Cubans of all backgrounds were itching for freedom including a certain Emilio Bacardi, son of Don Facundo. There were a series of uprisings against Spanish rule culminating in the involvement of America in a short war of 1898.

The birth of the Daiquiri

The Spanish lost and free Cuba, or at least an American-dominated Cuba, prospered.  According to Cuban writers Carlos Eire: “Havana had a large and expanding middle class. Over one million Europeans migrated to Cuba between 1900 and 1950.”

Americans too poured into the country, including a mining engineer named Jennings Cox. The legend goes that he was entertaining some guests and having run out of gin, the standard American tipple, resorted to the Bacardi mixed with lime juice, sugar, water and ice. He named his invention, the Daiquiri, after a nearby town.

Invention is perhaps a bit too strong a word for his concoction. The Royal Navy were drinking Grog, a mixture of rum, lime juice, water and sugar, as early as 1740. All over the Caribbean there are similar drinks based on mixing something sweet, something sour, some water and, most importantly, rum.

Havana, Cuba

The Daiquiri may have been named by an American, but it was in Havana at a bar called La Florida (later called La Floridita) where it was perfected. There the barman Constantino Ribalaigua came up with the the classic version where the ingredients are shaken with ice and the strained into a cold glass.

Hemingway became a regular. Ribalaigua prepared a special Daiquiri without sugar because Papa was diabetic. It also handily had much more alcohol in it.

The next step in the Daiquiri’s evolution came with the invention of the blender. This meant that ice and fruit could be smashed up quickly. The credit for the frozen Daiquiri goes to Emilio Gonzalez at Plaza Hotel.

The Daiquiri in film and literature

During Prohibition, Havana became a playground for Americans: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra were regular visitors. This glitzy era was epitomized by the art deco splendour of the Hotel Nacional which opened in 1930.

Much of the trade in vice and entertainment was in the hands of the Mafia in collusion with the Batista regime. One of the best evocations of this febrile time is in the Godfather Part II when Michael Corleone visits the city for a mob summit at the Nacional on the eve of the Revolution. At a café Alfredo, Michael’s brother and betrayer, asks: “How do you say Banana Daiquiri in Spanish?” Michael replies “Banana Daiquiri.”

The film not only recreates Havana in all its sleazy glory but also shows how the Daiquiri had strayed from its simple beginnings. From the drink of the jet set it would decline further until it meant something that came out of a machine flavoured with syrup like a Slush Puppie for adults. Bubblegum Daiquri anyone?

Passion fruit daquiriPixabay / CC0

The Daiquiri today

Following Castro’s seizure of power in 1959, Havana too declined. The Bacardi company who had supported the revolution soon found themselves leaving for Puerto Rico when their business was nationalised. One of the grandest cities in Latin America was left to decay.

There has been some restoration since visitors returned in the 1990s. And this year more and more tourists will soon once again be lapping up the Daiquiris in the bars of Havana.

The frozen variety has all but pushed out the original, even at La Floridita. If you want something non-frozen ask for a Daiquiri Naturale. Other good places to drink include the Churchill bar at the Hotel Nacional and, for a younger crowd, Bolabana in Miramar.

Explore more of Havana with The Rough Guide to CubaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

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