My first Mardi Gras

How an Australian adventure helped me get my groove back

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To say I wasn’t looking forward to attending Mardi Gras was somewhat of an understatement.

It was meant to be the holiday of a lifetime; my fiancé and I had spent a year saving to visit Sydney, Adelaide, the Great Ocean Road and Melbourne. Everything was booked and paid for and then, just two days after Christmas last year, he told me he didn’t love me anymore – and that he’d cheated on me.

Understandably, I was crushed and my whole world crumbled around me, with a bright future suddenly seeming very bleak. We’d been together for five years, have a house – even a dog – together and with everything to sort out as a result, both physically and emotionally, a holiday Down Under was the last thing on my mind.

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Sun, sea, sand… and steam: Rediscovering Cyprus’ lost railways

Cyprus Railways Museum sheds light on the Mediterranean island’s little-known former rail network

Cyprus is known for lots of things; gorgeous beaches, meze or even that it was the first place in the world to domesticate cats (nearly 6,000 years before the Egyptians, no less).

However, rail travel is certainly something rarely associated with the Mediterranean island. Yet, between 1905 and 1951 the narrow gauge (2ft 6in or 762mm) Cyprus Government Railway (CGR) carried more than seven million passengers and in excess of three million tons of goods across the country.

Locomotive No. 1
Locomotive No. 1

Today, there is little evidence to suggest that this railway existed at all, but thanks to the opening of a new museum in the Republic of Cyprus and a personal preservation project in Northern Cyprus, during a recent visit to the island, I was able to discover how this former railway was crucial to the development of the country in the first half of the 20th century.

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Top 10 Toulouse

Get ready for take-off on an eclectic city break in France’s aviation powerhouse

While ‘la Ville Rose’ (the Pink City) may not enjoy the same international status as Paris or evoke the glamour of the French Riviera, Toulouse actually gives both a run for their money in the bucket load. Plus, when we spotted flights from London Stansted on Ryanair for less than a meal out, it seemed rude not to give France’s fourth-largest city a whirl.

Toulouse really does have something for everyone, which made narrowing down a ‘top 10’ list really difficult. However, after careful deliberation, below are my favourite places, attractions and places to eat and drink in Toulouse.

1. Place du Capitole

Instantly recognisable from its pink brickwork, the grandiose Place du Capitole makes for an obvious location to start exploring Toulouse. With its eight rosy marble columns, the square is dominated by the Capitole, named after the 12th century administration of the city and remains as the home of its local government.  From just one glimpse of its impressive 135 metre-long neoclassical façade, it is easy to see how Toulouse became the official capital of France’s Languedoc region in the 16th century and has maintained that status under today’s newly-formed Occitanie super region.

Capitole, Place du Capitole
Capitole, Place du Capitole

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The ‘gayest’ city in the world?

Skopje’s classical makeover may be both controversial and kitsch, but we couldn’t get enough of it!

Imagine if Mariah Carey decided to rebuild Ancient Rome… Thankfully, one doesn’t have to conjure up depictions of glitzy statues and wedding-cake style buildings, as such a place exists and it is called Skopje.

From faux neoclassical façades to willow trees plonked in the middle of the river, every nook and cranny of the city centre is an Instagramable dream.

For us gay travellers, it was Warrior on a Horse that did it.

Warrior on a Horse
Warrior on a Horse

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt in Pristina

Unmissable attraction and wildlife sanctuary for all of Kosovo’s privately kept brown bears

“We’re lost, aren’t we?”

“Err… no…” I replied nervously to my boyfriend.

Clearly, we were lost, but I’d brought us out here and I didn’t want him to think I didn’t know what I was doing, so I frogmarched us deeper in to the Kosovan countryside.

Delfina petrol station
Delfina petrol station

The bus had dropped us off hastily in front of an abandoned petrol station that appeared to have not served a car in the best part of a decade. Passing peeling yellow paint and creaky metal, I noticed a vague sign pointing to our intended destination – Bear Sanctuary Prishtina.

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Top 10 Tirana

Making the most of a stay in Albania’s capital city

Although the spectre of communist dictator Enver Hoxha may still loom large over Albania, its capital city is confidently shedding its isolationist past to reveal an exciting destination bursting with culture, cuisine and colour.

From the architectural mashup on display around Skanderbeg Square to the dizzy heights of Mount Dajt, Tirana delights from its centre all the way to the outskirts, with warm welcomes offered throughout from people eager to embrace international guests and proudly showcase the best their country has to offer.

Indeed, Tirana makes for a great city break in its own right or as the starting point for exploring one of Europe’s least-visited countries – yet one which also boasts dramatic scenery, a gorgeous coastline and some truly unique historical sites.

1. Skanderbeg Square

Named after the Albanian nobleman and military commander who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, Skanderbeg Square’s central location and significance makes it the perfect place to begin exploring Tirana.

Tirana International Hotel and National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Skanderbeg Square
Tirana International Hotel and National Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Skanderbeg Square

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Spread Marmite, not your arms out

“Is that a jar of yeast extract in your hand luggage, or are you just pleased to see me?”

Love it or hate it, there are few things that scream out ‘Great Britain’ as much as savoury spread Marmite. It’s therefore unsurprising that this by-product of the beer brewing process has been revealed as one of the most-seized foods at a UK airport.

A new study has revealed that Brits can’t live without their favourite breakfast spread when travelling abroad, with London City Airport naming it as one of the most intercepted items by security officials.

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