TRAVEL

THE SUNKEN PALACE

The forces of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II – whose victory over the Byzantines earned him the epithet “The Conqueror” – finally broke through Constantinople's fortress walls on 29 May 1453 and flooded through the streets of the defeated city. Swarming into the square in front of the Hagia Sophia Church, they battered down its doors, driving out the Byzantines who had sought refuge inside like a herd of terrified sheep. Only a few metres away and beneath the surface where these dramatic events were taking place, all was quiet.

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THE CHRISTMAS PLACE

Carefully bending over, visitors go through a tiny door in the stone wall, which seems more like part of a mediaeval fortress in Europe than a church in the West Bank. Although the entrance to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is known as the Door of Humility, you are certainly not required to bump your head in penance when entering the basilica over the cave where Jesus is believed to have been born 2007 years ago.

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THE CITY WHERE TIME STOPPED

The girl was standing on the rocky headland, by the crimson walls of St John-at-Kaneo Church, and looking at Lake Ohrid at her feet. Her eyes searched for the Monastery of St Naum on the opposite shore. Then they drifted to the left, lingered on the boats in the turquoise water – she had ridden in one of them the previous day – and finally wandered off over the roofs of the old city's houses and churches.

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KNOW THYSELF

Descending the mountain path on his way back from the Delphic oracle, Oedipus was so stunned that he barely noticed his surroundings. Sitting on her iron tripod placed over a fissure in the ground from which mind-expanding vapours were rising, Pythia, Apollo's priestess, had foretold a nightmarish future for him: when Oedipus “returned home”, he would slay his father and marry his mother. The oracle was known for her accurate predictions without which no peasant would start harvesting his crops and no king would wage a war.

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THE UNDERWORLD OF CAPPADOCIA

Aliens had completed the link from the underground city of Agartha, at the centre of the Earth, to Cappadocia in Anatolia. Next they turned their attention to humans. The aliens predicted that Homo Sapiens would not travel farther than the moon over the next few millennia. So they built a shelter where the people of Cappadocia could live in safety.

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WELCOME TO TETOVO

You don't have to be a sersem to visit Tetovo, an Albanian city in Macedonia. But it helps.

Legend says that Tetovo was named after the mythical Teto, who cleared snakes from what was once a village at the foot of the Šar Mountain many centuries ago. But perhaps this fable alone won't persuade you to leave the Skopje to Ohrid highway and visit this city in northwest Macedonia close to the border with Kosovo. Indeed, Tetovo has hardly been a magnet for travellers. For a long time the only tourists near here were those en route to Macedonia's most famous ski resort, Popova Šapka.

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TURKISH DELIGHTS

Sick and tired of the building jungle at the Bulgarian seaside? Thankfully, the Black Sea's western coast still boasts some secluded coves and peaceful towns unspoiled by tourism, south of the border.

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THE TASTE OF ISTANBUL

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” Two hundred years later Alphonse de Lamartine's words still ring true – especially when talking about food. Istanbul is the nearest place you can take refuge from the kebabcheta experiments in Bulgar restaurants, the heartburn caused by underbaked bread and doughy pastry, the Shopskas with tomatoes that taste like apples, the yoghurt with preservatives and the depressing yet inevitable absence of sea food.

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TALLINN

Despite its recent history as part of a Soviet Republic and its languages (Estonian being related only to Finnish, while over a third of the citizens speak Russian as a first language), despite even its geographical position on the Baltic, Tallinn or Reval, as the city was known until 1918, is best appreciated as an heir to the wider Scandinavian and Teutonic cultural legacy of the Middle Ages.

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