These cars are seriously adorable

Driving past towering icons like Big Ben and the Matterhorn, these tiny cars are taking on some proportionally epic adventures.

Travel photographers often strive to capture wide-sweeping landscapes or aerial city shots that showcase a destination at its most grand. But Swiss artist Kim Leuenberger is turning that idea on its head: photographing icons like Big Ben and the Matterhorn at a micro level and using tiny toy cars to change viewers’ perspectives.

Leuenberger’s first tiny-car-photo was shot for an autism awareness project in Switzerland four years ago – and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Commenters said the little blue minivan brought them joy, so Leuenberger decided to turn photographing tiny cars into a bigger, personal project.

Behind the scenes of the tiny car adventure in the Isle of Skye (Credit: Credit: Alexandra Lhermitte Schwass)

Behind the scenes of the tiny car adventure in the Isle of Skye (Credit: Alexandra Lhermitte Schwass)

“I started buying more cars and taking them to different places. Now I always have a little car in my bag, just in case the occasion comes up,” Leuenberger said. “When I travel, I go with five different cars, finding the right car for the right place.”

In her photos, Leuenberger only hints at the destinations her cars travel to, subtly showing landmarks in the background. She prefers to highlight the more adventurous side of the vehicles’ personalities, positioning them as though they are splashing around in the water or off-roading in the mountains.

The tiny cars have journeyed to destinations like Greece, Spain and England, where Leuenberger studies photography at the University of Arts in London. She hopes to take them further north to Iceland soon, and her dream is to photograph her classic vans on the California coast.

“I keep taking these pictures because I have fun doing it,” Leuenberger said. “People say it makes them happy, and I love making people smile.”

Catalonia, Spain (Credit: Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Catalonia, Spain (Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England (Credit: Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England (Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland (Credit: Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland (Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

London, England (Credit: Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

London, England (Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Graubünden, Switzerland (Credit: Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Graubünden, Switzerland (Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Durdle Door, Dorset, England (Credit: Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

Durdle Door, Dorset, England (Credit: Kim Leuenberger)

A paradise protected by butterflies

Turkey’s 86,000sqm Butterfly Valley is home to roughly 100 species of butterflies, creating a protected oasis where time seems to stand still.

Our boat pulled in about two hours before sunset, when the disappearing light was turning the Mediterranean Sea from sapphire to aquamarine and the descending shadows were creeping up the imposing rock walls that isolate Butterfly Valley. The beach was nearly empty and the water was calm enough to skip stones across. As the sun finally lowered itself into the sea, I dove in with it, floating on what looked like liquid sunshine.

Located on Turkey’s famous, 500km Lycian Way and only accessible by water, the 86,000sqm Butterfly Valley is home to roughly 100 species of butterflies, including the endemic orange, black and white Jersey Tiger. A waterfall that cascades from the 350m-high back canyon wall eventually becomes a gentle river, watering the lavender-flowered native chaste trees: the butterflies’ natural habitat. The Turkish government named the valley a preservation area in 1987 to protect the butterflies and local flora ­– a distinction that has protected the valley from the fate of its better-know neighbour, Oludeniz, a beach resort 5km north, where hordes of tourists are far more prevalent than swarms of fluttering creatures.

An aerial view of Turkey’s Butterfly Valley (Credit: Scpist/Getty)

An aerial view of Turkey’s Butterfly Valley. (Scpist/Getty)

Oludeniz, which translates to Blue Lagoon, remained virtually unknown until travellers began camping there in the 1980s. Today, it’s a particularly depressing example of paradise lost. The town is filled with neon lights and English-themed restaurants. The sea is dotted with faux-pirate ships and booze cruises. The beach is marred with drunken, sunburned tourists, and the clear skies are polluted with seemingly infinite paragliders launching from the surrounding green mountains.

In contrast, the Anatolia Tourism Development Cooperative bought Butterfly Valley from the villagers of Faralya in 1981 and opened it for tourism in 1984. Three years later, when the government deemed the valley a national preservation area, the cooperative outlawed the construction of permanent buildings. Today, they allow only tents and ramshackle bungalows, and they’ve focused on natural growth as opposed to commercial. Olives, pomegranates, lemons, oranges, grapes, walnuts, peaches, apricots, palm, oleander and laurel all thrive here.

For eight months a year – between April and November – a small and diverse group of hippies and backpackers descends on the valley, where days are marked by sunrise and sunset yoga practices and evenings by unplugged music sessions. Once mid-afternoon hits, after the few tour boats are gone for the day, Butterfly Valley belongs to those who are willing to spend the night under the stars, living gloriously free of the more luxurious conveniences of Oludeniz.

Liquid sunshine (Credit: Brad Cohen)

A sunset turns into liquid sunshine. (Brad Cohen)

In my four days there, I didn’t see one laptop or cell phone, probably because the only electricity in Butterfly Valley is reserved for powering the area’s multiple dining areas. Twice a day, fresh and abundant family meals, often including home-grown produce, were served at community tables under a canopy of grape vines. Mediterranean-style breakfasts were composed of white cheese, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, and dinners were largely vegetarian Turkish feasts.

At one end of the beach, the temporary residents often sat at a bar built into the rocks, sipping beers and, late in the day, watching the sun set. At the other end, under the canopy of the Fish Restaurant’s thatched roof, travellers took a break from the heat while enjoying grilled seafood fresh from the water. Next door, a booth with air tanks and wetsuits served as an improbable dive shop.

Nearly empty beaches (Credit: Brad Cohen)

The beaches were nearly empty. (Brad Cohen)

Beyond the shoreline, those daring enough to hoist themselves up tenuous, nearly vertical ropes could climb the gushing waterfall at the canyon’s back wall, or ascend even steeper ropes to the village of Faralya, which offers sweeping views of the valley below. At the base of Faralya, a wooden stand served as a makeshift bar for both day hikers from Butterfly Valley and more intrepid souls in the middle of the 500km Lycian Way trek. The beers were best enjoyed in the hammocks at the edge of the cliff.

For some, Butterfly Valley is a yearly retreat, a place to escape their busy city lives for a few weeks or months. For others, it’s just a one-time visit to a spot that seems to operate outside of time. Minutes turn into hours and hours turn into days. You could be anywhere in the world, but in this age, it’s hard to believe Butterfly Valley exists anywhere at all.

Gulet boats moor in the Mediterranean (Credit: Paul Biris/Getty)

Gulet boats moor in the Mediterranean. (Paul Biris/Getty)

Why ‘squinting’ leads to better sight

Florence is a boot camp in the power of seeing properly, by narrowing our field of view in order to expand it.

My favourite travel quote comes via the Indian poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Musing about why he travelled so much, Tagore concluded that he did so “in order to see properly”.

The traveller experiences a place with all five senses, but none is more dominant, more all-embracing, than sight. Or, as another observant traveller, American writer Henry Miller, once said: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

An aerial view of Florence

An aerial view of Florence (Credit: Tetra Images/Alamy)

Tagore and Miller were on my mind during a recent visit to Florence. The Italian city –the birthplace of the Renaissance and arguably home to more beauty per square metre than any place in the world – taught me how to see “properly”. I had spent years looking at the world, but looking and seeing are not the same thing.

I had spent years looking at the world, but looking and seeing are not the same thing.

Over the centuries, Florentines have honed the art of seeing. A city of merchants, its residents had to gauge the size of a shipping container or the quality of dye used to make the city’s renowned cloth. Later, the artists of Renaissance Florence, from Botticelli to Ghiberti, would use similar skills to gauge proportion and depth in their artwork.

The Florentines were (and are) notoriously discriminating, if you’re feeling generous; picky, if you’re not. They possess a finely tuned sensitivity for the distinctive and the exquisite, and a visceral disdain for the shoddy and the ordinary. Nothing offends their sensibilities more than something that is a little bit off. A Florentine would rather miss by a mile than an inch.

The Opificio delle Pietre Dure restoration laboratories at Fortezza da Basso in Florence

A restorer works on a painting in the Opificio delle Pietre Dure restoration laboratories at Fortezza da Basso in Florence (Credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty)

Florence reveals itself in layers. Literally. The artwork we admire today wasn’t always the first draft. Using X-ray and other technologies, researchers have found layers of previously undetected detail hidden beneath the city’s canvas and wood. And so it is with the city itself. Sure, theUffizi is the best-known museum, but the Bargello and many other “lesser” museums offer their own beauty.

My favourite is the Specola, the museum of zoology and natural history. It took some work to find. I hit a few dead ends – Italian dead ends, so they were stylish and interesting – before discovering the museum hiding between a cafe and a tobacco shop. Forsaken and sad looking, the Specola gets few visitors.

The Specola, the museum of zoology and natural history

The Specola, the museum of zoology and natural history (Credit: National Geographic Creative/Alamy)

That’s a shame, for it has its own charms. In fact, I didn’t know they made museums like this anymore. Stuffed animals were displayed behind grimy glass cases: cheetahs, hyenas, walruses and zebras, all with the same frozen expression, a combination of shock and repose, as if they had no idea how they ended up here but were resigned to their fate nonetheless. It was all very 19th Century. I half expected Charles Darwin to pop up at any moment.

The past, it’s been said, is a foreign country. They do things differently there. The Florence of today is, of course, very different from the Florence of Michelangelo and Leonardo’s day. The Florence of today has pizza and pasta and espresso and wi-fi and tour buses. What to do?

A visitor looks at two paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

A visitor looks at two paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (Credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty)

“Squint.”

That was the advice of a friend back home when I’d mentioned my plans to visit Florence. I’d laughed it off, but I now realized it’s actually a smart tactic. As the great psychologist William James said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” Sometimes we can see more by narrowing our field of view than by expanding it. The zoom lens reveals as much as the wide angle, and sometimes more. And so I zoomed, blocking out the tour buses and the pizza joints and the street vendors hawking velvet paintings of Bob Marley.

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.

If you want to “see properly”, it helps to have a sharp-eyed guide. Mine was Eugene Martinez. I liked the name of his tour company, Ars Opulenta, which is Latin for “abundantly luxuriant art”. It sounded unapologetically decadent and overflowing with goodness.

What really sold me on Martinez, though, was his dog. While the other websites featured sombre men and women striking serious art-is-no-laughing-matter poses in front of some sober Florentine landmark, the Ars Opulenta page greeted me with a photo of Martinez and a hound of indeterminate breed. Both were smiling, with the red-tiled roof and shiny gold spire of the Duomo barely visible in the distance. The dog was no accident. He’s good for business. Dogs are comforting, reassuring, while all this art, this genius, is intimidating. What if we don’t “get” it? What if we say something silly that exposes our ignorance? What if we are not worthy? A smiling canine presence puts people at ease.

The Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy

A view of the Museo Nazionale del Bargello (Adam Eastland/Alamy)

In the days I spent with Martinez, walking the cobblestoned streets of Florence, visiting the Bargello and one of the city’s still-functioning tile workshops, he taught me how to see the artwork for its own sake, on its own terms, and not burdened with expectations of what I should be seeing.

I liked the way Martinez said crazy, blasphemous things, such as “I don’t care for the Renaissance.”

“What?” I replied, dumbstruck. “You don’t like the Renaissance?”

“I don’t. It’s too pretty for me.” I was pondering what he meant by that when he said,

“Give it a few days. You’ll see what I mean.”

Inside the Palazzo Pitti

Inside the Palazzo Pitti (Credit: John Kellerman/Alamy)

A week later, at the Pitti Palace, I did. While most buildings in Florence are the epitome of sophisticated understatement, the Pitti Palace is huge and garish. It’s an architectural emoticon, a monument to excess. Walking down one of the oversized corridors, ogling the David knockoffs, past the inlaid tiles and the ornate tapestries, I realized, finally, what Martinez meant when he said that the Renaissance was too pretty for him.

He meant too “pretty” in the sense of too flowery, overwrought. Some art simply tries too hard to please. This doesn’t apply to all Renaissance art, of course. Some of it is absolutely worthy of our affection – but that’s a judgment we need to make ourselves rather than blindly following the lead of an art historian, or anyone else for that matter. By pretending that allRenaissance art is equally good, we undeservedly elevate the bad art and do a disservice to the abundance of great art that the Renaissance did produce.

And, more importantly, we betray our own eyes ­– our own hard-earned ability to see properly.

Seeing art, it turns out, is less important than the art of seeing.

Florence's Palazzo Corsini

Florence’s Palazzo Corsini (Credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Peuterey)

A 77km hike that could inspire miracles

With Spain’s Camino de Santiago becoming a victim of its own success, Matthew Hirtes chose to walk this less-crowded, less-known version of the pilgrimage, 1,750km to the south.

Everyone’s heard of Spain’s Camino de Santiago, the 100km-plus Way of St James route that leads pilgrims to Galicia’s cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the saint’s remains are believed to be buried. But it will probably come as some surprise to learn there’s another Camino 1,750km to the south, on the mid-Atlantic island of Gran Canaria.

 

Gran Canaria holds the hidden Camino (Credit: Credit: Guido Haeger/Wikipedia)

Gran Canaria holds the hidden Camino (Credit: Guido Haeger/Wikipedia)

This pilgrimage is so unknown that even people on the island couldn’t seem to give me any information. The details provided by the island’s official tourist board proved sketchy; a pair of French walkers hadn’t heard of the trail and a toothless local suggested I walk along the main road instead. Undeterred, I did my best to keep on track, determined to finish what I’d started.

The world-famous Camino de Santiago had been on my bucket list for many years. I’d heard that its length requires an endurance that separates the hikers from the schleppers, and I was eager to prove my strength after a lifetime of trekking. But then I discovered that only 1% of it takes place on a dirt track; the rest is made up of roads and motorways. I also didn’t want to become just another roadie, one of the around 300,000 hikers who complete the epic trek every year. I was looking for a less-crowded, more spiritual pilgrimage – which was how I found out about this second Camino de Santiago, where 99% of the route is on a dirt track and only a handful of people walk it each year.

Gran Canaria’s Camino de Santiago historically ran between the island’s two major churches dedicated to St James: one in the south-central village of Tunte and the other in the town of Gáldar in the northwest. In 2011, the trail was extended southwards to create a coast-to-coast walk through the lush interior of Gran Canaria.

One of the two major St. James churches is in the town of Gáldar (Credit: Credit: Cristian Bortes/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

One of the two major St. James churches is in the town of Gáldar (Credit: Cristian Bortes/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The island was colonised by the Spanish in the 15th Century as the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile sought to expand the newly unified country. The conquerors built a church dedicated to St James (their country’s patron saint) in Gáldar – the first Jacobean place of worship constructed away from the Spanish mainland.

Legend has it that Galician sailors ran aground off the coast of Arguineguín in the island’s southwest in the 16th Century. With them, they carried an image of St James on their shoulders as a way of giving thanks for arriving safe and sound on land. They placed this polychrome sculpture in a hermitage they constructed in the Valle de La Plata, before it was moved to the village church of Tunte in 1850. A pilgrimage from one church to the other soon developed, following the seasonal goat herds’ route from north to south and back again. This pilgrimage was originally walked by islanders who were looking for a miracle, or by those who had pledged to do so after their prayers were answered.

Today’s extended Camino de Santiago’s route (a 76.9km, three-day, three-stage hike) starts at the Maspalomas Tourist Information Office, which confusingly is not in the holiday spot of Maspalomas but in the neighbouring resort of Playa del Inglés. There, on a gaudy parade of piercing studios and tattoo parlours, I spotted the first Camino-related sign. (Keep an eye out for Ruta Jacobea signs as well, as the Camino de Santiago’s also known as the Jacobean Route.)

In Artenara, many locals still live in cave houses (Credit: Credit: Siepmann/Alamy)

In Artenara, many locals still live in cave houses (Credit: Siepmann/Alamy)

More by chance than by design, given a general scarcity of signage, I ended up on the second route option of the hike’s first stage, heading through the Degollada de Garito, a sheer incline between ravines. I passed the eerie Arteara Necropolis, the burial ground of the Amazigh-descendingcanarii (Gran Canaria’s aboriginal people who occupied the island prior to the 15th-century Spanish conquest). My progress was largely a solitary one, save for a Jeep safari that created a whirlwind of dust. Dwarfed by the volcanic slopes that descended to the left and right of me, I felt humbled by the sheer force of nature.

Gran Canaria is celebrated for its light, but the sun goes down quickly. So, at 7 pm, I set up camp in an orchard close to the village of Fataga. The wind spookily whistled through the surrounding fruit trees, but I was comforted by the fact that I could see the odd car travelling along the nearby main road.

The next day, suitably refreshed, I was able to make up lost ground, reaching Tunte, where Gran Canaria’s original Camino de Santiago began, by mid-morning. Here, I paid my respects by stepping through the door of the church, which was constructed towards the end of the 17th Century over the former hermitage of San Bartolomé. Fittingly, an effigy of the saint, a missionary who brought Christianity to Armenia, still occupies the central part of the altarpiece. But I was more moved by the original statue of St James. Despite my not being particularly religious, I was awed by its presence.

The village of Fataga is located in a valley (Credit: Credit: Michele Falzone/Alamy)

The village of Fataga is located in a valley (Credit: Michele Falzone/Alamy)

The next section of the route was the 18.8km ascent to the heart of the island. My wife had packed my rucksack for me, and even trying it on in our living room, I’d stumbled under the weight. The burden became heavier as the path became steeper, and it was frustrating to see the odd cyclist whizz past. But my shoulders lifted with my spirits as I came to a clearing at the edge of a pine forest.

Ahead, I could see the distinctive shape of the rock formation Roque Bentayga; the mountain Teide loomed above it on the neighbouring island of Tenerife. To the left, I could make out  El Fraile, a rock so called because its shape is reminiscent of a monk, and La Rana, which looks like a frog. Tired by a day’s hiking, the heart-stopping vista felt like a godsend. It was almost as if the monk was sharing a miracle with me.

The mountain air might have been sweet, but it was colder than the lower-altitude valley of Fataga. Given the island’s variety of climates and landscapes, I was beginning to understand why it’s known as the Miniature Continent. And so I spent a chilly night sleeping rough in the hamlet of Cruz de Tejeda, named after its totem-pole-esque stone cross that marks the island’s exact centre.

The El Fraile rock is shaped like a monk (Credit: Credit: Lunamarina/YAY Media AS/Alamy)

The El Fraile rock is shaped like a monk (Credit: Lunamarina/YAY Media AS/Alamy)

The third stage from Cruz to Tejeda to Gáldar is the easiest, descending 1,548m through forest and farmland. But the hard part was the lack of signs to Gáldar. And so I found myself having to retrace my steps from Artenara, the island’s highest village where many locals still live in cave houses, to the Pinos de Gáldar, a viewpoint lauded for its waterfall of clouds. The wind makes the vapours look like they’re cascading from the pine trees down to the pastoral landscape below. Save for the odd car that stopped to admire the view, I peered down alone from this mirador (viewpoint) before returning to my monk-like solitude on the downward path.

Approaching Gáldar, the landscape changed from pines to agricultural land. I passed banana plantations before arriving in front of my destination, the Iglesia de Santiago de los Caballeros, situated in one of Gran Canaria’s prettiest squares.

Entering into the peace and quiet ­of the church, I spotted the font in which the Spanish baptized the early Canarian converts to Christianity, along with another figurine of Saint James astride his horse. My walk finally over, I sat down to rest and reflect on my pilgrimage.

The mountain of Teide is on the neighbouring island of Tenerife (Credit: Credit: Kreder Katja/ Prisma Bildagentur AG/Alamy)

The mountain of Teide is on the neighbouring island of Tenerife (Credit: Kreder Katja/ Prisma Bildagentur AG/Alamy)

If I’d walked the original Camino de Santiago in Spain, I’d have reached my goal. There are only remains of the one body, after all. But my feet were already beginning to itch, and I wanted to be exploring more of the island’s great outdoors. My new bucket-list entry: to walk Gran Canaria’s Camino again – this time from north to south.

The town that gave The Goonies life

Thirty years after the cult classic hit theatres, the Oregon coastal town where it was shot still celebrates the local Goonies heritage.

To those who grew up in the 1980s, the phrases “Goonies never say die!”, “Boodie traps!” and “Down here is our time. It’s our time, down here!” are all stirring rallying cries of youthful adventure. And now that the original fans of Richard Donner’s 1985 cult kid classic have their own children approaching Goonie-age, this is your time – your time to relive the journey along the rain-soused Oregon coast where much of the movie took place

Scene from The Goonies at the Goondocks house (Credit: Warner Brothers/Getty)

Scene from The Goonies at the Goondocks house. (Warner Brothers/Getty)

The cast of The Goonies featured a group of misfit, pint-sized Indiana Joneses – played by Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Corey Feldman, among others – but with more swearing and bigger laughs. Instead of fighting Nazis, the kids are battling greedy land developers trying to gobble up their parents’ houses.

The town they’re going to lose when their cash-strapped folks sign away the real estate is perhaps the film’s best casting: hilly, green, wet Astoria, Oregon. The foggy coastal hamlet with colourful Victorian homes is dripping with cloudy discontent but also rife with verdant possibility. It may not look like much at first glance – an ungilded, micro-San Francisco, perhaps – but treasures await if you explore.

“Donner had decided that the tone at the opening of his movie would be gloomy in order to reflect the sombre mood of the kids,” writes Mick Alderman in Three Weeks With the Goonies, a short book of naïve recollections from Alderman’s stint as an unpaid member of the film crew. In fact, Donner chose to shoot in the fall for the abundance of wet weather.

Astoria’s town centre is a walkable grid of streets along the Columbia River, dwarfed by a massive bridge spanning the waterway. The downtown area features heavily in the opening car-chase sequence, in which the other bad guys – the comically dysfunctional Fratelli crime family – escape from jail. John Warren Field on Exchange Street, used by the local high school, is the film’s football field. The Flavel House Museum, the county’s historical society, is the movie’s history museum where one of the Goonies’ dads works. The docks where you’re introduced to the character Data are the East Mooring Basin on the edge of town. Lower Columbia Bowl bowling alley where you meet Chunk is still there.

The opening scene’s jail break takes place in the cells of what was, from 1914 to 1976, the Clatsop County Jail. Since 2010 – The Goonies’ 25th anniversary – the building has been theOregon Film Museum. Parked outside is the actual Jeep Cherokee driven by the Fratellis in the film.

Former county jail where the opening scene was shot (Credit: Credit: David G Allan)

Former county jail where the opening scene was shot. (Credit: David G Allan)

The museum may claim to be devoted to the entire state – marquee posters tout movies such as The Black Stallion, which was shot at a nearby beach – but half of the museum is focused on The Goonies. Data’s gadget-packed trench coat is in a cell. There are photo stills, random ‘80s merchandise and life-size cut outs of the characters, including the deformed but ultimately loveable Sloth. On a large visitor bulletin board, one earnest visitor wrote, “I’m a Goonie because I love the thrill of an adventure.”

But the biggest fan is probably the young man who was selling tickets at the museum door. Micah Dugan used to work at the town’s video store, which is about as good a training as you can get for his current gig. He was dubious about the recent news of a Goonies sequel but conceded that it’ll be good for local business.

Tourism is now Astoria’s chief source of revenue, he told me while standing near replicas of the Goonies’ treasure map, $50 Sloth masks and Baby Ruth candy bars (Sloth’s favourite). “It used to be salmon and timber and now it’s Goonies,” he said. It makes sense then, that the town’s annual Goonies celebration, which takes place every June, will be super-sized this year for the film’s 30th anniversary.

The Goondocks house used in filming (Credit: Credit: David G Allan)

The Goondocks house used in filming. (Credit: David G Allan)

Goondocks, the name of the house where the brothers played by Brolin and Astin live, might be fans’ most significant stop. The white Queen Anne-style home (368 38th St) is on a tiny, one-way road at the edge of a cliff overlooking the East Mooring Basin; from the house you can hear seals barking.

Even if your memory of the house is hazy, you can’t miss it; signs on the street below will guide you there. But the signs also ask you to respect that the house is privately owned, and to walk (not drive) up the hill for a closer (but not too close) look.

Sign near the Goondocks house (Credit: Credit: David G Allan)

Sign near the Goondocks house. (Credit: David G Allan)

I parked next to the nearby elementary school (the same one in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop) and walked up to snap a picture, like everyone else. The owner emerged just then, smiled hello and beat a quick exit to his car. Next door to the Goondocks is, fans know, Data’s house.

There are a few other stops worth making in town. If you drive up near the top of the town’s hill, on windy Skyline Avenue where it intersects with Valley Street, you’ll see the house where Mouth, Corey Feldman’s character, lived. Just the view of the river and ocean is worth the detour.

But my favourite find in town was a lark. Along with the video rental store, another ‘80s throwback is Arc Arcade (1084 Commercial St; 503-468-0576), a bona fide, quarter-fuelled video game arcade. A tsunami of nostalgia hit as I played games (some free!) that I hadn’t seen, much less played, in 30 years. Among them, Nintendo’s 1986 Goonies adventure. I found it too difficult to play and moved on to other areas of former childhood expertise.

You may recall that the opening scene’s car chase ends on the beach, the Fratelli’s Jeep Cherokee slipping away in a race of similar vehicles. Well, you can’t drive it, but you’ll enjoy walking the wide, wild sands of Cannon Beach, where the scene was filmed, 25 miles south of Astoria.

Haystack Rock off Cannon Beach (Credit: Credit: David G Allan)

Haystack Rock off Cannon Beach. (Credit: David G Allan)

The lovely little resort town is known best for the huge rocks that litter its beach, most prominently, the 23-storey-high Haystack Rock. You see the rock formations that were featured in the film’s road race and, later, that aided the Goonies in triangulating the location of the pirate treasure they seek.

The only disappointment in following the Goonies trail is that the most exciting parts of the film take place in a warren of underground caves, full of “boodie traps”, a waterfall and ultimately a pirate ship full of One-Eyed Willie’s treasure – none of which exist outside of a Hollywood sound stage. But this just means you need to find your own Goonies-esque settings.

Exploring the caves at Hug Point park (Credit: Credit: David G Allan)

Exploring the caves at Hug Point park. (Credit: David G Allan)

With all the craggy cliffs that abut the beach, it isn’t hard. Just south of Cannon Beach is Hug Point park. My friend Jesse and our young daughters explored rocks at low tide, peering into tide pools of clams and sea anemones. We climbed to the top of a medium-sized waterfall where someone had made a bonfire the night before. As waves came in, we jumped on rocks and made our way around a bend to find empty caves. The little ones were thrilled, and as the tide threatened to trap us, Jesse and I soaked ourselves carrying the kids back to high ground.

The next day my wife and I took our daughters to Ecola, a state park two miles north of Cannon Beach on Highway 101. Near the main entrance is Ecola Point, a big parking lot with a sweeping view over islands, beach and Pacific Ocean. Goonies fans will recognize the view as the one where the kids use the rock key to line up the outcroppings and find the cave entrance: an abandoned bar being used as a hideout by the Fratellis.

For the movie, a temporary building was constructed by the film crew in the middle of Ecola Point’s field. According to Alderman’s book, the grassy mounds you see in the film are covered picnic tables that they couldn’t remove from concrete anchors.

Rugged Hug Point (Credit: Credit: David G Allan)

Rugged Hug Point. (Credit: David G Allan)

More Ecola fun is found at Indian Point, located at the end of a winding road flanked by moss-covered trees. It’s along this route that Brolin’s bike accident prank unfolds. And at the end of it you find a dramatic beach sandwiched between ocean waves and high cliffs with wood paths. This was the intended location for the end of The Goonies, according to Alderman, but the bad weather that Donner sought scuttled those plans. The beautiful, sunny beach that actually appears at the end of the film, as the family embraces in the celebratory glow of found pirate treasure, thwarted land developers and arrested convicts, is sunny Goat Rock Beach in northern California.

Utopian days in a murder capital

Crime may plague other parts of Honduras, but on Utila, a Caribbean island with a population of just 3,500, the biggest problems are invasive lionfish – and getting a restaurant table.

I felt like I had been shocked; a surge of electric pain seared my thighs. Distracted by a pair of blue-and-white dappled eagle rays, I hadn’t noticed the tumbleweed-sized fire coral I was now practically straddling. Meanwhile, without slowing, the snout-nosed rays glided into the shadows of the Meso American Barrier Reef.

I was skin-diving in Utila, a Caribbean island located about 29km north of Honduras’ mainland port town of La Ceiba. At 18km long and 6km wide, with a population of approximately 3,500, Utila is the smallest of the three major isles collectively known as the Bay Islands, which sit along the Meso American Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest. Utila’s year-round whale shark sightings, bargain-priced open-water certification packages and laidback party vibe have made it a gap year destination par excellence, though the normalising of dive prices in recent years has begun attracting older adventure travellers who seek personalised attention over cattle-boat experiences.

Colourful island of Utila (Credit: Brad Ryon)

Travellers are drawn to Utila’s Caribbean colour and laidback lifestyle. (Brad Ryon)

And so here we were. Coral stings notwithstanding, my partner, 11-year-old daughter and I followed our dive master, nicknamed “Kelly The Lionfish Hunter” (also known as Kelly Ash, head of the World Lionfish Hunters Association), checking reef overhangs for lionfish – the aggressive, invasive species tearing a swathe across the Caribbean. Thanks to the venom within its feathery orange, white and brown plumes, the voracious lionfish has no known predators. The plan was to spot lionfish, Ash would slay them (only locals qualify for a spear fishing license) and later: bon appètit! The lionfish would be our dinner.

Lionfish (Credit: Brad Ryon)

The lionfish is as menacing as it is striking. (Brad Ryon)

But as any casual follower of the news knows, Honduras’ problems extend beyond a lionfish invasion. Vast waves of economic and humanitarian refugees have been fleeing mainland cities for tenuous opportunities in Mexico and the US, driven by the violence and extortion of narcotics traffickers. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,Honduras has the world’s highest homicide rate at 90 per 100,000.

But on Utila, the fear isn’t gunfire: it’s worrying about getting burnt while sunning on the Coral View Beach Resort’s dock. Or whether you can get a table at the Jungle Café, a new fusion restaurant only open on Saturdays, providing an ambitious alternative to the island’s hyper-casual food scene.

Some islanders say that Honduras’ crime is more nuanced than statistics indicate, and not only because it’s so much safer on Utila than the mainland. “The crime on the mainland is not worse than in other Third World countries. As long as you follow logical travel advice, you are safe,” said Luzia Bodden, an Swiss-Austrian citizen who arrived in 2000 to obtain dive master certification, then met and married a local and has been on the island ever since. “I don’t worry about safety on the island; it is small and everybody knows everybody,” she added. Of course, locals said, travellers should follow standard safety procedures: don’t walk alone at night, don’t flash expensive electronics or jewellery and don’t engage in drugs.

A murder capital? (Credit: Brad Ryon)

In Utila, visitors find a relaxed, peaceful way of life. (Brad Ryon)

And so, even with the spate of Honduras’ bad publicity, I found myself 9m underwater off the coast of Utila, rubbing my still-pulsating leg and running low on air – happy to not have experienced any crime, but cursing the fact that I hadn’t gotten sight of the country’s other problem – the lionfish. Immediately I felt guilty; from a conservation standpoint, no lionfish is better than ample lionfish – no matter how much we were anticipating that sashimi.

We’d have to settle for grilled-tuna sandwiches at Munchies Café instead. Nursing limeade on the veranda of the circa-1863 island house overlooking Utila’s main drag, we saw a man walk by with a bucket of mangoes and asked to buy a few. “I’m not selling them,” he said. “I’m bringing them to a friend. But he won’t miss these.” And with that, he handed us three.

Just another morning in the country dubbed the world’s murder capital.

Himalayan views, without the danger

Does a low-altitude Himalayan hike that includes gin and tonics and nights in comfortable lodges offer the same rewards as a more challenging journey?

“Ukaalo, oraalo,” said our guide, Naresh Gurung, describing the three-hour hike we’d just begun toward Three Mountain Lodge in central Nepal. He undulated his hand: “up” and “down”.

I’d been on treks in the Himalayas before and wondered if, in a country where the earth rises to the hypoxia-inducing heights of Mount Everest, a word for “flat” even existed. And yet the trail disappearing into distant orange groves before us looked almost flat.

Pink sunset over Annapurna in Nepal (Credit: Credit: Whitworth Images/Getty)

Pink sunset over Annapurna in Nepal. (Credit: Whitworth Images/Getty)

Nepal’s classic Himalayan treks – the Annapurna Circuit, say, and the route to Everest Base Camp – are arduous journeys that approach altitudes of 5,416m. This trek I’d signed on for couldn’t be more different: a moderate hike in the 1,200m midlands. We would admire the high Himalayas from afar without being in them. There would be no altitude sickness, no bitter cold, and no avalanches like the one that killed dozens of people on the Annapurna Circuit in October 2014. And after our hike, we’d arrive at lodges – two on this trip – with soft beds, warm showers, and even a cocktail hour.

I liked the idea of an easier trek, at least in theory. But I confess to one concern: Did each layer of comfort I accepted insulate me further from the place I’d come to experience?

From Bandipur, a Unesco-recognized village located 80km from the adventure capital of Pokhara, my friend Maria and I set out with our guide. It was a warm January day. We were only 15 minutes into the trek when I peeled off my jacket.

We passed women sifting millet in flat baskets and men goading water buffalo to plow rice paddies. If lolling along this road toward a posh lodge seemed unadventurous, at least I was enjoying the untouched feel of the route. On the jammed-packed Annapurna Circuit, I remembered locals barely returning my greetings. “Namastay,” they’d mutter back, as though they were simply exhausted by the constant influx of trekkers. Here, we were greeted with enthusiasm.

Village near Three Mountain Lodge (Credit: Credit: Christina Ammon)

Village near Three Mountain Lodge. (Credit: Christina Ammon)

We were passing villages that belonged to the Gurung people, one of Nepal’s many ethic groups. Our guide was one of them. Although he travelled abroad and, like many Gurungs, had hoped to join the British army, he was happy to be guiding in his homeland. He pointed to the mountains. “This is panorama,” he announced, sweeping his arm proudly, as if he’d made the peaks himself.

Gurung began to name the mountains – Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Fishtail, Annapurna one, two and three – but for me the snowy jags all gestalted into a majestic whole: the Himalayan range. I’d seen the Alps, the Sierra, the Rockies and the Andes, but gazing out at this endless chain, I was certain I was seeing the mountains of all mountains.

That afternoon we arrived at the lodge still feeling energized. The dining hall and rooms looked new and were perched on a manicured lawn that offered views on three sides. The grounds were likely a former rice paddy, but it was easier to imagine a cricket match there than women threshing rice.

Gurung handed us lemon drinks and gestured to a couple of bamboo loungers. “Relax chairs”, he said. As I leaned back in one and trained my eyes on the distant farm terraces, it occurred to me that I’d never seen a Nepali sprawl on a lounger. This rugged country cultivates a toughness and strength that most Westerners lack. After a fireside gin and tonic and a dinner of dal bhat, or lentil soup and rice. I settled into my fluffy bed.

I recalled my first trip to Nepal in 1998. It was my first foray out of the US, and with my small budget, I adopted a purist travel ethic: eat simply, take the local bus and suffer nobly. That time, I’d come to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a grueling, three-week odyssey with many nights spent at high altitude.

But before I ever made it to the trail, I witnessed a fatal road accident. My inexperienced soul bore it heavily, and I worry-warted my way through the trek. We crossed avalanche paths, tiptoed over landslides, and went ukaalo oraalo – up and down – and over the Thorong La pass. Would I die of advanced pulmonary edema? Would I be buried by snow? At night I slept in spare lodges, haunted by reccurring dreams of the road accident. But all the anxiety and hardship had a surprising upside: I picked up a copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying in a teahouse – a discovery that prompted an interest in Buddhism that continues to this day.

Twenty years later, no such dark worries troubled me. In fact, I was dreaming of a carefree game of duck-duck-goose when I awoke at the lodge to the happy clink of the coffee tray outside my door. I looked out my window at the Himalayan range glowing in pink hues.

Table with a view at Three Mountain Lodge (Credit: Credit: Christina Ammon)

Table with a view at Three Mountain Lodge. (Credit: Christina Ammon)

We ate porridge at a sunny outdoor table and joined Gurung for a walk, threading through rice paddies and every now and then dipping beneath the mist line. Sunrays strayed through the trees; goats wearing bells clattered along our path. In the village of Jyamire, Gurung’s family offered us tin cups of millet wine, known locally chhaang. Time slowed and I felt the onset of pleasant countryside boredom. Grain was drying on mats and chickens pecked the ground. The sun appeared from behind the clouds and then disappeared again. As we got up to leave, our host stuffed our backpacks with oranges.

Back at the lodge, I wondered whether this comfortable trek suited me. With its island-like self-containment, the lodge almost kept the Nepal I’d come to experience at bay. On the other hand, our containment also minimized our impact.

There is an upside and downside to everything, I realized.

We ended our trek three days later at a lodge on the Seti River. I found a copy of a glossy travel magazine and flipped through its pages. I realized that any luxury that travel outfitters offered in Nepal would be mitigated by the incredibly rough landscape. Getting around here could never be easy.

But travel here could be comfortable at times, as it was on this trip. True, you may not be shaken to your spiritual core on a trek like this, but you’ll get a good gin and tonic before bed. And that’s okay. Maybe you have kids, or Grandma is tagging along with you. Or maybe you’ve simply had enough truly challengingukaalo and oraalo in your life and are ready for an easy, midland amble.

Vietnam’s prison-island paradise

Despite being a quick 45-minute turboprop flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Con Son is a world away from Vietnam’s well-beaten tourist trail, with inexplicably few Western travellers.

At 5 am and 6 pm, government loudspeakers crackle to life all over Vietnam. Relics of an era before homes had televisions and radios, these public address systems – broadcasting news, propaganda and weather reports – are usually barely audible above the din of this modern nation: a mix of motorcycle engines, truck horns and construction.

But on Con Son, the news carries loud and clear over the tiny township of just 5,000 residents, two sets of traffic lights and one seaside promenade. Visiting the largest island in the Con Dao archipelago – a group of 16 mostly uninhabited picturesque islands in the South China Sea – is like stepping back in time.

Despite being a short 45-minute turboprop flight from Ho Chi Minh City, the island paradise of Con Son is a world away from Vietnam’s well-beaten tourist trail. It is a throwback that has somehow flown under the radar, escaping the overdevelopment of mainland resort towns like Nha Trang and the party beaches of Phu Quoc. There are no touts, only peaceful empty beaches, and peak season means being just one of a dozen Westerners.

It won’t stay this way forever, though. The island’s first resort, the ultra-luxe Six Senses Con Dao, opened at Dat Doc Bay on the island’s east coast in 2010, and a megaresort is currently under construction in the south. There is also talk of an Italian-backed spiritual retreat, as well as rumours about extending the airport’s runway so that bigger planes can land.

Lotus flowers in the morning market (Credit: Credit: Tom Westbrook)

Lotus flowers in the morning market (Credit: Tom Westbrook)

But for now, most of the visitors are domestic Vietnamese paying homage to the island’s dark past. Known as Southeast Asia’s Devil’s Island, Con Son was once a penal colony used to brutal and cruel effect first by French colonists and later during the Vietnam War. The French worked 914 men to death building the island’s jetty, while Vietnam War prisoners were kept in infamous “tiger cages”, where captives – actual or suspected Communists – were shackled to the floor of deep concrete pits with steel bars for a roof. The main prison walls still dominate the town as a constant reminder, and the gaols and cemeteries have become pilgrimage sites to the thousands of Vietnamese who suffered and died on the island between 1862 and 1975.

But though the horrific memories hang heavy still, modern island life is languid and laid back. Con Son’s steep green interior is fringed by warm turquoise water and coral reefs. Flame trees and bougainvillea give licks of colour to the jungle, and frangipani and magnolia trees line the wide, quiet boulevards. A single main road wraps about halfway around the island; a motorbike ride along the shoreline takes in ponds filled with lotus flowers, spectacular reddish-orange cliffs and one empty white-sand beach after another. The sea is calm, clean and perfect for swimming year-round.

The bustling marketplace will be deserted at noon for naptime (Credit: Credit: Tom Westbrook)

The bustling marketplace will be deserted at noon for naptime (Credit: Tom Westbrook)

The island’s daily routine starts at the bustling marketplace, where squid, crabs, clams, rambutans, plantains, mangos, dragonfruit and lotus flowers are piled for sale outside. Inside, young soldiers in jungle greens sit at the food stalls on low plastic chairs, gulping down breakfasts of bun rieu (crab noodle soup) or bun thit nuong (char-grilled pork with vermicelli noodles) while the morning sun floods the doorway. By 9 am, the food is sold out and by noon the market is deserted.

Then, nothing happens until 2 pm, when new afternoon stallholders will arrive, selling roast pork sandwiches, sugarcane juice and rice paper rolls. For two hours, the postmistress goes home, the market is empty, the island naps and the sun beats down on the blue sea. There is nothing to do but swim at one of several beautiful beaches: it doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll have it to yourself.

Blue paradise on the coast of Nhat Beach (Credit: Credit: Tom Westbrook)

Blue paradise on the coast of Nhat Beach (Credit: Tom Westbrook)

If this were the mainland, you might find hourly booze-cruises around the harbour. If you want to see the archipelago from Con Dao, ask around in the evening and you’ll be able to hitch a ride with a fisherman early the next day. Slowly putt-putting out of the harbour in a brightly painted blue-and-orange ramshackle boat, the fisherman will likely take you towards the bays and reefs of the tiny outer islands. A snorkel and goggles will be enough to catch a glimpse of a turtle, and the diving is renowned as some of Vietnam’s best.

As the heat of the day passes, many travellers choose to explore the island via motorbike.

At An Hai bay, 1km south of Con Son town, pearlers and fishermen moor their boats, keeping coracles –  circular bamboo vessels, waterproofed with coconut-palm resin and propelled by paddle – on the shore as dinghies. For the next 6km, climb the road along the bay until it reaches the island’s southmost tip, with views in every direction. The archipelago unfolds to the east; the harbour and Con Son town to the north; the island’s rugged and rocky interior to the west.

Hugging the cliffs, the road winds past steep-walled crystal-clear bays and culminates at the island’s jewel – the wide flats of Nhat Beach. Here mountains give way to an expanse of deserted white sand that runs hundreds of metres from shore at low tide, with the warm water waist-deep for hundred of metres more. Stay until twilight when the horizon twinkles with the lights of container ships plying the busy South China Sea.

The heat of the day sets behind Nhat Beach (Credit: Credit: Tom Westbrook)

The heat of the day sets behind Nhat Beach (Credit: Tom Westbrook)

Come evening, Con Son town’s seaside promenade takes its turn as the island’s social hub. The sky turns pink and barbecue carts roll up roasting corn, chicken skewers and pork. Swimmers – mostly Vietnamese tourists who shun the sand at daytime – arrive for a dusk dip. The waterfront swells with people.

Across the road from the beach, colonial French villas crumble in various stages of disrepair; their jungled gardens slowly taking over. French composer Camille Saint-Saens stayed in one while he finished work on his opera Brunhilda in 1895; today, that same building is the popular Con Son cafe, which provides only the essentials: beer, ice cream and Vietnamese coffee.

Dusk falls on Con Son's seaside promenade (Credit: Credit: Tom Westbrook)

Dusk falls on Con Son’s seaside promenade (Credit: Tom Westbrook)

By night, a different market opens on Tran Huy Lieu, two blocks to the east. Half the street is taken over with chairs and metal foldout tables; beer flows as roadside stalls barbecue shellfish, calamari and the rest of the day’s catch. It is a delicious way to end the day – with only the nagging thought that the return flight back to the mainland is all too soon.

Military secrets in north Scotland

In the Scottish islands of Orkney, the waters of Scapa Flow hide more than 150 wrecks – from German World War I battleships to a Spitfire. The eerie world is one divers can explore.

As we sat on board a retrofitted fishing boat drifting where the North Sea meets the Atlantic, each member of our group ran through a pre-dive checklist. Yes, my dry suit and vest inflated. The 12kg of weights on my hips to keep me submerged were unmistakably present. I sucked on my regulators. My air worked fine.

Readying for the dive (Credit: Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

We readied for our dive aboard a retrofitted fishing boat, floating where the North Sea meets the Atlantic (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

But even as we went through the kind of safety procedure that can stave off – or at least mitigate – underwater disaster, my mind was already deep below the surface.

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Thirty metres below, to be exact, to where the wreck of a 115m-long, 5,531-tonne German light cruiser from World War I, its 150mm guns long silenced by seaweed, lay visible only to divers and fish. Anywhere else – and certainly in warmer, clearer waters – a wreck with the eerie lure of the SMS Dresden would be near-swamped with divers. But here, in Scotland’s Scapa Flow, it’s just one of many military secrets lurking silently below the surface.

A diver explores the wreck of the Tabarka (Credit: Credit: Gareth Lock/Imagesoflife.co.uk)

A diver explores the wreck of the Tabarka, a British steamship sunk to protect the Scapa Flow from enemy submarines in World War II (Credit: Gareth Lock/Imagesoflife.co.uk)

To get there, though, we would have to descend through water that topped out at 12C. That might not sound too painful, but you cool 25 times faster in water than in air and dry suits were necessary to stave off hypothermia.

This might make diving Scapa Flow, a 325sqkm natural harbour penned in by the islands of Orkney, sound inhospitable. But dive enthusiasts around the world know that, even in the cold, Scapa Flow is one of Europe’s greatest dive hotspots.

A peaceful view of Orkney (Credit: Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

From the surface, Orkney appears to be one of the most peaceful places imaginable (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

On the surface, Orkney – a smattering of 70 islands that start 10 kilometres north of Scotland’s northern tip – is one of the most peaceful places imaginable. Farms roll across green hills so vibrant they look stroked on with pastels. The islands host more cows (30,000) than people (21,000); the largest town, Kirkwall, claims only 9,000 residents. Aside from the sky, which can shift in seconds from bright-blue to fierce cloud, and the sea, which shines turquoise one moment, choppy and slate-grey the next, the islands offer little drama.

Delve deeper, though, and that tranquillity collapses. On the west coast of Orkney’s main island, a seaside ramble that edges past a golf course, cemetery and sheep farm also passes a hollowed-out, concrete pillbox – one of the remnants of Ness Battery, used in both world wars and until 1955 armed with two 152mm calibre guns. On the tiny, now-uninhabited island of Lamb Holm, the elaborately decorated Italian Chapelwas built entirely by Italian prisoners in World War II; the tabernacle’s wood came from a shipwreck, the rood-screen from scrap metal, the head of Christ made from local red clay. Poke among the farms, meanwhile, and you’ll find radar stations and airfields dotted among the sheep.

An abandoned pillbox looks over calm waters (Credit: Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

An abandoned pillbox looks over calm waters toward the island of Hoy (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

In both World War I and II, Scapa Flow was the main base for Britain’s Royal Navy. The location meant the British could help keep the German fleet penned in to the Baltic Sea – and Scapa Flow, the world’s largest natural harbour after Sydney’s, served as protection for British ships. From 1914 to 1918, and again from 1939 to 1945, the waters around Orkney swirled with submarines and churned with ships. In June 1916, just west of Orkney, a German mine blew up the HMS Hampshire, killing all but 12 of the 655 men aboard – including Lord Kitchener, Britain’s Minister of War. And it was from Scapa Flow that the British fleet sailed to hunt the Bismarck, sinking the gem of the German navy in May 1941.

Now, as we descended through the cool water, the wreck of the SMS Dresden appeared like a ghost of the deep through the water’s 10m visibility.

The SMS Dresden (Credit: Credit: Gareth Lock/Imagesoflife.co.uk)

The SMS Dresden, one of the seven German wrecks sunk at the end of World War I that are still diveable in Scapa Flow (Credit: Gareth Lock/Imagesoflife.co.uk)

The SMS Dresden is one of seven German wrecks sunk at the end of World War I that are still diveable in Scapa Flow. The reason they sank here is part strategy, part folly. When the armistice for World War I was signed in November 1918, part of the agreement was that Germany give up its High Seas Fleet, kept captive in Scapa Flow. The armistice was due to expire on 21 June 1919. But one person who didn’t know about its last-minute, two-day extension – as all of his information came from four-day-old newspapers – was the German fleet’s Admiral von Reuter.

The hull was covered in barnacles, rust and algae. Fish hovered near the cylindrical Armoured Control Tower, from where crew members would have navigated during battle, protected by a 101mm steel plate. We swam over the boiler rooms, the hatches broken open decades ago. In a place that once must have heaved with the sound of shouting men and furnaces, all I could hear was the whoosh of each breath I drew from the tank.

That day, fearing the fleet would fall into Allied hands, he ordered all 74 ships scuttled. Flood valves and seacocks were opened, portholes loosened, water pipes smashed. Although the shocked Brits were able to beach many of the ships, 52 of them sank to the sea floor.

Most were salvaged, seen as sources of scrap metal. The seven that remain on the seabed today – three light cruisers, three battleships and one fast mine-layer – are protected. Divers can explore them, but they and anyone else are forbidden from taking anything at all. Even with that protection, though, the ships are deteriorating.

And they are just a fraction of the history that litters Scapa Flow. More than 150 other wrecks are scattered on the seabed, from 19th-century schooners to German U-boats to what’s thought to be a Spitfire.

A museum devoted to the area’s military history (Credit: Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

The former location of Britain’s naval base now hosts a museum devoted to the area’s military history (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri)

Between the dives, which I did as part of the advanced diving course at Scapa Scuba Dive Centre, we stopped at theVisitor Centre and Museum on the island of Hoy, the former location of the naval base. Once full of fuel for the British fleet, the former pump house is today full of exhibits and objects from both world wars, including many salvaged from the wrecks.

I found myself perusing a binder of documents belonging to one John Milligan, aged 19. The letters to his mother about life in the Royal Navy came to an abrupt halt with a telegram of his death on the HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed in Scapa Flow by the German submarine U-47 in October 1939. Of those aboard, 834 were killed, many of them as young as John Milligan. Like other war graves at Orkney, the Royal Oak cannot be dived.

That afternoon we dived the 150.8m-long, 5,440-tonne SMS Karlsruhe, another of the wrecked German ships. At 25 metres underwater, we watched anemones swirl in the slight current at the ship’s bow. Sea urchins and starfish clung to the remains of the bridge; a crab scuttled across splintered teak planks of the deck. We ducked beneath the enormous shafts of rust-covered anchor capstans. Where the boiler rooms had been, there were fossilised chunks of coal.

The SMS Karlsruhe (Credit: Credit: Gareth Lock/Imagesoflife.co.uk)

The SMS Karlsruhe, a 5,440-tonne German light cruiser from World War I, today lies 25m underwater (Credit: Gareth Lock/Imagesoflife.co.uk)

Turning, we followed the hull’s port side back to the buoy line that would lead us back up to our start. By the time we surfaced, we’d been below for only 31 minutes, but it was enough time to explore a German light cruiser from bow to stern – and enough time to wind the clock back by nearly a century and explore a once-powerful ship that, today, only those venturing to the deep could see.

A trip back in time to old Dubai

Supercars may be Dubai’s current transport of choice – but a spice-scented dhow trip will take you worlds away from the modern Emirate’s shiny skyscrapers

It was early evening in Dubai and the sky was streaked rose and peach as the sun dipped towards the horizon. At the edge of the salt-water creek that splits the city in two, the water glowed with reflected light, and the scent of cinnamon, cloves and frankincense drifted across from the spice souk.

I was in Bur Dubai, the emirate’s original trading hub and its commercial heart until little more than 100 years ago. Today, it may not have the flash of new Dubai further inland, but it remains a busy site of Middle Eastern trade, packed with vibrant souks and bustling jetties.

Bur Dubai, the emirate’s original trading hub (Credit: Credit: Joseph Mortimer)

Bur Dubai, the emirate’s original trading hub (Credit: Joseph Mortimer)

The Arabian Peninsula has a rich maritime history. Wooden boats, or dhows, have been used in the region for centuries, and were key in developing thriving fishing, pearl diving and trade industries. Dhows were a way of life for the coastal tribes of Dubai, who strode the sandy shores long before the five-star beach bars arrived. Today, the Emiratis may deal more in stocks than fish – but this traditional mode of transport still plies a handsome trade on the main waterway of Dubai Creek.

Before me, a busy scene unfolded: docking stations on either side of the creek were lined with huge, multi-coloured cargo dhows, packed with crates bringing merchandise from Iran and beyond. Meanwhile, commuters crossed the waterway onabras: short, nippy wooden dhows with open sides and simple roofs that act as water taxis.

Dhow tours ply Dubai Creek

Dhow tours ply Dubai Creek

Amid all this action floated the sailing dhows, the glamorous vessels that most people associate with old Arabia. Nowadays, these vessels, with their slender hulls, shallow bodies and soaring masts, are usually motorised and used for tours. But thanks to traditional local craftsmanship, they retain the gravitas and elegance of old, particularly when viewed alongside their humbler cousins: the abra and the cargo dhow.

I was after a more authentically Arabian boating experience.

Although there’s a slew of organised dhow tours available across Dubai  – including lunch, dinner, moonlight and sightseeing cruises ­– I was after a more authentically Arabian boating experience. Just before sunset, I headed to rickety Bur Dubai Abra Station, next to the souks along the creek’s banks, where jewellers, pastry vendors, tailors and spice sellers were gearing up for the hustle and bustle of evening trade – a lucrative period in a country where daytime temperatures can reach 50C. This is the perfect time to make the cross-creek abra journey to the famous gold and spice souks in the Deira neighbourhood on the opposite bank.

At the dockside, a series of wooden ramps led down to floating jetties. The bustling area was filled with passengers pushing their way through the muggy, spice-scented air to secure a seat on the next abra, while men hurried past pushing carts piled with cloth and silks en route to the nearby textile souk.

Abras act as water taxis in Old Dubai

Abras: short, nippy wooden dhows with open sides and simple roofs that act as water taxis (Credit: Joseph Mortimer)

In centuries past, this waterway would have been full of dhows from across the region, bringing jewels, exotic foodstuffs and handicrafts from Persia, China and India. Today, the jetties were busy with commuting traders, kohl-eyed ladies in full burkas, Emirati men in pristine white dishdashas (the ankle-length white garment worn by local men across the region), sharp-suited businessmen and wide-eyed tourists, all cheerfully vying for space on the wooden benches.

This trip is a bargain in a city that tends not to believe in such things.

At a cost of one dirham, this trip is a bargain in a city that tends not to believe in such things. Pushed forward by the waiting crowd, I hopped from the jetty onto the next boat that pulled up, and took a seat on the broad, central bench. Moments later I was joined by a young local family, the mother loudly chastising her two sons in Arabic for playing around.

As the boatman called for everyone to pass their money to him down the line of seated passengers, the creaking boat set off, making its way slowly upstream towards the souks. It was an aural journey as much as a physical one, with a soundtrack of gently lapping water, snatches of laughter from passing boats and the thrumming of the tiny engine accompanied by the haunting Muslim call to prayer that echoed over the water. Crossing at this time of day was magical: as the sun dropped and the skies deepened to orange, Bur Dubai’s traditional wind towers and minarets were thrown into sharp relief on the skyline. The fragrance of exotic spices grew stronger as the abra drew closer to the opposite shore.

This highway once connected Dubai to the east (Credit: Credit: Joseph Mortimer)

This highway once connected Dubai to the east (Credit: Joseph Mortimer)

Up ahead, the creek’s meandering curves were lined with buildings that steadily increased in size, from the soft, low domes of the Grand Mosque, past the consular district to the distinctive ridged towers of the Radisson Blu Hotel and onto the sparkling inland skyscrapers, including the pyramid-shapedWafi Mall; the vibrant Downtown district, with its numerous hotels, shops and restaurants; and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

As the sun sank and the skies darkened, hundreds of tiny lights covering the Al Mansour Dhow – one of Dubai’s oldest dhows that has been turned into an iconic travelling restaurant – ­flickered on, and the elegant old ship lit up on the water, allowing us to admire the statuesque vessel in full evening attire. There was lull in the conversation on our little boat, as all eyes turned to the brightly lit dhow proudly setting out on its evening excursion. The local woman next to me hugged her little sons close as they watched with round eyes. The passengers on that grand boat might be heading out for an evening dinner cruise, but we were the ones who got to watch it happen.

The last vestiges of vermillion dissolved in the night sky and warm darkness enveloped us like a shawl. Night had settled on Dubai Creek.

Too soon, the abra pulled up at the Deira Souks Abra Station, depositing passengers to explore the intoxicating avenues of the spice market or barter their way through the glittering stalls of the gold souk. The water taxi trip lasted just a few minutes, but had taken us worlds away from the shiny buildings and flash cars of the modern Emirate. For that brief trip, travelling across the waters that were once the highway connecting Dubai to the east, I felt like I had stepped back in time.