Travel tales

I was born and bred in Watford, a town labelled by Lonely Planet as “the kind of place that makes you want to travel.”They weren’t wrong. I spent five years living and working abroad before returning to motherland in the run up to the 2012 London Olympic Games. Here's a snapshot of the destinations that I have called home..

Dubai
As recently as two decades ago few Brits had heard of, yet alone been to, Dubai. Now the emirate is a permanent fixture on the winter sun scene thanks to its promise of guaranteed rays, without the need to fly halfway around the globe.

But while it is a challenge to do so, prize yourself up off your sun lounger so as to see glimpses of ‘traditional’ Dubai. People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish projects, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about  malls and modernity. On the other hand, these popular misconceptions only go to show that there is an awful lot to discover about Dubai beyond what you know from the glossy brochures.

Scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside the skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel, shaped like the sail of a dhow) and the Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road, sit historical sites such as Bastakiaand the creek – arguably the heart beat of Dubai.

Here you can watch abras and dhows weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque before sauntering through the bustling souks.

For more glimpses of the ‘real Dubai’, explore ethnic residential districts such as Satwa and colourful Karama where you’ll get to mingle with the melting pot of cultures – there’s an incredible influx of expats from all over the world – that make up modern day Dubai.

Cayman Islands
Like most things that are worthwhile, reaching Grand Cayman can be hard work (there are no direct flights from the UK) but the pay-off is pure heaven. For while the island’s association with offshore banking and the rich and famous means that Grand Cayman is often thought of as an over the top sort of place, it isn’t like that all.

Rather it’s a small island (despite its name Grand Cayman is just four miles by 22 miles and home to a mere 45,000 people ) whose pristine powder fine beaches and balmy waters offer a welcome charm for travellers tired of city life.

Any tour of the island is bound to include a visit to Seven Mile Beach – a five and a half mile (don’t ask) stretch of sand that glints in the sunshine with the sparkle of a newly wed’s solitaire and is pictured on every postcard. Nonetheless for all its fame, Seven Mile Beach remains remarkably unspoiled (the government does a good job of keeping the temptations of development in check and no hotel is allowed to be built higher than the tallest palm tree).

A boat trip to Stingray City Sandbar, a sandy shallow spot where you can meet the Cayman Islands’ most famous residents – southern stingrays – is another must. On any brilliant day, you’ll find hundreds of black, velvety stingrays doing what they have done for eons: feeding and frollicking in the waves.

All told, Cayman is one of Caribbean’s top treats and a great place to call home whether for a week’s vacation or a whole lot longer…

Beijing
Few cities exude such a tangible sense of up to the minute cachet and cool and everyone from your dentist to your best friend and their old flame, has a trip booked to Beijing. And rightly so. While the rest of the world has been feeling the chill of the economic recession, Beijing – capital of the country that everyone is talking about – has come out relatively unscathed. Sure Shanghai (the more foreigner friendly city) may dominate the headlines but if you want to see the real China, you come to Beijing. The Imperial capital is significantly richer in local colour than its southern sibling: Beijing’s bustling streets are alive with rickety tuk tuks and vibrant smells of food stalls and English is most definitely a foreign language.

Beijing is also a historical treat and archaeology buffs will be astounded by the thousands of years of history at their feet from the ancient sites of the Forbidden City and the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven. Yet while it’s steeped in history, Beijing is striving forward and cutting edge architecture abounds signalling Beijing’s intent to become a world city. Check out the CCTV building and the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium for starters.

Of course China’s capital has its problems – corruption and pollution prevail, while historic hutongs are being destroyed forcing families out of homes they have lived in for generations. Nonetheless there is a real reason for optimism and to overlook Beijing is to miss out on the big travel destination – China – and its most dazzling city.

London
And last but by no means least: London! The UK capital has everything you could want in terms of activity and accessibility. Brilliant bars and restaurants catering to every palette and pocket? Check. World class carnivals, museums, theatres and art galleries? Check.  Gorgeous gardens and parks? Check - 30 per cent of the capital is given over to green space. Sure London can be eye wateringly expensive but I figure - usually after visiting my relatives in other cheap but not especially cheerful parts of the UK - for good reason.

I adore seeing the old and the new side by side: the London Eye towering over the Thames, the tatty fabric shops in Broadwick Street market nestling between Soho’s multi million dollar film companies. I love waking up in the mornings and knowing that the rest of the city is waking up too. The hustle and bustle… the healthy cosmopolitan (37 per cent of the population were born outside the UK and over 300 languages are spoken) mix. To see the streetlights! To hear the taxis! The sheer, unadulterated energy of it all!

Or in the words of Samuel Johnson: “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Read more of Kaye’s work at www.kayeholland.com