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Monthly Archives: November 2016

7 Essential Travel Photography Apps

With smartphones at our fingertips we’ve all become travel photographers these days. There’s no escaping the urge to snap that colourful backstreet in Cuba, or take a full panorama of those incredible cityscapes in New York.

But if you want to take your photos a little further, consider using some of these great photography apps. Whether you want to edit, share or just have fun with your pictures, these are the best photography apps we’ve used on our travels.

For photo editing

Snapseed (iOS/Android)

There are hundreds of photo editing apps out there for Android and iOS, but none are as powerful and easy to use than Snapseed. Open an image in the app and you can fine tune the basics like contrast and brightness, but also things like ambiance, structure and sharpness.

There are also a bunch of brilliant presets: the HDR-scape preset boosts clarity, colour and sharpness to create super-striking images; the Retrolux setting gives your pictures old-school vibes and the Face filter gives you extensive control over skin tone and eye clarity for those essential travel selfies. For quick, effective edits on the go, Snapseed wins out.

VSCO

VSCO is the app of choice for many professionals and bloggers, though its interface isn’t quite as user-friendly as Snapseed’s. There are a host of popular presets and manual editing controls, plus you can take images directly in the app.

It also doubles up as its own social network, where professionals and amateurs alike share their snaps. However, the app can sometimes be slow and recent interface changes have ruffled the feathers of dedicated users.

Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop Express

These two apps come from professional creative suite software giant, Adobe and are both pretty good. Photoshop Express is essentially a dumbed-down version of the computer software with far fewer options and some rudimentary auto-enhancing, while Lightroom has a much broader range of controls, including the tone curve.

 

For social media sharing

Instagram

If you’ve not heard of Instagram then you’ve likely been living under a rock. This is the app for photo and video sharing, with tens of millions of pictures uploaded every day. There are in-built editing controls, fun but basic filters and now you can use Stories to share ephemeral pictures adorned with emojis and stickers. Check out Rough Guides’ profile for some inspiration.

Boomerang from Instagram (iOS/Android)

Once you’ve got your head around Instagram, download Boomerang. This extension to the popular photo sharing app takes ten shots at a time to create a looping video, making for some seriously funny travel memories. For ultra-ease, you can shoot and upload directly in the Instagram app.

Snapchat

Snapchat is for those of you who want to share your holiday moments without having them forever engraved in your social media history. Send a Snap to a friend and it’ll only appear on their screen for up to ten seconds (you decide) and then it’s gone forever.

Snapchat coined the “stories” function that Instagram now uses, too: you can add Snaps to your story and they’ll stay there for 24 hours for all to see. Perhaps the best bit about the app, though, is its filters: you can turn yourself into a rainbow-spewing unicorn in that mountain-top selfie, or use its face-swap function to break the ice with new friends.

For video

GIF Cracker (iOS only) / GIF Maker (Android)

There’s a gif for everything these days, so why not make one for your holiday? Apps like GIF Cracker for iOS or GIF Maker on Android allow you to turn videos from your trip into short gifs instantly, ready to share on your favourite social channel.

Adobe Clip (iOS/Android)

If you want to cut together basic, short videos while on the road, Adobe Clip is essential. The app allows you to drop images and video from your phone onto a timeline to create a simple sequence. You can choose options like crossfades between shots, add a soundtrack and add filters to each clip.

You can even just select the clips you want, choose a soundtrack and the app will cut the sequence to the music for you.

6 great places to visit by train in Europe

There are few better ways to see Europe than by rail. Budget flights might abound, but nothing can match the experience of travelling by train. Forget about tedious airport transfers and unsociable departure times, by rail you’ll get glorious views, spacious seats and – best of all – the ability to hop off a train right in the centre of a new city.

Whether you’re planning an epic rail tour or just looking for a weekend break, this is our pick of the best places to visit by train in Europe.

For foodies: Lyon

France’s gourmet capital has never been more accessible, with a direct Eurostar link toLondon and TGV connections that will whisk you to Paris or Marseille in under two hours.

Compact and instantly likeable, the city is perfect for getting to grips with in a weekend. Stroll the old streets of Vieux Lyon, test your adventurous palate with local specialties such as tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), then hit up the hip Croix-Rousse district for super-cool coffee bars and cocktails.

For nightlife: Budapest

Looking to get ruined? No, we’re not condoning bachelor party excesses, but embracing one of Budapest’s most famous attractions, the ruin bar.

These rambling bars have taken over abandoned buildings in the city’s seventh district, filling their dilapidated interiors with quirky decor, murals, art installations and more. You won’t find another night out in Europe quite like it.

As for getting there, direct rail links put you in easy reach of Vienna’s more sedate charms or the chilled-out Croatian coast via Zagreb.

For the journey: the Scottish Highlands

For more than 140 years, the Caledonian Sleeper Highland Route has run from London to Scotland’s far north, calling in at Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

It’s undeniably one of the most spectacular journeys in Europe, passing through some of the Highlands’ most glorious landscapes, be they carpeted with snow in winter or dotted with wildflowers come spring.

For sun and sightseeing: Seville

Approaching Spain by train, most travellers make a beeline for Barcelona or Madrid. But those who venture further south are handsomely rewarded.

It’s just a two-and-a-half hour journey from Madrid to the Andalucían capital, one of the country’s most enchanting cities. With its Moorish architecture, majestic cathedral and narrow, atmospheric streets, Seville is a joy to wander – especially in June and July when there’s an average of 12 hours sunshine a day.

For romance: Venice

Picture Venice and a train is probably the last image that comes to mind. Yet with direct links to Florence, Milan, Munich and more, rail is both a convenient and quick way to reach the city.

The station sits right on the Grand Canal, mere meters from the vaporetti and water taxis that will take you anywhere in the city. There no better way to crank up the romance than cruising beneath the Rialto Bridge, past some of the city’s finest palazzo and on to the famous landing stage at San Marco.

For an autumn or winter break: Munich

The Bavarian capital comes alive once temperatures begin to fall. First there’s the legendary Oktoberfest, which actually takes place at the end of September, and sees funfairs, beer tents and unbridled merriment overtake the city.

A few months on, as November draws to a close, the first signs of Christmas start to appear. Munich’s Weihnachtsmärkte is one the best in Germany, with hundreds of stalls radiating out from Marienplatz.

Most Beautiful Mosques in The World

They act not only as places of worship but also as schools, community centres, charitable foundations and even (in days past) hospitals and law courts. They are places in which worldly divisions of class, wealth, status and ethnicity vanish, with all becoming equal in the sight of god.

Most mosques around the world are off-limits to non-believers, reinforcing stereotypes and encouraging skeptics to label them as hives of Islamist extremism. Fortunately many of Islam’s largest, loveliest and most historic shrines are freely open to all, not only allowing visitors to experience some of the planet’s most spectacular buildings, but also to glimpse something of the religious and cultural life of these remarkable monuments to the world’s most misunderstood faith.

1. Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca sees relatively few foreign visitors despite its absorbing array of sights ranging from medieval souks to Art Nouveau mansions, strung out along an attractively windswept expanse of Atlantic coastline.

Few who visit, however, pass up the chance to explore the city’s landmark Hassan II Mosque. Completed in 1993, the mosque stands on an oceanfront promontory, its enormous minaret (the world’s tallest, at 210m) soaring above the coast like an enormous Islamic lighthouse, while the cavernous interior glows with the magical colours of blue marble mosaics, lustrous tilework and enormous pendant chandeliers.

2. Aqsunqur Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

Old Cairo is a virtual museum of mosques, with dozens of historic shrines dotted around the twisting, time-warped alleyways of the medieval centre. Amongst the finest is the stately Aqsunqur Mosque, completed in 1347. Rising above Bab al-Wazir Street, the building’s fortress-like walls are capped with minarets and intricately carved domes, while inside stands the mosque’s magnificent Mecca-facing eastern wall, entirely covered in a luminous array of azure tiles.

3. Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Soaring high above the heart of Istanbul at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (completed in 1616, also known as the Blue Mosque) is generally reckoned the crowning example of Ottoman architecture, with a quartet of needle-thin minarets pointing dramatically skywards and a sumptuously red-carpeted interior smothered in delicate tilework blossoming with thousands of stylized blue tulips.

 

4. Masjed-e Jameh, Isfahan, Iran

If it were almost anywhere else in the world, Isfahan’s great Naghsh-e Jahan Square would be teeming with tourists. Present-day political and practical realities mean that those who make it to Iran can enjoy an authentically foreigner-free taste of the world’s most perfectly preserved Islamic architectural set-piece.

The square is home to not one but two of the planet’s most stunning mosques, the Shah and the Jameh (Masjed-e Jameh) mosques. The Jameh Mosque is the larger and the older of the two, dating back to pre-Islamic Zoroastrian times and has been rebuilt continuously over the centuries to produce the stunning complex you see today, with three stupendously huge, blue-tiled porticoes rising around a vast courtyard, and mirror-perfect reflections in the ablutions pool between.

5. Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

One of the world’s oldest and most revered Islamic shrines, Damascus’s Umayyad Mosque dates back to 715, less than a century after the Muslim faith first burst spectacularly into the world. The monumental building itself reflects the changing times in which it was built, adorned with Classical Roman-style Corinthian columns and Byzantine-style mosaics alongside the first of the great congregational courtyards which subsequently became the norm throughout the Islamic world.

6. Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Looming above the approach roads to Abu Dhabi like a vast wedding cake – with minarets – the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (completed 2007) offers a gigantic monument to the Muslim faith in a region now better known for its seven-star hotels, record-breaking skyscrapers and palm-shaped artificial islands.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Abu Dhabi’s shiny new mega-mosque boasts its own string of record-breaking attractions: the world’s largest carpet lives here, along with the planet’s largest marble mosaic. Although it’s the serene beauty of the overall conception, with vast expanses of lustrous marble and myriad dazzling domes shining snowy white in the fierce Gulf sunlight, which really lingers in the memory.

7. Jama Masjid, Delhi, India

A majestic monument to India’s great Mughal rulers, rising in stately splendour above the tangled labyrinth of hectic streets at the very heart of Old Delhi. Commissioned by Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal, the Jama Masjid remains an unequalled symbol of Islamic architecture in a largely Hindu country, with soaring minarets, delicate marble domes and a vast prayer hall – as well as peerless views across the teeming melée of the old city from its vast courtyard, raised high above the streets below.

8. Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq

Some sixty miles north of Baghdad, the Great Mosque of Samarra is one of the oldest and most unusual in the Islamic world (although currently off limits to casual visitors, for obvious reasons). The world’s biggest mosque when it was completed in 851, the building was largely destroyed during the Mongol invasion of 1278 save for its outer walls and unique minaret, the so-called Malwiya Tower, a remarkable conical structure 52m high wrapped in a spiral staircase, like a gigantic upended telescope rising surreally from the desert sands.

9. Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain

The most enduring reminder of Islam’s centuries of rule in Western Europe, Cordoba’s Mezquita was built on the site of an early Christian basilica following the Muslim conquest of Spain and finally completed in 987 – before being returned to use as a church in 1236.

A miniature Renaissance cathedral was unceremoniously shoehorned into the heart of the building during the sixteenth century, although this does little to mask the building’s Islamic, quintessentially Moorish character, with its endless rows of jasper, onyx and marble pillars – “like palm trees in the oases of Syria” as one visitor described it – with red-and-white horseshoe arches and a dazzling mihrab.

10. Diyanet Center Mosque, Lanham, Maryland, USA

Opened in 2016, the Diyanet Center Mosque is one of the largest and certainly the most beautiful of the many mosques serving the USA’s 3.3 million Muslims. Designed in classic Ottoman style, the mosque was part-funded by the Turkish government and was built with Turkish marble.

Opposition to the “mosquestrosity” (as its critics dubbed it) was considerable, but supporters hope that the building will provide a valuable symbol of religious tolerance and cultural diversity to the country at large – not least to the current incumbent of the White House, just 21km down the road.

The 8 Best Places To Visit In Europe On A Budget

1. THE ALBANIAN COAST

Looking for Mediterranean sun and sand, but your budget doesn’t quite stretch to Capri or the Côte d’Azur? Simply head further east and you’ll find sun-drenched beaches untouched by modern development. Albania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, and as yet under explored by the tourist hordes. On its southern Ionian coast, steep grey mountains frame azure seas and golden sands.

Saranda – almost in touching distance of Corfu – is a handy entry point from Greece, from where you can aim for the beaches of Ksamil and nearby islands. Cheap seafood, warm seas and a smattering of isolated Greek ruins and Ottoman towns: the perfect recipe for a classic European sojourn.

2. SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

Though the scars of Sarajevo’s past as a city under siege are still evident – in the remnants of mortar shell explosions, filled with red resin to form “Sarajevo Roses” and in the museums documenting the horrors of Sniper Alley – today’s city buzzes with life.

One of the most welcoming capitals in Europe, its central district of Baščaršija is a delight to wander through, browsing in the Ottoman-era bazaar or lingering over a Bosnian coffee, while the after-hours scene is quirky and cool, with tucked-away drinking holes and an ever-evolving club scene.

3. BANSKO, BULGARIA

Hitting the slopes without breaking the bank can be a challenge – not least as the main Alpine resorts are located in some of the most expensive countries in Europe. However, eastern Europe has a few intriguing ski destinations, including Bulgaria’s Bansko on the Pirin mountain range.

The country’s main ski resort, with good beginner and intermediate runs, is reached via a scenic – but very slow – narrow-gauge railway. The town itself has considerable charm beyond the tourist development, with numerous traditional old pubs hidden down its cobbled alleyways.

4. THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Though ever-popular Prague is not quite the dirt-cheap city break destination it once was, you’ll still find the Czech Republic to be a good-value country for independent travel. The country that invented Pilsner is justifiably famous for producing some of the world’s best beer – at pretty good prices.

In Prague, the choice of watering holes ranges from traditional beer halls and monastery taverns to a new generation of microbreweries. Continue the Czech beer trail with a visit to the Pilsner Urquell brewery in Plzeň, before striking out to the country’s lesser-known spots, such as charming Olomouc, a pint-sized Prague without the tourists.

5. ESTONIA’S BALTIC COAST

Known for its popular capital Tallinn, little Estonia also provides swathes of wilderness, with beautiful stretches of coastline, a scattering of islands and forested national parks along its long Baltic coastline. An hour from Tallinn, 725-square-kilometre Lahemaa National Park is best explored by bike. You can cycle its coastal paths, discover rugged coves, windswept beaches and fishing villages, and sleep on hay bales in a farm.

Venture further west, and the summertime resort of Pärnu has fantastic beaches, while the island of Saaremaa offers more pine forest countryside and very affordable spas.

6. LEIPZIG, GERMANY

Berlin is an anomaly – it’s one of the few capitals where the cost of living is lower than the national average, a legacy of the country’s former divide, which still means former East Germany is notably cheaper than western centres like Frankfurt and Munich. As prices gradually rise in gentrifying Berlin, there are other eastern cities to venture to, including buzzing Leipzig.

The city that kick-started the 1989 protests that led to the country’s reunification has long had a fierce, independent spirit. Over the past few years, it’s also developed quite a reputation for its thriving artist enclaves and offbeat nightlife, a scene that is in constant flux, with old industrial buildings, such as former cotton mill the Spinnerei, converted into cutting-edge spaces.

7. LONDON, ENGLAND

London and budget aren’t words that usually go together. However, with the pound currently reaching historic lows, now is a good time to visit. But it’s not just a currency thing – London has more free world-class attractions than any other European city. TheBritish Museum, home to enough treasures to satisfy the most curious of history hunters; vast Tate Modern, with stupendous views from its terrace and ever-changing art collections; the Natural History Museum with its magnificent dinosaurs; and beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum – all free, all of the time.

And don’t forget the open spaces: spend a day tramping across Hampstead Heath, another meandering along the South Bank or perusing East End markets and you’ll get more of a sense of city life than if you’re stuck in a queue at an overpriced attraction. For food, opt for the popular street-food markets and your budget will stretch further – you might even have enough left for an overpriced pint.

8. THE PELOPONNESE, GREECE

Think budget travel and Greece, and the image is still one of island-hopping, sleeping on the deck of a ferry or camping on the beach. However, the slow pace of island travel and the popularity of the main resorts all adds to the cost.

Instead, consider the many-fingered peninsula of the Peloponnese. It has some fine beaches – less developed than those on the main islands – and it is home to the ancient sights of Epidaurus and Olympia. Medieval villages, spectacular rack-railway journeys and appealing Byzantine towns all await those who explore beyond the package holiday destinations.