Favourite excursions back in time

I love stepping into a house, a street, a city, and feeling like I have travelled back in time. Perfectly preserved furniture, perfectly preserved buildings, perfectly preserved people; these are the visual aids that do it, and they are becoming increasingly rare in homogenised modern society. Here are a few of my favourite excursions back in time.

Favourite excursions back in time: Asia

Khiva, Uzbekistan

Sand. Sand, sand, sand. Then this, rising up from the desert. A city: Khiva. Full of houses, public squares, minarets, madrasahs, mosques; all the trappings of a city. But never, in Khiva, do you feel free of the desert. Khiva is a city of sand, a city of the desert. The occasional splash of aquamarine tiles only heightens the sandy palette.

Rooftops, Khiva, Uzbekistan

Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Punakha, Bhutan

Punakha Dzong, like all dzongs, was built for both spiritual and military purposes (dzongs are often described as monastery fortresses). This explains the structure’s fifteen-metre-tall outer walls, which are as broad and formidable as a castle’s. Rising above the outer walls are three utzes (towers), each ornamented with a profusion of gilded woodwork and crowned by a squat gold-tipped spire.

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Favourite excursions back in time: Central America

Granada, Nicaragua

Granada has been a strategically important city since its founding in 1524. Its positioning, on the western shoreline of Lake Nicaragua – making it accessible by boat from the Caribbean Coast, and by stagecoach from the Pacific Coast – made it so.

Cathedral over rooftops, Granada, Nicaragua

Granada, Nicaragua. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Havana, Cuba

Cuba is trapped in a time bubble. Walk down the main street of Havana today and you’ll swear you’ve been sent back to the 1950s; easily one of my favourite excursions back in time.

It’s a surreal experience, but how long will it last?

Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Favourite excursions back in time: Europe

Ushguli, Georgia

Why are there so many watchtowers? That’s what I keep thinking as I pick my way along the muddy, disorderly, old-world laneways of Ushguli in the mountainous Svaneti region of Georgia.

There’s a watchtower attached to every house. They dominate the village, rising up above the stone houses, the stone fences, the stone sheds; it gives the place a cold, menacing, hostile atmosphere.

Ushguli, Georgia

Ushguli, Georgia. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Berat, Albania

I can’t believe there are so few tourists here in Berat. How can there be picturesque laneways like this one, and yet, no tourists? It makes no sense. But the scarcity of tourists in Albania is one of the reasons travelling here is so great.

Town of Thousand Windows, Berat, Albania

Berat, Albania. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Kotor, Montenegro

The city dates back to 168 BCE. At the time it was known as Acruvium, and was part of the Roman Empire (don’t forget Italy lies on the opposite shore of the Adriatic Sea, less than 200 kilometres away).

Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, Kotor, Montenegro

Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, Kotor, Montenegro. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Favourite excursions back in time: Africa

Old Town, Lamu, Kenya

There are only three vehicles on Lamu: a tractor, a three-wheeled ambulance, and a car reserved for a member of the local government. For everyone else it’s either donkeys, or your own two feet.

Old Town, Lamu, Kenya

Old Town, Lamu, Kenya. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania


What springs to mind when you hear the name?

Spices? Dark alleyways? Crumbling colonial mansions? Beaches? Omani architecture? Ancient dhows sailing the seas? The slave trade? Birthplace of Freddie Mercury?

Dhow sailing, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Stone town, Zanzibar. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Favourite excursions back in time: South America

Popayán, Colombia

All the gold recovered by the conquistadors in Peru transited through Popayán on its way to Spain. Popayán became wealthy and important; it became the White City. It remains one of the best preserved colonial cities in Colombia.

The White City, Popayán, Colombia

Popayán, Colombia. Photo credit: Benjamin White

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