Notes from the field

Our work takes us all over the world. Here we share some of our more personal perspectives on some of the destinations we have visited, filed on location.


Palestinian business elite buck West Bank economic gloom

From the hills of the West Bank city of Ramallah you can make out the Mediterranean coastline and Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. Greater Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub, is less than 50 kilometres to the north-west. But the Palestinian Territories are a world away from replicating Israel’s economic success. more >

Russians rediscover Georgian delights

Growing numbers of tourists are holidaying in this small South Caucasus republic, which until recently featured little in mainstream travel guides. The country’s change of fortunes has in large part been driven by a surprising degree of international media coverage, which frequently and justly points to its scenery, cuisine and culture as reasons to visit. By contrast, neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan receive little attention – and, when they do, are rarely portrayed in the most positive light. more >

Tunisia starts to show signs of economic recovery

Tunis has all the trappings of a great Mediterranean city, but the visitors that once thronged its beaches, corniche and historic centre are these days few and far between. The terraces of Gammarth’s swanky hotels, where you used to struggle to find a table, are now mostly occupied by wealthy Tunisois, business travellers and the odd tourist. more >

Croatian tourist boom belies tensions

A two-hour ferry ride from Split, Vis is far removed from the bustle of the Dalmatian coastline, drawing visitors entranced by its natural beauty. Off limits to foreigners in former Yugoslavia when it served as a military base, the island was spared garish communist-era tourism development. These days, the remnants of army buildings and crumbling stone houses form a distinctive backdrop to this relaxed, low-key resort that retains an old-world charm. But how long will the idyll last? more >

Can Vietnam maintain its remarkable progress?

On Hanoi’s Dien Bien Phu Street, an unmarked door and a flight of stairs bounded by walls painted green with pink flowers leads to a branch of Cong Coffee. Its low benches and spare tables are lit by oil lamps. Through gaps in the plants growing from its balcony, customers can watch the traffic ease past restaurants and bookshops. The décor – replicated at other Cong Coffee branches across Vietnam – is designed to evoke the atmosphere of its founder’s childhood in the 1980s. Its aesthetic would not be out of place on London’s trendy Brick Lane. more >

Fathoming Ukraine’s faltering transition

I have been back to Kyiv on several occasions since my first trip in 2009 towards the end of the Presidency of Viktor Yushchenko. It is an attractive place but beyond that it is difficult to think of anywhere I have visited in the former Soviet Union that has changed as much in the last eight years. more >

Armenia’s Sargsyan prioritises stability over economic reform

There was not much pre-election buzz in Yerevan. This was of course understandable given the timing of my visit – deep midwinter. Heavy snow had fallen in the city the day I arrived. more >

Cuba’s Revolution – will it get lost in transition?

Looking down from the rooftop bar of Hotel Inglaterra, the oldest hotel in Cuba, you can enjoy Havana’s architectural splendor, albeit faded and fragile and desperately preserved by multiple coats of often peeling paint. On the street, you risk being assaulted by fumes from diesel cars and aggressive bicycle rickshaw drivers. Havana is a place that both stands still and rushes ahead. more >

Georgians bemoan pace of Western integration

Arriving at Tbilisi airport on a transit flight from Moscow, I witnessed an enterprising act of Georgian diplomacy that brought a smile to my face. As Russian passport holders passed customs control, they were handed bottles of the country’s finest wine. It was a nice touch by the government seemingly keen to reassure the visitors that while relations with Russia may be difficult, it has nothing against its citizens. more >

Tajik leader’s ‘grand designs’ fail to mask economic flaws

The Palace of Nowruz in Central Dushanbe is a mammoth edifice with 12 opulent reception halls. Some are decorated with intricate woodcarvings, others made entirely of expensive marble and semi-precious stones, all adorned with traditional paintings and mosaics. For five years some 4,000 artists worked on decorating the palace and the project is said to have cost $60mn. more >

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