If you can avoid the slightly disconcerting packs of feral dogs that race across the plateau - and occasionally snarl at cornered tourists - then the Bucegi mountains are fantastic, not least because a cable car ascends to the top. Then it's an undulating plateau culminating in the huge Caraiman cross that overlooks the valley directly and vertiginously below. Airy and easy and fairly quiet until the cross is close.
Google map: bit.ly/JkkLMK
This little place on the lake shore - opposite the huge Overlanders place - is quiet and pretty with room for camping as well as the huts. Each of these is perfectly comfortable, even though the shower is more like standing under a dripping tap! But it's the staff that make this place - young, friendly and with Ronald cooking delicious food. Try the crayfish curry. The lake is stunning, especially from the top of the hill, the 29 islands seeming to float on its surface.
P.O Box 242,, Kabale, Uganda
Google map: bit.ly/nktzRQ
We were actually the only guests midweek in August but lake Kivu is a weekend hangout, I think, so I am sure it was different after we left! The service is a bit slow, not unusual in Africa, but the food is good and the staff really friendly and helpful. The pool is overflown by hunting kites and the garden full of colourful small birds and the odd sea eagle. The lake is gorgeous - check for the fruit bats in the palms nearby - and the locals friendly. Spacious rooms are not full of character but it's definitely worth the $110 per night.
Beach Road, Gisenyi, Rwanda
Google map: bit.ly/oQixqW
This small hotel is a 10 minute tough slog from the Place de l'Unite National in what is actually a middle class neighbourhood, despite the dusty look. The young staff, led by John, are really friendly while John himself is a bit of a star with his links to the likes of Amahoro Tours for gorilla trekking etc. The food takes a while but is decent and the views across the valley are lovely. All this for $55 a night!
On the somewhat worrying occasion of my 50th birthday, following a family party, I retired with my wife for a few days to the county of my birth: the much-maligned Essex. Maldon was our first stop, the wind sweeping up the sword of Byrhtnoth as he tried too late to repel the Vikings of 991. Then a difficult choice of real ales at the beer festival in The Jolly Sailor. Further excursions to Constable country, where we snuck into Suffolk, and the modern but vernacular development at Wivenhoe showed the riverine and estuarine (is that a word?) nature of the county.
To cap it all, we avoided the Royal Wedding by driving down to Mersea Island and were rewarded with our first ever sight of an avocet, a bird far more worthy of our plumage fascination than she at the Abbey.
In the heart of North Shields, down steeply from the town, is the Fish Quay. The number of boats is minuscule compared to its heyday, but the smell of fish and chips from the many outlets and the buzz from restaurants cannot disguise the working nature of this area still. This is further evident from a glance up the Tyne at the huge oil platform in the yard over the river. Stroll down towards the sadly no more Chain Locker pub to the ferry, nip across the water and head down to the beaches of South Shields or the gracefully curving pier, perhaps calling in at the Alum Rock for a pint of real ale or to the Custom House for some culture.
North Shields metro station and head downhill.
Google map: bit.ly/fxTX9U
This small island off the coast of New Brunswick, though actually closer to Maine, is a quirky, scenic, friendly destination. Island life must be harsh in winter and thick sea frets envelope it regularly in summer, but it is a gem.
Our waitress at the Marathon Inn told us strange stories of stuffed bears being tied to posts and the sole settlement on the Western side of the island had an atmosphere of old world living, tough not sepia-tinged, that was unique.
The scenery is stunning too, with cliffs and bays and lighthouses. Don't expect haute cuisine, but do expect a hearty welcome.
Ferry from Black's harbour on the mainland.
Google map: tinyurl.com/ydoorlo
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