Dead Sea shores

A stark, arid landscape. Temperatures of 45°C. And a body of water that’s like a warm bath. Doesn’t sound appealing?

Well you’d be surprised. I had a week of relaxation on Israel’s Dead Sea coast at the small resort of Ein Bokek, and it was a haven for many holidaymakers.

The water is saline-rich and packed with minerals, so floating around in it aimlessly is a popular pastime. Piling on pounds of black Dead Sea mud and leaving it there until it bakes is another way to occupy the hours.

The hazy blue hues of this strange environment are entrancing, while I enjoyed the stark architecture of the sprinkling of big hotels. The calm reflections of the water and bathers drifting around in the brine just cried out to be captured. 

Go beneath the gallery to read a cautionary tale for travellers

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Departing from Israel via Tel Aviv airport is an unnerving experience. Before you queue up at the check-in desks, there is a line of security officers, and I wasn’t prepared for at least half an hour of questions about why I’d been in the country and what I’d been doing.

The grilling became increasingly awkward and stressful. Why had I only visited the Dead Sea? Why did I have to alter my flight? Do you have the receipt for that? It felt very intrusive for someone who had innocently been relaxing by a salty pool. Three officials later and almost losing my cool, my suitcase was tagged and I was relieved to be on my way.

Only back at home did I discover the card slipped into my case which informed me it had been manually searched after check-in, which did nothing to reduce my sense of unease.

I set about doing some research and found out that it’s not uncommon to face quite tough security questioning on departure from Tel Aviv airport. As a lone male I was of immediate interest. Also, the ‘interrogation’ is a way of measuring an adverse or suspicious reaction. In my case they noticed a trembling hand and wondered if I’d seen a doctor for treatment!

Israel considers this a good method to ensure aircraft leaving its airspace are safe and is unlikely to change. It’s best to be forewarned and keep calm during the process. However, it did nothing to make me feel valued as a visitor to the country. I maintain that I won’t go there again.

Hong Kong stopover

If you’re faced with a long journey from New Zealand back to the UK, Hong Kong is a great place to stop for a few days, as I did earlier this year.

It’s an incredibly concentrated city, packed with eye-watering high rise blocks and people streaming everywhere. But it also has the odd pocket of calm, including Stanley Bay and Kowloon’s Walled City Park.

Views are everything in Hong Kong, and you can see them by taking The Peak tram. My hotel – the Harbour Grand – had a great rooftop platform to take photographs from and drink in the sights. The city is also the ideal place to visit former Portuguese colony Macau across the water.

I stayed in Hong Kong when the weather was grey and wet. The territory is now facing stormy times, but I hope its special sheen as the Pearl of the Orient remains for many decades to come.

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Land of eagles

British holidaymakers flock in their thousands to nearby Spain, Italy and Greece. This is a country which is equally close but remains practically undiscovered.

Albania has it all. A coastline bathed in sunshine, epic mountains, castles and mosques, not to mention a fascinating capital city, Tirana.

The country’s unique selling point is the decades it spent in isolation ruled by socialist dictator Enver Hoxha. Thousands of bunkers from that era pepper the countryside while grandiose statues and murals aren’t hard to stumble across.

There was a diversity of photographs to capture in Albania, while it felt energetic and surprisingly modern. We know the Mediterranean far too well, but this is a twist on the familiar that’s well worth checking out.

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Cool capital

Welcome to the world’s most northerly capital city. Reykjavik is the hub of Iceland, a small nation two hours north by air from my home in Manchester, UK.

Wrapped up warm, I spent a day exploring it by foot before seeing some of the country’s amazing landscapes and quickly realised it wasn’t your regular city.

It feels quite small and parochial in some respects, yet has some bold, landmark architecture including the elegant Hallgrimskirkja and ultra modern Harpa concert hall.

A bus ride to Perlan’s beautiful viewpoint makes you realise the rugged Icelandic landscape almost closes in on Reykjavik – a unique capital city for what is no ordinary country.

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