Located among the leafy foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, the Azerbaijani town of Sheki is green, tranquil, and artsy. Low-rise buildings feature eye-catching stone and brickwork. People smile easily and are eager to engage in conversation. What’s more, Sheki still bears delightful evidence of its Silk Road past.
Before we got there, I had the distinct feeling that I was going to love Sheki, given its smaller size, its artisanal traditions, and its natural surroundings. My intuition ended up being correct, as Sheki was among my favorite destinations during our four months of travels in the Caucasus.
One of the most iconic images from the country of Georgia features the Gergeti Trinity Church dwarfed by immense mountains. This 14th-century church is crowned with cone-shaped towers and is located in the heart of the Caucasus. It’s just a few kilometers from the Russian border.
Portugal is a feast for both the stomach and the eyes. It’s a land of irresistible port wine, trayfuls of crispy and creamy pasteis de nata (custard tarts), and buildings adorned with colorful ceramic tiles called azulejos.
When you visit Portugal, you’ll spot azulejos on the outsides and insides of many different types of buildings, including railway stations, churches, palaces, and even everyday homes.
We took the night train from Tbilisi to Yerevan. Arriving in Armenia 11 hours later, we were feeling disoriented, groggy, and ravenous.
When Shawn and I chanced upon some ladies baking lavash flatbread inside a restaurant next to our apartment, we immediately perked up. Sensing our curiosity about the baking process, an employee motioned for us to wait at the counter.
She also handed us a plate filled with a bunch of grapes. This was a fitting act of kindness given that wine has been made in Armenia for thousands of years.
A red squirrel pauses after doing some death-defying moves in the evergreen treetops of Makarska, Croatia. This “stunt squirrel” — with impressive nails and fabulously furry ears, I might add — lives on the Sveti Petar Peninsula, a forested area that overlooks the Adriatic Sea.
When I took this picture earlier this year, I was amazed by how unafraid this fluffy guy was. Clearly, this super squirrel knew there was no way I’d be able to catch him. So he paused near me for a few seconds, allowing me to capture him on film. Then, he was on his merry way. I watched as he leapt from tree to tree. Eventually, I couldn’t see him anymore, but I could still hear his claws digging into the tree trunks and branches.
In some parts of Europe, the Eurasian red squirrel (sciurus vulgaris) is in decline due to the introduction of its invasive cousin from across the Atlantic, the Eastern grey squirrel. The Eastern grey carries squirrelpox, a virus that can kill the red squirrels. The grey species also competes with the red squirrels for food and shelter.
For nearly 2,000 years, limestone has been extracted from quarries on the Croatian island of Brač. In the 3rd century, laborers used this dazzling white stone to build the palace of Emperor Diocletian in the city of Split.
In more recent times, Brač limestone has been incorporated into Budapest’s and Vienna’s parliament buildings — even part of the White House.
Not far from Brač’s northern coast, you can visit an ancient Roman quarry used to supply the limestone for Diocletian’s Palace. Inside this old quarry called Rasohe, there’s also a carved relief of Hercules.
The northwestern Portuguese city of Porto is characterized by hilly streets, buildings covered in multicolored azulejos, and a long history of port wine production. Polished townhouses decked out with flower boxes stand proudly beside dilapidated structures covered in graffiti, making Porto just as pretty as it is rough around the edges.