2 minute travel guide to Manchester, UK

Getting About

The staple way of getting around quickly and easily is the trams; they connect the major railway stations and tourist attractions. If you’re coming from overseas you will fly into the UK’s third largest airport, which provides all major travel to worldwide destinations for Northern England. With regular trams and buses it’s easy to get to the city centre.

Eating Out

The Northern Quarter has loads of different foodie hotspots. For something traditional, Manchester House lies close to the docks and serves up local produce, famous for their modern twist on the local dessert, the Manchester tart. For something a bit cheaper, try Guerilla Eats, it offers the best of classic street food, without breaking the bank.

History & Culture

Don’t miss out on the amazing offering of theatres and museums. Visit The Lowry on the rejuvenated Salford quays, the Royal Exchange Theatre and The Manchester Museum which regularly has a variety of different exhibitions. And if you get the chance, don’t forget about the Cathedral.


The Smiths, the Stone Roses and Oasis are just a few of the British bands from the city. The Ritz and Albert Hall are just two of the famous musical venues you should visit. Football fan or not, both Man U and Man City are top premier league teams and their stadiums are well worth visiting. If shopping is your thing, go to one of the UK’s biggest shopping hubs – the Trafford Centre. And if you’re there on a rare sunny day, head to Heaton Park with its historic hall and boating lake.


Our wildcard is the lively Canal Street – with Gay bars, nightclubs and modern restaurants. If you fancy a civilised evening, The Molly House offers up the best Northern ales and wines, not forgetting their diverse offering of Spanish and Argentinean tapas. Vanilla is the place to go if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful night out. Teaming classic pop tunes with £2 cocktails.

Where to Sleep

⇒ More hotels…

Recommended Tours

⇒ More tours…

Watch the Two Minute Travel Guide to Manchester video

Exercise largely absent from US medical school curriculum, study shows

A review of medical school curriculums showed that a majority of U.S. institutions did not offer any courses on physical activity, and when the courses were offered, they were rarely required, said Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise and sport science in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. That could leave doctors ill-prepared to assist patients who could benefit from exercise, said Cardinal, the study’s lead author.

“There are immense medical benefits to exercise; it can help as much as medicine to address some health concerns,” said Cardinal, who is a national expert on the benefits of physical activity. “Because exercise has medicinal as well as other benefits, I was surprised that medical schools didn’t spend more time on it.”

An article on the findings has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Co-authors are Eugene A. Park and MooSong Kim of OSU, and Marita K. Cardinal of Western Oregon University. The study was supported by OSU.

For the study, researchers reviewed U.S. medical schools’ websites, looking for all physical activity-related coursework. They reviewed both public and private schools, and schools of medicine and osteopathic medicine. In all, 118 of the 170 accredited schools had curriculum information available online.

Of those, 51 percent offered no physical activity related coursework, and 21 percent offered only one course. And 82 percent of the schools reviewed did not require students to take any physical activity-related courses.

Schools may be spending more time on the topic than appears in the published curriculum, but the absence of physical activity in those documents suggests exercise education is not formalized or institutionalized to the degree it ought to be, given its role in helping people stay healthy, Cardinal said.

“I’m an outsider looking in, and I was expecting to see more than what we did,” he said.

Lifestyle-related chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes are among the leading causes of death and disability, and one of the most important ways to prevent such chronic diseases is through regular physical activity participation, he said.

Physicians play a significant and influential role in encouraging and assisting patients who need or are trying to get more exercise, but past research has shown that many physicians lack the education, skills or confidence to educate and counsel patients about their physical activity, Cardinal said.

“Understanding why and how to exercise, and knowing how to help people who are struggling to make it a habit, is really important,” he said.

This issue is gaining more attention nationally.The American College of Sports Medicine supports an “Exercise is Medicine” initiative, designed to encourage primary care physicians and other health care providers to include physical activity in the treatment plans of their patients.

Exercise is also a key component of the U.S. government’s “Healthy People 2020” initiative to improve health across the nation, and the National Physical Activity Plan to increase physical activity for all Americans, Cardinal said.

If medical schools do not include physical activity education in their curriculums, physicians or other health care workers may need to find other ways to educate themselves about exercise and its role in keeping people healthy, or perhaps give the nod to other professionals who can, Cardinal said.

“We really need to see something happen to address this,” he said. “How do we get it more institutionalized into medical school curriculum? This is a question researchers have been asking for 40 years now. It is about time we figured it out.”

Economists recommend paying college athletes

In their study released this week in the Winter 2015 issue of Journal of Economic Perspectives, Allen Sanderson, senior lecturer in economics at UChicago, and John Siegfried, professor emeritus of economics at Vanderbilt, write that the practice of setting a binding limit on remuneration for student-athletes — grant-in-aid restricted to room, board, tuition, fees, and books — may violate the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The authors argue that payment caps set by the NCAA are holding down benefits that otherwise would go to top-performing athletes, many of them African Americans from low-income families, while top coaches and athletic department personnel receive disproportionately high salaries.

Instead, the researchers recommend, schools should compensate student-athletes according to the value they provide, whether that value comes in the form of measurable revenue or more subjective benefits.

Sanderson said recent proposals by the NCAA to shift from single-year to multiyear scholarships, and to cover unrestricted meal plans and other incidental out-of-pocket costs for players, fall well short of a free competitive labor market.

Such proposals “are mainly an attempt by the NCAA to stay one town ahead of the sheriff,” Sanderson said.

In addition to exploring the labor market for college athletes, the paper, entitled “The Case for Paying College Athletes” also examines why U.S colleges and universities operate large-scale commercial athletic programs, with a focus on men’s football and basketball. The authors question the rationale among many universities that such big-time programs subsidize their money-losing intercollegiate sporting ventures. The Student-Athlete Debate

Weights of Division III football linemen up 38 percent since 1956, researchers report

“Increases in weight and body mass index (BMI) are associated with cholesterol disorders, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. The results of our study emphasize the importance of helping these players to develop a healthy post-football lifestyle in order to reduce their risks of serious long-term health complications,” says senior author David J. Greenblatt, M.D., Louis Lasagna Professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Pathobiology at Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics graduate program faculty at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts.

The researchers examined the football rosters of the 10 colleges and universities in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) from 1956 through 2014 in five-year intervals. Players were grouped by field position (quarterbacks, running backs, offensive linemen, etc.). Weight, height and BMI were recorded for each player from game programs and rosters available online. The data for the positional groups were then compared with data from a control group at corresponding time intervals, made up of males aged 20-29 from the general population.

For offensive linemen, the mean weight increased nearly 38 percent, while the control group experienced only a 12 percent increase. Overall changes in height for the offensive linemen increased only 3.8 percent. For players in skill positions, such as quarterbacks, wide receivers and kickers, the mean weight changes over time were similar to those in the control group.

Things to see and do on the Costa del Sol

Beach in Marbella (c) wikimedia/David Iliff

Just over two hours flight from the UK, the Costa del Sol is the popular short-haul option with more than 300 days of sunshine a year and everything you could want for in a holiday. Nowhere else on earth can you find beaches, history, culture, sports, fantastic cities, the great outdoors and even skiing, all in one compact destination!

Kathryn Stride gives her run-down of some of the fantastic activities to try in the Costa del Sol for your next holiday.

Skiing and sunbathing in one place

Skiing in Sierra Nevada, Spain (c) wikimedia/Emijrp

We all associate the Costa del Sol with the sparkling Mediterranean Sea lapping against fantastic sandy beaches, and it’s certainly a great place to soak up the sun, immerse yourself in the relaxed atmosphere, and enjoy the world-renowned nightlife. However, what many people don’t know is that Andalucía as a region also offers Europe’s Southern-most ski resort, with great skiing from December to the beginning of May.

This winter wonderland is just a stone’s throw from the Costa del Sol and on a good day you can even see the sea from the slopes. In fact it’s so close that you could combine skiing with a day on the beach to recover before you head home. It’s even possible to be on the slopes in the morning and then within two hours drive be enjoying a long afternoon of warm sunshine on the coast.

The Sierra Nevada (Snowy Mountain Range) near Granada offers plenty of sunshine, good snow and a varied mix of runs for beginners and intermediates, plus a handful of more challenging runs. Although it is not a huge resort, there are wide, well-pisted slopes, quick and efficient lifts, and good restaurants and bars to rest those weary feet. The après-ski is quite legendary too!

Terrific towns and picturesque pueblos

This area of Spain has been slammed for its concrete tower blocks and non-existent town planning. However, don’t be fooled by this negative press coverage. For every Torremolinos there are several stunning white villages nestled into the hillsides, not to mention vibrant, Spanish towns and cities with great architecture.

Marbella is a fantastic town with lots of charm, a predominantly Spanish population, a beautiful beachside promenade and tons of bars and restaurants. It is often confused with the nearby Puerto Banus and thought to be an expensive, flashy place, but in fact this is a very real, working Spanish town and merits a visit.

Marbella’s hidden gem is its historic and picturesque Old Town, or casco antiguo. This has changed little over the centuries and still features ancient architecture, a maze of narrow cobbled streets with charming white washed houses, and beautiful plazas adorned with fountains. At the centre is Orange Square, a beautiful Andalucian square, full of orange trees and sweetly scented tropical plants. The Old Town is full of unusual shops and galleries, little chapels and churches, not to mention a fantastic selection of bars, cafés and eateries, and is a great place to explore.

Read also: Top 10 things to see and do in Marbella

The picturesque Pueblos Blancos white villages are a typically Andalucian feature and have been well-preserved, yet little explored by most tourists. If you are able to hire a car then you can spend several days driving around the stunning countryside, exploring these little villages and stepping back into Andalucia’s past.

One of the most breathtaking places to visit is the mountaintop city of Ronda, located less than an hour’s drive from the coast. This city is set above a gorge (El Tajo) giving dramatic views and the stone bridge that spans the gorge offers the perfect place to take in the stunning scenery. The old town dates back to Moorish rule and is full of history and charm.

Ronda, Costa del Sol (c) pixabay/Braunecker

Closer to coast and more popular with tourists is the beautiful village of Mijas Pueblo. Located just a 20 minute drive inland, this village has remained relatively unspoilt by tourism maintaining its Spanish charm and offers spectacular panoramic views of the coast from its many view points. Wander the cobbled streets and sample the local delicacies, there are also many specialist shops around the town including handmade leather and ceramics. Every Wednesday the town hall puts on a popular flamenco show at midday in the main square.

A Sportsperson’s Dream

For golfers, it features more than 70 fabulous golf courses, which has earned the Costa del Sol its nickname of Costa del Golf. With year round sunshine this is a golfer’s paradise. The coast is host to some high-profile big prize tournaments such as the Volvo Matchplay.

If you like tennis, there are many fantastic tennis clubs, as well as many outdoor courts attached to hotels and urbanisations. Many international tournaments are hosted in the Marbella area.

The region is a perfect place for mountain-biking and hiking in the nearby hills and mountains. For the more adventurous a hike up the iconic La Concha is a must, but as it is as high as Ben Nevis it isn’t to be underestimated. There are numerous companies offering quad-biking, horse-riding and walking tours to help you make the most of the stunning scenery just minutes from the coastal resorts.

Read also: Horse riding holiday in Sierra Nevada, Spain

There are also a host of water sports to take advantage of the warm Mediterranean Sea, such as sea-kayaking, windsurfing, scuba diving, kite surfing or even learning to sail. Or if you want something potentially less wet, you can take to the sea for a spot of fishing, or enjoy a catamaran cruise to try and spot some of the native dolphins.

Andalucia’s unique cultural treasures

Andalucía boasts some of the most amazing architecture and the most breathtaking sights to be seen anywhere in the world.

There’s the narrow, bustling cobbled streets and ancient architecture of the Jewish Quarter in Seville; the harmonious blend of two thousand years of Christian and Muslim religious history in the stunning Mezquita in Cordoba; the world-famous Alhambra set against the snow-covered peaks of Sierra Nevada in Granada, and the golden dome of Cádiz cathedral shimmering high over the white-tipped waves of the blue Atlantic ocean.

Read also: 24 hours in Granada, Spain

These cities’ treasures are no more than two or three hours away by car from the Costa del Sol and make fantastic day trips to spice up any Costa del Sol holiday itinerary.

Spain’s capital, Madrid, is also within easy reach of the Coast now, with a two hour journey by high-speed train bringing all of the city’s immense heritage right to your door.

Even closer to the coast is the lovely and often overlooked city of Malaga. Malaga is so much more than an airport. Its long history has left a host of beautiful monuments such as the Cathedral, Gibralfaro Castle, the Alcazaba and the Roman Theatre. There are also a selection of beautiful historical gardens, and over 20 different museums to choose from.

View of Malaga from Giralfaro Castle (c) wikimedia/manuelfloresv

However, it’s the city’s artistic heritage that is its biggest claim to fame. Malaga was Picasso’s birthplace, and has the fantastic Picasso Museum to honour and celebrate the city’s most famous son. This gallery has over 200 examples of works by Picasso on permanent display, including oil paintings, sculptures, drawings, sketches, etchings and ceramics housed in a stunning 17th century Renaissance building.

Relax and Rejuvenate

A holiday in Spain is a great way to get rid of the stress and strain of working life. Visit some of the beautiful beach clubs, stroll down the promenade and enjoy the laid-back pace of life. In addition, there are some amazing luxury spas and health clubs where you can pamper yourself and ensure you come back rested, relaxed and rejuvenated.

If facials and treatments just aren’t enough to achieve the desired result then you can combine a relaxing holiday with a spot of cosmetic surgery, for a truly rejuvenating trip! There are several world-renowned clinics to choose from in this area, and it can often be a more affordable and discreet option than the UK. All clinics have fully-qualified, English-speaking surgeons, excellent after-care and an opportunity to recover gently from the surgery before returning home.

Family Fun

Dolphins in Selwo Marina, Benalmádena, Málaga, Spain (c) wikimedia/__Lolo__

Spain is a very family-friendly place and kids are welcomed wherever you go. The Costa del Sol has a whole host of fun places to go and things to do, ranging from days spent on the beach, swimming and playing ball games, to great amusement parks like Tivoli World in Benalmadena and the Parque Acuático Mijas water park in Mijas-Costa.

Families can also enjoy a number of other high activity attractions in the area including Funny Beach, near Marbella, with its go-karting track, trampolines, electric bikes and cars, and children’s rides as well as Aventura Amazonia, a tree top high ropes course just a 10 minute drive from Marbella.

For animal lovers there’s the Bioparc Zoo (Fuengirola), SeaLife centre (Benalmadena), Butterfly Farm (Benalmadena), Crocodile Park (Torremolinos), and the Selwo safari park in Estepona.

The cinema in the Fuengirola’s Miramar centre shows English films and other activities include a large crazy golf park with bbq restaurant (Fuengirola) and Costa Jump, a huge indoor trampoline park.

For more teenage fun, there are many good organisations on the coast who offer such adventures as scuba diving, quad-biking, jeep safaris in the National Parks, mountain treks on horse-back, canyoning in the region’s gorges, and paintballing. As well as Segway tours to explore some of the major towns and cities.

Eating and Drinking

Spanish tapas (c) wikimedia/Michal Osmenda

One of the many pleasures of a visit to the Costa del Sol is the fantastic food. There are so many great restaurants to choose from, serving all types of food. The chiringuitos on the beach are great and tasty tapas is an excellent way to sample some of the local Spanish fare. You don’t have to walk far to find a good restaurant, the main problem is knowing which one to choose.

Where to stay?

⇒ More hotels in Marbella

Recommended Tours

⇒ More Costa del Sol tours & activities

2 minute travel guide to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Getting About

Dubrovnik, or the pearl of the Adriatic, is a city located in Eastern Europe on the southern coast of Croatia. Famous for its historic Old Town and its well preserved ancient architecture – tourism has boomed in the past ten years.

You are able to fly into Dubrovnik’s international airport, which is only 9 miles from the city centre. The best way to move around the city is the extensive bus network that connects all parts of the city.

Eating Out

Meals along the Dalmatian coast are heavily influenced by their Italian ancestry, often beginning with a hearty plate of pasta, black risotto or spaghetti in squid ink sauce. The cuisine relies heavily on fresh fish and seafood caught offshore – usually grilled, served with local olive oil, garlic and a squeeze of zesty lemon.

History & Culture

Dubrovnik has a spectacular and well preserved history. The distinctive Old Town is encircled with monumental white-stone walls that were originally completed in the 16th century, and a walk on top of them is sure to be the highlight of your trip. A former city-state, Dubrovnik thrived on the wealth of merchants and ship builders, and has developed a rich culture. Historic buildings range from baroque St. Blaise Church to Renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rectors Palace, which is now a history museum.


Heading out of the town centre is highly advised for visitors, as the beautiful natural surroundings are a sight not to be missed – the island of Mljet offers you spectacular views at the Mljet National Park.

Other than the food to whet your appetite of an evening, there is lots of Croatian wine on offer in small bars like D’Vino, or even more spectacular views whilst you drink at Buza.


From season two onwards, Dubrovnik’s ancient landscape provides the perfect backdrop for the filming of King’s Landing, a fictional city in Game of Thrones. For any fans, the city will provide a great sense of déjà vu as you notice the large city walls, as well as the narrow streets of the old town where several scenes happen during the course of the episodes.

Where to Sleep

⇒ More hotels in Dubrovnik

Recommended tours in Dubrovnik

⇒ More Dubrovnik tours and activities

Watch the Two Minute Travel Guide to Dubrovnik video

Study of former NFL players reveals specifics of concussive brain damage

Results of the small study of nine men provide further evidence for potential long-term neurological risk to football players who sustain repeated concussions and support calls for better player protections.

“We’re hoping that our findings are going to further inform the game,” says Jennifer Coughlin, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “That may mean individuals are able to make more educated decisions about whether they’re susceptible to brain injury, advise how helmets are structured or inform guidelines for the game to better protect players.”

Several anecdotal accounts and studies have suggested that athletes, such as collegiate and professional football, hockey, and soccer players, exposed to repeat concussions could suffer permanent brain damage and deficits from these events. However, the mechanism of damage and the source of these deficits have been unclear.

To reveal them, Coughlin; Yuchuan Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology and radiological science at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and their colleagues used tests to directly detect deficits and to quantify localized molecular differences between the brains of former players and healthy people who didn’t play football.

The researchers recruited nine former NFL players who retired decades ago and ranged in age from 57 to 74. The men had played a variety of team positions and had a wide range of self-reported, historical concussions, varying from none for a running back to 40 for a defensive tackle. The researchers also recruited nine age-matched “controls” — healthy individuals who had no reason to suspect they had brain injuries.

Each of the volunteers underwent a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, a test in which an injected radioactive chemical binds to a specific biological molecule, allowing researchers to physically see and measure its presence throughout the body. In this case, the research team focused on the translocator protein, which signals the degree of damage and repair in the brain. While healthy individuals have low levels of this protein spread throughout the brain, those with brain injuries tend to have concentrated zones with high levels of translocator protein wherever an injury has occurred.

The volunteers also underwent MRIs, which allowed the researchers to match up the PET scan findings with anatomical locations in the volunteers’ brains and check for structural abnormalities. In addition, they took a battery of memory tests.

While the control volunteers’ tests showed no evidence of brain damage, PET scans showed that on average, the group of former NFL players had evidence of brain injury in several temporal medial lobe regions, including the amygdala, a region that plays a significant role in regulating mood. Imaging also identified injuries in many players’ supramarginal gyrus, an area linked to verbal memory.

While the hippocampus, an area that plays a role in several aspects of memory, didn’t show evidence of damage in the PET scans, MRIs of the former players’ brains showed atrophy of the right-side hippocampus, suggesting that this region may have shrunk in size due to previous damage.

Additionally, many of the NFL players scored low on memory testing, particularly in tests of verbal learning and memory.

Though the researchers emphasize that this pilot study, published in the February 2015 issue of the journal Neurobiology of Disease, is small in size, they say that the evidence among just nine former NFL players suggests that there are molecular and structural changes in specific brain regions of athletes who have a history of repetitive hits to the head, even many years after they’ve left active play.

The researchers are currently looking for translocator protein hotspots in both active and recently retired players to help determine whether these changes develop close to the time of play or whether they’re a result of a more delayed response to injury with similarities to other degenerative brain disorders.

If these findings are seen in studies with larger numbers of participants, they say, use of this molecular brain imaging technique could eventually lead to changes in the way players are treated after experiencing concussion or how contact sports are played.

Discovering Uzbekistan: At the centre of the Silk Road

Even more than the Roman Empire, the Silk Road shaped the world we know today. Weaving from Europe to Asia, Russia to the Indian Subcontinent, and everywhere in between, it was along this network of ancient trading routes that people, ideas, inventions, and goods made their way.

At the centre of the Silk Road, and waiting to be discovered, is Uzbekistan. From April 2017, British passport holders (and nationals of more than a dozen other countries) will no longer need a tourist visa: you’ll pay a flat fee of US$50 on arrival, and be able to stay for up to 30 days. When you combine this change with the fact that Uzbekistan Airways also flies directly from London to Tashkent, it’s never been easier, or cheaper, to go.

What are the attractions which make Uzbekistan a must-visit destination? As the author of the Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan, I’ve been fortunate enough to explore almost every corner of the country. Here are my recommendations of what to see, do, and experience in Uzbekistan.

The Silk Road Cities

City gates of the Ichan Qala in Khiva (c) Sophie Ibbotson

First and foremost are the great Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, which have been inspiring visitors with their architectural masterpieces for centuries. All UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these cities are bejewelled with majolica tiles, stained glass, gilded ceilings, and exquisite paintings and carvings.


Registan square (c) Ekrem Canli

In Samarkand, tourists typically head straight for the Registan Square, which is comprised of three madrassahs (Islamic schools), the earliest of which dates from the 15th century. Each of the structures is highly ornamented, and the facade of the Sher For madrassah depicts strange tigers with human faces upon their backs: they are grotesque and beautiful in equal measure, and clearly challenge the orthodox Islamic view that living creatures should not be depicted in art.

My favourite site in Samarkand, however, is a 10 minute walk away. It’s called the Shah-i Zinda, and it is an extraordinary necropolis of decorated tombs, some of which are more than 1,000 years old. Each of the mausoleums in the complex is unique and beautiful, and together they will take your breath away.

Termez: off the beaten track

Fayoz Tepe, Termez (c) Arian Zwegers

I like to get beyond the beaten track, however, and so it’s necessary to leave the charms of the cities behind and head out into the hinterland. Tourists rarely travel as far south as Termez, but as a result, they miss out: this was one of the great Graeco-Bactrian cities at the time of Alexander the Great, and the archaeological discoveries made here are eye-opening.

The most important finds (and well-done displays explaining where they came from) are in Termez Archaeological Museum, but it is well worth visiting the open air excavations, too. In my view, the most impressive of these is at Kampir Tepe, where you can still walk what remains of the city walls, follow the streets, and enter into homes and shops, even though the last residents left two millennia ago.

Savitsky Collection in Nukus

Nukus Art Museum (The State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan) (c) ChanOJ

Uzbekistan’s history is rich, without doubt, but there’s also a lot to be said for exploring its more contemporary culture. The Savitsky Collection in Nukus (also known as Nukus Art Museum or The State Art Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan), in the northwestern part of Uzbekistan, has one of the most important collection of avant garde art in the world, and the story of how the collection was amassed and protected is the subject of the documentary Desert of Forbidden Art. The museum is undergoing an aggressive expansion programme, so more and more works of art will be put on display throughout the year.

Head to the capital, Tashkent

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, Tashkent (c) ГОЛ ос

Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, is a regional hub of culture, too. The glorious Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre has recently reopened after major renovations, and the affordable tickets offer a chance to see world-class classical performances in a remarkable setting.

There are a large number of museums in the city, of which the Uzbekistan State Museum of Applied Art and the Fine Arts Museum of Uzbekistan are particularly worth exploring.

Chorsu Bazaar, Tashkent (c) Eric Haglund

Make sure you also have time to people watch and shop at Chorsu Bazaar — the modern manifestation of the Silk Road markets of the past — and, funny as it may sound, take a ride on the Tashkent Metro, the stations of which are decorated with carved alabaster, mosaics, chandeliers, engraved metalwork, and more.

Uzbek Food

Plov (c) Ekrem Canli

And then there is the food! Uzbek food is little known outside of Uzbekistan (with the notable exception of Samarkand in London, tipped to become the world’s first Michelin-starred Uzbek restaurant), but even the smell of the grilled meats, soups, and plov (the local variant of pilau, or biryani) will have your mouth watering. Uzbekistan is a major producer of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, so you can expect to spend a lot of your visit snacking on healthy treats.

Uzbekistan: an up and coming destination

Uzbek family outside the Bibi Khanym mosque in Samarkand (c) Sophie Ibbotson

Uzbekistan ticks all the boxes for an exciting, up and coming destination. The country is developing rapidly, and particularly if you travel out of high season, it’s relatively easy to stay away from other tourists and surround yourself with authentic experiences and warm local hospitality. The Uzbeks have been welcoming travellers for thousands of years, and if you are lucky, you’ll soon be among their honoured guests.

Getting to Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan Airways flies directly from London to Tashkent twice a week, from £427. If you don’t mind routing via Istanbul, Turkish Airlines has return flights from £320.

Tourist Visas for Uzbekistan

If you are a British passport holder and plan to travel to Uzbekistan after 1 April 2017, you will not need a visa, but can instead pay a $50 entry fee on arrival. Additional information will be available closer to the time from the Uzbek Embassy in London, and so are visas if you decide to go on a last minute winter break before the new rules comes into effect.

Uzbekistan waives tourist visas for 27 countries

Guided tours of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is a hot destination for 2017, and a number of UK-based tour operators are offering scheduled departures and bespoke itineraries. For example, Wild Frontiers offers adventurous itineraries in Uzbekistan and the neighbouring countries of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

Viator also has a selection of local operators:

Recommended Uzbekistan guide books

Bradt Guide to Uzbekistan (published 2016) RRP £17.99

Uzbekistan: The Golden Road to Samarkand (published 2014) RRP £16.95

Lonely Planet Central Asia (published 2014) RRP £19.99

Uzbekistan (Bradt Travel Guides)

Alanya, Turkey – beachside holiday resort

Alanya, Turkey (c) wikimedia/Vitalis Eichwald

If Turkey has a an exotic version of a bucket and spade seaside resort, Alanya on its south eastern coast is it. Its lovely white sand beaches are lapped by the warm waters of the Mediterranean sea and overlooked by the towering Taurus mountains. And as you follow its coastal curve and meander inward too, the mood perceptively changes from historic to bizarre, lively and amusingly, a little cheesy too.

Along the harbour are myriad restaurants, some named after celebrities such as James Dean and Elvis and an open-air segment of cafés, dubbed the tea rooms, that look onto the tens of moored ships. Some of these are private yachts and some take tourists out to sea. Smaller ones dressed in yellows, reds and orange bob on their laurels, offering a colourful eyeful against the deep blue of the sea.

Alanya by night

One sun-scorched afternoon, I found myself on the Sea Angel, a wooden pirate ship that looked twee with its a statue of a a silver angel. With Kapten Arif at the helm I was was about to spend four-hours with a rather large gaggle of Russian, German and Dutch tourists. Party music escaped from some overhead speaker while the crew-cum-gymnasts served and entertained. The ship anchored every now and again so we could jump ship and swim in the warm sea water and as we sailed by Alanya’s rich heritage of coves and caves (Phosphorus being the most famous), crew members took to diving off them in all manner of daredevil ways. Even dolphins turned up on cue to a collective joy. A lunch of skewered chicken followed by juicy watermelon was remarkably good. Though not a sophisticated jaunt, young families and those young at heart may find this to be tremendous fun.

Yet everywhere I looked I was reminded that this is an historic town. It’s 13th century castle, built by Seljuq Sultanate of Rum on a rocky peninsula, is perched 820 feet high. It’s now an open-air museum with a palace, villas and a chapel that was converted into a mosque and is testament to a long history of invasions including the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.

Built by Seljuq Sultanate of Rum on the rocky peninsula part it includes villas and a chapel that was converted into a mosque. Part of the peninsular juts out onto the Mediterranean sea and this is where “man throwing ledge” remembers the gory story of slaves being pushed to their death. Slaves would be given three stones to throw into the sea. If the stones made a splash (an impossible task thanks to the rock formations) they would live another day, if not they would be thrown to their death.

A panoramic view, Alanya

Following the winding floral stone path downwards I was stopped in my tracks by Che Sukru. Clad in just a pair of shorts, his tanned torso was bent over a hand operated juicer making pomegranate juice that he sold for couple of lira a glass. Drinking the juice in his garden café shaded by mandarin and lemon trees while chickens clucked and pottered, was an experience that was beyond quaint.

Following the path as it twisted down to ground level I was led to the now defunct but still fascinating arches of the Tersane shipyard. It serves as a museum to this bygone industry with part-built ships, maps and information describing how it may have been.

Tersane shipyard, Alanya

Nearby and standing to attention in the harbour is the 13th century octagonal landmark Kızılkule (Red Tower) so called because of its red bricks. Built to protect the town from attack, there are five floors each with a museum of artefacts. Climbing all 86 steps to the roof means getting sensational views over the marina and the beaches.

Alanya Red Tower

Reaching the town from the harbour means walking through a bizarre cat sanctuary where stray cats can tuck into bowls of food and shelter in purpose built hutches. It’s part of a serene park where fountains flow while felines and people mingle in quiet reverie.

Just beyond that is a sprawling warren of tiny streets laced with numerous of shops selling fake designer bags, clothes and shoes. Michael Korrs, Prada, Chanel populated the shelves with the odd smattering of Mulberry. It’s common to haggle and it’s impossible to resist.

Amid these streets, restaurants and bars are plentiful with Bar Street being the hotspot for a pulsating night life. It’s also round here that I lunched at Mini Mutfak, a fabulous Turkish restaurant where lamb Kofta (meatballs) never tasted so good and I simply loved the Yavalama – mint beef balls with small chick peas in tzatziki sauce.

Beyond these tiny roads is the main road, Ataturk Street named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) a Turkish army officer, revolutionary, and the first President of Turkey who founded the Republic of Turkey. There is an impressive statue of him at the central crossroads where the Turkish flag flies at full mast. Indeed, most buildings in Alanya have the Turkish flag hanging from them.

There are long stretches of beach and perhaps the prettiest is Cleopatra beach. It’s in front of Dalmatas Cave (a tiny two storey cave with impressive stalactites and stalagmites). They say it was named after the Egyptian Queen who stopped by and enjoyed a swim in this bay. Had she done so today she could have also lazed on a comfy cabana or sipped her tipple at a choice of beach side cafes.

Cleopatra Beach, Alanya (c) flickr/Joonas Plaan

One day I joined a jeep tour – a convoy of 18 jeeps filled with people who were encouraged to throw water at each other. I couldn’t fathom out why but on the bright side we clapped eyes on gorgeous pine forests, banana and cotton plantations as we trucked our way through the dirt tracks of the Taurus mountains We stopped for a bbq lunch alongside Dim River and visited an old village to have a peep inside an ancient mosque.

A more sedate day out was to Dim Caye for lunch. Al-freso restaurants are stretched out over the Dim river on platforms. Some restaurants allowed diners to fish for trout for their lunch. Not so at Gol Piknik, where we were seated on cushions and served Turkish cuisine served to a backdrop symphony of a waterfall and the quacking of passing ducks. After a quick finger check of the cold water temperature and I resolved to stay on dry land, though I did spot others – adults and children – splashing and frolicking around the river flumes.

There is a weekly bazaar that takes place in town and although mostly a food and vegetable market with the odd vendor selling flags, it offered a reassuring snapshot of local life.

Fruit market in Alanya (c) wikimedia/NobbiP

That afternoon I visited a uniquely Turkish venue, a local Hammam. My lack of Turkish banter was of no concern because no words needed – a knowing look at reception led to a wet sauna followed by dry heat followed by a long dip in a swirling hot tub followed by an eye-watering pummelling given by a slight lady who you’d think couldn’t hurt a fly and soapy deep clean scrub. After a short rest, presumably to recover, a lovely massage pieced me back together again.

It felt truly exotic.

Where to Stay in Alanya

I stayed in a private luxury villa in the hills above Alanya offered by 5 Star Villa Holidays – read my review: Villa Review: Dream Villas, Alanya, Turkey

Villa Review: Dream Villas, Alanya, Turkey

Other recommended options are Grand Okan Hotel (great for families) and Sunprime C-Lounge (adult-only all-inclusive hotel).

How to Get to Alanya

I flew with Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, which operates flights to Antalya from London Gatwick in the summer and Leeds Bradford in the winter with fares, including taxes, starting from £40 one way (£104 return).

Alanya is about 115 km from Antalya Airport and 40 km from Gazipasa Airport. You can either catch the bus from the airport to the city, or rent a car, giving you the freedom to explore further afield and, like me, to consider accommodation slightly outside the city centre.

Better concussion prevention in youth sports needed, experts say

“An estimated 7.7 million children and adolescents participate in organized sports each year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that they sustain between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions annually,” said Morrissey. “In response to this, the state of Rhode Island passed the School and Youth Programs Concussion Act (SYPCA) in July 2010. The law outlines both mandatory and recommended provisions in regard to managing student athletes with a suspected concussion. Our study assessed compliance with this law among Rhode Island high schools and community league organizations.”

In a 2013 statewide assessment of Rhode Island concussion law compliance among RIIL member high schools, non-member high schools and selected community league sports organizations, the study team found nearly universal compliance with mandated elements of SYPCA.

All athletic directors surveyed reported that they require concussion information sheets to be signed by both student athletes and parents prior to the start of each sports season. The research team also found that all coaches and 93 percent of volunteers have completed annual concussion training.

One hundred percent of surveyed groups also reported that any student athlete with a suspected concussion is immediately removed from play, and 93 percent reported that those students cannot return to play until they receive written clearance from a licensed physician, all per the SYPCA mandates.

“These SYPCA laws only apply to schools that are RIIL members,” said Michael Mello, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Injury Prevention Center and co-author of the study. “When we explored other non-RIIL schools and sports organizations where SYPCA is recommended but not required, and also any of the recommendations that are not legally required of RIIL members, we found a very different compliance rate.”

Only a handful of schools require student athletes to complete any type of pre-season neurocognitive testing, and nearly 20 percent don’t offer it to student athletes at all. Half of the surveyed groups reported developing a written return to play protocol.

“These compliance statistics show us that in order to best protect youth athletes in Rhode Island, all recommendations outlined in the SYPCA law should be made mandatory,” said Mello. “Additionally, non-RIIL schools, as well as community sports organizations, should also be required to comply with the law.”

Neha Raukar, M.D., director of the Center for Sports Medicine and a co-author of the study, sees many youth athletes in her clinic for concussion treatment. “If a concussion is not treated properly and student athletes return to play too soon, they are at high risk for prolonging their symptoms, meaning more time out of the classroom and on the bench. They are also at risk for experiencing a devastating post-concussion event, such as second impact syndrome, which can be fatal,” said Raukar.

“We are only just beginning to understand the long-term consequences of sustaining repeated head trauma and concussions,” said Raukar. “Physicians, coaches and school staff alike all need to know the importance of properly diagnosing concussions, as well as the criteria for when a student athlete can both return to school and return to sports.”

But, Morrissey also urges that the public needs to play a role and ensure that their school or community sports organization follows all the recommendations in the concussion law. “One example of our community pushing for better concussion protection for our students can be seen in school nurse annual training,” said Morrissey. “At the time of our survey, only one quarter of surveyed groups required school nurses to complete annual concussion training. But now there is a new law in place to try to correct this, and Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states to reach out to school nurses for training. This is a clear step in the right direction.”