G Adventures Announces New Destinations For 2013

Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands, AustraliaAdventure travel company G Adventures has announced that starting in January of next year it will begin offering options to visit 12 new countries and expand its popular Local Living tours to more destinations as well. These additions to the G Adventures catalog will provide a host of new and unique experiences for travelers of all types.

Perhaps the most exciting news is that with its new expanded line-up, G Adventures will now be offering options to visit all seven continents. Over the past 22 years, the company has been providing amazing travel experiences across the globe, but until now they haven’t offered any tours to Australia or New Zealand. That changes in 2013 with new overland trips from Sydney to Cairns and Melbourne to Darwin in Australia, and exciting excursions to both the North and South Islands in New Zealand. Travelers will have the option to go spearfishing, soak up the culture in an Aboriginal community, visit a working cattle ranch or sail some of the most beautiful islands on the planet. Tours will range from three to 21 days in length and can be customized to fit schedules and budgets.

Besides Australia and New Zealand, ten other countries are new to the G Adventures roster next year. Those countries include Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Croatia, Iceland, Scotland, Montenegro, Sweden, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania and Serbia. These new destinations will expand the company’s offerings to over 730 different tours.Also expanding in 2013 will be the Local Living tours, which have been carefully crafted to give travelers the opportunity to experience specific destinations like a local. While there, guests actually stay in one place and can really delve deep into the history and culture of that single location by becoming embedded into day-to-day life there. The Local Living option was first introduced with tours to the Amalfi Coast and Southern Tuscany, but starting next year 23 different tours will be offered to such places as Iceland, Mongolia, Croatia, Morocco and more.

With so many options in its catalog, I think it is safe to say that G Adventures has a little something for everyone. Whether you enjoy a hardcore adventure or a more relaxed cultural experience, they can provide the kind of trip you’re looking for and they’ll do so at an affordable price.

Are there lost pyramids in Bosnia? Probably not.

pyramids in Bosnia, Visoko
For several years now, European archaeologists have been in a furor over a supposed lost civilization in Bosnia that built the biggest pyramids in the world. Scholars have dismissed the claims, made by Bosnian-American businessman Semir Osmanagic, as pseudoscience, yet he’s getting funding from the Bosnian government and was just granted permission to excavate over the objections of the country’s archaeological establishment.

Osmanagic is convinced a large hill overlooking the town of Visoko near the Bosnian capital Sarajevo is a pyramid from an lost civilization dating to about 12,000 years ago, when the region was experiencing the Ice Age. The hill is indeed roughly pyramid-shaped, at least the half that faces the town. The other half is a bit lumpy. In fact, if you look at it with Google Earth, it doesn’t look like a pyramid at all. Geologists say it’s a natural formation and that there are several like it in the region; Osmanagic says many of those hills are pyramids too.

To prove his point Osmanagic set up the “Archaeological Park: Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun” and since 2005 has been fighting for permission to excavate. The permit was granted, but then it was revoked for fear the excavations could damage an existing archaeological site on the top of the hill. This is a medieval fort with Roman foundations built atop a Neolithic settlement. Now permission has been granted again and the work will continue.

A victory for independent science against the narrow vision of academia? Not necessarily.

Looking at the photos on Osmanagic’s website on the pyramids in Bosnia, I don’t see anything indicating there’s a pyramid there. Most of the supposedly worked stone looks like other natural formations I’ve seen, the so-called “secret tunnels” could be from any era, and the few examples of obviously worked stone could just as easily be medieval. In fact, Byzantine records say there was a town here in the Middle Ages and it has not been found. The Bosnian pyramid team may be destroying a real archaeological site in order to create a fake one.Some of Osmanagic’s actions seem a bit fishy too. He claimed to have assembled a team of experts to work on the site and give him advice, including famous Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, but many of them said they had never agreed to work on the site. Some of them said Osmanagic never even contacted them.

In an angry letter to Archaeology Magazine, Dr. Hawass wrote, “The discoverer of the “pyramid” in Bosnia, Semir Osmanagic, who claims that a hill near the Bosnia River is a man-made structure built before the end of the last Ice Age, is not a specialist on pyramids. His previous claim that the Maya are from the Pleiades and Atlantis should be enough for any educated reader.”

The claim has certainly created a tourist industry in the previously sleepy town, and it’s sparking interest in Bosnia’s past. So where’s the harm?

In an article in Science, Bosnian archaeologists lamented that funding and attention were going to the fanciful pyramid theory while the nation’s real heritage remains underfunded and underprotected. Some have even reported being threatened for speaking out against the project. The Bosnian Pyramids have become a matter of national pride for a nation still feeling the wounds of the bitter war of the 1990s. Osmanagic has made Bosnia the cradle of civilization, or as he terms it, “supercivilization”.

This is the sort of nationalistic chest-thumping that got the Balkans into trouble in the first place. Osmanagic is playing with fire.

Photo of the Day – Bubbles in Bosnia-Herzegovina

photo of the day
As children, we are captivated by bubbles. A little soap and water and the reflections can be magical. Outside of the occasional bubble bath (and the delicious bubbles in sparkling wine!), we don’t have many occasions to enjoy bubbles as adults. In today’s photo by Flickr user Marko Musnjak, the little girl and her mother look equally mesmerized by the street seller’s bubble toy. Taken at the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in Posušje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the photo captures the fun and magic of street festivals and bubbles.

What childhood delights have you rediscovered in your travels? Share your favorite photos in the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use it for a future Photo of the Day.

Five ways to get more European stamps in your passport

european passport stamps
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that European passport stamps have become harder and harder to get. The expansion of the Schengen zone has reduced the number of times tourists are compelled to show their passports to immigration officials. For most Americans on multi-country European itineraries, a passport will be stamped just twice: upon arrival and upon departure.

Where’s the fun in that?

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your passport’s stamps. They’re souvenirs. So ignore the haters and treasure them. You won’t be the first to sit at your desk alone, lovingly fingering your stamps while daydreaming of your next adventure. You won’t be the last, either.

And if you are a passport stamp lover with a penchant for European travel, don’t despair. There are plenty of places in Europe where visitors have to submit their travel documents to officials to receive stamps. Some countries, in fact, even require Americans to purchase full-page visas in advance.

The Western Balkans remain almost entirely outside of Schengen. Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan all require visas for Americans, while Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia do not. Immigration officers at the borders of all of these countries, however, will stamp your passport when you enter and when you leave. Turkey provides visas on arrival. These cost €15. Among EU countries, the UK, Ireland, and Cyprus remain outside of Schengen for the time being, while Romania and Bulgaria will soon join it.
european passport stamps
Pristina, Kosovo.

Ok then. How to maximize the number of stamps in your passport during a European jaunt? Here are five ideas.

1. Fly into the UK or Ireland and then travel from either of these countries to a Schengen zone country. You’ll obtain an arrival stamp in the UK or Ireland and then be processed when entering and leaving the Schengen zone.

2. Plan an itinerary through the former Yugoslavia plus Albania by car, bus, or train. Slovenia is part of the Schengen zone but the rest of the former country is not. Traveling across the borders of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania will yield all sorts of passport stamp action.

3. Visit the following eastern European countries: Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and/or Azerbaijan. Unavoidable passport stamp madness will transpire.

4. Visit San Marino and pay the tourist office for a passport stamp. The miniscule republic charges €5 to stamp passports. The bus fare from Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic coast is worth it for the bragging rights alone.

5. Visit the EU’s three Schengen stragglers, Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria. In the case of the latter two, visit soon.

Weekending: Sarajevo


Istanbul’s unique position straddling two continents affords a lot of travel opportunities, with quick direct flights throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. As an American living in Turkey, I try to explore as often as I can, particularly to less-traveled destinations. While my last weekend trip was to Prague, for this trip, I ventured to another Eastern European capital with far fewer tourists but an equally fascinating history.

The place: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
When I stepped off the plane in Sarajevo, the immigration officer asked me what I was doing in Bosnia. I struggled for a moment before answering “holiday” but really had no single good answer. A combination of cheap tickets, a holiday weekend, and an intriguing destination was what brought me to Bosnia. Most people associate Sarajevo with the tragic Bosnian War in the 1990s, or as part of the former communist Yugoslavia, but today the city is rebuilding and winning fans with cafe culture, Ottoman architecture, and easy access to outdoor adventure. The blend of religions and ethnicities have led the city to be called the European Jerusalem, and travelers will find the excellent exchange rate ($1 USD = 1.5 BAM, which is tied to the Euro 2:1) and widely-spoken English especially welcoming.

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  • One of the most amazing things about Bosnia is the the people. Resilient, scrappy, and friendly, Sarajevans have survived a lot and recovered remarkably well in a short time. I was particularly sobered by imagining the incredibly difficult adolescence people my age (30) must have had during the 1992-95 conflict. To get an idea of life under siege, you only have to walk around the city and take in the many bullet hole-ridden, damaged and shelled buildings, like the Moorish National Library which is undergoing reconstruction. Every visitor should go to the Historical Museum, across the street from the infamous Holiday Inn war correspondent hub, with a humble but moving exhibit on the siege. The Tunnel of Hope is another must-see museum documenting and preserving the cramped passage between the city and the free zone, where residents could connect with aid and communication with the outside world.
  • Sarajevo also offers excellent value. Decent hotels start at 40 Euros and rarely top 100 Euros. I stayed at the very comfortable and personal Hotel Michele for 85 Euros with a nice breakfast and wifi; celebrity guests have included Bono and Morgan Freeman. Tram or bus tickets are under 2 BAM, with taxi rides among the lowest in Europe (the most expensive ride is to the airport and under 25 BAM). Most attractive to expats who pay a small fortune for alcohol: beer, wine, and cocktails are 3 to 10 BAM most everywhere. While not a party town, there are a few good night spots including one of my favorite bars ever: the delightful Zlatna Ribica with the most well-stocked bar bathroom I’ve ever seen.

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  • While many of the sights are fascinating and affecting, the small museums and tourist attractions are still limited and can be seen in a day or two. The historic Bascarsija Turkish quarter is fun to stroll but crowded with more souvenir shops than craftsmiths these days. Sarajevo is better spent relaxing at a cafe on pedestrian Ferhadija Street and absorbing the history and culture than ticking sights off a list. Surrounded by mountains and valleys, there are also lots of opportunities for hikes, day trips, and skiing in winter.
  • Bosnian food is not bad, but many staple dishes are strikingly similar to Turkish food, such as stuffed burek pastries and cevapi meatballs (see: Turkish kofte). While tasty and locally-sourced, the food in Sarajevo tends to be heavy and meat-centric, without the abundance of salads and fish that balance out Turkish menus. High-end international and modern Bosnian restaurants are popping up around town, while cheap eats can be had for under 10 BAM. Reliable mid-range options include Noovi Wine Bar near the British Embassy for pizzas and a great regional wine list, and To Be or Not to Be (name reflects the plucky and determined spirit of Sarajevans during the siege) for homemade pastas and funky twists on traditional dishes. A famous local restaurant is Inat Kuca, or House of Spite, across the river from the National Library. The story behind the name dates back to the building of the library (then City Hall) when the house’s resident refused to let them build over his home, so they took the house brick-by-brick across the river to where it stands today (how’s that for thwarting eminent domain?).

Getting there

Tiny but admirably high-tech (they offer mobile and web check-in) Sarajevo International Airport doesn’t offer many flights outside of Eastern Europe, but national carrier B&H Airlines has affordable flights from major hubs including Frankfurt, Istanbul, and Zurich. Many travelers arrive via car or bus from neighboring countries; Croatia’s popular Dubrovnik is 5-7 hours by car and there’s an overnight train to/from Zagreb.

Make it a week

Check out the other half of B&H: Mostar in Herzegovina is another beautiful river town with a famous bridge not far from the Croatian coast. Bosnia is also an emerging destination for adventure travel with a large diversity of activities and landscapes. The Balkans have a wealth of places to go, but be aware of the history and potential Serbia visa issues when traveling overland.