Fusing haughty elegance with down-to-earth grit and one beautifully colonnaded medieval grid, Bologna is a city of two intriguing halves. One side is a hard-working, hi-tech city located in the super-rich Po valley where suave opera-goers waltz out of regal theatres and into some of the nation’s finest restaurants. The other is a Bolshie, politically edgy city that hosts the world’s oldest university and is famous for its graffiti-embellished piazzas filled with mildly inebriated students swapping Gothic fashion tips.
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Conakry doesn’t try to please its guests, and yet, slowly, many are eventually won over by its charms. There aren’t many sights in this dusty mess of crumbling buildings, pollution, rubbish and traffic jams, but there is plenty of buzz. From the pungent fishing port of Boulbinet and the street kitchens of Coronthie to the containers-turned-shops of Taouyah, this city goes about its business noisily and with ingenuity, proud and unruffled by the visitor’s gaze.
Nigeria’s made-to-measure capital, Abuja was founded during the boom years of the 1970s. After the divisive Biafran War, the decision was made to move the capital from Lagos to the ethnically neutral centre of the country. Clean, quiet and with a good electricity supply, sometimes Abuja hardly feels like Nigeria at all. There’s not much to do, but it’s a good place to catch your breath and do some visa shopping.
- Dakar is a city of extremes, where horse-cart drivers chug over swish highways and gleaming SUVs squeeze through tiny sand roads; where elegant ladies dig skinny heels into dusty walkways and suit-clad businessmen kneel down for prayer in the middle of the street. For the traveller, there’s much to discover, from peaceful islands just off-shore to vertiginous nightlife dancing to mbalax beats. You can spend your days browsing frenetic markets and taking in the sights of bustling downtown, followed by sunset drinks overlooking the crashing waves. At once both intimidating and deeply alluring, Dakar is a fascinating introduction to Senegal.
Algiers never fails to make an impression. The country’s turbulent history is writ large in the city’s richly textured architecture: wide French-built boulevards and elegant apartments and villas, Socialist-era monuments and public buildings, and an enduring Islamic heart secreted in the steep, hillside Casbah. Labyrinthine streets spill down to the yawning big blue of the Bay of Algiers, sea and sky and green ravines glimpsed at every step.