Issue 276
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Travel writer, Anna Hart, on her favourite spots for a weekender-for-one

As the British explorer Freya Stark put it, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world.” I’m also of the belief that there is no greater luxury than having a new city waiting for you to discover. Whether you want to immerse yourself in culture at art galleries and museums, wander around historical districts, tuck into the highlights of the local food scene or shop hard at vintage and design stores, the freedom to do whatever you please whenever you feel like it becomes addictive. But it’s important to choose your destination with care, and avoid overpriced and stuffy cities. Here’s my pick of the very best spots to make your own, alone, all reachable direct from Birmingham Airport.

Naples: get there with or TUI

I use Naples as a means of judging potential friends and lovers. Some travellers bang on about the piles of rubbish and edginess of the city, compared to slickly-packaged and touristy Italian cities like Rome, Venice or Florence. Others, like myself, are entirely charmed by the chaos of Naples, won over by the friendliness of the locals, and heartened by how affordable the good life is in this town. Staying at the luxurious Weekend a Napoli villa immediately thrusts me into a friendly family atmosphere, but this is a city where you’re never really alone. It’s entirely normal for solitary Neapolitans to pop into a bar for an espresso, Aperol Spritz or Peroni, and the £3 pizza at Da Michele is served in a buzzy, informal atmosphere that swallows up solo diners. Venice draws the culture-craving crowds, but Naples’ wealth of cultural treats has me just as awestruck, with royal palaces, castles and ancient ruins, plus the city’s fascinating Museo Archeologico Nazionale, showcasing Pompeiian frescoes and mosaics.; TUI

Edinburgh: get there direct with Flybe

Some cities take a bit of trial and error to get right, but an independent traveller can tumble off the train or coach in Edinburgh and immediately find themselves surrounded by melodramatic castles, quirky vintage stores and cosy, den-like pubs. STAY Central puts me right in the thick of it in the lively Cowgate area, the perfect place to embark upon the combined vintage store/pub crawl itinerary I have planned for myself. I join the lunchtime hoards eating pizza at shared benches at The Three Sisters pub next door, before pillaging Armstrongs Vintage for woollen knits. The next morning, I pull on my trainers for a sprint up Arthur’s Seat, for dreamy views of the city I just made my own. Flights

Dubrovnik: get there direct with TUI or

Nothing really prepares you for the sheer beauty of Dubrovnik’s old town, except, perhaps, having seen its turn as King’s Landing. But even as a repeat visitor to Dubrovnik, the limestone streets and vast city walls take my breath away. For unencumbered travellers, this bewitching locale offers serious cultural and historical heft alongside a friendly and informal beach culture. Villa Sigurata puts me right at the heart of the old town, from where it’s a short stroll along a winding residential street and through a hole in the wall to the cliff-hugging Buza Bar, where I sip a cold Ožujsk and leap into the Adriatic sea. The next morning I hop on the regular ferry to the nearby island of Lokrum, to laze on the flat volcanic rocks, before heading back to the big smoke for an outdoor cinema screening at Jadran. TUI;

Budapest: get there direct with Wizz Air

As a solo traveller, choosing the right hotel is the key to the city, and as soon as I set foot in Brody House, a sprawling mansion of 11 rooms decorated by different local artists, I know I'm onto a winner. Staff are ridiculously friendly and knowledgeable, and before long I'm being shown around the bars and restaurants in Brody Studios, a sound and artists' complex down the road. With affordable studio space and a bohemian spirit, Budapest is beloved by young, creative international sorts, and after a couple of beers in the studios, I find myself swept up in a crowd headed to Szimpla Kert, one of the most famous of the city’s ruin bars, taking over a dilapidated factory. The next morning, I join the naked masses at the Gellert Spa to steam away the sins of the night before. Flights

Istanbul: get there direct with Turkish Airlines

Few cities offer the dazzling diversity — culinary, cultural, architectural — of the Turkish capital, which has been at the crossroads between East and West for centuries. I splash out on a room at Soho House Istanbul which immediately immerses me in the city’s lively international creative set, and chatting to “digital nomads” at breakfast, I pick up a few tips for the day ahead. A three-minute walk gets me to Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoğlu’s lovely pedestrian avenue running north up to Taksim Square and south down to the historic Galata Tower. The street functions as an architectural walking tour, and I wander past buildings reflecting at least seven different types of design styles, from Neo-Gothic to Art Deco. And Istanbul’s robust informal dining scene is another bonus when searching out a table for one. Just off Istiklal Caddesi is Çiçek Pasaji, a web of streets lined with meyhane, simple bistros where locals snack on mezze. The spectacular interiors of Ikinci Bahar give me plenty to look at as I polish off a dish, before heading to Bubble Pub on Nevizade Sokağı for a nightcap. Flights
Anna has written a book and it's really rather good. Get 'Departures: A Guide To Letting Go, One Adventure At A Time' right here.


Some people build an ark, other people build the Birmingham arm of global fitness phenomenon, F45. After a small, unplanned incident with a gazillion gallons of water, the group personal training gurus are now flood-free and back, ready to get you beach-toned, fit and endorphined in 45 mins, through small group classes combining functional training, HIIT and circuit training. Taking place up to six times a day and findable on New Street, this fitness programme is designed to work for you busy types with, for example, a 12.30pm lunchbreak sesh each weekday. Try it for free for a fortnight right here. One trial member will even win membership for three whole months. Sign up and attend a class by April 30 to be in with a chance. F45 relaunches this Saturday.


At the movies, the DC Universe has tended to be grittier and grumpier than Marvel’s – to mixed results. Shazam! comes as a clear course correction, often feeling more like a Big reboot than something akin to Justice League. An ordinary boy is granted the power to transform into a superhero just by saying the word of the title: Zachary Levi is fantastic as the older version, nailing Tom Hanks’ trick of playing a kid in an older body but without it being weird. The confrontation with Mark Strong’s villain is a little rote, but the meat here is the relationship between our main hero and his best pal: two losers with nothing but each other. Their sweet scenes together are a far more impressive feat than any CGI fight. And you’ll be surprised where the title comes from. Times & trailer


A defaced Give Way sign, a 4ft Fido Dido and a Kilroy ‘Wot, no Milk?’ wall scrawling — that’s pretty much all that adorned our streets whilst we were growing up. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Jamaican streets were a tad more exciting, so sign-savant Tracey Thorne has gathered her found favourites alongside graffiti and urban murals for her Big tings a gwaan down di street exhibition. Covering Jamaican history, independence from Britain, and music (it even has its own Spotify playlist), The Old Print Works in Balsall Heath will be plastered with dancehall signs, mahoosive music murals and original event posters. Once prohibited under Jamaican law, the pieces have since come to symbolise the county’s spirit of freedom and the changing times. Note to all other exhibitions: more playlists, please. Opens tomorrow (April 5) and continues until April 18. Entry is free. Maybe even get yourself on an interactive talk and tour.
Venue: Enigma, city centre location, probably; website
Choice: The video course (£75 as part of two-hour experience) Chooser: Us

"Goodnight huns!! XOXO" — it's the beginning of Enigma, a food/drink/tech experience unlike anything we've seen, and we've just got a text from an unknown number sending us to bed. Over the next two hours, we'll make it through a whole day in cocktails, sounds and comestibles, though the day will run in reverse. And though we can tell you about our experience, no two runnings of Enigma — created by Rob Wood at 18/81 and Alex Claridge at The Wilderness — will be the same, so book in at your own risk (you'll literally be signing a waiver). And if that all sounds a bit vague and mysterious, what we can say is that you and up to five other people will be led through between 10 and 14 scenes, depending on decisions you and your group make, all playing with your perception of time. From snacks, to a full-on Boots Meal Deal, to more than one Bandersnatch moment, our favourite "scene" was probably a virtual trip to Blockbuster, where the TV series the group collectively decided on (Breaking Bad) dictated the next part of the experience (cocktails created in conical flasks, baggies and something that looked a lot like crystal meth, of course). And though Enigma is about so much more than food and drink, with the pedigree of the team involved, it's no surprise that the experience also tastes great. Big-thinking independents, doing big-thinking things. Wednesdays to Saturdays. Precise location confirmed on the day.
Tomorrow night is Harborne Night Market, the relaunch of Digbeth Garden Party and Street Food Fridays is at Rowheath Pavillion. What a time to be alive.
The Fighting Spirit, a martial arts film festival, is at Mockingbird on April 28. A day pass'll cost you £18, and includes nunchucks, presumably.

Lou Sanders is becoming a big deal. Catch her at The British Oak for under a tenner before she gets too big. May 16, tickets.
Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist is a photography exhibition documenting a Hamburg football club that lives by those words. Opening tonight at Parkside Gallery. More
Cork and Cage is open from midday every day right through to Sunday. Here's the sort of scram you can expect with your craft beering.

"When you’re traveling with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there’s no other way to preserve it."

Shauna Niequist

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WORDS: Anna Hart, Katy Drohan, Robb Sheppard, Andrew Lowry
PICTURES: Shazam — Warner Bros Pictures

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