Notes from the field

Our work takes us all over the world. Here we share some of our more personal perspectives on some of the destinations we have visited, filed on location.

18.05.2017

Can Vietnam maintain its remarkable progress?

On Hanoi’s Dien Bien Phu Street, an unmarked door and a flight of stairs bounded by walls painted green with pink flowers leads to a branch of Cong Coffee. Its low benches and spare tables are lit by oil lamps. Through gaps in the plants growing from its balcony, customers can watch the traffic ease past restaurants and bookshops. The décor – replicated at other Cong Coffee branches across Vietnam – is designed to evoke the atmosphere of its founder’s childhood in the 1980s. Its aesthetic would not be out of place on London’s trendy Brick Lane. more >
28.04.2017

Fathoming Ukraine’s faltering transition

I have been back to Kyiv on several occasions since my first trip in 2009 towards the end of the Presidency of Viktor Yushchenko. It is an attractive place but beyond that it is difficult to think of anywhere I have visited in the former Soviet Union that has changed as much in the last eight years. more >
01.03.2017

Armenia’s Sargsyan prioritises stability over economic reform

There was not much pre-election buzz in Yerevan. This was of course understandable given the timing of my visit – deep midwinter. Heavy snow had fallen in the city the day I arrived. more >
28.02.2017

Cuba’s Revolution – will it get lost in transition?

Looking down from the rooftop bar of Hotel Inglaterra, the oldest hotel in Cuba, you can enjoy Havana’s architectural splendor, albeit faded and fragile and desperately preserved by multiple coats of often peeling paint. On the street, you risk being assaulted by fumes from diesel cars and aggressive bicycle rickshaw drivers. Havana is a place that both stands still and rushes ahead. more >
03.02.2017

Georgians bemoan pace of Western integration

Arriving at Tbilisi airport on a transit flight from Moscow, I witnessed an enterprising act of Georgian diplomacy that brought a smile to my face. As Russian passport holders passed customs control, they were handed bottles of the country’s finest wine. It was a nice touch by the government seemingly keen to reassure the visitors that while relations with Russia may be difficult, it has nothing against its citizens. more >
28.10.2016

Tajik leader’s ‘grand designs’ fail to mask economic flaws

The Palace of Nowruz in Central Dushanbe is a mammoth edifice with 12 opulent reception halls. Some are decorated with intricate woodcarvings, others made entirely of expensive marble and semi-precious stones, all adorned with traditional paintings and mosaics. For five years some 4,000 artists worked on decorating the palace and the project is said to have cost $60mn. more >
08.09.2016

Berlin rides the tech wave

The gentrified neighbourhoods of East Berlin bustle with activity. Cafés, trendy clothes shops and fancy restaurants line the wide boulevards, serving hip young Berliners. Amongst them are a growing number of entrepreneurs who are redefining the capital. more >
28.07.2016

Namibia bucks Africa’s economic downturn

Arriving in Namibia’s capital Windhoek, one almost feels like stepping out of a time machine into 19th century Germany – albeit with a more welcoming climate. Bismarck Street in the wealthy seaside town of Swakopmund boasts shops selling German sausages of a quality that is hard to come by in Germany nowadays, and the fishing town of Lüderitz would not look out of place in Bavaria. Given the abundance of European architecture, traditional German cuisine and what locals proudly call the best beer in all of Africa, visitors might be surprised to learn that Namibia was only a German colony for a mere 30 years. more >
01.07.2016

In Montenegro, it’s all business

Few travellers bound for Montenegro stop in Podgorica. No wonder, Montenegro’s capital is a lacklustre town with barely a cluster of lively restaurants and bars in its centre. All the action is along the coast, where the towns of Budva and Sveti Stefan, as well as Tivat and Kotor further inland, attract hordes of tourists with their beautiful beaches and quaint, medieval architecture. more >
14.06.2016

Angola at the crossroads

Spend any time in Luanda, Angola’s bustling capital, and the first thing that hits you is the sharp disparities in wealth. more >

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