Photographing the brutally beautiful bus stops of the former Soviet Union

After stumbling across a peculiarly artistic bus stop in Lithuania, photographer Christopher Herwig began seeking out these Soviet relics with intent. His photos have since been published across two dedicated books and in magazines and journals around the world.

As told to Oliver Pelling

Around 15 or 16 years ago, I decided to ride my bike from London to St. Petersburg. It might sound like a big trip, but it was pretty leisurely. The roads were flat and easy to ride, and I was hoping to finish the trip with this great collection of photographs. But all I could see were roads and farms. There were no big or spectacular National Geographic-like moments.

To try and kick-start my photographic output, I decided to take at least one photograph every hour, even if it was of the most ordinary or mundane thing, and try and make it look special. Soon, time started to fly by. I took photos of power lines, clothes lines, apartment blocks, things I found on the ground—it was all fair game.

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What’s the magic ingredient in Japan’s Alpine cuisine?

It’s not a local herb or an exotic spice. There’s another ingredient that makes the cuisine (and drink) of this little-visited region of Japan extra-special: Snow.

As I cross into Niigata Prefecture, it quickly becomes clear why Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata dubbed this region “snow country”.

It’s spring and the first cherry blossoms are due to appear within a fortnight. And yet on either side of the road in Myoko Kogen, one of Japan’s top ski resorts, precipitous banks of dense snow loom over the car, and thick two-meter piles cover the rooftops. In fact, the snow gets so deep here in the winter that many houses have a second front door on the first floor to allow people to get in and out. My guide Ayako Furuya tells me this as a blizzard gradually envelopes the car in a white cocoon.

Few foreign travelers make it to Niigata on the northwest coast of Honshu Island, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Tokyo. Those who do come to ski. But I wanted to sample another, little-explored aspect of the region: Snow food, a distinctive cuisine shaped by brutal winters, prodigious snowfalls and local ingenuity.

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In photos: Is this the world’s oldest and smallest religion?

One of the world’s smallest and most ancient faiths, the Israelite Samaritans remain mysterious to many. Our featured contributor Leon McCarron traveled to the Holy Land during Passover to spend time with this unique community.

Jerusalem is often described as the holiest city in the world—after all, it’s held sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims. And it’s fair to say that, in a land where we hear often of the separations along religious lines, the sanctity of Jerusalem to Abrahamic faiths is one that can be agreed upon—even if the sharing of that is far from simple.

And yet, there is another place held holy too, by another Abrahamic community. They are a faith and ethnicity that many of us may not even realize still exist: The Israelite Samaritans.

The name will be recognizable to those familiar with the Bible, and particularly from the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Roman times, there were perhaps a million and a half Samaritans but now, two millennia on, there are now just over 800.

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How mountain biking is saving tiny towns around the world

From the depths of the Ecuadorian jungle to Nepal, Australia and Canada, a massive upsurge in global mountain bike tourism is helping turn around the fortunes of small, struggling towns the world over.

“It’s bloody magical,” says mountain biker David Bannear as we survey the view from the top of the Girra trail at Mount Alexander. We’re at the newly-built La Larr Ba Gauwa mountain bike park, 90-minutes from Melbourne, Australia. Below us, framed by trees, a panorama of Central Victoria, all golden-brown hills and ancient volcanoes. “We looked at other mountain bike parks around the world that were successful and all of them showed off a unique landscape,” explains Bannear, vice-president of the local Rocky Riders Club.

In this spot sacred to the traditional owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung, the $1.9 million, 21-mile trail network was built to breathe new life into Harcourt. A pretty town of 900, Harcourt has long been famous for apples and cider, although there are fewer than half a dozen growers now, following an influx of imported fruit. Around 10,000 cars a day used to pass through here on one of the state’s main highways, but they disappeared when a new freeway bypassed the town in 2009.

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We asked the professionals for their worst travel mistakes

Travel isn’t always as seamless and trouble-free as Instagram would have you believe. To prove it, our featured contributor Leon McCarron asked his adventurous friends to share their most memorable travel stuff-ups.

There was a time in my life, in the middle of a long bike tour in Asia, when I got excited about camping in odd places: Sleeping in the middle of roundabouts, on top of unfinished shopping malls and inside kebab shops broke up the occasional tedium of the task.

In southern China, I spotted a large concrete pipe near an old quarry and unloaded my gear just as the hailstones started. It was fantastic, I thought. How clever I am! Unfortunately, the pipe was a lot narrower than I thought, and I couldn’t straighten my shoulders.

Immediately, my back began to cramp, but it was raining outside. What kind of idiot would go out into that? What followed was one of the most miserable nights of my life—made worse by the local rat population who decided to cosy up with me…

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You can keep your sunshine: Traveling in the rain is better for the soul

Forget tropical islands and balmy sunsets—what about windswept hills, mist-shrouded mountains, soaking cities, stormy coasts and moss-covered forests? Jo Stewart argues that rain, far from ruining a trip, can make it even more special.

I’ve been rained on in Milan. I’ve skipped puddles in London. I’ve collected snowflakes on my tongue in Vancouver and been stalked by a permanent raincloud in the Falkland Islands—but nothing beats seeing rain in the Australian Outback.

Soundtracked by the deafening thud of raindrops pelting a rusty iron roof, there was something soul-stirring about watching crackles of lightning illuminate the Outback sky. It was one of those rare travel experiences you feel with every cell of your body. After all, it’s not supposed to rain in the Outback, is it? It doesn’t fit with our preconceptions. And yet, it was glorious.

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This week, celebrates its first birthday since its relaunch in April 2017 so we’re highlighting a selection of our favorite features and photo stories from our first 12 months.

One year ago, we relaunched with a simple mission: To find the most interesting stories in the world, and tell them in a way that’s as clear, engaging and accessible to as many people as possible. This philosophy is built into everything we do—from our website design to the writers and photographers we work with, and everything in between.

We strive to be an antidote to our noisy world; a clutter-free corner of the internet where you can come to read a beautifully crafted story with stunning photography—minus the videos, pop-ups, surveys and everything else the internet can throw at you. From day one, our small, dedicated team has focused on quality over quantity. And we’ll continue to do just that.

Now, 12 months in, it seemed a good time to look back on the stories we’ve been lucky enough to work on—and the stories you, our readers, have read the most. Enjoy.

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