How to spend 48 hours in Chiang Mai
Thailand’s unofficial second city is a stark contrast to bustling Bangkok, but while this less frenetic city’s charm may lie in its unhurried vibe, its creative and culinary scenes are booming. Megan Arkinstall spends TWO DAYS exploring cool, calm and collected Chiang Mai. DAY ONE 8am Start your day on the right foot with a coffee from Akha Ama Coffee La Fattoria, located in Chiang Mai’s Old City. Set up by Lee Ayu in 2010, this social enterprise was created to help his Akha hilltribe community sell their coffee beans at a fair price.   Sourced straight from the hilltribe’s farms, Akha Ama’s (Ama means ‘mother’ in the Akha language) the single-origin beans are roasted, brewed and served in three locations around the city. [caption id="attachment_48907" align="alignnone" width="600"] Start your day off right with a coffee from Akha Ama Coffee La Fattoria[/caption] 9am With more than 300 temples (wats) in Chiang Mai, temple hopping may seem like an overwhelming task. Thankfully the Old City, which is easily navigable at just one-square-mile in size, is home to some great examples.   Absolute must-sees include the 14th-century Wat Phra Singh, one of the finest examples of Lanna-style architecture resplendent in teak carvings and gold; and the 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, which houses a revered standing Buddha, giant reclining Buddha, and formerly enshrined Thailand’s all-important Emerald Buddha. Also within walking distance is Wat Phan Tao, constructed entirely of teak; Wat Chiang Man, the city’s oldest wat; and the Three Kings Monument. 11am Khao Soi, the famous curry noodle dish of the north, is so good at Grandma’s Khao Soi it often sells out before 1pm, so we recommend you hightail it here mid-morning. Located between Wat Rajamontean and Wat Khuan Khama, the nondescript shop can be easily overlooked, so keep your eyes peeled.   Served with chicken, pork or beef, topped with crispy noodles and accompanied by lime and chillies, the broth is rich and deliciously spicy. [caption id="attachment_48910" align="alignnone" width="600"] Behold, Khao Soi: the famous curry noodle dish of the north[/caption] 2pm Beat the afternoon heat for a couple of hours and retreat to Fah Lanna Spa. Located in a quiet street in the northern part of the Old City, it has 25 treatment rooms set around a central leafy tropical garden featuring a wooden walkway and several ponds.   Try Tok Sen massage, a style that is unique to Chiang Mai based on ancient Lanna wisdom. It aims to clear blocked energy using a wooden tool, similar to a hammer and chisel, to ease muscle tension through physical and sound vibration. [caption id="attachment_48908" align="alignnone" width="600"] Beat the afternoon heat for a couple of hours and retreat to Fah Lanna Spa[/caption] 4pm On the eastern side of the Mae Ping River is the riverfront neighbourhood of Wat Ket. Sweet-toothed travellers will love family-owned boutique bakery Forest Bake, which is housed in an adorable petite log cabin. Here you can pick up fresh bread made from natural wild yeast and hand-kneaded dough, as well as cakes and desserts that look as good as they taste.   If you’re a tea lover, be sure to stop at the oh-so-pretty Vieng Joom on Teahouse, which offers up to 50 varieties of tea from all over the world to enjoy in house or take home. 6pm Stop in for an early dinner at Woo Cafe, which serves a Thai fusion cuisine in the most blooming beautiful setting (the space is literally filled with flowers) and also houses an art gallery and lifestyle shop.   The Riverside Bar & Restaurant is also just down the road and is a popular spot to enjoy a cocktail on the river with live music every night. [caption id="attachment_48912" align="alignnone" width="600"] Woo Cafe is literally filled with flowers[/caption] 8pm Retreat back to 137 Pillars House, also located in Wat Ket. Housed in the historic 125-year-old Baan Borneo, the former northern headquarters for the East Borneo Trading Company, the homestead was lovingly restored from a crumbling ruin to a luxury 30-suite boutique hotel.   The original teak beauty oozes old-world charm and each spacious room has a private balcony overlooking the tranquil gardens. [caption id="attachment_48906" align="alignnone" width="600"] Retreat back to the tranquil 137 Pillars House, located in Wat Ket[/caption] DAY TWO 7am Start your day at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the country’s most sacred temples. Tucked away in the mountains north-west of the Old City, the 14th-century wat offers panoramic views of Chiang Mai at 1056 metres above sea level and is reached via a dragon-shaped Naga staircase (309 steps). 10.30am Back down to Earth, Nimmanhaemin Road (or Nimman, as it is commonly known) is a trendy area with a heap of hipster-style cafes, premium shops and art galleries.   Your mid-morning coffee choices are endless – try the minimal, all-white Barisotel by The Baristro; Ristr8to known for its mind-blowing latte art; or the industrial-cool Graph at shopping and cultural centre One Nimman where you’ll also find a collection of designer boutiques. [caption id="attachment_48909" align="alignnone" width="600"] You'll find industrial-cool Graph at shopping and cultural centre One Nimman[/caption] 12.30pm Think Park is located at the northern end of Nimmanhaemin Road and is an open-air lifestyle space with restaurants, cafes and shops; there’s often live music and festivals held here throughout the year.   There are plenty of places to lunch in the Nimman area, but a popular pick is Rustic and Blue, an eclectic cafe with a farm-to-table ethos. The menu features hearty Western-style dishes including vegan options, as well as artisanal bread, homemade seasonal jam, homemade ice-cream and more. [caption id="attachment_48911" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rustic and Blue is the eclectic cafe with a farm-to-table ethos[/caption] 2pm If you’re an arts and crafts buff, be sure to make your way to Bo Sang Handicraft Centre on San Kamphaeng Road, around 10 kilometres south-east of the Old City. Along this road you’ll find a plethora of workshops and showrooms selling the likes of pottery, silverware, sculptures, jewellery, wooden carvings, paper parasols and silk products. 4pm Take the time to visit MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, a converted warehouse with a striking mirrored facade, also located in the San Kamphaeng area. It features one family’s private collection of contemporary Thai art, as well as temporary exhibitions in a range of disciplines. 6.30pm It’s time to hit the night markets – if not for the bargain souvenirs, then for the lively atmosphere, cheap street food and pretty, colourful lanterns hanging from the trees. The stalls stretch on for two blocks, selling everything from silk to handbags to traditional Thai bites such as sai oua (northern Thai sausage), aab (spicy salad) and sticky rice. 9.30pm After a busy day of shopping and eating, head to the cosy surrounds of Jack Bain’s Bar (back at 137 Pillars House) to relax over a cocktail before calling it a day. Try the signature Aged Teak, with malt whisky, red vermouth and grapefruit juice, served alongside charred cinnamon sticks.
How to experience Geisha culture in Japan
The secret world of a geisha, their lifestyle, and what it takes to become one. Listen carefully and you can hear the delicate sound of shuffling geisha heading towards Kyoto’s tea houses as dusk falls like chiffon across the Gion district. Admiring onlookers, mesmerised by their timeless beauty, stop and stare as they flutter along like butterflies, their jewelled hair dancing in the breeze. What exactly is a geisha? Long shrouded in mystery, the geisha lifestyle has captivated people from all corners of the globe. Young Japanese women dress like them, little girls play kimono dress-ups and some, entranced by the celebrity-type lifestyle, join the ranks to become one. But it’s a tough highway to hoe to reach geisha status. [caption id="attachment_48624" align="alignnone" width="600"] The geisha lifestyle has captivated people from all corners of the globe[/caption] Geisha history and the prostitution myth During the late 600s saburuko (serving girls) were the first known geishas to wait tables, make conversation and sometimes offer sexual favours. By the late 16th century major Japanese cities had constructed walled pleasure quarters where oiran (courtesans) lived and worked as licensed prostitutes.   The original role of the geisha – meaning arts person – was as an assistant to the oiran, and regulations precluded them from engaging in personal relations with customers. Geisha became extremely popular in the 1750s and by the 1800s were considered accomplished professional entertainers, far removed from the ‘ladies of the night’ perception. Where do geishas live? Former Imperial capital Kyoto is considered the birthplace of geisha culture, and is still one of the best places to experience it. Here, geisha are called geiko, and their younger counterparts are maiko. Young women who want to become a maiko (dancing girl) are usually aged between 15 and 20 years old.   First though they must find an okiya – a shared boarding house for aspiring maiko – run by an okasan (the ‘mother’ of the house) willing to sponsor her. As a sponsor, the okasan will pay for everything during the maiko’s nenki (her contract).   Not all girls will be accepted though, as during the maiko’s apprenticeship the okasan can shell out as much as 10 million yen ($130,000) to support and train them. The money goes towards her lessons as she learns how to perfect the subtle hand and foot movements of Japanese dancing, the precise steps of a tea ceremony, and social etiquette while performing cultural arts.   Alongside buying high quality kimonos the okasan will also give her maiko a monthly allowance of around 20,000 yen ($250) for clothing and make-up. The houses are not large though and she’ll usually share a room with four other maikos.   It’s strictly a business portfolio for the okasan. They reap the benefits from earning a percentage of the maiko’s income as she begins to work during the second year of her apprenticeship. And like going to university and repaying a student loan, the maiko will repay the sponsor back once she becomes a geisha. [caption id="attachment_48625" align="alignnone" width="600"] Kyoto is considered to be the birthplace of Geisha culture[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48626" align="alignnone" width="600"] Geisha's will usually share a room with four others during their training[/caption] What is the true meaning of a geisha? To enter into geisha-hood is to leave the modern world behind. The training period can last as long as five years, and they must follow strict rules to reach the coveted status. No longer called by their real name, they adopt a stage name given by the okasan.   Contact with family and friends is limited and mobile phones and any form of social media are off-limits. It’s like taking a vow of chastity – if she becomes romantically involved she has to leave the house. When there is attraction, a maiko has to learn how to create a barrier as it’s strictly forbidden for men to touch them, but she must also be playful in order to keep customers. [caption id="attachment_48627" align="alignnone" width="600"] Training can take as long as five years[/caption] An interview with a geisha In one of Kyoto’s tea houses, I meet 21-year-old Kahohana (beauty of flower), who recently graduated to geisha. In a softly spoken, trained lyrical voice she tells me about her apprenticeship. “At first our days are very hard, we are not used to it,” she says, tilting her porcelain painted face to one side, “we have to sleep on wooden pillows to keep our hair in place and it took me six months to learn how to walk along in okobo, the high wooden sandal worn by the maiko.”   Now she has completed her training, I ask Kahohana if she enjoys her work as a geisha. “Yes, yes, very much – I really love to dance and play Japanese instruments at the theatre and to perform in front of people at tea ceremonies.” She controls her smile, careful not to break into a grin for fear of ruining her make-up. “I also really like to dress in beautiful kimonos”, she adds before tottering off to her next appointment. [caption id="attachment_48629" align="alignnone" width="600"] The original role of the geisha – meaning arts person – was as an assistant to the oiran[/caption] Maiko vs geisha Young woman such as Kohohana consider themselves fortunate. Not all maiko reach the ceremony known as ‘turning the collar’ (erikae), where they transition to geisha status, and even then employment is not guaranteed. Some geisha work other jobs, and others return to study.   To be successful and in high demand a geisha has to be many things. Alongside being a gifted entertainer, she has to ‘listen’ with expressive eyes, know when to be a sounding board, and also be knowledgeable in the arts, history and politics. She is like a therapist, a confidante, and if she has mastered her skills, her diary will be full of appointments. In just two hours a geisha can charge 60,000 yen ($750) and in six hours, around 180,000 yen ($2200) for a private session. A percentage goes to the establishment she’s working in, but a geisha working between the ages of 25 and 45 years can earn a substantial income in her career. [caption id="attachment_48631" align="alignnone" width="600"] Not a hair out of place[/caption] Geisha make-up Most of all geisha and maiko must look as though she’s just stepped out of a Madame Tussauds’ wax museum: not a hair out of place, her allure is in her appearance. It takes time though to perfect the face of Japan. Maiko and geisha start getting ready around 3pm and work from 6pm onwards.   Make-up and hair can take one to two hours as she’ll paint her face and nape of the neck – considered the most sensual part of a woman – in oshiroi: the iconic white powder associated with geisha. As a geisha, she’ll apply red lipstick to both lips, whereas a maiko only makes up the bottom lip. The kimono alone can take 30 minutes. [caption id="attachment_48630" align="alignnone" width="600"] It takes around three hours to transform into full Geisha makeup[/caption] How to spot a geisha Transitioning into the world of geisha-hood is to pledge to be gracious, elegant, yet quietly strong and articulate. Even after a night of performing and accompanying men to theatres, geisha can be seen taking tiny steps in Gion district’s lamplight as they head home, perfectly composed, still carrying the air of secrecy to one of Japan’s oldest and most idolised professions. Details: Wendy Wu Tours runs an immersive 14-day all-inclusive Trails of Japan Tour starting from $9640 – guests attend a geisha performance and visit the Gion district in Kyoto.   Want to experience more of Japan? Here is our ultimate travel guide to the best eats, stays and experiences in Japan.
Where to eat in Honolulu, Hawai’i
Hawai‘i hasn’t always been considered a hot culinary destination – but change is afoot, as Megan Arkinstall discovers as she hits the capital’s best foodie spots. Honolulu, the capital of the Aloha State and home to famous Waikiki Beach has long been celebrated as a fly-and-flop tropical destination: one that conjures up images of grass-skirt-wearing hula dancers swaying to the harmonious sounds of the ukulele, longboard-riding surfers gesturing the shaka, and a relaxed national uniform of vibrant floral shirts and leis.   But perhaps one thing you don’t know about Hawai‘i (or at least it’s not at the top of your holiday checklist) is that it has an incredibly unique cuisine that has been born from a medley of cultural influences. (And it has nothing to do with Hawaiian pizza, which – by the way – was created in Canada.)   Here, we give you the lowdown on authentic Hawaiian cuisine, and why Honolulu is one of the USA’s hottest culinary cities.   Beyond Waikiki’s famous streets are some smaller, lesser-known enclaves with some of the tastiest, most creative eateries you’ll find. Kaka‘ako A cool neighbourhood nestled between Ala Moana and Downtown Honolulu with colourful street art, quality boutique shopping and a grassy waterfront park. [caption id="attachment_47770" align="alignleft" width="600"] Explore the streets of Kaka’ako[/caption] Moku Kitchen The menu at Moku Kitchen is seasonal and features dishes such as a fresh island mahi mahi fish sandwich, kalua pork pizza and saimin noodles (a noodle dish with Japanese, Chinese and Filipino influences). Address: 60 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu Piggy Smalls Chef Andrew Le’s Piggy Smalls has an eclectic menu featuring pho, pasta, quiche and porchetta; it’s part of the much-loved Pig and the Lady family. Address: 1200 Ala Moana Blvd, Honolulu [caption id="attachment_47768" align="alignleft" width="600"] Enjoy a bowl of vegan pho at Piggy Smalls[/caption] Eat the Street food truck rally If you’re in town on the last Friday of the month, be sure to check out the Eat the Street food truck rally.   More than 40 vendors cook up burgers, shrimp and tacos, as well as island-inspired cuisine such as plate lunch (the Hawaiian version of meat and three veg) and loco moco (white rice, hamburger patty, fried egg and brown gravy). Address: 555 South St, Honolulu Butterfly Ice cream For a sweet treat, head to Butterfly Ice cream, which churns small-batch seasonal ice-cream with local flavours such as Kona coffee, Lehua honey and poi banana bread. Address: 324 Coral St #103, Honolulu Kaimuki An eclectic residential neighbourhood to the east of Waikiki, with specialty shops and unique eateries. Ed Kenney Hawaiian-born chef Ed Kenney is a huge pioneer in the local food community. His restaurants Kaimuki Superette (a deli-style eatery selling seasonal sandwiches and sundries;), Town (a Mediterranean-Hawaiian restaurant with a farm-to-table menu) and Mud Hen Water (honouring Hawai‘i’s cuisine through small and large share plates) are all located in Kaimuki and showcase what Hawaiian Regional Cuisine is all about. Koko Head Cafe Hidden down an alley, Koko Head Cafe is a popular island-style brunch house with a menu of inventive comfort food such as a poke omelette, pancakes Hawaiian-style, and the deathly decadent Elvis’s Revenge – peanut butter, banana tempura, bacon, local honey, toasted coconut and sweet bun. [caption id="attachment_47767" align="alignleft" width="600"] Coffee and doughnuts at Koko Head Cafe[/caption] It’s helmed by top chef and ex-New Yorker Lee Anne Wong, a household name in the US who also lends her talents to Hawaiian Airlines as its executive chef. Address: 1145 12th Ave C, Honolulu Chinatown Established more than 140 years ago, this is one of the USA’s oldest Chinatown districts. [caption id="attachment_47769" align="alignleft" width="600"] Honolulu’s Chinatown district is one of the oldest in the State[/caption] Maguro Brothers Maguro Brothers is the place to go for some of the freshest fish on the island. Run by two Japanese fishmonger brothers, this no-fuss stall is tucked away at the back of Kekaulike Market and has a simple menu of poke, sashimi, cooked fish and ramen. Senia Refined but relaxed, Senia is about expertly prepared and artfully presented Modern American cuisine. Guests can dine à la carte or indulge in a US$185 ($260) per person tasting menu at the 12-seat chef counter facing the kitchen. Address: 75 N King St, Honolulu The Pig and the Lady Chow down on Vietnamese fare made with Pacific ingredients and a Hawaiian twist at The Pig and the Lady. The menu features dishes like green papaya salad with fried kuaui shrimp, Hanoi-style fish and poi, and malasadas (a Portuguese confection). [caption id="attachment_47771" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Pig and the lady[/caption] Address: 83 N King St, Honolulu Getting there Hawaiian airlines has direct flights from Sydney and Brisbane to Honolulu.   Optional upgrades to Extra Comfort seating provide more leg room, priority boarding in Honolulu, a complimentary amenities kit and a wider array of entertainment. Staying there Located right on the beachfront, the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort offers 635 generous room and suites and facilities including the La‘akea Spa, fitness centre, swimming pool, sun deck and whirlpool spa, a trio of signature restaurants and daily Hawaiian cultural activities.   It also offers easy access to shopping and dining at Waikiki Beach Walk and the bustling heart of Waikiki, Kalakaua Avenue.
A first-timer’s guide to Marrakesh, Morocco
Marrakech is undoubtedly one of the most mesmerising cities in the world, filled with sights, scents and colour. Work your way through its fascinating neighbourhoods, past its breathtaking architecture, sampling its culinary wonders and discovering its must-do attractions. Morocco’s fabled ‘Rose City’ is a mesmerising metropolis fringed by rolling desert, oasis-like palmeries and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.   Marrakech’s rich heritage dates back nearly a thousand years; what was once an old caravan town along the sub-Saharan trading routes flourished into one of the great cities of the Maghreb. Nowadays the blush-pink ramparts, soaring minarets and medieval-plan medina are a constant reminder of the imperial city’s storied past.   Artists, writers and musicians have long been seduced by Morocco’s ‘Jewel of the South’. Travellers find themselves entranced by the heady atmosphere, riot of colours and chaotic collision of Berber, Arabic and French cultures that lay the foundations of modern Marrakech. Design lovers will delight in the blend of ancient artistry and today’s thriving creative scene that makes up the very fabric of the city.   Iconic French fashion designer and former resident Yves Saint Laurent famously said, “A visit to Marrakech was a great shock to me. The city taught me colour”. Whilst the maze-like medina, with its tangle of alleyways and bustling souks might overwhelm the senses – one can just as easily find respite in the secret rose-scented gardens, the pools of palatial hotels and terrace cafes with sweeping views over rose-tinted rooftops, palm trees and Moorish architecture set against a bright blue sky.   So if you feel the allure of the exotic, chaotic and utterly enchanting Marrakech, here’s our guide to finding the magic among the mayhem. Getting there  Qatar Airways flies from Sydney, Melbourne or Perth to Marrakech via Doha and Casablanca. Best time to visit Avoid the scorching summer. Visit in spring (mid-March to May) when the roses are in bloom in Morocco, or enjoy a mild autumn (from September to November). Neighbourhoods The Medina This is the Marrakech conjured up in everyone’s imagination. Getting lost in the labyrinthine alleyways is all part of the experience. The 11th-century, UNESCO-listed old town is surrounded by 16 kilometres of rammed-earth walls. Once you venture inside one of the city’s grand gates it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. While the dusty, narrow backstreets are mostly for foot traffic, make way for pack-laden donkeys and buzzing motorcycles. [caption id="attachment_47539" align="alignleft" width="600"] Shopping for Berber rugs is a must in the souks.[/caption] The souks (markets) have barely changed in centuries. Souk Semmarine, the main artery that runs through the medina, is piled high with pottery, fabrics, carpets, leatherwork and antiques. As you delve deeper into the vibrant bazaar you’ll witness workmen noisily plying their trade in the blacksmith’s quarter, the dyers’ souk strung with richly coloured skeins of wool, stalls spilling over with leatherwork and handcrafted carpets as well as the Spice Square heavily perfumed with the scent of amber, musk and orange blossom.   You’ll probably hear the carnivalesque Djemaa el Fna before you see it (hint: follow the drumbeats and Gnawa music). It’s the pounding heart of the medina, brought to life at dusk as hundreds of makeshift stalls are spread across the historic square and locals gather for an evening out. Ville Nouvelle During the French protectorate in the 20th century, the ‘New Town’ was built adjacent to the medina. The wide boulevards lined with tangerine trees, European bistros and Art Deco buildings are in stark contrast to the old town.   The Gueliz district is the locale for high-end restaurants, expensive boutiques and numerous art galleries, whilst the upmarket Hivernage, on the western edge of the medina, is where you’ll find the ultra-luxe hotels such as La Mamounia and the Royal Mansour. Mellah The separate 15th-century quarter is where the Jewish community once resided. Remnants of its Jewish history are the Miaara Jewish Cemetery and a few remaining synagogues. Kasbah Bab Agnaou is one of the most impressive gateways into the old citadel. The medina’s southern district is known for its stately Saadian architecture and arty cafes. [caption id="attachment_47544" align="alignleft" width="600"] Locals gather in the medieval walled city[/caption] What to do Sip mint tea overlooking Djemaa el Fna Secure yourself a spot on the terrace of Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier as the sun begins to set. Order a pot of Moroccan mint tea (a sweet amber-coloured tea made with fresh mint and sugar) and sit back to watch the open-air theatre unfold in the famous square below. [caption id="attachment_47549" align="alignleft" width="600"] Tea is served at Riad Yasmine[/caption] There’s a dizzying spectacle of soothsayers, snake charmers, magicians, fire-eaters, drumbeat dancers, airborne acrobats and mischievous monkeys performing tricks. Cooking Moroccan cuisine Learn how to make a tasty tagine, as well as other local favourites at La Maison Arabe’s cooking school. The half-day workshops are run by the historic riad, which was the first in Marrakech to open a restaurant for foreigners and entertained notable guests such as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Jackie Kennedy.   Your efforts will be rewarded at the end of class when you get to tuck into a feast of Moroccan flavours in the elegant dining room. The workshop costs around $88 per person. Hit up a Hammam A hammam (bathhouse) is a unique Moroccan cleansing and purifying ritual. For first timers, it’s advised to visit a hammam tailored to tourists. Splurge on a spa day at the splendid Royal Mansour, even if it’s just to see the other-worldly, white-laced interiors. Opt for the 75-minute signature treatment. [caption id="attachment_47547" align="alignleft" width="600"] The lush courtyard here is its crowning glory[/caption] Yves Saint Laurent Museum Marrakech’s headline-grabbing attraction opened its doors in 2017. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of celebrated French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The building has a wow factor of its own – curvaceous lines, intricate lace-like brickwork, as well as an earthy terrazzo and terracotta facade. Berber Museum The small but fascinating museum located inside Jacques Majorelle’s former studio is a great introduction to Berber history and culture. The space exhibits over 600 Berber and North African objects collected by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé. La Maison de la Photographie The former fondouk (merchant warehouse) has been repurposed into a gallery for vintage photography. Beautifully curated exhibitions showcase Morocco through the nostalgic lens of the past. Café Clock Located deep within the Kasbah district Café Clock is as much a cultural hub as it is a cafe. Events include hikayat (traditional storytelling) evenings and Berber-style music and dancing. If you do stop by for lunch, order the legendary camel burger. Secret Garden The recently renovated Le Jardin Secret has opened its doors to the public. It’s a true sanctuary in the Moussaine district of the medina. Find shade beneath the elaborate pavilion, take a stroll through the palatial grounds and admire the gardens brimming with lavender and fruit trees – olive, pomegranate, fig and date to name a few. There’s an admission fee of about $7 for the gardens. Jardin Majorelle The botanical oasis dreamt up by French painter Jacques Majorelle is a must-visit for fashionistas as the iconic blue villa later became the home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. The couple found inspiration in the dreamy setting, where whimsical grounds are bursting with vivid bougainvillea, bamboo pathways and lofty cacti. [caption id="attachment_47541" align="alignleft" width="600"] Inside the Jardin Majorelle, with its signature blue villa.[/caption] Beldi Country Club A charming hotel favoured by glamorous jet-setter types, Beldi Country Club is a mere 15 minutes away from the city centre on the outskirts of Marrakech. Here you’ll uncover an eco-chic paradise – a sprawling five-hectare retreat with swimming pools, ancient olive trees, rose gardens and a glorious greenhouse. Where to shop Travellers have no trouble parting with their dirhams in this city. After your first spin around the souks, you’re likely to have walked away with a Berber rug under your arm and a pair of butter-soft babouche (leather slippers) on your feet. Once you’ve exhausted the souks, here are some worthwhile retail alternatives. Leave room in your luggage. In fact, bring an empty suitcase! Souk Cherifa A hip galleria-style shopping spot with boutiques sandwiched among the traditional souks. The stores are located in Mouassine neighbourhood, a somewhat up-and-coming design district within the medina. [caption id="attachment_47542" align="alignleft" width="600"] Exploring the souks of the medina is a quintessential Marrakech experience[/caption] Chabi Chic It won’t surprise you to know that two very stylish Parisian women are behind this contemporary store in the heart of the medina; it sells pottery, tableware, decorative objects and fashion accessories. Mustapha Blaoui This long-standing emporium is a treasure trove of beautiful Moroccan pieces; from intricate lamps, quality carpets to larger furniture. La Maison ArtC A high-end boutique in Gueliz run by Israeli designer Artsi Ifrah who lives and works in Marrakech making one-of-a-kind pieces from vintage fabrics. Historical sites El Badi Palace Visit the scattered ruins of a Saadian sultan’s 16th-century palace. The grand scale of the complex hints at El Badi Palace’s former glory, meanwhile beauty can still be found in the shimmering pools and sunken gardens. [caption id="attachment_47543" align="alignleft" width="600"] The ruins of 16-century El Badi Palace[/caption] The Saadian Tombs Said to be the only remains of the Saadian dynasty that ruled over Marrakech during the golden age of 1524–1659. Impressively laid with Carrara marble and decorative plasterwork, the extravagantly embellished tombs were long forgotten until they were rediscovered in 1917. Romantic spots A riad is a centuries-old Moroccan mansion transformed into a guesthouse, typically with an interior courtyard. Marrakech is the mecca of Morocco’s hip riad scene, with hundreds of atmospheric and often very affordable lodgings in the heart of the ancient medina. Hidden behind nondescript doors, many riads vaunt lush gardens, idyllic pools and sun-soaked rooftop terraces. [caption id="attachment_47545" align="alignleft" width="600"] Riad Yasmine’s photogenic plunge pool[/caption] El Fenn This eye-catching riad is luxuriously outfitted by Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard Branson) and Howell James. El Fenn remains a perennial favourite for aesthetes as each corner of this exquisite guesthouse pops with jewel-like colours and contemporary art. L’Hôtel Marrakech The passion project of British designer Jasper Conran, where guests sleep in luxe salons, each with a four-poster bed. The swoon-worthy interiors recall the glamour of the 1930s and boast Conran’s own personal collection of antiques. Dar Kawa Talented Belgian tastemaker and textile designer Valérie Barkowski transformed her Marrakech residence (formerly a 17th-century townhouse) into an intimate guesthouse. A sophisticated monochrome palette of black and smoky-grey is set against a bright, white backdrop. Riad Yasmine If you don’t mind sharing the sun loungers with a few posing Instagram influencers, taking a dip in this picture-perfect plunge pool is one of the perks of staying at Riad Yasmine. Riad Secret Jardin As the name suggests this is a peaceful haven, cleverly concealed behind heavy cedar doors. It’s owned and run by former French fashion duo Cyrielle and Julien, and while the saffron-yellow tadelakt (plastered) walls, stucco arches and filigree balustrades all impress, it’s the lush courtyard that makes it truly special. [caption id="attachment_47546" align="alignleft" width="600"] On the roof at the peaceful haven of Riad Secret Jardin[/caption] Riad Mena & Beyond This six-room riad is a design-enthusiast’s dream, with individually bedecked rooms that combine mid-century minimalism with Moroccan style. Plus, it has Philippe Starck-designed bathrooms, a heated outdoor pool and a bougainvillea-draped courtyard. [caption id="attachment_47540" align="alignleft" width="600"] Tranquil spots are easy to find at Riad Mena & Beyond[/caption] Where to see architecture  Ben Youssef Madrasa This 14th-century masterpiece was once the largest Qur’anic school in North Africa. It remains one of the finest examples of Arabic architecture in Marrakech. Koutoubia Mosque While non-Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques in Morocco, you can admire the towering minaret from across the city and listen as the muezzin’s call to prayer echoes throughout the walls of the medina. [caption id="attachment_47538" align="alignleft" width="600"] The towering Koutoubia Mosque[/caption] La Bahia Palace The opulent 19th-century palace was once home to the harem of notorious vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed, with sumptuous rooms for his four wives and 24 concubines. Exceptional examples of Moroccan craftsmanship can be admired in the details here.
What to do in Bern, Switzerland
Bern, the capital city of Europe’s most scenic country, Switzerland, looks as though it is peeled directly from the pages of a fairy-tale book. With the old city surrounded on three sides by the turquoise waters of the flowing river Aare, a sea of medieval buildings spanning the old town and the spire of the Bern cathedral piercing the blue sky, Bern is a sight not to be missed. Staying in Bern Switzerland is renowned for being one of the most beautiful (and most expensive) countries in Europe. Bern is no exception – particularly when considering accommodation. The Bellevue Palace If you have the money to spend, for around $600 a night you can book yourself into Bern’s best hotel: the Bellevue Palace. With five stars and set in the heart of the city, the Bellevue was built in 1865 as an upmarket hotel, and has remained that way. [caption id="attachment_47240" align="alignleft" width="600"] Grand exteriors of The Bellevue Palace[/caption] Luxe red velvet curtains, decorative cornices and bay windows are some of the features of this luxurious hotel, where even sleeping is an experience in itself. Hotel Jardin For a more affordable stay in Bern, consider the Hotel Jardin for $195 a night. Offered in this price is a comfortable queen bed, free tea and coffee in the concierge and free use of public transport throughout the city. [caption id="attachment_47243" align="alignleft" width="600"] Hotel Jardin is a more affordable accommodation in Bern[/caption] With colourful rooms, all the modern amenities and great customer service, this is an excellent and less costly alternative to the Bellevue. Floating on Aare The best experience to be had in Bern, if the weather permits, is to go floating down the crystal clear waters of the fast-flowing river Aare. Dissecting the city, a swim down the river not only offers Bern’s most unique experience, but also some of the best views. [caption id="attachment_47245" align="alignleft" width="600"] The River Aare in the heart of Bern[/caption] The water, flowing from the Upper Rhine, is essentially glacial water making its way down from the mountains, meaning the river is both fast and freezing (and remarkably refreshing).   This activity is not for the faint-hearted, although reasonably safe, with exit points all along the river.   It is advisable for non-so-confident swimmers to engage a flotation device like a ‘Wickelfisch’, which seconds as a bag to store your clothes and shoes. Bear spotting at Bärengraben Legend has it that the city of Bern was actually named after a bear, the first animal that the Duke of Zähringen found on a hunt in the surrounding areas. [caption id="attachment_47246" align="alignleft" width="600"] The bears can be watched from above[/caption] Therefore, visiting the Bear Pit, stationed beside the River Aare, is a fitting thing to do while in town.   The three bears – Finn, Björk and Ursina – can be watched from above, or below (through a glass divider), paddling in the fresh river or scaling the hill to find a good sunbaking spot.   You can also enjoy a delicious dinner at Brasserie Bärengraben, situated above the bear park in a historic building. At this restaurant you can enjoy duck terrine with onion confit, foie gras with wine jam and marinated mussels. [caption id="attachment_47248" align="alignleft" width="600"] Enjoy a delicious dinner at Brasserie Baerengraben[/caption] Explore the old town on foot Only six kilomtres at its widest point, the Bern’s old town is perfect for exploring on foot.   A UNESCO World-Heritage site, it’s renowned for its perfectly preserved medieval buildings and is home to the Bern cathedral and clock tower. These monuments, straight out of the storybooks of your childhood, should definitely be on your Bern itinerary. [caption id="attachment_47249" align="alignleft" width="600"] The old town clock tower[/caption] While in the old city, have a wander through the boutique shops and admire the sculptured fountains, framed by posies of red flowers against the carved stone. These fountains, found all through the Old Town, are the perfect place to wash your face and fill your water bottle, as the water is pumped straight from the glacial waters below. [caption id="attachment_47239" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wander through the streets of this UNESCO world heritage site[/caption] Immerse yourself in Swiss cuisine Swiss food, although somewhat pricey in Bern, is an important part of exploring the city.   Swiss chocolate, the most famous chocolate in the world, is best eaten at Läderach. With three stores in the city, it offers chocolate slabs that come in an immense range of different concoctions. [caption id="attachment_47251" align="alignleft" width="600"] Laderach chocolate is a local favourite[/caption] Try the hazelnut milk (we are talking whole hazelnuts), classic milk or caramel fudge.   To supplement the above food group, head out and try a Swiss rösti. The rösti, essentially a big hash brown, is often accompanied by a range of hearty ingredients. The best rosti in Bern can be had at the famous Kornhauskeller, where they’re served with tomato, bacon, onion and cheese.   Other delectable items on the menu here include boiled beef with smoked ham and bacon, thin-skinned beef carpaccio and grilled sea bass fillets with tomatoes, olive oil and thyme. Not only is the food brilliant, but the Kornhauskeller also boasts baroque architecture and is located in a vault in the centre of the old town. [caption id="attachment_47252" align="alignleft" width="600"] Kornhauskeller is waiting[/caption] Other places to consider a night out are Krone restaurant for a delicious Mediterranean feed and Wash Bar (a trendy bar for ‘coffee, drinks and laundry’) where you can multitask your afternoon away, meeting some locals while you clean your clothes. Satisfy your inner child with a toboggan run down Gurten Gurten, Bern’s resident mountain, has a lot to offer. Standing tall at 860 metres above sea level, you can scale it by train or foot for a fantastic view over the city and three lakes region.   Add toboggan runs for all seasons into the mix – one of Bern’s most loved and cheap-as-chips activities – and you’ll find a day on Gurten is a day well spent.
7 cities you should be visiting in 2019
Exploring a new city is a perennial travel pursuit, introducing the potential to discover bustling neighbourhoods, stunning sights and local tastes. Here, we present you with a few cities on the rise that should definitely be on your itinerary in the coming year. 7. Belfast The Northern Ireland capital of Belfast has come a long way in the last few decades, with a new cosmopolitan outlook, attention-grabbing attractions such as the resolutely modern Titanic Belfast arriving on the scene, and a Games of Thrones-generated buzz that shows no sign of abating, especially given the arrival of the immersive Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition at the TEC Belfast in April, which will showcase everything from the costumes and props to the mythical lands of Westeros and Essos. [caption id="attachment_46768" align="alignleft" width="600"] Titanic Belfast is the World's largest Titanic visitor experience[/caption] 6. Palermo With a population of less than 700,000, what the locals of the Sicilian city of Palermo lack in numbers they more than make up for in passion. [caption id="attachment_46764" align="alignleft" width="600"] A taxi for tourists parked near the Cathedral of Palermo[/caption] The residents of the Italian island see themselves as Sicilian first, Italian second (the former Kingdom of Sicily only became part of Italy in 1861, and was named an autonomous island region in 1946), and the capital city is their crowning glory, where the influences of invaders such as the Byzantines, Romans and Moors have melded over the centuries to stunning effect.   As the Italian Capital of Culture in 2018 the city got to show off its time-worn wonders, from its Sicilian Baroque architecture (visit Piazza Vigliena, known locally as Quattro Canti), its soaring cathedrals and churches, as well as its laid-back approach to life. 5. Tbilisi Georgia and its capital Tbilisi are definitely making up for lost time; the Caucasian country, which spent most of the 20th century under Soviet rule, has established itself as something of a hotspot of late with new designer hotels sprouting up and a society dedicated to progress; the Constitutional Court of Georgia recently legalised marijuana consumption. [caption id="attachment_46766" align="alignleft" width="600"] The leaning clock tower is located next to the Gabriadze theater[/caption] Just saying. 4. Cuenca While Ecuador’s capital of Quito had a moment a few years back, the southern city of Cuenca (officially known as Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca) is emerging as the next place to discover in the South American country. [caption id="attachment_46762" align="alignleft" width="600"] Colonial architecture in Cuenca, with the Cathedral Of The Immaculate Conception's blue tiled dome in the background[/caption] Located in the Andean Mountains, the historic centre of the colonial city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, its stunning collection of squares, parks and churches, as well as its hulking blue-domed cathedral, begun in 1885, making it the perfect place to lose yourself in for a few hours, or a few days. 3. San Juan The city of San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico (the ‘unincorporated territory of the United States’), bore the brunt of the natural and political disaster that resulted when Hurricane Maria made landfall in September 2017. [caption id="attachment_46765" align="alignleft" width="600"] Strolling the streets of San Juan[/caption] But the island is now well and truly open for business again and keen for visitors to discover its unique personality, which combines Caribbean and Latin influences, its cobblestone streets lined with pretty pastel-hued houses (pictured) and its palm tree-fringed beaches. 2. Helsinki Any city that has an annual Sauna Day (9 March if you are wondering) goes to the top of our list of places to visit. But this most Finnish of experiences is just one of the many attractions Helsinki possesses to recommend it. [caption id="attachment_46763" align="alignleft" width="600"] Dramatic sunsets at the Tower Of Helsinki Cathedral[/caption] The Nordic capital is a compact and easily navigated city with surprising architectural wonders (some areas of the city resemble St Petersburg thanks to the country’s time as part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917, while others celebrate the modern style of Finnish design superstars like Alvar Aalto), a picturesque harbour, thriving Nordic food scene and a positive, healthy lifestyle that is the envy of others around the world. 1. Tel Aviv One word: Eurovision. After Israeli singer Netta emerged victorious from the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest held in Lisbon, Tel Aviv was confirmed as the venue for the 2019 competition, to be held on 18 May. [caption id="attachment_46767" align="alignleft" width="600"] Surfers in action in a Jaffa sunset[/caption] For those who aren’t interested in the kitsch singing contest, Israel’s economic capital also has a raft of new hotels in the city centre and the historic port city of Jaffa (pictured), a buzzing restaurant scene and an estimated 4000 buildings showcasing Bauhaus design (it’s known as the ‘White City’ as a result).
5 secret bars in London and how to find them
Hidden in London’s rabbit warren of streets – between the old pubs and office buildings, trendy cafes and quirky shops – are some stellar secret cocktail bars to get acquainted with. The Blind Pig Hidden above Michelin-star restaurant Social Eating House in Soho is the American underworld-themed bar The Blind Pig. Named after American slang for a drinking den during the Prohibition, this has strong whiskey and cigar vibes reminiscent of 1920s New York.   All dim lighting and mahogany trim, this establishment is decked out with vintage fittings, an antique mirrored ceiling, reclaimed wooden chairs and a copper-topped bar. Boasting cosy leather bar stools and booths, and a drinks menu of strong spirits, quality cocktails and craft beer, this is the perfect London hideout.   Cocktails are also named after your favourite childhood tales: think The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s 5 a Day (Patron Silver tequila, lime cordial, apple, pears, plums, strawberries and oranges); Harry Potter’s Best Bottle Butter Bitter (Scotch whisky, beer, butterscotch, bitters, thyme and citrus); and Jemima Puddle-Duck’s Fowl Play (Aylesbury Duck Vodka, blood orange, honey, herbs and spices). The menu is an artwork in itself, with each cocktail description paired with a gorgeous illustration to feast your eyes on.   Finding this gem of a bar, from street level, is a challenge. Look for the vintage, neon red and white ‘Optician’ sign, and below you will find a brass, blindfolded pig doorknocker. Once you find this, you’re in. Just don’t tell anyone.   Address: 58 Poland Street, London W1F 7NR Discount Suit Company Named after the tailor’s shop that was based at this spot, and whose sign is still (mostly) mounted on the brick corner of the old building, the Discount Suit Company is an underground bar with the best of everything: in the heart of London, very intimate and home to the best exotic and classic cocktails. [caption id="attachment_46741" align="alignleft" width="600"] With the original sign (somewhat) in tact, the Discount Suit Company holds plenty of history[/caption] With exposed brick interior walls, wood furnishings and ambient lighting, this bar blends romance with a touch of grunge. The dressmaker’s mannequin in the corner of the bar is a true tribute to the bar’s former life, but I am very sure the space is happy with this new breath of life.   Nibble on artisanal cheeses from London’s own Neal’s Yard Dairy as you sip your Wooly Back (pisco, white Port, coconut, jasmine, citrus and vitamin C) or your classic Piña Fumada (mezcal, Velvet Falernum, pineapple, lemon, honey and club soda).   Locating the entrance is tricky, and once you do, watch your head on the steep descent into the basement (and be even more careful on your way out, half intoxicated).   Address: 29a Wentworth Street, London E1 7TB Experimental Cocktail Club Found in the depths of bustling Chinatown behind an old door with peeling paint, the ECC is an easy one to walk past on first go, but a hard to resist once you’ve found it.   Spread over three storeys, the establishment’s industrial bones – pressed-metal ceilings and exposed bricks – are offset by minimalist interior design, mirrored walls and blackout curtains to atmospheric effect. It’s the perfect combination of lively and intimate, but make sure you book in advance – this is a popular spot. [caption id="attachment_46742" align="alignleft" width="600"] Brooding interiors at The Experimental Cocktail Club[/caption] Experimental cocktails include the Stockholm Syndrome (Ketel 1 vodka infused with cumin and dill, Linie Aquavit, lemon juice, syrup, pink Himalayan rock salt and bitters) and the Grandaddy (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Cynar, lemon and grapefruit juice and rosemary-infused honey). Classics are also on the menu, with a choice of 50s, 60s or 70s gin in your vintage martini.   Address: 13a Gerrard Street, London W1D 5PS Milk & Honey A member’s bar with a yearly fee, this is an upper-class club with a lot of sass. Serving a bunch of house rules with their amazing cocktails, you are expected to dress a certain way and act a certain way as a condition of entry.   As a non-member, you can still frequent the bar if you book a table in advance, preferably earlier in the week. There are non-member specific spots in the three-storey establishment, housing chesterfield couches, low lighting (aided by candles scattered through the bar), and pressed-metal ceilings. Just stepping in this exclusive bar makes you feel like a politician, a movie star or a someone who plays golf on a weekday.   The Bumblebee cocktail is divine, with dark rum, honey, lemon and angostura, and Satin Sheets tastes like it sounds, with a combination of tequila, falernum and lime. Of course, this bar also serves a range of fancy Champagne and wines, and a grazing menu worthy of kings. Try the homemade tuna samosas, the buttermilk-fried chicken bun or the cured meat board.   With no signs, the big metal door is the only signifier that Milk & Honey really exists. Check left and right, make sure no one is looking, and then enter. Voilà, you’re in!   Address: 61 Poland Street, London W1F 7NR King’s Head Members Club Positioned in the hip East End suburb of Hoxton, this bar is hidden behind the facade of a rundown British pub – but don’t be fooled: inside is another story. Its opulent and eclectic interiors are characterised by a startling collection of exotic taxidermied animals, including a cheetah standing atop an antique cabinet.   Thousands of butterflies line the dining room and peacocks are scattered around the bar; an assortment of antique furniture, much of it lined with red velvet, create a luxurious ambience. [caption id="attachment_46743" align="alignleft" width="600"] Unexpected interiors at The Kings Head[/caption] The King’s Head is another private member club and non-members need to score a spot on the guest list to gain entry – whether that’s to the bar or one of the club’s many events, from life drawing to burlesque shows. Emailing in advance to scope out what’s on is your best bet for getting in.   The club is home to some knock-out cocktails including the Goose Lemonade (Grey Goose Vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur, fresh raspberries topped with lemonade) and Aviation (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon juice).   Great drinks, an eccentric theme and unique events make for a marvellous time at this exclusive and secret London bar.   Address: 257 Kingsland Road, London E2 8AS
A guide to Hong Kong’s best neighbourhoods
Hong Kong is one of the most hyper-lit and compelling cities in the world, a landscape of jutting skyscrapers rendered in metal and glass. But at ground level, the spaces between these futuristic obelisks are populated by bustling communities living life on a much more human scale.   Setting out on foot is the perfect way to see the metropolis in all its colourful, quirky and aromatic glory. Central and Sheng Wan Hong Kong Island is the beating commercial heart of Hong Kong, but it also possesses a sense of soul that is often missing fr om business districts.   One of the reasons for this is its rich colonial history. It was in Old Town Central that the British first planted their flag in 1841; the spot known as Possession Street was once situated on the waterfront but thanks to land reclamation it’s now surrounded by buildings. [caption id="attachment_46686" align="alignleft" width="600"] Old meets new in Tai Kwun[/caption] Any exploration of Hong Kong Island requires a good deal of time spent wandering the streets and alleyways of Central and Sheung Wan, where an eclectic mix of historical sites, restaurants, shops and markets are crammed together in a wondrous harmonious jumble. Hollywood Road The first thing you need to do is arm yourself with an Old Town Central self-guided walks booklet from the Hong Kong Tourism Board and set off along Hollywood Road, the busy main thoroughfare from which you can dart off in different directions depending on your whim. Tai Kwun Heritage and Arts Centre Your first stop should be the newly revitalised Tai Kwun heritage and arts centre.   Made up of the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison, the historic buildings now house dedicated museum space detailing the chequered history of the complex; you can wander the old cells and find out things like what the prisoners were fed through interactive exhibits, as well as lofty exhibition spaces and a collection of shops (check out the Taschen store with its shelves stacked with beautiful art tomes), restaurants and bars, including the aptly named Behind Bars, where drinks are served in the old cell blocks.   If it is too early to stop for lunch, make a mental note to return later in the day or in the evening to sample Madame Fu’s imaginative dim sum menu.   In the old prison exercise yard a resolutely modern building clad in an intricate web of woven metal is an arresting contrast to the historic buildings it sits next to. I find out that it actually houses the infrastructure for the air-conditioning units required to cool the complex to cater to modern tastes; keeping the prisoners comfortable in the past obviously wasn’t a priority. [caption id="attachment_46684" align="alignleft" width="600"] A local temple[/caption] Where to find: 10 Hollywood Rd, Central PMQ Another historic building given a new lease on life is the PMQ, the former Police Married Quarters on Aberdeen Street. [caption id="attachment_46685" align="alignleft" width="600"] Artwork in PMQ[/caption] Built in 1951 on the former site of the first government school in Hong Kong, the mid-century architecture is all clean lines stacked on top of one another and grouped around a central courtyard. The former married quarters that would have housed serving police officers and their families have now been given over to young artists and designers to develop and sell their creations, and well as a number of restaurants, bars and shops. Where to find: 35, Aberdeen St, Central PoHo and SoHo Two of the most interesting neighbourhoods to get lost in are the catchily named PoHo and SoHo. [caption id="attachment_46688" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wandering women in PoHo[/caption] Short for South of Hollywood Road, SoHo comes alive at night with ex-pats and locals heading out to the bars and international restaurants that serve up cuisines as diverse as Lebanese, pub grub, Vietnamese and Italian. During the day the whole scene is quieter, with boutiques and antiques shops to browse.   The charmingly boho PoHo is concentrated around a collection of streets lined with funky little shops, galleries and cafes and teahouses. Where to stay Located on Pottinger Street, known as ‘stone slab street’, The Pottinger is a gracious 68-room luxury boutique hotel with generous rooms and the prettiest lobby I have even seen, filled with chinoiserie vases of flowers and foliage. Afternoon tea in the restaurant if a must even if you aren’t a guest. [caption id="attachment_46687" align="alignleft" width="600"] The graceful Pottinger hotel[/caption] Mong Kok and Prince Edward Arriving into Mong Kok at night is possibly the best introduction you can have to this Kowloon neighbourhood, famed for its bustling streets lit with countless flashing neon signs for every imaginable service and establishment, as well as its density of people.   This is where the workers who flock to Hong Kong Island on a daily basis return to at the end of the day, so the vibe is a lot more local than across the harbour, although the sheer number of people on the streets can be confronting at times. Exploring here and in neighbouring Prince Edward offers up sights, sounds and tastes that are sure to intrigue and delight. The Bird Market One of my favourite places to visit when I am in Hong Kong is the Bird Market, located on Yuen Po Street. [caption id="attachment_46696" align="alignleft" width="600"] Songbirds hanging out (literally!) at Mong Kok's bird market[/caption] Here myriad traditional bird cages containing tiny, colourful songbirds hang in rows, and a weird and wonderful array of bird food can be purchased including live crickets and grubs. Older gentlemen gather here to socialise and show off their prized pets, which trill away in the sunshine while they chat.   The cages on sale at the various stalls are fabulous souvenirs, although they can make for ungainly carry-on luggage on the flight home.   Where to find: 37 Flower Market Rd, Mong Kok The Flower Market Another market worth taking a wander through is the flower market that stretches along Flower Market Road in Prince Edward. The footpaths here are festooned with fresh flowers and plants, creating a heady scent in the air.   Make sure to take a closer look in the stores that specialise in phalaenopsis orchids if for no other reason than they are absolutely beautiful to see.   Where to find: Flower Market Rd, Prince Edward The Goldfish Market Rounding out the trio of fascinating markets in the area is the Goldfish Market along Tung Choi Street North. Each of the shopfronts is covered in bulging plastic bags filled with water and all manner of fish, while inside tropical breeds of every colour and size attract top dollar from collectors. [caption id="attachment_46693" align="alignleft" width="600"] Fish on sale at the goldfish market[/caption] Where to find: 43-49 Bute Street, Bute St, Prince Edward Tung Choi Street One of the best places to see Mong Kok’s characteristic neon lights, which are strung up over the busy streets below in the hope that they will grab the attention of passersby, is Tung Choi Street.   hile the lights alone are enough to mesmerise, illuminating the streets below with their glow, the array of services they advertise is also diverting, from beauty products and cameras to restaurants and hotels. Sham Shui Po One of the latest neighbourhoods to start generating a buzz (and get its own handy self-guided walks book) is Sham Shui Po, a working-class area of Kowloon where you can see locals go about their everyday business, shopping for tofu made fresh on Fuk Wing Street or stocking up on dinner provisions at the local wet markets.   The whole place has a wonderfully worn aesthetic, but at the same time is packed with personality. Where to shop Shopping in Sham Shui Po is one of the major attractions of the neighbourhood, and it’s easy to find exactly what you want given that many of the streets are named for the goods that are found there – Leather Street (Tai Nan Street), Bead Street (Yu Chau Street), Button Street (Ki Lung Street); you get the idea.   One of the most colourful of these shopping streets is Ribbon Street (Nam Cheong Street), where narrow shops display spools of brightly coloured ribbons, rope and cord, as well as all kinds of craft supplies. [caption id="attachment_46702" align="alignleft" width="450"] Toy shops to keep the little ones happy[/caption] The area is also a mecca for budding fashion designers who come here to rummage through the bolts of fabric for sale at the slightly ramshackle Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, or shop for fashion pieces at wholesale prices along Cheung Sha Wan Fashion Street. [caption id="attachment_46700" align="alignleft" width="450"] A wet market in Sham Shui Po[/caption] Another fun street to promenade along, especially if you have little people you are trying to entertain, is Toy Street (Fuk Wing Street), where some 30 stores overflow with dolls, balls, board games and all manner of Disney characters. The Man Fung Building One of the neighbourhood’s most Instagrammed sights is the Man Fung Building, a skinny block sandwiched between nondescript concrete constructions that got a statement-making makeover during HKwalls’ 2016 festival.   Madrid-based street artist Okuda covered the building in colourful geometric shapes, crowned with an animal face (some people think it’s a dog, some think it’s a wolf) that looks out over the streets from a lofty height.   Depending on where you view it from (up high is said to be best) the muzzle of the animal seems to be almost 3D, an optical illusion that has resulted in a wave of Instagrammers risking life and limb climbing over security fences on neighbouring buildings to get a better selfie.   The practice made the newspapers during my visit. [caption id="attachment_46701" align="alignleft" width="450"] Instagram users risk life and limb to get a photo with Okuda's street art animal[/caption] Where to find: 180 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po  Bo Wah Effigies One of the most interesting places to duck into while walking is Bo Wah Effigies, a cramped studio where nimble-fingered artisans fashion paper effigies to be burnt to honour the dead.   The intricate creations are miniature works of art, depicting everything from cars to sushi to vintage coffee flasks.   Where to find: 2C Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po
Where to eat and drink in Hong Kong
When it comes to food, there are not many places on Earth where the locals take more delight in the act of eating, or where they have so much choice of where to go, than Hong Kong; the pursuit of food is almost a national sport here. From one-star Michelin restaurants where a bowl of noodles costs just $3 to fine dining to rival anything in Europe to funky eateries where the locals indulge their love of flavour and design, it’s all on the table here. To eat:  More for less It is ridiculous how many Michelin-starred restaurants Hong Kong has, but the awarding of this culinary accolade need not imply that a meal is going to cost you through the nose. Hong Kong has a raft of local, no-frills restaurants in possession of one Michelin star or a Michelin recommendation (one star adjacent), where the food is wonderfully flavoursome and shockingly inexpensive. Tim Ho Wan You might have heard of this humble chain, who have a number of outlets in Hong Kong serving up some of the best dim sum you are likely to taste. The wait can be long, but it’s worth it for the pork buns alone. [caption id="attachment_46642" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Michelin Star Yum Cha at Tim Ho Wan[/caption] Tsim Chai Kee Expect steaming bowls of noodles and wontons: the broth is delicious, the noodles wonderfully chewy and the wontons plump and plentiful.   Where: Wellington Street, Central Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan Fried Buns A standing-only bolthole serving up pan-fried soup dumplings that are crispy on the bottom and filled with pork swimming in aromatic soup.   Where: Lyndhurst Terrace, Central Hidden gems Mrs Pound  There are restaurants and bars to be found down every alley in Hong Kong, but a true hidden gem is Mrs Pound in the Sheung Wan neighbourhood, a speakeasy hidden behind a lock shop. Inside there’s a street food inspired menu.   Where: 6 Pound Ln, Sheung Wan [caption id="attachment_46643" align="alignleft" width="600"] Laksa prawn dumplings at Mrs Pound (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Yat Lok A lowkey, unassuming joint that fits in among the many food haunts in Hong Kong Central. Line up for the roast goose – which garnered its reputation for its shatter crisp skin and delicious flavour.   [caption id="attachment_46644" align="alignleft" width="600"] Award winning goose at Yat Lok in central (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Where: 34-38 Stanley Street, Central Djibouti Remember that “open a restaurant in an alley trend”? Well, Hong Kong invented that. And one of the first was Djibouti. Even now, the restaurant/bar attracts a cool crowd attempting to get their hands on the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Come for the baba ganoush, stay for the lavender-based cocktails.   Where: Shop 1, G/F, 2 Landale Street, Wan Chai High end RyuGin It has long been a boasting opportunity for Hong Kong travellers to say they have enjoyed a meal at RyuGin. Located on the 101st floor of the ICC, Hong Kong’s tallest building, the modern Japanese restaurant offers lucky diners panoramic views of West Kowloon’s harbor and Hong Kong’s skylines. As for the food, Michelin star chef Seiji Yamamoto flies ingredients from Japan on the daily, with the ten-course Kaiseki meal earning the restaurant two Michelin stars.     Where: West Kowloon, Hong Kong L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon If it's French fare in small portions you're after, you'll feel right at home at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.   Located within The Landmark (HK's luxury shopping center), the restaurant is owned by legendary chef Joël Robuchon, who holds the most Michelin stars in the world.   Where: Shop 401, 15 Queen's Road Central, Central To drink: No matter what you choose to drink, there’s guaranteed to be an outlet close by dedicated to serving it up in style. Cupping Room Coffee culture is thriving in Hong Kong, where the locals like their brews served strong. Cupping Room has four cafes serving up its own beans roasted in Hong Kong. Filters Lane At Filters Lane in Central the young staff busy themselves creating the perfect cup of brewed coffee from the beans they have roasted in the New Territories or imported blends. Even the decaf is thick, dark and robust.   Where: 111 Caine Rd, Mid-level, Hong Kong Craftissimo If your taste runs more to beer, you are going to want to visit Craftissimo in Sheung Wan, a dedicated craft brews bottleshop, or search out Craft Brew & Co. that has craft beers on tap. [caption id="attachment_46645" align="alignleft" width="600"] Craftissimo for dedicated craft brews (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Where: Tai Ping Building, Shop D, G/F, Sheung Wan, 22-24A Tai Ping Shan St, Sheung Wan
The best street art and graffiti in Hong Kong
It's no secret that Hong Kong's street art scene is starting to take off. The city is home to some of the most exciting and innovating street art and graffiti installations the world over – if you know where to find them of course... Graham Street It is early in the morning and I’m standing on the corner of Graham Street in the Central neighbourhood of Hong Kong Island looking at one of the most Instagrammed sights in the city.   It’s a street artwork by artist Alex Croft, commissioned by the celebrated Hong Kong design brand Goods of Desire (G.O.D), whose Hollywood Road store it adorns the side of, depicting the now demolished Kowloon Walled City. [caption id="attachment_46632" align="alignleft" width="600"] Local artist Alex Croft’s colourful mural of old townhouses has probably popped up on your feed once or twice[/caption] Where to find: Opposite The Globe, 45-53 Graham St, Central. The history The depiction of the hotchpotch house fronts of the former unsanctioned housing development is not the biggest, the brightest or the most detailed of the street art daubed across walls and buildings in this part of the city, but something about it has captured the collective imagination of locals and visitors alike.   Or so I am told, because at this time of the morning I am the only one looking at it as I stand with my tour guide Alexandra Unrein of Hong Kong Street Art Tours. A former Lufthansa flight attendant, the Berlin-born ex-pat has married her passion for Hong Kong with her love of art, and is a wealth of knowledge about the thriving street art scene here. [caption id="attachment_46631" align="alignleft" width="600"] A shop front utilises its own version of street art to sell sugar cane juice[/caption] As we start to walk she tells me the story of how the whole street art movement was jump-started with the staging of the first HKwalls event in 2014 in the Sheung Wan area of the island.   Founded by Stan Wu and Jason Dembski as a reaction to the lack of representation and respect for street and graffiti artists during the gallery-focused, ticketed events of HK Art Week (now Hong Kong Arts Month), HKwalls was established with the aim of transforming nondescript city walls throughout the city into vibrant original art, with visiting artists from around the world invited to create large-scale works in public spaces that would be accessible for everyone. [caption id="attachment_46636" align="alignleft" width="600"] Hong Kong street art is a fabric in its own right[/caption] The democratisation of art proved a winner with locals and visitors alike, and this year’s festival, the sixth, will be the held in the frenetic Wan Chai area from 23 to 31 March. Shing Wong Street As Alexandra leads me along Hollywood Road she stops routinely to point out works from the 2018 festival: a pair of floating carp on Shing Wong Street by Danish artist Christian Storm, whose distinctive signature covers a metal roller door next to his finished piece: a hazy, rainy night scene of taxis and neon down a narrow side street by British artist and muralist Dan Kitchener, aka Dank. [caption id="attachment_46634" align="alignleft" width="600"] Storm's arresting work for HKWalls 2018[/caption] Where to view: Shing Wong Street at the junction with 82 Hollywood Road.   Elsa Jean De Dieu There’s the work of Elsa Jean De Dieu, a French muralist who studied fine arts and interior design before becoming a street artist, a vocation that seemed inevitable when you find out her grandparents were street artists as well.   Where to view: 11D, Man Lok Building, 89-93 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Szabotage Alexandra points out a bright orange and blue koi by British artist and interior designer Szabotage; the fish forms a theme of his work, with most irreverently flipping the bird with one of their fins. New York-based artist Jerkface paints abstract interpretations of beloved cartoon figures influenced by a childhood spent watching Saturday morning cartoons. Cinta Vidal On the side of a building (complete with a window) we come across a dreamscape of twisted, interlocking architecture floating in space by Catalonian artist Cinta Vidal. Instead of using spray paint she painted it by hand in the traditional mode of a muralist. [caption id="attachment_46633" align="alignleft" width="600"] Artist Cinta Vidal painted this with traditional paint instead of spray paint[/caption] Where to view: 52-56 Staunton Street, UG/F, Central, Hong Kong The London Police We find a work by The London Police, two guys from Essex named Bob and Chaz, framed by recyclable rubbish from a neighbouring restaurant waiting to be collected.   The group of comical smiling people they call LADS make the slightly dishevelled street scene almost endearing. Zoie Lam One of my favourite works is a bright abstract of primary and day-glo colours painted on a wall behind a narrow inner-city garden bed. It is by Zoie Lam, a fashion designer turned artist whose signature inclusion on all her works is a cast of blobby figures who inhabit the planet she creates called Zlism. Vhils One of the last pieces we come across is truly impressive: an entire two-storey house that has been chipped away at to create destruction graffiti. The artist responsible for this almost 3D effect, Lisbon native Vhils, has etched out faces on the concrete shell of the building.   Viewed from a distance the effect has a slightly sepia, nostalgic feel; up close you can see the hand-drawn sketch lines that mapped out the work, hinting at the intensity of labour it took to realise his vision.   Where to find: Pak Tin Par Street (Tsuen Wan District), Hong Kong   -   While many of the street artworks have become tourist attractions in their own right, to be searched out and appreciated for their artistic merit, to the locals they are just part of the fabric of life in the vivid, constantly changing cityscape, passed by on the way to somewhere else they need to be.   Reverence can’t be paid to each and every creation on a daily basis when you’ve got other things to do.
Raw Egg on Rice with Natto
7+ unusual foods you should try in Japan
A brief guide to all of the weird and wonderful dishes you can try during a visit to Japan. Japan is undoubtedly a country that has a plethora of delicious foods to suit any taste.   Each prefecture boasts its own variety of rich local ramen and curry. Nationally, yakitori bars waft heady cedar-filled smoke down laneways and you can find the freshest sushi and sashimi everywhere, even on top of a mountain.   Japan is also infamous for its unusual food options. Foods that make a lot of westerners cringe or downright feel ill at the thought of.   Since variety is the spice of life, here are some of the ‘weirder’ foods you can tickle your taste buds with while travelling Japan.   Disclaimer: To reduce food-related health risks we recommend seeking out trusted restaurants and establishments that are serviced by qualified professionals. Avoid eating street food that has been sitting unattended or from a vendor with little trade. Ordering raw meat from restaurants that do not specialise in the cuisine is not recommended.   1. Torisashi (chicken sashimi) [caption id="attachment_45986" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Have you been served raw chicken in Japan? That would be Torisashi (chicken sashimi).[/caption] A dish that is guaranteed to evoke shock and horror from friends and family at home is chicken sashimi. With cries of “what about salmonella?” ringing in your ears, it can be a confronting first bite. Fresh chicken sashimi shouldn’t have an odour or strong taste about it at all. Where and when can I get it? A traditional dish of the Kagoshima prefecture, torisashi can be found in almost any izakaya in the region. However, it is gaining popularity in cities such as Osaka and Tokyo and can also be easily found in the Kyushu and Okayama regions. No matter where you get it due to the preparation required in serving non-fish sashimi (i.e. getting it fresh), it’s worthwhile to track down a restaurant that specialises in it rather than leaving it to chance. Pro tip It’s not just chicken breast that is available to eat raw. A restaurant with a chicken sashimi menu will also likely serve the organs as such. If you’re game. 2. Natto The easiest to find, and possibly the most divisive ‘unusual food’. Natto is a stringy, sticky and slimy fermented soybean dish that is most commonly eaten for breakfast. The odour is pungent (think stinky socks) and the flavour lands somewhere between off cottage cheese and salty rotten beans. [caption id="attachment_45972" align="alignleft" width="5184"] Natto is usually eaten for breakfast in Japan.[/caption] Where and when can I get it? Natto can be found year-round in most convenience stores (often in a hand roll or tub), in buffet breakfasts and many cafes all over Japan. Pro tip Natto on rice for breakfast, with a dash of soy, mustard and pickles, is a popular way to eat it. 3. Yakitori entrails [caption id="attachment_45989" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Swap your standard chicken breast skewer for a Yakitori intestine or liver.[/caption] The Japanese rarely waste any part of the animal and readily consume flavourful cuts of offal over the fillets that western cultures prefer. Yakitori liver, tongue, hearts, knee joints and intestine are offered alongside belly and breast and are grilled to perfection. Where and when can I get it? Yakitori bars are popular nationwide. It’s worthwhile trying them everywhere as variety and cuts differ from location and season. Pro tip Horumon (horumonyaki) made exclusively from beef or pork offal is available in dedicated restaurants and is considered good for stamina and energy in the bedroom. Wink wink. 4. Fugu (pufferfish) Fugu is a delicacy, and only available during the winter months. It is eaten for its delightfully unusual taste, high level of collagen and is considered great for anti-ageing. So long as the poisonous parts (mainly organs) aren’t consumed as they contain the deadly toxin ‘tetrodotoxin’, to which there is no known antidote. [caption id="attachment_47361" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wakasa blowfish or fugu thin fillet[/caption] Since 1958 chefs have been required to undergo a rigorous apprenticeship to obtain a license to prepare and sell fugu to the public. These days, cases of Fugu poisoning are rare (but not unheard of) with most occurring through amateur preparation. Where and when can I get it? Winter (end of December to March). Fugu is widely available however there are many restaurants in Kyoto that specialise in the dish. Pro tip There are many strange fishes available only in the winter months in Japan. Try to track down ‘Anko’ also known as Anglerfish in Tokyo and the seaside prefectures, it’s the deep sea fish with the light on its head to attract prey. 5. Batta or inago (grasshopper) The fact that grasshoppers symbolise good luck doesn’t stop them being fried and eaten. Considered pests that eat rice crops, they are a popular cooked in soy and eaten as an afternoon snack, where the crunchy texture pairs beautifully with an iced tea or beer. Where and when can I get it? The Nagano prefecture is considered mecca for finding edible insects however, rice grasshoppers are available widely at bars and restaurants. Pro tip Other popular insects to try are zazamushi (stonefly larvae), hachinoko (bee larvae) and inago no tsukudani (boiled locusts), mainly in Nagano. 6. Basashi (raw horse meat) High in vitamins and low in fat content, raw horse meat is usually served cold along with soy sauce, garlic, and wasabi or nigiri sushi style. It is considered a health food and has been eaten for more than 400 years. Where and when can I get it? Horsemeat is available both raw and cooked in barbecue, wagyu and sushi restaurants across the country – I stumbled across horse meat nigiri in a Tokyo sushi train. However, the regions of Nagano, Oita and Kumamoto are famed for their ‘basashi’ (raw sushi style); Kumamoto boasting a ‘cherry blossom’ basashi, named for its intense red colouring and flavour. Pro tip Such lean meat requires fine preparation so as not to become tough or chewy. Paper thin slices of sashimi delicately fall apart on the tongue and are the recommended dish to order. 7. Mystery Snacks [caption id="attachment_46010" align="alignnone" width="600"] Pick up a hot soup or coffee in the many vending machines around Japan.[/caption] With a store on almost every corner, it’s worth exploring the aisles or perusing vending machines for snacks to test your bravery. Along with chips, ice-creams and soft drinks you can find dried crabs, wasabi cheese and a lucky dip of mystery meats.   It’s hard to walk past the array of hot soups and energy coffees in vending machines without getting curious as to the (often surprising) taste. Where and when can I get it? Vending machines and convenience stores are everywhere. Even on the ski fields. You’re never far from a snack adventure.   Pro tip Don’t try to translate what’s on the packet. It’s far more fun to sip it and see if you can work out what you’re eating by taste!   It would be an extremely long list indeed to include all of the weird and wonderful foods available across Japan. These are a great starting point for extending your bravery and palate into the unusual.   If you're planning a trip to Japan make sure you check out our Japan travel guide, so you can read up on the very best the country has to offer!
12 Europe travel hacks that will save you BIG money
Travelling is an expensive hobby, especially when travelling tourist hotspots in Europe. But there is hope!   Whether you’re headed on a romantic trip to Paris, a meander along the canals of Amsterdam or on a discovery of the castles and estates of Britain’s countryside, this is a must-read guide on how to save – BIG time. Make a list Here we start a list with making a list, in true traveller fashion.   The first list you should make is of the places you want to visit, this allows correct planning of your holiday to optimise travel from east, to west and north to south. This also allows you to research which method of travel will be most effective: train (and if so can you buy a five- or 10-trip train pass?), coach or plane?   The second list should consist of all the things you want to do in each place. In Paris, you may want to see the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, take a bike tour and go out for a French degustation. Planning your to-do list means that you are less likely to get stuck in the trap of filling your holiday with touristy (and expensive) activities. This doesn’t mean you can’t live in the moment while overseas, but gives you the option to stay traveller savvy. Free museum admission Do your research on entry to Europe’s most famous museums, as most offer free or reduced entry on specific days.   The Louvre offers free entry to the museum on the first Saturday of every month from 6pm to 9.45pm, and free admission to under 26s on Friday evenings from 6pm until close. At €17 euros a ticket, this is a saving close to $30 per person. The Prado Museum in Madrid also offers free entry to its collections from 6pm to 8pm Monday to Saturday and on Sundays from 5pm to 7pm. [caption id="attachment_7660" align="alignleft" width="1000"] The Pyramide at Musée du Louvre.[/caption] Other museums including the Berlin Wall Memorial and the National Gallery in London always have free entry and are well worth your time. Skip the hotel Hotels, although delightfully convenient and reminiscent of luxury holidays, can cost you the earth in a main city in Europe. Other alternatives, such as Airbnb, youth hostels and campervans can save you a motza, and can even offer a more authentic European experience.   Airbnbs to look out for are the ones with rave reviews, close to the main amenities. Try and stick to places that have a ‘superhost’ status; this means that the host is not only experienced in the game, but they also have been really well rated by their previous guests. If you pick a humble, but well-kept place, you are bound to save $$$.   Hostels, with both shared and private rooms, can cost just a fraction of the price of a good hotel. Try Hostel One Camden in London, The Yellow Hostel in Rome and Coco Mama in Amsterdam.   Campervans, although not ideal when city hopping, are the best way to visit the countryside, especially in places like the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland. Spaceships’ compact and easy-to-drive campervans are an ideal place to start, with a bed, fridge and cooking gear all in the back. Only setting you back around $100 a day, these are the best combination of bedroom and transport. Pack a picnic. Every. Damn. Day. Eating, perhaps the best part of any European holiday, is very expensive.   Most meals out cost an excess of $30 per person at a restaurant, and when you think about the fact that eating is necessary more than once in a day, the money mounts quickly.   The best practice to exercise is packing a picnic lunch, with a collection of items purchased at the local grocery store.   In France, pack some fromage and jambon to put on a baguette, in Spain pack some chorizo and cheese or in Malta just grab a few 60c pastizzi, and sit yourself in a glorious park.   This not only saves money, but allows you to soak in the ambience of your locale. Join the National Trust Picnics are best had in the gardens of historic estates, whilst you admire outdoor fountains in the foreground of period homes.   These estates can be found all over Europe, particularly in England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy and the Netherlands. To enter these estates costs between $20 and $40 per entry, and can add up to be an expensive experience.   Joining the National Trust in Australia, however, means that you can pay a one off fee (of $110 for adults, and $90 for concession) for a yearly membership. With reciprocal visiting arrangements with heritage organisations in other countries, membership allows access to 800 heritage sites outside of Australia.   An added bonus is that these estates are also a great place for learning about the history and culture of the country, as well as an excellent photo op. Free activities Every single city or town in Europe has a range of things to do that are absolutely FREE. [caption id="attachment_19367" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Promenade des anglais in Nice[/caption] These are often activities in the natural environment: go for a hike in the Black Forest in south-west Germany, float down the fast flowing, turquoise waters of the river Aare in Bern or go for a swim on the pebbled beach of Nice. Hire a bike Not only reserved for the streets of Amsterdam, bike riding is a great way to both see a city and get around it.   Hiring a bike, at around $20 a day, is a great way to avoid paying for buses, cabs, trains or trams. [caption id="attachment_28164" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Use a bike to travel around cobblestoned town squares[/caption] Also, let’s cut to the chase: while travelling in Europe the exercise certainly wouldn’t go astray.   You can usually hire bikes from local bike shops, or from mobile, dockless bike hiring platforms such as Santander bicycles in London. Check out Airbnb Experiences   Not always the cheapest (although sometimes they are!) Airbnb Experiences offer authentic, locally run and reasonably priced experiences. Ranging from equestrian tours through Tuscany to cooking classes in a home kitchen in Paris, there is something for everyone on this app.   These experiences are usually far superior to the heavily tourist centred activities found in main cities, and for the same price often offer a lot more. Research passes in each city Passes, be it for a collection of museums or for travel around a city, can be a great way to save money.   Some notable passes are: the I Amsterdam card, which you can buy in iterations of 24, 48, 72, 96 and 120 hours from between $95 to $180, offers free access to 60 museums including the Rijks and Van Gogh museums, a free canal cruise and free public transport; the Eurail pass (for international travel between European countries via train); and the London Pass, which allows access to 80 famous attractions across the city with iterations ranging from one day for $123 to 10 days with travel included for $429.   Make sure that you are only purchasing passes to places you actually want to visit (remember your list!). These passes are not ideal if you were only looking at visiting the Rijks museum on your trip, but got roped into all the other because it seemed like good value. Don’t frequently withdraw money abroad Avoid costly ATM withdrawal fees on your travel money card by nabbing your cash while still in Aus.   Carrying wads of notes abroad can be daunting, so if you do have to withdraw cash, make sure you do a week’s worth at a time. Or alternatively, try to shop and eat at places that deal only in Eftpos transactions.   Also investigate cards that offer money back on ATM fees, even overseas. ING offers money back on ATM fees globally, if you meet the minimum requirements of the card ($1000 deposited and five transactions made each month). Make sure you claim your GST refund! If you’re an avid shopper, make sure you keep all your receipts – you can claim the tax back at the airport on your way home!   Make sure you have your forms and receipts stamped by each country’s officials before departing, and when heading home ensure that all mentioned products are accessible in case the officials need to see them. Claim for delayed or cancelled flights When scooting around the Continent on one of its countless budget airlines, don’t tolerate any delayed or cancelled flights or transfers without checking to see if you can get your money back; the EU’s EC 261 regulation means that you’re entitled to compensation if you’re delayed or experience a cancellation (see below).   It’s a little known fact that you can claim a sizeable chunk of your flight costs back (1500km and less €250; 1500km - 3500km €400; more than 3500km €600) in Europe or even when travelling with a European airline from an airport outside the EU. Even if you are aware of this nifty bit of EU legislation you may think it’s not worth the effort, but filing a claim takes as little as two minutes using AirHelp.   Plug in your dates into the online compensation checker, and if you’re eligible the team at AirHelp will set to work sorting out your claim and you’ll receive the Euros posthaste. It’ll the stress out of waiting around an airport for a delayed flight; you could even splash out on a Champagne lunch safe in the knowledge that you’re due an unexpected windfall. You’re entitled to compensation if: -In case of a cancellation, you were notified of it less than 14 days before the flight. -You have a confirmed flight reservation. -The disruption occurred in the last 3 years. -The reason for the flight disruption was within the airline's control. -If you took a replacement flight, your new arrival time was significantly different to your original flight.  

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