Helsinki Cathedral from the harbour with a sail boat in the foreground

Why Helsinki should be your next city trip

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The capital of Finland, Helsinki, just like the capital of its southern neighbour, Tallinn, might be missing at the top of your bucket list when it comes to must-visit European capitals. However, the modern and hip Nordic city is the ideal place for an off-the-beaten-path getaway full of pleasant surprises and great discoveries. Get inspired and explore the capital of the happiest people in the world!

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen biking the Via Appia, Rome

Uncovering Antique Rome without hordes of tourists [Via Appia]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Cycling past the monumental Circus Maximus where a quarter million spectators used to rave at chariot races, the gigantic Bath of Caracalla where Romans bathed 2,500 years ago, the Via Appia Antica unveils. Just past the Arch of Drusus marking the start of the very first Roman highway, we stand on top of the tower of the Gate of San Sebastian. Following the Via Appia as far as we can see it, we are picturing the rural landscape surrounding antique Rome dotted by large agricultural estates thriving on these fertile lands with the snowy summits of the Abruzzo Mountains in the background. If we are only a short bike ride away from the extremely touristic centre of Rome, we are already far from the hustle and bustle, and about to discover an off-the-beaten gem…

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The Portuguese gazpacho at Cooking Lisbon

Something is cooking in Lisbon!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau

It is still morning when Chef Sara Verissimo takes us for a stroll to the 31st of January market, far away from touristy Lisbon. Locals have been shopping here for their fresh vegetables, cheese, meat and fish since 1878, and so do we on this sunny day to get the best ingredients for some typical Portuguese dishes.

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Prague from above

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The skyline of Prague is dotted with spires and towers giving the Czech capital its fairy-tale appearance. Better than simply admiring these structures from the ground, some of them can be accessed for wonderful views on Prague, the hills of Bohemia and the Vltava River. Know which ones to climb and as a bonus, where to go to take it in in style!

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The secret entrance to the alchemist's lab, Speculum Alchemiae Museum, Prague

Unravelling Prague’s underground from secret alchemists’ labs to nuclear bunkers

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

As the Old Town developed in Prague during the Middle Ages, the multi-annual floodings of the Vltava River were so destructive that the whole city was raised by one floor: ground floors became basements and new ground floors were built on top of them. This has created a whole network of underground tunnels throughout the Old Town that can be explored today…

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Women walking by the fountain of the Kiliç Ali Pasa Hammam, Istanbul

Traditional hammam experience in Istanbul

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

I follow the call of the muezzin directing me to the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque in Beyoğlu on the European side of Istanbul, a stone’s throw away from the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Opposite the grand mosque, I enter the namesake hammam: the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı. Sailors used to gather here to wash before praying, and sometimes only, they would also pamper in a treatment that I am about to experience.

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Relaxing in the hot tub at Prague Original Beer Spa

The beer culture in 3 authentic & unusual experiences in Prague

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Czech Republic has been topping the charts of beer consumption for years. On average, it is a 33-centiliter beer bottle that is drunk every day by every woman, man and child in the country! Actually, ordering a pint is very often cheaper than a coffee or water to the point that now restaurants and bars must propose a cheaper non-alcoholic drink by law. However, the beer culture in Prague goes way beyond cheap beer enjoyed by locals and tourists in one of Europe’s top destinations for bachelor parties. Keep reading to find out how to experience it through authentic and unusual experiences!

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Atmosphere of the III Draakon medieval restaurant, Tallinn

What to do in Tallinn: through time & across town [3 days]

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia between 2006 and 2016 sums up Estonia beautifully: “Estonia is like a wild strawberry: pristine and small, difficult to find […] but once it is ours, then it is one of the best things of all.” Its capital, Tallinn is a real gem, from its well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Old Town to its remnants of the Soviet era, from its spa culture to its intimate speakeasy bars. Let’s travel through time and explore Tallinn!

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Colourful street in Riga, Latvia

Riga in 11 fun & interesting facts

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Sandwiched by Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south, Latvia is often assimilated to its neighbouring Baltic states, mistakenly. At the crossroads of east and west, and close to Scandinavia, Latvia is still building its identity and its capital Riga is an off-the-beaten path gem waiting to be discovered.

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Gardeners working in Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, France

Visit Claude Monet’s finest masterpiece [Giverny & more]

Article updated on June 15, 2022
Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

He inspired the name of the whole movement that revolutionized art. From Tokyo to New York City via Paris, he remains one of the most celebrated painters honoured in the most prestigious museums. Still, there is no better place than Giverny where the master spent 43 years of his life and shaped his beloved garden to get inspired by Claude Monet (1840-1926) and dive into his universe.

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Interactive map Athens

Interactive map: Athens, Greece

If for many years, far from its glorious past, Athens has only been a short stopover on the way to the Greek islands, it deserves a more in-depth exploration. From one of the best Mediterranean gastronomies that can be uncovered on its lively markets, friendly restaurants or excellent cooking classes, to multi millennium-old ruins that have seen the Western Civilization get born, its vibrant neighborhoods and its true urban culture, the Greek capital should get way more attention!

To make it easy for you to explore Athens, here is our interactive map, showing places to eat, drink, run and visit, from must-see cultural visits to low-key and off the beaten path spots. Zoom in on the area of interest, and check out the black pins. Each of them corresponds to an article.

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Two women laughing while reading coffee on a terrace in Greece.

Offbeat Athens, exploring the city with a local

Text & Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

One of the oldest cities on Earth and the birthplace of western civilization, Athens could easily rely on its glorious past and multi millennium-old ruins and fall into grogginess. For years it has been only a sneak peak into Ancient Greece or a gateway to the islands with many tourists making it to the famous Acropolis before heading to the Piraeus to catch a boat. However, the Greek capital has a lot more to offer with vibrant neighborhoods and a true urban culture.

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The golden death mask of Agamemnon, Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

8 reasons why you should not skip the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens showcases a very rich collection of Ancient Greek art that is a perfect introduction to any trip to Greece. The richness of the collections (a thorough visit will take you about four hours) and the extent of interesting written information can be overwhelming so we selected some masterpieces for you in this article.

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Wooden table with greek food well presented during a cooking class, Greece.

Greek cooking in the heart of Athens!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau

Greek food is one of the most characteristic gastronomies of the Mediterranean diet. Based on olive oil, nuts, vegetables, and fish, its traditional recipes are not only healthy but also simply delicious – and with the proper teacher, not that hard to prepare. Let’s pierce its secrets in the heart of Athens.

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Walking Madrid with a local

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

If Madrid is the capital of Spain, its most touristy city is Barcelona. For the traveller who has visited the harbour city, Madrid may look a bit severe far from the charming medieval streets and eccentric Gaudi buildings of the capital of Catalonia. Follow us and walk Madrid with a local to find the real soul of Madrid, behind its wide avenues and majestic façades…

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Madrid’s best kept secret restaurants [and the best Spanish wines!]

Article updated on May 15, 2020
Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Andrés makes his way through the narrow streets of Madrid’s old town that he knows like the back of his hand. He points out to some interesting details on the façades of different buildings as we are making our way to one of his secret spots to taste some of the best food in town paired with some of the best Spanish wines. “Did you know this is Madrid’s oldest building?” he asks when he briefly explains its history before we pop into a 19th century tavern on a historical nearby square. Andrés is taking us out tonight, and we are starting the traditional way with a vermouth on tap and delicias de bacalao. The fried cod cooked to perfection and still crispy is enhanced by the sweet madroño jam made from the fruits of the tree of Madrid: the strawberry tree (go figure, this has absolutely nothing to do with strawberries!).

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Going out in Madrid: do as locals do!

Text & Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Time for the traditional vermouth!

The hour of Vermouth has arrived in the sunlit streets of Madrid. Madrileños enter the many bars scattered all over the city for their favourite drink. If vermouth is easy to find in the Spanish capital, it is not common to find such a variety and quality as at La Hora del Vermut where not only the finest vermouths are selected but also where tapas are crafted for the best possible pairing.

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The Lázaro Galdiano museum, an off the beaten path jewel of Madrid

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Jose Lázaro Galdiano (1862-1947) was a wealthy art collector and with his wife Paula Florido, purchased about 12,600 art pieces and 20,000 books to showcase the most relevant European artists from the Antiquity to the early 20th century.

Today, about 3,000 of these are displayed in the Lázaro Galdiano museum in Madrid hosted in Galdiano’s mansion which interior decoration, hardwood floors and painted ceilings are pieces of art by themselves.

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Guernica unravelled

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

“No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy” said Picasso.

And it can be such a powerful weapon that it can transcend the specific conflict to reach a universal status as a symbol of fight against barbarism. Such is the destiny of Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting, an art and history icon showcasing strong artistic and political commitments.

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A thrilling stroll through medieval Barcelona!

Text & Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

At last, after another long day of riding I have eventually arrived at my final destination. I am entering Barcelona on the Carrer de la Flor de la Lliri (or street of the lily), the main road from the kingdom of France to the capital of Catalonia. It is mayhem in the noisy streets. Drunk sailors just off the ship seem to enjoy themselves very much as they are following the statues at street corners leading to brothels. In a narrow side street, one of them has just inadvertently avoided a bucket of excrements been thrown out of a window. The offending smell merges with other filthy smells that are just an insult to my nostrils. The sailor stops in front of a red door where the street number is slightly bigger than others, signalling the location of the house of joy. The chaos in the street suddenly seems to organise itself as the crowd is pushing towards an intersection. I inquire about the reason for the excitement: “It’s the shame parade of a few thieves who are humiliated on their way to jail. We are going to have some fun!”

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Born to cook, Barcelona

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau& Marcella van Alphen

Do you know how to recognise a real paella from the ones that are sold to most tourists throughout Barcelona? Do you know that most of the olive oil in the world is produced in Spain and bottled in other countries to be sold as such? That there are 28 different protected Spanish cheeses recognized over the world? That gazpacho is traditionally a cold soup made by farmers with left over vegetables? That the delicious crema Catalana has a world-famous French twin sister? Join us for this tasty experience in the booming El Born district of Barcelona!

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Decrypting the temple of light, La Sagrada Familia

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Standing on the bunker del Carmen overlooking the city of Barcelona bathed by the sunset light, La Sagrada Familia boldly rises above the buildings. I have always had mixed feelings passing by the grey façades of the most visited landmark of the capital of Catalonia invaded by hordes of tourists. It is only by entering this basilica that I went from a dubious passer-by to being an admirer of Gaudí’s technical genius and refined symbolism.

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From modernist to modern: Casa Batlló, Barcelona

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

At the turn of the 20th century, the Passeig de Gràcia is the place to settle in for the powerful and wealthy of Barcelona. In 1903, Josep Batlló a rich textile industrialist buys a 25-year old house on this most prestigious street of the new and modern El Eixample district. However, Batlló’s house looks a bit dull next to the neighbouring Casa Amatller designed by the Catalan architect Puig i Cadafalch. He commissions the famous Gaudí to rebuild it completely, but the highly creative genius convinces him to keep the structure – just adding two levels – and redesign the façade and floors.

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Palau Güell, Barcelona

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Walking down the Ramblas and slaloming between noisy groups of tourists and insisting street sellers, we make a right into a quiet side street. A few metres further and the craziness of the Ramblas seems like a distant memory. We have just arrived in front of Palau Güell, Gaudí’s first major assignment for his most loyal patron, the rich industrialist Eusebi Güell.

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A symbol of Catalan pride, the Palau de la Música, Barcelona

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Slightly more than a century ago, the pride of Catalonia already echoed loud and clear, carried by the Catalan Modernist architectural movement and the Renaixença cultural movement. The Palau de la Música in the gothic Barcelona is the communion of these influences. The most representative examples of this Catalan pride, it is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.

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A night out in Barcelona? Know where to go!

Text & Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

In 2016, about 30 million tourists visited Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million inhabitants. The vibrant capital of Catalonya is victim of its own success: the once atmospheric Las Ramblas have turned into a main tourist drag, La Boqueria market into a trap to be avoided, the narrow medieval streets of El Born have been invaded by a crowd armed with selfie sticks and walking on colourful sneakers, skyrocketing prices of hotel rooms and flat rentals have driven locals out of the city, even the paella has turned yellow (with cheap turmeric thrown on a hardly cooked rice replacing the expensive saffron evenly spread on a slowly caramelized rice)! It matters all the more to know where to go to enjoy oneself and encourage sustainable initiatives. The places featured here are all locally owned and share this love for local traditions from the classic vermuteria to the modern one and the trendy speakeasy bar. All in a different district of town. All with a different vibe. All where you can go eyes closed for a great experience!

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