Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
As Norwegians like reminding it, their 100-percent wood Stave Churches are Norway’s unique contribution to the world heritage. If there used to be Stave Churches elsewhere in Northern Europe, it is Norway that has the largest amount of them today, and out of these 28, each is unique.
Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Once past the cruise tourists who tend to stick to the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen and to the funicular that takes them up Fløyen, Bergen is a charming city with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. This harbour town has retained its cosmopolitan character and the second city of Norway after its capital Oslo, is very welcoming. This student town is vibrant, surrounded by beautiful mountains and spread around the water: an easy access point to the North Sea that has made Bergen what it is today.
Text: Claire Lessiau &Marcella van Alphen Photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
With about 1.5 million inhabitants, the capital of Liguria, squeezed between the Gulf of Genoa and the mountains, is the 5th city of Italy and the busiest of the Mediterranean Sea extending for 15 kilometres along the coast. Off the beaten path destination more known today for its industrial and logistic sides than for its tourist attractions, Genoa was nicknamed La Superba when it used to rule as one world’s most powerful Maritime Republics. Known since the Middle-Ages for its ability to navigate the seas, to build alliances and to develop trade networks, Genoa had greatly developed as Europe’s main port and financial centres. Today, its past wealth emanates from its no less than 140 palaces built by its ruling families, its many richly adorned churches and its art collections. From the palaces, narrow and dark medieval streets, called caruggi, lead to the Ligurian Sea, composing the largest medieval historical centre in Europe after Venice. Genoa is an authentic city that fascinates by its many layers and contrasts and that is definitely worth spending time discovering.
Keep reading for the perfect and authentic itinerary to discover Genoa over three days, from must-dos to hidden gems!
Whether you like shopping, museums, beach going, the outdoors, history, architecture or you are a foodie, Hong Kong has much to offer in a rather compact territory! We have compiled the best of Hong Kong in an eclectic 5-day itinerary taking you from the must-go Victoria Peak to remote fishing villages while experiencing the best dim sums and grasping the challenges that the territory is facing. Keep exploring
Bird songs fill the cabin of the gondola taking us to the Big Buddha. Through the glass bottom we observe the South Chinese Sea which we smoothly pass over towards the mountains of Lantau Island. Behind us Hong Kong airport, world’s largest cargo airport, where we have just landed gets smaller as we fly over the jungle. Sometimes we notice hikers in bright coloured T-shirts which like small dots move through the greenery on various trails beneath our feet. Keep exploring!
With its jaw dropping geographical location between Table Mountain & the Atlantic Ocean, you will need at least three days to explore its ins & outs and soak up its vibes. Spread the activities based on the weather as the ocean can be rough (for Robben Island) and Table Mountain is often covered in a table cloth of clouds. We can assure you one thing, after spending a few days in the “Mother City”, you will want to come back for more!
This article focuses on the city area where all is reachable by cab or Uber.
Plunge straight into the rum barrel at the Reunion’s distilleries and find out how some of the finest aged rums are crafted, what infused rums are and what you should definitely bring back from the island!Keep traveling!
“I visited the camp at the Springfontein railway station in the Southern Free State. What I was about to witness here… haunts me until this day. The mother sat on a little trunk, with a sick child across her knee. She had nothing to give it, and the child was sinking fast. Her plea for medicine fell on deaf ears. There was nothing to be done. And we watched the child draw its last breath in reverent silence… A friend standing behind the mother cried and called upon heaven to witness this tragedy. The mother neither moved nor wept for her only child. Dry-eyed but deathly white she sat there motionless, looking not at the child but far… far away into the depths of grief.” – Emily Hobhouse, May 15, 1901, what is now South Africa.
Inaugurated only in 2008, the Oslo Opera House has already become the landmark of the Norwegian capital. Its architecture intrigues. Like an iceberg floating in the Oslo fjord, locals and tourists alike climb it to reach its roof via soft inclines or explore its warm and modern foyer. Far from the elite image of most opera houses, the Oslo Opera House is an open space decisively. It has revolutionized its area, a former shipyard cut off from the rest of the city by an ugly highway that was forced underground, and made it a favourite promenade attracting recommendable neighbours like the new Munch Museum or the bar code urbanization project. The building fascinates, and the temptation of exploring its ins and outs only grows bigger as one approaches it.
“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.
Lungile leads the way and with a huge smile on his face he greets basically everyone we come across. “Sawubona! Unjani?” Zulu for hello, how are you. “Ngiyaphila“, I’m fine. “Chap chap“. “So you were born and raised in Johannesburg?” I ask him as I push hard on my pedals, biking uphill under the South African sun. “No!” he answers clearly offended to add with pride: “I was born and raised in Soweto!”
Article updated on May 3, 2021 Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Sabie in the North East of South Africa is an outdoor paradise and the perfect base to explore the Blyde River Canyon, the Kruger National Park and the picturesque villages that made the gold rush history like Pilgrim’s Rest. Let’s dig more into it!
Digging for gold in the area started way before the 19th century gold rush. A long time ago, Indians landed on the East Coast of Africa pushed by the monsoon winds and started trading routes with African tribes to exchange eastern goods against gold, gems, ivory… Keep travelling!
Understand the Emirati culture while in Dubai, and also learn how to decrypt a mosque, with which hand to eat to not appear dirty and uneducated, what the five pillars of Islam are, the Emirati dress code…
Laying down on Kite Beach, I am admiring the ballet of colourful kites dancing in the sky which is turning orange as the sun sets behind the iconic Burj Al Arab building. The muezzin is calling for the sunset prayer as some women swim in burqas next to others in bikinis among the kite surfers. I am overhearing Keep travelling!
Imagine one dome covering all continents, all countries, and all civilisations, shining its light on all of them equally, unique as they are. A stroll underneath the ever-changing calligraphic shades of the dome, crossing oceans from one theme to another leads the visitor to all corners of the world in a search for universality where human concerns and evolutions are central. The specificity of Louvre Abu Dhabi, a universal museum at the crossroads of civilisations is to put these civilisations in regards. Keep travelling!
While Henry Clay Frick and John Pierpont Morgan were amassing their art collections with the millions they made during the industrial revolution and setting the basis for the USA, a different story was taking place in the low income areas of New York City, like the Lower East Side where newcomers to the USA flocked by hundreds and also shaped the country.
The majestic temples of Angkor are victim of their own success: with 4 million visitors a year mostly during the dry season focusing mainly on three temples, the atmosphere can be lost. Still, it is possible to experience the Angkor temple complex off the beaten path for a fantastic and authentic discovery, unravelling the splendour of the great Khmer civilisation.
The five towers of Angkor Wat symbolizing Mount Meru, Cambodia
Sunrise on Angkor Wat, Cambodia
I skilfully steer my mountain bike along a few pointy rocks on a narrow single track through the jungle of Cambodia. In front of me appears a desolated ruin, half swallowed by tree roots of strangler fig trees. Birds sing, butterflies flutter around reflecting the strong sun rays peeping through the dense vegetation on their brightly-coloured wings, and a cat yawns while stretching its front paws on the step of the almost-millennium old Khmer temple of Preah Khan in the temple complex of Angkor.
The chanting of the few dozen of monks, dressed in their traditional orange robes, continues. The monks pray, their voices low in the large and dark atmospheric prayer hall made of teak that is decorated with flapping orange flags. Keep traveling!
A mind blowing blend of drama, dance, modern circus techniques and real-time painting on live music tells the true story of how art could empower a generation marked by the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cambodian genocide.
Sokha, an elderly bent woman slowly walks towards me. Her legs are shaky, her pace slow. Once close, she carefully sits down, opens a thick book and cautiously Keep traveling
Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading
A young woman with a peculiar headdress enters the smoky dark room. She brings in a big tray covered with breakfast dishes: fried morning glory, fried noodles, a bamboo woven basket filled with steamy sticky rice, some chicken, and the homebrewed whiskey! A fire burns next to me in a small clay pot on the dirt floor, and despite the smoke that stings my eyes, I stay close to the welcomed heat source. Reluctantly, I move my little stool closer to the very low table on which the tray is set, joining our guide Sivangxai, the Ban Peryenxangkao village chief and his nephews. Here, in the ethnically diverse Northern Laos, Akha tribes live according to their ancient traditions far from modern civilisation. Keep reading
Tall thin trees with only very few leafs are planted in perfectly aligned endless rows that cover hundreds of hectares of Thai soil. They provide a little bit of shade during the hot summer months, give off a slightly offending smell and supply their owners and their farmers with an income. We are talking rubber trees and are about to discover the ins and outs of rubber making.
In this last article of our traditional crafts of Cambodia series, we will introduce you to the most favoured alcoholic drink in Asia: rice wine. As the name implies, the alcoholic beverage is made of Asia’s main cereal: rice.
“Smell like the hell, eat like the heaven”, Mr. Ola tells us with a mesmerizing smile while explaining his mother’s signature recipe for the traditional prahok, a Cambodian fish paste dish. I uncomfortably move from one leg to the other trying to carefully listen to his story but holding my breath at the same time, avoiding the offending foul smell. We are about to discover how the unmissable and key ingredient for many Asian dishes is made on the fish paste market of Battambang, Cambodia. Keep reading
Rice paper is used for making the famous and delicious spring rolls. Due to the high demand of these thin leafs of edible paper, most of its production takes place in factories. In Battambang, a few families still make a living by producing them by hand. Keep reading
Rice noodles are a favourite in many Asian countries. A pho for breakfast or rice noodles as a base for lunch or dinner are common. To serve this high demand, most noodles are produced in factories. However, it is still possible to buy them fresh and hand-made. In Battambang, a few families living in the rice noodle district have been passing on this know-how for many generations.
Traveling through rural Cambodia, one cannot fail to notice massive jars by some houses. The hand-made jars can typically contain up to 1000 litres of water and are filled up manually most of the time. This water is used for different purposes from drinking to cooking and washing, and is of even greater importance during the dry season. Keep reading
Sticky rice is paramount to any meal in Lao cuisine, and can be found as well in neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Cambodia. There, it is prepared as a dessert like mango sticky rice, or a sweet snack known as bamboo sticky rice.
The water has been boiling for a while now and a woody scent enters my nose. I pour the hot water full of shavings through a piece of cloth to filter the pulp out. I bring the water to the boil again before adding the main ingredients. No, I am not preparing a meal, I am making yellow! Keep traveling!
Fresh basil, peaches, melons, figs, nectarines, tomatoes, lavender, thyme, olives… All these scents enter my nose as we walk through the colourful and authentic market of Cour Lafayette in the city centre of Toulon, along the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera) in Southern France. Keep traveling!
The sea is rough. The upcoming tide brings waves that crash into the beach which is not accessible anymore. It is night and the watchdogs have just been released from their cages, eager to fiercely eat anything alive on the shores of Saint Malo. Keep traveling!
Watching a show on Broadway when visiting New York City is an absolute must. You might have heard of the red TKTS ticket booth already, as it has become a landmark of Times Square. Every day, hundreds of tourists queue to get discounted tickets for the same night performances. But read along, as a couple of insider’s tips may help you buy your tickets more efficiently: Keep traveling!
The Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama is world-renowned for its stunning beaches, islands, surfing and snorkelling spots. And there is one more reason to go to Bocas: the mountainous forests on the mainland by the harbour town of El Almirante are home to one of the best organic cacao producers in the world! Keep traveling!
I am having a déja-vu: a 4:45AM alarm clock to catch an early bus en route for our next adventure. The now familiar chicken bus, the bumpy ride on the unpaved road, the farm workers getting on and off… It reminds me a lot of Carmelita, Guatemala. Except that instead of blasting music, the radio screams out the local news: challenges faced by women working in tobacco factories letting their kids alone for the day, a call for blood donations, free medical consultations on the main square of Estelí,… We are in the north east of Nicaragua, where the left Sandinista movement has been the strongest and still prevails. Keep traveling!
San Juan de Oriente, close to the Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua seems like a small sleepy village. Turning a street corner by the church, we see a display of pots by a house prompting us to give it a closer look. Keep traveling!
Comfortably seated in a cosy room, I am overlooking the Esteli River running through the sunbathed valley circled by green mountains, in what used to be the dodgy area of Estelí, Nicaragua. Contemplating my surroundings, I enjoy looking at the graffiti art hanging on the walls: the Manhattan bridge, the shadow of a motorbiker, rats dressed up in suits… A sweet aftertaste fills my mouth. Licking my lips, I prolong that delicious taste that makes me think I am enjoying a dessert. Keep traveling!
A surreal scene of black cat on the roof of a house with windows shaped as coffee beans attracts my attention. Overlooking it in the garden, a pink owl is resting in a tree. Cherry blossoms flower and villagers are cheerfully at work, from drying coffee beans, to washing clothes in the river. The bright yellow sky shines fiercely above the cute houses. A street dog is sound asleep…. Keep traveling!
“How did you get here?”, asks a friendly woman in a white blood-stained apron in Spanish, while feeding her granddaughter, as we are sipping a coffee in the comedor (the food area) in the heart of the bi-weekly market in the rural Guatemalan village of Totonicapán. “By chicken bus“, we answer, onto which the women looks surprised and slightly concerned realizing we came alone. Keep traveling!
A light is switched on, waking me up. With earplugs in my ears, my jacket and bonnet on, I am slowly extracting myself from my sleeping bag. It is early! 3:15a.m. Around me, other sleepy trekkers start to pack their sleeping bags and mattresses that cover the floor of Don Pedro’s dining room in a remote village in Guatemala. Only a few hours ago, the 15 of us from all over the world were singing songs Keep traveling!
It has been four hours and a half, and my butt has been hurting for more than two hours, as I jump off my rather uncomfortable seat regularly, breathing the diesel fumes! Starting at 5AM, the bus headed out in the night Keep traveling!
It is slightly past 8am and the sun has been up for less than one hour. The Caribbean Sea cools me down a bit as it is quite hot already and I feel the strong sun rays on my face. I stop swimming to Keep traveling!
Article updated on May 22, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), an ancient route called the Nakasendō, literally meaning the Central Mountain Route, connected the political capital Edo (today’s Tokyo) to Kyoto, home to the Imperial Palace. Samurais and merchants used to cover its 534 kilometres through mountains and valleys. Today one can still hike the historical trail, its most atmospheric stretch being between the villages of Magome and Tsumago to explore a rare and timeless Japan.
Article updated on May 16, 2020 Text: Claire Lessiau Photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Visiting a shrine for the first time, one can feel a bit lost, sometimes even confusing a shrine for a temple. Respecting these places of worship and their believers means understanding a few of the following basics.Keep traveling!