Alcatraz, the rock standing in ever changing tides

World’s most famous prison lies in the seemingly peaceful bay of San Francisco. The federal prison on the rocky island was highly feared by the United States’ most wanted criminals, a final destination for some. Escaping? Impossible! Or at least that’s what you think…

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Historic V&A Waterfront Walk [Cape Town]

The V&A Waterfront is the most visited attraction of Africa with 24 million visitors in 2017. The most successful development project of the whole continent is also the oldest working harbour of the Southern Hemisphere. Take a walk between trendy shops, restaurants, dry docks and step back into history!

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Planting the seeds for concentration camps and segregation [The Anglo-Boer war]

“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.

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The Nizwa fort [Oman’s most visited monument]

The Nizwa Fort nested among mountains and oasis with the souk spreading at the foot of its recognisable tower is a must-see.

When Oman converted to Islam peacefully and by faith in the 8th century, the idea to create a true Muslim state was paramount, and prior to today’s sultanate, the Imamate was ruling the country. Religious and political powers were consolidated in the hands of the elected Imam in the capital Nizwa (until the coastal Muscat became the capital in 1793). As such, Nizwa has been the centre of religion and also of politics for many centuries, calling for new standards for fortified buildings in a land divided among many tribes. keep reading

5 insider’s fun facts about Strasbourg that you probably did not know about!

The capital of Europe has become a popular destination. If most visit during its thriving Christmas Market, exploring Strasbourg through the eyes of a local is always a good idea and even more so during the quieter periods. Join us and learn about its moving history, off the beaten path secrets and gems!

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Walking Madrid with a local

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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District Six museum, Cape Town: a commemoration ground

“We were told that we didn’t qualify to live there anymore because of the colour of our skin.” – Joe Schaffers, ex-resident of District Six. Removed in 1967 at the age of 28.

“Every day to work I would pass by my house, out of which my wife, kids and me had been forcefully removed. Every day I would stop and look at it, seeing the bulldozers getting closer. Until one day our house was gone, just a vacant plot remained, on which I stood with an empty heart.” – Noor Ebrahim, ex-resident of District Six, Cape Town. Removed in 1970 at the age of 26.

“Many streets from which people were removed and houses demolished are still empty today. The goal was to divide people and break us.” – Ruth Jeftha, ex-resident of District Six.

Today Joe, Noor and Ruth are here, at the District Six museum in Cape Town, South Africa. Housed in a former church and the only original building of the District Six that is still standing, more than a museum, it is a commemoration place where former residents reaffirm their identity by sharing their life stories with visitors, celebrate their heritage, confront the complexity of history, and try to come to terms with their forced removals.

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Guernica unravelled

“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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Soweto, way more than a township: an identity

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!”

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Offbeat Cape Town, beyond the Waterfront and Table Mountain

Parading the V&A Waterfront, going wine-tasting in the vineyards, exploring Cape Point, Boulders Beach, Robben Island and Table Mountain, just a grab of the many must-do’s when visiting Cape Town. But before soaking up South Africa’s moving history on Robben Island, indulging yourself to good food, delicious wine or taking selfies from the top of Table Mountain overlooking the magnificent views of the City Bowl, there is one activity that deserves a little more attention: discovering the real Cape Town with a local.

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Back to our roots: finding a new specie in the cradle of humankind, South Africa

Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker set out that day of 2013 to look for fossils in unexplored parts of the Rising Star Cave about one hour north west of Johannesburg in the Maropeng area. Meticulously exploring the well-known dolomite cave, they found a narrow vertical tunnel. Taking this chute feet first they discovered a chamber 30 metres below ground filled with bones. These could be just any bones, but when they came head first with what looked like a human mandible, they knew they were onto something big… Keep travelling!

Travelling back to the gold rush, South Africa

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!

Louvre Abu Dhabi unravelled

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

A thrilling stroll through medieval Barcelona!

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 Keep travelling!

The land of the musketeer

Explore the country of d’Artagnan, the most famous of the musketeers. Swap the horse for a bicycle and enjoy the ride through the bucolic Gascony in the south of France!

From the sky, it looks like a fan made of valleys from north to south, running from the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Biking the Gascony region in the south of France is quite a challenge: Keep traveling!

An immersion among one of world’s largest fleet, Toulon, French Riviera

Dust rises up along the quays of the military harbour of Toulon in the south of France as carriages filled with food and jars of wine pass by. The artillery is spread out on the ground and among the iron cannon balls dozens of people are inspecting the heavy canons which are piled up and ready to be loaded onto the fleet of King Louis XV. I am visiting the Musée national de la Marine, or the Naval Museum of Toulon where a mural of Joseph Vernet represents a scene of the Toulon harbour in 1755. Keep traveling!

Uncovering a time capsule at the tenement museum, NYC

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.

97 Orchard Street, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1988

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The medieval splendour of Carcassonne, France

We are standing a few kilometres south of the fortified city of Carcassonne, with the vineyards rolling down from our feet to the base of the majestic ramparts, and the Black Mountain in the background. In Southern France, Carcassonne is a marvel of the Middle-Ages: an entire city completely fortified with its narrow cobblestoned medieval streets, its imposing castle, and gothic basilica. Carcassonne remains the most complete example of French medieval military architecture, and it took about 25 centuries to shape Carcassonne as it is today…

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Canal du midi unlocked: the locks of Fonseranes, Béziers (2/5)

Birthplace of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the man who linked the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea in the 17th century by carrying out the largest civil engineering project of the time, the Canal du Midi, Béziers is also where the masterpiece of Riquet can be visited: the 9 locks of Fonseranes.

Having left Sète some 50 kilometres prior, we leave the shade of the centennial plane trees along the Canal du Midi behind to bike over the surreal Pont-Canal de l’Orb. This 1857 aqueduct, both bridge and canal, was built so that boats with their precious wheat cargo would avoid being tumbled over in a violent Keep travelling

The Frick Collection, NYC

The Frick collection is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States, showcased in a mansion on Central Park in a domestic interior.

Entering the private collection of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) is stepping into an elegant mansion highlighting the wealth and taste of the coke tycoon. Keep travelling!

Photo gallery: Notre Dame de Paris

I may have passed by it thousands of times in Paris, my home town. Still: every time I walk by, I have to stop to admire its stunning architecture, detailed sculptures, scary gargoyles, and beautiful glow in the evening sun. In more than 850 years, it has seen Keep reading

The Morgan Library: a must-see jewel of NYC

The Morgan library is not on every tourist trail in New York City, and is a masterpiece housing a tremendous collection mostly from the Middle-Ages and Renaissance gathered by Pierpont Morgan, a man who shaped the U.S.A.

Being born and raised in Europe, we are quite familiar with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance eras. Italy and its treasures like Florence, the medieval wonders of France, the UK or Prague, etc. are sites we have been lucky to visit. Heading to New York City, our first reflex is not to head to the repositories of the old world, but to discover its urban jungle and Keep reading

Angkor off the beaten path & on the single track!

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.

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.

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Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia

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 blows the dust from the pages that have not been opened for a long time. Our eyes meet. Keep reading

A visual tour of the Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

The grand palace of Bangkok is amongst the most visited monuments of Thailand, if not the most visited one. Keep reading

The killing fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The traffic is hectic. I am manoeuvring our 125cc scooter to avoid pedestrians randomly crossing the street, scooters coming from all sides, including in front of me and against traffic, and tuk-tuk drivers slaloming between trucks, buses and cars. Driving in these conditions requires an intense focus. Still, my mind is lingering at S-21 we have just left. The depiction of the atrocities committed in this prison under the Khmer Rouge regime has left such a deep impression that we can hardly utter a word to each other. As we are heading South, the traffic gets slightly lighter, and potholes get me out of my thoughts. These victims who survived the tortures of S-21 may have felt the same potholes while being driven to the village of Chhoeung Ek, about half an hour away from Phnom Penh, today known as the killing fields. Keep reading

Cambodia’s most horrific history class: The S-21 prison in Phnom Penh

It is a group of rather ugly three-story buildings with the typical architecture from the 1960’s surrounding a central yard. Chao Ponhea Yat high school was built in 1962 in the south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. But on April 17th, 1975, when he marched on Phnom Penh with his Khmer Rouge troops, Pol Pot turned this high school into the S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, the biggest in Kampuchea Democratic where about 20 000 people were jailed and tortured before being exterminated in the nearby killing fields. Keep reading

The explosive truth about the secret war, Laos

“Of course, I found many bombies as a kid!” Ae’s reply sounds so obvious. “Many of my cousins still have metal in their bodies. They can’t really take it out. It’s too dangerous.” Ae is 28. He grew up in the plain of Jars, one of the areas of Laos that was heavily bombed during the secret war: more than half a million Keep reading

Toulon, the rough diamond of the French Riviera & its best kept secret!

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 in France. Keep reading

Saint Malo, France: The city of corsairs

November 26, 1693

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 reading

Photo of the day: how to win a trip back to Prague!

The majestic medieval Charles Bridge connects the Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town which are separated by the Vltave River in the capital of the Czech Republic. A total of 30 bronze baroque and gothic statues of Saints have been guarding the bridge for the past 300 years.

On this early and cold morning, a bunch excited people are queuing by the Keep reading

Canal du midi unlocked: the Malpas tunnel (3/5)

Exploring the Canal du Midi and leaving Sète and the locks of Fonsérannes behind, we bike about eight kilometres further into the direction of the Atlantic, along the narrow and bumpy towpath where horses used to drag the heavy loaded vessels before engines made it obsolete. Keep travelling

Crossing the bay of the Mont Saint Michel

It has been a long trip, walking for hundreds of kilometres. Setting off about a month ago, we have just arrived at the foot of the last obstacle. It is so close and yet, it seems impossible to reach. The high tide covers up the whole shore and I fear greatly for this life-threatening crossing on foot to the sacred island Keep reading

The Panama Canal unlocked

The Panama Canal took global trade to the next level, putting San Francisco only 9 000 kilometres from New York City instead of 22 000 via the dangerous Cape Horn. In a global economy, the canal is also used to link Asia to Europe: if you are sitting in Europe or the east coast of the USA eating a banana from Peru reading this article, or using a cell phone or laptop made in Asia, chances are they went through the Panama Canal. However, the construction of this engineering masterpiece came at a high price. Keep traveling

Bocas del Toro, Panama: The craddle of the Chiquita banana empire

The beauty of the archipelago of Bocas del Toro made quite an impression on Christopher Columbus who discovered it in 1502: Columbus island (isla Colon), Christopher island (isla Cristobal), or the admiral’s bay (bahía del Almirante) are some of the names one can see on its map. Later, the islands developed into ship supply and repair bases, as indicated by their names: isla Bastimentos translates as supplies and isla Carenero as ship careening. Isla Colon is the largest island of the archipelago and hosts the local capital of Bocas del Toro. Founded in 1826, it became the third most important city in Panama until the 1920s. The United Fruit Company, the biggest producer of bananas that is known today as Keep traveling!

Rural stay on Ometepe island, Lake Nicaragua

He is insisting, really insisting on me wearing my life jacket. It is just a short crossing, and with a lake filled with aggressive bull sharks, I think it doesn’t matter whether you drown or float. But I gently put the bright red jacket around my neck while one of the crew members of this packed ferry is watching me closely. Keep reading

Meet the real Nicaragua: rural homestay in Miraflor

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!

Tikal: where nature and culture merge

 

It must be a tyrannosaur-rex, I think, while I turn on my side in another useless attempt to fall back sleep as the sun is almost rising. The roar from the Guatemalan jungle is so loud that I fear the size of the animal making this much noise, especially while spending the night in a small tent… Keep reading

Exploring the cradle of the Maya civilization, El Mirador, Guatemala

From the top of the 77-metre high massive pyramid of La Danta, the huge city sprawls at my feet. From the grand plaza on which La Danta stands, a broad street paved with white stones leads to the Great Acropolis, Keep travelling!

How to preserve the rainforest of Central America: by chewing gum, the organic ones!

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 travelling!

The off-the-beaten path spectacular Maya ruins of Uxmal, Mexico

Leaving the flat plains, the mid-day Mérida to Campeche bus takes a winding road as it reaches the Puuc (“hill”) region of Yucatán. As it struggles to go up, we are enjoying a view on the never-ending forests. Looking more towards the hills, a high stone structure appears Keep reading

The mysterious wonders of Chichén Itza, Mexico

The early morning sunlight warms up my skin. Birds are singing as loud as they can while hiding themselves in the exotic tree tops. The earth smells humid from the night before as we walk towards a big clearing. It strikes me: Keep reading

The stunning Maya ruins of Tulum on the Caribbean Sea, Mexico

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 reading

Hiking from Magome to Tsumago: timeless Japan

With the 4-day-Yari-dake hike we have just finished the day before, and still being used to waking up at sunrise, we decide to go for an 8-km stroll between the timeless villages of Keep reading

The Canal du Midi unlocked: Sète, the cosmopolitan starting point (1/5)

A smell of fish enters my nose while I kneel to capture a fisherman dressed in the recognizable thick yellow waterproof clothing as he sets out on the lake of Thau. Squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and the salty étang de Thau, a famous aquaculture basin for oysters and mussels, Sète breaths the atmosphere of a historical fisherman’s town with its very own traditions. Keep travelling

Photo of the day: Hiroshima atomic bomb dome

A sparrow rests on the ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. This building was one of the very few that remained standing after the “Little Boy” atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. wiping out the complete city. Keep traveling!

A citytrip to Stockholm

Peeping through the porthole of our cabin on the AF Chapman, I see a few white boats anchored to the harbour of Skeppbron on the opposite bank of Strömmen, the body of water separating us from the 5-to-8-story-historical buildings on the East shore of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. The seagulls are awake. It is only late April and the sun already rises very early: it is 5AM and it is daylight. Keep travelling!

The Vasa museum [or how the biggest failure of the shipbuilding industry became the pride of Sweden]

Visiting the Vasa museum (Vasamuseet) is a must do in Stockholm. It is intriguing that the worst ship ever built ever attracts more than a million visitors per year! Keep travelling!