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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Catacombs of Domitilla unveiled, Rome

Digging into world’s oldest catacombs in Rome

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau

The catacombs in Rome are subject to many myths. No, the early persecuted Christians did not take shelter inside these underground necropolises! With thousands of bodies, each wrapped in a linen clothe, simply covered in quicklime entombed waiting for resurrection, in deep galleries with hardly any ventilation nor light, the myth is quite easy to bust, just thinking of the stench…

Follow us deep underground into world’s first catacombs in Rome to dig into the real history of the early Christians, martyrs, popes, saints, and tomb raiders. A place of hope and resurrection for believers, a place to discover how early Christians defended their faith for others. In all cases, a deep, captivating and beautiful experience.

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Private log-house at Wilderness Muotka Nellim, Lapland

Lapland’s fields of gold

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

Northern Finland was an uncharted wilderness with a scarce population living off the land until gold was found in 1836. Rumours about the discovery were fast to spread… If the quantities extracted have been little, even after state-sponsored expeditions and heavy investments, the precious metal has changed Lapland to this day, with the development of infrastructures and later tourism facilities to observe the Northern Lights and enjoy the vast wilderness whether snow Mo biking, cross-country skiing, hiking or mountain biking.

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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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The City Hall of Leuven in the sun, Belgium

13 fun & interesting facts about Leuven

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

1. The beautiful architecture of Leuven’s picturesque squares is not original…

In 1914, Leuven was burnt to the ground by the occupying German forces: they set fire to the historical city centre to retaliate against the Belgian resistance.

The whole city centre was rebuilt. Leuven’s Oude Markt and Groot Markt are amongst the most picturesque squares of town, reconstructed in a similar style as to prior to the fire. On the other hand, the local Champs Elysées, the former residential Bondgenotenlaan Street that runs from the train station to the city hall, showcases a more eclectic architecture today.

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Reflection of a mountain biker in a calm Norwegian lake

Mountain biking in the tracks of the CIA and reindeer in true wilderness [Norway]

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

Above Snåsa in the heart of Mid-Norway, a winding dirt road takes us to Ismenningen Fjellstuggu at an altitude of about 500 meters. Our host, Skjalg Ledang welcomes us with a warm smile as we arrive. With his wife Grethe, he has recently acquired this former hunting chalet to turn it into a homey accommodation to explore the beautiful surrounding wilderness of the Blåfjella – Skjækerfjella / Låarte – Skæhkere National Parks, close to the Swedish border.

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Characteristic yellow fishermen rorbuer on turquoise water in Lofoten, Norway

Authentic Lofoten

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

Hamnøya, Lofoten, 1900s

The ice-cold winds howl through the planks. The fishing nets and gear hanging in the adjacent room make the whole cabin humid. The stinking cod liver oil lamp provides a gloomy light. There is no escape from the pungent smell of cods hanging on the wooden racks everywhere outside. Through the window, the small harbour is packed with fishing rowing boats. As least, they are well protected here in this natural harbour close to the Moskstraumen, one of the strongest ocean currents, running between this island of Moskenesøya and the small island of Mosken at the western tip of the Lofoten Archipelago in northern Norway. Looking at the direction the king cod hung from the ceiling is pointing, the weather is not about to better anytime soon. With another eleven fishermen sharing the four-bedded 20-square-meter room, the snoring is non-stop and covers the lapping of the waves against the stilts and the loud squeals of seagulls. Today is going to be another day getting busy building a mock up fishing boat to pass time.

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Tsucan vistas on the Golden Road at sunrise, Norway

Your 4-day itinerary in Norway’s Tuscany!

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

Barely an hour north of Trondheim, the lovely Inherred region is the ideal place to slow down and follow a food path between local farms and historical landmarks through fields of gold, rolling hills and scenic fjords… Here is your perfect four-day itinerary in Norway’s food basket through Trøndelag starting from Trondheim.

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Stiklestad church, Norway

In the footsteps of Olaf the Bloody, the Saint Viking & eternal King of Norway [around Trondheim]

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

She is walking briskly. Past the old bridge, along the back side of the colourful wooden warehouses on stilts, towards the train station. It is Sunday afternoon, last day of the Norwegian holidays and the train to Oslo will depart soon. She is carrying a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a 40-litre backpack, and wearing a large smile between satisfaction and serenity. Her face is bright red after days spent in the outdoors. Like her, every year, many complete the Saint Olaf pilgrimage to Trondheim, and even more so during the Saint Olaf festival taking place around July 29, the Saint’s day. To get the official stamp, walking 100 kilometres along the millennium-old hiking path is required. However, many cover much more, and often the 640 kilometres (400 miles) between Oslo and Norway’s third city.

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Lofts at the Kviteseid open-air museum, Norway

Meeting romantic Norway deep in Telemark

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

Many travellers skip the Telemark region, shooting for more arctic landscapes while visiting Norway. However, it is mostly this southern region that helped shape the country’s national identity: slow down a little bit and explore Telemark, the romantic idea that most Norwegians have of their own country…

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Colourful warehouses of Bryggen with boats in the foreground, Bergen

72 hours in Bergen

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.

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Testing the senz° windproof umbrella in Delft

12 interesting facts about Delft [& insider’s tips!]

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

Most visitors check Delft out on a Keukenhof day trip, spending only a few hours in the city. Shame! Lovely Delft has a lot to offer beyond its Market Square, Vermeer Centrum and must-visit Royal Delft earthenware factory. Dive into the city, the cradle of today’s Netherlands, to explore this 17th-century postcard a stone’s throw away from Rotterdam and The Hague.

To appreciate it better, here are 10 fun and interesting facts about Delft that you probably did not know about…

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The stained-glass windows of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France

La Sainte Chapelle, Paris’ jewel

Article updated on March 4, 2022
Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The 13th century Sainte Chapelle, built in a record time to host Christianity’s most precious relics, is a magical place to admire world’s most beautiful stained-glass windows, only a stone’s throw away from Notre Dame de Paris. Probably one of the most breath-taking moments you will have in the city of lights…

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La Conciergerie, Paris: 10 facts why you should visit

Article updated on March 4, 2022
Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Often disregarded with its stunning neighbour, La Sainte Chapelle, being visitors’ favourite, La Conciergerie is a marvel of gothic architecture with one of the most beautiful medieval halls of Europe. It is definitely worth a visit, and here are some interesting facts that will spice it up!

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Hikers studying Bushmen rock art in the Drakensberg, South Africa.

In the footsteps of the rock artists of the Drakensberg [South Africa]

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

The skinny young man dressed in animal skin is standing, with his spear high up above his head. His friends are following him striking a similar posture. They are wearing animal skins. Their tribe has been following the migrating herds, higher into the mountains. The tracking has been long and laborious, and they are tired. The tips of their spears are covered in diamphotoxin, a slow-acting poison obtained from beetle larvae. Further, a herd of elands grazes. The large more-than-half-a-ton animals are unaware of the men’s presence. Even for great hunters as the Bushmen, this is a dangerous endeavour: with a shoulder height of 1.7 meters (5 feet 8 inches), Africa’s largest antelope is much taller than them.

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A settlement hugging the cliffs in Mesa Verde National Park, Utah, USA

Your guide to Mesa Verde National Park

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

Completely off-the-beaten path, Mesa Verde National Park provides more than natural beauty: real insights into the lives of the Puebloan people, early inhabitants of America. This great cultural significance combined to the exceptionally well-preserved ruins makes Mesa Verde one of the highlights of any trip to the West.

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The Bonifacius Bridge over a canal, reflections and blue skies

72 hours in Bruges

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

Bruges is far more than a cute, instagrammable and romantic city to spend a day in. During the Middle Ages, Bruges was a booming, vibrant and extremely rich trading metropolis (have a quick read to dig into its history!). Today, its wealth not only resides in its preserved architecture, but also in the masterpieces that were created here amongst which some of the most remarkable paintings by the Flemish Primitives that are beautifully showcased in the intimate city museums. Follow us on this 3-day itinerary to enjoy Bruges to the fullest, including the best attractions, walks, photo spots, bike rides around town, hidden gems and insider’s favourites!

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Two people walking through the colourful graffiti street in Ghen, Belgium

Brief history of Ghent, the rebellious city of Flanders

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

For years, Ghent has remained Belgium’s best kept secret. In the shade of fairytale Bruges, only half-an-hour away, Ghent used to be overlooked. Big mistake! If Bruges seems frozen in time back during the Middle Ages, Ghent is a vibrant city with a rich medieval past and architecture, but also an industrial heritage. Today, the lively student town is a destination you don’t want to miss… To fully appreciate this lovely city, take this brief travel through time and be amazed!

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Reflections at the Dijver at night in Bruges, Belgium

Bruges’ glorious past & ever-lasting charm

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

In the Middle Ages, Bruges was the centre of the trading world living its Golden Age in the 15th century: exotic products, precious stones and pigments, spices and expensive goods were exchanged from all corners of the world. This is where the stock exchange got its name, and the cradle of the Flemish Primitive painters. Dig into its history to enjoy one of the cutest European towns even better!

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View on rooftops and a brick tower with trees on top of it and hills in the background

Lucca: your ultimate guide [2 to 5 days]

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

Lucca is this kind of city. The more time you spend here, the longer you want to stay. Yes, the picturesque walled Tuscan city at the foot of the Apennine Mountains and along the Serchio River is touristy. Still it remains an authentic city with a very nice atmosphere, different from a slightly arrogant museum-Florence (don’t get me wrong, Florence can be wonderful, but it has also been the victim of its success and mass tourism seems to have taken the best of it) or quick-cruise-stop Pisa. How long to plan for Lucca? Two days is the absolute minimum, spending at least a night within the city walls. Here are many ideas sorted out by themes to spend a good 4 to 5 days in the city, including climbing its towers, visiting excellent museums, tasting and cooking delicious Tuscan specialties, listening to some Puccini, and experiencing unexpected outdoor activities.

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The Duomo, the cathedral of Florence by night

The Florence Duomo: 10 fascinating facts about this masterpiece of the Renaissance

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

It bears different names: in Italian, the Duomo di Firenze or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (literally translated as Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).

It is unmistakable though. World’s fourth largest cathedral (after London, Rome and Milan) dominates the skyline of Florence. Whether from the hills across the Arno River, standing at its foot or looking at it from its bell tower or terraces, its dazzling dimensions make one feel tiny!

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Castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte and its French gardens

Visit a castle so beautiful it got its owner jailed by the king [Vaux le Vicomte]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The architect Louis Le Vau surpassed himself. The elegant castle stands majestically, reflected by a large piece of water in the park. The perspective is perfect. The genius landscaper Le Nôtre combined its laws with some of the most innovative techniques of the time such as levelling, water conveyance systems and optics theories. The result is a delicate balance between art and nature, making the garden the most beautiful of Europe today and the first French formal garden in history.

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Notre Dame de Paris: back then & today

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The 15th of April 2019 was a tragic day. A fire ravaged the cathedral for 15 hours, taking down its spire and its roof. 500 firefighters operating in the dense heart of Paris could save the monument heroically. Millions shared their emotions and many sent financial help from all over the world showing how much of a symbol Notre Dame is for all of us, regardless of religion or nationality. At the moment, the cathedral is closed to the public and undergoing restorations. Securing it and ensuring its structural integrity were the first tasks: the vault and structure are saved. Explore Notre Dame in this article, from its 850-year history to its current status.

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Black graffiti on a white wall reading Liberty or Death during the Hong Kong protests

Current Hong Kong explained [protests]

In 2019 Hong Kong made the international news due to of waves of demonstrations lasting for months. The ex-British colony has a very complex relationship with mainland China to which it is geographically attached. More than a city, less than a country, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR) finds itself a very unique and delicate situation.

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Colonial architecture of the Slave Lodge building in Cape Town, South Africa

How slavery gave its colours to the rainbow nation

When one knows that Cape Town’s Slave Lodge was built in 1679 to house the slaves owned by the VOC (Dutch East India Company), its appearance today is deceiving. The Cape Dutch architecture of this colonial building, one of the oldest in Cape Town, has nothing to do with what it originally looked like… When it was built, the slave lodge looked like the worst kind of prison, without any windows and only a few openings with bars on the courtyard. The inside was so dark that even during the day a lamp was needed, the air circulation was so poor that the filthy stench was permanent and in these poor hygienic conditions the death rate amongst the slaves owned by the VOC was high. About 8,000 men, women and children lived in the Slave Lodge over a period of 132 years…

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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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72 hours in Cape Town

Article updated on November 10, 2022
Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

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.

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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

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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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

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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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 species 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

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!

Modern buildings with water and a honeycomb roof, sunlight piercing through. Louvre Abu Dhabi.

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!

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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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!