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!
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.
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!
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. Keep travelling!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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!
“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.
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
The legislative 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!
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…
“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.
“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!”
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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…
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 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 traveling!
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.
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
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
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 traveling
“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
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!
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
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 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
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!
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 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!
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 traveling!