Text: Marcella van Alpen & Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alpen & Claire Lessiau
As I am passing by the train station of Chiang Mai, I recall the 1937 photograph I was looking at a bit earlier. It has not changed much, but the samlors – or bicycle taxis, often referred to as trishaws in China – with their proud drivers awaiting travellers to take them into town are long gone. Tuk-tuks have taken over, hassling tourists. In the streets of Chiang Mai, the samlors are hardly anywhere to be seen, and I feel even more privileged to be seated in one of the last few to take in the atmospheric “Rose of the North”.
Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Rather close to Finland, the Baltic States have adapted the Finnish sauna culture and turned it into a pampering spa experience, adding hammams, pools and Jacuzzis to the traditional wooden cabin of its northern neighbour.
Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The Finnish sauna culture is definitely one of the reasons why the Finns regularly rank first in the yearly polls about the happiest people on the planet. Cleansing and relaxing, saunas are very anchored in the Finnish daily life, and have been exported and modified all over the world. Join us on a trip through Finland in order to dig deeper into authentic Finnish saunas, a 9,000-year-old tradition that has been recognized as a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, and experience some of the best saunas of Finland out of the 3 million of them (for 5.5 million inhabitants!).
Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen
It looks so easy. It is just a small circle in a corner. But at that moment when my brush reaches a sort of inflexion point and its hairs suddenly switch side, it all goes wrong and I break the regular contour. There is no room for a single mistake though: the porous material absorbs the paint and I cannot correct my lines. My only option is to somewhat transform it into another motif, which, given my drawing skills is not really an option either!
Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
The history of Antwerp’s diamond industry starts in the fifteenth century, when rough diamonds arriving from India were brought first to the city of Bruges and then to Antwerp, where they were polished and set in jewellery for nobility and the city’s rich traders.
Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
In Cinque Terre, five tiny colourful villages cling to rocky spurs that plunge into the turquoise Ligurian Sea. This rugged landscape has been softened for centuries by hardworking winemakers who painstakingly carved and maintained terraces into the cliff faces to cultivate them. Most terraces were planted with vines. A few areas were devoted to olive trees, citruses and Keep travelling!
Bo-Kaap is a historic and small residential area of Cape Town built mostly between 1760 and 1840 that became home to many Muslims and freed slaves. Today with its brightly painted houses, it is one of the most instagrammable districts of Cape Town and a must-visit, also to taste its flavourful Cape Malay cuisine! Keep travelling!
The freshly painted bright pink, green, yellow, and orange houses, lined up along the hilly cobble-stoned street contrast greatly with the deep blue South African sky. Signal Hill towers Bo-Kaap while the unmistakable shape of Table Mountain sets the background of this post-card perfect scenery. A filming crew Keep travelling!
Many traditional villages in Oman got abandoned to build modern houses close by: mud houses were getting too small, needed too much maintenance and above all could not beat modern life! Thanks to tourism, some of these old villages are rehabilitated such as the charming Misfat al-Abriyeen famous for its ancient irrigation system or falaj.
“Al Hamra” it says on the dusty road sign along the way towards the majestic Jebel Shams in the Western Hajar Mountains of Oman. In a last-minute decision I turn the wheel of our rental car and notice a large date plantation irrigated by a traditional falaj. I park the car and we cautiously venture in the desolated streets lined by ruined mud houses to explore the old village. Keep travelling!
Text & Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
In 2016, about 30 million tourists visited Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million inhabitants. The vibrant capital of Catalonya is victim of its own success: the once atmospheric Las Ramblas have turned into a main tourist drag, La Boqueria market into a trap to be avoided, the narrow medieval streets of El Born have been invaded by a crowd armed with selfie sticks and walking on colourful sneakers, skyrocketing prices of hotel rooms and flat rentals have driven locals out of the city, even the paella has turned yellow (with cheap turmeric thrown on a hardly cooked rice replacing the expensive saffron evenly spread on a slowly caramelized rice)! It matters all the more to know where to go to enjoy oneself and encourage sustainable initiatives. The places featured here are all locally owned and share this love for local traditions from the classic vermuteria to the modern one and the trendy speakeasy bar. All in a different district of town. All with a different vibe. All where you can go eyes closed for a great experience!
A roughly 20-kilometre long bumpy dirt road leads towards surprisingly well maintained trees on the steep slopes of Laos’ most remote mountains bordering China. Wooden houses are lined up along the road, leafs are drying in the sun, people are working on their doorstep, chickens roam around and some lazy dogs nap in the sun. Keep reading
Article updated on May 25, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau
Shinkansen train from Tokyo to Sapporo, summer 2015: the little cart approaches, loaded with coffee makers, soft drinks, bento‘s and sweets. The young Japanese female train attendant asks us what we would like in a perfect English with an American accent. We are puzzled! Keep travelling!
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!
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!
Esteli is the heart of the tobacco industry in Nicaragua that offers reknown cigars which are exported worlwide. More than just making, it is really a craft. Learn more about it visiting one of the factories with us. 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!
Article updated on May 11, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The setting sun colours the isles of the Inland Sea as we drive along the northern coastline of the off-the-beaten-path island of Shikoku in Japan. The close-by village of Ozu is one of the rare places where the ancient tradition of cormorant fishing still takes place, on the Hijikawa River. This way of fishing, Keep travelling!
Article updated on May 15, 2020 Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
From Hokkaido to Okinawa, festivals are very important in Japan. In a very fast-paced and ultra-modern country, they are an integrant part of keeping ancient traditions alive and passing them on to younger generations. If they take place throughout the year, the best moment to witness most of them is the summer. Be warned: some are so popular that they make travelling and staying in the hosting cities difficult. Keep travelling!