Smiling samlor driver in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Discover Chiang Mai by [fast disappearing!] samlor

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”.

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Whisk treatment at Pohjolan Pirtti sauna, Finland

The Finnish sauna culture: relaxation, spirituality & health

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!).

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Master painter hand-painting a vase, the Royal Delft museum, the Netherlands

Truly experience Delft Blue at Royal Delft!

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!

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Seven bottles of the Cinque Terre wines crafted at Possa's vineyards taken in a wine cellar.

High on wine: Cinque Terre’s dramatic vineyards

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!

The falaj of Misfat, one of the most charming villages of Oman

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.

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The mud villages of Oman [Al Hamra]

“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!

A night out in Barcelona? Know where to go!

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!

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The rebirth of cigars, Esteli, Nicaragua

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!

Ancient tradition of cormorants fishing (ukai) in Japan: fishermen and cormorants by night.

Cormorant-fishing (ukai) in Shikoku: witnessing a rare tradition

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!

A group of Japanese kids wearing the traditional outfit chats during the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival in Fukuoka, Kyushu

Spectacular festivals of Japan: The Hakata Gion Yamakasa, Fukuoka & more

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!