Monthly Archives: July 2018

Best homestay experiences when you are travelling

Why struggle as a stranger in a foreign land when you can opt to travel as a friend in a familiar city? Homestays offer a more intimate alternative to traditional hotels that, with the help of a friendly host, can showcase the soul of a city shielded beneath the mask of a modern megalopolis.

In our last feature, we revealed the best cities in Europe to try a homestay. Here, we look at the best cities from around the world, from Toronto to Tokyo, and what to look forward to when you’re prepared to swap the hotel mod cons for a spare room in a local’s home.

 

1. New York City

From Brooklyn to The Bronx, The City That Never Sleeps strikes an electrifying chord composed of the shrieks of sports venues, cries of concert halls, whines of office workers and the drunken babble seeping from the city’s bars. A homestay in the Big Apple can help you escape from the claustrophobic cluster of hotels surrounding Midtown Manhattan and have you dancing to your own beat. Options include the arty maritime neighbourhood of Red Hook, the bustling backstreets of charming Chinatown or slow-paced Inwood, home to acres of peaceful parkland where the city’s howl dims to a pleasant hum.

 

2. Sydney

That iconic snap of Sydney – the sun spilling over cocktail-swilling crowds swarming the hallowed harbour that reflects the resplendent opera house in its calm waters – can promote an image of Australia’s largest city as somewhat one dimensional. Mixing with locals in a homestay can awaken guests to the city’s myriad of exciting activities. Visitors can sink into a salt-water swimming pool, swerve through the city on a Segway or attempt that most archetypal of Aussie activities: surfing (not barbecuing).

 

3. Toronto

Canadians are renowned for their hospitality, and in Canada’s largest and most multicultural metropolis it can be beneficial to have a host help cut through the city’s modern veneer. A recommendation for the best exhibits in the monolithic Royal Ontario Museum, one of the largest museums in North America, could very well turn into a day out that sees you sampling Queen Street’s sloppiest poutine and scoring rink-side tickets to witness the Maple Leafs, Toronto’s professional ice hockey team, carve up the ice. You’ve been warned.

THE CURRY TRAIL

Bradford in northern England has been voted “Curry Capital of Britain” for six years running. Our very own spice-obsessed editor, Helen Abramson, went to find out what the fuss is about.

At 9am on a grey, blustery Saturday morning, I’m on the outskirts of Bradford city centre, in West Yorkshire. In front of me is a plate of steaming chana (chick pea curry), a seemingly unending pile of freshly cooked puri (puffed deep-fried unleavened bread), a tray of homemade chutneys and pickles, and chunks of halwa (semolina-based sweet).

I’m embarking on a 24-hour exploration of Bradford’s curry houses to get a literal taste of why this city is so renowned for its Indian and Pakistani food. Three meals in three restaurants – all family run and started from similarly humble beginnings, but all diverged into very different establishments.

Bradford may not be overrun with tourists – but this handful of restaurants really does draw the crowds. I want to find out if this northern city is worth the journey.

The heavenly traditional Kashmiri breakfast I’m wolfing down has been served up here, at The Sweet Centre Restaurant – a Bradford institution – for over half a century.

It’s a bargain at under a fiver, including a cup of masala chai or coffee.

The faded-grandeur dining room is simply furnished, the floor carpeted. By the entrance, brightly coloured cakes and Indian sweets line the shelves of a sparklingly clean glass cabinet. Deliverymen walk in and out carrying sacks of minced meat, bags of flour and boxes of vegetables.

AUSTRALIA RED CENTRE

One of the world’s great railway journeys, the Ghan runs from Darwin in the far north of Australia to Adelaide in the south, a distance of 2979km – further than London to Moscow. Following the route of pioneering nineteenth-century “Afghan” cameleers, Shafik Meghji hopped on board to take in some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes.

There is a distinct pleasure to reading about great tales of exploration while you travel through the same harsh landscape in the comfort of a luxurious railway cabin. Sat on a well-stuffed seat, feet up on an ottoman, and with an icy G&T in hand, I put down my book on the pioneering cameleers who opened-up the Outback and gazed out of the window at a great expanse of ochre-red desert. It felt a bit like taking the Orient Express across Mars.

The Ghan is one of the world’s great railway journeys, but it was only made possible by an intrepid band of camel-wranglers in the nineteenth century. The first cameleers arrived in Australia with their beasts of burden in the 1860s to support the epic Burke and Wills overland expedition from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpenteria in the north. They quickly became known as “Ghans” – short for Afghans – though they actually came from across what is now India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, as well as Afghanistan.

For the next 150 years, camels were the main form of transport in the Outback, with horses and mules ill-suited for the harsh, arid environment. They enabled telegraph and railway lines – including the forerunner of the Ghan – to be laid across the parched “red centre”.

Ironically, trains brought the great age of the “Afghan” cameleer to an end. The redundant camels were set loose in the Outback, where they rapidly multiplied. At one stage there were around a million wild camels in Australia, though numbers have since been reduced by two thirds.

Originally known as the Afghan Express, the train’s maiden journey was on 4 August 1929, when it carried 100 passengers on the two-day journey from Adelaide to the remote town of Stuart (which was later renamed Alice Springs). In those early days it had to contend with searing heat, flash floods, bushfires and ferocious termites who devoured the narrow-gauge track.

A new standard-gauge line – complete with termite-proof concrete sleepers – was constructed in 1980, just to the west of the original route. But it was not until 2004 that the railway finally reached Darwin.

Female Safe Destinations

The truth is, solo traveling to another country as a woman is actually not as threatening as it may seem. While there are some countries where a woman traveling alone will certainly draw more attention, in general a willingness to respect local customs and a cautious awareness of your surroundings will see you through.

Sometimes, though, it’s easier not to worry about extreme culture differences. Sometimes you just want to have fun. In these ten destinations, it’s not uncommon to see women traveling alone, so you can feel free to relax without standing out.

 

Wales

This country in the west of the United Kingdom has an amazing landscape and an even more amazing cultural history. If you’re interested in the King Arthur mythology, you’ll find a number of important sites from those texts. If you’re into outdoor sports, try a solo hike on the Pembrokeshire coast. Cardiff, the capitol, also offers a number of theaters (including the famous Millennium Center), museums, sports arenas, and shopping centers.

 

Canada

Almost all of my trips to Canada have been solo journeys and I’ve always felt extremely safe. In Quebec, you’ll find a huge cinematic and television culture like the Festival of International Short Film, as well as the famous winter Carnavale in Quebec City. Ontario houses the country’s largest city, Toronto, whose theater, music, and comedy venues are comparable in both quality and number to those in New York City.

The number of national parks, from Niagara Falls to Mount Revelstoke’s 1,000-year old forest, will give you plenty opportunities to hike, camp, ski, surf, and star-gaze. Wildlife lovers, like myself, often find Canada to be one of the best places to head out into the wilderness.

From spending the day with wild grizzly bears and getting up-close and personal with puffins to kayaking and snorkeling with whales, I’ve had some of my most magical solo (and non-solo) wildlife experiences in Canada. There’s plenty of tour operators who provide amazing outdoor experiences in this country, so you don’t need to worry about being completely alone in the wild.

 

Costa Rica

This country is excellent for ecotourists and those looking to learn more about sustainability — also, those looking to enjoy some aquatic fun! Watch and help sea turtles at their nesting grounds in Tortugero National Park or surf amazing waves at Playa Bonita. Costa Rica is also quickly becoming known for its large number of thermal spas, hot springs, and yoga retreats. What’s better than a solo yoga retreat?