Category Archives: Travel

Best Shoes for Travel

Packing appropriate clothing is crucial for any trip, but many people fail to realize the importance of choosing the right shoes! Taking care of your feet during your travels can be stylish and also safeguard from blisters and sore feet.

Here are our best tips for choosing shoes that are fashionable yet practical for any kind of trip!

Unless you’re embarking on an extreme hiking or mountain climbing challenge, you’ll probably want to skip packing traditional hiking boots. I’ve found a great alternative to bulky hiking shoes for trips where I know I’ll be hiking, but also have limited luggage space. These lightweight hiking shoes are perfect for even the most intense outdoor adventures and I usually end up wearing them on the plane to save space.

For a more lightweight option that will condense down in your suitcase easily, these Cross Trainers are comfortable and provide ample support for most hiking and outdoor activities.

For those outdoor trips that involve snow and ice, I find Sorrel boots extremely comfortable and they keep my feet warm no matter how cold it is outside.

 

The Lively Party-Goer

Some people revel in the daylight, and others really let loose at night; for those of you who choose to spend your vacations sleeping in and enjoying the local nightlife, choosing shoes appropriate for dress codes (but that also won’t kill your feet) can be a challenge.

My solution? A convertible day-to-night shoe, that can easily be dressed up or dressed down depending on the atmosphere. I typically choose block heel sandals or mules, preferably with a rubber sole for shock absorption. Keep the stilettos at home!

 

The Budget Traveler

Budget travelers will own up to cram-packing a single carry-on, just to avoid a checked baggage fee. I’ve found that when I have limited suitcase space, bringing one pair of all-in-one shoes will suffice for an entire trip.

Choose a pair that you can wear all day and night, to any activity (within reason), and with any outfit. With this, I’d recommend short/no heels but nothing overly casual; I’ve found ankle booties like these go with any outfit in any season. Soft suede and rubber sole are very forgiving on your feet, while a simple style and neutral color make them easy to pair with jeans, skirts, or even leggings!

I also have numerous pairs of inexpensive elastic sandals that in recent years have become my favorite because while they may be cheap in price, the thick elastic lasts forever and makes for super comfy traveling shoes.

Most interesting ethnic mixes

Despite having turquoise-ringed tropical islands, misty rainforests, cosmopolitan and arty cities, colourful festivals and one of the world’s most interesting ethnic mixes, Malaysia remains Southeast Asia’s most unsung destination.

In 2017, the country turns 60 years old. With a new hi-speed train system, comfortable buses and low-cost air connections to most of Asia and beyond, backpacking in Malaysia today is quicker and easier than ever. Here are our top tips to help you make a trip.

 

1. Don’t rush

Most travellers visit Malaysia too quickly, making a beeline between Penang, the Cameron Highlands, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and exiting to Singapore. But it’s by getting out of the well-worn trail that you’ll experience the best Malaysia has to offer.

Consider going to the east coast for island-hopping, stopping in Kota Bharu to experience a blend of Thai Buddhist and Malay Islamic culture. Or stop at Taman Negara, the world’s oldest rainforest, visiting the quaint little towns that surround it. Cheap flights can get you over the South China Sea to Sarawak and Sabah, in Borneo, where you may see orangutans, meet former headhunting tribes, and experience a side of Malaysia that feels like another country.

 

2. Ever considered hitchhiking?

Back in the 1970s, travellers on the Hippie Trail considered Malaysia the easiest country to hitchhike in Southeast Asia. Today, this adventurous way of travelling is less common, but it’s still very rewarding. Malaysians are very fond of foreigners (Western tourists, especially), and hitchhiking can be a great way to reach off-the-grid places that are poorly served by public transport. And since English is widely spoken, you will also make interesting connections that may end up in invitations to visit local homes.

 

3. Don’t try to speak Malay to everyone

Bahasa Malaysia may be one of the easiest languages to crack in the world. But remember that in this multicultural nation, the predominantly Malay Muslim government is well known for giving preferential rights to the Malay group. As a consequence, ethnic tensions are everyday issues, and addressing non-Malays in Bahasa may trigger unpleasant reactions.

On top of that, to most Malaysian Chinese and Indians, Bahasa Malaysia is a second, or even third language. Stick to English: as a foreigner, everyone will expect you to do so. Practise your Bahasa only in Malay-dominated regions, such as the Peninsula’s east coast, or in Malaysian Borneo, where it really helps befriend locals.

The next foodie break

Not so long ago, Turin (Torino) – Italy’s great northern powerhouse – was largely ignored by tourists, unfairly dismissed as little more than a giant Fiat factory. Yet this elegant city of Baroque palaces and graceful piazzi would be a prime draw were it anywhere else other than this spectacularly beautiful country.

Since hosting the Winter Olympics back in 2006, Turin has undergone major regeneration, transforming its former industrial spaces into cultural quarters, sprucing up its museums and investing in a swanky new metro system.

The city and its hinterland, the Piemonte region, is also one of Italy’s top food destinations. Its traditional lures – wines (such as Barbera and Barolo) and the white truffles of Alba – are now joined by the Slow Food movement and a cosmopolitan approach to cooking rare in Italy. Here’s why Turin should be your next gourmet trip.

 

1. Breakfast is a grand affair

Italy’s first capital, and the seat of the royal House of Savoy for centuries, Turin’s illustrious legacy lingers on in its array of sumptuous nineteenth-century cafés.

Several grace the grand central square, Piazza San Carlo. Start your day amid acres of gilded mirrors and plush red velvet of Caffè San Carlo, where coffee – served by a bow-tied barista oozing expertise – and a croissant savoured at the marble bar will set you back little more than €2.

Festooning the counters and cabinets of Turin’s grande-dame cafés are mounds of tiny pasticcini (pastries), delicate morsels of sweet treats originally designed for aristocratic appetites. They come in dozens of varieties, from crumbly baci di dama (ladies’ kisses) to bignole, mini choux buns filled with cream.

There’s a fine selection at Caffè Torino, another of Piazza San Carlo’s august fin-de-siècle institutions, and don’t miss Caffè Mulassano on nearby Piazza Castello. With its coffered leather ceiling and a marble-and-bronze water fountain, this diminutive, three-tabled spot is a fantasy of Art Nouveau.

 

2. The world’s first ever choc ice was made here

Work off your breakfast with a visit to the brace of fine museums east of Piazza San Carlo: the beautifully restored Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano, which preserves Italy’s first parliament chamber, and, more impressive still, a wander among the pharaohs at the atmospheric Museo del Egizio.

For generations of schoolchildren, the real highlight is a stop between the two at the unassuming Pepino gelateria for a pinguino – the world’s first choc ice, patented in 1939. Still family-owned, and run by the inventor’s great-grandson, the dapper, youthful Edoardo Cavignano, Pepino focuses on quality over range, with just six flavours of artisanal gelati. For an unusual floral twist, try the violetta.

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?

First trip to Europe

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts more than 700 million people, in excess of 450 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. This means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip…

 

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, many travellers see this city as a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

 

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

 

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Get your hippie on in San Francisco

Born in California, the Summer of Love movement aimed at nothing less than transforming American society. And for a window of time, San Francisco was the centre of that hedonistic universe. Fifty years on, here’s where to go and what to do to relive the kaleidoscopic dreams and big ideas of the flower power generation.

 

1. Walk in the footsteps of Hendrix in Haight-Ashbury

The epicentre of the Summer of Love, this 12-block neighbourhood bounded by Golden Gate Park to the northwest still blithely clings to its past. Girls wear love beads and bracelets, while men sport woodsman beards, their faces framed by hairstyles that would have sported by Jefferson Airplane roadies 50 years ago.

The Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour delves into all that rock’n roll history (710 Ashbury is where Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead used to live, for instance), but also introduces the era’s art and fashion, and the area’s charming, pastel-shaded Victorian architecture.

 

2. Stay at a Summer of Love-themed hotel

Located in the gentrified heart of Nob Hill, Hotel Zeppelin has been designed for those who come to find the decade they left behind. Others, meanwhile, are intrigued by a weird nostalgia for a life they never lived. The hotel’s decor has a throwback, 1960s vibe with lava lamps, vintage prints, and plenty of counterculture attitude, including a gigantic “Ban the Bomb” sign in the lobby.

Besides that, there’s the name, obviously, and if it couldn’t get any more Page and Plant, deluxe rooms come with record players, while the bathrooms are decked-out, top-to-bell-bottom-bottom in psychedelic wallpaper listing an A to Z of San Francisco’s most revered bands. In short, turn on, tune-in and sleep late, man.

 

3. Turn the hippie vibes up to 11 at the Outside Lands Festival

Golden Gate Park also hosts the annual Outlands Music and Arts Festival (August 11-13 in 2017) – and this year the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The closest millennial hippies can get to the utopian zeitgeist of the era’s defining concerts and Timothy Leary rallies, the three-day party doesn’t entirely chase the musical legacy of the 1960s (headliners have included Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Lionel Richie). Instead, it embraces the decade’s anti-capitalist idealism by supporting local charities and eco programmes.

Travel around Poland by train

Polish cities are undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Thanks to a combination of urban renovation, bold contemporary architecture and blossoming nightlife, there’s never been a better time to travel around Poland. And never a better time to travel by train. Here’s why:

 

1. You can cover more ground

Poland’s cities all have very different personalities, and you can’t really get to grips with the country’s culture until you’ve visited a handful of them.

For many people it’s Kraków that tops the list. It’s got all the classic Central European charms of Vienna or Prague, but on a more manageable, human scale.

However, it would be a shame to miss out on the Gothic canal-side warehouses of Gdańsk; the Baroque magic of Lublin; the grand architecture and ebullient nightlife of Wrocław; or the magnificent red-brick factory buildings of post-industrial Łódź.

The joker in the pack is the gruff coal-and-steel town of Katowice, home to a fabulous semi-underground museum and hedonistic weekend nights. And it’s all an easy train ride away.

 

2. Poland’s stations are a sight in themselves

Gdańsk boasts a delightful nineteenth-century Neo-Renaissance pile, while Warsaw Central is an archetypal slab of grey 1970s brutalism (recently spruced up, it’s now an asset rather than an eyesore).

Many stations have been totally rebuilt in recent years – the semi-submerged glass-and-concrete palace that is Łódź Fabryczna is one of those temples to modern travel that make you wish you could take the train more often.

Big-city stations such as Katowice, Kraków and the alien spaceship that is Poznań Głowny have been redeveloped in conjunction with large shopping malls, which – whatever your views on consumer culture – have returned the railway station to the heart of urban life.