Urban Stripes: An architectural 'oasis' in Athens

The area ‘Koukaki’ has been named as one of the most ‘‘cool’’ areas of Athens. In the same area two major architectural modernistic build examples exist. The first is the Fix building by Takis Zenetos and the new museum of Acropolis by Tchumi. Now has one more reason for its -trendy- tittle.

Urban stripes has been an architectural ‘oasis’ in the grey of Athens.

Klab Architects have used elements of both statements buildings of the area to produce a new facade for an apartment building. The generic typology of a "polykatoikia" facade that exist in linearity of their balconies and the same position of the windows in every floor comes in severe conflict with the seemingly randomness of the linearity of the windows that create the facade.

Best of Bali


Bali and the Balinese

Upon exiting the airport the first thing I heard was the Muslim Call to Prayer. It was Ramadan and the Mosque near the Bali’s principle airport was calling out to all devout Muslims. Though Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, (and is the world’s most populous Muslim country), Bali is different, with only 10% of Bali being Muslim and the 90% being Hindu.

The island is dotted with Hindu Temples and small shrines along the road. I am not exaggerating by writing that there are Temples everywhere: next to garages, on the roof of people’s homes, squashed between souvenir shops and hotels or taking up blocks and blocks of the city.

For such a small space there are different vibes to Bali. Denpasar is the hustling and bustling capital city. Kuta is a party town. Ubud is the cultural capital and the north of the island feels more remote with mountainous and lakes… and Temples!

Denpasar Museum

Denpasar is the capital of Bali. Most tourists choose to bypass the city for the hotel resorts, the parties of Kuta or the culture or Ubud. But not to be missed is the Denpasar Museum; a gem of a building located in the centre of the city.

There, you can learn about the kingdoms of Bali and the island’s culture and heritage. There is a stunning room of gold and bright light that displayed the various Balinese traditional dresses. By making our way through the courtyards we could not help but take a few snaps of a newlywed couple; the bride’s train seemingly taking up a large part of the garden.

Religion

As mentioned, Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu with Temples dotted everywhere. Stopping near one Temple was an exhibition; mostly for tourists it seemed; where for a dollar, we could see a pantheon on Hindu gods. Some were truly terrifying, while others were warrior gods fighting demons. I found myself asking ‘is he good or bad?’ to which the guide indulged my questions.

The Monkey Forest

True story: While we were in the Monkey Forest, a monkey jumped on my partner’s backpack. A small crowd had gathered, watching as a tall Norwegian tolerated a monkey hanging onto his bag. The monkey took the bottle of water and drank it. As we oohed and aahed the cute monkey then opened the front zip of the backpack, reach inside and take the hand-sanitizer. It then proceeded to bite into it.

‘But it is full of chemicals’ I said becoming concerned that the monkey might be harmed. I picked up the empty water bottle and tried to goad the monkey into trading it over for the water bottle. The monkey hissed at me, which roused the attention of a larger monkey that ran up to me and confronted me by baring its teeth.

Afraid, I walked away briskly only for them to chase me. I broke into a run and so did they.

‘Stop. No! Stop!’ I said, actually speaking to the monkeys. They hissed at me, ready to pounce. I ran away as tourists watched. Eventually they stopped chasing me.

‘You did everything you shouldn’t have done’ my partner said. ‘You pointed at the monkey. You looked it in the eyes and you ran away. Plus you shouted at it! Big mistake.’

‘You’re right. I shouldn’t have shouted. It probably does not understand English.’

Uluwatu Temple

‘Pura’ means Temple. ‘Ulu’ means edge and ‘Watu’ means rock or cliff, so Pura Uluwatu literally means the Temple at the Edge of the Cliff. The complex of Uluwatu, located on the southern tip of the island, has a number of Temples, clusters of copses and balconies that overlook the Indian Ocean. Like the Monkey Forest there are monkeys there too, which have a tendency to snatch people’s water bottles and trendy sunglasses. It is one of the major points of interests in Bali and not to be missed.

Must see:

The Rice Paddies: if you’re driving in the countryside stop when you see them, although they keep getting better and more beautiful.


Tanah Lot: a Temple by the sea. The rock, on which the Temple is built, has been eroded by the sea leading it to become an arch.


Ulun Danu Beratan Temple: located on a lake in the mountainous north of the island.

Note to Travellers

Bali is a stunning and unique place. You will find so much in such a small space and there is something that appeals to everyone; adventure tours, Temples, cultures, parties and international and local cuisine. But since there is something for everyone, everyone wants to visit Bali.

In addition to the 2.5 million Balinese on the island there are lots of tourists such as; partying Australians, French backpackers, Brits on a gap year, yoga enthusiasts always in their yoga pants, Indian families on a cultural tour, Chinese tourists getting on and off buses with their selfie-sticks, and I even spotted a party of beautiful Korean models and soap-stars who made too way much noise chatting and shouting at lunch.

Therefore since everything is so close and since everyone is there, there is traffic. Be organised with your time and plan ahead, starting early will not only allow you to avoid the crowds but see and do much more.

In Barcelona with El_Isleño

Architect and model Valandis Kallis can’t get enough of Barcelona. The spicy Greek Cypriot lad is 'falling in love' with travelling every summer, and here he reveals his favorite places from Barcelona; go-to beach, clubbing, site seeing and more.

His favourite area to stay is the Eixample of Barcelona. "Grab a coffee, a fresh bocadillo and press play on your ipod. Enjoy a long walk starting from Rambia de Catalunya, skipping the croud of Las Ramblas and get lost in the old streets of Raval" he noted.

Valandi's favourite destination is always the sea, and in Barcelona he had the opportunity to walk across the coastline and feel the vibe of the beach life.  "Final stop of my long walk was the W hotel where I stopped at the beach next to it. After that the steps are simple. Shoes off,  walk on the gold sand and relax by enjoying a glass of cold tasty sangria." 

El Isleño ( his Vlog name and Instagram ) has recently started vlogging and we can't stop watching his latest video from his trip in Barcelona.


Santa Marina: Mykonos' five star hotel destination

Located just ten minutes from the Chora, Santa Marina is perfect for enjoying all the benefits of Mykonos without the hustle and bustle. Inaugurated in the 70s, the hotel was the first on the Island to be awarded 5-stars, and has remained at the top of the sure-shots list ever since.

Travellers seeking luxurious serenity will choose from the hillside compound’s 101 rooms (including 9 suites with private swimming pools), or settle into one of the 13 villas, with their particularly lofty beds and sweeping views of the Aegean. Designer Sylvina Macipe Krontiras oversaw a three-year renovation that saw immaculate walls, noble wood panelling and clean lines come together in fine balance of unabashed luxury and Greek tradition.

From the private beach to the swimming pools and from the stylish experience in Reef Boutique to organizing a memorable and ultra-romantic wedding, the Santa Marina Resort & Villas still is a premier accommodation choice in Mykonos that combines cosmopolitan lifestyle with modern comforts and uber chic aesthetic.

Santa Marina Mykonos, Ornos 846 00, Greece, open until October 15, 2018, reopening mid-May 2019.

Source: santa-marina.gr

Library Hopping in Perth, Australia

Words by George Tsangaris

I was raised in Limassol, Cyprus, a city more known for its nightlife and beaches than libraries. Growing up there, I knew of only two libraries. The first was the Limassol Public Library; an ornate building that was always under renovation. The second library was our school library, which was in a converted kitchen. Needless to say I did not use either much however when I moved to Australia and began writing my book I found myself spending increasing amounts of time in libraries.  

Overtime I realised that each library seemed to have a unique theme. There were differences in the services they offered, their architecture and outdoor spaces. Different libraries attracted different people, from students with heavy backpacks, to aspiring writers, designers, pensioners and businessmen. They had a communal setting where a group of strangers worked together but separately and they provided a space of silence in a world of endless chatter.

In order to survive, libraries have evolved from being stuffy places of dusty books to into community centres, places to work and as cultural landmarks. In tribute to the libraries of Perth, and libraries everywhere, here are some of the libraries on my circuit. 

The Grove Library


One of the busiest libraries is the library in Peppermint Grove, which is located at the end of leafy neighbourhood filled with mansions that are reminiscent Savannah or Charleston in the US. When I visited the Grove Library was peppered with students in sports gear and businesspeople catching up on their notes. As well as becoming a community space with a coffee shop the library has a learning area for children, which means there are young mothers walking around with their babies. As I sat writing in a corner I felt a tug on my shoes. Looking down I saw that a toddler was pulling on them. A mother ran up to me saying ‘sorry, my son likes shoes’ and promptly collected her baby. Her kid also had good taste; those were Yohji Yamamoto shoes he was grabbing, and what’s not like about Yohjis?   
Who would you find there? Rick Kids of Instagram, yummy mummies and entrepreneurs. 

Nedlands Library


Seeking silence I discovered Nedlands Library. The library’s grounds are filled with the fauna typical of western Australia. Home to an array of exotic birds I would often find their feathers lying in the leaves. The library has a vintage feel to it, like stepping back to the 1970s. The library’s design is that of clean, straight lines and an open-plan layout. Most books are placed downstairs while the main study area is upstairs on a large indoor balcony. The children’s section is separate from the rest of the library ensuring the silence needed to write or study and there is a fantastic Young Adults section comprised of manga and comic books. Like other libraries, it offers a service called Books on Wheels, which delivers books to older people in the community. 
Who would you find there? Wonder Woman, hipster students and the cast of That ‘70s Show.

Claremont Library


Nestled amid an up-market shopping area you’d be forgiven for thinking that the beautiful redbrick building is the local Church. It is now Claremont Library, which was founded in 1922 as a Methodist Church and functioned as such for 57 years. Having made its conversion into a library, the building has kept much of its original architecture such as the high ceilings providing the library an airy feel and intricate stained-glass windows that are illuminated from the sun. It was cosy and welcoming, and not only made me want to browse for books to read, but pull out a blanket, lie on the floor and read there and then.
Who would you find there? The Disney Princesses.

Reed Library


Reed Library was filled the sounds of students zipping around looking for books or whispering in hushed tones in corners. I walked around looking for a place to work and chose a quiet place overlooking the lawns of the university grounds. I was overcome by nostalgia, longing for my student days… where, I have to admit, I spent more time in nightclubs than book clubs so feeling restless I wondered outside and discovered lush gardens, so well-tended, that they looked like they were photoshoped onto reality. I sat by the library’s outdoor area, which has a large pond that spans the full length of the space. Ripples from the water reflected on the ceiling. Rather than write I sat in the sun warming myself, sipping coffee and people-watched. Correction: student-watched.
Who would you find there? Students energetically buzzing around like bees.

City of Perth Library


Stepping into the City of Perth Library is like stepping into a pearl. Sleek and modern, it is much bigger than it looks. Located in the heart of the city the library has a circular shape comprising of seven floors with the top floor becoming a terrace that has views of the surrounding skyscrapers and the Swan River. As I made my way around the building I could not help but notice the artwork that decorated the library, the most stunning of which was a painting on the library’s roof. I had not known about it until I walked by and stepped in on a whim. It is Perth’s best kept secret. 
Who would you find there? Anyone and everyone… who know about it. 

Dust off the notion that libraries are stuffy. Libraries are evolving as spaces for reading and working but also as community spaces. More people than ever are reading. More books are leaping off the shelves and onto our TV screen as Netflix series. And it seems like at least 10% of the images on Instagram are that of a book next to a cake and coffee. Just check out ♯Bookstagram. We live in an increasingly virtual world with fewer community spaces and libraries fill many of our community’s needs. To quote Kylie ‘your disco needs you’ but your library needs you too!
 

48 hours in Old Nicosia

Whether you are looking for a sunny weekend getaway or you’re there for business, Nicosia will reward you with countless historical and cultural spots, authentic and infused Cypriot cuisine and a lively night scene. Nicosia (officially known as Lefkosia) has been the capital of Cyprus for more than a thousand years.

Founded right at the heart of the island, the city has been continuously inhabited for over 4500 years, thus making it one of the oldest capitals in the world. Nicosia is the political, financial and cultural hub of the country and a quite fascinating mix of cultures and civilizations reflecting the long and turbulent history of the island.

 Old Nicosia

Old Nicosia

Almost everything of interest lies within the unique star-shaped 16th century Venetian walls, an area known to locals as “Palia Poli” (Old City) or “Chora” to the older generations. Apart from Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques, museums, galleries and artist’s workshops, “Palia Poli” is filled with hip cafes, lively bars and trendy restaurants, a fact quite impressive for a city so small.

 'Faneromeni' church

'Faneromeni' church

Nonetheless, probably the most fascinating fact of all is that the city bares the sad title of the last divided capital city of Europe. To sum up, Nicosia is a fascinating mix of vibrant street life, confronting division and rich history. So if you’ve got only two days to spend in the city and you’re wondering where to go and what to see, the following 48-hour itinerary will allow you to experience the local culture and visit most the city’s important sites and attractions.

Day 1

9-10.00am Kick-start the day the local way by sipping a Cyprus coffee while admiring the neoclassical facade of “Faneromeni School” at “Tria Fanaria”, one of the city’s oldest traditional confectioneries. Try a savoury pastry such as “halloumoti” or “eliopitta” and you won’t regret it. Bear in mind that Cyprus coffee is best sipped slowly and the thick layer at the bottom is not consumed!

Tria Fanaria .jpeg

10-2.00pm Walk along the 16th-century Venetian walls and take a selfie in front of the imposing “Famagusta Gate”, the largest and most beautiful of the three city gates. The Gate has been transformed into a Municipal Multicultural Centre so it’s not uncommon to catch an art exhibition inside. Head to the imposing Archbishop’s Palace and spend some time at the adjacent “Byzantine Museum” if you are into some serious religious art. See the stunning frescos of the small but truly magnificent “Agios Ioannis Cathedral”, or visit the free of charge “Leventis Municipal Museum” in Laiki Geitonia to find out more about the city’s fascinating history. If you fancy some more culture, you can visit “CVAR/Severis Foundation” in Ermou Street which houses a unique collection of paintings and artefacts that highlight the island's multicultural past.

Famagusta Gate.jpeg

2-4.00pm Lunch like a local in a “Mageirio” and taste dishes the Cypriot-mamma way. You can try “Evroulas restaurant” that is located inside Klokkaris arcade connecting Ledra and Onasagorou streets, “Shiantris” or “Mathaios” in the square behind Faneromeni Church. If you have a sweet tooth go to “Apomero” cafe and order the homemade “Portokalopitta” (orange phyllo pie) or “Galaktoboureko”. Take some time and explore the colorful streets of the Taktakalas neighborhood.

 ''Apomero'' cafe

''Apomero'' cafe

 “Evroulas restaurant”

“Evroulas restaurant”

4-8.00pm Stroll around Ledra and Onasagorou streets and stop in one of the street-side cafés in Faneromeni area for an old time classic Frappe (iced coffee) and of course people-watching. “Kala Kathoumena” is the most popular in the square and is usually full with youngsters and local artists alike. While you are in the area go to “Phaneromenis 70”, a shop with various items from local artists ranging from coffee coasters and vases to t-shirts and bags. Moreover, if you are looking for a more relaxing afternoon go to the “Weaving Mill” a space ideal for reading a book while enjoying your tea or coffee.

 Ledra street

Ledra street

8-10.00pm Its dinner time and you can’t leave Cyprus without trying “Mezedes”! Go to a local tavern and order “Cyprus meze” – a feast consisting of 15-20 small dishes. You will fall in love with “Halloumi” - the local squeaky cheese, the nutritious “Tahini” dip and “Sheftalia” - a seasoned minced meat sausage. Try “Aegeon”, a traditional tavern with a beautiful setting inside or if you want to have a special live-music experience, head to “Tsipouraki mezedaki” close to Famagusta Gate. The latter is a “Rebetadiko”, an all-time classic tavern where people enjoy their meal, sing and most of all appreciate the singer and bouzouki player. Don’t forget to order a bottle of local wine. Besides, Cyprus is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world.

10.00pm End the day with a craft beer at “Pivo microbrewery”, a family owned microbrewery that was co-founded by four brothers in a charming old house of 1910 attached to the “Green Line”. Order one of the 5 beers offered and taste a fresh Cyprus beer without any filtration or pasteurization.

11.00pm If you are more the cocktails-type visit “Patio”, a beautiful renovated city house with a gorgeous inner patio or go to “Lost n Found” located outside the walled city, named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2015 and 2016. Alternatively, you can enjoy your cocktail in “Silver Star” while mingling with the locals under the citrus trees.

 Patio lounge bar 

Patio lounge bar 

Day 2

9-10.00am Order Cyprus breakfast in “Hurricane” - the island’s first bakery to ever make Cypriot tyropitta (cheese pie) - or go for brunch in one of the contemporary cafe-restaurants that offer various dishes inspired by local gastronomy such as “The Gym” in Onasagorou Street, “DOT” close to Famagusta Gate or “Mouson” in the homonymous street leading to Faneromeni School.

 'Faneromeni' school

'Faneromeni' school

10-2.00pm Pass by “Pafos Gate” and walk outside the walls to visit the “Cyprus Museum”, the largest archaeological museum on the island. If you are more into the Fine Arts visit “Leventis Gallery”, a private art gallery which houses a collection of over 800 paintings from Cypriot, Greek and European artists such as Renoir, Canaleto, Signac, Monet and Chagall just to name a few.

2-4.00pm Head back to the old town and enjoy a sensuous experience at the “The Hamam Omerye baths”, a 16th-century Ottoman bath still in use today both as a hammam and a beauty spa. If you’re hungry after your remedy, grab a Lahmajoun (traditional Armenian thin piece topped with minced meat) or Halloumoti from “Avo” in Onasagorou Street. If you have extra time visit  Agios Kassianos and Chrysaliniotissa neighborhoods to discover the old Nicosians, some families live here for hundreds of years. Otherwise relax and enjoy your coffee at 'Pieto' cafe.

 Pieto Cafe

Pieto Cafe

 Onasagorou street

Onasagorou street

4-8.00pm Go to Makariou and Stasikratous streets for some window shopping or if you have time, head to the “Cyprus Handicraft Centre” in Strovolos for some locally produced, hand-crafted items like Cypriot lace, embroidery, leatherwear, mosaics, ceramics and pottery. Moreover, you can watch these products being made in various workshops. If you want to take back home some local herbs, spices, olives and other Cypriot products try “Agios Antonios Municipal Market or any of the “Bakali” shops.

9.00pm Have dinner in a tavern with some live popular Greek music, for instance in “Piroga” or “Mezostrati” both located in Evagorou Street just outside the walls where “Eleftheria Square” is being reshaped. Btw Cypriots don’t smash plates anymore while dancing as they swapped that with napkins. Don’t worry, its still fun!

11.00pm Go to “WSTD” or “Square” for some drinks and electronic beats with the youngsters of the city.

1.00am Discover how the locals dance the night out in “Box42” Club in Stasikratous Street or “Cafe Mercedes” at the end of Ledra Street. If you are more into the non-commercial underground music then “KlubD” is the place to be - go late as it stays open until morning.

Where to Stay

The 3RoomsHotel is a gem in the heart of the old city. A charming old mansion inside the walled city which transformed into a gorgeous small boutique hotel. Find out more in the article we featured the hotel back in December.

Extra Tips

- If you’re in town on a Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, you can join one of the FREE guided walking (in English) and bus tours starting at 10:00 from the Cyprus Tourism Organisation information office at 11 Aristokyprou in the Laiki Geitonia (booking needs to be made in advance at +357 22674264).

-  If you want to visit the Cyprus Museum do it on a Tuesday or Friday and get the FREE Guided Tour. The guided tour starts at 11:00 and last about 1.5 hours. For further information and reservations: +357 22 889 600
 

 

The 'Cypriot' Aphrodite

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A week in North Vietnam : Part II - Sa Pả

Part 2: Sa Pả

Words by George Tsangaris

Sapa_City_1.jpg

After a day of walking through the streets of Hanoi we boarded the night train for Sa Pả. The train would take us from the capital to Lào Cai, a town on the Vietnamese-Chinese border and from there it would be a 30km bus drive to Sa Pả. 

Train_1.jpg

The train wagons, divided into cabins, had flowery curtains that were tidily bunched at the sides and a small light topped with a pleated lampshade. Though it was April some of the cabin windows had Christmas decorations on them or a Santa Claus sprayed on in fake snow. We could see people settling into their cabin, either with a book, snuggling up in the fluffy duvet or uncorking a bottle of wine to enjoy during their journey. 

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On our first day in Sa Pả we joined a tour group for a visit to a traditional H’Mong village. There are around nine million H’Mong people worldwide of which roughly one million live in Vietnam and are considered are a minority group. We followed our guide, Nhu (pronounced ‘new’) as we strolled through the village, greeting people and waving at the young kids who giggled when they said hello. We strolled by the local kindergarten where the kids were playing on the climbing frames and walked by fences made of bamboo with cobwebs so thick they looked like cotton wool. Pigs lay in the mud sleeping, the little ones nuzzling against each other. Roosters hopped from tin roof to tin roof. 

Eventually we found ourselves in the far end of the village in front of someone’s garden. 
‘Come in please’ said Nhu. We followed her into a courtyard and were then stepping into a family’s home.
‘Is this allowed?’ I asked Nhu.
‘Yes. Of course. This is part of your tour’ she laughed as if going into someone’s house was completely normal. The house was made of planks of wood nailed together. Gaps between the wooden beams allowed rays of light to shine through and small holes made sunlight looked like twinkling stars. The ground was flattened earth, which had been made hard by the countless footsteps. The kitchen was an area with a lit fire, the red fire gently glowing, and next to that was a small room next which belonged to the grandparents. A mezzanine of wood above the kitchen was the sleeping area of the parents while the children slept in the middle of the house where we were standing.
We spoke to the grandmother who held her grandson, a toddler, lovingly. Being uncomfortable with people in his home he began to tear up. By western standards the home was poor but it did not feel that way. There was an elegance and deep sense of pride emitted by the grandmother and newly-weds whose house we were in.

 Sa Pả Gardens

Sa Pả Gardens

Sapa_Gardens_4_preview.jpeg

The following morning we walked through Sa Pả. Strolling through a street selling tourist knick-knacks and souvenirs we discovered a park. Not knowing where we were or where we were going, we paid, entered and walked around aimlessly passing a garden with rows of small fluorescent plants and trees of large mossy leaves. On one unused pond sat a statue of a large frog.

There were willow-y trees, its rope-like branches swaying in the breeze just above wooden stools. The whole place had an eerie feel and the fog only made it seem more atmospheric. 
We made our way through the park to discover a number of oddities. There was a statue of a snake wearing a red cowboy hat, a two-metre statue of Tom from ‘Tom and Jerry’ and my personal favourite, a statue of a dragon that was reclining on an island in waterless pond, which was easily over four metres in length. It was kitsch to the core and I could not help but love the place. 


We walked through the park, amid mossy rocks and small crevices to reach the summit, which had stunning views of Sa Pả. The weather was temperamental so the lush green hills that were covered in sunshine were shrouded in mist in the space of 15 minutes. After leaving we discovered that the park is called Ham Rong Mountain, meaning Dragon Jaw, and within Sa Pả town was the best thing we experienced.

 Sa Pả village

Sa Pả village

The following day we had a walking tour of the village of Cat Cat and Sa Pả’s rice paddies. Our guide Chi explained that the word for Cat Cat came from cascade, the French word for waterfall, which was village’s main focal point. Along the river were bamboo walkways and windmills made of corn. 

Sapa_Rice_Paddies_preview.jpeg

We walked along a wide road flanked by large bamboo trees growing to the height of a five-storey building. As the road narrowed we found ourselves walking amid the rice paddies, climbing over the dried earth and jumping from rock to rock. It was the beginning April and the soil had not yet been prepared for planting meaning we were not destroying any crops. 

We stopped for a moment to take in the view only to be disturbed by an odd squelching sound. It sounded like someone walking slowly in mud. Up ahead we spotted four water buffaloes grazing.


‘Water buffaloes are intelligent animals’ Chị explained.  ‘They understand instruction and recognise your voice.’
We watched them graze but avoided them. 
One Australian man on the tour, who sensed our hesitation, told us that ‘water buffaloes have always been around humans, I doubt they would pay any attention to you.’ 
He made a fair point. They did ignore us as they masticated calmly on the plants and placidly plodded through the mud. Still, we kept our distance. 

Sapa_People_11_preview.jpeg

As we neared the end of our tour we were suddenly surrounded by small children, some as little of five or six, who were making their way home from school, having walked an hour each way. Next to our bus some boys were climbing up the side of the mountain. It was as steep as it was beautiful. An old lady walked up the hill carrying a basket on her back. She wore colourful clothes and light green boots that protected her feet from the mud. One girl rushed to us selling us woven bracelets of H’Mong patterns. We all bought one. How could we not? 

Sapa_Lady_on_Bike_preview.jpeg

Once aboard the bus, we slowly made our way back to Sa Pả; the bus weaving through the curves and rattling along the road. It was effortlessly overtaken by a young lady on a motorbike. She wore a helmet and her red dress fluttered in the wind as she zoomed by. She waved at us through her helmet and smiled. To me she was a symbol of Vietnamese resilience and hospitality and was, without a doubt, the coolest lady in Vietnam.

 

Find out everything about HANOI inside Part I
 

A week in North Vietnam : Part I - Hanoi

Part I: Hanoi

Words by George Tsangaris

Hanoi_Bike.jpg

The first thing people think of when they think of Vietnam is the war with the US. However thanks to Vietnam’s Communist government operating a system of Doi Moi; economic reforms with the intention of creating a socialist-orientated economy, the association with the war is fast changing and Vietnam’s many charms, its culture, hospitality and cuisine, are becoming increasingly recognised. This had led to foreign business operating in Vietnam as well as an ever-growing number of visitors discovering the country. 


I chose to visit Vietnam for a week in April focusing on northern Vietnam. The itinerary began in Hanoi, then onto the Vietnamese-Chinese border in order to reach Sa Pả, by night train. 

Hanoi_City_1.jpg

On my first day in Hanoi, my first stop was at the Temple of Literature, built in 1070 by the Emperor, and is home to the Temple of Confucius. Bring one of Hanoi’s top sites, it was a busy day and the area was overflowing with hordes of tourists. More delightful than the tourist however, were the groups of schoolkids who were at the Temple on a school trip. They walked with their arms around the shoulders of the best friends, smiling and laughing and needing no instructions from their teacher, who trusted that they would be well behaved. 

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Though the Temples of Literature and its architecture was wonderful, the focus of my attention were the university students, who, wearing their graduation robes posed for their graduation photo (and by default also posed for the groups of tourists who amassed around them). Counting backwards from three, the new graduates threw up their hats in the air in celebration. It was my favourite moment of the day and like everyone there, I wished them all, all the best on their new adventure ahead. 

Wherever I travel I enjoy observing what people wear. Tourists could be spotted a mile off and you can tell who comes from where by what they wear.  Australians wear flip-flops, shorts and vests no matter the weather and south Europeans seem to wear trendy jeans and sunglasses. However the trendiest person I met was a Vietnamese waiter who wore Louboutin-inspired shoes; sneakers of silver plastic, adorned with silver spikes.  I spotted other people around town; some were dressed formally having their wedding photos taken and Buddhists monks walked through Hanoi’s sites in their traditional clothes. 

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By contrast from the city, in a village outside of Pả, three old ladies wearing traditionally colourful clothes adorned with beads sat weaving and chatting while less than 100 metres away two teenage girls, seated on a motorbike, were wearing jeans and t-shirts and were taking selfies. One of the girls’ t-shirts was a designer copy of two interconnecting Gs surrounded by blue and green stripes. Below that was the face of a cat made of sequins. In one H’Mong village, the men wore leather jackets as they rode their bikes or played pool. One man was dressed completely in red; red trousers and a red vest and wore a gold chain. Others patriotically wore a red t-shirt with the yellow five-pointed star of the Vietnamese flag. And for roughly US$5 you could too. 

  The Military Museum

The Military Museum

After lunch we walked to a park with a large statue of Lenin as teenage boys skateboarded right in front of him. Across the road was the Flag Tower, which was next to the Military Museum. There, the Vietnamese displayed the destroyed American aircrafts and exhibited their own military artillery. We circled the site along with school groups and tourists before walking up a long, leafy avenue called Điện Biên Phủ, passing the Romanian and German embassies and the Foreign Ministry, painted boldly and rather beautifully in yellow. It is located opposite Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. 

  Hanoi Memorial

Hanoi Memorial

In the mornings you have the chance to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body and for certain months of the year it is flown from Vietnam to Russia for maintenance. As it was afternoon we bought tickets for the lush grounds of the Presidential Palace and saw the One Pillar Pagoda and a Buddhist Temple.


Other notable sites in Hanoi include Tran Quoc Pagoda, located by the lake, which was beautiful in the sun’s diminishing light. Not to be missed is the Citadel as well as Hanoi’s many museums. 

I asked to see something off the beaten track so our guide Minh took me to the rail tracks of Long Bien Bridge. It was a rattly old bridge that traversed the Red River. We walked from plank to plank as the Hanoi traffic zoomed below us. By sidestepping through the large metal frame we walked on the footpath opposite as motorbikes sped towards us. Their roar and speed was intimidating and as it was raining heavily we left and made out way to a Taoist Temple, Đền Quán Thánh, meaning Restaurant of the Gods. 

  Long Bien bridge

Long Bien bridge

  Taoist Temple

Taoist Temple

Stay tuned for Part II 

Non-awkward ways to meet people at your next destination

Arguably the biggest anxiety for the first-time traveller is the thought of being lonely – visions of cold evenings curled around a flickering bedside lamp sobbing into a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love as a soundtrack of general debauchery from the downstairs party reverberates through the walls.

It’s a fear born of fallacy: travellers, after all, tend to be a social breed, but to guide you through the often intimidating ice-breaker stage we’ve devised a list of simple ways to cultivate companionship on the road.

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Join a walking tour

Not only is this a great (and often free) way to acquaint yourself with a new city, but the nature of walking tours lend to easy conversation. If the group isn’t too large, a good host will ask everyone to say their name and where they’re from, which gives you an easy ‘in’ for striking up conversation with other participants along the way. Stopping for a group meal or drink also presents a great opportunity to socialise.

Connect online

Over recent years there has been a surge in apps designed to help travellers connect on the road. Chief among them are Tripr and Backpackr, which help you meet people ahead of time who will be travelling to the same destinations. EatWith meanwhile, allows you to attend a dinner party hosted by a local chef, and Sofar Sounds connects you with musicians hosting intimate gigs in informal venues.

Embrace hostels

Hostels are an essential asset for the sociable solo traveller (and not all are bland, soulless boxes!). Close-knit sleeping quarters foster conversation – or, more frequently, arguments over air conditioner settings – while cool communal spaces provide an ideal platform to bond with fellow travellers over a beer. If you’re not staying at a hostel, check larger hostel websites for event schedules – many host tours, dinners, pub crawls and other events available to non-guests.

Rent a room

Whether it’s Couchsurfing or renting a room through Airbnb, stay at a spot where you can engage with your host. Locals who are willing to share their homes are usually gregarious individuals keen to connect with their visitors and offer local insights that enhance the travel experience. How affable your host is likely to be can often be discerned from the advert, as well as reviews from previous guests.

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Take your meal at the bar

Choosing to eat at a restaurant’s bar not only allows you to bypass a potentially awkward ‘table for one’ dining scenario, but it also gives you an opportunity to chat with diners either side of you (who may very well be eating alone), punters ordering drinks or with the bartender; staff often make an extra effort to chat to solo patrons – and there’s always a chance of a complimentary cocktail.

Join a local meet-up

From cooking courses to tango lessons, classes aimed at visitors offer an opportunity to bond with other travellers over a shared interest, or – depending on the obscurity of the activity – how incompetent you are at it. If you’re struggling to find something that appeals, the Meetupcommunity has almost 30 million members in 184 countries, so there’s a good chance there will be an event of interest during your time abroad: whether you’re after photography tips or a philosophical debate.

Just say hello

Travelling is perhaps the only situation in life where almost everyone you meet will be actively looking to make friends. Other solo travellers are detached from friends and family and are likely to be seeking sociability. The human species has survived for 200,000 years because of our ability to communicate with one another. You’re in a foreign place, nobody knows you; go grab a drink from the hostel bar, slide into that empty seat and say hello to the lonely figure staring haplessly at their smartphone. What have you got to lose?

Photography & source lonelyplanet.com

Belgium Getaway

It’s compact, it’s cosmopolitan and it’s well connected with all the major airports of the world. What more could you ask when you are looking for a weekend getaway?! Below you can find are 9 tips on what to see and do in the “capital-country” of Europe.

Brussels. A fascinating city, best known for its diverse array of architectural landmarks and as the administrative capital of the European Union.


The symbol of the city is undoubtedly, the Atomium. This impressive futuristic structure, dates back to 1958 and is located off the centre of Brussels.

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While in Brussels you can’t miss “The Grand Place”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s considered one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Tip: the best time to visit it is Christmas time when a stunning light and sound show takes place every night.

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The small nation is said to be the greatest beer-brewing nation in the world, thus you must try some of the beers. Combine it with the country’s most famous dish, “Moules-frites” which is essentially mussels and fries!

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Hungry for some art? Visit The Oldmasters Museum which is dedicated to European painters from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The Museum of Modern Art can be found in the same building.

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If you always search for some sweet temptations, then you will love this one. Belgium is famous for chocolates and waffles which divide roughly into the “Brussels waffle” and the sweeter “Liege waffle”. So don’t think twice about indulging into a chocolate-covered freshly-made waffle!

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Ghent. A bustling university town with postcard perfect canals, medieval architecture and great cuisine.

The Castle of the Counts is a gorgeous castle with a very turbulent past. The castle includes a museum of torture devices on the top floor and amazing views of the city.

Grab your smartphone for this one. St Michael’s Bridge is the best place for all selfie fanatics and travel photographers alike. This is where you will definitely fall in love with the city if you haven’t already.

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Food and exercise. Ghent has loads and loads of international foodie options while it is also the country’s most vegetarian-friendly city. Moreover, the picturesque city is one of the best places to feel Europe’s cycling culture.

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Don’t just look at the city’s winding canals from above, give into the temptation and enjoy a boat ride. A number of companies offer round trip boat tours, a lovely way to see the city and to view some of its biggest attractions from a different perspective.

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More places & spaces @theislanderstories.

New opening: L’Estrange pop-up concept store in Soho, London

The lifestyle brand L’Estrange Apartment pop-up concept store is here again and you can find it on Berwick Street in Soho.

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L’Estrange presents the new smart-casual which combines functionality and style. Inspired by the unstructured suit jacket and a tailored fit the new pop-up concept store will help you to elevate your wardrobe with reimagined menswear classics.

The designer duo and founders Tom and Will stated “We make clothes to look effortlessly smart for life. Whether it be a coffee, a meeting or drinks - never overdressed, never underdressed.”

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Running only until Christmas, the new concept store offers a unique customer experience in a more friendly and welcoming environment. A beautiful Scandinavian inspired interior will make you feel cosy from the first moment in the store as you can even grab a beer while browsing, provided by Hackney’s Crate Brewery.

One of our favourite pieces that we recommend for you to try: Their premium menswear signature Hoods
(a hoodie with more refined tailoring).

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The Three Rooms Hotel - Old charm in Nicosia, Cyprus

Right in the heart of the old city, between hip coffee shops and trendy pop-up restaurants is exactly where you'd expect to find the newest boutique hotel of the capital of Cyprus.

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The Three Rooms Hotel is a charming old mansion inside the walled city transformed by its three owners into a gorgeous three room hotel. In one of the most popular streets of the city, hidden above one of the city’s few remaining portico, the Three Rooms hotel has already made a big impression as it beautifully combines new and old elements and it was definitely something missing from the capital’s hotel scene.


Here - much like most old mansions of the island - you will be welcomed by a twisted staircase with wooden steps that leads to a large living room covered in a beautiful old tiled-floor. The living room’s balcony looks down at the cosy cafe of the portico while the windows of the covered semi-oval balcony is giving excellent views of busy Onasagorou Street below. Two of the rooms have their own balcony while the other room has a big window literally inside the portico. Each one of the rooms was carefully decorated in an earthy palette respecting the building's original features but without a doubt the most impressive asset of the hotel - apart from the friendly owners - must be the room bathrooms.

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Needless to say, the hotel’s location is ideal as the guests have a myriad of choices for exploring or chilling out, as most of the city’s significant attractions and the best cafes and restaurants are in walking distance.

Apparently, the best hangout this winter will be watching the locals go by while sipping a Cypriot coffee from the top balconies of The Three Rooms Hotel!

The most incredible places in the world

I bet you see Instagram pictures with awe-inspiring pictures all over the globe and you wish you could be there or at least pick a unique destination for your next trip!

Finding such a location can be quite tough so we have come up with a list that can definitely help you out.
No, we won’t mention Paris, London or Rome. We are talking about places out of the ordinary, one of a kind and places that are either unspoiled by the hordes of tourists or stand out in their own right. So here are five of the world’s most unique destinations that will surely feed your curiosity and make you want to travel more!

Chefchaouen, Morocco
While Morocco has always been a favorite of both photographers and movie makers alike - who can forget the classic “Casablanca” after all - nothing beats the city of Chefchaouen in northwest Morocco. Why? Everything here is painted in a thousand different shades of blue, from walls and doors to pavements, making the town dreamy and enchanting! Most popular theory says that the city was painted blue in the 1930s by Jews that took refuge from Hitler. Whatever the case, Morocco’s blue city is quite unique and a marvel to the eye.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
Apart from being the birth place of some of the world’s most striking models, Brazil has a lot more to offer. Every year during their rainy season (July-September), a breathtaking transformation takes place in Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. After the first rain, the valleys between the rolling sand dunes start to form small lakes. Consequently, the whole area resembles a desert with hundreds and hundreds of turquoise lakes of different sizes, a breathtaking phenomenon that stretches for miles and miles. So don’t worry, you will definitely find one just for you.
 

Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA
Located just outside of Page, Arizona, right in the heart of Navajo Country, Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon where it’s sandstone walls look like petrified waves giving the whole sight a sense of mysticism and natural grandeur. The Canyon comprises of two separate canyons, Lower Antelope and Upper Antelope with the latter being more frequented by visitors due to the dramatic play of light. If you are thinking of taking pictures, keep in mind that the canyon is quite difficult to shoot due to the wide exposure range made by light reflecting off the canyon walls.
 

Socotra Island, Yemen.
This remote island off the coast of Africa is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea, while 37% of its plant species occur nowhere else on the planet. The most fascinating natural plant is the Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari), a mushroom-shaped tree with tangled branches and a canopy of spiky leaves. This distinctive native tree, as well as, other peculiar looking vegetation such as the Socotra desert rose, has rightfully named the island "the most alien-looking place on Earth. The remoteness of the island combined with its unique natural environment make Socotra truly a destination unlike any other.
 

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located in southwest Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on Earth, covering an area of 4,000 square miles. Now you’re gonna think why does that make it great…well Bolivia Salt Flats can also serve as the world’s largest mirror! During summer time the area is a huge white flat field but when it rains - during flood season - this flat surface forms an incredible "mirror" that is so massive and so reflective that is even used for calibrating the distance measurement equipment of satellites. Quite an impressive sight!
 

Pictures : Pinterest

Steve Jobs Theater unveiled

Apple did not only reveal the long-awaited iPhone X on the Sept. 12 th event but also
“Steve Jobs Theater”, which is the only place in the tech giant’s new campus that we
didn’t get the chance to have a look in before.The impressive building, a 1000-seat
auditorium right at the heart of the new Apple Campus in Cupertino, California, was
designed by the famous British firm Foster + Partners. While largely underground, a
UFO-lookalike roof rests gently on a transparent 22-foot- tall and 135-foot- diameter glass
cylinder. With a weight of 80.7 tons its roof is actually the largest carbon-fiber roof in the
world, at the moment at least. What’s even more impressive is that the massive glass
panels are the only materials that support the roof; yes there is not a single column in the
structure which makes the jaw-dropping building the largest all-glass- supported structure
in the world.The next reveal is expected to finally be the firm’s $5 billion headquarters
campus, Apple Park.

Pictures : Pinterest