Monthly Archives: October 2016
City breaks can be hard to plan. You want it all – art, culture, quirky hotels, top restaurants – but also the chance to relax. Fortunately, there some cities where you can find both. These eight European destinations don’t skimp on urban culture, and have nature on their doorstep for when you need a breath of fresh air.
1. Reykjavík, Iceland
Reykjavík is the ultimate city-and-nature destination. This diminutive capital brims with Nordic-chic boutiques and cool hotels, yet lies just a few hours’ drive from the country’s most earth-shatteringly gorgeous landscapes.
Catch a ferry out to the islands of Viðey, Lundey or Akurey to see thousands of breeding puffins; hike up the “city mountain” Mount Esja; and explore still-active Eyjafjallajökull volcano, just 90 minutes outside of town.
You can also use Reykjavík as your base before embarking on the famous “Golden Circle“. This route encompasses the geysers at Geysir and roaring waterfalls at Gullfoss, with bathing opportunities in thermal pools such as Fluðir or Laugarvatn along the way.
Back in the city, make time for Reykjavík’s growing number of innovative restaurants, many of which use locally sourced ingredients such as cloudberries or lamb. Try Michelin-starred DILL or the more affordable Sjávarbarinn for freshly caught seafood.
2. Munich, Germany
You’ll find some of Germany’s most beautiful architecture in Munich, Bavaria’s historic capital. Start by exploring the fifteenth-century Gothic Frauenkirche, or climb the tower of St Peterskirche, the oldest church in the city, for unparalleled views over the rooftops.
Other worthwhile sights include the Pinakothek trio, three galleries each dedicated to a different era of art, the futuristic BMW museum and Schloss Nymphenburg on the outskirts of the city.
Munich’s green heart is the Englischer Garten, one of Europe’s largest urban parks, designed by Sir Benjamin Thompson in 1789. If you’re looking to explore further afield, hire a bike and spend a day cycling south along the river Isar, detouring to the lakes of Sternbergersee or Ammersee for a spot of swimming.
Alternatively, head north and you’ll find yourself on more rugged trails through forested areas. All S-Bahn, underground and regional railways take bikes, so you don’t have to worry too much about the return journey.
3. Oslo, Norway
Oslo might be Norway’s largest city, but its ever-present waterfront – opening out onto Oslofjord – will lure you away from the centre in no time at all.
The best way to explore this island-studded channel is on a kayak tour, taking you close to lighthouses, nesting birds and small beaches from which you can swim or picnic before paddling back to the marina.
Off the water, make time for Oslo’s world-class restaurants – Maaemo has three Michelin stars – and some excellent museums, including the fascinating Nobel Center and National Museum, home of Edvard Munch’s Scream.
Whether you’re looking for a beautiful beach to share a sundowner on, or you want to get lost in each other amongst the bustle of a city, these are the best places around the world for a spot of romancing.
With verdant rainforest stretching down to dazzling white-sand beaches and warm azure seas, it’s no surprise that the islands of the Seychelles are such an intoxicating destination. Home to a number of intimate (and often exclusive) resorts – not least on beautiful La Digue island – this is undoubtedly a honeymooner’s paradise.
Constructed afresh each winter, the IceHotel is just as much an art project as it is somewhere to spend the night. Situated in Swedish Lapland, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, this is more than just an unusual place to stay (and snuggle up); it’s also an amazing spot from which to see one of the most astounding natural phenomena – the Northern Lights.
The Lake District, England
With sixteen major lakes squeezed between England’s highest mountains – and set within a mere thirty-mile area – the Lake District deserves all its hype. This is the place for long walks, picturesque villages and breathtaking scenery – and fantastic pubs in which to cosy up at the end of a day exploring.
The Himalayan Queen, the Grand Trunk Express, the Deccan Odyssey… the very names of India’s trains are evocative of timeless style and old-school adventure.
Introduced by the British East India Company, tracks were first laid across the country in the late 1800s to transport troops. Only after independence in 1947 did the focus switch to passenger trains – now, Indian Railways is the biggest employer in the country.
Today, there’s always an element of adventure to a journey on the rails. Here’s everything you need to know before travelling by train in India.
1. Book in advance
Booking opens 60 days before travel, and long-distance trains get filled up quickly, meaning that only the shortest journeys can be organized on the day. It’s often possible to book at your hotel reception, but be aware that you may have to pay a small “admin” fee.
If you organize your trip at a train station, avoid any touts, head straight for the booking desk and leave yourself plenty of time – it’s not the fastest system in the world.
You can also book online, though it’s not as simple is click and pay. First, you’ll need to create an account on IRCTC (Indian Railways’ official website), which will require an Indian phone number for confirmation. You can get around this by emailing the company with a photocopy of your passport.
Once you have your IRCTC login, you may find the website a little clunky, so it’s much easier to use another travel booking site such as Cleartrip to actually buy your tickets (you’ll still need to enter your IRCTC login details at payment stage).
2. Don’t panic if your ticket says “Waitlisted”
If there are no tickets available at the time of booking, you’ll be given a reserve ticket, either “RAC Waitlist” or “Waitlist”.
With an “RAC” (reservation against cancellation) ticket, you can board the train, though you might not get the seat/class you were after. The ticket will be confirmed if enough people cancel and, as many people book far in advance, there is a high chance of this happening.
“Waitlist” means that all confirmed and RAC tickets have been sold. You’ll get a number with your waitlisted ticket – if your number is lower than ten, there’s a good chance that your ticket will be confirmed. To find out whether you have got a seat on the train, you can check at the station on the day, where you’ll find a seating chart posted up on the station notice board, or look online to see whether your status has changed.
3. Pick your class carefully
Indian trains are generally divided into eight classes – though they are not all available on all trains (it usually depends on the distance and line you’re travelling on).
There are three air-conditioned sleeper classes: AC1 (first class) is the most expensive, with four-bed booths, but most tourists choose AC2 (two-tier bunks) or AC3 (three-tier bunks) for long or overnight journeys.
These three classes offer a blanket, sheet and pillow for the journey and have fold-out bunks so you can get some decent shuteye. With two-tier bunks, AC2 is a little quieter and more comfortable than AC3; choose a side berth for the best window view or a top bunk in the main berth for the greatest chance of sleep.
SL (sleeper class) is cheaper but, ironically, you may not get that much sleep. Seating is arranged in open berths with three tiers of bunks, but bedding isn’t provided. While it is a reserved carriage, there tend to be more people than bunks. Although it gets quite crowded, sleeper class is actually a great option for daytime journeys, as it tends to be quite sociable.
Travelling is all about opening your eyes to new places, people and ways of life. But unfortunately, sometimes we’re so eager for an exciting experience that we can’t see the effects of our choices, and it’s all too easy to stop thinking about them once you’re back home.
While tourists are increasingly aware of the need to consider the environment when they travel, and to be aware of animal rights violations, fewer are informed about their impact on indigenous people. Here, we explain a little about what tribal tourism is, and why you need to take great care if you’re considering it.
What exactly is tribal tourism?
Tribal tourism is visiting a place in order to see or meet the indigenous people who live there. “Ethno-tourism” and “ethnic tourism” are sometimes used to describe the same thing. As the name implies, this isn’t the same thing as an expedition for anthropological research, but a trip for recreational purposes.
Why are people interested in this kind of tourism?
For some people, it’s an educational opportunity – travel is a way of learning more about the world and yourself, and meeting new people can be a part of that. Others feel that, in our globalised age, they’ll have a more memorable, authentic experience of a place if they see its indigenous cultures.
And for others still, it’s simply a voyeuristic exercise: they want to see people whose appearance and way of life looks very different to their own.
What positive effects can it have?
Tribal tourism can have a lot of positive effects. Done sensitively, it can help people learn about and appreciate different ways of life. For indigenous communities, it can facilitate cultural exchange and celebration. And for those that are struggling to maintain their livelihoods and traditions, it’s also a way of educating others about their situation, earning some money and playing an active part in the maintenance of their culture.
And what about the negative aspects?
Tribal tourism can cause immense damage – and sadly, more often than not, this is the case. There are profound economic, environmental and cultural effects of this kind of tourism, with each usually worsening the other.
These issues are complex, and you should make sure you know what’s going on before participating in any sort of tribal tourism. The Mursi tribe in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valleyare one example. Following forced resettlements and depletion of the resources on which they depend, they have been forced to use tourism to help make ends meet.