Monthly Archives: April 2017

Paris like a local

As travellers, we are increasingly seeking to experience the destinations we visit through the eyes, ears and even stomachs of the locals. Paris is a destination that richly rewards the intrepid traveller who is happy to cast aside the guide book and wander through its broad avenues and narrow streets. With a little basic knowledge and a willingness to follow your eyes and nose, you too can pass yourself off, if not quite as a local, at the very least like a seasoned visitor. The other major geographical points of reference are the Rive Gauche and Rive Droite (Left and Right Banks). The Left Bank refers to the southern side of the Seine and is traditionally the more bohemian, creative part of the city, and includes such landmarks as the Musée d’Orsay and the famed eatery, the Café de Flore. By contrast, the Right Bank is the elegant, sophisticated side, home to grand avenues like the Champs-Elysées and impressive landmarks like the Louvre.

Now that we’ve mastered these basic tenets of Parisian town planning, we can move on to some authentic Parisian experiences:

1. Walk

Paris is a walker’s delight. The Berges de Seine is a walkway constructed on what was once a highway that follows the Left Bank of the Seine for a little more than two kilometres. It’s now a tree lined promenade that includes five floating gardens, and it’s a great place to stroll and people-watch. Another unusual walkway is the Coulée Verte René Dumont, also known as the Promenade Plantée. This walkway is constructed along a disused railway track, starting at the Bastille and continuing for three miles along a tree lined route. It is now home to a enticing mix of shops and galleries

2. Relax

All that walking has to be balanced with some down time, and the best place to do so is in one of Paris’s beautiful and famous parks. At the end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, tucked neatly between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, you’ll find a haven of tranquillity in the Tuileries Garden. It’s a favourite spot for Parisians and tourists alike to sit and enjoy the water features and carousels. Another place to wind down is the Luxembourg Gardens. If it wasn’t for Marie de Medici and her homesickness for Florence, these gardens would no exist.

3. Shop

Anyone who hankers to experience France like a local must visit at least one market, and Paris has some wonderful options. The Rue Mouffetard is one of the best food markets in Paris, and is located on the Left Bank in the bustling Fifth Arrondissiment. As well as the dozens of market stalls selling fresh produce every morning at the southern end of the street, you’ll also find many of the shops that line the street have open air frontages. Another option is the famed Marché au Fleurs, which is located on the Île de la Cité. Dedicated solely to flowers, shrubs and trees, it’s no wonder that the colours and scents acts as a lure to arty types seeking inspiration.

4. Eat

No self-respecting Parisian would discount the importance of great food when it comes to understanding what makes this great city tick. If you can combine your dining experience with a fabulous view of the city, like at The Restaurant-Café Georges, located atop the world-famous Pompidou Centre modern art museum, you will have the full Parisian experience. Another rooftop dining experience that’s not to be missed is Le Déli-cieux atop the famous department store, Printemps. Serving fresh, café-style food and yummy pastries until at least 8pm every night , you can enjoy a few happy hours’ shopping in its hallowed halls before heading up to the ninth floor to take in the lights of Paris while you refuel with a café au lait.

5. Leisure

During summer, a series of five beaches known as Paris Plages appear each year along the banks of the Seine. You wouldn’t want to actually swim in the river itself, but with features like real sandy beaches, deck chairs and even floating swimming pools on the Seine, they can be a great way to pretend that you’ve actually gone to the south of France for your summer holiday too. Another benefit of finding yourself in Paris during the summer months is the many open-air cinemas that appear in the city’s parks. One of the most well-known and much-loved is at Paris’ third largest park, the Parc de la Villette in the 19th arrondissiment. It shows everything from classic French farce to Hollywood blockbusters (in French, of course), so pack up a picnic and prepare to spend a balmy evening out.

24 hours in Bangkok

If your time in Bangkok is limited you’ll want to plan your stay carefully in order to ensure that you make the most of it. Here are some of our favourite ways to fill in a day in Bangkok.

5am: Put thoughts of breakfast aside for an hour or two and head to Pak Klong Talad flower market. Bangkok’s largest wholesale and retail flower market is open 24 hours a day, but a pre-dawn visit is particularly memorable as that’s when the wholesalers bring in truckloads of fresh supplies and retailers come to buy their stock for the day. There’s plenty of noise and action, so come later in the day if you want to see it in a more tranquil and orderly state.

8am: Thai food doesn’t really adhere to Western ideas about breakfast. This is great if you love Thai food as it means you can eat your favourite dishes at any time of day without feeling out of place. If you do want to try something typically Thai, look for a street stall selling Khao Neow Moo Ping. This is a kind of Thai omelette made fresh on demand, often with minced pork and various vegetables, and served on a bed of rice with a side garnish of chilli sauce. If that seems a bit heavy-going for this time of the day, you may prefer Patongo, the Thai version of a doughnut. They’re light and fluffy, but with a savoury or mildly sweet flavour unlike its more sugary Western cousin.

10.30am: No visit to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to one of its ornately beautiful temples. Just along the river from the Flower Market you will find Wat Pho, which is the site of the world-renowned Reclining Buddha, a 15 metre high, 45 metre long gilded statue that dates back to the earlier half of the nineteenth century. Another crowd favourite, slightly further along the same river bank, is the Grand Palace, which is a complex of buildings that includes the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha itself only stands 66 cm high, but it is carved from a single block of jade and has great spiritual significance to the Thai people.

1pm: Time for lunch. First-time visitors to Bangkok may be wary of food from street vendors, but if you choose one that looks busy and is well-frequented by locals, you’ll probably be very happy with the result. A bowl of noodle soup or an authentic dish of Pad Thai will only cost you a couple of dollars but your taste buds will tingle. If you’re prone to experiencing a “delicate” stomach, we recommend sticking to hotels, or restaurants recommended by concierge.

2pm: Its a good idea to escape the hottest part of the day. Some may choose the air-conditioned comfort of one of the many large shopping malls that are dotted around the city, but we think it’s a great opportunity to try a traditional Thai massage. Whether you long to be cocooned in a luxurious hotel spa or you prefer to have amore authentic cultural experience of a local massage shop there’s plenty of choice. There’s even a Thai massage school within the grounds of Wat Pho, so you really have no excuses for coming home tense.

6pm: By day, you may think that the Chao Praya River, which flows through the centre of Bangkok, does not seem particularly picturesque. But as the sun starts to sink, there is no better vantage point from which to watch it disappear than from a boat slowly making its way upriver. Because road traffic in Bangkok can become quite congested, the river provides an easy, less-cluttered transport alternative. You can choose your preferred method of transport: everything from a long-tail to a fast ferry. But at this time of day, we recommend a dinner cruise on a converted, antique rice barge.

9pm: Bangkok is a shopper’s delight, offering high-end shopping malls, price-savvy street vendors, and everything else that lies between. But after dark, there’s no better option than the night markets. One of the newest and most family-friendly options is Asiatique. Home to 1500 boutiques and 40 restaurants, you’re bound to find something for everyone here. And if you’re not in the mood to shop, there are two shows to enjoy. But be warned: Asiatique is open until midnight so you really can shop until you drop.

Bali for Families

Bali’s popularity as a holiday destination has been on the rise for decades, with a reputation that has encompassed surfing mecca, health and wellness retreat, party central and foodie heaven. Its latest reincarnation is as a fabulously family-friendly destination, with a variety of attractions that are sure to keep everyone happy. Here are some of our favourites.

Wildlife

Whilst you may not have associated Bali with an opportunity to see lions, zebras, and meerkats, these are just a few of the animals you will see during a visit to this open-air zoo, which is located roughly 30 kilometres from Kuta. You can ride the safari tram through the park and view the variety of animals in their free-range settings, or take the night safari to see the park, and its animals, in an entirely different light. If you’re more interested in the local wildlife, a visit to the Turtle Conservation and Education Centre is a must. Here, the focus is on rescue, rehabilitation hatching and release of three local turtle species, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to take part in releasing baby turtles back to the ocean.

Food

25 minutes south of Ubud you’ll find Big Tree Farms Bamboo Chocolate Factory, which is just one more reason for foodies to love Bali. Big Tree Farms work with smallholders to produce coconut sugar and cacao products that reflects their fair trade and sustainability values. Take a tour of the factory (which happens to be the largest commercial bamboo structure in the world) and treat yourself to some delicious products. If you’re in Ubud and the kids are getting hungry, head for Maha Restaurant for good quality local food and bunny cuddles. Yep, that’s right, while you enjoy your coffee and crepes, the kids can cuddle and feed the resident rabbits.

At Sea

Now you can introduce your kids to the world that lies beneath the water even if they’re not keen on snorkelling. The Seawalker Tour, which is located at Sanur and suitable for kids aged 9 years and older. It requires them to simply pop on a helmet with a clear visor that allows them to breath naturally, so that they can walk around on the sea bottom and see all kinds of marine life, from fish and turtles to brightly coloured coral.

Fun and Games

If you want the family to try their hand at traditional Balinese arts and crafts, take them to the Pondok Pekak Library and Learning Centre in Ubud. They offer classes in Balinese dance, music, wood carving and even in fruit carving  they’ll be whittling their own decorative watermelon flowers for your next dinner party! Courses generally run for one to three hours and are reasonably priced, plus you’ll be helping to support the operation of the library,

24 hours in Abu Dhabi

Roughly halfway along the 700-kilometre Persian Gulf coastline of the United Arab Emirates, you’ll find its capital city, Abu Dhabi, which shares its name with the Emirate in which it is located. Archaeological evidence indicates that human settlement on this site dates back to at least the third millennium BC, but the city itself has moved far beyond its roots of herding, fishing and pearl diving.

Now, with a thriving petroleum-driven economy, it’s pushing back the desert to create space for its 1.5 million inhabitants, and its constantly-changing skyline rivals any other 21st century city. Its location makes Abu Dhabi an ideal stopover for Europe-bound travellers and we recommend spending at least 24 hours in this fascinating destination: your visit might look like this.

9am: Start your day with a ride on the open-top, hop-on, hop-off Big Bus. It’s a great way to get your bearings, and your ticket includes numerous freebies – more on those later. They actually operate two different loops but if you’re short on time, we recommend the City Tour (red route) as it stops at main attractions within the city.

11am: If you start your Big Bus Tour at the Corniche end of the loop, you can hop off roughly halfway round at the jaw-dropping Sheikh Zayed Mosque. This beautiful marriage of art, culture and religion was completed in 2007 and its 82 gold-tipped white domes, intricately decorated interiors and 65,000 square foot, handmade Persian carpet will surely dazzle you. The mosque can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers, but is open to visitors every day except Fridays.

1pm: you’ll have worked up an appetite by now, so why not head back to the waterfront and take advantage of your free entry to the Sky Tower? This 74-storey skyscraper was completed in 2010 but has already been overtaken in height. As well as a great view from the top, the Marina Mall next door is a great spot for some retail therapy and refuelling.

3pm: If you’re interested in the history of Abu Dhabi, the Heritage Village is fun for a visit, especially if you’re travelling with kids. Built as a replica Bedouin village, you can also meet a camel, browse a traditional souk or just sit on the beach and soak up the view.

4.30pm: For a view of the city from a different perspective, go sailing on a traditional Arab dhow. It’s included in your Big Bus ticket and it’s a serene way to make the most of the light sea breeze while you’re sightseeing.

6.30pm: At the end of the day, it’s practically compulsory to make like a local and head to the Corniche. Here you’ll find play areas for the kids, cycleways, footpaths and manicured gardens, and the beach itself has recently been awarded Blue Flag status, which guarantees clean and safe water for swimming.

8.00pm: Finish your day at the Emirates Palace: an utterly opulent Arabian fantasyland that reportedly cost US$36 billion to complete. Whether you prefer a Michelin-starred fine dining experience, a taste of 1001 Arabian Nights at a fireside beachfront barbecue or a camel-milk infused Camelccino, expect to be blown away.