Mauritius: a guide to

The southern Indian Ocean island nation has a mixed heritage, offering a unique blend of two continents’ cultures

Mont choisy beach at sundown

Just 14 hours away: The magical sunsets we long for in the winter time are not always as far off as one might think (all photos: Allan Kortbæk)

While destinations such as Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia continue to top the charts when it comes to popularity, so too do some of the impacts of excess tourism in these countries, whose visitor numbers put immense pressure on local resources.

Unique combination
Luckily, the world still remains vast, with a plethora of destinations to explore. Mauritius may not be the first country on your mind, when one conjures up dreamy visions of your next trip, but perhaps it should and could be a great alternative to some of the overly-visited and documented chart-topping destinations du jour.

Mauritius is a mere 14-hour or so plane ride away from Denmark (including a brief stopover in Dubai, for instance) and offers all the comforts, sun, sea, sand and amusement that the likes of Thailand and Vietnam do, albeit with far fewer crowds and a lot more charm and uniqueness.

After visiting the Seychelles earlier this year, I had high hopes for my recent trip to Mauritius and thought much of it would be a comparable experience.

In truth, the two island paradises are very different to one another. While it is true that the Seychelles is the more raw, unspoiled and quiet of the two, Mauritius brings a rich Indian heritage and well-developed infrastructure to the table, giving it the unique feel of a veritable African nation with a strong multicultural foundation.

Here is my quick guide to what to see and do in Mauritius.

Mont Choisy Beach by day

Mauritius: need to know
Mauritius is a safe and stable African country in the Indian Ocean, located close to the smaller Reunion Island (which is actually one of France´s départements.)

Over 50 percent of the population are of Indian descent and you will find a compelling mix of cultures and religions here. Mauritian Creole, French and English are widely spoken by almost everyone, everywhere.

Living standards, by comparison to most other African countries, are generally high, and inequality is not as widespread as it is elsewhere on the continent.

You´ll probably fly to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in the former capital of Mahébourg.

While the main island of Mauritius is small enough for you to live anywhere on it and be able to comfortably drive from one place to another, I recommend staggering your trip into phases, allowing you to experience different areas in depth.

Renting a car and hitting the road is probably easiest, though you can also travel by taxi and, if you’re feeling adventurous, by bus.

Dive to the ocean floor with Blue Safari

The East

The east of Mauritius is a great place to start your trip after you land. The area around Grand River South East is one you’ll want to visit a fair bit if you find yourself in this quadrant. Rent a boat tour via Kersley & Azur (kersleyboattours@gmail.com; +230 5756 1954)  just outside Mahébourg and you´ll get to see some of the small, uninhabited coral islands of the east and ‘The Dalblair’, a 1902 shipwreck.

You’ll also have the option of sailing up the Grand River delta to the small but sweet Grand River South East waterfall. Your boat ride will also probably take you to Isle Aux Cerfs, a small island off the east coast, which is unremarkably touristy on its main beach, but much quieter further down (past the golf course).

Contrary to popular belief, it is practically impossible to walk from one end of the island to another, so check out the south side by boat if this option is available to you.

While you’re around Mahébourg, don your snorkel mask and flippers and swim in the pristine waters of Blue Bay Marine Park – one of the best snorkeling spots I have ever come across.

Recommended hotel
Laguna Beach Hotel & Spa – a decent hotel that’s not too big and whose staff are extremely helpful and professional. Their buffet is scrumptious and rich in Creole delights – where possible, select the half-board option, as this gives you the benefit of breakfast and dinner included in your stay.

The view of the small harbour near Laguna Beach Hotel & Spa

The North

The North of Mauritius is more populated than the quiet east and home to some of the island’s revered beaches.

A good base would be the area around the beaches of Trou Aux Biches and Mont Choisy: two long, expansive stretches of sand on the northwest shoreline. The former has a great mix of locals and a few tourists on it and is a great sundowner spot, while the latter is also a public beach but is located at the foot of the Trou Aux Biches Beachcomber Resort and Spa, which takes some shine off it, despite the beautiful palm-fringed edge.

Further north check out the town of Grand Baie (the bazaar is a nifty spot to buy artefacts) and Perybere Beach – a favourite among the locals.

While in the north, one bucket list activity you definitely want to try is the Blue Safari sub scooter, which you will find at the northern fringe of the Trou Aux Biches beach. This three-metre dive to the ocean floor in an electric-powered underwater scooter is definitely one of the most amazing things you´ll do in your lifetime.

Blue Safari also offers a submarine service that takes you down to a depth of 35 metres in a larger craft, and this too is a memorable experience.

Recommended hotel
Mystik Lifestyle Hotel – a boutique hotel with immaculately designed rooms and the famous #33 restaurant, which serves up some of the best seafood in these parts.

The epic Chamarel Falls -a must see on any trip to Mauritius

The West and the South

The vast majority of activities on your trip, depending on what you go for, will probably be in the west of Mauritius – for instance in or near the town of Flic En Flac, a great base from which to cruise the shoreline and wander south and inland.

Flic En Flac is home to numerous restaurants and a comfortable stretch of beach. From here, explore the rugged interior of Mauritius with a day trip to the Black River Gorges National Park, where sights such as the iconic ‘7 Coloured Earths’, Alexandra Falls and the Chamarel Waterfall await.

Hire a taxi or up your hill-driving game as the roads here are sinuous, narrow and not for the fainthearted.

Varangue Sur Morne is a fantastic restaurant to have lunch at on your way back down from the national park. Here, you´ll find a scrumptious selection of local treats and some of the best service on the island.

For something slightly less flashy, head to Restaurant Chamarel, which is further down the slopes and offers a stunning panoramic view of the west coast from above.

If you’re into your watersports, you’ll find no shortage of them in the west and down south.

Surf on Mauritius’ rugged south coast

For stand-up paddle and kitesurfing, head to Yoaneye Kite Centre by Le Morne. The swell on the northerly section of Le Morne is regular and easy to paddle-surf on, but be careful not to drift too far downstream with the current, as getting back takes a while.

The seven colours of Chamarel – one of nature´s icons

Kitesurfing takes place further south of Le Morne, where consistent wind makes it one of the most popular spots to fly at.

As you wander further south, the coastline becomes rugged and more poignant.

Surfers looking for a good break will want to stick to the area around Le Morne, but as an alternative consider driving down the scenic beach road to the small settlement of Bel Ombre, where KiteGlobing is located – it is worth it! This is both a surf and kitesurfing hotspot.

For thrill-seekers looking for a taste of adventure on the waves, Sea Kart Mauritius offers an epic opportunity for you to pilot your own 110 bhp speedboat (no boat licence required). This powerful craft skims the surface at speeds of up to 80 km/h and is the closest thing you will find to a jet ski (since these are banned in Mauritius).

Last, but not least in the west, get yourself out of bed early and head out to spot dolphins as they surface in the morning.

Whilst among these great creatures of the deep, try not to disturb them with loud noises and splashes as they are actually sleeping (using half their brain to stay awake and the other to snooze).

Jet across the ocean in a Seakart

You’ll find numerous boat operators to cruise out to see the dolphins with, but for the sake of these creatures and their well-being, I recommend going out to see them on a stand-up paddle board, surf board or the like.

Recommended hotel
The 4.5-star Villasun is located some distance away from the beach in Flic en Flac, but a free shuttle service ad libitum is available to ferry you back and forth. Some meals are available on the premises, although shopping and cooking for yourself in the state-of-the-art ensuite kitchen is the way to go.

Dolphins off the coast of Le Morne

Abandoned places around the world – a guide

Original article written for momondo, available here.

We speak to Morten Kirckhoff and Jan Elhøj, two explorers with a love for picturesque decay, about their adventures travelling the world in search of abandoned places

Abandoned buildings exist in the grey zone between life and death – dim shadows of their former selves now reduced to dust-strewn relics that echo with a ghostly aura and a bewildering sensibility.

Dig beneath the dereliction, however, and there’s an inextricable beauty that surfaces for the eyes of those who dare to let their curiosity run wild.

We caught up with Jan Elhøj and Morten Kirkhoff, two avid travellers who have made discovering abandoned buildings across the globe their ardent pastime.

Their adventures have been published as a series of three glossy books (with a fourth on the way soon), exhibitions, a TV series as well as countless photos of their exploits. Here is what these two keen explorers had to share about their travels across the globe in the quest for abandoned places.

A former dental clinic in the US

When did you start exploring abandoned places?

We grew up together, as teens. We first ran into each other during the happy 80s. Exploring abandoned places quickly became one of our pastimes and to this day, empty, abandoned places are something that we associate with great childhood memories.

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What goes through your mind when you walk into an abandoned building?

An optician's house, Belgium

There are many layers in this process. For one thing, we are in places where we’re not necessarily supposed to be, so we always think about the dangers. We also think about what sort of history a place has. Who lived or worked here? Decoding this is the most interesting part of it all for us. But there is also another layer – capturing the essence of the place we’re in.

We need to process what sort of lines and forms are present when it comes to taking a good picture. Back in the day, it was all about shooting as many pictures as possible and going home. These days, we put a lot of thought into finding where the story fits. We were once approached by a priest who told us that what we do touches everyone so profoundly because our work explores some of the biggest taboos in the West – loneliness, ageing and, the ultimate taboo of them all, death.

We never saw things this way up until we came across this priest so it was an eye-opener and something that we very much agree with.

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What inspires you when you travel?

A junkyard, Sweden

As with many other forms of travel – the adventure in itself. For some, our exploits may seem a bit extreme, but they are actually a form of modern archaeology in which we find places that are trapped in a time capsule. The thrill of finding extraordinary, untouched places inspires us a great deal. But It’s not just about the thrill of finding abandoned places – it’s the hunt for them and the build up to it, all of which are impossible to plan from home.

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How do you plan your travels?

An abandoned stadium, Mallorca, Spain

In essence, we have a loose overall plan, but when other possibilities arise over the course of our travels, we take them. We seize the opportunities as they come. The experiences from doing so are monumental. We are very mobile when we travel in the sense that we have everything that we need with us – from cooking pots to tents. We set up camp exactly where we want to sleep, and sometimes this leads to some unreal experiences.

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What sorts of challenges arise when you travel in this way?

An aviation graveyard, Arizona

There can be guards hired to watch over some abandoned places and all sorts factors that we can’t predict. We are also confronted with a lot of prejudices about the places we visit. I always think about the many times we tell people that we’ll be visiting a particular area. We are often approached with totally unfounded responses. For me, every place has its everyday life and of course, when there is something out of the ordinary, people read this on the news and it taints their perspective. It is very easy for people to sit at home in their comfort zones, browse the tabloids and believe everything that they read.

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Of the many abandoned places you visit, are there any that stand out more than others?

Dank's house, Denmark

Places with an element of familiarity stand out. Abandoned homes, for example, particularly those that we come across in Denmark contain things we can easily relate to. There are always pieces of furniture or artefacts in them that we can recognise – perhaps because our grandparents also owned something similar once.

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The circular control room in the abandoned power station, Hungary - all the instruments here are analogue

The power station in Hungary is quite an interesting story. We travelled in search of it and set up camp nearby. There was an active power station very close to the disused one, where everything was bolted up. Shortly after setting up base, our cover was blown by a guard who was watching over the premises and we had to run away. A few days later we returned and saw that the guard was in his house but still within eyeshot of the entrance to the abandoned plant. Later that day, he hopped on his bike and disappeared so we took our chances and made our way in. We wandered around for a bit in search of an entry point before eventually crawling in through a window in the roof. Inside, we made our way to the control room, which was styled in a beautiful art deco finish as a tribute to modern technology at the time (1927).

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A disused amusement park, Japan

Another place we recall fondly was an amusement park in Japan. It was spring so everything was in bloom. We were surrounded by small red flowers that shot up through the earth and there were no graffiti tags nor broken windows. We split up because it was so big and bumped into deers and other wildlife. We missed the sound of shouting children and rollercoasters and the scent of popcorn – it felt like we were all alone in the world.

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Do you ever research the stories behind the places that you visit? 

An abandonded hotel, Bosnia

Not as much as we used to. More often than not there is a sad story behind it all, or money issues, if we’re talking about a private home. We think that it’s always an amazing experience when we step inside such places – there are pictures of children and grandchildren hanging on the walls, photo albums and cards with stories in them. We are often left wondering how there can be a whole family who doesn’t care about the place anymore. It’s not something we bother investigating, however, though we do think that there are others who perhaps ought to.

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What advice would you give to anyone interested in exploring abandoned places? 

An abandoned snake lab, Japan

Have a plan but always be prepared to change it. If you travel with an open mind and a mindset in which you don’t constantly have to get something done, there are countless experiences that come your way. One of our own dogmas is that we never give the exact location of an abandoned place away.

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What projects are you currently working on?

We have no idea where we will sleep, what we will eat, who we’ll meet and if what we hope to find even exists

We’ve got trips to Portugal, Russia, Greenland, Greece and Kazakhstan coming up. Greenland will be split into three expeditions starting on the East coast, after which we will travel inwards over the ice.  There are military installations and other hidden places waiting for us in the permafrost. We need to find the money for it first though.

You’re a savvy traveller but please approach abandoned places with caution and respect. Acquaint yourself well with the environment you’ll be exploring and be prepared for anything #staycurious!

For more work from Morten and Jan, check out their trilogy Abandoned -‘Forladte Steder’  (in Danish) and follow their adventures on Facebook.

Everyday Africa – An Interview

Original article written for momondo, available here.

We explore the vast, diverse African continent and its numerous facets through the imagery of the inspiring Instagram photography movement Everyday Africa

The African continent is rich in both tradition as well as diversity. No one is more aware of this than Everyday Africa, the Instagram photography movement transforming the way people view daily life on the continent.

The first of the Everyday photography movements, from which numerous others have since spawned, Everyday Africa showcases imagery by photographers living and working in Africa, all of whom find extremes to be far less dominating a narrative than the familiar.

Since its inception in 2012, Everyday Africa has built up an online following of 366,000 at the time of writing and, as recently as June 2017 produced their first book – Everyday Africa: 30 Photographers Re-Picturing a Continent.

It is little wonder that the work of Everyday Africa resonates with momondo’s vision of a more open world. We caught up with American photojournalist Peter Di Campo, the founder of Everyday Africa, for a chat about dismantling stereotypes and portraying the continent through depictions of everyday life and everyday people.

State of the Province: Beverly Hills, Cape Town
State of the Province: Beverly Hills, Cape Town © zubairsay

How did Everyday Africa come to life?

I first went to sub-Saharan Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, living in Ghana for two years from 2006-2008. I constantly documented the community I lived in, albeit with images I had studied (as a photojournalist) in mind.  These images were generally a negative depiction of the continent.

It was, therefore, difficult to reconcile trying to photograph daily life in Africa while also trying to photograph what was programmed into me as far as how Africa should look in terms of finding poverty, disease and so on.

Buying eggs at the local market - Zanzibar, Tanzania © sam.vox
Buying eggs at the local market – Zanzibar, Tanzania © sam.vox

Fast forward a few years, and I returned to my work as a freelance photojournalist in 2012 with the writer Austin Merrill. We documented the aftermath of the post-election violence in the Ivory Coast – interviewing, and photographing refugees and the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence. We looked for discord on a very specific trajectory. Everyday Africa came about when we pulled out our mobile phones and photographed without any limitations.

We freed ourselves from our narratives and shot pictures of everything around us. About a year later we started to see other Everyday projects popping up around the world.

What image of Africa do you aim to present through your work?

Two women stroll past a motorbike - Inhambane, Mozambique
Two women stroll past a motorbike – Inhambane, Mozambique © thesestreetsza

The keyword that we go back to very often is context. Obviously, a lot of the imagery on Everyday Africa is a lot more positive than we are used to seeing – at least in mainstream media. Instead of war, poverty and famine, a lot of our images are either more basic (people going to work, doing their laundry, cooking, and eating) or more positive (fashion shows, sporting events and so on).

I would like to stress that we don’t see this as a sort of PR project for the continent, in terms of us only presenting the positive. The idea is to experiment with a new idea of reporting in which one’s daily experience of walking down the street captures so many aspects of life mixed together, in a broader, contextualized way, as opposed to a news story.

A shopkeeper reading a newspaper - Mauritania
A shopkeeper reading a newspaper – Mauritania © dcoreraphotography

Are the images displayed by Everyday Africa all taken on mobile phones?

Our imagery extends to other forms of photography. We encourage mobile phone photography but there are certainly a lot of photographers who capture moments that they feel they want to share on other cameras, so we don’t discourage this.

Women riding in a horse carriage - Cairo, Egypt
Women riding in a horse carriage – Cairo, Egypt © laurael_tantawy

What, in your own words, is the impact of mobile phones on the African continent?

We’re seeing a major disruption of traditional media because people anywhere, Africa included, can now share photos and harness an enormous audience. To me, it’s amazing that so many African photographers can essentially become heroes for the continent in the art and photography world because of all the creative things that they are doing.

National Geographic wasn’t going to find these photographers and hire them so in a way it provides a continent-wide sense of people being able to look up to others in artistic practice. Mobile phone photography has done amazing things for the confidence of the African photography world.

Identically dressed women in rural Liberia on their way to their group's weekly meeting
Identically dressed women in rural Liberia on their way to their group’s weekly meeting © ricci_s

Are there any places in Africa from your travels that you can recommend?

Africa is such a diverse continent! There are so many incredibly rich cultures. I loved my time in northern Ghana, where I immersed myself in the cultural traditions of the region – drumming, festivals and so on. I also loved my time in Kenya, waking up to seeing wildlife on our doorstep.

I am a sucker for Zanzibar as well – in some ways it feels like you’ve wandered into another century. You can drive for an hour and find some of the best beaches you’ve ever seen. I love having this sort of varied experience at one’s fingertips. The next place on my list is Dakar – which I’ve heard wonderful things about.

A passenger boat slides across the calm waters of The Nile in the Adjumani district, Uganda
A passenger boat slides across the calm waters of The Nile in the Adjumani district, Uganda © edward_echwalu

What is the story behind the recently published Everyday Africa book?

The book came up as a way of us celebrating how far the project has come. It was made to celebrate and encapsulate the first few years of Everyday Africa’s existence. Everyday Africa may be an Instagram project but I think people are still very excited about physical objects and about holding the book in their hands or pulling it off  their shelves. The book includes a lot of Instagram commentary that is very caustic, uplifting and even paternalistic.

There’s a lot of ‘I want to save Africa’ and other comments of that sort that are contrasted with others saying things like ‘this is my home, so thank you for showing it.’ It’s a push and pull contest of a very outdated opinion of Africa contrasted with a modern and connected view of the continent. The successful Kickstarter campaign (that funded the book’s publication) was a sign of just how dedicated and enthusiastic our audience is.

A boxer from Katanga, Kampala, Uganda
A boxer from Katanga, Kampala, Uganda © edward_echwalu

Where does Everyday Africa go from here?

We are experimenting with what happens when you animate the things that people post online, in the same way that we experimented with how such comments change when you put them in a book. We are now trying to put the comments off feeds and experiment with actors using them in a dialogue. We had a small performance as part of the book launch in Nairobi and we are now in the next steps of figuring out the next steps for a full theatre production.

We also recently became a non-profit – Everyday Africa is now an umbrella organization for some of the other everyday projects. Our mission as far as this goes is twofold – continuing to grow out of Everyday Africa while finding ways to creatively display work from It and lift the profile of African photographers.

The Ken Fac troupe from Kensington, Cape Town, march at a street carnival in South Africa
The Ken Fac troupe from Kensington, Cape Town, march at a street carnival in South Africa @ Charlie Shoemaker

Education is our second focus – we use our work to confront the views of Africa that kids may have, predominantly in the US. We discuss the stereotypes that they may have and the relationship between themselves and the media and then teach practical photography using Everyday Africa photos as examples.

The goal is that by the end of the project, the kids have their own everyday project. We will be expanding on this idea quite a bit but we feel that now is a good time to be doing this sort of thing. There is a need for more empathy in the world, better cross-cultural communication and, as the media landscape continues to fragment, there is also a need for more localized storytelling and self-representation. We are very excited to play a role in these processes.

Looking for more inspiration? See more imagery from Everyday Africa on their Instagram account or check out our interview with the founders of the Everyday Iran Instagram movement

Everyday Brasil: An Interview

Original article written for momondo, available here.

momondo caught up with Everyday Brasil for a chat about the work of the Instagram movement and its efforts in presenting an authentic image of a vast, diverse nation

In a country as vast and as varied as Brazil, depicting a narrative that paints an accurate portrait of everyday life can be a challenging task. Following in the footsteps of other Everyday Projects, the viral Instagram photography movement Everyday Brasil hopes to disseminate knowledge of Brazil and its social realities.

And rather than aiming specifically at a global audience, the imagery of Everyday Brasil is just as much about portraying the country to its own citizens, exemplified amongst other things by their image captions, displayed in both English and Brazilian Portuguese.

momondo interviewed Ivana Debértolis, the founder of Everyday Brasil, to gain a better understanding of the work of the movement. We’ve also made a playlist to help get you into the groove as you scroll through the imagery of Everyday Brasil.

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How did Everyday Brasil come to life?

Everyday Brasil was born in 2015, as word of other Everyday projects such as Everyday Africa and Everyday Iran got out. As a photographer myself, I quickly realised the potential of the Everyday Everywhere projects and reached out to the people behind Everyday Africa. From there, things have grown very quickly.

Read more: 

São Paulo by night is a fiery, colourful affair

What are the main objectives of Everyday Brasil?

As part of the Everyday projects, we aim to enrich others with knowledge of our country in a way that avoids presenting a stereotypical image of Brazil. We want to spread knowledge about the real Brazil and about the reality of life here, abroad but also locally. For instance, even though I was born in Brazil and live here now, there are so many things about my country that I have yet to learn.

We can all learn a lot more about our own country. As such, each photo on our feed brings us closer to the reality of life in different parts of the country.

The area of Marrocos is an illegal occupation in downtown São Paulo

What is your role in Everyday Brasil?

I’m a curator, broadly responsible for managing the Everyday Brasil project. I delegate some of this responsibility as we have almost 50 photographers and fixed collaborators scattered across the country. Our nation is large and very diverse, so even though 50 photographers may seem like a lot, it is a necessary number as we need to document our many regions and places in a natural manner.

For this reason, I often have to do a bit of research to come up with a creative and relevant caption. This is a learning process for me as I have become increasingly acquainted with Brazil. There is still so much to be learned though and more knowledge to be shared.

A fisherman and his net, Ponta do Leal, Florianópolis, Santa Catarina

How is the diversity of Brazil depicted in the image selection process?

We focus on documenting events that are of relevance in the country such as some political demonstrations, national days and so on. All images are taken by our photographers, as this is a photography project that we take seriously.

Seeing how similar events are depicted differently across the country is always interesting. We vary the location of our content – for instance, if we publish a picture from Rio de Janeiro, the next one will be from another city and state.

By the same token, we also try to alternate between photographers as much as possible. If you look at our gallery, the subjects in it are all very different.

A glimpse into the small town of Joanes in the remote northern state of Pará

What is the role of photography in a country as large and diverse as Brazil?

Photography is a way of taking in information quickly. You can look at an image and very quickly decipher the story that it is trying to tell. Photography is accessible and in this case is for everyone. In today’s’ day and age, platforms such as Instagram have made this a reality.

The northeastern state of Bahia takes to the streets to celebrate the region's independence day

We always think carefully about the role that photography can play when it comes to telling a story – the captions explaining the photos are important but we should not force them on our audience too much. In the end, it is all about people drawing their own conclusions about our images and asking themselves critical questions. Our photography is a vehicle for this process.

Revellers making merry during the carnival season, São Paulo

In your opinion, why should people travel to Brazil?

For the same reasons that I myself ought to travel as much as possible in Brazil – this is a rich and diverse country. It sometimes feels like there are several countries in one – everyday life is very different in the south than it is in the northeast for instance. The same is true of the people, our customs, food and so on – everything varies a great deal depending on where in the nation you find yourself. Brazil has problems like any other nation, but we are a proud and resolute people.

Festa Junina (The June Party ) drapes the streets of Recife in swathes of colour for a few days

What impact has Everyday Brasil had and where do you see the project heading over the next few years?

I didn’t know which direction things would go in when we first started Everyday Brasil. Today, it has evolved into a project that is respected across the country – people write to us on a daily basis, keen on participating. At the same time, our aim of depicting an accurate and diverse social reality through photography seems to have been correctly understood, which wasn’t necessarily the case when we first started out.

A farmer in the state of Pernambuco takes delight at her harvest after rainfall put an end to a prolonged drought

We are growing but there is plenty of work to be done yet! We are of course very active on Instagram, but we’d like to have a stronger online presence and across other platforms. For instance, we would like to create an exhibition of some of our pictures later this year starting in São Paulo and spreading across the country as a national project. The eventual idea is for Everyday Brasil to become a reference point for photographs of Brazil. We would like people to think of Everyday Brasil when they think about travelling here. Similarly, we want to replicate Everyday Brasil in the form of a book or a magazine. We’d like to think outside the box, outside of Instagram.

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Istanbul, Turkey – a guide to the city of two halves

Istanbul: a tale of two continents. Photo by João Marcelo Martins on Unsplash

Original article written for momondo and Atlas Global – available here.

From ancient islands, homely local restaurants and colossal religious monuments with a great heritage – here is our guide to what to see and do in the metropolis of Istanbul

* Sponsored content: This trip to Istanbul was facilitated by Atlas Global

Straddling the Bosphorus, a natural strait that divides Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a tale of two cities. On the European side of this pulsating metropolis lie some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia – prominent features that give this part of Istanbul a fair share of fame internationally.

Venture into the Asian part of Istanbul and things are more laid-back – local cafes and a smattering of micro businesses give this part of town a vintage and homely feel, when compared to the more brazen nature of its European counterpart. In our guide to this diverse, gargantuan city we explore both parts of Istanbul – touring through the more iconic sights as well as some of the lesser-known ones.Find a flight to Istanbul

What to do in the European part of Istanbul

The most iconic sights of the European part of Istanbul are located in close proximity to one another and can easily be seen over the course of a full day if you delve into detail. However, if time isn’t on your side, you can easily breeze through the main sights of the Sultanahmet area in half a day or less.

Brush up on your world history in Sultanahmet

The bold aura of the Blue Mosque - venture inside it for a glimpse of some very detailed architecture
Sultanahmet is a great place to brush up on your history. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

The Sultanahmet neighbourhood in the district of Fatih houses the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the opulent Topkapi Palace, all of which are linked by expansive, verdant gardens. Start at the iconic Blue Mosque (so called due to the handmade blue ceramic tiles in its interior).

200 stained glass windows and over 20,000 tiles and hundreds of square metres of soft red carpet knitted with arcane symbols such as tulips await in the lavishly-decorated interior of the mosque.

Keep an eye open for the ostrich eggs placed on the roof chandeliers – an age-old spider web repellent system that has been keeping arachnids from making the mosque their humble abode (or so they say).  As you digest the vivid impressions of the blue mosque, make your way to the only building that can rival it for miles around – Hagia Sophia, which you will find less than 10 minutes away on foot.

Hagia Sophia began as a church around AD360 at which time it was known as Magna Ecclesia (The Great Church), before being pillaged in 1453 by Ottoman forces that overthrew Constantinople (now Istanbul). The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, put a stop to the looting and converted the church into a mosque, a status it retained until 1934.

While inside this rustic, ancient museum, keep a lookout for the clash of religious affiliations that have left their mark on its architecture – from desecrated crosses to pagan installations such as the wish column: a small hole that you can stick your hand into and rotate your palm 360 degrees while making a wish.

Complete your tour of the iconic behemoths of the Sultanahmet area with a trip to the Topkapi Palace, the imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. Much of the complex remains off limits to the public but you can still venture into the Harem – a domestic space reserved for wives, concubines and female servants. If only walls could talk …

Get lost in a bazaar

Lose yourself among the trinkets and gadgetry in the Grand Bazaar
Lose yourself among the trinkets and gadgetry in the Grand Bazaar. Photo by Wei Pan on Unsplash

Stretch your legs and venture over to the Grand Bazaar, which you will find a kilometre and a half from the Topkapi Palace, still in the Fatih district. Located inside the walled city, this is one of the oldest covered markets in the world, stretching over 61 covered streets that house an excess of 4000 shops.

Trinkets galore and all manner of spices, lanterns and other goods line the alleyways here. Take a deep breath and bring your bargaining game along for a saunter through these ancient passages.

Getting lost in it all is part of the fun. Take a minute to look up and admire the elaborately decorated ceilings along the streets and alleyways. If you fancy a market that’s less complex, head to the Egyptian Bazaar in the Eminönü quarter, where a plethora of scents (albeit in a more cramped environment) await. Cross the Galata Bridge at the start of the Egyptian Bazaar and strike up a conversation with one of the many local fishermen who cast their lines into the water here.

Hang out around Taksim Square

Stretch your legs around the hilly area around Taksim Square. Photo by Drew McKechnie on Unsplash

Head across the Galata Bridge and keep on going for a couple of kilometres until you hit Taksim Square and the surrounding area, in the throbbing heart of Istanbul. You will find restaurants and cafes aplenty here, the world’s second-oldest subway line and İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), a long pedestrian street that is perennially abuzz with activity.

What to do in the Asian part of Istanbul

The Asian part of Istanbul is less grandiose than its European counterpart and can be seen over the course of a relaxed day. It’s not so much the sites that define it as it is the local ambience and homely feel, accentuated in no small part by the amicable nature of the people of this part of town.

Turn back the hands of time on the Prince Islands

Of the myriad of things to do in Istanbul, a visit to the Prince Islands has to be the pick of the bunch.

The Prince Islands are a scenic archipelago in the Sea of Marmara that have preserved their ancient ways, in contrast to the rest of Istanbul. You won’t find multi-lane highways here, where the horse still reigns supreme as the sole means of transport.

Ferry departures to these peaceful parts leave from Bostancı, Kartal and Maltepe on the Asian side, and from Kabataş on the European part of the city and run all-year round. The summer months are without a doubt the best months to explore the islands.

Roam the streets of Kadıköy

Kadıköy at sunset. Photo by June O on Unsplash

The area of Kadıköy is the perfect antidote to the more widely visited sights of the European part of Istanbul. Mesmeric sea views along the waterfront and a multitude of restaurants, cafes and small markets give Kadıköy a warm, welcoming feel that is only accentuated by the inviting culture of the Istanbulites that frequent this area.

Grab a seat at one of the many establishments, order a Turkish coffee and let it all sink in. While you’re here – swing by Haydarpaşa Terminal, where services are currently suspended indefinitely, for a peek at a historic icon of the Orient. If you’re on the prowl for some local shopping, join the rest of the locals at the Marmara Balık Market, where succulent fresh fish never fails to draw its fair share of shoppers.

Sample traditional yoghurt in Kanlıca

Kanlıca is home to numerous waterside cafes that serve a creamy yoghurt topped with a generous sprinkling of castor sugar. Beyond the scrumptious dairy products, enjoy the serenity of this quiet pocket of Asian Istanbul and drop by the Kanlıca cemetery on the hill overlooking the Bosphorus for some great vistas.

Go on a boat trip on the Bosphorus

Cruise the Bosphorus by boat for some great views of Istanbul. Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Any trip to Turkey’s economic and cultural epicentre, Istanbul, would be incomplete without a boat trip on the Bosphorus. This natural waterway at the apex of continental Europe and Asia connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and beyond that, the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.

You will find no shortage of options when it comes to hopping aboard the many vessels that call the strait their home. The Şehir Hatları Ferryboats serve an extensive network of routes around the city, giving you plenty of flexibility for a fare that will set you back a mere 4 TRY (less than £1). Alternatively, splash the cash on a two-hour private tour.

Admire the quaint, oddly-placed Maiden's Tower as you sail past it in the Bosphorus
Admire the quaint, oddly-placed Maiden’s Tower as you sail past it in the Bosphorus. Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash

Keep a lookout for some of the ritzy architecture on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus and admire Maiden’s Tower (also known as Leander’s Tower) if you happen to sail past the southern entrance of the strait. This remarkable little tower has a history as a lighthouse, quarantine station and most recently, a restaurant.

Where to eat in Istanbul

Krependeki İmroz – Nevizade, Taksim

Krependeki İmroz lies in the beating heart Nevizade, a street lined with great eateries
The bustling alleyway, Nevizade, Taksim. Photo by Allan Kortbæk

Krependeki İmroz is one of several cosy restaurants on the bustling alley of Nevizade in the Taksim area. Scrumptious meze and seafood await. Wash it all down with a shot (or four) of Raki, an anise flavoured aperitif, also called lion’s milk or milk of the brave. While you’re in town you will definitely want to sample a kebap or two. Hamdi Restaurant Eminönü is THE place to do so.

This traditional eatery serves no less than 17 different varieties of kebap in addition to mouth-watering meze (traditional Turkish starters). Sat atop the restaurant’s main room you can enjoy the view of the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn (Haliç) – the estuary that joins the Bosphorus strait at the Sea of Marmara.

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* Sponsored content: This trip to Istanbul was facilitated by Atlas Global

Beirut, Lebanon: a guide to the Lebanese capital

Original article written for momondo – available here.

From Mediterranean coastlines and world-class ski resorts to unrivalled clubs, there is something for everyone in Beirut. Here is our city guide to the Lebanese capital

Contradictory at the best of times, Beirut is a city of blind corners that approach you at breakneck speed.

It is a place in which you will find a fascinating mix of religious persuasions, spanning Druze to Islam and a raft of Oriental influences crammed into one beautiful, boisterous and at times overwhelming city.

What to do in Beirut

Saunter along The Corniche

Watch the waves pound the shoreline along The Corniche. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

Beirut’s Corniche is to Lebanon what Havana’s Malecón is to Cuba. Built under the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon, this 2.9 mile long promenade separates the crashing waves of The Mediterranean from the streets of Beirut and offers pleasant views of the summits of Mount Lebanon in the distance.

Walk, run, skate or join the old fishermen as they cast their lines into the choppy waters and keep an eye open for the endearing pigeon rocks – two natural offshore rock formations in the neighborhood of Raouché.

Believe the hip – explore Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael

If you are looking for a bit of edge, Gemmayzeh is just the place. Gentrified but not snobbish, unpolished but accessible, Gemmayzeh is home to numerous narrow streets and historic architecture. It is also an area of Beirut that is rich in street art.

Venture further north into Gemmayzeh until you hit the frenetic Mar Mikhael hood, where the volume of bars and cafes makes it a bar-hopping mainstay. Splash a hint of color into your stay in Beirut with a visit to the famous colored steps while you’re in the area.

Relax at The Sfeir Semler Gallery

“No condition is permanent” – a work from a previous exhibition at the Sfeir Semler gallery @ Saima Mir

The Sfeir Semler Gallery focuses on contemporary art, with emphasis on conceptual and minimal art, in its bid to showcase works by pivotal Arab artists.

When the pacey streets and their clattering become overwhelming, this is an ideal location for a bit of reprieve and contemplation in the company of some iconic works.

Gain perspective at Shatila refugee camp

Visit Shatila and gain perspective on some of Lebanon's present-day challenges
Visit Shatila and gain perspective on some of Lebanon’s present-day challenges @ GAME Lebanon

While it may not appear in many a guide to Beirut, a visit to Lebanon would be incomplete without a trip to one of its refugee camps, home to thousands of Palestinians, Syrians and other Arab nationalities who have fled war and conflict in their countries of origin. This is also a facet of Beirut, in addition to the other qualities of the city.

A visit to Shatila is not entirely without its perils so if you do decide to visit, be sure to do your research and contact one of the many NGOs who work in the area so that you can plan your visit through them. Be respectful to its residents when you are in the area and ask for people’s consent before taking pictures.

Go for a walk in Horsh Beirut

Relax in the lush confines of Horsh Beirut - Beirut's largest green area
Relax in the lush confines of Horsh Beirut – Beirut’s largest green area @mayolight 

Stretch those legs at Beirut’s largest open park, Horsh Beirut, which was reopened to the public in 2015 after a lengthy hiatus following reconstruction after the Lebanese civil war. Once a lush woodland extending over many miles, Horsh Beirut has lost some of its swagger and is much smaller today but is nonetheless a relaxing spot to recharge.

A tale of 2 buildings — The Egg and The Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque

The Mohammad Al-Amin mosque. Photo by Ramy Kabalan on Unsplash

Lebanon’s civil war has left their mark in Beirut. Nowhere is this manifested better than at the remains of a multi-complex city centre project that was bombed while under construction.

At the center of these ruins lies The Egg – what would have been a spacious cinema but is now a withering concrete mass. While you won’t be able to go inside The Egg, you can still get close enough to it to appreciate the concoction of melancholy, beauty and ambiguity that it gives off.

The Egg is a favorite among locals, many of whom have campaigned for it to be a permanent fixture in Beirut’s architectural landscape. For now, it stands defiant, in the shadow of the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, amidst an uncertain future rocked by potential reconstruction plans.

This elaborate mosque (inaugurated in 1998) decorates Beirut’s skyline with its 236 feet high blue minarets and is one of the symbols of the nation’s resurgence from its civil war in the 70s. Built in the mold of Istanbul’s Byzantine-epoch Hagia Sophia mosque, it is both imposing from the outside and elaborately decorated on the inside.

Paint Beirut red

Indulge in Beirut´s pulsating nightlife. Photo by Pim Myten on Unsplash

Boasting of an unrivaled club scene, Beirut is very liberal when it comes to its nightlife, compared to much of the Middle East.

Of the many bars and clubs on offer, B 018 – a gargantuan tomb-like space frequented by some of the biggest names in electronic music, stands out as THE place for a night out in Beirut.

Kick back and watch the sunrise as the roof of this basement behemoth folds to let the light in at dawn.

Rivaling B 018, and located in Beirut’s central district, O1NE Beirut is another of the city’s clubbing bastions worth visiting. The club is as impressive inside as it is on its iconic exterior, which is draped in colorful street art designs.

For a less fanciful night out, try some of the smaller bars and pubs around Hamra street – one of Beirut’s main avenues, that is also home to a wide range of shops and cafes by day.

Alpine slopes and seaside après-ski

Ski due West from Mzaar and you will start descending towards Beirut. Photo by Pim Myten on Unsplash

Adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers will find plenty of spoils in and around Beirut. In the months of December to early April, you can ski or snowboard down the slopes of the Mzaar Kfardebian mountain range, a mere 31 miles to the east of the city.

On a clear day, enjoy the view of Beirut and The Mediterranean yonder. Given its proximity to Beirut, you can ski in Mzaar in the morning and relax on The Corniche in the afternoon.

Where to eat in Beirut

Cafe Em Nazih

Cafe Em Nazih is part of the Saifi Urban Gardens complex, located in the heart of the Gemmayzeh district. The lush setup includes a hostel, rooftop bar, language school and even artist studios.

Feast on local dishes such as grilled halloum (halloumi), msabaha (breakfast hummus) and fried kebbeh (meat and bulgur balls) and while you’re here, be sure to try the plate of the day for a unique Lebanese culinary experience.

Falafel Freiha

Complete your Beirut experience with a well-made falafel or shawarma in spartan surroundings where focus is almost entirely on the food. Sitting in the packed confines among an erstwhile local crowd is every bit a part of the experience here.

As the name suggests, falafel is the specialty here, though you will also find basic meat sandwiches and shawarma to feast on at great prices.

The Gathering

Feast on gastronomic delights in The Gathering's vast courtyard
Feast on gastronomic delights in The Gathering’s vast courtyard @ The Gathering

Staying true to a staunch belief in organic products, The Gathering serves up a tasty mix of culinary delights, chiefly of Italian or French origin.

You’ll find ample opportunities to relax over a good glass of wine in the confines of its spacious courtyard and its centrally-placed olive tree.

Where to stay in Beirut

The Mayflower Hotel Beirut

A symbol of Beirut's golden days - relax in the cool confines of The Mayflower
A symbol of Beirut’s golden days – relax in the cool confines of The Mayflower

The Mayflower is one of Beirut’s oldest privately-owned hotels. In its heyday, it was one of the hot spots frequented by the waves of tourists who thronged to Beirut in from far and wide in the late 1950s and early 60s. Retrace the good old days here with a visit to the Duke of Wellington pub, whose decor reverberates with a longing nostalgia for the past.

Find a room at The Mayflower Hotel

Monroe Hotel

Take in the splendid views of the Mediterranean from your room at Beirut's Monroe hotel
Take in the splendid views of the Mediterranean from your room at Beirut’s Monroe hotel

Another centrally-located hotel, Beirut’s Monroe hotel features rooms with partial or full sea views overlooking the bay area and the Mediterranean beyond it. Treat yourself to a visit to the solarium or sauna while you’re here and enjoy some of the scrumptious international cuisine at the hotel’s own restaurant, The Sanderson.

Find a room at Monroe hotel

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Japan: A guide to its street markets

Original article written for momondo – available here.

Japan is a nation of contrasts and diversity, sporting everything from a rich Samurai heritage to immaculate landscapes. It is also famous for its numerous markets and shopping areas, be they kaleidoscopic arcades or traditional fish markets crammed with a plethora of Japanese culinary delights to suit all tastes.

Here is a carefully selected mix of 10 of the best street markets and shopping areas in Japan:

Street Markets are the perfect spot to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Photo by Lan Pham on Unsplash

Kyoto

Nishiki Market

Fresh fish in “Kyoto’s Kitchen” Photo by Roméo A. on Unsplash

One of the marquee food markets in Japan, also known as “Kyoto’s kitchen” in the local vernacular, Nishiki Market is a long shopping street that is home to hundreds of small shops and stalls. Spanning several centuries of history, many of these stalls are family-run establishments that specialize in one particular type of food and often work closely with an adjoining shop.

Feast on pickled vegetables (tsukemono), tofu, rice crackers, yakitori chicken and other staples of Japanese cuisine at will. You will also find numerous shops selling kitchenware crafted for chefs, hobbyists and amateurs alike. All of this is a brief five minutes away from Shijo Station, on the Karasuma Subway Line.

Osaka

Shinsaibashi and Dōtonbori

Take the plunge – immerse yourself in the buzzing streets of Dōtonbori. Photo by 𝗔𝗹𝗲𝘅 𝘙𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘳 on Unsplash

Osaka’s iconic shopping streets, Dōtonbori and Shinsaibashi warrant high placement on your “to do in Japan” list. Shinsaibashi-Suji is a 600-meter covered arcade packed with restaurants and cafés selling a range of local as well as imported delights.

Dōtonbori, located further down this pass, is a neon bubble of bright lights and electronic signposting, best enjoyed in the dark of night when the shimmer from the adjacent canal is, in itself, a dashing spectacle.  Revered for its numerous okonomiyaki (pancake) stalls, you will find much more than just food here – an armada of souvenirs, make-up products, bags and other items awaits you on your riverside stroll.

Okinawa

Heiwa Dori Shopping Street

If you find yourself on the island of Okinawa, you will definitely want to visit the Heiwa Dori shopping street. This buzzing location is lined with various specialist shops selling glassware, pottery and clothing in the popular covered arcade format.

The shopping and dining options on offer here are equally endless – you will find bare necessities such as umbrellas and gloves to trademark Okinawa shisa dogs, which make for excellent souvenirs.

Feast on fresh produce which you can buy and have cooked on the spot in some places along this street and if you are feeling adventurous, try some awamori (a revered rice whisky from Okinawa).

Sapporo

Nijo Market

Should you have the good fortune to travel to Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island, you will want to check out the Nijo Market in the city of Sapporo. Boasting over 100 years of history, the Nijo Market is one of Hokkaido’s landmark markets, raking in swarms of locals and travelers who come here in search of authentic Japanese cuisine.

Noodle shops, grocery stalls, scallop vendors and crab mongers are the order of the day in these parts. You will also find several restaurants and bars nestled in-between the many shops. While the Sapporo Nijo Market is open from 7am to 6pm, get here early if you want to sample the freshest produce and get the most variety. Keep a lookout for the narrow Noren Yokocho alleyway, where you will find an array of closely-packed restaurants offering popular Japanese cuisine, such as sea urchin and salmon eggs on rice.

Tokyo

Ameya Yokochō

Ameya Yokochō is a great place to interact with loud, proud vendors. If you´re persistent, you may strike a bargain. Photo by Lan Pham on Unsplash

The variety of what can be bought at Ameya Yokochō makes it a must-see site on your Tokyo itinerary. Once a thriving black market for sugar and potatoes, Ameya Yokochō is a loud, proud bustling hub of activity located in the Ueno area of north-eastern Tokyo. Here, you’ll find anything from fresh fruit and vegetables to tofu, cosmetics, jewelery and all manner of motley that oozes with a charm of its own.

The passionate price war between all the shouting vendors makes for a great spectacle – and a handsome reward for the persistent shopper. Ameya Yokochō opens at 10am through to 7pm daily, though some shops are closed on Wednesdays.

Omoide Yokochō

Yakitori heaven, Omoide Yokochō. Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

Omoide Yokochō  is a crammed alleyway that is home to over 60 yakitori restaurants, which roast their scrumptious wares primarily on coal burner grills. You will find this shopping area on the Western flank of Shinjiku station – come hungry as there are spoils galore to be had here.

Wash down your meal with a swig of sake (Japanese rice wine), which you will find plenty of in Omoide Yokochō. The alleyway’s charm is not in its elegance, however – brace yourself for a smoky cocktail of grill fumes and the nocturnal cacophony of vendors luring you in for a good meal. It is, however, elements such as these that give the area a revered, authentic quality which makes it an unforgettable experience.

Nakamise Dori

The Nokomise Dori is located a stone’s throw away from the Sensoji Temple (the oldest in Tokyo) and is THE place to buy souvenirs in town. Stock up on kimonos, geta (Japanese snow sandals), chopsticks, folding fans, mini-lanterns and other iconic gadgets and gizmos.

If you’re feeling peckish from all your souvenir shopping, tame your hunger with snacks such as senbei rice crackers, Manju buns and Dango dumplings, which you will find plenty of here.

A trip to Nakamise Dori is not complete without a visit to the nearby Sensoji Temple, whose placid interior provides a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the adjoining streets, and is a veritable slice of Japanese culture.

The Oedo Antique Market

Weather permitting, The Oedo Antique Market is your one-stop Japanese antique hangout in Tokyo. Held on the first and third Sunday of every month by the Yurakucho Station, The Oedo Antique Market is one of the larger street markets in Japan, replete with antique wares such as old clocks, paintings, ornaments, pottery, kimonos, and lots more.

Bagging a bargain is not the easiest task in the world though – you will find many treasures here, but they are closely guarded by a force of adept dealers who keep their prices high, so bring your A-game along for the hunt.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Fresh fish? You´ll find plenty of it at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

If you do nothing else in Tokyo, be sure to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.  As the name suggests, this is a veritable seafood Mecca. Sushi, sashimi, bluefin tuna and ramen are in plentitude here and, as you may imagine, it is not a site for the squeamish nor the faint-hearted.

If you are up to the challenge, however, start your day at the crack of dawn by attending one of the iconic tuna auctions (you will need to join the queue as early as 3:30am due to limited places.) Fear not, if you are not up at daybreak – Tsukiji Fish Market offers plenty during the day too.

Primed for a move to the nearby adjoining Toyosu district in 2017, where a modern facility has been built to house it, Tsukiji as we know it won’t be around for much longer – so reel in a slice of Japanese history while you still can.

Shimokitazawa

Boheme Shimokitazawa by night. Photo by Charles on Unsplash

Extraordinarily popular among students and musicians,  Shimokitazawa, also known as “Shimokita” is a hefty concoction of second-hand record shops, theaters and bars.  You will also find several exceptional restaurants in this area. Given how expensive Tokyo can be, you’ll find more bang for your buck here compared to the high-street prices of other shopping districts, such as Shibuya, Shinjuku or Ginza.

Shimo-Kitazawa is at its most beautiful in the late afternoon, during the evening and on weekends, when the narrow streets of this hip suburb come alive.

Whilst you’re here, drop by Bear Pond Espresso – a coffee shop that typifies the grungy originality of the area.

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Cuba: A guide to what to see and do

Original article written for momondo, please click here.

In a time of transition, travel to Cuba is on the rise. Here are our must-visit, authentic experiences to have when visiting the Caribbean’s biggest island.

After wallowing in a trade embargo imposed by the United States for over 50 years, there are promising times ahead for Cuba, as it looks to become a part of the global trading community. While the trade embargo is still active today, there are encouraging signs that it will soon be lifted, opening a whole new world of possibilities for Cuba. Trade with other countries will be easier, triggering an increase in tourism. This impending trend is already evident in our search data, which shows a 59% increase in flight searches for Havana from 2015 to 2016. If you are thinking about visiting Cuba, consider doing so in a manner that allows you to experience the full range of its rich cultural heritage. Start by planning a sustainable trip that supports the local culture and commerce – the only risk of doing so is that you may actually experience the real marvels of the island, not just the ones in guide books. In addition to the main highlights, you might want to travel deep into rural Cuba, where unknown charms await. Keep this in mind when starting your trip in the land of guajiros (countryside Cubans).

Cuba: a concoction of colours, sights and sounds – picture by Allan Kortbæk

Where to stay in Cuba

No hotel? Are you crazy? Where will we sleep then? Fret not, Cuba offers a different kind of accommodation, one that will give you a more authentic view of the country while contributing to the local economy at the same time. Cuban guest houses are legally- authorized accommodation options run by locals.

These guest houses provide genuine doses of Cuban life and culture, giving you the chance to live like a local. Keep a lookout for the iconic blue anchor painted on the front of the guest houses, as you saunter through Cuba.

Sip rum in Havana and saunter along the Malecón

The view of El Malecón from Havana’s Hotel Nacional in the former Mafia-run district of Vedado where Lucky Luciano & co reigned supreme. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

The Argentinian songwriter, Fito Páez, famously proclaimed that Havana lures one to fall in love with it and that the rum of the city is the best in the world. What better way to ascertain the validity of these valiant claims than a visit to the iconic capital? Havana’s old town is the sort of place you can lose yourself in for days at a time. As such, aimlessly wandering its streets is a must for any traveler.

On your saunter through Havana, you will be entertained by an array of intriguing buildings of all shades, many of which are in an advanced state of decay. You will also be treated to potent Afro-Cuban rhythms that echo in back alleys and crystallize into beautiful graffiti murals. Nowhere is this magical combination epitomized better than in Callejón de Hamel (the Hamel alley).

Get ready to embrace a city that exudes the sensation of going back in time, as classic cars from the 1950s decorate a backdrop of vintage architecture. While in old town Havana, The house of Conde Lombillo is a compulsory stop. Inside it, you will find Café Bohemia, an establishment that has borne witness to the last century of Cuban history.

The cafe originally opened its doors to celebrate the memory of Ricardo Sáenz, commonly known as El Gallego, the former chief editor and assistant director of Bohemia magazine. One of its idiosyncrasies consists in naming their dishes and cocktails after well known Cuban journalists, writers and filmmakers.

A wander through Havana’s old town leaves you thirsting for the ocean and its quietude. As such, a leisurely stroll along Havana’s well known boardwalk is essential. El Malecón is Cuba’s and one of the world’s most popular boardwalks, extending over five miles populated by street musicians, artists, poets, philosophers and fishermen cast against the backdrop of the city skyline and the serene sea.

Varadero: Cuba’s take on paradise

os coches de Cuba – a yellow classic in Varadero. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

A trip to Cuba is not legit without a stop in Varadero. Soak up the warm Caribbean sun on beaches brimming with soft, fine sand and visit some of the peculiar routes Varadero has to offer. If you want to know more about Cuban history, visit some of the old mansions previously owned by colonists, many of which have been transformed into museums. Varadero is also a thrill-seeker’s paradise, replete with caves, cayas and rare virgin forests that are unique to the region. If these spoils are not enough, you can follow the footsteps of the infamous Al Capone by traipsing through some of the tourist complexes that this prohibition era kingpin once roamed.

Explore the Cuban countryside around Viñales

Viñales – classic Cuban countryside at its best. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

The rural region known as Pinar del Río, 90 minutes by car from Havana, is home to the quaint town of Viñales and a national park that carries the same name. A lush, green zone primarily populated by farmers, Viñales is virtually car-free, thanks to the popularity of the horse-drawn wagon. Tobacco and coffee plantations are the key protagonists here, providing a different if not peculiar experience for curious travelers.

The countryside in this unique part of Cuba is intricately decorated by small, colorful houses,quaint farms and haciendas (estates), that are home to a mix of young and old Cubans who you will often see sat in rocking chairs, staring blissfully into space.

Viñales is also surrounded by an eponymous natural park. Together with the settlement, the Viñales valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, characterized by its lush vegetation and its endemic mountainous formations, referred to as mogotes locally. One of these mogotes is home to one of the park’s most visited attractions – a 393-foot long painting on a rock wall, known as Mural de la Prehistoria, which depicts the history of evolution with graphic edge.

The Cays: Jutías, Levisa, Largo, Coco and Guillermo

A day trip to one of Cuba´s many Cays (Cayos) will leave you feeling refreshed. Pictured: Cayo Levisa. Picture by Allan Kortbæk

Any proper trip to Cuba requires more than one stop, however brief, at some of its breathtaking cays. Cayo Jutías is the first stop after Viñales and is revered as one of Cuba’s most beautiful beaches, replete with white sand and crystal clear waters. In fact, It is rivaled only by the spectacular beauty of Cayo Guillermo and its beach, Playa Pilar.

Cuba’s numerous cays are perfect spots for unplugging and taking a break from the world. One step closer to paradise, they are serene, nirvanic locations where one can take a dip in transparent waters and relax in veritable natural splendor. In fact, the only hassle here are the mosquitos that have also found a ticket into these otherworldly heavens.

If relaxing all day by the sea gets tedious, get your adrenaline kicks at Cayo Levisa and Cayo Coco, both of which offer diving opportunities as well as other aquatic sports. Choose from a wide range of companies specializing in equipment rentals and organized tours and get acquainted with the area’s flourishing marine wildlife.

Delve into the past at Bahía Cochinos

History lovers will find plenty of gateways to the past in Cuba. The bay area known as Bahía Cochinos (The Bay of Pigs) is one-such gateway, rich in natural beauty as it is in history. The beaches of Girón and Larga are among the least visited in Cuba and as such, carry themselves with an aura of mystique, shaded in historical events such as the famous battle of Bahía Cochinos which took place on the Girón beach in the early 1960s, at the peak of Cold War tensions.

In fact, the road to Bahía Cochinos is still lined with old posters that reference the attempt to invade the area and the Cuban revolution.

Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey

While not often visited, these two cities definitely deserve to be on your list of things to see in Cuba. Both of their old town areas are noteworthy – replete with monuments that commemorate the revolution and low buildings painted in eye-catching colors that teleport this area back in time.

Ciego de Ávila is an old and rather small town that seems frozen in time. Spend your afternoons discovering traditional restaurants, charming taverns and revolution memorabilia while music reverberates off every wall.

Camagüey on the other hand, is more modern and developed. Here, the old town has been proclaimed a World Heritage Site and is home to a plethora of restaurants – subsidized by the government – that offer delicious homemade food (such as the rice and bean dish, Moros y Cristianos).

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About Kortbæk_Travels

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Welcome to Kortbæk_Travels. My name is Allan and i´ve travelled to 31 countries.

My fiancee, Mette, and I feel that it’s only fair that we give back to the world by sharing our best tips and tricks for how to travel affordably – as individuals, as a couple and most recently, as parents to our baby boy, Tristan. We believe that everyone should be able to travel the world and indulge in it’s wonders but we also believe it is important to care for our planet – by travelling or living sustainably.

On this page you will find:

  • Travel Destinations (tips and inspirational videos & Images)
  • Photos (My portfolio of photos and artwork
  • Cultural Articles (A collection of the articles I´ve written over the years, mostly within Cultural Journalism)

Who am I? 

In my “work life” – I´m an Advertising Creative at KAYAK / momondo; working within  Content Production and Brand Activation.

I´ve been an integral part of our in-house agency on campaigns – such as The DNA Journey, The World Piece, The Passport Initiative, Dear mom and dad and others – many of which have been nominated for and won numerous awards globally, including Cannes Lions.

“Off work” – in addition to travelling – I love surfing, learning new languages (I speak 5,) writing and photography.

I´ve done freelance Copywriting, Journalism, Video Production, Photography and more for over 10 years – working with clients such as Tourism Boards, National Newspapers, Large-Scale Publications, Hotels and more. My work has also been featured in several exhibitions across the globe. 

Sustainability

We live in a world that is being challenged by the way we live and conduct ourselves. You, me and generations to come have a unique opportunity to decide our future and the impacts we have on our world. 

As such, I am passionate about creating an impact within and outside of my work commitments. As an example, I co-founded Jengo in 2015 – a Danish NGO that has since raised over $100´000 for a portfolio of projects in Tanzania, centered on renewable energy solutions and the construction of schools. You can read more about Jengo and other sustainable projects i´m involved in under the “Sustainability” tab.  

Let´s Connect! 

Drop me a line at: allanm46@gmail.com

Instagram @Kortbaek_travels 

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Check out my hotel / restaurant and cafe reviews on Tripadvisor 

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