Monthly Archives: October 2016

A perfect voyage to Antarctica

Majestic landscapes, sensational wildlife and a surreal remoteness lure intrepid dreamers to Antarctica, the pristine last frontier of our planet. A destination this extreme may incite an urge to chart the course on your own, but it’s best to call in the experts to guide you on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Because of its delicate environment, strict regulations and a lack of tourism infrastructure on the continent’s shores, most travelers visit Antarctica on expedition cruises that circumvent the Antarctic Peninsula and its surrounding islands. Prep for your voyage with the help of a polar travel tour operator – they’ll handle the planning, but suitable packing, physical conditioning and mental readiness is up to you.

 

Lean on an outfitter for the logistics

Antarctic cruises have the benefit of organized pre- and post-voyage transportation and sometimes include additional excursions around Ushuaia, Argentina (where most Antarctica-bound vessels call in to port) plus accommodations, on-board meals and expedition gear included in the price. Pick a reputable, International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators-affiliated (iaato.org) outfitter to ensure a safe and environmentally responsible experience.

 

The more you know, before you go

Reading about Antarctica’s history, geography and wildlife will not only provide pre-trip inspiration, but will help you appreciate the journey as you reflect on the tales of those first explorers who charted the very same waters you’ll be sailing. Antarctica showcases wildlife on a magnificent scale, so learning about the life-cycle and food chain of the continent’s species will provide insight on the mesmerizing and sometimes curious behavior you’ll bear witness to.

The new Athens scenary

Despite the headline-grabbing economic crisis, Athens is flourishing as a fertile stomping ground for the creatives. The long-awaited opening of major cultural venues, the rise of world-class street art and a flux of independent galleries are proof that creativity can make a difference even in the toughest of times. In some ways parallel with its ancient past as the birthplace of Western culture, Athens is defining a new era for itself as a mecca for contemporary arts.

Inspiration is ripe in this city of contrasts: social tensions remain high, demonstrations are dramatic, rich Mediterranean culture thrives and stunning landscapes are within easy reach. What makes 2017 even more inspiring for Athens’ growing art community is the arrival of the Documenta (documenta14.de) exhibition to the Greek capital. One of the world’s leading contemporary art events will be held outside Kassel, Germany, for the first time in its history.

 

Independent galleries

Kolonaki, the city’s upmarket neighbourhood known for boutiques and well-to-do flats, is also where independent galleries are finding an audience. In the Depot Gallery’s (depotgallery.gr) whitewashed space, international and Greek artists straddle the line between art and design. At the Pulse (facebook.com/thepulsekolonaki), photography and contemporary art merge so well that a hotel and restaurant are in the works, designed with professional visual artists and art lovers in mind. The Elika Gallery (elikagallery.com) and the Medusa Art Gallery (medusaartgallery.com) also offer an innovative perspective from Greece’s most talented contemporary artists, including painting, sculpture, installations and photography.

Across the city centre, Metaxourgio is still in a state of limbo – neither commercial nor residential, but it’s both edgy and trendy. The up-and-coming neighborhood is awaiting its turn for full revitalisation; until then, refurbished art spaces breathe new life into once crumbling 19th- and 20th- century homes. Both international and Greek artists exhibit in the Breeder’s (thebreedersystem.com) contemporary space; the gallery’s hip pop-up restaurant, the Breeder Feeder, takes up the 2nd floor. At the Rebecca Camhi Gallery (rebeccacamhi.com), painting, sculpture, photography, film, video, drawings and engravings take turns in the spotlight. You can also admire avant-garde Greek and international art in neighbouring Psyrri district’s AD Gallery (adgallery.gr).

 

The street art scene

The end result of pent-up local creativity can be seen freely and easily around Athens, right on its skin – the public walls. Urban artists have stories to tell and messages to send, and they are louder than ever in Athens’ historic core: Monastiraki, Thiseio, Gazi, Psyrri and Exarhia. Yes, the street tag scribble is dizzying, but beyond that a new generation of artists and designers are mapping out their thoughts in the form of colourful, intricate and eye-catching murals. Some are comical, satirical or entrenched in social and political events, and they often make heads turn; so much so that Athens is being touted ‘the new Berlin’ these days. For an informed insight into the city’s vibrant street art, join one of the themed tours offered by Alternative Athens.

Moroccos floral festival

Dawn is tinting the Atlas Mountains rust-red as the rose-pickers of Hdida set out for work. Dressed in flip-flops and jellabas, they follow a dusty path down to the fields, and before too long are lost in foliage.

Fruit trees teeter over the trail, laden with figs, dates and oranges. Barley and alfalfa sprout from the orange earth, watered by channels beside the path. Pomegranates dangle from overhanging branches. But the women aren’t here to pick fruit; they’re here to harvest something more fragrant.

‘Can you smell them?’ asks Ait Khouya Aicha, as she pads into a meadow fringed by walnut trees, and heads for a tangle of shrubs. She pulls down a branch: it’s covered by flowers from trunk to tip, shocking pink against the deep-green leaves.

‘These are the roses of the Asif M’Goun River,’ she says, cradling a blossom in her hand. ‘They are famous around the world. But to understand why, you must smell them.’ Pulling on thick gloves, she snips off the flower and breathes in the scent. The perfume is heady and sweet, with notes of honey and treacle.

‘The fragrance is best in the morning, but we must work quickly,’ she says, dropping the flower into a robe gathered around her waist known as a tachtate. ‘The sun will burn the petals, and then the perfume will be ruined.’

Within half an hour, Aicha and her companions have stripped the bushes of blossoms and four sacks have been filled to the brim. They head back to the village, sharing round a bag of dates and nuts for breakfast. Twenty minutes later, they arrive at a backstreet garage that doubles as the village’s rose co-operative, where owner Ahmid Mansouri inspects the blossoms, weighs them on battered scales, and adds them to a heap covering the concrete floor.

‘These are good roses,’ he says, puffing on a crooked roll-up. ‘But last week we were harvesting twice as many. Next week they will be gone. And that means one thing. It is time for the Festival of the Roses to begin.’

Secret valleys of the Sichuan Himalaya

A few hundred kilometres west of Chengdu, deep in the Sichuan wilderness of western China, four magnificent mountains stand side-by-side, dominating the provincial skyline with their soaring peaks. Named after this towering quadruplet, Four Sisters Mountain National Park is composed of three major valleys that cut into the eastern escarpment of the Trans-Himalaya range.

The national park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2006 as a giant panda sanctuary, and the area is stacked with traditional Tibetan history and culture, yet it sees just a small fraction of the visitors that Sichuan’s more popular Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong national parks do.

Awesome – you finally made it to your bucket list destination! But the internet has demands: ‘Pics or it didn’t happen’. On top of that, sharing video of your trip as it happens is more popular than ever, thanks to real-time services like Snapchat Live Story and spread to Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status. If you’ve got no service when you’re ready to broadcast, you’re out of luck.

Don’t worry though. These top picks of picturesque architectural wonders have outdoor wi-fi for immediate sharing ­– the Eiffel Towerand Cathédrale Notre Dame in Paris; the Taj Mahal in India; the Sydney Opera House in Australia; and Petra, the city carved out of stone in Jordan.