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Category Archives: Travel

New York is an Awesome Place to Visit

Last year when I asked my wife and children where they would like to vacation, I thought they would tell me on a cruise or even New Zealand. When they all three said New York, I admit that I was surprised. They had obviously talked about it, and they shared their reasons with me. I admit that they made it sound like a trip of a lifetime, so I went to the Cuvee website to see what kind of deals I could find on a luxury Manhattan condo.

I already knew that we were not going to stay in a hotel. I knew that we could get a hotel suite that had separate bedrooms and a common area, but I wanted something a bit more homey for us.

Getting To The Point – Sales

Reasons You Should Buy A Travelling Bag Online. Since there are many different kinds of bags; you are sure to find one that you will buy. That means that you will be concerned about losing your belongings. There are different kinds of luggage bags that you can choose from. On the other hand, a long journey will require you to carry many items and hence a bigger bag. On the contrary, if your travel bag is light then you will not pay a lot of money, and that means that your journey will be inexpensive. Additionally, you should determine the most suitable color for your bag. If you purchase your bag from an online store, you can look at the images of the product on the store’s website. That means that there are very options that you might even have a hard time finding the right one. When you buy your traveling bag from an online store, you will have a good experience. That is because it is very convenient compared to the traditional form of shopping. The physical stores are only accessible at particular periods of the day, and there are chances that you will be at work during that time. In the case of online shopping, you can make your orders at anytime. In the case of traditional shopping, you have to go to the store to buy your travel bag. However, if you buy your travel bag from a physical store, then you might take an entire day to find a suitable one that fulfils all your requirements. Also, if you are at home and have small children, you will not have to worry about taking your children to the stores since you will do your shopping from the comfort of your house.
Smart Ideas: Products Revisited
That demonstrates that you have to find a good store that sells the travel bag at an affordable price. On the other hand, when shopping for a travelling bag from a physical store, you will be forced to buy the bag with the price that the store representatives tell you. Due to the fact that there are numerous online shops, it means that all of them are trying to attract customers to their shops to buy their products.
Getting To The Point – Sales
You should only buy your products from a shop that you know has a good reputation so that you can be sure of high-quality items. Ensure that you choose the company that has many positive reviews because that means that the former customers were happy with the services that they received. That is because you will see the items and then be tempted to buy them since you are already at the shop. That demonstrates that internet buying is the best. In the event that you are interested in a type of a travelling bag that is not manufactured within your local nation, it will be easy to buy it from an international nation. Some companies ask their customers to pay for the shipping costs of the bags while others cater for the costs.

Way to Pack For Your Trip

Where are you going? The wilderness

The elements will be both a marvel and a maverick force. Often finding yourself miles from shelter and civilisation, you’ll need to carry protective kit. Advances in the design of walking shoes mean clunky hiking boots might not be essential, but a quick-drying, wind- and rain-proof shell or jacket will be. Large plastic bin liners, ziplock bags in different sizes and/or waterproof bag liners will help keep kit dry.

Packing essentials

Temperatures will vary wildly with weather, season and altitude, so embrace the layering system.

  • Base layer: a high-wicking, close-fitting top and possibly bottoms. Merino wool is warmest and needs less frequent washing.
  • Mid-layer: fleece or similar on top; quick-drying walking trousers on the bottom.
  • Outer layer: a breathable waterproof/windproof jacket and trousers.
  • Extra-warm layer: a down jacket for use at night can be spirit-lifting, and adds comfort on chilly damp days.

Where are you going? The cool culture city

While perhaps not so culturally unfamiliar, this destination still demands careful suitcase strategy. Many of the essentials will be digital. Want to hotfoot it across town to bag that gold-dust restaurant reservation/show ticket/cheap hotel room? Then download interactive offline maps or apps that access wi-fi without resorting to roaming charges. And while the scene may be hot, the weather might not. Layers are key for looks that balance comfort and style.

Packing essentials

  • Comfortable shoes: your kicks should be stylish but should also sit happily on your feet while pounding miles of pavement.
  • Sunglasses: it might not always be sunny, but life in the city, from the glare of the morning-after to that dazzling check-in moment at the hotel, demands sleek shades.
  • Cashmere jumper: this softie packs down to almost nothing and is the perfect defence against ferocious summer air-con in hotels and on the plane.

Where are you going? Rainforest expeditions

Packing for protection in the tropics is paramount. You’re most likely modes of transport to explore this part of the world will be exposed: canoes, kayaks, jeeps and your own two feet. It’s hot, but you’ll need to cover up.

You may be here to see the big mammals – howler monkeys, jaguars, orangutans or even tigers – but the most prevalent beasties are the smaller, biting kind. The other stinger is humidity, which will play havoc with everything from skin to suitcases if you’re unprepared.

Packing essentials

  • Shoulder the burden: a sturdy backpack is best for this terrain.
  • Quick-dry: the tropics can cool down at night so you’ll need layers, but ensure they’re made of quick-drying material (not cotton) or you’ll be clammy and chilly.
  • Itchy and scratchy: insect repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) and an anti-itch ointment are must-haves.

Where are you going? The Antarctic

You’re going outside… you may be some time. But, in fact, as most Antarctic trips are cruises, much of your southern exposure is likely to occur in the comfort of a very well-equipped ship, with short excursions by motor boat and on foot. As such, Antarctic forays don’t require huge amounts of specialist gear. It’s worth investing in a decent pair of insulated waterproof boots, though.

Packing essentials

  • Parka life: most Antarctic ships provide a take-home parka jacket for each passenger, so leave that hulking great down-filled puffer jacket at home.
  • Chill out: Antarctic cruising is generally casual, so you don’t need that ball gown. Each operator has different dress codes and supplied kit, however, so read up before you travel.
  • Best bins: pack the highest-spec pair of binoculars you can afford, and a camera with a good zoom, unless you want to see nothing but the occasional finned blob.

Where are you going? High-desert trekking

From the Great Basin and the Mojave deserts of the USA to the Sahara-backed Moroccan Atlas Mountains, take a high-altitude desert trek and it soon becomes clear that not all deserts are made of sand. Packing for active trips here needs to take temperature extremes into account, along with footwear and kit that can tackle rough, rocky, exposed terrain. Take a leathery leaf out of a cowboy’s book and stay covered up. The more skin is exposed to the elements, the more evaporation (and dehydration) occurs.

Packing essentials

  • Be bio: go for biodegradable soaps and lotions where possible and, if you want to up your chances of spotting wildlife, ditch scented deodorants and perfumes.
  • Go solar: in these sun-soaked parts of the world, a solar charger will get more than enough exposure to be useful. That said, wi-fi and phone signals are likely to be scant, so while your devices may be charged, their use will be limited. Consider a GPS as a back-up, and perhaps a traditional compass, too.

Where are you going? Big-Five country

The tiny charter plane that delivers you deep into the African bush dictates all when it comes to suitcase strategy. For over-packers, the associated weight restrictions are as brutal as a lion kill – limiting you to luggage that averages as little as 10kg. And within this small soft duffle (forget wheelie cases) you need to combine kit that is functional, photogenic and, ideally, includes some outfits that have at least a little fashion flair.

Packing essentials

  • Colour me glad: up your chances of getting nose to whisker with the big game and blend in with the bush by wearing natural, earthy tones.
  • Get protective: Buy a couple of choice pieces of clothing that are UV-protective and pre-treated with bug repellent.
  • Camera kit and caboodle: powerful binoculars, a compact camera for snaps, SLR and long-range lenses, extra batteries, memory cards, charger… Photographic gear will already account for much of your luggage, but it’s worth considering an additional item: a rubber air-blower to remove grit and sand from clogged cameras and lenses.

Where are you going? Round the world (RTW)

How to fit kit for two hemispheres into one bag? Doing so is the key to packing successfully for a true RTW trip. Consider what you can ditch as much as what’s essential. If you need heavy trekking boots and a down jacket in New Zealand or South America at the start, but won’t use them again as you travel via the South Pacific/Asia, consider sending stuff home as it becomes redundant.

Packing essentials

  • Pull the cord: you can use a bungee or parachute cord to tie things to the outside of your pack, make a line to dry clothes, or strap your bag to the roof of a bus.
  • Plug it: does your room-mate snore like a howler monkey? Pack earplugs. These will also serve you well when bedding down for that long airport layover, or during that clattering long-distance train journey.
  • Travel trilogy: the lucky formula for light packers comes in threes. Namely three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear and three shirts; one to wear, one to wash, one to dry.

Outdoor Adventures Land and Sea in Indonesia

Kayaking

Begin a paddling sojourn in Indonesia by negotiating around the forest-clad banks of a holy mountain lake, before sea kayaking on smooth Balinese waters, or graduating to an exciting multi-day excursion in the more remote Raja Ampat Islands. Based in the Balinese mountain village of Kedisan, C. Bali runs morning tours exploring the volcanic caldera of Danau (Lake) Batur in inflatable canoes, while further south alongSanur’s beachy coastline, kayaks can be hired by the hour for leisurely exploration. In the far flung islands of Raja Ampat – around 2000km to the northeast – Kayak4Conservation explores a stunning archipelago of jungle-covered islands and concealed lagoons. Guided adventures include staying at local guesthouses.

Snorkelling

With more than 17,000 islands – and hundreds of thousand of different beaches – Indonesia offers some the planet’s best places for escaping into warm tropical waters equipped simply with a mask, snorkel and swim fins. On Bali’s northern coast, snorkelling trips depart from nearbyPemuteran to explore the waters of Pulau Menjangan (‘Deer Island’), while at Tulamben in eastern Bali, the WWII wreck of the Liberty, a US Navy Cargo Ship, is just 50m off the coast. Continue further east to theGili Islands off Lombok’s northern coast for excellent snorkeling straight off arcing sandy beaches – sea turtles are often seen – or swim with whale sharks at Nabire in the remote eastern province of Papua.

Diving

Warm tropical waters, a huge variety of seascapes, and the attraction of abandoned wrecks and brilliant marine life make Indonesia one of the finest diving destinations on the planet. For beginners, the tourist-friendly dive schools of Bali and Lombok’s Gili Islands provide an introduction to the underwater world – including the opportunity to see manta rays and sunfish off Bali’s Nusa Penida – while liveaboard boat charters are the best way to explore the expansive reefs and teeming shoals of Nusa Tengarra, Sulawesi’s Pulau Bunaken and Papua’s Raja Ampat Islands.

Trekking

Indonesia’s huge diversity offers many opportunities to discover different landscapes and cultures, ranging from enlightening day hikes through to multi-day jungle treks and ascents of spectacular volcanoes. Hook up with Sungai Penuh-based Wild Sumatra Adventures to explore the forests and mountain lakes of the Kerinci Seblat National Park or take on the challenge of ascending the chilly summit of Gunung Semeru, Java’s highest peak (3676m). Understanding Indonesia’s compelling mix of cultures includes easygoing day walks around Ubud’s verdant collage of rice terraces, sleepy villages and ancient temples, or exploring the fascinating local architecture and valleys of Sulawesi’s Tana Torajaregion.

Surfing

From the beginner-friendly breaks of Bali, to brand new locations being discovered every year by intrepid travellers, Indonesia is a hotspot for surfers from around the globe. The southern beaches of Bali are packed with surf schools, laidback hostels and a pumping after-dark scene, while the islands of Java, Lombok and Sumbawa combine palm-fringed beaches and simple thatched bungalows perfect for a long-stay surfing sojourn. The massive island of Sumatra anchors Indonesia’s hottest surf regions including low-key Pulau Nias and up-and-coming Krui, while legendary Mentawai Island breaks like Pitstops, Telescopes and Bank Vaults are hugely popular with more than a few Australian and Brazilian boardriders.

Bicycling

From downhill journeys through the villages and rice paddies of central Bali to more challenging mountain biking adventures, exploring Indonesia on two wheels is a great way to explore more leisurely and travel at the same speed as the easygoing locals. Biking operators based inUbud or Kintamani lead tours around winding mountain roads past temples and heritage monuments, while the northern Balinese town ofLovina is a good base for independent day trips to nearby waterfalls. Exploring the backroads of Lake Toba’s Pulau Samosir in northern Sumatra includes verdant volcanic views, while Java’s cosmopolitan university city of Yogyakarta is a pleasant 17 km bike ride from the Hindu temples of Prambanan.

White-water rafting

For a small island, Bali packs in a diverse itinerary of outdoor adventure, and rafting the Ayung River near Ubud or the even more rugged and scenic Telagawaja River in eastern Bali are popular day trips after kayaking on Lake Batur or biking downhill from the mountain town of Kintamani. The Grade II to Grade III rapids are at their rollicking best during or just after the wet season (from November to March). Across on Java, the Citarak River offers exciting Grade IV white-water thrills, and there are also challenging Grade IV rapids on the Sa’dan River in Sulawesi. Based in Tana Toraja, Indosella runs rafting trips negotiating the Sa’dan’s 20 rapids. Book a three-day trip to combine overnight stays in riverside huts.

Wildlife watching

The world’s biggest reptile, superb birdlife and other iconic animals including orangutans and the endangered Sumatra rhinoceros all feature in Indonesia’s diverse menagerie. Growing up to 3m in length and weighing up to 100kg, the legendary Komodo dragon patrols the beaches and scrubby forests of Komodo National Park, while orangutans are best seen along the riverbanks of the Tanjung Puting National Park. Elephant-watching and birding trips combine in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park – including the opportunity to see the world’s smallest rhinoceros – and the diverse fauna of remote Papua includes colourful birds of paradise and exotic marsupials including tree kangaroos.

Family Bikepacking in Ecuador

It feels suitably off-the-beaten-track, but with a range of comfortable digs along the way, cyclists can recharge before tackling Ecuador’s tremendous inclines. Cass Gilbert describes his family bikepacking experience in this extract from Epic Bike Rides of the World.

For those unfamiliar with the topography of South America, let me assure you of this: the Ecuadorian Andes are a deeply crumpled land. A slim band squeezed between the expanse of the Pacific Coast and the vast sprawl of the Amazon, it abounds with microclimates, determined more by geography and altitude than by any season. Within these folds, one steep-sided valley dovetails into the next. Cradled between two volcanic ranges, they form the Avenue of the Volcanoes, as coined by Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian naturalist who journeyed through the continent in the 19th century.

We shared our Ecuadorian adventures with three brothers I’d first met while cycling through the country three years prior. Mountain guides by trade, they lived off-grid on an organic family farm outside Quito. In the interim, we’d kept in touch – and we’d all had children. When the chance came to visit Ecuador once again, this time I travelled with my partner and our two-year-old son Sage, so we might experience this beautiful and unfeasibly rugged country together.

In any shape or form, this ride would have been epic enough. Apart from the quiet dirt tracks, small mountain settlements, and fluffy roadside llamas, its backdrop was nothing short of spectacular: high altitude Ecuadorian paramo, the alpine tundra for which the country is known, and the emerald-tinted 3.2 km-wide Quilotoa crater lake, a definitive highlight along the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

But factor in no less than eight bicycles and five accompanying trailers, charged with a payload of children ranging in age from six months to three years, and such a journey takes on an even more memorable character. Despite the afternoon downpours and the occasional synchronised meltdowns, our pint-sized expedition proved to be an incredible life experience for everyone.

Together, we blazed a trail of family mayhem through the countryside. We rubbed shoulders with poncho-clad horse riders, picnicked amongst fields of quinoa, visited an indigenous market, and lingered in village playgrounds.

We kept distances short, and tried to harmonise riding times with napping schedules. When our three toddlers needed a break, we stopped and played football, helped them climb trees, or just explored the land. And what a land it was. A fertile patchwork of vertiginous fields clung to steep-sided slopes, surrounded by both soaring peaks and crumbling canyon cliffs. Pigs scuffled around by the road, men sauntered by with machetes on their hips, and women crammed their colourful shawls with fresh corn, their felt hats peeking out through the foliage.

The route itself looped south-east through Ecuador’s Central Sierras. After stopping to applaud the natural watery wonder of Quilotoa, and scout briefly along the knife edge of its crater, it took us through the small settlement of Chugchilán, where we detoured into the dewy delights of the Illiniza Cloud Forest. There, fingers of mist curled through the trees, enveloping the land, filling every nook and cranny with silence. When the sun occasionally permeated through, it was subtle and shadowless, painting the mountains in gigantic, camouflaged swatches.

Up and down we rode, rarely a flat moment for respite. Climbs had our derailleurs clattering frantically through the gears, spinning our legs in the lowest cadences we could find, the ballast of our toddler cargo weighing us down. In immediate riposte, descents demanded we pull on brake levers like reins on a horse, lest our trailers shunt us forwards. Added to this, the terrain was often bumpy, sometimes even cobbled. Yet when I looked back to check on Sage, more often than not he was sound asleep, oblivious to our efforts.

Travelling over the winter holidays, we celebrated Christmas in Isinliví, a picturesque settlement perched in one of the region’s verdant valleys. As we came to appreciate, South Americans know how to party, whatever time of the year. The main square was awash with revellers, countryside cowboys and a roving brass band that relentlessly circled its stony streets. To Sage’s delight, it even boasted an antiquated funfair, featuring a merry-go-round that spun with dizzying speed.

Isinliví was also our last staging post before we tackled the longest climb of the trip, a Herculean undertaking that involved 1000m in altitude gain, on an unpaved road at that. Inevitably, this final undertaking had us all off the bikes and pushing, our Lilliputian team of toddlers enthusiastically lending a helping hand too.

When the summit finally came, it was rewarded with a feast of local produce, cheese and deliciously ripe avocados that had filled our panniers. Then, with a last gaze out towards the highland paramo, we dived into the whirligig descent that lay ahead, the flags of our trailers snapping in the wind.

Despite the diminutive daily distances, I won’t lay claim that family bikepacking is easy; without doubt, it poses its own set of mental and logistical challenges, quite apart from any physical toils. But I couldn’t more highly recommend trying one out, wherever it may be in the world, for however many days you may have. Gather the troops and brew up a plan. Choose a route that everyone will enjoy. Take the time to luxuriate in being off the bike as much as you are on it. I can guarantee that such undiluted family time will warm the heart and feed the soul. For everyone involved.

Trips of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca

Though it is well known to the mountaineering set, the Cordillera Blanca tends to fly under the radar of most travelers who favor  iconic cities and sites such as Cuzco and Machu Picchu. While these places are remarkable in their own right, the Cordillera is a rugged, mountainous dreamscape that keeps you gazing around in wonder.

While dedicated hikers might prefer to complete longer routes such as the Santa Cruz trek, several convenient but spectacular day trips are also possible – we’ve highlighted some of our favorites here.

Icefalls at Huandoy

Walk through the golden fields near the Keushu ruins, past the neighboring turquoise lake, up a narrow trail through some scrubby trees and you’ll find the Rajururi valley, a yawning hole cleaved into the side of the Cordillera. This narrow stretch of land is sandwiched between towering granite faces and leads directly to the sleeping glacier at the base of Huandoy, the same piece of ice that split the valley sprawling before it.

Thanks to its shorter length and lower altitude, this route serves as a good introduction to hiking in the Cordilleras – it always helps to spend a little time getting your mountain legs. The trail ascends through patches of arid vegetation and decently large boulders until it gives way to a barren basin of ice and small glacial pool at the top. Look at the surrounding ‘rocks’ closely to discover hints of blue glacier peeking through the dust.

The valley and its glacier also serve a practical purpose for the communities below: not only does melting ice provide an important water source, but the glacier sustains entrepreneurship: locals from the surrounding villages have long been making the trip up to Huandoy to harvest the ice, most commonly for their snow cone stands (really!).

If you feel like treating yourself, stay the night at the lovely Llanganuco Mountain Lodge (llanganucolodge.com) – the entrance to the Rajururi valley is literally located in its backyard, and the lodge itself is a comfortable place to unplug and enjoy the mountain air.

Chavín de Huántar

Peru’s cultural history stretches back thousands of years, and remnants of these ancient empires still dot the mountain ranges today, shielded from the elements by the Cordillera. The most intriguing of these isChavín de Huántar, an archaeological site dating back nearly 4,000 years to when the Chavín people controlled the northern Andean highlands of Peru. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the oldest known pre-Columbian (and pre-Incan, for that matter) sites in existence.

The complex consists of temples, plazas and underground corridors where priests carried out their many religious ceremonies, serving as a holy site and central meeting place for the local community. Interesting fact: Chavín priests underwent a rather intense initiation process at this very location. Candidates ingested mescaline derived from the native San Pedro cactus and headed down into the network of tunnels beneath the temple, where they came face to face with the carving representing their supreme deity, today known as the Lanzón de Chavín. Visitors can descend into the tunnels to get a sense of the initiation process and meet the Lanzón themselves.

The site is roughly a two hour drive from Huaraz, a route that offers jaw-dropping views of the lunar-like landscape stretching between the Cordillera Blanca and its more subdued sibling, the Cordillera Negra. But be sure to take your Dramamine – about halfway through, the paved road gives way to a very bumpy gravel road full of switchbacks. Pro tip: on the way to the site, you’ll pass the glimmering Lago Querococha; hop out of your car to snag a coca tea at the roadside stand and take in the view.

Laguna 69

Think of the bluest blue you’ve ever seen, and then multiply it ten times over. That’s the color of Laguna 69, a cerulean pool nestled beneath the glacial peaks of Chacraraju at an impressive altitude of 4600 meters. Perhaps one of the Cordillera’s most breathtaking landmarks, Laguna 69 practically glows in the sunlight, its waters dancing beneath the delicate waterfall fed by the melting snow above. While it’s likely that you won’t be the only person on the shores, hikers are reverent, speaking in low tones as they take in the otherworldly vista (though you might hear the occasional squeals of those brave enough to take a dip).

It should be noted that the hike to the lake is not exactly easy; part ofParque Nacional Huascarán, the trail is well worn, but a good part of it requires steep ascent and the altitude takes its toll. Hikers should be well acclimatized before making the trek. That said, the trail leading to Laguna 69 shows off some seriously postcard-worthy scenery, passing through the Cebollapampa, a pastoral valley lined with dramatic granite peaks and book-ended by the frosty mountain giants Huascarán and Yanaphaqcha. The air fills with the soft rush of the waterfall at the end of the valley, while a babbling creek winds its way among the tall grasses and grazing mountain cows – the climb is punctuated with various plateaus and look-out spots, so take advantage of those water breaks to survey your surroundings. You’ll feel like you should pinch yourself to make sure it’s real.

Make it happen

The buzzing mountain town of Huaraz serves as a convenient base for those looking to access the Cordillera Blanca; while it is a solid seven hours away from Lima, visitors have multiple travel options. Those wanting to save time can book a flight to the small airport right outside of Huaraz, but be warned that the flights are not very frequent, usually only once per day. Traveling by bus takes longer but offers more flexibility – those looking to maximize daylight hours should consider taking an overnight bus. Companies like Oltursa (oltursa.pe) make this easy, offering reclining seats, wi-fi, and even on-board meals for round-trip prices as low as S29 (US$9) for a basic seat and S75 (US$22) for a VIP spot.

Once in Huaraz, you can either take a taxi to where you want to go (a surprisingly affordable option), or hire a tour guide and driver. Car rentals can be risky, especially when driving on the unpaved, winding roads throughout the range.

The dry season in the Cordillera, roughly May through September, is the best time for trekking.

Things To Do In Amsterdam

Explore the Western Islands

The Jordaan may be the prize-winner for the most picturesque neighbourhood in Amsterdam, but the artistic and the creative soul of the city is concealed in the charming Western Islands. This small archipelago bathes in amazing quietness, only nudged from its slumber by bobbing houseboats and bikes rattling across the wooden bridges. Among the former grain, herring and tobacco warehouses, intrepid travellers will now find artists’ studios creating everything from film and music to painting and designer furniture.

Brunch on Kadijksplein

Forget the neon glare and scramble for seats on Leidseplein, and swerve the statues and sunbathers of Rembrandtplein; tiptoe instead to Kadijksplein, a delightfully quiet square that is also home to one of Amsterdam’s best brunches at Bakers & Roasters. This New Zealand-style cafe serves mouth-watering Navajo eggs, healthy salad bowls and decent coffee. Try a brekkie (a decadent mix of eggs, crispy bacon, fat sausages and creamy mushrooms) and wash it all down with a Bloody Mary. Waddle off your waist-expanding brunch at Entrepotdok, a dockside line of former Dutch East India Company warehouses, just around the corner.

Go for drinks at the hip bars on Javastraat

Forget struggling to get served in the city centre, informed barflies are buzzing along Javastraat. The heart of up-and-coming Indische Buurt neighbourhood, Javastraat chimes with the clink of glasses at trendy bars. With low-hanging lights, overgrown ferns and bamboo birdcages (but no actual birds, thankfully), those in search of a soothing G&T should try the Javanese colonial ambiance at the Walter Woodbury Bar (walterwoodburybar.nl). Bar James (Javastraat 49) meanwhile, pairs vegetarian dishes with whiskies, cocktails, wines, and local beers.

Relax on the beach at Amsterdam Roest

Forget heading to the coast, Amsterdam Roest in the Eastern Islands offers the complete weekend package without the need of a train ticket. Part urban beach, part art space and a whole lot of laid-back bar action, this urban escape revels in its graffiti-strewn industrial heritage as live bands and DJs head up an on-going roster of creative excellence, which swings joyfully between film, theatre and get-me-on-the-guest-list festivals. Take it all in with a glass of punch.

Hang out with the locals at Weesperzijde

With unrivalled views over the Amstel, Weesperzijde is where the locals come to picnic right by the water’s edge. Join them for a beer atDe Ysbreeker, a historic café-restaurant from 1702, or take in the scene at Girassol (girassol.nl), where you could almost be in Lisbon: the cooling blue-and-white Azulejo tiles, the cosy cotton-covered tables, the soft Fado music drifting from the speakers. The food is authentic Portuguese too: fresh octopus carpaccio and thick-filled cod croquettes, all seasoned with a Dutch sunset on a waterside terrace.

Go shopping on Czaar Peterstraat

Framing the fringe of the city centre, Czaar Peterstraat is peppered with independent boutiques, innovative brand outlets and rails and rails of vintage clothes. Trendsetters should browse the racks at the CP113 concept store (cp113.com), where stylish retro wear and good coffee are on the menu. Peanut nuts, meanwhile, should make a trail for De Pindakaaswinkel (depindakaaswinkel.nl), the first (and possibly only) peanut butter shop in the Netherlands. Its flavours spread from honey and walnut to sea salt caramel. Souvenir shopping? NJAG (njag.nl), which stands for Not Just a Gift, has more necklaces, soaps, ceramics and toys than you could ever fit in a suitcase.

Explore De Baarsjes neighbourhood

Although most travellers only make it as far west as Oud-West, keep heading away from the city centre and you’ll hit upon the vibrant and contemporary neighbourhood of De Baarsjes. Brimming with the licks of the Amsterdam School’s architectural style (think: brick façades, wavy lines and expressionist details), this former working class area teaches the intrepid about the good things in life. Caffeine aficionados should stop for a home-roasted brew at White Label Coffee (whitelabelcoffee.nl), where light pours through the windows; else T’s (tsteas.com) huge selection of loose leaf teas will merrily convert any coffee fiend.

Take a walk on the Wibautstraat

If you think Amsterdam is all about narrow streets, romantic canals and arching bridges, chances are you haven’t yet set foot on Wibautstraat. With its edgy, high-rise concrete buildings, plus wide roads and pavements, it could easily be mistaken for East Berlin. Step inside the unconventional Volkshotel, opened on the former premises of a newspaper HQ, and head up to its Canvas restaurant for a captivating view of the city. Then indulge in some Mediterranean-inspired tapas at The Pool (thepoolrestaurant.com) where the cocktails are as glam as the décor.

Relax by the water at Muziek Gebouw

Feeling overwhelmed by the crowds in Dam Square? Clear your head along the banks of the IJ river next to the state-of-the-art concert hallMuziek Gebouw aan ‘t IJ. On the terrace at Zouthaven, with a glass of prosecco in your hand, watch the boats pass by as the sun sets over Centraal Station. If you’re staying for the seafood dishes, try the Zeeland oysters. Desserts are delectable, especially the lime-honey mousse and pineapple tarte tatin.

Taste delicious street food at De Pure Markt

The street food scene is still emerging in Amsterdam, with food festivals and Sunday markets inviting locals to sample cuisines from around the world. Although stately Westerpark is a popular destination for food fairs, a hip alternative is De Pure Markt at the lesser known Frankendael Park. From Dutch Gouda cheese and Surinamese roti, to Indian curries and Spanish paellas, you’re spoiled for choice for affordable artisan food and alongside local arts and crafts stalls.

Hiking across Macedonia Mountainous

For explorers and adventure travellers who don’t know this undiscovered expanse of Macedonia, a country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, an excursion to this dovetailing string of summits and massifs (which include the Šar, Bistra and Jablanica Mountains) means some of the best, and most unheralded, hiking on the continent. But even for the horseback members of the group assembled – all of whom live in the Balkans and have spent a significant amount of time scaling the region’s topography – this was a treat.

Over the course of eight days, we would hike (and gallop) stages that began in northwestern Macedonia, straddle the Kosovo border, and then steer south along the Albanian frontier. Our journey traversed a national park, and included visits to centuries-old Orthodox churches and a monastery built by St Clement more than 1000 years ago. We stayed in huts wedged into hillsides, and woke with frosty morning dew clinging to our tents. We had stove-cooked-coffee conversations with locals about a myriad of subjects from politics to sheep shearing, and watched as those same locals dragged thick, work-tested fingers across smudged maps and explained how the mountains here once defined the edges of Yugoslavia. The journey ended on the shores of the ancient, Unesco-protected, tectonic Lake Ohrid, 300m deep and stretching over 34 km.

At this moment, however, we were still clip-clopping behind our guide Vasko Velickovski, the founder of Sherpa (horseriding.com.mk), a Galičnik-based outfit specialising in horseback tours. We stopped at the summit atop steeds growing impatient under our already sore backsides. It was 5:30am. A clear sky was widening as a new sun cracked the horizon and threw beams across an expanse gilded with morning dew.

To the north I could begin to trace the itinerary from the past several days. The top half of our path had been dominated by a ridgeline wiggling along the Šar mountain range, which has more than 30 glacial lakes, some 200 endemic plant varieties, as well as brown bears, lynx and chamois. The trek – also a leg of the Via Dinarica mega-trail that runs through the Balkans from Slovenia to Macedonia – provided a slalom course to weave between the country’s most inspiring peaks.

Aleksandar Donev, a local who organised our trip, trotted up and stopped his horse beside me as I stared across the maze of rippling mountaintops and tried to make sense of where we had been. ‘The beauty of this trail and this country is that you can pack an incredible range of activities, culture and food into a pretty compact area,’ said Mr Donev, whose multi-tasking, Skopje-based company Mustseedonia (facebook.com/Mustseedonia) designs tailor-made trips and promotes responsible tourism across a country about the size of Vermont. ‘This makes Macedonia a perfect place to visit because you get both a pristine landscape and a chance to learn about history with a trek back in time to Europe’s old-world roots. I am glad we’re getting to see it now – because we will have to fight to keep it this way.’

In the distance I could follow that pristine landscape up to the head of our trail and the Šar Mountain: the pyramid-shaped, 2498m Mt Ljuboten. There, we overnighted at Villa Ljuboten (vilaljuboten.com), a lodge that provided a perfect starting base and where we devoured a dinner of sausages, steaks, plump tomatoes and grilled eggplants piled high on earthenware bowls and platters. We drank tumblers of homemade rakija (local schnapps) and planned our eventual hike south – a trek would take us past the 2748m Titov Vrv, the tallest point along the Šar massif. We then left the range and scrambled to the top of the mammoth 2764m Mt Korab, the country’s highest spot, which looms like a beacon over both Macedonia and Albania. After, the group was engulfed by more than 730 sq km of dense, protected pine forests covering Mavrovo National Park and cradling its famously trout-filled lake.

‘One of the reasons I love hiking in this area is because you stay in the clouds and on some of the highest summits in the Balkans,’ said mountaineer and guide Uta Ibrahimi, the owner of the Kosovo-based outfitter Butterfly Outdoor Adventure (butterflyoutdoor.com), as we reached Korab’s apex. ‘You just ride the peaks that run between three countries – at a sustained 2500m – and stay there… looking out on the beautiful world below for days and days and days.’

As we cantered back into Sherpa’s Galičnik ranch, the sun had shifted to the other side of the horizon. We were worn out and dusty, but immediately buoyed by dinner. The smell of green, red and yellow piquant peppers, cooking naked on an iron stove, wafted above the corral. Wedges of young, white cheese sat beside pans of a savoury pastry called burek, and waited on a rough-sawn table. We sat and clinked glasses of strong, amber-coloured rakija.

‘There’s a wealth in the simplicity here that is magnificent,’ said Thierry Joubert, the director of Green Visions (greenvisions.ba), a Bosnian-based adventure tourism company. ‘You have just what is needed, and that is more than enough. Perhaps the spirit and the feeling is a product of the particular remoteness of these mountains. Perhaps it is the nature of the people. All I know is, when you are hiking in Macedonia you become part of it and you are truly content.’

Travel Tips For First-timers In Italy

But beyond the headline sights, what’s a trip to Italy really like? What’s the best way of getting around? What’s the local etiquette? What should I wear? Here are some practical tips to help you on your way and ensure that your first time is a truly magical experience.

Eat like a local

Whether you’re tucking into hearty farmhouse fare in a Tuscanagriturismo or a wood-fired pizza in a Naples pizzeria, dining out is one of Italy’s great joys.

And there’s no shortage of eateries, with everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to neighbourhood trattorias, wine bars, cafes and pizzerias. Italians generally eat late, so if you want to fit in, stop for lunch at around 1.30pm and dinner at 8.30 to 9pm – the further south you go, the later they eat.

A full Italian meal consists of an antipasto, a primo (usually pasta or risotto), secondo (main course, typically fish or meat), contorno (side dish), and dolce (dessert). You’re not expected to eat all that, so feel free to mix ‘n’ match when ordering. And when you’ve finished, ask for the bill – it won’t be delivered automatically.

Some other pointers: eat spaghetti with a fork, not a spoon. Never eat bread with pasta, though it’s OK to wipe up any leftover sauce with it. Drink wine with pasta and beer with pizzas. It’s fine to eat pizza with your hands.

Dress the part

Appearances matter in fashion-conscious Italy. That said, you’ll have to dress comfortably for sightseeing because you’ll be walking a lot. Practical shoes are a must as cobblestoned streets play havoc with heels and ankles. For the evening, smart casual is the way to go.

At big religious sites, dress codes are strictly enforced. If you want to get into St Peter’s Basilica or St Marks in Venice, play it safe and cover your knees and shoulders.

Museums (and how to skip the line)

Italy’s historic cities are littered with awe-inspiring art and famous buildings, and often sightseeing is just a case of walking the streets. But for top sights like the Colosseum and Vatican Museums in Rome orFlorence’s Galleria degli Uffizi and Gallerie dell’Accademia, entrance queues are the norm.

There are no fool-proof ways of skipping the line – even with a ticket there are still security checks. But you’ll cut waiting time by booking tickets online. Alternatively, try to arrive first thing in the morning or late afternoon when the queues have died down. In the case of theVatican Museums, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the quietest days.

Museum opening times vary, but many are closed on Mondays. Also, state museums are free on the first Sunday of each month.

Bread and tipping

Italians are not big tippers. Service is generally added to restaurant bills, but if it’s not, a euro or two is fine in trattorias and pizzerias, up to 10% in smart restaurants. Also, expect to pay for pane e coperto (a bread and cover charge) – this is standard and is added even if you don’t ask for or eat the bread.

Tipping in bars isn’t necessary but many people leave small change when ordering a coffee.

Coffee etiquette

Stopping at a cafe for a quick coffee is one of the great rituals of Italian life. To do it like a local, first pay at the cash register, then, armed with your receipt, give the barista your order. When it arrives, drink standing at the bar – sitting at a table is fine but takes longer and costs more.

The classic Italian caffè is an espresso – though, strangely, the term espresso is hardly ever used in Italy. Cappuccinos are popular for breakfast and are often paired with a fresh cornetto (an Italian croissant). They are never drunk later than mid-morning.

When eating in restaurants, un caffè after dessert is OK, but not with your main meal please.

Shopping like a pro

Traditionally, Italian shops have an afternoon break, typically closing between 1pm and 4pm. They’ll then re-open until around 8pm. However, this is changing and in big cities, many shops now stay open throughout the day. Some even open on Sunday mornings.

You’ll find the usual cast of chain stores and designer boutiques in Italy, but more interesting are its many small-label fashion boutiques and artisanal craft shops. A good case in point is Giulio Giannini e Figlio in Florence, where they’ve been making marbled paper since the 19th century.

To stock up on picnic provisions, or just to enjoy some local colour, markets such as Campo de’ Fiori in Rome or Venice’s Mercato di Rialtoare an entertaining alternative to supermarkets. Similarly, historic delis like La Baita in Bologna and Milan’s Peck are full of tantalising gourmet goodies.

To drive or not to drive?

It’s pointless hiring a car for city travel – traffic is hellish and ZTLs (limited traffic zones) are in force – but if you want to head into the countryside, it’s well worth considering.

Italians tend to drive aggressively but once you’ve got used to the tailgaters and tooting, driving here is not as nerve-wracking as it’s often made out to be. The roads are fine and outside the main urban centres the scenery is often spectacular.

Often harder than driving is parking. Street parking is denoted by white (free) or blue lines. The latter require a ticket from a coin-operated meter or tabaccaio.

Navigating public transport

Most Italian cities can be explored on foot, but you’ll inevitably need to use public transport at some point. Tickets, which must be bought from a tabaccaio or street kiosk and validated once on board, are generally valid for a set time period. In Rome, for example, a single €1.50 ticket is valid for 100 minutes. During that time you can use as many trams and buses as you like and take one metro journey.

If you’re staying in a city for a number of days, a travel pass will probably save you money. In Venice, a single journey on a vaporetto(water bus) costs an eye-watering €7.50, but various passes are available, starting at €20 for 24 hours.

Cash vs credit?

While credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants, shops and autostrada tollbooths, Italy hasn’t entirely gone plastic. You can’t always rely on cards in museum ticket offices, and some smaller trattorias, shops and pizzerias only take cash.

ATMs (known in Italian as bancomat) are everywhere and most will accept cards tied to the Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro systems.

Brush up your italiano

You’ll have no trouble getting by with English, but a few Italian words and expressions will help you on your way. This is particularly true in restaurants where menus don’t always have translations and some places rely on waiters to explain things.

Adventures in Perak

Shaped like a crescent moon, Perak sweeps across the northwestern corner of Peninsular Malaysia. Limestone cliffs are the state’s most unmistakable landmarks, but Perak is a tapestry of mangrove swamps, jungles and beaches, too – terrain so varied that exhilaration (and exhaustion) are practically guaranteed. Here are four adventures to get your pulse racing

Get off the grid in Royal Belum State Park

The only sound is a rhythmic swish, swish, as our boat glides across Lake Temenggor. We’re heading deep into Royal Belum State Park (royalbelum.my), a 117,500-hectare wilderness made even more impassable by its water levels. This jungly swathe of northern Perak, right against the Malaysia-Thailand border, was flooded in 1972 when Temenggor Dam was built. And in this remote nature park, the chances of getting phone signal are roughly the same as spotting the elusive sun bear.

The boat thumps noisily against the wooden gangplank at Belum Eco Resort (belumecoresort.com.my), my island home for the next few nights. While resort staff busy themselves securing the boat, my fellow travellers are already wriggling out of their T-shirts and dive-bombing into the lake.  As we bob around in the water, the jungle chorus of whistling blue-rumped parrots and chattering crickets surrounds us.

At daybreak, we gather in walking boots and liberal coatings of mosquito repellent. Boat transportation and a hiking guide are essential in this dense, swampy wilderness. Ours is leading us into the 130-million-year-old rainforest, one of the world’s most ancient. It’s home to tapir, seldom-seen tigers, and rafflesia, one of the largest flowers on the planet. Along slippery trails we spot tiny orchids that cower amid tree roots, while grasshoppers whir past our heads like toy helicopters. Hornbills swoop between branches, their orange beaks easy to spot in the gloom.

Make it happen: Royal Belum is a 170km drive north of Ipoh, Perak’s main city (or 150km east of Penang). Daily buses from Ipoh reach gateway town Gerik from where you can get a taxi towards the park. Stays at Belum Eco Resort include boat transfer from Pulau Banting jetty, a 42km drive east of Gerik.

Board a Jeep safari to Kinta Nature Park

‘No other place in the world can claim to have 10 species of hornbills in one location,’ declares Jek Yap with pride. For Jek, a fanatical local birdwatcher, Perak’s wildlife is hard to beat. And in contrast to remote Royal Belum, some reserves lie in easy reach of Perak’s cities, likeKinta Nature Park.

Around 20km south of state capital Ipoh, this former tin-mining land is a tangle of low-hanging trees and teeming fish ponds. The park is home to around 130 species of bird, and it’s the region’s largest gathering place for herons and egrets.

‘Birds usually show up at dusk and dawn,’ counsels Jek. Despite Jek’s advice, dawn has long broken by the time I trundle into the park by 4WD. But hitting the ‘snooze’ button on my alarm hasn’t caused me to miss out: wildlife is abundant here, and much of it is barely troubled by the sounds of the car engine.

I can see grey herons alighting on fence posts, and plump little herons looking improbably weightless as they perch on fine tree branches. Huge monitor lizards dawdle on pathways. I’m poised to photograph a blue-tailed bee eater, but its flash of jade feathers is faster than my camera’s click. Still, it’s a good excuse to lay down my camera and admire the flourishing reserve, distraction-free.

Make it happen: book knowledgeable Ipoh-based guide Mr Raja for a guided 4WD excursion into Kinta Nature Park for RM400 per head (minimum two people). It’s also possible to cycle parts of the park.

Experience Gopeng’s caves and river rapids

The ceiling of Gua Tempurung yawns above my head. As I hike deeper into the cave, one of the largest in Peninsular Malaysia, every footstep sends echoes bouncing off the walls. Long spindles of limestone reach up from the slippery ground, and stalactites drip from above. Squinting, I can make out other walkers further along the dimly lit trails. They seem microscopic in size, dwarfed by vast folds of limestone.

Hikers with flashing headlamps aren’t the only ones to venture into the 4.5km-long cave. In the 1950s, Gua Tempurung was a communist hideout, and soon after served as a Japanese-run prison. But these are mere blips on its geological timeline: the cave is estimated to be up to 400 million years old.

Exploring this dank grotto on foot allows plenty of time to take stock of Gua Tempurung’s scale: at its tallest point, it towers 72m high. There are also more claustrophobic challenges to be had, such as wading through chilly chest-height water between cave chambers.

There are waterbound adventures above ground, too. The thrashing Kampar River has turned the town of Gopeng, 7km from the cave, into a miniature watersports hub. Just east of Gopeng’s dusty colonial buildings, Nomad Adventure Earth Camp (nomadadventure.com) leads excursions along 22 river rapids. And after a humid hike through the cave, there’s no more invigorating way to cool off.

Make it happen: guided forays into Gua Tempurung range from 40 minutes to four hours long; book well ahead for spelunking. Stay in or near Gopeng for easy access to the river. Nomad Adventure Earth Camp can arrange rafting and waterfall abseiling.

Ascend to Ipoh’s sacred grottoes

Spelunkers weren’t the first to enjoy the tranquility of Perak’s caves. In the late 19th and early 20th century, hermit monks sought refuge in Perak’s cliffs, meditating atop limestone crags and living in caves. From these spartan beginnings, a few ballooned into large temple complexes.

A notable trio are in easy reach of Ipoh. Gua Kok Look Tong, with ornamental gardens and Buddha statues in its central cave, is the most peaceful, while Sam Poh Tong is much visited for its lucky tortoise pond. But the most interesting ramble is up to Perak Tong, a frescoed cave temple 6km north of Ipoh.

The highest point of this cave complex, reached by steep stone stairs and seemingly endless spiral pathways, overlooks a muddled vista of wild greenery and urban sprawl. I stare into the distance at Ipoh’s uniform lines of houses, framed by surrounding trees. Tower blocks strain for attention against the silhouette of Perak’s cliffs, while forested hills roll into the distance.

My calves are stinging from the climb, but somehow the view makes me want to plunge straight into my next adventure.

Make it happen: on request, buses from Ipoh to Kuala Kangsar will stop near Gunung Lang, a 3km walk from Perak Tong. Better yet, rent a car from Ipoh (there’s plenty of parking within reach of the temple pathway).