Monthly Archives: June 2016

Bermuda 500 years of history

To get an idea of how it all began, start in the eastern city of St George, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While Bermuda was first discovered by a Spanish conquistador named Juan de Bermudez in the early 1500s, it’s most influential and permanent settlers were the British who moored here while sailing for Jamestown, Virginia. St George, settled in 1609, is a goldmine for history aficionados looking to learn about life in colonial Bermuda. A good starting point is the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, where you can get a general overview; don’t miss the quirky consignment shop attached to it called Second-Hand Rose (facebook.com/Second-Hand-Rose), which exemplifies the juxtaposition of old and new and Bermuda’s slightly oddball traditions.

Also on the Don’t Miss list: stunning St. Peter’s Church, built in 1612; the Unfinished Church, a gorgeous, haunting byproduct of a feud within the St. Peter’s congregation; Fort St. Catherine, the largest fort on the island, built in 1614; and Tucker House Museum, where you can get a glimpse of life in the 1750s in St George (bermuda.com). Of equal importance is Barber’s Alley, right off Tucker House, where a freed black slave named Joseph Rainey ran a barbershop during the American Civil War; Rainey went on to become the first African-American in the US House of Representatives. While you’re in St George, keep an eye out for Bermuda’s African Diaspora Heritage Trail, which highlights the history of those of African descent in the Americas and the Caribbean. Landmarks are marked clearly with a seal.

You’ll also want to stop by the Bermuda Perfumery (lilibermuda.com), whose facilities and boutique are housed in an historically preserved house. Next, mill around the colorfully painted town and meander through its lovely English-style alleyways — there’s Petticoat Lane, Printer’s Alley, Somers Garden and more. If you’re looking for a little spookiness with your history, you can also try a ghost tour through St George’s Haunted History.

Stop by St David

Near to St George is the island of St David, whose cultural mishmash represents the diversity of Bermudian culture. The Carter House is a testament to the varied groups of people who settled here, exploring the history of the English, black West Indians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Native Americans and even Scottish and Irish prisoners of war (carterhousemuseum.org).

For most of the 20th century, nearby Cooper Island was occupied by NASA and the US military, and it’s only recently been reopened to the public as a pristine 12 acre nature reserve.

Check out bustling Hamilton

Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda since the early 19th century, is where most of the commerce happens these days, and it’s still home to many historic relics that are worthy of exploration. On your way into town from St George, stop at the millions-of-years-old Crystal Caves, a subterranean marvel discovered in 1907 when two little boys lost their cricket ball. From there, it’s easy to pop across the road to the Swizzle Inn, where potent rum swizzle punches are served up in a 17th-century abode. (Their motto is “Swizzle Inn, Swagger Out” – you’ve been warned.)

There’s plenty to discover in Hamilton proper, such as the National Library and City Hall and Arts Centre, also home to the Bermuda National Gallery. Within walking distance are the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, Bermuda’s most revered Anglican church, and Fort Hamilton, both of which afford excellent views of Hamilton and the surrounding waters.

For art lovers, Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art and the Bermuda Botanical Gardens are a must-see. All the art within the permanent and loaned collections has some connection to the islands; you’ll recognize names like Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keefe, but the museum features locally-based, lesser-known artists, too. A John Lennon sculpture created by local artist Graham Foster stands out front, commemorating Lennon’s inspirational time spent in Bermuda in 1980. The museum sits among 36 lush, manicured acres of the botanical gardens, perfect for a mid-day stroll.

Surprisingly, some of the best modern art in Bermuda can be found at the newly redone Hamilton Princess (thehamiltonprincess.com), where a $90 million renovation showcases artwork from Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Nelson Mandela, among others.

Explore the Royal Navy Dockyard

While making your way to the other end of the island chain, stop byGibbs Lighthouse in Southampton, one of oldest cast-iron lighthouses in the world. There’s also Somerset Bridge, pegged as ‘The World’s Smallest Working Drawbridge’, that connects Somerset Parish withSandys Parish, and measures only 32 inches across. Once in the Royal Navy Dockyard proper, you’ll notice tons of construction work as Bermuda gears up to host the America’s Cup in 2017. The Village will be home to the moored boats, as well as spectator zones.

Great Destination in Nepal

Sure, there are moments where the menu varies, such as when leaving vegetarian Sherpa lands for the meat-eating hills of the Limbu and Rai tribes, but for the most part, meals are prepared from a limited palette of rice, lentils and greens. By the time they return to Kathmandu, many trekkers are openly salivating at the very thought of such delicacies as burgers, chips and pizza.

For some, the repetitive diet of rice and lentils can inspire extreme measures. An on-the-spot examination of trekking packs will uncover hidden bottles of ketchup and Tabasco, zip-lock plastic bags of seasonings and secreted salamis, saucisson and beef jerky. On the other hand, anticipating the culinary delights that await on your return to Kathmandu can be an almost transcendental pleasure.

Nepal has been calling out to the world’s adventurers for decades and restaurants have sprung up in the backstreets of Kathmandu catering to every imaginable palate. You want pizzas? You got ‘em. You want Thai curries? The lemongrass is already being pounded. You want Korean barbecues? The grill is already sizzling. Despite its rugged location and patchy transport links, Kathmandu serves up the world in a menu, and we guarantee your first meal back in the city after trekking will be a feast. Here is our pick of Kathmandu’s culinary highlights.

Wood-fired fabulousness

After weeks of lentils in the hills, the flavour sensation of tomatoes, pepperoni and mozzarella can be an almost religious experience. Nobody in Kathmandu does it better than Fire & Ice, an upscale favourite in a smart setting in an arcade on Tridevi Marg. For one thing, the ingredients are authentic, which means anchovies, salami and olives flown in fresh from Italy, hand-made mozzarella and hard-to-find options such as pizzas made with wholewheat dough.

Himalayan jambalaya?

New Orleans Cafe isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a Thamel institution. This courtyard café has been serving up globe-trotting cuisine to generations of travellers, with everything from Creole jambalaya to barbecued beef and jacket potatoes on the menu. There’s live music twice weekly and travellers have been known to join the on-stage musicians for impromptu jams – not a bad way to shake off the traildust after a knee-knocking circuit around the Annapurnas.

A monument to momos

Delicious parcels of meat, cheese or vegetables wrapped in wheat-flour shells, the momo is the dish that binds Tibet, Nepal and India together – transported across the mountains by the wandering monks who introduced Tibetan Buddhism to the Himalaya. These magnificent morsels come steamed or fried, with a side dollop of spicy chilli sauce; both locals and tourists agree that the tastiest in town are served at the low-key Yangling Tibetan Restaurant, prepared by hand to a family recipe passed down through the generations.

Sky-high sushi

With the Japanese embassy just down the road, Lazimpat’s Kotetsu has the market cornered for Japanese food in Kathmandu. Despite being 650km from the nearest ocean, the seafood here is so fresh you can almost hear the breaking waves (in the absence of direct Nepal-Japan flights, it comes in daily by jet from Thailand). As you’d expect, the house sashimi is expertly sliced, the Kobe steaks are delicately marbled and the teppanyaki fillets are deliciously moist and tender.

A meal in Kathmandu should always finish with Nepali tea © wonderlane / CC by 2.0

Terrific tandoori

Rather surprisingly, Indian food is somewhat under-represented in Kathmandu. Many dishes that claim to be Indian are actually Nepali interpretations – tasty enough, but rarely packed with the authentic flavours of the Indian plains. For the real deal, head to the elegant surroundings of Third Eye, where higher prices secure you rich, spicymasalas and succulent skewers from the tandoori oven. One caveat though – chilli levels can be toned down, so ask your waiter to add a little garam (heat) to your plate.

Beef up your life

A post-trek steak is a traveller tradition, and K-Too – partner restaurant of the long-established Kilroy’s – serves them fat as doorstops and as rare as you care to ask for. The dining room is packed out nightly with trekkers toasting the end of another expedition, and with chunky chips and fried apple momos for afters, it pays to bring an appetite. Plan a lazy itinerary for the next day while you digest!

How to Find Serenity in Oman

In many ways, Muscat (meaning “anchorage”) is all about the sea and fishing remains an important industry. Walk along Mutrah Corniche, from the new fish market to the souq, and it is easy to see how the capital is defined by its busy port, with naval vessels and cruise ships jostling with traditional wooden dhows, fishing boats and flocks of terns for space in the harbour. For the visitor, some of the capital’s best experiences revolve around the sea, such as bathing in the calm waters of the Shangri-La’s Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa, sampling grilledhamour at award-winning fish restaurant, The Beach, or enjoying a sea-view sundowner at one of the city’s five-star hotels.  For a gull’s eye view of the shore, head to Marina Bandar al Rowdha; boats leave at dawn, escorted by dolphins, for the snorkelling hotspots of Bandar Khayran.

Learn about Oman’s past

Built on the revenues of oil and the benefits of good governance, Oman’s history of rags to riches over the last half-century is nothing short of a miracle. The brand new National Museum in the heart of old Muscat charts the rise of Oman, under the leadership of the country’s highly respected leader, Sultan Qaboos, from a forgotten backwater to the dynamic, modern country that it is today. Pose for a selfie in front of the whimsical Sultan’s Palace or visit nearby Bayt al Zubair, a traditional villa housing a fine collection of Omani crafts, to get a feel for Muscat’s living history.  Or for a more domestic view of the capital’s recent past, spare an hour for a little-known gem, Ghalya Museum of Modern Art on Mutrah Corniche, which offers a glimpse of Muscat life before the present sultan ushered in the Omani Renaissance in 1970.

Dine out – the local way

Anyone with a taste for local flavour will enjoy Muscat’s new trend in promoting Omani cuisine. Until recently, sampling local food was restricted to traditional halwa (a gelatinous sweetmeat) and dates withqahwa (cardamom coffee), served at official functions. At best, it meant trying shuwa (roasted lamb or goat, traditionally cooked for a day in the sand) in pan-Arab restaurants like the delightful Kargeen Cafe. While you can still sit cross-legged on a dubious communal carpet at Bin Ateeq for authentic Omani fare, there is a finer dining experience now to be had at Bait al Luban. Housed in a renovated trader’s house in Mutrah, the menu at this atmospheric new restaurant includes a wide choice of national dishes, including the porridge-like harees.

Shop for gold, frankincense and myrrh

It’s no secret that Peninsula Arabs love shopping and the region is home to some of the world’s most extravagant malls. Muscat may not boast the retail excesses of neighbouring Dubai but what it lacks in brand names it makes up for in character. No visit to Muscat would be complete without getting lost in the labyrinthine Mutrah Souq where Indian traders have been plying their wares for centuries. The alleyways are perfumed with luban (frankincense), grown in the southern province of Oman, and dazzle with the gold of a bride’s dowry. Elsewhere in town, especially around Qurm, look for camel-bone boxes and chocolate-covered dates, carpets from Persia and rugs from Azerbaijan, beads of semi-precious stones and pashminas that fit through a wedding ring. Less easy to find, except in the Omani Heritage Gallery in Qurm, are local crafts such as camel-leather baskets, earthenware pots and goat-hair rugs.

Add an extra day

An excellent road network is one of the many blessings of the Omani Renaissance so with an extra day, it is easy to take a day trip from the capital to explore the legendary ‘interior’. One of the best excursions covers a loop around the Batinah Plain, beginning in the castle town of Nakhal. Visit the fort, watch brilliant-winged Indian rollers dart through the date plantations, and pause by the hot springs.  Continue along the base of the imposing Hajar Mountains to the former capital of Rustaq, crowned by another of Oman’s many forts. Return to Muscat via Sawadi, famed for a beach carpeted in pink top shells and punctuated by islands accessible on foot at low tide.

Exploring Inle Lake

Getting out onto the water is naturally the most popular way to experience Inle Lake. Every morning a flotilla of slender wooden canoes fitted with long-tailed outboard motors surges forth, transporting visitors to various natural, cultural, religious and historic sites. Nyaungshwe, on the northern edge of the lake, is the base for setting out on motorboat trips – every hotel and guesthouse in town can help arrange one, or just wait for a boat captain to approach you in the street.

Trips can be tailored, but tours typically include visits to the famous sights in the northern part of the lake, such as Phaung Daw Oo Paya in Tha Ley, the Nga Hpe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery) in Nga Phe village, and the floating gardens. Make sure to spend time observing the Intha fishermen (most photogenic at dawn) and their unique technique of rowing the boat with one leg while using both hands to fish. Other destinations further afield include villages Thaung Thut, Hmaw Be, and Samkar, and you can also include a visit to Inthein, where crumbing, hilltop pagodas look down on the water.

A standard day trip costs K15,000 to K18,000 (US$12 to US$15); or K20,000 with Inthein. The fee covers the entire boat; drivers will carry up to five passengers, who get padded seats and life jackets. Many trips start at dawn, when the light is great for photos. During the day it gets very hot: bring a hat, water and plenty of sunscreen. Sunset trips are also popular, although note it can get chilly on the lake. Most boats provide blankets but you may want a jacket or a wrap.

DIY cycling tour

Inle is not only about the water. It’s also possible to explore the perimeter by bicycle and take in some beautiful Burmese countryside. Many sights are clustered around the lake, including hot springs and small villages.

Begin in Nyaungshwe, where bikes can be hired for around K1500 (US$1.50) per day. Peddle west along an unpaved, bumpy road through farmland. Take a left at the T-junction and head south, following the mountains. After about 8km you will reach the Khaung Daing hot springs, where the water is piped into a series of swimming pools. A soak here costs adults US$7, or US$10 for a dip in a private pool.

Had you ever holiday in Galway

Situated at the mouth of the River Corrib, Galway (Gaillimh in Irish) started out life as a fishing village, Claddagh, and really took off in the 13th century when it came under the Anglo-Norman rule of Richard de Burgo (aka the Red Earl) and its city walls were constructed. It’s likely the Spanish Arch, which protected moored merchant ships from Spain, is a remnant of the medieval walls. Another surviving portion has been incorporated in the Eyre Square Centre shopping mall. Fascinating archaeological finds are on display at the Hall of the Red Earl, a medieval tax office/courthouse/town hall whose remains were uncovered by accident in 1997. In 1396, Richard II transferred power to 14 merchant-family ‘tribes’; the most powerful, the Lynch family, builtLynch’s Castle, Ireland’s finest town castle (now an AIB bank). More recent history – from 1800 to 1950 – is on display at the Galway City Museum, where exhibits include a traditional wooden Galway Hooker fishing boat.

To appreciate the city’s storied history, book a guided tour with Galway on Foot, which departs from the Spanish Arch.

Character-filled pubs

Galway is famed far and wide for its pubs, most of which are just a crawl from the next. Join the friendly locals as they bounce from place to place, never knowing what fun lies ahead but certain of the possibility. A brilliant starting point is Tigh Neáchtain (or just Neáchtain’s – pronounced ‘nock-tans’ – aka Naughtons), a bright-blue-painted 19th-century treasure that attracts all walks of life beneath its low ceilings and on its tree-shaded terrace. Old-school O’Connell’s, with stained glass, pressed-tin ceilings and a partially covered beer garden, is another enduring gem.

Pints of ‘the black stuff’ (ie Guinness) are popular, of course, but be sure to look out for Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, a local success story brewing locally for over a decade. Whiskey specialists include laid-back Garavan’s (garavans.ie).

Live music

Galway’s brightly painted pubs heave with live music. You’ll hear high-spirited trad tunes featuring any combination of instruments – fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán (goat-skin hand-held drum played with beater), guitar, banjo, squeezebox and more – pouring out from inside. It’s possible to catch a céilí (traditional music session and dancing, pronounced ‘kay-lee’) or spontaneous seisún (pronounced ‘seh-shoon’) virtually every night of the week. Cherry-red-coloured Tig Cóilí is a fantastic place to catch music, as is the two-storeyed Crane Bar.

Bands of all genres get their break at legendary venue Róisín Dubh, which also hosts comedy. You’ll catch buskers along Shop St (and its extensions, High St then Quay St) and around the Spanish Arch.

Seafaring cuisine

Seafood reigns in Galway. Terroir-focused Aniar uses local catches in many of its Michelin-starred multicourse menus. Celebrated seafood bistro Oscar’s is a superb place for Galway Bay oysters. Ard Bia at Nimmo’s serves local flavours like West Coast monkfish with spelt, preserved lemon, spinach and sorrel yoghurt or pan-roasted Atlantic hake with braised fennel, clams, beetroot and grilled asparagus. West Coast crab (washed down with Galway Hooker) is a speciality of hip Kai Café & Restaurant. And down-to-earth McDonagh’s is an essential stop for phenomenal fish and chips at its chaotically sociable communal tables.

Galway Food Tours provides a taste of the city’s best artisans, purveyors and dining highlights.

Outdoor pursuits

Shoals of salmon and sea trout surge upriver at Salmon Weir in May and June; tackle shops can provide angling advice, or visit www.fishinginireland.info for permit information. The Corrib Princessruns cruises here in summer. Another favourite outdoor activity is a 2.5km stroll along the Prom to Salthill (be sure to kick the wall near the diving boards in true Galwegian tradition). If you just want to unwind in the sunshine, the lawns of central Eyre Square are ideal.

Timeless finds

One of the joys of wandering through Galway is stumbling across its small speciality shops selling everything from Irish-made fashion to local art and jewellery, including its Claddagh rings (with a heart, signifying love, between two hands, symbolising friendship and topped by a crown, representing loyalty), named for the original fishing village; jewellery shops producing them include Ireland’s oldest, 1750-established Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold. Other favourites include the warren of book-lined rooms making up Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore, and P Powell & Sons and Kiernan Moloney, both selling traditional Irish musical instruments.

Fabulous markets

A local gathering point, Galway’s festive street market has set up on Church lane by St Nicholas’ Church for centuries. Saturdays (8am to 6pm) are especially lively, with scores of stalls selling farm-fresh produce, arts, crafts and sizzling up ready-to-eat snacks such as curries and crêpes. There’s also a market on Sundays (plus bank holidays, Fridays in July and August and every day during the Galway Arts Festival) from noon to 6pm. On sunny days especially, buskers give the markets a carnival atmosphere. In December, from 9am to 6pm from the 14th until Christmas Eve, stalls glow with candles and fairylights during Galway’s enchanting Christmas market.

Year-round celebrations

Galway is festive any time of year but especially during its annual celebrations (when you’ll need to book accommodation well ahead). Standouts include late March’s Galway Food Festival, with markets, food trails and family activities; late April’s poetry- and prose-filledCúirt International Festival of Literature; mid-July’s Galway Arts Festival and Ireland’s leading film festival, the Galway Film Fleadh; horse racing and high fashion at the uproarious Galway Race Week, starting on the last Monday in July; and late September’s long-runningGalway Oyster & Seafood Festival. Live music invariably provides the soundtrack.