Tag Archive: guide



London is a honey-pot for the unsuspecting tourist, make a wrong turn and you could find yourself entangled in a mass of camera-wielding sightseers,    fighting for air. Take it from a local, knowing the city’s best-kept secrets is half the battle.

Green Park

Acquaint yourself with the English summer in the woody expanse of Green Park. Situated five minutes from the heartbeat of London, Picadilly Circus, it’s a welcome escape from the crowds. If lounging around isn’t your idea of a sight-seeing holiday then worry not, this Royal park is steeped in history. Besides showcasing duels in Victorian times, it was used as a hunting ground by notorious British monarch Henry VIII. There’s also the small matter of the Queen’s residence, Buckingham Palace, a few minutes away.

Camden Town

A stomping ground for London’s avant-garde music folk, Camden Town is a sprawling mass of body-piercings, leather and bleached Mohicans. Its watering holes, and namely The Hawley Arms, have long been the haunt of supermodel Kate Moss and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. The vintage shops in Camden Market are home to biker jackets, flares and any of fashion history’s other forgotten garments while Cyberdog, which can be best described as a futuristic S&M shop, is a must-see.

La Fromagerie

Visiting a French-named cafe is hardly a way to crown an English holiday but this rustic cheese and wine shop is a stylish dining experience that personifies metropolitan London. Tucked away in London’s trendy Marylebone area, visitors are seated at earthy wooden tables before being given an impressive menu with offering taken from across Europe. The English Stinking Bishop is a soft cheese that lives up to its name and goes beautifully with the French wine, Chignin La Marechale.

Hoxton Hotel

Located in up-and-coming Shoreditch, this stylish offering is widely considered the best-valued hotel in London at 4,250 rupees a night. Owned by Pret A Manger co-founder Sinclair Beecham, it follows a no-nonsense mantra. The exposed brickwork and sizeable fireplace residing in the lobby are indicative of the hotel’s subtle and unpretentious decoration. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’re staying at a budget hotel, there are plenty of luxuries nestled around, including a free daily Pret A Manger breakfast.


 

Christian Seiersen takes us on a sail around the Aeolian Islands, an archipelago of small volcanic islands north of Sicily.

 

Before I arrived at the Sicilian coastal town of Milazzo, my previous experience with boats had been at the age of 16. On a holiday in Canada, my cousin and I had chartered our aunt’s senile rowing boat into the far reaches of the family’s lake. It had led us to a menacing-looking island which my cousin immediately diagnosed as a perfect spot to camp. A decision, thanks to the overprotective bird population and rocky ground, we would live to regret.  

Although it had left me with a long-standing back problem and a fear of cranes, I also began to see sailing as a way to appreciating the raw beauty of nature. So when I was introduced to the Aeolian Islands –a cluster of Volcanic islands that lie off the North coast of Sicily– I saw a chance to re-establish these ties.  

The island of Salina

Laying the plans 

With my father’s friend Andy at the helm, we planned to take his 22ft sailboat on a tour of the islands from our base in Milazzo. However, we soon reached a geographical snag after the map revealed that, beyond the island of Lipari, the archipelago parted ways into the two separate strands of its crescent shape. Therefore, for the purposes of the trip we temporarily erased the islands of Salina, Filicudi and Alicudi and settled for their eastern counterpart, Stromboli, as the furthest island of the voyage.  

Mapped out

Setting off into the blue expanse of the Tyrrhenian Sea, I began to wish that the Greek deity Aeolus –the god of wind whom the islands are named after– would give our boat a hand in making the 22 mile slog to Lipari. On the way, we passed by the island of Vulcano, which lived up to its name by providing a source of geothermal energy and would be the last island we visited. 

Eventually we arrived at the Lipari’s self-named town as the sun was beginning to disappear and its light was replaced by the twinkling of the harbour. 

The port of Lipari

Dropping anchor in Lipari 

Our decision to sleep aboard during the trip left us no reason to venture onshore, but I was intrigued enough by the ominous walls that crowned Lipari’s hill to chance a quick exploration. It was a network of lively streets that greeted our walk through the town’s cobbled streets and the architecture was interspersed between the medieval grandeur of its churches and the simple designs of the houses. Lipari seemed to revel in its role as the archipelago’s largest island and the area around the marina was a hub for restaurants and bars.  

The next morning, after passing on the opportunity to explore the rest of the island by scooter, we sailed along its jagged walls of rock to an isolated cove where we could make full use of the water’s crystal transparency. Using a hunting tool I had fashioned out of a stick, I then began to chase the cove’s colourful, and no doubt endangered, aquatic inhabitants, but my home-made javelin was no match for their speed.  

Lipari's coastline

Millionaire’s playground 

As we had previously agreed, the nearby island of Salina was bypassed and we set a course for Panarea, which had earned a reputation of being a trendy destination for the well-heeled Europeans. The day-time sail revealed to me the true ruthlessness of the Italian sun and I often had to clamber below deck to seek refuge. Our simplistic meals onboard paid homage to the local cuisine and usually consisted of Italian ham and cheese sandwiches.  

As we approached, I was surprised at how small the island appeared and later discovered that it was only 3.5 km2. Stuffed onto this small space was a sea of whitewashed houses lining the slope and, with the promise of a breath-taking view at the summit, we began to ascend one of its mountains, Punta del Corvo. At the top, the rugged landscape panned out before us and small rocky islands rose from the waves. On the horizon we spotted plumes of smoke rising from a cone-shaped island that signalled the presence of Stromboli. 

The slumbering dragon, Stromboli

A sea of jellyfish 

The next day, having rubbed shoulders with the affluent beach-goers, we decided to take the dinghy around the island. Closer-up the masses of rock seemed to defy gravity in their formations and we came across a vast cave lined with ledges jutting out invitingly as diving platforms. Without a moment’s hesitation I took up this invite and, scrabbling up the moss-laden walls, I reached a ledge about five metres (16ft) off the water. From my new perspective the water’s alluring blue shimmer had turned more malicious and my haste during the climb was replaced by a sense of foreboding, but it was too late now.  

My entrance into the water left me relatively unscathed but as I opened my eyes instinctively whilst returning to the surface, I saw hundreds of jellyfish floating eerily around me. The boat was still some meters away and I thought that if I splashed excessively in my desperate swim to safety, I could dislodge the jellyfish from my path and avoid their stinging tentacles. With my heart in my mouth I scrambled, pumping every limb before I was hauled back onto the dinghy and into the wall of laughter that marked the end of my near-death experience. When they regained sufficient breath, I was told that the jellyfish were completely harmless and a nearby boat had complimented me on my progress in learning how to swim.  

We often slept on the deck to make use of the soft evening breeze and as I sat contemplating the stars and surrounded by the gentle din of other boats, I was reminded of the tranquil moments that sailing can bring. 

Into Volcano territory 

Our farthest stop of the sail was the island of Stromboli and when we ground ashore, it was on a beach of midnight black sand. The volcano loomed before us and we walked up its dark slopes to a restaurant where I fulfilled the cliché of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ by ordering a Stromboli pizza. The simmering volcano was in constant activity and we resolved to endure a night-time sail to the northern face, where we would be able to see its famous lava flows under the luminous gaze of the moon. 

When night descended, sailing was tough work. With only the mischievous lights of other boats to prevent any crashes, it was time for all hands on deck and I perched at the fore of the deck to call out any approaching danger. The risk was justified when we dropped anchor and watched the spectacle of its frequent, and thankfully mild, eruptions. A cloud of smoke would be shot out of the crater and drift lazily into the night sky. Every so often these eruptions would be accompanied by a stream of fire pouring down the slope and glowing fiercely against the shadowy backdrop of the volcano. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight and a gentle reminder of what nature was still capable of. 

A ritual cleansing 

Before long, the time to return had approached and we tackled the long sail to Vulcano in good time. After we had docked and walked onto the island, the over-powering smell of sulphur hung resolutely in the air and it was only Andy’s inclusion of anchovies in our sandwiches which seemed to neutralise it. The island’s mud baths represented the main attraction and we agreed on taking a dip in them to mark the metaphorical end of our trip. The baths did serve practical purposes as well and the cooling mud was a welcome refreshment to our sun-weary skin. After this, the trip held one more incident up its sleeve when we departed the Vulcano docks. 

As we motored out, whilst I was untying the rope from the dock, my arm got pinned against the boat’s railings by the rope. Unaware of this, and assuming we were free of the dock, Andy had continued to reverse away and my arm was seconds away from being snapped by the force of the boat when he heard my strained calls and automatically put the boat into forward. Fortunately Andy had displayed the presence of mind of an experienced skipper but I felt that the episode had served in fulfilling the trip’s excitement quota and returned to Milazzo with a strong sense of satisfaction. 

Crawford Market


Mumbai has always struck me as having two personas. The older of the two can be found quietly surveying the city from its vantage point on the imposing state buildings which rise, detached, from the grubby roads. Characterizing the streets is the younger and more spontaneous Bombay who hustle and squat below, balancing their lives in the wicker baskets on their heads as they meander through the crowds. Crawford market is an arranged marriage of the two.


On the outside, the building’s colonial design plays to the tune of the fanny-pack brigade and the sleek Norman arches and sun burnt bricks wink sleazily at passing tourists, inviting them in. But not even the addition of a charming clock tower can hide its dirty secrets and the interior gives way to a more unruly underbelly where all manner of stalls are sprawled around the narrow passageways.

Brimming with confidence after I had successfully fought off the advances of a pony-tailed tailor, I saw the market’s enclosed space as the ideal grounds to give my newly acquired skills of evasion a fresh challenge. I was immediately put the test when, moments after I had read a sign which stated that visitor’s must be accompanied by a porter, an ancient figure apparated from the shadows right on cue.

Dressed head to toe in a white tunic, his attire was crowned by a small sailor’s hat that looked as if it might have been made out of origami. Neglecting any verbal introduction, he instead presented me his porter I.D card with the ill-disguised apprehension of a sixteen-year old handing his fake Belgian driving license to a nightclub bouncer.

Nevertheless, I was undeterred and I saw in him the qualities of a seasoned campaigner. He bore his marks proudly in the form of a glazed eye, and a reduced set of teeth which enabled him to open his sales pitch with the line, “I can show you shpishes, animalshs or shilk, what’sh it going to be?” After that I was taken over by curiosity, both in seeing what these categories would offer and hearing how my guide would tackle more complex sentences.

Upon my request, we headed for the animals and he led with the care and attentiveness of a loyal butler showing a visitor around his deceased master’s house, pausing to show me the firmness of the beetroots or thrust lemongrass under my nostrils. However, his monopoly power over the solitary tourist was short-lived and I was soon embroiled in an attempted coup d’etat from a predatory associate. Steering me in the direction of his potatoes, the relative youngster deposed my current guide unceremoniously saying, ‘that’s my father, he’s crazy.’ Looking at his crooked smile, I doubted any form of relation. My suspicions were confirmed when, after we were reunited, my host disowned his temporary son and ushered me onwards.

Although I knew little of what to expect, the courtyard which housed the animals certainly wasn’t on my list. Sawdust had been scattered across the ground and the smell had a pungent quality to it that far surpassed anything that had been offered by the outside streets. In modestly sized cages that were as crude as they were small, a Cruft’s catalogue worth of puppies lay around lethargically, almost resigned to their fate.

The message, however, had not gotten through to the hordes of rats, which clawed continuously at their glass walls in an effort that would have inspired communists worldwide. Lurking near the back of the courtyard was the largest cat I had ever seen and, borrowing a popular technique from Mother Nature, had further magnified its size by equipping itself with a rug of white fur. It was also one of the only animals to have the luxury of a personal cage, either because it had eaten the previous inhabitants or there was a subtle challenge from the owners to see if it could grow to fill the remaining inches of space.

In small shops, and with the benefit of shade, huge choruses of birds provided the soundtrack to this lively scene and their range of colors rivaled those of the saris that brushed past them. I was also surprised to see the addition of pigeons, who were seemingly aware of their role in making up the numbers and paced guiltily around the cage. In a bid to bring in some diversification, the walls had been lined with fish tanks in which, through the murky water, I could make out their aquatic inhabitants drifting around aimlessly. I couldn’t think why anyone would choose such a place of singular depression for the traditionally joyous activity of buying a pet, but the throng of people proved me wrong.


Back inside, I bypassed the spices in favour of the fruit and vegetable section. This was tended to by hawkers who had decided that the labyrinth of stalls was a picturesque setting for their early retirement. Having amassed a pile of supplies that towered over seven feet, they employed these sacks of carrots and lettuce as mattresses and surveyed my presence with the detachment of a Roman Emperor.


My guide seemed unable to comprehend that my visit was motivated by curiosity and chose instead to characterise me as some kind of underground fruit dealer. He savored in telling me the origins of each of the goods and looked expectantly for my approval when he described some melons as the “besht in whole of France.” It all got a bit much when, in a desperate effort to appeal to my fruit expertise, he jammed a banana in my face, squeezing it gently with an almost pedophilic glare while saying “you like that, eh. Shoft.”

After that, I started to have second doubts over my guide’s sanity and this was only made worse when he took me across the road to the silks, taking on the role of traffic-tamer in the process. As he slapped car bonnets and the backs of dawdling pedestrians, I began to reassess my assumption that he had lost his teeth through age, and not brawling. Whether it was through a general lack of knowledge about cars or sheer bravery, he seemed undeterred by their hulking mass and the horns only served to instill in him new degrees of fervor.

When we finally reached the other side, it was after he had re-enacted his individual take on Moses’ crossing of the Red Sea, where he had waded out into the traffic and held his arms aloft whilst irate drivers swerved to avoid him. His credentials as a subjective guide were then put under scrutiny, as he led me down a back alley to, what I can only assume, was his real son’s shop.

The tour, much like the hot water in my shower, was good while it lasted, but I soon had to leave and realised I would have to cross the exact road that he had just terrorised to return to the station.  As I left him arguing with a cab driver I regretted not catching his name, but I had a feeling I would see him again somewhere, probably on the news.