Portland, Oregon, can be addressed in many ways. It’s a city of soubriquets, bearing nicknames bestowed by locals to reflect its charms: The City of Roses to those who love its natural abundance; The City of Bridges by those who can’t help but notice the freeway’s influence; Beervana by fans of its prolific brew culture.

PDX to pilots and Stumptown to locals, it’s borrowed a catchphrase from another city down south; “keep Portland weird” is a mantra familiar to anyone who’s spent time in Austin, Texas. It’s also one of those west coast cities, like LA or Palo Alto, whose reputation precedes it and whose essence is endlessly debated.

To the outside world, it’s Portlandia, “where  young people go to retire”, where – according to Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen and Sleater Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein –  the ‘90s is alive, people are content to be unambitious, sleep to 11 and hang out with their friends. A place marooned blissfully in a simpler past where city slackers in plaid shirts and tribal tattoos still read paper books.

We i-spyed plenty of Portland clichés. A vintage clothes shop playing The Bends. A bicycle barista handing out free coffee in a shady university park. Flyers advertising beer yoga. Men with dogs curled over their shoulders like living stoles playing Magic: The Gathering. A feminist bookstore offering protection from all manner of persecution. We did not see anyone playing with a diablo.

 Keep Portland Weird sign, Portland Oregon Canadian Veggie / FlickrPhoto: Canadian Veggie / Flickr Creative Commons

Portland sits snugly in its pigeonholes but of course offers much more than Portlandia suggests, comfortably surpassing all the requirements a modern visitor might throw at it.

Craft beer is a thing now – well, Portland has 50+ local breweries. Food trucks have spread like a rash across most western cities; Portland has more than 700 for its half a million city dwellers. Green spaces? The city is riddled with them. In fact, if you’re a fan of wine, live music, gregarious and predominantly liberal locals, books or culture, it’s well worth the two-hour, $15 ride from Seattle.

Cycle superhighways (proper ones, not like the ones we have in England) crisscross the city and the Willamette river, linking its disparate neighbourhoods and providing the easiest, greenest, and most Portland way to see the city.

pbt_portland_map

We started our exploration with sliders and nitro Irish stout at rock’n’roll themed hotel McMenamins, in the Pearl District, Portland’s revamped industrial zone. It’s home to Powell’s City Of Books, declared with the usual American superlative pride as the largest in world, and housing over a million books in 3,500 sections, as well as a massive brewery – Deschutes – who offer tasting flights featuring their latest brews. Books and beer were quickly to become the defining motif of the trip.

Further south, Portland’s Downtown District to the west of the Willamette houses many of the city’s main attractions and we ticked off a few, the contemplative Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden probably the best among them. There are also numerous foodie pilgrimages to be made in this part of town, and we did our best at those, from a flaming Spanish coffee mixed and ignited at the table at Huber’s to doughnuts shaped like a penis and covered in bacon at Voodoo Doughnuts, via poached chicken at bloggers’ favourite food cart Nong’s Khao Man Gai.

Japanese Garden Portland - Pic from Flickr CCPhoto:  Ryan Stavely / Flickr Creative Commons

These were all preambles to Portland’s main attraction, though: the suburbs scattered across the eastern half of the city. Up north, Alberta is perhaps the spiritual home of Portland as we know it from the TV, the home of that feminist bookshop, among numerous whole foodsy spots and other crumbling monuments to the counterculture. It’s been deemed gentrified by the locals, which is bad news if you like things to stay raw, but good news if you’re a fan of olive oil ice cream, and some of the parks and residential streets nearby are stunning.

A handful of blocks to the west, Mississippi and Williams are two parallel swathes of excellent coffee shops and food trucks, populated by art school students and other hipster types. ¿Por Que No? serve up the best tacos I’ve tasted north of San Francisco and Ristretto proffer perhaps the city’s finest coffee.

Tacos at Por Que No, Portland

Photo:  rickchung.com / Flickr Creative Commons

Hawthorne & Belmont further south are Beervana’s heart, home to an embarrassment of brew pubs. Cascade Brewing Barrel House specialised in sour beers, oak aged and fruit-infused, tart tipples that edge towards 10% ABV and are presented like a wine tasting with cheese plates and a price point to match. Strawberry, goji berry, apricot, honey and ginger lime can all be enthusiastically vouched for. Lucky Labrador, meanwhile, was a dog friendly pub (naturally) full of laptop-toting drinkers and card players while Green Dragon offered 62 taps of craft beer joy.

On my wife’s insistence, and as recommended by none other than Time magazine, we stopped by a strip club. These are done differently in Portland, and Sassy’s was more of a community affair, featuring a 50/50 male/female split among the clientele, and a world away from the dismal pound-in-a-pint-glass affairs that fester malignantly in London’s darker corners. There’s another in the city that serves vegan food and only allows its dancers to shed non-animal-based clothing – classic Portland. From here, food trucks and bookshops continue south as far as the eye can see – and the belly can withstand – down to Clinton.

Cycling back over the imposing Steel Bridge, under an incessant and uncharacteristic sun and spurred on by a craft beer buzz, it dawned on us that Portland had just leaped to pole position in our ranking of US cities. The ’90s might be alive and well round here, but if this is time travel, we’ll be first in the DeLorean.

Tim stayed in the James Brown room at legendary bar/gig venue/boutique hotel McMenamins and got around Portland on Pedal Bike Tours rentals.

Planning a trip to Croatia and wondering which 17 things you shouldn’t miss? Always thought about Croatia for a holiday but never knew what it had to offer?

Allow us to present our favourite things to see and do in this beautiful European country.

Quinns on Capitol Hill, around 8pm on the Saturday night, is when we hit the wall. Halfway though a wild boar sloppy joe, which oozed out of its brioche confines like meaty magma, spilling fried onion and Fresno pepper across the plate in an explosion of gluttonous joy, we were done. Finished. Finito. Couldn’t have a morsel more. Except perhaps a bite of that Brussels sprout and mustard cream-stuffed Scotch egg. Thanks for being our server tonight, but please stop bringing food.

The restaurant, in the heart of Seattle’s lively, gay-friendly, still somewhat countercultural part of town, is not a place for calorie counting. A touch of pretentiousness aside (I’m not sure how much the chips, or French fries, or ‘frites’ as they’re known here, benefitted from Fontina fonduta and veal demi-glace), it’s a feeder’s paradise but far from unique in a city renowned for its food.

Sloppy Joe at Quinns 2

Photo:  msparksls / Flickr Creative Commons

We’d started our Richman-esque tour with salmon. First we watched them swimming in the fish ladder at Ballard Locks, in the northwest of the city, navigating between the salty waters of Puget Sound and the fresh water of Lake Union, a great spot for walking, seal-spotting and exploring the nearby Scandinavian communities.

Then we ate them, at Pike Place Fish Market by the Elliott Bay waterfront in downtown Seattle, hacked into chunks by a man in knee-high wellies, smoked, infused with garlic and pepper, and turned to jerky. While we devoured them, and some sliced Nova Scotia salmon lox, other men in overalls threw fish at each other, bellowing banter to conjure a scene that drew in hordes of camera-toting shoppers.

Salmon at Pike Place

Photo: Alanosaur / Flick Creative Commons

Pike Place Fish sits in the centre of Pike Place Market, an obscenely touristy spot but an essential consideration for anyone that likes food. Their salmon, swordfish, trout, tuna, sturgeon, stockfish, crab, shrimp, and mussels (not to mention oysters so good they empty your wallet fast, lending a new meaning to Dickens’ immortal “poverty and oysters always seem to go together”) sit among an abundance of treats.

We joined one of Savor Seattle’s tours, which start somewhat inauspiciously in a comedy club whose walls are covered with second hand chewing gum. Once we’d pushed the masticated polymers out of our minds, and run through the guide’s opening gambit of jokes, we were quickly whisked round various shops and stalls to begin the feeding.

Daily Dozen’s doughnuts kicked things off, steaming dough bites doused in sugar and lasting all of ten seconds between us, before creamy, chunky seafood bisque at Pike Place Chowder, doughy pastries from  Piroshky Piroshky that would melt Red from Orange Is The New Black’s heart, and more creamy, chunky joy from the mac cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Come to think of it, there was a lot of dough and a lot of cream involved, a rapid gorge with a chocolate cherry or two (from Chukar Cherries) on top.

Mac cheese at Beechers, Seattle

Photo: Brighter than sunshine / Flickr Creative Commons

As one of the oldest continuous markets in the country, Pike Place has a chequered history. Growing out of an impromptu collection of farmers over a hundred years ago, it officially took shape in 1907 amid allegations of corruption and disagreements between city officials and producers. It’s since weathered scandals – inexcusable purging of Japanese-Americans in the early ’40s and plans for demolition in the ’60s – and thanks to an innovative scheme in the ’80s whereby locals could sponsor floor tiles to donate funds, its future looks secure.

After the morning tour, and a tasting flight of Washington State wines from Lost River Winery later (it was 5pm on the east coast at that point), we explored the area, including the Space Needle and Elliott Bay.

Before long we were hungry again, so headed to a few of Tom Douglas’ restaurants. The chef has built a small empire in Seattle, and managed to conquer numerous food types in the process; his outposts cover Italian, Greek, Asian and seafood. We ducked into Lola for some dolmades stuffed with herbs, pine nuts and currants, before waddling half a block to Serious Pie. Pie means pizza, and here it means paper-thin crusts cooked at 700°F and loaded with topping choices that trigger debilitating menu paralysis. Yukon Gold potato with rosemary and pecorino was an inspired mix, as was sweet fennel sausage with roasted peppers and provolone. Pale ales and apricot ciders did the honours in accompaniment.

Pizza at Serious Pie, Seattle

Photo: solsken / Flickr Creative Commons

These additional snacks gave us energy to see some more of Seattle, including Bruce and Brandon Lee’s graves at the top of a hill in Lake View Cemetery. The father-son spot is pretty poignant, although I felt for the other souls adjacent, whose memory was trampled unheeded by a cavalcade of comfy shoes.

Gas Works Park, meanwhile, was a picturesque place to perch across the lake, enabling food coma slumps on the ground under the faraway buzz of incessant seaplanes. The nearby Fremont Brewing Company, meanwhile, introduced me to the concept of growlers, big beer containers that allow you to take home your favourite brews.

Beer at Fremont Brewing, Seattle

Photo:  tinatinatinatinatina / Flickr Creative Commons

The following morning we took a bus to Portland, but not before a manic dash to The Crumpet Shop at Pike Place. Specialising in proper English crumpets for nearly four decades, they give them an American spin (think walnuts, honey and ricotta), but indulged my lifelong penchant for Marmite, cheddar and cucumber. We also managed to follow in Obama’s footsteps briefly, and grabbed a bag of doughnuts from Top Pot on the way to the station, because you just never know when hunger will strike.

We stayed at Hotel Andra in the downtown district, which is nestled among shops, bars, and near Pike Place Market. And yes, we did get room service.

Featured image of Seattle Skyline by  howardignatius on Flickr (Creative Commons).

From beach to mountain to fen, every corner of Ireland has something beautiful to discover. In celebration of this stunning country, here are 22 stunning pictures of Ireland.

Killarney, County Kerry

Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland - Riccardo Spila/SIME/4Corners

 Beara Peninsula, Cork

Beara Peninsula, Cork, Ireland - Massimo Ripani/SIME/4Corners

 Roundstone Harbour, County Galway

Roundstone Harbour, Alessandra Albanese/SIME/4Corners

 Dog’s Bay, County Galway

Dog's Bay, Roundstone, Galway - Alessandra Albanese/SIME/4Corners

 Dunguaire Castle, County Galway

Dunguaire Castle, Ireland - Riccardo Spila/SIME/4Corners

 Kinsale Harbour, Cork

Riccardo Spila/SIME/4Corners

 Glendalough, County Wicklow

Ireland, Wicklow, Glendalough, View of the Church known as St Kevin's Kitchen, the gem of Glendalough archeological site Riccardo Spila/SIME/4Corners

 Dublin

Dublin, Ireland - Maurizio Rellini/SIME/4Corners

 Pine Island, Connemara

Connemara, Ireland - Douglas Pearson/4Corners

Kylemore Abbey, County Galway

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara

 The Skellig Ring, County Kerry

County Kerry, Ireland: Portmagee Channel with colorful houses of Portmagee and Bray Head in the distance

 Tra Na Rossan Bay, County Donegal

Tranarossan Bay, Ireland

 The Burren karst formations, County Clare

The Burren karst formations, Ireland

 The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

 The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland

Glenveagh National Park, County Donegal

Autumn in Glenveagh National Park County Donegal Ireland

 The Aran Islands, County Galway

Shipwreck on the Arran Islands

 Dun Aengus, County Galway

Dun Aengus, Ireland

Croagh Patrick, County Mayo

Statue Of St. Patrick; Croagh Patrick, County Mayo, Ireland

 Horn Head, County Donegal

Bloody Foreland, County Donegal, Ireland

The Skellig Islands, County Kerry

View to the bird island Little Skellig from the the monk settlement which was founded 588 and was abandoned about 1100, Skellig Michael, Ireland

 Bantry, County Cork

Bantry House and gardens, Bantry, County Cork, Munster, Republic of Ireland, Europe

Explore more of this stunning country with the Rough Guide to Ireland. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Encompassing northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia’s Kola Peninsula, Sápmi is the collective name for the traditional territory of the nomadic Sámi – Europe’s only indigenous people, who migrated to northern Scandinavia after the last Ice Age and subsisted by hunting reindeer. As the reindeer grew scarce by the seventeenth century, hunters became herders; today, only around ten per cent of the Sámi still make a living from reindeer husbandry.

The Sámi year was traditionally divided into eight seasons, each tied to a period of reindeer herding, and the herders lived a nomadic life, their lightweight lavvu (teepee-like dwellings) enabling them to follow the grazing paths of their reindeer. The former is still true for the herders, but today, many Sámi live in modern housing for much of the year, and even the very process of herding has been modernised with helicopters and snowmobiles. The Sámi are also active in other fields – from art and music to tourism, cuisine and traditional craft-making.  

The Sámi population of Sápmi numbers approximately 70,000–80,000, out of which around 40,000 live in Norway, 25,000 or so in Sweden, 13,000 in Finland and 2000 in Russia. Though Sámi culture had faced repression over the course of time in all four countries, it has nevertheless survived; the Sámi have their own language, flag, national anthem, customs and more. The traditional Sámi costume, called the kolt, is worn on special occasions across Sápmi and although all variants use the same colours: blue, red, yellow and green, the appearance varies depending on the region, and Sámi can determine at a glance where the costume comes from.

In all four countries the Sámi way of life was encroached upon when colonisation of Sápmi, or Lappland as it was known, began in earnest, and the establishment of borders between Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia restricted the grazing land of the reindeer. The Sámi still face threats to their land in the form of powerful interests – mining, logging, tourism and military activities – and to counter these threats representative bodies known as Sámi Parliaments have been formed, lobbying for Sámi interests with varying degrees of success; Russia is the only country not to recognise the Sámi as a minority.

Meet the Sámi

In Sweden, the majority of the Sámi live in and around Kiruna, Jokkmokk and Arvidsjaur; in Norway, Kautokeino and Karasjok have the highest concentration of Sámi, while in Finland, many live in and around Inari, Enontekiö and Utsjoki have Sámi majorities.

Those interested in delving deeper into Sámi culture can visit the excellent Ajtte Museum in Jokkmokk, which tackles different aspects of Sámi life – from their history to shamanism to the making of silver jewellery. An unparalleled collection of Sámi silver can be seen at the Silvermuseet, near Arvidsjaur. The Sami National Museum in Karasjok showcases works by contemporary Sámi artists, as well as traditional clothing and hunting techniques, while the Siida Museum in Inari explores the relationship between the Sámi and the harsh environment they inhabit, complete with beautiful photography.

130122647_14Read about how to join the Sámi reindeer migration >

The biggest event of the Sámi year is the Jokkmokk Winter Market, held in early February. It’s the oldest and biggest of its kind, attracting over 30,000 people from all over Sápmi. Sámi traders come to make contacts, visitors can choose from the best array of Sami duodji (handicrafts) and there are food-tasting sessions, live bands, parades, photography exhibitions and reindeer races on the frozen Lake Talvatissjön.

For visitors interested in experiencing Sámi life, there are a number of operators across Sápmi who focus on specific aspects of Sámi culture. Nutti Sámi Siida, based near the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, arranges visits to the Ráidu Sámi camp to meet reindeer herders, reindeer sled excursions and an eight-day reindeer sled trip through the tundra to the Norwegian border, staying in Sami tents and wilderness huts. Tromsø Lapland in Tromsø, Norway introduce you to reindeer sledding, Sámi food and yoiking, lasso-throwing and overnight stays in a lavvu (traditional Sámi dwelling), while in Finland  you can watch the reindeer races and attend Skábmagovat – the Indigenous People’s Film and TV Production Festival in Inari and go hiking, hunting and fishing with Sámi guides of Poronpurijat.

Book Map

Indulge in Sámi art and music

From Stone Age rock carvings to twenty first century installations, Sámi art has come a long way. Pioneers of Sámi art at the turn of the twentieth century included include Johan Turi, Nils Nilsson Skum and John Savio, but the real breakthrough only came in the 1970s, due to the development of an extremely strong commitment to preserving Sami culture and individuality. This year, as part of the European Capital of Culture events in Umeå, Sweden, the Bildmuseet is showcasing Eight Sámi Artists, from installations by Carola Grahn to paintings by Per Enoksson and Anders Sunna.

One of the cornerstones of Sami identity is the yoik, the oldest musical form in Europe that has traditionally provided a bond between the Sami and nature. The yoik is a rhythmic poem or song composed for a specific person, event or object to describe and remember their innate nature. Though banned as witchcraft at one point, the yoiking tradition was revived in the 1960s, and it’s now performed in many different ways – including yoik metal by Finnish band Shaman, and minimalist folk-rock with yoik roots, performed by Norwegian singer Mari Boine.

Where to buy Sámi handicrafts

The 1970s saw a revival of traditional Sámi craftsmanship; since then, genuine Sámi handwork that utilises traditional designs and materials bears the Sámi Duodji trademark of authenticity.

Sámi crafts combine utility with beauty; men tend to pursue ‘hard crafts’, such as knife-making, woodwork or silverwork, whereas ‘soft craft’, such as leatherwork and textiles, has traditionally been the female domain. Look out for knives in bone sheaths with abundantly engraved handles made of reindeer antler, wooden guksi (drinking cups) or other vessels, made by hollowing out a burl and often inlaid with reindeer bone; cloth decorated with colourful geometric patterns, beautifully-crafted leather bags and silverwork – anything from belt buckles and brooches to earrings and pendants. Reputable Sámi craftsmen include Ellenor Walkeapää in Porjus, Sweden, who specialises in cotton and linen clothing with Sami designs; knife-maker and woodcarver Jesper Eriksson in Jokkmokk, silversmith Juhls Sølvsmie in Kautokeino, knifemaker Knivsmed Strømeng in Karasjok, jewellery, spoons and leatherwork by Petteri Laiti and felt design by Kaija Palto in Inari.

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Eat like a Sámi

Traditional Sámi cuisine revolves around reindeer meat and fish, supplemented with cloudberries, lingonberries, herbs such as mountain sorrel, and mushrooms in season. The fish, such as the Arctic char and trout, are eaten fresh, dried or smoked, and every part of the reindeer is consumed, including marrowbone and hooves, with the intestines used to make black pudding; other dishes include renkok (reindeer stew), bread made with reindeer blood, dried reindeer meat and suovas (smoked, sliced reindeer meat). Gáhkku (flatbread baked on embers), ideally cooked over an open fire, is another typical Sámi dish; while cooking was traditionally the premise of Sámi men, women are now also allowed in the kitchen. Restaurants serving Sámi cuisine include the Áttje Restaurant in Jokkmokk, Sweden, Treehotel, Camp Ripan in Kiruna, Duotar Restaurant at the Thon Hotel in Kautokeino, Strogammen at the Rica Hotel in Karasjok, Sámi Tallberg in Helsinki and Tradition Hotel Kultahovi in Inari.

“The city that never sleeps” is probably a cliché used for cities in almost every country in the world. But is London really a nocturnal city, where night-or-day you can find somewhere to play? Lottie Gross took up the challenge to find out…

6am: finding flowers at the wholesalers

It’s 6am on a Saturday morning and for some reason I’m awake, trundling along on a big red bus on my way from south-west London to Vauxhall. It doesn’t exactly sound exotic, but it’s about to get far more colourful as my boyfriend and I jump off in search of the confusingly named New Covent Garden flower market (bizarrely, it’s not anywhere near the actual Covent Garden).

After a dazed amble around some empty looking warehouses we find the flower market, a hive of activity with palettes stacked high with plants and flowers from all over the world. This is the main wholesale flower market for London, where florists, designers and individuals alike come to barter over the price of a petal – and that golden dinosaur sitting atop a display, apparently.

Dino

10am: admiring London from above

When my pollen allergies get the better of me we finally move on, jumping on the London Underground to Victoria where the enormous Westminster Cathedral provides a fascinating view of the city. From the top of the tower, I can see Parliament, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey, but only just, as they’re mostly masked by a melee of concrete and glass buildings, corporate offices and residential blocks. It’s rare that you ever see London from this angle and I gain a new perspective on this ever-growing city, as workmen hammer away on new developments.

The cathedral itself is magnificent; it’s a Byzantine-style basilica decorated inside with all colours of marble and mosaics. At over 100 years old it’s opulent and in some places garish, but most of all it’s impressive – there are over 12.5 million bricks making up this building and its bare, black ceiling provides a dramatic contrast to the colourful walls.

Sitting in the Lady Chapel, my stomach rumbles and I realise I’m starving – it’s 11am and it’s been hours since breakfast after all. Hopping back on the Underground, we arrive in Brixton and head to The Provincial, one of the many restaurants on Market Row, for a feast of chorizo, fried eggs and roasted vegetables on a thick white bloomer.

Compfight WMCstevecadman via Compfight cc

Midday: buying snails at Brixton Village

Satisfied and sleepy – perhaps not a great start to our 24 hour adventure – we stroll through Brixton Village, an indoor market that’s a mish-mash of boutique clothes shops, delicatessens and international supermarkets, where you can buy anything from pigs ears to giant snails and art prints to kitchen supplies.

From Brixton we jump back on the Underground and take the Victoria line and then District line to Embankment, from where we can cruise on the River Bus and enjoy that famous London skyline from the Thames.

Snails

3pm: sailing along the Thames to Greenwich

The boat moves west and passes the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, before turning around towards Greenwich and sailing past St Paul’s, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. At around £6 it’s a steal compared to the extortionate river tours run by the various companies along the river. The bargain hunter in me is proud as we finally disembark at Greenwich Pier and catch sight of the magnificent Cutty Sark, her masts standing tall against the dramatic English summer clouds.

Greenwich is home to all things nautical as the Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College sit along this part of the Thames. From the outside the college’s white buildings are a grand tribute to the UK’s Royal Navy, and inside there are beautiful frescoes and great halls – my favourite being the Painted Hall with its enormous ceiling mural and walls painted to give a 3D illusion of stone-sculpted pillars.

Great Britain, London, Borough of Greenwich, River Thames and the Old Royal Naval College

5pm: it’s time for coffee

We wander through the park to the Royal Observatory and make the obligatory time-related puns as we arrive the famous Meridian Line that measures half a circle from the North Pole to the South: “Oh look, we’re on time!”

The somewhat confusing 24-hour Roman numeral clock on the wall outside the Observatory tells me it’s 5pm – time for a coffee. We sit outside at the Pavilion Café with a fantastic view of Canary Wharf on the opposite side of the river. An hour later and we’re half way through our sleepless marathon – this is easy, I’m thinking, as we begin to move to our next destination.

The cinema isn’t something I’d usually consider when intending on staying awake for extended periods of time, but armed with my bikini and a towel I am confident I won’t be snoozing in my seat here as we arrive at the unused Shoreditch Underground station on Brick Lane for a Hot Tub Cinema showing of Moulin Rouge. After taking the DLR from Greenwich to Shadwell, then the Overground to Shoreditch High Street, there’s popcorn, drinks and the usual big screens, but instead of cramped seats we’re put up in spacious hot tubs to sit back, relax and enjoy the film.

9pm: partying at Hot Tub Cinema

Sipping Pimms throughout, the film flies by and before we know it, the entire room has erupted into some debaucherous foam party as bubble bath is added to each tub and the bar staff are jumping in, fully clothed. There’s music, dancing and splashing wars before it all winds down at 11pm. Exhausted and starving we dry off and find the much talked about 24-hour bagel shops on Brick Lane.

We devour the salt-beef bagel from Beigel Bake, but this all-day, every-day shop isn’t just about the bagels – the counters are stocked full with loaves of bread and freshly baked buns, and on the way to the toilets upstairs I bump into a woman carrying a tray of sublime-looking chocolate éclairs. This could very well be Heaven.

Great Britain, London, Tower Hamlets, Brick Lane, Beigel Bake bakery sign

1am: cashing in at the casino

After a swift pint in the BrewDog bar up the road we manage to catch the end of the England-Italy World Cup game through the windows of a packed-out bar on Shoreditch High Street. It’s midnight so we hop on the night bus back into town in search of some after-hours fun.

On arrival at Trafalgar Square, the high-heeled revellers are out to party, but thanks to our severe lack of sleep, we’re not exactly feeling up to it (nor are we dressed for the occasion). We need sugar, and fast, so I’m elated to discover that my favourite lunch spot on the Strand is open until 4am on a weekend. Next time I need a falafel salad after a heavy night I’ll be bearing Sesamo in mind.

Racking our brains, there’s nothing else to do than stroll over to the Hippodrome Casino on Leicester Square. Much like all casinos it’s a timeless, windowless affair with tacky decor and bright lights – not a place for a classy night out, but the perfect venue to keep us awake as we people watch from the end of a Blackjack table. I’m grateful for the warmth, but lusting after the embrace of a duvet and feather pillow.

D&WviewImage courtesy of Duck & Waffle

4am: Sunrise breakfast in the sky

When it gets to 3.30am we make our way back to the bus stop and find the N11 to take us east again to Liverpool Street – this is what I’ve been waiting for all night. Arriving at the Heron Tower in darkness, we ascend forty floors during a leg-jellifying lift ride, and sit down to a champagne breakfast at Duck & Waffle, one of London’s few 24 hours restaurants.

As I’m nibbling some surprisingly tasty barbecued pig’s ears (and to think almost 24 hours ago I cringed when I saw these for sale in Brixton market), I watch the sun rise over the city and the views change from a sea of bright lights to reveal the concrete jungle that is east London. We try to get our bearings and map out our journey so far: I see the Royal Naval College, Brick Lane, and Tower Bridge.

6am: wind down at a spa

Swimming_Pool_HR4

It seems an age ago that we were in Victoria admiring the cathedral, or even sitting on a boat cruising the Thames, but it’s not over yet. After devouring the delicious signature dish – duck leg, egg and waffle with maple syrup – and polishing off a much-needed coffee, we splash out on a taxi to take us to our final resting place. We arrive back at the almost boutiquey Hilton London Syon Park just after 6am to find the Kallima Spa has just opened. We ditch our clothes, get back in our swimwear and wind down in the steam room and sauna before finally collapsing into bed.

Explore more of this vibrant city with the Rough Guide to London. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course has been helping people conquer their fear of flying for over twenty-five years. We sent Eleanor Aldridge to put it to the test.

Flying is one of the safest ways to travel. Last year, more people died in the UK sticking knives into toasters than in commercial aviation accidents around the globe. The odds of being killed on a commercial flight in the USA, for instance, are somewhere around one in 45 million. Yet according to British Airways, one in four of us is nervous about getting onto a plane, while one in ten has a full-on phobia.

I’ve been scared of flying for as long as I can remember. Yes, I’m a travel writer who hates getting on a plane – and I’m not the only one. Despite being a frequent flier, over the years I’ve got worse rather than better, my anxiety level and diazepam dose creeping up a notch each time.

As far as I’m concerned, a sharp turn will lead to the plane going belly-up, turbulence is going to snap off a wing and that guy hovering by the loos is about to open the door at 30,000ft. When it comes to take-off and landing, a whirr from the engine indicates certain failure, that sinking sensation definitely means we’re about to plummet and I’m pretty sure the pilot has forgotten to put down the landing wheels.

787__CreditBAPhotography courtesy of British Airways

Reassuringly named Captain Steve Allright has been helping “catastrophisers” like me for the past twenty years, spearheading British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course. The one-day programme is split into three parts: a technical presentation by Steve and fellow pilot Andy Shaw, an in-depth psychological session with Dr Keith Stoll and a 45-minute flight to conclude the day. Their success rate is astounding: of over 45,000 participants, 98% have successfully overcome their fears. “The day is really about empowerment”, Steve tells me over lunch, when course-goers are free to quiz pilots and cabin crew.

Is flying safe?

We soon learn that turbulence is the biggest myth: it’s never dangerous. Pilots class it in three levels of severity: light (like a bumpy road), moderate (enough to unsettle your drink) and severe (drops of up to 100ft). You might think you’ve experienced severe turbulence, but a professional pilot might encounter just five minutes in their whole career. The wings are one solid construct running through the fuselage; they can flex to a huge degree and certainly won’t drop off.

FlyingWithConfidence2_CreditBAPhotography courtesy of British Airways

A pilot is also unlikely to experience engine failure more than once in their working life, and even if they do there is always one, if not three, more engines that the plane can fly on safely. In the near-improbable event that all engines fail, a commercial aircraft can glide one mile for every thousand foot of altitude.

It turns out that the sinking sensation I hate so much on take-off is a result of changes in the rate of acceleration and steepness of climb (a noise abatement procedure); the inner ear misinterprets this as a change in altitude. And, thankfully, due to air pressure it’s impossible to open the aircraft door in mid-flight.

With unfailing humour and patience, Steve and Andy go on to explain that pilots are drilled in simulator tests every six months. What’s more, each time they get in the cockpit they plan for an aborted take-off or problem on the runway. Aborted landings are nothing to be scared of either, as air traffic controllers strictly regulate the space between planes. There is one “go-around” a day at Heathrow.

Why are we scared?

Despite all this, many of us are scared of flying. Thirty thousand years of evolution has prepared humans for a life on terra firma, and roaring through the sky in a metal tube is about as unnatural as it gets. Unfamiliarity with the sensations, concerns about a lack of control and claustrophobia can all lead to panic in the air.

FlyingWithConfidence_CreditBAPhotography courtesy of British Airways

Twenty percent of my group are frequent fliers mostly upset by turbulence, around ten percent have never flown and the rest have managed a handful of flights. Where the course excels is in helping participants identify and understand their fear; the first step to overcoming it.

The root of fear lies in our propensity for anxiety, Dr Keith Stoll explains, “and we are not all equally anxious”. Some of us have a “slightly oversensitive car alarm”, often a genetic trait but something that can also be set off by a bad flight, recreational drug use and, surprisingly, having a child (a factor for around ten percent of my group).

How can you overcome your fear?

The primary coping mechanism, Keith counsels, is learning to control your breathing. Surprisingly the trick is to disobey your natural instinct and start by breathing out. On the inhale, he instructs us to clench our bums, overriding nervous signals in the spine. (There’s nothing like the sight of a hundred nervous fliers reciting “breathe and squeeze” to inject a little humour into the day.) Next, the focus should be on distraction: watching a movie, reciting times-tables or focusing on arrival to break the “doom loop”.

FlyingWithConfidence3_CreditBAPhotography courtesy of British Airways

When the time comes to show the world’s strangest boarding card (LHR–LHR) to security, 97 out of 100 participants make it onto the plane. There are surprisingly few tears and several rounds of applause as we loop down to the Isle of Wight and back across central London, the Shard, Gherkin and Walkie Talkie glittering below in the early-evening sun. Steve narrates the whole flight minute-by-minute: “5,000ft now and all normal; look out for the wing flaps; now a small turn to the left; still all normal….”

It’s an impressive conclusion to the course. A lady in her seventies has taken her first flight, others have overcome a fear of heights and some have beaten years of severe claustrophobia. As for me, it’s the calmest I’ve been in years without a pack of little yellow pills. I’ve still got a way to go, but the day has given me the knowledge and motivation I needed. The advice that resonates the most is from Dr Keith Stoll: when it comes to a fear of flying, “don’t wait until the kitten becomes a lion”.

British Airways run Flying with Confidence courses from Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Dubai and New York throughout the year, with a separate programme for teenagers running concurrently. The basics of the course are also covered in an accompanying book.

Whether you want to keep fit while on holiday, or just explore new corners of the UK on foot, Jen and Sim Benson – authors of the new Wild Running: 150 Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain – have compiled their five favourite running routes in Britain. 

East Cornwall

The south east of Cornwall boasts a wonderful mixture of pretty fishing villages, beautiful beaches – take the three-mile sweep of Whitsand Bay – and the rugged South West Coast Path with its mile upon mile of fantastic running terrain. Following the gently winding River Fowey northwards brings you to the wide-open spaces of Bodmin Moor, punctuated with tors whose granite has been used for millennia to build the towns and villages nearby. A favourite run here takes in the stone circles of the Hurlers and the towering rock stack of the Cheesewring passes close to Golitha Falls, where the Fowey cascades down a spectacular wooded gorge.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/hurlers-cheesewring

The South Downs

The chalk hills of the South Downs extend from the
 Itchen Valley in the west to Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, in the east. Running across these vast, open chalklands on the fine, springy, close-cropped turf created by centuries of grazing is pure joy. We have run many great routes along the South Downs Way, a 100-mile waymarked trail from Winchester to Eastbourne. This National Trail is home to some fantastic races, including the South Downs Trail Marathon. A circular run passing Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters takes in the area’s dramatic chalk cliffs along with peaceful Friston Forest, also a haven for mountain biking.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/beachy-head-seven-sisters 

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The Howgills

The quieter, wilder neighbours of the Lake District, Cumbria’s Howgill Fells lie just within the borders of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  Characterised by sweeping, grassy hillsides, craggy outcrops and rambling, stony trails there is a feeling of utter peace and tranquility here.  One of our happiest discoveries when researching for the book, this little-visited area is a true wild runner’s dream.  A fantastic 6 mile loop from Haygarth takes in Cautley Spout – nearly 200 metres of bubbling, tumbling waterfall – and The Calf, the highest point in this range of fells at 676 metres, finishing with an exhilarating descent into Bowderdale.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/the-howgills

Southern Snowdonia

The rugged mountains of North Wales are a perfect arena for walking, climbing and running, from the peaceful Rhinogydd to the high passes of the Snowdon Range. The classic, spectacular Glyder Ridge is an awe-inspiring run, with nearly 700 metres of ascent packed into the first 2 miles. Cadair Idris is a picture-perfect mountain, and home to the legend of Idris, the giant who dwelt here in Welsh folklore and whose great chair crowns its summit.  The run up the Pony Path and back is exciting, adventurous and exhilarating, taking you through some magical scenery with vast views out across the surrounding mountains, whilst being relatively straightforward to follow. Navigation may be challenging in poor weather.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/cadair-idris

Nevis area summer. Dave MacLeod 17-001

Fort William & Lochaber

Fort William is something of a hub for outdoor enthusiasts. Runners, climbers, walkers and mountain bikers flock here
 to explore the wonders of the surrounding landscapes. The West Highland Way, home of the infamous ultramarathon, finishes here. The Nevis Range is startlingly beautiful, from the brooding form of Ben Nevis, its summit often obscured by swirling cloud, to the peaceful, golden valley of Glen Nevis with its cascading waterfalls, woodland trails and bracken-covered hillsides. A run around the shores of remote and serene Loch Ossian, inaccessible by road but a great run from Corrour Railway Station, is a gentler alternative.
Full run details at wildrunning.net/loch-ossian-loop

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Runners and writers Jen and Sim Benson are passionate about exploring the wild places of Britain and finding the best places to run. Their new book Wild Running: 150 Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain (Wild Things Publishing) is available at £16.99 inc P&P from wildrunning.net.
Explore more of Britain with the Rough Guide to Britain. Book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

In the depths of southern Poland Helen Ochyra goes underground to try out the claustrophobic work of miners in the Wieliczka salt mine.

“Room for one more” I am told as I am gently nudged into an already packed out lift. The doors are pulled across behind me with much scraping of metal and we move up by about five metres. This will happen twice more before we can finally change direction and descend the 57 metres into Wieliczka salt mine so that we can load more people into the lift’s other levels, packing us – quite literally – on top of each other.

It is hot, cramped and uncomfortable – an authentic mine experience I imagine. I’m here to get an insight into the lives of the miners who worked here from the thirteenth century right up until 2007. Although it’s just a few minutes into the three-hour tour, I can already feel that I wouldn’t have lasted very long.

I am following the new Miner’s Route, which starts with this descent by lift down the oldest mine shaft at Wieliczka, the Regis shaft, which was built by the order of Casimir the Great in the 1200s. The lift is not completely enclosed and so I watch the walls rushing past through gaps as we descend at a speed of four metres a second. By the time we reach the bottom, just 15 seconds later, I am somewhat disorientated and very glad of our guide Dariusz – a former miner who provides some reassuring company so far below ground.

Kopalnia_Gornicza_2012_240812__26

He leads us through a dizzying network of tunnels that are held in place by thick wooden beams, only just tall enough for us to avoid bashing our hard hats on the ceiling above. At various points on the walls and particularly in the joints of the wood we see cauliflower-like deposits of salt. It feels like the stuff is seeping out of every pore here and it is surprisingly beautiful, a brilliant white bloom growing out of the darkness.

But the most remarkable thing about Wieliczka is the size of its tunnel network. Just one per cent of the mine is open to visitors and yet we walk for hours, clambering up ladders and marching down endless flights of stairs. There is chamber after chamber to explore. We see the remnants of the so-called “Hungarian dog” transport system, a simple wooden cart pulled along runners in the ground, and are taught everything from how to measure the methane levels in the air – after the classic canary method they used chemical-infused paper which would turn brown in the presence of methane – to how to use a pickaxe to dislodge salt from the walls.

This turns out to be my favourite part of the tour. There is little that is delicate about swinging a metal axe and I make meaningful contact with the mine’s wall with my first swing, shattering the salt and sending it flying through the air. It is immensely satisfying and I really start to feel like the novice miner I have been cast as.

We continue along the tunnels, trudging along in our grey boiler suits and clambering up wooden ladders to reach new levels. I start to enjoy the feeling of being underground in this vast underworld and it seems I must be doing something right because I am picked out to navigate our way back to the lift.

Kopalnia_Gornicza_2012_240812__75

Dariusz hands me a map of the mine and that feeling of disorientation from the start of the tour immediately returns. There are tunnels in every direction, looping off and circling back on several different levels. I turn the map this way and that and just before the panic sets in, eventually identify a couple of landmarks. I strike off in what I believe is the right direction and sure enough a few minutes later we arrive at our final destination – a modern lift installed specifically for visitors that will take us back up and out into the sunlight.

We had reached a depth of 101 metres but there were still hundreds of metres below us, not to mention another 240-odd-kilometres of tunnels we hadn’t even set foot in. This is a truly vast mine and it would take a lifetime to truly navigate it. I may have successfully hacked off a chunk of it with a pickaxe today, but I have barely scratched the surface.

Wieliczka Salt Mine is located just outside Krakow, in the south of Poland. The Miner’s Route tour costs 76 zloty (about £15). For more information on Poland visit www.poland.travel. Explore more of Poland with the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Taking a sabbatical often requires meticulous planning and a little bit of courage. In a new four-part series, Ros Walford draws on her own experience to explore why and how to take a sabbatical, and what to do with your career break.

The canoe slips silently upriver. Palms drape from the dense jungle along the banks into the tar-black water, leaves slicing through its silvery surface. With the sun sitting low, a red slash of high cloud burns across the sky and the only sounds are the lullaby of birdsong and monkey shrieks from high up in the tree canopy.

It’s a peaceful moment that ought to last forever but the vision is shattered by a babble of human voices and you’re back at your desk. Rain clouds are gathering outside the window. If only you could take a bit of time out: see the world, have the space to relax, collect your thoughts, and do the things you’ve always wanted to do. But the mortgage is lurking and the train prices keep rising, so the thought of giving up your job is way too risky.

Fortunately, there is a way to realise your dreams and have security. It’s called a sabbatical, ­or career break, and it’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along every day.

Sabbatical

A sabbatical is a kind of gap year for grown-ups who get to take their job back at the end of it. According to the dictionary, the word has a Biblical origin meaning a “Sabbath” time during which land is left fallow. It’s also a term for a period of leave traditionally granted every seven years to university lecturers to carry out research.

Today, it has come to mean an agreed period of – usually unpaid – leave for long-term employees for whatever purpose they choose, whether to travel, study, volunteer, spend time with family or otherwise. People who take career breaks tend to have a personal or professional aim because they appreciate that it’s a time-limited and probably one-off opportunity. However, the point of a sabbatical is that it’s a break – a rare moment in life when there is no pressure. The aim isn’t necessarily to achieve the goals but to have fun trying. It’s also an investment that may lead to future benefits.

In 2012, I jumped at the chance to take a sabbatical. I had served 9 years in the same company and felt that it was time to take a break from the routine and push myself in different ways. Once I’d plucked up the courage to ask my boss, the rest was easy. The boss agreed to my proposal and a few months later I packed up my belongings, headed off into the great unknown and didn’t look back until I was on the plane home a year later. The great unknown was South America, a place I’d fantasized about ever since school history lessons about the Incas and Aztecs put the continent onto my rudimentary world map. Sitting at my desk before my trip, I would never have imagined that I might find myself flying in a bi-plane over the Nazca lines, watching an avalanche at close range in Patagonia, or searching for anaconda in the Bolivian jungle.

Boardwalk along Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

I had some goals in mind: not simply to travel but to take my time and explore a region fully, to make a South American city my home, learn to speak Spanish fluently and acquire a new skill: teaching. For years, I had regretted not doing a TEFL course like several of my peers who had taught English abroad and this challenge would develop useful presentation skills and fine-tune my grammatical knowledge – all of which went down well with my company.

Sabbaticals are not just for the young and single. I met career-breakers of all types during my trip, including a French family with teenage children. They had taken advantage of a scheme offered in France to take their kids out of school for a year in order to travel. Their trip around South America was proving to be a bigger education than any classroom could offer, even though the children’s exam results that year may not have been as successful as usual. It was hard to tell if the moody teens were enjoying themselves as they moved from hostel to hostel, but it’s something they’ll probably look back on as a trip of a lifetime.

Ros Walford, Machu Pucchu, Peru, sabbatical

Ros at Machu Picchu

So what did I gain from my sabbatical experience? Well, I’ve learnt to appreciate what I have at home: my friends and family, a comfortable bed and good coffee. I have a host of new contacts and invitations to stay at homes around the world. I have thousands of beautiful photographs and happy memories. I feel slightly wiser and more self-sufficient, as I know I can get through demanding situations. I now know that I can teach, after all, and I understand some of the finer points of English grammar a little better. What I failed to achieve was total fluency in Spanish although I have improved. Ah well, as I said it’s the trying that counts…

First time guideSabbaticals: the logistics >
Sabbaticals: the options >
Sabbaticals: testimonials >
For more help on planning your trip, use the 
Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.

Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
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