Monthly Archives: September 2016
With its idyllic beaches, postcard-worthy sunsets, and incredible turquoise waters filled with abundant marine life, French Polynesia’s Society Islands (most notably Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Taha’a) attract the majority of the region’s visitors. Yet there’s all this – and more – to discover in these halcyon isles.
Here, Eric Grossman takes us through French Polynesia’s highlights in a (coco)nut shell.
Tahiti Island is the largest and most populated of the 118 islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia. Most visitors use Tahiti as a base from which to explore the region’s many highlights; all the major destinations can be reached from the international airport in Faa’a.
With its ubiquitous pearl shops, lively roulottes (food trucks), and occasional traffic jams, the capital city of Papeete is the closest thing French Polynesia has to a metropolis. To truly appreciate the island’s many natural wonders, however, be sure to explore its rugged coastline, myriad historical sites, and mountainous interior.
Tahiti also affords visitors their best chance to get a taste of normal everyday Polynesian life by seeking out a beach or market (such as the Marché Papeete) crammed with friendly locals.
Only a 30 minute ferry ride from Papeete, the charming island of Moorea is less populated and developed than its famous neighbour. Visitors exploring the mountainous, mostly rural island are more likely to encounter more chickens than humans.
From an elevated perch inland (for which you’ll need a 4×4 vehicle) one can view the two small, nearly symmetrical bays on the north shore where most of the island’s action takes place.
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Perhaps the most lauded honeymoon spot on the planet, Bora Bora benefits from its natural lagoon that’s monitored by the imposing, majestic Mount Otemanu. The clear, warm waters are filled with colorful fish and majestic rays, and most visitors spend as much time here as possible.
A handful of upscale resorts, including the family friendly Four Seasons and opulent St. Regis, are famous for their overwater bungalows. These pricey accommodations offer an exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime splurge perfect for celebs looking for some peace and privacy, as well as mere mortals celebrating a special occasion.
Whether you’re after a round-the-world adventure or short trips closer to home, this is the time to start planning. The new year marks the opportunity for a fresh start, and a chance to think about how and where you want to travel over the coming months. We’ve put together 10 travel resolutions to inspire you in 2017.
1. “I will make an effort to travel more sustainably”
The UN has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, encouraging “better appreciation of the inherent values of different cultures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of peace in the world”. Join their mission by thinking about how you can travel more responsibly this year. Start small by gaining a better understanding of how travel affects the environment, or reconsider how you approach potentially harmful activities like elephant tourism.
2. “I will see more than the big sights”
Did you know that UNESCO preserve more than just famous monuments? Rather than ticking off a bucket-list of big sights this year, search out the highlights of the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, explore one of the world’s least-visited cities, or leave the tourist trail behind in these gloriously remote places.
3. “I will be confident in traveling my own way”
You’ll hear a lot of opinions about “right” and “wrong” ways to travel – and most of them should be ignored. The most important advice is to travel in a way that works for you. Solo travel can still be great if you’re an introvert; it’s OK to have fears about going somewhere new; and having young kids can actually be one of the best times to travel.
4. “I will go on an unforgettable journey”
Overland travel is one of the most rewarding experiences out there, whether that’s a hike that starts in your backyard, a weekend road-trip or a multi-country odyssey by bike, boat or train. Looking for ideas? These are a few of our favourite journeys across Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.
Travel is the best form of procrastination and as a student, with those long holidays full of faraway deadlines, it’s almost inevitable you’re going to want to get away. Flights are cheaper than ever before, so there’s no excuse whatever your budget. Whatever our preference, here are some of the best places to spend your student breaks.
For beaches: Albania
The beaches of the rugged Albanian Riviera are picture perfect, nestled in secluded coves and lapped by crystal clear-waters. The coastline is dotted with traditional villages, and there are budget hotels and restaurants by the dozen.
Travellers inevitably find themselves staying longer than planned, whiling away their days on the beach with an ice-cold beer in hand – after all, this is one of the cheapest places in Europe to enjoy a lager (or two).
For nightlife: Madrid, Spain
With everything starting so late (don’t expect lunch till about 4pm and dinner certainly not before 9pm), you’ll find yourself partying here until sunrise – at least.
The Spanish capital is home to scores of wild bars, pubs and clubs catering to all musical tastes where you can dance your socks off as you knock down some potent drinks.
You’ll probably find yourself in a café eating churros with chocolate for breakfast – the fried dough pastry is perfect for soaking up that pounding hangover.
For island life: Croatia
If you fancy sailing, secluded coves and beach parties then look no further than the islands of the Croatian archipelago. They also attract their share of cyclists – there are peaceful coastal routes offering gorgeous views.
Trendy Hvar Island is packed with stylish bars and clubs, while Brac retains a traditional feel with picturesque fishing villages, vineyards and olive groves.
Slovenia is a peaceful country with areas of outstanding natural beauty. At tourist farms friendly hosts serve home-cooked organic food. You’ll be able to experience rural events and learn about farm life while making friends with welcoming and hospitable souls.
If you’re after a little more action, the friendly capital Ljubljana, with its bustling restaurants and bars, is a great place to mingle with local students.
Just the process of stepping out of an airport arrivals hall into a melee of taxi drivers, or sitting next to a vocal rooster on a bumper-car bus journey, can be enough to erode the confidence of even the most adventurous traveller.
That’s when paranoia sets in, and the unfamiliarity of your surroundings can make your trip feel like an ordeal worthy of Odysseus. Fret not: everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. Here are five skills that’ll help you on your way.
1. Understand the rules of the road
The first is simple: there are no rules. You yell stop, the traffic continues regardless, and a truck held together with no more than a hope and a prayer, thunders towards you as if involved in a Mad Max death race.
From Africa and India to Southeast Asia, it’s almost a contractual obligation. If you glare forebodingly at the truck driver, he’s still going to come for you. If you boldly walk on, you might get mowed down.
That may be a teensy exaggeration, but consider this: according to the latest WHO report, some of the most popular countries to travel to in 2016 are the most dangerous in which to be a pedestrian. There were 24,896 fatalities from road accidents in Iran, for instance, while in Thailand the number of road deaths hit 24,237. Other traveller hotspots such as Vietnam, Oman, Brazil, and South Africa are equally as foolhardy.
It’s Wacky Races logic out there, so don’t forget to stop, look, listen and think.
2. Know your maths
Paying for a meal or bus ticket in a new country can sometimes feel like playing with Monopoly money. Which means knowing your mental arithmetic for converting currency is a must.
In Zimbabwe in 2008, for example, the government issued a laughable Z$100 trillion note (the equivalent of US$300). As travellers to Victoria Falls around that time may well remember, it was easy to get fleeced if you didn’t know your sums, especially when counting-out paltry $500 billion notes (US$1).
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3. Master the ethics of haggling
Look up the dictionary definition of haggling and you’ll find this: “to bargain or wrangle, specifically over a price or an agreement”. What it doesn’t say is how even the simplest of head-to-head transactions, be it over a rickshaw ride in Delhi, or an impulsive sombrero purchase in Oaxaca (a trap we can all fall into), can turn into an existential ethical dilemma. You may have got a bargain, but in return you’ve deprived a family and hungry children.
Conversely, you may have been ripped off by a scoundrel, leaving you kicking yourself for not knowing better. Maybe the dictionary definition should adapt to calling it immersion therapy.
In real terms, bartering is no more than an age-old game like chess. Your opponent will never bet against themselves, so it’s just a matter of resilience. The provider also knows you can afford it more than they can, so the question is who has the greater need?
Learning the knack of recognising what a product or service is worth, not just to you but to the seller, takes time but is a key survival skill. Some say you should start at half of what is offered, others say two-thirds.
Even if you pay slightly more than you’d like, you’ll almost always come out richer for the experience. And remember, there’s no glory in saving a few pennies. Because nobody likes a Scrooge.
Fear not, though, as the chances are, somewhere on this big old planet, someone will be celebrating in a much more unusual way.
Here are just some of the weird and wacky Christmas traditions that have taken root around the world – from giant straw goats to celebrities with their pants down.
1. The Swedes burn a giant goat
Every year on the first Sunday of advent, the good people of Gävle, Sweden erect a huge straw goat on the town’s main square. It stands there proudly for a while, bringing a bit of cheer to the chilly winter days. And then, more often than not, arsonists burn it to the ground.
Julbocken (the Christmas goat) has gone up in flames almost every year since 1966, when it was first installed, and is now famous right across the country, with Swedes following the news closely to see if it can make it through Christmas in one piece.
The authorities have tried all sorts of tricks to deter people from burning the goat, from installing CCTV cameras to impregnating the straw with a fire retardant material. They had a brief taste of success in 2015, when the goat survived right up until Christmas Eve – only to be burnt down two days later.
2. The Japanese eat KFC
Like it or not, marketing campaigns have shaped the way we celebrate Christmas. The classic image of Santa Claus as a plump old man, for example, is at least partly down to Coca-Cola’s ads in the 1930s.
And across the world, advertising continues to change how people celebrate Christmas. In Japan – a country with few Christians and no long-held tradition of celebrating Christmas – marketing gurus have managed to convince people that eating KFC is a perfectly normal way to ring in the festive season.
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It all began back in the 1970s, when foreign tourists visiting Japan started eating KFC chicken as an alternative to the traditional Christmas turkey. With a bit of help from adverts, the same trend soon took off among locals.
Today, reports say, sales at the Colonel’s restaurants are five times higher during Christmas than at other times of the year, with many customers ordering their fried chicken months in advance.
3. The Spanish make models of people pooing
Forget everything you remember from your early days at school: in Catalunya, Spain, the traditional nativity scenes come with a more colourful twist.
Each year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, nativity scenes are livened up by the appearance of “el caganer” (the crapper). These ceramic models, which traditionally depict a Catalan peasant dropping a hefty Yule log onto the floor, have been a part of local Christmas celebrations for centuries.