Category Archives: Travel Writing

The Soul of Kathmandu

On the day the Islamic State seized control of the 2,000-year-old oasis city of Palmyra, Kathmandu reminds us that while sites of heritage may crumble, deep-rooted cultural spirit remains firm.

Guided by the cooling Himalayan breeze, a spicy chai aroma wafts through the brimming November rooftops of Thamel district – the backpacker abode of Kathmandu. Below, in the dusty labyrinthine metropolis, men squat eagerly around an intense chess game as a rickshaw-laden chaos ensues behind them. The peaceful zip of rotating prayer wheels turns to the effervescent chatter of youth, as the soothing scents of Asan Tole’s spice market gives way to the clamor of Newar style bazaars. The pendulum rhythm of life is entrenched in the capital’s fabric. It is how the Nepalese derive their energy.

As April’s earthquake devastated the Kathmandu valley, local volunteers, young and old, have mobilized quickly to provide relief supplies and aid to impacted villages. Accounts of resourceful living, makeshift employment and the reopening of certain heritage sites are intermeshed with the wider humanitarian struggles. For the national and international response, transmuting the resilience of the Nepalese people to the country’s state and infrastructure is the future. To rebuild and emerge stronger from the rubble is to harness the soul of Kathmandu.

Kathmandu, as it was, November 2013:

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Saris for sale: A woman crouches beside her vibrant fabrics

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(L to R) Clamoring bazaar: Stall owners soak up the chaos on Siddhidas Marg,  The Urban Jungle: Intertwined chaos

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Soothing scents: The spice market on approach to Asan Tole

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Faith: A family worship to the God Mahakaala

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Checking the accounts: A suave boy runs through the days earnings

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(L to R) The universally embracing Jana Baha temple: A father and son emerge from prayer,  Entrepreneurs: Creative teens meld together sale items from scrap metal

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(L to R) Silhouettes in the alley to Kathesimbu Stupa, Beard shaver and financial advisor: A man offers his services on Thamel Marg

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A peaceful escape: A dog finds dinner off the chaotic Chokchya Galli

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Gridlock: En route to Durbar Square

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Towering temples: Peering out from a once heaving Durbar Square

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The Monkey Temple: Worshippers encircle the now damaged Swayambhunath Stupa  

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Kathmandu from above: Prayer flags blow over the ancient city

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Hidden Perspectives: A Photo Essay

The developing world is often seen through a monochrome lens: a grey picture, yearning for the brush of western modernity. Yet, sandwiched between the emergent Elephant and Dragon economies of the new world, Bhutan challenges our vision of development, illustrating that under a new light the ‘developing’ world can also lend us its own color.

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The land time forgot: Prayer flags traverse Bhutan’s Himalayan terrain like arteries. Each color represents its own sādhanā, or spiritual purpose, pertaining to the five elements; Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Sky. With every mountainous breeze the verses they contain flutter off into the ether, spreading faith and blessing the Kingdom.

Untitled1The lonely hope: En-route to Punakha a woman roasts maize as a roadside refreshment to entice the intermittent traffic. Poverty prevalence in some rural areas is as high as 52.9%, compared to about 1.7% in urban regions[1]. Remoteness and mountainous terrain can isolate rural dwellers from significant markets.

[1] United Nations Development Programme, Bhutan: Rural Economy Advancement

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Holding onto the past: At the Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts in Thimphu, youth undergo 4 to 6 years of training in Bhutanese traditional art forms. Global development policies for education often target more modern technical and industrial skillsets, to prepare students for the international job market and to stimulate innovation.

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A refuge to religion: Almost 10% of the Bhutanese population is part of the monastic system[1]. Children as young as five are sent to monasteries by their parents who cannot afford to feed their families or pay for government schooling.

[1] Bhutan Youth Development Fund, December 2014

Untitled4Aged techniques: An elderly woman begins an arduous day’s labor, crushing chili after sun drying them upon her tin rooftop. Modern technology such as solar dryers would not only ease her strain, but it would allow her to sustain her livelihood throughout the year, including during the wet monsoon season[1].

[1] Fuller et al, Technical and financial evaluation of a solar dryer in Bhutan, 2005

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Out of school: Young children wander through the Punakha valley. Owing to Bhutan’s undulating terrain, school coverage is often thin in rural areas. As a result, these children would have to walk miles across rugged terrain to their closest school.

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Hard labor: Near Sopsokha in the Punakha valley, a subsistence rice farmer begins a day’s work under the heat of the Himalayan sun. The lack of modern farming equipment means rice harvesting is not as efficient as it could potentially be.

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Community ties: The lone farmer is soon joined by fellow villagers. By mid-morning the Punakha valley ebbs and flows with the rhythms, laughter and spirit of its rice farmers.

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A lesson in morality: A Zorig Chusum School student carefully cleans his paintbrush aside his ‘four harmonious friends’ portrait.  It is a universal Bhutanese image of a bird, rabbit, and monkey standing on each other’s shoulders upon the back of a patient elephant, symbolizing social and environmental harmony.

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Entrenching traditions: Velvet robed monks wander into the colossal Punakha Dzong courtyard. Traditional arts not only teach morals, they become part of the fabric of the country, painted and etched into the walls of its regal religious architecture.

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The poster-boys of Gross National Happiness: several monks beam with excitement as they initiate a fire purification ceremony. By their late teens, children who have been through the monastic system are well versed in Mahayana Buddhist teachings and spirituality.

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Keeping faith: A husband and wife enter the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu. Buddhism transcends secular life. It creates an affinity between people, environment and traditions, which in turn brings meaning and happiness to everyday endeavors.

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Two sides of the coin: A trio of monks softly hum verses outside the Gangteng monastery in the Phobjikha valley. When viewed from a different lens, the developing world can be as humbling to us, as it is to the countries we put under the microscope.

Travel writing: ‘On the wings of a dragon’ Kathmandu to Paro

“Passengers on the left hand side; please look out of your windows,” the pilot announced officiously over the loudspeaker.  It was the most eagerly awaited departure from Kathmandu’s quaint airport on that crisp morning, and barely ten minutes after take-off aboard flight KB401 I was staring straight at Everest, with its snow-capped peak piercing imperially through the hazy mist.

The check-in line was deserted. Druk Air’s orange emblem with its fire-breathing dragon, or druk, Bhutan’s national symbol, roared through the rustic woody decor of the Nepalese capital’s only airport terminal. Standing behind the counter a regally dressed woman with a neatly powdered face gave out a beaming smile.  “Are you sure; heard only eight pilots are trained to land there,” jested a man laden with hiking gear. I was too entranced by the enigma of Bhutan to take heed of the stranger’s concern. The ticket initiated me into a select club of individuals willing to pay the extravagant visa fee to enter the unknowns of the last Himalayan Kingdom.

A cacophony of nerves and excitement swelled through the teeming departure lounge as the flight to Paro was announced. The airport’s shuttle bus comically transported us ten feet forward to our narrow-bodied jet airliner.  On board the shiny purple traditional dress, or kira, fashioned by the air hostesses, glistened through the plane’s whitened interior.  A passenger asks one, “are you from Bhutan?” in fascination. “Yes, I am sir” she replied politely.

Following the thundering thrust of the engines we were air bound, heading eastwards and soaring majestically over white-tipped roof of the world. We basked amongst the Kanchenjunga and Everest peaks while tucking into Drukair’s choice of snack; a cheesy pastry with a subtle green chilli inside. It was a tourist compromise on the Bhutanese’s beloved ema datshi dish comprising of melted cheese with vigorous chillies, but sufficient enough to kick the senses in preparation for the much anticipated descent into Paro.

Soon the white carpeted mountains below began to take on a greener complexion. The tiny nodes of glacial rivers became ever more evident, carving through the landscape.  “Please do not be worried by our descent, this is normal” announced the pilot, releasing an ambivalent hush throughout the cabin.  We began rapidly angling from left to right through the valley, as if upon a rollercoaster, and dramatically hurtled toward the ground. The earthy hues soon turned to tall conifers and the intricate woodwork of Himalayan rooftops with drying red chillies atop became visible.

The plane darted theatrically across the runway and the passengers burst out like a carbonated beverage from a container, with cameras clicking at everything in sight. The luscious valley side we had flown in from shaded the simple airport and a large billboard of Bhutan’s King and Queen signposted the ornate arrival lounge. Each breath drew in the cleansing effects of the unusually pure mountain air. At the exit a herd of men clad in the elaborate gho local dress greeted us cheerfully. “Tashi delek. Welcome to Bhutan.” We had entered a different world.

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Travel writing: Salento, Colombia

“Por ahi?” bellowed the petite moustachioed man, pointing quizzically at the luscious green Colombian mountain slopes. He snatches the map from my hand and runs into the rickety road, halting an ominous looking jeep. “Discúlpeme señor…” I try to inject, grabbing the map back.

 A tall young man in flashy sunglasses arises nonchalantly from the back of the jeep and nods coolly. He smoothly heaves my rucksack onboard.  I reluctantly follow, levering myself on the metallic flooring which was already tinged with heat from the morning sun.

As the jeep jerked forward and darted up into the highlands of the Cocora valley, discarded bullets strewn across the floor rolled dramatically back and forth.  My nervous disposition mirrored back at me from his tinted eyewear, as the undulating green hues of the terrain blurred past behind him.

His hair was gelled firmly in place. Each strand remained static despite the morning breeze causing even the tallest wax palm tree, Colombia’s national symbol, to sway mellifluously in the misty panorama around us.  Below I saw the orange and olive bronzed roof-tops of the sleepy town of Salento tucked safely away in the valley.

He remained worrying silent, clutching a transparent bag of grey powder firmly in his lap. “Polvora” he said deeply, catching my gaze. I attempted a stealthy reach for my Spanish dictionary, only to scramble through the raft of sticky coconut candy wrappers and ‘Zona Cafetera’ leaflets I had acquired a day before in the 1999 earthquake battered town of Armenia.  As I scour the dictionary, the town’s feeble shack-like housing seemed increasingly idyllic.  “Gunpowder” I whispered to myself.

My attention turned to the rusty circular metal weights wedged beneath his large arms on the seat. Using just his other hand he skilfully unscrews a bottle of Aguardiente, Colombia’s sugar-cane based alcoholic beverage, and pours it into two shot glasses on the floor without any spillage. I began to run scenarios in my head for all the unscrupulous things he may be doing with these items.

The jeep began to slow dramatically and even the morning dew resting atop the leaves in the coffee plantations became visible.  The pong of diesel emanating from the jeep vanished suddenly and was replaced by the fresh aromatic whiff of coffee. It fanned through the morning humidity like we had entered a strongly air-conditioned Starbucks.  I receive a tap on my knee, the man holds up the shot glass in offer. I politely wave my hand, as he shrugs his shoulders and rapidly downs both.

Aqui” he yelps, and the vehicle halts. Carefully arising he points to a widening in the trees “hostel” he says nudging my rucksack off the jeep. I jump off, as he places a crumpled piece of paper firmly in the shoulder straps of my rucksack. He winks and the vehicle speeds off, unsettling road dust in its wake. The paper read: “Tejo ranch 1km: drink and throw metal weights at gun-powder!”

There is a whole new character hidden in the shadow of Colombia’s stereotype.

Travel writing: La Tomatina, Bunol, Spain

“Is anyone missing this?”  A lone hand rises high and waves a passport in the crimson haze. The world’s largest food fight has claimed its first victim.

A gun-shot cuts through the roar of the 40,000 strong crowd as a lorry commandeers itself through the sea of international revellers, dissecting it into a battlefront.  The momentary sense of anticipation returns an eerie hush to the sleepy Valencian town, until the heads of passengers can be seen jutting above the rim of the container on the vehicle.

Smack! The first tomato missiles begin hailing down. Soon the intermittent hits are replaced by a wall of red balls splattering from all directions. As the lorry passes, it reveals a fresh set of targets.   Puddles of orangey red hues begin to form and a tangy taste hits my tongue. There is no room for manoeuvre, there is nowhere for cover.  Peripheral vision disappears as lumps of tomato skin spread across my face. I manage to stay upright by bouncing off the waves of jostling bodies swaying in derision. I’m like a ball in a pin-ball machine.

As I march forward the tomatoes squelch beneath me and the acid bleaches the rims of my moccasins white. I bend down to reach the tomatoes lodged between the cobbles of the street, as cackles of laughter erupt from the crowd each time a new batch is launched air bound.  Random chants of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ echo out chaotically through the plaza, and temporarily ceases warfare as everyone gets in embroiled in the revelry.

A mixed splash of water and sangria falls from the balconies of crowded families above, who laugh down at the chaos from their plastic covered homes.  As I squeeze out the liquid from my clothing, a concoction of scents infuses the surrounding air. The crowd thins as the tomatoes gradually erode down to pellet-sized ammo, and people scurry away like ants to even the feeblest forms of shelter. Behind me another ecstatic roar lets out, as an individual climbs atop a tall greased pole and dislodges a wad of ham atop it. This would usually signal the beginning of festivities, though this year nothing could delay the brimming excitement.

As the supply of missiles wane, the brawlers innovate.  Tomato-soaked t-shirts are dispatched sporadically like trebuchets and splash against the old town walls, claiming a range of onlookers. A loud gun-shot rings out again through the mayhem.  A red river vectors through the cracks in the street. Its journey is halted by a lone shoe, creating a lake of thick tomato water behind it. The heat of the crowd subsides and a wave of cold air blasts through the town, as opportunistic revellers dive into the warm red pools.

I venture back through the town like the lagged member of a stampede, wading through the remnants of drenched goggles and t-shirts. Large water hoses clear the path behind me. Covers fall off homes, window shutters unlatch and balconies awash with clothes again, as Bunol is returned to its residents for another year.

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Travel writing: Dahab, East Sinai, Egypt

A sign reads ‘Blue hole: Easy entry.’  An ironic, yet fitting post for a site embodying the contrasting splendours of the Red Sea but also noted as ‘the World’s most dangerous diving site.’

Camels form an orderly line upon the golden coastal sand, moments from the Egyptian town of Dahab, in the East Sinai Peninsula. They slowly traverse the Red Sea shoreline until one dramatically takes rest halting their progress.   Bedouin children filter behind the vehicle and offer friendship bracelets as we pass in our Jeep.

The unblemished sky adds clarity to the distinctive blue hues in the cove in front. A darker, angrier central blue gives way to softer tints radiating from the 130 metre deep submarine sink-hole. ‘Jameel, Jameel’ or beautiful in Arabic, a snorkeller shouts to his shore-side companion, emerging from the depths.  Above, in the searing heat, with only the sight of snorkels peeking through the water, it all seemed unimpressive.

I ungraciously slide on my flippers. My goggles suction to my face as I try to breathe through my nose. ‘Don’t go to the arch; people have been killed and injured’ a man explains in an intentionally non-euphemistic demeanour, mistaking me for an expert diver.  The sites notoriety owes to ‘the arch,’ a long deep tunnel connecting the Blue hole reef to the open water.

Eventually, I find a narrow opening in the rocks to begin my submergence. Sea urchins and anemones cling to the side-rock; pushed aside as if the sea were rejecting it.  Soon the sounds of fellow snorkellers dissipate and only the faint underwater echo of air bubbles can be heard as I approach a clearing. A mass of white corals gives way to a large underwater cavern. A lone diver can be seen searching the water bed. From nowhere comes a seemingly disorientated vibrant orange Goby fish, followed by a vast school of orange. I turn as they pass, and an array of luminous corals comes into vision.

A radiant set of lilacs, shady yellows and baby blue textures charge at me. The more delicate pieces of coral sway mellifluously in the weak current. I follow a long glowing white reef, aligned neatly as if it were an underwater runway. It led to an isolated, yet brimming collection of corals, which hid a wandering odd pair of Parrot and Butterfly fish. They hover arrogantly unstirred by my presence; ostentatiously displaying their silky scales like underwater peacocks.  They soon scatter as the ominous shadow of a large Angel fish hovers above.

It became apparent that I had entered an underwater aquatic jungle.  The ambiguous sign, dramatic verbal warnings and the flutter of snorkellers provided a backdrop to the calming but vibrant flora and fauna in the reef itself.

I inadvertently surface alongside a diver; we both gaze at the ensuing people chaos on the shore. ‘Its what’s under the surface that counts,’ she whispers, submerging once more.

Travel writing: Bangalore, India

On a simmering July evening, the incandescence of Bangalore’s commercial heart takes glow on MG Road; where Eastern charms recede, and the night is swept over by Western influence. Yet the charisma of its people never fades.

The perpetual horn sirens and a street vendor yells, ‘pani puri, 50 rupees’ in tandem. Through the frenzy, the voice of Pramod, a ‘rickshawala’ can be heard. ‘Please sir,’ ushering us into a rickshaw, as he steps precariously with one foot on the brake and the other on the pavement, acting like an anchor to the vehicle. The license displayed on the back of his seat offered the only semblance of trust, despite not looking anything like him. Noting our concern he jests, ‘good horn, good brakes and good luck, are my three golden rules.’

Pramod powerfully presses his foot against the accelerator, and the rickshaw jerks forward, causing a cool waft of incense and chai from the Bangalore night to enter the vehicle. Skilfully weaving between the traffic and into a clearing, Pramod turns to us and smiles, revealing his gold-plated teeth. ‘We Indians can have fun too,’ he exclaims. Suddenly Pramod turns the rickshaw into the oncoming traffic and back, as if playing a game of chicken. ‘Adhika’ translating to ‘more’, he questions.

As he slams on the brake at a red traffic light, the humid South Indian heat can be felt again, providing contrast to the adrenaline rush. Cars collect around our petite rickshaw, over-spilling to where the oncoming traffic is due. Across the junction; a mirror image. Pramod’s impatience is evident, he starts tapping a Bhangra beat on the metal bar separating us from him, ‘ek minute’ he says disembarking, to our awe. Leaving us encompassed by revving engines and drivers erring to move, like tigers on short tethers.

Pramod can be seen, unstirred, by a barbers shack, smoking a ‘bidi’ and bantering with a friend. The lights turn amber-engines begin to roar. He spits out some Betel leaf, known locally as ‘Paan’, and urges himself, ‘Jaldi, jaldi’ as he darts back toward us.  He then pauses to smile, before expertly jacking up the engine.

What may appear chaotic and erratic to the outsider in India, is actually uniquely organised. Pramod embodies this. Placing each hand against the outer shell of the rickshaw, leaving the steering wheel to its own devices, he says ‘this is my life, I have it under control.’

Travel writing: Amman, Jordan

A plethora of whitewash-painted buildings stand chaotically arranged across the hilly scenery, providing emphasis to the green, black and red on a lone Jordanian flag. Its flutter can be heard in the wind. There is a unique serenity on Citadel Hill, known locally as ‘al-Qal’a’, just one of the seven ‘Jabals’, or hills which comprise Amman.

Absorbing the panorama, with the Temple of Hercules at the heart of the Jabal, and the Roman Amphitheatre at its foot, you’d feel as if you were dropped into a Byzantine era Mediterranean city. Only the occasional distant beep of vehicles and the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, can be heard echoing from various mosques, alerting you to the chaotic Middle-Eastern city below.

‘You want to go there?’ asks Jamal, a taxi driver, offering every snippet of Amman related knowledge he has as he ushers me into the vehicle, in a typically helpful Jordanian style. ‘Inshallah’ he exclaims as the taxi sets off. With each turn down the winding hill, the mosques’ call becomes less faint, a damp heated scent begins to fill the air and the clamour of Arabic voices can be heard.

Stepping off-onto the street side, the sharp reds and whites of chequered headdresses, or Keffiyeh, swaying in shop windows, the Arabic music blaring from radios and the incessant cluck of chickens engulf you. A van arrives a few metres ahead, and rapidly three men begin to efficiently offload animal carcasses into a butchery.

Turning into a narrow alleyway, sheltered from the commotion, behind the famous Al Husseini mosque-an array of spicy scents and distinctive hues charge at you. King Talal Street is home to Amman’s fruit and vegetable market.

The hummer of haggling does little to detract from the vibrant contrasting stalls. Heat from the mid-day sun gently warms the aubergines, chillies and olives, causing an aroma to infuse into the air. It blends effortlessly, as if somebody has freshly prepared a Tabouleh, Babba ghanoush and olive salad platter under your nose.

Wading further through the souk, passing the bustling crowds, the scent of Za’atar, a Jordanian spice mixture, begins to fan from every orifice. The thyme, oregano and sumac neatly blend into the ambiance. A veiled woman mixes spices in a steel pot of potatoes, pine nuts and rice, and a bearded man adds some ground meat-causing the pot to sizzle.

‘Jaw’aan’ translating to hungry, the man questions catching my gaze. Perching on his stoop in the alleyway, his wife serves me the Kofta b’tahini. Water droplets from drying clothes on the balcony above splatters on the pavement beside me. With the first bite, the soft textured meat gives way to the crumble of potatoes and nuts, each crunch unleashing the army of spices. The man’s generosity continues as he offers me a warm thyme sugar-infused tea to wash it down.

Contrasting textures, vibrant flavouring and sharp tastes are not just characteristics of Jordanian cuisine. They are also symbolic for the cauldron of cultural influence, religious diversity and political factions which brings identity to the Middle-East as a whole.

Travel writing: Milan, Italy

Navigating the cobbled street corners into Quadrilatero della moda; the heart of Milan’s fashion district, our neatly coiffed tour guide Francesco exclaims, “Milano da bere” in a fiery Milanese tone. Literally translating to ‘Milan to drink’, this idiom derives from the city’s rise as an international hub for modern fashion and design in the 1980s.

Boutique fashion houses and jewellery stores line the ‘Piazzas’ and ‘Vias’. Shop panes are adorned with the latest chic attire and glazing trinkets, all considerately arranged in a minimalistic yet contemporary manner.

Crossing Via Monte Napoleone, regarded as one of the most famous streets in fashion, you can smell the Italian leather from stylish bags and genteel moccasins. The scent is occasionally disrupted by the warm aroma of coffee or the soft whiff of salmon hanging in the window of a high-end delicatessen. The arms of women are decorated with their purchases, in chic retail bags, as the mystery behind their sunglasses and the tap of their heels on the marble promenade garners the attention of sharply suited males.
Models marketing various brands nonchalantly stroll into the commotion of shoppers outside, trying to entice them into stores with their finely tinged Italian-American accents, “Bonjourno Sir, can I interest you in our finest silk dinner suit, si?” Manikins are ostentatiously dressed in the latest apparel, complemented with accessories. Milan is renowned for its ‘prêt-à-porter’ or ‘ready-to-wear’ garments. “Would you like to try sir?” Soon you are guided to the changing room; enclosed by wall mirrors and surrounded by various attractive individuals, sipping wine and immersed in the latest copy of Grazia. You emerge from the room in a luxury grey Italian dinner jacket, and a top hat, selected by the shop assistant to a chorus of “bellissimo”.
Beyond the glass-vaulted arcades of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan’s famous Duomo opens up in front of you. Here the ancient and modern Italian renaissances begin to meet; a modern materialist passion touches the extravagance of Italy’s historic architectural and artistic prowess. As Francesco prepares to leave us in the cathedral’s shadow, he yells emphatically “il dolce far niente”.

This translates to ‘pleasant idleness,’ and would seem a more fitting caption to the often stereotyped Mediterranean family picking olives from their groves, like in a Bertolli advert. Yet the Milanese sit-back as the quality of their creations sell themselves. Da Vinci famously lamented “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.” Milan, the home of his prominent painting, ‘The Last supper’-has manifested his ambitions.

Travel writing: Havana, Cuba

‘Tu casa,’ our suave taxi driver exclaims, as we pull up to the Hotel Lido, in a classic 1956 Ford, known locally as ‘Máquina’. The hotel nestles in a cobbled side-street in La Habana Vieja district, at the heart of the Cuba’s capital, Havana.

The cluck of chickens and the patter of children’s sandals as they play soccer on the pavement detracts from the brightly painted buildings aligning the street. Vibrant clothes dry on balconies, as men sit below playing cards on overturned buckets used as makeshift tables and chairs. The smoke from their famous Cuban cigars fans across the narrow street, and into the neatly marbled reception of the Lido.

‘Chicos’ the suited porter wails, as he ushers us toward the reception desk. The clink of glasses can be heard as three bearded men are served Cuba Libres at the bar. The receptionist hands over the keys to one of the 65 rooms available in the hotel. The air-conditioned en-suite rooms are conservatively decorated and considerately arranged, in contrast to the vim and vigour of the street side. Strolling to the top floor, cooling your feet on the marble staircase, you reach the concrete of the sunburnt flat-top roof.

Encompassed by orange-tinted paving, corroded steel sheltering and satellite dishes from the densely packed building blocks, you feel as if you are peering into a Caribbean shanty-town. As your eyes focus they capture the baroque figures of various edifices, with the occasional neo-classical French inspired architecture. Of which, el Capitolio, or National Capital building, the old seat of the Cuban government, is moments from the Lido’s doorstep. Even the faint beat of conga drums and clatter of maracas can be heard erupting into a complete salsa rhythm at night from various corners.

The cleaning staff engage in regular banter, as the hotel manager’s wife looks on with a wry smile, peeking over a copy Granma, the island’s communist magazine, whilst lightly sipping tea. Breakfast is a typically demure affair, limited to two slices of ham, cheese and an egg, rationed carefully, just as hot water is turned-off on Wednesday mornings. The sound of Spanish novellas, or TV dramas, can be heard echoing through the corridor from various rooms, when the commotion outside ceases temporarily.

The Lido cannot compete with the mod-con amenities offered by some of Havana’s hotels, but for what it offers in simplicity, it delivers in unique character and authenticity.