Monthly Archives: April 2017

Island hopping through Nusa Tenggara

With 17,000-plus isles to choose from, planning an Indonesian island-hopping adventure can feel overwhelming. If you’re beginning – but not wanting to end – your adventure on Bali, the Nusa Tenggara archipelago to the east is an excellent place to start. Bouncing between ferries and buses, you’ll have an intimate window on a natural wonderland.

Hang out with Indonesians on the decks of boats, gazing at innumerable tiny islands which dot the seas around larger siblings such as Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores and West Timor. Catch buses across the major islands, stopping off for beaches, surf breaks, dive spots, eons-old villages, tourist towns, beautiful views and much more.

The following itinerary takes you from Bali all the way to West Timor on a journey that can fill a 30-day visa. Travel as far east as you want and then fly back to Bali from various airports along the way.

 

Lombok

Just east of Bali, similarly sized Lombok makes a perfect transition to the exotic adventures of Nusa Tenggara. It has the tourist services of its famous neighbour but is much less crowded, and has a vibe that doesn’t march to the beat of visiting hordes. Among the star attractions are the superb south coast beaches, starting with the wide, azure bay at Kuta.

 

Personality

Lombok is almost entirely Muslim, with many grand new mosques evidence of the island’s growing prosperity. It’s relaxed, pragmatic and tourist-friendly.

 

Getting there and around

From Bali, hourly public ferries make the four- to five-hour trip to Lembar on Lombok. Along the way, enjoy fine views of soaring Gunung Agung on Bali and southwestern Lombok, which includes the legendary surf break, Tanjung Desert (Desert Point). There are also fast boats to Senggigi on Lombok or you can go via the Gili Islands. Public buses run frequently to the eastern port town of Labuhan Lombok. From the main city, Mataram, you can buy through tickets to islands further east. It’s about four hours by bus across Lombok.

Lombok’s modern airport at Praya is close to the southern beaches and has frequent flights to Bali and the main cities in Nusa Tenggara.

Taiwans blossoming cultural city

Spring is in the air in Kaohsiung; well, metaphorically anyway. Taiwan’s second largest city is reinventing itself from an industrial port to a cultural hub. Warehouses by the harbour are morphing into galleries and theatres. World-class architecture is sprouting along the shore, from a beautiful public library to a spectacular concert venue that, when ready, should be among the best in Asia. Access to these waterfront gems is provided by a sleek Spanish-designed light-rail line, launching in phases.

Less conspicuous but no less significant, ‘culture buses’ are introducing sightseers to the many relics of the city’s distant and recent past. The cultural calendar is packed full of exciting new festivals, and young chefs are injecting fresh ideas into southern Taiwanese cooking.

Kaohsiung – a city of wide streets (some of the widest in Taiwan), long river parks and a thriving LGBT scene – will have even more to be hopeful about, as it awakens to its full potential and embraces a world of possibilities. Here are some of our picks for what to see and do in Kaohsiung as it continues to blossom into one of Asia’s most exciting urban centres.

 

Cultural renewal

The art-meets-industry formula works well at Pier-2 Art District. This ever-evolving collection of dozens of old warehouses is stuffed with boutiques, galleries, cafes and performance venues that line two sweeping boulevards by the port where ships are docked. The focus leans towards fashion, lifestyle, and other cultural bric-a-brac, though you will see some contemporary art and Pop Art-type sculptures decorating the lawns and walkways. Beyond the furthest warehouses are old train tracks overgrown with flowers where people fly kites and watch the sunset.

Known worldwide for its research on Austronesian art, Kaohsiung’s Museum of Fine Arts houses an impressive collection by Taiwan’s contemporary indigenous artists. Paintings, sculptures, and installations demonstrate a mastery of different styles and media, which renders the works not only interesting as art, but also as vehicles for shattering stereotypes of tribal people. Stellar works by non-indigenous artists from southern Taiwan are shown in a different gallery.

 

Ancient and modern spirituality

A ten-minute sail away from Kaohsiung is Cijin Island, where you can spend a day exploring fishing villages, swimming in the South China Sea, and gorging on seafood. A long strip of park hugging the west coast makes for delicious breeze-in-your-hair cycling. Cijin Tianhou Temple, founded in 1673, is Cijin’s spiritual heart and Kaohsiung’s oldest Mazu temple.

The best rooftop bars in Seville

In Seville during summer, it’s blisteringly hot, even at night: temperatures don’t drop until the early morning. So the only way to go is up – to the hotel rooftop bars, for their small-hours breezes, creative cocktails and stunning views.

As a bonus, some of these Seville institutions serve tapas and offer entertainment for the makings of a full night out. The opening hours below are for the summer season; however, they may vary, so do check in advance.

 

La Terraza-Bar, EME Catedral

The roof terrace bar at EME Catedral is the one that’s closest to the 500-year-old cathedral; it’s situated opposite the north side with its in-your-face gargantuan flying buttresses. Choose from areas on various levels, the smallest of which seems within touching distance of the Gothic edifice. Cocktails are pricey at €14 (this is a five-star establishment, after all); pick from classics like a Negroni or a Cosmopolitan, or try a Spritz Veneciano (bitters, cava and soda). You can also dine on a four-course set menu, with options like prawn ceviche, tuna loin, lamb chops and an orange tart for dessert. DJs spin tunes to a glamorous crowd on Fridays and Saturdays. Open noon-1am, to 2am Fri & Sat.

 

Puravida, Fontecruz Sevilla Seises

A beach-bar vibe pervades the spacious terrace at the Fontecruz Sevilla Seises, with its rustic cane roof and upcycled furniture. Sit on jazzy pallet sofas with pretty cushions for couply moments by the bar, or in the larger open space watch flamenco fusion groups perform at weekends, with the Giralda as spectacular backdrop. The corner area with long white wall sofas has a Balearic seaside feel, and is great for groups. The eponymous house cocktail is a tropical mix of rum, orange juice, coconut and cinnamon, for €9. You can nibble on tuna with mango or seafood bruschetta. Open 5-11pm Mon-Thu, 3pm-2am Fri & Sat, 3-11pm Sun.

 

A classic Cuban road trip

The Malecon comes alive at sunset. This broad ribbon of cement curves around Havana’s waterfront, and as the sun wanes, the sky turns pink and the road is washed in coppery gold light. Orderly rows of fishermen perch on the sea wall, chatting as they cast their lines and hoping for a haul of bonito tuna or red snapper. Locals sit in pairs, laughing and occasionally canoodling, while the sea breeze brings with it the sound of a three-piece jazz ensemble that’s just started up along the way.

This stretch is considered the classic drive of Havana, tracing over four miles (7km) along the coast from the colonial centre of the Old Town to the business district of Vedado via a stately lineup of weather-faded houses from the 19th century and brutish Russian-style architecture.

It’s here that the city meets the surging ocean. When a strong cold front hits this coast as it often does, waves hurl themselves against the sea wall and over, spraying dozens of feet in the air and flooding the road, but today the sea is calm and mild, lapping innocently at the dark rocks of the shore.

Unlike most great drives, where the highlight of the journey is glorious scenery passing by the windows, the best sights on the Malecon are on the road itself. Vintage 1950s American cars of all colours and kinds parade along its length. One second there is a dreamy round-nosed Buick in duck-egg blue; the next, a Chevrolet Bel Air convertible in brilliant red with silver fins followed by a royal purple Cadillac. They are so numerous and so perfect-looking, it could be a city-wide classic car rally.

The truth is, these vintage cars are not always a dream to drive. As I make my way along the waterfront behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevy – royal red and gold in colour – the gears show flashes of temperament, sticking and occasionally slipping, and the steering has so much give, each turn of the wheel is little more than a gentle suggestion. But there is an indefinable joy in driving one of these vehicles, and it’s not just the warm, fusty smell that evokes the old girl’s decades on the road or her soft leather bench-seats, so broad and comfortable it’s like driving a sofa.

I make my way down the Malecon and turn onto the cobbled streets of Habana Vieja, Havana’s Old Town. Left to crumble after the 1959 revolution, Havana is a time capsule, its formerly grand buildings broken and pocked with neglect. The Old Town dates back to the 16th century, and retains vestiges of its former glory. Grand, palm-filled squares are surrounded by streets with imposing churches, houses painted in cheery pastel colours, and tiny kiosks selling freshly butchered meat or piles of fruits warmed by the sun.

Road tripping Norways west coast

Norway means ‘narrow way through the straits’, rather apt, given the mighty glacial fjords that lacerate its western coast. Admittedly there’s not much that’s spellbinding as I roll north out of Bergen. The majesty comes later; for now I’m passing the engineering workshops and other small factories serving the oil and gas industry that has made the city rich – again.

The charming buildings that surround the harbour are a reminder that Bergen was a successful business centre for many centuries, going back to its days as a Hanseatic port.

I’m riding out in the wonderful, slightly watery, sunshine typical of Norway. As I follow the fjord first east and then north before turning inland again to Voss, the rugged, often vertical countryside begins to work on me, raising thoughts of Vikings and moody gods.

Norway’s roads, bridges and tunnels are sparkling examples of their builders’ skill and tenacity, but they shrink to scratches on the mile-high cliffs if you look up a little. Whoops! Not enough attention on the road and a long frost break is trying to turn my front wheel into oncoming traffic. Norway’s main roads are excellent, but not all back roads survive the brutal winters unscathed.

I turn north at Voss and then take Stalheimskleiva, the loop of road which runs between two waterfalls and offers 13 hairpins on its mile-long 20-degree climb to the eponymous hotel. It took seven years to build the whole 6 miles (10km) of road, finishing in 1849. The view towards Gudvangen from the hotel is spectacular, with near-vertical cliffs boxing in the narrow green valley bottom.

Not far past Flåm, I face a decision. Carry on straight ahead through the world’s longest road tunnel, a 16 mile (28km) marvel, or take the old road across the top? I’ve ridden through the tunnel before, so the choice is easy. I don’t regret it. There are deep snow banks alongside the 30 mile (48km) stretch of narrow, steep and twisting road but its surface is clear and tempts my inner boy racer.

Back at sea level I am speeding along one of the tentacles of Sognefjord. I cross it on a ferry and turn west along its shore before another ferry takes me across to Dragsvik and on to the E39 main road. It’s an intoxicating run north and east from here, always either alongside a fjord or crossing a rocky range by hairpins, smooth, long curves and regular blinks of tunnels.