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The Isles of Scilly sit about 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall, which occupies the far southwest of England. The islands, just five of which are inhabited, are known for their mild Gulf Stream-enabled climate, white sand beaches, palm trees, turquoise waters and historic gardens. Tourism is the local economy's chief motor; the islands are also known for their flower industry.
The smallest of England's 326 districts with around 2200 inhabitants, the Isles of Scilly are an understated place popular with families and a smattering of British celebrities. Both seem to like the islands for their carefree, relaxed atmosphere. But while the islands are dotted with a few high-end properties and restaurants, they are largely devoid of the glitz and flash associated with many celebrity haunts.
I'm not headed down Scilly way for celebrities, by the way. I'll be there for quiet walks, bicycle rides, fresh seafood and, weather willing, some spring warmth.
Do you have any photos you'd like to share with a larger audience? Mention @GadlingTravel in your own photo AND use the hashtag #gadling and your photo will be considered for a future Photo Of The Day.
[Image: Flickr | rodtuk]
Eurovision is a major event in Europe, with a remarkable 125 million viewers.
Nowadays, Eurovision lasts for almost an entire week. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there are now so many participating countries – 39 this year; even more in recent years – that two semi-finals are required to winnow down contestants to a manageable tally for the grand final. After semifinals on Tuesday and Thursday, this year's final will be held later today in Malmö, Sweden. (Sweden won Eurovision last year, and with its win came the right to host this year's contest.)
In 1975, when the rest of the Comoros became independent, Mayotte elected to remain with France. In 2011, the association got even tighter when Mayotte became an overseas department of France. But despite its integration into France, Mayotte is a world apart from the mainland. Its population is largely Sunni Muslim and its most common language is not French but Shimaore, a tongue related to Swahili.
Mayotte is incredibly lush. There are lemurs and lizards on the land, dolphins skipping along the surface of the sea, and huge bats with wingspans as wide as eagles hovering above. The diving and snorkeling is world-class, reefs buzzing with life. The tourist infrastructure is operated largely by métros, or French people from metropolitan France. It would be easy to spend an entire vacation there enveloped by a "métro" bubble. It became clear very quickly that we would have to make an effort to engage with Comorian culture.
I was keen to try Comorian food. Food is a good route to a sense of culture – maybe the best. The Petit Futé guide to Mayotte lists a favorable review of Zam-Zam, a restaurant in the southern town of Bandrélé, conveniently near our guesthouse. One afternoon we set out to find it. After a 15-minute walk we came across a sign for it. A man saw us looking around and pointed to a yellow shack on a side street. He told us the restaurant would reopen later that evening.
I flew out from London on a Tuesday night, exiting Arlanda just before midnight into foggy autumnal air. (Yes, I know that it's spring, but "spring air" is usually a projection of warm things to come. When I arrived it was cold but not frigid. It felt like autumn.)
M was waiting for me at the airport bus stop near her apartment in the hazy cold. We walked back to her flat and talked about her dance class and its bewildering social networks. Then I fell asleep until 10:30. I woke up, made myself coffee and helped myself to breakfast and realized, again, that her flat is one of my favorite places in the world. Don't we sometimes fall in love with the ways our friends live? M's flat is of a perfect scale. Everything has a purpose, and there are many whimsical things – a postcard collection, an obscene refrigerator magnet, a to-do list for an upcoming trip.
I walked to Willys, the discount market in the enormous public housing project next to her flat and replaced the breakfast I had just eaten. I returned, cleaned the kitchen, and walked down to the nearby train station to ride into Stockholm proper. It had been a few hours of perfect idleness in a place familiar yet novel. It was going on 1 p.m. and I'd done nothing of note. I was content.
This became my pattern. My two-and-a-half days were days of idleness. I didn't go to a single museum or tourist site. I tried, half-heartedly, to reserve a table at a buzzy restaurant or two. I failed, but this seemed to be of little consequence. I was having too much fun doing nothing.
Let's agree for a few provisional minutes that the purpose of travel writing is, very generally, to inspire people to think about travel. (Why not? This is a good goal, all things considered.) Few genres of writing are better suited to achieving this goal than travel lists – lists of destinations, hotels, beaches, restaurants and so on. A list written by an expert can feel like an extended secret, like an invitation to experience the world differently.
Lists at their best are efficient. They cover key territory and reduce unnecessary noise. They reveal their writers' passions directly. Are they the ticket to cross-cultural understanding? Not usually, but then very few traditional travel stories, no matter how drenched they may be in self-importance, ever accomplish this end.
Let's take this past Saturday's print edition of Guardian Travel as an example of the value of travel lists. The section was full of inspiring ideas in list form – summer holiday recommendations, adventures in south-west England, and cool accommodations on the Isle of Wight. There's a more bullet-point-like list of upcoming holiday festivals in the UK as well.
The summer holiday recommendations kick off with some exciting suggestions about corners of France slightly off the beaten path, written by Jacqueline Mirtelli of Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency. Mirtelli suggests Cap Corse, the little-visited peninsula on the northern coast of Corsica, and finishes off her tip list with the inland villages of the Var, a region in Provence. Elsewhere Michael Cullen of i-escape tips the Greek island of Kastellorizo, Simon Wrench of Inntravel suggests the Danish Riviera, and Lucy Kane of Rough Guides lists Tbilisi, Palma and Montenegro as her summer travel recommendations.
In this short round-up piece the excitement of summer travel is infectious and inspiring. There is information here, and more importantly there are multiple jumping-off points for research. Could this sort of generalized excitement be achieved by one longer piece on, say, the Amalfi Coast? I'm doubtful that it could.
Like many absolutist stands that we travel writers get sidetracked into on occasion, the resistance to lists is misplaced. The wholesale replacement of narrative by lists would be a terrible development for sure; shy of that, there's no need to attack the humble list. There is, however, as always, a need across genres for high-quality versions of all types of writing.
[Image of Cap Corse: Flickr | cremona daniel]
This week on Instagram, Gadling is off to the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
The Indian Ocean bridges Africa in the west and Southeast Asia and Australia in the east. Much less familiar to Americans than Europeans, the region's islands challenge the Caribbean for the attention of upscale Europeans, and can lay claim to some of the world's dreamiest properties. Some of its countries, like the Comoros, are very poor; others, including Seychelles and Mauritius, can be found at the top of Africa's per capita income tables.
Most popular among French-speaking tourists, Réunion is a French overseas department whose closest neighbor is Mauritius. Like Mauritius, Réunion is a true creole hodgepodge of a place, with a melting pot population; unlike Mauritius, it boasts a volcanic, mountainous interior so dramatic that it is often likened to Hawaii.
I'm here for the hiking, the mountain villages, réunionnaise cuisine, the tropical fruit and the heat. It's been an interminable, wet, gray winter and I want to warm up. I'll be sure to pass along some warmth to you.
Do you have any photos you'd like to share with a wider audience? If you mention @GadlingTravel in your own photo AND use the hashtag #gadling, your photo will be considered for our Photo Of The Day.
[Image: Flickr | Aleix Cabarrocas Garcia]
Beirut's Mar Mikhael (Saint Michael) looks at first glance like a pretty quiet neighborhood, a place where the sounds of machinery coming out of auto repair shops emit the only real noise of note. Scratch the surface just the tiniest bit and it becomes obvious that Mar Mikhael has gone the route of many other neglected urban corners. In between the exhaust and the whirring motors, the neighborhood boasts lots of innovative shops. Taken together, they offer the perfect antidote to the much-hyped Beirut Souks shopping center with its Beverly Hills-in-Lebanon glitz.
Here is a clutch of exciting stores for shoppers and culture browsers in Mar Mikhael.
1. Papercup (Agopian Building, Pharaon Street) is a bookstore/café, the obvious place in the neighborhood to launch or conclude a Mar Mikhael shopping adventure. It's well lit, has a community bulletin board, serves very good coffee - try the Vietnamese espresso! - and stocks an impressive selection of magazines and books, some keyed to current museum exhibitions around the world.
2. Tan (Alexandre Fleming Street) is conceptually geared to the current financial moment. Partners Ghada Rizk and Rima Sabbah decided that the global recession was a good moment to start a business and proceeded to start a label of affordable clothes for women: "We can't afford to pay $500 for a dress, and neither can our friends," they told me. Sensible. Their signature item is a lovely versatile tank top, good for work and going out both, priced at $80. Tan set up shop in Mar Mikhael in October 2011.
3. Plan Bey (Armenia Street) is to my mind the star shop of the neighborhood. It is an extraordinary bookshop and exhibition space that also sells music, photographs and various little objects. Owner Tony Sfeir has curated an appealing selection, and is exceptionally friendly. When I visited, Ethiopian jazz was playing and the star products for sale were super seasonal jams and oils from Syria. I didn't leave empty-handed.
4. Nayef Francis (Armenia Street) opened in December 2011. The store sells Francis' own very expensive mirrors, furniture, aluminum cups and lamps. Everything is beautifully finished and made in Lebanon.
5. Some great mid-century modern furniture pieces, plus some one-of-a-kind vintage signage and other industrial cast-offs can be found at Studio Karim Bekdache, a vast space on Madrid Street. Some of architect Bekdache's original designs are for sale here.
6. Find jewelry nearby at Rania Choueiri's L'Atelier Fanfreluche (Madrid Street). The shop doubles as an exhibition space. Last year saw an innovative exhibition of buyable upcycled goods, including furniture and lamps.
[Image: Alex Robertson Textor]
From August 1984 through the summer of 1985, I lived with my family in Saarland, in the southwestern corner of West Germany. A French protectorate in the years following the Second World War, Saarland was a strange place for a family's sabbatical year. It felt more like a cul-de-sac on the edge of German-speaking Europe than it did the "heart of Europe," the notion underlying its contemporary self-presentation. Back then, many of my classmates had never crossed the border into France, which was just two or three miles away. The border felt sealed, even though passport checks were perfunctory and even though French words enlivened local dialects.
Saarland was a good launching pad. The dollar was strong and my parents' modest discretionary income went far. We jumped on trains, sometimes on consecutive weekends, to explore the surrounding regions and beyond.
In the summer of 1985, we made a particularly exciting journey to Karl-Marx-Stadt (earlier and now again Chemnitz) in East Germany to visit some cousins. My father had become strongly interested in genealogy over the previous decade, and his research had yielded friendships with a slew of West German relatives. We had gotten to know one distant cousin especially well, and he invited us to stay with his aunt and her family near Karl-Marx-Stadt.
Before a recent trip to Edmonton I did my standard restaurant research. All trails seemed to lead to a place called Three Boars Eatery, located happily enough just a few blocks from my hotel in the neighborhood of Old Strathcona. I left a message requesting a booking the day before my arrival and two minutes later my phone pulsed. "Hi. You called. We're full upstairs tomorrow night but there's always room in the bar."
The next night, after an airport shuttle ride through snow-choked streets and a quick check-in, I entered Three Boars' bar area. It was populated solely by men, all of whom sported either a beard or a plaid shirt. Some, like me, boasted both. It felt like a homecoming. I overheard talk of poorly-behaved roommates at the far end of the bar, while the two gymrats next to me discussed in very technical terms the effect of steroids on a friend's growth. The Rolling Stones ranted in the background; in the foreground, the service was attentive and nerdy. A revolving cast of three waiters asked questions and probed, made suggestions, and explained that the menu changes several times a week, sometimes daily.
Three Boars is about offal and local provenance. It's full-fat and high protein. Three Boars is relaxed but it is also self-conscious, telling guests where all their food and drinks originate. I sipped local beers (fine, though nothing truly exceptional) and ate several small and very good courses: smoked pork jowls with grainy mustard, smoked steelhead trout, and bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with blue cheese. So far so good.
Then came the truly exceptional part of the evening, the part that made me sit up: a miso-braised pork belly sitting on steel-cut oats cooked in dashi, with scattered pickled mushroom, roe, and seaweed. The flavors were bold and beautifully balanced. The result was a wildly delicious and quite comforting savory breakfast, but for dinner. It entered the upper reaches of my global favorite food items chart with a bang.
Naturally I asked my waiters where else I should eat. "The food community is small in Edmonton, so everyone knows each other," said one. To illustrate, he pointed out a chef sitting at the far end of the bar and then grabbed a fellow who was just leaving. "And this is Tarquin, the best bartender in Edmonton. You should have him make you cocktails."