Monthly Archives: November 2016

Exploring The Gambia

In some cases, you need not even leave The Gambia’s sandy shores to soak up some sensational cultural experiences, while other traveller treats involve trips into dense forests, mangrove swamps and petite villages.

 

The village of Tanji

Set on a wide, sweeping beach, this tiny village is ripe with cultural and wildlife opportunities. Stand with your feet in the surf and watch the colourfully-painted fishing boats bobbing rhythmically in the waves as local women ferry the day’s catch to shore in buckets atop their heads. Behind you is the fish market, which heaves with Gambians shopping for everything from fish and flip flops to vibrant vegetables and loudly-coloured clothing. As the sun starts to set and the crowds begin to wane, the beauty of the scene seems to grow tenfold – the water sparkles, elegant silhouettes parade across the backdrop of a golden sky and the long light cuts deep into the incredibly atmospheric smoke houses.

The village also has a charming museum where you can explore a recreated Mandinka village, complete with huts and displays about this ethnic group’s traditional customs, beliefs, music and crafts. For a wilder, more nature-based experience, check out the Tanji River Bird Reserve, which hosts as many as 300 species of birds. This area also protects lagoons, woodland, dunes and Bijol Island, a noted breeding ground for Caspian terns.

The village of Tanji is less than 30 minutes’ drive south of Serekunda and the Atlantic coast resorts.

 

Gambian cooking lessons

Make your fish market visit all the more rewarding by turning the acquired foodstuffs into a traditional Gambian meal. To the uninitiated this is easier said than done, but for those who want to learn a thing or two about the nation’s cuisine there are some great cooking classes available.

Are you love a trip away with your family

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, that’s for sure. And just the thought of having to hush the baby or keep a writhing toddler still in the aeroplane seat for 10 or – gulp – up to 24 hours when, chances are, they simply will not sleep, is enough to make most parents retreat into a dark chasm of despair.

But the reality isn’t nearly that bad. Babies are often coaxed into a sleepy state by the drone of the plane’s air regulator. True, flying with young kids of a certain age – let’s say roughly between one and two years old – can be a constant trial, but once they are old enough to appreciate in-flight entertainment, two thirds of the battle is won. The trick is to understand what you’re getting yourself into and plan ahead.

Top tips: Take a night flight if you can, when your kids are at their sleepiest and the cabin lights will be dimmed, and tag-team with a flying partner so each of you gets some respite if the kids are playing up. Run your children ragged in the airport before boarding, and always overestimate the amount of carry-on clothes, nappies and snacks you think you’ll need.

 

It’ll be too hot – or cold – for little ones

Nobody wants to see their children wilt under a scorching sun, or shiver in an Arctic gale. But kids are more resilient than we think. Extremes of weather are just another point of fascination for fledgling travellers – be that the sultry 24/7 heat of Thailand, or the theatre of ice and snow in Lapland.

The tropics, in particular, are guaranteed to fulfil the wildest dreams of clothing-averse young ones. That daily struggle to get your kids dressed? Gone.

Top tips: In the tropics, hot nights call for air-con so your little ones can sleep easy. Pack cooling spray for sizzling days out. In freezing climates, bring portable hand heaters and insulating underclothes made of quality fabrics such as merino wool (widely available for kids, and even babies).

 

Beach is always best

All kids love wallowing in sand, right? Sand castles feed the imagination for hours on end, and chasing shallow surf is a game that knows no bounds.

Unfortunately, sand gets everywhere (ears, nose, nappy… you name it!); the salty stuff can be excruciating for grazes or baby eczema; the sun can be relentless, and kids get bored surprisingly quickly. The point is, try as you might, it’s not always possible to predict what’s going to float your kids’ boat.

Top tips: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes, and that applies to your children too. Pick destinations that have plenty to see and do around the beach and easy transport for day trips. Pebble beaches can also be great for stone-skimming – just pack sturdy jelly shoes.

Culinary adventures in northern Kyushu

Fukuoka and Saga prefectures, in northern Kyūshū, are accessible places to start a food-inspired tour of the region. From ever-popular ramen to the more nuanced flavours of fermented vinegar, here is a small selection of the many local specialities worth savouring on your trip.

 

Ramen in Fukuoka

Any conversation about food in this corner of Kyūshū has to begin with ramen (and for some it ends right there, too). The ubiquitous noodles may have their origins in China, but they are hugely popular in Japan, with every region having its particular variations. Fukuoka is the country’s top ramen destination, famous for its signature tonkotsu ramen, also called Hakata or Nagahama ramen: straight, thin noodles in a thick, rich pork-bone-based broth. You can slurp back a bowl at one of the many food stalls around Fukuoka city. There are about 150 of these hawker-style stalls (yatai in Japanese), which typically have a simple counter with a few stools and start service in the evenings. Most stalls set up along the river in the Nakasu area, in the Tenjin area, and in Nagahama near the docks.

Or, for ramen indoors, head to 40-year-old Ichiran, where customers dine in individual cubicles (presumably so one can give the noodles their full deserved attention). Fukuoka city is also home to the now international Ippudo ramen restaurant chain. There are a few Ippudo dotted around the city (the flagship store, established 1985, is at 1-13-14 Daimyo); a collaboration between Ippudo and the Kyushu-based Drum Tao performance group means that the ‘Ippudo Tao’ store at 1-13-13 Tenjin (ippudo.com/store/tao_fukuoka) has taiko drums as decor.

 

Kudzu in Akizuki castle town

All that remains of the castle in Akizuki is a large gate and some hulking stone-wall ruins, but the 800-year-old village still draws visitors, especially when the laneways flush with pink in cherry-blossom season. Amid the old samurai residences, pretty bridges and temples of the historic centre is the similarly historic store Hirokyu Kuzu Honpo (0946-25-0215; 532 Akizuki), a 9th-generation family business. The speciality here is kudzu (or kuzu), also called Japanese arrowroot, a kind of woody vine whose large roots are processed into a starch powder. Heated with water and set, kudzu forms the basis of Japanese summertime favourites such as kuzu-mochi – a chilled firm jelly-like ‘cake’ sweetened with syrup or topped with nutty-tasting kinako (roasted soybean flour).

A guide to the locations of the cult classic

The heart of Twin Peaks country is the Snoqualmie Valley, in the hills east of Seattle. It’s at an easy distance for a day trip from the big city. Drop in first to Fall City, a town that is home to the building which starred as Bang Bang Bar, generally referred to as The Roadhouse. This was Twin Peaks’ adult entertainment venue, filled with couples and bikers listening to live music and downing a beer or two.

One of the most memorable scenes here featured the mystical Giant appearing in a vision to FBI Agent Dale Cooper, warning him of a murder with the line ‘It is happening again.’ Nowadays the century-old building houses the Fall City Roadhouse (fcroadhouse.com), offering food and accommodation.

Out back is another location: the cabin used to depict The Bookhouse, headquarters of the secret society known as The Bookhouse Boys.

 

White Tail Falls

Heading farther south-east to the town of Snoqualmie, the next major location is this impressive waterfall, falling majestically across our screens as the opening credits played to the haunting theme of composer Angelo Badalamenti.

In reality known as the Snoqualmie Falls (snoqualmiefalls.com), it’s a significant site to the Native American Snoqualmie people, who say the mist from the falls connects the heaven and earth. Since 1899 it’s also been the site of a hydroelectric power plant, which you can learn more about at the nearby Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Museum.

Its great beauty makes the location a popular tourist attraction, and there’s an observation platform from which to catch that Twin Peaks selfie featuring you, the falls and our next location: The Great Northern.

 

The Great Northern

Sitting proudly above the waterfall, this grand hotel with timber interiors bearing Native American totems was the domain of scheming businessman Benjamin Horne and his daughter Audrey. It’s also where Agent Cooper was shot by an unknown assailant in the cliffhanger ending to the first season.

The first hotel built here was the 1916 Snoqualmie Falls Lodge, a small inn where travelers rested on their journey through the mountains. In 1988 it was remodeled and expanded to become the upmarket Salish Lodge. With its spa treatments and scenic views, it’s a good base from which to explore the Twin Peaks universe. At the end of the day the hotel bar will serve you a Dale Cooper cocktail in memory of the Twin Peaks agent, featuring gin, cider, and the establishment’s in-house honey.