31.8.16

Beijing fashion shopping - Sanlitun「 三里屯」

Being fashion shopping in Sanlitun
Given that I only had one day off this time and I had covered all the main sights during my first visit to Beijing back in 2010 - 6 years already! - I decided to explore the things I never got to see, the contemporary side of the city. 798 Art Zone is the absolute top of the list, but I always find it nice to end the first day exploring the shopping areas. Just like supermarkets, all malls are almost the same but each place has its own special treats (anyone remember the boats in Singapore?) and I am quite keen to check this out.

Sanlitun is a popular area among expats where the nightlife feels a lot like Roppongi (Tokyo) or Lan Kwai Fong (Hong Kong). However, I captured the area during daytime, focusing on:
- The Place: A mall with the largest outdoor LED screen I ever seen (250 x 30 meter)
- TaiKoo Li Sanlitun: Hosting cool stores and restaurants, the largest ADIDAS store on Earth.

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29.8.16

Beijing - 798 Art Zone「798艺术区」

798 Art Zone, Beijing

When visiting Beijing during Spring, my friend Chris who was born and raised there, advised to check out 798 Art Zone. Also known as Dashanzi Art District, it was walking distance from Crowne Plaza Lido (my home for the week) and visible and citymaps2go - a must when you don't have data, don't speak Chinese and plan to explore a city in a country where Google is not exactly welcome. This communist factory environment (industrial interiors but for real) which was built 50 years ago, turned into an avant garde neighborhood is the ultimate plan for a weekend morning exploring an unexpected side of Beijing.

This post is a bit of a photobomb, but it captures how I felt exploring the area. Amazed by the creativity and the size of this industrial dream. There are 3 main areas I found, took about 3 hours to explore including some souvenir shopping - really cheap and cool stuff:
  1. Public Service Center for Beijing 798 Art Zone (southernmost, featuring a Tibetan Art center)
  2. 798 Art District (street installations, shops, galleries and Bauhaus-inspired arcs and windows)
  3. 751D Park (from Ace Cafe, the area from the station through the buildings with many pipes)



Background

The Dashanzi factory complex began as an extension of the "Socialist Unification Plan" of military-industrial cooperation between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. By 1951, 156 "joint factory" projects had been realized under that agreement, part of the Chinese government's first Five-Year Plan. However the People's Liberation Army still needed modern electronic components, which were produced in only two of the joint factories. Since the Russians were unwilling to undertake an additional project, they suggested the Chinese to turn to East Germany, a big producer of electronics at the time. The project was green-lighted in early 1952 and a Chinese preparatory group was sent to East Berlin to prepare design plans. This project was the largest by East Germany in China, was green-lighted in 1952. Officially named Joint Factory 718, it followed the Chinese government's method of naming military factories starting with the number 7.

The architecture was influenced by the Germans, who chose a functional Bauhaus-influenced design. The plans, where form follows function, called for large indoor spaces designed to let the maximum amount of natural light into the workplace. Arch-supported sections of the ceiling would curve upwards then fall diagonally along the high slanted banks or windows; this pattern would be repeated several times in the larger rooms, giving the roof its characteristic sawtooth-like appearance. Despite Beijing's northern location, all windows face north as the light from that direction would cast fewer shadows.
798 Art Zone, Beijing

The chosen location was a 640,000 square metre area in Dashanzi, then a low-lying patch of farmland northeast of Beijing. The complex was to occupy 500,000 square metres, more than half dedicated to living quarters. Fully funded by the Chinese, the initial budget was 22MUSD, which is a lot of money today, but even more so in the 1950s.

The equipment was transported directly through the Soviet Union via the Trans-Siberian railway, and a 15 km track of railroad from Beijing Railway Station to Dongjiao Station, purpose built to service the Joint Factory 718 began production in 1957, amid a grandiose opening ceremony and display of Communist brotherhood between China and East Germany, attended by high officials of both countries. It would be fully functional until the early 1990s, when deprived of goverment support like many state-owned enterprise, it simply declined until it became obsolete. The remains of the management were reconstituted as a real-estate operation called "Seven-Star Huadian Science and Technology Group", charged with overseeing the industrial park and finding tenants for the abandoned buildings.

The Dashanzi factory complex was vacated when most of Beijing's contemporary artist community was looking for a new home. Avant-garde art being frowned upon by the government, the community had traditionally existed on the fringes of the city. In 1995, Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), looking for cheap, ample workshop space away from downtown, set up in the now defunct Factory 706. Through word-of-mouth, artists and designers started trickling in, attracted to the vast cathedral-like spaces. Despite the lack of any conscious aesthetic in the Bauhaus-inspired style, which grounded architectural beauty in practical, industrial function, the swooping arcs and soaring chimneys had an uplifting effect on modern eyes, a sort of post-industrial chic. At the artists' requests, workers renovating the spaces preserved the prominent Maoist slogans on the arches, adding a touch of ironic "Mao kitsch" to the place.

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14.7.16

Weekend in Malaga

traditional flamenco couple postcard

Pese a que lleve dos semanas de lado a lado, le dejo a nuestra asidua lectora unos pocos consejos sobre cómo pasar un finde agradable en Málaga.

DAY 1
Explorar la zona del centro, incluyendo el Mercado de Atarazanas, la Alcazaba, la Catedral y la Calle Larios es lo más básico. De ahí solemos llevar a la gente a explorar la zona del Muelle Uno - donde encontrarás tiendas abiertas hasta los Domingos (te recomiendo ETXART & PANNO). Para comer, solemos llevar a la gente por la zona de Pedregalejo (puedes caminar hasta allí pero es un paseo majo o simplemente parar un taxi por detrás de la Malagueta) donde nuestros preferidos son El Balneario, Pez Tomillo y Cattabia.

Después de comer puedes relajarte en la playa o tomar un gin&tonic en uno de los mil bares de Pedregalejo. Si caminas un poco más hacia el este, verás que el camino continúa por la zona de El Palo, una de las más cañís en Málaga. Para volver al centro, o coges otro taxi o te vuelves en el bus 3 o el 11 (con google maps puedes encontrar la parada más cercana).

Para cenar por el centro, nos gusta mucho La Barra (cocina de mercado), KGB (tapeo chic), Lechuga (ensaladas enormes y tapas deliciosas) y Lemoon (fusión con estilo).

DAY 2
Ahora que es verano, siempre apetece un poco de playa. Si alquilas coche y estás varios días, te recomiendo muchísimo Tarifa. Una tarde en la Playa de Bolonia (o en Palmones si hace mucho viento) seguida de un mojito en el Volare y una cena por las callejuelas del centro es un plan insuperable. Hasta a Byakko le encanta!!!

Si te quieres quedar por la zona de Málaga y vas con coche, Los Álamos está bastante bien para aparcar, tiene chiringuitos donde comer las cosas típicas (espeto, ensalada, paella) y si vas en Sábado tiene el plus de estar al lado de Plaza Mayor (un outlet) donde puedes pasar las últimas horas del día. Para cenar, puedes probar algún sitio del centro que te he mencionado ya, para las copas de después te recomiendo un rooftop bar. Normalmente solemos ir al del hotel Málaga Palacio, al del hotel Molina Larios (frente al AC Málaga Palacio), al de la calle alcazabilla 12 o al del Oasis Hostel. La gente en Málaga va mucho al botellón que se monta en la Plaza Mitjana y aunque sea digno de ver una vez, he de reconocer que me divierte mucho más bailar en Toulouse Club.

DAY 3
Puedes explorar las playas de Málaga Este, como la playa de Maro (aunque es un agobio el tema aparcamiento, yo sólo por la comodidad me quedo con los Álamos o las de Tarifa) y luego dar un paseo por Frigiliana al caer la tarde - se ve en una o dos horas, contando que te tomes algo en el bar del mirador, pero es una experiencia inolvidable.

DAY 4
Si no has estado, me cogería un AVE a Córdoba - aún no he tenido tiempo de subir todas las fotos que tengo ni de Córdoba, ni de Granada, ni de Bali, pero en eso estoy - tardas una hora en llegar, es comodísimo y te permite ver sitios maravillosos como la Mezquita-Catedral, el puente, los patios... Fuí con mis amigas-compañerasdetrabajo en Mayo y la verdad que salimos super encantadas (hasta diría que me gustó más que Granada). Se puede caminar 20 min desde la estación de tren hasta el centro y te garantizo un día super agradable.



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1.6.16

Boracay「ボラカイ」: Backstreets

Boracay backstreets
Ricas o pobres, las niñas filipinas también pierden la cabeza con Frozen. 

Quizás no sean las fotos perfectas de arena blanca y aguas turquesa, pero capturan el lado más interesante de Boracay: el de la realidad.
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30.5.16

Boracay「ボラカイ」: Isla Kitesurfing

Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay

My recommendation is that you spend some days in Boracay if and only if you are into kitesurfing. Either you know already or you are interesting on taking a course. Bulabog Beach on the East Coast of Boracay is, together with Bonaire, an excellent place for beginners. The water is very flat, wind is stable and onshore. The only problem are the sea urchins, but provided you got some good booties with rubber sole, you're good.

There are many nice hotels along the beach, We stayed one week at Isla Kitersurfing,  all I can provide is good feedback. The hotel is nicely equipped with big rooms, featuring WiFi, aircon and hot water. For pro-kiters, space to store the material is available as well as ropes to dry the neoprene suit, which come in handy for everyone. Kitchen opens early, to suit us taking classes at 8AM and the menu has some foreigner friendly yet yummy breakfasts (think of salmon scramble, müsli, avo toast...) at great value. The environment is peaceful, so you can sleep tight at night. 

The only thing to keep in mind is the wind, which will be constantly blowing on your face and the sea, which will flood the beach you need to walk through in order to get to the restaurants on the other side of the island i.e. havaianas are really the ONLY option to wear for dinner.

Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay

As the pictures show, this beach is not for swimming or and walking should be considered risky business in the days with good wind - there are kites coming up and down all the time and the ropes can cut you - but is really peaceful environment to disconnect during your holiday and devote time to learn this thrilling yet challenging sport.

Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay
Isla Kitesurfing, a lodge for kiters in Bulabog Beach Boracay

Isla Kitesurfing [WEB]

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27.5.16

Boracay「ボラカイ」: White Beach

White beach, Boracay

Ranked among the "Most Beautiful Beaches in the Philippines", awarded "2nd Best Beach in the World2011" and "Best Beach in Asia 2014" by TripAdvisor, named best island in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2012, there's no question about the main reason why tourists book a trip to Boracay. White Beach is Boracay's most pristine stretch of white sand and turquoise water is a bit of the Benidorm in the Philippines. Lovely, but somewhat damaged by too many groups of Asian tourists, Chinese and Korean couples taking pre-wedding pictures, people try to sell you anything from a dive to a sunset parasailing gride plus hotels, restaurants and malls lining along the coast line.

Since a majority of the people who come to Boracay never make it out of this beach, it deserves a post of its own. We didn't come for this of course -"but that's another story, I'm not storyteller". Still it is a beautiful beach to take a dip, a walk, watch the sunset or share dinner with a special person.
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25.5.16

Cape Town - Table Mountain

Table Mountain in Cape Town

Table Mountain is a 1000m high plateau approximately 3 km from side to side, edged by impressive cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and by Lion's Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town. The top of the table mountain consists of 500 million years old rocks made of extremely hard quartzitic sandstone which was once the bottom of the valley - hence the flat shape. The surrounding mountains have been eroded in this region, leaving what was once the bottom to form Table Mountain with its flat table-top structure.

There is a cable car and many tourists visiting every day. While it is possible to hike to the top, we didn't do it in order to save time and visit more places. Unfortunately, the queue was incredibly long because of the long weekend in SA, so we ended up spending even longer than if we had climbed. Anyway, if you can, visit during weekdays to avoid the crowds. The views of the bay are impressive and the dassies who live in the mountain are really cute. Table Mountain is a nature wonder that the whole family can enjoy, a must when you come to Cape Town.

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23.5.16

Cape Town - Groot Constantia

winery tour and wine tasting experience in Groot Constantia, largest and oldest winery in Cape Town

South Africa's wine industry began in Constantia Valley, back in 1685. Governor Simon van der Stel chose the area for its wine growing potential, now the valley counts 10 vineyards and grows many grape varieties, being Pinotage the local flavour. Simon's house is still maintained as a musum within Groot Constantia, the largest and oldest winery in the Constantia Valley that also arranges lovely one hour tours where you learn more about wine production, visit the cellar and get to taste the wine, lovely paired with specially designed chocolates. For a wine lover like me, it was a definitely a memorable day.

Book your visit to Groot Constantia in advance and make sure you get a spot in the time which suits your plan. After the tasting, you can take a walk around the vineyard, houses and acorn trees, which is a rather lovely way to round up the afternoon.

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19.5.16

Cape Town - Kloof and Long street

Cape Town shopping in Kloof st and Long st
In many ways, Cape Town feels just like San Francisco. Cool city by the sea, with victorian houses, surfers and a huge art community. The only difference is that while in SF you can walk around for days, in Cape Town you need to be more careful, specially at night. Violent crime has been reduced dramatically in the recent years, but still pick pocketing is an issue. Enrique had his phone stolen twice and it would not be the case of any night they went out to come back home without incidents - always someone would have had their wallet and / or phone stolen. Beware of anyone who approaches you, specially kids that are sadly used for this purposes. That's why you see me wearing this old bag which is not large enough to fit by iPhone 6PLUS - because I left it home, together with my new watch and wedding ring. Be careful please!

Best shopping in SA (except for the weekend markets in Johannesburg) are Kloof ST and Long ST in Cape Town, our top 3 favourites were:
  1. Holmes Bros [WEB]: Local Durban brand for cool guy's clothing - yet got a bomber for me...
  2. The Ceramic Factory [WEB]: There's a Global trend on cool ceramics, at least affecting South Africa and China - in Beijing I also found many pieces on this style - all about making funny things such as robots or animal heads in minimalistic porcelain for a cool touch at home
  3. Pan African Market: Carefully selected African art. It's not cheap but amazingly curated.
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18.5.16

Cape Town - Bo Kaap

Bo Kaap colorful neighborhood in Cape Town

Bo Kaap is my favourite sight in Cape Town. It is the oldest place of Islamic Worship in South Africa, since the first mosque was established in the area in 1798. However, the islamic heritage is not by itself the main attraction of this area. People don't come for the mosques, but for the colourful walls. Walking around, you can't help to wonder why are the houses painted in so many colors?

The original residents of the Bo-Kaap descended from the slaves that the Dutch brought in from Africa and Asia during the colonial period. While the beautiful views from Signal Hill and the picturesque houses have attracted many (foreign) investors to the suburb, most of the current residents have a Malay background and are Muslims, celebrating Ramadan every year.

When the month of daytime fasting ends, muslims engage on a three day party called Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Breaking the Fast).

In Cape Town, hundreds of Muslims gather at Green Point every year in the evening of the last day of Ramadan. They wait for the sighting of the moon, which marks the end of the holy month. It is generally customary to dress up in bright colours, a tradition Capetonian Muslims also take part in. In addition, many Bo-Kaap residents repaint their houses at the end of the Ramadan as part of the celebrations. The residents usually discuss amongst their neighbours what colours they will be using, to prevent clashing colours and to make sure that different colours are picked. It is often said that the different coloured houses have now become no more than a tourist attraction, but the rich history and culture behind it should not be forgotten.

The first time I saw pictures of this neighbourhood was actually during summer 2015, when a Swedish brand launched the "NellyEpicSpring" campaign featuring popular bloggers from Scandinavia shot during an epic week in Cape Town - browse instagram #nellyepicspring to find a million reasons more to visit Cape Town if you are not convinced yer. Or course I don't look like these chicks, but it's kind of fun to walk down the same spots you see on the magazines I suppose.

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16.5.16

Once in Cape Town

once in Cape Town

There is one very long street in Cape Town, which is the absolute place to be. Think about organic cafés, cool hangouts, bars, vintage and local brands. Chicks that seem to have just been pulled out of Gigi Hadid's squad. South Africa being not the safest place to walk around, it pays off to stay in a central area, so you don't need to drive at dinner time - driving at night in South Africa is sometimes scary because when you start feeling safe, a sketchy man pops out of nowhere and starts walking down the road, so you start skipping the traffic lights (called robots in SA) regardless of color.

We stayed at Once in Cape Town, which is a lovely hotel in Kloof street - the continuation of Long street aka the place to be - featuring a rootftop bar, kitchen, own parking, restaurant and 2 kinds of rooms, shared for backpackers and private for grown ups with a wild heart like us. They also arrange many activities with pickup from the hotel, something which is extremely convenient for those who are not driving - we had a rental car and made our own plans. Even if we picked a 3-day weekend in SA to visit Cape Town, we paid 70EUR per night with breakfast included, which felt like an extremely good deal, given the excellent location, parking availability and atmosphere in the hotel - nicely decorated and newly refurbished.

Absolutely recommended as your base in Cape Town - 73 KLOOF ST.

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13.5.16

South Africa - Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park

When it comes to safari, Kruger is the crown diamond of South Africa. One of the largest game reserves in Africa, Kruger covers an area of 20000 square kilometres. It is not exactly close to Johannesburg, so if you are based there you either need to fly to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport or drive during about 5 hours. The park is not malaria free, so you may end up getting a nasty ride out of Malarone pills. Because of the distance, I did not manage to cover this park during my two week visit but I leave you with some shots of Enrique's days there.

Doing a safari in a natural environment is quite different from seeing the animals in captivity. It is interesting to get to see them interact with each other according to their instincts. Did you know that giraffes, zebras and warhogs often go together? Giraffes can see on the distances, zebras have good sense of smell, so they can collaborate and alert each other when predators are coming. Nature is as much cruel as beautiful. While you may get some cute views of mumma elephant with some babies, there will also be corpses, guts, blood and fights, specially during mating season.

You should book a weekend to visit Kruger. Either staying inside or outside the park. If you plan to stay inside, you need to arrive before 6PM which is the time when the park gates close at night. It is possible to go with private tour (up to 10 people) but they all start very early and last for 12h, from 5AM to 5PM. There will be picnic included as part of the tour - typically prepared by your hotel, but make sure to bring warm clothing. Even if you visit South Africa during summer, mornings and afternoons are chilly.

Enrique stayed at Nabana Lodge which is outside the park, but only 4 hours away by car from Sandton. Quite a good combination for those of you working in Johannesburg and want to spend a weekend in Kruger, but have no possibility to take days off. The private safari tour was with Private Kruger Safaris, but they booked both things by writing to some local travel agency called reservations@hazyviewholidays.co.za that provided several options.
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