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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Moscow’s Park Life Guide

Gorky Park

Moscow’s park revolution started with the famous Gorky Park. It was the first of the city parks to receive private investment, turning it into the number-one weekend spot for thousands of Muscovites. Full of lush green, artsy flowerbeds and thought-provoking sculptures, it was also the first to feature drinking fountains, never before seen in the city.

There are very few things you can’t do in Gorky Park. Rollerblading, skateboarding and cycling, beach volleyball, yoga and fitness classes, electric cars and boat rentals, parkour – you name it. All summer long, dancing sessions are held in the evenings on the specially equipped embankment. There’s an open-air movie theatre called Pioner, pop-up screens for special events, music festivals and futuristic playgrounds. The cutting-edge Garage Museum of Contemporary Art hosts temporary exhibitions.

Food for every taste is offered in cafes and restaurants throughout the park, while carts sell Soviet-style ice cream, hot corn and cotton candy. An observatory allows the visitors to take their date to explore the night sky, a small artificial beach welcomes sunbathers in the warm months, while during winter half of the park turns into an open-air skating rink. But the best time for visiting is from late spring to early autumn – keep in mind that it might get crowded on the weekends!

Vorobyovy Gory

Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills) is connected to Gorky Park by the Moscow river and its long embankment, meaning you can spend a relaxing day in the area walking both of the parks and enjoying what they have to offer. This nature reserve covers the hills below the grandMoscow State University; the observation deck on the top offers a beautiful view over half of the city. Not as well equipped as its neighbour, Vorobyovy Gory is a great retreat for those who want to enjoy some fresh air and listen to birdsong (there are bird-spotting routes throughout the park). You can do a little bit of hiking here, or try skating and cycling. When the snow covers the hills, the downhill skiing season starts, even though the main slope is neither high nor long.

VDNKh

The VDNKh (aka the All-Russia Exhibition Centre) wasn’t, in fact, a park when it was conceived in 1935. This vast area hosted the first all-Soviet exhibition, showcasing the country’s agricultural achievements in pavilions dedicated to each of the Soviet republics. Now it’s a favorite among museum-hoppers, families, active young people and picky shoppers. It’s also a marvel of Soviet architecture; you can spend days here and never see all of it.

The museums and shopping pavilions sell traditional Russian crafts, foods and even plants, while old-style vending machines have typical Soviet lemonades. The complex includes a zip-line, an oceanarium, a contact zoo, a bonsai greenhouse and a horse-riding rink. In summer, look out for water-gun battles and flashmobs; in winter, there’s a gigantic, 20,000-sq-m ice rink. Check the website for details and curious walking tours.

The Botanichesky sad (Botanical Garden; gbsad.ru) connects to the VDNKh, if you’re up for a really long walk. It doesn’t offer that many activities but there are a few great picnic spots by the water, a beautiful rose garden and a great variety of trees, bushes, flowers and other plants from all over the world.

Aptekarsky Ogorod

Moscow State University’s Aptekarsky Ogorod (Apothecaries’ Garden) isn’t exactly a park, but more of a large fenced garden that became really popular in the last couple of years thanks to its active social media (check out their Instagram account) featuring stunning pictures of rare plants. Apart from the main outdoor area, there are greenhouses that envelop you in tropical heat even in winter. Many kinds of orchids, carnivorous greens, water lilies and lotus flowers, succulents and herbs can be found here. The garden often holds seasonal exhibitions and offers a variety of classes and tours – or you can just come to meet the resident ‘flower cats’.

Izmaylovo

If you’d like to forget the city buzz for a while, Izmaylovo (izmailovsky-park.ru) is Moscow’s nearest recreational forest area. Apart from the large park smelling divinely of pine trees and fresh wood, there’s also a faux Kremlin in Izmaylovo – a colourful set of old-style buildings hosting the largest permanent Russian crafts market in the city. You can find anything your heart desires here: souvenirs, handmade and vintage items, including a whole flea market section with clothes, coins, manuscripts, WWII relics and more.

Sokolniki

Sokolniki took after Gorky Park and developed into a great outdoor retreat within the city limits. It covers a larger territory and makes you feel like you’re in a real forest, but with cycling paths and good infrastructure. It’s a family-oriented park offering lots of the same fun activities as the more central Gorky. Among the things that stand out are vibrant seasonal festivals, small amusement parks and an open-air swimming pool, while multiple ice-skating rinks, snow slides and an ice sculpture garden appear in winter.

Kolomenskoe Museum-Reserve

If the VDNKh is a Soviet-era museum, the Kolomenskoe Museum-Reserve will show you the lifestyle of Russians from hundreds of years ago. It’s a huge nature reserve with ancient churches (the Ascension Church was built in the 16th century), old estates (like Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich’s favourite residence or Peter the Great’s little wooden hut) and museums. The architectural ensemble of the park is a classic example of traditional Russian style, which you won’t often see in the city.

Where to go for Relaxtion in March

Enjoy a spring coastal break in San Diego, USA

‘America’s Finest City’ – or so the local claim boasts – is deceptively laid-back despite its size. And though summer is hotter and drier, March is still plenty warm, and also offers better value and shorter queues at its big attractions, of which there are many.

There are the beaches, of course: Mission has its wooden roller coaster, surfers head to Pacific Beach; Moonlight’s a family favourite; La Jolla’s the place for kayaking and snorkelling; hit Del Mar for peace and sweeping ocean views; and Coronado… well, it’s just beautiful. Balboa Park, with its museums and zoo, is uncrowded in March, while the bars and restaurants of the Gaslamp Quarter are as lively as ever. Go north towards Carlsbad to be dazzled by the ranunculus flowers at the Flower Fields, or to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to hike clifftop trails – watch for dolphins and migrating grey whales between December and March.

  • Trip plan: San Diego’s airport is absurdly (but conveniently) close to downtown – just a couple of miles from the Gaslamp Quarter, as the crow flies.
  • Need to know: Check dates for Spring Break, when school and college kids flood town.
  • Other months: Mar-May & Sep-Nov – warm weather, not too crowded; Jun-Aug – very hot; Dec-Feb – cool.

Wind among Australia’s wineries and beaches at grape-harvest time

Come March, the grape-pickers are busy plucking bunches from the vines – and it’s the perfect time to roam the rolling hills south ofAdelaide. While the Barossa, northeast of the state capital, gets the bulk of the wine tourists, the Fleurieu Peninsula offers a diverse menu of fine vineyards – some 70-plus cellar doors, dominated by hearty Shiraz vintages – plus artsy towns such as Willunga, kitsch Victor Harbour, and a gorgeous coastline, with sandy shores along Gulf St Vincent and surf breaks such as those at Middleton and Christies Beach.

  • Trip plan: You could base yourself in Adelaide and explore from there, but better to noodle south and spend the night in McLaren Vale or at one of the beaches, roaming the wineries by day.
  • Need to know: If you’re feeling active, the 750-mile (1200 km) Heysen Trail winds from Cape Jervis at the tip of the peninsula to the Flinders Ranges – tackle a short stretch to justify another gourmet dinner.
  • Other months: Sep-May – spring to autumn most pleasant; Jun-Aug – winter.

For bright Caribbean sunshine and cool breezes head to Antigua

Antigua has a beach for every day of the year – or so the legend goes. Whether or not there are 365 separate stretches of sand on the island, it’s true that you won’t want for a patch of soft, golden-tinted shoreline on which to lounge.

March sees a lull in tourist arrivals after the midwinter peak and before Easter, but the weather is still dry and hurricane-free. Antigua is a family-friendly paradise, too, with activities galore and a piratical air – venture to Nelson’s Dockyard or the atmospheric, 18th-century Fort James for a bit of maritime history, snorkel the colourful reefs or try a bit of bodysurfing.

  • Trip plan: International flights serve VC Bird Airport in Antigua’s north, near the capital, St John’s; the other significant centre is around the dual coves and historic sites of Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour in the south. But with its compact 13-mile (21 km) length and beaches all around the island, it’s easy to access all parts of the island.
  • Need to know: March is towards the end of the mating season for frigate birds – look for the throat sacs of courting males at Codrington on neighbouring Barbuda, one of the world’s largest breeding colonies.
  • Other months: Dec-Apr – driest; May-Jun – hot; Jul-Nov – showers; Jul – Carnival.

Visit Sri Lanka for chilling, culture, cetaceans and carnivores in the dry season

Sri Lanka is complicated – not least the weather: much of it gets hit by monsoons around May and October, while the north and east get soaked November and December. Come in March, when weather’s good all over, wildlife at parks such as Yala and Uda Walawe – home to leopards, elephants, monkeys and more – comes out to drink at waterholes, blue and sperm whales cruise the coast, and hiking Adam’s Peak is most pleasant.

Hit the beaches of the west for gorgeous sweeps of sand, and the south for peace and surf, but be sure to explore inland – sacred city Kandy, with its Buddha tooth relic; the ‘Lion Rock’ topped with an ancient palace at Sigiriya; and the ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the ‘Cultural Triangle’. Make time to sample the glorious food, a blend of South Indian, Arab, Malay and Portuguese flavours.

  • Trip plan: Fly to capital Colombo and head south to the beaches around Galle for a few days’ relaxation, then hire a car and driver or catch trains and local buses east to the wildlife reserves then north to the cultural attractions of the centre.
  • Need to know: Visitors require a visa; obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) online at eta.gov.lk/slvisa.
  • Other months: Jan-Mar & Jul-Aug – dry most places; Dec-mid-Jan – busiest; Apr-Jun & Sep-Nov – wet in southwest and centre.

Best Coastal Hikes in Sicily

Stromboli, Aeolian Islands

Start/End: Stromboli town | Length: 8km | Duration: five to six hours | Difficulty: moderate-demanding

For sheer excitement, nothing compares to Stromboli. Sicily’s showiest volcanic island has been lighting up the Mediterranean for millennia, spewing out showers of red-hot rock with remarkable regularity since the age of Odysseus.

Set off a couple of hours before sunset for the spectacularly scenic trek (guide required) to Stromboli’s 924m summit. Climbing through a landscape of yellow broom and wild capers, the trail eventually opens onto bare slopes of black volcanic rock, revealing fabulous vistas of Stromboli town, the sparkling sea and the volcanic islet of Strombolicchio below, and a zigzag line of fellow hikers slogging steadily towards the summit above.

Round the last bend and emerge into a surreal panorama of smouldering craters framed by the setting sun. For the next hour you’re treated to full-on views of Stromboli’s pyrotechnics from a perfect vantage point above the craters. The periodic eruptions grow ever brighter against the darkening sky, changing with the waning light from awe-inspiring puffs of grey smoke to fountains of brilliant orange-red, evoking oohs and aahs that mix with the sound of sizzling hot rocks rolling down the mountainside.

Ready for one last moment of magic? Don your headlamp for the descent and begin plunging down Stromboli’s precipitous eastern slope, with the moonlit sea at your feet stretching clear to the twinkling lights of Italy’s mainland.

Fossa delle Felci, Salina, Aeolian Islands

Start/End: Valdichiesa | Length: 4km | Duration: three hours |Difficulty: moderate-demanding

The ancient Greeks dubbed this island Didyme (the twins) for its verdant pair of dormant volcanoes. These days Salina remains theAeolian Islands’ greenest island, dotted with wineries that produce the region’s renowned Malvasia wine. For sweeping views of the vineyards and the surrounding seascape, climb Salina’s highest peak, Fossa delle Felci (962m).

Starting in Valdichiesa, the trail switchbacks steeply up the mountainside, climbing through fern-carpeted evergreen forest to the summit. Up top you’re rewarded with jaw-dropping views of Salina’s shapely second cone, 860m Monte Porri, backed by the distant volcanic islands of Filicudi and Alicudi.

Pianoconte to Quattropani, Lipari, Aeolian Islands

Start: Pianoconte | End: Quattropani | Length: 8km | Duration: four hours | Difficulty: moderate-demanding

Fabled since ancient times for its rich obsidian deposits, Lipari also boasts some of the Aeolians’ most stupendous coastal scenery. This classic hike starts in the highlands around Pianoconte, descending past the ancient Roman baths of San Calogero to reach the cliffs and sea caves of Lipari’s western shoreline.

After levelling out along a series of coastal bluffs – with tantalising perspectives on the neighbouring islands of Salina, Vulcano, Filicudi and Alicudi – the trail climbs steeply inland again to the town of Quattropani, revealing yet more dramatic vistas of flower-covered slopes cascading to the cobalt sea below.

Vulcano, Aeolian Islands

Start/End: Vulcano port | Length: 4km | Duration: two to three hours (return) | Difficulty: moderate

Volcano hikes don’t get much more satisfying than the gradual climb upFossa di Vulcano (391m), the smouldering grayish-orange peak that dominates the island of Vulcano. Belching out a steady stream of noxious sulphurous fumes, the crater – mythologized by the ancient Romans as Vulcan’s forge – is only a 45-minute jaunt up from Vulcano’s port via a wide, signposted path.

Once up top, circumnavigate the rim for spectacular views of the cavernous crater in the foreground, with the Mediterranean, the cliffs of Lipari, and the distant silhouettes of the remaining five Aeolian Islands aligned symmetrically on the horizon.

Capo Milazzo                                                              

Start/End: Chiesa di San Antonio | Length: 3km | Duration: one hour | Difficulty: easy-moderate

You couldn’t ask for a more scenic hike than this easy loop around the hook-shaped Capo Milazzo peninsula north of Milazzo. The trail initially passes through a level landscape of olive groves, cactus and stone walls before beginning a steady descent towards the surging sea.

The views get truly dreamy near the peninsula’s northern tip, where you’ll find the Piscina di Venere, an idyllic rock-fringed natural pool that’s perfect for a swim. Loop back along the peninsula’s western shore, stopping en route to visit the cactus-covered ruins of the 13th-centurySantuario Rupestre di San Antonio.

Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro

Start/End: Scopello | Length: 14km | Duration: five hours |Difficulty: moderate

Spanning a sinuous series of coves and steep headlands one hour west of Palermo, the Zingaro was established as Sicily’s first nature reserve in 1986, after local protests cancelled construction of a controversial highway that would have bisected this spectacular shoreline. The result: one of Sicily’s best walking locales, with the would-be highway converted into a 7km trail snaking between bluffs and beaches.

Some 40 bird species (including rare Bonelli eagles) and 700 species of flora can be found here, along with several small museums that celebrate the area’s traditional farming and tuna fishing economy. The trail is most easily hiked as a simple out-and-back from the park’s southern entrance near the pretty hamlet of Scopello.

7 of Reykjavík’s Best Bars

Order unpronounceable ales at Skúli

Snorri, Úlfur, Garún, Þorlákur: the strong Icelandic names and high alcohol content of the draft beers at Skúli are guaranteed to get your tongue rolling. This is one of Reykjavík’s finest craft bars, and the selection includes over 100 quality brews from around the globe, including some non-alcoholic craft beers. A flight sample from the award-winning Borg brewery is a great way to enjoy Skúli, particularly with commentary from the owner and bartender Stefán.

It’s a far cry from the days before prohibition, when bjórlíki was the only ‘beer’ on offer in Iceland. It contained non-alcoholic pilsner mixed with aquavit – in a very variable ratio. Because, for reasons that may be hard to grasp today, liquor was completely legal while beer wasn’t.

Party with the in-crowd at Kex

This lively spot inside the popular Kex Hostel attracts locals and tourists in equal numbers. Offically known as Sæmundur Gastro Pub,Kex is a former biscuit factory renovated into an interior design gem, mixing mid-century furniture with modern elements. The best seats are by the large windows, with a view of Mount Esja across the Faxi Bay. Live performances feature a great sample of Reykjavík’s indie and jazz scenes.

Flee to the tropics at Pablo Discobar

In what is the world’s northernmost capital, Pablo Discobar offers an escape from darkness and disappointing weather for the price of a cocktail. Neon-bright and nostalgic, this new downtown bar has emerged as Reykjavík’s top place for exotic drinks; at the time of writing their most popular offering was the Cocoa Puffs cocktail.

Do whatever you want, man, at Prikið

Prikið is the ultimate hipster dive bar. But, even if you forgot to pack a Pac-Man T-shirt and a denim shirt, it’s still a very friendly place, and the saloon-style decor, unchanged since 1951, signals its status as a long-loved downtown establishment. A beer is only 600Kr during the 4-8pm happy hour from Monday to Friday, while over the weekend the bar is bustling until 4.30am. After a big night out, the brunch menu claims to cure hangovers with drinks such as the Bruce Willis milkshake.

Find the hidden bar at Bíó Paradís

A short walk from Sæmundur is the Bíó Paradís independent cinema. While not the most obvious place to visit for a drink, the attached bar has cozy seats and competitively priced Einstök ales, house wine and popcorn. During summer, the cinema often screens the cult classic 101 Reykjavík, in which the anti-hero frequents the famous nearby Kaffibarinn.

Play the piano at Kaldi

While named after the Icelandic word for cold – the preferred temperature of beer – the Kaldi bar is nothing but warm in atmosphere. With guests stretched out on the divan or standing by the piano, the place can fill up early in the evening. The draft beer comes from amicrobrewery of the same name located in Árskógssandur, a village of 100 people in North Iceland, and the authentic seasonal brew is often worth a try.

Visit the harbour at Bryggjan Brugghús

This up-and-coming microbrewery attracts large crowds to its spacious pub next to the Víkin Maritime Museum. The bartenders pump beers directly from the brewery tanks and the wall-length wine cupboard is ambitious, too. The place is a good fit for groups and keen visitors might enjoy the 90-minute tour on ‘all things beer related’.