Misc

A Long Way Home

Not only will this country soothe your soul, leave you speechless and make you yearn for more . . .

 A Long Way Home

Words by Claire Nelson & Photographs by Lara Miller  

Crossing Aotearoa’s South Island in search of whitebait, weather and a sense of connection.

The door blew shut on the ferry lounge, leaving behind the fragrant whiff of sheep from the livestock truck in the vehicle bay where, earlier, 100 woolly faces had greeted us onboard. Every pair of brown eyes had asked the question: where were we going? ‘South’, I’d winked back, which was about as much as I knew myself. For a New Zealander I was shamefully out of touch with New Zealand. Being Auckland-born and Wellington raised I’d traversed the North Island a thousand times over, while the South remained stuck on my to-do list - somewhere at the bottom at that. New Zealand’s grass was never green enough for me and I was bored, preoccupied with romantic notions of overseas. As soon as I could I emigrated to the UK, spending more than a decade revelling in ancient history and effortless travel until, in 2016, I became a British citizen. I reckon it was at this point my mother decided enough was enough - how could I be a certified Brit when I was still so uninitiated in my own backyard? It was time to come home and tackle that to-do list. So here we were, my mum and I, on the Cook Strait Ferry as it coasted through the lush valleys of the Marlborough Sounds, heading for the unchartered territory of my motherland.

The West Coast

My sum total knowledge of the West Coast was that it had whitebait and weather, and plenty of both. Sure enough, we arrived to rain and thick cloud, my mother navigating the winding road through a complete white-out. This untamed coast is beautiful regardless; the wild churning sea, hills shrouded in mist, the road flanked by tall nīkau palms. Forget Lord of the Rings, this is Jurassic Park territory. We stopped in Punakaiki and followed a cliffcut trail through beds of flax to see the famous Pancake Rocks; ancient stacks of limestone born out of the seabed over millions of years and eroded by the elements. Continuing south we made a detour to Blackball, a former coal mining settlement turned backwater town renowned for two notable highlights: the local salami company (where we stocked up on snacks) and a grand turn-of-the-century hotel once called The Blackball Hilton. Although it was named after the bloke who ran the old mine, the global Hilton chain came knocking and demanded they change the name. And so they did. In a nod to good ol’ stubborn Kiwi humour it’s now Formerly The Blackball Hilton.

 

Avenues of tall kahikatea trees saluted us as we made our way to glacier country, the drizzle following us all the way. We arrived in Fox, a small town at the foot of the Southern Alps dedicated almost entirely to mountain pursuits, such as the glacier heliflight we’d booked for the following day. But the peaks above us were obscured by ominous cloud. “The helicopters,” chimed the woman checking us into our motel, “haven’t been up all week.” When people in the UK tell me that I must miss the weather back home, they’re confusing us with sunny Australia. For in New Zealand the only thing you can predict about the weather is its changeability. We were lucky then to wake up to blue skies, giving us the chance to witness the mountain ranges reflected in Lake Matheson’s much-photographed mirrored surface and keep our date with Fox Glacier. Our pocket-sized helicopter hovered up the great sweeping frozen river, pure white ice rippled with translucent blue, made all the more humbling for the fact nature almost didn’t let us in.

Having encountered all weather varieties we went in search of that ultimate Kiwi delicacy: whitebait fritters, fresh from the pan and served on no-frills, generously buttered white bread with a wedge of lemon. In Haast we came upon Otoko Espresso, a rust-brown, corrugated-iron cart serving hot coffee and whitebait sarnies on the side of the road. We ate where we stood, juices running down our chins, as proprietor Robyn rested her elbows on the counter and told us how she parks here for the summer holidays. “My kids are playing over there somewhere,” she says, waving an arm towards the park. “They’ll come back when they’re hungry.” Oh my word, if only we could do the same.

Otago 

We ventured inland across the Alps, through the beech forest and rugged schist ravines of the Haast Pass - once an ancient Māori greenstone trail - emerging into what appeared to be an entirely different country. The moody greys and greens of the west coast had been replaced by sandy browns and bright blues of Lake Wanaka, backed by mountains beyond mountains and Lake Hawea, which is a startling shade of turquoise. Mum’s little red Mazda carried us over the Crown Range, the highest main road in the country and one hell of a scenic drive, golden valleys appearing at every hairpin turn. Having made it to the other side we stopped for a drink at the Cardrona Hotel, an iconic coaching inn dating back to 1863, which is seriously old when you consider that the country was only founded in 1840. Its wooden facade is original as is the vintage Chrysler parked out front, while round the back the rose-bordered beer garden is the perfect spot for a cold one.

We spent two nights in Arrowtown, set at a welcome distance from the summer crowds of nearby Queenstown and a place that benefits from a proper nosey. Retaining its gold rush charm, the main street is a cluster of heritage-style shops and restaurants, merging with a tree-lined avenue of original miners’ cottages. A horse was tethered outside the pub where a jazz band had people on their feet and dancing in the beer garden. Surrounded by all this it was easy to imagine the lives of families who’d emigrated here to make their fortune panning the Arrow River for gold. New Zealand may not have seen the rise and fall of empires, or had the likes of Shakespeare walk its streets, but our country has an intrepid history all its own, something I was only now beginning to appreciate.

Back on course, we followed the long straight country roads, passing Cromwell as we went, the town once drowned and rebuilt to make way for the great Clyde Dam. We were heading for Oamaru - a place I’d known nothing about and was pleasantly surprised to find contained beautiful neo-classical architecture of white stone, a preserved Victorian precinct and, most surprisingly, a quirky museum claiming Oamaru as the birthplace of steampunk. We strolled the avenues of the old town, browsing curiosities in ye olde bookshops and eclectic vintage stores before heading along the coast to neighbouring Moeraki, which is famous for its own curiosities. Here you’ll find oft-photographed circular boulders scattered across a small patch of beach, strangely otherworldly, as if some mythical giant had dropped his marbles long ago.

My favourite curiosity of all was Fleur’s Place, a seafood shack lovingly installed on the Moeraki harbourside by chef Fleur Sullivan. We arrived for dinner, the evening sun glinting off the ocean as gulls twirled above the ramshackle restaurant built from marvellous bits and bobs - old doors, pieces of boat, a spiral staircase rescued from a demolished hotel. We tucked into freshly grilled hoki and monkfish, while all around us the walls were covered in Sharpie scrawls from previous diners, love notes to a good meal. And then there was Fleur, with a cloud of white hair and a greenstone hung about her neck who, despite being in her seventies, was hustling through the restaurant with a steel tray of fish. Stopping for a chat, she told us how the ample supply of local food motivated her to open the restaurant in 2002. “I’d go out on the boats and see how much went to waste - they’d chuck the fish heads overboard. And I thought, that would make a bloody good stock!” Next thing I knew Fleur was tugging on my arm and mum and I were encouraged to come ogle another diner’s fish supper. “This bream was caught about two hours ago,” she announced, clearly as delighted as we were. Here was a woman who appreciated what was right on her doorstep. New life mantra: be more like Fleur.

Canterbury 

We had arrived in lake country, passing Lake Aviemore, where ‘freedom campers’ congregated in their laundry-draped campervans, then the eye-wateringly blue Lake Pukaki, and Lake Benmore, with its colossal hydropower dam. Punctuating all this water are the Clay Cliffs, found just outside of Omarama. Five dollars in an honesty box beside the gate grants entry to what looks like the Australian Outback - a dry, arid landscape spiked with huge pinnacles of rock and riddled with walking trails. Then, it was back to blue for the rest of the day, our digs a tiny cabin on the edge of Lake Tekapo alongside the compact tents of committed cycle-tourers. Mum and I sat on the porch, sharing fish and chips with a family of ducks and waiting for nightfall; this place is a UNESCO dark sky reserve, the undiluted darkness a perfect opportunity for stargazing.

The morning brought a palette of colour as we hit the road through trails of lupins, an immigrant wildflower that mottled the roadside with watercolour shades of pink and purple. We were heading for Akaroa, a pretty port that the English and French had competed to claim in 1840. After a long and epic voyage the French arrived to see the British flag up on the hill. They were 48 hours too late. Nevertheless, the town still adopted a little French flavour, as evident in the street names and the boulangeries serving crépes and croque monsieur. From the pier, pint-sized catamarans come and go, taking wildlife-watchers to meet the little native Hector’s dolphins that play in the harbour. Then there’s the uniquely Akaroan The Giant’s House, the home of blue-haired artist Josie Martin, reinvented as a bonkers fantasyland of mosaics - a world of characters she created out of tiles, glass and chipped crockery and which has a je ne sais quoi all its own. Our road trip was meant to end in Kaikoura with a visit to Nin’s Bin, an iconic, retro caravan selling crayfish on the beachfront. But a few weeks before the region was rattled hard by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, cutting off access roads and heaving up the seabed (decimating the crayfish with it). Here, quakes are a part of life. Kaikoura would rebuild and I would come back. In the meantime, we reset our route to Hanmer Springs, a splendid place to conclude a road trip, as it turns out. Hanmer has been an oasis of geothermal hot springs for more than 150 years and its steamy mineral pools are ideal for soaking weary bones and car-contorted limbs. It seems that with one hand nature may taketh away but it giveth back with the other.

On our last morning we hit the road early, the peaks of the Southern Alps striking against the pale sky. We stopped for fuel and flat whites in Springs Junction, possibly the only place to actually benefit from the earthquake. This little one-horse town was fielding all the rerouted traffic from Kaikoura and local business was booming. As I juggled our takeaway coffees a tattooed truckie smiled and held the cafe door open for me. I felt a long-overdue surge of affection for my little country and its people, grateful it had so warmly welcomed back its prodigal daughter. In Nelson Lakes National Park we made our final scenic stop, at beautiful Lake Rotoiti, where I wandered barefoot to the end of its creaky wooden jetty and felt the sun on my skin. And I finally got it. There really is no place like home. I’d just had to go to the other side of the world and back to get here.

 

Supper Clubs of London

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Words by Elli Hollington Beyond the basics of sustenance and gluttony, food is emotional – closely linked to memory, imagination, and travel.  Supper clubs have cosily diversified the capital’s dining-out options, in which strangers come together along big wooden tables to break bread and share conversation. It is the experience of the intimate dinner party, expanded out, and unlike a restaurant, you know you’re never going to have that evening, those people, this menu in combination again.

Out of London’s growing vogue for supper clubs come two in particular that understand this irresistible lure of food and culture.  The Literary Hour, which originated out of a group of friends' Haringey kitchen, lays on suppers inspired by classic writers and books. Kino Vino, a cinema supper club, puts on stylish evenings of feasting from the national cuisine of the particular film screened at the beginning of the night. This is cooking which inspires nostalgia, whilst also sparking visions of unfamiliar places and flavours.

The Literary Hour has been going strong for nearly two years now. Head chef Jude Skipwith started exploring culinary possibilities with her housemates in the summer of 2015. Thumbing through childhood copies of Roald Dahl stories, they dreamed of snozzcumbers, edible wallpaper, and luscious giant peaches. They put together their first menu, and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ golden ticket chocolate bars were sent out to their guests in the post as invitations. Since then, they’ve done ‘Silence of the Lambs’ for Halloween (duck hearts, lamb shanks, and blood-like gazpacho), and then moved on to the stories of the Brothers Grimm, using pumpkins leftover from Cinderella’s carriage, and peas that rolled out from under the Princess’s mattress, presumably. Beatrix Potter inspired last year’s spring supper club, with their dining table laid with an edible vegetable patch of seeds and olive tapenade ‘soil’, and tiny blue felt Peter Rabbit jackets as table settings.

Over Christmas they made the decision to upscale, moving their pots, pans, knives and pile of battered paperbacks to Styx. The multi-purpose arts venue in Tottenham gave them the space for their most inventive and ambitious supper club to date. Diners found themselves in an everlasting Narnian winter, complete with an indoor forest of fir trees with sprayed-on 'snow' and frequent belchings of dry ice. Warming up with steaming cocktails and hot water bottles, we sat down to feast under the most beautiful canopy of branches and fairy lights. I found myself taken back to childhood evenings reading ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ as the courses began to roll out. To start: a deliciously smooth celeriac velouté in a teacup, served with a black pepper scone and horseradish butter to warm our bellies. As we listened to the words of the Pevensies fleeing the wrath of the White Witch (readings between courses continue to be The Literary Hour’s signature touch), we tucked into an adorable 'ham on the run' picnic spread of the sort the beavers might have packed for them, although perhaps their version wouldn't have had the beaver salami we sampled. Of course, there was handmade Turkish Delight. After some boozy hot chocolate and pudding with marmalade vodka, we were ready for home.

Speaking to The Literary Hour’s founder Jude, it is evident that she is utterly obsessed with food, a highly talented amateur chef learning new techniques as she goes. She remembers in particular the challenge of making gorgeously fresh duck egg ravioli, ensuring the pasta was cooked whilst the egg yolk inside remained runny. Upcoming menus are often researched at the bottom of her garden with a picnic basket of cold prosecco and crisp salad, and she has been to every corner of London in her quest for the best ingredients. While her cooking remains essentially local and European, she’s a dedicated foodie traveller, and starts reminiscing about dishes of currywurst in Berlin and chicken heart kebabs in Thailand during our conversation. In her opinion, “Food is such a fantastic way to begin understanding a different country and their different culture. When language might be a barrier, it is the easiest - and most delicious - way to connect to people.”

This is a sentiment shared by Alissa Timoshkina, and put into mouthwatering practice with her supper club Kino Vino. She brings her genius curation skills to pair chefs with a particular film of her choice. Travelling thematically from nation to nation with each individual supper club, last month was all about India. Handed glasses of prosecco at the door, we started with a screening of 'The Lunchbox', the charming Indian film in which a pair of strangers fall in love over a misdelivered packed lunch. India, perhaps more than any other country, really comes to life on the screen: the streets of Mumbai rammed with dabbawalas on their bicycles, office workers inhaling spices from the lifted lid of a tiffin tin as ceiling fans whirl overhead, smoking on one's balcony at sunset. And the food: rich pulpy aubergines in baingan bharta, perfectly simple dal, and stuffed bitter gourd, with fresh chapatis to mop everything up. The heroine of ‘The Lunchbox’ licks her fingers at her stove, and the unlikely hero’s days are transformed as he falls in love with firstly her cooking, and then her (despite some outrageously ungrateful complaints about one lunch being too salty).

While we were watching, we snacked on our first course from Bengal-born guest chef Romy Gill - deep-fried potato balls with flavours of ginger, chilli and mint zinging alive in our mouths. Then, dinner, on the scrubbed wooden tables next door, surrounded by palms, candles and flower garlands. It was the kind of fresh, inspired Indian menu which is a world away from the average British high street curry house - stand-out dishes were the deliciously tangy octopus tentacles with a cool apple, fennel and dill salad, and the hugely comforting goat curry that followed. There were also plates of pork and cabbage momos to be rolled luxuriantly around in a soy and spring onion dipping sauce and stuffed, whole, into our mouths. As the guests opposite me told tales of trips to India, we finished up with perfectly creamy shrikhand flavoured delicately with saffron and cardamom, as live sitar played in the background. Oh, and there were mouthfuls of ruby jewelled pomegranate seeds - on everything!

As Alissa prepares for her next dinner, a Polish feast from chef Zuza Zak, I ask about her particular connection with food, film and travel. “It is the concept of a journey - sensual, emotional, intellectual - that has always attracted me to viewing a film,” she told me. “You start with a blank screen and by the end of the film, your life is no longer the same. This is not too dissimilar to a journey one takes during a good meal – an empty plate is your passport to a unique world of flavours that lifts you out of your seat. The idea of people gathering around a beautifully set table, and embarking on a journey through a film-inspired meal was the foundation for my supper club.”

The Literary Hour: www.theliteraryhour.com

Instagram: @theliteraryhour

Kino Vino: www.kinovino.org

Instagram: @borsch_and_no_tears

South for the Winter

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  Photographer Nic Rue, contributer to both the Scotland and Australia issues of Lodestars Anthology, was lured back to Australia this winter. Nic has returned with beautiful photographs to gladden the coldest of hearts, including shots of sunny Sydney, Melbourne at New Years Eve, and the warm colours of the Australian countryside.

 

Mao Guh

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There's nothing we like more at Lodestars Anthology than a fascinating story from a far-flung corner of the world. Mao Guh, the first Taiwanese surfer, has had his story captured in images by London-based photographer Jorge Luis Dieguez, and we are delighted to share it here. During the 50s and 60s, Mao Gu's father (Jeff being his English name) worked with the US Army based in the north of Taiwan.  Mao used to follow his father on business travels, giving him an extra hand and during one of those trips he saw US soldiers surfing off the north coast of Taiwan.  He had never seen anything like it, and, recalling his first sighting, he remembered the surprise he felt all those years ago:

'Woowww...what is that?  I'd never seen that before.  It was a very long time ago, I was 13 years old, it was around, I forget, 1960...and one of the soldiers asked me if I wanted to try.  My father asked me 'You want to try?  Ok, come on!' he said to me.

No leash, a little bit of wax (on the board) nothing you know, those boards were pretty heavy for a beginner and really big.

One wipeout, come in again, another wipeout, come in again.  I tried several times and I told my father 'I got one stand up! One stand up!' and he said: 'OK, OK, come on!'

Family shots and a map of Taiwan at Mao's home

Mao continued surfing for five years in the same place, using a board that his father had purchased from one of the soldiers that he first began surfing with.  During those five years Mao only surfed with American soldiers.

Although his health has now deteriorated, Mao still remembers the reluctant attitudes towards the sea and the reactions towards surfing that Taiwanese and Chinese societies held at the time.

'Chinese people thought I was crazy, the sea is really strong in Taiwan you know, and there used to be sharks in the water, but not anymore.  No people in the water, only me.  For a few years I used to surf alone until I moved to Ylan county (in the northeast of Taiwan), where I brought my family and taught them how to surf and we started travelling and surfing throughout Taiwan. In the winters we went to the southeast and in the summers we would come back north.'

In 1969, after 10 years of surfing, Mao founded his surf shop (the first in Taiwan) and started shaping boards, a technique he learnt from his Japanese master.  Mao has travelled the world in search of the most renowned waves and has lived in Hawaii for three years, but, due to an operation, no longer surfs or shapes boards.  Along with his wife and son, he still runs the Jeff Surf Shop, and, taking after his father, Mao's son is now a well respected surf instructor.  As for Mao, he continues to be a living legend of surfing in Taiwan, and is admired across the country.

 

The Weekend - Cornwall

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Here at Lodestars Anthology we love a beautiful travel journal as much as the next person (a lot more so, probably).  So imagine how happy we were when we chanced across Cornwall by Weekend Journals, a definitive guide to exploring the fairest English county which features unique and special venues, from verdant gardens to visionary galleries, independent shops and exceptional restaurants. The book is written by Milly Kenny-Ryder and produced by Simon Lovell, who both have strong links to Cornwall, and have been visiting with their families since they were young.  Using these connections they have gone off the beaten track to discover the venues that the locals love, while also showcasing some of Cornwall's most iconic sites and stories.  For a hint of what this edition of The Weekend is all about, read on, and be inspired by all that Cornwall has to offer (or click here to order a copy).

The dining area at the St. Tudy Inn

St. Tudy Inn

Emily Scott is an ambitious and optimistic chef who took over the St. Tudy Inn, determined to offer locals and visitors great food in a delightful setting. This charming Cornish pub is situated in St. Tudy, a quaint village in North Cornwall. After extensive redecoration the pub feels cosy and welcoming, with Nicole Heidaripour prints on the walls and vintage furniture.

All Emily’s cheffing experience has been put to good use in the kitchen, where seasonality and local produce reign. The menu is full of comforting classics with a twist, such as the fish and chips, upgraded to the irresistibly tasty Monkfish tails in rosemary focaccia crumb with fries and citrus mayo. The St. Tudy Inn also runs regular events, including Pig and Cider nights with a hog roast and regional ales, so there's many an enticing reason to visit.

St. Tudy Inn, St. Tudy, Bodmin, Cornwall, PL30 3NN

01208 850 656

sttudyinn.com

A spin on the classic fish and chips - monkfish tails in rosemary crumb

Beautifully Cornish floral arrangement at the St. Tudy Inn

Surfside

Surfside is an exciting venture from London-based mixologist Tristan Stephenson, author of The Curious Bartender and part of the drinks company Fluid Movement who founded Purl and The Whistling Shop bars in London. Surfside has become a local hit, serving fresh food and cocktails at the water’s edge in Polzeath. Located on a corner of the beach, the restaurant is only accessible via the sand which adds to the experience.

Lobster crackers at Surfside Restaurant

Although the venue appears casual from the exterior, inside the offerings are for serious foodies with surf and turf platters and inventive cocktails. Thanks to the isolated location Surfside feels intimate and exclusive, with panoramic sea views adding something special to the meal.

Surfside Restaurant, On the Beach, Polzeath, Cornwall, PL27 6TB

01208 862 931

surfsidepolzeath.com

The choice is yours: drinks at Surfside Restaurant

Trevibban Mill & Appleton's at the Vineyard

Situated on the slopes of the Issey brook near Padstow, Trevibban Mill is one of the newer Cornish wineries but is already producing award-winning wines. Liz and Engin began planting in 2008 with an ambition to produce top quality Cornish wines and ciders. Native sheep graze on the land and their wool is for sale in the vineyard shop. Tours and tastings can be arranged to sample a range of the different wine and cider varieties.

Trevibban Mill and Appleton's at the Vineyard

Also on site is Appleton’s at the Vineyard, where ex-Fifteen head chef Andy Appleton is managing the kitchen, feeding hungry visitors with fine Italian dishes showcasing the local produce. Choose from a beautiful piece of sustainable fish, or a bowl of comforting pasta. The dishes provide the ideal accompaniment to a glass of Trevibban Mill wine.

Trevibban Mill & Appleton's at the Vineyard, Dark Lane, near Padstow, PL27 7SE

01841 541 413

trevibbanmill.com

Pasta and Wine at Trevibban Mill & Appleton's at the Vineyard

Trevibban Mill's Wine and Yarn

Hidden Kitchen

Hidden Kitchen is a supper club and culinary concierge serving unique food to its St Ives clientele. Located on the corner of St. Andrews Street, in the centre of the historic town, it is easy to miss this understated dining room. Chef James Watson and his wife Georgina worked together in the catering business before opening their first venue. The intimate dining experience in the boutique restaurant makes it feel like a dinner party at a friend’s house.

Hidden Kitchen

Reading material at the Hidden Kitchen

James regularly plays host to visiting chefs who provide diners with constantly changing, exciting international cuisines. Guest chefs have included Gordon Ramsay student Lee Skeet and Japanese cook Naoko Kashiwagi. After the meal leave a message to show your appreciation on the blackboard tables.

Hidden Kitchen, The Masonic Lodge, St. Andrews Street, St Ives, TR26 1AH

07792 639 755

hiddenkitchenstives.co.uk

Hidden Kitchen - a feast for the senses

Drinks at the Hidden Kitchen

Espressini

There are more and more promising independent coffee shops in Cornwall; Espressini on Killigrew Street in Falmouth is one of the best. This characterful venue serves a bespoke blend of beans sourced and roasted by Yallah Coffee, selected specially for them from growers around the world. Inside, the café is cosy and familiar with mismatched antique furniture, and the chatter accompanied by a thoughtful playlist. The coffee is bold in flavour and served to your preference. Brunch is particularly popular with a menu of tempting and indulgent dishes displaying a wide range of influences from world cuisines.

Coffee at Espressini

Nearby, on Falmouth harbour, is Dulce, the smaller sibling of Espressini which, as well as offering freshly brewed coffee, sells equipment to help you make the perfect cup at home.

39 Killigrew St, Falmouth, TR11 3PW

espressini.co.uk

Sweet treats at Espressini

Fabulous interior design at Espressini

In Iceland - the Water and the Sky

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Photographs by Tom Bunning In winter our thoughts turn to candlelit rooms and warming fires.  But Tom Bunning's photography reminds us that the cold comes in many guises and draws our gaze to Icelandic landscapes - the waterfalls, the birds wheeling under eggshell blue skies and the endless snowbound vistas.  Be warned though, if you venture out into the cold, you may not come back again...

 

Land Rover Iceland - Photographed by Tom Bunning

Land Rover Iceland - Photographed by Tom Bunning

The Canada Magazine

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This week the Canada issue of Lodestars Anthology - officially released in the UK on October 18 - will be avalible through our online store. So we thought we'd celebrate by sharing some of the wild and wonderful images and illustrations that fill the pages of issue 6. Thank you as always to our truly spectacular contributors - the world is indeed filled with some rather talented beings. You can order the magazine here.

Lodestars Anthology Canada

About the magazine: Canada is a land where lakes glow, mountains soar and island life prevails. Wild, rugged and unfazed by time, luxury resides in unexpected corners, cities delight and outdoor adventure beckons, for nature is indeed all around. You yearn to explore, to get lost, to reconnect with a pristine beauty so hard to encounter in the modern world. The seasons astound - from frozen winters to summer’s never-setting sun - while waterfalls carve canyons, rivers become frozen highways and people smile, aware of their heritage and all that this land has gifted them. You’ll find snow and maple syrup, art and architecture and a landscape both inspiring and eternal. Greetings from the Great White North.

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Some featured destinations:

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort Fogo Island Inn Vancouver Toronto Montreal The flavours of Canada Cosman & Webb maple syrup Left Field Brewery Canoe North Adventures The Yukon in winter Northwest Territories Nova Scotia Halifax Lobster Boil Ontario wines The Canadian Rockies Prince Edward Island Calgary The Canadian

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

Lodestars Anthology Canada

 

Etna Moments

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To get your week off to an exotic start we thought we would share some writing from our Italy issue. Please enjoy Etna Moments, written by Ed Henry and Photographed by Renae Smith. You can buy the Italy issue here.

Sicily, Italy

On an island off Italy’s boot you quickly learn that if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.

When you think of Sicily, what comes to mind?

The answers I received were split between those who hadn’t travelled there and those who had. The former would mumble something vague or hesitant - “it looks nice,” or “the birthplace of the Mafia right?”. The latter would gush a living eulogy for an island that captures the imagination and remains lodged there well after the holiday’s end. Now that I was visiting, I was suddenly a member of this club, the cognoscenti if you will. And in keeping with the island’s own warmth and generosity I will extend an invite, or provide a window at least, into this rocky triangular mass in the Mediterranean.

A whiff of context: Italy and I have history, from a grandfather who called it home to friends scattered across the North. I have had the privilege of seeing this country from many angles and so my objectivity is questionable. But this was my first jaunt to Sicily, and for my (much) better half, her first trip anywhere south of the Alps.

Sicily is a place that Italian mainlanders very consciously visit, such is the distinct identity that the island enjoys. Not forced, it is forged through the rich history that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else. Sicily is distinctly Italian, and the architecture and gastronomic traditions are on full display, alongside other axiomatically Italianate amusements. But it’s been combined and entwined with Greek flavours and Arabic influences, not to mention Spanish rule, and much more besides. I say this not to intimate a deep knowledge of the island but because it’s there for you to see, smell and taste. To the visitor more accustomed to the waterways of Venice or the sleek Milan cityscape, Sicily offers a warm, rugged and almost rough embrace.

Sicily, Italy

Trains do snake their way around the island, but your own set of wheels is thoroughly recommended. For a fully immersive experience, we plumped for a Fiat 500 (new model), but it wasn’t available, so they gave us one with a retractable roof. Oh fine, if you must. A less composed traveller would have squealed with excitement.

From Catania on the Ionian Sea we pointed the car north and meandered up the coast to our first base: Taormina, which is in no way defined by its undoubtedly touristy centre. We used the town as a launchpad for the surrounding area, and were handsomely rewarded. I do caveat that point, and indeed all of this article, by saying that we travelled in June. Intentionally so, as the temperature is a happy 30oC at this time of the year, rather than a sweltering 40oC plus. More crucially, we avoided the period between late July and the end of August which sees the mainland descend upon the island for tanning and indulgence.

Sicily, Italy

Once installed in our apartment (more immersive than a hotel), we spent days visiting nearby beaches, sunning ourselves on Spisone, sea kayaking around the grottoes and walking up Isola Bella. Later we trundled down the coast to Siracusa, a functioning commercial city. Whilst it does have spots for archeology enthusiasts, and some top eating experiences, the big draw is the historic centre, Ortigia. To be blunt, it’s stunning. An afternoon walking around Ortigia’s backstreets is sheer joy, the main square a deep white, dominated as it is by the Duomo - I didn’t think places like this existed anymore. Ortigia itself is an island off an island, so if you walk for much more than ten minutes in any direction you’ll come upon the azure abyss that surrounds it.

At this point you think you’re aesthetically there, at the apotheosis, and that you can relax with a cool beer. Not so, or Noto so - if you will. A winding 40 minutes’ drive away is Noto, which would scream UNESCO heritage site, if only it weren’t so tranquil. The cathedral gleams in the Mediterranean light, the numerous supporting cast of churches and palaces resplendent under the sun. It’s a visual feast, and if you’re into architecture, it will probably satisfy more needs besides.

The best way to wind down from such an experience is to step into one of the local ice cream shops. Not just any gelateria, mind. Where do you think the best gelato is? That place in Soho? Don’t joke. San Crispino in Rome? It’s up there. But the number one and number two are within 50 metres of each other in Noto. A locale called Caffè Sicilia sounds like a tourist trap, but it’s not. It does to your mouth what the rest of the town does to your eyes. I’ll leave it there, and say to you go. Go.

The inner island is matched in beauty by what you find on the coast - picturesque beaches lapped by clear blue waters. They all deserve a mention, but only one gets that honour. Riserva Naturale Orientata Oasi Faunistica di Vendicari, as the names suggests, is a nature reserve, one where you can walk through ancient ruins, jump (cautiously) from rocks into the cooling waves below, or tiring of that, find your own spot on the pristine stretch of coastline.

Sicily, Italy

Subsumed in the beauty of the landscape, we avoided Sicily’s cities apart from a brief drive through Catania. This city has more to offer than suicidal driving, but it’s a different trip. Its vibe is long weekend, not a week unwinding in the sun. The single greatest thing about the city however, is the elephant in the room of this piece so far. Mount Etna, which stands behind Catania, dominates the skyline up and down much of the coast, which means that you can have your own Etna moment no matter where you are as it’s visible from, well, everywhere. The classic way to take it in is from the amphitheatre in Taormina, although others prefer to see it in contrast with Catania’s urban grit. We found our Etna moment when looking down at the valleys and beaches from picture- perfect Castelmola, a hilltop town you wouldn’t believe existed until you saw it. The only thing towering over us? Etna herself. The millennial traveller is accustomed to mountains, au fait with tropical climate and quite frankly used to white sand. A volcano is a treasure of nature not often seen. If you leave Sicily in any doubt, you won’t arrive home with it; as the plane climbs into the sky it skims Etna just above her peak.

The food. Oh yes. I’ve saved the food for the end so as to contain it, for memories of my trip, as with much of life, are marked, or should that be stained, by what I ate at the time. The food here excites and subverts and is as much of an experience as any of the vistas. You farewell Sicily with a new found love of aubergines, you’ll remember how wonderful tomatoes can actually taste and best of all, you’ll discover that fish needn’t be dry, bland and deep-fried.

Sicilian food is independent of mainland Italian cuisine. The two styles are not unrelated, but think of Sicilian food as a proud cousin. The same historical and imperial forces responsible for Sicily’s formation, have brought similar import to its cuisine. This is not to say that classical Italian strands are not evident: my travelling companion’s dish of the tour was the definitive Pasta alla Norma served at La Piazzetta in Taormina. Named after the work of one of Catania’s most famous sons, this dish became almost a standard for restaurants up and down the east coast.

Not every meal can be indulged in print, but it would be remiss not to pull out a couple of highlights. Osteria da Carlo was a gem hidden in Ortigia. We had the legendary six- course fish menu, for the grand sum of €35, washed down with the best bottle of €5 house plonk I’ve ever swilled. If it swam in the sea nearby, then it was on that menu. You order sea bass, and not one, but two of the fullest, freshest fillets turn up, naturally served in the juice of the finest fruit Sicily has on land: lemon.

Flavours on the island, like the setting, shall not date. Consistency, textures, even viscosity are all different, all exciting. Entirely Sicilian. As Sicily’s perhaps most prominent literary son, Giovani di Lampedusa, proffered: “Sicily is Sicily - 1860, earlier, forever”. Long may she be, and proudly too. More’s the better for me, as I will be back soon.

Sicily, Italy

Sicily, Italy

Sicily, Italy

Erskineville

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A Sydney-siders ode to a suburb where time hold no sway and cats are king - it's always wise to get a little lost in your own city.  

Nestled between bold boisterous Sydney suburbs - whose resounding voices are as cacophonous as they are merry - is what can only be described as the secret garden’s city love-child. A place that is cultivated and wild, pristine and earthy, and no stranger to a paradox.

In Erskineville edifices speak of great wealth and lack thereof, of creativity and character. This place doesn’t put on a show, but in the same breathe, offers the most sincere welcome. It’s in the air. Come in, take your time, your quirks and idiosyncrasies will do well here. Encased in silence the sojourner can stop amiably and drink it in. No signs point to the nearest museum, nor will the main street yield boutiques. But there are terraces, and plenty of them, covered in vibrant paint that has started to crack beneath the Australian sun. Each home a unique statement, a reflection of those who live within. Suburban beauty at its most unique. 

Erskineville

It is the need for respite that often sees one sashay into Erkos’ midst. If this sounds appealing then I implore you to bring along the book that has meekly, then with growing indignation, demanded that you consume its contents. Here plot twists and narratives reveal themselves slowly as you're unlikely to ever feel rushed. It is expected that one ambles in Erskineville, admires the sites, breathe deeply, recall the quiet joy of counting a ladybug's spots. 

But there are signs of life. And plenty of them. Pubs and cafes line the one main street, perfect hideaways. Happily one coffee can be stretched out for hours, that book can be devoured, because the main rat race is several streets over. Distance makes the heart fonder. 

Erskineville

As for wildlife, this habitat has given rise to a dominant creature. Even though quaint houses and artful gardens have replaced rolling hills, beasts still prowl. While sharing the same ferocious appetite for aesthetic elegance and menacing stares as to their forebears, all these urban beasts seem to crave is attention. But be warned, should you pause to play with an Erskineville cat, they're not likely to tire of your quickly. Like a shadow they will be persistently by your side. Stealth must be used to disentangle from their gaze.

Erskineville

As the afternoon draws to a close, make sure to bid adieu to the trimmed hedges, the assorted pots, the carefully arranged birdcages. These form the metropolitan jungle, a quiet oasis populated by plastic flamingos and cats - an inner-city haven that shall wait here, patiently, until you return, keen to forget what it feels like to be rushed.  

Words & Photographs by Amy Henderson

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

Erskineville

partito!

Last week we launched the Italy issue of Lodestars Anthology at the delightful Enoteca Rabezzana in London. The night was made possible by some mighty lovely company, as well as a sweet-adorned cake from Lily Vanilli, salumi from Fratelli Corra, delectable drops from Tuscan vineyard Podere di Pomaio and award-winning organic farm Fattoria La Vialla, saffron jam from L'ettaro and the most adorable sweets from Pastiglie Leone. A new issue is always something to celebrate - especially with fine Italian fare. You can order the new issue here.

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Lodestars Anthology Launch Party

Palermo

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Palermo Palermo

Palermo

Palermo, Sicily's vibrant, spice-infused capital, has a history. Everyone who is anyone on a historical conquering scale has made a visit to this not-so-humble port city, and left a few architectural and culinary footprints in their wake. Uninvited visitors have included the Normans, Arabs and Carthaginians and the contemporary city is now emerging from what has been a well-publicised period of neglect and controversy (this is after all the birthplace of the Mafia) to re-establish itself as a chaotic, eclectic and thoroughly thriving Italian destination.

This is not a clean city - I don't think it's even a logical city - but it is thoroughly charming, in a crumbling, semi-forgotten kind of way. A mix of monuments and churches, markets and azure beaches, Palermo requires energy, and the will to explore.

Let's take a moment to ponder the old - the monuments of Palermo. A personal favourite is the Fountain of Shame, so named because, although the fountain now stands in the heart of the Old Town, it was created for a Florentine collector, who fell short in his payments, Hence it was shipped south where the Renaissance was yet to properly arrive. Positioned next to what at the time was a convent, the naked stone figures were seen a shameful – hence the name.

The Palazzo Reale is an architectural mix too – the façade built and rebuilt many times over. It stands atop the city’s first fort and from here all of Sicily is administered, as it has always been. Open to visitors, to stand in the palace’s ornate church and gaze skywards is a delight.

Many of the buildings are in the Arab Norman style yet churches, such as the Chiesa della Martorana, tend to be more architecturally confused - Baroque overtones with plenty of gold and an array of Muslim mosaics thrown in for good measure. Their complicated past, complex design and the fact that they have served many religions in their time, means the buildings themselves are celebrations of light and geometry.

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo is also a city of gardens – in some green spaces you can find the oldest trees in Europe while others contain nothing but English plants or are open only to children. However, if you really want to appreciate Palermo’s natural splendor, it pays to get out of town (not that you need to travel far). Water babies will love this city, with an array of time forgotten beaches only a short drive away. Mondello seems to be everyone’s favourite, with its distinct 1950’s vibe, white sand and turquoise waters. Locals wander the length of the beach with beer, kites and fresh cut coconut and afternoons have a habit of disappearing. For something quieter there is Adora Beach, a fishing village famed for its ice cream and sunsets.

Or you could go even further out with Wine Tour in Sicily, who we joined for a day trip. Driving out of town the scenery changes dramatically – hill-hugging townships to farmland to volcanic terrain. You find yourself hatching plans to return for a month long adventure – an island of this size and beauty demands no less. Ruins dot the landscape and it’s hard to imagine that the sky could be anything but blue. Arriving at the Tasca d’Almerita winery you can’t help but feel you ‘ve encountered a haven in the desert. Walking through their expansive, flower adorned courtyard, and devouring a glass of sparkling wine you feel immediately at ease. This family run winery (they’re currently eight generations in) has made a name for itself over the years, winning an impressive collection of awards while focusing on intimacy and hospitality. From the winery’s stone villa you can savour a decadent lunch, made up of dishes that are as mixed as the language. Food here is a treat and the wine a dream. I feel indebted to Wine Tour in Sicily for introducing us – there is a lot to be said for local knowledge (and friendly, history-loving guides).

Palermo

Palermo

On the subject of food I can thoroughly recommend the intimate yet suitably decadent restaurant attached to Hotel Principe di Villafranca, itself the sister hotel of Hotel Plaza Opera (a chic, luxury hotel found right beside the must photographed opera – as the name would imply). It has elegant, modern interiors and a rich menu, made up of local treats and exceptionally sourced wine, will of which will leave you feeling completely satisfied. When it comes to hotel dining we must pay heed to Excelsior Palace, a decadent hotel, with suits that you can utterly unwind in and impeccable attention to detail. Their breakfasts are delightful – a real Old World luxury hotel feast - while the dinners are quintessentially Italian. The focus is on quality ingredients and traditional methods and the results are delightful. Found right by the Via Della Liberata (Palermo’s answer to Paris’ Champs-Élysées), you can’t fault the location. Oh how I wish I could make off with one of their intricate light features!

If these culinary encounters inspire you to get back in the kitchen then you’re in luck for Palermo is famed for its food markets. The Il Capa market is found in what was once the Jewish quarter, a community forced to leave when Palermo came under Catholic rule (and we all know what Ferdinand and Isabella thoughts of this particular group). What was once the synagogue is now a catholic church yet Hebrew can still be found on the street signs (next to statues of the Virgin), a subtle memorial to what was lost.

These markets are where you can glimpse Palermo at its most vibrant – three wheeled trucks make deliveries while Vespa’s dart around unfazed pedestrians. Fish, meat, honey, vegetables and marzipan fruit (a local delicacy) abound, and everything feels refreshingly authentic. Visit early for the freshest finds and to really feel like a local. Ballaro Market, found in a corner of the city that was heavily bombed during the war, is a personal favourite, possibly because it’s the loudest.

Palermo

What you must know about Palermo is that the true gems are often hidden away behind closed doors. From the streets, which can feel chaotic at best, you can so easily miss the many wonders this city has to offer. Be inquisitive, ask questions and be prepared to stay somewhere unexpected - like Palazzo Conte Federico, in the heart of the Old Town, a short amble from the aforementioned market. Built above the Punic-Roman walls and incorporating the Old City tower, which was once part of the city’s fort, this family home, which is still owned by a racing-car loving Count, is one of Palermo’s oldest buildings, and pure magic. We stayed in what was once part of the 12th century Arab Norman Tower: full of beautiful tiling, objects from the old stable, dark wood and ornate furnishing, it was reimagined luxury. However the palace, which our host Nicolò Federico was more than happy to show us around, is the pièce de résistance.

This opulent setting, with painted tiles and woodwork, feels like is has changed little over the centuries. Home to one of the biggest weapon collections in city, and rich in art and family memorabilia, you can lose track of time when walking from room to room, wondering how the numerous renovations have changed the building over time. You’ll catch yourself lusting after the Murano chandeliers and wondering just how they got away with having a secret Freemasons temple in their ballroom. This is the sort of venue you don’t want to leave - a palace that reminds you that this busy, bustling city, which is not without its flaws, has the potential to be utterly resplendent. It contains some of the greatest buildings in Europe, its beaches are the epitome of tropical and behind closed doors wonders abound.

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Palermo

Ellis O'Connor

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Scotland Photographer Ellis O'Connor has an eye for the dramatic - soaring peaks dotted with snow, valleys that appear endless, gunmetal seas and a grey scale you can't help but adore. So it's rather fitting that she frequently makes dark and dramatic Scotland her subject. We had a chat to Ellis about her work, Hebridean focus and love of travel.

Can you tell me a little about your training and artistic background?

I am a Fine Art graduate with an honours degree from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. I am currently studying my Masters Degree in Art and Humanities based in Dundee, Scotland, where I grew up. I am a visual artist and specialise in photography, painting and drawing. I have exhibited widely and have recently undertaken artist residencies in the Northern Isles of Scotland, Iceland and was selected for the RSA Scholarship to Florence last year.

How would you define your style?

My style is based on the aesthetics of remote landscapes. It deals with different elements based on the land; the spirit of place, traces of the land and the sublime. All explored through a series of prints, photographs and paintings.

Within certain remote places there is a powerful atmosphere and through my work I invite the viewer to feel the [landscapes] presence ... and the textures and marks that we do not necessarily notice. My process of mark making, the washes and layers explored through my work are a direct way of showing how the unforgiving elements wear away the land. It all ties together to highlight the underlying meaning of the landscape and elements these vast places are exposed to. I also would say that my style is very bold in terms of capturing the overwhelming presence of the landscape and sublime mountains.

Scotland

Scotland

What inspires your photographs?

My photographs are inspired by travelling, mountains and remote lands. As long as I am travelling and venturing out to places that are unknown to me and far away from cities, then I will constantly be inspired. The intricate detail of the land, the atmosphere of the remote places and the feeling of being surrounded by nature and the wild environment is the main motivator that fuels and enriches my work.

What do you love about your job?

I love being able to go out to new places and capture them. It is a great thing being able to connect new people to a place just by the visual imagery that I put across in my work.

There is a certain drama to your work - is this intentional and where does this come from?

Is this intentional? Yes and no. I aim to capture the drama found within overwhelming landscapes, being out there surrounded by the mountains I feel a sense of heightened intensity and powerful atmosphere so I aim to put this across to the viewer. Also because these places are so staggeringly beautiful and present, it happens naturally that the photos end up with such drama; the place overall determines the outcome of the photograph.

Scotland

Scotland

Does travel influence your work in any way?

Travel is the only thing that influences my work. Without travel I cannot capture. As my studio is in the city, I find that every now and then I go on a road trip of Scotland here and there, to get new images, a new perspective free from the constant stimulation of being connected in a city and create new work! The wonderful thing about Scotland is that most of it is still very much untamed land up North, you don't need to travel far to get away from a city or even civilisation.

You've shot quite a lot of work around Scotland - is there something special about the scenery here?

Yes there is definitely something special about the scenery here. I was lucky enough to grow up in Scotland and with it's dramatic peaks and mountain ranges, layers of dramatic history embedded within the places and the magnificent lochs and valleys, it is simply stunning. I travel a lot to other countries and parts of the world and find a lot of inspiration to make work there but I am very much connected to Scotland.

Scotland

Scotland

Has there been a project (past, present or future) that you’ve particularly enjoyed?

I've been involved in a lot of amazing and inspiring projects but one of the best projects I've enjoyed recently being a part of was working on the Isle of Eigg (one of Scotland's remote small Isles) as Artist in residence with The Bothy Project at the very start of January. You can read my article and find out more about the Bothy Project on the blog here.

I found this very engaging and an amazing place to work. I was located in a beautiful bothy right on the North tip of the Island surrounded by cliffs and looking out to the magnificent peaks of Rum, I made a lot of new work there and most of my new photographs have come from being within that place. The thing I found most important was being off grid. As I had no distractions, it gave me the chance to just fully explore and connect with the island and make a brand new body of work. Also as it was right at the very start of this year, right in the middle of Scotland's winter, the weather was wild and there was not much light so it really pushed me out of my comfort zone in engaging with a place. Simply stunning.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

My advise for aspiring photographers is to find your niche. Find what it really is you are passionate and inspired by and create a new voice for that. Capture what it important to you and find your own style so people will be able to recognise the work. It is also very important to have a level of depth and meaning to the work, find what the calling is. I have come to realise that work with a significant meaning connects and resonates more with the viewer. Lastly, never give up on something you are truly passionate about!

Scotland

Scotland

Scotland

Scotland

Scotland

Scotland

Scotland

Scotland

Scotland

Georgia

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Words and Photographs by Bridget de Maine Georgia

There’s one thing any traveller should know before they consider venturing to Georgia: you’ll spend the rest of your life explaining yourself.

As the meat in an Old World empire sandwich, the country of Georgia is all too oft forgotten, especially because it shares its name with a state in Southern America. This is where you’ll run into trouble. ‘It’s a country? Where is it?’ people inevitably ask. ‘Why did you go there?’ The answer is, of course, why not?

I knew I’d made a good travelling decision when, after an overnight bus ride from a port city in north-east Turkey, the sun finally started to throw light on the border villages of Georgia.

Winter was still clinging to the trees as we drove through the sun-drained villages on our way to the capital Tbilisi and, rubbing my eyes with tiredness, I tried to take as many mental photographs as possible. Rolling past the window were twisted, snake-like letters of Georgian on rusted, once pastel-blue signs, dirt roads cutting past front yards infested with chickens, rotting cars hiding in bushes just shy of non-existent gutters. Georgia was unlike any place I’d ever seen – like an abandoned town that had life suddenly and unsuspectingly pumped into it, with short, stout women greeting their friends as they took their bags from the bus, even at this sunrise hour.

Bordering Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia with its entire northern edge skirting the tips of former motherland Russia, there’s a reason why Georgia remains proudly fastened to the past. Georgia only gained independence in 1993 from the sprawl of the Soviets and after its collapse, border clashes became a constant source of conflict. It’s only in recent years that Georgia has begun to peek its cautious head above the roadblock of its own tumultuous history. Like a wonderful secret on the precipice of disclosure, so much of Georgia is ready for discovery and I started with the wine cellars.

The thing is, despite its reclusive nature, Georgia has offered its fair share of gifts to the world: One of which being the proof that Georgia is indeed the birthplace of wine. It’s not the discovery of grape seeds dating back to the 6th century BC that gives this fact away – it’s the knowledge that the culture of both making and drinking wine is so closely linked to the heritage of Georgian people, it’s almost impossible to separate one from the other. Even the most prominent symbol in the Georgian Orthodox Church, Saint Nino’s Cross, marks not only the beginning of Christianity in the country (from the 4th century) but is an actual grapevine, showing just how strongly wine is embedded in every aspect of Georgian life. Nearly every family, even in small villages where nut farming rules the roost, has their own small winery and now, some families are opening their doors to those who are willing to make the journey.

Georgia

It’s often true that so much of a culture can be understood by its interpretation of time. In our own urban understanding, time is something only to be kept, something to tell us when the train arrives, or how long it will be until the next one. In Georgia, it’s not that there’s no understanding of time. It’s just that there are more important things namely: friends, food and wine.

Put simply, you’ll never be on time in Georgia but it’s always for the most glorious reason. Having guests in your home is considered to be a gift from God and the Georgians take every opportunity to show you their gratitude for showing up on their doorstep. I’ve emerged from backyard cellars with pockets overflowing with hazelnuts, a belly full of home cooked food and my arms wrapped in those of new friends. This means it's completely impossible to leave a Georgian table ‘early’. “It’s all about company,” a new Georgian friend tells me, “When company is great, it’s a never-ending story.”

The supra, or feast (in the truest sense of the word), is a sacred thing in Georgia. Every supra is attended by a tamada, someone who is responsible for making a series of thoughtful toasts and keeping your glass eternally full to the brim. You’re also expected to immediately empty the just-freshened glass of wine in one go – it is, after all, tradition. Consider this then: if a standard supra last for hours and there are countless toasts, all of which are to be followed by a sculling session, it’s inevitable that you’ll be at least a little bit drunk for most of your time in Georgia. That is, if your hosts are doing their job right. And they always do.

Georgia

Georgia

Malaysia

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Kampung food stall. NH Words and photographs by Nina Hoogstraate.

Hit by the wave of sweet-scented humidity as I came out of Kuala Lumpur’s International airport, I felt a smile widen across my face. Another adventure was about to begin, and I had no idea what to expect.

My first two days in Kuala Lumpur were blurry-eyed, headache infused walks around the city. I wasn’t particularly impressed by much in the city apart from a few old, wrecked colonial style buildings and the vibrancy of Chinatown and textiles shops in Little India. The stench of pollution and stickiness layered over my enthusiasm.

The food however, was fantastic. Local Mamak and Kampung stalls – ‘Kampung’ meaning village and ‘Mamak’ meaning Indian Malay mixed culture – were the places that excited me most. So apart from strolling and exploring, eating was my priority.

When you sit down at a food stall, a pandan leaf is placed in front of you and a man approaches with a large bowl of rice, gathers a sizeable spoonful (or two) and places it on the leaf. After a few minutes, he returns with various curries, sambol and asks what you would like to drink. My choice: teh ice – or fresh juice. Teh Ice is the iced version of Teh Tarik, which directly translates to “pulled tea”. It’s black tea with condensed milk, and for someone who is lactose intolerant it’s the worst possible thing to have, but so, so good.

Kuching rainforest. NH

After a few days in KL I flew to Kuching, a city in the state of Sarawak, Borneo. The vegetation surrounding Kuching is incredible; the city itself fairly underdeveloped but charming, with passers-by greeting you with a smile and the phrase “Welcome to Sarawak”. As soon as I arrived I was taken to a food stall inside an old shopping centre, for prawn laksa. This place is so popular with locals that it has to close only within a few hours of opening in the morning, as all the food usually sells out by that time. A spicy prawn noodle laksa for breakfast may seem like most peoples’ worst nightmare, but I’m a firm believer that when you’re abroad, you do as the locals do.

In Kuching, I was invited to a traditional Malay wedding. The entire experience was so culturally different and a world away from any other wedding – or formal situation – I have ever witnessed.

The night before the wedding, we attended the pre-wedding ceremony, called the ‘Berinai’. This is where the bride’s hands and feet are painted with henna, and both the bride and groom dress in traditional costumes (in this case it was Malay and Chinese) so friends and family can take photos of, and with them. This was a thought-provoking evening; the room was lavishly decorated with candles and sheer white fabric, and all guests – except the senior members – were asked to sit on the floor cross-legged. After the Berinai, there was food: lots of food.

The following evening was the ‘Akad Nikai’ - the official ceremony. There were a series of white vans with drivers stood outside the hotel, waiting to take guests to the wedding in convoy. When we arrived, a lengthy residential street was completely cut off and most neighbours had opened their gardens for the guests to have dinner at one of the many tables. All in all there must have been about 300 people, all there for the same two reasons – the wedding, but also the food.

The ceremony was held at a family members’ home, and it was so large and extravagant that some of the guests were already having dinner whilst watching the ceremony from one of the many flat screen TVs.

There were kompang (hand drums), expensive gifts on display in silver boxes and a signing of the dowry. Once the bride and groom were officially bound together for life, they had to feed one another rice as fast as possible; unlike us Westerners, who throw uncooked rice over the newlyweds as a symbol of luck.

As everyone clapped and cheered, the first dinner seating was done and about half of the people spilled out on to the streets – presumably to go home. Now it was our turn to eat. I have become aware of the importance of food within South East Asian countries; without food, there is no party. Without food, there are no conversations to be had.

Little India, KL. NH

After a few culturally intense days I flew to Langkawi and Redang. This leg of my journey was my favourite as these small islands are quite remote - full of winding country roads and vast vegetation. The beaches were isolated, the sea was clear and you can walk for hours admiring nature.

When flying from Langkawi and Redang to KL, the view from the little oval shaped aeroplane window is filled with small green and white islands that come in all different shapes and sizes, surrounded by turquoise rings, which slowly fade out in to a darker shade of blue. This was the magic I was searching for - clearly if you’re in search of the real Malaysia, it pays to get a little out of the city, or at least invited to a local wedding.

Little India, Kuala Lumpur. NH. JPG

Palm. NH

Supermarket. NH

Market, Kuching. NH