Amsterdam: Canal Ring

“WE HAVE a saying in Dutch: ‘In de aap gelogeerd’ or ‘You slept in the monkey house’ – which means you’re in trouble, having a bit of bad luck. That comes from here.”
I’m in the In’t Aepjen (In the Monkey) pub, one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam and one of only two still with a wooden façade. Inside, there is barely room for an ancient oak staircase and a tiny bar backed by shelves full of Dutch gin, glasses and curios that heavily feature monkeys in recognition of the pub’s name.

“A lot of seamen would drink here always,” says Frits, the only barman as well as the owner’s son. “It was also a hostel. When they couldn’t pay cash, they would pay with monkeys. Real monkeys. There were always monkeys on the ships as rich people wanted them for their homes. So the hostel became full of monkeys in cages and when the seamen came back on their ships, they were scratching themselves from the fleas.”Continue reading “Amsterdam: Canal Ring”

Vancouver: East West

“WE believe we live in the best place on earth. We know it, we love it, we feel it and we want it. We are surrounded by the ‘haves’ and we want it all.” Even a tipsy woman in the trendy Opus Bar, where I am enjoying an evening cocktail, sings the praises of her city. Kate was pushed over from a giggling bachelorette party with some risqué questions, before I turned the tables by asking her to define a Vancouverite.Continue reading “Vancouver: East West”

London: The City

“IT’S AN odd thing how most tourists who go to London never actually visit it,” says City worker Patrick Johns. “Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the West End, Changing the Guard… these are all in the City of Westminster. Even Londoners consider the City of London a place apart.”Continue reading “London: The City”

Guatemala: Friendly Faces

GUATEMALA CITY has the quiet air of a village grown over-large. The narrow streets, paved in concrete with high, red-painted curbs, struggle to cope with the mass of traffic. The sidewalks are narrow and shops spill out onto them, with black-clad armed guards a presence in many. Sun-faded paint covers walls that are broken up with iron-barred windows and bursts of political graffiti.Continue reading “Guatemala: Friendly Faces”

Galapagos: Enchanted Islands

AT THE top of Bartolomé Island, my legs aching from the long climb up its steep wooden stairway, I look out over the Galapagos Islands. The black volcanic landscape at my feet looks otherworldly, relieved by a flash of greenery between the two beaches that curve away far below. The horizon is filled with islands and a single cloud, dark with the elusive promise of rain, that hangs over a tranquil ocean living up to its “Pacific” name.Continue reading “Galapagos: Enchanted Islands”

China: Great Wall

THEY say every journey starts with one step. Sometimes it starts in farce, too. Knowing it is essential to set off early from Beijing to visit the Great Wall before the tourist masses arrived, I arrange with my Chinese friend Qian for an 8am start. She holds out for 10.30am. We haggle and eventually compromise on 9am. Qian turns up at my hotel at 9.30am and then drives to a Starbucks for breakfast.Continue reading “China: Great Wall”

Greenland: Climate Change

IF THE colour of Greenland is the deep blue-white of ice and snow, then its sound is of dogs howling. The Greenland dog is a hardy animal, living outdoors in compounds sullied with its own waste or just chained up beside a house, and fed irregularly. At the end of each day, they howl at the moon, and each other, and their lament carries in the absolute stillness of the Arctic night.Continue reading “Greenland: Climate Change”

Tokyo: One Moment

WHAT is the secret of Japanese food? Tokyo is a city of restaurants, some 80,000 of the 600,000 in Japan as a whole. But even more impressive is the quality. The Michelin Guide has recognized Japan’s capital as also being the world’s gourmet capital for the best part of a decade. And that was even before the French food bible started to list traditional Japanese “washoku” cuisine.Continue reading “Tokyo: One Moment”

Virginia: Civil War

IN RICHMOND, the Museum of the Confederacy occupies a Colonial brick building that sits back from the White House of the Confederacy next door. Both huddle in the shadow of the skyscraper blocks of a modern hospital, cast high and dry by the passing tide of history in the century and half since President Jefferson Davis made his home here in 1861. He lived in this White House for the next four years of what later came to be called the “War Between the States“ during which some 620,000 soldiers died – one in four of those who fought.Continue reading “Virginia: Civil War”

Netherlands: Dutch Masters

AS THE efficient NS Dutch train system carries me effortlessly across the country, I look out to the distant horizon. The flat landscape makes the blue sky seem even higher, causing my thoughts to soar, while the many waterways reflect and soften the light. This is the light that has inspired so many Dutch painters and I am on a journey to visit the homes of some of the most famous.Continue reading “Netherlands: Dutch Masters”