Singapore is a small island city-state, which means that it quickly gets boring for uninformed travelers. Three days in Singapore, and you have literally done it all — or so you might think.
But the next time you find yourself passing through Lion City, drop your bags off at a nice hotel in the best part of Singapore and then knock a few of these offbeat activities off your travel bucket list:
Singapore is a sprawling metropolis — at least the main island is. However, up north, next to Malaysia, lies the smaller island of Pulau Ubin. Known as the Last Kampung of Singapore, this island is the only place you can still see the traditional village houses of the past. Only around 100 residents remain today, surrounded by lush flora and diverse fauna. There are plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore and quiet beaches to relax on. Definitely a nice retreat from the city life in Singapore!
Dating back to 1937, Haw Par Villa has earned itself a reputation as Singapore's most bizarre tourist attraction and religious theme park. Originally known as the Tiger Balm Gardens, it was built by two brothers, the same duo who created Tiger Balm rub. The park was designed to teach Chinese mythology, but over the years it has evolved into an over-the-top collection of over 1,000 multicolored statues and giant dioramas depicting various — and often gory — scenes from Chinese history, folklore, and legends. Haw Par Villa might not be off the beaten path anymore, but Singapore doesn’t get any stranger than this!
Located right on Clarke Quay, this is one activity that every visitor to Singapore has seen but few ever try. The G-MAX reverse bungy is like nothing else you have ever experienced. Strap yourself in, and get ready. After being slingshot up in the air, reaching speeds of up to 100 km/hr, riders bounce and fly around in what G-MAX politely refers to as a "swing" — ha! This experience is so uncommon that I recommend having someone else film your ride. Besides, at 45 SGD, it's the cost of two drinks in Clarke Quay — and definitely more worth it.
To make a long story short, a Taiwanese company developed a machine that prints photos onto coffee foam. Of course, the next logical step is to use this for selfies instead of trippy designs. If you don't mind paying a hefty premium for your coffee and waiting a few extra minutes (yes, even longer than usual), you just might be a perfect fit for Selfie Coffee. And where else in Singapore would it be located than the hipster hotspot that is Haji Lane?
Up in the northeastern corner of Singapore lies Kranji, the Singapore countryside that many tourists do not even realize exists. Yes, there is a part of the main island that isn't a cement jungle! Here the jungle is still thick, and small farms are scattered among it. The biggest and best-known is Bollywood Veggies and its Poison Ivy Bistro, which serves what is arguably the freshest food in all of Singapore. There are also several nearby parks and nature reserves worth exploring, including Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Kranji Reservoir Park, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Beyond just greenery and fresh foods, Kranji also has plenty more to offer. Horse racing takes place every Friday and Sunday at the Singapore Turf Club, conveniently located right next to the Kranji MRT Station. The Kranji War Memorial pays homage to all the fallen soldiers from all the nations who helped defend Singapore from the Japanese during World War II.
Singapore may be small, but the harder you look, the more you find. What other offbeat and quirky sights or activities would you recommend?
I've spent the better part of the last seven years exploring Asia and this corner of the world is nothing short of amazing. Spectacular sights, delicious foods, incredibly diverse cultures and such a rich history....Asia has it all!
However Asia can also be overwhelming to first-timers. Where do I go and what do I do? Here are five awesome overlooked places to get your planning started!
Japan is the best country in the world for people-watching -- if you know where to look, that is. Much like the stylish yet offbeat Harajuku district in Tokyo, Osaka also as a youth Mecca that should be on the "to-do" list of every traveler to Japan. It is called Amerika-Mura and there is no more hip in town to be. The area is on the cutting edge of fashion and youth culture, and is packed full of restaurants and shops selling everything from clothing to music to random novelty items.
Kyoto is full of temples but one stands apart from the rest: Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, which dates back to the eighth century. The temple grounds are adorned with over 1,000 small Buddha statues, each with a different expression. Back in 2008 when I lived in Japan, this place was really off the beaten path. Nowadays however thanks to sites like TripAdvisor, it is slowly starting to get more attention -- but still thankfully remains a quiet, overlooked destination.
One of the best things to do on the island of Ko Samui, Thailand is to rent a scooter and get away from the crowds. Go explore the island, find a quiet beach and take time to unwind. Or check out the numerous markets and eat your way through as many of the small food spots scattered across the island as possible. The island is yours!
Bali is known for great resorts but the ones of Seminyak, Indonesia stand out in particular. Immaculate beaches. Delicious food. Luxurious resorts. Seminyak has it all but with less crowds that Kuta or Sanur. Soak up the sun on Seminyak Beach, go surfing or even indulge in a game of beach volleyball. The area is also a foodie's paradise, so make sure to come hungry. Start at Jalan Laksamana (also known as Eat Street) but make sure to expand beyond -- there are tons of unique, amazing restaurants serving some of the best food on the island.
Located at the end of the MTR line, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong is a quiet suburb that is far removed from the normal tourist trail. It is also the home of Discovery Park, a combination shopping mall and park that has been around for nearly two decades. The tropical rain forest-themed shopping center spans over 600,000 square feet and even includes an artificial waterfall and stained glass ceiling over the main lobby. Once you are done shopping, do not forget to explore the neighborhood and get a glimpse of local Hong Kong life.
Do you love a swig of beer or a glass of wine? No, I'm not going to tell you to stop! In fact I'm most likely the one urging you to have another glass. Just don't drink the same thing on vacation that you would be at home -- try something new! Never heard of it? Sound strange? Just go for it!
Oh the stories I could tell of all the crazy local brews I've drank with locals around the world... ;)
Arak is the traditional beverage in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. The word ‘arak' means sweat in Arabic. Don't turn away from this alcoholic drink assuming it to be someone's sweat though. The drink is anise-flavored and diluted with water for consumption. The liquor is clear but upon dilution with water, it becomes milky. This is because anethole, the essential oil in anise, is insoluble in water. Adding ice causes the arak to form an unpleasant layer on the surface. If you order a bottle of arak, the waiter will usually serve it with several glasses as one does not drink arak in the same glass again due to the emulsification of the liquid. Arak is served with appetizers.
If you visit Greece, you must certainly try out their coffees and frappés. But don't forget to try out ouzo, the essentially Greek drink, along with a platter of olives, fries, fish and cheese. You will find it tastes of liquorice and is smoother than absinthe. Ouzo is generally flavored with anise or mint or coriander. Like arak, ouzo too becomes milky when mixed with water. For the same reason, adding ice to the drink is avoided. The Greeks use ouzo in many recipes and consider it to have healing properties due to the presence of anise.
Sake, a wine made of rice, is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage. The rice used to make sake differs from the normal rice that the Japanese eat. Sake comes in several varieties which are served at a range of temperatures. Though sake goes best with Japanese cuisine, you can enjoy the beverage with Chinese food too. Food that is flavored with herbs will also work well.
This is Brazil's national beverage. According to a survey, the country produces over a billion litres of cachaça annually but only 1% of it is exported. Fresh sugarcane juice is fermented and then distilled to make cachaça. Some types of rums are also made in the same way which is why cachaça is also referred to as Brazilian rum. The liquor may be consumed either aged or un-aged. Un-aged cachaça will come cheaper but do look for the dark and premium variety that is aged in wooden barrels. Caipirinha is a popular cocktail that includes cachaça as the main ingredient.
This Mexican distilled alcoholic beverage is much like tequila's cousin as they are both made from (different types of) agave plants. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant while tequila is made from the blue agave plant. Most of the mezcal produced by Mexico is made in a region called Oaxaca. A popular saying that you might get to hear is Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también, translated as, For everything bad, mezcal and for everything good, the same.
The drink might not seem inviting if you see larva in a bottle of mezcal, but many alcohol makers have embraced this age-old technique now. You can find mezcal without the larva too. You can relish it with sliced oranges dusted with ground chili, fried larvae and salt.
Don't forget to purchase a bottle or two as a souvenir if you really fall in love with the taste of any of these drinks. That way you will have a tale to tell your friends over a round of drinks too.
Traveling is one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have. Unfortunately, many people allow life's stresses to get in the way. Here's why you should drop everything right now and hit the road.
Travel is all about throwing yourself into the unknown and experiencing new things. When you're faced with challenges like having to navigate foreign languages and transportation systems you learn more about yourself and what you're capable of. This is especially true if you're traveling solo, a truly empowering experience.
You're never too young or too old to build your resume. Travel helps you to enhance a variety of skills in a first-hand manner. While navigating foreign languages enhances communication skills, being able to adjust to new situations helps you become more adaptable. Additionally, bargaining in markets helps with negotiation, trip planning enhances strategizing abilities and sorting out issues along the way makes you a better problem solver.
Angry bosses. Problems at home. Daily life stresses. Get away from everyday life and immerse yourself in a new place where your worries are far behind. To really enhance the experience, leave your electronics behind and truly disconnect. Remember, the more you disconnect the more you'll truly be immersed in your destination.
Life truly is short, so you need to make the most of it. Stop making your bucket list longer and actually start knocking some of the items off. The world is a big place, with many destinations to discover and experiences to have. Do you want your last thoughts on Earth to be about all the things you wanted to do, or all the things you did do?
Traveling is a great opportunity to try something you've never done who're. Not only are you naturally in a more adventurous mindset, you're also exposed to opportunities that you don't have at home. Sample a new food, go mountain climbing, take part in a local festival or learn a cultural skill like tai chi or tango dancing. It's a fun way to enrich your life while experiencing a new destination.
When traveling, you have the opportunity to interact with locals and learn more about what life is really like for the people of the destination. Ask questions, make conversation and, if possible, hangout with locals in their favorite spots for a firsthand glimpse of community life.
Whether your travel to another country or domestically you'll have the chance to experience a new culture. Dive in and learn as much as you can through food, classes, attractions, interactions and random experiences. It's an easy way to become a more worldly, open-minded person, and can be a very eye-opening experience.
One of the best ways to experience a destination is through the local food. Travel allows you to break away from any diets restraints and sample exciting new dishes you've never tried, and maybe even never heard of. Asado in Argentina, cemitas in Mexico and pasta in Italy are just some of the mouth-watering culinary experiences to have around the world.
Travel enriches your life through all the reasons mentioned above, so why not give yourself that opportunity? Discover interesting cultures, learn something new, experience new things and become a more well-rounded, fulfilled person in general.
Stop making excuses on why you can't travel. Work will always be stressful, there will always be things to do at home and you'll never have as much money as you'd like, so stop worrying and realize these problems will be there whether you travel or not. In the meantime, you might as well see the world and leave the problems at home for awhile.azwegers
France — and especially Paris — has a love/hate relationship with tourists. Tourism is an important industry, but if you’re not careful, you can make a nuisance of yourself with locals. Here are five ways you can avoid being that tourist:
Remember, to the French, France isn’t a tourist destination, it’s home. You’re the guest and the one who has to adapt, not them. Try to fit in, and you’re sure to have a great time.
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on August 19th.
There is nothing more gratifying than a top notch toilet. And when it comes to fancy toilets it is fairly common knowledge that Japan leads the pack. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other innovative features. Their proper name are bidets, although many locals refer to them as washlets.
At first glance these washlets can be a little much for foreigners to take in. For example, in America if you sit on a warm toilet seat it means some other warm posterier just vacated that spot mere seconds before. Not the most appealing sensation, to say the least. I've even moved one stall over, just for a cold seat! (Like that one was any more sanitary.) Yet warm toilet seats are preferred in Japan, especially during the colder months. For many Westerners this definitely takes some getting used to, but they will grow on you if you spend long enough there. Trust me ;).
Of course the surprises do not stop there. Another aspect is that every model is slightly different, so there can be a bit of a learning curve. Luckily most of the important bidet functions have icons.
What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.
What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.
These control panels are what transforms the mere toilet into a sophisticated bidet, which is the technical term of a fixture intended for cleaning the genitalia. Using the appropriate buttons a warm sanitizing spray will gently clean all your important areas, one for the males and another for the ladies. Many inside flats and private residences include the ability to adjust the temperature of this cleansing spray. Some even feature a strategically positioned blow dryer to be used afterwards! Have no fear if not, all it takes is a single square of paper to dry off and you're set.
These things are awesome! They have a lightweight flap that overhangs the toilet paper roll and has a downward curve along its front side that features perforated teeth. Thanks to gravity and a slight upwards tug this handy little device tears off individual t.p. square for you.
But the fancy features don't stop there. Rather than have a cylindrical mount that runs through the toilet paper tube and requires 5+ seconds to reload, Japanese toilet paper holders feature one-inch plastic prongs that flip out on either side to hold the roll in place and can be changed in literally one second. (Some Westerners will recognize these as being very similar to the paper towel holders which some people have in their kitchen.)
To remove an empty roll you simply flip up the overhanging flap and lift the old tube straight up. New rolls are loaded from the bottom, it's pure genius! It is simple yet effective innovations like that which make visiting Japan an unforgettable experience. Ask anyone who has ever visited.
HoliDaze Tip These one-of-a-kind toilet paper holders can be purchased individually at department stores throughout Japan. They make amazing gifts for friends back home because they are 1) useful on a daily basis; 2) unquestionably unique; and 3) great conversation starters.
We've all been there, whether a culprit or the audience. Admit it. After all, sounds have a tendency to be audible to those in the adjoining room thanks to thin walls and doors without insulation. But many of these Japanese bidets combat this by featuring a type of audio masking that is designed to cover any sounds generated by the user. Some are triggered by a button or hand-operated motion sensor, others simply by exerting pressure on the toilet seat, but they all sound exactly the same: like flushing water.
After making a comment about this to Mayu I learned that apparently this feature is referred to as Otohime, the Sound Princess. Custom models even have the ability to play bowel-relaxing music instead of the flushing water sound, to help you "loosen up" -- if you so desire. When it comes to Japanese toilets the only limitation is your imagination!
This varies greatly between models. Often it is a button without an icon. Other times it is a push-button built into the basin itself. Sometimes it is even a traditional Western-style one-directional knob -- although the vast majority of the time the knob rotates both directions, one for small flushes (小) and another for larger passes (大).
At the entrance of every residence there is a front landing that is used for removing shoes, as well as any outwear or umbrellas. However inside each bathroom there is a separate set of toilet slippers that never leaves the confines of that space. Bathroom visitors slip them on as they enter the room and remove them on their way out. These keep everyone's feet and socks clean.
When traveling around Japan you will notice that many of the washlets in flats and private residences have the sink built into the wash basin. The logic behind this is fairly simple: after each flush the washbin has to refill with water to prepare for the next flush, so why not first use that water to wash your hands. Besides the obvious water-saving factor, another upside is that you are filling up the washbin with water which has a slight soapy residue to it. This helps to keep the toilet clean.
The water runs for about twenty seconds, a perfect length of time for washing your hands. Plus there is no need for hot or cold knobs as the water is already the perfect temperature.
Back when I had a home (in my pre-nomad days) I tried so hard to have one of those fancy Japanese toilets installed. I don't care about the bidet functions but I really do like the built-in sinks. Of course that has not been an easy task. They just don't sell them in the States. The only current option is to buy a bidet toilet seat and swap out the seats on your Western toilet.
However not all Japanese toilets have this built-in sink. Many look like the one below and feature a separate, traditional sink. These are common in public, high traffic areas such as airports, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
No article on Japanese toilets would be complete without mentioning squat toilets. Although these are not a Japanese invention, they can be found throughout Japan. As such it is best to familiarize yourself with them.
The first experience can be a little strange but some people argue that this method is actually healthier and more efficient. To read more on that debate, I was recently surprised to find that Wikipedia even has a page on Human Defecation Postures.
Having overstayed the expected three days in sleepy Sahura village, the locals had begun to suss our familiar faces. Word had gone round that we were long termers. Shopkeepers smiled. Stray dogs wagged their tails. Even persistent tour guides had given up trying to entice us with jungle trek packages. For rather than resting at one of the tourist lodges and getting up at sunrise to spy tigers and rhinos, our mornings were spent playing with the children from OCWC- the Orphan Children Welfare Centre.
There are thirteen children altogether. They scramble. They climb. They kiss. They hug. They squeeze, tug, shout, pull, skip, giggle, tickle and run. Now, I am the oldest of five very boisterous siblings. I babysat an equally boisterous little boy and his clingy baby sister of six years. I had just finished a fifteen month teaching contract, including kindergarten classes. Nothing could have prepared me for the relentless energy of these Nepali children. We swung them round, juggling two, three children on an arm. I remembered ‘a leg and a wing, to see the king’ and spent hours bouncing them into the air and onto the grass. We chased the boys, blew kisses to the girls, caught kisses from all of them and danced on request. Nothing was ever enough, and introducing ball games opened a whole new can of worms!
Jyoti. Jaya. Jyomi. Babita. Sangita. Sanju. Kamari. Nabina. Jeet. Samir. Bimala. Susma. Salina. Thirteen children, one bedroom and four beds. Four stone walls and a stone floor, with one ABC poster hanging from the door. Down the corridor they also have a kitchen, and nineteen year old Jyoti spends day after day preparing roti and dhal bhat for the family. Mouses scurry about in the rice barrels and cockroaches swarm from behind the sink whenever it is time to wash the dishes. Jyoti can operate a rolling pin like no-one else I know. One hand smooths perfect chappatis while the other stirs masala chai in the pot, and always she talks. Her voice cracks with worry about when she might find a husband. I told her, in a firm voice, that not only is she beautiful but she makes the best bread I have ever tasted. Any man will be lucky to have her.
Three years her junior, Jyomi is better at maths than cooking. Too old for the ball games outside, she spends her mornings bent over text books because she is in her final year of high school; exams are fast approaching. She can’t make the extra revision classes because they are before school hours and she can’t ride a bicycle. No buses run early enough past the orphanage to get her there on time. A Japanese tourist pays for her to attend state school but these pre-paid fees expire soon. Without another sponsor, Jyomi won’t be able to attend college. The house mother says she will join Jyoti- mother figure to twelve and distributor of daily rice onto tin plates. With sponsorship though, she’ll be able to study Economics at a college in Naranghat.
Babita knows the moves to every Bollywood dance routine there is. Sangita is top of her class in every subject and last night learned how to play chess. Sanju is trying to learn a new English word every day. Samir is very quiet. He gets the most impatient if we are ever too hot or tired to play ball and will often sleep in the day, face to the wall. Jeet is beautiful. All hollowed out cheeks and dark, in-set eyes, he laughs more than he talks. Bimala is just about the clingiest child I have ever met. She lolls, lounges and leans, pushes, pulls and pinches. Nabina is the tiniest and most tomboy like six year old I have ever known – her legs like matchsticks under her over-sized and bottle green school skirt. She is my guilty favourite. Kamari, at thirteen, is silent and sad. She sits cross-legged on the carpet with the other children but to be a teenager in this stone room must be so, so hard. Susma is two years old and breath-takingly, lump-in-your-throat, heart-stoppingly adorable. Jaya is eighteen and learning guitar. He wants to be a tour guide, a waiter, a rickshaw driver, everything. Salina reminds me of my teenage sister back at home. She calls us ‘beautiful darlings’ and asks to borrow lipstick.
The kids of Nepal after the earthquake....still smiling
Living with this family was harder than I ever imagined. The conditions are dire and, as a result, the smells are pretty awful too. Perched right on the very edge of Chitwan National Park, Sahura village is intolerably hot. The humidity can get so bad that walking feels like wading through soup and breathing means swallowing warm, stale air. You sweat just sitting still. Rats, mice, cockroaches and ants split their time equally between the bedroom and the shared kitchen. The children all have headlice, the two boys have scabies and all of them suffer terribly from skin infections. At 7pm, when the power cuts out, the orphanage and the village around it are plunged into pitch black darkness. Usually, the water runs out simultaneously. Going to bed by candlelight, blind to any lurking rodents and reeking of not just my own, but fifteen other people’s sweat, demands a good sense of humour and a lot of perspective. As does eating the rice, after we have just fished out the resident rat from the barrel!
Backpacking anywhere, and particularly around Asia, does of course give you a pretty thick skin. Cockroach hunting and knee-sweats are all part of the fun and waking up to views of the Himalaya certainly make it more than worth it in Nepal. What we were not prepared for was having all of our stereotypes about orphans confirmed on day one. The children really do have nothing but the clothes they stand up in. Those clothes really are patched together with bits of other material. They really do sleep on soiled, filthy bed sheets and there really isn’t any running water or electricity for most of the day. Coming face to face with that situation is something I will never forget. Getting to know each wonderful, ball-of-energy, giggling child was equally unforgettable. Putting them onto the school bus and being there when they got home, asking about their day and playing with them until dark filled me with a sense of something I’d never felt before. As clichéd as it sounds, volunteering really did teach me more than I could ever teach them. For, no matter how dirty her uniform is, Jyomi gets up and goes to school. No matter how long it has been since baby Susma was even acknowledged, she greets everyone with a smile. However hormonal Jyoti is feeling, she still gets up at 5.30am and makes thirteen people breakfast in a dark kitchen. Being a part of their life, if only for a short while, was truly humbling.
Taking the teenagers cycling, learning how to cook Nepali style, weeding the garden with the little ones, chasing the chickens outside, introducing toothbrushes, riding atop a local bus to go food shopping, carrying kilos of rice on the back of broken bikes....every single day was an adventure. The children howled with laughter everytime an elephant strolled past their window and, still not quite used to them, we ran outside to stare and snap yet more amazing photographs of their apparently ‘‘so boring’’ village. Kicking the very muddy ball at each other was a favourite game of Jeet and Nabina’s and, more than once, I was reminded of my own family back in the UK and the little annoying things about them I missed. It was no coincidence that living at OCWC filled us with thoughts of loved ones. Looking after one another is what these children do best...even when it does mean Jaya pedalling 100mph on his bike with Samir on the back, just to make him laugh after a lost game of football!
On our last night in Chitwan, the children regaled us with crayon drawings and cards and decorated the whole orphanage in leftover Christmas tinsel. Babita showcased her very best Bollywood moves and the whole family partied together to the beat of Hindi soundtracks. We danced like I’d never danced before and went to bed that night sweatier and smellier than ever. Waving goodbye to them the next morning was one of the saddest moments of my life. Telling Jyomi that we’ve raised enough money to send her to college will, I’m sure, be one of the happiest.
Montreal is an amazing city and arguably the best in all of Canada (take that Toronto!) but it's also one of those cities that takes time to reveal herself to you. Unfortunately when passing through Montreal briefly for vacation or on a road trip, this type of deep understanding is not always possible.
To truly begin to grasp the magnificence of Montreal you must see her underbelly, live it like a local and experience it all. Here's are a few quick suggestions on how to experience Montreal like a local:
Montreal is known for its bagels and one of the oldest and most authentic local establishments to enjoy them is Fairmount Bagel. Dating back to 1919, Fairmount is known throughout Canada as the best bagels in the country. Just one bite and you will understand why. Order your personal favorite "all dressed" and then watch the workers hand make and bake more bagels while you wait for it to be served.
Poutine is a classic Canadian comfort food and there is no shortage of places to find this dish in Montreal. There is also no shortage of top five and top ten lists of the best poutine joints in Montreal scattered around the web. It's a longstanding debate that will never be settled, however my personal favorite is La Banquise. They don't just serve poutine they serve over thirty different varieties of poutine! My recommendation for all you meat lovers out there is the Three Meats (La Trois Viandes, with ground beef, pepperoni and bacon).
Montreal is a big bicycle city and a beautiful city to just wander around and randomly explore. But rather than doing this on foot why not rent a bicycle for the day and explore the city on two wheels. Montreal On Wheels rents bicycles and also organizes various tours, if free exploring isn't your cup of tea. They are all great people and have a very local and active community of bicycle enthusiasts supporting them. Always a good way to meet locals.
Montreal is also home to dozens of museums and anyone in the mood for museums should look into getting a Montreal museum pass. It allows for free entry into 35 of Montreal's best museums and is a great way to pack as much learning and culture as possible into a short trip.
Don't forget Montreal's Underground City, built to serve as a warm weather lifeline during those cold Quebec winters. It is composed of over 20 miles of pedestrian tunnels connecting metro stations and apartment complexes to everything from stories, restaurants, movie theatres, banks, offices and more.
Okay, sleeping like a local might be the trickiest part...namely because visitors don't have a home there, obviously. But to find a temporary home for your Montreal trip then consider checking Airbnb or save time (and a few dollars) by browsing all the cheap Montreal hotels in one place on Hipmunk.
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"Ntchuva" is a game for male adults. Two teams are formed with one or more players. The game can be carried out on the floor, digging up four rows of small pits. Each queue can have 4, 8, 16 or 32 pits. You can also play in a board made of wood or cement.
The teams squat down, facing each other. At each pit are placed two stones and each team match two rows of pits. The goal is to eliminate the opponent's stones.
To make a move, the player chooses a pit of departure. Grab these pit stones and place them one by one following the pits counter-clockwise. When the last stone is dropped into a pit that still has stones, the player restarts the process, i.e., remove the stones of the pit and place them one by one following the pits until the last stone is dropped in an empty grave. If this grave is located on the 1st row (which is closer to the player) the play ends and the turn passes to the opponent. If the pit in question is located on the second row (closer to the opponent) the player checks if the next pit (corresponding to the secondnd row of the adversary) has stones, which gives you the right to remove the stones of that pit as well from the pit immediately behind and a third pit (chosen by the player, according to a criterion of game strategy, or will seek to reduce the chances of the opponent, a next move, you also remove stones).
Next is the turn of the adversary, who will play in the manner already described, continuing the game with players alternating between the two teams. Players are required (as long as possible) to start the game by more than a pit with a stone, always ending when they leave one stone on a grave. Only when they leave there graves over a stone, the player can start the game from a pit with one stone, walking in this case only one pit, unless you just have to follow a stone so he can continue.
Ntchuva may be known as "Warri" in many other countries in Africa. And the rules may differ from place to place, but the strategy is always similar.
According to "Moçambicanismos," from Lopes, Sitoe and Nhamuende, the term "Nchuva/Nxuva" comes from the Swazi term "intjuba." Ntchuva can be compared to the type of board games called "Mancala" (wiki).
It was about 9pm on a mildly warm Tuesday night when our bus came to a meandering crawl in Requena, Spain. This was not just any Tuesday night. It was the night before the annual tomato throwing festival known as La Tomatina.
Tomatina was to be held in the small town of Bunol the following afternoon. That didn't stop the entire province of Valencia from joining in on the celebration, however. This was the night of the annual Water and Wine Festival in Requena. I had been looking forward to this event for some time. Not just because I wanted to party, but because I always relish in the opportunity to have genuine cultural interactions when I travel.
We were hastily escorted off the bus when it stopped and asked to follow our tour guides through the quaint Spanish village. My brother Rome and I chatted comically with a few of the other English-speaking tourists that were joining us on our hike through the town streets. It was already pitch black dark when we arrived, so photo opportunities were at a minimum. That was a shame because Requena is a picturesque village full of fountains, statues and mission revival style architecture.
True to the rhythm of the typical Spanish day, many of the town’s restaurants and cafes were buzzing with customers. Most watched us pass with smiles on their faces, eager to share their local festivities with us. After a 10-minute walk we arrived at a giant open air arena. Due to the events of the evening, the arena felt larger than life. The outer stone walls were eroded and dilapidated...in a good way. As we approached the edifice, we could feel the heartbeat of the entire city contained inside the walls.
The triumphant sounds of the chants, cheers and brass bands leaked through every crack in the coliseum style building and swam their way through our eardrums. There was a large, disorganized line already forming at the entry for people that had their tickets. For people that had to buy their tickets, or people that already had tickets in advance and forgot them (like me), the line was even longer and more disorganized. At most bullfights held during the daytime, spectators are given the option of purchasing seats in the sun or seats in the shade for a little more money. Being that it was already night time, sun and shade had no bearing on seat selection and the line moved relatively quickly. I purchased my ticket and did my best to squeeze and maneuver my broad shoulders through the narrow arena stairways.
By the time we actually entered the arena, it was already jam packed and rocking. Hard bleacher style seating ascended at least 30 rows high. Rome and I sat as close to the stairwell as possible about 20 rows away from the arena floor. Many of the local people brought snacks into the arena that they readily shared with anybody in their immediate area. On a couple of occasions, I was handed a convenient, savory snack of Spanish ham baked directly into an olive oil infused bread. The atmosphere in the Collirena (that's a new word I just made up combining coliseum and arena) was very reminiscent of a college football game at my beloved Florida A&M University. The audience cheered, sang songs and did the wave ad nauseam.
There were also bands in almost every section of the crowd playing traditional Spanish revelry music mixed with contemporary renditions of their favorite pop songs. Prior to us boarding the bus, our guide gave us a brief description of the events that would take place. We were told that this would not be a bullfight in the traditional sense. The bull would not be slaughtered after this event. The goal was to simply taunt the bull and dodge his enraged attempts at seeking revenge. This event was to serve as a rite of passage for many of the young men of Requena. There is a great deal of pride taken in honing the matador spirit.
Another caveat that made this bullfight unique was that it was open to ANYBODY with enough balls to get in the ring. Never one to shy away from a challenge, my eyes glazed over with delight when I heard I would be afforded to opportunity to play with a bull.
Rome and I looked at each other with childlike grins as we boarded the bus. We both knew, without even speaking a word, we would have to get in the ring with the bull. That is why we picked seats close to the stairwell. We knew when the time came, we would need to make an obstruction free exit from our seats and head down to the danger zone.
The bullfighting ring was a circle approximately 50 meters in diameter. The ground was coarse brown loosely packed sand. Smack dab in the middle of the arena floor sat an orange cage approximately 10 feet in length, width and height. The bars on the cage were wide enough for an average person to slip through sideways, but not anything much larger....like say....A BULL. This cage was the safety cage; made to be slipped in and out of while teasing large ungulate bovine mammals.
Shortly after the cage was placed, a few brave Spaniards...and one or two drunk tourists....ventured out onto the arena floor. The crowd cheered fervently in anticipation of the bull to come. The brave first participants huddled into the safety cage and close to the walls of the bull ring floor and in a flash a large, cantankerous black bull came darting on to the arena floor. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't.....we're not going to use the term "scared" here. This is my blog entry after all, and I would like to maintain my image as savage global conqueror. We will use the term phrase "taken aback." I was taken aback, not because there was a gargantuan steamroller of a bull on the floor. I was taken aback because this was the first, and smallest bull that we were going to see this night.
This bullfight, as with many in Spain, was going to feature a round robin cavalcade of bulls that only got bigger, faster, stronger and more aggressive as the night progressed. Rome and I both looked at each other and said "Oh hell no" in unison. We watched on pins and needles as the first two bulls ran roughshod around the circumference of the bull ring chasing all who dared to enter directly to the safety cage. One innocent bystander in a purple shirt got caught taking in the ambience of the arena and was absolutely pummeled by the bull. He was literally bowled off his feet and stomped by the bull's massive hooves. As he stood to his feet the bull caught him flush on his legs and literally whipped him to the ground. The entire audience gasped in horror. A handful of participants distracted the bull to draw his attention to anything but the man in the purple shirt that was being stomped to bits.
As the third bull came shooting out of his pen, Rome looked at me and said "Come on Ice, let's go." I told him there was no way I was going down there. Rome looked at me and said the four words no man of honor can sit idly by and hear without taking action. "Don't be a pussy." I leapt to my feet and said let's go with the eye of the tiger playing in my head.
We galloped gut wrenchingly down the 20 bleacher flights of stairs to the ground floor of the arena. We stopped briefly to pull up our pants, tighten our belt loops and tie our shoes. Rome latched his new Go Pro camera to his chest mount and we approached the bull ring gates. The arena security guards, smiled sheepishly and motioned us to jump over the bull ring wall whenever we were ready.
Just before we entered the ring, I stopped, looked Rome directly in his chest mounted camera and did a quick last will and testament. We waited until the bull was on the other side of the arena and jogged out onto the arena floor. It was at that very instant that I could literally feel all my senses heighten. My peripheral vision got more acute. My sense of hearing tuned itself in a very peculiar fashion where I could no longer hear the crowd, but I could very distinctly hear the sand crunching under my feet. My mouth became surprisingly dry and I darted straight to the safety cage.
I didn't enter it immediately though. I grabbed the bars of the cage with one hand and watched the bull chase a participant over the wall. The bull then turned around and saw me hanging out of the cage with no cover. He darted for me with surprising speed, hell bent on cremating another victim. I held off as long as I could before I spun in the sand and slipped through the safety cage bars. At that point, I heard a collective "Ohhhh" from the audience. I knew the bull had gotten entirely too close to me for comfort. The fighters that were in the cage with me were patting my back. Their wide eyed stares were enough to let me know that I more than likely almost took a horn where the sun don't shine. The fact of the matter is that the cage is built for svelte Spanish toreadors. My American football playing frame was not built to slip through the bars easily. I looked down the front of my shirt while in the cage to make sure my nipples did not get ripped off by the bars.
After a few deep breaths in the cage, my wits returned to me. My eyes darted around looking for Rome. He was nowhere to be found, so I stepped out of the cage to take a look around the arena. I strolled casually around to the other side of the cage and noticed the bull chasing yet another group of young men over the wall. I stood cautiously about 20 feet away from the cage. The bull turned around and noticed me immediately. He darted for me blowing what looked like combustion engine smoke out of his nostrils. I stood my ground as long as I could before I turned around and high tailed it to the cage. Once again I slipped through with a little friction to my nipples. I didn't care though, I was safe from the surly toro's advances. This is where things get a little dicey. I entered the cage and kept my back to the bull. I got cocky, I was more interested in receiving approval from my compadres in the cage than I was in watching the bull. This particular rascal was able to slip about half his head and one of his horns right through the cage and use his powerful neck muscles to wreak havoc at the cage edge. With one jerk of his muscular neck, he was able to get up under one of my legs and begin to lift me off the ground.
Please, bear in mind that I am 227 lbs. Next time you go to the gym, try to lift 227 lbs with your neck. Needless to say, I was startled out of my mind when I looked behind me and saw a massive bull head and horn prying away at my leg. My cage buddies pulled me away from the edge of the cage as the audience gasped once again in horror. It was a short three seconds of terror but it was the most panicked I have been in a long time.
Almost immediately after my encounter with the business end of the bull, I saw Rome run around the cage. I stepped out and told him I got gored. He gave me a high five because that's what bros do when one bro almost dies. My only regret is that I don't have a scar to show for it. If you're gonna meet a bulls horn, the least the bull can do is leave a little mark for you to show your grandchildren one day. If you are an adrenaline junky, I highly recommend participating in the bull fight at the water and wine festival. I don't know if it is something I would do again, but I am very proud of the experience. Remember, the bullfight is just the first part of the festival. There is a parade afterwards, and everybody loves a bullfighter.