Egyptian style makes a comeback in ‘balady chic’ movement

lanternsLast year, I was building a kitchen in my apartment in Cairo. I knew the tiles I wanted – classic arabesque style. You know, I wanted something out of an Andalusian palace or a Turkish mosque in my kitchen, please. I showed a photo to the tile salesman, who smarmily told me that they don’t have those tiles in Egypt.

“You don’t have those tiles? They’re along the walls of the ahwa (traditional café) downstairs!” I fumed.

The roll of his eyes said what his mouth wasn’t saying: “So old-fashioned, crazy foreigner.”

Happily, I found the traditional tiles, now made by a savvy Spanish company (and paid a bomb for them). Since then, I’ve spotted these (new) tiles everywhere, as part of a resurgence in what’s been dubbed ‘balady chic’. The word balady translates as ‘my country’ or ‘local’. So balady chic celebrates traditional Egyptian design, and it’s coming from the cool kids of Cairo.

This trip, I found an awesome tray featuring a reworking of the Hamza, or hand of Fatima, a powerful symbol that wards off evil, from local manufacturer Joud (it’s website is joudness.com – but Egyptians pronounce the ‘j’ as a ‘g’ – cute). I also raided the fabulously haphazard, historical market Khan al-Khalili yet again for yet more beautiful metal light shades (nagafa), belted into elaborate forms in the noisy, dark metal workshops spotted throughout Islamic Cairo. And they’re not a new story, but the handmade soaps (think: milk & honey, and olive oil – how much more Arabian can you get?) and organic cotton towels from Nefertari found their way into my bag for Christmas presents (see nefertaribodycare.com).

Easy on the eye, and better in the stomach, the hottest place in the upmarket, Nile-side part of Maadi is Baladina, for classic Egyptian food such as fatta and shawarma, beautifully done and served, rather ironically, by slim-hipped waiters in gellibayas and little white cotton caps. In fact, there are a few cool, new Egyptian food chains in town: try the ‘healthy’ koshary, made with green wheat and brown rice, at Zooba, Cairo Kitchen published its fantastic cookbook last year and I love El Dokan’s balady décor.

So great to see Egyptians taking pride in their own design history. Long may it last (before it gets copied by knock-off foreign companies).

Beautiful game, beautiful life: Camp Nou, Barcelona

Big thanks to the man about the house for dragging me to Camp Nou, headquarters of Barcelona Football Club, to see his club in action. My story on the passion and the fashion of the beautiful game was published in the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend. (For the record, I did get him to visit Sagrada Familia.)

campnou
Action at Barcelona’s Camp Nou. Photo: Belinda Jackson

Forget Michelin stars, and Gaudi who? There’s only one reason to visit Barcelona.

The message is clear. “I only want to go to Barcelona to see Barcelona Football Club play,” says the husband, shelving any ideals of visiting Sagrada Familia or eating at world-famous restaurants.

We’re staying at one of the best addresses in town – the new suites in the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona – and the entrance is a dramatic catwalk up from street level. The lobby is sleek and hushed, the staff as polished as only five-star staff can be. Yet in Barcelona, football transcends gender and poshness.

In Barcelona, football certainly appeals to shoppers: the city’s new-town grids and old-city lanes conspire to walk me into one of dozens of official FC Barcelona boutiques selling balls and caps, water bottles and pencil cases. A genuine FC Barcelona shirt will set you back €80 ($124), even though it’s a sweaty 100 per cent nylon and manufactured in Vietnam or Bangladesh.

 

To read more about kicking off in Barcelona, click here.

This story was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.

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Beautiful game, beautiful life: Camp Nou, Barcelona

Action at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

Big thanks to the man about the house for dragging me to Camp Nou, headquarters of Barcelona Football Club, to see his club in action. My story on the passion and the fashion of the beautiful game was published in the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend. (For the record, I did get him to visit Sagrada Familia.)

Forget Michelin stars, and Gaudi who? There’s only one reason to visit Barcelona.

The message is clear. “I only want to go to Barcelona to see
Barcelona Football Club play,” says the husband, shelving any ideals of
visiting Sagrada Familia or eating at world-famous restaurants.

We’re
staying at one of the best addresses in town – the new suites in the
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona – and the entrance is a dramatic catwalk up
from street level. The lobby is sleek and hushed, the staff as polished
as only five-star staff can be. Yet in Barcelona, football transcends
gender and poshness.

In Barcelona, football certainly appeals to shoppers: the city’s
new-town grids and old-city lanes conspire to walk me into one of dozens
of official FC Barcelona boutiques selling balls and caps, water
bottles and pencil cases. A genuine FC Barcelona shirt will set you back
€80 ($124), even though it’s a sweaty 100 per cent nylon and
manufactured in Vietnam or Bangladesh. 

Freedom of expression! Catelan activists at Camp Nou.
Photo: Belinda Jackson

To read more about kicking off in Barcelona, click here.

This story was published in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.

The real trip advisors reveal their tips for travel in 2015

Mesmerising Myanmar: Ancient temples and an increasingly
modern infrastructure are the drawcards. Photo: Getty Images.

So – what’s the next big thing? Travel experts
reveal their tips for the coming year.
With an
eye on the hip pocket, we’re looking at hometown holidays in 2015, say travel
industry’s chiefs. And while Asia is back on top as our favourite playground,
Myanmar continues its stellar orbit as the region’s shining star.
Gary Bartelings, Captain’s Choice
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Gallipoli for the centenary, on unusual train journeys, South America,
Antarctica and our new Australian tours by private plane.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Iran and Myanmar. For safe and trusted, a British
Isles cruise or a train journey through Switzerland.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
 An unsettled world and the weakening
Australian dollar.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Chichen Itza in Mexico, Rio, Easter Island, Tahiti, Angkor  Wat,
the Taj Mahal and the Serenas, well as the UK and Europe.
Fearless
prediction?
Keep
travelling, so people across cultures, religions and countries can connect
peacefully. See captainschoice.com.au.
Simon Westcott, Luxe City Guides 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Myanmar: infrastructure is improving and there’s a sense it’ll all
change fast.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Bhutan: because it’s not going to change fast. A
purer and more controlled experience awaits.  
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Travel safety: the perceived threat of increased
terrorism and infectious diseases.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
London, Florence, Marrakech, Taipei, Tokyo and the USA.
Fearless
prediction?

 Wifi flights will become the norm. See luxecityguides.com.
Alan Alcock, Wendy Wu Tours
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Japan, now great value for money, and India.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Sri Lanka, which is rapidly healing after its
terrible civil war, the idyllic Maldives, and Myanmar for quaint, rustic
antiquity.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
The potential spread of terrorism to our region, health
issues such as Ebola and the value of the Australian dollar. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
 Vietnam, Japan and Mongolia.
Fearless
prediction?

Self-drive three-wheeled tuk-tuk tours in India! See wendywutours.com.au.
Tom Walley, Flight Centre Australia
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Philippines: budget carrier Cebu Pacific Air has just kicked off a
service departing Sydney four times weekly.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
London, for the Rugby World Cup! 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Airfares have never been more affordable and
unless the US dollar drops significantly, the only issue is choosing where to
go. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Whistler: snowboarding is my passion. We will thaw out on Hamilton
Island. Fearless prediction? Aussies are in a golden era of travel with more
accessible prices, services and routes. See flightcentre.com.au.
Sue Badyari, World Expeditions
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Hiking and biking Cambodia, trekking the Patagonia Ice Cap, Arctic
cruising to see the Northern Lights, Nepal’s Manaslu Circuit, walking Spain’s
Camino. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Trekking the Altai mountains in Mongolia, hiking
and biking in China, cycling Puglia, Italy. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Flight availability in peak seasons, more freak
storms and volatility in weather patterns due to global warming.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Italy’s Gran Paradiso Trek plus a self-guided cycling holiday from
Slovenia to Croatia!
Fearless
prediction for 2015?
The Great
Himalayan Trail – a five-month trek traversing Nepal’s high passes. See worldexpeditions.com.
Ann Sherry, Carnival Australia 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Cruising Europe, Alaska, and the Baltics. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Asia, cruising from Japan and Singapore, visiting
Vietnam and Cambodia, and even Indonesia’s Komodo Island. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
The falling dollar, sharpening travellers’ focus
on value.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Stradbroke Island, maybe an African safari and a PNG and Solomon
Islands cruise to test new destinations.
Fearless
prediction?
Weekends
at sea with Australia’s best food and wine. See carnival.com.au.
Caroline Kennedy, Cox & Kings Australia
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Italy and Greece for the food, wine, history and sites and Norway for
the Northern Lights.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
ANZAC centenary commemorations in Gallipoli, with
or without ballot tickets.
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Global safety issues and natural disasters.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
I would like to do The Ultimate Travelling Camp in India.
Fearless
prediction?

Experiencing destinations in 3D, such as enjoying the view from your
(prospective) hotel’s balcony. See coxandkings.com.au.
Anton Stanish, Stayz Holiday Accommodation
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
The Gold Coast, Darwin and fringe CBD; homeowners are realising the
viability of short-term rentals while travellers can immerse themselves in the
local neighbourhood.
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Dunsborough, Western Australia. Definitely a new
hot spot.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
A holiday rental in Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand, near golf courses,
vineyards and beaches. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Low-cost air carriers continuing to open up new
markets, particularly in Asia.
Fearless
prediction?
Holiday
rentals becoming bookable online, like hotels. See stayz.com.au.
Karin Sheppard, InterContinental Hotels Group 
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
South-east Asia and the Asia Pacific, for snorkelling safaris, stunning
beaches.   
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
On ‘staycation,’ exploring your own city. Sydney’s
Double Bay has new eateries, bars, shops and the new InterContinental Sydney
Double Bay. 
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Truly personalised and local experiences. 
Where are
you packing your bags for?
Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival, a diving holiday to Fiji and skiing in
Queenstown. 
Fearless
prediction?
More
marketing aimed at locals through social media, and brands rewarding guests for
publicising their trips via social media. See ihg.com.
Dave Boyte, Skyscanner
Where is
everyone going in 2015?
Safe, affordable Nicaragua, Central America and Mykonos, Greece. 
Where
should everyone be going in 2015?
Colombo, Sri Lanka is reinventing itself as a cool
foodie paradise. Flight searches to Bhutan are also on the rise.  
The
biggest issue in travel in 2015?
Online travel companies becoming mobile savvy, as
travellers use mobile phones to research, plan and book holidays.
Where are
you packing your bags for?
The coolest little capital, Wellington, and Tasmania.  
Fearless
prediction?

Meta-search websites – websites that aggregate information from all over the
web into one site – being an essential planning tool. See skyscanner.com.au.
This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Traveller.

It’s just the two of us: mother-daughter travels

There’s a world of ideas for a mother and daughter getaway with it all, writes Belinda Jackson. 

Shop,
spa, eat, see and do – for mums and daughters, a trip together is a
unique way to celebrate and refresh your relationship without the
demands of kids, work and partners. Mums with teenage girls, snatch that
special time before they disappear into the world alone: perhaps this
is the chance to test the waters before gap years and the prospect of
solo travel raise their heads. After all, who could ask for a better
teacher of essential life skills?

PRINCESS DIARIES: ITALY
“When
in Italy, what would Audrey Hepburn do?” She’d probably drive to
beautiful little Siena (mental note: pack Pucci scarf and big
sunglasses), climb the top of the Mangia tower before shopping for
handmade Tuscan boots, then refreshing herself with lunch at a trattoria
and a little gelato.

Guide
Andrea Powis channels the ultimate diva on a 10-night tour through
Tuscany and down to Rome on a tour made for sisters or mums and
daughters. “It’s effervescent, elegant and timeless,” she says.

There
are home-cooked dinners at family vineyards and lunches in Renaissance
palaces with Florentine princesses, nights spent in country villas,
palazzos and monasteries, and two days on red Vespas, stopping for
morning cappuccinos in walled towns, with light shopping workouts in
between (non-Vespa divas are chauffeured). The tour ends in Rome, with a
tour of Villa Borghese and a promenade (and possibly more shopping)
along Via Condotti. The 10-night tour departs Florence on June 7, 2014.

Costs from $6699 a person, twin share. Phone 0408 721 569. See travellingdivas.com.au.

FROM NEON TO BLOSSOMS: JAPAN
Revel in the flash and dash of fashionable Tokyo then soak up the tranquillity of a Shinto shrine in the Japanese countryside.

With
stays at traditional ryokans and imperial palaces and Buddhist temples
on the list, there is time for peace and reflection on this journey.
But, hey, there’s also fabulous shopping at oh-so beautiful department
stores and Tokyo’s hip strips.

This is a privately guided journey,
making it perfect for mums and daughters to reconnect: in spring for
cherry blossoms, summer with its gentle warmth or among the spectacular
autumn colours.

Departing from Tokyo daily, the nine-night tour includes
a first class on a bullet train from Hakone to Kyoto, a tea ceremony in
a private home, Michelin-starred restaurants and local izakayas and the
chance to emulate some of Japan’s best-dressed women in a kimono and
obi.

Costs from $11,185 a person, twin share. Phone 1300 851 800, see abercrombiekent.com.au.

SHOP THE CITY: NEW YORK
Shopping is bonding, says Karen Parker O’Brien, who leads private shopping tours of New York City.
“On
a mother-and-daughter day out, you’re bonding as best friends who care
about what the other thinks,” says the former fashion buyer, who will
take you into private showrooms and studios.
Her top shop is the homewares “museum” ABC Carpet & Home, on Broadway. “It’s a magical store.”
Expect
champagne and gourmet snacking, expect retail highs in designers’ NYC
showrooms, expect up to 80 per cent off in the wholesale haunts. A
private four-hour VIP walking tour costs from US$400 for four people,
limo tours from US$500. See karen@styleroom.com, styleroom.com.

A CREATIVE REVOLUTION: SPAIN
Spain
is proof that daily life can and should be lived exuberantly, says art
historian, chef and guide Marieke Brugman. Celebrated culinary guide
Marieke’s nine-day tour through northern Spain starts in soulful
Barcelona before venturing north to Bilbao, Navarra and La Rioja.

Visit
mediaeval fishing harbours that spawned navigators and fashion
designers. Dine at a coveted chef’s table in the three-Michelin-star
Arzak, rated eighth in the world by San Pellegrino.
Devour
pintxos, sleep in mansions and learn kitchen secrets from northern
Spain’s masters. Marieke may even lead you into the whiskey bars of San
Sebastian or into tavernas run by elegant septuagenarian ladies.

“Women,
especially of a more mature age, are not invisible in Spain,” says
Marieke. “To the contrary, they’re celebrated.” Departs September 26,
2014. Costs $10,000, phone 0419 580 381, see mariekesartofliving.com.

Crown Metropol’s sky-high pool, Melbourne.

PUT THE “AH” INTO SPA: AUSTRALIA
What
better way to repay your mum for the sleepless nights, the endless
dishes and a lifetime of caring than to check her in for two days of
water therapy … we’re talking rituals using Aveda products,
stress-busting massages, a soothing facial and exclusive spa access at
Melbourne’s sky-high Crown Metropol. Level 27 is home to Crown’s lush
Isika spa, expansive views of Melbourne’s skyline as well as that
amazing pool, the one where Offspring’s lovely Patrick farewelled
television’s most glamorous mum-to-be, Nina.

The revive package
also includes one night’s accommodation in an Isika spa suite, breakfast
at the sky-high private guest lounge, 28, lunch and dinner at Mr Hive
and stress-free valet parking.
For total relaxation, book midweek
to avoid the weekend hustle. Costs from $880 a person or $1485 for two,
twin share. Phone 1800 056 662, see isikaspa.com.au.

THREE MORE TRIPS CLOSE TO HOME

GOLDEN DOOR ELYSIA
in
the Hunter Valley is an easy getaway, with healthy cuisine, meditation,
morning tai chi and motivational speakers. Save 15 per cent on a
two-night weekend stay until December 20. From $940 a person, two
nights. 1800 212 011, goldendoor.com.au.

THEATRE TRIP
Take
in dinner and a show, with Agatha Christie’s A Murder Announced, with
an overnight stay in Mantra 2 Bond Street, Sydney, from $500 a night
(until October 27) or in Melbourne, staying at Mantra on the Park, from
$472 (from October 30 to December 4). 1300 987 604, mantra.com.au.

HIGHLANDS RETREAT
Revive
the soul with a gentle bushwalk in the Southern Highlands and a stay at
the no-gadget Solar Springs Health Retreat, from $255 a person, twin
share. (02) 4883 6027, solarsprings.com.au.

Written by Belinda Jackson, published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.