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Monthly Archives: October 2016

7 Reasons to Visit a Reborn Northern

Spurred on by the drive to win the title of European Capital of Culture 2023, it’s all go, whether you’re after brewery brunches or barista classes, pop-up events or elegant arcades. Here’s our guide to the city’s thriving food, beer and coffee scenes, revamped markets and galleries and historic sights.

Craft beer and Northern Monk

If Leeds could be summed up in one sniff, it would be the aromas of hops and malt. In the past five years, the city has leveraged its proud Yorkshire real-ale heritage to create one of the UK’s finest craft beer scenes. This is a city of connoisseurs, where scores of hopheads worship at dozens of bars and microbreweries.

Leading the pack is Northern Monk, beloved for its sociable taproom in a Grade II-listed mill, its inspired collaborative brews and its brewery brunches starring hop bread.

Holbeck: an unexpected wonderland

Step out of the Northern Monk taproom and you’re slap-bang in the middle of an unexpected wonderland of 19th-century industrial relics. Holbeck may have a reputation as a rough-around-the-edges place (it’s Britain’s first legal red-light zone), but it’s also a fascinating conservation area with some great pubs and off-the-beaten-track appeal.

Amid clusters of converted flax-mill offices, three startling brick chimneys – modelled on Italian bell towers – shoot skywards from crumbling Tower Works. This former pin factory has been plotted as the centrepiece of a mixed-use development and businesses such as Burberry are putting down roots here.

Around the corner stands the Egyptian-inspired stone facade of Temple Works. Some locals remember when its flat roof was covered in grass and grazed by resident sheep. There are grand plans to turn it into an arts venue, but in the meantime local artists are taking advantage of cheap studio rents within its decaying walls.

Leeds Civic Trust (leedscivictrust.org.uk) runs a heritage Supper Walk around the area, including dinner at Leeds’ Heritage and Design Centre.

Heritage shopping

When textile magnates roosted in Leeds during its 19th-century industrial heyday, elegant shopping arcades were erected to burn holes in their pockets. The covered laneways fanning out from Briggate still retain many traditional shopfronts, behind which lie the city’s most interesting independent stores – selling artisan cakes, comics, craft beer and the like – tempered by high-end fashion boutiques.

Victoria Quarter is the undisputed beauty queen, but check out gothic Thornton’s Arcade for its chiming automaton clock featuring a life-sized Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. A five-minute walk away, the Colosseum-like Corn Exchange has been transformed into another bastion of indie shops and cafes, with deck chairs and pop-up events in its lower level.

The revamped Kirkgate Market

It’s hard not to be dazzled by the wrought-iron razzmatazz of Kirkgate Market’s ornate atrium ceiling. On a sunny day, light floods in through the glass illuminating the colourful traditional wooden stalls below. This is where UK retail giant Marks & Spencer started its empire in 1884 (check out the Penny Bazaar homage to M&S inside the market). The section abutting Vicar Ln is the highlight of what is one of Europe’s largest covered markets.

Kirkgate remains a true locals’ market, selling a bit of everything, but in 2016 it also welcomed a new street-food hall and made a push to introduce gourmet, local produce. It’s now a favourite lunch spot: grab a curry from award-winning former food truck Manjit’s Kitchen, followed by a brownie from upmarket bakery Bluebird.

The North’s best food fest

If proof was needed of how far Leeds’ food scene has come in the past five years, Leeds Indie Food (leedsindiefood.co.uk) is it. Now in its third year, the festival spills across two whole weeks each May, and coveted events sell out in days.

The focus is on Leeds’ independent restaurants, cafes and regional producers, reflecting the city’s growing reputation for innovation in the kitchen. Events are unique: you could find yourself at a doughnut-and-beer-matching event or experimental lobster workshop one day, followed by a foraging walk or secret-location dinner the next.

Artisan coffee

The trend for sophisticated coffee that’s swept London in recent years is also flourishing in Leeds thanks to bean lovers like Dave and James Olejnik, who run Laynes Espresso. The brothers make frequent forays down to the capital to snap up the best batches from producers such as Square Mile and Workshop Coffee, as well as using beans from Leeds-based North Star Coffee Roasters. The duo also run coffee-making and appreciation classes for budding baristas and serve excellent food in their newly expanded shop.

Other artisan coffee shops worth savouring a cup in are Kapow (facebook.com/kapowcoffee) in The Calls, Mrs Atha’s (mrsathasleeds.com) just off Briggate and Union Coffee House (facebook.com/theunioncoffeehouseleeds) on Great George St behind Leeds Town Hall.

New nightlife in the Northern Quarter

The slim tail-end of Call Ln on the southern edge of the city centre is a whirlwind of high-octane bars, cramped indie hang-outs and the odd cafe/restaurant. It used to be locals’ main go-to for alternative fun after dark, but the city has broadened its horizons in recent years. Bookending the city centre to the north, what was once a lonesome spot for a couple of stellar bars above Headrow has morphed into a nightlife zone called the Northern Quarter. Long-time residents are bemused by the new name, but everybody loves this trendy enclave of prohibition-style bars, gin palaces and craft beer taps.

Try retro Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen with its street food, intimate live-music space and quirky lawned roof terrace in a restyled 1930s block. On the second Saturday of every month, it hosts the Belgrave Feast street food and art market.

Escaping modern life in Moldova’s countryside

 In an instant, modern civilisation seems to fall away. Cow-speckled grasslands unfurl across Moldova’s low hills, and farm-hands draw water from roadside wells. As for the horse-drawn hay carts, they rattle along at a surprisingly brisk pace – and I have a sneaking suspicion they are sturdier than our little rental car…

Exploring the country time forgot

Despite budget flights from western Europe to Chişinău, travellers aren’t yet descending in droves on this little country squeezed between Romania and Ukraine.  Starting from WWII, Moldova was part of the Soviet Union for five decades; the country continues to be dismissed as a gloomy throwback to that period. Certainly, modern Chişinău has its Soviet-era stalwarts – like the crumbling state circus building (Strada Circului 33) and the tanks assembled outside the Army Museum – though the city is freshened by fountain-filled parks and tree-fringed boulevards.

But if Chişinău feels anchored in the 1970s, the rest of Moldova froze in time centuries earlier. On our northbound drive, women in headscarves are stepping out into the road and waving hand-picked bouquets. They’re selling wildflowers to passing motorists, but for a moment it seems as though they are beckoning us towards Moldova’s time-trapped countryside.

Hiking the lonely roads of Old Orhei

Our destination is Orhei, a district of pastures and forests, around 45km north of Chişinău. The car nudges cautiously through quiet villages like Ivancea and Brăneşti, and before long we can see chalk cliffs rising into view.

Like a pair of cupped hands, these cliffs encircle Moldova’s holiest sight,Orheiul Vechi (‘Old Orhei’). From the 13th century, monks consigned themselves to silent contemplation within caves in the rock face, a practice that endured for some 500 years. Anchoring this sacred place is the Ascension of St Mary Church (1905), whose glinting dome catches the sunlight from far across the Răut River.

Cave-dwelling monks have largely cleared out, but Orheiul Vechi remains a site for contemplation: you can walk for miles without seeing a soul. As I trace the Ivancea–Orheiul Vechi road, not a single car interrupts my path; an occasional rider, hauling several farm-hands in a horse-pulled wagon, clatters past and gives me a startled stare.

In the villages, houses are painted powder-blue and green, backed by spectacular salt-and-pepper cliffs. Garden trellises are loaded with vines, and gargling turkeys loll in their shade. Faced with this scene plucked from a pastoral fairytale, it’s impossible not to slow down to the pace of village life in Moldova.

Tasting farm life in Trebujeni

Trebujeni, just southeast of Orheiul Vechi, is accessed by potholed, dust-and-dirt roads. The overwhelming majority of locals in this trio of villages are farming stock, and the trickle of pilgrims and visitors doesn’t create much of a tourist industry. Nevertheless, there is a scattering of places to stay, signalled by decoratively carved pensiunea(guesthouse) signs swinging in front yards.

As we drive tentatively into Trebujeni, geese scatter from our path and we’re blindsided by the odd surprise horse. Somewhere along the pitted roads, one of our car’s hubcaps wobbles straight off its wheel.

Our guesthouse here, Casa din Lunca (+373 794 55 100, Trebujeni), has a rustic air that matches its setting, from creaking gate to grandmotherly embroidery – but it’s an unpolished sort of place. I sling a rucksack onto my bedspread and dust puffs up from the sheets. We survey a backyard prowled by yowling cats, rugs as threadbare as the wi-fi signal, and a forlorn, empty swimming pool.

‘I’ll be in my room,’ sighs my travel companion Jane, ‘with my book.’

Our spirits are raised when the hostess of the house lays platefuls of country cooking across an outdoor dining table. There are wooden platters of smoke-scented meat, and voluptuous pitchers of tart red wine are finding space between salads and sour cream. We carve mămăligă, a cake of polenta, into cushiony wedges.

As we feast, rural Moldova is slowly working its magic. In the shade of a vine-covered awning, to the sounds of bleating farm animals, the atmosphere seems like a fair swap for our car’s lost hubcap.

Tiptoeing through secretive monasteries

North of Trebujeni, a different kind of wonder fills the air. Some 93% of Moldovans belong to the Orthodox church and the country’s monasteries act as lightning rods for intense spirituality.

Some of the loveliest monasteries are perched beside the Dniester River, a  slate-coloured seam between Moldova and the breakaway republic ofTransdniestr. Thirty kilometres north of Trebujeni lies Tipova, Moldova’s largest and one of its oldest cave monasteries. As in Orheiul Vechi, the area is scored with grottoes that were once hideaways for monks. But the site has other myths, too. According to local lore, Orpheus ventured to Tipova; other stories embellish further, declaring that this Greek poet of legend found his portal to the underworld through one of Tipova’s caves.

Another 12km north, snug among fuzzily forested hills, are the golden domes of Saharna Monastery. As we stroll through its gardens, groundsmen with their hands in the soil lift their heads curiously from tulip beds. Even our whispers seem loud.

A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Photo Editing

 Hit me with your best shots

Digging through hundreds of images after a big trip can be a daunting task. Trust your instincts and taste. Pick a comfortable system to mark your favorite photos, whether it’s a ‘heart’ on your iPhone or by adding favorites to a custom folder. Take as many passes through your photos as needed, each time narrowing down your selections until you’ve chosen a series that tells the most compelling story. The same concept applies if you’ve moved over to your computer with a program like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Bridge. Critically analyzing your photos in this way is great practice and essential to honing your taste and unique style.

Getting familiar with basic mobile editing tools 

For many budding travel photogs, all the tools necessary for some great-looking images are right at your fingertips. The world of smartphone apps – including Snapseed, VSCO, and even Instagram – makes it easy to make standard adjustments. Start with some goals. Maybe you want to bring out a certain subject or focal point. Maybe you want to make the colors pop out a bit more, or bring things more into balance. Perhaps there are details you know were there in real life that just aren’t apparent in your photo.

Start by focusing on the basics. Straighten the image and then make any corrections to the white balance. Calibrating ‘white balance’ (also referred to as ‘temperature’ in Instagram, for example) helps ensure that your overall image is not too ‘warm’ (heavy on red, orange, and yellow) or too ‘cool’ (leaning toward blue, green, and purple). Most people set their cameras to ‘auto white balance’, which can be quite accurate but still usually needs tweaked in post production. Whatever program you’re using, you’ll quickly find that sliding the balance one way or the other makes a big difference.

Next, adjust the overall exposure so the key subjects are bright enough. Make sure that majestic mountaintop shines or those ocean waves glisten. But be careful not to blow out the highlights. At this point, you might notice some deep shadows. So use the shadow slider, available in most mobile editing apps, to brighten large portions of the photo revealing important detail previously lost in darkness. Lastly, add a little sharpening so contours are clear and crisp.

Put your pics on full effect
Of course, apps give you plenty of ways to go over the top. Like any artistic technique, editing is highly subjective and it’s completely up to you how far you want to take it. Go black and white. Apply your favorite Instagram filter. Or ‘crush the blacks’ for a moody vibe by decreasing the contrast and slightly lightening the shadows to a faded, matte finish (Instagram’s ‘Aden’ filter is a quick way to achieve this effect). Be wary of over-processing and risk losing the original essence of your photo. Most of your savvier followers will be able to spot a harsh Hefe filter at a glance, but feel free to experiment with your own custom settings to achieve a unique effect that works best for you. Eventually, you’ll develop your own style and find an aesthetic that resonates with you and your audience.

Raw power

Smartphones are great, but their processing capabilities still fall short of a decent DSLR or mirrorless camera. Because their larger image sensor collects much more light, the image quality and potential for greater dynamic range is improved significantly. Save your photos in ‘raw’ file format to take full advantage. When a photo is captured as a ‘jpeg’ (like on a mobile device), it is automatically processed to an extent – adjustments can quickly degrade the image quality.

Raw files contains a great deal more information, including a wide range of exposure values, color tones, and sharpening qualities. Because this format is essentially unprocessed, you get to decide how much dynamic range (the varying amounts of highlights, midtones, and shadows) you want your photo to contain. This freedom allows your processing software to make dramatic adjustments without sacrificing quality.

Processing raw images requires a bit more horsepower, so most of the associated programs are made for the desktop or laptop computer. Start with Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, and Capture One. Camera Raw is probably the most entry-level solution, while Lightroom has become the industry standard for its high quality and wide range of presets. Companies like VSCO sell these presets, which often have a distinct, vintage film aesthetic popular with portrait and wedding photography. Capture One, although not as widely used as Lightroom, is said to be even more powerful in its conversion process and is the go-to program for many studio photographers that still shoot medium format.

Not only do these programs allow you to make standard adjustments, but they also let you batch edit a large number of photos at once, significantly improving your workflow. For example, if you have a series of 20 landscape shots with similar lighting conditions, you can easily make the necessary adjustments to one of the images and then simply copy and paste those settings to the other 19. This streamlined approach is particularly useful for photo shoots that need high quality refinements made relatively quickly.

Where to find Sydney’s best beaches

 Secluded spots

Sydney is famous for its surf beaches but there are many secluded hideaway beaches dotted all around the harbour. Some are more popular than others, depending on their accessibility, but our top tips are the diminutive Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper, not far from central Sydney and tucked between the salubrious suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay.

On the northern side of city, head for Balmoral Beach near Mosman. It is an excellent beach for families, with a netted enclosed swimming area and large shady Moreton Bay fig trees to escape the heat. Lastly, look for Collins Beach at Manly, a long circuitous walk from the Manly ferry pier, where you may well find yourself alone for a good part of the day.

Autumn sun

This may surprise many first-time travellers to Sydney, but autumn (March to May) is a perhaps the best time to hit the beach. Sydney is blessed with a fairly temperate climate so it can stay sunny and reasonably warm right into late May (the beginning of the Australian winter). It takes some months for the ocean to cool down to the same temperature as the land which means the sea can still be surprisingly warm even if days are not baking hot.

Rise and shine

You can beat the heat, and the summer hordes, by heading down to the Sydney’s most iconic surf spot, Bondi Beach, early in the morning. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the ocean, and you’ll be sharing the experience with locals surfing, running, and doing their early morning sun salutations. Bondi gets busier as the day wears on – by midday traffic can clog the main routes down to the shoreline. Book an early lunch at Icebergs, which overlooks the iconic ocean pool, then make your escape.

Go south

If you do hit Bondi in peak hour, you can also head south to Bronte andCoogee via a cliff-side walking path (unfortunately you won’t be the only one doing this walk!). Beyond Bondi there are further ocean pools for the less confident swimmers to take a paddle where you’re protected from sharks as well as the swell. You’ll still be swimming with the same breath-taking views of sandstone headlands, sea birds and the occasional band of whales ploughing their migration routes along the Pacific.