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For the author of Around the World in 80 Trains this was a standout journey, full of captivating encounters that could only happen on a train

With the air of melodrama unique to chic French women, the lady opposite me yanked open the overhead window then sat back down, grumbling to no one in particular and fanning herself with a copy of Paris Match. An aroma of pine filtered into the carriage and a breeze cooled my brow as the train clattered south to Bziers. Edging up to the window, I looked down to where a curl of sand and green water had appeared, an oasis where children bobbed about in dinghies and leapt off limestone rocks. This was the essence of why I love train travel: it allows me to see whats behind the trees in the Massif Central; to smell the coconut being fried in huts in Kerala; and to spot rainbows hovering in the spray of Niagara Falls.

Only on a train the writer chats to a Tibetan nun in China

A week earlier I had set off from London St Pancras to Paris with the aim of travelling around the world in 80 trains. In 2010, I had travelled around India in 80 trains and come away in thrall to the railways so much so that I decided to embark on a global railway adventure. For a long time, the rise of high-speed trains and budget airlines appeared to threaten the notion of romantic rail travel. But I wanted to see what slow travel means to people all over the world and what long-distance trains still have to offer the modern-day traveller. Hanging a map on my wall, I pinned cities of interest and tied coloured string from one to the next, watching the next seven months of my life wind around the world with surprising simplicity. With the exception of visas for Russia, China and Vietnam, few logistical issues arose. I bought rail passes for Europe, Japan and America, and booked long-distance journeys such as the Trans-Mongolian and The Canadian, before setting off, sewing in the other trains with ease.

Over the first four weeks, Europes TGVs, AVEs and Freccia Rossas swept me from city to city, allowing me to lunch on cassoulet in Toulouse and be in Barcelona in time for a dinner of gambas al ajillo. Punctual, quiet and efficient, the air-conditioned trains fulfilled their primary purpose taking me from one destination to the next but they were devoid of soul. Passengers boarded, stashed their bags and sat in silence, staring at phones and munching paper-wrapped panini. I threaded through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia before arriving in Moscow to board the Godfather of trains the Trans-Mongolian to Beijing. It was here that the journey truly began

A Russian locomotive

On the morning of departure, sirens wailed and police cordons appeared around Moscow, closing metro stations and blocking access to supermarkets owing to the arrival of Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. This meant I was unable to stockpile anything other than a four-pack of instant noodles, a couple of Kinder Bueno bars and all the biscuits and herbal teabags from my hotel room before embarking on the four-night leg to Irkutsk in Siberia.

Once on board, I surveyed my compartment complete with cracked window and condom wrapper under the berth before wandering up the corridor, glancing into my neighbours digs and wincing at the smell of dried omul (a fish found only in Lake Baikal) drifting in a warm fug. Long and thin as though ironed into strips, the yellowing fish was a staple in the makeshift pantries set up by my companions, along with loaves of bread and rounds of cheese wrapped in wet cloth. Breaking into a panic, I followed the tiring sound of Euro-trance and found the disco-dining car, relieved to see a kitchen, even though the chef was lighting a cigarette off the hob while smiling at me.

Trans-Siberian train window

Once the train had jolted out of Moscow, I slid into a red booth and tucked into a slightly faggy-tasting pork escalope draped in dill. As we sped through the bleakness of the suburbs, I was joined by Aleksandr and Aleksandr, both in Adidas vests and sliders, and wondering what on earth I was doing on board.

This train is trash, I hate it! declared Aleksandr I, a young lawyer. A lack of roads meant that he was condemned to using the Trans-Mongolian twice a month to attend court hearings 13 hours away in Kirov: one persons bucket-list adventure is anothers nightmare commute. He said he had never seen an English person on board the train which, it transpired, was a domestic service used by Russians only rather than the fancy Rossiya service preferred by tourists. Aleksandr II was visiting his parents, a five-day journey away, and was convinced I was a spy, photographing every page of my diary under the guise of liking my handwriting.

In between attempts to read War and Peace, I spent the next four days lying in damp, tangled sheets watching leafless trees flit by the window. Most afternoons Id play cards with kids or swap tat with soldiers, offering second-class stamps in exchange for a tube of Pringles or a smoke grenade, enjoying the clamour and constant companionship. But at dusk Id stand alone in the corridor meditating on the mists as they swirled in great halos. Charged by the sight of the world moving at pace before my eyes, Id still myself, knowing I was privileged to witness how deeply this train carved through the Earth, shining a light into its darkest corners.

Restaurant owners grilling fresh mutton kebabs in China

Like most travellers, I broke up the journey in Irkutsk and spent a day chugging around Lake Baikal on the old Circum-Baikal steam railway before boarding the overnight Rossiya service to Ulaanbaatar. Fitted with soft-cushioned berths, automatic doors and heated toilets, the train rocked me into gentle slumber until I was screamed awake in the pre-dawn darkness by a sadistic provodnitsa (carriage attendant).

Often, an unavoidable side effect of long-distance train travel is finding yourself at the mercy of awkward timetables. Faced with the dilemma of spending five days in Mongolia which wasnt enough time to trek across the countryside or a measly two nights in the capital Ulaanbaatar before the final leg to Beijing, I opted for the latter, spooning up mutton broth with students at a popular restaurant called Modern Nomads, where the staff wore Genghis Khan outfits and white-collar workers sat around drinking Johnnie Walker and watching bad music videos. The following morning the final train thundered towards China across the Gobi desert, a thirsty, rust-red terrain mottled with tufts of yellowing grass. In the distance sat round nomads gers, their funnels piping smoke into the sky, double-humped camels tethered to the ground.

End of the line Beijing

It had been almost six weeks since Id glided out of St Pancras, and I was 6,000 miles away, all of which Id covered by rail. Inching through forests, curving around coasts and burrowing deep into the guts of towns and cities, these slow trains had destroyed my concepts of distance and space, and replaced them with a new truth: that we couldnt be more close or connected. From one country to the next, Id sat at the foot of my berth, my view universal: hawkers sold their wares, lovers held hands, and children played football. Id watched the skies close in, the ground level out, the seas pull apart and the land unlock. And now, as we sped towards the Chinese capital, billboards closing in, wires swinging low and buildings edging towards the tracks, I felt an undeniable sense of place. Slowing into the station, the train creaked and came to a halt. Through the roar of the crowd, rumbling of cases and muffled announcements, I stepped on to the platform and allowed Beijing to sweep me into its embrace.

How to do it

The Eurostar from London to Paris starts at 44 one-way. Consider an Interrail pass for travelling across Europe: a seven-days in one month option covering 31 countries costs 260 adult or 216 youth. There is also a weekly train direct from Paris Gare de lEst to Moscow from 267 one-way (see for details).Booking from Moscow to Beijing takes a bit of planning as each segment needs to be reserved separately; Real Russias advisers can help with what can be a daunting exercise, booking each segment, making hotel reservations and organising Russian and Chinese visas.

The paperback edition of Monisha Rajeshs Around the World in 80 Trains is out on 23 January (Bloomsbury, 9.99)

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A slow boat across the Atlantic plus a scenic train home to Vancouver add up to a hugely enjoyable three-week trip

Are you a crew member? the security guard asked, fixing me with a stare in the vans rear-view mirror. Passenger, I replied. The guard gave me a quizzical look then muttered something to himself in German, shaking his head. It was 7am and the port of Hamburg was a hive of activity, our port security van speeding past whirring cranes and towering stacks of shipping containers. As the ships immense hull came into view, I entered a world where everything was larger, louder and more dangerous than my life on land. The 300-metre, 100,000-tonne vessel before me was to be my home for the next 15 days.

Four months earlier I had made a reservation on a cargo ship to take me from Hamburg to Halifax, Nova Scotia. My European work visa was expiring and I hoped to make it home to the west coast of Canada in time for Christmas. Recent campaigns such as the Swedish flygskam (flight shame) had shone a harsh light on my blindness to the climate impact of air travel, and I had decided that booking a flight wasnt an option. Since 2017, Id emitted over 14 tonnes of carbon from flights alone. I realised that all my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint at home in Milan I cycle to work, limit food waste and seldom buy new clothes are wiped out by just one flight between Canada and Europe.

First stop Antwerp en route from Hamburg to Halifax

Sustainable travel within Europe often involves trading a plane for a train, but getting to Canada from Europe is more complex. A cargo ship became the obvious low-carbon choice. Shipping companies sell surplus cabin space through selected travel agents and I booked my passage through Berlin-based Slowtravel Experience. This is still a niche mode of travel and ships rarely have room for more than a dozen passengers, so booking well in advance, especially for peak times, is essential. Flexibility with travel dates is also crucial. I was notified just days before departure that the ship would be leaving three days ahead of schedule, and had I not already been in Germany, I would have literally missed the boat.

I anticipated a long and tiresome journey (I packed dozens of books and downloaded films) and had visions of gruelling nights spent with my face in a barf bag, but my experience on board could not have been more enjoyable. The two other passengers, Tony from the Netherlands and Janos from Germany, were hitching a ride for the same environmental reasons and their company made time fly by. Our cabins were simple and comfortable, each with private toilet and shower, two single beds, a desk and vast ocean views. The 25 crew members, a mix of Filipino and eastern European men, were warm and friendly. I was in all-male company for my transatlantic voyage but Isabel Hagen, a Swedish student I met through a friend, made the voyage earlier this year, and said shed had a positive experience as a solo female traveller: The crew was welcoming, respectful, and polite from the moment I stepped on board.

The writers cabin

Left mostly to our own devices, Janos, Tony and I filled our days with darts tournaments, jigsaw puzzles and raucous games of Risk. One morning we played chess on a deck bathed in sunshine; the next afternoon Tony lost his knitted cap to hurricane-force winds off Newfoundland. During port calls in Antwerp and Liverpool, we were allowed to disembark and explore both for a day. Back on board, a daily routine quickly emerged: morning coffee on the bridge with the gregarious chief officer, sociable mealtimes with the crew, and hourly strolls around the outer decks, the frigid ocean wind buffeting my face and dark waters churning below.

A highlight was a mornings tour of the ship, led by crew members. Passenger access to working spaces was restricted, so the chance to walk through the bowels of the ship from bow to stern was eye-opening. In addition to nearly 4,000 containers stacked on the exterior decks, there were six roll-on, roll-off decks carrying vehicles, ranging from a fleet of Range Rovers and transport trucks for the US army to an aeroplane fuselage. As the captain explained, the complexities of the enormous operation, I marvelled at the sheer scale of everything around us, an industry responsible for transporting 90% of goods worldwide.

Arriving in Halifax after 15 days on board

Life on board was so immersive that after a few days I didnt even mind the food. Passengers dine with the crew, and meals are meat- and starch-heavy, with few vegetables (think beef stew and mash or bacon-wrapped chicken portions). As I soon came to understand, the luxury of being at sea is not about fine food or a plush mattress; rather, life at sea itself the tranquil pace and intoxicating sense of adventure is the true luxury. When I finally set foot on dry land in Halifax, it was hard to say goodbye to the hulking ship that had come to feel like home.

Arriving in Halifax, I still had more than 6,000km to go to get home (further than London to New York), this time by train. With limited passenger rail infrastructure, a cross-country trip in Canada means a halting, week-long adventure rather than high-speed rail jaunt. Theres no single coast-to-coast train, so after an overnight train from Halifax I spent a night each in Montreal and Toronto before boarding The Canadian, VIA Rails flagship sleeper train to Vancouver. Designed for tourists, it has a charming dining car, glass-domed observation decks, live music and even wine tastings during the four-night trip.

Approaching the Rocky Mountains on the VIA train, the Canadian

As on the ship I was immediately struck by the hospitality of the crew servers and attendants who seemed genuinely happy to be there despite being thousands of kilometres from home. The food was impressive as well, like the brunches of fluffy buttermilk pancakes drowning in the maple syrup that Id missed so much in Europe. Dinners of hemp-crusted trout, roast veal chops and fresh vegetables were equally delicious. The atmosphere among passengers was jovial, with communal mealtimes and a rowdy bar where we swapped travel stories.

As on the ship, the vast expanses passing by my window made the journey special: the endless boreal forests of northern Ontario, the icy, placid prairies and the magnificent Rockies in the west, every landscape shimmering under mid-December snow. Sitting in the dome car watching a blazing sun set over white Quebec forests and waking to whiteout blizzards in Manitoba deepened my connection to the land I call home, and reaffirmed my commitment to protecting this natural beauty.

Dome car on board the Canadian train

Stepping off the train in Vancouver, having travelled more than 13,000km and crossed nine timezones, that van ride at dawn through the dreary port of Hamburg felt like a lifetime ago. World travel with a low carbon footprint may not be convenient or easy, but I had proved to myself that it is achievable. Now its time to plan my next adventure.

Way to go

The 15-day cargo ship passage from Hamburg to Halifax, booked through Berlin-based Slowtravel Experience, costs just under 100 a day (including full-board and carbon offset) in a two-person cabin. The best-known shipping companies offering passenger berths include Hamburg Sd and Grimaldi Lines. Other agencies to look at are New Zealand Freighter Travel, London-based Cruise People, and Maris Freighter Cruises. Train travel was provided by VIA Rail Canada. The Ocean travels from Halifax to Montreal three times a week from 68 (C$117) one way, daily trains from Montreal to Toronto from 22 one-way and The Canadian, from Toronto to Vancouver twice weekly from 271 one-way.

Carbon emissions (according to weight of passenger)

Flight Frankfurt-Vancouver: 1.3 tonnes*
Cargo ship Hamburg-Halifax (via Antwerp & Liverpool): 5.3kg**
Trains Halifax-Vancouver: 204.2kg***
Total CO2 Hamburg to Vancouver: 209.5kg
* myclimate Foundation
**International Council on Clean Transportation
***Via Rail

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Asbury Park may be more closely associated with the star but a new exhibition in Freehold the town where the Boss grew up tells an earlier tale, along with 250 years of American history

Darkness on the Edge of Town That Bruce Springsteen song always comes to mind when, on visits to my mother, I drive through Freehold, the town I grew up in, and hit the intersection of East Main Street and Jackson Terrace. This is actually the meeting point of two Freeholds: Freehold Township, once farmland and now McMansions and other unchecked suburban horrors; and Freehold Borough, the old colonial town, dating from the 1600s. Long before that, the area was steeped in the traditions of the displaced Leni Lenape people.

The junction of Jackson and Main still feels like where farmland meets town, a stretch of dark country road, marked by a lonely gas station and a dilapidated barn before the asphalt corridor redefines itself with late-Victorian and early-20th-century buildings often draped in red, white and blue bunting. One Queen Anne-style house is so striking it was used as the family home in 1990s TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Bruce Springsteens childhood home on Institute Street in Freehold. Photograph: James Leynse/Getty Images

Several blocks away is Freehold High School, a 1920s colonial revival structure mimicking Philadelphias Independence Hall. Thats where Springsteen went to school. I did too, though many years later. When I was young, a popular story told of Springsteen playing guitar in the schools courtyard while teachers rained insults, insisting hed never make anything of himself. Springsteen may be most closely associated with nearby Asbury Park, where he first sang to acclaim, but Freehold is the place the Boss called his hometown.

How the musicians fame stretched from this little town about an hour from Manhattan to the rest of the world is the theme of a new exhibition at Monmouth County Historical Association (70 Court Street) entitled Springsteen: His Hometown.

Scrapbook made by Bruce Springsteens mother, Adele.

More than 150 objects are on display at the exhibition, which runs until the end of September 2020. Some are the MCHAs own, others come from the Springsteen Archives of Monmouth University in Long Branch (his town of birth), with more from private collectors and the Boss himself. There are unreturned keys from hotels Springsteen stayed at early in his career, and a letter to his landlady where he admits to practising his autograph. Clothes, including boots and a leather bomber from the 1980s, sit alongsde a Bruce Springsteen board game created and marketed in Europe by a French fan. Parked in the museums garden is an antique truck the musician and his manager used to travel from gig to gig and to Woodstock.

The exhibitions genealogical section, tracing the life of Joost Springsteen, the Bosss earliest New Amsterdam ancestor, offers ways to explore beyond the towns famous son.

In the museums permanent exhibition, the 1778 Battle of Monmouth is commemorated by two valuable objects: a Dennis Carter painting of revolutionary folk heroine Molly Pitcher with George Washington; and another of the battle itself by Emanuel Leutze, better known for his Washington Crossing the Delaware (in New Yorks Met).

Springsteens 1967 school yearbook

Borough historian Kevin Coyne, who is also a Columbia University journalism professor and features in a mini-documentary about the town, said: A little piece of everything that has happened in America has happened here: colonial settlers, the revolution, the civil war, agricultural prosperity, the rise and fall of manufacturing, racial tensions, creeping suburbanisation. It all played out here, and Springsteen and his ancestors have been part of every stage.

So while Springsteen is Freeholds main lure, it holds centuries of American lore, too. The exhibition blends recent musical history with revolutionary heritage of this town, which was once called Monmouth Courthouse, an important early stagecoach link between New York and Philadelphia.

Just across the street from the MCHA, the Battle of Monmouth monument has a dramatic bronze of Molly Pitcher, hair fiercely windswept as she loads a cannon. The 1950s Monmouth Courthouse, with its mix of period enamelled turquoise panels and classical columns, was the site of another battle with international implications: the 1980s Baby M court case, one of the earliest to rule on surrogate parenting. (Mary Beth Whitehead had contracted with a family called the Sterns to carry a child for them, but changed her mind after giving birth. The court ruled surrogacy contracts invalid, but the Sterns won a protracted custody battle.)

Old artillery at Monmouth Battlefield Park

Theres more about the revolution at Monmouth Battlefield state park, in neighbouring Manalapan Township, behind the Freehold Raceway Mall. The preserved land here is all that is left undeveloped from the massive battle nearly 250 years ago, at which the British had to abandon hope of a military victory. The bucolic setting is now better-known for summer weddings and autumn apple picking.

The shopping mall takes its name from Freehold Raceway, Americas oldest harness horse racing track, dating from the 1830s. The old track is a remnant of Monmouth Countys long history of racehorse breeding, before Kentucky became pre-eminent.

Equestrian stables such as Burlington Farm, on a colonial road laid over an ancient Native American path to the Atlantic, continue this tradition. My school was across the street, and the horses running through the fields and poking their heads through the mossy split-log fencing mesmerised me as a child. Springsteens daughter, Jessica, was just as taken by horses, though her parents had the means to actually own them. She learned on her fathers estate in neighbouring Colts Neck and is now a champion rider.

Dedicated Springsteen fans can a take tour of the area. Stan Goldstein and Jean Mikle, members of the Spring-Nuts fan club, runs Springsteen tours (from $20pp, book through NJ Rock Map). As well as Asbury Park, their four-hour tour also includes Freehold, taking in Springsteens Catholic elementary school, St Rose of Lima, and the Karagheusian rug mill, where his father worked and which made carpets for Radio City Music Hall and the US Supreme Court.

If exploring on your own, check out Federicis Family Restaurant on 14 East Main Street. Owned for nearly 100 years by relatives of late founding E Street Band member Danny Federici, it is steeped in Italian-American and Springsteen history. Outside, in good weather, its one of the busiest downtown venues, with sidewalk seating near where bands play in summer. Much of the inside space is dark, cavernous and cosy, with booth seating and a menu heavy with Italian choices.

Nearby St Peters Episcopal is one of Americas last colonial churches and oldest continuous congregations. The current clapboard structure was begun in 1771. Construction halted in the Revolution, though it served as a storehouse and hospital during the Battle of Monmouth. As children, we were told the pews had patriots blood stains and there was a mass unmarked grave out front.

The American Hotel, on Main Street.

Freehold isnt a big town: most places are within walking distance of the bus station, from which half-hourly buses run to Manhattan. He mentions the bus stop in My Hometown (on the Born in the USA album) as the place his eight-year-old self would buy his father a newspaper.

If staying overnight, try the American Hotel (doubles from $135 B&B), which dates from 1827 and the stagecoach era. The facade is a more New Orleans than Mid-Atlantic, with its ornate wrought iron balconies overlooking outdoor tables on East Main Street. The rebuilt interior maintains the large Federal-style wooden fireplace, but the 20 spacious rooms have a neutral modern feel. The hotels lobby and bar have long made the American Hotel an important social centre in the middle of town a perfect place to raise a glass to the Bosss hometown.

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At a country house in West Sussex, meditation, yoga and detox come together for a weekend of mindfulness that expands your protective bubble

The taxi driver appraises me with suspicion when I tell him my destination. But youve not got a yoga mat, he says.

Having never been on a meditation retreat before, I was self-conscious of criss-crossing busy train stations with a yoga mat strapped to my back, so Id concealed it inside a Sainsburys bag for life. I point it out now to the driver, and he offers a wry smile as he takes me to the place where, for the next four days, Im to be immersed in an intensive period of me time. Ive never done this before, so have no idea what to expect.

Long-term health conditions can be interesting in all sorts of unexpected ways. You learn about your levels of resilience, and the efforts you are prepared to take to get better. Ive been struggling with low physical energy for almost a decade, my mitochondrial cells malfunctioning after successive flu viruses never quite left my body. Doctors didnt know what to recommend these cells arent easily fixed and so suggested what they suggest to anyone who presents mysteriously: eat better, sleep well. Do yoga, learn to meditate.

Retreat sessions include yoga, nostril breathing and meditation

Ive spent the last five years dipping in and out of meditation apps, YouTube, Ruby Waxs focus on mindfulness through books and interviews but it was vedic meditation (a close cousin of transcendental, which uses a silent mantra or sound repeated over and over) I kept returning to. I liked it but always let it slip. I knew that to establish a habit I would need to immerse myself, under in-person instruction.

And so here I am, near Arundel in West Sussex, at a large, rambling country house with lush gardens, on a weekend vedic retreat run by Beeja. Its strapline suggests: Meditation for Everyone and its founder, Will Williams, has been teaching vedic meditation for more than five years. After a stint in the music business, and falling ill, he recovered through meditation and began to teach what he had learned. He runs introductory courses in London. Will is a convincing communicator: bearded and smiley, dressed not in robes but in jeans, conspicuously one of us.

The Beeja Meditation retreat near Arundel

There are 15 in attendance, eight women, seven men, ranging from 24 to 70. Were a cosmopolitan bunch: theres a Saudi, a Lebanese, one from Guadalupe, another from South Korea. Two from Essex. Some, like me, have medical issues, others are struggling with anxiety, depression and such pronounced social media addiction that handing over phones upon arrival proves problematic. Im to share a dorm for four but mercifully theres just two of us this weekend.

After an introductory dinner of nut loaf, Wills co-instructor, Niamh Keane, reminds us of the house rules: up at 6.45am, in bed by 10.30pm; respect one anothers confidentiality. No sex and no solo sex, as Niamh puts it, just unbroken serenity and purity of mind. Were detoxing, so can have neither caffeine nor alcohol. No breakfast either, a fact that horrifies us all initially but becomes curiously unimportant by day two.

On a meditation retreat I find you meditate, and do precious little else. Beejas version comprises a succession of rounding exercises: 15 minutes of yoga, five minutes of alternate nostril breathing, 20 of meditation, and 10 of the flat-on-your-back yoga pose, shavasana. Were all given an individual secret mantra to repeat silently (though whos to say we dont have the same one?!). For three days.

A Beeja Meditation retreat guest tries alternate nostril breathing

At first, most of us choose to do our exercises communally, in the living room, but increasingly we drift off in pursuit of solitude. I thought Id struggle, because meditating at home is difficult, but here, with no distractions, I slide into it as if it were a hot bath. Hours pass, then hours more.

Respite comes in the evenings, after simple vegetarian food (rice and dhal, Thai soup), when Will sits, Buddha-like, with us at his feet while he shares his vedic-derived wisdom. Hes a practitioner of many years and is so convinced of his disciplines ability to heal the world that he can tend towards the over-prescriptive. He condemns most diets in favour of an ayurvedic-approved one, and proffers opinion on antidepressants, climate change, and Trump voters. He tells us that the introduction of 5G will kill off the insect world, that we should never cross our legs, and how we must avoid eating onions because the skin contains properties that promote selfishness. Much of what he says is fascinating, plenty else sails far above our heads.

Vegetarian food is served during the four-day retreat

He asks how our sessions are going and when I tell him that during one of mine my hands began to levitate and my fingers grew like intertwining tree branches, as if I were morphing into a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, he beams with pleasure and says: Youve shifted some serious energy there, fella.

The more we meditate, the more our protective bubble expands. When we come to leave, Niamh implores we take care upon re-entering the world outside, as we will be newly hypersensitive to light, noise, other people. Be gentle with yourselves, she advises.

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Complete with quills, country dancing and rag curls, a country hotel is wooing dedicated Janeites to visit their favourite fictional world

Jane Austen fans are a devoted bunch. True Janeites tend to travel widely to celebrate their favourite author, most often to Bath for the Jane Austen festival. But on the other side of the world sits Governors House, a picturesque, yellow Georgian-style mansion in Hyde Park, Vermont. The house, along with its owner Suzanne Boden, draws Janeites from all over the globe who come not only to celebrate their favourite author, but to live as a character in her world.

Boden had the idea to start hosting Austen weekends at her home 11 years ago. I was outside hanging tablecloths on the clothesline, she says, against the backdrop of Governors House, and I was listening to some music through the window, which happened to be Mozart. From the back of the house, you cant see anything thats modern because of the trees. And I thought: I could be Jane Austen! And someone else might want to come and be Austen, too.

Others did. For more than a decade, Boden, who also offers the occasional Downton Abbey experience, has been hosting in-character weekends where attendees who range in age from seven to 80 get the pleasure of living life through the eyes and words of Austen.

Its an escape, says Boden, who encourages guests to eschew modern technology and leave their phones behind. Its about going back in time. Its a chance to dress up. Most of all, its a chance to be with, and interact with, other Austen fans, who always have a lot to say. Its unusual if someone goes home without a long list of book recommendations or film recommendations from new friends. People come for all sorts of reasons: One woman clearly thought it was going to be like the movie Austenland and shed meet her husband here.

Although guests dont typically find partners at the rate Austens characters do, they do gain new skills: learning to write with a quill pen and fold paper the way the author did, before envelopes existed. They get English country dancing lessons and indulge in afternoon tea. No lunch is served, because, as Boden points out, lunch wasnt invented in Austens time (neither was afternoon tea, but an exception is made). Other weekend activities include sewing reticules (a small purse-like bag used in Austens time to carry gloves, a fan, and perhaps even love notes), horse-drawn carriage rides and archery.

A recent weekend dedicated to Emma at Governors House drew Janeites from as far away as Texas. On a Friday night, attendees nibbled lemon squares and sipped tea as they watched a short lecture titled Bared Bosoms and Padded Calves (on the fashions of Regency England).

Two women in Regency costume walking dogs through Bath during the citys annual Jane Austen festival. Photograph: Alamy

There are 79 regional groups in the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) across the US and Canada. When asked why so many Americans love Austen, Boden is incredulous. Everybody loves Jane Austen! She gets right to the heart of things, she says. On the surface, it looks like a little romance, but there are so many layers in her works, which have been translated into well, how many languages are there in the world? Although its very British, she doesnt mention anything going on politically so it could be set anywhere.

Over a breakfast of tea, blueberry muffins and baked eggs, guests discuss favourite books, adaptations, characters and their shared love for spotting inaccuracies in period films (I heard theres a shocking lack of hairpins in the new Little Women!). Everyone agrees that Henry from Mansfield Park was one of her best male creations, for being sweet, competent and witty. But he was never witty in a mean way, or at someone elses expense, says Lena Ruth Yasutake, a 36-year-old teacher from Connecticut. She runs a Regency clothing business called Cassandras Closet (a subtle nod to Austen) with her sister-in-law Anna, who has also joined the party: she had her hair in rag curlers yesterday night and has an Austenesque hairstyle ready for breakfast. Lenas her devotion to Austen has been hard-won: I pushed through my dyslexia to finish Emma because I loved the story so much. It was my gateway drug into Austen.

Everybody loves Jane Austen! … Women take a turn through the grounds of Governors House

The women here tend to come in groups: Vermont bookstore owner Kim Crady-Smith has brought her sister, her niece and a friend, who sit alongside three childhood friends from Dallas, all in their 70s. Ann, who urged her friends Charlene and Mary to join her, has attended other Austen weekends before, and, as a result, ended up joining the Dallas chapter of JASNA. The Dallas meetings arent as much fun as Bodens weekends, Ann says: After experiencing this, its hard to settle for less!

Janeites delight in Austens words and stories, but what most bonds the Americans is a bit more complex. Anglophilia is strong throughout the US; its presence is reflected in Americans appetite for British television and film, football, music and more. The enthusiasm for Austen reflects a wider desire to journey into a world that feels foreign and familiar all at once.

At the end of Bodens weekends, she gives guests a quiz over Sunday brunch. Throughout the weekend, she drops hints and breadcrumbs of information that are answers to Sundays quiz. What happens if you fail the quiz? Boden doesnt miss a beat: If you flunk, you get the greatest prize of all: you get to reread the novel.

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The adventurer and explorer has been to the Amazon and the Arctic. Now hes setting up a project in Wales as a personal response to the climate crisis

Eventually, even the most intrepid adventurer has to come home. In the past 20 years Bruce Parry has been initiated, for our viewing pleasure, into indigenous tribes in Congo, Venezuela and Mongolia. He has had thorns forced through his nose in Papua New Guinea and has hunted crocodiles in Ethiopia. He has navigated the Amazon and sledged across the Arctic. His latest adventure in assimilation, however, is perhaps his most formidable challenge yet. In October last year the BBC ethnographer, former Royal Marines fitness instructor and determined hedonist moved from his long-time base in Ibiza to an isolated hamlet in mid-Wales. He plans to be here for many years to come.

I met him for lunch in the only cafe for 10 miles around, Cwtch in Pont rhyd-y groes, which is built above a gorge of the Ystwyth river beside the old workings of a lead mine. Parry has cycled from his cottage beside a waterfall on the neighbouring Hafod estate. Its a significant lunch for Parry in that the salad leaves seven varieties at the cafe are the first crop from a community garden project that he has helped to establish in the walled garden of the demolished estate manor house.

Food was one of the reasons that he ended up here. Having spent 30 years as a professional nomad, he not only wanted to put down roots, he also wanted to pull some up. He grew up in Devon, has family in Scotland and a Welsh surname, but he wasnt sure where to settle. I wanted somewhere wild, he says, and I wanted to get into wild food as a way of reconnecting with the landscape. His first foraging outing brought him to Hafod: it felt so right that he ended up buying the old stone cottage that he stayed in.

Parry has an instantly likable and high-energy presence. He has made no secret of indulging in all the delights that Ibiza can offer as well as taking just about every hallucinogen under the sun in order to be fully accepted in different jungle communities. He turned 50 in March. How, I wonder, did he cope with his first wet Welsh winter?

I feel that was my initiation, he says, smiling. He has a wood fire. I spent most of the winter in a hat and scarf inside. I survived that OK, though I havent met the midges yet I think thats August.

Just in 10 minutes sitting in Cwtch the name means both cosy corner and hug you can see Parrys gift for connection with people. He knows everyone who comes in like an old mate. Dom, the chef and proprietor here, and now purveyor of walled-garden lettuce, is greeted with genuine affection, and each delicious vegetarian dish off the specials board he brings out produces fresh rapture from Parry. Youre on fire today, Dom!

There is more to Parrys return than any kind of homesickness. He believed, having had an immersive understanding of the wisdom of some of the oldest human communities, that he should now try to put some of that into practice in the place he fell to earth. Parry had spent four or five years up to 2017 making a very personal film, Tawai: A Voice From the Forest. It was both a portrait of the perilous, joyful existence of one of the last hunter-gatherer societies, the Penan people of Borneo, and a meditation on the ways in which we are destroying their world and our planet.

Tawai was the last project, he says. I guess I thought I had seen it all, but then I met the Penan and there was something completely different about them. It was not only that they had a genuine pre-agricultural existence, of the kind that humans lived for 85% of the lifetime of our species. They had no competition, no hierarchy. They were the only group I had been in that had no pecking order, no chief, no elders.

He was struck by what such an egalitarian heritage might mean. Parrys journeys along the Amazon and across the Arctic had long since impressed on him the crisis that our planet is facing, a crisis of climate, and of consumerism, and he felt it was no longer enough to report the issues, he had to try to live what felt like possible solutions. His plan is to open up his house and create a small experiment in communal living.

I have no doubt that human beings have problems ahead, he says. Really big problems. And we are not doing it right. The BBC was keen for him to carry on gallivanting: Lets go down the Mekong, we can talk about important things ! and there was no doubt some temptation in that. But the problem is not really how China is polluting its rivers. The problem is how we are all, mainly in the west, living our lives.

Bruce and Tim shared Dwarf bean, beetroot and feta salad 4; red pepper, courgette and olive shakshuka 4; spinach and mushroom filo parcels 4 They Drank Water; filter coffee 1.50 Photograph: Keith Morris/The Observer

Parry talks fluently about the issues around land ownership in Britain, which has caused the majority of us to be so disconnected from the living environment. He sees the recent One Planet development scheme in Wales which allows anyone to build on agricultural land if they follow certain self-sufficiency guidelines as a model of a future revolution.

We are swimming so deeply in a world of competition and aggression and division that we dont even see it, he says. We are being fed this information that money and stuff will make you happy but I think that the right narrative can create a massive shift. We cant all have a Lamborghini, but maybe we could all have a bit of land and some joy and music and harmony.

In Ibiza, of course, those qualities were in generous supply. Where does he go to dance in Ceredigion? He mentions occasional late-night excursions up to the alternative communities in Machynlleth, 25 miles north.

I could have easily stayed in Ibiza, he says. We could have been having a long ros and seafood lunch on the beach, rather than Doms fantastic salads. It wasnt that all that fizzled out. But what I learned especially from the tribes is that there is an extra ingredient from knowing a place.

We talk about the upcoming engagements he has to discuss this thinking; one at the Port Eliot festival in the summer, another with the Canadian Stephen Jenkinson, the author of Die Wise, who has used the insights of a long career in palliative care to propose answers to our culture failure. If you are part of a tribe, says Parry, knowing that when you die you are going to feed the tree that feeds the fruit that feeds your community and that your life will be part of the whole ecosystem is a powerful thing.

Though Parry has more bucket-list ticks than most of the rest of us put together, he hasnt done some of the things that many men of his age have achieved. Having lived polyamorously for many years, he recently split from a long-term partner. He has no kids and, he says, no particular yearning for any.

Without question there is a lot of me that loves freedom, he says. But my driving force now is that I am madly trying to figure out what my role can be in moving this community idea forwards though maybe what I am proposing is only valid for what comes out of the ashes of the next big financial crash.

There is no doubt he will be well placed to survive catastrophe. He is trying to live mostly from what he can forage he loves cooking, he says, though he fears that love is not always shared by guests. I make my own bread, grind my own wheat, soak my own pulses. I have 25kg of wheat, huge tubs of chickpeas and lentils. If Im ever stuck for a couple of months, Ill be fine.

I wonder if the BBC are keen to film this latest venture? He suggests they would like to, but his new Welsh friends insist it will be over their dead bodies.

I definitely think I have more to share on this, though, he says, with a laugh.

We exercise that principle in the first instance by taking two forks to Doms lemon drizzle cake.

Bruce Parry is at Port Eliot festival, 25-29 July, St Germans, Cornwall;

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Tel Aviv, Israel (CNN)Always camp, often cheesy and occasionally political, the Eurovision Song Contest rarely passes off without some kind of controversy.

Last year, the contest — which pits singers and bands from different countries against each other in a week-long competition culminating in a spectacular live final — was won by a quirky singer called Netta Barzilai, representing Israel (despite the title, entries are not restricted to European nations).
And because the winning nation gets to host the following year’s contest, this year the Eurovision caravan has pitched up in Tel Aviv.
    The nature of the controversy is clear on landing at Ben Gurion Airport. Signs welcoming visitors to the contest are followed on the road into the city by a billboard protesting against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
    The rival messages underline the contrast between Israel’s sunny Mediterranean beaches and the concrete wall and checkpoints that run along parts of the border with the West Bank. It is an attempt to remind visitors that just a short drive away is an ongoing, and intractable, conflict.

    Israel seeks tourism boost

    Eurovision is best known for its glitzy costumes, quirky performances, and national pride. Despite its well-honed message that the event is above politics, the big issue of the day almost always casts its shadow.
    In 2003, UK entry Jemini received no points from a combination of expert juries and members of the public in each of the other countries amid a backlash over the US-led invasion of Iraq that was backed by British forces. And 11 years later, Russian contestants the Tolmachevy Sisters were booed in what was perceived to be a protest over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and its suppression of LGBT rights.
    This year is no exception.
    Israel is using the Eurovision song competition as a way to brand itself as a fun, sunny holiday break for tourists. It’s part of the country’s larger effort to promote itself not only as a place for religious and historical tourism, but also for its beaches, food scene and high-tech startups.
    Israel has poured millions of dollars into the event, which it last hosted in 1999. The competition is taking place at Expo Tel Aviv, while across the city satellite events, performances and festivals are taking place all week long.
    Nearly 200 million people are expected to tune in to watch the final on Saturday. The televised week-long competition pits 41 countries’ contestants against each other in a series of rounds. Half of a contestant’s final standing is determined by a jury, while the other half comes from a public vote.
    Politics and controversy, as well as security concerns, have threatened to overshadow the competition, especially after a flare-up last week of violence between militants in Gaza, who fired nearly 700 rockets into the country, and the Israeli Army, which responded with more than 300 airstrikes.
    Four people in Israel and more than 20 people in Gaza were killed in the two days of fighting, before mediators managed to restore a ceasefire, all of it coinciding with the start of the Eurovision rehearsals.
    Activists in the country are keen to take advantage of the world spotlight, calling for boycotts of the event over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
    “Breaking the Silence,” an organization started by former soldiers which wants to see Israel withdraw from Palestinian territories, paid for the billboard along the highway.
    “We want people to come that first of all come and see the bigger picture — to enjoy Israel, to enjoy Tel Aviv, but also open their eyes to the fact we occupy millions of people against their will,” the group’s communications director Achiya Schatz told CNN. “For us, if you want to build bridges through music, you need to take apart walls that are being built by occupation.”
    On Tuesday evening as thousands flocked to the Tel Aviv beaches for free performances and a food festival, around 150 protesters took part in a short march calling on Israel to end its actions in Gaza.
    “The eyes of Europe are on us, so we want to use it to hold up Europe [so it can] see what happens in Gaza, and do something about it,” said one of the protesters, Mattan Helman. “We want them to stop the party, to come with us, to work together and to see that there is another thing that happens 100km from them — to see the lives [of people in Gaza and] to understand that this is also part of their life, because they affect each other. The life in Gaza affects the life in Israel, and the life in Israel affects the life in Gaza.”
    But for most people in Tel Aviv the focus is on the festive atmosphere and the opportunity to show that Tel Aviv can successfully host a major international event.
    At the Eurovision fan village along the beach, locals and visitors alike said they were impressed by the event.
    “We’re celebrating Eurovision, celebrating freedom, celebrating good music,” said Yanit Azulin as she danced with friends. “The vibe is great, it’s enormous, it’s amazing. I’m very glad that we are here celebrating.”
    Typically the Eurovision finale does not feature any celebrity performances. But this year Madonna is slated to perform two songs at the grand finale.
    Despite calls for her to boycott the event, Madonna said in a statement she will “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.”
    “My heart breaks every time I hear about the innocent lives that are lost in this region and the violence that is so often perpetuated to suit the political goals of people who benefit from this ancient conflict. I hope and pray that we will soon break free from this terrible cycle of destruction and create a new path towards peace,” the statement continued.
    Protests also came from religious Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the country, angered that the contest requires people to work and perform during the Sabbath which occurs from sundown on Fridays until sundown on Saturday (though the finale should begin after sundown on Saturday). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to explain the government did not control the Eurovision competition to one of the political parties he is trying to form a coalition with, after they expressed dismay about the competition’s timing.
    “Most of the participants in the event are from abroad and not Jewish,” Netanyahu wrote, according to the Jerusalem Post.
      Netta Barzilai, the reigning Eurovision champion whose winning song “Toy” brought the competition to Israel, has been promoting the event as a way to bring a positive message to the world.
      “It’s insane to bring so much blessing over here. And we are thrilled for people to discover Israel again and to see [what] amazing people we are, and how warm we are accepting everyone. It’s going to be a party,” Barzilai said at a news conference ahead of the semi-finals. “From all these countries, all these cultures are bound together, this is a festival of light.”

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      Its an open-air show about life in Lijiang long ago, using Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as a backdrop

      Last autumn, I travelled with a group of friends from Malaysia to Yunnan province in China. It is a beautiful region, significantly less polluted than cities such as Beijing and rich in mountains, lakes, rice terraces and gorges. We visited Shangri-La City, Dali, the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Lijiang national park, where I took this shot.

      We were there for a day. We spent the morning seeing the sights of the park, and in the afternoon we went to watch the Impression Lijiang show. It is an open-air theatre performance of song and dance by one of the top directors in China, Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers). It depicts daily life in the area a long time ago. The actors are cast from the Naxi, Bai, Yi and other local ethnic minority tribes.

      This shot of a staged performance is unusual for me. I dont usually work with concepts. I consider myself a casual hobbyist. I take photographs wherever I am: at home in Kuala Lumpur or abroad. I like to travel, and I shoot whatever I find. The older I get, the more I am drawn to shooting people and telling stories.

      The performance is quite unusual, too, an open-air show on a large-scale set designed to mimic the red clay earth of the region, and which uses as its backdrop the real 3,100-metre peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It is a big production with real horses, effects to create fog and mist, and a singing cast, a soundtrack of traditional music. The story is narrated over the speakers in Mandarin, with subtitles running on an LCD screen at the bottom of the stage, just out of shot.

      The audience was huge: there are so many tourists in China. We were sitting to the side, so I got up to move closer to the VIP section in the middle to be able to shoot this composition. I ignored the guards. Luckily, they didnt carry me away. I just smiled, held out my hands and took a few pictures on my phone.

      I often shoot on my smartphone. Im quite old now. I have been taking photographs for over 30 years, and sometimes carrying around a heavy camera hurts my back. Besides, phones are really good nowadays, especially if you have bright light. This was a bright, overcast afternoon perfect, really, for taking photographs.

      I had been waiting for something, a scene that would sum up how I felt about the show. And this was it: the pattern, the rhythm of the workers, the way they draw a zigzag line as they traipse up the slope. And then the colours, too, that red hue of the ground.

      This part of the show depicted the harvest: the workers are carrying crops in their baskets. I loved how orderly it all was, the harmony and balance on display. It showed discipline, teamwork, coordination and cooperation. It spoke to me of humanity, and being together. I think that makes this a good photo for corporate training! People have asked for my permission to use it in the context of public speaking, and I always say yes. Beyond work life, it speaks to family and to society.

      Usually, my work is documentary. I go for scenes from real, daily life. Villagers in rural Yunnan gathered around a fire pit to warm themselves before going to work on an autumn morning. A girl in a red top paddling in a white boat on a still river, in Kashmir. Worshippers in the light and shadow of the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Festivals, celebrations, traditions anything that puts an emphasis on mood and emotion, as well as story.

      This is a mysterious image eye-catching, certainly, but also eye-opening, I hope. For me, photography has the power to move souls and bring changes to our life. My friends and I came away from that show, and that place, with a sense that harmony was still possible: that, in contemporary life, if we put aside our differences and work towards the common good, we can live harmoniously with each other. That is why I titled this image Synergy of Humanity.

      I shared it on Instagram and a lot of people asked how I managed to capture such a scene. My answer is always I was just lucky enough to be there.

      EC Tongs CV

      Born: Kota Bharu, Malaysia, 1969.

      Trained: Self-taught.

      Influences: Steve McCurry, Alex Webb, Vineet Vohra.

      High point: Being shortlisted in the culture category for the 2019 Sony world photography awards.

      Low point: None worth remembering!

      Top tip: Dont go crazy buying the most expensive equipment right away. The more photos you take, the better youll know about what kind of camera to get when its time to upgrade. Much more important are your creative skills and knowledge of camera settings.

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      As a direct budget flight from London launches this week, our Brazil correspondent picks out favela feasts, samba sessions and seaside cycle rides to savour

      Seaside cycling

      When Rio introduced a bicycle hire scheme (sponsored by Banco Ita), the bikes were constantly broken and the system frequently froze. It works much better now, with three-gear bikes available across the city with payment plans as cheap as 3 for three days. Seaside cycle paths lead from the Marina da Glria through the leafy Aterro do Flamengo park, with its joggers, families, picnics, rope walks and samba rehearsals, all the way to Urca, the Sugarloaf and Copacabana beach. From there, the beachfront lane goes on to Ipanema and Leblon. And, on Sundays, half of Rios waterfront highway is closed to traffic, making the distinctive orange bikes a quintessentially carioca way to reach the beach. You may need help to register on the Portuguese-only site.

      Sidewalk fish bars

      Beer and a bite at Bar do Peixe

      Cariocas, as Rios laconic, sociable residents are known, adore street life, eating seafood and hanging out in the no-frills streetside bars and food stalls known as p sujo literally, dirty feet. Hence the popularity of the two fish bars on a nondescript street on the edges of raucous nightlife neighbourhood Lapa, where cars pass perilously close to the chairs and tables spilling over the pavement as all human life wanders by, and the beers are always ice-cold. Both Bar do Peixe and Bar Peixe e Cia serve delicious leo veloso seafood soup (2.50) and enormous plates of fried fish, rice, salad and piro, a sort of thickened fish gravy, for two that would feed a small family (around 10).
      Bar do Peixe, Rua Andr Cavalcanti 16b, Lapa, open Mon-Sat 11am-midnight, Sun 11am-10pm. Bar Peixe e Cia is next door and a bit cheaper

      Craft, food and music fair

      A real Brazilian flag-waver at the Feira de So Cristvo. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

      In a concrete stadium a 10-minute taxi ride from So Cristvo station, the Feira de So Cristvo is a gloriously trashy smrgsbord of food, music and goods from Brazils north-east. On a recent Friday, a man in a leopard-print vest sang north-eastern pop to a keyboard accompaniment, while children played football, but the fair also hosts major artists. Traditional north-eastern dishes like sun-dried beef (carne de sol) and mocot, a rich and fatty meat soup, dominate the menus. Pink and blue cans of Guaran Jesus a sickly, pink fizzy drink are sold next to slabs of gorgeous rapadura, a sweet made of raw sugar cane, and folk memorabilia. Cariocas also like to cram into one of the karaoke stalls for a rowdy night of singalongs.
      Campo de So Cristvo,, open Tue-Thur 10am-6pm, free; Fri 10am-6am, Sat 10am-6am, Sun 10am-8pm, 2

      Explore the old port

      A mural by Eduardo Kobra in Boulevard do Porto. Photograph: LightRocket/Getty Images

      There wasnt much of a legacy from the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the city got one thing right when it revitalised a decaying port area and replaced an ugly flyover with a spacious, pedestrianised square called Praa Mau. Stroll there along Orla Conde (AKA Boulevard Olmpico), the quiet, waterside route from historic Praa XV, where ferries to Niteri dock, passing a naval college and views of colonial Ilha Fiscal. With its street performers and food trucks, the square has a peaceful, family atmosphere. Huge graffiti artworks dominate a wide, pedestrianised avenue of warehouses off it. The futuristic Museu do Amanh (Museum of Tomorrow) on the waterside, is a visually stunning concrete bromeliad, but its interactive scientific displays are probably not worth the hours of queuing.

      Waterside art

      Photograph: Marcelo Nacinovic/Getty Images

      The six-year-old MAR (Museu de Arte do Rio) is a much smarter option. Visitors enter a former bus station, head up to the roof with its magnificent views across the city, then descend into the colonial mansion beside it. Theres a permanent exhibition of historic paintings and photographs of Rio landmarks, while temporary exhibitions are challenging and expertly curated, often focusing on Brazilian contemporary art tackling prickly themes such as poverty, injustice and the slave trade that for centuries blighted this port.
      Praa Mau 5, Closed Mondays. Free on open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm, free on Tue, adult 4, concessions 2

      Favela feast

      Bar do David

      Halfway up a hill at the beginning of the Chapu Mangueira favela and not far from Leme beach, Bar do David is one of Rios favourite restaurants because it has everything cariocas want: the food is excellent, the host is friendly and the late-afternoon atmosphere is relaxed and informal, with plastic chairs and tables on the street. The seafood bean stew (feijoada de frutos de mar, 16.50 for two) is its trademark dish, but theres also carioquinha a dish of beans, sausage, rice and cabbage (6), plus prize-winning starters, such as seafood croquettes, and artisan beers.
      Ladeira Ary Barroso 66, Loja 03, Leme,
      on Facebook, open Tue-Sun 10am-10pm

      Street markets

      Held on Sundays, from early morning to mid-afternoon, the Feira da Glria is the biggest street market in Rios Zona Sul or South Zone and it fills the colourful neighbourhood of Glria with noise, food and life. As you amble through the jumble of people, stallholders bellow about their wares, a man called the King of Shit sells manure, and live musicians play sweet chorinho music in an adjacent square. Its not just a Sunday morning routine for many cariocas, its also the cheapest way to buy fruit, vegetables, spices, artisan cheese, household implements even live crabs. And if snacking on tasty, deep-fried pasties and alarmingly sweet sugar cane juice isnt enough, buy some fresh fish, head to the end of the market and pavement restaurant Damasios Galeteria will cook it for 3 while you enjoy the live samba combo in the bar next door.
      Damasios Galetaria, Av Augusto Severo 220, +55 21 2221 1125, Sun 8am-2pm, busiest late morning

      Forest strolls

      Cludio Coutinho trail, Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) and Guanabara Bay. Photograph: Diego Grandi/Alamy

      Languidly strolling down the Cludio Coutinho trail, its hard to believe you are on the edge of a metropolis of more than six million people. The paved path hugs the forested base of the Urca hill and Sugarloaf mountain, offering spectacular views of the bay beneath. With cycling and skateboards banned, the noisiest thing in earshot is the chattering monkeys which visitors are asked not to feed. Leading off to the left near its beginning is a steep, 45-minute hike up through the trees to the cable car point on top of Morro da Urca. From there, you can jump on the cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf, or ride it back down.
      Praa General Tiburcio, 125, Urca, daily 6am-6pm, free,

      Botafogo bars

      A dish at Ceviche RJ, Botafogo. Photograph: Dantas Jr

      Botafogo used to be a busy, grey neighbourhood known for bad traffic and cheap rents. But in recent years, its become Rios Hoxton as new bars, clubs and restaurants have mushroomed and brought a contemporary aesthetic to a city that for years repeated the same old gastronomic formula. Ceviche RJ is a Botafogo favourite, a pavement cafe serving excellent Peruvian food, such as its signature ceviche (5.50) and delicious chicharrnes with fish and squid (7.50). There are artisan beers as well as cheaper brands to wash it down and an excellent salsa soundtrack. Plus its walking distance from Comuna, a hamburger restaurant and bar with DJs and a young, hipster crowd.
      Rua Arnaldo Quintela 66b, Botafogo, on Facebook, Weds-Fri noon-11.45pm, Sat 1pm-midnight, Sun 1pm-11pm

      Samba sessions

      Renascena Club

      Its a hike out to Andara for this Monday, late afternoon/early evening samba session at the Renascena Club, but its worth it for the music, the atmosphere and the acaraj, a spicy bean burger with prawns from the state of Bahia (3). This is a traditional samba da roda, in which the crowd gathers around musicians seated at a long table to dance and sing along. At Mondays traditional workers samba or Samba do Trabalhador, Moacyr Luz, a great samba composer, leads a group who play with precision, panache and passion to a crowd who buy metal buckets full of iced beers in a big, white-painted yard.
      Renascena Club, Rua Baro de So Francisco 54, Andara,, Mon 4pm-9.30pm, 4

      Getting there
      Norwegian has this week launched direct flights from Gatwick to Rio from 170 one-way or 340 return.

      Where to stay
      Acommodation in Rio isnt cheap, particularly near its famous beaches. A stylish exception is the Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel (doubles from 75 B&B, website in Portuguese) between Copacabana and Ipanema. Vila Gal Rio de Janeiro in Lapa (great for nightlife but take a taxi) is also a good deal, with rooms from 60 B&B and theres a lovely swimming pool. recently published a useful list of 20 amazing hostels in Rio.

      When to go
      Summer in Rio (December-March) is scorching, with temperatures as high as 40C, but its a fun time to be here, with the city gearing up for carnival (21-26 February 2020), with streets parades and parties. Even winter (June-August) is a good time to visit as warm and pleasant as a London summer.

      This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.

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      From superfoods to yoga, this 500bn-plus global industry often comes at a high price

      Exhausted from working 15-hour days running her own marketing agency in London, Jo Millers evenings would consist of a cocktail of takeaways, Ubers and impulse purchases. Id end up spending 100 at Waitrose, grabbing a takeaway or going out for dinner as I didnt have the energy to cook. At the train station Id feel the need to buy something, so Id end up spending loads at Oliver Bonas. It was all instant gratification.

      That was two years ago. Since then, Miller has closed the business, moved to Margate and launched a new career as a sound therapist, using a combination of alchemy crystal singing bowls and her voice to relax clients. And with the life shift, she has dramatically focused her time and money on one particular area: wellness.

      Instead of unhealthy takeaways and excessive shopping, the 42-year-old spends 18,000 a year on her wellbeing. This includes 3,200 a year on a transpersonal psychotherapist, 3,000 on retreats, and 1,000 on supplements, probiotics and vitamins. She also receives a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box, has a CrossFit membership and enjoys regular treatments such as massages.

      Jo Miller with her alchemy crystal singing bowls in Margate

      For Miller, wellness is about people reconnecting and being comfortable in their mind and spirit level. Before, people were distracting themselves through consumerism. Now, Miller says, she has completely switched her expenditure. Wellness is the new currency, she adds.

      But at 18,000 a year, how can Miller afford it? For her, its about refocusing her life choices. I spend very little on anything else. I dont have a mortgage and I have lodgers to support the money I make from working as a sound therapist.

      Miller is far from the only person spending their hard-earned cash on wellness, which can range from spin classes and meditation sessions to organic food and kombucha drinks. In fact, the global market for health and wellness reached 532bn in 2016, and is expected to grow to 632bn by 2021, according to Euromonitor International.

      Yoga at the Soul Circus festival, soundtracked by Faithless star Maxi Jazz

      Wellness encapsulates everything from superfood-charged smoothies to sleeping aids and yoga mats. Festivals, which used to be primarily focused on music, are also placing more emphasis on wellness.

      This years Womad devoted two acres to its spa and wellbeing area, and featured 40 vendors and therapists offering everything from meditation with a Buddhist monk to shamanic healing. Wellness festivals such as Soul Circus in the Cotswolds, which costs up to 199, are also sprouting up, giving festivalgoers the chance to tap into everything from meditation and kids yoga classes to nutrition demos and sober morning raves. I wanted to create a balanced event that left you feeling rejuvenated and inspired rather than hungover and unhealthy, says Soul Circus founder Ella Wroath.

      James Veal, 42, a project manager working in central government, describes his wellness journey as a slow burn for the best part of a decade before he seriously ramped it up two years ago. I started feeling my age a little I felt stiff when exercising, and I was reaching that midpoint where I thought I have a whole other half of my life left and I want to make sure it is in better quality, he says.

      James Veal takes fitness seriously including climbing

      He invested in a Vitamix blender (from 299) so he could make smoothies from nuts, leafy greens and a micro algae supplement, which sets him back about 100 for two months supply. He now spends about 30 a week buying organic food from the local farmers market plus 50 on an Abel & Cole delivery.

      He also has plans to visit a wellness retreat abroad. Im fortunate as I have some disposable income, so it doesnt feel like a huge sacrifice, says Veal, who estimates he spends about 250 a month on his wellbeing. However, his health kick means the Londoner spends less eating out, as he avoids food that may contain pesticides, and he has cut back on alcohol. The result, although more costly, has had benefits. I feel amazing. Its honestly been a revelation to me I sleep much better, he says. I used to have occasional periods of insomnia, but Ive lost weight, my skin is clearer, and people comment that my skin is glowing.

      But is this level of wellness only attainable to a few middle class high earners with the income and some might say credulity to afford the high spending? Gwyneth Paltrows wellbeing business Goop, which has been under fire for endorsing treatments such as vaginal steaming and inserting jade eggs, stocks aromatherapy oil for $85 (66).

      Demonstrating the Vitamix food blender, which costs from 299 and upwards. Photograph: Alamy

      The trend has developed a reputation for being quite expensive and elitist, says Sarah Housley, senior editor of lifestyle at trend forecaster WGSN. At the more luxury end of the market, wellness also became a way for people to show off their wealth more subtly than by buying an expensive handbag or car instead, they could go to exclusive yoga classes and drink expensive juices a trend that we call wellthness.

      Gina Clarke, 31, a freelance PR executive, says she moved to a more wellness-fuelled lifestyle in 2016 after she visited her parents and saw they had invested in a juice blender. After a quick Google and realising the health benefits, I was soon juicing up my own smoothies, she says. I used to have a green juice for breakfast and then something avocado or egg-based for lunch.

      However, she soon found keeping up the lifestyle was too much to bear. Ive gone to my fair share of yoga retreats but found it so hard to recreate at home. My yoga ball lies deflated a little like me. I soon realised the search for the Instagram lifestyle was getting a bit too tiring alongside work and a family life. Now my stress levels have come down considerably.

      Gina Clarke says wellness can be an affordable lifestyle. Photograph: Scott Miller/Wiltshire Photography

      Despite the pricey fitness studios and 10 green smoothies, Housley says wellness can be affordable: You can drink more water for free, you can do yoga or pilates from a YouTube video at home.

      Veal is the first to admit that he undertakes wellness activities that dont cost money: he meditates twice a day for 20 minutes and runs several times a week.

      Housley says there is a move to more conscious conversation around wellness, with a focus on making it more accessible and inclusive. People are increasingly trying to find a balance, shifting their priorities from self-care to community care, and theres a growing backlash towards brand partnerships that exclude certain people or dont truly support the community, she adds.

      Wellness, including reflexology, has become more of a focus at festivals such as Womad. Photograph: Alamy

      Despite the myriad of trends that crop up in wellness, whether its acai bowls or forest bathing, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, believes the essence of what keeps us healthy remains the same.

      These include not smoking, only drinking alcohol in moderation, getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet and taking regular exercise, she says. She warns against fads that claim to improve health and wellbeing.

      They might be well-intentioned, but they are often not supported by robust clinical evidence. Trends can be useful for raising awareness of new or changing health issues and for getting people involved in improving their own health, but by definition they might not be around for long. Thats why its essential that as a society we all work together to encourage each other to lead healthier lifestyles, not just for a few months of the year, but permanently.

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