The definitive guide to avoiding Penang’s tourist traps – Zafigo.com, February 8 2018

colour-1298862_1280 (1)As a cultural melting pot, foodie hub and historical hotspot, Penang has become a major tourist destination for both Malaysian and international tourists. However, with so much to do here, it comes as no surprise that the island’s main landmarks can be crowded 365 days of the year. If you’re staying a while and are sick of the hustle and bustle, try this list of alternative activities:

BEST VIEW

Skip Penang Hill

See Muka Head Lighthouse

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The stunning views of Penang’s coastline. (Photo Credit: Amy Lewis)

Gazing down at the twinkling lights of George Town from the peak of Penang Hill is certainly worth ticking off the list. However, if you’re seeking something a bit more tranquil and wish to avoid the crowds, head to Muka Head Lighthouse at Penang’s National Park. It’s not easy to get to – prepare for a sweaty hike through the forest! – but the stunning views of Penang’s coastline will revitalise a tired body and mind. Climb up the twisting staircase to the top and perch yourself on the balcony to watch white-tailed sea eagles soar and be soothed by the sound of the crashing waves below.

BEST BEACH

Skip Batu Ferringhi

See Gertak Sanggul

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This small fishing village is the epitome of a lazy afternoon. (Photo Credit: Amy Lewis)

When you have eaten double your weight in Penang’s famous hawker food, what better place for an afternoon doze than the beach? Batu Ferringhi is Penang’s most popular beach and while it’s beautiful, you will likely have to battle for towel space on a busy day. Head to Gertak Sanggul instead. I stumbled across this beach during a drive around the island and found it to be the perfect place to digest both my thoughts and my food. Nestled along the southern coast of Penang at the edge of a quaint fishing village, it’s rarely frequented by tourists and so, is the epitome of calm. Come here with a good book and watch the boats and your worries float away.

BEST MARKET

Skip Batu Ferringhi Night Market

See Hin Sunday Pop-Up Market

Support the local artists and craftspeople at Hin's Pop Up Market. (Photo Credit Hin's PopUP Facebook)

Support the local artists and craftspeople at Hin Pop Up Market. (Photo Credit Hin Pop Up Market)

Every Sunday, the grounds of Hin Bus Depot spring to life with a small artisan market brimming with local crafts and trinkets. Handmade batik garments, natural cosmetics, mouth-watering food and statement jewellery are just some of the treasures on offer at this weekly affair, which sees new stalls springing up each week. While you won’t find the same offering of cheap clothes available in Batu Ferringhi, you will come across plenty of unique gems unavailable anywhere else. What’s more, by buying something here, you are supporting local artists and craftspeople. For the perfect Sunday, take a yoga class at nearby Wholey Wonder and peruse the market stalls before crashing on the grass at Hin Bus Depot to tuck into a tasty lunch.

BEST FOR A COFFEE AND CATCHUP

Skip Starbucks

See The Alley

Skip the staple branded coffee houses and spend an evening at a local shop instead. (Photo Credit: The Alley Penang)

Why go Starbucks when you can have churros at The Alley? (Photo Credit: The Alley Penang)

Let’s face it: I can go to Starbucks anytime. Despite having a three-letter name, they can never get mine right! If I’m in need of an afternoon energy boost or want somewhere to chill with friends, The Alley at Stewart Lane is my top pick. Why? One word: Churros! The small and simple café is famous for the warm doughy delights, which offer crispy skins and fluffy centres in good, equal measure. Paired with a selection of sauces (try the salted caramel) and a steaming mug of coffee, it makes for the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. The only downside of going with friends? Having to share.

BEST BAR

Skip Love Lane

See Magazine 63

(Photo Credit: SM Butler)

A true speakeasy bar, Magazine 63 is quite a challenge to find, but oh so worth it once you do. (Photo Credit: SM Butler)

Walking through Love Lane at night feels a bit like being in a bizarre video game – you have to dodge and leap over dozens of pushy bar promo staff to get to the power up i.e. a refreshing cocktail or mocktail at the end of a busy day. On top of that, the crowds and noise continue to swell as the night goes on. Ditch the hectic nightlife and head to Magazine 63 on Jalan Magazine instead. Nestled behind an inconspicuous doorway, it’s quite a challenge to find; but trust me, it’s worth it. Behind its shabby exterior sits a trendy speakeasy dripping in vintage class, with a unique cocktail menu to boot. Add to that cosy seating, regular live bands and DJ sets and you’ve got yourself the perfect watering hole. A word of warning: at bars this trendy, drinks don’t come cheap.

BEST UNIQUE PHOTO SPOT

Skip 3D Trick Art Museum

See Penang Avatar Secret Garden

(Photo Credit: Flickr / ShangChieh )

The mini forest comes to life with dazzlig lights. (Photo Credit: Flickr / ShangChieh)

Trick art museums have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. If you’re hoping to get some unusual snaps for the ‘gram, head to Avatar Secret Garden at Tanjung Tokong before sunset instead. When the daylight fades, the mini forest is transformed into an enchanted land that is alive with dazzling lights in myriad hue. A near replica of the mystical land of Pandora in Avatar, this hidden gem is sure to take your breath away.

BEST CAFE WORKSPACE

Skip Co-workingspaces

See BEAN Sprout Cafe

Fancy working out  of a quaint little heritage building? (Photo Credit: Nomadic Notes)

Fancy working out of a quaint little heritage building? (Photo Credit: Nomadic Notes)

Co-working spaces certainly have their place and I’d be the first to praise them for their reliable Wi-Fi and endless networking opportunities. However, when in Penang, you might as well soak in the atmosphere while getting some work done. Enter BEAN Sprout Café. Set in a beautiful two-storey heritage building, this relaxed coffee shop is a good spot to escape to when you need to get stuff done and dusted. If the rustic décor and chilled music fail to inspire, sit and work from the balcony which offers great views of the hustle and bustle of George Town. Failing that, their delicious coffee or tasty brunches should be enough to set the brain cogs into motion.

BEST CITY CENTRE OASIS

Skip Armenian Park

See Garden at 23 Love Lane

Who knew such a serene little corner existed on Love Lane? (Photo Credit 23 Love Lane)

Who knew such a serene little corner existed on Love Lane? (Photo Credit: 23 Love Lane)

Who knew that such a serene oasis existed along hectic Love Lane? Well, it does, and it’s in the form of this boutique hotel’s stunning garden courtyard. It’s the ideal place to escape the mid-afternoon sun and catch up on some reading over a refreshing drink. Non-staying guests are welcome to enjoy the garden courtyard provided they purchase something from the hotel bar. Coffee al fresco amid restful settings? Who can say ‘no’ to that?

(First published on Zafigo.com on February 8 2018. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/guide-avoiding-penangs-tourist-traps/)

 

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Arts officer seat remains vacant – Wexford People, June 23 2016

The seat for an Arts Officer in Wexford has been vacant since July 2015, despite an advertisement for the position last July and again in March 2016.

Following the departure of Arts Officer Rosaleen Molloy in June 2010, Sinead Barden was chosen as a replacement as the result of a competition. However, due to an employment embargo in public sector recruitment, this position was only temporary.

The post became vacant again in July 2015 and a call for applications was put out soon after. When no candidate was found, the position was readvertised on March 29 2016 but the position still remains unfilled.

Cllr Malcolm Byrne drew attention to the vacancy at the recent Wexford County Council meeting and later, highlighted the need to have it resolved as soon as possible.

‘It is a matter of emergency that we need an Arts Officer so that he or she can begin to develop a strategic arts development plan for the county,’ he said.

‘Wexford has always had the lead on the arts and it provides huge social and economic opportunities in the county. Given that we are bidding for the position to host the European Capital of Culture, it would be very unfortunate for one of the Three Sisters not to have an Arts Officer in place,’ he said.

Since July 2015, staff at the arts office have taken on some of the tasks that are usually carried out by the Arts Officer. Cllr Byrne commended them for their work.

‘I have to compliment the arts office staff who have been putting in trojan work over the last period. They haven’t let the side down.’

Cllr Byrne said that he understands that interviews will take place within the next fortnight and expects an announcement on a new officer to be made within the next four weeks.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/arts-officer-seat-remains-vacant-34824182.html)

Wexford’s free community art class is proving as successful in reality as it is on paper – Wexford People, April 30 2016

Tucked away in Friary Hall off School Street sits the Open Gate Art Studio – a place where experienced and novice artists alike gather three times a week for some creativity and company.

 

It is a place where anybody can become an exhibiting artist, regardless of wealth, experience or skills.

The studio was established a year and a half ago by Dimitri Avtin, a professional artist who is originally from Uzbekistan. Along with local artist Kevin Ryan and former carpenter Tony Bergin, he now facilitates free painting and drawing sessions for members of the public. Local residents Deirdre and Edward Barker also help to oversee the classes.

Although the studio itself is hidden away, the efforts of those involved do not go unnoticed. Each participant is given the chance to put their work on display in their own exhibition which will run for a two week period.

‘Everyone gets the opportunity to put their art up for the very first time,’ explained Kilmore resident Tony Bergin, who facilitates one class a week. ‘This is to show people that the studio is a nice and a safe place that is not about judgement. I have no background in art at all but through the classes and exhibitions, we aim to prove to people that creativity can be brought out from within you.’

Tony’s own work and teaching style are inspired by the work of American artist Jackson Pollock, who incorporates a drip style into all of his paintings. Tony’s personal exhibition was on display in recent weeks and attracted plenty of attention from visitors and members of the classes.

However for Tony and his fellow facilitators, the studio is about more than sharing art and drawing attention from the public.

‘This was set up as a community facility that Wexford didn’t really have. We wanted to show people that there’s a place where they can come to meet new people and talk over a cup of tea,’ he said. ‘Just like with a book club, we wanted it to be a place where people come and talk and they share. And it’s definitely becoming what it’s meant to be: a community-based friendship centre.’

According to Tony, the classes are growing ‘at a fantastic rate’, with about 15 people in each class. He feels that the casual nature of the classes is what has helped to make it such a success.

‘With other classes, people are sometimes afraid of signing up as they can be expensive and if they don’t enjoy it, their money is gone. With us, you put in a small donation of a few euro to help pay for light, heating and materials,’ he explained. ‘Anyone can join. There are no rules.’

Owing to the positive response that the Open Gate Art Studio has received, Tony now hopes to use his experience as a carpenter to establish a men’s group in the area.

‘It is something that has been in my heart for a while and I am just getting the wheels in motion now. I was trained as a carpenter and so, have the skills to do things around the house,’ he said. ‘I have many friends who say I am fortunate to be able to do these things. I am fortunate. Some men aren’t able to change plugs and hang pictures. With this new group, I intend to incorporate art and home work.’

Through the group, Tony hopes to expand on what has been achieved by the studio and offer men a place where they can come together to chat and learn.

‘I hope to provide a caring safe place for men who are unaware of a facility that they can have access to should they want an ear to listen to them,’ he said.

In the meantime, Tony, Kevin and Dimitri will continue to run classes in Friary Hall and are inviting anyone with an interest in art or socialising to come along.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/wexfords-free-community-art-class-is-proving-as-successful-in-reality-as-it-is-on-paper-34663377.html)