How do you make new friends and find like-minded cyclists around the world? And why should you steer clear of high-end hotels? We left Manhattan behind us in a bid to find the answers and hopped over the river to Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg.

Instagram Tourism

Often times, a weekend break to an unknown city can be unfulfilling–particularly if you’re blindly following the well-trodden itinerary paved out by a guidebook, half-heartedly taking a selfie here and there to demonstrate how well travelled you are. But whatever the city, it’s unlikely that you’ll really get to know its intricacies without the help of locals.

So if our approach to cities are changing, what’s the right direction for hotels? How can a high-end hotel make a city more approachable and liveable? Naturally, while the idea of regaling colleagues with tales of the Ritz Carlton, nights at the Four Seasons, the Hilton or the Waldorf Astoria is tempting, you’d probably struggle to answer the burning question: what did you really think of the city?

The Lost Art of Conversation

While big hotels thrive off somewhat sterile environments, formalities that create a distance between what’s outside and what’s inside, and service delivered with an impervious smile, those guidebooks lining the shelves at airports promise to help you discover the city’s best districts. Where’s the truth in all this?

In our eyes, guidebooks should come with a warning: ‘Read this at your discretion. This book will not open up any adventures, nor bring you into contact with locals, nor let you see anything beyond the city’s superficial facades.’ It might be heart-warming to reminisce at those photos you took in iconic spots, but if you’re honest with yourself, there’s nothing exciting nor unique about indulging in this sort of ‘tick-list tourism’. Travel used to be about adventure, experiences and grabbing the opportunity to get to know locals, but instead of getting lost, making new friends and immersing ourselves in the local culture we’re too busy Whatsapp-ing our mates back home. It sounds like a sad state of affairs, but what’s the solution?

Tinder, RCC or Cowboys?

“I feel like people have lost the art of conversation. That’s what I love about Cowboy, it’s a casual place for like-minded people to meet. And I hope that interesting conversations arise,” explains Lyon Porter, gesturing casually around his achingly cool bed & breakfast – Urban Cowboy. When he isn’t at his office as a broker in Manhattan, Porter is back in Brooklyn’s trendiest neighbourhood, Williamsburg or in Nashville, running this up-and-coming B&B.

Urban Cowboy isn’t immune to Instagram, Whatsapp, Tinder and the like, but Porter has made some commendable efforts to reduce their dominance when he goes out for dinner with friends–no Whatsapp, no Facebook, no photos! In fact, this approach is gaining pace across Brooklyn, with more and more venues declaring themselves photo-free zones, which given their truly covet-worthy Instagram hit potential seems a touch ironic. Unsurprisingly, Urban Cowboy has a huge following on Instagram, and Porter is becoming something of a figure within the world of contemporary travel.

“Come as a stranger, leave as a friend,”, is Urban Cowboy’s promise; it’s a remarkably relaxed welcome, with no check-in and no prescribed hotel etiquette. The décor, designed by Porter, wouldn’t be out of place on the pages of a design magazine, and instead of a glass of Prosecco to welcome us, there’s chilled rosé, the soundtrack of the Rolling Stones and the faint whiff of weed. Could a weekend get off to a better start? This is called ‘landing on your feet’, it’s a rare opportunity to kick back alongside locals.

How much would you pay for an experience? More or less than a Michelin-starred meal?

True luxury is the antithesis of being able to be defined by luxury; true luxury redefines what luxury is. It has nothing to do with price tags, but the value it presents to an individual.

Imagine staying at a place that attracts the locals and somehow becomes a social hub. You don’t need to look for the cool and hip places, you’re right there. One evening during our stay, some of Porter’s friends came round, with one son starting an impromptu water fight in the garden. It was such a natural scene that we felt somehow part of the family, no longer denoted by our label of guest or, even worse, tourist. The day shift at Urban Cowboy is managed by London-born Cas Jameson, who sums up their boundary-shifting approach: “Why can’t everyone just help each other? You tell me what you need, and I’ll see what I can do.”

Urban Cowboy’s ethos is pretty distinctive, and the décor hints this: instead of flat-screen televisions in the bedrooms, you’ve got record players, and the staff are keen to indulge in long chats about music. There’s John Travolta watching you in the bathroom, Hard Hat Days and Honky-Tonky Nights. It might sound odd to some, but there’s a wonderfully refreshing optimism that some weird shit might happen–brilliant!

More conservative but no less approachable is the idea behind the Rapha Cycling Club. Now with more than 10,000 members, it’s the world’s biggest road cycling club, where members get exclusive access to high-end Canyon bikes at any of the clubs around the globe, as well as insider route tips and the opportunity to tag along on organized rides wherever you find yourself (plus, good coffee). These sorts of immediate access to locals are invaluable for those looking to connect with a new place on a level that goes beyond guide books, meet like-minded riders and explore beyond the city limits.

Instead of escaping Manhattan over the George Washington Bridge, we cruised through Brooklyn, did laps in Prospect Park and stopped for a caffeine fix at Maglia Rosa. A new way to see the city.

Global Citizen? Bullshit

After a weekend in this global metropolis, it’s clear that the unfortunate ones are those who taxi from 5-star hotel to 5-star hotel, hurriedly picking up a “latte to go” from Starbucks. We aren’t envious. Cultural wealth has its roots in a place where you won’t just meet individuals, but you’ll be considered a person in your own right.

These days it’s easy to connect with people in unknown cities–cycling is one way, accommodation another, or even Tinder. Be open to new experiences and head out with an open mind; it’s a winning formula. And the prize: experiences, new friends, and unforgettable memories. Now, which guidebook offers you those?

Storytelling in the digital age: Apple iPhone 7 Plus

It’s often said that the youngest generation of media professionals can pull off a good story armed with conviction and the right camera. But is there any truth behind this statement? More to the point; is it really possible to create an authentic magazine-worthy story using purely an iPhone?

Yet, if we’re being honest, iPhones have never really been just a telephone. And the iPhone 7 Plus takes its tech-savvy prowess even further, launching new features that enticed us to leave the proper camera at home and try our hand at new media. The result? Well, that’s what you just read. Our Urban Cowboy article was produced exclusively with Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus. Keep reading to find out the most important and credible features, tips and tricks.

Portrait Mode

The most striking new feature on the iPhone 7 Plus (which, coincidentally was also pretty key to this story) was its portrait mode. This gives the camera the innate ability to capture emotions superbly, lending an inimitable depth to the photos and proving capable of adjusting focus to certain features in the image. The overall result is not too dissimilar to a bulkier and more costly professional camera, which – let’s be honest – you rarely have on your person for those spontaneous shots that you just know will work. The iPhone 7 Plus relies on two cameras integrated onto the backside of the phone, which duly create two images and place them together. Purists might bemoan that it’s not a true depth of field, but it’s hard to deny that the results are pretty outstanding. Has phone imagery ever been so good before?

Watch out, you’re going to get hooked!

With the new 7 Plus in our hands, we are convinced that mobile phone photo quality has been elevated substantially. The image quality is superb, lending a glamorous edge to everything in front of the lens–especially in portrait mode. This is the sort of image quality that gets us hyped! But there’s still a certain etiquette to uphold while taking snaps: just because you’re a bit of a wiz, sometimes it’s better to put the phone aside and look at the world through your eyes, rather than the screen. It won’t just benefit your phone’s memory card and function, but also it’ll save your friends the mundane task of removing you from their news feed.

While producing this story, we also really rated the time lapse function, the ability to take panoramic images, as well as the live shooting mode, which takes additional 12 megapixel photos 1.5 seconds before and after your shot in order to capture the atmosphere. This feature can be admired in the live video gifs we’ve curated within this layout.

The most important facts regarding the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Both the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus feature Apple’s latest wide-angle camera with a focal length of 28 mm and an f/1.8 aperture, 4x LED flash and optical image stabilizer. Compared to the iPhone 6, you can calculate that there’s up to 50% more light entering the camera’s sensor now, which renders the images more intense and it’s hugely beneficial in low-light conditions. The optical image stabilizer is an asset if the stakes and speeds are high, creating sharp images even while riding.

The double camera is the biggest differentiation between the 7 and the 7Plus, and aside from the standard wide-angle camera there’s also a “telephoto” lens with a 56 mm focal length and 2x optical zoom, which is killer for detail shots and this extra lens is what facilitates our favourite portrait mode.

Image quality

With help of third-party apps, the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus can also shoot in RAW format, which means you can then use apps like Lightroom or Obscura in order to carry out the editing–basically letting you edit like a pro, but in a phone-sized format. However, RAW files are substantially bigger than jpegs so are likely to fill up the storage at a faster rate. You can’t win it all (yet).

Apps and editing on the iPhone

The array of editing apps is impressive, and the level of intuition and simplicity puts some of the desktop counterparts to shame. While this part of the shooting process can often be a bit frustrating, we had a lot of fun sharpening up the images and prepping them for the magazine.

The best apps

  • Snapseed: pro-standard image editing with angle correction, selective processing and pre-defined filters
  • Lightroom Mobile: Lightroom Mobile: this app will please any current Lightroom fans as it offers a range of editing capability and a direct interface with Adobe Creative Cloud (so you can still post-edit on a desktop).
  • Obscura: Obscura: manual adjustment of the camera settings; also allows RAW images
  • Motion Stills: Motion Stills: everything you need for live images, from exporting individual frames to creating gifs.
  • Instagram: Instagram: does this really need an introduction?

For more info:

Urban Cowboys:
RCC: /

Words & Photos: Hannah Troop