Monthly Archives: June 2016

Eurotrip 101: Berlin for Beginners

28th June 2016

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Heading to Berlin but a bit unsure where to start? Let’s take a look at the essentials. Next to all the street art, foodmarkets and coffee shops, here’s the low-down on the major players in B-town.

Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
This giant gate is more a bunch of giant pillars, and is the city’s best known landmark. Because it was situated in the no man’s land just behind the wall, it also became a symbol of the division of the city (history!). After the fall of the Wall, the Gate was reopened in 1989. Now it’s the place you’ll likely to see as a backdrop for the news, a place to watch fireworks and let’s just say for selfies, this place isTor-rific!berlin tip eurotrip

Berliner Dom
That’s Berlin Cathedral and not the Berlin Dome (I seriously heard someone scream this when I walked past it). This big sandstone monolith was built at the end of the 19th century to show Protestants could outdo those silly Catholics with their St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was probably more of a religious mid-life crisis thing but they didn’t have ferraris or sports cars to buy then. Like many buildings, the cathedral suffered a lot of damage during the Second World War and reconstruction took place from 1975–93. The Christening and Marriage Chapel contains the altar painting “Miracle of the Pentecost” by K. Begas the Elder (who doesn’t know him?”).

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Fernsehturm (TV Tower)
No this isn’t the tower from the Frasier intro, this is Berlin’s own 1960s sky piercer which goes up and up to about 368 metres. The main round tower viewing section looks like a funky disco ball, but sadly at night it doesn’t play ABBA and glitter. But once you’re inside the viewing area, it offers a damn good 360 degrees spot to snoop on the capital, so all is not lost!

Alexanderplatz
But you can call it “Alex” – the most famous square in Berlin. It was almost completely destroyed in the World War II so it still owes much to its the rebuild from East Germany times. The ridiculously tall TV Tower spirals out the ground here and looks down on everyone, including the Fountain of International Friendship and the World Time Clock – though I’m sure the world time app is a bit easier to use.

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Reichstag
Though the building is classic in style (pillars, greek/roman influence) as it’s originally from 1884–94, the main attraction was added in the late 1990s. No, it wasn’t a rollercoaster, but a giant transparent dome, which you can actually walk up inside. Once a year I propose they fill the dome with water and use it as a giant water-slide, but sadly no one got back to me. You need to register in advance to visit the glass dome and terrace as individual entry is limited to a daily maximum.

(Remaining Section) Berlin Wall
A good example of the intact Wall is east of the city centre along the River Spree in Mühlenstraße. Now known as the East Side Gallery, it is a section of the wall that is preserved as ann outdoor gallery. It has the famous graffiti murals you’ll have likely seen as memes or in adverts, plus politically motivated and other miscellaneous artworks. Other smaller sections can be found in Potsdamer Platz and in the corner between Ebertstraße and Bellevuestraße).

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
This site is a huge abstract artwork covering an entire block near the Brandenburg Gate, including an underground museum with extensive details on the Holocaust. Walking through concrete alleyways creates a feeling of disorientation, of being trapped and cut off from the world. The blocks start out at ground level on the outer edges of the memorial and as you go towards the middle the memorial, and as the stones begin growing taller the sun/light disappears and is replaced by chills.

Museumsinsel (Museum’s Island)
Did you know that Berlin has more than 140 Museums? Want to hit as many stones in a go without wasting too much travel time? Then go to Museum’s Island, that crams in five museum buildings on the River Spree.
• Alte Museum, built in 1830. Its interior, particularly the domed rotunda, creates a wonderful atmosphere for the sculpture exhibited and the collection of ancient artworks.
• Neue Museum, built to relieve the Alte Museum (told you they were inventive!). The go-to place if you are interested in the history of humankind.
• Alte Nationalgalerie, has large external staircase and bronze statue of Friedrich Wilhelm IV. on horseback so if you like staircases and guys on horses this is the place for you.
• Bodemuseum, known for its impressive dome and grand entrance hall, the building seems to traverse the Spree like a ship. The interior contains several rooms created in a style appropriate to the epoch exhibited there.
• Pergamonmuseum, holds the Roman gate from Milet, the Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, and the Gate of Ishtar from Babylon.
If you are all about museums and would like to see more than these five alone, I recommend buying the 3-day Museumpass. With it you can visit 70 of the 140 museums (!) on three consecutive opening days.

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Checkpoint Charlie
From 1961 to 1990, Checkpoint Charlie was the only border crossing point for the Allies, foreigners, employees of the Permanent Representation, and officials of the GDR. And it was the place where Soviet and American tanks stood face to face. We’re talking some serious staring contests. Today, the checkpoint is commemorated by a border sign, a soldier’s post and the place where for €5/6 you get a souvenir passport stamp or have your photo taken with an East or West guard.

Want to know more about places to eat and drink? Check my Awesome Things I’ve Seen & Done in Berlin That You Should Do Too series.

Are there any essential Berlin spots that I’ve missed?

Wanderlist: Island hopping in Indonesia

23rd June 2016

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So you wanna go island hopping in Asia and the Pacific? Well, Malaysia may seem an obvious choice, or possibly French Polynesia if you can afford it, but Indonesia is really where it’s at – mainly because I know they do mean bami and nasi.

Bali is ridiculously popular, but I would love to see the dozens of hidden islands around it. Who knew an hour-long plane flight could transport you to a whole different world? Heading there and booking on the fly is the adventurous route, but it’s smarter to at least book ahead some hotels and flights, check Traveloka for flights between the different islands.

Now – time for my Indonesia island hopping wanderlist…

Experience the closest thing that comes to Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones at The Komodo National Park, which is home to the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard. This dragon breathes no fire, but is 4 meters long and only found in wild in this very spot. They look way better than the computer generated dragons on TV too, though I’m not sure they’d be happy letting you ride them around a la Khaleesi. It’s apparently also an excellent diving spot, which could be a possible escape route if the dragons get a bit too hungry…

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Bali is obviously for sun, sea, surfing and trying to find yourself. But I would love to be there around Galungan, which is a Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of good over evil which marks the time when the ancestral spirits head down for their version of spring break on Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, when they return. The festival occurs every 210 days and lasts for 10 days. During the festival, people of Bali decorate a tall bamboo pole outside their houses and evil spirits are driven off by spells and fire crackers. It’s something that seems so Bosnian I want to see it up close.

After Bali, Yogyakarta is other big popular international tourist destination in Indonesia. And you know what? This is the place to be to get your ‘Tomb Raider’ on, so don some sunglasses, adventure gear and head in for your own historical adventures. First stop should be the world’s largest Bhudist temple, then the royal palace and finishing off with Unesco world heritage site temple.

Head to Mount Kelimutu in Kelimutu National Park and see its unique natural phenomenon – aka a super Instagram worthy spot. We’re talking volcanoes. Now this one is called Kelimutu and has three crater lakes with each a different colour: dark green, teal and grey. What’s maybe even more special the fact that the lakes have changed colour several times over the years. It is said that these changes are caused by the neglected ancestral souls, but scientifically the colours are caused by high-concentration of volcanic gases mixing with the minerals in the lakes. I know which story I prefer.

Have you been to Indonesia? Do you have any spots I’ve missed?

Eurotrip 101: Lisbon For Beginners

21st June 2016

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Next destination on our 101 series is Lisbon. Delicious food, budget-friendly and unique attractions… Lisbon is a city you shouldn’t skip on your Eurotrip. Here are six stops you need to make.

Monument to the Discoveries
You can’t miss this 52-metre high white stone behemoth if you’re in Belem. The Padrão dos Descobrimentos – or the Monument to the Discoveries – is a tribute to 33 Portuguese who were what we would now call an ‘influencer’ in the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. You can’t miss it as it’s basically the temple/shrine for all travellers

Impress your travel buddy with this tale: the monument was originally built as part of the Portuguese World Fair in 1940 – but, they hired a cheap contractor so it needed rebuilding and in 1960 they renovated it using concrete to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.

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Belém Tower
While you are there, who not go to the Belém Tower. The UNESCO World Heritage Site played a big role in a number of Portuguese maritime discoveries during the Age of Discovery and if the location scouts for that famous HBO fantasy show haven’t got this down for a series 7 backdrop then they need firing.

Impress your travel buddy with this tale: the tower was built in the 16th century with two purposes: to act as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon and to be a part of the country’s defence system at the mouth of the Tagus river. So it was beautiful and functional – the perfect combo!

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St George’s Castle
or Castelo de São Jorge is one of the most popular attractions of the city and ‘they’ say that a visit to Lisbon is not complete without heading here. I haven’t been inside but still felt complete so ‘they’ might not be right. The castle sits atop of a hill in the centre allowing your eyeballs to feast on the most beautiful view over Lisbon.

Want to impress your travel buddy?  Wander around the narrow streets, follow the sounds of Fado and find a traditional tavern and down a shot (or two) of Ginginha.

Praca do Comércio
In the centre of Lisbon is Praça do Comércio, the largest square in Lisbon where you can sit down and do some people spotting, where a lot of people will offer you drugs and from where you can catch most trams and buses in the city.

Impress your travel buddy with this tale: the place is also known as the Terreiro do Paço, which means Palace Square, as way-way back the Royal Palace was standing on the square, but it was destroyed in 1755 by a massive earthquake – but don’t worry the King at the time was away on ‘holiday’ – how convenient…

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The Lisbon Cathedral
The Lisbon Cathedral is located in the district Sé and is also known as Sé de Lisboa and Igreja de Santa Maria Maior and it was the first church of the city. Despite it being God’s penthouse, the massive 1755 earthquake didn’t spare this place either. Luckily the subsequent reconstruction resurrected the place so it still looks worthy of a visit.

Want to impress your travel buddy?  Go to the Cathedral at dusk – the bricks shine like gold and look beyond impressive.

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Elevador de Santa Justa
This elevator probably tops all ‘’coolest elevators existing’’ lists. Yes, I’m trying, like Aerosmith to make elevators cool again. It is located in the centre of the city and connects the Santa Justa Street to the Carmoplein. Once at the top, there is a great view over the centre of Lisbon. Which is probably the reason it’s one of the most visited places of the city.

Want to impress your travel buddy? Tell them the architect of the elevator was a student of Gustav Eiffel, you know … the guy who designed that little tower in Paris, y’know, Eiffel?

Did I miss anything off from Lisbon?

Wanderlist: England’s Very Own Wonderlands

16th June 2016

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You don’t have to go abroad for adventure, right here in England we have our very own natural wonderlands that are just waiting to be explored. To celebrate the release of Disney’s Alice through the Looking Glass, in cinemas now, Visit England put together a list of our very own weird and wonderful wonderlands to explore this summer and you never know you might even meet the Mad Hatter along the way!

Take in the wonder-land of Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight
Explore the route from Shanklin Old Village to the sandy beach and esplanade far below, and see The Isle of Wight’s oldest attraction Shanklin Chine carved over the course of 10,000 years. After the arrival of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert the popularity of the Chine grew, and was frequented by European Royalty, becoming a ‘must’ on every Victorian’s itinerary. Perhaps Underland’s very own White Queen has paid the Chine a visit? For a truly magical experience see Chine Lumiere at night across the summer where hundreds of lights will illuminate the narrow paths, streams and waterfalls of the gorge making a spectacular for all those who visit.

The dramatic quarry at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens, Northumberland
The beautiful Belsay Hall holds hidden secrets in its dramatic quarry garden, complete with ravines, pinnacles and exotic plants. Belsay Hall has been in the same family since the 13th century – owned by gardening enthusiast, Sir Charles Monck and his grandson Sir Arthur Middleton. The grade I registered heritage garden in Belsay Hall’s extensive grounds has been restored with a real attention to detail. Seasonal trees, shrubs, and flowers ensure brilliant colour throughout the year.

Discover the magic of Puzzle Wood in the enchanting Forest of Dean
Get lost in the unique and enchanting 14 acre ancient wonderland of Puzzle Wood in the Forest of Dean; a maze of meandering pathways, gulleys of mossy rocks, twisted roots of yew trees and fantastic rock formations. Reputed to have inspired JRR Tolkien’s fabled forests of Middle Earth and used as a location for Dr Who, Merlin and Atlantis, it’s a wood unlike any other.

A garden delight, Acorn Bank, Cumbria
Best known for its incredible herb garden with over 250 varieties of herbs, vegetable patches and traditional fruit orchards, Acorn Bank would make the perfect setting for a Mad Hatters Tea Party. The 17th-century walls of this tranquil haven shelter the National Trust’s largest collection of medicinal and culinary plants in our fascinating herb garden; the traditional orchards are carpeted with wildflowers and surrounded by herbaceous borders. A series of small linked gardens celebrates continuous development and adaption over at least 350 years with the first brick-lined walls date from around 1650.Wander along the Crowdundle Beck to the partially restored watermill, enjoying wildlife in the woods on the way, and discover more about the history of gypsum mining on the estate. Enjoy the views across the Eden Valley to the Lake District from the magnificent backdrop of the sandstone house.

‘Lost’ Village of Wiltshire, Salisbury Plain
Located in the heart of Wiltshire in the Salisbury Plains is the ‘lost’ village of ‘Imber’. Once a rural village, the small community was evacuated during WW2 and taken over as a military base. These days the ‘lost’ village is perfect for idyllic walks, spotting wildlife and seeing the almost forgotten buildings, such as St Giles Church.

A Tropical garden paradise, The Isles of Scilly – Tresco Abbey Gardens
Located on the island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, the gardens were established by the nineteenth-century proprietor of the islands, Augustus Smith. One of England’s most outstanding sights and one of the world’s most remarkable sub-tropical gardens, Tresco Abbey Gardens contains a unique collection of plants, many of which are too tender for outdoor cultivation on the British mainland. The plants are mainly from the southern hemisphere and flourish in the warm Gulf Stream climate and are regarded by botanists as one of the most interesting and varied botanical experiments in the world.

Immerse yourselves in Myths and Legends, Tintagel, Cornwall
The civil parish and village of Tintagel sits on the Atlantic coast of Cornwall and is said to be the birthplace of Britain’s legendary leader, King Arthur. He was supposedly born in Tintagel castle, whilst magical wizard, Merlin, lived in a cave below the fortress. The stunning coastline and dramatic castle has fired the imaginations of writers and artists for centuries. Whilst exploring the castle ruins, you can imagine a time of chivalrous knights or the Red Queens’ playing card armies and heroic battles upon the windswept Cornish cliff.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
Once an aristocratic estate, the grounds were abandoned after the Second World War and fell into a state of decay. But after one of the largest garden restoration programmes in Europe, there are now more than 200 acres of luscious land to explore. Marvel at the mini jungle, with its banana plantations, towering bamboo and giant rhubarbs and meander across the ancient woodland and lost valley. Come spring, you’ll be surrounded by a carpet of bluebells. Watch out for those pesky rabbit holes or you might end up on an unexpected trip to Underland.

Explore the winding passages of The Shell Grotto, Margate
Discovered in 1835, Margate’s Shell Grotto is an astonishing find – its winding passages are decorated with 4.6 million shells and the unique walls are covered with images of gods and goddesses, trees of life and patterns of whelks, mussels and oysters. Local legend says Margate’s Shell Grotto was discovered by chance 180 years ago, when in 1835 Mr James Newlove lowered his young son Joshua into a hole in the ground that had appeared during the digging of a duck pond. Joshua emerged describing tunnels covered with shells. Its origins remain unexplained today. In this remarkable subterranean enclave, winding tunnels snake beside 2000 sq ft of magnificent symbol mosaics, made out of cockle, whelk, mussel and oyster shells. Nobody can explain who built this amazing place, or why, but since its accidental discovery visitors from all over the world have been intrigued by the beautiful mosaic and the unsolved mystery.

A natural amphitheatre, Malham Cove, Yorkshire Dales
The white-walled limestone amphitheatre of Malham Cove rises 300ft above its surroundings in the Southern part of the Yorkshire Dales. The spectacular views from the top look across the famous limestone pavement, an expanse of clints (slabs) and grykes (clefts) created by water seeping through weaker lines in the limestone rock. The Cove was formed at the end of the last ice age, when temperatures warmed the ice melted and a large river and waterfall began to flow over the cove. Once dried up, the combination of erosion, limestone rock and acid rain formed chunks of rock, known as slabs or “clints,” and deep cracks between them known as “grykes.” This feature of the cove is very rare in the UK, which makes Malham a magnet for both geologists and tourists alike. Malham village is home to barely a couple of hundred people who inhabit the huddled stone houses on either side of a bubbling river.

Mythical Glastonbury, more than a festival
On the southern edge of the Mendips, Glastonbury is built around the evocative set of ruins belonging to its former abbey. Famed for the world-renowned music festival, the town of Glastonbury lies at the heart of the so-called Isle of Avalon, a region rich with mystical associations, and for centuries it has been one of the main Arthurian sites of the West Country. Glastonbury Tor rises dramatically from the flat landscape of the Somerset Levels and is topped by the tower of St Michaels, a ruined 15th-century church. History, myth and legend surround the Tor – Dark Age and Saxon remains excavated here suggested that it was once a Saxon fortress, or perhaps an early Christian hermitage. Alternative conjecture has suggested that the Tor is associated with ‘ley lines’ and various earth energies; it is claimed to be the home of Gwyn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Underworld, and others consider it to be at the centre of a Zodiac pattern formed by surrounding field boundaries.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is in cinemas now.

A Few Things You Need To Know Before Walking the City Walls of Dubrovnik

14th June 2016

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Doing Dubrovnik without marching the city walls is a criminal offence in Croatia. Those caught get hanged from a pole by the harbour for everyone to see. Ok, ok, I’m just kidding here, it’s not illegal, but it should be. So here’s the low-down on the legendary limestone defences that have held out countless invaders, but sadly haven’t stopped the tourists overrunning the place…

It can get very hot and crowded, so get there early – or late in the day. I like to get my ticket the day before and go there for 8am to beat the queue and heat, you would think more people would do it, but I’m always surprised how empty it manages to be.

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From June – September the city walls are open from 8am. Tickets cost 120 kuna per person (around £13/€16/$19) – and that’s including a visit to the nearby Fort Lovrijenac. Depending on the how many photos you take you’ll need an hour or two to go round.

Don’t forget to bring water with you! There are a few kiosks and cafes on the walls, but they’re quite expensive – yes, even for Croatian standards. As you’ll soon realise, when you’re in the busy tourist destinations – you’ll be paying the special ‘inflated tourist price’.

I can write a 1000+ word post on the Dubrovnik city walls, but do you really want me to tell you that the ramparts are 22 metres high? Or that the main wall has 4 bastions? Right? But I’m not going to leave you without a few pictures.

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Have you braved the walls, or can recommend any other city wall walks?