Tuesday, 31 January 2012



Jaen is a city that every lover of Andalucia should visit, enjoy and - if possible - spend a good deal of time getting to know. Not only does the city have an ancient and fascinating history, but the castle that towers over its winding streets offers some of the most quintessentially Andalusian views there are to be had. Stand at a prime lookout point at the top of the Santa Catalina castle and you will look down on a charming provincial capital that drapes over hills thus sending streets winding up and down steep inclines. From here you'll also enjoy the towns architecture and monuments. Fields and olive groves sweep out beyond the town and as you turn to the south and southeast, the spectacular peaks of the Sierra de Jaen and Jabalcuz rise and fall in the castle's backdrop. And if you find these views too breathtaking to enjoy for only a few moments, stop in at the Parador. There may be a castle room with a view just waiting for you.

Click here for Andalucia travel books

Jaen´s name comes from the Moorish word geen or jayyan, meaning stopping post on a caravan route. King Ferdinand III captured the city from Ibn-Nasr, who subsequently founded the Nasrid kingdom of Granada in 1246, and Jaen had a strategic position on the frontline between Christian Spain and Moorish Granada. It was used as the gateway for the armies in the Reconquest, and Ferdinand and Isabella launched their final assault on Boabdil´s Granada from here in 1492. Its Moorish old town, now the hillside barrio of La Magdalena, had many mosques, while the Moorish baths are the largest in Spain. 

The fact that for years it was one of the least visited province in Spain owes much to the terrible roads and communications leading to this province. But since the new motorways have been opened, and local roads improved, more and more travellers - from Spain and further afield - are starting to discover the delights of this beautiful and singular province. One of Spain's most important rivers, the Guadalquivir, crosses Jaen, adding to its attractive landscape and fertile lands. 
With just 116,012 inhabitants, Jaen is the least populated capital of all the provinces in Andalucia. In its old quarter, there exists some of what must have been a spectacular city. It is also home to the world's largest collection of Iberian objects. In the 1970s, a unique collection of sculptures dating from about 500 BC were discovered nearby and they are now proudly exhibited in the city's main museum. The city has a thriving university - one of the oldest in Spain.  Market days are on Thursdays. 

Jaen province has more olive trees than any other province in Spain, 40 million in fact - not surprising since its economy is based on olive oil. Liquid gold, as the locals call it, appears in all aspects of Jaen´s gastronomy, from tortas de matalahúva (aniseed cakes), ochíos (olive oil and aniseed bread rolls) and Christmas sweets, to nachas de Jaen, the local version of migas (breadcrumbs fried in olive oil); and pipirrana, a gazpacho-type salad of tomato and green pepper, onion and fish, with a dressing based on, you´ve guessed it, olive oil. 

Jienense, as the locals are known, have a cuisine all their own – at least from their point of view. To the outsider, the menus of the day in Jaen will probably look very similar to those of any other town or village in Andalucia. To the insider, however – whether from Jaen or the rest of Andalucia – many dishes do offer a unique touch. Being an inland province, Jaen is better known for game and fish from local rivers – trout being a local favourite – than for the seafood you’ll find served just two hours away on the coast. You should, therefore, make a point of sampling the quail, deer or, of course, the trout. There is one local speciality, however, that does come from the sea and that is “Bacalao a la yema”, or cod a la egg yolk (most certainly tastier than it sounds). There is a fresh salad that is particularly tempting. If you can say “pipirrana”, then you can order yourself this wonderful plate of fresh chopped tomatoes served with a very special dressing made of local olive oil, green pepper, garlic and salt all pureed together. Very tasty, let me assure you. If you’re looking for an interesting beverage to either try or take home as a gift for friends, then look into a bottle of locally produced anis or resol liqueurs.

Fiestas in Jaen: Holy Week celebrations in Jaen are famous and people travel from all over Spain to watch the processions. Other important local fiestas include San Antón's Day in January when people gather round bonfires, eat and dance, Carnaval in February, Corpus Christi in June and finally Cruces de Mayo, a festival celebrated in many villages and towns throughout Jaen where people decorate the streets and patios with altars made of flowers to commemorate the Holy Cross.

Jaen’s Top 5:
  1. Jaen Cathedral.  Inside Jaen´s impressive Renaissance cathedral, behind the high   altar, is a much-prized religious artfect: a cloth said to have been used by St Veronica to wipe Christ´s face as he carried the cross to Golgotha. The lienzo del Santo Rostro (cloth of the Holy Face) has an image of his countenance, allegedly, and is housed in its own chapel. The sacred cloth is removed from its reliquary on Friday mornings so that the faithful can kiss the glass box where it resides (the priest wipes the glass after each person). The image has been the subject of many Spanish paintings.
  2. Arab Baths .  Although a palace was built over them in the 16th century, Jaen´s 11th-century hammam have survived another 400 years, and are now the largest baths open to the public in Spain. They were probably constructed on top of earlier (Roman) baths which used local hot springs - you can see Roman ruins through a glass walkway in the basement of the palace, on your way to visit the baths. The perfect horseshoe arches, star-shaped skylights and vaulted brick chambers (hot, warm and cold) were rediscovered in 1913, under the Palacio de Villardompardo, and their restoration project won the Europa Nostra (European Cultural Heritage) prize.
  3. Santa Catalina Castle  The Castle sits on the top of a hill overlooking the city. 
      Santa Catalina Castle

    Previously there had existed a fortress of Arabic origin (Abrehui's castle), of which some remains still exist. The current construction is of Christian origin, raised after the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III of Castile, called the Saint, in 1246. The Castle itself is very tourist-friendly with a lovely, easy to follow tour set up inside. This includes multimedia presentations at different points. The best part, however, is standing atop the castle to enjoy the panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountain ranges.
  4. Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes.  The Provincial Fine Arts Museum in Jaen has the World's best permanent exhibition of Iberian objects
  5. Royal Monastery of Santo Domingo. Used to be headquarters of the University of Jaen, this impressive monastery is located within the district of Magdalena.

Monday, 30 January 2012



Istanbul is old, very old.  The capital of three empires is built on seven hills on the Bosphorus Strait and encompasses the natural harbour known as the Golden Hornspanning both Asia and Europe. Within the city you can see the remains of ancient civilisations and their culture jostling shoulder to shoulder with modern day Turkey. The old versus the new, the traditional versus the modern is a conflict the visitor cannot fail to recognise and feel a part of. 
Hagia Sophia

Byzantium, was founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and, according to legend, named after their king Byzas, a Thracian name. 
Constantinople was the name by which the city became soon more widely known, in honour of Constantine the Great. It is first attested in official use under Emperor Theodosius II (408–450). It remained the principal official name of the city throughout the Byzantine period, and the most common name used for it in the West until the early 20th century. It was also used by the Ottoman Empire until the advent of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
The modern Turkish name İstanbul  was in common use colloquially even before the conquest of 1453, With the Turkish Postal Service Law of March 28, 1930, the Turkish authorities officially requested foreigners to cease referring to the city with their traditional non-Turkish names and to adopt Istanbul as the sole name also in their own languages. Letters or packages sent to "Constantinople" instead of "Istanbul" were no longer delivered by Turkey's PTT, which contributed to the eventual worldwide adoption of the new name.

Taksim Square is the hub of the city with all  transport links centered here. Caddesi (Independence Avenue), is a large, pedestrianised area to enjoy a meal, shopping or just to enjoy people watching. There are buskers and street traders including corn merchants and peanut vendors. 
Galata Tower
Galata Tower

During the day the old tram runs back and forth along the centre of the Avenue. Major hotel groups have a presence here as do some well known western fast food chains. At the end of the square sits the tallest building in the city, the Galata tower at 63 metres high. By climbing to  he top of the tower you can enjoy the  restaurant and Café offering superb views of the harbour, the ‘Golden Horn’ and Topkapi palace.  

One of the best know delicacies in Istanbul is ‘Turkish Delight’ typical Turkish sweets made from sugar and corn flour, with a variety of flavours and colours. Most are made with various types of nuts such as almonds, cashew nuts.

 Along with the traditional Turkish restaurants, many European and Far Eastern restaurants and numerous other cuisines are also thriving in the city. Most of the city's historic winehouses and pubs are located in the areas around İstiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu. Other historic pubs are found in the areas around Tünel Pasajı and the nearby Asmalımescit Sokağı. Istanbul is also famous for its historic seafood restaurants; as an example, the Kumkapı neighbourhood has a pedestrian-only area that is dedicated to fish restaurants. Some 30 fish restaurants are found there, many of them among the best of the city. Also, many of the most popular and upscale seafood restaurants (with picturesque views) are found along the shores of the Bosphorus, towards the south of the city.

Istanbul’s Top 5:
    File:Topkapi Palace Seen From Harem.JPG
    Topkapi Palace
  1. Topkapi Palace. was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. It is now a major tourist attraction and contains important holy relics of the Muslim world including the Prophet Muhammed's cloak and sword. The Topkapı Palace is among the monuments contained within the "Historic Areas of Istanbul", which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, the Topkapı Palace was transformed by a government decree dated April 3, 1924 into a museum of the imperial era. The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public today. The complex is guarded by officials of the ministry as well as armed guards of the Turkish military. The palace includes many fine examples of Ottoman architecture. It contains large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures,Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasures and jewelry.
  2. Hagia Sophia . A former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum.  Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935
  3. File:Sultan Ahmed Mosque Istanbul Turkey retouched.jpg
    The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
  4. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque A historical mosque popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. While still used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has also become a popular tourist attraction.
  5. The Grand Bizarre.The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 covered streets and over 4,000 shops as well as two mosques, two hamams, four fountains, and multiple restaurants and cafes. The sprawling complex consists of 12 major buildings and has 22 doors.  which attract between 250,000 and half a million visitors daily.
  6. Bosphorus Bridge.  The Bosphorus Bridge, also called the First Bosphorus Bridge is one of the two bridges spanning the Bosphorus strait and thus connecting Europe and Asia.The bridge is located between Ortaköy (on the European side) and Beylerbeyi (on the Asian side). It is a gravity anchored suspension bridge with steel pylons and inclined hangers. The Bosphorus Bridge had the 4th longest suspension bridge span in the world when it was completed in 1973, and the longest outside the United States. At present, it is the 17th longest suspension bridge span in the world. 

Sunday, 29 January 2012



Helsinki, the capital of the Republic of Finland, is a modern city with over half a million residents and is situated on the Baltic Sea. The city where Eastern and Western cultures meet, Helsinki is unique among Northern European cities. The lifestyle in the second-most northern capital city in the world is full of contrasts and activities in the form of hundreds of events and friendly people. Helsinki’s identity has been formed by cultural influences from both the East and West. 

The booming tourism industry has recently paved the way for a new growth in Helsinki.  These days the city has become a modern destination for discerning tourists looking for something a little bit different and a little bit special.

Over 450 years of history, several architectural layers and the impact of different periods can be clearly seen in Helsinki. Finnish design has also made the country’s capital city world famous. The beauty of the surrounding nature blends seamlessly together with high-tech achievements, while old traditions mix with the latest contemporary trends. The city centre has many beautiful parks, and the nearby forests offer an ideal setting for peaceful and quiet walks. 
                                      Suomenlinna Fortress

Sweden’s King Gustavus Vasa founded Helsinki on the mouth of Vantaanjoki River in 1550 to compete with Tallinn for Baltic Sea trade. The town grew slowly however, and the centre of Helsinki was moved to its current location in the 1600s. In 1748 Sweden began construction of the Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress off the coast of Helsinki to counter the growing threat from Russia. The massive project brought additional wealth, inhabitants and merchants to the town.

After Russia conquered Finland in 1809, the status of Helsinki was raised to capital of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. A monumental Empire-style city plan was drawn up to reflect the power of Russia and the Tsar. Finland became independent in 1917, and Helsinki assumed the demanding new role of capital of the young republic. City planning was characterised by Classicism and Functionalism. Recovering from the hardships of war, Helsinki hosted the Summer Olympics in 1952. The games created an international reputation for Helsinki as an efficient and friendly host city.

Be sure to spend some time in the glorious Senate Square 
(Senaatintori), an archaeological masterpiece and a unique symbol of commercial, political, religious and scientific powers. Situated in the centre of Helsinki, the square is an ideal example of the Neo-Classic design. The Emperor Alexander II statue right at the centre of the Senate Square is a symbol of Finland's imperial relationship with Russia. As one of the top tourist spots in Helsinki, it hosts a number of tourist events.
Esplanadi Park

Esplanadi Park is one of the favourite places for local inhabitants as well tourists. The park attracts many visitors because of its inspirational designs, marvellous monuments, old limes and lush surroundings. Located in the middle of Esplanadi Park, the Kapelli Café Brasserie is the perfect place to rest and relax.

Hakaniemi is a large and lively market place, including many oriental food stores that sell a variety of Asian products. It is a significant part of the Helsinki city centre as well associated with the working class and worker’s associations. A perfect place for buying local crafts and to have cheap food. The Baltic Herring Festival in the month of October and the vintage American cars exhibition in May are held here.

Helsinki was one of nine European Cities of Culture in 2000. Helsinki received additional international cultural visibility when it successfully hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2007.

Helsinki’s Top 5:
Helsinki Cathedral
  1. Suomenlinna Fortress.  Suomenlinna is a group of seven islands combining to make one of the largest sea fortresses in the world . A highly popular tourist area and a beautiful picnic spot, Suomenlinna has recently been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. The fortress is reached by  ferry boat in about 15 minutes. Attractions on Suomenlinna include cafes, restaurants, and a bustling market.
  2. Helsinki Cathedral The Cathedral was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel in splendid Neoclassical style. The work began according to his designs in 1830, and was completed after Engel's death in 1852. In addition to serving its own congregation, it is the scene of major state and university events, while exhibitions and concerts are held in the crypt.  Helsinki Cathedral is arguably Finland's most famous and photographed building. Open: Daily 9-18. On Sundays service at 10. Entrance for tourists is prohibited during events.
  3. Senate Square The Senate Square is dominated by four buildings all designed by Engel between 1822 and 1852: Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland. The oldest stone building in Helsinki is the Sederholm House located on the southeast corner of the square.The main building of the City Museum can be found on the Sofiankatu museum street.
  4. The Rock Church. Temppeliaukio Kirkko, known as  The Rock Church is a beautiful example of modern architecture. Designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen its construction completed in 1969. It is built entirely underground and has a ceiling made of copper wire. It is one of the top tourist destinations in Helsinki. Taivallahdenkirkko is famous for hosting classical concerts and other events.
  5. The Rock Church
    Olympic Stadium. The Olympic Stadion, built in 1938 was designed in functionalistic style by the architects Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti. The Olympic Games were held in 1952 in Helsinki. Now the Olympic Stadium hosts both national and international sporting events and concerts. Open: Stadium Tower open Mon-Fri 9-20, Sat-Sun 9-18. (Note please! The tower is closed during competitions and events)


Saturday, 28 January 2012



Geneva is situated where the Rhone exits Lake Geneva, a financial centre, a worldwide centre for diplomacy and the most important UN international co-operation centre with New York thanks to the presence of numerous international organisations, including the headquarters of many of the agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. It is also the place where the Geneva Conventions were signed, which chiefly concern the treatment of wartime non-combatants and prisoners of war.

Geneva's most famous monument, The Jet d'eau, is the world's tallest water fountain and provides a constant landmark for exploring the city. Geneva's ancient Old Town, a gothic maze of cobblestone streets topped by historic Saint Pierre's Cathedral and the Town Hall,  offers a living glimpse of the past while Geneva's more than thirty museums and art galleries capture the rich and vibrant history of the city including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO).   For a more historical perspective, head to the Art and History Museum or the Maison Tavel – the oldest house in the city. Make sure to leave some time to check out wonderful antique boutiques located throughout the old town. Wander down along the old city walls to Geneva's theater district and center of culture at Place Neuve.  

For a change of pace take a cruise on the lake or relax in one of Geneva's main waterfront parks. Take a dip at Bains de Paquis or just relax in one of the lakeside parks or cafes or stroll to Bastions Park for a glimpse of Reformation Wall containing the effigies of Geneva's founding fathers. 

Be sure to check out Geneva’s famed Market Street to buy a Swiss watch or just window shop on Rue de Rive and Rue du Rhone but try not to look at the price tags. Relax at one of the cafés at Place du Molard or Place de la Fusterie for some first class people watching.

Take a tour of the European Headquarters of the United Nations followed up by a visit to the Red Cross Museum across the street. Be sure to take note of the many sculptures as you wander the grounds in between including the “Broken Chair” monument to land mine victims at Place des Nations.

Hop across the L’Arve River to the Bohemian burg of Carouge modeled after Nice, France and filled with quaint boutiques where you can actually observe the artists at work in their studios. Relax in one of Carouge’s artsy cafes or hang around until after dark to party in one the neighborhood’s famous jazz clubs.

Explore Geneva’s most international districts located just north and east of Gare Cornavin. Try one of the area’s many ethnic restaurants and don’t forget the shopping. The Schtrumpfs Building located at 23-29 Rue Louis-Favre in Les Grottes is a fantastical architectural icon that defies description.

Mingle with the locals at Plainpalais, Geneva’s largest outdoor flea market open Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 08:00 to 17:00 rain or shine. Antiques, records, vintage clothing and other curios await savvy bargain hunters.

Geneva is a city of many faces, among the most famous of these is its role as the world capital of luxury watchmaking, a title earned by generations in the pursuit of perfection. Many monuments and visitor attractions remind the visitors of the role the city played in watchmaking history.

With a myriad of boutiques and department stores, Geneva offers something for everyone. It’s the watch capital of the world, a centre for exquisite jewelry, and a place to find high quality Swiss and imported items. Before you leave, don’t forget to purchase some chocolate from one of Geneva’s master chocolate-makers. And why not stock up on Swiss army knives? They make the ideal gift for anyone - including yourself!

Geneva is the perfect home base for exploring the surrounding countryside. Day trips to the nearby towns of Montreux, Chamonix and Lausanne are highly recommended.

Geneva’s Top 5:
Saint Peter's Cathedral
St Peter's Cathedral
  1. Jet D'Eau. Originally a simple security valve at the Coulouvrenière hydraulic factory, this water fountain has, over the years, grown to be the symbol of Geneva. In 1891, it was transferred to the "Rade", to become a major tourist attraction. However, it was not until 1951 that it was provided with an autonomous pumping station, propelling 500 litres of water per second to a height of 140 metres at a speed of 200 km per hour (124 miles/h). Eight 9,000-watt projectors light the fountain’s majestic column in the evening as it soars skywards.
  2. St Peter's Cathedral. 157 steps lead to the summit of the cathedral’s north tower and to a fabulous panorama overlooking the city and the lake. The first phase of the cathedral’s construction dates back to the year 1160 and lasted nearly a century. Many events, including a series of fires, led to restorations and reconstructions, modifying its original design. Then, in the middle of the 16th century, the advent of the Reformation, with its philosophy of austerity, altered the entire interior of the building. All ornaments were removed and the brightly coloured walls whitewashed. Only the stained glass windows were spared. Its current neo-classic facade dates from the middle of the 18th century, having replaced the former Gothic one.
  3. Place du Bourg-de-FourIn the very heart of the Old Town, the Place du Bourg-de-Four has always been a meeting place. Today, hosts of Genevans still gather around its lovely 18th century flowered fountain or on the terrace of a picturesque bistro. Since Roman times, it was a centre for commerce. In the middle of the 16th century, the houses were raised in order to accommodate exiled Protestants. Today, one may admire magnificent specimens of 16th century architecture, as well as handsome constructions of the 17th and 18th. including the convent of the Order of St. Clare and, until 1857, a hospital.
  4. Basilica of Notre-Dame. The construction of this basilica, which owes much to the joint efforts of many Catholic circles, lasted from 1852 to 1857.In 1850, it was decided to attribute a piece of land belonging to former fortifications to the Catholic parish of Geneva, which had only been able to use the Saint- Germain church for some ten thousand worshipers. Built entirely of sandstone within the Cornavin bastion, its architecture was inspired by the 12th century classic Gothic style and to a great extent, by the Amiens cathedral. The latest restorations were completed in 1981.
  5. United Nations Building
    United Nations Building. Constructed between 1929 and 1936 to house the League of Nations, the Palais des Nations became the headquarters of the United Nations in 1946 when the former organisation was dissolved. The vast wooded park overlooking the lake, where it is located, was donated by the City of Geneva. Today, after the completion of a new wing in 1973, it is the second most important centre of the United Nations after  New York. Its area is the size of the Palais de Versailles and its Assembly Room, seating 2,000, is as large as the Paris Opera House. Over 25,000 delegates meet here annually to negotiate world peace.
    Location: Avenue de la Paix
    Hours: 10:00 – 12:00, 14:00 – 16:00 Daily. 09:00 – 16:00 (July and August)
    Admission: SFr.8.50. 
    Please note your passport is required for entry.

Friday, 27 January 2012



Frankfurter Skyline, © Foto: Tanja Schäfer
Frankfurter Skyline, © Foto: Tanja Schäfer
Frankfurt – the smallest metropolis in the world. When you think of the Frankfurt Am Main (to give it it's full title), you think of the airport, the Paulskirche and Johann Goethe, the Stock Exchange, the Book Fair and the skyline. Frankfurt is the financial and transportation centre of Germany and the largest financial centre in continental Europe. It is seat of the European Central Bank, the German Federal Bank, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and the Frankfurt Trade Fair, as well as several large commercial banks, e.g. Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and DZ Bank. Frankfurt Airport is one of the world's busiest international airports, Frankfurt Central Station is one of the largest terminal stations in Europe, and the Frankfurter Kreuz is one of the most heavily used Autobahn interchanges in Europe.

Römerberg mit Fachwerkzeile ©  PIA Stadt Frankfurt am Main, Michael GlowallaFrankfurt is the by word for business, yet the old part of the city around the Römerberg, with its restored timber-framed buildings remains a real doll’s house. Chocolate-box pretty. Frankfurt has just 680,000 inhabitants, a tenth of the population of the German state of Hesse. And it takes less than twenty minutes to cross the city on foot. Frankfurt is home to many museums including Städel, Naturmuseum Senckenberg and the Goethe House and two major botanical gardens, the Palmengarten, which is Germany's largest, and the Botanical Garden of the Goethe University.

In the old town, the simplicity of rural German life, with it's narrow alleyways and traditional bars sits comfortably alongside the cosmopolitan station district which, within less than one square kilometre, is home to more than one hundred nationalities, living side by side peacefully in some extremely grand houses. The streets bustle with the sound of all the languages of the world, and Turkish, Italian, Indian, Chinese or Pakistani food is to be had on every corner. On summer days, tables and chairs appear in the squares outside cafes and restaurants.
Even the casual visitor cannot fail to be impressed with the contrast, when a view from one of the Main bridges takes in both the civic splendour of the Römerberg and the imposing skyline of modern high-rise architecture.

During the 1970s, the city created one of Europe's most efficient underground transportation systems. That system includes a suburban rail system (S-Bahn) capable of reaching outlying communities as well as the city centre, and a deep underground light rail system with smaller coaches (U-Bahn) also capable of travelling above ground on street rails.

Frankfurt comes alive during the hours of darkness offering a large variety of restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs. Many clubs are located in and around the city centre and in the Ostend district, mainly close to Hanauer Landstraße. Restaurants, bars and pubs can be found all around the city, with large concentrations inSachsenhausen, Nordend, Bornheim and 
Bockenheim. The roots of techno music can be traced back to Germany, and in particular, Frankfurt. It was here, in the early 1990s, that local DJs like Sven Väth and DJ DAG (of Dance 2 Trance) first played a harder, deeper style of acid house that became hugely popular worldwide during the next decade. 

                                                          Frankfurt’s Top 5:

1.St Bartholemew's Cathedral. No one
 can miss the 95 m high 
tower rising over Frankfurt city centre, the Cathedral  (Dom) can be seen all across the city. Its beginnings date back to the year 852. Ten emperors were crowned here between 1562 and 1792. It has been recognized as symbol for the national unity of Germany, especially during the 19th century. Although it has never been a bishop's seat, its was it was the largest church in Frankfurt and its role in imperial politics made the church one of the most important buildings of Imperial history and justified the use of the term (imperial) cathedral for the church since the 18th century. In 1867, the cathedral was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in its present style.
2.Römerberg. The Römer’s silhouette is world-famous and unmistakably belongs to Frankfurt. Local government has been located here since the 15th century, and it gave its name to the square. Since the 9th century, the Römerberg, formerly called the Samstagsberg, has been the site of markets and fairs, tournaments and festivals, executions and imperial elections and coronations. In the 16th century it was considered the most beautiful square in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. It is from this era that the fountain of justice in the middle of the square originates. Adorned with a statue of Justice with unbound eyes, a scale and sword, this was the first fountain in Frankfurt. A few steps away from the fountain there is a plaque in the cobblestones that commemorates the book burning by the National Socialists in 1933.
3.Old Nikolai Church. The early Gothic Old Nikolai Church was first mentioned in September 1264, but it is definitely older. The church  served as a royal chapel for Stauferian nobility and as electoral site for kings and parliaments.The church was sanctified in the name of St Nicolas of Bari in 1290. Later the Old Nikolai Church was occupied by the city's councilors. A Gothic-style gallery was added in 1476, from where councilmen could watch the festivities. Two tombstones, honouring Siegfried zum Paradies and Katharina Netheha zum Wedel, are located in the interior.
4. Goethe House 
   In his autobiographical 
Goethe-Haus, © Stadt Frankfurt am Main
Goethe House
work ‘Poetry and Truth’ Johann Wolfgang 
Goethe writes ‘I was born in Frankfurt am 
Main on 28th August 1749, just as the clock 
struck noon’.  The house on Hirschgraben 
where Goethe was born has, having been 
destroyed during the war, has been perfectly
reconstructed using historical 
architects drawings and is visited by more than 130,000 guests every year.
5. The Iron Bridge (Eiserner Steg)  is a pedestrian-only bridge over the Main river which connects the Römerberg and Sachsenhausen. It was built in 1868 and was only the second bridge to cross the river in Frankfurt. After World War II, when it was blown up by the Wehrmacht, it was quickly rebuilt in 1946. Today around 10,000 people cross the bridge on a daily basis.


Thursday, 26 January 2012



Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and the seat of the Scottish Parliament. It is the second largest city in Scotland and the seventh most populous in the United Kingdom.

The Old Town and New Town districts of Edinburgh were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 in recognition of the unique character of the Medieval Old Town and the planned Georgian New Town. It covers both the Old and New Towns together with the Dean Village and the Calton Hill areas. There are over 4,500 listed buildings within the city. 

From the atmospheric cobbled streets of the Old Town to the beautiful Georgian avenues of the New Town, Edinburgh is a city of contrasts blending shopping, historic attractions, gardens and plenty of restaurants and cafes where you can relax. 

The Old Town has preserved its medieval plan and many Reformation-era buildings. One end is closed by the castle and the main artery The High Street (or the Royal Mile) leads away from it; minor streets (called closes or wynds) bud off the main spine in a herringbone pattern.

Large squares mark the location of markets or surround major public buildings such as St Giles Cathedral and the Law Courts. Other notable places of interest nearby include the Royal Museum of Scotland, Surgeons' Hall, the Royal Festival Theatre, and the University of Edinburgh. The street layout, typical of the old quarters of many northern European cities, is made especially picturesque in Edinburgh, where the castle perches on top of a rocky crag, the remnants of a dormant volcano, and the main street runs down the crest of a ridge from it.

The Royal Mile

The topography for the city is known as "crag and tail" and was created during the ice age when receding glaciers scored across the land pushing soft soil aside but being split by harder crags of volcaninc rock. The hilltop crag was the earliest part of the city to develop, becoming fortified and eventually developing into the current Edinburgh Castle. The rest of the city grew slowly down the tail of land from the Castle Rock. This was an easily defended spot with marshland on the south and a loch, the Nor Loch, on the north. Access up the main road to the settlement therefore was restricted by means of various gates and a City Wall (now mostly gone).

Due to the space restrictions imposed by the narrowness of the "tail" the Old Town became home to some of the earliest "high rise" residential buildings. Multi-story dwellings were the norm from the 1500s onwards. During the 1700s the Old Town had a population of about 80,000 residents. However, in more modern times it had declined dramatically to just 4,000 residents.

City Chambers, Royal Mile

There are currently approximately 20,000 residents in the various parts of the Old Town. As the population was for a long time reluctant to build outside the defensive wall, the need for housing grew and hence the buildings became higher and higher. However, many of these buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1824. They were then rebuilt on the original foundations. This led to changes in the ground level and the creation of many passages and vaults under the Old Town.

Edinburgh's New Town is not that new. Built in the mid-to-late 18th Century, in response to overcrowding in what is now known as the Old Town, Edinburgh's New Town is a marvel of urban planning, combining elegant architecture with spacious and comfortable housing.

New Town buildings are typically of a neo-classical style sometimes even with grandiose, graecian pillars outside and tall ceilings and decorative friezes and trimmings inside.

The interiors of most New Town residences, have been modernised as flats and office spaces. Even the mews buildings, that once housed servants and stables, are considered desirable properties.
However, the original character of the Georgian era New Town, with its cobbled roads, pillars, and sandstone block facades is preserved today thanks to building codes that stipulate even the wrought iron railings must be painted a specific colour - black.

Edinburgh’s Top 5:

  1. Edinburgh Castle . Edinburgh Castle is visited annually by approximately one million people - if we except the Tower of London that is more people than visit any other ancient monument in the United Kingdom. Every visitor - particularly those on a restricted itinerary - should visit the Castle, not only because of the historical interest of this remarkable fortress and former royal residence, but because it offers such splendid panoramic views of the city. It is from these battlements, for example, that the traveller immediately appreciates the dramatic topography of Edinburgh, situated between sea and hills. 
    Within the confines of the Castle, there is much to see. It was the seat (and regular refuge) of Scottish Kings, and the historical apartments include the Great Hall, which now houses an interesting collection of weapons and armour.
    No one is sure who first used the castle rock as a settlement, but it was long before the Romans came sailing up the Forth and landing at Cramond. 
    The Scott Monument
    The oldest building in all Edinburgh is to be found within the Castle precincts. It is St. Margaret's Chapel, a tiny Norman building which has been standing there intact for more than 900 years. It has survived all the sieges and bombardments to which the fortress on the rock was subjected during that period. On several occasions the castle was razed - but the demolishers invariably spared the chapel of the good St Margaret because of its religious significance. 
  2. The Royal Mile. The Royal Mile sits at the heart of Edinburgh and connects the castle withth Palace of Holyrood House. The Mile is overlooked by impressive, towering tenemants between which closes and stairways help to create a secret underground world. Peppered with superb attractions such as The Real Mary King's Close, historical sites such as St Giles Cathedral, wonderful shops and some of the best eating and drinking spots in the city there is so much to do and see. For recent history, be sure to visit the impressive Scottish Parliament building with its ultra-modern cutting edge design.
  3. Grassmarket. Once a medieval market place and site for public executions, the Grassmarket is now a vibrant meeting place bursting with lively drinking spots and eclectic shops. Loved by students,tourists and locals alike, as with all of Edinburgh, be sure to look upwards and admire the architecture and stunning views of the castle. Though executions ceased here in 1784, some of the traditional Grassmarket pubs such as The Last Drop and Maggie Dixon's keep alive the bloody history. The modern entertainment in Grassmarket centres around daily live music and acoustic performances.
  4. Holyrood House. The Palace of Holyrood House, the official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty The Queen, stands at the end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile against the spectacular backdrop of Arthur's Seat, this fine Baroque palace is closely associated with Scotland's rich history. The palace is probably best known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots and as the setting for many of the dramatic episodes in her turbulent reign. The palace briefly served as the headquarters of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the 1745 uprising.
  5. The North Side of the Grassmarket  -  November 2007
    Princes Street. Where else can you experience fantastic shopping while enjoying uninterrupted views of an ancient fortress perched atop a giant volcanic rock?. Admire these stunning views as you browse its comprehensive selection of High street and designer brands . Large shopping centres and old fashioned department stores jostle for position among souvenir shops and food outlets. For a mesmerising view of the city, climb the 287 steps to the top of the Scott monument and visit world renowned works of art at The National Gallery of Scotland.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012


"Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik"
George Bernard Shaw 1929

Dubrovnik is situated in Southern Dalmatia, the most beautiful part of the Adriatic coast. Rich vegetation, beautiful lakes, rare islands, white pebble beaches and the crystal clean sea, all make this region to an unforgettable experience for every visitor traveling through Croatia.

File:Dubrovnik-shelling-91-92.jpgIt's hard to believe now, but less than 20 years ago, Dubrovnik was a ghost town as the remains of the Yugoslav Peoples Army shelled the city during the seven month Siege Of Dubrovnik. According to the Red Cross, 114 people were killed and 56% of the buildings sustained some level of damage as 650 artillery hits were recorded. In May 1992, the Croatian Army lifted the siege and the rebuilding began, adhering to UNESCO guidelines. As of 2005, most damage had been painstakingly repaired to it's former glory and, only on close inspection, can new mortar be seen and the slightly brighter red of new roof tiles evident. A chart close to the city gate shows the extent of the damage.

There is no disputing the breathtaking beauty of Dubrovnik. As you enter the walls through the Pile Gate, you are immediately awed by the sheen from the limestone paved floors worn to look like marble through generations of visitors. As you enter The Stradun, Onofrio's Large Fountain looms in front of you, originally constructed in 1438 by Italian architect Onofrio Della Cava and part of the city's water mains which brought water from the Dubrvacka river some 12km away. The fountain is a main meeting point for visitors and usually surrounded by thirsty travellers serenaded by the city's one note busker on his home made instrument of torture!

The Old Town is very compact and very easy to walk from one gate to another or one wall to the opposite. The Stradun or the main street through the centre of the city is an ideal place to sit in an outdoor cafe people watching or enjoy a light al fresco meal 
Tip: move away from the Stradun if your budget is tight!. Random, unannaounced mini carnivals appear on the Stradun, during our stay, a group of pirates took to the street and a gaggle of photographers surrounded a leggy model in a wedding dress on the steps of a church.

There are, however, many different, colourful back streets to discover filled with cafes, restaurants and local shops which will keep you going for a number of days. Each street brings it's own delights with lacemakers on street corners and artists shops dotted between the inevitable gift and souvenir shops.

A takeaway pizza slice shop, followed by a coffee shop followed by a cake shop means you can enjoy a complete meal while on the move (by far the most economical method)

You must, of course, climb the city walls and take the 2km walk.. I would highly recommend early morning or later in the afternoon as the heat can be stifling although refreshment stops are regular. There are so many things you can only see from on high, like the basketball court hidden within a school yard or a private swimming area at the foot of the walls, school choirs can be heard rehearsing through open windows and small courtyard gardens are dotted around. There is also still evidence of unrepaired war damage and neglect. Make sure you have your camera to hand as the walls will give you some of the greatest views you will ever see.

One of Dubrovnik's famed attractions used to be its cable car - built in 1969 - which rose up to the top of Mount Srd above the city, giving visitors a chance to take in some (even more) spectacular views of the Old Town and the shoreline. Sadly, the cable car was completely destroyed during the war in the early 1990s and was never repaired...until 2010. The service has now been fully restored with entirely new equipment and is sure to be a must-do for visitors once again. A journey to the top of Mount Srd takes only 3 minutes, and once there you can take in the views whilst enjoy a snack, or something more, at the cafe or restaurant at the top.
Also at the top of Mount Srd, and also newly opened, is the Museum of the Croatian War of Independence which, though its various exhibits, shows how Dubrovnik defended itself during the 1991-95 war.

We stayed outside the City, in the little seaside resort of Cavtat. There were many advantages, not least the cost of everything was so much cheaper and made our break affordable. One of the unexpected bonuses to staying here was taking the water taxi from the city to the resort, a bargain at roughly £12 each and a great way to see the city and its walls. the alternative is the bus which comes in via the high mountain road, Tip: be careful where you get off the bus, you need to look out for where you can see the city from above and walk down, if not, you will be taken to the new, harbour side of the city which is a good day out in itself but miles away from the old city.

Dubrovnik’s Top 5:
  1. The City walls . The City walls were originally constructed in the 10th century, considerably fortified in 1453 and, following damage and repair after the shelling in the 90's, are complete to walk all the way round. The old town has fortresses at it's four corners, which are the Minceta Tower, Revelin Fortress, St John's Fortress and Bokar Bastion.
  2. Stradun/Placa. The Stradun, also called Placa, runs through the centre of the old town from Pile Gate to Ploce Gate. Originally a marshy channel seperating two settlements, the limestone pavers were laid in 1468 and run for 300 metres. Both ends of the Stradun are marked with 15th century fountains, The Large Onofrio's at the Western end and The Small Onofrio's in the East.
  3. Sponza Palace. Constructed in 1522, a survivor of the 1667 earthquake, the palace has had a variety of uses over the centuries, includingwhere the Republic of Ragusa minted it's currency. Currently it houses the city archives upstairs whilst the ground floor is used for exhibitions during the summer festivals. It also houses a permanent exhibition named "Memorial Room of the Dubrovnik Defenders", a memorial to those citizens who lost their lives during the war between 1991 and 1995.
  4. Church of St Blaise. A Baroque church, built between 1705and 1717, which features a silver statue of the Dubrovnik patron saint on the altar holding a model of the city, brought out each year during The Festival of St Blaize. The stained glass windows of the church are relatively recent, having been added in the 1970's.
  5. Franciscan Monastery. Includes a calming cloister from 1360, the main part of the Monastery was destroyed in the earthquake of 1667 and rebuilt. The Monastery contains what is though to be the oldest apothecary/pharmacy in Europe dating from 1316-17 . 
            All photographs by Tony & Michelle Bonson 2011