Poland's third biggest city is a sprawling open-air art gallery where huge murals fill the sides of buildings. Artur Rubinstein plays a grand piano, card players inspect their hands on a street corner and a dark figure fixes a street light; some of the many sculptures that are scattered around the city.
A more formal art gallery can be found at Manufaktura, a factory converted into a plush leisure complex; one of Europe's most impressive urban regeneration projects.
I can’t recommend the city of Krakow highly enough. One of the most enjoyable and informative ways to get acquainted with this beautiful city is take a four hour cycle tour with “the cool tour company”. Our group of four were lucky enough to have a guide to ourselves for the afternoon and he personalised the tour to suit our interests. Matheus was incredibly knowledgeable about his city, taking us round the old town, along the river Vistula, and into Kazimierz - the Jewish district. You don’t have to be fit to do the tour as you make frequent stops, and over lunch Matheus was able to answer any question we put him about the history of Krakow. We enjoyed cycling so much that on another day we hired bikes ourselves and cycled out of the city, along the river and through leafy suburbs to the Koscuiszki mound, a man-made memorial to an 18th century Polish patriot, which commands great views of the city. The company does other trips on foot and further afield which also come highly recommended.
This was one of the most important medieval fortresses in Galicia. Construction began in the 9th century but it wasn't completed until the second half of the 15th. Although only ruins remain now, the different levels of construction and the remains of the bodega, water tank, orchard and garden are clearly visible along with carved stonework and 9th century tombs carved out of the rock face. An atmospheric space, it also has great views over the rest of the town and river. In the summer it provides a wonderful seated auditorium for open air performances of plays and concerts. Entry to the castle costs only a couple of Euros.
Plaza de Mayor, 32400 Ribadavia, Ourense, Spain
Google map: bit.ly/Vhoqpq
Ribadavia’s main square is a beautiful and atmospheric reminder of its medieval past. Its mixture of architectural styles and periods is nothing if not eclectic. It’s also a great place for people –watching, especially in the early evening or a Sunday morning. But don’t expect peace and quiet: the Spaniards love to congregate in large extended families, including toddlers and children of all ages, and everybody talks at once. This is a great place also to sample the local wines – most of the bars sell a wide selection of these. At the bottom end of the Plaza you enter a maze of cobbled streets and arcaded squares. Medieval churches and other interesting buildings are everywhere and there are great views of the river and its valley from several vantage points. Next to the Plaza Mayor is the Jewish quarter which was established in Ribadavia in the 12th and 13th centuries and inhabited by a small number of families who played a key role in the development of Ribadavia and in servicing the nobility. Also look out for the gateways of the original city walls– construction started in the 12th century and continued into the 15th.
Off Ribadavia’s main street, Rua de Progreso, just below the castle. Ribadavia is signposted from the A52 on the Vigo to Ourense road.
Google map: bit.ly/10CrFsQ
I went to Krakow with my friend to hear her daughter sing in her Leeds choir in a number of wonderful churches in Krakow. We felt - reluctantly - that we should visit Auschwitz and Birkenau camps while we were there. I'm so glad we went. I came away feeling there isn't anyone on the planet who wouldn't benefit from having a closer look at the stark reality of such an event in living history. Sobering, moving and unforgettable.
These were a series of bunkers, tunnels and banks built in the early 1930s on what was then the German border, to resist a Russian invasion. The tunnels were up to 40 metres deep and wide enough to hold a double-track train line. In the event the Russians invaded so quickly that there was no time to fully man the defences, so they were soon overrun. Much of it was subsequently blown up, but enough remains to see the surface ruins free of charge, or to go on tours (in Polish and German only) with caving guides. The area is also a nature reserve, as the bunkers have attracted Europe’s largest bat colony: over 30,000 bats of 12 species.
Auschwitz - if you happen to be in Poland, this should be on your itinerary. You'll need a whole day and there are excellent tours operating from out of Krakow. My tip: take a tour but get there early before the crowds arrive to allow you some time for private reflection before thousands of tourists descend to pose (while smiling!) in front of the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign. The tour will take all day (there are two sites to visit - Auschwitz and Birkenau). To gain some minute impression of the unimaginable hardships endured go at the height of summer or deepest winter. End the day reflecting on the infinite courage humans are capable of (there are examples of this which shine out like beacons among the cruelty and horror) in one of the many excellent local restaurants in the old Jewish quarter in Krakow. You may never enjoy the taste of food, the warmth of an open fire or the feeling of how lucky we are to be alive more than now.
Head for the heart of the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. At Plac Nowy you’ll find the original Rotunda market selling local produce but at the weekends the market expands with antiques and junk on Saturdays and second hand clothes on Sundays but you need to get there early – it starts at 5.30am.
Then follow the old city wall encircling the Old Town, now a 4km park segmented with tree lined avenues and Art Nouveau and Romantic architecture. Explore the cobbled streets and relax with the locals on the grass by the river at the base of Wawel Castle.
Look out for the dragon sculpture at the entrance to the cave beside the western slope and wait patiently for a few minutes to witness it breathing fire.
Google map: bit.ly/T8ggyZ
A 12th century house it has been renovated to showcase the Hispano-Islamic houses of Andalucía and does so very well. The intimate courtyards and rooms exhibit coins, books and a model of the first paper-making machines to arrive in the the West, with a description of how the process worked. Muslim art, decorative tiles and arches combined with the scent of lemons and incense-sticks and soothing Islamic music make this a serene experience. The cellar is not to be missed either. Past the utensils and wooden buckets is a Visigoth mosaic. This is a small but perfectly formed museum and was my personal highlight of my trip to Córdoba.
Calle Judios 12, 14004, Cordoba
+34 957 29 06 42
Budapest is one of Europe's great cities. However it is actual two for the price of one. Buda & Pest sit opposite one another with the river Danube separating them. The river is at the heart of this old and historic city and many tourist cruises take advantage of this fact. Taking in the views from the river itself is a great way to introduce yourself to the capital of Hungary. With the Parliament building complete with amazing spires on one side, and the Buda Castle sat on the other side with a majestic eagle statue keeping watch, my camera hardly stopped. However even these regal and wonderful landmarks are over-shadowed by the awe inspiring Statue of Freedom which towers over the city from a perch on top of a very large hill situated right on the banks of the Danube. Once you reach the summit you may be out of breath with the climb, but the views WILL take your breath away! On a clear day you can see for many miles in all directions and being able to see almost the full city in one place is a pleasure not to be missed. At night most of the main attractions are lit up which add even more beauty to this dazzling city. A walk over one of the beautiful bridges once darkness sets in is highly recommended.
Budapest, like any capital city, has many wonderful places and lots of wonderful dining, too. Food quality in Hungary is top notch with many mouth watering dishes to tempt the pallet. Catfish from Balaton is a firm favourite of mine followed by a slice of Retes which is a type of fruit pie with sour cherries. Regardless of what you eat or do in Budapest you will leave feeling richer for exploring this unique place. To see a city as vibrant and impressive is a wonder you will want to re-live again and again.
Nice photos on
It is a stunning country house, in the heart of the Lakes, next to Wordsworth's home Rydal Mount. Owned by the Diocese it is fully open to the public. It has beautiful gardens, waterfall walks,or follow the "coffin" trail round Rydal and Grasmere. Also an excellent base for longer walks like the Fairfeld Horse Shoe. Sleep in the grand house, yurt, eco-pod or camp. Until March you can stay in a pod for only £20 a night! Don't miss cakes at the excellent cafe and visit the community garden, where you can help yourself and leave a donation. You won't be disappointed!
If you have any interest in military or turkish history this is the musuem to visit. Floor after floor of Ottoman weapons ranging from stylish scimitars to giant cannons. And on some days (check site) you get a free live show from an Ottoman marching band (mehter band bit like a highland regiment band in full costume with massive drum and pipes - great fun and much enjoyed by the Turkish schoolchildren on our visit). The text for the exhibits gives the "Turkish perspective" on issues such as Cyprus (but no mention of Kurdish conflict) and some debatable ancient history claiming Attila the Hun for the Turks. There is is even a Turkish submarine. In the grounds there are some giant cannon used in WW1 and a fighter jet. Highly impressive and most exhibits have English text. Companion naval museum is also meant to be good but we did not manage to find it. Recommended
One of the most stunning hidden treasures on the west coast of Ireland. I stayed there for a week or so this summer and was blown away by the people, the scenery, the tranquility and the culture. The region is in the Gaeltacht so there is still some Irish spoken among the locals and they will be very accommodating if you show an interest in picking up "An cúpla focail". It is a very spiritual place brimming with history. For example, the Inishkea Islands just off the coast are reputed to be the resting place of the mythological Children of Lir. There is an ancient church and a Holy Well dedicated to Saint Deirbhile. The Heritage Centre in nearby Aughleam contains a wealth of information on local and family history of the area. If you are looking for history, culture or just a bit of peace and quiet this place could not be recommended more highly.
Leim Siar Bed and Breakfast: www.leimsiar.com/
Blacksod, Belmullet, Co Mayo, Ireland
+353 97 85004
To get there by public transport you need to get the 446 Bus Eirann from Ballina and notify the driver.
Google map: bit.ly/Tw5b8v
I rediscovered this spot throughout my summer. I moved into Sandy Lane on Gower and inherited a dog named Sput, which needed walking every day. His favourite spot was the ten minute stretch from the Lane to the castle overlooking Three Cliffs Bay or 'Tub' as it's known to the locals. Every sunny evening we'd walk the stretch so Sput could chase rabbits and bounce around in the sand below the castle. It has the most beautiful views and rekindled my love with my country. There are very few places in the world that can make me feel so peaceful and perfectly happy. Even in the pouring rain, there is something mystical about this point that will stay with me forever.
2 Southgate Road Swansea, Southgate, Swansea, West Glamorgan SA3 2BT
Google map: bit.ly/W17ihO
Prague Castle is equally gorgeous in snow or sunshine. However, as with any popular tourist attraction, the crowds can be a little overwhelming at times. Ducking into one of the small galleries dotted around the site is one way of escaping the throngs of visitors as well as any inclement weather. The Prague Riding School’s current offering – a retrospective of Stanislav Kolibal’s work – is an engaging collection of abstract sculptures and barely touched canvases which both know-nothings and connoisseurs can enjoy. The highlight for me was the exact replica of Kolibal’s 1967 debut exhibition where his talent and range as an artist are already in ample evidence. The minimalism of the massive iron installations dominating the gallery’s main hall are neatly juxtaposed by the familiar imposing gothic outline of St Vitus Cathedral which can clearly be seen through the huge windows. There’s no need to buy a ticket for the whole site: you can just pay for entrance to the gallery without coughing up the required 250kc to do a tour of the cathedral.
On until 6 January 2013
Pražský hrad, 119 08 Praha 1 Czech Republic
+420 224 373 531
Google map: bit.ly/ZkE7xO
* Lisette is our Been there local for Prague. You can read her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/prague-local-lisette.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/LisettePrague
Spend Christmas with a difference in Istanbul. It’s business as usual on Christmas day so you can hit the streets for a truly magical experience. Wander through the alleys of the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market, take a trip up the Bosporus to visit the Beylerbeyi Palace, enjoy the serene beauty of the Blue Mosque, indulge in a swanky meal at the restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art Istanbul. If you need something more Christmassy, then you can always pop into the Santa Maria Draperis Church just off the main pedestrianized shopping drag, Istiklal Avenue. Be prepared for some pretty inclement weather (a very warm coat and a sturdy umbrella definitely required) but otherwise you can avoid the Christmas panic and just enjoy amazing cafes and restaurants, local wine and a massive dollop of exotic. My teenage children agreed that it was the best Christmas present ever – along with the new suitcase to meet EasyJet hand-luggage specifications!
Google map: bit.ly/UcDm5K
Last year we shunned the Christmas turkey and made our way to the backwaters of Kerala, where we spent an unusually sunny festive holiday puttering about on a little boat between shockingly white sandbanks and hard-to-reach villages. Christmas morning was amazing: I spent it doling out jelly beans, the only present that I had brought for myself from the UK, into the sticky hands of screaming, smiling young children who lined the river banks. They waved madly as we glided past. It was a humbling experience knowing that a handful of easy-to-buy jelly beans could make these kids so ecstatic!
After we had navigated away from the network of shady-green villages, we found ourselves as far removed from a traditional Christmas Day as we had thought possible. We could smell the tangy scent of the salty sea, feel the heavy humidity seeping through our bodies, and the best Christmas present of all, could feel the Indian Ocean lapping small waves against our tiny white-washed wooden boat.
Google map: bit.ly/V6CCuw
A stunning volcanic lake surrounded by steep mountains. You can spend a day swimming in the crystal clear water or exploring ancient villages. Then, sample some fresh fish in one of Tuk Tuk's restaurants before topping off your evening by sampling the local 'freaky' funghi.
Google map: bit.ly/UwN0gY
A treasure of funeral art, located on the Route of Montjuic on the hill, lies Montjuic Cemetery. This graveyard of about 57 acres boasts sea views and a place of calm away from the city's hustle and bustle. The cemetery, which was featured in Pedro Almodovar’s 1999 film All About my Mother, opened in 1883 after an escalation in the population. Montjuic Cemetery is more than a place of the dead as its modernist architecture, sculptures and beautiful, exotic gardens are works of art. The extravagant design meant the graveyard became a prevalent spot for the rich to be buried and many of them had their own mausoleums built in the cemetery. Indicative of this, the cemetery houses some excellent examples of funeral art that include architecture, sculptures and stained glass creations. This is a great place to visit if you’re interested in modernist art, architecture and sculptures and are looking for a free-of-charge, peaceful way to explore Barcelona.
Anglesey Abbey Winter Garden is part of a National Trust property located near Lode, Cambridgeshire. The Winter Garden is one part of a much larger garden but is at its peak in the dead of winter. The colors, textures, and shapes are only visible in winter and provide a surreal and beautiful experience in the low winter light. This winter, they are opening the garden at night as part of the Winter Lights at Anglesey Abbey program (December 8,9,15 and 16). Otherwise, the garden is open daily 10:30 to 4:30.
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