Book an 5am trip from Yogjakarta to Borobadur Unesco site, an amazing 9th century temple and arrive in time for a romantic sunrise. A photographer's dream! We were rewarded with amazing views and a vast temple to discover. Such a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle backpacking across Java. Remember to take a picnic breakfast!
Ubud is a town in Bali located among rice paddies and steep ravines. It is one of Bali's major arts and culture centres and it has developed a large tourism industry.
If you visit Ubud don't miss the night dance and singing performances in temples such as the Batukaru Temple or Pura Dalem Temple. The atmosphere is magical, with very low light and candles and the Balinese dances are very beautiful. The most striking and unmissable performance is the Kecak dance, also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant or Kecak Fire and Trance Dance. It is performed primarily by men although a few women's kecak groups exist. The Kecak is performed by a circle of 150 or more performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak" and throwing up their arms. It depicts a battle from the Ramayana where the monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. However, Kecak has roots in a trance-inducing exorcism dance.
It is absolutely hypnotic and captivating and you feel the dancers are in a trance while performing. Totally unmissable and a unique experience.
Batukaru and Pura Dalem Temples in Ubud have Kecak and Balinese dances performances at night.
Google map: bit.ly/UwMKyG
Layers of magic and mystery are revealed on a winter walk through this spectcular garden - once the playground of the Lowther family who lived in the now ruined castle. Stunning vistas, hidden dens and red squirrels abound as you explore 130 acres - there's no off limit signs here! Warm your hands and feet afterwards in the Stable Courtyard Cafe - great coffee and scones.
Though there are bands on in the night, go there at a quiet lunch time. The architecture will take you back to the old whaling days of Baltimore. From the bay you have to take a water taxi to get there. Something about arriving 'by sea' that makes it all rather magical. Half close your eyes and you can imagine Jack London, Edgard Alan Poe and Captain Ahab shooting craps in the back room. A very special place.
Britain's largest winter garden is set in a magnificent 300 acre deer park. The gardens are beautiful at any time of the year but on a frosty day the colours of the bare stems of cornus and the brilliant white of the many birch trees stand out amazingly. After exploring you can warm up with hot chocolate and home made cake in the Stables Restaurant. Just across the road is the Dunham Massey brewery where a wide selection of prize winning beers are brewed on the premises.
McCarthy’s Bar* says this is the best bar in the world. Outside it looks like my old cub-hut, inside the floorboards are bare. The pictures tell the stories: a young Queen Elizabeth II; framed WWI dreadnoughts; and, still arousing, a fifties-era Vargas pin-up girl in a negligee. Noël Coward, Kipling and King George V drank here. No longer a colonial capital, Levuka is quiet now; offshore is Wakaya, the hideaway island where the unfortunate Keith Richards fell out of a tree.
Royal Hotel. Sensational! Genuinely unchanged since colonial days. Fiji's oldest hotel. In the snooker room you can easily imagine the joking and laughter of long-departed flying-boat crews - their pictures are still on the walls. Real value - a few £s a night.
Good local dishes. Try breadfruit here, it’s good.
Ovalau Club, Totogo Lane, Levuka, Ovalau, Fiji.
(No findable phone number, or website, or email - it's that kind of place!)
Robbies Lane, Levuka
Phone: + 679 344 00 24
Beach St. Centre of town.
Phone: + 679 344 0235
Catch the massive yew hedges outlined in frost, wander along the icy lakeside with massive bull rushes and winter geese. The gnarled ancient trees reveal their labyrinth tangled branches, some arching along the grass perfect for games of hide and seek. Walk the paths lined in clipped formal hedging and pop into the temple or the orangery to shelter and admire the views. If you feel energetic walk to the Gothic and spooky pyramid mausoleum and explore the surrounding winter woodland trails by foot or hire bikes. Plenty of choices to warm up afterwards in the cafe or The Bucks pub next door.
There are few things better than filling up your belly with amazing fresh seafood and then meandering along the waterfront at dusk. This part of Edinburgh has so much history as a once busy port. Now it is home to several amazing (some even Michelin starred) restaurants, and tastefully renovated waterfront areas. Take a seat and watch the big ships roll past.
16 or 22 bus from Prince's st in direction of Ocean Terminal
Google map: bit.ly/Yh7Juj
This online poetry collection of works by local Melbourne spoken word artists and poets is a great way to get a feel for the city and its people. Each poem is inspired by a different place (a statue, a building, a street corner) and the poems have been organised into a series of poetry walks, which you can download as MP3 files. Explore Melbourne through its poets and you'll discover what a creative and inspiring city this is.
According to one architectural guide Edinburgh's famous Cafe Royal has a "swaggering Parisian air". It was opened in 1863 and boasts Corinthian brass lamp standards, tall beveled windows, marble-topped counters and large tile pictures of famous inventors. It was said that this was the venue where Princess Margaret met a certain Roddy Llewellyn. What is less well known is that it was planned as a showroom for sanitary fittings. It’s a wonderful cathedral to the bon vivant – whether on a hot sunny day or a cold winter evening. It’s the sort of place you might go with mates for a swift half and when someone says lets have oysters and champagne everyone says yes!
Paris is certainly jam-packed with some world class museum through which thousands of tourist trudge their way through daily. However a lesser known attraction is the rather intimate Edith Piaf Museum. She was most famous for her warbly voice and those timeless classics ‘La Vie en Rose’ and ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. This tiny museum is housed in the apartment of a private apartment belonging to a friend of the singer. He has built something of a shrine to her memory as well as written a number of biographies of her life. Here you will find her dresses, gold discs, photos, private letters as well as a giant teddy bear on display. It of course helps if you like the singer herself, but this is a marvelous way to really get close up and personal with this legend.
It is worth mentioning the museum is accessed via four flights of stairs and there is no lift so it may not be suitable for all visitors. You will need to call ahead to gain the door entry code. Quaint huh?
5 Rue Crespin du Gast 75011 Paris
+33 1 43 55 52 72
Google map: bit.ly/QRT8mW
One of the great pleasures of historic central Riga (Vecrīga) is aimless wandering, and you’ll find some of the most evocative streets and lanes at the northern end of the Old Town. Don’t miss the narrow, intimate Trokšnų iela, and the Swedish Gate at Aldaru iela. Close by are the equally photogenic Mazā Pils iela and Klostera iela.
Trokšnų iela, Aldaru iela, Mazā Pils iela & Klostera iela
Google map: bit.ly/SGH96M
Many visitors to Amsterdam don't realise how small the city really is. The open countryside really is only minutes away by bicycle and you can be home again in time for tea!
Hire bicycles at any of the reasonably priced hire shops in the city centre. I'd go for the 'obviously a tourist' bikes as local people will give you a bit more room on the cycle paths. Simply make your to the Hermitage (close to the Waterlooplein Flea Market) on the Amstel and cross over the famous Skinny bridge opposite. Now carry on cycling south. Eventually you will find yourself riding in a green open area. Just follow the river and you will pass by beautiful chocolate box houses and delightful windmills.
Stop off for an ice cream and a cold beer at the ancient town of Oude Amstel. It is also home to Beth Haim, the first Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands which is absolutely fascinating to visit too. It dates back to 1614.
Cross over the bridge and cycling back home along the other side the Amstel. It’s just as picturesque and considerably quieter along the road. You will be back home in no time at all.
River Amstel, Amsterdam
India can be a full on assault on the senses with all its colour, noise and frenetic activitiy. The Baha'i Temple in new Dehli is a startling and wonderful contrast. Shaped like a huge lotus flower its milk white marble petals opening to the sun it is an awe inspiring sight as you approach it through immaculate gardens. Inside it is simple and beautiful with vaulted walls lit by shafts of light streaming through the star shaped window high above. And it so peaceful, inviting you to sit and rest, think, perhaps pray or just marvel. At night it's just as beautiful, lit by thousands of lights and reflected in the pools surrounding it.
British Raj churches litter the lanes and streets of Kolkata, ancient cemeteries house gigantic mausoleums, and the fabulous crumbling mansions of the old empire's mandarins dot the city. In various stages of disrepair, these nostalgic reminders of an earlier time are squeezed between twentieth century concrete and glass houses, offices and shops. Overlooking the BBD Bagh, the ornate Writers Building, home to the Secretariat of West Bengal Government, is one of the city's best. It was built in 1790 to house the clerks of the ubiquitous East India Company; now its heroic red and cream façade dominates the area, and is the office of current day paper pushers.
Biplabi Trailakya Sarani, BBD Bagh, Kolkata
Google map: bit.ly/TaF5at
Conceived by Lord Curzon, and built long after the British had already moved their capital to Delhi, the Victoria Memorial was opened in 1921. Some describe it as India's modern day rival to the Taj Mahal. The interior is bland (if you want to see inside, avoid Mondays) but for two rupees you can walk round the formal grounds in which it stands. It's an imposing piece of late Victoriana in white marble, extremely well tended – not a crisp packet or plastic bottle in sight – and cleverly showcased among the gardens and lakes. Although impressive, its voluptuous curves don't quite match the splendour of the Taj Mahal.
Built by King Thirumalai Nayak circa 1636, outside holds little promise: bland walls showing signs of endless neglect, surround the complex. But once inside, a vast rectangular quad is ringed by monumental decorative colonnades of palest peach, vanilla, apricot, and cream. Restoration has begun on the smooth-stoned floors, and the decorative ceilings are elaborately painted with intricate designs. Pale creamy backgrounds are picked out in maroon, blue and emerald green. Further inside is the even larger Swarga Vilasa (celestial pavilion). With a dome rising to 25m at its centre, the palace is a perfect blend of Islamic and Italianate architecture and taste.
The Archaeological Survey of India started restoration work when the local courts finally vacated the building in 2009 and has declared the complex a protected site.
Opening times: 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM
Sound & Light Show Time: 6.45 PM to 7.35 PM in Tamil. 8.00 PM to 8.50 PM in English
The enormous temple, stretching over 45 acres, is a sixteenth century homage to Dravidian architecture in all its rumbustious colour and form. Fourteen gopurams (towers) – the tallest of which is about 170ft – dominate the city skyline. Made of granite, wood and stucco, every inch of each structure is covered in brightly painted multicoloured representations of gods and heavenly bodies.
Shoes and socks must be removed before entering the incense-filled interior, but the ancient stone floor is warm underfoot. As a non Hindu I was not allowed into the inner sanctums of the two golden domed shrines of Meenakshi and Shiva, but there are plenty of deities, carvings and columns in the labyrinth of corridors and chambers open to the public. Get there early to avoid the worst of the crowds, although during festivals it is heaving all day.
Aka the “Mini Taj”, “Baby Taj” or “Jewellery Box”, this marble tomb was the forerunner of the Taj Mahal. It too lies on the banks of the Yamuna in Agra, but far fewer tourists bother to make the short taxi journey. Which is a shame, because the pietra dura of this translucent marble tomb is even more intricate, and the ornamentation even more ornate, than its better known cousin.
Noor Jahan, wife of Jehangir, built the tomb between 1622 and 1628 for her father, Mirza Ghiyath Beg, “Itmad-ud-daula” (Pillar of the Empire). It is smaller than the Taj, but in its own way just as impressive.
Opening: Daily from sunrise to sunset
Location: Yamuna river – east side, Agra
Price: Rs 110 foreign tourists
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