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
Akbar’s ‘City of Victory’ stands alone on a rocky plateau overlooking fields of dust and rocks. In 1569, Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri close to the residence of Shaikh Salim Chisti, the Sufi saint who helped him produce a male heir. It remained the capital of Akbar's Mughal Empire until 1585. Today women still tie a length of wool to the marble lattice windows of the saint’s tomb, in the hope that they too will fall pregnant with a boy child.
Sculpted from blood-red sandstone, the audience halls, palaces, astronomer’s kiosk and Panch Mahal were a powerful reminder to his subjects of Akbar's strength. As masculine as the Taj is feminine, Fatehpur Sikri is an exquisite and unique example of Mughal architecture and enterprise.
Chand Baori is a 10th Century step well on 11 levels and 20 metres deep. Absolutely marvelous and the place to yourself. The village of Abhaneri has a has a small palace and a temple, the villagers live in mud huts, are very friendly and will proudly show you their home.
It's a detour off the road from Jaipur to Agra close to Fatehpur Sikri on the Golden Triangle route. Ignore driver resistance that its too far etc as most have never been there!
Amristar is the home of the Sikhs and a welcoming place to all travellers who take the trouble to go up to northern India. The famous Golden Temple is the main attraction, a real eye opening building that rises in the skyline of this affluent, bustling city. Eat with the locals at dahbas, informal tapas-like snack bars. The best is Brothers Dhaba in the small streets of the centre where delicious delicacies can be sampled for around 80 rupees - £1.50 - each.
Escape the madness of the city to a strange place, like an ancient lost city, damp and shaded, hidden on South Park Street in Kolkata. The gatekeeper to the British Cemetery will open the huge metal gates for a small donation and let you into a different world, a quiet tree filled oasis, where the huge graves themselves will tell the story of the Raj and The East India Company.
Here you will find Anglicised versions of Cenotaphs dating back to the 17th century. More than 800 old tombs remain of the original 2000, which will take your breath away. Wander through this eerie place and think about the many British who eventually succumbed to accidents, illness and disease, often at a very young age while the early Imperial outposts were being established.
Take time to ponder about how difficult their lives must have been before emerging back into the chaos of Kolkata.
65 Park Street, Park Street, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal 700016, India
+91 33 2217 2861
Google map: bit.ly/SDsIRn
This Hindu temple, dedicated to Meenakshi, is the centre of Tamil Nadu's city of Madurai, built between 1623 and 1655, attracting thousands of people each day. It contains 14 gopurams, the highest reaching 52m which are decorated with brightly coloured stone representations of gods, goddesses, animals and demons. It's enormous, about 45acres in size so you can spend a good few hours wandering around, taking in the sights, smells and sounds but I found it particularly tranquil late evenings. If you can handle large crowds then the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam(Chithirai) Festival which celebrates the marriage of Meenakshi and Shiva every April/May would be an incredible and unique experience as the Gods are led in procession blessing the devotees. The city is also home to an amazing tailor's market, the Ghandi Museum and Thirumalai Nayak Palace.
In 1948 'Bapu' was murdered at the Old Birla House. The beautiful building and gardens are now a museum and memorial to Gandhi. His spartan furniture is neatly displayed in his light-filled room. On the wall is a cabinet of his “worldly goods”, among them his specs and a spoon.
Following the concrete footsteps which trace the Mahatma's last walk is a moving experience. Before he reached his daily place of prayer he was shot, and today an unassuming memorial to the great man marks the exact spot.
Inside the house, his last days are documented by text and photography displayed on wall panels, including images from the great Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the last people to meet Gandhi before his death.
There is a multimedia museum on site, with plenty of exhibits to keep the children interested.
+91 11 2301 2843
Hours: Tues.-Sun., and 2nd Sat. of every month, 10-5
Google map: bit.ly/S9hxiK
Where else in the world would you find religious monuments adorned with sculptures so boldly erotic that they have earned the moniker The ‘Kama Sutra’ Temples? Constructed in 950-1050AD, these Hindu and Jain temples honour deities while prominently displaying striking scenes of an erotic nature worthy of an ‘18’ certificate. Aside from the erotica, these UNESCO World Heritage temples are worthy of a visit as wonderful examples of well preserved monuments of antiquity in a town that feels like something of a haven from the rest of manic India. As with the rest of the country, go with open eyes and an open mind, but whatever you do just go – you will not be disappointed.
Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India
Google map: bit.ly/Q4wrM2
From 1893 Henry Oakley created these labyrinthine paths which twist around above and below ground. James Pulham & Son constructed the man-made dark mysterious grottoes, interspersed with caverns into which natural light filters allowing water lilies, fuchsias and begonias to flourish. After WW11 the gardens were neglected, to the extent that the grottoes were earthed up. More recently they have been re-discovered and renovated.
There are ponds, a fountain, a bog garden with an Indian bean tree and giant rhubarb. Magnificent pine trees are dotted about, formal flower beds and fairy signs for children to seek out.
They sell a small selection of plants next to the friendly cafe where our sandwiches were made for us. A lovely day out in an extraordinary setting.
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