This is an amazing site. I didn't know about it until I took a tour to the Sahara but it is a truly magnificent building. You really do feel that you have been transported back to Roman times.
While Leipzig is a city destination in itself, if you have some extra time in Berlin it also makes for a good day trip from the capital. Just over an hour on the train will bring you to one of the former DDR's major cities. It's recently restored pedestrianised old centre has a coffee culture vibe and lots of historic sights to see. From the church Johan Sebastian Bach used to be a choirmaster at 'Thomaskirche,' to the fascinating Stasi Museum 'Runden Ecke', and the 'Nikolaikirche' which used to be the meeting point for the peaceful protests of 1989, that eventually brought down the GDR government, a day here will fly by.
Sachsenhausen may not immediately strike you as 'day trip' material, but it is an important part of history. 40-50 minutes NW of Berlin (and cheap and easy by metro) you can visit the memorial of the harrowing chapter of German history. You will find the cynical 'Arbeit macht frei' on the entrance gate. Liberated in 1945 it was soon used again by the Soviets until 1961. Most of the buildings remain, including the haunting gas chamber and prison cells.
Free entry, closed on Mondays. A short easy walk from Oranienburg station and you get to see a very different part of Germany on the walk there.
*Not recommended for youngsters*
It is these small little known museums which really make Madrid a great city to visit. It is off the tourist trail but is still really worth seeing especially as it is one of the musuems in Madrid which has free entry all of the time. The friendly and enthusiastic staff will happily give a guided tour (in Spanish) of this museum which is set in the abandoned station of Chamberí which is in exactly the same state as it was left in when the station closed forever in 1966. A video explains
(in Spanish only) the entire history of Madrid's metro network. The only thing which reminds you that this time capsule is set in modern Madrid are the modern metro trains which thunder through the abandoned station (a safety barrier along one of the platforms prevents you falling from onto the tracks as you admire the untouched 1920s posters adorning the walls).
This abandoned station is so worth seeing so visit it!
Nearest metro station - Bilbao
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday only
Google map: bit.ly/Rf7Sfg
This museum lies witihn the golden triangle of must see museums in Madrid - Prado, Thyssen & Reina Sofia so it is easily missed out because it isn't as prominent as the others. However this museum is worth a visit even if you are not that interested in ships and all things naval as it contains some fabulous paintings of famous explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortés, Spanish kings and queens, dictators and important politicians thus providing a focused and contextualised view of Spanish history. But do not ignore the other naval exhibits such as the first known European map to show North America, armour, compasses and plenty of early navigational instruments. The entry fee is four euros.
The royal palace is the main reason why Aranjuez draws in the crowds. Don't (as I did) get caught out by the fact that entry is only free on Wednesday for EU citizens only between the times of 5pm and 8pm.
I took my British passport with me in the morning and expected free entry as the palace website informed me that the entry was free for EU citizens all day. But the man on the ticket desk soon put me right and I had to fork out nine euros for a ticket. Only having free entry to the palace as late as 5pm does make it rather difficult to fit in the palace and gardens before the last buses leave for Madrid. For my nine euros I did get to see all of the royal rooms which Isabel II used including the highlight of the palace - the smoking (or Arab) room built in the style of the Alhambra in Granada and the porcelain room. The rooms have not been altered at all since royalty left the palace. Both the smoking/Arab room and porcelain room are not to be missed. The only thing I did not like at all were the over eager security guards constantly following me all the time ensuring that I did not take photos with my camera (photography is absolutely forbidden anywhere in the palace and signs everywhere and a security guard always behind you remind you of this at every turn). I did find their constant presence to be rather annoying and it spoiled my visit somewhat. The information given in English and Spanish about each room is rather scant and is not always helpful.
+34 918 91 07 40
Google map: bit.ly/Uj75sz
I stayed in Quito for about two weeks and did several day tours to the Laguna Quilotoa, the Otavalo Market, Mindo and a biking tour to the Cotopaxi with Gulliver Expeditions which I really enjoyed. The guides were professional and very nice! Afterwards I also decided to do a jungle tour with them to the Samona Lodge one of the best experiences ever! I can highly recommend them:)
A beautiful castle, village, and forest just 40 minutes from the centre of Paris. There are loop walks around the forest starting from right by the train station, which give you an immediate sense of escape from the intensity of Paris. Then from there you can wander through the formal parkland towards the centre of the town. Plenty of restaurants offer lunch or dinner, or enormous ice creams and crepes. Then the chateau, the former country escape of French royalty, offers fine gardens, a large pond, grand rooms and plenty of history to explore.
Château de Fontainebleau, 77300 Fontainebleau
+33(0)1 60 71 50 70
Google map: bit.ly/QNMMyB
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is a quiet serene affair in the east. Famous graves include Jim Morrison of the Doors, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Playwright Moliere. It's a tranquil, beautifully manicured setting with graves running along avenues creating a peaceful village of the dead; certainly worthy of a visit. Maps are available so you can best find the gravestones that interest you and best of all entry is entirely free.
Inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage list in 1979, the cathedral is reckoned to be one of the finest pieces of Gothic architecture in the world. Work began in 1145, and although it is still in good condition, restoration is currently being undertaken. The stained-glass windows, for which it is most famous, were added in the 12th and 13th century and are worth the trip alone: jewel-like tones flood the interior during the day, adding colour and warmth to the sepulchral atmosphere. There's a light show in Chartres during the summer, with special attention paid to the cathedral.
If you've viewed the original (or the poster) and would like to see the real thing, then head out of Paris for a day to Claude Monet's house. The "Water Lilies" may not be flowering, but standing in the garden of the father of impressionism is like being inside one of his paintings: the Japanese foot bridge is right there in front of you. Painstakingly re-built, the house and garden have been restored to how they would have looked in Monet's day. A trip here beats watching the paint dry.
Standing above the Fortyfoot beach in Dún Laoghaire is a Martello tower. Just like its cousins in southern England, it was built in the early nineteenth century as part of Britain's defence system against the promised invasion from Napoleon. In 1904 it was home to James Joyce for a short while and as a result starred in his most famous work, Ulysses.
When I visited the beach at the end of August, entrance to the tower was free, so it seemed churlish to miss such an opportunity to have a look a bit closer at the great man's life. Manuscripts, first editions, drawings, family photos, two death masks and explanations of Joyce's life and works fill the walls and cabinets on the first floor. Half way up the narrow stone staircase of the tower is a single room which has been furnished as it would have been during Joyce's stay. It was sparse and would have been cold in winter, but there was a palpable romanticism about the place.
At the top, where the canon track is still in place, there is a fine view across the bay. I was so inspired by the place that I bought a secondhand copy of Ulysses later that weekend.
James Joyce Tower and Museum, Fortyfoot, Sandycove Point, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin IrelandHarbour, Sandycove
+353 (1) 280 9265
Google map: bit.ly/OCF0bF
Take the train from the Gare-du-Nord to Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh spent his last three months. Once there - walk up past the church and pretty backstreets to the cemetery where Van Gogh and his brother Theo are burried, taking in fabulous views of the town and familiar countryside. Carry on alongside the iconic cornfields and drop down into the Absinthe Museum (check opening times)before a delicious meal and genuine absinthe at the Auberge Ravoux where Van Gogh lived and worked. A wonderful day out whether into painting or not.
44 rue Callé, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise
+33(0)1 30 36 83 26
Google map: bit.ly/S6bB9a
Place de la Mairie, 95430 Auvers sur Oise
+33 (0)1 30 36 60 60
Google map: bit.ly/QH1Q10
With its skew-whiff half-timbered houses, thatched roofs, rolling hills and ancient church, Lavenham is every American tourist's idea of little England. All of this medieval Englishness is encapsulated in one building: the Guildhall. While it won't impress you with its size (it's quite small compared to many National Trust buildings), the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of its rooms across a number of buildings, lends it a magical Grimm's fairytale atmosphere.
Inside, everyone loves Rammeses the mummified cat, believed to have been interred next to the chimney to guard against evil spirits. The dungeon is too well-lit to be spooky, but the dark cells outside in the yard are home to a man-trap and hearse, enough to send a few shivers up my spine. There are displays in every room which tell the story of the town, but I was content to soak up the building itself: a great place for conjuring stories of a ghostly nature.
Madrid's main cathedral built to honour Madrid's patroness - the Almudena Virgin.
Please respect those in the cathedral who are praying in this glorious building by keeping as quiet as you can. Look up and marvel at the beautifully coloured ceilings (the dome is particularly beautiful). Entry is free but a donation of one to two euros is suggested
An Egyptian temple built 2,200 years ago taken apart brick by brick in Egypt and shipped over to Spain and then finally put back together in Madrid. The whole story of the moving of the temple from Egypt to Spain and its history is covered in great detail in the museum's displays and videos. An interesting and unusual thing to find plonked tastefully in Madrid's western suburbs. Behind the temple there are very good views of Madrid's western suburbs, the Casa de Campo park and the mountains to the west of the city. The park is a lovely setting for family picnics too.
Entry is free.
Rouen in Normandy is just far enough away from Paris on a fast train to escape its day-trippers but not so that it would break your alarm clock or budget.
Apart from the wondrous cathedral, it is one of the homes of impressionism. Visit a gallery or see the interesting old town where you can photograph, shop or people-watch from a cafe to your hearts' content.
Try the fortified medieval town of Provins 1h25 by train (from Gare de l'Est) to the south-east of Paris. Away from the usual foreign tourist route. You tend only to find French visitors. Great with kids as there's a donjon, ramparts, underground passages. In summer there are lots of events such as jousting knights, etc. Plenty of restaurants from the good and cheap crepe (Le Fleur du Sel in the old town) to the fancier place with lovely outdoor dining areas.
With its clean air and tranquil pace, a day in the medieval town of Provins is the perfect antidote to hectic city life. Take in the view from La Tour César, enjoy a reasonable menu 'prix fixe' in the square of this old fair town, and check the website for medieval shows taking place. Lounge on the deck chairs in the intoxicating rose garden before enjoying their café speciality of thé gourmand (rose tea, delicate macarons and rose ice cream) before you feel ready to face the city again.
Most people stop at the National Trust of Scotland centre and walk up the hill behind it for the view of Loch Shiel, the 1745 Monument and the railway viaduct, have a cup of tea and move on. No problem with that but if you want to spend a little more time in this beautful area and get away from the "crowds", take the forest trail on the left after crossing the road towards the monument. After 30 minutes along a well signposted path you are at the top of "Loch view" with a beautiful view of Loch Shiel all to yourself. Stunning in the sunshine!
Glenfinnan, Highland, Fort William PH37 4LT
+44(0)844 493 2100
Google map: bit.ly/P9Grh3
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