See the wonderful Byzantine mosaics in the churches of Ravenna, some of which are 1,500 years old. A trip to the Basilica di San Vitale is a must - the mosaics are the most impressive and of great significance. Buy a combo ticket and also see the mosaics of Basilica di Sant'Appollinare Nuovo. In total there are eight UNESCO sites. Have a wander around the historic centre, Piazza del Popolo and don't forget a visit to Dante's tomb while you're there.
Le Corbusier's building offers the perfect mixture of space and light required for a museum. It is set in an affluent part of the new town, next to a park. On the ground floor is the small Kite Museum, worth a quick look round if kites are your bag (they are a big part of north Indian culture). Some beautiful examples are pressed against backlit glass walls, allowing the visitor to get up close to these exotic paper-thin works of art. The colours and designs are as intricate and varied as one would expect in a state renowned for its textiles and design. The rest of the simple space is lined with text, photographs and drawings depicting the history of kites. The style of writing is typical of the slightly archaic forms of expression sometimes used by well-educated Indians: "...Cries of victory or defeat rend the air, and everyone enters the fray."
The main museum is accessed up a concrete ramp from the central well area. On our visit, a solitary guard sat behind the entrance desk and proffered a visitors' book for us to sign. We were then left to our own devices.
The space inside is voluminous and unadorned, a perfect characterless backdrop to house the exhibits.
At first I was wrapped up in the functional architecture and big spaces, but when I turned my attention to the exhibits I rapidly became less impressed. The lack of maintenance sadly lets down this museum: display cases, although being furiously cleaned on the outside by a local woman, were thick with dust inside. The areas devoted to Gujarati handicrafts (for which the state is best known) were dull and uninspiring, and what should have been vibrant and colourful artefacts hung limply from the wall, or lay neglected in cases. A series of areas devoted to different ages were hardly given any explanation, and I was left wondering what I was looking at. A nice section on photography, including images and camera equipment, was so badly lit I could barely make them out. The modern art section had some interesting work, but a numbered list on the wall (simply giving the artists name and date of birth, no title) did not relate to any of the paintings, none of which had numbers.
The guard handed us a pamphlet as we left; it contained a plan and some information on the exhibits. Perhaps it might have been a better idea to give this to us as we entered.
The final nail in the coffin were the toilets. Housed outside the museum, behind a screen of trees, is a separate his and hers block. We have lived in India for nearly two years and are not easily phased by Indian toilets any more, but these were so bad that we felt compelled to do something we've never bothered with before: we complained to the museum manager. Surely a city's museum should have plumbed-in loos? And if they don't, perhaps they could clean the excrement-covered floors and walls?
Unless they do something soon, the City Museum's cabinet displays will disappear under a ton of dust and the unplumbed lavatories under a sea of shit. Le Corbusier must be spinning in his grave. It's a terrible waste of a fantastic space and fascinating exhibits.
Bhagtacharya Rd Sanskar Kendra, Sanskar Chendra
+91 (079) 26578369
Google map: bit.ly/wly6dz
It’s worth going to Padua just to see Giotto’s masterpiece in this chapel. The fresco cycle has been brilliantly and painstakingly restored; to prevent further damage you have to spend 15 minutes in an air-conditioned chamber before you can go in. Once in, it’s breathtaking, every surface bursting with colour and life. Giotto was the first artist to portray Christ as a real person and the story of his life covers the walls of the chapel while the entire wall above the chapel entrance is covered by his terrifying depiction of the Last Judgement. Just remember to book your tickets in advance online.
In Sardinia, spend a morning wandering around the Bronze Age megalithic ‘nuraghi’ that dot the island. Little is known about the nuragic people or their culture although most archaeologists assume the buildings were used as religious temples, meeting halls, or military strongholds. The best example, dating from somewhere around the twelfth century BC, is Su Nuraxi Barumini. The complex includes the fortress and the village surrounding it. Walk through the village where you can see remains of stone huts and then climb down the narrow stone steps that lead to the fortress to get the real atmosphere. From the inside there are several chambers off the main tower and looking up you can see the blue sky through the dome at the top.
If you only have time to see one gallery in Milan, make it this one. Set up in 1618, it is home to over 1500 paintings by artists such as Raphael, Luini, Titian, Caravaggio, Botticelli and Brueghel. It also has a large collection of work by Da Vinci including his ‘Codex Atlanticus' and many of his notebooks. The building itself was completely restored in the 1990s and is a fine example of Lombard architecture with mullioned windows, frescoed walls and vaulted ceilings. The visit ends in the impressive library, rich in classical manuscripts, notably Homer and Virgil. Another bonus is the lack of crowds, so you always have a great view without having to jostle with the hordes!
The medieval hilltop village of Ceriana in western Liguria has many attractions, fabulous food, mountain walks, splash pools, but perhaps most unusual are the six choirs, famous for preserving the ancient tradition of regional polyphonic singing, or drone music. The thriving choirs, linked to the confraternities, have a calendar of events throughout the year. They are fiercely proud of their unbroken tradition of rural singing in the valley, some of which is sung in local ‘Cerianasco’ dialect.
Italo Calvino, the writer, was a partisan fighter there during the Second World War, and some of the modern (20th century) ballads recall the events of this period.
To hear the choirs, go to the Easter festival, or even better the festival of Madonna della Villa in September, which starts with a torch-lit procession to the chapel, and includes the choirs singing in the piazza. Festivals are both moving and entertaining, with most being accompanied by copious amounts of locally made food and wine.
If you are lucky, you don’t need to attend a special event; an impromptu session can happen at any social gathering.
These are very much village events, not tourist spectacle, but the welcome to strangers is open and sincere.
Pick up a Chianti tour map in any Tuscan town or village and drive through the amazing hillside villages that make up the Chianti Classico collective. This wine is at the very heart of Italian culture. The people, places, food and wine on this village tour are the very essence of Italy, and the countryside is both varied and astounding. Stop off and explore each village, proudly displaying the Chianti Classico collective emblem of the black rooster, and experience Italian village life off the beaten track.
Between Florence and Sienna, covering the villages of Greve, Radda, Gaiole, Castellina and Panzano.
Google map: bit.ly/xo7rZF
Situated on a hilltop just outside the town, these painted Etruscan burial chambers inspired D.H.Lawrence to write what was to be his final, most heartfelt travelogue, Etruscan Places. Although there are more than 6000 tombs, only about 15 are open to visitors each day. The wall paintings are surprisingly celebratory, depicting scenes of dancing, music, feasting and even sex! After exploring the tombs, go into town to visit the Tarquinia National Museum, devoted to Etruscan exhibits and sarcophagi excavated from the necropolis. Be sure not to miss the almost life-size pair of winged horses from the pediment of a Tarquinian temple, one of the greatest Etruscan masterpieces ever discovered.
These two Tuscan hill towns are in close proximity to each other but very different - you can do them in a day. I suggest Volterra first so you can then enjoy San Gimignano without the hordes of tourists and great light at dusk to take photos. Volterra has the Roman amphitheatre, great panoramas and a wonderful museum dedicated to its Etruscan heritage. San Gimignano has a medieval feel, with 15 out of its 70 original towers still standing. You can climb up one of these and get excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Both towns are unique and a must if you are visiting Tuscany.
Google map: bit.ly/Athd8H
I was reading your article on wines in the Czech Republic and didn't see anything about Burcak, a young Moravian wine. I read about it in The God Complex, a new thriller novel set in Prague.
I visited Prague last fall and took the book and printed off a free self-guided tour from the book's website. I learned more interesting things about Prague from that book than the guided tour I paid for there. Things such as Burcak, where to find it, and that it's only served in the fall. Luckily, it was fall when I visited. I also found the pig's knee restaurant described in the book. The book had enough history/background of the sites listed in the tour to make it a good compliment/replacement for a local tour. Just as the tour says, it will turn your trip into an adventure. It's definitely worth packing for a weekend trip.
The Amalfi coast is beautiful but especially worth a visit is the island of Capri. When you get there you walk along narrow ancient streets to the old Carthusian monastery of St Giacomo, a sight in itself. The monks developed the perfumes (with the Pope's special permission) from old formulas based on the native flowers and herbs of the island and now they are sold all over the world. Walk to one of the small idyllic beaches, eat local fish, drink the local wine and have a swim - pure bliss.
Google map: bit.ly/xYOf5u
When the usual sites in Rome are heaving with people, Ostia Antica is a place of superb Roman sites which are blessedly peaceful. The site was once the sea port of ancient Rome but was silted up after the decline of the Roman Empire. Many buildings have been excavated and it is possible to spend a whole day here enjoying the sites and rural peace. We were there on a Saturday and it was not mobbed like the centre of Rome.
Google map: bit.ly/Aet2ld
This splendid 10-room gallery on the Grand Canal - inexplicably absent from many online Venice guides - houses a delightful collection of 19th and 20th century art (as well as a smaller Oriental Art Museum on the top floor). While the great majority of the works are by Italian artists possibly less well-known to a general audience, some big international names are also represented, with fine pieces by Bonnard, Chagall, de Chirico, Kandinsky, Klimt, Mirò, Tanguy.
All of the Borromean Islands are magical – but Isolo Bella is the crowning glory. The Borromean family employed only the most accomplished architects and gardeners to transform a rocky crag into the setting for a magnificent Baroque palace and Italianate gardens. A visit will provide a taste of how an aristocratic Italian family lived in the 17th century.
As well as admiring the grand architecture and decoration, the palace contains a wealth of treasure including valuable paintings, sculptures, musical instruments, Flemish tapestries and gilded ornaments. However, on our visit we were most fascinated by the collection of marionettes and the grottos on the lowest floor. The audio guide was very entertaining and informative.
We didn’t really do the gardens justice on our visit, as it was pouring with rain, however we did brave the rain to admire the terraces and the Giardino dell’Amore.
The basilica of San Clemente, not far from the Coliseum, is three buildings in one - a church within a church within a church.
The church above ground dates from 1100 and is simply beautiful; one of the most lavishly decorated in Rome. A €3 entrance fee will take you down to the other two levels. There is a fourth-century church below which still houses the remains of ancient frescoes. Below that is the dark and intriguing house of Mitra (the Roman god of the equinoxes), which dates from the first-century, and was later used as a secret meeting place by early Christians. Amazing to think that this labyrinth of tiny rooms and corridors is hidden below two other churches and has still survived.
Ranging between 20 and 200 feet in diameter, these Orwellian sentinels tower eerily over the shingle peninsular of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve. Erected between 1928 and 1930 the three concrete 'listening ears' detected the approach of enemy aircraft, but when radar was invented before WW2 they became redundant.
You can get up close to these impressive feats of engineering is by joining one of Dr Richard Scarth's walks organised by the Romney Marsh Countryside Project. Check the noticeboard on the Project's website for dates.
Red coats guided tours are walking tours that give you an opportunity to see places on foot that could easily be missed. The advantage of a guided tour is their knowledge of the town and the hidden treasures. The only disadvantage is no pets allowed only guide dogs. So no good if you want to walk with your dog. They do charge for groups of adults but not for single adult check when booking.
C/O Exeter Visitor Information & Tickets
Tel: 01392 265203
Fax: 01392 665260
This is a celebration of Charles Dickens and everyone dresses up and parades up Rochester High Street. It is always crowded and you also have Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral to view. It's a real family day full of fun and events. It's nice to pack a picnic and as there are loads of lovely places where you can set up and enjoy while the kids run around.
History aficionados will love the “Third Reich” Walking Tour in Munich. This three-hour tour takes you on a truly interesting walk through the streets of Munich where the Nazi party rallied, the beer house where Hitler gave his speeches and where the famous putsch took place, the White Rose movement monument and many more interesting places. The tour will raise questions like, how could the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century happen and put history into context at the real locations. During the tour the guide will reveal traces of the past and footprints of Nazi rule still visible today. The most interesting history lesson you can get in Munich.
It runs every Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 10:45 am from Marienplatz (by the column). You can also join the pick-up option at 10:00 am at Hauptbanhof (Starbucks in platform 11).
Official website: www.newmunichtours.com/daily-tours/third-reich.html
Although it no longer brews its own beer, this wonderful multi-roomed pub - dating back to 1885 - occupies a charming suburban villa that evokes pastoral calm yet sits under what would have been one of the flight paths into the old Tempelhof Airport. It's got a lovely shaded biergarten and - bizarrely - a tree growing in one of the bars. You can't go wrong with a glass of Rixdorfer Hell ale on a balmy evening.
Glasower Strasse 27, 12051 Berlin-Neukolln
Google map: bit.ly/H8FJBD
Tel 030 626 8880
Nearest transport U7 at Grenzallee or U8 at Hermannstrasse.
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