Avoid the queues - and get treated like a diplomat all for the price of breakfast. Book online at the restaurant Dachgarten.
Go straight to the front of any queue to get into the Reichstag and tell them you have booked breakfast (or I guess dinner), get your name checked off the list by the guards (this is not something you can do on the spur of the moment and that makes the anticipation all the more exciting) and get escorted through security by your personal escort to the lift that carries you to the restaurant at the foot of the Richard Rogers glass dome. Terrific breakfast (and we are vegetarian) and then have the run of the dome and fabulous views over most of Berlin. Awesome. When we went about a month ago the Dome was closed in about three different languages unless like us you were eating in the restaurant!
If you are disappointed by this experience you have no soul!
The Mother of all Airports, as Norman Foster once called it, visiting the now disused terminal (the third largest building in the world) is a little like walking around a classical Roman ruin.The sheer scale of the building is truly breathtaking, in particular the vast arrivals hall which was designed by Ernst Sagebiel. He worked in the same offices as Albert Speer, the architect who became very close to Hitler, of course, the brainchild of Germania. I think it is that worrying link with the past that makes walking through the site all the more interesting. I found myself questioning whether I was allowed to admire it or not. It is particularly eerie now it is empty but there are plenty of reminders of the airport's previous life as a major international terminal and the role it played in the 1948 Air Lift. The US used it a base during the Cold War, from 1945 and their old offices are left exactly as they were immediately after their departure in 1993. There is a also a German War bunker on the site, where the Luftwaffe kept a film archive of the air raids on Britain. What really intrigued me was the American basketball court which was built in an area the Germans had intended to use as a grand restaurant and dance hall. In the rooms visited on the tour, photography is permitted everywhere. The two hours spent with the guide were the most rewarding aspect of a recent trip to Berlin. The two hour tour, cost €8 per person (15-30 persons) and is bookable through Berliner Flughäfen. Brilliant.
+49 30 6091-1660 / 2250
Nearest U Bahn station; Platz der Luftbrücke
19th century industrial quarter that has been given a makeover so that old factory buildings have been renovated to create bars, galleries and trendy shops.
Just outside old town off Mere pst.
Lovely cafe located in a cellar on the Town Hall square (Raekoja Plats). Nice coffee, cakes and beer.
Considering the ambience and location it is not surprisingly more expensive than other locations in town. (Beer about €4).
Pezenas is a historic village in the Languedoc famous for its antique and bric a brac dealers. On the first Sunday in May hundreds (lots anyway!) of "brocanteurs" take over the streets of Pezenas to display their wares. Great if you want to stock up for a new house or get into renovating beautiful old wooden furniture.
20 mins from Beziers airport, serviced by Ryanair from Bristol & Luton or 45 mins from Montpellier from Stansted, Gatwick and others.
www.pezenas-couvent.com as an accommodation option, others at the pezenas tourist office: www.ot-pezenas-valdherault.com/index.php?lang=en
Google map: bit.ly/epCnOS
Cairo - a visit during the Revolution
Two good friends invited me on a trip to Cairo last week - it wasn't expected or perhaps to be particularly reIished, but after some web-surfing, it looked possible so why not? The Egyptians seemed to want tourists like never before, the politics were clearly fascinating, the museums were open but empty and flights were cheap. It was our best decision for years.
Dusk fell as we landed. 10 GB Pounds for the tourist visa and we were on our way to our hotel, met by a friendly driver and suffering the incredibly dense yet never aggressive traffic of the Cairo roads. Our hotel, 16 floors up in an old central office block overlooking the October Bridge, was perfect as a location yet unique in its strange mixture of facilities – three single rooms had been booked, and we had three rooms, but each with four or five beds. The lift went only up to the 14th floor, also the office of the Egyptian Urology Association ... It was cheap, it had free internet, breakfasts, tea whenever required and a friendliness second to none. And from one balcony, we could see the Tahrir Square side of the city, or from another, a few tanks patiently waiting for the curfew to start at midnight. Time to get out and take a walk!
During the next days, we saw the pyramids in Giza and Sakkara, visited the Egyptian Museum, spent hours in the Islamic Quarter's market and soaked-up the Cairo atmosphere – dinners in local restaurants didn't even dent our wallets, the entrance fees were as expected, and the souvenirs in the Egyptian half of the market were high quality and reasonably priced. Yes, the pressure to take a tour with a guide who offered “friendship with extras not included” could be a pain but it was possible to resist, given a smile and the gesture of the right hand crossing the heart. And most importantly, everyone at the hotel promised us that we would be absolutely safe in Cairo, and that's exactly what it was – four days without incident, sometimes alone in the evenings, male or female, even in the smallest of streets. The whole of Cairo's population seems to be concentrating on only one theme – the revolution and their pride in being part of it and of being Egyptian.
Walk anywhere and smiles are everywhere. Every visitor seems to be greeted with a “Welcome!” and if possible, a stop to ask your feelings about their revolution. Tahrir Square is not only open but it's a blend of soldiers, tea-makers, youths and families that must be unique. Children are dumped on top of tanks by parent anxious to photograph this historical moment – if a group forms, it's most likely to be a Military Policeman in a discussion with the locals. Music is live, order is respected, and it's very likely to find groups of locals painting not revolutionary murals but renewing worn-out road markings, or tidying-up the streets or even brewing-up yet more tea for the patient soldiers on chairs next to their tanks. Tahrir Square is certain to become a future tourism magnet of Egyptian history, to be reverred as are the others...
For some days, we even began to understand more about the many positive aspects of Islamic life, (especially in this secular country where women seemed to be as free as men and to comment about anything and everything) and to note that every society didn't need alcohol to refuel their happiness - their humanity, humour and friendliness was dominant. We, a near comedy touring format of the Italian, the American and the Englishman (with a Russian joining in from time to time), felt stimulated by the many discussions in the cafés and the streets. Even then, we couldn't resist trying the local beer so our last evening was in the visitors bar of the Semiramis Hotel, overlooking Tahrir.
This is a hotel that has seen Cameron, Westerwelle and other Heads come and go in the last few days as the world wakes-up to a newly emerging power in the Middle East – people.
In 18 days of revolution it had also had a few windows smashed (all cleared up by the locals next day) and witnessed the whole process from it's balconies facing Tahrir. And, of course, it has only seen the Heads, some regulars and the media teams as guests – the tourist market might now be slowly picking-up but it has been a very hard time for business. Are they crying over their books? Yes and no! A manager hoped that it will improve quickly and had great concerns for the staff losing their tips but could not hide his great pride in the Egyptian youth and military who made the revolution possible – he believes that Egypt, a country with such a high proportion of young people, can only benefit from the informed and energetic process that dared to protest and then surprised the world by the result of their peaceful actions.
As we walked across the square that evening, watching a few tanks lazily shutting-off the slip-roads to the bridge (whilst leaving enough back-roads open for any delayed traffic to find a way home), and then looking down on the whole scene from our hotel balcony, we wondered just how quickly the independent travellers would take to realise this gem of the "New Egypt “. One imaginative sign in English over the door of a restaurant seemed to sum-up our feelings – ”We have no branches!”.
Anyone who wants to see the wonders of the Old and New Egypts should jump on a plane or a ship soon...
Using Air Egypt, a reliable and friendly airline that's cheap at the moment, means that are suppoprting the Changes by keeping your cash inside the Egyptian economy... www. Egyptair.com or any of the agencies.
On a weekend head to the Winking Prawn cafe on North Sands, Salcombe. It's right on the beach with great views rain or shine and a fantastic big breakfast buffet - served from 8.45 am for the early birds. We usually scrape in at 10.30 so it can be more like brunch ... There's even the chance to read the paper as the kids can busy themselves with the wonderful wacky selection in the dressing up box. Nicely full then head onto the sands for a game of footie, rockpooling, chasing waves, digging in the sand or whatever takes your fancy till you're too cold too cope. Next head to Overbecks National Trust property just up the hill. It's a remarkable and intriguing little Edwardian gem with enough for the kids to love too. Unfortunately the house is not open in the winter but the warm and yummy tea room is and after warming up there it's well worth exploring the exotic garden (it looks so tropical its almost enough to convince yourself it's not winter), with its hidden paths and many levels, stunning views across the estuary and even giant Jenga to play on the lawn.
Lublin castle is a neo-gothic 1820's construction, with gardens and rooms of Polish art history. There is an amazing ethnography section with modern folk art. Most importantly, it is where I discovered the work of Stanislaw Ignancy Witkiewicz or Witkacy (1885 - 1939) as he is better known. This wonderfully imaginative, boundary pushing creator was home educated by his poet/painter father in the belle epoque of Krakov's intellegensia surrounded by artists, poets and performers. He travelled with the famous anthropologist Malinowski to Papua New Guinea and Australia after the fiance he cheated on shot herself. He was part of the 'formists' group influenced by cubism and futurism. His best work are his portraits of his friends painted under the influence of drugs - he wildly captures their characters like Quentin Blake on acid, sometimes noting the drugs consumed during the session on the portraits!
He also worked massively on avant garde theatre before committing suicide himself and is a national hero/treasure.
On 14 May 1972, a student Romas Kalanta killed himself by setting himself alight in the City Garden (Miesto Sodas) in protest at Soviet occupation in a similar way to the better known Jan Palach in Prague in 1969.
A memorial comprising 19 stones (one for each of the years of his short life) is laid out in the park.
At the City Garden (Miesto Sodas) off the main pedestrian steet Laisves Aleja.
Google map: bit.ly/hd1oKs
Early 20th century Russian fort, part of the defences used to defend the western flank of the Russian Empire.
However its claim to infamy is as a site of mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers.
Figures of the number of people murdered here differ but anything upwards of 30,000 were killed and buried in pits on this site.
It was not just Lithuanian Jews killed here but also Jews from France.
One of the original prison buildings remains as well as a giant Soviet era memorial to those killed here. Within the prison building you will see where Abraham Wechsler of Limoges etched into the wall before his untimely death: 'We are 500 Frenchmen.'
On your way you will probably pass through the old Jewish ghetto area on the west bank of the Neris river bounded by Jurbarko, Paneriu and Demokratu streets.
Interesting article by Jonathan Freedland when he visited this site:
Žemaičių pl. 73, LT-47435, Kaunas
+370 37 37 77 50
A few miles (7) outside the city off a motorway on the north western outskirts. Really have to get a taxi here.
Open daily 10.00 - 18.00 (except Tuesday). Admission 5 / 3Lt (about £1).
Google map: bit.ly/ehCf1D
With Ryanair setting up a new base in Kaunas, this is very much the cheapest way of getting to Vilnius.
Vilnius is only 1.5 - 2 hours away from Kaunas by train and costs about £4 each way.
Having said that Kaunas is worth a visit itself for it's old town and Nazi era 9th Fort concentration camp.
English language website for train times can be found at www.litrail.lt though they do tend to change train times frequently.
Going on a guided ghost walk around the pretty and historical city of Lincoln is a great way to spend an evening - especially on a cold, dark night as it just adds to the atmosphere! You get taken around the uphill area of the city, past the cathedral and castle too, being told tales of the many ghosts that haunt the nearby buildings. Ideal for adults and children alike!
Google map: bit.ly/aYsgcx
Not only are The Vaults under Edinburgh's South Bridge terrifying as you pass through a small stomach churning torture museum before you are lead in to the vaults themselves, but you are greeted by the cursed witches circle, said to cause fits and collapses upon entering. If The Vaults don't satisfy your quench for fear, the Greyfriar's Cemetery offers you a chance to walk in the footsteps of the infamous Burke and Hare body snatchers after dark which unveils Edinburgh's grim history. The graveyard also comes with it's very own 'Creepy Wee Shop in the Graveyard'.
Austins, the world's oldest department store, is a stunning building located in the Diamond, square at the very heart of the city centre.
It is well worth popping into. It is a quaint, in many ways, old fashioned kind of store but with top of the range goods in every department.
Best of all is the Roof Top Restaurant on the third floor with wonderful views over the city. I had a gigantic scone, butter, jam and a mug of coffee for an amazing £1.60!
Later I went back for lunch and had the lunchtime special. A main course, pudding, and a pot of tea or a coffee for £4.95, with good big portions. It was very busy! A wonderful mix of Derry ladies of a certain age, businessmen, mothers and toddlers. I staggered out after lunch and managed to cross to the benches in the square where I sat in the sun to let it all digest before tackling the walls of the city!
Beginning at Newcastle Keep and ending 200 miles later at the stunning Edinburgh Castle, the NCN Coast and Castles (South) cycle route allows for the perfect exploration of some of the UK’s finest castles against the backdrop of the beautiful north-east coastline.
Along the route Bamburgh Castle is my favourite. As you turn into the idyllic coastal town of Bamburgh on your faithful two-wheeled steed you will be greeted by the magnificent castle, standing proud aloft the rocky cliffs. The castle's continued grandeur illustrates its past life in great detail making it easy to cast yourself back in time and absorb its history.
Today it is open to the public and has guides and audio tours to enhance your visit. Events and group trips are also hosted.
For those less interested in pedalling their way, the castle is 42 miles from Newcastle and can be accessed by road, bus and rail.
Bamburgh Castle -
Coast & Castles Route Map (Sustrans) - www.sustransshop.co.uk/products/5045-ncn-coast--castles-south
Coast & Castles Route Website - www.coast-and-castles.co.uk
Google map: tinyurl.com/37mgvda
Cumbrae - which is situated in the Firth of Clyde, offers a great deal to the inquisitive visitors as they disembark from the ferry (10
minutes from Largs). A fraction over 10 miles in circumference, it has many striking geological features. Pusuits for the more energetic, include SCUBA-diving, golf (Millport Golf Club), sailing and kayaking (National Water Sports Centre); while those intent on a more relaxed experience can choose to stroll along one of the many signposted walks, or enjoy the impressive seaviews from a number of sandy beaches and rocky shorelines. What's more, Cumbrae can lay
claim to title of 'cycling centre of excellence' – given a seemingly endless supply of hire bikes and just a few slow-moving vehicles. On
a more spiritual note, the solitary town of Millport boasts the smallest cathedral in Britain – just one more gem that Scotland's best
kept secret has to offer.
Spanish Civil War tour in English around Barcelona visiting some of the key sites in the city between 1936-1939. The tour covers themes such as Anarchism, George Orwell, the realities of daily life and bombing. A different way at looking at the city.
This bus tour takes in 20 stops and lasts about an hour and a half. The tour takes in the Shankill and Falls Roads, as well as the Titanic Quarter, city centre, Stormont parliament building & the university quarter, with a live commentary.
Departures every 20 mins in peak season.£12.50 for adults, £6 for kids.
Pick up this red sightseeing bus from the High Street near the Albert Clock Tower.
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