Most eastern European cities have a beautiful town square tucked away somewhere, but Warsaw's Old Town Market Place (Rynek Starego Miasta) is unique. The old town was completely flattened in World WarII - one of Warsaw's 'sister' cities is Coventry. Between 1946 and 1980 this square, and the rest of the old centre, was painstakingly re-built, using as many of the existing bricks and detail as could be salvaged from the rubble. Warsaw is truly a phoenix city.
The whole area is now a World Heritage site and there is a castle, cobbles and horse-drawn carriages to beat the best of them. The Warsaw Historical Museum is in the square if you want to find out more. Afterwards, watch the world go by at one of the square's restaurants - try some serious Polish food such as pork knuckle with sauerkraut.
In the heart of North Shields, down steeply from the town, is the Fish Quay. The number of boats is minuscule compared to its heyday, but the smell of fish and chips from the many outlets and the buzz from restaurants cannot disguise the working nature of this area still. This is further evident from a glance up the Tyne at the huge oil platform in the yard over the river. Stroll down towards the sadly no more Chain Locker pub to the ferry, nip across the water and head down to the beaches of South Shields or the gracefully curving pier, perhaps calling in at the Alum Rock for a pint of real ale or to the Custom House for some culture.
North Shields metro station and head downhill.
Google map: bit.ly/fxTX9U
Wuppertal is a midsize industrial city in the Ruhr, within an hours travel of Cologne Dortmund or Dusseldorf, with a large chemical factory as its main employer. Possibly this explains its absence from any tourist itineraries. But it does have the Schwebebahn - a 100-year -old monorail that runs along above the river and roads, while gently swaying 10 metres above the ground, linking all the town districts together. Spend a day or two here, riding the rail and then visiting Wuppertals excellent zoo. All inclusive tickets are available at the stations. The lion enclosure is particularly recommended. We stayed at the ArtFabrik hotel which although not centrally located has decor and a vibe that seriously added to the fun of the weekend.
Nunhead Cemetery is one of the best places for a stroll in southeast London.
It's one of the least known, but most attractive, of the great Victorian cemeteries of London. Consecrated in 1840, it is one of the seven Victorian cemeteries established in a ring around the outskirts of London.
Some parts of the cemetery have been renovated in recent years, and the paths are well-maintained and the ruined yet elegant Anglican chapel sensitively preserved. However, there are also wild parts, with overgrown secret trails, romantic areas, spooky tombstones, beautiful trees, abundant wildlife and crumbling Gothic architecture to discover. It's a lovely place for a Sunday stroll and photo opportunities abound.
The Brockley Footpath, leading between the walled border of the cemetery and the covered reservoirs, is a strenuous workout, leading steeply uphill, but I wouldn't undertake it at night.
Nunhead Cemetery North Gate
Linden Grove, SE15 3LP
Google map: bit.ly/gfDp1e
Nearest overground railway station: Nunhead
Germany’s capital Berlin is, for me, one of the best cities on the continent. Berlin is exciting and packed full of history; the best way that I’ve found of getting the most of it is the walking tour and pub crawl run by the New Berlin Guide. The tour starts mid morning and lasts for four hours, it covers a comprehensive range of Berlin's history not just the recent world wars - although this naturally dose get a big share of the time. The tour is done almost chronologically and starts by discussing the Prussian empire and the founding of Germany, after passing through the Brandenburg gate it discusses the beginnings of the European unrest that led to World War Two at the base of the Reichstag, it moves through several key sites and finishes on museum island to discuss the falling of the wall and the origin of the term “Big Lebowski”. At the end of the tour the friendly and knowledgeable guide will inform you of the pub crawl taking place that evening and, should you want to indulge in the debauchery, they will give you a stamp which will entitle you to a reduction (the walking tour is free but the pub crawl does charge a nominal fee). The pub crawl manages to avoid a lot of the shortcomings I’ve found on other such ventures: you aren’t herded around, the organisers don’t feel it necessary to shout every instruction and you don’t have to wear a “look I’m a tourist” T-shirt (although the fact that you are a tourist is not, I shouldn’t imagine, difficult to notice). The “crawl” itself goes to very peculiar bars and doesn’t stick to the generic pubs and clubs that you’d expect. A highlight is the Beach bar – a load of shacks selling beer behind a squat house come art studio. At another bar we were told to show our stamps because they were Serbians on the door and “they don’t take any shit.” After this we jumped on a tram and headed out to a club where the night was finished and we were left to our own devices. Not for kids and not for grownups Berlin, and the New Berlin experience, is for inquisitive young people looking for a good time – I liked it so much I went back two years after my first visit to do it all again!
Notions of the Weimar Republic perhaps discourage some people from visiting Weimar, but its history goes back much further than that. Mostly it is a beautiful, medieval city, small enough to walk around and well restored in its year as European City of Culture back in 1999. Go there for the architecture - the Haus am Horn, the original Bauhaus, Goethes house in the park and many more, and for its vibrant cultural life. July is a good time when the University opens its doors for the annual show of art, design and architecture students work.
If you're in Pisa on the 24th/25th of March then you can see in Pisa's second (or first, if you're a patriotic local) New Year.
The tradition dates back to the glory days of Pisa as a mighty maritime republic and, in an Indiana Jones moment, the new year is said to begin when a sunbeam breaks through a specially placed window in the cathedral, lighting up a precisely positioned marble egg.
Cue lots of kissing, medieval costumes, marching, flag throwing and carousing. The main venue is clearly the cathedral, framed as it is by the Leaning Tower and the splendid baptistry in the 'Field Of Miracles'.
The tower, alongside the cathedral, finally free of all scaffolding and gleamingly white as of early 2011, may be ascended and you can book at the official site or use the second site below if you'd like to book for a date further in the future than allowed on the official site.
Duomo di Pisa, Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, Tuscany
Google map: bit.ly/hlM9oY
The Bavaria Filmstadt gives guided tours around the Film Studios where movies such as Metropolis and Das Boot were filmed. It is a fun tour where you visit film sets (including the Das Boot submarine), and you will even be able to re-enact short film sequences. A fun day out away from the usual sightseeing and tourist trail.
The Bavaria Film Studios are located in Grünwald, south side of Munich. Take Tram 25 in the direction of Grünwald to station Bavariafilmplatz. From there, it’s about a 10-minute walk.
Bavariafilmplatz 7, 82031 Geiselgasteig bei München
+49 89 6499-2000
For the best views of Munich climb the Peterskirche Tower.
The climb is a little bit steep, but for a few euros you will get the most amazing views of Munich including Marienplatz, Frauenkirche, the old Rathaus and far away into the city. Highly recommended.
Rindermarkt 1, 80331 Munich (opposite the new Rathaus in Marienplatz)
Google map: bit.ly/f9rAyV
Gouba started up again for spring Sunday 13 March.
This modern bazaar is located in the unique architectural gem, the Gozsdu udvar (courtyard passageway between Kiraly utca and Dob utca in the heart of Pest's Jewish quarter).
Unique antiques, gifts, gastronomy, performances. Try Hungarian palinka (fruit brandy) or fine local wines.
KIraly utca 13 and Dob utca 16, Budapest
Every Sunday 10am to 6pm (although you can walk through Gozsdu udvar at any time during the day, the gates are closed at night)
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!
After the obligatory visit to Disneyland Paris, the kids, four and six years old, were even more excited to visit Sleeping Beauty's real castle. This beautiful castle inspired the story of Sleeping Beauty, and you can imagine how the dark forest behind it might suddenly engulf it. There are a series of rooms displaying various scenes from the story, using mannequins dressed in beautiful historical costumes. A gruesome collection of arms also adds to the experience.
Chefchaouen (local calls it Chaouen) is one of the prettiest towns in Morocco. It's in the Riff mountains. I only had a short time so I wanted to have a guide to show me around. I contacted Gite Talassemtane Tours and asked probably 100 questions to make sure the trip plan is perfect. Fatima from GT answered each question with care and she was just great taking care of my needs. Their speciality is rural Chaouen. Most of the westerners visit just the medina but don't make the mistake. You gotta see the rural Chauen and for it, you gotta use someone like Fatima
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
With the demise of Gainsbourg (it's been turned into a supermarket) there's only Zwiebelfisch and Diener flying the flag for old Berlin in this chic square between the K'Damm and Kantstrasse. Once a hotbed of revolutionary chatter, it's now a very laidback joint that seems totally at ease with itself. Papered in thousands of posters and old photos, it's got a chilled-out vibe thanks in no small measure to the genial owner, a veteran of West Berlin's pre-1989 counter culture. Zwiebelfisch, incidentally, is an old printing expression meaning a letter printed in the wrong font.
It's a 1.3km length of the the Berlin Wall with amazing art work recently restored. Pollution and graffiti ruined the first lot so get to see it before this happens again. (I visited on 7th March 2011)
A building that is now home to the interior ministry.
Look out for the bricked up windows of the cellars. This was the location from where people were dispatched to Siberia or to their deaths.
A plaque outside on the wall in Estonian reads 'This building housed the headquarters of the organ of repression of the Soviet occupational power. Here began the road to suffering for thousands of Estonians'.
The nearby St Olaf's church spire was used by the KGB to send radio transmissions.
Not open to the public.
Pagari 1 on corner of Pagari & Pikk ( a stones throw away from St Olaf's church)
Google map: bit.ly/eVUK7B
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
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