India’s most romantic city? If you enjoy having the hackneyed Hollywood idea of romance shoved down your throat by every guide book, then yeah, I s’pose it’s romantic. We arrived there for our three day, two night stay on 14th February.
It’s certainly pretty: a wide stretch of shallow water (the lake) is surrounded by limestone and marble hotels and a Monte Carlo-esque palace. Decorative islands float in the middle. At night, with the soft orange lights from the surrounding buildings bouncing off the water, it is like something out of A Thousand and One Arabian nights. If comparisons with Italy must be made then it’s more like Lake Garda than the Lido. Of course, it’s impossible to get away from the James Bond island hysteria that surrounds the Taj Lake Palace Hotel (Jag Niwas island) on every page of every guide to Udaipur (it is where they filmed some of the scenes in Octopussy). It’s also where the nouveaux stay. And at £430 a night for the cheapest room (breakfast not included) or £6,200 for the Presidential suite, they’d better be riche as well. We decided not to stay there.
My choice of accommodation for Udaipur turned out to be a winner which I can happily recommend. We enjoyed an enviable 360° view across the city from the rooftop of the sixteenth century Anjani Hotel.
On the first day we were a little disheartened by the streets and lanes packed with touts and shops around the lake and palace. We felt like aliens in this wholly touristy area. Nevertheless, we shelved our reservations and joined the throng. Shunning the ‘antiques’, carpets, and tailoring being thrust at us, we enjoyed a leisurely walk around the main area and across a scenic bridge over Lake Pichola. Ending up at the end of a track by the water, right opposite the City Palace, we watched the sun go down over Udaipur from the best viewpoint in town, in the company of professional photographers and the homeless.
The next day we joined the queues at the fairytale City Palace. With its balconies, cupolas, ornate towers, palaces within palaces, opulent state rooms and extravagant private rooms (check out one of my favourites, the nursery), it is a fabulous museum of wealth and privilege. The corridors went on forever, and I wasn’t surprised to discover that it is Rajasthan’s largest palace. Built by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559, it was extended over the next few hundred years. Although from different eras, the palace has retained an overall elegance and is a nice way to spend half a day.
We wanted to get out on the water, but there are very few ways of doing this. If you stay on Jag Niwas island, of course, your price includes the hotel’s own taxi service; for the rest of us transport options are limited. We bit the bullet and queued up for the Lake Boat Ride. At 300Rs (£4.20) each it is expensive by Indian standards. Excitedly we waited to be dropped off at Jag Niwas, but the boat circled the island and then carried on. Damn. It seems that you can’t visit the island because it is wholly owned by the hotel, and you can only go there if you are a guest (we know because we tried every way we could think of to blag an entry). Still, we headed over to the older Jagmandir island.
The palace here came to prominence when Maharana Karan Singh built a safe haven for the future Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz (of Taj Mahal fame). Although Karan’s ancestor had fled from Akbar, and his own father had been defeated in the endless battles between Mughals and Mewars, some believe Karan helped Shah Jahan (known as Khurram before he became emperor) because the Mughal’s wife was Hindu. Whatever the reason, it was a shrewd move: by keeping Khurram under Mewar protection during 1623–1624 he backed the right horse. When Khurran became 'Emperor Shah Jahan', he gave back six districts to the Mewar kingdom, and a nice fat ruby to Karan’s son, Jagat Singh. We didn’t get quite such a good deal. We were allowed to see about one third of the palace buildings, and a cup of tea cost 130Rs (£1.85). To put it into perspective, a cuppa in the station cost 2Rs.
Feeling disappointed with our boat trip, despite the prettiness of the palace, we decided to get off the beaten track, so out came the walking boots. This proved to be a wise decision. We found life-as-it-is-in-India going on in the shops, houses and workshops outside the expensive tourist area. What a breath of fresh air to find women doing all the work, as men sat around drinking tea in the back alleys and children pumped water from standpipes.
We walked northwards, towards the distant music we had heard all morning, which became louder until it nearly split our ear-drums. Distorted noise poured out of strategically placed giant speakers along narrow alleys: just as the pain began to subside you would be hit by a fresh onslaught of decibels at every turn. We had stumbled upon a Muslim festival, it was the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s birthday celebrations. Great vats and plates of food were being prepared for the afternoon’s revelry by men (yes, men for a change!) while the women stayed in the background looking after excitable children. Jamie and I were offered a kind of semolina to eat. It had raisins in it and was rather sweet, but very good. Presented on a small paper plate, the trick was to eat it with your (right) hand and then throw the empty plate on the ground. I found the throwing of the paper plate on the ground more uncomfortable than eating semolina with my hand.
As usual, I was glad that I had kept a scarf with me and was reasonably covered up with a long top and trousers: I was treated with respect and kindness by everyone.
Before we left Udaipur we were lucky enough to come across one of the best places we have eaten in India. The city has loads of hotels and restaurants, and many are recommended in the guide books and online (not always accurately). We struck out on our own and ended up at the Nayee Haveli. What a serendipitous discovery. The rooms -- there are only six of them -- are comfortable and full of character; and the three roof terraces have million dollar views. It’s the sort of place you can spend the day just relaxing and hanging out. Our lunch, served in the Moonlight Tandoori Restaurant on the roof, was exceptional. Cooked by Raju, who had been working in the hotel for three years, we ate the best vegetable jalfrezi of our lives. Admittedly it took a little while, but the whole meal, including chutneys, was made freshly for us.
If you want a really sour, hot and tasty chutney just mash together all of these: mint, garlic, ginger, coriander, lemon, fresh green mangoes, salt, pepper, cinnamon, all spice, oil. Make sure all the ingredients are fresh and don’t overdo the cinnamon.
For similar tales have a look at www.lizcleere.com
55, Gangaur Ghat, Udaipur, India
+91 9829511573 / 98296 43197 :
The city of Chengdu is home to China's living treasures and the Chengdu Panda Base, as well as many other endangered species. With a history of over 2,400 years, Chengdu is home to many amazing historical sites and archaeological wonders. Chengdu's local cuisine is world renowned for its delicious spiciness. The life pace in Chengdu is slow. Many Chengdu citizens idle the afternoons away drinking tea and playing cards in the open air.
Here are some place you must not miss:
Visit the Wenshu temple and spend time in its teahouse to experience a bit of real Chengdu life.
Go to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding or Wolong Nature Reserve and see China's living treasures.
Travel to the Leshan Giant Buddha and see the largest stone Buddhist carving in the world.
Visit the Sanxingdui Museum and see the bronze artifacts that shocked the world.
Walk along the Jinli Old Street to experience what life was like in Chengdu's ancient past.
Go to Qing Yang Gong Temple and visit the birthplace of Taoism.
Taste the wonderful spiciness of Chengdu's local Chuan food.
Visit the natural wonders of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong said to be a fairyland due to their beauty.
Walk through Wangjian Tower Park, one of the three famous cultural relics of Chengdu.
Climb Mt. Emei, the highest of China's four holy Buddhist mountains.
Mdina, the old capital of Malta, is located on a hill in the centre of the island. The city is confined within its walls - several points on the walls offer stunning views down to the lowlands. The city centre itself is built of impressive medieval buildings that are still in a very good condition. Find my photos of Mdina and other places on Malta on www.fm1721.com/experience/malta for getting a general impression.
Google map: tinyurl.com/3y44hml
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.
Having been to Barcelona several times I am always fascinated about the underlying culture. It was only after visiting again that I realised I did not get the most from my visit UNTIL I knew more about the "country" and the people. The "country" is Catalunya and Barcelona is, of course, the capital.
I have found this Brief History of Catalunya from journalist Simon Harris which is a good starting point and gives a good "flavor" of the place.
• Cities are always best seen on foot, and Cape Town is no exception - enjoy modern creative Cape Town or an historical City tour.
• Enjoy a local theatre production with music ranging from opera, to swing, jazz, kwaito and hip-hop.
• With the Cape Town Design Route guide you can explore the city’s top design shops and art galleries.
• A Cape Malay Cooking Safari involves a visit to the Bo-Kaap museum, a tour through this historical area and cooking course and lunch in a local resident’s home.
• Get into the groove on a Cape Town Jazz Safari.
• Abseil off the top of Table Mountain.
• Party the night away at a shebeen and stay over in a local bed and breakfast in the townships.
• Shriek all the way to the bottom when you go sand-boarding.
• Take in the breath-taking views from the top of Table Mountain (weather permitting).
• Visit the District Six Museum and immerse yourself in the memories of what was one of Cape Town’s most colourful communities before residents were subjected to forced removals during the Apartheid era.
• Stop, shop, have a bite to eat or explore the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront.
• Begin your evening with sundowners on the Camps Bay strip or at the fireside at one of the city’s award winning restaurants and end off by catching some live music on Long Street in the City Centre
The House is a museum on three floors about the activities of the Hungarian Arrow (proto-Nazi) party in WWII and then the Communist Secret Police after then. It is a very well executed museum and utterly absorbing.
Andrassy ut 60, Vorosmarty utca tube
From Its glorious past, marked by the history of the great empires, Mali inherited a rich person cultural heritage, real contribution to human and universal civilization. It is thus not a chance, if our country has 4 classified sites world heritage by UNESCO: Tombouctou, for its mosques going back to several centuries, Djenné, known thousand-year-old city entirely built, the Dogon Country, with its magic and mythical universe and the Tomb of Askias in the town of Gao, relic of the dynasty founder of the Songhoï Empire. The history of Mali, it is also that of Soundiata Keïta, paralytic child become king of one of the greatest empires; that of Africa of Soumangourou Kanté, the king wizard and that of Sonni Ali Ber, Ali the Large one.
Guides give frank and honest account of Budapest's history and recent developments (particularly the transition to post-Communism) - it really opens the eyes to the sentiments of the local people.
Sights of this interactive adventure include the 1956 uprising areas, the bronze bullet memorial, the flag with the hole and the eternal flame, the secret entrance of a military bunker, the last Communist memorial in the inner city and other symbols of "Soviet friendship". The most important communist relics will also be presented.
Vörösmarty square M1 metro stop (in front of Gerbeaud café at the fountain)
Every M, W, F at 3.30 PM
This is a typical ostentatiously domed Russian church, but one rich with history. It was here that the 10-year-old Dmitry, son of Ivan the Terrible had his throat cut, thus giving the church its colourful name. It has some beautiful frescoes inside and lies at the heart of a small Kremlin complex on the banks of the Volga river.
Uglich Kremlin in the town centre
A good place to pop your head in and learn about Ladakh.
It screens films every day and is a good resource for any questions you may have about Ladakh past, present and future, and other parts of the world. Focuses on climate change, ecology, the environment, agriculture, sustainability, and Ladakh's culture.
It has a shop where you can buy genuine souvenirs which will help the local economy (most souvenir shops in Ladakh are Kashmiri run). It's also a good place if you want a custom Ladakh souvenir - they can arrange someone to make you something in your size.
Sankar road, north east of central Leh.
This is the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, housing the world's largest collection of Aboriginal antiquities, and it blows other fusty museums out of the water.
The plains of Adelaide were once owned by the Kaurna (pronounced Garn-na) Aborigines, and Tandanya is their name for the city. Really learn about Adelaide's heritage by watching visual and performing arts, from the yidaki (didgeridoo) to storytelling, and dancing from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Entry to the Centre is $5, but there is a free cultural tour every Thursday around the exhibits. It's a joy to discover Aboriginal culture, relatively unknown outside of Australia.
Macedonia is more likely to be associated today with the Yugoslav conflict of the 1990s. Few remember its part in the World War I Salonica Front, also known as the Macedonia Front, and even at the time better known as the ‘forgotten front’.
‘Muckydonia’ as it was known in a soldier’s book of the period, was too small for the headline news, yet troops on the Salonika front suffered the fog of war as much as troops in Flanders, the Somme, or Verdun. Casualties were borne from poor communications, malaria was endemic and life behind the lines (unlike in France and Belgium) was woefully unexciting.
The Salonica Front stretched from the Gulf of Orfano to Strumica, traversing Ohrid, Krusevo, Prilep, Gevgelia and Doiran, and even touching Skopje. The bulk of the British Doiran offensive in September 1918 was carried out by the forces of the 22nd Division. This division was made up of men from all over Great Britain but largely from Wales and the North of England. After tragic losses, 22nd Division survivors erected a memorial to their fallen comrades shortly after the war at the strong point and observation position they fought so hard to attain, which was known then as The Devil’s Eye on top of Kale Tepe, or the Grand Couronne.
The original memorial was rediscovered among thick undergrowth and vegetation in 2007. To mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War, the British Embassy in Skopje, in conjunction with the Municipality of Doiran, decided to place a replica memorial, inspired by the original, on the site. Informative panel boards depicting the battle at Doiran have been erected, and the original memorial can still be seen, with the new memorial above it. The bunker complex at the memorial site served a supply and command system of trenches and defenses. It was known to the Bulgarians as the Ferdinand and was so named to commemorate the Bulgarian victory there of 1915. Dugouts and other strong points can also be seen.
Thanks to Simon, and Reuben (resident archaeologist) for all their tips and info.
Take a bus direct from Skopje to Star Dojran, or take the train to Gevgelia and a taxi from there. Stay at the Hotel Istatov in Nov Dojran Tel: ++ 389 (0) 34 227 556
Tel/Fax: ++ 389 (0) 34 227 555
Mob: ++ 389 (0) 75 421 848
Great Salkeld is an ancient village within the Eden Valley, Cumbria. It has a number of historic attractions. There are the remains of the medieval Aikton Castle, then there is St Cuthberts church parts of which date back to 880AD. The church is one of only three in Cumbria to have a defensive Pele tower.
The Eden Valley offers great walking, shooting and fishing.
With Great Salkeld the most convenient accommodation is probably Wetheral Cottages.
Public transport is limited, although the Carlisle to Settle railway line runs through the Valley and stops at Lazonby , about 5 miles away.
The address for the village is here
Great Salkeld, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 9NA
This website provides good aerial views of the village
and this website provides details of the accommodation
The best museum on western hemisphere and probably the best museum in the world.
All the collection and exhibits are absolutely local and genuine, from Mexico alone, were not looted, stolen or in any other way "brought" from other countries for display.
Paseo de la Reforma and Calzada Ghandi
Mexico City, 11560 Mexico
+52 5 286 5195
9am - 7pm, Tue-Sun
This small museum houses a massively worthwhile exhibition. Though it's virtually all in Russian, I would also encourage non Russian-speakers to visit. If you know something about GULAG already, you'll find the artefacts and artworks fascinating. If you are visiting Moscow and don't know anything about GULAG; you need to learn. I was made to feel very welcome and given a personal guided tour.
16, Petrovka St.
The Museo Larreta exhibits Spanish art and historical objects. As for the museum itself, it showcases a kind of jumbled offering - a wall with medieval weaponry, a room with Jesus Christ at the front. I was a bit confused about the specific theme the curator was going for. BUT, the garden behind the museum building is absolutely charming. I walked past the somewhat arbitrary museum pieces, out the back door, and found myself facing a beautifully manicured maze of flora. Fruit trees, bushes, and the great ombu tree. A stone pavilion and a small theater set aside. It's so tranquil and pretty.
So, how to get there: Belgrano is next to Palermo. So you can hop on the Subte D line to Juramento. It's on the corner of Juramento and Obligado de Vuelta. You can check out: www.museos.buenosaires.gov.ar/larreta_entornoes.html.
A small sugar cane town just off the Bay of Pigs that was Castro's HQ for repelling the three-day invasion. The cane factory is in ruins apart from a small museum but the old rail sheds host a motley collection of decaying steam engines from its heyday, with slight signs of restoration and a helpful guardian who will let you in. Other than that it's the easiest way to visit Australia in the northern hemisphere. Now the town is surrounded by orchards and a huge juice factory.
North of Giron close to the Cienfuegos-Havana road. Station closed
These are two really great historic sites that are wonderful to visit. Because they are so close to each other, you really don't need to book onto a tour and can visit by yourself.
At Pompey's Piller make sure you walk to the far corner of the site, as otherwise you will miss Cleopatra's Library which is an underground shrine dug almost underneath the Pillar itself.
At the Catacombs it is tempting to just stick to the duckboards, but you are allowed to wander off these and explore on your own - do it! The main attraction here though is the brilliant stonework that mix ancient Egyptian iconography with Roman images.
The sites are in a poor neighbourhood. Everyone is very friendly, but if this is your first time exploring on your own, the poverty might be a shock.
The best way to get to Pompey's Pillar is to just get a taxi off the street. Not all taxi drivers will recognise "Pompey's Pillar" so you will also need to ask for the area it is in, Carmus (pronounced Karr-Mooze). You can walk to the Catacombs from Pompey's Pillar - just take the road on your left from the entrance and it is about a 10 minute walk.
This is a guided bike tour for discovering Nice.
The tour passed all Nice's main attractions. The guide explained Nice's history during the tour, and answered all questiones sufficiently which were put to him during the tour. The tour is three hours long and included a free coffee (or beer).
The guide also pointed out all the best bars and restaurants for different tastes on the tour - from cheap n cheerful to regional cuisine and top-end romantic.
A great way to orientate yourself in Nice and see it from some fantastic angles.
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