Packed with colonial buildings and pickled charm, Fort Cochin is a gentle way of easing yourself into the sometimes Medieval comforts of India. Strolling through the flower-bordered lanes and weatherboard houses, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Sussex. Vasco da Gama first arrived on India's Malabar coast in 1498, returning for the third time in 1524 to die on Christmas Eve. He was buried in St Francis Church. This refreshingly unfussy building—the first European church to be built in India—still stands amid the banyan trees and cricket fields (unlike Vasco da Gama whose remains were removed to Portugal). Rubbed to a smooth polish by centuries of fervent worship, the wide flagstone floor is cool under bare feet. A high timber-beamed ceiling and rope operated punkahs (fans) bring some welcome relief from the relentless tropical heat of steamy Kerala.
Google map: bit.ly/JiMWQ8
Valencia is perfect for budget travellers - most of the best sights and most impressive buildings are free to poke around, so you can conduct your own architectural tour, with plenty left over for some paella!
Start at Valencia Cathedral, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles (with the 'Holy Grail' tucked inside!), and then head to the Palau de la Generalitat, a Gothic palace used by the local government, with elaborately tiled floors and frescoed walls.
Other must-see sights include La Lonja, a grand Late Gothic hall filled with grisly gargoyles and other grotesqueries, and the Colegio del Patriarca, a 16th century seminary adorned with religious frescoes.
Valencia Cathedral, Plaza de la Reina,
Palau de la Generalitat, www.gencat.cat/generalitat/eng/guia/palau/index.htm
La Lonja, Plaza de la Virgen, Valencia
Colegio del Patriarca, Nave 1, Valencia 46002
Forget forking out for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, this cathedral is free to visit and is just as much of an architectural jumble.
Work started on the cathedral in 1262, resulting in a building that ranges from Romanesque to Gothic, so it's a fascinating place to wander around. Take a trip up the Miguelete Bell Tower, a city landmark, or check out the a cup believed to be the Holy Grail.
Dubai may not seem like the most esoteric or otherworldly of destinations, but there is one location that is an absolute must for those visitors who would like to sample the rich religious and cultural landscape of Dubai: the Shiva and Krishna Mandir in Bur Dubai at the back of the Al-Fahidi museum (itself well worth a visit with a fascinating range of exhibits including entombed bronze-age skeletons).
The mandir is not reserved solely for Hindus, and non-Hindus are welcomed warmly. You can buy jasmine garlands (gajra) and as you leave the mandir you are given a prasada token - a small carton of lentil soup and some bread.
The only drawback, it can get very congested, especially at the shrines themselves, so if you have small kids, or are claustrophobic then you might try to go when there are fewer people around.
It's a unique insight into the cultural life of Dubai, and a touching sign of religious tolerance: the Mandir abuts a mosque and worshippers and visitors to the vicinity are treated with respect. However, please don't forget to observe local sensitivities regarding dress. Never enter a religious site wearing revealing clothes - and that includes shorts: a pretty tall order for a place as hot as the UAE.
After visiting the Mandir, stroll around the neighbourhood of Bur Dubai; you can enjoy the huge range of Subcontinental and East Asian cuisine on offer and marvel at the rich diversity of the area - as well as the tacky shops, themselves somehow worth a visit.
To get to the Mandir just walk from the Dubai Museum (Al-Fahidi fort) towards the Dubai Creek, about a 100 meters or less from the museum. Turn left and you will see what looks like a large scale busstop overlooking the creek: this is the rear entrance to the mandir complex (which also includes a Sikh gurdwara). If these directions don't help, ask any resident and they will readily show you where it is.
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