In this part of Berlin you are very much inside the territory of the old East Germany, and the Markisches Ufer or Wharfe (alongside one branch of the River Spree) was where the former regime moved old buildings felt worthy of preservation from sites elsewhere where they were in the way of urban development. There are of course only fragments of old Berlin here but enough to give one an impression of a city with bridges, boats, quaysides and mercantile buildings alongside a working river.
The Markisches Museum houses a mixed collection of objects associated with the life and times of Berlin and Brandenburg. It's mostly social history, with paintings, prints, ceramics, reconstructed interiors, and so on. To be frank, this museum is what Dylan Thomas described as "a museum which ought to be in a museum" (he was talking about Swansea's museum), but in its old-fashioned way it offers a quiet environment where other times and other lives can be contemplated without the clamour of other visitors pressing switches, setting of audio-visual displays, or kids running around dressed up as characters from Jane Austen!
Both locations well worth a visit.
The Kulturforum in Berlin is something of a curate's egg. It is incomplete in terms of what its original architect, Hans Scharoun, intended. Partly for that reason it is in visual terms a bit like an upmarket light industrial estate with relatively low level modernist buildings apparently scattered around an open area with little clear sense of order. Moreover there are steps, stairways and ramps everywhere making the site a challenge for anyone with a mobility difficulty. However set against these criticisms the idea of bringing together a modern concert hall (Philharmonie, 1963), the Kunstgewerbe or museum of applied art (1968; currently closed for refurbishment until 2014), the Kupferstichkabinett (1988), with prints, drawings and musical instruments, and the Gemaldegalerie (1998), a world class collection of paintings from the end of the Middle Ages to around 1800, is a good one. It accordingly offers the chance for the visitor to concentrate their visit in much the same way as Berlin's Museuminsel does farther to the north-east of the city.
The Gemaldegalerie has a good restraurant, and a museum shop offering popular as well as scholarly books, prints and postcards.
The Komische Oper offers radical productions of opera old and new. There is an established company of singers there who, in contrast to some of the perhaps grander opera houses in other countries, work together as an ensemble. The singers are indeed stars but they don't seek to outshine the operas they perform. Some productions are indeed radical and Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio", which has just ended its run, could not, I feel, have been shown in London - it was both too raunchy for English tastes and probably too hard-hitting. It was however a serious and valid interpretation of a well known opera.
The theatre has a modern facade and a wonderfully ornate interior. If you are in Berlin for a few days at least I recommend you see a production at the Komische Oper. People of all ages go there and while some are clearly all dressed up, a majority dress simply and go for the music - which is as it should be.
The Bode Museum was the last building on Berlin's Museum Island to be restored after wartime damage, although others nearby, including the Pergamon, are currently being extended or modified. The Bode is an extraordinary building, with vast staircases, domes and apses, and now houses a fine collection of sculpture, Byzantine art and coins/medallions. In its unrestored state it was used as a backdrop for scenes in Istvan Szabo's 2002 film, "Taking Sides", about the German conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler, with Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel.
The Bode offers a quiet environment in contrast to the Pergamon and the many beautiful works of art there can be contemplated without being jostled or otherwise hurried along. There is also a good cafeteria adjoining the museum shop.
This brand new gallery opened on the Stade, Hastings Old Town, in Spring 2012. The enamel tile facade complements the black fishermens' net sheds - an historic feature of that part of town - beautifully and the design as a whole is a major cultural asset to Hastings and East Sussex generally.
The Jerwood Foundation has been collecting examples of British painting for some twenty years and the work on show at the new gallery features an anthology from the early Twentieth century through to the present day. There are figurative and abstract pieces to suit all interests and the emphasis is on what I call real painting, that is, stuff done with paints, brushes and a sharp visual intelligence.
Works by Maggi Hambling, Frank Brangwyn, Ivon Hitchens, Matthew Smith and all sorts of other fine and delightful paintings to see at the Jerwood Gallery. Highly recommended.
The Mill Garden was created by the late Arthur Measures at his cottage in Mill Street, Warwick, under the walls of Warwick Castle. Today it offers a modest yet very beautiful haven away from the racket of the town's virtually continuous through traffic. The garden is bounded by the river Avon which curves away from the foot of the castle, under the ruined 14th century bridge, and within sight of the castle's mill wheel. There is a great variety of plants (some of which are for sale) and the lawns run down to the banks of the river.
The garden is open to visitors every day from April to October. A modest entry charge is requested, the proceeds of which are divided between maintaining the garden itself, the National Gardens Scheme and 35 other charities.
55 Mill Street, Warwick CV34 4HB
Google map: bit.ly/mnE8wB
Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery offers a great collection of two and three dimensional art and design from across the world, as well as a wide-ranging archaeological collection of, particularly, objects from Ancient Egypt.
The paintings from the late Nineteenth century and the glassware, ceramics and prints from Asia benefited enormously by a bequest in the late 1940's, from Max Schiller, whose brother, Ferdinand, in addition, collected Chinese ceramics. As a result of this gift the museum has examples of work, for example, by Vuillard, Alma-Tadema and Sisley, as well as glassware from the Tang and Sung dynasties, of great quality. There is much other work of equally high quality including a beautiful Japanese woodblock print of a waterfall by Hokusai.
At certain times of the day and at weekends the museum is full of young children, which is of course an admirable feature but the racket they create can become wearisome. Perhaps like cinemas, museums should arrange noisy days for kids and quiet days for those who want to get close to the art work without being run over or deafened.
There's a good museum shop and cafeteria. The latter is particularly good.
Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1RL
+44(0)117 922 3599
Google map: bit.ly/f5unHQ
The Alte Backstube is another excellent restaurant in the historic Josefstadt area of Vienna offering classic and traditional Viennese cuisine. The restaurant is set well back from the street in a seventeenth century building and its atmosphere is pleasingly intimate and removed from the bustle of the city.
The prices are reasonable, the wines and beers include very good Austrian varieties, the service is friendly, helpful and prompt, and above all the food is outstanding. Highly recommended.
These two great buildings contain wonderful art collections. The Albertina has been thoroughly refurbished in recent years and now offers the Batliner Collection, great paintings from Monet to Picasso, which are on permanent loan to the museum, in addition to its own great collection. The Batliner is a very comprehensive collection and each piece is of the highest quality.
The Palais Liechtenstein shows the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein, brought together over five or so centuries and, in many instances paintings bought directly from the artists themselves - that's class! This collection is very rich in Seventeenth century work, especially that of Rubens and Van Dyke.
The Albertina is at Albertinaplatz 1, 1010 Wien, a short distance from the Opera House, so any of the trams travelling around the Ring will drop you there.
Google map: tinyurl.com/ykoxuur
The Palais Liechtenstein is at Furstengasse 1, Wien. www.liechtensteinmuseum.at
Not closely served by the U-bahn, but a short walk from the Franz Josefs Bahnhof (S-bahn).
Google map: tinyurl.com/yzep4qc
The Natural History Museum, which was opened in 1889, is one of two enormous and beautiful buildings which face one another across gardens in the city centre - the other is the Art History Museum.
The staircase is very grand and Italy must have been emptied of all its marble to create this building. The view from the cafeteria on the (main) first floor, down through a circular eye some 20 feet across to the entrance hall far below is both spectacular and scary. There is a net drawn tightly across this space presumably to stop people throwing cakes down onto elderly American tourists just entering the building.
On the day I visited the museum there was a delightful half-scale air balloon tethered in the stairwell midway between the floors which added to the sense of enjoyment and well-being one should feel in such a wonderful place.
The collections include geology, natural history, anthropology and archaeology. There are said to be 20 million exhibits here. One of the most famous is the tiny but very sexy Venus of Willendorf, a mysterious and magical female figure from the Upper Palaeolithic period.
As with all museums these days, the place was teeming with children and young people (followed by anxious or exhausted teachers), but that is as it should be. The place is being used as a treasure house, which is precisely what it is.
Naturhistorisches Museum, Burgring 7, Vienna. Take any of the trams travelling around the Ring, the circular street which forms the city centre - you can't miss the museum. It offers good disabled access, there are excellent lifts to all floors, and the audio guide is highly worthwhile. Excellent too are the museums shops.
Google map: tinyurl.com/yfzazrv
This is an excellent restaurant where the decor is early Twentieth century Bohemian and the cuisine, likewise, hails from Prague, with a hint of Old Hapsburg Vienna.
The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere and you will do well to book a table beforehand. My son and I dropped in on a freezing Monday evening, and Zur Bohmischen Kuchl was nearly full with, I may say, local people from Josefstadt - a very good indicator of the quality of the food and drink.
At the end of our meal we were introduced to a liqueur from Prague called Becherovka. Wags describe it as tasting like cinnamon-flavoured kerosene! No, it was much better (and perhaps more powerful) than that. An excellent finale to a great meal.
Zur Bohmischen Kuchl, 1080 Wien, Schlosselgasse 18. Tel+43-(0)1-402 57 31
Google map: tinyurl.com/yg98dgp
The Leopold Museum was opened in 2001, in a brand new building (a large white cube), in the Vienna Museums Quarter. The museum is based on the former private art collection of Rudolf and Elisabeth Leopold. It has since become the most visited museum in the Museums Quarter. Why? Well, because it houses the largest collection of paintings and drawings by that unique artist and general all-round bad boy, Egon Schiele. However in addition to the works by Schiele, which are all exceptionally fine and fill out a view of the artist along with examples of his work at the Belvedere, also in Vienna, there is a great collection of work by other late Nineteenth and early Twentienth century artists, including Klimt, Kokoschka, Kolo Moser and Richard Gerstl.
The museum has a good cafeteria, and an excellent shop which offers scholarly material, exhibition catalogues and postcards.
When I first visted Vienna some twenty years ago I found it somewhat staid and dull. Perhaps I had been unduly influenced by what I had heard and read about the place. The well-travelled visitor regarded Berlin as THE place to go, not Vienna.
Whatever the case, on a recent visit I found Vienna to be lively, well supplied with a range of good bars and restaurants, hotels at various price levels, an excellent public transport system, and offering an enviable number of world-class museums and galleries. There appeared to be a good number of young people there, in contrast to the view expressed in some guide books that the city is dominated in numbers by the very old.
For example, the Natural History Museum has a special Darwin exhibition on at the moment, and the day I went it was full of enthusiastic young people of all ages, noisy, busy, keen. They were allowed to use cameras and phones and were photographing themselves among the exhibits, even handling the woolly mammoth (I don't think it was real). Some indeed were sliding down the marble staircase which in this building is as high as Beachy Head - I don't think that was allowed, but no-one appeared to be rushing to stop them! So, not so staid as the former reputation...
Vienna, capital of Austria. www.wien.info
The Vienna Card offers 72 hours travel on the city's transport network, including buses, trams, S and U-bahns. It also offers reduced rates on some commercial tour buses and trams, and reduced prices on entry to the city's many museums and galleries. A set of coupons comes with the Vienna Card booklet offering discounts on a range of shops, restaurants and bars. At 18.5 euros, (in 2009, up to March 2010) the Card is very good value for three whole days in Vienna. Don't forget to validate it by punching the card when you first get on the bus, tram or whatever. It is not valid until you do.
The Vienna Card (Wien-Karte) is available online before you travel. Or, when you get there, at your hotel or from Tourist Info, Albertinaplatz (Corner Maysedergasse), Vienna. www.wien.info
The Ardvasar Hotel offers a wide range of excellent food and drink. The service is friendly and quick. Accommodation is available and there is a restaurant, a lounge and a small public bar. Outside there is a splendid view of the Sound of Sleat, with a chance of spotting seals and otters (and other resident wildlife). I saw a pair of buzzards when I was there but sadly the other fauna failed to show.
The hotel is a very short distance from Armadale, where the ferry from Mallaig to Skye anchors. There is a good walk from Ardvasar towards the Point of Sleat, and the views from the higher parts of the walk are outstanding, especially towards Rum and Eigg, in one direction, and to Morar, on the mainland.
The Stein Inn states that it is the oldest inn on the Isle of Skye, and its venerable bars, sturdy walls and highly impressive archive of malts certainly lend veracity to the claim. There is a wide range of beers and other drinks, the food menu is ample, and the service is attentive and prompt.
In good weather (or foul weather if you're after the complete Highland experience) you can sit outside and take in the view of Loch Bay towards Loch Dunvegan and, if the day was really clear, as far as the wonderfully named Gob na Hoe (could anyone, even a Scot, spit that far?).
The Plockton Inn is a good pub and a wonderful restaurant which, while it offers a variety of dishes, is oustanding in offering seafood of the highest quality.
The atmosphere in the bar is merry, as you'd expect, especially in the evenings, when sailors - both professional and amateur, the latter being a somewhat tedious feature of Plockton in the summer - recount the day's adventures. But push gently through to the bar and make your order. It's well worth it. The quality of the food is extraordinarily good and the portions are generous. Families with young children evidently enjoy the atmosphere which is informal and, when live, traditional music is being performed, pleasantly noisy.
The Waterside Seafood Restaurant is located alongside the station platform, presumably in buildings once used by the railway in its heyday during the last century. It is extraordinary: the quality of the food is outstanding, the portions are generous and the cost is fair.
The restaurant is small and in the summer season you will need to book, but make the effort to go there. The food is excellent, the atmosphere is friendly and informal. The service is prompt - even at the busiest times - and the staff are charming.
The views from the windows are of the harbour, the fishing boats, the Skye Bridge, and, mid-evening, the astonishing sight of the train from Inverness slowly drawing to a stop a few feet from your table. Highly recommended.
Waterside Seafood Restaurant, Station Buildings, Kyle. Parking nearby is restricted so it's is best to go to the town centre, then walk a few yards to the restaurant at the station.Tel. 01599 534813. www.plocktonwaterside.co.uk
Google map: tinyurl.com/ydboeyw
Dunvegan Castle is the seat of the Clan MacLeod and occupies a splendid site at the edge of the sea. It is surrounded by gardens which, presumably as a result of the Gulf Stream, are almost Mediterranean in their exuberance and variety.
The castle itself today is traditional Scottish Baronial in appearance - tall, turreted, battlements - and much of what you see from the outside is early Nineteenth century. There are Medieval bits inside, and work from later times, but these have been largely incorporated into subsequent developments. Of significant interest are some fine portraits of the MacLeods, their wives and children.
The exterior walls of the castle are rather peculiar, having been rendered in what looks like a grey-pink porridge. This work was carried out in the early Nineteenth century, so while it is old it is, frankly, far from beautiful. The beauty of Dunvegan accordingly remains its site, the gardens and the glorious views of the sea.
The cathedral in Beauvais is extraordinary. It remains unfinished; having been started in 1227, the work stopped in 1578. Had it been completed on the scale originally proposed it would have been the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.
The chunk which was built measures 72m long and nearly 50m high. The choir alone is 37m long, and when you stand inside gazing upward you grasp the enormous scale of the existing building and sense what might have been.
The builders had terribly bad luck (or weren't very good) because right from the start bits kept falling down, and the 153m high spire collapsed in 1573.
Beauvais centre was destroyed by incendiary bombing when the Germans invaded in 1940 and consequently lacks any old buildings. But the cathedral survived and is well worth visiting. The modern town has attractively laid out streets and squares, with many good places to eat and drink. Fans of French cathedrals could see Beauvais, Amiens and Rouen easily over a couple of days. All three (cathedrals, not fans - there must be more than that surely) are extraordinary and beautiful.
Beauvais is halfway between Abbeville and Paris, off the A16, and south of Amiens.
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