The tiny Tenement Museum in New York's Lower East Side is often overlooked by tourists in favour of the more 'glitzy' and well known museums such as the Natural History Museum or the Met. But in my opinion this beats them all hands down.
97 Orchard Street is a wonderful slice of NY history and it really helps you see past Macys and Banana Republic to the real New York - the urban working class immigrant families who built the city to the one we know today. The building itself was home to scores of families through the ages - each of whom lived in tiny cramped apartments. And it's these apartments you can visit, restored to how they would have looked in different eras.
The restorers have been really clever, and researched specific families to get an authentic version of their life, and there are real belongings and photos within the apartments. You can walk through the 1870s, 1890s, the 1930s and so on. And you really feel that you get to know the specific families, and can imagine how difficult it was to build a family and survive in such a tiny space.
It's absolutely magical, and worth every cent of the $17 it costs for the guided tour. In my opinion, this is a must-see venue in NYC, and it might take your mind off trying to find the ultimate cheap designer jeans. Suddenly shopping seems terribly unimportant in the face of such real poverty.
Once visited, this museum will leave an indelible mark on you, and you'll be recommending it to all your friends.
You want drama? You got it. Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire is about as dramatic as it gets. An ancient ruined castle sitting precariously on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ragged North Sea - it has been home to some of Scotland's best history, from William Wallace to the siege of Cromwell's army.
You can explore both inside and out, and then take a run along the coastal path and a peek among the rockpools down on the little beach. A perfect day out for both boys and girls! Also a good spot for budding photographers too - you can't fail to take a great pic here.
www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk/ nearest town is Stonehaven.
The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art is a welcome addition to a city known mainly for steel, football and for being crap - not my view I hasten to add! But, perhaps in direct rivalry to its cultural neighbour Newcastle, Middlesbrough opened Mima in 2007 to high praise from the critics.
It holds a wonderful collection of art and applied art and plans to hold high profile travelling exhibitions - a wonderful world class show on the Bauhaus is currently on display in January 2008.
It's a pretty cool looking building too. And it's FREE, so there's no excuse not to stop by.
Middlesbrough, Teeside, Uk. www.visitmima.com
Do Mori is simply not to be missed. It's a little hard to find, but is near the Rialto market, and worth the hunt. You should only find locals here - it's where the market traders go from mid-morning for their 'ombra' - a glass of wine and perhaps some ciccheti (little snacks).
There are no tables here and no waiter service, so simply go up to the counter of the little dark bar, choose your wine, choose some snacks and enjoy a taste of real Venice. Don't expect service with a smile, but do expect to feel part of the real city.
San Polo 429 - Entrances on Calle Galiazza and Calle Do Mori, In San Polo, Venice
If you are a carnivore, and like eating lamb, then go to Asador de Aranda. If you aren't a carnivore, and don't like eating lamb, then don't. It's as simple as that. Asador de Aranda serves only lamb. but wow - it's the best lamb you could ever imagine. They stick great big wodges of the meat in a wood stove, and it comes out crisp on the outside and melting in the middle. You don't need anything with it, because anything else would simply fill a hole in your tummy which could otherwise be filled with lamb, so don't waste that space. It's a local favourite, so you won't find tourists here, just local families celebrating birthdays, or just enjoying lamb! The staff are wonderful, and delighted in watching us tuck into the juicy meat. In fact two waiters were so thrilled by our reaction that they brought us complimentary dessert and liqueurs - we really made some friends that night! Ignore the Ramblas, go to Asador de Aranda!
Avinguda Tibidabo, 31, Barcelona 08080 Spain www.asadoraranda.com/
Mamas is a New York institution. There is more than one branch - my personal favourite is the East Village shop - but go to any for the Mamas experience. The food is wholesome home-cooked soul food - meatloaf, chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potato. Nothing fancy. Help yourself at the counter, pay for it, and either take away or sit down to savour the real American food. No pretentions here, and you really can't spend more than about $10-$15!
If you like music, and you can't quite bring yourself to fork out your life savings for a ticket to one of the UK festivals, then go to Hungary in August. The Sziget festival is simply brilliant. It's held on a stunning island in the middle of the Danube river just out of the centre of Budapest. They always have a varied programme of music, in 2007 this included the Killers, the Hives, Chemical brothers, Faithless, Nine Inch Nails, Pink and Razorlight to name but a few. They also have great world and dance music, and local Hungarian music. but even better than the lineup is the civilised way in which the festival is organised. You can get to a clean toilet at any time. The food is delicious, cheap, and easily available. Everyone is really friendly. A lot of the island is a beach, so you can walk around in bare feet and really feel like it's a holiday too. Accommodation is easy, either on the island - or do as we did and rent a beautiful and cheap apartment in Budapest itself. It's so easy to get to and from the island. Don't miss it. Get there before anyone else finds out about it!
Óbudai Island, Budapest, August every year. www.sziget.hu
Venice is magical, there's no denying it, but space on the main islands is at a premium and therefore accommodation tends to be very pricey. On our last visit we chose to stay on the island of Murano, and rented an apartment from a local there. It cost us less than £30 per night (for the apt, not per person!) and it was fabulous. For a start, the vaporettos (water buses) run all night, and it only takes 15 mins to get to Venice on the boat, on the most beautiful route you could imagine, past the stunning cemetery island. Secondly, although it is home to plenty of tourists during the daytime, (visiting the glass factories), they are absent in the morning and evening, and you really feel like a member of the local community. There are lovely grocery shops, a supermarket, and a fruit boat - to buy all your fresh food. And there are some great local restaurants to eat in should you not feel like venturing over onto mainland Venice for dinner. It's also really easy to get to from either airport, as the boats run straight there from Piazzale Roma. It's the perfect counterpoint to the chaos of Venice's main islands. Finally, it's also closer to Burano, the beautiful island nearby, which is home of the amazing restaurant Il Gatto Nero. Do it. You won't regret it.
Murano next to venice - go hunting on google, you'll find accomodation!
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