Category: European Travel

Introducing Bodrum, ancient Halicarnasus in Turkey

Introducing Bodrum, ancient Halicarnasus in Turkey

Although more than a million tourists flock to its beaches, boutique hotels, trendy restaurants and clubs each summer, Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) never seems to lose its cool. More than any other Turkish seaside getaway, it has an enigmatic elegance that pervades it, from the town’s crowning castle and glittering marina to its flower-filled cafes and white-plastered backstreets. Even in the most hectic days of high summer, you can still find little corners of serenity in the town.

Urban planners have sought to preserve Bodrum’s essential Aegean character, which was influenced by the Cretans who moved here during the population exchange of the 1920s. Today, laws restrict buildings’ heights, and the whitewashed houses with bright-blue trim evoke a lost era. The evocative castle and the ancient ruins around town also help keep Bodrum a discerning step above the rest.

Introducing Gumusluk Bodrum, ancient Halicarnasus in Turkey

Sights in Bodrum

Bodrum Castle

There are splendid views from the battlements of Bodrum’s magnificent castle, built by the Knights Hospitaller in the early 15th century and dedicated to St Peter. Today it houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology (Sualtı Arkeoloji Müzesi), arguably the most important museum of its type in the world and a veritable lesson in how to bring ancient exhibits to life. Items are creatively displayed and well lit, and information panels, maps, models, drawings, murals, dioramas and videos all help to animate them.

Based on Rhodes, the Knights Hospitaller built the castle during Tamerlane’s Mongol invasion of Anatolia in 1402, which weakened the Ottomans and gave the order an opportunity to establish a foothold here. They used marble and stones from Mausolus’ famed Mausoleum, which had collapsed in an earthquake, and changed the city’s name from Halicarnassus to Petronium, recalling St Peter. By 1437 they had finished building, although they added new defensive features (moats, walls, cisterns etc) right up until 1522, when Süleyman the Magnificent captured Rhodes. The Knights were forced to cede the castle, and the victorious Muslim sultan promptly turned the chapel into a mosque, complete with new minaret. For centuries, the castle was never tested, but French shelling in WWI toppled the minaret (re-erected in 1997).

Spread around the castle, the attractively lit and informative museum has reconstructions and multimedia displays to complement the antiquities, and takes about two hours to see. It gets very busy and claustrophobic in the museum’s small rooms, so try to arrive early. Look to the ground for green/red mosaic arrows indicating a short/long tour route. You’ll see peacocks strolling, strutting and calling to prospective mates throughout the castle grounds.

Introducing Bodrum, ancient Halicarnasus in Turkey

Mausoleum

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum was the greatest achievement of Carian King Mausolus (r 376–353 BC), who moved his capital from Mylasa (today’s Milas) to Halicarnassus. The only ancient elements to survive are the pre-Mausolean stairways and tomb chambers, the narrow entry to Mausolus’ tomb chamber and a huge green stone that blocked it, the Mausolean drainage system, precinct wall bits and some large fluted marble column drums.

Before his death, the king planned his own tomb, to be designed by Pytheos, the architect of Priene’s Temple of Athena. When he died, his wife (and sister), Artemisia, oversaw the completion of the enormous, white-marble colonnaded tomb topped by a 24-step pyramid and a quadriga, a four-horse chariot carrying Mausolus. In the late 15th century the Knights Hospitaller found the Mausoleum in ruins, perhaps destroyed by an earthquake, and between 1494 and 1522, almost all of it was reused as building blocks for the castle or burned for the lime content to strengthen the walls. Luckily, the more impressive ancient friezes were incorporated into the castle walls, while original statues of Mausolus and Artemisia were sent to the British Museum.

The site has relaxing gardens, with excavations to the west and a covered arcade to the east – the latter contains a copy of the famous frieze now in the British Museum. Four original fragments displayed were discovered more recently. Models, drawings and documents indicate the grand dimensions of the original Mausoleum. A scale model of Mausolus’ Halicarnassus is also on display.

Bodrum Maritime Museum

This small but well-formed museum spread over two floors examines Bodrum’s maritime past through finely crafted scale models of boats and an excellent video on traditional ‘Bodrum-type’ boat building. Much is made of Bodrum’s role as a sponge-diving centre and local writer Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı – the much-loved ’Fisherman of Halicarnassus’.

Conchologists of whatever hue will be in seventh heaven here. A private collection of some 6000 shells representing one third of all mollusc families is on shimmering display upstairs.

Ottoman Shipyard

The restored Ottoman shipyard stands just above the marina. In 1770 Russia destroyed the entire Ottoman fleet at Çeşme; rebuilding it took place in boatyards such as this one. It was fortified against pirate attacks in the 18th and 19th centuries with a watchtower; today it occasionally hosts art exhibitions. Old tombstones, dating from the period when the Latin alphabet was replacing Arabic-based eski yazı (old-style writing) are kept above. Excellent views.

Myndos Gate

These are the restored remains of the only surviving gate from what were originally 7km-long walls probably built by King Mausolus in the 4th century BC. In front of the twin-towered gate are the remains of a moat in which many of Alexander the Great’s soldiers drowned in 334 BC.

Ancient Theatre

On the main road to Turgutreis, ancient Halicarnassus’ theatre was built in the hillside rock in the 4th century BC to seat 5000 spectators but that capacity was increased to 13,000 for gladiatorial contests in the 3rd century AD. It hosts concerts and other events in summer.

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Moscow: The city of millionaires

Moscow: The city of millionaires

Once a small village in the 12th century, Moscow today boasts its position amongst the largest cities of Europe and -of course- its 850-year-long history. Contrary to common belief, it is neither rather misty and foggy nor cold and bleak. Illuminated structures, avenues with luxury stores and buildings reminiscent of dreamlands are the very proof of this.

“If I invaded Kiev, it means I have conquered Russia’s feet. If I invade St. Petersburg, it means I conquered Russia’s head. However, a Moscow invasion means that I have conquered Russia’s heart.” This quote from Napoleon Bonaparte, revels secrets about Moscow.

Ranking amongst the 10 largest cities of the world, NMoscow enjoys its favorable position between Oka and Volga rivers. With the number of millionaries markedly higher than other cities, Moscow has granted the fame: The city of millionaries.

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Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

With a future as bright as its past, Reykjavik should be at the top of your cities-I-must-visit list. Follow Time Out’s tips for the perfect break in the Icelandic capital.

Reykjavik’s origins can be traced back to AD 870, when it is believed to have been Iceland’s first permanent Nordic settlement. There are monuments to its past as a seat of the Vikings all over the city, and also to its role as the birthplace of the Althing, the world’s first parliament.

Despite all its history, modern Reykjavik holds its past and future in even balance. Its modernism is striking – from the clean lines of its buildings to its experimental music scene to its status as one of the cleanest, most environmentally conscious cities in the world. So whatever it is that draws you to Reykjavik, there’s plenty to explore when you get here.

Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik’s compact size (it has only 120,000 inhabitants, over a third of Iceland’s entire population) makes it the perfect place to get round on foot. If you want to get your bearings, start by taking a trip in the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja; Iceland’s largest church resembles the vast helm of a Viking ship – or an iceberg – stretching from the ground. From the top, 73 metres up in the air, you’ll get a panoramic view of Reykjavik’s colourful rooftops.

Reykjavik attractions

A trip to the city must take in its incredible cultural centre, Harpa. An architectural stunner, its southern façade was designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. It’s free to enter and definitely worth a visit even if just to wonder at the modernist magnificence of the building’s interior – but as home to the Iceland Symphony Orchestra it also puts on an impressive selection of shows in its concert hall.

Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Art and culture lovers are well catered for. Learn about Icelandic history at the National Museum of Iceland, or get a sense of cutting-edge Icelandic contemporary art at the Reykjavik Art Museum’s Hafnarhús location (the museum is split over three venues) a converted warehouse a herring bone’s throw from the harbour. Then there’s the excellent sculpture garden at Einar Jónsson Museum. If you prefer your art a little more transient, the city’s streets are full of vibrant street art, too.

Those looking to get to grips with nature also have a lot of options – from whale watching at the harbour to hiking along the rugged coastline (which is also perfect for navigating by bicycle). Then there are the city’s famous hot pools. A handy by-product of Iceland’s natural volcanic action, you’ll find them all over the city – though the historical Sundhöllin Public Baths (Iceland’s oldest public swimming pool) are a popular bet.

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Inside Rome’s Jewish quarter or calm in the chaos

Inside Rome’s Jewish quarter or Calm in the chaos

Take a tour through one of the Italian capital’s oldest and most thriving cultural districts.

The history of Jews in Rome follows all the drastic twists and horrifying turns that have shaped the experience of the Jewish diaspora across the world. There has been a Jewish quarter inside the city ever since the Roman Republic began to engage in trade with the Levant in the couple of centuries before Jesus Christ. The subsequent millennia have seen massacres, apostasies and truces; bouts of intense persecution have been succeeded by periods of tolerance by, and even alliance with, the state. So if the story of the Roman Jews is relatively little told, it’s not for want of incident.

One reason may be their relatively small population – 13,000 Jews live in Rome today, compared with London’s 170,000 or New York’s 1.75 million – and, consequently, Italy’s fairly minor involvement in the defining event of recent Jewish history: the Holocaust. And yet, if nothing on the scale of what happened in Germany or Poland, Rome witnessed some horrors. The Nazis invaded Italy in September 1943 after the capitulation of Mussolini’s regime, and within a month they had smashed inside Rome’s Jewish quarter and started rounding up its inhabitants. By the war’s end, the city’s Jewish community had been literally decimated, having lost one in ten of its members to the concentration camps.

Inside Rome’s Jewish quarter or Calm in the chaos

Calm in the chaos

A smattering of memorial plaques for the dead interrupt the peace in the otherwise placid Jewish quarter of today. Situated just across from the Tiber Island on the east bank of the river, the area is a haven of tranquillity in the traffic maelstrom that is Rome. Residential courtyards branch off from the slender alleys that tie the neighbourhood’s bustling marketplaces to its dainty piazzas. Like other historically Jewish districts in Europe’s capitals, such as London’s East End and Paris’ Marais, it has shed its cramped ghetto layout and gone the way of gentrification – losing many of its Jewish inhabitants in the process.

Inside Kiryat Sefer (‘The City of Books’) [no website], a bookstore specialising in Jewish culture, a tome on display compares the plan of the ghetto circa 1850 with a map of the area as it is today. The difference is striking. After Italy was unified in 1870, the new monarchy annulled the requirement for Jews to live in the ghetto, and set about razing the area.

The wall surrounding the ghetto was torn down and the cramped labyrinth of cul-de-sacs and tenement houses was replaced by four simple blocks of thoroughfares and squares. Where once the city’s poorest lived in abominable conditions, today a one-bedroom apartment sells for half a million euros. Streets that formerly belonged to drapers and fishermen now attract the likes of Jamie Oliver and Mark Zuckerberg (who, after dining at the neighbourhood’s renowned Nonna Betta restaurant, famously left no tip).

Kosher character

Many Jews may have sold up and moved out, but enough locals remain for the area to retain a distinctive character. Strolling down its flagstoned lanes, you’re just as likely to overhear snatches of Giudeo-romanesco, an antiquated local dialect that borrows liberally from Hebrew, as you are a conversation in Italian. A visit to the famous Boccione [no website], self-styled ‘bakery of the ghetto’, yields myriad delights of Hebraic provenance: unleavened tarts, marzipan cakes studded with fruit, and the three wonderfully taciturn sisters who run the place. Even the local sushi joint, Daruma, eschews all fish without spines in accordance with kosher tradition. If you’re pining for prawn, move on.

And then there’s the Great Synagogue of Rome [no website], another product of the late 19th-century government’s regeneration project. The squat domed edifice sits astride the riverbank, its striking appearance boldly proclaiming the Jews’ freedom to build as they see fit. Sadly, its symbolic importance has turned it into a flashpoint for anti-Semitic violence: in 1982, a gang of Palestinian militants marched up to the entrance and sprayed the congregation with grenades and submachine fire, killing one and wounding dozens. One legacy of the attack is a network of security guards who keep watch over the area from their discreet booths. Their presence is a dismaying reminder of the tensions with which the Jews of Rome continue to live, even in their most peaceful time.

Secrets revealed

For an area that abounds in beautiful architecture and tourist hotspots, the Jewish quarter is often neglected by visitors who come to Rome for its classical landmarks. Which is inexcusable, given that you can cover the neighbourhood’s cultural gems in a matter of hours – from the famous (and frankly kitsch) Turtle Fountain to the surreal ruins of the Porticus Octaviae. It’s well worth getting to know this unjustly overlooked patch of Italy.

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7 Reasons to visit Greece this summer

7 Reasons to visit Greece this summer

Greece’s tourism product is being reborn, offering a new window of opportunity to travelers of every type.

After featuring prominently in the world news for all the wrong reasons, for a while it seemed that Greece was all washed up. Just when everyone thought it was down and out, the country rose from its own dusty ruins to turn a tarnished reputation to its advantage. In what is nothing short of a success story, post-crisis Greece has enhanced the traditional charm of sugar-cubed houses atop cliff-tops, sun-kissed Aegean beaches, voyages to antiquity and Mediterranean cuisine.

As if Greece couldn’t be more alluring anyway, there are 10 more reasons to visit the country right now.

1. Greece for All Seasons

There’s more to Greece than the sun and sea, which is why the government has unveiled a new tourism policy that pledges to “prolong the tourism season” and make Greece one of the five most popular destinations in the world.

For your average traveler, this means greater access to thematic tourism all year round. Now, families can take advantage of the special family discounts at winter resorts, enjoy off-season rates at the Athens Half Marathon or partake in kick-ass rock-climbing fiestas on the jagged slopes of Kalymnos island.

Greece is now the happening place, with lots to do and see in every season, from the fledgling Tweed Run on picturesque Spetses in the spring to the Red Bull freerunning competition on Santorini in the autumn and then some.

7 Reasons to visit Greece this summer

2. Fly Direct, No Hassle

In the wake of terror attacks and health epidemics, more travelers have chosen Greece. Increased demand means more direct flights to destinations around the country. Euromonitor travel analyst Wouter Gerts explains that as the whole Middle East is “associated with insecurity in the mind of the western tourist,” Greece has emerged as a comparable alternative thanks to its similar weather, cheap prices and security.

German tour operator TUI recently confirmed that tourists are turning to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy in increasing numbers for their upcoming spring and summer holidays. At the same time, bookings to Turkey dropped by 40 percent.

Greek civil aviation data shows that there was an 11.5 percent-spike in Greek airport traffic in January alone. Some 1.8 million passengers travelled on 19,890 flights, enjoying the advantages of direct flights at budget rates.

3. Disover Virgin Territory

Yes, it looks set to happen in 2016. Obscure backwaters are being opened to the public for the first time thanks to a fast-track law that speeds up procedures for public-private investments. This means that the seaplanes projects at four Greek destinations – Skyros, Alonissos, Paxi and Agia Marina at Grammatiko – can move to the next stage of completion.

“The aim of the ministry is to create a waterways network by next summer, which will bring substantial benefits to the economy, create jobs and contribute to the interconnection of small and isolated islands as well as the development of local communities,” said Energy Minister Panos Skourletis.

With bated breath, the Hellenic Seaplanes company can literally taste the start of operations in 2016 after three years in the planning, with some 50 waterways already mapped out. The goal is to connect the country through seaports to allow for the exploration of virgin territory before it is changed forevermore by the influx of crowds.

7 Reasons to visit Greece this summer

4. More Reasons to Sail the Seas

Greece – a country carved by the sea with a whopping 13,676-km coastline – is, was and will always be a seafarer’s paradise. Though local mariners know as much, National Geographic recently identified the large island of Evia as one of the top ten international sailing destinations. And it comes as little surprise that Athens and the Greek islands ranked among the top ten most-searched cruise destinations on Yahoo in 2015.

Top-ranking three-time Olympic sailor Armando Ortolano, one of the founders of the Greek Isles Yachting company, says that Athens is a unique yachting destination. Its docks are exceptionally close to the Saronic islands and city sights, an advantage that has kept interest stable despite adversity that has kept investments at bay.

“We’re doing our best to keep business afloat with 20 percent cheaper charter rates since before the economic crisis began,” he says. “This means that a yacht with a capacity to carry six people can now be leased for 1,500 euros per week, meaning 200 euros per person for seven days, and with a skipper to boot!” Best yet, 2016 is the year of innovation for his company, which is planning to offer a “lifetime memories in a day” package, offering tailor-made options for day trips such as fishing and scuba diving.

5. All Roads Lead to Athens

Athens moved up a notch to second place in the prestigious European Best Destinations 2016, the Brussels-based electronic pool seeking the best of European culture and tourism. Elpida Rekka, of the City of Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, points to the iconic Acropolis as just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the beauty of the city. A myriad of other offerings include affordable museums and archaeological sites, a high rate of Michelin-starred restaurants, a brilliant city-sea combination with a 55km of scenic coastal road stretch dubbed the Athens Riviera.

Now just behind Zadar in Croatia in the European Best Destinations rankings, Athens is eyeing gold in 2017.

6. Hospitality is in the Blood

The ancient Greek Stoics regarded hospitality as a gods-given right for foreigners, sanctioned by Zeus himself. Refusing to abide by this was hubris. The notion is so deeply engrained in the Grecian psyche that – despite cash flow problems – there’s usually a local entry near the top of the awards in any hospitality industry ranking.

Accolades keep coming with Achtis Hotel, in Halkidiki in northern Greece, and Canaves Oia Hotel, on Santorini, ranked 5th and 12th, respectively, in TripAdvisor’s top 25 hotels worldwide listing for 2016. Meanwhile, Amathus Beach Hotel in Rhodes and Grace Santorini Hotel rated highly in the 6th European Hospitality Awards. Another four Greek hotels took titles at the coveted Historic Hotels of Europe (HHE) awards in 2016: Allegory Boutique Hotel on Rhodes, Marpessa Smart Luxury Hotel in Agrinio (three awards), Aigialos Hotel in Santorini and Villa Galini in Halkidiki.

7. Less Money, More Innovation

The financial crisis may have made life difficult for the locals, but it has also made them far more inventive when it comes to tourism. Sites like dopios.gr and initiatives such as This is My Athens have paved the way for a new brand of tailor-made tourism that is ripe for the picking. These sites connect travelers with a community of local storytellers offering the real spirit of post-crisis Greece to the world.

Always hospitable, tech-savvy Greeks have now gone digital to showcase their cities to foreign visitors with treks to graffiti-laden anarchist quarter of Exarchia in Athens or a dinner invitation to where else but yiayia’s kitchen, where granny’s home-cooked meal rivals that of any Michelin-starred chef.

Not authentic enough for you? George Arapoglou, head of the Athens Invisible Paths tours organized by Schedia, a magazine sold by homeless street vendors, says that he’s been amazed by the reception. “Our tour guides are homeless or have been homeless people at some point in their lives. Sharing their journey to soup kitchens, sleeping areas, detox centers and other pitstops helps them feel less socially excluded while also breaking down barriers,” he says of the tours, which are available in Greek, English, German, Spanish and Italian.

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Great things to do in Venice

Great things to do in Venice

From the Grand Canal, Venice’s magnificent two-mile-long main street, to the empty reaches of the saltwater lagoon, every inch of Italy’s sight-rich city warrants exploration.

Cannaregio

Thrumming with life along the Cannaregio Canal, quiet and echoing in its alleyways and understated campi, this sestiere of surprises conceals the original Jewish Ghetto and some great nightlife on the fondamenta della Misericordia.

Castello

A sestiere of many parts, Castello stretches from luxury hotels on the lagoon-side riva degli Schiavoni to glorious churches such as Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the west. Further east, beyond the monumental Arsenale, lie the quiet streets of residential workaday Venice.

Dorsoduro

Artsy Dorsoduro is home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the new Pinault gallery at the Punta della Dogana. But there’s lots of nightlife, too, around campo Santa Margherita, plus a vibrant student scene further west in the former industrial zone.

Great things to do in Venice

La Giudecca & San Giorgio

With a character all of its own, the Giudecca has an industrious past and an alternative future: from boatyards to galleries, this island just gets trendier. Palladio’s San Giorgio is a Venetian icon.

The Grand Canal

No other city in the world can boast quite such a magnificent main street as Venice: a graceful backwards-‘S’ sweep of water, flowing between sumptuous churches and historic palazzi of breathtaking beauty. Whether you’re doing it for the first time or the 1,000th, making your water-borne way down the Grand Canal is always an extraordinary experience.

Lido & Lagoon

There’s a whole other world in the lagoon, from the rather fin-de-siècle beach resort on the long, sandy Lido to misty waterlands dotted with characterful islands.

San Marco

The eponymous piazza and basilica are the beating heart of this sestiere. Many of Venice’s major attractions are situated here including Doge’s Palace, Campanile and Torre dell’Orologio. In the alleys that wind from this hub towards the Rialto and Accademia bridges are snazzy shops (Ottico Fabbricatore, Daniela Ghezzo Segalin Venezia and Perle e Dintorni), a great opera house (Teatro La Fenice) and glowing Madonnas in awe-inspiring churches.

San Polo & Santa Croce

The hectic produce and fish market at the foot of the Rialto Bridge sets the tone for these busy residential sestieri, packed with the kind of intimate restaurants and cafés frequented by true Venetians. At the sestiere’s heart is the magnificent Frari basilica.

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Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Arrive in Amsterdam exhausted; leave feeling rejuvenated, and for so many reasons: a heady mix of culture and funky good times, fresh air and healthy exercise, a high-protein diet

The typical Dutch breakfast is bread with cold meats and cheese. The typical lunch is salads, sandwiches, soups in the wintertime, and coffee. Dinner means more meat and protein. (Heaven in your mouth is raw or pickled herring, which you slide down your throat and then wash down with a swig of beer or jenever–juniper-flavored 70-proof Dutch gin.) Simple, nourishing and filling meals leave you bristling with the energy to experience central Amsterdam by foot.

Your agenda dictates your pace. An enthusiastic trot will slow to a stroll along the mesmerizing canals–colorful and alive by day; just as alive, but also romantic, by night. The canals were critical to the survival and wealth of this port city centuries ago; today they distinguish it from all other cities, dividing it into 90 islands linked by picturesque bridges.

When you are not strolling along the canals, you can explore one of Amsterdam’s distinctive districts or squares, to shop, to dine, or to go club or museum hopping. In the city’s many marketplaces, your stroll might slow to a shuffle as you become reluctant to leave. You might then skip through the expensive shopping districts, for fear of losing your wallet to the exquisite diamond jewelers for whom Amsterdam is famous.

Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Once you are safely past the glittering stones, you may find yourself bobbing and swaying to the outdoor sounds of Amsterdam’s frenetic street life, unless you prefer neighborhoods where the mood is quiet and serene. Once again, you increase your speed, this time to a brisk strut as you pass through the red-light district. Though it’s safe here, there’s no need to look like a tourist, feeling your way around.

Rasta Baby: owned by an Amsterdamer from Surinam. When the words “coffee” and “shop” are strung together on a sign over a shop, they indicate that the establishment is a smoking cafe — one that serves pot or hash, by the gram or in prerolled joints. Coffee is available, too, but nothing stronger, as far as beverages go. Coffeeshops are mainly for tourists, who find them alluring. To Amsterdamers, they are strictly hohum.

A spiritual visit to the countryside. Windmills are worthy objects of artistic attention, as Rembrandt found. (The windmill was said to be his muse.) De Kat, the last remaining wind-powered color mill in the world, produces “antique pigments” from dyewood.

The Netherlands–a center of trade and business–is one of the most affluent nations in the Western world, and much of that wealth was built on the slave trade. The colonial power that once exploited its African and Indonesian colonies now welcomes immigrants from them. Today, 129 different nationalities live within Amsterdam’s city limits, and 1 out of 5 Amsterdamers is of other than Dutch origin. Following the independence of Surinam (formerly Dutch Guyana) in 1975, Amsterdam became home to the second-largest Surinamese community in the world. There are also large Moroccan, Indonesian and Turkish communities on the outskirts of the city.

Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Cafe de Kroon: spacious, elegant, trendy. You can’t do Amsterdam without visiting its cafes, but first you must be able to distinguish among the various types. “Modern cafes” and “grand cafes,” like this one–where two friends(one Curacaoan, the other Surinamese) have settled for a cool drink–have come into vogue in the past two decades.

At first, they posed a threat to the traditional “brown cafe”–a holdover from the 17th century. Fortunately, the brown cafes–cozy neighborhood bars with dark interiors of wood paneling, wood floors and wooden tables–provide a comfort and service that trendiness can’t match. And then there are avant-garde cafes, theater cafes, lefty cafes, media cafes, music cafes, film cafes, chess cafes, women-only cafes, beer cafes, karaoke cafes and gay cafes, just to name a few.

Albert Cuyp Market: Amsterdam’s largest. Trade flourishes in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the De Pijp district. The old section of the district, built between 1860 and 1890, is more ethnically diverse than other neighborhoods: Of 40,000 inhabitants, 3,000 are Moroccans, 2,500 are Surinamese, and 1,500 are Turkish.

At the Albert Cuyp Market–colorful, lively, noisy–the fun is in the hunt, and hunt you must for the black shops: The Moroccan and Surinamese vendors struggle to hold their own against fierce competition from Dutch stallholders. But when you’re ready to quit, it’s easy to find good Surinamese (and Indonesian) restaurants in this district.

Red Light District: provocative. The square around the Oude Kerk (the oldest church in Amsterdam, built in the 14th century, and one of the most beautiful) is right next to the official prostitution district. Scantily clad women sit in the windows of 17th-century gabled houses, reading, knitting, flirting, doing their nails. Red lights flicker above their windows. At night, the underworldly maze of narrow streets, crowded bars, trendy shops and dark, smoky, dimly lit coffeeshops supports a dizzying abundance of activity.

At the Roxy: one of Amsterdam’s most famous nightclubs. Amsterdam’s world music scene has benefited from the influx of immigrants from Surinam, Turkey and other countries. Jazz is easy to find in the city, but look harder and you’ll also find hip-hop, rock, salsa, soul, ska, punk, disco, folk and more. Of course, the scene is always changing, but at last check, Margarita’s (a Latin dance club) and The Industry (a rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop club) were popular among the young sophisticated black crowd. Outside of the clubs, 14,000 concerts are held in various concert halls, museums and churches and in the open air every year.

Merciless! Bicyclers in Amsterdam will whirl you, twirl you, and knock you off balance as if you’re in slapstick comedy. Then they whir away as quickly and quietly as they came. Bicycles have been a popular mode of transportation on narrow canalside streets since the 19th century. Today, the 825,000 inhabitants of this bustling city possess more than 550,000 bicycles.

Untitled, 1961, by Samuel Middleton. Middleton, a black American painterprintmaker from New York City, has lived and worked in Amsterdam for so long (since 1962) that some consider him a Dutch painter. His works are in the eclectic collection of the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art–the most striking modern art gallery in Europe–which contains 19th- and 20th-century classics as well as works by contemporary modern artists, photographers and printmakers. Within walking distance of the Stedelijk, in Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter, are the Rijksmuseum (National Museum) and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a stop at least one of these three famous museums.

Heineken: Here, there, everywhere. Heineken–the world’s best-known brand of Dutch beer and the second-largest brewer in the world–last year celebrated its 125th anniversary. The recipe (which owes its success to the A-yeast, a secret fermenting agent developed by a student of Louis Pasteur) and the method of brewing the beer are the same now as they were then.

The brewery is open for fascinating tours that start in the kitchen (where the beer’s basic ingredients are on display) and end in the bottling plant (where one really, really large room contains 36 hours’ worth of consumption by Amsterdamers). Presented in a fermentation-tank-cum-museum are a slide show, a film and an exhibit that describe the evolution of the machinery, bottles and other materials related to the mass production of beer by Heineken.

Related Link: Amserdam Travel Guide

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48 Hours in Amsterdam

48 Hours in Amsterdam

Amsterdam… city of Rembrandt, red lights, canals, cannabis and… bicycles. The slowly whirring sound of wheels is the soundtrack to a city constantly on the move on models that haven’t changed since the 1940s. Well, why bother with gears when everywhere is so flat? But then who needs even two wheels when you can walk from one end of Amsterdam to the other in 40 minutes? That’s how long it takes to fly there from the UK too, so Chris Drew gets on his bike for a two-day trip to Holland’s biggest city…

Friday Morning

First surprise is Schipol Airport, which has the look of a 21st Century shopping mall. And every sign is in English. Not much of a shock really, as you almost have to beg the Dutch to speak their own language. A 20- minute ride on a double-decker train (pounds 2.10) and you are at Centraal Station. Stop off at Platform 2 for a 48-hour Amsterdam Pass. For pounds 28 you get unlimited travel on the metro, buses and trams, free entry to more than 20 museums and two canal boat trips.

Save your feet by catching the No.2 or No.5 tram to the Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat). It’s undergoing a major makeover but all the masterpieces of the golden age of Dutch art are housed in the Philips Wing. Star of the show is Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

48 Hours in Amsterdam

Next, take a 60-minute cruise along some of Amsterdam’s 150 canals. The Golden Bend is the stretch where you’re sure to grow green-eyed gazing at the double-fronted mansions once owned by the city’s most opulent merchants.

Back on dry land, head for the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat) which has more than 200 of his paintings and 500 drawings. Expect to queue. Van Gogh has a lasting appeal, especially with the Japanese and most leave with a Toblerone-shaped box containing one of his posters from the impressive bookshop.

Friday Afternoon

For llunch sample Holland’s contribution to fast food, a cone of chips with a dollop of mayonnaise. Wash them down by visiting the nearby Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade). You have to pay pounds 6.50 for the brewery tour but this includes three glasses of beer and even the glass. There are also interactive rides which see you as a Heineken bottle careeering around on a drayman’s wagon. Unsteadily weave your way back towards Dam Square, stopping off to gawp inside the luxurious Magna Plaza (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal), a shopping mall that used to be the general post office.

Friday Evening

AT 5pm Amsterdammers stop for a borrel (drink). At De Drie Fleschjes (Gravenstraat) you get a free jenever or Dutch gin with your Amsterdam pass. The Dutch don’t trust optical measures and the small bell-shaped glass will be filled to overflowing. Just lower your chin to the bar and slurp.

To eat, try the Jordaan, an enticing backwater criss-crossed by canals, streets and alleys with plenty of pub restaurants. Cream potato soup with shrimp followed by guinea fowl and a glass or two of beer costs pounds 16 at De Reiger (Nieuwe Lekiestraat).

Saturday Morning

Visit some houses. The Willet-Holthuysen Museum (Herengracht) is a peep behind the curtain of a 17th Century canal house with its imposing dining room and magnificent ballroom. Rembrandt did everyone a favour by going bankrupt in 1656, because the authorities took a full inventory of the contents of his house on Jodenbreestraat – a historical record which has allowed the curators to refurnish it just at it used to be.

Our Lord in the Attic (Oudezijds Voorburgwal) is the oldest museum in Amsterdam and the most surprising. A church with two galleries was hidden away on the top floors of a canalside house in the 17th Century when Catholics could not openly celebrate Mass.

There’s nothing secret about the services offered by the girls standing in the windows of the house a few doors away. And there is the same openness about the cannabis cafes with their appeals to “support your local dealer”. But Amsterdam’s drug connections have been overstated – you won’t be tripping over discarded syringes.

Pick up some bargains at the Albert Cuyp street market. Eat lunch as you browse – another Dutch delicacy is raw herring and pickle for pounds 1.50. Then try a wheat beer at De Engel, a huge pub in what was once a church. The plastic swizzle stick with crusher, by the way, is for dunking the slice of lemon hanging on the side of the glass.

Saturday Evening

BE sure to visit the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht). There is a hushed silence as visitors disappear behind the moveable bookcase and enter the hiding place where ske kept her diary for 25 months before her family was betrayed and sent to the Nazi death camps.

Finish off your break with a meal overlooking a canal at Luden (Spuistraat), a French restaurant that does excellent fixed price menus for pounds 12 and pounds 14.

The Essentials

Where to Stay: Hotel Fantasia (Nieuwe Keizersgracht, www.fantasia-hotel.com) is run by a guy crazy about cows with pictures and models of the beasts everywhere. Basic rooms with B&B from pounds 60 for two per night.

Getting There: easyJet.com have flights from Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Liverpool Luton and Stansted, with bargains if you book early. We flew for pounds 31 each return. You could also try Amsterdam Travel Service.

Related Link: View more Amsterdam travel tips on Amsterdam Travel Guide

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Athens, Greece: Taverna, Food and Drink

Athens, Greece: Taverna, Food and Drink

Despite our general admonition to patronize the tourist restaurants in Athens, you’ll want to try a typical Greek taverna (that’s spelled “TABEPNA” in Greek) at least once. And there’s no need to worry about the absence of an English-language menu in these establishments, because the custom at tavernas is to go into the kitchen and select your courses from the pots on the stove!

And by the way, don’t worry about the price of what you’re ordering. Hope and I had one of the thirstiest and most famished evenings of our travels when we last dined at a taverna, choosing two bowls of delicious tomato soup to begin, then two huge Greek salads, one veal and vegetable casserole, one order of moussaka, one beer, two orange drinks, and one iced coffee.

Grece Style Food and Drink

As earlier noted, virtually all the Athenian restauran ts we’ve discussed are tourist restaurants, equipped with menus printed in English or French. Because of that, and because few of our readers (induding your author) can read Greek, we have not included a translation of Greek menu terms in our menu chapter, appearing further on in this book. But we do have some menu comments:

When in doubt, ask your waiter for “moussaka”-a staple dish served in many of the Athenian restaurants and in all of the “tavernas” (smaller and totally unpretentious restaurants). Moussaka consists of baked, ground meat, covered with vegetables and spices, and sometimes topped with alayer of dough or mashed potatoes.

Athens, Greece: Taverna, Food and Drink

lts quality varies from place to place, but if you’re lucky, you’ll make a wonderfully tasty meal of it. And it’s filling: you’ll be more than stuffed if you have, for dinner, a plate of moussaka, a tomato salad, bread and wine. Eaten in the normal taverna, that combination should never cost much.

We’ve already mentioned “dolmothakia” (rice and meat in vine leaves). For a lighter snack, ask for “souvlakia,” which are roasted and spitted chunks of lamb, Havored with oregano.

The Greek table wine is “retsina” -a red wine Havored with resin (pine sap)-and it’s death to American tastes. To get it without the resin, specify that you want your wine “aresinato.”

The Greek aperitif-a before meals drink-is “ouzo,” which is terribly cheap, and is taken either straight or in water (which it turns cloudy white). A Seven-up type drink, which Hope very much likes, is “garzoza” (or at least that’s how it’s pronounced!)

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All About Orient Express

Orient Express Vintage Poster print
Orient Express Vintage Poster by willie50
sell your posters with Zazzle.

The Orient Express was the name of a long-distance passenger train service created in 1883 by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL). The route and rolling stock of the Orient Express changed many times. Several routes in the past concurrently used the Orient Express name, or slight variants thereof. Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name has become synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul), the original endpoints of the timetabled service.

The Orient Express was a showcase of luxury and comfort at a time when travelling was still rough and dangerous. CIWL soon developed a dense network of luxury trains all over Europe, whose names are still remembered today and associated with the art of luxury travel – the Blue Train, the Golden Arrow, North Express and many more.

All About Orient Express

In 1977, the Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul. Its immediate successor, a through overnight service from Paris to Vienna, ran for the last time from Paris on Friday, June 8, 2007. After this, the route, still called the “Orient Express”, was shortened to start from Strasbourg instead, occasioned by the inauguration of the LGV Est which affords much shorter travel times from Paris to Strasbourg. The new curtailed service left Strasbourg at 22:20 daily, shortly after the arrival of a TGV from Paris, and was attached at Karlsruhe to the overnight sleeper service from Amsterdam to Vienna.

On 14 December 2009, the Orient Express ceased to operate and the route disappeared from European railway timetables, reportedly a “victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines”. The Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, a private venture by Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. using original CIWL carriages from the 1920s and 30s, continues to run from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul. In March 2014 Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. was renamed Belmond.

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