Category : The UK
While England may not be known worldwide for its culinary prowess, the nation does seem to dominate a certain mealtime: afternoon tea. No trip to London would be complete without an authentic teatime, complete with dainty finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, and prettily painted pots of piping-hot tea. And here are five of the best places in the city to do it:
Head Chef Eric Chavot put the Capital Hotel on the culinary map, earning its signature restaurant Michelin stars. Afternoon Tea, at £25.00 or £37.50 with a glass of Champagne, is the perfect way to enjoy the restaurant’s atmosphere and cuisine without committing to an entire dinner. Tea per person includes a choice of beverages, delicate sandwiches, homemade scones served with preserves and cream, and other delicious pastries. The ambience is posh and cozy, complete with a burning fire and precious antique furnishings.
The English Tea Room
Aptly named and hailed as one of the city’s best afternoon teas, the English Tea Room at the Brown’s Hotel is a London institution. The décor is as sophisticated as it gets: Wood paneling, multiple fireplaces, Jacobean ceilings, Paul Smith lighting, original works of art and even a baby grand piano set a refined and relaxing scene. There are 17 different types of tea available, including the Brown’s own blend. The price per person for the Traditional Afternoon Tea is £39.50 per person; there is also a Champagne Afternoon Tea for £49.50, and a Rosé Champagne Afternoon Tea for £52.50. Yes, the prices are steep—but you get what you pay for.
The Reading Room
Art Deco elegance is enhanced by rich leather columns, lavish banquettes, large mirrors, suede walls and two glamorous cut-marble fireplaces at The Reading Room inside Claridge’s. Consistently voted one of the best in London, the teatime menu features nearly 40 different types of tea from around the world. Freshly baked scones and pastries are also included in Afternoon Tea (£38 per person), Champagne Afternoon Tea (£49) and Rosé Champagne Afternoon Tea (£62.) There is also a gluten-free tea set available upon request.
Located within the world-famous Harrods department store, Ladurée brings Parisian chic to London’s Knightsbridge district. The beautiful décor is outshined only by the works of art on display in the pastry cases of the store’s pâtisserie: meringues, chocolates truffles, millefeuilles—and, of course, the brand’s signature macarons. These treats are served all day, but the most popular times to dine here are at breakfast and teatime. Unlike other venues around London, Ladurée allows you to hand-select exactly which delicate indulgences you would like to pair with your cup of tea (and everything is priced à la carte.)
the famous Ladurée Macarons
The Orangery’s location alone sets it apart—the tearoom is housed within a greenhouse designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, in the majestic shadow of Kensington Palace. The atmosphere is appropriately regal, made more so by huge ceilings and expensive works of art. Light lunches like fresh salads and sandwiches are served, but the main draw is really the afternoon tea. Pair your cup with an assortment of finger sandwiches and pastries for about £15, or pay a bit more for the Enchanted Palace Tea (this includes a decadent chocolate granache tartlet and raspberry shortbread, along with scones and sandwiches) or the Royal Champagne Tea. Please keep in mind that reservations may be made in advance—and they are strongly recommended.
Other recommended hotels in London: the Radisson Edwardian Grafton Hotel, The Rembrandt
Yes, there is still snow on European ground—and, most likely, there will be for several months. But that’s no reason to delay planning your next summer getaway, is it? A great way to experience a country’s culture and summer weather is a good, old-fashioned music festival. Here are ten of the best, in no particular order:
1. The Festival Internacional de Benicàssim (Spain)
Chances are, you have not heard of the Spanish town of Benicàssim—unless, of course, you are a serious music lover. The picturesque port positioned between Barcelona and Valencia plays host to a renowned music festival each July. Alternative rock bands and electronic artists dominate the lineup, and live music can be heard from 5pm straight through ‘til morning. Detox between music-filled nights on the nearby beach.
2. Roskilde European Music Festival (Denmark)
This is one of the biggest, most popular music festivals in Europe; not only that, it lets participants party for a great cause! Originally founded by two students and a promoter back in 1971, the festival has since been taken over by the Roskilde Foundation. The non-profit event combines live music, organic food, experimental art and design, and 24-hour parties to promote music and culture in the area.
3. Open’er Festival (Poland)
Poland’s biggest music festival welcomes lovers of all genres, from hip hop to electronic pop. The gigantic event is held in an airfield in Gdynia, an otherwise peaceful city on the country’s northern coast. Along with various concerts (bands play from 4pm to 2pm; DJ’s continue until 5am) on seven stages, there is a “festival town” where you can buy merchandise, see live theatre and films, and even participate in organized sports.
4. INmusic Festival (Croatia)
Since its first incarnation in 2005, Croatia’s largest open-air festival has grown exponentially. It is held over two days every June on a tiny island in Lake Jarun, and its wonderful location allows it to combine live music with beach activities. The festival draws some pretty impressive names (Franz Ferdinand, Cypress Hill, Prodigy, etc) and it was named one of Europe’s best in 2008 by The Times.
5. Exit (Serbia)
A fantastic summer tradition held in the Petrovaradin Fortress of Novi Sad, Exit is unlike any other music festival around. The ancient site is an interesting venue for the music, which is always on the cutting-edge. Past headliners include Lily Allen, the White Strips, and Arctic Monkeys. Exit has become so huge in recent years that it has even spawned its own record label. Listeners can download MP3 singles and albums for free from the official website.
6. Pinkpop Festival (Netherlands)
Named after the fact that it is held each Pentecost weekend, the annual Pinkpop Festival is one of the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1970 in Landgraaf, and it has featured everyone from The Killers to the Counting Crows. The three-day event always coincides with Pinkster (the Dutch name for the holiday) and is held over three days.
7. Rock am Ring and Rock in Park (Germany)
Actually two sister events, the Rock am Ring and Rock in Park together comprise one of the largest music festivals in the world. They are held at the Nürburgring racetrack and on a football stadium in Nuremberg, respectively, over a weekend in June. They typically feature nearly identical lineups—and they are typically sold-out events (which should come as no surprise, given Germany’s famous love of rock and roll.)
8. Sziget Festival (Hungary)
Unlike many of the other music festivals on this list, Sziget is actually held in a major city—Budapest, Hungary’s capital. Add that to the fact that the festivities last an entire week, and you have a truly impressive event. By the seventh day, festival-goers have had the opportunity to see a whopping 1,000 artists in action! These artists have included Amy Winehouse, the Gorillaz, and Iron Maiden. And the Sziget Festival is not just about music—it also includes, cinema, shopping and outdoor sports in the heart of the old city.
9. The Isle of Wight Festival (UK)
One of the world’s most historic and celebrated music festivals, this one began in 1968. The Isle of Wight Festival’s lineup has since featured Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam. Still not impressed? It manages to draw over 600,000 people to Seaclose Park, near Newport. You can choose to camp or stay at a nearby hotel. There are plenty of options to choose from—visit Eurobookings.com to make your reservations today!
10. Pukkelpop (Belgium)
Missed the many festivals held in June and July? Well, if you can make it to the Hasselt area by the end of August, you can still catch one of Europe’s great summertime events! Pukkelpop draws over 180,000 music-lovers to the quaint village of Kiewit, surrounded by thick woodlands and scenic fields. The 2010 festival marked its 25th anniversary, and the celebration is still going strong.
Posted in The UK on 03. Nov, 2011
‘Tis the season for snow, Santa—and, if you are in Europe, a variety of Christmas Markets! Among the many festivals and markets on the continent, one stands out for being truly special: the Victorian Festival of Christmas at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England. The largest city in Hampshire and the only island city in the UK, Portsmouth is a great tourist destination year-round. However, at Christmastime is when it really comes alive.
Now in its twelfth year, Portsmouth’s Victorian Festival of Christmas is set to return. It will take place from Friday, November 25th to Sunday, November 27th, 2011—fairly early in the year for a Christmas festival. From 10AM to 6PM on those days, visitors will be magically transformed back in time—to a bygone era brimming with Dickensian-style charm. The snowy streets surrounding the Historic Dockyard will feature gift shops, seasonal carols, and festive activities. Fagin’s Tavern will prove once again to be a great gathering place, and a traditional Santa will roam the streets, bearing gifts.
Appealing to the young and the young at heart, the Victorian Festival of Christmas is a beloved tradition. The family-friendly event offers a great way to celebrate the season, and even introduce your children to the local heritage. Along with Santa Claus, your little ones may meet Mother and Father Christmas and their four-legged companions, Bubble and Squeak. Do not miss the chance to take a photograph aboard the sleigh, flanked by the baby reindeers themselves.
Another highlight of this year’s festival will be the return of Hampshire Fare, the award-winning company dedicated to showcasing the local food and drink of the region. There will be a Cookery Demonstration Theatre, where you may see how traditional Victorian recipes were prepared. Shop for culinary souvenirs amid the heady aromas of steaming mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.
From Victorian dancing to over 140 merchant stalls selling crafts and treats, there is something for everyone at this annual festival. Live entertainment will be provided by the Showman’s Engine, the requisite drummers and pipers, and a whole host of colourful characters—all dressed in full Victorian costume, of course
To purchase tickets to the Victorian Festival of Christmas, visit www.christmasfestival.co.uk or call 023 9283 9766. And to find great rates at hotels in Portsmouth, look no further than www.eurobookings.com!
Posted in The UK on 25. Oct, 2011
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Maldives. The Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Though these tropical paradises are also some of the most famous dive spots on the planet, did you know that there’s amazing diving right here on the United Kingdom’s southwest coast? From Land’s End to Cornwall to Devon to Plymouth, there are some interesting things to see just off the shoreline, and the only way to see them is to strap on your tank, your regulator and your fins and start kicking. Ready? Set? Dive!
The Wreck of the City of Westminster
It’s no surprise that the spot where the English Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean would be an excellent source for shipwrecks. And one of the most interesting from a diving perspective is the City of Westminster. This 6,094 ton steamship which measured 143 metres was a victim in October 1923 of Runnel Stone, which used to protrude above sea level – until the City of Westminster ran into it and shattered the top as it traveled from Rotterdam to Belfast. Luckily nobody was lost that night, and now the City of Westminster boasts an intact stern and much steel plating, ribs and deck fittings. The five to 15 metre visibility in the area also allows you to see numerous plumose and other anemones along with some stunning large ballan wrasse, congers, ling, tope, bib, cod and bass, surrounded by granite pinnacles and white sand bottomed gullies. Keep in mind that strong tidal currents and a challenging surface swell make this a trip for experienced divers only. After the dive you can retreat to the comfort of your Penzance hotel room just minutes away.
Though not nearly as exciting as the Great Barrier Reef, Cornwall also provides a view of abundant sea life in its own Porthkerris Reef and Drawna Rocks. Porthkerris Divers offers boat charters, equipment and lessons, all on the Lizard Peninsula. Diving to a depth of 15 metres and with up to 15 metres of visibility, there’s a lot to see in this area. Marine life on the reef includes wrasse of all colours, shapes and sizes, mullet, crabs, sea urchins and starfish. Keep a look-out for the unusual John Dory and take some time to admire the kelp forests wafting on the swell. The jewel anemones on the seaward side of the rocks come in all the colors of the rainbow, and you will kick yourself if you forget your camera. For three-star luxury at the end of your dive, you can head to the Housel Bay Hotel in nearby Lizard.
The Watcombe Caves
Heading to the county of Devon and the seaside village of Torbay, we come to the intriguing Watcombe Caves, which are set out in the waters of Lyme Bay. Dives and visibility are both around 10 metres normally, and again, you will definitely want to bring your camera. Stunning rock formations and an abundance of colorful marine life await you beneath the waves. The caves are actually more like swim-throughs, and it doesn’t take much time to emerge to the other side. In fact, due to the ease of navigation, the Watcombe Caves are a great place to practice cave diving for the beginner. If you’d like some guidance, I would suggest going to the Teign Diving Centre, which runs trips out to the caves on a regular basis. When it’s time to look for lodging, you can head inland to the historical city of Exeter which is 20 miles away or to the seaside city of Torquay, which is only seven miles down the coast. Or stay in one of many Teignmouth hotels.
Cannonball Alley and Breakwater Fort
If you want to enjoy some good diving and enjoy the convenience of city life at the same time, there’s Plymouth. This city has a lot of history, and it doesn’t end at the shoreline. For example, if you contented yourself with the view of Breakwater Fort from your Plymouth hotel room you’d be missing half the fun. Built in 1854 to defend the city against Napoleon III, the circular fort’s walls go down 12 metres to the sea floor. Used for many years as a training area for divers, the site boasts a fishing boat and a decompression chamber, along with lots of dogfish and scallops. If you really want to get hands-on, there’s the reef at Cannonball Alley, which is littered with centuries of cannonballs left over from the nearby HMS Cambridge Firing Range. There’s also a rocky seabed, lots of kelp and lots of Sealife in a peaceful area perfect for beginners. Look out for the spiny starfish, which can reach over a metre in length.
If you’ve ever considered swimming with the sharks, the water off the Cornish towns of Padstow and Bude are the place to do it. Fifteen miles from the shore in shallow waters is where Richard Peirce will drop you into the water in an open shark cage for a chance to experience blue sharks and porbeagles up close and personal. With 10 metres of visibility, you’ll see the ferocious critters as they approach. Your trip begins with a bit of mackerel fishing, said mackerel to be used to attract the sharks. Porpoise sightings are common on the way out to the sharks’ feeding grounds. Then it’s time to throw the chum into the water, and after the first shark sighting, the first brave soul hits the water to get a closer look. Seals and dolphins are also common sights, and when you get back to shore, you can use the complimentary wireless Internet access in your room at the two-star Cross House Hotel in Padstow to send photos to your friends back home.
Whether you know it as kitesurfing, kiteboarding or just having a heck of a lot of fun on the beach, this extreme water sport is becoming more popular all the time. Whether you’re coming at it from surfing, from hang-gliding or just out of curiosity, you’ll find that the most popular spots for expert kitesurfers are also the best spots for the novice to find lessons. Harnessing the power of the ocean and the wind and finding yourself hurtling through the air 20 feet above the water makes kitesurfing one of the most exhilarating activities you’ll ever do, and these are some of the best beaches in Europe to “get your feet wet.”
Weston Super Mare, United Kingdom
Weston Super Mare is known for its year-round access to the water and for its many sports, from surfing to hang-gliding. Known for the extreme changes brought by the changing tides, the beach offers good and bad times to head out kitesurfing. The best time is the two hours before or after high tide. Otherwise you’re going to be looking at either choppy water or shallow muddy water. You’ll also have to be careful of posts that can be hidden by the high tide, but I’m sure you’ll agree after a great day of kitesurfing that the risks were worth it. If you’re a complete beginner and you’re unsupervised, this may not be the beach for you. After quitting time, you can wander and roam through this timeless fishing village, whose picturesque streets and amazing seafood will make you want to stick around as long as you can. Staying in one of the many great Weston Super Mare hotels is a good way to do that.
Boyalik Beach, Turkey
From one end of Europe to the other (actually to Asia Minor if you want to be accurate), we come to the Turkish Riviera resort of Çeşme and the seaside paradise that is Boyalik Beach. Set on Turkey’s west coast on the Çeşme Peninsula, the Aegean Sea is quite beautiful here. More importantly for kitesurfers, Boyalik Beach boasts flat water with periodic small chop and strong northerly winds ranging from 15 to 22 knots during peak season; the perfect combination for everyone from beginner to expert. The best conditions can be found either between December and March or between June and September. For the times you’re not on the water (or in the air), you can explore the unspoiled bays and blue skies of the stunning coastline and the aniseed, sesame and artichoke fields dotted with fig and gum trees that stretch inland. If you’re looking for more urban attractions, the city of Izmir isn’t far. But a Çeşme hotel makes it easy to hit the beach.
One advantage of being located at the southernmost tip of Europe is the wind that blows through the wind tunnel formed by Spain and North Africa. After all, what can you say about a place that boasts over 300 windy days a year? Boasting two prevailing winds, the Poniente from the east and the Levante from the west, Tarifa offers two premium kitesurfing beaches. Los Lances Beach allows you to take advantage of the Poniente, while Valdevaqueros can be kited on both winds. Needless to say, Tarifa offers a variety that is second to none; one day you could be riding the flat waters of Valdevaqueros in a strong Levante and the next you can be surfing meter-high waves at Los Lances. While the water is warm in the summer, winter months require a wetsuit. Whatever the season, many Tarifa hotels are close to the water.
Pounda Beach, Paros, Greece
If you think of the Cyclades Islands as being places for sun worshipping on lazy beaches or partying with the Euro-spring break crowd, it’s time to add a third option. Because Pounda Beach on Paros Island is a haven for kitesurfing. Just an eight kilometre bus ride from the island’s main city, this is one of Paros’s most popular beaches. It’s also ideal for the beginning kitesurfer, offering predominately flat water, making it a great place to learn, practice and get comfortable before heading out to some of the other beaches. There’s no bad season, as the wind blows all year round. But June through October is when you’ll find the most reliable winds. And then there’s the rest of the island. Inhabited since 3200 BCE, strolling around parts of Paros is almost like visiting a vast outdoor historical museum. Most hotels can be found back in the main city, but if you want to stay close to the beach, the Holiday Sun Hotel in nearby Pounta makes an excellent choice.
Most people would never guess that some of the best waves in Europe can be found just 90 kilometres north of Lisbon, just off the coastal town of Peniche. The peninsula boasts five kilometres of pristine white sand beaches which are so beautiful you might forget why you came. But looking at those waves and feeling that strong northerly wind will remind you soon enough. The bay’s unique shape allows you to kitesurf in many different directions, and the variety of waves, from perfect peelers to choppy mush, makes this a great place for all skill levels. Fall and winter offer the best conditions here, though be sure not to forget your wetsuit, as the water can dip down to 12 degrees Celsius – as opposed to an average 24 degrees in the summer. If you’re a beginner and you find yourself overwhelmed, just head a bit to the northeast to the Lagoon of Obidos where you’ll find flat conditions and a kitesurf school. And don’t forget to book your Peniche hotel room!
Posted in The UK on 06. Oct, 2011
If everybody had an Ocean
Across the old UK
Then everybody’d be surfing
Okay, that’s not quite the way the Beach Boys said it, but remember, the UK is an island, islands have lots of beaches and lots of those beaches have some amazing surf, so why be surprised that Jolly Old England is a popular surfing destination. In case you’re wondering why this article comes after summer is over, it’s because fall is the best time for British surfing, due to the relatively mild air and water temperatures combined with regular swells and less crowded beaches. So here are some gnarly spots for you to hang 10 on the other big island.
Watergate Bay, Cornwall
Let’s start with some easy spots for the beginners. Watergate Bay has two miles of beach at low tide, making it a great place for waves that are easy to handle and also makes it a less crowded alternative to nearby Newquay. If you’re looking for a surfing school, you can try the Xtreme Academy, which also teaches other extreme sports, water and otherwise. If you’re looking for a nearby accommodation where you can spread out, try the Beachcombers Apartments.
Heading from one end of the UK to the other, Saltburn located way up in the north east, where you’ll find friendly locals and good waves for beginners on both sides of the pier. The guys at Saltburn Surf Shop is located above the beach and offers everything from lessons to rentals to advice. After your adventure, you can enjoy a smoothie at Camfield’s Coffee Bar, and when it’s time to bed down for the night, there are some great Saltburn-by-the-Sea hotel options.
Llangennith, Gower, Wales
Arguably the most popular surf spot in Wales, this place appeals to surfers of all levels. Here you’ll find beach breaks all the way up and down the three-mile beach. It can get crowded, but if you walk far enough you should be able to find a spot of sand to call your own. Then it’s on to Swansea 15 miles away for a celebratory dinner and a well-deserved night of sleep in one of many hotels.
Once you’re ready to go up to the next level, you’re ready for Bantham and Bigbury. These South Devon beaches offer a variety of peaks depending on the stage of the tide, and offer a much mellower and inviting local populace as other popular surf spots on the north coast and in Cornwall. Long rides on a long board are the specialty here, and if you want an organic culinary celebration after a full day of surfing, you’ll find at the nearby Venus Café. And also be sure to check out the Discovery Surf School. When it’s time to bed down for the night, the Tradesmans Arms Hotel is on Kingsbridge’s English Riviera makes a great choice.
Porth Neigwl/Hell’s Mouth, Gwynedd, Wales
Heading back down to North Wales, we find a four-mile long bay that is quite stunning. If there’s a non-surfer in the group, they’ll be quite happy just gazing out from the craggy rocks and cliffs lining the coast. Of course you’ll be just beneath those cliff and rocks getting in a great day of surfing! Days with big swells bring big crowds, but again, if you’re prepared to walk, you’ll find spots that you can call your own. The West Coast Surf Shop is a great place to stop before you hit the surf, and the four-star Egryn Hotel, close to Porth Neigwl Beach and Llanbedrog Beach, is a great place to stop afterwards.
Thurso East, Scotland
Now that you’re ready for the big time, you’re ready to head north to Thurso East, one of the prettiest parts of the coast and also home to some of the best waves in all of Europe. Thurso East is a right-hand reef break over a flat, kelp-covered rock shelf, and when a big north-west swell hits, that’s when you’re in business. If you’ve made it this far, you’ll appreciate that the locals have made it further, and you’ll want to go out of your way to show them respect, starting with taking your turn in line. By the end of the day, you’re sure to be exhausted. Luckily for you, there are many comfortable beds awaiting you in the nearby Thurso hotels.
Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire
If you want your own personal beach, Freshwater West on the stunning Pembrokeshire coast is a good bet, as it boasts many many peaks all along the huge beach. Finding a wave to yourself is a real possibility here, and this is where you’ll also find one of the heaviest, scariest reef breaks in Wales. Be sure to ask around before you get into the water about the nearby firing range. If you stray into waters where you shouldn’t be, you’ll be lucky to get arrested and less lucky to be blown to smithereens! While you’re in the area, be sure not to miss the chance to explore the stunning beauty of the surrounding Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which is easy to access when you stay at the rustic four-star East Hook Farmhouse in Haverfordwest.
Trick or treat.
Though Halloween may be a strictly American holiday, the USA has nothing on Europe when it comes to the scary stuff. Europe is, after all, the continent where vampires, werewolves and witches first showed their evil faces. Dracula is from Transylvania, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are all from England, and let’s not even get started on the Brothers Grimm. And now even the American-style Halloween of costumes and parties and haunted houses is catching on in Europe. So here are some creepy European cities to spend your Halloween.
With its many ancient dark buildings and its crooked cobbled streets, Edinburgh provides the perfect atmosphere for Gothic horror. Edinburgh, like so many other cities, is also steeped in tales of bloody murder and torture, and you don’t have to wait until Halloween to experience it. Your first choice is to visit Edinburgh Castle, which is itself the site of centuries of drama. Your second choice is to let the guides at Auld Reekie Tours show you around. Here you’ll hear many horrible stories about the city’s dark doings of the past, like the famous story of local menial workers turned grave robbers turned murderers Burke and Hare. They also offer a special Halloween Ghost Hunt. If you want to explore Edinburgh’s dark underbelly, you can pay a visit to the the city’s famous Dungeons, covering 500 years of Edinburgh’s gory history on 11 actor led shows and two scary rides.
The City of Lights also has a dark side, and there are three chilling ways to experience it. The Paris Ghost Tour is a walking tour and pub crawl covering the satanic conspiracies of the 17th-19th centuries, the true Sweeney Todd of Paris and the Vampire of Paris, a real life serial killer and cannibal. You won’t need a tour guide to visit Père Lachaise Cemetery. Just buy yourself a map at the entrance and you can see the final resting places of such historical figures as Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde and of course the Lizard King himself, Jim Morrison. Unfortunately, there are still six feet of dirt between you and all these famous bones. But if you want to remove that barrier, just head to the famous Paris Catacombs, where you can come face to skull with over six million Parisians from centuries past. Here beneath the city in a maze of old tunnels left over from an ancient quarry, you’ll find chamber after chamber of bones arranged in the most artistic ways.
Prague, Czech Republic
Considered by some to be the most haunted city in Europe, Prague is home to the Golem and to the 15th century Old Jewish Cemetery, whose lack of space has led to centuries of bodies being buried atop other bodies until this tangled, crowded mass of graves is now covering up to 12 layers of the deceased. But Prague’s main Halloween attraction actually lies outside the city limits in the nearby town of Sedlec in the world-famous Sedlec Ossuary. A small Roman Catholic chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints, the ossuary traces its origins back to the 14th century when the Black Death when thousands of people were buried here. When the church was built in the middle of the cemetery, the lower chapel was piled high with the bones that had to be removed, and in 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver, was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to put the bone heaps into order. The macabre result includes four enormous bell-shaped mounds of bones in the corners of the chapel, an enormous chandelier of bones hanging from the center of the nave and garlands of skulls draping the vault. Don’t miss the Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms, and the signature of Rint, which are also both made of bones.
While the Sicilian capital of Palermo doesn’t actually boast any real-life zombies, it does boast the Capuchin Catacombs (Catacombe dei Cappuccini). Here you’ll have the closest to a zombie experience as is possible as you walk past centuries-old monks and other Palermo citizens who have all been mummified and await your visit, standing up and in their Sunday best! The bodies were dehydrated, sometimes washed with vinegar and sometimes embalmed. Originally reserved for the monks, the catacombs became a very fashionable place to spend eternity, and families would fight for the best spots to be seen by future generations. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in favorite outfits and even to have their clothes changed at regular intervals. There are thousands of mummies in different states of decay, stretching back over 500 years.
If you’d like your Halloween experience to be a little less authentic, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens Amuseument Park is closer to the US model, presenting Halloween chills and thrills similar to Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios. Surrounded by thousands of pumpkins, hay bales, spiders and scarecrows, you’re invited to experience such attractions as the Witches Circus, Thriller Mini-Disco and a daily Halloween parade. The action takes place between October 14 and 23. That’s when the park’s playful witches are waiting for you at The Old Mill in the Halloween Village, where they brew magic potions and sing witchy songs. Kids of all ages can carve their own jack-o-lanterns and thrill to the sight of Denmark’s largest pumpkin. This is also the site of the Danish Pumpkin Championship.
Europe is known more for the horizontal nature of its cities; cities full of ancient architectural treasures that rise tens of metres and not hundreds. To a large degree it’s out of respect for such monuments as the Paris Opera House, Westminster Abbey and the Kremlin that American-style skylines have not emerged to smother their classical beauty. But within the last several decades, there has been a building boom in Europe, resulting in buildings that are not only cutting edge in design… but are very tall. Here are a few of the tallest.
City of Capitals Moscow, Moscow, Russia
More than any other city, Moscow has been leading the charge and now lays claim not only to five of the top ten tallest buildings on the continent, but also to the top three on the list. The tallest of these is the City of Capitols Moscow. Completed in 2010, this shining structure rises 310.6 metres from the street below. This makes it an imposing sight, especially in light of the fact that its neighboring City of Capitals St. Petersburg is only 44.7 metres shorter. Luckily for us, this is one of those skyscrapers offering lots of access to the public, as the upper half of the building offer a 10,800 square metre entertainment complex, including shops, restaurants, movie theatres, presentation halls and a huge 2,480 square metre fitness centre. There’s also 101,440 square metres of large apartments and 80,000 square metres of office space. If you want to sleep with a view of the towers, the two-star Moscow Apartments are right across the river.
Sapphire of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
After Moscow, the number four spot goes to the Sapphire of Istanbul, which weighs in at a height of 238 metres. Of course, some skyscraper enthusiasts like to count the spire, which makes the height 261 metres. Rising 54 floors above ground level, the Sapphire offers lots of shopping, as well as once-impossible views of the Bosphorus. An especially nice way to enjoy your view is while floating in the swimming pool located 33.5 metres up the building. Or how about a game of golf at 163 metres? But what makes the Sapphire unique are the building’s gardens that are found every three floors and the recreation areas that can be found every 10 stories. Since the main purpose of the building is residential, the designers have gone to great lengths to make it livable. The Sapphire is Turkey’s first green building, having two special glass shells which can take the outside air naturally by holes located at every 3 floors. If you want to sleep close to the Sapphire, the five-star Avantgarde Hotel Istanbul makes an excellent choice.
Commerzbank Tower, Frankfurt, Germany
Second only to Moscow in the number of skyscrapers, the financial centre of Frankfurt-am-Main boasts two of the top ten tallest buildings in Europe. The tallest is Commerzbank Tower, which passed up the Messeturm upon its 1997 completion. It’s actually difficult to stand out from the competition in the modern skyline that has earned the city the nickname of “Mainhattan.” But at 259 metres and boasting a unique modern design, Commerzbank Tower does just that. Especially when you throw in the signal light on top which increases the height to 300.1 metres. It’s no surprise that the two tallest buildings in Frankfurt are office buildings, thus lacking the creature comforts of the Sapphire. But in addition to its 121,000 square metres of office space, this 56-story building also offers beautiful winter gardens, and the natural lighting and air circulation give it a light breezy feeling. If you want a break from the modern buildings in the Frankfurt skyline, just a block from the Commerzbank Tower is the more classic structure housing the five-star luxury Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof Hotel.
Cuatro Torres, Madrid, Spain
Though Madrid’s entry into the top ten is technically the 250 metre-high Torre Caja Madrid, it wouldn’t make sense not to include the building’s three partners, Torre de Cristal, Torre Sacyr Vallehermosothe and Torre Espacio. All built between 2007 and 2009, these four modern wonders make up the Cuatro Torres. Their proximity and their similar heights (Torre de Cristal is only 89 centimetres shorter than Torre Caja Madrid) make the four buildings part of a greater whole. A brand-new landmark for the grand old capital of Madrid, the towers, set on the north end of the city, are hard to miss, whether you’re landing at nearby Barajas Airport or hiking up the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains outside the city. Located in a business and entertainment district, there are many shops, restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area. But you can’t get much closer than the five star Eurostars Madrid Tower Hotel, as it is actually located on the 30th floor of Torre Sacyr Vallehermosothe.
1 Canada Square, London, England
If 1 Canada Square looks familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen it in a movie. Like its American cousins the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, 1 Canada Square has become a cinematic icon, appearing in 28 Weeks Later, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Supremacy, Johnny English and the James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough. Located at the lively Canary Wharf it’s the oldest entry in the top 10, having been completed in 1991, and its 50 stories are spread over 235 metres. But if you want to see it as the UK’s tallest building, you’d better see it fast, as the soon-to-be-completed Shard London Bridge will surpass it upon its 2012 completion. But no matter where it ranks, you’ll be able to enjoy its distinctive pyramid roof which boasts a flashing aircraft warning light, a rarity for buildings in the UK. If you want to stay in a hotel that puts you close to the building and to all the shops, restaurants and nightlife of Canary Wharf, consider the five-star Four Seasons London Canary Wharf.
Most of Europe’s most popular tourist attractions are on dry land. However, that does not mean that we should forget the wonders of the sea. Here are the five best aquariums in Europe that allow you to discover the mysterious depths of the Pacific, Atlantic and other oceans without getting your feet wet.
1. Oceanário de Lisboa – Lisbon, Portugal
The Oceanário de Lisboa is not just one of the best in Europe. It is, in fact, the largest aquarium as well. Its central reservoir is a 1,000-square-metre tank with four gigantic acrylic windows to peer through. Four smaller containers surrounding the main exhibit also contain inhabitants of the Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic and Antarctic waters. There are more than 8 thousand sea creatures and 500 species of plants for visitors to marvel at. On the first floor of the oceanarium, there are an additional 25 thematic aquariums. Major highlights include two spider crabs, two sea otters, Tropical Indian coral reefs, and a rare sunfish.
the Oceanário de Lisboa's prized sunfish
2. l’Oceanogràfic – Valencia, Spain
The largest open-air aquarium in Europe is actually located in Valencia, Spain. It is l’Oceanogràfic, within the state-of-the-art City of Arts and Sciences. The futuristic compound features more than 110 thousand square metres of aquatic exhibits—and even the architecture was inspired by water! The main building was designed by Felix Candela to resemble water lilies. L’Oceanogràfic is home to 4,5000 fish and marine animals from the ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea, the Arctic and Antarctic, and even tropical seas.
3. The AquaDom – Berlin, Germany
Housed within the 5-star Radisson Blu Hotel Berlin, AquaDom may not be the largest in Europe—but it is certainly one of the most impressive. Rising up from the floor of the hotel’s atrium, the eye-catching cylinder towers more than 25 metres. With a diameter of 11 metres, the tank holds nearly a million litres of water. Within it are over 2,600 species of fish. However, what makes the AquaDom so incredible is the fact that there is a transparent two-story elevator inside of it! Up to 30 tourists can travel at once right through the water, from the ground floor of the hotel to the upper observation platform.
4. Deep Sea World – Fife, UK
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the Scottish village of North Queensferry is the Deep Sea World aquarium. It is perhaps most famous for its collection of large sand tiger sharks (also known as ragged toothed sharks or grey nurse sharks) and other species. Another premier attraction is the 112-metre-long transparent acrylic underwater viewing tunnel, which is one of the longest of its kind in the world. The tunnel runs through a tank that contains 1,000,000 gallons of seawater pumped in from the River Forth. Because of the water’s low temperature, most of the animals on display are from around Britain. However, the aquarium also has rock pools containing exotic fish and a new seal enclosure among other attractions.
5. Sea Life London Aquarium – London, UK
Right on the ground floor of County Hall on the South Bank of the River Thames, you will find the largest collection of aquatic species in London. Sea Life attracts about a million visitors each year, and it is easy to see why it remains so popular. Along with the requisite displays of fish and mammals, the aquarium is also home to eight gentoo penguins that were transferred from the Edinburgh Zoo earlier this year. Other unique attractions include the underwater Shark Walk tunnel and an exhibit of three robotic fish. Additionally, the centre offers classes and is involved in multiple breeding programs (including seahorses, jellyfish, butterfly goodeids, and the Cuban crocodile.)
Posted in The UK on 06. Sep, 2011
When people think about theme parks, they tend to picture the super-sized parks of the USA, from Six Flags to Magic Mountain and to such vintage parks as New York City’s Coney Island. Well, it’s time to change your way of thinking, because the United Kingdom has its own theme parks. While providing all the thrills, chills and spills of its counterpart across the pond, England’s theme parks also provide a distinctly British feel, as we’ll see in our five British theme parks of the day.
Drayton Manor Theme Park
For example, the theme park, resort and zoo making up the Drayton Manor Theme Park is actually set on the grounds of the former Drayton Manor. Located close to Tamworth in Staffordshire, the park draws in about a million and a half customers a year,spans 280 acres and has been in business for 61 years. Highlights include Shockwave, Europe’s only standing up coaster and Apocalypse, a five-sided drop tower with a choice of sit-down, stand-up or floorless ride positions. You may have a hard time distinguishing Pirate Adventure with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, but the medieval Excalibur boat ride and the double inverted swing known as Pandemonium will have you forgetting about Disney in no time. Drayton Manor also boasts a 15-acre zoo with over 100 species from all over the world, and the park holds many events including fundraisers for Birmingham children’s hospital. Musical projects are also held, and you won’t want to miss the annual fireworks event taking place on the lake. After a full day of rides and animals, you can retire to a nearby Tamworth hotel.
Want to see the London Eye, Canary Wharf, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge and the Horseguards Parade with the Queen herself for only one admission price? See the Lego versions of all of these landmarks and many others at Legoland Windsor. Using nearly 40 million Lego bricks, this place also boasts a 1:20 scale version of the Docklands Light Railway and the London Underground, British landmarks from Brighton Pier to Edinburgh Castle, to the Royal Mile and to Stonehenge to the Loch Ness itself. The Lego versions of the smallest pub in Britain and a typical Welsh village street can also be seen, along with Lego landmarks from Sweden, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Located on the site of the Windsor Safari Park and close to Windsor Castle, the theme park also boasts the Imagination Centre with its Build & Test Workshops, Mindstorms Workshop and Robolab Workshop. Rides include wire climbing Space Tower and aerial powered car track Sky Rider, and the Imagination Theatre presents Lego Racers 4D,Spellbreaker 4D, Bob the Builder 4-D and more. Thirteen kilometres from your flight at Heathrow Airport, Legoland Windsor is also to many Windsor hotel rooms.
A theme park that it uniquely British, Dickens World invites you to travel back in time to the 19th century and the long-vanished world of Charles Dickens. Set in the vibrant Chatham Dockyard in Kent, this newcomer on the scene (opened May, 2007) cost £62 million to create and pays homage to former Chatham resident Charles Dickens. Here you’ll find recreations of many of the locations and characters in his novels, which just happen to have been inspired by locations and people in the nearby Medway Towns, like Holcombe Manor, which inspired Dingley Dell in Pickwick Papers. Europe’s longest indoors dark ride, the “Great Expectations” log flume adds a thrills, the Haunted House of Ebenezer Scrooge adds chills, and the play area called Fagin’s Den probably sees its share of spills. Then there’s the 4D high definition cinema show, a themed bar and restaurant, and a wonderful mockup of Dickensian-style London buildings around a central square, full of all sorts of characters from Dickens’ many works. There are also many live shows, from the Circus of Light to the Fidelio Opera to the Maritime Jazz Festival 2011. Returning to the 21st century, you can choose between many great Chatham hotels.
Pleasure Beach, Blackpool
If you want to experience some of the biggest and baddest rides on the island, head to the traditional resort town of Blackpool where you’ll find Pleasure Beach, Blackpool. The most visited amusement park in the United Kingdom, and one of the top twenty in the world, this park tops 5.5 million visitors per year. Speaking of “tops,” the park boasts the UK’s tallest roller coaster (Pepsi Max Big One), the world’s first roller coaster built entirely over the water (Infusion), Europe’s first fully inverting roller coaster (Im Bru Revolution) and the UK’s most expensive dark ride (Valhalla). Traditionalists will thrill to the 1923 Big Dipper, the 1935 Grand National and the Wild Mouse, which is one of the only three remaining wooden Wild Mouse roller coasters. For entertainment, there’s the Hot Ice skating extravaganza, the Globe Theatre, Beyond Belief, Ken Webster , MJ Timeless & Circus of Horrors and Kyran Brackens Ice party. Like the park itself, Blackpool hotels mix the old and the new.
The Brighton Marine Palace and Pier
No discussion of theme parks in England would be complete without a mention of the granddaddy of them all. Begun in 1891 and completed in 1899, the Brighton Marine Palace and Pier, Brighton’s third pleasure pier was the one that stuck. The concert hall opened in 1901 and became a theatre in 1911. After being damaged by a barge in 1973 and “temporarily” removed in 1986, we’re still waiting for the theatre to be brought back, but there’s still plenty to do in the meantime. This Grade II-listed structure boasts a domed amusement arcade and several fairground rides, including several thrill rides, children’s rides, roller coasters and a log flume. While you’re not going to encounter quite as much G-force on the rides at the Brighton Marine Palace and Pier, the rides are certainly fun and they provide unique insight into the country’s Victorian past. You can continue this insight in one of the many nearby classic hotels in Brighton and Hove.