Croatia’s capital, Zagreb is a world of hidden treasures longing to be uncovered around every corner. Secret alleyways lead to sidewalk cafes where “When a Man Loves a Woman” plays on a slightly staticky radio behind photos of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Hidden staircases open into outdoor markets full of colourful fruit and vegetable stands and rows of souvenirs with bright red umbrellas protecting them from the hot mid-day sun. Behind arches and deep doorways, restaurants invite you in for a bite, and seemingly dead ends expose hidden churches and shops.
A trip to Budapest just wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Hungarian Parliament building or trying a bowl of goulash soup, and as this European city is known for its thermal waters, a trip to one of the baths is a definite ‘must-do.’ While a nice swim in a thermal pool may be the perfect way to relax aching muscles after a day of sight-seeing, in Budapest, bath houses are much more than a tourist attraction – they are a way of life.
Locals put a lot of faith in the water’s healing properties and for many of the city’s older residents, the baths remain as important today as they were to the Ottomans. Continue reading
Exploring the stunning architecture of Belem, Portugal. From the incredibly ornate detailing found throughout the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos– the Monument of the Discoveries built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, to the Moorish influence found in the Torre to Belem, Belem is definitely worth a visit. After a long day of exploring the areas historical buildings, be sure to stop at Pasteis de Belem for one of their famous Portuguese tarts!
Learning about life under the sea at the Oceanario de Lisboa, Europe’s second largest oceanarium. Here, visitors can explore ocean habitats from each of the world’s oceans. Visit penguins in the Antarctic tank, see otters playing in the Pacific tank rock pools, gaze at the colourful fish and tropical coral reef in the Indian Ocean tank, watch sharks swim by and more including a special exhibit of sea turtles.
Exploring Cascais, Portugal, a beautiful beach resort area of gorgeous old mansions and former fishermen’s houses surrounding a bay covered with sandy beaches.
With Royal Wedding fever lingering in the air, London is a great place to visit and take your own “Royal Tour” of the city.
As someone who loves this city, I’ve found myself playing tour guide on several occasions (possibly a future career option if the journalism thing doesn’t work out!)
London is a huge tourist city and there are tons of options for getting out to see the sights. You could take a bus tour to see the highlights, but since many of the major attractions are within walking distance and there are tons of walking tours available, you might as well get out and stretch your legs!
Crystal’s Walking Tour of London begins in Hyde Park. At over 350 acres, it’s one of London’s largest green spaces. Inside the park, you will find Diana Fountain, a memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales, which was opened by the Queen in 2004.
From here, walk through the Marble Arch to Buckingham Palace, where the world just witnessed William and Catherine’s first kiss as a married couple on the balcony. This has served as the Monarch’s London residence since Queen Victoria took the throne, but dates back to 1702 as the Duke of Buckingham’s city home. It’s the largest private house in London with 775 rooms! Weather permitting, you can catch the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace daily at 11:30 from May-July and on alternating days from August- April.
From the Palace, you can stroll past Canada Gate located at the entrance of Green Park before continuing down the Mall, or wander through St. James Park, past the pond where you’ll be greeted by swans and pelicans.
The tree-lined Mall endsat Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery is located behind the notable Nelson’sColumn, which was built to commemorate Admiral Nelson’s naval victory in 1805.
The square also hosts a couple of impressive fountains and a giant ship in a bottle!
The mayor of London recently banned pigeon food sellers in hopes that this would purge the square of the thousands of pigeons that call it home. So far, he hasn’t had much luck, as tourists continue to feed the birds.
From here you can continue on your tour by heading down Whitehall, which is lined with government buildings. Part way down Whitehall on the West side is 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister ‘s residence has been since 1792. At the South end of Whitehall you will find the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
The current Parliament Buildings date back to 1840 after a fire destroyed the previous ones. During the summer opening when Parliament doesn’t sit, you can take a tour.
Next to the Houses of Parliament stands Big Ben. The famous old clock can be heard throughout the city as it strikes on the quarter hour. A light in the clock tower signals when the House of Commons is in session.
The beautiful Westminster Abbey where William and Catherine were married is located nearby. The 700-year-old Abbey has been the venue for all but two coronations since William the Conqueror and many of the country’s monarchs and notable celebrities were buried here.
From there, the tour continues across the Thames River on Westminster Bridge after stopping for an excellent photo opportunity of Parliament before reaching Southbank.
Right across the river you’ll find the Aquarium and London Eye- the biggest observation wheel in the world, towering 135 m above the Thames River. The Eye takes 30 minutes to make a full rotation and on a clear day you will have a 25-mile panoramic view, so keep your cameras ready!
But, it’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre that generally attracts the largest crowds on this side of the Thames. The original Globe was built in the late 1500s and by 1599 it was up and running, thrivingfor 14 years with some of Shakespeare’s best known work. Then, in 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII, a cannon ignited the thatched fire and the theatre caught fire. It was quickly rebuilt this time but was closed under Puritan low in 1642 before being demolished in 1644. The current Globe was built in 1993 and continues to perform the best of Shakespeare.
Next, the tour continues back on the other side of the Thames River by crossing the Millennium Bridge and heading to St. Paul’s Cathedral. A cathedral dedicated to St. Paul has been on this site since 604 AD! The current cathedral is the fourth one to reside hereand was built between 1675 and 1710 after the previous one was destroyed by the Great Fire of London.
This gorgeous old cathedral has witnessed the weddings of many notable figures and its crypt is known as the foremost burial place, where those who have made an outstanding contribution to the life of the nation are now buried.
A short walk from here is Covent Garden, where you can take a break and get a much deserved drink or an ice cream cone and rest, wander through the shops or enjoy one of the many street performers found here!
If your feet aren’t killing you yet, you can continue on to Tower Bridge and Tower of London.
Tower Bridge is just over 100 years old and is one of the most famous attractions in London with its twin drawbridges.
Below the bridge, overlooking the river is the Tower of London. Made famous as a place of imprisonment and execution during King Henry VIII’s reign, it has also been used as a royal residence, an armoury, a mint, a menagerie, an observatory and safe place to display the Crown Jewels, a main attraction for many tourists. Some crown jewels have been there since 1327!
With all this and more easily reached on foot, on your next trip to London make sure you get out and enjoy this Royal City!
Portsmouth has long been known as a naval city in England’s South end, but to me, this city has a lot more than naval history. Portsmouth is my Grandma’s hometown and during World War II she worked here in the Women’s Land Army. While working, she met a handsome Canadian soldier, fell madly in love, got married and moved to Canada after the war. Then, in the early 1990s she learned she had a younger brother she never knew about. She had been raised by her grandfather as her father took off and her mother wasn’t really around. Long story short, John and his wife Jean came to visit her in Canada and we all got to know each other. Continue reading