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Eight Places Not to Miss in Edinburgh

To start, let’s recall that Edinburgh is both a World Heritage Site and also the first place to be designated by UNESCO as a “City of Literature”, because of its numerous well-preserved buildings and monuments and its age-old literary traditions.

The city is best seen at a walking pace, and as a pedestrian you’ll find its hidden nooks and crannies and perchance the spirits of the city’s famed authors and even more famous creations, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his shrewd detective Sherlock Holmes, Robert Louis Stevenson and the two-faced Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or Sir Walter Scott and his heroic Ivanhoe and Rob Roy characters. And there’s even a chance you’ll see some of the city’s literary figures in the flesh, for we shall start our tour in the café with the red façade where the contemporary author J. K. Rowling penned many of her early stories and planned her books about the boy wizard Harry Potter.

1. Few people noticed the young Rowling scribbling in her notebooks at a table in the unprepossessing Elephant House café. The establishment, which opened in 1995, remains a favourite of literary types, thanks to its selection of the city’s best coffees and teas, which continue to stain many pages of manuscript. Huge breakfasts are also served, as well as hot midday and evening meals, plus the usual sandwiches and cakes, etc. And there’s an excellent wine list, too. No excuse for not sitting down and writing your book!

2. Or you might prefer to take a stroll down Edinburgh’s legendary Royal Mile, linking the city’s two most popular monumental sites, Edinburgh Castle, standing above the city atop the towering volcanic basalt plug known as Castle Rock, and, at the other extreme, Holyrood Palace, the official Scottish residence of the British monarch. A slow and attentive walk down the four stretches of the Royal Mile, called Castlehill, Lawn Market, High Street, and Canongate, will infuse you with the unique, friendly atmosphere and stony charm of this historical city.

3. If you appreciate the macabre, on your walk down the Royal Mile you must stop at Mary King’s Close, a warren of gloomy underground streets and enclosures widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the past. Once a thriving market, the close was named for a woman who lived there and traded in cloth in the early 1600s. According to urban legend, when the plague struck the area in 1645, the authorities walled it off, leaving scores of people inside to die. Since, then reports of strange lights and noises have fuelled beliefs that the zone remains haunted. Visitors often brings dolls to calm the ghost of the legendary Annie, a child plague victim thought to have been left by her parents to die in the Close, and whose heart-rending cries can still be heard. Perhaps.

4. For a Facebook-worthy selfie showing Edinburgh Castle in the background, the place to go is Princess Street, Edinburgh’s main shopping street, which featured in the 1996 film Trainspotting. Apart from the shopping opportunities there, the street happens to be the best place from which to capture a panoramic view of the castle, since there are no buildings on the castle side of the street, but only gardens and monuments.

5. If you’re looking for quirkier and more out-of-the-way shops, head for the wildly picturesque Victoria Street, a curving slope just off the Royal Mile that is a favourite of photographers because of its colourful specialised shops selling liquors, cheeses, handicrafts, and all sorts of treasures. You’re sure to find bargains in the several charity shops selling used clothing and other items, the proceeds from which are donated to worthy causes. Harry Potter’s creator J.K. Rowling acknowledged that this street was her inspiration for Diagon Alley, where her wizards bought their magical gear.

6. Edinburgh is not made entirely of stone, despite initial impressions. It also features expansive green zones, such as the parks of Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, where the city’s joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers go. Both offer fantastic views of the city from on high. The 251-metre Arthur’s Seat is the peak to which, according to legend, King Arthur used to repair when he needed time alone to think. Atop Calton Hill are two monuments to British victories over the French, Nelson’s Tower, commemorating the battle of Trafalgar, and Scotland’s National Monument, an unfinished construction modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, built in the 1820s to honour Scotland’s dead in the Napoleonic wars.

7. At Ocean Terminalin the Port of Leith, Edinburgh’s harbour, stands the Royal Yacht Britannia, used by the British royal family from 1954 until 1997 when it was converted into a floating museum that is well worth a visit –don’t miss the little bedroom where Queen Elizabeth II slept during her nearly 1,000 state voyages.

8. To finish up, you might visit Greyfriars Cemetery and have your picture taken next to the statue of one of Edinburgh’s heroes, Bobby, a Skye terrier traditionally believed to have stood watch by his master’s grave for no less than14 years, until his own death in 1873, after which he was buried next to his master.

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Text and Photos: Nani Arenas

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Five Wonders Less Than an Hour From Rome

When visiting Rome, the last thing that comes to mind is thinking there may be something else beyond that spectacular city. Indeed, you probably won’t even have time to entertain such thoughts. What with its intricate Roman past, its Renaissance glories and its stunning Baroque heritage, one is hard put to imagine anything beyond its boundaries. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as there is actually life beyond the city limits – and how! Summer villas, time-locked towns and papal refuges await you less than an hour from Rome. Come along and discover them!

Hadrian’s Villa

Our first gem is situated in the environs of Tivoli, some 45 minutes from Rome – an extraordinary villa which served as Hadrian’s retreat. Like Rome’s ruling class, the emperor sought a place in Rome’s environs where he could escape the bustle of the big city. He did not, however, settle for a simple summer house – going a step further, he had the idea of commissioning a model town featuring replicas of some of the buildings he had visited on his travels. This is the case of Canopus, a copy of a shrine in Alexandria, and of Pecile, an imitation of a building in Athens. The Maritime Theatre is one of the most emblematic constructions in the complex. It features a small villa set on an island in the middle of an artificial lake.

Villa d’Este

Another jewel in the area, located in the centre of Tivoli, is this Renaissance villa, originally a Benedictine convent, which in the 16th century was converted into a palace by Ippolito II d'Este, the son of Lucrezia Borgia. In addition to the building and its rooms, decorated with frescoes in fine taste, its standout feature are the stunning gardens, housing no fewer than 500 fountains! The most striking ensemble is a row of one hundred fountains known as the Fountain of Neptune – which also has a spectacular waterfall – and a fountain with a hydraulic organ that emits sounds.

Villa Gregoriana

Hard by the Villa d’Este is this wonderful park commissioned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1835. Built on the bed of the river Aniene, its most striking feature is a large waterfall, created by diverting the river to protect the area from flooding. Among the lush vegetation in the Villa, which affords some lovely views, stand the archaeological remains of the Temple of Vesta, built in the 1st century BC.

Ostia Antica

Situated 30 kilometres from Rome, near the mouth of the river Tiber, stands the archaeological site of Ostia Antica, once an important port. Founded in the 4th century BC, it was a major trade and defence enclave in ancient Rome. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the city went into decline, while continual invasions and a malaria epidemic led it to be abandoned. The city was buried under river sediments for centuries and has survived to the present in fairly good condition, although less so than Pompeii or Herculaneum. Wandering through what is left of its streets, temples, thermal baths, houses and shops, it is not difficult to imagine what its splendorous past must have been like.

Frascati and Castelgandolfo

Lastly, we have singled out these two beautiful locations in the Alban Hills which form part of the municipal comune known as the Castelli Romani (Castles of Rome). The picturesque town of Frascati is celebrated for its white wine and its villas, commissioned by Popes, cardinals and nobles of Rome as of the 16th century. One such construction is the spectacular Villa Aldobrandini, also known as Belvedere, designed by Giacomo della Porta and completed by Carlo Maderno.

Located on the shores of Lake Albano stands Castelgandolfo, celebrated above all for being the Pope’s summer residence. Although not open to visitors, it is worth strolling around the town centre and soaking up the views.

Book your Vueling to Rome and venture beyond the city’s limits to see some of these sites.

Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Aquilifer, Adrian Pingstone, M.Maselli, Alexander Mooi, CucombreLibre, Alessandro Malatesta, Polybert49, Sudika, MatthiasKabel

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Cardiff For Newbies

Cardiff is hosting the 2017 UEFA Champions League final on 3 June. Although the city is overshadowed by the likes of Britain’s most popular destinations, namely London, Manchester and Liverpool, Cardiff, an ancient Roman fortification, is currently experiencing a moment of splendour. Indeed, it has a plethora of allurements to warrant you visiting the city, whether or not your team is due to file onto the pitch at the Millennium Stadium. In the following we reveal the most iconic spots in the Welsh capital.

Cardiff Bay
This is one of the city’s nerve centres and the economic driving force behind its development in the early 20th century. However, when the coal trade slipped into decline, the Cardiff docks turned into a derelict, forsaken precinct. In the 1990s, the Cardiff Council decided to revive Cardiff Bay, converting it into an area open to the public. It is now the favourite haunts of many a Cardiffian and is one of the most attractive areas in the city, boasting some of the best leisure and gastronomic amenities.

Llandaff Cathedral
One of the most emblematic examples of religious architecture in Wales. Built in the 13th century, Llandaff Cathedral is a huge, mesmerising Gothic construction, although some corners reveal vestiges of the Norman and later periods, notably the stunning “Christ” modelled by the American sculptor, Jacob Epstein, which hangs in the central nave. For those interested in paranormal phenomena, Llandaff Cathedral has spawned all manner of ghost stories, to the extent that they now run a “Ghost Tour” on which visitors are shown the spots where ghost sightings have taken place. Interestingly, not far from the Cathedral lies Llandaff Cathedral School, where Roald Dahl studied.

Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle
is a must-visit spot for all newcomers to the city, just as the Colosseum is in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Built on the site of a former Roman fortification, its origins go back to the 11th century. Although much of the original structure is still intact, in the 19th century the Marquess of Bute commissioned the architect, William Burges, to undertake extensive remodelling works, based on the Victorian and Neogothic precepts in vogue at the time, which turned the castle into one of the most opulent contemporary constructions.

Cardiff City Hall
Flanked by Cardiff Crown Court and the National Museum of Cardiff stands Cardiff City Hall, one of the most stunningly beautiful buildings in the city. Built in the early 20th century, even its exterior features extraordinary architectural beauty in the purity of its white limestone facings. However, don’t let its formidable appearance stop you from going inside. You can double check in reception, but usually you can visit all the rooms you find open. If you’re in luck, you will be treated to such sights as the Marble Hall with its collection of sculptures of illustrious figures from Welsh history, the Assembly Room and the Council Chamber.

National Museum of Cardiff
Next door to the Cardiff City Hall is the National Museum of Cardiff, the most important museum in the city. Like the neighbouring Cardiff Crown Court and Cardiff City Hall, this is a stunning Edwardian building on which construction began in 1912. Building work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and could not be completed until 1927. Admission is free (like virtually all British museums) and the interior houses a variety of exhibitions, ranging from different natural science disciplines to art – the highlight is their collection of Impressionist paintings, featuring such geniuses as Van Gogh, Monet and Cézanne.

Wales Millennium Centre
At the entrance to Cardiff Bay you will come across the Wales Millennium Centre, home to the Welsh National Opera. Opened in 1912, this modern building presents elements in slate, metal, wood and glass, all sourced in Wales. Inscribed above the main entrance are two poetic lines, written by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The first, in Welsh, reads “Creating Truth Like Glass From Inspiration's Furnace” and the second, in English, reads “In These Stones Horizons Sing”. Housed in the interior is the Donald Gordon Theatre, with a seating capacity of 1,900, and two adjoining rooms, which host opera recitals and extravaganzas, symphonic orchestras, ballet, theatre and contemporary music throughout the year.

Techniquest
Techniquest is the largest museum of science, technology and knowledge in the United Kingdom. Located on Stuart Street, a stone’s throw from Cardiff Bay, it stands out for its characteristic glass and steel structure. Striking a balance between education and entertainment, Techniquest is home to permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as a theatre which hosts various science-oriented events, a planetarium and a centre of knowledge and technology dedicated to educating visitors in scientific principles through playful experiments.

Y Mochyn Du
After so much sightseeing, you will need to replenish your energy at some stage. And, where better to do so than in a typical Welsh pub? None comes more highly recommended than Y Muchyn Du (Black Pig, in Welsh). It lies some 20 minutes from the city centre, right at the entrance to Sophia Gardens and alongside the city’s main cricket stadium. However, once you get there, you will realise your journey has been worth it – walls plastered in rugby memorabilia, a Welsh-speaking clientele, traditional Welsh cuisine and a good assortment of local beers. In short, one of those venues that breathes authenticity.

The Backdrop for the Final
Football will be king on 3 June, but the National Stadium of Wales, also known as the Millennium Stadium, is one of the great temples of rugby, a sport about which the Welsh are passionate. The pride of Cardiff, the stadium was built in 1999 in time for the Rugby World Cup, and was the venue for the opening ceremony, the first and the last game, when Australia took the honours. With a seating capacity of 74,500, it is one of the world’s largest stadiums with a retractable roof, as well as one of the most striking and architecturally elegant anywhere on earth. Home to the Welsh rugby and football national teams, it is here that the new champion of European football clubs will be crowned.

Text by Oriol Rodríguez

Images by John Greenaway, David Ip, Michel Curi, John Mason, Jon Candy

 

 

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Keep calm and visit a museum

It probably can’t boast about having the best weather or food, but London is one of the world’s great centres of art production and exhibition. Its museums are a must-visit for expert and amateur museum-goers, as well as tourists who relish wandering through the kilometres of galleries to admire an Assyrian relief dating back 2,600 years, or paintings by Caravaggio or Turner, Charles Dickens’ original manuscripts or Pop Art silk screen prints by Andy Warhol.

The fact is London has museums for all tastes. From small and medium-sized private collections to the homes of illustrious figures, and large museums where you can spend days on end, if you feel so inclined. What’s more, most of them are admission-free. We toured the city, and here are our findings regarding the ten museums you simply shouldn’t miss.

1. British Museum – A Walk Through Archaeology

Going to London and not visiting the British Museum is like going to Madrid and not having a calamari sandwich. Among the oldest museums in Europe, it houses one of the most prestigious archaeological collections in the world. Here you will find such celebrated artefacts as the Rosetta Stone, the friezes from the Parthenon of Athens and a display of Egyptian art matched only by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The British Museum is in the district of Bloomsbury, a short distance from Tottenham Court Road and Russell Square, housed in one of the most striking Neoclassical buildings in England.

2. National Gallery – the Temple of Painting

If visiting London without going into the British Museum is like visiting Madrid and not eating a calamari sandwich, then touring the city without setting foot in the National Gallery is like going to Rome and not trying a dish of pasta. Presiding over the immensity of Trafalgar Square, London’s National Gallery is home to some of the most famous canvases in art history, notably Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, Rokeby Venus by Velázquez or Bathers by Paul Cézanne.

3. Tate Modern – for the Creative

Opened in the year 2000, a former power station on the bank of the Thames houses Britain's national gallery of international modern art, known as the Tate Modern. It is one of the city’s major attractions and boasts one of the most comprehensive modern art collections in the world. Here you can see works by Picasso, Dalí, Mark Rothko or Andy Warhol, while their excellent schedule of temporary exhibitions enables enthusiasts to keep up-to-date with the leading artists of the moment.

4. Wallace Collection – An Oasis in the City Centre

If there was a single word to define The Wallace Collection, it might well beoasis. This erstwhile family residence is located in the heart of London, a stone’s throw away from Oxford Street and Selfridges department store. Much of the original decor remains intact and the mansion houses a collection of art, weapons and objects which the Wallace family bequeathed to the British state in 1897. Works by Rembrandt, Velázquez, Titian, Canaletto and Fragonard rub shoulders with sumptuous chandeliers, vases and chimneys in this must-see landmark. The museum is quiet, admission-free and not too large, ideal for those seeking to avoid crowds and not get museum legs from too much walking. Be sure to have afternoon tea in the museum’s elegant covered court before leaving.

5. Tate Britain – British Style

Opened in 1897, this museum boasts a large collection of historical and contemporary British art. The major draw in the exhibition is the section dedicated to William Turner, one of Britain’s most famous painters, whose life was dramatised in the award-winning 2014 film, Mr. Turner, starring Timothy Spall in the title role. There is a boat service connecting the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern, so there is no excuse not to visit both museums and have a stroll along the bank of the Thames.

6. Victoria and Albert Museum – Art in the Service of Empire

Covering an area of 45,000 square metres, the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the most spectacular museums in London. Located in the exclusive area of South Kensington, it features a truly amazing collection of decorative art. Items on display range from ivories to oriental textiles, goldsmithery, ceramics, glass and building fragments. The architecture of the building is eminently majestic, too, featuring large galleries and courts containing life-size replicas of Trajan’s Column and the Pórtico da Gloria from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – incredible!

7. Charles Dickens Museum – A Literary House

Oliver Twist and David Copperfield are two of the most famous novels of all time, while their author, Charles Dickens, is one of the great geniuses of English literature. Born in Portsmouth, Dickens spent most of his life in London. Although he lived in various houses, the one at 48 Doughty Street in the central district of Holborn is the site of the museum dedicated to this literary figure. Here, the writer lived with his family from 1837 to 1839, a comparatively brief yet fertile period in which some of his most celebrated works were written. Venturing into this Georgian house is like travelling back in time – a highly enjoyable experience, as the rooms have been kept the way they were in Dickens’ time. Rounding off the visit is an exhibition of the writer’s personal belongings and his manuscripts.

8. Handel & Hendrix – A House of the Baroque… and Rock, Too

What do the guitarist Jimi Hendrix and the composer Georg Friedrich Händel have in common? Well, they both lived in the same house, although with a 200-year separation in time. To be more exact, Handel resided at 25 Brook Street, while Hendrix lived at number 23. Two adjoining houses which can be visited together. Handel lived here from 1723 until his death in 1759. Four of the rooms have been re-constructed, including the bedroom and dining-room, and some of the composer’s music and personal items are on display. If you’re lucky, you might also be in for one of the concerts organised there from time to time. The home of Jimi Hendrix, where he lived in 1968 and 1969, features an exhibition highlighting the musician’s important role and influence in 1960s London.

9. The Queen’s Gallery – In Queen Elizabeth’s Home

The British love of monarchy is well known, so before leaving London, it is worth getting a feel for the esteem in which Elizabeth II is held by the people. And, the best way to get to know someone is by visiting her home. The Queen’s Gallery is located at one end of Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official residence in London, where temporary exhibitions of items from the Royal Collection are held. If you’re due to be in London in summer, check out the events calendar beforehand. The Gallery opens for a few weeks and is a veritable experience.

10. Saatchi Gallery – In Line With the Latest Trends

Avant-garde and ground-breaking, the Saatchi Gallery is one of the great cutting-edge exhibition centres in Europe. Opened in the early eighties to display the art collection of the publicist and art collector, Charles Saatchi, it was bequeathed to the British government in 2010. It is one of the most frequently visited museums in the world and the ideal spot to become familiar with artists and art movements. Even those not moved by art will be impressed by this museum. It is located in the heart of the Chelsea district, an area frequented by London’s elite, so you will feel like a celebrity when you visit.

Text by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

 

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