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Amsterdam. A journey through time

Words: Ilanka Verhoeven

Believe it or not, there are far more reasons to visit Amsterdam these days than its infamous coffee shops or its red-light district. Along the harbor and in the city’s South Axis area, futuristic buildings have been going up – a modern counterpart to the city’s canal houses. Amsterdam touches the heart of anyone who is passionate about architecture, from historic to modern buildings. To explore them, just act like a local: hop on a bike and go.

1. The Eye Film Institute

All tourists arriving by train in Amsterdam are immediately treated to a view of the beautiful futuristic building across the IJ harbor. The free commuter ferries leaving Central station are mostly packed with locals who are familiar with the new creative center of Amsterdam. Designed by the Vienna-based firm Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, the Eye Film Institute opened in April 2012 in North Amsterdam, a district which was considered to be a no man’s land at the time. The Eye institute offers the visitor a large choice of attractions. The building houses four modern film auditoriums, an exhibition space and a freely accessible basement where movies and clips from the Eye collection can be viewed. The café-restaurant completes the Eye’s headquarters. The terrace offers a great view over the water. Enough reasons to cross the waters and be entranced by the architecture of the Eye Film Institute.

2. Jan Schaefer Bridge

The futuristic steel bridge named after the politician Jan Schaefer is located on the IJ harbor and connects the Piet Heinkade with Java Island. Designed by Ton Venhoeven, the shape of the bridge generates a multiplicity of experiences. An intricate web of connections divides the bridge into separate flows of traffic. Whether you are on foot, by car or on a bike the bridge is accessible to everyone. The bridge provides an interesting combination of modern and historic architecture since it passes under the old ‘De Zwijger’ warehouse. The monumental warehouse built in 1933 in the business- expressionistic style, was renovated in 2006 and now serves for cultural institutions and events.

3. Museum het Schip

Designed by the prodigy born of the Amsterdam School movement Michel de Klerk, Het Schip is located in the district of Spaarndammerbuurt. One of the few of de Klerk’s designs actually built, the building was designed in 1919 and since 2001 it’s the museum of the Amsterdam School. The highly unusual and unique monument to expressionist architecture is a great site for anyone interested in learning more about Amsterdam’s history. Next to the building there is also a collection of street furniture in the style of the Amsterdam School.

4. Zuidas

Zuidas is best known as a leading international business centre. Home to international companies, the Zuidas area seems to have been created by and for lovers of modern architecture. The skyscrapers of renowned architects such as Toyo Ito provide a spectacular view over Amsterdam. One thing is certain: The Rock building at the Zuidas evokes strong reactions, both positive and negative. The work of Erick van Egeraat distinguishes itself from others by facades with leaning panes of glass, aluminum, stone or concrete with hardly any 90 degrees corners. The playful base of 24 floors, consisting of transparent parts and a robust concrete top is characteristic of Deconstructivism, a1990s movement. Aside from the Rock there are many other buildings worth the visit, among them Ito and Viñoly.

5. Theatre Tuschinski

Rising above the neighbourhood of the Rembrandtplein are the two towers of the Art Deco façade Theatre Tuschinski. Built in 1921, the Theatre was erected based on the designs of architect H.L. De Jong, with interior decor by Pieter den Besten and Jaap Gidding. The exterior is a crossover between the Dutch Amsterdam School style, art nouveau and art deco. Despite the renovation works between 1998 and 2002 the theatre holds on to its original style. Today, the Tuschinski Theater belongs to the big distributor Pathé, which gives you a good excuse to see the latest movies while enjoying its art deco interiors.

So you feel like visiting Amsterdam, do you? Book your flights here! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wieliczka – Journey to the Bowels of the Earth

Have you ever wondered where such a common condiment as salt comes from? A visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine could be the perfect opportunity to learn how this coveted commodity is mined. You would also discover a stunning underground precinct. Located in the Kraków metropolitan area, some 15 kilometres from the city, the mine has been in continuous operation since the 13th century and up until our times. This is the second oldest salt mine in the world, after the Bochnia Mine, also in Poland. In 1978 it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO – yet one more pretext to visit it.

But, what makes the Wieliczka Mine so special? To start with, you have to banish any preconceived ideas of darkness and claustrophobia usually associated with the word “mine”. After descending the long, initial access staircase leading down into the depths, comprising around 350 steps, you come face to face with a statue sculpted by Nicolaus Copernicus which greets visitors on the first level. But, this is not the only salt statue you will see on your visit – there is a wealth of these artefacts, carved by the miners themselves. Themes range from historical figures to work scenes in the mine and even religious subjects. To be sure, there’s even a salt relief reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. I bet you’re surprised!

But, that’s not all. The realm’s jewel in the crown is the Chapel of Saint Kinga, a huge cavity measuring 54 metres deep, by 17m wide and 11m high, all carved in the rock, ornamented with lanterns which – naturally – are also made of rock salt. It is the largest underground church in the world and is well worth visiting, even if just for its sheer size. The work attests to the miners’ devotion to Saint Kinga, who legend has it brought salt to Poland.

The tour ends at a depth of 135 metres, after taking you past some brine lakes, where a sound-and-light performance is laid on to a theme by Chopin. This may sound a bit kitsch, but it is quite something to hear it in a cavern of this kind! Ah! And, don’t worry – the ascent to the surface is made in a lift.

Experiences in the Underground

The Wieliczka mine has been perfectly adapted for sightseers and several options are open to visitors: the “tourist route” is the conventional option, but you can go beyond that if you’re eager to have a more intense experience, in which case you choose the “miner’s route”.This involves experiencing the tour like a miner and learning all the ins-and-outs of salt-mining processes. There is also a “pilgrim’s route” for the more religious-minded, which focuses on the spiritual parts of the mine, notably the Chapels of St Kinga and St John Paul II.

The mine has a healthy microclimate, featuring pollution-free areas where calm prevails. Moreover, the dry atmosphere generated by the salt, and the constant temperature, help to create the perfect environment for those suffering from respiratory ailments. The amenities also include a spa station offering a number of different treatments. And, for those of you who have time on your hand and avidly seek out strong emotions, the complex includes accommodation for the night, set at two levels – 125 metres down, and another at 135 metres. Do you dare?

Preparing Your Visit

Here are a few pointers to consider before visiting the mine:

- There is a bus service from Kraków every 20 minutes.
- You don’t need to book beforehand. All visits are guided, and guides are available in a large number of languages. Here are the timetables.
- The average duration of a guided tour is about three hours.
- The temperature inside the mine is from 14 to 16 degrees, so remember to bring a jacket or some warm clothing if you don’t want to get cold.
- There are a lot of steps to go down – around 800 in all – so make sure you put on comfortable footwear.
- Be careful! If you want to make your friends jealous of the great photos you take, bear in mind you need to pay an extra fee for photographing or filming in the mine.

Don’t pass up the chance to visit this spectacular complex – check out our flights here.

Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Photos by Taver, Jennifer Boyer, Alexander Baxevanis and Wieliczka Salt Mine(photos by R. Stachurski)

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Cinecittá – A Cinema Journey

What do Ben Hur, La Dolce Vita, Gangs of New York and Nine have in common? At first glance, we might think… nothing, but, if we pay attention to the credits, we will see they were all shot at Cinecittá. For many of us, these film studios, located on the outskirts of Rome, are inevitably associated with the name of the great Federico Fellini, but they have also been a privileged host to some of the best moments in cinema history, and the spot where a large number of movie stars converged.

This “Cinema City” was built in 1937 after the previous studios were destroyed in a fire, the cause of which has never been accounted for. The construction project was commissioned to the engineer, Carlo Roncoroni, and the architect, Gino Peressutti. The aim was to build a veritable city of the seventh art, capable of competing with Hollywood itself, which would turn Italian cinema into a worldwide beacon. It should be noted that Mussolini’s Fascist regime was in power at the time and, like Germany, the Italian regime regarded cinema as a powerful propaganda tool.

Fortunately for us, not everything produced there was regime propaganda as it eventually became the place that witnessed the passage of great names in the history of Italian cinema – Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti.

Production came to a halt when the Second World War broke out, and the premises were even put to a different use. Two years before the war came to an end, Cinecittá was occupied by the Nazis and converted into a concentration camp for civilians. It was subsequently bombarded by Allied forces and then turned into a shelter for internally displaced people. All this upheaval led to the loss of most of the technical equipment and machinery once housed in the studios.

After weathering those dark years, Cinecittà gradually evolved into its period of greatest splendour. First, it became the site of grand American productions, featuring such unforgettable movies as Ben Hur,Quo Vadis? and Cleopatra. Second, this was where the careers of the great figures of Italian cinema unfolded. And, the presence of the Americans brought a fresh lease of life and modernity to the Eternal City, as so accurately portrayed in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.

But all golden ages have their expiry date and the number of large-scale productions began to wane in the seventies, losing out to television. The fact is that the trend of block-buster productions started falling behind, while Italian cinema gradually ceased to be a major player on the world scene. Despite this, the studios can still boast of having been involved in such movies as The Godfather III, by Francis Ford Coppola (1988), The English Patient, by Anthony Minghella (1996), Gangs of New York, by Martin Scorsese (2002), The Passion of the Christ, by Mel Gibson (2004) and the popular television series,HBO Rome (2005-2007).

On a curious note and perhaps as a symbol of our times, Cinecittá is currently the premises of the house and set of Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother, a contest which has become one of the great television hits.

Cinecittá is now a place of pilgrimage for any film-lovers worth their salt, although what remains to experience is merely an exercise in nostalgic reunion with a period in which cinema was different. It is also a good excuse for taking the whole family along to teach the new generations some cinema history and show them one of its landmark venues. In addition to its sets and some of the most popular set designs, visitors can also see the exhibitions hosted in the Fellini Building.

Nowadays, it might feel weird to stroll through those almost ghostly spaces, tinged with the decadence of time, and try to relive the period in which the great American film stars walked those corridors. What is guaranteed though is the flush of excitement one feels when catching sight of its stunning, iconic entrance.

Ready for a trip to the cinema? Check out your Vueling to Rome here.

 

Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Images by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Carlo Mirante

 

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Journey To a More Intimate Gran Canaria

One August morning in 2014,  Stephen Curry, one of the world’s best basketball players, looked out of the window in the hotel where he was staying in the south of the island, together with the American national team, and wrote a message for posterity on the social networks: “Gran Canaria, God’s creation” was the immortalising phrase he wrote while taking in the scenery. He thus confirmed, decades later, that what the writer and journalist Domingo Doreste had said about his land of birth being a miniature continent was still true. The key to this is the combination of factors which make Gran Canaria a unique destination for nature lovers.

In 2005, almost half the island’s surface area was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, a tribute to the incalculable wealth of its species and a state of conservation which has kept human impact on the environment to a bare minimum. Indeed, man’s traces in the protected nature areas open to visitors is hardly perceptible. Each strip of land, whether on the coastline or in the mountains, reveals a genuine flourish of beauty.

One of the must-visit landmarks is Caldera de Tejeda, which affords stunning views of the north-west of the island. It is home to both Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga, two basalt monoliths regarded as emblematic by the islanders. The summit is presided over by El Pico de las Nieves, at an altitude of 1,949 metres. This great height often puts it above the cloud level, setting up an effect known as the “sea of clouds”.

This spectacular backdrop, swathed in silence, exerts a great pull on visitors seeking direct contact with the living legacy of Macaronesia, the ensemble of five archipelagoes in the North Atlantic, made up of the Canary Islands, the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands, Madeira and the Savage Islands. The flora of Gran Canaria is one of the island’s great draws and has aroused interest among the scientific community for centuries. Over a hundred plant species are indigenous to this island alone, while another five hundred species are endemic to the Archipelago. Laurel forests and towering pines are conducive to immersing oneself in an environment blessed with a privileged climate. If you’re fond of botany, be sure to visit the Jardín Viera y Clavijo – also known as the Jardín Canario (Canary Island Garden) – given over primarily to flowers and plants endemic to the seven Canary Islands.

The indigenous fauna scattered across the island is also interesting. In addition to lizards, perenquenes (Canary wall geckos) and such iconic birds as the blue chaffinch, Gran Canaria is home to almost fifty types of nesting birds. The sea is another of its fortes. The waters surrounding the island feature a broad variety of fish, notably the comber, grouper, island grouper, cow bream and white seabream, among many others. It is also quite common to spot dolphins and whales coasting along at a safe distance.

Gran Canaria’s biodiversity can be seen in all its splendour from the Red de Miradores, a network of viewpoints comprising 31 observation platforms affording the best possible views and where you can take great photos. Further, if you’re an enthusiast of trekking, climbing or cycling, Gran Canaria offers endless opportunities in the form of routes with various difficulty ratings.

Accommodation at stunning sites is provided by a good range of rural hotels and houses spread across the whole island. Small spiritual retreats, where you can dispel all stress, located in gorges and other concealed tracts of land, guaranteed to enhance your experience of Gran Canaria.

Come and live it out for yourself. Check out our flights here.

Photos by Patronato Turismo Gran Canaria

 

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