We are in Barcelona, Spain for a brief visit to fulfill a "bucket list" wish of seeing La Sagrada Familia, the church designed by architect Antoni Gaudi.
Our hotel is located in an old side street just off Las Ramblas, a long pedestrian promenade running from Catalonia Square to the waterfront. For centuries Las Ramblas has been a central point of city life and locals and tourists wander - or ramble might be the best word? - day and night up and down its length.
On each side of Las Ramblas are old theatres, shops and eateries. On the other side from our hotel is the entrance to La Boqueria, an open air public market considered one of the best in the world for its food.
The market stands sell a variety of fresh seafood - raw and cooked - and cured pork products such as chorizo sausage. Most prized (and expensive) of all things pork-related is "JamÛn IbÈrico de Bellota", called by many the finest ham in the world. It is made from free-range black Iberian pigs fed on a diet of acorns, whi...
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is formed from two cities - Buda and Pest. They are divided by the Danube, Europe's second-longest river. In the mid 19th century the first permanent bridge was built linking the two (although it was sometimes closed depending on weather). In 1873 Buda and Pest officially became Budapest, and now of course there are many ways to get from one side to the other.
Today Pest is busier and more touristed. On the hilly and more sedate Buda side, most international visitors may go to see the Castle or the Gellert Hotel & Baths. Few venture further into the residential area where locals live and shop.
"Taste Hungary" is a company offering walking tours of Budapest to give a taste (literally!) of local life. Their tour of Buda gets underway with a visit to one of the city's historic coffee houses, a family business over 140 years old. (The family did lose ownership during the communist years but were able to regain it later - for a substantial price.)
The blue colour of the sea, shaded tavernas on the village square, little boats bopping in the harbour, white-washed houses, cats everywhere, the sound of cicadas... Who hasn't dreamt of whiling away a few days in a place where time doesn't rush, where we can just sit and watch the sea and the old ladies dressed in black, enjoy swims in the crystal clear water and seafood dinners on the beach. With 200 inhabited islands to choose from it should be possible for everybody to find a favourite or two. After visiting some of the better known Cycladic islands we spent our last week on Astypalea, in the Dodecanese, and that's now our pick!
On many islands the main town is called Chora (town) and the Chora on Astypalea is one of the prettiest! A magnificent Venetian castle sits atop of the hill from where little white houses trickle down the slopes to a small harbour. As if on a board of snakes and ladders a number of steep and stepped paths link the upper and lower parts of town...
After Athens we rented a car and set off. We wanted to feel the essence of the country - the culture and the nature. Greece is steeped in history so we picked a couple of top antiquities but made sure the route included plenty of beaches, hilltop villages and harbour-side tavernas. We planned an anti-clockwise loop, taking us south around Peloponnese, as far north as Ioannina on the mainland and looping back to Athens from there.
Car trips are always an adventure. Even if you know where you are going and your hotel for the night is booked you never know how the day's drive will pan out or exactly what you'll find when you get there. Will you have a swim at a picturesque bay on the way, meet somebody nice who gives you a great local tip or have the best ever kolokithokeftedes (zucchini balls) for dinner?!
Our first stop was Nafplio, a picturesque coastal town which became capital when Greece started the revolution against the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century. We climbed to the Pa...
The Acropolis rises above the sprawling city centre of Athens and dominates the view, constantly reminding you of the city's grandiose past and the important events that took place here. The monuments are visually stunning but even more fascinating because of what they stand for - the birth of democracy and our way of life in the Western world.
There is an endless number of monuments and museums but of course the Acropolis was our first port of call. You cannot fail to be impressed by the scale and grace of the Parthenon and the other temples. I would have loved to see them in their glory days when they were brightly painted and surrounded by golden and bejewelled statues. Many of the original sculptures are now kept safe at the new Acropolis Museum where we could admire them close up.
Once you've seen the remnants of these amazing landmarks dating back 2500 years, use your imagination to time-travel back in time. We pictured ourselves mingling with the robed Athenians in the Agora (mark...
Travelling is one of life's great pleasures. We travel to have a break from our usual routine, to see new places, try new things, eat different foods and meet people and cultures that are different to those we know. Nick and I have now been making our way slowly around the world for 18 months. Some countries we visited have been completely different to what we expected, in some we didn't really know what to expect and then there are those with such a familiar culture you just cannot mistake it for anywhere else.
France is definitely one of those countries. The food, the people, the architecture, the landscape and the atmosphere all give it away. Landing in Toulouse we picked up a hire-car and 1.5 hours later we were in Aubiac, a tiny village in Lot - et - Garonne where we felt completely immersed into this wonderful new world. We were staying within a castle compound and as soon as we arrived we had a tour of the castle (although a chateau is a manor house, I much prefer the direct tran...
I returned last week to Istanbul after a 25 year absence. How the city has changed and yet, the soul of Istanbul remains the same. It’s a magical place where you feel the full weight of world-changing history with the modern self-confidence of an emerging country that knows its place in the world.
Yes, please see the big-ticket items: The Aya Sofya; The Blue Mosque; and The Topkapi Palace. These are necessities. However, I also wanted a different stream to float down in Istanbul and opted for a walking tour of the city with a native Istanbuli photographer, Ali.
Ali met me at my hotel at 10.00am and we set off along the Bosphorus towards Karakoy and then the Old City. The first part of the journey was scenically uninteresting which was fine as it gave us time to chat about Istanbul, Turkey, photography and all matter of questions I could conjure up. Ali spoke perfect English, was extremely well-educated and interesting.
He explained he would be as hands-on or off with the pictures I wi...