Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Explore Sunny Italy on Your Next Vacation

colosseum_rome_italyAfter returning from Italy where I was on vacation, I realize that it offers so much by way of history, art and culture apart from beautiful beaches and stunning countryside’s. It is no wonder then that tourists appreciate Italy and try to see as much as they can of the country when on holiday.

The history and background of each culture is special to the region and this is seen in the way they speak their language and the foods that they cook. Varied civilizations have been instrumental in creating this cultural diversity, as history played its part to influence the people of these specific regions. Some of the regions I particularly found striking were Calabria where the Greeks live, Tuscany for Etruscans and Sicily where the Normans live. The Roman influence was strong in Lazio where the empire began and extended to other parts of Italy.

I normally tailor my tour, depending on the places I would like to cover on my vacation. It is not difficult to do this, as you can use the railway or the networks for internal flights efficiently to try and cover as much as possible on your vacation. Include the destinations that you would like to visit.

According to me, Rome is one of the “must-see” places that you should include in your tour when in Italy. The existence of Rome dates back 2500 and have been the focal point as one of the greatest civilizations in the world in regard to religion, culture and power.

italy1Visit Florence, where Renaissance first evolved to experience the architecture, music, art and religion of the city. You should see the statue of David that was sculpted by Michelangelo at the Accademia Art Gallery.

I would include the “Floating City” of Venice in my itinerary to enjoy the numerous attractions and take a ride down the iconic canals, on a Gondola boat! The places worth seeing here are the Grand Canal, the Piazza San Marco and San Marco Basilica.

I have also been to Turin, Milan and Genoa when I was in Italy. These destinations are charming and a delight for tourists who can also head to Palermo, Agrigento and Catania in the South of Sicily. Try to include Lake Garda and Verona and get transported back to time, when Romeo and Juliet set the stage as star-crossed lovers for Shakespeare’s play.

In my opinion, Italy requires to be revisited over and over again as there is so much diversity and varied influences to be experienced that you require time to enjoy all that this wonderful country offers. Make sunny Italy your next travel destination and use the conveniences of travel modes to include many places.  Enjoy sampling the various foods and wines in Italy where you are spoilt for choices.
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Taking a Summer Holiday to Greece

greeceSummer holidays – to me, the perfect summer destination would have blue sea, sparkling sun, things to see and do, and a laidback vibe. Let’s discuss Zante.

I say this, because Zante, or Zakynthos, has all the above and more. The third largest Ionian island in Greece has perfect summer temperatures, soaring to a sultry 32 degrees, with low rainfall all summer. The Greeks are extremely hospitable and will go out of their way to make your time on the island memorable.

Reaching this not-so-far-flung island has never been easier, with flights from the UK regularly throughout summer. Your holiday is made easier with added extras, such as Luton Airport Parking if you’re flying from a smaller airport, or for those heading from central London, try Gatwick parking, to save all important Euros.

The south of the island attracts the most visitors, with its sublime beaches. The most popular resort is Laganas in the south-west. Here you find raucous nightlife – perfect for those who like to party. Shops, restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels line the resort with its famous long beach. Keep in mind that water-sports are banned here, due to the protected area in place for the endangered caretta-caretta turtle.

For a twin-centre holiday of loud and quiet, jump on the regular bus to Agios Sostis, just next door.

zante_zakynthos_greeceActually an island off an island, Agios Sostis is joined by a wooden bridge, separated thanks to an earthquake many years ago. This is a good resort for those seeking a quieter break, and fantastic for families. It also provides a great base for those who want to experience the nightlife of Laganas, without staying in the middle.

The capital of the island is Zakynthos town, a picturesque area, re-built after a major earthquake in the 50’s. The town has two main squares – Dionysios Solomos and Saint Mark Square. For a taste of the old town, Dionysios is the place to go. This area is also home to the resting place of the Patron Saint of the island, at the Church of Saint Dionysios.

Saint Mark Square plays host to a cathedral, a rare sight on an island. The architecture here dates back as far as the Venetian period, with a fortress located just above the town, offering breathtaking panoramic views. There are many quaint, traditional shops, with something a little different to take home, and the chance to try some traditional Greek cuisine, such as delicious fried calamari.

Think of a postcard picture to sum up Zante – it probably features Smuggler’s Cove. This is a stunning beach with blinding white sand, and sea so turquoise blue, it’s hard to believe. Situated in the north-west, reach this famous landmark by boat, and many trips are on offer. A visit to Zante wouldn’t be complete without it.

Another popular spot in the north-west is the Blue Caves. The cliffs are actually pure white, but the reflection from the sea makes them look blue. If you’re heading to Smuggler’s Cove, this hotspot is definitely worth a visit too, with a great opportunity for snorkelling.

This paradise island is so easy to reach, it would be a crime not to visit. UK airport extras can be booked to make life easier, and eliminate holiday stress, try Birmingham Airport Parking when flying from the midlands, with no need for expensive airport taxis.

So throughout the dreary British winter, keep in mind the postcard image of Smuggler’s Cove, and your visit to Zante will be here before you know it.

Berlin’s Cheap Thrills and Winter Chills

Christmas time is all about family, so jetting away for a long weekend with the clan to a snowy city couldn’t be a better idea. Berlin is a great destination for a long weekends away as there are plenty of late holiday deals you can take advantage of. It’s a city that truly goes all out for Christmas so wrap up, and grab yourself a hot chocolate whilst you explore the many markets for trinkets and gifts.

There are over fifty Christmas markets scattered across Berlin during the festive season, including a plethora of advent bazaars which take place in the city each year. Everything from family-friendly amusements to scrumptious refreshments can be enjoyed here, including traditional mulled wine and baked cinnamon stars. One of the most famous markets is located next to Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church between the Kurfüstendamm and Tauenzien. The streets here are always packed with families making the most of the cheery yuletide atmosphere.

If you want to mix your shopping with some higher-adrenaline activities, it’s easy to fit a day in the slopes onto your agenda. Berlin is as flat as a pancake, but you can hop on one of the speedy trains heading to the Harz and Erzgebirge Mountains and be there in four hours! A return ticket costs around 50 Euros for adults (30 for children), but groups of six or more can purchase a Schöneswochenende Ticket for 33 Euros each. This provides a day of unlimited travel on regional trains. Visitors with more time on their hands, or who need more flexibility, might prefer to hire a car to make the journey. Skiing gear can be hired for cheap in Berlin, check out Bergruft in trusty Kreuzberg between Schlessisches Tor and Treptower Park (www.bergruft.de).

Getting some fresh air is easy in Berlin – it’s a great place for long winter walks. Tiergarten Park is a terrific place to get back to nature at Christmas and is conveniently located near the historic sites on Berlin’s Unter den Linden Boulevard. It’s also within walking distance of the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial. Alternatively, Görlitzer Park provides the perfect snowy backdrop for a stroll, it’s also close to the canal and many bistros and cafes in case you get peckish. Afterwards, indulge in a traditional German sausage, a “bratwurst”, which is served with hot curry sauce – delish!

Celebrating the New Year in Berlin is another great way to spice up the festive season. Many countries celebrate the turn of the year with a magnificent fireworks display, and Berlin is no exception. Huddle underneath the beautiful Brandenburg Tor and marvel as the skies turns fluorescent with an abundance of colours – the perfect ending to a winter retreat in Berlin.

A trip to Berlin can combine a city break with a skiing holiday, both of which guarantee snow if you visit near Christmas! A visit to this historical city is a very enlightening experience, and the liberal feel of this winter wonderland makes the German capital altogether enchanting.

Fun Fiestas in the Benidorm Winter Sun

If you’re keen on holidaying abroad during the winter months, you don’t have to limit yourself to ski chalets or long-haul journeys to southern hemispheric sunshine. It may not be the obvious choice, but taking a holiday to the Costa Blanca at this time of year is rather inspired. In particular, the town of Benidorm makes a fantastic winter destination – this coastal hot spot never sleeps, even after the summer tourists have long gone.

With its Manhattan-esque skyline sheltering the golden stretch of beach, you really can get the best of both sea and city in Benidorm. Even in November the weather is still warm enough for spending time on the beach, plus you’ll find bargain deals on Costa Blanca hotels and flights. And, while high season sees tourists flock to the coast and pack out the beaches and restaurants, later in the year you can experience freedom from the busy crowds. You will be able to get a better feel for the Spanish culture, and see a more relaxed side to Benidorm.

This is the time to mix with locals and feast on fresh seafood tapas, spend evenings watching local cabaret shows and live entertainment, and get your retail therapy fix at the many great shopping outlets in town. With far fewer tourists around the pace of life is slower, and more relaxed, allowing winter visitors to really enjoy the best of the area.

However, it’s not always quiet – the pace soon picks up again when the Benidorm Fiesta comes to town! Held each November (this year starting on November 11th) this lively week-long celebration honours the respected patron saints of Benidorm. This is a highly regarded cultural event, so there will be grand religious processions, as well as offerings made to the patron Saints throughout the week. In addition there is a whole host of fun things taking place, such as fishing events, football matches, and plenty of live entertainment. Children are catered for too, with puppet shows, games, and plenty of family-friendly concerts.

The town itself will be transformed during the fiesta as the streets are adorned with floral displays, and local bands play in the streets. Visitors can even attend music concerts after midnight in Aigüera Park, and the whole festival finishes with a giant fireworks display. This really is the town that doesn’t sleep! Should you want to dance the night away and be amongst the action, book one of the central Benidorm hotels, such as the Avenida hotel. Or, if you really would like to get some sleep in the evenings, the Villa del Mar Hotel is conveniently located, yet set back from the majority of fiesta activities.

Upcoming Music and Sporting Events in London

London will welcome some of the biggest names in music and sport over the next 12 months as it prepares to host the prestigious Olympic Games for a third time. More than ever, visitors and locals alike can make the most of the fact that no two London nights are ever the same.

There truly is something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of Dolly Parton, the Arctic Monkeys or the NFL.

The Olympics, which is regarded as the greatest show on earth, returns to the English capital next summer and excitement levels are already building. The rush to buy tickets to see the likes of Usain Bolt potentially break his own 100m Olympic record is well out of the starting blocks. Even if you don’t get any tickets, you can still enjoy the unique atmosphere and be part of what promises to be a fortnight to remember by simply being in the capital itself.

Between now and then, there’s a packed schedule of gigs and sporting fixtures to get excited about.

The O2 Arena, which is inside the Millennium Dome, is one of the largest multi-purpose venues in Europe and a stellar line-up will perform beside the River Thames over the next few months. There are ‘golden oldies’ like Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton and Cliff Richards and recent chart toppers like the Arctic Monkeys and Rihanna. Top comedians like Jason Manford and Lee Evans are also expected to perform in front of capacity crowds at the O2, while the top eight tennis players in the world will compete in the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.

A series of huge outdoor gigs are planned in Hyde Park to celebrate the start of summer, with Pulp, the Chemical Brothers and the Black Eyed Peas appearing as the headline acts for Wireless Festival.
Sports fans should prepare for a bumper few months, too. Manchester United and Manchester City will be in London in August to compete for the FA Community Shield, which signals the start of the English football season.

All the glitz, glamour and razzamatazz associated with American football returns to Europe when Wembley Stadium hosts the NFL fixture between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears at the end of the October. A crowd of nearly 84,000 turned up at England’s national stadium last year to see the San Francisco 49ers beat the Denver Broncos, with another large attendance predicted this time around.

England’s Test series against India and the start of the rugby union Six Nations in early 2012 are two other forthcoming sporting highlights in London.

Driving Around Normandy

Normandy is a fantastic place to drive around. Compare car hire online before you go there and you can have a car waiting for you to pick up when you arrive. There are plenty of hotels and B&B accommodation across the region and many quaint little towns where you can sample the French dream – eating cheese and drinking wine at lunchtime.

There are two historically fascinating sights here, Mont Saint-Michel and The Bayeux Tapestry. Both demonstrate the strong ties between English and French history.
Mont Saint-Michel has an English counter-part in Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount.
Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island and commune. Its greatest feature is the monastery, which covers most of the island. The Island is accessible at low tide by a path that stretches out to it from Normandy. The island was initially connected to the rest of France but over time most of the land mass eroded away to leave only a thin natural causeway. In the late 1800s this natural land bridge was strengthened into a proper causeway. The walk itself is pleasant and the view spectacular as the monastery is exceedingly beautiful. The island has been used to hold the fort, as it were, since ancient times. According to the monastery, the Archangel Michael requested that Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in 709AD build the church. Interestingly, the abbey was turned into a prison during the French Revolution. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts some three million visitors every year.

The Bayeux Tapestry is a very, very long piece of embroidered cloth depicting the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England including the invasion. It’s over 200ft long and over a foot wide. You can really only appreciate how long that is when you visit the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux where the cloth is on display. It is held in a glass case, which winds around the interior of the museum. It is so long that it isn’t such a shameful thing to get to the part where the hand of God intervenes to help the French, decide that’s as good as it’s going to get and sort of skim ‘read’ the rest. Be sure to spot the part where Halley’s Comet appears, a large shooting star in the sky and viewed as a bad omen at the time. A bit much to take in one sitting, you can always buy a book to consume at a slower pace. The tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror leading the French in the invasion against King Harold of England.

Normandy is also the site of the Normandy Landings or D-Day 6th June 1944. The Normandy landings were the largest invasion in history. The Nazi’s had occupied almost all of Europe at the point of the landings. The English, Americans and Canadians broke through their defences in Normandy and from there worked their way toward Hitler’s bunker in Berlin in a mission that took eleven months. There are many tributes to the bravery of the troops dotted around.

© 2012 Pat Travels the World