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Archives for November 2015

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5 Quirky Things to do in Barcelona

If you’ve ever gone on any Barcelona weekend breaks in the past, then you’ll know that the city is replete with amazing unique cultural experiences, from its tasty regional food to its numerous beaches, and iconic buildings such as the Sagrada Familia. But the capital of Cataluña has plenty more to offer those who’re willing to make their way off the beaten path. 

Barcelona Park Güell

If you’re going to Barcelona and want to discover a few strange but great things to see and do, here are 5 of the quirkier spots to head to.

Park Güell

This public park located on Carmel hill is composed of a mixture of gardens and strange architectonic elements, including a variety of Gothic inspired buildings that might remind you more of a scene from Willy Wonka than a park at the heart of one Europe’s great cities. But with brilliant features like animal sculptures and bright mosaic patterns, along with stunning panoramic views of the city, you’ll find that a trip to this park is both quirky and oddly romantic.

Parc del Laberint d’Horta

Few visitors to Barcelona make their way to this historical garden, but if you’re looking for a unique experience, this labyrinthine park that sits on the former estate of the Desvalls family comprises both an 18th century neo-classical garden as well as a 19th century romantic garden.

Amanecer en la Playa de Barcelona

Head to a Nudist Beach

If you’re feeling a little adventurous then consider head down to the Playa de Sant Sebastia, Barcelona’s primary beach for anyone wanting to ditch their swimwear and bathe in their birthday suit. The beach offers everything you would usually expect from a city beach, including showers, toilets, and lifeguard stations.

Ice Barcelona

For those after a unique and cooling drinking experience in this usually toasty city, a trip to Ice Barcelona might be just what you need. Found on the beach at Port Olimpic this chilly spot serves up both delicious cocktails and warm parkas to keep your night going. The bar tends to get quite full after 11, so get here early or be prepared for a bit of a wait.

The Giants of Santa Maria del Pi

Santa Maria del Pi is a 14th century Gothic church located in the Gothic Quarter of the city, but what it is perhaps best known for is the giant statues that greet visitors when the enter the church. at the entrance, inside a floor to ceiling glass case, you’ll discover huge wearable puppets, some of which date as far back as the early 17th century.

If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona but think you’ve seen all this city has to offer, then think again—there are plenty of fun and strange things left for you to see and do.

Images by Wolfgang Staudt and Antonio Tajuelo used under the Creative Commons license. 

5 Great Winter Destinations

Have you recently found yourself researching flights to great winter destinations? Well, if you’re looking for a place to head for vacation this winter and haven’t yet settled on where, there are plenty of great options offering everything from snowy peaks to sand beaches. If you can’t quite make-up your mind on what best suits you, here are 5 great winter destinations that are bound to impress.

Iceland

Iceland

For those willing to head deeper into the winter dark, the North Atlantic country of Iceland has some wonderful natural wonders to offer, including the world-famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, a number of breathtaking volcanoes, the stunning Gulfoss waterfall, as well as Thingvellir National Park, which was once home to Viking Althing, the parliament which was first held here in 930 AD.

Greece

Greece is home to a number of important historical sites, including the Athenian Acropolis, which houses such buildings as the Parthenon, as well as the Delphi Archaeological Site, which sits on the slopes of the beautiful Mount Parnassus and holds the temple of Apollo. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, then consider heading to one of the Greek islands, where you’ll be able to enjoy life as the locals do outside of the booming tourist season.

Italy

There is never a bad time to visit Italy, and as this country attracts millions of tourists a year, heading here in the off-season will not only make your travels cheaper, but it will also cut down on queues for many of the major sites, such as the Duomo and Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and tours of the Vatican and Colosseum in Rome. Venice is also a wonderful city to visit in the winter, as the canals and narrow walkways create a whole new misty atmosphere in the cold weather.

Croatia

Croatia might be best known for its beautiful Dalmatian coast, and while there is still plenty of things to do and see along the coastline and in cities like Dubrovnik, in the northeast of the country, just outside the capital of Dubrovnik, you’ll find the wonderful Mount Sljeme, a ski resort which features offerings for all levels, from beginner to expert. If you’re stuck halfway between a winter-sports vacation and a trip to the coast, then Croatia might be the place for you.

Phuket, Thailand

Thailand

There are few countries that can match the type of winter weather that you’ll find in Thailand, where this season actually provides the country with its most comfortable and enjoyable climate. With some of the  world’s best beaches, extremely kind locals, delicious food, and luxurious resorts and hotels, if you’re looking to trade-in the cold and dark of winter for a traditional beach getaway, there is no better place to head.

Wherever you decide to go for your upcoming winter break, be sure to plan in advance to ensure you get all the best deals possible.

Images by Moyan Brenn and Jeff Gunn used under the Creative Commons license. 

Stonehenge, Repackaged

Stonehenge was a bit of a disappointment when I saw it in 2011 and for several days after, I tried to figure out why.

One thought was that Stonehenge could not compare to the inflated images I had in my head – images that had been shaped by television, stories I had read and my own very fertile imagination.

Another was that my mind was still fresh from seeing the Eiffel Tower a few days earlier. Unlike Stonehenge, I hadn’t longed to see it or created personal myths around it. It was a blank slate, and when I finally saw it up close, its size left me speechless – and that’s not easy.

The Eiffel Tower soared over the city of Paris like the centerpiece on a spread of buildings against which I could make a quick, visual comparison. I could appreciate its towering scale.

Except for a line of trees in the distance, there is no structure near Stonehenge that I could compare it to, and the flat, open plain that surrounds it makes its 50-ton stones, which are nearly 30 feet high, seem stunted.

The entrance to the monument was unremarkable. My only memory of it was seeing a drawing depicting how Stonehenge would have looked when it was intact.

The Repackaging of Stonehenge

Since my last visit, Stonehenge has had a long overdue overhaul (from some articles I read, it was nearly 30 years in the making).

A handsome new £27,000,000 ($41,000,000) Visitor Center, which echoes the design of Stonehenge’s iconic trilithons, now greets visitors. It houses a ticket office, exhibition space displaying more than 250 artifacts found at the site, a gift shop, gallery, café and restroom facilities.

Since most people never get to see Stonehenge from inside the circle, there is an audio-visual presentation that simulates the view during the summer and winter solstices. During my visit in August, there was an exhibition of postcards, guidebooks and photographs chronicling the different ways that we have experienced and interpreted Stonehenge over the years.

A recreated Neolithic village of thatched cottages occupies a prominent space just outside the Visitor Center. Appropriately, there’s a gigantic sarsen stone that visitors are invited to try to pull. Even though the stone sits atop logs – experts’ best theory of how the builders of Stonehenge moved those massive stones – it was still difficult to move it.

Stonehenge sarsen stone

Larsen stone – Think you can move this?

Stonehenge moving the sarsen stone

Not as easy as it looks

To provide access to the now roped-off stone circle, a trolley service ferries visitors the mile and a half trip from the Visitor Center. The monument is also wheel-chair accessible.

Rounding out the repackaging of Stonehenge, is a larger parking lot that can accommodate cars and tour buses. A minor road that ran through the site has also been closed.

These improvements make Stonehenge the first class facility it always should have been. However, I was shocked by the crass commercialization that it has embraced. To me, mead and curd fit better into the milieu they’ve created than Stonehenge water, shortbread or cheap-looking Made in China baubles.

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales and, Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations 

Budget Travelers Sandbox
 
Also linking to Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Rhonda at Albom Adventures, Reflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, Contented Traveller, Safari24, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders. 
 
 

 

Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Pt II

After leaving Stonehenge, we drove through the English countryside towards Bath, arriving there just before lunch. Named  World Heritage Site in 1987, Bath is a picturesque city located on the Avon River in Southwest England, and part of the south Cotswolds. Its well-known Great Bath (Bath Spa) and historic Georgian structures attract more than 250,000 visitors annually. 

What Not to Miss in Bath:

  • The Royal Crescent – Designed by John Wood the Younger, between 1767 and 1774, the 30 Georgian style terraced houses are laid out in a crescent shape.
  • The Circus – John Wood the Elder began construction on the Circus, a group of Georgian style townhouses arranged in a circle, in 1754 but died before he could complete it. His son, John Wood the Younger, finished it in 1768
  • Bath Abbey – The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul was founded in the 7th century.
  • Pulteney Bridge – Completed in 1774, the bridge is one of four in the world that have shops that span its full length on both sides.
  • Jane Austen House – the author of classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, lived in Bath from 1801 – 1806. The center on Gay Street, about a 10 minute walk from the center of town tells the story of Austen’s time in Bath. There’s also a small gift shop with Jane Austen-themed goods. A must for Austen fans!

Westbury White Horse

The Westbury White Horse was not on our itinerary but it’s hard not to miss it standing as it does against the green Westbury Hill. The horse is 180 feet tall, 170 feet wide and was carved around 1778 into the chalk soil of the area.

Westbury White Horse

Westbury White Horse

Silbury Hill

At about 5,000 years old, Silbury Hill is about 130 feet high. It is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. Made primarily of clay, which is all over the area, it is still unclear why it was created.

West Kennet Long Barrow

Located near Silbury Hill – you can see the hill from the barrow – and about 2 miles from Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow is a prehistoric burial ground about 330 feet (100 meters) long. When its five chambers were excavated, the remains of about 40 adults and children who were buried around 3,600 BC were found along with grave goods, pottery and stone implements.

Avebury

I didn’t know what to expect as we headed towards Avebury from West Kennet Long Barrow. Then I noticed a few small upright stones. If this is it, I thought, I’m not impressed. But our driver kept going. Where was he going? I wondered.

As he continued, I started seeing more and more stones, planted in a row – like fence posts – and they seemed to go on and on.

Whereas the circle at Stonehenge is concentrated in a comparatively small area, Avebury’s circle and ditch are spread over nearly 30 acres.

That is impressive!

Constructed around 2600 BC, with three circles – the outer one measuring 1,088 feet, and a henge 460 feet across – Avebury is the largest stone circle in Europe. Unlike Stonehenge that is in a wide open area where you can see the circle clearly, Avebury’s circle and henge are part of the community with houses close by and a busy main road which dissects the site. 

Avebury circle and village

Part of the circle and village of Avebury

Although Avebury is free and open to the public, it wasn’t overrun by visitors as Stonehenge is. It also isn’t strictly controlled. While we were there, I saw people climbing on top of the stones, sitting on and posing for photos on them. 

If you’d like to see a real henge monument up close and without the crowds, Avebury is the place to go. 

Avebury and Stonehenge were co-listed, along with Durrington Walls, Woodhenge, West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill as Avebury, Stonehenge and Associated Sites, and were inscribed in 1986 to UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Avebury, the Red Lion pub

Avebury, the Red Lion pub

Once you leave the site, walk over to the Red Lion  – look left, look right, then left again before you cross the road – and have a glass of wine, a pint or some fish and chips. It’s not hard to miss.

Avebury, Prince Charles portrait

Avebury, Prince Charles portrait at the Red Lion

PS: You won’t find a pub anywhere near Stonehenge!

Linking to Budget Travelers SandboxRachel’s Ruminations, and Tanama Tales.