Sunday, May 31, 2009

Backpacking in Paris: European Centre of Art and Culture

No backpacking holiday to Europe can be complete without a trip to Paris. The city is termed to be the ‘City of Light’ and it can be your Mecca if you are a lover of peace, music, fashion, jewellery, dance and much more. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with a long and rich history stretching back around 1000 years, and the multi cultural society that it holds adds to cultural diversity and overall unique beauty of the city. It is considered to be of the hot and favorite tourist places to visit around the globe with its structural marvelous and ethnic beauty.

As with most budget backpacking trips, your holiday in Paris can be best enjoyed by touring the city on foot. Travelers can get the maximum enjoyment from the city with the bountiful attractive places which are so close to each other. Indeed, most of the places of interest are within a walkable distance from one another if you are fairly fit. I found even going out for a cup of coffee in one of the city’s many cafes or bars is a nice experience or the serene walk along the coast of the river in the middle of the city can be so romantic for young couples.

The famous galleries and museums are the best part of the city. Some of the much celebrated and high profile museums are The Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musee de Louvre, the Picasso Museum, the Rodin Museum, the Invalides. They symbolize the European art tradition as well as housing the more contemporary arts and collections.

The Eiffel tower is considered to be the embodiment of engineering and is an iconic structural monument. The skyscrapers present in the city are awesome to behold. Walking around the Eiffel tower can be a pleasure in itself. It is estimated that around 6 million people come to pay their visit here making it among the world most popular tourist attractions. Some fitter people cover the ascent by foot or you can alternatively choose to take some of the steps and then complete the rest by using the tower’s lift. The bird’s eye view of the city while climbing up the tower will take any person to paradise and is quite breathtaking.

The Pere-Lachaise cemetery, the catacombs, the Arc de Triomphe, which is a huge arch built by Napoleon to celebrate his victories speak volumes about the history of the city and country of France. The Sacre Coeur, the Sainte Chapelle, the Pompidou Center, the Panteon, the Grand Arche de la Defense are of serene beauty and are not to missed under the light covers. Notre Dame Cathedral and the Basilica of the Sacre C’ur are some of the notable and renowned churches in the city and are worth a visit even for non Disney fans! The Jardin de Luxemberg is a good place to relax and enjoy the nature at its best without having to move to the suburb.

Not to forget the fact, an artwork that many consider to be the epitome of painting is housed in the city: the Monalisa is kept in the museum here in Paris. The boulevard Champs-Elysees is considered to be the hub of high cultured society.

The city night life activities are also truly enjoyable for you party animals. The places around the Bastile prison has now been transformed into a center for night life activities. Far removed from what it must have been like in pre revolutionary France, this is now a great place to go out with a wide range of restaurants, clubs and bars all to be found here.

The city is also famous for its shopping. There are wide range of products available right from perfume, jewellery, wine, gifts and much more to keep you amused - be careful with the price tags though!

Paris is certainly unmissable when traveling around Europe and it can be a fine experience which no body will forget in their life. Paris city can be called as a dream city for many couples as well as for all tourists those who wish enjoyment and pleasure in their life.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Eating Out In Madrid – It’s Good For The Locals, It’s Good For You

It’s almost unheard of to have a bad meal whilst in Madrid. The city is very diverse and it’s restaurants, cafés and bars cater to all tastes and budgets. A good way of determining which are the best eating places in Madrid is by finding out where the locals go out to wine and dine. If the locals like the place, chances are that you will love it too.

One place that is certainly popular with the people of Madrid is known as the “Tienda de Comunista”. It is located in Chueca by the square. It is always a good idea to get there as soon as it opens for business at 9pm every night, as it is always packed to capacity with happy diners. I highly recommend it.

If you want to lunch like a true Madrilenian, the place to be is “La Playa”. Having lunch at this place has become a tradition among many residents that has been going on for generations.

If you like to eat well while you take your beverages, then Bar Melo is the place to be. It is a very well-known bar also known for its awesome cuisine.

Do you have a sweet tooth? If you answered “yes” then you definitely need to visit Café del Real. It offers a wide variety of chocolate and carrot cakes, served with some lovely local coffee. It is a good place to hang out on a Sunday afternoon, like the locals do.

On Saturday evenings, many Madrilenians head to La Taberna de San Bernado. This exquisite restaurant is start off on a quieter note but becomes bubblier as the locals begin to file in.

Casa Perico restaurant is a hidden gem, known only to individuals like an insider secret. Upon entering Casa Perico, you may wonder whether you are in a restaurant or not, but do not be deceived because the food there is marvelous.

You maybe be visiting Spain, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to have some Asian food made in Spain. If you are not running on a very big budget then I would recommend Wok Chinese Restaurant in Madrid. Yes, you guessed right, the food is cooked in a Wok!

If you would like to partake in history then you will definitely want to visit Restaurante Sobrino De Botin. It is said to be the oldest restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of records. More to this, it offers really delicious food too. However, due to the astounding number of tourists desiring to eat here, you may have to eat your meal in a bit of a rush.

All in all if you travel to Madrid you will certainly not be let down by the huge range of places to eat out!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Backpacking Bratislava: Exploring the Capital's Castle

Although my trip to Bratislava was very brief (I only stopped over for 1 night in a hostel there and the following evening I was back on the inter rail) when on my backpacking trip through eastern Europe, it was certainly quite eventful. I arrived there in just a very rapid 1 hour long shuttle boat journey from Prague - a fantastic way to get to Bratislava if the weather is clear - in the late afternoon and checked in to our lodgings before hitting the old town to enjoy some very reasonable priced mojitos and a rather nice meal in the pretty old side of the city (rather than the rather grubby industrial side of town on the other side of the river Danube).
I have to say Bratislava's old town is somewhat underrated for some reason - and is certainly as beautiful as anywhere else we went in eastern Europe and as you would aspect is comparable to Prague but on a somewhat smaller scale! The city seems to have a bad reputation for some reason but this half of town is well worth checking out.

If you have some time during the day time, by far the best landmark to visit in the city of Bratislava is its impressive castle which towers on a large hill high over the city. I will warn you now, in the heat of summer in Slovakia, walking up this hill certainly can be quite exhausting - even for a reasonably fit 24 year old as I quickly discovered! If you are going to walk up the hill to enjoy the fantastic views over Bratislava, make sure you take some water for the journey as the hill is pretty steep! It is believed that the original history of the castle can be traced back as far as the iron age where evidence has been found of an early settlement in the area. The site has later apparently been occupied by Romans, Germanic tribes as well as by empirical Slovaks and as such has been built and reconstructed on several occasions - most recently in 1953 to restore the brilliant structure that stands their today.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Backpacking and Baths in Budapest

Of all the places in eastern Europe that I traveled to last year I have to say that Budapest perhaps more than any other city offered the largest selection of things to do, places to go out and party and great buildings to see. Perhaps this isn't that surprising, considering that Budapest is in fact technically speaking 2 large cities separated by the river Danube: Buda and Pest - get it? Ok, so maybe its not rocket science to understand, but what it does mean is you effectively have 2 big cities rolled into one giant capital to walk around and explore. How's that for value for money?!

If you have travelled to the city in summer, you will no doubt notice that the temperatures can get pretty high by Europe's standards. I'm not sure if I visited the city in the middle of a heat wave last year but at 38 degrees centigrade it was pretty warm let me tell you. Combine this burning heat with walking about 10 miles a day around the city to avoid paying for public transport and you are no doubt going to be ready to cool off. Luckily, Budapest has some of the biggest and best Turkish baths in Europe - if not the world - which are great places to take a load off. My favourite which I visited was the grandeur surroundings of the Gellert baths built back in 1918.
The indoor pool has one of the most impressive interiors I have seen - intricate and detailed tiles throughout, huge classical style columns and a glass roof.

The outdoor pool has been recently improved and updated and is in itself something great to behold, with a wave machine that is just like standing in the sea being pummeled by the real thing! No doubt that there is a lot of great fun in the sun to be had in there. There are also a lot of more relaxing chill out areas with benches outside and a smaller, very warm pool to relax in - perfect for the hung over backpacker. When visiting Gellert baths you really can't miss out on the thermal baths either. This unique experience is apparently very good for the skin - but watch out for the transition between the baking steam room and the freezing plunge pool. I felt that the baths also offer very good value entertainment - although I'm told that Gellert is the most expensive of the baths I still spent the entire day there and it only cost me around 10 quid!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beautiful Barcelona: A Guide To Europes Capital of Art

Barcelona is capital of the Spanish province of Cataluna and is situated on the beautiful Mediterranean coast in the North East coast of Spain. The city has become an iconic centre of culture with its history of fine art, architecture, food and sport. Perhaps amongst the most famous in his field, the artist and architect Antoni Gaudi designed the huge cathedral that has become the cities most famous iconic landmark - a truly ornate structure quite unique to anything I have seen across the world. The intricacies of its decoration are quite fantastic to behold - and at just a short tube journey from the central street of Las Ramblas this really has to be worth a visit. While on Las Ramblas you can take the time to check out the numerous cafes, bars and restaurants that line the street - and don't forget to check out the fantastic fish market which produces some of the finest and freshest seafood in Europe. Why not follow Las Ramblas down to the sea front and see the famous bridge and picturesque docks and harbour.

Fans of football the world over know and fear the name Barcelona - a club enshrined by legendary status in the sport. The Spanish giants look set to regain the La Liga title this term and face Chelsea in the Champions League Semi Final. You can watch some of the worlds best players such as Messi, Etoo and Henry at the huge and magnificent Nou Camp Stadium here in Barcelona and even take a tour of the ground during the day to see the huge selection of trophies the club have won over the years. I found attending a match at the 120,000 capacity ground quite awe inspiring and when the crown are behind their team for a big game such as against league rivals Real the noise and atmosphere can be deafening.
If you are looking for a good, friendly hostel in which to stay I can highly recommend "Hello BCN". The hostel has friendly staff, a large common room with a bar and table tennis, gym and excellent internet access from either the free WIFI or the computers provided. At around 20 euros a night it wasn't the cheapest I'd stayed in, but it has an excellent location and the facilites are worth the money.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cracking Krakow: Poland's Party Town

Although only the third largest city in Poland, I have to say that Krakow was for me, by far the best place we visited - and one of my favourite cities in Eastern Europe. The city has it all: a beautiful old town square with a superb market, great nightlife, friendly and fun people, and in summer at least some very nice sunshine and temperatures into the mid 30s. It is also still relatively cheap once there - in spite of large price increases in the last few years due to the growth in tourism in the region. Heading just out of town there are still places where we managed to grab a 1 litre stein of beer for around £1. Prices are a little higher in the square but still very reasonable in both the bars and restaurants which can be found in abundance in this area. There are also great places to visit nearby such as the salt mines with its huge underground cathedral decorated with ornate salt carvings. You can also take a very inexpensive guide to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz which is not far from the city. I personally found this to be a very humbling and often distressing experience and it is certainly not for the faint hearted or young children. If you are backpacking as I was when I last visited and are looking for a great hostel I would suggest the NEW (as their are 2 hostels of the same name!) "Goodbye Lenin: Lets Rock" Hostel situated around 3 minutes from the old town square. An excellent hostel with great facilities and staff is yours for around 12 quid a night including breakfast - a very reasonable rate!