architecture

Modena: home of Balsamico

Modena is the birthplace of balsamic vinegar or as the Italians say Balsamico. To be honest, this was news to me – I was in this town for a conference, again, I feel very lucky that I had the chance to explore this little Italian town. Modena is a University town and the locals are very proud of this. In fact, the Mayor came to the opening ceremony of the conference and said how proud he was that Modena was hosting the conference…

It’s small enough to explore in a day or so, but every corner you turn you discover something new. The mercado or the town market is full of fresh produce: fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, cheese and even fresh pasta. I guarantee you will walk out of here with a bag full of goodies. Oh and obviously bottles and bottles of balsamico – the most expensive bottle of balsamico that I laid eyes on was about 80EU! These Italians take their balsamico quite seriously!

The University is spread across town, so you will see alot of young people and bicycles. Even the police cycle in Modena! The town centre has a huge cathedral with crypts in the basement. In general there were alot of archways in Modena – the architecture was simply beautiful!

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Beautiful Brescia

I’m quite lucky that I get to travel for work – and work is what brought me to Brescia. I was in town for a few days during the course of a conference that was held at the University which is spread out across the entire town! I immediately loved the city as soon as I arrived!

There are numerous piazza’s where one piazza joins onto another via a small laneway. The food was amazing, the restaurants spill-over onto the streets and create a nice atmosphere in the evenings. Some restaurants even had live music (so watch out when booking your accommodation!). I stayed at Albergo Orologio (Via Cesare Beccaria) which was not the greatest place but had a brilliant location. I definitely recommend having dinner at I Du Dela Contrada (Contrada del Carmine) which is run by a few young lads who were very friendly and down to earth. The food is only made with local ingredients resulting in an amazing dinner.

In terms of sights: enough to see in Brescia. Typical Duomo in the centre of town, Roman excavations, arches and arches all around the town… simply wander about aimlessly around the streets and this will give you a taste of Brescia.

Awesome place to visit for about 2 days or so….

 

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Quaint Bergamo

Bergamo in September is beautiful – not insanely hot yet warm enough to walk around with sandals. Bergamo airport is conveniently located and only a short drive away (around 15mins). The town centre is quite small but charming. During my visit, there was some sort of a garden/landscape fair, so there were quite alot of exhibitions around the northern part of the town. The architecturally impressive cathedral and many churches are definitely a must see. The castle is one of the major highlights of Bergamo and you can reach it quite easily – I walked to the base of the hill and then got onto the funicular. The views from atop the hill are beautiful. There are a lot of shops and cafes in this area – the Pasticciera’s (bakery) were my favourite as they had sweets that I’d never seen before and tasted amazing! You can easily explore the city in a day or two… Good spot to break down journey time to and from Milano and Bologna.

 

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Perfectly peaceful Porto…

I’ve been to Porto a few times before, so this trip I simply wanted to chill out and enjoy the various neighbourhoods of Porto. Nevertheless, there was one thing on my list that I simply had to see: The Lello & Irmão Bookstore! Seeing as though I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, I just had to see it. BOY WAS IT AWESOME! The only thing was that there were too many people in here, this was all the time… Our Airbnb was close by, so we’d always have to go past the book store when going into town, we’d peek inside to see if it was full, sometimes we wouldn’t even have to peek given the huge line out front… In any case, it was still awesome – you should definitely check it out!

We hung out along the river Douro quite alot, and the night shots are taken on the city side of the river. On one of the days that we were just walking around, we crossed the Ponte Luis I bridge and there was a young man preparing to jump off the bridge and into the water. He was gathering a crowd before doing so…. he was fine. We then crossed the bridge and saw a whole bunch of people jumping into the water (disclaimer it was boiling hot!!). There was even a group of men dressed up in weird outfits, continuously jumping into the water – it was actually quite funny!

We stayed in an Airbnb on Rua de Cedofeita, our hosts were really nice and the apartment itself was bright and spacious. Great location as it was where the locals mainly lived, so there was also local bakeries and grocery stores. The end of the street towards the city was pedestrianised and was a shopping street.

In terms of food, we found amazing restaurants on Rua das Taipas. The first one we discovered was called Tia Orlanda, which was food from Mozambique. The staff were amazing and the restaurant was VERY FULL! it seemed as though alot of people had booked prior to coming for dinner, we were lucky that there was one table for two. The food was simply amazing, plus it was cheap! The second place we discovered was at the bottom of the street (I can’t recall the name) but we had fish and rice – was amazing! We sat at the back, outside, where we had a view of Porto – truly amazing! I would definitely recommend exploring this street as the restaurants were cheap yet also really good!

Lovely Lively Lisbon

A friend that I met on the G Adventures tour in Peru moved to Lisbon.  So together with another friend that I met on the tour in Peru, we travelled to meet up and unofficially celebrate our 6 month anniversary (we didn’t realise this till we were all sitting around and playing the card game “shit head” – as it reminded us of Peru!)

We stayed in the neighbourhood of Saldanha – which is a more residential area. Getting here from the airport is super easy and cheap. We used the metro which only cost us €1.90! Note: taxis are also relatively cheap compared to other cities… We stayed in an apartment from airbnb.com and it was absolutely fantastic! Our host was lovely and showed us around the apartment. Just down the road from where we were staying, there was a cycling cafe called Velocite Cafe, the staff were very friendly and the cafe itself was very tastefully decorated (as a cyclist from Cambridge, I can appreciate pretty bicycles)

We were quite lucky to have a friend who was a local – it’s much nicer seeing a city through a locals eyes…. We had dinner and I ofcourse went for something that had Bacalhau (salted cod fish), so I had the Bacalhau lasagna – YUM!

Over the next few days we explored downtown Lisbon – Commercio Square was very grand and you get a nice view of the bridge (25 Abril) from here. Yes it’s the bridge that looks like the one in San Francisco. AND my friends actually told me that it used to be named after a dictator but now the name changed to 25 Abril to mark the revolution (now thats some trivia for you!).

My friends and I have very VERY sweet tooths – so we mostly ate our way through the city! There is a place called LX Factory (X is pronounced as “sheesh” in Portuguese) which is an old manufacturing district that has been transformed into a hispter place full of design, cafes, restaurants and book stores. We had the worlds BEST chocolate cake here – believe it or not the cafe ONLY sells this cake! it was yummylicious!!! The place is called Landeau Chocolate  trust me you won’t be disappointed. The LX Factory also has an awesome book store – the interior design is AMAZING! I think I saw that it was one of the most beautiful book stores in the world (or something like that). It’s definitely worth a visit, it’s called Ler Devagar.

Our friend also took us to Mercado de Ribeira which is basically a foodie heaven! We obviously went for something sweet… I had a divine caramel cake from Nos E Mais Bolos – oh so good! But they have other stuff here, as in really good food and coffee!

Besides eating, we did see other cultural aspects of Lisbon… We went to Sintra, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t so good and it was all foggy. We didn’t see the amazing view atop the mountain – we could barely see the exterior of the castle! We also went to Gulbenkian Museum – which was only a short walk from our apartment. We actually went on a Sunday – free admission YEH! The museum had alot of painted tiles, ornaments, rugs and clothing from the Ottoman Empire. But there were also artworks from Monet and Renoir – among other artists whom I can’t recall… It’s worth visiting on a Sunday if the weather is poor…

The city has also an aqueduct – which I simply didn’t know how to capture, it’s so grand! There is an elevator in the city (grey tower like structure) we didn’t go up, because there are other nicer view points, plus the line was really long and you had to pay for it! Instead we went up to the fortress – didn’t do inside but the streets were nice and the view is also nice from here. We explored the Parque das Nacoes area and coincidentally there was a triathlon that day! There is also a very very long bridge around here called the Ponte Vasco da Gama – it’s 17km long!

Definitely recommend visiting Lisbon – the city has a lot to do and it is very easy to get around: the metro system works well and takes you to all the major places downtown and it’s relatively cheap.

BIG SHOUT OUT to my friend Claudia for showing us around – Lisbon was a great experience with you! Alex thanks for being a chillaxed and great travel buddy – till the next adventure!

 

Spring time in Göppingen

Göppingen is located in the German state of Baden-Württemberg in the southwest of Germany. I was in the region for a work conference – which was actually held in a castle (Bad Liebenzell) in the Schwarzwald (Blackforest). However, due to work commitments, I wasn’t able to snap any shots except TWO! In any case, you should definitely go to Bad Liebenzell if you have a chance – it’s a quaint little town with clean air to help you relax…. they also have thermal springs in case you’re interested…

After my conference was over, I visited family in Göppingen. It’s a nice town – quite large for German standards actually. It has a main pedestrianised shopping street and has a number of parks and churches in the surroundings.

I was lucky that I was there during spring – there were a lot of blossoms in full bloom. It was actually quite warm whilst I was there, so the parks were full of people enjoying the sun and children were playing games.

One of the things that I love about Germany is the houses – they are amazing! Most people have flowers on their windows which they take great pride in. Given that I was here during spring, I tried to capture these during my time in Göppingen….

Beautiful Bath

Over the Easter long weekend, I decided to book a day trip tour with Roots Travel to Bath & Stonehenge.  I’m not a tour kind of person, but it was convenient as it departed from Cambridge (and kind of a last minute decision…). Given that Bath was about a 2.5hr drive from Cambridge, I thought LETS DO IT and booked online.

Matt was our guide and we were a group of about 12. We arrived about midday and set off on a mini city walking tour. Matt took us to The Royal Crescent and explained the history behind this amazing piece of architecture. It was a prime example of Georgian architecture – and the sheer size of the building was truly amazing! We were told that there were strict rules as to what owners could do to their houses because it was a category 1 heritage building (basically you cannot do ANYTHING to the building despite owning it and paying ALOT of money for it).

We then made our way over to The Circus which was built by the son of the architect who had built the Crescent. I simply couldn’t capture The Circus because it was basically 3 HUGE buildings forming a “roundabout”. I managed to capture one of the three…

As we kept on walking, Matt pointed out Charles Dickens’ house – which had a plaque stating that it indeed was Dickens’ house. We walked past another famous authour’s house – Jane Austen, who apparently disliked the people in Bath at the time as they were the “rich” from the Industrial Revolution and were simply a different kind of rich (Note: If you’ve read Northanger Abbey you will understand). There is also an actual Jane Austen Centre which is a museum and with tea rooms on the upper levels. I didn’t go in as I didn’t have much time (hence why I don’t like going on tours…)

En route to the centre of town we came to a stop infront of an Italian restaurant. Matt explained that this was Beau Nash’s house – who was basically a matchmaker and a witty man. In those days people paid taxes according to the number of windows in their houses, with 6 windows being free of tax. So witty as Nash was, he sealed up 2 windows in order to avoid paying his taxes!!

We continued along to the centre of town and Matt explained the history behind the Roman Baths. Apparently it’s the only Roman bath that is still in operation in the whole world! Standing there, I noticed a really long queue for the recently opened thermal spa right beside it – clearly this was VERY popular….

We were given some free time (about 2.5hrs) which was seriously no where near enough time to explore Bath properly… I had read online that Bath Buns were a must and that Sally Lunn’s was the place to try them. However, 20 other people also had this idea – hence the long queue, so I had to give that a miss….

I went over to the Roman Baths, but the queue was also long here, so I didn’t go in here either. Instead, I went into Bath Abbey (free entrance) – which had amazing somewhat gothic architecture. I also walked along the river and walked across the Pulteney Bridge – it’s similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence where when you walk across it and you don’t even realise that you are on a bridge, it’s lined with shops and cafes on either side. After reaching the other side, I walked along the river and admired the bridge and this aspect of Bath…

I randomly walked past a cafe that sold Bath Bun’s, and to be honest, they aren’t anything special – they were nice but I was so glad that I didn’t wait in line at Sally Lunn’s….

My experience of Bath was primarily wandering around the town and taking in the amazing architecture. Matt was a great guide and I’d definitely recommend going on one of his tours. Bath really is a beautiful town and I hope to go back and spend an entire weekend to have the full experience…

 

Cosmopolitan Melbourne

On a recent trip back home to Sydney, Australia in January, I wanted to visit my good friend Brooke, who lives in Melbourne. Months ago we had bought our tickets to the Australian Open Round 3 and were now super psyched to be finally going! We also were hoping that we’d get to see one of the top seeds ie Rafa or Roger!! But that wasn’t till later in the evening. So I had some exploring to do around Melbourne.

Upon Brooke’s recommendation, I made my way to Centre Place, which is just between Flinders Lane and Collins Street. Oh my word, was I lost for words – this lane way was AMAZING! You could really get high from the amazing coffee fumes coming out from each of the hipster cafes! I walked the length of the lane way, just to absorb the atmosphere – it really did remind me of Europe. I saw the big orange sign with “Lorca” written on it and made my way over to kick start my morning with a latte. The barista was so friendly and über hipster, he handed over my latte with a smile and I was on my way. With an awesome coffee in one hand, I was ready to start aimlessly wandering around Melbourne on a gorgeous sunny day.

I found myself in front of the State Library and given that I’m a lover of architecture I decided to go in (plus it’s free!). The inside was simply spectacular – it had a neo-classical feel to it. I came across Ned Kelly’s infamous steel helmet and attire – which had been polished so much that it was giving off a shine. We actually learnt so much about Ned Kelly and other bushrangers in primary school – something that I find odd now that I look back (I mean he was a thief!). I made my way to the “dome room” and I actually spent a lot of time in here – I was in awe of the beauty of the architecture: a dome white roof with windows, with white balcony’s along the walls coming down and the ground had parquetry floors with desks that had green lamps, ahhh so nice!

Next up was the Melbourne Botanic Gardens – and I had a lot of fun photographing the bees amongst the flowers (thankfully none of them stung me!). There was also a war memorial in the gardens – it was a mammoth of a building!

I had to meet Brooke in St Kilda, so I caught a tram from the city. I actually ran into an old friend on the tram that I went to uni with and I hadn’t seen him in 10 years – just goes to show what a small world it truly is! I didn’t like St Kilda too much – it had a Miami-esque vibe, which I’m not too fond of (exaggerated tanned people with a weird sense of what constitutes swimwear…).

The Australian Open was AMAZING!!! It turned out that we were seeing Rafa play against some guy who wasn’t even seeded, plus Maria Sharapova playing against a non-seeded girl. We got to the arena a bit early (NOTE: definitely use public transport – works so well!) to explore, there were loads of activities to do. We heard a bunch of kids asking the security guard where the players were warming up, we thought it was a grand idea, so we followed the kids. We actually got to see Fernando Verdasco warming up – which was super cool! The matches we were watching were in Rod Laver Arena. The women played first – it was a great match, despite Sharapova grunting and of course defeating the non-seeded girl. Then the men came out and boy did the crowd cheer for Rafa! He wasn’t feeling too well but he gave it his all and won in 3 sets. The final set was the most entertaining one as his opponent actually made him fight for it. After the match when Jim Courier was interviewing him, Rafa even made a few jokes and thanked the crowd for the support…

Overall, Melbourne was great, as usual. The public transport system is really good, they have something similar to an Oyster Card (London) which works on all forms of transport. If you do get a chance to go to Melbourne, make sure you indulge in the great coffee!! If you do want to go to the Australian open – the tickets went on sale in September 2014, so make sure you purchase your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment, as they definitely sell out!

Crazy Cosmopolitan Cusco

NOTE: sorry I haven’t been able to publish these next few blogs – I’ve been in Australia constantly travelling… publishing timely blogs will resume =)

My first impressions of Cusco were WOW! I really didn’t think it was that big of a city – how wrong I was… As we were given an orientation walk of the city, I immediately realised that Lima was officially the capital, but Cusco was the Cosmopolitan Capital! Grecia, our guide took us to the main square, which was huge, and there was a large cathedral, the architecture was simply beautiful! We were quite hungry, so we made our way over to a café – Grecia ensured that this was a very good place. We ended up at Jack’s Café – I was extremely thrilled that there were pancakes on the menu!!! You see, every single breakfast that I had until now consisted of balls of butter and strawberry jam with hollow circular breads – not nice at all! And so pancakes it was! Oh my word – they were delicious!!! I also ordered a mango con leche, which is basically a mango smoothie and this was THE BEST mango con leche I had in Peru! Jack’s was definitely a winner! A group of us kept going back to Jack’s as it clearly was amazing!!!

We made our way to another square, where we joined a free walking tour (well tips were given at the end). There were a lot of people on the tour so it was slightly difficult to hear the tour guide. In any case, he took us to the local markets, showed us a few more “squares” of Cusco, we then ended up in a bar (mind you if was about midday, so naturally the bar was empty). The barmen then demonstrated how to make a pisco sour and when he was finished he invited everyone to take a free sample and showed how to salute (something along the lines of: to mother nature, to inca and so on…).

One of my most favourite things about Cusco was the Chocolate Museum – it was FREE and FANTASTIC! As you enter the museum, a guide tells you about the chocolate industry in Peru. You are then taken to the next room where you can watch the Chocolatier’s working. The chocolatier that we were watching was very friendly, she told us about the different flavours – even gave us free samples to try! One of the peculiar (well I found it strange) was the cocoa leaf flavour – it seems as though it’s everywhere… We were also given a small glass of chocolate tea to try – which was delicious. You then have the option to buy chocolate and related products OR you can even have a sit down treat at the cafe, which has a nice view out to the square.

On our last day in Cusco, we all went into town to buy some bits and bobs before we moved onto the next stage of the journey. Once we arrived at the main square, we were all gobsmacked – there were hundreds of people there, ALL in festive outfits. We didn’t really understand what was going on, but we gathered that it was some sort of school festivity as there were loads of school aged children. It was amazing site to see, all those bright colours were AMAZING!

Cusco is a definite must – ok there are loads of tourists here but all the same, it really was an amazing place!