The best destinations in Europe and more for vacations
I'm based in Southern Cali
Greetings! Travel is perhaps one of the best things that man has brought along the ages. The experiences, the sights, and the sentiments it evokes are quite unique. For your trip, indeed the choices are numerous. What I have done here is chosen and given you overviews of international destinations first; mainly concentrating on Europe and an option closer home. Read on!
Paris (Source: Moyan Brenn)
Da la bienvenida a España! Spain Welcomes you! One of the most visually stunning countries in the world, the awe that it inspires comes not only from nature's extravaganza but also from the myriad of tastes, colors and fragrance that run a riot with one's senses.
Albarracín (XVI) (NO HDR) (Source: José Luis Mieza)
Weather is Spain usually reminds us of a sun-soaked afternoon withe the soft humming of bees, a soothing breeze and the heady aroma from the vineyard yonder.
The Alhambra or the Calat Alhambra meaning "the red fortress" gives you a glimpse of the Oriental. Built by the Moorish Empire of the Emirate of Granada in the mid 14th Century, it is a tribute to medieval Islamic architecture and grandeur.
Granada - Alhambra Corner - Shoes on Wires (Source: Justus Hayes)
Also nearby in Granada is the La Catedral de Granada and the Capilla real.
A 16th century cathedral containing the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella (the famed Catholic Monarchs who conquered the city), Juana la Loca, and Felipe el Hermoso.
Seville, the capital of Andalucia is the 4th largest city in Spain, with a population of about 1.4 million. With all the people, this city is also the very charm of Southern Spain. Located on the banks of the placid and smooth Guadalquivir River, the city is divided into two, on on either side of the river - Sevilla and Triana.
Plaza de España de Sevilla (Source:Alquiler de Coches)
Get yourself the Sevilla Card ;
The card includes free admission to most Seville museums and monuments, unlimited use of public transportation (TUSSAM Buslines, NB: only for Cards with Public Transport), a guided visit of the Real Alcazar of Seville, unlimited use of sightseeing buses, boat rides on the Guadalquivir River and admission to the Isla Mïgica Theme Park. The card also allows access to significant discounts in shops, restaurants, shows and leisure centres for adults and children. The Sevilla card is accompanied by a guide and city map. However, please note that Sevilla Card cannot be used for trams and buses.
(Source: Seville - Wikitravel)
Must-sees here include the Cathedral of Seville, once judged the third largest cathedral in the world, it is now considered to be the largest, at least when measured in terms of volume as opposed to area. This 15th Century facade is built atop a mosque which was built during the 12th century and is the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.
Cathedral of Seville (Source: Parthiban Amarasigamani)
Walk around the Cathedral which makes up the ancient Jewish Quarter also known as the Barrio Santa Cruz. The place is a maze of small winding lanes and is by far, the most charming part of the city. Also noteworthy are the Plaza de España, the site for the 1929 Spanish exhibition.
Cuentos cortos de pura espeluznancia (Source: peribanyez)
Wine in Spain is as renowned as its sparkling twin is from the Champagne district of France. The heritage, the aroma, the rich color and the silk smooth taste..not to mention the almost sinful allure in the grapes even before they are plucked. A walk in the morning in the vineyard, and often poetry makes a lot more sense.
The capital and largest city of Spain; Madrid. This city is a wonder onto itself, from the awe-inspiring architecture and frescoes of El Prado museum to its buzzing with world famous nightlife, it is a city that never sleeps if there ever was one. Home of Real Madrid, football is a religion here and one should be careful what colors he wears on the streets, specially on match days.
The largest palace in Europe and certainly also one of the most beautiful. Palacio Real also houses a vast plain of concrete around it and the Real Armorial (Royal Armory), a two-story collection of medieval weapons and armor.
El Prado finds its rival only in the form of the Louvre. This place is an art lover's mecca. And even if one is not particularly an art enthusiast, the Prado is worth visiting just for the sheer feel of the place. Over 7000 masterpieces from the masters spanning centuries. The wealth of this place is staggering. Naked Maja, Velázquez, Las Meninas, you name it. Particularly notable are the works of Goya.
Cuadros en El Prado (Source: Antonio)
Barcelona, heart of the Spanish country, is one of the most exquisite cities that you can visit in all of Spain. This city is a Gothic and at the same time a Modernist marvel that makes the Mediterranean Sea, to give birth to it.
Las Ramblas - the central most boulevard that cuts straight through the middle of the Barcelona. The vibrant colors and lively atmosphere will make you want to sing and dance.
Malabares en Las Ramblas de Barcelona (Source: Kom bo)
Tibidabo is one place that's very hard to miss. No matter where you'll be standing in Barcelona, you'll always be able to see the mountain with the church on top. Tibidabo is the tallest mountain in the Serra de Collserola at 512 meters. It gives you absolutely fantastic views of the city while rising towards the north west.
Parc Guell was constructed by Antoni Guidi, a Catalan architect. It is a garden with architectural elements all around located on top of el Carmel hill in the Gracia district of Barcelona. Built between 1900 to 1914, Parc Guell is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, "Works of Antoni Gaudi".
Parc Guell (Source: Robert Young)
The ethereal natural sights, the lingering Viking spirit, the cobbled stone streets of quaint little towns and cities still etched with medieval links.
Galway - a quaint but thriving artsy city on Ireland's rugged western coast. The city's labyrinth of beautiful lanes, some dating back to the medieval times, still remain intact. At the same time, Galway has progressed to be a rich cosmopolitan city. Here you will find stone-walled cafes and enchantingly pastel-colored boutiques at the Quay Street. Traditional Ireland still lingers here; do not miss out on a sip of creamy Guinness at any of the numerous pubs where you will witness many a fiddler and singer hold court beside turf fires. Add to that the pristine coast and the seaweed-decorated shore of the Galway Bay.
Perch yourself at the Salmon Weir Bridge and watch the fishermen do their thing at the River Corrib down under. Catch the same river meet the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Spanish Arch at Claddagh district, where marvelous sunsets and whitewashed cottages amidst wild swans bring out a very lovely scene.
River Corrib from Salmon Weir Bridge (Source: Rowan Townsend)
In Limerick, you will notice two things almost as soon as you enter the city. First - that in a country as tiny as Ireland, an otherwise mediocre population of 90,000 is quite enough to make Limerick the third-largest in the Republic. Second - that it has worked hard to shed the image that Frank McCourt's best-selling book Angela's Ashes bestowed it with; a city where a childhood was spent in excruciating poverty.
Limerick (Source: William Murphy)
The riverside Medieval Heritage Precinct and the overshadowing 13th-century King John's Castle are a must visit. Apart from that, the place's real beauty lies in its outskirts; no matter in which direction you go, you will find lush green river sides and pleasant farmlands. Nearby is the postcard perfect village of Adare.
Adare (Source: Edward O'Connor)
Kenmare, however, has more to it than its landscapes. Elegant streets and some fantastic restaurants fan out from Fair Green. Be warned though, it can get busy in the summer. Try out Prego (Henry St, Tel.: 064-664 2350, Price: mains US$ 11.59 - 36.22) for some delightful dodgy black pudding and their renowned salads and soups.
Kenmare, Ireland (Source: Kathy)
Cork offers a long and rebellious history. Wholly and intrinsically tied to Ireland's fight for independence, the city today is fast developing a reputation for its growing restaurant scene and its flamboyant people, ones who delve in the perks of an urban life. Being a university town, the population keeps young and the arts' scene continues evolving.
Liam Ruiseal Teo (Book Shop) - 49/50 Oliver Plunkett St. Cork (Source: William Murphy)
For something quirky, head over to the castle-like Cork City Gaol where the ghosts of prisoners from a past long gone are known to make themselves eerily felt.
Don't miss out on all the fresh seafood. Even if you are not a vegetarian, the intimate Cafe Paradiso (16 Lancaster Quay, Cork 1, Tel.: 00353214277939, Price range: $32-$158) is a must visit; the food is beyond match. For meat lovers, and if you are willing to splurge, try out The Ivory Tower (Centre Princess Street, average price: $88), where chef Seamus O'Connell dishes out one gastronomical delight after another.
While you move around, keep a look out for the city's engaging and sometimes bizarre wall art.
Street Art - Crosses Green, Cork. (Source: William Murphy)
While entire Europe is replete with things to see, Turkey has a charm of its own that is quite unique. You could say that Turkey is the most fought after country in the world. Something not to be too proud of, I guess. But we are talking about knights, and majestic swords and immense ships here. They were bound to leave some marks.
The country's landscape is dotted with ancient battlegrounds, ruined palaces of once great empires, and mighty castles. Alexander the Great battled the Gordion Knot here. Achilles himself had his way with the Trojans in Homer’s Iliad. The fight of the Ottomans was here that went on to shape the world. That's something to pique anyone's interest.
Feeding Mill... (Source: KÄ±vanç NiÅŸ)
By far, the spring (April to May) and the autumn (September to October) are the best times to visit Turkey. The weather remains more or less pleasant, specially along the Mediterranean coast.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Troy was destroyed and rebuilt nine times. And each of these have left a different layer of its own among the ruins. It has taken well over a century to undo the damages from amateurish archaeological excavations done by Heinrich Schliemann. However, the progress made in the last 10 years is really commendable.
Located 16 miles (26 km) from the Aegean Sea, perched atop a promontory upon the north bank of the Caicus river, is Pergamum - the older than the mountains Greek capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon which ruled in its glory during the Hellenistic period (of the Attalid dynasty, 281–133 BC).
Temple of Traian at Pergamum (Source: Julian Fong)
The acoustics were certainly better 3000 years ago, but that does not take anything away from this majestic place. From the upper tiers you get to see the sprawling vistas of the ancient Hierapolis - a place for the bards, and thanks to UNESCO, the glittering white terraces of Pamukkale.
Sacred Thermal Pool, Hierapolis (Source: Ming-yen Hsu)
The Blue Mosque has been Turkey's mascot to the world for many years. Standing majestically over the Sultanahmet Park, it proudly proclaims its stature. Under the glorious dome are hundreds of brilliant stained-glass windows that sparkle like jewels. Although called the Blue mosque, the facade is as likely to be orange, red or yellow, depending on the time that you choose to visit it.
Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia (Source: decadence)
Down at the Cesme Peninsula is the Alacati Bay and this bay harbours a small beach so pristine that the very sand is smooth beyond belief. The aquamarine and shallow water without any obstructions and lofty winds are what characterizes this place. Beyond the beach are hills till as far you can see.
The hammam, or the Turkish bath which stems its roots from the Islamic ritual dictating cleanliness is the grand mother of all spas. Decorated with amazing artistic finesse, wooden details, candle lights, blissful and euphoric aroma, enchanting candles and a feel of royalty. The Hammam is vacation in itself.
hamam al malek al thaher (Source: Hussein Alazaat)
Ever thought of crossing over from one continent to another in 15 minutes? The silver line to Europe and quite literally, a boat ride up the Bosphorus gives you just that. Feel the breeze caressing you the way it must have caressed the likes of Constantine, Jason and Argonauts. Look upon great Ottoman domes and think of the ages gone by.
Bosphorus Bridge at night (Source: erenkumcuoglu)
A labyrinth of pristine chapels, works of art by Masters, engineering marvels, suave fashion boutiques, fine restaurants and historical landmarks. The whole city is a sight in itself. Every time you step out of your hotel, you are bound to be mesmerized. Here are some of the places that you just cannot miss out on.
Tickets : Before you set out on discovering Paris, get yourself a Carte Musees et Monuments (Paris Museum pass) from here which gives you entry into over 70 museums, monuments and art galleries across the city. It will save you the hassle of waiting in long queues and save up on a lot of time too. Moreover, it is cost effective - 32, 48 and 64 Euros for a 2, 4 and 6 day pass respectively.
Weeks-off : Do make sure to check for week-offs of a particular place before setting out to avoid disappointment. The Louvre remains closed on Tuesdays, while the Orsay is shut on Mondays. Likewise, most of the sites remain closed on either Mondays or Tuesdays.
The Louvre has got to be the first choice. Pardon me If I sound biased for I am an art enthusiast. Built in 1973, it is the treasure trove of art, housing masterpieces like the "Mona Lisa", "The Last Supper", the "Liberty leading the People", to name just a few. Apart from the fab paintings, the architecture is breathtaking. A unique mix of ancient masonry and modern impressions - sprawling lawns and the glass pyramid of I M Pei.
Geometry... (Source: Steffen)
The Eiffel Tower has become the icon of France all over the world & an engineering marvel. The gardens surrounding are just as lovely. Spend an evening sitting on one of the wooden benches that have not changed since World War II. An idealistic romantic evening in Paris. The light show at this time is a fascinating spectacle. You can buy online tickets here.
Effiel Tower (Source: Andrew E. Larsen)
Spend an evening in the city of love and lights than taking a cruise on River Seine! Since the medieval times the Parisians have embellished the Seine river banks. The result is seen today as one of the most mesmerizing man made landscapes on earth.
Sail along as you treat your eyes to the Notre-Dame, the Louvre, the Orsay, Palais de Chaillot, the Eiffel Tower and the list would go on.
Un soir sur les bords de seine (Source: Guillaume Cattiaux)
Las Bateaux Parisiens has left me speechless. If there is as an art in showing what one is proud of, they have excelled in it. Out of the amazing array of cruises that they are offering, I have chosen two that would suite you the best:
Paris Illuminations: Start the breathtaking cruise at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and be enchanted as you see the real reason as to why Paris is deemed as the city of lights. The thousands of twinkling lights and their equally lovely reflections promises to give a soul lifting experience. Check here for bookings and here for their e-brochures.
Seine at night (Source: echiner1)
The first thing that comes to your mind are the gondolas. Just as the sun is about to set, grab some particularly delectable sandwiches from the ever so popular Harry's Bar, chilled prosecco, and hop on for a gondola ride with a dear one along the Grand Canal for an experience to last a lifetime.
Gondolas, Venice (Source: Kevin Gibbons)
Basilica di San Marco or St. Mark's Basilica is an architectural delight. Frommer's sums it up beautifully:
Venice for centuries was Europe's principal gateway between the Orient and the West, so it should come as no surprise that the architectural style for the sumptuously Byzantine Basilica di San Marco, replete with five mosquelike bulbed domes, was borrowed from Constantinople.
St Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) (Source: Francisco Antunes)
Ducal Palace and Bridge of Sighs - This pink and white façade with a splendid Gothic-Renaissance architecture was the residence and governing center of the dukes, or the 'doges' as they are locally known who ruled Venice for over a 1000 years.
Grand Ducal Palace Guards (Source: Steve/Ruth Bosman)
Campanile di San Marco - One of the lesser known but highly conflicting pillars of Christendom, with an interesting bit of history. It is museum that pays homage to Jacopo Robusti (1518-94), also called Tintoretto because his father was a dyer. This place is full of his 50 odd paintings which are as much dark as highly mystical.
From Argentina's northern most tip to Tierra del Fuego, the distance spans over 3,650km (2,263 miles). And the range of experiences that's on offer is nothing less staggering. From the cosmopolitan fanfare of Buenos Aires to the teeming tropical jungles and the thundering falls of Iguazú. Or the icebergs in Los Glaciares National Park.
It does not matter why one comes to Argentina - to take in the grandeur, to meander along the quiet towns of Lake District or to dance the night off in a smoky, low-lit Argentine tango bar, this gem in the Southern Hemisphere does not disappoint.
Calle de Tilcara, Jujuy, Argentina (Source: Juan)
There was a time when Buenos Aires thrived on its laurels of being the world's beef and tango capital. The city goes well beyond that - it is South America's trendsetter in fashion, nightlife and street art. You will find the silver world blooming here, all the way from glossy-haired ladies to dapper men parading around the boutique-dotted Palermo Viejo. For those who love art, there's MALBA (Avenida Pres. Figueroa Alcorta 3415 Buenos Aires | (0)11 4808 6500) and other galleries spread citywide.
A must do - stop by at a milonga in San Telmo to be charmed into the passions of tango.
Buenos Aires (Source: Gustavo Brazzalle)
Argentines are carnivores for a good reason. For the food lover in you, revel on thick slabs of exquisite Pampa steak and every other type of offal sizzled on the parilla (barbecue) in Puerto Madero's glittering waterside restaurants.
Find fantastic eateries in San Telmo's dusty local joints on almost every street corner. For the sauvé, the Italian restaurants run by the city's top chefs from downtown are a must for lunch just as the impeccably decked for dinners of sushi in Las Cañitas.
cafe Buenos Aires (Source: Tim Snell)
In terms of which region to visit for wine-tasting, I recommend Luján de Cuyo and Maipú. Just an hour's drive for Mendoza, this area is conveniently located, and has some of the best wineries in the region. The wineries here bottle different varieties such as the cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, chenin, and merlot, to name a few.
Here are a few things you should keep in mind when visiting the wineries -
- Do not wear any distracting scents such as perfume or lipstick, as that will tend to mingle with the aroma of the wines and make it difficult to get the real flavor and scent.
- Make sure you carry enough cash with you, as most wine purchases are made in cash only.
- Wineries and cellars can be pretty cold compared to the outdoors so carry a sweater or a jacket with you just in case.
You can also book a package wine-tasting tour or rent bicycles and explore the region on your own.
Trout and Wine offers great one-day tours to wineries in Mendoza. I would recommend their one-day 9 am to 5 pm tour of Luján de Cuyo, with an English-speaking guide, who will take you to four premium wineries that make Mendoza's finest Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec and Syrah.
The cost of the package per person, which includes lunch, is $165.
Ampora Wine Tours has tours to Luján de Cuyo, the Uco valley as well as Maipú, which is Mendoza's most historic wine region. Tours of Maipú happen only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Uco Valley offers you a visit to the vineyards in the mountains.
The rate per person is $175 from October 1st onwards as that is peak tourist season.
A really good option if you're on a budget, would be Bikes and Wines, which rents bicycles from different locations in the wine regions of Mendoza. It provides a helpful, easy-to-understand route map, and lets you explore the beautiful wine-making regions on bicycle. I should warn you though, that people tend to drive rashly in Mendoza, so you need to be prepared for that. The first winery visit on this tour is free while the rest have a charge. You need to make reservations with the wineries en-route in advance.
wine sniffer (Source: Tim Snell)
No trip to Argentina is complete without learning this sensuous and ever so charming dance form - tango! And the best people to get the moves right are from Ruben and Cherie, a lovely pair who have been teaching travelers, tango enthusiast and professional dancers the beautiful art form for years now.
Iguazu Falls, like the Niagara in North America, is shared between two countries - Brazil and Argentina. To get to the falls, you will have to reach Puerto Iguazo first. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Iguazu Falls is a scene worth capturing. Once there, get ready to get splashed as the boats take you from right under the falls. The sight is spectacular and some say it 'puts Niagara to shame'. There are many walking trails in the Argentinian side. The biggest fall is the Devil's Throat. There are over 275 plummeting waterfalls which are fed by the Iguazú River, making the sight one of the most spectacular and dramatic ones in the world.
Cataratas do Iguazu (Source: Rodrigo Soldon)
Hope this helps in getting you right on track. If you like what you have read, write back and I will be glad to help with planning the rest of the trip - alternate/additional destinations, transport, accommodation, and more.
Have a great trip!
Love 2 (Source: Gilles Klein)
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