Update Your Bucket List To Include These Breathtaking Locations

If you have had a bucket list of travel destinations for some time now, you will probably be making some very good progress on it. You may even be running out of ideas! But don’t worry, though; this is where this blog post comes in. Below is my list of some of the best destinations to visit this year. They are all very worthy of a spot on your bucket list!

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Picture: Pexels

Czech Republic

If you are a very keen traveler, you will have probably already been to Prague and seen all of its historic sites and attractions. But the city isn’t all there is to the Czech Republic, though! There are in fact a lot more locations dotted throughout the country that should be on your bucket list. For instance, how about heading to one of its many wine regions? Czech wine may not be too popular right now, but that is all set to change as its wine industry is improving year upon year. Take a trip to Moravia to sample some of the country’s best wines.

Iceland

Iceland is incredibly popular with tourists who want to glimpse the famous Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. Not sure about what time of year can you see the Northern lights? Most travelers head there in the autumn and winter, when the longer nights give you a better chance of spotting them. These aren’t the only reason to head to Iceland, though. You can also chill out in a geothermal spa, or soak up the culture in the capital city, Reykjavik.

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Picture: Pexels

Hadrian’s Wall, England

Fancy a camping trip? Then why not head up to Hadrian’s Wall in England. It has been mentioned as one of the Lonely Planet’s travel picks for 2017, so you better get your trip booked quickly before everyone is trying to go! This ancient Roman wall was built to keep the Scots out of England by Emperor Hadrian. It is surrounded by some absolutely stunning countryside so there will be plenty of chance to go out hiking. There are also a number of Roman museums and dig sites dotted along the wall so you will be able to learn about the history of the area.

South Australia

When you think of holiday destinations in Australia, you probably instantly think of Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney. But there is so much more waiting to be discovered as well! Most notably, the state of South Australia. This state features a large wine country so there will be many chances of sampling some local tipples! Not only that, though, but there are also miles of beaches, and none of them are as busy and crowded as the famous ones on the west and east coasts. If you do fancy experiencing life in an Australian city, you can always make Adelaide, the state’s capital, your base for your trip.

Hopefully, this post has helped to stoke your inspiration for some exciting travel plans this year! Who knows where you will end up?!

Itinerary Florence: the Chianti Wine Route – Discover Tuscany in a unique way

It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful panoramic drives through Tuscany: the Chianti Wine Route. Chianti is one of the oldest and famous wine regions in Italy. This route, the SR222 (Strada Regionale 222) passes five small Chianti Classico towns and is about 100 km’s (62 miles) long. For a long time it was the only road between Florence and Siena.

This winding road takes you along the most spectacular sceneries Italy has to offer. View the typical rolling Tuscan hills filled with tall cypress trees. And see thousands hectares of fertile soil, ready to grow the sangiovese grapes for the divine Chianti wines. Touring the area let’s you experience the true ‘la dolce vita’. Do some wine tasting, try out the olive oils, visit the medieval towns and enjoy the local specialities along the way. These little towns are also perfect for a daytrip from Florence or Siena.

Before you take this trip it’s wisely to book your rental car in advance. Find further information at EasyTerra. Also book a B&B or agriturismo, so you can literally can eat, sleep and drink Chianti. Do remember: it is not safe to drink and drive at the same time.

What’s a Chianti wine?
The Chianti is one of the most sold Italian quality wines, recognisable by it’s Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) Label. It used to be bottled in a typical curved wine bottle in a straw basket (called fiasco), nowadays it’s more and more produced in a standard shaped wine bottle.

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Typical Chianti wines bottles

Image Source: 123rf.com

The red wine is so special because of the use of sangiovese grapes. A minimum of 80% and up to a 100% must be used, supplemented by other grape varieties.

It has a characteristic intense aroma of fruit and flowers. A typical Chianti wine has a soft aftertaste and an intense color. The taste and quality can vary due to microclimates (height and location of the vineyard). The best Chianti’s come from the Chianti Classico region and have an DOCG-status to ensure the best quality.

Florence
Start your road trip in Tuscany’s capital: Florence. Or as the locals say Firenze. With millions of tourists a year visiting, it’s one of the most popular cities in Italy. And no wonder: it’s a perfect mix of history, art and culture. Book yourself a hotel and get lost in the city for a few days. Read more about Florence’s attractions.

After wandering around in Florence, it’s time to get into your car and hit the road: on to Greve.

Greve
Greve is also called ‘The Gateway into Chianti’, because it’s the first Clasico town to come across from Florence. The triangular square, Piazza Matteotti, forms the heart of the town. Each side is surrounded with small indoor shops, galleries and restaurants. There’s a large market held every Saturday.
Each year, around mid September, Greve organises the famous Expo del Chianti Classico. The Piazza gets filled for four days with stalls of all the local Chianti Classico wine producers. A tradition of nearly of half a century! For about €10 you can buy a empty wineglass, which you can refill 7 or 8 times.

If you can’t make it to the Festival, visit Le Cantine di Greve (Enoteca Falorni). Buy a ‘wine card’ for a certain amount and fill your glass with an automatic dispenser. You can choose from over 140 different kind of wines! To learn more about the history of Chianti’s wine culture, visit the Museo del Vino. For some historic sightseeing you walk or drive up (1,5km) to the old castle of Montefioralle, a medieval village nearby. On your way up you will see some great panoramic views.

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Cobbled street in Montefioralle – Greve

Image Source: 123rf.com

Don’t forget to check out the many small shops at the Piazza Matteotti like Antica Macelleria Falorni, an old butcher shop. And try some of the local delicacies. The shop has been there since 1809. And don’t miss La Bottega dell’Artigianato, a shop known for it’s hand-woven baskets and olive wood carved products.
Take a relaxing seat at one of the little bars and watch the town’s life go by.

Panzano
Next stop is Panzano. A little hilltop town situated exactly halfway between Florence and Siena. Due to it’s location is the perfect stop to take a look at the charming scenery of Tuscany.

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View – town Panzano

Image Source: 123rf.com

Take a walk through Panzano’s historic cobbled streets and visit the castle, built at the highest part of the town. The modern market square, Piazza Gastone Bucciarelli, is now a meeting place for the locals. Panzano has quite a few bars and restaurants who offer wine tasting. You can also visit Fattoria Le Fonti and Fattoria Montagliari, just a few minutes drive outside Panzano. At Fattoria Montagliari you can also take a cooking lesson or spend a night at their farm.

Panzano’s main attraction is the butcher’s shop, Antica Macelleria Cecchini, owned by butcher and chef Dario Cecchini. He’s a lively personality and very welcoming. Across the street is his restaurant, Solociccia, where you can try his famous specialities. He also runs Dario Doc. Make sure to make a reservation!

Panzano also has an annual Chianti Wine festival, Vino al Vino, held on the third weekend of September. Just like the Expo in Greve you can taste several local Panzano’s wine products.

Castellina
Castellina’s Rocca castle is the evidence of once being a strategic strategic headquarters between Florence and Siena. Despite multiple attacks and destructions of the city, the castle is still standing tall. Climb the tower of the castle and get a great view over the town and countryside. Inside the castle is the Archeological Museum of Chianti. Showing all kinds archeological findings from the region from the Bronze Age, Etruscan and Medieval times. Next to the castle, is the Via delle Volte, an arched passage round the eastern part of the city.
Here you can find small artistic and food shops.

Worth visiting is the church of San Salvatore, rebuilt after WW II, and displaying a 14th-century fresco of Lorenzo Bicci. Not far from Castellina’s center is the Etruscan excavation of Montecalvario, dating from the 6th century BC. You can enter the tomb and see four burial chambers facing the east, west, south and north. Some remaining tombs artifacts are shown in the museum.

In Castellina you can also do some wine tasting. Try visiting Gagliole and Villa Trasqua.

Radda
Radda is quite a small village situated upon a hilltop, situated 600 meters above sea level. Surrounded by woods and located between the valleys of the rivers Abria and Pesa. The streets are narrow and mostly traffic free, so you can feel free to wander around by foot. Radda is charming, peaceful, quiet and ideal for a short stop. The ancient city walls, cobblestone alleys and the cities architecture take you right back to the Middle Ages.

Like the Palazzo del Podestà (Palace of the Major), located in the middle of the town. It was almost destroyed in 1478, but it still has the original facade displaying the Medieval architecture. Or visit the Pieve di Santa Maria Novella, this Roman church is considered to be one of the best examples of Roman architecture in Tuscany.

Also visit the Castle of Volpaia, a sandstone castle with a rare dark color. Complete your visit with a glass of wine in it’s winebar. Other great places for wine tasting are: Castello di Albola and Casalvento Winery.

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Radda – View from Castelo Alboa

Image Source: 123rf.com

Gaiole
Gaiole is our last stop of the Chianti Classico towns before heading to Siena. Because of it’s position at the lower part of the valley, it has never been a strategic place like Radda or Castellina. So the Gaiola developed more into a marketplace for the nearby castles and churches.

One of these nearby castles is Castello di Brolio. Take the winding and narrow driveway of the Castello and watch this pentagonal fortress appear. For 8 euros you can enter the castle and gardens (wine tasting included) and enjoy the views of the Arbia valley. In the distance you can see Siena (20 km/12 miles away).
Or visit the Castello di Meleto. Nowadays it’s an hotel and also available for parties. You can get a guided tour at the ground floor of the castle which also has a theatre. At the end you can taste three wines. When you’re a hotel guest the wine tasting and tour are included. It’s the perfect place to spend the night and end your Chianti tour in a unique way!

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Chianti wine route

Image Source: 123rf.com

Finally, London

LONDON, ENGLAND: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” that’s what English poet Samuel Johnson said about this city. London, a truly multicultural city, doesn’t really need an introduction. Even if you have never visited this trendy city, I am sure, you have seen it many times in the movies or heard about its history and culture in books or news. And of course England’s Queen and the Royal Family members are always in the spotlight for their affairs and businesses too…over the centuries, they have added much to the London scene for today’s traveler.

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London, England

Before visiting England, I always had an impression that it’s just another western, English-speaking world. I knew little bit about its past centuries and culture, but as far as the tourism goes, I had very little idea about its landmarks, rich heritage, and powerful history. London can be chaotic, at the same time relaxing, and exciting. You can be taken back to the medieval time when touring Tower of London and can be brought back to your senses when up in the London Eye. London is the heart of whole England or whole Great Britain without any doubt. And I have to go back to London once again to finish visiting many other things that we couldn’t see in this trip.

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Walking around in London and being mesmerized by its old buildings and narrow streets

We used to take train from Luten everyday to come to the center of London during this trip. The Tube or Underground railway and double-decker bus are probably the best way to get around and an Oyster Card is conveniently taken in all transportation in and around London. Once we were in the city, surprisingly, it’s easier to explore the tourist spots on foot. If you really want to spend big money, hire one of the famous Black Cab, though they are not always black.

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London…looks like a scene from Mary Poppins or Harry Potter

TIME of TRAVEL: We visited London during the summer of 2012, when the Paralympic was going on. The streets were crowded (well, then usual), and many streets were decorated for the big event. It is always a good idea to carry a light sweater and an umbrella here, you never know when the clouds will gather together to make you all wet.

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London is decorated for Olympic 2012, when we visited, the Paralympic just started

We took Euro Rail from Brussels downtown all the way to King’s Cross Train Station which goes under the English Channel for a short period of time. From there, took another local train to Luten, where my uncle-in-law and his daughter live.

EATING and SHOPPING: London is considered as one of the leading global cities and therefore, it is a paradise of all sorts of international cuisines. Curry is definitely one of my favorites and after India, this is probably the place where you can find some award winning curry restaurants. If you are looking for true English plates, go for some fish and chips, meat pasties, or scones. I had spicy hot dogs one afternoon near Tower of London and can’t remember what I had the other days.

London is one of the most fashion trendy cities in the world. Though things are a bit pricey here, but I guess it’s worth paying those big prices.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We had two full days for London…yes, I know it’s NOTHING really. You will probably need at least a month or even a year to appreciate London. If we had another day, we probably would have gone to the British Museum (it is a shame that we couldn’t visit it during this trip). Founded in 1753, the museum has collection from over two million years of human history and experience iconic objects from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Ancient World. Another place that you may want to consider is Kew Gardens where visitors can enjoy world’s one of the most diverse collection of rare and fascinating plants.  

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Underground subway in London – Mind The Gap

Other than the British Museum, London hosts some of the outstanding collection of world-class museums and many of those museums and galleries have no entrance fees. If you are not a museum person, stop by London’s theater district around Leicester Square or Covent Gardens.

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On London’s streets

1) TOWER of LONDON: Our first day in London actually started with Buckingham Palace’s Change of Royal Guard. But I kept it for later, because we couldn’t really visit the palace until the next day. So we walked towards Tower of London from there and spent about half a day inside the complex.

The Tower of London is the city’s original royal fortress by the Thames. This 900 years old royal residence was also a military stronghold in the Middle Ages. The rooms here were built and used by King Henry III (1216-1272) and King Edward I (1272-1307).

This is a perfect place to discover what life was like in the luxurious Medieval Palace and explore the stories of Henry III and Edward I. The historic White Tower exhibition celebrates the 500th anniversary of Henry III with displayed artifacts over 3 floors. Some of the world’s rarest arms and armors here have been selected from the treasures of the Royal Armories. Also enjoy the surprising serenity of the Chapel of St. John…a unique survival of an 11th century fortress chapel.

Beside of being one of the historic royal palaces, Tower of London is a powerful fortress that protects the Crown Jewels. 23,578 gems make up the Crown Jewels, including the dazzling Imperial State Crown which alone has 2858 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies. The astonishing collection of priceless Coronation Regalia has been an unmissable highlight of any visit since the 17th century, with only one attempt to steal them.

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A Royal Guard in front of the Crown Jewel tower in Tower of London

It is also considered as one of the most haunted grounds in the world. Visit the infamous Bloody Tower from the 1220s where two little princes were murdered mysteriously. The Tower also held many famous prisoners and the Prisoner’s exhibition can be seen in the Beauchamp Tower with some extraordinary graffiti done by the prisoners. You can see some medieval instruments of torture in the Lower Wakefield Tower. Get a wonderful view of Tower Bridge and whole London while walking over the old stone walls of this complex. You can see some great live costumed enactments on the South Lawn. The famous Bell Tower is from 1190 A.D.

Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage site. During our visit the fee was £21 per adult and £11 for 5 – 17 years of children. Five different audio tours are available to go along with your journey in Tower of London. You would probably need few hours to see the towers (visitors can enter most of the towers but not all) and museums inside this historic place…be ready to walk a lot.

2) TOWER BRIDGE: Tower Bridge is London’s one of the favorite landmarks and probably the most photographed bridge in the world. We didn’t really go inside the Tower Bridge, only enjoyed the view from Tower of London and once drove underneath it by car. But I do want to share some points about this bridge.

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Tower Bridge in London, the most photographed bridge in the world

Tower Bridge is recognized for its Gothic grandeur. It was built at the end of 19th century and was opened in 1894. Now the tourists can take a lift up to the Bridge’s high-level walkways (42 meters above the River Thames) to enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of both East and West London.

Tower Bridge Exhibition is a self-guided tour and lasts about 1 ½ hours. You can also visit the engine rooms along with the exhibition. Admission price is £8 per adult and £3.40 per child.

3) MONUMENT to The GREAT FIRE of LONDON: We stumbled upon this monument while walking towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666 which burned for three days consuming more than 13,000 houses and devastating 436 acres of the city. The monument is 202 ft. in height. The balcony of this monument can be reached by a spiral stairway (with admission fee) of 311 steps for a panoramic views of the city.

 

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Monument to the Great Fire of London

4) LONDON BRIDGE: Another stop before St. Paul’s Cathedral was the London Bridge. This is a rather recent addition to the city which was built in 1967.

5) ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL: Built after the Great Fire of London in 1666, St. Paul’s Cathedral is Sir Christopher Wren’s greatest accomplishment. The great dome of cathedral is a majestic part of the city. This is a majestic architecture inside and out and a must-see here.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

The Churchyard and garden of St. Paul was first laid out as open space in 1878 combining the ancient burial grounds of the cathedral. We didn’t pay any fee to enter the cathedral, but no photography is allowed inside.

6) MILINIUM BRIDGE: Another photogenic bridge of London is the Millennium Bridge on River Thames. From St. Paul Cathedral, it’s only a few minutes of walking. Once we crossed the bridge we were on the other side of Thames…the drama/theater district of London.

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Millennium Bridge on River Thames in London

7) GLOBE THEATER and SHAKESPEARE: After crossing the Millennium Bridge, on the other side of Thames River the famous Globe Theater in the center of what was once London’s most notorious entertainment district.

The Globe Theater is a reconstruction of the open-air playhouse from 1599 A.D. where Shakespeare worked and for which he wrote many of his greatest plays. It was burned to the ground in less than 2 hours in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII, but the theater was quickly rebuilt. The annual theater season runs from April to October and productions include work by Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and many modern writers. If you have time check out their matinee performances.

 

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Globe Theater in London

Although we couldn’t take a tour, the Globe Exhibition is the world’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition devoted to Shakespeare. The exhibition is house beneath the Globe Theater. The exhibition uses modern technology and traditional crafts to bring Shakespeare’s world to life. You can listen to recordings from some of the most famous Shakespearean performances, can feel the fabrics and marvels, enjoy live demonstrations and costume dressings. An audio guide is included with the admissions. The exhibition is usually open until 5pm everyday.  

8) LONDON EYE: London Eye is the world’s third largest observation wheel, situated on the South Bank of the River Thames offering magnificent view over London and its landmarks. The Parliament and Big Ben are within walking distance from here. Other than this, there are many other things to do and see in this park. You can spend a day just visiting its surroundings and doing people watch.

Be ready to stand in the line for a while, maybe more than an hour, but believe me it’s worth it.

 

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From London Eye…view of the whole city and its landsmarks

9) PARLIAMENT SQUARE: The next day we started our day with this square. Whole London is busy and crowded and Parliament Square is no exception. An outdoor exhibition of some kind was going on during our visit. Many important landmarks surround this square, including the Parliament, Big Ben, and other official buildings. I am sure you can take tour inside the Parliament but we were there after office hours, so just admired the long building from outside.

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Parliament Square in London

10) BIG BEN: Another iconic landmark of London is Big Ben. We just saw it from outside, though like Parliament, I am sure you can go inside Big Ben and take a tour.

 

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The one and only Big Ben in London

11) BUCKINGHAM PALACE and CHANGING of ROYAL GUARDS: We came to the palace walking thru Hyde Park, adjacent to Kensington Garden, which is a quiet and serene green park amidst of chaotic London. It was time for Changing the Guard ceremony and looked like whole London gathered around the palace to see this event. The ceremony takes place at 11:30am at alternate days, weather permitting.  I don’t think this palace needs any introduction. But I will give it to you anyways.

Buckingham Palace is the office and the official London residence of Her Majesty The Queen, as well as the administrative headquarters of the Royal Household. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today.

 

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Change of Royal Guards in front of Buckingham Palace in London

The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection – paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, and many others, exquisite examples of porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture.

The Royal Mews is the home to the royal collection of historic coaches and carriages. One of the finest working stables and a living part of Britain’s heritage, the Royal Mews is responsible for all road travel arrangements for The Queen and members of the Royal Family. Take a closer look at the most dazzling coach on display the Gold State Coach, which has been used in every coronation since 1821 and in 2002 played a central role in Her Majesty The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

During our visit, there was a special exhibition going on called, “Diamond: A Jubilee Celebration”. It was in the State Rooms area showing many ways in which diamonds have been used by British monarchs over the last 200 years.

Situated on Buckingham Palace Road, Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms, Queen’s Gallery, and The Royal Mew are accessible to publics usually in summer from June to October when the Palace is not being used in its official capacity. At that time it’s usually open everyday from 10am to 6pm. It will be the best idea to book your ticket ahead of time either online, by phone, or from their office. We tried to go there on our very first day, but everything was sold out. Pick up a free audio-tour to get the most of this place. You can upgrade your ticket and include a highlights tour of the famous Buckingham Palace Garden. The whole tour took us about 3 ½ to 4 hours.

12)  WESTMINSTER ABBEY: This Abbey, with its grand exterior and magnificent interior, is an essential part of any trip to London and is central to the life of the British London. The mix of rich history and a tradition of worship creates this unique place a must-see. Founded over a thousand years ago as a Benedictine monastery, and rebuilt by Edward the Confessor in 1065, the building we see today was begun by Henry III in the Gothic style in 1245 A.D. Since originally, the Abbey was built as a monastery, there are some beautiful green spaces within the precincts to relax. It is a working church and an architecture masterpiece.

 

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Westminster Abbey…London, England

The Abbey has been the setting for Coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066 and is home to the Coronation Chair. It has witnessed countless royal and state occasions including Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953, wedding ceremony of Prince William and Princess Kate, and many other coronations, royal weddings, and funerals. This is also the final resting place for monarchs including Edward I, Henry III, Henry V, and Henry VII. In one of the chapels contains the bodies of Elizabeth I and her half-sister Mary I (‘Bloody Mary’), and the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots. In the Poets’ Corner of this Abbey stands Chaucer’s tomb surrounded by memorials to William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austen, and many others. Great scientists, musicians, and politicians are also remembered in the Abbey, like Newton, Darwin, and Winston Churchill. Kings, queens, statesmen, soldiers, poets, priests, heroes, and villains – they all make up the rich historical tapestry of Abbey’s heritage.

Westminster Abbey is located in the heart of London, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Admission fees apply, but the day we visited, we didn’t pay anything. Taking photos or filming are not allowed inside the Abbey. Tours and audio-guides are available in different languages.

13)  TRAFALGAR SQUARE: This is the home of Nelson’s Column and the lions. With its pedestrian zone, you can say this it the “center” of London. We stayed here only for half an hour or so and left without really going around the square and exploring each corner.

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Trafalgar Square in London

14)  PICCADILLY CIRCUS: From Trafalgar Square, we walked to the Piccadilly Circus. This is one of the busiest spots of London. The statue of Eros stands in the middle of the square. Many stores and cafes are lined up on all sides of the square. The square is crowded with both locals and tourists.

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Piccadilly Circus in London

Reliving Some Of Britains’s Best History On Your Next Trip

One of the best things about a trip in the British Isles is just how much history you can take in. Given the size of the isles, it’s easy to organise a trip spanning all kinds of looks into the past. From looking at Stone Age wonders to places where major historical events took place, it has it all. Here are just a few of our favourite historical holiday sites for when you’re visiting.

Aligned with the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, the main purpose of Stonehenge still remains a mystery

Image by Nahid Sultana at www.journeyaroundtheglobe.com

Stonehenge

If you’re talking about man-made history, we have to start off with one of the oldest and most impressive. Stonehenge is the largest structure of its type in the word, containing huge rocks that travelled over a hundred and fifty miles. No-one really even knows how it was built to this day. Since then it’s played a huge role in local legends, not to mention tourism.

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Image by Bernard Gagnon

The Tower of London

Skipping forward in time a bit, but with no less history. The Tower of London is one of the must-see places for a city so packed with attractive opportunities. Used as a prison, a zoo and a place to hold the crown jewels, it’s been central to English history for centuries now. Nowadays, it has tours and rather spooky themed walks you can take to get an idea of what it must have once been like to be a prisoner.

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Image by dun_deagh

Stirling Castle

When you’re talking about feudal era buildings, you just have to talk about some of the fantastic castles in the country. In our opinion, there’s none more fantastic than Stirling Castle in Scotland. Even approaching it, it dominates the landscape from up on Castle Hill. Featured are statues of famous Scottish heroes like Robert the Bruce. There are also attractions around William Wallace, making it a great tribute to these hardy, independent folk.

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Image by German Federal Archive

Dambusters

You’ve undoubtedly already heard of the Dam busters, most likely due to a great classic film bearing the same name. It’s the tale of British pilots who used a newly developed bouncing bomb to destroy dams. A major contribution to Britain’s victory in World War II and one you can experience. Almost. There are no bombs involved but you can visit the location where the Dambusters trained, even taking a flight with Pleasureflights Ltd.

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Image by code poet

The Giant’s Causeway

The only natural entry on the list and one of the most magical. Ireland has a great legacy for keeping its colourful myths and the Giant’s Causeway is no different. Supposedly built by the giant Finn McCool, the visitors centre gives an excellent retelling of the myth. However, as a natural arrangement of basalt columns created by volcanic activity, the best part is going down to see the causeway itself.

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Image by Russ Harner

Lindisfarne

A gorgeous and religiously important island off the eastern coast of Britain, Lindisfarne is a serene retreat from the world. It’s quite a wonder that its biggest mark on modern history is being the first major target of the legendary Viking invaders. Whether it’s the spiritual value, historic interest of natural beauty you’re after, this island has it in spades.

Masaya and Granada in Nicaragua

MASAYA and GRANADA, NICARAGUA: While Masaya is a natural beauty with volcanic rocks, crater, and mountains, Granada is a historic town with beautiful churches, colonial style architecture, and good food. Both are famous destinations and must-sees of Nicaragua.

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The historic city of Granada in Nicaragua…this is the oldest colonial town in the western hemisphere of the Americas or the first European city in the mainland America

How about some facts now? Nicaragua is the 3rd largest country in Central America. The country got its independence in 1821. By the time Civil War ended here in 1990, the country lost about 25,000 of its people. It had its first democratic election in 1990. Currently, Nicaragua is working on their own canal, Nicaragua Lock, to compete with its neighboring Panama Canal. It’s a $50 billion project by a Chinese company which should be finished in 5 years. Ruben Dario is the most famous poet of Nicaragua and you will see his statues and monuments in many places. 80% tourists of this country come from the U.S.A. … no surprise there.

Nicaraguan volcanoes form part of what is called the “Pacific Ring (or Belt) of Fire”. “Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve” is a natural preserve in Granada, 41km from Managua, where we didn’t make a visit but highly recommended. Mombacho invites visitors to enjoy its beauty, rich history, and wonderful views. The preserve contains the only cloud forest on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. Hikers will find a great variety of birds and spectacular overlooks of Lake Nicaragua. The volcano is not currently active, but its fumaroles indicates that this giant’s heart of fire is still alive. One of the biggest earthquakes in Nicaragua was in 1972 that took 22,000 lives.

We booked Masaya and Granada day trip thru viator.com. It was a private tour with a professional guide. We were picked up from our hotel in the morning and were dropped off in the evening.

TIME of TRAVEL: After visiting El Salvador, Panama, and Costa Rica, Nicaragua concluded our Central America tour which we took back in March, 2015. We had two days to spare before returning to our home in Oregon. First day was well spent in Managua and last day was for Masaya and Granada. It was pretty hot and humid, but I guess not as bad as El Salvador. Still it’s always better to be prepared with lots of sunscreens, hats, comfortable shoes, and plenty of water bottle when you come to this region around this time of the year.

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Holiday Inn Managua – Convention in Managua. This was a beautiful hotel with fancy restaurant, big swimming pool, nice rooms, and friendly service. First day, our hotel concierge arranged a cab-ride around the capital for few hours. The cost was $50 or 1350 NIC for this private tour in a cab. The hotel location was nice but not too close to the city center.

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Breakfast in our hotel in Managua, Nicaragua

EATING and SHOPPING: After visiting Masaya, we had lunch in the center of Granada. “El Zguan” is a traditional Nicaraguan restaurant that serves typical local dishes in a very cozy sitting arrangements. They have great service and menu. I had tortilla soup for lunch with some fresh fruit juice. Try ceviche when you are in this region and other seafood and pasta. Overall, cuisine in Granada is very Moorish style, especially when it comes to kebabs.

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A hearty lunch in Granada, Nicaragua

Nicaragua offers variety of souvenirs to its guests. Hand-made clay pots, hammocks, wood-carvings are just to name some. Masaya and its surrounding artisan villages are known for their local traditions. They are very reasonably priced. You can bargain but every dollar you spend here, know that you are helping a family and to keep their culture and heritage alive.

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Pottery collections in San Juan de Oriente near Granada, Nicaragua

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Nicaragua has total of 50 volcanos and out of that, 7 are active. So, it will be unthinkable to leave the country without seeing a volcanic sight. Our tour started with a visit to Masaya.

1)     MASAYA: Also known as “City of Flower”, the town of Masaya is about 30km from the capitol Managua. Tourists mainly come here to visit the volcano, Parque Nacionale Volcan Masaya or Masaya Volcano National Park, from which the city got its name from. This is Nicaragua’s first national park, established in 1979. The park also serves as a memoir for the revolutionists who were thrown in the crater from helicopters/planes while they were still alive.

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The first holy-cross of Nicaragua near Crater Santiago from 1529 A.D. built by the Spaniards

Masaya Volcano National Park, is a popular tourist site and one of the excellent parks of Nicaragua, featuring a smoking volcano. It is the most active volcano in the region. Masaya visitor center displays some of it historical and geological information and artifacts. The most famous and historical eruption (which was a pyroclastic lava) of the Masaya Volcano happened on March 16, 1772. It emitted an extensive flow of lava during several days, into the lagoon.

We drove by old lava flows while approaching the volcanic site. The guide took us to the visitor center and gave us bit of information on the park and Nicaragua’s other volcanic mountains before arriving to the craters. Visitors can take mule or horse ride or even hike Masaya Volcano to see the craters…just be careful.

 

There are total 5 craters in this area and out of these five craters, 250 meters deep Crater Santiago is still active. The last eruption from this crater was in 2009 with ash and water. Crater Nandiri is still covered with ash. Few vultures were roaming around over our heads for hunt. We saw the first holy-cross near Crater Santiago from 1529 A.D. built by the Spaniards. The national park is situated by Laguna de Masaya. Local villagers refine the lake water for different usages by using volcanic rocks.

 

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Crater Santiago in Masaya Volcano National Park in Nicaragua

From the volcanic park, we made a short stop at Masaya’s handcraft market, Mercado Artisano. This is a good place to get some gift items and souvenirs from Nicaragua. Make sure to bargain with the vendors. I even saw some artists working right outside their stores. Masaya’s handicraft market is well known for its variety of product at reasonable price.

From there we headed towards Nicaragua’s deep crater lake named “Apoyo”. Apoyo Lagoon is another beautiful gem in the Town of Catarina and is a popular attraction in the area. Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve is located about 8km south of the Masaya. Measuring 4 miles wide and over 656 feet deep, this stunning turquoise and crystalline lagoon is the largest crater lagoon and deepest natural well in Nicaragua. It occupies the crater of a volcano that exploded thousands of years ago. Standing here, you can see Mombacho Volcano on the right and Lake Nicaragua on the other side. Sit on one of the benches and enjoy the attractive view. You will find couple rows of souvenir, hand-craft shops and restaurants by the lagoon.

 

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Stunning beauty of Apoyo Lagoon in Masaya, Nicaragua

From Apoyo Lagoon to Granada, we drove by a small artesian village, called San Juan de Orient and made a quick stop in one of its many shops to look/buy some clay potteries and hand-crafts. These are all locally crafted, mostly by women, in this village or nearby places. These are very cheap yet gorgeous gift items to bring back home as memories and you will be supporting many artists and their families in the process.

2)     GRANADA: Granada is a very touristic yet cozy town with colorful colonial-style buildings, mostly dating back to the 16th or 17th century. From Masaya to Granada, it was about 15km drive and from Granada to Managua, it was about 45 km drive. By the shores of Lake Nicaragua, Granada is the oldest colonial town in the western hemisphere of the Americas or the first European city in the mainland America. Founded in 1524, obviously the name comes from Spain’s ancient city Granada. Therefore, lots of Spanish influences are everywhere in this town. Economically and politically, Granada is one of the most important cities of this country. This was also Nicaragua’s first capital, later which moved to Leon, and finally to Managua in 1852. While you are there, visit its colorful and picturesque churches. Mombacho Volcano can be seen from different parts of the town.

Much of Granada’s ancient landmarks were destroyed by the American filibuster William Walker who tried to rule Central America in the mid-1800th. Tourists can still enjoy some of the finest colonial-era architecture and historic churches. Our first stop was to Lake Nicaragua. Entrance was free because of the Easter holiday. This is a nice place for strolling or enjoying a late afternoon.

 

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Lake Nicaragua in Granada, Nicaragua

From the lake, we drove straight to the city’s downtown. The Gunpowder Fortress, built in 1748, could have been our second stop, but it was closed. Another site we couldn’t go in, was Church of Xalteva. The church was burned down by William Walker and was later restored in 1856. It was closed to the publics during our visit. We then walked to Iglesia de la Merced, a Baroque and Neo-Classical designed church with a simple altar. Built in the 17th century, this church’s façade and tower were also destroyed by William Walker. After restoration, visitors now can climb the tower for 25 NIC.

Next stop was San Francisco Church and Convent. This was William Walker’s stable at one point. It is the first church in Granada from 1529 and was built by the Spaniards. Although it’s not an active church, its vast collection of indigenous artifacts and basalt stone statues from Onetepe Island and serene cloister attract many visitors every year. Some of those items in display here are 800 years old and many are from B.C. era. Majestic Mombacho Volcano can be seen from here while standing on the terrace. It’s $1 to enter the museum and the venue is also used for events and weddings.

 

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View of Mombacho Volcano from San Francisco Church and Convent in Granada, Nicaragua

We then walked thru some small streets of Granada to come to House of the 3 Worlds. This is an art and music workshop place. Unlike a gallery, this is where artists come and work, give workshops, and sell their arts directly. We saw artists at work, chilling and chatting with other like-minded people. “Radio Volcano” is also stationed here.  The location hosts weddings and we saw caterers getting ready for a wedding for that evening.

 

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A wedding preparation in House of the 3 World in Granada, Nicaragua

On the other side of House of the 3 Worlds is Granada’s most popular spot, Plaza de la Independencia. The square is lined with mesmerizing old and colorful Colonial style buildings, shops, cafes, and food vendors. This is a collision of different architectural era and style from Classical Spanish (Palace of Music), Neo-Classical Baroque, and New Orleans (House of Bishop).  An obelisk and a beautiful fountain from 1925 Funete de la Ninos are couple of structures that adorn this hustling and noisy (in a good way) place.

Granada Cathedral in Plaza de la Independencia is a beautiful Neo-Classic Baroque architecture with a dome and two towers. It is simple but big. Visit the small chapels and the statues while in this cathedral.

 

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Plaza de la Independencia and Granada Cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua

Last spot in Granada was Iglesia Maria Auxiliadora which was built in the beginning of the 17th century. It is the most beautiful church in this city or probably in whole Nicaragua. With its Gothic exterior and Moorish interior, this Catholic church is only its kind in this country. It is small in size but anyone would appreciate its gorgeous wood-curved alter, intriguing ceiling, and sophisticated arches.

 

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