Summer is celebrated for many reasons – sunshine, holidays, time off work – but for others summer is a time for celebration as they don long black robes and throw flat black hats into the air. I’m talking about the thousands of students who will be graduating over the next few months.
However, universities are not just for students. They are often beautiful, historic buildings that add great cultural value to a city; things many travellers are on the hunt for. With this in mind here are ten of Europe’s most beautiful universities well worth visiting. Continue reading
Getting lost in Paris isn’t so easy these days. Doesn’t matter where you are in the city a disembodied voice will mangle street names at you until you’re exactly where you want to be, at the appointed time, all synchronised and nicely tidied and touristy. Take a wrong turn and the voice recalibrates and herds you back on track like a demented cyber-collie road-testing an electric-blue energy drink.
Good news if you’re on a sort of historic monument Supermarket Sweep. But for those who love a meander and long for the days when you had to get your bearings by having a beer and asking the waiter, it’s all a bit organised. Where’s the romance, the chance discovery, the excuse to sit in cafés, drink beer, philosophise?
Now the trick is to, ‘think lost’. You don’t need to go phone-less, you just need to put yourself in the way of places you might have happened on by chance in the good old days when doing Paris without a plan was still a possibility. I like to think of it as ‘determined drifting’. Here are a few suggestions to get started with but beware, aimlessness can be highly addictive once you get the hang of it. Continue reading
Berlin’s dynamic personality is best experienced by visiting as many different neighbourhoods as you can. And rather than stand around when you get there with no clue what to do, you could set out on a street food and market tour of the city. From weekly farmers’ markets serving up fresh breads, organic cheeses and recently plucked vegetables to stalls selling aromatic street foods from around the world, these are the foodie markets in Berlin you, quite simply, just have to visit – one for each day of the week. Continue reading
Visit anywhere in France from mid-March onwards and you’ll see signs all over the place advertising local ‘Vide Grenier’. Literally translated as ‘Empty Attic’, these markets are usually held on Sundays, last all day and sell everything from seedlings to huge antique knife grinders, gorgeous 19th century bed linen to Lego, books, baskets and even car parts. Stalls are hired by the metre and it’s a bit of a free-for-all. But you can turn up some real finds if you look hard enough. If you’re thinking it sounds just like a French Car Boot Sale, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Vide Greniers are family events, everything stops for lunch at the Buvette, no one’s really expecting to make a fortune in sales – apart from a few omnipresent dealers. And Vide Grenier are part of an ancient European tradition that makes Car Boot Sales look like the callow newbies they really are.
Because there isn’t a town or city or village or hamlet in France that doesn’t have some kind of market at least once a week. From Nord Pas de Calais to the Côte d’Azur, getting out on the street and selling stuff is as big a part of French culture as déjeuner and indiscriminate overtaking. And if you want to see local life and the idiosyncratic differences that define France’s Régions and Départements, just visit a market, wander about and all will be revealed. Continue reading
Efficiency, discipline and determination are national characteristics that define many of Germany’s 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s not that they don’t have opulence and extravagance – nobody would call Cologne Cathedral restrained – or that the few factories, ironworks and fossil pits with UNESCO status set a universally sober and functional tone. It’s Germany’s response to a more recent history that marks it as a conservation leader, particularly when it comes to the built heritage.
WWII saw much of the country decimated by bombing, including a large number of historic buildings, entire towns and architectural masterpieces that were considered irreplaceable – by everyone except the Germans that is. Using original plans, impeccably sourced materials, traditional skills and legendary patience and attention to detail, the country restored almost everything that was damaged or partially destroyed. It’s taken decades, innumerable setbacks and enormous investment, but without a doubt this remarkable achievement adds an even more fascinating and impressive dimension to today’s World Heritage Germany. Continue reading