This Winter Sample Bavarian & Bohemian Christmas Markets

German Christmas markets have become almost a cliché, especially seeing the crowds at Munich, Nuernberg and Cologne. However, Bavarian Forest Holidays has come up with a different angle: a long weekend on any of the four advent weekends before Christmas, with accommodation in a five star village apartment, giving visitors the opportunity to see Christmas Markets in the big cities of Passau and Regensburg, as well as the smaller towns and villages of Bavaria and Bohemia.

Bavaria

Each weekend can be tailored to suit the preferences of a family or group and most of the markets can be visited by great value German public transport – so there are no restrictions on testing the Gluehwein! Accommodation is in the pretty Bavarian Forest village of Bayerisch Eisenstein, directly on the border with Czech Republic. Prices for three nights in five star accommodation (excluding travel and meals) range from €200 for a couple in a one bedroom apartment, up to €425 for 6 people in a 3 bedroom, all ensuite apartment. A welcoming glass of Gluehwein will help to get you in the mood. And, of course, award-winning Bavarian Forest Holidays can advise on travel by rail to and from the UK as well as to and from the Christmas Markets.

For more information visit www.bavarian-forest-holidays.com

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328 Steps to Frankfurt’s Spectacular Views

This summer Frankfurt finally welcomed back one of its most popular sightseeing attractions. Now, visitors to the city will once again be able to climb up the 328 steps of Emperor’s Cathedral, closed off to the general public some 11 years ago due to structural damage. Having been painstakingly reconstructed, the stairway is once again open to the top of the tower, from where visitors are guaranteed an unmatched view of the surrounding old town, including: the Römer, the city’s time-honoured town hall, St. Paul’s Church, Frankfurt’s famous skyline in the background, and the museum embankment along the River Main.

Frankfurt Cathedral

The breathtaking view from atop Emperor’s Cathedral, also known as Frankfurt Cathedral or St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, isn’t the only thing making this time-honoured venue well worth the visit. Its historical significance and range of artefacts on display have played an equally important part in making the cathedral one of the city’s foremost sightseeing attractions. Consecrated in the name of St. Bartholomew, the Gothic-style cathedral was erected between 1315 and 1358 where a dilapidated palace chapel built by Louis the Pious in the 9th century had previously stood. During the Middle Ages, the cathedral served as the official seat of the imperial chapter of St. Bartholomew. In 1356, Emperor Charles IV declared Frankfurt to be the new electoral site of German kings, and from 1562 to 1792 as the coronation site for 10 emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, the “electoral chapel” remains as a place of prayer and silent contemplation.

Emperor’s Cathedral houses many artistic treasures, including the Sleeping Mary Altar, created by an unknown artist in the 15th century, a painting depicting the Lamentation of Jesus Christ by Antonius van Dyck, the tombs of various famous Frankfurt personalities and a frieze of the cathedral’s namesake, St. Bartholomew. Those interested in finding out more about the life of Bartholomew or the history of the cathedral are urged to pay a visit to the neighbouring Cathedral Museum, which offers a chronological tour highlighting the history of the cathedral. A collection of burial objects found in the tomb of a Merovingian maiden, discovered in the 1950s and dating back to the 07th century, is of particular interest.

Frankfurt Cathedral View

Emperor’s Cathedral has also endured its share of hard times over the years. It was ravaged by fire in 1867. Nearly a century later, in March of 1944, it burned out again and also suffered heavy structural damage during a series of Allied air raids. The reconstruction necessitated by these two fateful events has of course influenced the appearance of the cathedral. The present-day cathedral presents itself as a three-nave hall church. Its monumental western tower, built in the 15th century, is one of the most important representations of the German Gothic period. One of the most unique parts of this unique structure is the belfry, featuring “Gloriosa”, Germany’s second-heaviest church bell, weighing in at an impressive 11,950 kilograms.

Tickets for a tower visit may be purchased at the small box office situated at the base of the tower. Adults pay three Euros, while children get in at half price. The panorama view from the top of the tower makes the climb more than worthwhile. A family ticket is available for five Euros and groups of over 20 persons pay reduced price as well. Tower access is limited to 50 people at a time. Unfortunately, group reservations are not possible. The cathedral tower is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. This year, the tower will remain open until 1st October. In 2011, the tower will be accessible once again from 1st April until 1st October.

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Unique Viewing: Long Night at the Museum in Berlin

Long Night at the Museum, BerlinOn the 28th of August Berlin will hold its very own Long Night of Museums event, after other cities, including London have heralded the occasion as an overwhelming success.  In Berlin, on almost 400 square kilometres, between Glienicke Palace, the Museum at the Waterplant Friedrichshagen and the Museum of Local History Reinickendorf, more than 100 museums and cultural institutions will give access to their exhibitions, collections and art objects throughout the night.

This is sure to be a magical and exciting experience, so if you find yourself in Berlin on the 28th, do make sure you make the most of it!

Where? Rotes Rathaus, Berlin, Germany

Where can I find out more? www.lange-nacht-der-museen.de

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Top 10 Things To Do In Belgrade

Belgrade - Serbian FlagSearching for a cheap city break this year proved somewhat elusive, even in Eastern Europe.  However, on in-depth investigation a three-night/four-day break in Belgrade still seemed to be offering a veritable bargain with direct flights and hotel accommodation costing just £500 for two people.  So a few weeks ago, I boarded a plane from Heathrow Terminal 5 and set off to explore yet another Balkan country.  Belgrade is a great city, with tons of cultural and gastronomic offerings.  Yet, it is actually quite small in comparison to cities such as St Petersburg, even London.  This means that you can easily walk around it without needing to pay for transport.  Not that transport costs much – the bus from the airport charges just 80 dinar for a ticket into the city centre (that’s less than £1!)

So what is there to do?  So many people were shocked when I said I was visiting Belgrade for a holiday.  They seemed to be under the illusion that it would still be war-torn, and that it would be a place filled with oppressive buildings and a depressing vibe.  This is not the case at all!  Of course there is poverty, but there is poverty in Britain and many other, so-called advanced, western countries.  There were a few domineering buildings built during the Communist era but many of the buildings were typically Austro-Hungarian in design.  I think too many people forget that Serbia has a rich cultural history; this country was not formed and built solely in the Yugoslav period, it has taken centuries to compile this, albeit complicated, land, people and culture.

Here is my top 10 list of everything I think you should do when you visit Belgrade:

1) On arrival, take the bus from the airport into the city centre – it costs less than £1 though be prepared with change for the bus driver!  There’s a shuttle bus every hour but I’d rather opt for the local No. 71 any day, of which they arrive on, and at, half-past the hour.  After passing through customs, simply turn left and go up the escalator.  Continue walking straight on (into domestic departures) until you reach the end of the building.  The bus stops just outside the final, automatic door, on your right and takes about 30 minutes into the city centre, near Trg Republik.

2) Spend half a day wandering around the Kalmegdan Tvrdjava or Fortress.  If you love history then this is the place to head.  It really does illustrate the regions military might over the last 2,000 years.  There are turrets, towers, bridges, museums in abundance for you to explore.  However, even if history, particularly military history, isn’t your thing, the fortress itself offers some spectacular views across the Danube and Sava rivers and out into the surrounding countryside.  There are also temporary exhibitions in the grounds – at the moment there is an art exhibition illustrating how Russia is viewed by non-Russians.

3) Stroll along Knez Mihailova – the city’s main shopping street.  You’d be mistaken for thinking that the latest fashion trends have not hit Serbia.  There are designer and fantastic high street offerings in abundance.  Time it right and visit during the sales because there really are some fabulous bargains to be had!  Plus, this street is just overflowing with beautiful buildings, so make sure you take in the gorgeous facades which date back to the zenith of the Austro-Hungarian influence in the region.

4) Travel back in time at Konak Kneginje Ljubice (Princess Ljubica’s House).  Situated a few minutes on foot from the city centre this surprisingly large house whisks you back to the Ottoman Empire.  The 19th century mansion was home to Princess Ljubica, wife of  Miloš Obrenović and her sons.  It was converted into a museum and houses ornaments, furniture, books, clothes, portraits, landscapes, glasses, medals, and so much more.  The design of the house is particularly impressive, with several large rooms built for the sole purpose of conversation.  The grand hallways are most spectacular.

5) Just a few metres down the road from Knoak Kneginje Ljubice stands the Saborna Crkva Sv Arhangela, Belgrades ornate Orthodox Cathedral or Holy Archangel Michael Church.  The facade, with its glistening golden icons is visually stunning.  Inside the walls are adorned with gold, chandeliers hang from the ceiling and locals pray to, touch and kiss the icons.  This is quite a different experience from a Catholic or Protestant church.  Believers are much more interactive with their icons and God.  It really is interesting to watch, even if not particularly taken with religion.

6) Take some time out at Ruski Car (Russian Tsar).  This traditional kafana was originally called Zagreb, however, after the civil war during the 1990s, it was re-named and re-decorated.  On the walls hang portraits of the Tsars and Tsarinas dating back to Ivan the Terrible.  A grand piano sits in one corner and chandeliers hang from the ceiling.  The menu is vast but it is the cake counter which is not to be missed.  Order some tea čaj (with rum if you desire) and my favourite borovnica torta which is a blueberry tart with hazelnut cream and chocolate.  The decor and the food are the ultimate in decadence!

7) If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, be it of local cuisine (čevapčiči, burek, sarma, gibanica etc.), or something a little more international (pizza, pasta etc.) then visit Skadarska ulica.  This is a very pretty area of the city, with one main cobbled street, lined with restaurants.  It’s not too pricey either so you can enjoy some great food and some house wine without breaking the bank.  It can get pretty busy here in the evenings and it always has a great atmosphere.

8) If you are like me and love food and culture then supermarkets and markets are not to be missed.  There is a great market, Kalenic Pijaca, where locals sell their home-grown produce – arguably the best fruit and vegetables you’ll see in Europe – as well as quirky souvenirs, old books, communist memorabilia etc.  Go on Friday or Saturday when it is at its most bustling.  As always with such places, do beware pickpockets.

9) A little further out of town is Sveti Sava (St Sava’s Church).  Much like Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the cathedral remains unfinished.  Yet its sheer size is impressive, as are the icons on its facade.  The construction of the building began at the end of the 19th century.  The original marble work is incredible.  Unfortunately, most recently the builders have opted for concrete.  Nevertheless, the scale of the project is something to be marvelled at.

10) In the same direction (walkable but for those who would prefer to get the bus, take trolleybus 40 or 41 both of which stop by the rather imposing and grand post office, near the parliament building) is the Kuva Cveca – Tito Memorial Complex or House of Flowers.  The complex has three museums: a museum of artefacts (interesting for those who enjoy social and cultural history), the dictator’s mausoleum which also displays presidential rooms and a collection of batons used in the Presidential Day ceremonies, and a museum of diplomatic donations which houses gifts to Tito from the people of Yugoslavia and heads of state from other, generally sympathetic to a form of communism, nations.  The mausoleum is surprisingly airy and boasts spectacular views across the city.

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Spring & Summer Events in Lithuania

Uzupis District, Vilnius
Uzupis District, Vilnius

Tourists and locals alike enjoyed the exceptionally festive year Lithuania had in 2009. The country celebrated two significant occasions during 2009: the official 1,000th birthday of its name; and the European Capital of Culture was awarded to Vilnius, encouraging tourists to uncover more about the Baltic gem.  The festivities have not stopped their and this year should prove to be just as much fun…

Kaziukas Fair, 5-7 March, Vilnius
The festival is dedicated to St. Casimir the patron saint of Lithuanian born in the 17th century. It is one of remarkable calendar festivals with deep traditions, each time presenting ingenious handworks, and having no rivals in the surrounding areas. For more information visit www.vilnius-events.lt/en/festivals/kaziukas-fair

Street Musicians Day, 1 May, Vilnius, Klaipėda
On the first Saturday in May thousands of people go out to the streets to play music. Street Musician Day is the event which unites all who speak the world’s most universal language – the language of music. www.gatvesmuzika.lt/en/

15th International classical music Festival “Pažaislis Music Festival”, 30 May – 29 August, Kaunas
The listeners of the most particular taste may find in the schedule of the festival something what interests them, starting from the old music and finishing with jazz, from the subtle chamber music to the grand vocal instrumental pieces, from the modern music premieres to the impressive pageants of Lithuanian dramaturgy in the surroundings of Kaunas Castle. www.pazaislis.lt

Read more…

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The easyGuide to Croatia

croatia-flagLow-fares airline easyJet is encouraging Brits to explore the delights of the Dalmatian Coast after it was revealed that less than three per cent of the nine million tourists that visit Croatia each year come from the UK.  With summer temperatures ranging from 26 to 30°C, a stunning coastline dotted with hundreds of beautiful islands and the Croatian kuna still providing exceptionally good value for British tourists, the reasons to visit Dalmatia are seemingly never-ending.

This year easyJet has expanded its routes to Croatia and now operates regular flights from Liverpool and Gatwick to Dubrovnik, and flights from Bristol and Gatwick to Split.  Both destinations have a flight time from the UK of less than three hours and offer the perfect starting place for island hopping beach holidays, with regular water taxis operating up and down the coastline.  Dalmatia has a long rugged coast, backed by high mountains with hundreds of offshore islands, each one with its own character from trendy hotspots to secluded getaways.

Hvar

Hvar Island is one of Dalmatia’s most popular islands with a combination of beautiful sandy and pebbly beaches, olive groves and pine forests, quiet secluded coves and larger bustling beaches littered with bars and cafes.  Hvar Town is one of busiest resorts, with some of the best bars and clubs in Dalmatia. Its regular beach parties are infamous, as are its chic bars and restaurants.

Read more…

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