SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE STOPOVER

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Singapore is known as a bustling metropolis that also happens to be one of the cleanest and safest cities of its size in the world. You’ll find historic sites like the Thian Hock Keng temple, superlative shopping (including gargantuan malls) and numerous beaches.



First thing we did after dropping off the bags in the hotel was a walk to the Chinatown Street Markets. The busy streets encapsulate all the sights and sounds visitors expect of Chinatown, with hundreds of stalls selling everything from silk robes to lucky cats. There are plenty of ‘Made in China’ goods on display and lanterns swaying in the breeze above your head. There’s also a fantastic range of street food carts amongst the shopping, with fresh dim sum and crispy duck. Remember to haggle with a smile if you want the best price. But we weren’t in the market to buy junk; we were there for the experience. The market is open during the day, but it looks its most picturesque at dusk, with the lights shining brightly and the sound of hawkers tempting you to check out their wares.



Back to hotel for a quick dip in the pool, we changed and headed to a late afternoon tour of Gardens by the Bay. While some people find Gardens by the Bay a little too artificial for their liking, it’s still worth checking out for the ingenuity and uniqueness of its design. The Flower Dome has recently set a Guinness World Record for being the largest glass greenhouse in the world.

So there you have it, even non-gardening enthusiasts will find something of interest among the 380,000 plants here. The outdoor gardens are free of charge but it’s worth paying the entry fee to walk the Skyway. We ended at Supertree Grove. The tall trees measuring between 25 and 50 metres tall, the iconic tree-like vertical gardens are designed with large canopies that provide shade in the day and come alive with an exhilarating display of light and sound at night. This experience was breath taking and beautiful to watch. My camera was going nonstop for all the show. From here, we walked to Marina Bay Sands or ‘that boat building’, as it’s often referred to, for a much needed rest and a refreshing night drink.



If you’re not a hotel guest, unfortunately you can’t access the iconic infinity swimming pool, but you can do the next best thing: catch the elevator to Ku De Ta (level 57), grab a cocktail and a spot on the balcony, and explore the city sights from the sky.

Closer to ground level, we found restaurants and plenty of shops to keep Kim amused, as well as the casino if a flutter takes your fancy. After taking many spectacular photos we quickly headed down and across from the Marina Bay to view the laser and water show. ‘Wonder Full’ is the story of Water and Light creating Life, told with Water and Light. The spectacular explores humanity and the beauty of the human experience through original footage of the people of Singapore, an original sound score and an abundance of technologies spanning the 15.4 hectare (38 acre) Marina Bay Sands site. The show takes you on an emotional and heartfelt journey through the use of water, fire, light, laser and other high impact Mega Media elements. The show features motion pictures and music produced in Singapore with heavy local influence.

Check out our video here:

Down by the water we took a night ride on the River Cruise. It is similar to that of the day ride, minus the discomfort of the sunny heat. In place of the bright sunlight, a dark blue sky shadows our journey down the riverbanks, giving us opportunities for some stargazing at the same time. Whether you decide on taking a day or night ride on the Singapore River Cruise, one thing’s for sure,  you’ll be embarking on an experience like never before.

Our last stop on the cruise was Clarke Quay which brought us alternative things to do and see that don’t purely revolve around nightlife. Sure, just joking. Clarke Quay is famous for its stunning waterside restaurants and exciting collection of bars and clubs. Making the distinction between the best restaurants in Clarke Quay and the area’s best nightlife venues is no easy task, purely because many of the restaurants here double up as great bars and pubs too. We had one of the best nights at Wings Bar, which takes its name from both the food it serves and the 1940’s aviation theme which is evident throughout. To find this popular American eatery, head to Clarke Quay and look for the replica plane hanging above its entrance (which is actually the largest P-51 Mustang model in Asia), and then follow the replica runway down into the main restaurant area. As for the food, you’d can’t come to a place with a name like this and not try their specialty; their tantalizing variety of sticky chicken wings, as well as ribs, are certainly not to be missed. Wash all that feel-good American food down with a beer and you’ve got yourself an all-round fun, tasty, (and a little gimmicky) dining experience.




Sleep was on the cards and the next day we woke up late and lazed around the pool until we headed to Airport back to Brisbane, Australia. We have earmarked at trip back to Singapore very soon.

Things to consider:

We were quite surprised by Changi airport, it’s massive and I do mean MASSIVE, their customs/immigration process is very relaxed compared to Brisbane though so that was a surprise and we felt as though we had no clue what we were doing.  Just a tip keep the stub off the incoming passenger card in your passport as they ask for it when you depart, might seem obvious to others but we got caught out and had left ours in our check in luggage so had to endure a stern lecture and felt like naughty school kids as we filled in a ‘lost card’ form and had to line up again, lol.

Take water EVERYWHERE you go, we saw a lady become extremely sick on a bus tour from heat exhaustion it was terribly traumatic for her and her partner. Dehydration is a very real concern in the heat particularly if you are from a cooler climate.
Observe signage about photography, and if in doubt ask permission. We saw so many people up close taking pics of the offerings put out for the hungry ghost festival for example and it was clear at times this was not welcomed or appreciated.

The food is fabulous as everyone else said, if you are worried take Travel Bug (by the makers of Inner Health, bought at any pharmacy) starting 5 days before you leave we use it each time we travel anywhere. Kim has a rather dodgy stomach and so cannot promote it enough, I can eat all sorts of things that would normally upset my stomach and it just gives me that peace of mind to try local foods. People seem to think food poisoning is your only concern but often people experience stomach upsets when you eat foods your body is unaccustomed too.

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PARIS, FRANCE

LAST STOP OF EUROPEAN TOUR PARIS

Man, where do we even begin.  Paris was the most awestruck, the most wide-eyed, and the happiest. We spent the day wandering among some of the main attractions, stopping for café lattes and macaroons, shopping in the boutique stores and generally loving every corner of this gorgeous city. In pop culture, Paris is heavily romanticized as one incredibly beautiful city. In reality, it is exactly that. Even better.




Several of the city’s most recognizable sites flank the river, so our first stop after arriving was along the promenade water front for a tour in a glass covered tour-boat-come-water-taxi that stops at the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville, the Louvre, Champs-Elysées, and the Eiffel Tower. Some of us stayed behind and explored under the Eiffel Tower.

That afternoon while everyone relaxed back at the hotel we headed back up to the main street and took a bus ride just north of the Eiffel Tower to the end of the famous Champs-Elysées shopping street and the the Arc de Triomphe.




You can walk up to the top for an alternative view of Paris, but we had a Cabaret Dinner Show at Lido De Paris, which was the site of one of the first Dinner Cabaret Shows invented here. And it was within these walls, where it was born, that it is done with the most style. 

When in Paris, be won over by the charm of the French-style shows and savour the treats for which there gastronomy has become internationally famous. Late trip back to the hotel with a drive around the Arc dc Triomphe we hit the hay because the next day was going to be huge.



The next day we all jumped in the bus and our first stop was one of the most iconic buildings in Paris and the setting of Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ this stunning cathedral is not to be missed. The original Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, which had stood on this site, was nearly as old as Paris itself. Unfortunately this cathedral did not survive all the wars it faced, and was rebuilt in the 12th century as the Notre-Dame. Make sure that you walk all the way around the outside, and don’t miss the stunning rose windows on the inside.



Since its appearance in ‘Sex and the City’ (the scene of Carrie and Big’s kiss), visitors began attaching love locks, padlocks with sweethearts’ names on them, to its panels in 2008, the Pont des Arts has become a veritable tourist attraction. Peruse the padlocks and their messages we added our own that night, and toss the key into the Seine to guarantee our romantic flame burns for an eternity.



We then strolled up Rue Bonaparte and made a pit-stop at Ladurée along the way. World famous for its mouth-watering macarons, Ladurée’s patisserie selection is a true feast for the eyes (and mouth!). Kim had a field day.



Most of the time it was shopping time for Kim. Champs-Elysees (it is quite expensive and there are mainly chain stores), the most beautiful avenue in the world is still worth a visit. The buildings are beautiful and the little alleyways on both sides are full of bistros, bars and clubs to explore. Fans of the Tour de France may also know this place as the final stage of the race course.


We discovered why Paris is known as the City of Lights when we headed back to Eiffel Tower late afternoon then onto the Louvre Museum and met some friendly local photographers. After admiring the Louvre and its spectacular glass pyramid bathed in a golden glow sunset, we set off toward the River Seine. We crossed one of the river’s historic bridges and soaked up the romantic atmosphere along the UNESCO World Heritage-listed riverbanks. 




Continued on to the charming neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, famous for its vibrant café culture and as a gathering spot for Parisian intellectuals and artists throughout the centuries. After checking out some street life we headed back to the fountain and Eiffel Tower for some more photos and time-lapse movies. We lasted all night and watched the sun rise the next day. We ended lasting 24 hours awake and jumped in a cab back to the hotel to pack and jump in the bus back to London, catching up on a sleep all the way back.


Best thing I can pass on:

The best way to see Paris: ON FOOT. Paris is a very walkable city because it isn’t that big and there’s a lot of interesting things to see. Roadside cafes lace almost every corner, historic monuments adorn its roundabouts, and the smell of freshly baked bread coming from local boulangeries fill the air. Walking is really the way to go.  Many tourist attractions can be visited in a day just by walking. For example, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, Jardin de Tuileries, and the Louvre are situated next to each other. You can spend one full day checking all these out. (Actually, you can spend one full day inside the Louvre and it still won’t be enough.) However, if you’re too exhausted to walk, the best alternative is the subway or the METRO. One thing we totally loved about Paris was its expansive 300-station train system that connects much of the city. It’s cheap and efficient, and it’s seldom crowded because there’s always a train every five minutes or so.

Check out our video here:

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ORLEANS, FRANCE




On the move again and heading along the Loire, passing the castles of Amboise and Chaumont. We then stopped into Orleans before reaching Paris.

Orleans is an interesting and important town on the Loire River, and the main city in both the Loiret department and also the Centre (Loire valley) region. Situated south of Paris and east of Le Mans, it is a large town with more than 300 000 inhabitants.

Despite its central location in France a significant part of the historical centre of Orleans avoided damage during the Second World War, and the town has an extensive historic centre with many fine buildings to admire.

Because Orléans does not form part of the ‘major sights’ of the Loire Valley to the west or of Burgundy to the east it is perhaps less visited than it would otherwise be: that is unfortunate because it is a very attractive city with lots to see and so
including an extensive historic centre and many buildings of interest and several important musesums and garden.

The city is stunning, and has a historical background to match up to its amount of awesome. Known for a famous battle, won by hero Joan of Arc, We loved being able to walk the streets and just simply marinate in the culture and beauty.

It is quite easy to get your bearings in the centre of Orleans. The principal region of interest to visitors is around the cathedral and along Rue Jeanne d’Arc, the region of the town between here and the Loire river and the Pont Georges V bridge about 500 metres to the south, and also north of Rue Jeanne d’Arc to the Place du Martroi, Rue d’Escures and the Hotel Groslot.

We started exploring in Place du Martroi, which is a large open square surrounded by numerous imposing buildings and a very pleasant introduction to the city. In the centre of the square there is a large 19th century statue of Joan of Arc. The streets near here contain many of the larger shops such as FNAC which are found in most important French cities.

From here we followed Rue d’ Escures towards the east. One of the most splendid houses in Orleans, and open to the public, is the Hotel Groslot in Place de l’Etape, a very ornate and distinguished 19th century red brick building with a fine interior of the period.

We turned south towards the cathedral along the Place de l’Etape where we reached the Orléans Tourist Office and the open area in front of the cathedral. Be sure to visit the tourist office because there are many other interesting sites of note including several churches and other historically important buildings that you are lilely to overlook without a guide map. We didn’t have that much time to really explore.

The Cathedral Sainte-Croix is the most important historic monument in the city, a 17th centre gothic style cathedral with very old origins that has a great deal of impressive stonework ornamentation, in particular the façade which also features three large round windows and two square towers. The stained glass windows inside the cathedral were added in the year 2000. Near the cathedral you can also see a part of the walls that surrounded the original roman town.



After exploring the cathedral, we walked straight along the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, the broad avenue to the front of the cathedral created at the beginning of the 19th century, at least as far as Place Charles de Gaulle. This is not the most beautiful square in the town but it is here that you can see the historic ‘house of Joan of Arc’. 

The Place de la Republique is another pleasant square along this road.
We kept turning to look behind us as we walked west along Rue Jeanne d’Arc because the view of the cathedral from here is very beautiful.



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BORDEAUX – POITIERS, FRANCE

BORDEAUX

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It was a change of scenery as we traveled into France across Gascony for
an orientation of Bordeaux, the wine capital of France. We then traveled

farther north by way of the Cognac area to Poitiers, of Black Prince 

fame.
There is no touristic season in Bordeaux. Only December is lighter with tourists. So what attracts the mass of tourists there around the year; maybe you think it’s the good weather?  It’s all about wine, admit it. Well, that’s what we knew before we visited it too, so no shame in saying it out loud. Bordeaux is most famous for its wine, and for good reason.  Before I get to amazingly descriptive details about the wine experience, let me tell you, there are plenty of other things to see and do there.

We explored the area on foot to soak up the atmosphere, admire the façades of the old buildings and enjoy some good shopping, and dining too. The Allées de Tourny leads down to the Place de la Comedie and the Grand Théâtre, home to the the Opéra National de Bordeaux, as well as the Ballet National de Bordeaux. With its magnificent neo-classical façade, designed by 18th century architect Victor Louis, the structure consists mainly of wood, which provides for perfect acoustics, and has a circular cupola with a wonderful ceiling painted by Claude Robin in the 18th century. We then took a short walk from the Place de la Comedie, towards the Garonne River, which brought us to the Place de la Bourse. Very much one of the highlights of any visit to Bordeaux is the riverfront, which was revitalized as recently as the 1990s, as part of the urban development scheme, instigated by mayor, Alain Juppé. It has now been transformed from a’ no-go’ area of derelict warehouses, to offering pedestrian friendly, tree-lined promenades, with the old warehouses converted into shops and restaurants.


Bordeaux is an elegant city, reputed for its stylishness. It features large department stores, luxury brands, leading nationwide ready-to-wear shops, Parisian couturiers, jewellers, craftsmen, perfume shops, leather goods shops, specialised boutiques of all kinds,  which made Kim’s highlight. We then took a simple walk across the Triangle (formed by Cours de l’Intendance, Cours Clemenceau, and the Allées de Tourny), down the famous rue Sainte-Catherine, or through Old Bordeaux that revealed the incredible range of goods of all types on offer. The hustle and bustle shows that Bordeaux is a very prosperous, alive, and switched-on city.


After spending hour in the shops we continued to some other highlights:
Place de la Bourse (Miroir d’Eau) – Personally we loved this place. We thought it is just a fountain but they made a great attraction which looks absolutely stunning!
Place de la Victorie (Victory Square) – is one of the busiest areas with bars, restaurants, cafes, a chic tramway, and beautiful architecture. There’s always a crowd in the Victory square, and events, parties and concerts are often organized there.
Musée d’Aquitaine – It’s the museum to see in Bordeaux. It features historical collections from within the region (all the way since prehistory) but also from faraway lands since the age of great discoveries.
Tour Pey-Berland  the monument is the best spot to see the panoramic view of the city. It’s also lovely to look at from down below.

POITIERS 




There isn’t a lot to do at Poitiers, but it is a pleasant small city, and visitors will find relaxed atmosphere, especially compared to Paris. We arrived to the city centre late afternoon. It has a small square in front of the City Hall and is surrounded by cafes, where you can sit down with a glass of wine or coffee or get something to eat. It gets packed on weekends, especially during summer. Other parts of the town may give you an impression of a ghost town, especially during lunchtime, when the shops are closed, which is the time we arrived. We dropped our bags and quickly enjoyed the change in the weather and walked around admiring the quietness. We didn’t take too many photos because we did a lot of walking early at Bordeaux. Later that night we ventured out for a couple of night shots.


The Baptistry of St. John is one of the oldest Christian buildings in Europe, dating back to 4th century. Inside, you can see the baptismal pool on the floor, the St. Pierre Cathedral has organ performances and the Church of Notre Dame Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of France, so every city of town will have a church named Notre Dame (Our Lady). Poitiers’ Notre Dame has light shows some evenings after dark. Really didn’t get a chance to look around Poitiers

Highlights here:
https://youtu.be/FRDw26itBtA

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BURGOS TO BILBAO

BURGOS

We began this morning with a nice breakfast and on the bus heading towards the town of Burgos. The extraordinary Gothic cathedral of Burgos is one of Spain’s glittering jewels of religious architecture.  It looms large over the city and skyline. On the surface, conservative Burgos seems to embody all the stereo­types of a north-central Spanish town, with sombre grey-stone architecture, the fortifying cuisine of the high meseta (plateau) and a climate of extremes. But this is a city that rewards deeper exploration.  Below the surface lie good restaurants and, when the sun’s shining, pretty streetscapes that extend far beyond the landmark cathedral.



We started with a Gothic city gate that leads into a large square by the Burgos Cathedral. This gate is on the modern Camino and has been such for centuries. It is almost across the street from some hotels and leads directly to the cathedral, identified as Spain’s most spectacular Gothic cathedral. It was begun in 1221. You can have a lengthy detailed tour of it, including the tomb of El Cid, but we arrived early in the morning and nothing was open.  The cathedral was indeed very ornate, but it is easy to see so many cathedrals as to be less moved.  After being told our leave time we quickly continued on through the heart of the old city, past plazas, palaces, and memorials to Columbus and El Cid. Some quick photos and video, we then walked up to the Convent de las Huelgas, founded by the sister of Richard the Lion Heart in 1187. There was an ancient fort, but so little is left of it we were told it was not worth going in to it. Apparently when Napolean’s forces left the city in defeat, they took as much loot with them as they could and destroyed defenses.



That brought us back to town for lunch time. We were both quite hungry and did not find the place someone recommended, so we just picked one on the Camino route. Their English was less than my Spanish, without English language menus. Unfortunately the few terms we know for food mostly did not appear on the menu. Kim ordered a Ceasar salad and I ordered the smallest hamburger listed. Both were huge and we left stuffed. The burger came complete with huge meat patty, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a fried egg sunnyside up on top. The bun was useless. Back on the bus for our next destination.

BILBAO




Bilbao in Northern Spain is a perfect city for a relaxing weekend escape. It’s big enough to keep you entertained with the restaurants and cafes, the beautiful buildings and gorgeous scenery. The nightlife is great and of course there’s the incredible Guggenheim Museum which you won’t want to miss. There is plenty to do but it is also small enough so you don’t feel like you need to rush around and tick all the sights off your list. Bilbao is the largest city in Northern Spain but it is by no means a hectic place. It is the kind of city where you can take your time and stroll around; Stop for a coffee, or head to a pinchos bar for wine and delicious snacks. We took a walk through the old town and browsed the boutiques and traditional stores that felt like they’ve been there since the beginning of time.



Bilbao is so small that you can walk around the whole city in a day.  We only had a few boring hours near the museum. You can easily see all the highlights, all the beautiful buildings, the quaint little shops and stunning churches and also soak up the vibe of the city. 



You will find it to be charmingly relaxed with a quaint yet stylish feel. It is undeniably Spanish, you only need to look up at the buildings or into the faces of the locals to feel the infectious Spanish attitude. There are rustic and wonky Spanish apartments that tower above narrow, winding streets – these are the type where you expect to see old ladies shouting rapidly from the top windows and drying their washing from their small, flower filled balconies. There are beautifully grand, dominating buildings that sit next to sleek, modern buildings. These buildings contrast so markedly that it makes them both seem even more spectacular by emphasizing what they may or may not have.

Watch the movie here

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MADRID, SPAIN

MADRID

 
One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world is Madrid, Spain. This is largely in part due to Madrid being one of the most fun cities in the world. Madrid has something for all ages and all tastes, and I’m not just talking food. The city is rich in arts, culture, history, and live entertainment. When people think of visiting Spain, they think of Madrid. You need to see it; trust me, you do. And you know what? I’m going to tell you how to have the most fun during your visit to fabulous Madrid, so keep reading.



This time we ditched the tour group and me and Kim went solo to enjoy Madrid the way we wanted to and see what we wanted to look at. Most of the time we ditched the cameras and enjoyed the attractions and shops.


The first fun thing we did while in Madrid was to buy a pass to the Hop on Hop off bus. We got to visit to the city’s most popular tourist attractions. There’s good reason why these sites attract millions of visitors annually: they’re spectacular!



Our first stop was Catedral de la Almudena.  At the end of the 19th century building work was started on the Catedral de la Almudena which was constructed on the site of the old Santa María la Mayor church to honour the patron virgin of Madrid. In 1883 the first stone of this monument was laid but the building process was extremely slow. In 1993, the cathedral was consecrated for worship Pope John Paul II. The inside of the church retains a Gothic style, although the outside is Classicist. From here you can go to Mercado de San Miguel and Plaza Mayor.
Back on the bus our next stop was Museo del Prado’s. Museo del Prado’s walls were lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ and Goya’s ‘Third of May, 1808’. The Museo del Prado opened for the first time on November 10, 1819.




We then pasted one of the most well-known monuments in Madrid. Built between 1769 and 1778 under the orders of King Carlos III, it was designed by Francisco Sabatini and erected as a triumphal arch to celebrate the arrival of the monarch at the capital. The granite gate is 19.5 metres tall and is elegant and well-proportioned. The façade features a number of decorative elements with groups of sculptures, capitals, reliefs and masks, among others.


Next up was Salamanca, which is one of the 21 districts that form the city of Madrid. Don José de Salamanca y Mayol, Marquis of Salamanca, gave his named to the area because of his involvement in the district’s project in 1860. Nowadays, the Salamanca district is one of the wealthiest areas in Madrid and some of its streets, such as Goya or Serrano, are part of the most expensive streets in Spain. Here we checked out the Palacio de los Deportes de Madrid, the Viviendas Velázquez, the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas and the Jardines del Descubrimiento.




After a look around we were back on the bus and passing Palacio de Cibeles. This is one of the liveliest, best-known and most beautiful squares in Madrid, and is home to such emblematic monuments as the Fuente de Cibeles and Palacio de Cibeles. The Fuente de Cibeles, the symbol of Madrid, stands in the middle of the square. Goddess of nature and protector of the town, this sculpture was designed by Ventura Rodríguez in 1777. Also in this square is the Palacio de Cibeles (today the site of the City Hall) which also houses the cultural space known as CentroCentro and the Galería de Cristal.Palacio de Cibeles.





We passed Gran Vía, which is one of the most important and symbolic arteries of downtown Madrid, and in few places will you experience the hustle and bustle of this busy street and then the Gran Via, which  is one of Madrid’s main thoroughfares, offering leisure, tourism and shopping activities. The segment between Plaza de Callao and Plaza de España is known for its cinemas and theatres.


We then jumped off at Plaza de España, which was a large square, and popular tourist destination, located in central Madrid. In the centre of the plaza was a monument to Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes. The tower portion of the monument includes a stone sculpture of Cervantes, which overlooks bronze sculptures of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Flanking the Plaza de España you find two emblematic buildings of the city: the Madrid Tower and the Edificio España, which constitute one of the most interesting architectural areas of Madrid.


We then missed a few stops and next hopped off at The Palacio Real, which was built in the 18th century by order of Philip V on the site of the old Alcázar fortress, a former Moorish castle. Sachetti began the works in 1738, and the building was completed in 1764.


It was just hitting lunch time and we stopped at Plaza Mayor, which is a symbol of Madrid and must not be missed. Building work began on this huge open area in the city centre in the 17th century under the orders of Phillip III, whose bronze equestrian statue adorns the square. It was opened in 1620 and is rectangular in shape, with arcades running around the edges. This site used to be the venue for many public events, such as bullfights, processions and festivals. Underneath the arcades there are traditional shops, as well as a wealth of bars and restaurants. We stopped in and had lunch.





After some lunch it was time for Kim to shop. We stopped at Plaza del Callao, which was one of the most central and busiest squares in the entire city of Madrid since it is crossed by Gran Vía. It is a commercial area full of shops and entertainment. The buildings have a great personality and are influenced by American architecture as for instance the Cinema Callao building. Plaza del Callao holds a high concentration of movie theatres; most notably the 1920’s Palacio de la Prensa -an outstanding red brick building- and the Palacio de la Música.
Back on the bus we headed to Atlético de Madrid, which has an official museum at the Vicente Calderón stadium in Madrid’s Arganzuela district. It took us through the hundred-year history of the club and through the changes that football has seen in Spain and worldwide. Trophies, shirts, photographs and collections of boots are some of the memorabilia that are on display in the five main areas of the museum.


We then headed to Centro Comercial Príncipe Pío, which is a shopping mall in the western part of the city of Madrid. The building that houses the spectacular shopping extravaganza started life as a railway station. It still performs that duty, though to a much lesser extent today than it once did. It also has some bus lines, as well as a Metro station, all of which means that access to and from Centro Comercial Príncipe Pío is about as good as it gets in Madrid.



The shopping center has three floors where you will find shops with names like, Stradivarius, H & M, Eurekakids, Mango, Tapioca, Zara, Tintoretto, Bottega Verde, Natura, Parfois, Pull & Bear, and Colonel Oisho, Kim was in heaven.  We stayed and had dinner then jumped back on the bus for an night tour of the city.

https://youtu.be/eF9Cak9xvq0

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BARCELONA, SPAIN

BARCELONA

For starters, we loved Barcelona; absolutely loved it. We would recommend Barcelona to just about any traveler (experienced or not) because it is such a visitor friendly environment. Not only is the city packed full of life and color through its architecture and character but also through its people and the rich mixture of culture that can be found there. Boasting a reputation as one of the most attractive cities in Europe, Barcelona celebrates its role as the capital of Catalonia. The city’s cosmopolitan international vibe makes it a favorite city for many people. Boredom is almost unheard of for visitors to the city, with a range of activities and attractions to enjoy.


There’s something about the electrifying mix of beach and big city that gets us thinking about the Gold Coast, Queensland. With this in mind, we had more than an inkling that Barcelona would be love at first sight. From its wide avenues, plazas of gorgeous detail-drenched architecture, international population and proximity to the Mediterranean, Barcelona didn’t disappoint.


The biggest impression this city left on us was its attention to detail. Everything from the ground we walked on, to the buildings we peered up at was covered in beautiful, intricate patterns and ornate decor. Gaudi’s footprint was certainly left on this capital of Catalonian culture and seeing his bizarre, legendary works was aesthetically fulfilling.


This city is buzzing with excitement, which with a population of over 4 million is no difficulty. It is the number one most-visited city in Spain, and the second-largest in population, after Madrid. It’s well-regarded for its economic, entertainment, and cultural offerings, and seemingly has it all: a Mediterranean climate, a bohemian feel and an undeniably energy.


A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t have been complete in my mind without seeing Camp Nou, home to Barcelona F.C.: arguably one of the best teams in the sport, in the world.



We arrived late afternoon to Barcelona and after a change of clothes we headed to Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is the heartbeat if the city. You simply can’t visit Barcelona without making a visit to this popular bustling city street. Go shopping, enjoy a meal, drink a glass of sangria or two, and watch the people go by. There are usually always street performers to keep you entertained. But whatever you do, watch your belongings. Las Ramblas is one of the most common places to get pick-pocketed in all of Europe. Happy to say, we escaped without incident. We had time to have a look at a couple of shops, then we  took in a Tablao Cordobes Flamenco Show. Combining an excellent meal with a look at the traditional Flamenco dancing, the experience offered a great insight into Catalan culture and the passionate dancing which has been taking place here for over forty years.



Up early the next day we explored Gaudi’s architecture La Sagrada Famila. The construction for this church started in the late 19th century, halted in 1926 when Gaudi died, and continues today with his style in mind. They say it could still take another quarter of a century to complete. We didn’t go inside, as the line wrapped around the building, but simply marveled at its uniqueness and detail from the outside. We then moved onto Casa Batlló .  The roof of Casa Batlló resembles the back of a dragon. Its vibrant exterior displays colorful mosaic made from broken ceramic tiles, while bone-like adornments surround its windows. For obvious reasons, it is commonly called The House of Bones.  Just a few blocks from Casa Batlló was Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry) It was built in the early 1900’s by Gaudí and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 for its uniqueness, artistic and heritage value.



We then jumped on the bus and passed La Monumental and Montijuic. We then passed trees and gardens and onto the site left behind from the 1992 Summer Olympics, though it is still in use today. We had a look around the chairlift and lookout before heading back to the hotel to catch up on some washing. That afternoon we jumped in a cab and took a tour of Park Güell. Park Güell is a little off-the-beaten-track, but totally worth the effort to get there. We Wandered through the gardens and took our time looking at all of the unusual and colorful sculptures and mosaics throughout the park.



We then watched the sunset at Turo dela Rovira viewpoint. It offers some of the best views over the city, this site was once a military installation protecting the city, but now visitors and locals gather to enjoy the view and see the sun setting over the Mediterranean.

Check out our movie here:

https://youtu.be/aXNLOX1XWrM

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FRENCH RIVIERA-AVIGNON-CARCASSONNE

AVIGNON

I do believe that Avignon was one of my favorites in a large town in Provence. And if you arrive there on a warm spring day with the roofs of the medieval buildings outlined against the wonderful blue Provence sky, I think you’ll understand why.

Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse Department and has enough to see and do to warrant a two or three day visit. Unfortunately we only had 3 hours to explore as much as we could. If you had the time there’s the 14th century Palais des Papes, basically the palace of the French pope, in the days when there were two Popes in Europe. And of course there’s the famous Pont d’Avignon (Pont de St Bénézet) which stretches into the river Rhône and the historic ramparts that surround the city.


Or just explore the old part of the city: discover typical streets like the rue des Teinturiers with its paddle wheels on the Sorgue canal which flows through the city, and numerous little streets and squares paved with cobblestones – all named after the ancient professions of the Middle Ages.

Take in the beautiful façades of the private mansions built in the 18th and 19th centuries. If you’re in to religious buildings, there are several small chapels to be visited as well as the cathedral. You should definitely visit Avignon’s covered food market. Open in the mornings, from Tuesday to Sunday, the market has around 40 stall holders, true ambassadors of local produce: fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, olive oil and other culinary specialities of Provence.

Unfortunately Kim caught the dreaded Bus Flu (from a traveler who was pretty much sick the whole time), and she didn’t have the energy to explore too much of Avignon.


For a town the size of Avignon, it is remarkable how many great shops you will find here.  We ignored Rue de la République, Avignon’s high street with the usual fast fashion chain stores, and focused on Rue Joseph Vernet, Rue de la Petite Fusterie and the streets around them instead. Here, Kim found the French brands that she loved. She was on the lookout for Sessún, Petit Bateau, Sandro, Comptoir des Cotonniers, American Vintage and Repetto. I let Kim have a little shop while I bolted through the winding streets of Avignon’s city center towards the Papal Palace. There’s no way you can miss this architectural marvel. The Papal Palace towers over much of Avignons old town and looks like a real-life version of a Game of Thrones set. You can enter the building and take a tour of the palace, but the 20 rooms that are accessible to the public are empty (most of the furniture got lost during the French Revolution). There are some intricate frescoes to see inside, so if that’s your thing, purchase a ticket and walk right in. The Pont Saint-Bénézet lies in ruins now, leading only halfway over the river Rhine. It once connected Avignon (and a watchtower of the Papal Palace) to the Île de la Barthelasse, an island that was a popular destination for the city folks to unwind. The famous bridge used to be the largest of its kind in Europe, spanning 900 meters. Some quick photos I bolted back down to catch up with Kim again.



We then took stroll through the Square Agricol Perdiguier park beside the tourist office which lead us to Place des Corps Saints, a small square with cafés shaded by plane trees. We had lunch at Ginette et Marcel, which specialises in tartines: slabs of toasted country bread covered in anything from cold meats and cornichons to warm goat’s cheese and honey. We then headed out a little early and took the opportunity to take a couple of photos.

CARCASSONNE

First of all, I’ll concede that the city walls and towers are, without a doubt, magnificent. Carcassonne is well worth a one-hour stroll to appreciate some of the most remarkably intact old fortifications you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, Carcassonne is a few hours away from anything else that’s really worthwhile, so most visitors get stranded here with more time than they need.


The city of Carcassonne can be divided into into 2 parts: La Bastide Saint Louis, the “newer” part of the city which was built on the left side of the river Aude by the “Black Prince” in 1355, and La Cite Medievale, or the older Medieval City



We arrived late in the afternoon and headed out to the smaller but more famous sibling, the ‘La Cité’ citadel, Carcassonne’s (lower) town, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Known as the ‘Bastide Saint Louis’, it features typically French bars, shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as all the standard services and amenities you’d expect, and as such it’s the perfect antidote to the tourist attraction that towers above it. We strolled through its streets and checked out an handful of charming boutiques, several great places to eat and a couple of unusually stylish overnight options. While not exactly a shopaholic’s paradise, Carcassonne’s lower town has some eye-catching boutiques that are a good source for take-home treats and self-indulgent souvenir purchases. They are all concentrated in the grid-system of streets leading off from the Place Carnot and can be whizzed round in an hour or so if you’re pushed for time. We slowly walked back to the hotel for dinner, then wandered out to take a couple of night shots.


The next morning we were up just before sunrise to walk the upper town, which is surrounded by a double wall, the area in-between is known as the lices or “lists” where medieval knights once did their thing. Whilst the outer wall is the work of Louis IX, parts of the inner wall date back to Roman times. The citadel includes the Château Comtal,  the central castle of the upper town dating from the twelfth century with an amazing 31 towers. It was early and we were the only ones up exploring the castle. We then headed back done to Pont Vieux and the banks of the Aude which was a wonderful place for a picnic once you’ve done the upper town. The bridge dates from the fourteenth century and boasts a Gothic chapel at its western end dating from 1538 to catch up with everyone for breakfast.
Check out our tour video here:

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FRANCE-FRENCH RIVIERA-EZE, MONACO TO NICE

 FRENCH RIVIERA, MONACO TO NICE

We had an early start to the morning for the journey northwest with views of the Italian Riviera. We continued to France for a visit to a Perfume Workshop in Eze before travelling along the celebrated Cote d’Azur onto an overnighter in Nice.  That night we took an optional Monte Carlo by Night excursion with dinner.



No, Monaco is not as expensive as you may think.  Some of you may be contemplating a trip to Monaco in the near future but have this impression of the Principality as a place where you cannot get by with under 1.000€ per day. Naturally, if you do have the desire to spend that amount, you can easily find hundreds of exotic ways of getting rid of large sums of money in a couple of minutes!



The good news is that Monaco is also a place where normal people, not just multi-millionaires, live and work, and that there are therefore plenty of ways for the common of mortals to have a wonderful sample of what the country can offer on a very reasonable budget.  Monaco isn’t a very large place but getting around on foot can be quite tiring after a while due to the very uneven terrain and the heat in the summer.



We started late afternoon in the heart of Monaco, Old Town, has been meticulously preserved over the centuries and welcomes visitors to meander down in its narrow, well-lit streets while gazing at old medieval houses and vaulted passageways. We pasted many wonderful attractions located in this area including the Place Saint Nicolas, the Chapelle de la Paix, and the façade of the Law Courts. The Saint-Martin Gardens was the perfect place to take a break from the steep climb and we enjoyed breath-taking views of the sea. Also located here were a plethora of little souvenir and pastry shops and restaurants. After dinner we passed by  the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the current and official residence of the Prince of Monaco (and also where Princess Grace lived).  It’s best to do this early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds but if you have no choice, do it anyway, it’s worth it.  You can always stand in the sunshine on Palace Square and watch the changing of the guard ceremony with all the crowds if you enjoy that kind of thing, every day at 11.55am sharp..



We then checked out the luxury cars in front of the Casino and the Hotel de Paris on Casino square, and explored the lush casino gardens and wandered through the marble alleyways of the Metropole shopping centre. We Enjoyed the great views over the whole of Monaco from the Casino terraces just behind (basically the roof garden of the Fairmont hotel), probably my favourite view of the whole of Monaco.



We jumped back on the bus and headed back to the hotel in Nice.  I left Kim sleep the long day off and grabbed my camera and ventured out late to check out a little of Nice There’s something about being out and about after dark with a camera in France that I really like. The French are artists with facades, trees, and floodlighting. Nice’s old town artfully mixes the character of Italy (it was Italian until 1860) and France (elegant dining and a general affluence). In researching our guidebook, the selection of great-value restaurants was abundant. Back to the hotel for a couple of hours sleep I managed to get out very early to capture the sunrise before breakfast. Would love to pencil in Nice again.

Check out our tour video here:

https://youtu.be/gDLKmeXYd3g

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