Monthly Archives: February 2017

Travel Guide: 24 Hours in Munich

Munich, home to the famous beer festival Oktoberfest (which despite the name is held in September), is the third largest city in Germany, and the capital of Bavaria, Germany’s biggest state.

The most distinctive building in Munich, the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus), looms with neo-Gothic splendour over the Marienplatz, and you can see its 85m tall tower from almost anywhere in the city. From this central point, it’s only a 20-minute walk to the English Gardens, a perfect place to stop and relax after a day of sightseeing and shopping.

Must visit

Munich Botanical Garden (Botanischer Garten Munchen-Nymphenburg) is the green lungs of Munich, the perfect spot to stroll around on a sunny day. The gardens cover more than 50 acres and are home to 16,000 plants, many of which are in impressive, multi-tiered glasshouses. Even if you’ve only a casual interest in botany, the 2,000 different kinds of orchids really are something special to behold, and all sorts of tropical plants are thriving in their carefully controlled environment.

Combine your visit to the botanical garden with a trip to the Nymphenburg Palace, a short walk away. The palace is the work of architect Henrico Zuccalli. Construction began in 1701, but quickly ground to a stop because of the Spanish War of Succession: patron Max Emanuel had to be away from Bavaria.

From April to October, you can take a 30-minute gondola ride on the river (EUR 15), and the Rococo Amalienburg Palace in the grounds has an extraordinary Hall of Mirrors in the centre of the pavilion.

Must be seen at

The coolest place to be seen in Munich is the Barbara Gross Galerie. Originally a bakery, this exhibition space was converted first into a graphic design studio, and now into a contemporary art gallery. Barbara Gross is particularly keen to promote emerging female artists, and many of the paintings and sculptures tackle social and political issues.

Must drink beer

This is Germany, and Munich is home to Oktoberfest. Of course you have to drink beer! In warm weather, the biergartens are completely packed with people. The biergartens in the English Gardens are mostly filled with students and families, and the one beneath the Chinese Tower is especially scenic. It’s also the second largest in the city. Elsewhere in the gardens, there’s a large biergarten on the shore of Kleinhesseloher Lake, and a third, quieter place to drink at Restaurant Aumeister in the northern part of the park.

Must eat

German food is heavy on the meat, and meat dominates almost every meal. For those visitors who are vegetarian, therefore, or who fancy something a little lighter, Germany’s first Vegan Cat Cafe, Katzentempel, is a welcome addition to Munich’s restaurant scene. The menu is completely vegan, and surprisingly delicious. Six cats, Gizmo, Ayla, Balou, Jack, Robin, and Saphira, keep diners entertained, and they do such an excellent job that Katzentempel is usually packed. It’s best to book a table, just in case.

Must shop

Munich is very much a design-focused city, and this is reflected in the places to shop. Walk along Sendlinger Strasse, and explore its side streets, too, for a mixture of quirky boutiques and big name brands. The architecture of the Funf Hofe shopping mall makes it a tourist destination in its own right.

Must see the view

Right on top of the Department of Architecture at the Technical University of Munich is Vorhoelzer Forum Cafe, a rooftop cafe with a 360-degree view of Munich. It’s not the easiest place to find, but everyone at the university is extremely friendly and they’ll point you in the right direction. The cafe has a laidback vibe, the unique hot chocolate is a mug of hot milk and a cup of chocolate chips for you to stir in yourself, and the views across the city are definitely worth the climb.

Things to do and see in Western Canada

Drive the Trans-Canada Highway

The Trans-Canada runs 4,990 miles across the entire width of Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The dramatic western section goes from Horseshoe Bay through the Fraser Valley, crossing passes, bridges, and gorges. It’s a fantastic road trip with plenty to see, and the road links together many of the other sites on this list.

Stay on a houseboat

Shuswap Lake is one of the most picturesque settings in British Columbia, and you can sleep onboard many of the comfortable houseboats. Typically sleeping 10, the boats are based in the marina but sail out across the lake to various spots where you can swim, sunbathe, and relax. The boats vary from basic to pretty luxurious: some even have a hot tub!

Summit Mt. Norquay

At 2,133 m, Mt. Norquay is by no means the highest peak in Canada, but it is easily accessible and from the summit you’ll have breathtaking views across the Banff National Park. You can hike up to Mt. Norquay (the name of both the mountain and the ski resort on its slopes) from Banff town in a few hours or, if you aren’t feeling too energetic, take the chairlift instead.

Soak in Sulphur Hot Springs

There are naturally occurring hot springs across the Rocky Mountains: the water is heated as it forces its way up through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault, and once mixed with snow melt the water temperature is a bath-like 38°C. There are nine hot spring sites in the Banff National Park, but the most developed of these are Banff Upper Hot Springs, where you can sit in the hot pool looking out across Mt. Rundle.

Raft on the Lower Thompson River

Western Canada’s mountain rivers offer numerous possibilities for white water rafting, but one of the best sites is on the Thompson, a tributary to the much larger (and more famous) Fraser River. Here you can take a motorised rafting trip with a guide through the class 3 and 4 rapids, including a rafting through a river feature known ominously as the Jaws of Death.

Camp at Lake Louise

Lake Louise is a glacier-fed jewel, sparkling in turquoise and surrounded by mountain peaks, hiking trails, and pebble beaches. Camping on the riverbank you’ll have the lapping of the water as your soundtrack, and an extraordinary canopy of stars overhead by night.

Traverse Columbia Icefield

Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains, crossing into both the Banff and Jasper National Parks. The glaciers here were formed some 200,000 years ago, and they are surrounded by some of the Rockies’ highest peaks. You can walk out on the Glacier Skywalk, a glass walkway suspended 280 m above the ice fields, and also ride on a purpose-built Ice Explorer, purpose built for travelling across glaciers.

Things to see and do in Kazakhstan

The Singing Dunes in Atlyn Emel National Park

The Singing Dunes (also known as Singing Barkhan or Singing Sand) is a mountain of sand in the Altyn Emel National Park – itself a stretch of desert and canyons across 4,600 square kilometres.

These naturally occurring dunes are an impressive 150m high and 1.5km long but what makes them phenomenal is that they sing out a whistling sound when the wind skims across the sands. Beware: the sound can be as much as 105 decibels loud.

Access is easy from Almaty into the national park, especially if you have a 4×4 as the drive takes around an hour and a half. The entry fee is 962 tenge, the local currency (£2.47/2.98 euros). Once there you can climb the dunes on foot.

Sharyn (or Charyn) Canyon

Charyn Canyon is within the Charyn River valley which practically kisses the Chinese border. It might not be as deep as the Grand Canyon, but its steep sides and colour gradations make it equally as impressive.

If you watched Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman in The Long Way Round, you’d have spotted the canyon then as it was one of the highlights of their route.

There are opportunities for white water rafting and canoeing on the Charyn River, and hikers can explore both the canyon and the striking red rock formations of the Valley of Castles on an extended trek.

Aral Sea

The shrinking of the Aral Sea is one of the great environmental disasters of the 20th century: in the 1960s it was one of the four largest lakes in the world, but today it’s only a fraction of its original size. Poorly planned Soviet irrigation schemes diverted its water supplies, and the Aral Sea dried up. It’s an important place to visit, however, to see first hand the devastating potential impact of human intervention in nature. The skeleton ships in the sand, now miles away from open water where they might sail, are a poignant reminder of the past.

Ski resort of Shymbulak

You might not think of Kazakhstan as a winter sports hub, but the ski resort of Shimbulakjust a short 30 minute drive from Almaty, hosted the Winter Asian Games in 2011, and bid (albeit unsuccessfully) for the 2014 and 2022 Winter Olympics, too. You can ski at Shymbulak from November until May, and the lifts go up to the Talgar Pass at 3,200m. In total there are around 20km of pisted runs, plus some excellent, affordable opportunities for heli-skiing. The resort’s ski jump overlooks Almaty and the views for the top are spectacular, even if you’re not intending to jump.

Almaty

Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan, a charming city surrounded by mountains. It remains the commercial and cultural heart of the country, with plenty to see and do. Highlights here include the photogenic Zenkov Cathedral, the Kok Tobe cable car, and Almaty Opera House. The Kazakhstanis have quite a fondness for the UK and Ireland, so keep your eyes peeled for the statue of The Beatles, erected by a Kazakh fan, and also Mad Murphy’s Irish Pub.

Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center

The Khan Shatyr is the most famous building on Astana’s skyline, and its claim to fame is that it’s the world’s biggest tent. Designed by Norman Foster, this iconic structure houses an indoor beach resort, boating river, shopping mall, and concert hall. It’s temperature controlled so it’s always balmy inside, even when the mercury falls to -40 Celsius outdoors. Andrea Bocelli sang at the Khan Shatyr’s opening, with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Armenia, and Belarus in the audience, so you’ll be the latest in a long line of international visitors.

Lake Kaindy

Hidden in the Tien Shan Mountains, Lake Kaindy is a relative newcomer to the landscape made by a landslide in 1911. With water that shifts from turquoise to emerald green depending on the light, it’s particularly scenic to walk here, either on a day trip from Almaty or on a longer trek. Siberian roe deer graze on the lake shore, there’s a large amount of bird life, and the lake is also good for trout fishing. This is somewhere you’ll want to retreat to and spend a while, watching the reflections and ripples on the water.

Turkistan

Kazakhstan was on the Silk Road, and there was a substantial commercial centre at Turkistan at least by the 4th century AD. An important Sufi saint, Khodja Ahmed Yassawi, preached and was buried here. His medieval mausoleum remains an important pilgrimage site, recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Kazakhstan has relatively few surviving historic sites from this period, unlike neighbouring Uzbekistan, so Turkistan should be treasured even more.

The most beautiful spot to see the tours in puglia

Gargano

Gargano, Puglia (c) marcom66
In the spur of Italy, Gargano is replete with beautiful fishing villages, dark and ancient forests inland, fine sandy beaches but also rugged cliffs, secret caves and picturesque coves. A perfect hub for eco-tourism and relax.

The most popular and fashionable town in Gargano is the medieval village of Vieste, with its narrow streets and white houses, dominated by a stunning 13th century castle.

Among the most beautiful beaches we recommend Mattinata beach, especially the coastal area of Baia delle Zagare, with its famous stacks a few metres from the shore.

If you like fresh fish you have to try a dinner at trabucco, a traditional wooden fishing platform on the coast where you can watch the fishing process, help out if you want, and dine leaving you with a very memorable experience.

Salento

Roca Vecchia, Salento (c) Freddyballo
The southernmost area of Puglia is defined by stony olive groves that extend between dry-stone walls bordered with oleander. It has a strong identity with its own cuisine, traditions and music, influenced by its Greek past.

Along with some of Italy’s best beaches such as Porto Cesareo with the Punta Prosciutto dunes, Pescoluse beach (also called Maldives of Salento) and Torre Lapillo beach there are some fascinating towns to explore such as Otranto, Specchia and Presicce (awarded as 3 of the most beautiful Italian villages).

Get there in the summer for a chance to witness a sagra di paese (a village festival) where you can eat traditional street food while listening to traditional music such as pizzica or tarantella.

Valle D’Itria

Valle d’Itria, also called “Trulli valley”, is an extended valley with a unique fairytale landscape composed by cylindrical peasant houses with beehive roofs known as Trulli.

These traditional apulian buildings served a very practical function: using up all the stones that peasants cleared from their difficult, rocky fields. They were easily made and easily knocked down again.

Today, the fanciful Trulli are restored holiday houses for tourists: silent and peaceful places that keep you warm in winter and cool in the summer months. For example, Trullo Due Ulivi in Valle d’Itria has been recently renovated following the traditional criteria preserving the authentic beauty:

Another authentic Trulli house in the heart of Valle D’Itria is Trullo Stefano, surrounded by dry-stone walls and centenary Olive trees and comes with a private pool.

Ostuni

Ostuni (c) Dronkitmaster
The city of Ostuni is a beautiful maze-like white city on a hilltop just 8km from the Adriatic Sea packed with narrow streets you can spend ages getting lost in, climbing staircases and falling in love with the stunning views. 
Wandering through the old alleys of its historic center inside its ancient walls you can find traditional craftsmanship shops, cosy cafes and aperitivo spots, and lovely restaurants to experience a perfect Apulian dinner before a drink in one of the trendy bars where you can enjoy the lively Italian nightlife in a very international environment.

Brindisi

Brindisi (c) Reise nach Apulien
The port of Brindisi was recognised as a UNESCO heritage site for culture of Peace as it was always considered a safe harbour for travellers and a point of departure. The city today hosts the United Nations Logistics Base – the hub for peacekeeping operations.

For many years, the port has been a main stop of the Indian Mail from London to Bombay, and it hosted world-known names such as Virgil and Ghandi.

Its beautiful waterfront is packed with restaurants that serve local and fresh food. The old town has the charm of old-school traditional Italy that sometimes feels lost in the more touristic cities. People are friendly and welcoming and visitors like to call it “Brindeasy” for its slow and relaxed lifestyle.

Old town of Bari

Making orecchiette
Bari, the capital of the region is buzzing and busy which has a lovely old town. Bari Vecchia (the old town of Bari) is a walled city built on a peninsula jutting into the sea. While walking down the narrow alleyways you will feel like being in someone’s living room. The streets here are places to socialise, and in the mornings women sit at tables making orecchiette (little ears), the typical Apulian pasta made by rolling the dough into thin logs, cutting off a chunk and shaping it by hand at an impressively rapid pace.