How to have a great day in Turin

The northern Italian city of Turin is beautifully located on the flanks of the Italian Alps. It’s just a short train ride away from Milan so it’s ideal for a day trip from that city. But there is plenty to do and Turin can also serve as a base to explore this region of Italy.

History of Turin

The history of Turin begins in Roman times, when the Romans founded the colony Augusta Taurinorum. Turin bears the name of the people who are said to have lived in the area. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Turin changed hands several times until it came into the hands of the counts of Savoy in the 11th Century. It became the capital of the duchy of Savoy in the 16th century and the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia in the early 19th century. After the unification of Italy in 1861, it became the first capital of Italy. During this time the area was also heavily industrialised. This made Turin a target of heavy Allied bombing during the Second World War.

Top sights in Turin

Egyptian Museum

Besides the character and all the beautiful buildings in this city, the biggest draw is the Egyptian Museum. It’s the second biggest Egyptian museum in the world, only beaten by the one in Cairo. So, if you have the slightest interest in ancient Egypt, history or art, go visit this museum. The collection is outstanding and covers all aspects of life and culture in Ancient Egypt.

Piazza Castello

Nearby is the Piazza Castello, the cultural heart of the city. Here you’ll find to palaces which now mainly serve as museums. The Palazzo Madama built on the site of the ancient Roman city gates. Two of the Roman towers still form part of the back of this palace. It houses the Museum of Ancient Art, which is a confusing name since the collection dates from the 15th-18th century.

Palazzo Reale

The main sight of the square is the Palazzo Reale. This former Royal Palace of the house of Savoy now houses a multitude of different museums. There is the main building of the Palazzo Reale itself, where you can marvel at the beautiful rooms and furniture of the palace. Then you have the southern wing with the Armoury which houses a large collection of medieval weapons. The northern wing houses the Galleria Sabauda with beautiful paintings and sculptures and the Museo di antichità with its collection of local Roman finds including a spectacular bronze mask. Attached to the palace is the chapel of the holy shroud, which houses the famous Shroud of Turin. The chapel has recently reopened after a 21-year restoration after a fire. But don’t expect to see the real shroud, it’s only on display once every few decades. But if you want to know more, you can visit the Museum of the shroud where you can also see a replica.

Teatro Romano

Behind the Palazzo, you can also visit some of the Roman remains in the city. Another piece of the city wall and the gate Porte Palatini and the Roman theatre are the most visible things.

Catadrale di San Giovani Battista

Attached to the chapel for the shroud is the Turin cathedral Catadrale di San Giovani Battista. On the site had stood 3 Lombard churches next to each other, all of them were destroyed to make a place for this cathedral at the end of the 15th century.

Castello di Rivoli

A bit outside of the town lies the Castello di Rivoli. Another former residence of the royal family of Savoy. Nowadays it’s the oldest contemporary art museum in Italy. From the castle grounds, you’ll have some great views of the surrounding village and Turin in the background.

Museo d’arte Orientale (MAO)

Another great museum with art from another part of the world is the Museo d’arte Orientale. This Asian art museum has a diverse collection of art from the whole continent, spanning several millennia.

Jerusalem

The amazing highlights of Israel

Israel has unbelievable much to offer for its relatively small size. From the holy city of Jerusalem to the party city Tel Aviv. From dry deserts to Roman ruins, to coral reef and white beaches. Not to mention its cuisine: We cannot get enough of hummus and falafel. Because Israel is not exactly the cheapest country for travelling, we’ve packed the best stuff in just four days. Find out more below!

This itinerary for Israel starts in Eilat, but you can also choose Jerusalem or Tel Aviv as starting points.

Day 1 – Eastern Israel: Dead sea and Masada

Rent a car in Eilat and leave Eilat right away, driving towards Jerusalem. It is not difficult to come into a vacation vibe, crossing through the dry desert, passing tons of palm trees, date plantations, and beautiful mountain sceneries.

Dead Sea
Dead Sea

Dead Sea

You will pass the Dead Sea on the way, where you definitely should make a stopover. Being unable to dive, or even swim, in this lake, is an unforgettable and unique experience: You are only able to float on top of the water, and not in the water. There are free public beaches, but also somewhere you must pay a little like Kalia Beach, with natural (and healthy?) mud, Biankini Beach and Neve Midbar Beach. Good free swim spots are Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek. Just see what fits your schedule, as floating on the lowest point on earth is a very welcome change to the driving.

Masada

You will also pass by Masada, an ancient fortification on the top of a rock plateau. According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 people, the Sicarii rebels, and their families hiding there. If you have time, go here for sunrise or sunset.

You will arrive in Jerusalem in the evening. Go to bed on time – as the next day will be busy!

Day 2 – Jerusalem in one day

The Holy City of Jerusalem has a lot to offer. But it is possible to see its highlights in just one day. You will need to get up early to make it to the finish on time!

Temple Mount

Start at the Temple Mount, important for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Temple Mount has remarkable opening hours: 7:30-10: 30 AM and 12:30-1:30 PM. Line up at 7 AM to avoid long lines and to make it in at 7:30 sharp. Then you will experience an almost empty Temple Mount. Great for taking pictures! The highlight of the Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock with its golden roof.

Dome of the Rock

Western Wall

Pay a visit to the Western Wall on your way to the Temple Mount. This is the holiest Jewish place as it’s a remain of the foundations of the second Jewish temple build by the Roman client king Herod the Great. The temple and the rest of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE after the first Jewish Revolt. You have a good overview of the two gender separated prayer areas from the walkway to the mount itself.

Church of Saint Anne

Close to the Temple Mount North-exit, lies the Church of Saint Anne, a Roman Catholic church that is not on every Jerusalem-itinerary, but we advise you to go. It is the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem and it has been said that it is the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Its courtyard creates a tranquillity that contrasts the bustling streets of the Muslim Quarter. There is also a large excavation area of the Pools of Bethesda.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Next, walk the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church contains the two holiest sites in Christianity: The site where Jesus was crucified and Jesus’ empty tomb, where he is said to have been buried and resurrected. This holiness makes this church a major Christian pilgrimage destination. Fun fact: Control over the church is shared between several Christian denominations (Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic and some others). The key is guarded by a Muslim family, as only they were trusted by all the Christian denominations.

Tower of David

We follow the Via Dolorosa back to the Tower of David, near the Jaffa Gate entrance in the West. You can visit the tower if you’re not too hungry yet. Just outside the old city are some cafés where you can have a lunch with falafel and hummus.

Israel Museum

Israel Museum

After lunch, take a bus to the Israel Museum. Don’t underestimate the time that you want to spend in Israel’s national museum, as it huge and it has a lot to offer. From a modern sculpture garden to an archaeology wing, fine arts, Jewish art, exhibitions, and, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Yad Vashem

Alternatively, you can visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, in the western part of the city. The museum offers an extensive exhibition of the different stages and aspects of the Holocaust.

Olive Mountain

After all this culture, it is nice to end the day by walking the Olive Mountain and watching the sunset behind the holy city. You can see the Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy: A closed gate, that, according to Jewish belief, only will be reopened when the Anointed One (Messiah) will come.

Day 3 – Ancient Northern Israel: Acre, Caesarea and Tel Aviv

It’s time to leave Jerusalem, and drive up North, to Acre.

Acre

Crusader Citadel

Crusader citadel

The main sights in Acre are all situated in its compact old Town behind the old city walls. These walls are the perfect point to start your tour of the city. They bring you back in time and give you an overview of the city. Make your way towards the Crusader citadel, here you can explore the remains of the heart of the Crusader Kingdom. Take the underground Templar tunnels, like the last crusaders did when they were chased out of the Holy land by the Mamaluks in 1291.

Old Port

Explore the old port and its remaining fortified towers. When you climb the southwestern bastion you can see the foundations of the old crusader castle now submerged under the Mediterranean sea. When we were there the Caravanserai Khan al-Umdan was closed due to being in disrepair. But its worth to try and get a peek at this old inn.

Caesarea

Get back on the road as we drive down south and go even further back in time to the Roman city of Caesarea. It was built by their client-king Herod the Great in the last decades BCE. Later it served as the Roman and Byzantine capital of Judea and Palestine.

Aqueduct

Roman aqueduct

First head to the aqueduct on the beach just north of the city. This aqueduct used to provide water for the city, now it crumbles away and is used as a picknick spot for the beachgoers.

Caesarea Maritima

Most of the Roman remains and excavations can be found in the Caesarea National Park. Here you can find the remains of the Roman harbour, the huge hippodrome, a Roman theatre and houses and temples.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv seen from Jaffa

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Tel Aviv is a city that never sleeps. Which is great if you want to maximize your time like us. The one thing you must see in this city is its excellent museum of art. It has a superb collection of modern and contemporary art and of Israeli Art. Tuesday and Thursday the museum is open until 21h.

Tel Aviv is filled with great restaurants, bars and nightclubs. So unwind a bit, but try to get up early the next day to beat the morning rush-hour.

If you have more time to spend here, go to the beach, get on a bike and cycle along the coastline to the old historic town of Jaffa.

Day 4 – Hot southern Israel: Avdat, Mitzpe Ramon Negev desert, snorkelling

Today is already our last day, so we have a lot of driving to go back south to Eilat.

Ein Avdat National Park

Our first stop will be in the Negev desert, in Ein Avdat National Park. If you head to the northern entrance of the park, you can descend into the Canyon and go for a nice hike here. If you just want to take in the sights and go for a short walk, take the western entrance for great views of the canyon.

Ein Avdat

Avdat

Just a couple of minutes south of the western entrance lies the ancient hillside Nabataean city of Avdat. It was a major city on the Incense route, only passed in importance by Petra. The city was founded by the Nabataean in the 3rd century BCE and later inhabited by Romans and Byzantines. The city lies on top of a hill with marvellous views of the surrounding Negev desert. Just north of the city lies the archaeological remains of a Roman legionary camp.

Avdat

Mitzpe Ramon

 A little bit further south lies the small town of Mitzpe Ramon. From the visitor’s centre, you have an awesome view of the Ramon Crater.  Although the Ramon crater isn’t really a crater but the worlds largest Makhtesh, a desert valley surrounded by steep walls. This is also an ideal site to spot some Nubian ibex.

Eilat

Eilat is Israel’s southernmost city on the Red Sea and an ideal place to go snorkelling. Temperatures are pleasant throughout the winter and hot during the summer and the sun shines almost all days of the year. The main attraction are the coral reefs.

Snorkelling in the Red Sea

Israel – three airport options

We had return flights to the budget airport of Ovda, Eilat. You could also fly to Eilat directly or Ben Gurion International airport, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

When to go to Israel?

The best time to visit Israel is March-May and September – November: Not too hot, but nice weather to go out and about. Just watch out for the Jewish holidays Passover (April) and Rosh Hashana (September / October), as many families will go on trips; it will be busy, and hotels will be expensive.

We travelled at the beginning of February, to have a nice vitamin-D boost while it was dark and cold back home. We had great weather: ~25 degrees Celsius and sunny. However, we learned that we were quite lucky with the weather, as it also can be cold and wet in February. But it’s also quieter at the major sites.

Parc Guell

What to do in the beautiful city of Barcelona

Barcelona is a great Mediterranean city with its own identity, which is quite different from the rest of Spain. It’s a major tourist destination. The European youth goes to the nearby Costa Brava for their summer holidays and spring breaks. For everybody else, it’s a destination to enjoy great food, sunny weather, Gaudi and much more. So, join their ranks and visit this city. The best time to go is in the Spring and Autumn. Then the crowds are a bit thinner and the weather is nice but not too hot the walk around all day.

There is a lot to do in Barcelona, so stay for a minimum of 2 days to get a good impression of the city. In 3 days you should be able to see most of it. Stay a bit longer if you want to enjoy the beaches, have a day trip to nearby Tarragona or visit the Dali museum in Figueres.

Day 1 Montjuïc, museums and views

We like to walk to counterbalance the extra eating and drinking we usually do on a holiday. But alternatively, Barcelona has an excellent public transport system to get you to all the major sites.

Placa Espanya Former bull ring

Start the day on Place Espanya, here you’ll find the former bullfighting arena. This is a good example of the difference between Catalunya and Spain, as opposed to in the rest of Spain, bullfighting is banned in Catalunya. So, the former bull ring is turned into a shopping mall which offers some good vistas of the city from the upper deck for free.

Access to Montjuïc

National Art Museum of Catalonia
National Art Museum of Catalonia

Make your way towards the hill of Montjuïc. Here you’ll find great museums, nice parks, a castle and great viewpoints of the city and the harbour.

Caixa Forum Barcelona

Check out the website of the Caixa Forum Barcelona, this art centre hosts a variety of art exhibition, theatre and much more. It’s not so expensive and there are major exhibitions from time to time.

National Art Museum of Catalonia

As you climb the steps weaving through the traders and the tourists, you’ll get increasingly better views of the city. Once you’re at the top of the stairs you are in front of the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Although I can understand that this museum is not to everyone’s taste, I can’t recommend it enough. The museum houses an outstanding collection of Medieval Art. Inside the museum you’ll find rebuilt churches with original Romanesque frescos, a lot of crucifixes, iconography and reliquary art. The building itself is also beautiful, especially the large hall.

Fundacio Joan Miro

Fundacio Joan Miro
Fundacio Joan Miro

A little further up the hill lies the Fundacio Joan Miro. This modern art museum was started by the artist himself and has a big collection of his works. The museum is housed in a nice modern building with beautiful views of the city. The naïve style of Joan Miro may not be for everyone, but the broad range of paintings owned by the museum gives a good insight into the artistic development of Miro. This, in turn, gives the viewer a better understanding of the art and may even convert some of you.

Montjuïc Castle

Further up the hill lies the Montjuïc Castle. This castle was built in the 17th century to control the city as Catalunya had fallen under Spanish rule. The fortress was used to bombed the city on several occasion and was the place of executions during the Spanish civil war. Now it’s a good place to relax and walk around and it has great views of both the city and the nearby harbour.

Funicular de Montjuïc

You can walk down or use the Funicular de Montjuïc.

Eglasia de Sant Pau del Camp

Near the end of the Funicular, you’ll find the Sant Pau del Camp church. This is the oldest church of Barcelona, the current church replaced an earlier church which Muslim troops destroyed in 985.

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

If you have some energy left, go to the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. It’s open until 19.30 so it can entertain you while you have to wait for the Spanish dinner time to arrive.

Food

Vegan Tapas

Eat something at the Carrer dels Tallers or the nearby Rambla.

Day 2 Gaudi

The theme of this day is Gaudi. Although there is much more to Barcelona than Gaudi, he is an important reason for the popularity of the city. So today we will visit the best sites. The enormous popularity of Gaudi has led to a highly inflated entrance price to most of the buildings associated with him. Therefore it’s best to pick some sites and view the rest from outside unless you’re a mega fan.

Palau Güell

Palau Güell is one of the first works of Gaudi in Barcelona. It was commissioned by the same Güell family who would later ask Gaudi to design the famous Park Güell. The house was finished in 1890 at was the home of the Güell family until they moved to the Park Güell. Highlights are the huge central hall with its staircase and the rooftop with its eccentric chimneys. This is also the cheapest house designed by Gaudi in Barcelona to visit.

Illa de la Discòrdia

This city block on Passeig de Gràcia has a nice concentration of modernist buildings, the Casa Batlló and the Casa Amatller are both here.

Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló

After his work on the Park Güell, Josep Batlló hired Gaudi to remodel his home. Gaudi did this in a spectacular way. The front of the house looks like it belongs in a fairytale. There are almost no straight lines in sight. Much of the interior has just recently been restored back to the original state. The best rooms in the house are on the noble floor with its beautiful windows onto the Passeig de Gràcia. There are several different tickets available, including ones where you can visit the house with fewer visitors at a premium price.

Casa Amatller

Although not designed by Gaudi, this modernist building designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch lies next to Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and is part of the so-called Illa de la Discòrdia (Block of discord) of several modernist buildings. This city block provides a good opportunity to compare the different modernist architects.

Fundació Antoni Tàpies

Around the corner lies the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. This museum is dedicated to the work of Antoni Tàpies, a modern Spanish painter. The museum usually has works by Antoni Tàpies on display, together with exhibitions of works by other contemporary artists.

La Pedrera / Casa Mila

A bit further to the north, along the Passeig de Gràcia lies the Casa Milà or La Pedrera as it is also known. This is the last private residence designed by Gaudi, who finished his work here in 1912. It was not received well when it was finished, hence its nickname la Pedrera, the stone quarry. Soon after it was built the Mila family, dissatisfied with much of Gaudi’s work sold the furniture and redid the walls. The building deteriorated after their death and only in the 1980s were efforts made to restore the building back to its original state. This is another Gaudi building with premium access tickets.

Casa Mila
Casa Mila

Sagrada Familia

The most famous of all Gaudi buildings is the Sagrada Familia. This neo-gothic church is still not finished and is already being restored. This is another of Gaudi’s buildings which divides opinions. I’m personally on the side of George Orwell who called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”. But I understand the attraction it holds to people.

That said, the entrance price is ridiculously high for a church and I would advise people to just walk around the building. This gives a perfect impression of what the building looks like and saves you money for dinner later.

Parc Güell

It’s only fitting to end the day back at another Güell assignment. This time Güell asked Gaudi to design a whole housing development. It was a complete failure and only two houses were built, one of which Gaudi bought himself as it was not getting sold.

Parc Güell
Parc Güell

The park has two parts, a part which you can enjoy for free. Here you can walk around in the shade, enjoy the little quirks designed by Gaudi and enjoy the views over the city from one of the many vistas the park offers. The other part comprises of Gaudi’s house and the pavilion, this area is only accessible with a ticket. Ticket prices are a bit more reasonable here, so if you haven’t had enough of Gaudi give it a try and enjoy some more of his creations up close.

Day 3 Ancient Barcelona

After all this modernist architecture you would think Barcelona is foremost a modern city, but it also has a very old historic heart. The Barri Gothic, or the gothic district, is the old city centre with medieval alleyways and buildings dating all the way back to Roman times.

Cathedral of Santa Eulalia
Cathedral of Santa Eulalia

Cathedral of Santa Eulalia

In the heart of this district lies the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. This cathedral was consecrated in 1339, but the façade was not finished until the 19th century. In the next-door historical museum, you can see the foundations of the earlier Visigoth church.

MUHB Plaça del Rei

To see some of the Roman and Visigoth remains, visit the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona (MUHB) at Plaça del Rei. Here you’ll find the remains of the Roman town, it’s shops and industries and the finds associated with those activities. Additionally, there are also Visigoth remains of a church and a cloister. It’s a great museum to get an idea of the early origins of the city. The museum also includes the Chapel of Santa Àgata from 1302.

Musee Frederic Mares

If you like ancient and medieval sculptures, visit the Musee Frederic Mares. It has a good collection of sculptures up to the 14th century. Frederic Mares was a collector of many things, which becomes obvious if you see his collector’s cabinets. This is an enormous random collection of antiques and curiosities spread out over 17 halls.

Temple of Augustus

South of the cathedral stand four remaining Corinthian columns of the temple of Augustus. This shrine to the imperial cult has been incorporated into the surrounding buildings and can be visited for free.

Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar

A bit further towards the sea lies the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. This gothic church was built in the 14th century. Much of its interior decoration has been lost due to extensive fires during the Spanish Civil war.        

Picasso Museum

Pablo Picasso moved to Barcelona with his family when he was thirteen. Here he followed some classes at the art academy before he moved to Madrid and later Paris. This museum has an excellent collection of his earliest work and gives a great impression of his development as an artist. Sadly, the collection lacks good pieces from his later work, but the insight into his early development still makes it a must-see for Picasso fans.

Nyhavn

What to do in the Danish capital of Copenhagen

Spending 2 days in Copenhagen

As the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen is the most popular tourist destination in the country. Many people come to see the little mermaid, but this Scandinavian capital has much more to offer. Denmark is one of the more expensive European countries to visit, so adjust your budget accordingly. Luckily there are some good deals to get. One thing we would advise all visitors who will be visiting at least a couple of sites, is to buy the Copenhagen Card. It offers free entry to almost all sites in Copenhagen, its surrounding area and free public transport including local trains.

Day one

We did most of our exploration on foot, but Copenhagen has an excellent public transport network to help you out if you’re getting tired. There is a lot to see, so get up as early as possible for you. The first six sites are always open, so ideally you would do this all before ten o’clock when the SMK opens.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

Besides the little mermaid, Copenhagen’s Nyhavn is its most recognizable spot. Start your day here, just to get it over with, but also since the early morning light and the lack of huge crowds will enhance your experience.

Amalienborg

Just up the road towards the little mermaid is Amalienborg, the residence of the Danish Kings and Queens. Amalienborg isn’t just one palace but four built around a central square. The current buildings were built in the Roccoco style in the 18th century.

Marble Church

If you turn your back to the water, you have a nice vista towards Frederik’s Church or the Marble Church. This rococo building has the largest dome in Scandinavia and was inspired by St Peters Church in Rome.

Kastallet

Further north lies Kastallet, a 17th-century fortress built to protect the city and the harbour. The fortress is in excellent condition since it is still partly used as a military base. But a large part can be visited and, moreover, it forms a nice park for quiet walks.

Little Mermaid

Little Mermaid

So, as you make your way around the outer ramparts, you’ll see the most disappointing tourist attraction in the world, The Little Mermaid. Go here if you’re a completist and want to see it with your own eyes, or go here for the fun of it, the crowds swarming the little statue, doing strange poses and making their Instagram posts.

Nyboder

As you complete your walk around Kastallet, you enter the Nyboder district with its historic row houses. Originally built to house the families of the navy personnel.

Nyboder Houses

Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK)

The SMK, or National Gallery, has a good collection of European art from 1300 onwards. The best parts of the collection are the Danish and Nordic art from 1750 until 1900 not often seen outside of the Nordic countries.

Rosenborg Castle

Just across the road lies the Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by the lush Kongens Have, the royal gardens. These gardens are always busy with people escaping the bustling city and enjoying the green surroundings.

The castle itself is built in Dutch Renaissance style, by the same architects who also worked on the famous Kronborg Castle. The castle was mostly used as a summer house for the royal family but has been used as their residence also. The castle is in great condition and besides the contemporary interior, you can also see the Danish crown jewels here.

Rosenborg Castle and Kongens Have

David Collection

Just outside the park lies a wonderful relatively small private museum which has free admission. The David Collection houses three separate collections, the most beautiful and largest is its Islamic Art collection. The European art collection is nothing special, and the Danish modern art collection is small but interesting.

Round Tower

As you walk into the modern city centre you’ll find the Round Tower. This 17th-century tower can easily be climbed to the top for some nice views over the city. There are some expositions in the tower and the tower also has an observatory to watch the night sky.

Borse

Don’t forget to pass the beautiful 17th century Borse or commodity exchange. It’s a private building but it’s worth to look at the outside.

The National Museum

If you’re into history don’t forget to stop at the National history museum. They have some beautiful prehistoric treasures and bog bodies and a good section on the Vikings.   

Food

For dinner, try one of the street food places, the latest hip one is Reffen.

Day two

We opted to leave the city to see a bit of the countryside, the famous castle of Hamlet at Kronborg, and the outstanding Louisiana Modern Art Museum. We finished our day back in Copenhagen. There is enough to do to stay in the city but with limited time, this way you’ll optimize your time in Denmark. If you or your children are into Vikings, you can go to Roskilde instead. There, you’ll find a beautiful medieval church and an excellent Viking museum complete with original Viking Longboats.

Helsingør

Kronborg castle

Kronborg Castle

Since the Copenhagen card includes transport and sites outside the city, we choose to optimize our stay by visiting the castle at Kronborg. This UNESCO world heritage site lies at the entryway to the Oresund and controls its access. There have been earlier castles on this site, but the present-day one is in the same Dutch Renaissance style as Rosenborg castle. The castle in pretty good shape, sadly much of its interior has been lost to the Swedes who captured this castle in one of the many wars between the Kingdoms. Read our UNESCO World heritage site review of Kronborg Castle for more info.

Humlebæk

Louisiana Modern Art Museum

On your way back to Copenhagen you’ll pass the Louisiana Modern Art Museum. Get off at Humlebæk station and from there it’s a 10-minute walk to the museum. This museum is beautifully located in a sculpture park overlooking the sea. The sculpture garden has works by greats like Calder and Serra. The collection of the museum itself includes works of Giacometti, Asger Jorn and Yayoi Kusama.

Louisiana Modern Art Museum

Copenhagen

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

When you’re back in Copenhagen, make your way to the Glyptotek. This fabulous museum has one of the best collections of ancient sculptures in the world. But also, a big collection of 19th-century French sculptures and impressionist paintings.

Tivoli

End your stay in Copenhagen with a visit to the second oldest amusement park in the world. Tivoli is right in the centre of Copenhagen and next to the Glyptotek. Even if you don’t like attraction parks, it’s worth to just go for a walk through the grounds in the evening as everything is lighted and the atmosphere is magical.

mosque

Highlights of Shiraz

Most people come to Shiraz to visit the ancient sites of Persepolis and Pasargadae. But Shiraz itself holds many beautiful gems too. So, make sure to have at least one full day to spend in this lovely city. As with most Iranian cities, traffic can be a nightmare and pollution can be a hinder. Don’t let that dissuade you, leave early if you are going on a day trip to Persepolis to avoid the traffic. And take your time when going from one place to another. If the weather allows it, walking can be a faster mode of transport than a taxi.

Masjed-e Nasir al Molk

Masjed-e Nasir al Molk
Morning sun in the Nasir al Molk mosque

Masjed-e Nasir al Molk is a beautiful mosque you’ve probably seen. Pictures of this magical mosque are everywhere on social media, travel guides and brochures for trips to Iran. Although the mosque itself is just over a hundred years old it’s hugely popular with tourists for its stained-glass windows. Go early in the morning when the light falls through the windows for the best sights and pictures.

Vakil Bazaar

Vakil Bazaar and the next-door Mosque were both build at the end of the 18th century by Karim Khan Zand, who was the regent (vakil) of this area. Hence the name. The bazaar is huge and it’s easy to veer off in the wrong direction, but help is always nearby, as are good shopping opportunities.

Vakil Mosque

Vakil mosque is as old as the bazaar. It probably replaced an earlier mosque which stood on the same spot. The mosque is decorated with lush coloured tiles with floral motives.

Citadel Karim Khan Zand

Citadel Karim Khan Zand
Citadel Karim Khan Zand

This citadel was again built by the productive Karim Khan, around 1763. The citadel is well preserved and gives a good insight into urban fortifications in 18th century Persia. It also has a nice courtyard and a bathing area you can visit.

Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh

Most visitors of Shiraz flock to the mausoleum of Shah Cheragh with its two shrines to brothers of the eighth imam Reza. This shrine, however, is dedicated to Ali Ibn Hamzeh, a nephew of the Imam. The shrine is much quieter and just as beautiful. The reception is also much more relaxed, we got invited into the tourist office and handed some cookies, water and tea. While we could cool down we take a look at some picture books and got some information about Shia islam. Afterwards, we were guided around and encouraged to take pictures. This still was a bit awkward as people next to you are kneeling on the ground, engaged in prayer.

Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh
Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh

Hafez Tomb

Just 5 minutes from the shrine Aramgah-e Ali Ibn Hamzeh is the tomb of Hafez, one of the most popular poets of Iran. The mausoleum is always busy both with admirers of the poet, who will recite some poems there and ordinary people escaping the hot city and enjoying the surrounding garden. The present-day mausoleum is a 20th-century construction which replaced the earlier when build by Karim Khan.

Bagh-e Delgosha (Garden)

These extensive gardens are on the way to Saadi’s tomb. They date to the end of the 18th century and are a good example of a classical Persian garden.

Saadi Tomb

Also set in a nice garden is Saadi’s tomb. This is the quieter of the two poet’s tombs as its more on the outskirts of the town. It’s set in a nice relaxed area with beautiful cypress trees and hills.

Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh

Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh
Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh

The mausoleum of Shah Cheragh is one of the more important ones in Iran. It holds the shrines to two of the brothers of the eighth imam Reza. Therefor it is a very busy place. Tourists can only visit this place with a guide which will be provided at the entrance. Guards with green feather dusters will correct females if their clothing slips up.

Bagh-e Eram (garden)

Bagh-e Eram
Bagh-e Eram

The best garden in Shiraz, this classical Persian garden is one of the highlights of the city. It’s always busy with people searching for refreshment and shade. It has a beautiful little palace which now houses the law faculty but can still be admired from the outside. There are many different species of plants and trees here which all are named, also in English.

Charles Bridge

2 Days in Prague

Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, as such it also attracts hordes of tourists. Don’t let all these people dissuade you, it’s still worth to go to this city. But if you want to minimize your irritation, adjust your schedule and get to the sites early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Also try to explore some of the less visited places this city has to offer.

Day one

The itinerary of the first day can easily be done by foot, if you have difficulty climbing and or walking for longer periods, take the cable cart to the top of Petřín hill or the bus to the castle.

Charles Bridge

Together with the Golden Gate bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in the world, and with reason. This medieval bridge was built by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.  The bridge was decorated with 30 statues in the 18th century, all the statues you see today are replicas.

Petřín Strahov Monastery

Strahov monastery
Petřín Strahov Monastery

As you walk up the Petřín Orchards, you can either go to the Petřín View Tower, a 60-meter high copy of the Eifel Tower. It was built for the world fair in 1891. Otherwise, you can directly go to the Strahov Monastery. This 12th-century monastery was rebuilt many times and its current face is a baroque one. It houses a picture gallery with 14-19th century paintings, a library with old books and the monastery itself.

National Gallery

The National Gallery has many buildings throughout the city. Just outside the castle complex are two palaces which have been completely renovated to act as museums. The Schwarzenberg Palace and the Sternberg Palace, both are beautiful buildings. Visit the Schwarzenberg Palace if you’re into Baroque art as the museum is focused on art from this period. The museum is currently closed and will open again later in 2019. The Sternberg Palace has a more eclectic collection covering the whole spectrum of European art from antiquity to the 18th century. The collection has some outstanding works of art so if you only want to visit one of the palaces, go here.

Prague Castle

From the monastery it’s a short walk to the castle. This is another tourist magnet, expect it to be busy.

Outside you’ll find the president palace with the presidential guard. You can watch the changing of the guards here every hour from 7.00 in the morning. The big one is at noon, with fanfare and all.

Continue inside and decide whether you want to see the interior of any of the buildings and decide which ticket suits your wishes best. I would suggest the cheapest option, circuit B, as this gives you all the highlights without the unnecessary extra exhibitions. The highlights of the castle complex are the St Vitus Cathedral and the old royal palace. If included in your ticket don’t forget to visit the St. George’s Basilica. This old church dates back to the 10th century and has a beautiful Romanesque interior. The other thing every tourist seems to do, is visiting the Golden Lane. It’s a nice medieval looking street, where you can find the house where Franz Kafka used to live. But it’s usually overcrowded so you won’t have the opportunity to imagine what it would have looked like in the past.

St Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral
St. Vitus Cathedral

As with most Cathedrals, the St Vitus Cathedral was built on top of the earlier 10th-century church. Although construction of this Gothic Cathedral started in 1344 again by Charles IV, it was not consecrated until 1929. The biggest part of this cathedral is therefore not Gothic but Neo-Gothic which luckily complements each other well.

Old Royal Palace

There was a royal palace on this hill since the end of the 9th century. But the earliest remains are that of the 12th-century Romanesque palace, which can be seen in the underground. The present-day castle is a Gothic part started by emperor Charles IV and a late Gothic and Renaissance part from the end of the 15th century. The main attraction is the Vladislav Hall, this huge vaulted hall has been the scene of many important events in the country’s history. Don’t forget to go outside to the gallery for some great views of the Ramparts and Prague.

Best Viewpoints of the city

If you are looking for great viewpoints there are a couple with different perspectives.

St Vitus Cathedral great south tower

You need to buy a separate ticket for the tower of the cathedral. From there you’ll have marvellous views over the castle grounds towards Charles Bridge, the Moldau river and the old town.

Old Royal Palace balcony of Vladislav Hall

If you have bought a ticket for one of the castle circuits, then the Old Royal Palace and this viewpoint are included. From the balcony accessible from the Vladislav Hall in the palace you can view the ramparts of the castle, the Charles bridge and the old town. The view is nice but a bit inferior to the one from the cathedral tower.

Petřín orchard

View of Prague castle from Petřín hill
View of Prague castle from Petřín hill

For free views of the castle, the bridge and the old town, climb Petřín hill via the orchard. Besides this being a nice and relaxing walk away from the crowds it offers some of the best views of the city, and all for free. If you don’t feel like climbing, you can take the cable car to the top.

Petřín tower

Petřín Tower provides slightly wider views than available for free from the hill. The view of the castle and old city won’t improve that much, but it does offer grander vistas of the surroundings of Prague and its suburbs. You’ll have to pay to go to the top.

Letna

You can get another free view with a different perspective from Letna. Letna park lies opposite the old town and provides magnificent views of the old town and the river. Depending on where you go you can also view the castle and the Charles bridge.

Old Town Hall Tower

This paid viewpoint is a great one for close-up views of the old town, since it stands right in the middle of the old town square.

Day two

The sites of the second day are a spread out more than on the first day. It’s still doable to walk but if you’re tired or want to speed things along, take a ride in a tram or metro. Prague has some beautiful metro stations and the trams are a nice way to explore the city while sitting.

Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Cemetery
Jewish Cemetery

Start your day with the Jewish Cemetery, since it is one of the busier places and cemeteries are better experienced without too many people around. Take your time to wander around, read up on the history of the Jewish community in Prague and its downfall during the Second World War.

Old New Synagogue

As you exit the cemetery make your way to the nearby Old-New synagogue, this is one the oldest still active synagogue in Europe. It’s a beautiful little Gothic building dating from 1270. It’s also the site of the mythical Golem of Prague.

Spanish Synagogue

Just a block away lies the most beautiful synagogue of Prague, the Spanish Synagogue. It’s the newest synagogue in the area built to replace the oldest synagogue of Prague in 1868. It’s built in a Moorish revival style with domes, gold and geometric patterns.

Spanish Synagogue
Interior of Spanish Synagogue

Convent st Agnes

Just a couple of minutes from the Jewish quarter lies the medieval 13th-century Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia. The convent now is part of the National Gallery of Prague and houses its excellent medieval art collection. The collection focuses on art from Bohemia and Central Europe and has altarpieces and sculptures. The convent garden is freely accessible.

Old Town square

You can’t visit Prague without a visit to the Old town square. The square is lined with beautiful baroque buildings. Here you’ll also find the gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn and the Old Town hall with its famous Astronomical clock. So, join the crowds in anticipation of the clock striking the hour.

Astronomical clock

Let me start off by saying the Astronomical clock in Prague is a marvellous piece of engineering which is fun to watch. But don’t take all its claims to serious. It’s not the oldest in the world, just one earlier example is the Gros Horloge in Rouen, France which predates the Prague one by some 30 years. And be aware that much of what you see today is a restoration of the original. The statues are a 1948 reconstruction after the original statues were destroyed by fire in 1945, the same goes for much of the machinery. Don’t let this lessen your enjoyment of this great piece of art and engineering, but it doesn’t hurt to be informed.

Kinsky Palace

While you’re on the square you can enjoy some more art if you want in the Kinský Palace. This is also a dependence of the National Gallery of Prague and is used as an exhibition space. So, check their website to see what is on. The palace itself dates from the second part of the 18th century, built on top of an earlier Romanesque and gothic structure which can still be seen in the basement.

Powder Tower

The Powder Tower is one of the original 13 city gates of the city of Prague. You can visit it for some views of the surrounding area. It was built at the end of the 15th century but suffered great damage at the Battle of Prague in 1757 so much of what you see today is a later reconstruction.

Mucha Museum

One of the Czech Republic’s most famous artists is Alphonse Mucha. Mucha is best known for his Art Nouveau advertisement posters. If you want to see his works of art, you can either visit the Mucha museum dedicated to the artist and his work or go to the National Gallery which has some of his major works like the Slav Epic. If you want to see his best work, go to the National Gallery, if you want to get an overview of his work visit the Mucha museum, or visit both for a complete picture.

Trade fair palace

If you’re not tired yet and love modern art, go visit the Trade Fair Palace dependence of the National Gallery. Here you will find an excellent collection of Czech art from the 1920s onwards.

Waterfall

Iceland Round Trip in only 4 days

Don’t let the others dissuade you, it is possible to encircle the whole of Iceland in only four days. We present you four days filled with endless sightseeing, a wealth of nature and even some whales and puffins. You will see the whole ring road of Iceland, all its highlights, and we promise you’ll be back in Reykjavik within four days. We advise you to go in June though, as you can continue travelling under the midnight sun. Are you ready for a spectacular trip?

[icelandad]

Day one

Rent a car in Reykjavik and leave the capital city straight away. Reykjavik is a nice city, filled with nice bars and shops, but the nature outside this city is what it’s all about. We’ll start by exploring the Golden Circle, Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir, three key attractions close to Reykjavik.

Thingvellir

Thingvellir
Thingvellir

Drive straight to the UNESCO world heritage listed Thingvellir National park, only 50 kilometres from Reykjavik. It’s a 6 km broad and 40 km long rift. The rift marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. If you walk the rift, starting from the visitor’s centre, you can see the world’s first parliament, the Althing, on your right. Sessions were established in 930 CE and held there until 1798. There are several hiking trails or you can go scuba diving, and see the rift from above.

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Continue the drive to Gullfoss: one of the most impressive compact waterfalls in the world. It is an enormous double cascade, with a total height of 32 meters. The haze of the falling water creates beautiful rainbows when it’s sunny. Therefore, it’s called Gullfoss: golden waterfall.

Geysir

Strokkur
Strokkur


Next stop is Geysir. The English word ‘geyser’ derives from this geyser. Geysir is not very active at the moment, due to human interferences. But Strokkur, about 50 metres next to Geysir, is. Strokkur erupts every 6-10 minutes, with a height of about 15-20 metres.

Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Dyrhólaey natural reserve

When you’ve finished the Golden Circle, you can drive back to the ring way, heading to Vík, the final destination of today. Along the way, you will see more spectacular waterfalls. The first one is Seljalandsfoss. A 65 Meter high waterfall. You can even walk behind the falling water. Seljalandsfoss is the only waterfall that is lighted during the night. 15 Km further away lies Skógafoss, another waterfall where the water falls over what once was the coastline of Iceland. You can walk a small lane, 1 KM to the east, to reach the smaller Kvernufoss waterfall. Finish the day in Vík. Just before you’ll enter the small fishing village lies the last sight of the day: Dyrhólaey natural reserve. It’s home to one of the largest seabird colonies of Iceland, during summer you should definitely see some puffins. And you can see a massive arch that the sea has eroded.
Stay the night in Vík

Day 2

Reynisfjara Beach

beach
Basalt cliffs at Reyniisfjara beach

Start your day at Reyniisfjara Beach. It is a famous black sand beach, with some impressive symmetrical basalt columns that look like a staircase, a cave, and some basalt cliffs that rise from the sea. A great place to see the sunrise. Just watch out for the unpredictable waves which can suddenly engulf the beach.

Eldhraum, Skaftafell and the Glacier Lagoon

glacier
Glacier Lagoon


Heading East, you will cross Eldhraum moss-covered lava fields and Skaftafell. At the border of Skaftafell lies the Glacier Lagoon. It is a lake filled with floating ice chunks, some say this is Iceland’s Crown Jewel. It’s difficult to stop watching all the different shapes of the icebergs, one even bigger than the other. In the end, they all have to pass the small river, to enter the sea. Don’t forget to visit the nearby Diamond Beach, where the ice lies on the black sand, glistening in the sun. Nearby the Glacier Lagoon lies a glacier tongue, which is also a recommended spot to visit. Both the Glacier Lagoon and the glacier tongue will look different each and every time you go.

Litlanesfoss and Hengifoss

Egilsstadir
Egilsstadir

Enjoy the drive along the cliffs of Iceland’s East coast when you’re heading north. When you pass Vatternes, you can make a stop-over to visit Petra’s stone collection, if you like stones. Otherwise, continue the drive inland, towards Litlanesfoss and Hengifoss. It’s a 2-hour walk from the parking lot to Hengifoss. You will pass Litlanesfoss halfway. They are magnificent waterfalls, surrounded by colourful and geometric rocks. Hengifoss is one of Iceland’s highest waterfalls, with 118 meter.
After this nice hike, drive back north, towards Egilsstadir to sleep. We can really recommend the cute, wooden tiny houses at Vinland Camping Pot.

Day 3

Drive towards Mývatn. The ring way does not follow the coastline, for a change, but takes you inland. You will pass abandoned farms and desolate land. But don’t forget to look out for waterfalls along the road, there are many.

Dettifoss

Another day another waterfall? Detifoss is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. So take your raincoat with you. The waterfall is over 100 metres wide, and have a drop of over 44 metres, causing heavy mist. Per second an average of 193 m³ water falls down.

Krafla Caldera

Krafla
Leirhnjúkur

Take your mosquito hat with you, when visiting the Krafla Caldera. Not only mosquitoes, but also the smell announces this piece of living earth from afar. It’s a collapsed, but still active volcanic area. The highlights are Leirbotn (the geothermal power station), Víti Maar (a volcanic crater with a green lake) and Leirhnjúkur (steaming sulphuric terrain and multi-coloured lava field).

Mývatn Nature Baths

Mývatn

After seeing the hot water from the outside, it’s time to take a bath. Just on the other side of the mountains lies Mývatn Nature Baths. This bath offers a completely natural experience while enjoying the rocky sceneries surrounding the baths. It has several baths, showers, saunas and a restaurant. What else do you need for your body and mind?

Hverfjall Crater

Near the eastern shore of Late Myvatn lies Hverfjall, a 396-meter high tephra explosion crater. You can walk up the slopes and around the crater’s rim and enjoy the view of the surrounding landscape. The crater has a diameter of 1 KM.

Dimmunorgir

Dimmunorgir
Dimmunorgir

Dimmunorgir lies just next to Hverffjall. It’s a park of unusually shaped lava fields because the lava pooled over a small lake. The water started to boil and formed lava pillars up to several meters in diameter.
Then it’s about time to head north to Iceland’s second largest city Akureyri. Here we’ll have some dinner and a good night of sleep.

Day 4

Whales on backboard!

Whale
Humpback whale

Akureyri is one of the world’s best places to watch whales. So rise and shine early, and make your way to the harbour or the towns a bit north to get on a boat and do some whale watching. Nature is always unpredictable, but during summer, and when it’s not too windy, it’s the best time to spot some giant whales, and also some dolphins.

Driving along the Westfhords

The Icelandic Wesfjords are spectacular. In the most remote location of Iceland, you’ll find gorgeous fjords. It’s also the perfect place to photograph some sheep or horses that live along the road. So enjoy the ride back West.

Hraunfossar and Barnafoss

Hraunfossar
Hraunfossar

Do stop over at the waterfalls. Although you might think you’ve seen most waterfalls, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are stunning in their own way. Hraunfossar trickles down directly from underneath a lava field.

Reykjavík

church
Hallgrímskirkja

Enjoy a nice dinner in Iceland’s capital Reykjavík. It’s filled with hipster restaurants, cafés, galleries and shops. Make use of the happy hour (just before dinner time), to enjoy an affordable beer and say cheers to making it back to Reykjavík!

Preparation

To do this itinerary, the only thing you need to prepare, next to booking your flight, is to rent a car, book a visit to Myvatn Nature Baths on your third day, book whale watching in Akureyri on your third day, and book hotels in Vík, Egilsstadir, Akureyri and Reykjavik.

Himeiji castle

Best itinerary for 4 unforgettable weeks in Japan

Are you ready for Japan?

U-erukomu! Are you ready for a modern world in the eastern part of the globe spread out over 6,000 islands? Get ready for an unending journey of temples, pagodas, modern art and high tech. But also neighbourhoods of samurais and geishas, Japanese gardens and a highly organized society? A world of fresh fish, the finest sushi, steaming ramen, tea ceremonies and strong sake? Continue reading about our adventures while travelling the land of the rising sun: Japan!

[japanad]

We spend our honeymoon in Japan, which made this journey extra special for us. This meant: reading many books and watching tons of movies before we dared to visit the country. We wanted to be sure that we were prepared our trip in the best way possible. We hope you can use our information to your advantage!

So, we share our itinerary, made a list of 11 tips for travelling Japan, a blog about food, Tokyo and Kyoto, what to pack, how to prepare and much more…

When to go?

Japan is beautiful in all seasons. Just know that Cherry blossom season is somewhere in March or April depending on the weather and the location. But there are dedicated websites to forecasting when the blossoming will start. But be aware that it will be busier around this time. The same goes for Golden Week, which is a national holiday from the 29th of April to early May. Summers are hot and humid and August is also the time of another public holiday. Autumn colors will start to appear at the end of September in the north, slowly making their way south.

Our Japan itinerary

We had a hard time puzzling the best itinerary for our four weeks in Japan. We wanted to visit as much of Japan as possible. As you know, we love culture, history, art and nature and wanted a perfect combination of this. Since Japan has a lot to offer in all these categories, tough choices had to be made. We like to hear if you have a more efficient itinerary than this one.

WEEK 1

Tokyo Asakusa
Tokyo Asakusa


We flew to Tokyo to start our trip and spend one long day in this big city, visiting museums of Japanese history and Western art, temples and pagodas. Also, we used Tokyo as our base for two-day trips: one to Kamakura, a coastal town packed with temples and Buddha’s and one to the shrines of Nikko.

Next, we explored and crossed the Japanese Alps. We had a pit-stop Nagano; spent a night in Matsumoto to visit its famous black castle and the birthplace of modern artist Yayoi Kusama. We hiked a day in Kamakochi, a popular resort with spectacular mountain scenery. Then, we crossed the Japanese Alps to the west coast. There, we stayed in Kanazawa, home to one of the best landscape gardens of Japan, an impressive modern art museum and a beautiful castle.

WEEK 2

Okunoin cementry
Okunoin cementry


From there our trip continued southwards by bullet train, to visit Osaka a vibrant and modern city; Kyoto, the former Imperial capital of Japan and Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital.
To learn more about the Japanese religion and the art of meditation, we did a tour in the mystical mountains in Koyasan, where we slept in a temple. From Kii-Tanabe we walked the Kumano Kodo, in the footsteps of the pilgrims.

WEEK 3

Naoshima
Naoshima


From the heart of those misty Mountains, it was a substantial train ride back to the inhabited world. We joined civilization again in Okayama to visit its garden and castle. Took the boat across the inland sea to Naoshima, an island bursting with modern art. On the way, we also visited the beautiful, white Himeji castle and Hiroshima with its Atomic bomb museum, and the Miyajima shrine. You know that famous shrine that you see on every Japan brochure.

WEEK 4

Blood Hell
Blood Hell


And from here, the always unpredictable nature of Japanese earth’s crust threw a spanner in the works of the last weeks of our trip. We planned to visit Kumamoto and its castle and from there Mount Aso with its active volcano before we would hit Beppu, the onsen heaven of Japan. However, because of an earthquake, Kumamoto’s castle was partially collapsed and the city was isolated from most train traffic. Also, the volcano of Aso was a bit too active, and therefore, tourists were not allowed nearby. That is why we choose to go to Beppu straight away and spent the two days that we saved on an extra Japanese garden in Takamatsu, a temple in Kyoto and a museum, all the way back in Kanazawa. Also, we visited Nagasaki, to another city hit by an atomic bomb, and also check out Dejima, the Dutch trading post from the 17th-19th century.

Okinawa beach
Okinawa


From Fukuoka, we planned to fly to Iriomote, one of Japan’s tropical islands to finish our trip on the soft and sandy bounty beaches, to snorkel and hike through the jungle of the remote island. However, because of a typhoon, flights and boats were cancelled, which got us stuck on the main island of Okinawa for three days. This gave us all the time to learn the secrets of healthy living from the oldest people in the world, living in Okinawa.

Just before we had to leave Japan, we spent two more days in Tokyo, to make sure we could check all the remaining highlights there and don’t feel too sad to head back to the other side of the world.

mirror room

Cultural baptism: Russia, how to prepare your visit.

To really get to know Russia, you need to interact with the people there. In the end, there is no real substitute for human interaction. But there are a lot of things you can do to make those meetings go smoother, like learning Russian, develop a common frame of reference and study Russian culture and history. Besides enhancing your stay there, it’s also a lot of fun. As Gustave Flaubert said; “Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.”

How to prepare for travelling to Russia? We gathered a unique list of books, movies, and music that grant you an insight into Russian culture and that will enrich your travels.

The links used are Amazon affiliate links. By buying through the links we may receive a commission for the sale. This has no effect on the price for you.

Movies

Alexander Nevsky (Aleksandr Nevskiy 1938)

The movie Alexander Nevsky portraits the failed Teutonic invasion in the 1241 and the successful resistance organised by Alexander Nevsky. This movie by legendary Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein portrays the early medieval times of Kievan Rus.

Brother (Brat 1997)

This gangster movie portrays the wild west 90’s after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s a low budget movie which quickly gained cult status in Russia. It was followed by the sequel Brother 2. If you like 90s action movies, this is for you.

Leviathan (Leviafan 2014)

Leviathan is a tragic movie dealing with corruption and love in present-day Russia. The film is set in the Murmansk region in the Artic circle. It’s a great film which will leave you utterly depressed.

Our Own (Svoi 2004)

Svoi is a movie set during the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. It deals with the moral dilemmas of war and the different allegiances of people. This was even harder in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union where brutal life under Stalinist rule was replaced by brutal fascism.

Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg 2002)

Are you going to the Hermitage museum or are you not able too? Anyway, watch this movie to marvel at all the wonders of the Winter Palace. The movie is filmed in one take and goes through the cities 300-year history.

Books

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is the Magnus Opus of Tolstoy and a colossal book. It tells the story of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) from the perspective of the Russian nobility. This novel is grand in its writing and scope. It is especially interesting for those planning to visit St. Petersburg and its many palaces as a big part of the book takes place here.

Apricot Jam and Other Stories – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Apricot Jam and Other Stories is a bundle of stories by Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The stories cover the tumultuous 20th century in Russia. From the Revolution to the Civil War and from the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) to the fall of the Soviet Union. It focuses on the people who are crushed and swept aside by the tides of history. The stories are tragic but also full of dark humour. This book is great to get an overview of the misfortune many people in Russia had to deal with during the previous century and gives some insight into the national psyche it developed.

The Road: Short Fiction and Essays – Vasily Grossman

The Road is another bundle of stories mainly covering the first half of the 20th century, this time written by Vasily Grossman. Vasily Grossman was a war correspondent and wrote first hand reports of many pivotal battles fought by the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War. The stories in this book cover the war, it includes the famous ‘The Hell of Treblinka’ a first-hand report of the liberation of the Nazi Death camp. But it also includes fictional stories about live under Communist rule and the hard choices and decisions forced upon its people. A great companion piece to Solzhenitsyn book to help you understand the harsh reality of life in the Soviet Union.

Day of the Oprichnik – Vladimir Sorokin

Day of the Oprichnik is a book that tells a fictional story about Russia in the near future. This dark parody seems to be a satire of present day Russia and the rule by Putin. Read this book because it’s a great work of fiction and also because it will give you an insight into present day Russian politics and its dark machinations.

Memoirs of Catherine the Great – Catherine the Great

Although the Memoirs of Catherine the Great only deal with the time before she became empress, it’s still a very interesting primary source to read. It gives a rare first-hand insight into live at the 18th century imperial Russian court. Read this if you want to know more about the woman who built the beautiful palace outside St. Petersburg and who started the gigantic art collection which formed the basis for the Hermitage Museum.

Music

Leningrad (Rock)

Leningrad makes popular rock music with strong language which celebrates but at the same time parodies contemporary Russian life. Especially their video clips are nice to watch as they play with Russian stereotypes.

Pharaoh (Rap)

Pharaoh is a young an upcoming Moscow rapper. As many rappers, he is mainly concerned with rapping about money and success but with a more nihilistic twists to his songs and videos.

Igor Stravinsky (Classical)

This Russian composer gained fame with his ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Our favourite is The Rite of Spring. Good music to get into Russian Ballet.

Monetochka (Pop)

Monetochka or Liza Gyrdymova, is Russia’s new pop star. The music sounds like what you would expect from 21st century pop music.

Dmitri Shostakovich (Classical)

Shostakovich was one of the most favoured composers of the Soviet regime. Although his relationship with the regime had its highs and lows. He composed ‘Suite on Finnish Themes’ to be played by the victorious Red Army marching through Helsinki. The Winter War was not successful, and it wouldn’t be played until 2001. He dedicated his seventh symphony to Leningrad, the city which would endure the longest siege during the Second World War.

Sergiev Posad by Night

UNESCO World heritage site review: Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad

The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is a still working Orthodox monastery and a popular site of pilgrimage and tourism. The monastery is the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is situated in the town of Sergiev Posad, about 75 km north from Moscow and part of Russia’s Golden Ring. The monastery is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site under the name ‘Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad’. We reviewed this site to let you know if it’s also an interesting site to visit as a tourist.

History

Sergiev Posad Trinity Lavra
Main square

Russia’s patron saint Sergius of Radonezh founded the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in 1337. Sergius developed the monastery according to his own charter, that specified which supporting buildings were necessary for the development of a monastery. This charter would be used by his followers to found hundreds of monasteries across Russia.

Serbian monks build the first stone cathedral, the Trinity Cathedral in 1422. In 1476 the church of the Holy Spirit was added to the complex. Several other buildings would be added in the 16th century which also saw the wooden palisade replaced by a stone towered wall. This was finished just in time to help the monastery survive the 16-month long Polish-Lithuanian siege in 1608.

In 1559 the building of the Assumption Cathedral started which would take 26 years to finish. It’s the only place where a Russian Tsar is buried, besides the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg and the Moscow Kremlin. The monastery would become one of the wealthiest landowners in Russia and would continue to be that until the end of the 19th century.

In the 17th century churches and buildings continued to be added. This expansion included several palaces and the giant refectory of St. Sergius, the largest hall in Russia at that time. The last major shrine was added in the 18th century by Empress Elizabeth who also commissioned the 88-meter-high bell tower.

Many patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox church are buried in the monastery. It functioned as their headquarter until 1983 when it was moved to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

Review

Beauty 4/5

Sergiev Posad Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is the embodiment of stereotypical Russian Orthodox architecture. It is colourful with soft salmon pink contrasted by hard dark blues and a range of other colours. The insides are filled with fresco’s leaving no spot untouched. Golden icons stare at you from all directions. The site is extravagant and in good condition. Although the site is over the top, we rate this site a 4 mainly for being so photogenic and pleasing to the eye.

Uniqueness 3.5/5

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius has an important place in the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s almost on the same level as the Vatican is for the Roman Catholic Church. Apart from this important place in history, the site feels a bit generic. This generic feeling is caused by the fact that most buildings are 18th-20th century restorations aimed to conform to the stereotypes of Orthodox architecture. If you travel the Golden Ring you will see more stunning examples of Orthodox architecture. This results in a score of 3.5 on uniqueness.

Experience 3/5

Sergiev Posad Bell tower


The site is an active monastery and a pilgrimage site. So, catering to tourists, especially international ones, is not the most important function. There are just some signs with the names of the different buildings in Russian and English. The rest of the information you will have to find in a guidebook or on the internet.

Disability:

The complex is accessible by wheelchair. There are smooth brick walkways to make getting around easier for everyone. Sadly, most churches have high stone stairs without ramps. There is a lack of overall signages and there are none for the visually impaired.

Value for money:

Access to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius monastery is free, so the value for money is great.
This all results in a 3 for the experience.

Location 4/5

Sergiev Posad by Night
Sergiev Posad by Night

Sergiev Posad lies 75km north of Moscow, an hour and a half drive if the traffic isn’t too busy. There are several train connections which also take around 1.5 hours. Sergiev Posad is part of the Golden Ring and as such is on many tourist itineraries. So, chances are high that you’ll visit it when you’re on an organised tour of Russia. This results in a score of 4 for location.

Overall rating 3.5/5

The site is photogenic and beautiful, but so are a lot of the other sites of the Golden Ring. The tourist experience isn’t that great because of the lack of information, as is the accessibility of this site. But it’s not that far from Moscow and fairly easy to include in your itinerary especially if you’re doing Russia’s Golden Ring. This all results in an overall score of 3.5

Kizhi Pogost

UNESCO World heritage site review: Kizhi Pogost

Kizhi Pogost is the most important tourist destination in Russian Karelia. But is it worth the visit? Globazine reviews this UNESCO World Heritage Site, exploring its history, beauty, uniqueness, and experience. Continue reading to learn more!

Kizhi Pogost is not a single building but three different ones. The pogost is the area within the wooden enclosure. Within this enclosure are two churches and one bell tower which together form Kizhi Pogost.

History

Kizhi Pogost Church
Kizhi Pogost Church

The religious significance of the island goes back further than the present-day churches. Before Christianity came to this area, pagan rituals were performed here. The earliest reference of churches on the island is 1496, then there were also two churches and one bell tower within the pogost. Lightning hit these buildings in 1693 and as a result they burned down.

The main building is the ‘church of the Transfiguration’. This church has 22 domes and is 37 meters high. It was the second church rebuild in the pogost and was finished in 1714. This church is the summer (Preobrazhenskaya) church for services during the summer since it’s not heated.

The winter (Pokrovskaya) church, the Church of the Intercession was the first church to be rebuilt and was finished in 1694. It would be rebuilt several times until it got its final present-day 9-dome shape in 1764.

The belfry, or bell tower, was only rebuilt in 1862 but deteriorated so fast that it needed to be rebuilt once again twelve years later. The surrounding fence serves no defensive purpose but only marks the area of the pogost.

The area started to function as an open-air museum from 1951 when monumental wooden buildings started to be transported to Kizhi.
Review

Beauty 4.5/5

Kizhi house
House near the water

Situated on a green island in Lake Onega in Russian Karelia, Kizhi Pogost is a perfect sight. It naturally fits in with its surroundings. Whatever the angle, this wooden church looks the part. The design is simple but beautiful. This results in a 4.5 out of 5.

Uniqueness 4.5/5

Wooden churches once were a common sight in northern Russia. But fire, destruction and neglect has destroyed most of them. Of the remaining wooden churches, none look so typical Russian Orthodox as Kizhi Pogost. But at the same time, its strangely different because of the wooden building material. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit Kizhi, try to visit the wooden churches of Suzdal, so you at least get an impression of Russian wooden churches. On uniqueness, Kizhi scores a 4.5 out of 5.

Experience 4.5/5

Kizhi farmers
Farmers working the field

Most people will get to Kizhi by boat, probably by hydrofoil. This is an exhilarating ride across a remote part of Russia. Apart from Kizhi Pogost, the island houses many other wooden structures kept here for preservation. This gives a good insight into how life used to be in this part of the world. During the summer season, people will exhibit typical professions, while traditionally dressed. There are a lot of signs in both English and Russian to explain the function of the different buildings and its origins. The staff usually is willing to tell more about the buildings, although language can be a barrier. There are audio guides available in English, Finnish, French and Chinese.

Disability:

The biggest hurdle for people in a wheelchair is getting to the island. The hydrofoils are cramped with limited facilities and extra space. There are alternatives, such as helicopter rides, but these are far more expensive. Contact the operators to get more information about the possibilities.
The island itself has hardened walkways between the different buildings. But most buildings have wooden stairs without ramps as an entrance. The audio guide can be used by the visually impaired to get information about the site.

Value for money:

Going to Kizhi is relatively expensive as you need both transport to the island and an entry ticket. Altogether this is around 50-euro pp. This is reasonable value for money as you get an exciting boat ride and a visit to a unique museum-reserve.

Location 2.5/5

Kizhi-hydrofoil
Hydrofoil

The best place to explore Kizhi from is Petrozavodsk which is 5 hours away by train from St. Petersburg. There are a limited number of trains per day and the train schedule makes it impossible to go here as a day trip. There are night trains to St. Petersburg and Murmansk. From Petrozavodsk, it’s another 1.5 hours by boat to get to Kizhi. So, it takes at least 1.5 days to visit this place. There are some organised tours from St. Petersburg, but most stick to the city and the surrounding palaces. The difficult reachability results in a 2.5 for the location.

Overall rating 4/5

Kizhi Pogost is a beautiful place that is a unique experience in Russia. Compared to other Russian tourist sites it’s well developed and friendly to tourists, providing a pleasant experience. The only downside is the relative remoteness of the site. This leads to an overall score of 4.

Kizhi Pogost
Sergev Posad

Here are the 9 highlights of the impressive Golden Ring

Moscow has its many ring roads driving you crazy while circling this huge metropolis. But a couple of hours outside Moscow lies another ring, the Golden Ring. This imaginary circle links several ancient Russian cities. These Golden Ring cities, once were the heart of Russian culture and power before the supremacy of Moscow. Most of these cities have been spared the devastation of the Second World War and Communism. They offer a rare opportunity to travel back in time to medieval Russia. And they make for ideal day trips from Moscow.

As it’s a circle, you can choose which way to go. We choose to go counter-clockwise as this maximizes our time and divides the days evenly. It’s also possible to do the Golden Ring by public transport but it’s easier to go by car. Alternatively, you can also join one of the organised golden ring tours. Most of the roads are in good condition and signage is both in Cyrillic and Roman alphabet. Since every phone is a sat nav, there shouldn’t be too many obstacles to navigating the Golden Ring. If you’re going to rent a car, try to get one in the eastern part of Moscow.

[russiaad]

1. Vladimir

Vladimir
Assumption Cathedral

The first stop is Vladimir some 180km east of Moscow. Expect a lot of traffic inside Moscow and on the M7 towards Vladimir. This will be one of the busiest parts of the Golden Ring road. If you leave early, you can be in Vladimir in the early afternoon.
Vladimir is said to be founded in 1108. During the second half of the 12th century, Vladimir experienced its Golden Age. This Golden Age lasted until the Mongol invasion of 1237. The Golden Horde sacked the city in 1238 and the city never truly recovered.

Assumption Cathedral

There are two cathedrals which survived all this carnage, both belong to the World Heritage of UNESCO. The most important one is the Assumption Cathedral. Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky built the cathedral in 1158. Inside some of the original 12th-century murals have been restored. This cathedral was the place where all Grand Princes of the Grand Duchy of Vladimir were crowned until Moscow became the seat of the Grand Princes in the 14th century. From then on, the coronations would take place in the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, which is a loose copy of this one.

Cathedral of Saint Demetrius

Cathedral of Saint Demetrius
Cathedral of Saint Demetrius

The second cathedral is the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius. It served as a private chapel of Grand Prince Vsevolod III Yuryevich and was part of his palace. Usually, most of the splendour of a cathedral is on the inside, but this cathedral stands out for its exquisite exterior. The stone caving of this cathedral is one of the best in Russia.

Golden Gate

The Golden Gate of Vladimir is the only surviving ancient city gate in Russia. Although much of the present-day building is the result of the 18th-century reconstruction by Catherine the Great.

2. Church of the Intercession on the Nerl

Church of the Intercession on the Nerl
Church of the Intercession on the Nerl


Just outside Vladimir lies a beautiful little church. The 12th century ‘Church of the Intercession on the Nerl’ was also built by Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky and looks a lot like the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius in Vladimir. It lies on an island in the Nerl river and is not reachable by car, so you must walk there. It’s a 15-minute walk through the flower-filled floodplain. The church is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the site White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal.

3. Suzdal

Suzdal
Suzdal

Some 35km to the north lies Suzdal, the ancient capital in a time when Moscow was just a small outpost. Suzdal was founded around 1024 and became the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal Principality in 1125. The capital moved to Vladimir in 1157 but it remained an active trade hub even after the Mongolian invasion. Suzdal was annexed by Moscow in 1392. From the 16th century onwards it became a religious centre. First, it was sponsored by the Tsars. Later, wealthy merchants tried to outdo each other by building dozens of churches. Thirty of these churches remain until this day.

Kremlin

Suzdal Kremlin
Suzdal

The Kremlin is the oldest part of Suzdal and dates back to the 10th century. This Kremlin can be seen as the predecessor of the more famous one in Moscow as it was from here that Grand Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy fortified Moscow and laid the basis for the Kremlin there.

Saviour Monastery of Saint Euthymius

The monastery was founded in 1352. Originally it had a wooden palisade but that was destroyed by the Poles. Nowadays it has a red brick wall from 1640. The monastery also had a prison, from the 19th century onwards this became its main function. Its most notable prisoner was the German field marshal Friedrich Paulus who was imprisoned here after the surrender of the 6th Army at Stalingrad. Both the Kremlin and the monastery are part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

4. Plyos

Plyos
Statue of Levitan overlooking the Volga

From Suzdal northwards, the road is much quieter. The next stop is Plyos, this small town on the banks of the Volga wouldn’t be that interesting if it wasn’t for the residence of Isaac Levitan. Levitan was one of Russia’s most famous landscape painters and painted many of his paintings in this town and its surroundings. There is a nice museum exhibiting his works. On top of a hill stands the ‘Wooden church of the resurrection’. From here you will have a marvellous view of the surrounding hills and the mighty Volga. And you will understand where Russian painters such as Levitan got their inspiration from.

5. Kostroma

Rurikid Prince Yury Dolgoruky also founded Kostroma in 1152. It became part of the Duchy of Moscow in the 14th century and served as a refuge for the grand dukes in time of danger. Mikhail Romanov spent 13 years in exile here, until he was offered the Russian throne and started the Romanov dynasty.

Ipatievsky Monastery

Kostroma
Ipatievsky Monastery

The monastery is the main sight of Kostroma. It was founded in the early 14th century. It was in this monastery that Mikhail Romanov lived and excepted the Russian throne. His wooden house is still preserved and can be visited. Many of the buildings here were sponsored by the Romanov who paid tribute to the place where they rose to power.
In the centre of the city lies the Susaninskaya Ploshchad square. Here lied the Kremlin until a great fire destroyed most of the city in 1773. Catherine the Great redesigned the city including the great central market with all its arcade just south of the square.

6. Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl
Yaroslavl

Further upriver lies Yaroslavl. This industrial city was a place of early Viking activity in the 9th century. Yaroslavl the Wise, Grand Prince of Kiev, founded the city at the turn of the 11th century. It remained a small trading town in the Principality of Rostov until 1218 when it became its own principality. It would remain independent until 1463 when it was absorbed by Moscow. Nothing remained of this time as the Golden Horde razed and burned the city a couple of times. The city saw more destruction in the 20th century. First in the Russian Civil war and later in the Second World War by German bombing. What remained or was restored now is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.

Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour

The oldest buildings of Yaroslavl are in the ‘Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour’. The monastery itself was founded in the 12th century but the oldest remaining buildings, the Holy Gate and the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, date from 1516.

Annunciation Cathedral

The Annunciation Cathedral dates to 1215, the present-day building, however, is a 2010 reconstruction as Communists destroyed the original cathedral in 1937. Next to the cathedral lies the new Strelka Park, a popular spot for Russians to spend their evenings walking along the Volga.

John the Baptist Church

Monastery of Saviour and Saint Jacob
John the Baptist Church

The most beautiful church in Yaroslavl and one of our all-time favourites is the ‘John the Baptist Church at Tolchkovo’. It lies on the other side of the river surrounded by industrial buildings. Nevertheless, it’s worth the detour. The church has 15 domes and extensive frescoes inside. Sadly, the frescoes look like they are deteriorating due to mould and water damage. So, visit this church now when it’s still in decent shape and contribute to the funds to care for the building. This church is also depicted on the banknote of 1,000 roubles.

7. Rostov

As we head south towards Moscow, we drive towards Rostov. Nowadays a sleepy provincial town, but one of the oldest cities in Russia. The main sight is the beautiful Kremlin.

Kremlin

Rostov
Rostov

The Rostov Kremlin was founded in the 12th century but most buildings are from the 17th century. The Kremlin is dominated by the Assumption Cathedral with a big bell tower. The largest bell weighs a stunning 32,000 kilos and is named Sysoy.

Monastery of Saviour and Saint Jacob (Spaso-Yakovlevsky Monastery)

On the outskirts of the city alongside Lake Nero lies the Spaso-Yakovlevsky Monastery. This colourful monastery was founded in the 14th century but the oldest building is from the 17th century. You can climb the walls for a great view of the lake and the monastery itself.

8. Pereslavl-Zalessky

Some 70km to the south lies Pereslavl-Zalessky. This lakeside town is the birthplace of Alexander Nevsky who would successfully battle German and Swedish invaders. And Lake Pleshcheyevo is considered the birthplace of the Russian fleet. Here Peter the Great built his toy fleet and developed his obsession for the sea.

Kremlin

Pereslavl
Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour

The Kremlin is little more than a grass ring, but within is one of Russia’s oldest buildings, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour from 1152. It’s a small church in a similar style as the little, but beautiful, churches of Vladimir.

Botik Museum

Just outside the town lies the Botik Museum, dedicated to Peter the Great’s toy fleet. One of the buildings houses one of the two remaining ships, the rest was destroyed.

9. Sergiev Posad

The last stop is Sergiev Posad. Named after Russia’s patron saint Sergius of Radonezh, it is the holiest town in Russia. Until 1983 it was the seat of the Russian Orthodox church.

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

Sergiev Posad by night
Sergiev Posad by night


The spiritual centre of the city and of Russia is the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius monastery. It was founded in 1337 and grew ever greater until the Russian revolution when it was closed. Nowadays it’s once again an active monastery.
The monastery is colourful and photogenic. The most important churches are the Trinity Cathedral built in 1422 and the Cathedral of the Assumption built in 1585. Here you find the grave of Tsar Boris Godunov.

Now we have completed the Golden Ring and most of its highlights. It’s time to return to Moscow and its big city life.

Golden RIng