G is for Germany

Germany is many things to many people.  Depending on your age, your nationality and your interests, it might be a place you would avoid like the plague, can’t wait to see, or go to for a specific thing only.

For me, Germany has family connections several generations back when my father’s great grandfather came from Silesia, then part of Germany, to begin a new life in South Australia.  Whilst I did not get to Silesia (now a part of Poland) on my travels, I did come to really like and appreciate Germany a great deal.

I spent a month travelling through Germany.  What is most notable is the difference between north and south.  The northerners don’t count the southerners as Germans! They are Bavarians!   You will also discover that things you see in the south are not necessarily to be found in the north.  Buy wood carvings in the south; they don’t exist in the north.  And where France has a patisserie on every corner, in Germany it is an apothecary – a chemist!

While there are lots of differences, there are many things to recommend a visit to Germany.  The precision engineering is to be seen everywhere, on the autobahns, in the railway system, and in the car manufacturing.   Even the factory design will amaze you at the BMW headquarters in Munich.  That know how has been put to great use reconstructing towns and village destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.  You would almost not know it had happened so well recreated have towns been.

History buffs will love the flamboyant castles of Ludwig II in Bavaria. Neuschwanstein Castle ( the one Disney modelled his Fantasyland castle after) is just up the road from his father’s castle Hohenschwangau.  And his other castles, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee are worth a look as well.  Near to Neuschwanstein is Oberammergau, the town which hosts the Passion play every ten years in thanks for being spared the plague in the middle ages.
Another kind of history is to be found at Dachau with a visit to the concentration camp there.  A truly sobering reminder of what humans are capable of doing to each other.  You will also find WWII history in Nuremburg, which is a beautiful medieval town in its own right, and has the added layer of the rallies.

Neuschwanstein jpeg

If it is scenery you are after, Germany has it in spades.  The Alps will inspire you, the Romantic road charm you – my favourite place is Rothenburg – a walled city frozen in time and just delightful.  Check out the Christmas shop, open all year round.

Rothenburg

The Rhine is the lifeblood of trade and much of tourism in Germany and the cruise along the river will show you dramatic gorges, castles and vineyards.

And for those of you with a literary bent, see the statue of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, or the Bremen Town musicians in the north and visit Gutenberg’s  original printing press in Mainz.

Bremen town musicians

Germans also know how to party.  Join the Oktoberfest (held in September!) in Munich, and if you are not travelling at the right time for that, any beerhall will show you strong ladies carrying up to eight steins at a time.

Beer cellars

One of the joys of travel is stumbling across something unexpected.  I was in Trier for a few hours en route to somewhere else and discovered the city was celebrating 1000 years as a city (it was a while ago!)  I stopped and had a glass of wine in its honour, and got to see the Roman Porta Negra or Black Gate also in Trier.
I climbed to the top of the tower of the thirteenth century Cologne Cathedral to see the views  and discovered the stone set at the top to mark its completion 632 years later!   And the locals in the very upmarket bars are very happy to disport amazing hair styles and colours.

Cologne cathedral and bridge

I have barely touched what there is to see and do in Germany.  You may be pleasantly surprised at what it has to offer.

F is for France

 

France has long been a favourite destination for travellers from all over the world, and with good reason.

Whilst Paris is inundated with 3 million plus visitors a year, it still manages to keep a sense of itself.  Thoroughly sophisticated and surprisingly outdoorsy for a northern capital, Paris delights in its local markets – fabulous cheeses, fresh crusty baguettes that are simply never eaten the next day, and fabulous patisseries that are a feast for the eyes as much as the tastebuds.

The tourist and traveller alike will see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, go to see a show at the Moulin Rouge and  visit the Louvre.  But a traveller also will grab a local train or bus and find green spaces, explore the amazing cemeteries to see the resting places of famous French figures and lots of cats,  walk the streets of the local neighbourhoods and eat at the bistros that will serve local food.  Take a walk around the Left Bank, sip a coffee and people watch.

paris-by-night-notre-dame

Beyond Paris explore the Loire Valley for chateaux like Chenenceau and Amboise;  drop in to see the gothic cathedral in Chartres or closer to Paris do the combined Versailles and Monet’s garden tour.  Yes this is touristy, but absolutely worth it for both places.

History lovers will check out the battlefields of World War I and the landing beaches of World War II in the north.

caen-landing-beaches

Those wanting more spiritual succour will visit the beautiful Mont St Michel, see where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake or visit Lisieux Basilica or the Bayeux tapestry which isn’t a tapestry at all.   Explore the Celtic connections with Wales, Ireland and Scotland in Brittany.

For remote, untouched villages and towns the Massif Central will give you a glimpse into life as it has been for centuries.  Just make sure your brakes are really good as it is a steep climb to most of the villages.  Bordeaux on the coast offers entrée to the wineries of the region;  and if wine is your thing, Beaune will do the same on the Swiss side.

In the south, the Roman influence is strong.  Visit Pont Du Gard, Nimes, Avignon for the fourteenth century papal place and bump into Roman arenas where the local kids play soccer.  Rub shoulders with film stars in Cannes if you are there at the festival time, explore the English Promenade in Nice and get lost in the wilderness of the Camargue and explore Carcassonne,  a fabulous walled city.  And lavender fields abound in the perfume making areas.

carcasonne

So much to do.  So much to see.  So much to taste.  Get amongst it.

E is for Ecuador

Named for the Equator this South American country is one of those somewhat overlooked places.

The capital Quito, built on the ruins of an Inca city,  is one of the highest capitals in the world, perched in foothills of the Andes Mountains at 2850 metres.   With its Spanish conquistador history and impressive colonial churches  and fascinating old town area, one of the delights of Quito is the colourful local markets with great fruit and brightly decorated ceramics.  Further out explore ruins of ancient civilisations.

trevors-service-and-galapgos-ecuador-photos-003

Take a drive to the equator itself and you have an impressive monument of the actual line of the equator and several museums recounting the history of the exploration of the equator.  You can straddle both hemispheres here.

trevors-service-and-galapgos-ecuador-photos-005

Ecuador is home to one of the most remarkable island systems on the planet – the Galapagos Islands.  A flight due west from Quito will bring you to the main island and from there the best way to see the islands is on a cruise.  Manned by expert guides who will explain this unique island chain and ecosystem, you will explore several islands and meet the local marine iguanas, bright red crabs, multitudes of seabirds, and possibly the amazing equatorial penguin.   Nowhere else can you get so close to wildlife.  Not hunted by men or feral animals, you can literally walk centimetres from birds on nests and past sealions basking on the steps on the back of your boat.  It is the place that crystallised Charles Darwin’s work Origin of the Species and revolutionised our understanding of how life evolved on earth.  Check out the blue footed boobies, again unique to these islands.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Let Ecuador delight you in so many ways.

D is for Denmark

Denmark is one of the Scandinavian countries  on the north coast of Europe.  Largely flat and with lots of waterways, its coastal position has meant trade over a long period of time.  Copenhagen the capital has been lauded in song, and is indeed quite lovely.  The old port area of Nyhavn is a colourful and interesting walking area for shops and ships.  Take the canal trip and see the city from the water that is its lifeblood.

Home to the royal family, the four matched Amalienborg Palaces forming a square are worth a look, and keep an eye out for Frederick and Mary and the kids!  Hans Christian Andersen made the Little Mermaid famous, and her statue is on the waterfront, but if you are expecting something huge it is not.  Look out for great Danish ceramic ware predominantly in blue and white.  Elsinore castle is the model for Hamlet’s castle.  And the Tivoli Gardens will entertain and feed you very happily.

tivoli-denmark

A train ride away is Odense the birthplace of Denmark’s favourite son Hans Christian Andersen.  You can see his home as a museum now.  Denmark also gave us the lego block.  Legoland in Billund is an entire country made out of lego bricks.  See scale models of the Amalienburg Palaces, landmarks worldwide and star wars and marvel at how much work goes into this place.

If history is your thing, checkout the Grauballe Man in Aarhus in Jutland the north.  When he was first found in 1952, the police thought they had a murder on their hands.  It turns out however that the body is from somewhere about the third century BCE and was remarkably well preserved. The orange hair is coloured by the bog he was found in.

And of course no visit to Denmark can miss the Grauballe Man.  Enjoy!

 

Canada East

Whilst most people are very familiar with the West Coast of Canada, the eastern side offers a great deal as well.

Toronto is the main entry city for the eastern side of Canada and is well worth a look.  On the shores of the great lakes, renowned for being quite windy, and with the impressive Toronto Tower for spectacular views the city, like most eastern Canadian cities, boasts an entire underground city.  It is so cold during winter the underground malls with their shops and cafes become the streets the locals use to get between buildings and city blocks.

For many people Toronto is the jumping off point to visit Niagara Falls.  One of the three great waterfalls of the world, and like the other two straddling two countries, the falls have an impressive amount of water over them.  However the town itself is less than pleasant.

Much better is the little town of Niagara on the Lake about 25 -30 minutes’ drive from the falls themselves.  This little gem is very pretty with gorgeous trees and green areas.  It hosts a George Bernard Shaw festival in the summer and is a much nicer base to see the falls.

niagara-on-the-lake

And by the way, Niagara is best seen from the Canadian side where the views are.  The Maid of the Mist will get you wet, so take a waterproof camera if you want to get photos and not destroy your camera.

The French first settled the eastern area of Canada and their influence is particularly strong in Quebec and Montreal.  Montreal is a university town and their park was designed by the same man as Central Park in New York.

lafontaine-park-downtown

Alive with students, music, festivals and energy this is a great city to get lost in.  The cathedral in downtown Montreal was where Celine Dion was married – it is her local church.

The capital of Ontario is Ottawa, and one of my favourite places.  The city boasts gorgeous architecture, the amazing Rideau Canal that the locals use as a skating rink to work in winter, and quite possibly the best museum I have ever experienced in the Museum of Civilisation.

Across the river in French speaking Ottawa ( but everyone speaks some English) the Museum has an impressive atrium with a range of totem poles from all over Canada, telling the history of the First Nations.  But the museum itself is one long pathway through the exhibits that you cannot get lost on, even if you take a detour to explore one of the offshoot exhibits.  It tells the story of Canada beginning with prehistoric Canada and ending in the departure lounge of Vancouver airport – just amazing.

canadian-museum-of-civilization-ottawa-49310

Quebec City is the only walled city in North America.  You can walk almost the whole way round with the exception of one small area.  The wall was designed to protect the people from the English – which it did to a limited extant until the English prevailed.  You can see the fortifications and place where the battles took place.  Great views over the St Lawrence River, and views across the city to the fabulous Hotel Chateau de Frontenac, one of the most photographed landmarks in North America.

remparts-ville-de-quebecLe Petit Champlains district is the oldest and most French quarter in the city.  Cobbled streets and lovely old houses, as well as shops and restaurants.  And if you have a death wish, or your cholesterol levels are so low they need some boosting,  the local speciality is poutine –  fries cheese and gravy – nicknamed heart attack on a plate!

poutine

Quebec City is the beginning point for cruises along the St Lawrence River through the Canadian maritimes and places like Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables country.  They generally end in Boston.

The eastern provinces of Canada may not have the Rocky Mountains and the spectacular scenery but it makes up for it with history, charm, an elegance of style and gentle beauty.

Go in autumn and be wowed by the fall colours.  You will not regret your journey.

C is for Canada

For Australians, Canada has an unmistakable attraction, and for all sorts of great reasons.

Canadians share a similar system of Government, they know who the Queen is, and they have a similar sense of humour.  Add to that a natural politeness their cousins to the south seem to have forgotten, and Canadians are amongst the most welcoming and friendly people you will meet.

Add to that a country that is simply spectacular in scenery, rich in history and very easy to navigate and you have one of the most popular countries for Australians – actually for anyone- to visit.

From west to east, north to south Canada offers a huge range of possibilities for the traveller.  Most people will enter Vancouver as their first port of call crossing the Pacific. Surrounded by sea, boasting the fabulous Stanley Park as home to recreation for the Vancouverites and offering every modern amenity, Vancouver is a very liveable city.  Check out the Granville Markets and cross by tub boat if you want a truly unique experience!  Visit Gastown for Vancouver’s history and explore the local shops, bars and restaurants. Capilano suspension bridge and now the skywalk on the edge will get you to dizzying heights over the gorge.  Vancouver is also the main gateway for the Alaska Inside Passage cruises.

p1040399

Capitol of British Colombia is Victoria on Vancouver Island.  It is possible to fly in or take a ferry.  The Parliament building dominates the harbour, as does the gorgeous Fairmont Empress Hotel.  Victoria boasts the only runway that closes for whales who have right of way over the seaplanes.  Famous for the Butchart Gardens, hundreds of thousands of people experience the beauty of these gardens created from a disused quarry every year.  Absolutely required viewing!

P1040314

If it is scenery you are after, look no further than the Rocky Mountains. Whistler for skiing and also summer activities, Sun Peaks for skiing as well, and the world renowned towns of the Rockies – Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper.  Mountains clad in snow or wildflowers and trees, lakes of emerald water, wildlife abounding.  The Athabasca snowfields will amaze.

p1040453

If you love your trains, the Rocky Mountaineer is hard to beat, but Canada’s ViaRail will also allow you to explore the country as well.  Rail to Whistler and into the north mountains at Quesnel, and try the transcontinental train from Vancouver to Toronto if you really love rail travel.

On the western edge of the continent lies the Yukon.  Gold has shaped the history of the province and for those with the urge to get off the beaten tourist track, this is a place of wide vistas and great adventures.

Speaking of outdoors – the Calgary Stampede is an annual spectacle in August.  Covered wagon races, First Nations culture and lots of fun for everyone.  Next time  -Eastern Canada.

B is for Belgium

Sometimes subsumed into what is called the Benelux countries  (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) Belgium is a small country with a big impact.  It is well worth a week of your time to explore and get to know this little gem.  It offers much more than chocolate, waffles and pommes frites with bearnaise sauce!

Tucked up in the north-western corner of Europe, France to its west and The Netherlands and Luxembourg alongside, this country boasts a long tradition of commerce and wealth because of it. The capital Brussels is at one end of the Eurostar so it is easy to get to from London and Paris.  It is home to the European Union Parliament and its very tiny but world-famous statue and fountain, Manneken Pis. Over time it has become a tradition for visiting heads of state to donate miniature versions of their national costume for the little naked boy. The wardrobe of Mannekin Pis can be seen at the Brussels museum and includes over 760 outfits – even an authentic Elvis jumpsuit. The main square the Grand Place, including the Town Hall is a focal point and jumping off point for sightseeing.  Numbers of museums covering just about anything Belgian are close by.

Image result for manneken=pis images Elvis jumpsuit

If you are there at the right time, every second year in August – plan for 2018, Brussels hosts the floral carpet festival.  Each festival is themed and the Grand Place is awash with the floral carpets.

For those with an artistic bent, Rene Magritte has a museum in Brussels.  For those who love their literature, try the Belgian Comic Strip Centre and check out Tintin and the Smurfs with your kids.  And as with every European capital, there are several beautiful cathedrals, basilicas and churches to check out.  Try the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Notre dame du Sablon.

Belgium was in the thick of the first World War.  The fields of Flanders hold many connections and memories for soldiers of many countries including Australia and there are some major memorial sites.  Whilst many of the 100 year commemorations were held last year, 2017 and 2018 will also have significance in many areas.  The battles of Passchendaele, Bullecourt and Messines, and the third battle for Ypres were fought in 1917 with huge loss.  Don’t forget to see the Menin gate.

Image result for Menin gate images

Two towns beyond Brussels in addition to the Flanders area that are well worth the visit are Bruges and Ghent.  Whilst less well known than Bruges, Ghent is a merchant city with a great deal of history.  Take the 40 minute Graslei and Korenlei boat trip to see the medieval heart of the city.  Check out the museum of cloth- Belgian lace at its best.

Bruges is a must see.  A beautiful medieval city with canals and winding waterways, it is also a good beginning point for daytrips to the Flanders battlefields.  In the city check out the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and the very early Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady.

The Markt is the place for food and to be seen.  A guided walking tour with local will give you insights into the city.

And don’t forget to try the pommes frites with one of their array of sauces.  Yum!