Subscribe to isango! RSS feed
World’s leading site for travel experiences - Tours, Activities, Shows, Excursions and more
Find amazing experiences Book before you go. Local rates. Handpicked suppliers Find out more >>
We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Sightseeing & Culture’

Tuscany – A Many Faceted Jewel

0

What do you say about the Tuscany region of Italy that has not already been said, written, painted, photographed or filmed?  As a visitor it is impossible to decide what to see and what to skip – and you don’t want to miss any of it.  There is so much embedded in the place that you could spend an entire summer exploring just one facet of this fascinating part of Italy.  It is not an area that you can cross off your bucket list with a casual ‘been there, done that.’

Tuscany is located in the west-central region of Italy with a coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea.  It is crisscrossed by several mountain chains including the Apennines.  The mountains and hills make up more than 65% of the region and that distinguishes and defines Tuscany.  Its achingly beautiful multi-hued rolling hills capture your heart like no other.  It also partly explains why it is the most visited part of Italy.

Even the diversity of the climate seems made for your pleasure.  The coastal region is fair and mild; blessed with wonderful beaches and magical coastlines.  Away from the coast, among the mountains, it can get very cold in winter.  This fluctuation in temperatures and weather cycles combined with its soil and agricultural output once made Tuscany the main food source for Ancient Rome.  Today it is also probably the vineyard of the country.

Tuscany has many famous and notable towns but the large and important cities have grown and developed on the banks of the River Arno.  Their names – Florence (aka Firenze), Empoli, Pisa, Siena, Livorno, Viareggio – roll off the tongue like poetry (even if your Italian isn’t good) and conjure up images of splendour.

The region had a civilization and culture long before that of Rome.  Known as the Etruscans (from where the name Tuscany is probably derived) they developed an enduring cultural (and language) identity that survives till this day.  This long, rich and vibrant history has turned the whole region into a veritable museum and storehouse of extraordinary art – whether it is architecture, painting or sculpture – all masterpieces.

So numerous, wondrous and well-preserved are the historical, artistic and cultural legacies that UNESCO has designated seven whole areas as World Heritate Sites! They are the Historic Centre of Florence; the Historical Centre of Siena; the Cathedral of Pisa and the Piazza dei miracoli (square of miracles); the Historical centre of San Gimignano (a hilltop village with 14 fantastic towers); the Historical centre of Pienza; the Val d'Orcia and the Medici Villas and Gardens.
 
One could go on and on about Tuscany’s churches, palaces, villages and piazzas.  The region has an incredible number of amazing towns like Pisa and its leaning Tower and Cathedral Square and the renowned Uffizi Gallery and Museum but the two shining jewels in this glittering land are Florence and Siena.  

Florence is the birthplace of Renaissance and two incredible men – Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.  These three factors alone would have made many other renowned cities culturally rich.  However, Florence is also the beneficiary of the wealth, power and extraordinary legacy of the Medici family.  Without them Florence would not be what it is. Their efforts and patronage either directly or indirectly spawned the Florentine School of art with such alumni as Fra Angelico, Botticelli and a host of others.

TuscanySiena is another great treasure chest.  Its rich artistic tradition generated the Sienese School.  It’s well-preserved art and architecture date from the medieval period.  An outstanding example of the city’s artistic richness is its huge and beautiful shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the Cathedral and the Palazzo Pubblico.

Tuscany however, is not all art and architecture.  The other face to the region is its natural side.  Travel across the rolling hills with their quilt patchwork of olive groves and vineyards; the changing colours of the fields and forests; the fairy tale houses of the small towns and villages and past the picturesque gardens of the villas and you will feel that you are imbibing the Tuscan essence through every sense.

Tuscany has over 120 protected nature reserves and parks.  They are home to some of Europe’s oldest forests.  One of the most beautiful is Pinocchio’s Park.  Carlo Collodi, the creator of The Adventures of Pinocchio, took his pen name from his mother’s village – Collodi.  The Park has lovely winding pathways that are populated with statues of characters from the story.

There are other things you can do and experience in Tuscany.  You can indulge in gastronomic tours and sample (or gorge on) the fabulous food.  Each district seems to cook things their own way, producing their own distinct flavours.  Then you could get well and truly happy by signing up for a wine tasting tour.  This is after all, Chianti country.  The region boasts over 30 wines!  Don’t get me started on this aspect of Tuscany.  I could spend a whole summer just doing wine tours!

No matter what you do, where you go or what you see, one thread binds all of Tuscany – stunning beauty!

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Native New Yorker – When in Italy

0

 

Native New Yorker – When in Italy

 

rome

Before my fall break started I had an elaborate plan to go to Italy alone, since none of my friends had planned to go. Then a thought passed through my head: “All my photos are going to be selfies!” Not that there is anything wrong with a good old selfie, but what is Rome without a classic (full-body) shot at Trevi Fountain. Luckily, my friend Jen decided that she would join me on my 4 city escapade. She was going to meet me at Roma Termini Monday morning. The only thing I had to do was to endure a 16-hour train ride.
 

When I was waiting for my train in Paris everything seemed great. Things quickly went downhill when I couldn’t find my compartment. After getting off the train, running back to where I began and almost missing the train I was able to find where I’d be spending the next 16 hours. I was in a 6-berth cabin but had no clue how all 6 of us were supposed to sleep that night.
 

Lesson 1:  When riding a train for more than 4 hours bring lots of entertainment. Even though I handled the train like a champ, at least every three hours I wished I would have done things the easy way and flown into Rome. You can read the same Cosmopolitan magazine only a number of times before going crazy. Every time I woke up I hoped it was the next day and I'd be in Rome but found that only about 45 minutes had passed since I’d dozed off. Bring a book or tablet/laptop full of films and music to pass the time.

Lesson 2: Don’t freak out when someone comes to collect your passport. One of the train operators came by to pick up everyone’s passport and at first I politely refused to let her take mine. At this moment everyone in my cabin knew I was American. There is something unsettling about not having my passport near me. After going back and forth for a few minutes, the operator convinced me that I would get it back before the train stopped in Rome.

Lesson 3: If you are on the top bunk that is where you’ll stay for the rest of the night. Since it was a 6 person cabin, the top beds were already pulled down and the middle ones had to be situated before everyone could sleep. Being clueless I let everyone else situate the beds and quietly climbed to the top. To my surprise when I wanted to get down someone had moved the ladder, so I had to jump off hoping I wouldn’t break any bones when landing.

Luckily I was able to get comfortable eventually and sleep until we stopped at Roma Termini. It was only a miracle that my friend Jen and I found each other in the crowd. Our Roman adventure was ready to begin.

What We Did In Rome

We had no clue what we wanted to do in Italy besides eat and then eat some more, see the Vatican, and then eat again. The first day we had our taste of real Italian pizza, which was everything I had dreamed of and more. After satisfying our stomachs we took a walk to Trevi Fountain; the site gets super crowded during the day and everyone wants to pose for a snap in front of it. Most people don’t stay for too long making room for other sightseers, so get your tourist photo taken and move on.

colosseum

Next stop on our Roman holiday was of course the Colosseum. If you want an amazing photo by the ancient structure, it’s best to climb up the hill behind it. This way solo travelers can take a proper selfie with the Colosseum and the Rome skyline behind. Unfortunately there was some construction work going on and we were not able to appreciate the architecture in all its glory, but what we did see blew us away. Even though I didn’t go into the Colosseum, watching the sunset over Rome in that very spot was more than enough.

Tour Colosseum and Ancient Rome with Isango! 

After taking in all that ancient beauty Jen and I were ready to eat again and I don’t believe I can eat pasta again without thinking about Italy. Traditional Italian pasta is so rich you can practically taste the love that has gone into making it. For dessert, even though we were full to the point of our pants nearly ripping, we had our first taste of gelato. I had double rich chocolate and before that day I don’t think what I’ve been eating in America is chocolate. I may have been full from dinner but I refused not to eat every bit of that gelato. It was a perfect way to end day one in Roma.

sistine

Day two and we were off to the Vatican. I had been advised beforehand to get there early because it would take at least an hour to get in. Surprisingly, it only took us 30 minutes. The best time to go is during the week in the afternoon. I was happy to find there was a student discount available, which made my visit all the more enjoyable. As you make your way through the museum which leads to the Sistine Chapel you can feel the anticipation of the masses, and it's contagious even if you haven't dreamt of seeing the site for years like I had. Once inside, I found myself in awe of the place: seeing the colorful, mesmerizing frescos covering the walls and the ceiling is a memory I will never forget.

Skip the Lines at the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel 

St. Peter’s Basilica was on the agenda next. If you happen to visit on a Wednesday, you have the chance to attend the Wednesday General Audience held in St. Peter’s Square and see the pope. During winter the audience is held in the Paul VI Hall just left to the square.

With the sun still out we made our way to an area called Trastevere. At first it doesn’t seem like much is going on, but if you venture into the side streets you will find hidden gems. From shops, cafes and people selling handmade jewelry it is a beautiful area to get lost in. After a nice stroll we decided to return to Trevi Fountain to witness it in all its glory. It’s one thing to see Trevi Fountain during the day, but at night it is simply magical. The fountain is all lit up, the crowd is calm and dozens of people are making wishes and throwing coins into the fountain. This was the perfect moment to make a wish at the fountain. Legends say if you tell someone your wish it won’t come true, so I’ll keep mine a secret. 

See all that The Eternal City has to offer with Isango!

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Exploring New Jerusalem

0

New and old are relative concepts in Jerusalem.  Wherever you go, in this historic city, the ‘old’ and the ‘new;’ the modern and ancient live in close proximity.  As a visitor it is sometimes difficult to sort out which is which.  There is so much history and religion embedded in every stone, wall and street that it can be a little overwhelming.

Though the Old City of Jerusalem is only 0.9 square kilometres in size, it attracts all the tourist attention.  There is another side to this town though, which is pleasantly at odds with the universal perception.  It has a good mix of ethnic and cultural attractions.  The food is just as varied while the nightlife is a big draw for the young Israelis and foreigners.

The generally accepted ‘new’ Jerusalem includes the neighbourhoods that came up during the last decades of the 1800s.  Some of these localities are Even Yisrael, the German Colony, Yemin Moshe, Me’a She’arim, Makhane Yisra’el, Nakhla’ot, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Ein Karem (an artists’ colony), Komemi’ut, Rekhavia, the Bukharian Quarter and the Ethiopian Quarter.  They are only a very short drive from downtown Jerusalem and you can cover several of them

They were built in and around ancient villages and kept the winding streets, stone houses and look and feel of the original surroundings.  Here in narrow alleys bordered by cypress groves you can sip cappuccinos at charming cafés or have brunch next to art and antique studios.  The shops of jewellers, potters and a whole lot of other artisans featuring different world traditions are interspersed with restaurants dishing out exotic and enticing Middle Eastern fare.

Oh yes!  The food in these parts is simply amazing and worth doing a tour just to get your fill and find the source of the tempting aromas that waft out as you passes by.

Escaping the ever present reminders of the world’s three great religions is almost impossible but a hike through the picturesque hills around Ein Sataf in the Jerusalem Forest and Abu Ghosh nearly accomplishes it.  Nearly but not completely because you just might find yourself amongst tourists clicking photos of each other around a spring that is reputed to be where Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist are supposed to have met.

Outside Old Jerusalem there are several sites related to the New Testament and Jesus.  The Mount of Olives is the site of the oldest – still in use – Jewish cemetery from the time of the Canaanites.  Apart from being the place where Jesus was arrested it offers a fantastic view of Old Jerusalem and its holy sites.  Then there is the chapel on the legendary site where Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven, the Pater Noster Church, Dominus Flevit, Garden of Gethsemane and Mary’s Tomb.

If you are into museums then New Jerusalem has a whole host – around 60 of them.  They offer Islamic Art, biblical archaeological discoveries, recreations of life from the time of Jesus and exhibitions dedicated to the holocaust and the fascinating Dead Sea Scrolls.

To name some of the museums:  The Israel Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Bloomfield Science Museum, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Rockefeller Museum, the Bible Lands Museum, the Islamic Art Museum, the Old Yishuv Court Museum, the Armenian Museum and the Museum of Italian Jewish Art.  monastery of the crossOther attractive places are the Monastery of the Cross, the Supreme Court, Ammunition Hill, the Knesset, and the Makhane Yehuda Market.

New Jerusalem’s night life is also well and kicking in the German Colony, the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Shlomtsiyon HaMalka Street, and the Russian Compound.

If you know where to go or know someone who knows and is willing to take you then you enter a wonderfully different world (beyond the religious) that offers character, history and fulfilment far from the spiritual.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Native New Yorker: The Best Things to do in New York

0

 

Here at Isango we love New York, a city that has so much going on it can feel dizzying at times trying to decide where to go and what to see. Lucky for us our new intern Christasia is from NYC and ready to share her insider tips with you!

 

Without further ado, here is the first post from our very own Native New Yorker.

 

 

“One day your life will flash right before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” This was one of the main reasons why I decided to leave the US and come to London. When in my life would I get the chance to just leave and go to another country for 15 weeks? Years from now I want to be able to look back at my undergraduate career and say: “Wow, I was brave enough to leave everyone and everything behind just to study abroad.” Fortunately, I’m sitting at this computer in London having the time of my life.

My name is Christasia Wilson and I’m a junior at Temple University. Currently I’m studying journalism, with the hopes to one day work for a fashion magazine. Coming to London wasn’t a hard transition because I went from one city to another. Originally I’m from New York but I attend school in Philadelphia.

Some of the main differences between New York and London is that pedestrians don’t have the right of way (something I learned the hard way), knowing that taking 100 pounds won’t be 100 American dollars, and I can go to clubs and pubs, which is a plus because in the United States I’m not old enough to do that.

From my time studying in London I’m hoping to come back to the States a changed person. I want to be able to step out of my box and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Actually, I’m already doing that by coming to London for 15 weeks. These next few weeks will contain life experiences that I will never forget, create friendships that will last a lifetime and most of all make me into a better person. It’s always insightful to see how other people from different cultures live – sometimes it makes you appreciate the culture you come from more, but also introduces new things from other cultures into your daily life.

Come along with me as I master the art of jaywalking, travel around the UK and Europe, but most of all as I try to track down the Royals. I’m just your average girl. A New Yorker by birth, Philadelphian because of school, and a Londoner by choice.

 

Native New Yorker:

The Best Things to do in New York

 

Whenever people tell me they’ve been to New York, most likely they’ve only been to Times Square, the Empire State Building and 34th Street. Not that these places aren’t wonderful in their own right, but there’s more to New York than the main tourist attractions. Take a trip across the Brooklyn Bridge or even a nice ferry ride to Governors Island. The best attitude to adopt when it comes to New York is accepting the fact that you’ll never see everything in New York. I have lived there all my life and it continues to amaze me. However, to make planning your trip to NYC a little bit easier, here are some of my favorite things to see and do in the City that Never Sleeps.

The High Line

NYhighline (400 x 265)

Originally a freight rail line, this park is built on the former New York railroad spur called the West Side Line. If you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon take a walk on the High Line. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenue. No fear, if you get hungry that far up, there are multiple ways to ensure your lovely stroll won’t be cut short because of a grumbling stomach. From coffee to tacos and even peach gelato you can fill yourself up and then continue to walk. Keep your eyes open for graffiti on some of the nearby buildings.

Isango Highline Park Walking Tour

Central Park

If you’re short on time and looking to see only the most important sights of the city, be sure to visit every New Yorkers backyard: Central Park. This happens to be one of my frequent places to go when I want to get away from everyone and everything. Endless opportunities of fun can be found here. Whether you’re looking for a place for a romantic date or an energetic family outing, Central Park never goes out of style. During the warm season have a picnic or play frisbee on the Great Lawn. In the winter treat yourself to a ride through the park on a horse & carriage or ice skating at Wollman Rink.

Tour Central Park with Isango

Top of the Rock: Rockefeller Building

Forget the lines at the Empire State Building and go to the Top of the Rock instead. Day or night the view of New York City is absolutely breath-taking. Enjoy the food, gift shops and the floor to ceiling windows, without all the hassle of long queues and large crowds. From experience the best time to go is early in the morning or at night when everyone from the afternoon rush has gone back to Times Square.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Building

For over 80 years the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony has been one of the most celebrated events in New York. This is the kickstart to the Christmas holiday. No matter how many people are there, you’ll still get a nice photo with the 69 to 100 foot Norway spruce tree in the background. While basking in the joy of the holiday season, take a stroll down 5th Avenue; at night all the holiday lights are lit and there are countless stores to visit for every type of shopper. It does get very crowded so prepare to maneuver your way through throngs of people.

Sullivan Bistro

This cozy bistro is tucked away in the Sullivan MacDougal Historic District. Every foodies safe haven, Sullivan offers some of the best brunch options around and it will have your mouth watering for more. I’ve been going to Sullivan Bistro for 2 years now, after stumbling upon it walking around Houston Street. My personal favorites for brunch are the Classic Pancake Breakfast and Goat’s Cheese on Toasted Brioche. Whether you’re a veggie lover or meat crazy, Sullivan Bistro caters to every taste palate.

The Village

washingtonsqpark (400 x 266)

One one of the most interesting neighborhoods in lower Manhattan, you will never get bored down in the Village. There’s Washington Square Park, boutiques, thrift & vintage stores, the Meatpacking District, and one of the best Italian pastry shops in town Veniero’s. These are just a few of the things to see in and around the Village.

Explore Greenwich Village with Isango

Harlem

Home of the Harlem Renaissance movement, there’s more than enough to explore in Harlem. Go enjoy a show at the Apollo Theater, a place where stars such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin have performed. Explore the cultural legacy at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Do major shopping on 125th street and then finish the day off with a walk in Marcus Garvey Park or some food from one of the many restaurants in Harlem. If you want something quick and good find a Jimbo’s; breakfast is served all day and if you’re into burgers, you’ve come to the right place.  

Experience traditional gospel in Harlem

DUMBO

No, not the elephant, but the neighborhood in Brooklyn. DUMBO stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” This neighborhood is one of New York’s hidden gems. With a combination of art galleries, shops and restaurants it’s one place you’ll definitely fall in love with in Brooklyn. When in DUMBO you must go to one of the best coal brick oven pizzerias called Grimaldi’s. Stop by St. Ann’s Warehouse for a show or rent a bike to ride around Brooklyn.

Park Slope

brooklynb (400 x 268)

Still loving Brooklyn, we’ll continue on to Park Slope. From here you can see a basketball game or one of your favorite artists at Barclays Center. Go up Flatbush Avenue to one of my personal favorite sushi spots, Geido. If your appetite for Brooklyn is still not satisfied, head over to BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) for films, theater, dance, music and much more. When the shopping bug hits you, check out some of the stores off of Atlantic Avenue. Two of my favorite stores are called Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange. After all this you’ll be dying to visit Brooklyn again.

Museums

When you want some peace and quiet or are just in the mood for history check out one of the dozen museums in New York. Here are some of my favorites just to name a few.

MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)

Museum of Natural History

Science Museum

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of the City of New York

Museum of Sex

El Museo del Barrio (NYC’s only Latin museum dedicated to Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latin American art)

Last but not least the Guggenheim Museum

These are not the only museums to check out in New York. For some reason the museums listed happen to be museums that I’ve been going to all my life and each holds a special memory. On a good day there aren’t too many people around and I never get tired of the old exhibits.

Of course there is so much more to do in New York and the examples above are just a few of my favorite things. Next time you visit the Big Apple go off the beaten path and explore everything the city has to offer.

 

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Exploring Malta’s Megalithic Temples

0

Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world.  It is just 316 square kilometers but it is also one of the most densely populated.  Even though it is so small the country has a disproportionate number of precious historical monuments.  It is the seat of one of the most ancient among Mediterranean cultures.

Malta’s strategically important location in the Mediterranean Sea has given it a vital place in history.  At various times it has been occupied by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and the British – all of whom have left behind architectural reminders of their presence.

Despite its long, very packed and eventful history many of Malta’s monuments have somehow managed to survive.  This is especially true of the eleven pre-historic monuments of which seven are listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites.  These remarkably well preserved structures are scattered all over the island.

Malta Megalithic TempleThe megalithic temples on Malta are among the oldest free-standing structures in the world.  They were built in three separate time periods from about 4100-3600 BC.  Unlike other similar structures around Europe these temples were not simply built and left alone.  What happened was rather evolutionary.  Each temple was refined and improved through successive building periods.  Sometime after 2500 BC the temple building stopped.

Archaeologists have divided Malta’s megalithic temple building into five periods.  However it is the latter three that produced the structures that still stand today.

The Ġgantija phase (3600–3200 BC) is the oldest of the three.  This phase takes its name from Ġgantija in Gozo.   Here you will see the figure 8 shape, the trefoil and five-apsed plans that were the blue print for later temple constructions and phases.

The Saflieni phase (3300–3000 BC) improved, developed and introduced several refinements to the Ġgantija style.

The Tarxien phase: (3150–2500 BC) is the last megalithic building phase on Malta.  It produced the most notable and finest structures.  This phase is so named because of the three lovely temples found at modern day Tarxien.  You could easily miss them because they stand in a back street of a modern built-up area with no immediately discernable entrance to mark its presence.

The Maltese temples are scattered all around the island and their construction took place over a period of two thousand years.  They have individual characteristics but all have similar important architectural layouts.

You enter through an oval forecourt, which is bordered on one side by the temple itself.  The temples generally face south.  The doorway to the temple is made up of large upright stone slabs with a massive stone lintel laid on top.  Stone slabs create a passageway leading to a central court.  There are slight variations to the layouts of course.

The temples are all unroofed.  The outer walls are generally made of hard coral limestone while a softer version is used inside, which permits sculpting and carving.  The decorations usually show animals but there are also a rich variety of patterns.

The major UNESCO Sites are:
Ta’ Ħaġrat
Ta’ Skorba
Ħaġar Qim
L-Imnajdra
Tarxien

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Holidaying in Turkey – Antalya

0

Duden waterfall in Antalya

Antalya, the city and the surrounding area, is one of those places that seem tailor-made for sightseers and holiday makers. It has to have everything. The area is backed by the Beydaglari? and Taurus Mountains that come right down to the sea creating numerous idyllic and picturesque coves and bays. Oh yes, there are plenty of lovely sandy beaches.  The best known are Konyaalt? and Lara Beaches.

The picture is further coloured by the fact that Antalya is located on the Eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. That means it has a lovely warm climate all year round. The city mirrors its mixed and rich history. There are plenty of reminders of that past including Lycian, Pamphylian, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman architecture and cultures.

The modern too is well represented in Antalya. It has a modern and busy airport, reportedly handling more than 10 million visitors a year. The port and marinas are always filled with yachts, boats of all descriptions and cruise liners. There are plenty of luxury hotels – several belonging to international chains – hotels, bars, clubs, chic restaurants and shopping avenues. No wonder the area is referred to as the Turkish Riviera.

For those looking to get a glimpse of Antalya’s history there is plenty on offer. Antalya has been restored to retain much of its historical character. The work won it the Golden Apple Tourism Prize.

These following are some of the prominent sights and monuments of Antalya:

  • The Atatürk Monument at Cumhuriyet Meydan? (Republic Square).
  • Kaleiçi: The old centre of the city with its narrow cobbled streets of historic Ottoman era houses.
  • Hadrian’s Gate (also known as Triple Gate) was built by the Romans in the 2nd century.
  • The City Walls and Hidirlik Tower also date back to ancient times.
  • Iskele Mosque: A 19th-century Mosque near the Marina.
  • Karatay Medrese: A Medrese (Islamic theological seminary) built in 1250 by Emir Celaleddin Karatay.
  • Kesik Minare (Broken Minaret) Mosque: Once a Roman temple which was   converted into a Byzantine Panaglia church and then the present mosque.  
  • Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Mosque: An 18th-century mosque built in honour of Tekeli Mehmet Pasa.
  • Yat Limani: The harbour goes back to Roman times.
  • Yivli Minare (Fluted Minaret) Mosque: Built by the Seljuks and decorated with dark blue and turquoise tiles, this minaret eventually became the symbol of the city.

Antalya is not all history, architecture, beaches and beauty spots. It has a vibrant cultural life. The main square, Cumhuriyet, is often used to host open air exhibitions and artistic and cultural performances.

To name a few of the events:

  • Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival: Turkey's largest national film festival, last week of September.
  • International Eurasia Film Festival: International film festival held annually
  • Mediterranean International Music Festival: October, 6 days
  • Antalya International Folk Music and Dance Festival Competition: Last week of August
  • Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival: June and July
  • Flower Festival May

The mixture of modern and ancient and the sheer variety create a tapestry and character that endures itself to all who come to this wonderful part of Turkey.

 

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Bodrum – From Greek Outpost to Opulent Hotspot

0

Bodrum is a port city on the south-western Aegean Sea Coast of Turkey.  Its location is beautiful and so is the weather.  Unlike many, once picturesque, fishing villages that were ‘discovered’ by holiday makers and mutated into a hotel/motel and garishly lit tourist-targeted towns, Bodrum has retained its original character.

The local authorities have played a big part in Bodrum retaining its charm.  Building regulations and town planning control the height of buildings and preserve the traditional whitewashed houses with their distinctive blue-trim. The surrounding green-clad hills, numerous coves, bays, marinas and winding backstreets make this once unknown seaside town a very attractive place to spend a few days.

However, Bodrum has changed.  It is now the favoured retreat of the wealthy and powerful.  It has a number of high-end boutiques, salons, and elegant restaurants that cater to them.  There are also petite cafes, dressed with bright flowers, several excellent museums, shopping areas and other attractions that draw the package tourists too.

Despite the million or so tourists who pack its streets, beaches and hotels every summer, Bodrum has managed to keep its essential nature.  The Ottoman era mosques, ancient relics and the Crusader era castle have helped retain that lost-era flavour.

While the town has essentially become a ‘getaway’; a place to relax there are several historical attractions for the sightseer.

Before he died King Mausolus (376-353 BC) planned and started to build his own tomb.  It was designed by Pythius and Satyros.  When he died, his wife (who was also his sister) Artemisia completed it.  It was a massive and impressive temple-like structure.

It consisted of tonnes of white marble crowned by stepped pyramids and decorated with carvings and statues.  The tomb was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It survived for 1700 years till earthquakes brought it down.  Today, only its foundations and few bits of statuary can be seen.  It is from this man and his tomb that we get the word “mausoleum.”

The Crusader Knights Hospitallers showed up in 1402 and began to build a castle in 1406.  They used the marble and stones from Mausoleum’s ruins for their construction.  They finished it in 1437 but kept adding fortifications, a cistern and a moat.  It is still a very impressive and well-preserved structure.  They named it The Castle of St Peter and the town around it Petronium.  Over time the name was turkicised to 'Bodrum.'

Within Bodrum Castle is the French Tower containing the tomb and remains of Queen Ada (died sometime between 360 and 325 BC).  Along with her body were buried a gold crown, necklace, bracelets, rings and an exquisite wreath of gold myrtle leaves – all incredibly valuable.

Bodrum Castle is also home to one of most important museums of the world.Bodrum castle  The Museum of Underwater Archaeology houses items collected from underwater missions.  The exhibits are creatively displayed and include maps, drawings and murals.

Another relic from ancient times is the Myndos Gate – now restored.  It the only remaining portion of what was once a 7km wall built by King Mausolus.  In 334 BC many of Alexander the Great’s soldiers perished at the wall and the moat around it.

Fate and forethought has been kind to Bodrum and saved it from becoming like other Turkish fishing villages that have become touristic nightmares.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Sightseeing In Old Jerusalem

0

One of the great things about sightseeing in Old Jerusalem is that nearly all the sights and shrines are close to each other.  Cheek by jowl you could say.  The other thing is that despite the millions of people who visit every year, you don’t get that squashed, crowded, hemmed in feeling.  Oh yes.  The streets are narrow too.

King David laid the foundation stones of Jerusalem City in 1004 BCE (Before Common Era) making it one of the world’s oldest cities. It has been built and rebuilt since.  The Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, Europeans and a whole host of others came and went destroying and building in turn.  Jerusalem has been destroyed twice and captured and recaptured 44 times.

JerusalemThe Old City is demarcated by the walls that Suleiman the Magnificent built in 1538.  They make it convenient for the visitor when navigating through the maze of streets.  Since 1981 the Old City is a World Heritage Site and is also on the World Heritage in Danger list.

Old Jerusalem is literally divided into four quarters – Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.  The Old City of Jerusalem is only 0.9 square kilometres in size!  What is amazing though is that so much of the world’s human history, culture, religion and conflicts have their roots in this tiny area.

The Jewish Quarter includes the Wailing Wall (or The Western Wall and the Kotel), which was a part of the Temple of Solomon.  Also here you will find the Burnt House.  This residential remnant from 2000 years ago was destroyed by the Romans.

Then there is a remarkable street – The Cardo – built by the Romans in the 6th century. Several columns, arches, shops and sections of floor still remain.  This area was the Roman Aelia Capitolina and the business district then.  You can almost expect to see people from that age going about their business with mule-drawn carts and legionnaires passing by.

The Christian Quarter has numerous churches, chapels and road side memorials dedicated to or recalling the deeds and life of Christ.  You can attend a service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was buried after being crucified.  You can retrace his final journey along the Via Dolorosa and recall the Stations of the Cross.  The route starts at what was the courthouse but is now Lions’ Gate – or St. Stephen’s Gate – and winds through the Arab souk and Moslem Quarter before ending at the hill of Calvary or Golgotha.

A non-religious attraction of the Christian section is the thriving and very colourful Bazaar.  It is a great place to pick up souvenirs and religious and ornamental items.  Bargaining is an accepted and expected part of shopping here.  Another lovely feature is the numerous little food stalls – the appetising aromas will ensure you taste something before moving on.

The largest and most populous is the Moslem Quarter.  Take the Cardo through the Arab souk and into the Moslem Quarter.  There are several churches and mosques here.  More importantly it is the location of two of Islam’s holiest sites.  One is the Dome of the Rock.  Another is Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.  Both sit on the Temple Mount.

The last and tiniest is the Armenian Quarter.  Most of the Armenians live around the St. James Cathedral.  Through two thousand years of Jerusalem’s turbulent history they have retained their ethnic, cultural and religious identity.

Taken in totality the Temple Mount has huge meaning and importance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam making it the most contentious and disputed piece of land.

A tour of the Old City of Jerusalem should take you a little over half a day.  Incredible, how so much history can be packed into a matter of hours!  You will go away very touched and thoughtful.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

The Fairy Tale Land of Mont Saint-Michel

0

One kilometre off the northwest Normandy coast of France sits the unique little island of Mont Saint-Michel. It is cut off from the mainland at high tide while vast sandbanks are exposed at low tide, which can be just as deterring as the powerful water flows. Today there is a motorable causeway connecting it to the mainland and unaffected by high tides.

All of 247 acres in area and 300 feet at its highest, this strategically situated rocky island embodies the expression that ‘life is stranger than fiction.’ The ancient monastery, massive stone fortifications, winding climbing streets, houses with sloping roofs and tiny quaint shops give Mont Saint-Michel an ambience that could very easily be the setting for a fantasy tale with dragons, elves and wizards in it.

Mont Saint MichelFor most of its history, Mont Saint-Michel has been a redoubtable fortress. It was a Roman outpost till the 460 AD, followed by Gallic occupation till the Franks came along and pushed them out. Sometime in the 8th century the island’s role changed when the first religious buildings were constructed.  However, its strategic importance remained and is even featured in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. It was the Normans however who were the architects of the grand and imposing abbey that gives the town and the island so much of its character.

In the 11th century William de Volpiano, an Italian architect was charged with building the Abbey. He designed the Romanesque church seen today. In the early 12th century Philip Augustus paid for the construction of new Gothic-style sections, which included a refectory and cloister. Thereafter Charles VI added more fortifications, built the towers and added courtyards. Today many of them are filled with flowers that make the place very pretty.

For many centuries Mont Saint-Michel was an important pilgrimage centre but that function slowly declined and by the time of the French Revolution the abbey was almost abandoned. The Republicans converted into a prison.  In the nineteenth century such luminaries as Victor Hugo petitioned to restore the buildings, resulting in it being declared a historic monument in 1874.

In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel and its Bay were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The isle attracts more than 3 million visitors every year. Compare that with the permanent residents who number only 44, at last count.

That is Mont Saint-Michel for you – tiny in size but large in history and heart.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

Touring the Sistine Chapel in Rome

0

The Sistine Chapel is probably the single most impressive, influential and famous art-filled room in the whole world.  Intended to be the private chapel of a pope, the whole world now comes to worship at this altar of artistic creativity.  It also serves as the election room of new popes.

Sistine ChapelThe building and the painting of the Sistine Chapel was completed in three major phases.  The first was the building and wall painting phase.  Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV (of the della Rovere family) it took about eight years (1475 to 1483) to complete.  It was consecrated and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15th August 1483.  The architect was Baccio Pontelli and the construction was supervised by Giovannino de'Dolci.

In 1481, while the chapel was still being constructed, Pope Sixtus IV brought in several great Florentine artists to paint the walls.  They were Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo, Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, Pinturicchio and Bartolomeo della Gatta.  They took only eleven months to complete their commission.

The walls are divided into three horizontal sections.  The uppermost comprises of pilasters that support the vault.  The middle section (or order) tells two stories from the bible.  The left wall relates the life of Moses while the right wall tells the life of Christ.  At ceremonial occasions the lowest portions of the side walls are covered with a series of tapestries depicting events from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. These were designed by Raphael and woven in 1515-19 at Brussels.

There are six windows on the long walls.  Between each window is a niche with painted images of the first popes – Peter to Marcellus – who were all martyred.  A beautiful and delicately carved marble screen, with an inset wooden door, divides the presbytery from the nave.  The screen is the work of three sculptors – Mino da Fiesole, Andrea Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata.  The screen used to divide the chapel into two equal parts but was moved making the presbytery much larger.  The floor is a marble mosaic beautiful in workmanship and design.

The second phase saw the introduction of Michelangelo.  In 1508 Pope Julius II (a ‘nephew’ of Sixtus IV) wanted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel repainted.  The ceiling was originally frescoed by Piero Matteo d'Amelia with a star-spangled sky in 1481.

He had originally called upon Raphael (a passionate enemy of Michelangelo) to take up the project but he refused.  Instead he suggested Michelangelo’s name in an attempt to discredit him knowing Michelangelo was a sculptor and not a painter.  Raphael created one of art history’s greatest gaffes.

Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from 1508 to 1512.  What he created has become a beacon of art throughout the world.  He demonstrated control and understanding of detail, proportion, colour, texture, form and an unmatched originality that has illuminated the world – let alone art.  He brought perfection to reality.  The Sistine Chapel is a display of one man’s incredible creative genius.

The pope wanted paintings of the 12 Apostles.  Michelangelo dismissed the idea as a “poor thing”.  Thank heavens for his courage and ‘artistic licence and integrity’ or we would not have the most amazing works in the history of Western art.  Instead what Michelangelo painted were stories from the Book of Genesis – from the Creation to the story of Noah.

This phase of Michelangelo’s work included the incomparable and stunningly daring fresco, the Creation of Adam.  Michelangelo’s portrayal of God as a muscular figure with long white hair and big white beard is the one many of us, today, picture him to be.  In earlier works God was represented only as a hand reaching down through the clouds.

The near touching of God and Adam’s hands is one of the most replicated, parodied and iconic images of the world.  It also goes against the common perception of God breathing life into Adam.  Michelangelo also shows Adam with a ‘navel.’  Other departures are the serpent in Eden depicted with a woman’s head; the forbidden fruit is a fig and not the commonly accepted ‘apple.’

To paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo built his own platform, extending over half the chapel area.  It allowed him to stand upright (Sorry! He did not paint it on his back).  However, it denied him the possibility of viewing his work from the floor.  Despite that he painted huge scale figures from a distance of only a few inches.

Twenty-eight years later Michelangelo was back.  This time it was Pope Clement VII who commissioned him.  Shortly after Pope Clement died and was succeed by Pope Paul III who pushed the artist to quickly finish the fresco.  In this phase Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment on the altar wall – the largest fresco of the century.  He started work in 1535 and finished it in 1541.

Winding staircase in the Sistine ChapelEven if Michelangelo had not created what he did in the Sistine Chapel, it would still be a room filled with an extraordinary collection of masterpieces.  From this single room emanates more creativity, beauty and inspiration (artistic and religious) than any other collection of art anywhere.

Despite its amazing fame there is nothing outstanding about the Sistine Chapel’s architectural features.  Its dimensions are based on that of the Temple of Solomon as detailed in the Old Testament.  It is 40.93 metres long, 13.41 metres wide and 20.70 metres high.  The roof is barrel-vaulted.  The exterior is a remarkably bare brick-walled edifice with no ostentatious embellishments, sculptures or carvings.  There is no grand entrance door.  Entrance to the Sistine Chapel can only be made from within the Papal Palace.

Visitors today are blessed because what they view is the restored and cleaned frescos, which took about 30 (1965 to 1994) years to accomplish.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS