For opera lovers, the upcoming season of glorious music in Italy is something not to be missed. All over the country festivals are about to open, many in small villages but all the more passionate because the town or village will have a personal tie to the composer whose work will be honoured. Places like the San Galgano Opera Festival at Chiusdino, Siena that runs from June – August, the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro 10th-23rd August, and dozens more are set to keep opera fans happy during the summer months. My own favourites, the ones I hope to visit each year, are the Verona festival, the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago and the Ravenna Festival, not just because of the music they offer but because they are in areas that allows touring during the day and longer trips on either side of the musicfest.
The Arena di Verona is one of the most magnificent arenas in Italy, capable of seating 20,000 patrons per performance but limited to 15,000 for safety reason. The setting is truly magnificent, open to the elements and capable of staging the world’s most famous operas and adding props like real elephants and camels when the work calls for them. This year the Arena celebrates 100 years and is offering Aida, Romeo and Juliet, Nabucco, Traviata, Trovatore, Rigoletto, and a Verdi Gala. Among the special guests for the opening Gala are Placido Domingo, José Carreras and Andrea Bocelli. June 14th – September 7th.
The home of the legendary Romeo and Juliet, there is no lack of sightseeing in Verona itself, but nearby is Lake Garda surrounded by delightful towns, further afield but an easy day trip is Venice, and the Dolomites are on the doorstep. What could be better. http://www.arena.it
The 59th Puccini Festival takes place in Torre del Lago from July 12th – Augst 24th, a festival created by the great man himself in 1930 and since continued. The outdoor theatre close to Vlla Mausoleo where Puccini’s remains lie, is a wonderful setting in which to enjoy the music of one of the greatest opera composers of all time. This year the offerings are Cavalleria Rusticana, Il Tabarro, Tosca, Turandot and Rigoletto. There is little accommodation in Torre del Lago and most visitors to the event choose to stay either at nearby Viarragio or Lucca (my favourite).
Lucca has the Puccini museum, is the only town remaining with its surrounding walls intact, the top of which can be walked or cycled around as they are very wide, and is known as the “tower town” due to the number of intact tall towers there. A charming cathedral, free concerts in the evenings when not at the opera, some great restaurants, and Lucca could be the prize of the season. Besides, it is just a short rail journey from Pisa and so perfect for connecting flights. http://www.puccinifestival.it
The Ravenna Festival from May to June is hosted in its many theatres and churches. The Byzantine basilicas, cloisters and piazzas combine to make a superb backdrop for the art and music on offer. The finest opera companies with the finest singers converge on this small town for a very special festival, this one the 24th, and apart from opera and classical music, they will offer jazz, films and exhibitions. http://www.ravennafestival.org
For all other festivals, check out the following site which lists them all. www.festivalopera.it
I didn’t realise how few people knew about the green volcanic archipelago of The Azores until my recent article on the tea grown there persuaded many people to contact me for more information. The mountains, lakes and picturesque towns are The Azores greatest attraction and because the capricious climate means that mass tourism is unlikely to destroy the strong culture of the archipelago one can really use the word ‘unspoilt’ to describe the islands.
Having said that, they have now been discovered by the cruise market and nearly every day there is a cruise ship moored in one of the harbours.
But meantime, the 9 islands are there for the traveller who looks for beauty and tranquillity, not adventure, not crazy nightlife, but the serenity that used to be the added value of most remote islands.They are perfectly placed for outdoor activities with a lack of pollution both in land and at sea as well as unique and diverse terrain.
Walking, Hiking and Trekking in the Azores
Hiking and trekking includes walking up to volcanic peaks, around craters and through mountains. Local organizations such as the Os Montanheiros have spent countless hours mapping and cleaning trails all about the Azores. The Mountain of Pico and the Pico is a “must climb” for those wanting a moderate exercise and a unique stunning view of 4 other islands, Terceira, Faial, S. Jorge and Graciosa, on a cloud-free day). Horse riding tours via places such as Picos da Aventura, local farms such as Quinta das Raiadas can also be reserved, the tours being made along the beautiful countryside.
Whale Watching and Swimming with Dolphins
The most reliable departure ports are are Ponta Delgada, Vila Franca do Campo, Horta, Lajes do Pico and Madalena. Visitors are taken out on small boats and often get within ten yards of the whales. Contrary to the mass-produced affairs that swimming with the dolphins involves in more popular places, in the Azores, one is not allowed to touch the dolphins due to environmental concerns. This in no way decreases the fun to be had especially as you swim in a clean blue ocean with pleasant water temperature.
Coastal Adventure Sailing, Yachting and other Water Activities
It is possible to spend time sailing between the islands and exploring what each one has to offer: boats moor in sheltered marinas or anchor in secluded bays. Find out more from the individual islands as weather and winds make a difference to the frequency. Canoeing is popular in the main marinas as well as some of the lakes in S. Miguel and Flores such as Sete Cidades e Furnas.
The marinas of Ponta Delgada and Horta are world famous for those crossing the Atlantic with Horta in particular having been used for centuries by the yachting community as a place to pull in for a rest and a g. & t!
Located in mid-Atlantic as they are, the Azores have plenty of swell most of the time. Not surprising therefore that major international events are being held there for both men and women (on S. Miguel). The Azores are slowly becoming a surfing mecca for those want to surf with fellow aficionados, the main spots being Ribeira Grande, a powerful beachbreak with consistent waves, and Rabo de Peixe, a left hander created by the harbor development. Only for experienced surfers as these are more or less unchartered and sometimes dangerous waters.
Diving and Underwater Activities
The Azores is home to some unique and fantastic sub-aquatic setting. With a variety of fish and water mammals great coastal formations, excellent water visibility and temperature, the Azores have become a must-visit place for diving aficionados. Many certified diving centers are located in the various islands. Two decompression chambers are available in S. Miguel and Terceira.
A less strenuous activity is gold and The Azores are a great place for golfing due to its pleasant weather. S. Miguel has 3 golf and there is one in Terceira, all fully certified and internationally recognized 18 hole courses.
There is current fascination with volcanoes and on The Azores special mention should be made of the underground lake (Graciosa), the volcanic cones of Furnas valley (Sao Miguel), the remains of the Capelinhos volcano (Faial), the sulphur grottoes next the “caldeira de Guilherme Moniz” (Terceira), the basaltic columns of “Rocha dos Bordoes” (Flores) and the many grottoes and caverns on the islands of Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, Pico, Sao Jorge and Terceira.
If there is time for any other sports while on a trip to the islands, think about hang-gliding, bicycle rides, tennis, jeep safaris or moto-quad. In fact, there are few sports that cannot be indulged in on the Azores, but if you aren’t a sporty type, there is plenty of beautiful scenery on which to feast the eye, gorgeous architecture, excellent and unusual shopping (think pineapple liquer made on the islands, sea-island cotton goods,and island grown tea).
Of all the things I expected to find in the Azores, that group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, stunning scenery, beautiful architecture, charming people and good food, tea was not on my list. When I say tea, I don’t mean the tea you find in tea-rooms and restaurants, I mean tea growing on hillsides and gathered in traditional ways. So far from the Orient, so almost Europe, the tea was delicious.
When one thinks of tea, one usually thinks of Chinese or Indian tea, but I was more than a little surprised to find that there is a delightful tea grown in the Azores, on hillsides that attract heat and rain in just the right quantities for this particular type of leaf.
It is believed that tea was first discovered in China in 2737 BC. Legend has it that the Emperor Shen-Nung, who drank boiled water for his health, was one day enjoying this plain beverage when some leaves accidentally blew into the drinking vessel: the resultant savoury and aromatic brew started the passion for tea drinking.
It wasn’t until the Portuguese expeditions to the Orient 16th century that the western world discovered the wonders of tea, but it was the Dutch and the English who developed the European tea trade in the 18th century, later to reach the Americas. Today, few houses in the world are without this popular beverage in some shape or form, whether it is speciality teas, robust breakfast tea, or the current favourite, green tea.
The Azores is the furthest point from Europe in which tea is grown. It was introduced to the islands in about 1820 when one Jacinto Leite started the first tea plantation in São Miguel with seeds which he brought from Brazil where he had been Commander of the Royal Guards in the court of Dom João V1.
Tea plantations very quickly took over from citrus growing on the island of São Miguel during the 19th century and in the 1850’s tea production reached approximately 250 tons – a lot for a small island. Sadly, wars and a policy that protected the Mozambique tea industry severely affected tea production in the Azores and by 1966 there were only 5 of the original 14 tea manufacturers left.
One of these was the Gorreana Tea Factory (Chá Gorreana) which had been founded in 1883 by the Gago da Câmara family and which today produces nearly 40 tons of a strong-flavoured tea annually three-quarters of which is sold with the region. One of the things that sets Gorreana’s tea apart from other is that it is purely organic as neither pesticides nor fungicides are needed in the region due to the fact that no pests exist in the islands.
The Gorreana Tea Factory produces 3 types of black tea – Orange Pekoe (a light and aromatic tea produced from the first leaf), Pekoe Tea (fuller –flavoured than the Orange Pekoe and prepared from the second leaf) and Broken Tea (produced from the lowest leaf). It also produces a Green Tea (Hysso) rich in tannins with a very full flavour and green colour.
The islands of the Azores are delightful for many reasons, their exotic flowers, the dazzling colours of the blooms against the lush green grass, the charming people and the feeling of stepping back fifty years, but their tea is something quite special and should be sampled while on the islands. It also makes a perfect gift to take home for friends.
Further details http://www.gorreana.com
In my last post I wondered if cruising was all it’s cracked up to me. Well, I have now returned from a my Caribbean cruise and have reached a verdict. No, it’s not.
Mind you, I went with my viewpoint on the subject of cruising already half-formed. My interaction with regular cruisers had not always been positive as I had found most of them to have little interest in the countries they visited: they spoke of “seeing” the city when they had spent a mere six hours there. No harm there you may well say and I agree: we don’t all have to like the same thing. But I felt that cruising took away the real adventure and excitement of travel, of discovering new things and being surprised by sights and sounds.
What I also hadn’t realised was the sheer competitiveness of the cruising lifestyle. Those who had cruised most often talked about their Platinum status with certain lines, their Diamond status with others and their Gold cards, all of which entitled them to various bonus events and favours, champagne in the cabin, extra captain’s cocktail party, an upgrade (the only worthwhile bonus in my opinion) and early booking rights. I listened in awe at the dinner table to the cut and thrust of the conversation and tried to work out if 4 Cunard trips equalled 3 P. & O and how many P & O’s or Celebrity Cruises would one have to do to have equal par with someone who’d done a trip on the Queen Mary. It was a world I’d never known before, one fraught with social dangers.
Then there were the back-to-backs, those who stayed on the ship and continued with the next voyage, sometimes 3 voyages all together. Many of these people didn’t even bother getting off the ship when it docked, saying “Oh, we’ve been here before and it doesn’t change much!” Well no, it probably didn’t, but don’t we all change with the years and what appealed last year might not this year so isn’t a town or city worth another look
.But then I love my casually shod feet on the ground as I roam the streets and alleyways of foreign ports. I love evenings sitting at wayside cafes and restaurants, watching the world go by as I sip a coffee or something stronger. I love the strange smells that waft from the kitchens, the sounds of foreign languages, the frisson of excitement as one tries to remember the warnings from friends of the dangers of certain places. And there’s none of that on a cruise.
I got off at every port, I went on some trips into the interior, but I don’t think for a moment that I experienced the Caribbean. I saw beautiful landscapes and seascapes through the window of a coach, I managed a walk along a beach once or twice, and sampled Creole cooking on one occasion, but we never interacted with the locals. I walked through the towns where we docked listening to the cries of the vendors, being hustled to take a taxi, buy a necklace, try some rum, but all the time aware that the ship would sail without me if I wasn’t back in time. Even on the one day I managed to have lunch in the town it wasn’t possible to meet any local characters as I normally do. I was an obvious visitor from the ship (two ships unloading over 5,000 people into a small town skews everything out of kilter).
So, I shall return to land holidays with maybe the occasional cargo-ship trip (these I don’t class like cruise ships – they are so different). A week trekking in the hills in my own country, or walking in Austria or Switzerland, lazing on an Asian beach and attending a religious festival in the evening, or jazzing it up in New Orleans is more my style.
Now that Christmas is over I can finally turn my thoughts to holidays again. I am lucky to live on an island where the summer months are delightful, the waters are warm (usually) and sailing, swimming, and surfing are all popular pastimes, so I usually creep away somewhere warmer during the winter.
This year, for the first time, I have opted to try cruising I am not sure if I’m going to like it as I’m an inveterate people watcher from cafe tables in Southern Spain and Italy, bistros in France and Konditori in Denmark and Sweden, but I feel it’s time I had a change.
Not only am I going on a cruise-ship but I’m going to the Spice Islands of the Caribbean so I shall not have the usual pleasure of traipsing around ruins and wrecked churches, guide-book in hand, feet encased is stolid walking shoes. But everyone tells me I will love it, so I’m giving it a go.
I have travelled the ocean before, but always on a cargo ship, one of the big ones that are the length of 3 football pitches, around which a walk makes a perfect workout before, or after a meal. I have always enjoyed them, but then feeling part of a working ship seems so much better than being a passenger on a cruise ship.
Sure, we dressed up in the evening, but so did the crew who changed from oily overalls into pristine whites to mingle with the six passengers in the bar. No entertainment but we made our own, pockets of conversation with the mixed crew from South Africa, Philippines, Angola, UK and South America, Trivial Pursuit, watching the latest DVDs together, or just spending longer over the magnificent meals: cargo ship food is always good I’ve found without encouraging too much gluttony.
And then there were the Sunday barbecues on the deck, dress-down for captain and crew when the flamboyant shirts and shorts made an appearance and we all relaxed.
I think I shall miss all that as I polish up my hat and smarten my glad rags. On the other hand I may find it the best thing since sliced bread. Who knows?
Photos from my last cargo ship trip on display here.
Every once in a while one comes across a really superb restaurant in an unexpected place, sometimes on a main road, sometimes hidden away down a side street, and last week this happened to me.
On the long drive between Gothenburg and Oslo I found Laxbutiken LJungskile by exiting off the main road to this “salmon house” recommended by my friend Kelly Andersson from Gothenburg, who spoke in very complimentary terms about the food.
Situated beside a lake, with outdoor seating surrounding the elegantly designed restaurant, one could imagine the pleasure of dining in the outdoor space during a Swedish summer, but this was November, so it was inside for us.
The interior did not disappoint. Elegant décor in grey and lime green set of the food which was arranged in a long glass cabinet behind which stood smiling waitresses with advice.
And advice was needed! Here was more salmon than I’d ever seen served in more ways than I’d ever known. Eight types of smoked salmon, from the basic Gravdlax to smoked salmon with different herbs and mixtures of herbs, there was poached salmon, grilled salmon, boiled salmon, salted salmon,
deep fried salmon, salmon pie, salmon cake and more. To accompany these were delicious sauces like caviar sauce, white sauce with dill, lobster butter sauce, Malibu sauce, and a deep green garlic and spinach sauce.
The choice was difficult so I eventually decided on the Large Salmon Platter which gave me five varieties of salmon, 2 sauces, salad and boiled potatoes (at an unbelievable 145 Kroner). More than I could eat, I was relieved to be offered a “doggy bag” (a rather elegant box packed in another bag) to take away.
Tate Britain, the original Tate Gallery to distinguish it from Tate Modern, is situated near Lambeth Palace and just a short walk from the South Bank, the Eye and Westminster. It is an elegant building with a neo-classical portico in the area of Millbank and stands on the site of the former Millbank Penitentiary. It houses the greatest collection of British Art in the world, works by Epstein, Gainsborough, Hirst, Hockney, Hogarth, Rossetti, Sickert, Spencer, Stubbs, and the artists of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who revolutionised British art in the 19th century.
Special attention is given to three outstanding British artists from the Romantic age: Blake and Constable have dedicated spaces within the gallery, while the Turner Collection of approximately 300 paintings and many thousands of watercolours, is housed in the specially built Clore Gallery.
Originally called the National Gallery of British Art it started with a collection of 65 modern British paintings given by its founder Sir Henry Tate (he of the sugar cube and sugar refining firm) when it opened in 1897. A further gift from Sir Henry in 1899 enabled an extension to be built, and in 1910 thanks to the gift of Sir Joseph Duveen, the Turner Wing was completed.
Over the years the Gallery amassed a collection of works dating from the 16th to the 20th century, to include Modern Art in 1916 and three new galleries for foreign art ten years later. This led to a change of name from National Gallery of British Art to The Tate Gallery.
The Tate is rightly famous for its collection of the works of the foremost English Romantic painter and landscape artist - J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Turner left his collection of oil paintings and thousands of studies to the nation on condition that they were kept together, and in 1987 the Clore Gallery was opened to house this magnificent bequest.
When the Tate Modern opened on Bankside in 2000, a decision was made to create more space by transferring the collection of international modern art from 1900 to the present day to the new gallery. Tate Modern, a former pumping station, is the perfect repository for modern art, and in the Turbine Hall, it has space to display enormous installations.
Tate Britain however, continues to house the Turner Prize exhibition, one of the art world’s most controversial prizes. Awarded to an artist under 50, British or working in Great Britain, the Turner Prize attracts both media attention and public demonstrations, former well known winners being Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry and Gilbert and George.
The Tate is no stranger to controversy, from accusations of favouritism in the purchase of work by Royal Academicians in the 19th century to media ridicule of the works it purchases today. There was the famous case in 1972 of the work by Carl Andre popularly known as The Bricks, which caused The Times newspaper to complain about institutional waste of taxpayers’ money. In 1995 a gift of £20,000 from art fraudster John Drewe came to light, along with the fact that the gallery had given Drewe access to its archives from which he forged documents authenticating fake paintings which he then sold. The last major scandal was in 2005 over the Tate’s purchase of Chris Ofili’s work The Upper Room for £705,000 with accusations of a conflict of interest.
None of these controversies however, detracts from the Tate’s magnificence. Whatever time of the year one chooses to visit, there will be one or two challenging exhibitions ranging from Neo-classical sculptures, exhibitions of the work of Rubens, William Blake, and Millais (founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), to film and video work of Derek Jarman and that of the Iranian film maker and photographer, Mitra Tabrizian. All this as well as the gallery’s normal offerings.
Three year’s ago the Tate held the Francis Bacon Exhibition (1909-1992), a re-assessment of his work in the light of new research since his death, comprising around 60 of his most important pieces from each period of his life. It showed in great detail, the work of possibly the 20th century’s greatest painter of the human figure in an exhibition that captured its sexuality, violence and isolation. The artist’s bleak outlook, his flamboyant homosexuality and his colourful private life had made him a controversial figure in life as much as in death.
For those visiting Liverpool, the superb Tate Liverpool which opened in 1988 shows various works from the London Tates as well as mounting its own eclectic displays and for those heading for Cornwall, the Tate St. Ives has an equally impressive collection.
The out-of-London Tates entail rail or coach travel from London, but Tate Britain is an easy walk from Westminster. For a truly memorable arrival, the best way to travel is by river-boat which leaves half-hourly from Tate Modern on the Thames, stopping at the London Eye along the way.
Like that other great palace of art in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, the Tate also offers free admission apart from special exhibitions.
Open 10.00 a.m. to 17.50 daily.
Bus No. 77A runs from the centre of London through Westminster, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and Aldwych to the Museum every ten minutes. Nearest underground: Pimlico. Two superb licensed restaurants are in the basement of the Gallery.
Visitors wanting a quick and expert guide to parts of the Gallery should take one of the free one-hour tours offered daily which start at 11 a.m. 12 p.m. 2 p.m. and 3 p.m (Saturdays and Sundays 12.00 and 15.00 only).
Fifteen years ago only a few intrepid travellers were aware of the wonders of Thailand. Last year over twelve million visitors came to enjoy this amazing country. With people who actually do smile all the time, and mean it, beaches that are invariably powdery white, waters that range from turquoise to a limpid blue, a mean average temperature of 280 , and one of the finest cuisines in the world, it is easy to understand the attraction. Nor should the safety factor be overlooked, either. With a population that is 98% Buddhist, religious conflict is virtually nil in this country of gentle, courteous people.
Bangkok is Noisy but the Chao Phraya River is Tranquil
No one would call present day Bangkok a paradise, but this modern metropolis was once known as the Venice of the East, a city built on canals which meandered through the capital and out into the countryside. Most of these have now been filled in, but the magnificent Chao Praya River with its traffic of tugs, rice barges, and house-boats, still runs through its centre, lined by stunning hotels like the Oriental, Peninsula, and Sheraton Towers.
Hire a boat and a boatman from your hotel’s landing stage for a visit to the temples and palaces, most of which are on the river, and you need never step into Bangkok’s noisy streets. It’s a relaxing way to see the City of Angels (Bangkok’s former name): sunrise over the Temple of Dawn, viewed from the boat, is an incredible sight.
Beaches and Islands – Where to find the best
If its beaches you’re after, there’s the peace and tranquillity of the resorts on the Andaman Sea where you can cruise around the extraordinary 40-odd limestone karsts thrusting out of the sea in this totally surreal landscape (recognisable from The Man with the Golden Gun which was filmed here), picnic on a sandbank or deserted island, or head off into the Marine National Park for some of the finest diving in the world. If you choose to stay in a hotel, the most exclusive has not one, but three beaches surrounding it as well as an infinity pool.
The best known of Thailand’s islands is, of course, Phuket, whose coastline hides bays of the sort of shimmering sands lapped by turquoise seas you see in publicity pictures – Karon, Kata, Nai Harn, Pansea, Bang Tao and the National Park beach of Mai Khao. Pick any one of these and you’ll find exclusive, world class hotels to cosset and pamper you. If you want brash and noisy, then head for Patong Bay, easy to reach for an evenings entertainment.
Phuket is subject to monsoons but when it is raining there, the weather is fine in Ko Samuii (and vice versa) an island fast moving from backpackers hideaway to an upmarket resort with a laid-back atmosphere.
On the mainland, the resorts of Hua-Hin (where the Thai royal family have their summer palace) and Cha’am, attracts the more mature traveller for its great shopping and good restaurants. And don’t dismiss Pattaya, known mostly for its girlie-bars, nightclubs, and massage parlours: it has one of the world’s great hotels right on the edge of town which many people check into and leave without once setting foot outside it, their entire vacation having been spent luxuriating in one of the Royal Suites.
Go North and visit the Hill Tribes
Even great beaches can bore after days of perfect weather, and this is a good excuse to visit the hill tribes and enjoy the northern culture of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son. Home to some of the most colourful tribal people in the world, the Akha, Meo, Leo, Hmong, Karen, Lisu and the long-necked Paduang, the velvety green mountains hiding rare orchids and other flora, is a startling contrast to the south of the country. There are opportunities to join elephant rides into the jungle or to trek to remote villages to meet the hill tribe people. For a more hands-on activity you can hire a 4WD (with or without driver) so that you can navigate the steep mountain roads and tracks, drift up the Pai River from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai on a bamboo raft, visit the border town of Mai Sai and cross into Myanmar (Burma) for a few hours, then visit the strange town of Theod Thai to talk with the remnants of Chiang Kai Chek’s Nationalist Army that settled here after escaping from China.
Thailand is not just another country, it’s another way of life, guaranteed to de-stress even the most overworked executive. After all, a country that has but one word for both work and pleasure, sanuk, has to be something special.
The Shard. Ah! I look up from the ground and marvel at the design, at the shards of glass that catch the light and splay out at the top. I had watched it slowly take over its London site, putting in the shade even the famous green glass building that the locals have named The Gherkin.
Then last week during the World Travel Market at Excel, I was privileged to be invited to take a trip to the top of The Shard to experience the incredible views over London from this spectacular building designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano. And what a vista.
With a 360 degree view over the city to a distance of 64 km (40 miles), and from 800 feet up in the sky in the tallest building in Western Europe, London had never looked better. The Shard is twice as high as any other viewing point in London and the only place in the city from which you can see all of London.
The View from the Shard
For the first time I could see how the River Thames has helped create this great city, how it snakes in and out, meandering north and south in ways I had never realized. Tiny boats sailed on its muddy waters, like toys pushed off from river banks by little boys.
From high in our eyrie on Level 69 we could see all of London’s famous landmarks – even on a grey drizzly day. Easy to pick out the Emirates Stadium (home of the Arsenal football team), Wembley Stadium, Windsor Castle, St. Paul’s etc. and by following the railways with their toy-trains for all the world like the Hornby set I played with a child I could find the railway stations and using this as a guide, find lesser known sites in the area.
Technical Help on Viewing Platform
Of course there are telescopes too. Not just telescopes, but Tell:scopes, a state of the art system that provides both day and night views of London and information in ten languages. One thousand years of history and some of the most iconic buildings in the world lie before the viewer as digital Tell:scopes help visitors explore the cityscape in every direction.
From these viewing galleries it is possible to ascend even higher to Level 72 where, at the highest accessible point of The Shard, guests can stand in the open air, surrounded by the giant shards of glass that seen ti disappear into the sky. The Shard title derives from the sculpted design which consists of glass facets that incline inwards but which do not meet at the top but instead, open to the sky to allow the building to breathe naturally.
Further Details and how to book:
The View from the Shard will offer a totally immersive experience of one of the greatest cities on earth when it opens to the public on February 1st 2012.
Restaurants, offices, executive apartments and the Shangri-La Hotel their first time in London ) occupy different floors of the building. Two lifts whisk visitors to the top in 30 seconds.
Tickets can be reserved for dates next year at www.theviewfromtheshard.com at £24. 95 for adults and £18. 95 for children or via the box office hotline +44(0)844 499 7111. Open 0900-2200 daily. Nearest tube station is London Bridge, bus routes 43, 141, 148 and 521 stop there and bus 151 goes from London Bridge. Boat from Westminster Pier leaves hourly.
Sicily, with its dark history, rough mountains, ravishing scenery, and Etna, that brooding snow-capped volcano that is never far from people’s thoughts, is one of the Mediterranean islands to which I am constantly drawn. I go there for the known attractions and for the food, heavily influenced by the cuisine of the many nations that conquered the island, and for the Baroque towns that sprang up after the earthquake of 1693 that devastated the south-east of the island. All are beautiful, but the finest of them all is Noto, a town built of golden stone from a local quarry. After the earthquake, Giuseppe Lanza, Duke of Camastra, employed the best architects of the day to rebuild the city just south of the original town: the result is a triumph of urban planning and harmony. Noto is in the province of Siracusa, itself a gem of a city and one that should not be rushed through as it has some of the most beautiful buildings in the area, plus the world famous Duomo in the Piazza of the same name, a sea-front with a wall just made for sitting on while you feast on a gelato. Noto lies about 35 kilometers southwest of Siracusa and is easily reached by local trains which run regularly.
It is a very accessible town. You can wander the length of the graceful Corso, stopping here and there for a coffee and one of Noto’s famous cakes, or a gelato or freshly squeezed orange or lemon juice. Take a detour down the side streets and climb the steep steps to the top where the aristocrats lived, then come down to the next level which housed the clergy and other nobility, before arriving back at street level where the ordinary people lived. One of the best streets in which to wander is the Via Nicolaci, famous for its buttressed balconies held up with playful horses, griffons, cherubs and old men, incongruous on an otherwise severely classical façade.
Just at the top of Via Nicolaci is the beautiful elliptical façade of the Chiesa di Montevirgine. I didn’t have time to count them, let alone visit them, but I was assured that Noto has thirty-two churches. Think on that – thirty two churches.
So, what to visit when you are only there for a day visit. If time is short my advice is just to wander. Like Florence, the history of the town is in its buildings, their façades and the sense of life in the streets. The Cathedral rises impressively above Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle and is approached by a wide and graceful flight of steps and its simple interior
may well come as a surprise in contrast to its exterior.
I had initially mistaken the flamboyant Chiesa di san Dominica for the Cathedral, flanked as it is by huge palm trees and looking more Middle East than Mediterranean. The Municipio (town hall) has an exuberant trompe l’oeil ceiling and a “magic mirror” which is just a mirror of illusion. My own favourite interior was the Vittorio Emmanuelle Theatre, still offering productions to its patrons, a fantasy theatre with red velvet and gilded boxes lining the walls echoed by heavy drapes curving round the proscenium arch.