Istanbul: Turkish Delight

FOR A visitor, it can seem you have to leave Istanbul to see it. Looking back across the Galata Bridge at sunset, the city’s most glorious sights are laid out before me: the floodlit minarets of the mosque of Suleymaniye the Magnificent; the Topkapi Palace dominating Seraglio Point; the soaring domes of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Continue reading “Istanbul: Turkish Delight”

Bruges: Tourism Central

“EVEN IF you came here with no intention at all to buy chocolate, it would beat you into submission,” says an Englishwoman sitting near me at breakfast. I am not sure if that is a complaint or a justification for succumbing to the temptation of a near-endless array of chocolate shops. But welcome to Bruges, where tourists are spoilt for choice on every corner.

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Amsterdam: Canal Ring

“WE HAVE a saying in Dutch: ‘In de aap gelogeerd’ or ‘You slept in the monkey house’ – which means you’re in trouble, having a bit of bad luck. That comes from here.”
I’m in the In’t Aepjen (In the Monkey) pub, one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam and one of only two still with a wooden façade. Inside, there is barely room for an ancient oak staircase and a tiny bar backed by shelves full of Dutch gin, glasses and curios that heavily feature monkeys in recognition of the pub’s name.

“A lot of seamen would drink here always,” says Frits, the only barman as well as the owner’s son. “It was also a hostel. When they couldn’t pay cash, they would pay with monkeys. Real monkeys. There were always monkeys on the ships as rich people wanted them for their homes. So the hostel became full of monkeys in cages and when the seamen came back on their ships, they were scratching themselves from the fleas.” Continue reading “Amsterdam: Canal Ring”

London: World Centre

The official center of London is at Trafalgar Square, marked by a small brass plaque in the pavement beneath a statue of Charles I on horseback. “Stand here and you will eventually see everyone you know in the world,” they say. And it’s true I once bumped into someone I worked with a decade before in Africa.

The square is dominated by the Greco-Roman columns of the National Gallery and the tall Nelson’s Column with four massive lions at its base. Despite the warning notices, children and those who should know better clamber over the bronze lions, polishing them ever further. Proud parents and giggling friends photograph the fun. Camera phones, GoPros on sticks and every possible size and brand of camera are in constant action. But most people are just sitting or strolling, taking in the view and the people around them. Continue reading “London: World Centre”

St Petersburg: Tsarry-eyed Wonder

VISITORS TO FLORENCE will be familiar with Stendhal’s Syndrome, a kind of panic or ecstasy brought about by seeing too many wonders in too short a time, named after the impressionable young 19th-century French novelist.

I’m sure the Russians have a parallel name for those overcome by the arguably even greater wonders of St Petersburg – probably something like Jaw-Drop Syndrome.

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Lower Saxony: High Living

This is an extract from my article in the October issue of Food & Travel magazine:

AMERICAN Michael Boyer (pictured) has the glorious title of “Rattenfanger’ in the town of Hameln (better known to us as Hamelin). It means ‘Rat-Catcher’ but he is, of course, the brightly arrayed Pied Piper who famously led the town’s children away after not being paid for doing the same to the rats. Continue reading “Lower Saxony: High Living”

Kiev: Beyond the Orthodox

IT’S the statues. Kiev looks like many a European city while the people in designer clothes, ever so slightly out of London style time, and the shops featuring labels such as Louis Vuitton or Nike could be anywhere. But the statues of heroic people straining their every sinew to serve the Motherland could only be from the former Soviet Union.

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Lisbon: Looking out for No.1

AS any Sharpe fan will know, and hopefully most of the rest of us, too, Portugal is Britain’s oldest ally. Visiting Lisbon, I was reminded of the link between the countries by one iconic image: the bright red pillar box.

Lisbon’s post boxes are the old British Victorian design, given a local makeover with a ‘Correio’ stamp instead of our regal ciphers, and a glass-fronted dial to show the next time of collection.
They also bear a number and, after noting this, the latent trainspotter in me couldn’t resist looking out for No.1. Continue reading “Lisbon: Looking out for No.1”

Dubrovnik: Historical ties

LIKE many of you, I lament the loss of the cravat. Not quite wearing a tie, not quite a slob, you have the best of both worlds: casual while being elegant. But did you know a tie is a cravat – ‘tie’ merely referring to the fact the cravat is knotted at the collar?

And ‘cravat’ is a corruption of the word Croat, Croatian mercenaries are the ones to thank for introducing to the rest of Europe in the 16th century the fashion of men wearing a piece of lace about their necks.

Continue reading “Dubrovnik: Historical ties”