Osaka: Second City

AS I EAT breakfast in the restaurant of my hotel, I can look down on Osaka Castle. Sitting atop a massive mound whose walls rise dramatically from the dark green waters of its wide moat, the picturesque castle is already besieged by tour buses at this early hour. Later in the day, it will be overwhelmed by massive numbers of visitors, who will strip the shops of souvenirs and fill camera memory cards with pictures. Continue reading “Osaka: Second City”

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”

Nicaragua: Keeping Faith

“THE GUYS were lying down behind the barricades and a woman started shouting at us,” says Francisco Roiz. A guide at León’s Asociacion de Combatientes Historicos Heroes de Veracruz, a museum of the 1972–1979 Revolution, he is telling me about his experience in this revolutionary stronghold as government forces attacked. “She was cursing us and asking us if we were waiting for everyone to be killed. Then she picked up a .22 rifle and started shooting at the National Guard. That made us all get up and fight. She saved our lives.”

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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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Arlington, Virginia: Past glories

THERE is nothing like Arlington in Britain, a national cemetery for all who have died in the service of their country. London has St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, with their grand memorials, and the great graveyards of endless war dead in Flanders, Changi and Normandy. But Arlington is all those, and more.

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Lower Saxony: High Living

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

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”

Melbourne: Alley Cats

FROM the 300-metre Eureka Sky Tower, I can see all of Melbourne spread out below me, shadowed by dark rain clouds sweeping in from the horizon. Neon-bright towers blazoned with the logos of insurance and accounting firms – Ernst & Young, Aon – dwarf those raised to the gods of earlier ages: a sturdy 1950s bank, St Paul’s Cathedral. Beyond sprawl suburbs and neat parks, the whole cut by freeways and the mud-lazy Yarra River. Continue reading “Melbourne: Alley Cats”