Last week I touched down in Belgium’s capital for a few days of much-needed culture, and I found Brussels to be the perfect mix of quirky art, intense architecture and intriguing history.
There’s so much that I took in during my time here that it’s hard to work out where to start, so I’m diving straight in with some of the key sights that I encountered during my visit, armed with a 24 hour Brussels Card to give me free access to a whole host of museums, along with free public transport.
A few months ago I blogged about Belgium’s preparations for the centenary of WWI, and mentioned the sights I’d like to visit in Flanders to commemorate the occasion. Now I’ve had the chance to put those plans into action, as I’m heading over to Belgium this month to see things for myself, with some help from the team at Visit Flanders. I’ll be covering WWI, but also seeing other historical talking points such as museums and beguinages (more on those later).
This autumn I embarked on my first totally solo trip, taking on the Czech capital of Prague for three nights of intensive sightseeing. These are some of the little moments that proved I was right to go it alone; the times when I knew it was okay not to be part of a group or, as the copywriting cliché goes, ‘with that special someone’ (highly unlikely, as a man has never treated me to a city break, though two have taken me on dates to Burger King… but I digress).
You know Prague is perfect for solo travellers when you can…
Having a packing dilemma? Here’s how to make the best of your packing and maximise the space in your suitcase, explained in fashion terms (you know, the ones you read in magazines but sometimes struggle to grasp) and in everyday language. To demonstrate, I’ve used an über-practical standard hard shell case that’s suitable for use as hand luggage on the plane.
Know your base layers
Fashionista lingo: Pack interchangeable light pieces that work well as a capsule wardrobe, ideally based on a simple colour palette.
Portugal’s capital consistently features on travel surveys for the best value city breaks in Europe, but I’ve found there’s a lot more to its appeal than just the prospect of saving money. Lisbon is high up on my travel wish list because it combines a blatant love of fashion and design with a wealth of history, having risen from the ashes of the tragic 1755 earthquake and also having blended the influence of the many cultures and countries discovered by its explorers.
Taking in all of these factors, I’ve examined some of the most important sights that I’d be looking to see on a city break here. My wish list is based on quite a few websites, but I’ve linked back to a couple of really useful ones – namely Spotted By Locals and Go Lisbon – as well as official sites for some of the places I’d be checking out.
I’ve taken three bites of the Big Apple so far, and I’m eager to take a fourth chunk out of the city with yet another trip to New York. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t deserve to be ticked off a list only once; each time I’m there, I do totally different things, from hanging out at the UN Headquarters to appearing in the background on Good Morning America, and it feels like a new side to NYC is revealed. I also have some great insight from my sister Nancy, who lived in the city for a year and has been back a few times since.
Last night I reluctantly flew home from Reykjavik, after four days of thirstily drinking in the city’s culture. Whilst I would easily call it the friendliest and most welcoming place I’ve ever visited, equally I can’t help but point out – and fully embrace – the average Reykjavikur’s obsession with death.
For those of you still baffled by the name of my blog, ‘calavera’ means skull. I chose it because I have a bit of a thing about skulls, which increasingly shapes my travel plans as I drift towards anatomical museums, graveyards, castles with years of history and possibly a resident ghost… the list goes on. With Iceland, I didn’t really know there was such a predilection for the morbid until I really got here; I was just keen to see how such a vibrant and creative nation has sprung up in a country that looks so post-apocalyptic at times.
Forget taking those embarrassing Segway tours, or sweating your way through the queues to the Vatican Museums: if there’s one way to really see Rome, it’s by Vespa. Not only does it make you think of the classic scenes in Roman Holiday, where Audrey Hepburn is shown around the city by a very dashing Gregory Peck, but it also lets you see the streets as today’s Romans do, often choosing this as their mode of transport over the packed buses and the Metro.
I booked a Vespa tour with Scooteroma as the company seemed personal, friendly and a bit quirky, with good reviews from customers. Run by Annie Ojile Nerone and her husband Giovanni, they offer a range of options (including longer trips and Tuscany excursions), but I went for the three hour Motorino tour.
In just three days’ time I’ll be in Rome, checking out the Eternal City and tracking down the best coffee, pasta and gelato – well, it’d be rude not to. I’ve been loosely planning my trip for a few months, but now it’s time to actually work out the must-see sights on my list and make sure I don’t leave without ticking them off.
WEIRD AND WONDERFUL
1. The Museum of Purgatory – Regular readers might have noticed that I’m a sucker for unusual sights, so this tiny museum (dedicated to souls stuck between heaven and hell) is an essential stop. It’s at the back of a church and consists of just 20 exhibits in one tiny room, amassed by a single collector up until his death in 1912, so it’ll be a bit like stepping back in time by 101 years.
Anyone with an interest in art history will obviously love Florence, but there’s so much more to it than the galleries you read about (although, let’s face it, the Uffizi is impressive – when I visited there was some kind of US military official being given a private tour and even he looked interested).
When I visited back in June 2007, it was bloody boiling, and I spent most of the time trying to track down a cool beer and some shade, but it was ultimately an incredible few days. Here are the highlights, in embarrassingly grainy 2007-style photo quality.