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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Tips to Explore The Top Neighbourhoods in Budapest

District I: Castle Hill

With cobbled streets, Ottoman echoes and grand Habsburg palaces, there’s history in layers on Castle Hill. Alongside its medieval relics you’ll find the Hospital in the Rock, a subterranean hospital used in WWII and the 1956 Revolution.

Take a morning plunge into the thermal pools set under the Ottoman domes of the Rudas Baths (note that some days are single-sex only). Then get your body moving with a walk through the Tabán area to Krisztina tér for a decadent brunch at Deryné.

Afterwards, hike up the hill to Buda Castle for a visit to the Hungarian National Gallery or the Castle Museum. Curb the hunger pangs with a velvety cream cake at Ruszwurm Cukrászda, the city’s oldest patisserie, before popping by the turrets of the Fisherman’s Bastion for views over the Danube.

In the evening, wander through the quaint streets and keep an eye out for a 14th-century synagogue, the ruins around Magdalene Tower and the grave of the last Pasha of Buda. Salute the day with a glass of wine over dinner at Baltazár Grill & Wine Bar.

District V: Belváros & Lipótváros

You can still see the stones from Pest’s old city wall surrounding District V, but today elegant residences and monuments like the Parliament andSt Stephen’s Basilica populate the inner city. Bullet holes from the 20th century still scar some facades, but modernity molds itself into the cracks with trendy design hubs and new-wave cafes.

To fuel up, go to Szimply Food (szimply.com) for brunch and grab a coffee at Kontakt next door. Instead of the paprika-laden tourist shops on Váci utca, discover Hungarian design at MONO Art & Design (monoartanddesign.tumblr.com) and Paloma (facebook.com/PalomaBudapest) on Kossúth Lajos utca, or peruse some handmade vintage stationery at Bomo Art.

Later, head northwards along the Danube banks to the poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial and turn up towards the Hungarian Parliament. Break for a bite at the market on Hold utca but before you go in, turn around to admire Ödön Lechner’s art nouveau Postal Savings Bank.

Treat yourself for a dinner at the Michelin-starred Costes Downtown orOnyx, or try the Gastronomic Quarter in the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. Wrap things up with cocktails at the gritty, industrialImpostor bar on Szabadság tér in the former Hungarian TV building.

District VII:  Erzsébetváros & the Jewish Quarter

Juxtaposing its synagogues and echoes of its ghetto past against crumbling ruin bars, hedonistic party hostels and unique design shops, the Jewish Quarter perfectly blends Budapest’s complex history with its eclectic contemporary life.

Go for breakfast at Stika (facebook.com/StikaBP) on Klauzál tér before exploring the neighbourhood. Discover its Jewish heritage in the Great Synagogue in Dohány utca and the other neo-Moorish synagogue on Rumbach Sebestyén utca, before stepping into Printa for silkscreen prints, design and upcycled fashion.

Grab lunch at Konyha followed by a coffee around the trendy Gozsdú Udvar. Fashionistas can peruse The Velvet Chemistry (thevelvetchemistry.com) on Király utca for shoes, clothes and accessories by Hungarian designers, but be sure to stop at number 15 to see the ghetto wall memorial through the gate.

Before hitting the ruin bars to get a taste of Budapest’s nightlife, get a quick bite from Bors Gasztro Bár or opt for elegant dining with an Israeli twist under the lit-up trees in shabby-chic Mazel Tov. Sip a few drinks at Szimpla Kert, the city’s first and most famous ruin bar set in a dilapidated apartment complex and decked out with quirky items and mismatched furniture, then continue your night out with stops atFogas and Ellátó Kert.

District VIII: Józsefváros

Until recently, District VIII was an area many avoided, and its gritty feel can still be felt in the outer corners. At its heart lies the Palace District, named for the palatial apartments once belonging to Budapest’s 19th-century aristocratic elite. It was also the backdrop of the 1956 Revolution, with the first shots fired in the Former Hungarian Radio Headquarters on Bródy Sándor utca.

If you feel disoriented by the Italian-influenced architecture in Mikszáth Kálmán tér, drink a coffee at Lumen, a local roastery and cafe. As you explore the Palace District make sure you stop to look up, especially at the intricate Ervin Szabó Library. Meet some of the district’s young creatives by ringing the doorbell at FlatLab (flatlab.hu), a hidden atelier and showroom run by a collective of local designers.

In the afternoon, grab a bagel on the go from Budapest Bagel (facebook.com/budapestbagel) before heading over to the neoclassicalHungarian National Museum. Pay a visit to the beautiful Venetian-Moorish-style Uránia Cinema for a cup of tea in the cafe or an arthouse film.

For good food and a creative buzz, Café Csiga is a great place to start before drinking with the local artsy crowd in one of the neighbourhood bars. Just pop into the alternative cultural centres of Müszi (muszi.org) or Aurora (auroraonline.hu), or hit a party on the rooftop of the socialist-era shopping centre at Corvin Club.

District IX: Ferencváros

This former industrial area was never really popular with tourists, but it’s gaining traction thanks to its cultural complex around the National Theatre, the Palace of Arts and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art. It has earned the nickname ‘Craft Beer District’ for its density of bars with local beers on tap.

Kick-start your senses under the wrought-iron pillars of the Central Market Hall. You can pick up some paprika, Hungarian souvenirs or stop for a bite. Take a Danube-side stroll over to the Bálna, a giant undulating complex of glass grafted onto exposed-brick buildings housing cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops.

Stop by Ferenc tér for a French-Hungarian fusion lunch at Petrus before sampling a digestive on a tour at nearby Zwack Unicum Factory, where you can learn all about Hungary’s most famous bitter liqueur in an interactive way.

7 sensational day trips from Naples

 Trek up Mt Vesuvius and explore Pompeii

A morning hike up Mt Vesuvius, the volatile volcano that entombed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in 79 AD, is classic Neapolitan adventure. The 30-minute ascent along a steep gravel path is suitable for most fitness levels. Peering inside the crater, you won’t see any gurgling lava, but your efforts will be rewarded with stunning views across the Bay of Naples.

Spend the rest of the day exploring the mammoth Unesco World Heritage Site of Pompeii. Don’t miss the Forum, with its chilling Vesuvian view, the vibrantly restored Dionysus fresco at the Villa of the Mysteries, the co-ed Stabian baths, the 2nd-century BC House of the Faun and the ancient stone Amphitheatre.

Lunch stop: Just outside Pompeii’s amphitheatre gate, Stuzzicò by Lucius (facebook.com/Stuzzicò-by-Lucius) serves freshly made Neapolitan dishes in a small, authentic setting.

Getting there: Take the EAV bus (eavsrl.it) from Naples to Vesuvius and back to Pompeii. Return to Naples on the Circumvesuviana or seasonal Campania Express train.

Relax and rejuvenate on Ischia

A short boat ride from Naples is the bay’s largest island – Ischia, a land of thermal waters. Saltwater and thermal pools, private beaches, massage, mud and beauty treatments and onsite restaurants… You’ll find everything you need for a day of total relaxation at Castiglione, Negombo and Poseidon, Ischia’s three thermal parks.

Alternatively, skip the beauty and wellness treatments in favour of a day at the Giardino Eden Beach Club (giardinoedenischia.it). Reached by motor boat from Ischia Ponte, Giardino Eden’s pools and views are postcard perfect. Reserve lunch at their Sea Restaurant upon arrival. The seafood is so fresh it’s practical wriggling off the plate.

Leave enough time to visit Castello Aragonese and stroll along Ischia’s main shopping street, Corso Vittoria Colonna, before catching the last ferry back to Naples.

Getting there: High-speed hydrofoils leave from Naples’ Molo Beverello port, slower ferries from Porta di Massa.

Luxuriate in opulence at Reggia di Caserta, the Italian Versailles

Spend the day in the lap of luxury at Reggia di Caserta, Luigi Vanvitelli’s sumptuous 1200-room palace built for a Bourbon king. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the palace’s monumental staircase, Palatine chapel and lavishly appointed royal apartments, including a capacious collection ofpresepi (Neapolitan Christmas cribs), are open for visitors to enjoy.

Outside, roam the palace’s equally grandiose royal park. Follow the 3km-long promenade with its water channels and fountains, by foot, bus, bike or horse-drawn carriage. At the top, visit the English Garden with its seductive Bath of Venus.

Lunch stop: Just a short walk from the palace, elegant Antica Hostaria Massa (ristorantemassa.it) serves elevated classics made from local produce.

Getting there: Near to Caserta’s station, the palace is easily reached by train from Naples’ Central Station.

Spend a leisurely day in Sorrento

The sun-kissed town of Sorrento radiates old world charm. Meander the crisscrossing, cobbled shopping alleys of the old town, flush with leather goods, ceramics, limoncello and the town’s world-famous inlaid wood. Visit Chiesa di San Francesco with its charming cloister and breathe in the views from Villa Comunale park. An elevator here whisks you down to Marina Piccola and a smattering of beach clubs, or head to Piazza Vittoria and stroll down to Marina Grande’s small fishing village. Don’t forget to sample a spritz at Bar Fauno on Piazza Tasso before you leave.

Lunch stop: For Neapolitan pizza and southern Italian dishes served al fresco, head for La Basilica (ristorantelabasilica.com).

Getting there: Come on the Circumvesuviana and seasonal Campania Express trains from Naples, by ferry from Naples’ Molo Beverello port. From Naples Capodichino Airport take the CurreriViaggi bus.

Ramble through ancient seaside villas

Wander three luxurious leisure villas built by wealthy Romans along the Campanian coastline. Start in the town of Torre Annunziata at Pompeii’s one-time seaside suburb Oplontis. Villa Poppaea here is said to have belonged to Nero’s wife, Sabina Poppaea. More than 20 rooms are open to wander; outside is a 61-metre-long swimming pool.

Next, head south to Castellammare di Stabia and the cliffside Stabian Villas: Villa Arianna, with its rich frescoes, and the 11,000-square-meter Villa San Marco.

Lunch stop: Stop off at Piazzetta Milù (piazzettamilu.it) in Castellammare di Stabia, which has Michelin-starred cuisine, stylish decor and an eclectic wine list.

Getting there: Oplontis is easily reached on the Circumvesuviana train, but the Stabian Villas are trickier to reach. Hiring a car or driver is best for this excursion.

Surrender to the siren call of Capri

Capri is one of the most popular day trips from Naples. If you can suffer the hordes (or visit off-season), Naples’ prettiest island will enchant.

Float on the luminous azure waters of the uber-touristed Grotta Azzurra (the lines are worth it), then glide to the island’s summit on theMonte Solaro chairlift, where sublime panoramic views await. Visit Axel Munthe’s eclectic Villa San Michele for more enchanting vistas or escape to Augustus’ Gardens with views of the Faraglioni rocks.

Lunch stop: Ristorante da Gelsomina (dagelsomina.com) in Anacapri serves homemade specialities like Ravioli Capresi on their panoramic terrace.

Getting there: take a high-speed hydrofoil from Naples’ Molo Beverello port or a slower (and more scenic) ferry from Porta di Massa.

Sun, sand and centuries of history in Pafos

 The majority of travellers to Pafos today are lured by sea, sand and sun, and Cyprus certainly gets a lot of sun – 326 sparkling, sunshiny days per year, on average. But on this island you can’t walk more than a few paces in any direction without tripping over an ancient ruin or real-life setting for a Hellenic myth. And Pafos is no Agia Napa or Protaras – this is a proper Mediterranean city, down to the veg-stacked grocers’ shops and courtyards full of potted geraniums.

Cultured Pafos

With more than 3000 years of uninterrupted history, Pafos was an obvious candidate for the European City of Culture 2017. Performers have been gathering on the stage of its ancient odeon (amphitheatre) since at least the 2nd century BC, and the cult of fertility worship has been active in these thyme-scented hills since Neolithic times. It was no accident that the ancient Greeks chose this stretch of coast as the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

Every July and August, dramas by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and others get the full amphitheatre treatment in the Pafos odeon for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama (greekdramafest.com), while opera takes centre stage in Pafos castle every September during the Aphrodite Festival (pafc.com.cy). In 2017, the culture goes into overdrive, with art exhibitions, public performances and classical concerts amidst the ancient stones of the city’s myriad archaeological sites. Visit the Pafos 2017 (pafos2017.eu) website for a full programme of events.

A tale of two cities

The Greek tradition of splitting towns in two dates back to at least 500 BC, when Herodotus and Plato wrote of cities divided into parallel communities – a kato (‘below’) part on the coast, and an ano (‘upper’) part inland. In an ancient Mediterranean teeming with the battleships of squabbling empires, it made sense to have somewhere to flee to in the hills, and in Cyprus the tradition is still very much alive.

When most visitors talk about Pafos, what they actually mean is Kato Pafos, sprawling around a sandstone harbour guarded by a Byzantine castle, beside a string of beaches that have become a favourite spot for British sun-seekers. Ano Pafos, or Ktima, 16km inland, is where locals prefer to live, enjoying the cooler climate at this higher elevation, and the peace and quiet away from the beach bars and touristy tavernas.

At beach level, Kato Pafos is the classic Med, complete with sun umbrellas and all-day breakfast cafes, but you don’t have to wander far to find ancient history. The rocky headland to the north of the harbour is one big historical adventure playground. The ruins scattered across the Pafos Archaeological Site were once the capital of Cyprus, before an earthquake toppled the columns and cracked the arches in the 4th century.

Myriad magnificent mosaics

Pafos’ archaeological ruins serve up a full hand of Greco-Roman treasures – arcades of columns, thermal baths, an ancient amphitheatre – but the main attraction here is underfoot. The undisputed highlight of the site is the House of Dionysus, a Roman villa whose lavish mosaics could have graced the front cover of the AD 200 edition of Ideal Home. The elaborate floor decorations cover everything from the changing seasons to depictions of Dionysus, rambunctious god of wine, and neighbouring villas have mosaics of Poseidon, Achilles and Theseus and the Minotaur.

A short wander east from the archaeological zone, the Hrysopolitissa Basilica was constructed at the height of the city’s power, before tremors and Arab pirates reduced ancient Pafos to rubble. The current church sits on just a tiny part of the vast area covered by the original basilica which, like many churches in Cyprus, has Bible credentials. One of the columns in the grounds was allegedly used for the torture of the apostle Paul, whose resilience to persecution inspired the Roman governor to convert to Christianity.

If the rulers of ancient Pafos lived well, they died in luxury. Around 2km north of the Kato Pafos archaeological site, the Tombs of the Kingswere hollowed out over six centuries to accommodate the highfliers of the ancient city on their final journey to the afterlife. Carved into a rocky outcrop, these handsome mausoleums followed the Egyptian tradition of making tombs as grand as the homes of the living, with vast atriums ringed by colonnades and carved niches that could accommodate whole families. Warm, dry winds rustle across the site, which is charmingly overgrown and often overlooked by the package tour groups.

Meeting Aphrodite

Since time immemorial, visitors to Cyprus have been obsessed with Aphrodite, and the ancient Greek goddess of love is eternally associated with Pafos. According to which Greek scribe you believe, this mighty madam was born either from the union of Zeus and Dione, or from foam on the sea after Uranus, the god of the sky, lost his manhood to the scythe of Cronus. The location of this miraculous conception has been mapped to the shoreline east of Pafos at Petra tou Romiou, where a marble sea stack rises dramatically from the sea beside a lonely pebble beach.

It’s an undeniably pretty spot, but you may get a better feel for the cult of Aphrodite at Kouklia, site of the original Greek settlement at Pafos. Set in a handsome Lusignan mansion, the Palaipafos Museum (mcw.gov.cy) marks the site of the original Sanctuary of Aphrodite, one of the most important pilgrimage centres in the ancient world. It takes a bit of imagination to make sense of the scattered ruins, but the displays inside are a good primer on the cult of Aphrodite.

Top 7 Instagram hot spots in Hong Kong

 This dynamic metropolis is prized photography country, even for those who prefer to shoot bite-sized, instantly uploadable images. Inspiration can strike anywhere, but below are the 7 best places to capture Hong Kong’s most iconic photographs.

1. Hong Kong’s garden hideaway

Few photos can capture the essence of Hong Kong better than those taken at Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon. Instagram opportunities unfurl before your lens here as classical Chinese gardens give way to a glorious golden pagoda and a lotus pond filled with plump koi carp. This serene Buddhist complex seems all the more tranquil when snapped against the contrasting skyscrapers that tower above, creating a seamless fusion of the modern and the natural.

2. Food too cute to eat

Embedded into Hong Kong’s culture like dragon dances and milk tea, Instagram swells with shots of steaming baskets of dim sum, so head toYum Cha to snap something more contemporary. This dim sum restaurant does things a little differently: the pork buns are shaped as pigs and the sausage rolls are designed like dogs. Even the pineapple puff cookies are made to look like birds and are presented in a metal cage.

3. The iconic rainbow residence

Thickets of high-rise apartments stretch skyward across much of Hong Kong, so skyline shots and neck-craning close-ups both provide fantastic photo fodder. However, the vibrant Choi Hung Estate (take exit C4 from the Kwun Tong MTR stop) is where Instagrammers should head first. With a rainbow of painted panels adorning the sides of the towers, palm trees lining the entrance and locals shooting hoops on the estate’s basketball court, the Choi Hung Estate could pass as 1970s California – and there’s always the 1977 Instagram filter to play up that effect.

4. Snap something fishy

Mong Kok is home to a number of markets selling everything from phone cases to lingerie, but keen photographers should zoom in on Tung Choi Street’s Goldfish Market where dozens of fish are separated into plastic bags and displayed for prospective pet owners to examine. It is considered good luck to bring fish into the home in China and while the humble goldfish does make an appearance here, expect to snap a wide array of colourful and exotic species.

5. The cocktail snap

What you want from a rooftop photo is an unobstructed view of the skyline, but not all of Hong Kong’s rooftop bars were created equal. While most tourists will flock to Central or Tsim Sha Tsui for a high-rise drink, Wooloomooloo in Wan Chai offers a completely different perspective on the city. The panoramic view from the terrace is just the spot to capture Victoria Harbour in an envy-inducing Instagram shot, fruity cocktail in hand.

6. The star shot

For a different perspective of the city’s skyscrapers ride the Star Ferry. If you’re quick enough to grab a window seat, Hong Kong’s most beloved boat offers unrivalled vistas of Victoria Harbour and an upward view of the towering architectural giants that dominate the city’s eternal skyline. It’s a sight that will make you feel small, but one that will keep your Instagram game strong.

7. That ‘I’m on top of the world’ picture

For a sweeping view of all that Hong Kong has to offer, climb the moderate 2.8km hike from Wong Tai Sin to Lion Rock in Kowloon. Though not as popular or as easy as the trek to Dragon’s Back, those that make the ascent will be rewarded with piercing views that sweep across over cloud-like clusters of skyscrapers below, out across the haze of Victoria Harbour and to the silhouetted hills beyond. The 495m-high mountain is named after the feline-shaped rock at its summit, which also happens to be the city’s most recognised natural landmark.