Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, lying amidst the hills on the Kandy plateau. The city is the capital of the Central Province as well as a religious and administrative centre for the capital. It is also known for being the home of one of the most holy places of worship within the Buddhist world, and was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1988.
The city has been known through the centuries by a variety of names, though the English name of Kandy – born during colonial times – is drawn from an anglicised version of the Sinhalese Kanda Uda Rata (which means the land on the mountain).
The Portuguese shortened the name to “Candea”, though it is now generally named Kandy by all.
There are numerous attractions to see, spiritual, botanical and outdoorsy, but there is also one that will probably ring a bell with die hard tea drinkers – the Hantana Tea Factory Museum, located in the town of Hantana, about three miles away.
The Tea Factory was constructed in 1925, and was later converted as a museum in which you will find interesting exhibits outlining the lives of the tea pioneers Thomas Lipton and James Taylor, as well as lots of vintage tea processing reading matter.
The factory had actually remained abandoned for more than ten years, then refurbished by the Planters’ Association of Sri Lanka together with the Sri Lanka Tea Board, and made into a museum documenting the 130-year history of the first tea plant brought to Sri Lanka by James Taylor, a British gentleman. The Tea Museum is a joint project by the Sri Lanka Tea Board and the Planters’ Association of Sri Lanka.
The building is made up of four floors, the ground floor housing heaving machinery, and the first floor illustrating some examples of the drying and fermenting process.
On the second floor you can find the library and audio visual presentations, with sales outlets available on the third floor, where you can buy a variety of teas. The fourth floor has been converted to a select restaurant, where you can enjoy a complimentary cuppa of any tea flavour of your choice, including white, green, black and even malsala, as well as being able to look out onto a breath-taking view.
The Tea Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from: 8.15 a.m. to 4.45 p.m. with a 45 minute lunch break from 12.15 p.m. to 1.00p.m.
To get there: take the bus which drops you directly in front of the factory (though there is a small hill to ascend to get into the grounds, or, if driving, there is always ample parking space available.
The name Québec originated from the Algonquin word kébec, which means “where the river narrows”. This referred to the place where the Saint Lawrence River narrows to a cliff lined gap in the area around the city.
The province of Québec is actually the only one that has French as its sole (official) provincial language. Located in east-central Canada, the province shares its borders with the province of Ontario, Hudson Bay and James Bay to its west. Ungava Bay and Hudson Strait to its north, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to its east, and is surrounded by many US states to its south. It also shares maritime borders with Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and Nova Scotia.
For many years, the question of independence for the province was an ongoing debatable issue. Finally, in 2006, a (sort of) solution was reached when the House of Commons of Canada passed a symbolic motion that recognised the “Québécois as a nation within a united Canada.” Time to find the old O’ Level French cheat sheets, methinks.
The province of Québec has a plethora of natural resources, adding to the general wealth created from its expansive IT, biotechnological and pharmaceutical industrial accomplishments. Located opposite Québec City, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, is the city of Lévis, where you can see proof of some of the above.
If you take the ferry from Québec City across to Lévis, 15 minutes away, you will be even more impressed.
Lévis, in the suburban borough of Desjardins, is the biggest industrial centre of the Chaudière-Appalaches region, which lies in the Saint-Romuald sector. Located here are the large Ultramar refinery, the Davie Québec Inc. shipyard and also the Frito-Lay potato chip plant, which is part of the multinational PepsiCo partnership. (Healthy combination, n’est ce pas?).
The town was very active through many military actions, and has a park that has some interesting attractions, as well as one remaining fort.
The building of a series of three forts in Lévis to protect Québec City from an American attack began in 1865, although Fort No. 1 is now the last British witness of this line of defence. The site is well preserved, with tunnels, underground fortification structures (also known as caponiers), and mysterious tunnels, together with casemates housing a detailed and informative exhibition explaining all about Canadian history including Fort No. 1 and its construction. The top of the ramparts offers a wonderful view of the St. Lawrence River.
The park located in front of Fort No. 1 was at one time a Canadian Air force base, later dedicated to the advancement of peace, with the aid of UNESCO. The original look out tower is still there, together with a mounted CF-101 Voodoo interceptor aircraft from the cold war. Other portions of the park represent the other two services.
Travel directions: take the ferry from Québec City, drive east down Saint-Joseph Street, turn right on Mgr Ignace-Bourget Street, right again on Champagnat Street, and then drive along Chemin du Gouvernement. Full address is: 41, Chemin du Gouvernement, Lévis. Tel: 418-835-5182
St. Lucia is the second largest of the Windward Islands, with a land area of about 239 square miles and population of approximately 150,000 as of 2015. According to the local lore (but not, alas, to historians), it was named after St. Lucy, as the day Christopher Columbus first set eyes on the island, the 13th of December 1498, is the one traditionally dedicated to that saint by the Catholic Church. The islanders speak a combination of dialect and language, which reflects the island’s past history and cultural influences, and ranges from West African French-based patois, English, and Spanish.
The island was formed by volcanic activity and is very mountainous, with a predominant ridge running through the entire length of the island. Its highest point, Mt. Gimie, rises 3,145 feet above the sea and is a popular photo landmark. Several other distinctive topographic sites are the Pitons – Gros Piton standing at 2,619 feet and Petit Piton at 2,461 feet – that are coastal mountain peaks climbing straight out of the sea. As you can imagine, the island is extremely popular with hikers and nature lovers; talking of which, you have the option of two trails that are really worth exploring.
The two trails that are mentioned above and that, together, make up the Union Nature Trail are not located on what is generally considered to be the beaten track, so I am outlining the directions here: approximately 10 minutes north of the capital, on the Castries-Gros Islet highway, you will need to turn inland on the Aidan Bousquet Highway leading to Babonneau village. After about a mile and a half, there is a large fence where you should turn right until you reach the forestry headquarters. Keep your eyes peeled as the signage is a bit poor and the turnoff is easy to miss.
The Garden Trail is the smallest of these two official trails and will take you on a leisurely stroll of about half a mile through a garden devoted to bush medicine (herbal cures), several introduced tree species, local fruit trees, medicinal herbs plus a small mini-zoo with agoutis (those very cute guinea pig lookalikes), iguanas and other exotic wildlife. You will also have a chance to see the amazing variety of wild birds that inhabit the area, and that include hummingbirds, mockingbirds, and the indigenous and endemic St. Lucia parrot. The literature you will find at the Zoo’s centre will provide you with lots of information about the island’s endangered species, vegetation zones, and life in the forest, placing a strong emphasis on the conservation of biological diversity.
The Hillside Trail, which is the second option, requires a bit more physical effort, as it involves step-climbing over a stretch of rough terrain. This trail is made up of a one mile loop, which requires a walk of about two hours through a tropical forest environment, reaching its highest point at an altitude of 350 feet.
You can call in advance to arrange a guided tour on: (758) 468-5649/5645/5648
The first thing that comes to my mind, when I hear the name of the South African city of Pretoria, is the blaze of purple that radiates from the magnificent jacaranda trees lining its wide avenues. And, on a windy day, as the petals fall, the term ‘purple rain’ takes on a whole new meaning.
Pretoria is named after the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, has a long and fascinating history and, being South Africa’s administrative capital, is one of the country’s three capital cities, the other two being Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein, carrying out the country’s judicial functions.
Actually, Pretoria is sometimes referred to as “Tshwane”, reflecting a controversial and long running proposal for changing its name, the outcome of which is still to be decided (as of 2014).
Pretoria was also once served as the lynchpin of the thankfully now defunct apartheid regime; there are many buildings, statues and museums still remaining that somewhat serve as reminders of that sorry tale, including the iconic, vast Voortrekker Monument, Cultural History Museum and the Smuts Museum. There is also the Transvaal Museum, which has on show some truly amazing natural history displays and is also the home of the australopithecine fossil, popularly known as Mrs Ples, that had been found at Sterkfontein, the so-called Cradle of Humankind.
Pretoria doesn’t just shine for its Plio-Pleistoncene discoveries; a 20 minutes’ drive north-east of the city will take you to the mining town of Cullinan, home of the Cullinan Diamond Mine (formerly known, until 2003, as the Premier Mine), where you will have the opportunity to see some real shiny stuff.
The Cullinan Diamond Mine is a tapering Kimberlite pipe with a surface area of 42 hectares – that’s near on 40 football pitches – and is the third richest diamond producing site in South Africa. The mine, now eponymously named after its erstwhile owner, the South African prospector Sir Thomas Cullinan, is famed for the 1905 discovery of the largest rough diamond in history, which was called (nul-points for imagination there) the Cullinan Diamond.
The famous 3106.75-carat stone was bought by the Transvaal Government and presented to Edward VII on his birthday in 1907. Rumour has it that Joseph Asscher, of the Amsterdam Asscher Brothers cutting firm, who had been responsible for cleaving and then cutting the stone, fainted with relief once the process had been successfully carried out. The main cut stone resulting from the endeavour is the Great Star of Africa, a pear-shaped diamond of 530.20 carats that is set in the sceptre of the British Crown Jewels, which is housed, together with its equally stunning brethren, in the Tower of London.
The diamond is just one of the many (for a grand total of 120-million carats) since extracted from the pipe. Including a 507-carat diamond, found in Sept 2009, which sold for $35.3 million. Ah, how the other half live.
Daily two hour surface tours are available, during which you can witness the extraction process after the crushed Kimberlite rocks have been brought to the ascent.
Cordoba is a pretty city in Andalusia, Southern Spain. Its history goes back to at least the 10th century, if not further, and it was once deemed to be the most populous city in the world. The old town houses plenty of architectural reminders of Cordoba’s prolonged dominance during the Roman Empire, and its strong presence as the capital of the Islamic Emirate and then Caliphate of Cordoba, or Qurtubah, as the city was then known.
Today the city is home to approximately 330,000 residents and is popular with locals and tourists alike, offering both culinary delights and fascinating architecture to explore; one example of which is the truly marvellous Mezquita, which draws in thousands of tourists through its arched doorway every year. The historic centre of the city, where the Mezquita stands, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cordoba is popular year round, and even more so during the mid-April to mid-June period, when the city hosts the majority of its fiestas.
However, if you’re interested in escaping the usual tourist melee and, at the same time, get some respite from the heat, it’s worth visiting the medieval mountain village of Zuheros.
Situated on the fringe of the Sierra Subbetica Natural Park, the village offers lots of scenic walking and biking routes as well as the fascinating Murcielagos Cave, which are home to one of the largest bat colonies in Andalusia as well as fascinating Neolithic artefacts.
The Neolithic burial remains discovered there show evidence of human occupation as far back as 35,000 years ago, some of the finds of which can be viewed in the archaeological museum located in the cave. It has been documented that the residents lived mostly in the cave entrance, built fires, cooked food and produced tools from flint and bone, and fashioned clay pots using the distinctive almagre red pigment for decoration. There is also evidence of Roman occupation.
The caves extend for at least two kilometres, but you are only allowed to visit 450 metres of them. There are a total of 700 steps, which take you 63 metres below sea level. The steps are suitable for all ages, with the walk taking about 45 minutes. You are also able to park right outside the attraction.
But let’s return to the bats (relax, Robin, I don’t need you right now). You probably won’t even see many – or even any – bats if they’re roosting; but, in any case, be assured they’re not at all interested in you!
If you like, you can take an hour-long guided tour to visit the caves. This can be booked in advance on 957 694 545. Be aware, the tour is conducted in Spanish, but the guides will also hand out English information sheets if required.
Just as an aside, the village is also internationally recognised for its cheese factory, Las Balanchares, where locally bred goats from the Sierras provide the milk. The cheese can be bought directly from the factory.
Directions to reach the village from Cordoba are as follows: take the A432 south until just past Baena. Take the turn-off for Doña Mencía; the road to Zuheros is opposite this village. To reach the caves from Zuheros, leave the village opposite the Museo de Costumbres y Artes Populares, where you will then see the cave signposted.
Corsica, situated in the Mediterranean Sea, has the Italian Peninsula to its east, the island of Sardinia to its south, and the French mainland to its northwest. Being two third mountainous, it is a lovely island and France is very happy to be its owner (though not every Corsican would be happy with this sentiment, I shouldn’t think).
Corsica has its own, much defined character, including its own language. Though French is the official lingo, Italian is also spoken in the touristy areas. The island has gone through several different owners, including Genoa and Pisa. It has been French since 1769, however, though it does enjoy a special constitutional status.
Corsican food shows a mixture of French and Italian influences, albeit retaining its own distinctive character. One of its most popular ingredients are chestnuts, which are used in both the main course and the dessert. A large population of pigs (a very attractive breed, I must say!) is left to roam semi-wild for most of the year, and supplies very tasty cold cuts and roasts. Its local pastries – Canistrelli – are also delicious, not to mention (okay, I will anyway) a surprising choice of local beers and wines.
The island also produces a uniquely flavoured olive oil, which is made from fruit fallen from the trees.
Corsica is a popular water sports destination, as it offers wonderful sailing, scuba diving, wind surfing, kite surfing and swimming opportunities. It also has amazing hiking trails for those who love the island’s rugged nature, two specific hikes cover the entire area from Sea to Sea (Mare e Mare) and Sea and Mountain (Mare e Monti).
To experience the island’s true ancient feeling, inasmuch as it still present to this day, take a trip to the village of Sartène, on the west coast, between Bonifacio and Propriano. Perched upon a hill overlooking the Gulf of Valinco, Sartène, named “the most Corsican town” by French dramatist and historian Prosper Mérimée, offers a very real glimpse into Corsican life as it once was, before tourism diluted it somewhat.
Until defeated by the Genoese in the 16th century, the village was, at one time, home to the all-powerful Della Rocca family. You can still see castle ruins dating back to the 13th century, and its mysterious and guarded dead-end alleyways and ramshackle granite houses will transport you back to the internal vendetta days of the Corsica of old (but don’t be concerned, Corsica is very safe these days). In the early 1830s, a bloody feud between two families led to guards patrolling the streets and windows being bricked up!
Some noteworthy attractions include the Eglise Sainte-Marie church, which dates back to the 1760s, the former palace of the Genoese rulers (now the town hall) and the Musee de la Prehistoire Corse. There is also a nice square, Place de la Liberation, with its lovely views overlooking the surrounding valleys and where you can stop and indulge in a local pizza or coffee from one of the attractive pizzerias and cafes.
If you want, you can also rent audio guides that will steer you round the town. These are available from the Sartène tourist office at +33 (0) 4 95 77 15 40
It’s best to rent a car on your visit as public transport is very limited.
Cambridge is the county town of Cambridgeshire in England. Whilst not very large, its population being approximately 124,000 as of 2013 – and a third of those are students –it’s one of the jewels in the British crown for its world famous university which is constantly ranked among the top five globally, and for its history, which can be traced to the Bronze Age.
Cambridge plays a major role in the high technology stakes, jokingly referred to as Silicon Fen (a play on Silicon Valley) for its predominantly marshy surroundings. Cambridge’s apples don’t land far from its academic tree, either, as over 40% of its workforce has higher education qualifications.
Only about 40 minutes away by train from London, it is a popular tourist destination, not only with overseas visitors, but also other Brits. Many music and art festivals through the year add to this city’s attractiveness.
While you’re in the Cambridge area, it’s worthwhile taking a journey to nearby Ely.
Ely is rightly proud of its relationship with eels; even its name is derived from the Isle of Eels on which the City stood amongst marshland and water. Eels are still fished in the River Great Ouse and, smoked, are considered a delicacy and sold at Ely’s weekly Farmers Market.
The location of the city makes for a popular riverside spot, offering interesting shops – some selling the pottery that has been produced the city for over 700 years – galleries, restaurants (where, if you wish, you can try out the city’s delicacies of eel pie and eel stew,). Alternatively, just relax and watch the many aquatic birds who visit the river.
Ely is absolutely steeped in history and, among other wonderful attractions, has a magnificent 11th century Cathedral, famous for its unique Octagon and West towers, which dominate the landscape for miles; you can climb them to appreciate the view for yourselves!
A visit to the Stained Glass Museum, located in the Cathedral’s South Triforium area, is an absolute must. It is host to a stunning collection of stained glass that is unique in the country. You can also take an audio-guided tour that relates the history of stained glass through the ages.
The Cathedral’s construction was begun in 1083 by Ely’s first Norman bishop, Simeon. Following the Reformation, it experienced many years of neglect, being finally and sympathetically restored to its former glory by the architect George Gilbert Scott between 1845 and 1870. As seat of a diocese, Ely had long been considered a city and was accordingly granted that status by Royal Charter in 1974.
Another point of interest here is Oliver Cromwell’s House, which, with the possible exception of Hampton Court Palace, is the only remaining dwelling of the Lord Protector, who had resided there with his family for ten years before the Civil War. You will get some excellent insights into 17th century life when visiting it. Audio tours are also available to rent.
Ely Museum, at the end of Market Street, is another of the city’s attractions, set in the former gaol. The museum houses a very interesting collection of memorabilia and offers the chance to learn about the area from prehistoric times to the twentieth century.
To get to Ely from Cambridge, catch one of the many buses or coaches available, which will drop you off right in the centre of town, on Market Street. Trains are available too from Cambridge Railway Station.
The maritime city of Genoa (spelt Genova in Italian) is the capital of Liguria, and the largest seaport in Italy. The city has a population of over 1.5 million and is also one of Europe’s largest cities on the Mediterranean Sea.
Being the birthplace of Niccolo Paganini and Christopher Columbus, together with its illustrious marine history, architecture, music, art and, of course, gastronomic delights, make Genoa a city worth a visit. Genoa was, in fact, awarded the nickname la Superba (the Proud One), and part of the old town was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006.
Genoa began its days as a port in the 6th century B.C. and, by the Middle Ages, was a formidable maritime power together with its three rivals Venice, Pisa, and Amalfi. To this day, in fact, the Italian Navy’s flag includes the coats of arms of the four erstwhile maritime powers. Times have changed, however, and, though the city has retained a small naval presence, its harbour is now used mostly for commercial shipping interests.
You can easily see the old and the new living side by side in this city. Walk through the city’s narrow, twisty lanes (caruggi) and shaded alleyways on the portside Old Town to absorb the mixture of rich and poor, from splendid marbled churches and banks – including the Bank of Saint George, founded in 1407 and one of the oldest banks in the world – to its brothels and slums, the children playing noisily in the streets, their mothers casually gossiping while hanging out their washing to dry in the ever present sun.
You can also see how Genoa has been renovated; since hosting the Expo 1992 and being the 2004 European City of Culture, the city was motivated to clean itself up. Parts of the city are now resplendent with attractive parks, modern business outlets, and it now also has one of the finest maritime museums ever, as well as Europe’s largest aquarium. Oh, and is that an IKEA flag I can see flying in the near distance?
But there is also one area that has seemingly remained untouched throughout Genoa’s colourful history, and that is the old mariner village of Boccadasse.
This neighbourhood sits at the eastern side of Corso Italia, at the feet of the narrow street of Via Aurora.
You would be forgiven if you felt you had perhaps stepped back in time, as the village’s collection of pastel coloured houses nestled together, cosy coves, narrow pebbled streets and fishing boats resting on the pebbled shore look as if nothing has disturbed its equilibrium for centuries.
Walk along the lively promenade and discover the good selection of restaurants and local bars in which to enjoy a customary aperitivo, and some of the best ice cream Genoa has to offer. The local markets are also there to tempt you with their local produce.
If you are visiting in the warm months, it’s also a nice area to sunbathe and swim, and perhaps have a picnic.
It will take you about an hour to walk to the village from the centre of Genoa, or you have the option of catching the 42 bus from Via Dante, which will deposit you straight at the village.
Florence is home to approximately one and a half million inhabitants (as of 2014), if you include the metropolitan area, and will always be thought of as being home to some of the greatest painters, sculptures and for being the birthplace of renaissance architecture.
Thousand upon thousand of visitors frequent the city every year to see the works of Masaccio, Ghiberti and Donatello in its museums and churches, and those of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, Titian and Leonardo da Vinci in its art galleries, gardens and palaces.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, between the 14th and 16th centuries, Florence was looked upon as one of the most important cities in Europe and also the world, both economically and culturally, with the city’s original language of the age still spoken and accepted as the modern Italian language.
Florence was once home to one of history’s most important noble families, the Medici, who were considered a great political and cultural influence in the late 15th century. In fact, two members of the family were elected Popes in the early 16th century as Leo X and Clement VII.
The Medici reigned as Grand Dukes of Tuscany, beginning with Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1569 and ending with the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici in 1737.
The city was not only declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, it has also been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful and striking cities in the world.
And there’s lots more, too. Florence has seen the birth of some of the world’s greatest clothes designers, like Roberto Cavalli and Gucci, whose gorgeous creations (and sometimes the designers themselves, if you’re lucky) can be seen in the high end designer shops along the Via de’ Tornabuoni and sometimes in the San Lorenzo Market.
But sometimes it’s a good idea to experience some of the off the regular Florence tourist route attractions too, and you can do this by taking a walk through the Oltrarno (the other side of the renowned Arno River) which will bring you to the rows of cafes, restaurants and shops within the Piazza Santo Spirito.
The piazza is mostly filled with anybody but tourists; in fact, it’s generally frequented by Florentine housewives, artisans, students and market sellers, giving it a taste of the ‘real’ Florence. It’s fun just to sit with a gelato, cappuccino or aperitivo (if you’re staying for lunch) and watch it all going on around you.
The Piazza is home to a daily market, where you’ll be able to find everything from fruit and vegetables, to jewellery, discounted designer clothes and shoes, and, in the evening, is popular with the local, who visit the many little bars and edgy restaurants. There is also an interesting antiques/flea market which is held every fourth Sunday of the month.
Melbourne is in the capital of the Australian state of Victoria.
It is Australia’s second largest city, with almost five million inhabitants, as of 2015. Melbourne’s roots can be traced back to the days of the Gold Rush of the 1850s, when gold was discovered in the city’s surrounding hills. Since then, the city has just kept growing, and has remained affluent.
Melbourne is a very popular city indeed, with a diverse cultural and residential mix of citizens; from Europeans – in fact, there are more citizens of Greek descent here than in any other city in the world, with the exception of Athens! – to Lebanese, Asians and others still. You can even now see the influence of the original British settlers in its architecture and stately, clean wide avenues. It is also known as the café culture capital of Australia, its cosmopolitan flavour encompassing shopping, dining and nightlife, as well as lively music events. The city is also Australia’s sports capital due to the fact that the Australian Open, Formula 1 Grand Prix and the eponymous Melbourne Cup are hosted here.
Melbourne hasn’t always been sweetness and light for everyone though, and proof of this is within the Old Melbourne Gaol museum, which, as the name suggests, was once a prison and is definitely worth a visit.
Made up of a bluestone building and a courtyard, it is situated next to the old City Police Watch House and City Courts buildings. Though briefly used during WWII, it ceased operating as a prison in 1929, part of the gaol then being incorporated into the University of Melbourne (RMIT), with the remainder becoming a museum.
First constructed in 1839, during its operation as a prison between 1842 and 1929, it saw the remand and execution of some of Australia’s most notorious criminals, including bushranger Ned Kelly and serial killer Frederick Bailey Deeming. Altogether, 133 people were executed here by hanging. Dangerous criminals were held alongside the homeless, petty offenders and the mentally ill. It briefly opened again during WWII as a military prison for Australian solders who had gone AWOL.
The museum houses three floors of exhibits, including information about and memorabilia of both prisoners and staff, including some death masks of executed criminals. The museum, at one time, also displayed Ned Kelly’s skull before it was stolen in 1978; as well as the pencil that wrongly convicted Colin Campbell Ross had used to protest his innocence in writing before being executed. Enthusiasts of the paranormal maintain that the museum might actually be haunted, and claim having heard unexplained voices and seen ghostly apparitions near the cells.
You could even put your nerves to the test and take one of the museum’s night tours! You will be able to visit the real life original cell block that had, at one time, held unsavoury characters such as Chopper Reid (so named because of his penchant for chopping off relevant body parts), and Squizzy Taylor, the brutal career criminal.
As the tour is conducted in the dark and somewhat confined spaces, and might, just might, include some loud noises, it is recommended only for those 16 years and over.
Address: 377 Russell Street, Melbourne
Tel: +61 3 8663 7228