St. Catharines, officially nicknamed “The Garden City” because of its 1,000 acres of gardens, parks and trails, is the biggest city in Canada’s Niagara Region. Lying in Southern Ontario, it is situated 32 miles south of Toronto, and across Lake Ontario and only 12 miles inland from the international borders that Canada shares along the Niagara River with the United States.
As the area is so water related, so to speak, one of the attractions St Catharines has to offer is its interesting museum, combined with the Welland Canals Centre, at Lock 3.
The centre offers you a good opportunity to explore the history of St Catharines and of the Welland Canals. From both the observation deck and the 2nd floor Lock View Lounge, you can watch ships as they navigate one of world’s top engineering wonders, and observe the whole process of a ship entering the lock, the doors closing and the water level adjusting to enable it to proceed either up or down river, finally exiting the lock.
Crossing the Niagara Peninsula from Port Weller to Port Colborne, the canal forms an important section of the St. Lawrence Seaway, enabling ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and, at the same time, bypass the Niagara Falls.
At least 40,000,000 tonnes of cargo are transported annually through the Welland Canal by about 3,000 Great Lakes and oceangoing vessels. This canal was an important contributing factor of Toronto’s expansion. The original canal had enabled goods from Great Lakes’ ports such as Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, as well as highly industrialized parts of the United States and Ontario, to be shipped to Quebec City or to the port of Montreal, where they would then be consigned to ocean-going vessels for international shipping.
Because the Welland Canal was able to provide a short, direct connection to Lake Erie, it was far more successful than the other narrower canals in the region, in particular the Erie Canal, which had linked Lake Erie and the Atlantic ocean via New York City and Buffalo, New York.
The canal includes eight 80 foot wide ship locks. Seven of the locks, the ‘Lift locks’ are 766 feet long and raise (or lower) passing ships by between 43 and 49 feet each. The southernmost lock, Lock 8 – the ‘Guard’ or ‘Control’ lock – is 1,148 feet in length. The Garden City Skyway passes over the canal, restricting the maximum height of the masts of the ships that are allowed along this canal to a maximum of 116.5 feet. The maximum permitted length of a ship here is 740 feet. The ships take an average of approximately eleven hours to pass through the entire length of the canal.
Besides visiting the canal, the museum next door has some interesting exhibition galleries illustrating the history of the area. Located inside the museum is the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame, where you can see pictures of the local lacrosse heroes as well as learn about the game.
There is a gift shop and snack bar in the museum and, in the outdoor Discovery Park, you can learn how these amazing locks work.
1932 Welland Canals Parkway, St. Catharines. Tel: 905-984-8880
If you’re driving, follow the Queenstown St/Niagara Regional Rd to the Parkway – it is about a 12 minute drive – or catch one of the many buses from Church Street.
The Republic of Iceland is often spoken of as the land of fire and ice; a country of extraordinary contrast, with its volcanically active areas – an eruption occurs about once every six years – but also Europe’s biggest ice cap. Yes, because, despite being located near the Arctic Circle, it is considered to be part of Europe.
Iceland has been permanently inhabited for a very long time, having first been settled by the Norwegians sometime between AD 874 and 930. Then, in 1380, it was taken over by the Danes, whose rule lasted nearly 600 years. Those who had, by then, become the Icelanders were granted home rule by the Danes in 1903, with partial independence following in 1918, when the Kingdom of Iceland was founded, although still sharing some political ties with Denmark; it wasn’t until 1944 that the country finally broke all political ties, becoming an independent republic.
As of 2014, the country’s population was approximately 262,000, its citizens still speaking a relatively unchanged form of medieval Norse language, which can sound quite unusual to foreign ears, being a mixture of German, Norwegian and Faroese (which is only spoken on the Faroe Islands). In fact, the majority of Icelanders can still read thirteenth-century Icelandic sagas in their original form!
There is an extraordinary amount of sightseeing to be done in this land of pure white; from outdoor swimming in a geothermally heated pool, whale watching near Snaefellness, walking across a green lava field, taking a dip in the Atlantic at Nauthólsvík – Reykjavík’s heated ocean beach – or, if you’re around at the time, appreciating the wonder of the Aurora Borealis’s eerie celestial lightshow.
If that isn’t enough choice for you, there are also the powerful waterfall Gulfoss and Haukadalur’s geysers to admire, which most accurately illustrate the power of water.
My suggestion for an unforgettable adventure would be to head to the south east of the country, to the mountainous fjords of the Vatnajokull glacier, and experience a boat, bike and road tour of this astonishing attraction.
From Reykjavik, most of the tours available will start with a plane ride from Hofn Airport, that will enable you to enjoy an amazing bird’s eye view of the ice capped mountains. You will be able to see the black icebergs on the Jokulsarlon Lagoon at the base of the glacier when you land. You will be escorted into a small boat, from where you will see the black sands, and cheeky puffins along the way. This will give you a good idea of how generations of sailors had met their unfortunate shipwreck end in this rugged sea area. After that, there is normally a short drive to the glacier for some easy hiking with crampons (which are normally supplied by the tour companies) and back to Reykjavik; you will usually be able to see reindeer along the way too.
On your return, make sure you set aside the time to visit the glacier museum at Hofn, where you can see footage of two James Bond movies that had actually been filmed at the Vatnakajoll glacier.
I really recommend taking a personalised tour such as this because you definitely won’t find yourselves jostling for space with a thousand other tourists.
I suggest having a good read through the Vatnajokull Travel website, www.vatnajokull.is, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vienna is the capital of Austria and also its primary city. It is located in the east of the country and very near to the borders of Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Until the start of the 20th century, Vienna was the biggest German speaking city in the world and, today, is only second to Berlin in numbers. As of 2014, the city is home to one and three quarters of a million residents.
Apart from being named “The City of Dreams” because of its relationship with Sigmund Freud – it was the home of the world’s first psycho-analyst – it is also looked upon as the City of Music, recognised for having played (literally!) a very pertinent role as a leading European music centre. Think of all the many numbers of wonderful musicians and composers who were either born here and/or lived and worked here! Names such as Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Johann Strauss (father and son), Liszt, Brahms and Bruckner – you don’t even need to be a classical music fan to appreciate that! But, in any case, if you are one, there are plenty of venues where you can appreciate some of the great masters’ works. On the other hand, there are also some great live rock and jazz spots, by the way.
Vienna has some wonderful architecture. It’s enough just to walk around and absorb all of the imperial grandeur included in the city’s historic centre, with its flamboyant palaces, like the Schlossen Schönbrunn and the Belvedere, and 19th-century Ringstrasse, which is lined with majestic monuments, parks and buildings.
But Vienna is also famous for its food, and there are plenty of busy restaurants and coffee houses in which to enjoy a local dish of schnitzel, for example, or to simply stop for a coffee and a decadent apple (apfel) strudel or an uber-chocolatey Sachertorte.
Talking of decadence and chocolate, a visit to the renowned Xocolat Manufaktur emporium, located within the stone arches of the Ferstel passage, is an absolute must. Even if you don’t want to go into the shop itself (you will, let’s be honest), you can just stand outside and watch the chocolatiers at work rolling out, shaping, and drizzling chocolate on large marble tables.
Xocolat Manufaktur was the product of the creativity of Christian Petz (the award-winning former head chef of Palais Coburg, Vienna’s famous luxury hotel).
Xocolat Manufaktur carries many things in its “house brand”, including ten varieties of truffles alone – including one infused with a strong 16 year-old Lagavulin Whisky – chocolate soaked nuts, langues de chat, orange flavoured dark chocolate, a generous assortment of Grand Marnier pralines, slabs of chocolate studded with interesting fruit choices, and so much more. Just think of Xocolat Manufaktur as being over 1,600 square feet of chocolate covered heaven.
Address: Xocolat Manufaktur, Servitengasse 5, 9th district, 1090 Vienna, Tel: +43 1 535 43 63.
Travelling by public transport: buses U3, 1A, 2A, 3A and also plentiful trams will get you there.
Cape Verde – officially the Republic of Cabo Verde – is a country that spans an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean, about 385 miles west of Senegal. As a whole, the islands don’t cover too much surface; approximately 1,500 sq miles in total, in fact.
The islands weren’t discovered until 1456 by the Portuguese, becoming part of their empire in 1495. Because of their positioning between the trade routes of Africa, Europe, and the New World, they became a fairly wealthy centre for the slave trade, but suffered economic decline after its abolishment in 1876.
Cape Verde’s status was changed from a Portuguese colony to an overseas province in 1951 and in 1961, the islands inhabitants becoming fully fledges Portuguese citizens. However, a coup in 1974 led by long standing advocates the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau (also then owned by Portugal) and Cape Verde (PAIGC), founded in 1956, finally had Portugal start the abandonment of its colonial empire, with the island achieving independence in 1975.
Most tourists visiting the island concentrate on the lovely beaches of Ilha do Sal but there is a lot more to enjoy on some of the outer islands too. For example, the less frequented but most appealing capital city Praia, on the island of Santiago is well worth a visit. A short flight with the local airline TACV makes the destination easy to reach.
Santiago is actually the most authentically ‘African’ island of the Cape Verde islands, being the first one to be settled by the Portuguese. It’s capital serves as commercial centre plus a port, shipping coffee, exotic tropical fruits and sugar cane. It also has a vibrant fishing industry
Many historical buildings still remain in the city, mostly located in the Platô area, duly named because of its location on a small plateau. In fact, its location is pretty spectacular, offering lovely views over the ocean and of the rest of the city. There is also a lively market, the island’s one cinema and intriguing narrow streets and alleys.
This is a happy, busy and fun town. You will see the abundance of fishing boats as you take a walk along its beach, which runs from the Plateau to Prainha and, though the beach wouldn’t be graded in any luxurious seaside destinations, it still makes for a very enjoyable stroll.
The island has a yearly balmy temperature and is host to a variety of concerts, exhibitions and dance shows.
TACV Cabo Verde Airlines call centre number +38 2608 260
Bayonne, situated about 480 miles south west of Paris, is a leading port and tourist yacht basin of the Côte Basque. The Nive and Adour rivers run through the town, which culturally belongs both to the vernacular region of Gascony and to the Basque Country.
Its location within the Basque Country, culturally straddling both Spain and France by being so close to the border between the two countries, placed it in a position ideally suited to commerce with the Basque sailors who brought home exotic products, such as cinnamon, as well as great riches sourced from the whaling and cod trades. An armaments industry was also born here, famously giving the globe the name of the “bayonet”.
Other market products – chocolate, in this case – came from the Jewish refugees who had escaped the Spanish Inquisition in 1560; the chocolate industry remains an important feature of Bayonne to this day. In the 20th century, Spanish Basques had also sought refuge in the city during General Franco’s years in power, with Petit Bayonne remaining a centre of Basque nationalism.
By the mid-19th century, Bayonne had lessened in importance due to the centralisation of power in Paris. However, it regained interest when its rail links with Paris were developed in 1854, nearby Biarritz becoming a popular tourist centre.
The city is characterized by its narrow streets and quays, together with its cathedral. There are also bullfights, basque pelote (a type of sport akin to squash) and street dancing in abundance. The arcaded shopping area, the Rue du Port-Neuf, has some marvellous little shops to visit, and, when you’re ready for some of the city’s typical hot chocolate (usually served with a pot of real cream and a croissant), the cafes located in the nearby place de la Liberté are the places to head for.
The area is particularly popular with yachting and beach aficionados, but the town has a lot of history to explore as well. To learn a little more about the past of this fascinating area, a visit to Bayonne’s museum (Musee Basque et de l’histoire de Bayonne), located in the Maison Dagourette, a 17 century townhouse, would be worthwhile.
The townhouse itself is a historic monument in its own right, with up-to-the-minute displays highlighting the rich ethnographic collections devoted to Basque culture and lifestyle; the museum’s three floors are filled with the widest possible variety of artefacts from the Basque country, including furniture, tapestries, boats, and smuggler gear. There are also a number of films being simultaneously projected with a backing of Basque music. There is also an impressive selection of models and paintings describing the history of Bayonne.
Museum address: 37 Quai des Corsaires, Bayonne
Tel: +33 5 59 59 08 98
The port city of Cartagena is the capital of the Bolivar Department, situated on the northern coast of Colombia. It was actually given its name after the original city of Cartagena in Spain, though the indigenous population had settled in the region as far back as 4000 B.C.
Cartagena played a large part as an important economic and political presence during the colonial period of the Spanish empire, also welcoming wealthy viceroys and royalty. Cartagena’s fortress and walled city were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
There are quite a few interesting statues, squares and parks to visit on your trip to Cartagena, including Bolivar Square (Plaza de Bolivar), This lovely plaza comes with fountains in all its four corners, stately old trees, and a statue of Simon de Bolivar, the Venezuelan military leader instrumental in the revolutions against the Spanish empire, in the centre. The 18th century Spanish colonial style Palace of the Inquisition (Palacio de la Inquisición) is also found here, among the other artefacts on display, which include coins, maps, weapons, furniture, church bells, and portraits of notable generals, you will find yourself cringing when beholding some of the rather gruesome instruments held here, including the (rather unsuitably named) Spanish tickler, the rack and the guillotine – Cardinals Ximenez, Biggles and Fang would have had a whale of a time here, although the soft cushions and the comfy chair are conspicuous by their absence.
On a somewhat different note, the nearby, the Zenu Gold Museum showcases the pre-Colombian culture of the Caribbean with a collection of the very bling that fuelled the 16th century Spanish land-grab; the examples that managed to slip through the Conquistadores’ fingers, that is.
The city welcomes vast numbers of cruise ship passengers these days, turning a good portion of it into a sanitised and safe destination. However, if you would be interested in digging a little deeper into the true heart of the city, a visit to the Getsemaní neighbourhood is certainly for you.
A new generation of tapas bars, boutique hotels, salsa clubs with nightly live performances, art galleries, restaurants, and ice cream bars has (literally) been carved out of the shabby 18th century local buildings, which stretch from the city walls to the San Felipe de Barajas Fort.
The neighbourhood of Getsemaní has a storied and complicated past. Formerly a meeting place for dodgy dealers – and dealings – the area has recently seen an amazing regeneration and is now a fun and colourful area in which to sit back and watch the community flow by, sample the local cuisine of chorizo or arepas and down an aguardiente (alcoholic drink) or exotic fruit juice.
You can now mingle with the fascinating collection of sculptors, architects, musicians, dancers and graffiti artists alike, who have, in the space of just five years, transformed this brooding barrio into an entertainment extravaganza!
Cologne is one of Germany’s oldest cities, having been founded by the Romans in 38 BC; the name itself harks back at it having been a Roman “colony”. This beautiful city is also the country’s fourth largest, after Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, and is home to approximately two million inhabitants (as of 2014).
Cologne offers a fascinating architectural mix of Romanesque and Gothic design, including one of the world’s largest and oldest Universities, founded in 1389, as well as Germany’s largest cathedral, known as the Kölner Dom in German, which, its construction having been commenced in 1248 and completed in 1880, took over 600 years to build. For the first four years of its life, between 1880 and 1884, it also held the distinction of being the world’s tallest building.
Besides the plethora of architectural attractions, Cologne offers a mixture of eclectic and interesting museums too, as well as its own philharmonic orchestra , opera house and – something I’ll write more about shortly – is also (rather unsurprisingly) the birthplace of Eau de Cologne.
Cologne has so much to offer, and is certainly a city that likes to have fun, hosting festivals, the pre-Lenten Carnival (Fasching), parades and masked balls, around the clock and throughout the year. The local substantial Rhineland cuisine and delectable local beer, called Kölsch and sold under several different labels, also adds to its many attractions.
Now, back to the smelly stuff, and on to a visit to the Farina Fragrance Museum, situated across the road from Cologne City Hall, and next to the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in the Innenstadt Obenmarspforten, to find out all about it.
Founded in 1709, by John Maria Farina, the Farina House fragrance factory is where Eau de Cologne was invented by the master perfumer; over several floors, the museum provides a very detailed insight into the production methods of perfume throughout its various stages.
You will be able to learn all about the manufacturing of Eau de Cologne, and discover the interesting technical devices involved, such as the distillation apparatus which was once used. The museum also displays various documents and pictures depicting the evolution of Eau de Cologne, with one of the museum’s basement rooms containing the oils, perfumes and various concoctions that are some of the ingredients of the perfumes for you to smell.
The tours, which are offered in various languages, are conducted by knowledgeable guides dressed in 17th century attire, complete with wig and face powder, as was the fashion in those days; at the end of the tour, you are presented with a 5ml sample of the perfume. There is also a well stocked and exquisitely decorated gift shop.
Address: Obenmarspforten 21, Cologne
Phone Number: +49 (0) 221.399 89 94
Bogota is the capital of Colombia, and its largest city. It is also the third highest capital in South America, extending to 8,660 ft above sea level, with only Quito and La Paz located at even higher altitudes. In 2015, its inhabitants total over nine million. Bogota has been nicknamed “The Athens of South America” due to its many universities and libraries, one of which, the Luis Angel Arango Library, houses more than 1.1 million books, and is the most visited public library in Latin America.
Bogota has been through a bit of a troubled past but has emerged as a modern and interesting metropolis with a new wave of tourist interest. There are many interesting sites here, including its theatres, art galleries and world class museums, such as the National Museum, the Botero Museum – which houses works by painter and sculptor Fernando Botero as well as works by other artists, including Monet and Picasso, from Botero’s private collection – and the Gold Museum, with its collection of more than 36,000 pieces in gold, shell, wood and stone displayed over three floors.
The city also has several very well laid out parks and gardens, which include the lovely Virrey Park, Simon Bolivar Metropolitan and colourful Botanical Garden, with its rich floral additions.
Bogota also loves its festivals and, depending on the time you’re visiting, you might have the opportunity to experience one; these include the annual Rock al Parque, food festival, Gay Pride Bogota, Fashion Week and even a biannual theatre festival, which is thought to be the biggest in the world.
Besides Bogota’s ever ongoing modern metamorphosis, it’s still very worthwhile to explore the city as was, and the best area to do this is in La Candelaria, the older part of the city. Here, you will find a mixture of carefully preserved colonial buildings, churches, convents, 300 year old homes, restaurants and bars. Head for the nucleus of the action, Plaza de Bolivar, where it all seems to happen. If you’re visiting with your children, they will be able to enjoy riding one of the llamas, which are there with their handlers.
One of the best things about the area is the chance to eat some truly authentic local dishes, as there are dozens of seafood restaurants serving mouth-watering speciality food. Traditional meals like ajiaco, a hearty chicken and corn soup, and tamales are in abundance and, for those of you with a sweet tooth, there is the oblea, a sweet wafer with cream, caramel, and a selection of sweet accoutrements.
To get around, you have the choice of a taxi, of which there are plenty, or catching the bus and asking to be dropped off at Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, which is located in the heart of La Candelaria.
Rowdy, sometimes romantic, always riveting Rome is Italy’s largest and most populated city, home to nearly three million residents, as of 2014. Lying astride the Tiber River, the city is, in fact, home to the Vatican City, which is an independent country within its boundaries.
Rome’s history goes back a long, long way, starting around 753 BC, and spans more than two and a half thousand years. The city first was the capital of the Roman Kingdom, then of the Roman Republic and finally of the Roman Empire, and is regarded as one of the birthplaces of Western civilization. It is referred to as “Roma Aeterna” (The Eternal City), often begging the question, what have the Romans ever done for us? Sorry, absolutely could not resist that one.
After the fall of the Empire, which conventionally marks the beginning of the Middle Ages, Rome fell under the political control of the Pope, who had been settled in the city since the 1st century AD, until 1870. In 1871, Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy and, in 1946, that of the Italian Republic.
There are centuries upon centuries of art, architecture, museums and history to enjoy, besides Rome as it is today, with its plethora of lively piazzas, trattorias, markets, wine bars, and gelato kiosks galore.
Rome welcomes a momentous amount of tourists every year, its visitors intent on catching every last drop of the city. There are still some attractions, however, that are not so readily obvious, one of which being the Capuchin Crypt Museum.
The Crypt is a small area comprising six tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Within the Crypt, you can see the bones of 3,700 Capuchin friars who were laid to rest here, but not in the way you would normally expect. Their bones were broken down to be assembled into huge sculptures, or integrated into the fabric of the building.
In 1631, when the monks arrived at the church from their old monastery, they brought with them 300 cartloads of deceased friars. Fr. Michael of Bergamo had overseen the arrangement of the bones in the burial crypt, with the crypt’s soil brought from Jerusalem by order of Pope Urban VIII.
During the lifetime of the crypt and as the monks died, the longest-buried monks were then exhumed to make room for the newly deceased, who were buried without coffins. Those newly reclaimed bones were then added to the decorative designs. Typically, the bodies spent about 30 years decomposing in the soil before being exhumed. The custom ceased in 1870.
Included are the Crypt of the Skulls, the Crypt of the Pelvises, the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones, the Crypt of the Resurrection, and the Crypt of the Three Skeletons, the central skeleton within being enclosed in an oval – the symbol of life coming to birth. In its right hand, it holds a scythe, a symbol of death, and within its left, some scales, symbolizing the good and evil deeds weighed by God in judgment of the human soul.
The skeletal remains of the Friars were buried by their order, with the Catholic Church maintaining that the display is not meant to be macabre, but merely a silent reminder of the swift passage of our own mortality on this earth.
Address of the museum: Via Vittorio Veneto, 27
Tel: +39 06 8880 3695
Malta is the largest of a group of three islands – the other two being Gozo and Comino – situated in the Mediterranean, and a very popular holiday destination, offering both historical and adventure attractions in spades!
Maltese beaches are well liked because of their windsurfing, sailing, paragliding and, in particular, diving opportunities, with plentiful caves and shipwrecks to explore.
The island has seen many occupiers; the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, French and British, the latter’s legacy being the distinctive red telephone and post boxes and the fact that Maltese citizens drive on the left.
On the historic side, the island is surrounded by several fortresses, built in an attempt to protect it from various invaders. In fact, due to its significant position, Malta was a major player in both world wars. In WWI, it earned the title ‘The nurse of the Mediterranean’, receiving thousands of soldiers wounded in the failed Gallipoli campaign and, in WWII, it was in the thick of the battle for control of the Mediterranean. The island suffered horribly during that time, its residents suffering substantial military and civilian casualties. Malta was awarded the George Cross for its courageous resistance.
As I mentioned, Malta is high on holidaymakers’ lists, but there are still a few peaceful areas to enjoy. I recommend Floriana, located just outside Valletta, the country’s capital. Floriana was originally designed to simply be a suburb of Valletta but it grew into a town of its own, with a population of about two and a half thousand.
The town is rich with churches, gardens and historic buildings rich in Maltese history. Floriana itself was named after Pietro Paolo Floriani, an Italian engineer bought over in 1634 by Grandmaster de Paule, who wanted more fortifications to be built.
A good way to experience the town is taking a stroll through Maglio Gardens from Valetta’s bus station, and walking down to the Valletta Waterfront, which, despite its name, it is actually the Floriana Waterfront. The regeneration of bombed out buildings and warehouses left abandoned for many years is wonderful.
Along the way, you will pass the Portes des Bombes, a decorative gate in Valletta’s outer defensive walls. This extravagantly embellished baroque gate was constructed between 1697 and 1720, during the reign of Grandmaster Ramon Perellos y Roccaful, and bears a carving of his coat of arms.
Try and make time to stop at the Argotti Gardens: The gardens are offered in two parts, private and public, both open to the public. These peaceful gardens offer a good opportunity to relax and take in the many hundreds of plants, cacti and succulents, indigenous and foreign.
Another attraction are the Mall Gardens, a promenade lined with ponds and trees, again created by Grandmaster Lascaris Gastellian in 1656. They were the first playground to be created in Malta and are the setting for a large collection of monuments dedicated to prominent Maltese people.
The Granaries, deep holes dug into the ground to store grains, are also an interesting stop en route. The area surrounding the granaries, (Il-Fosos) is often used for large political meetings and music concerts.
One word of advice: when visiting one of the many churches, bear in mind that the Maltese expect you to dress appropriately, so don’t show off that suntan in too great a detail!