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!
Belgrade, the capital of the Republic of Serbia, has a long history of conflict but is now finally enjoying a peaceful existence. It has a population of approximately 1.7 million, in 2014, and is situated where the rivers Sava and Danube converge.
The city’s history reaches as far back as the 4th century BC, when Celtic tribes settled the area; then, over the centuries, it saw Roman, Turkish, and Austrian ownership; finally, in 1878, when Serbia won its independence, Belgrade was chosen to be its capital.
After WWI, Belgrade became the centre and base of the Kingdom of Serbs, Slovenes and Croats, which, in 1929, changed its name to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which it remained until the upheavals of WWII. With its exclusive set of Communist elements, the country was expelled from the Eastern Bloc in 1948, following its own brand of Communism until the years following Marshal Tito’s death in 1980.
Conflict was to return once more between the different country factions (a lot of it based on religious differences) and, in 1999, a bombing campaign was initiated by NATO in an attempt to keep the peace. Yugoslavia saw its final dissolution in 2006.
The country offers lots of cultural attractions, mostly due to its mixed influences, but a fascinating insight into the aforementioned conflicts is also available when you tour through the country’s hidden secret, its underground network of tunnels.
A perfect way to discover the hidden secrets of Belgrade is to go beyond the city’s surface, literally. These underground places represent the older layers of Belgrade built by various cultures over the walls of the city, a scenario that repeated itself 38 times.
Belgrade underground is a whole new and fascinating world, and contains many caves and caverns carved in limestone rock, together with hundreds of underground tunnels that the Serbs, Austrians and Germans had built up over last 300 years.
I recommend joining a tour to explore, as the history can be explained in more depth than going it alone.
The tours normally start at the Roman Hall in the City Library at the end of Kneza Mihaila Street, where you will be able to see the foundations of the main gate of the Roman fortress and the Roman aqueduct.
Interestingly, the Library was once the Serbian Crown, the country’s most famous hotel. As the conversion continued, architects came across the foundations of a tower and wall of the main city gate from the Roman era, circa 2nd or 3rd century BC, which was the settlement from which Signidunum (present-day Belgrade) had grown.
There is an absorbing collection of altars, gravestones and sculptures to view, as well as a water pipe which had transferred water from 5 miles away. It is thought that, when the Ottomans had been living in Belgrade and discovered the pipe, they took all the pipe workers back to Constantinople to maintain and service their own set of Roman water pipes.
One of the most fascinating attractions has to be the military shelter that had been built by the Austrians during their occupation of Belgrade in 1718, locally called Barutana (Gunpowder). The area was later leased to businessmen who, in the 1900s, turned it into a night club. Ah well, needs must, one supposes.
Avignon is situated in the heart of Provence, in the South of France, which is one of the country’s most beautiful regions. Apart from its loveliness, the town is also steeped in history, primarily being famed as the city to which a succession of Popes had relocated in the 14th century to avoid the corruption of Rome and, immediately afterwards, as part of the Western Schism, it became the seat of those that are now known as the antipopes. Its interesting architecture includes the renowned ‘Palais des Papes’, which is the world’s largest Gothic construction. There is not much left of its interior now, but it is still interesting enough to draw in tourists.
There is plenty more to see in the town; museums of old and modern art, flea markets, street performers, the century old Cinéma Utopia, complete with XVII century paintings, and, of course, that bridge. There is also a relaxing alternative to all the sightseeing that lies just across the river.
The location to which I refer is Barthelasse island (Ile de la Barthelasse), which lays between two river arms in the middle of the Rhone, facing the city walls. When the aforementioned popes and antipopes needed a place to meditate and relax they would make their way to the island and now, centuries later, the Ile de la Barthelasse is resplendent with cherry, apple and pear orchards, vegetable gardens and vineyards, making up a total area of approximately three square miles.
You have the choice of taking the ferry (la navette), which is free of charge, across to the island from Pont St Bénezet, walking, or hiring a velo-pop bike and following the laid out cycle paths across the bridge. If you are there in the summer months, you can also explore the island by horse. It is advisable to pre-book this, which you can do at the Centre Equestre d’Avignon (+33(0)4-90-85-83-48, cheval-avignon.com.
The island is an oasis of peace and, once there, you can really relax, enjoy a meal or picnic, walk along the riverbanks and enjoy the amazing views of the city.
Baltimore is the state of Maryland’s largest city (though fondly referred to as “The Greatest City in America”), and is located 38 miles northeast of North America’s capital, Washington, D.C.
It is famous for its picturesque harbour, diverse and distinct neighbourhoods, generous helping of interesting museums, and for being home to the world famous John Hopkins Hospital. It is also where “The Star Spangled Banner”, America’s national anthem, was penned, later to be set to music, by lawyer Francis Scott Key during the 1814 battle of Baltimore, while waiting on board a British ship to negotiate the release of a prisoner. Amazing how inspiration can kick in when you least expect it.
As I mentioned, Baltimore is jam-packed with interesting historical museums, ranging from the Maryland Museum of Military History and the Historical Ships in Baltimore Museum, to the Maryland Historical Society Museum, but equally interesting and, perhaps, slightly off the regular tourist radar, is the National Cryptologic Museum.
The museum, located on 8290 Colony Seven Rd, Annapolis Junction, is associated with the National Security Agency (NSA) and houses a fascinating collection of thousands of artefacts that pertain to intelligence work in the United States.
The museum was originally designed to give employees a chance to think on past achievements and failures, but rapidly developed into an invaluable showcase of America’s cryptology history. It opened its doors to the curious public in 1993, allowing visitors a tantalizing peek into the secret world of code breaking and code making.
In its collection are masses of declassified reports relating to World War II, as well as an enormous collection of the commercial codebooks that were used to provide some measure of trade secrets security. Modern encryption methods have made these books obsolete now, but they remain really interesting from a historical point of view. As you can imagine, the most popular library items include declassified documents – state secrets finally decoded and revealed!
The museum collection almost doubled in size with a gift from David Kahn, the leading historian of cryptology and author of The Codebreakers. The fascinating works range from the first printed book on cryptology to Kahn’s interview notes with modern cryptologists.
There are also a few unclassified monographs available to the public in the Museum Library, which cover a wide range of cryptologic subjects, from experimental, early American ciphers to the Vietnam War. A lot of the monographs were written and published by the NSA’s Center for Cryptologic History, and go into far greater depth than the museum’s pamphlets and exhibits, offering a wider understanding of the role that cryptology has played in world history.
The Museum Library’s hours can vary, so it’s best to call ahead (301-688-2145).
The Museum also has a shop (the NSA Civilian Welfare Fund Gift Shop) that stocks interesting merchandise, ranging from books and videos relating to the science and art of cryptology to NSA logo items.
Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, and is a fascinating city. It might not be as visually appealing as a lot of other Eastern and Central European capitals, but it is home to some attractive Neo-Classical and Vienna Secession buildings, not to mention the Roman ruins that are dotted around the place. In fact, the Doric columns found there are so commonplace that they are just left to lie around the public parks. In actual fact, recent excavation work has uncovered some traces of the Roman city of Serdica, including an old Roman road and even an amphitheatre, which is now being restored
As I mentioned, the city really doesn’t have much to show for its 2,000 year old existence; its oldest buildings do not date back much further than the 18th century and the remaining ones are still mostly encased in their communist era grey slated concrete. As you can imagine, this has not, as yet, inspired too much tourist activity. However, Sofia is still a city very much worth exploring.
For example, not far away is Boyana, a little historic village about 5 miles away from Sophia’s centre, on the outskirts of Vitosha The village’s name first appeared in the 11th century Vision of Daniel text, and is also connected with Peter Delyan’s 1040 Bulgarian uprising against Byzantine rule, as well as with the 1048 invasion by the semi nomadic Pecheneg people.
Boyana’s residents consist, on the whole, of prosperous businessmen, government officials and other leading members of Bulgarian society. The village also enjoys the backdrop of the stunning snow-capped Vitosha mountains.
Boyana is home to a magnificent church, dating back to the 10th century, that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is now deconsecrated and, in order to preserve the valuable frescoes adorning its inner walls, only eight people are permitted to enter at any one time.
Besides the church, Boyana’s other attractions include the National History Museum with its permanent collection of Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze age, Iron Age and Roman Age treasures, amounting to approximately 650,000 items in total, including jewellery, weapons, pectorals and other adornments and embroideries, together with everyday textiles and traditional clothes from many historical eras.
Near the town, there is also the Boyana Waterfall, a 50 foot drop sitting at an altitude of about a mile, and, from there, a ten minute walk can take you to the Vitosha Nature Park.
There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a traditional Bulgarian meal at one of the upmarket restaurants, which, due to the exchange rate, will not put too much of a dent into your holiday budget.
To get there, take the no 63 bus, which departs from the southern corner of Boulevard Tsar Boris III and Akademik Ivan Geshov Blvd and will take you to Boyana after a 10 minute journey, stopping at the National History Museum. The buses run regularly all day and evening.
The city of Philadelphia was founded in 1682 by William Penn, to serve as Pennsylvania’s capital. It is now the fifth largest city in the United States and home to approximately 6 million.
Philadelphia has two nicknames; Philly and The City of Brotherly Love. By 1750, it had overtaken Boston in the quest to become the busiest port in what were then the British colonies of America, and had also become the second largest in the British Empire, with only London being ahead of it. The city has since then become a cultural and commercial centre, as well as an important manufacturing base, also having interests in banking, biotechnology, scientific instruments, oil refineries, chemicals, paper and printing.
The city is well known for a number of things; among others, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and the unassuming building that houses the headquarters of the Union League of Philadelphia. The Union League was created during the American civil war to support the President and the Union, the idea then replicating itself all over the country (though the only remaining Union League buildings are in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago). The city’s best loved culinary delicacy, of course, is its famed cheesesteak sandwich (yes, really), a delicious blend of steak, onion and melted cheese, all lovingly encased in a long roll.
On a more sombre, though still fascinating, note is Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, which had opened its doors in 1829 as part of a controversial initiative to condition the behaviour of its inmates through a regime of “confinement in solitude with labor”, its main tenet being absolute isolation. The prisoners were confined in small single cells, each with a tiny backyard, and were never to see another human being during their entire period of incarceration.
The building, a castle-like façade apparently constructed in this fashion to intimidate European immigrants, rapidly became a blueprint as one of the most copied buildings in the early days of the newly established United States of America. Its influence was not confined to that nation either; over 300 prisons worldwide based their construction on the Eastern State Penitentiary’s radial floor plan (shaped like a wagon wheel). It is said that many inmates became insane while incarcerated within the dour walls of this prison, which finally closed its doors as a working house of correction in 1971 and now is open to the public as a U.S. National Historic Landmark, making for a truly fascinating visit.
At some point or another, some of America’s best known criminals were held within this prison’s walls; these included William Francis “Willie” Sutton Jr., the notorious bank robber, and the infamous Al Capone, his cell being still decorated with some of his personal belongings.
Having paid the very reasonable entrance fee, an audio tour of the premises is included; this is narrated (in English only) by actor Steve Buscemi, with contributions from former wardens, guards and inmates.
The Penitentiary can be found at 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia.
Phone (215) 236 3300