Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Bill Bryson was right: Copenhagen is undoubtedly one of the world”s most appealing cities.

In his 1998 book, Neither Here Nor There, the Anglo-American author described the capital of Denmark as “refreshingly free of any delusions of self-importance”.

Spot on! We found the Danish people to have a friendly and relaxed attitude to life, with an emphasis on understated quality.

First, see our video about Copenhagen:

For example, Copenhagen has a high-standard amusement park (Tivoli) right in the heart of the city, but there is a minimum of neon lights to avoid a glaring, tacky look.

As Bryson observed “other cities put up statues of generals, but in Copenhagen they give you a little mermaid”.

Copenhagen is wonderfully design-conscious, a fairytale city where almost every building, canal and garden combines history and beauty. Even modern structures are stylish and sympathetic to the cityscape.

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It’s impossible to wander around the city and not be captivated by the superb buildings, where museums and modern shops exist almost side-by-side.

In a land known for its beautiful people, there is also a deep respect for culture.

Each October, Copenhagen stages a ‘Kulturnatten’ or Night of Culture, where up to 100,000 people visit the city and attend hundreds of cultural events.

Kulturnatten has become a big drawcard on the European cultural calendar, involving businesses, museums, galleries, concert halls, churches, public buildings, humanitarian organisations, political and cultural institutions – some of which are not generally open to the public.

We’ve been fortunate to attend a Kulturnatten and stand amazed at the scope of Copenhagen’s cultural versatility.

Read about our experiences with the remarkable Axelborg office block in central Copenhagen. With its rotunda staircase and paternoster elevator, we’ve dubbed it the “world’s coolest building”.

Agnete and the Merman

Of all the remarkable sights in Copenhagen, the sculpture ‘Agnete and the Merman’ is truly eye-opening.

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For a start, the bronze sculpture is underwater – in a canal alongside the High Bridge in the city’s centre.

The figures rise up from the floor of the canal, slightly obscured by the movement of the water and almost eerily bathed in light at night.

See how the underwater sculpture tells an age-old tale from Danish folklore.

Now, that’s what you call a bridge

As well as its culture and history, Copenhagen also boasts a stylish engineering icon in the Oresund Connection, a mighty bridge that spans the Oresund Strait between Denmark and Sweden.

See how this sleek bridge literally joins two sides of the world.

Foreshore re-development

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Denmark’s emphasis on quality and initiative is also on show in parts of Copenhagen’s canal foreshores, where former warehouses have been converted into sleek housing projects and where magnificent city gardens cut a green swathe opposite the sleek Copenhagen Opera.

In summary, there is – as Bill Bryson pointed out – a lot to like about Copenhagen.

We wholeheartedly recommend a visit.

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A different way of seeing Prague

Rather than wandering haphazardly through the sights of the Czech capital or taking an organised tour, we decided to follow the legacy of  the famous King Charles IV – who was born just over 700 years ago.

Sounds a bit lame, we know: but  Charles IV is considered the father of the Czech nation and his fingerprints are all over Prague.

Firstly, see a quick video summary of how we did it.

Stone Bell House

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Photo courtesy Imani and Wikimedia

Right in the heart of Prague, in the Old Town Square, we found our way to this splendid Early Gothic house, dating to the 13th Century, where the future sovereign was believed born on May 14 in 1316.

This is one of the most interesting medieval buildings in Prague. It now  belongs to the City Gallery  and various exhibitions and concerts are held there.

There is a replica of the original stone bell on the corner of the building.

Charles Bridge

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According to Prague folklore, milk and wine were mixed with the mortar when this beautiful 16-pillar sandstone bridge was built in 1357. The 518 metre bridge is one of the great iconic structures of Prague – and we thoroughly recommend a visit to its museum.

Old Town Bridge Tower

As we continued on the King Charles IV trail, we marvelled at this majestic Gothic Tower that stands at the Old Town side of the  Charles Bridge. Don’t miss the striking  statues that include the good king ; his son Wenceslas IV; and Saint  Vitus, the Patron saint of  Prague Cathedral.

Krizovnicke Square

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And, while looking at statues, we gawked at the Monument to Charles IV, located in this picturesque  square. The statue  was made in 1848, to mark the 500 year anniversary of the foundation of Prague’s Charles University – the first in central Europe.

Charles is shown  leaning on his sword and holding the  foundation charter of the university.

Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral

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One of the greatest landmarks of Prague, the castle – which attracts huge crowds of visitors almost every day –  owes much to Charles IV, who restored an old royal palace to its former glory.

St Vitus Cathedral is one of the world’s most astonishing Gothic structures, featuring awesome stained-glass windows.

Particularly popular with visitors is  the Chapel of St Wenceslas, long considered the heart and soul of the cathedral.

A door in the chapel is said to lead to the Crown Chamber that houses the Czech crown jewels.

New Town monuments

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No journey in the footsteps of the legendary King Charles IV would be complete without wandering around Prague’s New Town.

In 1348, the king  started the construction of this eye-opening section of Prague, centred around Charles Square, Karlstein Castle and the Benedictine monastery.

Prague is truly one of the most fascinating of European cities, with its cobblestone streets leading from one magnificent sight to another (hence the often huge crowds of tourists in the peak summer months)

The city also boasts a particularly rich history and we were pleased to follow the legacy of its famous King Charles IV as an ideal way of looking back on that past. Try it sometime.

 

 

 

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The romantic call of carousels

You’re never too old for the magic of a carousel.

Perhaps it’s being part of such a long lost craft, or just plain nostalgia for the joys of childhood, but finding wonderful old carousels has become something of a travel ritual for us

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Photo courtesy Popular Mechanics

Carousels are particularly ingrained in European culture and we’ve seen some beauties in France; the United Kingdom; Denmark; Germany; Italy and Catalonia.

They also remain popular attractions in Northern America and Australasia.

Knights go round

Known as ‘roundabouts’ or ‘merry-go-rounds’ in many countries, the carousel was first developed as a cavalry-training device in Europe and the Middle East.

Knights would gallop in a circle while tossing balls from one to another – which doesn’t sound easy.

By the mid-19th century the platform carousel was developed; the animals and chariots were fixed to a circular floor that was rotated by an operator or a team of horses. The steam-powered mechanical roundabout is believed to have appeared about 1861.

These days, carousels come in all shapes and sizes, which is all part of the appeal.

Tivoli’s high flyer

For example, Tivoli amusement park, at Copenhagen, Denmark, boasts one of the world’s tallest swing rides in the ‘Star Flyer’ – or Himmelskibef – an 80 metre (260 feet) high carousel that provides commanding views of the city centre.

 

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The ‘Star Flyer’ recently celebrated its 10th birthday.

Shadow of the Eiffel Tower

Carousels are numerous in France.

We found many scattered across Paris.

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Photo courtesy Utrip blog

Probably the most striking setting is the Eiffel Tower Carousel, on the Champs de Mars – a green park that runs down to the Eiffel Tower.

A beauty in Florence

In the magnificent city of Florence, Italy, a superbly restored wooden carousel is a highlight of the Piazza della Republica.

This is the antique carousel of the Picci family, which has operated the ride for four generations.

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Photo courtesy Jorge Royan and Wikimedia

On London’s southbank

On our last visit to London, we were delighted to come across a traditional carousel on the Thames Southbank, near the London Eye.

Covent Garden has also been the site of numerous carousels over the years.

Colourful carousels of Barcelona

Like the surrounding city, the carousels at Sould Park amusement area in Barcelona are boldly designed and adorned in bright colours.

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Photo courtesy Mr Richochet and Flickr

In Berlin, Germany, the traditional carousel has been taken a step forward with the high flying ‘Merlin’s Apprentice’ swing ride at Legoland in Potsdamer Platz. We didn’t test ride this one, but it sure looks spectacular – especially for the young.

An Aussie gem

One of the most striking carousels we’ve seen holds pride of place in the Darling Harbour entertainment precinct at Sydney, Australia.

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Horses for this rare Edwardian carousel were carved in London in about 1885 and the steam engine was made about seven years later at Norwich, England.

Imported to Australia, the carousel was given a galloping motion in about 1910 and became widely known for its appearances at country fairs and agricultural shows throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Central Park’s indoor carousel

One of the highlights of wonderful Central Park, in New York City, is the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel, that dates to 1908.

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This indoor attraction is one of the biggest carousels in the US.

Jet-powered?

While discussing carousels with friends in the US, we were told about a jet-powered attraction that was given a test run several years ago by the  Madagascar Institute, an arts collective based at Brooklyn, New York City.

Apparently, the aim was to fit jet packs on the backs of each user, stand clear – and hope.

Our friends were unsure how well it worked, but the idea certainly took the ancient carousel to new heights.

(Main page photo: Classic Carousel, Tivoli, Copenhagen. Copyright: Memorable Destination)

 

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Favourite operas hit a high note

Whether they’ve ever been to the opera or not, most people have marvelled at an opera house or two.

Throughout the world, opera houses are among the most gorgeous and significant buildings imaginable.

These are eight European masterpieces we’ve had the fortune to visit – and recommend:

Teatro Alla Scala (Milan, Italy)

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Photo: courtesy: Flickr O2ma

Empress Maria Theresa of Austria founded Milan’s legendary opera house in 1778.

It is an awesome building, perfectly in keeping with Milan’s reputation for class, quality and refinement.

Palais Garnier (Paris, France)

Paris Opera House

Probably the most famous opera house in the world, in no small part because of its setting for the novel and musical, Phantom of the Opera, this opulent building was a key part of the Paris of the Grand Boulevards, designed under Emperor Napoleon III.

It is now used mainly for ballet. We have been fortunate to visit several times. Don’t miss this one if you are visiting beautiful Paris.

Royal Opera House (London, England)

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Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Silktalk

An opera house has stood on the present location at Covent Garden since the early 18th century.

Designed in the English Baroque architectural style, the building’s façade, foyer, and auditorium date from 1858.

Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna, Austria)

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Located in the centre of Vienna, this stately building was originally called the Court Opera.

In 1920, with the replacement of the Habsburg Monarchy by the First Republic of Austria, it was renamed the Vienna State Opera.

Members of the world famous Vienna Philharmonic are recruited from its orchestra. A tour of Wiener Staatsoper is a traditional highlight of a visit to Vienna.

Operaen (Copenhagen, Denmark)

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Copenhagen Opera House is the national opera house of Denmark and among the most modern in the world.

It is said to have cost more than US$500 million and sits on the island of Holmen in central Copenhagen.

Staatsoper Unter den Linden (Berlin, Germany)

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Located on the Unter den Linden boulevard in the Mitte district of Berlin, this opera house originally dates to 1741.

Destroyed by bombing in World War II, it reopened in baroque style in 1955.

Teatro La Fenice (Venice, Italy)

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Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Remi Mathis

One of the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of opera, this striking building marks the site of Venetian theatres that date back to the 1730’s.

In the 19th century especially, La Fenice became the site of many famous operatic premieres. It is one of the best known buildings in the beautiful city of Venice.

Státní opera (Prague, Czech Republic)

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Photo: courtesy Wikimedia AndreasPraefcke

Opened in 1888 as the New German Theatre, this building is now officially known as   the Prague State Opera.

About 300 performances are staged here each year.

Others

Other notable European opera houses that we haven’t visited include the Bolshoi in Moscow, Russia (shown below this paragraph); the Teatro Di San Carlo in Naples, Italy; the Opera Royal de Versailles in France; and the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest.

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Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Dmitry Guryanov

Photo posts

Amazing Rome tugs at the heart

“What did the Romans ever do  for us’ is surely the silliest question ever.

One of the world’s most beautiful destinations and the capital of a wonderful country, the Eternal City has long held a special place in our hearts.

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It has a warm embrace of history that you can feel in the air; a sense of walking in the shoes of civilisation and of stepping back centuries.

Built by Romulus in about 753 BC, Rome is a cosmopolitan city with thousands of years of influential art, architecture and culture.

Our favourite sight is the wonderful Roman Pantheon, an ancient temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome. On our last visit, we stood transfixed as the marble walls echoed to a solitary angelic voice singing what we took to be an Italian hymn.

See this remarkable moment:

Completed by the emperor Hadrian about 126 AD on the site of a building that dates to about 27 BC, the Pantheon is the best preserved  building of ancient Rome

Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Michelangelo is said to have studied it before starting work on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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The oculus, the only source of natural light in the Pantheon, is a round opening in the centre of the dome. It is 27 feet in diameter and open to the sky (the floor is gently sloped to allow for runoff of rainwater).

Since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a church, informally known by the locals as ‘Santa Maria Rotonda’ with its striking stone pillars and incredible acoustics.

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The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda and is surrounded by cute Italian coffee shops.

There is so much to see and do in Rome – from the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, to the sparkle of the Trevi Fountain; the treasures of Vatican City; the Spanish Steps; the mysterious catacombs; and the wonderful monument known as the Altare della Patria, or ‘Altar of the Fatherland’.

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But, if you haven’t seen it  before, make sure you find time to visit the Pantheon during your visit to the Eternal City.

The Pantheon is located right in the heart of ancient Rome. It is open to the public daily except for some national holidays and if a Mass is taking place.

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Europe Italy Rome

Our pilgrimage coincides with upgrading plans for Camp Nou

Barcelona is an awesome city – and football fans the world over are drawn to Camp Nou, the city’s famous stadium.

Join our pilgrimage:

We were fortunate that our visit to Europe biggest stadium came as plans were being announced for a dramatic upgrading designed to create a futuristic and exciting facility.

See how the camp will look after the work, which is scheduled to start in 2018:

Expected to cost €420 million, the new Camp Nou will have covered seating for 105,000 spectators and a new, steeper first tier to improve the view of the action.

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As well as the hallowed turf that has hosted numerous senior international matches, the stadium currently includes a memorabilia shop; training pitches; a chapel; and the FC Barcelona Museum, which is said to receive more than 1.2 million visitors a year.

During our visit, we were in awe at the FC Barcelona trophy-room, which contains shelf after shelf of silverware – every trophy, or a replica of every trophy that the club has ever won.

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Naming rights sponsorship for the new stadium is expected to bring in €200 million for the Barcelona club – which will cover a third of the cost of the renovation.

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Beautiful Barcelona is a lot more than just Gaudi

At the mention of bold and colourful Barcelona, thoughts turn to the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.

The instantly-recognisable fingerprints of Gaudi are all over this wonderful city, not the least being his unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia church.

But, there is also a lot more to the face of Barcelona, where the old and the new blend to create a remarkable atmosphere.

The city’s streets boast eye-catching traditional buildings, sometimes almost side-by-side with modern structures that, in turn, draw inspiration from the past.

For example, the history, beauty and culture along the Ramblas – Barcelona’s famous tangle of tree-lined malls and alleys – is something to behold. Here are some of our favourites:

House of Umbrellas

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You’ll marvel at the colourful Casa Bruno Cuadros, which used to be an umbrella shop and has particularly delicate wall decorations.

We were told that this prominent building is known by locals as the Casa dels Paraigües (House of Umbrellas)

It was built in 1858 and remodelled with the current facade in 1883 by Josep Vilaseca Casanovas.

Army headquarters

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This striking building stands at the bottom of the Ramblas, in front of the Christophe Colombus Column.

In its Mediterranean surroundings, the army headquarters is one of several stately buildings in the in the Portal de la Pau square.

Cines Comedia (main photo)

Originally built in 1887 as a grand residential mansion in the heart of Barcelona, this building was converted into a theatre in the late 1930’s.

The architect for the conversion was Rodriguez Lloveras and the first performance in 1941 lasted for four days and celebrated the end of the Spanish Civil War.

In 1960, the theatre was converted into a cinema and three decades later, it became a five-screen complex.

Externally it hasn’t changed and is still an imposing building on a prime location in the heart of Barcelona. Internally it’s five screens have the latest technology.

Casa Lleo i Morera

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This modernist building was designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner in 1902 on Barcelona’s top shopping street, Passeig de Gracia.

Casa Lleo i Morera contains the upmarket store of luxury clothing and assessors brand, Loewe.

La Boqueria Market

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Although not in a stately building, Barcelona’s La Boqueria Market, or Sant Josep, dates back to 1217, when tables were apparently installed near the old city gate to sell meat.

The markets lead to a series of quaint alleys, such as this one that leads to  Bacardi Palace, a Colonial property built in the 1850s and housing centrally-located apartments.

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The influence of Casa Milà

Many of the modern buildings in Barcelona clearly show the influence of Antoni Gaudi.

The wavy lines of this structure certainly stand out from its surroundings.

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However, to the untrained eye, this design appears to owe much to one of the city’s most famous buildings, Gaudi’s famous Casa Mila – popularly known as La Pedrera.

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