Sunday, December 23, 2012

Budapest, The Queen of the Danube

Two cities separated by the Danube River became one and formed one of Europe's most beautiful capitals. Today, Budapest has also grown in the number of tourist visits, as well as in hotels, restaurants, and boutiques opening their doors. Since joining the European Union not too long ago, it has been cleaning up its beautiful architecture and is now more attractive than ever. It's especially beautiful when seen from the top of the hilly Buda side or from the river, with landmarks standing out in the skyline. A visit to its famous thermal baths is a must, and the classical music scene is impressive. You may also join the local fashion-conscious youth in the new buzzing nightlife, or simply continue wandering the cobbled streets admiring the city's charm and lovely vistas. 

Top 10 Sights and Attractions
  1. A walk through the CASTLE DISTRICT and FISHERMEN'S BASTION.
  2. The magnificent PARLIAMENT.
  3. Relaxing at the GELLÉRT BATHS.
  4. The landmark ST. STEPHAN'S BASILICA.
  5. The art collections of the National Gallery.
  6. Crossing the monumental CHAIN BRIDGE.
  7. A stroll down VÁCI UTCA STREET and shopping down ANDRÁSSY UT.
  8. The interior and architecture of MÁTYÁS CHURCH.
  9. Watching a performance or going on a tour of the State Opera House.
  10. The national treasures inside the Hungarian National Museum.


Hotels and HostelsHotel Bookings
Look for the hotel or hostel that best matches your budget, type of trip or personality. Here you can guarantee a room but you do NOT pay anything at the time of booking. Payments are only made at the hotel and there are no booking fees. Most hotels allow cancellations with no penalty if done up to 24 or 48 hours in advance. You'll see that information at the time of booking and again in the confirmation email.


RestaurantsEating and Drinking
There's some serious culinary fusion going on in Budapest right now. While you can still find your pure, traditional goulash, you'll also get a tour of Asia or Europe in a new generation of restaurants. The dining experience in the Hungarian capital has not only improved in quality, but also in number of choices. What remains unchanged is the café culture in a number of classic and modern coffeehouses. Order one of the delicious pastries to go with your coffee and admire the faded splendor or the modern attitude of your surroundings.
ShopsShopping
In the years following the country joining the European Union, Hungary's capital saw an unprecedented growth in shopping options with new stores and malls opening around the city. Vaci Utca is Budapest's main pedestrian street and that's where you'll see tourists and locals window shopping, while others look for luxury brands in Andrassy Ut. For antiques there's Falk Miksa Utca lined with charming and atmospheric shops and galleries, and for just about anything head to Ecseri Piac, said to the biggest flea market in Eastern Europe. The covered Central Market Hall designed by Gustave Eiffel is also an interesting stop, selling fresh produce and local products. 
 







 

Florence, Italy's Open-Air Museum

Michelangelo and Machiavelli, Donatello and Dante, the Renaissance and romance are felt in every corner of Florence. A showcase of art and architecture, it is one of the world's greatest artistic capitals, with statues, sculptures, historic churches and palaces adorning the streets. But this is not an austere historical city stopped in time. Alongside the art galleries and beautiful piazzas are fine boutiques, designer shops, and lively cafes. The remarkable heritage and extraordinary art are the mains draws for its visitors, but as one of the most aesthetically pleasing cities in Europe, it is the views from its bridges and street life that are likely to stand out in your memory when you leave.

You'll also want to return, since it is impossible to see all of its artistic treasures in just one visit. Take your time, visit the Duomo and the historical center followed by the Uffizi Gallery, and dedicate your remaining moments to exploring the back streets seeking out your favorite restaurant, bar, or irresistible shop. 

 Top 10 Sights and Attractions
  1. The huge DUOMO and the views from its dome.
  2. The extraordinary collection of the Uffizi Gallery.
  3. Michelangelo's famous David in the Accademia Gallery.
  4. The outstanding Renaissance paintings inside Palazzo Pitti.
  5. The medieval PONTE VECCHIO lined with shops.
  6. The monumental PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA.
  7. The magnificent frescoes of CAPPELLA BRANCACCI.
  8. SANTA CROCE BASILICA, Michelangelo's resting place.
  9. SAN LORENZO CHURCH, the oldest in the city.
  10. The rich SANTA MARIA NOVELLA BASILICA.
Hotels and HostelsHotel Bookings Look for the hotel or hostel that best matches your budget, type of trip or personality. Here you can guarantee a room but you do NOT pay anything at the time of booking. Payments are only made at the hotel and there are no booking fees. Most hotels allow cancellations with no penalty if done up to 24 or 48 hours in advance. You'll see that information at the time of booking and again in the confirmation email.

RestaurantsEating and Drinking
Anywhere in Florence, especially in and around Piazza della Signoria, you'll be able to enjoy some of the world's best ice cream, relax with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, and taste some of the best Tuscan cuisine. Prices vary from reasonably-priced to expensive, but you can always rely on a good and inexpensive Italian pizza...
ShopsShopping
When in Italy, you won't resist looking for the major designer fashion shops, and in Florence they're mostly found in or around Via Tornabuoni. Once you take a look at all of the big names, a walk around the surrounding streets will take you past other attractive window displays. To look for everything under one roof, check out the city's branch of the national Coin department store. 
 






 

Amsterdam You're Welcome

It's easy to see Amsterdam as one big village crossed by canals and footbridges, colorful flower markets, and bike paths, but that's only until you visit its art galleries, see the best of Dutch design, and experience its extravagant nightlife, when you conclude that this is in fact a big world-class city. While the first images it brings to mind may be the sex and drugs of its famous red light district, this is also the city of elegant canalside architecture, relaxed cafes, and a live-and-let-live attitude to pretty much anything. So take advantage of that and in between visiting its art treasures, dedicate most of your time to simply hanging out and absorbing the city's vibrant, welcoming spirit. 


Top 10Top 10 Sights and Attractions
  1. A walk or a cruise down the Grachtengordel Canals.
  2. The Dutch Golden Age treasures of the Rijksmuseum.
  3. The masterpieces in the Van Gogh Museum.
  4. Stedelijk Museum's contemporary art.
  5. The famous Anne Frank House.
  6. The notorious RED LIGHT DISTRICT.
  7. A stop in DAM SQUARE.
  8. The Torch Gallery's exhibitions.
  9. Sitting with a drink in LEIDESPLEIN.
  10. Browsing through ALBERT CUYPMARKET and BLOEMENMARK.
Hotels and HostelsHotel Bookings
Look for the hotel or hostel that best matches your budget, type of trip or personality. Here you can guarantee a room but you do NOT pay anything at the time of booking. Payments are only made at the hotel and there are no booking fees. Most hotels allow cancellations with no penalty if done up to 24 or 48 hours in advance. You'll see that information at the time of booking and again in the confirmation email. 

RestaurantsEating and Drinking A café is Amsterdam often means a pub and cannabis, and not just a coffee shop or a place to go for brunch. For dinner, fresh local ingredients create international dishes at stylishly designed restaurants which often share walls with the city's top bars and clubs. In between checking out those fashionable hotspots you'll find other cheaper, simpler ethnic restaurants (from Indonesian to Turkish) where the food is often just as memorable.
ShopsShopping
Amsterdam offers a myriad of shops, boutiques, and markets for every personality and budget. All the well known chain stores, from H&M to Zara are found down Kalverstraat, the longest and most popular shopping street in the city. For a number of luxury and designer labels within steps from each other, head to PC Hooftstraat. Named after a 16th century poet, dramatist, and historian, this street is lined with fine boutiques, although locals prefer the original shops spread throughout the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) shopping district. Be sure to not miss the Albert Cuypmarkt which claims to be Europe's longest street market. And if you're in the city on a Saturday, Noordermarkt is the popular farmer's market for organic food and bric-a-brac. On Mondays, head to the Waterlooplein flea market, where the city's young and trendy go for second hand clothing, old books, and pretty much anything. 
 









 

Lisbon, The first capital of the global village

Lisbon is reawakening. The words "new" and "cool" haven't really been associated with this city since the 16th century when it ruled over the world's first global empire, extending from Brazil to India. Vasco da Gama's expedition to the East brought it cultures and a touch of the exotic that Europe had never seen before -- spices (cinnamon, pepper, ginger), foods (potatoes, pineapples, tea) and animals such as the elephant and rhinoceros that paraded by the city's waterfront. When the glory days of trade and discovery were over, Lisbon fell victim to one of the most destructive earthquakes ever recorded, and remained dormant ever since. The kiss that awoke the "princess by the Tagus" came during Expo 98, the last world fair of the 20th century. The Expo site became a new neighborhood with futuristic architecture, riverfront warehouses were converted into clubs and restaurants, its narrow cobbled lanes were invaded by caipirinha-holding young crowds enjoying a typically-warm night out, new boutique hotels and contemporary-design hostels opened in renovated old buildings, and an energized artistic scene brought it a renewed sense of confidence. 

 But what hasn't changed are the breathtaking views from its hills which arguably make Lisbon Europe's most scenic capital. Add its trademark mosaic pavements, dilapidated pastel-colored or tile-covered buildings, iconic turn-of-the-century trams, melancholic Fado music, and you also have one of the world's most soulful cities. In fact, Lisbon's unpolished appearance actually provides a seductive atmosphere all of its own, and prevents it from ever being just another bland old city.

 Top 10 Sights and Attractions
  1. Jeronimos Monastery's cloisters and Vasco da Gama tomb.
  2. Belem Tower and views of the Tagus River from its loggia.
  3. Gulbenkian Museum's art and gardens.
  4. Berardo Museum's modern art.
  5. Oceanarium and surrounding PARQUE DAS NAÇÕES architecture.
  6. ST. GEORGE'S CASTLE and nearby views over medieval ALFAMA.
  7. BAIRRO ALTO bar-hop and clubbing by the river.
  8. Treasures from the Age of Discovery and European masterpieces at the Ancient Art Museum.
  9. A late-afternoon drink or snack at a riverfront cafe or restaurant, or at the docks warehouses under 25 DE ABRIL BRIDGE.
  10. A daytrip to the palaces of SINTRA.
Hotel Bookings Look for the hotel or hostel that best matches your budget, type of trip or personality. Here you can guarantee a room but you do NOT pay anything at the time of booking. Payments are only made at the hotel and there are no booking fees. Most hotels allow cancellations with no penalty if done up to 24 or 48 hours in advance. You'll see that information at the time of booking and again in the confirmation email.  

RestaurantsEating and Drinking Dinner time in Lisbon is always after 8PM and often after 9 or 10PM on weekends. Eating out is quite cheap when compared to other Western European capitals, and a wide range of restaurants are clustered in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. Tourist-friendly options with local and international cuisine are found in the pedestrian Rua das Portas de Santo Antão downtown, and by the marina Docas de Santo Amaro with tables outside with wonderful views.
ShopsShopping
Check if the international luxury brands have any special offerings in their Lisbon shops down Avenida da Liberdade and Rua Garrett. Go for something different at the trendy and funky boutiques with retro and urban wear in Rua do Norte, and look for the sophisticated independent shops down Rua Dom Pedro V in the Principe Real neighborhood. Finally, find some extraordinary old shops filled with charm in Chiado and get some design ideas in Santos.