Archive for ‘March, 2013’

Don’t Dream It’s Over

by Jacob Aldridge and Chris K ,

Dear everydaydreamers –

We write to you with some sadness to announce that EveryDayDream Holiday will be ceasing our mission to send you amazing travel experiences, five days a week.

Our decision is to go on hiatus, not to definitively end our plans – our website, 70 daily destinations, and about 80,000 words of entertainment will all stay live. And if we do reintroduce our daily emails, you will be the first to know.

In addition to sadness, this decision has been made with some excitement and relief. We felt – and your amazing feedback supported our thoughts – that we were crafting high-quality travel entertainment. Unfortunately, that day-to-day creation requires too much of our focus. Our beautiful website wasn’t gaining the traction and reader growth that it required, and we simply didn’t have the time among our other business commitments to find any more time above and beyond creating that daily content.

Any business that simply does what it does, with no investment of time into planning the future, will be left behind. We are making this decision now, to prevent that from happening.

(And we did discuss other options, such as shorter articles or only weekly content. But when it comes to online travel content, where some sites produce dozens of articles every day, we felt providing lower quality articles less often would mean killing the EveryDayDream brand and all the reasons you love us in the first place. After all, our site isn’t called EveryWeekMediocre!)

Back in December, when we began the plans that became EveryDayDream Holiday, we knew there were challenges with what we intended to do. But rather than spend months planning, we decided to jump right in. As we’ve gone along the way, your feedback and loyalty have energised us beyond measure to keep creating and contributing – we cannot thank you enough for reading, sharing, enjoying, and letting us know!

A big part of our sadness is knowing that this decision means dozens of you will have one less means of escapism every morning. But if you ever do feel stuck at work, or bored with your life, and in search of a dream holiday – you can always visit http://everydaydreamholiday.com/everydaydreams/ and re-start our journey. Through 70 articles, covering 3.5 months, we have travelled from Rome to Copenhagen via 6 continents.

Find the opportunity to toast marshmallow over lava, surf Australia’s Byron Bay, or complete a Monopoly Pub Crawl. Just never stop the daydreaming!

We hope to see you out there in the big wide world,

Jacob and Chris

That flag is the Union Jack, flown when the monarch is not in residence. When the Queen is at home here, the Royal Standard flies.

That flag is the Union Jack, flown when the monarch is not in residence.

Living Happily Ever After in Copenhagen

Today’s Itinerary:

  • first – coffee. Then, pastries.
  • then, a visit to the National Museum
  • find our where Princess Mary lives
  • climb the golden stairs of the spire of Our Saviour’s
  • see the city from a different height at Tivoli Gardens

As the Danish say,

Laziness is the devil’s pillow

So let’s get started!

We begin our day with a fresh coffee from our hotel – the very centrally located First Hotel Kong Frederik. The coffee is from Nespresso coffee pods, and it completely free for guests – very helpful for our early morning start. Have a look below at our photo and check out all the celebrity guests who have stayed here, including John Malcovich, Sting, Dire Straits, and Robbie Williams. A definite celebrity tip.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Next, we head down cobblestone streets of the Strøget, purportedly the world’s oldest and largest pedestrian walking street. There’s a surfeit of excellent bakeries and patisseries here, and the variety will make your mouth water as your jeans already begin to feel a bit tighter.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Grab some breakfast, and march on down to the National Museum.

The national museum of Denmark, it contains from all the back in the Stone Age, through the Viking Age, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and up into contemporary history.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

There’s a wealth of treasure here, as one would expect from a Viking empire, including this incredible, 3,000 year old piece – the Sun Chariot.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

We’re off to pay a visit to Princess Mary, who found her Prince Charming in a little pub in little old Sydney, Australia.

Photo by Mikkel Rask, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Mikkel Rask, Licensed under CC.

During the Sydney Olympics, Mary found herself chatting to a nice man who called himself “Fred”. Romance bloomed, and eventually, and we’re sure to her immense surprise, “Fred” revealed himself to be Prince Fred  – specifically, Prince Frederik of Denmark, and heir to the throne.

Well.

Mary and Fred were engaged by 2003 and shortly after, in a story to warm everyone’s hearts, Frederik was lucky enough to marry the love of his life.

See – if you wish upon enough stars, dreams do come true – even for Prince Charming.

Mary now lives in Amalienborg Palace, and there are guided tours throughout the apartments. Make sure to try and spot the polar bear skin rug, and if you look close enough you might even seen the ghost that haunts these halls…

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

It’s lunchtime! We weren’t lucky enough to get a table at Noma, currently ranked as the world’s best restaurant, but there are plenty of foodie delights to be had in Copenhagen. Try some “smooji” – Danish tapas, or have dinner at one of Copenhagen’s many Michelin-starred restaurants.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Walk off lunch by heading down to Nyhavn, home to brightly-coloured heritage fishing buildings.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

From here, we can take the long walk to see the tiny Little Mermaid statue that is both world-famous and rather a bit of a let down.

Although very famous, and an iconic representation of Copenhagen, the Little Mermaid statue is probably best viewed as an excuse for a nice walk, than an attraction in and of itself. In reality, it is quite small and, although pretty, on a tight timeframe does not really warrant the effort.

By all means, go if you must. But we’re taking a cruise.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Christianborg Palace. Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Ahh Noma. One day we’ll eat there! Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

After our cruise, we head towards the Church of Our Saviour. Ascending the steps up the spire, we’re soon out in the brisk Danish air and whirling around to catch 360° views of the city of Copenhagen. Be warned, for the vertiginous views and relatively tight climb may not be for those who struggle at height.

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

Photo courtesy afatefulhaven.com

We are almost on top of the ‘grungy’ neighbourhood of Christiania. If you’re interested in counter-culture, natural practices, or street art, you may wish to visit but make sure you follow the rules. Locals will guide you around and you can see many of the original buildings, that were built by their residents, still standing today.

Finally, it’s time for the real treat.

Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, after the first oldest amusement park, also in Copenhagen! The park opened on August 15, 1843, and with 4.033 million visitors in 2012, ranks fourth in most-visited amusement parks in Europe.

We went to the Tivoli Gardens as an afterthought, thinking that this theme park could only really be suitable for kids.

We were wrong.

It was a blast, and we realised, high above Copenhagen, swinging around in the air with the city all around us, that there’s still a little kid inside all of us.

Don’t make our mistake of going only three hours before you leave Copenhagen, and in fact, you may want to spend the evening there when the neon lights come on and the park becomes a carnival.

Photo by Stig Nygaard, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Stig Nygaard, Licensed under CC.

The Hague is not your Conventional Day Trip

by Jacob Aldridge

Our Dutch friend and guide Luke has a message for you – don’t come to Amsterdam and waste your entire time sitting in a city coffee shop.

Head out and see the countryside as well! So he’s taking us to The Hague.

The Plein - main square of The Hague (Den Haag) Netherlands Holland

The Plein – main square of The Hague.

Today’s Experience

The Hague (Den Haag) is a 1 hour train ride from Amsterdam’s Centraal train station. Today is the Spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and as we coast through the Dutch countryside Spring is certainly in the air.

A green town … and springtime colour welcomes us to The Hague’s most famous building, the Peace Palace.

Front view of the Peace Palace, The Hague

Exterior of the Peace Palace. The winning design actually had two towers, but was adjusted to meet the budget.

Built with more than a million dollars from the American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the Peace Palace was built to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration which had been created as a means to prevent future wars.

Designed by competition winner Louise Cordonnier in the Neo-Renaissance style, it officially opened in 1913… just a year before the worst war in history erupted across Europe.

It remains in active use, now managed by the United Nations and also home to the International Court of Justice. Our tour guide takes us through history, architecture, and world politics in under an hour – impressive! This is a beautiful building, and one still in active use (although Carnegie et al would hope for a day when its function is no longer required).

A 360 Degree Painting

The Hague is a beachside town, although it’s too long to walk today when the ocean water is likely too cool for all but the most brass of monkeys to swim in.

Instead, Luke has offered us a 19th century seaside experience that will blow our 21st century minds. So we enter a small, round building at Zeestraat 65, walk down a corridor past a few nondescript paintings, and then step up into…

The Mesdag Panorama.

Full view of the Hendrik Mesdag Panorama, The Hague

Click to see a High Resolution version – and remember, this isn’t up on a wall, this fills the entire room!

Before there were motion pictures, there were these: paintings wrapped around a room, 14 metres high and 120 metres (360 feet) long. The advent of film saw Panoramas, and the circular buildings crafted to house them, drop in popularity. A century later, it makes these all the more remarkable.

And the Mesdag Panorama, painted by Hendrik Mesdag, is an excellent example, showing the seaside from the Signpost sand dune in 1881 – just before a large and ‘modern’ pier turned the fishing village into a holiday resort for the regions wealthiest citizens.

Close up section of the Mesdag Panorama - can you see where the painting ends and the sand diorama begins?

Close up section of the Mesdag Panorama – can you see where the painting ends and the sand diorama begins?

It captures the artist’s favourite spot at a pivotal moment in the industrialisation of his country. And for us, we are confronted with this painting in the round, naturally lit from a skylight that also adds mood lighting every time a cloud passes over.

I can’t resist buying a print from the giftshop; but can you see any souvenirs that even go close to capturing inside that dome?

Before MC Hammer, there was MC …

If it’s experiential artwork you want, says Luke as he walks us through the main square after lunch, then you’re going to love the next place.

He’s taking us to the former Queen Mother’s residence, the Lange Voorhout Palace, now a museum dedicated to the surrealist graphic artist MC Escher.

Here we have a chance to see some of his most famous works…

MC Escher's famous drawing of two hands each drawing each other

Look familiar? Stop: Escher Time!

MC Escher's famous drawing of himself, with the perspective of a crystal ball

Now THAT’S a self-portrait. Almost worthy of Van Gogh, don’t you think?

Some of his earliest geometric works blown up to the size of rooms! And, on the top floor (after several rooms that fill us in on Dutch royal family history as well) there’s a chance for all of us to place ourselves inside some of the most famous illusions.

Recreate the famous MC Escher mirror ball drawing for yourself

Can you see yourself here?

There’s also a chance to appreciate the chandeliers by another Dutch artist Hans van Bentem. Yesterday we were admiring the intriguing art of Vincent van Gogh – today we learn that Dutch art didn’t stop experimenting after his death.

Amazing chandeliers in The Hague

There are skulls and globes and plenty of others – we thought the dove of peace was fitting!

And then, we’re on the train back to Amsterdam. The city buzzes, but we have one eye on the upcoming weekend exploring yet another European gem: Copenhagen.

Inside Amsterdam Centraal (Central) Train Station at night

Amsterdam Centraal Train Station – easy airport access

Fake tulips at the Amsterdam airport

The tulips I like best are your tulips in the dark.

Alter Your Perception in Amsterdam

by Jacob Aldridge

Amsterdam offers many different ways to alter your perception on the world.

We’re sticking with the completely legal ones: impressionist art, and dutch beer. Mostly.

Amsterdam canals in the summer

Amsterdam: Like Venice, only pleasant

Today’s Experience

The Netherlands (aka Holland) may be a tiny country, but it leaves a large footprint across world history. Whether you’re schooled in art, corporations law, or maritime warfare, you’ll bump into this lowland super power. Fellow everydaydreamer Luke has offered to be our local guide today, and he’s offered to give us all a ‘Taste’ of the culture.

Our schooling begins at the Rijksmuseum, Holland’s national museum. Would you like to pose in front of the 8 foot high “i amsterdam” sign nearby?

i amsterdam / i am amsterdam sign near the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam the Netherlands

i amsterdam. Get it? Get it?!

How are you feeling about all these museums? We could load ourselves up and try to fit every piece into some kind of artistic school or historical context. For a far more pleasurable experience, how about we wander through and decide to only inspect those that catch our eye?

Like this one …

Queen Beatrix portrait by Andy Warhol, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands will abdicate next month; here she is in a portrait by Andy Warhol!

or this one?

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, by Johannes Vermeer.

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, by Johannes Vermeer.

Isn’t it interesting how many of the eye-catching paintings come from artists we’ve heard of? Perhaps that means we’ve acquired several centuries of artistic taste!

Of course, many of the best pictures, like this one, are bound to be eye-catching because they take up an entire room! What I love about ‘The Night Watch’ by local boy Rembrandt is that next to it is a copy made by a student … which reveals that two sides of the painting have been cut off at some point since then!!

Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' (actual title, 'The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out').

Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ (actual title, ‘The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out’).

House of the Smiling e

After Guinness in Dublin last week, we can proudly declare that it’s never too early to explore the Heineken Experience. Walking along the canals – WATCH THE BIKE! – we’re beginning to wonder if a brewery tour is worth the time? Luke can sense it:

“When I moved to the city, I never wanted to come here. Some friends were in town one day last year and made me come – it was so much better than I thought. Now I take everyone here.”

Historical Heineken poster ad, with a creepy guy smiling.

Not all Heineken ads are green … but most are amusing.

And he’s right. The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam is not like any other brewery tour we’ve done. Groovy green chill out rooms, a fine history piece to rival even the Guinness Storehouse … even the obligatory explanation about how beer is made has been jazzed up with a 4D ride!

We could stand up here enjoying our free Heinekens for ages … but there’s a free canal cruise included in the tour!

View of a Heineken beer from below.

Bottoms up? Amen to that!

Amsterdam Canals

Heineken has taken the ‘Exit via the Gift Shop’ mentality to the extreme. To get to their gift shop, closer to the centre of town, they give you a free canal ride. You can even buy Heinekens on board!

Onboard the free Heineken canal cruise in Amsterdam

We could say ‘buy beers on board’, but what other brand do you think they would sell!

The miles of canals that make Amsterdam famous are almost all man-made, necessary irrigation channels for a nation largely below sea-level. They have also enabled a wealth of trade – note the hooks high up on the multi-storey houses used to load goods (and, more recently, couches and bulky refrigerators) off of and onto boats.

Let’s duck up to the gift shop for the free gift – Heineken aviators! – then explore the streets. It’s a flat, easy walk as Luke points out some buildings of interest. You can see why so many locals eschew the new fangled motor car in favour of bicycles.

What’s the Matter Mary Jane?

  • If you want to try some of the other mind-altering substances Amsterdam is famous for (and I’m explicitly talking about marijuana and hash here) Luke recommends Abraxas – for their range of products whether you want to smoke marijuana or eat a hash brownie or cookie, plus their friendliness and good English for beginners.
  • HOWEVER, be aware that new ID laws have now come into effect – even in Amsterdam – in an attempt to restrict pot smoking to Dutch residents only.
Abraxas Coffee shop in Amsterdam, sells marijuana and hash cookies hash brownies and earl grey tea

Not in ANY way related to the Harry Potter books or films. In case you were wondering.

Van Gogh

We will certainly return to Amsterdam next time we swing through Europe, to take in more of the museums, but Luke wants to ensure we see his favourite: Van Gogh!

Vincent van Gogh’s life of woe is reasonably well-known – he cut off his own ear due to mental illness, a difficult life that made him famous in death. He only sold 1 work during his life – a waste of talent that, thankfully, kept so many of his works within his extended family who were later able to create the comprehensive museum we’re now visiting.

Luke’s secret is to hang near the staircase in the centre of the rooms. Impressionist art – where Van Gogh is most frequently defined – is designed to be seen from afar. Too many art tourists get up close, better to see each brush stroke while missing the overall effect.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh (1885)

The Potato Eaters (1885) is probably Van Gogh’s first ‘masterpiece’. It hints more at the dark and moody Dutch style than his later impressionist work, though the broad brush strokes are already evident.

You can see van Gogh in all the famous museums of London, Paris and New York. But nowhere else will you be able to walk through so many of his works, organised chronologically so you can see his experiments and the evolution of his style.

There is also the piece he was working on when he died – maybe. Of the many museums in Amsterdam, Luke has picked two great ones for today.

What Field with Crows (1890).  NOT Vincent Van Gogh's last painting.

Wheat Field with Crows (1890). Thought for many years to be his last painting, this is now discredited. I personally believe it’s a self-portrait, but that’s probably Abraxas talking.

Red Light Nights

After an easy pizza dinner at La Perla, Luke takes us towards Amsterdam’s oldest cathedral … in the heart of the Red Light District!

We know we’ve arrived when we find our thoughts interrupted by banging glass – it’s the ladies of the night, behind protective screens, trying to gain our attention (and our custom).

An Amsterdam prostitute or lady of the night in the red light district Amsterdam

Knock knock, who’s there? The world’s oldest profession. Photo by Vin Crosbie, CC License

You can readily paint a two-dimensional picture of The Netherlands’ approach to issues like drug decriminalisation and prostitution. You can argue it’s an approach that encourages our base temptations, or that it brings to light (and safety) choices that will happen regardless of the law.

Imagine being the town bike in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam: It’s all Bikes and Canals

Reality probably sits somewhere in between. There’s much to be said for not hiding this…by midnight, however, when the inexperienced drug takers and those who’ve just had too much dutch beer head into this district, it becomes clear why Dutch officials are adding restrictions to their laws.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Luke has us using the Holland Pass to save money. Loads of cities have these, and they’re often a rip off because they include sights you don’t want to see and not the ones you do want to visit! The Holland Pass seems pretty good – we even have some tickets left for our day trip to The Hague tomorrow.
  • Despite appearing to be old v new, the automobile and the bicycle were actually invented close together in the mid-19th Century.
  • Water is not allowed into the Van Gogh museum. Which sucks when you’ve been walking all day!

Do you have any great perception-altering experiences of Amsterdam? Share them in the comments below or with the followers on our Facebook page.

Roadtrip Northern Ireland: Giants, Rope Bridges, and a City Divided

by Jacob Aldridge

We’ve hired a car for today in order to head from Belfast to the very top of Northern Ireland. How far north is that? Well we’re going to a stand on a rope bridge from which you can see all the way to Scotland.

And then we’re going to visit the bullet holes that inspired a U2 song.

Today’s Experience

It’s an early start out of Belfast for the the 90 minute drive up the A26 to Bushmills, a town know for its Whiskey and famous for a causeway you could never take a boat on.

A natural wonder, we were disappointed when planning our drive to discover that the Giant’s Causeway is surrounded by cunning strategies to separate you from your money. Access to the park is free, but they don’t make it easy! In this instance, you have several options:

  • Pay £8.50 each for parking at the visitors centre (and entry to the centre)
  • Park in town, either free or a few pounds depending on the day, and catch a local bus out to the site
  • Park for free on a nearby street – except, there are no nearby streets with parking. It’s at least a 20-30 minute walk from the nearest legal and safe park up to the Causeway

Of course, we have a plan even more cunning than the National Trust: we’re going to park at the Visitor’s Centre … before they open.

Walking the Giant's Causeway national park just after sunrise

The other advantage of an early arrival? Avoiding the crowds.

Look, some people are blown away by the forces of nature that have created these hexagonal stones, extruded side-by-side from the earth and calmly treading a path from the cliff face down into the sea. Before your visit, be aware that they call this the Giant’s Causeway not because it’s particularly giant, but rather because in folklore it was built by a giant.

Person standing on top of the Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

Of course, from the right camera angle everything can be made to look giant.

So some people will want to spend hours here, sitting by the sea and watching the changing tide. If that might be you – just pay for parking and enjoy! Others may it find it … underwhelming, and make it a twenty minute experience at best.

If you’re worried that might be you, check the tide times, and go at low tide when these marvels of nature are most visible.

Rope a Dope

The tale of the Giant’s Causeway involves battling giants – Finn McCool in Ireland and Fingal, who lived across the sea in Scotland. Having spent the past days travelling around Ireland, it’s easy to forget just how close these two islands are. How close?

Well from our next spot – the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, ten minutes east of the Causeway – you can actually see Scotland on the horizon!

(Specifically, you can see the Mull of Kintyre – with binoculars, perhaps, you might spot a former Beatle who wrote a song about that peninsula based on the land he owned there.)

This section of Northern Ireland is famous for the salmon fishermen, and the specific position here is dictated by the narrow gap between the mainland and a tiny speck of an island. Salmon swimming close to the shore for protection in this area would force themselves through the narrow gap – and for fishermen, this was like shooting fish in a barrel.

(Metaphorically! That’s a simile people! They actually caught them using nets, it was just as easy as … you know what we mean!)

To tend to these nets and their boats, access was required to the speck of land on the other side. And so every year, when the weather was good, the local men would come here and re-build a rope bridge. Today, fish are not as common in these waters, and the bridge is open all year long for those brave souls who wish to walk across it.

The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, built by fishermen but now a tourist attraction in Northern Ireland

Looks safe. Right?

If you don’t cross it, it’s still a pleasant brisk walk, and a chance to blow any remaining cobwebs from your mind after our early drive. But it’s not nearly as dangerous as it appears … and if you’ve come all the way to the tip of Northern Ireland, why not cross a small stretch of water and go a dozen steps closer to Scotland?

What do you say? Will you join us on the other side?

Approaching the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland. Don't look down!

You know you want to walk across.

A Town Divided

From the tip of Northern Ireland, our roadtrip takes us south-west – our destination is the town of Derry (often written as Derry / Londonderry). If you’re familiar with the IRA, the actions of the British Armed Forces, or at least the music of Irish super-group U2, then the tale of woe that is Derry’s history may be familiar to you.

It’s an old city, having been granted a Royal Charter by King James I back in 1613 – at which point ‘London’ was added to the name. The original city sits on top of the hill, surrounded by 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) of wall. In fact, this was the last fully walled city to be built in Europe, and is sometimes known as the ‘Maiden City’ because the walls were never breached during the Jacobite wars.

It was those wars at the end of the 17th Century, between forces supporting King James II and those supporting the Glorious Revolution that put William III and Queen Mary on the British throne, that lies at the root of the religious troubles that have plagued Ireland and Northern Ireland.

On one side were the Catholic supporters of James II, who viewed Ireland as separate from England. On the other, ultimately victorious side, were the Protestants, those more closely aligned with London. As these latter men supported the Dutch-born William of Orange, they became (and are still) known as Orangemen.

For Derry, one outcome of the Battle of the Boyne that ended the war in the Orangemen’s favour, was a ruling that no Catholics could live inside the city walls. What followed was three centuries of discrimination – large families being raised in small houses built on the bogmarsh at the foot of the hill and with minimal representation in government. Little wonder it was a spark for the Irish War of Independence, although the Partition of Ireland in 1921 left Derry as a border city – the Catholics, still underprivileged, found themselves living in Ulster and governed by London despite the free Ireland border being located less than a mile away.

The Troubles

This Mural in Derry / Londonderry depicts the events of Bloody Sunday

This Mural depicts the events of Bloody Sunday

It was the simmering tensions that continued which ultimately led to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, drawing incentive from the American movement of the same era. While a majority on all sides were peaceful, this was the start of the period the Irish refer to (with their typical downplaying) as simply ‘The Troubles’.

Walking through ‘Bogside’, site of these troubles, and looking up at the city walls, we are struck by a feeling of separation. The struggles, the cause, and many of the key incidents are memorialised in sets of murals painted on the ends of housing rows. The most famous of these declares “You are now entering Free Derry” – a protest against the UK and Northern Ireland governments that locals feel is so important that the wall remains, even though the row of houses have since been removed.

You are now entering Free Derry - a protest sign backed up by seige action from 1969-1972

You are now entering Free Derry – a protest sign backed up by seige action from 1969-1972

It was here on 30 January 1972 that protesting Catholics were met with force by British paratroopers. Lethal force.

The Free Derry Museum certainly tells this story from one angle, that of the Catholics. It’s a moving experience to stand in this former tenement house, to hear recordings of the shots unfolding, and to see displayed the memories of the 14 people who died – including bullet holes in clothes some were wearing that day.

Perhaps most moving of all is the Civil Rights Association banner, marked with the blood of several victims.

Derry Civil Rights Association Banner from Bloody Sunday 1972, covered in the blood and dirt of what happened

This banner was at the front of the march when the paratroopers opened fire

While the violence of the ’70s and ’80s is, largely, behind us, differences remain. Legally, the city is still Londonderry – 75% of Catholics support a formal change back to Derry, while only 6% of Protestants support the move.

But all is not dire in this town, which is also famous for the Georgian buildings inside the walls where we stop to take afternoon tea. This year, Derry is the first city to be designated a UK City of Culture – the London Symphony Orchestra played here last night; tonight the city will host Primal Scream.

No doubt simmering historic tensions remain … but it’s uplifting to be experiencing a city united and proud of its future, not separated by a wall and a religion.

And it’s an easy 90 minute drive back to Belfast.

A Derry / Londonderry Mural for Peace - hopefully representing the united future of this city

A Derry / Londonderry Mural for Peace – hopefully representing the united future of this city

Want to go? Need to know!

  • It’s possible to hire a car for just one day, and complete this experience while also seeing some of the gorgeous Northern Irish countryside.
  • We are great fans of the National Trust. If you live, permanently or are spending a year or more, in the UK then membership is a great idea as it gives you free or reduced-price access to a range of important sites. Our only frustration (apart from ludicrous parking fees) is that the same can be said for English Heritage – so half the sites you want to visit are within one group, and the others within the other organisation.
  • In Derry, aim to park in Bogside (on the far side of the city, from the river) as it will make your walking easier. The Free Derry Museum is at 55 Glenfada Park and costs £3.

Have you driven through Northern Ireland? Share your experience and top tips in the comments below, and be sure to like our Facebook page.

Best of Belfast: A Titanic Town

by Jacob Aldridge

When God created Ireland, so the story goes, he turned to his host of angels and told them his plans. How he intended to created an Emerald Isle, the jewel of the sea, a land flooded with natural beauty, a merry population, and the greatest beers on earth.

But the angels protested, declaring it unfair that one country should have bestowed upon it so much perfection. “Ah yes,” said God, “but wait until you see the history they have ahead of them.”

We’ve experienced the natural beauty, and on St Patrick’s Day the merriest of people and outpouring of Guinness. Today we head north, crossing the border into Northern Ireland where the beauty remains, but the troubles are closer at hand.

Murals on the edge of Protestant / Unionist Sandy Row Belfast

Murals on the edge of Protestant / Unionist Sandy Row

Today’s Experience

Belfast. Capital of Northern Ireland and an industrial and artistic hub, connected to Dublin by an easy train ride.

We meet Carol, a Belfast local who intends to show us the old and the new, the good and the great, of the city she calls home.

Our first destination is also one of Belfast newest attractions, the Titanic Exhibit which opened to much fanfare in 2012 – the hundredth anniversary of that fateful ship’s maiden voyage.

The Titanic Belfast - an exhibit and an experience

The Titanic Quarter is still being built – keep an eye out for this distinctive building as we go along

We had no idea the Titanic was actually built here in Belfast! And the city have spared no expense in creating this experience – this is no museum of artifacts, this is a multi-storey interactive exhibit that walks us through the journey from turn-of-the-century Belfast to the fateful night of April 15, 1912.

I have to admit – when Carol said we were headed here, I was expecting to spend 90 minutes in a museum (and much of that grabbing a coffee or flicking through the gift shop). Three hours later! we find ourselves debating whether to stay longer in the theatre at the end of the experience, which is showing footage from the discovery of the wreck 1,250 miles (2,000 kms) from its destination New York.

In between, we’ve seen how Belfast’s shipbuilding industry developed, how the luxury liners of the Titanic and Britannic were created as floating five-star hotels, and even been hoisted onto a ‘theme park’ style ride through the construction process!

If you make it to the UK, a trip to Belfast is worth it just for the Titanic.

Inside the Titanic Belfast Ride, Northern Ireland

Riding the Titanic experience.

And it’s only lunchtime. With the aftermath of St Patrick’s Day still upon the city, we’re tempted for something easy, and Carol knows just the spot.

Boojum is the most popular mexican joint in the city. It reminds us of Chipotle in the USA, only the food here is another level of quality above and the friendly staff and five quid burritos make it worth waiting in a queue that stretches out the door.

Australian readers will be impressed to know that they even serve Bundaberg Ginger Beer! We haven’t seen that since we flew out of Sydney after New Year’s – and trust me when I say I’ve missed it.

Boojum Burrito & Bundaberg Ginger Beer, Belfast Northern Ireland

Belfast Boojum Burrito & Bundy: Bloody Brilliant!

Having learned that we were shopping in Paris this time last week, Carol has decided to skip over Victoria Square and instead help us walk off a fantastic lunch with some of Belfast’s best historic sights.

We walk past St Anne’s Cathedral and Prince Albert’s Clock, poking our way through alley ways.

The streets of Belfast in the rain

Why would you go to a shopping mall when you can wander through these streets?

In the mid-afternoon, we take the 1 hour free tour inside Belfast City Hall, to learn a little more about the history and admire the interior architecture from this grand erection.

Belfast City Hall on a glorious Irish day

Belfast City Hall on a glorious Irish day

There’s also time to walk past and admire some of the buildings that date even earlier, from when industrial wealth was first injected into this city. The Grand Opera House (at the start of Great Victoria Street) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (further along) are two perfect examples.

It’s an afternoon of walking where we can’t help but notice that there’s a bar or great restaurant on almost every corner. Belfast may have grown thanks to industry, but it’s not “an industrial city” any more.

For dinner, Carol has another fine suggestion – Mourne Seafood. Now, not everyone likes seafood, and even though they have other options Carol didn’t want to make a booking. Alas, when we arrive tonight is fully booked! But not to worry – a local’s secret is that upstairs is the Oyster Bar, which serves exactly the same fresh local seafood (and is actually even a little bit cheaper)!

We end the evening as every Irish evening ought to end, by heading to the pub. Carol has brought us to The Garrick – figuring we might be sick of Guinness (never!) or pining for a bottle of our beer back home. And it doesn’t seem to matter where ‘back home’ is for you – this pub has six chalk boards packed with their beer list.

Oh, we’re going to be here for a little while. And best of all – Boojum is right next door for a feed on the walk back to the hotel!

Boojum Burrito & Bundaberg Ginger Beer, Belfast Northern Ireland

Could we do Boojum twice in one day? Yes – Yes we absolutely can!

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Spending a week driving around Ireland and Northern Ireland is one of the greatest holidays Europe can offer. Just check that your car rental allows you to cross the border – there’s usually an extra fee to do so, and one alternative is to do what we did: hire 1 car in Dublin, another in Belfast tomorrow, and use the train to travel from Dublin to Belfast.
  • Titanic tickets are timed, so it’s best to buy them in advance. Entry is £15 – and you save another 10% if you buy online.
  • Belfast City Hall Tours run at 11am, 2pm and 3pm each day for 1 hour. The Hall itself is open 8.30am-4.30pm, and you are able to poke your head into the grand foyer and look up into the dome.

Have you driven been to Belfast? Is there better grub than Boojum or a nicer pub than the Garrick? Share your experience and top tips in the comments below, and be sure to like our Facebook page.

Ireland’s Pots of Gold – driving the Emerald Isle

Our Ireland Itinerary:

  • try to find out what Justin Timberlake ordered from the Waterford Crystal factory
  • does chin-kissing the Blarney Stone still give you the gift of the gab?
  • drive the scenic Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula
  • make it back to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day

Ireland is both surprisingly drivable, and well worth it. Dublin, for all of it’s charms, is lacking in certain essential parts of the Irish experience. Green grass, for one.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Licensed under CC.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Licensed under CC.

So today we’re headed south in our little rental car. The city gives way gradually and then, suddenly, we’re amongst the fields. The grass truly is greener here, it seems. Thanks, Gulfstream!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Our first stop is just over an hour and fifty minutes from Dublin. The town of Waterford is home to the famous Waterford Crystal brand, which, having seen some tough times that included bankruptcy, is now seeing a resurgence of the brand.

This is a very good thing – the skill we’re about to see proves that.

Take a look at the incredible detail in some of these pieces, and then reflect that they are made entirely by hand. Every notch, every shape, every part.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

A tribute to 9/11 from Waterford. Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The quality, especially up close on the factory floor tour that we undertook, is palpable. Justin Timberlake had a piece commissioned, and you can see the mould below.

So what was it? Actually – we’ve no idea. It looks very close to the trophy moulds that accompany it, but who can say for sure what is in the mind of a celebrity like Justin. Waterford certainly wouldn’t tell us!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The tour is fascinating, and is especially enjoyable if you like smashing expensive things into little pieces.

As a part of the tour, you’re able to take the crystal pieces that quality inspectors at Waterford have declared unfit for sale – and smash them! Select a wine goblet, an almost perfect tumbler, even a beautiful vase, and watch it shatter into tiny pieces in their rejects bin. Don’t worry – it all get recycled, melted down and put back into new Waterford crystal pieces.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

SMASH! Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

 

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The craftsmanship is truly incredible. Before the tour we had no idea how much human involvement was needed to produce even something as small as a crystal glass. It really gives a new appreciation for the work put into these crystal pieces when you know that even cut that you can run you finger across in those crystal glasses is made by the firm hand and clear eye of the Waterford master craftsmen.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

There is, of course, an incredible shop at the end of the tour. We steered away from the crystal chandeliers (next time, we said) and instead elected to have some wine glasses sent back to our home. A perfect reminder of this little hidden gem.

Do you actually have to KISS the Blarney Stone?

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

‘Tis there’s the stone that whoever kisses

He never misses to grow eloquent;

‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,

Or become a member of Parliament.

“A noble spouter he’ll sure turn out, or

An out and outer to be let alone;

Don’t try to hinder him, or to bewilder him,

For he is a pilgrim from the Blarney stone.”

– Francis Sylvester Mahony.

We’re on the road down towards a place where millions of others have been before. With that in mind, it is a wonder that anyone actually wants to go through with this strange ritual we humans have invented – the kissing of a particular stone in a particular castle, for the purposes of gaining the ‘gift of the gab’.

The things we do…

It used to be that to actually kiss the Blarney Stone, you had to put your life at risk. There was real danger involved. Now, with guard railings and an assistant and even, remarkably, ANTIBACTERIAL SPRAYS, there is little to worry about as you lean over backwards to plant your kisser on this rock.

And for those who are still thinking about those millions of people who’ve done this before, they must be asking – does it still count if you just chin-kiss it?

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

It is quite a strenuous climb to the very top of this tower, so be prepared if your fitness is a little lacking. And it is a long way up as well, so if you’re scared of heights, tight spaces, exercise, and other people’s germs, then you may be happy just to watch the spectacle from the ground below.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

 The Ring of Kerry and the road to Dingle

On Friday evening, we stop in a small village just on the outskirts of Cork. The next morning, we’re on the road through one of the world’s great scenic drives – the Ring of Kerry.

The Ring of Kerry, in County Kerry, located in south-western Ireland, cover some 180 km from Killarney to Killorglin. We pass tiny villages with cobbled streets and lanes, leading to coastal roads with views of a vast and endless ocean.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Eventually, having stopped in for pastries, pies and pints, in nearly every village along the way, we make it to Dingle.

This little fishing village shelters us from the notion that there is a world beyond it’s borders. In the pub, a local band plays half-forgotten tunes from travelling minstrels, beating our a rhythm on a tambourine.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The colours in the water, are, as you can see, beyond compare. Set against the order and rightness of drystone walls and farmers cottages, it is a quiet reminder that no matter what goes on in the rest of the world, life will continue here, and bring order to nature’s chaos.

Back to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day

We’ve found the green grass and blue waters of the Emerald Isle, and we will take these memories back with us as we journey back to Dublin. There’s a big party waiting for us there – but some part of use wants to stay behind and roll in the grass and watch the sun set over monuments that may outlast us all.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

 

Guinness and James Joyce – wanderings in Dublin

Our Dublin Itinerary:

  • start the day with the breakfast of champions
  • see one of Ireland’s national treasures
  • mix with the locals at the games they play best

Something smells right.

It isn’t quite the smell of napalm in the morning, but something far more pleasant. As we approach the forbidding gates of the Guinness factory, the air is full of toasty, malty notes. For those of you who have tried Vegemite, this is that smell.

It is a little early for a beer. Ok – it’s nine am. But given the near universal popularity of Guinness, that king of stouts, that lord of dark ales, that meal in a pint glass – we wanted to beat the rush.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

We take a tip from a local and head to the credit card machines on the left once we’re inside the storehouse. That way, we not only avoid the queues, but we also get our free drink voucher for the upstairs lounge if we choose ‘Print Receipt’.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Guinness has been a part of Irish life since around 1778, varying from a porter to a stout to a double stout. Today, it is one of the most popular beers in the world.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

The size and scale of the Guinness Storehouse attests to the popularity of Guinness and the pull it has on the imaginations of visitors to Ireland. Make sure, when you enter, to look up through the many storied heights and try and guess (without being told) what shape the building resembles.

As we ascend, we are recounted the Guinness story, smelling and tasting the raw inputs including the all important water (the reason the factory is located where it is).

Reaching the top floor, we have panoramic views of Dublin, with passages from the collected works of Joyce pointing out icons of the city.

And there’s that complimentary Guinness for breakfast.

It really doesn’t taste as good anywhere else in the world as it does right here in Dublin, from the very source. Slainte!

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

James Joyce’s Dublin

It’s impossible to mention Dublin without conjuring this city’s most storied biographer. Joyce, for all his super-modernist tendencies, also tenderly chronicled the lives of the ordinary characters around him.To get a feel for Joyce’s Dublin;

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

Photo courtesy of afatefulhaven.com.

See the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, in a style of intricacy and dedication that we probably don’t understand in a disposable modern world. The Trinity College Library (also the largest library in Ireland and bearer of the rare title of copyright library) is fortunate to possess these awesome (in the true meaning of that world) manuscripts containing the four Gospels of the New Testament, illustrated around 800 AD.

You can see all of the books online by visiting the digital archive, but you will miss out on the very informative tour that accompanies this permanent exhibition, showing the mediaeval book-making techniques, and even how the monks corrected mistakes in a time without such a thing as White-Out.

Meet the Irish at Temple Bar

Despite starting the day with a Guinness, by mid-afternoon we’re feeling strangely parched again. Luckily, the lively entertainment district of Temple Bar should throw up one or two options for quenching that thirst.

Photo by LenDog64, Licensed under CC.

Photo by LenDog64, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Keith McGovern, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Keith McGovern, Licensed under CC.

Avoid the Tourist Crowds in Paris

by Jacob Aldridge

Everyone wants to go to Paris, but too many people ask “How can I avoid the tourist attractions in Paris?

The only guaranteed way is to:

  1. find yourself accommodation in the outer suburbs of Paris, and
  2. spend your whole trip there smoking and drinking red wine.

BUT, if you can accept bumping into a few tourists among the locals, and it’s the less popular Paris sights you wish to see, then join us!

Today’s Experience

We’ve already established that Montmartre is the best arrondissement to stay in, well away from the crowds of the Champs Elysee and the Eiffel Tower. There’s also a village feel up here, so rather than another cafe breakfast let’s explore the market options.

Now I don’t care what your clean eating plan says about carbs – in Paris, you eat bread, and at Le Grenier a Pain (or any of the boulangeries in this area) your hardest choice will be limiting your selection.

Perhaps also a croissant? To mix with the cheeses we’re going to purchase and the slices of ham. Add some fresh strawberries for a heavenly breakfast – all acquired along Rue Lepic, wedged between the Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge but a world away from where the bus tours take people.

Croissants from Paris, perfect for breakfast.

No matter how tempting, do NOT add Nutella to this meal!

We can’t avoid the Metro entirely today, but we do choose to walk to the Paris Opera House again rather than change lines, before boarding Line 3 in the direction of Gallieni.

We alight at Pere Lachaise – home to a Sparrow and a Door.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Perhaps the most famous cemetery in Paris, Pere Lachaise was created at the same time as the Catacombs were filled with the bones of earlier cemeteries, emptied to allow for urban sprawl. At the start of the 19th century, no self-respecting Paris resident wanted to be interred this far out of town. This forced the administrators implemented one of the finest marketing strategies death has ever seen: they organised for several dead celebrities (including the lovers Abélard and Heloïse) to be moved here!

We’re here to pay our respects to some of the famous, more-recent residents; the celebrity trick has worked, as Pere Lachaise now has a waiting list.

Viewed appropriately, cemeteries are beautiful spaces to visit – designed with serenity and dignity in mind, they provide a parkland filled with the most personal of monuments to those loved (as we all hope to be) at the end of their lives. Rituals have developed around some of these monuments. Will you join the legion fans who kiss the tomb of Oscar Wilde?

Kissing Oscar Wilde's Tomb, Paris

The glass screen was added in 2012 to help protect the sculpture; now fans kiss both!

Throw a flower to Edith Piaf, the little sparrow?

Edith Piaf's grave, Pere Lachaise Paris

Bonus points for having her songs on your iPod and weeping while you’re here.

Or fornicate among the paraphernalia on Jim Morrison’s grave? (We didn’t see anyone doing this, but that’s the story!)

Where is Jim Morrison buried in Paris France?

Not the best preserved grave site – riders on the storm to blame?

I’m off in pursuit of Sarah Bernhardt, the great French actress. Walk and explore – you never know who you might run into.

Zombie Apocalypse Paris, or just an awesome headstone?

Does Georges Rodenbach foreshadow the zombie apocalypse?

French Canals

For lunch, we thought we’d take you for a walk along the pretty waterfront of the Canal St Martin. We catch the Metro back to Republique and head north – less than 2 kilometres (3 miles) from the endless chatter of the Louvre, here the conversation is sedate and almost exclusively en francais.

Canal St Martin, Paris France

You won’t see streets this empty for the rest of our 3 days in Paris

We’re on the lookout for an attractive cafe targeting the locals, not the tourists – and at Ten Belles (just off the Canal’s eastern side, on rue de la Grange aux Belles) we’ve found it. Fabulous coffee and premium sandwiches we can enjoy here, or take with us as we continue our walk.

The benefit of the Paris Metro having stops so awkwardly close together is that whenever our feet get tired, there’s likely a station nearby. It might require 2-3 interchanges, but it will take us to our next destination.

Map of Paris highlighting Metro stations

(M) Stands for either Metro or “Maybe I’ll walk another 500 Metres”

The Religion of Peace

Still looking for some peace and quiet in a city that draws 28 million tourists per year? Then get on the Metro to Place Monge, and join us in the tearoom of the Grand Mosque.

The Grand Mosque of Paris was built in the 1920s to honour the tens of thousands of Muslims who died during the First World War. A monument to peace … and peaceful it truly is.

Exterior of the Grand Mosquee de Paris

Exterior of the Grand Mosquee de Paris

We spend half an hour wandering the gardens inside, its intricacies modelled on the famous Muslim castle complex the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Taking a seat for an afternoon mint tea, we could still be in Morocco rather than this bustling European capital.

For those seeking the ultimate relaxation experience, the Mosque is adjacent to a Hammam – we won’t take you through the entire spa, sauna and massage process, but this review is worth reading before you visit.

Interior gardens of the Grand Mosque of Paris

Interior gardens of the Grand Mosque

Au Revoir, Paris

You can’t be a tourist here and not see any other tourists, but it’s certainly possible to spend an entire day experiencing Paris the way the residents do. And for our final evening, we intend to continue that experience.

There are many more streets to wander; countless cafes and bars to step inside; and returning to Montmartre after dinner, there’s an entire nightlife we can choose to immerse ourselves in.

And another bottle of french red wine to empty before we leave the apartment in the morning.

Paris – merci beaucoup!

Bridge over the River Seine, Paris France

Bridge over the River Seine

Paris without the crowds, avoiding the tourists, and loving it

Paris without the crowds, avoiding the tourists, and loving it

French Red Wine, drunk in Paris France

French Red Wine – there’s an entire day in Paris could be spent right here!

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Pere Lachaise Cemetery’s website  offers an interactive map (and a virtual tour); if you’d like a printable version to help with your walking, here’s the one we used.
  • Ten trip tickets on the Paris Metro are usually a safe bet for stays of 3 days or more. You’ll love walking around Paris, and the love of walking will mean you’ll suddenly find yourselves on the far side of the city and needing to metro to the next destination.
  • Entry to the Grand Mosque is free; food costs are reasonable; massages increase from €15 for 10 minutes to a complete spa package for only €58.

Have you visited Paris? Share your hidden gems in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

Paris When it Sizzles

by Jacob Aldridge

For day 2 of our 3 days in Paris, we start and end in the Montmartre area where we are staying.

In between, we offer five centuries of nudity, and the sweetest Parisian competition imaginable.

Today’s Experience

We’ll power it all with our breakfast and coffee from Boulangerie Coquelicot, on the nearby rue des Abbesses. Scarily, I ordered the regular coffee – and I think I got you the large!

Enjoying a french coffee in Montmartre, Paris France

It’s worth drinking London coffee, just to make French coffee even more magnificent!

Hidden from us but just ten minutes walk away is the Sacre Coeur, the century-old basilica (that’s young!) built atop the highest point of Paris. The cloudless sky means extra heat as we make our way up the hill and through the square of artists offering us caricatures; once we reach the glistening white church we are thankful for the crisp and clear blue morning.

Paris's Basilica Sacre Coeur against a blue sky

Sacre Bleu c’est le Sacre Coeur!

Most people ascend to the Sacre Coeur via the stairs – the streets of Montmartre are a much better option. The grand Romano-Byzantine style makes Sacré-Cœur an impressive construction inside and out; having experience two other churches yesterday, we’re more impressed to note the statue of St Joan of Arc on the exterior façade – and of course to take in both the elevated view and the people-watching.

Did you know Paris has such a power over Japanese love-birds that there is a disease called Paris Syndrome, created when the reality fails to meet the expectations. This article suggests McDonalds as a cure; we suspect that’s the last thing on the mind for this group of wedding brochure photographers.

Asian wedding promotional photo shoot, Sacre Coeur Montmartre Paris France

Not as uncommon a sight as you might think!

We Promised You Nudity

and we plan to deliver, as we head (by Metro this time) to Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre.

If museums bore you, then you need to be aware that you can ‘do’ the Louvre in less than 6 minutes. At least, that’s the tongue-in-cheek world record, where the rules are solely that you have to view the ‘big 3’ – the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

At the other extreme, of course, it is actually impossible to do the Louvre even across all of the 3 days we have in Paris. Some middle ground must be found – so over the next 2 hours, let’s seize this opportunity to take in those most-famous sights (and the crowds surrounding them) and whatever else takes our eye.

The mostly 'armless Venus de Milo in the Louvre, Paris

Don’t mind Venus, she’s ‘armless! #louvre #dad’sjokes #killmenow

Mona Lisa Up Close and No Crowds Louvre Paris

It is possible to photograph yourself and the Mona Lisa without crowds – just be patient.

Canova's 'Pyche revived by Cupid's kiss in the Louvre, Paris France

A heart for Cupid and Psyche.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, well lit and shot from below in the Louvre

The Winged Victory of Samothrace – only one wing is original, can you tell which?

There’s more to the Louvre than classical paintings, of course. There’s the Ancient Egyptology

That is a Grand Sphinx!

That is a Grand Sphinx!

and the architecture, both modern and classic

The Louvre's glass pyramid from inside.

The Louvre’s glass pyramid from inside.

With light streaming in to the painted vaulted ceiling, You can see why this is the Palais Louvre.

You can see why this is the Palais Louvre.

and remnants of the medieval fortress, the original construction on the site

A helmet from the Louvre's time as a defensive fortress in Paris

The foundations and moat can also be accessed during your visit.

As for naked ladies and gents? We’ve got plenty of them

Lady looking directly at the naked archer

Follow the lady’s eyeline…hmmm…

Classic. Stylish. Nude. Painting in the Louvre

Classic. Stylish. Nude.

And just when you think you’ve seen enough painting, sculpting, and architecture for this lifetime, we exit the Louvre for a walk through the springtime Jardin des Tuileries.

Face Palm statue in the Jardin des Tuileries, gardens in Paris France

“PANTS! I forgot PANTS!”

The Sweetest Thing

Who has the best macarons in Paris? It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves since our ‘Feels Like Home in Paris‘ hosts provided a taster set of macarons upon our arrival.

What is a macaron?

What is a macaron? Ganache filled fantasticness!

We ask ourselves again as we head for lunch at Ladurée, the patisserie that’s been serving Parisians (and tourists) sweets for more than 150 years and (in some versions of history) was the site where the macaron was created; the other contenders today are:

  • Pierre Herme: A deserved reputation, and the most popular choice
  • Arnaud Larher: Absinthe macaron defines Montmartre perfection
  • Pierre Marcolini: Better known as a Belgian chocolatier, and my personal selection

Ultimately, the only winner is this competition … is you – as you choose from flavours that can sound more botanic, or floral, or like the inside of a liquor cabinet, than ganache-filled brilliance. And if you can’t choose a winner (even after a second round)?

Well head back to Ladurée to drown your equivocation in a Saint-Honoré Rose. We’ve ordered one for you in anticipation.

Sainte Honore Rose at Laduree, Paris France

You better claim it now, or I WILL eat them both.

Kick up your Heels

Disappointed that the nudity so far has only been in marble and watercolours? Tonight offers so much more, told through the art of dance at the Moulin Rouge.

The Moulin Rouge, light up in red lights at night in Montmartre Paris

Red Light District, then and now.

There’s no doubt Nicole Kidman’s film helped reinvigorate the fame of the Red Windmill, the Belle Epoque cabaret, the haunt of Toulouse-Lautrec (and it’s a little crass to mention the Australian film, though it seems half the dancers tonight are antipodeans!). But don’t come here expecting Ewan McGregor to sweep you off your feet: tonight is a cabaret, swinging frenetically from “dancey dance” to snake wrestling to laugh-out-loud mime (the latter being a speciality exclusive to France).

And since this is a family website, we can’t show you any stills from the dancing itself – just know that you can expect wall-to-wall topless dancers for most of the numbers in the two-hour main production.

Most of our group have glowing reviews for the Moulin Rogue spectacle – and also suggest that adding on the dinner package to make it a longer experience is definitely worth the extra investment.

Personally, I found the Moulin Rouge to be the most excruciating four hours of my life. Travel is all about leaping into the world with no regrets … but if I could change one thing, I would have skipped Moulin Rouge.

Especially if I could have had another Ladurée dessert instead.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Macarons are best enjoyed fresh – though the ganache filling will keep them moist even as the exterior dries a little.
  • Avoid the Louvre queues by buying your €12.10 ticket online (note: you have to collect this in advance, most easily from the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysée). Plan your visit if you wish to experience specific pieces (like the Mona Lisa) without spending the whole day wandering the wings.
  • Reserve your Moulin Rouge tickets online – the show plus a half bottle of champagne is €105; add dinner and attend the earlier performance from €175. Or don’t, I’m just saying.

Calling all francophiles – what are your favourite experiences of Paris? Let all of our readers know in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.