Top 5 Inner-city Getaways

When it comes to spending free time, I’m a city boy through and through. Give me a choice between a sunny beach and a historically and culturally rich city, and I will probably… do both 😉 But if that’s impossible, I would much rather take a stroll down some narrow alleyways of an old town than suntan (especially if it’s 40C and the old town in question is fountain-rich Grenada)

That said, even I can get bored or tired of asphalt and concrete. When that time comes, I venture forth in search of some oasis of calm and quiet in the middle of the city. All good cities have them: either public parks, or temple gardens, or urban forests. But the ones that really remain in memory are places that have that little something extra; a spark of brilliance or a touch of history that makes them stand out from the rest.

Here’s a list of my top 5 favourite of such getaways: all five are free to enter, though not always free to get to. You will notice these are also one of the top cities to live in, according to various surveys. It’s no coincidence; the best governed cities have also the best public spaces. Continue reading “Top 5 Inner-city Getaways”

A different Vienna, part 2 – Gasometer: steampunk arcologies

Approaching the first of the Gasometers from U-bahn station

As you may have noticed by now, my visit to Vienna was a bit on the unorthodox side. Skipping the galleries and palaces (but not the cafes!), I’ve spent my two days searching for the weirder bits of the city.  After spotting some old Nazi Dark Towers, I then boarded the U3 line towards Simmering, alighting at the Gasometer station.

The station’s name spoils the surprise a bit, but then if you ventured so  far away from the city centre, you probably already know what’s waiting for you. A vertical brick wall, arcing to the left and right, forming a giant cylinder. One of those huge XIXth century coal gas tanks that every European city used to have. But this one is different; and not only because there are four of them in one place. Continue reading “A different Vienna, part 2 – Gasometer: steampunk arcologies”

A different Vienna, part 1 – the Flakturms, or “Don’t Mention Ze War!”

(I’ve been to Vienna last week. This is the first of my impressions of the city.)

Flakturm V looming over Hofburg Gardens

You’d be forgiven to miss them on the map. They are not marked in any way, other than the pale pink of ‘some building’. You’d be forgiven to miss them in a guide, as they are not listed under the main attractions of the city – of which there are many (except one of them, on which more below).

But you should not miss them while standing anywhere within quarter of a mile from these dread-inspiring constructions. Fifty meters tall and forty meters wide, these blocks of solid concrete stand out not just like sore thumbs, but like entire sole limbs, looming over some of the more picturesque parts of the city. Just try to go to Augarten park and ignore their existence (as does everyone else around you). It’s impossible. Continue reading “A different Vienna, part 1 – the Flakturms, or “Don’t Mention Ze War!””

Standing Stones of the British Isles

We went to Salisbury Plain a few days after the Solstice, and this reminded me of the many other standing stones we’ve seen throughout the British Isles over the years.

This was our second visit to Stonehenge – even more people this time of the year, and the weather was much milder.

Further north of the Stonehenge area is the Avebury area, which has, to me, much more spectacular features than its better known neighbour, though not as iconic.
This here is the Silbury Hill – greatest man-made mound in Europe, the size and age of some of the older pyramids in Egypt. Its purpose is unknown, as there doesn’t seem to be anything inside or on top of it.

Just across the road from Silbury Hill is one of the two Kennet Long Barrows

At 100m, it is one of the largest barrows in Britain
The Avebury Circle – what’s left of it – is huge. It encompasses part of the village, including the pub, and is probably the largest in the world. This photo shows just a tiny part of it.
The locals over the ages have removed many stones for construction. Still, what’s left gives a good impression of how the entire thing must have looked like back in the day

‘The Cove’ – a triple formation of stones in the middle of what was one of the smaller concentric circles forming the Avebury complex
Way, way up north from Salisbury, on the wind-swept Orkney there is a set of megalithic monuments rivalling that of the Wiltshire plain. All through the islands the stones are scattered in lesser and greater formation – the Standing Stones of Stenness being one of the most iconic ones

The Maeshowe Barrow is built like the famous Newgrange in Ireland – its entrance pointing at the Winter Solstice sunrise
The Ring of Brodgar, not far from the Stenness Stones, this is the third largest stone circle after Avebury and Stanton Drew, and perhaps one with the best views – sweeping across the Scapa Flow

 

Dwarfie Stane of Hoy – not many tourists even notice the giant slab of rock cast on a hillside, but inside there are tomb chambers carved in solid red sandstone

We now go to Wales – Anglesey. Plenty to see there, from iron age forts to megalithic monuments.
The Bodowyr Dolmen

And the entrance to the Bryn Celli Ddu barrow mound

I have not yet been to Newgrange, so this is the best I’ve got for Ireland. The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the middle of Burren. Hard to notice among all the other naturally strewn boulders.