In Brussels

It’s funny—my trip to Brussels today has reminded me of my first trip to Brussels.

On my first trip to Brussels, I flew in from Newark and made my way to the train station in the basement, where I bought a ticket to Rotterdam Centraal. I was charged some astronomical number that caused me to nearly have a heart attack—this was before the Euro was a physical currency—it was merely a theoretical currency. Fortunately they listed the fare in Euros—roughly 21€--something I did know about and something that relaxed me.

Manneken Pis CokeThe first thing I remembered about the airport was a walk through a long tunnel from the airplane to immigration; this time I was in a light and airy concourse with slightly odd advertisements for Coke until I had to go through a perplexing maze of escalators and tunnels to get to baggage claim.

Last time I was in Brussels I knew very little about the city; and, quite frankly, I am ashamed to admit that I still do not know a lot about the city. This trip is dominated by meetings—starting tomorrow morning at 11—so I won’t be looking around the city too much. I will make it through the Grand Place and wander by the Manneken Pis—the enduring symbol of Belgium and, I think inappropriately, object used to promote drinking Coke.

After getting lost trying to find my hotel (I took what should have been a 10-15 minute walk and turned it into an hour long excursion to nowhere), I grabbed a quick shower and then headed out for dinner. My hotel is essentially in the middle of the gay district and in my brief walk I saw a dozen gay bars, book shops, and leather shops before finding Fanny Thai, my stop for dinner. I picked the restaurant because of the three Thai restaurants in a row, it was the only one that was busy. My selection criteria worked. The four course set menu I chose was awesome and filled with incredible flavors. Like after my trip to Armenia, I am wondering why I tend to settle for bland German cuisine so often. There really is very little exciting about bratwurst in comparison to the ginger, basil and other flavors I couldn’t identify at dinner.

It’s 9:30 and I am already back at my hotel for the evening. It’s been a long day and I feel like crashing already.


Beijing Travel Movie

Beijing Travel Information

The best way to kick off your Asian travels is in China’s progressive and even tragically hip capital city of Beijing. Traditional relics like the Tiananmen gate stand juxtaposed against the imposing modernist architecture of recent history, most notable in the Dashanzi Art District. The People’s Republic of China has its financial industries mainly in Shanghai and Hong Kong, but Beijing remains the nation’s true cultural and political center.

Orange County Meets Ming Dynasty in Beijing

When many travelers think of Beijing, they imagine the dictatorial atmosphere of Mao Zedong or television images of protesting citizens; however, Beijing has a tremendous history beginning as early as the 1st century BCE and has persevered through Kublai Kahn’s Mongols, Japanese invasion, and the Communist Civil War victory in 1949.

The Forbidden City is a fascinating journey through 500 years of Imperial secrecy. The head of state no longer resides here and the beautiful buildings and breathtaking gardens are open to the public year-round. The entrance to the Forbidden City is the infamous Tiananmen Square and gate, protected by four formidable marble lions. Nearby, the Temple of Heaven is another sublime representation of an era of dynasties and royal architecture. With airfare to Beijing, you also have the extra opportunity to see the Great Wall of China, which is only one and a half hours away by bus.

Although there are hundreds of historical sites in Beijing, the rapidly sprawling metropolis is also overflowing with contemporary wonders and luxuries. The National Zoo houses the largest inland aquarium in the world as well as China’s famous pandas. Next to the Imperial Palace, the Wan Fung Art Gallery provides insight into the artistic transition from regal and traditional to cutting edge contemporary. Most interestingly, the suburban sprawl has witnessed the creation of a $60 million American-inspired community called Orange County, complete with town homes and tract housing.

Chinese Cultural Centrifuge in Beijing

Experience two cultural traditions in one at the Laoshe Tea House where you will be both charmed by Chinese opera and soothed by a variety of traditional teas. For world-class shopping in Beijing, visit Wangfujing, or you can find your way into the many enchanting smaller districts for traditional Chinese shops and boutiques. Beijing is also home to several notable temples like the Miaoying, and even a mosque that was built in 996.

With such dynamic experiences to offer and the immaculate preservation of its past, Beijing is truly an international city and there’s no wonder the cosmopolis has been chosen for the Olympics. Get your airfare to Beijing now or wait for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

About the Author: John Binder, for more information on Beijing and cheap airfare & flight tickets, go to www.cfares.com.beijing


Trip to Montreal & Quebec City, quebec city

Travel Day Factoids, eh?

Actually yesterday was the travel day. Greetings from Montréal! Did you know:

  • You're supposed to stop at U.S. Customs before entering Canada in order to declare your gadgets so that you can take them out hassle-free when you leave?
  • "Trucks" is apparently how you say "U.S. Customs" in French.
  • "Crap!" is how you say "How was I supposed to know that I was to go in the 'trucks' lane?" in English.
  • "You can only use your $10/day internet access from one computer so that you don't give it to others for free" is apparently how you say "use a static IP address" in French.
  • A 80-slide PowerPoint presentation can be made even more tedious when you read each slide.

At least this hotel provides robes and slippers! smile


Ther Hong Kong Experiance

The Peak

A friend who comes from Hong Kong recommended two things to do here - visit The Peak, and eat, eat, eat!

view from the peak view from The Peak across the harbour to Kowloon

Well, I seem to have managed both. The Peak is the hill immediately behind the Central district on Hong Kong island. It's very steep and forested, and because it is that bit cooler than the city, this has been where expensive people have chosen to live in their expensive houses.

view of central hong kong view of Central Hong Kong, with the Bank of China building near the centre

There is a funicular railway, the Peak Tram, opened in 1888, which leads to the fantastic viewpoint (with shopping opportunities). I planned to go up on Sunday afternoon - so did everyone else. Queue too big, so I went back on Monday morning - much better

thxs kenny

Welcome to Hong Kong - A Crash Course in Traveling Alone

The first leg of my time in Asia has ended, and now I have left the group I was traveling with. For the first time in my life, I'm traveling completely alone for a week. (Sure I've flown alone before, but there was always somebody to pick me up at the other end, so this is a bit different.)

The first surprise happened when I got to the information desk after landing: no, your hotel doesn't have a free shuttle from the airport. Que 30+ minute taxi ride over the mountains, to arrive in some place and have the driver point out the window and say "your hotel is that way". o.O
(I arrived safely, so that's what matters I guess.)

The next morning I woke up to Silvermine Bay (on Lantau Island) right outside the hotel - litterally, the front of the hotel is on the beach (I don't have a beach view from my room, but that's alright). Since its January, (and it was chilly and breezy) it was hardly a day to get wet, but it was beautiful to look at.

I decided to see what the town was named after, and go up to Silvermine Cave and Silvermine Waterfall. Most of the locals I tried (including the hotel front desk) were strangely unhelpful when I tried to get directions (some of them were just outright rude), but eventually I got out of somebody that no, it wasn't a bus that wen't up there like I had been told earlier, it was a small hike. A couple wrong directions later, I ran into a two men - one from France, and one from England, who gave me excellent directions.

It really wasn't as far away as it had looked on the map (I was glad about that). The Silvermine Cave wasn't a natural cave, but the opening of the old mine that used to be there, and was blocked off only a few meters into it. The waterfall was very pretty though - tall and multi-fascited. I think the part I liked the best, though, was that I got to a place where there were hardly any other people around, and it was quiet and peaceful. It was so nice to no longer hear the constant horn honking of Vietnam! It was so refreshing not to be breathing in lungfuls of smog, too (I think Hanoi was the worst on the trip, despite how bad I had heard that Bangkok was suppost to be).

The next day, I moved off of Lantau and into the Kowloon area. Two ferries and a taxi later, I found myself at some inexpensive hotel, only to find that they had lost my reservations! They still gave me a room for a descent price, but you really do get what you pay for in these places. (Aka a small uncomfortable bed, electrical outlits that only work when they feel like it, walls that provide no sound barrier, a phone that doesn't seem like it wants to connect to any outside calls, and communal bathrooms down the hall.) Turned out to be roughing it a little more than I planned. (It makes me miss my large dorm room, with the small comfy bed, relative quiet (except when somebody cranks their music or drunks walk by outside at 3am), and the type of communal bathroom that actually supplies soap (somewhat) and toilet paper.) Oh well - at least it is only a 15 minute walk from the metro.

I had heard good things about the Hong Kong Space Museum, so I decided to check it out yesterday. I watched a planaterium style showing of a film about the small bodies of the solar system (aka lots about Pluto's reclassification, comets, meteors, meterorites, astroids, and dinosaurs going boom.) Then I walked through the museum itself. I think what surprised me the most was just how many little videos where in the exhibits - less than 10 feet between most of them! At first I watched quite a lot, but then I had to start being more picky about which ones I wanted to watch if I didn't want to be there until closing! There were also frequent little activity areas, from 'design an alien that could survive on this world' kind of computer games to buy a ticket to slip on a harness that stimulates a moon walk.

I also found a great inexpensive sushi restaurant!!!! Not only is the sushi really good (best I've had in awhile), but the atmosphere almost makes me forget that I'm not back in Japan. (Yes, part of me is trying to confincate for the fact that I'm not getting to Japan on this trip. But, at least I have a semester in Japan penciled in my plans for the next few years (most likely fall 2008), so that makes me feel better.)

Hong Kong has certainly been interesting so far, but I've been taking it pretty easy. I'm a lot more tired that I realized I'd be after the constant heavy schedule for the past few weeks. But, at least this is a good time to catch my breath, get some zzzzzzzzzs, and get caught up on my anime (yay for Bleach /finally/ getting out of the filler!) before starting my semester in China next week. All part of the adventure.

thxs shimawa


Barcelona - a short documentary

Degusta Fair

Travellers wanting to experience the myriad wonders of Catalan cuisine in one place might want to hop on a flight to Barcelona for the Barcelona Degusta fair.

Taking place between March 2nd and 5th at Fira Barcelona, this event allows the general public to learn all about the many different kinds of local and national dishes, ingredients, recipes and more.

Visitors to Barcelona can sample a wide range of food and drink products - generally numbering about 2,000 - as well as take part in workshops and masterclasses and attend numerous culinary shows and demonstrations.

Exhibits at the fair are not restricted to just the things you can eat, as budding and experienced chefs can also peruse an array of the latest kitchen equipment and utensils designed to complement numerous kitchen styles.

Attendees can also purchase cookbooks and take a sneak peek at new innovations set to get the international food industry talking throughout 2007.

Check out the Barcelona Degusta website for more information.

Vacation in Barcelona

Now I want to take a moment to say that although I’ve titled this post “Vacation in Barcelona” it should more accurately be written “Travel in Barcelona”. You may not be aware, but there is a SIGNIFICANT difference between vacationing and traveling. Vacation brings to mind gorgeous weather, relaxation, and a resort-like complex where all of your needs are fulfilled with swiftness and ease. Traveling, on the other hand, that’s another matter altogether. Traveling is going to mean stress and strife. Traveling is confusion, anger, disillusionment, and the breakup of relationships. Now that I’ve got you worried (:-P); it’s not all that bad. Certainly all of these things occur because you, and probably your friends/whoever, are in an unfamiliar environment where things are not under your control and not everyone is paid to treat you well. Restaurants will have terrible service, the weather will be horrible, you will get pickpocketed (sorry, Monica!), and a million other uncontrollable circumstances will intrude themselves upon you. But thankfully, that’s not all there is to it - or we’d never bother to go, ne?

First thing I noticed about Barcelona (well, besides the hot guys, claro ;)) was that the weather in comparison to London was wonderful; nice and sunny with plenty of warm weather and clear night skies. We took a bus from the airport in GIRONA (remember this as it will be important later on ><) and then grabbed the metro to our hostel which we reached without any difficulty (we had a map this time) and we were pleasantly surprised by both the free 24-hour internet access and the surprisingly nice conditions of the rooms. If we had been there longer, we would have rejoiced at the kitchen, pool table, and roof terrace as well. The following days were spent in exploring the glory that is the architecture of Gaudí. Personally, I had always found him to be something of a goof. His work, from what I had seen in pictures, seemed quite silly and disorganized. However, after taking the time to explore Park Güell, the Catedral de la Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló I have become a devoted fan. His work is quite simply amazing and inspired. Antoni Gaudí was a genius. The underground area of the Sagrada Familia is well worth a visit in order to explore the organic geometry developed by Gaudí.

Barcelona is filled with many other attractions besides Gaudí. My personal favorite was the fountain of Montjuic in all its glory at night with a sychronized music and lighting show. And of course, there is the wonderful selection of international cuisine and great shopping along the Rambla or other major streets. I remember eating at a great little sushi place right off the beaten track. The craziest part of our trip was when we got on the bus for the Girona Airport (which took over an hour) only to realize upon getting there that we had booked our return flight with Clickair and NOT Ryanair, which meant we had very little time to get back to the Barcelona airport. Of course by this time the buses were not meant to run again until 8 pm (when we were supposed to be boarding our plane at the other airport). We then tried to find some other means of transportation and the only thing available to us was the single taxi driver who was there. He took us to the Barcelona airport in record time (and at a record speed!) whereupon we tried to pay and only managed to pool together 100 euros while the fare was actually 150, but he kindly let us go along our way. By some random chance or luck from God, we managed to get through security extremely rapidly and not only be on time for boarding but actually be early. That was a harried 3 hours that I never want to relive again in this lifetime. Thankfully our arrival in Sevilla proceded without problem.

I must say that by the end of the trip all of us sevillanas (or students in Sevilla, anyway) were kinda wishing we had chosen to study in Barcelona. Of course, now that I’m back in Sevilla I disagree whole-heartedly, but still Barcelona is a wonderful city full of fun and with a great international presence.

barcelona 2006

One of my favorite places, the Palace of the King of Aragon is where Christopher Columbus returned with his new-found treasures included a few "Indians". This is where the Queen asked the infamous question on whether these beings were human. After much debate it was determined that one must speak Spainish to be human.
The fact that these gentleman had learned some words during the trip across the Atlantic was not taken into consideration.
(Pic taken Jan 27th)

(Pic taken Feb 3 & Jan 27th)

Today, after a morning poring over notes & recordings of lunches with Jesus, went to a museum devoted to Antoni Tapies, a Catalan painter whom is considered to be the modern Spanish artistic icon. Personally, the best part of the visit was to see the outside of the Modernista building built by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, who also designed Palau de la Música Catalana. However, I was forewarned. Jesus did say that Tapies is somewhat repetitive ... In his defense, JV did argue that Tapies' work questions the way we observe. Though, once again personally, in this day and age is... well ... repetitive.

The most wonderful part of Barcelona is the extremes one finds here. In Starbucks, a beautiful lady entered in with pastel pick heels, a tope suit, and a green mint neck scarf. Walking up to the counter, she removed her motor-helmet to reveal a face with wrinkles and bright eyes. She is beautiful.
The next day as was locking the apartment door, a young university student was wearing 10 pounds of makeup with penciled eyebrows, marine blue eyeliner and orange lipstick. She is ...
This picture was one captured as was exploring the Gothic area of this city. In a dark alley way a tiled art piece was plastered to the wall. So unexpected, like the ladies above, it leaves an impression not soon forgotten.


Barcelona... in one week have seen more than any tourist should. Driven by the fact that was somewht ashamed to have known about the Catalans and their history with Spain and Spaniards, my goal has been to become informed on the subject in fear that through ignorance may insult a citizen here unwittingly. In short, the relationship is much like 'conflict' between Francophone and Anglophones in Quebec, the so-called two Solitudes which, as we know, paradoxically enrich both cultures in degrees that cannot be explained.

But little secrets can be unveiled that demonstrate just how unique Barcelona (and Montreal ) are for that matter. The streets in Barcelona are shaped like a diamond. Gisella, a guide from InfoTuriste, explained is due to the fact that it helped to control traffic - though do not quite understand that. The streets are made with rectangular stone in the gothic area and north of Plaza Catalunya, where the Modernista style prevailed, Gaudi's Tiles are found on every major street sidewalk. Walking down a dark alley way can lead to a beautiful piece of painted tiles that is plastered to the walls just as a stroll on boardwalk will bring you in close contact with some of the tseilgu(read backwards so help me how else to describe this) women imaginable! Never have a people been so extreme - with old Nannies driving up in scooters so attractive pink heels, to people in business suits perfectly cut & young scholars with faces so caked in junk and makeup one instinctively turns away from the tragedy. In 10 days, have witnessed 2 riots. At first was extremely impressed by the sheer volume of the people but it turns out that it is a rather common event to stop traffic and beat drums during rush hour. Perhaps another motivation to not own a car. Then again there usually aren't any sidewalks period so being a pedestrian is not much more apealing either.
All this to say that to an American(Westerner? Canadian?) raises entirely another cultural issue does it not), how odd these bizarre, seemingly-illogical details that make a city. The tourists and students seem frustrated by Catalans and their perceived 'stupidity' of resisting Spanish language. This tension however also brings some humor and creativity that would not be found in a more bland conformant people.

thxs me


Italian Carnival Sweet Treats - Tortelli di Milano

Do not let the name fool you. Tortelli di Milano, “Tortei de Carnevaa a la Milanese” in the dialect from Milan, are not your pasta tortelli filled with meat or cheese. They are fried sweet dough, similar to doughnuts, covered with sugar and cinnamon. Many Italian Carnival holiday traditions include a sweet version of an everyday dish as if to imitate the concept of Carnival where things are never what they seem to be. These bite size delights appear in the middle of January and are gone by the end of February. They are perfect for mid morning or early afternoon snacks. I first experienced these desserts on a cold January evening in Milan while waiting for the tram after a long day at the office.

The air was cold, the wind strong and the fog had established its control for the night. That wet cold penetrates your bones no matter how many layers of clothes and sweaters you are wearing. While others were already at home getting ready to sit at the dinner table I was, as usual, waiting for the first leg of my 1 ½ hour trip home. Fortunately the tram stop was right in front of a bar, not an unusual occasion considering the number of bars in Milan. Before catching the tram I would drink a “China Calda”, a steaming hot orange flavored liquor. I walked into the bar, greeted my good friend behind the counter, and saw a tray of these puffs with cinnamon and sugar.

I decided it was time to change my usual routine. I ordered a hot chocolate, thick and gooey steaming hot chocolate and a couple of the pastries. They were sweet, soft, and the cinnamon created a beautiful sensation of flavors. Chocolate and spices is a marvelous combination. I completed the long trip home, still warm inside and decided this was a new addition to my favorite traditions. Just as quickly as they had arrived on the scene they disappeared a couple of days after “Giovedi Grasso” and China Calda returned to its previous place as before. Without a doubt Carnival is one of my favorite holidays and I look forward to those cold days when the Tortelli di Milano make their appearance in the bars and pastry shops.


1 ¼ (150 g) All-Purpose Flour
½ stick (50 g) Butter
¼ cups (50 g) Sugar
2 ¼ cups (500 ml) Milk
4 Eggs
2 tsp (12 g) Double Acting Baking Powder
1 Lemon Peel
½ tsp Vanilla
1 tbsp Rum
Olive Oil to fry with (or preferred frying oil)
Powdered Sugar


In a large pot, mix together the sugar, vanilla, milk, 2 1/4 cups (500 ml) of water, the butter cut into pieces, the peel of 1 lemon.

Bring the mixture to a boil.

In a separate bowl mix the baking powder and flour.

Remove from the heat and remove the Lemon Peel. Add the flour mixture to the liquid stirring briskly. Place the pot on the heat again and cook for 10 minutes continually stirring. The sough will separate from the sides of the pot, similar to the procedure for Bigne. Remove from heat and allow the dough to cool for about 5 minutes. Add the whole eggs, one a time, working with your hands if necessary. Add the Rum. Set aside.

Heat the frying oil in a heavy skillet or deep fryer. Test the oil temperature by placing a small amount of dough and watching it fry. The oil should not smoke and the dough should take on a golden color.

Use a tablespoon to create small balls of dough. Add them directly to the oil. Cook on both sides until golden. Remove from the oil and allow the Tortelli to drain on a wire rack. Serve hot with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

thxs D Anderson

Milan HD Movie

Why I Love Milan



WHY GO NOW As the Capital of Europe for the 25 countries that make up the European Union, Brussels shows all the signs of world-class urbanity: great restaurants, smart hotels and terrific shopping. As the capital of Belgium, it also upholds the country's reputation for decadent chocolate, robust beer, sinuous Art Nouveau architecture and centuries-old traditions like the Ommegang Pageant, a spectacular annual reenactment of Emperor Charles V's entry into the city in 1549.

Best of all, the city doesn't take itself too seriously. It has a museum devoted to the comic strip (as well as enormous cartoon characters painted on the sides of buildings) and a much-beloved centuries-old bronze statue of a boy urinating in the center of town — the Manneken Pis. (A few blocks away is a new equal-opportunity girl fountain, the Jeanneke Pis.) In February, Brussels reopened another quirky landmark: the Atomium, a 335-foot-tall model of an iron crystal molecule, a quaint relic from the city's 1958 World's Fair.

And if that weren't enough, The Guardian of London last year declared that Brussels "now leads the way on the European party scene."

WHERE TO STAY Since Brussels can be seen as a sprawling collection of villages, it makes sense to stay near the Grand Place, the medieval central square. About a minute's walk away on Rue du Marché aux Herbes, three chain hotels sit side-by-side in nearly identical faux-Flemish buildings, with rates starting at roughly 100 euros a night, or $123, at $1.23 to the euro: the Ibis at No. 100 (32-2-514-4040, www.ibishotel.com), the Best Western at No. 110 (32-2-504-9400, bestwestern.com) and the Novotel at No. 120 (32-2-514-3333, www.novotel.com).

Perched on the rise directly behind them is Le Meridien (3 Carrefour de l'Europe, 32-2-548-4211, www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien.com), a more luxurious option. Its restaurant serves one of Brussels' most popular Sunday brunches. Standard rooms start at 195 euros; weekend rates at 165 euros, with breakfast. Nearby, the area's venerable Hotel Amigo (1 rue Amigo, 32-2-547-4747, www.hotelamigo.com) has newly renovated rooms featuring works by Belgian artists; doubles from 580 euros. The intimate Le Dixseptième (25 rue Madeleine 32-2-502-1717, www.ledixseptieme.be) was built, as the name suggests, in the 17th century; rooms start at 200 euros. As at most Brussels hotels, rates are deeply discounted on weekends and in the summer.

In the shopping-friendly Louise district, the Conrad Brussels (71 Avenue Louise, 32-2-542-4242, www.conradhotels.com) is housed in a stately 19th-century mansion. Doubles (billed as the city's largest) start at 229 euros; entry to the Aspria gym, spa and 55-foot-long pool is 25 euros extra.

The nearby Manos Premier (102 Chaussée de Charleroi, 32-2-537-9682, www.manoshotel.com) is a boutique gem set in an ivy-covered town house with a lovely garden and an exotic (think Ali Baba) spa. The rack rate for a double is 200 euros and includes breakfast. Look for the 185-euro special for Fridays or Saturdays (double room, double occupancy), which includes aperitif and dinner.

WHERE TO EAT Brussels used to boast more Michelin stars per capita than any other city. But in December, Michelin's not-so-little red book demoted nine local chefs and elevated only one restaurant, Le Pain et Le Vin, to a single star. A three-course "market menu" at Le Pain (812a Chaussée d'Alsemberg, 32-2-374-4962, www.painvin.be) is 52 euros. Comme Chez Soi (23 Place Rouppe, 32-2-218-0220, www.commechezsoi.be) retained its three stars thanks to intriguing dishes like roast Iberian pork in white beer with potato, leek and cardamom mousseline (35 euros). Book well in advance; the cozy (some say cramped) dining room fills quickly.

In the trendy Louise/Ixelles area, you'll find Marie (40 rue Alphonse de Witte, 32-2-644-3031), one of those happy little bistros where the lighting is soft, the jazz sweet and the food pleasantly inventive. The fish carpaccio starter (16.50 euros) comes with a hint of curry, and saddle of lamb (60 euros for two) is enlivened by roasted lemons.

At L'Idiot du Village (19 rue Notre-Seigneur, 32-2-502-5582), the kitchen turns out a savvy 15-euro lunch of warm grilled chicken on a tomato tart, followed by a rich beef Burgundy. Twenty- and 30-somethings pack the Franco-Japanese Chez Oki (62 rue Lesbroussart, 32-2-644-4576) for such ultimate fusion dishes as seared foie gras on sushi rice (15 euros).

Another discovery: Eat-Cetera (115 Chaussée de Charleroi, 32-2-537-7600, www.eat-cetera.be), where the innovative four-course menu costs 30 euros and changes monthly; recent dishes included porcini soup with gingerbread croutons and chèvre, and roast duck with lavender honey.

Mussels in Brussels? Locals recommend only one establishment on the touristy Rue des Bouchers: the traditional Aux Armes de Bruxelles at No. 13 (32-2-511-55-98, www.armebrux.be). The menu lists eight preparations, including raw (11 euros). In the sea of restaurants near the Place Ste. Catherine, the popular Pré Salé (20 Vlaamsesteenweg, 32-2-513-6545) prices its mussels according to market — 1.2 kilos of moules maison (mussels with rosé, wine and cream) were recently going for 21.50 euros, fries included. For oyster-eating, Champagne-drinking, and beautiful-people-watching, try Lola (33 Place du Grand Sablon, 32-2-514-2460), with a dozen oysters starting at 18 euros.

WHAT TO DO DURING THE DAY Start with the Grand Place, with its Gothic Hotel de Ville, neo-Gothic Maison du Roi, Flemish Renaissance guildhalls and chocolatiers, like Godiva. If you go between Aug. 15 and 18, the square will be carpeted in begonias as part of the Tapis de Fleurs biennial celebration. Then walk up the hill to Belgium's royal museums: the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art (Place Royale, 32-2-508-3211, www.fine-arts

-museum.be). They are linked, so you can follow the helpful "circuit" signs from Hieronymus Bosch to René Magritte. Nearby is the Musical Instrument Museum (2 rue Montagne de la Cour, 32-2-545-0130, www.mim.fgov.be), housed in a wondrous multistoried Art Nouveau treasure, formerly the Old England department store.

The Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art (20 rue des Sables, 32-2-219-1980, www.cbbd.be) is as famous for its Tintin exhibit as its Art Nouveau structure, created by the famous Belgian architect Victor Horta (1861-1947). Horta's own house, with an adjoining studio, is also a museum (25 rue Américaine, 32-2-543-0490, www.hortamuseum.be).

WHERE TO SHOP For contemporary housewares and furniture, go to Flamant (36 Place du Grand Sablon, 32-2-514-4707), a store that is divided into homey rooms, one with a working fireplace, and kitted out entirely with stuff for sale. Grand Sablon, the high-end antiques center, is also home to some of Belgium's best chocolatiers.

Just follow the Japanese tourists to Pierre Marcolini at No. 39 (32-2-514-1200) or Wittamer at No. 6 (32-2-512-3742). If you prefer your calories in a cookie, amble over to nearby Dandoy (31 rue au Beurre, 32-2-511-0326), where there will be samples to try before you buy.

For specialty items, head to the glass-covered arcade of the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (opened in 1847). There are shops selling exquisite lace (Manufacture Belge de Dentelles at No. 6-8, 32-2-511-1477), luxury leather goods (Delvaux at No. 31, 32-2-512-7198), designer jewelry (Ciel Mes Bijoux at No. 16, 32-2-514-7198) and, of course, chocolate (Neuhaus at Nos. 25-17, 32-2-512-6359).

For the hottest in Belgian fashion, check out the boutiques on rue Antoine Dansaert, especially Stijl at No. 74 (32-2-512-0313), home to edgy designers like Ann Demeulemeester (for women) and Raf Simons (men).

WHERE TO GO AT NIGHT Despite its life-sized toy horse and souvenir T-shirts, the Roi d'Espagne cafe (1 Grand Place, 32-2-513-0807, www.roydespagne.be) hasn't been completely taken over by tourists. After a Leffe Brune ale (3.90 euros), the classically minded can take in a concert at Bozar (23 rue Ravenstein, 32-2-507-8444, www.bozar.be) or an opera at La Monnaie (Place de la Monnaie, 32-2-229-1200, www.lamonnaie.be), a neo-Classical jewel dating from 1819.

Or just hit the bars. On a recent night near the Place St. Géry, an artsy crowd listened to international folk music at Zebra (31 Place St. Géry, 32-2-513-5116), trendy types wisely disregarded the Abba music at Mappa Mundo (1-6 rue du Pont de la Carpe, 32-2-513-5116) and just about everyone else packed into the tiny Archiduc (6 rue Antoine Dansaert, 32-2-512-0652) for live jazz. And this was Sunday. Hip locals settle into the sofas at the Living Room (50 Chaussée de Charleroi, 32-2-539-2111, www.lelivingroom.be), an upscale restaurant and bar in the Louise district, with uppity guys guarding the door.

Not far from the Manneken Pis, the Rue du Marché au Charbon is the center of the city's gay life. Le Belgica (at No. 32, 32-2-511-2600, www.lebelgica.be) is a kitschy tavern regarded by locals as an institution. Tels Quels (No 81, 32-2-512-3234, www.telsquels.be) is both a gay information center and friendly bar. (Also check www.gaymap.info/bruxelles.)

YES, FREE The European Parliament offers weekday tours of its handsome glass headquarters in the mostly residential European Quarter (43 rue Wiertz, 32-2-284-3457, www.europarl.eu.int; tours start at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.). A 45-minute audio guide (free, and available in 19 languages) tries to explain what the parliament does during its annual 12-day sessions in Brussels.

YOUR FIRST TIME OR YOUR 10TH Whether it's an old Nebraska license plate or a vintage Yves St. Laurent jacket, the flea market at the Place du Jeu de Balle, down the hill from the Palais de Justice in the gentrifying Marolles district, just might have it. The market is open daily, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Sundays are the biggest and best.

WHERE TO STAY WIRED Brussels is blessed with neighborhood convenience stores that double as cyber cafes. In the night-life district, Belgium Internet (at the intersection of Rue du Marché du Charbon and Rue du Midi) has five terminals for 1.50 euros an hour.

HOW TO GET THERE American and Delta have daily nonstops from Kennedy Airport, starting as low as $592 in late April (American on Expedia.com). Continental also has direct flights from Newark. And Brussels is just one and a half hours from Paris by train (about 115 euros, round trip, on the Thalys).

GETTING AROUND With its many spread-out neighborhoods, Brussels is a confusing city for visitors, and the mass transit maps don't help much. Nevertheless, a 4-euro all-day pass can get you almost anywhere, either by subway, tram or bus. Taxis are plentiful but not cheap (1.23 euros a kilometer, after the 2.40 euro pick-up charge).

Correction: July 9, 2006 The Going To column on April 9 about Brussels misstated the dates of the Brussels Flower Carpet, a biennial event that covers Grand Place with begonias. It is Aug. 12 to 15 this year, not 15 to 18. A reader pointed out the error by e-mail on June 20.

A beer lover's guide to Brussels

Forget tours of French vineyards: discerning drinkers are heading to Belgium in search of fine beers - and this week sees the publication of a guide to help them. Author Tim Webb explains where to find the best brews in Brussels

The Germans may be top at brewing pure, obsessively honed lagers and smaller British breweries may have cornered the market in hand-drawn 'real' draught ales, but only the Belgians can claim to make beers like no other, in a diversity of styles that outstrips the rest of the world.

In south-west Flanders, brewers age brown ales in oak tuns for up to two years before bottling. Across the northern Ardennes into Limburg, farmhouse brewers sell their robust concoctions in large corked bottles, for sharing at the table.

The lambic brewers and blenders of Brussels and Payottenland ferment their uniquely cidery beers with naturally occurring airborne yeast. And the monks who oversee beer-making at the six Trappist abbeys create pungent, hop-laden pale ales and rich, dark, contemplative barley wines.

Belgium does originality like no other brewing nation. But despite growing success with exports, there is no better place to go sampling than the country's own unique blend of cafes, brasseries and 'tea-rooms'.

Brussels is a ragbag of grand architecture and messy streets, so to get the best from the city you need to know where to go.

Brussels' famous Grand' Place is the only Unesco World Heritage site to host an annual beer festival (the first weekend of September). But tourist traps are rarely home to great cafes and this is no exception. Photograph it and move on.

Opposite the Manneken Pis, the much-gawped-at statue of a pot-bellied boy piddling, is the Poechenellekelder (5 Rue du Chêne - closed Monday), and it is Bruxellois to its breeches. The wall adornments and collectibles are hand-picked and provocative, not a job lot from pub kitsch central. The list of 90 beers is a good introduction to Belgian ale.

Between 1892 and 1920, Victor Horta used the Brussels townscape to show off the architectural wing of the Art Nouveau movement. The Mort Subite (7 Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères) is probably the best surviving fin-de-siècle long bar in the world. Uniformed staff police rows of tables with a practised disdain, while customers sit on uncomfortable bench seats, a few backed with original leather and horse-hair. For adventure, drink gueuze sur lie from De Keersmaeker, with a small plate of local jellied meat, like tête pressée or kip-kap (pig cheeks).

Read the full article…

The nearby Galeries Royales St Hubert was Europe's first shopping arcade (opening in 1847). Halfway along is an entry to the Ilôt Sacré, a tangle of medieval lanes, with its endless fish restaurants.

Off to the right in a blind alley is an extraordinary, sprawling cellar bar, Delirium (4a Impasse de la Fidélité). Here they serve more than 2,000 beers, the official world record. Despite this, most are drinkable. More than 400 are Belgian, and they delight in sourcing the rare and obscure. This goes for their cheeses too.

Belgium has almost as many restaurants as it has cafes. Many now stock strong lists of suitable beers to accompany fine food. Some specialise in cooking with beer. The capital has two classic examples.

Down in the Marolles, just off Place du Jeu de Balle and its famous flea markets, owner-chef Alain Fayt has created Restobières (32 Rue des Renards - closed Monday-Wednesday - www.restobieres.be), a delightful bistro with inspired food, great ambience and a beer list that Fayt has selected from recent travels round his native land.

Meanwhile, at In 't Spinnekopke (1 Place du Jardin aux Fleurs - closed Sunday - www.spinnekopke.be), an ancient tavern-style restaurant off the beaten track, Jean Rodriguez practises on clients the recipes for his cookery books which teach the art of cuisine à la bière. The list here reaches 80 and features the local classic, draught lambic.

Lambics are an acquired taste. Fermented using wild yeast they have a mustiness alien to many palates. Their most developed form is oude gueuze, a beer style that now enjoys a legally protected appellation. The best reach a refined character with the nobility of a fine peasant vintage. Imagine Jacques Brel in a bottle.

There is no better place to drink oude gueuze than the Zageman (116 Rue de Laeken - closed Saturday and Sunday), a simple, turn-of-the-century backstreet cafe on the unfashionable side of Boulevard Adolphe Max. Try Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, De Cam and black-label Girardin while staring at the football-league results board from 1943 and an advert for the film Mémoires d'un Gynécologue

The beer aficionados' favourite spot is Patrick D'Hane's Bier Circus (89 Rue de l'Enseignement - closed Saturday and Sunday), uphill from Central station. The approbation is for the creativity behind the list of more than 200 beers. Ardennaise microbrewers get their chance in the big city here, along with Flanders' only 100 per cent organic beer-maker, Hopperd.

As evening wears on, if you are looking for something different, just outside the ring of boulevards that enclose the centre, L'Horloge du Sud (141 Rue du Trône) offers 40-plus beers, enhanced by a pan-African melange that includes a multi-ethnic menu from Algerian to Zairi and many stops between, plus regular world music gigs.

Further out, in the suburb of Uccle, is an ambitious brewpub called the Imprimerie (666 Chaussée de St Job - closed Monday). Baronial hall meets converted printing works, with a brewery backdrop. It transforms into a nightclub in the late evening.

Finally, en route to the Eurostar terminal, catch the Laboureur (3 Place de la Constitution - closed Saturday). This archetypal Brussels boozer is at its best on Sunday mornings when the open market stretches from here to eternity. Pew-lined and pool-playing, its walls nicotine-stained and its parquet flooring well worn, this is more the real Brussels than any vision of Euroland. Even if they do serve chips with taramasalata.

Beer lingo: what the labels mean


The most wine-like beer produced anywhere in the world. An acquired, but very refined taste, these beers are left in open vessels in the attics of breweries, where they ferment spontaneously because of yeast in the air.

Oude gueuze

This is the authentic taste of Brussels and Payottenland, a bottled, sparkling blend of oak-aged lambics. Spritzy, pungent, tangy and unique.


A type of lambic sweetened with brown sugar.

Wheat beer

Cloudy, sweet and spicy, light ale (4-5.5 per cent) brewed with 30 per cent wheat.

Oude kriek

Rare form of cherry-steeped lambic largely superseded by sweet commercial versions. Using fruit to flavour the beer is thought to pre-date the use of hops.

Oud bruin

Dark, medium-strength ales (5.5-6.5 per cent) from south-west Flanders. The best are acidic from blending two-year-old oak-aged ales.

Trappist beers

Generic term for beers brewed at the six approved monastery breweries (Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren).


Dark, medium-strength (6-7.5 per cent) abbey beer not brewed by monks, but intended to imitate the monastic styles.


Amber-coloured strong (7.5-9.5 per cent) abbey beer.

· The Good Beer Guide to Belgium is published on Thursday by Camra Books

thxs The Observer

The Netherlands copes with Islamic violence

According to The Brussels Journal the Dutch are facing a problem:

The Netherlands may soon witness an outburst of ethnic violence. An official report published last Wednesday states that “tensions between various ethnic and cultural groups of youths are seriously underestimated.” The report points out that the Dutch authorities fail to grasp the gravity of the problem. It warns the government in The Hague that if nothing is done the country will soon witness situations similar to those in France. There violent clashes, which erupted in late 2005, have led to the police abandoning immigrant suburbs to gangs of Muslim youths, who have now taken over effective control of more than 750 French urban neighborhoods.

They are attempting to deal with it in a typically Dutch manner:

Following the 2004 assassination of Theo van Gogh by a young Moroccan immigrant the Dutch minister of Integration, Rita Verdonk, installed four so-called “intervention teams for interethnic tensions.” The teams are made up of social workers whose task it is to advise local authorities on ways to deal with groups of unassimilated and criminal youths.

[. . .]

The intervention teams recommend an expansion of the social worker approach to defuse the situation. This is a typically Dutch way of doing things, which is widely applied, even among Dutch troops in Afghanistan who prefer to have tea with the Taliban rather than fight them. Last year the police of The Hague sent officers on a “cultural training” trip to Morocco because, as Gerard Bouman, the The Hague police chief (who has meanwhile been promoted to head of the Dutch state security services), said, “Criminal Moroccan youths […] do not behave like indigenous Dutch. They rave about Moroccan culture. Hence, we have to know the latter, too.”

Of course the authorities in Morocco have their own ideas about how to deal with lawless elements:

In Morocco, the Dutch police officers discovered that their Moroccan colleagues were astonished to hear that the Dutch have problems with criminal Moroccan youths. In Morocco officers are known to beat the hell out of criminals.

This goes a very long way to explaining why Morocco has a much lower crime rate than The Netherlands.

Of course the native Dutch "man in the street" has his own, and good ideas about how to deal with criminal punks:

A poll conducted by Elsevier, the largest Dutch weekly, indicates that 80% of its readers prefer a “harsh treatment” of troublemaking youths rather than “sending in more multicultural intervention teams.”

But that would not empower the multicultural elite so it must be ignored.

If you think that what is going on in Europe is a good thing and represents what we need here in America then keep voting for Democrats.

thxs Lemuel Calhoon for summing everything up for us!

The Lion City

Singapore's skyscrapers determine a modern skyline for this tropical city - where I was born. In the last decades, it has substituted its old quarters for highrise offices, hotels and shopping malls. There are still parts of the citystate which can be qualified as authentic, and which hopefully will hold against the encroaching steel and glass of present day architecture. Many characteristic buildings disappear and make way for even more,higher and huger shopping malls. This is a vibrant city where you can experience the modern and multicultural face of Asia.

Favourite spots:
Singapore City travelogue picture
::The Esplanade Theatres On The Bay::
It was first nicknamed The Papayas but later a new nickname The Durian stuck on and since then it has been fondly referred to as The Durian because of the prominent spiky sunshade curtain adorning the two glass domes of the complex.Those of you unfamiliar with the king of fruits might be put off by the pungent smell of the durian. But, once you have savoured the flavour of the durian, you will realise you have entered seventh heaven. So it is with The Esplande
::The Night Safari :: the world's first wildlife park built to be viewed at night. Not an ordinary zoo simply illuminated by night or a modern version of nocturnal houses found in many zoos. Set in 40 hectares of dense secondary forest, the Night Safari offers guests the unique experience of exploring wildlife in a tropical jungle at night. Through the use of subtle lighting technique, guests are able to view over 1000 nocturnal animals of 100 species in vast naturalistic habitats.

What's really great:
Singapore City travelogue picture
One cannot deny that Singapore is one of the best places to eat. Frankly, I would prefer Malaysia as a better place to eat but because one can get almost all the good stuff in just a few minutes drive, it serves as a substitute. And of course shop till you drop!

Accomodation varies depending on your budget form cheap hotels , B&B @ Bencoolen Rd to Mid Range & High End along famous shopping street Orchard Rd. For more deatils Please visit :

Singapore City travelogue picture
My personal fav :
:Zouk Club:Anyone who is someone in Singapore has been to Zouk progressive and techno most times.

:Velvet Underground: (mixed str8/gay/bi/tri)- Best to go by taxi. Trendy hybrid of high and low design. Great music. More mature crowd than Zouk, flashy and upmarket, mixed ethnically, mixed sexually.

::Must visit!! ::
:Boom Boom Room : Singapore's famous drag queen/stand-up comic and his band of performers (mainly other drag queens and teenage boys) on stage here. Witness as this jolly bunch poke fun and and get away with almost everything under the sun. Their uncanny, unpredictable and extremely outrageous humour might cause some jaws to drop.
Visit :http://www.boomboomroom.com.sg/

:Illusion Bar-Mohamed Sultan Rd : One of the largest dance clubs along Mohamed Sultan Rd. Crowd largely made up of young working executives. Wed nights are especially dedicated to the professionals from the media, beauty, fashion and aircrew industries and the gay community.

Singapore City travelogue picture
Que Pasa(orchard Rd) : expats crowd- check it out!

Moods #01-02 Scotts Walk, 25 Scotts Rd :Uni students cheap drinks!

Karma Bar 57B Boat Quay :New age feel belly dancer
shows if you're lucky :))

If the above mentioned not your thang & u are looking for other alternatives, I've listed some gay/lesbians hang outs around town :

:: Actor's Bar:: -13 South Bridge Rd (opposite the Riverwalk Apartments) : Gay friendly bar welcoming both gays and lesbians.

:: Backstage Bar:: -13A Trenggannu St Chinatown : A cozy, gay-owned bar, nicely decorated, with a balcony for flirting with passersby. The place to be and Fri and Sat are particularly jam-packed!

::Taboo ::-65/67 Neil Rd :Crowd is primarily gay, but also some lesbians. All races party here, so it?s extra fun. Busiest on Fri and Sat nights (many clubbers come both days).

Wherever you are in Singapore, there is a food centre, a coffeeshop, a tuck shop, a canteen or an eating place of other sort near you. These are places where locals eat and where you'll find the most delicious and inexpensive food!

thxs Nashie


Singapore Fling

Clipped into Singapore from Auckland after sleeping almost the entire flight. Arrived at the airport to 25°C heat at 6am set to rise throughout the day. And rise it did. Hot, hot, hot. Humid, humid, humid. Tis rainy season and boy does it show. Beautiful place is SIngapore and staying in this amazing 5-star hotel called the Grand Hyatt. It's pretty special and Narg has his own executive suite - nice.

Singapore is very cool, only staying here for a couple of days before heading back to the UK then onwards to Chamonix. It's pretty cheap - got lunch with mum for $3, about £1. The city teems with business deals being forged and hums with financial intent. Lots of westerners too. There's an endless supply of prositutes here, something I never really expected. Apparently they satiate the sex-trade demand for the westerners. Narg Snr gave out tips and techniques on how to watch out for ladyboys - now THAT'S the kind of father-son advice that should be listened to, understood and then never forgotten. There are more than just loads of chinese working girls too - lots of Russian and Eastern Bloc ladies of negitable virtue floating around. It all makes one feel kind of uncomfortable going out on the beers. Mrs Narg Snr gave a small speech on STD's and lots of jokes - the family Narg is never short of conversation when dealing with personal content. Gotta love having parents who really are open and funny. Rocking baby.

So pretty much had a mooch around topping up the tan by the pool, adventuring around the city and going out for fantastic dinners in wine cellars, drinking and doing some brief clubbing. Hoping to get rid of some jetlag too.

Bumped into one of the boys I used to work with in Changi Airport on the way home (how random!!) and so stopped for a quick chat. I'm sure we both looked absolutely knackered after flying half-way round the world! Nice to have it happen though. So got on the plane and slept most of the way back to Manchester.

Nothing much of note happening now. Am sitting back at home feeling perpetually jetlagged and sleeping during the day and bouncing around awake at night. Hopefully all the jetlag will be gone in a few days. Spoke to Chris from Listingslab who's going to pick us up from Geneva Airport on Saturday (cheers mate!) ready to start the next chapter in The Life of Narg. Can't believe how excited and relaxed it feels to move and start a new life. As well as snowboarding of course!

Just got to get all this damn washing done now.

thnxs Narg

Singapore Comfort

thxs Jill

I've been excited about coming to Singapore for over a year now and I must say, it has not disappointed me. The mass transit is superb and dirt cheap; the shopping is irresistible; and the parks/gardens are sublime.

I'm suffering from a bit of sticker shock though. We paid more for our dinner last night (at a "NY deli" that turned out to be more of a diner) than we spent in a day in Malaysia. At this point, I'm willing to pay for a little comfort. I had my first hot shower in over two weeks (don't worry, I've taken cold ones), and our hotel has pillows that I am sure come straight from heaven. Oh yeah, did I mention the wonders of air conditioning and high speed internet?

We're going to bask in the comforts of the 1st world for another day before heading to Lombok Island in Indonesia. There, we're going to climb the second-highest mountain (a volcano) in Indonesia. I'm a little nervous since we've been sea slugs and jungle sloths since we left Seattle. I'm afraid the climb--7,000 feet in 6 miles (and that's just the first day)--is going to kill me. To recover we'll head to the beach for some more time in the water and sun.

(For those who have been asking, we're going to try to upload pictures periodically during the trip, but so far the technology has eluded us. We'll try again when we're back in Singapore.)

Ordering Coffee and Tea in Singapore

Ah, there’s almost just as many varieties of coffee and tea in Singapore as there is in your regular Starbucks menu. Here’s a basic phrasebook to help you choose:

kopi/teh: coffee/tea with sugar and condensed milk
kopi/teh C: coffee/tea with sugar and evaporated milk
kopi/teh kosong: coffee/tea with milk, without sugar
kopi/teh O: coffee/tea with sugar only
kopi/teh O kosong: straight and bitter
kopi/teh peng: coffee/tea with sugar, milk and ice
kopicinno/tehcinno: milk at the bottom, coffee/tea in the middle, froth on top, just like your cappucino


Get To Know Saint Petersburg!

Legendary, beautiful, marvelous… This is Saint Petersburg – “the Northern Venice” of Russia – far and enchanting, attractive and fascinating. This is the city where you can find what you have desired for a long time, it is the place in this great World where your dreams come true!

St. Petersburg was founded on the Neva River by Tsar Peter the Great, on the 16th of May, 1703. Surely, the city is considered to be not a very old one, but it undoubtedly has a rich and powerful history, the study of which can help you to understand that a good deal of the greatest dates in the world and Russian history is connected with St. Petersburg.

They say, the city is the cultural capital of Russia, and anybody can hardly deny this fact. At a glimpse, one becomes aware that culture permeates through all the city, leaves its trace in all the spheres of St. Petersburg life.

Firstly, the look of the city – its architectural grandeur, luxurious parks, inviting streets, avenues and lanes, plenty of rivers and canals, the view of the Gulf of Finland - gives us an estimate of the large scale and grandiosity of St. Petersburg.

Secondly, the enormous number of cultural institutions - museums and art galleries, palaces of culture, theatres, concert and music halls, movie theatres, and so on and so forth – grant a lot of diverse positive impressions which give us an idea of the great potential ability of art to influence our life making it better, richer, brighter.

No matter if you come to St. Petersburg alone or with your family and friends, whether you on vocation or on business, you should certainly visit some of the greatest St. Petersburg places of note. Slip not the chance to stroll along the most famous avenue of the city – Nevskii Prospect -where you will see many historical and gorgeous buildings, the marvelous sculptures of the Anichkov Bridge, the picturesque Griboedov Canal…

An autobus city tour will help you to see other avenues and streets with their beautiful sights. A night city tour will give you a chance to see all the beauty of the illuminated city, and to watch a very well-known and attractive eye-catcher - swinging open of the city bridges.

If you are tired of roads and traffic jam, take a boat city tour on rivers and canals of St. Petersburg. It will allow you to enjoy the marvelous sights of the city being afloat.

After that, indubitably, you will wish to visit a celebrated place.

There is a wide range of famous museums in St. Petersburg, and the first ones to visit are: the Hermitage (or the Winter Palace) which is so huge that one can scarcely observe all the treasures kept there in even a several years’ time, the Russian Museum which is one of the greatest picture galleries in the World, the Peter and Paul Fortress situated on the Zayachiy Island which was erected for the purpose of defense and which is a historical museum at present.

Irrespective of your religion you should visit the splendid Orthodox cathedrals of St. Petersburg which present architectural and decoration masterpieces, beginning with the Kazansky Cathedral with its mighty semicircle of columns, the St. Isaac’s Cathedral which is one of the biggest dome buildings in the world and which has a colonnade permitting you to observe the city center, and the Spas-na-Krovi Cathedral with its unique outer décors.

And never miss the opportunity of going to the illustrious suburbs of St. Petersburg, such as Peterhof with its renowned fountain cascades located in front of the Great Peterhof Palace, the Pavlovsk Ensemble with its vast park where you can feed squirrels in summer, Pushkin where there is still the spirit of the great poet’s age.

In actual fact, it is impossible to enumerate all the values of this great magnetic city, it is much better to see everything with one’s own eyes. Saint Petersburg always greets any tourist with outstretched arms!

This site http://www.hotels-of-saint-petersburg.com can be of great help for you if you plan to visit Saint Petersburg or just want to know it better. There is much information about the city, and a database of comfortable apartments and hotel rooms where you can stay during your visit.

thxs alexandra


Maralily on Athens

I am home in Prague now, and to sum things up briefly (because I am tired) I had a great four day trip to Athens. The symposium at the Benaki Museum was impressive but the labs afterward turned out to be a chaotic clusterfuck at best. Dude, I saw THE Acropolis. How cool is that? I saw The Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, Propylaea and the Erechtheion. I spent almost a full day at the National Arch. Museum and had a picnic with my sweetie at the Temple Of Olympian Zeus, which is really spectacular in it's size alone. I wandered through Plaka, went to the Athens Flea Market (and managed not to buy anything at all- which is impressive!) and made out in the Keramikos (the ancient cemetary of Athens) which is actually my favorite place in Athens.

I have been told quite a few negative things about Athens: that it is littered, dirty, smelly, chaotic and dangerous. I found none of those things to be true. The city was tolerable in it's dirtiness- it was not nearly as bad as Rome. And at least it didn't reek of piss like Prague. The people were friendly, humorous, warm and smiling. The traffic is chaotic but c'mon, my home is Panama- now THAT is chaotic traffic! I never felt in danger at any time during my brief trip. I was told by a few Greeks that Athens was pretty nasty a few years ago but that the preparations for the Olympics made the city undergo massive upgrades. New Metro systems were installed, new stations, hotels were upgraded, the whole city basically touched up. When I visited Rome it was a nightmare trying to figure out how to use the tram system. Several times the trams in Rome broke down while we were on them and the passengers were left on the street corner, lost and confused. Athens has a bus system, tram system and underground metro system (subway system) and I used the metro the whole time. It was the easiest, cleanest, and most pleasant metro I have ever used. I never got lost.

Remarkably, I managed to only spend 30 Euro in Athens.

Metro ticket round trip from the airport and back- 10 E
Two cups of coffee- 5 Euro
Small bag of groceries that I kept in my hotel's mini-fridge- 11 Euro
Misc Metro Tickets- 6 Euro

I happened to show up, unplanned, on one of Athens' "free days" in which most major attractions, including the Acropolis, are free to visitors. Normally it is 12 Euros, and the Zeus temple is 5 Euros, etc. Anyway- everything I went to was free. I was helping a friend with a presentation at Benaki so they didn't make me pay to get in, and since Ridley (my professor friend) gave me a tour of the National Arch Museum, I didn't have to pay for that either. So I somehow managed to visit Athens and only spent 30 Euros.

Of course theat didn't include my plane ticket, but that was on special and I got for 80 Euros round trip. My hotel was covered by CTAI.

My entire trip to Athens cost 110 Euros. Or $140 USD.

I have no idea how I did that. Maybe it is because I have never been a souvenir person.

thxs Maralily

The Athenian Riviera

Sandy, clean, organized beaches; suburbs nestled in trees; malls; funky clubs and restaurants; piers and ports; sports clubs; historical and natural sites -the are plenty of reasons why locals, tourists, and demanding travellers alike are re-discovering the «Athenian Riviera»

After half century, the Attica coastline, from Piraeus to Sounion, is once again dubbed the «Athenian Riviera»

Athens, summer of 1960. Newspapers of the time note that «the hot weather is pushing Athenians toward the Saronicos coast for a dip». Vouliagmeni beach «accommodates those in search of luxury, and Varkiza beach though not organized, covered by golden sand and is accessible to the masses, especially after the completion of Sounion Avenue».

Piraeus residents favor Paraskeva beach, Kastella, whilst the Athenian elite prefers «musical» weekends at «Asteria», Glyfada. Before the end of August, late Prime Minister Constantinos Karamanlis, minister Constantinos Tsatsos, among other dignitaries, inaugurate the Vouliagmeni beach, as part of a bigger plan to develop the greater Megalo Kavouri area. Part of the same plan are the 76 bungalows and a hotel of 150 beds designed by K. Boutsinas, at the Lemos area. It is the summer that Maria Kallas sings «Norma» for the first time in Epidaurus; Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher enjoy a cruise in the Aegean; international artists, tycoons, and stars visit Athens on private yachts.

The question «does Greece need luxury tourism?», led to the decision to build 82 landing docks and re-fuelling points for private boats. The booming of the Athenian coast, coinciding with the birth of «Astir Palace», was finally becoming a reality.

Today, at the «heavy duty» tourism conferences, it is generally recognized that the Athens Olympics have brought yet another change to the greater area: the whole coastline, from Neo Faliro to Glyfada, has been restructured. Public areas, parks, beaches, and playing fields have been re-built. The all-time favorite «coastal avenue», the Athenians’ summer hot-spot- has been upgraded.

The former international airport of Hellenicon has been transformed into a metropolitan park. The new tram line connects the city center with the heart of the commercial district and the malls of Glyfada. With its new infrastructure, clean beaches, and mediterranean climate, Attica, is now «on the map» as a tourist destination. The Attica coastline, from Piraeus to Sounion, is once again dubbed the «Athenian Riviera». After half a century, the «Asteria» (stars) of Athens twinkle again.

Attica shoreline: A pilgrimage
Piraeus, the largest port of Greece and an urban center, has been inhabited si nee the Neolithic era. In the beginning of the 5th century BC, port to the city-state of Athens, Piraeus was connected to the city by the Long Wall. It developed into a politically powerful, trading, and economical center, and a hub for the production of hand-crafted items. Traces of the ancient fortress remain in Zea, Freatida, and along the Piraeus coastline. After 1850, and especially after 1922, when Piraeus received the largest portion of the refugees from Asia Minor, the city developed rapidly.

Take a stroll in the streets and the squares of Piraeus. Visit the tomb of Themistocles, leader of the Athenian army during the Persian Wars, in Freatida and the beautiful neoclassical building of the Municipal Theater, which houses the Museum of Setting Design by Panos Aravatinos. The Public Gallery, featuring works by Lytras, Vyzantios, Axelos, and Volanakis, the Maritime Museum, and Battleship Averof in Trocadero, are also worth a visit. Climb up the hill of Prophet Elias, and enjoy the stunning view from Veakeion. Take a walk in Zea (a.k.a. Passalimani), the most popular promenade in Piraeus.

Cut through the Pavlos Kountouriotis coast and the Votsalakia beach to reach Kastella, to enjoy the magnificent sunset. At that very spot, the Royal family used to swim during the reign of King George I, and wealthy Athenians and Piraeus residents, including merchants, business people, and ship owners used to stay at the country homes designed by architect Chiller. Visit Mikrolimano or Tourkolimano, as some still call it, because the pasha’s harem used to bathe there, during the Ottoman rule in Greece.

Today, this alcove brims with ultramodern sailing boats and yachts. Traditional taverns and minimal restaurants stand next to the historic Yacht Club of Greece. From the Dilaveri coast and its intense high life, cross the small bridge that takes you to the Peace and Friendship Stadium, its newly created parks, playgrounds, and athletic venues. In Faliro, the remaining neoclassical mansions and the promenade flanked with palm trees evoke images of an era when Athenians rode their carriage to the coast to enjoy its «hot springs». Follow the road to Alimos, hometown of ancient historian Thucydides, which features the largest marina in Greece and a beautiful organized beach.

Take a ride on the Coastal Avenue towards Glyfada, making a stop at the Pierides Gallery and another one at the sculpted Theater of Exoni. Continue towards Voula and Vari and visit the archeological site of the 4th century BC cemetery in Gourna. Pass through Vouliagmeni and Varkiza, to come to Lagonissi, Saronida, and Anavyssos, which features natural salt mines and the myth of the «Sunken City», mentioned in Elias Venezis’ novel «Galini».

The road will take you to Cape Sounion. From the top of a rock that plunges into the sea, stands one of the greatest ancient Greek monuments: the temple of Poseidon, ruler of the sea. A strategic and sacred location, the temple was a religious center since the Archaic Period as evidenced by the oversized marble Kouri, male statues found next to the rich merchants and sailors buried in its courtyard. The first temple was completely destroyed by the Persians and was rebuilt in 444 BC, during the «Golden Age» of the Athenian Democracy of Pericles. The new temple was Doric, built in its entirety of white marble from the Agrileza mines.

A magnificent, imposing monument, it has remained almost intact for five centuries. During the early Christian period, the area was deserted and became a place of inspiration for travelers, and the romantic literary figures, who used to carve their names on its pillars, Lord Byron was one of them. Even today, when sailors pass by «Kavo-kolones» (the «cape-columns») turn to pay tribute to the shrine. One night every year, hundreds of Greek and foreign visitors gather to watch a unique, ancient natural «performance»: the August full moon …

Tucked in a green oasis, surrounded by pine-covered hills that plunge into the sea, Vouliagmeni maintains today its original character and is being enriched with gardens, playgrounds, parks, and pedestrian walks. Due to its natural beauty and upgraded infrastructure, Vouliagmeni was selected during the Athens Olympic Games as the grounds for the Triathlon and Bicycle competitions-Individual timing.

Its golden beaches, long, sandy and clean, all carry the blue flag of FEEE. Take a ride from St. Nikolaos Pallon towards Megalo Kavouri, go around Lemos and the bay of central Vouliagmeni, to end up at the small coves below the Limni, at the Faskomilia area.

Oceanis, at Lemos, is an especially popular beach, which was revamped in recent years and now offers a restaurant, bar, and water sports, among other things. It also offers access to the physically disabled. The most fashionable beach in the area is that of the «Astir Palace» complex, featuring golden sand, clean waters, impeccable facilities, and water sports. The adjacent organized beaches, also clean and attractive (A and Β Voula beaches, Varkiza beach, and the public beach at Lagonissi), offer beach bars, water-slides, mini soccer facilities, etc.

There are many sports and water sports schools and facilities in the hotels of the area or the yacht clubs. There are also tennis courts and the Public Sports Center, which offers a modern gymnasium, a soccer field, basketball and volleyball courts.

In the Vouliagmeni area, there is a shopping center and a plethora of hotels, cafes, and restaurants that respond to a wide range of tastes and demands: the beautifully refurbished «Gourmet Club House»; the classic «Grill Room» in «Astir Palace»; the quaint little taverns in Saronida and Lagonissi; the coastal avenue clubs and the romantic, also refurbished «Moorings» that features gourmet cuisine. Finally, the state-of-the-art marina at Lemos can accommodate all types of boats.

The history of the town
The coast of Vouliagmeni was inhabited very early in history. The «Makra Akra», as the Lemos peninsula was called, was one of Attica’s areas, where excavations revealed ruins from the end of the Neolithic era (3,000 BC). At the same area, at Mikro Kavouri and Lemos, excavations revealed proto-Helladic settlements, a priests’ settlement, and ruins of a classical fort.

In 1942, children from the Vouliagmeni orphanage, stumbled upon seemingly insignificant ruins, while playing on the beach. Ultimately, parts of columns, marble pedestals, and a piece of an inscription referring to the ancient temple of Apollo Zostir were discovered. Parts of this very important temple, built at the end of the 6th century BC, columns and the altar dedicated to Leto and her children, Apollo and Artemis, are still there, in «Astir Palace’s» grounds and are, according to urban legend, responsible for the positive energy of the area.

The Vouliagmeni Limni (Lake)
On the coastal avenue, going southwest, where the town of Vouliagmeni ends, there is one of the most impressive natural sites of the Athenian coastline: the lake with the hot springs and the deep secrets that gave the town its name.

Scientists speculate that 2,000 years ago, at the same spot, there was a huge underground cave with hot springs and sensitive limestone rocks. Gradually, the hot springs suffered erosion eating up the rock on the roof of the cave, which sank, creating, due to its difference with the sea-level, the lake.

Research by a team of cave-specialists at the end of the 70’s revealed that the precipice connects with the sea, but they cannot say with certainty at what depth. The lake water comes from the mixture of the seawater with the water of the underground cave through cracks in the limestone walls. It contains a considerable percentage of salt and has healing qualities. Its temperature is between 20 and 27 degrees Celsius, steady year-round, reaching 35 degrees at the deeper areas.

Around the lake, steep cliffs compose a serene and imposing setting. The cliffs’ shadows, reflected in the calm, emerald waters, create a mysterious ambiance. During the Turkish rule, the Lake was called «Karachi» or Black Waters, due to the water’s color.

Today, the Lake features a bar and a hydrotherapy center with fully equipped auxiliary facilities for the visitors. The swimming facilities and hydrotherapy center are open daily, year round, from morning to sunset. The cafeteria is open until late in the evening, in the summer. The area has been declared a natural park, is included in the national catalogue «Natura 2000», and is protected by the international treaty «Ramsar».

More secluded spots
On the way to Lemos, there is trail after the marina on the right, that leads to a rocky coast and the chapel of St. Nikolaos. The chapel was built out of pebbles, in a natura grotto, by a local sailor, who maintained it up until recently. The municipality of Vouliagmeni is responsible for it now.

At the entrance from Papanastassiou hill, across the Athletic High School of Kavouri, a narrow street leads to the LOK monument at the top, dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives during World War II. The panoramic view of Vouliagmeni, and the whole of the «Athenian Riviera» and the Saronic Gulf from the top is breathtaking.

thxs grhomeboy

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