I must confess that I am not an opera fan but I found visiting the Luciano Pavarotti Home in Italy to be fascinating; sort of like Graceland for opera buffs. Recently opened to the public, the museum is set in a bucolic setting on a one-lane road outside his childhood home of Modena. Though he became one of the most famous people in the world who traveled everywhere, he was still a hometown boy at heart.

Luciano Pavarotti House Museum exterior

The house where he lived for the final years of his life, and where he died in 2007, is entirely open to visitors. This compares to Graceland where Presley’s second floor living quarters are off-limits.

Pavarotti House Museum in Italy

The audio guide that comes with admission shares the tenor’s role in designing the house and background information on the exhibits.

Pavarotti house museum kitchen

Visitors also learn about Pavarotti’s signature handkerchief which he always clutched in his hand during performances. He used it in his early years to overcome nervousness about performing. You’ll see them in his walk-in bedroom closet along with Pavarotti’s omnipresent Panama hats and Hermes scarves.

Pavarotti Hawaiian shirt

I didn’t realize that Pavarotti was also an accomplished painter. Many of his colorful paintings are on display as well as the equally colorful Hawaiian shirts he loved to wear offstage.

Pavarotti home costumes

Costumes from his key roles, revealing that he was not just a big man in girth but rather tall too.

Pavarotti Museum piano

An exhibit of letters from the great singer’s friends reads like who’s who of world celebrities and includes Princess Diana, Frank Sinatra, Bono and Bruce Springsteen. A room covered with pillows on the floor to sit on shows home movies of Pavarotti vamping it up around the house and getting ready backstage for his performances. In his unguarded moments you can see how much he enjoyed life and being around people.

During the tour Pavarotti’s music voice is paying out of a great sound system. Thus inspired, I went and downloaded my first Pavarotti album.

Pin it!You don't have to be an opera buff to enjoy visiting the home of the late maestro Luciano Pavarotti outside Modena, Italy

Visiting Luciano Pavarotti’s Home/Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti

Address: Stradello Nava 6, Modena, Italy

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Admission: Adults, 8 euros; adults (over 65), children (12-18), 6 euros, children under 12, free. Includes audio guide .

Web: Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti

Discover Ferrari and Pavarotti Land Pass

The Modena is also the home of Ferrari. The Luciano Pavarotti House Museum can be visited as part of the Ferrari & Pavarotti Land Pass which provides admission to over a dozen attractions in the region including two Ferrari museums and artisanal food producers.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

From the end of World War II through 1989, when freedom spread throughout the Iron Curtain countries, the people of Hungary were under the thumb of a communist dictatorship. One way for the totalitarian regime to keep control was through propaganda which was demonstrated through massive statues Read more

The Royal Yacht Britannia, the private yacht of the British royal family, is open to visitors just outside of Edinburgh, Scotland.  No longer in active service, HMY (Her Majesty’s Yacht) Britannia served the royal family for almost 45 years.

The 400-foot yacht was launched in 1953 shortly after Elizabeth II became queen. It was taken out of active service in 1997, due to cost cutbacks in the British government. Today the ship is anchored permanently in Leith, Scotland, about five miles from central Edinburgh. Visitors can tour the ship at their own pace; each admission ticket includes an audio headset that provides self-guided information.

Royal Yacht Britannia at sea

Royal Yacht Britannia during her days at sea.  At 5,500 tons (4% the size of  the Queen Mary 2) the yacht resembles a miniature cruise ship.

The tour is comprehensive. A set route guides visitors over several decks encompassing virtually all aspects of the ship. The dedicated staterooms of both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are each on display. Additional staterooms in the family quarters were used by whoever happened to be on board at the time, including honeymooners Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Royal yacht Britannia Queens bedroom

Queen Elizabeth’s elegant and spacious stateroom aboard Royal Yacht Britannia.

Despite the small number of passengers, Britannia served as the Queen’s official residence while she was aboard, and was often the site of state dinners and receptions wherever the ship was in port. The State Dining Room, which can seat 96, is set as it would be for such a dinner. Although permanently docked, the ship still hosts official royal functions; the pre-wedding reception for Zara Phillips (daughter of Princess Anne) and her fiancee was held on Britannia in 2011.

dining room her majesty's yacht britannia

The State Dining Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia can seat almost 100 for official state dinners.

Those who are more interested in the Britannia’s mechanical side will enjoy visiting the bridge, crew’s quarters and engine rooms.  All are kept in top working order; the crisp white paint and polished brass epitomize the term “ship shape.”

Royal Yacht Britannia-polished brass

From the topmost deck down to the engine room, all the brass on Royal Yacht Britannia is kept well-polished.

After your unofficial “inspection” of Britannia, indulge in a little royal treatment by having lunch or tea onboard. The aft lounge on Royal Deck has been converted into a tearoom, where visitors can enjoy a light meal. With large windows overlooking the gleaming teak decks, relax over tea and a scone, and enjoy the luxury of living the life of royalty . . . even if only for a day.

Royal Yacht Britannia-Afternoon Tea

Visiting Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia

Address:  The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ

Website:  For further information visit The Royal Yacht Britannia.

Time to Allow:  About one hour to tour, additional hour for lunch or tea.

Who should go:  Those interested in the Royal Family, lovers of ships and nautical history.

Is it worth it?  At £12 for adults/£ 7.50 for kids (approx. $19/12 US) it’s not cheap, and there may not be enough to keep little ones engaged. But it is a one-of-a-kind vessel, and a true piece of 20th-century British history. And it’s fun to pretend you’re the Queen’s guest for tea, even if you do have to pay for the meal!

And the nautically-minded can stop by the Officer’s Club for a photo op!

Royal Yacht Britannia-officer's club

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Feel like royalty--for a day--by visiting Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh, the ship where Princess Diana spent her honeymoon.

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When we arrived in Romania much of what we knew about the country was its role as an elusive nation behind the Iron Curtain during our childhood. What we found surprised us. A vibrant nation with a beautiful countryside that is rapidly putting the past behind it. Another surprise, the 3rd fastest Internet in the world and by far the fastest we have seen in our travels to over 70 countries. But as usual we start with food and having a sweet tooth, we soon found ourselves tasting Romanian pastries on a daily basis.

Romanian papanasi

Papanași (papanosh) are little tater tot sized donuts (or bigger at some places) topped with sour cream and cherry jam. It’s the first donut treat I’ve met (and I’ve met many) that you eat with a spoon.

Romanian pastries

Carpathian Mountain Cream Cake with sour cherry jam at the Fronius Residence, a 16th-century inn located in the walled medieval village of Sighisoara.

PastryinRomania (1)Caciula lui Guguta is a pile of rolled up pancakes stuffed with wild cherries and topped with vanilla whipped cream and grated chocolate. Despite the fact that Larissa ordered something else she ended up eating half of my dessert. We found this version at La Placinte, a mini-chain of restaurants with several locations in Bucharest and a few other Romanian towns.

Bucharest pastry layer cake

According to the menu this is “Honey sponge cake impregnated with creamy nuts and sour cream.”  Something may have been lost in translation but I did feel stuffed and like I had eaten for two afterwards.

romanian pastry rulada swiss roll

I think these are actually Swiss Rolls (the Yodels of my youth) but they sound more exotic as “rulada.” How can vanilla cake twirled around chocolate icing then rolled in nuts be bad?

*** Hungry now? Check Amazon for Romanian cookbooks ***

And now for something completely different . . .

I haven’t yet mentioned what an incredible travel value Romania is. Here’s an example. The delicious meal below of spicy goulash, Romanian potatoes and sauteed carrots in the posh Restaurant Transilvania in Brasov was $4.50. Most of the pastries above were about $3.

Romanian goulash

 

Brasov4Cardinals

The breakfast above was included with our $58 per night room (including tax) at the high-end 4 Cardinal’s Hotel in Brasov. We found Romania to be a great place for food and to stretch a European travel budget. In future posts we’ll talk about surprising Bucharest and the medieval villages we visited on our road trip through the Transylvania section of Romania.

Please let us know if you have any questions about travel to Romania.

*** Hungry now? Check Amazon for Romanian cookbooks ***
We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We were staying for two weeks in the bucolic Devon countryside, nestled in a remote cottage perched on the edge of Dartmoor. This legendary, perhaps haunted, bog was made famous in works such as The Hound of the Baskervilles. Our visions of long walks down sun-dappled country lanes were washed out by two weeks of rain during the wettest spring on record; which, for England, is saying something. Determined to “keep calm and carry on,” we donned our raincoats and stiff upper lips, and explored the soggy countryside. What we didn’t know was that we were about to encounter killer cows in England.

The moors of Devonshire, home of the "Killer Cows"

Maps in England highlight public rights-of-way where anyone can take a stroll. We brought along such a map and assumed that with it we wouldn’t get lost. That was our first mistake.

Larissa killer cow in England

Larissa rethinks her choice of jacket color when trying not to be noticed by a bull in England.

After an hour we found ourselves somehow in a farmer’s pasture sinking ankle-deep in mud (and whatever other mud-like substance might be deposited in a cow pasture). We stared up a rise at a herd of longhorn bulls none too happy about our presence. That’s when we realized we were on the wrong side of the fence and the only way out was through an electrified gate. Oh, and there was a bull with horns six feet long (okay, maybe three feet long) blocking it and staring at us ominously, as bulls so often do.

A "Killer Cow" blocks the gate in England

Like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the bulls started pawing the ground and glaring at us. We froze, not wanting to antagonize our new friends. After 20 minutes of playing statue in the drenching rain and sinking deeper into the muck  (Michael sank quicker, weighed down by his discovery, earlier in the week, of donuts pumped full with Devonshire cream), he heroically told Larissa to run for it while he distracted the bulls with his umbrella. (Hey, it’s all he had.)

England electric fence for "Killer Cows"

Larissa thwacked across the muddy field in her hiking sandals while Michael charged up the hill, his souvenir umbrella from the Louvre in Paris leading the way. Unfortunately it didn’t open since he had forgotten to undo the strap. Once that was all sorted out he charged again, counting on the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa to frighten the bulls.

 Our only protection from the "Killer Cows" of EnglandSomehow the bulls weren’t scared of this choice of weapon.

While Michael held the confused bulls at bay, Larissa employed the dexterity of a bomb squad engineer to unhook the electric fence from the car battery that powered it. We scrambled over the fence, proud that just one of us tore their pants, only to run into the neighboring farm’s tenacious sheep dogs who promptly started biting Michael in the ankle.

If this is a bucolic walk in the English countryside you can keep it.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

As the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris depicted, the City of Lights has a long history of attracting fascinating characters. All those people eventually have to end up somewhere, often at Pere Lachaise and Montparnasse Cemetery. Paris has become one of the few cities where visiting the dead is a popular attraction.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Opened by Napoleon in 1804, the Pere Lachaise cemetery with its 300,000 graves is the largest in Paris. It’s a beautiful, even romantic, spot for a stroll. The visitor can get lost for hours among the serpentine tree-covered paths. While it’s the final resting place for many famous people, a quiet area can usually be found away from the celebrity crowd.

Pere Lachaise path

Go and explore on the miles of cobblestoned paths.

Pere Lachaise cemetery man reclining

We just love the look on this gentleman’s face, “Okay, I’m done. Can I just take a nap now?”

Pere Lachaise cemetery woman weeping on tomb

There are many graves with women weeping in agony but we didn’t see one of a man doing the same thing.

Pere Lachaise Rossini grave

The original grave of Rossini, the Italian composer of the stirring William Tell overture, is typical of the style of the mid-19th century. These mini-mausoleums provide a private chapel inside to pray. (Later his remains were moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. He’s in some illustrious company there with Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.)

Pere Lachaise cemetery Jim Morrison grave crowd

Despite all the Napoleonic-era generals, famous composers and other luminaries, the most visited tomb at Pere Lachaise is still that of former Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. Forty-plus years after his death he’s still drawing standing-room-only crowds.

Pere Lachaise cemetery Jim Morrison tomb graffiti

You probably wouldn’t want to be buried next to the former rock star. The headstone next to him attracts quite a bit of graffiti, including the expression above. It’s now surrounded by a fence and a guard is on constant vigil.

Pere Lachaise Oscar Wilde grave

Much like the person, Oscar Wilde’s grave has had a long and sordid history. The lifelike genitalia on the angel were stolen while the slab itself attracted graffiti and lipstick kisses. The governments of France and Ireland recently restored the tomb and put up a glass barrier around it. Now those wishing to leave a kiss behind must plant one on the wall instead.

Pere Lachaise root pushing headstone

In a macabre tableau, some of the headstones are being toppled by tree roots which look eerily like skeletal arms pushing up from below.

If you visit, climb up the hill and walk around the older sections that are in a somewhat tumbledown condition. Some areas look they haven’t been touched in a century.

Pere lachaise Auschwitz memorial

There are about a dozen Holocaust memorials that are truly heart-wrenching.

Here are some interesting books about Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Montparnasse Cemetery

After a black-and-white day at Pere Lachaise, we were in the mood for a bit of color at the Montparnasse Cemetery. It’s also more accessible than Pere Lachaise due its flat, compact size.

Montparnasse cemetery Pigeon grave bed

One of the more well-known graves is of Charles and Sophie Pigeon who are still in bed looking like they just happen to be discussing the day’s events. Monsieur Pigeon made his fortune by inventing the non-exploding Pigeon lamp, which sounds like it could be something totally different, that he exhibited at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.

Montparnasse Cemetery Man Ray

Influential photographer and painter Man Ray was born in South Philly. His headstone on the left says “unconcerned but not indifferent” and is signed by wife Juliet. Hers says simply “Together Again.”

Montparnasse Cemetery Man peering behind ivy

This man peering out from behind the creeping ivy is trying his best not to be forgotten.

Montparnasse Cemetery Alexander Alekhine chess

Former world chess champion Alexandre Alekhine of Russia has a chess board imbedded in front of his tomb. I wonder if any of his fans ever play a match on it.

Montparnasse Cemetery Sartre Grave

There is a tradition of leaving Metro tickets on the grave of French philosophy couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Montparnasse Cemetery Sartre Simone de Beauvoir grave metro tickets

I can’t find out why that is. Does anyone know the answer?

Montparnasse cemetery cherubs with cross

Have you ever visited a cemetery on vacation?

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is a hauntingly beautiful place where you can visit the the grave of rock star Jim Morrison, along with many other famous artists, writers and musicians.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We found an easier way to get around Paris. Download this Paris Metro map pdf and you’ll always know where you are in the City of Light. This official city map is difficult to find (we’re not sure why), so we’ve made it available for you below.

The entrance to most Paris Metro stations display the map "avec rues" (with streets). Get your own free copy to navigate like a local!

Paris’ public transportation takes visitors just about anywhere. The traditional Paris Metro map shows the train routes as a series of colored lines. That gives a you general idea where the lines are located in the city, and how they relate to each other. But it doesn’t show you, the visitor, exactly where you are compared to the actual streets above ground.

Paris Metro map avec rues (with streets)

Screen shot of Paris Metro map ave rues
A screenshot of the Paris Metro map avec rues

But we’ve found a better Paris Metro map: the grand plan lignes avec rues (lines with streets). It has three unique features that make it especially useful for visitors:

  1. The map displays the metro lines with all their twists and turns
  2. It overlays the lines on the actual city streets
  3. The map includes icons of major tourist sights

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues (It’s free!)

YES! Finally you can look at a map, figure out exactly where you are and where you want to go, then make an informed decision about how to get there. Additionally, when you arrive at your destination stop, you’ll be able to determine exactly where you are in the city. For me, one of the most frustrating things about taking a subway/metro is walking through the various underground passageways that twist this way and that. The typical metro map only displays how the train lines relate to one another, not to the city itself. By the time you pop up above ground, you are completely disoriented as to where you are.

Classic stylized map of Paris Metro
The traditional stylized Metro map is most useful for determining how the lines relate to each other, but it doesn’t tell you what’s going on at street level.

Heading to Paris? Compare Paris hotel prices using this handy tool!

With the map avec rues, you can figure out your location pretty quickly. Once you get above ground, a quick look at a few street signs will tell you where you are in no time. You can also make more informed decisions about where you’re going, and the best route to get there.

For example, take a look at the screen shot excerpts from the two different types of maps below. The traditional “cartoon,” or stylized map is on the left, the map avec rues is on the right. They both show the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides. Assuming you want to visit both Left Bank attractions, you use a map to plan your day. Using the “cartoon” map at left, it appears that the first stop might be “Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel” to visit the Eiffel Tower. Then, after doing a quick Google search for the best metro stop for Les Invalides, you’d get three possible options: “La Tour Maubourg,” “Ecole Militaire,” or “Varenne.” Back onto the Metro you go, change trains, and pop up near Les Invalides.

Now, plan out the same excursion using the map avec rues (above right).With the metro lines overlaying the actual city streets, it’s easy to see that Les Invalides is fairly close to the Eiffel Tower. You probably won’t need to jump back on the Metro at all! Additionally, you can see that you have several options for which line to take to the Eiffel Tower at the outset. And take a look at the “Ecole Militaire” stop. It’s right between both sights, AND it drops you off in front of the large park where most people take those sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower—Score!

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues

In this larger view of the Paris metro map “avec rues” you see exactly where the metro stops are, along with major streets in the neighborhood.

Paris Metro map PDF (and hard copies)

The Paris Metro grand plan lignes avec rues is published by RATP, Paris’ public transit system. The Paris Metro map pdf is available on the RATP website, but it’s a little difficult to find. That’s why we’ve made it handy for you to download here:

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues (OUR FAVORITE!)

The map is easy to use on a phone or tablet.

Hard copies of the Paris Metro grand plan lignes avec rues are technically available at city ticket offices. According to Paris info.com (the official Paris tourism) website,

“There are detailed street maps, plans of the “arrondissement” or maps showing the public transport network. You can obtain free maps from the ticket offices in metro stations, in the department stores and at all the information centres of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau (the latter is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Russian!).”

However, paper copies of just about everything are getting more difficult to find these days. We suspect (but we don’t know for certain) that this map may no longer be in print. Once existing stock is depleted, it may not be replenished. Therefore, if you are an “old school,” hard copy kind of person, it’s probably not a good idea to count on picking up a copy once you’ve arrived in Paris. We recommend downloading the PDF file and printing it out before you leave home. (If you’re able to find a hard copy once you’re there, consider it a bonus! 😊)

Certainly there are Paris Metro route finder apps that can be downloaded to smart phones or tablets. But based on our experience, this is one case where “a map is better than an app.” The map shows the big picture, giving you options to determine which routes are best for you. Apps, in our experience, don’t always give the best recommendations. (Plus the map is free, and doesn’t take up much memory in your phone or tablet, so what have you got to lose?!)

Armed with this user-friendly map, anyone can soon be navigating around Paris like a native. This map helped us find these less crowded sights in Paris, as well as Pere Lachaise Cemetery. And while we were riding the Metro, we enjoyed some of these entertaining Street Musicians of Paris.

Heading to Paris? Compare Paris hotel prices using this handy tool!


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Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here. SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave

A restaurant is a favorite if it earns repeat visits. By that definition one of our top restaurants in Rome is Hostaria Costanza. We’ve been to Rome several times and on each visit we visit this small spot tucked away in a corner off the Campo dei Fiori. There are trendier places with more contemporary menus but Costanza keeps drawing us back.

The setting itself is pretty spectacular. Costanza is built into a surviving portico of the ancient Teatro di Pompeo. Vaulted stone ceilings that are two millenia old arch above the tables. If that’s not enough history for you, it’s also the spot where Brutus literally stabbed Julius Caesar in the back during the Ides of March in 44 B.C.

Costanza restaurant rome

The moody lighting helps recreate the atmosphere of ancient Rome.

But the setting, eerily romantic as it is, isn’t what keeps bringing us back. It’s the food, a classic take on Roman cuisine. Upon entering the restaurant  it could easily be mistaken for a delicatessen. That’s because the foyer serves the double duty of storing much of the food while at the same time showcasing the freshness of the ingredients.

Experienced diners examine the food displays out front before venturing into the dining room. It reveals a sneak peek at the day’s specials that is far more evocative than any chalkboard description. In true Roman fashion, this anteroom also houses the antipasti table.  Grilled vegetables, seasoned olives and sliced cheeses nestle temptingly on individual dishes waiting for one of the servers to pluck them out to create a customized antipasto for each diner.

Top restaurants in rome Hostaria Costanza

Select your antipasti from the tables out front.

We credit Costanza with introducing our tastebuds to the joy of truffles. On our first visit we ordered cannelloni con funghi e tartufi as an appetizer, completely unprepared for the taste sensation that was to come; a rich earthy, nutty, creamy flavor. Suddenly we got it: this was why people rummaged through the woods or went to specialty food shops and paid exorbitant sums for tartufi. These cannelloni immediately made it onto our “Culinary Greatest Hits” list.

Top restaurants in rome Hostaria Costanza

Cannelloni with mushrooms and truffles.

Our recent visit lived up to our expectations.  The atmosphere of a perennial favorite was confirmed by the diners at the next table, two dapper Italian businessmen along with a distinguished looking priest. There was no way they were going to waste their palate on a mediocre restaurant.

This time we took advantage of artichoke season to order an appetizer of carciofi alla Giudea, the classic Roman dish that originated in the old Jewish quarter of the city. Deep-fried until crispy and golden and garnished with salt and pepper, these beauties put potato chips to shame.

Hostaria Costanza rigatoni with sausage

Rigatoni with sausages and truffles in a light cream sauce.

Naturally for our pasta course we simply had to have truffles.  The day’s special was rigatoni con salsice e tartufi, sausage and truffles in a light cream sauce.  It was rich, but delicately balanced with not too much of any one ingredient.  The cannelloni were made with fresh crespelle, or crepes. The flavors immediately took us back to our first visit, the way biting into a warm homemade chocolate chip cookie takes us back to childhood.

We hope there are more visits to Rome in our future along with the requisite visit to Hostaria Costanza.

Click the link to read about our soggy day hunting for truffles in Italy.
We’re your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Belfast is famous for how its sectarian divide is portrayed in the murals plastered on building walls in Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. The Belfast murals promote various factions in the centuries old struggle for dominance in this Irish city. They also serve as a marker for the wayward visitor who’s not sure which neighborhood he has just stumbled upon. Many of the images are violent, reflecting the armed struggle that has taken place here. Some highlight centuries old grievances in an attempt to make them relevant today.

The murals have come under fire in a now peaceful Belfast that is trying to look forward instead of dwelling on hurts of the past. One mural was even painted over to show children in a message of peace. Take a look at the photos below. Should the murals remain as a historical record or has their time passed, to be replaced by a hopeful message?

Protestant Belfast Murals

Belfast Murals

Belfast mural

Belfast mural

The Red Hand of Ulster shown above relates a local legend. Back in the olden days, the kingdom of Ulster was without a king so a boat race was contested. Whoever touched the shoreline first would be made king. Legend has it that upon seeing he was about to lose, one man cut off his hand and threw it to shore, thereby winning the contest. This myth gives some idea of the tenacity of the people here.

Picture of Belfast mural

Catholic Belfast Murals

The Catholic murals usually portray more recent events, meaning the last century.

Belfast mural

Belfast mural Bobby Sands

This mural represents Bobby Sands, he was the first of the hunger strikers to die in 1981, creating worldwide publicity for IRA prisoners.

Belfast mural Maghaberry Prisoner (525x443)

The Catholic murals are international in flavor as they advocate for what they feel are fellow struggles for freedom around the world as seen below:

Belfast Murals

Belfast mural Che Guevara

Six months into our  journey the most prevalent pop culture t-shirts we’ve seen for sale around the world are Manchester United, the New York Yankees and Che Guevara. Somehow there’s a message in that, we’re just not sure what it is.

The future message?

Belfast peace mural

There is a movement in Belfast to replace the violent images of the murals with more peaceful ones like the children portrayed above. However, as these replace the old ones, new images of violence continue to go up elsewhere in the troubled city.

What are your feelings about taking down the murals?

NOTE: The best way to see the murals is to take a tour with a private driver. Several companies offer this service–they generally have some version of “Black Cab” or “Black Taxi” in their name. (Google them or check TripAdvisor to find one that suits your needs.) The cost is approximately £30 for up to 3 passengers, with an extra charge for additional passengers. Tours last approximately 90 minutes.

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!The murals of Belfast provide fascinating insight on the centuries-old conflict in this Irish city. Take a Black Cab tour to explore both sides of the struggle.

Click on the link to view a post about the dividing walls of Belfast.

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Guest post ~ Florence is well known for its museums and historical attractions like Michelangelo’s David. But amid the vibrant streets near the Duomo stands a building which no visitor should miss. It hosts a real temple of food: the Mercato Centrale (Central Market). Eating at the Florence Central Market is something no visitor should pass up.

Central Market Building

The circa 1874 Central Market building, with its ornate cast iron and glass architecture, is an attraction itself, but many people don’t look beyond all the culinary delights to notice it. Amid all the hustle and bustle the entrances are hard to find, just look behind the peddlers.

florence mercato centrale

The Market

The food market is at the ground floor. Here you’ll find the largest possible variety of food in Florence. One section is dedicated to fruit and vegetables, with some typical products you can find only here. During winter, the king of vegetables in Florence is the cavolo nero (black cabbage), master ingredient for the ribollita, the most famous Florentine recipe: it’s a soup based on stale bread, cannellini beans and, of course, black cabbage. (See link to ribollita recipe below.)

eating at the florence central market

You’ll be amazed at the garlands made of garlic and onion: here it’s not just a matter of quality, the presentation of the food is very important. There is also a shop dedicated to exotic fruit and vegetables, especially from South America.

Garlands of garlic and onion (750x565)

Another section is for fish shops and butchers, the latter each specialize in a particular kind of meat: chicken for example, or beef, with the Chianina (a type of cattle typical of Tuscany) which is the meat used for the famous bistecca alla fiorentina. If you’re wondering what all that white spongy meat on display is, it’s tripe (the stomach of the cow). It’s an acquired taste for foreigners but Italians love it.

salumi and cheese florence mercato centrale

Among the other specialty foods at the central market are sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and pasta in fantastical shapes. There is a fresh pasta shop and several bakeries, but the shops that attract more attention are the ones selling salumi (not to confuse with salami, which is just a kind of salumi) and cheese. Some of them also make panini.

salumi (750x537)

Prices are very reasonable, in some cases you save on supermarket prices, unless you want to buy something very hard to find elsewhere. For a traveler in Florence who plans an excursion or a picnic, or just wants to prepare a quick lunch, this is the place to find something tasty.

The temple of food on the second floor

After a complete restoration in April 2014, the second floor, which once hosted the fruit and vegetables section, was reopened with a new function: a temple of dining. This part of the Central Market, which stays open from 10 am to midnight, including Sundays, is an amazing place where you can eat any kind of typical Italian food. It’s a huge hall, with cafés in the center serving drinks, tables all around and specialized restaurants on the sides.

eating at florence central market food hall
How does it work? You just pick your preferred food (cheese, meat, pasta, pizza, fish and many more), go to the chosen restaurant, order, and they will prepare your food in front of you. Then join your friends at the table of your choice. It’s perfect for a group, where everybody wants to eat something different. Prices are very reasonable, while quality is excellent: in particular, I like pizza at the Central Market.

wood bruinng pizza florence central market

Pizza is not a typical Tuscan recipe, and I have to admit that, in general, you won’t eat the best pizza in Florence, but at the Central Market you will actually taste a great pizza, made with natural yeast, the best flours and high quality tomatoes and mozzarella.

dry porcini mushrooms

Florence Central Market Visitor Information:

The ground floor of the market is open Monday-Friday from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM and Saturday (not in the Summer months) from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The second floor is open everyday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 AM.
Check out the Florence Central Market website for the latest information on activities there.

If you’re in the mood for some Italian food now, here’s a recipe for ribollita, also known as peasant stew it’s the perfect antidote to a cold winter day.

2015 1 21 Florence andrea pic (300x300)Guest writer Andrea Pecchi is a freelance tourist guide in Florence and runs Your Florence Contact, a blog about art and history. When not guiding tourists, he enjoys writing about his own city and promoting Florence as a destination for travelers. You can follow Andrea on Facebook and Twitter.

I was strolling along Bernauer Strasse during a foggy night typical of Berlin. The low-lying mist shrouded the streetlamps, casting sepia shadows on the neighborhood. The hues were reminiscent of old newsreels from August, 1963, when this street became a last gasp escape route for those seeking to flee over the Berlin Wall, a structure which in its initial crude form of cinderblocks and barbed wire was erected overnight. It encircled West Berlin to keep East Germans from escaping to the lone outpost of freedom behind the Iron Curtain.

Within years, the Berlin Wall (or “anti-Fascist protection barrier” as it was named in Orwellian fashion by the East German government) grew more sophisticated in its ability to trap those living on the wrong side of it, but in the long-run living on the right side of history. Although the Berlin Wall is long gone, there are still remnants of the Cold War in Berlin.

berlin wall bernauer strasse

This area where tourists now snap photos of one of the last remaining sections of the wall was a sophisticated death zone; a no-man’s land of roaming German shepherds, car barriers, mines and machine guns triggered by the slightest movement. At night spotlights fought back the dark and eliminated the shadows that were an escapee’s ally.

But such a system, weighted down by years of oppression, would not last forever. On November 9, 2014 the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; a man-made scar that represented the cruelty of a totalitarian regime that nurtured the Cold War.

A gray cobblestone line, interspersed with bronze plaques stating Berliner Mauer 1961-1989, snakes through the city marking the spot where the partition once stood. Its twisting path across avenues, parks and cemeteries—in some cases splitting neighbors and families—marks the randomness with which the city was divided. It clumsily bisects the street in front of the Brandenburg Gate where President Ronald Reagan made his “tear down this wall!” speech only two years before the wall was torn down.

Berlin Wall street marker shoes (800x530)

Most of the nearly 100-mile-long barrier is gone now, in some cases carted off as souvenirs to be displayed in museums around the globe, but there are still places in this now united city where the specter of the Cold War era can be found.

Eleven days after the barricade was raised, a 24-year-old tailor named Gunter Litfin attempted to swim across a small canal to the West. He was fatally shot by police while he was still in the water, becoming the first person to be killed trying to escape East Berlin.

A small brick and granite memorial was dedicated on Invalidenstrasse near the Sandkrug Bridge, that’s the point in the canal where he would have made it to safety. Located in a heavily-trafficked area only one block east of the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s glistening new train station, it’s easy to overlook this significant turning point in wall’s history. After Litfin’s killing, potential escapees knew they were risking their lives to seek freedom.

Berlin Wall first victim memorial (750x626)

Once the city’s division became entrenched, visitors coming over from West Berlin via the train disembarked at Friedrichstrasse Station. Since this point was the merging of two societies, one free and the other not, no means of escape could be allowed. Travelers were herded through an Escheresque maze of overhead tunnels, walkways and checkpoints to move from one sector to the other.

Across the street from the station an East German Passport Control and Customs post was housed in a blue glass pavilion called the Palace of Tears; so named because it was where East Germans bade farewell to their visitors from the West. Or for those rare East Germans granted an exit visa, farewell to their family forever.

Berlin Palace of Tears woman walking (800x600)

The Palace of Tears is now a museum that recreates the feeling of crossing from one zone to another. Exhibits reveal the clever devices that people used to smuggle forbidden items such as Bibles and copies of Playboy into the East; although not so hidden that they weren’t confiscated and ended up here on display.

When Communism collapsed the world watched as statues of Lenin were torn down all over the Soviet Bloc. Some of the monuments were too, well, monumental, and couldn’t be budged by a crowd armed with a few ropes, no matter how boisterous they were. One survivor was the house-sized memorial to Ernst Thälmann, the leader of Germany’s Communist Party during the Weimar Republic between the World Wars.

East Berlin icons Thalmann hammer and sickle (750x613)

With his tightly clenched fist thrust upward, Thälmann’s memorial on Greifswalder Strasse was designed in the larger-than-life heroic Soviet style (it is often mistaken for one of Lenin) and then plunked down in the middle of its own barren concrete plaza. Since Communism is now out of favor in Germany there are more weeds than visitors, other than the occasional teenage skateboarder and budding graffiti artist. Ernst Thälmann Park was dedicated in 1986 so it offers visitors the opportunity to view one of the last gasps of Communism’s artistic flourishes in East Berlin.

Closer to the center of town in the Mitte district, the Marx-Engels forum posed a similar quandary. Two much larger than life statues of socialism founders Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were too big to move but no longer reflected Germany’s capitalist zeitgeist. They remain in place but mostly as a tourist photo op for people to pose on Karl Marx’s lap. With his bushy beard he rather resembles a department store Santa Claus so perhaps that use is appropriate.

Berlin Marx Engels Statue (750x702)

Later, poking my way among the weeds and toppled headstones of St. Hedwig’s cemetery, I stumbled upon unmarked sections of the Berlin Wall that don’t appear in the tourist guidebooks including a section of the secondary wall that was set 30 yards behind the main wall to prevent East Berliners from seeing it. Through a crack stood a statue of Jesus looking down in grief upon a grave, the remnant of his outstretched arm only a few yards from grazing the barrier to freedom.

Berlin Wall Jesus statue St Hedwigs cemetery (750x606)

I was about to give up my search for the main wall when I saw a family strolling nearby. Their six-year-old son, clutching a teddy bear in one arm, stopped and pointed at a vine-encrusted, graffiti-covered slab of concrete and shouted “Der ist Mauer,” or “there is the Wall.” What looked like an ordinary concrete wall hiding in the overgrown vegetation revealed itself as an original remnant due to the large sewer pipe wedged on top, placed there so people couldn’t attain a grip to scramble over the wall.

Berlin Wall boy pointing (640x500)

Born years after the wall came down, the boy was obviously well schooled about its existence. While the wall once hid one half of the city from the other, Berlin is not hiding from its past. Like people in no other city in the world, Berliners know that to ignore history is to risk repeating it.

This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 9th, 2014, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Maybe it seems unusual to visit a dusty old library on vacation. But because my dad was a dusty old librarian himself it doesn’t seem odd to me at all, particularly when it’s the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin. Dating back to 1592 it’s the largest library in Ireland with over 3 million volumes.

Pride of place is given to the Book of Kells, an illuminated gospel manuscript dating from the 9th century. (The library building itself was built between 1710 and 1732 so it’s almost a toddler in comparison.) While the Book of Kells would be justly famous for its age alone, it’s renowned for its spectacular artwork.

It was painstakingly written by a group of Columban monks around the year 800. After a Viking raid which killed many members of their community they moved inland to Kells, County Meath about 70 kilometers northwest of Dublin and continued work on the book.

The Book of Kells is displayed at the end of an exhibit titled “Turning Darkness into Light” which provides historical context for the manuscript.  The famous manuscript is actually four separate bound volumes of the four gospels. Two of the books are always on display and open to show a particularly resounding work of calligraphy. (These rotate throughout the year so you’ll see different pages if you go at different times.)

Trinity College Long Room bigger Irish Welcome ToursThe Long Room. Photo courtesy Irish Welcome Tours

Considering how the Book of Kells is such a national treasure, if there are no large tour groups present you’ll get to spend a fair amount of time perusing the Latin scrollwork and curlicued art.

Visitors stroll along the Colonnade and the appropriately named Long Room (it’s over 65 meters long) where 48 marble busts of notable historical figures including Aristotle, Shakespeare and Irish satirist Jonathan Swift mark the way. The Long Room also holds over 200,000 of the most revered books in the collection.

Manuscripts aren’t the only thing to see though. There’s a 15th-century harp, reputed to be Ireland’s oldest, and a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which was read outside the General Post Office during the Easter Rising.

In addition to the Book of Kells, there are always a few temporary exhibits. A current one called “Emperor of the Irish: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf (1014)” relates the tale of the first king who ruled over the entire island of Ireland and the Battle of Clontarf in which he vanquished Viking invaders. It sets the tone for Ireland’s long tumultuous history.

Visitor Information

Location: On the campus of Trinity College. Enter the campus at Nassau Street near Sraid Dasain Street.

Website: Visiting the Trinity College Book of Kells

Admission: You must purchase a ticket to visit the Old Library. Adults €10; students & senior Citizens €8; children under 12 free. Tickets may be purchased online.

Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 am to 5 pm; Sunday (May through September) 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; Sunday (October through April) 12 noon to 4:30 pm. Closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Note: Most guidebooks recommend going early to avoid the crowds. As usual we offer the opposite advice, go later in the day when you are more likely to avoid groups tours and all the people who got their early to avoid the crowds.

Attracting millions of tourists a year, Paris is one of the most popular destinations in the world. But there are still plenty of off the beaten path sights in Paris where a visitor can roam freely.

Explore the hidden gardens of the Eiffel Tower

eiffelt ower gardens and ponds

The lines to ride the elevators to the top of the Eiffel Tower often serpentine around the base as visitors wait for hours. Less known are the lovely gardens and hidden ponds tucked away at the base of the structure. Take some time to explore these undiscovered areas. They offer a unique view of the symbol of Paris, offering a sense of solitude mere steps away from the tourist throngs visiting the Eiffel Tower.

Excite your tastebuds on “Falafel Alley

PAris Las du falafal (800x626)

Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made up of a mixture of chick peas, fava beans and spices. It’s served in a pita with tahini sauce and shredded vegetables. Rue des Rosiers in the 4th arrondissement is home to two of the best falafel places in Paris: Mi Va Mi at #23 and L’As du Fallafel at #34. The latter often has long lines winding down the block while you can often stroll right into Mi Va Mi. That’s what we suggested doing. Both places are so good there’s no need waiting to fill your falafel craving if you don’t have to. (But to be fair, the line does move quickly.) If you’re more in a meat mood, try the shawarma too.

It’s always tea time at the Museum of Tea at Mariage Frères

tea museum mariage freres paris (800x558)

Mariage Frères at 30 rue du Bourg-Tibourg is a must-see destination for tea lovers. Part shop and part tea room, real aficionados will head down the stone stairway to the basement to see the underappreciated Museum of Tea. Two rooms are chock full of exhibits about the history of tea and the Mariage Frères brand. After you peruse the examples of tea and antique tea canisters displayed, head upstairs for a hot cup of tea or buy some leaves to brew your own later.

Roam a quiet village in the city

butte aux cailles paris

If the hustle and bustle of Paris have you longing for a quiet country feel, head over to Butte Aux Cailles at the southern end of town.  This pocket neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement seems like it was carved out of a provincial town. The quiet, hilly streets are dotted with charming cafes and shops—but nothing particularly hip or trendy. An afternoon stroll through Butte Aux Cailles provides a breath of fresh air and a chance to recharge your batteries before heading back into the center of the City of Light.

Turn the page on the Left Bank

Paris san francisco bookstore (800x638)

Head over to the 6th arrondissement where two Americans from California operate used bookstores within a coin’s toss of each other. The San Francisco Book Company opened in 1997 while Berkeley Books was formed in 2006 by three employees of the former store. They each offer a stellar selection of quality used books with a few new popular titles thrown into the mix. There is a story behind this perhaps not so friendly competition but neither bookshop owner has revealed it. Either way, readers benefit from the thousands of reasonably priced titles on display.

A people’s tribute to Princess Diana

Paris diana memorial graffiti (800x574)

When Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris in 1997 near the Place de l’Alma, the site of her death became an instant area for makeshift memorials devoted to her memory. It’s right by the Flame of Liberty, a sculpture that is a replica of the flame atop the Statue of Liberty in New York City, which was placed here in 1987 to commemorate American-French relations. Plans to dedicate a permanent memorial to Diana in Paris have never materialized, so her fans and followers still gather by the Flame of Liberty and inscribe notes to her on the stone walkway nearby.

 

As you seek your next European adventure you might want to consider some overlooked countries that are off the traditional tourist path. In the Mediterranean you’ll find some of the least crowded beaches, charming cities and most breathtaking landscapes in Europe. Read more

On a first trip to Paris most visitors go through the checklist of “must-see” attractions: The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame are usually the most popular. But there are many less crowded sights in Paris.

Imagine strolling through a museum and you are the only one there. Or finding a quiet corner in a park to get attached to the rhythms of the city without the crowds. Here are a few such places to visit in Paris.

5 less crowded sights in Paris

1) Picpus Cemetery

This bucolic setting (pictured above) is Paris’ only private cemetery. It holds the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette. A US flag always flies over this hero of the American Revolution, courtesy of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  The cemetery also contains the remains of victims of the Reign of Terror who were guillotined in 1794. Rows of manicured rose gardens leading to a simple stone commemorating those who died create a poignant tableau. (Thanks to one of our readers, Barbara, for suggesting this site.)

picpus cemetery paris

2) Musee des Plans Reliefs (The Relief Map Museum at Les Invalides)

A visitor can spend days at Les Invalides, the French military museum that also houses Napoleon’s tomb. But tucked into a quiet attic space is the Relief Map Museum, a collection of 30 antique scale-models of fortified sites from the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the room-sized models are over 300 years old. They were used by kings and generals to plan military fortifications and engage in war games. Due to its almost clandestine location, this museum is usually empty and you’ll have it to yourself.

less crowded sights in paris (640x501)

3) Les Egouts (The sewers)

How many cities can claim a sewer system with a literary heritage? Les Egouts are featured prominently in Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables. Believe it or not, they can make for a fascinating half-hour. Visitors stroll along open culverts carrying effluent, and who knows what else, from the city streets above. Wear a hat because sometimes those rusty overhead pipes leak. It’s a short walk from the Eiffel Tower so you can combine the two to see Paris from both its crystal-clear heights and murky depths. Sure the Eiffel Tower is romantic, but was it featured in The Phantom of the Opera? Here’s information on how to tour the sewers of Paris.

Paris sewers

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4) The Catacombs

Miles of underground pathways containing the bones of over 6 million people, many of them arranged in quite decorative poses. It’s also where the French Resistance hid from the Gestapo during World War II. This site is best visited in the winter, spring or fall to avoid the peak summer season when there are long waits to get in. However those long waits are due to entry being limited, so once you descend into the Catacombs it won’t be too crowded. If you do go in summer go later in the day. It’s popular with teenage boys and other ghoulish types.

Catacombs mortal sign

5) Chateau D’ Vincennes

If you can’t make it to the château region try this local spot. Located on the outskirts of Paris, but easily reachable by Metro, this 14th-century structure is one of the best preserved castles in Europe.  Don’t forget to visit the dungeon where you can see the cell of the infamous Marquis de Sade.

Chateau de vincennes

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Five sights in Paris where you can avoid the crowds and still get a good dose of the city's history

Here’s a list of Larissa’s favorite offbeat sights in Paris.

What favorite bits of Paris do you recommend?

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Last week Michael wrote about some of his less crowded sights in Paris. We both love the nooks and crannies of the City of Light, and fortunately there are plenty of them. My suggestions are a little less grim than his—I prefer to spend my time above ground.

Five less crowded sights in Paris

 1) Malmaison  

The former home of Josephine Bonaparte, this “petite château” sits among beautiful gardens on the outskirts of Paris. It is easily accessible by metro and bus. Meticulously restored with many original furnishings, Malmaison offers insight to the country life where Napoleon spent his weekends away from Paris. History, culture, gardens and a cool chateau in one tidy little package. Far more digestible, and less crowded, than Versailles.

Less crowded sights in Paris Malmaison (550x440)

Malmaison was Napoleon and Josephine’s love nest.

2) English Language Bookstores of the Left Bank  

For a glimpse into Paris’ literary past, start with a visit to Shakespeare & Co., perched opposite Notre Dame cathedral. It’s a 1950’s-era reboot of the original shop that closed during WWII, that somehow manages to channel ghosts of both the lost the beat generations. It’s a tiny, creaky old place with tons of great titles. Don’t miss the mini-museum on the 2nd floor. Once you’re in a literary mood, amble over to the Odeon neighborhood where two competing used bookshops, San Francisco Books and Berkeley Books (there’s a story behind this budding rivalry), offer previously read tomes at reasonable prices. They each have good Paris-related sections, including guidebooks.

Less crowded sights in Paris-One of the left bank's English bookstores

Channel your inner Hemingway at Shakespeare and Company

3) Musée Marmottan Monet

This small museum boasts one of the largest collections of Monet’s works in the world. It is the “city sister” of the well-known Monet Gardens at Giverny. Housed in a former mansion in the 16th arrondisement, the Marmottan’s manageable size and bucolic setting enable a slow perusal of some legendary artwork, including paintings by Monet’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist colleagues. An excellent collection of medieval illuminations is also on display.

4) Saxe-Breteuil Market

A street food market in spectacular setting behind the Ecole Militaire with a view of the Eiffel Tower. It is crowded, but not with tourists carrying guidebooks. Open every Thursday and Saturday morning, Saxe-Breteuil is where residents of the 7th and 14th arrondisements shop for groceries. If you don’t have a flat with a kitchen you’ll only be able to ogle the cabbage-sized artichokes, Breton lobsters and fresh duck eggs. But even a visitor with a small hotel room can pick up fresh Normandy cider, ham cut to order off the bone and a hunk of aged Auvergne cheese.

Less crowded sights Paris-the tasty Saxe Breteuil Market

Sniff out a few bargains at the fish counter.

5) Canal St. Martin

This multi-locked canal forms the spine of a neighborhood north of the Bastille. Trees and tiny parks line the 4 km long waterway, arced with delicate iron footbridges every few blocks. The streets alongside house some funky shops and small cafes. There are plenty of spots to enjoy a simple picnic while watching the barges and tour boats float by as they are raised and lowered through the locks.

Less crowded sights in Paris- Canal Saint-Martin

The canal provides a relaxing setting for a picnic.

I hope you found these “less gritty” and “more pretty” than Michael’s suggestions.

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!Here are 5 lesser-known sights in Paris that are truly peaceful & pretty--including Napoleon & Josephine's love nest & an Impressionist museum that's NOT the Musee d'Orsay ;)

Can you recommend some other sights in Paris?

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If you don’t want to get tossed out of Irish pubs in Dublin (or anywhere in Ireland, really) then don’t order a Black and Tan. I wish I had read that before we went there. Brush up on your Irish pub etiquette before visiting the Emerald Isle. Unfortunately I learned this lesson, as I so often do, the hard way.

What is a Black and Tan?

Black and tan--Guinness and Bass Ale

In America a Black and Tan beer is a popular drink poured with equal parts dark Guinness Stout and lighter colored Bass Ale (which is an English beer . . . we’ll get to that more in a bit). Despite its heavier taste, the Guinness is actually slightly lighter in weight and, if poured carefully, will actually “float on top of the lighter-colored (but more weighty) Bass. Black and tan drinks are an eye-catching display in the glass–one that tastes pretty good, too.

Real artisans will even use a special Black and Tan spoon. You turn the spoon upside-down, which helps the Guinness pour gently over the surface of the heavier ale.

What is a Black and Tan in Ireland?

In Ireland, though, Black & Tan drinks do not exist. The term has very negative connotations. Black and tan were the colors of the uniforms worn by the British paramilitary troops that were formed around 1920 to put down the Irish after the failed Easter Uprising. Their uniforms were a hybrid of military khaki trousers with dark (often black) jackets and black socks or boots. These soldiers, known as the “Black and Tans,” had fought in the bloodiest trench battles of World War I and were not about to be put off by rebels wielding rusty hunting rifles and pitchforks.

English Black and Tans harrassing the Irish locals in the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley

To get a better idea of what things were like back then, watch the film The Wind that Shakes the BarleyThe movie takes place when the Black and Tans were wreaking havoc on the Irish countryside. They responded to attacks from the newly formed IRA by burning houses, brutalizing the populace and engaging in all sorts of pillaging type activities. The movie features a young Cillian Murphy (most recently seen as the tough-as-nails crime boss in the Netflix series Peaky Blinders) in one of his earlier roles.

We had watched the film just before we left for Ireland. The Black and Tans are pretty much the villains of the piece. So mixing Guinness with an English ale might not be the best combination. After seeing yet another barn burning in the film I said to Larissa, in a rare moment of clarity, “maybe ordering a Black and Tan at Irish pub isn’t such a good idea,” so I forgot about it.

A lesson in Irish Pub etiquette (sort of)

But then, in a bit of good luck, (or so I thought at the time) on the flight over to Dublin I sat next to a talkative Irishman named Keith. Well, “talkative Irishman” is a bit redundant. I learned first-hand (for 7 hours—on an overnight flight) about the legendary Irish gift for gab. Keith has what many would consider to be a dream job. He works for Guinness and is a quality assurance inspector. This means he travels around America inspecting pubs to make sure that Guinness is being poured properly. Yes folks, you can get paid to drink beer.

I figured that someone who works for such a historic brewery in Ireland could shed some light for me on the whole “Black and Tan” thing. Keith assured me that it was okay to order the drink at an Irish pub in Ireland. He said that it referred more to a time period of Irish history and not the actual soldiers. I was a little skeptical but I was getting the info pretty close to the source, wasn’t I? (Spoiler alert: We should have done this VIP Guinness tour of the famous Guinness Storehouse first .)

A Black and Tan in the countryside? Maybe not.

So a few days later, after renting a car and brushing up on driving on the left, we found ourselves in a remote town on the Irish west coast. As we walked the streets we even heard locals speaking Gaelic. (Which they call speaking Irish but that’s another story.) I had worked up a bit of a thirst searching for rainbows, leprechauns and all things Irish, which is how we found ourselves in a a pub filled with afternoon revelers watching an intense game of pool. With Keith’s words in my ears I confidently strode up to the bar and ordered a Black & Tan.

Crickets.

The pub got deathly still. All heads turned to look at this interloper. The jukebox went mute and even the billiards balls stopped in mid-carom. The bartender gave me what my Uncle Charlie would call the hairy eyeball. “You want what?” he asked.

cow in ireland
Even this Irish cow grazing nearby couldn’t believe I’d tried to order a Black and Tan at a pub in Ireland

I stammered out another request for a Black & Tan. At this point, Larissa decided to abandon nearly 25 years of marital togetherness and started edging away from me. I heard a few murmurs in Gaelic, which made me wish my parents hadn’t burdened me with such an English sounding last name. I wanted to shout  “I’m 1/8 Irish!”, but fractions were never my strong suit.

Oh Bono, where art thou?

Like a slick politician on election eve I even tried pandering. “I really like U2,” I blurted out. This didn’t help. One of the pool players, who was wielding an inordinately large cue stick, came right back with “Bono should go save Africa already and leave us the feck alone.” “Wow! Tough crowd,” I thought. They don’t even kneel at the altar of St. Bono.

I realized then that the advice Keith had given me on the flight over was woefully wrong. Yep, that same guy who worked for Guinness!  (Come to think of it, his directions sucked too.) Ordering a Black & Tan at an Irish pub in Ireland is like walking into a bar in Warsaw and ordering an “SS Storm Trooper.” NOT a good idea. Suitably chastened I slunk towards the beckoning door, where my loving and supportive wife was already waiting outside, well away from the fracas.

I take some (small) solace in the fact that I’m not the only American to make this gaffe. In 2006 Ben & Jerry’s (yep, the ice cream guys) had to pull a new Black and Tan ice cream off the market in the US after an outcry from folks in Ireland. And the product wasn’t even being sold in the Emerald Isle–that’s some far-reaching bad feelings for the term Black and Tan!

What SHOULD you order in an Irish pub in Ireland?

Black and tan beer with shamrock

Okay, we now know the term “Black and Tan” is taboo. But what DO you order? Opinions vary here. As a result, there’s no clear answer. Some people suggest using the term “half and half,” which will be half Guinness and half a lighter Irish lager, such as Harp (remember, we’re not using English ales now!) One bartender we spoke to said that a “half and half” to him means 100% Guinness, with half of it chilled and the remainder poured at sightly below room temperature (more to the Irish palate). Hmm. You could also hedge your bets and order a “Guinness and Harp.” Either tastes great, and you can enjoy them without risk of your face getting rearranged.

But me? I’m staying away from the fancy stuff and just ordering straight Guinness from now on.

Bonus Irish Pub tip

I do give myself credit for having the good sense not to get an “Irish Car Bomb.” This is a concoction made up of Baileys, Kahlua (optional) and Jameson Irish Whisky. We saw someone order it at an Irish pub in Dublin. The bartender stopped in his tracks and told the offender he was lucky that he had asked for it in Dublin and not in one of the more contentious sections of Ireland. Needless to say, that drink order was refused. (So don’t be cute–don’t order one of those either.)

Don’t make our mistake . . . take a Pub Crawl tour and learn to do things the right way!


Or, to really understand Guinness, sign up for the VIP Guinness Tour at the Guinness Storehouse!


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It's just as important to know what NOT to do while visiting a Pub in Ireland!

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If you are planning a holiday to Sofia it is worth checking out some of the gems that are tucked away in this beautiful city. The Bulgarian capital is increasingly popular with tourists from Europe, so if you want to avoid the crowds on your travels, a visit to these attractions should be on your itinerary.

Hike Vitosha Mountain

Vitosha Mountain hiking trail
Photo by Leon Hart

Sofia developed around the foot of Vitosha Mountain, providing a picturesque backdrop for the city. A taxi ride from the center of Sofia to the mountain costs around 10 leva ($7 USD). From the base you can hike up well-trod trails to exploring the beautiful wooded mountain. One highlight is Golden Bridges, where a small cafe provided a good stopping point for a quick snack and a look at the view.

The Boyana Waterfall is also located on the mountainside. It’s a difficult climb to reach the top of this stunning waterfall so it’s only recommended for serious hikers.

Brush up on your Socialist Art

sofia lenin statue museum of socialist artPhoto by Times of Malta

Hidden away behind a shopping center right in the middle of Sofia is the Museum of Socialist Art. Formally known as the Museum of Totalitarian Art, the gallery and open-air courtyard house relics of Bulgaria’s Communist past, offering visitors an intriguing glimpse behind what Winston Churchill called “the Iron Curtain.”

It’s surprising that the relics on display were not destroyed following the fall of communism in Bulgaria. A must visit for all fans of 20th century history and a fantastic view of propaganda.

Ring the Bells Monument at Kambanite

Sofia Kambanite bellsPhoto by Wikimedia

Conceived in 1979 as a lasting monument to the United Nation’s designated Year of the Child, the Bells at Kambanite offers a very different experience from most other tourist attractions. The bells represent children and children’s organizations from around the world, and while the bells are only supposed to be rung by children, you’ll see many adults unable to resist temptation.

Roam to the Amphitheatre of Serdica

If you love ancient history, then visit the ruins of the Roman Amphitheater of Serdica. The city of Serdica was an important outpost of the Roman Empire, acting as a key political hub. The amphitheater was uncovered during construction of another building in 2004. Further architectural detective work followed and the full extent of the discovery was revealed.

This amphitheater is the only one which combines the classic amphitheater layout with a Roman theater, making this a must for any fans of ancient Roman architecture.

 Slither to the Snail Home

snail house bulgaria
Photo by Wikimedia

Amid the usual tourist attractions in Sofia are a few unique spots, none more so than the Snail Home. Given the name, you might think it’s a museum devoted to snails. But it’s far more interesting than that. Built in 2009, the Snail Home is an apartment building designed in the shape of a snail. Don’t miss this one on your itinerary; but you can take your time getting there, it’s not going anywhere soon.