Category Archives: Europe

7 Architectural Wonders of Florence, Italy that are not to be missed

Florentine ArchitectureFlorence. Perhaps no other city in the world evokes as many cultural, artistic, and architectural visions as the capital of Tuscany in Italy.  Home of the Renaissance, this city filled with museums, palaces, and churches holds a huge number of the world’s cultural treasures. Perhaps, the most important of  Florence’s sites are the Baptistery, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Cathedral, but the San Lorenzo library is certainly the finest example of Michelangelo’s architectural gift and should not be missed.

Those who are on last minute holidays or seeking the Italian Renaissance, need only look upon the palaces, buildings and squares of Florence for each of them are masterpieces.  Many of them built by the most admired artists of all time. In Florence, when you want to see the work of Michelangelo or Brunelleschi – there is no need to go indoors to a museum.

1) Piazza della Signoria is an L shaped plaza in the heart of Florence that serves as the historical and cultural center of the city. While unremarkable in terms of design itself, it is the surroundings and the history of this piazza that make it a must visit location.  Surrounding the piazza you will find The Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzao Vecchio, the replica of Michelangelo’s David, statues by Donatello, Cellini and others and as if that isn’t enough, the Piazza marks the place where both  return of the Medici family was and the famous Bonfire of the Vanities took place. The radical priest, Girolamo Savonarola who burned the books and treasures of the Florentine elite was later himself burned in the square – the exact spot is marked.

Florence Architectural Gems2) Palazzo Vecchio which literally means “Old Palace” is still the focus of the piazza. It was built in 1302 asthe seat of Florentine government and is still used for the same purpose. As such, only portions of it are open to the public. This was the original palace of the Medici family. The clasic blocky castle-like architecture is not centered on the tower for a reason, it was actually built around a tower which is far older and served as the substructure of the current tower.  This is a Romanesque building with many Gothic elements.  Inside is a treasure trove of courtyards, salons, and more than a few priceless artistic works.

Bridge of the Arno Florence3)Ponte Vecchio is a wonderful closed spandrel bridge which crosses the Arno at its narrowest point and is believed to have been first built in Roman times but is first mentioned in the year 996. The bridge still has shops along side it and a hidden walkway along the top so that the Medici didn’t have to expose themselves to the public when crossing. It was originally constructed in wood but wasdestroyed by a flood in 1333 and rebuilt of stone in 1345. Culturally interesting is that right on the bridge is the place where the concept of bankruptcy was born. The statue of Cellini in the center is surrounded by a small fence festooned with padlocks. Lovers will lock the padlocks and throw the key in the river to bind them together forever. A sign surrounded by locks forbids the practice. Urban legend says that the tradition was started by a padlock shop owner on one side of the bridge. Smart move.

4) Torre della Pagliazza is also called the Byzantine Tower and the Straw tower. This is regarded as the oldest building in Florence (7th century) though there are several other candidates that might fit that description better, but none of them quite so wonderful as Pagliazza Tower. The tower today has been incorporated into the very nice Hotel Brunellesci but was once accommodation of a different sort – a female prison. This is the origin of the name “Straw tower” – female prisoners were given a bit of straw, a luxury denied to male prisoners.

Florence architectural gems5) The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St John) is also said to be the oldest building in Florence though it was built in the 10th century and so is not. Still, it is old and the stories of it being the oldest are based on the fact that it sits atop earlier structures – one even rumoured to have been a Roman temple to Mars. It is particularly famed for its three sets of wondrous bronze doors which have only recently been put back in place after extensive restoration and preservation work was done on them. The three sets were made by Pisano, Ghiberti including the famed East doors called by Michelangelo “The Gates of Paradise”. The Bapistery is built in a Florentine Romanesque style that served as inspiration for the later Renaissance styles to emerge in Florence.

6)The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore also simply called the Duomo of Florence was built from 1296 when the first stone was laid.The dome created by Brunelleschi with its exquisite facing of polychrome marble panels and the cathedral itself designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (who also designed Palazzo Vecchio). The dome is the largest brick dome ever constructed (completed in 1496) and the cathedral remains one of the largest in the world. The competition between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi was fierce to see who would get the commission for the dome – when it was awarded to both jointly, Brunelleschi feigned sickness until Ghiberti bowed out thus leaving full credit to Brunelleschi. The drama between the two is the stuff of great film and literature. The dome itself is made of more than 4 million bricks and pre-saged the mathematics that were later used to define it. Brunelleschi’s innovations served as inspiration to a young apprentice who worked on the dome’s lanern – Leonardo Davinci.

Basilica of Florence7) The Basilica of San Lorenzo Library is in the center of Florence’s straw market district and is where most of the Medici family are buried. This building is also claimed to be the oldest in Florence and has a pretty good claim since the church was consecrated in the year 393. The building was designed by Brunelleschi and contains Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library. The entire complex serves as an important bridge between the old architecture (pre-renaissance) and the new architecture which followed it.

Romantic Britain : 4 Valentine’s Getaways for Romance

by Tom McShane

We all know that Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal – 141 million cards are exchanged worldwide and, in the UK alone, more than £1.3bn is spent each year on cards, gifts, flowers and chocolates. And while romantic preconceptions we all have would conjure up images of fine dining at the top of the Eiffel Tower or gazing into each other’s eyes while slowly making your way down the Venetian waterways in a gondola, there are many equally romantic Britain holidays to be had too.

Perfection needn’t require jetting off hundreds or thousands of miles away and this latest guest post, supplied by touring caravan supplier The Caravan Company, runs through four of the best choices to ensure a successful Valentine’s.

1. Stratford-Upon-Avon: Soak up the culture
Of all the historic towns and cities in Britain that are responsible for the growth of culture, Stratford-Upon-Avon is perhaps the most important of them all. Famous for being the home and birthplace of William Shakespeare, the town has been a hub of British theatre, culture and history ever since – and the variety of unique things to do make it an absolutely perfect location for a Valentine’s getaway.

Romantic Britain

The traditional and historic charm of the town has changed little, with countless shops, restaurants and tea rooms boasting the quintessentially historic British Tudor style. Shakespeare’s birthplace is a fascinating insight for couples interested in history, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is a hub of theatrical culture for those dying to check out a show performed on these historic boards, and the town centre is perfect for dining in either classic British restaurants or something a little more international.

2. Cornwall: Explore the Cornish coast
A far cry from the stereotypical British seaside getaway, Cornwall swaps piers, fairground rides and suspiciously difficult arcade games for miles of picturesque coastline, rolling moors and countryside, and quiet beaches.

Cornwall Romance
Cornwall Romance

You can opt for quintessentially British hotels further inland or, for a truly coastal experience, stay right next to Millook Haven Beach – a picturesque piece of Cornish coastline surrounded by imposing cliffs and boasting a remote and solitary luxury beach hut.

The hut is relaxing and features traditional amenities like log burning fires, and is perfect for a private and unforgettable Valentine’s.

3. York: The Romance of UK history
Britain is renowned for being steeped in history, with countless key moments contributing to a rich and varied past, and nowhere is this truer than the city of York. From Roman settlers and Viking invaders through to Tudor era, industrial revolution and the modern day, York’s history is apparent throughout the entire city.

York Romance

Whether it’s taking a humbling walk through the awe-inspiring York Minster to gaze over the city from its top, exploring the tight winding pathways of the medieval streets known as The Shambles or enjoying a romantic meal at the countless independent restaurants that are abundant in the city’s centre, there’s something for everyone.

4. Talacre (Wales): Relax in a luxury Caravan park
Now, bear with us on this one – when you’re looking for romantic getaways, not least luxury ones, then a caravan park isn’t exactly what might first spring to mind, but the Talacre Beach caravan park, situated on the tip of the North Welsh coast, is not like any other site in the UK. The site boasts an absolutely amazing range of luxury facilities, including fixed lodges for sale too, that will make your romantic coastal getaway unforgettable.

Romantic Britain

Relax in the pool, enjoy fine food in the restaurant or unwind in the evening with some drinks in the modern bar or the exclusive over-21s lounge – this trip is bound to change your view on caravanning!

This guest post was written by Tom McShane – UK-based blogger, writing on behalf of The Caravan Company, who are the UK’s largest supplier of touring caravans.

A Guide to Skiing in Germany

If you’re looking for something new in a ski holiday destination, then you would be hard pressed to find anything better than Germany. Previously seen as the poor relation in the winter skiing holiday genre, Germany has managed to retain their friendly and charming qualities whilst creating a variety of different types of resort for all levels of skier, choose from a cosmopolitan resort to a tranquil mountain hideaway. Skiing in Germany is one of life’s joys.

german ski resorts
Accessibility
Germany, with its central European location, possesses easy access for both passenger and scheduled flights. With the increase in ski charters and budget flights to European airports, then arranging a skiing break can’t get any easier.

Most Popular Ski Resorts
The country’s number one ski resort is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, as a former winter Olympic games host, and home of the professionally challenging Kandahar course, it provides dedicated facilities and sports instruction to around 5 million guests each year. Located above the town are the main skiing areas of Kreuzeck, Osterfelder and Hausberg runs. You can reach the town runs quite easily by train, bus or on foot from local hotels, to reach the Zugspitz glasier then you need to take the train, or if you prefer you can use a combination of cable car and bus.

Coming a very close second in the battle for best ski resort is Oberstdorf, this is a very cosmopolitan resort, and has many other attractions to compete with the world renowned ski jumping competition.

Berchtesgaden has beautiful scenery as it lies on the outskirts of Berchtesgaden National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty. In contrast, you can see Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” WW2 mountain refuge which is a popular destination for tourists. With Berchtesgarden being close to Salzburg, it has become the perfect destination for skiing and sightseeing. The ski area of Jenner is located very close to Schönau is the most well-known ski resort in the area.
Schliersee is a popular resort for both summer and winter vacations; the best skiing area available is at the Spitzingsee. There are other, free, winter activities such as walking around the Schliersee, snowshoe trails going up into the hillside, and ice-skating on the lake. The Olympic skier Markus Wasmeier grew up in the Schliersee area, he is famous for winning two golds at the Lillehammer Winter Games.

Specialist Insurance Cover
german skiingIt’s probably best to get specialist ski travel insurance for your holiday. You can still get the usual cover for theft, flight delays and losing your luggage, but you will also need extra cover associated with ski holidays. It’s pretty obvious that skiing will usually have more risks than the usual type of beach vacation, therefore you can also get cover for treatment for fractured bones, which can be a very expensive charge when abroad, or worst case scenario, an on piste emergency rescue. There is also the cost of the equipment, whether you own or hire it, it can be expensive to replace. It may cost a little more but it’s worth it for peace of mind.