Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is the most populated city in Turkey. It is the country’s economic, cultural, and historic center.
Istanbul is a city that straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. The two sides are separated by the Bosporus Strait which is a narrow channel that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean via the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles.
The city was founded under the name of Byzantion around 660 BC and grew to become one of the most important and coveted cities in history. It was renamed Constantinople in 330 AD and remained the imperial capital for almost 16 centuries during the Roman and Byzantium (Holy Roman) Empires.
Istanbul played a big role in the the advancement of Christianity until the Ottomans captured the city in 1453 when they turned it into an Islamic stronghold and the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate. Modern Turkey was born in 1922 when the last Ottoman Sultan fled the city after the Nationalists’ victory under Mustafa Kemel Atatürk and in 1923 Ankara became the nation’s capital.
So from eons ago Istanbul has been an important city as shown by its rich history and historic sites. Many of those sites are clustered around the historic center on the city’s European side. The Mosques, Churches, and other sites as a group are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. They are the reason millions of tourists flock to Istanbul yearly, making it the world’s fifth most popular tourist destination.
I have been to Istanbul many times over the past 10 years or so. It’s a city one can never get enough of. I love just about everything in Istanbul; the sights, sounds, scents, and people are amazing. The food is delicious, the sights awe inspiring, the markets bustling, and the people warm and hospitable. What’s not to love?
Where ever your interests lie you’ll find something to love in Istanbul. Shoppers can shop til they drop at the Grand Bazaar; foodies can savor the exotic scents in the spice market, savor the kebabs and mezzes at one of the many restaurants, and indulge in decadent desserts of the sweets and pudding shops. History buffs can visit everything from ancient Roman ruins to Byzantine churches to opulent Ottoman palaces. And not to be overlooked Jewelry lovers can drool over the Sultan’s gem collection featuring the humongous Spoonmaker’s Diamond, the 4th. largest in the world.
I know, the first time visitor to Istanbul may find the city a bit overwhelming. So here’s a list of some of my favorite places and things to do in one of my favorite cities.
Kapaliςarsi AKA The Grand Bazaar built in 1461 is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It’s a sprawling complex with 61 streets and over 4000 shops selling everything from tourist souvenirs, to “genuine fake” designer watches, shoes, clothes, and purses, to hand woven Turkish Carpets, to handcrafted silver tea sets and beautiful gold and gemstone jewelry.
The Grand Bazaar has 22 gates leading in and out of the covered area, Along with the shops it is home to 17 inns, 2 mosques, 4 fountains, 10 wells, several cafes and restaurants, money exchange offices, and a police station. It’s pretty much a city within itself.
You can spend days browsing all the shops in the Bazaar, that is if you can stand the hawkers constantly trying to get your attention. I’ve found that my limit is 2 days before I’m ready to drop from exhaustion and have had my fill of politely but firmly saying “no thank you” to all the salesmen who are vying for my attention.
Many people say that the Bazaar is nothing but a big tourist trap, and I suppose it can be, specially if you don’t know how to bargain and don’t know what you’re buying and what its value should be. The main thing to remember when shopping at the Grand Bazaar, or any market in Turkey and the Middle East, is that you are EXPECTED to bargain and bargain fiercely. It’s like a game no matter if you’re buying a box of Turkish Delight, a handwoven carpet, or a diamond studded bracelet. Bargain, bargain, bargain! Be sure you know what you want to buy and what is the maximum amount you’re prepared to pay for it. Start lower than your max price and with a bit of haggling if the shopkeeper can sell it at your price and still make a profit believe me he will.
Hagia Sophia from the Greek Ayía ∑oφía; Ayasofia in Turkish; and Sancta Sophia in Latin; means the Church of Holy Wisdom (Sophia means wisdom).
This building and its massive dome was constructed in 537 AD. In its time it was the world’s largest building and its dome an engineering marvel. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have changed the history of architecture.
From its completion in 537 to 1453 it was an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and was the seat of the Eumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This reign was briefly interrupted between 1204 to 1261 when it was converted by members of the 4th. Crusade into a Roman Catholic Cathedral under the Holy Roman Empire. After the Ottoman take over in mid 1453 it was converted into a Mosque and served as one until 1931. It was “secularized” and opened as a museum in 1935 and has remained as such to this day, at least for now. The current president Mr. Erdogan announced in March 2019 that he is considering changing it back to a mosque saying that its conversion to a museum in 1935 was “a big mistake”. We shall have to wait and see what the future holds for the Church of Holy Wisdom.
Regardless of the change in designation I’m fairly certain that one can still visit the Hagia Sophia with a few minor changes to one’s attire. As with the Blue Mosque across the park which welcomes tourists inside as long as it’s not prayer time, tourists will mostly be welcomed into the Hagia Sophia as long as they are dressed appropriately and behave with respect while inside. When visiting a mosque in any country one must dress conservatively; for men this means pants must cover their knees and shirts cover their shoulders; the same rules apply to women who must also cover their heads with a shawl or scarf. Everyone’s shoes must be removed before entering the mosque. But don’t worry, tourists are given fabric coverings to cover their hair and shoulders (you are not required to cover your face, just hair) and plastic bags for their shoes before entering the mosque.
The Hagia Sophia is definitely worth a visit. The size of the interior space is awesome. You will see remnants of the time it was a Christian cathedral in the uncovered Byzantine paintings and mosaics that once dominated the walls and ceilings. You’ll also see the painted decorations and mosaics on those same walls and ceilings that were done when it was a mosque. You will also see that some of the columns used in its construction were taken from all over the world including 8 from the ancient Temple of Artemis in Ephesus and from Egypt.
The Blue Mosque
Popularly called the Blue Mosque because of the blue ceramic tiles that adorn the interior its official name is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque.
This historic mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Ahmet I. It was built to surpass the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia located across the park. The complex consists of the mosque, the tomb of the founder, a madrasa, and a hospice.
The Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most visited attractions, but it is also an active mosque so it’s closed for 30 minutes during the 5 daily prayer times.
Visiting the mosque is free as is the fabric head cover provided for women (use them to cover your hair and shoulders, not your face. Then return them when you exit the building) and the plastic bag for carrying your shoes while in the mosque.
Constructed between 1460-1478 by Sultan Mehmed II the conqueror of Constantinople Topkapi Palace was the official residence of the Ottoman court and the adminstrative and educational center of the state until the mid 19th. century.
In the 1850s the palace became inadequate and the court moved to Dombalahçe Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus. But Topkapi Palace remained home to the Royal Treasury, the Holy Relics of the Prophet Mohammad, and the imperial archive.
It was converted into a museum in 1924. Today it houses several different collections including the Royal Treasury where one can gaze upon the Spoonmaker’s Diamond and other gem encrusted garments, swords, and other accessories once worn and used by the Sultans. It is also where one will find the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle and Holy Relics where relics of The Prophet are kept.
Other areas one can visit are the Harem and the Hagia Irene Church. Each require the purchase of a ticket in addition to the museum admission. On the grounds you’ll also find book and gift shops as well as cafes and restaurants. Grab a table at the Konyali restaurant located in the fourth courtyard for some delicious Turkish food and commanding views of the Bosphorus and the Asian Side.
Second in popularity to the Grand Bazaar the Spice Bazaar is a must see.
This colorful fragrant market is housed in an L shaped building which is part of the New Mosque’s complex that was built in 1664. For the most part this market is located in the building with vaulted ceilings but spills out into the streets and alleys leading into and around the complex. If one is inclined one can walk from the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Bazaar and vice versa.
The Spice Bazaar is filled with colorful spices from around the world. You’ll also find nuts, dried fruit, and other delicacies in the many stalls. In recent years some of the food stalls are being replaced by shops that sell ceramics, handbags, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. It really is a fun place, it’s yummy too! Shopkeepers will be more than happy to let you sample their wares!
Built during the reign of Justinian I a Byzantine Emperor the Basilica Cistern is the largest of the several hundred cisterns under the city of Istanbul. It’s located less than 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia.
The cistern served as a water filtration system that provided water to the building in the area including Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman rule. It served this purpose up to modern times. Today it is more a tourist attraction and a venue for various events.
This cavernous space measures 105,000 square feet and can hold up to almost 3 million cubic feet of water. Its ceiling is supported by a forest of marble columns, a total of 336.
It’s an eerie place accessed by a narrow stairway found across from the Hagia Sophia. You can walk on the wooden walkways that crisscross the area and eventually you’ll encounter the 2 inverted Medusa head blocks that serve as a base for 2 columns.
The site has been the scene used by several books, movies and even a video game. Most recently it was the setting for the final chapters of Dan Brown’s book Inferno. It was here that the final scenes of the movie of the same name were filmed.
Galata Bridge is one of the most happening places in the city. It spans the Golden Horn and links the old city on the European side to the Asian side.
Thousands of people cross this bridge daily. They cross in cars and on foot. You’ll even find many fishermen dangling their lines from the sides of the bridge. Join the hoards of people crossing the bridge, it’s an experience in itself! Then make your way to the area under the bridge. Here you’ll find restaurants, food kiosks, and ferries that offer cruises along the Bosphorus. It is one of my favorite hangouts in Istanbul!
Sweets & Pudding Shops
You can’t leave Istanbul without trying the food. Yes Doner Kebabs and stews are a must, but after the meal it’s dessert time!
And dessert is a big deal here. You’ll find pudding shops and Baklava shops every where. My all time favorite is Hafiz Mustafa. There are 4 locations in the city but my favorite is the 2 story location on Eminönü.
They have so many things to satisfy your sweet tooth it’s hard to choose just one. I can’t even name a favorite!
Try the made to order Kunafe, it’s so worth the wait! While you’re waiting have some of their baklava made with green pistachio dough, it’s amazing; try the chocolate dipped ones, they’re to die for!
If you have room have a pudding, chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut, rice, and so many others. Whenever we go there we always end up bringing home boxes of sweets.
It’s a dessert lover’s dream!
Have you heard about Airbnb? This is a platform that allows you to rent other people’s apartment or home, especially when you are away on a trip. It enables you to save a few bucks that you would have spent renting an expensive hotel somewhere in town. An Airbnb coupon code allows you to pay further less money than other individuals who rent houses using the platform. It is, therefore, one of the perfect means of ensuring that you experience an enjoyable stay at your place of visit at a pocket-friendly price. But you wouldn’t want to feel cheated after finding that you’ve actually overspent instead of saving some funds? There’s a perfect way of ensuring that your experience with Airbnb is a blessing rather than a frustrating moment. On that note, you need to check on the following tips of renting an apartment on Airbnb.
- Negotiate the price before settling
Your primary aim of renting an Airbnb apartment is to ensure that you spend as little as possible on accommodation to free up funds for use in other activities during the trip. Therefore, you need to negotiate for the lowest possible price before making a payment. On the Airbnb website, there’s a button that indicates “Request to Book” where you need to click when making a booking. If you intend to negotiate the price, don’t click on the button first. Instead, click “Contact this host” and it will prompt you to indicate the dates that you are willing to stay in the house. Put this data in the necessary slots, and this will guarantee you of a place in the house that you are booking even though you don’t pay at first. From here, you can then negotiate with the house owner for the best price, and once you’ve agreed, you can proceed to make the payment.
2. Booking for more days than you need can be cheaper
You can save a lot of money while booking on the Airbnb platform if you are keen on the special offers they have for their users. At times, there are particular offers that enable you to save more if you book a number of days, say, one week. For instance, if you intended to stay for five days at a standard price of $ 800, you might find a similar home with a special offer of 7 days at $ 750. In such a case, it’s evident that you stand saving $50 should you pick the special offer. So, consider checking out such special offers before you select an apartment on Airbnb.
3. You can visit the place before you book
If you happen to be already at the area that you intend to stay in during your vacation, you can pay a physical visit to the place that you intend to stay in after identifying it on Airbnb. This will enable you to evaluate whether it is exactly where you would like to stay and has the facilities you need in an ideal apartment. Remember, booking first can be tricky as you may find out that the place is not as attractive as you thought. After visiting the apartment and you are satisfied that it is perfect for your stay, you should pay via Airbnb platform. This is a precautionary measure to ensure that you are not scammed which is a possibility if you pay directly to the house owner.
When you follow the tips mentioned above, you might save some bucks and will be able to choose a perfect home away from home through Airbnb.
Spain, home of Picasso, Gaudi, and Dali; just to name 3 of Spain’s great masters. To many Spain invokes the sun drenched beaches of the Costa del Sol; the Prado Museum in Madrid; the cheers of the bullrings in Madrid, Seville, and Ronda; the whimsical buildings of Gaudi in Barcelona; tapas, and flamenco dancers.
Spain is all that and more! Of course most tourists flock to Barcelona’s La Rambla and Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, and they should! Both are definitely must see tourist stops when visiting Spain. But there is more to Spain than it’s big cities. A visit to the towns along the Costa del Sol, Spain’s sun coast, is a nice respite from the big cities; or a visit to northern Spain’s towns of Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela offer one a different perspective of this country that has a rich and diverse history.
Here are 5 Spanish towns that are definitely worth a visit next time you’re in Spain!
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Santiago de Compostela
Located in North western Spain Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomus community of Galicia. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been a famous Christian pilgrimage town since the 9th. Century.
As the story goes in the early 9th. Century a hermit named Pelagius saw a light shining over a long forgotten Roman tomb in the forest. Word quickly spread throughout the Christian world that the tomb of St. James the Greater, one of Jesus’ beloved apostles, was discovered in northwest area of the Iberian Peninsula. Very soon a city sprang up around the holy tomb and the site became one of the most important Christian pilgrimage towns. Pilgrims came from all over Europe walking the route which became know as the Camino de Santiago. Smaller towns sprang up along this route where hospitals, churches, and monasteries were built to support the Christians heading to the tomb and eventually the Cathedral that was built over the shrine.
Pilgrims from all over the world still journey to this town, many literally following in the footsteps of the 9th. century pilgrims. It is very common and even expected to see pilgrims from all over the world with walking sticks and backpacks making their way to the town. Tour companies even offer pilgrimage packages from France, Germany, or pretty much anywhere in Europe.
The Old Town and its surrounding monasteries and monuments are pretty much the only things in this area that’s visited by pilgrims and tourists. The Old Town though it can be crowded with people is charming. Beautiful Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic, and Neoclassical buildings line the narrow streets. The Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. Over all in spite of the busy streets and plazas the town has a serene feel and is imbued with the feeling of devotion inspired by faithful who arduously make their way on foot to the shrine. In my opinion it is a wonderful location to sit calmly and perhaps do a bit of soul searching.
Bilbao is the largest city in the autonomus community of Basque Country in northern Spain. The Basque Country sits on the Atlantic coast and borders France on the north, in fact parts of the Basque Country are in France.
If you didn’t know the Basque Country locally known as Euskadi or País Vasco isn’t like any other part of Spain. This region has its own language, cuisine, and geographic and cultural identity.
Bilbao is an very industrialized city built on the Nevrión river. It’s a great place use as a base for exploring Basque Country. Not to mention it is home to the futuristic looking Guggenheim Museum of Blibao. This building which opened in 1997 has become an iconic emblem of Bilbao. It’s built on the once very polluted banks of the Nevrión and has become a symbol of revitalization and marks the beginning of a new era for the city. You can walk along the river bank for awesome views of Frank Gehry’s masterpiece, this otherworldly building that seems to undulate beneath the warm Bilbao sun.
The museum is home to celebrated works of modern and contemporary art. Its permanent collection includes works by Klein, Rothko, Kiefer, and other modern and contemporary artists. This is a must see for all fans of modern and contemporary art; and even if you’re not the building itself is a sight to behold!
Palma de Mallorca
Palma de Mallorca is the capital of and the autonomus community of the Balearic Islands of Spain. It is situated on the south coast of the island of Mallorca of the east coast of Spain.
Palma has a rich and checkered past having been conquered and ruled by the Moors then reconquered by the Christians in the 13th. Century. But even before that was settled by the Roman and Talayotic people. The Gothic Cathedral of Palma dominated the center of the historic city center. Radiating from this magnificent building are narrow medieval streets lined with townhouses and Baroque churches. It’s filled with teeming public squares, bohemian neighborhoods, and outdoor markets selling all the bounty the island has to offer. You’ll find museums, art galleries, cafes, shops, and beaches all under the golden Spanish sun that seems to shine benevolently over the island year round.
Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada in the autonomus community of Andalusia of Spain. It is located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains where 4 rivers (Darro, Genil, Monachil, and Beiro Rivers) meet. Although it is but an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean Coast of Spain it sits at an elevation of 2421 feet above sea level.
Granada like many Spanish towns and cities has a rich and varied history. The region has been populated since 5500 BC and has experienced both Roman and Visigoth rule. In 711 AD when the Umayyads conquered the region it brought large parts of the Iberian Peninsula under Moorish rule, this included Granada.
Granada is where the Alhambra, an Arab citadel and palace, and Generalife, the pleasure palace and gardens connected to the citadel are located.
Construction of the citadel began in the 11th. century when the Castle of the Alhambra was developed into a walled town and became a stronghold that dominated the city of Granada. Construction of the pleasure palace and gardens of the Generalife began in the late 13th. century and the Alhambra is a culmination of Nasrid art and architecture that were undertaken between the 13th. and 14th. centuries. At this time the Alhambra was a royal residence, citadel, and fortress that housed the Nasrid sultans and their senior officers including servants of the court and elite soldiers.
In 1492 the Catholic Monarch Ferdinand and Isabella finally expelled the last of the Moors from Granada and established permanent residency in the Alhambra. It was here that Christopher Columbus requested their endorsement for his westward voyage that same year. Of course the Catholic Monarchs and their subsequent heirs altered the Moorish citadel to suite their needs. Portions of the citadel were destroyed when the First French Empire had control in the 18th. Century. Restoration of the complex began in the 19th. century and continues to this day.
In 1984 the Alhambra complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is now the most visited tourist attraction in Spain. Along with being a historic monument it is home to the Museum of the Alhambra and the Museum of Fine Arts. It is definitely worth a visit!
Cartagena, Spain not to be confused with the city of the same name in Columbia, is a city in the autonomus community of Murcia in Spain’s southeastern Mediterranean coast. It is also where one of Spain’s major naval stations is located.
Cartagena has been inhabited for over two millennia having been founded in 227 BC by the Carthaginian Hasdubral the Fair. It was an important port city both during the rule under the Holy Roman Empire and the Umayyad Empire.
The mix of civilizations as well as its strategic harbor in Cartegena has resulted in a unique mix of artistic heritage. Here you will find an abundance of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, and Moorish artifacts and landmarks including the remains of a Roman theater second largest on the Iberian Peninsula. Wandering the streets and plazas you will find them lined with a plethora of Art Nouveau buildings including this impressive City Hall which greets tourists walking into the city from the cruise terminal.
It’s a small and compact city and very walkable. You can find the remains of the Punic ramparts along the hill, and the restored Roman Theater as well as the Roman Colonnade and the House of Fortune in the city center.
Cartagena also has several museums. Aside from the Roman Theater Museum there is ARQUA Marine Archaeology Museum, the Municipal Archaeology Museum, the Military Museum, the Spanish Civil War Museum, and the Naval Museum.
You can also catch the elevator or walk up the Castillo de la Concepción where you’ll find excellent views of the town, the harbor, and the mountains.
Then you can wander around Calle Mayor the pedestrian street paved with blue marble that connects the Plaza de San Sebastián to the city hall. It’s lined with modernist buildings that are home to trendy shops, bars, and restaurants. Don’t be afraid to grab a table for some tasty tapas and a glass of wine as you watch the world pass by!
Ready for that Spanish getaway? Call Savvy Nana Travel, we specialize in family and group travel!
France is one of my favorite countries to visit. Wine, crepes, fashion, and shopping; what’s not to love? For most of us the mention of France brings Paris to mind. But there is much more to France than the City of Lights! Last week I wrote about 4 of my favorite must see French towns. Well I decided that those four towns though superb aren’t nearly enough! So this week I’ll write about four more!
Again the must see French towns I’m talking about today barely touch the surface. But I’ll try to talk about some towns that I think will appeal to different interests. So whether you’re a history buff, conspiracy theorist, pilgrim, or wine connoisseur I hope one of these towns will spark your imagination!
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Chartres is a commune and the capital of the Eure-et-Loire department of France. It’s located 90 kilometers southwest of Paris and is easily accessible by car and train.
This medieval town is known world wide for it’s beautiful Gothic Cathedral which features a labyrinth. This cathedral known as the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres (Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is described as “a masterpiece…a high point of French Gothic art.”
The Cathedral we see today was built over the remains of a smaller cathedral that had burned down. It was mostly constructed between 1194 and 1220. It is very well preserved with most of its original stain glass windows intact.
Many tourist visit Chartres just to see this beautiful church. Architectural fans stand in awe at this building. But it is also a pilgrimage site.
Long before the cathedral was built the city was already an important pilgrimage site where devotees paid homage to early Christian martyrs including Saints Piat, Cheron, and Modesta, whose bodies were believed to have been tossed in the area on the north side of the church now called Puit des Saint-Forts (Well of the Strong Saints).
Chartes is also a church for the veneration of the Virgin Mary. It is home to the Sancta Camisa, believed to be the tunic worn by the Blessed Mother at the time of Christ’s birth. Legend has it that this tunic was gifted to the cathedral in 876 by none other than Charlemagne who supposedly got if from Emperor Constatine VI during a crusade in Jerusalem. This legend has been disproven and it is believed that the gift from Charles the Bald and there is no evidence of its importance prior to the 12th. Century.
The cathedral has also been the setting for many books that claim to explore the mysteries of the cathedral, its symbols, and of course the labyrinth. So it is a stop for conspiracy theorists as well.
Other than the Cathedral there are museums to visit, markets and fairs to explore, and of course cafes and restaurants to try.
Today Versailles is a wealthy suburb of Paris. Located in the Île-de-France region 17 kilometers from Paris, Versailles is a major tourist destination known for the Chateau de Versailles and its exquisite gardens and fountains.
The town was founded by Louis XIV and was the de facto capital of France for over a century between 1682 and 1789. The chateau is steeped in history having been home to French royalty including Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette.
In modern times this UNESCO World Heritage site holds a place in history for being the venue where the Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolution and the Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I were signed. Today it is mostly a tourist attraction and is the place where the Congress of France gathers to vote on revisions to the constitution.
The chateau and its surrounding buildings are definitely worth the visit. It is home to several galleries including the Hall of Mirrors where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, and the coach gallery. You can also visit the Queen’s Hamlet and the Trianon estates as well as the gardens and fountains of course.
The gardens are amazing and vast. There are rivers and fountains, statues, and of course trees and flowers. I find the best way to get around the garden is by renting a golf cart for a couple of hours. It’s fun and allows you to see more than when you’re on foot.
Ruoen is the capital of the Normandy region of France. It is situated on the River Seine 135 kilometers north of Paris.
It was one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe and was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy during the Middle Ages. It was also where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.
Today a simple field of wild flowers marks the place of her martyrdom and a modern church dedicated to St. Joan d’Arc stands nearby.
I’m sure a visit to this church is a must when in town, but Ruoen’s main claim to fame is it’s majestic Gothic Cathédrale de Ruoen. This cathedral became Claude Monet’s obsession and inspired him to paint its facade in a series of 30 painting depicting it in all seasons and times.
Le Gros Horloge, the big clock in the center of town is another attraction. You can climb to the top for some city views. There are also several art museums, of course they feature Monet’s work, to visit as well as some really great markets. You can also stop by to see the macabre ornamentations on the building of the Aitre St-Maclou. This was the site of a mass cemetery during the Black Plague of the Middle Ages then turned into a boys’ school in the 18th. century.
Carcassone is a fortified city in the south of France. It is located in the Languedoc-Rousillion area of the Occitanie region.
It is known for its double walled city that is a castle. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a popular tourist destination where one can wander around the enchanting city, walk between the walls, and visit museums,churches, cathedrals, and shops.
Carcassone is located in the middle of what used to be Cathar country. Cathars were a sect of Christianity who believed that their religion was basically the purest form of Christian religion. They were strict adherents of the teaching of Jesus Christ and had little faith in priests and clergy. Of course their beliefs were directly opposite of the accepted beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church who labeled them heretics. During the Inquisition the Roman Catholic Church teamed up with secular kings to capture and convert the Cathars and confiscate their lands. Needless to say it did not end well for the poor Cathars.
Carcassone is a popular place for folks interested in Cathar history, conspiracy theories, the quest for the Holy Grail, and fans of the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code. It is a good place to base yourself to explore the city and its surrounding areas. The Languedoc region is steeped in secrets, mysteries, and lore connected to Mary Magdalene, the Merovigian bloodline (the bloodline many believe to be the descendants of Jesus Christ and his wife Mary Magdalen), and the Knights Templar (you had to know they’d pop up in this region somehow!).
Located just 84 kilometers away is Montségur and its fortified hilltop château. This castle was the site where the Cathars made their last stand against the conquering armies of the Crusades. The siege lasted months and finally ended with many of the Cathars choosing to march into the flames rather than be captured and converted. The stronghold built on the site of an older castle and Cathar Church is also believed to be home to many treasures including the Holy Grail. You can walk around the hill or make the climb to the top to see the castle.
Renne-le-Château is 44 kilometers away. It is a very popular place for conspiracy theorists and Grail hunters. The small hilltop village is steeped in Magdalene and Merovigian lore. In fact it’s church is dedicated to the Saint. One of its mysteries involves the 19th. Century priest Berénger Saunière who is believed to have dug up a vast treasure (that’s one theory) or discovered some sort of deep dark secret he used to extort money from the church (that’s another theory). What ever he did he somehow one day came up with large sums of money which he used to restore, rebuild, and build his house, the church, and the Magdalene Tower. Other village lore say that Mary Magdalene lived there after the crucifixion and raised her child there. Whether you’re a conspiracy theorist, a Dan Brown fan, or just a casual tourist you won’t be able to resist the mystic lure of the village when you visit.
So there you have it 4 must see French towns. Each has something to offer folks with varying interests. Ready to plan your French adventure or perhaps your personal quest for the Holy Grail? Call Savvy Nana Travel, we’ll help you build an awesome itinerary!
Are you planning to take a trip to the USA soon? Aside from enjoying the many tourist spots and great food in the country, the USA is also a great place to party! However, you need to make sure that you are safe wherever you go. Here are some tips on how you can party safe in the USA.
1. Choose a good location – The right location is something you should plan for. There are many establishments that you can choose from, especially if you are in the urbanized cities. Aside from making sure that the place has a low crime rate, you should also make sure that the establishment itself is safe. There should be enough fire exits if ever you need to use it. When it gets too crowded in the club, see if you can move to a location that will not make you feel too claustrophobic.
2. Stick to your limit when it comes to alcohol – It would be unfortunate to wake up the next morning after a night party without any recollection of the events that transpired the night before. To prevent this from happening, do not drink a lot of alcohol. Stick to your limit and even if you are pressured, you need to be firm in refusing.
3. Don’t let others top up your drink for you – One of the worst things that can happen at a party is that you become a victim of sexual assault. Many people fall victim to date-rape drugs. You need to be vigilant about this especially if you are not with your friends at a party. The easiest way to be a victim of date-rape drugs is when someone slips it into your drink. To be safe, never let anyone get a drink for you. You need to be the one to get it from the bar or pour it yourself.
4. Be with a group you trust – If you are traveling with a group of friends, you should stick with them so that you can look out after each other. This will not be a problem if you really traveled to the USA with a group of friends. Always make sure you know the whereabouts of everyone in your group, and have a plan if ever you decide to go to separate locations. But if you are traveling solo, you will need to take precautions. Have your phone with you at all times, bring a whistle or even pepper spray.
5. Choose safe transportation – This part also falls under preplanning. You need to make sure that you have transportation not just in going to the club or party location, but also when you leave. If you rent a car, make sure that you are sober and can drive the vehicle. You may also schedule a cab or car service to pick you up if you already want to leave or go to another place. Some also opt to go for party bus rental as it is not only safer but actually more fun.
Ok I admit it! When I hear France I automatically think of Paris, specially Paris in the Spring time. I mean seriously, food, wine, art, fashion, and shopping, what’s not to love? But there is more to France than the City of Lights. There are many enchanting French towns that one must see.
Let’s face it Paris is amazing but can be overwhelming. It’s always busy no matter what time of year you visit. The museums are packed with crowds and enough art and artifacts that you’re head will spin. And just how many days can you survive shopping til you drop? (I can last about 3 before I call it quits!) That’s when a visit to one or more of these enchanting French towns comes in handy, if only to get away from the maddening crowds!
French towns are as diverse as they are charming. Each one holds a special charm that will appeal to folks with various interests. If you’re a great fan of Impressionist artists there are French towns for you; history buffs will find most French towns are steeped in history from prehistoric times to the not so distant past; conspiracy theorists will love the “mysterious” Languedoc region; and wine connoisseurs will love sampling wines from the different regions. So where ever your interests lie there’s a French town just waiting for you to explore!
Here are a just four of my favorite French towns to get you started. Maybe one of them will capture your imagination enough to plan a visit!
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Located just 12 Kilometers from the French city of Nice, Èze is a fortified Medieval village in the Alpe-Maritime region of southeastern France.
This lovely village is the most accessible perched villages of France. It towers like an aerie above the coast and is surrounded by stone ramparts and crowned by the ruins of an old medieval chateau.
The towns cobble stone streets can get pretty steep, thank goodness for the handrails! Some parts of the uphill street is not for the faint of heart, it’s quite a trek. But trust me the climb is so worth it! When you reach the top you will be treated to a jaw dropping view of the Mediterranean Sea and the surrounding countryside.
The narrow streets are lined with shops and restaurants so there’s always somewhere close where you can stop for a short break before continuing to the top.
Located 1310 feet above sea level you can visit the Jardin Exotique. It’s a garden filled with rare succulents, typical Mediterranean vegetation, and Jean-Philippe Richard sculptures. But most importantly it is blessed with spectacular views. On clear days you can see all the way to Corsica!
When you’re done admiring the views, sampling the cuisine, and wandering the shops walk down to the Fragonard Perfume factory located at the bottom of the road. The factory makes perfumes, soaps, and cosmetics and has free tours daily. After the tour you can browse the showroom, I’m sure you’ll find something that will catch your eye, and nose! I bought a few yellow duck soaps for the grandkids!
Reims, pronounced RaNs, is a very important city not far from Paris. In fact it’s a mere half an hour away from Charles de Gualle airport.
Wine lovers and Monet fans will love this great city. Located in the middle of the Champagne region and sitting on top of a labyrinth of chalk caves Reims is the headquarters of many of the great champagne houses collectively known as le grandes marques.
The houses of Tattinger, Veuve Cliquot, Piper Heidsieck, and Ruinart to name a few have their main offices in the city and age their champagne deep in the caves below. Many of them offer cave tours followed by champagne tasting year round.
Many of the caves date back to Roman times and the tour is really quite interesting. Of course your reward for walking down into the caves is a wonderful glass or two of the bubbly. It really is like drinking stars!
Monet fans will recognize the Gothic Reims Cathedral. The famous Impressionist artist painted this lofty catherdal over 30 times! He painted it at different times of day to capture it’s glory in all types of lighting. Aside from being a Monet favorite the Reims Cathedral was where French kings were crowned for about 1000 years. The well decorated cathedral features many stained glass windows including those done by Marc Chagall. One of the transept windows by Jacques Simon features a portrait of Dom Perignon the monk credited with the invention of champagne!
There are many other sites to see in this pedestrian friendly city. You can also spend some time kicking back at one of the many cafes. Go ahead treat yourself to a bottle of the bubbly and just people watch, I recommend it!
Saint-Paul-de-Vence is then one of the oldest fortified medieval villages in the Alpe-Maritimes region of France.
This little hilltop town is known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries. One can hardly walk a few feet in this village without stumbling upon an art gallery.
Many notable artists and actors have visited this old French fortress town. Some including Marc Chagall and Donald Pleasence have called it home. Here you will find the grave of Marc Chagall.
A walk in the south side of the village will bring you to some steps at the top of which you will find the Vu (view) which overlooks the charming cemetery, surrounding hills, and the mountains. On the west side of the village at Bastion St. Remy you can catch a glimpse of the sea. Here you will have a view of the snow covered Alps on one side and the sparkling Mediterranean Sea on the other.
And don’t forget to check out the shops. Aside from beautiful artwork you’ll find some unique and moderately priced crafts and costume jewelry. I’m sure you won’t be able to resist buying a trinket or two!
The tiny agricultural village of Chenonceaux is in the Loire Valley. It sits on the right bank of the River Cher which is a tributary of the Loire River.
It’s a tiny little town that has about 500 permanent residents. Its claim to fame is the Chateau de Chenonceau one of the most photographed chateau in the Loire Valley.
The Chateau spans the River Cher. There have been written accounts of the estate of Chenonceau dating back to the 11th. Century, but the current chateau was built over a ruined mill in 1514-1522. The bridge expanding the chateau over the river was erected in 1556-1559, the gallery over the bridge was built in 1570-1576.
This chateau has seen a fairly long list of owners beginning with the Marques family in the 13th. Century. It was purchased from the Marques family by Thomas Bohier (chamberlain to King Charles VIII of France) in 1513 and it was him and his wife who are credited for building the main part of the chateau.
It was later confiscated by Francis I of France for unpaid debts to the crown and upon his death gifted by Henry II to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. It was she who built the bridge over the river. Upon Henry’s death the chateau was wrested from de Poitiers by none other than his widow Catherine de’Medici who added the gallery over the bridge and expanded the gardens. And so it went from owner to owner until it ended up in the hands of Henri Menier a member of the Menier family who are known for their chocolates.
A day trip to Chenonceaux can be part of a Loire Valley excursion where you can visit one or two other Loire Valley Chateaux like the nearby Clos Lucé in Amboise where Leonardo Da Vinci lived the last 3 years of his life, and Chateau de Chambord.
These are just 4 of my favorite French towns. Check back for more French towns that I love.
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