Cruises – take in a whole lot of the world in a short trip

cruise ship costa atlantica
MANY independent travellers take a dim view of cruises as a way of seeing the world and experiencing different cultures. You are following a pure tourist trail, the argument goes. You are not mingling with the locals and experiencing their culture at a meaningful level.

Backpackers in particular often view cruises as travel for older people, with more money, who only want to stop in a place for a few days at a time.

I don’t go along with that view. It seems to me a seven or ten-day cruise offers a fabulous chance, if you can afford it, to sample different countries and decide which you would like to see more of.

For instance, a Mediterranean cruise might offer the chance to visit Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Greek islands, and Turkey, all in the same trip.

On a Caribbean cruise you can take in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as well as Jamaica and various islands in the sun.
h2Cruise extras/h2
You aren’t obliged to use the tours sold on board the cruise ship. It’s often more fun finding your own way around. For example, a port stop at Naples in Italy offers the chance to visit Pompeii, possibly the greatest Roman site of all…… and you can do it by catching a local train.

In some cases it may be better to opt for the organised tour from the ship. A visit to Bethlehem or Cairo’s famous Egyptian Museum can be a bit intimidating without a chaperone who knows the area.

Follow globewanderer for a forthcoming series of articles about cruising. The next one will set out the options for people considering a cruise for the first time.

Choosing the right ship for you is possibly the most important thing of all so watch our for some helpful tips and advice. We will offer as much lowdown as possible an cruise ships and destinations around the world.

The Music City of Nashville

Nashville Music City

Downtown Nashville

Nashville is a big-hearted friendly southern USA city dedicated to music

The heartbeat of Nashville is an area where 2nd Avenue dissects Broadway, just a stone’s throw from the Cumberland River. This is Music City and it doesn’t disappoint.

Band after band can be found in bar after bar belting out their own live songs and the enjoyment goes on day and night. For the price of a beer, you can listen to one of the numerous bands that head to the city in search of recognition.

If you don’t like the band you can head for another bar until you the find music you like. It’s not all country music either. You can find rock and roll, blues, crooners, honky tonk. Take your pick. On 2nd Avenue, B.B. King’s blues club and restaurant is a famous venue.

Nice thing about downtown is that It’s not hyped up and over-commercialised and I hope it never will be. By day, there’s a casual and friendly family atmosphere which is totally enjoyable. By night it becomes even livelier as revellers flock in to bar hop and enjoy everything from retro-disco to line-dance hootenanny.

Broadway in downtown Nashville

Broadway, downtown Nashville

This downtown Nashville area, known as the District, is within walking distance of most of the venues and centres that have made this small city famous.

Between 2nd and 5th avenues lie the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium and the Johnny Cash Museum, the state capitol building, the Tennessee State Museum, the Tennessee Centre for the Performing Arts, the Tennessee Convention Centre.

One thing about walking in the USA, many Americans consider any distance more than two blocks away to require a taxi. My hotel was between 25th and 26th Avenue so the hotel staff were just about imploring me to use shuttle or taxi.

But, after establishing it was safe to walk this area, I walked it and was rewarded with some great views of the Nashville skyline and a wander in to Music Row, on 16th and 17th, which houses famous old recording studios currently the subject of a battle for their conservation.

But for one thing, Nashville would be like any other party city throughout the world. That one thing is genuine grass roots music. The city’s love for it makes it a special place. I can’t think of any other city I have visited that compares with it. Maybe New Orleans, but New Orleans has an edge to it and you have to be careful where you go. Not so in Nashville.

When I was there, Paul McCartney was playing the Bridgestone Arena and I was lucky enough to take in his show. As I left towards midnight, after watching this great British musician perform non-stop for three hours showcasing 39 songs, the band in the bar across the road was playing a rousing version of Hey Jude. Nashville was buzzing.

Set on a bluff by the Cumberland River and surrounded by farmland, Nashville attracts millions of visitors each year, most coming for the country music.

Its other Mecca is The Grand Ole Opry which is 12 miles away from the city’s downtown area. The weekly country music stage concert presents the biggest stars of that genre. Founded in 1925 by George D. Hay it is also among the longest-running radio broadcasts in history.

http://globewanderer.co.uk/category/usa/georgia/

http://youtu.be/OU_BvX-k_iw




Go West, but not too far, to enjoy the sub-tropical climate of England’s Scilly Isles

Skybus flight to Scilly Isles

The view from the Skybus from Exeter to the Scilly Isles

IT’s hard to believe that a short plane or boat hop from the west coast of England can take you to a sub-tropical paradise but the Scilly Isles are said to be probably Britain’s best-kept secret.

The five inhabited islands in the archipelago, 28 miles off Lands End in Cornwall, bask in the Gulf Stream and boast white sand beaches and flora and fauna you don’t see in England.

One of the most exciting ways to arrive is by the Skybus which flies to the islands from Land’s End, Newquay and Exeter.

It offers spectacular views and a ride you won’t forget easily in a Twin Otter 16-seater plane.

On landing at St Mary’s Island, one of the first things I noticed was the ubiquitous and fascinating aeonium plant.

This large rubbery multi-headed succulent, which looks like a cactus sprouting cabbage heads,  comes in green and red versions and basks everywhere in the greenery of Scilly as proof of its claim to a sub-tropical climate.

The Scilly Isles are places of great contrast and Tresco, the second largest island,  is perhaps the best example of this.

The Abbey Gardens, in the sheltered southern tip of the island, is able to support a range of wonderful southern-hemisphere plants.

Yet the exposed granite outcrops of its northern shores are sculpted by fierce Atlantic gales during the short winter period, creating a rugged and heather strewn landscape more familiar to Britain.

The gardens were started in 1834 and also house the Valhalla marine museum of figureheads reclaimed from the ancient  shipwrecks the island was once notorious for.

There are some interesting north of England connections here with some of the ships built in the region. One was the River Lune, an iron barque of 1,172 tons built in Wallsend in 1868.

Although only 11-years-old, her wreck fetched no more than £55 after she went down on the rocks.

Cars are not allowed on Tresco making it an ideal spot for a complete getaway and the best way to enjoy the island is either by walking or cycling. The coastal rambler pathways and beaches beg you to explore them.

St. Mary’s is the largest island of the Scilly Isles at 2½ miles by 1¾ miles and is home to about three quarters of Scilly’s population.

This is where all visitors arrive and either stay or are filtered out by boat journeys to the other islands – Tresco, Bryher, St Martin’s and St Agnes.

St Mary’s is served by three means of transport – a steamship company and a heliport are based in Penzance. Flights operate from Newquay, Exeter, Bristol and Southampton airports.

Useful website:http://www.simplyscilly.co.uk/




Ten great days out on the French Riviera

 

French Riviera - hilltop village of Eze

Hilltop village of Eze

French Riviera – Côte d’Azur – to do list

*Have a day out in Monaco during the week of the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s often said that Monaco is the star attraction of the French Riviera without being part of France. The tiny principality has been a symbol of wealth and glamour ever since its Prince Rainier married Hollywood star Grace Kelly in its cathedral in 1956. Visitors can gamble in the casino made famous by James Bond or watch the luxury yachts sitting quietly at anchor in the stunning harbour. But you don’t have to be a high roller to enjoy it. Its superb gardens and terraces, with dazzling views, are free and the locals give a warm welcome. And see my video clip below about grand prix day.

*Have a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, followed by a drink in the sumptuous Hotel Negresco, where doormen still dress in the manner of the staff in 18th-century mansions. In 2003 it was listed by the government of France as a National Historic Building. The main thoroughfare of Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur,  is named after the English after the wealthy 19th century visitors, who made it one of the first European resorts for travellers from the UK, stumped up cash.

*Take a train ride to Italy. It is inexpensive and total value for money. For a few euros you can ride from Nice to Ventimiglia, just over the border. The sights along the way are fantastic and include Monaco and Villefranche-sur-Mer.

*Visit the perched village of Eze, a medieval village perched like an eagles nest on a narrow rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean sea. The ancient fortified village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century fortified castle sitting on a narrow rocky peak. The castle grounds house the well-known Jardin Exotique

*Enjoy a scenic walk between the Côte d’Azur villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer and next-door neighbour Beaulieu-sur-Mer. This walk of around three quarters of an hour starts in Villefranche’s historic harbour, a favourite with cruise ships. It also takes you past Villa Nellcôte, the exotic location famous as the place where the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile On Main St album.

*Visit the Manet museum in Nice and Vieux Nice – the old town. The museum, on a hill in the Cimiez neighbourhood, houses the collection the artist and his heirs left to the city. The old town is an atmospheric honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Great place to eat out and party at night.

* Cannes is famous for its prestigious film festival which this year is from May 15 to 26. It has museums, churches and art galleries to see but the main attraction seems to be sitting in a cafe along the shore and watching people go by. If you don’t want to spend you can enjoy the seaside from one of its many piers and jetties.

* Inland slightly from the coast, the small town of Grasse is noted for being the centre of production for many of the world’s best perfumes. Visitors can visit the perfumeries that are strewn around the village or head out into the hills and enjoy walking through the unspoilt countryside.

*Hire a car and drive with care the French Riviera coastal roads between Cannes and Monaco. Enjoyable, with a feast of sights for the eyes, but to be avoided in peak holiday periods.

*Antibes, halfway between Nice and Cannes, sits atop the ruins of the fourth century BC Greek city of Antipolis. It has beaches and a port, an enjoyable old town, fortifications, good hiking, and a great Picasso collection.  It also has a traditional daily market.

Huelva – Spain’s fascinating south west corner

Columbus ships La Rabida

Replicas of the Columbus ships

Columbus statue La Rabida

The Columbus monument

No getting away from Huelva’s iconic explorer

Columbus (406 x 342)Its name doesn’t trip off the tongue like Barcelona or Madrid and it’s certainly not on the list of top destinations for visitors to Spain.
In fact, the small Andalusian city of Huelva, and province of the same name, is one of the least visited of all in the country. Yet it has so much to offer – from beautiful beaches to magnificent mountains and a maritime history second to none.
To say the city’s links with Christopher Columbus are understated is to put it mildly. In this area, Columbus, an Italian, lived for two years while he strove to win the backing of the Spanish crown for his expeditions to the New World and the discovery of America.
Statues of Cristóbal Colón, as he is known in Spain, are everywhere, the most prominent being the giant Columbus monument on at the confluence of the rivers Tinto and Odiel. His exploits also form the centrepieces of several museums.
I think they are maybe taken for granted in Spain and certainly don’t seem to be being sold to the outside world to the extent that they could.
On the Río Tinto estuary, the Muelle de las Carabelas (Harbour of the Caravels) is a quay with life-size replicas of Columbus’s three ships: the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María, built for the 500th anniversary celebrations in 1992. Yet when I arrived in mid-September, just after the end of the Spanish schools’ summer holiday, I found I had picked the wrong day. It had just started to close on a Monday. Disappointed visitors were wandering around aimlessly after making the trip to see it. The centre itself, although modern, looked tired, like a neglected fairground attraction, and in need of a big tidy-up.
Getting there by car had proved a challenge as signage for La Rábida from the city centre was virtually non-existent. Not far from the replica ships is the very well kept Monasterio de Santa María de la Rábida where Columbus stayed with the monks and expounded his plans while waiting for the royal go-ahead from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The monastery is next to botanical gardens full of exotic plants and has a museum detailing the discovery of the New World and Columbus’s life. You could quite easily spend a day at La Rábida.
Another Columbus site is Palos de la Frontera, a small fishing village on the River Tinto 10km upstream from Huelva City where, in 1492, Columbus set sail westwards to make history after recruiting mariners from in and around the village for his trip.
There are still more Columbus sites but I had better stop there and mention a couple of other things.

A British connection

Huelva city has a major historical industrial connection with Britain. Its famous copper mines, worked by the Romans, were sold in to a British headed consortium and the Riotinto Company Ltd. was founded in March 1873.!
The mines became one of the world’s major sources of copper and sulphur and the Riotinto company brought with them many British workers and to make Huelva a home from home built typically Victorian houses to accommodate them. They are even credited with bringing football to Spain.There is still much to be seen of this influence in museums and architecture and also the huge Pena del Hierro mine and the mining railway. The metal quayside built by the Riotinto company at Huelva port is now used as walkways by the locals and is well worth a visit.
The Huelva region is also home to the Parque Nacional de Doñana, one of Europe’s most important wetland areas with an incredible variety of wildlife in its sand dunes, marshes, pine woods, salt flats and freshwater lagoons. It is one of Europe’s last remaining habitats for the endangered lynx and the rare Spanish Imperial Eagle. The best time to visit is in winter and spring when the park is full of wildfowl. In winter thousands of geese and ducks arrive from the north, while in spring there are many flocks of breeding birds, including herons, spoonbills and storks.
In the north of the province is the gently rolling Parque Natural Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche, a protected area with excellent walking opportunities.
For me, the best thing about Huelva was wandering around the city in the early evening when everyone spills out in to its abundant parks and open spaces to enjoy themselves. Skaters, cyclists, joggers, keep fit enthusiasts and strollers invade these areas along with young children and their parents. It is one continuous open air festival until night falls. What a quality of life!