Saturday, 30 April 2011

Destination Tips

Here are some sightseeing tips for the cities listed in this blog: where to go, what to do, how to get the most out of your visit! If you have any suggestions of your own, just add your comments at the bottom!

Athens:
  • One of the most fun spots in the Plaka old town is Mnisikleous Street, near the Roman Agora. It is lined with little tavernas and cafés, and the steep, narrow lane is full of tables. Try it out!
Mnisikleous Street at night
Auckland:
  • Take the ferry out to Waiheke Island for a great escape. You can then take the bus from the ferry landing to the beach at Onitangi Bay for a great day out. The little restaurant at the beach is a great place to end your day trip into the Hauraki Gulf.
  • One of the most amazing days I ever had was canyoning in the Piha River ravine. You'll be climbing, abseiling, jumping and swimming your way down the canyon. AWOL Adventures even drive you there (on the west coast) from downtown Auckland. 
Canyoning along the Piha River
  • And while you're at it, Piha Beach itself is totally gorgeous: giant rock formations, giant waves, surrounded by nature preserves.  One of the most impressive beaches you'll ever experience!
Bamberg: 
  • Bamberg is the true world capital of beer. There are loads of small breweries scattered throughout the town, with specialties found only here, like brown beer and smoked beer. The first documented beer-house was mentioned in 1093, making beer brewing/drinking a 1000-year Bamberger tradition. And in Bavaria, beer is legally counted as a basic food-stuff, making it cheap and plentiful. Smooth, tasty brown beer is brewed exclusively by Klosterbräu. Visit their hidden-away brewery/inn on Obere Mühlbrücke 1 in the little lanes south of the cathedral. The service is friendly, and you can eat and drink for small budgets. By the way, Klosterbräu itself has been brewing beer in the same building for over 500 years. The present owners, the Braun family, have owned it for 5 generations. Prost!
Turn left at the corner to get to Klosterbräu!
 Basel:
  • Cross the Rhine in one of the 4 pedestrian ferries. These unique boats have no motors: they are just pointed diagonally towards the other side of the river and let the current push them across. They just cost a couple of franken and operate well into the evening.

One of the motorless Basel ferries
Berlin:
  • Don't miss out on a visit to the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, the most lively area of town. I especially like the Kulturbrauerei on Schönhauser Allee. It's an old Schultheiss Beer brewery that has been turned into artists' workshops, performance venues, cinemas, bars, you name it. All located in the maze of old factory structures. Take a look at their website here: Kulturbrauerei.
  • Just around the corner is Berlin's oldest beer-garden, the PraterGarten on Kastanienallee 6. Great on a summer evening.
The PraterGarten on a summer evening
Bucharest:
  • An absolute requirement for any visit to Bucharest is to spend an evening in Caru' cu Bere at Strada Stavropoleos 5, one block south of Strada Lipscani in the old town. This fascinating old-world experience serves good food, great home-made beer (in 1-liter mugs!) and has live show-dancing. Make sure you reserve a table in advance: it's packed every night.
The author doing some QA work at Caru' cu Bere
Cologne (Köln):
  • In nice weather, I like to grab a great pork sandwich at Zum Spannferkel in the old town on Buttermarkt near Salzgasse, and eat it just a few steps away at the riverside, and people-watch there. Try it with the sauteed onions!
  • The old town is full of great pubs, the friendliest in Germany, about all of which can be recommended. There are quite a few brewery pubs, serving the local kölsch beer (fairly light-tasting beer in tiny glasses). Some, like Haxenhaus, Peters Brauhaus, Sünner im Walfisch have great atmosphere. One, Altmarkt Treff, has zero atmosphere, but a very friendly barkeeper and regulars who love talking with foreigners. If you want a change of beer, there is also an Irish pub on Altmarkt, and a Czech place for Pilsener Urquell on Salzgasse.
  • Papa Joe's Jazzlokal is a Köln institution, with live music every night with no cover charges. Look down at the floor when you enter the place: you can see a Roman mosaic down in the basement through a sheet of glass.
Inside Papa Joe's
  • Try walking up the cathedral tower. You'll wind your way up hundreds of steps on an ever-narrowing staircase. To me, it seemed like it would never end, and was one of the few times I've felt vertigo (but I quickly recovered). The view from the top is breathtaking. In the era before skyscrapers, this was the world's highest man-made structure.
Copenhagen:
  • For a bizarre evening out, make sure you head for Freetown Christiania. You can eat at Nemoland, at the south end of Pusher Street. It is a very laid-back collection of food stands and bars where you can eat and drink inside and out for a decent price. I only had a bottle of Christiania Beer with my fried rice, but many of the patrons were smoking joints the size of ice-cream cones!
Dinner at Nemoland. Skol!
Denver:
  • Downtown Denver has a wonderful selection of restaurants, cafés and clubs along the semi-pedestrian 16th Street Mall. The whole street has developed into a great place to spend the evening, and is traversed by the free shuttle buses that run the length of the street. A great place to eat is the Cheesecake Factory, near Larimer Street, with a huge menu, outdoor seating and good service.
Along 16th Street at the Cheesecake Factory
Düsseldorf:
  • A nice place to go in the evenings, and a good alternative to the often overfilled Altstadt, is the Pempelfort neighborhood. This largely quiet neighborhood has a large share of restaurants, pubs and cafés, and all of them have outdoor seating in nice weather. The area is just a couple of blocks east of the Rheinpark. The corner of Nordstraße and Schwerinstraße forms the heart of the evening life, but I like to head down Schwerinstraße towards Pfalzstraße, for places like Mutt's pub, Spaceburger and Café a GoGo.
Edinburgh:
  • A great evening is guaranteed if you like live music and head into the Scotsman's Lounge on Cockburn Street, just off the High Street. Scottish folk music, very similar to Irish, regularly rings out through the old pub, where you can get a real feel for Scottish culture.
Gainesville:
  • Everybody's favorite place to eat in Gainesville, Florida is Satchel's Pizza at 1800 NE 23rd Ave. The pizza itself is great, but even better is the crazy setting: bizarre artwork made of junk, a junk museum, and a shop that sells all kinds of fascinating toys (more junk). The favorite place to sit is in the old Ford Falcon van parked in the front yard.
Satchel's Pizza: you'll never forget it!
Hamburg:
  • Take the ferry number 62 from Landungsbrücken for a great boat tour of the river. If you already have a HVV bus/U-Bahn day-card, the ferry is free! Get out at Övelgönne to see the museum ships, and the end-station on the island of Finkenwerder has a lot of nice old houses to view. I like to eat lunch in Övelgönne at Sutche, a friendly waterside restaurant with good burgers right at the museum harbor.
Museum ships at Övelgönne
  • In warm weather, if you want to enjoy some people-watching in Hamburg's notorious St. Pauli neighborhood, take a seat at an outside table at Herzblut St. Pauli, directly on the Reeperbahn, across from the Spielbudenplatz. Good food, good beer, strange encounters.
  • If you speak German, you'll love one of these evening tours through St. Pauli: see the sights with Titten Tina or Johnny King (a great rock-n-roll singer). You'll wander the streets, visit a boxing club, and end up at a little cellar club with free drinks and Johnny's stage show. The tour commentaries are entertaining, and it's a great way to get a feel for the neighborhood. Well worth the EUR30+ price. See their web site here.
Hong Kong:
  • For a total contrast to the busy city, take the ferry to Lamma Island. The island only has a couple of villages on it, and no cars. There is a popular hiking trail over the steep hills that you can follow from Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan. Yung Shue Wan has an almost European beach-town feeling, and Sok Kwu Wan is a fishing village with a temple and a row of good waterfront fish restaurants along the secluded bayside. A great day out, only I wish I could exactly remember the route to describe it in this blog!
Istanbul:
  • For a great evening venue in the Sultanahmet old town, you can't go wrong at Palatium, a relaxed restaurant/café on Kutlugün street, next to the Four Seasons Hotel. Palatium is a glass-walled construction with a nice outside terrace out back. The front side is furnished with easy chairs and sofas for hanging out with a coffee, a cocktail or a hookah. And part of the floor is made of glass, exposing the excavation below of a section of the Byzantine Emperor's palace, which the owners paid for themselves, trucking out tons of sediment. The food is good, the family that runs it is friendly and the prices are fair: a very cool hangout.
Looking through the glass floor in the Palatium
  • Beyoglu (Pera) near the Galata Tower, is full of restaurants and clubs, a totally pulsating area packed with fun-seakers. One of the best streets to head for a meal is the small side street, Nevizade, just off the Çiçek Passage. The narrow pedestrian street is lined with restaurants on both sides, and each restaurant has a guy outside trying to corral each passerby. But it's worth the effort to go into the Imroz Restaurant. It will be packed with locals when the others are still almost empty, always a good sign. You can fill up with typical Turkish mezes (tapas) and a variety of mains. Not only were the waiters friendly, but the other guests as well. I've seldom felt so at home as in the Imroz.
Jena:
  • For an evening out, head for the Wagnergasse, which begins across from the Johannistor city gate tower. This pedestrian street is lined with student pubs and restaurants. The classic hangout is Stilbruch, but it's hard to find free seats. Good luck!
Las Vegas:
  • If you want a down-to-earth place to eat, try the Fatburger on the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) across from the Monte Carlo Hotel/Casino. They have great hand-made hamburgers, chilli, good fries and super-thick shakes in a funky atmosphere.
Lisbon:
  • Ride the number 28 tram line through the most scenic parts of town. The ancient cars (100 years old) look like the San Francisco cable cars, and sometimes they travel up inclines just as steep as those in SF. You can also connect it with the 15 line for a ride all the way west to Belem.
Tram going through the Baixa
  •  Chapito, Rua da Costa do Castelo 7, is the place to have a great meal: located on the hillside below the castle, with a view of the river, and good food. They have an outside grill, plus a couple of inside restaurants. The grill with the outside seating, though, is the place to be.
  • Another great view is found in the LOSTin bistro and bar right next to the Miradouro Park in Bairro Alto, at Rua D.Pedro V, 56. The view from the back terrace is breathtaking, but small: if you get a table, you'll be lucky. 
London:
  • On a Friday afternoons or Saturdays, visit the Borough Market at the south end of London Bridge. The gourmet food stands are irresistible, the bordering pubs offer the necessary refreshments, and the Southwark Cathedral next-door is exquisite: take a look inside.
  • For a nice pint and a meal on a quiet part of the Thames, go to Hammersmith. There is a walkway along the river next to Hammersmith Bridge (the "Flyover") with a couple of pubs worth visiting. In nice weather, you can sit out on the embankment or at one of the outside tables. The Blue Anchor and the Rutland pubs are the place to be for a relaxed riverside beer and a pub dinner.
  • London's theater scene is one of the liveliest in the world. There are dozens of great West End shows running at any one time. The only problem is that they're expensive. So that's where all the half-price ticket-sales offices around Leicester Square come to the rescue. You're sure to find cheap last-minute seats if you look around.
Break-time at the musical "Once," playing at the Phoenix
Madrid:
  • Somehow, I always feel drawn to Madrid's Plaza Santa Anna (a few blocks southeast of the Puerta del Sol) when I want to sit down outside on a nice evening to enjoy some Spanish food and wine. The line of restaurants along and in the plaza offer a great variety of tapas and sangria, and provide the perfect place for relaxed people-watching and just hanging out. A great way to relax after a long run!
Melbourne:
  • I really like going out to dinner on Lygon Street, in the university neighborhood, just north of the Central Business District. The street is one long line of restaurants with outdoor seating. Most of them are Italian places: I don't know how they all stay in business, but it's a great place to go!
Lygon Steet in the evening
Miami Beach:
  • I can't ever resist stopping into Jerry's Diner on Collins Avenue for a taste of great New York-style deli sandwiches. The portions are way too big, so plan on taking half of it home with you, but the reubens, the pastrami, it all tastes great!
  • I would always try to get out to the next big island south of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne. This island has the famous Seaquarium (the world's first dolphin show. Remember Flipper?), a zoo, and Bill Baggs State Park, with its unspoiled beaches, a lighthouse and a great view over the surrounding waters and stilt-house settlements in the bay.
Milan:
  • One of the nicest parts of town to spend a relaxed evening is the Navigli neighborhood, southwest of the center. The navigli are canals, and they radiate from the old Darsena harbor. The Naviglio Grande, which heads west of Darsena, is lined with cool restaurants, bars, bookstores, record stores and boutiques. Almost all the restaurants offer an evening-long happy hour where you get a drink and a buffet dinner for €9. What a great way to beat the financial crunch! Just take the number 3 tram to Piazza 24 Maggio, or number 9 to Gorizia Vigivano.
Along Naviglio Grande
  • Another, more upscale neighborhood, is Brera, just north of the Duomo. Its streets are filled with nice bars, shops and restaurants. This is where the Beautiful People hang out. Just follow Via Brera north from La Scala for a few blocks. Via Fiori Chiari and Via Solferino form the center of action.
  Munich:
  • If flying out of Munich, stop in at the Airbräu biergarten in the roofed-over open plaza between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. They make their own beer onsite and offer typical Bavarian grill food like leberkäse and weisswurst. It must be the world's only microbrewery located in an airport!
  • For a good Bavarian dinner in the old town, try Ayinger's Wirtshaus on the Platzl, across the street from the Hofbräuhaus. The Hofbräuhaus is normally packed with tourists, with the atmosphere of a train station at rush hour, so it's nice to find a relaxed place with good food and good beer where the local people hang out. Try their Jahrhundertbier out of the wooden cask! 
  • And in good weather, everybody's favorite evening hangout is the beer garden in the Englischer Garten, at the Chinese Tower. Prost!
At the Chinese Tower: you can't beat it!
New York:
  • For a great view, try the rooftop of Rockefeller Center, the Top of the Rock. You have the whole rooftop to walk around on, unlike the narrow space at the Empire State Building, and the best thing is that you get to SEE the Empire State Building, in addition to the rest of the city.
View from the Top of the Rock
  • For a great (and economical) night out, get tickets to the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. Every night there is a lineup of a half-dozen talented comedians who will make you roar. There is only a $22 cover charge per person, and a 2-drink minimum. The best show deal in New York! Their web site: www.comedycellar.com/
Nuremberg:
  • Right across from the old town hall, and next to the Sebald Church (Rathausplatz 1) they've been making and selling Nuremberg-style wurst for over 700 years. The Bratwursthäusle still makes their own sausages on premises, and serves them up with great potato salad and beer in their inviting restaurant. Simple food, but great quality and a friendly atmosphere.
Typical plate at the Bratwursthäusle

Paris:
  • Most evenings are best spent on the Left Bank, otherwise known as the Latin Quarter, around the Sorbonne University. One great street there for pubs and friendly restaurants is Rue Mouffetard. Get there by walking uphill along Rue Descartes. A great evening is almost guaranteed!
Metro station in Left Bank
Porto:
  • Interesting, tasty and cool on a hot day is a visit to a port-wine cellar in Gaia, on the other side of the river. All the bottlers have tours, but the best are said to be Graham's and Sandeman. I did the Sandeman tour, wine-tasting with a group of Brits who were stranded there because of the Icelandic volcano eruption. They were spending their free extra holiday week the right way, ready to vigorously fend off any Royal Navy rescue attempts!
San Francisco:
  • Make sure to get up to Twin Peaks for a great view of the bay. I actually ran up to the peaks on my first morning in San Francisco, but it's a really hard run. There are buses that go up there, or you can also walk up the stairs for a much shorter route than following the road: see this description.
  • Eat breakfast at the Grind Café at 783 Haight Street, in the heart of Haight-Ashbury. In warm weather, there is an open-air feeling to it, with lots of creative breakfast food. I first visited it in 1999, and was amazed to see people sitting around a café, working on their laptops for the first time in my life. That was my first introduction to Silicon Valley. 
St. Louis, MO:
  • Any visit to downtown St. Louis will just have to make room for a visit to the fantastic City Museum, the world's largest jungle-gym and playground for young and old. Located at 701 N. 15th Street, this fantasy-world will make your heart sing. Their web site: http://www.citymuseum.org/
Inside St. Louis' City Museum

St. Petersburg, FL:
  • I lived there for 3 years, so I should be able to make a few suggestions. One great thing to do is go out to the Gulf Beaches for sunset and a fish dinner. I love Pass-a-Grille Beach, watching the sun go down at the beach, then going over to one of the restaurants for dinner: the Wharf, the Hurricane, or Silas Dent's.
  • And for a great day of swimming, head to Ft. De Soto State Park at the south end of the Pinellas Bayway, out at the entrance to Tampa Bay. The whole island is uninhabited, with just the park and nature preserve. There is an old fort to visit, and it's a great place to bring a picnic and kick back and relax.
Stuttgart:
  • My favorite place for dinner and a drink, in nice weather, is the Alte Kanzlei (Old Chancellory House) on Schillerplatz 5, right next to the old castle. They have a lot of outdoor tables on the square looking at the castle, the old church and the Schiller statue. Good Swabian cooking and great home-made beer. Try their yeasty pilsener. Na, Prost!
Beer with a view: the Alte Kanzlei
Sydney:
  • For a great day at the water, take the Manly Ferry to Manly Beach. There are even surf schools there if you want to learn to surf. You can also walk or run up to the cliffs at North Head, at the mouth of Sydney Harbour. If you're lucky, you'll be there during the Manly Jazz Festival (October), the Manly Food and Wine Festival in early June or the Manly Arts Festival in September!
  • For a nice breakfast, head out to Bondi Beach (Sydney does have its share of great beaches). Le-Paris Go, at 38 Hall Street, is a perfect spot to hang out, read the paper and eat your eggs benedict. The laid-back hippie atmosphere makes everyone feel like they've just discovered a second home. In warm weather, the floor-length windows are wide open. 
  • And if you want an impression of the real Australian landscape, take the train to the Blue Mountains. It's a beautiful 2-hour ride to Katoomba, where you can walk to the best views in just a few minutes, and hike down into the canyons. You won't regret it!
The Three Sister near Katoomba
Tampa:
  • The best neighborhood for nightlife is Ybor City. This neighborhood started out as the cigar-making Cuban quarter over a hundred years ago. It still has lots of character, and is full of good restaurants, cafés and clubs. It's located on E. 7th Avenue between about 15th Street and 24th Street. The Columbia Restaurant is famous for great Cuban cooking.
7th Avenue in Tampa's Ybor City
Turin:
My favorite square to spend an evening is Largo IV Marzo, just two blocks west of the cathedral in the old town. It's quiet, green and there is a variety restaurants and bars with outside tables.
View of the square with a glass of vino rosso

Zürich:
  • Make sure you head down Niederdorfstrasse in the old town, with its traditional and relatively low-priced restaurants, like the Johanniter and the Rheinfelder Bierhalle. If you want to try some typical Swiss food, make sure you try them out!
Hearty eating at the Johanniter

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