Friday, September 19, 2014

Things to do in Paris

Top 10 Things to do in Paris

Are you planning your next or the first trip to Paris? Here are 10 top picks for Paris, whether you are visiting the first time – or live here, like me.

1. Rent a Vélib bike

To live a true Parisian experience, nothing like renting a Vélib bike to discover the city! Use the bicycle paths wherever possible, and careful with those shared with buses. Most locals don’t stop at red lights or wear helmets, but you need not be THAT local. Instead, enjoy the ride crossing the river Seine, watching monuments from a different angle and be part of the flow.
Top 10 Things to do in Paris, le bon marche

2. Shop at Le Bon Marché

Le Bon Marché is probably the world’s first department store and the unique left bank chic inspired Emile Zola’s famous novel The Ladies’ Delight (Au Bonheur des Dames). Recently redecorated, the most luxurious of the Paris department stores is worth a glimpse also for its architecture.
Top 10 Things to do in Paris: Le Jardin du luxembourg

3. Le Jardin du Luxembourg

Le Jardin du Luxembourg with its gorgeous gardens offers an ideal place for walking in the autumn leaves, admiring statues and fountains. Grab a chair and watch the strollers, hiding behind a good book and your shades!

4. La Butte aux Cailles

One of the less known Paris hills La Butte aux Cailles (quail hill) is definitely worth a visit with its bars and restaurants. Picturesque small streets climbing up and down, graffiti art and student life take you away from the traditional sightseeing tracks. Rue des Cinq Diamants and rue de l’Espérence are my personal favourites.

5. Chinatown

Not far from there, le Quartier chinois (Chinatown) with the exotic supermarkets Paris Store and Tang Frères, colourful streets, authentic Asian restaurants… Grab a Vietnamese sandwich with beef and coriander or sit down on a terrace to enjoy a Tiger beer with a bo-bun noodle salad with fried springrolls. The most adventurous ones will enter the supermarkets with a huge choice of most peculiar greens and spices but also kitchenware and wacky decoration items.
Top 10 Things to do in Paris: bercy village

6. Bercy Village

After all these left bank destinations, time to cross the river Seine. Bercy Village and its most well known alley Cour Saint Emilion have replaced the old wine warehouses of Bercy – thus named after the famous wine. This cosy shopping area specializes in restaurants with terraces.

7. Viaduc des Arts

Viaduc des Arts, beneath an abandoned 19th-century railway viaduct. A number of arts and crafts workshops are great for windowshopping and on top of the viaduct you can take a “walk with the trees”, an elevated park of several kilometers with surprising plants and garden decorations.
Top 10 Things to do in Paris: passages

8. Passages

The covered arcades aka “passages” of Paris were the shopping malls of the 19th century. You can walk through a whole bunch of them, breathe the nostalgic atmosphere and sip a cup of tea away from the noisy traffic. There exist maps of these arcades and you can choose between three different itineraries of “passages et galeries” .
Top 10 Things to do in Paris

9. Enjoy Canal Saint Martin

Instead of a touristic river boat on the Seine, you can choose to go on a cruise along the Canal Saint Martin or just walk up and down quai de Valmy and quai de Jemmapes. Trendy boutiques and cafés have taken over from the old carpet stores. On Sundays cars are not allowed alongside the canal and the quay’s invaded by pedestrians, bicycles and rollers, and if you are lucky there’s a flea market or street artists and live music.
Top 10 Things to do in Paris, sacre coeur

10. Sacre Coeur

And to finish with a great view of the city, follow in the wake of Amelie to Montmartre. Avoid the touristic cafés at Place du Tertre and take a walk in the small streets behind. There’s a wineyard with a harvesting party in mid-October, and some of the most charming buildings hiding in the back streets of the hill off the avenue Junot.

Paris Holiday Accommodation :

Sunday, September 14, 2014

London’s Natural History Museum

This month, I made a pilgrimage that every natural history lover should, if possible, make. I visited the Natural History Museum in London, the house that Richard Owenbuilt, the home of the first dinosaur bones ever discovered, the first Archaeopteryx fossil, and a first-edition copy of  “On the Origin of Species”. If you’re a reader of this blog, you should go.
But many readers both here in Amsterdam or elsewhere may also find it beyond their means to get to London anytime soon. For that group, I want to present a few details and treasures that I personally observed and savored, and hope that you might too.
The Natural History Museum is both glorious and, in places, surprisingly frumpy. Its Victorian bones have aged with grace. Here is the neo-Romanesque entrance to the museum. It bears more than a little resemblance to the facade of St. Mark’s in Venice. Though some may find it busy, I loved this.
The Romanesque touches continue inside. Here’s the beautiful main hall.
The landing at the end of the hall, with Darwin Enthroned. The Cathedral of Science effect is perhaps nowhere stronger than this landing, and is particularly strengthened by the stain glass windows above.
Until a few years ago, visionary museum founder and not-very-nice-guy Richard Owen presided here. He and Darwin didn’t get along. In fact, Bill Bryson says in his book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” that Owen is the only man Darwin was known to hate. I wonder how they would all feel about this recent development. I think I’m in favor of the swap.
A look back toward the entrance of the main hall. The Diplodicus trying to exit the museum with all these nice people is holding the tip of its tail at a rather jaunty angle.
This elegant relief panel of fish in stone was inside the Dinosaurs gallery. It feels like it could easily have come from an Egyptian Old Kingdom tomb.
This is the roof of the cafeteria/coffee shop.
Looking closer, you can see that instead of saints, the panels depict different plants.
As beautiful as it is, for a museum of the NHM’s caliber, I was surprised to see that some exhibits seem to be pushing 30. These parts of the museum are dated and sometimes a bit worse for the wear — hardly surprising when one sees the pounding that grade school-aged children subject exhibits to in every science museum on the planet (and which I personally observed here as well). From what I can tell, they are slowly remodeling the exhibits, and considering that admission is free (donations encouraged), I can’t fault them for taking their time about it. The exhibits that have been recently redone are splendid.
On to the bio-treats!
In the new and expertly designed Dinosaurs gallery, I encountered this fossilized skin of an Edmontosaurus from Wyoming. I’d seen fossilized dinosaur skin once before in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But the thrill never gets old. A living, breathing dinosaur who lived 67 million years ago had skin that looked just like this!
Here’s a different angle.
Below are the first true dinosaur bones *ever* found, by Mary and Gideon Mantell, a doctor in a rural southeastern England. Mary Mantell was the original finder, as described by Bill Bryson in the same book I mentioned earlier, “A Short History of Nearly Everything”:
In 1822, while [Gideon] was making a house call on a patient in rural Sussex, Mrs. Mantell went for a stroll down a nearby lane and in a pile of rubble that had been let to fill potholes she found a curious object — a curved brown stone, about the size of a small walnut. Knowing her husband’s interest in fossils, and thinking it might be one, she took it to him. Mantell could see at once it was a fossilized tooth, and after a little study, became certain that it was from an animal that was herbivorous, reptilian, extremely large — tens of feet long — and from the Cretaceous period. He was right on all counts, but these were bold conclusions since nothing like it had been seen before or even imagined.
And in this image may be the very stone Bryson described. Apologies for the poor image quality. The museum was about to close and I was in a hurry.
Mantell, unfortunately, would go on to be destroyed by the very same Richard Owen booted from the landing, hated by Darwin, and for whom we have to thank for the word “dinosaur” and the Natural History Museum itself. A prolific plagiarist and extinguisher of competitors’ careers, Owen also eventually appropriated the credit for the discovery of the animal these teeth belonged to, which Mantell had called “Iguanodon“. Mantell was, in fact, the first person to recognize a dinosaur, and realize its probable posture and dimensions, and it all started with these fossils.
Below is an icthyosaur in the museum’s world-famous marine reptile gallery, much of which is the work of renowned fossil hunter Mary Anning. It is, in fact, the first one she ever found. The sign says the head was found by her brother Joseph in 1811, and the rest of the body by Mary in 1812 when she was 13. It was the first complete ichthyosaur fossil ever discovered. Anning spent the rest of her life collecting fossil marine reptiles from the treacherously steep seacliffs in Lyme Regis. She also found the first plesiosaur, which took her 10 tedious years to extract, and which is also on display in this gallery, I believe.
Icthyosaurs were a bit like mesozoic dolphins or whales. Although they were reptiles, not mammals, they too evolved from terrestrial animals that returned to the sea. The bone eye ring of fossil icthyosaurs never ceases to amaze me and give me the creeps (it reminds me of a skeksis), although in reconstructions of icthyosaurs’ living appearance, it’s not as noticeable.
This museum is not without Mystery and Humour. I did not drop a pound in the box, but I wish I had. Now I’ll never find out what happened.
This black coral in the Invertebrates gallery was such a work of art I couldn’t help but photograph it. Black corals live largely in the tropics in deep water, and were named for their skeletons. Black corals may even be able to conduct photosynthesis more than a thousand feet down, a surprising finding I blogged about here. Surprisingly, the living animals — which grow out of their dark skeletons — are often brightly colored, but you wouldn’t guess it from this specimen.
I made a special trip to the Darwin Centre, the new hall spotlighting the specimens in the museum’s collections, the scientists who work there, and biodiversity in general. Personally, I think the exhibit designer would have done better to  focus more on presenting and telling stories about the specimens in the collections — about particular organisms themselves, what they can tell us, and the methods used to preserve them (and in the places the exhibit did this, it excelled) — and much less to museum scientists and their travel and funding travails. I might also have talked more about groups like microbes and fungi that are almost invisible in natural history museums due tothe difficulties in preserving and displaying them. But that’s me.
There were treats without question in the Darwin Centre as elsewhere.
The most obvious is the design of the facility. Though I’m not sure it’s to my taste, I have to admit it is different and interesting. The giant oblong structure has been nicknamed “The Cocoon”, although to me it looks more like a giant egg from which Mothra, Lady Gaga, or similar might hatch.
Looking up . . .
This little interactive display was my favorite part of the whole exhibit.
It allowed the viewer to flip through herbarium pages far too delicate for us to touch, and animated and annotated the pages. The plants might grow out of their glued-on paper pots, or butterflies and beetles might come to life wander across the page. The annotations in this image reveal that these pages belonged to the Rev. Adam Buddle, a naturalist from ca. 1660 to 1715. While he was alive, the note said, naturalists did not distinguish between studying plants and insects, so they were simply mounted together on the same page. Today they might not even be stored in the same building.
On the left page are red algae. The one on the lower left is Chondrus crispus, the source of the chemical carrageenan used to thicken and stabilize foods like ice cream today. This is technology in museum display at its best — it grants access to materials we otherwise could not see or interact with, and explains and embellishes them in an enlightening, artistic, and even whimsical way. A++ on this one.
This is part of one of the duller parts of the exhibit, where the process of writing a scientific paper is described. However, I must say I was amused by its cheerful recounting of the soul-crushing (though essential) process of peer review. That caption in the video on the helpfully explains, “They might say your paper was not original enough, or that the introduction was too long.”
I did enjoy this case displaying a slice of the science life: essentials for the field. It’s chock full of delicious, humorous, and authentic-feeling detail. Although, scientists: How many of you have actually taken the likes of “War and Peace” into the field with you? I’m guessing actual field reading lean a lot more “Game of Thrones”.
Note, most particularly, the delightfully named “She-Wee”.
Products of this type go by many entertaining names (other brands are called “Lady J” or “GoGirl”) but the exhibit notes it can be an indispensible help to female scientists in cold climates. I’ve heard female rock climbers strapped into harnesses for hours love these too.
In the From the Beginning gallery, which recounts the history of life on Earth, I found this beautiful little lacy bryozoan-studded fossil. I love the cameo-esque contrast between the creamy fossils and their red rock matrix. Its tag identified it asChasmotopora furcata, and said it was about 465 million years old and came from Estonia. In spite of their plant-like appearance, bryozoans are animals like, but not closely related to, coral. They’ve called Earth home for a really long time. I wrotemore about bryozoans here.
Nearby I found this glass sponge fossil. Notice how the lighting greatly enhances the fossil’s details — a wonderful touch. Glass sponges are bizarre animals that consist of a giant fused web of cytoplasm supported by variously shaped microscopic rods called spicules. They’re made of glass-like silica, from which the group takes its name.  This particular genus — Hydnoceras — is known for looking like it’s wearing plaid, although in reality, it’s tweed. Or a fractal-like matrix of silica spicules. One of those two.  I wrote previously about glass sponges here.
I saved the best for last. This is a cross-section of a tree fern trunk from Germany, estimated to be 290 to 258 million years old. The descriptive label said the spaghetti-like structures are part of the plant’s plumbing, used to move water, minerals, and food up and down its trunk. Since the vasculature of modern plants is usuallysymmetrical and kaleidoscopic, I find this structure amazing. It’s hard for me to visualize what it looked like in real life, or even how it might have worked. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess they were bark beetle larva burrows.
Or a bunch of Ebola viruses squashed onto a sunset by Seurat. One of those two.

Thanks for reading. For London Vacation Apartments.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Let Madrid exceed your expectations

Immerse yourself in culture at world-renowned museums, sample mouth-watering Spanish delicacies and shop 'til you drop. Then let the energetic rhythm of live flamenco and nightclub-hopping reignite your soul.

You’ll discover a wealth of fantastic things to do in Madrid. Shop at luxury department stores and boutiques along Grand Via or sample divine food and drink at Mercado San Miguel flea market - pick up some wickedly delicious churros dipped in warm chocolate as a snack on the go. Get your culture fix at the museums of the Golden Triangle or join the locals on the outdoor terrazas of Parque del Buen Retiro. Then dine in style, as you tuck into tasty tapas, washed down by a sweet aperitif – the Madrileños savour every sip and bite and never miss an opportunity to socialise into the early hours.
Fantastic shopping.

Fantastic shopping

A visit to the city’s flagship El Corte Inglés department store is a must when shopping in Madrid. Pick up some authentic Spanish espadrilles from Casa Hernanz on the Plaza Mayor. While there, the style conscious should visit ultra-trendy store Desigual. For bargains, head to the legendary El Rastro flea market.
Unforgettable experiences.

Unforgettable experiences

On family holidays in Madrid, take your children to the amazing Teatro Circus Price. Take a leisurely riverside stroll along the Salon de Pinos. Catch an exhibition at the remarkable Palacio de Cristal in Madrid’s stunning El Retiro Park. Visit the incredible ancient EgyptianTemple of Debod at sunset.
Delightful dining.

Delightful dining

Sample Spanish delicacies and sweet sherry at Madrid’s thrivingSan Miguel Market. Feast on succulent cochinillo (suckling pig) atEl Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant. Dine on superb traditional madrileño cuisine at Las Tortillas de Gabino, then indulge in delicious churros with hot chocolate at La Chocolatería de San Ginés.
Madrid nightlife.

Madrid nightlife

Immerse yourself in the thriving Madrid nightlife on holidays in the Spanish capital. Sip Black Mojitos while admiring incredible city views at the stylish roof terrace bar of the ME Madrid hotel. Watch exhilarating flamenco at the intimate Café de Chintas. Head toHuertas for buzzing cocktail bars and hopping nightclubs.
Cultural Madrid.

Cultural Madrid

There is more to Madrid’s thriving cultural scene than the ‘Golden Triangle of Art’. Near the Prado Museum, discover the little known gem that is the Caixa Forum gallery. Browse fascinating 18th century artefacts at the Museo del Romanticismo. Or visit the excellent Museo Sorolla, housed in the great artist’s former home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

What to do in Rio

Holidays in Rio de Janeiro have always been de rigeur for the international jet setter. There are so many extraordinary things to experience like the grand art deco hotels of Copacabana, drinking delicious caipirinhas, and visiting the world renown Christ the Redeemer statue. This article looks at how you can live it up on your own in this marvelous city.

Rio de Janeiro has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the planet’s top places to party, but there’s something here for everyone — not just those who like to stay up all night. Here’s some of Craig Martins favorite things to get you started.
Vibrant, beautiful Rio de Janeiro draws millions of visitors to its shores each year, all searching to find the spirit of the city. But where to start?
Hostelworld ask their Facebook fans for their top tips on what is unmissable in Rio de Janeiro. Here’s what they discovered.
While Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s favorite destinations for beach lovers, party people and culture lovers who like it hot, not everyone comes prepared to make the most of their visit. A little preparation can save you time, money and make a great vacation spectacular.
Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil and the third largest in Latin America. From the world-famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema to the magnificent summits of Corcovado and Sugarloaf, Rio combines natural attractions with a sprawling metropolis.
Matt Kepnes shares a lot of useful tips about exploring Rio in this regional guide.

The Beaches in Rio

Leblon Beach
Leblon Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio de Janeiro is home to more than a dozen beaches. There’s the song-worthy Copacabana and Ipanema; the bayside Botafogo beach, which makes up for its small size with an impressive view of Sugarloaf Mountain; and Arpoador beach, where a rock jutting over the water provides the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
If you don’t want to look like an obvious tourist on the beaches of Rio, follow these three tips to blend in with the locals.
Copacabana Beach is by far the most visited beach in Rio de Janeiro, the most famous one in Brazil, and one of the most known beaches in the world. When foreigners think “Rio de Janeiro” or “Brazil”, Copacabana Beach immediately comes to their minds
Madson Araujo shares how to get the most out of your visit.

Copacabana Beach at twilight


Rio’s favelas are where approximately 70,000 of the city’s poorest residents live. The favelas have a reputation for being crime ridden and acutely dangerous, with many places flagged as no-go areas: infamous as the hangouts for criminals and the location of drug deals.
Flora Baker never expected to visit any of the favelas in Rio – and she honestly never thought she’d experience one in the way she did.
Rio de Janeiro sells itself on images of white sand beaches with a bright city lights backdrop. The perfect blend of tropical and urban. But, it does not like to talk about how those twinkling city lights are mostly made up of favelas.
Favelas are the Brazilian version of ghettos. Alexandra Pucherelli spent 2 weeks living in a favela in Brazil and came to realize that they are the heart of Rio’s vibrant culture.
Sharon had always wanted to do a tour through a favela but had been worried that it would be like being herded through a zoo. In this post, she shares her experience exploring the Rocinha favela.
More travellers now choose to visit favelas as part of their trip to try to immerse themselves in the gritty local culture. However, visiting a favela, particularly on your own, can be dangerous and travellers are advised never to enter a favela without a guide who is known and respected by the locals.
World Nomads shared tips about how to stay safe.
There is a dark side to Rio de Janeiro which is hard to miss: at the heart of the city, on the slope of the its mountains, lies some of the poorest neighborhoods of South America, the favelas. It is one of the biggest gap between poor and rich people on the planet and yet crossing a street is enough to go from one side to another.
Maxime, from Traveling Coder, shares his experience going on a favela tour.
20130609-143342credit: fluentinfrolocking

How much does Rio cost?

Josh Eaton provides a breakdown of his 12 days in Brazil by category.
Their budget was set at $80 per day for two people. They expected to spend more than the goal average for the trip. They found an interesting way to keep themselves under budget, but still ended up going over.
Ruth Rieckehoff writes in detail about the traveling costs. We highly recommend this article as she discusses how comfort and safety should factor into your decision.
credit: traveling9to5credit: traveling9to5

Food in Rio

Menus in Rio overflow with dishes based on grilled meats, black beans and fried pockets of mild cheese, all garnished with crispy pork fat.
You’ll have to dig around for some variety. Helen Anne Travis did the digging for you and created a list of her favorite Rio restaurants and bars, as well as tips on what to order.
Bar food, street food, snack food, beach food—Rio de Janeiro thrives on snacks. And so will you, if you can find your way around the hundreds of baffling options. Find your favorites and sample them at many, many locations city-wide.
If you’re a foodie with flair, Rio is just for you. In this post, GQ Trippin shares their top 5 must-eat street foods.

A fried cheese ball, rice and lentils and tabbouleh from Beduino.

Safety in Rio

Street crime is hardly limited to the city; so it’s important to be just as cautious and responsible as you would in any large urban area. Stay alert and use the Travel Channels helpful safety tips when visiting this tropical playground.
Jennifer Huber shares the steps she took to stay safe while in Rio.
Helen Anne Travis was there for five nights. Aside from those four hours she was trapped in a sushi restaurant during a national protest, her trip was delightfully incident-free.
Maybe it was luck. Or maybe Rio’s not the big, bad place your “well-intended acquaintances” will have you believe.


Booking holiday accommodation in Rio De Janeiro