Locals Guide to Chester, England

To see previous City Spotlights here

The city of Chester in the north west of England is one of the most fascinating and charming cities in the UK – that’s exactly why I’ve made my home here for the past two years! As a Canadian living abroad I am perpetually amazed and in awe of the ancient history that can be seen around every corner in places like Chester, and I love learning more and more about the past everywhere I go. It might be a trek up if you’re staying in London, but the 2 hour train ride is more than worth it once you arrive in this little living museum.

What makes Chester magical?

Chester was settled by the Romans and was established as a Roman fort, or castrum, in the year 79. Since this time a city has sat along the banks of the River Dee in Cheshire, growing in size and influence all the while.

This long history means that Chester is packed full of fascinating history, from the Roman City Walls and amphitheatre, to Victorian Grosvenor Park, right up to the shops and restaurants of modern times. Just a simple stroll up the main street gives you glimpses into the city’s history, with leaning Tudor buildings mingling with elegant Georgian facades.

If I only had one day in Chester, England what would you recommend?

If you only have 1 day in Chester the first thing you have to do is take a walking tour of the Roman City Walls that still guard the city centre. These city walls are the most complete in Britain and a walk around the whole of the monument will take you no longer than an hour, including stops to read the historical interpretation provided along the way. Along the way you’ll glimpse the beautiful River Dee, go under the historic Eastgate Clock (the second most photographed clock in Britain), and pass by the magnificent Chester Cathedral. There really is no better way to see the city.

After your walk along the walls head down to ground level to explore the shops and attractions that make up the city centre. At the Chester Visitors Centre you can sign up for a guided city walk which will give you insights into the city that you never would have discovered on your own. My favourite little tid-bit? It is believed that Catherine of Aragon, first with of the infamous Henry VIII spent a night in a room that is now part of a sofa shop!

 

What are your 3 favorite free things to do there?

Everyone likes to save a little while travelling, and it’s much easier to do that in the North of England than it is in London. It’s easy to find free, or inexpensive, things to do in Chester and not feel like you’re missing out.

  1. Visit the Grosvenor Museum – Many museums in the UK are free to enter and Chester’s little museum is one of them. Here you can watch a movie about the history of Chester, learn about its Roman heritage, and take a tour through a recreated Victorian household.
  2. Take in the Races – The Chester Racecourse, also known as the Roodee, is set right in the centre of the city and dates back to the 16th century. Throughout the summer there are numerous horse races held here, all of which you can watch for free from the street side.
  3. Take a Walk Along the Canal – Along with the River Dee, Chester also has a beautiful canal that winds its way through the city. On a sunny day there are few things nicer than walking along the water in the countryside, and maybe popping in to one of the local pubs for a pint in the sun!

 

A trip to Chester is great whether you are looking for a romantic weekend getaway or a family summer holiday. The city centre is compact and virtually car free so it’s easy to get around, and with North Wales, Liverpool, and Manchester just a short drive or train ride away there are endless things to do and see. Make sure that the next time you visit the UK you venture out of the capital and come and visit the little places like Chester that make the UK great.

City Spotlight: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Why Siem Reap, Cambodia is my Favorite City:

What makes Siem Reap magical?

Upon entering Cambodia, it is clear that it is a place like no other. Upon descent into the capital city, Siem Reap’s, tiny airport, you will see a sea of faint flickering lights if you are lucky enough to fly in at night. These intriguing lights are used by shacks with little or no electricity supply; not to bring light to homes, but to attract insects, which are later used for cooking. The country’s first airport, which opened internationally just six years ago, exudes a certain sense of mystery itself. Its terminal building, which resembles a traditional pagoda, is tidily lined with green grass and trees, and features a large welcome sign in native Cambodian transcript. Upon leaving the airport, the intrigue continues as you travel along one of the country’s only tarmac roads, which is lined with seemingly out-of-place large, exotic hotels and the mansions of Cambodia’s richest ambassadors.

However, upon entry into Siem Reap, visitors are greeted with a rather underwhelming high street with an obligatory KFC and McDonalds that were obviously installed to cater for the city’s increasing influx of Western back-packers. However, what is most magical about Siem Reap is the overwhelming feeling of stepping into a tiny city that remains the gateway to a country of mystery and intrigue. Each under-developed, dusty street hints at what is beyond. The larger, more established buildings in the Siem Reap’s centre quickly trail off to become modest shacks within a few hundred yards on the same road; the city quickly disintegrating into a mysterious abyss.

Best reason to visit Siem Reap

Cambodia is a Buddhist country and, as the city of Siem Reap appears friendly, enchanting and spiritual, it is easy to momentarily forget of the extreme suffering and brutality that, until only recently, was a part of everyday life for its citizens. Particularly harrowing and poignant are the stories told by the local people, which provide an unparalleled and truthful encounter of a country that was once engulfed by war and fear. Many people come to Siem Reap – and wider Cambodia – to feel enchanted and inspired, but the best reason to visit is to meet the local people, and to learn first-hand about the history behind the city. What is particularly awe-inspiring and eye-opening is the warmth expressed by many locals, and how, although they have experienced suffering beyond what most of us can imagine, they do not express bitterness or sadness, but instead promote peace and forgiveness.

Best places to eat and drink in Siam Reap. Cambodia

The centre of Siem Reap is very lively, and turns into a party destination at night. There are two main streets lined with bars, restaurants and discos offering food and alcohol at extremely low prices. These streets contain the best places to eat and drink with friends, and visitors can expect to sample a great range of authentic Cambodian hot pots, as well as a vast range of drinks. You can pick up a beer for as little as 50 American cents in most bars along the main streets.

Most unusual attraction in Siem Reap 

One of the most unusual and interesting parts of Siem Reap’s centre is its famous night market. For such a small city, the night market fills up very suddenly at night with hoards of locals and tourists alike. Siem Reap’s night market, situated just a couple of streets away from the city’s main bars, contains an eclectic mix of traditional Cambodian crafts, food stalls and health treatment centres. Bustling with life and multi-coloured lights, the night market offers a unique insight into how traditional Cambodia is fusing with the new, and catering to the sudden worldwide interest it is attracting. Highlights of the market include the health centres, where you can invest a dollar to receive a scalp and neck massage, and the craft stalls, where you can buy local paintings and wood carvings. Although not quite 1p deals, the bargains of the night market are not far off; you can expect to pay around $3 for a traditional, hand-drawn picture, or $2 for a locally-woven silk scarf, for example.

What to do with just one day in Siem Reap?

If you only had one day in Siem Reap, it would be highly recommended to visit Cambodia’s infamous temples. Situated just outside the city, the haunting and mystical UNESCO site of Angkor Wat is the most well-known. Built in the 11th Century by King Suryavarman, the magical empire was later forgotten, buried under mounds of trees and peat. Rediscovered in the early 20th Century, it was painstakingly restored using only original and natural materials, to reach the impressive state it stands at today. Angkor Wat is home to hundreds of temples and monasteries, each displaying a unique mix of art and architecture. The best time to visit is sunrise, where the temples’ distinctive spires form a magical silhouette on the horizon.

Highlights of Zadar, Croatia

To see previous City Spotlights here

It is hard not to draw similarities between Zadar and Dubrovnik, with its ubiquitous red roofs and tall stone gate.  Unique to Zadar, though, is the striking juxtaposition of medieval churches, roman ruins, and utilitarian buildings erected in the Communist Era.

One of our major reasons for stopping by Zadar was to experience the famous Sea Organ.  We enjoyed a panoramic view of the water as we walked the long sea-side path toward the instrument, not sure what to expect.  As we neared the place, we began to hear the music.  It was unlike anything I’d heard before… sort of ethereal… it reminded me of whale calls in a way.  As the tide lapped and danced over the underwater pipes, a calming and constant music filled the air and made you want to pause to listen.  Lucky for us, the stars aligned that day; with no particular planning on our part, our visit to the organ coincided with a gorgeous sunset over the water.  So we sat for some time on the wide steps along with other onlookers to enjoy both at the same time.  A truly fantastic experience.

After the sun set, we shifted our attention to the Sun Salutation, another must-see spot a short distance from the organ.  Still listening to the backdrop of that organic music, we were greeted by a very different variety of light show.  Walking over the display feels a bit like being part of a giant circuit board and a bit like a techno dance club.  It’s actually a giant solar panel and in addition to powering its own funky display, it provides electricity for all the nighttime lighting along the seafront.

Both the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation were designed by Nikola Bašić and are worth a trip to Zadar!  But that’s not all the town has to offer.  Next up was the Museum of Ancient Glass.  The vast array of glass specimines from ancient times is really worth a visit.  They have everything from the tiniest delicate vial, used for storing a few drops of precious perfume for special occasions to large glass vessels used for burying the remains of loved ones.  The varied hues of ancient glass are also explained in detail: which readily available substances as well as more rare minerals could be added to change its final color.

The top floor of the museum was a surprise for us: it’s home to a very current glass blowing shop.  From behind a large glass window, you can peer in and watch artisans twirling globs of glowing fiery-orange molten glass at the end of long hollow tubes.  It’s fascinating to watch the processes for making different shapes from the molten blob.  Some are blown breath by breath into great rounded orbs and then fashioned carefully into vases with a graceful tapering neck.  The neck is scored with a sharp metal instrument and then broken to free it from the stick and filed smooth.  Others are twisted into snake-like candle sticks and still others are lowered into a boxy mold and mouth-blown just enough to press the sides up against the box from the inside for square-shaped vessels.  Some pieces were plunged, steaming into water baths to cool quickly and others were partially reheated in the furnace to make them malleable for further design work.  This was actually my favorite part of the museum: it satisfied a curiosity I’ve always had for how ancient peoples without modern machinery went about this art form.

St. Donatus Church is interesting in that it’s actually built on the remains of an old Roman building and you can see the ancient columns poking out around the foundations of the new structure.  I’m not sure if it’s a permanent display inside the church, but when we were there, it was basically a cacophonous noise box.  Myriad noise-making devices in the guise of modern art were sounding simultaneously for a sure-fire headache.  If you hear the tell-tale gonging, I’d recommend visiting the outside of the building only and saving yourself the ticket price!

Have you been? What were your favorite things to do in Zadar, Croatia?

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Beverley, the gem in England you didn’t know before now…

Beverley, a true gem in Yorkshire, England!

The following post is from Charlotte from Web Cottages. She is enthusiastic about travelling around the UK and has made it her aim to visit as much of it as possible in recent years! She loves going on holiday and taking photos of the places that she has been to.

Beverley has to be one of my favorite places in the UK. The town sits in the shadow of the Beverley Minster, a stunning cathedral like building and is tucked away in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Beverley is situated near to the city of Hull and not far from the stunning city of York so is really easy to get to from almost anywhere in the UK. The think I love about Beverley and the thing that makes it different from other places, it that it has managed to retain a lovely small town like feel, people still know and speak to each other and most of the shops in the town centre are still independently owned. It really is a gem!

What makes Beverley so magical?

Beverley’s small town charm stems from the fact that it is a town surrounded by countryside and lovely pasture land. It really does have the perfect blend of town and country! You can stay in the countryside and still be only a couple of miles from the Beverley’s cobbled streets that make up the buzzing town centre. There are loads of options of places to stay, from smart hotels in Beverley itself to stunning holiday cottages in Yorkshire, just outside of the town.

 

Animals graze freely on the Westwood, just outside the town centre and only cattle grids stop the animals coming all the way into the town. Beverley Beck runs for just under a mile from the River Hull to near the town centre of Beverley and is a lovely place to go for an afternoon stroll, or head to for a picnic. Both are just a short walk from the town.

 

Great places to eat in Beverley

Beverley is home to some truly fantastic places to go for delicious home cooked food. If I could only have one meal during my stay in Beverley and money was no object, I would take a trip to Whites Restaurant. Whites is a small restaurant that serves truly fantastic food all made on the premises by head chef John Robinson.

 

If you fancy a delicious light lunch or scrumptious cake, Lempicka at Wednesday Market is a fantastic café. Offering lovely panini’s, salads and quiches all served in a quirky café or outside in the sunshine weather permitting, this place is not to be missed! The cakes are amazing too, huge slabs of homemade delights. The perfect time to treat yourself!

What about a drink?

You will be spoilt for choice for places to drink in Beverley! Although there are plenty of swish cocktail bars and wine bars, my favorite place has to be Nellies. Its real name is the White Horse, but it is known locally as Nellies after one of the past landlords of the pub. The atmosphere is dark as the only lighting is by gas lamp and the furnishings are well worn but that is the appeal! I really don’t think I have ever been anywhere like it!

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City Spotlight: Why Visit Detroit?

To see previous City Spotlights here

I could travel all over the world and back, but there will never be any place like home.  Hailing from the Motor City and the birthplace of Motown, Detroit is where my roots are firmly planted and the city is well on its way back up. In fact, did you know that the first youth hostel in the city opened just last year? More than that, HostelBookers even named Detroit one of the top places to visit in 2012.

Compared to many of its neighboring cities and states, Detroit is cheap, and because of that, people can buy or rent real estate at a fraction of the cost compared to the likes of Chicago, Los Angeles, etc. You’ll also find that Detroit is a breeding ground for small businesses because startup costs are low. Because of that, Detroit has evolved into a creative hub that has sparked all sorts of innovative events and casual community gatherings.

Let your trip include a visit to the Hitsville Motown Museum, Eastern Market (only open on Saturdays), a Tiger’s game at Comerica Park, a tour of the top of the Renaissance Center, Detroit Electronic Music Festival (summer), and The Auto Show (summer).

The View

For the best view of Detroit, go to the roof of the recently renovated Madison Building. Facing NW, you’ll have the best view of Woodward Avenue’s entertainment district, Grand Circus Park just below, Comerica Park and Ford Field to your right, the casinos in the distance, and the Opera House just across the street. It is a panoramic view not to be missed especially in the evening when the streets are all lit up.

When looking around, it’s difficult to miss the urban decay that has overtaken the outskirts of the city. For as much restoration that needs to happen, the abandoned architecture gives Detroit its character, and for that reason, makes it so photogenic.

The Food & Drinks

If you start off in Corktown, grab a burger or salad at Mercury Burger Bar. Their butter-soaked salad croutons are so moist and delicious. If burgers aren’t your thing, try your luck at Slows BBQ or Mudgie’s Deli, and grab drinks at Sugar House afterwards.

When you’re downtown for a concert or a baseball game, send your taste buds to heaven at Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes, grab lunch at Bucharest Grill, and end the night with drinks at Cliff Bells or Centaur. For post-bar munchies, a stop at Detroit’s classic Lafayette Coney Island is imperative.

The People

The people who have lived within the Detroit city limits all their lives can come off as a bit rough around the edges, at first. That shouldn’t deter you from talking to them, because once you do, you’ll find proud, passionate, hard-working souls beneath those hard shells. Detroiters believe in their personal future as well as the city’s, and know very well that what you hear on the news is absolute bologna.

Over the last year, a lot of bright, young minds have been moving downtown which has given the city a breath of fresh air and instated a new way of thinking to keep moving forward. You’ll find a lot of motivated, driven individuals who thrive on intelligent and progressive conversation over dinner and drinks.

If you ever go to a Tiger’s game, be sure to say hello to the “Eat ‘em up, Tigers” guy. Give him a high five, and spare him some leftover change from your pockets. People from all over who come to a game know him well, and his greeting & spirit will get you pumped up for the game.

Papa Smurf is also one of Detroit’s trademark characters. When you’re hanging out near the St. Andrew’s Hall / Greektown area, you may see him around, and he will most likely offer to make you a bracelet. He is a great storyteller as well, if you take the time to talk to him.

The Rockstars

On the other end of the personality spectrum, Michigan, in general is known for producing famous talent such as Mitch Albom (author, newscaster), Kid Rock, Eminem, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Tim Allen, Kristen Bell, Tom Selleck and Twilight’s own Taylor Lautner.

Detroit, as a city, is its own best-kept secret. It’s the cool underground spot where young people are hanging out. The bartenders know your name and drink of choice, and your new neighbors always invite you to their barbecues. Detroit is a community that’s ready to welcome you into the family when you visit.

So what are you waiting for?