Baalbeck, Anjar and Ksara, (Lebanon)

“Heliopolis, the Sun City”, “The Wine region of Lebanon”

Anjar, Baalbeck and Ksara, Lebanon, May 2018

Our second of the major tours while visiting Lebanon was for the actual highlight of the trip itself, the fascinating Roman city of Baalbeck with its impressive constructions, some of the largest ever created across the entire former empire. This was once again, an organised tour departing from our base Beirut, same as we did the day before when visiting Byblos, Jeita and Harissa; but also including another two great sights: the small city of Anjar with its beautiful Umayyad ruins and to finalise the tour, the Ksara Caves now in use by Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s oldest wine estate where a tasting will be offered. Both Baalbeck and Anjar are UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed, hence the added value that means for us.

While there are still some more amazing places in the country to see, we can say from our trip we are very satisfied for now, and certainly will return another occasion. Fingers crossed that by then it is at least as great as it is now; a beautiful and friendly country, safe wherever it can get, and not turning into any crisis or even a war as it’s sadly with the neighbouring country Syria.

On the same note as I explained for the previous guide on Byblos, you can find lots of tour operators over the internet offering similar day trips, however pay attention to what’s and what is not included. From this experience I found tours which did not include lunch and entrance fees to the sites, quite silly right? While other agencies were listing everything included and even at more competitive price. It’s a matter of some research then all is straightforward, and if you want to have it already done, let me tell you which one is the best for the tours we did in this country (as of May 2018): Viator. Not only the best in the quality and quantity of tours they offer, but also one of the most trustful out there as it belongs to TripAdvisor. This is the tour we selected, click here. (more…)

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Byblos, Jeita and Harissa, (Lebanon)

“First city of Phoenicia”, “One of the world’s oldest inhabited cities”

2 Byblos, Jeita and Harissa, Lebanon, May 2018

Our first of the two day trip we would be doing while in Lebanon, was of course for visiting some of the greatest archaeological sites and natural wonders in the country. After all, this is one of the major reasons why to chose this country and not going just to be in the capital, Beirut. As you know by now, we are not that kind of person who travels to countries for the sake of ticking “I’ve been here” and counting up the number of countries they’ve been. Not at all and actually it is all the opposite in our case especially when travelling farther beyond Europe and considering our continuous running out of holidays because so much travelling.

So as the planning for a trip to Lebanon came to a reality, then was the hardest task, what to see and where to go. A first stage is easy for someone like me who love to collect UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A quick search and some of the answers were defined. The whole trip would pivot around Baalbeck, Byblos and Anjar, the three major WHS, and of course the capital. Anything else would be extra and very welcomed. However with such a limited time we had altogether, the only way to visit as much as we could was getting into organised tours, and so we did. This is not the first time we do so, where in certain countries is strongly recommended like in Lebanon. Yes, it’s a rather secure and safe country, but it’s nicer to refrain from driving as a tourist.

While over the internet you can find lots of tour operators offering similar day trips, pay attention to what’s and what is not included. From this experience I found tours which did not include lunch and entrance fees to the sites, quite silly right? While other agencies were listing everything included and even at more competitive price. It’s a matter of some research then all is straightforward, and if you want to have it already done, let me tell you which one is the best for the tours we did in this country (as of May 2018): Viator. Not only the best in the quality and quantity of tours they offer, but also one of the most trustful out there as it belongs to TripAdvisor. This is the tour we selected, click here. (more…)

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Seville, (Spain)

“Roman Hispalis”, “Arabic Ishbiliyya”, “NO8DO: It has not abandoned me”

Seville, Spain, February 2018

After so many years, 8 already, it’s finally time to return to one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in my life: Seville. Sadly for such a short time, a weekend (well the usual through the year with the weekend trips anywhere in Europe), but for a city like Seville, please reconsider you time. 2 days is definitely too short, at least 3 days will be the best; still, for a first timer, you can skip entering the Alcazar which will take half of your day and if too tight, skip entering the Cathedral, then a weekend will be just about right, however on behalf of missing two unique masterpieces.

What we did not do the last time was entering to the Alcazar, hence why this was a priority in this trip. And since we visited the Cathedral and climbed up the Giralda tower back then, there was no need for repeating on this occasion. Making such arrangements meant we could re-visit the entire city in all the time we had; and of course now, having the chance to finally create a proper travel guide which I never did for Seville in my blog. I know it will be a harder job once I reach the listing of sights to visit and what to do. That will be a long list definitely, but will try my best to group them by districts/areas and follow the best and most optional route as I generally do for anyone to freely enjoy.

Consider the entire city as an open museum, because it really feels like this, same way as you can say for Rome, Prague, Vienna or Paris. And it’s home to one of the world’s largest monumental historic town. At every turn you will find a piece of history in the puzzle when Spain was once the most powerful and largest empire on earth. The capital city for the New World that was being discovered; the city from where any expedition and trade to/from the colonies will start and terminate, and the port of call where all the wealth and riches from the colonies would arrive. (more…)

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Agrigento, (Italy)

“Ancient Greek Akragas”, “The Valley of the Temples”

Agrigento, Italy, December 2017

Approaching the end of the year, however not the end of the trips for this year yet. Still some more to come even though it’s just days before the Christmas time, and exciting for another great trip to come over New Year’s Eve and the first two weeks of January escaping the freezing and ugly weather in Europe for some beached in the Caribbean and an amazing cultural heritage everywhere in Cuba! For now, this is way another incredible trip whatsoever. No need to travel very far to reach some of the most unique and incredible places on earth from one of the once most fascinating and developed ancient civilization, the Greek. Agrigento was back then, Akragas; one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia. Sicily is Italy, that’s for sure, however over the past millennia this has not been the case and before the Romans, the Greek were here, among other past civilizations.

Reaching this place becomes a rush of excitement since it’s one of this key destinations for any ancient civilization lover. It is, and it will be, as when I finally get to reach Persepolis or the Machu Picchu, or when I walked past the siq into the “Treasury” building in Petra. Here you will find some of the most elaborate, large and best preserved Greek temples from this civilization, comparable to these of another former Magna Graecia jewels, Paestum (southern Italy).

A magnificent city founded around 580 BC, it developed prosperously being one of the richest and most important cities of the Greek Colony, once of the oldest democracies in the world until the Carthaginians in 406 BC overthrew it to never recover. Thereafter disputed between the Carthaginians and the Romans during both Punic Wars, it fully became part of Rome in 210 BC who renamed it Agrigentum. Both Greek and Latin were the official languages for many centuries afterwards until the fall of Rome changing hands to the Vandalic and Ostrogothic kingdoms before the Byzantine Empire. Lastly the Normans during the entire medieval period until the unification of Italy in 1860 leaded by Giuseppe Garibaldi. (more…)

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Trapani, (Italy)

“Ancient Greek Drepanon”

Segesta and Trapani, Italy, December 2017

Once again returning to Palermo in Sicily however with a different objective. A year ago this was for properly visiting this incredible city; yet in this occasion the main points were reaching Trapani right after arriving into Palermo’s airport, and the following day for one of the most spectacular cities from the ancient Greek civilization, Agrigento with its Valley of the Temples. All in all, another busy weekend ahead, but no matter how tired I get this all is well worth it and will keep doing it on and on for as long as I can. Also, returning to Palermo will be a reality for sure, with so much more to see west of the island and in the city itself, it’s the perfect gateway.

Often bypassed by tourists, the city has a lot to see and do. Much more that I did originally think and expected. And when saying this, I am also including the nearby mountain top village of Erice which is linked to Trapani by cable car and you can consider another district of the city, and if time permitting, it’s way worth it visit the ancient Greek city of Segesta with its marvelous Doric temple so incredibly well preserved. It’s matter of minutes by train or bus from downtown Trapani, hence as if it would be another city’s district.

The historic city centre in the other hand, is small and easy to navigate, that’s the good news hence why this is a perfect day trip from larger Palermo at the northeast, or Agrigento at the south of the island where tourists prefer to make their main base; myself among them of course by staying in Palermo. (more…)

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Avignon and Orange, (France)

“Greek Auenion “, “Roman Avennĭo”, “City of Popes”, “World’s largest Gothic building”

Avignon, France, October 2017

A very unexpected and not even planned return to the city of Nimes this year however with a different purpose: visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed city of Avignon, and same listed nearby smaller city of Orange with one of the best preserved Roman theatres anywhere across the former ancient empire. So yes, overall, this trip was booked less than 2 weeks before coming on what would have been a weekend without any trip. To anyone reading this article as a standalone without checking my travel pattern, then it will sound normal; to those who follow me then they know I cannot stay a weekend without travelling abroad unless there is absolutely no option.

Flying to Nimes during low season is great in both air fare costs and hotel stay. Gladly from London it is very easy to find great flight deals even though the times are not the most optimal for this route, giving us just little over 24 hours, basically the entire Saturday from the very early morning until the return flight Sunday by noon. Still having been to Nimes just 4 months ago, there was no other plan to visit anything else than nearby Avignon, my main aim for this quick trip which was for a while now behind my ear in the bucket list of desired places to travel to. With Orange, I am still unsure if I will be able to manage it in the same day. I leave it for now in here whether if I make it or if not, because it is something anyone can easily plan and visit in tandem. One to another is just 30 kilometres, and both cities are small enough to manage, bearing in mind Orange’s highlight is pretty much its ancient Roman theatre. If you come to see pictures from Orange later on below in the next sections then it’s good luck to myself! I managed it.

So let’s concentrate in Avignon. “The City of Popes”. Why is such a nickname you might ask? Well during the 14th century this was the only city in history where the Papacy was switched from Rome to Avignon, where 7 successive Popes resided with control until 1791, when at the turn of the French Revolution it become part of France. Nevertheless, its heritage can today be seen and admire immaculately preserved all over the city including its ramparts; one of the very few cities to retain these in France without turning them down at the expansion and modernisation in the successive centuries. But among the structures, one immediately comes as the highlight number one and major draw for tourist to this city: the Palace of the Popes, the largest Gothic building in the world, pretty much unaltered since its construction bearing its interiors and furniture lost through the centuries.

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Naples, (Italy)

“Greek Parthenope: Pure Voice”, “Latin Neapolis: New City”, “Dormant and quiet”

Naples, Italy, May 2017

Returning for one more time to what is now, without hesitation, one of our favourites cities in the whole of Italy: Naples. So much to see and not just only in the beautiful and so historic city itself but in the region nearby, that with every trip we do we never have enough time to see it all, but we are always happy to already start thinking in the next visit and which other places can be discovered. This city is by far the one in Italy located at the footsteps of countless world heritage sites and unique places, world-wide known. From spectacular beaches along the idyllic coasts of Sorrento and Amalfi; luxury destinations such as Capri or Ischia Islands; the ever watching Vesuvius Volcano and the literally countless Roman remains, the best and most complete ancient cities buried for almost 2000 years after the deadly Vesuvius eruption: Pompeii, ErcolanoOplontis and Stabiae. And if this is not enough, some further kilometres to the south south you have the ancient Greek cities of Paestum and Velia and the largest cloister in the world, the Certosa di San Lorenzo in Padula; or merely few kilometres north of Naples the largest royal residence in the world in the city of Caserta. This is only to name a few of the many destinations near Naples, now that we’ve been is most of them.

I take this occasion as a good chance for remaking this travel guide continuing to improve by adding as much updated information as possible, since it was already becoming too old. Now with all the links through added to other travel guides for the cities and sites near Naples, I am hoping to give enough details for everyone to enjoy a great holiday and know at all times what to see and do in the most simplest way possible.

Now time for a brief introduction to the city before moving onto the next subjects. Forget these urban legends about Naples as being a dangerous city. Of course, as a tourist, you will not end up going to random neighbourhoods or dodgy places where no one goes right? I’m sure you do not do that either in your hometown. Then all is left is a peaceful, messy and pretty much safe city. We’ve never felt any insecurity, although yes it is true at night around the train stations the situation looks not the best place to be. Too many homeless people everywhere, too dirty, day and night, but again, we’ve never experienced anything wrong.

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Arles, (France)

“Roman: Arelate”, “Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelatensium Sextanorum”

Arles, France, May 2017

Continuing right after visiting Nimes and at only 30 kilometres south, we could not let then chance go away without including the beautiful and historic World Heritage City of Arles. Smaller than Nimes, yet packed with further Roman remains, Romanesque architecture masterpieces and elegant architecture. It is the smaller sister version of Nimes that can and should be easily included in your route as a tandem tour. Both cities are small enough to be combined together on a same day and both compliment each other, furthermore you do not even need to have your own transport as a rental car to move in between them because there are frequent buses and trains taking barely 30 minutes.

It’s incredible to see this small region of France containing some of the largest, finest and best preserved Roman buildings across the former Roman Empire, all of which listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. And it’s not just about both Nimes and Arles, but also the nearby aqueduct and Pont du Gard, and the awe-impressive immaculate and complete theatre and the Triumphal Arch of the city of Orange. On this last case, Orange, due to our overall limited time and different plans for the following day going to Montpellier, we could not reach. We will keep it in mind and also include when doing another trip back to this region visiting the UNESCO city of Avignon among others.

Arles is a truly charming city along the Rhone River near its discharge basin on the Mediterranean. The entire west and south are already touching the edges of the natural park, and we are glad after this trip to have made it here. Small, and so easy to visit and enjoy through, and such a great weather we had, it’s impossible to say any not positive comment. (more…)

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