Beyond Las Ramblas

While the history and beauty of Barcelona cannot be denied, the heart and soul of the city is the winding avenue known simply as Las Ramblas. Actually made up of several individual neighborhood avenues, the esplanade of this long avenue is a melting pot of street performers, living statues, street vendors, impromptu musical performances and what seems, at times, like the entire population of the city.

At the end of Las Ramblas farthest from the port is the large square known as Placa Catalunya (located beyond spot #268 of our Discovery Walk in Barcelona). In this wide open area you’ll find fountains and statues and even the rare sight of some large grassy areas in the middle of what can seem like a city of concrete. And while Las Ramblas enters the square from the south it’s the street exiting the square to the north that captivates me.

This wide and opulent avenue is known as the Passeig de Gràcia and it’s a must-see for any serious shopper or people-watcher. If you’re thinking of buying or renting property here you should know that Passeig de Gràcia is the most expensive street not just in Barcelona but in all of Spain. But here determined shoppers will find all of the names they’re looking for – including Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, Armani, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Hermes………well, you get my point.

This marvelous avenue can be just as big a thrill for fans of architecture, with some of the most beautiful examples of design from the early 1900s. Even two of the great architect Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces are here – La Pedrera that was built at No. 92 as an apartment building in 1905 but is now a museum and Casa Batllo at No. 43 that was originally built for a wealthy Barcelona aristocrat.

And of course there are scores of wonderful restaurants along the way as well. But the real joy of Passeig de Gràcia is that’s it’s a perfect opportunity for a leisurely stroll among some of Barcelona’s well-heeled citizens to enjoy the ambiance and beauty of one of Europe’s premier avenues.

To download A Discovery Walk in Barcelona or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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Dubrovnik’s Hidden Synagogue

While its spectacularly preserved defensive walls from the Middle Ages and its beautiful cathedral may be the highlights of Dubrovnik, from a historical perspective the city’s Synagogue should not be missed.

Located across from the Church of St. Blaise and down a narrow passage called “Ulica Zudioska”, or Jewish Street, (located near spot #214 of our Discovery Walk in Dubrovnik) you’ll find a 13th  century Gothic house  that still houses what many believe to be the second oldest Synagogue in all of Europe, having been established in 1408.

This is also believed to be the oldest functioning Sephardic synagogue in the world, making it one of the most treasured sites for the Sephardic culture. In 1546 a Jewish ghetto was established around this narrow street near the Sponza Palace allowing Jews to live within the city walls of Dubrovnik.

On the first floor of the house is a small museum with many artifacts including Torah scrolls that date back to the 13th or 14th century. Many believe that these ancient scrolls were brought to Dubrovnik by the Sephardic Jews that were expelled from Spain in 1492.

On the second floor is the synagogue itself. Although the synagogue is very small it was still large enough to accommodate the small Jewish population of the city that never exceeded around 250 people. A chest on gold colored pillars is known as the Holy Ark of the Law because the Torah scrolls believed to have been brought from Spain in 1492 are kept here.

If you’re interested in the history not only of Dubrovnik but of the Jewish faith throughout Europe you should be sure to make this small but important Synagogue a part of your visit.

To download A Discovery Walk in Dubrovnik or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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Wander the Moats of Rhodes

The defensive walls surrounding the ancient town of Rhodes are some of the best preserved in Greece. And the streets along the walls can be some of the most crowded in the travel crazy days of summer. But you may be able to get away from the crowds and spend some quiet time wandering through the wide dry moat area between the towering  walls of the city and their protective outer defensive ramparts.

Just outside St. Anthony’s Gate in the first city wall (marked as spot #228 of our Discovery Walk in Dubrovnik) you’ll find a narrow gate leading down into the dry moat area below the high exterior city wall. Carefully go down the sometimes steep walkway there and you’ll soon find yourself in the flat moat area that runs literally hundreds of yards in both directions. As you stroll past ancient cannonballs try to imagine yourself back in the days when attacking armies tried to storm the high walls and you may get a sense of the foreboding presence that these walls must have been to those enemy forces.

To download A Discovery Walk in Rhodes or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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Portofino’s Most Beautiful Walk

Portofino is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular small ports on the Mediterranean. From the million dollar yachts that often crown into the narrow inlet to the endless horizon that awaits you at the lighthouse, the glories of this quaint but sometimes crowded port are everywhere.

Although the path continues along the coast, this is normally the spot where I spend a little time to soak in the beauty of the wonderful cove before heading back into the town of Portofino.

But for me, the stroll out of the town along the coast running to the east is the most spectacular and relaxing walk to be found. You can begin the walk by going through the pedestrian tunnel under the highway near the interesting Church of San Martino (marked as spot #216 of our Discovery Walk in Portofino). When you exit on the other side of the highwy you’ll find a path that leads back toward the sea.

Follow this path and you’ll have a picture-perfect view of the town, the harbor and the Church of Saint John sitting on the hill across the harbor. The path will then bend slowly to your left, passing private homes and offering wonderful views across the blue Mediterranean.

After a walk of less than 400 yards you’ll find yourself gazing down at one of the most gorgeous coves you could ever hope to see, with the famous turquoise water of the Mediterranean.  And looking up the hill behind the cove you’ll see the historic Hotel Splendido, the playground of the rich and famous, including many Hollywood celebrities, for more than 100 years.

Although the path continues along the coast this is normally the spot where I spend some time enjoying the beauty of the cove before taking the stroll back into the town of Portofino.

To download A Discovery Walk in Portofino or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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Pisa’s Overlooked Treasure

It’s hard to fault anyone, especially a first time visitor, for becoming hypnotised by the imposing beauty of the major structures found in the historic Piazza dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles. From the world famous Leaning Tower to the imposing Cathedral and the majestic Baptistery this is truly a landscape of unforgettable architecture.

But almost hidden among these beauties is the simplicity of the soaring wall that surrounds one of the most hallowed burial grounds in all of Italy (marked as #222 of our Discovery Walk in Pisa). In Italian, Camposanto means “cemetery and behind this mighty wall is the Camposanto Vecchio or Old Cemetery of Pisa.

The burial ground here was created in 1278 during the Crusades when Pisa’s archbishop returned from Calvary, the hill outside ancient Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. He brought with him entire shiploads of soil from that sacred site so that Pisa’s most worthy residents could be buried in holy ground. Legend says that this dirt from the Holy Land turns a body into a skeleton in just one day.

The building and walls that now enclose this sacred site were completed around the end of the 13th century. Later, ancient and medieval artwork from throughout the city was relocated here, making the Camposanto with its beautiful frescoes an important museum.

A simple timber roof once covered the open area inside the walls but that roof, along with many precious frescoes, was destroyed during World War II. But today, after many years of loving restoration, the somber beauty of the burial ground and its many works of art and historical relics remains a wonderful if often overlooked jewel among the more recognized masterpieces in the Field of Miracles.

To download A Discovery Walk in Pisa or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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Escape the Crowds in Sorrento

Sorrento is one of the loveliest and liveliest towns along the Mediterranean coast of Italy. From the hub of activity in Tasso Square through the rush of tourists wandering along the Corso Italia, this is a great place to enjoy the activity and the energy of a bustling cruise port. But for independent travelers there always comes a time when you want to just get away by yourselves and enjoy the history and beauty in a calmer atmosphere.

If that urge hits you in Sorrento you might want to visit the wonderful Terranova Museum (located at spot #256 of our Discovery Walk in Sorrento). On the edge of Tasso Square and running in front of the Carmine Church you’ll find the street Via Correale. Turn down this street and on your right  is a nice pizzeria called Tasso Restaurante Pizzeria and if you’d like something to eat or drink this is a good choice.

Continue along the street it will eventually bend around to the right where, in less than one-quarter of a mile you’ll reach museum. In the 16th century this villa was one of the centers of Sorrento’s social life hosted by the two Correale brothers, Alfredo and Pompeo. When the brothers died the villa with all of the artwork, and wonderful gardens were bequeathed to the town.

As museums go, this is a small and relaxing one filled with marble statues from the Greek and Roman periods in the region as well as valuable pieces of 18th century furniture and porcelain pieces in Neapolitan and Sicilian styles. And one of the most fascinating rooms is dedicated to the old masters of the Sorrentine marquetry craft of inlaid wood designs.

After you enjoy the villa and its works of art be sure to go out into the gardens behind the building. And if you have the time for a nice stroll look for the path that leads straight ahead and out of the garden. This is a nice shady walk that will take you through trees, other gardens as well as orange groves.

It eventually bends around to the left and leads through a low arched tunnel and onto a terrace located behind a nice hotel. The terrace there offers great views of the water as well as restaurant service from the hotel in case you’re hungry.

Eventually the path leads through a low arched tunnel and onto the terrace located behind a nice hotel. The terrace there offers great views of the water as well as restaurant service from the hotel in case you’re hungry.

To download A Discovery Walk in Sorrento or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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A Hidden Treasure in Corfu

Some of the most vivid memories of a trip are those spots so out of the way as to be private but so intimate to the cultural and history of the area as to be unforgettable. We fond one such spot on our trip to Corfu.

The Saint Nicholas Baths complex and the small Church of St. Nicholas sit on a finger of land below the city’s 16th century defensive walls (near a spot marked as #234 of our Discovery Walk in Corfu). Facing toward the walls from the parking area of the church  walk to your right along the base of the defensive wall of the town as it bends sharply along the water.  In just over 100 yards you’ll soon see some old wooden piers on your right and a single iron railing against the wall on your left. Behind this railing is a small door built into the wall.

Go through this door and you’ll find yourself in a tiny but very reverent chapel. It is said that local fishermen once found a statue of a saint lying on the beach here and they built the chapel as an offering to her. At the back of this tiny chapel is an interesting old engraving. This is a solemn religious spot for the locals and there are no signs in English so please be quiet and respectful if you choose to look inside.

To download A Discovery Walk in Corfu or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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The True Celebrities of Mykonos

The beach area in Mykonos is normally very busy early in the morning with lines of locals waiting to buy some of the fresh fish that has just been caught by the town’s many small fishing vessels that dock here.

But in addition to the carts full of fresh fish at this impromptu fish market (marked as #208 of our Discovery Walk in Mykonos) you may also be lucky enough to see a pelican named Petros and a couple of his feathered friends that have become the celebrated mascots of Mykonos.

The story of Petros the Pelican began in 1954 when a local fisherman stumbled upon a wounded pelican that he named Petros. The fisherman was so moved by the pelican’s discomfort that he decided to take the bird home and care for him.

Surprisingly, after Petros was nursed back to health he did not fly away but instead decided to make the town of Mykonos his permanent home. As the months went by, the cute pelican became more and more popular with all of the town’s residents. 

Petros led a very charmed life on the island for more than 30 years and when the original Petros died in 1986, the entire town of Mykonos went into mourning. Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, who also loved the life and beauty of Mykonos, decided to help the town’s people by providing them with a replacement for their beloved Petros. She donated another pelican to the town, and named it Irene.  Since then two other injured pelicans have been adopted by the town so now there is not one pelican but three – Irene, Nikolas and the original’s namesake, Petros.

Everyone in Mykonos seems to love the pelicans, especially the tourists and children. If the pelicans aren’t here at the fish market eagerly hoping for some handouts you may catch a glimpse of them throughout the day as they stroll leisurely around the port and through the city’s many alleyways.

To download A Discovery Walk in Mykonos or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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Athen’s Overlooked Little Secret

Many visitors make a point of visiting Athen’s wonderful Greek Orthodox cathedral known as the Mitropoli. But few notice the much smaller   Byzantine Church that sits adjacent to it (at the spot marked as #208 of our Discovery Walk in Athens).

This small church is called Agios Eleftherios but more often referred to simply as the Little Cathedral. Construction of the small church began in the 12th century over an old temple dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess Eleithya, the goddess of childbirth. Much of the material that was used in construction of the church came from existing structures that had been built during the ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras.  Many of the friezes and murals date back to much earlier times, including a mural from the 4th century BC and, above the door, a carved relief that is a part of a 2nd century AD calendar marking ancient Athenian festivals.

Later, Christians dedicated the church to Saint Mary, their protector of childbirth, and Christian women of the time proyed here in hopes that St. Mary would help them experience a quick and painless childbirth.

Facing the much larger and well known cathedral from the square in front simply walk to the right side of the cathedral where you’ll find this small but historically significant cathedral.

To download A Discovery Walk in Athens or any of our other 17 self-guided walks to your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy travels!

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Meeting Place for the Independent Traveler

 

The historical gems of the world are just waiting to be discovered. And for the independent traveler, nothing can be more disheartening that to have the experience of an exciting new spot in the world diminished by the crush of the tourist crowds that have become all too familiar.

At Discovery Walks (www.discovery-walk.com) we believe that these once in a lifetime experiences should be shared by only a few close friends or companions whenever possible. And by placing all of the important facts and interesting sidelights of the most important sites in a city at your fingertips we hope to free you from the crowds and set you on your own adventure.

With Discovery Walks loaded onto your own iPod or other MP3 player and with the accompanying customized map of the area you are free to explore each city when you want, for as long as you want and at your own pace. And here at discovery-travels.com we hope you’ll share your adventures and your thoughts with other independent travelers about the places you visit .

So grab your iPod, download a Discovery Walk and set out to live and experience your travel dreams. And when you have the time and the inclination share some thoughts and some pictures with those of us that hope to be lucky enough to follow in your footsteps someday soon.

To download any of our 17 self-guided Discovery Walks for your own iPod or other MP3 player go to www.discovery-walk.com.

Happy Travels!

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