Tag Archives: culture

A visit to Echternach, Luxembourg

Just over an hour by bus from Luxembourg City lies Echternach, the oldest town in Luxembourg.

I picked it over Vianden Castle (another popular destination for short trips from Luxembourg City) for no particular reason. Except that I was curious about crossing the border into Germany – just a walk across the bridge over the river Sauer – and back…

Yet the main attractions here are the Abbey of Echternach, which was founded in the 7th century, and the Roman Basilica, rebuilt after World War II. The museum of the Abbey is only open during the summer, though, so I couldn’t visit.

The town itself retains a medieval feel, with its narrow streets, old churches, town walls, towers and a marketplace with a Gothic townhouse. This makes a stroll around very enjoyable.

Echternach has also been recognised at European level for its cultural value: in 2008 it was rewarded by the European Commission as “European destination of excellence”. In 2010, the famous Dancing Procession that always takes place on Whit Tuesday became part of UNESCO’s Intangible World Cultural Heritage.

For the summer, there is also a lake and lots of opportunities for outdoor activities. Unfortunately a cold day wasn’t too suitable for that.

A lot going on for such a small place – really worth adding it to your to-do list for Luxembourg!

Nicosia: the last divided capital

I decided to take the 2-hr bus journey from Pafos to Nicosia (cost: Euro 7) mainly because I wanted to cross the Green Line, the border between the Greek part (South Nicosia, Lefkosia) and the Turkish part (North Nicosia, Lefkosa) of the capital city of Cyprus. The idea of a capital city still split between two countries – so many years after the end of a similar situation in Berlin – sounded very interesting.

As most tourist, I reached the border via Lidras (or Ledras) Street, a pedestrianised area in South Nicosia full of the usual high street stores and cafes. Passport checks were quick and relaxed, and within a couple of minutes I was on the other side.

"Green line" Nicosia Cyprus
The sign at the border between Greek and Turkish Nicosia

It was a very surreal experience, though: the vibe in North Nicosia is very different from the South, it is very Arabic/Turkish and it reminded me of Marrakech. Apart from the border crossing area I didn’t see many tourists and the streets and narrow alleys of the Old City were largely empty.

I wandered around for a few hours, checking out the main sites of Lefkosa but also losing myself in the alleys of the old town, soaking up in the atmosphere.
Here is what I saw:

Büyük Han – considered one of the finest buildings in Cyprus, it was built in the 16th century. Originally a caravansarai, it was restored in the 1990s and is now a thriving arts centre, with galleries, workshops, cafes and souvenir shops.

Selimiye Camii (Mosque) – also known as the Cathedral of Saint Sophia, this is now an unusual mix of Western cathedral and mosque, with landmark minaret towers that can be seen from most of Nicosia. The building is a beautiful example of a Roman Catholic cathedral, built mostly in the 13th century. Taken over by the Ottomans in 1570 it was then converted into a mosque and the minarets were added to the building.

The Bedesten – another example of a church that was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman period, and is now a cultural centre.

Belediye Pazari (also known as the Bandabulya) – for a lover of traditional markets like me, this was quite a disappointment. Apart from a few grocery stalls, where most locals gathered, the market was largely empty and only a handful of souvenir shops were open. I was quickly out of it, not before having bought a silver ankle bracelet, though!

The Venetian walls – initially built in the Middle Ages then rebuilt in the 16th century, they surround Nicosia and are very well preserved. They also contain eleven bastions and three gates.

"North Nicosia" Cyprus "Kyrenia Gate"
Kyrenia Gate in North Nicosia

I stopped for lunch in one of the local kebab houses, where I joined lots of locals enjoying their meals sitting outside and I tasted a traditional Cypriot dish: sheftalia kebab.

Walking along the Green Line from the Armenian Church back to the Lokmaci gate, the atmosphere was a bit eerie, a lot of buildings here have been destroyed and hardly anyone walks around, while frequent signs remind you that this is still military zone and photography is not allowed. I didn’t see police around but thought it was better not to take chances and didn’t take any photos…

I really loved North Nicosia and when I crossed the border back into the Greek part, the tourist crowds and the shops of Lidras Street made this part of the capital city quite disappointing. I ended up catching the bus back to Pafos without exploring any further, also partly due to the odd bus hours and the long journey back.

Top tip if you visit Nicosia:
the Turkish part of Nicosia doesn’t belong to the cheap European roaming/mobile data plans that apply to its Greek counterpart. As soon as you cross the border, you will incur hefty charges on your smartphone, unless you switch roaming and data off. I forgot to do that and saw my £15 balance disappear in about an hour just by having internet switched on!

A photo from my archives: Doors in Dublin

Dublin, Ireland, 2009.

The colourful doors, typical of Georgian architecture, are one of the most popular landmarks of Dublin. Elegant Georgian homes featured in Dublin starting in the early 18th century, a time of prosperity for the city. These homes were built according to strict architectural guidelines and were therefore very similar. To set themselves apart, residents of Dublin started painting their front doors of different colours and adding ornate knockers, elegant fanlights and wrought iron boot scrapers.

The result is the very colourful appearance of the Georgian homes!

Unfortunately from the 1950’s most of these houses were demolished as part of redevelopment plans and replaced by office blocks and government buildings. Many still remain, though, and can be seen in several neighbourhoods of Dublin.

Dubai: not only glitz’n’glam

Dubai is not my thing (click here for my previous post).
But I am here now so I might as well try and see what’s out there beyond the overwhelming glitz’n’glam, I thought.

In Dubai town
In Dubai town

“Madam, you cannot walk to the Heritage Village from here. You must catch a taxi”. This is what the hotel receptionist told me in the morning. We’ll see, I thought. My well-known aversion for taxis had already kicked in. I always walk everywhere or catch public transport. I can be found on taxis only when no other options are available.

So I started walking around Deira, the old part of town, starting from a main road then turning into any interesting side streets I spotted. There were not many people around and I was the only white woman walking on her own. Did it bother me? Slightly, but not enough to stop me wandering. But I used care :-).

And soon there was the fish market. It was a large fish and groceries market, quite lively and busy.

The fish market building in Bur Deira
The fish market building in Bur Deira
At the Dubai fish market
At the Dubai fish market

After leaving the market, the sign for the “Underpass for Bur Dubai” appeared in front of me. Bur Dubai is on the western side of the Dubai creek, opposite Bur Deira, which is where I was.
I followed the sign and entered the underpass, a pedestrian underwater crossing that connects the two sides of the creek.
And at the other end I found what I was looking for: no more glitz’n’glam, but renovated historic buildings and museums, a step back in time into some of Dubai’s culture and heritage!

The area is called Al Shindagha and features a Heritage Village and a Diving Village, which are built to familiarise tourists with the region’s traditional arts, customs and architecture. In addition there are several museums (Camel Museum, Horse Museum, Traditional Architecture Museum, etc) and some historic buildings. Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House is a beautiful traditional building and former residential quarters of Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, former ruler of Dubai.

Along the Al Shindagha waterfront
Along the Al Shindagha waterfront

The whole area was very quiet when I visited, and therefore more enjoyable. Walking around the sand-coloured buildings and in the narrow streets was a pleasure (apart from the 40C degrees temperature..). One security guard offered to guide me around a couple of buildings and museums, giving me interesting information about history and local customs.

The Dubai Museum, located in the Al Fahidi Fort (built in 1787 and the oldest building in Dubai), was another highlight of the morning. It has very interesting displays of traditional ways of life in the UAE, and kept me occupied for quite a while.

The Dubai Museum (in Al Fahidi Fort)
The Dubai Museum (in Al Fahidi Fort)

I didn’t take a boat ride across the creek, on one of the traditional wooden boats (abras) that cross the river. I was planning to go back at sunset and do it then, but plans changed.

Trying to blend in
Trying to blend in….

I may never go back to Dubai – after all I have seen all I wanted to see – but I am glad that I have found something more than just glitzy and glamorous buildings.

For more Dubai photos click here.