Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Lucca is this kind of city. The more time you spend here, the longer you want to stay. Yes, the picturesque walled Tuscan city at the foot of the Apennine Mountains and along the Serchio River is touristy. Still it remains an authentic city with a very nice atmosphere, different from a slightly arrogant museum-Florence (don’t get me wrong, Florence can be wonderful, but it has also been the victim of its success and mass tourism seems to have taken the best of it) or quick-cruise-stop Pisa. How long to plan for Lucca? Two days is the absolute minimum, spending at least a night within the city walls. Here are many ideas sorted out by themes to spend a good 4 to 5 days in the city, including climbing its towers, visiting excellent museums, tasting and cooking delicious Tuscan specialties, listening to some Puccini, and experiencing unexpected outdoor activities.
Text: Claire Lessiau Photographs: Marcella van Alphen
It bears different names: in Italian, the Duomo di Firenze or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (literally translated as Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).
It is unmistakable though. World’s fourth largest cathedral (after London, Rome and Milan) dominates the skyline of Florence. Whether from the hills across the Arno River, standing at its foot or looking at it from its bell tower or terraces, its dazzling dimensions make one feel tiny!
The 15th of April 2019 was a tragic day. A fire ravaged the cathedral for 15 hours, taking down its spire and its roof. 500 firefighters operating in the dense heart of Paris could save the monument heroically. Millions shared their emotions and many sent financial help from all over the world showing how much of a symbol Notre Dame is for all of us, regardless of religion or nationality. At the moment, the cathedral is closed to the public and undergoing restorations. Securing it and ensuring its structural integrity were the first tasks: the vault and structure are saved. Explore Notre Dame in this article, from its 850-year history to its current status.
Initiated in the 1930’s as one of the first contemporary art museums, it is in the 1990’s that the Italian architect Mario Barro turned a dump downtown into the basis of today’s SFMOMA. In 2013 Keep traveling!
The Nizwa Fort nested among mountains and oasis with the souk spreading at the foot of its recognisable tower is a must-see.
When Oman converted to Islam peacefully and by faith in the 8th century, the idea to create a true Muslim state was paramount, and prior to today’s sultanate, the Imamate was ruling the country. Religious and political powers were consolidated in the hands of the elected Imam in the capital Nizwa (until the coastal Muscat became the capital in 1793). As such, Nizwa has been the centre of religion and also of politics for many centuries, calling for new standards for fortified buildings in a land divided among many tribes. keep reading
Inaugurated only in 2008, the Oslo Opera House has already become the landmark of the Norwegian capital. Its architecture intrigues. Like an iceberg floating in the Oslo fjord, locals and tourists alike climb it to reach its roof via soft inclines or explore its warm and modern foyer. Far from the elite image of most opera houses, the Oslo Opera House is an open space decisively. It has revolutionized its area, a former shipyard cut off from the rest of the city by an ugly highway that was forced underground, and made it a favourite promenade attracting recommendable neighbours like the new Munch Museum or the bar code urbanization project. The building fascinates, and the temptation of exploring its ins and outs only grows bigger as one approaches it.
I am rolling the sleeves of my shirt down to my wrists. In my bag, I grab a pareo that I carefully wrap up around my head in order to hide my hair. I motion with confidence towards the women’s entrance of the mosque, when I am called back: my pants show my bottom and that is not acceptable here at Sheikh Zayed Al Kabeer Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Also known as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, this half-a-billion euro place of worship is the largest of the UAE, and can host more than 40,000 worshipers. I am Keep travelling!
Standing on the bunker del Carmen overlooking the city of Barcelona bathed by the sunset light, La Sagrada Familia boldly rises above the buildings. I have always had mixed feelings passing by the grey façades of the most visited landmark of the capital of Catalonia invaded by hordes of tourists. It is only by entering this basilica that I went from a dubious passer-by to being an admirer of Gaudí’s technical genius and refined symbolism.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Passeig de Gràcia is the place to settle in for the powerful and wealthy of Barcelona. In 1903, Josep Batlló a rich textile industrialist buys a 25-year old house on this most prestigious street of the new and modern El Eixample district. However, Batlló’s house looks a bit dull Keep travelling!
Walking down the Ramblas and slaloming between noisy groups of tourists and insisting street sellers, we make a right into a quiet side street. A few metres further and the craziness of the Ramblas seems like a distant memory. We have just arrived in front of Palau Güell, Gaudí’s first major assignment for his most loyal patron, the rich industrialist Eusebi Güell. Keep travelling!
Slightly more than a century ago, the pride of Catalonia already echoed loud and clear, carried by the Catalan Modernist architectural movement and the Renaixença cultural movement. The Palau de la Música in the gothic Barcelona is the communion of these influences. The most representative examples of this Catalan pride, it is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.
The Sant Pau Art nouveau site is off the very beaten path of the modernist landmarks of Barcelona. A stone’s throw away from La Sagrada Familia, it is an impressive hospital that was built in the early 20th century and one of the most beautiful examples of modernist architecture.
We are standing a few kilometres south of the fortified city of Carcassonne, with the vineyards rolling down from our feet to the base of the majestic ramparts, and the Black Mountain in the background. In Southern France, Carcassonne is a marvel of the Middle-Ages: an entire city completely fortified with its narrow cobblestoned medieval streets, its imposing castle, and gothic basilica. Carcassonne remains the most complete example of French medieval military architecture, and it took about 25 centuries to shape Carcassonne as it is today…
The Morgan library is not on every tourist trail in New York City, and is a masterpiece housing a tremendous collection mostly from the Middle-Ages and Renaissance gathered by Pierpont Morgan, a man who shaped the U.S.A.
Being born and raised in Europe, we are quite familiar with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance eras. Italy and its treasures like Florence, the medieval wonders of France, the UK or Prague, etc. are sites we have been lucky to visit. Heading to New York City, our first reflex is not to head to the repositories of the old world, but to discover its urban jungle and Keep traveling!
The chanting of the few dozen of monks, dressed in their traditional orange robes, continues. The monks pray, their voices low in the large and dark atmospheric prayer hall made of teak that is decorated with flapping orange flags. Keep traveling!
I decide to stop my motorbike in front of the narrow improvised bridge. I feel relieved and worried at the same time. Relieved, as the previous river crossing did not offer the luxury of a bridge. I had to launch my semi-automatic 125 cc Honda Dream motorbike into the murky stream and use all of my skills to extract it from the water in which it was immerged wheel-deep. Worried, as this wooden bridge is no more than 50-centimetre wide, with no rails to prevent a potential fall into the water, and for good measure a missing plank in the centre leaving a gap just the right size to sink the front wheel in.
I am looking at my partner with envy as she has already crossed. When she turns her head, I capture her smile and instantly come up with a genius plan Keep reading
It has been a long trip, walking for hundreds of kilometres. Setting off about a month ago, we have just arrived at the foot of the last obstacle. It is so close and yet, it seems impossible to reach. The high tide covers up the whole shore and I fear greatly for this life-threatening crossing on foot to the sacred island Keep reading
The colourful roof of Panama’s Biomuseo designed by the world-famous architect Frank Gehry rises above the horizon of the Amador Causeway. Located along the entrance of the Panama Canal, the causeway used to be owned by the USA and was left barren after Panama regained its territory on 31 December 1999. Frank Gehry’s Panamanian wife took part in the discussions about what to do with the land, and soon crucial decisions were made to build the extravagant Biomuseo. Keep traveling!
The colourful facades of Granada’s houses are still visible today and give the city its character. Founded in 1524 by Fransico Hernández de Córdoba, it was named after the ancient city of Granada in Spain. It long rivaled with Léon to be Nicaragua’s capital until Keep reading
A UNESCO world heritage site, the cathedral of the Assumption in Leon is an impressive building and remains the largest cathedral in Central America. Center of life of the city, it is located on a lively square, while food stalls are aligned along its back wall. Keep traveling!
It must be a tyrannosaur-rex, I think, while I turn on my side in another useless attempt to fall back sleep as the sun is almost rising. The roar from the Guatemalan jungle is so loud that I fear the size of the animal making this much noise, especially while spending the night in a small tent… Keep traveling!
From the top of the 77-metre high massive pyramid of La Danta, the huge city sprawls at my feet. From the grand plaza on which La Danta stands, a broad street paved with white stones leads to the Great Acropolis, Keep traveling!
Article updated on May 22, 2020 Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), an ancient route called the Nakasendō, literally meaning the Central Mountain Route, connected the political capital Edo (today’s Tokyo) to Kyoto, home to the Imperial Palace. Samurais and merchants used to cover its 534 kilometres through mountains and valleys. Today one can still hike the historical trail, its most atmospheric stretch being between the villages of Magome and Tsumago to explore a rare and timeless Japan.
Article updated on May 20, 2020 Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Cherry blossoms in spring, red maple leaves in autumn, hidden temples, modern buildings, bamboo forests, bright orange torii gates, philosophical strolls, haute cuisine, Geisha culture: Kyoto has so much to offer! One would have to Keep travelling!