Discover Why Wine and Cheese is a Match Made in Heaven

Sampling the delicious cheeses produced in the various regions of France can be a fascinating and revealing aspect of any French wine tour.

The terroir, the climate, the weather conditions, the age and levels of fermentation are all vital aspects contributing to a great wine, but they are also equally important in creating that other great French love: cheese.

Every region of France has its own speciality cheese, just as it has its speciality wines. Many of them are given the honour of representing their regions with the important Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) certification.

Think of the Alps Savoie with its famous Beaufort, Île-de-France with its Brie, Normandy with its Camembert and Languedoc-Roussillon with its Pélardon; all these cheeses say something about the regions in which they are made, every bit as much as their wines do. It is this which makes cheese tasting a fascinating element of any wine tour.

Similar Processes

Perhaps it is the similarities wine and cheese share, in terms of their production, which make them complement each other so well on the palate.

Both wine and cheese are created using flora as their starting point, which depends on its natural environment for richness and flavour. In wine it is the grapes, while cheese depends on the grasses eaten by the animal from which it comes for its flavour. Both are then subject to fermentation and then are aged to various degrees to create an intensity and depth of flavour.

The subtle changes which can affect the flavour of a cheese, such as increased sunshine, wet weather and so on, are the same elements which can affect a good wine. This is one of the reasons why, in France, cheese tasting is considered almost as much of an art from as wine tasting, granting it a deserved place on any wine tour.

Wine and Cheese Pairing

A good wine tour around the wine-growing regions of France should therefore naturally include the pairing of wine from a select region with its cheese.

On our European Waterways wine tours, we make sure that our guests have the chance to sample some of the famous cheeses from the regions we visit, such as the Roquefort Papillon, Cathare au Chèvre and Tomme au Piment d’Espelette of the Canal du Midi.

There is nothing like gliding leisurely down a waterway, past vineyards and meadows, watching cows or sheep lazily grazing, only to try the wine grown in those very vineyards and with the cheese created by the animals we saw when we come to rest at night.

There is a certain harmony to eating cheese from one region accompanied by wine from the same region, both having been developed as a result of the same landscape and the same natural conditions.

It’s always great at the end of a wine tour to feel that you have really got to know the region you’ve visited, and getting to know both its wine and its cheeses is a really good place to start.

Discover Ireland’s Grand Canal on a Barge Cruise

Go on a barge cruise down Ireland’s Grand Canal to marvel at the beautiful Irish scenery and discover the fascinating history of this old commercial waterway.

For your next holiday, take a barge cruise down the Grand Canal and travel from Dublin to Shannon to discover all Ireland has to offer. You can admire the gorgeous green countryside and delightful little cottages that line the waterway, while diving into its interesting and intricate history as a commercial route which allowed the surrounding towns to prosper.

Length and Route

The Grand Canal in Ireland extends for 117 kilometres. Passing through Leinster, it flows from Ringsend in Dublin to the Shannon Harbour in County Offaly. This is the main route, built to connect the capital city with the country’s midlands. The waterway does also have another run that spreads from Lowtown in Couty Kildare to the River Barrow in Athy. There are also various branches that link up with four other towns, though it’s worth mentioning that your barge cruise will probably stick to the main route.

Along the way, you can enjoy beautiful views of Irish towns and villages with their charming little cottages, while admiring the many bridges that arch over the smooth water. The fauna and flora also remain untouched, with grassy towpaths and side roads lining the waterway and adding to the iconic Irish countryside feel.

History of the Grand Canal

Though the canal was closed to commercial traffic in the mid-twentieth century, it has since been restored to its former glory and regularly welcomes a variety of boats and barge cruises. It still features the original 43 locks, five of which are, from an engineering point of view, particularly interesting as they are double locks. Back in the day, these would have allowed the traffic to move faster as two boats can pass at once and there’s more chance of reaching a lock that’s in your favour. The lock-keepers’ cottages have also been refurbished to celebrate the history of this canal…

Relationship with The Guinness Factory

…And what a history it is! The Grand Canal played a crucial role in the creation and development of the Guinness factory. In 1759, two years after the construction of the canal began, Arthur Guinness founded his famous brewery. Thanks to the waterway, he could transport heavy loads of the raw materials he needed far more cheaply and effectively than by road. It was also an ideal way of exporting his finished product. When you pass through the eighth lock on a barge cruise, keep your eyes peeled for the Guinness filter beds which are still used by Arthur’s company today.

Impact of the Famine

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Ireland’s economy began to fail. As people lost their jobs, the Commission for Public Works set them to work on creating the canal. This was a successful scheme until the potato crops failed and the Great Famine broke out. Work had to be halted as labour became scarce. Eventually, trade and commerce on the canal declined, particularly as the construction of the railroads had just started.

By the 1980s, the Grand Canal had become something of a dumping ground. Thankfully, in 1986 it received a funding injection that sought to rejuvenate the canal and restore it to its former glory. Today boat traffic from barge cruises has increased and thousands are able to enjoy this historic waterway.

Step into History on a Bulgaria Tour

A country that played a major part in the Greek, Roman and Ottoman Empires, Bulgaria is a destination where travellers journey into a rich and fascinating past.

Bulgaria is more than a forward-looking, contemporary nation set in a stunning central European landscape, it is a country with a fascinating past, ripe for discovery.

Sandwiched in between Greece and Turkey, and within the extensive reach of the Roman and Russian Empires, much of the story of Bulgaria is built upon the architecture, culture and history of its powerful neighbours. On a Bulgaria tour you’ll see everything from ancient Greek and Roman ruins to Ottoman Mosques and Orthodox Russian churches.

Visiting the Captial

It is not hard to stumble upon history in the nation’s capital Sofia, particularly amongst the churches (some of which were originally built as Ottoman mosques and later converted). No Bulgaria tour would be complete without a visit to the city where the golden dome of the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Balklans, Alexander Nevsky, towers over the skyline. A visit to the cathedral reveals a sumptuous, intricately decorated interior, well worth spending a few hours in.

While you’re in Sofia there are other churches to explore, including the St Sofia, a sixth-century church with ancient catacombs to discover below ground, the Church of St George, the city’s oldest building, and the beautiful Russian St Nicholas.

A Mountain Monastery

A good Bulgaria tour will take in much more than just the city and towns of this beautiful country so make sure any itinerary you may be considering includes a trip to the Rila Mountains, and a visit to the tenth-century Rila Monastery. Built by the students of St Ivan, who lived as a hermit in nearby caves, the monastery has been so beautifully preserved that it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Explore Roman Ruins

Bulgaria is home to a number of important Roman ruins but probably the most atmospheric and impressive are the ruins at Plovdiv. The site holds the remains of the Roman town, including a still intact amphitheatre. Built in around 117AD, the theatre would have played host to gladiator battles as well as plays, with a capacity for a crowd of around 6,000 people. Today the theatre is still used, although you are more likely to see a Vivaldi opera than a battle to the death!

Historic Villages

For an authentic view of Bulgaria’s rural past, take time on your Bulgaria tour to visit the historic villages of Leshten and Kovachevitsa in the Rhodope Mountains. Like stepping back in time, the cobblestone streets and historic architecture speak of a past before industrialisation and modern technology, when the way of life here was much simpler and less advanced.

There is so much history to discover in Bulgaria that you might find that one visit is just not enough to take it all in. Step back in time on your first Bulgaria tour and you’ll want to return again and again to discover everything else this nation has to offer, from beautiful beaches to wonderful skiing, hiking and a huge range of modern cultural activities.

Visiting Venice? Brush Up on Your Gondola Knowledge

If gentle river cruises are one of your dream ways to discover the essence of a country, Italy has a treat in store for you: exploring the city of Venice by gondola.

For anyone who loves river cruises, Italy provides the perfect backdrop for discovering this beautiful country by waterway. And nowhere is this more true than in the watery city of Venice.

The sleek black gondolas are as iconic a sight in Venice as St Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace. While today they are used, almost exclusively, by tourists and visitors, their history is entwined with the city, as they were once one of the main forms of transport around its labyrinth of canals and waterways.

The History of the Venetian Boat

We know that as early as the eleventh century gondolas were used here as a mode of transport because they are mentioned in official correspondence in 1094, although it is not clear how long they had already been in use at this time. Some scholars date them to the 600s, just 200 years after the city’s foundation.

By the thirteenth century the vessels were considerably bigger than today. Propelled by up to 12 oars they were used by the wealthy elite as transport or for river cruises. Italy was booming in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, and in 1500 a map of its most vibrant mercantile city depicted the numerous gondolas on the canals.

At this time these boats became such an important sight along the city’s waterways that their wealthy private owners began to have them ornately decorated as a sign of their affluence. However, by 1562 this trend had got so out of hand with lavish adornments which threatened the safety of the boats, that officials banned such practises. Since this time the boats have been uniformly painted black with the only decoration being the curved tail, metal seahorses and a six-pronged prow (said to relate to the six districts of Venice).

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that it became the single piloted craft of today, although at this time it also included a small covering or ‘cabin’ to provide privacy to its occupants as they enjoyed their river cruises. Italy’s gonola heritage stopped evolving, however, in the twentieth century when Venetian officials forbade any further modifications to the design.

Made to Measure

Today the boats are made to an exact specification which allows them to be termed as ‘gondolas’ and to be driven by one of a limited number of licenced gondoliers.

Each vessel is uniformly made from 280 handcrafted wooden elements – the woods used include mahogany, oak, walnut, larch, fir, lime, cherry and elm. The distinctive long oar is made from beech and the rowlock is carved from walnut. Each one weighs 700kg and is exactly 10.87m in length, 1.42m in width.

An interesting and distinctive feature of the Venetian craft is that one side is longer than the other, this is to balance the weight of the gondolier and gives it the distinctive tilt that is emblematic of the river cruises. Italy’s history is poignantly experienced with a gondola ride, allowing you the time and tranquillity to drink in the sights of this Venice, and the wonderful architecture of its famous canals, buildings and bridges. With so much to offer, it’s well worth taking the time to absorb it all at a leisurely pace wending along the country’s beautiful waterways.

5 Wonderful Reasons To Experience A Jamaica Vacation

A Jamaica vacation is unlike any other vacation on earth. With all the enticing reasons to visit, there is little doubt you will leave satisfied when you embark on a Jamaican vacation.

With gorgeous weather, pristine white sandy beaches, and an abundance of activities to keep almost anyone busy, there is little wonder why Jamaica has become a world-famous vacation spot. It’s therefore quite understandable that at some point in their lives, many people want to embark on a Jamaica vacation. Here are 5 enticing reasons to encourage you to make your next vacation a Jamaica vacation.

1. Beautiful weather

You simply cannot say it enough… the Jamaica weather is absolutely gorgeous. With Jamaica being in the Caribbean, you will experience weather like none other in the world. It is not too hot and certainly not too cool, which makes for the perfect relaxation while on vacation. You can put on your bathing suit and lounge carelessly at the beautiful beaches Jamaica has to offer.

2. Jamaican beaches

With beautiful weather you know there are a number of beaches to choose from. In Jamaica, you’ll find it hard to run out of choices if you’re looking for a beach to enjoy. Many hotels are located right next to beaches, giving you quick and easy access. And you will find a number of activities to do on the beaches from snorkeling to parasailing to relaxing under the sun. While there are many things to do in Jamaica, it is the weather and beaches that reel in most vacationers.

3. Wide array of activities

For many, the beaches alone sell because of how gorgeous they are. But if you’re looking for more than a beach vacation there’s no need to worry because you’ll be able to pick, choose and refuse from a long list of activities on your Jamaica vacation. From horseback riding to whitewater rafting to world-class golfing, you’ll never have enough time to experience everything that a Jamaica vacation has to offer.

4. Mountain ranges

While Jamaica is most known for its beaches and gorgeous water, it surprisingly has beautiful mountain ranges as well. During the day you may choose to hike through the different trails where you’ll experience scenery like nowhere else on earth. And if you wait around long enough, you’ll witness some of the most breathtaking sunsets on earth.

5. Many lodging options

Sometimes the lodging you opt for can have a significant impact on your vacation. But not to worry, the many lodging options available in Jamaica will allow you to plan your dream Jamaica vacation. Many people prefer the bed and breakfast option because it allows you to have a relaxing vacation… while at the same time encouraging closer interaction with the culture and people of Jamaica. There are a number of mid-class hotels to choose from as well. And of course there are a number of all-inclusive resorts that give you everything you want and then some.

In all fairness, no other vacation can be compared to a Jamaica vacation. From the white sandy beaches to the mountain ranges to the varied lodging options, you will definitely leave satisfied when you take a Jamaica vacation.

Japan: Land of the Rising Sun

A ‘Western’ country, Japan is located in the Far East, in the Pacific ocean, and has China, two Koreas and Russia as the neighboring states. This country and its people have very peculiar features, original culture, rich history and amazing landscapes.
The main feature that the tourists immediately notice in Japan is the carefully looked after natural environment. Any territory, even the smallest strip of land among the skyscrapers, should necessarily be decorated with a tiny lawn. Any pond can be turned into a tiny nature reserve that the residents of the community consider their shrine. Carefully preserved historic monuments and temples are scattered all over the country, and that is why Japan makes an unforgettable impression on everyone, who decides to visit it.
The symbols of the country are the biggest ‘holy gate’ in Japan called Wooden Door, Itsukushima shrine on the ‘sacred’ island of Miyajima, standing in the water in a small bay, and the famous beautiful volcano, Mount Fuji, surrounded by picturesque landscapes. Another icon of the country is Seto Ohashi Bridge, erected in the end of the 20th century over the Inland Seto Sea, from Honshu to Shikoku. Many ‘pearl farms’ in Japan are also interesting as tourist sites visited by thousands of tourists every year.
Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world and the capital of Japan. It was founded in the middle of the 15th century following the outlook of the ancient Chinese capital Xi’an. This giant metropolis has many old wooden buildings and churches. They interestingly contrast the ultramodern neighborhoods. The center of the city is the Imperial Palace, former Edo Castle, which was constructed in the 15th century and was surrounded by picturesque parks. A lot of tourists also visit the temple of Toshogu Shrine, the Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum, the temple of Cannon goddess and many other places. In Tokyo, one will also find a complex of skyscrapers called Three Towers and the largest Harumi Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. Some of the minor, but no less interesting museums include the Museum of Subway, the Museum of Glasses, the Museum of Plumbing, the Museum of Bags etc.
To the northeast of Tokyo, there lies the Nikko National Park, located among picturesque lakes and known for the splendid Kegon and Shirakumo waterfalls and hot springs. The pearl of the resort is the Toshogu Shrine temple complex, which includes 23 monuments of architecture, including the famous pagoda and Yakusido temple. Numerous picturesque bridges are stretched over the waterways, and the most beautiful of them is the "sacred bridge" of Cinque. Mount Nantay is the place of the Buddhist temple Tachi-ki-Kannon and Kazaana caves, known as the caves of the winds.
The second largest city of the country is Yokohama. In the past, it was repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes, but today the city amazes with its ultra-modern architecture and the high speed of life. Yokohama is often called the city that never sleeps. Its main attractions are landscaped parks and an outdoor museum, which has gathered samples of traditional wooden buildings, temples and houses from all over the country. Here one will also find the largest and most renowned commercial district of the coutnry, the water park called the Island of Entertainment, and the Maritime Museum. However, it is difficult to stay in Yokohama for a long time because of the strong gas pollution and extremely high density of population.
Nara is the first imperial capital of the country, often visited because of its open-air museum, which houses the most important Buddhist temples and pavilions, pagodas and gardens. Located 70 km from Nara, the famous Horyuji Temple is recognized as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lake Biwa is located in the central part of Honshu Island, north-east of the former capital of Kyoto. It is often mentioned in Japanese literature, since it lies close to the ancient capital. The lake has three islands, where big cities of Hikone and Otsu are located. Biwa is also known as the paradise for fishing.

San Francisco – So Much to Do!

The ‘city by the bay’ is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. The diversity is what lends to the overwhelming charm and beauty of this tiny six-mile square piece of land that sits nearly surrounded on all sides by water. A person could walk, drive or ride a bus, train or trolley all day and never run out of things to do. In fact if you walk you can entertain yourself for the day without spending a dime.
There are of course many landmarks not to be missed, The Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Fishermans Warf, Union Square, Coit Tower, Lombard Street just to name a few. But what makes San Francisco so much fun and so exciting are the people. Street performers can be seen almost anywhere in the city. Some are extremely talented and some are just trying to make a buck. But in the end they all want your money so pace yourself.
Fisherman’s wharf alone could take up half your day. If you start at Pier 39 you’ll get some of the best performances of juggling, comedy, singing etc. and it might even be on a real stage. Pier 39 is a tourist shoppers paradise in a beautiful setting right on the water. There are a few decent restaurants here and some sweet shops with candy, ice cream and crepes, although they’ll set you back a bit.
Walking west along the sidewalk you’ll see sunbathing sea lions and views of Alcatraz the famous prison which housed such criminals as ‘the Birdman of Alcatraz’, Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly in the 30’s and 40’s. You can also get a view of Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.
As you get into the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf you see open air cooking stations with fresh crab being tossed into huge boiling pots. It’s a bit disturbing if you don’t think of them as food. Other than that though the atmosphere is fun and energetic. Anyone who is going to San Francisco will end up here so expect large crowds at all times.
If you’re into architecture just walk the streets of the city and you will be amazed at the variety and styles of buildings. Many of the old Victorian mansions on Knob Hill were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake but some of the less expensive Victorians in the western and southern parts of the city survived. Haight-Ashbury still has many of the beautiful homes in a brilliant array of colors. At 710-720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square you can see one of the most photographed sets of Victorians known as ‘the painted ladies’. Although their colors are more subdued compared with their Haight counterparts, their location and stunning background views leave you in awe.
Lombard Street is most famous for its stretch between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street. Back in the day of horse drawn carriages and early automobiles the steepness of the street made it impossible to go either up or down. So in the 1920’s the city had it paved in brick in a zigzag pattern to make the decent possible, it is one way only. It is a beautifully landscaped street lined with stunning homes. Known to most as the ‘crookedest street’.
A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Chinatown, not too far from Union Square it’s like stepping into another country, like maybe China! It has an impressive Chinese styled arch that almost says ‘it’s official you have left San Francisco’ that leads you into the sights sounds and wonders of Chinatown.
As you would imagine there are a plethora of shops where you can buy the coolest, most unusual vacation trinkets. Unfortunately every shop will have the same thing just in a different color. But the whole scene is just fun. You can even buy Chinese weapons such as Ninja stars and swords. Be brave and pop into one of the authentic Chinese eateries and try something you’ve never heard of. Don’t miss the whole ducks hanging in the windows. Chinatown completely shuts down at night but you can get a different perspective of the countries oldest Chinese community by joining the SF Chinatown Ghost Tour.
The heart of San Francisco’s upscale shopping is in Union Square, where you will find Bulgari, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Gump’s, Marc Jacobs, Gucci and more. Amongst all the high-end retailers you can also find such favorites as Victoria’s Secret, Niketown, Lush, and William Sonoma.
If shopping isn’t your thing there are many great restaurants and bars (Lefty O’Douls is a favorite with great old fashion food in a cafeteria/piano bar setting), and there is something going on in the square at almost any time of the year. In the winter there is usually an ice skating rink and of course a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Many of the stores decorate their windows at Christmas time, most notably is the Macy’s windows, which are adorned with scenes involving adoptable animals. The St. Francis hotel also has a giant gingerbread castle in its lobby along with a dozen uniquely decorated trees.
Golden Gate Park is 1,017 acres, 175 acres larger than Central Park in New York City. It is 3 miles long and 1/2 mile wide.
The park is home to a number of interesting attractions that would take more than a day to see them all. One is the Academy of Sciences which has an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, 3D theater, lecture hall, two restaurants, gift shop, and relaxing adjacent garden and aviary.
The Conservatory of Flowers, is only $3.00 to get into with a student I.D. The white dome building itself is awe-inspiring but with 2,000 plants and many waterfalls within the Conservatory it’s well worth the $3.00. The de Young Museum is an interesting building to look at and houses thousands of artifacts and art from all over the globe.
The Botanical Garden is a symphony of plants, flowers, and trees from around the world stretching over 55 acres. This is a great way to spend a sunny day in San Francisco.
The Japanese Tea Garden, Buffalo Paddock, Beach and Park Chalet, or boating on Stow Lake can round out a great day at Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Bridge is 8,981ft long or 3 km, so crossing it on foot is quite a challenge, but there is a sidewalk that will take you from one side to the other. The bridge is designed to sway with the wind so on extremely windy days it’s quite an experience. The Golden Gate Bridge is located at the Presidio Park and can easily be reached by bus or car. The most pleasant way to reach the bridge however is by walking either from the Marina District to the east or from Baker Beach to the west of the bridge. Both routes will lead you through a park, and especially the route along the east is very popular. Mile-long Baker Beach lies at the foot of the rugged cliffs on the western shoreline of the Presidio.
It’s a clean beach with a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s known as a nude beach but you rarely see any nudes there. It is also one of the places in San Francisco where you can have your dog off leash. Crissy Field is another great beach where dogs can run free. The two beaches are on either side of the bridge.
When the sun is out a day in San Francisco is gorgeous, although don’t expect temperatures to ever be very warm. Of course a lot of the time the city is under a beautiful layer of fog, which of course is part of its charm.

Top Ten Sights in Pompeii, Italy

Nowhere else in the world can you get the expansive feel of walking back in time as in Pompeii. Although archeologists have only excavated a small slice of the area, today visitors can enjoy abundant sights within the ancient Roman city. Here are my picks of top ten sights to see in Pompeii.
The Forum: Walk from the ticket entrance through the Sea Gate and you reach the Forum. Mt. Vesuvius is in the distance. In 79A.D. this active volcano spewed pumice into the sky and created the frozen city we see today. The Forum is surrounded by public buildings, including the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Apollo, a storehouse with pottery and plaster casts, as well as a market where the woolen cloth guilds once sold their wares. The Temple of Apollo is the oldest in Pompeii, dating back to the 6th century B.C. The largest edifice in the Forum, the Building of Eumachia, was sponsored by a wealthy female priestess of Venus.
The Brothel: Situated on Brothel Lane, the brothel has a small hallway with several bedrooms to the right and left. Inside these bedrooms are broad slabs. This was the largest brothel of the city, run by a woman (known as a leonine), but prostitutes in Pompeii were everywhere. Prices ranged from two to eight sesterces (a portion of wine cost one sesterces) and the earnings usually went to the leonine. The frescoes show many different sexual positions and it’s thought that perhaps a man would point to one of the pictures before entering a bedroom, letting the prostitute know what kind of service he would enjoy for the night.
Via dell’Abbondanza: The liveliest street in Pompeii, the name was made up by archeologists along with every other street name in the city. We don’t actually know what the Romans called these roads. Follow this street to see the dolia (terracotta receptacles) in shops that sold all manner of food. Pompeii was most famous for its garum, or fish sauce.
The following ‘must-see’ houses are along this road. (But remember, there are more you can discover along your walk.): The House of the Chaste Lovers is named for a fresco depicting two couples reclining and dining. The front of this building was a bakery and the mules lived in the house. They drove the millstone for grinding wheat. A mule carcass was found in situ, showing how the owners ran in haste during the eruption, leaving their animals behind. House of the Painters had a cadre of professional painters were in the middle of painting lavish frescoes in this home when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. They hopped up and left without their brushes and paints. From this we catch a glimpse of how painters created their frescoes. The Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus was a restaurant and the owner’s house was in the back. You can walk inside to see a Rape of Europa fresco in the garden triclinium. (A triclinium was the place where Romans ate their meals, probably reclining on long couches.)
The Amphitheater: At the far end of Pompeii, the earliest stone amphitheater in the ancient world could hold up to 20,000 spectators. Adjacent to it was the training space for gladiators, surrounded by porches, and a swimming pool in its center. Gladiators were often slaves or condemned criminals. A lanista or a troupe manager controlled when the gladiators performed. He also scouted for new recruits and acquired animals from distant parts of the empire. Behind the Amphitheater, the Via dei Sepolcri was lined with tombs. Marble statues of families can still be seen above their tombs along with Latin inscriptions. The priestess Eumachia’s tomb is the largest.
Garden of the Fugitives: A vast number of plaster casts lie next to these vineyards in a large glass case. Giuseppe Fiorelli, director of the Pompeii digs in the late 19th century, invented the plaster cast method. He poured liquid plaster into a cavity left in the bed of ashes by the gradual decomposition of the victim’s body. As the plaster solidified, it reproduced the body’s shape.
The Great Theater and Small Theater: Pompeii was a theatrical town. Many houses were decorated with images from the stage. The pantomime was a major attraction in Pompeii and busts of Caius Norbanus Sorex, a mime actor, can be seen throughout the city. These two theaters are mammoth and still impress visitors today.
Temple of Isis: The number of gods and goddesses in the ancient world likely numbered more than the living human population of Pompeii. The debates Romans would have with each other over religion would revolve around whether they did actually take human form and when & why they intervened in human lives, but generally there were no tenets of belief. Instead, religious worship centered around communal animal sacrifice. The Isis temple here was built at the end of the 2nd century B.C. and two other Egyptian deities were honored within the niches.
The Forum Baths: Wherever there is Roman culture, there is a Roman bath. Here, Pompeiians exercised, steamed, swam, gamed, or enjoyed barber services. The baths were a social leveler too, only the richest having their own private baths at home. The baths had a changing room (apodyterium), a room for a cold bath (frigidarium), lukewarm bath (tepidarium), and a hot bath (caladium). Just across the street from the exit of the forum baths, make sure to see House of the Tragic Poet that has an impressive mosaic of a barking dog with the words Cave Canum – “Beware of Dog.”
House of the Faun: The largest of all the villas and the most famous, this wealthy dwelling had airy rooms and some indications of indoor baths, toilets, and kitchen areas. Visitors can see an accurate copy of a 2nd century B.C. dancing faun in bronze. Most impressive is the mosaic – using somewhere between 1.5 and 5 million tiny stones or tesserae – depicting a battle between Alexander the Great and the Persian King Darius. This house is also the oldest, built in the late 2nd century B.C.
Villa of the Mysteries: Frescoes with deep red colors depict Dionysian or Orphic initiation rites at the Villa of the Mysteries. Interestingly, recent research at La Sapienza University in Rome has revealed that many of the reds we see in Pompeii were once yellow and turned dark red as a result of exposure to hot gases during the eruption.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit France

With over 80 million tourists a year, France is the most visited country in the world. Here are the top five reasons why people from all over the world visit France – the very same reasons you should be planning your own French holidays, too.
1. The Most Romantic Place on Earth
France arguably has more romantic spots than anywhere else in the world. These include stunning gardens such as the world-famous gardens of Versailles, where kings and queens once walked, the gardens of Latour-Marliac in Giverny, which provided the inspiration for one of Claude Monet’s most famous paintings and the Loire Valley, which, with all its golden sunflowers, is a huge garden in itself – all of which are perfect places for a stroll with your loved one. There are also many fairy tale castles for you to tour, such as the Chateau de Chambord, Cheverny Castle and Fontainebleau Castle and you can even spend the night in one if you like.
Of course, you should also spend some time in Paris when you visit France on a romantic getaway. After all, the city is synonymous with romance. Savor the breathtaking views from the top of the Eiffel Tower, walk hand in hand along the Seine – while stealing a French kiss or two, or simply sit side by side in a small cafe and watch the city go by.
2. Gourmet Dining
It is a well-known fact that French cuisine is one of the world’s most popular cuisines, as well as one of the most refined. True, you can easily find a French restaurant in many corners of the world, but nothing still compares to eating fois gras, coq au vin, ratatouille, bouillabaisse, souffle, eclairs or ganache in one of the best restaurants in France. For a truly gourmet dining experience, reserve a table at one of the country’s Michelin three-starred restaurants, like Guy Savoy, Le Meurice or Plaza Athenee.
Be sure to order wine with your meal, since France also produces the best wines – whether red, white, or sparkling wines. You can also visit various wine estates and cellars during your French holidays in the regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne so you can see how wines are made while treating your tastebuds to a wine-tasting escapade. And if you like cognac, you should try it at the town where it originated.
3. World-Class Art Museums
France is home to the Louvre, the world’s most famous museum, which, in turn, is home to over 30,000 priceless works of art. Its collection of paintings is the most impressive, containing masterpieces by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, although it also has various sculptures and artifacts from ancient Egypt and Greece. Aside from the Louvre, you should also drop by the Musee d’Orsay, which houses Monet and Renoir masterpieces among others, as well as the Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou, when you visit France. You can view exceptional works of art at the Palace of Versailles, too, and in many galleries outside Paris such as the Musee d’Unterlinden in Colmar.
4. Shopping
For the ultimate shopping experience, you should definitely come visit France. You will find many fashionable shops on the streets of Paris, particularly world-famous boutiques selling the best and latest in shoes, bags and clothes and fashion accessories. The specialty food shops are just as popular, such as the pastry and cheese shops, although you won’t be able to bring these home as souvenirs. For more unique finds and better bargains, don’t be afraid to try the Saint Ouen Flea Market and other flea markets in Paris and other cities, though you should be mindful to come early and be on guard against pickpockets.
5. Beautiful Beaches
Many tourists visit France for its beaches, and why not, when its beaches offer fine sands, sparkling Mediterranean waters, spectacular scenery and great facilities? Most of the fine beaches in France can be found on the Cote d’Azur or the French Riviera, particularly near the cities of Cannes and Nice, such as the St. Tropez Beach and the Villefranche sur Mer, although you can also find great beaches on the coasts of Brittany and Normandy, as well as on the Atlantic coast, like Biarritz.

Famous Places to Visit in Slovakia

The Slavic, Central European nation of Slovakia may not be at the the surface of the list of preferred holiday destinations, but it’s not with out specified charms. With its mountainous terrain, it can be ideal for skiing, hiking, mountain climbing and snow boarding. Particularly, the High Tatras in Slovakia, which form an area of the encompassing Carpathian mountain range, provide wonderful opportunities for these pursuits. Chairlifts and cable cars ply the alpine valleys, helping to make it become a fashionable traveler spot.
In addition to its impressive mountain haunts, Slovakia likewise has numerous castles with medieval exhibits, and wooden churches and ancient log cottages treasured as heritage websites. It too boasts of quite a few zoological gardens, parks, museums, spa retreats, folk theaters and old-town cafes. Holidaymakers are slowly discovering these attractions, and many are pleased to learn that exploring Slovakia just isn’t as pricey as touring the more liked destinations in Europe. Thus, much more and more visitors appear each year in Slovakia, averaging half a million annually recently.
The funds of the Republic of Slovakia is the quaint town of Bratislava. This beautiful town has a wealthy cultural existence however untainted with commercialism. Here, a single can happily go on his way without having jostling by means of noisy throngs of holidaymakers.
There are some 50 museums in Slovakia, the best known of that is the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava. Its exhibits on Slovak history and archaeology will certainly fascinate the visitor, who will then discover, among other things, the country’s rich folk arts and crafts. Slovakian craftsmen excel in glass painting, woodcarving and fabric weaving, which over several centuries are popular rural activities. Folk architecture is another cultural achievement, as evidenced by Slovakia’s wooden churches and vividly colored houses that dot the countryside.
Other than museums, Slovakia has many theaters that promote traditional conventional music and the operatic arts. Folk music has prolonged been an important part of Slovakian tradition. It really is touted as one or more of the earliest and most original of all Slavic and European folk traditions, with its roots going all the way back towards the ninth century.