Hip Travel Guides: Red Light District

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Amsterdam's Chinatown has exploded in the past few years. It's gone beyond it's confines in the Red Light District and is now spilling over past the Nieuwmarkt. To call it "Chinatown" is a misnomer of course, because the area include numerous Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian restaurants, shops, salons, apothecaries, markets and more. A transformation in a good part of the Red Light District has occured thanks to the success of the many restaurants in the area, and the introduction of new ones. Add to this the reconstruction of many façades, and the repaving of the streets, and this district has been metamorphized from seedy to inviting. The hordes of hungry tourists in the area can attest to this. The Oriental Supermarket facing the Nieuwmarkt is just one of the success stories in the area. The number of good quality Thai restaurants has not just tourists, but locals flocking in to feast on Tom Yam soup and Phad Thai. Yes, the ducks still hang in the windows of the REAL Chinese restaurants where the waiters will probably converse with you in English since their Dutch isn't so great. When I say REAL Chinese, I mean as opposed to Indonesian Chinese which is a strange variant which I find a bit greasier and lacking the finesse of true Chinese cuisine. Those Indonesian Chinese restaurants don't usually have much in the way of regional Chinese cuisine, like say spicy Sichuan or Hunnan. Besides restaurants and markets (which are great for stocking up for your home-cooked Asian meals), there are some very interesting shops with all sorts of dry goods from China. Everything from Dragon masks to ceramics to incense can be found in these stores. The new Fo Kuang Shan temple, a Taiwanese organization, on the Zeedijk is a testament to the religious tolerance in Holland, as well as the prosperity of the local Chinese. You can also find apothecaries selling all sorts of Asian remedies for whatever ails you. Martial arts schools can focus your mind and body and help develop confidence and clarity. It's interesting to note that the Zeedijk is now completely free of prostitutes and coffeeshops! Wow! So the "new" Chinatown in Amsterdam has already transformed the Red Light District into a more friendly place for tourists and locals to enjoy Asian culture and great food!

Note: Amsterdam's Chinatown has exploded in the past few years. It's gone beyond it's confines in the Red Light District and is now spilling over past the Nieuwmarkt.

Posted by on Friday, July 20 @ 03:56:31 UTC (91065 reads)
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: La Sagrada Familia - Gaudí Museum

Dominating the Barcelona skyline, this remarkable unfinished church is an artistic and religious statement by the famous Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). With the dramatic entryways and the 100 meter high belltowers already completed, La Sagrada Familia stands tall as a monument to the man, Barcelona, Catalonia and God. Started in 1883, the site is still a work in progress, and hopefully the project will be completed by 2050. Gaudí lent his inimitable style to this huge undertaking, and designed so many unique features and touches, like the mosaic tiles on the top of this tower (above). The effect of the whole structure is indescribable. Entrance: 6 Euros adults, 1.50 Euros for lift up spires. If you see the line almost at the front entrance, expect to wait about 45 minutes for the lift. In my view, it’s not worth that long a wait. The views aren’t complete 360 degrees, and there’s not really a good viewing platform. Tip:There's another lift for the spires on the otherside, usually with a much shorter line! If this is your only chance to see the city from above, take it, otherwise there are better views from Montjuïc, Mt. Tibidabo, even Parc Güell. The Sagrada Familia should be avoided on very windy days due to all the dust coming from the construction at the site. The Gaudí Museum in the Sagrada Familia details more than a century of construction on this huge project. Scale models and photos illustrate the grand design Gaudí had in mind. What you now see is only about half of what will be. In fact the central spire of the Sagrada Familia is supposed to tower way above what exists now. Work continues and it’s estimated that by 2050 it might finally be completed. The plan is truly awesome, and it will be a miracle if it ever gets completed. Website: http://sagfam.deakin.edu.au/english/Welcome/welcome_text.htm
Metro: Sagrada Familia

Note: One of the most unusual churches in the world, the Sagrada Familia is still a work in progress. Designed by Antoni Gaudí, it's an inspired, surreal vision and one of Barcelona's most visited landmarks.

Posted by on Wednesday, January 08 @ 11:20:33 UTC (12009 reads)
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: Pompidou Center

Pompidou Center also called Centre Beaubourg, was completed in 1977. This imposing structure got off to a very controversial start (not unlike the Eiffel Tower), with many critics protesting the clash between the modernist/industrial design and the surrounding classical Parisian architecture. To allow for more unobstructed exhibition space, Pompidou Center's utilities were put on the outside. The façade makes the building look like an oil refinery or a power plant. Things like airconditioning ducts and plumbing snake around the outside of the building, and their color-coded conduits indicate the various building functions they perform. Recent renovations have improved the exhibition space including the National Museum of Modern Art which specializes in 20th century artists including the Dadists like Man Ray, Surrealists like Dalí, Cubists like Picasso and their contemporaries. This museum has one of the best collections in the world, and a must for anyone interested in Modern Art. Also in the building are a very popular public library that's open late, and IRCAM, the Institute for Acoustic and Musical Research. There's an excellent view from the sixth floor, where Georges Restaurant serves up splendid meals along with the view! (reservations recommended) Some interesting modern sculptures surround the center in several plazas that are good places to meet people and get your bearings. Open 11am - 10pm everyday except Tuesday
Metro: Rambuteau
Exhibition Entrance: €8.54
Website: www.centrepompidou.fr

Note: The incongruous Pompidou Center is home to the National Museum of Modern Art, a public library and Georges Restaurant. It's a major tourist destination and fascinating place to visit.

Posted by on Wednesday, May 08 @ 07:50:36 UTC (7217 reads)
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Prague TV Tower

View from foot of tower.
Note the "babies" or Miminka crawling up the poles.
It's art by David Cerny.Standing 474 meters tall, Prague's TV tower is the tallest building in Prague. Located in Zizkov's Mahler Gardens, it's also an interesting tourist attaction. The tower was started under the communist government in 1985, but finished after the revolution in 1992. There are photos on display of the construction. Besides the stupendous views of Prague from the lookout at 97 meters, there's also a good cafe and restaurant serving international cuisine at 63 meters. On a clear day you can see 100 km.
View of Old Town and Prague Castle from Lookout Cabin The lookout cabin is open daily from 10am to 11pm.
The restaurant is open daily from 11am to 11:30 pm.
Admission to the tower and restaurant costs 150 crowns or about 5 Euros. Address: Mahlerovy sady 1, Prague 3
Phone: 267 005 778
Fax: 222 724 014
Email: info@tower.cz
Website: http://www.tower.cz

Posted by on Monday, September 01 @ 07:22:23 UTC (4868 reads)
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The Orloj or Astronomical Clock

In Prague's Old Town Square is a clock that has held the public's fascination since it was built in 1410 by clockmaker Mikulas of Kadan, with an astronomer and professor of mathematics named Jan Sindel. Years and centuries in the making, work continued in fits and starts, with gaps of a hundred years or more until the clock as we know it now was finished in 1866. Sadly, the whole tower and clock were severely damaged during the Nazi occupation and ensuing uprising in Prague of 1945. The entire building was burnt to the ground, including all of the city's archives, by the Nazi's. Happily, the residents of Prague gathered together after the war and repaired it, with all mechanisms returning to full action in 1948. In 1979 the clock underwent major repairs once again, and is destined for extensive maintenance to keep it "ticking" into the future. What do the dials tell us? The Orlog tells us the exact position of the sun and stars in relative position to Earth. It's most accurate when the sun is directly overhead, as it was designed to be timed with sundials originally. This clock was built when mechanisms were highly inaccurate, and were retimed to a more accurate clock (a sundial) every day. The sundials were removed in 1911. Originally the Orlog displayed exclusively astronomical data and there were no cute little mechanical figures to entertain folks, but only showed purely astronomical information. Now the top part of the clock is known as "The Walk of the Apostles" and is the show part of the clock. Every hour on the hour - Death, represented by a skeleton, rings a bell. Then the windows open and the Christian Apostles march by. The windows close, a golden cockerel crows, and then the chimes of the hour can be heard. All of this is accompanied by a Turk playing a flute, a Miser shaking his cane and watching his bag, and Vanity admiring himself in a mirror. The Sphere or clock dial is the middle of the Orloj and shows astronomical phenomena such as sunrise and sunset, ancient Czech and modern times, the movements of the Sun and Moon and other celestial bodies. The three pointers are for the Sun, the Moon and the Zodiac. The ball is half silvered and half black, and rotates every lunar month and shows the moon's phases. The bottom dial is the Calendar, with copies of the original month symbols painted by Josef Manes in 1805. These original artworks were preserved, and are now on display in the Prague Museum of History. There are lots of interesting tales about this fabulous clock with it's moving figures, windows that open and close, and of course, astronomical information. Twice during it's history the City of Prague nearly sold it for scrap metal, the Nazi's deliberatly tried to blow it up with artillery, and time has ravaged it unkindly. The most famous legend about the clock is about the master clockmaker Hanus, who had his eyeballs burned out with a hot poker by the city councillors, in an effort to keep him from creating another clock of equal or greater magnificence elsewhere. Hanus in revenge then climbed the tower and damaged it so greatly that it didn't run for many years until repaired. It is also said that the skeleton has magical powers that require the clock to keep running. And, locals say, if the clock is allowed to fall into disrepair the city also suffers. So the Orloj keeps on running, with a lot of love, care and respect from the residents of this magical city.

Posted by on Sunday, August 31 @ 08:56:20 UTC (5834 reads)
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Prague Castle

Prague Castle overlooks the Vltava River and the city.No trip to Prague is complete without a visit the Castle. Prague Castle has been integral to the history of the city, Bohemia, and the Czech Republic for over one thousand years. Founded in the 9th century, it covers 45 hectares (135 acres) with a range of architectural styles from the last millennium. Towering over the castle, is St. Vitus' Cathedral. The massive structure was started in 1344, but it took almost 600 years to finish. With flying butresses and gargoyles, it's highly reminicent of Notre Dame in Paris. The cathedral houses the remains of Bohemian kings and the crown jewels. The stained glass windows are outstanding, including some by Alphonse Mucha, the famous Art Nouveau painter.
Stained Glass Panel by Alfonse Mucha The Old Royal Palace is another popular attraction on the Castle grounds. It housed many of Bohemia's kings and princes over the centuries. Other buildings of note on the castle grounds include St. George's Basilica, St George's convent (both dating from the 10th century), the Prague Castle Gallery featuring works by Tintoretto and Rubens) and Queen Anna's Summerhouse with the Singing Fountain, dating from the 1500s.
The Castle looks like a fairy tale dream at night. The Castle's beautiful gardens (closed in winter) are a must see, for the views as well as the flora. Overlooking the city, they provide a brief escape from the hordes of tourists, and an excellent photographic opportunity. Another sight to catch is the changing of the guards at the palace gates every hour, and at noon there's a bit more of a ceremony. The Castle grounds are open to the public daily from 5am to 12 midnight (April to October) and 5am to 11pm (November to March). The attractions in the Castle are open from 9am to 5pm (April to October) and 9am to 4pm (November to March). The gardens are open daily from 10am to 6pm (April to October). Admission to the Palace grounds and gardens is free. However certain attractions charge admission, including the Old Royal Palace. In season there's usually a long line to purchase these tickets, so get there early and avoid the crowds.

Posted by on Sunday, August 31 @ 08:55:16 UTC (7805 reads)
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Ancient Architecture of Krakow

Krakow was the capital of Poland for centuries, long before Warsaw even came into existence. Krakow's buildings survived World War Two virtually untouched, unlike poor Warsaw. Other atrocities were reserved for Krakow, but we are thankful the city remains as it was, a gem and a joy to visit. Considered by most Poles as the Cradle of the Nation, Krakow (or Crakow) is on the banks of the River Vistula. The city was founded in 966, on a hill named Wavel above a large bend in the river. From this commanding view the royalty ruled Poland. The major architectural wonders of Krakow besides the castle are in the Old Town at the foot of the castle. St. Mary's Church and the Old Town's Cloth Hall are in the middle of the town square. In fact, walking around Krakow is remarkably easy, via the Planty Park. This ring of peace, vegetation and thousands of trees literally surrounds the Old Town of Krakow. This is where fortifications surrounding the city were begun in the 13th century, and it took almost two centuries to encircle the town with a 3km long chain of double defensive walls complete with 47 towers and 7 main entrance gates plus a wide moat. This was eventually destroyed by the 'Republic of Krakow' in the 1800's, and the moat filled in. The ring-shaped Planty Park was created on the site. The city is bisected by the 'Royal Way,' the route followed by the coronation procession of the kings of Poland from the Church of St.Florian through to the Wawel and then on to the Paulite Church Na Skalce. Walking around the Planty you can see remains of the old city gates, and you will pass the the Barbakan. Built about 1498 based on Arabic rather than European defensive architecture, it is a moated brick structure with an inner courtyard and seven turrets. Its 3-metre thick walls have 130 loopholes for archers to defend the gate from. On this walk around the Planty Park, you will also pass the Crakow Academy or University, which was founded in 1364. This is where such luminaries as Copernicus and Pope John Paul II studied. There is a museum in the college, and the buildings are open to visitors. Be sure to check out the amazing ceilings in the Collegium Maius. Krakow's Rynek, or Town Square, is the largest mediaeval square in Poland and probably in all of Europe. Designed in 1257, it has remained intact to this day. As well as being the commercial hub of Krakow, the Rynek was the scene of many state occasions. The Rynek is dominated by the great Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), which was built in the 14th century by Krakow's famous and wealthy cloth merchants. Destroyed by fire in 1555, and rebuilt in Renaissance style by an Italian from Padua, so the Cloth Hall seems more Italian than Northern European, and is outstanding. The ground floor still functions as a market, albeit for tourists, filled with crafts and souvenirs and is ornamented by the coats of arms of Polish cities. Nearby is the Town Hall Tower, or the Ratusz. This is all that remains of the 14th century town hall pulled down in the 1820s, but the view from the top is stupendous. St Adalbert's Church is in the southeastern corner. The oldest building in the square and the first church founded in Krakow, is named for a Slav Bishop. It’s basement houses a museum of history for the Rynek. A little bit of a walk from the Old Town is the Jewish Quarter known as Kazimierz, with its empty buildings left undestroyed by the retreating Nazis. They did destroy almost every Jewish man, woman and child from here, leaving an empty shell full of ghosts. There were once 70,000 people here, now around 600 remain. But walking around here one is struck with the vibrance that once was the Kazimierz, and at every turn you have to wonder where everyone went.Originally an independent town with its own charter and laws, Kazimierz was founded in 1335. Thanks to the granting of special privileges the town grew rapidly and soon had a town hall and market square almost as large as Krakow's. In 1495, Krakow's entire Jewish population was moved into the area (the population had grown rapidly in the 1330s when Kazimierz offered the Jews shelter from persecution in the rest of Europe); it became one of the great centres of European Jewery. Descriptions of Kazimierz in Polish art and literature suggest something special about the Oriental atmosphere of the place. Most of the residents were exterminated at nearby Auschwitz during World War Two.In Kazimierz you will find Europe's second-oldest Synagogue, and a graveyard complete with it's own wailing wall made from the ancient headstones broken by the invading Nazis.After the Nazis came the Soviets, and they did little to help Krakow or Poland after the war. The Soviets built a model factory town nearby, called Nowa Huta, and from 1949 the town's smokestacks spewed thousands of tons of pollutants on the area. The Polish have recently begun to clean up the traces of the Soviets, and most buildings have been remodeled and freshly painted. Krakow is a beautiful gem worth polishing, and a friendly city to visit.

Note: Krakow was the seat of Poland for centuries, long before Warsaw even came into existence. Krakow's buildings survived World War Two virtually untouched, unlike poor Warsaw.

Posted by on Tuesday, January 04 @ 11:14:26 UTC (2965 reads)
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Notre Dame Cathedral

The legendary Notre Dame Cathedral sits on the right bank of the Seine River where even 2000 years ago it was a religious site. Construction began in 1163, and it was finally completed in 1345. It was badly defaced during and after the French Revolution when it was used as a warehouse. A major restoration on the Cathedral was begun in 1841 after the publication of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Today the cathedral is undergoing a face lift, with centuries of grime being removed from the exterior, revealing a light beige stonework. The immense gothic Cathedral can hold 6,500 worshippers, under the roof, which is 115ft (35 meters) high. The dark, enormous interior space is overwhelming. The huge flying buttresses on the exterior were added in the 13th century to allow for bigger windows to let more light in. Some of the beautiful stained glass windows date back to that time. Evil looking gargoyles adorn the water spouts around the building. Despite the huge numbers of tourists who visit the Cathedral, it makes for an interesting experience. You can get excellent views of Notre Dame from across the Seine river, and from the north tower (387 steps!) you can see up and down the river and over much of Paris. Hours: Cathedral 8am-7pm Towers 9:30am-7:30pm
(Oct.-Mar. 10am-5pm).
Cost: Cathedral free entrance, Tower & Crypt €5.35
Phone: 01 42 34 56 10
Metro: Cité
Bus: 21,24,27,38,47,85,96

Note: This gothic Cathedral lies in the very heart of Paris and close to the hearts of Parisians.

Posted by on Sunday, March 17 @ 07:27:11 UTC (3498 reads)
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Architecture of Modern Warsaw

As we all know from films such as 'The Pianist," Warsaw was almost completely destroyed by the retreating Germans at the end of World War Two. To my astonishment, Warsaw has been rebuilt, brick by brick into an amazing place. In fact the Old Town is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Old Town area has been beautifully restored, offering an array of cafes and shops for tourists as they visit with Warsaw's many ghosts. What surrounds this old town area is one of the ugliest examples of Soviet-era housing blocks mixed with 21st Century modern glass and steel skyscrapers that you'll ever see. But Warsaw is now the home and hub for many central European companies. The skyline filled with cranes busily building more glass towers, each emblazoned with a huge corporate logo on top. The resconstructed Warsaw attempts to embrace the future, while remembering the past. In fact there are plans to reconstruct even more palaces and buildings that were destroyed, as if World War Two was just a bad memory, instead of a catharsis of renewal that many cities truly need. Warsaw after the war could have been redesigned by Le Corbusier into a modernistic city like Brasilia, but the Poles clung to their past, and rebuilt the city center as it has been for centuries. By the year 1953, the entire city center had been redone, mostly to old paintings rather than to pre-war photographs. Things do not look exactly as they were, but are extremely beautiful, especially around the Old Town Square. If you wish to see thruly authentic ancient architecture that will make you gasp, take the train to Krakow. You won't regret it at all. By Martin Trip, editor of the Hip Guides

Note: As we all know from films such as 'The Pianist," Warsaw was almost completely destroyed by the retreating Germans at the end of World War Two. To my astonishment, Warsaw has been rebuilt, brick by brick into an amazing place.

Posted by on Tuesday, January 04 @ 11:01:53 UTC (2423 reads)
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Five great reasons to visit Amsterdam this season

We love the Dutch for their open, party-loving culture, and this season's upcoming events will definitely make your Amsterdam visit twice as fun:

1.The Last Queen's Day (April 30) - The Queen's birthday is the most popular and colorful holiday in the Netherlands, and this year will be the last for the present Queen Beatrix, who is about to relinquish her crown.

Every year, millions of locals and tourists alike flock to the capital Amsterdam for the biggest street parties, performances, markets, and government perks.

2. Amsterdam Canal Houses

Take advantage of this day to rent Amsterdam apartments when the city is tax-free and all businesses are unregulated.

Even children will enjoy the Vondlepark designated for kids' activities like face-painting, music, rides, story-telling, and craft workshops.

Join the bright crowd who make an effort to dress in the Royal color orange, dye their hair orange, paint their face orange, drink oranje bitter (alcohol made from orange), and even serve orange-flavored dishes.

3. City-wide sale! - The Dutch have this tradition of trading their old goods and showcasing themed products on this day, so for the shopaholics it's also a tax-free , bargain day!

The generous Queen even joins this bargaining tradition like last time when she bought a second-hand lamp from the locals.

At the Vondlepark, children set up market stalls to trade their old toys and showcase their talents.

4.Bredeweg Festival - The night before Queen's day, enjoy a sample of classical street opera, circus, and exhibitions to kickstart the bigger event.

Whatever your taste is, the Bredeweg Theater will feature everything from Latin, jazz, and folk music to popular rockbands.

5. Gay Day - Queen's day is also gay and lesbians' day, especially at the Reguliersdwaarsstraat street party where gay-friendly bars are located. Expect a colorful parade of creative costumes and amusing performances from different cultures.

Amsterdam usually turns into one huge rock concert on Queen's day, and now with the addition of a King's day, one could only imagine how jam-packed the city will be. To avoid hassles, check out accommodations early at shortstay-apartment.com.

Posted by on Friday, April 19 @ 23:50:59 UTC (4542 reads)
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