Top 8 Climbs for a Great City View in Europe

There are so many ways to see and experience a city.  But one of my top ways to get to “know” a city is by getting up high and looking down at it.  Of course, this is not hard to do as there are usually man-made or natural high points.  While I like getting a view more than anything else, the view is even more appreciated when I have had to climb my way to get it.  I will only list here places that I have actually climbed as opposed to places where I rode up when there was a way to climb it – the ones I rode up will be the subject of another post…   So, here are eight (in no particular order) of my favorite climbs to get a city view in Europe!

Paris’ Eiffel Tower

Yes, I may be stating the obvious but most people ride the elevator on this one.  I have been up the Eiffel Tower two times and both times I climbed it up to the point at which there is no other way open to the public to get to the very top (and then you are required to take an elevator).  I love the freedom of walking up the tower, seeing its beams and bolts up close, and pausing a lot along the way (yea, for the view, that’s the ticket!).  It may not be for everyone but if you are able to do experience the tower this way, do it!  Regardless of how you go up, the altitude and the view of Paris combine to give one a great experience!

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Up close and personal

Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre

You can walk up or ride up to Montmartre (I have done both) but the best view is from climbing the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur itself.  Of course, this is a better view in some ways than the Eiffel Tower since this view includes the Eiffel Tower.  But not only are you rewarded by looking at Paris from this angle, but you get to see the many gargoyles and other details of the church up close and personal – which makes for good photo opps!

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One of the gargoyles keeping watch over a park

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

When I went up St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was the first time I had gone to the top of any church.  St. Paul’s, built in the 17th century, is 111 m high (365 ft) so you really are high up when you climb it.  I enjoyed not only the view but seeing the “innards” of the structure as I made my way up to get a glimpse of London (pre-London Eye!).

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Looking down towards the front of the Cathedral

Bologna’s Medieval Towers

Bologna is a city of arcades (or porticoes):  it is great to be able to walk around the city whether it is raining or not thanks to this feature of this unique Italian city (home of the world’s oldest university!).  But perhaps a lesser known secret of this town, former possessor of many medieval towers (estimated at 180 towers!), is that you can go up one of the remaining towers (one of the pair called the Due Torri).  It will not be the one with the serious tilt but the other one (which is taller).  I recommend putting out the effort and going up!

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The lower of the Due Torri (the tilted one)

St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican

OK, to get to the first viewing point, you do take an elevator but to get to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, you walk it up.  Not only do you get to look down across the Tiber to Rome but you get to look down onto St. Peter’s Square (where I have participated in a papal audience (as a VIP!) and an Easter Mass) from a great vantage point.  What I enjoyed (besides getting to the top) was walking inside the dome’s inner and outer walls in the passageways – the higher you got, the more you noticed the curvature of the walls and sometimes had to tilt the head a little bit to adjust to it!  When you come down, you are deposited right inside the basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, Rome, Roma, Italy, Italia, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

St. Peter’s Square from the top of the dome

La Giralda in Sevilla (Seville), Spain

La Giralda, Seville’s famous tower is part of which is a former minaret built in 1198 during the Moors’ occupation of Spain.  It sits in the center of the city right next to the amazing Cathedral of Seville (3rd largest church in the world).  To go up this 100m+ tower, you do not walk up stairs.  So how do you go up if it is a “climb” and there are no stairs?  Well, it actually has ramps!  Why?  So horses could go up!  So, do like the horses and go up the ramps to enjoy views of the city center of Sevilla.

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Composite picture looking down onto the Cathedral of Seville

Galata Tower in Istanbul

Where else, other than Istanbul, can you look at a city laid across two continents with a great bird’s eye view?   Besides learning about its history, it was a great climb.  Once at the top, I looked at Asia across the busy Bosphorus with all its maritime traffic and then with a slight turn of the head, I was looking at Europe.  Across the Golden Horn, I could see the “skyline” of Seraglio Point where the eye quickly focused on Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking towards the Asian side of Istanbul

The city walls of Dubrovnik

Though there are higher vantage points from which to admire the tiled roofs and setting of Dubrovnik, the city walls allowed me to look down but yet be close enough to feel the city.  It was more of a walk than a climb but, since I had to use stairs to get to them, I will call them a “climb” – but don’t be scared, it is pretty easy to walk along these walls!

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho


 

How Best to Explore Intramuros in Manila

Intramuros is the old district of Manila, the capital of the Philippines.  It carries a lot of history and meaning within its walls as I shared with you in a prior post.  Though it is quite distinctive and historic, it is not your typical tourist haven.   That is actually what makes it an appealing place to visit for me:  it is first and foremost a national treasure for the country itself, not just for tourists.  As a national treasure its reconstruction and growth are managed by the Intramuros Administration (IA).  Maintaining the integrity of the district is very important to the IA and that is a good thing for current and future generations.

Some of the highlights of Intramuros

The first thing that will catch your attention is the city walls and all the forts, gates, bulwarks, ravelins and redoubts (clearly, I picked up some words related to military fortifications!).  A good starting point in this network is Fort Santiago.  The fort was built by the Spanish starting in the late XVI century.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Philippines, Olympus

The entrance to Fort Santiago from the land side, repaired after WWII

Through the centuries it has changed due to earthquakes, attacks, or modifications.  During WWII it suffered great damage.  Today, it is set up well for visitors.  You first enter a plaza or park and then cross the moat (which is an arm of the Pasig River) to enter the main part of the fort.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Philippines, Olympus

The moat in front of the entrance to Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Philippines, Olympus

You can walk along the walls and look across the river.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Walk along the walls of the fort!

And you can see the place where the Philippines’ national hero, José Rizal, was imprisoned right before his execution in 1896.  A poignant detail you will notice is that his footsteps from his prison to the place of his execution are marked on the ground.

Jose Rizal, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, history, national hero, Filipino

Lifelike statue of Rizal in his former cell

Jose Rizal, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, history, national hero, Filipino, footsteps

Rizal’s walk to his execution

After you are done in Fort Santiago, a short walk takes you to the Manila Cathedral, which has been destroyed and reconstructed more than a handful of times since it was first built in the late 16th century.

Manila Cathedral, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

The Cathedral

The Cathedral shares the Plaza de Roma (used to be called the Plaza de Armas, a key spot in any Spanish colonial town) with the former Governor’s Palace (also destroyed in the past) which now houses government offices, including the Intramuros Administration.

Palacio del Gobernador, Governor's Palace, , Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

The Governor’s Palace

San Agustín Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines, is one of the few buildings still standing in Intramuros that pre-date WWII.  Though it suffered a little damage, it is mostly still the same structure.  Along with three other churches in the Philippines, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Legazpi, the founder of the city of Manila is buried here.  And if you get to visit, check out the ceiling – it plays a trick on the eye:  though it looks elaborately decorated, all that you see is painted on a smooth surface!

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Interior of the church – everything on the arches and ceiling is painted on!

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Detail in the interior of the church

Though I call out Fort Santiago, the city walls with all its different components are good places to explore and get up on to check out the views.  Worth noting that right outside the city walls, the former moat was reclaimed during the American period and a full 18-hole golf course established!

Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Manila Town Hall, Philippines, golf course, Olympus

City wall fortifications with the golf course in the background

How to see Intramuros

Depending on the reason for your visit to Manila and how much time you have,  how you do Intramuros may vary.  But whether you only have half-a-day or two days to spare, you should find a guide to show you around for 2-4 hours.  There is a lot behind what you see in Intramuros and you will miss more than half of the story if you only walk around without a guide.  I had a neat tour guide who, though a little too freely-sharing and opinionated, nevertheless presented Manila’s story in a very compelling way.

You can walk the district (it is not too big) or use a calesa to get around a little more comfortably, especially on a hot day.  The good part about walking is that you can meander around with more freedom and take better pictures!

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Calesas on the run

Finally I would recommend not only visiting Intramuros but staying there one or two nights to soak in the district.  While it is not the most lively area in the evening, there is a perfect spot to explore the old town, watch the sun set, and enjoy the evening breeze:  The Bayleaf Hotel.

The unique Bayleaf Hotel

The Bayleaf is unique in several ways.  For starters, it is actually the only hotel within the city walls.  Secondly, it is the tallest building in Intramuros.  Thirdly, it is well-known to be very welcoming:  I researched the hotel in TripAdvisor where it had the top rank from other travelers’ reviews, always a nice benchmark for me especially with so many reviewers opining.  In fact, the Bayleaf also received TripAdvisor’s 2013 Circle of Excellence award.  Finally, it is one of the best spots to watch the sun set in Manila (even locals suggested we go there without knowing I was staying there!).

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Lobby of the Bayleaf

The Bayleaf is a boutique hotel, well-priced, and possessing a neat color scheme indoors as you would expect in the tropics (my floor and room were my favorite color:  orange) while the outside of the building maintains the exterior that makes it a clear part of Intramuros.  It sits right by the city walls and Victoria St., a very colorful street worth walking.  So clearly this is where I would recommend staying when exploring Intramuros both for the convenience and charm.

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My room at the Bayleaf

A sunset that never happened but I did get a good view

I was a guest of the hotel for one night to see how great its location is and, hopefully, get one of the best sunset views in Manila over Manila Bay from its Sky Deck rooftop terrace.

Bayleaf Hotel, Sky Deck, rooftop terrace, Manila, Philippines, sunset, Intramuros

The terrace and part of the view

Unfortunately, watching the sunset from the Sky Deck became impossible as it rained really hard that day so not sunset to be seen (so the photo above is not mine but from the hotel’s site).  While the sunset was a no-go, I enjoyed an adobo (a typical Filipino dish of pork and chicken in  soy and vinegar sauce) at the 9 Spoons restaurant which sits right below the Sky Deck terrace.

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The adobo dish (garnished to the left with a fried egg)

I did go up the next morning to the Sky Deck terrace to soak the awesome 360 degree view it offers.  Being the tallest building in Intramuros, the view is spectacular.  You can see the golf course built in the site of the moat outside of the city walls.  You can see the tall Manila Town Hall right outside the walls, then the National Museum.  And then you can turn around to see all of Intramuros right below you.

Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Manila Town Hall, Philippines, golf course, clouds, sky, Olympus

Looking from the Bayleaf’s Sky Deck towards the Manila Town Hall (notice the golf course)

Manila, Intramuros, Philippines, view, vista, Bayleaf Hotel, cloud, sky, Olympus

View over Intramuros (the Cathedral to the left) towards Manila Bay

I only wish I had been there on a clear sunset, with some tropical beverage and camera in hand…  I guess there is always a return to Manila.  If MacArthur did it, why not me??


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Exploring Old Town Dubrovnik – Architecture and Ambiance

Walking the streets of Old Town Dubrovnik is beat ONLY by walking the city’s walls.  Yes, the entire city is walled still and you can pay to walk the couple of kilometers which affords great views of Old Town from every angle and of the sea and hills outside of Old Town (read more about it here!).  I enjoyed walking the walls the most out of my days there.  The present city walls, though finished for the most part in the second half of the 16th century, actually were started around the early 15th century.  One of the bridges on the western gate (the Pila Gate) dates from the 1470s!  By the way, there was a massive earthquake in 1667 that caused a lot of damage and these walls survived it quite well.

Cannon along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cannon along the city walls

Guard post in the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Guard post in the city walls

View through the city wall of Dubrovnik, Croatia

View through the city wall

From the city walls you can more easily find old tiled roofs that survived the attacks of 1991-2, and see how creative townsfolk are about using the space ABOVE their buildings since land is at a premium in this charming city.

Rooftop in Dubrovnik, Croatia doing double duty as a sports court

Rooftop doing double duty as a sports court

In Old Town

Along the way, depending on where you entered the walls (I did by the Pila Gate entrance), you will run into the Fortress of St. John which sort of stands guard on the eastern bay of the town.   This fortress houses a very interesting maritime history museum which I highly recommend.

Old Town looks small from the walls but you can get lost down there – and you should!  Old Town is rich in architecture gems and its shiny stones on the ground add to the ambiance of the place.  My approach to a town like this is to walk pretty much aimlessly down streets and alleys (Old Town is all pedestrian).  A great starting point is the Pila Gate where you enter the main pedestrian street called the Stradun.

The Stradun in Dubrovnik from the Pila Gate

The Stradun street from the Pila Gate

Narrow streets of Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia

Narrow streets of Old Town

Lots of neat buildings and sights no matter where you turn.  I found the oldest pharmacy in Europe still open (it is said to be the 3rd oldest overall having opened in 1317; located within the Franciscan Monastery) and a neat little museum of local countryside life (the Rupe Ethnographic Museum) built on a former granary (you can still see the holes used to move grains from one level to another).

Old Town, of course, has a good share of palaces, churches and other important buildings and structures to see:

  • The Franciscan Monastery and Church – construction started in the 1300s but which was pretty much destroyed in the earthquake of 1667 .  The cloister is considered one of Dubrovnik’s most important architecture pieces.
Cluster in Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cloister in Franciscan Monastery

Restoration work at the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Restoration work at the Franciscan Monastery behind a screen

  • The Rector’s Palace – probably my favorite building, it also suffered greatly in 1667 and was repaired/re-built.  I love the arcade on the side of the building.  Inside, it has a museum with interesting artifacts, jail cells on display, and rooms depicting both the decor of the time and the carriages used by well-off folks to travel!
The Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik, Croatia

The Rector’s Palace

Detail of the Rector's Palace - courtyard - in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Detail of the Rector’s Palace – courtyard

Detail of the Rector's Palace - handrail - in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Detail of the Rector’s Palace – handrail

  • The Bell Tower – at the end of the Stradun, it is fairly recent since the old tower had to be brought down and re-built in the early 20th century.
  • Other churches  including the Cathedral, St. Ignatius, and St. Vlaho.
Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho

Old church in Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia

Old church near the Dominican Monastery

  • Finally, the old synagogue which is the oldest Sephardic synagogue still in use and second oldest in Europe.  It is tiny and tucked away with a narrow entrance in a side alley.  One could easily miss it but it is well-worth finding it and entering it.

And RIGHT Outside Old Town

One of the neatest things about Dubrovnik is the sea around it.  One can walk towards the Fortress of St. John and see fishermen coming in with the catch of the day.

Dubrovnik fisherman

Just around the fortress, one can walk down the sidewalk to bask in the sun and the serenity of the sea – unless the waves are a-crashing!

Waves crashing in Dubrovnik's sea walkway 2

Waves crashing in Dubrovnik's sea walkway

Dubrovnik is well worth a visit; and the slower the pace, the more enjoyable it becomes – I shall return!

The Jewel of the Adriatic – Dubrovnik, Croatia!

For a long time, Dubrovnik has been in my radar as a destination.  The images of this city sitting on the Adriatic Sea with its tiled roofs has always captured my imagination – as I hope it does yours, if you have not been to this gem of a place!  This initially was going to be one post but there was so much I wanted to share, I decided to split into two, to not short change you, my readers!

Planning a trip to Italy with friends, I began wondering where else I could go after the Italy visit since I was already across the Atlantic.  As I reviewed the map (first mentally, then online), I zoomed in on Croatia.  Very close to Italy… I did not have a hard time making my mind up.  Croatia it was and Dubrovnik within it….

Arriving in Dubrovnik

I landed in the small but very efficient airport and boarded the bus to town, saving tons of money and paying little to be dropped off right outside one of the main gates into the old city.

The main bus stop area outside of Pile Gate in Dubrovnik, Croatia

As I rode the bus along the coast, I kept my eyes wide open waiting for my first glimpse of Dubrovnik.  And that moment was still as impressive as I thought it would be:  this place looked like out of a fairy tale!  Though I didn’t luck out in the weather department that week, it was impossible to not be charmed by Dubrovnik…

Approaching Dubrovnik, Croatia coming from the airport and meetings its famous tiled roofs

Not too bad for a pic taken from a moving bus!

My Home for 4 Days – The Hilton

My hotel, the Hilton Grand Imperial was almost across the street from the bus stop.  Lucky guy!  (In fact, you can see in the top picture on the top right of the picture!)

Grand Hilton Imperial Hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia

The beautiful Grand Imperial!

Sample architecture in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Building across from the Hilton Grand Imperial Hotel

The hotel was built in the late 19th century and suffered greatly in the attacks in 1991 (I saw a picture of its roof burning in a local museum where a photo exhibit shows the pain the city went through that year…).  It is now a beautiful Hilton property with excellent service, great location, and an incredible buffet breakfast (along with a well prepared gym to burn off any calories you don’t burn by walking around!  Oh and an indoor pool, sauna, and steam room – imperial indeed.).  (Check out my TripAdvisor review for this hotel.)

Hilton Grand Imperial welcome treat in my room in Dubrovnik, Croatia

A nice welcome treat after a long day coming from Rome via Munich at the Hilton!

Background to appreciate this beautiful place even more…

Dubrovnik competed with Venice, in its heyday (as it does today in my head!), for being one of the most important centers of trade in that part of Europe.  In fact, the Republic of Ragusa, as it was known, was the only contender in the eastern Adriatic to Venice.  It was a skilled center of trade working through complicated politics and centers of power to remain independent until a series of mishaps in the late 17th century started eroding its staying power to be independent.  Little known to me and likely to my compatriots from any of our history courses, this place was definitely unique in history.

Eventually, after many different circumstances, Dubrovnik ended up in Yugoslavia.  When the Yugoslav state began falling apart, Croatia declared its independence along with Slovenia.  Unfortunately, it was not a clean break for Croatia.  Dubrovnik suffered serious attacks in 1991-2 that destroyed parts of the city and most of the tiled roofs that added a lot of charm to the place.  Most of the tiled roofs you see today, in fact, are reconstructions due to the war.  It is very sad not only for the loss of human life and the destruction suffered upon this beautiful city but this city had been demilitarized in the 1970s on purpose to ensure it would never suffer war due to its beauty.  But nationalist zealots don’t respect much…  Dubrovnik paid the price – still visible as bullet holes in some buildings and by the new-looking roofs.   Who is laughing now, though??

Old Town and the City Walls

For sure, the best part of Dubrovnik is what is in Old Town and what surrounds its:  its famed and still intact city walls.  There is so much to share on this that I devote another post to what Old Town offers.  For now, until a few days from now, know that exploring every corner and alley of Old Town is a delight!

The following are views of different portions of the famous city walls as I walked them!

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Food – Because You KNEW I Was Going to Go There

I mentioned in my review of the Hilton how good the buffet breakfast was – so that was one meal I did not go elsewhere for!  I had a nice meal at a local place in Old Town one night, and then another meal right between the Hilton and the Pile Gate at a restaurant that was good but pricey.  However, the star of the show for me was Restaurant Posat.  Though in my TripAdvisor review I mention that it was pricey, it was a great deal.  I had mussels for a starter and then a local grilled fish for the main course.  The mussels and the fish were very fresh (and I know fresh fish having lived in Chile for a year!!).  I sat by the waterfront, under the aegis of the St. Lawrence Fortress (or Fortress Lovrijenac).  The restaurant, though outside of the Old Town and very close to the Pile Gate and the main bus stop, was and felt tucked away.  Oh, and they had good wifi!

View from Restaurant Posat in Dubrovnik, Croatia

View from straight ahead from the Restaurant Posat

View of Fortress St. Lawrence in Dubrovnik. Croatia

View of Fortress St. Lawrence – the immediate neighbor of Restaurant Posat!

Great Location!!

Dubrovnik is not just a phenomenal destination unto itself.  It is a great jumping place to many different places.  Island hopping in the Croatian coast, I hear, is incredible.  Heading to awesome Split not too difficult.  Day trip to Mostar, a jewel in Herzegovina?  No problem.  Saunter off to Kotor Bay, the double-bay in Montenegro, or visit Riviera-like Budva also in Montenegro?  Very easy.  Dubrovnik is just blessed with its location as a great place to base a lot of travel in the region.

How Do I Wrap My Head around Dubrovnik?

I have to say that I have seen many places and many places that I like.  I have seen many charming European towns and villages.  I have seen Venice.  And Dubrovnik fares EXTREMELY well when I stack it against any of these.  I dare say its charm is very unique, as is Venice’s.  Except no foul smells, floods, or sinking buildings here…  Stay tuned for part 2 where I hope you will continue to see why I so enjoyed this jewel of the Adriatic!

View of the eastern approach from the sea to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Beautiful view of the eastern harbor, the Fortress of St. John, the Bell Tower, the Dominican Monastery, St. Vlaho’s Church and the wonderful tiled roofs!

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