Tag Archives: architecture

A trip to Malta for a holiday or an English course

The European island archipelago of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea is attractive to both travelers and language learners alike and its rich culture, colonial history and pre-history and consistently pleasant climate ensure that you’ll never be short of something to see, do or explore here.

old buildings in Malta

Malta is host to some of the Mediterranean’s most attractive beaches and lagoons and the varied nature of these beauty spots allow you to spend a day on a touristy beach mixing with fellow holiday-makers and locals alike, followed by a day in a secluded bay enjoying some peace and quiet. The more popular, busier beaches offer a wide range of water sports so a day in the sun needn’t consist purely of lying on a sunbed enjoying a good book – although if this is your idea of a relaxing holiday, then Malta’s warm summer and relaxed atmosphere will appeal to you! The crystal-clear, turquoise waters which surround the island make it a perfect base for scuba diving and offer an opportunity to explore the island’s diverse marine life as well as underwater caves, reefs and wrecks.

Inland, there is much evidence of Malta’s fascinating and varied history to be explored. A number of archaeological sites offer a glimpse into life on the island over 5000 years ago and much of Malta’s colonial past is still evident in the architecture, best seen on a lazy stroll through the island’s narrow streets.

For travelers who want more from their trip than a sun tan and a cultural education, Malta is a great place to enroll on an English course. As a bilingual island there are numerous opportunities to practice your language skills outside of the classroom – a trip to one of the many village markets, for example, allows you to indulge in a spot of bargain-hunting as well as striking up a conversation with the locals. One of Malta’s restaurants which offer fabulous, fresh seafood or its several bars and nightclubs give you the chance to let your hair down and make new friends – all the while speaking English of course!


Murcia: arts, culture and beautiful architecture

If you’ve never been to Murcia before, it’s worth checking out this year. Not only is it one of the biggest cities in Spain, with over half a million residents, it’s also brimming over with architectural, artistic and cultural delights. Situated just inland from the south-eastern coast of Spain, it is renowned for its friendly climate with long hot summers, temperate winters and infrequent rain (less than 30 cm throughout the whole year). If you’re looking for hot sun and plenty of it, July and August are typically very hot and dry months while October and November are rather wetter. For those who prefer cooler weather, December through to March is often both mild and dry. Apart from its inviting climate, Murcia is also full of wonderful buildings in the baroque style and visitors can immerse themselves in the history, arts, culture and beautiful architecture of the Murcia region

Murcia Valley, Spain

Beautiful Architecture

The River Segura runs through Murcia and it is spanned by a number of noteworthy bridges ranging from eighteenth century through to the twentieth century. But further away, the real show-stealer is the ancient Roman Aqueduct of Segovia which is a world heritage site. Although it is a rather lengthy eight-hour round trip, it is worth hiring a car in order to experience this piece of ancient architecture which is still in very good condition. Experts have estimated its age to be two-thousand years old and it is a breathtaking monument which you will not want to miss. Back in town, along with the twelfth-century Castle Monteagudo, Murcia Cathedral was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and is famous for its varied architecture. This stunning building includes architectural features ranging from Castilian Gothic through to Spanish Baroque, along with Renaissance, Neoclassical and Rococo accents.


The area is very well-known for its various festivals and during Holy Week, Murcia hosts a traditional procession which is one of Spain’s best-loved festivals. The local museums house a number of Francisco Salzillo’s enormous sculptures and these are paraded through the streets in a re-enactment of Christ’s route to his crucifixion. As well as the life-sized statues, this stately procession also features hundreds of flowers and candles. A week later, watch out for the Orchard Parade when residents dress in historic rural dress. There is also an international Three Cultures festival in May which showcases the cultural contributions made by the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities that have lived together for hundreds of years.


There are also plenty of art-related activities in the area and Murcia turns itself over to music towards the end of July. In San Javier, against the backdrop of the Mar Menor lagoon, there is an annual jazz festival which celebrates music from the artists of yesteryear with tributes to legendary pianists and saxophonists. In the nearby Caragena, there is a global music event, La Mar de Musicas, which features music from a different country each year when internationally-renowned musicians appear. Murcia is also known for its museums and galleries and there have been enormous investments in arts centres in the region. For those interested in more historic art, the Murcia Museum of Fine Arts is worth visiting to see the impressive art collections which date from medieval times. On the other hand, if you have more modern tastes, spend some time in the Sala Verónicas which is a former church, or in the reinvented canning factory, La Conservera, which showcase installations from international artists and sculptors.

Getting there and getting around

Getting to Murcia is relatively easy and there is a choice of international airports, including Murcia Airport and nearby Alicante Airport. The area is well-served by a good range of public transport. For those who wish to explore the area and make the most of the surrounding countryside, mountain and coastal areas, there are also rental cars available from Car Hire Murcia Airport.

So, whether you’re planning an extended visit or a short break, Murcia is guaranteed to provide a unique combination of historic culture and modern entertainment to suit the needs of international visitors.


Philadelphia Travel Guide

The Philly Skyline on a sunny day

“The City of Brotherly Love”, the pride and joy of Rocky Balboa, the 5th largest city in the United States, and the heavenly site of my birth, Philadelphia! Philly, as it is more commonly known, is one of the oldest cities in the country and has more cool stuff to check out than any long weekend can offer. You’ve been waiting for it, I’ve been slacking on it, but now, it’s time. Here’s the Philadelphia Travel Guide!


The first Europeans to stake claim on the Delaware Valley where Philadelphia is located, were the Swedish believe it or not in the early 1600’s. It remained under their control until the 1680’s when William Penn was awarded the territory of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania stands for Penn’s woods) by King Charles the II of England in 1681. Penn, who decided to leave England because of religious persecution, established the Pennsylvania territory as a place for people to practice whatever religion they chose freely, a truly progressive idea for the time.

He wanted to create a town that would be a center for government, but wouldn’t be overcrowded with residential and commercial properties and would boast a multitude of parks and gardens. Penn’s unique grid-layout city at 90 degree angles was the first major US city to be planned as such. By the early 1700’s, Philadelphia began to boom, and one famous resident, Benjamin Franklin, is credited with so many urban advancements, that it’s almost unthinkable to believe one man did so much for one place (think post office, fire brigade…electricity!)

Philadelphia was the location of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and served as the nation’s capital from 1790 until 1800 while Washington D.C. was under construction.

Today, Philadelphia has expanded to be the 5th largest city in the country with a population of over 1.5 million people.

Where to Stay in Philadelphia

Philadelphia sprawls over a large land area, but it also has one of the biggest downtowns in the USA. That being said, you will most likely opt to stay in downtown, known as Center City. This core has many different neighborhoods and is generally accepted as being from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River (pronounced SKook-ill) and from South Street to Fairmount Avenue.

Some nice areas to stay are in Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square, Olde City, Fairmount and Fittler Square, all of which offer good dining options, nightlife and walking distance to the lion share of the city’s best museums and attractions.

What to See in Philadelphia

If museums are your thing, and even if they aren’t, there are some must-sees in Philadelphia. Firstly, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is famous in its own right. The iconic neo-classical façade looks like a massive Greek temple, and it overlooks the city from its perch atop a small hill in an acropolistic fashion. It is affectionately known as the “Parthenon on the Parkway” and its steps are world famous for the scene in Rocky where he runs up and thrusts his hands up in pride. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest museums in the country and has countless works from modern masterpieces to ancient treasures. Don’t forget to check out the amazing collection of arms and armor.

The Franklin Institute is another museum in Philadelphia, and probably the best science museum in the country. It is dedicated to none other than Ben Franklin himself and guards some of his most interesting inventions, huge exhibits on trains, planes, medical advancements and space. There is a one-of-a-kind spherical IMAX theater that plays science related movies, as well as Hollywood blockbusters. The planetarium does laser light shows to soundtracks on the weekends for such bands as Pink Floyd, Metallica and Radiohead just to name a few.

Eastern State Penitentiary is one of the coolest things to see in Philadelphia! Located in Fairmount, Eastern State looks like a medieval castle plopped into the middle of a city. It was an operational jail from 1829 until 1971 and one of the first of its kind where reform was focused on instead of punishment (even though it looks like people were tortured there from the outside!). Famous inmates included Al Capone and Willie Sutton. You can take a tour seven days a week, from 10 am to 5 PM.

Historic Jails in America

Independence Mall

Located just west of Olde City, Independence Mall is home to Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence was signed), the Visitor’s Center, Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell. Basically everything you could possibly want to learn about the founding of the United States with the artifacts to go along with it!

Where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Magic Gardens
Located at 10th and South Street, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens are amazing; three urban plots completely covered in mosaic glass and other interesting thingamajiggers. They are the work of Isaiah Zagar and what started as just a personal project is now a gallery, museum and outdoor labyrinth where you can wander around and marvel at the mosaics. They are made from everything from classic tiles and glass to old bike wheels and other urban relics.

Philadelphia Zoo

The first zoo in the United States, the Philadelphia Zoo opened its doors in 1874. It’s just a couple of miles from downtown making it an easily accessible attraction that you can spend an entire day at it with its sprawling grounds and interested animals and exhibits. One of the coolest things to do is actually buy a ticket for the Zooballon, a giant helium balloon that rises 400 ft. above the zoo for commanding views of the Schuylkill River and the Philadelphia skyline (don’t worry, it’s tethered!)

What to eat in Philadelphia

Well this one is basically a no brainer, obviously when in Philadelphia, you have to eat a Cheese steak! You’ll hear a lot about two places, Geno’s and Pat’s which are in South Philly, but don’t waste your time or money. The best cheese steak in Philadelphia is Steve’s Prince of Steaks, which lucky for you, just opened a  new location at 16th and Chestnut right in the heart of downtown.

cheesesteaks in philadelphia

After you’ve sampled a cheese steak  you are free to enjoy the rest of the burgeoning food scene in Philadelphia, one that’s been getting a lot of international attention. There are a wealth of amazing places to enjoy, with a high concentration of them in downtown.

For breakfast/brunch, don’t miss Honey’s Sit and Eat in the Northern Liberties section. This place has an awesome brunch and ambiance that will leave you feeling almost as hip as the hipsters running it.  You can find it at 800 N 4th St. Another hipsterific place to grab a coffee and the best fresh donuts you’ll ever have is Federal donuts at 1632 Sansom St.

For lunch, you have to go to Reading Terminal Market. Located right in downtown at 12th and Arch. This is the farmers market that other farmers markets strive to be. Encompassing an entire city block, Reading Terminal Market has amazing, fresh made-to-order food at countless stalls. There are also multiple stalls run by true Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) who come in and sell their meats, breads and sweets. You could honestly eat every single meal here for a month and never grub at the same place twice, nor have a bad meal.

For dinner, some great places are The Continental (modern tapas), Han Dynasty (Szechuan style Chinese) El Vez (Mexican) Bellini Grill (Italian and a BYOB) and Audrey Claire (Modern Farm to Table, BYOB and Cash Only)

Where to drink in Philadelphia

Philly has some pretty solid nightlife and there is no shortage of watering holes. Some of the best bars with great cocktails are Franklin MortgageButcher Singer and The Ranstead Room. For great all around bars, head to Time, Fado, McGillin’s (oldest bar in Philadelphia) Ladder 15 and Buffalo Billiards.

If you’re looking to cut a little rug, then Philly has some clubs to get your booty grooving including Lit Ultra Bar, Whisper and Z Bar.

Philadelphia is really a great place to spend a few days and is very stress-free to get to. The Philadelphia International Airport is easy to navigate, has flights from virtually everywhere, and is served by both public buses and a train that goes directly downtown. Philadelphia is also only 2 hours south of New York City by bus (faster on the train) and 3 hours north of Washington D.C. making it the perfect place to base explorations into the mid-Atlantic region or northeast.

I hope my Philadelphia Travel Guide was useful to you and that it makes your next trip to the City of Brotherly Love a memorable one!


Photo of the Week: View of Panama City from Ancon Hill

Panama City Skyline

I traveled to Panama in early 2012 and started my trip in Panama City. A sprawling metropolis that looks more like Miami than Miami itself, Panama City is a world class city that has something for everyone, from deep historical roots to soaring glass skyscrapers and top-notch nightlife.

I took a tour of the city, and one of the coolest places I went to was atop Cerro Ancon (Ancon Hill) which is a 654 foot hill right in the middle of the city. What’s cool about Ancon Hill besides the stunning views of the city below is that it is undeveloped and truly a jungle oasis in the middle of a bustling city. The reason it was never built up is because up until 1977, the hill was actually governed by the US as it was part of the Panama Canal Zone. Panama decided to keep it pristine upon gaining control and since has made it a protected area.

You can even still see exotic jungle wildlife living on the hill including sloths, exotic birds, condors, eagles, tamarins (small monkeys) and deer. If you make it to Panama City, then definitely head to Ancon Hill to take in the amazing panoramic vistas, you won’t be disappointed!