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Travel 24 hours to Moscow

The name Moscow is used synonymously with the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, yet the city is so much more than a political city and has plenty to offer visitors.
The beating heart of Russia is a global commercial hub, a cosmopolitan metropolis with 1,000 years of history and more than 10 million inhabitants. It boasts some of the finest hotels in the world, iconic buildings, rich cultural sites, and fine restaurants, so whether you are just passing through in transit, or have a day at leisure between business meetings, be sure to make the most of the most impressive capital city between London and Beijing.
Unlike its sister city St Petersburg, the Venice of the north, few foreign visitors think of coming to Moscow. The Cold War memories of a cold, grey city still linger, but in 2017 they couldn’t be further from reality. Now is the time to immerse yourself in everything Moscow has to offer.
Must Stay
In Moscow, location is everything, and you can’t do better than to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Moscow (read our review), a stone’s throw away from Red Square. An historic hotel where the decor is inspired by the decadence of Imperial Russia, you’ll live like a Tsar in this palace. Superior guest rooms start from £225 at the weekends, and whether you’re treating yourself to fine dining in Novikov Restaurant, relaxing in the spa, or soaking up the stunning views of Red Square from the rooftop O2 Lounge, you’re not going to want to leave.
Must Visit
The Kremlin is Moscow’s fortress and it is the city’s cultural centrepiece as much as a political institution. Inside the vast fortified compound you will find three cathedrals, the Patriarch’s Palace, a church and the bell tower of Ivan the Great, and together these buildings are the holiest sites of Russian Orthodoxy — Moscow’s Vatican, if you like. Exquisite religious frescoes decorate the walls, incense drifts in the air, and every now and then it is possible to hear the sound of devotional plainsong. Here too is the Armoury Chamber with its extraordinary collection of state regalia, gold and silver plate, and jewels. Prepare to stand entranced by the craftsmanship and the wealth, the shear number and variety of sublime artefacts.
Must Be Seen At
The old Red October Chocolate Factory, a converted industrial area on an island in the Moskva River, is the coolest place to be seen. Hipsters working at Digital October, one of the city’s most successful start-up incubators, hang out here, and you can join them for a contemporary art exhibition at Red October Gallery or the Lumiere Brothers Centre for Photography. There’s a bar serving fine wines at the neighbouring Strelka Institute, a creative space hosting open lectures, conferences and film screenings, or you can pop into Urban Kitchen for a drink and a bite to eat.
Must Drink
Forget the stereotypes: Moscow has so much more to offer than vodka, though if that is your tipple of choice, you’ll certainly be in for a treat. The city’s best mixologists are to be found in the O2 Lounge on the rooftop of the Ritz Carlton hotel. Dress to impress so you fit right in, and as you stand on the terrace gazing across the city, you’ll never forget the sight of St Basil’s Cathedral lit up at night.
Must Shop
Catherine II commissioned the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi to build her a neoclassical trade centre after the 1812 fire in Moscow. Today the complex is the GUM Department Store, and you should come here as much to appreciate the impressive metal and glass vaulted ceiling as for the designer stores. The delicatessen displays put even Fortnum and Mason’s to shame, and the shoe and handbag selections may well prompt hysteria.
Must Eat
The Radisson Royal has a flotilla of ice breaker yachts, and every evening you can step aboard for a dinner cruise afloat on the Moskva River. The gourmet menu includes fresh seafood platters, and the hot smoked sturgeon is undoubtedly a culinary highlight.
For authentic contemporary Russian cuisine, prepared with seasonal, organic ingredients from local farms, go to LavkaLavka. Think of it as Moscow’s answer to River Cottage. Our absolutely favourite dish on the menu is the beetroot spelt with porcini mushrooms, though the duck breast with stewed plums, honey, and ginger is also a highlight for your tastebuds.
Must See The View
The 540m high Ostankino TV Tower was the tallest free-standing building in the world until the completion of the CN Tower in 1976. Built to mark the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, this iconic structure is a masterpiece of Soviet engineering and unexpectedly beautiful when it is lit up in many colours at night. The observation deck is open daily until 21.00 and on a clear day you can see right across the city in every direction.
Must Watch
No one should come to Moscow without taking in a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, even if ballet and opera aren’t really your thing. As much as £730 million has been spent on the recent renovation, and yet if you turn up at the box office half an hour before a show, you can still pick up a ticket for as little as £3. Major productions such as Swan Lake and Cosi Fan Tutte are usually staged in the main theatre, but you can also see contemporary works and rehearsals on the New Stage next door.

Travel to Palm Springs, California

Crafted out of the desert, Palm Springs still rocks nearly a century after it was created. Just ask Obama. The former US President is a regular visitor and he is just one of a long list of superstars who have holidayed or indeed lived here.
Glitterati of yesteryear would escape to Palm Springs from their gruelling filming schedules to enjoy some rest and relaxation reassured that they were less than 2 hours away from Hollywood should they be called back urgently.
This is the kind of town where you can spend a swell night in Twin Palms, the house where Sinatra threw his legendary cocktail parties or rent the home on Ladera Circle, where Elvis honeymooned with Priscilla. Or take a spin along freeway Bob Hope Drive. Turn up here in January and you could spend your time star spotting when the Palm Springs International Film Festival attracts the Clooneys of the world into town.
This celebrity-imbued region and its nine manicured resorts has in recent years, become thought of as a pensioners paradise; albeit, vitamin-boosted, healthy, wealthy silver-haired city refugees. For many it’s the dry desert climate and guaranteed sunshine for at least 10 months of the year that keeps them coming back. But things are changing with swanky restaurants and funky hotels now filling up to the brim with the next generation of holiday-makers.
Things to do in Palm Springs
Palm Springs is set in a tea-cup shaped valley and is completely surrounded by mountains that rise to nearly 11,000 ft at an angle of 75 degrees. In between the peaks are 54 miles of lush hiking trails, interesting rock formations and lovely waterfalls that nature lovers adore.
You can see it all when you alight onto Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. A rotating gondola rises 8,500 feet across two and a half miles of amazing views on its way up and down. Or stay at the top to explore, as this is the gateway to the cliffs of Chino Canyon.
On ground level there is the designer shopping especially in the palm-lined, highly manicured El Paseo, dubbed the Rodeo Drive of the Desert. In the town centre the art scene is thriving. Antique shops and those selling arty interiors unfold along North Palm Canyon drive.
The Backstreet Art District is easy to miss yet worth seeking out on South Cherokee Way. A community of a dozen or so acclaimed artists have opened up shop offering an opportunity to spend an hour or so milling and perhaps buying unique artwork.
The townsfolk have cleverly turned its last century provenance into a tourist trade. It simply loves to show off its quaintly retro architecture – the largest concentration of mid-20th century architecture in the world.
Get there in December and the boutique hotels and historic inns throw their doors open for public Walk of the Inns tours. Walking from one retro-designed hotel to another gives an interesting peek into the minds of past architects and their creations from 100-year old adobe inns to Mediterranean inspired villas. I particularly loved the motel with a kidney-shaped pool and ornamental pink flamingos. Apparently, Marilyn Monroe did too.
Those with a penchant for history and culture may find the Palm Springs Historical Society of interest. It is housed in an adobe house built by John McCallum who was the first white settler in Palms Springs. It is full of antiques and Indian artifacts, tools and images. Also, check out the Art Museum and the Architecture and Design Center.
If like Obama you love to play golf, there are several to choose such as the championship Indian Wells golf course looking lovely with its mountain backdrop and water features.
Proof Palm Springs used to be the desert
I had to pinch myself to remember that this land had been desert for more than 11,000 years and by the time I had wined, dined, spa’d and tee’d off with the local trendies it dawned on me that I had no choice; I had to go on a jeep tour to get a glimpse of this region’s true nature. The tour was a fascinating drive to the lands where the Cahuilla people lived 400 years ago.
I could see the San Andreas Fault where the collision of Pacific and North American plates have created a twisted and tormented landscape that would not look out of place at the Tate. Our guide tells us that palms are not trees, they are monocots – “think grass on steroids” she said. The landscape here is phenomenal and this is where you actually get to see the palm springs.
Where to eat in Palm Springs
The town is full of designer-diners such as the amazing and plushly decorated, three-levelled Lulu on South Palm Canyon Drive.
In the town centre located on the corner of South Indian Canyon and Arenas Road the Johannes restaurant offers some truly tasty Austrian dining. The menu has a Schnitzel lover’s menu including the classic Weiner or chicken varieties alongside more unusual offerings such as Mama’s with tomato and gruyere and fonina cheese. Traditional deserts include a sumptuous strudel, tiramissu and chocolate mousse.
In El Paseo, the region’s shopping area, a lively joint is the Tommy Bahama shopping and restaurant combo – a retail recipe that seems to be popular in the US and for a little more authenticity I nipped out to the Coachella Valley to dine in the Jackalope Ranch restaurant where meat dishes are served with live entertainment in its wild west style saloon.
When to Go to Palm Springs
From January to May the weather is warm but not too hot and sunny. During the summer months, the weather can be extremely hot, but then again, some like it hot.
Palm Springs – need to know
Where to stay: Ace Hotel – a funky, retro style, motel-cum-hotel with some great mod cons and a pleasant, come-as-you-are vibe. Read our review here.

Travel to Ukraine

Ukraine, the country famous for banning Hollywood Steven Seagal from visiting, is opening up to tourism with visa-free travel. Add to that direct flights from the UK and the fact that it is still remarkably good value for money, this is as good a time as any to visit. We suggest you get behind the wheel or a hire car or indeed to hop on a train.
Situated in the far west of the country, just 50 miles from the Polish border, Lviv was known as Lemburg when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1772 to WW1. That’s reflected in its quaint cobbled streets, proliferation of churches and architecture reminiscent of those other Hapsburg cities like Vienna and Budapest. Of course it also has trams, trolley buses and coffee houses. Indeed they say that the first coffee shop in Vienna was opened by an Ukrainian from Lviv in 1686.
It’s a pleasant place to wander round, with street musicians on every corner, and the Market Square in the old town is lined with renaissance houses. The elaborate Lviv Opera House still stages productions of opera and ballet and imposing Cathedrals beckon you inside. My visit coincides with National Embroidered Blouse Day so everyone is sporting one, men and women alike.
Outside the old town, the 18th-century Lychakiv Cemetery has ornate tombs, chapels and shrines plus a special section dedicated to those who are still being killed in the armed struggle on Ukraine’s Eastern borders. Most Ukrainians I speak to believe that it’s Russian mischief making and can’t understand why their former ally is making trouble. Central and Western Ukraine show no signs of the war, so travellers shouldn’t be alarmed.
Carpathian Mountains
The Carpathians form an arc running roughly 1000 miles across Central and Eastern Europe, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe. They occupy the South West of Ukraine, separating the country from Romania, with the highest peak, Mount Hoverla, reaching over 2000m. Life carries on here much as it’s done for centuries and during the Soviet period was left almost untouched. Even guerrillas fighting their Russian oppressors stayed holed up here for years.
Kolomyia
It’s a three hour drive across the Ukrainian steppes to Kolomyia, famous for the world’s only Pysanka or Easter Egg Museum. Of course it’s built in the shape of a giant egg and houses an impressive collection of intricately decorated specimens from all over the world. Nearby is another museum dedicated to the Hutsuls, the largest ethnic group in the Carpathians, scattered through both Ukraine and Romania. It’s an excellent introduction to their culture with an exhibition of ethnic costumes, arts and crafts.
Yaremche
The landscape begins to change as I climb up to the town of Yaremche at 580m. The wide cornfields give way to forested hills, wooden houses and quaint chapels by the side of the road. The River Prut runs through the centre of town in a series of rapids, and there’s a rather tacky craft market on either side of the ravine. However if you’re in the market for woolly slippers or dodgy fruit wine, this is the place for you.
Bukovel
Another 40 minutes of climbing brings me to Bukovel, the largest Ski resort in Eastern Europe at 900m. It opened in 2000 and has 16 ski lifts with roughly 30 miles of pistes, and more are promised. There’s a boating lake but otherwise there’s not much character here. A few of the ski lifts remain open and, at the top of one of them, there’s a rather terrifying Roller Coaster Zip line which hurls you high through the trees. I prefer a spot of gentle hiking.
Verkhovyna
I head deeper into the Carpathians and the roads worsen, potholes everywhere and rickety bridges to traverse. The railway arrived in the 1880’s, attracting tourists with fresh mountain air, and Vorokhta is an attractive spa town. Further on, just outside Verkhovyna, is Kryvorivnia, a Hutsul village where the movie “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” was shot in 1965. It’s nothing more than a collection of attractive wooden shacks with a restored fortified Hutsul house, known as a Grazhda, filled with traditional artefacts. It’s Sunday and the singing from inside the tiny church drifts across the valley.
Chernivtsi
Leaving the mountains and journeying East, I come to the city of Chernivtski, capital of the region of Bukovina. Also a part of the Hapsburg Empire, it was known as Little Vienna because of its architecture is similar. It’s only 30 miles from Romania and, between the wars was part of that country. The Romanians were responsible for the city’s attractive art deco buildings. Chernivtsi University, a red bricked Moorish fantasy, with a Technicolor tiled roof, was built by a Czech architect in 1882, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Khotyn
An easy day’s excursion from Chernivtsi, is the fairy-tale fortress of Khotyn, on a cliff overlooking the Dniester River. It was built around 1400 by the Moldavians but fell into Turkish hands in 1713. They kept it for another 100 years, until the Russians became the final owners. These days it’s been much restored but it’s still an impressive, with walls 40m high and 6m thick. It’s been the location for many feature films, including the Ukrainian version of Robin Hood.
Kamyanets Podilsky
Nearby is another stunning fortress protecting the bridge connecting the medieval city, built on an island, with the mainland. The 14th century castle sits high above a bend of the Smotrych River, its steep cliffs forming a natural moat. It originally had as many as twelve towers but only a few remain today. It’s still relatively well preserved, however, and is one of the few medieval constructions left in Ukraine.
Kiev
I catch the overnight train to Kiev, the carriages built in former East Germany and full of communist charm. It’s slow but comfortable, although all the windows seem to have been nailed shut.
Ukraine’s capital city has wide leafy boulevards, onion-domed churches and relatively few of those dull Soviet architectural monstrosities. Since Ukraine’s independence many of the building have been restored and repainted as symbols of national pride.
Don’t miss the 1980’s reconstruction of the Golden Gates of Kiev or the 11th-century Orthodox cathedral of St. Sophia. I like the 19th century St. Volodymyr’s cathedral which was a museum of atheism during Soviet times. The big attraction is the Lavra Cave Monastery which is a complex of religious buildings with catacombs below contained mummified bodies of former monks. Nearby is the huge Motherland Monument, known locally as “Brezhnev’s Daughter”, 62m high, dominating the skyline. It’s part of the WW2 museum and you can climb up to the mother’s hand in an interior elevator
No visit to the city is complete without a walk around the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square of the city and the venue for pro-democracy demonstrations in recent years. It’s a place of tragedy as over 100 people were killed by snipers in February 2014. As a result former President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country. Today, written in large letters on cladding covering building work, “Freedom is Our Religion”, is a slogan signifying that the struggle is still ongoing.
Chernobyl
Although there’s a small museum dedicated to the nuclear disaster in Kiev, a day trip to Chernobyl is the best way to appreciate the scale of the tragedy. It’s perfectly safe, they say, and it’s around a two hour drive from the city. You pass through a 30km checkpoint before entering a 10km exclusion zone where you’re warned not to touch anything. The reactor now has a new shiny metal shell, but the town of Pripyat, once housing 50,000 workers, is slowly being swallowed by the forest. This is a ghoulish tourist attraction but a grim reminder of the dangers of nuclear power.

Getting Creative With Options Advice

Relaxation And Medical Spas: Benefits And Advantages The modern world has become quite fast-paced that we have to remind ourselves to take a step back and relax every once in a while. A lot of people nowadays are suffering from burnout which is a result of stress in school or in the workplace. Stress can hamper performance which is why it is important to learn how to manage it. Stress can lead to susceptibility to colds, flus, and sore throat as well as having difficulty in sleeping. Stress is a natural part of life so there’s no escaping it. Experiencing a bit of stress in life can help us grow and become a better version of ourselves. Our response to pressure can prepare us for difficult challenges. It is even necessary for our performance. Stress typically comes from environmental factors, social factors, physiological factors, and our thoughts. Examples of environmental factors are excessive noise, uncomfortable living space, bad weather, and pollution. Deadlines, financial problems, disagreements, and conflicts are examples of social factors. Physiological factors that cause stress come from adolescence, illness, accidents, poor nutrition, unhealthy body, muscle tension, and headaches. Thoughts involve our interpretation of events, being perfectionistic, being pessimistic, being self-critical, and making assumptions.
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Chronic stress can have adverse effects on our physical and mental well-being. It can interfere with our performance on normal daily activities, lessen our self-esteem, impair relationships, and decrease our effectiveness at work and in school. Stress usually leads to self-blame, self-doubt, burnout, and becoming clinically anxious or depressed.
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Human beings become stressed mainly because of two reasons. First, it is because we perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful. Second, it is because we do not believe that we have the resources to cope with the challenges presented to us. Stress can be seen in physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. Headaches, indigestion, stomach aches, back pain, racing heart, shallow breathing, and muscle tension, among others, are examples of physical symptoms. Excess smoking, being short-tempered, procrastination, inability to finish tasks, fidgeting, and eating too much or too little are examples of behavioral symptoms. Emotional symptoms, on the other hand, manifest through burnout, nervousness, anxiety, boredom, edginess, being irritable, feeling overwhelming pressure, anger, and loneliness. Constant worrying, loss of humor, forgetfulness, lack of creativity, and trouble thinking clearly are some cognitive symptoms of stress. Stress plays a major role in significantly raising one’s risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other heart problems. Learning how to relax is important in managing stress. As mentioned earlier, chronic stress increases people’s risk to common diseases such as flus and colds. Relaxation can help reduce this risk of inflammation. Chronic stress even results to more acne and weight gain. Relaxation can also decrease one’s susceptibility to these risk factors. Too much stress can kill brain cells and hinder the creation of new ones in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is involved in the healthy management of stress. Relaxation gives time for your hippocampus to recharge. Common relaxation activities are going for a walk, practicing meditative breathing, practicing mindfulness, listening to music, going fishing, playing your favorite sport, or reading a book, among others. There are still people who find it hard to relax. If you are one of them, just take the plunge and practice or talk to someone you trust about your struggle. A medical spa may help this type of people. A medical spa is described as a hybrid between a day spa and medical clinic. It provides pampering, relaxation as well as treatment for health conditions. These are always run by skilled medical professionals. It offers more services than day spas. It provides a calming environment, advanced technology, a positive state of mind, and top treatments and equipment for the healing of long-term health issues including those that are caused by chronic stress. There are medical spas that offer facial services, and acne treatment in Clarksville. One can also find laser lipo, radiesse, and acupuncture in Fulton.

A Simple Plan For Researching Businesses

Why is Pest Control Important for Your House? Pest control is a very important task in ensuring that your house or business premise will be protected from unwanted invaders in the form of pests, these pests may cause diseases and make your house as well as your working place unhealthy. Hiring a pest control association is principal, they will shield your home and work environments from pests that are constantly creeping around, these bugs may cause structural damage or even cause issues in the electrical wiring of houses. Having continuous visits from pest control organizations has many advantages that accompany it, because they will ensure that your house or business premise is not affected by pests. Many bugs and rodents reproduce at high rates on the off chance that they are not spotted early they will duplicate in awesome numbers which may create great problems in your home, having general visits from these pest control organizations will guarantee this is averted and existing pests are eliminated totally. Rodents are popular in chewing things, they may chew on your electrical wiring exposing an electric current, this can prompt fire break out and it will lead to property damage and loss, regular visits from pest control companies will ensure they spot these rodents on time and inspect electric wiring which in turn will reduce instances of fire breakout.
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Structural damage caused by termites and ants chewing on timber used to build houses can be reduced significantly by pest control, this will ensure that building structures will remain beautiful and will last for a long time. Rodents have droppings that carry infections, when these dropping dry, they will transform into dust which will go into the air we inhale, this can cause dangerous airborne maladies that might be life threatening, having a pest control service will guarantee that these illnesses are avoided and the house you are living in will be healthy.
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Pests tend to feast upon different pests, if a particular pest plagues your home it will have a tendency to draw in different pests to your home, this will create enormous issues, having pest control done consistently for your home will surely prevent this and even save you the costs that may be brought about when repairing your structures from pest attack. Pest attack is normally caused by a dirty environment, scattered food particles will always invite ants, having wild plants and shrubs in your compound will offer habitats for rodents and bugs, it is important to ensure that you have a clean environment free of unwanted plants, you should ensure that your lawn is well taken care of to ensure it does not offer habitats for these pests.

5 beautiful beaches in Greek Islands

Greece is famous for many things: it’s bright and exuberant culture, a fascinating and complex history, tales of legendary monsters and heros and, of course, its stunning scenery and beaches.

With thousands of islands and a diverse mainland, Greece’s coastline is the 11th largest in the world. Couple that with its hot, but comfortable climate and the glorious Mediterranean sea, and you have ample opportunity for some truly stunning beaches.

While it is impossible to tell you about every beach worth visiting in Greece, there are a few that are simply unmissable.

Navagio, Zante
Probably one of the most famous beaches in Greece, this tucked away gem can be found on the island of Zante – known locally as Zakynthos. Surrounded by steep cliff edges and only reachable via boat, Navagio owes its reputation to a wrecked smugglers’ ship that ran aground in the early 20th century and now sits on its pristine sandy shore. A beautiful place to spend the day, many tour companies also offer boat and beach parties that stop on Navagio; adding a bit of excitement for those after more than just a relaxing afternoon of sunbathing.

Red Beach, Santorini

Found on the volcanic island of Santorini, the Red Beach proves that white sand isn’t a necessary ingredient when it comes to producing a top quality beach. Covered in red and pebbles and backed by tall red clifftops, you can probably guess how this beach got its name. A beautiful and quiet place to unwind, it is the uniquely charming setting of this beach that makes it a place you simply have to experience when visiting Greece.
Elafonissi, Crete
Forget the golden coast of Australia, or the shores of Thailand, if you want a truly tropical beach, head to Elafonissi on the island of Crete. The most southern of the all the major Greek islands, Crete boasts a lot of incredible beauty spots, but none are quite like this one. A long and soft white sandy beach, its coastal waters are very shallow and have the same silky sand resting below the surface; perfect for dipping you feet into. When the sun shines, the water is a gentle and enticing baby blue and at low tide sandbars appear, allowing visitors to walk to the island just off the beaches shore. Here, you’ll find businesses offering straw roofed cabanas, sunbeds and umbrellas right on the water’s edge. Out in a place like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d ended up in the Bahamas.
Egremni, Lefkada

You’ll find a number of beaches around Greece with the name paradise sprinkled somewhere in their title, but for a true taste of heaven you’ll want to head for Egremni on Lefkada. A long winding shoreline, backed by towering white cliff tops, Egremni a great example of the perfect traditional Greek beach recipe. Take some pristine sand, bright white and soft on the feet, add turquoise mediterranean waters, clear and warm. Mix together with beautiful rock formations and overhanging trees, then finish with great sunset views. The result? One stunning Egremni Beach.

Sarakiniko, Milos

Located on the gorgeous isle of Milos, Sarakiniko is probably the least beachy beach you’ll ever visit. No sand in sight, instead this coastal area consists of smooth rock formations that glide down towards the glimmering Med. Here, in protected bays, visitors can swim and enjoy the crystal clear waters; sheltered from the winds and currents by the rocks, with great visibility thanks to the lack of sand grains floating around near the surface. An unusual place, the utter uniqueness of this place makes it something rather special. You’ll struggle to find a place like Sarakiniko anywhere else in Europe.

Top Big Museums in Berlin

Berlin is big on museums, with hundreds dotted around the city. The city’s turbulent history is the focus of some of them, while others cover topics from around the world. There’s enough for weeks museum exploration, but when you are short of time go be sure to choose one (or more) of these.

1. Pergamon Museum

The Pergamon is one of the five museums that make up Museum Island, and is the most visited museum in Germany. It has relics and artefacts from around the ancient world, including parts of ancient cities, dug up and brought over to Berlin. The Pergamon Altar, which gives the museum its name, is probably the most famous artefact on show – an enormous 2,200-year old stone altar, with a detailed frieze depicting a battle between giants and gods. The Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon is also fascinating to see, as are the Mshatta Facade from today’s Jordan. The Pergamon also houses the Islamic Art Museum, as well as many smaller collections of ancient artefacts.

Entry: 12 euro (18 euro gets you in to all the museums on Museum Island). 
Free for children under 18. 
10am – 6pm, closed on Mondays. 
Included with Berlin Pass.

2. Topography of Terror

Germany is fairly open about confronting its difficult past, and the Topography of Terror Museum, housed in a former Gestapo HQ, tries to put that past into words and exhibitions. The museum covers the period from the rise of the Nazi party in 1933, to the end of World War II and the division of Berlin. The exhibitions combine personal stories with Nazi propaganda and descriptions of their crimes. The museum also holds the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall, and describes life in the city during that time. The museum isn’t pleasant, and isn’t meant to be: it shows the darkest parts of Berlin’s history, so that they won’t be forgotten.

Entry: The museum is free, and open from 10am to 10pm.

3. Jewish Museum

Berlin’s Jewish Museum tells the story of 2,000 years of Jewish life in Germany. It focuses on the complex relationship between Jews and Germans over the centuries. The extensive exhibitions describe the pogroms, discrimination and expulsions, as well as Jewish involvement in the wider community and the German-Jewish Enlightenment movement, which started in Berlin and left its mark on Judaism ever since. The museum’s jagged modernist design gives a sense of discord and disorientation, with three underground tunnels, or ‘axes’, guiding visitors through different exhibitions, and an inaccessible void in between them. Menashe Kaddishman’s installation, ‘Falling Leaves’, is dedicated to all victims of war and violence.

Entry: 7 Euro. 10am - 8pm (until 10pm on Monday). 
Included with Berlin Pass.

4. DDR Museum

We often picture the Berlin Wall from the west, with the iconic images of Western leaders and artists speaking out against it, and its eventual fall in 1989. The DDR Museum is an interactive museum dedicated to recreating life in communist East Germany. For local children and visitors from the West, it’s a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life in East Berlin: queuing for food, spying on neighbors, prisoner interrogations and communist propaganda. A visit to the museum is a nice peek into the past, and raises as many questions as it answers.

Entry: 6 Euro. Daily, 10am – 8pm.

Seven of the most beautiful gardens in world

If you missed the Chelsea Flower Show and are still looking for inspiration for your garden help is at hand. We pick out seven fabulous gardens that you can weave into your next holiday.

1. Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France

It’s unlikely that any other garden will have been painted as often as Monet’s in the small French town of Giverny. Some of his most famous works were of this garden. The landscape includes archways of climbing plants and coloured shrubs, the water garden, a Japanese bridge and the water lily pond as well as beautiful patches of wisteria and azaleas.

2. Villa Lante, Rome, Italy

These gardens are the work of Cardinal Gambara whose love of outdoor living and eating al fresco was the inspiration for creating these gorgeous gardens. It is a Mannerist garden designed to surprise and comprises a harmonious choreography of cascades, fountains and dripping grottoes achieved by Tommaso Ghinucci, a hydraulics engineer.

3. Château de Versailles, near Paris, France

The grand home of Louis XIV and its exquisite Versailles gardens are nothing short of decadent. The gardens sprawl over 800 hectares of land landscaped by Andre Le Notre in the classic French garden style.

4. Sanssouci Palace Gardens, Berlin, Germany

Surrounding the former summer palace of the King of Prussia, Frederik the Great in Potsdam, these grounds are splayed out in an intimate baroque style. The king was inspired by Versailles and wanted to compete. The terraces have low grapevines and niches planted with fig trees. The lower levels have the fountains, statues, ornamental gardens and panterres and the borders are planted with a mix of colours and textures of perennials giving a lively, informal look.

5. The Majorell Garden, Marrakech, Morocco

This two-and-a-half acre botanical garden was created by French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1924. Much loved by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, they bought it in 1980. The garden has 300 plant and flower species including cacti and exotic plants, ponds, streams and fountains.

6. Kew Gardens, London, England

Kew may well be the world’s most famous botanic garden. The breathtaking landscapes and the and iconic glasshouses full of rare and beautiful plants are part of the appeal. But on the grounds there are also historic buildings, botanical art galleries and the soaring treetop walkway.

7. Bahai Gardens, Haifa, Israel

From Mount Carmel you can marvel at the botanic vision stretching downward. There are six hundred cream-hued steps through nineteen monumental water-featured gardens that cascade over the north side of the mountain, each perfectly symmetrical, with clean flower bed lines, brightly coloured shrubs and green, green lawns to die for. The tenth garden frames a colonnade and a golden domed shrine and beyond the shrine a further nine stunning gardens tumble neatly to street level.

Climbing Gunung Merapi, most active volcano

Every now and then life pulls the rug from under your feet and leaves you lying on your back – this sibling-esque prank is often referred to as a ‘reality check’. Dangling off the side of Merapi with one hand on a fern root and the other on the arm of Khalid was my mine. I had taken too lightly to climbing the most active volcano in Southeast Asia, and when the path I was walking on suddenly gave way, it turned out to be a mentally draining, yet emotionally rewarding challenge.
Known to locals as Fire Mountain, Gunung Merapi sits on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta in Indonesia. There have been regular eruptions since 1548, with the most recent in 2010 where 30 people died.
Our walk was to start at 4:30am, under night at Desa Deles, the ranger’s hut at 1,300 metres. By 10am that day I’d be up 2,930 metres high on the summit of Merapi.
The smell of sulfur was in the air, and our torches pierced through a feint haze that slid up the cliffside, our visibility was low and we had to mind shrub, after fern when making our way up the gentle incline.
Our three Javanese guides were trekking without torchlight, one was even in sandals, they used the moon and the stars to guide them.
When the sun rose the air felt cold and we had our first rest break. Looking back down our path we could see the vast settlement that bowed down by the foot of Merapi. It’s hard to believe that so many people still choose to live there, but locals have their reasons; ideal farming soil and religious beliefs. Many believe that the previous eruptions are a result of spirits being angered by not receiving gifts, which they offer them at the summit annually.
The sun rise rays was flowing through the trees and the hike was about to get harder, as the gentle slalom route suddenly inclined along the cliff face.
We had to wrestle with branches, and grab what we could to pull ourselves higher. We’d sometimes encounter clearings in the jungle where we could peer out, always seeing Merapi to our left.
The group of 15 people was now dwindling, as experienced hikers thought they had met their match. Even the hike leader, German Carl had suspiciously caught a chesty cough when the path started to get steeper around 2,000 metres up. In the end five of us remained, with the guide in sandals who had now fashioned a ragged towel into a head scarf that made him look like Little Bo Peep.
Those that remained were determined to conquer Merapi whether our blisters bled, our water ran out or Bo Peep lost his sandals. The steep incline under thick forest meant that we would gain altitude at a faster pace, and gradually the hills, and rice paddys below shrunk and cold streams of air came and went as we entered different air pockets. We found ourselves alone on the side of the mountain, no sign of Indonesian settlements in the distance, or anybody on the mountain top.
The ash was becoming difficult to grip with my shoes, and I found myself bouldering, up vines and branches just to follow the path. It was then that I misplaced my foot and the side of the path that I was on collapsed. Dangling off a cliff face isn’t like they show it in the Mission Impossible films; I wasn’t coolly gripping the edge of the cliff with my fingers, nor was I suspended up in mid-air like a character from Looney Toons, instead I was holding onto a fern root for dear life as Khalid grabbed my arm and yanked me back up.
Shortly after our stop at around 2,500 metres (10:30 am), we reached the dusty, dead plain of Devil’s Bazaar. This is where the locals gather every year to place their offerings to calm the spirits of Merapi. The volcano has erupted every 5 – 10 years without fail, yet the locals still make the treacherous climb to hopefully bring peace between themselves and the mountain.
With every step a rock would tumble down and ash would be kicked up into our shoes and mouth. We passed weather stations that looked like they hadn’t been touched since the Seventies, and yellowing shrubs trying to survive as we continued our walk through what felt like the world’s most depressing desert getaway. We were now face-to-face with the clouds that wrapped around our ankles and passed along the cliff tops.
The head of Merapi stood above us and the surrounding wasteland with the white haze of sulfur circling it like a halo, we had reached the final stretch.
With smoke rising from the peak we began our ascent. The remaining point was like an old pub fireplace covered in ash and dust which covered our faces as we tried to scramble up the cliffside on all fours.
It was slippery. Every step we took we fell two steps down. Even Bo Peep in sandals seemed to tire, as more dust kicked up into our faces and the wind blew the clouds and ash into our sides. But I had to see the top, and so I pushed up the cliff face, hopping from rock to rock.
Standing on the shoulder of a giant, when I broke through the clouds I was surrounded by a deep blue and the air felt clearer. Finally I had reached the summit. I clambered up to the peak, which was an uneven rock around the width of a boardwalk and surrounded by a 200 metre crater drop which was covered by eery sulfurous fumes that seemed to escape from every rock crack. I was an ant on a pen nib, anxiously looking around, watching my step. The others joined me, and we waited a while in silence as the clouds sifted through our hair, and the monster of Merapi quietly slept.
We had to get down before nightfall, and luckily our guide knew a few tricks to get us down safely and quickly, no helicopter or ski lift. With our feet we skied down the side of the mountain, kicking up dust and dislodging rocks.
It was a huge challenge, but the summit will reward you in its own special way.

Tips on travelling with children

The thought of travelling with children in tow may bring you out in a cold sweat but provided you plan ahead it can hopefully be plain sailing.
From my experience, the less travelling time the better, particularly if you are holidaying with under-fives who have limited tolerance when it comes to sitting still!
There may be no avoiding travelling further afield if you have a family occasion or are planning to visit relatives but after several disastrous attempts with two little ones I have put long-haul flights on hold. Toddler tantrums are not a pretty sight at the best of times but in the confines of a small space, it can be super stressful!

TIP: Under-2’s do fly for free on most airlines (on budget airlines you may be charged), so you may be tempted to travel before you have to pay for a seat!

If flying further afield, prepare yourself for the disruption of travelling across time-zones. Kids like routine and the onset of jet lag can be extremely difficult to deal with. Some families like to remain on UK time but this can prove extremely difficult as there is no way your child will agree to go to bed when it is bright outdoors.
A few tips though if you do travel abroad, especially if it’s somewhere exotic, be sure to know when the rainy season is or if the country gets a period when extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, are possible. Places such as Florida and parts of the Caribbean, for example, can get torrential rain storms that last for weeks in the early autumn.
On the other hand, remember that while some countries – such as those in the Far East and Indian Ocean – have quite a long rainy season that doesn’t mean you’ll get rain all day, every day. During this low season you can get much better deals and you may only get a short, sharp tropical downpour each day while the rest of the time the sun will be out.
Also, keep in mind if travelling within Europe, August is peak holiday season time so the beaches of Italy, Spain and Portugal can be heaving. If you can travel either side of August it is worth doing so, especially as most hotel prices dip towards the end of the month.
As for the best form of accommodation, if you have younger kids I always found self-catering was the way forward. The last thing my kids wanted to do was sit in a restaurant for more than five minutes and on the rare times we have dined out abroad the frustration of spending a huge amount on a kids meal only for half the food to be wasted proved too much to bear.
Many families select their resort on the basis of its ability to offer a kids club to keep the children happy and entertained and I am certainly one of them! When researching my holiday, I always check the accommodation I choose has facilities for kids as provided they are happy, everyone’s a winner!
Some of the best hotel kids clubs I have discovered are very close to home. They include The Grove Hotel in Watford which boasts an incredible kids club, complete with its own swimming pool, endless list of activities and playground. In a bid to make it more family-friendly, Scotland’s Gleneagles Hotel has so much to offer kids there’s little chance you will see them.
On a past visit my kids took part in a baking workshop and even drove mini cars around the hotel’s grounds. And then there is the Four Seasons in Hampshire that again has everything available for kids, from its baby area to the teenage zone. The hotel even greeted my kids on their first night with their name written in biscuits!

Mob Museum in Las Vegas

Las Vegas Mob Museum celebrated its first birthday on February 14, 2013 and shares the day with St Valentine. It tells two stories, the Mob story and the story of the law.
Throughout the museum, there are some of the most infamous Mob artefacts, such as the wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the barber chair where Albert Anastasia was murdered.
Ellen Knowlton, who retired in 2006 as FBI agent in charge in Las Vegas and was at the helm of the not-for-profit museum’s organization during conception, said FBI officials have shared photographs, transcripts of wiretaps and histories of efforts to kneecap organized crime in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. She comments:

“Despite the sort of edgy theme, this museum is historically accurate and it tells the true story of organized crime.”

It opened on February 14, 2012 in a brick federal building that was the centerpiece of this dusty town of 5,100 residents when it began in 1933. In 1950, the three-story building hosted a hearing by Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver’s special investigating committee on the rackets.
The stories of mob’s biggest players including Al Capone, Whitey Bulger, Bugsy Siegel, John Gotti are revealed.
It was Bugsy Siegel who pioneered the transformation of this one-time desert stopover into a glittering tourist mecca, opening the $6 million Flamingo hotel on the fledgling Las Vegas Strip in 1946 with financial backing from Lansky.
The movie-star handsome Siegel was rubbed out six months later in Beverly Hills, perhaps because he angered the mob with cost overruns on the hotel.
Spilotro and Rosenthal were associates in the 1970s, when Rosenthal ran several casinos, including the Stardust. Spilotro was killed in 1986 and buried in an Indiana cornfield.
Organized crime was eventually driven out of Las Vegas in the 1970s and ’80s by the FBI, local police and prosecutors, state crackdowns and casino purchases by corporate interests.
The Mob was brought to justice, including Joe Petrosino, Eliot Ness and Estes Kefauver. The museum has the actual courtroom where one of the 14 federal Kefauver Hearings was held in the early 1950s.
Many of these stories have been dramatized by Hollywood in such movies as Bugsy, The Godfather and Casino. But documenting Mob history was not easy.
Dennis Barrie, who directed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the popular International Spy Museum in Washington designed the museum to show how organized crime and the fight against it shaped modern life. He says.
Entrance to the Museum costs $19.95 for adults and $13.95 for children and students.

Top 5 places in Havana, Cuba

Cuba can be a lazy beach holiday if that’s what you’re after, but it’s also a multi-faceted gem of an island, boasting astonishing natural habitats and grand colonial buildings. The largest in the Caribbean, it’s also an island which owns both a complicated past and an exuberant modern-day culture and nowhere is this most potent than in the capital, Havana.

Once home to pirates, poets and gamblers, the city is now known for rum, cigars and a stomping good time. Here are some of the top highlights.


1. Old Havana (Havana Vieja)

At one time this Unesco Heritage Site was a Spanish naval port. This north-eastern section of the city dates back to the 16th century and evidence of its rich history is everywhere you look. Defensive walls still line the narrow streets, left over from pirate raids and its five European-style plazas are overlooked by Cuban Baroque facades – the most striking is the Plaza de la Catedral – and soaring spires, whilst street-level attractions like the book market and numerous cafés continue to bring in the visitors.

2. The Malecón

Five miles of seawall and esplanade divides Old Havana’s harbour and the Vedado district and is prime walking territory if you want to get a feel for the city through the ages. Pass by the famous pastel facades of the Old Havana sea front and revolutionary monuments of Máximo Gomez and Calixto García to the high-rise skyline of Vedado, traditionally a Russian area. Sunsets out on Havana bay are not to be missed.

3. Capitolio Nacional

Clearly influenced by Washington’s US Capitol building, the Capitolio is nonetheless imposing with its huge stone steps, classical wings and rising dome. This building was once the seat of Cuban Congress prior to the 1959 revolution but venture inside and you’ll now find a planetarium, the National Library and the Academy of Sciences, along with vast halls and ceilings filled with beautiful Neo-Classical decoration.

4. Parque Almendares and Parque Central

Along the river of the same name, Parque Almendares is a welcome burst of green and fresh air, a world away from the heady pace of the city. Beneath the Calle 23 bridge, you’ll find abundant plants, a miniature golf course, riverside eateries and an outdoor theatre space if you’re lucky enough to catch a performance. Old Havana’s Parque Central is a local meeting point as well as an attraction and offers some superb people-watching opportunities amongst the exotic landscaped gardens.

5. Ernest Hemingway Museum

The world-renowned traveller and writer Ernest Hemingway spent 20 years of his life in Cuba and although his connection to the place went far beyond mere residence, it’s fitting that the home where he once wrote some of his most famous works is now open as a museum. Just outside Havana at Finca Vigia (meaning “lookout house”), you can view the typewriter that produced The Old Man and the Sea, as well as the 8,000 books in his library. Plaques marking the writer’s favourite haunts are everywhere to be found in the main city and harbour areas.