Cappadocia. Picture: Wadgey, Flickr Source: Supplied
NINE months ago Peter Shaw quit his job in Perth to set off on a journey without an end date. Here he reveals his picks of the places you can’t afford to miss while in Europe.
“It’s tough putting together a list of the 10 best tourist attractions in Europe.
After all, Europe’s a big place and there are a ridiculous number of great sites to experience.
So following my list of the worst attractions in Europe, here are some of the best. Enjoy.
1. Cappadocia, Turkey
Hoodoos, fairy chimneys, earth pyramids – whatever you want to call them – they look awesome. These earthly towers of cool are about as common in Cappadocia as carpet salesmen are in the Grand Bazaar, and to make them even more interesting, a large portion have been hollowed and carved out to form dwellings that look like they’d be more fitting to a sci-fi film like Avatar than Central Turkey.
Try to imagine one of the most interesting and desolate places on earth with a solid dose of history, a dash of adventure and spectacular sunsets and you have Cappadocia. Lying on the ancient Silk Road, the region has been inhabited since the latter part of the Bronze Age and the remnants of the various civilisations who once called the area home now lie scattered across the region. Underground churches, real life Flintstone houses and hot air ballooning make the Cappadocia experience possibly one of the more memorable in your life.
Travel tip: Hire a scooter or four-wheeler and go off-road; exploring the fairy chimneys around Goreme. When it gets too steep leave the bike and keep going on foot for some truly breathtaking views. I’d recommend packing a bottle of (great) locally produced wine and timing your walk to catch a spectacular Cappadocia sunset.
The weird sites in Cappadocia. Picture: Virtualwayfarer, Flickr Source: Supplied
2. Sagrada Familia, Spain
Gaudi was to architecture what Einstein was to physics, Tesla was to electricity and Leonardo was to the Ninja Turtles. In my opinion it’s humanity’s single greatest architectural achievement and the Pyramids, Hanging Gardens and Acropolis can all go jump in the lake.
It’s like nothing you have ever seen and in the words of an American tourist I overheard: “What kind of insane genius could come up with something like this?!” Gaudi described the interior of his work as a ‘spiritual forest’ and the building does indeed remind you of something organic, even alive … The outside of the building is enough to keep anyone spellbound with its size, complexity and the bizarre interplay of shapes.
While not as ‘alien’ as the exterior, the inside of the cathedral is equally powerful and interesting. The colours, shapes, columns, scale, use of light and metal make it literally breathtaking. I can’t think of anything else in the world I have ever seen built by man that comes even close to this building.
Travel tip: Buy your tickets online, print them out and you can skip the insane line wrapping around the block. For some reason people don’t seem to research these things before arriving, and much like the Louvre, spend hours waiting in line in the hot sun.
Sagrada Familia. Picture: Supplied Source: News Limited
3. Bruges, Belgium
It is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe, however the downside of Bruges is that every man and his dog knows about it! Still, it is worth a couple of days in any European itinerary.
Bruges is built on the canals, is a history buff’s dream and has one of the best medieval squares in the world; complete with bell tower and enough Gothic architecture to keep the Addams Family happy. Hire a bike and tour the canals from the saddle (in summer), you can circumnavigate the town in about an hour and there are plenty of quaint little lanes and cobbled streets to meander down and explore when you’re not riding along the canals themselves.
Travel tip: Summer pulls larger crowds than The Beatles did so I’d recommend visiting in winter, which has the added bonus of the beautiful buildings and canals being dusted in snow.
Bruges — Market Square shops. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
4. The Tower of London
Maybe it’s the small part of me that still holds some nerdish Game of Thrones style fantasy about being a knight sitting atop a steaming warhorse, leading my men at arms into glorious battle … OK I admit it’s not a very realistic fantasy as just the thought of medicine, hygiene and religious practices in the 12th century are enough to keep me firmly grounded in the 2013. Still, the Tower of London is a fantastic experience for anyone with an interest in English or Medieval history.
The various museums within the walls and White Tower are really worth a look given the powerful historical context of the structure. Hilariously, there are also the world’s biggest and smallest sets of full plate armour on display. That’s right, the museum even has the armour of a giant and a dwarf. Brilliant.
Travel tip: Your admission includes a free tour by one of the well-practised and hilarious Beefeaters, which are absolutely worth doing.
Tower Bridge in London. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
5. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Berlin
This place is scary. This memorial museum lets you walk in the footsteps of a concentration camp prisoner for a day. Rewarding as it is confronting, the Sachsenhausen experience is an important one for anyone visiting Berlin.
Travel tip: Pack lunch and spend a day with your audio guide (cheap and totally essential in my opinion) wandering the grounds, going through each area in-depth for a powerful, moving and unforgettable experience. I spent about six hours at Sachsenhausen and felt that I could easily have spent a few more wandering the grounds, absorbing the personal stories and tragedies of its occupants.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Picture: David. Kungsholmen, Flickr Source: Supplied
6. The Louvre, Paris
So you’ve made the pilgrimage to see the Mona Lisa and noticed its somewhat underwhelming demeanour … the best part is you now get to spend the rest of the day getting lost (both physically and metaphorically) in the labyrinthine halls of one of the world’s best museums. There is so much art at The Louvre that if you spent a minute at each piece (forgetting the time spent admiring the building itself) it would take roughly 24 days to see them all. You would also have seen enough naked flesh to make Vegas blush.
Travel tip: The first Sunday of every month is free and there are MULTIPLE ENTRANCES. Never wait in the main (glass pyramid) line to get in. On a recent visit this line was literally about two kilometres long and yet the side entrance I used did not have a single person waiting.
The pyramid of the Louvre Museum. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
7. Orvieto, Italy
An absolute must for anyone visiting central Italy, this tiny village is perched precariously atop a rocky and fortified plateau in the Umbria region (very similar to better known Tuscany). This for me is the real Italy, with rustic lanes, cobbled roads, beautiful buildings and the earthy colours all brought together with the sound of old Italian ladies pinching the cheeks of their grandkids. I can honestly say this is one of my favourite spots in all of Europe.
The village is accessed via the funicular at the train station and once at the top you can easily walk around the entire town in a day taking in the amazing views of the surrounding countryside which is dominated by vineyards, fruit plantations, old churches and monasteries. There is also a rather impressive 14th century cathedral and a series of underground tunnels, passages, galleries and cellars cut deep into the rock below the town itself known as the ‘Underground City’.
Due to the extreme average age of Orvieto’s’ withered inhabitants (everybody is really, really old) there are a number of random emergency defibulators (like phone booths) situated all over the village. Some would say that they’re only necessary due to the town’s heart-stopping views.
Travel tip: Orvieto is easily accessed out of Rome, lying only about two hours away by high-speed train.
Orvieto. Picture: Hsivonen, Flickr Source: Supplied
8. Santorini, Greece
I feel sorry for the donkeys in Santorini. They have the unenviable job of hauling an endless supply of overweight tourists up the side of a truly monumental cliff. It’s a tourism hotspot (which usually I hate) however in this case I’m going to overlook the irritations of dealing with tourists because Santorini is amazing. This crescent moon-shaped Greek Island is what’s left of what was once a more symmetrical shape after one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded human history (the Minoan Eruption) disintegrated most of the island in about the year 250. Yep that’s right most of the island exploded!
The volcanic activity is the reason behind Santorini’s famous black sand beaches (which physics dictates is also the reason so many tourists have burnt feet here).
The classic town of Oia on the NW point of the island is famous for its blue domed roofs, whitewashed dwellings and as one of the best spots to watch the fabled Santorini sunsets, which alone are worth coming to the Island to see. Join the mob of eager tourists in the early evening to enjoy the sun’s last hour as it plunges into the South Aegean.
Travel tip: Santorini is like a magnet for cruise ships and prices reflect this so the best way to do the island is to sleep out of town, hire a four-wheeler and cruise the island at your leisure.
Santorini. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied
9. The Burren, Ireland
What would the earth look like if people stopped planting crops, trees and grass, then decided to just grow rocks instead? Exactly like the Burren, that’s what. The name ‘Burren’ derives from the Irish word Boireann, meaning ‘great rock’ … wonder why they called it that? This rural ‘Karst’ landscape in NW County Clare, Ireland is filled with more rocks than soil.
I have no idea what the farmers do, given 80 per cent of their land is one big stone. Like everywhere in country Ireland the people are absurdly pleasant and the quaint roads are also so narrow that every time you pass another car you get a few more grey hairs. There are some memorable sites in the area too, including the fabled cliffs of Moher, the tiny musically inclined village of Dingle and more pubs than a drunk Irishman can poke an empty Guinness glass at. The Burren is where you go to hike through the little lanes, climb ancient stone walls, gawk at standing crosses, meander through cow-laden fields and dance to excellent Irish music. It’s ountry Ireland at its best.
Travel tip: You need a car to really appreciate the region.
The Burren. Picture: TechnoHippyBiker, Flickr Source: Supplied
10. The Isle of Skye, Scotland
The most northerly island of the Inner Herbrides of Scotland is a beautifully picturesque, barren and untamed place. It’s an amazing spot to do some camping and hiking, and has some of the most intriguing landscapes in all of the UK. Skye also has the rather unique ability to make its inhabitants constantly appear as though they have just woken up and stumbled out of bed. It’s windy on Skye, really, properly, briskly, category five, Scottish windy; even in summertime (which may or may not actually exist in Scotland, the jury’s still out on that one).
There are two spots on the isle that turn it from just ‘damn cool’ to ‘freaking amazing’.
• The old man of Storr, a large rocky pinnacle that dominates the southern approach of the Trotternish Peninsula. You can see it from kilometres away and can climb up to the bottom of the pinnacle if you’re careful (lots of loose rocks, and a fairly steep incline) but the view is worth the effort and with any luck the area will get covered in low hanging clouds for added atmosphere. It’s also been used as a location in many films due to its remarkable appearance, the latest being Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
• The Fairy Glen is a tiny area on the outskirts of Uig that does almost feel magical in an eerie sort of way (hence the name, genius). The glen is dominated by a number of bizarre corkscrew shaped ‘twisted’ hills in addition to the gnarled, old trees and enough creepy stone piles and circles to keep the Blair Witch happy (legend has it that if you get lured into a stone fairy circle by the fairy lights you will be trapped there, mesmerised by their dancing forever). Sadly I didn’t see any fairies or freaky lights but the glen does make for a truly memorable experience and some very unique photos.
Travel tip: Camp on Skye if you can, that or hire a camper van and stay in one of the many campsites on the island.”
The Isle of Skye. Picture: Supplied Source: News Limited