Travel Destinations

Not since 1066 have we been invaded by Vikings. Then King Harold saw them off before meeting his nemesis, William the Conqueror. This time they are invading Wembley.

This Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings are playing American football there but that won’t be all you’ll be hearing about. Twenty-four Minnesotans have invaded our shores to market the state to us. The Mayors of the Minneapolis and St Paul are talking business deals with our companies and their tourism people have tagged along to talk to travel agents, tour operators, and the media so that you will hear a lot about the benefits of a holiday in the state.

The first reason why you should consider holidaying in the state is that there are direct flight links on Delta. (North West Airlines in the old days.) The airport in Minneapolis-St Paul is quick to get through. The entry queues that you get at Orlando, New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles usually don’t exist. The airport holds my record for the fastest time it took me to get off the plane and go through formalities before catching my hotel shuttle bus – just under 5 minutes. Admittedly I was one of the first off the plane and I had only hand luggage. Nonetheless, that will take some beating.

Secondly, there is a light railway costing just $1.75 to take you into either of the twin cities. Or for the same fare you can go to Bloomington where the Mall of America is and you’ll find over 520 shops plus a Nickelodeon children’s area give parents the chance to shop whilst letting the kids play. Generally, prices at designer shops and regular stores are 50% cheaper than they are in the UK and Ireland and even 10-15% cheaper than New York or Florida.

Thirdly, within a few miles of the airport, you can be either in one of the two cities or you can be strolling around the lakes nearby or even fishing in them. When the season starts even the governor of the state is out there looking for walleye or sockeye salmon. You can canoe in the morning and visit museums or shops downtown in the afternoon or vice-versa. Cycle paths are everywhere so you don’t need a car to get around if you don’t want one.

Then there is the food. It can be a mixture of American with a St. Paul slant like a Juicy Lucy hamburger where the meat is hollowed out and cheddar cheese is placed inside so that it oozes out when you bite in. And there is a strong Scandinavian influence in both the food and the culture as this part of the United States had lots of migrants from different Scandinavian countries.

That’s why the football team is called the Vikings. But this time the invasion will be a quieter, less troublesome affair. Apart from at Wembley, that is!

For more about Minnesota, click here
For more about Minneapolis
For more about St Paul.

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Travel Destinations

Last year nearly 100,000 Britons visited the Caribbean country of the Dominican Republic. That’s a small number compared to the total of millions that come each year. Since it has been a staple feature in the holiday brochures of major tour operators for decades why don’t more of us visit a country that combines the prospect of beach holidays, trekking, desert landscapes, and rainforest?
So here is a quick potted guide to what the Dominican Republic has to offer the holidaymaker and traveler.

This is the place where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. The Spanish influence has lasted to this day although the country has been independent for nearly 170 years. It attracts the fourth largest number of tourists in Latin America each year after Mexico, Brazil and Argentina and those visitor dollars mean that nearly 8% of the economy is due entirely to tourism. 4.6 million people visited the country with 1.6 million from the USA alone. This means that US dollars are freely available even though the peso is the official currency with about 68 pesos to the pound. It also means that the country works hard to attract visitors with a continuous upgrading of services and the introduction of new ones.

Take the opening of Los Delfines Water & Amusement Park last week. Los Delfines, the Caribbean’s biggest amusement park was created to gather the family, around a wholesome and enjoyable activity overlooking the sea. A second stage to increase its size by two-thirds is already planned.

 

Whilst you probably won’t holiday in the capital, chances are that you will be offered an excursion there. The capital is Santo Domingo – the oldest city in the Americas – which is also where the bulk of the population of the country lives. Although a modern city in most respects, it has an area known as the colonial zone which is largely a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is here that you’ll find Catedral Santa María La Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Casa de Bastidas ( a military complex dating back to 1512)and El Alcazar – a palace built for the Spanish leaders. Less than a week ago, the tourism ministry announced that funds would be made available to restore and renovate the historic facades of individuals homes in a dilapidated state within the Zone.

Golfing is a major attraction for the country having twenty-seven golf clubs including five in Casa de Campo’s where there are the “teeth of the Dog” course which is reputed to be not only the best in the Caribbean but one of the top fifty courses in the world. It may be given a run for its money by a Jack Nicklaus course at Punta Espada which is proving popular with visitors.

Like most Caribbean destinations, it is to the beaches and the sea that visitors are attracted. In the south, there tend to be more beaches catering for the visitor whilst in the north, they are less developed in some areas although more money for development is being considered. Inland there is mountaineering, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, paragliding, driving in 4×4 vehicles, tubing, cascading, canyoning and rappelling.

Punta Cana is probably the leading tourist destination with over 35,000 hotel rooms, golf courses and miles of beaches. Here you’ll also find the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park which has exotic plants on trails that take you through via eleven natural lagoons and one of the country’s largest caves, Fun Fun Cave which has a 4.5-mile long river flowing inside it. From here you can join one of the many jeep safaris, that will take you through a tropical jungle but you’ll still be never too far away from a deserted beach where you can stop for a swim before re-joining the safari.

And where there are beaches, there is skin-diving but this is the Caribbean. Here there are tales of Spanish galleons laden with treasure that foundered on the reefs. In August it was announced that divers from Anchor Research and Salvage working with the Punta Cana Foundation discovered a 450-year-old wreck. The cargo found contains the single largest cache of 16th-century pewter tableware ever discovered as well as some extremely rare Spanish silver coins from the late 1400′s. Is it any wonder that divers come in their thousands in the hope of seeing something like this or just to admire the seabed and the corals.

They also come for the turtles as do many other visitors. The government operates a nest-vigilance programme to monitor, count and protect one the great tourist draws. This year, 1,317 births of various sea turtle species – hawksbills, greens, and leatherbacks -from May to September were recorded on the beaches of the National District.

On the northern coast is Puerto Plata with 62 miles of beaches, coastal villages and hotels This is where you’ll find the remains of the first European settlement in the Americas are located. The three ships of Columbus made landfall here in 1492 and called it La Isabela. Nicknamed the “Amber Coast” because of the amber deposits this is the most developed are in the north. Incidentally, amber is one of the major tourist souvenirs but bring back only amber that has been worked as its export in the raw is forbidden.

If there is evidence of colonial influence here, then Pedernales in the south-west is where you will find indigenous influence. The province also features a high number of caves, many with evidence of pre-historic cave paintings, such as pictographs made with red paint. Among the most notable are La Altagracia, Trou Nicolás, and La Colmena.
Eco and adventure tourism majors strongly in the Dominican Republic. In fact, there are nine distinct ecological zones including a desert area in the south-west. It certainly wouldn’t like to be known as just another Caribbean beach destination.

Getting there:
British Airways has direct flights from Gatwick Airport. Thomas Cook has flights from Gatwick and Manchester and Thomson Airlines links the country from Birmingham, East Midlands, Gatwick and Manchester with seasonal services from Glasgow and Newcastle. Air Europa has flights via Madrid from Gatwick; Air France via Paris from over 20 different British and Irish airports.

You will require a visa which costs $10 and this can be obtained on arrival. Check with your travel agency to see whether this is included in your bill from them. Returning from the country there is a departure tax but this is often rolled into you airfare or your holiday package.

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Travel Destinations

Anyone interested in World War II history who finds themselves in the area before October 2013 should travel to the Musée du Pays de la Zorn at Hochfelden in Alsace where they will discover memorabilia of one of M16’s most secret operations, the Sussex Plan. At the beginning of 2014, it will be relocated to the Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Historique Militaire in La Wanteznau 12 miles from Strasbourg.

The Plan was conceived in 1943 when the Allies needed every bit of information about the enemy’s movements in Northern France as they planned the D-Day landings. Most intelligence gathering networks including SOE and French Intelligence had, by this time been infiltrated or overrun and although the Allies had cracked the German codes and by destroying the telephone system, had forced the enemy to communicate by wireless, there was always the fear that the Germans might change the ciphers just before the invasion.

Thus it was decided to create an entirely fresh network using agents new to clandestine work. It was a tripartite initiative; Kenneth Cohen of British SIS and Frances Pickens Miller of American OSS were joined by Officers of the French B.C.RA ( Bureau Central de Renseignement et d’Action) set up by the leader of the Free French, General de Gaulle, in London.

Gilbert Renault, known as Colonel Rémy was responsible for finding French-speaking recruits for the operation. These were mainly men who had escaped from occupied France to North Africa and Spain. They were brought to England where they all had to pass through the rigorous checks of the Victoria School Intelligence Centre otherwise known as the ‘Patriotic School’ in London before moving on to special training at St Alban"s.

The late Captain Guy Wingate had served as a liaison officer at St Alban"s. He had been selected for this job because he spoke perfect French, having been born in Paris where his father had an interior decoration business. He had trained as an architect before joining the British Army at the outbreak of war, where he served as part of the British Expeditionary Force which was evacuated from Dunkirk.
Some years ago while compiling a programme for BBC Radio 4, I visited St Albans to meet Guy Wingate. We went first to Glenalmond, now an old people’s home which had then been used as the operation’s administrative center during the war and Guy told me something of the training the recruits received.

“There were about 120 Frenchmen and women here under the command of my skipper, the late Colonel Malcolm Henderson,” he said, “ They lived at Praewood, another large house just up the road and most of their field training took place in the grounds.”

The training included codes, enemy recognition and identification, civilian disguises, unarmed combat, gun handling and grenade throwing.
“I remember going to pick up the grenades which hadn’t gone off,” Guy reminisced. “We couldn’t afford to waste them.”

Each recruit was issued with a bicycle and taught to drive both cars and motorbikes. Night map reading was also on the syllabus, which at first alarmed the local populace who through these young people roaring around on motorbikes were German spies. Generally, however, relations with the locals were good, a couple of them even married local girls. Some of these Frenchmen worked under the aegis of the Americans and some under the British which resulted in an amount of friendly rivalry, with the local pubs, the Fighting Cocks and the White Hart becoming unofficial HQs for each side.

Capt. Wingate & Col. Henderson

The agents were to work in two-man teams, one mission chief, and one radio operator. Each team was given a specific mission to perform and expected to recruit sub-agents in the field. Each man was equipped with a cyanide pill to use in case of capture.
Initially, it had been decided to parachute the agents to their locations “blind”, that is without any sort of reception committee. Rémy, who had run his own resistance network considered this far too dangerous and proposed some of his own ex-agents who had escaped to England as “pathfinders” to go ahead and prepare the ground.

One of these was Jeanette Guyot who, with three companions was parachuted into France early in 1944. She made her way to Paris where she had a friend whose husband had just been taken prisoner by the Germans. This was the young Andrée Goubillon who owned a café in the fifth arrondissement. “I remember when she first came into the bar,” she told me when I visited her in her in Paris, “I knew she did this sort of work and I agreed at once although there was a Gestapo post just down the road.” So began Goubillon’s task of running a safe house to say nothing of feeding “her boys” as they passed through Paris.

One of the “boys” who remembered these days was William Bechtel, 93 years old when I visited him in Les Invalides. He told me of his adventures in Rouen where he and his brave radio operator Vallande transmitted information about General von Kluger’s 7th Army for the RAF bombing until he could signal “ Apart from me and my equipment there was not a military objective left in Rouen.”
The Sussex Plan did suffer several tragedies; one of the most poignant because it happened right at the end of the war involved five agents including the young Evelyne Clopet. Three Sussex teams procured a German lorry which was subsequently stopped by fleeing Germans who were surprised to see it driven by civilians. Even then the young people might have got away with it but as they were forced out of the lorry at gunpoint a case fell open revealing transmitters and arms. One agent escaped but four were tortured and then taken to a quarry and shot.

Most of the missions, however, were successful. The Sussex team at Evereux relayed Field Marshall Rommel’s movements from la Roche Guyon which resulted in an RAF raid within minutes. Information was also relayed about V1 rocket sites in Northern France.

After the war, the surviving agents used to meet for a monthly reunion dinner at Madame Goubillon’s café which they repainted and re-named it Café du Reseau Sussex. Sadly the café is no more as, after Madame Goubillon’s death, it was transformed into a piano bar although a plaque commemorating the role the café and its owner played during the war has been erected on what was its wall at rue Tournefort.

Guy Wingate, Andrée Goubillon and the majority of the agents involved have since died and it is in order to preserve the memories of these brave people, together with the some of their documents, uniforms, and equipment that Dominique Soulier, son of a fortunately surviving agent Georges Soulier, had the idea of creating a museum as a lasting memorial to all who had participated in this little-known but vital operation.

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Travel Destinations

Tiny Grenada will soon be back on the map when Sandals opens later this year, but the fragrant island has more to offer (or is it less) than large all-inclusive resorts

The drive from my house in West London to Gatwick airport to board the flight to the Caribbean was longer than the drive across the full length of Grenada. At 21 miles long, the island is small but packs in all the essentials we expect from this part of the world, great year-round weather, lovely beaches, colonial architecture and Oh! That heavenly smell

Known as the Spice Island because of the smells of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove that fill the air, Grenada has a quaint old-fashioned feel. Despite that, it has established itself as one of the Caribbean’s premier diving and sailing destinations. Verdant rainforests, vibrant spice markets, historic forts and plantations and activities such as river tubing – where one rides on top of an inner tube on the water – and hiking are some of the attractions. A hike through the Grand Etang rainforest affords a glimpse of the country’s Mona monkey. Several troops of Mona monkeys roam the forests of Grenada. Mona monkeys are not native to the Western Hemisphere but instead were introduced from Africa.

Travel GrenadaAbove all; the island’s tranquillity and unspoiled character reveal the authentic Caribbean, although in many people’s minds the island will always be remembered for the brief US invasion in 1983 after the country’s takeover by the socialist People’s Revolutionary Government. These days Grenada is quiet and sedate and, although independent from the UK since 1974, it still carries the names of the four British patron saints in its parishes and village names.
I returned to Grenada this year ten years since my last trip in 2003. Twelve months afterward, in 2004, Hurricane Ivan had paid a visit and flattened much of this pretty Caribbean island. Although tenacious little Grenada has recovered most of its old verve and energy, it was still sad to walk around the capital, St George’s, the other week. Once hailed as having the ‘prettiest harbor in the Caribbean’ many of the capital’s churches and fine old Georgian buildings are still left roofless. The Grenadians have found it difficult to finance the repairs needed following the disaster. But although tourism has been in decline for some years, that is set to change later this year with the opening of Sandals which has taken over the old La Source hotel. Not everyone welcomes the move – Grenada has for many years been one of the Caribbean islands that have resisted the all-inclusive chains. On the other hand, the opening will herald increased airlift and much-needed publicity to put Grenada back on the map.

Top things to do in Grenada

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

Grenada is the second largest producer of nutmegs in the world, accounting for about a third of the world’s supply. Visit one of the processing plants such as Grenville, or visit the historic Belmont estate which is a real eco-adventure. The River Antoine Rum Distillery is the oldest water propelled functioning rum distillery in this part of the world, using methods little changed since the 1800s.

DIVE IN

While I was relaxing at the boutique True Blue bay hotel, my husband, a keen Scuba diver, was under the Grenadian water. Here lies the former luxury liner Bianca C, one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks, a 600-foot long cruise ship which sank in 1961. The Moliere Underwater sculpture park serves a double function as an underwater art gallery and artificial reef. Other famous dives include Shakem, another wreck which sank in 2001: Shark Reef which is teeming with sharks, turtles and other marine life and Purple Rain Reef which gets its name from the large schools of Creole Wrasses and purple vase sponges which live here.

ST GEORGE’S

Above the water, this former British colony offers charming architecture, and St George’s, despite the roofless buildings, still has 300-year-old Fort George the oldest structure in the country with a maze of tunnels and ramparts. The National Museum is another worthwhile stop which occupies an area first used as a garrison. A few steps away is the 340-foot Sendall Tunnel, constructed by former governor Walter Sendall after he observes the plight of porters and horse-drawn carriages slipping on the unpaved streets. I strolled around on Saturday morning when the colorful spice market is in full swing. At sundown, keep your eyes peeled for Grenada’s famous ‘green flash’ – an optical illusion best experienced with a local rum sundowner in hand.

TURTLE WATCHING

The high spot of my recent trip was a nighttime excursion to see turtles nesting. Gigantic female leatherback turtles lumber ashore Levera Beach in the north of the island to the same spot where they hatched themselves some years before. They then dig a hole where they lay their eggs. We watched one female lay 96 eggs before covering her tracks and heading back into the ocean. This fascinating activity usually occurs between March and May each year, and six weeks afterward the golf-ball like eggs hatch. The tiny hatchlings then start their perilous journey to the sea. It is possible for visitors to return to see the hatchlings, but few of them survive, sadly. When I visited researchers from the local university were on hand to monitor and document the proceedings.

GET OUT

Not to be missed is a trip to Grenada’s Out islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique known for their sleepy island charm. In August the regatta on Carriacou celebrates the indigenous art of boat building handed down by Scottish and Irish ancestors and racing focuses on these locally built workboats.
From the UK, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic service Grenada weekly with direct flights from London’s Gatwick Airport.

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Ljubljana may be difficult to spell, but Slovenia’s charming capital is oh so easy to love says, Lauren Razavi.

Despite being one of Europe’s smaller cities, the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is fast emerging as the cultural heart of the former Soviet East. Maintaining a distinctive and mesmerizing old world charm but still attracting a considerable number of bohemian young things, Ljubljana is gaining attention as one of Europe’s must-visit destinations for 2013. Whether you’re looking for a short weekend break or a longer holiday experience, you’re sure to fall in love with Slovenia’s political and cultural core.

Ljubljana City Center

The city center is concentrated around the Ljubljanica River, making boat tours a wonderful way to get a feel for its layout. Tours depart from the Triple Bridge’s riverside area each day: expect spectacular architecture and breathtaking scenery, from the historic buildings to the many different types of bird and tree that can be found dotted around the banks of the Ljubljanica. Cycling is encouraged through the Bicike scheme though; a network of public bicycles available for use by anyone including visitors, and free for up to one hour. However, streets in Ljubljana are mainly pedestrianized, and much of the city is best explored on foot. Whichever method of transport you choose, there’s plenty to see and it’s possible to cover most of it in a day – though you’ll find yourself wanting to spend much longer than that getting to know the place.

Ljubljana Castle, which is accessible by funicular from Krek Square, is one of the finest attractions on offer here. The medieval dwelling looms stoically from Castle Hill, boasting excellent views over the Old Town. Depicted atop the castle’s turret is the Ljubljana Dragon, a symbol of the city and the subject of much mythological debate amongst locals; from the Christian Saint George who was associated with the fiery creature to tales of Argonauts leader Jason slaying a dragon on Slovenian land, its exact origin is unknown but its historical significance to Slovenia’s capital is clear.

Market in Old Town

The Central Market in Ljubljana’s Old Town is one of many highlights. Regional produce such as wild strawberries and delicious local jams and conserves will whet your appetite, while handmade crafts such as painted glassware make excellent keepsakes. The market site is lined with sidewalk cafes including plenty of outside seating that overlooks the market; sit back with a coffee and watch everyday Slovenian life in action. Another fine feature comes in the form of Tivoli City Park which incorporates several halls and mansions, as well as a clay-bottom pond, a glasshouse, and a rose garden. Whether it’s daytime or evening, Slovenia’s largest garden is a perfect for relaxation and reflection.

When the sightseeing adventures come to a close, there’s still plenty to fill your time in Ljubljana. The city boasts an astounding 10,000 cultural events each year and an admirable 10 international festivals. A myriad of museums, galleries, theatres, music venues and street performance offer almost too many possibilities for those looking to explore Ljubljana’s arts scene. A favorite among tourists is the fascinating National Museum of Contemporary History; it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in tales of Slovenia’s past for an afternoon there, and the museum offers a poignant reminder of what Slovenia’s people have overcome to create the burgeoning young nation that exists today.

Ljubljana main square

Ljubljana’s 50,000 strong population of students are an important part of the Slovenian capital, demonstrating its role as an innovative center for education, science, and technology. Street fairs take the form of celebrations of science and knowledge as well as more artistic pursuits here, marking the city as a unique gem and showing how its dedication to study and progress offers benefits as a whole – to both residents and visitors alike.

Literature makes up a huge part of Ljubljana’s heritage, and it is because of this that Slovenia has been recognized internationally for its contributions to the world of reading. 2010 saw Ljubljana awarded the UNESCO title of World Book Capital, and this year sees it as a strong contender for UNESCO City of Literature. Even during a short stay, it’s easy to see why: the city’s bookshops make up a substantial portion of its character, each varying in look and feel but still encompassing something of Ljubljana’s spirit. From spacious, modern and downright trendy coffee and book spots to longstanding backstreet haunts full of dusty old volumes and timeworn classics, Ljubljana’s book culture is enchanting. Ljubljana’s most important literary project, however, is the yearly ‘Library under the Treetops’ scheme. Running from May through to September, its sole purpose is to encourage locals and visitors alike to sit down with a book next to the river. During these months, random bookcases appear on many city streets, offering any passer-by the opportunity to grab a book and get involved with the project.

Library under the Treetops Books

Many will be surprised to learn that Slovenia is also a notable location for gastronomy. Historically a wine-trading hub of the Eastern European region, Ljubljana is known to Slovenians and their neighbors as ‘the city of wine and vine’, and for good reason. Restaurants on every street boast exceptional homegrown wines and other produce, and all at a reasonable price. 2012 saw Ljubljana host the fifteenth annual Slovenian Wine Festival and the fifth national Culinary Festival, while 2013 sees a huge range of gastronomy-fuelled events on offer).

The origin of the name ‘Ljubljana’ has been subject to much speculation amongst historians and locals, but a favored theory is that the name originates from an old word meaning ‘beloved’. Full of history and culture, you’ll certainly look upon the city as a beloved treasure after spending some time there. Ljubljana is the flourishing capital of a vibrant, attractive and genuinely impressive new nation: you’ll be sure to find yourself planning your next visit on the flight home.

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Travel Destinations

For a Finnish short break with a difference, the city of Tampere provides a great mix of wintry culture and nature with its fascinating museums and scenic lakeside location, writes Anna Maria Espsater

Tampere, Finland’s third largest city, is friendly, laidback and surprisingly nice to visit in winter. Santa Claus might be living further north, but there are plenty of reasons to travel to other parts of Finland during the snowy months – a scorching sauna session followed by a bracing ice-hole dip, to mention one. What’s more, there are year-round direct flights to the city from the UK.

Tampere was founded back in 1779 by Swedish king Gustav III, at a time when Finland formed part of Sweden. It grew rapidly during the 19th century, mostly due to the many industries, particularly textile, situated here, giving rise to the city’s nickname ‘Manchester of the North’. Just like many other former industrial cities in Europe, Tampere has had to reinvent itself in recent decades and these days the city’s longstanding industrial history can be viewed in fascinating museums.

Many of the museums are found in the so-called Finlayson factory quarters. A lot of Tampere’s industrial prosperity can be traced back to one man: James Finlayson was a Scottish Quaker and engineer who first visited Finland, by this time part of tsarist Russia, in 1819 and decided to settle here. In 1820 he began using the water power from nearby Tammerkoski River to build a factory in the city and at one point the Finlayson textile factory and cotton mill was Tampere’s largest employer. A whole factory quarter was set up, rather like a mini-city within the city, and the Finlayson family even had their own chapel built here. The Finlayson legacy has been long-lasting and Finlayson textiles are made in Finland to this day, albeit on a smaller scale. The vast factory quarters now house the Textile Industry museum, the Finnish Labour museum and, perhaps more surprisingly, also the Spy Museum.

A museum entirely dedicated to espionage is a world first for Tampere. Washington D.C. may since have overshadowed their efforts somewhat by creating a larger one, but there’s no doubt that the Finns got in there before the Americans. The museum, although on the small side, has plenty of authentic gadgets, informative displays, and information on some of the greatest spies in history. It’s also great fun for kids, with interactive exhibits and spy tests to be taken, not to mention a pitch black ‘spy tunnel’ to negotiate. A lie detector, bugging devices, and poisonous umbrellas are also among the interesting features found here. For those looking to explore even more museums, Tampere has one of the few in the world dedicated to Vladimir Lenin.

Tampere is a nice place to enjoy the great outdoors, even in winter. The city has a lovely location between two lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, with Tammerkoski river rapids running through it. Covered in a thick blanket of snow, the location looks even more picturesque. In winter the river rapids often make for a spectacular sight when frozen solid and it’s possible to walk all along the riverfront on the gritted pathways. The rapids run through the heart of town and the streets running east and west from here are where you’d find a lot of the city’s bars, cafes, restaurants, and main shopping area, as well as the Central Square and theatre.

In the run-up to Christmas, Keskustori Central Square is home to a wonderful market, complete with dancing Moomin troll, Finnish handicrafts, and gourmet products. They also do ice-sculpting in the square to add to the scenic wintry atmosphere. Nearby shopping street Hämeenkatu has some of the best shops in town – try Sokos and Stockmann for a wide variety of Finnish design such as Moomin troll mugs from Arabia pottery or Iittala glass.

If staying a few days, there are several places near Tampere worth a visit, e.g. the Pispala district, to the west of the center – a quaint, old-fashioned neighborhood replete with 19th-century wooden houses, overlooking the lakes. Also in the western part, on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Näsijärvi, lies Näsinneula Tower, the tallest observation tower in the Nordic countries. The revolving restaurant at the top serves excellent Finnish food and offers spectacular views of the area.

No visit in winter is complete without a sauna session and when in Finland one must be brave and do as the Finns do – sweat, sweat, and sweat, only to rapidly cool down with an icy dip. Villa Amanda, near the village of Pakkala, some 35km (21 miles) from Tampere is an exceptionally inviting place to go through this Finnish rite of passage. The well-appointed villa is a winter-dream come true, complete with open fire, big sauna, and cozy loft bedrooms. It’s not far from cross-country and downhill skiing options if you really want to work up a sweat before sweating some more.

Villa Amanda sits right on a lake and after some 15 minutes in the sauna, nipping outside is starting to sound better and better, even if it happens to be -10 outside. Of course with such temperatures, the lake does freeze solid, but the kind owners of the villa simply open up a hole in the ice for hardy sauna-goers to cool down in. Make sure you wear some footgear walking along the snowy path to the ice hole, where a small ladder leads into the lake. No point taking too long about it, you’ll only get too cold and change your mind. Just briskly climb down the steps and enjoy the rather strange sensation of going pleasantly numb in the icy waters, before heading back to the sauna, feeling ever so slightly brave and tough. Warm up again in the sauna and take the plunge twice if you fancy, then return to the open fire for glöggi (mulled wine) and Finnish nibbles – elk or reindeer salami perhaps?
Tampere is a great place for uniquely Finnish experiences, perhaps especially so in winter.

Need to know

Getting there
Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies direct from London Stansted to Tampere. No other airline flies direct, but Finnair (www.finnair.com) has flights via Helsinki and SAS (www.flysas.com) via Stockholm.

Further information
www.visitfinland.com
www.visittampere.fi
www.vakoilumuseo.fi (Spy Museum)
www.villa-amanda.fi

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As an island England has more than its fair share of coastline and the national tourist board’s new Coastal Escapes campaign sets out to celebrate it, from quaint Victorian promenades and secret coves to surfers’ hot spots and long sandy stretches. Read on for the low-down on England’s top coastal experiences…

Admire Aldeburgh beach

World-renowned, thanks to its connection with Benjamin Britten, the pre-eminent composer and founder of the annual Aldeburgh Festival. Aldeburgh is about as perfect a traditional seaside escape as you could hope to find. Pastel-coloured 19th-century holiday villas line the promenade. To their east lies a pebble beach with fishermen’s huts selling the daily catch. Stroll north a mile or so along Aldeburgh seafront to see the famed Maggi Hambling sculpture, the Scallop.

Scilly sea safari

A sub-tropical gem, the Isles of Scilly offer numerous boat trips and sea safaris that give visitors the chance to see seals and seabirds up close; you might be lucky enough to glimpse porpoises, basking sharks, and dolphins, or even an exotic visitor such as a sunfish or a turtle.

Dinosaur hunting on the Jurassic Coast

Wander Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, and marvel at the incredulous rock formations while keeping an eye out for dinosaur bones. This stretch of coastline charts a whopping 200 million years of the Earth’s history.

Donkey rides in Scarborough

Scarborough is one of England’s best traditional seaside resorts and there is nothing more ‘bucket and spade’ than a donkey ride along the seafront. This beach is home to an adorable collection of well-behaved and well-loved animals all wearing their names proudly on their harnesses to help children choose their favorite. Nothing quite beats the smell of warm leather saddles and the taste of candyfloss…

Surfing at Fraisthorpe Beach

Bridlington is the country’s birthplace for surfing and the excellent waves have made Fraisthorpe Beach a favorite among the surfing and kite surfing community on the Yorkshire coast. The beach is wide open with strong winds, so perfect conditions for both kite flyers and beach buggy surfers.

Coasteering in Cumbria

Cumbria’s Lake District is known as ‘The Adventure Capital of the UK’ and it’s a well-deserved accolade. For a memorable seaside, adventure tries rock climbing, scrambling and jumping off coastal cliffs in the Western Lake District. Not one for the faint-hearted!

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Travel Destinations

New Mexico offers powder snow, sunshine galore, and bargain prices – along with heritage and gastronomy. Why ski anywhere else, says Irene Middleman Thomas

New Mexico’s nickname is the ‘Land of Enchantment’. Indeed, this is an enchanting place – rich in history, natural beauty, and a myriad of cultures melding into a mix so unlike any other place in the world. No wonder some Americans still don’t quite ‘get’ that New Mexico is one of the 50 states – it is in a class of its own. Any time of year is marvelous here, but winter attracts skiers and boarders flocking into New Mexico for its more than seven meters of snow annually, and that’s soft, powder snow on 255 meter and peaks!

This state is wildly diverse, ranging from desert to high mountain to plains, gorgeous scenery— which changes from red earth canyons to piñon-covered hills to snowcapped peaks. This state inspired Georgia O’Keefe and countless other artists, photographers, and authors, past and present. If and when you tire of skiing, you can take in still-active Native American pueblos and Anasazi Indian archaeological sites, which dot the state. Villages throughout northern New Mexico are home to direct descendants of 16th-century Spanish explorers, and you easily might hear an ancient dialect of that Don Quixote-era Spanish, or the lilting tones of Native American tongues, while strolling down the street.

You can visit such fascinating small cities like Las Cruces, home to the Chile Pepper Institute (you won’t believe the varieties here!) succulent New Mexican Southwestern cuisine, and Spaceport America, the world’s first spaceport built to host private enterprise, intended to be the launch-pad of the global commercial spaceflight industry. The US$209 million project, designed, built and operated by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, has stunning architecture and is home to the world’s first commercial passenger spaceline company, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Or take in Santa Fe, a 400-year-old, a truly charming small city with virtually all adobe architecture, oodles of art galleries, even more, bistros and restaurants and chic, pricey shops, along with gorgeous boutique inns with exquisite interiors. Santa Fe was founded between 1607 and 1610, making it the second oldest city as well as the highest and oldest capital in the U.S. It is a world-class tourist destination, drawing more than one million visitors each year. In 2005, Santa Fe became the first U.S. city to be chosen by UNESCO as a Creative City, one of only nine cities in the world to hold this designation. You just might see a celebrity or two – they live here and visit often. Just 16 miles from the historic plaza, world-class skiing is found at Ski Santa Fe, one of the oldest and highest ski areas in the U.S., beginning at 263 meters high in the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Southern Rockies, reaching up to over 1000 meters, affording incredible panoramic views.

Taos is a lovely town, a smaller, more down-to-earth version of Santa Fe, adorned with Adobe, tile and other Spanish and Indian-influenced architecture. For those off-ski days, take in various museums such as the Kit Carson Museum, Hacienda de los Martinez, Blumenschein Home & Museum, Taos Art Museum, Millicent Rogers and several others, including a small exhibit at the Hotel La Fonda de Taos of D.H. Lawrence’s erotic artwork. Or take a tour of the Taos Pueblo www.taospueblo.com, a self-guided or guided walking tour of the Taos Historic District and Plaza, or simply stroll, gaze and enjoy – this town is a gem. Wine lovers should be sure visit in January for a sampling of local chefs and vintners. The Taos Winter Wine Festival features outstanding regional wines.

New Mexico offers eight major ski resorts, six of which are still family-owned and operated – unlike many of the corporate-owned, mega-resorts, found elsewhere in the United States. Compared to them, New Mexico offers bargain rates. You’ll find award-winning ski schools, a wide variety of trails, easy access and no crowds (and 300 days of sunshine annually!)– yet prices for lift tickets, accommodations, rentals, lessons, and dining are way below that of other states. The resorts all offer multi-day discounts and age discounts (kids ski free at many resorts,) detailed on each resort’s website. Adult lift tickets average US$55 a day, compared to about US$80 in other states.

New Mexico features the country’s southernmost ski area, Ski Apache, offering delightful warm-weather skiing. Ski Apache is owned and operated, along with the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino, by the Mescalero Apache Tribe of Native Americans. Located outside the town of Ruidoso, Ski Apache sits at 3,657 meters high. Ski Apache has 55 trails, 11 lifts and offers a terrain park for snowboarders. Snowboarders are welcome on every part of the mountain.

In Northern New Mexico, you can visit Angel Fire ResortTaos Ski ValleySki Santa Fe and Red River, all within easy (one to three-hour drive) access of Albuquerque International Airport, or you can consider driving from Denver (from five to seven hours.) Albuquerque is an hour-long flight from Denver, which has direct flights from London on British Airways. Make your home base there in Albuquerque, a delightful, non-touristy city that sports a historical Old Town area replete with independent shops, a quirky Rattlesnake Museum, an old Spanish plaza and excellent New Mexican cuisine (think green chile sauce on just about everything, blue corn enchiladas, margaritas and pulled pork tamales – and if you’re not familiar with them, trust me, you’ll love them all.) Or, drive an hour up to Santa Fe, described above.

Angel Fire Resort’s summit measures at 3,254metres high, with over 223 skiable hectares. This family favorite resort is known for unspoiled, uncrowded trails for all abilities. It has two ski-and-ride freestyle parks, over 75 runs, and an unusually large gladed tree skiing area. A plus is the well-lit bunny beginner slope for night-time practice! Indeed, OnTheSnow.com rates Angel Fire as a top terrain park in North America. There are three cross-country ski trails, with one available for any cross-country ski level.

Red River is a very informal, down-to-earth ski town which still sports various historical sites dating from its old mining town days. The ski area is right in the center of town, just a short walk from most lodges. Red River enjoys an average of six or so meters of snow each year and plenty of sun. Mixed terrain includes a ski-through replica of a mining camp and two terrain parks. Mount Wheeler is New Mexico’s highest peak – measuring 4,013metres high.

Ski Sante Fe: located just 20 minutes outside the city, Ski Sante Fe has 72 runs, with 27 open only to skiers. It is one of the highest ski areas in the United States. The New Millennium triple chairlift takes expert and intermediate snow enthusiasts to 3,680 meters high. They offer a certified ski school for beginners as well as other activities for children, including the Chipmunk Corner and Adventure Land. Chairlifts are open in autumn before the snow falls, providing an awe-inspiring view of the New Mexico mountains in fall colour.

Taos Ski Valley offers runs for both skiers and snowboarders. With 110 trails and 13 lifts, Taos has something for skiers of all experience levels. Taos offers a ski school for beginners or tubing (sledding on an inner tube.) For days spent off the slopes, visit the nearby Taos adobe pueblo or the Kit Carson Museum for an enticing taste of New Mexico culture. The biggest and oldest of New Mexico’s family-run resorts, it is only US$1 roundtrip to take the shuttle to and from the town of Taos (26 miles each way.)

Taos Ski Valley is legendary for its challenging expert drops. Only the extreme skiers venture to the Ridges on 3,804-meter-high Kachina Peak, bordering the Wheeler Wilderness Area. In fact, these runs are so rugged that getting to the top requires a 30-minute hike. Throughout the mountain, expert runs are divided into one-black-diamond or two, with two predominating. Even the beginner and intermediate trails seem a step more difficult than on other slopes. The rugged mountain leaves little allowance for wide beginner trails, and drops from the trail are common. Beginners just need to be a bit more careful than usual – it’s worth it!

Other areas include:
Pajarito Mountain Ski Area www.skipajarito.com
Sandia Peak Ski Area www.sandiapeak.com
Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort www.sipapunm.com
www.skinewmexico.com

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Travel Destinations

Anna Maria journeys to Copenhagen and finds that Denmark’s capital of cool delights – even in winter

Copenhagen in winter? Surely not a good option? Several people seriously doubted my sanity when I mentioned I was planning a mid-winter visit to Copenhagen, but as I had it on good authority, from friends and tourist boards, that the city is great – even in January – I was not to be deterred.

Why winter?

The Danish capital has a lot going for it in winter – it’s cheaper to get here for a start and central hotels are offering plenty of good deals, particularly if booking online. When it snows, it doesn’t immediately turn into that slushy stuff, but instead, it stays quite pretty and pristine, while the roads and pavements are briskly salted and gritted to keep those hardy Copenhageners cycling throughout winter. The month of February is taken over by the Wondercool Festival, with cultural events covering architecture, design, food, fashion, music, and art. Most sights stay open year-round, with the exception of Tivoli Gardens that are only open April – September (and also for the annual Christmas market late Nov – late Dec). Everything looks very appealing under a blanket of snow, there’s free ice-skating and as long as you wrap up warm, Copenhagen can be extra hyggelig, or cozy, as the Danes would put it.

Walking tour of the center

Although cycling is definitely possible in winter, walking is perhaps the warmer option and the city is exceedingly stroller-friendly with many pedestrianized streets, known as Strøget, in the center. I decided to start my own walking tour in the heart of town, at Rådhuspladsen, or Town Hall Square, home to the impressive structure that is the capital’s town hall. Rådhuset, built in a national romantic style, is quite young compared to the city itself (first chronicled in the 11th century), only dating back as far as 1905, but in its time it’s been through the Nazi occupation during WWII and seen a number of changes in the city, most recently the building of the third metro line, set to open in 2018.

Danish lunch delights

One of the pedestrianized streets running through the center, Frederiksbergsgade, starts at Rådhuspladsen, so I ambled along it, into a busy area of shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. If you have a bit of a lie-in and start your sight-seeing late, you should hit Gammeltorv (Old Square), a short walk from Rådshuspladsen, around about lunchtime. This is great news, as it means you can stop at Cafe Gammeltorv for one of the best smørrebrød selections in town. These are traditional Danish open sandwiches, so expect eel, herring, smoked salmon, meatballs and a great many other options piled high on dark rye bread. There’s also a variety of schnapps to wash things down with, but I figured that might affect my sight-seeing abilities and so stuck to water.

Central sights

Suitably refreshed, in fact bordering on stuffed, I continued my Copenhagen winter saunter. A short walk from Gammeltorv lies the city’s rather unassuming cathedral, Vår Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady) and not far from there, Rundetårn (the Round Tower), one of the city’s must-sees. This 17th-century tower, complete with a ‘spiral walkway’ winding itself around the inside of the tower seven times, can be climbed for a small fee and visitors enjoy excellent views across the city from the top. From here, Købmagergade often considered Copenhagen’s best shopping street, runs down to Amagertorv, another picturesque square dating from the Middle Ages. A short hop east and you reach Nyhavn, perhaps the most photogenic part of the city. Nyhavn, with its brightly-painted 17th-century houses and lively entertainment scene, is probably the one area that is best visited in summer – this is after all the place for al fresco dining and summer evening drinks – but it’s still worth a peek in winter. Just a short one, mind you, as it gets very nippy this close to the water. Finding it a bit chilly even with my ‘winter-is-great’ attitude, I quickly turned the corner towards Amalienborg, a short walk east. Amalienborg Palace is actually four rococo palaces, where the Danish Royal family has lived since the late 18th century and right opposite lies Marmorkirken (The Marble Church), one of the prettiest sights in the city.

Winter parks

The city’s parks look beautiful under a fresh dusting of snow and a lot of them are within an easy walking distance of the city center – a few of them even come complete with palaces as well. After admiring the Marble Church I carried on, relentless in my day’s sight-seeing pursuits, to Kongens Have (the King’s Garden), home to Rosenborg Palace, open to the public if you need to warm up. Next door to the palace and garden, the Botanical Garden is another beautiful spot to admire the snowy landscape and there are plenty of greenhouses where visitors can thaw out amongst the orchids, palms, and cacti.

Further afield – heading north

The center of Copenhagen is fairly compact, but the city also stretches quite far afield, both inland and along the water. Although the metro network is not very extensive as yet, buses and overground trains serve most areas. It’s worth spending a couple of days exploring the many fun and quirky neighborhoods outside the center. Nørrebro, to the northwest, is an up and coming alternative neighborhood, particularly interesting for foodies with several Michelin-starred restaurants, organic bakeries, vegetarian cafes and quite a few bars of note, such as Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus in Sankt Hans Torv. Another good reason to visit is Assistens Cemetery, where many a famous Dane, including H.C. Andersen, is buried – again a place that looks beautiful in winter. Further west in Frederiksberg there’s free ice-skating at Genforeningspladsen and there’s also a smaller ice-rink at Frederiksberg’s Garden, home to Frederiksberg’s Palace, a former royal summer residence.

Further afield – heading south

To the south and east lies the canal district of Christianshavn, a historic area developed in the early 17thcentury. It has a quiet, laid-back vibe with plenty of historic buildings to admire, including Vår Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Saviour) with its golden spiral spire and the bright-yellow Naval Museum building. The area has one other major attraction – although its residents might not always like being seen as such – the Freetown of Christiania. No visit to Copenhagen is complete without taking at least a sneak peek at this unique ‘town’, existing beyond and above the law. Christiania was set up in 1971 by a group of people taking over the empty army barracks on the site and although promptly declared illegal by the Danish government, no legal means have yet been able to shift said residents who currently number roughly 1,000. Over 40 years since its creation, Christiania lives on, like an alternative universe within the city limits. Rules, posted on walls throughout town, include no hard drugs (but plenty of soft ones), no weapons and no violence allowed. There are no cars or paved roads and the whole area has a vaguely lawless, if friendly, feel to it. Soft drugs are easily obtained; in fact, I found it quite hard to avoid getting high on the fumes alone, on a quiet Sunday morning. It’s non-threatening if the slightly bizarre place and an interesting end to my Copenhagen wanderings. Copenhagen is great in winter.

Need to know:
NorwegianEasyjetSAS and British Airways all fly from the UK to Copenhagen.
For more information, please visit www.visitdenmark.com and www.visitcopenhagencom

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Travel Destinations

Adrian champions Chicago, America’s second city that’s the home of Barack Obama

Readers might remember that Chicago is one of my favorite US places to visit. But In January? It’s bitterly cold and the wind shows no mercy in attacking you head-on. In fact, if the wind makes your eyes water, by the time they’ve rolled down your cheeks they can have formed into ice. So why go there?

The fashion sported by Chicagoans in winter, couldn’t be replicated by the catwalks of Milan or Paris. Multiple hats are worn, jumpers are worn over fleeces over shirts and then wrapped in a coat that would put Michelin man to shame. Elegance goes out the window. In winter when it is gloriously sunny regardless of how cold it is, you’ll see people with sunglasses because the sun can be very strong and bright. Warmth is the name of fashion here.

So wrap up warm and take many layers of clothing with you, when you come. And come you should. In one of those idiotic pricing offers that no sane person can understand, I had found that it was £10 cheaper to fly back to the UK by flying to Chicago from New York and then returning home so I flew to Chicago! And had a day to enjoy myself. Unfortunately, the day was a Monday when many museums are closed, but not one of the finest museums in the world – the Art Institute of Chicago.

As I walked up Michigan Avenue, the wind chill must have been in negative numbers It was 11°F and the wind coming off the lake only served to remind me why this was called the windy city. Despite being padded up for the day, the wind tore through my trousers making me wonder if the blood meandering through my veins might not freeze. It certainly wasn’t coursing anywhere. Memo to me: bring thicker trousers next time.

I’ve been coming to Chicago on and off for the last 20 years, and winter is a good time to be there. Yes, it can be unbelievably cold but it has big benefits too. Fewer visitors for one thing. Hotels at a three or four star level at under $100 a night for another. At one of my favorite ones, the historic Palmer House Hilton, a night cost $110. At five star hotels, the cost was under $175 a night – much too much for a miser like me to stay, but a steal compared to their normal prices. And in January and February, the airfares are at their lowest because everyone knows you don’t holiday in winter in Chicago.

Well, you should. The museums are open, the architecture isn’t tucked away until spring and the malls are open and having bargain sales. About the only things that weren’t functioning on the day I dropped by, were my legs and the cruise boats.

Chicagoans are politer than you’ll find in many US cities. One man gave me his three-day subway pass because he had finished with it and it still had two days to run. After I had traveled around, I returned the favor and passed it another traveler to use. It isn’t legal, but it wasn’t the first time that someone had been kind enough to pass me a railcard. That’s Chicago for you. And another thing: locals don’t lean on their car horns as much either, so your ears aren’t ruptured by continuously impatient noise like in other cities I could mention.

So even on a freezing day I wandered into the Art Institute and worshipped at the impressionistic art collection and the Marc Chagall colored glass windows created in time for America’s bicentennial. I went into the old Marshall Field’s Building (now a Macy’s) and gazed at the architecture inside whilst stopping below for a hot drink, one of many I had that day. I walked up to the John Hancock building and took the lift to the viewing floor to look at the skyline. From it, you can see the second tallest building in the world, the Trump International Hotel – a monument to the developer’s ebullience and his desire to outshine other city architectural gems. Incidentally, the Willis Tower (used to be known as the Sears Tower) is another building that you can go to the top of to soak up Chicagoan views.

I even braved the walk down to the lake and secretly wondered why. But there were still joggers running along, just not dressed in teeshirts and shorts. Navy Pier was open and beckoning my business but I was running out of time. I still wanted to see the corn on the cob building, one of my favorites, and I had to touch the kidney, a stainless steel millennium celebratory piece of public architecture that gets so hot and is so slippery that birds can’t land on it. The proper name is Cloud Gate, sometimes known as the bean but I’ve always called it the kidney. Gaze at its polished survey and it will give a warped view of the buildings and people around it. For something that seems so simple and so ‘un architectural’ it has to be one of the highlights of public architecture anywhere. And nearby is the Frank Gehry designed Pritzker Pavilion, an open-air concert platform. Even as you turn corners in this city there is something unusual in the architecture. Even modern, glass buildings have appealing creative bits added. It is almost as though there is an unwritten law here which says that if you design a building, it has to have some character.

But my wife had some shopping for me to do, so it was off to Woodfield Mall on the outskirts of the city. Chicago has created some large shopping malls over the years, but I know my way around Woodfield so they got my business. No time for the bus tour on this trip, but it is worth it as it takes you to some of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings that you otherwise might miss. No time for the Water tower (now a shopping center and one of the few buildings to survive the great fire of 1871) or a visit to the Hershey chocolate shop or even the University of Chicago which is in almost a time warp in the city. It’s in a little world of its own, almost fashioned on an old English university college but more widespread, yet all around it sprawls Chicago.

I took a quick circular ride on the Loop – the raised railway line that screeches along above central Chicago on the south of the river and which gives an interesting vantage point of parts of the city – and then back on the Blue Line to the airport. This journey has its interest – although many Chicagoans might not see it that way. At stops like California, you see wooden buildings with wooden fire escape stairs, verandas with swings and – in one case – a bathroom sink and pot plants. These buildings, so close together and so different from ours, can almost be touched from the train if you could open the windows. It makes you realize just how lethal the great fire must have been when it torched all the wooden buildings around.

As the huge sun sank over the airport and I re-adjusted my eyes to normal winter dimness, I found it hard to believe that it had been so cold and that the wind had been so biting. They key is walk a bit and then nip inside a store or a museum for a warm-up! Even in a day, I had done and seen a lot. But after all these years, I know my way around the central area. I have even been asked directions by an American and was able to steer them the right way. Maybe I looked like a Chicagoan in my funny hat and thick clothing. Quite a compliment really. Or was everyone else in the warmth so they had to ask me?

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