The Charles Bridge in Prague, Photo © Dagmar Veselková.

The Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic

Few bridges match the romantic ambiance of Prague’s picturesque Charles Bridge. The structure is one of the best-loved landmarks in the Czech Republic and spans the River Vltava between the Malá Strana district, the site of the city’s vast castle, and the Staré Město, Prague‘s Old Town.

Many bridges are purely functional – a means of traveling between two points – yet the Charles Bridge has become a popular attraction in its own right.

A popular Czech attraction

If you’re visiting on a sunny afternoon be prepared for a crowd of camera toting tourist ambling over the cobbles of this structure, which was pedestrianized in 1950.

Hawkers sell souvenirs and artists display works depicting the landmarks of Prague. Those include, of course, the famous bridge that’s known to locals as Karlův most.

Prague and the Charles Bridge. Photographed by Michal Vitásek.

Prague and the Charles Bridge. Photographed by Michal Vitásek.

When to photograph the Charles Bridge

Photographers will tell you the best time to see the bridge is just after dawn, when the sun rises over the Gothic tower on Old Town side of the bridge. Early in the evening—when the the crowd has departed and street lamps cast their warm glow on the well-trodden cobbles—also proves popular. Even foggy mornings have an evocative charm.

It wasn’t until 1870 that this 16-arch stone structure became officially known as the Charles Bridge. That name is in honour of the Bohemia’s King Charles IV – also the Holy Roman Emperor – the man who commissioned its construction in 1357. It was completed in 1402 but, remarkably, until 1841 it remained Prague’s only bridge across the Vltava.

Numerology and the bridge

Ask a local and they may well recount a legend that says Charles himself laid the first stone, at precisely 5:31 on the morning of 9 July 1357.

Those who believe in this tale will tell you the monarch was an avid believer in numerology and deemed it auspicious to build on the foundations of a numerical bridge; 1357 9/7 5:31.

Others dismiss the legend as an urban myth fabricated in the modern age.

History and Baroque sculptures

Looking towards the Old Town Bridge Tower you‘ll see the spot where the heads of 27 Protestant rebels were displayed following their execution in 1621, in a macabre show of imperial power.

The 30 Baroque sculptures and statuaries that now line the bridge were not added until late in the 17th century. The original works, by celebrated sculptors Matthias Braun and Ferdinand Brokoff, are now within the National Museum.

The most famous figure, with a halo of five stars, depicts St John of Nepomuk, who was thrown into the river on the orders of King Wencelas IV for refusing to divulge the queen’s confessions. John drowned but became the patron saint of Bohemia and, perhaps a touch ironically, of bridges.

Strolling across this one gives insights to more than six centuries of Czech history and some fine views of the nation’s capital.

The Charles Bridge, photographed by Libor Sváček.

The Charles Bridge, photographed by Libor Sváček.

Further information

See the Czech Tourism website for travel information about the Czech Republic.

The images illustrating this feature were supplied courtesy of the Czech Tourism Authority. The featured image is by the photographer Dagmar Veselková.

Statue of Queen Elizabeth II in Regina, Saskatchewan.

With a Local: Regina, Saskatchewan

Regina is the provincial capital of Saskatchewan in Canada.

Search the internet and you’ll see it has produced a string of talented ice hockey players who have made it into the NHL.

Yet it’s uniforms of a different type that draw many visitors to Regina. All Mounties receive their initial training in Regina and visitors can see cadets drilling in their ceremonial uniforms during the Sunset Retreat Ceremony, held on Tuesday evenings from the start of July until mid-August.

I spent a week driving around Saskatchewan with Jodi Holliday, a Media Relations Specialist, who lives in Regina and provides insights into her home city.

Why do you think people should come and see/do your home town?

We are home to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Every RCMP cadet in Canada is trained in Regina at the ‘Depot’ Academy. There is also a museum, the RCMP Heritage Centre (5907 Dewdney Avenue), which goes through the entire history of the RCMP.

What is your favourite place in the town (and why)?

I love Wascana Centre, an urban park that takes up a large portion of the middle of the city. Wascana Centre is a 9.3 square kilometre (2,300 acre) park around Wascana Lake.

It was designed by the Seattle architect Minoru Yamasak, who is famous for designing New York’s original World Trade Center.

It also encompasses many of my favourite places: the University of Regina, the provincial Legislative Building, Darke Hall, MacKenzie Art Gallery, CBC—the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Conexus Arts Centre, and the Science Centre.

Façade of Saskatchewan's Legislative Assembly.

Façade of Saskatchewan’s Legislative Assembly.

If you were going to take a guest to lunch/dinner, where would you choose and why?

I love Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar (1925 Victoria Avenue; tel. +1 306 525 8777). It’s housed in the historic home of the Assiniboia Club, features dishes made with local ingredients, including delicious beer from Rebellion Brewing, and never disappoints.

If there is a bar or café that you could take guests to, which would it be and why?

I always love going to O’Hanlon’s (1947 Scarth Street; +1 306 566 4094). It’s right downtown, across from Victoria Park, has a great non-smoking patio and a fantastic beer selection, including many local craft beer taps. Their breakfast pizza is to die for!

Stained glass window depicting a bugling Mountie.

Stained glass window depicting a bugling Mountie.

What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history associated with your town?

I am always interested in indigenous culture, in particular, the Métis population.

Saskatchewan’s Métis are descendants of First Nations women and mainly Scottish and French explorers and fur traders. The merging of two very different cultures created a vibrant new culture.

In 1885, Louis Riel led Métis and First Nations people in an armed uprising against the Canadian government. The uprising became known as the North West Resistance, and was the last military conflict on Canadian soil. Visitors can experience this fascinating and defining moment in Canadian history at Batoche National Historic Site. Louis Riel was executed for treason in Regina.

Also, Regina used to be called ‘Pile of Bones’, the English translation of the Cree place name ‘oskana kâ-asastêki’, because of the large amounts of bison bones on the banks of the Wascana Creek.

If guests can stay in the area for an extra day, what do you recommend they do and see?

Wander around downtown or in the Cathedral Village where there are many restaurants, cafés and shops. Or get out of town to Lumsden Valley and Regina Beach.

Take a look at the Tourism Regina and Tourism Saskatchewan websites to find out more about the city and the surrounding region.

Mounties marching in the Sunset Retreat Ceremony at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Depot in Regina.

Mounties marching in the Sunset Retreat Ceremony at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Depot in Regina.

Alain Bossé, the Kilted Chef, on the deck of his home in Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Cooking with Alain Bossé, the Kilted Chef

Alain Bossé is known as the Kilted Chef. Standing in the kitchen of his home in Pictou, Nova Scotia, I can see why—he’s wearing a blue and green tartan kilt and a double-breasted chef’s jacket.

He welcomes me with a glass of Selkie, a type of bottle-fermented sparkling wine. Alain is a culinary ambassador for Atlantic Canada and doesn’t miss the opportunity to explain how Selkie is a product of the cold climate viniculture practised in Nova Scotia’s vineyards.

Atlantic Canada’s food ambassador

Alain regularly travels around the world promoting produce from Atlantic Canada, particularly the region’s lobster and seafood. He also offers culinary consulting and cooking lessons to groups of up to eight or 10 people. The classes last all day and involve visits to local producers, giving people a chance to see where the ingredients come from.

He invites me to wash my hands and roll up my sleeves, then ushers me towards the island workspace in the centre of his vast kitchen. Glancing around I can’t help but feel a tad envious of his spacious, well-lit kitchen with glass-fronted refrigerators. It’s a lovely, spacious place in which to cook.

Dessert laced with rum

We’ll be making peppered strawberries with locally produced rum, a combination I’ve never even considered previously. Alain reveals he has been cooking the dish since the 1980s.

He invites me to pick up a knife and remove the leaves and stems from freshly picked strawberries—it’s known as hulling them in this part of the world.

Of course, I can’t resist chomping on a couple between placing them in the bowl that’s on the bench in front of me. Nothing beats fresh, seasonal fruit. The strawberries are delicious and sweet.

When I’m finished Alain gives me a useful tip—lemon juice helps remove the sticky redness of the fruit.

Origins of the Kilted Chef

Inevitably, I can’t help asking Alain, who is of French-Canadian heritage, why he wears a kilt.

He explains that many of Nova Scotia’s present day residents can trace their heritage to Scottish settlers who arrived in the Hector in 1773. A replica of the ship stands moored at Pictou’s Hector Heritage Quay.

Alain first wore a kilt at a fund-raising event for the Heatherbell Pipes and Drums group and realised it could form part of his branding.

Dining on the decking

He demonstrates how to layer up the dish then encourages me to grab a glass of wine.

We head outside into the sunshine and tuck into the dish, featuring meringues that are crispy on the outside but chewy in the middle, while chatting about Nova Scotian food.

Pavlova topped with chantilly maple cream and peppered strawberries.

Pavlova topped with chantilly maple cream and peppered strawberries.

Here is the recipe we made for you to try at home, supplied courtesy of the Kilted Chef:

Pavlova topped with Chantilly maple cream and peppered strawberries

Serves six

To assemble:

Place half of the Chantilly cream onto the cooled Pavlova. Spread to within one inch (2.5 centimetres) of the edge.

Top with peppered strawberries then repeat on the second layer.


Use the meringues as the base for the pavlova.


4 egg whites

½ a cup of sugar

¼ a teaspoon of cream of tartar

½ a teaspoon of vanilla extract


In a spotlessly clean and dry bowl beat the egg whites with cream of tartar.

When soft peaks develop in the mix, slowly add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time.

When it is glossy add the vanilla and beat for seven to eight minutes, until the meringue mix is no longer grainy.

Place the mix on parchment paper in individual portions and bake at 300F (150°C) for 60 minutes.

Peppered strawberries

“This is truly one of my favourite summer desserts,” says Alain about this delicious dish.

Ingredients for two

1 pint of fresh Strawberries (½ litre)

Half an orange

2 tablespoons of butter (30ml)

5 tablespoons of sugar (75ml)

1½ ounces of Sea Fever rum (45ml)

Black pepper – 50 turns of the pepper mill


Remove the leaves and stems from the strawberries.

Cut the berries in half.

In a skillet melt the butter, add the sugar and stir constantly until the sugar is a nice caramel colour.

Add the juice of the orange.

Add the Strawberries and let simmer in the syrup for a few minutes.

Add the rum and allow the alcohol to cook off. Add fresh ground pepper; about 50 turns (don’t be shy!).

Chantilly maple cream

Makes two cups

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons of white sugar

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract


Place all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and whip until stiff peaks form.

Further information

Find out more about Alain and see more of his recipes on the Kilted Chef website.

The Nova Scotia website has a section dedicated to the province’s food, drink and culinary experiences.

Alain Bossé, the Kilted Chef, with his cookbook 'Mussels'.

Alain Bossé, the Kilted Chef, with his cookbook ‘Mussels’.


A Snugpak Softie Vest on a Union Jack flag.

Kit Review: Snugpak Softie Vest

The Snugpak Softie Vest is a lightweight, body warmer style jacket designed for wearing when a chill grips the air.

As such it’s a good piece of kit for early morning walks on summer days, when the air temperature hasn’t quite warmed up, or evenings, when temperatures again begin to drop. I wore it on a dawn photo session then during a barbecue and found it fine for both.

The sleeveless top ensured I could move unencumbered while setting up photographs, both with and without a tripod, and crouching to capture low shots of wildflowers.

The Snugpak Softie Vest also looks good, so I didn’t hesitate to don it on an evening, first to the barbecue and then for a stroll into the neighbouring village for a drink at last orders.

Stitching gives the vest V-shaped ribbing on its front and back. The sides have horizontal stitching. The effect is a slim-line look.

A folded, silver coloured Snugpak Softie Vest.

A folded, silver coloured Snugpak Softie Vest.

A lightweight insulated vest

In fact, quite a few of the fellas at the barbecue were impressed by the vest’s lack of weight—if only they’d say the same about me. The Extra-Large version of the vest weights just 410 grams. It comes in sizes from XS (280 grams) to XXL (450 grams).

Falling to below my buttocks and to the pocket line on my trousers, I found the Snugpak Softie Vest to be a comfortable length, both while I was active and relaxing.

The vest packs down well, so proved easy to carry. After the rural morning photo shoot I folded and slipped it into the outer pocket of my equipment bag.

Detail of the collar, which features a draw string, on a Snugpak Softie Vest.

Detail of the collar, which features a draw string, on a Snugpak Softie Vest.

The spec of the vest

The Snugpak Softie Vest is made from Paratex Micro fabric, a hardwearing fabric with a reputation for being windproof and water repellent. It also has the advantage that ketchup wipes away easily, in the off-chance some dribbles from a roll during a barbecue.

The inner surface is a lightweight version of the same fabric. The insulating material, known as Softie Premier, is made from polyester and supplied by a Swiss-manufacturer, Härdi. It is said to trap more air than regular insulators and is also used in Snugpak’s sleeping bags.

Both the collar and the lower hem feature drawcords, meaning I was able to tighten or loosen them to my liking.

All of the jacket’s three pockets have zips. The two outer side pockets are set back within an unobtrusive fold. The inner pocket is large enough to simultaneously carry a notebook, a couple of pens plus a smartphone.

A Snugpak Softie Vest laid out on a Union Jack.

A Snugpak Softie Vest laid out on a Union Jack.

Four colours of vest

My Snugpak Softie Vest is the silver version. I’d have called it light grey, rather than silver, if I’d been asked to name its colour and hadn’t read the delivery note. It’s also available in olive green plus two types of camouflage.

Why in A-TACS and multicam? Snugpak kit has been worn by members of armed forces around the world since the Falklands Conflict of the early 1980s.

Snugpak make this kit at a mill in Silsden, West Yorkshire, which is why I decided to photograph the Softie Vest with a Union Jack flag.

The Snugpak Softie Vest can be purchased online and has a RRP of £84.95.

Further information

Find out more about Snugpak on the company’s website.

The Kraemerbruecke in Erfurt, Germany.

With a Local: Erfurt, Germany

For more than 20 years Johanna von Hassell has lived in the city of Erfurt, in Thuringia, Germany.

I chatted with Johanna on Erfurt’s Domplatz (Cathedral Square) while munching on a mustard-smothered bratwurst, a traditional Thuringian type of sausage whose heritage can be traced to the early 1400s. Locals say you should always buy them from stalls where they are grilled over charcoal.

In front of us stood half-timbered houses that were built for merchants but now house cafes and restaurants. Behind us was the city’s cathedral and the three spires of the Church of St Severus.

Johanna answered questions, providing an introduction to Erfurt from the perspective of a local:

Why do you think people should visit Erfurt?

It’s genuinely one of the largest and best-preserved historic city centres in all of Germany. It’s also surrounded by nature.

What makes Erfurt so attractive is the fact the climate here in summer is so pleasant. It doesn’t rain very often. It’s never too hot. When it’s warm, it’s dry heat.

There’s a Mediterranean-style lifestyle—lots of cafes with streetside seating. Many of the students like to stay here over the summer and the city’s population is getting ever younger.

Half-timbered buildings near the Kraemerbruecke (Merchants' Bridge) in Erfurt, Germany.

Half-timbered buildings near the Kraemerbruecke (Merchants’ Bridge) in Erfurt, Germany. Many of Erfurt’s medieval buildings survived World War Two undamaged.

What is your favourite place in the town?

It’s probably the Wenigermarkt [a market place], behind the Krämerbrücke [a bridge lined by half-timbered medieval houses]. There isn’t much traffic and it’s a quiet place with lots of cafes with terrace seating.

Also, to the north side of the Krämerbrücke there’s an area of greenery where people can sit themselves down next to the water. It’s tranquil and feels like it’s a little village. Sometimes ducks are in the water. It’s picturesque, quiet and in the middle of the city.

The Kraemerbruecke (Merchants' Bridge) in Erfurt, Germany.

The Kraemerbruecke (Merchants’ Bridge) in Erfurt, Germany. The medieval bridge crosses the River Gera.

If you were going to take a guest to lunch or dinner, where would you choose and why?

Restaurant Kromers (Kleine Arche 4; tel. +49 0361 64477211), directly next to the Hochzeitshaus [the Haus zum Sunneborn, dating from the 1536, where weddings are now held], because it’s a beautiful building and a cosy pub-restaurant.  It has a little courtyard where people can sit outside.

It serves Thuringian cuisine—not too heavy, not overly original—Thuringian cuisine that’s made light. I’m not a fan of heavy food. I associate that with winter. There’s a bit of meat, some potato, but it’s lightly made.

If there is a bar or cafe that you could take guests to, which would it be and why?

I like the Metroplitan Bar (Pergamentergasse 33a tel. +49 361 64479720). They’ve got lovely cocktails and live music, and it’s not all that big. I like going there.

What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history associated with your town?

The city is called Erfurt. ‘Furt’ means a shallow place on a river—a ford. The river that flows through Erfurt is the Gera. Obviously, that doesn’t fit together.

Erfurt got its name because where the ford is the river is ‘erf’ an old German word for dirty brown water.

There’s a legend about the ford near the Krämerbrücke that makes many people laugh.

There’s a house there with beautiful red half-timbering. Long ago, a baker is said to have lived there and married a beautiful woman. After the wedding, when he was out of flour for the first time he barred the windows so that his beautiful wife couldn’t go out. He’d hardly left the building when she hung a sign out saying ‘Er ist fort’ —meaning ‘he’s way’—and, therefore, we are called Erfurt.

The River Gera runs through the centre of Erfurt, Germany.

The River Gera runs through the centre of Erfurt, Germany. Medieval buildings overlook the waterfront.

If guests can stay in the area for an extra day, what do you recommend they do and see?

Staying in Erfurt means people who are interested in seeing German culture, from the Middle Ages through to the 18th century, only need a few minutes to travel to Weimar, Gotha or Arnstadt. We’re in the middle of beautiful landscapes that’s surrounded by numerous pearls.

When it’s summer I’d recommend people go to the EGA, a park built for the Erfurt Garden Exhibition—a large area laid out during the 1960s. It has beautiful flower beds and benches. There’s a café and lots of flair from the 1960s.

In winter I’d recommend a visit to Gotha, the city that’s 25 kilometres from here. They had art-loving princes and the biggest Renaissance palace in Germany stands there. There’s an art collection with artefacts from the Middles Ages until the 19th century, ranging from paintings, to sculptures to little gifts and models, including Roman buildings, sculpted from cork.

Further information

See the Erfurt and Thuringia plus the Cultural Heart of Germany and Germany tourism information websites for more information.

Buildings around Domplatz (Cathedral Square) in Erfurt, Germany.

Buildings around Domplatz (Cathedral Square) in Erfurt, Germany.

The Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

A red-topped flyer caught my eye in the lobby of my Edinburgh hotel. ‘VISIT THE UK’s No.1 ATTRACTION’ it urged in white capitals on a red background, above the word BRITANNIA and a stylised picture of the royal yacht looking much like a liner on an advertising poster from the 1920s.

Later, while browsing leaflets in the Visit Scotland tourist information centre (3 Princes Street) I noticed a similar flyer. ‘THE ROYAL YACHT BRITANNIA’ stood written over two lines ‘VISIT SCOTLAND’S BEST ATTRACTION’.

Normally I’d feel inclined to make some quip about Scotland wasting no time in gearing up for independence from the United Kingdom in the wake of the EU referendum result. But, when it comes to that subject, I’m finding little to joke about. Maybe the humour part of my brain has given up and slunk away, like so many of those people who purported to be leaders, or potential leaders, prior to the referendum.

A framed picture of Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar.

A framed picture of Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar.

What will become of Scotland?

Fifty-two per cent of the people who voted on 23 June crossed the box to leave the EU. If Scotland does gain independence then it may be that the majority of those voters will need a passport to visit Edinburgh. Would trains be inspected at Berwick-upon-Tweed? Might cars need to queue at border checkpoints?

Winston Churchill was the UK’s Prime Minister when the Britannia was launched at Clydebank on 16 March 1953. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II a little more than a month later. In the early 1950s few Britons would have suggested Scotland could ever be anything other than an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Decommissioning of the Britannia

The royal yacht sailed more than a million miles before being decommissioned during a ceremony at Portsmouth on 11 December 1997. She docked at more than 600 ports in 135 countries while in service that saw 968 official visits.

During those intervening 44 years much changed. The United Kingdom joined the Common Market—the European Economic Community—and granted independence to several former colonies. Britannia’s last official mission was to bring Prince Charles and Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, back from the territory after it was handed back to the People’s Republic of China.

Bunk beds on board the Britannia.

A corgi on one of the bunk beds on board the Britannia.

A place of royal relaxation

It’s said the Queen felt that Britannia was a place where she could relax while sailing between official engagements. They took her to Great Britain, the Commonwealth and elsewhere in the world.

Her Majesty would, in all probability, have travelled from central Edinburgh to the Ocean Terminal at Leith in a Rolls-Royce rather than on the upper deck of the number 11 bus. After all, a royal Rolls-Royce is displayed on the deck of the 412ft 3in (125.6 metre) long yacht. For me the number 11, from Princes Street, was more accessible.

I bet the Queen never tucked into a burrito from Taco Mazama before boarding. Hunger, though, had me firmly in its grasp as I wandered through the Ocean Terminal Shopping Terminal, the waterfront mall through which the royal yacht is now entered. Ultimately grabbing a bite to eat was an act of respect—I didn’t want my tummy to rumble as I explored a ship that has held banquets for numerous heads of state, royal visitors and entertained Frank Sinatra. If I’d been going for a more immersive experience perhaps I should have waited and visited the ship’s Royal Deck Tea Room.

Audio guides in 27 languages

A staff member in neatly pressed tartan trews passed me an audio guide as I boarded. While visiting tourist attractions there’s always that underlying temptation to skip the occasional snippet of information but I found the information about Britannia genuinely engrossing.

The recordings conveyed a sense of the rhythm of daily life on board the vessel, which has five decks. Nine different admirals and a commodore commanded Britannia, which had a crew of 220 yachtsmen.

On deck they did not wear caps, so, technically, were not in uniform. This meant they did not have to salute members of the royal family. The crew did, however, need to stand still in their presence and complete tasks, such as the scrubbing of the teak-surfaced deck be 8.00am each morning. Orders were never shouted, to maintain a sense of calm and decorum.

The engine room of the royal yacht.

The engine room of the royal yacht.

A lot of different uniforms

On days with formal engagements, the commander of the royal yacht was required to change uniform as many as 12 times. That may sound a lot but members of the Royal Marines Band Service had up to 22, hence the sizable laundry, which operated up to 24-hours a day.

Until 1973 the crew slept in hammocks—the Britannia was the last ship in the Royal Navy with that type of bedding.

Perhaps surprisingly, the yacht is the only place where members of the public can see a bedroom of a living British monarch. The Queen and Prince Philip slept in single beds that were three feet wide and had separate offices for working during voyages. They would relax in the sun lounge or drawing room, which holds copies of newspapers such as the Racing Post and a baby grand piano at which Noël Coward once performed.

Silverware aboard Her Majesty's Royal Yacht Britannia.

Silverware aboard Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia.

Rooms on five decks

The dining room exhibits some of the many artefacts presented to the royal family during state visits, including a pig killer from Papua New Guinea.

Even visitors who are not technically minded are likely to be impressed by the pristine state of the engine room. With polished chrome and white enamel it is reputed to have prompted General Norman Schwarzkopf to say, “I’ve seen the museum piece. Now, where’s the real engine room?”

A tribute to British engineering and maintenance, it could generate 12,000 horsepower and a top speed of 22.5 knots (just under 26 miles per hour).

Britannia impressed. Yet heading back into Edinburgh I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds for the good ship Britain and who will be at the helm as she sails away from Europe with millions of unwilling passengers aboard.

Sunshine over Her Majesty's Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith docks.

Sunshine over Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith docks.

Visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia

See the Royal Yacht Britannia website for up-to-date information regarding opening times and admission prices.

Getting to the Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia (tel. +44 131 5555566) s permanently moored by the Ocean Terminal at Leith. Lothian Buses (numbers 11, 22 and 35) run regular services to and from Edinburgh city centre.

The bell of Her Majesty's Royal Yacht Britannia.

The bell of Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia.

Gotha, Germany

With a Local: Gotha, Germany

Susanne Hörr works at Friedenstein Castle in the city of Gotha in Thuringia, Germany.

The city has historic associations with Britain’s royal family. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha married Queen Victoria, so is the great-great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Until 28 August 2016 you can find out more about those transnational connections by visiting the Castle Museum’s exhibition, The Ernstines: A Dynasty Shapes Europe.

Susanne answers our questions, giving an introduction to Gotha and some of the things to do and see in the city:

Why do you think people should visit Gotha?

First off, Friedenstein Castle is striking. It’s on a hill, so everybody sees it.

Then there’s the Ducal Museum, which belongs to it.

I don’t just say that because I work there. It’s a wonderful place, where dukes and princes lived for more than 400 years and built a collection of artworks—it’s genuinely beautiful.

People should definitely walk down into the city too. It’s worth looking around and exploring, not just heading to the Rathaus (the town hall) on the Hauptmarkt (the main marketplace). The Butter Market is also worth a visit, along with a handful of locations that aren’t part of the historic city centre.

It’s really beautiful when you walk in a westerly direction. There are tennis courts and you can enjoy vistas from a scenic viewing point. There’s a lovely pub and the landscape is adorable—apple trees grow there.

Gotha, Germany

The facade of the Ducal Museum in Gotha, Germany

What is your favourite place in the town?

My favourite place is the Schlosspark (Castle Park). I walk there every morning on my way to work. There are some great ducks—they’re a bit crazy. They sit in the trees rather than on the water. It’s beautiful there.

It is the oldest English style landscaped park in Germany. A man came from Kew Gardens to design it.

If you were going to take a guest to lunch or dinner, where would you choose and why?

I like going to the restaurant in the Augustinian monastery (Augustinerkloster Klostercafé, Jüdenstrasse 27, tel. +49 3621 302901) because it’s relatively informal and the atmosphere, under historic walls, is beautiful.

It has a lovely cloister there. It comes down to the wonderful atmosphere and fact they serve a great tafelspitz (joint of boiled beef) with horseradish sauce. It’s super!

I always recommend the Irish Pub in town (S’Limerick Irish Pub, Buttermarkt 4; tel. 49 3621 3528014) , because it has such delicious handmade chips. Maybe British people would feel at home there?

Gotha, Germany

Friedenstein Castle in Gotha, Germany

If there is a bar or cafe that you could take guests to, which would it be and why?

The Pagenhaus (Romantik-Restaurant Pagenhaus; tel. +49 3621 403612), which is situated next to the castle.

It has a beautiful beer garden and lovely food, particularly the cuisine from Thuringia. People can eat a traditional Thuringian bratwurst (grilled sausage) or, if that doesn’t appeal, a salad. The people there are very nice and it’s like sitting in the castle.

If guests can stay in the area for an extra day, what do you recommend they do and see?

After people have taken a look here they could drive to Erfurt or, further, to Weimar. They are both lovely cities and different to each other.

In the other direction they could visit Wartburg. The countryside there is very scenic and Martin Luther translated the bible into German at Wartburg Castle.

A bit further on, at Bad Frankenhausen, there’s a panorama painting by an East German artist, Thomas Müntzer. It’s a huge, circular painting depicting the Peasants’ War of 1525. It makes a fabulous impression.

Further information

See the Gotha, Thuringia plus the Cultural Heart of Germany and Germany tourism information websites for more information.

The Mariner King Inn in Lunenburg in Nova Scotia, Canada.

With a Local: Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Shelah Allen is a native of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia, Canada.

She is proud of her roots and represents the seventh generation of her family to live in the colourful coastal town. Shelah is a co-owner of a travel company and a guide on Lunenburg Walking Tours.

As such, she’s perfectly placed to answer our questions and give an introduction to some of the things to do and see in the town:

Why do you think people should visit Lunenburg?

There is so much to do in Lunenburg. People constantly tell us that they wish they’d scheduled more time here. I could easily recommend a week jam-packed with fun.

Of course we want them to do our tours. The Essential Lunenburg tour, taken at the beginning of a visit gives a great foundation for their visit and helps them make the most of their time here. The Haunted Lunenburg tour is a super fun way to spend an evening.

A boat ride or sail is a must. Sailing on Bluenose II is something guests never forget.

The Fisheries Museum is a great. They can’t miss the Ironworks Distillery and all the wonderful galleries and shops.

Just peacefully wandering and taking it all in is part of the magic of Lunenburg.

Barrels at Lunenburg's Ironworks Distillery.

Barrels at Lunenburg’s Ironworks Distillery.

What is your favourite place in Lunenburg?

Wow, that’s a hard question. I’d say that just being on the waterfront is where I feel most at home.

Sometimes it‘s just the waves lapping at the wharves that I love, but at other times it’s the opportunity to meet so many people, all having new and special experiences.

There’s a real ‘wharf culture’ that I love.

If you were going to take a guest out to lunch or dinner, where in Lunenburg would you choose and why?

Another challenging question. Lunenburg has two dozen great restaurants, each with its own appeal.

Where will you most often find me? Old Fish Factory (68 Bluenose Drive; tel +1 902 634 3333), for the amazing service, fresh seafood, and view—yes, I still love the view even though I live it every day. This is where my family goes for special meals.

I enjoy the Salt Shaker Deli (124 Montague Street; tel. +1 902 640 3434) for the cosy atmosphere and delicious food.

I practically live at Shop on the Corner (23 Lincoln Street) on breaks between tours. They offer just one lunch item daily but it is always healthy and oh-so tasty. The atmosphere is relaxing and welcoming.

And I have to mention the Knot Pub (4 Dufferin Street; +1 902 634 3334). It’s where locals go. The building used to be the bicycle shop where we went for Popsicles on our way to school. For nearly 30 years it has offered consistently awesome food in an authentic community pub setting.

Every Thursday morning, year round, I go to the Farmers’ Market.

Scallops served in Lunenburg.

Scallops served in Lunenburg.

If there is a bar or cafe that you could take guests to in Lunenburg, which would it be and why?

I’ve already mentioned the Knot Pub, where I drink locally crafted Bulwark cider.

At the Old Fish Factory my drink is the much-famed Dark and Stormy (black rum, ginger beer, and lime).

I want to add the Grand Banker Bar and Grill (82 Montague Street; tel +1 902 634 3300, where presenting locally sourced beers and wine is what they do. I love ‘holding court’ on a bar stool as people come and go.

The Old Fish Factory restaurant and Ice House bar in Lunenburg.

The Old Fish Factory restaurant and Ice House bar in Lunenburg.

What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history associated with Lunenburg?

Lunenburg is all about the stories and the superstitions. Come on a tour and we’ll share them all.

If guests can stay in the area for an extra day, what do you recommend they do and see in Lunenburg?

Well, it will take more than a day to cover everything in town. But if they have time to explore beyond, there are two things I always recommend: the seven-minute drive to gorgeous Blue Rocks, and following route 332. It takes people to Ovens Natural Park, Kingsburg and Hirtle’s Beach. Then taking the LaHave Ferry across to route 331 to LaHAve Bakery, and an array of beautiful vistas, museums, shops and beaches.

Further information

See the Travel Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and Explore Canada sites for more information on Lunenburg.

Lunenburg Academy in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Lunenburg Academy in Nova Scotia, Canada.

A clipper sails past the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York City, USA.

Brunch in New York City, USA

Brunch is a meal that New Yorkers have made their own. It’s become a weekend institution that sees friends and families gather to enjoy good food and each others’ company. If you’re visiting New York City plan it into your itinerary.

As the term suggests, brunch draws elements from both breakfast and lunch. Most people meet for brunch late in the morning but sittings in a several New York restaurants continue well into the afternoon.

Even residents of a city that never sleeps—if we are to believe those famous lyrics of New York, New York, that iconic song popularised by Frank Sinatra—need the occasional lie in, so meeting to dine early on a Saturday or Sunday simply wouldn’t do.

New York - the city that never sleeps. Coffee 24 hours a day? No wonder.

New York – the city that never sleeps. Coffee 24 hours a day? No wonder.

Brunch is a weekend institution

That’s when brunch comes into its own, “because you don’t have to wake up early,” says Surita, who works during the week as a receptionist in a busy mid-town restaurant. “I feel brunch is mainly enjoyed during the spring and the summer when you’re hungover or after a busy week. You get to sit outside and enjoy Bloody Marys and whatnot” she says and names Barkogi (957 2nd Avenue; tel. 212-308-8810), a compact Korean fusion restaurant and bar, as her favourite brunch venue. The waffles come highly recommended.

Thousands of New Yorkers pour into restaurants, particularly on Sundays, to meet over brunch. Of course, not everybody does it every week, but like a good friend it’s always there when needed.

Greenwich Village is a perennially popular brunch destination. Negril Village (70 West 3rd Street; tel. 212-477-2804) is an upbeat Caribbean restaurant that opens at noon and serves dishes such as curry goat stew and a unique take on the club sandwich, prepared with spicy Jamaican jerk.

Brunch with benefits. New Yorkers leave the stress of the week aside during Sunday brunch.

Brunch with benefits. New Yorkers leave the stress of the week aside during Sunday brunch.

Brunch over in Brooklyn

Ask around and you’ll soon uncover a multitude of tips for brunch across New York’s five boroughs. Among them is Montana’s Trail House (44 Troutman Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn; tel. 917-966-1666), a laid-back, rustic-chic spot that serves seasonal cocktails plus dishes cooked with produce from local farms. Allswell (124 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn; tel. 347-799-2743) in a casual venue, a gastropub offering brunch until 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday.

Crispy bacon and fluffy, sugar-dusted pancakes drizzled with maple syrup is a popular, traditional North American breakfast treat that many diners also enjoy dipping into during brunch.

The country’s Tex-Mex cuisine means you can find dishes such as huevos rancheros, eggs served with a spicy tomato-based salsa on a tortilla. Brunch menus tend to be diverse. You’re as likely to see home-style granola and freshly prepared salads as you are tender roast meats.

Poring over the menu while sipping on a cocktail or slurping a freshly brewed coffee is part of the experience; nobody wants to be rushed into making a decision on a weekend. Brunch is a meal that’s best enjoyed in a relaxed mood and is something that shouldn’t be rushed. It sets the tone for a day of leisure and helps people ready themselves for the week ahead.

Some of the hot dishes served during brunch at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

Some of the hot dishes served during brunch at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

British origins of brunch

Brunch, like baseball, may well be seen as a quintessentially American activity but there’s evidence both had their origins on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Great Britain. Back in 1895 the term was used in an article published in Punch magazine to describe a Sunday meal for “Saturday-night carousers”.

Party-goers in the modern age continue to embrace brunch. Why? Some might say it’s because the booze flows freely. Enjoying a glass of bubbly or the kick of a cocktail is part of the experience.

For those who’ve partied into the wee hours or simply overindulged the previous night, brunch offers a means of recover and, often, a hair of the dog. Of course, whether or not drinking alcohol really is the best cure for a hangover is a debate that continues to simmer, often as a topic of brunch conversation. The theory is regularly put to the test.

Seafood - eat it. The raw bar at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, USA.

Seafood – eat it. The raw bar at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, USA.

Brunch at the Waldorf Astoria

One of the best known and most celebrated of the many Sunday brunch venues in New York City is the Waldorf Astoria (301 Park Avenue; tel. 212-872-1275). The first seating is at 10am and the last is at 2pm, in the hotel’s elegant Peacock Alley restaurant, beneath the gleaming Art Deco grandeur of the famous lobby, where a pianist performs on Cole Porter’s grand piano.

The buffet’s vast spread encompasses a raw bar with oysters and clams plus a selection of caviar. In addition to the usual brunch favourites, classic dishes such as succulent Beef Wellington, lasagne and roast pork feature.

As you might expect, Waldorf Salad is available. There’s also seasonal fruits plus a chocolate fountain, into which berries can be dipped after skewering them on a wooden stick. Anyone with room remaining might be tempted by a honey-dipped roasted marshmallow.

Wherever you go to New York and whatever you choose to do, experiencing brunch is much a part of visiting watching a baseball game at Yankee Stadium or shopping in Macy’s.

More information

Find out more about the attractions of New York City on the official NYC Go website.

For more about the USA beyond New York see the Visit the USA site.

A chef roasts marshmallow at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, USA.

A chef roasts marshmallow at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, USA.

Matfen Hall hotel in Northumberland, England.

Matfen Hall hotel, golf course and spa

Birds are chirping and geese are honking on the far side of the fairway as I raise the sash window of my vast guestroom at Maften Hall in rural Northumberland. It’s pleasant to wake with a view overlooking a championship standard golf course.

The country manor in which I’m staying belongs to Sir Hugh and Lady Blackett. The Neo-Gothic house dates from the 1830s though buildings have occupied the site since the Middle Ages.

I’m staying in Room 4, one of 53 guestrooms within the four star property. It’s one of the hotel’s Principal category of bedrooms.

Room 4 - a spacious, classically furnished guestroom.

Room 4 – a spacious, classically furnished guestroom.

Looking into the great hall

Out on the corridor I can peek through an arched window into the great hall, whose wall bears coats of arms belonging to families whose members married Blacketts. A lion is sculpted into the wooden balustrade of the broad staircase, which is a popular spot for photographing the brides and grooms who choose Matfen Hall as the venue for their wedding reception.

My room is classically furnished, has a dark wood desk, a table in the bay by the window and a broad, flat-screen television. Last night I relaxed by reading on the sofa while sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Looking up at the high ceiling and enormity of the room it fleetingly crosses my mind that it would probably be big enough to practice three point shooting here, if a basketball ring was mounted on the wall. I’m sure guests in neighbouring rooms are pleased that isn’t the case—who knows what they might suspect I was getting up to.

Relaxing in the spa

When it comes to working out I’m planning on swimming a few lengths of the 16-metre pool, down in the hotel’s Aqua Vitae spa, before unwinding in the sauna and steam room. Unfortunately all of the treatment slots were already fully booked upon my arrival, so I won’t be getting a massage—next time I’ll know to call in advance of my arrival.

There’s a fitness room too, with weights, exercise mats and cardiovascular equipment. However, I’m planning a walk around the 300-acre estate and through surrounding farmland. The team down at the reception have already supplied me with a sketch map of trails in the area.

Gilchrist and Soames toiletries.

Gilchrist and Soames toiletries.

Matfen Hall Golf Course

A couple of the footpaths cut across the golf course that opened for play back in 1995. Now a mature parkland course with water features and a dry stone ha-ha, Maften Hall Golf Course has 27 holes arranged in three nine-hole circuits. That means guests playing a couple of rounds over a weekend can introduce variations to the 18 they play.

There’s also a nine-hole, par-3 course plus a driving range with ten bays. It forms part of Maften Hall Golf Academy, where golfers can request personalised coaching aided by computerised training aids.

The driving range stands close to a Go Ape Tree Top Adventure course, where people can monkey about while climbing and zip-lining.

The UK has voted for Brexit. Time to head to the bunkers?

The UK has voted for Brexit. Time to head to the bunkers?

Matfen Hall’s Library Restaurant

I’m looking forward to a traditional Northumbrian breakfast in the hotel’s refined Library Restaurant. As the name suggests, the tables are ranged beneath wooden shelves laden with leather bound books.

I dined there last after relaxing with a G&T in the comfort of one of the leather sofas in the subtly lit drawing room. With an ornately sculpted fireplace and gilt-framed oil paintings, it’s everything I imagine of a room within a manor house.

Oil paintings in the drawing room.

Oil paintings in Matfen Hall’s drawing room.

The restaurant carries two AA Rosettes and is regarded as one of the region’s premier fine-dining venues. It serves modern British cuisine made with seasonal ingredients plus organic lamb and beef supplied from Sir Hugh’s farm.

For my starter I plumped for the scallops then enjoyed succulent Beef Wellington for my main course. The jus had a memorably rich, chocolatey texture. I also ordered a delicious side dish of cabbage prepared with pancetta. For dessert it proved impossible for me to resist the call of the soufflé.

An amuse-bouche served at Matfen Hall's Library Restaurant.

An amuse-bouche served at Matfen Hall’s Library Restaurant.

A Dutch-style formal garden

First though, I’ll let my appetite grow by taking a morning stroll in the hall’s Dutch-style formal garden.

I exit from the conservatory, which houses a bar, and crunch across the gravel of the terrace, past an outsized draughts board.

Morning sunlight shines through the framework of the garden’s pergola to dapple the ground. The gentle scent of roses and fresh grass wafts through the summer air and I look forward to the day ahead in the Northumberland countryside.

Further information

See the Matfen Hall website for further details about the hotel, spa and golf course.

Matfen Hall is represented by HotelRez Hotels and Resorts. HotelRez is a representation company marketing more than 350 properties across the United Kingdom. Many of those hotels are historic country manors providing insights into local heritage.

Getting to Matfen Hall

Matfen Hall is in the village of Matfen, less than 30-minutes’ drive from the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and around 15 minutes from Newcastle International Airport.