The Grant Museum in London, England.

The Grant Museum of Zoology in London: Quirky, Free & Fascinating

In an age when interactive exhibitions are par for the course in museums, with many focusing on engaging youngsters and infotainment, heading somewhere like the Grant Museum, in London, makes a refreshing change.

This zoology museum opened in 1828 and is packed with skeletons, stuffed creatures and fascinatingly gruesome looking exhibits preserved in formaldehyde. With a creaking wooden floor and humorously postured primate skeletons up in the gallery, seemingly looking down at visitors, the Grant Museum still has something of a nineteenth century feel about it. Far from being a flaw, the old-fashioned nature of the museum and its displays, within glass cabinets and wooden shelving, helps make spending an afternoon here an informative, quirky, pleasure.

Would you rather view some slickly produced video on the lifecycle of burrowing mammals or stand by a glass jar, topped with preserving fluid, attempting to guess how many dead moles are inside? If the latter is more your thing, then you should plan a trip to the Grant Museum.

The museum is named after Robert Grant, who lived from 1793 to 1874 and built a collection of specimens in order to research and teach zoology and comparative anatomy. Grant organised his collection by taxonomic groups and was, essentially, researching aspects of evolutionary theory even before the publication of Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking On the Origin of Species, in1859.

The Grant Museum’s collection is vast. Just seven per cent on the 67,000 artefacts are displayed. They range in scale from insects and tiny creatures preserved on microscope slides, displayed in the back lit micrarium, to a mammoth tusk and the antlers of a giant deer that roamed the earth 11,000 years ago. Not everything is old-fashioned here; a QR code provides access to information about the prehistoric mammal.

You’ll also see rarities such as the skeleton of a quagga, a zebra like creature, and a thylacine, a doglike marsupial, better known as the Tasmanian tiger, that became extinct in 1936.

Some of the exhibits made me contemplate how a Victorian might have felt while visiting a freak show. The partially dissected head of a monkey, preserved in formaldehyde, gave me the impression it was winking and sticking out its tongue. You’ll see a jar containing an elephant’s heart, weighing between 20 to 30kg, and the penis bone of a walrus, roughly the size of a rounders bat.

The museum has a number of thought provoking exhibits, including a Surinam toad, whose female carries fertilised eggs in pouches on her back. Her offspring emerge fully developed. Elephant birds, from Madagascar, became extinct in the 1700s. The cast of an egg, roughly two-and-a-half times the size of an ostrich egg, prompted me to think about human impact on the environment.

‘Little Nicky,’ who in 2004 became the world’s first commercially cloned cat, is also among the exhibits. Touch screen displays allow you read about the subject and enter into an online debate on the ethics of cloning.

The Grant Museum may be Victorian in appearance but as part of the University College London it is still used for research and teaching. It’s free to visit and a fascinating alternative to the British Museum and other popular attractions, which can become extremely busy over the summer holidays.

Further Information

The Grant Museum of Zoology is in the Rockefeller Building at the University College London, 21 University Street, London, WC1E 6DE. It is open from 1.00pm to 5.00pm from Monday to Saturday. You can also book to visit on weekdays between 10.00am and 1.00pm.

See the Visit London website for more about attractions in the British capital.

Here’s a list of tips of things to do for free in London.

Primate skulls at the Grant Museum in London, England. The museum holds 67,000 zoology exhibits.

Primate skulls at the Grant Museum in London, England. The museum holds 67,000 zoology exhibits.

The La Soupe Populaire restaurant in Berlin, Germany.

La Soupe Populaire Restaurant in Berlin, Germany

La Soupe Populaire is a fashionable restaurant with a hip, post-industrial vibe and menus by Michelin-strarred chef Tim Raue. Michael Jaeger and his team work in the kitchen, preparing traditional German dishes with a creative edge.

The restaurant stands within the former Bötzow Brewery, which was built in 1885 and used to store seafood during the era of the German Democratic Republic. The expansive site is owned by Professor Hans Georg Näder, who has unveiled plans, drawn up by British architect David Chipperfield, to re-redevelop the brewery into a creative and manufacturing hub with a boutique hotel and an art gallery.

Regularly changing contemporary art exhibitions are already held in the studio below the restaurant. While I dined, works by Dominique Auerbacher, a French photographer, were on display. Raue develops a menu to accompany each of the exhibitions and, in this case, included French dishes and wine suggestions.

Tables are set out on the pressed metal plates of a mezzanine level located by two concrete hoppers, which presumably stored grain when the site was a brewery. A skylight allows daylight to flood into the dining space, whose brick walls are burnished in places. Retro style lamps and bare bulbs hang by concrete pillars and metal girders.

The setting is a chic yet gritty memorial to Berlin’s industrial heritage but the cuisine, by contrast, is contemporary and delicate.

While I was mulling over the menu I nibbled on crisp Brandenburg Forest gherkins, a local delicacy, served with lightly spiced sausages, a creamy lovage and herb spread plus freshly baked bread.

My waitress spoke good English and was happy to answer questions about the restaurant, which opened in May 2013. She explained that the mustard egg plus the cod, served with tarragon and cucumber in summer and lentils in winter, are both very popular. I asked to be pointed me in the direction of Tim Raue’s signature dishes.

White asparagus is a seasonal delicacy throughout Germany. Here at La Soupe Populaire it is served as a starter with melon, grapes and buttermilk cream. Elderflower provides a floral tone balanced by a twist of Tabasco that gradually reveals its fire.

For my main course I ordered the Königsberger Klopse, an East Prussian dish named after the city today known as Kaliningrad. Königsberger Klopse are essentially meatballs made from minced veal with capers and anchovies. Traditionally, every family has its own variant on the basic recipe. They are served here with a sauce, featuring a Riesling reduction, that’s deliciously custardy in texture and appearance. Red cabbage and mashed potato accompany the dish, which is hearty without being heavy.

You can order a selection of wines by the glass or go for a bottle. Most of the wines on the menu are from French and German estates and there’s a handful from Italy and Portugal. I plumped for a crisp glass of Kaitui Sauvignon Blanc from the Pfalz region.

La Soupe Populaire’s signature dessert is Bienenstich (bee sting cake), whose filling includes sorbet, topped with caramelised almonds. A chocolate bee, complete with almond flake wings, sat patiently by the cake before I dismembered it, head first, with my spoon.

If you’re looking to get closer to the action, down by the kitchen, then book a seat at the chef’s table, giving you an opportunity to see Jaeger and the La Soupe Populaire team at close quarters.

Additionally, if you’re into industrial heritage, you might be interested in booking a place on one of the free tours of the brewery premises. You can enter the former stables and vast vaulted cellars, which once stored ice, cut from nearby lakes during winter, in their triple-layered walls.

If you enjoy good food and thought provoking insights into urban heritage then consider adding La Soupe Populaire to your itinerary for your next visit to Berlin.

Further Information

La Soupe Populaire is at Prenzlauer Allee 242, 10405 Berlin, tel. +49 (0) 30 4431 9680. See the restaurant’s menu and opening times at Make your reservation eight weeks in advance of dinner and a couple of days ahead of lunch.

Koenigsberger Klopse served with mashed potato and red cabbage at La Soupe Populaire.

Koenigsberger Klopse served with mashed potato and red cabbage at La Soupe Populaire.

The Neue Pinakothek art museum in Munich, Germany.

The Neue Pinakothek Art Museum in Munich, Germany

Munich has much to offer art lovers, with several art museums of international renown situated in Maxvorstadt, an area that has become known as the Kunstareal (‘art district’) in recent years. The Neue Pinakothek is the gallery to head to if you enjoy nineteenth century art and works by world famous artists.

The focus of the Neue Pinakothek’s collection is German art from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the period which saw Romanticism and Nationalism influence art and society’s values. A number of Realist and landscape works are shown too.

In total, around 400 paintings are today on display in this museum, whose history can be traced back to 1853. Now state owned, the gallery was established by Bavaria’s royal family, the Wittelsbachs, to accommodate a collection of art that was then regarded as contemporary.

This gallery also has a strong body of work by French Impressionists. Paintings by Vincent van Gogh (including his Sunflowers painting of 1888), Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse and Edouard Manet number among works with sufficient clout to drawn in visitors with only a passing interest in art. In the Neue Pinakothek’s final room you’ll also see paintings by Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and work by George Minne.

During World War Two, the museum was badly damaged by the bombs which fell during allied air raids. It wasn’t until 1981 that the Neue Pinakothek reopened in its current form. The parquet flooring and colourful walls of some of this museum’s rooms offer a cosy contrast to the minimalism of many modern galleries. The success of the renovation work is a fascinating tale of achievement.

If you are interested in seeing see how the city you are visiting looked more than 200 years ago then pop into room 2a. Paintings by Wilhelm von Kobell and Johann Georg von Dillis will give you an impression of how Munich was around the year 1800.

In the neighbouring rooms you’ll see paintings by the notable British artists William Turner, William Hogarth and Thomas Gainsborough on display.

The Neue Pinakothek is well-served by Munich’s public transport system. The gallery is a couple of minutes walk from the Koenigstrasse and Theresienstrasse U-Bahn stations, on the U2 line. Tram number 27 and bus number 100 both stop conveniently close to the Neue Pinakothek. If you prefer to walk then it’s worth bearing in mind this part of town is only a 25 minute stroll from the city centre.

If you enjoy your art but want to save a few Euros, look out for the day ticket that’s valid for all three of the Pinakotheks, the Sammlung Schack and also the Museum Brandhorst. Be warned, that’s a lot of art to view in just one day; if you prefer to mull on the meanings and composition of art then you might find the five day pass more rewarding.

Further Information

Find ticket prices, opening times and exhibition information on the Neue Pinkothek website.

See the Munich city website for more information about tourist attractions.

The Bavaria Travel and Germany Travel websites provide information on galleries and museums elsewhere in the country.

Sign for the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany.

Sign for the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany.

Shot glasses in national colours stacked up on Luxembourg's National Day. Photo by Stuart Forster.

National Day Celebrations in Luxembourg City

The centre of Luxembourg City, the capital of the world’s only Grand Duchy, becomes a vast party zone each year on 22 June, the eve of the head of state’s official birthday. After residents and visitors celebrate through the night, it may come as no surprise that the national holiday, 23 June, tends to be a fairly quiet day.

Luxembourg has a reputation for being a hardworking business and administrative hub; the European Court of Justice and European Commission are both headquartered in the city, along with a number of international businesses. Yet people let their hair down at this time of the year. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gears up for one of Europe’s largest street parties on the afternoon of 22 June, with stages for live music and outdoor bars being built. As a result, this can be one of the most rewarding times of the year to visit the landlocked nation of 537,000 inhabitants.

In the run up to Luxembourg’s National Day you’ll see many shop windows decorated with the red, white and blue of the flag. Tricolours are hung from lampposts and buildings. Balloon artists sculpt animal shapes and create inflated hats from sausage-like balloons in the national colours. The celebrations are surprisingly inclusive. Forty-four per cent of this country’s inhabitants have foreign origins yet people from all ethnic groups and walks of life are involved in the preparations plus the big day. Locals say this is recognition of the popularity of Grand Duke Henri and his family.

Henri, who has reigned over this constitutional monarchy since 2000, was actually born on 16 April 1955. Since back in 1961 the head of state’s birthday has been celebrated officially on 23 June, as the date in summer provides a high probability of dry, pleasant weather.

People from around the Grand Duchy flock into the city centre on the evening of 22 June, so, if you plan on dining in one of the Old Town’s restaurants it makes sense to reserve a table. Locals are proud of their culinary traditions. Meeting with friends and eating and drinking is an integral part of the celebrations. Over the course of the past three centuries Luxembourg has been under Spanish, Austrian, French, Prussian and German rule. In degrees, they have all influenced the region’s kitchen. Luxembourg, you may well hear, has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any nation on the planet, so there’s plenty for discerning foodies to explore.

As darkness falls on 22 June people you’ll see people gathering outside of the Grand Ducal Palace, the duke’s official residence. The building, which was the town hall between 1572 and 1795, is in the heart of the city. Uniformed guards parade outside of the Gothic style façade yet the mood remains largely relaxed. Anticipation rises and people call out for Grand Duke Henri and his family. The mood of expectation grows with the arrival of military bands, who perform on the march. The palace gates open and the ruling family come out to meet the people, smiling and shaking hands before walking through the city.

Members of the emergency services plus scouts, guides and municipal organisations from around the Grand Duchy then participate in a parade illuminated by flaming torches. This gives you an opportunity to observe and applaud a procession of historic fire-fighting vehicles, marching bands and decorated floats celebrating aspects of life in Luxembourg. Children dress in 19th century costumes, motor cycle enthusiasts display their bikes and you’ll also see people in medieval style clothing. The good-natured event is regarded as essential viewing by city residents, who line the streets, cheering on participants and calling out to those they know.

After the procession concludes people make their way towards the Adolphe Bridge, which spans the Pétrusse Valley, on the edge of the city. Some head into the cafes and bars while most crowd together in the park overlooking the gorge, awaiting a lengthy and spectacular fireworks display above the bridge’s famous arch, which was built between 1900 and 1903. The show is synchronised with classical music piped out over speakers.

For families the fireworks tend to mark the end of the day. Yet for many people the night is still young. Within the old town people meet and dance on the terraces of cafes, where music plays long into the night. Temporary bars open on cobbled lanes and people socialise in the streets and while sitting at beer garden style benches. Rock bands perform on the stages that were constructed earlier in the day with audiences swaying and dancing to their beat. You can party right through the night if you want.

The city remains quiet the following day, as if it’s nursing a collective hangover. The vast majority of shops remain closed for the duration of the National Day. Yet if you don’t party too long into the morning you’ll be able rise and hear the report of the 101 cannon shots marking the Grand Duke’s official birthday and view the military parade.

Further information

The Visit Luxembourg website has more information about the Grand Duchy’s attractions.

Luxembourg City Tourist Office provides information about walking tours and cultural events in the nation’s capital.

Railbookers offers a five night holiday by rail to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Prices start from £579 per person, including all train travel from London, Ebbsfleet or Ashford, two nights’ central 4-star hotel accommodation in Luxembourg, a night in Antwerp and two in The Hague, including breakfast. Call +44 (0) 20 3327 3551 for more information.

Grand Duke Henri and his family greet onlookers outside of the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Grand Duke Henri and his family greet onlookers outside of the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg. Photo by Stuart Forster.


A woman enjoys a Hugo cocktail in Wiesbaden, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

An Introduction to the Hugo, a Sparkling Wine-based Cocktail

The Hugo, if you haven’t already been introduced, is a light, refreshing cocktail that has a reputation for being sophisticated. It’s proven popular in Germany for the past couple of summers.

I can tell by the dumbstruck faces around me that people are more than a tad surprised when I admit I haven’t yet tasted a Hugo. Why would I? Whenever I travel in Germany I tend to try local beers. Though cocktails aren’t normally my thing I’m considering ordering a Hugo, having heard nothing but praise for them.

“It’s kind of chic and trendy,” says Charlotte about the Hugo’s image as we sit on the terrace of the Restaurant Wagner at the Opelbad, overlooking Wiesbaden. The Bauhaus style heated swimming pool on the Neroberg dates from 1934 and, along with the nearby Monopteros, offers one best panoramas of the historic spa town.

“Beer and wine are traditional drinks that I still enjoy but the Hugo is fashionable and it`s always nice to have new and exciting things in addition to the traditional,” says Charlotte, perhaps sensing that I need a final, tiny nudge to order one.

The Hugo, I learn, started life in Italy, with Prosecco as its base. In Germany Hugos are normally made using Sekt, dry white sparkling wine, as the main ingredient.

I turn as the waiter approaches, alerted by the Hugos’ ice cubes ringing against the sides of the long-stalked glasses.

“Prost!” says Charlotte, using the traditional German term for “cheers” and we clink glasses while carefully looking each other in eyes, as is the custom here in Germany.

The drink does indeed live up to its hype. The dominant flavour of the Hugo is elderflower, with a hint of mint and lime. It’s a refreshing summer drink.

“The Hugo is very easy to make,” says Charlotte when I comment this is something I might recreating back at home, adding, “there are different ways of making it, but I normally use sparkling white wine, sparkling water, elderflower syrup, mint leaves and ice cubes.”

There’s no need for any specialist cocktail making equipment. So could this drink be the ideal accompaniment to matches during the 2014 World Cup?

The Hugo Recipe

100ml Riesling Sekt (sparkling white wine)

50ml sparkling mineral water

25ml elderflower syrup

A twist of fresh lime

A sprig of fresh mint

Ice cubes

Further Information

Find out more about the city on the Wiesbaden Tourism website.

See the Kulturland Rheingau website to learn more about attractions the Rhineland region.

For more on the country as a whole see the Germany Travel website.

The view from the Neroberg in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The view from the Neroberg in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Traditional apple wine (Apfelwein) is served in the Lorsbacher Thal in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Sampling Apple Wine in Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen District

Germany is renowned for its beers but in and around Frankfurt apple wine is traditionally the most popular tipple. I head to the riverside Sachsenhausen district, long seen as the centre of the apple wine industry, to meet Thorsten Dorn, who, along with his wife Elke, runs the Lorsbacher Thal bar-restaurant and produces around 30,000 litres of Apfelwein each autumn.

First though, I take a quiet seat in the courtyard of the Lorsbacher Thal to sample a gerippte, one of the ribbed 300ml glasses traditionally holding the drink that locals pronounce as ‘Apfelwoi’. I’d been expecting a sparkling, cider-like drink but apple wine is, in fact, flat, dry and mildly tangy. Quite a few locals mix in a measure of sparkling mineral water and some prefer to pour in a dash of lemonade. Uncut, apple wine contains a similar level of alcohol to beer.

Apple wine is served from a Bembel, a grey ceramic jug decorated with blue floral patterns. The jugs are a popular souvenir from Frankfurt and the Hesse region. Few Bembels match the size of the vast vessels on the Lorsbacher Thal’s bar, where they are decanted with the help of a lever into smaller jugs.

With a smile and a handshake Thorsten greets me and suggests we head somewhere quieter for a chat. We head down the wooden staircase that leads into the cellar, where rows of enormous wooden barrels stand.

“We’ve got our beautiful wooden apple wine barrels,” says Thorsten tapping on one of them “the same ones could be used to produce wine. They’ve got the same sort of barrels up at Eberbach Monastery, which was used in The Name of the Rose with Sean Connery. Today we don’t use these barrels anymore because they are very labour intensive. I use stainless steel barrels. They are easier to get hold of and use for the production of perfect apple wine,” he explains.

I learn that Elke’s family have owned the Lorsbacher Thal for six generations. They ran a winery from the 16th century, prior to starting the production of apple wine in 1803. The equipment used in the two processes is similar, so making the switch was relatively straightforward.

“Apple wine has a wild fermentation process and it’s difficult to get stable results in wooden barrels,” says Thorsten. The wood influences the result and if a barrel is not air tight then the apple wine will oxidise and be ruined.

“When it shines gold then it’s oxidised. You’ll see that our apple wine is light yellow but not golden; there’s a big quality difference,” he points out.

Naturally, I want to understand how apple wine is made.

“It’s relatively simple,” says Thorsten. “You take an apple, press it and it ferments without additional ingredients. The sugar content of the apples produces the apple wine. In some wine you might add yeast and sugar to get a higher alcohol content but we don’t do that.”

Thorsten gets his apples from a meadow in Hoehenwald. Surprisingly, they aren’t plucked from the trees, the apples are harvested from the ground once they’ve fallen.

“It’s not one type of apple. It’s a mixture of varieties; that brings character. I think it helps protect nature because we’re not using a monoculture,” says Thorsten with conviction. Environmentalists, then, might even argue that they can enjoy apple wine with a clear conscience?

In recent years storage tanks have been introduced where the apple wine is cooled and stored, under carefully controlled conditions, meaning it can be drunk throughout the year.

Yet changes in technology don’t necessarily mean the production process is getting easier. It’s still a labour intensive task to produce apple wine. Mowing the meadow, looking after the trees and collecting the fruit all take time. So too does washing, coring, cutting and then pressing the apples.

“Apple wine families are dying out and young people don’t want to take it on because it takes a lot or work to get the quality right. To produce apple wine in quantity is a major challenge and every one tastes different,” says Thorsten, who blends batches to achieve the flavour he thinks is best.

He explains that good apple wine should never be bitter and that I’ll notice the taste change if I let my glass stand for two or three hours. Thorsten compares this to an apple darkening after it is cut open and exposed to air.

Back in the courtyard I take a look at the menu and find a number of regional delicacies. I order a portion of Handkaese mit Musik, which translates to ‘hand cheese with music’. What I get is pressed cheese with chopped onions. Locals say this is one of the best accompaniments to apple wine.

Fittingly, frankfurters appear on the menu but, for my main course, I choose another regional delicacy, Schäufelchen mit Sauerkraut; literally a ‘little shovel served with sauerkraut’. However, there’s nothing at all dainty about the huge shoulder of roast pork that I’m served.

Maybe I’ll still be carving my way through the mountain of meat two to three hours hence? If that’s the case then I will have an opportunity to see how oxygen affects my apple wine.

Further Information

The Lorsbacher Thal bar-restaurant is located at Grosse Rittergasse 49–51, 60594 Frankfurt am Main, tel. +49 (0) 69 616459.

To learn more about Frankfurt, take a look at the city’s tourist information website.

Find out more about the country as a whole via the Germany Travel website.

Traditional apple wine (Apfelwein) barrels in the cellar of the Lorsbacher Thal in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Traditional apple wine (Apfelwein) barrels in the cellar of the Lorsbacher Thal in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Half-timbered buildings of the Samstagsberg in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. The buildings at the Roemerberg (Rathausplatz) were reconstructed after World War Two. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Highlights of Frankfurt am Main for a Stopover or City Break

More than 58 million passengers passed through Frankfurt Airport in 2013 yet, in comparison to German cities such as Munich and Berlin, Frankfurt am Main remains largely undiscovered by international travellers. As I discovered, there’s plenty to do to make a stop-over or a weekend break worthwhile.

The 200m high observation platform of the Main Tower, 56 storeys above street level, provides unparalleled views of the dynamic financial centre that’s known in Germany as Mainhatten, due to the cluster of skyscrapers close to the river Main.

After passing through airport style security checks you’ll take an express elevator up the only accessible high-rise in Frankfurt, bypassing a potentially exhausting climb up 1090 steps. The building, designed by the Hamburg-based architects Schweger and Partners, weighs 200,000 tonnes, meaning it’s ten times heavier than the Eiffel Tower. The observation tower opens at 10.00am each day, closing at 9.00pm from Sunday to Thursday and at 11.00pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

On 28 August 1749, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the stars of German and European literature, was born in a second floor room of the building today known as the Goethe House. He wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther plus drafts of Faust in the poet’s room, in which you’ll see a writing bureau. The house was carefully reconstructed after sustaining heavy damage during World War II. You can visit four floors of the building before popping into the adjacent Goethe Museum, which has 14 rooms with paintings from Goethe’s era. From Monday to Saturday the Goethe House and Museum are open from 10.00am to 6.00pm, closing at 5.30pm on Sundays and holidays.

For the past 45 years the Archaeological Museum of Frankfurt has been housed in the Gothic style Carmelite Monastery, which dates back to 1246. Modern exhibition wings were added and today you can browse artefacts from prehistoric times, the Classical era, Roman times, the Orient and the Middle Ages. Among the exhibits are numerous finds from in and around Frankfurt. The museum is open from 10.00am to 6.00pm from Tuesday to Sunday, with extended opening, until 8.00pm, on Wednesdays.

The striking, contemporary Museum of Modern Art, designed by Hans Hollein, is known in the city as the MMK (Museum fuer Moderne Kunst). The museum opened in 1991 and rapidly evolved into one of the world’s leading art galleries. You’ll see international works dating from the 1960s onwards. The museum holds a collection of 4,500 works across 40 rooms, including pieces by Joseph Beuys, Francis Bacon and Cy Twombly. The MMK is open until 8.00pm on Wednesdays and from 10.00am until 6.00pm on other days, except on Mondays, when it remains closed.

The history of Frankfurt Cathedral can be traced back to its consecration, to St Bartholemew, in 1239. In 1356 it became the site of the Holy Roman Empire’s elections and ten imperial coronations were held in the building from 1562 to 1792; it’s therefore regarded as a symbol of national unity. The building you’ll see today is much more recent. It was rebuilt following a fire in 1867 and again after wartime damage, sustained in 1943 and 1944. The cathedral is open from 9.00am to noon from Monday to Friday and again from 4.00pm to 6.00pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, then 4.00pm to 5.00pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

River Cruises along the Main are an ideal way of seeing Frankfurt’s principal sights while resting your legs. On sunny days you can sit out on deck, setting sail from jetties close the cathedral, observing the city’s scenery to commentaries in both English and German. You’ll pass under the famous Eisener Steg, the city’s iconic metal pedestrian bridge, along the Schaumainkai, the embankment where you’ll find a cluster of 14 museums. After passing through the Friedensbruecke you’ll see the 109m tall Westhafen Tower before turning back after the Mainova power station.

If you like chocolate then head to Bitter und Zart an elegant shop with 1920s style pictures. You’ll find chocolate bars in numerous flavours and employees in maid style uniforms. The artistically arranged displays make this a pleasant place to browse. You’ll also find a café with an Art Deco touch, serving coffee, specialist teas and cakes. Both are open from 10.00am to 7.00pm from Monday to Friday. The chocolate shop closes at 4.00pm on Saturdays and the café at 7.00pm. Only the café opens on Sundays, from 11.00am to 6.00pm.

Max on One, a chic international restaurant, on the first floor of the Jumeirah Frankfurt hotel, has an open-fronted show kitchen where you can observe the chefs at work. Marc Schulz is executive chef and has introduced dishes such as Nebraskan filet steak and lobster served with granola, beans and garlic. The stylish, high-ceilinged library section of the restaurant looks out over the Thurn and Taxis Palace, once the headquarters of Germany’s imperial postal system. Lunch is served from noon until 2.30pm, from Monday to Friday. The restaurant opens for dinner daily, from 7.00pm to 10.30pm.

Frankfurt is the home to 48 parks and gardens but one of the most central is the Nizza Gardens, on the north bank of the river Main. The park is shielded from winds and has a microclimate that allows Mediterranean plants and trees to flourish. A riverside swimming pool once stood in the park but today you can dive into the modernist Nizza Café, with high windows, a terrace and seating under canopies.

MundArt, the restaurant within the Roemerkeller, the vaulted cellar of the town hall, which has been the centre of municipal administration since 1405, is one of Frankfurt’s premier fine-dining venues. Reservations are highly recommended if you plan on dining here. Chef Werner Fink’s cuisine consists of beautifully presented, modern German dishes. The restaurant opens from 5.00pm to 9.00pm, from Tuesday to Saturday.

All told, the city’s Old Town, is a pleasant place to wander and, for a lively night out, the bars of Sachsenhausen have much to offer. Many of Frankfurt’s cultural attractions are within easy walking distance of each other and once you’re in the city it’s an easy place to get around.

Further Information

See the Frankfurt and Frankfurt Tourist Board websites.

The River Main running through Frankfurt and the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

The River Main running through Frankfurt and the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Chef Sten Fischer by a photo of Bauhaus master Walter Gropius in the Alt Weimar restaurant in Weimar, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Alt Weimar’s Chef Sten Fischer Talks Thuringian Cuisine

“I try to introduce a regional touch to modern cuisine,” says chef Sten Fischer as we sit chatting within one of the dining rooms of the Alt Weimar restaurant.

A framed photograph of the architect Walter Gropius peers down at us from one of the dark, wood-panelled walls. Almost a century ago, when this place was still a pub and the German city of Weimar was the base of the fledgling Bauhaus movement, Gropius used to drink here with the likes of Paul Klee.

History and heritage, rather than cuisine, tend to draw people to Weimar’s Altstadt (meaning ‘Old Town’). The Alt Weimar is a two minute from the Goethe and Schiller statue on Theaterplatz, the spot commonly regarded as the city’s heart.

Nowhere in Weimar, it seems, is complete without at least some distant connection to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. On the way in I noticed a plaque celebrating that Rudolf Steiner, who conducted research into the author and statesman’s life, lived in the building from 1892 to 1896. The Alt Weimar opened in 1909.

“Thuringia isn’t known for high cuisine. Thuringia is known for big plates and large portions but not as a culinary stronghold,” admits Fischer, who is doing what he can to change perceptions.

He hails from nearby Erfurt and returned to the region in 2007. After learning his trade in the early 1990s he spent time in the kitchens of the Europa and Aida cruise ships then worked at the Fischereihafen Restaurant in Hamburg before heading to Austria for six years. He cooked for Michael Douglas in Bermuda then returned to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where he was the chef of the VIP kitchen in Cologne. The diners, he tells me, included Robbie Williams and Posh Spice.

“We try to give a message and show that people can enjoy regional cuisine and high level regional products at a sensible price. We also want to show to tourists and guests that Weimar is not just about Goethe and Schiller but is also a culinary destination,” says the chef, who is dressed in black.

That doesn’t mean that all of Fischer’s ingredients are sourced locally. “I’d say about two-thirds of what we cook here is regional and a third is from elsewhere as we need to give ourselves the possibility to offer seafood – lobster and suchlike – because our guests demand that at this level,” he explains.

“What would my regional signature dish be?” he asks rhetorically, anticipating one of my next questions.

“We have our own hunter. We have wonderful venison, boar and mouflon. Mouflon goes very well with sea buckthorn and carrots. We also use regional taste bud ticklers like marjoram. Thuringia is renowned for having the best marjoram worldwide so we connect that and put a product on the table so guests say, ‘Wow! That’s Thuringia.’”

Fischer has also began to grow his own ingredients. “Last year, for the first time, I planted my own potatoes; a huge amount of Sieglinde potatoes. Sieglinde is the oldest German potato variety. It’s a firm potato with lovely yellow flesh and tasty too. However, it’s not round or easy to peel and you have to stick a lot of work in but it’s a wonderful regional product,” explains the chef who also makes use of locally sourced pears, strawberries, blackberries, plums and cherries.

“There’s a great idea from England called Landshare. If people have land they make it available to growers and receive a share of the harvest. I have a meadow with scattered fruit trees and don’t have the time to take care of it. I’ve connected with the Bauhaus University. They look after the land but I receive a quarter of the harvest,” says Fischer enthusiastically.

“There’s also a rent-a-cow scheme. I pay a farmer a monthly fee, say €100, to raise a cow from an old German race that’s similar to Galloway cattle. It has a slow-growing meat with a lot of fat. After a year, at the very soonest, it can go to the butcher. We receive all of the meat; it’s great. We can offer cookery courses aimed at men. We use the haunches, fillets and tenderloins and show what you can make from each part – T-bones from this, goulash from that – with an amazing quality of meat.”

In the meantime Fischer continues to prepare his gourmet regional dishes at the Alt Weimar restaurant.

Further Information 

See the Alt Weimar’s website for information regarding opening times, cookery courses and accommodation in the hotel.

Learn more about Weimar on the city’s tourist information website.

For further details about the region and country as a while see the Thuringia Tourism and Germany Travel sites.

Sten Fischer's creation of smoked Ilm river trout with beetroot, pumpkin and kohlrabi served in the Alt Weimar restaurant in Weimar, Germany.  Photo by Stuart Forster.

Sten Fischer’s creation of smoked Ilm river trout with beetroot, pumpkin and kohlrabi served in the Alt Weimar restaurant in Weimar, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

The International Maritime Museum in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Model Shipbuilding As An Insight Into Naval History

People have been building models of boats and ships for millennia. These days, thanks to the internet, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to dip your toe in the water, so to speak, and start putting together a kit or begin building a collection.

Time and a lot of effort will be needed to acquire a collection matching the breadth and scope of that put together by Peter Tamm, whose models form just a part of International Maritime Museum in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg, a major port city, has a long tradition of seafaring and one of the aims of the museum, which exhibits artefacts over ten floors, is the preservation of knowledge relating to the subject and naval history.

Models are much more than mere toys and modelling is not just a means of whiling away an evening, though many people do enjoy it as a hobby. Model ships can also help shed light on otherwise long-lost aspects of maritime history.

The oldest model ships have been unearthed by archaeologists. A beautifully preserved 4000 year old model, found in an Egyptian tomb, can be seen in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Figures representing humans stand and squat along the deck of the 67cm (26.4in) boat. This helps us to understand how boats would have looked on the Nile Delta.

Thanks to models which have been found, historians and archaeologists have been able to develop theories as to how full-sized boats and ships would have looked during and beyond classical antiquity. Descriptions in literature and depictions on pottery are just two of the sources that researchers use to complement their understanding and interpretation of ancient models, and to hypothesize how full size ships would have looked and functioned.

Inevitably, the models which have been found at Phoenician and Ancient Greek sites depict a range of vessels, from small boats and merchantmen up to ships of war. They are built from a variety of materials, including wood, lead and precious metals. Some were used as toys, others were decorative and some would have been used on shrines to pray for the safe return of loved ones travelling over water.

These days – in an age of computer modelling and detailed designs – it might come as a surprise but drawing up blueprints of ships is a fairly recent development. Up until about 300 years ago, shipwrights would often win commissions after showing potential patrons models rather than designs on paper. Some of these have survived to become collectors’ items.

Some of the most highly sought after model ships are those which were viewed by decision makers at Britain’s Admiralty, who would commission warships after detailed scale models had been examined. These are known as Admiralty or Navy Board models, and provide a valuable source of information for historians as well as the modellers of today.

The craftsmanship and time spent in producing top quality model ships means that the best can command hefty prices. Immense attention to detail is needed to build museum quality models. They have to display every aspect seen on the original ship or, should it no longer exist, depict all that is shown in faithful oil paintings, commissioned when the vessel was still afloat. The knowledge that goes into building the miniatures coupled with the skill of the handiwork means that the best models cross the line from being regarded as unique examples of work by a skilled artisan into works of art.

Many valuable and highly detailed models belong to private collectors who make acquisitions quietly, shying away from publicity. Consequently it’s difficult to say with precision which model ship is the world’s most expensive. One candidate for that term dates from late in the seventeenth century. It is a 1:32 scale model of the royal yacht used by Britain’s joint monarchs, William and Mary. The model reportedly changed hands for $439,875.

The Lagoda, on display within the Bourne Building of the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts, USA, is the world’s biggest model ship. You might even describe the Lagoda, which was commissioned to be built in 1916, as a whale of a model. At 89ft (27.13m) long this 1:2 scale model is half the size of the original vessel, which saw service as a whaler from the 1840s.

The Riverside Museum, Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, opened in 2011 and claims the world’s largest collection of model ships. Glasgow Museums owns 788 models, many of which represent vessels built in the shipyards of the river Clyde, including renowned ships such as RMS Queen Mary and the Lusitania.

Numerous enthusiasts model around the world but Macolm Harwood is one of the few to have transformed his hobby and passion into his profession. The Managing Director of Cornwall Model Boats started building models while he was still at school, after seeing people sailing models on the lake in London’s Bushy Park. His company makes a range of models, some that run on water and others for display.

Personal taste and interest tends to play a role in shaping collections, as Malcolm points out: “In terms of models that are collectable, a lot of that’s down to the actual build of the model and the quality that the builder’s impressed in the model and the subject material. In the UK we tend to find that people prefer British ships rather than French or Spanish galleons. One that’s always popular over here is the Victory as everyone knows it and you can go and visit it. In terms of collectability, people now tend to build their own whereas the older models, constructed several of decades ago, tend to fetch quite a high value if they have been constructed properly.”

Fully rigged sailing ships are often the starting points of collections. “We find here that a lot of people are fascinated by the tall ships, just for their sheer beauty when actually constructed as a model and the fact there aren’t that many left around,” says Malcolm.

Going online and ordering kits to construct pre-built models, via specialist internet sites, is one way of starting a collection. Setting sail on this long-established hobby has never been easier and there are plenty of museums around the world that can provide inspiration.

The Sagres tall ship sails on the River Tagus as it departs Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Stuart Forster.

The Sagres tall ship sails on the River Tagus as it departs Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Stuart Forster.

The ornate ceiling at an intersection of lanes in Muttrah Souq (market) in Muscat, Oman. Photo by Stuart Forster.

Luxury and Shopping in Muscat, Oman

Looking around Muscat in 2014, it’s difficult to believe that just over a generation ago Oman was a country without a single luxury hotel and barely 10km of tarmac road. Times have changed markedly since July 1970, when Qaboos bin Said became the Sultan of Oman.

These days the Gulf Sultanate has more than 10,000km of tarmac road surfaces and zipping along the highway from Muscat International Airport to the centre of Muscat takes just a few minutes by taxi. Life here, for most people, would be almost unimaginable without a car.

Looking out of the taxi‘s windows at the white, open-backed four wheel drive trucks and sizable saloon cars which scoot along the dual carriageway that cuts through the desert, it’s simply not possible for me to picture this as a once insular land. The expansion in the road network is just one of numerous developments in the country’s infrastructure and, in November 2010, helped prompt the United Nations Development Programme to name Oman as the world’s most improved nation over the past 40 years. Today, close by the airport, at the Muscat Hills Golf and Country Club, there’s now even an 18-hole golf course.

As a tourist destination, Muscat now tends to appeal to the top end of the market. The sun-seekers who come here, to lounge around the pools of the top hotels, can look forward to the high international service standards. That said, Omanis pride themselves on the warmth of their hospitality and, while in many spheres of life lessons have been learned by looking abroad, old-fashioned values reign supreme in this respect.

Within the magnificent 38 metre high marble atrium of the Al Bustan Palace Hotel Mohammed Hilal Al-Wahibi smiles and offers me locally grown dates and a cup of cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee, poured from traditional metallic pot known as a dallah, whose protruding spout reminds me of a heron’s beak. Mohammed is dressed in an ankle length dishdasha and a turban known as a mussah, the clothing normally worn by all Omani men in public spaces. When pours me a second cup I realise I’ve forgotten to shake the cup from side to side; the local sign for ‘no more, thanks‘.

I can’t help wondering whether Mohammed has ever offered a coffee to Sultan Qaboos. The country’s ruler reserves the entire ninth floor of the Al Bustan Palace Hotel for his own use. Guests are not permitted so much as a peek within his quarters. Given the opulence of the atrium and comforts of the 300m² Presidential Suite, which I do get to see, it must be something special.

The hotel’s sea-facing rooms overlook a kilometre long private beach and palm grove. The cost of the hotel‘s construction, in 1985, which involved flattening a small mountain, and renovation, which was completed in 2008, has never been disclosed.

The boutique shops on the ground floor include an Amouage store, in which the world’s most expensive perfume – whose golden liquid is richly scented with Omani frankincense – can be sampled and bought.

To purchase frankincense, which is produced from the dried sap of trees which grow out in the desert, I head to Muttrah Souq in Muscat’s oldest quarter, down by the port. The sweeping Muttrah waterfront is known as the Corniche and is regarded as the best place to come for shops selling gold and intricate Omani silverware.

The covered market offers great opportunities to pick up bargains – so long as you are willing to haggle towards the final price – while simultaneously seeing something of Omani heritage. A heady scent of frankincense wafts through the market’s broad walkways. Stalls selling silks, cashmere scarves, shoes and everyday household items ensure that the market draws locals as well as tourists.

One of the most popular souvenir items are silver Khanjar daggers, which can often be seen worn on the belts of Omani men. The filigree silverwork on the most ornate of the curved scabbards warrants a hefty price no matter how well you can negotiate.

If you are a hardened shopper, you might pass on the opportunity to take a look at the colourful facade of the sultan’s Al Alam Royal Palace in favour of a trip to the Qurum District of Muscat, which hosts several malls. The Al Araimi mall has everything from Bosch electronics to Rolex watches while the Capital Stores complex stocks products by the leading names in the world of haute couture.

After some intense sightseeing and shopping, I‘m glad of the opportunity to relax out at the Chedi resort, whose 350 metre long private beach leads out into the warm blue water of the Gulf of Oman. Part of this beautifully designed boutique resort, which blends Omani architecture with elements of Zen, is reserved exclusively for adults looking to get away from the stresses of daily life. Families, meanwhile, are welcome around the resort‘s Serai Pool.

Oman’s modernisation may only have begun four decades ago but for visitors seeking luxury experiences Muscat now has much to offer.

Further Information

Find out more about the country via the Visit Oman website.

Learn more about the Al Bustan Palace Hotel, Muscat Hills Golf and Country Club and Chedi Muscat via their respective websites.

Dusk over the Corniche in Oman.  Photo by Stuart Forster.

Dusk over the Corniche in Oman. Photo by Stuart Forster.