UNESCO Towns

Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle sits on a volcanic plug, one of the seven Hills that make up city of Edinburgh. The city itself has to be one of the most stunning cities you can visit, offering not only the castle, but also multiple Georgian buildings, a beautiful Cathedral, parks, Holyroodhouse Palace, museums, nightlife, and just about anything else you can look for while on a vacation.

The Royal Mile is the biggest draw for tourists because it begins with the Palace of Holyroodhouse and ends with Edinburgh Castle. On either side of the Royal Mile are Old Town and New Town (1760s to 1890s), which are also excellent places to visit. Leith on the Forth is another popular place to visit. That is where you will find the Royal yacht Britannia.

The architecture in Edinburgh is pretty spectacular, and it seems like every single building has gigantic Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns, except for the very modern Scottish Parliament building, which seems like it was plopped into the middle of a neighborhood where it doesn’t belong.

Torun, Poland

Sighisoara, Romania

Stop #13

As one guide book stated, the Medieval town is so pretty it should be arrested! Sighisoara looks like the buildings that Disney tries to emulate when drawing backgrounds for its fairy tales. Largely built in the 16th century, the homes have colored tile roofs.  I didn’t get much sleep this night because I wanted twilight, night, and dawn photos…and it was definitely worth it!

The city is also the birthplace of Vlad Tepes the Impaler (his statue is in one of the photos).

Sighisoara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Guimarães, Portugal

Stop #28:

One of my favorite cities on this trip was medieval Guimarães.  We stayed at an old monastery converted into a hotel.  In the fact, the history of the monastery is described below.

The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a 2012 European Capital of Culture.  You will see a picture below with the words “aqui nasceu Portugal”, which means “ Portugal was born here”.  Actually, Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, was born here.  He eventually brought together lands between the Minho and Douro rivers.  From Guimaeres, Afonso Henriques eventually took back Lisbon from the Moors in 1147.  While the city was the first capital of Portugal, power eventually moved to Coimbra and later to Lisbon.

Highlights:

  • Castelo de Guimarães – Alfonso Henriques was born in this castle (lots of photos of the ruins below).
  • Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Bragança). The Paço dos Duques de Bragança is a 15th-century palace that once belonged to the dukes of Bragança but which is now the official regional seat of Portugal’s president. These are the photos below with the tapestries and heavy wood furniture with porcelain and paintings.
  • Pousada de Guimarães, Santa Marinha – We stayed at this pousada (former monastery) from the 12th-century.  It was originally founded by the wife of Dom Afonso Henriques to honor the patron saint of pregnant women. Our room was a former monk cell.  We enjoyed the gardens on a sunny and warm February day.  The views were also pretty extraordinary.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Segovia, Spain

Stop #19:

In the middle of the plains, Segovia pops out the middle of nowhere with yellow orange stone buildings and Roman and medieval monuments.  Segovia has a long history with Romans, Moors, and Christians all living here.  Isabella the Catholic (married to Ferdinand of Aragón), was crowned queen of Castile here.

Segovia’s castle (the Alcázar) was a really cool place.  Basking in sun when we arrived, the sky was quickly cloudy and I missed a few good photos from the roof of the castle.  But just before leaving, the sun popped out and the nice people at the castle let us climb back up the tower to get a couple photos (and then my camera battery died because there is so much to photograph in this city).

Highlights:

  • Acueducto Romano. Segovia’s Roman aqueduct is one of the greatest surviving examples of Roman engineering. The granite blocks have no mortar holding them together, but the aqueduct has been standing since the end of the 1st century AD.
  • Alcázar. While it dates from Roman times, the castle was expanded in the 14th century and remodeled in the 15th century.  After a fire in 1862, it was remodeled.  As mentioned above, we had to climb the narrow spiral staircase in the tower twice to get pictures of sunny Segovia!  I also got plenty of pictures of the throne room, the chapel, and the bedroom used by Ferdinand and Isabella.
  • Cathedral. Begun in 1525 and completed 65 years later, Segovia’s Gothic cathedral replaced an older cathedral that was destroyed in a battle.   I got some photos of this church at night, but it wasn’t easy.  The church is not lit up (at least the evening I was there).  Thanks to a tripod, a great sensor on my camera, extended shutter release, and a forced ISO200 that left the shutter open for about 30 seconds, I got a few photos of the Cathedral looking like it was lit by bright floodlights!
  • Plaza Mayor. Next to the cathedral is the Plaza Mayor, which probably is bustling in the summer but wasn’t too busy in February!

We stayed at the Eurostars Convento Capuchinos, which combined modern furnishings with the old structure of the Oblatas Convent, making it the city’s first five-star hotel.  It was really amazing inside.  The original building consisted of a church, a convent and the founders’ residence. The church has been converted into a gourmet restaurant, and the other two areas house the rooms and the hotel’s common services.

We ate at Mesón de José María. This mesón (or traditional tavern-restaurant) had several traditional Castilian specialties.  I ate Cochinillo which a lady at the bar recommended to me (it is a suckling pig!).  I felt bad eating it.  It tasted more like chicken than pork.  Randy had venison, which was actually really good.  I probably won’t eat either of these dishes any time soon.  Catholic guilt.  Bambi and Babe were all I could think about after that meal.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Avila, Spain

Stop #18:

Ávila’s walls are still intact from the Middle Ages. Begun in 1090, shortly after the town was reclaimed from the Moors, the walls were completed in only nine years, but it took 1,900 men!

The walls have nine gates and 88 round towers.  We took the advice of several travel books and crossed the Adaja Riverto see the walls from a great vantage point.

Ávila is most famous because of a saint named St. Teresa, who was born here in 1515.  Many of the photos below are from her chapel and church.  She was born into a noble family of Jewish origin, but later converted to Catholocism.  We bought some of the yemas (candied egg yolks) made famous by St. Teresa for my mother.  She’ll have to let us know how they were.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Caceres, Spain

Stop #8:

Caceres was a highlight for me.  I immediately fell in love with all the old buildings in the square…well after a little mishap.

OK, I’m not always the best navigator, but this was the worst I’ve ever done.  Especially when my offline map on Google Maps switched to pedestrian maps instead of driving maps with no advance warning.  I should have known something was wrong when we were driving down the narrowest street I’ve ever seen.  I cautiously said, “Google is telling us to go left…err, go straight, no make a right…now a quick left…”.  Then Randy said, “are you sure we are supposed to be driving on this street?”  That is when we arrived at the highlight of Caceres…the Plaza Mayor…for pedestrians only.  It was so beautiful, but cars were NOT ALLOWED anywhere near here!!!  Oh god, we had to do a U-turn on a street the size of a postage stamp.  Then there were signs I didn’t see the first time we went down this little alleyway … all in Spanish telling us that cameras were monitoring our every move and that we can’t drive anywhere near here because this is for pedestrians only!!! Oh God, I swear I just followed the damned navigation software.  Can’t Google get their algorithms correct?

After getting out of that hairy situation, we arrived at the parking garage near the hotel and walked to the hotel.  I started breathing again a half hour later.

I couldn’t believe how old this place looked.  And I don’t mean 1600s old like I’m used to seeing in the American historical cities around Boston, but really old because Caceres was founded by the Romans in 25 BC!!!  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the blend of Roman, Moorish, Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture.  The pictures speak for themselves…the town is amazingly beautiful!

We stayed in Plaza Mayor, yes the square that inaugurated our visit. Just beyond Plaza Mayor was one of the best-preserved medieval neighborhoods in Spain…the Ciudad Monumental (monumental city or old town, also called the casco antiguo or Cáceres Viejo).  When people tell you to visit in the off-season, they mean it.  You have the place to yourself.  If you are looking to meet a lot of locals, you’ll want to visit somewhere else.  But if you want to see one of the most stunning cities in Spain and not have a lot of people in loud colored clothing ruining your photos, this timing is ideal.

Finally, there is that pronunciation issue with this town’s name (Kuh-THE-Rus)…makes me a little self-conscious to say it this way, so I just say Kuh-Sa-Rus.

Highlights of Caceres:

  • The Museo de Cáceres is located in Casa de las Veletas (House of the Weather Vanes), a 12th-century Moorish mansion that is now used as the city’s museum. This was a perfect place when it started drizzling outside.  We saw archaeological ehibits from the Paleolithic through the Visigothic periods, contemporary art (which isn’t my favorite), and a famous El Greco. The museum even had a Moorish cistern— the aljibe.
  • The only palace open to the public is the Palacio de Carvajal.  There isn’t that much to see, but it is representative of other palaces with arched doorways, a tower, and the interior has been restored with 16th century furnishings.
  • Santa María de Gracia Cathedral is a Gothic church built the 16th century.  We climbed the tower for great city views.  I also stitched together a panorama of the city with multiple shots and really liked the final product.
  • San Francisco Javier Church is an 18th century Baroque church which offered us another chance to climb the tower for great views of the city (and storks!).

Anyone curious about the story of the hoods an masks in some of the photos should read about Holy Week in Caceres…https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Week_in_Spain.  The participants disguise themselves with a penitential robe or tunic and a hood with conical tip. The robes were used in the medieval period for penitents, who could demonstrate their penance while still masking their identity.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Evora, Portugal

Stop #3:

Évora, a university town, is the capital of the central Alentejo. It sits on a hill (as every city in Portugal seems to do), and it is surrounded by cork and olive trees.  The central main section of town in Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  You will see that the streets are narrow and winding.

During the Roman times, Evora was a town called Liberalitis Julia.  There are still some signs of Roman times today with the large Temple of Diana (pictures below).

The Moors also settled in this area in 715 and stayed for 450 years.

Some of the highlights are:

  • Sé is a Gothic-style cathedral constructed in 1186 from huge granite blocks, with two asymmetrical towers and battlement-ringed walls.   Some of the photos below show the marble columns with statues of the apostles. The Museu de Arte Sacra da Sé (Sacred Art Museum) also has some items pictured below.
  • Igreja de São Francisco – this is the second of Évora’s churches after the Se. It dates from the early 16th century, on the site of a former Gothic chapel.
  • Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) is the main attraction within the Igreja de São Francisc. Above the doorway you will see the following (translated):  “We, the bones that are here, await yours.” There are bones of approximately 5,000 skeletons dug up from cemeteries in the area.
  • Igreja dos Lóios is a small church next to the former Convento dos Lóios, which is now the Pousada dos Lóios.  You will see it below with the Temple of Diana.
  • Templo Romano (Roman Temple or Diana Temple) is well-preserved ruins of the Roman Temple dominate Largo do Conde de Vila Flor. It was probably built in the 1st to 2nd century AD.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

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