7 onvergetelijke ervaringen in Sardinië

Begin juni doorkruiste ik samen met 4 vrienden het Italiaanse eiland. Een hoogmis van prachtige landschappen, lekkere gelati en vriendschap. Hieronder mijn persoonlijke zeven hoogtepunten.

La Maddalena

We mochten ook allemaal 5 minuutjes varen naar de ‘vuurtoren op het eiland’ waar de kapitein gretig heen wijst. FC De Kampioenen gewijs bleken er twee vuurtorens te zijn.

1. Zeiltocht in La Maddalena Archipelago

Toegegeven, op het moment zelf niet meteen mijn moment suprême. Na een uitgebreide risicoanalyse besloot ik mijn doodsangsten op het dek uit te zweten. Vastbesloten dat mijn overlevingskansen daar hoger zouden zijn dan in de kajuit. Terwijl de boot vervaarlijk horizontaal boven het water zweefde, nam ik afscheid van mijn vrienden en stuurde ik een sms aan Het Lief. Ik nam mentaal afscheid van al mijn aardse bezittingen: die fotocamera zou een val in het water beslist niet overleven en met mijn smartphone had ik met het smsje naar Het Lief net mijn laatste wapenfeit gepleegd. Laat één ding duidelijk zijn: I have no chill. Intussen schaterden mijn collega-passagiers en beleefden zij de tijd van hun leven. Die tijd beleefde ik ook zodra ik van de zeilboot in het zalige Mediterraanse water sprong.

Maddalena

Gouden Tip: In het water kan niemand zien hoeveel doodsangsten je al uitgezweet hebt die dag.

2. Tocht door Gola di Gorropu

De marketing van de Gola di Gorropu zit alleszins goed in elkaar: de kloof wordt aangeprezen als de Grand Canyon van Europa. Die titel moet het dan wel delen met een resem andere Europese kloven, zoals de Gorges du Verdon of de Tara River Canyon. Slechts één manier om te weten hoe deze kloof zich verhoudt met zijn Amerikaanse broer: op onderzoek uit gaan.

Waar ik in de echte Grand Canyon nog op topniveau was en Het Lief gezwind achter mij liet tijdens afdaling én beklimming had de Europese Grand Canyon een ander effect op mij. Tijdens het beklimmen van de vele rotsblokken stak mijn hoogtevrees onverwacht snel de kop op en begon ik ongewild een Griekse tragikomedie uit te beelden. Dramalama on the loose. Ik zou kunnen zeggen dat ik ‘gewoon de stalen zenuwen van mijn vrienden’ wou testen, maar in realiteit was het allemaal helemaal niet stoer. Wel stoer: de half-man, half-berggeit die op zijn moccasins door de kloof dartelde. Op het moment zelf haalde deze halfmens/halfgod het tikkeltje zelfvertrouwen dat nog overbleef compleet naar beneden.

Gola di Gorropu

Een geboren berggeit? Dan is de Gola di Gorropu jouw natuurlijke habitat. Een gewone menselijke sterveling? Dan doe je best stevige wandelschoenen aan met voldoende grip. De stenen kunnen spekglad zijn.

Ondanks het drama dat zich afspeelde in de kloof bleef de natuurpracht overeind. En hoewel de Gola di Gorropu mij eerder aan Zion National Park deed denken dan aan de Grand Canyon blijft het een grootse canyon.

3. De mooiste straatkatten van Europa

Als je door de vorige twee verhalen denkt dat ik de grootste angsthaas van België ben… dan heb je waarschijnlijk gelijk. Maar één ding doe ik onbesuisd: het zoeken naar (straat)katten. Smalle, louche, slecht belichte steegjes? Geen probleem als er een kat huist! Een verticale klim van 1000m? Geen probleem als er op het einde een kat zit*.

* In theorie; gelieve mij hier niet in realiteit aan te houden.

Eén conclusie: Sardinië heeft prachtige straatkatten. Een absolute meerwaarde in het straatbeeld. Geen fan van katten? Kijk dan zeker niet hieronder.

Kat

Een doodgewone straatkat in Sardinië. 10/10 voor fluffynessfotogeniekheid en die groene ogen. +1 voor sassyness: kijken mocht, aanraken absoluut niet.

4. Roadtrippin’

Wat maakt Sardinië zo mooi? De ruwe kustlijn, de stranden, de kliffen… het landschap. Hoewel de afstanden in Sardinië niet te onderschatten zijn (op vele wegen mag je maximaal 50 km/u rijden) word je beloond met prachtige vergezichten. De auto regelmatig aan de kant zetten en zoeken naar een uitzichtpunt loont dus.

Kust

Af en toe moet je het meekelen met Adele stoppen. Als je dan stopt bij een prachtig uitzichtpunt hebben niet alleen de oren van je medepassagiers de nodige rust, maar krijgen hun ogen er ook nog wat voor.

5. De charmante Italiaanse straatjes

Of we nu op een regenachtige dag stopten in Castelsardo of op een zonnige dag in Bosa: de straatjes streden telkens om de titel ‘het meest pittoresk’. Nog een pluspunt: de straten werden niet overspoeld door een horde toeristen. Je kon dus 100% genieten van hun charme. Zowel in Castelsardo als in Bosa waren de huizen bovendien in prachtige kleuren geschilderd.

Bosa

Typisch straatje in Bosa. En nee: ik heb geen mensen moeten weg ‘shoppen.

6. Food, drinks en gelati

Een gebied waar ik wel op mijn sterkst ben: food, drinks en ijsjes. Véél ijsjes. Mijn favoriet? Nocciola. Mocht ‘t Galetje in Leuven dit lezen: als jullie Nocciola maken, bel mij en ik koop al jullie voorraad in. IJs met hazelnootsmaak is Gods geschenk op aarde en als het dan nog écht Italiaans ijs is dan heb je dubbel geluk. Drie weken later heb ik nog steeds afkickverschijnselen. Los van het ijs heb ik ook enorm genoten van de lekkere pasta’s, visfilets en mocktails. En heb ik ontdekt dat pizza niet typisch Sardiens is. Wat me er niet van weerhouden heeft om er toch meer dan genoeg van te eten.

Drankje

Als ik een ijsje vast heb, moet ik dat onmiddellijk oplikken. Gelukkig is er wel beeldmateriaal van deze lekkere mocktail. Al had dat ook niet veel gescheeld.

7. Friends en fun

Oké, een beetje cheesy, maar het reisgezelschap maakt een groot deel uit van de reis. En hier had ik geluk om herenigd te zijn met oud-klasgenoten. Gelukkig ging het niet heel de reis over SEO, affiliate marketing of data marketing. Er werd lustig meegezongen in de auto, verhalen uitgewisseld over een stuk pizza of rustig op me ingepraat op momenten dat ik het nodig had (cfr. Gola di Gorropu). En hiervoor kan ik alleen maar zeggen: bedankt!

Friends

Friends + sun = fun.

Praktisch

  • Vliegen kan makkelijk met Brussels Airlines vanaf Zaventem naar Sardinië. Wij vlogen op Olbia en maakten zo een lus doorheen heel Sardinië. We deden dit op acht dagen.
  • Voor de zeiltocht naar La Maddalena boekten we in Palau een kleine zeilboot (8 passagiers; 2 bemanningsleden). De zeilboot doet dezelfde eilandjes aan als de grotere toeristische boten, maar dan in omgekeerde volgorde. Zo mijden ze overbevolking op de kleine eilandjes. Wij vaarden met Il Botta Dritta V. Tip: zorg voor cash geld als je in Palau een boot wilt boeken.
  • De Gola di Gorropu kan je via twee aanvangsroutes beginnen. Een makkelijke (vrij platte) route van 6 km of een zwaardere route (met +/- 700m hoogteverschil) van 4 km. Eens aangekomen in de kloof betaal je 5 euro om de kloof zelf te verkennen. Daar kan je makkelijk de groene (makkelijke) en gele (iets moeilijkere) route volgen. De rode rode is voor experts, incluis gear. Zorg voor voldoende water. Bij de Gola di Gorropu zelf kan je je waterfles vullen met drinkbaar water.
  • De wegen in Sardinië zijn goed onderhouden. Hoewel de afstanden meestal niet lang zijn, moet je voldoende tijd rekenen om van punt A naar punt B te rijden. Op vele wegen geldt een maximumsnelheid van 50 of 80 km/u. We kozen ook steeds voor de scenic routes. Hou er rekening mee dat de wegen in Sardinië zeer bochtig kunnen zijn. Last van wagenziekte? Neem dan zeker medicatie mee (of koop deze ter plaatse).

One day in Nikko

Nikko is a World Heritage Site near Tokyo. You can easily access Nikko by train from Tokyo. We decided to stay overnight in this charming little village in the evenly charming Nikko Turtle Inn.

Even though there are lots of sacred (and silent) places in Tokyo we were immediately drawn to the atmosphere in Nikko. While Japan’s capital is bubbling, alive and filled with salarymen this small town was a lot less sparkling albeit filled with tourists.

You won’t find a lively night scene in Nikko: most restaurants close early and only two grocery stores are open late. A welcome pause from hectic Tokyo.

We first visitied the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nikko including Tosho-gu and Rinno-ji. Rinno-ji temple was under construction while we visited and we must say that we were rather impressed by how these national monuments are being reconstructed. First they build some kind of warehouse around the temple. After building this factory-style warehouse restoration can start. Needless to say renovation works can last quite a while: Rinno-ji temple reconstruction will finish in 2020.


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Rinno-ji temple – reconstruction will finish in 2020


After visiting the restoration site we headed to Tosho-gu. It was extremely crowded at this site. It soon became clear some sort of event was taking place. People were lining up on the steps of Tosho-gu. We did as the locals did and lined up next to them. After a twenty minute wait a ceremony took place and we were happy to spot sumo wrestlers climbing the stairs in their traditional garnements.


Sumo

Sumo wrestlers in Nikko, near Tosho-gu


Tournament season ended before we arrived in Japan, so we didn’t see an actual match. We did see a traditional ceremony: the wrestlers were honoured by LOTS of men in suits.

After the ceremony we entered the temple. Truly beautiful, beautiful detail on the buildings and gates.


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Tosho-gu World Heritage Site


The sites are open to 4.30 PM (during high season). At noon the crowds were deafening. From 3.30 PM onwards the site was almost empty and so quiet it became eerie. Sun was setting, we seemed to be the only tourists in this ancient complex. If you’re visiting the complex: please stay ’till closing time to experience some sort of quiet you just can’t grasp when the tour buses are still parked nearby.

We watched the sun set over Shinkyo bridge.


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Shinkyo bridge in Nikko, Japan


Before leaving Nikko we hiked to the Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss. Despite the grandeur of the Nikko temples this will be the one thing I’ll always remember. On one side: the abyss. On the other side: one row of beautifully dressed buddha statues. On the road: two identically dressed Japanese youngster recording a dance video. Too mesmerized: we didn’t take any pictures of them nor did we film them. But whoa! What a sight. The scenery, the dance moves: perfect. Don’t fear though: even without dancers the scenery is astounding.


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Kanman-ga-Fuchi Abyss in Nikko, Japan


5 days in Tokyo

5 Days in Tokyo

In October we spent five days in Tokyo. I already told you about how I fell in love with Japan on the first day; now let me tell you the rest of our love story.

Let me introduce my Tokyo top tourist activities

Tsujiki Fish Market

I have a dual relationship with Tsujiki Fish Market. According to our Lonely Planet guide, Tripadvisor and other tourist reviews this place is a must-see. True. They also suggest visiting the tuna auction. That one appeared to be a big mistake.

The first time we went to Tsujiki Fish Market we got up at 2 A.M. (yes, at two o’clock in the MORNING). We hauled a cab and arrived at the site at approximately 3.30 A.M. With great ambition we walked toward the Fish Information Centre where you need to apply for the auction. Sadly, a guard told us the auction was sold out: ‘Sold out, come back tomorrow, 3 P.M.’

Sooo… the next day we got up at 1 A.M., grabbed a cab and arrived at about 2 A.M. Great news: we were the fourth and fifth to join the queue. After waiting for about another 3 and a half hours we got to see the tuna auction at 5.45 A.M.

So on a beautiful October morning I found myself looking at dead endangered fish and felt kind of sorry (and maybe also a bit guilty). This guilt trip only intensified when the majority of people in our group started taking selfies. With the dead tuna. To this day I still wonder about how many households have framed photographs of family members and dead tuna.

Luckily the sushi breakfast was awesome.


Selfies at tsujiki fish market

Selfies at Tsujiki Fish Market – tuna auction


Sushi Breakfast

Sushi breakfast near Tsujiki Fish Market


Kabuki

Let me be brief about this one: get food and drinks before attending a kabuki performance. Yes, every written guide recommends getting food, every reviewer tells you so… so listen! Don’t be as stupid as we were and grab yourself some food and drinks and bring them into the theatre. All the Japanese do it; only tourists seem to starve themselves to death during a four hour kabuki performance.

We watched kabuki in the Kabuki-za Theatre and rented an English audio guide. This theatre is highly recommended: friendly staff, great performances and a pretty good English translation.

A kabuki play lasts for about three-four hours. You can also opt for just one act, this will keep you entertained for about an hour.


Kabuki-za Theatre

Kabuki-za Theatre


Kabuki Dance featuring Bando Kotji with live music at Japan Society

Nishizaki Sakurako and Bando Kotji in “Yoshino Mountain”. Photo from Tokyo Times


Robot Restaurant

Only tourists here: best guilty pleasure I’ve ever had. We grabbed some food before heading to this joint since their food reviews appeared to be quite horrible. The show however was everything you can expect: weird robots dancing to weird music.

Afterwards you can dive into Shinjuku neighbourhood; nightlife is supposed to be great here. I shouldn’t know though since I was too busy trying to get into some tuna auction.


Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant


Meiji-Jingu

This is where I fell in love with Japan: beautiful traditional temple in the heart of one of the world’s biggest cities. We saw several traditional wedding processions and were absolutely in awe.


Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu

Traditional wedding at Meiji-Jingu


Senso-ji

Another place of worship and tradition in the big city. We watched a traditional procession of musicians. Or at least we thinks this is what we saw. We only just arrived in Japan and were too pussy to ask. There was also a priest involved if I’m not mistaken. Anyone who can give further detail on what his happening in the pic below: please enlighten me in the comment section of this blog.


Traditional musicians near Senso-ji

Traditional musicians near Senso-ji


Tokyo Sky Tree

The walk towards Tokyo Sky Tree was truly movie-esque. We walked on an empty street, straight to the tower. Before entering the Sky Tree we decided to eat at an icecream parlour. Just a normal activity, made slightly less normal when the personnel started singing a song to us. One song for each icecream ordered. Just a normal day in Japan.


View from Tokyo Sky Tree

View from Tokyo Sky Tree


Shibuya Crossing

Must see. I still wonder why this can work in Japan, but when shopping on Regent Street in London people keep walking into each other. I truly still wonder.


Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing


Ghibli Museum

I love Studio Ghibli movies and visiting the museum was one of my highlights. Walking into the museum is like walking into a Ghibli movie. The museum has a movie theatre playing different short movies. A must if you’re a Ghibli fan. Book in advance. WAAAAY in advance.


Ghibli Museum

Ghibli Museum


Mt Fuji

I opened with a love/hate relation and I end this list with one. Mt Fuji: so beautiful on all those postcards. The icon of a nation. I guess we made the mistake of joining a tourist tour that just wasn’t quite to our taste.

We arrived at Mt Fuji 5th station and looked at the mountain. Let me tell you a basic fact: the iconic mountain doesn’t always have snow on top. This seems logical, this IS logical, but before arriving I seemed to have forgotten about basic scientific principles. So yes, I truly was disappointed when the mountain was as brown as… well, you get the picture. What annoyed me even more were the busloads of tourists. You couldn’t walk 5 feet without running into someone.

Our tour continued to Mt Fuji 5 lakes. Whoa, things got even more out of hand. You couldn’t walk 3 feet without running into someone.

Don’t get me wrong: the lakes were gorgeous and apparently everyone had found out about this. We ended the day taking a look at the truly beautiful Shiraito Falls.


Red bean cakes - Fuji 5 Lakes

Red bean cakes – Fuji 5 Lakes


Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji – wooden prayer plaques

Why I fell in love with Japan

Why I Love Japan

Let me tell you the story about how I fell in love with Japan… twice.

I first fell in love with this Asian nation when I was about thirteen years old. As a teenager I was quite the movie buff. I had only one goal: watch the entire 250 IMDB top rated movies (spoiler alert: I failed). So on a seemingly ordinary day I rented Spirited Away and fell head over heels in love. Only years later I would discover that director Miyazaki had been inspired by Taiwan. I loved the story, the characters, the magic and the stunning visual landscapes I had never encountered before.


Spirited Away movie still

Still from Spirited Away


After watching a sh*tload of other Ghibli films I made a promise to myself: One day I would travel to Japan and live my own Ghibli movie.

The second time I fell in love with Japan was October 2015. After waiting for about fourteen years I finally made it to my dream destination. I would lie if I told you I immediately fell in love with the country. Narita airport was like any other airport, maybe even a bit outdated. I still don’t know what I expected of my first touchdown on Japanese soil but is was just… normal.

I did fall in love on my first day there though. I remember being grouchy and giving my boyfriend a really hard time after landing in Tokyo. After the twelve hour flight I only wanted to shower, shower and probably shower some more. This is one of my worst character traits: I always want/need to shower. Since our hotel room wasn’t yet ready we waited in a nearby restaurant (which disappointingly only served ‘western’ food). My mood grew darker and darker until our room was ready and my beloved bathroom awaited.

And then it happened: still not feeling 100% happy we went on to explore Tokyo. Our first stop: Meiji-Jingu. At Tokyo’s largest shinto shrine I forgot all my worries, all my first world problems, all my nagging and fell in love. Fell in love with this acient place in the midst of a modern metropolis.


Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine

Wooden prayer plaques at Meiji Jingu


Traditional wedding Meiji Jingu

Traditional wedding at Meiji Jingu


During the next weeks I will highlight all the different places we went and why they were so great. I believe many people have a certain image of Japan that doesn’t necessarily reflect the true nature of the country. Japan isn’t only about big cities and weird KitKat. It has stunning mountain ranges, beautiful temples and hot water springs other countries can only dream about.

Up next: All things Tokyo.


Shibuya crossing

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo


Two (and a half) days in Dublin

In May 2015 we took a short term citytrip to Dublin. We stayed in Ireland’s capital for two and a half days and we truly made the most of it (or so we would like to believe).

When your time is limited you have to make choices. I’ll tell you about the choices we made and the opportunities we let go. Want some snapshots? You can find them on our Facebook page.

Day One – Top choices

  • Temple Bar Area in the morning: No noisy/drunken tourists for us, but beautiful street art and nice little streets to wander in.
  • Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Marsh’s Library: I especially loved the little library. Cute and much more quiet than the famous Old Library at Trinity College.
  • Kilmainham Gaol: Even though the most beautiful wing was closed when we were there, it was a really nice tour with a lovely guide and the people working there are some of the nicest people we’ve met in Ireland.
Day Two – Top choices
  • Trinity College: Take a guided tour. It’ll cost you an extra 2 EUR on your entry ticket but it’ll be worth it. Ask for the guide who looks like Harry Potter. After the guided tour you can visit the Old Library (with the Book of Kells) and the Long Room. It was extremely crowded when we were there, so we just glanced at the Book of Kells. The Long Room however was worth the mass hysteria.
  • Take a loooong walk: On our second day in Dublin we went to the outskirts and back by foot. Worth it! We saw teenagers jumping from buildings in the canal, we saw cute little streets and some nice street art.
  • Queen of Tarts: Some sugary go(o)d(d)(n)ess.
 
Day Three – Top Choices
  • The real highlight on this day: Viking Splash Tours! A fun way to explore the city with (adult) children. Become a Viking and roar at passing Kelts. Watch them toss their maps and learn some history of the city at the same time. Plus you get to wear a viking helmet.
  • Dublinia: a nice museum, especially if you have children. If you don’t: just act like one, it’s worthwhile. The museum is connected to Christ Church, you can buy a combi ticket and save some euros.

10 things to do (or not do) in Budapest

I recently visited Budapest on a five day trip with four amazing friends. It was the second time I visited this lovely city and this time I _really_ fell for this sparkling metropolis.

I’ll keep it short(ish) and sum up my personal top ten things to do in Budapest:

1. Visit the Thermal Baths

Oh God, how I love the baths. Usually I am not a ‘spa person’, but in Budapest I don’t seem to mind. If you only have time for one spa I would recommend Széchenyi Baths for their sheer immensity. It has the largest number (and variety) of baths. If numbers mean nothing to you Gellért is also a great choice. It has a limited number of baths but the architecture is overwhelming.

On a side note: during summer some baths organize special events. We went to Sparty (kudos to whoever thought of that name), a late night part at the Széchenyi Baths. Even though I wouldn’t do it again, it was a once in a lifetime experience. If you decide to go however: (1) rent your own cabin, (2) bring your own towel and (3) be prepared for drunken teenagers and lewd behaviour.

2. Eat like you’ve never eaten before

Budapest is a melting pot of different cuisines and when out with a group this is a really great thing. If you visit in spring/summer make sure to go to one of the many kerts (the most famous is Szimpla Kert). These open air venues serve lots of different foods and have a great atmosphere. If you visit in winter/autumn you can always go to Zeller Bistro. A really great Hungarian restaurant serving Hungarian wine and delicious dishes. Make sure to book a table though.

3. Parliament

This will probably shock all my friends (they know how much I love London) but the Parliament in Budapest is the most beautiful one I’ve seen so far. They also have an interesting English tour I would highly recommend.

4. Castle District

Stroll down the castle districts with its Royal Palace, Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion. If you are on a tight schedule: you can skip the interior bits. Enjoy the warm Budapest weather and take your time to breathe in the beauty. If it rains: yes, you can go inside.

5. Take the right cab

Maybe a weird highlight, but taking the right cab can save you loads of money you can later spend on thermal baths, food, clothing or museums. At one point it seemed like at least one in two cabs were a fraud. You can spot them by looking for a logo. Does your taxi bear a logo? Everything’s fine. Is it just yellow? Turn around and grab another one.

6. House of Terror

We didn’t go to House of Terror this time, but I visited over five years ago. The feeling still lingers: the museum is one giant emotional roller coaster (spoiler: with mostly downs). It is done so beautifully, so sincerely I count it as one of the most interesting history/war museums I’ve ever set foot in.

7. Great Synagogue

We took the English tour and our guide – a lovely young lady – really spoke to me. Historically a really significant place in Budapest.

8. Basilica of St Stephen

Lovely atmosphere on the square next to is, beautiful view from the top and a stunning interior: this is one top-notch cathedral.

9. Street art and architecture

Many facades in Budapest streets are gorgeous. Either because they are so old or because they have great street art covering them. Just get lost in the streets and let the beauty of the city lead you.

10. Opera House

Beautiful building, nice interior and an interesting English tour. You cannot ask for more, can you?

3 Things to do in Stuttg

We spent the first weekend of May in Stuttgart, Germany. We came unprepared, which is unusual. We had little time so our visit was brief.

What did we do?

  1. Visit Sinsheim Technik Museum: We visited the Speyer Technik Museum some years ago and were truly impressed. The Speyer Museum has a Boeing 747. You can walk on the wing! The Sinsheim Technik Museum has a Concorde and Tupolev TU-144. We really liked both Speyer and Sinsheim and greatly recommend both museums. Apart from airplanes you can find cars, motor bikes, robots, war exhibitions (including tanks)… and some really funny show room dummies. If you can, you should visit the Speyer museum during the second weekend in May, when they have their ‘Brazzeltag’. On this day the museum comes to life.
  2. Mercedes Benz Museum: We didn’t get enough in the Sinsheim Museum so we decided to go for a second run at the Mercedes Benz Museum. You can find concept cars, oldtimer cars and the familiar Benz cars. Great for car enthousiasts and architecture lovers. The museum resides in a beautiful building – inside and out.
  3. Schlossplatz and surroundings: While we were there it rained non-stop so we couldn’t enjoy it at its upmost. This great city square is the ideal place for a summer picnic. Not into picnics? You can also shop ’till you drop in the nearby streets or enjoy lots of cultural exhibitions in the surrounding buildings.