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Malta, Malta
Malta is actually an archipelago of three islands
Three hundred days of sunshine, crystal clear Mediterranean waters, seven thousand years of history, thriving local traditions, a vibrant nightlife and laid-back rural villages – Welcome to Malta! Malta is actually an archipelago of three islands – Malta (the commercial and cultural centre), Gozo (its more rural sister) and Comino (which is largely uninhabited). Spread over only 316 square kilometres, getting around the many attractions the Maltese islands have to offer couldn't be easier especially if renting a car during your stay. This traveller friendly country is made even more accessible thanks to the bilingual (Maltese and English) nature of the vast majority of its 400,000 inhabitants. It is difficult to comprehend how much is packed in this smallest of the European Union member states. The capital Valletta, with its fortifications and history-filled streets, is probably the most known place in Malta and gems such as St. John's Co-Cathedral justify its reputation. The picture perfect medieval citadel of Mdina is another great draw and a surreal evening walk round its lamp-lit hidden laneways is a must. Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea (together known as The Three Cities) were home to the first Knights of Malta and their forts are an exquisite sight for the many cruise passengers entering the majestic Grand Harbour throughout the year. If medieval is too recent in your history gauge, then you certainly cannot be disappointed with the exceptional UNESCO World Heritage Megalithic Temples and the Hypogeum subterranean tombs in Southern Malta dating back up to 3,600 B.C.! Sliema and St.Julian's are the entertainment centres of the islands. This is where the majority of Malta's opulent 5-star hotels are situated, where exquisite restaurants are dishing out local and international gastronomic delights, where the more affluent locals reside and meet up for an early evening stroll along the waterfront promenade and where the young (and young at heart) enjoy the nightlife into the early hours of the morning in Paceville. Has the mention of such indulgence got your head swirling? Then head out to Northern Malta where you can relax in some of the prettiest beaches in the Mediterranean, set-out on a countryside walk in the unique rugged countryside and feast your eyes on the imposing coastal cliffs. Alternatively, catch the 30-minute ferry to the local's favourite hideaway – Gozo. Renting a converted 400-year old farmhouse in Gozo is the best way to escape the package-holiday crowds and to enjoy the slower pace of rural life in this picturesque island. It also offers the most incredible spots for diving and is only a stone throw away from the crystal clear waters of the Blue Lagoon in Comino.

Holy Chapel (La Sainte-Chapelle), Paris, France
Beautiful Sainte-Chapelle
Built by the obsessively pious Louis IX (1226–70), this Gothic jewel is home to the oldest stained-glass windows in Paris. The chapel was constructed over three years, at phenomenal expense, to house the king's collection of relics acquired from the impoverished emperor of Constantinople. These included Christ's Crown of Thorns, fragments of the Cross, and drops of Christ's blood—though even in Louis's time these were considered of questionable authenticity. Some of the relics have survived and can be seen in the treasury of Notre-Dame, but most were lost during the Revolution. The narrow spiral staircase by the entrance takes you to the upper chapel where the famed beauty of Sainte-Chapelle comes alive: 6,458 square feet of stained glass is delicately supported by painted stonework that seems to disappear in the colorful light streaming through the windows. Deep reds and blues dominate the background, noticeably different from later, lighter medieval styles such as those of Notre-Dame's rose windows. The chapel is essentially an enormous magic lantern illuminating 1,130 biblical figures. Its 15 windows—each 50-feet high—were dismantled and cleaned with laser technology during a 40-year restoration, completed in 2014 to coincide with the 800th anniversary of St. Louis’s birth. Besides the dazzling glass, observe the detailed carvings on the columns and the statues of the apostles. The lower chapel is gloomy and plain, but take note of the low, vaulted ceiling decorated with fleurs-de-lis and cleverly arranged Ls for Louis. Sunset is the optimal time to see the rose window; however, to avoid waiting in killer lines, plan your visit for a weekday morning, the earlier the better. Come on a sunny day to appreciate the full effect of the light filtering through all of that glorious stained glass. You can buy a joint ticket with the Conciergerie: lines are shorter if you purchase it there or online, though you'll still have to go through a longish metal detector line to get into Sainte-Chapelle itself. Sights aside, the chapel makes a divine setting for classical concerts

Musee Rodin, Paris, France
MUSÉE RODIN REVIEW
Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) briefly made his home and studio in the Hôtel Biron, a grand 18th-century mansion that now houses a museum dedicated to his work. He died rich and famous, but many of the sculptures that earned him a place in art history were originally greeted with contempt by the general public, which was unprepared for his powerful brand of sexuality and raw physicality. During a much-needed, multiyear renovation that has closed parts of the Hôtel Biron (it's set to finish in late 2014), the museum is showcasing a pared-down, "greatest hits" selection of Rodin's works. Highlights Most of his best-known sculptures are in the gardens. The front garden is dominated by The Gates of Hell (circa 1880). Inspired by the monumental bronze doors of Italian Renaissance churches, Rodin set out to illustrate stories from Dante's Divine Comedy. He worked on the sculpture for more than 30 years, and it served as a "sketch pad" for many of his later works. Look carefully and you can see miniature versions of The Kiss (bottom right), The Thinker (top center), and The Three Shades (top center). Inside the museum, look for The Bronze Age, which was inspired by the sculptures of Michelangelo: this piece was so realistic that critics accused Rodin of having cast a real body in plaster. There's also a room (condensed during the renovation) of works by Camille Claudel (1864–1943), Rodin's student and longtime mistress, who was a remarkable sculptor in her own right. Her torturous relationship with Rodin eventually drove her out of his studio—and out of her mind. In 1913 she was packed off to an asylum, where she remained until her death. For €1 you can enjoy the 7 acres of gardens. If you want to linger, the Café du Musée Rodin serves meals and snacks in the shade of the garden's linden trees. As you enter, a gallery on the right houses temporary exhibitions. An English audioguide (€6) is available for the permanent collection and for temporary exhibitions. Buy your ticket online for priority access (€1.80 extra fee).




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