Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 13, 2017
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Less-is-more Europe

Less expensive, less crowded, but no less charming, these lesser-known cities have plenty to offer

Once we dreamed, saved, plotted and planned for a European sojourn. Today, with the continent more accessible than ever, it seems those once-in-a-lifetime trips across the pond are turning into annual events.

The downside is that, with more visitors than ever, top-tiered cities like London, Paris and Rome are becoming pricier for tourists. So we've uncovered six underrated urban destinations that deserve more than their current "B-list" ranking.

Our choices are hiding in plain sight just beyond the usual tourist track, and a new slew of budget airlines and high-speed train links put them easily within reach. So why not take the road less travelled?


Bologna, Italy: No Baloney
Now that foodies have eaten their way through the best-known Italian cities, some centres formerly relegated to stopover status are finally getting the star billing they deserve. Bologna (www.bolognaturismo.info), the capital of Emilia-Romagna, is a case in point.

This northern region gave us Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, balsamic vinegar and Parma ham. Moreover, Bologna itself is the "birthplace" of tortellini, tagliatelle, mortadella and that rich meaty ragù alla Bolognese. From stand-up stalls to upscale restaurants, there is no shortage of places to sample these local specialties. A growing number of cooking classes are available for hands-on gourmets as well (www.shawguides.com has listings).

But if you hope to share the city's culinary bounty without sharing its nickname ("Bologna the Fat") it would be wise to work off some calories by power-walking around glorious Piazza Maggiore or climbing the 498 steps of Torre degli Asinelli, one of the city's two historic leaning towers (take that, Pisa!).

Need another reason to visit? Bologna offers excellent value. Meals here cost significantly less than they would in Florence, Rome or Venice; even at the molto chic UNA Boutique Hotel (www.unahotels.it) you can score a room for $140 a night.

Bonus Points: The city is also sometimes called Bologna la Dotta ("Bologna the learned") because it's home to Europe's oldest university. To get a taste of academic life without having to worry about homework, visit the 17th-century anatomy theatre in Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. In this elaborately paneled room, statues of a dozen famed physicians stare down upon a marble-topped dissection table.


Liverpool, England: More than Beatles
It is often said that if "you tire of London, you tire of life." Well, in 2008 the same holds true of Liverpool (www.visitliverpool.com) as this port city in northwest England shakes off its hardscrabble image and becomes the year's European Capital of Culture (www.liverpool08.com). Among the more than 350 scheduled events are decidedly upscale exhibits at the Tate Liverpool (the largest British art museum outside of London) and the Walker Art Gallery, showcasing the works of Gustav Klimt and the Impressionists respectively. Orchestral concerts and specially-commissioned theatre pieces are on tap, too; however, the city's pop culture roots have not been forgotten.

Liverpool, of course, gained fame as the hometown of the Beatles. So it is only fitting that the Fab Four still get their due. Paul McCartney headlines a Liverpool Sound concert on June 1; the National Trust is giving guided tours of McCartney and Lennon's childhood homes March through November. At any time of year, you can also take in the newly-expanded Beatles Story: a museum-style experience located in the restored Albert Dock warehouses. Within the same complex, a hip Holiday Inn Express (www.hiexpress.com) offers double rooms from $140.

Bonus Points: Once one of the world's busiest ports, Liverpool remembers its seagoing past by hosting a series of new themed exhibits at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. As if that wasn't enough, the city's UNESCO-designated waterfront will serve as the starting point for the 100-plus vessel Tall Ships Race and the finish line for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race in July.


Munich, Germany: Architecture and Horsepower
Think an 85th birthday is a big deal? Imagine turning 850. That's what Munich is doing (www.muenchen.de) this year; the party it's throwing for itself should help the Bavarian capital emerge from the long shadow cast by its big sister, Berlin. This city has always worn its age well: witness the gothic splendor of Frauenkirche Cathedral or the baroque beauty of Nymphenburg Palace. But, in honour of its birthday, Munich is polishing up other architectural gems with extensive renovations to both City Museum and Cuvilliés Theatre. The latter, appropriately, raises the curtain in June with a performance of Mozart's Idomeneo: it's an opera that premiered here in 1781.


Culture of the fjords
Little-known Stavanger, Norway ( www.stavanger2008.no ) shares the Capital of Culture title this year. The line-up of 200 events may not compare in star power to Liverpool but instead celebrates all that is local with some inventive and curious attractions, many of which will take place in the dramatic setting of Norway's famous fjords.

One performance piece on a submersed platform will give the impression that actors are walking on water. The aerial gymnastic team Project Bandaloop, known for dancing down the sides of skyscrapers, will perform July 4 by bounding off the boulders and sheer cliffs of nearby Gloppedalsura. Sounds From The Cathedral features 75 concerts of new and old music written to be performed in a church.

Norwegian Wood will feature exhibits of sustainable design and architecture, and Scandinavian fairytales will be acted out to music and dance in an outdoor venue all summer long. Article Biennale in November presents interactive works dedicated to electronically based art.


A world fair that's all wet
Feeling thirsty? Spain will quench that desire, provided it's water you're after. Water and Sustainable Development is the theme of the 2008 World Expo in Zaragoza (www.expozaragoza2008.es) from June 14 to September 14. The Spanish are proving adept at hosting world fairs: building on the success of Expo '92 in Seville, this northern city will be transformed with 140 pavilions dedicated to different waterscapes, including rainforests, an aquarium, cities of water, aquatic inspirations and extreme water.

The Bridge Pavilion across the River Ebro, by starchitect Zaha Hadid, will serve as an undulating transition from the city to the expo site and will double as the main entrance as well as a pavilion in its own right. The Aragón Pavilion, resembling a giant basket to symbolize the local craft of basket weaving, will become the regional parliament after the show packs up. Besides eye-catching architecture, Zaragoza has a busy cultural program with 3400 acts, including the nightly Iceberg: a sound and light show projected on an artificial berg floating in the river.


Divas on demand
Cranking up the opera music while driving through the Italian countryside always seems like the right thing to do, and this year there'll be more opportunity to see opera live when Italy breaks out in song to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Giacomo Puccini (www.puccinifestival.it).

The maestro behind Madama Butterfly, La Bohème and Tosca gets a new 3200-seat amphitheatre and sculpture garden where he spent most of his life and found inspiration -- by a lake in Torre del Lago, near the attractive Tuscan city of Lucca. The Puccini Festival runs from June 15 to August 17.

Opera houses throughout the country will also feature Puccini this year, including Milan's Teatro alla Scala and La Fenice in Venice. Another terrific place to catch al fresco opera is the Arena di Verona. This Roman coliseum hosts large-scale productions from June 20 to August 31.


50 years of Danish modern
Copenhagen's Louisiana Museum (www.louisiana.dk), which is home to one of Europe's leading collections of contemporary art, is 50 years old this year. To celebrate, it's hosting a heavyweight show that brings together 170 works by Cézanne and Giacometti until June 29. Subtitled Art is Hard Work, it will be both a retrospective of their output and an examination of the parallels in their approach. It's not an obvious pairing -- Giacometti was only five when Cézanne died--but it promises to be a treat nonetheless.

And there's more to Copenhagen's art credentials. The city is host to several more enticing permanent collections -- notably the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (classical sculpture and the Impressionists), the Statens Museum (everything from Titian to Matisse), and the super-cool Ordrupgaard, part of which is housed in a bold, glass-sided blob designed by London-based starchitect Zaha Hadid.

To complete the experience, check in at the Royal (tel: 888-201-1718; www.royal.copenhagen.radissonsas.com; doubles from $250), designed in its entirety by 20th-century icon Arne Jacobsen.


Faster train connections
Europe-bound travellers this year will benefit from a number of improvements to the rail network that have slashed travel times between main destinations. London and Paris are now only two hours and 15 minutes apart on the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com).

The Lötschberg tunnel in Switzerland opened in December and, at 34.6 kilometres, is the world's longest overland tunnel. Trains race through at 200 kilometres an hour and cut the journey time between Germany and Italy from three and half hours to just under two.

There is also the TGV Est ( www.tgv.com/EN/ ) line in France that reduces the trip from Paris to Strasbourg to two hours and 20 minutes.

Finally, a new marketing alliance of high speed railways in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland, called Railteam ( www.railteam.eu ), plans to unveil a new service to its website this year. It will provide a comprehensive listing of timetables and prices from one end of the continent to the other.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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