Most cities have some great escapes. Here are a few thoughts for how to escape the smoke and the traffic for the day:
- Paris. Take the pedestrian way from the Bastille out to the Chateau de Vincennes and its park. It's just a few kilometres mainly along the top of an old railway viaduct and it's a world away from the busy boulevards. Or take the metro to Saint Denis - the first work of the Gothic age in Paris, and the mausoleum of French kings, located in a gritty northern suburb near the gleaming arena of the Stade de France.
- Budapest - take the rail or bus to Szentendre - a little Serbian village on the Danube dominated by the fine spires of its orthodox churches. It was an artists' colony for years and still feels like it.
- Hamburg - an hour's train journey gets you into Lubeck, probably the most beautiful of all the Hanseatic towns of north Germany with its fine Gothic brick architecture.
- Florence - take a trip uphill on the bus to Fiesole, with its amphitheatre, old church, and fine views over the countryside. It couldn't be more different from busy, commercial Florence.
- Venice - get the boat that goes furthest out in the lagoon, to Murano, Burano and, eventually, Torcello. Torcello's fine Byzantine cathedral and baptistery are better known than they were, but if you wander round the island you can still find solitude in the moody marshes.
- Barcelona - take the train for about an hour to Girona, a pretty town on a hillside overlooking its river. The Gothic cathedral, 'Arab baths' and old Jewish quarter are attractive and you can still wander out into the country, though the city has grown recently.
- London has some fine country walks in Epping Forest, at the far eastern end of the central line (that's the red one on the tube map). Or at the other extreme, take a trip out west by train to Hampton Court, Cardinal Wolsey's fine Tudor palace stolen off him by King Henry VIII and used by the royals ever since. If you fancy a longer walk you can get lost in the famous Hampton Court maze.
- Frankfurt. Although it's a major financial centre, full of skyscrapers, Frankfurt has some decent medieval buildings and fine museums - and great cycle lanes! But if you're bored, then you can easily get to Mainz, with its marvellous Romanesque cathedral and fine baroque streets.
- Paris (again) - take a train to Chartres, with the cathedral and city on its hill over the river Eure. Probably the best cathedral in the world, to steal a phrase from Carlsberg.
I'd be interested to see what other people can come up with. The idea is to find side trips that don't involve a car, that don't take up more than an hour travel each way and can be done easily in a day, so you're 'back home' in time for dinner.