Portugal – Day 1 – Porto

Today I embarked on a 12 day trip to Portugal. On my trip I’ll be visiting Porto, Lisbon, Sintra, and Cascais. Usually when I fly to Europe I fly via Amsterdam with KLM, or Frankfurt with Air Canada, however this time the best route was via the Azores with Azores Airlines. My first flight was on a a Westjet Boeing 737-700 to Toronto. My second flight was on a brand new Azores Airlines Airbus A321neo LR to Puerto Delgada, Azores. It was only delivered a few days ago, and still have plastic wrap on some items. This was the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on in my entire life. Quite a few people got ill, and someone had some cardiac issues from stress, however we didn’t divert due to being so close to the Azores when it occurred. My third and final flight was on an Azores Airlines A321neo (non LR). I was upgraded to business class for both the Azores Airlines flights, which was a nice bonus. The food provided onboard was pretty good too!

After arriving in Porto, I took the Metro, which really was not a metro but rather a light rail vehicle, to my hotel called Miragaia Riverside Suites. The front desk gentleman took the time to show me all the great spots I should visit, and recommended a few restaurants that I should try. After checking in I slept for about two hours to get a bit of sleep before I ventured out to explore.

After waking up I headed out for the evening to do some exploring. Before I dive into what I explored, lets go over Portugal’s history, and Porto’s history.

Portugal History

Let’s take a look at the history of Portugal in brief. People have been living in Portugal since about 30000 BC. The first Portuguese were hunters and fishermen. In 5000 BC farming was introduced. Portugal entered the bronze age in 2000 BC. Around 700 BC Celtic tribes entered Portugal from the North, and introduced them to the Iron age. Around the same time Phoenicians (now Lebanon) was also trading with Portugal for tin to make bronze. In 600 BC the Greeks began trading with the Portuguese.

In 210 BC the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula and began conquering the area. The Roman empire began to decline by the middle of the 3rd century, and by the 5th century the Roman Empire in Portugal collapsed. In 409 AD the Suevi (Germanic people) invaded Portugal, and in 585 the Visigoths (Spanish people) conquered the Suevi.

In 711 AD the Moors from North Africa began to invade the peninsula, taking the south. Portugal received it’s official name in the 11th century. In 1095 the King of Leon granted Portugal to his daughter Dona Teresa and her husband. When her husband died she married a Galician noble, which caused the Portuguese nobles to overthrow her during the Battle of Sao Mamede, which was led by her son Don Alfonso Henrique, who then became ruler of Portugal. Talk about being stabbed in the back by your own family!

After becoming King of Portugal, Alfonso set about recapturing territory from the Moors, and eventually defeated them in Ourique in 1139. In 1147 he captured Lisbon, which eventually became the capital in the mid-13th century. Portugal continue to grow until 1348-1949 when the Black Death wiped out about 30% of the population.

By the late 14th century Portugal was drawn into war when King Fernando died because his daughter Beatriz, who became queen, married Juan of Castile. The Portuguese feared that Portugal would become united with Castile and cease to be independent, so they rose in rebellion. Naturally the King of Castile invaded Portugal to support his wife. This war went on for two years, until the Portuguese army won at the Battle of Aljubarrota. Dom Joao became the King of Portugal, and Portugal remained independent.

In 1386 Portugal made an alliance with England. In the 15th century Portugal’s naval fleet grew significantly, and they ended up capturing Cueta in Morocco in 1415, Madeira in 1419, the Azores in 1427, Tangier in 1471, and Bartolomeu Dias in 1488.

Ever heard of Christopher Columbus from Spain? I’m sure you have; well he set sail and discovered the West Indies in 1492. Because the new lands were south of the Canaries he claimed they were his. This argument was ended with the Treaty of Tordesillas being signed in 1494; with Portugal and Spain agreeing that all new land west of a line 370 degrees west of the Cape Verse Islands would belong to Spain, and anything east belonged to Portugal.

Portugal continued its expansion around the globe establishing colonies in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, and even some parts of India. The expansion continued until 1578, when King Sebastian I died in a war in Africa, without leaving a heir. This lead to a steady decline of the Portuguese empire. From 1640-1668 Portugal fought the Restoration War, which restored the King of Portugal, and fended off the Spanish trying to take over Portugal. They also had to fight off Napoleon, which the British helped with.

Portugal began its independence in 1812. A fun fact that many of you may not know is that the ruler of Brazil became the King of Portugal during the 19th century, and the capital city was moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 1808 to 1821. In 1910, the First Portuguese Republic was established after a Republican revolution that also brought on the King’s resignation. It was ended in 1926, in a coup d’état that resulted in a military dictatorship.

In 1933, the Second Republic, also known as Estado Novo (New State), was established by António Oliveira de Salazar. Salazar’s dictatorship was notable for nationalism and isolation, which saved Portugal from being a part World War 1 & 2. He always tried to keep Portugal’s colonies under his rule and many Portuguese had to fight Portugal’s Colonial Wars. This led to the end of Salazar’s dictatorship on April 25, 1974, when the peaceful Carnation Revolution, a military coup d’état, took place. Portugal became a democracy in 1975, and joined the European Union in 1986. Today Portugal has a population of 10.3 million people.

Porto History

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, with a population of 1.7 million. The city center has only 230,000 people, but the metropolis is quite large. Porto is situated along the Douro River, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Porto gets its named from “Oporto”, which translates to “the port”. Pretty self explanatory.

Porto was originally settled in 275 BC by Celtic people. The Roman’s, Moors, and Napoleonic’s then came and occupied the Iberian Peninsula, which we learned about in my writing of the Portuguese history. During the Roman occupation the city was developed as an important commercial port, with trade routes all over the world.

During the 19th Century Porto became known as the city of bridges, with its first permanent bridge being built in 1806. Sadly that bridge didn’t last very long, collapsing only three years later under the weight of thousands of fugitives from the French invasions during the Peninsular War. That bridge was replaced by a suspension bridge called Ponte Pensil in 1843, however only the support pylons still remain today. The Ponte Dom Luis I, designed by Teophile Seyrig, who was a former partner to Gustave Eiffel, eventually replaced this bridge. The final bridge, the Ponte D. Maria railway bridge was opened in November 1843, and was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who created the Eiffel Tower.

Today you can explore some beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites in Porto, such as the historic city center, Luiz I Bridge, and Monastery of Serra do Pilar. Porto is also home to Port Wine, which a red wine that is fortified with Brandy.

Exploring Porto – Day 1

Bolsa Palace, also known as the Stock Exchange Palace, was built between 1842 and 1910. The palace is located beside St. Francis Church of Porto, which was once part of the St Francis Convent, which was founded in the 13th century. In 1832, during the Liberal Wars, a fire destroyed the cloisters of the convent, but spared the church. In 1841, Queen Mary II donated the convent ruins to the city merchants, who then used the spot to build the seat of the Commercial Association. The project, designed by Porto architect Joaquim da Costa Lima Junior, began construction in 1842. The Neoclassical palace was inspired by the designs of other structures that had recently been built in the city. Most of the palace was finished by 1850, however the interior took until 1910 to complete.

Across from Bolsa Palace is Mercado Ferreira Borges. This large red iron building was built in 1885 and named after a famous politician from Porto that supported the liberal troops during the civil war during the 19th century. It was originally intended to be a market, but was never used as one. It was originally built to replace an older market in Ribeira, however didn’t quite fit its purpose. Instead, it was utilized as a warehouse for military equipment, a community kitchen, and in 2010 it was turned into a nightclub and a restaurant.

There’s a very special McDonald’s on Aliados Avenue housed in a beautiful 1930’s era Art Deco building. The previous tenant was the Imperial Cafe, which had a large copper eagle at the entrance to the building. This eagle is still there, and now proudly showcases the McDonald’s name below. McDonald’s moved into this location in 1995. Of course I had to get myself a double cheeseburger while I was here.

Garagem Do Comercio Do Porto was originally the home of the newspaper “O Comércio do Porto”, but is now used as a parking garage, offices, and housing. The building, designed by Rogerio de Azevedo, was built between 1928 and 1932. This Beaux Arts (Art Deco) style building is quite unique, as the lower floors are used as a parking garage, and due to the shape of the building a helical parking ramp was used.

Edificio do Comércio do Porto is a Beaux Arts (Art Deco) styled condominium complex next door to the parking garage. The building, also designed by Rogerio de Azevedo, was built in 1930.

Culturgest Porto is an Art Gallery is a beautiful Beaux Arts (Art Deco) style building not too far away from the previous two buildings. It was designed by architect Porfirio Pardal Monteiro, and was built between 1924 and 1931. The building even features some neo-classical design features.

Banco Montepio is across the street from Culturgest Porto, and is another stunning Beaux Arts (Art Deco) building.

Municipal Theater Rivoli opened its doors in 1913 as a National Theatre. In 1923, just ten years later, it was updated and became a movie theatre, and could also house opera, dance, theatre, and other concerts. It was designed by Julio Brito. In 1994 the theatre was closed to undergo an extensive restoration, and was reopened again in 1997.

Liberdade Square (Praca Nova) dates back to 1718, when an urbanization project began, which resulted in the creation of some new streets and a new square. The square was limited in size due to he medieval walls of the city, which are no longer there. In 1788 a neo-classical styled convent on the south side of the square was built where the medieval wall once stood. This building is the oldest building that faces the square. During the 1800’s the square became increasingly important, with the municipality moving to the north side of the square in 1819, the D. Luis Bridge being built in 1887, and the Sao Bento Station opened in 1896. It quickly became a political, economic, and social centre for Porto. In 1866 a monument dedicated to King Peter IV was placed inaugured in the middle of the square. The monument was designed by French sculptor Anatole Calmels. In 1916 the municipality building was demolished, and a large boulevard and new municipal building (Porto City Council) was built on the north side of the square.

The Porto City Council building was built between 1920 and 1955. It was designed by architect Antonio Correla da Silva. In the centre of the building is a 70 metre tall clock tower. In front of the building is a statue of a poet named Almeida Garrett.

The Sao Bento Railway station is a beautiful French architecture style railway station that was opened in 1916. It was designed by José Marques da Silva. Inside the building is a beautifully decorated ceiling, and large panels of Azulejo tile that were designed and painted by Jorge Colaço. The murals represent moments in the country’s history and the multicolored panels depict rural scenes showing the people of various regions.

Rue 31 de Janeiro is a street located in downtown Porto that features stunning view of Clerigos Tower, and the history Porto downtown buildings. I will visit Clerigos Tower on another day.

I finished off my day at Colossus Craft Brewery by having a flight of beers; an American Pale Ale, an American IPA, a local double IPA, and a south. The brewery was opened in 2005.

Be sure to check back soon, when I explore more of Porto tomorrow.

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Victoria – Christmas 2021 – Part 1 of 2

For Christmas my Dad, Mom, and I flew out to Victoria to celebrate it with my brother and sister. I hadn’t been back to Victoria since Christmas 2019, and it was great to be back there. Before I dive into my adventures let’s explore the history of Victoria.

History of Victoria

Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, is a very beautiful city with tons of beautiful architecture, and has quite a rich history. The city’s roots tie back to 1843 when a trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company was built on a site of the Songhees (Coast Salish people) called Camosun (the native word was “Camosack”, meaning “rush of water”). The trading post was briefly named Fort Albert, before being renamed to Victoria.

The Songhees established a village across the harbour from the fort, and eventually moved to Esquimalt in 1911. The crown colony was establish in 1849. Between 1850 and 1853 a series of treaty agreements known as the Douglas Treaties were made with indigenous communities to purchase plots of land in exchange for goods. With these agreements in place a town started to be laid out around the site.

When there was news of the discovery of gold on the British Columbia mainland, Victoria became the port, supply base, and outfitting center for miners on their way to the gold field at Fraser Canyon. The population grew from 300 people to over 5000 within just a few days! Victoria was officially incorporated as a city in 1862. In the late 1800’s Victoria became one of North America’s largest importers of opium, serving the opium trade from Hong Kong and distribution into North America. The Opium trade was legal until 1908, when it was banned. Victoria became the capital city of British Columbia in 1871.

In 1886 the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway terminus on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, Victoria lost its position as the main commercial hub for British Columbia. The city grew over the years to a currently population of 85000 people (365000 people in the Metro area). With this growth many impressive buildings and establishments were built including the Butschart Gardens, Craigdarroch Castle, the University of Victoria complex, Empress Hotel, etc.

Victoria December 2021

We flew out to Victoria on December 22nd 2021 on a Westjet Boeing 737-800. The flight was very full, and the take-off roll was extremely long due to all the extra Christmas baggage weight. The first 25 minutes of the flight was a very slow ascent with a moderate-high amount of turbulence, with the flight smoothed out significantly afterwards.

When we arrived in Victoria we picked up our baggage, and rental car, a Toyota RAV4, picked up some groceries, and then drove to my sisters condo. Mom, Isobel (my sister), Landon (her boyfriend), and I went out for lunch at the White Swan, while my dad picked up the keys to their Airbnb. I had a delicious poutine.

We walked back to my sisters condo, and I got to spend some time with her super cute dog named Monkey. She was a rescue dog that my sister picked up about three years ago. She’s really sweet natured.

It was time to drive to the Airbnb that my parents rented. One neat thing about their Airbnb is that to get into the car parkade you have to take a car elevator, due to the limited amount of space the building footprint occupies. It was pretty cool!

After hanging out with my parents for a while at their place, I walked a few blocks away to check-in to my hotel (Quality Inn Victoria Harbour) so that I could relax for a few hours. After relaxing for a few hours I went back to their place, where we ordered in some delicious Japanese food from one of our favoruite restaurants called Nubo. My brother Neil joined us. I had a wonderful chicken karaage curry ramen. It was extremely spicy, but delicious! We hung out for a few hours before I went back to my hotel to go to bed.

The next morning I woke up around 7:00am, had a shower, had some coffee, and picked up some Tim Hortons for breakfast before walking around for a few hours to snap some photos. First stop was the Christ Church Cathedral, a 20th century Anglican gothic style cathedral. The sun was directly behind the building, and I was using a Sony RX100v6, so the image quality is quite a bit different than you’re used to seeing.

Next stop was the Empress Hotel, is one of the oldest hotels in Victoria, dating back to 1908. Construction occurred between 1904 and 1908. The Châteauesque style building was designed by Francis Rattenbury for Canadian Pacific Hotels, a division of the Canadian Pacific Railway company. The 464 room hotel is currently managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. During the early 1900’s the Canadian Pacific Hotels built numerous Châteauesque style hotels across Canada, including the famount Chateau Frontenac hotel in Quebec, which you can see in my blog post here. The hotel has features similar to the other Châteauesque hotels including stone and brick classing, steep pitched copper roofs, ornate neo-Gothic dormers and cables, and polygonal turrets. The hotel slightly deviates from the earlier Châteauesque hotels owned by the Canadian Pacific Hotels because contemporary architectural styles were also incorporated in the the design. The assymmetrical building has been expanded twice, with the first expansion occuring between 1910 and 1912, and the second expansion completed in 1928.

Nearby to the Empress Hotel is the Crystal Garden Building, which originally housed the largest salt water swimming pool in the British Empire. The building was opened in 1925. Salt water for the pool flowed through wooden pipes and was heated by the same steam plant that the Empress Hotel’s laundry facility used. The pool was eventually closed in 1971 due to rising operating costs, and aging equipment. In 1980 the building reopened as a community events venue and tropical garden, which housed thousands of plants and animal species. It was shut down in 2004, and the animals were distributed amongst various zoos across Canada. Sadly many died due to the stress of their sudden removal from their habitat. For a short period of 3 months in 2004 a new attraction, the BC Experience, was opened and featured a large topographical foam map, however the company went bankrupt. The building was renovated between 2005 and 2008, bringing it up to modern seismic and snow load standards. The building now currently houses many resatuarants and shops.

Also close by is the Royal BC Museum, which was founded in 1886. The current building was built in 1968, and is quite reflective of brutalism style architecture.

Next door is the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, which were constructed between 1893 and 1897. The buildings are a mix of Neo-baroque, Renaissance Revival, and Romanesque Revival architecture styles.

A short walk away is Huntingdon Manor, a 1890’s Victorian style hotel. Around 1890 the Pendray family purchased a block of property on Belleville Street. The family lived in a small cottage (today known as the Middle House), as the family built their new Mansion (today known as the Pendray Inn and Tea House). After the Pendray’s passed away, their children sold the Mansion to Mrs. Lewis, who used the buildings as a boarding house for young women, as was known as Loretto Hall until 1966. In the 1980’s the property was purchased and expanded with the construction of the Huntingdon Manor Hotel, styled after some of the finest first Canadian Pacific Hotels. Today the block of buildings is still run as the Huntingdon Manor Hotel.

It was time to grab some lunch, so I head back to the White Swan and had a sandwich and some beers, while catching up on messages from my friends.

After lunch I walked to Victoria City Hall. The Renaissance (Second Empire) style building was built between 1878 and 1890, and was designed by John Teague. The building was saved from being razed in 1963 to make way for the Centennial Square, however is now a protected building.

Across the street from Victoria City Hall is 1515 Douglas Street, a unique modern building, which caught the attention of my eye.

A short walk away is the Odeon Theatre on Yates Street. This Steamline Moderne (think Art Deco) building was built between 1946 and 1948. The facade of the theatre is recognizable by its theatrical, asymmetrical inward curving false front with projecting rounded canopy and neon ‘Odeon’ sign. The theatre was designed by Vancouver-based architect Henry Holdsby Simmonds.

I walked back to my hotel and spent a few hours there hanging out in my hotel room, and went in the pool for a bit, before heading back to my parents Airbnb for dinner. We decided that we liked last night dinner so much that we had the same thing for dinner. My brother joined us for dinner again. After dinner we hung out for a few hours, before I went back to my hotel.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part 2 of my Victoria series.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 20 – Flying Home

Today was the final day of my trip. It was time to start the long journey home. First flight was on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO from Helsinki to Frankfurt. The flight was an hour late leaving Helsinki, which left me very little time for my connecting flight. I had to run through Frankfurt airport, clear customs, and clear security before boarding my second flight, a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to London. Both of those flights were in business class, which is essentially just economy class seats, with the middle row blocked, and meal service.

When I arrived in London it was much more relaxed, however still a fairly tight connection. I just had to clear customs, and walk quite the distance to my final flight back to Calgary on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. This flight was also taken in business class. I’m always impressed by the level of service provided by Air Canada in their Signature Class. My favorite food I always look forward to is the cheese board and port for desert.

After arriving in Calgary, I cleared customs, and my dad picked me up and dropped me off at my apartment.

Where will I go to next? With COVID-19 still fairly prominent, and the latest Omicron variant causing havoc, I don’t currently have anything planned. I spent the Christmas holidays in Victoria with my family. I will do some skiing, and hiking during the winter. It may be a while until you see another post from me.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 18 – Tallinn, Estonia & Helsinki, Finland

Today I slept in until 8:30am. After getting dressed I walked a few minutes away to Cafe Rotermann and had a coffee and a traditional Estonian breakfast.

First stop of the day was Patarei Prison, a former sea fortress and prison, located on the shore of Tallinn Bay. The fort was built between 1830 and 1837 as part of the fortifications for the tsarist Russian state. In 1863, Tallinn was removed from the Russian Empire’s list of fortressses due to Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, and the fort was converted into a barracks. After the Republic of Estonia declared independence in 1918 it was reconstructed into a prison, and was used until 2005. Patarei is one of the most prominent symbols of Soviet and Nazi political terror. The prison was closed and is currently planned to open as a museum in 2025. I was able to sneak a few photos of the site, due to poor security. I had to be careful as there was barbed wire everywhere. What a special treat it was to explore this place!

Second stop was the Town Hall Pharmacy, which is Tallinn’s oldest pharmacy, of Europe’s oldest pharmacies, dating back to the early 15th century.

Close by is St. Catherine’s Passage, also known as Monk’s Alley, winds its way from Vene Street to Müürivahe Street. The alley is lined with buildings that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries. The alley retains its medieval charms and was last restored in 1995.

When you exit St. Catherine’s Passage you can see Hellemann Tower and the Town Wall Walkway. Hellemann’s Tower, a three-story tower, dates back to the 14th century, and is integrated into the Town Wall.

It was time to grab some lunch, and I didn’t feel like sitting down at a restaurant, so I just grabbed a cheeseburger from McDonald’s.

My final stop in Tallinn was the KGB Museum at the top of Hotel Viru. Hotel Viru was completed in 1972. The building was the first high-rise building in Estonia. The Soviet Union hired a Finnish construction company (Repo Oy) to build the hotel. Construction started in July 1969, however the construction company went bankrupt in the middle of the project in 1971 due to a fire breaking out on the top floors in December 1970. Finland found another company to finish the project, and the hotel was opened on May 5th 1972. During the Soviet era, the 23rd floor of the hotel housed a KGB radio centre, which was used to eavesdrop on hotel guests. 60 of the ~500 rooms had concealed espionage devices, as well as some of the tables at the hotel restaurant. They were even clever enough to hide espionage devices in cigarette trays.

The KGB, known as the Committee for State Security, was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 to 1991. It was the chief government agency of “union-republican jurisdiction”, carrying out internal security, intelligence and secret police functions. The KGB was officially dissolved on December 3rd 1991 when the USSR fell apart.

The KGB left in a hurry in August 1991 when Estonia gained independence, and the secret rooms were not found until 1994! The former radio centre is now a museum, and is left virtually untouched from how it was found. The hotel is still in use today, with 516 rooms.

Once I arrived at the airport I went through security. I made a mistake at security and forgot to drink all my water in my water bottle, so I was pulled aside to check my bags. While my bags were being checked there was this elderly Russian lady who was also getting her bags checked. The security guard unzipped her bag and pulled out two containers. Container #1 had some weird dark brown frothy liquids, however was under 100ml. He asked her some questions in Estonian, and she responded in Russian and used a lot of gestures. He placed the container back in the bag. Container #2 was a re-used gummy vitamin container (~250ml) that had a clear frothy liquid in it, with… a bunch of leeches! He pulled her aside and they went into a private room with the bottle. I’d love to know the discussion that occured in that room. Upon returning he placed the bottle back in her bag, and zipped it up. It appears she was likely using the leaches for some old wives tale treatment…

After going through security I had a beer, and a croissant with ham and cheese while I waited for my flight. My flight to Helsinki was on a NORRA (on behalf of Finnair) ATR-72. This was my first time flying on an ATR-72, and it was really neat to watch the de-icing boots work on the short 30 minute snowy flight.

Once I arrived in Helsinki I took the train into the city, which took about 45 minutes. Once I arrived at the central station I took a short walk to Friends & Brgrs, and had an absolutely scrumptious cheeseburger, while overlooking the busy street below.

Next door was a liquor store, where I picked up a few IPA’s, before heading to my hotel to check in. Alcohol in Finland is by far the most expensive of all the European Union countries.

It was time to check-in to my hotel; Noli Studios Katajanokka. The room was $115/night which was actually a steal for Finland, which is one of the most expensive countries in the European Union to visit, besides Norway. The room was very well appointed, with a small kitchen, a gorgeous bathroom, a small living room area, and a bed on a raised part at the back. After checking in I went downstairs and spent a few hours in the spa.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 17 – Tallinn, Estonia

Today I woke up at 530am to catch the train to Vienna International Airport to board a flight to Tallinn, Estonia. I flew on a Lauda Europe (on behalf of Ryanair) Airbus A320. Lauda Europe was having financial difficulties a few years ago, so Ryanair purchased them. It’s interesting because the plane is still painting in the Lauda Europe livery, and the staff still wear Lauda Europe uniforms.

It was raining when I arrived in Tallinn. The airport is very close to the city center, and just a 10 minute tram ride away. I boarded the tram and took it to my hotel; Hotel Metropol, where I checked in around 11:00am. I dropped off my bags and went out to explore the sleepy city of Talllinn.

It was approaching lunch time so I stopped in at Pizza Grande for pizza and a diet coke. Food in Estonia is very inexpensive; I believe the pizza and coke were only about $10.

Close to the Pizza Grande is Viru Gate, two ivy-covered watchtowers, built in the 1300’s, that mark the entrance to Tallinn’s Old Town. The main road that enters the Old Town is also quite stunning!

After a short walk through the Old Town I arrived at Freedom Square, a plaza on the South end of the Old Town. It was created by Tiit Trummal, Veljo Kaasik, and Andres Alver. It was a parking lot prior to 2010. The War of Independence Victory Column is located in the square. The column, which stands 24 metres high and consists of 143 glass plates, commemorates all those who had fought for freedom and independence during the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920).

Nearby is Kiek in de Kök Museum and the Tallinn Bastion Tunnels. The artillery tower was built in 1475 and stands 38 metres (125 feet) high, with walls 4 metres (13 feet thick). Over the years the tower was renovated multiple times, until it became obsolete in 1760. It is now home to archives, and some floors were even converted to apartments. The Bastion Tunnels date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The town was constantly worried that it was going to be attacked, so they constructed high bastion walls around the outside of the city, as well as tunnels under the base of the walls so they could safely move around soldiers and ammunition. The tunnels eventually became forgotten, and were not found again until 2003 when workers digging a foundation near the Vabamu Meseum of Occupations and Freedom found them. During World War 2 some of the tunnel were used as bomb shelters. During the Soviet occupation the tunnels were modernized by adding electricity, running water, ventilation and phone lines.

Close by is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral that was built in Neo-Byzantine style. Construction started in 1882, and was completed in 1912. The church has the capacity for 5000 people!

Next to the cathedral is Toompea, also known as Cathedral Hill. Toompea Castle is situated on the hill, and is topped by Tall Hermann tower. Toompea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I then walked about 15 minutes to Telliskivi Creative City, an art focused venue that features studios, cafes, bars, and restaurants. There were some buses and trains close by at a place called DEPOO, that were converted to restaurants.

After visiting Telliskivi Creative City I walked to Towers Square, which gets its name from the Town Wall towers that border one of its sides, and the fact that numerous church spires can be seen from there.

One of those churches is St Olaf’s church, which was was originally built sometime in the 12th century. It was believed that it was the town center for old Tallinn’s Scandinavian community before Denmark captured the town in 1219. The church was originally Roman Catholic, then became Lutheran during the European Reformation, before becoming Baptist in the 1950’s. From 1944 until 1991 the Soviet KGB used St. Olaf’s spire as a radio tower and surveillance point. You’ll learn a lot more about the KGB in my next blog post.

Final stop before heading back to the hotel was Linnahall, also known as Tallinn City Hall, or originally Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports. The building is situated in the harbour, just beyond the walls of the Old Town, and was completed in 1980. The 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, however since Moscow wasn’t by the ocean and didn’t have a suitable venue to stage the sailing event, it was decided that Tallinn, the capital of the then Estonian SSR, would be the perfect place to host it. The building was built to host the event, along with the Pirita Yachting Center, and a few other sports and entertainment facilities. Unfortunately the building has now fallen into disarray. The skating ring was closed in 2009, and the concert hall in 2010.

When I arrived back at my hotel I decided to go into the hotel spa for 1.5 hours. The hotel had a swimming pool, four hot tubs, a steam room, and three sauna’s of various temperatures. It was a very delightful experience, for only $14! You can stay for a maximum of three hours.

It was time to have some dinner at Restaurant Olde Hansa, which was recommended to me. The restaurant gives an authentic medieval experience with dishes that are cooked according to recipe’s over 700 years old, as well as live music. I had three different kinds of game sausages (bear, wild boar, and elk), served with mashed turnip, cranberries, and something else I couldn’t recognize that was quite delicious. Desert was oven-baked herb and juniper cheese. Overall the total cost of my meal was a bit pricier, but not too bad, about $60.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 11 – Budapest, Hungary

Today was my last full day in Budapest. I had a quick breakfast and took the bus to All Saints Roman Catholic Church. This church was built in 1975, was designed in a brutalism architecture style, and was the first church in Budapest that the Communist regime allowed to be built. The previous one was built in 1948. The state provided no money, so the congregation had to rely on social workers for labor and very cheap building materials. Architect István Szabó, a man of faith himself, also working for free, designed all of the interior decorations and the furnishings himself.

Next door to the church is the Imre Makovecz Mortuary Chapel, which was originally built in the early 1930’s. The chapel was destroyed during World War II, and was eventually rebuilt. The building underwent full refurbishment in 1991 and resembles the inside of a human chest. The ribs are made of hardwood and coffins are placed where the heart would be. There was a funeral occurring when I was here, and I wanted to be respectful of the family, so I didn’t take any photos.

I took the bus back into the city and walked by the Turkish Bank House, an Art Nouveau style building, which was designed by Henrik Böhm and Ármin Hegedűs in 1906, The facade is almost entirely glass-covered, and in the upper gable it sports a Secessionist mosaic by Miksa Róth called Patrona Hungariae, which depicts Hungary surrounded by great Hungarians of the past.

Close by was Gresham Palace. The Four Seasons Hotel (Gresham Palace) is a beautiful example of Art Nouveau architecture style. It was constructed in 1906 as an office and apartment building, but is now used today by the Four Seasons Hotel chain. It is located right along the River Danube and looks absolutely stunning. During World War 2 it was used as a barrack by the Red Army. It became fairly run down and was used as an apartment during the People’s Republic of Hungary. After the fall of communism in 1990 the national government turned the property over to the city. Oberoi Hotels entered into an agreement to manage a hotel in the building in 1991, but due to legal battles it never happened. In 1998 Gresco Investments acquired the building. Together with the Four Seasons the building was renovated in its original Art Nouveau architectural style for about $85 million. Building ownership again changed in 2001 (Quinland Private of Ireland) and 2011 (State General Reserve Fund of Oman), but the Four Seasons continues to operate and manage it. In front of the hotel area few statues, which include Count Istvan Szechenyi, and Ferenc Deak.

It was then time for lunch so I stopped in at the First Strudel House of Pest, which was opened in 2007. It features a really unique Split Flap Display, similar to what you would have seen at an airport decades ago, and you can watch the staff make fresh strudels all day long. I had a savory strudel, and a coffee. If you end up visiting here make sure to checkout the bathroom; it’s pretty neat!

After lunch I walked by the Dohány Street Synagogue and the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial. The price for the synagogue was more than I would have liked to pay, so I didn’t go inside.

The Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial was designed by Imre Varga in 1991. It was paid for by the late American actor Tony Curtis for his Hungarian-born father Emanuel Schwartz. The memorial stands over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis between 1944 and 1945. The names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims are inscribed on the metal leaves.

The Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe, with a capacity for over 3000 people. Designed by architect Ludwig Förster, it was built between 1854 and 1859 in a Moorish Revival architecture style. The building suffered extensive damage during World War 2 bombings and was not repaired until 1998. The restoration took 7 years! I forgot to take a daytime photo, however here’s a night time photo I took on my first night.

The final, and what I think was the best stop of the day, was the Aviation Cultural Center Museum (Aeropark), located near the airport. I took the express bus 100E back to the airport, and walked to the museum. Fortunately there was nobody else at the museum so I received a private tour from a wonderful man named Zainko Geza. He worked with Malev Hungarian Airlines for 47 years as an aircraft mechanic. If you like old soviet era aircraft I highly recommend checking out his website. The museum featured a bunch of old Soviet era aircraft including Lisunov Li-2, Ilyushin Il-14T, a pair of Ilyushin Il-18V’s, Tupolev Tu-134, Tupolev Tu-154B-2 (which resembles a Boeing 727), a pair of Yakovlev Yak-40E’s, Antonov An-2M, Mil Mi-2, Antonov An-2R, and a Let L-410 Turbolet.

My personal favorite was the Tupolev Tu-154, which closely resembles that of a Boeing 727, however looks much beefier. The plane was produced between 1968 and 2013, and 1026 were made. This plane was the workhorse of many Soviet era airlines from the late 1960’s until the mid-2000’s. The aircraft was capable of cruising at 850 kph for 5300 kilometres, and even had the unique capability of operating from unpaved and gravel airfields, hence the 12 main wheels, as opposed to Boeing’s 4 main wheels on their 727.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 8 – Budapest, Hungary

Today was mostly a travel day, however, I was able to explore a bit of Budapest, Hungary in the evening. I had to wake up around 5:30 am in order to catch the bus to the airport. Once I arrived at the airport I went through customs, and had a sandwich and an Americano coffee for breakfast. I also had a fairly bad headache, so I sourced some ibuprofen from the pharmacy. I managed my money well in Belgrade, having used all of except 100 Serbian Dinar’s, which is about $1.25 CDN. Belgrade airport is set up in a unique fashion compared to most airports, as the security portion is at the gate.

To get to Budapest I flew on two Swiss flights (Belgrade to Zurich to Budapest), on a brand new plane to me; an Airbus A220-300, which is essentially a rebranded Bombardier CS300. The A220-300 (CS300) is a newer series of aircraft that was originally designed in my home country of Canada. Design of the aircraft started in 1998 as the BRJ-X, which was supposed to be a larger regional jet than the very popular CRJ set, however would have 2-3 seating and underwing engine pods, rather than the 2-2 seating and tail-mounted engines like the CRJ. The aircraft made its first flight in September 2013. The A220-300 can carry 120-150 passengers, which is less than the Airbus A320NEO and Boeing 737MAX series aircraft, however, its fuel consumption per seat mile is almost 20% less than those aircraft, due to extensive use of lightweight materials such as composite materials and aluminum-lithium. Flying on this aircraft was a total joy, with the extremely wide and comfortable leather seats. I’m still annoyed that Bombardier sold out to Airbus in one of the largest scandals in Canadian history. Long story short, the Canadian government bailed Bombardier out of debt in the tune of almost $5 billion in tax-payer money, then the company paid its executives immense bonuses, and gave away the program to Airbus after a failed merger with Boeing in 2016.

When I arrived we parked next to a former Malev Hungarian Airlines Tupolev TU-154, which was a former Soviet Union aircraft produced between 1968-2013. This aircraft closely resembles the Boeing 727.

On exiting the airport, I purchased a 7-day transit pass for about $19 CDN, took the 100E bus to the city center, and checked into my hotel (ibis Styles Budapest City). The room is clean, spacious and pretty cute; not bad for only $50 CDN/night. My only gripe is that the room is a bit warm, and the air conditioning doesn’t work. I just left the balcony door open.

Before I dive into exploring Budapest, Hungary let’s talk about Hungary’s history.

Hungary’s History

Hungary’s history dates back to Ice Age. Early settlers hunted mammoths and reindeers with stone weapons. In 5000 BC farming was introduced and was done with the use of stone tools. In 2000 BC they learned how to use bronze, and in 800 BC they learned how to make iron tools and weapons. Romans settled the area between 11 BC and 9 AD and created a province called Pannonia. During this time Pannonia became fully integrated into the Roman Empire and created a number of towns called Pecs, Szombathely, Sopron, and Buda.

In the early 2nd century Romans also conquered the east of Hungary, and called it Dacia. During the 3rd century, the Roman Empire was in decline and they eventually abandoned Dacia in 271 AD. Eventually, the Romans completely withdrew from Pannonia by the end of the 4th century. This gave way to the Germanic people to occupy the area.

In the 6th century the Asiatic people, also called Avar, conquered Hungary. They ended up ruling the area until the end of the 8th century. During this time Charlemagne, the leader of the Franks (now France), conquered central Europe, including Hungary and forced the Avars to accept Christianity. In 843 the Frankish Empire was divided into three, with Hungary becoming part of the eastern thirds.

In 896 the Magyars (descendants from the Finno-Ugric people) began raiding the eastern part of the Frankish Empire and eventually conquered it. By 900 they had captured the western part. Hungary was now home to the Magyar’s. For decades the Magyar’s continued their raid on other parts of central Europe, but eventually suffered defeat. In 955 the Germans, under the reign of Otto I, crushed them at the battle of Augsburg. They ended up settling down and becoming civilized.

In the late 10th century Prince Geza invited German missionaries to come and preach Christianity to the people, with himself becoming baptized. After his death, his son, Stephen, continued his work. After Stephen’s death, there were numerous succession crises in Hungary, but order was restored by Laszlo I.

During the 11th and 12th centuries Hungary became very westernized. Unfortunately, during the 13th century, Hungary was ruled by Andreas II, who was incompetent, and that provoked a rebellion. In 1241 Mongols invaded the country, burned the crops and left the country in shambles. As a result, the population of Hungary declined substantially. In 1320 gold was discovered and this helped boost the economy and, in 1361, Buda became the capital city of Hungary.

By 1543 the Turks had taken control of Hungary. In 1456 the Battle of Belgrade occurred. Christian forces led by János Hunyadi defeated the Ottoman Turks. The pope ordered all Catholic kingdoms to the noon bell, a ritual that is done in Catholic and old Protestant churches to this day.

In 1526, after the calamity of the Battle of Mohács, the Ottomans divided the country into three parts: the Habsburgs in the western and northern parts; Turks in the central area; and the Principality of Transylvania in the south-east as the stronghold of Hungarian culture and independence.

In 1686, with the help of the Habsburgs, the Turks were defeated and left Hungary. Following other rebellions in the period of the Spring of Nations in Europe, the Hungarians revolted against the Austrian emperor. The revolution was suppressed by the Habsburgs with the help of the Russian Czar and in 1867 a compromise with the Habsburgs was reached, establishing the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In 1873, Pest, Buda and Óbuda (old Buda) were unified into one town making Budapest a major city within Europe.

During the 19th century, nationalism was a growing force in the Austrian Empire, with many Hungarians and Czechs becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Austrian ruling. In 1848 a wave of revolutions occurred across Europe, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves.

In 1914 Archduke Ferdinand, the heir of the Austrian throne was assassinated, which led to World War I. In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Hungary declared its independence on October 30th 1918.

With the end of the war, the Slovaks and Romanians within Hungary broke away, and as a result, Hungary lost nearly two-thirds of its territory, and nearly 3.3 million Hungarians suddenly became citizens of Hungary’s neighbouring countries. On November 18th, 1918 Bela Kun formed the Hungarian Communist Party, nationalizing the industries and land. This irritated the locals so they rebelled. Hungary also wasn’t popular with its neighbours, Czechoslovakia and Romania. The Communist regime lost all support when the Romanian army marched into Hungary and occupied Budapest. Kun fled, which led to the collapse of his party. The Romanians eventually left in October 1919.

Hungary had a death toll of over one million citizens in World War 2. In 1945 the Soviets drove out the Germans, and ended up occupying and incorporating the country into the Soviet bloc for over four decades.

On October 23rd 1956, a peaceful student demonstration in Budapest produced a list of 16 Demands of Hungarians Revolutionaries for reform and greater political freedom. The State Protection Authority made arrests and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. The students attempted to free those that were arrested, the police opened up fire on the crown, and this set off a chain of events that led to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The revolution was eventually suppressed, taking with it the lives of 3000 innocent people. It was a clear message to the Soviets that their plans were unacceptable and unsustainable.

International developments and rapid changes within the Soviet bloc led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989, leading to rapid political changes in Eastern Europe. The countries became free from Soviet rule and Hungary became a republic again. The first democratic, multi-party elections were held in 1990. In 1999 Hungary joined NATO, and in 2004 joined the European Union.

Exploring Budapest, Hungary

After checking in I took a Lime Scooter to Kalvin Square Reformed Church to take a picture from the outside, since the inside was closed. I couldn’t find much information about the church online, unfortunately.

A short walk away is the Great Market Hall. The Great Market Hall is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. It opened in 1897. It was built because it was thought to improve the food supply of the people by having inspected food in a central location. This was at a time when Hungary was suffering from a continuous deterioration in food quality. The market is over 10,000 square metres in size and is covered by a massive steel structure. During World War 2 it was significantly damaged, and it wasn’t rebuilt until 1991.

Next door is the beautiful Budapest Corvinus University, which is one of the most prestigious universities in Hungary. There are currently over 11,500 students enrolled. The main building was built in 1874 in Neo Renaissance style, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is often called “Customs House” or “Chief Customs Palace”. The building was connected to ports of the Danube by four tunnels and even had a railroad connection. During World War 2 the Hungarian, German, and Soviet troops used the building as a military base. It suffered serious damage during the war. In 1948 the building became the main building of the University of Economics. The building underwent major renovations in 1950, and again between 1989-1990.

During my exploration of the Great Market Hall my shoes completely fell apart so I was in an emergency search for new shoes. I took the bus a short distance north to Deichmann, where I purchased some Nike running shoes for $70 CDN. I normally purchase ASICS, and I try to not support the Nike brand due to well-known child labour issues. However my choices were Nike or Adidas, and my feet are too wide for Adidas shoes, so my decision was made for me.

After obtaining my new shoes it was time to get some food. I walked over to Karavan, which is a back alley full of food trucks. I had a Guitar Hero burger from Zing Burger & Co, as well as an IPA beer from another food truck. Both were extremely delicious!

I then walked by the Emanuel Tree and Dohany Street Synagogue, which I will come back and visit in a few days. I will dive into the detail of those places when I explore them in the daytime.

I then purchased some IPA beers from Csakajosor Kft, which I highly recommend visiting if you’re into craft beer. I then walked over to the Ferris Wheel of Budapest, also known as Budapest Eye, which stands 65 metres tall, and was built in 2013.

On my way back to my hotel I stopped in at Gravity Brewing to have a delicious double IPA.

In the evening I did some work, as well as worked on my blog. Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Budapest!

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 3 – Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

Today I woke up around 7am and had breakfast at my hotel. There was a continental breakfast available so I had a coffee and made a sandwich out of the bread, salami, and cheese. After breakfast I checked out of the hotel and drove into Zagreb, parked my car, and started exploring.

Ljubljana, Slovakia

While I was in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, Slovakia I explored Robba Fountain, Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), Ljubljana Cathedral, Butchers Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska).

Robba Fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers is a fountain that stands in front of Ljubljana Town Hall. It was completed in 1751 by Italian sculptor Francesco Robba, and is one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. The fountain was modelled after Fontana del Pantheon, the fountain by Filippo Barigioni at Piazza della Rotonda. In 2006, the fountain was renovated and moved into the National Gallery, and the Town Square original was replaced by a replica.

Tromostovje (Triple Bridge) was opened in 1842. It is a group of three bridges across the Ljubljana River, connecting the Ljubljana historical and medieval town on one side to the modern city on the other side. The central bridge is built partially of limestone, while other parts are built from concrete. The balustrades (vertical pillars) with 642 balusters are made of artificial concrete. The bridge was originally built from wood in 1280 but was replaced in 1657 after a fire. It was again replaced in 1842 by a new stone arch bridge designed by Giovani Picco, an Italian architect. In order to prevent the new bridge from being a bottleneck, the architect Jože Plečnik designed in 1929 the extension of the bridge with two footbridges at a slight angle on each side of it. Construction of these bridges took place between 1931 and 1932.

Ljubljana Cathedral, also known as St. Nicholas’s Cathedral, was completed in 1706 in a Baroque architectural style. The site where the current church is located dates back to 1262. A fire that occurred in 1362 ended up destroying the original building, and it was refurbished in Gothic style. Unfortunately, the building was burned down again in 1461 and was rebuilt as a cathedral. It was suspected that the building was set on fire deliberated by the Turks. The building was eventually rebuilt between 1701 and 1706 in its current Baroque architectural style.

Butchers Bridge is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses the River Ljubljana. It connects the Ljubljana Central Market and the Petkovšek Embankment. The currently bridge was built in 2010 and was modeled after the bridge that architect Jože Plečnik had planned in the 1930’s. The bridge features a staircase on the left entry, glass walkways on either side, and two fences with steel wires, and a wide top shelf. It was designed by Jurij Kobe and decorated with sculptures designed by Jakov Brdar. The main sculptures on the bridge include Adam and Eve, shamed and banished from Paradise after having been induced by the Serpent to taste from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Satyr, startled by the Serpent; and Prometheus, running and disemboweled. There are also some smaller statues of frogs and shellfish.

Dragon Bridge is a road bridge located close-by to Butchers Bridge. The bridge was opened in 1901 and features four large copper dragon statues on each of its four corners, and sixteen smaller dragon statues. The bridge was built as part of an urban renovation of the town. It replaced an old oak bridge which was destroyed a few years early by an earthquake. The bridge was built out of concrete.

S2 Office Tower (Telemach POP Tivolska) is the only part of the original urban design of the right side of the northern entry to the city center of Ljubljana. Architect Milan Mihelič planned to have two 15 story towers – S1 and S2, which would act as a “gate” to the entrance of the city. The building is designed as a combination of eccentric reinforced concrete core with vertical communications and two symmetrical steel volumes. The building is a very fine example of a combination of brutalism and modern architectural styles.

Here’s some pictures of some other interesting things that I saw.

Zagreb, Croatia

After exploring Ljubljana I drove the 1.5 hours back to Zagreb to finish exploring Zagreb. I took pictures of the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, Art Gallery (Art Pavilion), and Cathedral of Zagreb, before having some Cevapi for dinner at Plac Kitchen & Grill.

Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in Zagreb. It was built in 1925 and originally attracted passengers of the famous Orient Express. The hotel took only 26 months to complete. Each of the 200 rooms originally featured running hot and cold water, a shared bathroom for each second room, a telephone in each room. The hotel also featured many suites and lounges, and a dining room.

Art Gallery (Art Pavilion) started back in 1896 when a Millennium Exhibition was held in Budapest to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian statehood. The Budapest Pavillion was designed by Hungarian architects Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl and was constructed by the Danubius building company. After the exhibition had ended the building’s skeleton was transported to Zagreb, and Austrian architects Fellner & Helmer were hired to design a new version of the building based around the skeleton. Construction occurred between 1897 and 1898, and was officially inaugurated on December 15th 1898 with a large exhibition showcasing works of local artists. The exhibition was so popular that it attracted 1/6th of Zagreb’s population! In 2006 the glass roof was renovated and the lighting system was replaced.

Cathedral of Zagreb is a Roman Catholic cathedral church that started out in 1217 and consecrated by King Andrew II of Hungary. The building was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242 and rebuilt a few years later. At the end of the 15th century when the Ottoman Empire invaded Croatia, which contributed to the construction of fortified walls around the cathedral, of which some are still intact today. In the 17th century a watchtower was erected and used as a military observation point, because of the Ottoman threat. In 1880 the cathedral was severely damaged during an earthquake. The main nave collapsed and the tower was damaged beyond repair. The cathedral was repaired in Neo-Gothic style, which is its present architecture type. A fun fact is that the cathedral is depicted on the Croatian 1000 kuna banknote, which will soon be discontinued when the Euro banknote becomes standard currency next year.

For dinner I had Cevapi at Plac Kitchen & Grill. Cevapi is a grilled dish of minced meat served with a fluffy flatbread called Somun. It was recommended to me by a great friend, and I’m glad that she recommended it to me.

After having dinner I had a couple of meetings in the car, and sent some emails before heading to the airport. I was supposed to board a Air Serbia 840pm flight from Zagreb, Croatia to Belgrade, Serbia, however the plane that I was supposed to fly on had maintenance issues, so I was placed on an Airbus A319, instead of an ATR72. After the delay was announced people left, so I was the only one left in the airport, which was weird. I watched the security staff play catch, and I was the only one on the plane.

After arriving in Belgrade I was greeted by my drive, which the hotel sent for me. I’m staying at the Venati Suites, located right downtown. I grabbed my keycard from the front desk, checked myself in, had a shower, and went to bed since it was late.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 1 – Travel Day & Zagreb, Croatia

Today I embarked on a 3-week trip to Eastern Europe to complete an Eastern European journey across 8 countries. The countries that I will be visiting are Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Vienna, Estonia, and Finland. During my trip I’ll go into a brief history of each country I visit, as well as go into more detail about specific places in each country that I visit.

My journey started in Calgary with a 9 hour flight on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 to Frankfurt, with a quick layover before flying on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to Zagreb, Croatia. I booked the outgoing flights in Premium Economy, however was upgraded to business class, which was nice. On the Air Canada flight I had Smoked Duck Breast as an appetizer, Chicken thighs with lemon mustard sauce and sautéed gnocchi for the main course, and cheese and crackers with Port for dinner. Breakfast was fruit, oatmeal, and cheese, however I skipped eating the oatmeal.

Upon arrival in Zagreb I picked up my rental car from Budget; a Skoda Kamiq, a mini SUV, which I only paid $65 CDN for two days.

After picking up the rental car I drove to downtown Zagreb. Before we dive into my adventure out let’s talk about Croatia’s history.

Croatia’s History

Croatia’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC. After 390 BC the Greeks settled in colonies along the coast line. After 229 BC the Romans gradually took control of Croatia, and ended up ruling the entire country by 12 AD. The Romans divided up the area into provinces of Dalmatia (the coast), Noricum (which included part of Austria), and Pannonia (which included part of Hungary). The Roman control of Croatia came to an end in the 5th Century when the Roman Empire collapsed.

In the early 7th Century Slavic people, known as Croats, migrated to the area. They first settled in Dalmatia, expanding further northwards and inland in the 8th Century. During the Middle Ages trade flourished in Croatia, which allowed many towns to grow significantly. In 1202 of Venetian Crusaders took the town of Zadar to repay a debt that the Croatians owed them. In 1205 the Venetians also captured Dubrovnik and Istria.

In 1358 the Hungarian-Croatian king defeated the Venetians and took back control of Dalmatia, however this didn’t last long because in 1409 after a war the king of Hungary-Croatia sold Dalmatia (except Dubrovnik) to the Venetians. The reason why Dubrovnik wasn’t included was in 1382 Dubrovnik became independent and remained so until 1808.

In 1493 the Ottomans defeated the Croatians during the battle of Krovsko Poje. Peace in the area remained short lived with another war occurring in 1526, when the Hungarians were invaded by the Turks during the battle of Mohacs. The king of the Hungary-Croatian empire was killed and the kingdom was based to Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, however the Turks continued to control most of Croatia until 1716 when they were defeated during the battle of Petervaradino.

In 1797 Venice was forced to return its Croatian territory to Austria. In 1809 Napoleon formed the territory into a new stated called the Illyrian Provinces, but this was short lived because in 1815 Napoleon was defeated. Austria took back the territory, including Dubrovnik.

In 1848 the Hungarians and Croats had a falling out and went to war, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Croatia was eventually split; Dalmatia was ruled by Austria, while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.

In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Croatia declared its independence. On December 1 1918 the Croats agreed to join with the Slovenes and Serbs to form a new state called the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats soon became upset, as they wanted the new state to become a unitary state. In 1929 King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In May 1990 elections were held, with the Croatians seeking to leave Yugoslavia, but with a substantial number of Serbians living in Croatia this created issues. In May 1991 the Croatians voted for independence, but The Yugoslavian army invaded to protect the Serbians living within the Croatian borders. This was the beginning of a long war, which didn’t end until 1995 with the signing of the Erdut Agreement. Croatian independence was recognized by the European Union on January 15 1992, even before the war was over. Eastern Slavonia was ran by the United Nations until 1998, when it was handed over to Croatia.

Exploring Zagreb

Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times, and was founded in 1134. Today Zagreb is home to 1.1 million people, housing about 25% of Croatia’s population. I spent the late afternoon exploring the old city including Lotrščak Tower, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zagreb 360°, Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Mark’s Church, and Atelijer Meštrović Museum.

As I drove into Zagreb I saw how beautiful the streets were. They reminded me quite a bit of the Czech Republic.A notable building was the circular Croatian Society of Fine Artists. I parked my car in the downtown area and explored for a bit before having to take my COVID test @ 430pm.

Lotrščak Tower is a fortified tower that was built sometime in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall. Gradec is an old part of Zagreb known as Upper Town. The name is derived from the Latin saying “Campana Latrunculorum”, meaning thieves bell, making reference to a bell that was hung in the tower in 1946 to signal the closing of the town gates. The tower had a cannon placed on the fourth floor, and since January 1 1877 the cannon is fired from the tower to mark midday so that bell-ringers of the city churches know when it is noon.

Ban Josip Jelačić Square is Zagreb’s central square. The square has existed since the 17th century, and was first named Harmica. It was renamed to its present name in 1848 after Count Josip Jelačić, who was in office from 1848 to 1859. In 1946 the square was renamed Republic Square and Josip Jelačić’s statue was removed the following year as the new Communist government of Yugoslavia denounced him as a “servant of foreign interests”. After the breakup of Yugoslavia Josip Jelačić’s historic role was again considered positive and the statue was returned to the square, but in a different location on the north side, facing south. Today the square is a common meeting place for the people in Zagreb and is a pedestrian only zone, as well as the main hub for the ZET tram lines. The square is adorned by a variety of architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession, and modernism.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a museum in a baroque palace displaying personal objects from former lovers along with brief synopses.

St. Mark’s Church was built in the 13th century and was radically reconstructed in the second half of the 14th century to a Gothic architecture style. Massive round columns support heavy ribbed vaults cut in stone and an air of peace and sublimity characterizes the church interior in its simplicity. Outside, on the northwest wall of the church lies the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 engraved in it. On the roof, tiles are laid so that they represent the coat of arms of Zagreb. There was police tape all around the building so I wasn’t able to enter. I couldn’t figure out why there was police tape all around.

The Atelijer Meštrović Museum is dedicated to the artwork of Ivan Meštrović, a renowned Yugoslavian and Croatian sculptor, architect and writer of the 20th century. He lived from 1883 to 1962, where he died at an age of 78 in South Bend, Indiana, USA.

During my walks I also saw a vineyard in the middle of town.

For dinner I had a Truffle Strukli from La Štruk. Štrukli’s are a popular Croatian dish made of pasty, cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt. All I can say is WOW this dish is delicious!

I explored the night life walking the streets back to my car before driving back to my hotel called Hotel & Hostel Zagreb; a basic accommodation for about $40 CDN. I finished my blog, had a shower, did some work, and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I travel from Zagreb, Croatia to visit the Uprising Monument, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

Alaska – Part 2 of 2

Friday October 1st 2021

Today I woke up at around 830am, made some coffee and oatmeal, and hit the road. I drove into Denali National Park, however could only make it in about 14-15 miles before being confronted by a gate. I had read that I should have been able to go about double that distance, however the weather had turned so they had closed more of it off. That’s okay because I had ran into a guy who said that he spotted a few moose around the 10 mile marker. I spent about 2 hours here taking photos and videos of the moose. It was a very enjoyable experience!

After watching the moose I drove North towards Healy where I ate a meat lovers pizza at the Totem Inn. There was a snowfall warning in effect and the weather was starting to turn, so I decided to end my cabin adventures a day early and drive back to Anchorage.

On the drive back to Alaska I came across an abandoned building called Igloo City. The building was originally constructed in the late 1970’s by Leon Smith. He envisioned it as a hotel, however it was never completed because of code violations, and lack of funds. The windows were undersized, and there were not enough emergency exits. The building exterior is constructed of nearly 900 sheets of plywood with a urethane coating. There’s also a gas station here, that closed down many years ago. The building was recently up for sale for only $300,000 USD, however there are no takers.

When I arrived in Anchorage I drove to a popular lookout point of the entire city, which was absolutely beautiful. You could see airplanes taking off from both Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport, and Merrill Field. I even caught a glimpse of an old FedEx MD-11 Freighter.

After enjoying the viewpoint I drove into downtown Anchorage and took some pictures of a few signature architectural gems including the Gaslight Bar, Holy Family Cathedral, Fourth Avenue Theatre, Federal Building, and Wendler Building.

The Holy Family Cathedral is an Art Deco style church built between 1946 and 1948. A fun fact about the church is that Pope John Paul II visited the church in 1981, and attracted a crowd of over 80,000 people.

The Fourth Avenue Theatre, also known as the Lathrop Building, is an Art Deco style building that was built between 1941 and 1947. It took so long to complete because World War 2 put a halt to it. The building has served as a 960 seat theatre until the 1980’s, as well as a television station, restaurant, a penthouse apartment, banquet facility, and now sadly lies in disrepair.

The Federal Building is an Art Deco style government building built between 1939 and 1940. The most distinctive features of the concrete building are the tall, vertical window units that visually add height to the low mass of the structure. Numerous exterior changes have occurring including the original steel window systems being replaced with aluminum-clad wood systems with wider muntins and mullions than originally designed. The original entrance doors have been replaced with dark bronze aluminum doors that do not match the original design. The original bronze stair handrails have been replaced with painted steel handrails of a modern utilitarian design.

The Wendler Building was built in 1915 by Tony and Florence Wendler, and is the oldest commercial building in Anchorage. The building was originally built elsewhere, but moved to its present location in 1985. It was used by the Wendlers as a store until 1925, then converted to a boarding house, then a club, and now a store front.

After exploring downtown Anchorage I checked-in to my accommodation for the night; Aptel Studio, which was a large kitchenette style apartment. After checking in I drove to the nearby Resolution Brewing Company, and had some of their beers. They had Belgian style beers, however I thought they were quite mediocre. After having the beers I had some Vietnamese soup, and picked up some bear spray from Bass Pro Shop for some hikes in the coming days, before heading back to the hotel for the evening to write my blog and edit my photos.

Saturday October 2nd 2021

Today I had to get a covid test for my return flight home, so I drove to the hospital parking lot, where I was told I could get a free test. Turns out they were only the rapid tests, so I had to drive to the airport to get the test. At the airport I was notified that they only issued TMA tests, because there was a shortage on PCR tests. This was fine with me, as I cross referenced with the Canadian Government website, and they said it was okay.

After getting my covid test I picked up a breakfast burrito from a delicious burrito from Burrito Factory, which is oddly positioned in the middle of a Chevron gas station. Next, I drove towards Seward, with a few stops including Potter Section House, and Exit Glacier. Potter Section House is a historic site featuring a restored house and buildings that were a part of a railroad section camp that maintained a section of the Anchorage-Seward railway. There’s a large train snow blower at the site as well.

I continued the 1.5 hour drive to Exit Glacier, stopping numerous times to take photos of the beautiful scenery.

Exit Glacier is located in Kenair Fjords National Park, and is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska. It is rapidly retreating, having retreated approximately 187 feet (57 metres) in just one year (2013 to 2014). It received its name for serving as the exit for the first recorded crossing of the Harding Icefield in 1968.

After visiting Exit Glacier it was time to grab some lunch, so I stopped at Chartermark Seward. The fish and chips were excellent, however there could be some improvements made including letting people seat themselves, rather than wait 20-30 minutes to be seated when there was plenty of available tables. The staff were super friendly, however were overworked.

After lunch I drove south towards Tonsina Creek, where I completed a 1.5 hour hike to where Salmon were trying to swim up stream. It was neat to see, however the optimal time was about 2 weeks ago. There was a lot of dead Salmon there from failing their journey.

After completing the hike I drove around town looking at all the murals, before checking into my accommodation at Trailhead Lodging. I had about 3 hours of work I needed to do, so I spent the rest of the evening working.

Sunday October 3rd 2021

Today was my last full day in Alaska. I woke up around 7am, drove to Safeway to pickup a sandwich for lunch, and pickup my breakfast and coffee from the Starbucks inside. I drove about an hour towards the Portage Pass trailhead. To get to the glacier you need to pay a $13 USD toll to travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which passes under Maynard Mountain.

The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is very unique as it allows cars and trains to pass through it, but only single file (also known as bimodal). The tunnel is 13,300 feet (4100 metres) long, and is the longest highway tunnel, and longest bimodal tunnel in North America. The tunnel was originally excavated between 1941-1942, and was only originally used as rail, however was upgraded for bimodal use between 1998 and 2000. Traffic direction alternates every half hour.

Upon arriving at the Portage Pass trailhead I had to do some pretty severe off-roading for about half a mile, as the road was washed out. The hike took me about 1.75 hours, however I have to admit I only completed about 80 percent of the hike as I was having to bushwhack a lot towards the end due to a storm the previous day. I’m convinced the best view was at the top anyways.

After completing the hike I ate my sandwich in the truck, while waiting 20 minutes at the tunnel to drive back through it. Next stop was the Alaska Aviation Museum, where I nerded out quite a bit. On display was a rich history on how aviation came to be in Alaska, including history on how some of the airlines came and went. There was also an old Alaskan Airlines Boeing 737-200 on display.

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After exploring the museum I quickly stopped at Anchorage Depot to snap a photo. Anchorage Depot, is an Art Deco style building that was built in 1942. It was enlarged in 1948.

It was dinner time at this point in time, so I stopped at a Vietnamese place for some Pho, before trying to check-in to my hotel; the Merrill Field Inn. Unfortunately the hotel was completely not as advertised. When I pulled into the parking lot at the Merrill Field Inn I know that I wasn’t going to be staying there because it looked really gross, and there was a bunch of people leaning over balconies smoking and drinking. It looked like a trailer trash place, and nothing similar to the photos online. Regardless, I obtained a key, and when I opened the door of the room it smelled quite badly of cheap air freshener, and there was a cigarette on the floor. I went back downstairs and asked for a refund, and booked myself in at the Clarion Suites, which was much better.

Again I had quite a bit of work to do this evening so I worked for a few hours, and was getting hungry again so I ordered a Hawaiian pizza from Flattop Pizza. I continued working, and went to bed at around 10pm, as I had an early day ahead of me.

Monday October 4th 2021

Today it was time to fly home. I had to wake up at 3am, as my first flight was around 6am. I dropped off the truck, and went to check-in at a counter, since I was unable to online because they want to do document checks to ensure I had my negative covid test. When I went to check-in the agent had an issue with my paperwork because I had gotten a TMA test, which was still an accepted form of test. The reason I had gotten a TMA test is that Anchorage had a shortage of PCR tests. After politely negotiating with her, and two other supervisors they let me have my tickets. It’s frustrating that the Delta system says something completely different than the Government of Canada website.

After obtaining my tickets I went and purchased an Egg McMuffin and coffee from McDonald’s to eat while I was waiting to board my flight. First flight was a Delta Airlines Boeing 757-200 from Anchorage to Minneapolis. In Minneapolis there was a 4 hour layover, where I thought I could stay in a lounge for a bit, however the lounges that I was eligible for were all closed. I decided to eat a Rueben sandwich, fries, salad, and a beer at Twins Grill. The food was excellent. I ended up passing the time by chatting with a few people on the phone, and watching a movie named Percy, which is about the Saskatchewan farmer who went up against Monsanto in a lawsuit against seed patents.

The next flight was on a Delta Airlines Embraer E175, one of my favorite commute jets to fly on since the seating arrangement is only 2×2. I arrived around 9pm in Calgary, and my Dad picked me up from the airport. This time I had no issues at Canadian customs, like I did when I came back from Iceland about a month ago.

Be sure to check back soon, as I have a few more hiking related posts, and then I’m off to Europe for a few weeks to explore Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Estonia, and Finland.

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