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 9 – Budapest, Hungary

Today was my first full day in Budapest, Hungary. The hotel I’m staying at offers a free buffet breakfast, which is a nice welcome as it saves money. After having some breakfast and coffee I started exploring Budapest.

After crossing the Danube River on a nearby bridge I arrived at the Danubius Hotel Gellert, which also houses the Gellert Thermal Bath. The Secession / Art Nouveau style hotel, designed by Ármin Hegedűs, Artúr Sebestyén and Izidor Sterk, was opened in 1918. The hotel was named after Saint Gellert, the first bishop of Hungary in the 11th Century. The hotel was taken over for national government use in 1919 after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Once Hungary became an independent country the hotel became so successful that it was expanded in 1927 to add an additional 60 rooms, to its existing 176 rooms, as well as a wave pool. In 1934 the hotel added a jacuzzi pool. In World War 2 the hotel was damaged extensively. The hotel underwent restoration work between 1946 to 1962 and was renovated again in 1973. The spa is now owned and operated by the City of Budapest.

While walking to the hotel you could see the nearby Rudas Baths. The Rudas Baths are a thermal and medicinal bath built at the foot of Gellért Hill. The baths were originally built in 1550 during the Ottoman ruling. Even to date the building has many key elements of Turkish designed baths including a dome and octagonal pool. The bath has six hot pools and one swimming pool where the temperatures range from 10°C to 42°C. The water is slightly radioactive and includes a lot of minerals includes sulfate, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and fluoride ion. It was reopened in its current form in 2006 after an extensive renovation. The baths are open to women only on Tuesdays, men the rest of the week, and mixed-use on the weekends.

After exploring the hotel I walked up the steep Gellert Hill to see Liberty Statue and the Citadella, which were, unfortunately, both blocked off due to rehabilitation in the area, and won’t reopen until mid next year.

Liberty Statue was erected in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary during World War 2, which ended the German Nazi occupation of the country. It is located on Gellért Hill, which provides beautiful views of the city. The bronze statue, which is holding a palm leaf, is 14 metres (45 feet) tall and sits on top of a 26 metre (85 foot) concrete pedestal.

The Citadella (Citadel) is a fortification on top of Gellért Hill. It was built in 1851 by Julius Jacob von Haynau, a commander of the Austrian Empire, and was designed by Emmanuel Zitta and Ferenc Kasselik, after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. The fortress is a U-shaped structure that is built around a central courtyard, and takes up the majority of the entire plateau. The main gate was damaged in 1897 and the walls were demolished in 1900. The city took possession of the citadel in 1899. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Soviets occupied the citadel and fired upon the city during the assault that overthrew the Nagy-led Hungarian government.

After taking pictures of the Liberty Statue and enjoying the beautiful views of the city below it was time to descend the hill and walk over to Buda Castle, which was also undergoing some extensive renovations. Buda Castle is a beautiful castle and palace complex that was started in 1265 on Castle Hill. The first royal residence built on Castle Hill was built by King Béla IV between 1247 and 1265 to provide protection from the Mongols and the Tartars. The oldest part of the present-day palace was built in the 14th century by Stephen, Duke of Slavonia; the younger brother of King Louis I of Hungary. In the late Middle Ages, the castle was altered to suit the needs of King Sigismund, leader of the Holy Roman Empire. A large Gothic style palace was built. In the 1500’s the palace was badly damaged when the Turks invaded Budapest, and then the palace fell into decay. It was destroyed completely in 1686 when the territory was captured by Christian forces. Numerous palaces were eventually built in the same spot, with the first being a Baroque-style palace built in 1715. Further construction occurred in the mid-18th century under the guidance of Queen Maria Theresa. The palace changed hands numerous times and was inhabited by nuns, the Habsburg’s, various armies, and even Franz Joseph. By the end of the 19th century, the palace was in a Neoclassical Baroque style. Sadly, the palace was heavily damaged during World War 2, but today it has been mostly restored. Buda Castle has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

You can usually use the Castle Hill Funicular to get to Buda Castle, however, again, as is the theme here, it was undergoing renovation. It was built in 1870 to bring people to Buda Castle. It was destroyed in World War 2 and reopened on June 4th, 1986. The funicular has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. The cost to ride on the funicular is 1800 HUF ($7.75 CDN).On the same Castle Hill is Matthias Church, also known as the Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle. It is a Roman Catholic church located in the Holy Trinity Square. It was originally built in a Romanesque style in 1015. The current building was built in 1370 in its current Gothic style and was extensively restored between 1874-1895 by architect Frigyes Schulek.

Right next door is Fisherman’s Bastion, a Neo-Romanesque style monument located inside the Buda Castle complex on Castle Hill. It provides amazing views from its terraces that overlook the Danube River. After Buda Castle was destroyed and the castle officially lost its function as a militaristic structure in 1874, the idea was to build something more communal instead of defensive for citizens to better appreciate the great views over the city and the Danube. It was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of a series of developments to celebrate the 1000th birthday of Hungary. Unfortunately, during World War 2 it was damaged fairly significantly. The looking tower took most of the force and the Ministry of Finance building burned to the ground and was later replaced with a Hilton Hotel in 1976.

From Fisherman’s Bastion you can see The Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The bridge is a chain bridge (think historic suspension bridge made of chain links) that spans the River Danube between Buda (west side) and Pest (east side). Designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark, it was originally constructed between 1840 and 1849. It’s a larger-scale version of the Marlow Bridge, which Clark had designed earlier. The bridge was designed in sections and shipped from the UK to Hungary for final construction. The bridge received its name from István Széchenyi, a major supporter of its construction. The bridge is 375 metres (1230 feet) long. The original bridge was updated and strengthened in 1914, but unfortunately, it was destroyed during World War 2 on January 18th, 1945 by the Germans during the Siege of Budapest. It was rebuilt and opened in 1949. It’s also currently undergoing major renovation work, so I wasn’t able to get great photos of it.

It was now time to take a train to the Roman City of Aquincum. Aquincum is an ancient Roman city that is right in the centre of Budapest. Aquincum was originally settled by the Eravisci, a Celtic tribe. Between 41-54 AD the Roman’s had arrived with a strong military presence and took over the settlement. The city grew around the fortress, and after Pannonia was recognized by the Romans in 106 AD, it became the capital city of the Roman province of Pannonia Inferior. By the end of the 2nd century over 30,000 people were living in the city. The city was largely destroyed during the mid-4th century when the city was under constant attack from the North by the Sarmatian’s. Eventually, the Roman’s pulled out of the area by 409 AD when the Germans and Atilla the Hun invaded the region.

I then took a fairly long bus ride to see Heroes Square, however, guess what… it was also under renovation. Heroes’ Square is a major square in the middle of the city. It’s recognized by its iconic statue complex that features the seven chieftains of the Magyars, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heros. The square was originally built from 1896 to 1906 to commemorate the thousand-year anniversary of the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin, and the foundation of the Hungarian state in 1896. Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when the monument was originally constructed, so there were 5 spaces to the left of the colonnade reserved for members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty. The monument was damaged during World War 2 and when it was rebuilt the Habsburgs were replaced by the current figures. The Memorial Stone of Heros was originally built in 1929 to commemorate those who died defending Hungary’s 1000-year-old borders. It was removed in 1951 as its message was politically unacceptable by the Communist regime. It was rebuilt in 1956.

It was now time to get some lunch, as I was fairly hungry. I stopped at a restaurant close by called Nyereg, and had some rooster soup, as well as an IPA beer.


After my delicious lunch, I walked around The Széchenyi Thermal Baths. The baths are the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Its water is supplied by two hot springs whose temperature is 74°C (165 °F). The thermal baths were opened in 1913 and were designed by architect Eugene Schmitterer. Over 6 million litres of hot water are piped into the baths daily. The baths have varying temperatures ranging from 27° to 38°C in the three outdoor pools, and 18°C to 38°C in the indoor pools. The complex also has saunas and steam rooms. Due to COVID, I didn’t feel very comfortable being stuffed in close quarters in water with other people.

Nearby is Vajdahunyad Castle. It was built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition to celebrate 1000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895 AD. The castle was designed by Ignác Alpár. Since the castle contains parts of buildings from different time periods, it contains various different architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. The castle was originally constructed out of wood and cardboard, but was rebuilt between 1904 and 1908. Today the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture occupies the building. I went to the top of one of the towers to try to get better photos, however, I don’t think it was worth it. At least it was only $2 CDN.

My feet were starting to get tired, however, there were two more stops on my itinerary today. The second last stop was the Hungarian Institute of Geology and Geophysics building. The building, designed by Ödön Lechner, was originally built in 1896 for the Hungarian Geological Society, now named the Geological Institute of Hungary. The building contains minerals, prehistoric footprints, and general information on geology. This is a special, invite-only kind of building, which you need to book weeks or months in advance. I wouldn’t have gone inside anyway, as none of this kind of stuff interests me.

The last and final stop for today was Ráth György-Villa, which was built in 1880 in Art Nouveau architecture style. György Ráth was the first director-general of the Museum of Applied Arts and was an influential figure in Budapest. In 1901 he purchased the villa and furnished it with artefacts. After his passing, he left his possessions to his wife, Gizseilla Melcsiczky, with the instructions to make his collection the property of the Museum of Applied Arts. The museum was officially founded in 1907. After World War 2 and the establishment of proletarian dictatorship, the museum was considered unjust and harmful to the views of socialism. In 1954 the museum was renamed the China Museum and featured Chinese exhibitions until 2014 when it closed. In September 2018 the villa was reopened in its current name, with a permanent exhibition entitled Our Art Nouveau, which presents some beautiful Art Nouveau pieces of work. My favorite was the clock.


I went back to the hotel to do about 5 hours of work, before venturing out again to get some dinner. I liked the street food from the Karavan Budapest area so much that I decided to go back. This time I had a delicious pork burger from Langos Burger. Wow, was it incredible! Next door was Szimpla Kert, a “ruin pub” with vintage decor. It has a very neat vibe to it. I decided to have a quick IPA before heading back to the hotel to do a bit more work, as well as work on my blog for a bit.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I have much more of Budapest to show you.

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.

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 4 – Belgrade, Serbia

Today was my first day in Belgrade, Serbia. Before I dive into this exploring Belgrade let’s talk about Serbia’s history.

Serbia’s History

In the 7th Century Slavs, ancestors of modern Serbs arrived in Serbia. Upon initial settlement they were divided into clans, but in the 8th century the first Serbian state, called Rašica, was formed. The Serbians became Christian in the 9th century. Over the next few centuries Serbia expanded its territories and had a growing population.

Everything was going well until the 14th century when the Turks invaded Serbia in a battle at the Marica River in 1371, and another battle in Kosovo in 1389. The Turks continued their invasion of the country over the next few hundred years. In 1459 the Turks captured the city of Smederevo, which ended up in the demise of Serbian independence. The Turks were relentless and didn’t stop there; in 1521 they captured the city of Belgrade.

In 1594 the Serbians rebelled against the Turks in the Uprising in Banat, but lost. The Serbians rebelled again between 1683-1690 during a war between Austria, Poland, Venice and Turkey, but the Austrian’s withdrew, which caused the rebellion to collapse. Many Serbians went back with the retreating Austrian army.

The fighting was far from over; in 1804 the First National Uprising, led by Dorde Petrovic, had begun. With some help from Russia the rebellion was successful at first, but in 1812 the Russian’s made peace with the Turks, and as a result the Serbian rebellion collapsed. In 1815 the Second National Uprising began, but this time the Turks allowed Serbia some autonomy. In 1878 Serbia finally became independent, and in 1882 Serbia became a Kingdom.

After World War 1 Serbia became part of a large Slav nation, and in 1929 King Aleksander 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. Finally, in 1991-1992 Yugoslavia started to break up. Serbia became independent in 2006, Montenegro became independent in 2006, and Kosovo became independent in 2008.

Exploring Belgrade, Serbia

I started the day off by talking to the receptionist at the hotel for about an hour. She was quite excited that I was a photographer, so she gave me a lot of great ideas to explore while I’m in Belgrade, as well as some places close by worth exploring.

After chatting with the receptionist and gathering all the great info, it was time to start my adventures. I started off by having a goat cheese and prosciutto omelette and coffee for breakfast at a delightful little place called Red Bread. It cost me about $8 CDN for my meal, which I thought was a great price.

First stop was Republic Square, which sits in front of the National Museum. Republic Square is considered Belgrade’s most important central square. Surrounding republic square is the National Theatre, National Museum, the Army House, and the monument of Prince Knez Mihailo. There are four fountains location on the square as well. In historic times this place was home to the Stambol Gate, which was Belgrade’s’ further outer gate of the 19th century. The Turks used the gate to execute convicts by hanging them. Once the Turks left the city, Prince Mihailo ordered the demolition of the gate. The first building to be built in its place was the National Theatre, built in 1869. 19 Years later the Prince Mihailo statue was built. Over the years the square became the modern hub of Belgrade. It was suggested to rename the square to Freedom Square after some pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred at the square to oust Slobodan Milosević on 9 March 1991, during the 1991 protests in Belgrade. The National Museum of Belgrade is the largest and oldest museum in Belgrade. It is located next to Republic Square. The museum was established in May 1944 and moved into the current building (formerly a Stock Exchange) in 1950. The museum has a collection of over 400000 objects. I also passed by later on in the evening on my way back to the hotel, so I snapped a night time shot.

Next up, also close by is the National Theatre building, across the road. The National Theatre of Belgrade is located in Republic Square. The Renaissance style building, designed by architect Aleksander Bugarski, was opened in 1869. Prince Michael was impressed by theatre so he ordered that the National Theatre of Belgrade be built. Sadly, the prince didn’t get to live to see any performances in the theatre because he was assassinated. He was assassinated in Košutnjak on 10 June 1868 and the foundation stone was laid by his successor, prince Milan, on 31 August 1868. In 1911 a decision to do a reconstruction of the building was ordered because of some issues with the stage and utilities rooms. The reconstruction took a long time due to World War I and wasn’t finished until 1922. The auditorium was enlarged to be able to seat 944 people, and the stage was also enlarged. After the reconstruction the building lost its outer beauty from the original Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture blends. The theatre was damage during the German bombings in World War 2 and was again rebuilt, and enlarged once more. Two more reconstructions and expansions followed in 1965 and 1989, and the theatre was once again returned to its original Vienna Secession and Baroque architecture blends.

A short walk away and I arrived at Kombank Dvorana Movie Theatre. Kombank Dvorana (Dom Sindikata) Movie Theatre is a vision of Branko Petričić, and was constructed between 1947 and 1957. It is one of Belgrade’s most popular entertainment venues. It was built during the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, hence why it took an entire decade to build. The Great Hall has 1600 seats and has hosted a number of very famous guests such as B.B. King, Robert de Niro, Elizabeth Taylor, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few. A large pipe organ was installed in 1957 and was operational until 1998. The building underwent some renovations and was reopened in April 2018, with a building name change to Kombank Dvorana.

Down the street you can see the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia building is a Neo-Baroque style building that was designed by Jovan Ilkić in 1901. Construction started in 1907, but was placed on pause numerous times before its completion in 1936. The interior of the building was designed by architect Nikolai Krasnov in academic traditional style. A fun fact about this building is that 91 pieces of art were stolen during the October 5th 2000 riots, with only 35 being found and the rest remaining missing.

On the way to walking to the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia I spotted The Old Palace off to my left. The Old Palace was the royal residence of the Obrenović dynasty. Today it houses the City Assembly of Belgrade. The square building was built between 1882 and 1884 in an Academism style by architects Aleksander Bugarski and Jovan Ilkić.

Across the street from The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia is the Central Post Office of Serbia, which was constructed between 1935 and 1938. The building was constructed because there was a need to house the Post Office and Post Office Savings Bank under one roof, since the original buildings of both institutions were considered too small. There was some considerable controversy with the selection of the architect for the design of the building. Originally, first prize was awarded to the joint project of Zagreb architects Јosip Pičman and Аndrija Baranji, while the second prize was awarded Slovenian architect Аco Lovrenčić, both with modern architecture designs. The competition finished in the 1930’s, during an economic recession, which meant that the designs were a bit too elaborate. Immediately after the competition, at the end of 1930, it was decided that the Ministry of Construction amend the winning project. The amendment was completed by architect Dimitrije Leko, and within the ministry, a narrower internal competition was organized to create new plans for the façades of the building, where the project of the architect Vasilije Androsov was evaluated as being the best option.

Again, right next door, is the Church of Saint Mark is a Serbian Orthodox church that was built in 1940 in the Serbo-Byzantine style and designed by the Krstić brothers. It was built on the site of an old wooden church that dated back to 1835 that was destroyed during World War 1, and again in World War 2. The church is one of the largest churches in Serbia and can accommodate 150 musicians, and 2000 people in one sitting. The church is 62 metres (203 feet) long, 45 metres (148 feet) wide, and 60 metres (200 feet) high, excluding the cross. I wasn’t happy with the photo that I took, so I’ll revisit this another day.

Next up was the beautiful streets of Knez Mihaila, which were about a 20 minute walk away. Knez Mihailova Street is the main pedestrian and shopping zone in Belgrade. It features a number of buildings and mansions built during the late 1870’s. The street was included on the list of Spatial Cultural-Historical Units of Great Importance in 1979, and is now protected by the Republic of Serbia.

Further down Knez Mihaila you can start to see Belgrade Fortress, but before going there I took a detour to checkout the Holy Archangel Michael Orthodox Church, and the Serbian Orthodox Church Museum, which was adjacent next door.

The history of Belgrade Fortress dates back to 279 BC when the Celtic tribe of Scordisci ruled the region. It is the oldest section in the urban area of Belgrade, and for numerous years the city was concentrated only within the walls of the fortress. The fortress was destroyed numerous times over the years, and the current iteration of the fortress was built in the mid-18th century. Numerous wars occurred in 1440, 1456, 1521, 1688, 1690, 1717, 1739, 1789 and 1806.

A ten minute walk away is an extremely weird looking building that is home to the Sports and Recreational Center, also known as Milan Gale Muškatirović. The facility was built in 1973 to fulfill the needs of the first World Championship. In 2011 a rehabilitation project was started.

It was approaching noon and was time to head to the The Aeronautical Museum, about an hours bus ride away. The bus ride costs about $1.85 CDN. The Aeronautical Museum, formerly known as the Yugoslav Aeronautical Museum was founded in 1957, adjacent to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. The current building, opened on May 21 1989, was designed by architect Ivan Štraus. The museum contains over 200 aircraft, 130 engines, radars, rockets, 20000 books, and more than 200000 photographs. Sadly this building has fallen into complete disrepair, and I wonder how much longer it’ll stay standing. It was a rainy day today, and despite being indoors it didn’t block the rain much. There’s so many leaks in the structure, and I’m wondering if structural fatigue will eventually lead to the demise of this beautiful and unique place. I was starting to get hungry so I walked across the street into the Belgrade Airport terminal to grab a prosciutto sandwich from one of the stores.

Next up was an area called Block 61. I took a 30 minute bus ride to there, however got off early and walked because traffic was backed up due to a car accident. Block 61 is one of many soviet style blocks that were constructed when the construction of “New Belgrade” began in 1948. Blokovi (The Blocks) was designed as a group of urban neighborhoods that were divided into 72 blocks, including several sub-blocks (i.e. 7a, 7b, 7c, etc.). The blocks in “New Belgrade” are based on the detailed urban plan from 1965 made by Josip Svoboda (Bureau for Urban Planning in Belgrade). The green areas and traffic infrastructure were designed by Milan Miodragović, and housing was designed by architects Darko Marušić and Milenija Marušić. All constructive elements used for the complex were prefabricated in standard dimensions. I honestly had a hard time with this one, as I found it so drab and depressing. This was a “utopian” idea of how developers thought people would like to live, because everything is so close that you don’t need to drive, but in reality it is a horrible way for people to live. The buildings quickly fell into disarray, and in general its just not a nice way to live being so crowded.

The final stop for the day before having dinner was Airport City Belgrade (Stari Hanger), which was another 10 minute bus ride away. I couldn’t find much information on this building unfortunately.

For dinner I decided to go to a restaurant called Manufaktura Restaurant. It was about a 20 minute bus ride away, and was right in the middle of the city. I chose to have a local beer and beef goulash, which was absolutely incredible! I highly recommend this place. One thing to keep in mind is that Serbia still allows smoking indoors, so that may make some people uncomfortable. I chose to sit in the back as far away from people as possible, and it didn’t bother me that much.

It was about 530pm at this point in time, and I had already completed 18 kilometers of walking, which was causing my feet to hurt, so I headed back to the hotel. I did a few hours of work, had a nap, wrote more of my blog, and booked a car for tomorrow to explore Serbia’s countryside. I’m a day behind on my blog already, however I feel I’m just going to keep getting further behind.

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Alaska – Part 1 of 2

This week I had the privilege of being able to travel to the wonderful state of Alaska. It’s currently off-season so prices were fairly reasonable. Before I dive into my trip lets explore a brief history of Alaska.

Alaska was occupied by various indigenous people for thousands of years before the Russians arrived in the 18th century, eventually establishing the Russian America. In 1867 the United States purchased the land for $7.2 million. It was officially admitted as the 49th U.S. State in 1959. Over two dozen native languages are spoken in Alaska. Another fun fact is that Alaska’s per capita income is one of the highest in the entirety of the United States, due to its diversified economy, which includes fishing, natural gas, oil, and tourism.

Tuesday September 28th 2021

My trip started out in Calgary on Tuesday September 28th 2021 at 2pm. I flew with Delta Airlines on an Airbus A319 to Minneapolis, had a 40 minute layover, and then flew on a Boeing 757-200 to Anchorage.

After arriving at Anchorage airport I went and picked up my rental vehicle from Budget Rental Cars. I was given a 2021 Dodge Ram Bighorn. When I was exiting the parking lot I noticed a sign that said “No Liability for Damage Incurred Beyond This Point”, which I have not noticed before at a rental car facilities, although I may just not have been that observant in the past. Within 10 seconds I realized why that sign was there, as the exit was 3 floors below a very tight curved ramp, that I had to make multiple 3 point turns on just to get around the bend due to the long turning radius of the truck. You could see scrapes all up and down the walls of the ramp from others; hence the need for the sign.

The drive to my hotel, the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn, was about an hours drive away. On my way I stopped at Walmart to try to find Bear Spray, however they were out. While I was at the Walmart I picked up some cheese, pepperoni, and crackers for lunch for the following day.

Upon arriving at the hotel there was nobody there to give me a keycard. I searched all around the hotel, however couldn’t find a staff member. About 15 minutes later she emerged from a hotel room, all hot and bothered, so god knows what was going on in there. She gave me the keys to my room, and I went and quickly showered before heading to bed, as it was quite late.

Wednesday September 29th 2021

The next day I woke up around 7am, got dressed, and went downstairs for a hot complimentary breakfast, which included sausages, potatoe wedges, and an omelet. It was acceptable for a hotel breakfast.

After having breakfast I had an hour phone call with a customer before checking out. After checking out I walked out on the dock and took a view across the lake. The lake was very calm, and the sky was beautiful. You could see the mountains in the background. What a peaceful place to stay; it’s too bad I didn’t have more time to enjoy it.

I hopped in the truck and headed towards my first stop; Hatcher Pass. It’s a long windy steep road to the top. At the top it was blocked off for the season already, as it had already snowed a fair amount just a few miles ahead. I stopped the truck and took a few photos. What a neat area!

Next stop was Matanuska Glacier View, although I made a few stops along the way to take pictures of the scenery along the Matanuska River.

Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in the United States that is accessible by car; spanning 27 miles (43 kilometres) long and 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) wide. The glacier moves over 1 foot per day, and feeds the Matanuska River.

I continued to drive east towards Glennallen, where I filled up with fuel, and purchased a coffee, before turning North towards Castner Glacier Ice Cave. On the drive North I took a couple of really pretty shots of the Wrangell Mountains to the east.

After a couple hours driving North I arrived at the Castner Glacier Ice Cave trailhead. The last 10 minutes of the drive was quite slippery, so I had to slow my pace a fair amount.

The hike to the cave was about 25 minutes. The trail had about 4 inchs of snow off to the side, but the trail itself was quick packed. It was mostly flat, with a few hills, one which I accidentally slipped and fell on my back, which caused me to wind myself for a bit. I heard a crack when I feel, but I felt okay besides being winded.

The cave was certainly stunning. I would say the cave is atleast 200 metres deep. Inside you’re surrounded by 360 degree views of turquoise blue ice with rocks and air bubbles embedded inside.

After enjoying some time at the cave taking pictures I head back towards the truck, and was much more careful on the hilly sections, as I didn’t want to fall again.

Next stop was my cabin located near Cantwell, about a 3 hour drive away. This involved a very unique journey along the Old Denali Highway (Highway 8). The highway was first opened in 1957, and was teh first road to offer access to Denali National Park. The Denali Highway is 135 miles (217 kilometres) in length, and is mostly unpaved, and has a lot of washboarded. The recommended speed limit is only 30 mph (48 km/h), however I was honestly able to do about 45 mph (72 kp/h) because a foot of snow had recently fell along the majority of the highway, which helped fill in the washboarding. The first 21 miles (34km) are paved, and I was able to maintain 65 mph (105 kph), however when I started running into the snow I slowed down to 45 mph (72 kp/h). The views along the road were simply stunning, and I had it all to myself. There was only one other person I ran into along the highway. I’m extremely glad that I had my truck for this trip, as I don’t even think an SUV would have been able to make it through with the wintery conditions. During the summer I think a mid-size SUV could make it, however I would be hesitant to take a car on it, although I know of someone with a 1967 Mustang who completed the journey, albeit at less than 20 mph (30 kp/h). Winter travel is severly discouraged, and many people have lost their lives on this road in winter.

Before checking into my cabin I stopped at a nearby truck stop to fuel up, and have a quick shower. I was quite impressed with the quality of the facilities, and the shower was only $5!

My cabin was a cozy 8 foot by 10 foot wood structure that featured a small kitchen, propane stove, wood stove, and a shower. There was an outhouse outside. I should have had access to the shower and electricity, however the previous tenant made a mistake and had left early, as well as shut off the propane stove, so the water pipes burst, which also took out the power supply. It was okay, as my host offered me a 10% refund of what I paid, and I survived just fine. While at the cabin I had quite a bit of work to catch up on, so I tethered my phone to my laptop and worked for a few hours, before calling it a night.

Thursday September 30th 2021

I slept very well, and found the bed quite comfortable. Today I had a lazy start to my day, as it was a much more relaxed day, with less driving. I woke up around 830am, made some coffee and oatmeal, which were both provided at the cabin. I left the cabin at around 9am.

First stop was Hurricane Gulch Bridge, a steel arch bridge spanning nearly 500 feet long, and 254 feet anove Hurricane Creek. There’s also an identically named railroad bridge that is more than 900 feet long, and 296 feet above Hurricane Creek. That particular bridge is the longest and tallest on the entire Alaska Railroad, and for 8 years was the largest bridge in the United States, before being surpassed.

Next stop was the North Denali Overlook, where I took a few pictures, and had a 1 hour work meeting over MS Teams.

After my meeting I drove to South Denali Overlook. All I can say is WOW! This spot offers spectacular views of the three tallest peaks in Denali, and today was such a stunningly clear day.

After taking in the views of South Denali Overlook I drove to West Rib Pub & Grill in Talkeetna. I had a delicious caribou burger and battered fried, as well as a few beers. During my lunch I chatted with a young couple named Kim and Sean, both of whom are pilots and had just moved here from Maine. They were a really kind couple and we chatted for probably over an hour.

Next up was the primary reason why i came to Alaska; a flight over Denali National Park. I chose to fly with K2 Aviation on a DHC-3T Turbo Otter, that was retrofitted with a PT6 gas-turbine. Our plane was built in 1961 and had 18913 flight hours. These planes are the workhorses of the North!

The flight lasted 2 hours, flying over the Talkeetna River, around the Denali’s, and featured a landing on Ruth Glacier.

Following the amazing scenic flight I grabbed a bite to eat from Denali Brewpub. My server Matty recommended that i have a pretzel ribeye sandwich with provelone. Oh my gosh was it amazing. I chased it with a really nice sour beer, which I’m becoming more of a fan of these days.

Following dinner it was time to start the 2.5 hour trip back to the cabin. During my drive I chatted on the phone with a few people, which helped make the trip go by faster. I arrived back at the cabin around 830pm.

Tonight was forecasted to have an Aurora, and Lady Aurora certainly didn’t disappoint. She showed herself in her full glory, peaking at a KP5. I watched her for a few hours before heading to bed at around midnight.

Be sure to check soon, as part 2 of this series will release soon!

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Iceland 2021 – Glymur Falls and Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River

Today started off with Dominos Pizza for breakfast, a strong start for the fuel I needed to hike to Glymur Falls, Iceland’s second highest waterfall, which cascades 198 metres to valley below.

After scarfing down my pizza, which I have to note tastes significantly better than Dominos Pizza back in Canada, I grabbed a coffee from the lobby area in my hotel and proceeded to drive about 75 minutes to Glymur Falls. The trail starts off walking relatively flat for about 1.5km through some shale and shrubs until you get to a cave. You descend some stairs through the cave before shortly arriving at the first of two rivers crossings. This is where I ran into Kim and Sander, a travelling couple from Chicago. We ended up taking pictures of each other crossing the river, and stayed with each other for the remainder of the hike. The river crossing has a log and a hand line to assist you in getting across.

After crossing the river the trail starts to get very steep, with some areas where you have to scramble. luckily there are ropes to assist you if required. You can start to see the sheer magnificence of the waterfall cascading to the valley below. There was also quite a few birds perched on ledges and flying down into the valley.

You continue climbing until you get to the top of the waterfall where you cross the Botnsa River for a second time. This time the river was much wider, but was quite shallow. I had to stop and take my shoes off, and put on my water shoes to cross the freezing cold river.

After crossing the river you continue to loop back towards the car, with a fairly steep descent in some areas. I said bye to Kim and Sander and wished them well on the rest of their trip.

I was starting to get hungry so it was time to source some lunch. I drove back to Reykjavik and stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant called Viethouse for some nice hot beef pho.

After lunch I drove about an hour south to Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River, a famous hot spring river where you can soak in the hot water and take in the beautiful views. There’s a parking lot and a restaurant at the base of the hike, where you have to pay a nominal parking fee of about $2 CDN/hour. The 4km hike to the thermal river takes about 1 hour, as you have to ascend 347 metres. Along the hike to the geothermally active portion of the river you are presented with a beautiful view of a fairly significant waterfall.

Upon arriving at the geothermally active portion of the river you’ll notice that there are some wall partitions for you to have a bit of privacy to change into your bathing suit before you jump into the hot water. I’m unsure of the exact temperature but I’d probably place it closer to 40-42°C, as I found it hotter than the Blue Lagoon. I soaked in the river for about 40 minutes before getting changed and headed back to my car to drive back to my hotel.

Tomorrow I’m heading on a three day hike on Landmannalaugar Trail so it was time to pack my bags and drop them off at some rental lockers At the hotel I packed my bags and dropped them off at some rental lockers at Reykjavik Bus Terminal. It was also time to drop off my rental car, so I dropped that off as well. I was getting fairly hungry so I decided to try out a local hot dog stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. This is apparently the best place to go for some late night hot dogs if you’ve had too much too drink.

After having a hot dog I figured it was time to try one of the local scooters, since I was so far away from my hotel. I rode back to my hotel and get ready for bed as I have to wake up very early tomorrow morning for a 630am bus to Landmannalaugar. Be sure to check back soon to continue on with my Iceland adventures.

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Kelowna – Restaurants & Attractions

If you’re looking to travel to Kelowna anytime soon you should think about visiting these restaurants and attractions. I recently spent a week here about a month ago and can highly recommend these places! Accommodation this time was at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kelowna. There was a nice pool, hot-tub, and spacious room for an affordable price of $149 CDN/night.

Bouchons Bistro

Bouchons Bistro is an elegant French style bistro that was opened about 15 years ago in the heart of Kelowna’s cultural district. It’s located a stone throw away from the Delta Grand Hotel. They serve authentic French meals such as Cassoulet, Bouillabaisse, and Gratinee Lyonnaise. I highly recommend obtaining a reservation as the restaurant is quite small. Currently there are two two-hour seating times Wednesday through Sunday at 5pm and 715pm. Make sure to take a peek in the bathrooms as there is some hidden naughty artwork!

Mad Mango Cafe

Mad Mango is the place to go for a random selection of delicious Asian and American style dishes. You can go there for breakfast for American style breakfasts, or you can go there for Asian influenced dishes, including Malaysian, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. for lunch or dinner. My personal favourite is the Malaysian Laksa Soup. Hours of operation are 730am-6pm.

Salt & Brick

Salt & Brick is the place to visit if you’re into shared appetizers for your group. The selection changes daily depending on what ingredients the master chef can order. In this particular scenario we ordered a charcuterie board, mussels, a burger, a chorizo sausage, and pickles. This restaurant will not disappoint! Hours of operation are 4-10pm daily.

KRAFTY Kitchen & Bar

KRAFY Kitchen & Bar is my all-time favorite. On the weekend mornings there is the Hip-hop Brunch, and Lunch and Dinner also offer unique meal options. Hip-hop Brunch is Saturday and Sunday 9am-2pm. Lunch is Monday, Thursday, and Friday 11am-230pm. Dinner is Monday, Thursday and Friday 5pm-930pm, as well as Saturday and Sunday 5pm-10pm. My personal favorite is the Truffled Mac & Cheese.

Bohemian Cafe Kelowna

This one is a tough one for me. The food is good, but the service is really bad. I’m usually waiting 30-45 minutes for the cheque after I’m done eating, and even taking the order is pretty painful. If you can look past this the food is quite good. I usually get the Banh Mi Benedict or Banh Mi Sandwich.

Home Block @ Cedar Creek

Home Block is the place to go if you want a decadent 3 or 5 course meal with your partner. The meal selection changes nightly depending on available ingredients. On the day I enjoyed this delicious restaurant I ate Jamon Serrano (fried shishitos, marcona almonds, ham, and pan con tomate) for an appetizer, followed by Slow Roasted Pork Belly for the main course, and finished up with a selection of cheeses for desert.

Truck 59 Cider House

Truck 59 Cidery was established in 2017. and has since become a mainstay staple of the Okanagan Valley. They produce multiple ciders such as their Raspberry Hibiscus, Baptism by Firetruck, Rose, Peach Pie, Raspberry Pear, Cherry and Apple, Bourbon Blackberry, Dry Pear, Classic Dry, and some select limited editions. Hours of operation are 11am-8-pm daily.

Frankie We Salute You!

Frankie We Salute You is the Okanogan Valley’s best plant-based restaurant. All their meals are vegan friendly. I had their Frankie Burger, which was delicious. The burger is a house-made mushroom patty, with miso mustard, tomato, kettle chips, and served with sesame fried or organic greens.

Be sure to check back soon, as I have many hiking adventures backlogged that I’ll post about.

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Western Development Museum – Saskatoon

The Western Development Museum (WDM), was established in 1949, and has been in its present location since 1972. There are technically four WDM’s, located at Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton, and Saskatoon, but the area of focus is Saskatoon. The Saskatoon one is called 1910 Boomtown, and focuses on the boomtown era of 1910’s, as well as features vintage automobiles, trains, farm equipment, and other memorabilia.

When you enter the museum you’re presented with an indoor representation of a typical Saskatchewan town. There’s a long wide street with buildings on either side. I’ll go through every building and highlight a bit of history about them, before venturing on to different technologies that were developed in the 1900’s that made vast improvements into people’s quality of life; from farming techniques, automobile development, home improvements, electricity, running water, etc.

Telephone Operator’s House

Telephones were in place in many parts of Saskatchewan by 1910. The main switchboard in most small towns were typically located in the operator’s home. Shown below is what a typical telephone operator’s house would have looked like.

Harness Shop

Harness shops are some of the busiest shops in the small towns of Saskatchewan during the early 1910’s, since animals were the main workhorse, rather than vehicles. The shop keeper was often the town cobbler, and leather worker as well. Shown below is what a typical harness shop would have looked like.

Livery Stable

Livery Stables were used to provide house and feed for horses, which were the main workhorse of transportation in the early 1910’s. Horses were used to pull buggies, wagons, and farm equipment.

Blacksmith Shop

Blacksmiths had a wide variety of jobs ranging from the sharpening of slows, replacing horseshoes, repairing wheels, shaping iron into tools, and manufacturing replacement parts. Metal is heated in a forge, where bellows forced air through the fire to heat the iron. The iron is then held with tongs against an anvil and then shaped into the desired shape with a sledgehammer, before being plunged into water to harden it. Shown below is what a typical blacksmith shop would have looked like.

General Store

General stores are where the citizens could send or receive mail, buy foods, have a coffee, etc. Most items were loose, weighed and bagged, similar to how the modern day Bulk Barn does things. Shown below is what a typical general store would have looked like.

Real Estate Office and Law Office

The homestead system was based on the Dominion Land Survey (DLS). The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 offered up homesteads of 160 acres for $10 if the settler lived on the homestead for a minimum of six months every year for three years, as well as built a suitable home, broke at least 30 acres of land, and seeded at least 20 acres of land. These new homesteads were keeping the Real Estate / Law Offices in these small towns quite busy.

Dentist’s Office

In the early 1900’s dental services were usually performed by general practice doctor, and a dental office was only established after a community had developed to a considerable size to merit a specialist. A dentist usually began his practice with only a manually operated dental chair, and some basic equipment.

Doctor’s Office

Small town doctors were general practioners that faced a wide variety of medical situations ranging from pulling teerh, broken bones, delivering babies, as well as diagnosing and treating illnesses. Occasionally the illness or accident would be severe enough that the doctor would be required to visit that patient in their home, sometimes travelling many kilometres on poor roads.

Drug Store

Drug stores in the early 1910’s did more than count out pills prescribed by doctors. The usually had to mix out their own medications from raw materials. Mortar and pestle’s, scales, beakers, and a compression device were a common staple tool that allowed chemists to manufacture the pills prescribed by the doctor. Drug stores also carried specialty items such as photography equipment, grooming and hygiene supplies.

Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) Detachment

Shown below is an example of what the RNWMP detachment in Watson, Saskatchewan looked like. The detachment had two police officers who lived and worked in the building.

Church

Churches are an important part of a community, and most small towns had a church.

School

Most schools in small towns were just a one-room schoolhouse. Most schools were poorly lit, and quite chilly.

Wing Lee Laundry

Many early laundries were operated by Chinese settlers who originally came to Canada to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway’s western section. The laundromats were usually the home and business of these settlers, with the sleeping quarters typically located in the back.

Sterling Hardware Store

Hardware stores offered a wide variety of items ranging from nails to lamps and tools.

Arctic Ice Company

Before electric fridges arrived to the scene food was kept in insulated ice boxes, and were cooled by a block of ice. In the winter months ice blocks were cut from nearby rivers and lakes. The Arctic Ice Company wagon delivered ice door-to-door for home ice boxes. While the electric fridge was invented in 1913, they were not common-place in homes until the 1930’s when they became more affordable, and safer refrigerants such as Freon were invented. Early electric fridges used ammonia, which wasn’t safe for home use because they often leaked.

Railway Station

Railways were critical to the existence of prairie towns. They brought settlers and supplies, and hauled away produce to other markets. Sometimes towns would relocate to be on a rail line so that they could survive.

Farm Equipment

There was a tremendous amount of farming equipment ranging from steam powered equipment, to gas, diesel and oil powered equipment.

Sod House

Sod houses were common place, especially towards the end of the 1800’s, start of the 1900’s. They were chepa to build, warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. This was the first home for many immigrants.

Bennett Buggy

In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression era, money for gasoline had dried up, so people improvised by repurposing gasoline powered vehicles into horse-drawn vehicles. The engines were usually removed, and straps were attached that could be pulled by a horse.

Depression House

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that occured from 1929 until the late 1930’s. It was the longest and deepest depression in the 20th censure. It started in the United States after a major fall in stock prices that began on September 4th 1929, and was worldwide news by October 19th 1929. This was also known as Black Tuesday. Between 1929 and 1932 the world economy shrank by 15%. By comparison, the Great Recession of 2008-2009 the world economy only shrank by 1%. Unemployment also rose to nearly 23%! Unfortunately also during these times the Canadian and USA prairies were also pummeled with severe wind storms which would pile dust against the side of peoples homes, sometimes up to the roof. Dust would even make its way inside the home and cover everything. An example of a depression-era home is shown below.

Rural Electrification

In the 1920’s homes were introduced to the magic of electricity, with the 32 Volt home electricity “Light Plant”. Light plants consisted of a gas engine (sometimes a wind turbine), an electric generator (also known as a dynamo), and a storage battery. The storage batteries consisted of sixteen 2 Volt gas storage batteries, usually split into two rows of eight to save on space. Farm light plants were typically stored in the basement and were installed on a concrete foundation to minimize vibration. The light plants could run small 32-volt appliances such as butter churns, washing machines, tools, and lights. Light plants provided electricity for many rural homes until the 1950’s, when the last of Saskatchewan’s rural farms were finally connected to the power grid.

Implement Dealer

Implement dealers were placed close to railway stations in order to take easily delivery of shipments of steam engines, gas tractors, and other agricultural machinery that was purchased by the citizens in the town for use on their homesteads.

Banks

In the early years of banking, each bank company issued it’s own currency. Banks in this era were built to give the impression of a solid and trustworthy image. Architecture during the 1910’s featured false columns on the front of banks, sturdy dark wood furniture, and wrought iron teller windows.

Craft Parlour

Craft Parlours provided women with craft supplies to make clothing, rugs, quilts, etc.

City Garage

Between the 1910’s and 1920’s cars were often sold by farm implement dealers who often knew very little about them. This often led to the need for a service industry to provide repairs and accessories for them, which spun the need for independent garages.

Boomtown Photo Studio

Photography equipment was not owned by the average citizen so if a professional portrait was required a visit to a city photo city was a necessity. City photo studies typically held a studio camera, a room with interchangeable backdrops, and a dedicated dark room to develop the film.

Fire Hall

Many Canadian homes are built of wood, and are susceptible to house fires. Making matters worse was older homes typically contained electrical wiring that didn’t have electrical grounding, and exposed wires (think rod and spoke inside walls with newspaper as insulation). Fire Halls were as much a necessity as they are now. Firefighting equipment – hand, steam, or compressed gas – stored in small wooden firehalls were operated by volunteer firefighters.

Town Office

Town halls were the centre of business and handled all local administration, and date back to early roman times.

Clock Shop

Clock shops in the early 1900’s were more than a place where people could buy clocks. The jeweler sold and repaired watches and clocks, handled china and silver, and acted as the local optometrist. Keeping time was a lot harder in the early 1900’s than our internet connected devices of today.

Butcher Shop

Electrical refrigeration didn’t exist in the early 1910’s. Food was preserved with ice and kept fresh in ice boxes. Butchers were an essential retailer as many families didn’t even have access to ice block service.

Newspapers

Today we can just look at our iPhones, or turn on our televisions to get the news, however at the turn of the 1900’s news travelled much slower. Newspapers were printed on a daily or weekly basis and delivered door to door. International news sometimes took as long as 1-3 months to reach Canada.

Barber Shop and Pool Hall

Barber Shops at the turn of the 1900’s often contained a public bath area where a person sat on the surrounding rim with his feet in the basin. Water drained through a small hole under the seat. Pictured below is a historic barber chair.

Transportation Gallery

The museum featured a transportation gallery that encompassed all sorts of vehicles from the early 1900’s through to modern times. There were even some electric vehicles and renewable fuel vehicles at the turn of the 1900’s that were quite interesting.

Believe it or not but electric cars have been around since the 1880’s. The very first electric car was developed by Gustave Trouve from Paris, France. Electric cars were widely used between 1881 and 1912, even more popular than gasoline / diesel powered cars. In fact six electric cars held the land speed record in the 19th century, with one of them reaching 106 kph in 1899, which was unheard of during those days. The internal combustion engine took over as the main engine of choice, until roughly the late 1970’s, when the fuel crisis hit. Electric vehicles eventaully started to gain traction again, including this weird looking vehicle called the ElecTrek pictured below. The ElecTrek was developed by Unique Mobility from Denver, Colorado. When it went on sale in 1982 it could reach highway speeds, however could only got 132 km (82 miles) on a charge, and ran on 16 heavy lead-acid batteries, which posed an issue with limited charge cycles and recyclability. The electric vehicle wasn’t quite ready for mass-production again. General Motors (GM)came close in 1996 with the EV1. The vehicle was highly favoured by its owners, however they lived a short life because in 1999 GMended production. There was also another catch because GM never let you purchase them, rather lease them for a 3 year period. Once the lease period was over GM crushed most of the vehicles, and distributed a few to museums. This was a huge blow to the electric vehicle scene. The 2000’s sat quiet, until Tesla came to the picture in 2003 and has since produced over 1 million electric vehicles. I myself own a Toyota Prius PRIME plug-in-hybrid, of which only 50,000 per year are produced. I love my car, and honestly don’t see myself driving a non electric vehicle here-on-in.

What do we have here? Pictured below is a McLaughlin Motors Model E35 powered by straw gas. Basically it was a regular vehicle that could burn straw gas. A gas bag was fitted to the car’s frame, with a hose to pipe the gas into the carburetor, and a valve that could be opened or closed depending on whether the car was run on straw gas or gasoline. The issue with running a car on straw gas was that the 300 cubic feet of gas had less stored capacity than 1 gallon (3.78 litres) of gasoline, so it could only go for an extremely short distance. This was one of the first “renewable fuel” vehicles ever produced.

Steam powered cars were prevalent until the end of the 1920’s In the early 1900’s automotive propulsion technology was highly experimental with gasoline, electric, and steam all contending to be the dominant technology of choice. Steam power was somewhat preferred during the late 1910’s to the early 1920’s because of its simplicity of operation, maintenance, and smooth / quiet ride. By the 1920’s steam was on its way out as gasoline alternatives were becoming significantly cheaper and faster. The vehicle pictured below is a 1926 Brooks steam car, of which only 18 were built. The car had only 38 moving parts, and featured unique technologies such as a flash boiler wrapped in 5 km of piano wire, and a body made of a light-weight composite fabric called Meritas.

Cobalt-60 Beam Therapy Unit

The original Cobalt-60 Beam Therapy Unit was an innovation in healthcare that had a worldwide impact in cancer treatment. Saskatchewan had a very high cancer rate developing between 1924 and 1941, and the government decided they would offer free cancer treatment to everyone living in Saskatchewan, and gave the green light to the University of Saskatchewan to develop the “Cobalt Bomb”. In 1951 the “Cobalt Bomb” was finalized to treat cancer. The very unit on display in this museum treated 6728 patients until it was replaced in 1972. Canada is a world leader in cancer treatment innovation for a terrible disease that kills 83,000 Canadians annually, and 9.8 million people worldwide.

I hope you enjoyed reading about all these fascinating facts as much as I did. If you visit Saskatoon I highly recommend visiting this museum. Be sure to check back soon as I continue my summer hiking adventures, and I also have an upcoming trip to Kelowna at the end of June. It’s also looking fairly promising for me to look again at doing my Eastern Europe road trip in the fall.

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Spring Update – Hiking, Yurt Camping, a New Puppy, and a Wedding

It’s been a while since I last posted here so I figured it was time to give an update as to what I’ve been up to.

Maligne Canyon Hike

Julie and I took a trip up to Jasper at the end of January to hike along the bottom of Maligne Canyon. This has been a bucket list item for me for many year, and I’m glad that I finally got to do it. The hike is only 15 minutes outside of Jasper and starts at the parking lot that you access the “Fifth Bridge”. From there you cross the bridge, follow the trail east, until you see a gate in the fence beside “Bridal Veil” waterfall. The waterfall is stunning to view, and a fun fact is that it never freezes, even in the middle of winter, as the temperature of the water never drops below 0°C. After viewing the beautiful waterfall you have two choices; you can either walk along the riverbed, and go up the little rock slide, or you can continue on the path and enter 200 metres further along the path. We chose to enter the difficult way, up the slide. From there you continue walking along the frozen riverbed and take in the amazing views.

During that weekend we also drove up to Pyramid Lake during the evenings in hope of trying to view the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights were unfortunately not active, however I was able to take some beautiful long-exposure pictures.

On the way back we also stopped at Abraham Lake, a place we visited for the first time last year. This year was much better, as there were even more trapped methane bubbles!

Work

In February and March I had to take two trips up to Red Deer for work to do some photography, which was fun. Our company was involved in the detailed design of a pharmaceutical grade ethanol production facility, and I went up to take pictures and video of the installation of the large distillation towers.

A New Puppy

In February we picked up a new dog named Ruby. She’s the same breed as our previous dog Grady; a wheaten terrier / poodle cross. She’s been an incredible delight to have in my life, despite being a terrorist at times. She recently just turned 6 months old.

Inner City Walks

In the spring we ended up going on quite a few inner-city walks with my dad, and occasionally Julie on the weekends.

Radius Yurts – Radium, British Columbia

At the end of March we drove out to Radium and stayed at the Radius Yurts for the weekend. That was incredibly fun, and I’d definitely do it again. I’ve always wanted to stay in a yurt, and this was a lot more convenient that going all the way to Mongolia to stay in one. One thing we learned was to travel substantially light than we did, because it was quite the walk to our yurt. While we were there we went on a nice long hike around the property, which lasted about 3 hours. There was some incredible views of the Bugaboo’s at the top of the property.

Hiking – Tunnel Mountain Hoodoo’s Trail, Chester Lake, Blackshale Suspension Bridge

At the end of April my father and I did a father-son trip out to Canmore for the weekend. We completed three hikes during the weekend; Tunnel Mountain Hoodoo’s Trail, Chester Lake, and Blackshale Suspension Bridge.

Tunnel Mountain Hoodoo’s Trail is a 7.7 kilometer trail located just outside of Banff, which provides beautiful views of the mountains, and a waterfall, however dad nor I saw the waterfall.

Chester Lake in the winter is simply stunning! This is my third time completing Chester Lake in the last 12 months, and it is significantly different in winter than in the spring, summer, or fall. The trail used in winter is quite a bit steeper than the one used during the other three seasons and is in a more forested area.

Blackshale Suspension Bridge is located high above Blackshale Creek, located along the Smith-Dorrien Trail. The hike takes just over 15 minutes to reach the bridge.

Sara & Tom’s Wedding

On May 1st I got to see my close friend Sara get married to her partner Tom. It was such an incredible experience to be able to photograph their wedding, which was held at Brentview Baptist Church.

Following the wedding we drove out to Banff to take photos at the Banff View Point located on the windy Mt. Norquay Scenic Road. We lucked out with our arrival, as the weather on the drive was extremely rainy, however when we arrived we had a 5-10 minute window of beautiful weather, before it started to snow again. After taking some pictures at the view point we drove down to Cascade Ponds, and again lucked out with the weather, before it started raining.

After taking photos we checked into our hotel, Canalta Lodge, which was graciously provided to us by Sara. The hotel was absolutely stunning, and I really appreciated the rustic feel of the lodging. The beds were super comfortable, the room was spacious, and the decor was cute. For dinner we picked up some burgers from Eddie Burger, and we watched a movie called Without Remorse on Amazon Prime.

The next day we went on a small hike on Canmore’s Hoodoo Trail, before heading home.

Baby Robin’s

At the beginning of May we also had the pleasant surprise of baby Robin’s being born on our balcony.

What’s Next?

What’s in store for me next? Besides a quick trip to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan this weekend I’m not entirely sure as COVID-19’s third wave is here. I’ll still be out hiking, but I don’t see any significant travel plans in the horizon at this point in time.

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.