Eastern Europe Trip – Day 19 – Helsinki, Finland

Today is the last day of my Eastern Europe trip. I woke up early so that I could explore everything that I wanted to in Helsinki, Finland.

Near my hotel is Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral that was built between 1862 and 1868. It is the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Finland, and was designed by Aleksey Gornostayev. A fun fact about the cathedral is that over 700000 bricks were used in its construction, that were brought over in barges from the Bomarsund Fortress that had been demolished in the Crimean War. The church is designed in Russian Revival architecture style.

After snapping some photos of the cathedral I walked over to Senate Square, where there is a statue of Russian emperor Alexander II, as well as Helsinki Cathedral. The church was built between 1830 and 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was known as St. Nicholas’ Church until Finland gained its independence in 1917. The Neoclassical church was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and Ernst Lohrmann.

Nearby is the Pohjola Insurance Building, built between 1899 and 1901. It’s a fine example of Finiish National Romantic Architecture. The building was the original headquarters for the Pohjola Insurance Company, and was designed by Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen. The soapstone, and granite facades are intricately detailed. The main entrance has troll and bear statues on each side of the door, and because the mouths of some of the characters are slightly open, sometimes when people are passing by they leave cigarette butts in the mouths of the characters as a prank.

Just down the street is the Ateneum Art Gallery, which is housed in a beautiful building designed by Theodor Hoijer, and was completed in 1887. The facade of Ateneum is decorated with statues and reliefs which contain a lot of symbols.

Across the street is Helsinki Central Station. The central train station was designed by Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1919. The design was finished in 1909, however the national romanticist style (similar to Art Nouveau) train station took 10 years to be completed. I love the four male statues holding the orbs; I think they look really neat. Over 400,000 people use the train station daily!

Right next door to the central train station is the Finish National Theatre, which is a 1424 seat theatre that was built in 1902. The National Romantic style theatre was designed by architects Onni Tarjanne and Heikki & Kaija Siren.

I then took a bus to Puu-Vallila, a colourful wooden house district that dates back to 1910. The district was built for the working classes during the 1910’s and 1920’s. It was designed by architects Karl Hård af Segerstad, Armas Lindgren, Jussi Paatela and Toivo Paatela.

I then took another bus to Kallio Church (Kallion Kirkko), which is a beautiful Art Nouveau style Lutheran Church designed by Lars Sonck, and built between 1908 and 1912.

A short walk away from the church is Mehiläinen Helsinki Ympyrätalo, also known as “Circle House”, a circular modern style office building that was built between 1960 and 1968.

I then took a bus to view a very strange piece of art called Sibelius-Monumentti. The monument is dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and was unveiled by Finnish artists Eila Hiltunen in 1967. The monument consists of 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern, and weighs over 24 tons!

I then took another bus to Temppeliaukion Church, a Lutheran Church that is built directly into solid rock. It is also known as the Church of the Rock. Plans for the church date back to the 1930’s, however construction was delayed because of World War 2. After the war construction didn’t start until 1989, and was finished the remaining year. The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock. Natural light enters through the skylight surrounding the center copper dome. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics. The church organ is comprised of 3001 pipes!

Kamppi Chapel, also known as the Chapel of Silence, is a very small, yet beautiful modern chapel located in Narinkka Square. It was built in 2012.

It was now time to get some lunch, as I was getting rather peckish. I took a tram to Löyly Helsinki Restaurant and had a delicious burger and seasoned fries. The restaurant is also home to a beautiful terrace overlooking the ocean, and saunas.

Final stop was Suomenlinna Fortress, located 20 minutes away from Helsinki by boat. It’s a maritime fortress built during the Swedish Era from 1748 to 1808 to protect their maritime fleet. It was taken over by the Russians from 1808 to 1917, when Finland gained its independence. It is.a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was now time to take the train back to the airport and check-in to my hotel; Hilton Helsinki Airport, which I received for free from a Hotels.com voucher. The room was very well appointed, and I ended up working, having a bath, and chatting with friends during the evening.

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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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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.

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Iceland 2021 – Reykjavik

Today I embarked on my first trip out of Canada since October 2019. I would have travelled sooner, however the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked havoc on the entire globe for the last 18 months. I’m very fortunate that Canada’s vaccination rollout program occurred as quickly as it did, and I was fully vaccinated by July 2021. Iceland was one of the few countries that I was interested in visiting, that allowed fully vaccinated people to travel there.

This marks my 2.5th time visiting Iceland. I had previously visited Iceland in Summer 2014 with my dad, and I had a brief stopover in 2018 when I completed my France trip, which you can check out here. Getting there was a bit different this time, because usually I fly from Edmonton or Vancouver with Icelandair, however those routes were temporarily paused due to the ongoing pandemic. This time I flew WestJet from Calgary to Toronto, and then Icelandair from Toronto to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. I originally paid $1420 for an economy class return ticket, however I paid an additional $230 to be upgraded from economy class to business class for both of the departure flights. Previous trips to Iceland showed the economy class prices to be about half of what I paid. This is my first time experiencing the new business class seats on Westjet, and Icelandair, since they both refreshed their aircraft during the pandemic. I must say I was very impressed by both.

At the Calgary airport they verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to check-in. The Calgary to Toronto flight was on an older Westjet Boeing 737-800. Roast beef and mashed potatoes were served for dinner, which was actually quite food. Hot meals are a new thing for Westjet since they launched their new business class, but I think they have a hit here. The flight was quite smooth, with exception to the last 45 minutes approaching Toronto, due to a storm in the area.

In Toronto they again verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to boarding. The Toronto to Reykjavik flight was on a brand new Icelandair Boeing 737-8 MAX. The new business class seats are adorned in incredibly comfortable grey leather. Their older seats were more a blue leather colour, and were not the most comfortable. An incredibly generously sized dinner was served, which included chicken kababs over couscous and vegetables, alongside some fresh meats and cheese, and a cake for desert. I skipped eating the cake, as I’m not the biggest fan of sweets.

Upon arrival in Reykjavik I grabbed my bag and went through customs, which was very easy, and almost the same as usual, except I had to hand them some paperwork that I had pre-filled online. After exiting the airport I went and picked up my rental car, which was a Kia Picanto from Blue Car Rental. The daily rate was about $200, which is about the same as pre-Covid times.

After picking up the car I started a day of exploring, before I was able to check-in to my hotel at 3pm. First stop was Snorrastofa, a cultural and medieval center named after Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson. I didn’t go inside, as I was just fascinated by the architecture style, which I would characterize as Medieval, and perhaps Art Deco (the white building).

Next stop was Hruanfosser & Barnafoss, two waterfalls located right next to each other, and about a 75 minutes drive North of Reykjavik. Hruanfosser is definitely the cooler looking of the two waterfalls, and is a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 metres out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjökull.

After taking in the gorgeous views of Hruanfosser I drove back to Reykjavik to check out the Reykjavik Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, one of three art museums run by the same company. This building was opened in 1973 and was the first building in Iceland specifically designed for hosting art exhibitions. Kjarvalsstaðir houses the works of one of Iceland’s most influential and recognized artists, Jóhannes Kjarval. The exhibitions at Kjarvalsstaðir focus primarily on modern art paintings and sculptures. Architecturally the building is considered a great example of Nordic Modernism, however I would say it closely resembles that of some Brutalism traits.

Perlan, a prominent futuristic looking building situated on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill, was the next stop. The site where the building is situated started out in 1939 as a single hot water tank to supply enough pressure to push water up to a 10 story building anywhere in Reykjavik. Over the next two decades five more tanks were built, however were later torn down and six were reconstructed in the later 1980’s. In 1991 the six hot water tanks became the base of Perlan, a building open to the public, housing a planetarium, exhibition of the role of water in Icelandic nature, a photographic exhibition, and “Wonders of Iceland”, which is an exhibition that shows Icelandic nature, glaciers, geysers, and volcanos. The tanks are still in use, and each hold 5 million litres of hot water to supply to city.

Perlan overlooks Reykjavik Airport (RKV), which only serves internal flights within Iceland and to Greenland due to its shorter runway lengths of only 4000 an 5100 feet. The first flight from the airport occurred in September 1919. Regularly scheduled flights started to occur in 1940 by Flugfélag Akureyrar (now Icelandair). The airport in its current form was built by the British Army during World War 2, and originally only had a grass surface. After the war the British Army handed the airport operation over to the Icelandic government. The airport underwent some renovations in 2000. There’s a lot of controversy over the airport as its considered noisy, takes up a lot of useful area near downtown, and poses a safety risk. There’s a few options being considered including leaving the airport as is, demolishing and building a new one close by, or demolishing and moving all flights to Keflavik International Airport.

Close to Perlan is Nautholsvik, a small neighborhood overlooking Reykjavik Airport, which includes a beach, and an artificial hot spring, where hot water is pumped into a man-made lagoon. It provides to beautiful views of airplanes landing, and boats coming and going.

Reykjavik Art Museum Asmundarsafn was the next stop. This is the second of three art museums run by the same company. The building was designed, worked in, and lived in by the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. The white dome structure, built between 1942 and 1950, is surrounded by Sveinsson’s sculptures in the garden, and houses his work all throughout on the inside.

It was time to check-in to my hotel, named Hotel Muli. This is a self-service hotel where you’re provided with an entry code to the building and lockbox, where you can obtain your key. The room was newly renovated and had a fairly comfortable bed, as well as a nice rainfall shower. One thing to note about the hot water supply in most of Reykjavik is that it’s supplied by geothermal water, so has a bit of a Sulphur smell. It doesn’t bother me, but is noteworthy to others. I took a three hour nap before continuing on with my daily adventures.

It was time for me to eat some dinner. I walked to Islenski Barinn, which is highly regarded for its well-priced quality focused food. I ordered a Reindeer Burger and a beer. The burger was delicious and reminded me of an even more tender elk burger, which makes sense as they are both from the same family, however elk are typically much heavier than reindeer.

Next door to where I had dinner is the National Theatre of Iceland, a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. The building was built in 1950, and showcases Samuelsson’s beloved basalt columns. Another building similar to this is the University of Iceland’s Main Building, also designed by Samuelsson. I explored that building on a later day, so be sure to check back on a later post.

Close by is Hotel Borg, a beautiful Art Deco hotel that was opened in 1930. The hotel was originally built by Jóhannes Jósefsson, who competed in the 1908 Olympics, travelled around America in a circus, and then after returning to Iceland in 1927 felt like building a luxury hotel.

Next to Hotel Borg is Reykjavik Cathedral, a cathedral church built in 1796, and reconsecrated in 1879 after a large restoration.

Close by is Parliament House, located on Austurvöllur Square. The building was built between 1880 and 1881. Two additions to the building occurred in 1902 and 2002. The main building was built using hewn dolerite, a subvolcanic rock similar to volcanic basalt. Today only a handful of parliamentary items take place in the Parliament House, with most taking place in adjacent buildings.

It was getting late, and I was quite tired so it was time to head back to the hotel for some sleep. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment i visit the famous Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption, hike the Krysuvik Geothermal Loop, and attempt to visit the Blue Lagoon.

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Edmonton – Fall 2020

Two weeks ago Julie and I decided to get away from the city for the weekend. I’ve been wanting to go to Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, for quite some time as the city hosts plenty of well preserved architecture. Julie’s colleagues at work also recommended her quite a few restaurants to visit while we were there.

We left Saturday morning around 9:00am and proceeded North towards Edmonton. First stop was the Reynolds Museum in Wetaskiwin, about two hours North.

The Reynolds Museum was conceived by Stan Reynolds, who had already amassed a large collection of agricultural machinery, airplanes, and automobiles during the mid 1900’s. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta. The province opened up the Reynolds Museum to exhibit these items on September 12th 1992. By the time that Reynolds passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts. Currently over 6600 artifacts belong to the collection, with the majority of them held in the museum’s storage facility.

Stan Reynolds was born on May 18th 1923. He started his career in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and served in Great Britain as part of the night-fighter squadron. He became one of the youngest pilots to fly Beaufighters and Mosquitos. After World War 2 he was discharged from the air force and returned to Wetaskiwin, where he started selling used cars and become one of the most successful automotive dealerships in Alberta. Reynolds repaired and pained the cars himself and studied for his welding and auto mechanics licenses. Between 1946 and 1958 he operated 13 used car lots. As his business grew he expanded to sell new and used trucks, farm machinery, industrial equipment, house trailers, and even airplanes!

Reynolds recognized the growing important of aviation and needed a place to land his plane so he built and operated the Wetaskiwin airport until he transferred it to the City and County of Wetaskiwin in 1969. He sold the airfield for $30,000 for less than half the market value, and in return he was given perpetual free use of the airstrip and taxi trip between the airport and his property.

As his business grew, so did his collection. One of his business slogans was ‘Stan Takes Anything In Trade’. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta and by the time he passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts.

Motoring started in Alberta in 1906 when the Alberta Government passed the first motor vehicle act. Vehicle owners had to register their cars with the provincial secretary for $2. They were then allowed to travel at 10 kph in settled areas, and 20 kph in rural areas. They were held responsible for damages in any accident with a horse drawn carriage. In 1911 the act was revised to give horse-drawn vehicles the upper hand by requiring motorists to slow down when passing a horse, or even stop when requested by a wagon or buggy driver. The act also required motor vehicles to have “adequate brakes” and a horn, gong, or bell. By 1911 there were over 1500 motorized vehicles on Alberta rodes and the horse-drawn carriage era was coming to an end.

Early vehicles were right-hand drive, a direct carry-over from horse drawn carriages. Many cars had leaf springs and wooden spoked wheels like their carriage counterparts.

One of my favorite cars from the collection is the 1929 Duesenberg Model J. The car was donated to the museum on December 21st 1993. Bernand and Joan Aaron drove across Canada to deliver the automobile to the museum. The vehicle had over 20 owners by the time it was donated. Only 470 Model J’s were produced between 1929 and 1937. The original price tag was roughly $20,000 USD in 1929, which equates to roughly $305,000 USD today.

The rest of the museum featured cars from the early days of motoring up to about the 1970’s. My second favourite part of the museum is the old fashioned art deco style gas station with the cars displayed out front.

After spending a good two hours in the museum we drove to Leduc to have lunch at Vietnam Paradise Restaurant. We both had sate beef pho. It was decent, but a little oily for my taste.

After having lunch we drove to downtown Edmonton, where I ended up parking my car at the Art Gallery of Alberta so that we could walk around. The Art Gallery of Alberta was established in 1924 as the Edmonton Museum of Arts. In 1956 the museum was renamed the Edmonton Art Gallery. Between 1924 and 1969 the museum occupied a number of locations until it was relocated to its present location in 1969. The building was originally a brutalistic style building until it underwent a $88 million redevelopment from 2007 to 2010. The building has a collection of over 6000 pieces of art work.

We walked around downtown exploring various old buildings such as the Kelly Building, Churchill Wire Centre, The McLeod Building, Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, and the 100 Street Funicular.

The Kelly Ramsey Building was built by blacksmith John Kelly. The building, owned by James Ramsey, was built because James required more space for his department store. After Kelly’s death in 1926 John purchased the building for $100,000. He added an extension to his ever-growing business. IN the 1940’s the Government of Alberta purchased the building, until it was purchased by Worthington Properties. In 2009 a fire broke out and destroyed most of the interior of the building. It was later determined that arson was involved, and a man was arrested. In 2013 the building was demolished and replaced by the 25-storey Enbridge Center, which recreated the original building facades on the tower’s podium.

The Churchill Wire Centre, also known as the Telephone Building, was built between 1945 and 1947. It is an excellent example of the Stripped Classicism style of architecture, which is a subset of the Moderne style. The two and a half storey granite and terrazzo clad structure is a great example of the early use of prefabricated exterior components, and was designed by Edmonton’s former city architect Maxwell Dewar.

The McLeod Building is a nine-storey building that was built between 1913 and 1915. It was designed in the Chicago Commercial style, and is the only remaining terracotta-clad building in Edmonton. The building reflects the Edwardian-era architectural influences that were prevalent in Edmonton at the time. The Edwardian-era is a spinoff of neo-classicism that was reinvented at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which became very popular in American cities in the early twentieth century. The building was designed after the Polson Block in Spokane Washington, and was designed by the same architect, J.K. Dow.

The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald was designed by architect’s Ross and MacFarlene and was constructed for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1915. The hotel which stands 48 metres (156 feet) tall and contains 11 floors and overlooks the North Saskatchewan River. When the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway went bankrupt its management was taken over by Canadian National Hotels, before being sold to Canadian Pacific Hotels in 1988. Today it it currently run by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. The hotel has undergone several renovations and expansions, including an expansion wing that was added in 1953. In 1983, Canadian National Hotels ceased operations, and the expansion wing was also demolished. The design of the building was inspired by designs found on French Renaissance architectural-era chateaus and features pitched sloped roofs which include chimneys, finials, and turrets. The façade of the building is made from Indiana limestone.

Out front I saw a beautiful Mercedes C Class sedan outside the front of the hotel. I feel this image could be featured on a Mercedes ad campaign.

The 100 Street Funicular is a newly built funicular in front of the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, which has a staircase that runs alongside it, brings people from 100 Street by the hotel to the area around the Low Level Bridge. The funicular, which cost $24 million, was designed by DIALOG, and opened in 2017.

After walking around it was time for dinner. We moved the car and parked it outside the Neon Sign Museum, which is an open-air display of historic neon signs. We walked to Sabor Restaurant, a Tapa’s style restaurant, where we ordered Piri Piri Prawns, Seared Fresh Scallops, Pork Belly, Spinach Salad, and some drinks. Julie had a glass of red wine, and I had some local pale ale beer.

After dinner we drove to our hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton West. I obtained the room for only $40 as I had a $60 Hotels.com voucher that I needed to use before it expired. Even so, the hotel was very inexpensive compared to normal due to COVID-19 really hurting the hospitality industry. You can really find a bargain on hotels at the moment. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching television before going to bed.

The next morning we woke up around 8:30am. We got dressed and went to a nearby McDonald’s for breakfast. I had an Egg McMuffin and Julie had two hashbrowns. We also both ordered coffee’s. We had about an hour of time to kill before we met up with my friend Heather, who I hadn’t seen in many years. Heather and I used to work together at Golder Associates, before we both decided to pursue different career paths.

We explored the Oliver Exchange Building, the Alberta Legislature Building, the Federal Building, and Edmonton Public Library – Jasper Place, and The Gibson Block Building.

The Oliver Exchange Building is a two-storey wood and brick structure that was designed by Allan Merrick Jeffers, one of the architects responsible for the Alberta Legislature building. The building was built in 1913 and was one of the most unique telephone building in Canada because it was highly automated. Instead of staffed pull-and-plug switchboards, it featured state-of-the-art automated switching equipment to keep up with the growing demands of the city. The building was purchased and renovated in 2016 and currently houses a bunch of boutique shops.

The Federal Building was built in 1958 to house the Western Canadian offices of the Government of Canada. It was sold to the Government of Alberta in 1988 and sat vacant until 2020. The building was first proposed in the 1930’s but construction didn’t start until 1955. This Art Deco building took its inspiration from the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, located in New York City.

The Gibson Block Building, also known as the Flatiron Building, is a large wedge-shaped four-storey brick building, which resembles a mini version of New York’s Flatiron building. The building was designed by William Gibson and was constructed in 1913. The building was originally built to provide first floor retail space, with offices on the remaining floors. The building was used for a variety of different things over the years, including the Turkish Baths, which were closed in 1978.

We met with Heather at Earls for lunch and had some great conversation before saying bye. It was great to catch up with Heather after all these years.

After lunch we drove to old Strathcona, where we walked around and explored all the old buildings, as well as got some candy from a store called Rocket Fizz. We then had a quick stop at Situation Brewing for a quick pint before heading home towards Calgary. For dinner we stopped in Red Deer for Vietnamese food at Vietnamese Garden.

What’s in store for me next? I’m not entirely sure as COVID-19’s second wave is here, and there is rumours of another lockdown coming soon. I will most likely focus on my drone photography skills over the winter time, and we also hope to travel to Northern Alberta to have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora). Be sure to check back from time to time to see what I’m up to. Until next time…

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer than that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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2018-03-19 – Barcelona

Today I woke up at around 8:00am without an alarm clock. I walked down the street to a local cafe just simply titled as “365”. I had a delicious seedy bagel with Brie cheese, smoked salmon and what I think was arugula, almond with a croissant and two Americano coffees. I needed two as one was simply not enough to get me going today.
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After breakfast I went back to the hotel room to pack, placed my bag into a locker at the hotel, and took the metro to Sagrada Família. Construction of Sagrada Família started in 1882 (136 years ago) and is scheduled to be completed in 2028. The architect Fransico de Paula del Villar started the project and Antoni Gaudi took over as chief architect only one year after construction started. Gaudi devoted almost his entire remainder of his life to the project until his death in 1926 at the age of 73 when he was hit by a tram. Construction was slow because it relied solely on private donations, and then was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War for a period of time.
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After visiting Sagrada Família I went and checked out a few other Gaüdi buildings and Barcelona’s Arc du Triumph before returning to the hotel to grab my bag from the locker before taking the R2 regional train to the airport, as this allowed me to use my 72 hour transit pass instead of having to pay again to use the Airport Express Bus. I should have just taken the train when I arrived as it was much better and cheaper than the airport bus, but hey that’s a lesson learned.
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I arrived at the airport a bit early so I had some food and a beer before hoping onboard my Joon (Air France) flight. This is a new spin-off hip airline similar to our own Air Canada Rouge, but in my opinion it’s much better as there is more leg room and the staff are nicer and presented better.
The Nomad Hotel I was staying at was a short complimentary shuttle ride from Charles De Gaulle airport. The hotel was very futuristic with a tablet controlling everything from the lighting, air conditioning, and projection television to displaying how much water I used and how much I had left. The bed was also exceptionally comfortable.
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