Victoria – Christmas 2021 – Part 2 of 2

The next day I woke up around 8:00am, showered, and walked over to my parents Airbnb to pickup keys for the car, so that I could explore a few buildings that I wanted to see that interested me. First stop was to pickup some breakfast, so I drove to a nearby Tim Hortons and got a bagel BELT, a hashbrown, and some coffee.

First architecture stops were 200 and 230 King George Terrace, which are beautiful Art Deco style homes that were built in 1945. They’re currently values at over $2.5 million each!

Next stop was Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian style mansion that was built in 1890 as a resident for the wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan. Unfortunately Robert died 17 months before construction of the castle was completed. Once his widow Joan had passed away the Craigdarroch estate was sold to Griffith Hughes for $38000, who subdivided the estate into building lots. To stimulate sales during an extremely slow real estate market, he decided to raffle the home to be won by one of the purchasers of the parcels of land. The winner was Solomon Cameron, who mortgaged the home to finance other failed ventures, which left him broke and the home was defaulted to his creditor, the Bank of Montreal. Over the years the building served as a military hospital, college, offices, and even a conservatory, before it was repurposed to a museum in 1979. The building was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1992.

Next stop was the University of Victoria complex, which houses some unique buildings such as the Clearihue Building, Petch Building, MacLaurin Building, McPherson Library, and Lansdowne Residence Buildings.

The Clearihue Building the the oldest building on the campus. It was constructed in 1961, with an addition built in 1971. The building is an example of modernism, and has a pillared ground floor supporting the classroom floors above, as well as features a clock tower.

The Petch Building was built in 1986 to accommodate the new Faculty of Engineering and the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, as well as provide additional space for the Departments of Biology and Chemistry. This brutalism style three story building is contructred out of reinforced concrete, with precase concrete exterior panels. The building features a unique heat-recovery system, where heat can be recovered and reused from air that is being exhausted.

The MacLaurin Building is the largest building on the campus, and was completed in 1966. The brutalism style building consists of several wings of offices, classrooms, and laboratories. The five story building is constructed of reinforced concrete, with an exterior finished in concrete and integrally coloured bricks.

McPherson Library is a modern style four-storey building constructed out of reinforced concrete. The exterior is clad with pre-cast concrete panels with exposed stone aggregate and rough granite. The building was originally constructed between 1963 and 1964, with a major addition built between 1972 and 1973.

The Lansdowne Residence building complex consists of six four-story brutalism style reinforced concrete buildings. The exterior of the buildings are unfinished natural concrete. The buildings can house 280 students.

After exploring the library I went and watching some planes take off and land at Victoria’s Harbour Airport. I also happened to catch a glimpse of a rainbow!

I drove the car back to my parents Airbnb, and just as I was dropping off the car my sister messaged me to see if I wanted to hike Mount Douglas with her. Mount Douglas provides some nice views of the surrounding area.

After hiking with my sister I grabbed some Spicy Beef Pho from Le Petit Saigon, and then went back to my hotel to relax for a bit.

After relaxing at my hotel for a bit I went back to my parents Airbnb and hung out with my parents for a bit. I had a microwavable dinner with them before walking around downtown Victoria to take in some views. We also went to the rooftop patio on the 12th floor, and it had some stunning views of the city below. Afterwards I went back to the hotel for the rest of the evening to relax.

The next morning was Christmas Day. It had snowed a bit overnight, which made it actually feel like Christmas. We all met at my parents Airbnb at 9:30am, opened stockings, cooked our traditional English breakfast that we usually do, and then opened presents. In the afternoon I continued to do a bit more exploring before coming back for dinner.

St. Ann’s Academy and Auditorium was built by the Roman Catholic Congregation of Women (Sisters of Saint Anne of Lachine, Quebec). In 1858 a Chapel was built, in 1971 a School was built, and in 1886 and 1909 a Convent was built. The Sisters of St. Ann closed the academy in 1973 and sold the property to the government to be used as office space for the public service for a few years, until it was closed for major repairs. The building was renovated and restored, and reopened in 1997.

Just down the street from the academy is 895 Academy Close (Athlone Apartments), a beautiful Art Deco / Streamline Moderne building built in 1947. The apartments were designed by Patrick Birley.

Final stop was 900 Park Boulevard (Tweedsmuir Mansions), which a large and beautiful Art Deco / Streamline Moderne building built in 1936. This is probably Victoria’s finest example of surviving Art Deco style building. It was built by McCulloch & Harvey for a cost of $23000. The original building had nine suites, some with their own street entrances. It was also the first apartment in Victoria to have a penthouse suite. In 1986 the building was renovated, including new exterior stucco. In 1995 the apartment complex was converted to a strata condominium complex, and a third storey addition on the West side provided more space for two of the suites.

It was time to head back to my parents Airbnb for dinner, which included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots. It was absolutely delicious, and it was very enjoyable getting to spend time with my family. After completely stuffing my face with food it was time to head back to my hotel to go to bed.

The next, and final day, I slept-in until 11am. When I looked outside I could see that it had snowed a few inches overnight. I checked out of my hotel room, and walked over to my parents Airbnb, and hung out with them for a few hours before heading to the the airport to take my flight back to Calgary. Before I left I wanted to catch a few more shots of Victoria.

My flight back to Calgary was on a Westjet Dash 8 Q400. Despite the poor weather, the flight was almost on-time leaving. Sadly, my parents had to contend with a nearly 6 hour delay on the following evening when they flew back.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 15 – Melk Abbey & Vienna

Today I woke up around 7:00am to catch a 7:55am train to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey, located about 1.25 hours West of Vienna. I had breakfast the same McDonald’s as yesterday, since that was the train station I was departing from.

Melk Abbey is located in the town of Melk, on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube river, adjoining the Wachau valley. The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau, as well as the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. The abbey was first founded in 1089 when Leopold II, gave one of his castles to Benedictine monks from Lambach Abbey. A monastic school, the Stiftsgymnasium Melk, was founded shortly after, and the monastic library soon became recognized for its extensive manuscript collection.

The current Baroque style abbey, designed by Jakob Prandtauer, was built between 1702 and 1736. The frescos on the roof were designed by Johann Rottmayr. The abbey somehow escaped dissolution under Emperor Joseph II, when many other Austrian abbeys were seized and destroyed between 1780 and 1790. The abbey also survived the Napoleonic Wars and World War 2. After World War 2 the school returned to the abbey, where currently 900 pupils attend. There are approximately 30 monks that currently serve the Monastery. Unfortunately I was unable to take any photos inside the abbey, so I have just a few photos of the exterior of the abbey.

After exploring the abbey I ate lunch at Rathauskeller, one of the oldest restaurants in Melk. It’s been serving customers for over 350 years. I had a wonderful Veal dish and a local beer.

After lunch took a train back to Vienna. When I arrived in Vienna I had some time to check out Wotrubakirche Church, before heading for dinner.

Wotrubakirche Church, also known as the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, was built between 1974 and 1976 on a model designed by Fritz Wotruba. Sadly Fritz died before the completion of the church. At first glance this church represents a piece of abstract architecture or sculpture. This brutalist style building is comprised of 152 asymmetrically arranged concrete blocks that weigh 1.8 to 141 tons. During the Third Reich in World War 2 the church houses German Wehrmacht barracks.

It was now time to head to dinner at Brasserie Palmenhaus, a neo-classical greenhouse that was built between 1823 and 1826 according to the plans of Ludwig Gabriel von Remy, raking from the designs of the greenhouse at Schönbrunn Palace. The rear wall of the building is part of the old city walls of Vienna. It was later demolished to make way for a new Art-Nouveau building, built between 1902 and 1906, designed by Friedrich Ohmann. The building was renovated between 1996 and 1998. The central part of the building houses the restaurant, the left wing houses a butterfly garden, and the right wing serves as a greenhouse. I chose to have a wonderful mushroom ravioli, and a few beers.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 11 – Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 10 – Budapest, Hungary

Today I continued exploring Budapest. I slept in until 8:00am today, which was nice, as I was quite tired. I had some breakfast and coffee before venturing outside. It was quite chilly this morning, so I brought my jacket with me.

I took a tram to the Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel. The building was constructed in 1894 by the New York Life Insurance Company to be used as their local head office. It was designed by Alajos Hauszmann, Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl. During the communist era the building was nationalized. After the collapse of communism, the structure was purchased by Italian Boscolo Hotels in February 2001, and was totally renovated and reopened in May 2006 as a 107-room luxury hotel.

I then walked to the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, which was established in 1875 as a live concert hall and music university. It is also home to the Liszt Collection, which feature several valuable books and manuscripts donated by Franz Liszt when he died. The academy is currently located in a beautiful Art Nouveau style building that was built in 1907. It was designed by Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl at the request of Baron Gyula Wlassics, who was the Minister of Culture at that time. The façade is dominated by a statue of Liszt, which was sculpted by Alajos Stróbl. The building is fairly beautiful on the outside, however is supposed to be quite beautiful on the inside, however I was unable to get inside as they use a keycard system to enter.

Close by is Lotz Hall, which was originally a casino in 1884, under the name “Terézvárosi Kaszinó”, and became a department store in the 20th century. The beautiful Art Nouveau style building was designed by Karoly Lotz. When you enter the building it still says “Párisi Nagy Áruház” (“Paris Department Store”) on a sign on the façade, bringing homage to the history of this beautiful building. Abandoned for years, the building was brought back to life by the Alexandra bookstore, which had a café in the Lotz Hall and its stock downstairs. In March 2017, the business suddenly shut down and the Lotz Hall was closed to the public for almost two years until it was transformed into a venue that can be rented out, with a French-style cafe called “Café Párisi” on the top floor. Sadly the café closed during COVID-19, and there is a for rent sign out front.

Café Párisi is located on the famous Andrássy út street, which is one of the main boulevards in Budapest, dating back to 1872. The boulevard is lined with spectacular Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses featuring fine facades and interiors. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.

A short walk away is the Hungarian State Opera, which was also closed due to extensive renovations. The Hungarian State Opera House is a beautiful Neo-Renaissance style opera house, with elements of Baroque, that was built between 1875 and 1884. It was designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th-century Hungarian architecture. The opera house has capacity for 1300 people. A major renovation occurred between 1980 and 1984. The decoration of the symmetrical façade follows a musical theme. At the main entrance there is a beautiful wide sweeping stone staircase that is illuminated by wrought-iron lamps. The foyers contain marble columns, and the vaulted ceilings are covered in beautiful murals created by Bertalan Székely and Mór Than.

Continuing down Andrássy út street I eventually came to St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is a Roman Catholic basilica that was built between 1851 and 1905. The reason that the basilica took so long to build was the collapse of the dome in 1868 which required complete demolition of the completed works and rebuilding from the ground up. It was named in honour of King Stephen, the first King of Hungary from 975 AD to 1038 AD. The church was built on the site of a former theater, named Hetz-Theater, where animal fights were hosted. After the theatre was knocked down a temporary church was built in its place by a rich Hungarian named János Zitterbarth before the permanent church was built with money that was fundraised. The building is in Neo-Classical architecture style, and is the second tallest building in Budapest at 96 metres (315 feet) tall. The reason for this was that regulations prohibited building any building taller than this for a long time. It’s simply stunning on the inside.

I started walking towards the Hungarian Parliament building with two quick photo stops at the Postal Savings Bank, and the House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, which also was sadly a COVID causality. It recently gone out of business as well.

The Postal Savings Bank building is a beautiful Secessionist style building containing colourful tiles and folk motifs. It was built by Ödön Lechner in 1901. The building is now utilized by the National Bank of Hungary.

House of Hungarian Art Nouveau is dedicated to the Hungarian Art Nouveau Secession style. The museum is located in a house built by Emil Vidor in 1903 for the Bedő family. The contemporary furniture, decorative objects, paintings and instruments displayed in the museum showcase what it would have been like to live in the beginning of the 20th century. The building was restored between 2003 and 2007 by architect Benkovich Attila and the architectural historian János Gerle.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is the largest building in Hungary. It was designed by Hungarian architect Imre Steindl in neo-Gothic style and was completed in 1904. When Budapest was united from the three cities of Buda, Óbuda, and Pest it was decided to establish a new parliament building that would express sovereignty of the nation. The design was chosen from an international competition, with Imre Steindl emerging as the victor. The plans of the other two competitors were later also realized in the form of the Néprajzi Múzeum (Ethnographic Museum) and Vajdahunyad Castle (the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture), both facing the Parliament Building. The building took over 100000 people the build, 40 million bricks, 500000 precious stones, and nearly 100 pounds of gold.

Close to the parliament building is the The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, which was opened on April 16th 2005 to honour the Jews were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War 2. They were ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies would fall into the river when they died. It represents their shoes that were left behind. The memorial was designed by Gyula Pauer.

By this point in time my feet were in absolute agony. These new Nike’s were just not working for me, so I decided to go to a shoe store in the suburbs to pick up a pair of ASICS. It was about a 40 minute ride, but completely worth it. My feet were instantly happy.

Near the shoe store was a neat hotel called Hotel Budapest. It’s a cylindrical shaped brutalism style hotel that was opened in 1967. It was designed by György Szrogh and built using slipform construction and fair-faced concrete, which was quite cutting-edge technology at the time. During it’s prime days it had a dance club on the top floor, which was then turned into a sauna and roof terrace, however in 1994 it was converted into rooms.

I then went back to my hotel quickly to drop off my bag with my Nike’s in there, and went to Mazel Tov for some food, which my friend Pat recommended to me. I had a Shawarma platter and an IPA beer. Both were extremely delicious!

The final stop for today was The House of Terror museum, which features exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes in the 20th century Hungary. It also serves as a memorial to the victims of these regimes. The museum was opened on February 24th 2002. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any interior photos, but it was an excellent exhibit, and I highly recommend visiting it.

I then tried to book a bus to Bratislava for Saturday, however it seemed that the bus company wasn’t operating, so I’ll just head straight to Vienna on Saturday (in two days), and then do a day trip to Bratislava on another day. I was still hungry so I walked across the street from my hotel to Sali Salad Library and had a Greek salad.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as it is my last day in Budapest.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 6 – Belgrade, Serbia

Today is my third day in Serbia, and my second day exploring Belgrade. For breakfast I went back to Red Bread and had a smoked salmon omelette, and some French press coffee. After breakfast it was time to start my adventures.

First stop was the now abandoned Sava Center. The Sava Center is a multi-use cultural and business center. Designed by Stojan Maksimović, it was built between 1976 and 1979 in a brutalism style architecture. It was recognized globally for the speed that it was built. The style of the building also led to some interesting nicknames such as “spaceship”, “glass garden”, and “concrete ship of peace”. The conference center has a theatre hall with over 4000 seats, 15 conference halls, and an exhibition area. The center has completely fallen into ruin since COVID-19 hit, and many people have stolen things from the interior. Despite all this, the facility is still used today for events. I managed to get inside for a few minutes, but was quickly kicked out by a security guard. To be fair one of the sliding glass doors still worked, and I can’t understand Cyrillic.

Across the street is Blok 21 and Blok 22, some of the longest apartment buildings in the entire world.

Next up was Genex Tower. The Genex Tower, also known as Western City Gate, is a 36 storey skyscraper that spans 154 metres (505 feet) tall. It was designed by architect Mihajlo Mitrović in the brutalist architecture style, which is one of my favourites. It is formed by two towers connected with a two storey bridge, and has a revolving restaurant at the top. It is the second tallest building in Belgrade after Ušće Tower. The building is designed to resemble a high-rise gate greeting people arriving in the city from the West. The tower received its name because one of the initial tenants was the Genex Group, a state-owned company. The office building, the shorter of the two buildings continues to remain unoccupied to this day, but the residential tower is still occupied. The revolving restaurant no longer operates either. Again I tried to get into this building; the revolving door to the office side still worked, but I was quickly escorted out again. The residential side was locked and I didn’t want to sneak in after people. Here’s a link to someone’s blog who showcases what the interior of the building looks like.

A short walk away was SIV 3. The SIV 3 (Belgrade Stock Exchange) building was built in 1975. It was built in a brutalism architecture style and designed by architect Ljupko Ćurčić.

Right next door is Opština Novi Beograd, however I couldn’t find much information on this mid-century modern building. I thought it was neat non the less.

I then caught a 15 minute bus ride to The Air Force Command Building. The Air Force Command Building (Komanda Vazduhoplovstva), designed by architect Dragiša Brašovan, was constructed in 1935, on the site of the former Military Command. The brutalism style building is four stories tall and is overlooked by a seven-storey tower that is centrally located within the building. It was completed in 1935. Sadly, it was bombed in the April 5th 1999 NATO attack, and hasn’t been used since.

It was time to get some lunch so I stopped by at The Old Customs House restaurant, and had some Serbian Salad, and a Serbian hamburger called Gurmanska Pljeskavica.

After lunch it was a steep walk up a cobblestone road to Gardos Tower, also known as the Millennium Tower. It was built in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian settlement in the Pannonian plain. I went to the top of the tower for $2.45 CDN, and was presented with spectacular view of New Belgrade.

I then started the long walk back to my hotel, with a few stops along the way. First stop was the Amusement Park overlooking the Danube river. It was fairly old, but some parts were still operational.

Close by was Hotel Jugoslavija. Hotel Jugoslavija is one of the oldest luxurious Serbian hotels in existence. The brutalism style hotel was opened in 1969 but has been closed to visitors since 2006 when it was purchased by “Danube Riverside” for €31.3 million in hopes of revitalizing the building. The plan was to make the area that the building sits on a mixed use residential and commercial area with new twin towers, dubbed as “Project Riverside” but as of October 2019 nothing has changed. It’s still stuck in the late 1960’s.

Next up was The Palace of Serbia, which was built between 1947 and 1959 in Block 13 of “New Belgrade” as a purpose-built government building. It was designed by Mihailo Janković. The soviet style building resembles an “H” when viewed from above.

While I thought I was done for the day, I decided I had a bit more energy left in my body so I took a 45 minute bus ride to Eastern City Gate. Eastern City Gate is a complex of three large residential buildings that is very prominent along the Belgrade skyline. The complex, which was officially named Rudo, was finished in 1976 was considered one of the symbols of the city, and of Yugoslav Socialism in general. Eastern Gate was constructed from 1973 to 1976. The brutalism style buildings were designed by architect Vera Ćirković and civil engineer Milutin Jerotijević. Each building is 28 stories (85 metres; 279 feet) tall and contains 190 apartments. Sadly, today, the buildings are in very rough shape. In 2013 concrete chunks up to 60 kg (130 pounds) started to fall off the buildings. Engineers estimated that the building needed about €4 million to repair the building. The tenants and city started to collect money for the repairs, but fell extremely short at only €110000. While I was taking photos of the building I met a wonderful lady named Aneta, and her cute dog Peggy. We chatted for a bit about what life was like in Yugoslavia, a bit about the building, and I got to pet her cute puppy.

I took the bus back towards the city center and got off outside of the BIGZ building. The building was built between 1936 and 1941 in Modernish architectural style, although I feel it has some Art-Deco vibes to it. It was designed by Dragiša Brašovan. It was originally used as a printing press, and at its peak employed over 3000 workers. After the social and economic crisis of the early 1990’s, there was a lack of funding and the building became unused and neglected. By 2000 a few small businesses began to occupy the building. In 1992 it was declared a cultural monument, and placed under the state protection in 1992. In 2018 it housed printing offices, warehouses, music and art studios, night clubs, radio-stations, a cultural center, and even a circus. Numerous promises were made to repair the building, and was even involved with some scandals. In February 2021 Marera Properties and Aleksander Gradnja took over the building, started to clean the building and kicked out the existing tenants. It’s estimated the building will be fully restored by the end of 2023, but many have their doubts.

The last and final stop of the day was the Museum of Yugoslavia, which is a history museum dedicated to the period of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the life of Josip Broz Tito. Josip Tito’s grave is even located in the House of Flowers, one of the three buildings on site. The museum was opened in 1962, and was a present from the City of Belgrade to Josip Broz Tito, the President of Yugoslavia at the time, for his 70th birthday. When you walk up to the museum complex you see the May 25 Museum, the one built in 1962. It’s a beautiful example of mid-century modern. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside the museum, however I highly recommend going, as there’s a ton of things to learn.

After visiting the museum I took the bus to Angry Monk to have some ramen and a Sapporo beer, before heading back to my hotel for 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 2 – Plitvice Lake & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Today I drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Plitvice Lakes, about a two hour drive away. On the way I attempted to stop at The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, however the road was closed off for the season to prevent continued degradation of the site by looters during the off-season. The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija is a World War 2 monument designed by Vojin Bakić, and built by Veliki Petrovac on the highest peak of the Petrova Gora mountain range. The monument celebrates the uprising and resistance movement of the people of Kordun and Banija against Nazi-fascism, as well as commemorates the victims of the Nazi-fascism. The monument took ten years to build and was finished in 1981. At the time the monument was finished it was the largest postmodern sculpture in the world. After 1991, antifascist monuments and memorial complexes were neglected. This continues to this day as local people continue stealing the stainless-steel plates off the monument. I snagged a few photos from Google Maps (credit given to the photographers) so you can see what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Bara Fai – 2021
Photo Credit: Arwen Swan – 2021
Photo Credit: Uldis Strauss – 2019

Next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The park was founded in 1949 and is very well known for its beautiful lakes, pathways, and waterfalls. Entrance cost to the park is about $16 CDN, however expect to pay double when its not off season.

After visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park I drove about 3.5 hours towards Ljubljana, Slovenia. The border crossing took about an hour because they were checking everyone’s COVID vaccine passports. Before I dive into the rest of my day in Slovenia let’s talk about Slovenia’s history, which has a lot of overlap with Croatia.

Slovenia’s History

Slovenia is a relatively young country; being formed on June 25 1991. The history of Slovenia is very similar to that of Croatia; having been its neighboring country. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states dating back to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, the Illyrian Provinces of the First French Empire of Napoleon I, the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until it broke up in October 1918.

As mentioned back in my brief history of Croatia; in December 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was renamed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

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 April 1990 elections were held and in December 1990 a referendum was held, with the majority of people in favor. On June 25 1991 the Slovene parliament declared Slovenia independent. This irritated the Yugoslavian army, so they tried to invade Slovenia a few days later on June 27 1991. They were held back by the Slovenian Territorial Defense forces and the police, and on July 7 1991 the Yugoslavians agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union.

In December 1991 a new constitution was written, and on January 15 1992 Slovenian independence was recognized by the European Union. As was the case for many of the eastern European countries, Slovenia faced a long painful transition from Communism to Capitalism during the 1990’s. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.

Exploring Ljubljana, Slovenia

When I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovakia my first stop was exploring Ljubljana Castle, a castle complex standing on Castle Hill, which overlooks the entire city. It was originally a medieval fortress constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt again in the 12th and 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is depicted on the city’s coat of arms, along with a dragon on the top. The castle just finished a major restoration project that lasted from 2000 to 2019. There was also a puppet museum inside the castle, which was pretty neat.

After visiting the castle I drove to my hotel; BIT Center Hotel, to check-in, and do a few hours of work, which included a few meetings. After working I drove back to the castle to haver dinner at the renowned Strelec Restaurant. A reservation is a requirement here, however being off-season I just booked it in the morning and they were able to accommodate me. This is a michelin star quality restaurant, however it is not a michelin star restaurant. I was served a 5 course dinner, however it was more like 8 courses… I wish I had taken better notes as to what I ate, however I had a few favorites. My first favorite was the ravioli with truffles, cheese, and home made sour cream. My second favorite was venison with beet-root. Third runner up was beef tartar. The meal was finished off with chocolate ganache, ice cream, a sweet puree of some sort, hazelnuts, and gold foil. The meal cost me a total of $115 CDN, however it was absolutely worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners that I’ve ever had.

Be sure to check back tomorrow while I explore more of Ljubljana, before driving back to Zagreb, Croatia to catch a flight to Belgrade, Serbia late in the evening.

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Iceland 2021 – Krysuivik Geothermal Loop & Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption

Today marks the second day of my trip. I slept pretty well and wasn’t really suffering from too much jet lag. I did wakeup at about 2am for a brief period of time before going back to bed.

For breakfast I attempted to go to a few bakeries however it was too early and they didn’t have anything besides donuts available, so I went to Subway. First stop of the day was Krysuivik Geothermal Loop, about an hours drive away. Along the way I decided to stop by the side of the road to take some drone shots of the volcanic scenery around me to realize that my memory card had failed… but don’t worry I had a second one… sitting in my work laptop back at the hotel. I drove all the way back to the hotel, picked up the second card and tried again. By now it was already nearly noon! In the distance on this drone shot you can see Fagradalsfjall Volcano’s smoke from it’s ongoing eruption. I’ll be hiking that later today.

Krysuivik Geothermal Loop is a 7.7 kilometer loop in Southwest Iceland the features a lake, and a geothermally active area. It is situated above Seltun, a very colourful Geothermal area below that I had a chance to visit with my father in 2014 when we went to Iceland. The hike starts off right away up a fairly steep hill, gaining 314 metres. Make sure to look backwards so you can see Seltun.

After the large climb you slightly descend to Amarvatn Lake, a very colourful lake, which I suspect is a volcanic crater lake due to the way it looks, however I can’t mind much information on it. A volcanic crate lake is a lake in a crater that was formed from explosive activity or collapse during a volcanic eruption. Dad an I visited one such lake in 2014, called Kerið.

The trail continues around in a big loop, as you can see from above. It offers beautiful views of the mountainous area surrounding it. Along the way I came to the geothermal area, before continuing the loop around the lake.

After completing the hike it was time to grab some lunch. I remember from my 2014 trip with my dad that there was a restaurant called Papa’s that serves delicious pizza in the nearby town of Grindavik. I drove about half an hour to Papa’s, and wow it didn’t disappoint. I had a pizza called Papa’s Surprise, which consisted of pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, jalapenos, garlic, cream cheese, and black pepper. You could even see the volcano erupting from Grindavik!

After having lunch it was time to visit the Fagradalsfjall Volcano eruption (also known as Geldingadalsgos), which has been ongoing since March 19th 2021 at about 9:40pm. This was one of two primary reasons for me to visit Iceland, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s a few dedicated places to park your car for 1000 ISK ($10 CDN). The 3km one-way hike to the volcano takes about 45 minutes and is flat for 2/3 of the way, before entering a series of switchbacks. The view was certainly overwhelming, and was nothing like what I had imagined in my head. You can also view a video I took of the volcano on my YouTube channel here. You’ll also notice that there was a helicopter there, because you can pay some companies to drop you right off at the base of the volcano!

After visiting the volcano I was going to visit the Blue Lagoon, however when I arrived I found out that the tickets were sold out for the day. I booked a 9am ticket for the next day. It was time to drive back to Reykjavik for dinner, about an hour away. I had some beef soup at 101 Reykjavik Street Food, which was recommended to me on one of the travel series I watched a while back. While the presentation wasn’t the best, the soup was delicious, and the beef was so tender.

After dinner I walked around for a bit and took some pictures of one of my favourite churches in the entire world, Hallgrimskirkja. The church is one of Reykjavik’s best-known landmarks, and is the tallest church in Iceland, standing 74.5 metres (244 feet) tall. The church took 41 years to build; starting in 1945, and completed in 1986. The church is a mixture of different architectural styles but is predominantly that of expressionist neo-gothic. I can definitely see some brutalism and art deco mixed in there as well. During it’s construction it was criticized for being too old-fashioned and a blend of too many different architecture types. Inside the church there is a large pipe organ built by German organ builder Johannes Klais from Bonn. There are 5275 pipes arranged in 102 ranks and 72 stop, and they weight approximately 25 tons!

I continued exploring around downtown Reykjavik for a bit before heading back to my hotel to go to bed. Be sure to check back soon for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment I explore the Blue Lagoon, see some waterfalls, see Iceland’s fourth largest glacier, the town of Vik, the basalt formations at Reynisfjara Beach, and hike to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck.

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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.

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.

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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