Colorado – Day 2 – Maroon Bells

Today our main highlight was hiking in Maroon Bells. Maroon Bells is Colorado’s premier fall hiking location, featuring Maroon Lake surrounded by mountains and beautiful fall foliage. The area gets its name from two 14000 mountains named Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak. Maroon Bells is only about a 30 minute drive from Aspen.

We arrived around 7:50am, as the parking lot closes at 8:00am. We had to reserve our spot, which we did over six months ago. While we were there we completed two hikes; The Scenic Loop Trail (3 Miles, 120 feet Elevation), and The Crater Lake Trail (3.6 Miles, 500 feet Elevation). 

The Scenic Loop follows the North side of Maroon Lake, and loops around on the West side.

The Crater Lake Trail essentially follows the same route, around the lake, but then branches off on the West side of the lake and continues through the Valley until you reach Crater Lake.

It was about 11am when we finished the two hikes. We drove back to our hotel to grab a cup of coffee, and our bathing suits, before heading out again.

Next stop was The Grotto Trail, about a 20 minute drive the other direction from our lodging in Aspen. It was back the same we drove in from yesterday. The Grottos Trail features an ice cave, smooth cascading granite from the water running over it for thousands of years, and a beautiful cascading waterfall. The hike isn’t very hard and only takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. It was pouring rain for the majority of the hike, but was worth it.

Next stop was Glenwood Hot Springs Pool located in Glenwood Springs. The area was originally inhabited by Indigenous people before Americans colonized the area. Glenwood Springs, originally known as Defiance, was established in 1883 as a camp of tents, saloons and brothels. The town was founded by Isaac Cooper. The town was mostly populated with gambles, gunslingers, and prostitutes, and stayed as a small encampment until the larger mining town of Carbonate lost its position as a county seat, until some bribery occurred to shut down the post office in Carbonate, and moved the post office to Glenwood Springs. The city then thrived and became the main town where miners in the area lived.

The therapeutic springs waters, called Yampah, also known as Big Medicine by the aboriginals (Ute Native Americans) were used as a sacred place of healing since atleast the 1860’s. In 1890 the original red sandstone bathhouse and lodge was built for $100000. It was designed by Austrian architect Theodore von Rosenberg, who’s buildings I have definitely seen before in Vienna. The bathhouse features tubs, vapor baths, a ladies parlor, physicians office, gymnasium, smoking rooms, and reading rooms. The building houses 44 bathing rooms. The main pool is 405 feet long by 105 feet wide and contains 1.07 million gallons of water that is kept at 32° C. The hot “therapy” pool is 100 feet long by 105 feet wide and contains 91000 gallons of water kept at 40° C.

During World War II the resort Hotel Colorado and Hot Springs Bathhouse) was exclusively used as a US Naval Convalescent Hospital. It was the only time in history that the bathhouse was closed to the public. In 1970 an upgraded water filtration system was installed to filter the 3.5 million gallons per day of 52° C water. In 1986 a 107 room lodge was built on the North side of the pool.

After visiting the pool we walked around the town for a bit before driving back to our hotel.

Once we were back at the hotel we walked to White House Tavern, where I had a delicious chuck steak burger, and dad had a French beef dip sandwich. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and chatting before it was time to go to bed.

Kuta – Bali, Indonesia

Today we slept in as long as we could. I think I slept in until 9:00am. We had breakfast at the hotel buffet, which was pretty mediocre, and then we lounged by the pool for the rest of the morning listening to podcasts, reading, and playing in the pool with our foam ball.

At lunchtime we walked to Biku Restaurant. We really like this place because they have gluten-free options for Julie, and the food and drink selection is great. We both ended up having a sandwich, and Chai Tea.

After lunch we walked back to the hotel, checked out, and took a GRAB (think Uber) to our next hotel, the Kuta Beach Heritage Hotel. This hotel was the most premium quality hotel of our stay, with a huge room with a king sized bed, rainfall shower, and a private pool on our balcony. The cost of the room ended up only being about $120/night, which gets you a low to mid-grade hotel back at home. After checking in we relaxed in the pool for the remainder of the afternoon.

At dinner time we walked down the street and ended up having dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Julie also purchased some things from the Hard Rock store. We both ended up having burgers for dinner and ended up watching an Asian Pop band perform. The music was a bit loud for our liking, however was pretty good.

After dinner we walked back to the hotel and watched more Netflix in bed.

Poolside Vibes – Bali, Indonesia

During the night we were both kept awake from the constant street noise, so we put in some ear plugs. The view from the street certainly was beautiful though! After waking up we went for the breakfast buffet, which was extremely mediocre. We spent the morning lounging by the pool; reading, listening to music, and playing with the foamy ball that Julie bought me.

At lunch we walked to Sisterfields Cafe. I had sourdough bread with arugula, bacon, tomato, and a fried egg on top. After lunch we both walked to the place I had dropped off the laundry the day prior and picked it up. In the afternoon we relaxed by the pool. I started to sneeze and get some sniffles in the early afternoon and made a mention of it to Julie. Towards the evening I was definitely getting worse.

For dinner we went to Bossman Burger, a local burger chain. Oh my goodness, wow, what amazing burgers!

Silver Making & Waterfalls – Bali, Indonesia

Today we took yet another custom tour with Bali Customized Tours. Today our tour included Silver Making, lunch at Genius Cafe Gianyar, Hidden Canyon Beji Guwang, and Tegenungan Waterfall.

We had another delicious breakfast prepared by the staff at Hideout Bali, paid our tab for our stay, and checked out. Ambara was there again to pick us up.

First stop was at Yasana’s Gold & Silver, where we spent 3 hours making our own custom rings. My ring has 18 grams of Silver. Something neat that I learned is that you don’t want 100% pure silver, because it’s too soft, so a small portion of copper is added. You start out with a bunch of silver and copper balls, melt them, pour them into a mold, hammer until you get the width you want, roll it until you get the thickness you want, mold it to your finger size, and then solder it together. We decided to do a beaten metal look, and I think they turned out great!

After finishing our rings we had lunch at Genius Cafe Gianyar. I had a delicious chicken burger with a black bun, and a fizzy slushing drink of some sort.

After lunch we went on an adventure in Hidden Canyon Beji Guwang. Here a local guide takes you about a kilometer up a carved out canyon, where you climb, scramble, swing, and swim. In the middle you can cool off under a waterfall, and towards the end you can go through some caves. At the very end you walk back through beautiful rice paddies, and pepper plants. It was such an amazing experience!

The final stop on the day was Tegenungan Waterfall. It is one of the few waterfalls that is not situated in highlands or mountainous territory.

After that Ambara dropped us off at Uma Dawa Hotel in Ubud. After checking into our hotel we walked into Ubud, rented a scooter, and rode to Naughty Nuri BBQ. The food there was absolutely incredible! Unfortunately while I was there I lost one of Julie’s earrings when I was taking off her helmet.

Portugal – Day 10 – Evora

Today I visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Evora. Evora’s history dates back over 5000 years ago, when the Lusitanians occupied the area. In 57 BC the Romans conquered the town, and built a wall around the town. The city was important for the Romans as it was the hub of several important trade routes. In 584 AD Evora came under the rule of Visigothic king Leovigild during the barbarian invasions. In 715 the city was conquered by the Moors, and was held until 1165 when Gerald the Fearless launched a surprise attack. The town then came under the rule of Portuguese king Afonso I the following year. Evora endured a few more attacks over the years, including The Battle of Evora in 1808, and the Liberal Wars in 1834. The city was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Evora has a variety of architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, and Baroque.

The train ride to Evora took about 1.75 hours, and cost $20 return. The train station in Evora is about a 10 minute walk away from the city center. The entire city is walkable, and cars are not really required. First stop was the Chapel of Bones, and the Sao Francisco Monastery, which share the same building.

The Chapel of Bones is a small chapel attached to Sao Francisco Monastery. The chapel gets its name because the interior walls are covered and decorated with human skulls and bones. The chapel was built by Franciscan monks, and its estimated that over 5000 corpses were exhumed to decorate the walls of the chapel.

Sao Francisco Monastery is a beautiful gothic church that was built in 1376. Much of the church fell apart over the years, and was extensively rehabilitated in 2014-2015.

Praca do Giraldo is the main square of Evora. Many restaurants have their tables setup in the middle of the square, so you can enjoy your lunch and people watch. The square was used during the Spanish Inquisitions in the 16th century, and was also the location of the execution of Duke of Braganza in 1484.

I was starting to get hungry, so I had a burger and fries at Taska da Su Aqueduto. The burger was quite mediocre, however the fries were excellent.

Agua de Prata Aqueduct is a stone aqueduct built in the 1530’s. The 18km aqueduct was designed by Francisco de Arruda.

The Roman Temple of Evora was built in the 1st century in honour of Augustus, who was venerated as a god during and after his ruling.

Construction of Evora Cathedral started in 1186, however it wasn’t completed until 1746. The first building was built between 1186 and 1204. It was expanded between 1280 and 1340 in Gothic style. In the 14th century Gothic cloisters were added. In the 16th century Esporao Chapel was added into Manueline style. Finally, in the 18th century the large Baroque style main chapel was completed. This cathedral is the largest mediaeval cathedral in Portugal.

Graca Church is an old church and convent that was constructed in 1511. It is currently used by the Portuguese Armed Forces.

The majority of the streets are very narrow, and most of the buildings are painted white and yellow.

I also saw some pretty neat murals by the train station.

After taking the train back to my hotel I did some work, blogging, relaxed in the pool, and went in the sauna.

The following day was spent relaxing at my hotel until it was time to check out, and then I took the metro to the airport to check-in to my new hotel; Hotel Star Inn Lisbon Aeroporto. I had pizza for dinner, and then had an early night, as I had a 6:30am flight the following day.

The first flight of the day was on an Easyjet Airbus A320 to London Gatwick. I had a four hour layover in London, which I spent editing photos and having a delicious chicken burger from Shake Shack. My second flight was on a Westjet Boeing 787-9 to Calgary. Both flights were turbulence free, and arrived half an hour early.

This concludes my Portugal series. I don’t currently have any more trips planned until the summer, however hiking season starts soon, so be sure to check back soon.

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Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Last week I spent 4 days on a mini Canadian road trip to Moose Jaw, Regina, and Winnipeg. The first stop on my trip was Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Moose Jaw is Saskatchewan, Canada’s fourth largest city. The city has a population of 34000 people and was founded in 1903. Before the city was founded Cree and Assiniboine people used the area as a winter encampment. The narrow river crossing, abundance of water, and wildlife made it a great location for a settlement. Fur traded and Metis buffalo hunters created the permanent settlement at a place called “the turn” at the now present-day Kingsway Park. In 1881 the Canadian Pacific Railway officially arrive, and then the settlement was officially incorporated as a city in 1903. While I was here I took some architecture photographs, and ate at a delicious restaurant called Rosie’s Diner.

I couldn’t find much information on Saskatchewan Courts (W.G. Davies Building), however it quite appealed to me. It seems to have a brutalist vibe to it, with its extensive use of concrete.

The Moose Jaw Court House is a two-story historic building built in 1909. It made the use of steel and brick construction. The building is the older continuously functioning courthouse in the province.
The Moose Jaw Fire Hall (138 Fairford Street West) is a heritage property that was constructed in 1909 as Moose Jaw’s first fire hall. The Georgian Revival style building was designed by W.A. Elliot, a Brandon architect, who was also responsible for designing Moose Jaw’s Alexandra School. It was used as a fire hall until 1979.

Moore Gallery (76 Fairford Street West) was designed by Regina’s architectural firm of Storey and Van Egmond. The Classical Revival style building was constructed in 1910, and served as the Land Titles Building from 1910 to 1998, and held the distinction of being the only one of eleven surviving Land Registry facilities in the province to retain its original function. The building was fully restored in 1999.
The Walter Scott Building (12 High Street East) is a heritage six-story building faced with brick and Tyndall stone. It is very reminiscent of Chicago Style architecture, and was designed by Regina’a architectural firm of Storey and Van Egmond. The building was originally completed for the Moose Jaw Times Herald, and was the largest commercial office building in Saskatchewan at the time of completion. The building features Turner Mushroom support columns that flare at the top to provide support for the floors above.

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church is a heritage two-story stucco-clad church that was built in 1900. The local Methodist congregation built this church in 1900, but out grew the building and sold it to the Roman Catholics who occupied it between 1907 to 1913. In 1917 it became an automotive garage for the Central Motor Company. It once again became a church in 1925. In 1927 the church underwent renovated by local architect Henry Hargreaves, and was renamed Knox Presbyterian Church, and again to St. Mark’s in 1967.

While I was here I visited The Tunnels of Moose Jaw. The tunnels are well known to have been used by Al Capone during the prohibition era. The tunnels were originally built to be used as utility tunnels for power and heating. Back in the days steam from boilers was used as heating. Steam engineers maintained the boilers and used the tunnels to avoid the elements (especially in winter). The original passageways ran under main street from the CPR Train Station to the Maple Leaf Hotel. In 1908 the tunnels were abandoned by the steam engineers and left empty. During the early 1900’s Chinese immigrants came to Canada to escape Chinese poverty and seek a better life. When they came to Moose Jaw they were employed as servants, railroad workers, laundry workers, or miners. They often hid in the tunnels to avoid “head tax” because they were unable to pay the tax due to their low wages. They also went into the tunnel to avoid the “Yellow Peril”. There were a lot of racist anti-Chinese people in Moose Jaw, which led to the Chinese escaping to the tunnels to avoid being killed or attacked. Unfortunately, racism still lives in our country, as well as globally. Following the “Chinese Era” was the “prohibition era” where Gangsters and rumrunners came to Moose Jaw and used the tunnels to manufacture alcohol. The Soo Line Railroad ran from Chicago to Moose Jaw and was frequently used to illegally transport the alcohol. It was rumored that the gangster Al Capone frequented the tunnels and the city of Moose Jaw. The tunnels were even used for illegal gambling. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos here, but I highly recommend visiting it. The acting was spectacular.

Capone’s Hideaway Motel is a themed hotel that has a 1920’s antique car perched on top of its sight, and is named after the gangster Al Capone, who was apparently a frequent visitor to the city, especially during the prohibition area.

The Old CPR Train Station, designed by Montreal architect Hugh G. Jones, is a Beaux-Arts style building built between 1920 and 1922. The building consists of a two-story waiting hall surrounded by single-story wings attached on three sides, as well as a six-story clock tower. The building is clad with Tyndall stone and red brick. The interior detailing includes wall medallions and reliefs of stone and terra cotta. The building is a protected heritage building, and currently serves as a liquor store.

While I was here I also explored some other buildings along the main street before having dinner at Rosie’s Diner. I had a nacho burger wrap, which was absolutely delicious, and had a great texture.

Be sure to check back soon for the next installment in this mini series, where we get to explore Regina. Also, I do plan on travelling again Internationally within the next month or so. I will either be going to Morocco & Portugal, or Bali, Indonesia.

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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 13 – Bratislava, Slovakia

Today I decided to catch a train to Bratislava, Slovakia to explore the small, but beautiful capital city. The train ride took about 1.5 hours, and I arrived around 10am. I left my bag at my hotel, which I ended up picking up at the end of the day, because I would be switching hotels.

Slovakia’s History

Slavs originally settled in the area in the 6th century AD. They were soon conquered by the Avars, but eventually drove out the Avars by the 8th century. In the 9th century Slovakia became part of the state called Great Moravia, which included parts of Germany, Hungary, and Poland. The Moravian empire ran from 830 AD to 906 AD, during which time Slovakia was converted to Christianity. The Moravian empire was destroyed by the Magyars (ancestors of modern Hungarians). Slovakia would be under Hungarian ruling for the next 1000 years.

During the Middle Ages the mining of gold, silver and copper ended up driving economic development. In the 13th century Germans settled in the country and town life flourished. In 1526 the Turks won the battle of Mohacs causing Hungary to be dismembered. Slovakia and parts of Hungary came to be ruled by the Hapsburgs of Austria. Slovakia was now part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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

In 1914 Archduke Ferdinand, the heir of the Austrian throne was assassinated, which led to World War I. In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up. Prague became the capital of the independent Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. During World War II Prague was occupied by the German Nazi’s. After the war, Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state. In 1946 the communists became the dominant party and formed a coalition government with other socialist parties. In 1948 the communists seized power. In the 1950’s the country suffered harsh repression and decline, and many Stalin style practices were adopted by the Communist Part of Czechoslovakia (KSC). Eventually these people in charge of the KSC were executed.

On November 17th 1989, the Velvet Revolution occurred, which ended communism making Czechoslovakia a democratic country. In January 1990 the first democratic elections were conducted, with Vaclav Havel becoming the president. On January 1st 1993 Czechoslovakia was split into two independent countries; Slovakia and Czech Republic, with Bratislava becoming the capital of Slovakia.

Exploring Bratislava, Slovakia

In Bratislava I explored New Slovak National Theatre, Historical Slovak National Theatre, The Blue Church, Schöne Náci Sculpture, Man at Work Sculpture, Michael’s Gate, St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava Castle, and Most SNP (UFO Bridge).

The New Slovak National Theatre was designed in the early 1980’s, and construction started in 1986. The building took 21 years to complete due to lack of funding. The building was finally opened on April 14th 2007. The building is designed to hold roughly 1700 spectators.

Historical Slovak National Theatre was constructed between 1885 and 1886. It was based on a design by Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer, who designed theatre buildings in 10 European countries. This building was designed for roughly 1000 spectators and was illuminated by 800 gas lamps. This wasn’t Bratislava’s first theatre through, as it replaced a former Classic style theatre that was built in 1776 and demolished in 1884.

The Blue Church, also called the Church of St. Elizabeth, is an Art Nouveau Catholic church that was built between 1909 and 1913. The façade was originally painted in light pastel colours, but the church later received its characteristic blue colour, which makes it stand out.

Schöne Náci Sculpture is a bronze statue dedicated to Schöne Náci (real name Ignác Lamár). He was the son of a shoemaker and grandson of a famous clown and brought happiness to the streets of the city. He would walk around the Old Town in a top hat and tails, greeting women with the words “I kiss your hand” in German, Hungarian and Slovak. He received free food from many of the café’s in the city, and took the occasional cleaning job.

Man at Work Sculpture is a bronze statue of Čumil, also known as “the watcher”. It is a statue that reflects a typical communist era worker who is not bothered about the work he is doing. Viktor Hulik commissioned the piece in 1997.

Michael’s Gate is the only city gate that has been preserved and is one of the oldest buildings in the town. It was originally constructed in the 14th century, but was destroyed between 1529 and 1534. It was rebuilt in its current form between 1753 and 1758. The tower stands at a height of 51 metres tall and has a statue of St. Michael placed atop the tower. The gate received its name from the nearby Saint Michael’s church. Unfortunately it was under renovation when I was there, so nothing exciting.

St. Martin’s Cathedral is the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava. The gothic style cathedral was built into the city’s defensive walls when it was constructed in 1452. It’s 85 metre (279 foot) tall spire dominates the Old Town’s skyline. In 1760, the top of the Gothic tower was struck by lightning and replaced by a Baroque one, which was subsequently destroyed by a fire in 1835. It was reconstructed in 1847 and topped by the crown of St Stephen. The church was re-Gothicized between 1869 and 1877.

Bratislava Castle is a massive rectangular castle that built on an isolated rocky hill of the Little Carpathians above the Danube river in the middle of Bratislava. The area was originally settled on thousands of years ago because it was strategically located in the center of Europe at a passage between the Carpathians and the Alps. The Boleráz culture (the oldest phase of the Baden culture), were the first known culture to have constructed a fortified settlement on the castle hill, around 3500 BC. The hill was occupied over time by the Celts, Romans, Slavs, Nitrian Principality, and Great Moravia until the current castle was built in the 10th century, with extensive modifications being made until the 18th century. The castle, which has four prominent towers (one on each corner), was built originally in 9th century with many modifications being made until the 18th century. The castle features a central courtyard with an 80 metre (260 foot) deep water well. The tower on the southwest corner is known as the Crown Tower because it housed the crown jewels of Hungary from the mid 1500’s to the mid 1700’s. In 1811 a fire was accidentally started by garrisoned soldiers. From 1811 to 1953 the castle’s state gradually deteriorated and the military even sold parts of the main castle buildings as construction materials. It was even attempted to demolish the remaining structures to make was for government offices and a university district, but that never came to fruition. Instead, in 1946 the ruins were opened to the public, and in 1948 the town even constructed an amphitheater in the northern part of the castle site and used for about 15 years in the summer to shown films. It was decided to restore the castle in 1953, and the restoration took place between 1957 and 1968. It was chosen to restore the main building to the Baroque style, which was the last state of the castle when it caught on fire. Some of the other older buildings were restored to Gothic and Renaissance styles. Numerous other reconstructions have taken place since, with the latest reconstruction being the Honorary Courtyard in 2010.

Most SNP, bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, is also commonly referred to as the UFO Bridge. It was built between 1967 and 1972 and spans 431 metres across the Danube River. It’s an asymmetrical bridge constructed of steel, and suspended from steel cables. It features a restaurant and observation deck atop a 85 metres (278 foot) pylon.

Before heading back to Vienna I had lunch at a delicious restaurant called BeAbout, where they make home-made hamburgers. I had a jalapeno burger with onion rings and fries, which was absolutely delicious!

After catching the train back to Vienna I decided to check out a few places before heading back to the hotel including Belvedere 21, Belvedere Palace, the Embassy of France, and the Soviet War Memorial.

Belvedere 21 (21er Haus) is a modernist style steel and glass building designed by Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer. It was constructed in 1958 to be used as a pavilion for the Expo 58 in Brussels, and was later transferred to Vienna to house the Museum of the 20th Century. It was originally nicknamed 20er Haus. The building was used as storage for contemporary art works between 1979 and 2001. Between 2009 and 2011 it was remodeled by architect Adolf Krischanitz and renamed 21er Haus to reflect the 21st century. The building is currently used as a museum showing contemporary art by Fritz Wotruba.

Belvedere Palace is a comprised of two beautiful Baroque palaces (Upper and Lower Belvedere), as well as the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The Lower Belvedere Palace was built between 1712 and 1717. Upper Belvedere was built between 1717 and 1723. Some extra work was required at Upper Belvedere at risk of structural collapse, so between 1732 and 1733 a vaulted ceiling supported by four Atlas pillars was installed. The buildings were built on request of Prince Eugene. When Prince Eugene died he did not leave a legally binding will so it was decided by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI to give the Palaces to the Prince Eugene’s niece Victoria. Victoria was the daughter of Eugene’s eldest brother Thomas. Inside was a bunch of amazing art pieces, which you can see below.

I couldn’t find much information on the Embassy of France, however it’s a beautiful Art-Nouveau style building.

The Soviet War Memorial is a semi-circular white marble colonnade partially enclosing a 12 metre tall figure of a Red Army Soldier. It was unveiled in 1945 to commemorate 17000 soviet soldiers who were killed in action during the Vienna offensive in World War 2.

It was time to pickup my bags from my hotel that I stayed at the previous night, and then I checked into my new hotel, which would be home for the next four nights; Hotel Urania. The hotel was quite beautiful, however I can’t recommend staying here based on the useless WiFi. It made working in the evenings a very frustrating experience.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 8 – Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

Hungary’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alaska – Part 1 of 2

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

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

Tuesday September 28th 2021

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

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

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

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

Wednesday September 29th 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday September 30th 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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