Victoria – Christmas 2021 – Part 1 of 2

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

History of Victoria

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

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

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

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

Victoria December 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 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 17 – Tallinn, Estonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 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 5 – Novi Sad, TV Towers, and Smederevo Fortress

Today was my second day in Serbia. I woke up around 7am and chatted with the receptionist on my way out, and headed Boutique #1 for breakfast, where I had an espresso and another prosciutto omelette for breakfast, but it wasn’t as good as the previous day’s restaurant. After breakfast I walked across the street to the Marriott, where I picked up my rental car that I had rented online last night. I usually use SIXT when I rent in Europe, and this was no exception. I was given a Renault Clio 3-cylinder, which was comically slow.

First stop on today’s adventure was was Iriški Venac Tower, about an hours away. Iriški Venac Tower, a 170 metre tall TV tower built of concrete, near Novi Sad, Serbia. The tower was built in 1975, and was used until 1999 when it was bombed during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Next up was the abandoned Spicer Castle, about 30 minutes away, which was built by the Spicer family from 1890 to 1892. The castle interior was decorated in secession style. The building was featured in many horror movies that were filmed in Serbia. Sadly the building was recently fenced off due to vandalism occurring, so I was unable to see the inside. I’ve attached some pictures of the inside, and given credit to the sources. The road to the castle was absolutely stunning with fall colours!

Photo Credit: Teodora Zivanovic
Photo Credit: Rejko Keravica

Close by is the city of Novi Sad, where I parked my car, and walked around, as well as ate some lunch. Parking was a bit of a strange scenario, which I eventually figured out. It’s not clear that you need to go to a tobacco kiosk, purchase a scratch ticket for $0.65 CDN, scratch off the hour you want to park, and then display on your dash. Since I was parking for a minimum of two hours I had to buy two tickets. This is an extremely inefficient system in my opinion, but hey it works!

My first stop on my walk around Novi Sad was Petrovaradin Fortress. Construction of the fortress started in 1692 and was completed in 1780.

My second stop was Saint George’s Cathedral. The Serbian orthodox church was completed in 1905 on the same grounds that the ruins of a church that was built in 1734, but was destroyed by a bombing in 1849. The cathedral was closed on the inside, so I was unable to enter, however the exterior is quite beautiful.

Looking Southwest you’re presented with the beautiful street of Smaj Jovina.

I was getting hungry so I stopped in at Dobri Dim Gastro Pub, and had a Cubano sandwich, and an IPA beer. The owner and I chatted for a bit, and she gave me a few other recommendation to see around town.

After lunch a few minutes away is the Roman Catholic Church of the Name of Mary. The Gothic Revival style church was completed between 1892 and 1894, and is 72 metres (236 feet) tall. It replaces a church that once stood the very same ground, and was also destroyed by a bombing in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Next stop was Menrat’s Palace. This beautiful Art-Nouveau style building was completed between 1908-1909, and was designed by Lipot Baumhorn.

Close by is the Serbian National Theatre. The current theatre was opened in 1981, however the theatre was founded in 1861 during a conference of the Serbian National Theatre Society. It’s hard to pin-point a style for this building however I’d say it somewhat resembles mid-century modern, despite being in the wrong decade for that style.

The final building I wanted to see in Novi Sad was the Provincial Secretariat for Education, Regulations, Administration and National Minorities & National Communities. Wow, what a tongue twister of a name! The building is also called Banovina. This building houses the Government of Vojvodina, which is an autonomous province of Serbia. This Art-Deco style building was designed by Dragisa Brasovan, and was built between 1936 and 1940.

It was then time to do some more driving. About 1.5 hours away (back towards Belgrade) was Avala Tower. Avala Tower is a 205 metre (672 feet) tall telecommunications tower located on Mount Avala. The original tower was constructed between 1961 and 1965, but was destroyed in 1999 during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It was reconstructed between 2006 and 2010. The original tower was designed by architects Uglješa Bogunović and Slobodan Janjić, and engineer Milan Krstić. The tower had an observation deck, and was the only tower in the world to have an equilateral triangle as its cross section, and one of very few towers not perched directly into the ground, but more so standing on its legs. The legs form a tripod. The rebuilt tower looks essentially the same but is 2 metres (6.5 feet) taller than the original. Today was an extremely foggy day so I could barely see the building, however it made for some really neat photos!

Another hour away is Smederevo Fortress. Construction started on the fortress in 1428, with the inner city being completed by 1430. It was further fortified in 1459 after the Ottoman Empire overtook the city. Restoration started in the late 2000’s, and is currently being considered as a possible nomination to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I drove back to Belgrade airport, dropped off the car, got a PCR test for my travel on Tuesday to Budapest, and then took the bus back into Belgrade. It was about 8pm and I was getting hungry so I stopped at a restaurant called Guli, which my dad and sister ate at a few years ago and had recommended to me.

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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 3 – Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

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

Ljubljana, Slovakia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zagreb, Croatia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iceland 2021 – Exploring More Reykjavik & Puffins

I finished off my Iceland trip by spending the remaining few days exploring more of Reykjavik and going to see some Puffins on the island of Lundey. During my last few days I visited the National Theatre of Iceland, Harpa, National Museum of Iceland, Iceland University, Nordic House, Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, Magic Ice Bar, Le Kock Restaurant, and I also took a boat to see the Puffins on the nearby island of Lundey.

National Theatre of Iceland

The National Theatre of Iceland is 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.

Iceland University

The University of Iceland’s Main Building was designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. It was completed in 1940, and is very similar in design to the National Theatre of Iceland. I love the use of the basalt columns!

Harpa

The Harpa Concert Hall was opened in May 2011. The distinctive building features a coloured glass façade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. It was designed by Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The structure was originally supposed to be a part of a large development including a 400-room hotel, luxury apartments, retail area, restaurants, car park, trade centre, etc. however due to the 2008 world financial crisis the development was changed into a concert hall.

National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland was established in 1863, and has been in its present location since 1950. The building is an Art Deco style building. Inside the building there are three floors, with the basement featuring photography from Spessi, and the second and third floors featuring historic artifacts from Iceland’s history. In a nutshell Iceland’s history began in the 800’s when Viking explorers from Norway settled the land. In the 930’s the chieftains had established their own form of governance, called Althing, making it one of the world’s oldest parliaments. In the early thirteenth century internal conflict arose, effectively ending the Icelandic Commonwealth. Norway, in turn, was united with Sweden in 1319 and Denmark in 1376. All the Nordic states were united in one alliance, called the Kalmar Union, which lasted between 1397 and 1523, however after its dissolution, Iceland fell under Danish ruling. The Danish-Icelandic ruling in the 17th and 18th centuries was crippling to the economy, which resulted in immense poverty and population decline, which was further hampered by several natural disasters including the “Mist Hardships”. Iceland remained part of Denmark, however in keeping with the rise of nationalism around Europe in the 19th century, and independence movement emerged. The Althing, which was suspended in 1799, was restored in 1844, and Iceland once again gained sovereignty after World War 1 on December 1st 1918, however shared the Danish Monarchy until the end of World War 2. Due to the island’s strategic position in the North Atlantic, the Allies occupied the island until the end of the war, with the United States taking over occupation duties from the British in 1941. Following World War 2 Iceland experienced large financial growth, largely due to fishing. The 2008-2011 financial crisis hit Iceland hard, however has since somewhat recovered.

Nordic House

The Nordic House was opened in 1968 and features cultural events and exhibitions, and even features a library with a collection of over over 30,000 items in seven languages, although oddly most are not in Icelandic. The modern style building was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. A unique feature of the building is it’s unique shape of the roof, which echoes the range of mountains in the distance. Inside the building almost all the installed furnishings, lamps, and furniture are designed by Alvar Aalto.

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral is a Lutheran Church in Reykjavik that took 41 years to be built; starting in 1945 and was finished in 1986. The church stands 75 metres (244 feet) tall, and is one of the tallest structures in the country. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), author of the Passion Hymns. The architecture styles are a blend of expressionist neo-gothic, brutalism, and art deco. From up-top you have a beautiful unobstructed view of the entire city, including the close-by Reykjavik Airport, which I watched some planes land at.

Magic Ice Bar

The Magic Ice Bar is a bit of a tourist trap, however is a neat experience if you want to experience some ice sculpture art, have some very chilled alcoholic beverages, and hang out with friends then this is the place for you. Being a solo trip I found it quite lame, but the ice sculptures were neat.

Le Kock Restaurant

The Le Kock Restaurant serves a bunch of delicious items on its menu, including the “Dirty Harry” burger which is comprised of a grilled beef patty, bacon, mushroom “bomb”, pickled red onions, chipotle sauce, romaine salad and crispy onions, served on a Deig potato roll. I also had a side of chiptole potatoes. I highly recommend this place!

Puffins – Island of Lundey

On my final day in Iceland I took a tour with a company called Special Tours. The tour cost $59 CDN and was very well planned. We departed at 11:00am on August 20th and went to the island of Lundey, where there was thousands of Puffin’s getting ready for winter. I managed to get a few candid shots of the beautiful birds, including some with fish in their mouths. This was the last day of the year for the tour, and I was told its way livelier in the months of June and July.

This concludes my Iceland trip, however check back frequently as I’m always up to new adventures. I still have quite a few hiking adventures that I’ve taken, which I’ve yet to post. I still plan an Eastern Europe road trip when it’s safe to do so, and also plan on visiting Norway and Bali.

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.

Czech Republic – Kutná Hora & Český Krumlov

After visiting Prague it was time to move on to my next destinations; Kutná Hora and Český Krumlov. First stop was Kutná Hora.

Kutná Hora was first founded in 1142 with the settlement of Sedlec Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. In 1260 German miners flicked to the area to begin mining for silver in the surrounding mountain region. There was great economic prosperity from the 13th thru 16th centuries and the city competed with Prague economically, politically and culturally.

In 1420, Emperor Sigismund made the city the base For his unsuccessful attack on the Taborites during the Hussite Wars, which lead to the Battle of Kutná Hora. Kutná Hora was taken by Jan Zizka, but was burned by imperial troops in 1422 to prevent it falling into the hands of the Taborites. Zizka still the reigns of the city nonetheless and it emerged to new prosperity.

Kutná Hora was eventually passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. In 1546 the most prosperous of the mines was flooded. Eventually the plague, 30 years war, and a fire did the city in. The city became impoverished and the mines were eventually abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. When I was here I visited the Church of Saint James (which was under construction), and St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

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After visiting Kutná Hora is was time to drive further along to my next stop, Český Krumlov, where I would be staying for the next two days.
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Český Krumlov started in 1240 when a settlement rose around a castle by the Vitkovci family, descendants of the Witiko of Prčice. The family died off in 1302 And Kind Wenceslaus II ceded the town and castle to the Rosenberg family. Peter 1 of Rosenberg, the Lord Chamberlain of King John of Bohemia, resided here and had the upper castle erected. Most of the people living below the castle were German-speaking at the time and migrated from Austria and Bavaria.

The Rosenbergs encouraged trade and crafts within the town wall, and when gold was found next to the town, German miners came to settle. William of Rosenberg, High Treasurer and High Burgrave of Bohemia, had the castle rebuilt in a Renaissance style during the time.

In 1602 Williams brother Peter Vok of Rosenberg sold Cesky Krumlov to the Habsburg emperor Rufolf II, who then gave it to his son Julius d’Austria. After the Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II gave Český Krumlov to the noble House of Eggenberg. From 1719 to 1947 the castle belonged to the House of Scwarzenberg.

After Word War I the city was part of the Bohemian Forest Region, which was initially declared part of German-Austria. The Czechoslovak army occupied the region by 1918, and it eventually became part of Czechoslovakia. in 1938 it was claimed by the Nazi Germans. After World War II the German speaking population was expelled and the town was returned to Czechoslovakia.

Under the communist ruling of Czechoslovakia the town fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 much of the town has been restored. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. The town was severely damaged in a great flood in 2002, but has since been repaired.

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Czech Republic – Prague

I spent the last two days exploring the beautiful city of Prague. Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has an extremely rich history dating back to 1306 BC. I’m going to dive into the history of how the Czech Republic came to be, and then go into detail about the sights that I saw.

Prague’s History

The city was founded as Boihaem in 1306 BC by King Boyya. Around the 4th century BC a Celtic tribe appeared in the area and setup settlements, which eventually became suburbs of Prague. The region was named the Region of Bohemia, which means “home of the Hoii people”.

The Celts were eventually driven away by Germanic tribes. In the late 5th Century AD, during the great Migration Period following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes living in Bohemia moved west and the Slavic’s moved in. During the next three centuries the Czechs and Zlicanis built several fortified settlements in the area, and eventually the fortified settlement where Prague Castle now stands today was built towards the tail end of the 9th century. The cathedral construction began in 1344, but wasn’t completed until the 20th century, but more on that later on. The area was an important trading center, where merchants from all over Europe came together.

In 1805, Vratislav II became the first Czech king. In 1310 the Holy Roman emperor John of Luxembourg became king of Bohemia. The city blossomed in the 14th century under Luxembourg ruling during the reign of Charles IV. Prague became one of Europe’s largest and wealthiest cities. In 1355, Charles IV was elected as the Holy Emperor and Prague became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

During the 15th century there were religious conflicts between Hussite and the Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia. This was caused by Jan Hus’s church reform movement, which eventually led to his conviction and his death. This provoked Jan Zelivsky, a Hussite preacher, to rebel. Catholic councilor were thrown from the top of the New Town Hall, and Prague was then ruled by the Hussite’s. Unfortunately many historical monuments were destroyed and Prague Castle also became damaged.

In 1526, the Habsburg dynasty began ruling Prague. Prague Castle was reconstructed. In 1575, Rudolf II was crowned as the Holy Emperor. During the Habsburg Ruling Prague became known as the center of science and alchemy. Many famous scientists were attracted to Prague during this time.

The 17th Century was known as the Dark Age due to multiple uprisings starting in 1618. In 1620, the Battled of White Mountain took place and the Protestants were defeated leading to the loss of Prague’s independence. The Saxons began occupying Prague and the Swedes moved into Hradčany and Malá Strana in 1648. The city’s population started to decline, and roughly 50% of the population decided to leave.

In 1784, the city was divided up into four independent urban areas by Jospeh II; Staré město/Old Town, Lesser Town/Malá Strana, Hradčany and Nové město/New Town. During this time, the National Revival, a Czech nationalist movement began that brought the Czech language, culture and identity back into existence.

The Industrial Revolution was a booming time in Prague, with many industries setting up shop. In 1845 a railway was built between Vienna and Prague. There was a massive influx of people moving into Prague.

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 Prague becoming the capital of Czech Republic.

Petrin Tower

The Petrin Tower was built in 1891 and resembles the Eiffel Tower. It was built for the World’s Jubilee Exhibition and was completed in only four months. It was used as an observation tower as well as a transmission tower. The tower sits in the centre of Petrin Hill, about a half hour walk up steep paths. There are two observation platforms accessible via 299 stairs for 150 CZH ($8.50 CDN) or via an elevator for 210 CZH ($11.85 CDN). The stairs are setup in a double-helix structure allowing visitors to travel up and down concurrently. At the top you’re gifted with some beautiful views of Prague Castle and the surrounding area below.

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Prague Castle & Surrounding Area

Prague Castle is a massive castle complex that was built between 870 and 1929. It is considered the largest ancient castle in the world and occupies over 750,000 square feet of space. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic and was a seat of power for numerous kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept within a hidden room somewhere inside of it. It’s history began in 870 when the Church of the Virgin Mary was built. Eventually a Romanesque palace was erected during the 12th century, and numerous expansions and fires have occurred since.

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Charles Bridge & Old Town Bridge Tower

Old Town Bridge Tower was built in the late 14th century during the ruling of Emperor Charles IV. It was designed by Petr Parléř. It is on the south end of Charles Bridge. Charles Bridge was built between 1357 and 1402. It was the replacement for the damaged Judith Bridge that was built between 1158 and 1172, which was washed out in a flood in 1342. It was the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841. Many people congregate on the bridge and live music often occurs here.

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Dancing House

Dancing House, also known as Fred and Ginger; a nickname given to the Nationale-Nederlanden building, was designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić in cooperation with Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry on a vacant riverfront plot. The building was designed in 1992 and completed in 1996. The building recieved its nickname after the famous dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as the house resembles a pair of dancers.

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St. Wenceslas Church

St. Wenceslas Church was built in 1930 as a commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia. This was one of three buildings built for the commemoration. The Art Deco style church stands fairly tall at 50 metres tall.

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The Church of the Most Sacred Heart

The Church of the Most Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic church that was built between 1929 and 1932. It was designed by architect Jože Plečnik. This was one of the other buildings built to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia.

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Church of St. Ludmila

The Church of St. Ludmila is a neo-gothic Roman Catholic church at Náměstí Míru (Peace Square). The church was built between 1888 and 1892 to honor St. Ludmila of Bohemia. The church has two 60.6 metre tall towers with bells and a tall cable with a portal above the main entrance, which is adjourned with sculptures.

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Narodni Museum

The Narodni Museum (National Museum of Prague) was originally founded in 1796 by the first president of the Society of the Patriotic Museum, Count Sternberk, who served as the trustee and operator of the museum at the time. The museum’s original focus was that of natural sciences. The museum became too small and the current location was built in 1818, but it didn’t actually acquire any historical objects until the 1830’s and 1840’s, when Romanticism arose. Today the museum houses over 14 million items in its collection. This is a must see if you’re into museums!

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Žižkov Television Tower

The Žižkov Television Tower was built between 1985 and 1992. It was designed by architect Václav Aulický. The tower is constructed of steel tubes filled with concrete. The tower was built for a fairly low cost of only $19 million. The tower stands at 216 metres tall and has an observation deck at 93 metres, a hotel room at 70 metres, and a restaurant at 66 metres.

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Astronomical Clock Tower

The Prague Astronomical Clock Tower is a medieval astronomical clock that was built in 1410. It’s the third oldest astronomical clock in the work, and the oldest clock still in operational use. The clock was made by clockmakers  Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel. The clock mechanism has three main components; 1) the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details, 2) an hourly clockwork of figures of the Apostles, 3) a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.

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Stone Bell House

The Stone Bell House is named after the stone bell embedded in the outside corner of the building. The bell is said to be a reminder of the arrival of John of Bohemia to Prague in 1310, after the city was seized and occupied by Henry of Bohemia. The house was renovated to a Baroque style during the 15th and 19th centuries and lost most of its original Gothic image. The house underwent extensive renovations from 1975 to 1987 to restore much of this image, with the original Gothic façade being uncovered and restored.

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Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall was built in 1364. The site where the Old Town Hall tower stands today technically was used as a town hall since 1338 when the councillors of the Old Town bought a large house from the Volfin family and adopted it for purpose. This was largely disassembled and the current tower was built in its place in 1364, with only the Gothic stone portal on the western side being the only remaining original piece. The Old Town Hall had numerous expansions as well as fires over the years.

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St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church was built between 1732 and 1737 on the site of a Gothic church from the 13th century that was dedicated to Saint Nicholas. An interesting thing to note is that during the Prague uprising in 1945, the church was used by the Czech partisans as a concealed site for Radio Prague, as the main building was attacked.

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Prague Metronome

The Prague Metronome is a 23 metre tall functioning metronome in Letna Park, which overlooks the Vltava River. It was erected in 1991 on the plinth left vacant by the formerly demolished 1962 monument of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. At the top of the Metronome you can see the absolutely amazing views of the city below!

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Expo 1958 Pavilion

In 1958, Brussels hosted the first World’s Fair after World War 2. Different countries have the opportunity to shape the Expo by contributing interesting buildings. In that year Czechoslovakia was the winner. The building was designed by architects Frantisek Cubr, Josef Hruby and Zdenek Pokorny exclusively for the world exhibition. The L-shaped complex had an extension for restaurants and consisted of three windowless areas, which were connected by two glazed aisles.

After the World’s Fair came to an end, the building was completely dismantled and taken back to Prague. Since 1961 only the former restaurant building still exists. The building is currently being used as an office building. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire in 1991, but could be reconstructed again.

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Industrial Palace

Prague’s Industrial Palace, also known as Výstaviště Praha is an exhibition area that is used for exibitions, concerts and other cultural events. It was built in 1891 by Bedřich Münzberge in an Art Nouveau architectural style. The building is built of glass and steel and is divded into 3 independent parts; the left and right wings, as well as a middle hall with a 51 metre tall clock tower. In 2008 the Palace caught fire, which destoryed the left wing. The left wing is currently being rebuilt.

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Subway System

Prague’s Metro system has some particularly beautiful stations located on the “A Line”, which are worth seeing. The Metro system is comprised of 65 km of track and 61 stations. The system includes the A, B, and C lines, and started operations in 1974 with the A Line. Prague’s Metro is the fifth busiest metro system in Europe, serving over 1.6 million people daily!

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Various Photos

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