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 15 – Melk Abbey & Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 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 11 – Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 8 – Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

Hungary’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 4 – Belgrade, Serbia

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

Serbia’s History

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

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

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

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

After World War 1 Serbia became part of a large Slav nation, and in 1929 King Aleksander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. Finally, in 1991-1992 Yugoslavia started to break up. Serbia became independent in 2006, Montenegro became independent in 2006, and Kosovo became independent in 2008.

Exploring Belgrade, Serbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 1 – Travel Day & Zagreb, Croatia

Today I embarked on a 3-week trip to Eastern Europe to complete an Eastern European journey across 8 countries. The countries that I will be visiting are Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Vienna, Estonia, and Finland. During my trip I’ll go into a brief history of each country I visit, as well as go into more detail about specific places in each country that I visit.

My journey started in Calgary with a 9 hour flight on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 to Frankfurt, with a quick layover before flying on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to Zagreb, Croatia. I booked the outgoing flights in Premium Economy, however was upgraded to business class, which was nice. On the Air Canada flight I had Smoked Duck Breast as an appetizer, Chicken thighs with lemon mustard sauce and sautéed gnocchi for the main course, and cheese and crackers with Port for dinner. Breakfast was fruit, oatmeal, and cheese, however I skipped eating the oatmeal.

Upon arrival in Zagreb I picked up my rental car from Budget; a Skoda Kamiq, a mini SUV, which I only paid $65 CDN for two days.

After picking up the rental car I drove to downtown Zagreb. Before we dive into my adventure out let’s talk about Croatia’s history.

Croatia’s History

Croatia’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC. After 390 BC the Greeks settled in colonies along the coast line. After 229 BC the Romans gradually took control of Croatia, and ended up ruling the entire country by 12 AD. The Romans divided up the area into provinces of Dalmatia (the coast), Noricum (which included part of Austria), and Pannonia (which included part of Hungary). The Roman control of Croatia came to an end in the 5th Century when the Roman Empire collapsed.

In the early 7th Century Slavic people, known as Croats, migrated to the area. They first settled in Dalmatia, expanding further northwards and inland in the 8th Century. During the Middle Ages trade flourished in Croatia, which allowed many towns to grow significantly. In 1202 of Venetian Crusaders took the town of Zadar to repay a debt that the Croatians owed them. In 1205 the Venetians also captured Dubrovnik and Istria.

In 1358 the Hungarian-Croatian king defeated the Venetians and took back control of Dalmatia, however this didn’t last long because in 1409 after a war the king of Hungary-Croatia sold Dalmatia (except Dubrovnik) to the Venetians. The reason why Dubrovnik wasn’t included was in 1382 Dubrovnik became independent and remained so until 1808.

In 1493 the Ottomans defeated the Croatians during the battle of Krovsko Poje. Peace in the area remained short lived with another war occurring in 1526, when the Hungarians were invaded by the Turks during the battle of Mohacs. The king of the Hungary-Croatian empire was killed and the kingdom was based to Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, however the Turks continued to control most of Croatia until 1716 when they were defeated during the battle of Petervaradino.

In 1797 Venice was forced to return its Croatian territory to Austria. In 1809 Napoleon formed the territory into a new stated called the Illyrian Provinces, but this was short lived because in 1815 Napoleon was defeated. Austria took back the territory, including Dubrovnik.

In 1848 the Hungarians and Croats had a falling out and went to war, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Croatia was eventually split; Dalmatia was ruled by Austria, while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.

In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Croatia declared its independence. On December 1 1918 the Croats agreed to join with the Slovenes and Serbs to form a new state called the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats soon became upset, as they wanted the new state to become a unitary state. In 1929 King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In May 1990 elections were held, with the Croatians seeking to leave Yugoslavia, but with a substantial number of Serbians living in Croatia this created issues. In May 1991 the Croatians voted for independence, but The Yugoslavian army invaded to protect the Serbians living within the Croatian borders. This was the beginning of a long war, which didn’t end until 1995 with the signing of the Erdut Agreement. Croatian independence was recognized by the European Union on January 15 1992, even before the war was over. Eastern Slavonia was ran by the United Nations until 1998, when it was handed over to Croatia.

Exploring Zagreb

Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times, and was founded in 1134. Today Zagreb is home to 1.1 million people, housing about 25% of Croatia’s population. I spent the late afternoon exploring the old city including Lotrščak Tower, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zagreb 360°, Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Mark’s Church, and Atelijer Meštrović Museum.

As I drove into Zagreb I saw how beautiful the streets were. They reminded me quite a bit of the Czech Republic.A notable building was the circular Croatian Society of Fine Artists. I parked my car in the downtown area and explored for a bit before having to take my COVID test @ 430pm.

Lotrščak Tower is a fortified tower that was built sometime in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall. Gradec is an old part of Zagreb known as Upper Town. The name is derived from the Latin saying “Campana Latrunculorum”, meaning thieves bell, making reference to a bell that was hung in the tower in 1946 to signal the closing of the town gates. The tower had a cannon placed on the fourth floor, and since January 1 1877 the cannon is fired from the tower to mark midday so that bell-ringers of the city churches know when it is noon.

Ban Josip Jelačić Square is Zagreb’s central square. The square has existed since the 17th century, and was first named Harmica. It was renamed to its present name in 1848 after Count Josip Jelačić, who was in office from 1848 to 1859. In 1946 the square was renamed Republic Square and Josip Jelačić’s statue was removed the following year as the new Communist government of Yugoslavia denounced him as a “servant of foreign interests”. After the breakup of Yugoslavia Josip Jelačić’s historic role was again considered positive and the statue was returned to the square, but in a different location on the north side, facing south. Today the square is a common meeting place for the people in Zagreb and is a pedestrian only zone, as well as the main hub for the ZET tram lines. The square is adorned by a variety of architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession, and modernism.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a museum in a baroque palace displaying personal objects from former lovers along with brief synopses.

St. Mark’s Church was built in the 13th century and was radically reconstructed in the second half of the 14th century to a Gothic architecture style. Massive round columns support heavy ribbed vaults cut in stone and an air of peace and sublimity characterizes the church interior in its simplicity. Outside, on the northwest wall of the church lies the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 engraved in it. On the roof, tiles are laid so that they represent the coat of arms of Zagreb. There was police tape all around the building so I wasn’t able to enter. I couldn’t figure out why there was police tape all around.

The Atelijer Meštrović Museum is dedicated to the artwork of Ivan Meštrović, a renowned Yugoslavian and Croatian sculptor, architect and writer of the 20th century. He lived from 1883 to 1962, where he died at an age of 78 in South Bend, Indiana, USA.

During my walks I also saw a vineyard in the middle of town.

For dinner I had a Truffle Strukli from La Štruk. Štrukli’s are a popular Croatian dish made of pasty, cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt. All I can say is WOW this dish is delicious!

I explored the night life walking the streets back to my car before driving back to my hotel called Hotel & Hostel Zagreb; a basic accommodation for about $40 CDN. I finished my blog, had a shower, did some work, and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I travel from Zagreb, Croatia to visit the Uprising Monument, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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Iceland 2021 – Blue Lagoon, Waterfalls, Glaciers, and Plane Wrecks

This post is a very special milestone for me as this is my 250th blog post since I started writing in 2016. Today started off fairly early with me waking up around 7am, as I had to get ready for my 9am soak at the Blue Lagoon. On the way to the Blue Lagoon I drove to a local bakery called Bakarameistarinn, where I ordered a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I was a bit early arriving at the Blue Lagoon, so I sat in my car writing some of my blog, and going through my photos.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field near Grindavik, where I was yesterday. The Blue Lagoon is a series of man-made pools that are filled by water from a nearby geothermal power plant. After the water is used by the geothermal power plant to spin the turbines to generate electricity, it is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat for municipal hot water, and then fed into the lagoon. The water’s unique milk blue shade is due to its high silica content. The water forms soft white mud on the bottom of the lagoon, which feels nice on the feet. The water is also very high in salts and algae. The temperature of the water stays between 37-39°C.

The power plant feeding the lagoon was opened in 1976, and the runoff started to make pools. In 1981 a psoriasis patient bathed in the water and noted that the water alleviated his symptoms, and over time the lagoon became a popular place for people to bathe. In 1987 a proper bathing facility was built, and in 1992 the Blue Lagoon company was established. Numerous studies have been conducted in the 1990’s confirmed that the lagoon had a beneficial effect on psoriasis, and a clinic was opened in 1994.

After bathing in the lagoon for a few hours it was time for me continue on with my day. Next stop was two waterfalls next to each other; Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss. Seljalandsfoss drops from over 60 metres above and is part of the Seljalands River, whos origin is from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. If you feel like getting really wet you can walk behind the falls into a small cave. Gljúfrafoss is a smaller waterfall north of Seljalandsfoss. You can walk right up to the base of the waterfall by following a short trail down a narrow canyon. Make sure to take a picture looking up for a neat perspective.

After visiting the waterfalls I started driving towards the town of Vik, however was distracted by a glacier that I could see off to my left hand side. I decided to stop at Solheimajokull Glacier, and I’m extremely glad that I did. Solheimajokull Glacier is a 11km long outlet glacier that originates from the southwestern part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The glacier has undergone tremendous changes over the last century with measurements of its glacier snout having retreated 977 metres between 1930 and 1969, advancing by 495 metres between 1969 and 1955, and receding by 1312 metres by 2019. In 2011 a lagoon started to form in front of the glacier and has been growing steadily as the glacier continues to melt and retreat. The current depth of the lagoon is about 60 metres.

After visiting the glacier I drove another hour or so to Vik, where I stopped at The Soup Company for lunch. I had the Red Hot Lava bowl, which was a black bread bowl filled with a spicy prime rib soup. After lunch I drove to Vik Church to snap a photo of the beautiful oceanside and the church. This is one of my favourite views that I recall from my 2014 trip to Iceland with my father.

Close by is Reynisfjara Beach, a black sand beach with basalt rock formations. Last time I was here in 2014 with my father it was pouring rain so I didn’t have a chance to take great quality photos. This time it was windy as anything, but at least the sun was shining.

Next up was the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. You used to be able to drive right up to the crash site, however the road was closed many after numerous people got stuck in the soft black sand. The hike there is about 7.4km return, and took me only about 1.25 hours. In November 1973, a Douglas Dakota C-117 airplane was making a return trip to Keflavik airport after delivering cargo to a radar station near Hornafjörður in East Iceland. While flying back, the plane gradually started to lose power and altitude, and were forced to crash land on Solheimasandur. Some speculate that the plane ran out of fuel when the pilot accidentally switched to the wrong fuel tank, while others speculate that the plane crashed because of ice buildup on the wings during a storm. Keeping with the stormy conditions these pilots had to endure I nearly crashed my drone when the windy conditions worsened and started to sweep my drone away from me. I had to run after it a few hundred metres before it pseudo crash landed in the black sand.

It was getting fairly late so it was time for me to start the 2 hour long drive back to Reykjavik. I stopped at Tommi’s Burger Joint for dinner, which was recommended to me by someone the previous day, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

After dinner I went back to the hotel and was ready for bed, as it was nearly 10pm at this point in time. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series where I visit Glymur Falls, and soak in Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River.

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.