Portugal – Day 9 – Lisbon

Today was my last day exploring Lisbon. Tomorrow I’ll be exploring Evora. I started off with another breakfast sandwich and a coffee at Starbucks.

The Palace of Justice is an excellent example of brutalism, which is quite a rare architecture type in Portugal. The building was designed by Portuguese architects Januário Godinho and João Andresen. The building was constructed between 1962 and 1970.

Elevador do Lavra is the oldest funicular in Lisbon. It was opened in 1884. The 188 metre long funicular connects Largo da Anunciada to Rua Camara Pestana. The 90cm gauge railways has an average grade of 22.9%!

Bemposta Palace, also known as the Queens Palace, is a neoclassical palace that was built in 1693 in Bemposta, now the civil parish of Pena. It was built for Queen Dowager Catherine of Braganza on her return to London, and served as her residence for many years. It was there transferred to Casa do Infantado (the property of the youngest son of the King of Portugal), before becoming John VI’s residence until his death. Queen Maria II then transferred its title to the Army, where it became the Portuguese Military Academy. In 2001 a monument to Queen Catherine was installed in front of the buildings façade.

The Vhils & Shepard Fairey Mural is a joint collaboration on a newer portrait mural created in 2016. I couldn’t find much information on the mural, but it almost has a communist / USSR feel to it.

The Church of Santa Engrácia is a Baroque style monument that was originally built as a church in 1681, but was later on converted to the National Pantheon, in which important Portuguese people were buried. The church was designed by João Antunes, a royal architect and one of the most important baroque architects of Portugal. Construction took place between 1682 and 1712, until the architect died. King Kohn V lost interest in the project and the church was not officially completed until 1966. There’s a tremendous view of the streets below from the balcony at the top.

The National Museum of the Azulejo, also known as the National Tile Museum, is an art museum dedicated to the traditional tilework of Portugal. It was established back in 1965. The museum’s collection is one of the largest collections of ceramics in the entire world.

I came across another piece of Bordalo II art made entirely of garbage. This monkey is one of my favourites of his pieces.

The Church Nossa Senhora da Conceicao Velha is a Renaissance, Manueline, and Gothic style Roman Catholic church that was built in 1770. The church was originally built in the early 1500’s, and expanded a few times until it was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The current church was designed by Francisco António Ferreira.

It was time for some lunch. Online I was recommended that I should eat at Nicolau Lisboa. It did not disappoint. I had a bowl of delicious ramen.

Tram 28 connected Martim Moniz with Campo Ourique, and passes through many popular tourist districts such as Afama, Baixa, Estrela, and Graca. The original 1930’s Remodelado trams still run this route. The trams are adorned in beautiful polished wood interiors, brass, and bright and cheerful yellow paint. The reason why these trams are still in use on this route, is that modern trams are too big due to the very tight turning radius’, steep grades, and narrow streets.

Sao Jorge Castle is a historic castle that dates back to 8th century BC. The first fortifications were built in 1st century BC. The hill that the castle sits on plays a very important part of Lisbon’s history, as it’s served as the fortifications for the Phoenicians, Cathaginians, Romans, and Moors, and the site of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon. Since the 12th century the castle has served as many roles ranging from a royal palace, a military barracks, the Torree do Tombo National Archive, and now the National Monument and Museum.

Praca do Comercio, also known as Terreiro do Paco, is one of Portugal’s largest plazas with an area of over 30000 square metres. The plaza is surround on three sides by Pombaline styled buildings, and the south side faces over the Tejo Estuary. The plaza dates back to the 1500’s, however was destroyed during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It was rebuilt and played an important city center, being surrounded by government buildings.

Lisbon City Hall is located in the City Square (Praça do Município). It houses the Lisbon City Council. This beautiful neoclassical building, designed by Domingos Parente da Silva, was built between 1865 and 1880. The original city hall was destroyed during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and again by a fire in 1863. During the 1930’s and 1940’s the building underwent numerous additions, including adding a new floor over the rooftop. In 1996 a fire destroyed the upper floors and the painting ceilings of the first floor. Architect Silva Dias produced a plan to rehabilitate the building closer to Domingo’s original architectural plans.

Museu do Oriente is a 6-storey white-washed Art Deco style building that was built in the 1940’s for use as a salted cod processing factory. It was designed by João Simões Antunes. It was converted into a museum in 2008 by Carrilho da Graça Arquitectos.

The Estrela Basilica, also known as the Royal Basilica and Convent of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, is a Roman Catholic basilica that was consecrated in 1779. It is the first church in the world to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Maria, Princess of Brazil vowed, before an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Convent of Carnide (in Lisbon), to build a church and convent under the Rule of Saint Theresa. Maria was the eldest daughter of King Joseph I, and eventually succeeded his death in 1777. In 1979 she fulfilled her vow, and construction of the church began. The church took a decade to complete under the guidance of architect Mateus Vicente de Oliverira.

Sao Bento Palace is the seat of the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic. Originally constructed in 1598, São Bento has served as the seat of Portugal’s parliament since 1834, when the former monastery of the Benedictine Order was dissolved after the Liberal Wars. During the Portuguese constitutional monarchy the palace served as the seat of Cortes Gerais until 1910. Located within Sao Bento Palace is the São Bento Mansion, which is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Portugal. The house was first built by capitalist Joaquim Machado Cayres in 1877 for use as his private residence. The plot of land this building sits on belonged to the adjoining Benedictine Monastery since 1598. In 1928 the mansion became the official residence of the President of the Council of Ministers, the official title of the Prime Minister back then. The building was built in Neo-Classical architecture style.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I explore Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Portugal – Day 6 – Sintra & Cascais

Today I explored the beautiful areas of Sintra and Cascais. I had a delicious breakfast at the buffet at my Myriad hotel. It was one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve ever had. After having breakfast I checked out of the hotel, and took the metro to pickup my rental car, Citroen 308. I quite enjoyed driving it, because I love driving manual transmission, and it had a square steering wheel, which was super comfortable to drive. I wish more cars took real world ergonomics into consideration. Most people drive with a hand at the 12 o’clock position, so having a square steering wheel is nice.

I set off towards Sintra area, with a quick stop at a gas station for a coffee. The drive took about 30 minutes, and had a bit of congestion for 5 minutes or so. First stop was the Palace of Sintra. The Palace of Sintra, also known was the Town Palace is one of the best preserved medieval royal residences in Portgual. It was utilized as a royal residence from the 15th to 19th century, before becoming a museum. It is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudejar architecture styles, due to the extensive time period the building was built over. The oldest surviving part of the palace is the chapel, which was built during the reign of King Dinis I around 1281. The palace chapel has a tiled floor with tiles in the apse laid to resemble a carpel. The walls are painting in patterned square that look like tiles, and depict the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove. The ceiling is constructed of wood and is decorated in geometrically patterned latticework. In the late 14th century, Portugal was conquering strategic areas in North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula, and established central trade routes. With this massive infusion of wealth, King John I ordered the large-scale Palace of Sintra project to be built. Most of the current day palace dates back to the era when King John I ruled. The most noticeable features are the twin chimney towers, that can be seen from miles away. The rooms surround the central courtyard are also from this period. The Arab Room is covered in elaborate motifs and blue ceramic tile work. The Swans Room’s ceiling is covered in painted swans. The Magpies room has 136 painted magpies holding a rose and scroll with the words Por Bem (For the good). 100 years passed, and King Manuel I made some additions to the palace, which included the Coat of Arms Room, a room with a hexagonal roof with paints of deer and the coats of arms of 72 noble families. This also saw the transition from Gothic to Renaissance art styles. In 1755 the palace suffered damage during the Lisbon Earthquake, however was quickly restored. The Palace of Sintra remained in use by the royal family until 1880. In 1910 the palace became a national monument. In the 1940’s the palace underwent major restoration.

After exploring the Palace of Sintra I walked about 45 minutes uphill to the Castle of the Moors. The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle located in Sintra, about 25 km Northwest of Lisbon. It was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle was constructed on an exposed rocky outcrop, which provided the Moors a strategic view along the coastline and surrounding lands. In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle and became rulers. The castle was left for ruins and was eventually overtaken by dense forests. In the 1800’s King Ferdinand II was mesmerized by the natural and serene setting of the castle ruins, and ordered the site to be restored. It was partially restored.

Further along the uphill path is the Palace of Pena. After another 30 minutes of walking I arrived at the Palace. Park and National Palace of Pena. The Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle located on the top of a hill in the Sintra mountains above Sintra. It was completed in 1854, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1995. The castle’s history starts back in the middle ages when a chapel dedicated to “Our Lady of Pena” was built on top of the hill above Sintra. In the 18th century the monastery was severely damage by lightning, and the following Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 essentially reduced the monastery to ruins. The chapel somehow escaped significant damage. The ruins remained untouched until King Ferdinand II decided to acquire the old monastery, and surround lings, including the Castle of the Moors. He transformed the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family. The current Romanesque style building was constructed between 1842 and 1854. It would have been completed sooner, however King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Mari II decided to make some extensive changes in 1847. After the death of Ferdinand the palace was passed onto his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla, who then sold the palace to King Luis. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum.

After a 1.25 hour walk back to the car I drove towards the coast and checked out a few areas, including a few beaches, a lighthouse, and an abandoned hotel.

Last stop before returning the rental car was Cascais. This is a beautiful small city on the coast.

The Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, originally known was Sebastian’s Tower, was built in 1900 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. It became a museum in 1931. This beautiful building has neo-gothic and Revivalist architecture styles.

Palacio Seixas is a small two-storey neoclassical palace that was built in 1900 on behalf of Carmen Graziella Castilla da Rocha. In 1907 Carlos Seixas, an industrialist, purchased the house. In 1997 Instituto Camões purchased the house.

Casa das Historias Paula Rego is a very unique museum in Cascais. The building was designed by Souto De Moura, who was chosen by Paula Rego. The building consists of two pyramid-shaped towers, and red-cloured concrete. The building consists of four wings of different heights and sizes, a large exhibition space, a 200 seat auditorium, a shop, and a café.

The Citadel of Cascais is a set of fortifications that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries to defend the Cascais coastline against attacks on Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The citadel consists of Santo António de Cascais, the Fortress of Our Lady of Light (Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais), and the former Royal Palace area. In 1488 a fort, known as the Torre de Santo António de Cascais, was built to provide resistance on possible military attacks on Lisbon. In 1594 the fort of Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais, designed by Italian Captain Fratino, was ordered to be built by Philip I. The fortress continued to undergo upgrades until 1755, when it was significantly damaged by the Lisbon Earthquake.

Casa de Santa Maria was a luxury private residence in Cascais. It was built in 1902 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. He originally built what is now the Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, and later on commissioned this building as a wedding present for his daughter. Raul Lino designed the building, which was built by materials only found within Portugal. In 1914 the building was sold to engineer Jose Lino Junior, who was the older brother of Raul Lino. He expanded the building by adding parts at each end, with the architecture being designed by Raul Lino. In 1934 the house was acquired by the Espirito Santo family. In 2004 the building was acquired by the Cascais Municipality.

Santa Marta Beach is a beautiful small cove with a sandy beach located behind the Marina in Cascais. The views here are simply incredible!

The Santa Marta Lighthouse was built in 1868 on the site of Santa Marta to provide light for navigation of ships. It originally had a fixed red light, given by a dioptric lens. It was later replaced by a fixed-light catadioptric system in 1908. In 1936 the tower height was increased by 8 metres, due to new buildings in the area that were impeding existing light. In 1949 a foghorn was installed. In 1953 the lamp was electrified, and even included a backup system. In 1964 a generator was installed. In 1981 the lighthouse was modified. Further upgrades occurred in 2000.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I explore more of Lisbon.

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Portugal – Day 4 – Porto

Today was my last day in Porto. I checked out of my hotel, because I was going to be moving to a new hotel. I hadn’t originally planned on staying in Porto this long, but that’s how it ended up working out. I left my bag at the hotel so I could pick it up later.

It was a bit of a random adventure. I found some murals, an abandoned palace, an art deco hotel, and walked on the other side of the Douro River.

The Pinto Leite Palace, originally known as Casa do Campo Pequeno, is a 19th-century bourgeois residence built by Joaquim Pinto Leite. In 1966 the palace was acquired from the heirs of Joaquim to be turned into a music conservatory, however that took 9 years to complete. the building has sat vacant since 2008 with the departure of the Conservatory of Music of Porto. In 2016 the city put the mansion up for public auction with a price of $1.55 million Euro’s but had to be exclusively used for cultural or artistic purchases. It was purchased for $1.65 million Euro’s by a company owned by art collectors Antonio Oliveira and Antonio Moutinho Cardoso to create a cultural exabit. The project was abandoned in 2019, and will eventually house temporary exhibitions showcasing contemporary paintings by Moutinho Cardoso, after Antoni Oliveira ceded his stake in the project.

After exploring I ate a delicious hamburger at Holy Sandwich Shop, and then checked into my hotel Hotel Vincci Porto, which I walked past on the second day. It is an absolutely stunning Art Deco (Modernist) hotel built in 1933. It was designed by Januario Godinho and Jose Carlos Cruz. The hotel features 91 rooms, including 4 suites, and a 4-storey restaurant. It was originally used as a fish market.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, when I take a train to Lisbon and continue my adventures of Portugal.

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Portugal – Day 2 – Porto

Today I slept in until about 9:30am. I had a delicious breakfast waiting for me downstairs, which was also very nicely presented. It had everything you could possibly want ranging from yogurt, granola, pancakes, fruit, cheese, buns. a croissant, orange juice, milk (which I didn’t drink), and coffee. After breakfast I started out on my adventures for the day

Hotel Vincci Porto is an absolutely stunning Art Deco (Modernist) hotel built in 1933. It was designed by Januario Godinho and Jose Carlos Cruz. The hotel features 91 rooms, including 4 suites, and a 4-storey restaurant. I will be staying here in a few days, just for one night.

The Porto Tram Museum, which is located right next door to Hotel Vincci Porto, opened in 1992. It is located at a former Massarelos Power Plant along the Douro River. The collection contains 16 electric cars, 5 trailers, two maintenance vehicles, and the former equipment of the power plant. The power plant was opened in 1915, and served the city of Porto for 45 years. From 1915 until the 1440s the power station produced enough electricity to power Porto’s tram network, however due to the increase in the number of trams the power supply was insufficient and became partially dependent on the city’s power supply, and in the 1960’s energy production ceased, although it remained a substation for three tram lines until the tram museum was opened in 1992. Later on in the day I got to ride on one of the history tram cars.

Arrábida Bridge is a 500 metres long reinforced concrete arch bridge spanning across the Douro River between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. It was constructed between 1957 and 1963. At the time of its construction, its main 270 metre span was the largest of any concrete-arch bridge in the world. The building is now a protected historical item, and must be maintained. In 2016 some modifications were done to the bridge to allow pedestrians to walk across the archway, dubbed the Porto Bridge Climb.

Farolim de Felgueiras is a 19th century hexagonal lighthouse located on the Douro River. It is 10 metres tall and is constructed of granite. The views of the waves splashing again the walls is beautiful.

The Fort of São Francisco do Queijo, also known as the Castle of Cheese, is a fortification sitting on the coast. It was built in the 15th century, and is a fairly simplistic design. It was built on top of a structure that likely dated back to the 6th century. It’s suggested that the reason that it was built was to defend against the Armada of Galicia.

The Vodafone Headquarters is a unique modern building that has some brutalism components conveyed in its design. Designed by Barbosa & Guimaraes, and built in 2008, this beautiful concrete building has a dynamic modern twist to it. The concrete building has a bunch of free-form unique shapes. Internally the building is quite unique as it is essentially a shell of concrete with only three central pillars and two stairwells.

The Serralves Contemporary Art Museum is a great example of contemporary architecture, Modernism, and Art Deco architecture. The museum, built in 1999, was designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira. It is the second most visited museum in Portugal, with over 1 million visitors annually. There was a lot of audible art there, and it was fun to listen to. On site is Casa de Serralves, a beautiful Art Deco villa that was built between 1925 and 1944. The building is actually three different styles combined; neoclassical, romantic, and art deco. While I was here I had a smoked salmon wrap at the cafeteria.

Casa da Musica is a 1300-seat concert hall that was opened in 2005. The building, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is nine-storeys high and is constructed of concrete, marble and glass. It is the only concert hall in the world with two walls constructed entirely of glass.

The Super Bock Arena is a unique arena built between 1951 and 1952. This Avant Garde style arena  Designed by Jose Carlos Loureiro, it was finally opened in 1954. Between 2018 and 2019 it was fully renovated, bringing its capacity to 8000 people.

Museu Da Cicade (Casa Guerra Junqueiro) is a museum / residence of Guerra Junqueiro. This beautiful baroque style building was built between 1730 and 1746 for Domingos Barbosa, a magisterial deacon of the Se Cathedral of Porto. After his death, the house became the property was passed along numerous times to other family members before the home was donated in 1940 to the city of Porto, alongside the collection of over 600 works of art of Guerra Jungqueiro.

The Clerics complex consists of a Tower, Museum, and a Church. The church and tower are part of a baroque style building that was built between 1754 and 1763. It was designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. The tower is 75 metres tall, and after climbing 225 steps you are presented with a beautiful view of the city below. The museum is located in the House of the Brotherhood, which was built between 1754 and 1758. The museum allows you to explore the private spaces that were once part of the daily life of the Brotherhood of the Clerics. There’s a Dispatch Room, Safe Room, Registry, Infirmary, and a large collection of historical paintings, furniture, and jewelry.

The Livraria Lello Book Store is an absolutely beautiful bookstore that has been open since 1906. The building was designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves. This bookstore became one of the leading importers and exporters of literature in Portugal during 1920 to 1950. In 1993 the bookstore was renovated and restored. There’s a beautiful staircase going up to the second floor, that splits into two in the middle. It’s adorned by beautiful red steps. This was actually a mistake, because the original steps were brown, but during the restoration it was painted red. It was decided that it would stay that way, and all I can say is that it looks simply stunning. In 2013 the building received its designation as a heritage site. The building once again underwent restoration in 2018. This bookstore was featured as Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts. Did you know that J.K. Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990’s?

The Cunhas Warehouses are housed in a stunning Art Deco style building that was designed by Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes, and Coelho Freitas. Technically this building consists of three buildings with a single Art Deco facade. The main feature of the facade is the open feathered peacock displyed prominently in the middle. The building was finished in 1917.

Igreja do Carmo, also known as the Church of Our Lady of Carmo, is a Baroque style catholic church that was was opened in 1768.

Eurostars Aliados is a five-star 149 room hotel that occupies an old Art Deco style building on Avenida dos Aliados.

Farmacia Vitalia is a pharmacy located in a stunning Beaux Arts (Arc Deco) style building that was built in 1933. The building features a very distinctive facade, and was designed by architects Amoroso Lops and Manuel Lopes.

For dinner I had Francesinha at a restaurant called O Bacalhau Em Prato. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich that originated from Porto. The name translates into “Little French Girl”. The sandwich usually contains beef and chorizo, and then its covered in cheese and sauce. While it was tasty, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting texture wise, and of course it was quite rich.

Be sure to check back soon, when I explore more of Porto tomorrow.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 20 – Flying Home

Today was the final day of my trip. It was time to start the long journey home. First flight was on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO from Helsinki to Frankfurt. The flight was an hour late leaving Helsinki, which left me very little time for my connecting flight. I had to run through Frankfurt airport, clear customs, and clear security before boarding my second flight, a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to London. Both of those flights were in business class, which is essentially just economy class seats, with the middle row blocked, and meal service.

When I arrived in London it was much more relaxed, however still a fairly tight connection. I just had to clear customs, and walk quite the distance to my final flight back to Calgary on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. This flight was also taken in business class. I’m always impressed by the level of service provided by Air Canada in their Signature Class. My favorite food I always look forward to is the cheese board and port for desert.

After arriving in Calgary, I cleared customs, and my dad picked me up and dropped me off at my apartment.

Where will I go to next? With COVID-19 still fairly prominent, and the latest Omicron variant causing havoc, I don’t currently have anything planned. I spent the Christmas holidays in Victoria with my family. I will do some skiing, and hiking during the winter. It may be a while until you see another post from me.

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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 18 – Tallinn, Estonia & Helsinki, Finland

Today I slept in until 8:30am. After getting dressed I walked a few minutes away to Cafe Rotermann and had a coffee and a traditional Estonian breakfast.

First stop of the day was Patarei Prison, a former sea fortress and prison, located on the shore of Tallinn Bay. The fort was built between 1830 and 1837 as part of the fortifications for the tsarist Russian state. In 1863, Tallinn was removed from the Russian Empire’s list of fortressses due to Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, and the fort was converted into a barracks. After the Republic of Estonia declared independence in 1918 it was reconstructed into a prison, and was used until 2005. Patarei is one of the most prominent symbols of Soviet and Nazi political terror. The prison was closed and is currently planned to open as a museum in 2025. I was able to sneak a few photos of the site, due to poor security. I had to be careful as there was barbed wire everywhere. What a special treat it was to explore this place!

Second stop was the Town Hall Pharmacy, which is Tallinn’s oldest pharmacy, of Europe’s oldest pharmacies, dating back to the early 15th century.

Close by is St. Catherine’s Passage, also known as Monk’s Alley, winds its way from Vene Street to Müürivahe Street. The alley is lined with buildings that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries. The alley retains its medieval charms and was last restored in 1995.

When you exit St. Catherine’s Passage you can see Hellemann Tower and the Town Wall Walkway. Hellemann’s Tower, a three-story tower, dates back to the 14th century, and is integrated into the Town Wall.

It was time to grab some lunch, and I didn’t feel like sitting down at a restaurant, so I just grabbed a cheeseburger from McDonald’s.

My final stop in Tallinn was the KGB Museum at the top of Hotel Viru. Hotel Viru was completed in 1972. The building was the first high-rise building in Estonia. The Soviet Union hired a Finnish construction company (Repo Oy) to build the hotel. Construction started in July 1969, however the construction company went bankrupt in the middle of the project in 1971 due to a fire breaking out on the top floors in December 1970. Finland found another company to finish the project, and the hotel was opened on May 5th 1972. During the Soviet era, the 23rd floor of the hotel housed a KGB radio centre, which was used to eavesdrop on hotel guests. 60 of the ~500 rooms had concealed espionage devices, as well as some of the tables at the hotel restaurant. They were even clever enough to hide espionage devices in cigarette trays.

The KGB, known as the Committee for State Security, was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 to 1991. It was the chief government agency of “union-republican jurisdiction”, carrying out internal security, intelligence and secret police functions. The KGB was officially dissolved on December 3rd 1991 when the USSR fell apart.

The KGB left in a hurry in August 1991 when Estonia gained independence, and the secret rooms were not found until 1994! The former radio centre is now a museum, and is left virtually untouched from how it was found. The hotel is still in use today, with 516 rooms.

Once I arrived at the airport I went through security. I made a mistake at security and forgot to drink all my water in my water bottle, so I was pulled aside to check my bags. While my bags were being checked there was this elderly Russian lady who was also getting her bags checked. The security guard unzipped her bag and pulled out two containers. Container #1 had some weird dark brown frothy liquids, however was under 100ml. He asked her some questions in Estonian, and she responded in Russian and used a lot of gestures. He placed the container back in the bag. Container #2 was a re-used gummy vitamin container (~250ml) that had a clear frothy liquid in it, with… a bunch of leeches! He pulled her aside and they went into a private room with the bottle. I’d love to know the discussion that occured in that room. Upon returning he placed the bottle back in her bag, and zipped it up. It appears she was likely using the leaches for some old wives tale treatment…

After going through security I had a beer, and a croissant with ham and cheese while I waited for my flight. My flight to Helsinki was on a NORRA (on behalf of Finnair) ATR-72. This was my first time flying on an ATR-72, and it was really neat to watch the de-icing boots work on the short 30 minute snowy flight.

Once I arrived in Helsinki I took the train into the city, which took about 45 minutes. Once I arrived at the central station I took a short walk to Friends & Brgrs, and had an absolutely scrumptious cheeseburger, while overlooking the busy street below.

Next door was a liquor store, where I picked up a few IPA’s, before heading to my hotel to check in. Alcohol in Finland is by far the most expensive of all the European Union countries.

It was time to check-in to my hotel; Noli Studios Katajanokka. The room was $115/night which was actually a steal for Finland, which is one of the most expensive countries in the European Union to visit, besides Norway. The room was very well appointed, with a small kitchen, a gorgeous bathroom, a small living room area, and a bed on a raised part at the back. After checking in I went downstairs and spent a few hours in the spa.

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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 16 – Vienna, Austria

Today I finished exploring Vienna. I woke up around 7:00am again and went to the nearby McDonald’s and purchased a coffee, and picked up a sandwich from the Spar grocery store below.

First stop today was Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment complex with an expressionist architecture style. The building was conceived by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertswasser and Jospeh Krawina. Friedensreich started his career as a painter in the early 1950’s, however became increasingly focused on architecture, and literature. In 1972 he had his first architectural models made for a telvevsion show called “Make a Wish” in order to demonstrate his ideas on forested roofs, “tree tenants”, and the “window right” of every tenant to embellish the facade around his windows. In these models he showcased his architectural shapes, which included “eye-slit” house and “high-rise meadow house”. In Late 1977 the federal chancellor Bruno Kreisky suggested to the mayor of Vienna (Leopold Gratz) that Hundertswasser create an apartment building to his own idea, however architect Joseph Krawina was invited to join him and help put his ideas to practice. Krawina presented his ideas to Hundertswasser in September 1979 with a Styrofoam model and rudimentary drawings. Hundertwasser was shocked and rejected them. In the end the house was built between 1983 and 1985 according to the ideas and concepts of Hundertwasser with architect Krawina as a co-author and architect Peter Pelikan as a planner. It features undulating floors, a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. Hundertwasser took no payment for the design of the house, declaring that it was worth it, to prevent something hideous from going up in its place. The apartment complex contains 53 apartments, 4 offices, 16 private terraces, 3 public terraces, and 250 trees and bushes.

Second stop was Schönbrunn Palace. Schönbrunn Palace was the main summer residence of the Habsburgs. In 1569, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased a large floodplain on the Wien river. In 1548 the previous owner had erected a mansion called Katterburg. The emperor ordered the area to be fenced and introduced game such as pheasants, ducks, deer, and boar. Over the next century the area was used for hunting and recreation. Eleonora Gonzaga, who inherited the property after the death of her husband Ferdinand II. From 1638 to 1643 she added a palace to the Katterburg mansion. The name Schönbrunn first appeared in 1642. It also appears that the orangery was started by Eleonara as well. The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodeled during the 1740–50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa, who received the estate as a wedding gift. Franz Joseph I commissioned the redecoration of the palace exterior in the neoclassical style as it appears today.

On site is Palemnhaus, a beautiful Art-Nouveau greenhouse, that was built in 1882 to showcase many exotic plants. The site is also home to Schönbrunn Zoo, the world’s oldest zoo, dating back to 1752. There is an amazing assortment of animals there; I was told roughly 8000, with 700 unique species including turtles, goats, pandas, penguins, lions, tigers, various birds, hippos, etc! I had a delicious brie and cured sausage for lunch at the zoo.

Third stop was Secession, a contemporary art museum with a gold dome of gilded laurels & temporary exhibitions by renowned artists.

The Austrian National Library was my fourth, and last stop of the day. It is the largest library in Austria with over 12 million items in its collection. The library dates back to 1368 when Duke Albert III moved books from the Viennese vaults into an imperial (national) library. The library is located in the Neue Burg Wing of the Hofburg in center of Vienna. Neue Burg, also known as Hofburg, is a former imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty. Today it serves as the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria. It was built in the 13th century and expanded several times afterwards. It also served as the imperial winter residence, as Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residence. Numerous architects have executed work at the Hofburg as it expanded, notably the Italian architect-engineer Filiberto Luchese, Lodovico Burnacini and Martino and Domenico Carlone, the Baroque architects Lukas von Hildebrandt and Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, Johann Fischer von Erlach, and the architects of the Neue Burg built between 1881 and 1913.

I spent the majority of the evening at the hotel doing work, however I did manage to sneak out for some delicious mushroom orichette and a beer at a restaurant called Schachtelwirt. I also took a few night shots of Vienna’s streets.

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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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