Tbilisi, Georgia – Day 3 of 3

Last night I slept a lot better than the night before. I had nearly 9 hours of sleep, which was a marked improvement. I started the day off by having breakfast downstairs. The complementary breakfast included a few slices of spam, a hard boiled egg, yoghurt, pancakes, and some rice. I skipped the rice since I’m quite allergic to rice now. I should have skipped the egg, as egg whites make me itchy.

After breakfast I walked to Chreli Abano, a traditional Turkish bathhouse. I had a 1 hour soak there with a traditional scrub. It felt great, however it did irritate my skin a fair amount. It only ended up costing me about $40.

After soaking at the bathhouse I walked to Sioni Cathedral, just a few minutes away. Sioni Cathedral is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral. The cathedral follows a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land. In this case it bears the name of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was originally constructed in the 5th century under the order of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Starting in 575 AD a new structure was built under the order of Guaram, the prince of Iberia, however it wasn’t completed until 639 AD. The church was eventually destroyed by Arabs. It was eventually rebuilt in 1112 by King David the Builder. In 1226 it’s dome roof was heavily damaged by the order of Jalal ad Din Mingburnu. It was eventually repairs, and damaged again in 1386, and subsequently repaired by King Alexander I. During the Persian invasions in 1522 and in the 17th century it was damaged yet again. It was substantially restored between 1657 and 1710, however was destroyed again in 1795 by the Persians. The cathedral was restored again between 1850 and 1860, however this time it was restored by Russian artists Knyaz Grigory, so the interior looked quite different. It hadn’t been attacked since, however undertook additional renovations between 1980 and 1983.

After exploring the Cathedral I walked across the bridge to take the Tbilisi Cable Car up to the top of Sololaki Hill to see the Mother of Georgia sculpture, and Narikala Castle & Fortress. The Tbilisi Cable Car opened in 2012. The views on the way up were breathtaking!

The Mother of Georgia Statue, also known as Kartlis Deda, is a monument erected on top of Sololaki Hill in 1958 to celebrate Tbilisi’s 1500th anniversary. The original statue was wooden, however was replaced with an aluminum sculpture in 1997 after considerable environmental damage. The sculpture, which resembles a female holding a cup of wine and a sword, was designed by Georgian sculptor Elguja Amashukeli. It resembles the endless battles that the city has had to endure.

Narikala Fortress is an ancient fortress that overlooks Tbilisi. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulfur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi. St. Nicholas church resides in the lower courtyard. It was recently rebuilt between 1996 and 1997 to replace the original 13th century church that was destroyed in a fire. The history of the fortress dates back to about the 4th century, when a fortress was built during the reign of King Varaz-Bakur. At the end of the 4th century the fortress was overthrown by the Persians, and recaptured by the kings of Kartli in the middle of the 5th century. It underwent considerable expansion by the Umayyads in the 7th century, as-well as the 9th century by king David the Builder. The Mongols eventually renamed the fortress “Narin Qala”, which means “Little Fortress”. Most of the current fortifications were built between the 16th and 17th century. In the 18th century the Persians repeatedly attacked the fortress. In 1827 an earthquake damaged portions of the fortress, which were so badly damaged that they were demolished.

At the top of Sololaki Hill I had a Vanilla Chimney. Imagine a cinnamon churro rolled into a cone, which is filled with fruit and vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely delicious, however was fairly pricey compared to other food here, costing nearly $13, when most food is about $5-10. From the top of Narikala Fortress you can also see Juma Mosque. Juma Mosque, also known as Tbilisi Mosque, is the only Muslim shrine in the city. It was designed by architect Giovanni Scudieri, and built between 1846 and 1851 to replace the original mosque that was built between 1723 and 1735 by the Ottomans, but destroyed by the Persians in the 1740’s. In 1895 the mosque was completely rebuilt again by Baku-based millionaire and philanthropist Hajizinelabdin Tagiyev in a combined neo-Gothic and Islamic architecture style.

I walked back down from Narikala Fortress to catch a bus to a unique collaboration place called Fabrika. Fabrika was once a soviet sewing factory named “Nino”, and is now home to a hub of an old-meets-new meeting space of creative and artistic people to congregate. It includes studios, shops, co-working space, cafes, and a hostel. There’s some unique artwork on the exterior of the building. I enjoyed a cup of coffee, relaxed, and took in the art.

After exploring Fabrika I took another bus to see Laguana Vere. The Laguna Vere Sports Complex is an abandoned Soviet era sports complex built between 1965 and 1978! It was designed by Georgian architects Shota Kavlashvili, Guram Abuladze and Ramaz Kiknadze, with additional artwork and mosaics produced by Koka Ignatov. Construction took a very long time because the project was placed on hold for eight years. The complex was opened on October 13th 1978. It was the first open-air pool in Tbilisi open to all citizens regardless of their social class / status. It consists of three pools arranged side-by-side; an Olympic sized 50 metre x 25 metre pool, a 25 metre x 10 metre pool, and a 25 metre x 20 metre diving pool. It features a beautiful brutalist concrete tower fitted with three diving boards at 5 metre, 7 metre, and 10 metre heights. Laguna Vere went into private ownership in 2000, and went into significant decline and was eventually closed in 2014. There were over a dozen stray dogs, and there was signage notifying that it is private property and to not take photos, so I didn’t stick around too long.

Another bus ride, and I arrived at the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and the former Tbilisi Cable Car terminal. When I got off the bus there were two very angry Georgian grandmas fighting over a vendor spot, so I quickly walked by. I was quite impressed with how loud they were; they definitely had people looking.

The Georgian National Academy of Sciences (GNAS) was established in 1941. The building that houses GNAS was constructed between 1949 and sometime in the early 1960’s. It was constructed in two parts, the five-story horizontal array building that runs along the frontage of Rustaveli Avenue, and a 55 metre-high tower. Both buildings were designed by Georgian architects M. Chkhikvadze and K. Chkheidze, and are in a Stalinist architecture style.

The Tbilisi Cable Car Station is an abandoned cable car station that was built on the Rustaveli Avenue – Mtatsminda Park cable car line, which opened in 1959. The station was abandoned after a tragic accident occurred on June 1st 1990, which resulted in the 19 deaths, and 42 injuries. The cable car system was comprised of two cars, and the haul rope broke inside the coupler of the upper most gondola. Both gondolas rolled down simultaneously, and the upper gondola slammed into the wall of the lower station, killing four and injuring others. The upper gondola picked up speed and eventually crashed into the lower support tower and was torn upon from the cable. In 1988, two years prior to the accident, the cable car underwent some major reconstruction. The cable car system originally used three supporting towers, with the lowest tower standing 20 metres (66 feet) tall, and the two upper masts standing at 10 and 12 metres (33 and 39 feet). The lowest mast was replaced with a new 25 metre (82 foot) tall mast, and the upper two was replaced by one 20 metre (66 foot) tall mast. The original 25 person gondolas were also replaced with 40 person gondolas. It was determined early on that the braking system of the new gondolas were not functioning properly, and that staff members had to manually climb on top of the gondolas to turn it off manually. To avoid this inconvenience, they brake systems were disabled. On the day of the accident both gondolas were over-capacity, with 46 and 47 passengers on-board.

A short walk away is the gorgeous Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater. The Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi, formerly known as the Tiflis Imperial Theater, is a beautiful Moorish Revival style theatre that is situated on Rustaveli Avenue, one of the main roads in Tbilisi. The theatre, designed by Antonio Scudieri, was built between 1847 and 1851. In 1874 a massive fire tore through the theatre. The theatre was rebuilt and opened in 1896 with its current design by Viktor Schroter.

I was starting to get fairly hungry so it was time to eat. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to find a restaurant that would serve some yummy local dishes, but I don’t think I was in the right area. All I could find was Americana style food. I had a cheeseburger at the Burger House for lunch. It was fairly good!

It was time to head up to Mtatsminda Park, located on Mount Mtatsminda. To get there I took the historic funicular to the top. The funicular was built between 1903 and 1905 by an anonymous Belgian man. Originally the railway was constructed to connect Upper Tbilisi on Mtatsminda (the Holy Mountain) with Lower Tbilisi. The original agreement, signed in 1900, was that the Belgians would be granted ownership of the funicular with a 45-year lease, after which it would then become property of the city. The new Upper Tbilisi district was unfortunately never built due to water supply issues, as well as the Russian revolution of 1905. The Funicular sat is near pristine condition throughout the years and was eventually utilized in 1938 when the park was opened at the top. Today the park includes an amusement park, TV tower, cemetery, and a restaurant. The funicular was shut down between 2000 and 2012 to undergo a complete renovation.

The Georgia Tbilisi TV Tower was built in 1972 and stands 275 metres (900 feet) tall. The tower is operated by Georgian Teleradiocenter.

The theme park contains a large Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and other amusement rides.

The views of Tbilisi below are absolutely fantastic, including my favourite view of the Public Service Hall. The Public Service Hall building is a beautiful modern building that houses the National Bank of Georgia, the Minister of Energy, and the Civil and National Registry. The building, designed by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, was opened in 2012. The building is situated next to the Kura River, and almost looks like a tree canopy. There are even petals that form the roof over the seven different buildings that comprise of the buildings. Some people describe the building as an overgrown mushroom forest in the midst of some towering trees. The leaves are made of fiberglass and resin, and the rest of the building is made of steel and glass.

After walking around the park I took a bus back down to Old Tbilisi and had dinner at the same restaurant that I had dinner at lastnight. This time I had traditional Georgian soup with mini khinkali’s in it. After dinner I walked back to my hotel to do another hour and a half of blog writing, before taking the bus to the airport to board a flight to Baku, Azerbaijan on a Buta Airways Embraer E-190.

I was greeted at Baku airport with a private driver that I had the hotel setup for me, since I knew it would be very late by the time my flight arrived. The drive from the airport to my hotel took about 30 minutes, and it was neat to drive on the same road that the Baku Formula 1 race is held on. I checked into my hotel and immediately went to sleep, because it was 2:00am.

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 3 – Porto

Today was a bit of a rough start. I tried to go to bed at 10:30pm last night, however my neighbour in room 402 was listening to music fairly loud, and smoking pot. I had enough by the time 11pm rolled by, so I knocked on his door to ask him to turn off the music. For some strange reason he was trying to use a hairdryer to blow the marijuana smoke from his room out the window. It was not working very well… He came home from partying at 6:00am or so and tried to enter my room, instead of his, so that woke me up. After having my breakfast it was time for me to venture out into the city.

First stop was Cais da Ribeira, which is is Porto’s historical city center square. It is included as part of the recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ribeira district spreads along the Douro river front, and was used as a center for commercial and manufacturing activities since the Middle Ages. In 1491 the majority of the buildings were destroyed in a fire, and rebuilt with arcades on their ground floors. In the mid-18th century the city needed to improve access for the swift flow of goods and people between the neighbourhood and other areas of Porto, so a new street, the Sao Joao Street, was opened on the North side and connected Ribeira Square and the upper town. The project took place between 1776 and 1782.

While I was in Ribeira I took the Elevador da Lada to the lower area of the Dom Luis I Bridge. This elevator was designed by Antonio Moura, and was built in 1994.

After looking at the view from the lower portion of the Dom Luis I Bridge I took the Guindais Funicular to he top of the Fernandine Walls of Porto. The funicular railway that was built in 1891. It descends 61 metres (200 feet) down the steep cliff from Batalha to the quayside at Riberia. The journey takes a mere 3 minutes.

The Fernandine Walls of Porto are medieval fortifications that began construction in 1336 during the reign of King D. Afonso IV. These Romanesque walls were topped by bastions, strengthened by turrets and watchtowers. The Trecho dos Guindais part of the wall was restored in 1920 and is open to the public to walk along, and also is home to the nearby Funicular dos Guindais.

After exploring the walls I walked across the Dom Luis I Bridge, which is a double-hinged double-deck arch bridge constructed of iron and granite. It has two decks that span nearly 400 metres across the Douro river. It was designed by Théophile Seyrig, and constructed by Société Willebreck between 1881 and 1886. The bridge utilized a toll system from its inauguration until 1944. Today the top deck is utilized by the D-Line public transportation and pedestrians, and the bottom deck by cars. In 2006 the lower deck was widened. The top of the bridge provides some incredible views below.

The Monastery of Serra do Pilar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1996. It was originally built in 1672 and houses a circular church and cloister. Both are situated quite high above the Douro river. The first monastery was constructed in 1538 by the order of St. Augustine. It was completed in 1564, with the cloisters finished in 1583, however was quickly rendered obsolete due to being too small. In 1597 work began on a new church. It took until 1672 to complete! The importance of the site wasn’t recognized until the Peninsular War when it was utilized as a fortified stronghold during the Siege of Porto. The destroyed portions of the monastery were reconstructed beginning in 1927. In 1947 some of the monastery grounds were converted into a military barracks, which remains on site to this day.

The Real Companhia Velha winery was founded in 1756 by King D. Jose I. It is also known as the Royal Oporto Wine Company, and has some of the most ancient cellars in the country. Here I had a tour of the Port House, and tried four delicious port wines.

It was time to get some lunch, so I walked about half an hour in the pouring rain to Aquele Tasco, and had a traditional Portuguese dish called Dobrada, which is tripe, white beans, chorizo, etc. in a tomato sauce served with basmati rice. It’s very similar to French Cassoulet. Afterwards I took pictures of a few more buildings before coming back to my hotel for the rest of the day, since it was raining so hard.

Rua de Santa Catarina 533 is a unique Art Nouveau style building, but I couldn’t find much information on it unfortunately.

Porto Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church constructed between 1110 and 1737! The church encompasses the multiple architectural styles of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque, because it took so long to build. The cathedral is flanked by two towers, which are each supported with two buttresses and crowned with a cupola (dome-like structure).

The Coliseum of Porto is an Art Deco (Streamline Moderne) style theatre and concert venue that was built between 1939 and 1941. It has a capacity for 7000 people (3000 seated, 4000 standing). The building was designed by Cassiano Branco. Originally built as a concert hall, it was transformed to a cinema/studio in 1971. In 1995 the coliseum was to be sold to IURD, the Brazilian Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. This caused a huge uproar by locals, municipal council, civil governor, etc. The “Amigos do Coliseu do Porto” was established, and stopped the sale of the building. In September 1996 the building was purchased by the Amigos. Unfortunately a fire started inside not too long after, which destroyed the stage, principal hall, and dressing rooms. The building was repaired and reopened in December 1996. Between 1997 and 2001 the building underwent numerous upgrades, which included electrical system upgrades, new washrooms on all floors, water supply upgrades, security upgrades, fire protection system upgrades, roof repairs, dressing room renovations, lighting and moving equipment upgrades, HVAC upgrades, etc. A very lengthy list! The building became a protected heritage building in 2005.

A Pérola do Bolhão is a beautiful Art Nouveau styled grocery store.

Be sure to check back soon, when I explore more of Porto. Tomorrow is my last day of exploring Porto before taking a train to Lisbon.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 9 – Budapest, Hungary

Today was my first full day in Budapest, Hungary. The hotel I’m staying at offers a free buffet breakfast, which is a nice welcome as it saves money. After having some breakfast and coffee I started exploring Budapest.

After crossing the Danube River on a nearby bridge I arrived at the Danubius Hotel Gellert, which also houses the Gellert Thermal Bath. The Secession / Art Nouveau style hotel, designed by Ármin Hegedűs, Artúr Sebestyén and Izidor Sterk, was opened in 1918. The hotel was named after Saint Gellert, the first bishop of Hungary in the 11th Century. The hotel was taken over for national government use in 1919 after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Once Hungary became an independent country the hotel became so successful that it was expanded in 1927 to add an additional 60 rooms, to its existing 176 rooms, as well as a wave pool. In 1934 the hotel added a jacuzzi pool. In World War 2 the hotel was damaged extensively. The hotel underwent restoration work between 1946 to 1962 and was renovated again in 1973. The spa is now owned and operated by the City of Budapest.

While walking to the hotel you could see the nearby Rudas Baths. The Rudas Baths are a thermal and medicinal bath built at the foot of Gellért Hill. The baths were originally built in 1550 during the Ottoman ruling. Even to date the building has many key elements of Turkish designed baths including a dome and octagonal pool. The bath has six hot pools and one swimming pool where the temperatures range from 10°C to 42°C. The water is slightly radioactive and includes a lot of minerals includes sulfate, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and fluoride ion. It was reopened in its current form in 2006 after an extensive renovation. The baths are open to women only on Tuesdays, men the rest of the week, and mixed-use on the weekends.

After exploring the hotel I walked up the steep Gellert Hill to see Liberty Statue and the Citadella, which were, unfortunately, both blocked off due to rehabilitation in the area, and won’t reopen until mid next year.

Liberty Statue was erected in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary during World War 2, which ended the German Nazi occupation of the country. It is located on Gellért Hill, which provides beautiful views of the city. The bronze statue, which is holding a palm leaf, is 14 metres (45 feet) tall and sits on top of a 26 metre (85 foot) concrete pedestal.

The Citadella (Citadel) is a fortification on top of Gellért Hill. It was built in 1851 by Julius Jacob von Haynau, a commander of the Austrian Empire, and was designed by Emmanuel Zitta and Ferenc Kasselik, after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. The fortress is a U-shaped structure that is built around a central courtyard, and takes up the majority of the entire plateau. The main gate was damaged in 1897 and the walls were demolished in 1900. The city took possession of the citadel in 1899. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Soviets occupied the citadel and fired upon the city during the assault that overthrew the Nagy-led Hungarian government.

After taking pictures of the Liberty Statue and enjoying the beautiful views of the city below it was time to descend the hill and walk over to Buda Castle, which was also undergoing some extensive renovations. Buda Castle is a beautiful castle and palace complex that was started in 1265 on Castle Hill. The first royal residence built on Castle Hill was built by King Béla IV between 1247 and 1265 to provide protection from the Mongols and the Tartars. The oldest part of the present-day palace was built in the 14th century by Stephen, Duke of Slavonia; the younger brother of King Louis I of Hungary. In the late Middle Ages, the castle was altered to suit the needs of King Sigismund, leader of the Holy Roman Empire. A large Gothic style palace was built. In the 1500’s the palace was badly damaged when the Turks invaded Budapest, and then the palace fell into decay. It was destroyed completely in 1686 when the territory was captured by Christian forces. Numerous palaces were eventually built in the same spot, with the first being a Baroque-style palace built in 1715. Further construction occurred in the mid-18th century under the guidance of Queen Maria Theresa. The palace changed hands numerous times and was inhabited by nuns, the Habsburg’s, various armies, and even Franz Joseph. By the end of the 19th century, the palace was in a Neoclassical Baroque style. Sadly, the palace was heavily damaged during World War 2, but today it has been mostly restored. Buda Castle has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

You can usually use the Castle Hill Funicular to get to Buda Castle, however, again, as is the theme here, it was undergoing renovation. It was built in 1870 to bring people to Buda Castle. It was destroyed in World War 2 and reopened on June 4th, 1986. The funicular has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. The cost to ride on the funicular is 1800 HUF ($7.75 CDN).On the same Castle Hill is Matthias Church, also known as the Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle. It is a Roman Catholic church located in the Holy Trinity Square. It was originally built in a Romanesque style in 1015. The current building was built in 1370 in its current Gothic style and was extensively restored between 1874-1895 by architect Frigyes Schulek.

Right next door is Fisherman’s Bastion, a Neo-Romanesque style monument located inside the Buda Castle complex on Castle Hill. It provides amazing views from its terraces that overlook the Danube River. After Buda Castle was destroyed and the castle officially lost its function as a militaristic structure in 1874, the idea was to build something more communal instead of defensive for citizens to better appreciate the great views over the city and the Danube. It was built between 1895 and 1902 as part of a series of developments to celebrate the 1000th birthday of Hungary. Unfortunately, during World War 2 it was damaged fairly significantly. The looking tower took most of the force and the Ministry of Finance building burned to the ground and was later replaced with a Hilton Hotel in 1976.

From Fisherman’s Bastion you can see The Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The bridge is a chain bridge (think historic suspension bridge made of chain links) that spans the River Danube between Buda (west side) and Pest (east side). Designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark, it was originally constructed between 1840 and 1849. It’s a larger-scale version of the Marlow Bridge, which Clark had designed earlier. The bridge was designed in sections and shipped from the UK to Hungary for final construction. The bridge received its name from István Széchenyi, a major supporter of its construction. The bridge is 375 metres (1230 feet) long. The original bridge was updated and strengthened in 1914, but unfortunately, it was destroyed during World War 2 on January 18th, 1945 by the Germans during the Siege of Budapest. It was rebuilt and opened in 1949. It’s also currently undergoing major renovation work, so I wasn’t able to get great photos of it.

It was now time to take a train to the Roman City of Aquincum. Aquincum is an ancient Roman city that is right in the centre of Budapest. Aquincum was originally settled by the Eravisci, a Celtic tribe. Between 41-54 AD the Roman’s had arrived with a strong military presence and took over the settlement. The city grew around the fortress, and after Pannonia was recognized by the Romans in 106 AD, it became the capital city of the Roman province of Pannonia Inferior. By the end of the 2nd century over 30,000 people were living in the city. The city was largely destroyed during the mid-4th century when the city was under constant attack from the North by the Sarmatian’s. Eventually, the Roman’s pulled out of the area by 409 AD when the Germans and Atilla the Hun invaded the region.

I then took a fairly long bus ride to see Heroes Square, however, guess what… it was also under renovation. Heroes’ Square is a major square in the middle of the city. It’s recognized by its iconic statue complex that features the seven chieftains of the Magyars, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heros. The square was originally built from 1896 to 1906 to commemorate the thousand-year anniversary of the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin, and the foundation of the Hungarian state in 1896. Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when the monument was originally constructed, so there were 5 spaces to the left of the colonnade reserved for members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty. The monument was damaged during World War 2 and when it was rebuilt the Habsburgs were replaced by the current figures. The Memorial Stone of Heros was originally built in 1929 to commemorate those who died defending Hungary’s 1000-year-old borders. It was removed in 1951 as its message was politically unacceptable by the Communist regime. It was rebuilt in 1956.

It was now time to get some lunch, as I was fairly hungry. I stopped at a restaurant close by called Nyereg, and had some rooster soup, as well as an IPA beer.


After my delicious lunch, I walked around The Széchenyi Thermal Baths. The baths are the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Its water is supplied by two hot springs whose temperature is 74°C (165 °F). The thermal baths were opened in 1913 and were designed by architect Eugene Schmitterer. Over 6 million litres of hot water are piped into the baths daily. The baths have varying temperatures ranging from 27° to 38°C in the three outdoor pools, and 18°C to 38°C in the indoor pools. The complex also has saunas and steam rooms. Due to COVID, I didn’t feel very comfortable being stuffed in close quarters in water with other people.

Nearby is Vajdahunyad Castle. It was built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition to celebrate 1000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895 AD. The castle was designed by Ignác Alpár. Since the castle contains parts of buildings from different time periods, it contains various different architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. The castle was originally constructed out of wood and cardboard, but was rebuilt between 1904 and 1908. Today the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture occupies the building. I went to the top of one of the towers to try to get better photos, however, I don’t think it was worth it. At least it was only $2 CDN.

My feet were starting to get tired, however, there were two more stops on my itinerary today. The second last stop was the Hungarian Institute of Geology and Geophysics building. The building, designed by Ödön Lechner, was originally built in 1896 for the Hungarian Geological Society, now named the Geological Institute of Hungary. The building contains minerals, prehistoric footprints, and general information on geology. This is a special, invite-only kind of building, which you need to book weeks or months in advance. I wouldn’t have gone inside anyway, as none of this kind of stuff interests me.

The last and final stop for today was Ráth György-Villa, which was built in 1880 in Art Nouveau architecture style. György Ráth was the first director-general of the Museum of Applied Arts and was an influential figure in Budapest. In 1901 he purchased the villa and furnished it with artefacts. After his passing, he left his possessions to his wife, Gizseilla Melcsiczky, with the instructions to make his collection the property of the Museum of Applied Arts. The museum was officially founded in 1907. After World War 2 and the establishment of proletarian dictatorship, the museum was considered unjust and harmful to the views of socialism. In 1954 the museum was renamed the China Museum and featured Chinese exhibitions until 2014 when it closed. In September 2018 the villa was reopened in its current name, with a permanent exhibition entitled Our Art Nouveau, which presents some beautiful Art Nouveau pieces of work. My favorite was the clock.


I went back to the hotel to do about 5 hours of work, before venturing out again to get some dinner. I liked the street food from the Karavan Budapest area so much that I decided to go back. This time I had a delicious pork burger from Langos Burger. Wow, was it incredible! Next door was Szimpla Kert, a “ruin pub” with vintage decor. It has a very neat vibe to it. I decided to have a quick IPA before heading back to the hotel to do a bit more work, as well as work on my blog for a bit.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I have much more of Budapest to show you.

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Edmonton – Fall 2020

Two weeks ago Julie and I decided to get away from the city for the weekend. I’ve been wanting to go to Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, for quite some time as the city hosts plenty of well preserved architecture. Julie’s colleagues at work also recommended her quite a few restaurants to visit while we were there.

We left Saturday morning around 9:00am and proceeded North towards Edmonton. First stop was the Reynolds Museum in Wetaskiwin, about two hours North.

The Reynolds Museum was conceived by Stan Reynolds, who had already amassed a large collection of agricultural machinery, airplanes, and automobiles during the mid 1900’s. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta. The province opened up the Reynolds Museum to exhibit these items on September 12th 1992. By the time that Reynolds passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts. Currently over 6600 artifacts belong to the collection, with the majority of them held in the museum’s storage facility.

Stan Reynolds was born on May 18th 1923. He started his career in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and served in Great Britain as part of the night-fighter squadron. He became one of the youngest pilots to fly Beaufighters and Mosquitos. After World War 2 he was discharged from the air force and returned to Wetaskiwin, where he started selling used cars and become one of the most successful automotive dealerships in Alberta. Reynolds repaired and pained the cars himself and studied for his welding and auto mechanics licenses. Between 1946 and 1958 he operated 13 used car lots. As his business grew he expanded to sell new and used trucks, farm machinery, industrial equipment, house trailers, and even airplanes!

Reynolds recognized the growing important of aviation and needed a place to land his plane so he built and operated the Wetaskiwin airport until he transferred it to the City and County of Wetaskiwin in 1969. He sold the airfield for $30,000 for less than half the market value, and in return he was given perpetual free use of the airstrip and taxi trip between the airport and his property.

As his business grew, so did his collection. One of his business slogans was ‘Stan Takes Anything In Trade’. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta and by the time he passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts.

Motoring started in Alberta in 1906 when the Alberta Government passed the first motor vehicle act. Vehicle owners had to register their cars with the provincial secretary for $2. They were then allowed to travel at 10 kph in settled areas, and 20 kph in rural areas. They were held responsible for damages in any accident with a horse drawn carriage. In 1911 the act was revised to give horse-drawn vehicles the upper hand by requiring motorists to slow down when passing a horse, or even stop when requested by a wagon or buggy driver. The act also required motor vehicles to have “adequate brakes” and a horn, gong, or bell. By 1911 there were over 1500 motorized vehicles on Alberta rodes and the horse-drawn carriage era was coming to an end.

Early vehicles were right-hand drive, a direct carry-over from horse drawn carriages. Many cars had leaf springs and wooden spoked wheels like their carriage counterparts.

One of my favorite cars from the collection is the 1929 Duesenberg Model J. The car was donated to the museum on December 21st 1993. Bernand and Joan Aaron drove across Canada to deliver the automobile to the museum. The vehicle had over 20 owners by the time it was donated. Only 470 Model J’s were produced between 1929 and 1937. The original price tag was roughly $20,000 USD in 1929, which equates to roughly $305,000 USD today.

The rest of the museum featured cars from the early days of motoring up to about the 1970’s. My second favourite part of the museum is the old fashioned art deco style gas station with the cars displayed out front.

After spending a good two hours in the museum we drove to Leduc to have lunch at Vietnam Paradise Restaurant. We both had sate beef pho. It was decent, but a little oily for my taste.

After having lunch we drove to downtown Edmonton, where I ended up parking my car at the Art Gallery of Alberta so that we could walk around. The Art Gallery of Alberta was established in 1924 as the Edmonton Museum of Arts. In 1956 the museum was renamed the Edmonton Art Gallery. Between 1924 and 1969 the museum occupied a number of locations until it was relocated to its present location in 1969. The building was originally a brutalistic style building until it underwent a $88 million redevelopment from 2007 to 2010. The building has a collection of over 6000 pieces of art work.

We walked around downtown exploring various old buildings such as the Kelly Building, Churchill Wire Centre, The McLeod Building, Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, and the 100 Street Funicular.

The Kelly Ramsey Building was built by blacksmith John Kelly. The building, owned by James Ramsey, was built because James required more space for his department store. After Kelly’s death in 1926 John purchased the building for $100,000. He added an extension to his ever-growing business. IN the 1940’s the Government of Alberta purchased the building, until it was purchased by Worthington Properties. In 2009 a fire broke out and destroyed most of the interior of the building. It was later determined that arson was involved, and a man was arrested. In 2013 the building was demolished and replaced by the 25-storey Enbridge Center, which recreated the original building facades on the tower’s podium.

The Churchill Wire Centre, also known as the Telephone Building, was built between 1945 and 1947. It is an excellent example of the Stripped Classicism style of architecture, which is a subset of the Moderne style. The two and a half storey granite and terrazzo clad structure is a great example of the early use of prefabricated exterior components, and was designed by Edmonton’s former city architect Maxwell Dewar.

The McLeod Building is a nine-storey building that was built between 1913 and 1915. It was designed in the Chicago Commercial style, and is the only remaining terracotta-clad building in Edmonton. The building reflects the Edwardian-era architectural influences that were prevalent in Edmonton at the time. The Edwardian-era is a spinoff of neo-classicism that was reinvented at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which became very popular in American cities in the early twentieth century. The building was designed after the Polson Block in Spokane Washington, and was designed by the same architect, J.K. Dow.

The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald was designed by architect’s Ross and MacFarlene and was constructed for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1915. The hotel which stands 48 metres (156 feet) tall and contains 11 floors and overlooks the North Saskatchewan River. When the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway went bankrupt its management was taken over by Canadian National Hotels, before being sold to Canadian Pacific Hotels in 1988. Today it it currently run by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. The hotel has undergone several renovations and expansions, including an expansion wing that was added in 1953. In 1983, Canadian National Hotels ceased operations, and the expansion wing was also demolished. The design of the building was inspired by designs found on French Renaissance architectural-era chateaus and features pitched sloped roofs which include chimneys, finials, and turrets. The façade of the building is made from Indiana limestone.

Out front I saw a beautiful Mercedes C Class sedan outside the front of the hotel. I feel this image could be featured on a Mercedes ad campaign.

The 100 Street Funicular is a newly built funicular in front of the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, which has a staircase that runs alongside it, brings people from 100 Street by the hotel to the area around the Low Level Bridge. The funicular, which cost $24 million, was designed by DIALOG, and opened in 2017.

After walking around it was time for dinner. We moved the car and parked it outside the Neon Sign Museum, which is an open-air display of historic neon signs. We walked to Sabor Restaurant, a Tapa’s style restaurant, where we ordered Piri Piri Prawns, Seared Fresh Scallops, Pork Belly, Spinach Salad, and some drinks. Julie had a glass of red wine, and I had some local pale ale beer.

After dinner we drove to our hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton West. I obtained the room for only $40 as I had a $60 Hotels.com voucher that I needed to use before it expired. Even so, the hotel was very inexpensive compared to normal due to COVID-19 really hurting the hospitality industry. You can really find a bargain on hotels at the moment. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching television before going to bed.

The next morning we woke up around 8:30am. We got dressed and went to a nearby McDonald’s for breakfast. I had an Egg McMuffin and Julie had two hashbrowns. We also both ordered coffee’s. We had about an hour of time to kill before we met up with my friend Heather, who I hadn’t seen in many years. Heather and I used to work together at Golder Associates, before we both decided to pursue different career paths.

We explored the Oliver Exchange Building, the Alberta Legislature Building, the Federal Building, and Edmonton Public Library – Jasper Place, and The Gibson Block Building.

The Oliver Exchange Building is a two-storey wood and brick structure that was designed by Allan Merrick Jeffers, one of the architects responsible for the Alberta Legislature building. The building was built in 1913 and was one of the most unique telephone building in Canada because it was highly automated. Instead of staffed pull-and-plug switchboards, it featured state-of-the-art automated switching equipment to keep up with the growing demands of the city. The building was purchased and renovated in 2016 and currently houses a bunch of boutique shops.

The Federal Building was built in 1958 to house the Western Canadian offices of the Government of Canada. It was sold to the Government of Alberta in 1988 and sat vacant until 2020. The building was first proposed in the 1930’s but construction didn’t start until 1955. This Art Deco building took its inspiration from the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, located in New York City.

The Gibson Block Building, also known as the Flatiron Building, is a large wedge-shaped four-storey brick building, which resembles a mini version of New York’s Flatiron building. The building was designed by William Gibson and was constructed in 1913. The building was originally built to provide first floor retail space, with offices on the remaining floors. The building was used for a variety of different things over the years, including the Turkish Baths, which were closed in 1978.

We met with Heather at Earls for lunch and had some great conversation before saying bye. It was great to catch up with Heather after all these years.

After lunch we drove to old Strathcona, where we walked around and explored all the old buildings, as well as got some candy from a store called Rocket Fizz. We then had a quick stop at Situation Brewing for a quick pint before heading home towards Calgary. For dinner we stopped in Red Deer for Vietnamese food at Vietnamese Garden.

What’s in store for me next? I’m not entirely sure as COVID-19’s second wave is here, and there is rumours of another lockdown coming soon. I will most likely focus on my drone photography skills over the winter time, and we also hope to travel to Northern Alberta to have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora). Be sure to check back from time to time to see what I’m up to. Until next time…

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.