Victoria – Christmas 2021 – Part 1 of 2

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

History of Victoria

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

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

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

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

Victoria December 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 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 12 – Vienna, Austria

Today I woke around 7:00 am, as I had an early train to catch. I ate breakfast downstairs, before venturing off to Budapest’s main train station. I boarded the 8:40 am train to Vienna and sat next to two women who were from Ireland. We chatted about travel throughout the 2.75 hour train ride. When the train was crossing the border from Hungary to Austria some police entered and checked peoples passports. There was a group of younger Syrian men that were arrested by the police and taken off the train at the next stop. I presume that didn’t have the proper documentation, as I heard this is fairly frequent for this route.

I arrived in Vienna at 11:20am, and made my way to my hotel; Enziana Hotel Vienna. I was only going to be here the one night, as I booked this one free with a Hotels.com voucher. I booked another hotel for the rest of my stay in Vienna.

Before I dive into my day let’s talk about Austria’s history.

Austria’s History

Austria dates back to pre-Roman times and was settled by various Celtic tribes. The Celtic kingdom of Noricum was claimed by the Roman’s and made into a province. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was invaded by the Bavarians, Slavs, and Avars. Charlemange, King of the Franks conquered the area in 788 AD. As part of Eastern Francia, the core areas that encompasses Austria were left to the house of Babenberg. The first record showing the name Austria dates back to 996 AD, where it was written as Ostarrichi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March.

In 1156, the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy, and in 1192 the Babenberg’s also acquired the Duchy of Styria. When Frederick II died in 1246 AD, this brought an end to the Babenberg’s. As a result of this, Ottokar II of Bohemia assumed control of the duchies of Austria, Styria, and Carinthia. In 1273 Rudolf von Habsburg became Holy Roman Emperor and defeated the Bohemian (Czech) king and in 1282 he made his son Albert Duke of Austria. The Hapsburg’s rules Austria for centuries, acquiring more territory and building up quite the empire.

Rudolf IV became Duke of Austria in 1358. He founded the great Vienna University during his ruling. In 1437 Albert II Duke of Austria also became king of Hungary and Bohemia (Czech Republic). In 1438 he became Holy Roman Emperor.

Starting in the 1500’s it was quite the rocky time for Austria over the course of the next few hundred years. In 1529 the Turks launched a siege on Vienna, but failed to capture it. Then the Thirty Years War occurred in 1618-1648. In 1684 the Turks tried to attack Vienna again, but an army of Germans and Poles helps drive them back. In the 18th century Austria ended up being quite prosperous despite even more conflicts; the first of which was the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which ended up with Austrian’s capturing Sardinia from the Italians.

Emperor Charles IV didn’t have a male heir and had to persuade foreign powers and national assembles to accept his daughter (Maria Theresa) as the next ruler. In 1740 Maria succeeded him. The War of Austrian Succession occurred from 1740-1740 and Maria had to fight off the Prussians, French and Spanish.

In 1748 Maria’s husband Francis of Lorraine was made Emperor Francis I. He ended up dying in 1765 and was replaced again by Maria, and her son Joseph II (1765-1790). The Austrians and French ended up fighting a series of war from 1792 to 1815, and during the period in 1806 Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. The ruler of Austria gave up the title Holy Roman Emperor and became Emperor Franz I of Austria.

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

In 1914 Archduke Ferdinand, the heir of the Austrian throne was assassinated, which led to World War I. In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Austria declared its independence on November 12 1918. During the 1920’s Austria was able to recover, but was soon hit with the global depression of the 1930’s.

In 1934 the German Nazis attempted a coup and shot Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. The Austrian troops were able to defend against the coup this time, but the Germans were keen on taking over Austria. On March 12 1938 the Germans took control of Austria until the Russians invaded in 1945.

Governance of Austria was restored in April 1945, and by July 1945 Austria was divided into four zones controlled by the allies (USA, France, Britain and Russia). In 1955 Austria became an independent nation again, and joined the United Nations in 1955. Austria had tremendous economic growth in the remainder of the century. Austria joined the European Union in 1995.

Exploring Vienna

After checking into the hotel it was time to search for some food. Since it was a cold day I felt like getting some soup, so I stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant close to my first stop at Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

After having lunch I walked across the street to Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, which is located at Maria-Theresien-Platz, a large public square and museum of modern arts located in the former Imperial Stables. Facing each other from the sides of the square are two near identical buildings, the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum). The only difference between the nearly identical buildings are their façades. The Naturhistorisches’ façade has statues depicting personifications of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, where as the Kunsthistorisches façade features famous European artists.

Across the street from the Art History Museum and the Natural History Museum is Museums Quartier, which is a beautiful district in Vienna that contains Baroque and Modern style buildings completed by architects Laurids and Manfred Ortner. The Museums Quartier houses the installation of large art museums such as the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna). The museums were renovated between 1998 and 2001 at a cost of € 150M ($218M CDN).

A short walk away is Volkstheatre, also known as the “People’s Theatre”. The theatre was founded in 1989 by the request of the citizens of Vienna to offer an alternative to the Hofburgtheater (Burgtheater).

A couple blocks away is the Palace of Justice building, which is a beautiful Neo-Renaissance building that was built between 1875 and 1881 The building was designed by architect Alexander Wielemans von Monteforte as the new residence of the Supreme Court that was established after the 1848 revolutions.

The Austrian Parliament Building is next door, however I wasn’t able to take a great photo of it, as it was currently under renovation. The Austrian Parliament Building is where the two houses of the Austrian Parliament conduct their sessions. The building, designed by Theophil Hansen, was built between 1874 and 1883 in a Greek Revival style. He designed the building holistically, aiming to have each element harmonizing with all the others, including the interior decoration, such as statues, paintings, furniture, chandeliers, and numerous other elements. The building was heavily damaged during World War 2, but was restored afterwards. The building contains over 100 rooms! One of the most famous features of the building is the Pallas Athens fountain in front of the main entrance, which was designed by Carl Kundmann.

Nearby is Rathausplatz, which is a beautiful large square in the centre of Vienna that is often used as a Christmas market. It is built right in front of the Rathaus (City Hall). The city hall building, designed by Friedrich von Schmidt, was built between 1872 and 1883 in a Neo-Gothic style. The building is used by the Mayor of Vienna, as well as the chambers of the city council and Vienna Landtag (German) representative assembly.

After enjoying a bratwurst, and some mulled wine I walked over to Burgtheater, which I could see across the street from the Christmas Market. Burgtheater originally opened in 1741 and is one of the most important German language, and most important theatres in the world. It moved into its current building, which was designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer, in 1888. In World War 2 the theatre was heavily damaged, and wasn’t rebuilt until between 1953 and 1955.

The University of Vienna is just half a block north of the theatre. The University of Vienna has some absolutely gorgeous buildings. The University was founded in 1365 by Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria, and his two brothers, Dukes Albert III and Leopold III. The impressive library at the University has over 7.1 million books!

Nearby Votivkirche Church was under renovation. Votivkirche Church is a beautiful Neo-Gothic style church that was designed by Heinrich von Ferstel, and built between 1856 and 1879. Following the attempted assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853, the Emperor’s brother Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian inaugurated a campaign to create a church to thank God for saving the Emperor’s life. Funds for construction were solicited from throughout the Empire. The church was dedicated in 1879 on the silver anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Empress Elisabeth. The church stands 99 metres (325 feet) tall!

The sun was starting to set, however I wanted to check out a few more places before I went back to the hotel for the night. A ten minute walk away was Strudlhofstiege, an outdoor staircase in Art Nouveau architecture style, that was opened in 1910.

My second last stop for the evening was the Spittelau Incinerator, which is waste-to-energy incinerator in the center of the city. It was built between 1969 and 1971. In 1987 a major fire destroyed major sections of the facility. Instead of tearing it down, it was rebuilt and it was decided that it would also become a public work of art. The environmentalist, nature lover and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser was tasked with designing the new plant. The building was finished in 1992. Its colourful façade, the golden ball on the chimney, roof greenery and planted trees have made the new Spittelau unmistakable and a Viennese landmark. The facility processes 250000 tons of household waste every year and turns it into 120000 MWh of electricity, 500000 MWh of district heating, 6000 tons of scrap iron, and 60000 tons of clinker, ash and filter cake. This is enough energy to heat over 60000 homes!

The final stop of the day was Vienna’s Amusement Park, which houses Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel, and Prater Turm, among many other rides. It was amazing walking around the amusement park during dusk with all the rides lit up.

Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel, also known as Wiener Risenrad, is a 65-metre-tall Ferris wheel located in the Prater amusement park. The Ferris wheel was designed by British engineers Harry Hitchins and Hubert Cecil Boots, and constructed in 1897. It wore the crown as the world’s tallest extant Ferris wheel from 1920 until 1985. Prior to 1920 the 100-metre-tall Grande Roue de Paris, which was constructed in 1900, was the tallest Ferris wheel, but it was demolished in 1920, leaving the Risenrad to became the world’s tallest.

Prater Turm is a 117-metre high swing carousel in Wurstelprate amusement park. It is the world’s second tallest chain carousel, followed closely behind Eclipse in the Gröna Lund amusement park in Sweden. Prater Turm was opened on May 1st 2010. The tower has a mass of 200 tons and is anchored into a 16-meter diameter slab foundation that is two meters deep and weighs 720 tons. On the top of the tower there is a shiny gold onion done, which houses three 2.7 m clocks. There are also 1,200 LEDs in the top of the tower for night-time lighting.

After exploring the amusement park I took the metro back to my hotel, with a quick stop at a donair shop for dinner. I spent the rest of the evening working, before heading to bed.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 8 – Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

Hungary’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Eastern Europe Trip – Day 4 – Belgrade, Serbia

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

Serbia’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Belgrade, Serbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Eastern Europe Trip – Day 2 – Plitvice Lake & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Today I drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Plitvice Lakes, about a two hour drive away. On the way I attempted to stop at The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, however the road was closed off for the season to prevent continued degradation of the site by looters during the off-season. The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija is a World War 2 monument designed by Vojin Bakić, and built by Veliki Petrovac on the highest peak of the Petrova Gora mountain range. The monument celebrates the uprising and resistance movement of the people of Kordun and Banija against Nazi-fascism, as well as commemorates the victims of the Nazi-fascism. The monument took ten years to build and was finished in 1981. At the time the monument was finished it was the largest postmodern sculpture in the world. After 1991, antifascist monuments and memorial complexes were neglected. This continues to this day as local people continue stealing the stainless-steel plates off the monument. I snagged a few photos from Google Maps (credit given to the photographers) so you can see what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Bara Fai – 2021
Photo Credit: Arwen Swan – 2021
Photo Credit: Uldis Strauss – 2019

Next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The park was founded in 1949 and is very well known for its beautiful lakes, pathways, and waterfalls. Entrance cost to the park is about $16 CDN, however expect to pay double when its not off season.

After visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park I drove about 3.5 hours towards Ljubljana, Slovenia. The border crossing took about an hour because they were checking everyone’s COVID vaccine passports. Before I dive into the rest of my day in Slovenia let’s talk about Slovenia’s history, which has a lot of overlap with Croatia.

Slovenia’s History

Slovenia is a relatively young country; being formed on June 25 1991. The history of Slovenia is very similar to that of Croatia; having been its neighboring country. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states dating back to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, the Illyrian Provinces of the First French Empire of Napoleon I, the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until it broke up in October 1918.

As mentioned back in my brief history of Croatia; in December 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was renamed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

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

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In April 1990 elections were held and in December 1990 a referendum was held, with the majority of people in favor. On June 25 1991 the Slovene parliament declared Slovenia independent. This irritated the Yugoslavian army, so they tried to invade Slovenia a few days later on June 27 1991. They were held back by the Slovenian Territorial Defense forces and the police, and on July 7 1991 the Yugoslavians agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union.

In December 1991 a new constitution was written, and on January 15 1992 Slovenian independence was recognized by the European Union. As was the case for many of the eastern European countries, Slovenia faced a long painful transition from Communism to Capitalism during the 1990’s. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.

Exploring Ljubljana, Slovenia

When I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovakia my first stop was exploring Ljubljana Castle, a castle complex standing on Castle Hill, which overlooks the entire city. It was originally a medieval fortress constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt again in the 12th and 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is depicted on the city’s coat of arms, along with a dragon on the top. The castle just finished a major restoration project that lasted from 2000 to 2019. There was also a puppet museum inside the castle, which was pretty neat.

After visiting the castle I drove to my hotel; BIT Center Hotel, to check-in, and do a few hours of work, which included a few meetings. After working I drove back to the castle to haver dinner at the renowned Strelec Restaurant. A reservation is a requirement here, however being off-season I just booked it in the morning and they were able to accommodate me. This is a michelin star quality restaurant, however it is not a michelin star restaurant. I was served a 5 course dinner, however it was more like 8 courses… I wish I had taken better notes as to what I ate, however I had a few favorites. My first favorite was the ravioli with truffles, cheese, and home made sour cream. My second favorite was venison with beet-root. Third runner up was beef tartar. The meal was finished off with chocolate ganache, ice cream, a sweet puree of some sort, hazelnuts, and gold foil. The meal cost me a total of $115 CDN, however it was absolutely worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners that I’ve ever had.

Be sure to check back tomorrow while I explore more of Ljubljana, before driving back to Zagreb, Croatia to catch a flight to Belgrade, Serbia late in the evening.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Croatia’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Zagreb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Alaska – Part 2 of 2

Friday October 1st 2021

Today I woke up at around 830am, made some coffee and oatmeal, and hit the road. I drove into Denali National Park, however could only make it in about 14-15 miles before being confronted by a gate. I had read that I should have been able to go about double that distance, however the weather had turned so they had closed more of it off. That’s okay because I had ran into a guy who said that he spotted a few moose around the 10 mile marker. I spent about 2 hours here taking photos and videos of the moose. It was a very enjoyable experience!

After watching the moose I drove North towards Healy where I ate a meat lovers pizza at the Totem Inn. There was a snowfall warning in effect and the weather was starting to turn, so I decided to end my cabin adventures a day early and drive back to Anchorage.

On the drive back to Alaska I came across an abandoned building called Igloo City. The building was originally constructed in the late 1970’s by Leon Smith. He envisioned it as a hotel, however it was never completed because of code violations, and lack of funds. The windows were undersized, and there were not enough emergency exits. The building exterior is constructed of nearly 900 sheets of plywood with a urethane coating. There’s also a gas station here, that closed down many years ago. The building was recently up for sale for only $300,000 USD, however there are no takers.

When I arrived in Anchorage I drove to a popular lookout point of the entire city, which was absolutely beautiful. You could see airplanes taking off from both Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport, and Merrill Field. I even caught a glimpse of an old FedEx MD-11 Freighter.

After enjoying the viewpoint I drove into downtown Anchorage and took some pictures of a few signature architectural gems including the Gaslight Bar, Holy Family Cathedral, Fourth Avenue Theatre, Federal Building, and Wendler Building.

The Holy Family Cathedral is an Art Deco style church built between 1946 and 1948. A fun fact about the church is that Pope John Paul II visited the church in 1981, and attracted a crowd of over 80,000 people.

The Fourth Avenue Theatre, also known as the Lathrop Building, is an Art Deco style building that was built between 1941 and 1947. It took so long to complete because World War 2 put a halt to it. The building has served as a 960 seat theatre until the 1980’s, as well as a television station, restaurant, a penthouse apartment, banquet facility, and now sadly lies in disrepair.

The Federal Building is an Art Deco style government building built between 1939 and 1940. The most distinctive features of the concrete building are the tall, vertical window units that visually add height to the low mass of the structure. Numerous exterior changes have occurring including the original steel window systems being replaced with aluminum-clad wood systems with wider muntins and mullions than originally designed. The original entrance doors have been replaced with dark bronze aluminum doors that do not match the original design. The original bronze stair handrails have been replaced with painted steel handrails of a modern utilitarian design.

The Wendler Building was built in 1915 by Tony and Florence Wendler, and is the oldest commercial building in Anchorage. The building was originally built elsewhere, but moved to its present location in 1985. It was used by the Wendlers as a store until 1925, then converted to a boarding house, then a club, and now a store front.

After exploring downtown Anchorage I checked-in to my accommodation for the night; Aptel Studio, which was a large kitchenette style apartment. After checking in I drove to the nearby Resolution Brewing Company, and had some of their beers. They had Belgian style beers, however I thought they were quite mediocre. After having the beers I had some Vietnamese soup, and picked up some bear spray from Bass Pro Shop for some hikes in the coming days, before heading back to the hotel for the evening to write my blog and edit my photos.

Saturday October 2nd 2021

Today I had to get a covid test for my return flight home, so I drove to the hospital parking lot, where I was told I could get a free test. Turns out they were only the rapid tests, so I had to drive to the airport to get the test. At the airport I was notified that they only issued TMA tests, because there was a shortage on PCR tests. This was fine with me, as I cross referenced with the Canadian Government website, and they said it was okay.

After getting my covid test I picked up a breakfast burrito from a delicious burrito from Burrito Factory, which is oddly positioned in the middle of a Chevron gas station. Next, I drove towards Seward, with a few stops including Potter Section House, and Exit Glacier. Potter Section House is a historic site featuring a restored house and buildings that were a part of a railroad section camp that maintained a section of the Anchorage-Seward railway. There’s a large train snow blower at the site as well.

I continued the 1.5 hour drive to Exit Glacier, stopping numerous times to take photos of the beautiful scenery.

Exit Glacier is located in Kenair Fjords National Park, and is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska. It is rapidly retreating, having retreated approximately 187 feet (57 metres) in just one year (2013 to 2014). It received its name for serving as the exit for the first recorded crossing of the Harding Icefield in 1968.

After visiting Exit Glacier it was time to grab some lunch, so I stopped at Chartermark Seward. The fish and chips were excellent, however there could be some improvements made including letting people seat themselves, rather than wait 20-30 minutes to be seated when there was plenty of available tables. The staff were super friendly, however were overworked.

After lunch I drove south towards Tonsina Creek, where I completed a 1.5 hour hike to where Salmon were trying to swim up stream. It was neat to see, however the optimal time was about 2 weeks ago. There was a lot of dead Salmon there from failing their journey.

After completing the hike I drove around town looking at all the murals, before checking into my accommodation at Trailhead Lodging. I had about 3 hours of work I needed to do, so I spent the rest of the evening working.

Sunday October 3rd 2021

Today was my last full day in Alaska. I woke up around 7am, drove to Safeway to pickup a sandwich for lunch, and pickup my breakfast and coffee from the Starbucks inside. I drove about an hour towards the Portage Pass trailhead. To get to the glacier you need to pay a $13 USD toll to travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which passes under Maynard Mountain.

The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is very unique as it allows cars and trains to pass through it, but only single file (also known as bimodal). The tunnel is 13,300 feet (4100 metres) long, and is the longest highway tunnel, and longest bimodal tunnel in North America. The tunnel was originally excavated between 1941-1942, and was only originally used as rail, however was upgraded for bimodal use between 1998 and 2000. Traffic direction alternates every half hour.

Upon arriving at the Portage Pass trailhead I had to do some pretty severe off-roading for about half a mile, as the road was washed out. The hike took me about 1.75 hours, however I have to admit I only completed about 80 percent of the hike as I was having to bushwhack a lot towards the end due to a storm the previous day. I’m convinced the best view was at the top anyways.

After completing the hike I ate my sandwich in the truck, while waiting 20 minutes at the tunnel to drive back through it. Next stop was the Alaska Aviation Museum, where I nerded out quite a bit. On display was a rich history on how aviation came to be in Alaska, including history on how some of the airlines came and went. There was also an old Alaskan Airlines Boeing 737-200 on display.

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After exploring the museum I quickly stopped at Anchorage Depot to snap a photo. Anchorage Depot, is an Art Deco style building that was built in 1942. It was enlarged in 1948.

It was dinner time at this point in time, so I stopped at a Vietnamese place for some Pho, before trying to check-in to my hotel; the Merrill Field Inn. Unfortunately the hotel was completely not as advertised. When I pulled into the parking lot at the Merrill Field Inn I know that I wasn’t going to be staying there because it looked really gross, and there was a bunch of people leaning over balconies smoking and drinking. It looked like a trailer trash place, and nothing similar to the photos online. Regardless, I obtained a key, and when I opened the door of the room it smelled quite badly of cheap air freshener, and there was a cigarette on the floor. I went back downstairs and asked for a refund, and booked myself in at the Clarion Suites, which was much better.

Again I had quite a bit of work to do this evening so I worked for a few hours, and was getting hungry again so I ordered a Hawaiian pizza from Flattop Pizza. I continued working, and went to bed at around 10pm, as I had an early day ahead of me.

Monday October 4th 2021

Today it was time to fly home. I had to wake up at 3am, as my first flight was around 6am. I dropped off the truck, and went to check-in at a counter, since I was unable to online because they want to do document checks to ensure I had my negative covid test. When I went to check-in the agent had an issue with my paperwork because I had gotten a TMA test, which was still an accepted form of test. The reason I had gotten a TMA test is that Anchorage had a shortage of PCR tests. After politely negotiating with her, and two other supervisors they let me have my tickets. It’s frustrating that the Delta system says something completely different than the Government of Canada website.

After obtaining my tickets I went and purchased an Egg McMuffin and coffee from McDonald’s to eat while I was waiting to board my flight. First flight was a Delta Airlines Boeing 757-200 from Anchorage to Minneapolis. In Minneapolis there was a 4 hour layover, where I thought I could stay in a lounge for a bit, however the lounges that I was eligible for were all closed. I decided to eat a Rueben sandwich, fries, salad, and a beer at Twins Grill. The food was excellent. I ended up passing the time by chatting with a few people on the phone, and watching a movie named Percy, which is about the Saskatchewan farmer who went up against Monsanto in a lawsuit against seed patents.

The next flight was on a Delta Airlines Embraer E175, one of my favorite commute jets to fly on since the seating arrangement is only 2×2. I arrived around 9pm in Calgary, and my Dad picked me up from the airport. This time I had no issues at Canadian customs, like I did when I came back from Iceland about a month ago.

Be sure to check back soon, as I have a few more hiking related posts, and then I’m off to Europe for a few weeks to explore Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Estonia, and Finland.

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.

Dry Island Buffalo Jump Hike

It’s been a while since I last made a blog post. I’ve had a tremendous amount of change happen in my life with dealing with a breakup, moving, and a refocus on travel. Since my Iceland posts I’ve travelled to Alaska, been on 4 other hikes, and I’m heading to Europe in a week. As you can see I’m quite in arrears with my posts.

In late September I visited Dry Island Buffalo Jump, which is a little known gem located near Trochu, Alberta. Before we dive into that we should talk about the beautiful drive along Highway 590. There’s a winding section near the Tolman Badland Heritage Rangeland, which I highly recommend driving through. The views are breathtaking!

When you first arrive at Dry Island Buffalo Jump there is a parking lot off to your right, which offers pristine views of the valley area below. If you only drive a 2wd vehicle I highly recommend that you ditch your vehicle here as the steep incline into the park will make it difficult for your vehicle to gain traction getting out.

I parked my car at the top and descended into the valley and explored the various pathways. Every 100 feet there was another unique perspective of the park. I highly recommend visting this park, as you will not be disspointed!

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.

Iceland 2021 – Exploring More Reykjavik & Puffins

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

National Theatre of Iceland

The National Theatre of Iceland is a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. The building was built in 1950, and showcases Samuelsson’s beloved basalt columns. Another building similar to this is the University of Iceland’s Main Building, also designed by Samuelsson.

Iceland University

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

Harpa

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

National Museum of Iceland

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

Nordic House

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

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral

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

Magic Ice Bar

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

Le Kock Restaurant

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

Puffins – Island of Lundey

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

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

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.