Portugal – Day 9 – Lisbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portugal – Day 6 – Sintra & Cascais

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portugal – Day 1 – Porto

Today I embarked on a 12 day trip to Portugal. On my trip I’ll be visiting Porto, Lisbon, Sintra, and Cascais. Usually when I fly to Europe I fly via Amsterdam with KLM, or Frankfurt with Air Canada, however this time the best route was via the Azores with Azores Airlines. My first flight was on a a Westjet Boeing 737-700 to Toronto. My second flight was on a brand new Azores Airlines Airbus A321neo LR to Puerto Delgada, Azores. It was only delivered a few days ago, and still have plastic wrap on some items. This was the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on in my entire life. Quite a few people got ill, and someone had some cardiac issues from stress, however we didn’t divert due to being so close to the Azores when it occurred. My third and final flight was on an Azores Airlines A321neo (non LR). I was upgraded to business class for both the Azores Airlines flights, which was a nice bonus. The food provided onboard was pretty good too!

After arriving in Porto, I took the Metro, which really was not a metro but rather a light rail vehicle, to my hotel called Miragaia Riverside Suites. The front desk gentleman took the time to show me all the great spots I should visit, and recommended a few restaurants that I should try. After checking in I slept for about two hours to get a bit of sleep before I ventured out to explore.

After waking up I headed out for the evening to do some exploring. Before I dive into what I explored, lets go over Portugal’s history, and Porto’s history.

Portugal History

Let’s take a look at the history of Portugal in brief. People have been living in Portugal since about 30000 BC. The first Portuguese were hunters and fishermen. In 5000 BC farming was introduced. Portugal entered the bronze age in 2000 BC. Around 700 BC Celtic tribes entered Portugal from the North, and introduced them to the Iron age. Around the same time Phoenicians (now Lebanon) was also trading with Portugal for tin to make bronze. In 600 BC the Greeks began trading with the Portuguese.

In 210 BC the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula and began conquering the area. The Roman empire began to decline by the middle of the 3rd century, and by the 5th century the Roman Empire in Portugal collapsed. In 409 AD the Suevi (Germanic people) invaded Portugal, and in 585 the Visigoths (Spanish people) conquered the Suevi.

In 711 AD the Moors from North Africa began to invade the peninsula, taking the south. Portugal received it’s official name in the 11th century. In 1095 the King of Leon granted Portugal to his daughter Dona Teresa and her husband. When her husband died she married a Galician noble, which caused the Portuguese nobles to overthrow her during the Battle of Sao Mamede, which was led by her son Don Alfonso Henrique, who then became ruler of Portugal. Talk about being stabbed in the back by your own family!

After becoming King of Portugal, Alfonso set about recapturing territory from the Moors, and eventually defeated them in Ourique in 1139. In 1147 he captured Lisbon, which eventually became the capital in the mid-13th century. Portugal continue to grow until 1348-1949 when the Black Death wiped out about 30% of the population.

By the late 14th century Portugal was drawn into war when King Fernando died because his daughter Beatriz, who became queen, married Juan of Castile. The Portuguese feared that Portugal would become united with Castile and cease to be independent, so they rose in rebellion. Naturally the King of Castile invaded Portugal to support his wife. This war went on for two years, until the Portuguese army won at the Battle of Aljubarrota. Dom Joao became the King of Portugal, and Portugal remained independent.

In 1386 Portugal made an alliance with England. In the 15th century Portugal’s naval fleet grew significantly, and they ended up capturing Cueta in Morocco in 1415, Madeira in 1419, the Azores in 1427, Tangier in 1471, and Bartolomeu Dias in 1488.

Ever heard of Christopher Columbus from Spain? I’m sure you have; well he set sail and discovered the West Indies in 1492. Because the new lands were south of the Canaries he claimed they were his. This argument was ended with the Treaty of Tordesillas being signed in 1494; with Portugal and Spain agreeing that all new land west of a line 370 degrees west of the Cape Verse Islands would belong to Spain, and anything east belonged to Portugal.

Portugal continued its expansion around the globe establishing colonies in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, and even some parts of India. The expansion continued until 1578, when King Sebastian I died in a war in Africa, without leaving a heir. This lead to a steady decline of the Portuguese empire. From 1640-1668 Portugal fought the Restoration War, which restored the King of Portugal, and fended off the Spanish trying to take over Portugal. They also had to fight off Napoleon, which the British helped with.

Portugal began its independence in 1812. A fun fact that many of you may not know is that the ruler of Brazil became the King of Portugal during the 19th century, and the capital city was moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 1808 to 1821. In 1910, the First Portuguese Republic was established after a Republican revolution that also brought on the King’s resignation. It was ended in 1926, in a coup d’état that resulted in a military dictatorship.

In 1933, the Second Republic, also known as Estado Novo (New State), was established by António Oliveira de Salazar. Salazar’s dictatorship was notable for nationalism and isolation, which saved Portugal from being a part World War 1 & 2. He always tried to keep Portugal’s colonies under his rule and many Portuguese had to fight Portugal’s Colonial Wars. This led to the end of Salazar’s dictatorship on April 25, 1974, when the peaceful Carnation Revolution, a military coup d’état, took place. Portugal became a democracy in 1975, and joined the European Union in 1986. Today Portugal has a population of 10.3 million people.

Porto History

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, with a population of 1.7 million. The city center has only 230,000 people, but the metropolis is quite large. Porto is situated along the Douro River, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Porto gets its named from “Oporto”, which translates to “the port”. Pretty self explanatory.

Porto was originally settled in 275 BC by Celtic people. The Roman’s, Moors, and Napoleonic’s then came and occupied the Iberian Peninsula, which we learned about in my writing of the Portuguese history. During the Roman occupation the city was developed as an important commercial port, with trade routes all over the world.

During the 19th Century Porto became known as the city of bridges, with its first permanent bridge being built in 1806. Sadly that bridge didn’t last very long, collapsing only three years later under the weight of thousands of fugitives from the French invasions during the Peninsular War. That bridge was replaced by a suspension bridge called Ponte Pensil in 1843, however only the support pylons still remain today. The Ponte Dom Luis I, designed by Teophile Seyrig, who was a former partner to Gustave Eiffel, eventually replaced this bridge. The final bridge, the Ponte D. Maria railway bridge was opened in November 1843, and was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who created the Eiffel Tower.

Today you can explore some beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites in Porto, such as the historic city center, Luiz I Bridge, and Monastery of Serra do Pilar. Porto is also home to Port Wine, which a red wine that is fortified with Brandy.

Exploring Porto – Day 1

Bolsa Palace, also known as the Stock Exchange Palace, was built between 1842 and 1910. The palace is located beside St. Francis Church of Porto, which was once part of the St Francis Convent, which was founded in the 13th century. In 1832, during the Liberal Wars, a fire destroyed the cloisters of the convent, but spared the church. In 1841, Queen Mary II donated the convent ruins to the city merchants, who then used the spot to build the seat of the Commercial Association. The project, designed by Porto architect Joaquim da Costa Lima Junior, began construction in 1842. The Neoclassical palace was inspired by the designs of other structures that had recently been built in the city. Most of the palace was finished by 1850, however the interior took until 1910 to complete.

Across from Bolsa Palace is Mercado Ferreira Borges. This large red iron building was built in 1885 and named after a famous politician from Porto that supported the liberal troops during the civil war during the 19th century. It was originally intended to be a market, but was never used as one. It was originally built to replace an older market in Ribeira, however didn’t quite fit its purpose. Instead, it was utilized as a warehouse for military equipment, a community kitchen, and in 2010 it was turned into a nightclub and a restaurant.

There’s a very special McDonald’s on Aliados Avenue housed in a beautiful 1930’s era Art Deco building. The previous tenant was the Imperial Cafe, which had a large copper eagle at the entrance to the building. This eagle is still there, and now proudly showcases the McDonald’s name below. McDonald’s moved into this location in 1995. Of course I had to get myself a double cheeseburger while I was here.

Garagem Do Comercio Do Porto was originally the home of the newspaper “O Comércio do Porto”, but is now used as a parking garage, offices, and housing. The building, designed by Rogerio de Azevedo, was built between 1928 and 1932. This Beaux Arts (Art Deco) style building is quite unique, as the lower floors are used as a parking garage, and due to the shape of the building a helical parking ramp was used.

Edificio do Comércio do Porto is a Beaux Arts (Art Deco) styled condominium complex next door to the parking garage. The building, also designed by Rogerio de Azevedo, was built in 1930.

Culturgest Porto is an Art Gallery is a beautiful Beaux Arts (Art Deco) style building not too far away from the previous two buildings. It was designed by architect Porfirio Pardal Monteiro, and was built between 1924 and 1931. The building even features some neo-classical design features.

Banco Montepio is across the street from Culturgest Porto, and is another stunning Beaux Arts (Art Deco) building.

Municipal Theater Rivoli opened its doors in 1913 as a National Theatre. In 1923, just ten years later, it was updated and became a movie theatre, and could also house opera, dance, theatre, and other concerts. It was designed by Julio Brito. In 1994 the theatre was closed to undergo an extensive restoration, and was reopened again in 1997.

Liberdade Square (Praca Nova) dates back to 1718, when an urbanization project began, which resulted in the creation of some new streets and a new square. The square was limited in size due to he medieval walls of the city, which are no longer there. In 1788 a neo-classical styled convent on the south side of the square was built where the medieval wall once stood. This building is the oldest building that faces the square. During the 1800’s the square became increasingly important, with the municipality moving to the north side of the square in 1819, the D. Luis Bridge being built in 1887, and the Sao Bento Station opened in 1896. It quickly became a political, economic, and social centre for Porto. In 1866 a monument dedicated to King Peter IV was placed inaugured in the middle of the square. The monument was designed by French sculptor Anatole Calmels. In 1916 the municipality building was demolished, and a large boulevard and new municipal building (Porto City Council) was built on the north side of the square.

The Porto City Council building was built between 1920 and 1955. It was designed by architect Antonio Correla da Silva. In the centre of the building is a 70 metre tall clock tower. In front of the building is a statue of a poet named Almeida Garrett.

The Sao Bento Railway station is a beautiful French architecture style railway station that was opened in 1916. It was designed by José Marques da Silva. Inside the building is a beautifully decorated ceiling, and large panels of Azulejo tile that were designed and painted by Jorge Colaço. The murals represent moments in the country’s history and the multicolored panels depict rural scenes showing the people of various regions.

Rue 31 de Janeiro is a street located in downtown Porto that features stunning view of Clerigos Tower, and the history Porto downtown buildings. I will visit Clerigos Tower on another day.

I finished off my day at Colossus Craft Brewery by having a flight of beers; an American Pale Ale, an American IPA, a local double IPA, and a south. The brewery was opened in 2005.

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

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 19 – Helsinki, Finland

Today is the last day of my Eastern Europe trip. I woke up early so that I could explore everything that I wanted to in Helsinki, Finland.

Near my hotel is Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral that was built between 1862 and 1868. It is the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Finland, and was designed by Aleksey Gornostayev. A fun fact about the cathedral is that over 700000 bricks were used in its construction, that were brought over in barges from the Bomarsund Fortress that had been demolished in the Crimean War. The church is designed in Russian Revival architecture style.

After snapping some photos of the cathedral I walked over to Senate Square, where there is a statue of Russian emperor Alexander II, as well as Helsinki Cathedral. The church was built between 1830 and 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was known as St. Nicholas’ Church until Finland gained its independence in 1917. The Neoclassical church was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and Ernst Lohrmann.

Nearby is the Pohjola Insurance Building, built between 1899 and 1901. It’s a fine example of Finiish National Romantic Architecture. The building was the original headquarters for the Pohjola Insurance Company, and was designed by Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen. The soapstone, and granite facades are intricately detailed. The main entrance has troll and bear statues on each side of the door, and because the mouths of some of the characters are slightly open, sometimes when people are passing by they leave cigarette butts in the mouths of the characters as a prank.

Just down the street is the Ateneum Art Gallery, which is housed in a beautiful building designed by Theodor Hoijer, and was completed in 1887. The facade of Ateneum is decorated with statues and reliefs which contain a lot of symbols.

Across the street is Helsinki Central Station. The central train station was designed by Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1919. The design was finished in 1909, however the national romanticist style (similar to Art Nouveau) train station took 10 years to be completed. I love the four male statues holding the orbs; I think they look really neat. Over 400,000 people use the train station daily!

Right next door to the central train station is the Finish National Theatre, which is a 1424 seat theatre that was built in 1902. The National Romantic style theatre was designed by architects Onni Tarjanne and Heikki & Kaija Siren.

I then took a bus to Puu-Vallila, a colourful wooden house district that dates back to 1910. The district was built for the working classes during the 1910’s and 1920’s. It was designed by architects Karl Hård af Segerstad, Armas Lindgren, Jussi Paatela and Toivo Paatela.

I then took another bus to Kallio Church (Kallion Kirkko), which is a beautiful Art Nouveau style Lutheran Church designed by Lars Sonck, and built between 1908 and 1912.

A short walk away from the church is Mehiläinen Helsinki Ympyrätalo, also known as “Circle House”, a circular modern style office building that was built between 1960 and 1968.

I then took a bus to view a very strange piece of art called Sibelius-Monumentti. The monument is dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and was unveiled by Finnish artists Eila Hiltunen in 1967. The monument consists of 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern, and weighs over 24 tons!

I then took another bus to Temppeliaukion Church, a Lutheran Church that is built directly into solid rock. It is also known as the Church of the Rock. Plans for the church date back to the 1930’s, however construction was delayed because of World War 2. After the war construction didn’t start until 1989, and was finished the remaining year. The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock. Natural light enters through the skylight surrounding the center copper dome. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics. The church organ is comprised of 3001 pipes!

Kamppi Chapel, also known as the Chapel of Silence, is a very small, yet beautiful modern chapel located in Narinkka Square. It was built in 2012.

It was now time to get some lunch, as I was getting rather peckish. I took a tram to Löyly Helsinki Restaurant and had a delicious burger and seasoned fries. The restaurant is also home to a beautiful terrace overlooking the ocean, and saunas.

Final stop was Suomenlinna Fortress, located 20 minutes away from Helsinki by boat. It’s a maritime fortress built during the Swedish Era from 1748 to 1808 to protect their maritime fleet. It was taken over by the Russians from 1808 to 1917, when Finland gained its independence. It is.a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was now time to take the train back to the airport and check-in to my hotel; Hilton Helsinki Airport, which I received for free from a Hotels.com voucher. The room was very well appointed, and I ended up working, having a bath, and chatting with friends during the evening.

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer than that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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