Victoria – Christmas 2021 – Part 2 of 2

The next day I woke up around 8:00am, showered, and walked over to my parents Airbnb to pickup keys for the car, so that I could explore a few buildings that I wanted to see that interested me. First stop was to pickup some breakfast, so I drove to a nearby Tim Hortons and got a bagel BELT, a hashbrown, and some coffee.

First architecture stops were 200 and 230 King George Terrace, which are beautiful Art Deco style homes that were built in 1945. They’re currently values at over $2.5 million each!

Next stop was Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian style mansion that was built in 1890 as a resident for the wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan. Unfortunately Robert died 17 months before construction of the castle was completed. Once his widow Joan had passed away the Craigdarroch estate was sold to Griffith Hughes for $38000, who subdivided the estate into building lots. To stimulate sales during an extremely slow real estate market, he decided to raffle the home to be won by one of the purchasers of the parcels of land. The winner was Solomon Cameron, who mortgaged the home to finance other failed ventures, which left him broke and the home was defaulted to his creditor, the Bank of Montreal. Over the years the building served as a military hospital, college, offices, and even a conservatory, before it was repurposed to a museum in 1979. The building was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1992.

Next stop was the University of Victoria complex, which houses some unique buildings such as the Clearihue Building, Petch Building, MacLaurin Building, McPherson Library, and Lansdowne Residence Buildings.

The Clearihue Building the the oldest building on the campus. It was constructed in 1961, with an addition built in 1971. The building is an example of modernism, and has a pillared ground floor supporting the classroom floors above, as well as features a clock tower.

The Petch Building was built in 1986 to accommodate the new Faculty of Engineering and the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, as well as provide additional space for the Departments of Biology and Chemistry. This brutalism style three story building is contructred out of reinforced concrete, with precase concrete exterior panels. The building features a unique heat-recovery system, where heat can be recovered and reused from air that is being exhausted.

The MacLaurin Building is the largest building on the campus, and was completed in 1966. The brutalism style building consists of several wings of offices, classrooms, and laboratories. The five story building is constructed of reinforced concrete, with an exterior finished in concrete and integrally coloured bricks.

McPherson Library is a modern style four-storey building constructed out of reinforced concrete. The exterior is clad with pre-cast concrete panels with exposed stone aggregate and rough granite. The building was originally constructed between 1963 and 1964, with a major addition built between 1972 and 1973.

The Lansdowne Residence building complex consists of six four-story brutalism style reinforced concrete buildings. The exterior of the buildings are unfinished natural concrete. The buildings can house 280 students.

After exploring the library I went and watching some planes take off and land at Victoria’s Harbour Airport. I also happened to catch a glimpse of a rainbow!

I drove the car back to my parents Airbnb, and just as I was dropping off the car my sister messaged me to see if I wanted to hike Mount Douglas with her. Mount Douglas provides some nice views of the surrounding area.

After hiking with my sister I grabbed some Spicy Beef Pho from Le Petit Saigon, and then went back to my hotel to relax for a bit.

After relaxing at my hotel for a bit I went back to my parents Airbnb and hung out with my parents for a bit. I had a microwavable dinner with them before walking around downtown Victoria to take in some views. We also went to the rooftop patio on the 12th floor, and it had some stunning views of the city below. Afterwards I went back to the hotel for the rest of the evening to relax.

The next morning was Christmas Day. It had snowed a bit overnight, which made it actually feel like Christmas. We all met at my parents Airbnb at 9:30am, opened stockings, cooked our traditional English breakfast that we usually do, and then opened presents. In the afternoon I continued to do a bit more exploring before coming back for dinner.

St. Ann’s Academy and Auditorium was built by the Roman Catholic Congregation of Women (Sisters of Saint Anne of Lachine, Quebec). In 1858 a Chapel was built, in 1971 a School was built, and in 1886 and 1909 a Convent was built. The Sisters of St. Ann closed the academy in 1973 and sold the property to the government to be used as office space for the public service for a few years, until it was closed for major repairs. The building was renovated and restored, and reopened in 1997.

Just down the street from the academy is 895 Academy Close (Athlone Apartments), a beautiful Art Deco / Streamline Moderne building built in 1947. The apartments were designed by Patrick Birley.

Final stop was 900 Park Boulevard (Tweedsmuir Mansions), which a large and beautiful Art Deco / Streamline Moderne building built in 1936. This is probably Victoria’s finest example of surviving Art Deco style building. It was built by McCulloch & Harvey for a cost of $23000. The original building had nine suites, some with their own street entrances. It was also the first apartment in Victoria to have a penthouse suite. In 1986 the building was renovated, including new exterior stucco. In 1995 the apartment complex was converted to a strata condominium complex, and a third storey addition on the West side provided more space for two of the suites.

It was time to head back to my parents Airbnb for dinner, which included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots. It was absolutely delicious, and it was very enjoyable getting to spend time with my family. After completely stuffing my face with food it was time to head back to my hotel to go to bed.

The next, and final day, I slept-in until 11am. When I looked outside I could see that it had snowed a few inches overnight. I checked out of my hotel room, and walked over to my parents Airbnb, and hung out with them for a few hours before heading to the the airport to take my flight back to Calgary. Before I left I wanted to catch a few more shots of Victoria.

My flight back to Calgary was on a Westjet Dash 8 Q400. Despite the poor weather, the flight was almost on-time leaving. Sadly, my parents had to contend with a nearly 6 hour delay on the following evening when they flew back.

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Victoria – Christmas 2021 – Part 1 of 2

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

History of Victoria

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

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

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

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

Victoria December 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 19 – Helsinki, Finland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 18 – Tallinn, Estonia & Helsinki, Finland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 17 – Tallinn, Estonia

Today I woke up at 530am to catch the train to Vienna International Airport to board a flight to Tallinn, Estonia. I flew on a Lauda Europe (on behalf of Ryanair) Airbus A320. Lauda Europe was having financial difficulties a few years ago, so Ryanair purchased them. It’s interesting because the plane is still painting in the Lauda Europe livery, and the staff still wear Lauda Europe uniforms.

It was raining when I arrived in Tallinn. The airport is very close to the city center, and just a 10 minute tram ride away. I boarded the tram and took it to my hotel; Hotel Metropol, where I checked in around 11:00am. I dropped off my bags and went out to explore the sleepy city of Talllinn.

It was approaching lunch time so I stopped in at Pizza Grande for pizza and a diet coke. Food in Estonia is very inexpensive; I believe the pizza and coke were only about $10.

Close to the Pizza Grande is Viru Gate, two ivy-covered watchtowers, built in the 1300’s, that mark the entrance to Tallinn’s Old Town. The main road that enters the Old Town is also quite stunning!

After a short walk through the Old Town I arrived at Freedom Square, a plaza on the South end of the Old Town. It was created by Tiit Trummal, Veljo Kaasik, and Andres Alver. It was a parking lot prior to 2010. The War of Independence Victory Column is located in the square. The column, which stands 24 metres high and consists of 143 glass plates, commemorates all those who had fought for freedom and independence during the Estonian War of Independence (1918-1920).

Nearby is Kiek in de Kök Museum and the Tallinn Bastion Tunnels. The artillery tower was built in 1475 and stands 38 metres (125 feet) high, with walls 4 metres (13 feet thick). Over the years the tower was renovated multiple times, until it became obsolete in 1760. It is now home to archives, and some floors were even converted to apartments. The Bastion Tunnels date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The town was constantly worried that it was going to be attacked, so they constructed high bastion walls around the outside of the city, as well as tunnels under the base of the walls so they could safely move around soldiers and ammunition. The tunnels eventually became forgotten, and were not found again until 2003 when workers digging a foundation near the Vabamu Meseum of Occupations and Freedom found them. During World War 2 some of the tunnel were used as bomb shelters. During the Soviet occupation the tunnels were modernized by adding electricity, running water, ventilation and phone lines.

Close by is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral that was built in Neo-Byzantine style. Construction started in 1882, and was completed in 1912. The church has the capacity for 5000 people!

Next to the cathedral is Toompea, also known as Cathedral Hill. Toompea Castle is situated on the hill, and is topped by Tall Hermann tower. Toompea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I then walked about 15 minutes to Telliskivi Creative City, an art focused venue that features studios, cafes, bars, and restaurants. There were some buses and trains close by at a place called DEPOO, that were converted to restaurants.

After visiting Telliskivi Creative City I walked to Towers Square, which gets its name from the Town Wall towers that border one of its sides, and the fact that numerous church spires can be seen from there.

One of those churches is St Olaf’s church, which was was originally built sometime in the 12th century. It was believed that it was the town center for old Tallinn’s Scandinavian community before Denmark captured the town in 1219. The church was originally Roman Catholic, then became Lutheran during the European Reformation, before becoming Baptist in the 1950’s. From 1944 until 1991 the Soviet KGB used St. Olaf’s spire as a radio tower and surveillance point. You’ll learn a lot more about the KGB in my next blog post.

Final stop before heading back to the hotel was Linnahall, also known as Tallinn City Hall, or originally Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports. The building is situated in the harbour, just beyond the walls of the Old Town, and was completed in 1980. The 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, however since Moscow wasn’t by the ocean and didn’t have a suitable venue to stage the sailing event, it was decided that Tallinn, the capital of the then Estonian SSR, would be the perfect place to host it. The building was built to host the event, along with the Pirita Yachting Center, and a few other sports and entertainment facilities. Unfortunately the building has now fallen into disarray. The skating ring was closed in 2009, and the concert hall in 2010.

When I arrived back at my hotel I decided to go into the hotel spa for 1.5 hours. The hotel had a swimming pool, four hot tubs, a steam room, and three sauna’s of various temperatures. It was a very delightful experience, for only $14! You can stay for a maximum of three hours.

It was time to have some dinner at Restaurant Olde Hansa, which was recommended to me. The restaurant gives an authentic medieval experience with dishes that are cooked according to recipe’s over 700 years old, as well as live music. I had three different kinds of game sausages (bear, wild boar, and elk), served with mashed turnip, cranberries, and something else I couldn’t recognize that was quite delicious. Desert was oven-baked herb and juniper cheese. Overall the total cost of my meal was a bit pricier, but not too bad, about $60.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 15 – Melk Abbey & Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 13 – Bratislava, Slovakia

Today I decided to catch a train to Bratislava, Slovakia to explore the small, but beautiful capital city. The train ride took about 1.5 hours, and I arrived around 10am. I left my bag at my hotel, which I ended up picking up at the end of the day, because I would be switching hotels.

Slovakia’s History

Slavs originally settled in the area in the 6th century AD. They were soon conquered by the Avars, but eventually drove out the Avars by the 8th century. In the 9th century Slovakia became part of the state called Great Moravia, which included parts of Germany, Hungary, and Poland. The Moravian empire ran from 830 AD to 906 AD, during which time Slovakia was converted to Christianity. The Moravian empire was destroyed by the Magyars (ancestors of modern Hungarians). Slovakia would be under Hungarian ruling for the next 1000 years.

During the Middle Ages the mining of gold, silver and copper ended up driving economic development. In the 13th century Germans settled in the country and town life flourished. In 1526 the Turks won the battle of Mohacs causing Hungary to be dismembered. Slovakia and parts of Hungary came to be ruled by the Hapsburgs of Austria. Slovakia was now part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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

In 1914 Archduke Ferdinand, the heir of the Austrian throne was assassinated, which led to World War I. In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up. Prague became the capital of the independent Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. During World War II Prague was occupied by the German Nazi’s. After the war, Czechoslovakia was re-established as an independent state. In 1946 the communists became the dominant party and formed a coalition government with other socialist parties. In 1948 the communists seized power. In the 1950’s the country suffered harsh repression and decline, and many Stalin style practices were adopted by the Communist Part of Czechoslovakia (KSC). Eventually these people in charge of the KSC were executed.

On November 17th 1989, the Velvet Revolution occurred, which ended communism making Czechoslovakia a democratic country. In January 1990 the first democratic elections were conducted, with Vaclav Havel becoming the president. On January 1st 1993 Czechoslovakia was split into two independent countries; Slovakia and Czech Republic, with Bratislava becoming the capital of Slovakia.

Exploring Bratislava, Slovakia

In Bratislava I explored New Slovak National Theatre, Historical Slovak National Theatre, The Blue Church, Schöne Náci Sculpture, Man at Work Sculpture, Michael’s Gate, St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava Castle, and Most SNP (UFO Bridge).

The New Slovak National Theatre was designed in the early 1980’s, and construction started in 1986. The building took 21 years to complete due to lack of funding. The building was finally opened on April 14th 2007. The building is designed to hold roughly 1700 spectators.

Historical Slovak National Theatre was constructed between 1885 and 1886. It was based on a design by Viennese architects Fellner & Helmer, who designed theatre buildings in 10 European countries. This building was designed for roughly 1000 spectators and was illuminated by 800 gas lamps. This wasn’t Bratislava’s first theatre through, as it replaced a former Classic style theatre that was built in 1776 and demolished in 1884.

The Blue Church, also called the Church of St. Elizabeth, is an Art Nouveau Catholic church that was built between 1909 and 1913. The façade was originally painted in light pastel colours, but the church later received its characteristic blue colour, which makes it stand out.

Schöne Náci Sculpture is a bronze statue dedicated to Schöne Náci (real name Ignác Lamár). He was the son of a shoemaker and grandson of a famous clown and brought happiness to the streets of the city. He would walk around the Old Town in a top hat and tails, greeting women with the words “I kiss your hand” in German, Hungarian and Slovak. He received free food from many of the café’s in the city, and took the occasional cleaning job.

Man at Work Sculpture is a bronze statue of Čumil, also known as “the watcher”. It is a statue that reflects a typical communist era worker who is not bothered about the work he is doing. Viktor Hulik commissioned the piece in 1997.

Michael’s Gate is the only city gate that has been preserved and is one of the oldest buildings in the town. It was originally constructed in the 14th century, but was destroyed between 1529 and 1534. It was rebuilt in its current form between 1753 and 1758. The tower stands at a height of 51 metres tall and has a statue of St. Michael placed atop the tower. The gate received its name from the nearby Saint Michael’s church. Unfortunately it was under renovation when I was there, so nothing exciting.

St. Martin’s Cathedral is the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava. The gothic style cathedral was built into the city’s defensive walls when it was constructed in 1452. It’s 85 metre (279 foot) tall spire dominates the Old Town’s skyline. In 1760, the top of the Gothic tower was struck by lightning and replaced by a Baroque one, which was subsequently destroyed by a fire in 1835. It was reconstructed in 1847 and topped by the crown of St Stephen. The church was re-Gothicized between 1869 and 1877.

Bratislava Castle is a massive rectangular castle that built on an isolated rocky hill of the Little Carpathians above the Danube river in the middle of Bratislava. The area was originally settled on thousands of years ago because it was strategically located in the center of Europe at a passage between the Carpathians and the Alps. The Boleráz culture (the oldest phase of the Baden culture), were the first known culture to have constructed a fortified settlement on the castle hill, around 3500 BC. The hill was occupied over time by the Celts, Romans, Slavs, Nitrian Principality, and Great Moravia until the current castle was built in the 10th century, with extensive modifications being made until the 18th century. The castle, which has four prominent towers (one on each corner), was built originally in 9th century with many modifications being made until the 18th century. The castle features a central courtyard with an 80 metre (260 foot) deep water well. The tower on the southwest corner is known as the Crown Tower because it housed the crown jewels of Hungary from the mid 1500’s to the mid 1700’s. In 1811 a fire was accidentally started by garrisoned soldiers. From 1811 to 1953 the castle’s state gradually deteriorated and the military even sold parts of the main castle buildings as construction materials. It was even attempted to demolish the remaining structures to make was for government offices and a university district, but that never came to fruition. Instead, in 1946 the ruins were opened to the public, and in 1948 the town even constructed an amphitheater in the northern part of the castle site and used for about 15 years in the summer to shown films. It was decided to restore the castle in 1953, and the restoration took place between 1957 and 1968. It was chosen to restore the main building to the Baroque style, which was the last state of the castle when it caught on fire. Some of the other older buildings were restored to Gothic and Renaissance styles. Numerous other reconstructions have taken place since, with the latest reconstruction being the Honorary Courtyard in 2010.

Most SNP, bridge of the Slovak National Uprising, is also commonly referred to as the UFO Bridge. It was built between 1967 and 1972 and spans 431 metres across the Danube River. It’s an asymmetrical bridge constructed of steel, and suspended from steel cables. It features a restaurant and observation deck atop a 85 metres (278 foot) pylon.

Before heading back to Vienna I had lunch at a delicious restaurant called BeAbout, where they make home-made hamburgers. I had a jalapeno burger with onion rings and fries, which was absolutely delicious!

After catching the train back to Vienna I decided to check out a few places before heading back to the hotel including Belvedere 21, Belvedere Palace, the Embassy of France, and the Soviet War Memorial.

Belvedere 21 (21er Haus) is a modernist style steel and glass building designed by Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer. It was constructed in 1958 to be used as a pavilion for the Expo 58 in Brussels, and was later transferred to Vienna to house the Museum of the 20th Century. It was originally nicknamed 20er Haus. The building was used as storage for contemporary art works between 1979 and 2001. Between 2009 and 2011 it was remodeled by architect Adolf Krischanitz and renamed 21er Haus to reflect the 21st century. The building is currently used as a museum showing contemporary art by Fritz Wotruba.

Belvedere Palace is a comprised of two beautiful Baroque palaces (Upper and Lower Belvedere), as well as the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The Lower Belvedere Palace was built between 1712 and 1717. Upper Belvedere was built between 1717 and 1723. Some extra work was required at Upper Belvedere at risk of structural collapse, so between 1732 and 1733 a vaulted ceiling supported by four Atlas pillars was installed. The buildings were built on request of Prince Eugene. When Prince Eugene died he did not leave a legally binding will so it was decided by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI to give the Palaces to the Prince Eugene’s niece Victoria. Victoria was the daughter of Eugene’s eldest brother Thomas. Inside was a bunch of amazing art pieces, which you can see below.

I couldn’t find much information on the Embassy of France, however it’s a beautiful Art-Nouveau style building.

The Soviet War Memorial is a semi-circular white marble colonnade partially enclosing a 12 metre tall figure of a Red Army Soldier. It was unveiled in 1945 to commemorate 17000 soviet soldiers who were killed in action during the Vienna offensive in World War 2.

It was time to pickup my bags from my hotel that I stayed at the previous night, and then I checked into my new hotel, which would be home for the next four nights; Hotel Urania. The hotel was quite beautiful, however I can’t recommend staying here based on the useless WiFi. It made working in the evenings a very frustrating experience.

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Blog Posts On Pause

I’ve reached a milestone in my blog posts where I’ve managed to completely fill my server, so I’m unable to upload any additional photos. I’ve completed 276 blog posts since 2016, and I’ve uploaded close to 6000 photos during that time. I will be placing the Eastern Europe series on hold for probably the remainder of the year, as I have to do some achieving, file size reduction, and Christmas is coming up. I look forward to continuing the series in the New Year, possibly sooner. In the meantime enjoy this beautiful photo of Vienna’s State Opera House. Be sure to check back soon for more content.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 11 – Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 9 – Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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.