Eastern Europe Trip – Day 6 – Belgrade, Serbia

Today is my third day in Serbia, and my second day exploring Belgrade. For breakfast I went back to Red Bread and had a smoked salmon omelette, and some French press coffee. After breakfast it was time to start my adventures.

First stop was the now abandoned Sava Center. The Sava Center is a multi-use cultural and business center. Designed by Stojan Maksimović, it was built between 1976 and 1979 in a brutalism style architecture. It was recognized globally for the speed that it was built. The style of the building also led to some interesting nicknames such as “spaceship”, “glass garden”, and “concrete ship of peace”. The conference center has a theatre hall with over 4000 seats, 15 conference halls, and an exhibition area. The center has completely fallen into ruin since COVID-19 hit, and many people have stolen things from the interior. Despite all this, the facility is still used today for events. I managed to get inside for a few minutes, but was quickly kicked out by a security guard. To be fair one of the sliding glass doors still worked, and I can’t understand Cyrillic.

Across the street is Blok 21 and Blok 22, some of the longest apartment buildings in the entire world.

Next up was Genex Tower. The Genex Tower, also known as Western City Gate, is a 36 storey skyscraper that spans 154 metres (505 feet) tall. It was designed by architect Mihajlo Mitrović in the brutalist architecture style, which is one of my favourites. It is formed by two towers connected with a two storey bridge, and has a revolving restaurant at the top. It is the second tallest building in Belgrade after Ušće Tower. The building is designed to resemble a high-rise gate greeting people arriving in the city from the West. The tower received its name because one of the initial tenants was the Genex Group, a state-owned company. The office building, the shorter of the two buildings continues to remain unoccupied to this day, but the residential tower is still occupied. The revolving restaurant no longer operates either. Again I tried to get into this building; the revolving door to the office side still worked, but I was quickly escorted out again. The residential side was locked and I didn’t want to sneak in after people. Here’s a link to someone’s blog who showcases what the interior of the building looks like.

A short walk away was SIV 3. The SIV 3 (Belgrade Stock Exchange) building was built in 1975. It was built in a brutalism architecture style and designed by architect Ljupko Ćurčić.

Right next door is Opština Novi Beograd, however I couldn’t find much information on this mid-century modern building. I thought it was neat non the less.

I then caught a 15 minute bus ride to The Air Force Command Building. The Air Force Command Building (Komanda Vazduhoplovstva), designed by architect Dragiša Brašovan, was constructed in 1935, on the site of the former Military Command. The brutalism style building is four stories tall and is overlooked by a seven-storey tower that is centrally located within the building. It was completed in 1935. Sadly, it was bombed in the April 5th 1999 NATO attack, and hasn’t been used since.

It was time to get some lunch so I stopped by at The Old Customs House restaurant, and had some Serbian Salad, and a Serbian hamburger called Gurmanska Pljeskavica.

After lunch it was a steep walk up a cobblestone road to Gardos Tower, also known as the Millennium Tower. It was built in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years of Hungarian settlement in the Pannonian plain. I went to the top of the tower for $2.45 CDN, and was presented with spectacular view of New Belgrade.

I then started the long walk back to my hotel, with a few stops along the way. First stop was the Amusement Park overlooking the Danube river. It was fairly old, but some parts were still operational.

Close by was Hotel Jugoslavija. Hotel Jugoslavija is one of the oldest luxurious Serbian hotels in existence. The brutalism style hotel was opened in 1969 but has been closed to visitors since 2006 when it was purchased by “Danube Riverside” for €31.3 million in hopes of revitalizing the building. The plan was to make the area that the building sits on a mixed use residential and commercial area with new twin towers, dubbed as “Project Riverside” but as of October 2019 nothing has changed. It’s still stuck in the late 1960’s.

Next up was The Palace of Serbia, which was built between 1947 and 1959 in Block 13 of “New Belgrade” as a purpose-built government building. It was designed by Mihailo Janković. The soviet style building resembles an “H” when viewed from above.

While I thought I was done for the day, I decided I had a bit more energy left in my body so I took a 45 minute bus ride to Eastern City Gate. Eastern City Gate is a complex of three large residential buildings that is very prominent along the Belgrade skyline. The complex, which was officially named Rudo, was finished in 1976 was considered one of the symbols of the city, and of Yugoslav Socialism in general. Eastern Gate was constructed from 1973 to 1976. The brutalism style buildings were designed by architect Vera Ćirković and civil engineer Milutin Jerotijević. Each building is 28 stories (85 metres; 279 feet) tall and contains 190 apartments. Sadly, today, the buildings are in very rough shape. In 2013 concrete chunks up to 60 kg (130 pounds) started to fall off the buildings. Engineers estimated that the building needed about €4 million to repair the building. The tenants and city started to collect money for the repairs, but fell extremely short at only €110000. While I was taking photos of the building I met a wonderful lady named Aneta, and her cute dog Peggy. We chatted for a bit about what life was like in Yugoslavia, a bit about the building, and I got to pet her cute puppy.

I took the bus back towards the city center and got off outside of the BIGZ building. The building was built between 1936 and 1941 in Modernish architectural style, although I feel it has some Art-Deco vibes to it. It was designed by Dragiša Brašovan. It was originally used as a printing press, and at its peak employed over 3000 workers. After the social and economic crisis of the early 1990’s, there was a lack of funding and the building became unused and neglected. By 2000 a few small businesses began to occupy the building. In 1992 it was declared a cultural monument, and placed under the state protection in 1992. In 2018 it housed printing offices, warehouses, music and art studios, night clubs, radio-stations, a cultural center, and even a circus. Numerous promises were made to repair the building, and was even involved with some scandals. In February 2021 Marera Properties and Aleksander Gradnja took over the building, started to clean the building and kicked out the existing tenants. It’s estimated the building will be fully restored by the end of 2023, but many have their doubts.

The last and final stop of the day was the Museum of Yugoslavia, which is a history museum dedicated to the period of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the life of Josip Broz Tito. Josip Tito’s grave is even located in the House of Flowers, one of the three buildings on site. The museum was opened in 1962, and was a present from the City of Belgrade to Josip Broz Tito, the President of Yugoslavia at the time, for his 70th birthday. When you walk up to the museum complex you see the May 25 Museum, the one built in 1962. It’s a beautiful example of mid-century modern. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside the museum, however I highly recommend going, as there’s a ton of things to learn.

After visiting the museum I took the bus to Angry Monk to have some ramen and a Sapporo beer, before heading back to my hotel for the evening.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 5 – Novi Sad, TV Towers, and Smederevo Fortress

Today was my second day in Serbia. I woke up around 7am and chatted with the receptionist on my way out, and headed Boutique #1 for breakfast, where I had an espresso and another prosciutto omelette for breakfast, but it wasn’t as good as the previous day’s restaurant. After breakfast I walked across the street to the Marriott, where I picked up my rental car that I had rented online last night. I usually use SIXT when I rent in Europe, and this was no exception. I was given a Renault Clio 3-cylinder, which was comically slow.

First stop on today’s adventure was was Iriški Venac Tower, about an hours away. Iriški Venac Tower, a 170 metre tall TV tower built of concrete, near Novi Sad, Serbia. The tower was built in 1975, and was used until 1999 when it was bombed during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Next up was the abandoned Spicer Castle, about 30 minutes away, which was built by the Spicer family from 1890 to 1892. The castle interior was decorated in secession style. The building was featured in many horror movies that were filmed in Serbia. Sadly the building was recently fenced off due to vandalism occurring, so I was unable to see the inside. I’ve attached some pictures of the inside, and given credit to the sources. The road to the castle was absolutely stunning with fall colours!

Photo Credit: Teodora Zivanovic
Photo Credit: Rejko Keravica

Close by is the city of Novi Sad, where I parked my car, and walked around, as well as ate some lunch. Parking was a bit of a strange scenario, which I eventually figured out. It’s not clear that you need to go to a tobacco kiosk, purchase a scratch ticket for $0.65 CDN, scratch off the hour you want to park, and then display on your dash. Since I was parking for a minimum of two hours I had to buy two tickets. This is an extremely inefficient system in my opinion, but hey it works!

My first stop on my walk around Novi Sad was Petrovaradin Fortress. Construction of the fortress started in 1692 and was completed in 1780.

My second stop was Saint George’s Cathedral. The Serbian orthodox church was completed in 1905 on the same grounds that the ruins of a church that was built in 1734, but was destroyed by a bombing in 1849. The cathedral was closed on the inside, so I was unable to enter, however the exterior is quite beautiful.

Looking Southwest you’re presented with the beautiful street of Smaj Jovina.

I was getting hungry so I stopped in at Dobri Dim Gastro Pub, and had a Cubano sandwich, and an IPA beer. The owner and I chatted for a bit, and she gave me a few other recommendation to see around town.

After lunch a few minutes away is the Roman Catholic Church of the Name of Mary. The Gothic Revival style church was completed between 1892 and 1894, and is 72 metres (236 feet) tall. It replaces a church that once stood the very same ground, and was also destroyed by a bombing in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Next stop was Menrat’s Palace. This beautiful Art-Nouveau style building was completed between 1908-1909, and was designed by Lipot Baumhorn.

Close by is the Serbian National Theatre. The current theatre was opened in 1981, however the theatre was founded in 1861 during a conference of the Serbian National Theatre Society. It’s hard to pin-point a style for this building however I’d say it somewhat resembles mid-century modern, despite being in the wrong decade for that style.

The final building I wanted to see in Novi Sad was the Provincial Secretariat for Education, Regulations, Administration and National Minorities & National Communities. Wow, what a tongue twister of a name! The building is also called Banovina. This building houses the Government of Vojvodina, which is an autonomous province of Serbia. This Art-Deco style building was designed by Dragisa Brasovan, and was built between 1936 and 1940.

It was then time to do some more driving. About 1.5 hours away (back towards Belgrade) was Avala Tower. Avala Tower is a 205 metre (672 feet) tall telecommunications tower located on Mount Avala. The original tower was constructed between 1961 and 1965, but was destroyed in 1999 during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It was reconstructed between 2006 and 2010. The original tower was designed by architects Uglješa Bogunović and Slobodan Janjić, and engineer Milan Krstić. The tower had an observation deck, and was the only tower in the world to have an equilateral triangle as its cross section, and one of very few towers not perched directly into the ground, but more so standing on its legs. The legs form a tripod. The rebuilt tower looks essentially the same but is 2 metres (6.5 feet) taller than the original. Today was an extremely foggy day so I could barely see the building, however it made for some really neat photos!

Another hour away is Smederevo Fortress. Construction started on the fortress in 1428, with the inner city being completed by 1430. It was further fortified in 1459 after the Ottoman Empire overtook the city. Restoration started in the late 2000’s, and is currently being considered as a possible nomination to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I drove back to Belgrade airport, dropped off the car, got a PCR test for my travel on Tuesday to Budapest, and then took the bus back into Belgrade. It was about 8pm and I was getting hungry so I stopped at a restaurant called Guli, which my dad and sister ate at a few years ago and had recommended to me.

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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 4 – Belgrade, Serbia

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

Serbia’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Belgrade, Serbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Croatia’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Zagreb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Czech Republic – Kutná Hora & Český Krumlov

After visiting Prague it was time to move on to my next destinations; Kutná Hora and Český Krumlov. First stop was Kutná Hora.

Kutná Hora was first founded in 1142 with the settlement of Sedlec Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. In 1260 German miners flicked to the area to begin mining for silver in the surrounding mountain region. There was great economic prosperity from the 13th thru 16th centuries and the city competed with Prague economically, politically and culturally.

In 1420, Emperor Sigismund made the city the base For his unsuccessful attack on the Taborites during the Hussite Wars, which lead to the Battle of Kutná Hora. Kutná Hora was taken by Jan Zizka, but was burned by imperial troops in 1422 to prevent it falling into the hands of the Taborites. Zizka still the reigns of the city nonetheless and it emerged to new prosperity.

Kutná Hora was eventually passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. In 1546 the most prosperous of the mines was flooded. Eventually the plague, 30 years war, and a fire did the city in. The city became impoverished and the mines were eventually abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. When I was here I visited the Church of Saint James (which was under construction), and St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

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After visiting Kutná Hora is was time to drive further along to my next stop, Český Krumlov, where I would be staying for the next two days.
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Český Krumlov started in 1240 when a settlement rose around a castle by the Vitkovci family, descendants of the Witiko of Prčice. The family died off in 1302 And Kind Wenceslaus II ceded the town and castle to the Rosenberg family. Peter 1 of Rosenberg, the Lord Chamberlain of King John of Bohemia, resided here and had the upper castle erected. Most of the people living below the castle were German-speaking at the time and migrated from Austria and Bavaria.

The Rosenbergs encouraged trade and crafts within the town wall, and when gold was found next to the town, German miners came to settle. William of Rosenberg, High Treasurer and High Burgrave of Bohemia, had the castle rebuilt in a Renaissance style during the time.

In 1602 Williams brother Peter Vok of Rosenberg sold Cesky Krumlov to the Habsburg emperor Rufolf II, who then gave it to his son Julius d’Austria. After the Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II gave Český Krumlov to the noble House of Eggenberg. From 1719 to 1947 the castle belonged to the House of Scwarzenberg.

After Word War I the city was part of the Bohemian Forest Region, which was initially declared part of German-Austria. The Czechoslovak army occupied the region by 1918, and it eventually became part of Czechoslovakia. in 1938 it was claimed by the Nazi Germans. After World War II the German speaking population was expelled and the town was returned to Czechoslovakia.

Under the communist ruling of Czechoslovakia the town fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 much of the town has been restored. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. The town was severely damaged in a great flood in 2002, but has since been repaired.

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Luxembourg

Today I had to wake up fairly early to catch a 5:00am train to Luxembourg via Brussels, and Arlon. In Brussels I grabbed a sandwich and a coffee at the train station before switching trains. I arrived in Luxembourg at 10:00am and dropped off my bag at the hotel I was staying at; Empire Hotel, which was conveniently located right across from the train station. I then proceeded to walk into the old city, with a quick stop for another sandwich at the supermarket.

First stop was Luxemburgo-Passerelle, a gorgeous viaduct spanning 290 metres long and is 45 metres above the valley below. The viaduct has a total of 24 arches, and is also known as the “Old Bridge”. The viaduct was finished in 1861 to connect the city center with Luxembourg’s new railways station (the one I just arrived on). The railway station was built away from the city center so it wouldn’t detract from the defensive capabilities of the city’s fortress.

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I then proceeded to walk down a narrow road to the valley floor below. In the valley you can see some incredible views of the old town above, as well as Neumünster Abbey. Neumünster Abbey was built in 1688 after the previous two abbey’s were destroyed by fire. After the French Revolution it served as a police station, prison, and as a barracks. Since 1997 it has been home to the European Institute of Cultural Routes.

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Next stop was a lot of stairs to climb back out of the valley and to explore the beautiful views of Neumünster Abbey, and the surrounding valley below, as well as walk through Casemates du Bock, the site of a former fortified castle from 963 AD that has an intricate maze of casemates underneath of it that were used the shelter soldiers, workshops, kitchens, bakeries, etc. The original fortress was destroyed in 1875 after the declaration of neutrality in 1867. The casemates proved to be impossible to destroy, so they were left. 17 km of the original 23 km still remain.

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I then continued to walk around Old Luxembourg overlooking the valley below as well as stopping at Cathedral Notre-Dame, and the Monument of Remembrance. The Monument of Remembrance, a 21 metre tall granite obelisk with a gilded bronze statue representing Nike (Goddess of Victory) was dedicated to the thousands of Luxembourgers who volunteered their service in the armed forces of the Allied Powers during both World Wars and the Korean War.

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It was then time to head back for a nap as I was getting tired. I ended up napping from 3:00pm to almost 5:00pm.

I ended up grabbing a salad from the supermarket for dinner and chatting on the phone for a few hours before getting ready for bed. Be sure to check back tomorrow when I visit Prague, Czech Republic!

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Cambodia – Day 3 – Even More Temples, Tonle Sap & Heading Home

Today was my last day in Cambodia before heading home back to Canada. I was picked up from my hotel at 8:30am. I skipped breakfast because the hotel breakfast was rather disappointing. After being picked up I was driven to the first stop of the day; Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was built in 967 AD out of red sandstone, and brick. The temple complex is elaborately decorated in wall carvings, which are well preserved.

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Next stop was Banteay Samre. Banteay Samre is a Hindu Temple that was built in the early 12th century in the Angkor Wat style. It was named after the ancient people of Indochina.

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Lunch was at Khmer Angkor Kitchen. I had a traditional meat and vegetable stir-fry dish, which was pretty good. In the afternoon we visited Tonle Sap. Tonle Sap is a massive fresh water lake, which used to be part of the sea thousands of years ago. It was interesting to see where a lot of Cambodians went fishing, but sadly this lake is so badly polluted I can’t sit idly and not say something about it. We have a SERIOUS global pollution and garbage problem. It honestly sickens my stomach to think that I ate fish from this lake a few days ago. The whole lake is covered in a plume of algae and coolant / fuel from leaking boats. The shore is covered in garbage and plastic. As a society we consume way too much, use too many single-use plastics (in fact we shouldn’t use ANY single-use plastics), and we should be more thoughtful with our use and maintenance of transportation. Sadly, the Cambodians are just trying to survive and are not able to even consider any of these factors. This is a serious problem in the developing world, and I’ve mentioned this in the past in my travels to Thailand.

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After visiting Tonle Sap I was dropped off at Siem Reap airport, where I relaxed for a few hours at the Starbucks before boarding a Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City, where I ended up staying the night. I stayed at The Airport Hotel, which was a 15 minute walk away and only cost me $35 CDN.

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I had to wake up the next day at 4:00am for a 7:00am flight to Tokyo, Japan and then onwards to San Francisco, USA and then finally home. The first flight was on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 767-300ER, the second flight was on a United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER, and the last fight was on a United Airlines Express CRJ200. I must admit that United Airlines has severely disappointed over the last few years; the seats being quite uncomfortable, and the food being mostly inedible. I will go out of my way to avoid flying them in the future. You can see below what was supposed the be breakfast, but ended up resembling something that I wouldn’t even give to a dog. That’s an omlette, not a chicken breast…

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There will be a bit of a lull with new material for the next few weeks as I have some weddings I have to shoot, but do stay tuned for my weddings, hiking, and a quick trip to Belgium in October.

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Vietnam – Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City

After some much-needed sleep I woke up at around 5:00am. The hotel I was staying at provided a complimentary set breakfast, which started at 7:00am. I hung out in the hotel room until it was time for breakfast. For breakfast I had some Pho. After breakfast I started my adventure around the city.

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The first stop was Ben Thanh Market, a massive market that’s been around since the early 17th century. The market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. The market was moved in 1912 and renamed to it’s current name, and the building was renovated in 1985.

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The second stop was the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, also known as Gia Long Palace. This building has a very rich history dating back to 1885.Construction of Gia Long Palace was constructed between 1885 and 1890. Gia Long Palace was designed by the French architect Alfred Foulhoux. The palace spans two floors and was building using classical Baroque architecture with a blend of European and Oriental influences. The building was essentially symmetrical with a winding staircase in the middle of the building. Interestingly the building was built with three deep underground tunnels which lead from the palace to other parts of the city so that government officials could escape in the event of a coup. The building was intended to house the Museum of Commercial Trade, which showcased products and goods of Southern Vietnam, but it was not used as intended and was instead used as the residence of the Governor of Cochinchina. In 1945, control of the palace changed hands many times. It started on March 9th when French governor Ernest Hoeffel was arrested, and the Japanese took over the palace and used it for the residence of Japanese Governor Yoshio Minoda. On August 14th the Japanese handed over the palace to its puppet Empire of Vietnam government to be used as a residence. A mere 11 days later on August 25th the Viet Minh seized the property. The building then became the headquarters of the Provisional Administrative Committee of Southern Vietnam, which was later renamed the “People’s Committee of Southern Vietnam”. On September 10th the British occupied the palace and made it the Allied Mission headquarters, thus evicting the “People’s Committee”. About a month later on October 5th the building was then again occupied by the French; first as a temporary headquarters of the High Commission for the French Republic in Indochina, then as the official headquarters of the Commissioner of the French Republic in Southern Vietnam.

On June 2nd 1948 the French handed control of the building to the Provisional Government of the State of Vietnam, which established its headquarters there. It was later on used as the Palace of the Premier. On January 9th 1950 a massive protest with over 6000 students and teachers demanding the release of students arrested for advocating Vietnamese independence occurred in front of the building. Over 150 people were arrested, 30 injured, and 1 killed. From 1954 to 1966 the palace was used as a residence for numerous government officials, and was renamed to Gia Long Palace by Bao Dai. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Vietnam utilized the palace from October 31st 1966 to April 30th 1975, when the Fall of Saigon occurred, ending the Vietnam War. On August 12th 1978 the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee ordered that the building be used as the Ho Chi Minh City Revolutionary Museum, a propaganda museum, later being renamed on December 13th 1999 to its current name of Ho Chi Minh City Museum.

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The third stop was the People’s Committee Building, also known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall. The building was built between 1902 and 1908 in a French colonial style. It was renamed in 1975 to Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. While I was there a group a graduating school children were getting their group photo taken.

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The fourth stop was the City Opera House. I just took a photo of the outside, as the inside was being used for graduating children. The building was opened in 1900 and shaped very similar to the Opera Garnier in Paris, with 800 seats to entertain the French. The Opera House was damaged during World War 2, and because of the criticism of the fascade and high costs of organizing performances the government tried to turn the theatre into a concert hall. Decorations, engravings, and statues were removed, and the building wasn’t restored until 1955. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored again to its original function as a theatre, and the façade wasn’t restored until 1998, on the 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon.

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I then stopped by the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre to purchase a ticket for the 5:00pm showing; more on that later. The cost of the ticket was 200000 dong ($11.40 CDN).

After purchasing my ticket, I went to the War Remnants Museum. On my way to the museum I met a couple that was also from Canada and we chatted on the way to the museum. The girl had just had her phone stolen out of her hands while she was sitting for dinner the previous evening, so she warned me to be a bit vigilant. The War Remnants museum was built in 1975 and contains exhibits related to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French. Just a word of warning that some of the following images may be disturbing to some viewers.

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I was starting to get hungry so I searched out some food on Google Maps. I settled for Saigon Sakura Japanese Restaurant. On my way to the restaurant I snapped a few quick photographs of Independence Palace. Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Place, was built between 1962 and 1966. It was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the gates.

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For lunch I had some sushi rolls, but not too many as they were phenomenally expensive; even more expensive than at home. After enjoying the delicious lunch, I walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and the Saigon Central Post Office. Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French in a Romanesque style. The Saigon Central Post Office was built between 1886 and 1891 in Gothic, Renaissance and French style. Inside the Saigon Central Post office there are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was built. One is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled “Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892”, which roughly translates to “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”. The second map of greater Saigon is titled “Saigon et ses environs 1892”, which roughly translates to “Saigon and its surroundings 1892”.

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It was getting quite hot out at this point in time and I was still a bit jet lagged, so I walked back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a Circle K convenience store to get a few beers to enjoy in the hotel room later on. By the time I got back to the hotel it was about 2:30pm. I relaxed until roughly 4:30pm and then walked to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The show was extremely well done and in Vietnamese, but I didn’t need to understand Vietnamese to understand what was going on.

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After the show I walked to Nha Hang Dong Pho, and had a Hue style clear both with pork knuckle. It was honestly not very good, despite the good reviews online. I was getting tired so I walked back to the hotel. On the way back it started raining, but not too hard.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ho Chi Minh City, and explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, before jet setting off to Hoi An / Da Nang.

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Vietnam & Cambodia – Travelling To Vietnam

I just completed a 2.5 weeks trip to Vietnam to Cambodia. Before I go into the specifics of my trip let’s dive into the history of Vietnam and Cambodia so we have an understanding of how they came to be, where their paths crossed, and where they stand now.

Vietnam

Vietnam has a long and rich history dating back to nearly 2900 BC. Vietnam has a history of tribes uniting to form strong dynasties. The very first dynasty that many consider to be the start of the Vietnamese state was the Hong Bang Dynasty which was ruled by the Hung kings. In 111 BC, the Han Dynasty from China absorbed Vietnam into their empire. Vietnam would remain part of the Chinese empire for just over 1000 years. In 938 AD Ngo Quyen battled and defeated the Chinese and gained independence for Vietnam. Vietnam was then ruled by a multitude of dynasties including the Ly, Tran, and Le dynasties. Vietnam reached its peak under the control of the Le dynasty by expanding to the south and conquering a portion of the Khmer Empire. The French came to Vietnam in 1858 and in 1893 the French incorporated Vietnam into French Indochina. France continued to rule until it was defeated by communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh in 1954. The country became divided into Communist North Vietnam and the anti-Communist South. The Vietnam War raged for years between the two countries with the US supporting the South and communist countries supporting the north. In 1975 the North eventually won uniting the country under communist rule. It is estimated roughly 3.6 million people died during the war between 1954 and 1975. That’s an extremely sobering statistic. In 1977 Vietnam was admitted to the United Nations.

Vietnam became involved with Cambodia in 1978 when the Khmer Rouge from Cambodia made attacks on Vietnam. This all came to an end when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in December 1978. Unfortunately, Pol Pot escaped and he did not die until 1998, but it did put an end to this terrible tragedy that occurred in Cambodia, which took the lives of roughly 1.5 million Cambodians.

In 1986 the Vietnamese government introduced market reforms (called Doi Moi), which resulted in the rapid growth of the Vietnamese economy. A new constitution was adopted in 1992 which allowed for even more economic freedom. In 1994 the USA lifted an economic embargo on Vietnam and in 1995 diplomatic relations were restored. Today the Vietnamese economy is booming. Vietnam is becoming more and more prosperous and is one of the fastest growing SE Asian countries, with tourism playing an extremely important role. The Vietnamese stock exchange opened in 2000. A few US presidents have since visited Vietnam since then including Bill Clinton in 2000 and Obama in 2016 when he shared a meal with Anthony Bourdain at Bún chả Hương Liên in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We ended up visiting this restaurant due to its nostalgic factor. Vietnam’s population recovered since the war and is sitting at roughly 96 million people.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s history is rich and rather fascinating. People first inhabited Cambodia in the Stone Age. Farming was introduced around 2300 BC, and used stone tools until around 1500 BC, when bronze was introduced. Fast forward to 500 BC and they began to use Iron. In 150 AD the first major developed area arose in the Mekong River delta in South Vietnam, also known as Fu-nan to the Chinese. The settlements and kingdoms grew larger once Fu-nan was trading with the Chinese. By the beginning of the 7th century AD all of Cambodia was becoming highly civilized. At first Cambodia was divided into rival states, however at the beginning of the 9th century a king named Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire in Cambodia. The Khmer Empire was an agricultural society, with many people becoming farmers. The staple diet of Cambodia was rice. Khmers were a bit strange and believed that spirits inhabited natural phenomena such as the earth and trees. The rich and powerful built temples that were decorated with fine stone carvings. The most famous temple is Angkor Wat which was built in the early 12th century. Cambodia was considered prosperous and powerful. In 1000 AD King Jayavarman V was killed. Civil war followed until Suryavarman I founded another dynasty. By 1011 he was in control of Cambodia, however his dynasty only lasted until 1080 and then was replaced by another dynasty.

In 1177 the Chams from Champa invaded Cambodia, but King Jayavarman VII managed to drive them out. By the mid-13th century the Khmer kingdom was in decline. In 1431 the Thai’s captured the Cambodian capital, Angkor. Afterwards it was abandoned and new capital was founded at Phnom Phen. By the mid-16th century Angkor was overgrown by the jungle and it was accidentally re-discovered by a Cambodian king. During the 16th century Cambodian power continued to decline and at the end of the century Cambodia fell under Thai suzerainty, which stands for loose control. In 1594 the Thai’s captured the capital, and started the dominate the region. From the middle of the 17th century the power of Vietnam grew. In the early 17th century the Cambodians controlled parts of what is now South Vietnam. They held a port called Prey Nokor, later renamed Saigon, and then again to Ho Chi Minh City. In the late 17th century Prey Nokor fell under Vietnamese rule.

During the 18th century Cambodia found itself stuck between its two powerful neighbors of Thailand and Vietnam. The Thai’s invaded Cambodia several times in the 18th century and in 1772 they destroyed Phnom Penh. The Vietnamese also invaded Cambodia in the last few years of the 18th century. The Cambodian king was forced to look to the Thai’s for protection and in return Thailand took over Northwest Cambodia.

Between 1806 and 1834 King Chan turned to the Vietnamese for protection from the Thai’s. In 1833 a rebellion occurred in South Vietnam and they took advantage by invading Cambodia, but the Vietnamese king crushed the rebellion and the Thai army retreated in their footsteps. The Vietnamese emperor strengthened his control over Cambodia. When Cambodian King Chan died in 1834 one of his daughters was installed as Queen and Vietnamese people settled in Cambodia. The Vietnamese viewed the Cambodians as uncivilized barbarians and tried to civilize them by teaching them Vietnamese customs, which led to a rebellion between 1840-1841. The Thai’s once again invaded to re-assert their control of Cambodia, however in the 1850s French missionaries arrived in Cambodia. The Cambodian King Norodom turned to the French to protect him from both the Thai’s and the Vietnamese. In 1863 Cambodia became a French protectorate. Unfortunately King Norodom died in 1904. His two successors, Sisowath and Monivong, continued to allow the French to control the country. Under French rule some significant economic development took place in Cambodia; roads and railways were built and in the 1920s, and a rubber industry grew up, however the Cambodians were forced to pay heavy taxes and from the 1930s Cambodian nationalism grew. In 1940 France was defeated in a brief border war with Thailand, and they forced to surrender the provinces of Battambang and Angkor (although the ancient site of Angkor itself was retained). King Monivong died in April 1941 and the French delegated Prince Sihanouk to be king. The problem with this was they believed that the inexperienced 18-year old would be a better fit than Monivong’s middle-aged son, Prince Monireth, which led to some chaotic times.

In 1949 Cambodia was declared semi-independent by treaty. In 1952, King Sihanouk decidedly dismissed the government and took personal control of the country. In November 1953 the French finally allowed Cambodia to become fully independent, but in 1955 King Sihanouk fulfilled his fathers wishes by holding elections and forming his own political movement. Between 1955-1970 King Sihanouk’s political movement dominated Cambodia; which was often referred to as the “Sihanouk era”. King Sihanouk’s father died in 1960 and he announced himself chief of state. King Sihanouk called his movement the Buddhist Socialism, however it was not socialist at all. Sihanouk’s reign began to fall apart in 1968 when the communists began a civil war, and in 1970 Sihanouk left the country. While King Sihanouk was away the National Assembly voted to remove him as chief of state and Cambodia was renamed the Khmer Republic.

Between 1975 and 1979 the country was devastated by the reign of the Khmer Rouge, a rural communist guerrilla movement led by Pol Pot. During the Khmer Rouge’s period of power, an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians were killed or died. In 1975 Cambodia was mainly an agricultural country. Pol Pot decided it should be completely agricultural, which meant all the people from the towns and cities were forced to move to the countryside. Pol Pot also decided that agricultural output should double in 4 years, which was a completely unrealistic and unobtainable target. Private property was banned and collective farms were formed. The people were supposed to grow 3 tons of rice per hectare, which was unrealistic, which meant that people were made to work extremely long hours to try and grow the extra rice. They were also given insufficient food and many became ill or died. Religion was also banned in Cambodia, and people caught practicing Buddhism were executed. Family relationships were also banned, and even the smallest infringement of any rules resulted in execution. This all came to an end when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in December 1978. Unfortunately, Pol Pot escaped and he did not die until 1998, but it did put an end to this terrible tragedy. Afterwards negotiations began among several different parties, resulting in the Paris Peace Accords of 1991. Communism was eventually abandoned in Cambodia, with a provisional government ruling until 1993 when elections were held and a constitution was framed. Sihanouk was made a constitutional monarch. Khmer Rouge refused to take part in the elections and they continued their guerrilla war, and fortunately in 1996 Pol Pot’s second in command Leng Sary abandoned the party in 1996 with many of Khmer Rouge troops following him. As stated previously; Pol Pot died in 1998 and peace finally returned to Cambodia. In 1999 Cambodia joined Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is comprised of ten countries in SE Asia and promotes intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational, and sociocultural integration among its members and other countries in Asia. Cambodia currently has a population of 16 million people.

Travelling To Ho Chi Minh City

More than likely you’ll be arriving in Vietnam by air. You’ll need to obtain a Visa On Arrival letter before you even venture towards Vietnam. Airlines are instructed to not even let you board the plane to Vietnam unless you have the Visa On Arrival letter. The letter costs $18 USD. I used www.myvietnamvisa.com and had no issues. One thing to note is if you end up pre-booking a tour (i.e. Halong Bay, Cu Chi Tunnels, etc.) most of those companies will actually give you a free Visa On Arrival letter. I wish I had learned about that before obtaining mine, as I would have saved the $18 USD.

When you arrive Vietnam you’ll have to clear customs and pay an additional $25 USD single-entry Visa stamping fee and provide a passport sized photo. They can take a photo for you there for a small charge if you forgot to bring your own photo. The fee is $50 USD for a multi-entry Visa, which is what I chose as I went on to Cambodia later on, and then came back to Vietnam before flying home. This process can take as little as 15 minutes to upwards of two hours depending on the time of day that you arrive. It took us roughly 40 minutes. The Vietnamese government still officially uses the USD for transactions, but the remainder of the country uses the Vietnamese Dong.

Ho Chi Minh was my point of entry for this trip. I arrived at 9:00pm at night after 3 flights spanning 27 hours. The flights took me from Calgary (YYC) through Los Angeles (LAX) and Tokyo (NRT). The flight from YYC to LAX was on an Air Canada Airbus A320 and took roughly 3 hours. The flight rom LAX to NRT was on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 777-300ER. ANA arranges their seats in a unique fashion on their Boeing 777’s so that family’s and couples can all have a seat to themselves. Most airlines will arrange the seats in a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 configuration; where as ANA arranges their seats in a 2-4-3 configuration. I chose the two seats by themselves which made for a more comfortable flight. The flight from NRT to Saigon (SGN) was on an Air Japan Boeing 767-300ER. The food provided on the ANA and Air Japan flights were some of the best economy class food that I’ve had.

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Ho Chi Minh City, also known by its former name of Saigon is the most populous city in Vietnam, and in some cases Prey Nokor when it was under Khmer ruling (see previous post). This bustling city has a population of nearly 13 million people in the metropolitan area. Saigon was the capital of French Indochina from 1887 to 1902 and again from 1945 to 1953. It would again become the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam war from 1955 to 1975. On July 2nd 1975 Saigon merged with the surrounding Gia Định Province and was officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City after revolutionary leader Ho Chí Minh.

After obtaining my Visa and clearing customs it was time to find some ground transportation. You essentially have three options; a bus, a taxi, and Grab (similar to Uber). The bus can cost as little as 5000 to 20000 Dong depending on the buses taken, but that takes a considerable amount of time since you have to walk away from the airport before getting on the bus. You can also take a Taxi, which can cost roughly 160000 to 180000 Dong ($10-11.25 CDN). A third option is taking a Grab, which can cost as low as 100000 Dong ($6.25). I opted to take a Grab since I don’t speak Vietnamese and it’s easier to just enter your address into the app. Since I arrived at a peak time it cost me 225000 Dong ($14 CDN).

My Hotel; Papaya Saigon Central Hotel, is located in District 1; the central urban district. The drive to District 1 was roughly 40 minutes. After arriving at our hotel, I was ready for bed as I had already been awake over 24 hours.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore the beautiful city of Ho Chi Minh City.

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