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Month: December 2016

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Christmasing in Brussels

Living in Brussels gets special glow in the time of Christmas. There are many Winter Wonders and of course the Christmas Market¬†where local delicious smell at long distance ūüôā

Usually the Winter wonders (fra. Plaisirs d’Hiver)¬†stretche over 2.5km through the Grand Place, the Bourse, Place Ste Catherine, the fish market and Henri Maus and Bouse-de-Brouck√®re streets.

At Grand Place there are christmas lights combined with the music. It runs every hour and makes you part of the fairytale. The main Christmas tree is there too,more then 20 m high! ūüôā A great shopping could be done around with buying some¬†beer, waffles, chocolates, pralines and of course the famous belgian¬†fries that will delight foodies.

Street decorations are the special part of luxury.

Christmas market starts around the Bourse with small houses and some¬†benches to sit down or bar tables to stand around. If you are cold – don’t worry, the heat from the wooden christmas houses and some heaters above are enough to keep you warm around heart and your body itself.

The best part is at the Place St Catherine! At the facade of the church is a ligt show as well but more a representation of the cartoon. This year the Japan was in the spot of the story. St Catherine’s Square was transformed into a winter wonderland with the festival featured an ice rink, gift stalls, a craft fair, Santa’s Grotto, funfair, and choirs and brass bands performing your favourite Christmas carols!

Royal Sint Hubert Gallery is the story for itself:

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And Atomium as well:

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Merry Christmas and happy new Year!

ūüôā

 

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Maribor, Slovenia

Maribor is the second most important centre and the second largest city of Slovenia. ¬†With its¬†115¬†000 inhabitants who live on the surrounded¬†¬†wine growing hills and Mariborsko Pohorje mountain. The city is located near the Slovenian border with Austria, beside the Drava¬†river and it is the capital of ҆tajerska (slov.¬†Styria).

I visited the city as my brother studies here. I was impressed with the student atmosphere and how the city itself is adjusted to students and their needs.

So my brother as being my guide started the tour with the city center.

The city was named after german Marburg an der Drau, which means the Fortress Mar at Drava river. The translation of the german term was given by Slovenian-Croatian poet and bearer of Ilyrianism (lyrical movement of gathering Southern Slavs) Stanko Vraz together with Croatian Ljudevit Gaj in 1836.

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Maribor was first mentioned as a market near the castle in 13 century, and received town privileges. It began to grow rapidly under the Habsburg dynasty.

Maribor withstood sieges by Matthias Corvinus (hungarian Рcroatian king) in 15 century and by the Ottoman Empire in 16 century. Thereby it was surrounded with citywalls and towers.

1Most of the todays cityscape of Maribor is constructed in 18 and 19 century in late baroque or  neo-classical epoche.

Just above the city, on the Pyramida hill one can enjoy ruins of 12 century Marchburch castle. From there one can get a beautiful view on the city and Pohorje hills.

By 19 century, the city was mostly inhabited by Austrian Germans (including German-speaking Jews) and only 6,151 ethnic Slovenes. The Jew society builded beautiful vila houses which are still part of Maribor’s cityscape.

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Maribor has as well the Cathedral from 12 century. The romanesque building, today in gothic style has a famous church tower from 14 century.

The city can brag with the oldest vine plant in the world. Next to the plant, there is a vine bar with traditional Slovenian food. The vine plant is about 450 years old; certified by Guinness book of records.

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Hamburg, Germany

Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany. It derives from 9th century and the times of the king Charlemagne. It rose in a marsh between the River Alster and the River Elbe as a defence against Slavic incursion, and got the name Hammaburg, burg meaning castle or fort.

Hamburg‚Äôs port¬†the so-called Hafencity, was first established in the 12th century and grew from there. It was integral to the trade of Europe and eventually as a hub for passenger ships. These days it is the second largest port in Europe and is considered to be ‚ÄėGermany‚Äôs gateway to the world’. Almost 10 million containers were handled in Hamburg last year.

A propos the Hanseatic League: Hamburg played a key role in the medieval trade alliance. By the 14th Century, the port was already the premier German transshipment center between the North and Baltic seas.

In 19 century, the classical merchant’s house combined storage, business and living areas and was built right on the banks of the canals of the river Alster or¬†the river Elbe itself. These combined storages and living houses were called Speicherstadt – historic warehouse complex.¬†Most of the merchants were of the Jewish origin.

The official name of Hamburg reflects its history as a member of the medieval Hanseatic League, as a free imperial city of the¬†Holy Roman Empire, a city-state, and one of the 16 states of Germany. This means that¬†the civic republic was ruled by a class of hereditary grand burghers or Hanseaten. This heritage is very well preserved in the city centre: The Old Town is Hamburg’s oldest district and real attraction for many tourists. Because of the bombings by the allied ones during World War II, the old town is not so old. Some historic buildings have been rebuilt, but you can also find many modern buildings in Altstadt. Rathaus (germ City Hall) is the neo-reneissance building. The lobby is a public area used for concerts and exhibitions and open for public. In front of the building¬†is traditionally the market-square.

In continuation of the city square, up to the north is the Mönckebergstrasse Рthe most famous shopping street in the city center. I liked particularly its historic houses since here until early 20 century lived the poor people lived in narrow streets lined with half-timbered houses. By recontruction of the area, the potentiual risk of cholera was reduced and the boulevard of the proude and economic power of the Hanseatic city was built.

St Petri Kirche (germ St Peter’s Church) from 1878 is the landmark of M√∂nckebergstrasse. It is 133m tall to the spire. It was built by Pope Leo the 10th. The current Gothic church was built on top of several ruined churches from the past.

Talking about churches, the most emotional and stunning part ofthe Hamburg to me was the St Nikolai Church Memorial. It¬†was formerly one of the five Lutheran main churches in the city. The church lies now in ruins, after the bombing from the WWII, with only its tower remaining, serving as a memorial and an important architectural landmark. In one side of the churches’ ruins is the statue of the crying boy reminding on the horrors of war. In the middle is the statue of an angel collecting the prays and bringing them up to the God.

Part of the Altstadt is the Deichstra√üe (germ¬†dike street). The oldest remaining street in Hamburg¬†and a popular visitor attraction in the city.¬†Deichstra√üe dates back to the 14th century; it now contains carefully restored 17th‚Äď19th-century houses, all that is left of the old harbour district.¬†The Great Fire of 1842 broke out in Deichstra√üe¬†destroyed many of the original buildings. Today, along with¬†Neustadt¬†(germ. new city)¬†contains some of the oldest buildings in the city, including the oldest warehouse, at Peterstra√üe 27, built in 1780.¬†

An urban promenade Jungfernstieg is the city’s foremost boulevard. In 14 century used to be a mill damn¬†in order to use the river¬†Alster’s water for a local corn mill.

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Alcal√° de Henares, Spain – Cervantes drill

When living in Madrid, one gets additional options to visit cities around like Alcal√° de Henares. The original meaning Citadel on the river Henares and its¬†historical centre is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The city stands out for its rich archaeology and was one of the first bishoprics founded in Spain. I liked it because it fizzles of history.

The citizens are very proud of Miguel Cervantes as the writer was born here. He is most famous by his his major work, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. I visited his born house and is mostly captured from the time of the writer with original 17th century furniture and supplies.

The center of the city remains essentially medieval with many historic buildings and the Cervantes Square (the famous Plaza de Cervantes) and it¬†continues with the most prominent pedestrian street, the Calle Mayor. The city includes the Moorish quarter, the Jewish quarter, and the Christian quarter. These distinct neighborhoods have given Alcal√° the reputation of “the city of three cultures.”

As the city is entirely medieval characterized, it gets festive medieval too and combining with the days of again who? Miguel de Cervantes! ūüôā

Personally I liked the University of Alcala de Henares which looked like an old castle.¬†¬†Founded in 1293,¬† The university is especially renowned in the Spanish-speaking world for its annual presentation of the highly prestigious guess what kind of prize? ¬†Cervantes Prize¬†ūüôā

The second most impressive building for me was¬†The Archbishop’s Palace of Alcal√° de Henares.¬†Protected by UNESCO, the building is from 13 century famous for many historical events: there resided different Castilian monarchs, were held synods and councils, and in here were born the youngest daughter of the Catholic Monarchs and future queen of England, Catherine of Aragon (the wife of Henry VIII), and the German Emperor Ferdinand, son of Joanna the Mad/¬†Juana de la Loca. In addition, it is famous for being the place where was performed the first meeting between the Catholic Monarchs and Christopher Columbus.

The city is surrounded with city walls. prior to 1454, there were seven gates and walls which the most famous one is Puerta de Madrid. 

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Inspired by Alhambra, Laredo Palace is a mixture of architectural, sculptural and decorative archetypes and elements, combined by different styles but dominated by the neo-Mudejar style. It was built in 19 century and served as a villa or house for living.

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Oh btw, and the city is famous by storks. Don’t know why but there are many and the number is just increasing. Nobody knows why they decided to choose the city as their habitat.

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Roubaix, France

Most famous by its church, a city in city in Northern France, a historically mono-industrial commune ad fabolous place to calm down and take a walk.

Saint Martin’s church¬†is originally from 9th century but reconstructed in 18th.

On the other side of the main square is nice City Hall from 18 century worth to take a photo and admire the architecture:

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3 months in Madrid

I lived in the capital of Spain for 3 months doing my internship in Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For that time, I had lots of free time to explore the city and enjoy the sun in late winter days.

I usually had my coffee on Plaza de Sol or Plaza Mayor.¬†They are¬†central squares¬†in the city with the ¬†bronze statue of King Philip III at the center of the square, created in 17 century. Plaza del Sol has also the statue of the bear eating strawberry trees. The legend says the city was named after¬†many bears that were to be found in the nearby forests to eat the mentioned¬†strawberry tree (esp¬†madro√Īo).

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Plaza del Sol, Statue of bear eating strawberry tree

I shopped in Gran Via, the biggest street in Madrid with the headquarters of Zara. ūüôā The street is known as the Spanish Broadway, and is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe. It is known as the street that never sleeps and a¬†showcase of early 20th-century architecture.

One of my favourite places was the park El Retiro. Living in Madrid is not copmplete if at least once you did not go there and do some activities. This green oasis is the biggest park in Europe and it includes botanical garden, exhibition halls, jogging paths, picnic meadows, statues of famous Spaniards etc.

Sundays I used to nag out in the museums because quite often they were free at that time of the week. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sof√≠a and¬†Prado National Museum can’t be missed. It’s an¬†art museum famous by¬†world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century. It numbers famous works by de Goya, Vel√°zquez, El Greco, Titian, Rubens and Bosch.

The Royal Palace is something not to be missed. It is representing nicely the history of war and colonialism during the Spanish Reign. The official residence of the Spanish Royal Family is decorated in baroque style.

Of course, being surrounded mostly by male cousins and brother, I could not come back home saying I haven’t visit Santiago Bernabeu¬†stadium – one of the world’s most famous and prestigious football venues.

My second favourite place in Madrid is Temple de Debot in the Parque del Oeste. An ancient Egyptian temple shipped to Madrid and constructed there to celebrate the goddess Isis around 200 BC. Later the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius completed its decorations.

Where I was not told to go, but I still visited because of pure interest is the Plaza de toros de Ronda. The arena aka famous bullring erected in of the district of Salamanca. The bullfighting season starts in March and ends in October so I did not participate the show, but I found the building interesting as it was builded in Maori style.

Madrid has a cable car, called the Teleférico, that runs from the Parque del Oeste, until the highest point in the Casa de Campo, where you have a great view over the city and the park itself. The cable car covers a distance of almost 2.5 kilometres, across the Rio Manazanares  and park Manzanares (former habitat of prostitutes).

Yap, what a great winter in Spain!

Especially when I remember the markets like Mercado de San Miguel¬†with all the goods offered there…

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The Knights of Malta ‚öĒÔłŹ

For long time haven’t I been impressed so much by a country like Malta: of it’s history, remarkable landscape or the food and vine.

My heart was broken when I needed to come back…

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I landed around midnight and took a taxi to my hotel, completely forgetting that Malta was part of British Empire and that drivers are on the right side. Also, the famous red telephone cabins are around the city of Valletta as a reminder of British presence.

The wind was in my hair and the heavy smell of the Mediterranean in my nose. I was hearing the sea a and people’s rumors from the bars. I couldn’t be more happy: from the cold cold Brussels to the summer in December in Malta!

First thing I did the next day, is the coffee on the terrace of my hotel in Sliema. It is the neighborhood famous by nightlife and its restaurants and long riviera next to which one can dine or just do jogging.  My coffee had a view on famous Valletta- the capital of Malta. So I advanced along the riviera.

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I started from the beginning. Malta was part of 7 empires so far: Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Ottomans, Normans, Knights of Malta, Napoleon and British Empire.

From the prehistoric sites, I visited ń¶ań°ar Qim Temple.¬†Literally translated from maltese, it means Standing/Worshipping Stones. It ¬†is a megalithic temple complex found older then the Stonehenge (3600-3200¬†BC).¬†It is the¬†religious sites¬†as well, as the light of the sun in the solstice falls directly on the main hall of the temple.Since 1992 is part of the UNESCO Heritage since it is “unique architectural masterpiece” as it is hard to answer how the ancient people ere able to move the stones. The art of the ancient people was also recognized.¬†Around 30 female statuettes of varying shapes were discovered known as Venus of Malta¬†and¬†The sleeping Lady. The statues are placed in Museum of Archeology of Malta which¬†I visited as well. ūüôā

 

The word Malta derives from the greeks name for honey: melita. Greeks and Romans were especially amazed by the islands of Malta and Gozo and its archipelago.

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Archaeological sites of pools where the salt was produced

Phoenicians arrived as traders but did not stay long. What they left is the culture of ancient salt making. Numerous sites show how this white gold was important trade good in its times.

After the Punic wars, the Phoenicians were conquered and the Roman Empire arrived. Malta seems to have prospered under the Romans. The Islands begin to be mentioned in written records as strategically important island.

The biggest legend of Malta comes from times of Romans: the Shipwreck.¬† It is the story about Apostle Paul bringing the Christianity to Malta and Europe.¬†Paul was being taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel, but the ship carrying him and some 274 others was caught in a violent storm.¬†The site of the wreck is traditionally known as St. Paul’s Island¬†and the cave where he took refuge, is now known as St. Paul’s Grotto.

 

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The St Paul’s Island
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The Blue Cave
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Me taking the photo at the site of the wreck

With the fall of Roman Empire,¬†Malta became involved in the Muslim‚ÄďByzantine Wars, and the conquest of Malta¬†¬†is followed by the Muslim invaders.¬†The Muslims introduced new irrigation, some fruits and cotton and the Arabic language that is part of the nowadays modern¬†Maltese language.

Following the Crusades,¬†¬†Malta was the so-called the nurse of the Meditarranean. So Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, gave the islands to the Knights Hospitaller. They built famous hospital and developed the medicine treatments. I.e. the food and medicaments were given to the patient on the silver plate so the disease doesn’t spread.

These knights, a military religious order now known as the Knights of Malta, were fighting against¬†Ottoman Empire. The biggest battle is the Great Siege of Malta¬†where the fortifications played crucial role in defending the island. Fort St Elmo¬†was after that improved when the Pope sent his best architecture to develop the fortifications for defense of Christianity of Malta.¬†Soon the¬†Maltese Cross was officially adopted by the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John. Today Fort St Elmo welcomes tourists to give them great view on Malta’s bays and villages and to enter the National War Museum/The Military History Museum.¬†

 

From that time is the Co’cathedral of St John¬†dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.¬† In the 17th century, its interior was redecorated in the Baroque style. so it is considered to be one of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in Europe and one of the world’s great cathedrals. The entire interior of church is covered with paintings like famous Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John or statues. The floor is covered with marble tablets which are actually the graves of the Knights. Note the Maltese cross on the arches too.

 

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Interior
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Marble tablets and graves of the Kinights
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Caravaggios’s painting of Beheading of St John

On my way to visit the famous fishing village Marsaxlokk with its famous colourful boats, I noticed many agricultural landscapes like vineyards and orange gardens. Eating an octopus and later some traditional cake and drinking local rose vine, I was still under lots of impression of Malta.

 

At the end of my stay, I just decided to wonder around the Valletta, buy souvenirs, eat local and enjoy the sun and sea. Yes Malta, I will come back!

 

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Streets of Valletta
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One of the harbors of Valletta
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View from the city walls.
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Enjoying the sea

And I did! In less than a year, I came back and partied a bit more, spent the time in museums a bit less, but I made it! ūüėÄ

I spent 4 and half days in St Jullien, in some hotel just at the Paceville – the famous district with bars and good restaurants (although we didn’t try any of the food in Panceville restaurant).

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Our hotel and hotel pool. I took a bath – in November.

Paceville is a street with clubs and go-go dancers, hookers on top of the street, policemen and cars parked on the bottom and on every corner you have written signs: 72 shots for 12 EUR (red bull and bacardi vodka).

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Pacevile street
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Shots in Pacevile
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My impression when the shots arrived – PS I was previously in the plane 3,5 hours

From the museums part, we visited again the Fort Saint Elmo¬†since from there the view on seaside is the most beautiful, as the knights needed to have a very strategic sight on enemie’s arrival before the famous battle in 1565 against Ottoman Empire.

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Inside the fort St Elmo
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Old sleeping baracks of knights in Fort St Elmo

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Inside the fort is a museum describing the history of Malta through its empires from neolitics towards Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Ottomans, Normans, Knights of Malta, Napoleon and British Empire until modern and independent Malta as of 1957.

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Passages of the fort

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I was impressed how Malta was important through the centuries. During the Criema war in 19th century and later in World War I and II it was a base for war prisioners and war hospital.

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War Museum

We visited the The Knights Hospitallers which is now a beautiful 18th century building used for the knigts ceremonies but long time ago below in the basements it was a hospital and shelter.

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Interesting thing to mention that in Malta were filmed some episodes of Game of Thrones. Recognize the item below?

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Walking through the city, we discovered so manz beautiful buildings and streets that we could nt stop admiring the city:

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Traces of British presence in buildings

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I have to mention the food and vine as we were dining around in restaurants and ate local dishes like rabbit stew and octopus.

If you will ever end up at some restaurant in center of Valletta in some small street where it is written on board rabbit stew Jamie Oliver – please bear in mind this restaurant is a rip off, food is bad, dishes are small, prices are doubled and Jamie Oliver never visited this place. In fact, Jamie Oliver doesn’t even like rabbit. (that information costed us 108 EUR). lol

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At the main square we had a bottle of vine. As Malta will be 2018 European Capital of Culture, we decided to go for official vine with sword on the label. But there is a story:

Grand Master Jean Parison de la Vallette recieved the sword with its guilded and diamond-studded hilt from King Philippe ll of Spain following the 1565 Great Siege victory. In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte took the sword after capturing the island. It remains in Paris, Louvre and on this label of this wine bottle, declared the wine of Malta’s European Capital of Culture 2018.

PS You can see the statue of Queen Victoria in the back, as Malta used to be part of British Empire.

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