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Prague vs. Brno, Czech Republic

The two cousins that like to compete. Prague is obviously the capital, and Brno a second biggest city in Czech Republic.

It is quite clear that Prague is beautiful, great historical city and a capital which means way more opportunities, foreigners, tourists, businesses.
On the other hand, Brno is a very compact city, with great atmosphere, swarms of students, many tech companies and start-ups, plus I really like the nature around the city.

When speaking to locals, I heard stories from the ones from Prague who won’t leave their car parked in Brno overnight, because the ‘A’ on their license plate indicating their from Prague means it could get damaged. Some of those same locals from Prague will also tell you that they love their city because of all the sites and history, and say that Brno has just one site worth seeing … the exit sign to Prague.

Here is what I got from a taste of the great Czech rivalry:

Prague

Situated on the Vltava river, Prague is a political, cultural, and economic centre of central and eastern Europe complete with a rich history. When you look the quarters and facades of this city, you can tell it was founded during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras. Prague was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the main residence of several Holy Roman Emperors, most notably of Charles IV  (14th century). It was an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city played major roles in the Bohemian and the Protestant Reformations, the Thirty Years’ War and in 20th-century history as the capital of Czechoslovakia between the World Wars and the post-war Communist era.

When flying over Czech Republic, I spotted the power station. Short googling and it is named Počerady – the main Czech electricity producer.

My first impressions of the city, revisiting after 16 years, was about clean spotless streets and renewed facades. I had a long weekend ahead with a sunshine in my purse. Discovering started.

Prague’s architecture is like an open history book. It’s historical city center is one of the largest ones on the UNESCO World Heritage List and you can bump into most of the architecture styles ever used in Europe’s history on your walk.

Even though I was revisiting many sights and refreshing my knowledge on culture, I discovered Art Nouveau in Prague. In my younger ages, I was not that much attracted by it, ofently not understanding the concept and the time. For example, I didnt know that Prague was home to one of the greatest Art Nouveau artists, Alfons Mucha, and that the Mucha Museum on Prague Old Town Square is a must-see for Art Nouveau lovers.

Living in Brussels for 8 years now, the city brimful of art nouveau and art deco buildings, let me enlighten the term a bit: Art Nouveau is the name given to a vast range of contemporary art roughly. Originated in Belgium and France late in the 19th century, a more free-flowing expression of art and architecture emerging after decades of neo-Gothic and neo-Classical influence. Art Nouveau designs covered everything from complete buildings to items of furniture to paintings and advertisements for bars of soap. Whole buildings were now considered to be works of art. Art Nouveau architects also experimented more with form, especially bringing curves into their design. So if you see a curved doorway or a window with a curve rather than a corner, it’s highly likely you’re looking at Art Nouveau architecture. Inspiration in art nouveau comes from nature, women and geometrical shapes (more like art deco in this case).

To add to this, the art nouveau style, was followed by the period characterised by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity, colonial expansion, and technological, scientific, and cultural innovations (think about the construction of Titanic!) called La Belle Époque. It started in 1890 and ended with the start of World War I. The Lost Generation was the social generational cohort that was in early adulthood during World War 1. This will later result with the Lost Generation. Lost in this context refers to the “disoriented, wandering, directionless” spirit of many of the war’s survivors in the early postwar period (Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrud Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Elliott). But that’s another story to reflect on this blog under Paris section post. 🙂

In the meantime, let’s jump back to Prague. To the Old Town Square, or in Czech: Staroměstské náměstí.

The square features buildings belonging to various architectural styles, including the Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn, which has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. Its characteristic towers are 80 m high. The Baroque St. Nicholas Church is another church located in the square.

Then there is Prague Orloj: a medieval astronomical clock mounted on the Old Town Hall. The clock was first installed in 15th century, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still in operation.

The square’s centre is home to a statue of religious reformer Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake in Konstanz for his beliefs. This led to the Hussite Wars. There is also a memorial to the “martyrs” beheaded on that spot during the Old Town Square execution by Habsburgs.

Moving through the Old town, having the smell of local cuisine, the tourists are led towards another attraction: Charles Bridge, or in Czech: Karlův most. It is a medieval stone arch bridge that crosses the Vltava (Moldau) river. Its construction started in 14th century thanks to Charles IV – King of Bohemia and to become Holy Roman Emperor. He was a member of the House of Luxembourg from his father’s side and the Czech House of Přemyslid from his mother’s side; he emphasized the latter due to his lifelong affinity for the Czech side of his inheritance, and also because his direct ancestors in the Přemyslid line included two saints (I will explain the later in this post).

The Charles Bridge, that  links Old Town to Malá Strana, is a piece of medieval engineering that has stood the test of time. Why? Because Charles IV was a strong believer in numerology. The first stone was placed on the 9th of July 1357 at 5.31. That is a palindrome that creates 97531 and backwards. It also creates the pyramid.

On the 9th of July 1357 The Charles Bridge has witnessed some gut-wrenching scenes in its time: it used to serve as a place of execution or of public chastisement for criminals who were dipped into the river in wicker baskets. The most famously was when Jan Nepomuk was thrown into the river in 14th century for allegedly refusing to divulge the queen of Bohemia’s confession secrets to suspicious king Charles IV. Guess we will never know who shagged the Queen. Or do we know? Shagging or not, Jan Nepomuk was canonised in 18th century by Vatican and became a saint patron of Czech Republic.

Crossing over famous river Vltava, I couldn’t not remember famous peace of art of classical music: The Moldau, Czech Vltava, symphonic poem by Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana that evokes the flow of the Vltava River. Listen and enjoy! 🙂 For more Czech pieces of art, check Antonín Dvořák, Symphony No. 9.

We finally arrive to Malá Strana. Boy where to start XD. District on the other side of the Vltava river that got me confused. As this Quartier was founded as a royal town (a town founded by the king) it got many privileges. You can find the stunning view on the Prague from there but as well on Petřín Tower – a steel-framework tower.

One of the recommended attractions is the The KGB Museum. If you think there will be informative museum collection on communist time espionage and some intelligence, you are wrong. So was I. Upon the entrance, there is a machine gun, a Russian ex-KGB member in retire with his personal weapon collection and stories on how to kill with a knife, gun and a wire. It is an experience, not a museum. You have to take it from there. I was initally afraid as the guy locked the door and sat me down on chair to watch the Russian military parade.  I was upset on his way of interpreting the gulags and Stalin but I got a good wtf moments to tell when he started to explain me how to paralyze a Nazi and make him mega bleed from the liver. And this is only one of the at least 20 examples of WTF moments.

Take this knife, Madam (showing me some knife from his personal collection).

– No thank you. I am not a fan.

Take it, take it. Do you know how to kill with this knife? (already squatting in the position to throw the knife at the doll)

– It never occurred to me.

You do it like this and like this and then in the liver. The victim is dead because of quick bleeding. Mega bleeding. Smell the Nazi blood. (sticking out his tongue).

Me: OMG where did I got myself into (praying to go out alive).

Anyway, you judge by yourself if you want to have this experience or you would profit more from a good lager on a sunny terrace of Prague. Me, I am still not sure…

One bizarre experience led into another one. Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague. Upon the arrival, there is a bar which serves funny alchemist cocktails. The guides are weird, but hey, after previous experience, I can’t be stopped.

Prague is a golden, mysterious city with one hundred spires, and for all that it thanks among other to the alchemists, who belong to it inseparably. Here I discovered philosopher’s stone produced by famous renaissance occultist and alchemist Edward Kelley and his friend John Dee, both financed by Charles IV to produce gold in a mysterious laboratory.

Ok, I think it is enough of weirdness. Let’s focus on food. Let’s not beat around the bush here, Prague doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to food. But real foodie will have a great time. Let me show you.

How about some beer? 🙂 Cheaper than the water. One of the best lagers you will ever have!

Among other famous things in Bohemia, there is a famous Bohemian glass or crystal. It has a centuries long history of being internationally recognised for its high quality, craftsmanship, beauty and often innovative designs.

Prague has a reach deep history. There is many stories to discover. The legendary origins of Prague attribute its foundation to the 8th-century Czech duchess and prophetess Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the Přemyslid dynasty (earlier mentioned dynasty of King Charles IV). Legend says that Libuše came out on a rocky cliff high above the Vltava and prophesied: “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.” She ordered a castle and a town called Praha to be built on the site. The region became the seat of the dukes, and later kings of Bohemia.

One of the seats was a large Gothic castle founded in 14th century by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor-elect and King of Bohemia. The castle is called Karlštejn.

One last story about Prague: The Jewish Quarter. Definitely recommended. I wandered the streets of ex- Jewish ghetto and imagined the history of Jewish settlements in Prague which dates back to the 10th century. Of course, it has been marked by sad episodes of persecution. Therefore, the Jewish quarter of the Czech capital, known as Josefov, is a tribute to a community that has had to face continuous exile and incomprehensible turmoil. In light of this, I visited the Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery from 15th century, Maisel, Spanish and OldNew Synagogue.

I whispered to F. Kafka. It was an exchange of fine talks among two welt-schmerzers. This German-speaking Bohemian novelist and short-story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature has had a complex relationship with Judaism, veering between secularism and Zionism at an uneasy time for Jews in Eastern Europe. He attended services at the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest surviving Jewish house of worship in Europe. It’s said to be the resting place of the mythical Golem, a creature that protected the city’s Jews from violence.

Franz Kafka and Me

My Jewish experience ended with kosher food at King Salomon restaurant. Just to mention, I had to wait 65 min for the food in order to align with kosher meat and milk diet.

Brno

Brno is a city in the South Moravian Region of the Czech Republic. Located at the confluence of the Svitava and Svratka rivers, on a hill that makes the streets looking cozy and trendy.

Brno is the former capital city of Moravia and the political and cultural hub of the South Moravian Region. The name derives from a Slavic verb brniti (to armour or to fortify).

In the old city center, at the main Liberty Square, you will find Brno’s Quirky Astronomical Clock in a shape of a penis. The controversial monument, made of black marble, took three years to build at the cost of 12 million Czech crowns.

Curiously, despite its name, it’s not an astronomical clock at all. It’s just a clock. It was built to commemorate a famous and unlikely victory the citizens of Brno had over invading Swedes in 1645 as part of the Thirty Years’ War. After three months of failed sieges, a Swedish general decided to give in if the city hadn’t fallen by noon that day. Faced with this ultimatum, the citizens of Brno put the town clock forward an hour at 11am, so that it read noon. Sure enough, the Swedes retreated.

There is no art nouveau here, but there is great Moravian wine. Wine in the Czech Republic is produced mainly in southern Moravia, although a few vineyards are located in Bohemia. However, Moravia accounts for around 96% of the country’s vineyards, which is why Czech wine is more often referred to as Moravian wine. Traces of the viticulture s go back to Roman times, of course. The Thirty Years’ War (17th century) destroyed a significant portion of the vineyards in the Czech Republic, and over the next hundred years they were gradually replanted. In 18th century, Austrian vintners asked Habsburg Kaiserin Maria Theresa to limit new vineyard plantings in Moravia to reduce the competition from Moravian wines.

Strolling down towards the Church of St Michael. The church was heavily damaged by the Swedish army in the 17th century. Its current Baroque form is the work of the local architect Jan Křtitel Erna. The Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre at the southern wall of the church in Dominikánská Street is modelled after the chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

There are several legends connected with the City of Brno; one of the best known is the Legend of the Brno Dragon. It is said that there was a terrible creature terrorizing the citizens of Brno. The people had never seen such a beast before, so they called it a dragon. They trembled in fear of the dragon until a brave man decided to kill the monster by tricking it into eating a carcass filled with lime. In reality the dragon was a crocodile, the preserved body of which is now displayed at the entrance of the Old Town Hall. Crocodile and dragon motifs are common in Brno. A crocodile (in Czech: krokodýl) is the local stuffed baguette, and the city radio station is known as Radio Krokodýl.

Ossuary is located underground, partially under the Church of St. James (Kostel svatého Jakuba Staršího). It is considered the second-largest ossuary in Europe. It is estimated that over 50,000 people were buried there in the 17th and the 18th centuries. The ossuary was forgotten for a long time. In 2001, a team of archaeologists discovered it while conducting excavations before the renovation of the Jakubské square. Since 2012, the Ossuary of St. James’ Church has been open to the public. I visited this obscure place with the dumpling in my throat.

To conclude this rivalry: Go and check it out. Both Prague and Brno are beautiful cities with great people. Ignore guide books. I would say, there is a massive (but mostly friendly) rivalry between Brno and Prague – Praguers tend to look down on the city seeing it as a sort of provincial outpost, with jokes portraying the Brno people as being yokels with chickens under their arms and the suchlike, laughing at the Moravian dialect, but the feeling is mutual as the Prague accent sounds hilarious to people from Brno.

Bye Czechia!

Castle 1

Koblenz, Deutschland

Visiting the Burg Eltz it was inevitable to stroll down the hills of  Rhineland-Palatinate and explore.

To be honest, the navigation was not up to date as bringing us to the closed local roads or reserved only for the local agricultural vehicles. But there is a beauty in getting lost like that! 🙂

Around the hills in Wierschem

Koblenz is a German city on the banks of the river Rhine and of the Moselle, a multi-nation tributary. Thanks to its geographic position, it is one of the most beautiful vineyards location. Let me tell you our entrance to the city with this:

Schloss von der Leyen

On our right is the river Moselle, on the left the vineyards scenery on the cliffs and we are driving right through the castle. The fairytale!

No wonder, Koblenz was established as a Roman military post around 8 B.C. Its name originates from the Latin(ad) cōnfluentēs, meaning confluence. The actual confluence is today known as the “German Corner“, a symbol of the unification of Germany that features an equestrian statue of Emperor William I.

Opposite to this Deutsches Ecke – where the river Rhein and Moselle confluence and continue towards Rotterdam is the Fortress Ehrenbreitstein as seen from Koblenz.

Fortress Ehrenbreitstein as seen from Koblenz

The old city has a triangular shape, with two sides being bounded by the Rhine and Mosel and the third by a line of fortifications. The city facades are neo-baroque and classical. With loads of shopping streets and commercial centers interfered. It the Altstadt one can find bars and restaurants to enjoy german culinary and recommended wines from the valleys of Rhine and Mosel.

I couldn’t skip The cultural centre Forum Mittelrhein and the Kulturbau Forum Confluentesstands as a singular, solitary volume on the square and is wrapped in a striking, partly translucent shiny façade that reflects the sky and the clouds. It houses the public library, the Mittelrhein Museum and the tourist information of Koblenz, with their ‘Zentrum der Rheinromantik’, inviting both tourists and residents to learn more about this beautiful region.

To conclude with the Rhine riesling and Mosel gewurztraminer.

Castle 2

Burg Eltz, Deutschland

Eltz Castle (German: Burg Eltz) is a medieval castle nestled in the hills above the Moselle between Koblenz and Trier, Germany. It is still owned by a branch of the same family (the Eltz family) that lived there in the 12th century, 33 generations ago.

Hidden in the western Germany, in the hills above river Mosel, deep deep in the Rhineland Palatinate region hence only local roads lead you towards. Because of this, it is pretty easy to get lost.

Rhineland -Palatinate is a southwest German state bordered by France, Belgium and Luxembourg. The lush Moselle Valley, with its riverside towns is one of Germany’s largest wine regions.

We parked the car some hour away of the castle and started our trip through the forest. There are many paths through the forest but the one towards the castle is guiding you by itself.

Upon the entrance, I was surprised with the view on the nearby forests and the endless greenery. It was in a total contrast of the strong fortification and its red wooden construction.

Time for food? Some good German bier and sausage?

Castle 2

Roche-en-Ardenne

Still pandemic times, less travels and huge desire to go somewhere new. In case I haven’t mention yet, thank you China. One big f***ing thank you.

Anyways, how about some snow? Belgian Ardennes are a good answer. Fresh and healthy winter air with lots of white cover.

Why this city? Except the fact that we are not allowed to leave this country of Belgium if it is not an essential travel, there has been a rumour that Roche-en-Ardenne is  is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Ardennes.

La Roche is believed to have first been settled in the Neolithic era followed by the Celts and the Romans who built a fort there following their conquest of Gaul and the Ardennes.

The town’s medieval castle was in use between the 9th and 18th centuries. It provided protection to the many barges that plied their trade along the local river systems.

In World War II, the town was occupied by both Nazi and Allied forces, suffering severe damage. Freed by Americans in September 1944, the town was recaptured by the Germans in December, during the Battle of the Bulge. I was particularly surprised with the Museum of the Ardennes Battle.

The museums tells the story of local people fighting for their city. Belgian King Leopold I was advised to move his most ekite artillery and infantry towards Antwerpen thinking Hitler would never break strong cold Ardenne mountains. It happens that Hitler arrived with tanks, entered into every village in Ardennes in no second and broke Belgium. The fall of France and The Netherlands was the direct consequence of it.

The city is walking area with lots of shops, bars and restaurants. Thank you China so much for allowing me to enjoy this! We were allowed to walk down the Quay of Ourthe.

Never visit The Ardennes without buying the delicious local products: cheese, sausage made of boar and local beers. Here is what we brought home 🙂

Castle 5

Nürnberg, Deutschland 🍻

Tourism is sometimes challenging. There is a struggle that popped this time to understand this city. I didn’t get it by first. Sometimes, it’s difficult to swallow. 

Understanding Nürnberg. Don’t mind the hair, I was previously partying for 7 days in my hometown Croatia

In the case of Nuremberg, we are talking about the actions and horrors done by Adolf Hitler whose legacy to Nuremberg is a tainted, poisoned one. It was his favourite city leading in rich Germanic and imperial history. It is used to be called the “most German of German cities.”

Maxbrücke (bridge) over river Pegnitz

Nuremberg became the venue for the Nazi Party and later the place of the Nuremberg Trials – it had to compensate somehow to skip the historical judgment. The city and it’s residents paid a hefty price for Nazi Germany’s obsession with the city. Nevertheless, the locals rebuilt the city, but much of the city’s original character and medieval charm got lost.

Way of Human Rights – outdoor sculpture designed by Israeli artist

So, Nurnberg is the second biggest city in Bavaria, just after Munich. The first documentary mention of the city, in 1050, referring the King Konrad III and Frederick I, Barbarossa Holy Roman Emperor (mostly famous for leading the Crusades).

We have visited the Imperial castle but unfortunately had no time to enter.

In the medieval times, the city was flourishing as being the free city for trade. Plague was coming many times but the city managed to sustain.

These are the times of the great painter Albrecht Dürer. He was born in this city and made his best works.

The cultural flowering of Nuremberg, in the 15th and 16th centuries, made it the centre of the German Renaissance. In 1525, Nuremberg accepted the Protestant Reformation which led into construction of the churches not so rich as it can be seen in other catholic cities.

Weißer Turm (White tower) and the Ehekarussell fountain (marriage carousel – representing marriage from beginning to end both good and bad moments)
Fachwerkhaus – the house with wooden construction

The large market square located at the heart of the city centre is surrounded by a multitude of must-see sights. The daily market takes place here, where you can buy all sorts of tasty treats, flowers and spices. 

Schöner Brunnen – fountain with the sculptures of all the Holy Roman Emperors

The main square is the most vivid during the winter times. The Christmas market originates from this city = the so called Christkindelmarktplatz.

Church of Our Lady at the main square

Finaly, what is Germany if there is no good beer and sausage?

Castle 2

The Ardennes ⛰️


The Ardennes is the name given to a region of Belgium in the south that extends into Luxembourg, France and Germany. This southern region is totally different from the busy, industrial north. The things available to do in this region are as varied as you might imagine and include some great museums, plenty of beer and even the world’s smallest city. Given the rolling hills and the lush green scenery, it will not surprise you that The Ardennes has become a popular spot for travellers who love the outdoors. 

We started our day at 9am travelling to Bouillon, chasing the Templars.

The landscape aside the highway was full of green grass, deep forests, cows and sheeps. My heart was warm.

Tombeau du Géant

There is a magnificent open view at Devil’s view, looking across to ‘Le Tombeau du Géant’ (The Giant’s Tomb), so named because one of the bends in the Semois at this point seems to enclose a coffin of gigantic proportions. It is not easy to reach it. We walked an hour through the forest athough the tracks are pretty good marked.

Saint-Hubert

Cozy little town actually hides many secrets. Hubert was actually a prince of Liege. Being passionately in love with hunting, perhaps too passionately, one day he saw a deer with the christian cross on his horns. The deer asked not to be killed and advised prince to live modesty. So prince became a monk and the patron of hunters. And later of this city.

Wéris

Well known for its megaliths from pre-historic times. Most probably Celts. It is a nice little village with stone houses and some timber houses.

Durbuy

The last the cutest. 🙂 In medieval times, Durbuy was an important centre of commerce and industry. In 1331, the town was elevated to the rank of city by John I, Count of Luxemburg, and King of Bohemia. In 1628 by permission of Felipe IV of Spain it becomes the duchy. One of the people connected to the city was the son of Lancelot II: Count of Durbuy.

The Ourthe river flows through the municipality.

abbey 11

Edinburgh, Scotland

3 days in Edinburgh! A weekend getaway 🙂 Except that we expected to see creepy, grey, sleepy, medieval town, but instead the sunshine was blessing us most of the weekend while we were running the gazes of the centre.

First stop was the bar, of course!

I mean, we arrived quite late to Edinburgh as our flight was delayed. Our hotel was in the old port called Leith so after quick check-in we ran into a first pub to eat but unfortunately too late. Some Scottish whiskey for dinner and typical Scottish pub scene: men discussing their business while holding beer, students mingling around while ordering a beer, Ladies smoking outside in their open outfits… Ever watched Transpotting? It was exactly like that.

Nobles pub

About Edinburgh: the capital of Scotland since at least from 15th century. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been invaded by the Romans so the city has splendid mazes and many main squares.

Of course, the traces of Celtic culture are visible as well.

Streets of Edinburgh
Royal Mile – the longest street in Edinburgh

In one of these first day wanderings, we went some shopping. The reason was the kilt. It’s a type of knee-length skirt worn by Scottish men. Every pattern belongs to different Scottish clan since the times of fighting against English. Ever watched The Braveheart? 🙂

Clans of Scotland and their kilts

Well, in case you didn’t, let me introduce you to William Wallace – a peasant who fought English Army and became knight. And King Robert Bruce. They are bought at the main entrance to the Castle.

Edinburgh castle

The Castle stands on volcanic rock which is more than 350 millions old and is centered in the heart of the city.

St. Margarets’ Chapel, is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh in which also, famous Mary Queen of Scots was praying (cousin of Elizabeth I). Then the famous canon that still fires every day at 13:00 is also worth to see. As well as the chambers of the prisoners and how they lived, engraved their names, secrets and compassion into the doors and walls. Many of the prisoners were from the Napoleonic wars of American War for Independence.

The view from the Castle

Time for a break again. Do you know what is haggis?

A typical scottish meal containing sheep’s pluck, minced with onion, oatmeal etc. We found a chips of haggis! 🙂

In 12th century, Edinburgh, trying to prove its essence of the capital city, Edinburgh aastarted to build the St Giles’ Cathedral, or the High Kirk of Edinburgh.

Mediaval Edinburgh was noisy, dark, with small streets, usually with poor sources of water. So living there had its own problems. Water had to be collected from water wells and carried up by many stairs. With no flush toilets, residents used to open their windows in the evening and (after shouting gardyloo) tip their foul nuisances into the streets below. Hazardous evenings, no?

Public well

Time for a beer! 🙂 and some Edinburgh Golden old ale!

More mediaval stories? Well how about the Greyfriars bobby? A nice pub, full of flowers from the outside but it actually sits on the Graveyard and is full of stories. Like the story of the dog called Bobby, who never wanted to leave his masters’ grave.

Bobby

The graveyard just behind helds the secrets of more than 60,000 people. The graveyard looks calm and nice, with students visiting the place, even J.K. Rowling when writing her Harry Potter… Until the rain comes and starts to drag down the mud and discover the bones of deaths…

Graveyard

As I said, next to it is the pub where the Harry Potter was born. The author like to sit in this pub and write the book. She was usually finding her inspiration in names at the monuments of those who were buried there.

That day, I met my lovely friend from Montenegro who lives in Edinburgh. So the medieval storytelling continued. 🙂

We strolled down the famous Cockburn street (you don’t pronounce the K – otherwise they will mock you!).

Cockburn street

Down the Cockburn street we strolled to the Grassmarket area. This place is surrounded by pubs with some really interesting names. We entered the pub called The Last Drop as the square used to be the execution place and the accused ones used to go this pub for their last drop of whisky.

Or perhaps Maggie Dicksons pub… as it used to be her own house. Maggie was famous for surviving the execution by sleeping with the executor the night before and convincing him not to strength the robe too high. After surviving this experience, she became famous across Scotland and bought the house at the Grassmarket square.

Up through to Victoria street for some more wandering…

Following the Treaty of Union in 1706, the Parliaments of England and Scotland passed Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707 respectively, uniting the two kingdoms in the Kingdom of Great Britain.

In 18th century, Edinburgh was described as one of Europe’s most densely populated, overcrowded and unsanitary towns. Visitors were struck by the fact that the various social classes shared the same urban space, even inhabiting the same tenement buildings. So the New Town was re-urbanized with parallel streets and squares. The most popular street is the Princess Street with all the shopping stores.

Princess Street – shopping street

There is a statue of Sir Walter Scott – a Scottish historical novelist and poet of 18th century Scotland. Ever heard of Ivanhoe?

Sir Walter Scott

And not to forget the Duke of Wellington. The guy who beat Napoleon at Waterloo in Belgium.

Duke of Wellington

In the second half of the century, the city was at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, when thinkers like David Hume and Adam Smith were familiar figures in its streets. Edinburgh became a major intellectual centre, earning it the nickname “Athens of the North” because of its many neo-classical buildings and reputation for learning.

PS I am really not a fan of calling some place after some other, like Venice of the North or New York of the East…

David Hume
Adam Smith

Time to stop for a second. Whiskey tasting? 🙂

Often simply called The Scotch, it is a Celtic spirit and the most popular drink here.

The Scottish Parliament is an old building from 13th century, except that in 1999 somehow Scotland decided to re-build and gave the trust to some Catalan architectures. Now, there is nothing wrong with this except that Barcelona is full of modern architecture that to my eye leads to dis-functionalities and nonsense. For example, the weird shapes of windows that are supposed to present people, or the leaves, or the birds or whatever kind of freedom because there is really no right answer, but in reality is just hard to open and close the widow and let the fresh air in. Not even talking about politics and federalism led by British Parliament in London and reasons of having (or rather not) this one here in Edinburgh… (sorry, political scientist here speaking!) 🙂

Sovereignty given by the Queen Elizabeth II

Eat haggis, sleep in Leith and climb the Arthur seat. It is an extinct volcano peak in the middle of the city, some 250 meters high where king Arthur used to come to think, before he would chair the table of the 12 knights. Remember Sir Lancelot?

The view from Arthur seat

Except the Arthur, some other notable peeps from Edinburgh like Sir James Maxwell and Alexander Graham Bell – the inventor of the telephone.

James Clerk Maxwell a Scottish mathematical physicist of electromagnetic radiation. And his dog to who him explained his equations. (?!!)

Now, there is something strange about Edinburgh – apart the fact that there are dog statues and commemorations across the city.

We noticed that almost every business from before has been turned into a pub business. Just like the birth house of the Alexander Bell above on the photo, or the pub which was the cinema before, or the barberry shop that became the pub or even the bank!

A bank turned into a pub and a statue of a loan giver. This person would used to go in pubs and offer the money to be loaned on some expensive rates, ofc.

Being now in modern ages again, we visited the Georgian houses. The typical architectural style from the times of George V. When he died, all the doors were supposed to be coloured in black but the Scots and Irish protested and coloured in pink, green, red, blue…

Georgian houses

The last day was used to visit Britannia – famous ship of The Queen Elizabeth II, but retired and given to tourists for visit. You can see the ship from the inside, check the rooms of the Queen or even the private sleeping room of Princess Diana and Prince Charles when they outset for they honeymoon.

Britannia ship
Books 19

Master of All Desires

by Judith Merkle Riley

In 1556 France, Queen Catherine de Medici spies on her husband, King Henri II, and his lover, Diane de Poitiers.

Driven nearly mad by jealousy, the queen, who is “very fond of do-it-yourself magic,” is frustrated with her court astrologer’s ineffective powers, until he reveals his knowledge of the magical object called the Master of All Desires.

This is a centuries-old box that contains the living head of Menander the Undying – a magus who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal life. Anyone in possession of the sharp-tongued, mean-spirited and unpleasant head may have their wishes granted, selling their own soul in the process.

With the queen in pursuit of Menander, the famous Nostradamus gets involved in the story.

Prophete Nostradamus

Not to mention that the country is on the doorstep of the civil war.

However, I found the book full of wicked thumbnail sketches of power players, riotous actions, delicious mystery and romance, luminous prose, and feisty heroines with a feminist sensibility.

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Andorra

Andorra is a tiny little country in Europe, between France and Spain, in the mountains of Pyrenees and has no airport.

How to fly there? Well, I got to Girona first and rent the car from there. Google says 3 and half hours for 220 km. How is that possible? Well, when we saw the landscape – mountains crossed with steep bends we realized that the max speed is going to be 50 km/h.




Believed to have been created by Charlemagne, Andorra is nowadays ruled by the diarchy headed by two Princes: the Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia, Spain, and the President of France.

Anyhow, driving through Pyrenees was amazing. Green hills, sunshine and blue sky and far away the white snow in the mountains…

We couldn’t help but stop to admire and take some fresh air. You know how they say: Fresh air makes hunger. So we had a diner in this beautiful old house – restaurant:

The Andorran people are a Romance ethnic group of originally Catalan descent. The spoken languages are French and Spanish (both castillan and catalan).

Anyhow, we arrived to our hotel which was not in the capital city but some small city called Erts. Something like 15 min away from the capital. Honestly, if we would have been driving 15 min more we would end up in France.

It was off the winter season, and seems like in Andorra they live for winter tourism so the Christmas decorations were still on. The price was cheap cause they don’t have VAT taxation and yeah, it is off the season. Andorra is not a member of the European Union, but the euro is its official currency.

So we had the most beautiful room with the view on waterfall and mountains. It was loud all night and relaxing… 🙂

Next day after the healthy breakfast in the mountains, we took a walk around the river and admired the nature.

Then, the journey planned was the capital city Andorra la Vella. Btw, I noticed the little bicycles placed on the street lights. Cute, isn’t it? 🙂

And the cable car 🙂 Unfortunately, we didn’t stop… Next time when I come back, I promise!

And then we arrived to the capital, after some minutes of drivings.

The principal industry is tourism, as already mentioned, although the country also earns foreign income from being a tax haven. Furniture and brandies are local products. Being at an elevation of 1,023 m, it is the highest capital city in Europe and a popular ski resort.

La Valira river

However, it was time to sit and make a planning of the afternoon.

We had a local beer. It tasted nicely, I have to admit.

The beer is called Boris according to an adventurer and nobleman Boris Skossyreff, who in 1934 self-proclaimed himself a Kinfg of Andorra with his promise of freedoms and modernization of the country and wealth through the establishment of a tax haven and foreign investments. He was arrested by the Co-Prince and Bishop.

After the small break we continued towards the city center. They call it old city but there is nothing old there, except three houses which were anyhow destroyed and rebuilt.

In the city centre was the Church of St Esteve, ocated on Plaça del Príncep Benlloch. It was built in the 11th-12th century and then restored in the 20th century.

Andorra nowadays continued with the same economic system that it had during the 12th–14th centuries with a large production of metallurgy and with the introduction of tobacco and import trade. The fair of Andorra la Vella was ratified by the co-princes in 14th century being the most important annual national festival commercially ever since. Indeed, the tobacco shops are present everywhere for the very cheap price.

Casa de la Vall is a historical house built in 16th century as a manor and tower defense by the Busquets family. Until recently it was the seat of the legislative and executive power of Andorra.

We entered the building and had a nice tour with a guide.

Folklor
Criminal Court

Andorra is a parliamentary co-principality with the President of France and the CatholicBishop of Urgell (Catalonia, Spain) as Co-Princes. When I asked the guide how many times do they meet, I was told that the Bishop is regularly coming to govern but the French Presidents come twice in the mandate. Well…

Also, just a hint, imagine if Catalonia gets the so much wanted independence?! You can let me know your answers and possible scenarios in the comments 🙂

Anyhow, Andorra la Vella is one big shopping centre, so let’s do things as the Andorrans (tourists) do.

And then it was time to eat. Nice local specialties but more like Spanish food, I would say.

pinchos 🙂

Driving back was even more complicated. I guess all these tourists were coming back from their shopping weekend.

It was nice to meet you Andorra – officially country number 46. 🙂

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Girona, Catalunya, Spain

Again some short weekend trip to some EU city. You gotta love it, right? Well, we did 🙂 We hopped on the plane Friday after work and landed to some cute hotel nearby airport in Girona. That night was reserved for spa and some nice tapas.

The next day was about to explore the city of Girona. Apparently entire season 6 of Game of Thrones was filmed here. Let me show you the data:

Entrance to medieval city of Girona at the confluence of the rivers Ter, Onyar, Galligants, and Güell

The first historical inhabitants in the region were Iberians.  Later, the Romans built a citadel there. Until it was conquered by the Moors in 8th century. Finally, Charlemagne reconquered it in late 8thcentury and made it one of the fourteen original counties of Catalonia. Yes, Girona is in Catalonia, right next to grande Barcelona. 🙂

As of then it has been given to spanish kings of Aragon.

Important to mention is that during this period of time the Jewish community of Girona flourish, having one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe. The presence of the Jewish community of Girona came to an end in 15th century, when the Catholic Monarchs outlawed Judaism throughout Spain and Jews were given the choice of conversion or exile.

As a result of many battles by different rulers, Girona has amazing and long defensive city walls untouched but abandoned.

In recent years, the city walls on the eastern side of the city have been reconstructed. Called the Passeig de la Muralla it now forms a tourist route around the old city.

Time for break 🙂

The typical beer here is Estrella. Lager.

As the many things on this photo above remind about the Catalonia resistance, I couldn’t help but notice that the protesting symbols and marks are everywhere around.

Especially the yellow ribbons are symbol of protest for Catalonian Independence and freedom of political prisoners.

The ancient cathedral, which stood on the site of the Roman Forum, was used by the Moors as a mosque, but nowadsy is a fine and excellent example of Catalan Gothic architecture. It is approached by eighty-six steps.

The Collegiate Church of Sant Feliu or Saint Felix 🙂 is noteworthy from an architectural point of view. Its style is 14th-century Gothic and it is one of the few Spanish churches which possesses a genuine spire. It contains, besides the sepulchre of its patron and the tomb of the valiant Álvarez, a chapel dedicated to St. Narcissus, who according to tradition was one of the early bishops of the see.

The last thing we visited was the Museum of Art. If you love romantic and gothic art, you will love this place as well.

Before you leave this city, amke sure you got this amazing view on the cityscape at the sunset 🙂

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Köln, Deutschland

Some time ago, still living in Brussels, – I realized I have a friend from hometown in Croatia that lives currently in Köln.

I used some app for shared drive and arrived in 2 hours. My friend was waiting for me at the main station. 🙂

It  is the largest city of Germany’s most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, making it the fourth most populous city in Germany after BerlinHamburg, and Munich. It is the largest city on the Rhine river…

The city is famous for the Cologne Cathedral or in deu. Kölner Dom. This roman catholic monument started to be built in 13th century and it is the biggest example of gothic architecture.

Cologne’s medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit its role as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite having been left incomplete during the medieval period, Cologne Cathedral eventually became unified as “a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value” and “a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe”

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Rouen, France – steps of Jeanne d’Arc 🗡

Rouen is a city on the River Seine in the north of France. It is the capital of the region of Normandy. Formerly one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe, Rouen was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy during the Middle Ages.

We made a short stop in this city to have lunch and spread our legs from the long ride as coming back to Brussels. Bad for me, I soon realized this city deserves much more attention. So I promised to come back – event though I do not re-visit. Life is to short! World is to wide!

The first stop was Le gros horloge (The Big Clock) recently restored, located in the middle of the Rue du Gros Horloge.

Le gros horloge

It is a 14th century astronomical clock.

The clock is installed in a Renaissance arch. The mechanism is one of the oldest in France. The Renaissance facade represents a golden sun with 24 rays on a starry blue background. The dial measures 2.5 metres in diameter. The phases of the moon are shown in the oculus of the upper part of the dial. It completes a full rotation in 29 days. The week days are shown in an opening at the base of the dial with allegorical subjects for each day of the week.

Already in love? Me too…

The little cobbled pedestrianised streets will accompany your weekends, holidays… These incomparable charming streets are decked on both sides with timber-framed houses dating from the Middle Ages were so cozy to my traveller heart…

Then the 16th century glory of the Palais de Justice… no it is not a cathedral, yet…

Now, this is the Cathedral… Ready?

It started on the site of the 4th century local church. Then, all the buildings perished during a Viking raid in the 9th century. The Viking leader, Rollo, founder of the Duchy of Normandy, was baptised here in 10th century and buried as well. The next generations of his sons were re-constructing the building to become greater and greater.

The gothic church became the Cathedral in 15th century . In the late 16th century the cathedral was badly damaged during the French Wars of Religion: the Calvinists damaged much of the furniture, tombs, stained-glass windows and statuary. 

The statue of Jeanne d’Arc
The relics from the baptizing ceremony of Viking king who brought the Christianity later to Baltics

Time for lunch. We went typical Norman: the neck of the beef… yuck! But apparently the favourite dish of the former French president Jacques Chirac.

The last rushy thing we did was the Place du Vieux Marché – famous again for the timer houses but also for being the burning site of Joan of Arc. Yes, I am a total fan of this discussible icon so the feeling was weird. Ebven more, when I realised that the marking place was some badly recognized statue and modern church… Not enough for this French saint who ran the battles against English to free the nothern France.

However, there is still a lot to see and space to update this post… Gustave Flaubert, Claude Monet…

Until next time, Rouen!

abbey 10

Normandie: Alencon, Domfront, St-Céneri-le-Gérei, Le Mans

Easter was a trip to northern part of France: Normandie or
historical Duchy of Normandy.

Driving through its landscapes was total mind relaxation 🙂

Domfront

On our way to Mont St Michel, we had an opportunity to stop in city of Domfront – established in the 6th century round the oratory of the hermit St. Front, and played an important part in the wars against the English and the French Wars of Religion.

The most impressive was the castle from 11th century. Firstly occupied by the forces of Geoffrey of Anjou, and then it was besieged by William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy.

Who ever possessed the castle, had an amazing view on the lilacs 🙂

Alencon

The city is located less than 200 km from Paris.

William Duke of Normandy, later known as William the Conqueror and king of England
Then the citizen William of Poitiers insulted William by hanging animal skins from the walls, in reference to his ancestry as the illegitimate son. As a revenge, William had a number of the citizens’ hands and feet cut off so Alençon remained occupied by the English during the Anglo-Norman wars until 13th century.

It was Great Saturday so we decided to visit the local market and buy some food for the Eastern breakfast.

Quail

The 16th century Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Alençon is more or less dominating the cityscape.

Alençon lace or point d’Alençon is a needle lace that originated in Alençon. It is sometimes called the “Queen of lace.” Lace making began in Alençon during the 16th century and the local industry was rapidly expanded during the reign of Louis XIV, producing the lace in the Venetian style in 17th century. So soon, Alencon became famous as the prominent historical personalities like Marie Antoinette were wearing dresses trimmed with Alençon lace.

The rest of the day we spent in the park. I have to say I was impressed with mini labyrinths and bridges and houses for birds 🙂

Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei

A short afternoon trip to this place just to get more into nature and have a drink while watching the sunset. It was incredible.

Every corner of this small, beautiful place is picturesque and calling for a beauty shot.

Some sacrla bees which attacked the church demolishers

Le Mans

In the old town, the Gothic-style Le Mans Cathedral of St Julian occupied my mind, as it features stained-glass windows and flying buttresses.


Henry II Plantagenet, king of England, was born and baptized here

As being located on the Sarthe River, it was reaching its glory in medieval times. Hence the streets and houses dating from that time are just astonishing:

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Mont Saint Michel

Dating a French is hard. Twinkling with my blue slavic eyes while asking him if we can go to Mont Saint Michel – easy peasy.

So our trip through Normandie started here… at some pre-area of Mont Sant Michel which is salty as the sea level goes on and off so the sheeps eat the salty grass, make salty milk and cheese and special pre-salty meat. They say it is a delicatesse!

Mont Saint Michel is an island and mainland commune in Normandy, France.
The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers.

As you can see, there is an approach via the bridge. The buses are constantly circuiting around. However, many people do take the courage to walk through the mud when the tide is low. It is highly recommended to do it in the group as yearly people die by getting stuck in the vivid mud and not being able to get out of it as the tide is getting high and sea is approaching…

The island looks totally medieval. There is less than 100 people living and most of them are owning the restaurant, which are, btw total tourist trap. Some omelette costs 65 euros. :O And that omelette or cafe au lait will not be that good…

Famous family restaurant

Anyhow, we were climbing up towards the abbey.

The Mont/ mountain remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War; a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 15th century. The later it was used as a prison – especially after the French Revolution and during the Ancien Regime.

The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 metres between highest and lowest water marks.

Popularly nicknamed “St. Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims  – it really offers a beautiful got-lost-in-time experience. Although, this moment might be ruined by the number of tourists surrounded.

The monks and nuns of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem are present in this abbey since 14th century.

Archangel Gabriel – the protector of the mount

The gothic church has the golden statue of Arch-angel Michel on its top as being the protector of the knights and shelter in the battles.

By going down, we admired a bit more the architecture…

Also, did you know that in Normandy there are no vineyards? So it is this particular part of France where actually you can not get any wine… awkward…

Awkward because me – being blond and thinking how France is all about the red wine, wanted to sit on a terrace and get my self a glass of local red wine. You could imagine the face of my boyfriend and his patience when he started to educate me about the maps of the french vineyards… and none of them is in Normandie… ooops 😛

However, the region is famous for apples so they will offer the great cider

abbey 11

Corsica – Île de Beauté

What a beautiful island! 🙂 Landed with AirCorsica some beautiful Thursday afternoon just shortly after French President Macron.

My hotel was a splendid accommodation with a view on the Mediterranean.

As my flight has been postponed couple of times, I decided – totally tired and exhausted – just to chill in my hotel and read the Corsica intro.

The next morning I was totally fresh and ready to start exploring as of early in the morning.

Ajaccio

Totally italian city, but french speaking, but with italian accent. 🙂

After being ruled by the Republic of Genoa since 13 century, Corsica was briefly an Italian-speaking independent republic from 18th century, until it was officially ceded by the Republic of Genoa to France.

Port of Ajaccio

The people of Corsica are very proud of their flag so you can literally find it anywhere:

The very first day I went n the market at Place Foch. To go completely local. Spot the flag there as well:

Statue of Napoleon at Place Foch

The Musée Fesch is the central museum of fine arts in Ajaccio on Corsica. Located within the gated Palais Fesch, it is in the town’s Borgu d’Ajaccio quarter. It was established by Napoleon I’s uncle, cardinal Joseph Fesch. I did not enter as this time I had an intention to skip the masterpieces of renaissance.

However, I continued walking and admiring the italian style of the city.


Ex Grand Hôtel Continental (now office of the Collectivité territoriale de Corse)

Even the Cathedral is very simple style, dating from 16th century, called officially the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Ajaccio.

My day continued with the visit to the birthplace of Napoleon. He was born and lived until the age of 9 in the Bonaparte House. He returned once shortly after his battle in Egypt.

Statue of Napoleon

And then continuing towards the citadelle with the city walls from 16th century.

The city is even more beautiful as the city has the beach just there in the city center called Plage Saint – Francois.
P

And yes, there is a Place Charles de Gaulle, as well.

Place Charles de Gaulle

And then it was the lunch time. Do you like sea food? Yap urchins!

Corte

Then I took the train towards the center of the island. Corsica is a mountainous island with its highest peak of 2,700 meters. Surprisingly, on my way through the mountains, there was some snow. And many animals like goats and sheeps…

Cortu is a historical capital in the middle of the island, deep in the mountains.

A small town in the heart of Corsica, Corte was the capital of the island (in 18th under Pasquale Paoli – a name you will hear often in Corsica as he was
a Corsican patriot, statesman and military leader who was at the forefront of resistance movements against the Genoese and later French rule in the island ).

As well as being an interesting town in itself Corte is in a great location for exploring the mountains, valleys and scenery of central Corsica and the surrounding Natural Park.

As I arrived in Corte – it is the dramatic citadel sitting on top of a rocky outcrop above the town and the Tavignano valley that first grabbed my attention.

Sertena

The third day I continued towards the south and passed through the beautiful city of Sertena – famous for wines!

This territory will allure you by the diversity of its landscapes: vineyards, forests, cliffs…

Bonifacio

This city was a total discovery for me and the main reason of what I will remember Corsica for!

It is the southest of the island and the setting of Guy de Maupassant‘s short story “Vendetta”

The citadel of Bonifacio

The city in evidence today was founded as a fortress by and subsequently named after Boniface II of Tuscany in 9th century. He had led a naval expedition to suppress the Saracens (Saracens’ head on the flags) of North Africa and returned to build an unassailable fortress and naval base from which the domains of Tuscany could be defended at the outermost frontier.

Short lunch and then taking the stairs towards the city fortress…

The city lays on the cliffs which were demolished by the sea so when you look at the citadelle, you can notice that it is practically hanging… Totally anti – gravitation…

dav

Bonifacio is located directly on the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Sardinia by the Strait of Bonifacio.

The island of Sardinia across the Bonifacio
Stairs of Aragon Kings
Entrance to Citadelle

There is also the largest church of the island, built in Norman style: Église Saint-Dominique de Bonifacio

Saint Dominique church

Îles Sanguinaires

The last day was reserved for Isles Sanguinaires (together forming the Archipelago of the Sanguinaires) which are about 15km from Ajaccio by boat but only just off the headland at Pointe de la Parata. 

The Parata headland is itself classified as one of the ‘grand sites of France’ and there is a Genoese lookout tower here.

Castle 19

Jordan 🐫 🐫 Amman, Petra, Wadi Rum, Al-Kerak castle, Dead sea and Bethany – Promised Land

It was my first time visiting the Middle East.

Short and cheap flight (thanks RyanAir!) with a nice sparkling wine on the flight and seat belt on while flying over the land of Israel – and we landed in the desert.

The Queen Alia International Airport is a bit far away from the capital of Jordan so we had the transport arranged to our hotel – Burj al Arab. Just to say that the owner Tamim was a brilliant host!


Landing into desert: Queen Alia International Airport

Amman

First impressions: dirty and chaotic! And everyone wanted to make photos with me as I am blonde – my boyfriend was particularly annoyed with situations. And there is no alcohol, of course.

Non-alcoholic beer

We had a quick lunch and started to explore!

Amman is the capital and most populous city of Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

First stop were the Roman ruins. It was named Philadelphia during its Greek and Roman periods…

Roman Theater in Amman
Citadel

Actually, we had a great sunset view on the city of Amman. We noticed that playing with the kite was very popular in Middle East as well, as there were many families kitting from every hill of Amman.

The view on the city of Amman from Citadel – sunset

The Citadel is considered an important site because it has had a long history of occupation by many great civilizations. Most of the buildings still visible at the site are from the Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods (kaliphat).[The major buildings at the site are the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine church, and the Ummayad Palace.

Byzantine church and Omayyad Palace

We strolled down to the city for a dinner. In the meantime, some first captures of the city – one of the Middle East and North Africa’s best cities for living. The city is among the most popular locations in the Arab world. Somehow.

Dinner time!

We went to Rainbow street famous for expats living and restaurants. Less chaotic, middleeast charming and decent. And we found the jordanian beer.

Jordanian beer 🙂

We went for good old falafels for the dinner. With many different types of hummus.

Falafels and hummus

Second day we started with the local market. Actually there is no such things as local market in Amman as the entire city is one big market place: souvenirs, jewelry, food etc. It is chaotic and definitely full of heavy smells.

When it comes to food, again (total foodie here) 🙂 I have to admit, it is hard to find a good place to dine. We got recommendations to go to Jaffra for excellent brunch.

I was really missing good old espresso or cappuccino as the turkish coffee served in Jordan is black coffee with mint as a spice. You get used to it, but old habits die hard. Hence, Jaffra caffee! 🙂

Amman is introducing itself as a business hub. Me – I would call one big Middle East local market. Or how in Jordan they call it: Souk Jara.

One of the oldest mosques in Jordan: Al – Huseini mosque

Then the Royal Palace:

Home of King Abdullah and his family

The visit to Jordan Museum was a delight. Some taxi driver stopped us to tell us kindly about the directions, without us even asking. Indeed, they really care about their tourists. But they charge it as well, nicely and pricely.

Jordan Museum

The museum was very educative introducing us the history and culture of Jordan as a country from early neolithic ages.


Ain Ghazal Statues dating back to 7250 BCE, they are considered to be among the oldest human statues ever found.

Or Mediaval Ages of Islamic World that were the rise of the civilisation. Not so Dark at all. 🙂


Mariam al-Asturlabiyy discovering the astrolab – the navigation tool

Food again! 🙂 Restaurants with view…

Lamb kebab

Petra

And then we took the road towards the south. It is called the King’s Highway. It goes through entire Jordan – passing the main cities. Not to mention – it goes through the dessert. Sand storm is nothing here 🙂 As our crazy driver as well.

Driving down the King’s Highway through the dessert and sand storm

Our destination was Petra.

It is the lost city. originally known to its inhabitants as Raqmu, a historical and archaeological city in southern Jordan.

Petra had the very first inhabitants already around 9,000 BCE, and it was the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom. The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs as Petra was part of trade routes. Actually, Petra was a major regional trading hub.

The Nabataeans were, unlike their enemies, accustomed to living in the barren deserts, and were able to repel attacks by utilizing the area’s mountainous terrain. They were particularly skillful in harvesting rainwater, agriculture and stone carving. Apparently, they were unique architects of water drain. Hence,

In the 1st century, Petra fell to the Romans, who annexed and renamed Nabataea to Arabia Petraea. Petra’s importance declined as sea trade routes emerged, and after a 363 CE earthquake destroyed many structures.

Anyway, the entrance fee is 70 EUR per person!!!

And no, you do not need a donkey or a horse or a camel to get there. It takes 20 min through the beautiful cliffs and Petra – the Rose City – will appear!

Siq the road towards Petra
Carved markings on the path Siq towards Petra

Tourists in front of Al Khazneh (The Treasury) at Petra

And then the disappointment happened.

Fine detailed carvings of the mausoleum of Nabatean King

You know Indiana Jones in Petra? Well, I always thought that you can enter in this temple and that city happens there. In reality, you turn on the right and you walk through some valley where the river used to flow, the ruins are hard to see, and the rest of the carved city is far away towards the mountains.

Local beduins offering tourists the donkey ride.

Also, UNESCO is quite clear when it comes to child and animal abuse and encouraging the tourists to report the violence. However, some things are inevitable, still.

Ruins of the Roman Amphitheater
Royal Tombs

Of course, the local Arab beduins are there to sell as well. Just like in good old times. 🙂

Petra continued to flourish under Roman rule. It was around this time that the Petra Roman Road was built.

The main river canal in Petra. Nabateans were masters in water works.

Actually, Nabateans constructed the lay water pipes that brought water into the city. The angle was always 8 degree to have the constant flow of the water.


Wadi Rum

That day was continued by going more towards the south. Our driver made a phone call and arranged the 4×4 car driven by the beduin to take us to the dessert to the National Park Wadi Rum.

Btw, there is garbage everywhere. Even when we went far away deep into the desert, there were still some plastic bags stuck on the trees.

Our 4×4 driver 🙂

Wadi room translated from Arabic means Valley of the Moon.

It has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, with many cultures–including the Nabataeans–leaving their mark in the form of rock paintings, graffiti, and temples.

We met the local beduins who allowed us to ride a camel. The name of my camel was Baha. She was young and pleasant animal, looking at me with big eyes.

The cliff behind us is called The Bridge. Some stories and legends are connected to this sandstone mountain. Most of them romantic ones as the sunset is amazing from this spot.

The beduins were nice hosts. They invited us to their camp and offered the tea next to the open fire. They were telling us stories about famous Lawrence of Arabia – British officer who passed through several times during the Arab Revolt in WW1 against Ottoman Empire.

Usually tourists stay the night and watch the stars as the sky is clear and eat lamb. But our mission was to continue further.

Madaba

Again the driver who took us to this day trip. Even more crazy than the fisrt one, but we survived.

First stop was Madaba – the Church of Saint George were the floor is decorated with beautiful mosaics from 4 century CE maping the important places of Holy Land.

Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George

A 6th-century mosaic map of Jerusalem

I was also a bit shocked by this painting as well, but then again: it explains how tricks are working:

Mount Nebo

Next stop was the souvenir shop . Ran by the friends of our crazy driver. Of course, with the prices triple time expensive. Thank you, next.

After 40 years of running through the dessert after the exodus of Israelis from Egyptian slavery, Mosis saw the Promised Land, shown by the God. And received Ten Testaments.

I really have to say it is an amazing place all 360 degrees where you see the rain of Jerusalem, the sunshine above Jericho, the dessert, the rivers, the nature, the animals… Indeed, amazing!

Promised Land

This place has a huge religious significance for both Jews and Christians,
as, according to Christian tradition, Moses was buried on the mountain, although his place of burial is not specified.

According to Maccabees, in the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant with Testaments in a cave there.

The church from 6th century has been erased there.
It houses some of the best (and best presented) mosaics in Jordan.

Memorial Church of Moses

The masterpiece is a hunting and herding scene interspersed with an assortment of African fauna.

Going down the mountain…

Bethany

Or Bethabara – ”house of the ford, place of crossing” is the name used by some versions of the New Testament for the site “beyond the Jordan” where John the Baptist preached and performed baptisms and where he baptised Jesus. The Christianity was born!

The place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus

The baptism occured on the river of Jordan which is today out f the course. However, Jordanians say it has been done there. I wonder what is told just 2 km away, across the nowadays river of Jordan on the Israel side?

Baptism site of nowadays river of Jordan – across is the Israel
Baptism from the Israeli side

The river is dirty, muddy, polluted. I touched it with my fingers, made a symbol of a cross and continued my way. Unlike some maniacs 🙂

Dead sea

Salt lake – the saltest actually, so salty that makes your body flows over the water. I wonder if the Jesus used the trick?

However, many deads occur through the year as the waves turn the swimmer on the belly and salty water hits the eyes so it becomes painful. The swimmers usually panic and loose their lifes.

The Dead Sea is bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River. Oh yeah, it is also the lowest point in Earth.

Our crazy driver was again acting as a idiot, dictating us the time and schedule: ”Half an hour for bathing, half an hour for lunch, let’s go, let’s go!” (with arabian accent). Of course, he arranged with a friend the entrance, the access to the hotel changing rooms etc. For the additional price.

The bottom of the sea made of salt concrete

The mud is extremely healing as it contains some healthy ingredients. The Arabs are selling the mud just next to it. Pay 3 Jordanian dinars.

Our crazy hotel driver was ready. Appearing out of nowhere, advising us to have a quick lunch. On our way, some more wadis.

Al – Kerak castle

It is a large Crusader castle located in the Levant. Built in 12th century. Later it has been conquered by Saladin – the leader of Muslim against crusades.

The rain was falling heavily, Middle East, I guess! So some local guy started to give us a tour explaining poor examples in very poor english the castle chambers. He asked the money at the end of the show. Of course! When we offered him 1 Jordanian dinar, he said it is too low for him. I wonder how much they gain in this poor country if a tip of 1 JD was too low? I remember myself working as a waitress during my student days in the coast of Croatia – every tip was a good tip. And no, it is not a USA tipping system.

Saladin statue – it should be King of Jerusalem, but their country – their rules… I guess…

Anyhow, we were wet and decided to take a tea. The crazy driver was already there telling us to hurry. ??

Through the car window I spotted the mosque. The conversation with the driver:

  • Yes, the Karaki mosque.
  • Really? I thought it was Amman mosque?
  • hehe noooo, Amman mosque in Amman. Karaki mosque in Karak.
  • Really??? And Jordan river in Jordan only?
  • hehe noooooo

You could tell I was already irritated by him by that time. Not to mention the window he had constantly open as I just came out of Dead sea and hat a bath under the beautiful desert rain of Middle East. Take the sun cream, they said! It is Middle East!

Anyhow, on our way back to Amman, the rainbow appeared above some castle. Just like in the biblical story of Noah’s Arch. 🙂

Good bye beautiful Jordan!