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Castle 1

Switzerland ⛷️ 🏔️

What’s the first image that springs to mind when you think of Switzerland? If it’s cheese, chocolate, banking, or mountains, then you have the same impression of the country as most people. To the reality of these stereotypes, I am adding some more.

Stereotype number 1: You know how they say that Switzerland is super expensive? Add to this a little bit more. Let me show you what the very first 30 seconds of mine entering Switzerland looked like.

To enter Switzerland by car, you need a vignette. The rackets already begin. One year for 40 swiss franks (CHF). I am definitely coming again to use my end-of-year voucher.

A bit of history to be able to understand the context and certain stereotypes.

Celtic La Tène culture flourished during the Iron Age. Until the Roman conquest. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. Steadily harassed by the Germanic tribes, in 58 BC, the Helvetii decided to abandon the Swiss plateau and migrate to western Gallia, but Julius Caesar‘s armies pursued and defeated them, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. From there, it didn’t take long (three centuries) for the Germanic tribes to attack back.

In the Early Middle Ages, western part of Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians, the other part belonged to the kingdoms of Alemannia. The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the 6th century, following Clovis I’s victory. The rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties) until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.

By 1200, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg, and Kyburg. With massive killing among themselves in between the mountain summits, deep in the valleys. To end this apocalypse, the Federal Charter of 1291 agreed. This is the embrio of the modern Switzerland and the Constitution day of the citizens of Switzerland. This is the founding document of the Swiss 26 cantons of the present day.

In 1648, under the Peace of Westphalia, European countries recognised Switzerland’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. An invading foreign army had imposed and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. 

In 1798, the revolutionary French government invaded Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution. Shortly after that: tadaaaa! Napoleon times. Which means: time to conquer. The Act of Mediation was the result, which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a confederation of cantons. Henceforth, much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons’ tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government. This is the source of the much popular swiss referendums.

During World War I, Switzerland was home to the revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union Vladimir Illych Ulyanov Lenin. I guess the hide and seek works best when in Switzerland. This brings another stereotype of Swiss neutrality. Today, Switzerland is home to Red Cross, United Nations, EFTA, Olympic Committee etc.

During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by Hitler ,but Switzerland was never attacked. Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, concessions to Nazi Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Switzerland destroyed most of its tunnels and bridges, making it impossible to conquer. In the same, Switzerland nurtured its banking system, making it a safe haven during the world war times. Stereotype number 4.

Bern

First stop, the capital city of Bern. It belongs to Alemannic Swiss part of Switzerland. There are intriguing historical sites, brilliant parks and greenery, thought-provoking museums, and numerous festivals throughout the year. The Aare River flows through the city. It was a warm and sunny day and the walk through was just feeling great.

The first stop was the Nydeggbrücke (bridge) that connects the old city with the new area.

While it isn’t exactly clear how Bern got its name, there’s a local legend that the founder named the city after the first animal that he found on the hunt, which was a bear. There are references to bears all over Bern, and it’s the official animal on the seal and coat of arms dating back to the 1200s.

Equally enchanting are the 11 decorative fountains (1545) depicting historical and folkloric characters. Most are along Marktgasse as it becomes Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse, but the most famous – the Kindlifresserbrunnen, a giant snacking on children – lies in Kornhausplatz. The name, appearance and actions of this fountain figure are certainly terrifying. It appears the ogre ate lot of children and not many had a chance to escape. It’s a vivid illustration of the importance of the education, obedience and the fear of God.

Bern’s most famous Old Town sight, this ornate clock tower the Zytglogge, once formed part of the city’s western gate (12th century). Crowds congregate to watch its revolving figures twirl at four minutes before the hour, after which the chimes begin. Over the years, the Zytglogge has served Bern as a clock tower, guard tower, prison, and civic memorial. There is a functioning astronomical clock from the 15th century in the tower that is one of the major tourist attractions of Bern. The clock tower supposedly helped Albert Einstein hone his special theory of relativity, developed while working as a patent clerk in Bern.

The Old Town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its “exceptionally coherent planning concept.” There are six kilometres of arcades that the locals refer to as “Lauben” dating back to the 15th century. You’ll find all sorts of cafes, boutiques, restaurants, and bars hiding beneath the arcades, shops bellow these arcades as in the basements, making it the perfect place to spend a rainy day, always with a roof overhead.

Talking about shopping, there are many typical swiss products to buy: swiss cheese, swiss knifes, clocks, souvenirs… Most of the time they will be presented by the murmel, packing your chocolate to go. 😛

As mentioned before, Bern is the city where Einstein lived and lectured at the university. His house is placed in the humble apartment that Einstein shared with his young family while working at the Bern patent office. It is also the place of the development of Einstein’s general equation E=mc² and the sometimes poignant trajectory of his family life.

Behind is the great park called Münsterplattform with great view on the river Aarne. As the sun was still following my steps, it was a perfect moment to stop and try Einsteinkaffee from the sunny pavilion cafe.

Bern’s 15th-century Gothic cathedral boasts Switzerland’s loftiest spire (100m); not to miss the main portal’s Last Judgement, which portrays Bern’s mayor going to heaven, while his Zürich counterpart is shown into hell. 😛 Great idea for my own thumbstone. I shall order a relief with certain people plunging down to hell too. 😛

The medieval air of this city with its many fountains, sandstone facades, narrow streets and historic towers is quite unique. I was enjoying particularly watching and discovering the little figures on the facades. Each of them made me scratch my head.

The townhall, or german Rathaus is the 14th century building built in the late Gothic style, renovated some hundred years ago, but still medieval.

Käfigturm is yet another but less famous tower of Bern. It is erased in 17th century, with a clock and bell of baroque ornaments. It stands opposite of the Zyltlogge, just down the shopping street.

To the very end of the Bern adventure: BärenPark. With any luck you’ll spot Finn and Björk. I haven’t as they were sleeping their winter sleep (hibernation). However, Ursina was recently shipped to Russia as a gift to Putin.


Lauterbrunnen

Road continued. Stereotype number 5: yes they do have many tunnels. Long, short, open, narrow, whatever. Tunnels, tunnels. My claustrophobic soul was raged.

And a bit more of photos of getting there. The landscape is just breathtaking and I couldn’t stop admiring.

In the very same canton of Bern, there is this beautiful valley of 72 waterfalls that inspired Tolkien to write about. Located at the foot of the Bernese Alps, it is notably overlooked by the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and many other high peaks. Lauterbrunnen literally means loud springs, wells.

As the day was coming to an end, the sightseeing was postponed for the next day. Fondue was announced!

It was hard to avoid the next table conversation of two lost Americans who mistakenly booked their hotel in Liechtenstein. The ignorance coming from that table was inevitable. People started to be annoyed.

  • Oh, this is not the place? – No, madam. This is Lauterbrunnen.
  • Oh, is this how you pronounce it? – No, madam, this how I talk to my unicorn.
  • Oh, so where did I book it? – In Liechtenstein. That’s another country.
  • What? I don’t even know this country exists.

Sigh.

A minute of silence for our US citizens and their geography knowledge.

The next day, the exploration of the area started. I noticed the temperature inversion: warm in the morning, super cold as of early afternoon. I had my coffee with the most sweetest taste of the Alpine milk.

From Lauterbrunnen, there are many ways how to get high in the mountains to the villages. Most of these villages are car-free as it is impossible to get there any other way then with a cable car, gondola or a train. Or a helicopter.

So we hopped on one, and got to Wengen. The landscape around us was amazing. White snow, white mountains, cliffs and waterfalls, forest and chalets… it was a fairytale.

Primarily an alpine farming community, the village began to be visited by tourists in the early 19th century. Guesthouses and hotels began to be built. The first ski races were held in the early 1920s, and the rest is history. As a girl, I watched this place on TV, following the world ski cup and famous croatian ski laufers. Finally seeing this place was dream come true. Or more an added item to the list.

We walked above the village, admired the view from above. The snow was falling, it was becoming colder, but the fresh air was so good. Finally we found a forsthaus, or a chalet (which ever runs your linguist flow) and had a sandwich. It was total Heidi und Peter moment. It is a story of a swiss boy and girl, living high in the Alps and taking care of goats.

Time to come down to village. We had a plan to visit the most significant piece of infrastructure there: the Jungfrau railway which was built in 1912. The Jungfrau rack railway runs 9 km (5.6 mi) from Kleine Scheidegg to the highest railway station in Europe at Jungfraujoch. The final train stop is in the mountain itself and the view from there is long long distanced. The ticket costs a fortune, but yolo, right?

No. The conditions were bad and we were advised not to go up as we would be disappointed. So we decided to hit the bar and try some swiss beer.

So we went to another alpine ski village: Mürren. No road to get there. This time it was a cable car, the one that can lift 120 people up. I still amazed how logistics works in Switzerland. Everything is so smooth, silent, well connected.

After a cable car, to get there, we took the train from Grütschalp.

This was a principal filming location for the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1969.

Coming back down to Lauterbrunnen, super tired from all these activities, carbs were the best option to go that night. Somebody was constantly repeating me the sentences: Mountin don’t lie. You have to eat carbs here.

And I did. Never ever have I managed to eat entire pizza with the crust around. That evening was something special.


Evolène 

Now a different canton, a bit closer to the south: Valais. Famous for wine production and in general as the agricultural area. Who wouldn’t enjoy the ride. Driving up the mountain, driving down the mountain, to the valley, next to lakes that are reflecting and sparkling.

Having such an opportunity, we couldn’t resist not to stop in some village on the banks of the lake Thunersee. The name of the restaurant was Möve. The lady that was working there was quiet confused and odd. But I have put this to the stereotype number 6: bad social skills of Swiss people. Indeed, everywhere we go, the social interaction with Swiss people, especially in service activities, was always a bit odd and almost extinct.

Moving legs, moving the horses. Or the trains. Because the Swiss people are so crazy about trains. You want to get somewhere? There is a train. – You want to take your car? You will have to take the train. On my surprise, we ended up in a train that pulls cars through the Lötschberg Tunnel – a 14.612 km and later Furka – 15.662 km. Both of the rides are almost 20 min long, in the dark. I was holding my claustrophobic beast on a chain.

Switzerland is a country of wines. Little did I know. Most of the wine is coming from Valais, the valley which was on our way to Evolene.

And finally Evolène – one of the oldest villages in Switzerland, dating back to 10th century. The commune of Evolène is situated in the Val d’Hérens. Due to its mountain terrain Evolène is subjected to a number of natural dangers such as avalanches. The last one happened in 1999, killing some 12 people.

The village belongs to francophone part of the country.

This is the place where I ate the best raclette in my life. The owner was odd, as usual in the past couple of days, but she served us well and profusely. Just look at the cheese she has put on fire to be melted. 🙂 To that, there was a homemade ravioli with sauge, steak and polenta.

Travelling back. The landscape had me again.

Switzerland straddles the border between the beer-loving central European countries and the wine-loving western European and Mediterranean countries. Today beer is second to wine in terms of consumption among Swiss. The country has a long tradition of brewing, with significant domestic beer production and a growing craft brewing sector. Ales are the most popular style. At least from our observations. 😛


Interlaken

Nothing to do here. The city is literally one big residence place and getaway to the Alps. It is an aglomeration of small villages. Habsburgs used for their manipulative battles.

The city is placed strategically between two lakes: Thunersee and Brienzersee with the river Aare in between.

It was a good stop to try swiss chocolate. 🙂


Luzern

On our way, the landscape again. 🙂 How not be happy here and have a good quality life. Happy with the natural environment, transport infrastructure and political stability.


Luzern

Now, this one happened unplanned. But as always, all things that are not planned and are spontaneous are the best. So was Luzern – a city in the German-speaking portion of the country.

Owing to its location on the shores of Lake Lucerne (German: Vierwaldstättersee) and its outflow, the river Reuss, within sight of the mounts in the Swiss Alps, Luzern has long been a destination for tourists.

One of the city’s landmarks is the Chapel Bridge (German: Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century. It is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the river Reuss diagonally. The bridge is unique in containing a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed along with a larger part of the centuries-old bridge in a 1993 fire. Subsequently restored, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. Actually, there is one more: the Spreuer Bridge (Spreuerbrücke or Mühlenbrücke, Mill Bridge). The bridge has a small chapel in the middle.

Old Town Lucerne is mainly located just north of the Reuss, and still has several fine half-timber structures with painted fronts. Remnants of the old town walls exist on the hill above Lucerne, complete with eight tall watch towers. 

Jesuit church is sizable 17th-century church with baroque architecture, murals on its ceiling & a large organ. It stands on the bank of the river attractively, making the water reflection.

Alongside the excellent shopping in the Old Town, there is Town Hall on Kornmarkt. This renaissance building really took my breath away.

One last item to add here is the Mühlenplatz. The Mühlenplatz power plant is a run-of-river power plant near the Spreuer Bridge on the Reuss in the center of the city. It actually stands on the place where water-powered Lucerne Reuss mills were located within the city fortifications and were first mentioned, from 12th century.

Lucerne is one of the Swiss cities that lie on a lake outlet. In the Middle Ages, they were already able to use hydroelectric power thanks to the relatively small water level differences.


Basel

My trip to Switzerland here finished. Basel was yet another European city. Not in the Alps, with the Rhine river in the middle, and gypsies and beggers in the street. It was such a shock and a wake up after living in a fairytale all these days.

However, city has much to offer. Like, if you are missing the red colour in your life, this city should be definitely on your list as it could fulfill your colour shortage. I mean, most of the facades are dominating red colour.

Beside that, it is especially rich with history and famous for its many museums.

The entrance to the Old town is this Middle bridge. Also, what’s with the flags, Switzerland?? Wherever we went past days, the flags were surrounding us like it’s a festivity.

Middle Bridge

The University of Basel, Switzerland’s oldest university (founded in 1460), and the city’s centuries-long commitment to humanism, have made Basel a safe haven at times of political unrest in other parts of Europe for such notable people as Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Holbein family, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and in the 20th century also Hermann Hesse and Karl Jaspers.

The red sandstone Münster, one of the foremost late-Romanesque/early Gothic buildings in the Upper Rhine, was badly damaged in the great earthquake of 1356, rebuilt in the 14th and 15th century, extensively reconstructed in the mid-19th century and further restored in the late 20th century. A memorial to Erasmus lies inside the Münster.

On the way out, we actually ended up in the circuit of the cathedral with some gardens of the abbots. It was totally mystique and almost impossible to find the way out.

To finish this joddling trip: Walliser Kanne!

I thought that all the previous restaurants were odd, but this one was terrifying. I thought the waitress will kick us out. We were tasked to collect the dishes after the meal finished, we were eye-kept every single second of the presence. With her strong high voice, she appeared related to Eva Braun, I swear. You can see her on the 4th photo, marching in from the kitchen, after she has hit her colleague with the menu.

And that was it.

I am coming back. I have mf vinette for the entire year.

Castle 2

Regensburg and Walhalla – Ausweis bitte!

Regensburg

Best visiting is the golden hour visiting – every corner seems enlightened, every rooftop has its moment, every facade shows its magic pulled out from the history of being.

And indeed, when strolling through Regensburg, you encounter evidence of the city’s magnificent history every step of the way.

Regensburg is a city in eastern Bavaria, at the confluence of the Danube river. Itis the fourth-largest city in the State of Bavaria after MunichNuremberg and Augsburg. 

The first settlements in the Regensburg area date from the Stone Age and afterwards the oldest Celtic tribes settled around. In 2nd century, a major new Roman fort, called Castra Regina (“fortress by the river Regen”), was built by Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It was an important camp at the most northerly point of the Danube; it corresponds to what is today the core of Regensburg’s Old City or Altstadt . The Porta praetoria is considered one of the grandest surviving Roman constructions in Germany.

Porta praetoria

After fall of Roman Empire and Byzant, Regensburg remained an important city during the reign of Charlemagne. In 13th century, it became a Free Imperial City and was a trade centre before the shifting of trade routes in the late Middle Ages. In 15th century, Regensburg became part of the Duchy of Bavaria, but its independence was restored by the Holy Roman Emperor some 10 years later.

This is the time when the construction of the St Peter’s Cathedral started. This gothic cathedral started its construction in 13th century and it took almost 600 years.

In the following ages the city adopted the Protestant Reformation in 16th century and its Town Council remained entirely Lutheran. By this time, the battles of patrician families took the summit, craft guildes, and Hussite wars started Regensburg’s descent. Shortly after that, the city started its own suicide, expelling out Jewish communities out of envy and jealousy of the commerce.

The best example of the Jewish existence is the Jewish quarter where Goliath House is presenting the mural depitction from the Old Testament: the battle of David and Goliath. The mural is from 16th century.

But the most important medieval monument and the monument itself to this city is The Stone Bridge (‘Steinerne Brücke’) – one of the most important symbols of Regensburg. It dates back to 1135 AD and is considered to be the oldest still existing bridge in Germany and a marvel of medieval architecture.

The Bavarian Duke Henry X the Proud started constructing this stone bridge to replace an inadequate ship bridge across the Danube. The bridge is built in Romanesque style with archs and icebreakers below that were creating legendary Danube swirls.

As a tourist, you should definitely walk all the way across to the Stadtamhof quarter on the other side. From here, you can take a lovely picture of the old town and the mills on the river.

The other side of the bridge was for the long time the city of itself – Stadtamhof, as mentioned – which is an island itself, surrounded by another small river that goes into Danube. A place of deep poverty before WWII ended.

For almost hundred of years, there was no other bridge to pass the Danube from Ulm to Vienna.

Old Town Hall from 13th century, built by Frederick ll bestowed the privileged status of Imperial Free City of Regensburg. The rulers and delegates from all over the Europe gathered here.

The wealthier and more influential family, the higher the tower. This was the building practice of patrician families in the Middle Ages. An important testimony to this time is the Golden Tower from 13th century.

Moving forward with the history. Did you know that the founder of Illuminati Adam Weishaupt lived in Regensburg in 18th century? He started the Order of the Federation of the Perfectibilists. Despite what many films and books claim, the goal of the order had nothing to do with sinister and evil powers. On the contrary, ”the light of reason” which was long pressed by church dogmas was to be exposed in order to create the new world order.

The aim was a complete reform of a government, religion and education. Virtue, wisdom and science should prevail over persecution and despotism. High ranking noblemen and celebrities of the time, like Goethe, became members of Illuminati. Shortly after their foundation, some hundred years later, they were forbidden in Bavaria.

The founder walked through the city of Regensburg, near the city gate, they encountered a heavy storm. They were strucked by the lightning and killed on spot. As the God was outraged by their idea. A list of members was found in his clothing which led to the slander and persecution of the rest.

Talking about fun facts, remember the story from Prague about alchemist Johanes / Jan Keppler? He also lived here in Regensburg making his theories on physics and planetary movements. Later he was accused on witchcraft for printing his Rudolphic tables. So he had to run to save his head. Turbulent times this Regensburg brings.

And then a bit of German understanding of the space – Heidplatz. Its name derives from the wasteland, place to be hidden, but large and open. During the Middle Ages, it was a place of Knight Tournaments, attracting jugglers, inventors, and exhibitionists to perform. In 1673 there was a legendary performance by french Charles Bernovin who tight himself into a rope attempting to strape with fireworks. Performance was unsuccessful and he died in front of the eyes of the public.

To the very end, sun was setting, the golden hour was finishing. We took one last walk before the restaurant, in order to use the daylight as much as possible. I remember being amazed how city walk zone is big leaving a lot for the pedestrians to explore.

To the very end, a place to eat and shelter was the Bischofshof am Dom. A pope, numerous cardinals and bishops have already dined here and loved the atmosphere and food when they visited Regensburg.

Walhalla

Not far away from Regensburg, by boat over the Danube or by car via Deutsces Autobahn, you can get to Walhalla. It stands magically above Donaustauf as a vast temple of marble, romantically reminding on antiquity.

It rears up out of the dark greenery around and can be seen the horizon from away with its huge entrance. I remember seeing it from the highway on my way to Croatia. This time I decided to stop and explore. What an episode this will be.

My hotel and restaurant was some local house in Bavaria supercute called die Kupferpfanne. 🙂 On my arrival, I was introduced with big bavarian meals and biers.

But my visit to Walhalla temple was another experience. I spent good hour climbing up the hill, through the forest and hills, overlooking the Danube and the wind directed from there, having -7 degrees. One could not feel more alive.

Upon the arrival, I realised that the winter time instructs the opening in 40 mins. Being motivated, I decided to move further around, explore the area and wait for my time to enter – to admire the German legacy. After all, this place is historical, initiated by Ludwig I, Bavarian King – built in the neoclassical Doric style pantheon. If anything, it is worth to stay just a bit longer to wait for the entrance.

Instead of that, I got the ”Ausweiss bitte,” PCR test = even though I am vaccinated, – proof of the living, birth certificate and blood listing. Overreacting now with the burocracy, of course, but I could have not hide my disappointment, walking down back towards the car, passing through the forest and over frozen fields of corn. Did we overreact a bit with the technocracy during these pandemic times?

Episode finished.

Castle 2

Ljubljana, Slovenia

A girl who spent most of her life next to the border with Slovenia, it is hard to explain what this country is about. To me, the country of Slovenia was a place to do the shopping, the place where people speak my dialect but not my official language, a country that always complicates the border and disputes the frontier, trades politically with the borderline in order to green-light the entrance to EU etc. Also, it is a country with amazing green landscapes, with the history perplexed with my region and my country of origin, the Alps, the rivers and typical continental climate that is shared, again, with my region but not my country of origin.

So. Ljubljana is the capital and largest city of Slovenia.

My point exactly: slovenian dishes vs. the naming of the square after two pre-medieval saints from Bulgaria that were illuminating the peasants teaching Cyrillic letters

So let me start with the dishes. I know this part! Especially if you start with the market visit early in the morning, Surprisingly lot to offer and roast your imagination about slovenian cuisine.

Sometimes the country is a bit slavic – especially when you hear the language. Sometimes it behaves totally germanic. This time, enjoy the slippers and make your own conclusion. 🙂

During antiquity, a Roman city called Emona stood in the area. Ljubljana itself was first mentioned in the first half of the 12th century. Situated at the middle of a trade route between the northern Adriatic Sea and the Danube region. In 14th century it becomes the part of the Habsburg Monarchy and stayed under Habsburg rule from the Middle Ages until the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. After World War II, Ljubljana became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It retained this status until Slovenia became independent in 1991 and Ljubljana became the capital of the newly formed state.

Ljubljana is a city of a dragon that nested around. You can notice this almost everywhere around the city. It symbolises power, courage, and greatness. One of the most important souvenirs is the Dragon bridge over the river Ljubljanica, which is part of river Sava. The bridge was constructed during Habsburg times so the architecture style is typical Vienna secession.

Cathedral of Saint Nicholas is early 18th century gothic church that belongs to Roman Catholicism. The site was originally occupied by an aisled three-nave Romanesque church, the oldest mention of which dates from 13th century.

The central square in Ljubljana is Prešeren Square. A 19th century poet, linking romanticism and politics, searching for history and legends that would form nation-state.

 Just opposite stands the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. Built between 17th century, it replaced an older Gothic church on the same site. The layout takes the form of an early-Baroque basilica with one nave and two rows of lateral chapels. The Baroque main altar was executed by the sculptor Francesco Robba – same sculptor of the fountain at Town square. Much of the original frescos were ruined by the cracks in the ceiling caused by the Ljubljana earthquake in 1895. The new frescos were painted by the Slovene impressionist painter Matej Sternen.

The Triple Bridge is a group of three bridges across the Ljubljanica River. It connects Ljubljana’s historical medieval town on one bank and the modern city of Ljubljana. It located at Presern trg and can’t be missed. Apparently the river was wobbly and the three bridges as one had to be constructed. 😀

If you stand opposite on these three bridges and look straight up, opposite of the Franciscan church, your view would eventually sport the Ljubljana castle. It takes quite some time to get up there, but it is worth it.

But before we get there, time to eat local! Cheese, ham, eggs, sparkling wine and pumpkin oil. Acombination that heats cold winter moments and makes you feeling positivity. So we ended up in Slovenska hiša, with a spice of Bosnian accent.

From 1809 to 1813, during the Napoleonic interlude, Ljubljana (under the name Laybach) was the capital of the Illyrian Provinces.  In 1821, it hosted the Congress of Laibach, which fixed European political borders for years to come. The first train arrived in 1849 from Vienna and in 1857 the line was extended to Trieste. A series of earthquakes hit Ljubljana and seriously endangered the castle above and the house in Upper Ljubljana – the Old Town. This actually y favourite part of the city and I always enjoy exploring little corners, hidden behind the squares.

Now the path runs to the foot of the Castle Hill – a castle complex standing on Castle Hill above downtown Ljubljana. Originally a medieval fortress, it was probably constructed in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 12th century. It acquired its present outline with an almost complete overhaul in the 15th century, whereas the majority of the buildings date to the 16th and 17th centuries. Initially a defense structure and since the first half of the 14th century the seat of the lords of Carniola – a historical region of nowadays Slovenia.

The best part – the view on the city and surroundings! It was foggy but in certain moment I spotted the Alps and the Triglav – the highest peak of Slovenian Alps which forms the slovenian coat of arms, together with the river Sava.

Slovenia is becoming ever more popular as a prime wine destination. It produces top-quality wines and features abundant wineries, many of which are beautiful for visiting. Not to mention the passionate and oftentimes eccentric winemakers that have got a handful of exciting wine stories to tell you. If you ask me, it is quite specific – fresh but it fits with the local food – as it is supposed to be.

This is the reason we visited the City wine cellar – Grajska vinoteka – and did a bit of the wine tasting across the Slovenia. Some wine were perplexed, confusing, rich, odd. Some were simply not good although they surprised with the color. Here is what we discovered.

To the very end, I leave the images of Ljubljana: cozy, small and historical. Classical and boroqued.

And a Laško Zlatorog beer.

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Brugge, medieval and mysterious 📜

There is a post on my blog already dedicated to Flemish cities of Belgium . But I have decided that this city deserves one single post for itself. Even more, as I have been to Brugge many times, and as always, there is a place to discover something new. With its cobbled streets, crooked bridges, meandering canals and World Heritage-listed medieval buildings, the Belgian city of Bruges is so pretty it’s almost too good to be true. But anywhere where you can drink 12% alcohol beer and get into medieval history has got to be more than just a pretty face. And Bruges is just perfect for a weekend break – easy to get to and explore on foot, and bursting with charming streets, fantastic beers, boutique chocolate-makers and canalside bars.

Bonifacius bridge

So let us begin with just a bit of history to get you in the story 🙂 Why? Because Brugge is one big outside museum.

The name probably derives from the Old Dutch for ‘bridge’: brugga.

Bruges was a location of coastal settlement during prehistory: Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements. The first fortifications were built after Julius Caesar’s conquest in the first century BC, to protect the coastal area against pirates. The Franks took over the whole region from the Gallo-Romans around the 4th century. The Viking arrived in the ninth century prompted Count Baldwin I of Flanders to reinforce the Roman fortifications; trade soon resumed with England and Scandinavia. The Golden Age arrived soon: 12th to 15th century.

Bruges became important due to the tidal inlet that was crucial to local commerce which was then known as the “Golden Inlet”. Bruges received its city charter in 12th century , and new walls and canals were built. Soon it became the capital of the County of Flanders and placed itself strategically at the crossroad of the Hanseatic League trading with the south. The new form of merchant capitalism developed and Flanders were leading in it – just some decades after Italian society’s renaissance.

The Bourse opened in 14th century as the first stock exchange in the world and developed into the most sophisticated money market in the 14th century. By the time Venetian galleys first appeared. Numerous foreign merchants were welcomed in Bruges and established their own commercial consulate in Bruges by the mid-15th century. The foreign merchants expanded the city’s trading zones. They maintained separate communities governed by their own laws until the economic collapse after 1700.

Bourse

This attracted a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe. The new oil-painting techniques of the Flemish school gained world renown. The leaders of this Norther Renaissance and Humanism in painting were Jan van Eyck and maybe Pieter Bruegel (although he comes a bit before in time).

These artists made significant advances in natural representation and illusionism, and their work typically features complex iconography. The painted works are generally oil on panel, or fixed altarpieces in the form of diptychs or triptychs.

The first book in English ever printed was published in Bruges. This is also when Edward IV and Richard III of England spent time in exile here.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is the relic of the Holy Blood, which was brought to the city after the Second Crusade by Thierry of Alsace, and is paraded every year through the streets of the city. More than 1,600 inhabitants take part in this mile-long religious procession, many dressed as medieval knights or crusaders.

The Church of Our Lady dates mainly from the 13th century. This church is a monument to the wealth, sophistication, taste, and devotion to Catholic religion. In the church you can find amazing Madonna sculpture from Michelangelo.

Remaining still in religious timeframe, inevitable is to mention the quiet sacral place called Beguinage. An architectural complex which was created to house beguines – lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world. They are not nuns though. In most cases, beguines who lived in a convent agreed to obey certain regulations during their stay and contributed to a collective fund.

The Minnetwaterpark is just next to it and together with canals, cobbled stones streets and passages creates even more mystery.

Minnetpark

As the Brugge developed thanks to its proximity to the North sea and the tide that was giving peaceful shelter to the trade boats, naturally, Brugge built more and more canals to trade, store and commerce the goods. Today these canals are still in usage – some for the trade and some for the tourist sight seeing purposes. This time, I took a boat too 🙂

On these photos taken from the boat, you can’t miss the tall Belfry – the bigger the better, the nobels would say. The Belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower in the centre of the city. One of the city’s most prominent symbols, the belfry formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other dangers.

Just next to it is an interesting Historium experience that will take you in these times just written here. You become on of the characters of the city of Brugge, assisting great Jan van Eyck in the creation of one of his paintings. But just when things start to develop, your character gets lost in the streets and somehow ends up in the storage.

For the rest, I leave you just to walk and explore. There is many more to see. Like the fish guilde from 15th century next to fish market, possibly the wealthiest family of its times.

As one can see, Bruges is the archetypal Flemish city, but it’s so much more than that. Ancient brickwork and winding canals give the city its nickname “The Venice of the North”. I am not the fan of giving the name of one origin to another origin of itself, so I have to admit: its position as the heartland of Dutch-speaking Flanders gives it an unmistakable identity of its own. 

The Hospital of St. John was a medieval hospital in Bruges. It was founded in the mid-12th century. Located next to the Church of Our Lady, the premises contain some of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital buildings. The hospital grew during the Middle Ages and was a place where sick pilgrims and travellers were cared for. The site was later expanded with the building of a monastery and convent. In the 19th century, further construction led to a hospital with eight wards around a central building.

To end this, one has to try local dishes. We left the choice with flemmish carbonade and brugge zor bier – which is pipelined from bars to Brugge brewery. Cute.

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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 they are 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 2

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?

food and drink 1

Route des 🍇 vins d’Alsace 🍇

Two days reserved for doing this route 🙂 My travel soul was reaching its immortal stage. Let me show you which route we took:

Our very first wine cellar was the winery Turckheim. We took a nice walk through the city of Turckheim, again colombage or in english; timber houses forming the line of endless streets of the city. Afterwards we climbed the hills of Turckheim, and we had a view to see:

The road continued through many small cities with timbered houses, churches and wine cellars. We stopped so many times just to take the smell of the view. As odd as it sounds.

Next stop: Stoeckle! Boy that was an atmosphere. When I heard the music from the hill, it reminded me on my home region in Croatia: the Zagorje

Immediate stop, entrance to the wine cellar full of people and owner blowing into horn tube, playing the traditional song of Alsace. Here I tried all the possibilities of the wine of Alsace: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat d’Alsace, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, Cremant d’Alsace, and the rose made of Pinot Noir. I think that night I was in the mood to buy entire cellar.

Continuing the road, hitting the best moments of the golden hour and the best medieval cities on our way.

Next stop: Achilee. Don’t ask how we managed to stop there, but the vibe of this cellar was odd. The wine host was very nice and welcoming, while xplaining how the bio in his wines actually means performance to the full moon etc. I looked at the barrels, they looked happy. So what the heck, bring the degustation on the table! 🙂

Protected by the natural barrier of the Vosges Mountains, the vineyards of Alsace benefit from a unique climate and a variety of different grape-growing districts. The many different grape varieties which thrive here produce an incomparable range of rich and aromatic wines, from the driest and most delicate to the most opulent and full-bodied. The Alsace Wine Route, one of the oldest in France, crosses these different wine districts. From Marlenheim to Thann, it allows you to discover 170 km of scenic landscapes, from medieval villages and half-timbered houses decorated with flowers, to castles and Roman and Gothic churches. Enjoy!

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 7

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?

cathedrals 5

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Deutschland

In case you want to experience Bavaria region in south of Germany and get lost in time and space, I definitely recommend you this city. It is well known for its well-preserved medieval old town, a destination for tourists from around the world. It is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

The name “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” is German for Red fortress above the Tauber, as the town is located on a plateau overlooking the Tauber river.

So these was our entrance to the city surrounded by the wall. The Markus tower, preserved from 15th century. Our hotel was in this tower. Let me show you the creepiness…

The Markusturm and Röderbogen

Upon our arrival to the hotel, a lovely Lady in Bavarian clothes took our check in and helped us to find the room. Little did I know that she was Bosnian (immigration wave in the Balkans is huge and Germany is always looking for work-force). However, I was a bit surprised hearing the accent. 🙂 Later we found out that her husband is the chef in the same hotel. Oh Balkans around the world…

The hotel is the medieval tower so the halls on each floor are going in the circle. Not to mention the wooden floors, squeaky stairs, creepy porcelain dolls in the baby carts, old wooden furniture from medieval times. etc. It had a soul, dolphinately! 🐬

Hauptmarkt (main square)

Due to chinese virus situation we were allowed to stay in the Biergarten restaurant for no longer than 2 hours. Fair enough. We had to continue to hit the road the next day so not much left for partying. Except that it was my birthday that night. 🙂

Upon breakfast, quick look on the city on our way to the car. Enjoy!

Castle 5

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.

cathedrals 23

Cuba libre in 13 days

Cheese and chalks!

Every corner was wtf, every moment was mind blowing! I don’t know where to start as Cuba is one of these countries that left me speechless. In one same moment I happened to be disappointed and thrilled in the same time. So the best might be just start chronologically and tell you the tales that happened on our way.

We landed to Varadero and immediately went to Matanzas. We had our taxi already arranged by the hosting lady in Matanzas.

Matanzas

Matanzas is a small city next to the Varadero hotels resorts so kinda neglected by the tourists. I found it hypsterish and cute: there are streets falling apart typically for Cuba, the smelly river but lively river coast with bars, small restaurants and artistic shops that are more like garage shops but for Cuban standards these are the galleries.

River San Juan and the city of Matanzas, Cuba, West Indies, Caribbean, Central America

Our host was a nice Lady owning the casa particular where we stayed one night only. She was curious, helpful, offering hospitality and more. We slept in an improvised room with toilets barriers – not walls! Little privacy but we didn’t care. We knew what Cuba is and where we arrived. Except that in developed part of Europe you will not pay more than 15 EUR for this type of accommodation. Here we paid 25.

However, she had a lovely house and garden for the cuban standards thanks to this room renting. I concluded that Cuba is changing quickly from its socialism where richer are getting richer.

The next morning she prepared us breakfast and arranged us the shared taxi to Havana. Cubans don’t have internet – here and there you can go online at some hotspots but only for a while as many people use these hotspots which are 3G only. So no photos no videos – only quick whatsapp message to parents that we arrived safely.

We were sharing our taxi with some two Cubans. The driver was particularly nuts. He was totally against the political system, media manipulation and demanding the private ownership. Me, having the problem to enter the country and being additionally interrogated why I am entering to Cuba – well, I kinda decided to keep my usual political discussed mouth shut up. I was still observing and not sure when is appropriate to speak. I intend never to offend the hosts. And keep myself safe.

The highways is a two way fast road – no middle fence to divide and protect. Quickly I noticed that everybody goes on this highway: from 80 years old cars and trucks til’ carriageways, horses, local field workers and even unsaddled horse wandering arround.

After two hours we arrived to Havana. I got out of the car, stepped into the dog shit and crashed the screen of my phone. The warmest welcome l ever had.

Havana

We passed next to the stadium. Baseball is their national sport. One of the pure things left from the times the US was influencing the country through its mafia and banking system – which was a trigger for Cuban The Revolution in 1959.

The Stadium of La Havana

Havana is the capital city. Founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, becoming a stopping point for treasure-laden Spanish galleons returning to Spain. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish–American War.

We climbed to the first floor of some old house in Havana Vieja. Our host was supposed to be the anesthesiologist. We rang the door bell. Wrong one. We rang the other one. Some Lady opened. Are you Belkis? -Si, porque?

– We have a reservation at your place. – Oh really, ok, what can l do? I have a room but is not ready.

Later we discovered that she pays other person to put her house renting on the internet but this time the person forgot to inform her.

The city attracts over a million tourists annually so the local people quickly discovered the value of foreign currency 25 times stronger than cuban peso (CUP) – trying to gain that one foreign peso (CUC) at every corner pumping the prices, cheating on services and even lying to attract you for some sightseeing. For example, we were about to go to The Museum of Revolution. The boy arrived quickly to us asking if we are going to the Museum and explaining that we shouldn’t go cause it is closed for the lunch time and that we should follow him to go to some bar with some cuban cigars sells offer cause today it is a very special day and all cigars are 50% off. We didn’t follow him, we went to the Museum which was open until 19:00.

Or another typical scam: a girl asked me for some chewing gum (children are not allowed to work nor beg as Cuba provides very good health and education care system which is totally for free). I didn’t have any so she said that today is her birthday and if I could buy her something in a nearest shop. I asked her if she knows the date. She knew. 🙂 So I decided to buy her some package of chewing gums still, I am a human after all.

Few seconds later, she entered to the store, returned the package of chewing gums and got her 1 CUC/ EUR instead.

Nevertheless, I do not recommend to stay no more that two full days in Havana. It stinks, it is Europe way expensive and has not that much to offer as the other locations and cities in Cuba.

We started our exploration with Havana Vieja – old Havana. Old facades that are falling apart, not much of the hygiene on the streets and the stinky canalization since Cubans don’t throw their used toilet paper in the flush but in the trash bin next to it. Lovely!

Let me show you the market: