Skip to content

Category: fortress

Castle 19

Jordan ūüźę ūüźę 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 ūüôā

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) ūüôā 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! ūüôā

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. ūüôā


Mariam al-Asturlabiyy discovering the astrolab – the navigation tool

Food again! ūüôā 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 ūüôā 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. ūüôā

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 ūüôā

Wadi room translated from Arabic means Valley of the Moon.

It has been inhabited by many human cultures since prehistoric times, with many cultures‚Äďincluding the Nabataeans‚Äďleaving 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 ūüôā

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. ūüôā

Good bye beautiful Jordan!

abbey 22

Luxembourg

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small landlocked country in western Europe. It is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Its capital, Luxembourg City, together with Brussels and Strasbourg, is one of the three official capitals of the European Union. 

The repeated invasions by Germany, especially in World War II, resulted in the country’s strong will for mediation between France and Germany and, among other things, led to the foundation of the European Union.

WW1 and WW2 Memorial

The residents are speaking german, french and letzeburgish which is a mixture of both mentioned languages.

Although it is one of the smallest sovereign states in Europe it is the popular center for bank headquarters.

Bank Museum and State Savings Bank

As a representative democracy with a constitutional monarch, it is headed by Grand Duke Henri and is the world’s only remaining grand duchy.

Parliament

Groussherzogleche Palais – the Duke’s residential palace and city hall

The history of Luxembourg is considered to begin in 10th century, when count Siegfried I acquired a rocky castle.

By 15th century – the House of Luxembourg became so powerful that it produced Kings of Germans and Holy Roman Emperors.  

Fortress Thungen

The Adolphe Bridge has become an unofficial national symbol of sorts, representing Luxembourg’s independence

The bridge was named after Grand Duke Adolphe, who reigned Luxembourg in 19th century.

Another reminder to the succesful battle times is the Golden Lady or the Gaelle Fra. The Monument of Remembrance is a war memorial  dedicated to the thousands of Luxembourgers who volunteered for service in the armed forces of the Allied Powers during both World Wars and the Korean War.

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Luxembourg City. It was originally a Jesuit church, dating since 17th century. It is the only cathedral in Luxembourg.


I have actually visited Luxembourg two times and managed to enter the Museum of the Luxembourg city where I discovered the legend of Meluzines seducing a fisherman on the night of full moon, plotting the destiny of Luxembourg.

Old city: Neumunster villa and abbey from 16th century at River Alzette

River Alzette at Bock Casemates


In 2020 – one of the worst years to be traveler, I went to Luxembourg again to do the haircut. It was the only country in the neighborhood of Brussels with open hair saloons. The Christmasing times had just begun and Luxembourg just opened its advent squares. The gluhwein was smelling from every corner.

As the bars and restaurants were open, we have decided to give please ourselves after 3 months of curfew.

I have noticed as well that the gastronomy of Luxembourg changed, offering us verities of locally produced kraft beer. I have to say, after walking around on the cold weather, exciting for every new corner, the meal felt very well.

After a good meal, we strolled down to the old village. The walk next to the river Alzette was inspiring. Are you familiar with the Melusines? If not, perhaps the links on my blog should tell you a story.

Melusina is a figure of European folklore and mythology, a female spirit of fresh water depicted as a woman who turns into a mermaid during the nights of the full Moon. I have discovered the similar legends when visiting Warsaw and London.

Especially the House of Plantagenet  (kings of England) and the French House of Lusignan (kings of Cyprus in 13-14th century) and for shorter periods over Armenia and Jerusalem) are said in folk tales and medieval literature to be descended from Melusine.

food and drink 6

Herculaneum and Pompeii ūüĆč

From Naples we took the train to Pompeii.

The mount Vesuvio, the volcano was next to us and fertile land just a bit above. We could imagine the catastrophy in 79 CE.

Mount Vesuvio

Pompeii

Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern Naples in the Campania region of Italy.

Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area was buried under 4 to 6 m of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Many of the inhabitants were also buried before they could escape.

Our visit was quite respectful.

A the entrance to Pompeii showing the suburban baths

I have to admit – I did not expect that the city of Pompeii will be so big and spacious. And well designed.

Forum Romanum

Via dell’Abbondanza, the main street in Pompeii

The entire city has squares, streets and houses or should I say – villas – well preserved: doors, frescoes, atriums, gardens, mosaics, painted walls… it is so melancholic and it takes back in time.

The central baths are very well preserved. The complex is big and you can see heating system, the bathing system.

The central baths

Some of the frescoes included the nudity. Pompeii was famous for it. ūüôā

Nudity frescoes
The heating system

The Romans of that time used to trade with Greek and Phoenician sailors as they used the location as a safe port.

Via della Fortuna – how odd
Via Stabiana – leading towards the cemetery (necropolis)
Necropolis (cemetery)

As mentioned, Pompeii were known for its erotics and taxed prostitution. In fact, there were many brothels with nude photos and statues. The feluses were indicating the direction to these places.

The old Romans had a very good social life. The taverns were existing already that time.

Tavern

But the most beautiful house for me was the one with the painting of Venus coming out of shell, in the atrium (garden) of the huge villa – obviously belonging to some politician.

House of Venus

As the people were running out of the city, many of them stayed trapped and died of breathe suffocating. The ash covered their bodies and they remained untouched.

The amphitheater remained almost in-tactile as well, with acoustic atmosphere, of course.

The last statue was the Agamemnon – in all its glory. What a times!

Let’s eat! ūüôā

Herculaneum

Herculaneum is one of the few ancient cities to be preserved more or less intact, with no later accretions or modifications. Like its sister city, Pompeii, Herculaneum is famous for having been buried in lava and ash.

Unlike Pompeii, the heavy blanket of lava that covered Herculaneum carbonized and thereby preserved wood and other organic-based materials such as roofs, beds, doors, and food.

Although most of the residents had evacuated the city in advance of the lava, the well-preserved skeletons of 300 people who perished near the seawall were discovered in 1997.

Indeed, sad and shocking.

However, you can guess what was our break about.

abbey 24

Naples, Italy

Early morning flight for 25 EUR but it was totally worth it. ūüôā We woke up at 3:30 and landed to Naples just before 9:00.

Upon our arrival we have soon noticed the chaotic city and how nobody respects the traffic lights. However, it took us one day to adjust.

Our accommodation was in the city center in some old 19th century palace.


sdr

However, there is no reception so we talked a bit italian and soon discovered that we should sit at the coffee place opposite of the building, have an espresso and wait the owner. We also tried sfogliatelle or translated: lobster’s tail. It is original napolitano (Campania region) recipe.

Espresso and sfoglitella

We started to wander around through this chaotic city full of grafittis. The old city – Citta Vecchia has some old and high buildings dating from 16h century, creating some narrow passages and really narrow streets. But somehow logical to the Italians.

Citta Vecchia – old city

It is the third biggest city in Italy after Rome and Milano. And one of the cities that have constantly being inhabited.

First settled by Greeks in 2nd millenium BCE, then the Romans, then it became capital of the Duchy of Naples (7 – 12 century – Angevin Dynasty), then of the Kingdom of Naples (13 – 19 century) and finally of the Two Sicilies until the unification of Italy in 1861.

Wherever you look in Naples you will see artworks, even in the streets. It’s not a joke: street artists always loved this city and often leaved a sign of their passage. Maybe, some of the best artworks are just the ones in the streets. Many of them connected to the religion.

Visiting Naples’s historic center means traveling through twenty centuries of history. The design of its streets, piazzas, churches, monuments and public buildings and castles constitute a jewel box of artistic and historical treasures of exceptional importance, so much so that together, they earned their spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

We continued towards the Piazza San Lorenzo Maggiore with the church from 14th century.

Piazza San Lorenzo Maggioere

We entered the church to admire the ceiling above us – indeed painted in 16th century representing the evocative atmosphere.


Precedding further down from the medieval level, we faced the Roman and 3 metres lower the Greek settlements. To be more precise – the catacombs.

The claustrophobic me managed to survive up to 20 min and then run away to some fresh air. The streets were chaotic again but the air was clearer. And the sun was there. Btw, I noticed that the nativity scenes were all over the city still, even though the Christmas passed some weeks ago!

I guess, the people of Napoli never miss their opportunity to sell the souvenirs. Btw, red pepper is the luck charm of Napoli, or should I say Nea Polis? ūüôā

Souvenirs, souvenirs!

The patron of Naples is San Genaro thanks to his reliquary of the blood which heals the pilgrims for centuries. Hence we visited the Cathedral where his body lays. Twice a year, the body is taken out for the ceremony and celebration. Don’t know why twice a year?

San Gennaro statue
Cathedral of San Gennaro

The present cathedral was commissioned by King Charles I of Anjou in early 12th century.

Finally lunch! Pizza or pasta? Hard choice, but we were really hungry, startijng our day at 3:30, already walked more than 15 km that day and had in mind that pizza actually came from Napoli!

Some zucchini as starters

Did you know that Diego Maradona was playing in Napoli football club? Apparently, the Napolitans respecting him so much, calling him Italian and even having a bar to his name with his hair as relics.

Bar Nilo of Maradona

The bar is callled Bar Nilo and contains a chapel with Maradona’s name as santo.

Time for an espresso and something sweet. Boy we became Italians quickly, having our short coffee at the bar, standing while sipping. How should I explain you that a Croatian girl like me takes her coffee slowly, some time for some hours, enjoying every sip? ūüôā

Beware! Another did you know on its way!

Did you know that Naples has more than 500 churches. This boasts the highest number of churches in the world: we‚Äôre talking about an artistic and spiritual heritage of enormous importance, formed within seventeen centuries; this is the reason, since ‚Äė700, it has been named the ‚Äúcity of 500 domes‚ÄĚ. Early christian or gothic, baroque or neoclassical, the churches of Naples can mix contrasting and pluralist styles and traditions, bringing down the visitor both in a magical and almost pagan atmosphere and in a profoundly mystical and Christian experience.

Somehow, we saw this:

And we decided to enter.

It is a double floor church where the grounds floor is a church decorated in familiar style but the lower ground is in grey, black and white, shaddy and reminding of purgatory.

The next stop was National Archaeological Museum: from early Naples until today. I was, as always, impressed with classical statues of Greek and Roman Gods.

Atlas holding the world

The afternoon brought even more sun and we wanted to get some more of it. The sea was so close!

Piazza Nazionale

Piazza del Plebiscito is named after the plebiscite taken on October 2, 1860 that brought Naples into the unified Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy. It is located very closely to the gulf of Naples, and bounded on the east by the Royal Palace  with the statues of all the kingls of Naples (most of them were spanish and french).

Royal Palace
Statues of the so far kings of Napoli

Piazza del Plebiscito, monument to Charles III of Spain in foreground and the cupola of the Galleria Umberto I and Basilica in background.

Then finally we strolled down towards the port and Gulf of Naples. With the terrifying vulcano Vesuvio in the background.

Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvio – the famous vulcano

The colours of afternoon started to be red and our pressure lower and lower. It was time for another espresso but this time with limoncello – a delicious shot from this region of Campania!

Somehow we found the energy to take a promenade and visit the castels.


Castel dell’Ovo (or egg catle) is located on the former island of Megaride, now a peninsula, since 9th century. The Roman poet Virgil put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. Had this egg been broken, the castle would have been destroyed and a series of disastrous events for Naples would have followed.
Castel Nuovo –
one of the main architectural landmarks since 12th century. It was a royal seat for kings of Naples, Aragon and Spain until 1815.

I used to read the Courtesan’s Lover – set in 18th century Naples, so I was daydreaming almost every single moment.

And that was it. We literally smashed into our beds before the 20:00. The next morning was again: eat, visit, repeat! ūüôā

We started the day again with espresso schiumato and sfogliatelle! ūüôā With little fragolino as an additive (made of strawberry!).

On our way to Pompeii we visited the church where St Peter held his very first mass.

Basilica di San Petro ad Aram
cathedrals 24

Frankfurt am Main, Deutschland

That big and busy airport in Germany that is spottable even from 12,000 metres above! Brilliant and amazing.

However, my first time arriving there was by train and the second time I was flying.

I took the local newspapers like a local and started to renew my German.

Frankfurt am Main is the 5th biggest city in Germany after
 Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne.

On the River Main (a tributary of the Rhine), it forms a continuous conurbation with the neighbouring cities.

I started with Frankfurt’s¬†central business district the so called Bankviertel as this city is famous for banking.

European Central Bank
The symbols of business district in Frankfurt: bull and bear symbolizing ups and downs of the market

And then continued to the shopping area. The most famous shopping street is called Zeil. It contains some weird statues as well..

Frankfurt was a city state, the Free City of Frankfurt, for nearly five centuries, and was one of the most important cities of the Holy Roman Empire, as a site of imperial coronations; it lost its sovereignty upon the collapse of the empire in 1806 and then permanently in 1866, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. However, the great architecture style continued to grow:

Operahaus

Frankfurt is an alpha world city and a global hub for commerce, culture, education, tourism and transportation. It is the site of many global and European corporate headquarters. I managed to enter the European Bank Headquarters and take the elevator to the 55th floor. This is what I got:

Did you know that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe¬†–¬†famous¬†writer¬†and¬†poet was born in Frankfurt? Yes, the one that wrote Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werthe.

Goethe and me ūüôā
Birth house of Goethe: Weltschmerzers of the World – reunite! ūüôā

I took the photo of the writing on the Evangelistic church which says: Love your neighbour, he is just like you.

Römerberg is a public space located in the old city center dating since the 15th century. There is an old house which even survived the bombing from WWII and surves nowadays as the beer house.


Römerhaus

This is the place of the oldest markets in the world. So much history screaming from here.

Romerplatz

This setting is actually part of the old city called Altstadt.

Altstadt

Next to it is the Paulskirche – the church which was the place of first sitting of the German Parliament.

abbey 11

Lille, France

So far been there three times and I am pretty sure I will keep visiting this rather Flemish city at the northern France. When you see the architecture, you will know what I am talking about: bricks and gold.

Food is oriented on the fish and shells from the Northern sea. I captured this oyster seller at the streets of Lille, on early Sunday morning just preparing his tent.

That Sunday morning markets, however, were noisy and hectic…

The original inhabitants of this region were the Gauls. Until the Vikings came in 10th century.

The 16th and 17th centuries were marked by a boom in the regional textile industry, the Protestant revolts, and outbreaks of the Plague.

I am particularly in love with the city center of this city!
The charm of this city is that, despite being the largest in northern France, it doesn‚Äôt behave like a grand French city  – no pace for arrogance – only warm hearts here.

Place Charles de Gaulle

Opéra de Lille

And then the Bourse just there – the magnificent building open to host the flea market.

Bourse –
17th-century Old Stock Exchang

Then the Post-French Revolution period resulted with another economic growth as being close to the cities like Saint Omer, Brugge or Roubaix. But soon the Europe was back again in World Wars. In the aftermath – the art deco style and the Belle Epoque were present (that was the time of discovery of champagne). ūüôā


Lille’s Art Deco city hall (1932)

Lille Cathedral or Basilica of Notre Dame de la Treille is a Roman Catholic church dating from 12th century.

Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Treille

Walking around and across the Old city I stumbled upon the Palace of Justice. Nice building!

Palais de la Justice

The city lays on the river La Doule. Not something particularly amazing but still nice and romantic.

Along the river Doule

Close to it is the citadelle Vauban. Thebuilding was raised in 17th century by one of the notable French kings. However, of course Napoleon used it up most.

Citadelle Vauban

Did you know that Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille?

He was a French army officer and statesman who led the French Resistance against Nazi Germany in World War II.

Time to eat local! As I mentioned, the shells are on the main plate here!

abbey 10

Porto, Portugal

Short one day trip from Lisbon to Porto! Not much time plus the rain, but oh boy, we enjoyed! ūüôā

We rented a car and cross the country driving for almost 4 hours. We arrived to the hill where from you can beautifully sea the river Douro that flows into the Atlantic ocean.

With its historical core which was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996 it is medieval and charming city and I have to admit – a unique city.

The city is famous for wine. And many cellars.

Wine, produced in the Douro valley, was already in the 13th century transported to Porto in barcos rabelos (flat sailing vessels). In 1703, the Methuen Treaty established the trade relations between Portugal and England and the rest is history.

Souvenirs from Porto

Porto‚Äôs Cathedral (‚ÄėS√©‚Äô) is the city‚Äôs most important church. Built in the 12th century, it‚Äôs a national monument. 

The Sao Bento train station has been voted one of the world‚Äôs most beautiful railway stations. The outside is super-cool, in a Belle Epoque Parisian kind of way, but it‚Äôs the interiors that will really knocked me out: the station lobby walls are covered with 20,000 decorative tiles, which took painter Jorge Cola√ßo 11 years to complete, portraying scenes of Portuguese history, daily life and transportation (for the trainspotters). 

The rain was still falling but we fell in love with the city so despite the weather we continued walking around and enjoy as much as we could!

The last moments we spent in the cellars, of course. At the opposite site of Ribeira – the city center, being hosted by the most charming people enjoying the great wine, great sea food and amazing fado.

Castle 126

Cyprus ‚õĶ

So much mixed feeling s about this island/ country/ land… I didn’t get the best of its beaches because it was winter time – although 22 degrees everyday, I didn’t get the best of the Cypriot food because the locals were so hard to introduce always greek food and greek wine, I didn’t feel safe all the time since the immigrant wave is at its peak (let’s pray for that) but I got some of the history, sunshine in winter and picturesque landscapes.

So let us start!

As you can see on the map, it is very left of Europe, on the East – so close to conflict zones of Middle East but still part of European Union. And let it be like this.

Surrounded with Mediterranean sea and divided between Cypriot Turks and Cypriot Greeks but still offering beautiful beaches. Let me explain!

Larnaca

Landing to Larnaca was like this:

I have never seen such a crystal clean sea. Not even in my lovely Croatia – and we do have clear clear sea.

Anyhow, my friend was supposed to land from Athens to the very same airport but in the evening. So I decided to explore Larnaka while waiting.

I strolled down the city and discovered many old buildings and lazy afternoon since most of the shops and bars were closed.
The home of the Stoic philosopher Zeno – so I acted like this – stoically. ūüôā

Finally I found a bar and ordered local beer called Keo. A bit of relax and decision where to go now. (I have to say, after wedding in Serbia just few weeks ago, and Athens just before that – I wasn’t fully prepared for this trip like I usually am).

The first step was the Church of St Lazarus. The church was built in 9th century in homage to Jew Eleazar that converted to Christianity naming himself Lazarus. Apparently, after being dead for four days in the tomb, he was raised by Jesus. Later, Lazarus found his refugee place here in Larnaka.

The church is considered as an indispensable supplement to the pilgrimage of the Holy Land. 

The relics of the Saint Lazarus were first discovered in the end of 9th century close to this churc in a marble sarcophagus on which were inscribed the following: ”Lazarus, the four-day dead and friend of Christ”.  Apparently, the Lazarus and Christ were good friends as Christ visited him at his home many times and enjoyed the dinner with him. The then emperor of Byzantium, Leo VI the Wise, according to the prevailing custom, carried the holy relics to Constantinople, the capital of the empire, and in exchange, he sent money and technicians to build the church we see today.

The tomb of Saint Lazarus – in nowadays e orthodox church

Larnaca castle was constructed to defend the southern coast of Cyprus and the harbour town of Larnaca and was later used as an artillery station, prison, and a museum.

Larnaka castle

As you can see on the photo below, the castle has been built by the Byzantines in 12th century.

Next stop was Hala Sultan Tekke or the Mosque of Umm Haram. She was one of the companions of Muhammad.
Most accounts establish a connection between the site and the death of Umm Haram during the first Arab raids on Cyprus in 7th century. According to these accounts, Umm Haram, being of very old age, had fallen from her mule and had died during a siege of Larnaca.

When I just arrived, I noticed so many cats around, even inside the mosque where the praying is occurring.

Walking around the mosque you can enjoy peaceful flamingos ending their day in the salt lakes around. Not even the nearby airport can disturb their presence.

Flamingos at Larnaca Salt Lakes

Mt friend finally arrived at 20:00. I walked back to the airport to welcome him as our hotel was in Nicosia. Of course, I left my bag at the airport while waiting for the shuttle bus but luckily, the local police was nice and reactive.

Nicosia

Nicosia is the capital. Divided between Cyprus Turks and Greeks. A bit dirty, lazy, odd, chaotic but with very positive spirit of people.

The first stop was good local breakfast: mpougatsa filled with cheese, minced meat or spinach.

Then we started to wander the streets… it was still calm as it was saturday morning… By the way, they drive on the left side (they are still part of Commonwealth).

We noticed the culture of orthodox saints (iconas) being hanged on the walls in almost every bar or restaurant that we went.

Talking about the city being divided: Barriers have separated the Greek and Turkish sectors of Nicosia, since 1974. The Green Line makes the division across the country and forms a UN-patrolled buffer zone.

Divided territories usually create their own ugly landmarks!

A bit of the history again!
The Cyprus Museum is the oldest and largest archaeological museum in Cyprus. The museum houses artefacts discovered during numerous excavations on the island. The museum is home to the most extensive collection of Cypriot antiquities.

Cyprus Museum
Neolitic figures of The Idol of Pomos (today on 1 euro coin of Cyprus)

Nicosia has been in continuous habitation since the beginning of the Bronze Age 2500 years BC.

However, the Greeks inhabiting the land made it glorious. Did you know that Aphrodite was born here?

Sculpture of Aphrodite

After the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire the Venetians arrived and built the wall. Venetian Walls are a series of defensive walls which surround the capital city. The first city walls were built in the Middle Ages, but they were completely rebuilt in the mid-16th century by the Republic of Venice. The walls are still largely intact, and are among the best preserved Renaissance fortifications in the Eastern Mediterranean. They are a major tourist attraction.

Venetian walls

The presence of the Venetians is seen in other architecture buildings like houses with the balconies (typical for the Venetian Republic of its time).

On his way to the¬†Holy Land¬†during the¬†Third Crusade¬†in 12th century,¬†Richard I of England‘s fleet was plagued by storms. He himself stopped first at¬†Crete. Three ships continued on, one of which was carrying¬†Joan of England, Queen of Sicily¬†and¬†Berengaria of Navarre, Richard’s bride-to-be. Two of the ships were wrecked off Cyprus, but the ship bearing Joan and Berengaria made it safely to¬†Limassol – another city in Cyprus. Joan refused to come ashore, fearing she would be captured and held hostage by¬†Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus, who hated all Franks. Her ship sat at anchor for a full week before Richard finally arrived a few weeks later. Outraged at the treatment of his sister and his future bride, Richard invaded the island and became ruler of the island, but sold it to the¬†Knights Templar.

Frankish rule of Cyprus started from 1192 and lasted until 1489. During this time, Nicosia was the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Cyprus, the seat of Lusignan kings, the Latin Church and the Frankish administration of the island. During the Frankish rule, the walls of the city were built along with many other palaces and buildings, including the gothic St. Sophia Cathedral. The tombs of the Lusignan kings can be found there.

I found the cathedral on the turkish side of Nicosia having the later added minaret (the muslim symbol in architecture) and being completely empty from the inside.

On 1 July 1570, the Ottomans invaded the island. Since then Рthe battle takes culturally, politically, including religion. However, they left something nice: turkish baths called hamam!

However, the dominated religion there is greek orthodox so we stumbled upon the Archbishop’s Palace.¬†The¬†statue of Makarios lll is in front as he
was a¬†Greek Cypriot clergyman and politician, who served as the¬†Archbishop¬†and¬†Primate¬†of the¬†Church of Cyprus¬†(1950‚Äď1977) and as the first¬†President of Cyprus¬†(1960‚Äď1977). In his three terms as president he survived four assassination attempts and¬†a coup d’√©tat. He is widely regarded by Greek Cypriots as the Father of the Nation or “Ethnarch”.[

Archbishop’s Palace with statue of Makarios lll

St John’s Cathedral (Agios Ionnis), compared with the great cathedrals of Europe, is tiny. Its interior, however, is no less magnificent Dating from 16 th century, from the times of Lusignan (I will explain later!)

St John’s Cathedral

Nicosia came under the rule of the United Kingdom in 19th century.
The old Ottoman administrative headquarters (the Saray) was replaced in 1904 by a new building containing Law Courts, the Land Registry, and the Forestry, Customs, and Nicosia Commissioner’s Offices.
In 1955 an armed struggle against British rule began aiming to unite the island with Greece, Enosis. The struggle was led by EOKA, a Greek Cypriot nationalist military resistance organisation and supported by the vast majority of Greek Cypriots. The unification with Greece failed and instead the independence of Cyprus was declared in 1960. During the period of the struggle, Nicosia was the scene of violent protests against British rule.


The Liberty Monument was erected in 1973 to honor the anti-British EOKA fighters of the Cyprus Emergency of 1955‚Äď1959

As we were hungry after all these walks and wanders, we tried to find the restaurant. My friend told me to lead by following the map. We went in different direction from the city center where the restaurants are, but this is what we captured:

Sometimes is really good to get lost! ūüôā

The last day my friend left back home. I encouraged to go on the turkish side. I crossed the border being briefed about the safety and items I am allowed to purchase.

However, when I crossed this border which is the UN buffer zone – I realized I am in Istanbul.

I entered the Selimiye mosque historically known as Cathedral of Saint Sophia, converted into a mosque.

INext to it is the old market called turkishly bazaar. However, the architecture is mediaval catholic. Seen everywhere!

Paphos

The third day we took the bus to Paphos. W actually wanted to rent a car and make so much more of exploring through the island but the rental companies were rather asking the reservation at least 48 hours before the renting. Also, since it is the winter time, we discovered that the island is not so good connected and that the traffic circulates without the time table. Huh! That was a lot of improvisation. But we arrived!

Paphos is a city on the southwest coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Inhabited since Neolithic times, it has several sites relating to the cult of goddess Aphrodite, whose mythical birthplace was at Old Paphos. New Paphos is the modern city that incorporates the harbor, and the ancient ruins of tombs, fortresses, theaters and villas at Paphos Archaeological Park.

We visited the Tombs of the Kings.

This large necropolis Рthe underground tombs, many of which date back to the 4th century BCE are carved out of solid rock, and are thought to have been the burial sites of Paphitic aristocrats and high officials up to the 3rd century CE (the name comes from the magnificence of the tombs; no kings were in fact buried here).

Then we visited Paphos Archaeological Park which contains the major part of the important ancient Greek and Roman City.

The park, still under excavation surprised us in many ways. Like the sandy surface, marked with the robe mentioning it is the early christian house only it hasn’t been escavated yet but the certain is that there are some frescos under the sand which are representing the Biblical story of Jesus multiplying the fishes.

Amphitheater
Doric columns
House of Dyonis

However, the dinner was lovely, Even though we tried couple of times to have wine from Cyprus and the waitress was returning twice each time bringing us the bottle from the Greece.

abbey 12

Saint Omer and Nazi bunker visit, France

A weekend trip to northern France. ūüôā The region is called Pas de Calais.

It has been named due to its famous Saint Audomar who brought Christianity to the area.

The first stop was the main square where the Christmas market was held. We decided to have a glass of champagne (which was surprisingly a bit sour) and stroll down the food market to buy cheeses and eggs.

The main square contains typical 17th century buildings sticking together on a small but cold rain. This is the area of constant past conflict between French, Dutch, English and Spanish Army for the territory and dominance. Not to mention World Wars…

We were driving a bit more than two hours from Brussels. 

As it was past noon already we decided to go local and have a local cuisine: the welsh and local Saint Omer beer. 

Odd restaurant where we had lunch

The old cathedral was constructed almost entirely in the 13th century. The church contains Biblical paintings, a colossal statue of Christ seated between the Virgin Mary and St John – all dating from 13th century and presented by the emperor Charles V. 

And of course, the symbol of France like statue of Jeanne d’Orleans.

Walking around before we decided to get warm in some coffee place, I noticed the Palais de Justice and its portal. It was beautiful and richly representative for the small city like Saint Omer – indeed rich country, or at least it used to be.

The next stop was Saint Bertin Abbey ruins. It was one of the most powerful abbeys in Northern Europe during the entire medieval period.

Three monks founded the first benedictine abbey along the Aa river in the 7th century. These three monks, Momelin, Ebertram and Bertin were sent by St. Omer to evangelize the territories on the north.

The night we welcomed in beautiful holiday inn called Villa Saint Marguerite. We had a view on the lake and river Aa and listened the rain.

The next day we visited La Coupole!

Also known as the Coupole d’Helfaut-Wizernes and originally codenamed Bauvorhaben 21 (Building Project 21). It was a Second World War bunker complex located about 5 km from Saint Omer.

It was built by the forces of Nazi Germany between 1943 and 1944 to serve as a launch base for V-2 rockets directed against London and southern England. Luckily, the WW2 ended 2 weeks before they were launched.

We entered into this claustrophobic and moistened and depressive underground building. There were photo exhibitions about rockets from World Wars.

We watched the movie about Nazi occupation of French territory from where the Nazis were building rockets and bombard UK. However, Winston Churchill discovered their intentions and destroyed the rocket constructions by bombing from the air. The Nazis decided to go underground.

Poor engineers and camp prisoners were building the rocket in terrible conditions wearing the prison clothes.

V2 rockets production (photo from museum)

Of course, we all know how the World War ll ended. The main creator of this idea, the Nazi Wernher von Braun was later invided by US (even though he was a strong SS member) to become member of NASA and participate the project of first man landing to Moon. In fact, he created the rocket that landed on the Moon. You do the moral here.

Wernher van Braun and USA president Kennedy

We walked a bit more through the museum of French resistance and then entered the Planetarium. We sat into the chairs (more precisely we laid) and listened the guiding voice of nice French lady explaining us the solar system while the planets and stars were appearing in front of us in 4D technique.

Planetarium
Planetarium

Lunch time! Welsh again, but vegetarian version and brilliant local beer La Goudale ūüôā with pizza, of course!

The last thing we visited was Maison du Marais. Actually, we were not able to enter cause it is closed on Sunday but we made a walk around through the beautiful nature: the bog, birds, river Aa, tall grass…

For the end, let me show you the beer I decided to buy for home. In case you are interested in local dialect:

Castle 97

Athens, Greece

One of the most important capitals of Europe that so far I was missing on my checked list. So why not? 

I booked the tickets and landed successfully on 25 degrees in November weather. I was amazed wild the mild climate – as always since the cruel Brussels doesn’t leave much choice in between the 50 shades of grey. 

I didn’t have much time but the prolongation of the weekend of 2 and half days so I decided to start my sightseeing immediately. My hotel was about outside of Athens in the Piraeus where the port is.  

Quick refreshment after hotel check – in

So, let us start! 

I had difficulties in the beginning to navigate through the city as Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world and survived many civilizations hence the architecture and logistics is quite obsolete. Even more, when I realized that everywhere I stepped was an actual archaeological site. 

Athens is one of the cursed cities in the same time. What ever construction works started (to build the new building, the parking place, the new metro line) somehow the diggings always manage to be postponed due to archaeological discoveries. Indeed, classical and modern art are in conflict. 

Last year, Greeks started to dig for the additional metro line. Soon the works stopped as the construction site became the excavation site ending with 20 people dead due to bacterial infection of the ancient dead bodies.

Old Therme – excavation site

Nevertheless, I rushed my day towards the Acropolis. In old greek language it means ‘the highest point’ as it used to be the sacral place for the ancient Greeks. 
This ancient citadel is on a rocky cliff above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon


A propylaea – monumental gateway in ancient Greek architecture that serves as the entrance to the Acropolis

The Parthenon and the other buildings were damaged seriously during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded.

Parthenon – a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron
Herodeon theatre – the place where many famous drama tragedies were premiered like Antigona of Sofoklo, Medea or the Birds and Piece

 During the so-called Golden Age of Athens (460‚Äď430 BCE) the Acropolis continued to grow. 


The Temple of Athena Nike

Nika means “victory” in Greek, and Athena was worshipped in hopes of a successful outcome in the long Peloponnesian War fought against the Spartans and their allies. The Spartans were the biggest enemies (smart to remember for possible future visits to Greece). 

My visit to Acropolis finished. Some strange 40ish year old man captured me in his talks about the weather. As I didn’t want to be impolite, I continued my small talks but soon I realized the man is lonely as he was inviting me to see the sunset over one of the hills of Athens. Maybe next time! – I said. – And definitely come to visit Croatia!. – He promised to do so. 

Ok, strolling down the hill, I visited Ancient Agora and Roman Forum. Yes, I blame Romans for destroying the Greek civilization as the Romans were everywhere. By following my bloggings through Europe – you can see that everything starts with Romans – almost every single post – east to west, north to south. 

dav

I finished the day visiting the Acropolis Museum just to get the rounded picture. 

Sunset was reserved for the Temple of Olympian Zeus – also one of the favourites – a former colossal temple dating from 6th century BCE. Unfortunately, in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was extensively quarried for building materials to supply building projects elsewhere in the city. 

The Temple of Zeus
dig

The next day was reserved for museuming

I started first with Archeological Museum. 

Greece’s largest museum offers panoramic view of ancient Greek civilisation from history to late antiquity. In its galleries you can enjoy the tresures from the royal tombs at Mycenae, masterpieces of jewelry’s art and sculpture and large pottery collection. 

dav
The Birth of Aphrodite –
ancient Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty. Aphrodite was born from the white foam coming to land. 

The next museum of Epigraphical museum with inscriptions, mostly in Greek, but also in Latin and Hebrew. 

Epigraphic museum

To me, the most attaching stone with inscriptions – epigraph – was the one of emperor Diokletian (who comes from my Croatia) containing the dictation of prices and measures of the market products. 

Emperor Diokletian’s edict on prices

Also, the system of voting for government officials. The democracy in ancient Greece! ūüôā

Walking around, I noticed the alleys of oranges. Many fruits were on the floor, smashed and not being used at all.

I also noticed this smashed and burned car. When I asked my Greek friend about it – he reminded me on recent timeswhen Athens and entire Greece faced heavy riots due to total economical collapse.

More or less that was it for that day. I got back to my hotel in the Old Port of Piraeus. The port is located 12 km from the city center but brings calm and relaxing spirit and makes you be there in the morning for the breakfast with the view.

Also great area with lods of bars and souvenir shops – typical tourist trap but lovely and vivid, is the neighbourhood called Plaka. Kinda in the shadow of Acropolis and its ancient temples – but beautiful enough to attract you for a good meal in the old greek taverna.

Asit is the oldest part of Athens, it is rich with people coming down to the cafes which are generally a little pricey if they are on the main roads (Kydatheneon, Adrianou) and around the squares, but in a way worth it for the view. If you sit in one of these cafes long enough you will see that everyone who comes to Greece walks down  the streets of Plaka.

In the heart of this historic Greek town of Athens and its winding streets lie numerous churches of impressive architecture, dating back to 5th century. Most of the churches in Athens are well-preserved, decorated with rare frescoes and icons. A stroll around the center reveals the jewels of religious art and tradition.

A little bit more of wandering around with my Greek friend through Anafiotika: a scenic tiny neighborhood.

The first houses were built in the era of King Otto of Greece, 19th century, when workers from the island of Anafi came to Athens in order to work as construction workers in the refurbishment of the city.

As we are moving towards a bit modern times, let me show you the main shopping street called Ermou.

And the Syntagma square – main square of the city. The square is named after the Constitution that Otto, the first King of Greece, was obliged to grant after a popular and military uprising on 3 September 1843.

It is located in front of the 19th century Old Royal Palace, housing the Greek Parliament since 1934.

Behinf the palace is the beautiful garden that makes the city scape completely different. When I entered this garden – I lost every single feeling that I am in chaotic and mediterranean Athens.

Not far away is the University of Athens and Library of Athens – the two beautiful buildings in neoclassical style.

There is a Monastiraki neighbourhood famous for grafittis. My local friend Antonis brought me there as well where we tasted sweet greek red wine.

Finishing with the great greek food and some souvenirs:)

Castle 10

Palace Pena, Sintra, Portugal

Travelling to Portugal for the third time, and trying to enter this beautiful palace for the third as well. Third is a charm – they say! ūüôā

My friend picked me up at the airport. I had coul,e of hours free before my conference started, So we immediately went towards the city of Sintra –¬†a picturesque Portuguese town that is set amidst the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra.

Landing to Lisbon

The historic center of the Vila de Sintra is famous for its 19th-century  Romanticist architecture, historic estates & villas, gardens, and numerous royal palaces & castles. 

Small and mystic corners of Sintra

Small and mystic streets of Sintra

In all it’s mystical beauty – it used to attract famous people like poet Lord George Gordon Byron and still continues nowadays with people like Madonna etc.¬†

You can notice the glorious houses and villas hidden behind the greenery and bushes while climbing upwards towards the castle. 

Quinta de Regaleira castle

Instead of climbing up towards the Pena Castle, my friend and I took the tuk tuk. I know, crazy, right? You wouldn’t expect it here in Portugal, right? However, if you look again, you will notice narrow roads which sometimes turns sharply where the opposite car is coming unexpectedly. Tuk tuk makes sense, no? 15 EUR for 20 min of the ride. Nikola and I happily jumped in ūüôā¬†

As per our arrival we decided to have a coffee first! After all, the queue to enter the castle was long and we had enough time to go local, hence Pasteis de Nata –¬†a Portuguese egg tart pastry dusted with cinnamon.

Small break of 20 min made us new and fresh again! We purchased the entrance tickets and entered the a Romanticist castle on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains above the town of Sintra. The importancy of this place says that it is a national monument and constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is also used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials. 

The castle’s history started in the¬†Middle Ages¬†when a¬†chapel¬†dedicated to¬†Our Lady of Pena¬†was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. According to tradition, construction occurred after an apparition of the¬†Virgin Mary, of course.

The Pena Palace has a profusion of styles much in accordance with the exotic taste of the Romanticism. The intentional mixture of eclectic styles includes the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance.


The depiction of a mythological Triton, symbolizing the allegory of creation of the world
Triton holding the World

As the castle is placed on such a strategic and I would dare to day – hedonistic place – the view goes up to the ocean…

sdr

The inside of the castle is astonishing as well. The decorations and furniture amazed us with its unique style. 

The Royal Dining Room
19th century kitchen

Talking about kitchen – time to refresh with some Portuguese version of sangria, oh joy! ūüôā¬†

Portuguese version Sangria

We sterted to glimpse down the hill. Not easy! We tried to avoid the main road and search for small paths through the forest. Of course, we got lost several times, the night started to fall down and the full moon (!!) started to appear. Should I mention that this is how all the horror movies start? 

The garden is a park, well actually a labyrinth of  through shaded woodland. The 200 hectares of the park may simply appear as an ancient forest but the area was specifically designed by King Fernando II, who wished the grounds to be a maze of romantic paths to enthrall his guests. Indeed. 

Bye castle!

Time to eat! Dinner a la ocean food in the pacific country! We met with another friend from Bosnia and Herzegovina and shared the wine and shrimp risotto. 

Castle 16

Baku, Azerbaijan – the land of fire ūüĒ•

It was nothing like I expected to be!

I was tired of travelling from Brussels via Istanbul over Black sea… but once I started to land to Baku over Caspian sea… I woke up again and all the excitement started to run again.

IMG_20180927_200242
Landing to Baku over Caspian sea

I got the present at the airport in Baku upon my arrival. After all, it was my first time to Azerbaidjan. What a nice welcome. ūüôā

IMG_20180927_212850
Azerbaidjani welcome at Heydar Aliyev Airport

My friend Cagdas was waiting for me at the airport together with some local friend of his. At the moment we sat in the car I realised that magic is happening around me. Everything was in lights. Buildings, highway, yards…

The land of oil and fire… logically, shows you the light!

IMG_20180927_214536
The land of fire – Azerbaidjan

Quick dinner and we went to sleep. At that time, my day was already 28 hours long.

IMG_20180927_230507

The first day was about exploring the architecture in the relatively new area. Around The Fountain square etc. I was surprised how streets are clean and paved with beautiful shiny stone.

IMG_20180928_105943
The Fountain square

IMG_20180928_105714

Or for example, when you want to cross huge avenues and you take the underground passage which is a marble palace if you ask me:

IMG_20180929_130351

Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region.

azerbaijan-map-600x269

Drilling for oil began in the mid-1800s, with the first¬†oil well¬†drilled in the suburb of Baku in 1846. It was mechanically drilled, though a number of hand-dug wells predate it. Large-scale oil exploration started soon by¬† Russian imperial authorities when they auctioned the parcels of oil-rich land around Baku to private investors. As you can imagine, Azerbaidjan doesn’t like much Stalin’s USSR and Armenia (I will explain later).

As Azerbaijan went through its first oil boom the architects from all over Western Europe were attracted to the city to design buildings for the expanding city mixing traditional with Western European.

IMG_20180928_101216IMG_20180929_165732IMG_20180928_112252IMG_20180928_163922

The Land of Fire has interesting lamps in the streets of Baku: the old oil lamps that remind about the story of Aladdin.

Also, Azerbaidjan and Persia (nowadays Iran) have lots of shared cultural heritage like carpets or poets. I was impressed by 12th-century¬†Persian¬†Sunni¬†Muslim¬†poet: NezńĀmi Ganyavi who is considered the greatest romantic epic poet in¬†Persian literature. I found his great monument is the city Center, even though the official religion in Azerbadijan is Muslim shia. To add to this, people of Azerbaidjan are not religious at all. In fact, they have lots of traditional holidays mixed with zoroastrianism (I will come to it back again later).

IMG_20180928_101131
Monument to¬†NezńĀmi Ganyavi – 12th century persian poet

To the Old city!

Dating from the 12th century and surrounded by the walls, it is a perfect place to get shade or have a meal in a traditional way.

IMG_20180928_113002

IMG_20180928_162045
Double Gates – entrance to the Old city

IMG_20180928_181729
One of the gates of ńįcheri Sheher – part of the Old City of Baku

IMG_20180928_113217IMG_20180928_113550IMG_20180928_113625IMG_20180928_113630IMG_20180928_114206IMG_20180928_114317

Baku was the realm of the Shirvanshahs during the 8th century CE. After the great earthquake in 12th century, they moved to Baku so the Shirvan era greatly influenced Baku and the remainder of what is present-day Azerbaijan.

It is highly recommended to build the Shirvanshahs’ palace.

IMG_20180928_115924
The Palace of Shah Shirvanh

IMG_20180928_123859IMG_20180928_121921IMG_20180928_122732IMG_20180928_122549

IMG_20180928_123925
EBaths of the Shirvanshahs’ family

IMG_20180928_123323

IMG_20180928_123756
The tombs of Shirvanshah’s family

IMG_20180928_123209
Playing hide and seek in Shirvanshahs’ Palace – although my claustrophobia did not allow to visit the hidden place

IMG_20180928_121522
Bath slippers – I don’t know how they were used…

IMG_20180928_121202 (1)
Calligraphy – beautiful writing was intense part of the then educational system at the court of the Shah Shirvanh

IMG_20180928_121847
13th century Baku

IMG_20180928_120334
Family tree of Shirvanshahs’

In 18th century Russia invaded Iran and somehow Azerbaijan became part of Russo – Persian wars. Remember I mentioned that Azerbaijan and Iran have intertwined history?

Most of the Old city was re-built again but this with different influence.

IMG_20180928_114339IMG_20180928_114352IMG_20180928_114624IMG_20180928_114652

The next stop, short but cute one was the Baku Museum of Miniature Books. It is the only museum of miniature books in the world.

Exhibits in the museum were collected by Zarifa Salahova (the sister of Tahir Salahov ) over the period of 30 years. Her collection consists of more than 6500 books from 64 different countries РSoviet Azerbaijani painter and founder of the Fine Arts Academy in Baku.

 

 

What else can Old city offer you? Here some more traditional charm ūüôā

IMG_20180928_122926IMG_20180928_130551IMG_20180928_130637IMG_20180928_143410_BURST001_COVERIMG_20180928_143534

On the other side of the Old city is the Maiden tower. Built in 12th century, but that time in the shores of Caspian sea. It ground floor however, is built between the 4th and 6th centuries. Today, is much more far away from the coast itself so you can see how the sea is shrinking due to pollution.

The Maiden Tower houses a museum, which presents the story of historic evolution of the Baku city. The view from the roof takes in the alleys and minarets of the Old City, and a wide vista of the Baku Bay.  The Tower is covered by cloud of mysteries and legends which are rooted to the History of Azerbaijan and national Culture of Azerbaijan.

IMG_20180928_144014
Maiden tower

IMG_20180930_135902

Some scientific sources indicate that the Maiden Tower is a paramount example of Zoroastrianism and the pre-Islamic architecture in Iran and Azerbaijan.

IMG_20180928_144316

One of the most popular legends is the one about the girl coming out of the Flamed Maiden tower when the enemy was attacking the city.

IMG_20180928_145444
View on the Baku Bay

That was enough for that morning. Tea time ūüôā (with the view on Maiden and Caspian Bay).

Unsweetened¬†tea¬†is a sign of rejection. If you visit¬†Azerbaijan, the Land of Fire, you should definitely taste its¬†tea. Azerbaijanis say “√áay n…ôdir, say n…ôdir”, which can be translated as “when you¬†drink tea, you don’t count the cups” and means that¬†is something almost “sacred” in¬†Azerbaijan.

IMG_20180928_151836

IMG_20180928_153350
Tea in Azerbaijani traditional armudu (pear-shaped) glass

IMG_20180928_161335
Traditional sweets (I would say marmalade) served with the tea

As my friend introduced me to the local expats in Baku, that night I ended up partying at the 22nd floor of Landmark hotel. The view was amazing and the moon was even more amazing – too bad I never manage to capture it on my camera.

IMG_20180928_205521

IMG_20180928_205425

The next day I decided to make it chill. I went down to the coast to meet Caspian sea in person. Although I was flying over it when travelling to Kazakhstan.

It is the largest enclosed inland¬†body of water¬†on¬†Earth¬†by area – although shrinking heavily, but also the¬†world’s largest lake¬†or a full-fledged¬†sea. I would call it a sea – cause it is salt.

IMG_20180929_112802

IMG_20180930_171230
Polluted Caspian sea full of oil

IMG_20180930_171433

By the end of the 19th century, Baku became known as the “black gold capital”, and many skilled workers and specialists flocked to the city. By the beginning of the 20th century, Baku was the centre of international oil industry. In 1920, when the¬†Bolsheviks¬†captured¬†Azerbaijan, all private property ‚Äď including oil wells and factories ‚Äď was confiscated. Afterwards, the republic’s entire oil industry came under the control of the¬†Soviet Union. By 1941, Azerbaijan was producing a record 23.5 million tons of oil per year, and the Baku region supplied nearly 72% of all oil extracted in the entire Soviet Union.

Moving further, the promenade and 21 century architecture. You can see the Flame towers from almost everywhere in the city as the fire is the icon of the country.

IMG_20180929_112559IMG_20180929_121157

IMG_20180929_121507
Venice in Baku – Why Baku??

Actually the most close I could get to the Flame towers was climbing up to the Nagorny park. This is the highest point in the city and a unique observation deck. From here you can see the whole of the capital. There is a mosque, a monument to the victims of Soviet occupation of Azerbaidjan and Armenain occupation of Nagorno РKarabakh. 

IMG_20180929_171259IMG_20180929_171312IMG_20180929_172819IMG_20180929_172728IMG_20180929_172812

I was able to enter the mosque but only to go upstairs – where is traditionally reserved part for women. I was not able to see much and of course, I had to take off the shoes.

IMG_20180929_171358IMG_20180929_171554IMG_20180929_171920

The alleys with tombs of soldiers and officers begin at the cableway station. On the lowest alley there were buried the soldiers who perished during the Nagorno Karabah War in 1992. On the upper alley there were buried the officers who died at the same place during 1990-92.

IMG_20180929_171305IMG_20180929_172319IMG_20180929_172242

While waiting for the sunset, I decided to try the Azerbaijani beer: Xirdalan.

IMG_20180929_174740IMG_20180929_172834IMG_20180929_183157IMG_20180929_183245IMG_20180929_190436

As mentioned several times, the culture and history of Iran and Azerbaijan are mutual. I always thought that the carpets are traditionally persian, but then I discovered azerbaijani rug.

IMG_20180929_165012

IMG_20180930_140106

As this is an ancient center of carpet weaving, there is a Carpet museum to teach more about this historic item.

IMG_20180929_121904IMG_20180929_123712

Traditionally, since ancient times the carpets were used in Azerbaijan to cover floors, decorate interior walls, sofas, chairs, beds and tables…

IMG_20180929_123509IMG_20180929_124001IMG_20180929_124254IMG_20180929_124734

IMG_20180929_123313

The carpet weaving is still big part of the society so you can see how the social happenings influence the culture of carpet weaving.

IMG_20180929_125000

They are even in the taxi:

IMG_20180929_191040

I took some photos of the traditional clothes in the museum:

IMG_20180929_124355IMG_20180929_125418

Tea time again. This time I met with a local. I have a friend in Baku who I met some time in Rome and decided to text him to meet. Toghrul explained the tea moments again and ordered like an Azer the black tea with typical fruit feijoa. Only feijoa were served as a marmelade.

Feijoa
Feijoa – typical Azerbaijani fruit

IMG_20180929_154129
Black tea with feijoa marmelade

However, I decided to have an additional coffee and baklava. Habits are habits.

IMG_20180929_144937

 

The dinner looked this:

IMG_20180929_195513
Sadj with vegetables and fish from the Caspian sea and warm bread

IMG_20180930_143737

IMG_20180930_141326
Tandir – traditional bad baking oven

IMG_20180929_200448
Players of Traditional Instruments

IMG_20180930_173359

IMG_20180930_204709
Azerbaijani wine

The third day I decided to go to Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center. This is the name of the first president of modern Azerbaijan since the fall of USSR. The building has a shape of the signature of the president. A master-piece of the modern architecture.

IMG_20180930_104224IMG_20180930_111701IMG_20180930_111801IMG_20180930_114024

The regime established by Heydar Aliyev in Azerbaijan has been described as dictatorial or authoritarian and repressive. Political commentators highlight that Aliyev ran a heavy-handed police state, that he rigged elections and muzzled the media whereas others emphasize that his balanced policy brought stability to Azerbaijan.

IMG_20180930_120126
Ali Heydar – the President of Azerbaijan since 1993

Azerbaijan is rich with oil hence the modern architecture is flourishing. I am not fan of it, but I took some photos:

IMG_20180930_105414

IMG_20180930_134658IMG_20180930_134516IMG_20180930_134837

IMG_20180930_134633

When taking the higway and noticing all these big buildings – I noticed the wall follows us as well. The more we were leaving the city – the cityscape became dirtier and the wall higher. It is built to hide the poverty.

IMG_20180930_133213IMG_20180930_133417

However, there is always some pump taking the oil out of the dirt – and the pipeline. All along the highway or any road – the pipeline. Maybe there is no sidewalk, but there is a pipeline.

 

The last day I spent visiting outskirts of Baku. As Azerbaijan is also the land of Zoroastrianism –¬†I decided to visit the Ateshgah temple where this religion was practiced.

IMG_20180930_125302IMG_20180930_130400 (1)

The followers of Zaratustra were respecting the fire as eternity. As this is the land where oil burns and it burns eternally, the believers built a temple in 18th century with the fire in its centre. The natural eternal flame went out in 1969, after nearly a century of exploitation of petroleum and gas in the area, but is now lit by gas piped from the nearby city.

IMG_20180930_125510IMG_20180930_125802IMG_20180930_130645

And that was the last day.

Next morning I took the breakfast and headed towards the airport.

IMG_20180928_103546

Goodbye The Land of Fire!

 

Castle 25

Waterloo, Belgium

A day trip to the south of Brussels, to be more precise РBrabant region in Wallonie which is the site of the Battle of Waterloo, where the resurgent Napoleon was defeated for the final time in 1815.

We started with the visit to the museum which takes you to the times of enlightenment and ideas of the 18th century philosophers like Rene Descartes or Diderot, Immanuel¬†Kant (my ever time favorite),¬†Montesquieu,¬†Rousseau,¬†Adam Smith, Voltaire¬† … whose main ideology based on the idea that a human is allowed to advice for itself without being oppressed by the government nor church:¬†in opposition to an¬†absolute monarchy¬†and the fixed dogmas of the¬†Roman Catholic Church

Soon evolved the¬†Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1789¬†(D√©claration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen de 1789, fra) –¬†a¬†human¬†civil rights¬†document from the¬†French Revolution.

dav
Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1789

However, Napoleon Рeven though sharing these principles (he established the civil code etc), soon started to rule in authoritarian way and battling the Europe in Napoleonic wars.  So, the european leaders allied against him in  The Gret Coalition.

sdr
Napoleon vs rest of Europe leaders

The Europe that time after so many battles looked liked this:

napmap (1)

The most south battle was Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife which I mentioned in my previous post when visiting the Canary Islands. The battle between French Empire and British Royal was famous for admiral Nelson loosing his arm.

However, the wars through Europe continued and The Great Coalition decided to invite Napoleon for the battle at Waterloo.

dav

The¬†Battle of Waterloo¬†took place near Waterloo on 18 June 1815 between the¬†First French Empire¬†of¬†Napoleon Bonaparte¬†and the¬†Seventh Coalition¬†(troops from¬†Prussia, the¬†United Kingdom, the¬†Netherlands,¬†Hanover,¬†Brunswick¬†and¬†Nassau), under the main allied commanders, the¬†Duke of Wellington¬†and¬†General von Bl√ľcher.

Napoleon lost and the allies decided to make a tribute by building the butte with the victorious lion facing the France. We climbed up with 226 stairs, in order to see the battle and the strategy drawn.

digdigsdrdav

Time for the beer: of course, in the country of beers, the Waterloo commemorative beer ūüôā

sdr

The day was still bright and there was so many things to see around the field: the barracks of both enemies where the soldiers were sleeping, or the Hougoumont – the small house with the yard where finally the enemies met again to finish the battle, it was kinds the battle within the battle.

sdrdav

In his novel Les Misérables, Victor Hugo describes how 300 bodies were thrown down a well at Hougoumont. Most of them were still alive.

Fun fact: a celebrated 400 years old wooden crucifix which survived an inferno during the Battle of Waterloo was only to be looted from a battlefield chapel has been rediscovered in a Belgian flea market after a four year hunt by Interpol. The crucifix is now there, at the Hougoumont farm and it well respected.

dscn1240
400 years old wooden crucifix which survived an inferno during the Battle of Waterloo

The visit to the battlefield was very touching and sensitive. We decided to walk the land field which is nowadays full of agricultural goods but once the place of terrible battlefield.

dav

The day finished in the city of Waterloo with the dinner. In the city center there is a small museum dedicated to the winner of the battle: the commander Wellington.

dav
Museum of Wellington

Funny, isn’t it? Even though he is the actual winner of the battle who stopped Napoleon for long time, his name is not even close mentioned and celebrated as Napoleons’.

Life is strange sometimes.

 

Castle 20

Castle van Gaasbeek, Belgium

Since I got myself a car: her name is Tintine, we decided to drive around Brussels and explore. My Flemish friend recommended Castle van Gaasbeek –¬† apparently the most romantic castle of Belgium.

The castle was initially built in 13th century as part of the wider line of defence to protect Brussels but changed it’s style through centuries…

Gaasbeek - foto Marc De Vos (4)

The castle was occupied by a succession of noble families. Lamoraal, Count of Egmond, was one of the chateau’s best-known owners.

images (2)

Count of Egmond, Governor of Flanders, Commanding Officer of the Spanish army in the Low Countries (Spanish Netherlands), Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, was born in 1522 in Hainaut. He came from the Dutch Egmond family, which had amassed an enormous fortune via lucrative dealings and who were consequently influential in the politics of the Habsburg court. His father was a chamberlain and personal friend of Emperor Charles V on whose side he fought several times.

I like him cause he was  he protested against the Spanish Inquisition.

KvG Bibliotheek © Luc Van Muylem

During the Romantic Period, the fascination for the Count of Egmond grew, and he became a popular theme in literature and the arts. He became a national hero in the young Belgian Kingdom and was also acclaimed within the Flemish Movement.

KAIROS-CASTLE-6

In the late 18th century, the castle became the property of the Italian aristocratic Arconati Visconti family. Gaasbeek Castle became a meeting place for scholars and artists.

Marquise Marie Arconati Visconti, the last Marquise of Gaasbeek Castle. She was the daughter of the French radical socialist, a progressive journalist and member of the French National Assembly.  At the age of 33, Marie married a tremendously rich guy named Visconti Рan Italian who she met in Paris.

Apperently Visconti spent most of his time in Milano,  and Marie studied, she ignored social obligations and refused to behave as a woman of her standing. She rolled her own cigarettes, sometimes wore men’s clothes and used rough language.

5471426696_b74640ebd5_z

Three years after their marriage, Giammartino Visconti died and Marie inherited a gigantic fortune. Marie lived alternately in Paris or in Gaasbeek. In Paris, Marie held political and literary Salons, at which the liberal socialist L√©on Gambetta was a key figure. He gave her the nickname ‚Äėthe angel of liberalism‚Äô. Like her father she abhorred religion, collected art and donated fortunes to scientific research. She punctuated her busy intellectual and urbane life in Paris with long holidays in Gaasbeek Castle. She had a love of history and archives and at times dressed up in page outfits. Together with her adviser, the antiquarian Raoul Duseigneur, she purchased a great many works of art. Duseigneur, who was also Marie‚Äôs lover, often stayed with her in Gaasbeek. Basically, the woman lived my life! ‚̧

1

Her favourite period was the Renaissance. Really? ūüôā So she restaured the castle according to back 15th century renaissance style.

Shortly after that, the World War I started and she knew she needs to make the testament.  The Louvre received her complete collection of mediaeval and renaissance works of art.

The impression of her left some mark to my historic soul. I was walking through her gardens and admire… picturing her soul wandering around the castle…

gaasbeek-castle

sdr

The evening we spent at the Brasserie Graaf van Egmond. ūüôā We had typical flemmish meal.

45

Castle 28

Monte Carlo, Monaco ūüŹį

Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, is a micro-state in Western Europe.  Actually, this is the second smallest independent state in the world (after the Vatican) and is entirely urban.

Monaco is surrounded by France on three sides and the remaining part of the country is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea.

I arrived from the train station which I noticed was entirely in marble.