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Category: kings and queens

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York, UK

There is no proper introduction to this city as I arrived totally unprepared, being just a day before on the southwest of Europe (in Lisbon) – different lifestyle, different weather, different clothes…

I arrived at noon to the train station without any excitements. Noticing firstly the Georgian houses.

But then I passed the city walls and ended up in the medieval city centre. Astonished!

I have soon realize that the city is very photogenic. Especially The Shambles – once a place for butchers to trade, the houses (called Shambles) were built with overhanging timber-framed buildings to stop meat from going bad in the sun. Retaining much of their medieval charm, they’re now filled with quirky eateries and shopping spots. 

My colleagues and I were having dinners every night in different pub. As the girl who read so many books about War of Roses, my heart totally melted on the names of pubs such as Tudor bar.

Oh, and not to forget the absolute hit: House of Trembling Madness It’s an homage to ‘delirium tremens’ – an absolute cavern of beery goodness.

House of Trembling madness – a 14th century bar

A secret to share: I escaped one morning for half an hour to cross the brifge over the river Ouse to take some photos. The river was floated but still peaceful.

I have also entered some Parish church on my way back to hotel. It was from the 15th century, one of a kind…

If you ever visit York, do not skip the Richard III experience. It is about the Battle of York between two kings Henry VII and Richard III – the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty before it became united in Tudors. Of course, the Elizabeth of York had to play her part in this story as well. Chercher le femme.

Total War of Roses fan here! 🙂

The largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, York Minster dominates the skyline and has a history of building that dates back to the 8th century at least. The biggest stained glass of windows can be found here.

York was founded by the Romans. Being home of the 9th and later the 6th Legion, it soon became the city.

However, it did not become vivid until the Vikings arrived and called it Jorvik. I really recommend you to visit the Viking experience as it takes you 2000 years backwards.

My last stop was a market. Fresh and medieval in the same time. Actually, it was very useful as I found a towel with some yorkshire expressions – the dialect I was so hard to understand these 3 days.

dav
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Edinburgh, Scotland

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

First stop was the bar, of course!

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

Nobles pub

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

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

Streets of Edinburgh
Royal Mile – the longest street in Edinburgh

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

Clans of Scotland and their kilts

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

Edinburgh castle

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

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

The view from the Castle

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

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

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

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

Public well

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

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

Bobby

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

Graveyard

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

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

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

Cockburn street

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

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

Up through to Victoria street for some more wandering…

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

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

Princess Street – shopping street

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

Sir Walter Scott

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

Duke of Wellington

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

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

David Hume
Adam Smith

Time to stop for a second. Whiskey tasting? 🙂

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

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

Sovereignty given by the Queen Elizabeth II

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

The view from Arthur seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgian houses

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

Britannia ship
Books 4

Master of All Desires

by Judith Merkle Riley

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

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

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

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

Prophete Nostradamus

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

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

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Girona, Catalunya, Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for break 🙂

The typical beer here is Estrella. Lager.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rouen, France – steps of Jeanne d’Arc 🗡

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

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

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

Le gros horloge

It is a 14th century astronomical clock.

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

Already in love? Me too…

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

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

Now, this is the Cathedral… Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Rouen!

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

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

Driving through its landscapes was total mind relaxation 🙂

Domfront

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

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

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

Alencon

The city is located less than 200 km from Paris.

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

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

Quail

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

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

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

Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei

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

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

Some sacrla bees which attacked the church demolishers

Le Mans

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


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

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

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Mont Saint Michel

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

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

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

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

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

Famous family restaurant

Anyhow, we were climbing up towards the abbey.

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

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

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

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

Archangel Gabriel – the protector of the mount

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

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

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

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

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

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Corsica – Île de Beauté

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

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

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

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

Ajaccio

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

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

Port of Ajaccio

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

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

Statue of Napoleon at Place Foch

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

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


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

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

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

Statue of Napoleon

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

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

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

Place Charles de Gaulle

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

Corte

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

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

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

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

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

Sertena

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

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

Bonifacio

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

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

The citadel of Bonifacio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Dominique church

Îles Sanguinaires

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

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

Castle 12

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

It was my first time visiting the Middle East.

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

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


Landing into desert: Queen Alia International Airport

Amman

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

Non-alcoholic beer

We had a quick lunch and started to explore!

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

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

Roman Theater in Amman
Citadel

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

The view on the city of Amman from Citadel – sunset

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

Byzantine church and Omayyad Palace

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

Dinner time!

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

Jordanian beer 🙂

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

Falafels and hummus

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

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

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

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

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

Then the Royal Palace:

Home of King Abdullah and his family

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

Jordan Museum

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


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

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


Mariam al-Asturlabiyy discovering the astrolab – the navigation tool

Food again! 🙂 Restaurants with view…

Lamb kebab

Petra

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

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

Our destination was Petra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the disappointment happened.

Fine detailed carvings of the mausoleum of Nabatean King

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

Local beduins offering tourists the donkey ride.

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

Ruins of the Roman Amphitheater
Royal Tombs

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

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

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

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


Wadi Rum

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

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

Our 4×4 driver 🙂

Wadi room translated from Arabic means Valley of the Moon.

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

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

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

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

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

Madaba

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

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

Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George

A 6th-century mosaic map of Jerusalem

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

Mount Nebo

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

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

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

Promised Land

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

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

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

Memorial Church of Moses

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

Going down the mountain…

Bethany

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

The place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus

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

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

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

Dead sea

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

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

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

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

The bottom of the sea made of salt concrete

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

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

Al – Kerak castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good bye beautiful Jordan!

abbey 12

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
Castle 8

Vienna, Austria

I studied here.

So coming back to this place brings memories. Of everything.

Let me start with the view on Danube river. We used to drink coffee at the top of the buildings on the left side, having the Austrian cakes and enjoying the view from bars.

Most of my time there I spent living in the times before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

So let’s start from the beginning.

I studied political sciences at Universitat Wien.
It was founded by Duke Rudolph IV in 1365 and is one of the oldest universities in the German-speaking world.

Universitat Wien

I was spending loads of my time in the called Harry Potter library: old wooden tables and chairs that make squitchy noise everytime you move a bit, green art nouvea table lamps, chandelier, tall book shelfs that go up until the ceiling…

Making breaks was important so we would sit in the atrium of the University in the back chairs.

Or simply at the near by Votiv Park in front of the Votiv Kirche (church).

Votiv Kirche

As the University is at the Ring 1 or 1 Bezirk (in Vienna the districts are circled areas of the center), at Schotenring the nearby places had other famous Baroque-era monuments like Rathaus or the City Hall.

Rathaus (city hall), Vienna, Austria, Europe

Once we had organized visit to the Rathaus. I remember the jar dropping down as it houses the office of the Mayor of Vienna as well as the chambers of the city council.

Or the another neo – gothic building such as Volkstheater.

Theater

The Innere Stadt is the Old Town of Vienna. Until the city boundaries were expanded in 1850, the Innere Stadt was congruent with the city of Vienna. Traditionally it was divided into four quarters, which were designated after important town gates: Stubenviertel (northeast), Kärntner Viertel (southeast), Widmerviertel (southwest), Schottenviertel (northwest).

The nearby is beautiful Cathedral of Sankt Steffan.
The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral started to be built in 12th century.

St. Stephan cathedral in Vienna, Austria

On the façade of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a figure of Christ with a Toothache. 
How it came to this name tells the following story?

Once upon a time three jolly fellows lived in Vienna. They often sat together and drank until late into the night and on their way home they used to play tricks on one or the other Viennese. 

One night after the curfew of their favourite pub they strolled frolicsomely through the streets of Vienna. On their way they passed St. Stephen’s Cathedral. 

”Hey, this looks as if the Lord had a toothache! No wonder he definitely stands at a draughty place!”

For a while they continued joking. Finally they went to their homes. 
But that night they couldn’t fall asleep as their cheeks began to burn and a short time later they got a very bad toothache.  They immediately went to the doctor, but the doctor said all teeth are fine. So they went back to Cathedral to apologize for blasphemy and sarcastic comments.

If you walk towards the Hofburg – the former principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty rulers and today the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria – you will see this:

Hofburg palace

The left and the right wing continues to big big museums called Naturhistorische Museum and Kunst (Art) Museum. Left building was erected in the name of Joseph I Habsburg and the seconf to his mother Empress Maria Therese. 


Museum of Science and History dedicated to Empress of Habsburg Empire Maria Theresa of Austria and the Art museum on the other side, dedicated to her son Habsburg Emperor Joseph ll.

Iron meteorite fell down in Zagorje county of Croatia, in in 1751, today in Naturhistorische Museum

From Schwedenplatz up again towards the old city:

… will bring you to one of my favourite places in Vienna: Alt Wien – a beer house. To meeting point Saturday evening with my friends from Uni. 🙂

If you are looking for something more relaxing, then the coffee Julius Meinl with sweet marzipan Mozartkugeln might be for you. Or perhaps Sachertorte? Cakes and pastries in Vienna are a must try. Actually, even the croissant is comig from Vienna, not from France!

Mozartkugeln

For the good concesrts we used to go to Donauinsel. It kinda makes parallel excavated channel Neue Donau (“New Danube”). I remember celebrating my name day in June with the song Brenna tuats gut – some dialect of austrian german… don’t ask!

For the good Sunday time was the Praterstern. It is a major square in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna but also the amusement park. It derives from the old Latin word which means meadow.

Talking about the fun and amusement – the high fashion is gathered in MariaHilferstrasse.
It is the city’s longest and most lively shopping street. It will be worth your while to explore the side streets in the 6th and 7th districts. This is where many out-of-the-ordinary shops and outlets have sprung up recently.

The same is true for the Naschmarkt area. Although night life there is better 🙂 Pubs, pubs!

When living in Vienna, it feels like a fairytale. The architecture, the politeness, the curtsy, the lifestyle…

Perhaps, the main reason for that is the must visit castle called Schönbrunn. The residential palace of Habsburgs dynasty who rulled half of Europe in its times.

This Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the country.

The most important rulers and adresees of the palace were Empress Marie Therese and her son Franz Josef l who married Sissi or Elisabeth. Her beauty was astonished, her good heart even more, However, she died from a terrorist act at the lake of Geneva.


Elisabeth of Austria, 19 century, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and thus Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Queen consort of Croatia and Bohemia. My favourite empress ever! 

However, Vienna is famous for its Christmas markets. So I will finish with the photo below:

abbey 16

Naples, Italy

Early morning flight for 25 EUR but it was totally worth it. 🙂 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? 🙂

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? 🙂

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’re talking about an artistic and spiritual heritage of enormous importance, formed within seventeen centuries; this is the reason, since ‘700, it has been named the “city of 500 domes”. 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! 🙂

We started the day again with espresso schiumato and sfogliatelle! 🙂 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
Castle 25

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 (460–430 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! 🙂

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 9

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! 🙂

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 🙂 

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…

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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! 🙂 

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 13

Baku, Azerbaijan – the land of fire 🔥

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.

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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. 🙂

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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!

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The land of fire – Azerbaidjan

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

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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.

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The Fountain square

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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:

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

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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.

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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: Nezāmi 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).

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Monument to Nezāmi 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.

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Double Gates – entrance to the Old city

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One of the gates of İcheri Sheher – part of the Old City of Baku

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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.

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The Palace of Shah Shirvanh

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EBaths of the Shirvanshahs’ family

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The tombs of Shirvanshah’s family

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

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

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

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13th century Baku

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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.

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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 – Soviet Azerbaijani painter and founder of the Fine Arts Academy in Baku.

 

 

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

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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.

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Maiden tower

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

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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.

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View on the Baku Bay

That was enough for that morning. Tea time 🙂 (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 “Çay nədir, say nədir”, which can be translated as “when you drink tea, you don’t count the cups” and means that is something almost “sacred” in Azerbaijan.

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Tea in Azerbaijani traditional armudu (pear-shaped) glass

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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.

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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.

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Polluted Caspian sea full of oil

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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 – including oil wells and factories – 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.

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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 – Karabakh. 

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