The Ardennes is the name given to a region of Belgium in the south that extends into Luxembourg, France and Germany. This southern region is totally different from the busy, industrial north. The things available to do in this region are as varied as you might imagine and include some great museums, plenty of beer and even the world’s smallest city. Given the rolling hills and the lush green scenery, it will not surprise you that The Ardennes has become a popular spot for travellers who love the outdoors.
The landscape aside the highway was full of green grass, deep forests, cows and sheeps. My heart was warm.
Tombeau du Géant
There is a magnificent open view at Devil’s view, looking across to ‘Le Tombeau du Géant’ (The Giant’s Tomb), so named because one of the bends in the Semois at this point seems to enclose a coffin of gigantic proportions. It is not easy to reach it. We walked an hour through the forest athough the tracks are pretty good marked.
Cozy little town actually hides many secrets. Hubert was actually a prince of Liege. Being passionately in love with hunting, perhaps too passionately, one day he saw a deer with the christian cross on his horns. The deer asked not to be killed and advised prince to live modesty. So prince became a monk and the patron of hunters. And later of this city.
Well known for its megaliths from pre-historic times. Most probably Celts. It is a nice little village with stone houses and some timber houses.
The last the cutest. 🙂 In medieval times, Durbuy was an important centre of commerce and industry. In 1331, the town was elevated to the rank of city by John I, Count of Luxemburg, and King of Bohemia. In 1628 by permission of Felipe IV of Spain it becomes the duchy. One of the people connected to the city was the son of Lancelot II: Count of Durbuy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? 🙂
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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!).
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.
There is a statue of Sir Walter Scott – a Scottish historical novelist and poet of 18th century Scotland. Ever heard of Ivanhoe?
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…
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!) 🙂
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?
Except the Arthur, some other notable peeps from Edinburgh like Sir James Maxwell and Alexander Graham Bell – the inventor of the telephone.
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!
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…
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.
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:
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. 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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.
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…
Easter was a trip to northern part of France: Normandie or historical Duchy of Normandy.
Driving through its landscapes was total mind relaxation 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
And then it was the lunch time. Do you like sea food? Yap urchins!
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.
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…
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 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…
Bonifacio is located directly on the Mediterranean Sea, separated from Sardinia by the Strait of Bonifacio.
There is also the largest church of the island, built in Norman style: Église Saint-Dominique de Bonifacio
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.
Short one day trip from Lisbon to Porto! Not much time plus the rain, but oh boy, we enjoyed! 🙂
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.
Porto’s Cathedral (‘Sé’) is the city’s most important church. Built in the 12th century, it’s a national monument.
The Sao Bento train station has been voted one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations. The outside is super-cool, in a Belle Epoque Parisian kind of way, but it’s the interiors that will really knocked me out: the station lobby walls are covered with 20,000 decorative tiles, which took painter Jorge Colaço 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.
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!
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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 – the 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 (1950–1977) and as the first President of Cyprus (1960–1977). In his three terms as president he survived four assassination attempts and a coup d’état. He is widely regarded by Greek Cypriots as the Father of the Nation or “Ethnarch”.[
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!)
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.
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! 🙂
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!
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 – the 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.
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.
A weekend trip to northern France. 🙂 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lunch time! Welsh again, but vegetarian version and brilliant local beer La Goudale 🙂 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the castle is placed on such a strategic and I would dare to day – hedonistic place – the view goes up to the ocean…
The inside of the castle is astonishing as well. The decorations and furniture amazed us with its unique style.
Talking about kitchen – time to refresh with some Portuguese version of sangria, oh joy! 🙂
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.
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.
Well, I guess, the most reasonable start would be: I arrived to this city to attend the wedding of a friend. This is her city by birth and it took me 4 hours in an ugly bus to arrive here.
The bus started from some shabby little station, actually it was a corner. Luckily, I got friends with a girl who offered me a ride to the hotel where I was supposed to sleep.
Once I arrived, the party started.
Waking up was like this:
Galați is a port town on the Danube River hence the naval shipyard. The city had a growth through trade: Ottomans, Russians, France and England, Genovians… you name it!
My friend Gabriela Denise and I decided to take a walk that morning and enjoy breakfast before we had to go to our scheduled wedding hairdresser.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit this beauty: Fortified Monastery of the Holy Virgin – the oldest building in Galați da ing since 17th century. It was built from local materials including stone, forest wood, brick and lime, sand from the beaches of the Danube and so on. With its typical Romanian church architecture, the monastery has some specific elements of interest such as a bell tower as it was used for observation of the Danube valley and for defense.
The walk through the city looked like this:
I guess the Communist era left its traces. Although the city has nice places to chill and enjoy the real romanian traditions like this restaurant, for example:
Time for the wedding! Orthodox wedding! Can’t wait to meet the tradition 🙂
From Moldova I took low cost company TAROM and landed to Bucharest. And I was surprised. 🙂 My friend insisted to order an Uber for me as the local taxi drivers are fatal serial killers trying to scam the tourists. So I decided to accept the advice.
As my Uber driver and I were approaching the city, I have to say I did not expect broad avenues and green boulevards. At all.
Also, Bucharest is very proud to have long past connections with Paris. Maybe sometimes trying too much to explain to be French-alike but let them be.
For example Arcul de Triumf – a triumphal arch. The first, wooden, triumphal arch was built hurriedly, after Romania gained its independence in 19th century, so that the victorious troops could march under it. The new one is more sober Neoclassical design and more closely modelled in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The river Danube flows through the city but it is not very attractive.
Upon my arrival to Victoria square, I noticed the Government building covered with the big Romanian flag:
Very imposing. I continued to take some beautiful photos of the 19th century buildings and admire the elegancy of this city – in certain moments.
However, I started with the 0ld town (Lipscani) of Bucharest. It is still under re-construction in order to shape the tourist boom with many bars and restaurants.
The buildings are mostly from the time of Ottoman control (16th century) and later when Bucharest was occupied at several intervals by the Habsburg Monarchy and Imperial Russia (in 18th and 19th century). During the second half of the 19th century, the city’s population increased dramatically, and a new period of urban development began. During this period, gas lighting, horse-drawn trams, and limited electrification were introduced and the canalization of the river.
But let’s go back again to the Old city with many beautiful places like the Biserica Stavropoleos neo-romanian 18th century monastery and church.
As I did not have the proper clothes, I was not able to enter, but I managed to sneak inside to the atrium of the monastery and inside the church to make some photos.
There is even a little Italy in Bucharest: Biserica Italiana of the Most Holy Redeemer. It is a Roman Catholic church made of Lombard Romanesque red brick.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop for a drink at least, because my time was limited. I needed to catch the bus to Galati (to attend my friend’s wedding) but this would be definitely my place to chill: old, charming, historical but vivid!
The Manuc’s inn is the oldest operating hotel building in Bucharest. The inn was built in 19th century as a khan, and originally owned by a wealthy and flamboyant Armenian entrepreneur.
The last I saved for the metro. I took the line towards the Uniri square in order to reach the Parliament Palace. It is the largest parliament building in the world, formerly named “Casa Poporului” (People’s House). The building, which was built in 1984 by Nicolae Ceauşescu, spans 12 stories, 3100 rooms and covers over 330,000m2.
Unfortunately, I came to late to enter. Apparently, the visitors can enjoy the tour which leads through the building’s vast collection of marble rooms and even go out on the balcony where from president Ceaucescu had his memorable speeches as the one in 1989 which caused the outbreak of fall of the communism in Europe (it started here, from this very place and started to spread amongst Europe) 🙂
After 5 years, I was again in Portugal. Lisbon has been checked and explored quite well, so I decided to explore a bit more!
I had a hotel in Oeiras so my friend who lives in Lisbon rented a car and we started a journey towards the north of the country.
We visited Santarem at first. Just a small half an tour stop. As we parked the car, a small gypsy boy approached us begging the money. Luckily, Nikola has a noble heart. 🙂
Santarem is a small city with nice streets around so you can really see the influence of Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and later Portuguese Christians.
There is a story, one of the various legends which tells how the city got its name: the Visigoth Saint Iria (or Irene), who was martyred in Tomar (Nabantia) but her uncorrupted body reached Santarém. In her honour, the name of the town (then known by its Latin name Scalabis) later became Sancta Irene, from which Santarém derives.
Santarém city centre has several monuments, including the largest and most varied ensemble of gothic churches in Portugal. These include fine examples of transitional Romanesque–Gothic.
The biggest impression left was the Church of the Grace, port. Igreja da Graça, built between the 14th and 15th centuries in a mix of mendicant and flamboyant Gothic styles. It has a main portal and rose window (unique in the world, carved out of a single stone) .
Notable are the street decorations as well, painted names of the streets and saints. I took a photo of some of them as these are actually traditonal colors of the country.
Pedro Álvares Cabral, discoverer of Brazil, and his wife are buried under a simple slab near the main chapel of the Church of the Grace.
We continued the way towards Coimbra, but first we needed to get out of the city. The roads to come down the hill and come back to highway again were like this:
Thanks to the Late Middle Ages, with its decline as the political centre of the Kingdom of Portugal, Coimbra became an inspiration for J.K. Rowling to write her searial of Harry Potter books.
This is why nowadays first year students are wearing the black mantle.
So, yes, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world and the oldest university of Portugal. Established in 1290 it is charing and romantic by itself.
However, even though succesful in the middle ages, the city, located on a hill by the Mondego River, was called Aeminium, deriving its name fromRoman times.
The Botanical Garden is just there, founded in 1772-1774 and it was integrated with the Natural History Museum established by the Marquis of Pombal.
Soon we got lost in this hilly city center, so I just decided to wander around while taking photos and enjoying the time:
That’s it from Coimbra. Next stop: Port (in the next blog post). Back to highway.
PS On highway we noticed the burned landscapes from the Great Fire in Portugal last summer 2017 when more than 60 people burned immediately on the road. RIP