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Regensburg and Walhalla – Ausweis bitte!

Regensburg

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

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

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

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

Porta praetoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walhalla

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode finished.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a Laško Zlatorog beer.

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Nancy of France

It was the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine. Following its rise to prominence in the Age of Enlightenment, it was nicknamed the “capital of Eastern France” in the late 19th century.

The motto of the city is Non inultus premor, latin for ‘”I am not injured unavenged”, a reference to the thistle, which is a symbol of Lorraine.

The exiled Polish king Stanislaus I (Stanisław Leszczyński in Polish), father-in-law of the French king Louis XV, was then given the vacant duchy of Lorraine. Under his nominal rule, Nancy experienced growth and a flowering of Baroque culture and architecture. Stanislaus oversaw the construction of Place Stanislaus, a major square and development connecting the old medieval with a newer part of the city. 

The old city center’s heritage dates from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. The cathedral of Nancy is 18th-century baroque monument. King Sigebert III of Austrasia, merovingian king was laid to rest here. Hence the naming Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation and St. Sigisbert.

Arc Héré, the triumphal arch of Nancy, or Porte Héré is a triumphal arch from 18th century, designed to honor the French king Louis XV. The Arc displays motifs of war and peace with an inscription reading: “HOSTIUM TERROR / FOEDERUM CULTOR / GENTISQUE DECUS ET AMOR” (“terror of the enemies, maker of treaties, and the glory and love of his people”), referring to Louis XV.

Arc Héré

When you pass Arc Héré, the alley of trees welcome you to Place de la Carriere. It is named after numerous races, tournaments, games of rings and other chivalrous exercises were held in the past.

Place de la Carriere with Government Palace of Nancy

Passing the Government Palace, on the right is the arch dedicated to Charles de Gaulle.

Another great monument of Lorraine to mention is the Ducal Palace of Nancy – a former princely residence in which was home to the Dukes of Lorraine. It houses the Musée Lorrain, one of Nancy’s principal museums, dedicated to the art, history and popular traditions of Lorraine until the early 20th century.

You won’t help but be awestruck by Nancy’s magnificent architecture. Nancy’s appearance evolved again in the late-19th century when it was at the vanguard of Art Nouveau. Hence the lunch time at La brasserie Excelsior. The finesse of the french waiters, the patience in the meal course and the delicacy of the meals will leave you speechless.

After a meal like this, the best is a walk though the park. Parc de la Pépinière is the largest park in Nancy. It was founded by Stanislas on the site of the historic Dukes’ gardens and the strong holds of the Old City. For kids and families there’s mini-golf, playgrounds, a puppet theatre in summer and a small zoo where you can get close to monkeys, deer and ducks.

To enter the old town, you need to pass La Porte de la Craffe – medieval fortifications, erected in the 14th century. The gate marks the northern limit of the Grande-Rue which connects to the rue de la Citadelle.

The “Ville Vieille” is Nancy’s historic centre, founded in the 11th century and displays some good examples of medieval and Renaissance style architecture. The “Ville Vieille” was the Nancy of the Middle Ages. Around it were to be found only swamps, fields and forests.

Somewhere in the lost streets of Nancy, theSaint Epvre basilica. This flamboyant gothic basilica is built in the 19th century on the place of the 11th century church.

The Basilica of Saint Epvre is placed on the oldest Nancy square of Saint Epvre. It used to be a vibrant medieval market but today only a place to get a good snack a drink.

Next time visiting, on the savoury side I will definitely have a bite of famous quiche lorraine, the pastry made with eggs, bacon and crème fraîche, a familiar dish across Europe. Au revoir!

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Brugge, medieval and mysterious 📜

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

Bonifacius bridge

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

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

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

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

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

Bourse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minnetpark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prague vs. Brno, Czech Republic

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

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

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

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

Prague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– No thank you. I am not a fan.

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

– It never occurred to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Franz Kafka and Me

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

Brno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bye Czechia!

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Madeira island, Portugal – I discovered Atlantida

If you are not familiar with Madeira, it is a Portuguese island sitting in the Atlantic Ocean between Portugal and Morocco. It is an archipelago in region known as Macaronesia (group of volcanic islands: Azores, Madeira, Canary Island and Tenerife and Cabo Verde).

History by Greeks claims this might be Atlantida. Plutarch writes the impressions of founding the island covered by the trees from the high mountains and down to the ocean.

Vikings were there as well – as the archeologists have found some archeological artifacts from 10th century. But oficially, Madeira was discovered by Portuguese in 15th century and inhabited by Portuguese people from mainland, which built their own distinctive culture.

Statue of the Discoverer of Madeira, in Funchal – main city

Madeira island is home to several endemic plant and animal species. In the south, there is very little left of the indigenous subtropical rainforest that once covered the whole island (the original settlers set fire to the island to clear the land for farming) and gave it the name it now bears (Madeira means “wood” in Portuguese). 

Landing to Madeira is not an easy task for pilots. It is the shortest airport runway of Europe with occasional winds from west. The airport is called by local football player happens to be one of the greatest in the world: Christiano Ronaldo. I will come back to this topic a bit later.

First impressions of Madeira: lots of flowers. These typical flowers that we all buy in store and pay good money to keep them alive in our houses, here are growing like crazy, all over the places: parks, restaurants, terraces, atriums, sidewalks… As the climate is hot and humid, but never too hot – around 20 – 25 degrees, I felt this is the true Paradise on Earth. I have seen similar flora and fauna at the Canary Islands – geographically located just 300 miles to the south, but it was more dry and nothing like Madeira!

Madeira is still relatively untouched, with wild eucalyptus forests, picturesque villages, and breathtaking views. Anywhere we went around the island, we got rewarded with dramatic vistas stretching as far as the horizon.

And to add to the impressions list:| we were not bothered by the locals. Usually when travelling, I meet locals who want to take advantage of tourists, harassing me to buy their products, trying to scam or divert my route. Madeira locals, on the contrary were making our life easy and our vacation calm enough and without stress.

Funchal

The main city of Madeira island is called Funchal. My accommodation was just a bit outside in the place called Lido – loads of hotels and restaurants, with a 20 min walk to city center. Visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Portuguese: Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Assunção) and stroll down the riviera to enjoy the good view.

Inevitable is the Farmers Market (Mercado dos Lavradores), situated in the Old Town of Funchal. It is an iconic building from 1940, with so many tropical fruits: avocados, passion fruit, mango, dragon fruit etc.

Funchal is very up and down place. In the times of great humid and heat, make sure you are having lots of water next to yourself. You never know what street you will have to climb. And become red… 🙂

City of Funchal and the bay

To climb the upper part of Funchal – where the climate is again something else – less dry, more wind – you can take the Teleferico – a cable car. It is worth a visit!

Once you are up, you can visit Jardim Botanico. We continued our way towards the Habsburgs church. Namely, Habsburgs liked to come here too. They would reside at Reid’s Palace Hotel in Funchal, actually a bit closer to Lido (nowadays touristy part of Funchal). Empress Sissi adored to come – she payed her visit 3 times at least. I found her statue not far away from the Reid’s Palace. Her grandnephew Karl l exiled here with his wife Zita after the fall of Habsburg Empire during the World War One. He is buried in the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte. It took us some time to climb through the semi forest and flowered paths – but as always, it is worth it. Plus you get a beautiful view on Funchal!

To stroll down is even easier – just continue imagining the courtesy of the royals! Take the Monte Toboggan Rides or “carros de cesto.” The “Carreiros do Monte” appeared in the middle of the 19th century as an alternative and fast means of transportation of people and goods, from Monte to Funchal. It is believed that the wealthy owners of some Quintas (local Manor Houses) in Monte were the first to use this form of transport. With the growth of tourism at the end of the 19th century, these wicker basket cars became very popular among visitors. Today it is one of the highlights in Madeira.

North East side

It was a one day trip with the safari jeep. The driver and the tour guide took the steepest streets of Funchal and continued through the steepest landscapes above. As we were riding through the forest, admiring the greenery, slowly the green landscape of forest became small bushes with light green and yellow.

That moment when you spot the clouds below your level was amazing. Looking at the horizon and not knowing when the ocean stops and sky begins… So we arrived to Pico de Arieiro. It is the third highest peak (1820 m) on Madeira Island and is one of the most popular sunrise spots. It gathers crowds to watch the sun break through the thick sea of clouds that create an otherwordly atmosphere. On a clear day it is possible to see the neighbouring island of Porto Santo, 30 miles to the northeast.

The next stop were the levada walks. “Levada” is a Portuguese word derived from the word “levar” – which means to carry and is roughly translated as “carriageway”, but more correctly defined as mini-canal. The mini-canals are irrigation systems developed to distribute water from the rainfall heavy and wet regions on the north of Madeira island to the drier sun parched regions of the south. The water is usually stored in reservoirs or tanks, or captured directly from natural fountains to be redirected and channeled across a wide network of winding canals. These narrow water carriageways deliver precious water along far distances to banana plantations, vineyards, fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, as well as to hydro-electric power stations dotted around the island. The levadas criss cross the mountains and cover a total distance of 2500 km, and date back to as far as the early 16th century.

The Levada walks are walking trails along the maintenance paths beside the Levadas. Although the Levadas were constructed primarily for agricultural/industrial use they are just as important for tourists and local people alike who want to enjoy outdoor adventure activities inaccessible by cars.

Close to the Santana city center you can find the Centre for Traditional Santana houses. This is a preservation area, expanded by the municipality of Santana, in memory of local heritage.
Here we found some typical Santana houses, all adapted to their current use, where you can buy a wide variety of local products and traditional crafts.

The tour was coming to an end but our driver decided to shake us more and drive through steep mountains and edgy roads. So we ended up just a bit north from Porto da Cruz – a city famous for North Mills Distillery.

The Portuguese island of Madeira is best known for its eponymous fortified wine, but it was not always king of drinks alone — there was rum, too. Madeira rum is “rhum agricole”, meaning it is made directly from cane syrup, rather than “rhum industriel”, which comes from the byproduct molasses. It is also matured in Madeira fortified-wine casks. Madeira used to be number one sugar cane production place in the 17th century onwards. The Portuguese took the habit from the Caribbean, borrowed the money from Genovians and Flanders distributed it all across the continent, making Antwerp port the richest of its time. As the Colombo had its house in Canary Island and Porto Santo island to stop by before and after his discoveries in the New Wolrd – no wonder some goods and traditions remained on the island.

We tasted the traditional rum 970 and rum branco (white rum). I have to say, Madeira kicked me with many thinks, but rhum is not one of it. Caribbean still rull when it comes to this.

Last stop for the day was the most east point of the island: Ponta do Bode. The view of this cape stretches towards Porto Santo islands and Desert Islands on the other side. In the sea cliffs of Ponta do Bode, one can observe volcanic formations of effusive (lava flows) and explosive nature (pyroclasts).

North West side

North west Madeira is where the wild Atlantic crashes headlong into the jagged and imposing cliffs that dominate landscape of the north-coast. It is more humid, a bit more chilly but whole loads of fun. First stop was city Camara do Lobos. A fisherman village famous for very first ponche pescador – a strong rum and lemon drink taken in the morning by the fisherman after spending long night fishing.

So our road continued again towards north. But before we had to cross the mountainous part of the Madeira island – again, enchanted by the clouds…

We have hit so many tunels on our way but the one that will stay in my mind was the finished but yet unfinished tunel with water drops. Such an unusual place this island is!

And if you need more proof, here the Veu de Noiva waterfall – it falls in the middle of the freaking road.  A beautiful waterfall that cascades down the rocky slopes towards the sea. So amazed how the water on this island comes from everywhere.

Further to the north – and time for bath in the ocean 🙂 We visited the small city called Porto Moniz famous for the natural pools. A very popular complex in an outstanding location, with great facilities, lifeguard surveillance – really needed due to unexpected sudden high waves, natural seawater volcanic pools for both Adult and children. Sometimes a bit crowded during the summer, but an excellent place for visitors to enjoy the sun and a safe swim.

On our way towards different city we passed again through the semi forest and rocky countryside with small farmer houses and stables. Noting locals producing bananas, tobacco, passion fruit and vineyards.

Sao Vicente has popular black sand beaches. Its sea can be a bit rough but it’s quite popular with surfers for this reason.

The nearby city is called Seixal. This is precisely the stunning scenery of one of the most popular beaches in this parish, Porto do Seixal Beach, a natural black sand beach located right next to the rocky cliff with the waterfall. No need for after sea showers here. All natural.

On of the last stops of the day was Ribeira Brava. The municipality gained its name due to its river – Ribeira Brava, which translates as ‘the angry river’. In rainy seasons, the river had an extremely strong and powerful current, that often wreaked havoc over the entire eight kilometres of the route.

Finally the last point: Cabo Girao – a popular lookout point, the highest cliff in Europe (580m) and a skywalk. I have to say, we managed to visit this place both from above (hitting that wobbly skywalk) and from below, having a bath in the ocean, just at the beach below it. Both moments were breathtaking.

Ocean

If you ask me, this is the best part of Madeira. Surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, there is so much to discover. Madeira is rich with flora and fauna on the land, but so in the sea. Taking a one day catamaran trip in the outskirts of the ocean, you can’t miss the sea turtle or the dolphins.

When it comes to typical holiday sun bathing – there is plenty of choices. From the black volcano sandy beaches (I can still say black, right?), cliffs to jump, rocky natural pools to the concreted and arranged beaches in front of hotels with sun umbrella and arm chairs. We did almost everything. As we had a pool in front of our accommodation – we used it, the cliff – we jumped and bathed in front of it, black beach – same thing, and cooling while reading a book at the Miramar hotel in touristy Lido.

Food and Drinks

When it comes to wining and dining – Madeira is not expensive at all, yet tastes delicious. Here is the best fish I have eaten – fresh, simple, tasteful. Every time, the chef of the restaurant would come out of the kitchen, present the daily fresh fish and advise on cooking. And the vegetables that comes to the fish it the sweetest ever!

Some of things you have to eat when in Madeira: scabbard fish with grilled banana, black squid risotto, parrot fish, octopus, tuna and limpets.

Meat is equally good, fresh and not industrial at all.

Usually we started our meal with Bolo do caco – a circular Madeiran flatbread, shaped like a cake and thus called bolo. It is traditionally cooked on a caco, a flat basalt stone slab. The bread is usually served with garlic butter. My ode to this discovery:

Madeira is a constant spring. The temperature never goes more than 29 Celsius. There is constant water circulation which makes the gastronomy of this place astonishing. Especially the taste of fruits and coffee we had for breakfast and for desert. The passion fruit cake/ pudding is a must try!

When it comes to drinks, first thing first – the poncha! As already described, it is a traditional alcoholic drink made with aguardente de cana (distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice), honey, sugar, and either orange juice or lemon juice. Some varieties include other fruit juices. My favourites were less traditional one – minth and passion fruit.

Then there is red wine or vino tinto. When you order red wine in Madeira, you will get sweet liquorish drink as an aperitif, or sweet wines usually consumed with dessert. But very rarely the red wine as we know on the continent.

The islands of Madeira have a long winemaking history, dating back to the Age of Exploration (approximately from the end of the 15th century) when Madeira was a standard port of call for ships heading to the New World or East Indies. To prevent the wine from spoiling, neutral grape spirits were added. On the long sea voyages, the wines would be exposed to excessive heat and movement which transformed the flavour of the wine. This was discovered by the wine producers of Madeira when an unsold shipment of wine returned to the islands after a round trip.

Recommendation: Bastardo and Malvasia.

Then rose and white wine – Atlantis and Colombo are the local productions and offered almost everywhere on the island.

Perhaps is worth to mention the local brewery production. I was not amazed by the heavy beers they offered. It just doesn’t go with the climate.

Madeira, the Atlantic Pearl, is a dream holiday destination. It’s ideal for romantic getaways, family trips, and fun vacations with friends. It is full of movie-like landscapes, historical and cultural attractions. I hope I managed to describe the enthusiasm I collected and the blues I am feeling now. It is a place to come back.

Inevitable sangria! Cheers from the Lido Atlantic beach!
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Koblenz, Deutschland

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

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

Around the hills in Wierschem

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

Schloss von der Leyen

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

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

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

Fortress Ehrenbreitstein as seen from Koblenz

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

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

To conclude with the Rhine riesling and Mosel gewurztraminer.

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Burg Eltz, Deutschland

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

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

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

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

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

Time for food? Some good German bier and sausage?

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Tournai, Belgium

Guess what’s new? – Corona. Guess how long it will last? – China.

Never mind. The travel ban is still on for Belgium, so explorations within the country continues. This weekend was reserved for Tournai. A beautiful city on the west of Belgium. Kinda looks like Lille at the first sight.  Although, being part of the province of Hainaut, Tournai is part of Eurometropolis Lille–Kortrijk–Tournai.

Tournai is one of the oldest cities in Belgium and has played an important role in the country’s cultural history. It was the first capital of the Frankish Empire, with Clovis I being born here – the first king of France, crowned and buried in Reims.

Tournai, known as Tornacum, was a place of minor importance in Roman times, a stopping place where the Roman road from Cologne on the Rhine to Boulogne on the coast crossed the river Scheldt. It came into the possession of the Salian Franks in 5th century. Clovis moved the center of power to Paris. In turn, a native son of Tournai, Eleutherius, became bishop of the newly created bishopric of Tournai, extending over most of the area west of the Scheldt. In 9th century Charles the Bald, first king of Western Francia and still to become Holy Roman Emperor, would make Tournai the seat of the County of Flanders.

river Scheldt

After the partition of the Frankish empire by the Treaties of Verdun (843) Tournai remained in the western part of the empire, which in 10th century became France. The city participated in 11th-century rise of towns with a woollen cloth industry based on English wool, which soon made it attractive to wealthy merchants. An ambitious rebuilding of the cathedral was initiated in 11th century. The stone Pont des Trous over the Scheldt, with defensive towers at either end, was built in 1290, replacing an earlier wooden structure.

Le Pont des Trous à Tournai

During the 15th century, the city’s textile trade boomed and it became an important supplier of tapestry. The art of painting flourished too. It was captured in 1513 by Henry VIII of England, making it the only Belgian city ever to have been ruled by England. The city was handed back to French rule three years later, following the Treaty of London (1518).

Belfry of Tournai

In 16th century, Habsburg Emperor Charles V added the city to his possessions in the so-called Low Countries, leading to a period of religious strife and economic decline. During the 16th century, Tournai was a bulwark of Calvinism, but eventually it was conquered by the Spanish governor of the Low Countries, the Duke of Parma, following a prolonged famous Siege of Tournai in 1581. After the fall of the city, its Protestant inhabitants were given one year to sell their possessions and emigrate, a policy that was at the time considered relatively humane, since very often religious opponents were simply massacred.

Monument of local artist van der Wayden, in front of the Cathedral, 15th century

One century later, the city briefly returned to France under Louis XIV in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Tournai formed part of the newly independent Belgium.

Unfortunately, local specialties were skipped this time as the bars and restaurants were closed.

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Route des 🍇 vins d’Alsace 🍇

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Colmar, Alsace, France 🥨

In the northeastern France lays Alsace, the region so much popular in Europe as it used to be German, French, German and then again French. No wonder people of Alsace speak German-French dialect and share French-German type of food. Oh, and wine! There is nothing better than sitting on a terrace of a bar with the view on collombage (timber-houses) and having a taste of vin d’Alsace. 🙂

Colmar’s old quarter is as complete as it is lovely, with street after street of corbelled wooden houses and sophisticated renaissance palaces decorated with flowers. We were so lucky to have an accommodation in the city center in one of the old wooden houses from 15th century. This was total experience!

Colmar was first mentioned by Charlemagne in his chronicle about Saxon wars. This was the location where the Carolingian Emperor Charles the Fat held a diet in 884. Colmar was granted the status of a free imperial city by Emperor Frederick II in 13th century and became the part of Holy Roman Empire of Germans. Check my story about Nurnberg visit and you will understand more.

Alsace is famous for storks so on many places there were these birds, reminding about the fertility and family times. There were less in the city but once outside of the city, you can see many of them flying around building the nests.

Fooooooood 🙂 Boy I enjoyed 🙂 Although the bars were not opened yet, the Marche couvert offered us variety of alsacian specialties. In the end, we bought 2 beautiful Flammekueche (Alsatian), or tarte flambée (French) and ate them back in the hotel, with a glass of fine vin d’Alsace. Little things in life…

To follow the rules of my Grandfather, we are missing now only the church. The museums we could have not visit due to the chinese virus performance.

Église Saint-Martin – 13th century is the largest church of Colmar and one of the largest in Haut-Rhin. Displays some early stained glass windows, several Gothic and Renaissance sculptures and altars, a grand Baroque organ case. The choir is surrounded by an ambulatory opening on a series of Gothic chapels, a unique feature in Alsatian churches.

Definitely worth to visit for a nice weekend getaway. Next stop> many at the Route des Vins d’Alsace 🙂

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Plitvice lakes & Rastoke, Croatia

The oldest and largest national park in Croatia in the mountainous karst area of central Croatia with the many rivers passing through among which the biggest one is river Korana.

They say one needs to visit Plitvice in all four seasons. Me so far missing only the winter when the waterfalls became frozen castles above the frozen white lakes.

The national park is world-famous for its lakes arranged in cascades. Sixteen lakes can be seen from the surface. There are three different paths to go through, depending on your walking capabilities. We choose the one that is 8 km long which takes 4 to 6 hours to go through – depending how much you stop to admire.

he lakes are all interconnected and follow the water flow. They are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae, and bacteria. The particularly sensitive travertine barriers are the result of an interplay between water, air and plants.

People usually admire the waters of Croatia for being so clean, transparent and genuinely rivers flow everywhere. Although it is under UNDESCO protection, I can see more and more the waters being polluted with the number of tourists and weekend houses around the Park without proper system arrangement for the waste water.

Finally, the village next door is Rastoke, famous for it small wooden houses that grow around the tiny lakes and waterfalls. It is an etno-village with the mills.

Rastoke is a place of autochthonous ecologic and ethnographic significance due to its symbiosis of natural and civilizational features. Visiting Rastoke after so many years, I have noticed that the village is becoming bigger and bigger with more house owners appearing. 🙂

After all these walks, we deserved a plate of nice local meal: trout and potato grilled and served with lots of love in the Feniks restaurant Feniks in the city of Slunj.

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Bamberg blue, Germany

How to travel when China creates the virus, when European Union mismanages the coordination of vaccination and Belgium sets the travel ban? How to explain to your travel heart that far destinations are impossible?

In the pursuit of some beautiful precious gems among German towns, especially after last year visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber we discovered Bamberg, Bavarians like to think of it as its own Rome. It is a magnificent medieval town full of typical medieval half timbered framework full of lavish splendour and playful decorative elements.

To be more accurate, Bamberg is a town in Upper Franconia, which is part of Bavaria, on the river Regnitz close to its confluence with the river Main which is part of the Main-Danube canal, one of the most important river canals of Europe.

The town dates back to the 9th century. From the 10th century onwards, Bamberg became a key link with the Slav peoples, notably those of Poland and Pomerania. It experienced a period of great prosperity from the 12th century onwards, during which time it was briefly the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. Emperor Henry II was also buried in the old town, alongside his wife Kunigunde.

This Holy Roman Emperor Henry II ordered the building of a new cathedral, which was consecrated in 1012. Pope Benedict VIII visited Bamberg in 1020 to meet Henry II for discussions concerning the Holy Roman Empire. For a short time Bamberg was the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry and Kunigunde were both buried in the cathedral. Pope Clement ll as well, as the only Pope behind the Alps.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to enter as the cathedral is closed due to virus outbreak. Nevertheless, on the other side lays the Neue Hofhaltung, residence of the bishops since the 17th centuries.

When you visit Bamberg, there’s no way you can miss the town’s most iconic attraction. Sitting on a tiny island connected by grand bridges is the Bamberg Old Town Hall. In German the Altes Rathaus, this historical landmark is as unusual as it is stunning.

Running along the river bank called Linker Regnitzarm, there is a row of houses that showcase Bamberg’s traditional side. Each narrow house, some of which are half-timbered, has their own little garden. They are gathered around the old port which today serves only as a meeting point.

Getting lost in the city center, admiring the typical Bavarian timber houses which are traditional guest houses and restaurants, I couldn’t hide my sadness seeing them closed. A foodie like me likes to sit in the restaurant, try the local specialties, admire the surroundings. None of this was possible because of Corona virus outbreak.

Bamberg is known for its smoked Rauchbier and is home to nine breweries. So I promised myself to come back to Bamberg to finish the mission. It seems to me like I haven’t properly visit the city.

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Nürnberg, Deutschland 🍻

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

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

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

Maxbrücke (bridge) over river Pegnitz

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

Way of Human Rights – outdoor sculpture designed by Israeli artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church of Our Lady at the main square

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

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Deutschland

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

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

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

The Markusturm and Röderbogen

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

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