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Tag: #gold

Castle 2

Under the Tuscan rain🍕 Firenze e Siena – follow along the Medici and chianti

Some rain, more rain and some more more rain and the hail one afternoon in Siena. O sole mio, dov’e sei? Otherwise, lots of fun, good food, chianti, lots of art and medieval history 🙂 So besides the sun that I haven’t found, Tuscany is best known for its rolling hills, which are populated by golden vineyards and can often be found on postcards and prints of Italy. Other famous sights to see in Tuscany include its many medieval hilltop towns, its capital city of Florence (known as Firenze in Italian), and its rich red Chianti wines.

What’s more is that history buffs will soon fall in love with the region on account of the fact that it’s widely regarded to be the firstly inhabited by Etruscans, civilisation before Romans, who used a developed system of interrogation and changed the biosphere of Apennine Peninsula for good.

Pilgrims travelling along the Via Francigena between Rome and France brought wealth and development during the medieval period. One family that benefitted from Florence’s growing wealth and power was the ruling Medici family. Its scion Lorenzo de’ Medici was one of the most famous of the Medici. The legacy of his influence is visible today in the prodigious expression of art and architecture in Florence. His famous descendant Catherine de’ Medici married King Henry II of France in 16th century.

The Black Death epidemic hit Tuscany starting in 14th century. It eventually killed 70% of the Tuscan population.

Florence

Florence was a centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era. Originally a Roman city, it became the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is a 13 century gothic style churchm famous for the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. Naturally, it was my first stop.

The dome remains the largest brick dome ever constructed and it is a total master piece. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink, bordered by white. This makes it unique appearance.

The interior is vast and gives the empty impression. This is due to taking all of the paintings, tapistries and possible pieces of art to Galleria degli Uffizi and Galleria della Academia. I have visited both so some photos and explanation later in this post below. All the other remains are mostly Donatello‘s.

However, the great thing to admire, and that was not possible to be taken away is the painting of Dante Before the City of Florence by Domenico di Michelino. This painting is especially interesting because it shows us, apart from scenes of the Divine Comedy, a view on Florence in 15th century. The link between Dante and Florence is unbreakable and perplexed. Dante was born in Florence. He gave the art to the city and was celebrated for that, but later was exiled being charged for corruption and he never saw the city again.

He was instrumental in establishing the literature of Italy. His depictions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven provided inspiration for the larger body of Western art and literature.

The inside of the Duomo is spectacular – decorated with a representation of The Last Judgment by Vasari and Zuccari. It was again, the famous Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici who decided to have the ceiling of the dome painted.

I queued for a good hour to enter and got impressed more with the outside that the inside of the cathedral. So I leave you some more photos of the Baptistery, Bell tower and the Duomo itself. 🙂 Santa Reparata won.t be pleased, I know.

Time for lunch and some great Italian specialties: ragu and spaghetti oglio e pepe. Ragu was made of wild boar, which is apparently a typical animal that runs around the hills and forests of Tuscany and it is a must do for foodies. Top with the local pecorino cheese and you have it complete. 🙂

After a good meal, and still lots of rain, I have decided to find a shelter in nearby Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, or “Gallery of the Academy of Florence” – an art museum in Florence. It is best known as the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David.

And many art works from the Cathedral, as early mentioned.

Lignum vitae by Pacino, 14th century – the ancient theme of the Tree of Life merged with the story of the life of Christ. The twelve “branches” or “fruits” and forty-eight chapters – in the center stands Christ crucified, in the realistic position with a few expressionistic hints such as the blood flowing down the trunk of the Tree. On each side, six branches from which hang fruits with Christ stories, symbolizing the virtues of Jesus. The last branch is paradise.
Cassone Adimari, with The Triumph of Love shown as taking place in Piazza del Duomo, by Giovanni di Giovanni

David is not that much of a perfection, as they like to say. I have noticed that his fists and feet are extremely big and a bit unproportional to his 5 metres body. I have searched a bit the possible answers and apparently this might be because the statue was originally supposed to be placed on the cathedral roofline, where the important parts of the sculpture may have been accentuated in order to be visible from below.

In the Gallery, I found particularly interesting the representation of the art before the renaissance times. The paintings were less dimensional, mostly 2D and flat. The renaissance art brings the third dimension and portraits the landscapes behind, which witnesses the appearance of the cities, landscapes of the time. Middle age art is focused on religious depictions. Renaissance is focused on venerisation of human body. Anthropology is starting to take its toll. Human suffering for eternal life is no longer important. Churche’s sin forgiveness is now obsolete and human turns towards the wordly satisfactions. Something that monk Girolamo Savonarola will criticise: both the popes for being libidinous and humans for being gluttonous.

Galleria houses as well the collection of musical instruments. The collection comprises about fifty instruments, dating from the late 17th to 19th centuries, formerly belonging to members of the Medici and Lorraine families. Among the most interesting instruments on display are a tenor viola by Antonio Stradivari, a violoncello which formed part of the same quintet of strings made in 1690 for Grand Prince Ferdinando, a violin of 1716 by Stradivari and a cello of 1650 by NiccolĂČ Amati. The Museum also has two rare instruments by Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano, and the oldest vertical piano in existence. The instruments are exhibited with paintings representing musicians at the Medici court. Jaw down.

Florence was home to the Medici, one of European history’s most important noble families. Lorenzo de’ Medici was considered a political and cultural mastermind of Italy in the late 15th century. (When Machiavelli is writing Il Principe, he dedicates the first pages to Lorenzo, trying to return his political stage at Medicis court, emboiding the Prince in Cesare Borgia, a crude, brutal and cunning prince of the Papal States.) Two members of the family were popes in the early 16th century: Leo X and Clement VII.  As previously mentioned, Catherine de Medici married King Henry II of France and, after his death in 1559, reigned as regent in France. Marie de’ Medici married Henry IV of France and gave birth to the future King Louis XIII. The Medici reigned as Grand Dukes of Tuscany, starting with Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1569 and ending with the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici in 1737. The will of was that Medicis’ enormous art collection and other treasures are given to the Tuscan state, on the condition they always remain in Florence. Some centuries later, Red Riding Hood walks around with her jaw down.

The plague swept Italy couple of times in the middle ages and social distancing was inevitable. Hence the tiny wine windows that allowed merchants to pass vino through a small hole in the wall to avoid direct contact with clients. In the recent exposure of Chinese virus covid19, these holes became popular again.

Cute, isn’t it? The history repeats itself over and over again.

About 150 holes (buce) exist inside Florence’s old city walls, while another 100-plus have been cataloged beyond the walls and throughout Tuscany, the region to which the windows are apparently unique.

In 1348 the Black Death swept across the Italian Peninsula, but the region of Tuscany suffered considerably as a result of the plague.  The three major cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena, prior to the plague, experienced a series of unfortunate events leading up to the cataclysmic Black Death that resulted in incredibly high mortality rates.  Tuscans were uncertain and frightened about their future, turning to religious imagery to provide some stability in this characteristically unstable time.

It is when the Bocaccio’s Decameron appears when 10 young people escape to countryside and tell 10 stories iper 10 following days making it deka, latin ten – which compiles the one hundred. (The admiration of numbers was a big thing in renaissance).

Time for a snack: an aperol spritz and espresso italiano and una Cecina toscana, also known as “hot hot” is a tasty, thin flatbread made from chickpea. Cecina, a traditional tuscan dish of the area of Pisa. Also visited some year ago 🙂

Further along, following more the Medici’s, I have arrived to Piazza della Signoria. It is the square that houses the Medici’s ruling court – Palazzo Vecchio. It is the main point of the origin and history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political focus of the city. The Loggia dei Lanzi consists of wide arches open to the street. The arches rest on clustered columns with Corinthian capitals. The wide arches appealed so much to the Florentines, that Michelangelo even proposed that they should be continued all around the Piazza della Signoria. It is effectively an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art including the Medici lions. Most of the statues are Donatello’s work of art.

In the centre of the Piazza della Signoria is the monument dedicated to Cosimo de Medici as the monument to a ruler’s power. The Cosimo statue stands in front of the north corner of the Palazzo della Signoria, adjacent to the Fountain of Neptune (16 century) that had been commissioned by Cosimo himself. Together this duo celebrates the land and sea ambitions of Cosimo. The base of the statue has reliefs with scenes from the life of Cosimo, including his coronation in Rome as Grand-Duke and his entrance into Siena as a ruler after his victory over that republic. Siena and Florence were rivals for centuries.

In front of the fountain of Neptune, a round marble plaque marks the exact spot where Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned.

In 1299, the commune and people of Florence decided to build a palace that would be worthy of the city’s importance, and that would be more secure and defensible in times of turbulence for the magistrates of the commune. Cosimo de Medici moved in and the rest is history. The palace gained new importance as the seat of united Italy’s provisional government from 1865–71, at a moment when Florence had become the temporary capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

Above the front entrance door, there is a notable ornamental marble frontispiece, dating from 1528. In the middle, flanked by two gilded lions, is the Monogram of Christ, surrounded by a glory, above the text (in Latin): “Rex Regum et Dominus Dominantium” (translation: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”. In front it the statue of Michelangelo’s David, now a duplicate of its original placement.

Now, entering the Palazzo Vecchio was something else! The frescoes on the walls are vedute of the cities of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy, painted in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari for the wedding celebration of Francesco I de’ Medici, the eldest son of Cosimo I de’ Medici, to Archduchess Johanna of Austria, sister of the Emperor Maximilian II. Amongst the cities depicted are Graz, Innsbruck, Linz, ViennaBratislava (Pozsony), Prague, Hall in Tirol, Freiburg im Breisgau and Konstanz.

Some of the most important painting were lost though in the times of political turbulence, including the Battle of Cascina by Michelangelo, and the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps, these were the only Michalengelo’s paintings here in Florence as the young painter was invited to Rome to paint Sixtine Chapel, and remained there. Cosimo tried for years to bring him back to be able to compete with the glory of Rome, but unsuccessfully. However, when Michalengelo died, Cosimo sent guards to Rome to steal his body and buried him in Florence in Basilica of Santa Croce. So much history, isn’t it?

First and second floor was the home of Cosimo I and his wife Eleonora of Toledo so it contains their portraits and depictions from their lives.

For all the admirerers of Dante and his Divine Comedy in which he used the Tuscan Dialect that will later become Italian official language, after years of using latin, here the mask of Dante. It is not much clear how the mask arrived, but if you ever read Dan Brown’s Inferno with Tom Hanks – you will know the importance. 🙂

Machiavelli’s room was placed on the first floor though, opposite of the rooms of the guards and sevants and attendants.

Somewhere at the door, it was written Festina Lente – (translation: Hurry up slowly). By that time, I was on my knees since 5:30 that morning and my legs were starting to disappoint me. With the view on the city, I started to slowly make my day to an end.

One more view on the palace court and Salone di Cinquecento as the most imposing chamber of the palace.

On my way out, back to Piazza della Signoria, I have noticed the exhibition of the Italian football il calcio dedicated to the Italian winning of the world championship in 1982 against West Germany. Odd, I thought – having in mind Italy haven’t qualify the worldchampionship this year in Qatar, 2022 – again, followed by the big scandal and shame.

Nevertheless, the day was continuing, somehow. As the Galleria degli Uffizi was just next to the Piazza della Signoria, I followed the heart and bought the entrance ticket. The outside of the galery is amazing as well. There are archades with many statues of important italians on the pillars.

One of the most important Italian museums and the most visited, it is also one of the largest and best known in the world and holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance.

So the hallway (with the portrait of Macchiavelli) in the center looks like this:

From the imrtant paintings and sculptures there, and that are as well important to me, I am singling out:

Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Charity, Hope, Justice, Prudence by Botticcelli and Polaiollo
Primavera by Botticelli
The Birth of Venus by Boticelli

 In 1993, the Sicilian Mafia carried out a car bomb explosion which damaged parts of the palace and killed five people.

Time for a small stop. Legs are killing by now, defeating me totally. How about a glass of chianti wine with the view on Ponte Vecchio?

Chianti wine is produced in the Chianti region of central Tuscany. It was historically associated with a squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket, called a fiasco.

Ponte Vecchio crosses the river Arno and it is believed to be built in Roman times. It is noted for the shops built along it; building shops on such bridges was once a common practice. Butchers, tanners, and farmers initially occupied the shops; the present tenants are jewelers, art dealers, and souvenir sellers.

Before I finally finish the day, did you know that Carlo Collodi was from Florence as well? There are many shops dedicated to him and his Pinocchio. 🙂

First night dinner was in a fabulous Buca di Poldo. It is a basement, with an Italian charm and two twin waiters that are an absolute scetch. One is extremely talkative, the other one is clumsy, to that level that he almost set up our table on fire, broke the basket with bread and spill the water. One of them wrongly charged us for the bill, in our favourite 🙂 So you have to forgive them when you learn their modus operandi.

We had Biastecca alla Fiorentina – typical fiorentine dish made of tuscane type of veal called chianina. It is never served of less than 1.1 kg so it kinda makes it a dish for two. Desert was Italian gelato with local truffles and some limoncello.

The next day was easy and relaxed. I have been discovering more of Florence and more of its beauty. Florence was the prefecture of the French dĂ©partement of Arno from 1808 to the fall of Napoleon in 1814. Of course this guy! The Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty was restored on the throne of Tuscany at the Congress of Vienna but finally deposed in 1859. Tuscany became a region of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

River Arno and the stoned bridge

Wandering more around, I have noticed children coming from school. The door of the school garden were widely open, as their parents were waiting for them. I couldn’t not notice the big statue of Hercule. What a blessing for these little kids. To be used to have such works of art at early stage.

When the time for the dinner came I was super hungry as most of the day I was wandering around and saving myself for the evening foodie affordings. Recommendations said Mercato centrale. It was open until midnight and it came in combination with many vintage clothes and souvenirs booths. Night life seemed exciting and it happens to be that most of the museums were still open and vivid until at least 22:00 if not longer.

Che cosa si mangia al Mercato Centrale di Firenze? Well, I had greatest spaghetti with truffles, spaghetti carbonara with truffles, antipasti and good old chianti classico.


Toscana country side and wine tasting

The very next day was reserved for visit to hills of Tuscany and its countryside and of course, some chianti tasting and antipasti.

The Tuscany region is filled with countless picturesque mountain towns, each with its own personal charm, though they share in common magnificent views of hills and valleys, vineyards and neat rows of cypress trees, dreamy villas, and medieval castles surrounded by ancient stone walls, and villas that are simply a dream. And the wine, oh, you can not talk about Tuscany without mentioning the region’s excellent wine that comes from there, and flows there like water.

Our first visit was to Casa Emma. It is a local agricultural house that produces their own wine, olive and truffle oil. The host introduced us to their guesses who are fertilizers and insect eaters, meaning the protectors of the vineyards. We had rose, chianti, chianti classico and supertuscan accompanied by antipasti: bread with olive oil, truffle oil and aceto balsamico.

A true chianti is based on san giovese grapes.

Fun fact, it is not chianti classico if the bottle doesn’t have trade mark or a black rooster, which is a symbol of Chianti region. Why? Bceuase once upon a time, Sienna and Florence were rivals and competing in territory. To ark finally their borders, they agreed to send each a knight as of early in the morning when the first rooster marks his coocooricoo. The place where they meet will be the border. But Fiorentines, being bad neighbors as it was proven in the history, kept their rooster for days without food and water. So naturally, when the day came, the rooster was already awake of hunger and started to sing first. The Fiorentine knight rode longer and gain more territory.

The next stop was Casa Montecchi and visit to the cellar. The guide explained the process and importance of the tuscan soil for the chianti production. In certain moment, it finally stopped raining, but the clouds were still dramatic.

To come back alive after all these tuscan charm, I had to get myself an espresso. I found some cute typical Italian coffee shop and drank two by standing – as the Italians would do.

Now, I have to say that normally I would push myself to go and explore more. But I went back to hotel just to rest for 5 minutes. My charming Italian hotel enchanted me and I slept until 18:00. Damn Chianti, damn!! Il vino e mobile.


Siena

Now Siena was something else. Same meaning but a bit of a different taste. Firstly set by the Etruscans, and later by Romans it was unimportant as there was no road that lead to the city. According to local legend, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus and thus nephews of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Supposedly after their father’s murder by Romulus, they fled Rome, taking with them the statue of the she-wolf suckling the infants (Capitoline Wolf), thus appropriating that symbol for the town. Additionally they rode white and black horses so the coat of arms it half black and half white. As the marble of basilica.

Christianity arrived late to Siena, as the direct road was lacking and eventually it was taken by Charlemagne. Lombards rerouted much of their trade between the Lombards’ northern possessions and Rome along a more secure road through Siena. Siena prospered as a trading post, and the constant streams of pilgrims passing to and from Rome provided a valuable source of income in the centuries to come.

The oldest aristocratic families in Siena date their line to the Lombards’ surrender in 774 to Charlemagne. The city is historically linked to commercial and banking activities, having been a major banking center until the 13th and 14th centuries. Siena is also home to the oldest bank in the world, the Monte dei Paschi bank, which has been operating continuously since 1472. Medici’s of course, were there to ensure their piece of cake.

The University of Siena founded in 1240 is one of the oldest in the world.

Me arriving there by bus got all this impression and had difficulties to buy the bus ticket. It is a total organised scam. There is no vending machine, but there is a bus boy who is going to verify that you were not able to buy a ticket from company A, that the driver can not sell you the ticket because he is the company B and the bus boy is a company C. But still, he is going to charge you the penalties. Shitty little Italian bureaucracy. So typical!

As I paid my ticket, I noticed the rain become a hail. There was nothing else to do but to hide in some ostaria and wait for the weather to pass by. The place for called La Chiacheria. The owner let me try the grappa from chianti classico and chose the wine for me. This time it was not chianti but Val d’Orcia – another wine region of Tuscany. From the prime piatti there was spaghetti aglio et olio. Secondi piatti: trippe (lampredotto) and la bistecca toscana.

Siena is up on the hill, but once you enter the old city, you are constantly going up and down. Strolling one of the streets and hitting the right passage, I finally found myself at  Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped town square. This is part of the site for the Palio horse race. The Palazzo Pubblico, itself a great work of architecture.

The twice-a-year horse-race, Palio di Siena, is held around the edges of the piazza. The piazza is also the finish of the annual road cycling race Strade Bianche.

Piazza del Campo unfurls before the Palazzo Pubblico with its tall Torre del Mangia. This a town hall palace of Siena with the history itself. The outside of the structure is an example of Italian medieval architecture with Gothic influences. In the middle of the facade you can see the christogram with the initials of the Jesus Christ.

The tower was designed to be taller than the tower in neighboring rival Florence; at the time it was the tallest structure in Italy.

The Siena Cathedral (Duomo), from the 12th century, is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque–Gothic architecture. A proposed expansion of the eastern transept would have transformed the church into an ambitiously massive basilica, the largest then in the world. However, the scarcity of funds, in part due to war and the Black Death, truncated the project.

The façade of Siena Cathedral is one of the most fascinating in all of Italy and certainly one of the most impressive features in Siena.

In the interior the pictorial effect of the black and white marble stripes on the walls and columns strikes the eye. Black and white are the colours of the civic coat of arms of Siena. The horizontal molding around the nave and the presbytery contains 172 plaster busts of popes dating from the 15th and 16th centuries starting with St. Peter and ending with Lucius III.

The Chapel of Saint John the Baptist is situated in the left transept. At the back of this chapel, amidst the rich renaissance decorations, is the bronze statue of St. John the Baptist by Donatello. In the middle of the chapel is a 15th-century baptismal font. But most impressive in this chapel are the eight frescoes by Pinturicchio.

I have to say, this is my top 5 churches of the world. I was holding my breath while discovering pieces of Christian history and and art of Europe – the craddle of civilisation. Just like, for example, the panel from 1473: Stories from the Life of Judith and the Liberazione di Betulia by Urbano da Cortona.

Or, for example the Picolomini Librarry housing precious illuminated choir books and frescoes. The frescoes tell the story of the life of Siena’s favorite son, cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who eventually became Pope Pius II.

The small Chigi Chapel (or Cappella della Madonna del Voto) is situated in the right transept. It is the last, most luxurious sculptural addition to the Duomo, and was commissioned in 1659 by the Sienese Chigi pope Alexander VII. On the eve of the battle of Montaperti (in1260) against Florence, the city of Siena had dedicated itself to the Madonna. The victory of the Sienese, against all odds, over the much more numerous Florentines was ascribed to her miraculous protection. In dedication to that, I have listen my own small candle with a pray. 🙂

Getting out of the cathedral, and catching some moments to recapture what I have seen and strolling down the street. I found the Baptisery of Saint John. Which is still part of the Cathedral. Where does it end? Back in the time, one was not allowed to enter the city without being baptised first. So the baptiseries were usually external part of churches.

I need an espresso. It found some small barista place at the corner and sheltered myself from the rain. Still raining and raining.

Siena retains a ward-centric culture from medieval times. Each ward (contrada) is represented by an animal or mascot, and has its own boundary and distinct identity. There are 17 wards (contrada): Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca, Torre, Valdimontone.

The very last stop was a place to discover an astonishing woman. Catherine of Siena. She was born here, in Siena, as a twin. Her sister died at birth, but Catherine survived and become an extraordinary woman who had the courage to tell the truth to popes and kings, she was able to have an enormous influence on politics in an age of strife, wars and plague, when women did not even learn to read. I have visited the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina, incorporating the old house of St. Catherine of Siena. It houses the miraculous Crucifix (late 12th century) from which the saint received her stigmata, and a 15th-century statue of St. Catherine.

When she was six, Jesus appeared to her in the attire of a Supreme Pontiff, with three crowns on his head and a red mantle, next to him St. Peter, St. John and St. Paul. At 7 she made a vow of virginity, and her days were not dedicated to children’s plays, but to prayer, penance and fasting: she reduced food and sleep, abolished meat and ate raw herbs and fruits. At age 12, while young Catherine wished to enter the Dominican order, her parents wanted her to marry, but she reacted strongly: she cut her hair, covered her head with a veil and shut herself up in the house.

She began an intense charitable activity for the poor, the sick, the prisoners, while Europe was devastated by pestilence, famine, wars. The issues on which Catherine turned her attention were the pacification of Italy, the need of a crusade, the return of the papacy to Rome and the reform of the Church. 

And that was the last stop. There was a plan to jump quickly to San Gimignano = the Manhattan of Middle Ages but the rain was so persistent that it didn’t make sense to do anything else but go back to the hotel and get packed for the plane back to Brussels.

Castle 1

Switzerland ⛷ đŸ”ïžïżŒ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lauterbrunnen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


EvolĂšne 

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

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

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

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

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

The village belongs to francophone part of the country.

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

Travelling back. The landscape had me again.

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


Interlaken

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

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

It was a good stop to try swiss chocolate. 🙂


Luzern

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


Luzern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Basel

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

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

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

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

Middle Bridge

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

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

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

To finish this joddling trip: Walliser Kanne!

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

And that was it.

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

Castle 2

Regensburg and Walhalla – Ausweis bitte!

Regensburg

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

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

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

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

Porta praetoria

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

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

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

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

But the most important medieval monument and the monument itself to this city is The Stone Bridge (‘Steinerne BrĂŒcke’) – 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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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 (StanisƂaw LeszczyƄski 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 HĂ©rĂ©, the triumphal arch of Nancy, or Porte HĂ©ré 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 MusĂ©e 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 PĂ©piniĂšre 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 crĂšme fraĂźche, a familiar dish across Europe. Au revoir!

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Brugge, medieval and mysterious đŸ“œ

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.

Castle 2

Prague vs. Brno, Czech Republic

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

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

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

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

Prague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The square features buildings belonging to various architectural styles, including the Gothic Church of Our Lady before TĂœn, 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: KarlĆŻv 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 Pƙemyslid 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 Pƙemyslid line included two saints (I will explain the later in this post).

The Charles Bridge, that  links Old Town to MalĂĄ 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 Bedƙich Smetana that evokes the flow of the Vltava River. Listen and enjoy! 🙂 For more Czech pieces of art, check AntonĂ­n Dvoƙák, Symphony No. 9.

We finally arrive to MalĂĄ 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 Petƙín 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 LibuĆĄe and her husband, Pƙemysl, founder of the Pƙemyslid dynasty (earlier mentioned dynasty of King Charles IV). Legend says that LibuĆĄe 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,