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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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Warsaw, Poland

Great, big, diplomatic, historic, curteous, quite and calm Warsaw. But then comes the night and you start with vodka and end up calling your ex in some Budda club at 2 am.

It all started by my friend’s invitation to Warsaw. I arrived around 22:00 and first thing I saw was the Palace of Culture and Science. Stalin’s gift to the Poles and the building where the Warsaw Pact was signed, in 1955.

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Palace of Culture and Science

That same night she told me we will go out with more people. We started with normal fine polish biers, until someone ordered vodka. She told me that the habit is not to leave the table before the entire bottle is finished. It was a blast.

 

 

 

The rest of the week was cultural uplift and foodies. Like this great onion soup discovery in the plate made of bread.

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On my way to the Warsaw Uprising Museum I spotted the memorial panel to one of all time politicians: Lech Kaczyński – who served as the Mayor of Warsaw (2002- 2005) and as the President of Poland (2005 – 2010). 12644929_10208777459736312_4896329756414490126_nHe was the identical twin brother of the former Prime Minister of Poland  Jarosław. He died hin 2010 in the crash of a Polish Air Force jet together with more than 96 state officials, politicians like the  the mentioned President of Poland Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, the former President of Poland in exile, the chief of the Polish General Staff and other senior Polish military officers, the president of the National Bank of Poland, Polish Government officials, 18 members of the Polish Parliament, senior members of the Polish clergy etc. The crash accident is shrouded in conspiracy theory.

Lech is famous by banning the Warsaw gay pride parade twice in 2004 and again in 2005, locally known as the Parada Równości (the Equality Parade), stating that the application of the parade organizers had not been properly filed, and also that he did not respect homosexuals’ right to demonstrate, “I respect your right to demonstrate as citizens. But not as homosexuals.”

So now about the Uprising Museum dedicated to the  Warsaw Uprising of 1944 during the WW2.

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The museum shows possessions of the Polish Underground State during World War II made of mostly local Warsaw Jews. It collects and maintains hundreds of artifacts — ranging from weapons used by the insurgents to love letters — to present a full picture of the people involved.

The museum’s stated goals include the creation of an archive of historical information on the uprising and the recording of the stories and memories of living participants.

Most of the ruins and passes between buildings have been used by children as they were small enough to go through and bring useful information or small food supplies.

 

 

The Uprising was resistant, the nazi occupation as well. By that, the Allies (Russia and UK) standing alongside watching the battle and waiting the moment to enter triumphantly in the city, claiming the victory which was so obviously won by the insurgents.

The schocking moment was at the end of museum where was a big poster of Jesus Christ thanking God for winning the WW2 and always protecting Polish people. -_- So sad they don’t recognize the irony.

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One of the heros of Warsaw Uprising, the nurse Mewa

Memorial to the Mothers of the Warsaw Uprising. The anchor and the letter P are the resistance symbol.
Monument to warriors Warszaw

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Memorial to the Mothers of the Warsaw Uprising. The anchor and the letter P at the top are the symbol of resistance 

Continuing my way exploring Warsaw, this building appeared: Technical University. It is a typical Warsaw massive building builded in secession.

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Warsaw University of Technology

As I was still stuck in history, I decided to sit for a coffee in a place from pre- WW2 era. Everything there is just like in the 30’s. The piano, old radio, chandelliers, walls…

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Coffee place from Warsaw 30’s

Now about streets in Warsaw. Each of them tells the story, like Želazna street from the jewish ghetto, or the Street of John Paul II – the first pope non-italian pope coming from Poland.

 

Then some photos from the streets: the tram and the view towards the financial ditrict:

 

It was on my way to Pawiak museum, a former prison that during the January 1863 Uprising  served as a transfer camp for Poles sentenced by Imperial Russia to deportation to Siberia.

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Model of destroyed Pawiak museum

During the World War II German occupation of Poland, it became part of the Nazi concentration-death camp apparatus in Warsaw. In 1944 it was destroyed by the Germans to hide their traces.

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Ruins of the entrance to Pawiak prison

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Memorial tree

Travelling the world and visiting many museums, I can say I have visited so far around 10 jewish museums and they are always the most expensive ones with the most expensive entrance fee. The last one I visited was Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. And probably will stay like this for long time. With all due respect.

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POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Museum is on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The Hebrew word Polin means either “Poland” or “rest here” and is related to a legend on the arrival of the first Jews in Poland.

Inside of it you can find features of multimedia narrative exhibitions about the living Jewish community that flourished in Poland for a thousand years up to the Holocaust. It was definitely educational to see how Jewish community lived in Middle Ages surviving by growing their crafts, trades, banks and businesses.

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On the Jewish street – reconstruction of Warsaw Ghetto

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Reconstructed vault and bimah

Now about the city center and the city square  a total mediaval history here 🙂 My favourites!

Plac Zamkowy is the name of the main square and it literally means castle square as there is the Royal Castle – the former official residence of Polish monarchs.

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Plac Zamkowy and Sigismund’s Column

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Historic townhouses at Plac Zamkowy

The Square features the landmark Sigismund’s Column to the south-west, and is surrounded by historic townhouses. It marks the beginning of the bustling Royal Route extending to the south.

This square has witnessed many dramatic scenes in Polish history. Patriotic demonstrations took place there during the period before the outbreak of the January Uprising of 1863 against Imperial Russia and its brutality over Polish people, as during that time the bloody massacre was carried out, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 people.

During martial law (refers to the 1980’s when the authoritarian communist government of the People’s Republic of Poland drastically restricted normal life) the square became the scene of the particularly brutal riot, with ZOMO police.

Going through Warsaw Old Town – my friend joined me from work and we had a great time exploring even though it was called and windy.

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Rynek Staro Miesto

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A symbol of Warsaw represented on the city’s coat of arms and well as in a number of statues and other imagery is Mermaid of Warsaw. Actually, more properly woud be a fresh-water mermaid called melusina. The story about it is similar with some European cities especially Luxembourg city.

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 The legend says the mermaid was swimming in the river Vistula when she stopped on a riverbank near the Old Town to rest. Liking it, she decided to stay. Local fishermen noticed that something was creating waves, tangling nets, and releasing their fish. They planned to trap the offender, but fell in love with her upon hearing her singing. Later, a rich merchant trapped the mermaid and imprisoned her. Hearing her cries, the fishermen rescued her, and ever since, the mermaid, armed with a sword and a shield, has been ready to help protect the city and its residents.

 

 

 

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The mermaid in the centre of Warsaw’s Old Town

The heart of the Old town area is the Old Town Market Place, rich in restaurants, cafés and shops. Surrounding streets feature medieval architecture such as the city walls, the Barbican and St. John’s Cathedral.

We treated ourselves properly 🙂

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Pierogi 🙂 Polish national dish stuffed with sour cherries and beer Tyskie

Poland is well – known by amber. Since my mother was born in the months of this gemstone, I decided to treat her with one.

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Polish amber

Warsaw is also a birthplace of Nikola Kopernik –  a Renaissance- and Reformation-era mathematician and astronomer who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the center of the universe. What a times in mediava l Warsaw!

Thereby the Copernicus Science Centre is placed there too.

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Academy of Sciences and Copernicus Monument

But the real hero of there is Fryderyk Chopin – haolding the airport’s name, the church , statue and a museum.

fryderyk chopin fotografia_6023200He was a polish composer and and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for the solo piano. He lived in 19th century and died in Paris. But before his dead he said some parts of his shoud rest in his lovely Warsaw. Today, his heart is placed in Holy Cross Church. 

So what happened exactly?

During his final days, famed Polish composer, with fawning Parisian women fainting all around him, he made the gruesome request that his heart be taken from his corpse and sent back to his home country, knowing full well that his body would never leave Paris.

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The Church in which Chopin’s heart is held after he died in Paris at the age of 39

We visited the Fryderyk Chopin Museum too where you can find out more about his burning life episodes and items like his piano etc.

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Chopin’s piano

On the way back we visited the place of the first Chopin performance, at age 8. Nowaday is marked with sitting benches performing his songs.

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Place of Chopin’s first performance,  he was 8 only

And what is world without women? Marie Curie was also Polish but naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences.

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Statue of Marie Curie ❤