Friday 14 February 2014

Serbia pictures 2013

Pictures from my Serbia trip in September. We only went to Belgrade, I'd like to go back one day and see more of the country. Belgrade is a nice city but it is not set up for tourism like other European capitals. Most of the museums are entirely in Serbian, which limited my enjoyment of them, and there were very few tours available in English, if any. Any tours of the sights I was interested in were not in English. I'm not one of those people who expect everyone in other countries to speak English, after all, its their country, but having the tourist attractions entirely in one language which is not a common language does hinder Belgrade's tourist appeal. It also meant I didn't need much time there to see everything there was to see. I spent 4 days but really only needed 2 days to see all I wanted to see. But I still enjoyed my time there and here are some of the pictures I took.
Belgrade pedestrian area. It is lined with shops, restaurants and the many coffee shops. Coffee is a main pastime in Belgrade and we spent many hours sitting outside drinking delicious coffee and eating fantastic desserts. 

Belgrade Fortress, one of the main attractions in the city. Its a beautiful area with views over the river and lots of parkland. Worth a half day visit at least. 

View from the wall of the Belgrade fortress. 

Walking through the fortress area. Lots to see. There is also a museum within the fortress area about the Serbian military history which was interesting. 

Another area of Belgrade, the old historical centre of Zemun, we found after walking along the boardwalk beside the river on the way to Gardos Tower.

Views from the top of Gardos Tower, also known as Millennium Tower in the Zemun fortress. 

Gardos Tower. 

The History Museum of Yugoslavia which houses the House of Flowers where Tito's grave is located. The House of Flowers also contains relay batons given to him every year on his birthday when relays were run throughout Yugoslavia and the final runner presented the baton to Tito.

Temple of St. Sava

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Bosnia 2013 pictures

I loved my time in Bosnia. Its a beautiful country that has survived so much and the people are amazing. Here are some of the pictures of Mostar and Sarajevo.

The bridge in Mostar. It was destroyed in the war but rebuilt. People stand on top and collect money to jump off the bridge, apparently they have been doing it for years. The river isn't very deep and apparently the impact can crush your lungs. No one jumped while we were there but a few were collecting money. The bridge itself is really slippery as you walk over. It is a beautiful spot. 

 Another of the bridges in Mostar. It is a great town to walk around and an easy trip from Split or Sarajevo. The old town feels like you are walking through the Ottoman empire (if you ignore all the shops selling tourist stuff). The newer areas were built during the Hapsburg rule.

View from the Mostar bridge over the old town. 

Old town Sarajevo.  My favourite time to walk around was at night. It could have been 1500 in the Ottoman empire. Within the old town every major religion in the world is represented. There are great restaurants and shops. One street, the copper street, has been there for hundreds of years and still sells copper goods.

The view over Sarajevo from  Bijela Tabija, the White Fortress. The hills surrounding Sarajevo were used during the war by snipers to terrorize the citizens. It is amazing how Sarajevo has been rebuilt but there are still buildings that are in rubble or covered by holes from sniper shots, grenades or bombs.

This was the house used as the start of the Sarajevo Tunnel under the Sarajevo airport which was used to smuggle in goods and weapons to the citizens during siege of Sarajevo in the war. 

Sarajevo Roses. These are spots where a grenade fell, leaving the mark in the concrete, and killed a Sarajevo citizen. These marks were filled in with red resin and remain as reminders of the horrors of the war and what the citizens of Sarajevo survived.
Pedestrian street in Sarajevo
The copper street in old town Sarajevo.

Monday 10 February 2014

Croatia trip 2013 pictures

Its been awhile since my last post but I am finally able to post pictures from my last trip. Here are some views from Croatia.
 The main Roman square in Diocletian's Palace in the old town of Split. The steps are part of the coffee shop and you can sit and have coffee and people watch.  There is a Roman show each day under the arch at the end of the square.

 View from the Fortress on Hvar over the town. Hvar is a great day trip from Split with lots to see and many spots to sit and suntan or swim in the beautiful water.
 The clock tower in Split and bronze statue of Grgur Ninski at the Golden Gate. Rub the big toe on the left foot of the statue  for good luck.
 Trogir, another great day trip from Split. It is on a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge. Beautiful town surrounded by water with a long boardwalk along the outer wall. This is a picture of the clock tower in the main square.

Island of Brac. Another great day trip from Split where you will find beautiful beaches and interesting towns. From the beach there is a lovely walk through the trees and along the coast into walk into Bol. Supetar is the other main town and boats from Split typically land here.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Trip to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia Sept 2013

What an amazing trip! The time flew by, which is always the trouble with 2 week vacations. I went with two friends from Toronto. We met up in beautiful Split, Croatia with its Roman old town and gorgeous seaside where I had already spent a couple days. Made a couple trips to the islands (Hvar and Brac) plus a trip to Trogir. There are many reasons  to go to Split (seaside, old town, stunning Roman palace area) plus it is a great base for days trips to the islands and to explore Dalmatia.

One of our friends had to head home after Croatia so only two of us continued on to Mostar in Bosnia. Mostar is well worth a visit if you are in Bosnia. From wandering the old bazaar to walking over the famous bridge the town is known for which was built in the Ottoman times but was destroyed during the war in the 1990s and had to be rebuilt, it has a unique charm. After just 24 hours in Mostar we were off to Sarajevo. Walking through the old Ottoman area of Sarajevo is like walking through time. There are still old Turkish style coffee shops and one street has even retained its traditional purpose as the copper street where families have worked for generations. There are signs of the recent war everywhere but the city is still beautiful and has made an amazing recovery. Shrapnel marks in the walls, the Sarajevo roses at sights where people were killed, the tunnel museum at one end of the "tunnel of hope" used to bring in foods, supplies and weapons during the war, and the Sbrenica exhibit are all poignant reminders of what the city endured.

Final stop Belgrade. We found surprisingly few mentions of the war in museums or tours, unlike Croatia and Bosnia. Most of the tourist sights are focused on older history, Orthodox churches or the Tito period. The pedestrian walking area leading to the old fortress with its amazing views over the river is lined with cafes and stores. As with Croatia and Bosnia, the coffee culture is apparent, which started in the Ottoman times and continued with Hapsburg rule. We spent a portion of every day having coffee (and sometimes indulging in the delicious desserts) while people watching, it was fantastic.

Pictures and details will follow. Now sadly off to pack for home after one last nutella crepe.

Monday 26 August 2013

The European Road Less Travelled part 2

As stated in my previous post, one of my favourite places to travel is East Central Europe. Aside from how beautiful the region is, all of the amazing sights to see and having the chance to experience cultures that are so quintessentially European in some ways yet so unique in many others, a big reason why I love the area is I have been obsessed with its history since I was in junior high. One of my passions is 20th century history and East Central Europe and Russia played a major part. Russia was the first communist country, World War I was started by the shooting of Franz Ferdinand of Austria when he was in Sarajevo, World War II started when Germany invaded Poland, the Holocaust and the concentration camps, and communism was imposed on Eastern Europe after the war. Depending on your generation you may remember the Berlin wall going up, for me I remember very clearly it being pulled down and people sitting on the wall shouting for freedom which marked the beginning of a new era in European history.  In Berlin today there are still reminders of that history. 
 Berlin wall
 Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

The Cold War divided Europe and essentially cut off Eastern Europe from the rest of the world for over 40 years.  In more recent history, the wars in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, the last as recent as 2001 with the insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia, created a number of new countries over the course of the wars and involved genocide and other war crimes which are still vivid in many people’s minds.  Since that time, these countries have recovered at different paces and are now starting to be on some people’s travel radar. Croatia in particular is growing in popularity due to its beautiful beaches and stunning coastal areas. Just to see Dubrovnik is worth the trip with its old town that seems suspended in time; it is surrounded by walls with the Mediterranean on one side and the hills rising up on the other.  Restaurants hang over the cliffs and look out over amazing crystal clear blue water, there is cliff jumping and private rock beaches all over the place and the islands with their pristine sand beaches are a short boat ride away. There is little evidence of the war, although as I walked the city walls I did see bullet holes in the side of a building.

 Dubrovnik Harbour
View From Dubrovnik Walls
Because of its history, many parts of Eastern Europe are still not as touristy as Western Europe, making it a great place to escape crowds and get up close and personal with the history. Below are my top sights to see in the area (in no particular order), although there are still so many places I haven’t been the list will keep growing I’m sure.  Please post any of your favourite sights; I’m always looking for new places to visit.
1.       Auschwitz in Poland – It is haunting and well worth the visit.

2.       Moscow’s Red Square and the Kremlin – So many images on Western television from the second half of the 20th century were filmed in Red Square. I had chills the first time I went there and walked around it for the first time. For those who prefer older history, the Russian Tsars (including Ivan the Terrible) were married and crowned in the churches in the Kremlin.

3.       The Hermitage in St. Petersburg – It is one of the most amazing museums in the world and being able to walk inside the Winter Palace of the Russian Tsars is well worth a trip even if you don’t like museums.

4.       Walk the walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia – Beautiful views of the sea and old town.

5.       Prague’s castle district – The castle area is fabulous and it offers great views over the red roofs and bridges of Prague.

6.       Tallinn, Estonia – It is a gorgeous city and is like a fairytale.


7.       Cesky Krumlov – Spend a few nights in this beautiful town. The old town is fantastic and a great place to relax and unwind.

Thursday 22 August 2013

The European Road Less Travelled - Russia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Poland, Estonia

I have always been fascinated with East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Strange as it sounds the first place I ever went in Europe was not Paris or London, it was Moscow.  It was the first place out of North America actually that I ever went.  I toured with my cousin (who hadn’t even been on a plane before!) and after 5 weeks in Russia we traveled all over Europe, including the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.  Since that first trip I have been back many times to the region, so much has changed.  My first time in the region there were very few tourists, very little English was spoken and there was not a lot of infrastructure designed for tourists.  But so much has changed, in some areas more than others.  I remember the first time I was in Prague, there was not a tourist shop to be found, hostels cost $7 per night, beer was only 75 cents a pint and I even have a picture of the Charles Bridge with no one on it!  Today that would be impossible to accomplish except maybe at 3am, and even that might not be true anymore given how popular a place Prague is now to visit. 
Although Prague is no longer an unusual place to visit, much of Eastern Europe and Russia still are. This area is still great value for the money compared to Western Europe despite its increased popularity.  Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia have more tourist infrastructure than they did in the past. Other areas like Serbia, Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Russia are still considered far off the tourist track, although both Moscow and St. Petersburg are becoming more popular and do have good infrastructure generally, especially St. Petersburg as more cruise ships have started to stop there.  

Catherine's Palace in Tsarskoe Selo
St. Basil's Cathedral - Moscow
It is impossible to use one post to describe all of the fabulous sights of this region and I will have many future posts about my visits to various areas around East Central Europe and Russia.  There are so many places to see and each time I go back I find new things, even in cities or regions I’ve been to before.  I’m actually heading there next month, to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia.  I have been to Croatia before but not to Split and as this will be my first time to Bosnia and Serbia, if anyone has any tips on what to see and do please post them!  My plan is to head to Split in Croatia first and then go to Sarajevo and fly home from Belgrade. Keep an eye out for posts about this trip.

For now I leave you with my top must see cities in this region (in no particular order):

1.     Dubrovnik, Croatia – It is a beautiful city and offers both city and beach options, depending on what you are looking for.

2.     St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia  – If you are interested in Imperial Russia go to St. Petersburg, if you are more interested in old Tsarist Russia of the Ivan the Terrible type or modern communist Russia go to Moscow. To see the Russia of the 20th century I preferred Moscow for its Stalinist architecture, Red Square and the Kremlin, even though the communist revolution started in St. Petersburg.

3.     Krakow, Poland – Unlike Warsaw, Krakow basically survived the war and is a beautiful old city with sweeping squares and a castle, and is the best place to start from for a tour of Auschwitz.  Auschwitz is a must see for everyone, it is a poignant and moving place that reminds us what people are capable of so that hopefully it will never happen again.

4.     Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – This quaint small town in southern Czech Republic has a river weaving through the town which feels like you have stepped back in time. The old town is closed to vehicle traffic except delivery vehicles, and seems frozen in time. The castle overlooking the town offers fantastic views of the red roofs of the town with the river curving through with a view of the green hills which surround it.

 5.   Tallinn, Estonia – It’s like stepping into a fairytale. The walled old town is beautiful, there are cafes with great patios to sit and watch the world go by, and winding streets to get lost in.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Ireland - There is a reason it is the emerald isle

Its been a rainy spring and it is reminding me of one of my favourite trips, Ireland. I'm the type that never goes out in the rain unless absolutely necessary, I'd rather stay inside and be dry while waiting until its over. So for me too much rain ruins a holiday, but in Ireland somehow it didn't matter. Of the 14 day trip I only had one day where it didn't rain. Yet it is one of the best trips I've ever taken and I would go back to Ireland in a heartbeat. Rain suits Ireland, gloomy clouds swirling around castles, black clouds on the horizon while the wind whips your hair as you stand on the cliffs, fog covering the gap of Dunloe and then lifting as you turn a corner in your horse pulled cart. There is just something about it. And after all, there is a reason the place is so green.

Bad weather is practically a source of pride, it is expected. You can always tell the tourists, we're the ones with the umbrellas pulled out with the first few drops of rain while the Irish people barely notice. Its one of those places you can grab a car and drive, which does help keep you get out of the rain, of course only until you turn the next corner and have to jump out to see a gorgeous view of the sea or countryside, wander a small town or explore castle ruins.
I flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland and rented a car.  I started out of Belfast and drove the loop North along the coast past the Giant's Causeway to Derry/Londonderry, then South into the Republic of Ireland through Galway to Kerry to stay in Killarney, East along the South coast to Kinsale and Cobh and then North through Kilkenny to Dublin.  I hit the main tourist spots along the way, such as the Carrick-a-Rede bridge, the Giant's Causeway, cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Blarney Castle and the sights of Dublin. The rain didn't stop me even though it rained every day except one. Only one place was it a real detriment, I could not see a thing at the cliffs of Moher.
Luckily there was a visitors centre where there were some nice pictures so I knew what I had missed. Its a good excuse to go back. 
In spite of the weather it is one of my favourite trips. Every part of the country is beautiful, there is so much to do and see and the people are truly amazing. Everywhere you go the people are friendly and helpful. My best tip for Ireland is talk to people because, aside from the lovely accent, some of my best tips on what to see around Ireland came from chatting with locals. One of the easiest places to meet locals rather than tourists is in the pub. There are few things to do in the evening which are more fabulous than sitting in a pub in Ireland, drinking Guinness, and listening to a band while chatting with the people around you. One of my favourite stops was based on a tip from a local in Killarney who said we had to stop in Cobh (which I had never heard of). Cobh was the last stop of the Titanic before it set sail. It is a beautiful town on the coast, with a gorgeous cathedral, quaint main street along the water and a fantastic museum about the Titanic and Irish history, particularly the mass Irish emigration around the world.
Plus I stayed in two castles, hard to beat! A true princess fantasy come to life, one an 18th century style, very elegant, and the other 15th century style, it was even heated by a roaring fire, felt like I was in Henry VIII's era.
Ireland is full of fantastic things to see. Its tough to choose favourites, but if I had to choose my top highlights, in no particular order, are:
1. Gourmet dinners in Kinsale in County Cork. It is known as the gourmet capital of Ireland and has some great restaurants in a beautiful town which was an old fishing port.
2. The horse-drawn cart ride through the Gap of Dunloe in County Kerry.  The horse's name was Jovi, he had a partner named Bon who wasn't working that day (the driver was a fan).
3. Staying in as many castles and manor houses as I could afford. They are gorgeous, charming and usually have a delicious restaurant.  I found amazing deals in September and only had to book about a day in advance.
4. Wandering Kilkenny castle and after that a night at the pub listening to an Irish band playing traditional Irish songs, with a few modern ones thrown in.
5. The Northern Coastal highway where there are awe-inspiring sights every kilometre including the surreal Giant's Causeway.
6. Wandering the streets of towns like Cobh and Killarney. I didn't spend enough time in either place, especially the Cobh museum, and cannot wait to go back.
I recommend Ireland as an amazing destination, even though you should expect it to rain some, if not all, of the time. A raincoat and an umbrella are a must. But, as everyone in Ireland told me to remember, you don't come to Ireland for the weather.