Filtering by Category: Europe

The Lovely Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle is a 15th-century castle built by the O'Donnell clan.  It is located in the center of what is now Donegal town northwest Ireland.  My wife and I stopped here while driving up the western coast of Ireland.

The day we stopped no one else was visting.  It was like we owned the castle!  Just walking around by ourselves and soaking up the history.  Upstairs they have the story of the castle with some displays that show the castle at various times in the past.  It is interesting to see how the castle evolved and grew over time.

Until next time...

Wyman

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Pretty path to a Portuguese church

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St Gualter Church in Guimarães, Portgual is small-ish as churches go.  The garden out in front of the church is what makes it spectacular.  I love this view from the fountain down to the church.  The garden is so well kept and simple yet elegant.

The church dates back to the 1500's and in 1993 was listed in Portugal as a property of public interest.

Until next time...

Wyman

The Belgrade Fortress towers above the rivers

Fortress in Belgrade, Serbia

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The Belgrade Fortress stands where the Danube and Sava rivers come together.  The view from the fortress grounds is quite spectacular.  I love this photo of the towers on the back side of the fortress.

The fortress walls were originally the walls of the city and is the oldest section of the urban area of Belgrade today.  Belgrade is quite a lively city now and a joy to walk around.  The fortress is essentially a park now with plenty of shade, grassy areas for the kids to run around, and benches to sit and enjoy the day.

Until next time...

Wyman

Hot Air Balloons and Rock Formations - Cappadocia, Turkey

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The Cappadocia region is central Turkey has some amazing landscapes.  I highly recommend visiting Cappadocia if you go to Turkey.   There are caves to explore, complete underground cities, valleys to trek, and some of the most unique rock formations on the planet.

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Just the hot air balloon experience itself is incredible.  The morning we went there were at least 100 balloons up at one time.  You can get a flavor for the number of balloons in the air from the picture below.

You will wake up about 4AM and a shuttle will pick you up from your hotel at about 4:30AM.  The first stop will be the balloon company office to sign paperwork and have a quick breakfast.  Soon you will load up in vans and convey to the launch site.  You will watch them inflate the balloons, hop aboard, and get a quick safety brief.

The next thing you know, you'll be easing off the ground and gracefully floating above these strange looking rock formations.  It is both loud and quiet at the same time.  The gas burner that keeps the air in the balloon is very loud.  Luckily, it is used sparingly.  Otherwise, it is very quiet.  You're just floating up there in awe.

Do not forget to take some photos!  I was halfway through the trip before I realized I should collecting digital memories!  :-)

Until next time...

Wyman

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

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We stumbled upon Alexander Nevsky Cathedral during a trip to Tallinn by taking the bus up to the top of the hill and just wandering around.  It is tucked away in the Old Town part of the city.

The cathedral was completed in 1900.  Services are still held in the Russian language.

The area is a bit touristy now and even has "beer wenches" on bicycles selling bottled water, Coke, Sprite, etc.  Strange.

Until next time...

Wyman

Fairytale view in Hallstatt, Austria

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A couple of years ago we spent a few days in the mountains between Vienna and Salzburg, Austria in the village of Hallstatt.  We got the idea from Rick Steves as many Americans do.  Wow, did he steer us in the right direction.  This area of Austria is absolutely stunning with lots of activities to do.  I'll write a post about things to do in the area soon.

Some people in China like this village so much they made a replica of Hallstatt in China.  Pretty amazing.

The photo above is a view of the village as seen from the ferry that takes people from village to village.  Such a beautiful scene with the old style building and the mountains.  Hallstatt itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Until next time...

Wyman

A Mad Man's Home is his Castle - Neuschwanstein

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Many things could be said about this castle.  It is an awesome sight and, frankly, my picture does not do it justice.  If the castle looks familiar that's because it has been the inspiration for castles in several movies and such including Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle.

The castle is named Neuschwanstein and was built by a mad man, King Ludwig II.  This was just one of his many castles and palaces.   One thing that is amazing to me is the castle was built in the 1870s and 1880s.  I always think castles like this were built in ancient times.

This photo was taken from a Marien Brücke (or Mary's Bridge).  It was named after the king's mother.

Until next time...

Wyman

Pompeii Street

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This is a common street in Pompeii, Italy.  in the background is Mt Vesuvius (volcano) which is the whole reason Pompeii is well known now.  Today, the area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It is really amazing to stroll through the old ruins.  Seeing the layout of the streets and buildings gives you a feel for the city that existed so long ago.  It also makes you wonder what the place you live now will be like hundreds of years ago.  The place gives you a great sense of just out temporary we are and life is.

The city of Pompeii was once filled with business men, families, and tourists much like any modern city today.  They people of Pompeii probably had the same sense of urgency and desire for growth and prosperity.  Then one day, Mt Vesuvius erupted and it was over very quickly.  Just like that, all the life was gone.

The moral of the story is to enjoy the time you have on this earth!

Until next time...

Wyman

London bus tour - Big Ben and Parliament

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Took this photo from the top deck of a double deck tour bus.   We had our oldest daughter with us.  Our youngest was on the way, but not born yet.  So, technically, I guess she was with us too.  Despite the clouds, it was a beautiful day in London.

This is just as we were crossing the River Thames.   If you could look back to the right, you'd see the London Eye.  I love this angle of Parliament and Big Ben.  It is hard to get a good shot with a tripod on the ground owing to traffic on the bridge.  This is also a great area to hop off the bus and walk around it.  It is full of history and things to see.

We used The Big Bus Company and really enjoyed it.  They also do walking tours in certain areas as part of the ticket.

Until next time...

Wyman

Scene from the Old City Wall in Dubrovnik, Croatia

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We spent a couple of days in Dubrovnik, Croatia last year.  One must do activity, if you are mobile enough, is to walk the old city wall.  The views are just gorgeous.  Every step along the wall gives a different perspective.  This was one of my favorite scenes.  The water in the Adriatic Sea is such a beautiful shade of blue.

Until next time...

Wyman

Review - Great Flamenco Venue in Seville, Spain

Pictured above is the front entrance to the Los Gallos flamenco venue in Seville, Spain.  The three guys sitting down are performers in the show.   There are two shows each evening.  They were taking a break before the late show started.

We have been to a couple of different ones in Seville.  Los Gallos was our first and is still our favorite.   Below I'll highlight what we felt made the difference between this and other venues in Seville.

  • Service - The service is great.  They come around to take drink orders before the show.  You can also have a slight break in the middle of the show to take a bio break and/or order drinks again.  Everyone on the staff is extremely down to earth and will talk to you including the performers (though they are obviously busy!).
  • Seating - Los Gallos' seating is set up to minimize blind spots.  So, no matter where you sit it is very likely you'll have a clear view of the stage.   Some other venues have quite a few seats with obstructed views.  There is also a balcony which is where they tend to sit families with any young-ish children.   The balcony gives the kids just a little space to squirm around as they will do without disturbing the main seating area.
  • Performance - The shows are two hours which is great.  Other venues are similarly priced for only a one hour show.  The performers are what really make the difference at Los Gallos.  They seem much more passionate about their craft plus there are more performers per show than at other venues.  The extra performers is probably owing to the two hour show length.  This gives the show more variety and a great fiesta scene at the end.

All in all, I can whole-heartedly recommend Los Gallos if you are in Seville (Sevilla) and want to watch a flamenco show.

Until next time...

Wyman

Dublin at Night Along the River

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We recently spent some time in Ireland.  Our hotel was in the quay area of the city.  This shot was taken on North Quay street.  As we were strolling towards O'Connell street, the lights reflecting in the river just called out for us to take some photos.

I hope you enjoy the view as much as we did that night.

Until next time...

Wyman

Picturesque Swiss mountain village

http://photos.wymanstocks.com/Europe/Switzerland/Murren/i-tdqPH46/0/M/wymanstocks-2012-Switzerland-Murren-mountain-village-M.jpg Here is a picture perfect scene from the village of Mürren in Switzerland.  I recently spent a week there.

You cannot get to Mürren by car.  The only two ways to get there are train or cable car as it is 1650 meters (about 5000 feet) up in the Alps.    The main sounds you hear are cow bells ringing as the cows graze all day in the hilly pastures.

Check out a previous post of mine on Mürren to see a sample of activities in the area.  Also, the evening sunsets can be magical to watch sometimes.

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Western Irish Coast - Ring of Kerry

I took this photo while driving along the Ring of Kerry.  The scenery along the southern half of this ring is the most dramatic. My travel tip is to drive clockwise on the route.   We drove both directions and anti-clockwise seemed like the best route.  Also, the local tourism board encourages anti-clockwise driving to help with traffic flow as some parts of the drive are quite narrow.

There are plenty of places to pull off and enjoy the views.  Make sure to take advantage of the pull offs.

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This would be a great image to hang on your wall at home or in the office.

Legitimate Graffiti in Lisbon

Across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe in Lisbon you can take a street car that goes up to the top of the hill. Lisbon has hired street artists to paint scenes along the whole length of the street car ride. Before it was just boring concrete walls. The art is a great use of space! Once you get to the top of the hill there is a park with excellent views of the city.

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Return to Sarajevo ... 17 years later

My first trip to Sarajevo was in August/September of 1995 and recently returned in May 2012.  What a difference 17 years can make!  The city is radically different now and at the same time a few things have not changed.

Transportation

When I was there in 1995, the airport was shutdown and the every entry way into the city was controlled by the Serbian Army except for one route.  I went in through a series of Serb checkpoints and left via the one route that was open.   Saying it one route was open is probably not technically correct, but the only checkpoints on that route were staffed by the United Nations Protection Force.

In 2012, the airport is open, trains and buses come and go freely, and we even drove a rental car in from Croatia.  We even made a stop in Mostar on the way and found the Bosnian country side very beautiful!

Lodging

While I was in Sarajevo the first time, my bed really was someone else's.  I used the bunk of a Canadian guy who'd gone home for some rest and relaxation.  I never met him and do not know his name.   Two or three other guys shared the room with me.  We had a bathroom down the hall.  The only trouble was showers were limited to two minutes.  Yes, 120 seconds.  Try that the next time you hop in to get clean.

Contrast that image to staying at the City Boutique hotel that my wife, daughter, and I stayed this time.    No comparison, obviously.  I must say though, the hotel and especially the staff could not have been better.  This is a highly recommended hotel if you ask me.

Nothing like a nice spacious room and a long hot shower!

Landmarks

The two main things that stick out in my mind are near the Turkish Quarter Bascarsija square and the National Library.

The square was deserted while I was there in 1995 even though it was still sign-posted as a tourist area.

Bascarsija square had very few people in it in 1995.  Today, in 2012, it is truly a bustling tourist district with a mix if Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, as well as international visitors.  We met and chatted with some business men from Istanbul, Turkey one night.  They were really nice, peaceful mean who told us that visiting to this area of Sarajevo was very important for Turkish people.

Here is a shot from 1995 taken one morning:

Contrast that with a night scene of the same street in 2012.  If you look closely in the background you'll notice that same tall building on the right is in much better shape now.

The whole area has a totally different vibe now. Here are then and now photos of the main tourist square itself.

Bascarsija square 1995

Bascarsija square 2012

The activity around the area is also radically different now.  Back then, people would walk fast and mostly get out for essentials.  No one had a water supply at home.  Notice how this lady is bringing water jugs to fill them at the local mosque.

Today, in 2012, that same mosque area is full of people just walking and chatting and looking for the night's entertainment and food.

Again, a much different vibe than 17 years ago.

National Library

The National Library was all but destroyed during the war.  Today, no one can go inside and the outside of the building is completely wrapped with a type of contruction cloth and scaffolding.  There are workers inside would not let me inside to take any current photos and somehow I did not get a good photo of the outside either. Here is what the National Library looked like in 1995.  Sad.  Just sad.  One thing that does not show in the photos is the beautiful marble floors that were covered with debris from the broken building.  I was very much hoping this building had been restored.  Maybe next trip.  They are obviously working on it now.

Outside of the building on the left of this photo.  You can see the Windows are blown completely out.

Here is what the inside looked like in 1995.

Again, it was just sad to see that no progress has been made on restoring the National Library.  Walking around inside this building has always been a vivid memory for me, even today.

Places to eat

There were very few places to eat outside of the UN compounds when I was there in 1995.  However, we did find one very nice sit down restaurant, Cevabdzinica Hodzic.  There were sandbags in the windows to protect them from sniper fire and/or a mortar blast.  The food was excellent though even back then.

That restaurant is still open today and event expanded to a second location.  They even have a Facebook page now.   The food is so good we ate there twice this trip!

There are so many places to eat now it is hard to choose. Cevabdzinica Hodzic Restaurant then.

Cevabdzinica Hodzic Restaurant second location in 2012.

Olympic Venues / Mt Igman

For this, I'll go back a little further in time to give context.  In 1984, Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics.  Mt Igman was one of the primary places for the skiing events.  Amazingly, a good bit of the Olympic history made it through the war with only minor, if any, damage.

  • 1995 - Mt Igman was the only way into or out of Sarajevo that was not controlled by the Serbian Army.  The roads were maintained by the United Nations Protection Forces.
  • 2012 - The "roads" over Mt Igman are in very bad shape.  Today they are used mainly for recreational sports like motor bike riding.

Road maintenance being done in 1995

 

This is me waiting to clear a checkpoint on the way out of the city on Mt Igman in 1995.

This is me trying to strike the same pose on a Mt Igman trail in 2012.  Just not the same feeling at all.

One thing I did not see on Mt Igman in 1995 was any of the old Olympic skiiing sites.  We had a chance to see some of those this time and it was just a treat.  Even though we were too late in the day to get up close, I just stood there and looked over the old ski jump site in awe.

This is a much better sight than the things I saw in 1995.  The most vivid of those memories is this mosque that was blown up.

Notice the little kid standing by the road as we passed.  I have always wondered if this kid made it through OK and is alive today.  He must have wished he could have hopped in our Land Rover.  We drove through so quickly I barely got a glance at him because I was looking at the mosque.  I've stared at him in this picture many times since hoping he is OK.

Sad.    I wish we could have seen this place in 2012, but we could not find it.

Conclusion

I hope you have found this post interesting.  It has been inside my head for many years.  Only this year was I able to see what this place looks like now.   There are many other memories both past and present that are not in this post, of course.   In a way, it has been like therapy to both re-visit Sarajevo and write down my thoughts after so many years. Thank you for reading.

Until next time...

Wyman

Free Trip to Europe!? Wish me luck!

The Dream

NomadicMatt is sending someone to Europe for 12 days.   The winner will go to Budapest, Prague, and Vienna.

The Sad Story

I've been trying to get to these three cities for the past two years.  Owing to a conspiracy between my wife and job, I've yet to make it!  Help me, Matt!

Last year I had a conference in Vienna.  The family toured around Vienna for a week while I spent way too much time in a conference.  My wife still tells me I have never really been to Vienna.  We did spend a week in beautiful Halstatt which I highly recommend for a relaxing trip.

This year was a trip to Eastern Europe.  You would think.  Nope.  My wife wanted to go to a magical place I'd been years ago.    So, we went to the Former Yugoslavia with a few days in Romania.   It was a great time though.  The Croatian coast is beautiful.

OK, so maybe this is not that sad after all.   These cities have been very elusive though!

Once Matt helps me foil the evil forces against me, I have a plan.

The Plan

  • Prague
    • Live the Bohemian life for twelve days by starting in Prague, the capital of Bohemia proper.
    • Vyšehrad Castle where Prague started.
    • Walk the old town and try to figure out the Astronomical Clock
    • Visit one or two of the outdoor markets such as Holesovice Market or Pankrac Market
    • Visit Josefov (historic Jewish ghetto) to tour old synagogues
    • Briefly check out the Museum of Commnunism
    • Visit one or two outdoor markets
    • Possible (long) day trip to the town of Český Krumlov to see the second largest castle in the Czech Republic
    • Explore Brno on the way to Vienna.
  • Vienna
  • Budapest
    • Go to a thermal bath!
    • Explore Castle Hill
      • Explore the Királyi Palota (Royal Palace)  where the city started
      • Wander around Lions' Courtyard
      • Stroll through Hunydi Garden
    • Visit St Stephan's Basilica and maybe rent a bike at the nearby garage
    • Take a night time cruise on the Danube river
    • Possible half-day trip to the village of Szentendre
    • Day trip to Hollókő a UNESCO World Heritage site

They say a plan is only good until the battle starts.  So, you need to think about what to do in case of a contingency.  Got that covered too.

Plan B

If Prague, Budapest, and Vienna slip away for a third time.  I will pick a twelve day period between October 15, 2012 and April 30th, 2013 to watch the following video once per day. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKo4FMzt_hM]

The pitch

Matt, please help me get this trip.  I'd love to share the memories and photos with those who cannot make it.   Third time is a charm and this is my third attempt to get to this part of Europe.

Also, I am not sure I can stomach twelve days of William Shatner doing Bohemian Rhapsody!  Help!