Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

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Brandenburg Tor, Berlin, Germany

Do I even have to tell you that this in the infamous Brandenburg Gate, once located between the free West Germany and the Communist-controlled East Germany? I hope not. You don’t have to visit Berlin to recognize this impressive and iconic structure. The gate was rebuilt in the late 18th century as a Neolithic triumphal arch (though nothing like other triumphal arches), and it’s located in Pariser Platz, at the end of Unter den Linton street. During the partition, the gate was inaccessible and surrounded by barbed wire. Soviet-controlled East Germany, which existed from 1949-1990, separated not only family and friends, but also sections of the same city and the same country. Considering the economically-advanced state of modern Germany, it’s strange to think that the Brandenburg Gate was once inaccessible to all but a privileged few less than 25 years ago. In 1989, a peaceful revolution in the GDR (German Democratic Company) brought down the Berlin Wall, opening borders, and allowing the emergence of a reformed government committed to freedom.

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Church in Neum, Bosnia & Herzegovina

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Church in Neum, Bosnia & Herzegovina

This is the “new” church of Neum, Bosnia’s only coastal town. Nuem splits Croatia right in two along the famously beautiful Dalmatian Coast. Bosnia, which was formally part of Yugoslavia alongside other nearby countries such as Croatia and Serbia, managed to hold on to roughly 25 km of coastline.  While it has the same orange roofs as Croatia, it is sadly obvious that Croatia has more money and more tourists–and the bloody war from 1 March 1992 to 14 December 1995 in Bosnia didn’t exactly help. Because Croatians (and Croatian tourists) must go through Bosnia to get from Dubrovnik to Split, a bridge was proposed to bypass security checks (and cut down on the possibility of stowaways); however, the Pelješac Bridge could potentially violate Bosnia-Herzegovinian rights under the International Law of the Sea, so all plans have been suspended. Neum is a small town of 4,600 people, cheap prices attracting lots of Croatian shoppers – and one great view (even in this rainstorm!).


Find Other Intriguing Churches in Eastern Europe
  1. Church of Sts Clement & Panteleimon in Ohrid, Macedonia
  2. Nativity of Christ Cathedral, Riga, Latvia
  3. The Church of St Clement of Ohrid, Skopje, Macedonia
  4. St Andrew’s Church in Kiev, Ukraine
  5. St Casimir’s Church, Vilnius, Lithuania

 

Salzburg, Austria

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View from Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg, Austria

Perched atop Festungsberg mountain, Hohensalzburg Castle overlooks the city of Mozart’s birth.  With a length of 250 m and a width of 150 m, it’s actually one of the largest medieval castles in all of Europe. The core was commenced in 1077, but the castle was added to and changed countless times, acquiring quirks from across the centuries. If you make it up the hill to the castle and you still have the energy to climb to the top of the castle’s tower, then you will be afforded a spectacular view such as this one. Here is the Austrian countryside. This is the countryside of Georg Von Trapp and Maria, where girls in dresses spun in green fields. It is the countryside where Mozart spent his early years. It is the same countryside that the archbishops appointed by the Holy Roman Empire once ruled. The hills are alive with the sound of music…as well as the sheer charm of the rolling green hills, castle walls, and turrets poking through the trees and the Alps rise dramatically beyond the city.

Dunnottar Castle, Scotland

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Dunnottar Castle, Scotland

Dunnottar is an easy place to fall in love. Perhaps due to the rugged nature of the peninsula, perhaps due to the fact that it is a castle on a cliff, perhaps due to brilliant surrounding countryside, Dunnottar Castle will make your heart flutter. The stone fortress is perched on a peninsula which is perched on a cliff, which creates an imposing image as you traipse through the Scottish countryside to get here. Dating back to 1400, this castle is probably the most famous of the roughly 55 castles in Aberdeenshire alone – one of the most castle-dense counties in all of the UK.  Dunnottar Castle is well worth the traipse, even if you don’t go inside. The countryside hike to the castle is gorgeous. The castle itself is dramatic and picaresque, which exactly what you’d expect from a Scottish castle.  Hidden beaches and steep cliffs line the castle’s edges, sporting a ruggedness that truly defines Scotland’s coast. Dunnottar Castle is full of untold treasures, and not just the sort of treasure that glitters!


Other Amazing Castles in Europe
  1. Kreuzenstein Castle, Austria
  2. Hohenschwangau Castle, Germany
  3. Castillo Xàtiva, Spain
  4. Gutenberg Castle, Balzers, Liechtenstein
  5. Vajahunyad Castle, Budapest, Hungary
  6. Carcassonne, France


 

Załęcze Wielkie, Poland

sunset in Zalecze Wielkie, rural Poland

Sunset over Załęcze Wielkie, Poland

Załęcze Wielkie lies in the Łódź Voivodeship (Polish province) in central Poland. It is a small village of about 20-25 buildings, and is 18km from the county’s capital of Wielun surrounded by beautiful rural countryside, rolling fields of flower and hills, ancient and sacred sites, and tiny villages. It also happens to boast Nadwarciański Gród, a small woodland campus for hosting summer camps. Every July, the village sees an influx of Americans for the The Kosciuszko Foundation, in which Polish teens can learn English at a summer Arts camp. Running through the village and park is the Warka, a river (also a beer) that is both the 3rd largest in Poland (though still small and calm enough to lazily float down), and mentioned in the national anthem. Sunsets like this are made to be enjoyed – take a step back, relax, and chill out in small chalets, roasting marshmallows and kielbasa on an open fire, and strumming guitars by as the sun dips below the horizon, leaving a stream of colour in the sky’s canvas. Sometimes, you have to go back to the basics, and watch a beautiful sun set over  a river to put everything into perspective.


More Impressive and Beautiful Sunsets in Europe
  1. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour & Moskva River, Moscow, Russia
  2. Balazuc Village, Southern France
  3. Archipelago of Stockholm, Sweden
  4. Downtown Madrid, Spain
  5. Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia, Spain

 

Lucerne, Switzerland

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Löwendenkmal, Lucerne, Switzerland

Deep within the Swiss Alps, you may come across the most unlikely of animals: a magestic lion quietly sleeping in a rock. This is the Löwendenkmal, a statue designed and built by Lukas Ahorn in 1820-1. It commemorates the members of the Swiss Guard that died in the bloody French Revolution massacre (of course, the words “bloody massacre” and “French Revolution” go hand-in-hand) when the revolutionaries (aka violent, unorganised mobs armed with crude weapons) stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.  The Swiss Guard had been a part of the Royal Household from as early as the 17th century–and over 600 Guards were killed in the ensuing massacre, with more dying in prison later on. (Interestingly, the Swiss Guards that survived were the ones sent to Normandy.) It was Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen who began the initiative to create the memorial; he had been on leave in Lucerne at the time of the massacre and seemed to be suffering from survivor’s guilt after the fact, prompting him to commission the statue. No matter; the injured, sleeping lion he created is a beautiful and unexpected monument, ensuring the dead are never forgotten.

Kenilworth Castle, England

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Kenilworth Castle, England.

The castle was the subject of the six-month long Siege of Kenilworth in 1266, believed to be the longest siege in English history, and is one of the finest examples of a royal palace in the Middle Ages. Construction began in the early 1100s, but it continued on for centuries, via the Normans and the Tudors. In fact, the British queen, that infamous Elizabeth I, visited it many times.  Owner Robert, Earl of Leicester, was deeply in love with Elizabeth (or just her money and power perhaps) and spent thousands of pounds on the estate. He built a new garden because Elizabeth complained about the lack of a view.  He entertained 31 barons and 400 staff from her court during her final (and longest ever) visit.  There were pageants, fireworks, bear-baiting, mystery plays, hunting and lavish banquets. She never married him, and he died in debt. Sadly, Colonel Joseph Hawkesworth “slighted” or deliberately destroyed Kenilworth in the 17th century based on political affiliations. It was stripped, turned into a farm, and largely forgotten about until Sir Walter Scott wrote Kenilworth, immortalizing it in Victorian literature. Today, the mostly-ruined castle is a popular tourist destination, and even with the signs that kindly ask visitors not to climb on the walls…well, sometimes one cannot resist.

Oscar Wilde Statue, Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland

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Oscar Wilde Statue, Merrian Square, Dublin

Dublin is famous for Guinness, crazy stag parties (in American English, bachelor/ette parties), and its pride for the Irish writers.  Joyce, Yeats, Heaney, Singe, Bowen and Wilde are just a select few writers that Dublin immortalizes. From quotes in the Guinness factory to plaques on the streets to statues in the parks, Dublin is teeming with an intense love for the writers who originated from this small but impressive country. Oscar Wilde is one of them—the man who wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray—and is remembered for his clever (and usually insulting) wit, as well as his alcoholism and homosexuality.  Wilde was a dandy, that rare class of men that dressed meticulously and extravagantly. He was famous at Magdalen College (pronounced maud-a-lin) before he even wrote anything of consequence, though he went on to publish plays with lines like,

“We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”

A true friend stabs you in the front.”

All art is quite useless.”

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

 “We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

So, go find his statue the next time you’re in Dublin, nicknamed the Quare [queer] in the Square, because don’t we all love Oscar?

Turaida Castle, Latvia

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Turaida Castle, Latvia

Greeting you as you traverse forgotten paths through dark forests, turrets rise through the waves of golden trees like a fairy-tale castle. This is the beautiful Turaida Castle. To get here, there is (supposedly) a bus. But a far more enjoyable way to find Turaida Castle is to be mistaken for a German tourist at the Sigulda train station, be handed a map in German and told to follow it through the town of Sigulda, past the first, then second set of ruins, over the impressive Gauja River Gorge in a little yellow cable car, through the magnificent (if not eerie) woods, past the magical Gutmanis Cave, and finally, to the turrets of Turaida Castle itself. Built in 1214, demolished in 1776 by fire, then partially restored in the last decade, “Thor’s Garden,” as it translates to in Livonian, is a medieval castle on the Gauja River built by Albert, archbishop of Riga. It may still be an impressive place when arriving by bus or by car – but following the Sigulda train station’s tourist map, and exploring the region on foot in the journey described above is what truly makes visiting this castle a magical experience fit for a modern explorer time-travelling to the Middle Ages.

“Flower Tree,” Lyon, France

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“Flower Tree” in Lyon, France

Walking in downtown Lyon, you’ll first find Place Bellecour, the largest open-air square in Europe (as in, the largest without obstructions in the middle of it). You’ll see Fourvière at the top on the hill—that impressive cathedral that sits next to the Roman amphitheater of the same name. If you wander a bit more, you might spot a strange plastic tree made out of colourful flowers the size of tires on Antonin Poncet Square that looks like it belongs to Dr. Seuss. Designed by the Korean Jeong-Hwa Choi, it was for the 7th biennial festival of Contemporary Art in Lyon called “It Happened Tomorrow” (2003—2004). “Flower Tree” became so popular that the city of Lyon decided to plant it permanently by the banks of the Rhône. Interestingly enough, it seems to have a twin in Shanghai on Gubei Road. People didn’t originally like it, but, as with most contemporary art, they grew to appreciate it over time.


More About Travelling in France
  1. Nimes
  2. Dijon
  3. Pont du Gard
  4. Chateau de Chambord
  5. St Guilheim le Desert

 

Kreuzenstein Castle, Austria

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Kreuzenstein Castle, Austria.

Most people who visit Vienna (and it seems like the whole world visits Vienna) don’t go to Kreuzenstein Castle. In fact, most people haven’t even heard of Kreuzenstein Castle.  Only discovering its existence by perusing a list naming Austrian castles, I knew nothing about it this impressive building overlooking Vienna and the Danube. Even after deciding to go, the internet yielded surprisingly little about this magnificent pile of stone only 3o minutes from the Prater station in Vienna. The castle itself was once a 12th-century medieval castle but then destroyed in 1635, at the end of the 30-Years-War.  Finally rebuilt in the 19th century by Count Nepomuk Wilczek, the ambitious Count wanted to make it as authentic as possible. He purchased various pieces of medieval buildings from all over Europe (Romanian cloisters, German wattle-and-daub buildings, bits of other European buildings), making it one-of-a-kind. It has also been used in BBC series, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.

L’Albufera, Spain

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The Albufera, Spain

Not far from Valencia is this freshwater lagoon and estuary.  The Albufera is 52,000 acres of  preserved wetlands. It is a bird sanctuary, marked as a Ramsar Site since 1990 and also includes larges sections that are Special Protection Areas.  Because of its proximity to Valencia, the Albufera is a place to go to escape the city. Fishing is traditionally the most important human use of the lagoon though numbers are dropping today. Therefore, pescadors will give you a relaxing ride through the lagoon in these tiny, wooden boats.  Sit back, relax, and have a good boat-ride through the duck and bird filled estuary!

Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

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The Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

The Fisherman’s Bastion, or Halászbástya, is a terrace overlooking the Danube in Budapest. Built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style at the turn of the century, to me, it resembles a giant sandcastle. For those not afraid of heights, a climb to the top offers a panoramic view of Budapest, including the House of Parliament, Margaret Island, Gellert Hill, and the Chain Bridge. Its name comes from the fisherman’s guild that was in charge of defending this section of the city walls in the Middle Ages and includes a statue of the infamous Stephen I. Beware though, during tourist season, they will try to make you pay.  To get the view for free, slip up through the café in the far left-hand quarter!


Other Faux Castles in Europe
  1. Sham Castle in Bath, England
  2. Vajahunyad Castle in Budapest, Hungary
  3. Kruzenstein Castle near Vienna, Austria
  4. Albigny-sur-Soane near Lyon, France
  5. Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium

 

Adriatic Sea, Italian Coast

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Ariel view of the Adriatic Sea, Italian Coast

Welcome to the Adriatic Sea, the little body of water to the right side of Italy.  Being connected to the Mediterranean, it is, of course, gorgeously blue. The Adriatic contains over 1300 islands, with a max depth of 1233 meters (which is over 4000 feet)! It’s 800 km long, 200 km wide with an average depth of 252.5 m. Facts aside, the Adriatic is a beautiful part of this continent – and there’s no better way to get a feel for its beauty then from the window of a descending plane (even if it IS Ryanair). This is the sea that accommodates the terracotta roofs of Dubrovnik and the stunning Dalmatian islands, this is the sea that traders sailed up and down making Venice one of the richest cities for a good chunk of history, this the the sea that divides Italy from Greece. The Adriatic is wonderful in so many ways. Whether you want to swim at lovely beaches, relax in gorgeous coastal towns, eat fresh seafood prepared by some of the best cooks the world has to offer, take beautiful photographs of villages on the water, or sip wine with a view, the Adriatic has it all.


More Beautiful Coastlines in Europe
  1. The Baltic Sea from Northern Estonia
  2. The Adriatic Sea from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia
  3. The Atlantic Ocean from Slea Head, Ireland 
  4. Cantabian Coast, Northern Spain
  5. The Mediterranean in Peniscola, Spain
  6. The North Sea, Northern Scotland

 

Zahara de la Sierra, Spain

Zahara

Zahara de la Sierra, Spain

So-named because those mountains in the distance are the original Sierra Nevadas (before America stole that name too), pretty little Zahara is considered to be on the pueblos blancos or “white towns” that form a belt across the Spanish region of Andalusia.  Recommended to us by the locals as “one of the prettiest places you’ll ever see,” this photo is taken from a balcony in a house at the top of the mountain that is town. This could’ve been our home-away-from-home (if we’d bought the flat that came along with it) but alas, I’ll have to be content with the pictures. This lake is actually man-made (from a dam). The town was originally a Moorish outpost when it was still controlled by the Moors, and they built this castle atop the hill to protect the route between Ronda and Sevilla. It’s gorgeous!

Flåm, Norway

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Flåm, Norway

Home to the famously beautiful Flåm Railway – a 20km historic railway that just so happens to to be one of the steepest railways worldwide – and tucked away in the innermost part of the Aurlandsfjord, a tributary of UNESCO site the Sognefjord, is the quiet village of Flåm. With barely more than 300 people- many of them seasonal – it’s really a charming village. You can’t go bar-hopping, it seems unlikely that there’ll ever be famous concerts, and you might be lacking in museums and other normal amenities. But…there’s the view! Does that make up for it? I think yes.

Bratislava, Slovakia

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Castle Gates in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Bratislava’s main tourism seems to stem from those travelling from Prague to Vienna to Budapest who just happen to stop in the Slovakian capital along their way down the Danube River. It’s a good thing they do. While Bratislava doesn’t compare to its giant neighbors, it still has unexpected beauty and charm. And in the snow, Bratislava becomes fairy tale-esque. These castles gates, blanketed in snow, seem to lead to a magical, misty land reminiscent of Narnia–seemingly leading nowhere while actually going to a beautiful, other-worldly place. In fact, they’re lucky to be here at all, as the castle was destroyed by a fire in 1811 and left in ruins for nearly 200 years. Yet, with the help of the Slovakian government, the gates once again lead to someplace magical–Bratislava Castle, returned to the splendor of the shinning era of Maria Theresa.

Warsaw, Poland

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Couple on a bridge in Warsaw, Poland

Welcome to the still-practiced Polish tradition of parading around the streets in your formal wedding attire. So, you though the French liked PDA? You clearly haven’t been to Poland yet, because they are even bigger fans.  From couples kissing on overcrowded metros to girls sitting on their boyfriend’s lap on almost-empty trams to couples insisting on waltzing down busy streets hand in hand, to awkward restaurant dates.  The Poles tend to marry young. And weddings are a big deal, though unlike Americans, the Poles don’t plan these magnificent, expensive, 500-person weddings 700 miles away from their hometown. They stay right here in Warsaw, and following tradition, spend the rest of the day parading through the city and letting people take photos of them.

Nevski Cathedral, Tallinn, Estonia

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Aleksander Nevski Katedraal, Tallinn, Estonia

I have fallen in love with a new European nook–Tallinn, Estonia, a place that most people don’t even know exists. This fog-laden Nevski Cathedral isn’t exactly old, only dating back to about 1894. Built during the Russian occupation of Estonia, it is of course built in the Russian Revival style, giving the city a fairy-tale look (it has been said that it resembles St. Panteleimon’s Cathedral in Kiev. Also as a side-note, I just learned that there used to be an impressive Alexander Nevski Cathedral in my former city of Warsaw, demolished 1920. I lived there 1 year, and this was the first I’ve heard if it! A shame too–it looked beautiful). Not that Tallinn needs too much help at looking beautiful or charming; much of the city walls, towers, and gates have survived the wars, and as a result, the remarkably extensive old town becomes a sea of 800 year-old stone and red-clay roofs lost in the clouds!  Tallinn is truly straight out of a book of fairy tales!

Vajdahunyad Castle, Hungary

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Vajdahunyad Castle Budapest, Hungary.

Budapest is one of the most amazing cities in Eastern Europe. In the middle of the otherwise normal Varosliget park next to the famous bathhouse is…well, this. The Vajdahunyad Castle isn’t your typical castle. Built in 1896, it started out as a impermanent structure made of cardboard and wood built for Hungary’s 1000th birthday. But people liked it so much that they decided to solidify it. Named for the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania, these Gothic spires are only one of the four styles of the castle. Turn a corner and come across the Baroque style, Romanesque or the even Renaissance. It may be a strange architectural monument, but it is certainly worth visiting!