Bryggen in Bergen, Norway

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Bryggen, Bergen, Norway

Founded in 1070, Bergen was largely settled by merchants that made their living from the sea – and Bryggen remains the oldest part of the rainy city. In 1360, the Hanseatic League established a trading post in Bryggen (called a “kontor“), the only surviving kontor today. Over the years as Bergen thrived, the town developed around Bryggen, improving the wharfs as well as the city itself. Bryggen became the claim of the Hanseatic merchants, who used the warehouses to store goods such as fish from northern Norway as well as grains from Europe. Today, Bryggen consists of roughly 30 buildings, though more are currently under renovation. It is a UNESCO site and Bergen’s trademark. The rows of colourful wooden buildings with narrow covered passageways always smelling a little bit like fish just seem so utterly…Scandinavian.

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Parc Guell, Bacelona, Spain

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Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain

What’s more saturated than Gaudi?? Honestly, not much. His reputation is built on both his inability to follow a straight line and his exorbitant use of vibrant, headache-inducing colour. These are the famous benches in the famous Parc Guell in the famous Barcelona. Constructed 1900 to 1914, it was originally part of a rather unsuccessful housing community – that just happened to be a century ahead of its time (Gaudi basically envisioned our modern-day suburbs and “gated” communities, an idea that didn’t sit well with the turn-of-the-century Spaniards). He liked the fresh air and the beautiful views that the site afforded, but sadly, no one liked the distance from La Ramblas or the beach. So, now it’s a colourful public garden and UNESCO site that makes for some pretty vividly saturated photos! (This one does it no justice, as I took it with a camera phone…)

 

Kluski, Poland

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The sun setting over a field near Kluski, Poland

Sometimes the simplest things are the prettiest things. Sometimes, the simplest things become some of the most memorable moments of our lives, the most meaningful. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, the sun sets everyday – and everyday you have the ability to witness this most basic natural phenomenon. There is something incredibly special about cycling through rural Poland. An evening ride turns into a repose amongst the reeds to watch the the sky be painted with the most brilliant blues, golden flecks warming a distant horizon, a breeze softly blowing through fields of forgotten reeds. Sadly, we often see nature as something that exists to be in out way; we see the countryside as the barren land one must traverse to get from one city to another. Yet, give nature another chance. The countryside deserves more than a passing glance – because if you don’t, look at how much you’re missing.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

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Gutmanis Cave, Latvia

In 1601, a baby girl, christened “Maija,” was rescued from the wreckage of the 1601 battle of Turaida. She grew into a beautiful woman known as the Rose of Turaida who fell in love with Viktor, the gardener at Sigulda Castle on the other side of the Gauja River. In order to see each other, they would meet in the middle, inside Gutmanis Cave. Into this pretty little scene, enter the evil Adam Jakubowski, a Polish soldier who had less-than-chaste intentions for young Maija after tricking her to come into the cave. Thinking quickly (and deciding that death was better than rape), she told him her scarf was magical and could resist sword-strokes. He didn’t believe her, so she proposed a demonstration–which, of course, killed her. Though Viktor was originally accused, Maija’s half-sister witnessed the incident and her testimony along with Jakubowsk’s friend’s information about the crime, cleared his name. Jakubowski was later captured, tried, and executed. However, Viktor was devastated, burying his beloved Maija under the Linden tree and inscribing her grave with “Love is stronger than death.” Both the grave and the inside of the cave are still popular pilgrimage sites. (As a side note, the carvings seen here are the coats-of-arms of those who’ve visited the cave, making it is one of the earliest sites of “tourism.”) Step inside this cave, listen to its history, become a part of its legend and feel the love that still resonates here 400 years later. Gutmanis Cave still holds its secrets.

A Snowstorm in Poznan, Poland

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Snow on the Orpheus Fountain, Poznan, Poland

One of the many statues dotting Poznan’s beautiful and colourful old market square is Orpheus, the ancient Greek myth known for his ability to charm anything–alive, dead, or inanimate–with his music. Well, I must say I believe his stories because he certainly charmed me. It was a cold, snowy day, It was still January, and everybody else had been smart enough to stay home. But not us–a €20 return ticket was too much to resist. Orpheus charmed me with Poznan’s beautiful square–painted so intricately, its magnificent town hall, its statues, its famous clock with the rams butting heads, its ancient churches, its snow-covered wonderland. Its honey beer, its pierogis, its cozy bars–yes, Poznan has won me over, snow and all.

St. Andrews, Scotland

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St. Andrews University, Scotland

No, it’s not Hogwarts (though it seems that half the universities in Britain could pass for the magical school!). This is St. Andrew’s University in St. Andrews, Scotland. It’s claim to fame is that it is the university that brought about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s relationship and eventual marriage. St Andrews has impressive statistics: It is one of the UK’s Ancient Universities (along with giants such as Cambridge and Oxford), it is the oldest ‘uni’ (to use the colloquial term) in Scotland, it is ranked the 4th best in the UK, it was established in 1410-13 meaning it recently celebrated its 600th birthday (my US university recently celebrated it’s 100th birthday and people were excited about that!), and it has produced 5 Nobel Laureates (not to mention the Royal Marriage of Kate & Will!). 30% of the university is composed of foreign students (from 100+ countries worldwide), impressive even for the UK. And the campus itself is, of course, jaw-droppingly beautiful! Located next to a ruined castle, St Andrews also happens to sport one of the oldest golf courses in the world (1552). If you can survive the high-level academics, it seems to be a pretty beautiful place to study!

Lake Como, Italy

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Lake Como, Italy

Sorry, having some problems with my photo archive. Pictured here is Lake Como in Italy. While Lake Como is undoubtedly famous and relatively pretty, it was not what I expected. This is the lake where George Clooney has a house, so it must be something special, right? Pretty as it is, Lake Como is stereotypically Italian, having little to set it a part from all the others. It’s main selling point is the lake it self, which is indeed quite pretty.  Taking the boat around the lake would certainly have been worth it if we’d had the time. As it was, Lake Como was quaint and relaxing–but perhaps lacking something, lacking that little click that truly sets it apart from everywhere else.

The Riesenrad, Vienna, Austria

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The Riesenrad, Vienna, Austria

Right, so, this is a Ferris wheel. It just so happens to be a Ferris wheel called the Wiener Riesenrad located in Vienna’s amusement park, the Prater. The Riesenrad also ranks as one of the most famous Ferris wheels in the world – as well as a historic one. At 64.75-metres (212 ft) tall, this wheel was the tallest in the world after the Roue de Paris was demolished in 1920, and so it remained for 65 years. Constructed 1897, it was one of the earliest additions to the new attraction called the amusement park. As usual, this massive undertaking wasn’t built just because they could build it; it was built draw further attention to a famous person. In this case, it was constructed to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. Sadly, it wasn’t a lucrative business in the beginning, and its engineer died broke and obscure. Today, the Reisenrad is one of Vienna’s top attractions – though at 9 euros a ride, it has since made up for its early poverty!

Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia, Spain

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Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia, Spain.

Valencia’s “skyline” is silhouetted against a beautiful Spanish sunset.  Valencia is a bizarre place. It has a beautiful old town as lovely as any other Spanish ciudad, but the most arresting part of Valencia is less than 20 years old (circa 1996). Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, or, The City of Arts and Sciences, is an campus of eclectic modern architecture, sculptures and structures. Here, you can find the city’s massive aquarium, its bizarre opera house, an impressive IMAX theatre where seats recline and the films are portrayed on the ceiling, and the interactively fun science museum. To me, each building resembles something different: a skeleton, a boat’s sails, a over-turned beetle, a sea-monster’s back. It sounds ridiculous, yes, like a child naming cloud-shapes, but visit La Ciudad and see for yourself.

Riga, Latvia

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Riga, Latvia

Most people have never heard of pretty Riga, the capital of Lativa, a country that once again, many have barely heard of. It’s the middle state of the Baltics, snuggled between Lithuania and Estonia, speaking a strange language spoken by about 1.5 million people and related to Lithuanian and Old Prussian. Yet, one can’t help but fall in love with little Riga–with 700,000 residents, it is the largest of the three Baltic states. It is an old city (founded 1201), a former member of the Hanseatic League and a current UNESCO site–as well as known for it’s art nouveau. Following the impressive display of human collaboration in the Human Chain that linked the three Baltic capitals, the Latvians were finally independent in 1991. Outside of all that, Riga is just so European–probably because it has been relatively untouched. It’s unfortunate location on the continent meant that for some time it was swallowed by Russia and Germany. But as it is far away from the major European hubs, it Riga has been left as it is. Avoid the skyscrapers and commercial centres and ugly alluminan buildings. Here, whatever else has happened, at least the buildings are pretty.

The sea in Howth, Ireland

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Howth, Ireland

To me, beaches are all the same. Show me a photo of a beach and I’d have trouble deciding whether it was in Florida or Thailand. You go to the beach and everyone always seems to be doing the exact same thing: lying on a towel facing the same way and reading the same books, the children building a half-collapsed sandcastle nearby. Everyone goes into the water for a few minutes then spends the rest of the time sunning and trying to get a tan without getting a burn. Everything about the beach cries stagnant normalcy. Therefore, when I go to the beach, I don’t go for the beach, I go for the towns by the beach. At the beach, I enjoy watching the waves for a bit, I dip my toes in the water, and I’m finished. Time to move on. I’d rather be somewhere else. Revolutionary I know, but I don’t like the beach! That said, I love coastal towns. They have fantastic food, attractive views, and generally nice people. This village here is Howth, Ireland, just outside of Dublin. To me, this photo signifies perfectly what I like about the sea: chaotic, energetic, adventurous. This isn’t a beach. Howth doesn’t have one in the conventional sense. Instead, there is a pier and a harbour and a collection of rocks. The combination of these make for huge, crashing waves that reach icy fingers out to attack passersby. Here, you better watch out because these Irish waters attack all of the beach stereotypes – nothing about these waves are calm or relaxing or boring; instead, they are exciting and adventurous.

Accordion Player in Warsaw, Poland

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An accordion player in Warsaw, Poland

There’s something romantic about walking through an old city and hearing the twinkling sounds of an accordion gliding through the streets. Accordions are romantic, remainders of bygone times. As you walk through Plac Zamkowy, the centre of Warsaw’s Old Town, you might stumble across this accordion player and momentarily be transported back in time. There was once a time when Warsaw was a beautiful city, a reigning queen. Of course, like the rest of Poland, WWII destroyed it. The Poles rebuilt their capital city from the fallen rubble to resemble what it once was, though outside of the the very centre, one must use one’s imagination. Yet, little details like horse-drawn carriages, little cafes, and the accordion player all help to remind the wayward traveller of what this Eastern European once was.