No, the metro doesn’t sound like a prime tourist destination, and no, this doesn’t much look like a metro station–especially in Russia! But in both cases, you’d be wrong. Ignoring a trip to the Moscow metro, particularly the brown line, would be a mistake since it’s one of Moscow’s many beautiful sights! The Кольцевая (pronounced ‘koltseviya’) line is the oldest one (built in the 1950s)–and the prettiest. As it’s commonly drawn as a perfect circle on metro maps, the old joke is that when originally constructing the metro, Stalin put his coffee mug down on the plans, leaving a perfect, brown circle–but the workers were too scared of him to ask if he meant to put the circle on the map or not, so they built it anyway! This of course is just a funny anecdote, but there is no doubt that the Koltseviya Line stations are beautiful, nostalgically reminiscent of bygone times of marble banks, elegant halls, or grand operas. Pictured here is the Komsomolskaya Station, one of Moscow’s busiest stations as it is located under the train station. It’s also a contender for the most beautiful on the circle line! Though the idea may seem a little bizarre to you, it’s worth it to take an hour or so and tour the Moscow metro! There’s even a free tour you can take if you have time. Either way, Russian metro is worth visiting–there is a museum of a bygone golden era hidden below your feet!
The amphitheater here in Lyon is not perhaps quite as famous as the one in Rome, nor is it as complete as, say, the theaters of Nimes or Arles or any of the others. Regardless, one must admit that it’s pretty fascinating that remnants from more than 2000 years ago not only still exist in Europe today–but are still in use! Lyon’s half-ruined amphitheater located at the top of the hill of Fourvière is still used to host ‘Les Nuits a Fourvière‘ (Nights in Fourvière) every summer, where concerts and other events take place nearly every night. Though partially reconstructed, one can still walk through this ancient structure which in part, dates back to 15 BC (the second stage having been completed during the 2nd century). Ruins or not, sitting down in a 2000-year-old amphitheater is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine!
Unknown grave in Highgate Cemetery, London, England
Angels and demons haunt the hidden, overgrown paths of London’s infamous Highgate Cemetery. Originally one of the “Magnificent Seven,” Highgate was among seven ‘modern’ cemeteries built during the early eighteen hundreds in the London outskirts in order to alleviate overcrowding in Central London. Unlike many cemeteries kept perfectly manicured, Highgate is a wild, savage place. There is no doubt that it is also elegant–one has only to look at the grand Egyptian Avenue or the beautiful Circle of Lebanon to comprehend its splendor–but here, nature is given free reign and seems determined to take back its dead. Trees and bushes crowd the grounds, grasses and flowers cover every inch of the graves, roots grip the tombs, paths are narrow and hidden. In fact, graves are so close to each other that they are practically tripping over each other. It is both a beautiful and creepy place. One does not have to try hard to conjure images of ghosts and demons–in fact, the place is known as a possible inspiration for Bram Stoker in writing Dracula, and in the mid 1900s, it inspired the legend of the ‘Highgate Vampire.’ Though long debunked, one certainly gets goosebumps and perhaps starts to reconsider the possibility of the supernatural while wandering the forlorn paths of Highgate.
Head back in time to the long-lost epoch of horse-drawn carriages in Poland’s charming capital. Whether you take an old-fashioned cab such as this or navigate the narrow, windy streets or Warsaw’s Stare Maisto (old town) by foot, you’ll feel as if you left behind the 21st century. Duck into a post-war Milk Bar where you’ll find traditional Polish food for mere pennies, step into the rebuilt (though you’d never know it) royal palace for a view of what royal life was like, or even walk into one of Warsaw’s many churches to experience the religious side to Polish culture. Listen to cheerful street musicians, bite into a savory Polish crepe, stop by a bar for a quick pint of Żywiec or Tyskie, enjoy a trolley-ride on one of the city’s old-fashioned trams, or even just wander the streets in silence. Whether sunny or snowing, cold or warm, there is always something magical and nostalgic about the air in Warsaw’s Stare Miasto!
This rough coast barely brings to mind images of Spain. Waves crash against the rocky beaches, cliffs fall dramatically to the sea. Located in Basque Country, Spanish isn’t the only language you’ll hear – their “native” language, Basque, is a very old, very distinct language, and has little roots in any other European language. Reaching the coastal inlet of Gaztelugatxe involves a bit of a hike (though taking a car part of the way is possible). Regardless, you’ll want to take to the trails as you hike to the monastery of San Juan in order to benefit from the beautiful views, thrilling landscape, exhilarating climbs and descents while listening to the relaxing sound of crashing waves.
Once part of Vilnius’ defensive system, this green lump rising from the centre of the Lithuanian capital is Gediminas Hill, one of Vilnius’ major landmarks. A short walk up the winding path takes you to what is left of the tower, which in part dates back to the 10th century. From there, one can see the Hill of Three Crosses–meaning that if you descend Gediminas Hill, meander through the Old Town to the base of the second one and climb the wooded path up that hill, you are rewarded with a panoramic view of the Gediminas Hill. Surrounding this ancient hill is the Old Town, a mix of styles and colours. You are currently in the heart of Lithuania. But just beyond that, you see the rest of Vilnius, the impacted of the Soviet-esque sky-rises and concrete towers. It is an interesting contrast of old and new, of Lithuanian independence and Soviet influence, and it’s a beautiful spot for quiet reflection. After enjoying the sunset over the hills, descend into town to enjoy another important aspect of Lithuanian culture…a beer in a local pub!
Given the recent tragedies in the French capital this week as well as the solidarity marches happening at this very moment, it is only fitting to put the spotlight on Paris. The City of Love, the City of Lights–what can be said about Paris that hasn’t already been said? One of the most visited, photographed and expensive cities in the world, Paris makes the top of every list. From broad avenues to narrow alleys, from magnificent restaurants to cozy cafes, from style to revolution, from love to passion, from life to death, how can one describe a city that has felt and seen so much? Paris has seen the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, it has seen the expulsion of the Jews in the 14th century and later the massacre of the Protestants in 1572. It has seen the glory days of the Renaissance and the height of Impressionism. It has seen the rise and fall of Napoleon, the horrors of WWI, the blood of the French Revolution. Yet, in all that, long has it been the capital of art, culture and society. As such, the city has provided inspiration for creative souls such as Gertrude Stein, Claude Monet, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Oscar Wilde, Gustave Eiffel, Pablo Picasso, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and so many others. Paris is at the very heart of French life and culture. In wake of the recent murders at Chalie Hebdo and beyond, let us remember that through good times and bad, we’ll always love Paris.
If you like nature, beauty and adventure, Norway is the place for you. The land of the Vikings is teeming with rugged beauty and sheer excitement. Steep winding roads, dramatic fjords, plummeting cliffs, silent waters, miniature wooden fishing towns, happy people, angry waterfalls crashing into the pools below them–this is what Norway is. Explore via train, car, boat or kayak, by horseback or bike or foot as you realise that anything is possible in this ancient land. For in Norway, one has the feeling of being connected with the earth, with the peoples who have walked this path before you, with the ancient gods of Norse mythology. After setting foot in this magical place, it’s hard not only to fall in love, but also to feel as if you too are part of its ancient, never-ending sagas.
The beginning of January is a cold time of year. It brings to mind snow and hot chocolate and fireplaces…interestingly enough, these are important things year-round in Iceland. But once you get past the cold, once you embrace it, you’ll start to fall in love with this little northern capital in this little rugged island country. Containing 120,000 people (therefore containing 1/3 of Iceland’s population), this is the most northern capital in the whole world! Here, you’ll find little wooden houses, snow-capped mountains and clean air. In fact, it is one of the cleanest, greenest and safest cities worldwide. Supposedly established in 870 AD, it wasn’t much of a city until it was founded in 1786 as a trading outpost. Despite its growth over recent centuries, Reykjavik is far from the hustle-and-bustle you find in most capital cities – instead, it is a relatively relaxed, chill and happy place. Even if it is a bit chilly and sometimes a little (okay very) dark. But Iceland wouldn’t be Iceland without a little of both !
After a short holiday hiatus, I return with a fresh round of posts to start off 2015! While I did not spend New Year’s Eve in St Petersburg, (far from it; instead, I was visiting family in America), I was able to witness this fantastic display of fireworks while on holiday there. Fireworks, created around the 7th century by the Chinese and popular in Europe by the 1600s, have long been used to celebrate festivals and important cultural events because of how magical and powerful they seem. And what could be more important than celebrating the New Year and all that it represents? Whether you choose to spend New Year’s Eve at home or abroad, be sure to choose a destination with a fantastic lights show, a beautiful backdrop, and a great big boom!