Paris Parfait!

Europe, France

Visiting the capital city of France is truly a wonderful experience. There is something for everyone here from the wonderful sites and monuments to the extravagant shopping and amazing cuisine. So to find your perfect Paris, or Paris parfait, as they say in France, read on.

Travel

Obviously, before you can enjoy the delights that one of the most popular cities in Europe has to offer, you have to get there first. Luckily this isn’t too much of a problem as travel links to the city are excellent.

If you are coming from Europe, then you have the choice of plane, train, ferry or Eurotunnel. Of course, you need to check which one will suit your best. For example, the ferries take longer, but can be a pleasant journey and are excellent value if you are bringing your car with you.

If you are travelling from further afield, you will need to select a direct flight to Paris, usually Charles de Gaulle airport. Or you can include Paris as a location on a multi-stop trip. Great if you want to see the delights that the rest of Europe has to offer.

However, you do need to make sure that your passport and travel documents will allow you entry to France before you begin your journey. As some folks will need an ETIAS depending on where they are travelling from.

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The Unforgettable Eiffel Tower. Photo from Pexels.com

Monuments

Paris is full of the most spectacular antique and monuments. Not least of all; the Eiffel Tower. This 300m tall structure was built in 1887, and its lit at night so it can be seen from all over the city. You can take some wonderful pictures in front of it and beneath it, and if you are feeling particularly active, why not climb to the top, for a spectacular view over Paris?

But the Eiffel Tower is not the only place in Paris that should be on to your to see list. You should also make time to tour some of the cities beautiful fountains. Which make particular pleasant places to peruse in summer. Try the Medici Fountain at the Luxembourg Garden. Or what about the majestic St Michel Fountain in the Latin Quarter?

Culture  

Now, if you like a little culture in you city trips, then Paris will not disappoint. This is because it has the stunning Louvre and Musée d’Orsay to explore. Plan your time at the Louvre well and invest in a map, because you could literally spend days wandering the halls. Coming across new, unique and enticing things.

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The Louvre At Night. Photo from Pexels.com

Of course, it’s home to the Mona Lisa. Which is actually quite small, and usually hard to get up close to. But there other interesting things to view as well such as the Egyptian collection and the religious triptychs.

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Arc di Triomphe. Photo from Pexels.com

Romance

Of course, Paris is often known as the most romantic city in the world, so you’ll want experience a little of this before you leave.

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Lovers in Paris. Photo from Pexels.com

Enjoy a romantic alfresco meal in one of the charming bistros that line the streets. Or walk arm in arm with your loved one down the wide and treeline paths just soaking up the atmosphere.

 

The Luxurious Tastes of Italian Cuisine

Europe, Italy

Italy is known for many things, especially in the context of holidays. When people think of holidays in Italy, they think of glorious art museums. Or luxurious gondola rides. Many will think especially of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

But in this article, we’re going to be looking at something else. Something the Italians do extremely well. And that, my friend, is food. Of course, this could be said about many countries in Europe. The trick, of course, is to find out what it is they do better than any others.

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Sometimes, this means consuming some of the food and wine you may already be familiar with. Many people will try to go for really exotic dishes, things with names they can barely pronounce to the waiter. But a great test of a country’s prowess when it comes to cuisine is to test its ability to make things you’re familiar with.

Don’t assume you’ve tried the best of any of these until you’ve tried them in Italy!

Gelato

You may have seen some places in your hometown serving both gelato and ice cream. Many people don’t really know the difference. Nor do they take the time to appreciate the difference when they’re eating it! It’s not just the Italian word for “ice cream”.

Gelato has more of an “elastic” texture. It’s churned slower to keep it denser (a lot of ice cream is just air). It can also be a healthier choice as it has less fat content than ice cream.

 

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Chianti

Italy is certainly famous for its wines. Chianti wine is Italy’s most famous variation. The “Chianti region” is known to be Tuscany, as this is where the signature grapes are grown. If you’re looking for things to do in Florence, you could go on a luxurious Tuscan wine tour!

Coffee

Ever wonder why a lot of the coffee you can buy at home has the word “Italian” in their names or descriptions? It’s because coffee producers all over the world wish to emulate the rich taste of the Italian stuff. The most famous delivery method for this stuff is in a shot of espresso, known as caffee. It’s deep, dark, and gives you one heck of a buzz!

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Pizza Margherita

No, I didn’t get the words the wrong way round. Outside of Italy, people usually call it a Margherita pizza. But in Italy, it’s a pizza Margherita. And if you think you know the Margherita, think again. Too many people think it’s the “plain” pizza option. Not so. In Italy, pretty much every food business has its own special sauce it uses on these pizzas. It’s one of the best ways to experience the unique sauce flavours of Italy.

Note: Featured Image is from Pexels

Fun Facts About Tuscany You Might Not Know

Europe, Italy

Tuscany is one of the most beautiful areas of Italy with stunning landscapes that draw millions of visitors every year. It’s home to some fantastic wineries and has some good restaurants and interesting museums. Before considering whether or not you should vacate here, you should check out these fun facts which you might not know about the area of Tuscany.

There is a film based on it

You might not have heard of the move Under the Tuscan Sun which was released back in 2003, and is situated in the area of the Tuscany. Diane Lane plays Frances, a lady who buys a villa in Tuscany and moves to the area to restart her life. The film showcases some of Tuscany’s beautiful landscapes. In fact, it was one of five films which inspired me to travel around the world! You should take a look at this flick if you want to see more of Tuscany.

It has a ski resort

Another thing people don’t know about Tuscany is that it has a ski resort for adrenaline junkies to visit. As discussed here, a lot of individuals think of Tuscany as more of a summer resort with its beautiful rolling countryside. However, Mount Amiata in Tuscany is now a popular choice for skiers and snowboards to stay, who want to enjoy the winter weather. Therefore, if you are looking for a more active holiday, you should consider staying here in colder months.  

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Celebrities own properties here

Tuscany is also a popular place with celebrities, with many owning properties in the area. Pretty Woman actor Richard Gere has a place here as well as famous musician Sting. A lot of celebrities also visit here every year. Therefore, if you stay in Tuscany to see the beautiful Tuscan landscapes, you may see a celebrity or two while you’re vacating in the area.

There is more than one leaning tower

A lot of people know that the leaning tower of Pisa is situated in the area of Tuscany and is a unique sight to behold. In fact, it draws lots of tourists every year who want a picture with the unusual tower. However, a lot of people don’t know that there is more than one leaning tower in Tuscany. As revealed here, there are several churches which are also leaning, including the church of St. Michele dei Scalzi. So don’t forget to check these out too when staying in Tuscany!

It’s the home of Pinocchio

Another thing you might not realize about Tuscany is that it’s the home of Disney character Pinocchio. Before it was a Disney film, the story was written by Carlo Collodi back in the 1800’s. And according to World Travel Net, Pinocchio actually means pine eyes in Italian. Therefore, if you are visiting Tuscany with children, you can tell them all about the character being born here.

Tuscany is one of the most popular areas of Italy, and worth considering visiting if you are traveling in Italy.

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Note: Featured photo from Pixabay 

 

The Magnificent Parc Guell in Barcelona

Europe, Spain

As a young aspiring traveler, I used to browse through hundreds of travel magazines and watch countless documentaries featuring some of the most amazing sights and destinations the world has to offer.

Most of these destinations have left a lasting impression on me, shaping the kind of traveler and adventurer that I am today. However, I must confess that some destinations excited me more than others and there are others that just simply took my breath away at first glance.

The magnificent Parc Guell at the heart of the the Catalunya region in Barcelona, just knocked me off my feet. It was more than I could have ever hoped it would be, and it was more impressive that I thought it would be.

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The colorful mosaics at Parc Guell

I was on a whirlwind 48-hour trip to Barcelona recently and I was determined to visit Prac Guell on my very first hour. You see, I have long dreamed of visiting it to gaze at the colorful mosaic and touch the architectonic installations that the genius artist Antoni Gaudi envisioned. Gaudi, of course, is the single most influential figure and proponent of Catalan modernism.

Built in the early 1900’s and officially unveiled to the public in 1926, the park was commissioned by wealthy Catalan businessman Eusebi Guell. It is world-famous because of its colorful mosaics, and structures that reflect Gaudi’s very singular and unique architectural style.

Most experts agree that Gaudi’s basis for his style is Baroque, but he threw away the rigid forms, and mixed his style with his love of organic shapes, that is now heavily visible in the stone structures inside the park. He mastered this style by studying the elements of geometry and expanding its basic principles.

Parc Guell is located at the Carmen Hill in the neigborhood of Gracia in Barcelona. To get there, you have to take a cab or else, it would be a steep climb, because of its elevated location.

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The Porter’s Lodge

But all effort is worth it as soon as you get a glimpse of irregularly shaped pavilions that form the porter’s lodge both of which that adorn the main park entrance. According to the park’s website, ” The one to the left was the one actually used as a porter’s lodge, with a waiting room and telephone booth, while the one to the right was the porter’s residence, whence the name Casa del Guarda, though it is today part of the Barcelona History Museum. Both have very beautiful roofs, built with the traditional Catalan clay tiles covered with “trencadís”, a mosaic made of tile shards”

To get inside Parc Guell you will have to pay the 8 Euro fee and then you can explore on your own.

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The Dragon

 

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The Dragon Stairway

The Dragon Stairway

One of the main attractions is the Dragon Stairway, highlighted by the  multicolored salamander statue that welcomes visitors at the main stairs of the park. It is so full of character and color that locals have lovingly nicknamed it “el drac” or the dragon. The stairway is made up of a twin flight of steps, flanked by two walls with merlons that form terraces which hides two grottos. The emblem of Catalonia is also displayed at the stairway.

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The Doric Columns at the Hypostyle Room

The Hypostyle Room

The great park stairway leads to the Hypostyle Room, which was originally designed to be the marketplace of the estate. It is made up of about 86 Doric columns.

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The Laundry Room Portico

The Laundry Room Portico

The Laundry Room Portico is my favorite area in Park Guell. The slanting stone columns are classic examples of Gaudi’s organic architecture and this particular area has been popularized in various movies and TV shows including “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and the Taiwanese-drama Meteor Garden. A big part of why I visited Barcelona is this place. I have long wanted to marvel at the stone columns and doing it was indeed a magical experience for me.

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A View of the Gracia neighborhood from atop Parc Guell

The Greek Theatre or Nature Square

After passing the porticos, most visitors end up lounging or relaxing at the large esplanade which the original plans called the Greek Theatre. But it is now called the Nature Square or Placa de la Natura in Catalan (not Spanish). This place is the best place to marvel at the impressive and colorful tiles that the Park is famous for. It also gives visitors a gorgeous view of the Gracia district of Barcelona. Here’s a tip, visit the park in the afternoon when most of the tour visitors have left and the sun is about to set. It is an unforgettable sight, I can assure you.

 

 

The Old World Splendor of Venice

Europe, Italy

Enamored by its sheer beauty and impressive architecture, the great French conqueror Napoleon once called Venice as the drawing room of Europe. Granted, he led the invasion and pillage of the old Venetian republic in the 18th century in order to solidify his hold on northern Italy and take advantage of the republic’s maritime prowess, but it would be safe to assume that he too was captivated by the charms and grandeur of this city, lovingly called as one of the jewels of the Adriatic.

After all, the clothes of its people may have drastically changed, and its streets may be littered with hundreds of restaurants and countless souvenir shops, and modern motorboats ply along its canals, but the city of Venice has, in large parts, successfully preserved its beauty and architecture and maintained its old world soul.

Even with engine-run vaporettos plying the lagoon, you can go still go around the city in classic gondolas while being driven/steered by boatmen humming some mellow, almost melancholy Italian tune, perhaps a Vivaldi. Go deeper into the city, past smaller canals, and you will still see buildings built during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, that perhaps caught the attention of Napoleon and millions of other travelers and tourists who have come to love the city.

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Venice at Night

At the very sight of the Grand Canal, you can’t help but hold your breath for a while as you witness sheer perfection that only a timeless city such as Venice, can possess.

I traveled to Venice in the middle of winter, and a light shower was blanketing the city. But it did not mar the beauty of the place, nor dampen my desire to discover its secrets, that for so long, have piqued my curiosity and wanderlust.

Venice is actually a collection of about 117 islands connected by canals and bridges along the Venetian Lagoon. It is located at the head of the Adriatic Sea in the Veneto Region of Northern Italy. The main tourist area is the centro storico (historic center) and there are other large islands around it including Mestre and Marghera. Today, approximately around 350,000 to 400,000 people live in the communes of Venice.

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Gondolas with the San Marco Basilica and Campanile in the distance.

The Republic of Venice dates back to the 5th century, but there were historical accounts of communes living in its islands way before that. Venice has been an important maritime power since the early 7th to 12 centuries, prompting several countries and empires to try to conquer its shores. These include the Visigoths, the Huns, the Lombards, the Byzantium empire, the French and then the Austrians.

As a result, the Venice we see today is a melting pot of different cultures, styles and traditions all woven perfectly into a thriving metropolis that is able to preserve its past while looking at the future.

Walking around the historic center, one cant help but notice remnants of the different cultures that have invaded Venice.

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Basilica di San Marco on a rainy winter day

 

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Shaky photo of the Basilica’s interiors. No photos allowed but I’m persistent.

Basilica di San Marco

The awe-inspiring Basilica di San Marco, with its five-niched facade and portals is the most popular structure in the city. This 10th century cathedral is adorned in distinctly Byzantium architecture highlighted by its Greek cross. The mosaics at the church’s facade are simply a taste of the elaborate mosaics that decorate the interiors, some of which were made with dusts of gold. one of the highlights of this church is the quadriga of St. Mark, a bronze statue of four horses that was plundered from Constantinople and later carted off to France, and then ultimately shipped and displayed at the basilica. The church was named as such because it houses the bones of the apostle St. Mark, smuggled by two merchants from Alexandria, Egypt.

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Palazzo Ducale

Doge’s Palace

Right beside the Basilica di San Marco is the Venetian Gothic-styled Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace. Founded in the 9th century, this structure has been the seat of the Venetian government. This was the home of the Doge or the elected lifetime ruler of Venice. It also houses its civil administration, law courts and other government branch offices. As the most important structures in the city, it is no surprise that is it also one of the most impressive. The building is built of pink marble and white limestone and highlighted by porticos, and balconies. The collonnade of the building is adorned with beasts statues, flowers and other designs.

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Torre dell’Orologio

Torre dell’ Orologio

For a lengthy number of years, the Torre dell’ Orologio or the clocktower was obscured from sight by ugly scaffolding due to ongoing renovations but nowdays, its full beauty and ingenuity is on full display for everyone to see. originally built in the late 15th century, its surprising and impressive that is still one of the most accurate clocks in the world, so much so that in 1858, it became the official timekeeper of Venice, to which all other clocks in the city must be set. Aside from time, it also tells the dominant Zodiac and the lunar phases of the moon, quite handy and useful for a city with a long maritime history. it helped seafarers and travelers the best time to set out to sea.

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San Marco Capanile

San Marco Campanile

The campanile or bell tower we see today is the product of renovations in the early 16th century. Originally built in the 12th century, it suffered heavy damages on several lightning incidents and attempted arson. The campanile, located at the corner of the Piazetta almost in front of the basilica, is one of the most easily recognizable structures in the city. It guided ships and seafarers during the city’s maritime epoch. The tower is made up of bricks and adorned by a cube with the symbol of a lion (St. Mark’s symbol) and golden weathervane in the shape of an angel, at the very tip.

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Santa Maria delle Salute

Santa Maria delle Salute

Often times, when we face an adversary so strong that there seemed to be no hope of winning, we turn to the divine for salvation. This is what exactly the people of Venice did in the 17th century when they faced the “Black Death” which killed about a third of the city’s population. The plague earlier hit Venice in the 14th century and killed thousands and on its second attack, the people simply lost hope and turned to the heavens for help. A year after promising to build a statue to the virgin, the plague was overcome and the people of the city rejoiced. They kept their promise and built a stunning, elaborate white church built in classic renaissance style.

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Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

At the height of its maritime power, Venice was a popular commercial center. Here, merchants from around the world exchanged goods such as silk and textiles and metals with foreigners such as the Lombards and the French. this heavy trade prompted the need to connect both banks of the grand canal and the city called for the construction of a great bridge that would replace the original wooden bridge. Since its construction in the late 16th century, the Rialto bridge has played a vital role in strengthening commerce in the city. Now, Venice has several bridges but the the three most famous are the Rialto, Academia and the Scalzi.

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Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

If you visit Venice, you will see a lot of tourists, couples mostly, walk around the piazza San Marco, and then cross the piazzetta, pass by the two stone towers of the city, and then turn left. At one small section of the bayfront, you will see them huddled together, taking countless selfies. And no one can blame them. They are taking selfies at the famous Bridge of Sighs. Legend has it that if a couple takes a gondola ride and then kiss below the bridge, their love will last forever. This sound really romantic but ironically, this bridge has a rather grim and macabre purpose. The bridge connects the Doge’s Palace and the city prison where criminals are taken and executed. The bridge was named so, as a testament to the countless sighs criminals make upon seeing the city for the very last time before they are beheaded.

7 Major Attractions in Helsinki

Europe, Finland

Come winter season, tourists begin their annual exodus to the warmer, temperate regions of Asia, South America and the Caribbean in search of white, powdery beaches where they can frolic in the sand, while being kissed by the summer sun.

You can’t blame. Who doesn’t want a good summertime adventure right? However, people who shun winter, tend to miss the frozen delights the northern hemisphere can offer.

In freezing weather, I recently set out to explore the arctic Scandinavian region in search of a winter adventure unlike any other. And in my wanderings, I found myself in the cold. but charming city of Helsinki.

Located right above the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is a mega city of 1.4 million that’s steeped in history, culture and tradition. Its architectural landscape was molded by its long periods of conquest by Sweden, Russia and its close relations to Estonia.

Helsinki doesn’t figure at the top of the world’s main tourist destinations, no thanks to the inhospitable weather in the north. I traveled in the middle of winter and the temperature was hovering between -10 to -15 degrees Celsius, a common occurrence for the people of the city, but a torture to visitors who hail from warmer lands.

Despite the weather, Helsinki boasts of several attractions that any self-respecting adventurer/tourist should check out at least once in their lives.

Helsinki Cathedral 

First and foremost among these attractions is the immaculate white Helsinki Cathedral that lords over the Senate Square. Acknowledged by most as the symbol of the city, the cathedral, previously known as St. Nicholas Church and the Great Cathedral, is a stunning neoclassical Evangelic Lutheran church. Built at the start of the 19th century, and completed in 1852, it is a masterpiece by architect Carl Ludwig Engel and is said to have been modeled after the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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Helsinki Cathedral

Suomenlinna Fortress

 

Founded in 1748, Suomenlinna is one the biggest sea fortresses in the world. It is one of the greatest testaments to European military architecture that’s why it’s no wonder it was declared as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. Walk around the fortress and you will frozen rivers, and lakes in the winter. Climb up the ramparts and see a spectacular view of the Baltic Sea. To get to the fortress, you can take a short city ferry ride from the Market Square.

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Suomenlinna Fortress

 

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One of the canons at the Fortress

Temppeliaukio Church 

Quarried out of the natural bedrock, Temppeliaukio Church is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions. The interior walls are created naturally by the rock. The church was designed by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969. Due to its excellent acoustics the church is a popular venue for concerts.

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Image from visithelsinki.com

Helsinki Skywheel

One modern addition to the Helsinki skyline is the 460-foot Finnair Skywheel located right beside the Katajanokka harbor near market square and a few steps away from Uspenski Cathedral. The giant observation wheel has 30 blue-and-white gondolas where visitors spend 15 minutes gazing at panoramic views of the city. There’s also a VIP cabin that serves Champagne and offers a more leisurely 25-minute ride. Tickets are at 12 euros for adults and 9 euros for children aged 3-11 years old.

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SkyWheel

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Me at the SkyWheel

Kamppi Chapel

One of the interesting landmarks in Helsinki is the Church of Silence or simply, Kamppi Chapel. It is also one of the newest attractions in the city in 2012 for the World Design Capital event. It is supposed to be a place of peace and tranquility in the middle of the one of the most busiest districts in the city. I purposely traveled to Narinkka Square in Kamppi to visit this church. As soon as I entered, I immediately knew that it was special. The place is really peaceful and visitors, both local and foreign alike, try to adhere to the place’s objective. Thanks to some awesome sound-proofing technology, barely a sound can be heard inside, even with the chaotic square outside.

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Church of Silence

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The simple altar of the Kamppi Chapel

Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral 

Another remnant of Russian rule in Helsinki is the Uspenski Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. It was built in the early 19th century and was designed by Russian architect Aleksey Gornostayev. This Byzantine-Russian structure is located in the Katajanokka district of Helsinki.At the back of the church, there is a plaque commemorating Russian Emperor Alexander II who was the sovereign of the Grand Duchy of Finland when the construction of the church began. It is easily recognizable thanks to its golden cupolas and redbrick facade and is considered up to this day, one of the most important legacies of Russian impact on Finland.

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Uspenski Cathedral

 

Market Square 

Located in the South Harbor, the Market Square is a haven for good food and warm winter clothing. It was already 3pm when I reached the square and sunset was a mere hour away. This means the temperature was even colder, and the weather harsher. Thanks to the endless options of mittens, coats and fur hats available at the square, I was able to survive the city.

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Market Square

Tallinn, Estonia: A City Frozen In Time

Estonia, Europe

“If you haven’t been to Tallinn, then you’re missing half of your life.”

A German friend recently shared this piece of travel wisdom to me. I was planning my grand European winter odyssey, and I’d already listed and finalized the cities that would be part of my itinerary. After all, I thought I already knew much of what Europe had to offer after visiting it for two occasions.

To make the story short, I went back to the drawing board, and decided the best time and route to check out the city. I honestly didn’t know anything about Estonia, and it hasn’t been at the top of my travel bucket list. But with such a convincing statement, how can I not visit it?

I turns out, my friend was 100 percent right. I was missing a big part of my travel life. Tallinn is  one of the most beautiful, visually arresting places I have ever seen, and coming from someone who’s visited about 40 countries, that is saying something.

10633374_10153377649945735_6737237460488154729_oTallinn is a medieval city at the northern tip of Estonia. It is situated near the Baltic Sea, and west of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Most visitors to Tallinn are mere day trip visitors from the nearby cities of Helsinki, Finland and Riga, Latvia. A day trip visit is quite possible because of the small size of the city.

That is the common misconception about Tallinn, because of its small size, most people assume that there isn’t anything much to do here but they are wrong. On the contrary, Tallinn is the perfect city to explore because almost all highlights of the city are located close to each other and can be reached by walking.

As millions of visitors before me had done, I took a two-hour Tallink Star ferry ride from Helsinki to Tallinn, and from the harbor, walked a kilometer to the jewel of the city, its well preserved Old Town.

At first sight, Tallinn Old Town seemed like a place frozen in time.

From the main arch of the city’s old town district lovingly called Fat Margaret Tower, medieval Slavic architecture already welcomes visitors.

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Take the main street (Pikk Tanav), and you will be treated to a grand display of houses, and low to medium-rise buildings decked in ornate, ancient stone carvings that were popular in the 11th to 13th century, passing narrow alleyways, while walking on trademark European cobblestone streets.

Like in most European cities, most streets in Tallinn Old Town are pedestrian only so you cant walk around without the hassle of passing cars. No honking sounds too.

The only signs of modern times are the small wifi signs found in the doors of restaurants, and pubs peppered around town.

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The old town’s architecture is impressive and awe inspiring and anyone would be hard pressed not to spend the better part of the day, looking up at the sculptures and stone carvings that decorate the skyline.

As I shared, I visited during winter and Tallinn was specially spectacular while being blanketed in powdery white snow.

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I had a silent gasp as I caught my first glimpse of Tallinn’s Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats), which looked positively right out of a fairy tale.

The spire of the Tallinn’s town hall, built in the 1400’s dominates the landscape. All around, the square, low wood stalls selling various Christmas delights entertain the crowds of both young and old.

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You can find stalls selling blood sausages, mulled wine and other traditional European food. You can also find stalls selling fur coats, gloves and mitten that protect the people of Tallinn against the harsh winter. It was -16 degrees during my visit and there was low visibility thanks to a mild blizzard.

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But even the plummeting temperature cannot dampen my delight as I visit the highlights of the old town. 

Old Town Tallinn used to be separated into two districts.

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One of the main stairs connecting the Upper and Lower District

The upper town—on the hill, called Toompea—was dedicated to the upper government ruling Estonia. On the other hand, the lower town was an autonomous trading district, where rich merchant from neighboring countries lived. The commoners used to live outside the wall.

At the lower district, a few meters away from the square, you can visit the St. Olav’s Church. Built in the 12th century, it is the largest medieval structure in the city. It is a remnant of the Scandinavian influence over the town.

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St. Olav’s Church

It was named after the Norwegian sainted King Olav Haraldsson. The church is famous for its tower, which is one of the highest points anywhere in the city. According to stories, had been hit by lighting for at least 10 times.

Located along Pikk St, you can find the Church of the Holy Ghost built in the 15th century. A white, low rise church, it is easily identifiable thanks to a large clock outside, which has been announcing the time since the 17th century.

 

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Me in front of the Church of the Holy Ghost

In Tallinn old town, you will also find the remnants of the St. Catherine Church and the charming little passageway named after the saint.

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St. Catherine’s Passage.

 

Meanwhile, one of the main attractions that can be seen at the Upper district is the grandiose Alexander Nevsky built in the 1900’s as a tribute to a well loved Estonian hero.

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Another important site in the Upper District is the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform. The long climb up the stairs up the ruling district towards the platform is so worth it, thanks to the larger than life view of the entire Tallinn.

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Even with the real and ever present danger of hypothermia, I made my way towards the lookout, removed my thick leather gloves and started shooting countless photos of the Tallinn skyline.

For the better part of a day, I walked around Tallinn, protected by my winter furs and scarves. Repeatedly, I would take off my gloves in order to get better shots of beautiful scenes, landmarks and people.

As a result, I got chills as soon as I went back to my hotel room, and my fingers were numb for minutes, thanks to the biting cold.

But to be honest, I had no regrets. And if given the chance, I would do it all over again for a city so charming and picturesque such as Tallinn.

And from one traveler to another, if you haven’t been to Tallinn, pack your bags and take the next trip to this amazing, unforgettable place. It’s definitely worth it.

 

Falling In Love With Bruges

Belgium, Europe

In 2008, I saw the Colin Farrell-starrer ‘In Bruges”, a crime/action drama about a hired assassin who escaped to the outskirts of Belgium, in order to lie-low and hide from his mortal sin. It was a gripping tale, for sure, but the backdrop city of Bruges stood out and captivated me so much so that when the opportunity came, I immediately took the two-hour train ride from Brussels to the city, even without prior plans.

As a city I have dreamed of visiting for the past years, I had high expectations with the city. On my very first hour in Bruges, all these expectations had been met and far exceeded by the city and everything it has to offer. It was love at first sight.

As the capital and largest city of West Flanders, Bruges is a historic city centre and it has been declared as a world famous UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the well-preserved Gothic and neo-Gothic buildings, churches and other establishments.

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The Belfry

One of these is the Belfry, which dominates the landscape of Bruges’ market square. It was a central part of the 2008 movie. But even before that, the belfry has already been the most visited and photographed landmark in the historic city because of impressive medieval architecture.

Built in the 13th century, the belfry has been an important observation spot to watch out for fires during the medieval period. It formerly housed a treasury and archives in the past. Nowadays, it accommodates throngs of visitors who flock from nearby Brussels. Most of these travelers pay the required fee to climb the 366 steps leading to the large bells.

I attempted to climb the steps but midway the trip, my legs tried to give up. But for the sake of the experience, I persevered and soldiered on to the top.

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Market Square

Once there, visitors get a stunning view of the Bruges skyline. Immediately below them lies the lively market square edges by historical buildings, open air restaurants, souvenir shops and museums.

At the center of this city square is the all important monument to Pieter De Coninck and Jan Breydel who led to the Bruges uprising that led to the Battle of the Golden Spurs in the early 14th century. It was a bloody revolt that saw many Frenchmen killed in the Flemish city.

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Horse-drawn carriages are all the rage in Bruges.

All around the square, you will horse-drawn carriages and rolling carts selling waffles, arguably the most famous food associated with Belgium. This particular spot is long considered as the main nerve of everyday life in Bruge. So I guess, I can be forgiven if I spent a few hours just walking around and watching people go about their usual routines.

Another highlight of Bruges I really enjoyed is the dramatic Basilica of the Holy Blood in Burg square which houses drops of Jesus Christ’s blood.

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Some stories say that after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped drops of blood from Jesus Christ’s body of Christ and preserved them. The preserved blood was kept in Jerusalem until the Second Crusade. It was then gifted by the King of Jerusalem to his brother in law Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas, who in turn transported it to Bruges in April 1150. Other stories meanwhile place the origin of the holy blood in Constantinople. The relic was supposedly stolen by the Crusader army and brought to Bruges.

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The altar of the Basilica of the Holy Blood

No matter which way, the blood arrived in the city, it remains one of the most important holy relics in the world. Because of its importance, the blood is rarely showed to public.

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I was fortunate enough though to chance upon it during my visit. Seeing it was a very religious experience. The walls and glass stained windows of the church all of which depict stories of how the blood arrived in Bruges, add to the unreal experience.

The church, its walls and windows all date back to the early 13th century.

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On top of the historical and holy buildings in the city, Bruges is famous for its beautiful canals. Not a few times, Bruges has been called the Amsterdam of the North due to the similarities of the city’s canals to those seen in the Dutch capital.

The clean canals reflect 13th century houses made of bricks, and buildings sporting Gothic and neo-Gothic styles.

All around the city, you can find chocolates shops and souvenir stores that cater primarily to the visiting crowds. Bruges is also famous for its artisan beers. Enter any pub in the city and you can be guaranteed to enjoy a specialty crew you wont find anywhere else in Europe. Needless to say, I partook in some mild brews, as any decent visitor should do.

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Bruges is positively medieval

As is common in most European cities, there are no skyscrapers in Bruges. The belfry is already the tallest structure, and that’s okay. The simplicity and the rustic feel of the city only adds to its charms and feel.

I arrived in the city as a curious traveler. I left it, as a devoted fan and lover.

Bruges is so picturesque that you won’t help but shoots picture after picture. But to best enjoy this historic city, spend a whole day admiring its old buildings and beautiful canals.

It would be an experience you won’t be able to forget.

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Burg Square