Exploring the UK: Edinburgh.

Edinburgh – the city in the North of the UK. With 493,000 inhabitants it is the second largest city in Scotland (number 7 in the UK, apparently). The city is famous for bagpipes & kilts, the castle, the sheep Dolly (the world’s first cloned mammal) and being the birthplace of Harry Potter (the books’, not the boy’). And it seemed to be a very popular travel destination in 2017. A few years ago, during the time when I was living and studying in the UK, a few friends and I decided to take a trip up North to take a closer look at the city ourselves.

The city

Edinburgh is located in the Northeast of the UK, but actually more or less in the South of Scotland, and lies on the Southern shores of the Firth of Forth. The Old and New Town of Edinburgh are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) has a rich history, and you’ll be able to find numerous books and papers on this topic. The city’s history began thousands of years ago (around 8,500 BC), and – as it was the case with so many other bigger cities – during the Middle Ages, a hill fort was established and became a royal residence for the Kings of Scotland. Since the 15th century, Edinburgh has been known as the capital of Scotland and used to be the biggest city in the area until it was outgrown by Glasgow at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1707 Scotland was united with the English Crown and from that on it had the same sovereign, flag, and parliament as England. At the end of the 20th century, a referendum lead to the creation of a Scottish Parliament with its seat in Edinburgh.

The sights & stories

I’ve mentioned this before in other city trips, but a great way of getting to know a city and its history and stories is by taking part in a (free) walking tour. This might also be a good way of getting to know other people, and the local tour guide will give you great tips on what to do and where to eat. So we joined a free walking tour and lucky us, the weather was quite alright even though it was January and thus mid-winter. Only a bit rainy at times, but not too cold, and the sun was out from time to time.

We spent some time on the Royal Mile, which is the main street of the Old Town, saw the typical tourist spots like the City Chambers & Royal Exchange, St Giles Cathedral, the Scotts Monument, and so on. The most memorable points & stories of our walking tour were definitely Greyfriars Kirkyard and Elephant House (and a story about the Stone of Destiny).

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As mentioned before, the city is the birthplace of Harry Potter as it is the hometown of J.K.Rowling. There is one café, the Elephant House, where the author spent many hours there to write the first book of the magnificent story of the boy who lived. In this café, one has an excellent view over a cemetery and other great buildings, and if you visit the graveyard you’ll be able to spot many names that were used in the books, such as McGonagall, (Mad-Eye) Moodie, Riddle etc. According to our guide, other buildings of the town were also a great inspiration for her, the nearby school with its four towers is one example which she apparently used as a basis for the school of wizardry and witchcraft.

Despite all the fame the cafe receives, it does not sell any kind of merchandise and there is no Harry Potter theme in there (or at least there wasn’t any back then when I was visiting). So it’s rather a normal café with just many elephants in there (which is not so ‘normal’ I guess). The only probably not regular thing for a café in there was that every table had a drawer in which you’d find pencils and pieces of paper so you could start your own novel there. Many people had left notes, poems, or short stories in those drawers and we joined them with our own piece of paper.

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The graveyard near the café, Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Rowling got her name inspiration, is also associated with the tale of Greyfriars Bobby. He was a very special Skye Terrier, very loyal to his master as he stood guard over his grave for 13 years in the 19th century. Now, the little dog has his own headstone at the entrance of the cemetery, which marks the actual burial place, and a statue of the dog stands opposite of the graveyard’s gate plus a pub with his name. Cool, huh? The dog statue has a golden snout, and rubbing it brings luck apparently. It so happened that on the day that we were visiting the graveyard, it was the dying day of the dog, and a school group, bagpipe players, the mayor of Edinburgh, and other people were there to celebrate the whole thing.

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A visit to the Edinburgh Castle is a definite must if you ever visit this city. The castle thrones over the city, and from up there one has a great view over the city and the nearby sea.

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The bottom line

We stayed a total of three nights and four days in the city, and we took a very cheap bus from Sheffield to Edinburgh. Despite it being a rather exhausting trip (6 hours one way) I’d recommend checking the busses and coaches in the UK if you ever wanna travel there and can’t catch a direct flight to the city. We stayed in a cheap hostel in the centre of the city right next to the Royal Mile. The hostel was nothing special, but it wasn’t bad either. We were really lucky with our room, and as we were spending most of the time outdoors exploring the city anyways, our accommodation didn’t really matter to us (plus, we were all students so we didn’t want to spend too much on it).

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The capital of Scotland is very very beautiful and I immediately fell in love with it. The mix of the gloominess of the winter season and the architecture of the city was what I liked best. I just loved the dark facades of some buildings and the feeling there in general. I definitely want to come back to Scotland to see more of the surroundings, especially the highlands, and I want to revisit Edinburgh. There are a few places in town that I would not go to a second time or activities that I wouldn’t do again (like going inside the castle… a bit too boring for my taste). But back then when I was an undergrad student, my way of travelling and exploring a city was so different to the way I’m travelling now, so I guess I’d be seeing the city from another point of view :D

Travelling through Austria: St.Pölten.

The last one still missing on my Austrian province capitals to travel to was St.Pölten. This is only partly correct because I’ve been to a music festival in the city 3 or 4 times but this was ages ago and I never really explored the city. St. Pölten is one of those cities that hardly anyone ever really travels to for tourist reasons, and I’ve never really had a good enough reason to go there. But in order to see my friend Madlene (my Russia travel buddy) we decided to (more or less) meet half way between our homes and ended up spending a few hours in St. Pölten. I finally made it to all nine state capitals of Austria! Whoop whoop!

The city

St. Pölten is located in the northern parts of Austria, 65km west of Vienna, north of the Alps, on the Traisen river. It is the largest city and the capital of the largest state – Lower Austria. The city is the 9th biggest town in population, with only 52,700 people living there. Noteworthy though is that St. Pölten is one of the oldest official towns of Austria (which means it was given special privileges by someone in 1159) and celebrated its 850th anniversary in 2009.

St. Pölten has always been a rather sleepy village throughout history, which only changed in the late 19th century. The rapid growth & development of the Austrian Empire gave reason to extend the railway network and connect the city to Vienna. Only in 1986 was St. Pölten made capital of Lower Austria. Previously, the province was administered from Vienna but this was deemed not suitable any longer and a referendum was held in which St.Pölten was chosen as the new place to be. This also lead to the construction of the Landhaus governmental district.

The sights

Due to the size of the city there is actually not much to see or do there, but enough to spend a few hours there. The best way of exploring this small city is definitely by just walking around aimlessly and one will pass by every major sight in the end.

After arriving at the central train station we headed south and walked past the Stöhr House on Kremsergasse (the shopping lane of town, which was of course closed because of the fact that it was a Sunday). This is a Jugendstil house that was built by the same architect as the Vienna Secession building, Joseph Maria Olbrich. Stöhr derives from a local artist who was influenced by the Secession Movement. The Cathedral is one of the most prominent buildings of St Pölten. Erected on a 13th century square and associated with an Augustinian monastery, the church was actually built in the early 18th century.

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The Rathaus (Town Hall) is the official landmark of the city. The house was bought by the city in 1503 (so I guess it was erected before that date) and was at a later point refurbished with a Baroque facade but still has various architectural styles united in one building (eg. a Renaissance style tower). The Town Hall is surrounded by many other great architectural pieces and is located on a big square (the Town Hall Square, surprise surprise) with the Holy Trinity column (which can be found in every major city in Austria I guess).

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One of the brand-new parts of the town is the Landhausviertel Quarter. This is where one can find a more modern architecture, and the 67-metre high Klangturm (“Sound Tower”) throning over everything. Opened in 1996 this tower is a landmark for sound art, and home to an info center and an observation deck that is open 365 days of the year, free of charge! The view from up there is just great, one almost has a 360° view over the whole city and its surroundings. And there are super comfy wooden seats up there which are a mix of a deckchair and a rocking chair.

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Other interesting buildings in this quarter are the Landesmuseum (the local museum of Lower Austria), the Festival Hall, and the Waterpark by the river.

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The food

There weren’t that many options for us to choose from as we did not want to eat typical Austrian food, and it had to have vegetarian/vegan options. As it’s usually very common for Austrian restaurants to be closed on a Sunday (which is really absurd if you ask me) this was another fact to consider. So we ended up going to one of the only Pakistani/Indian restaurants of the city. Rajput turned out to be quite a nice stay, the place was super interesting (with something like Christmas decorations?) and the staff was super friendly. What I especially liked about this place was that one had the possibility to make every dish on the menu vegan! So many options for me to choose from! Yay! The place was packed and we were quite lucky to get a seat, so I think it’s a very popular spot for a late lunch or early dinner on a Sunday. The food was quite good and cheap as well, but to be honest I’ve had better Indian/Pakistani food before, but to their defence I eat and cook quite a lot of Indian/Pakistani food so I know my way around this cuisine.

The bottom line

Funnily enough the whole city was dead, hardly anyone was actually walking on the streets. The only things missing were howling coyotes and tumbleweed. Especially in the Landhausviertel we only saw one or two people walking around. It felt so empty and lifeless there, which was actually great for exploring everything & taking pictures of the architecture. My favourite of the town was definitely the Klangturm – I like everything with a great view (especially if it’s free!) – and the Traisen river (it’s possible to just go there and bathe in it, perfect for summer!). There’s really not a lot to do in this small city (correct me if I’m wrong!), but I’m glad that I can finally tick this city off my list.

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Travelling through Austria: Salzburg.

Salzburg. The city of the classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Home to the renowned Salzburg Festival, an annual cultural event held in July and August, with music and drama and the play Jedermann (Everymann) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal as the annual highlight. A city with magnificent architecture and many great Baroque examples. The shooting location of the classic movie The Sound of Music that isn’t even that famous or popular in Austria. Apparently Salzburg is a place for everyone during every season. Despite actually liking The Sound of Music a lot, my last visit to this town was during a school visit around 10 years ago. So a while ago. At the end of summer I decided that it was time to change that. I hopped on a train and spent an afternoon in Salzburg and also met up with a friend of mine (Moscow Reunion #?).

The city

Salzburg is close to the border with Germany, and is divided by the river Salzach. The Oldtown underneath the Mönchsberg and the Hohensalzburg Fortress is located on the left side of the river, whereas the ‘New Town’ is on the right side, south of the Kapuzinerberg. With a population of around 150,000 people the city is the fourth largest one in Austria (after Vienna, Graz, and Linz). It is also the capital city of the federal province Salzburg. The city’s name derives from ‘salt castle’ and comes from the salt mining done around the city.

Salzburg actually has quite a long & rich history, reaching back to the Stone Age. Key events that made the region and city important happened during the Middle Ages, especially in the Baroque times of the 17th and 18th century when many great buildings were erected. A former independent country – a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire with Salzburg as the seat of the Archbishopric – Salzburg was annexed to the Habsburg Monarchy in 1816 because the Archbishops lost their secular power as a result of the Napoleonic wars and lost much of its economical cultural prosperity. At the end of the 19th century the city was finally able to recover, and after WW1 the famous Salzburg Festival was founded. It started to become a fashionable place to be during summer, especially because of this event. The city became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in honour of the unique baroque architecture in 1997. Besides that and being the home of Mozart and the shooting location of The Sound of Music there is a lot to discover in Salzburg – the rich art scene, the many restaurants and cafés, manicured parks, and the narrow streets with many shops and boutiques make it a wonderful place. And the many tourists that venture to this city can agree with me on that. Salzburg is Austria’s second most visited city after Vienna.

The sights

After arriving at the central train station one of the first sights that one encounters en route to the old town is the Mirabell Palace. The name derives from mirabile & bella – admirable & beautiful – and is a perfect description for the palace and its garden if you ask me. Erected in 1606 for the archbishop and his mistress as a pleasure palace, it can now be booked for weddings and is also home to municipal offices.

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The Mirabell Garden in its underlying geometric form (typical for Baroque) is perfect for taking a stroll on a warm sunny afternoon. And on all other days as well. It is one of the shooting locations of The Sound of Music movie. Sounding like a modern fairy tale but it actually happened: the story of the Trapp family. A young woman leaves a convent to become the governess to the seven children of a Naval officer widower in the 1930s. They get married (surprise surprise), found a family choir, emigrate to the US (because of the growing popularity of the Nazis in Austria) and gain international success and fame. The ‘Sound of Music’ movie portrays this story, and even won five oscars. It is loaded with stereotypes about Austrian people, and no, we (the Austrian people) don’t sing that much.

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Crossing the Salzach via the pedestrian bridge (that always reminds me of the Harry Potter Bridge – the Millenium Bridge in London – even though it has no similarity to it at all) one already gets a glimpse of the old town with its baroque buildings and of course the Hohensalzburg Castle on top of the Festungsberg. This is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and was built in the early 11th century. My friend Viktoria and I decided not to go up there and spend the afternoon in the old town instead.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and grew up in this city, visitors bump into Mozart around almost every corner of Salzburg. Almost the entire old town is a walkable Mozart museum: his birthplace, former residence, a monument, the grave of his sister and so on. In my opinion both his former residence and birthplace are rather unspectacular from the outside (I’ve never been inside though), but it’s still a tourist attraction nonetheless. The funny thing to me was that in the house of his birthplace there is now a super fancy looking supermarket that is actually just a regular one.

One of the most pompous places in Salzburg is the Residenzplatz, a large square in the historic centre. Its name derives from the residence of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. The Salzburg Cathedral, founded in 774 and rebuilt in the 12th c., is located in the south and the Alte Reisdenz in the west. There is also the Neue Residenz with a bell tower, a Renaissance building that was erected in the 16th century. Also around the corner is the rather prominent statue of a huge gold ball on top of which a man is standing. This is part of an art installation – the Sphaera – by the German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol.

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The food & sweets

A restaurant chain that was founded in Salzburg is my Indigo. They offer food that is healthy, versatile and perfect for those that do not have that much time to eat but still want to grab something healthy for lunch or dinner. Sushi, salads, curries, and soups are on their menu. Many of their dishes are either vegetarian or vegan, and they also have a lot of gluten-free options as well. I went for a vegan curry (low carb option – so with more veggies and no rice or couscous) and it was truly delicious. Feel good food for everyone. The restaurant that we went to is located near Staatsbrücke on Rudolfskai, and is open Mo–Sa 11:00–23:00 & So 12:00–21:00.

The go-to souvenir and typical confectionary of Austria – the Mozartkugel – has its origin in Salzburg. The small round confection made of pistachio marzipan, nougat, and dark chocolate was first created by the Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst in 1890, then known as Mozart-Bonbon. Fürst’s descendants still manufacture this confectionary and sell it in their bakery in the heart of the old town. For 1.30€ per piece one can buy one of those and go into Mozart-heaven. Even if one doesn’t like marzipan (I don’t) one should definitely try them at least once.

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A coffee and a piece of cake is a must in a city like Salzburg. The Café Fingerlos is a great place for doing that. It’s a very typical and rather traditional coffee house (actually it’s a patisserie and confectionary) that also offers breakfast and lunch. They have a great assortment of cakes that look really exquisite which makes it the perfect location for a person with a sweet tooth like me. Oh, and they even have a vegan cake of the day, so of course I had to try this one with a cup of good old-fashioned ‘Verlängerter’ (a typical Austrian coffee – espresso prepared with double amount of water).

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The bottom line

Unfortunately, Salzburg faces a similar problem as Prague, Venice, Barcelona and many other places do. Like them, Salzburg has too many tourists and no added value is created for the city (because of the types of tourists coming to the city and the way they consume hardly anything to nothing). The city reports many traffic jams and most of the parking lots are occupied because of the hoards of tourists coming to the city. Many tourists are brought to the city via organised bus tours and only spend 2-3 hours in the city and don’t consume much but still overcrowd the historic old town. Many of the locals avoid going to this place at certain points of the day because of the many tourists. (read more about the problem here)

This should in no way discourage you from visiting this beautiful city though. However, I must admit that this was also a reason for me why I haven’t visited this city in such a long time: everyone’s always talking about the hoard of tourists roaming the city, making it less enjoyable. Nevertheless, I like the city, especially because of its wonderful architecture. I’d never want to live there though, but for a day visit it’s a great place. And you should pick a weekday and not a weekend to visit, there are definitely less people there. Oh, and it helps if it’s a rather gloomy day :)

Here’s my favourite Sound of Music song. I couldn’t withhold it from you. A great end to a blogpost, don’t you think? Enjoy. ;)

 

 

 

Travel and boat adventure: Bratislava.

Slovakia – apparently the country with the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita. A country that claims to be the geographical midpoint of Europe (however, 7 other European villages claim to host this one as well). The interest in the country as a tourist spot is increasing, and the capital has been reporting over a million visitors per year in recent years, most of them coming from the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Austria. So it’s been long overdue for me to pay our neighbours a visit, and at the beginning of September – at the end of summer – I finally had the time for doing so.

The city

Bratislava is situated in the southwest of the country. It is the only capital in the world bordering two independent countries, namely Austria and Hungary. It is located on the banks of the river Danube and the river Morava. With a population of about 450,000 Bratislava is the largest city of Slovakia.

The history of Bratislava has been strongly influenced by various nationalities besides the Slovaks, e.g. Austrians, Croats, Czechs, Hungarians. The city has always been flourishing, mainly because of the beneficial location on the Danube and at the intersections of important trade routes. It used to be the coronation site & legislative center of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1536 to 1783, and strongly connected to Vienna economically, culturally, and politically. Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa had the castle in Bratislava rebuilt in the 18th century so she could use it as a summer residence. However, the former advantageous location of the town suddenly turned into a misfortunate position after the communists came to power in 1948. The Iron Curtain was drawn which could already be seen from the city center, dividing what had once been united in many ways. The fall of communism in 1989 made it possible to once again develop the city, and re-establish relations with their neighbours. The entry into the European Union in 2004 has further lead to growth and development.

City sights

Upon arrival at the bus station we headed straight up the castle hill to walk around for a bit in the Bratislava Castle and enjoy the view over the city. The rectangular building with the four corner towers on an isolated rocky hill thrones over the city and its surrounding. From up there it provides a view over Bratislava, Austria, and sometimes even as far as Hungary. The first fortification on the hill was erected in the 9th century and a castle was first named in 907. Since then the castle had experienced several (style) changes, starting out as a stone palace, then a Gothic style fortress (15th century), followed by a rebuilding in the Renaissance style (16th c.), and in baroque style (17th c.). During the 18th century the castle was arranged according to the needs of a son-in-law of Maria Theresa, empress of the Habsburg Monarchy, turning the castle from a fortress into a residential castle. As it was usually the case when Napoleon invaded a country, the castle was heavily bombarded in 1809, and burst into flames two years later because of soldiers’ carelessness which lead to the gradually deterioration of the destroyed castle. In 1953 it was decided to restore the castle, and long restoration works began. In 2008 the castle underwent another comprehensive project with the aim of another massive restoration.

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The view from up there was really great. We could even see the windmills in Austria!

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The next prominent building of the city is definitely the St. Martin’s Cathedral, a Romanesque church that was built in the 13th century. Its tower used to serve as a defensive bastion, and the cathedral is/was part of the city walls which can still partly be seen today.

In the heart of the city centre is the Michael’s Gate with the 51 meters tall tower which can be spotted from a distance away already. Its original gothic tower was built in the 14th century but remodeled into its current baroque style in the 18th century. Underneath the tower on the street that passes through the gate is one of the ‘zero kilometre’ plates. The tower is open to the public and visitors can enjoy the view over the city from the upper terrace.

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Situated on the Main Square of the city is the Old Town Hall which dates back to the early beginnings of the mediaeval town in the 13th century. Also located not far away is the Slovak National Theatre is the oldest professional theatre in the country and was founded in 1920.

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The statues that can be found in the historic old town are noteworthy as well as they are among the most photographed attractions of the city. Čumil “the watcher” is located at the junction of Laurinská and Panská Street. Apparently it either depicts a typical communist era worker who is not bothered about the work he is supposed to be doing, or he’s just looking under the skirts of women. The Schöne Naci standing on Sedlárska Street is an old man with a hat and apparently the only statue of a real existing person, namely Ignac Lamar who lived in the city in the 19th/20th century and was always seen in top hat and tails, greeting women with the words ‘I kiss your hand’ in various languages and giving them flowers. The Napoleon Soldier leaning on a bench can be found on the Main Square near the Old Town Hall. Allegedly he fell in love with a Slovak girl, stayed in the city and became a producer of sparkling wine. A very important Slovak poet – Hviezdoslav – ca ben found on a square named after him. A few meters further down the square there is also a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, but I have no idea why there’s a statue of him in Bratislava – he’s Danish.

The world’s longest cable-stayed bridge to have one pylon and one cable-stayed plane is located in Bratislava – the Most SNP (Most Slovenského národného povstania / Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising), or also called UFO Bridge. It is one out of 5 bridges over the Danube in Bratislava. The most noticeable thing about this bridge is definitely the flying saucer on top of the bridge’s pylon – a unique observation tower, bar & restaurant (hence the nickname of the bridge).

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Devín Castle is another beautiful spot located on the shores of the Danube atop a hill, just 10km west of Bratislava’s city centre. It is located on the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers which form the border with Austria, making it a strategic place for a royal border fort. In 1809 this castle was bombarded by Napoleon’s troops as well, and was subsequently destroyed. Paradoxically, both castles of Bratislava (Devín and Bratislava castle) were destroyed within the same two year period. However, Devín has not been restored and remains a ruin that is open to the public.

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The food

As it is often the case with a city like Bratislava (and a country like Slovakia), the local cuisine is very much influenced by other cultures that used to dominate the city at some point in history. Variety in the food during the communist area was not to be found, as filling hungry bellies was the main aim of it. Today, reminders of this era can still be found, but many restaurants have started to go above and beyond in what they are offering. Some of the traditional local dishes consist of different types of roast & grilled meat, grilled fish, fried cheese and fresh veggies.

As I was only staying for such a short time in Bratislava I only had time to try Bryndzové Halušky – thick soft potato dumplings with sheep’s milk cheese. Usually crispy streaky bacon is added on top as well, but I skipped this one. My Mom & sister had a mixed platter with  my dish, Kapustové halušky (potato dumplings with cabbage and dumplings), and pirogi with bryndza sheep cheese. So a lot of bryndza cheese for the whole family!

The Danube & our boat trip

The main reason for us going to Slovakia’s capital was actually my mom’s birthday present. She’s been telling us how she wanted to go to Bratislava by boat, so my sister and I decided to take her as a surprise. We took a bus from Vienna in the morning, and went back by boat in the afternoon. The Twin City Liner is a decent priced catamaran that connects Vienna with Bratislava via the Danube, and departs 5 times a day from each city. It takes around 75 to 90 minutes to go from one city to the other, and the sights and nature along the Danube are great.

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The bottom line

Bratislava is quite beautiful, but it reminded me a lot of Austria or the Czech Republic. But I already mentioned the influence those countries had on Bratislava/Slovakia, so I am not surprised to find so many similarities, especially if one takes into account the spatial proximity of Bratislava to Vienna.

I was rather surprised however to read afterwards that Bratislava had so many inhabitants as the city itself felt rather small to me. There were still a lot of things to discover and many cafés and restaurants to sit in and take in the city. The few hours that we had there were definitely enough for a tour through the historic old town.

Taking the boat was a great opportunity for us to discover the city and the surrounding from a very unusual viewpoint that we would not have gotten otherwise. It is a very unusual way of traveling from one city to another, and I’d definitely recommend it to people who have enough time for doing so (the bus or train would be of course cheaper and faster than the boat).

Italian Adventure: Udine.

Last year I went on my first real family holiday trip abroad. My mom has always wanted to go to Venice, so my sister and I decided it was about time that she got to see the city of her dreams which I have shared with you in this blogpost from 2016. On our way to Venice, we made a short stop so we could explore another city that is located right between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps: Udine.

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The city

Udine is located in the north-east of Italy, in the Firuli-Venezia Giulia region. With a bit over 99,000 inhabitants, the city is fairly small but the second largest in Friuli (after Trieste). The city’s main income derives from commerce (with various commercial centres in the hinterland), and the iron and mechanical industries.

The city was first mentioned in AD 983; however, it has been inhabited since the Neolithic age and was part of the Western Roman Empire. Udine became a more prominent city in the Middle Ages, as the patriarchs of Aquileia moved the seat of their government there, established a market, and transformed the city into a thriving and busy regional centre of trade and commerce. Udine was conquered by the Republic of Venice in the 15th century, and an almost 400 year reign of the Republic followed, which also lead to a decline in the city’s importance. Udine was annexed to the Austrian empire in 1797 and remained part of Austria until 1866 when it joined the Kingdom of Italy which became the Italy we know today.

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The sights

After arriving in Udine one immediately spots the Castle of Udine which stands atop of a 136-metre-hill overlooking the city. The Chiesa Santa Maria di Castello, a church, and a bell tower with a bronze angel on top of it which turns according to the wind direction, are seen instantly. The castle used to be home to noblemen, patriarchs, and Venetian lieutnants, but has been hosting the Civic Museums and Art & History Galleries since 1906.

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The ancient centre of the town with many elegant buildings, charming loggias and squares is evidence of the reign of the Republic of Venice over this region. The lion of St Mark, a symbol of Venice, can be seen carved prominently on some of the buildings on the Piazza della Libertà. This piazza is the oldest square of Udine, the heart of the town, and located right at the foot of Udine’s castle. The Loggia di San Giovanni is one of the prominent buildings on this square, built between 1533 and 1535, with its clock tower that dates back to 1527.

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Udine is considered the city of Tiepolo, a venetian artist from the 18th century who reached his artistic maturity there, as many of his masterpieces are preserved in Udine. One example would be the fresco of the Duomo, the cathedral and the city’s most important church that was built in 1257. It is located on the Piazza Duomo, not far from the main streets of the city centre.

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The Piazza San Giacomo is another big square in the centre of Udine. The city’s central market place was moved to this square in the 13th century, and a church was established as well.

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The bottom line

One can clearly see that tourism is not the focus of the city, and it is definitely not the most fancy city of Italy. Many of the buildings that we encountered on our walk through the city centre were clearly ill-kept, especially some facades of some buildings. I was really surprised that on prominent squares there were many decayed facades on some of the buildings. Nevertheless, the city somehow gave us a true feeling of Italy, and the view over the city and the mountains in the north on top of the hill of the Udine Castle was great. I also liked the small streets in the city centre, with all the small shops and boutiques, great facades and beautiful window shutters.

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A day in Graz.

So far I haven’t been able to enjoy summer to its fullest like I was able to do last year with my many travel adventures in July. However, I have valid reasons for being stuck at one or two places at the moment – I was rather busy with moving apartments (don’t get me started with the organisational matters that come with that!) plus we got an addition to our family at the end of June (I’m an auntie!). Nevertheless, I managed to squeeze in a day trip to Graz. It was actually an overnight trip but I spent less than 24 hours there.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria (over 320,000 inhabitants) and capital of the state Styria. With a total of 6 universities and 2 colleges and over 50,000 students Graz is truly a student city. The city combines the old and new: home to the apparently biggest medieval historic city centre in Europe, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, that bears witness to over 850 years of architecture with houses such as the Landhaus or the Schloss Eggenberg, which is in contrast but perfect harmony with state-of-the-art works of buildings such as the Kunsthaus Graz or the MUMUTH.

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City Hall

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Food

Graz has fairly good options for vegetarians, and also some for vegans. On our first evening we stumbled upon the Café Erde – a place that ‘makes people happy with vegan delicious food’. And this slogan is not an exaggeration I must say! During the day they serve a daily changing menu with soup and a dish of the day for €8.40, and in the evening you can order á la carte with dishes like salads, wraps, burgers, or Schnitzel, with prices between €5.90 & €8.40. I’d have preferred to go there for lunch as the menu was more appealing to me (a bit more creative in my opinion), but the Cheese Burger was delicious too! And the banana chocolate cake (and whatever else that was in there) was the perfect treat for the day!

The main reason for me going to Graz in the first place was to meet friends and have brunch on Sunday. The Café Mitte might be a bit expensive, and the self-service system is not speaking for the relatively high prices, but the brunch buffet that they have is really good and there are many options one can choose from, for only €13,90! As I just came to Graz for meeting those friends I did not want to take any pictures during our meeting, so you would need to go there yourself and see all the delicious food you can get for brunch! ;) The interior of the restaurant is really hip and trendy, and they also have tables right in front of the restaurant, so it’s a great place for brunch. I think many others who were there that day would agree with me on that as there was no single empty table while we had brunch there (and I think this is often a sign for a good place, right?).

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Schlossbergbahn Funicular

A definite must on my trip to Graz was taking the Schlossbergbahn – a funicular that takes you from the city up the castle hill where you have a beautiful view over Graz. Since 1894 the Schlossbergbahn funicular has been bringing people up the hill. It only takes a few minutes but with the glass roof of the funicular one has a great view over the historic centre of the city.

If you want a one-way trip up the hill it would cost you €2.20, but the public transport tickets for zone 1 are also valid on the funicular, so we could do it ‘for free’. The funicular runs up the hill every 15 minutes and operates on a daily basis from 10:00 to at least 22:00 (til 24:00 during the week and on Fridays and Saturdays til 02:00).

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Schlossberg & the Clock Tower

The Schlossberg – the castle hill – of Graz is a recreation area and vantage point. It only takes a short time to climb the hill and have a great view of Graz and the city surroundings. A castle was built on this hill a thousand years ago, giving the city its name as the Slavonic word ‘Gradec’ for little castle transformed into Graz. No one could ever take this fortress; however, Napoleon (who was also unable to do so) defeated the Habsburgs and demanded the demolition of the fortress. A great amount of money was paid to the conquerer to prevent the demolition of the Clock Tower.

High up on the hill (but not even on the highest point) the fortified medieval Clock Tower is still standing. It got its present shape around 1560. The hands on the clock often confuse people as it’s not a regular clock. Originally there were only the long hands for the hours which could be seen from the distance, and the hands for the minutes were added later, causing a ‘swapping’ of the hands. Near the Clock Tower there is a beautiful garden with a splendour of flowers, plants and benches so people could relax and enjoy the wonderful view.

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As my boyfriend and I were staying overnight in Graz, we climbed the Schlossberg hill in the evening so I could see Graz by night from up there. It was really busy up there, quite a lot of people had the same plans as we did, but we still had a great view and enjoyed the atmosphere up there.

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Graz actually has a lot to offer despite the fact that it’s rather small. A few years ago I thought otherwise but only because I have never really seen much of the city or really done anything interesting there. However, after spending a few days there every year over the past couple of years I realised that Graz is a charming city after all and I like coming back once in a while.

Exploring the Golden Ring: Yaroslavl.

The so-called Golden Ring (Золото́е кольцо́) is a city ring northeast of Moscow. This ring consists of various ancient towns that used to play a significant role in the formation of the Russian Orthodox church. The cities had been religious or trading centres in the 12th-18th centuries. The Golden Ring is the perfect place to explore Russian architecture, old churches, fortresses etc. and to learn more about Russia’s rich history. Besides going there for architectural reasons, it is another good way to experience the countryside and provincial Russia. After staying in busy Moscow for such a long time, taking a break from it and enjoying calmer, slower, and more peaceful cities such as Suzdal or Rostov Veliky is a good opportunity. In addition, those cities are not as much westernized, fancy, or hectic as some other big cities in Russia.

The entire route of the Golden Ring is around 700 km, but the distances between the cities are less than 100km, so travelling between them does not take that long if you are able to take fast trains. Sometimes, however, it is more convenient (or cheaper!) to take slower local trains or buses.

Before even arriving in Moscow I already knew that I definitely wanted to go to at least one of the cities at some point. Due to the 10-day-stay of my boyfriend I had the perfect opportunity to not only show him more of ‘real’ Russia but also see some of the Golden Ring myself. Usually, first stops of the Golden Ring are either Sergiyev Posad, or Vladimir with Suzdal, but we opted for the more ‘unusual’ stops Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky. So we took a fast train from Moscow to Yaroslavl and stayed there fore 1.5 days before travelling to Rostov Veliky and back to Moscow.

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl (Ярослáвль), the unofficial capital of and the biggest city in the Golden Ring, is located 270km from Moscow on the Volga river. The city has almost 600,000 inhabitants – around the same size as Copenhagen (municipal population). The historical city centre of Yaroslavl is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded where the Volga meets the Kotorosl in 1010 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, making it one of the oldest cities that were built on the Volga. Nowadays, the city is very industrial but still very interesting due to its rich history, architecture, and (apparently) city life.

Transfiguration Monastery

Probably the main sight of the city is the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery (Спасо-Преображенский монастырь), wich was founded in the 12th century and was turned into a museum 150 years ago. It used to be one of the favourite monasteries of Ivan the Terrible. On the grounds there are six churches which are open to the public. The monastery was also built to be a citadel and a kremlin, thus the white-painted thick stone wall with watchtowers and embattlements. The Transfiguartion Cathedral in the monastery was erected in 1516, and is the oldest detached building of Yaroslavl. We decided that we only wanted to see the grounds of the monastery and not go into the museums/churches, so we only paid 50 rubles (student discount), which was very cheap and also worth it in our opinion.

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What really shocked me inside the monastery was a tiny tiny bear cage (which apparently also includes a bath and amusements). The monastery is home to Masha, a 25+ years old bear. Masha is supposed to represent the city, as the coat of arms of the city is a brown bear. Visitors can pay extra to see the bear. My heart was bleeding :(

City Centre

After visiting the Kremlin grounds we just walked around in the city centre for some time. There was actually a lot of traffic going on, and the roads were deep in water due to the holes in the asphalt and pavement. We really tried our best not to get our feet soaking wet, but unfortunately we both did not manage to succeed. Sometimes it was just not possible to avoid a deep puddle in order to cross the street. However, this did not prevent us from walking around and enjoying the city architecture.

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Часо́вня Алекса́ндра Не́вского – Chapel of Alexander Nevsky

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Каза́нский же́нский монасты́рь – Nunnery of Kazan in Yaroslavl

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Sovetskaya ploschad with governmental buildings and a huge puddle

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Church of Elijah the Prophet

 

Walking along the Volga embankment

As Yaroslavl is located on the shores of the Volga + Kotorosl rivers, there is a very nice promenade where you can walk along the Volga river and see some of the beautiful architecture of the city plus enjoy the frozen river and winter landscape.

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Церковь Рождества Христова – Church of the Nativity

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Yaroslavl by Night

It got dark very early but most of the places are illuminated and look magical in the snow (despite the rain that we had on one day).

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Elijah Church

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Демидовский столп – Demidov pillar

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Selfie in front of the Часовня Казанской Богоматери – Chapel of the Holy Mother of Kazan

One our first evening in the city centre – when there was no rain and only snow – we decided to become kids again and made snow angels, even though the surface of the snow was frozen :D We also found places where we could slide down some hills on a bag. The child in me was full of glee!

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My beautiful snow angel with 4 legs

 

With Yaroslavl we made the right choice. Both my boyfriend and I enjoyed the trip to this city very much as it is very different to Moscow or Nizhny Novgorod. True, there is not much to do or see there, it is full of monasteries and churches. Still, with the snow/rain landscape, and the Volga and Kotorosl rivers frozen and covered in snow it was very beautiful and we had a lot of fun.

First real Russian travel adventure: Nizhny Novgorod.

After finally getting my passport back from the international office I was able to travel within Russia. I seized the chance immediately and together with three friends we went to the nearest ‘megacity’ of Moscow: Ни́жний Но́вгород (Nizhny Novgorod).

Nizhny Novgorod is a 1.2 million city (5h biggest in Russia), located 400 km east of Moscow (around 3-4 hour train ride), in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast of Russia. The city’s name used to be Gorky (Горький) from 1932 til 1990, as the writer Maxim Gorky was born there. The city is located where the Oka river empties into the Volga. The main center is the Kremlin, which is home to the main government agencies of the city and the Volga Federal District. The Kremlin has never been captured, and during the Time of Troubles (Polish invasion in Russia, early 17th century), Nizhny Novgorod ‘saved’ Moscow and Russia.

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We took a train and arrived on a Saturday afternoon. Exiting the train station we were already greeted by a totally different feeling than the one in Moscow. It was still busy on the streets, especially near the station, where there were shopping centres and such. However, one of the first buildings that we noticed was a skyscraper that looked a bit shady…

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Our river accommodation

Due to the spontaneity and the problems we had when trying to buy train tickets online (impossible to do that) we booked a place to stay very last minute without having a proper look at it. The deciding factors were that it should be close to the train station, have a good price, and fairly good reviews. Found one, booked it. Upon arrival we realised that we had booked a room on a houseboat. The hostel was on the river. In hindsight I should have comprehended solely by translating the name of the hostel into English. My ‘mistake’. It was a great experience nevertheless – it was super super cheap, the location was great, the rooms were clean, and we had a room to ourselves as there were hardly any other guests. The staff didn’t speak English to (but we managed) and it took them quite some time to have us checked in though.

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Pedestrian street

On our first day in the city we decided just to take a walk along the Rozhdestvenskaya Ulitsa, where many cafes, stores and clubs are located.

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Monument of Minin

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Monument of Chkalov, a famous Soviet pilot

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Panorama of the Volga & the Chkalov Stairs

For dinner we went to a place called Moloko (Milk) which is also located near the main pedestrian street. The interior is very stylish, with sofas and aged wooden panelling. Afterwards we went for beer that did not taste like beer in a beer brewery thing, and later to a British Pub.

Russian Breakfast

As none of us has already had a typical Russian breakfast yet, we wanted to try one in Nizhny. We read about a Russian place, Bezukhov, which was supposedly known for good breakfasts. It is a literary cafe with antique furnishing and a stucco ceiling. However, we were disappointed as they did not have Kasha (more or less porridge). Nevertheless, the scrambled eggs, Syrniki, and freshly pressed juices were still very delicious and nicely presented.

Exploring the city

After having breakfast we actually wanted to take a tram, namely the oldest Russian tram. However, we failed doing so as there was no start or end or station. Or at least we could not find any. So we just decided to walk along the road, which was also fine. It was another big ‘broadway’, the Bolshaya Pokrovskaya ulitsa, which is full of old merchant mansions, theatres and statues. Also, the building of the State Bank can be found there.

Of course there also had to be another ‘Памятник Минину и Пожарскому‘ – monument dedicated to Minin and Pozharsky. It is the same monument that is in front of the St. Basil’s church on the red square.

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A monument dedicated to the heroes of the Volga fleet

The Church of the Nativity of Our Lady can also be found on this street. The coloured onion domes resemble those of the St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

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We thought it would be nice to climb a steep 400-meter hill – the Fedorovsky Embankment. Even though the stairs were not safe and it was kind of slippery,  it was definitely worth it. From up there we had a breathtaking view of the city and the river.

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Another cool thing that we stumbled upon was a monument dedicated to Jules Verne, a writer that I happen to like. The bronze-painted plastic sculpture measures around 10 metres in height and was unveiled only in 2015.

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Успенская церковь – Dormition Church

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Kremlin

The kremlin (fortress) of Nizhny Novgorod was built between 1508 and 1515. The city used to be a guard city, where troops were gathered for the war against the Khanate of Kazan. After the fall of Kazan, the Kremlin in Nizhny Novgorod lost its (military) importance. Now, it is home to city and provincial authorities.

Along the Kremlin wall thirteen towers survived. The Tower of Demetrius is the main entrance to the fortress. The only church that survived the passing of time is the Michael the Archangel Cathedral located in the centre of the Kremlin. It is also the oldest building in the Kremlin, as it was erected in the 16th century. In the Archangel Cathedral there is the tomb of Kuzma Minin, who together with the Prince Pozharsky became a national hero after the Polish invasion the the 17th century. Nizhny Novgorod citizens who died in WW II are honored in a memorial site.

 

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A red deer is part of the city’s Coat of Arms

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Archangel Cathedral

Coffee Break

Some of our group were not well equipped for such a cold weather, so we had to take a coffee and cake break. And yes, it was me. As we were fairly close to the pedestrian streets, we just walked and decided for one of the coffee shops. However, as we were unsure how to enter it, a friendly Russian gave us the recommendation to go to another (better) coffee place, so we ended up going to Mishka (teddy bear). Good choice! We even found a photo booth next to it, so we couldn’t just walk past it, could we?

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Cable Car Adventures

Nizhny Novgorod has its own cable car that opened in 2012 which stretches over the Volga river for more than 3.5 kilometres, connecting Nizhny Novgorod with the small city Bor. Before arriving in the city I already knew that taking the cable car across the Volga river was on top of my agenda. The crew was quickly persuaded to do so. We took it already on our first day in the evening, but we also wanted to take a ride during daylight and further explore Bor on the other side of the river.

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Cable car selfie

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BOR

Бор has a population of around 78,000 people. It was founded in the 14th century. The most prominent local industries are shipbuilding and glass-making. Bor can be reached (from Nizhny Novgorod) via car over a bridge, ferry, or the cable car!!

Near the exit/entrance of the cable car station in Bor, there is a Площадь Победы – a victory square. It is in remembrance of the fallen soldiers from WWII, and depicts heroes of the Soviet Union.

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Train adventures

The train ride back was another adventurous part of our trip. The persons responsible for buying our train tickets (not me, hah!) bought the ‘wrong’ tickets by accident so we ended up taking a very long train (6+ hours) back home plus it was a sleeper. Very interesting experience, and not too bad after all :D

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The city trip to Nizhny Novgorod was a great experience (I guess for all of us?). This city is what you’d expect from Russia. Not the polished Saint Petersburg or grand Moscow. We finally experienced a true Russian city, at least that’s what we felt like.

 


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Inside Moscow’s Kremlin.

On the day that I left my parent’s home to start my Russia journey my dad told me to send his best regards to Putin. Of course I had to try my best, and a visit inside Kremlin was a must! On a Friday noon a few friends and I went on our mission to see Putin in his home.

The Kremlin in Moscow

The Moscow Kremlin is a symbol of two imperial cultures – the medieval Muscovy and the Soviet Union. It contains a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy. Two thirds of the citadel complex are closed to visitors, but the remaining third is open to the public. The Kremlin is also the official residence of Putin.

The history of the Kremlin begins in 500 BC with the first human habitation, but Moscow’s history really begins around 1147 when the Grand Duke of Kiev built a wooden fort there. Moscow grew rapidly and was soon powerful enough to attain primacy among the Russian principalities, so the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church moved there from Vlaidimir in 1326. The citadel was fortified with stone walls, and under Ivan the Great the kremlin was remodeled and became the centre of the unified Russian state. Also, the magnificent cathedrals and other buildings were added. Peter the Great moved the capital to St. Petersburg. After the Revolution in 1917, Moscow became the capital again and the Kremlin the seat of the Russian government. The Communist era is still visible in the red stars that are on top of many towers.

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Entrance to the Kremlin

In order to enter, you should NOT try to enter from the Red Square but go to the other side of the complex. Before you enter, you need to buy a ticket. It took us forever to buy tickets, and they refused to give us student discounts even though we knew for sure that we’d get one. So usually it is possible to get a 50% student discount, but we had to pay the full price of 500 rubles to go and see the museums on the church square. Apparently the cheapest way to enter the complex is by buying the bell tower ticket. Unfortunately, there is no ticket available that just lets you go onto the grounds.

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Ivanovskaya Square

The square’s name originates from the pillar of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. It is the biggest square of all the Kremlin squares, and was the site of the so-called Prikazy (Offices), which is more or less equivalent of today’s Ministries. Public announcements of various decisions of the state were made there.

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Sobornaya Square

At the very centre of the Kremlin is the Cathedral square, which used to be the junction of all the main streets of the Kremlin. On this square there are the big cathedrals of the Kremlin. It also used to be the place for official parades that marked the coronations of the tsars, and massed religious processions on church holidays.

Several churches are located here, and some of them are museums or contain exhibitions. In order to enter some of them, a ticket is needed, but into some you could enter without one. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which were for free…

IVAN THE GREAT BELL-TOWER ENSEMBLE

The bell tower Колокольня Ивана Великого is with 81 metres the tallest tower of the Kremlin complex, and it was built in 1508. The tower adjoins the Assumption Belfry. To climb the tower, a separate ticket is needed, and you can only do so at certain times of the day.

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ARCHANGEL’S CATHEDRAL

This cathedral –Архангельский собор / Arkhangelsky sobor – is a burial church of Mosvocite Princes and first tsars of Russia, and it is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, patron of the Russian army. In 1340 Ivan I Danilovich kailta ordered the building of the first stone church on this site, which was the start of the history of the greatest Russian necropolis of the Moscow dynasty of Rurikides and first Romanov tsars. There are more than 50 graves inside the necropolis, also the famous tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. Kind of spooky in there I must say!

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ANNUNCIATION CATHEDRAL

This cathedral – Благовещенский собор / Blagoveschensky sobor – was the private church of Russian grand princes and tsars destined for domestic and familial ceremonies that was founded in 1484. Inside the cathedral is a multi-tier iconostasis which is one of Russia’s oldest. An iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, which is very common in Eastern Christianity.

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CHURCH OF THE DEPOSITION OF THE ROBE OF THE HOLY VIRGIN

The Церковь Ризоположения was a private church of the metropolitans and patriarchs of Moscow and of all Russia, erected in 1484. Inside the small church is an exhibition of Russian wooden sculptures and carvings of the 15th – 19th century from the great cultural centres Moscow, Novgorod, Rostov, and Russian North.

 

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The tiny one between the big building & church

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I’m not too sure to which church this belongs to…

ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL

The Успенский Собор / Uspensky sobor was the main cathedral of the tsardom of Russia, burial place of Moscow Metropolitans and Patriarchs. The cathedral was linked with the most important events in Russia such as the coronation of the Grand princes and tsars. Several Metropolitans are buried there.

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PATRIARCH’S PALACE

The palace was founded in the 16th century during the reign of Fyodor I. The patriarchate was established in 1589 when the Metropolitan Holy Hierarch Job was chosen without waiting for an approval from Constantinople, making it a complete independent entity. Inside the Patriarch’s palace is also the private church of Russian Patriarchs, which was dedicated to the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Now, the patriarch’s palace is part of the museum, dedicated to the Russian 17th century culture, where you can see objects of worship and everyday life that belonged to the Patriarchs or to the Tsar’s family members.

 

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This is the Tsar Bell, also known as Tsarsky Kolokol or Royal Bell, that is displayed near the church square. It was commissioned by the Empress Anna Ivanovna but it has never been in working order, suspended, or rung. The reason why it is displayed there is that before the last ornamentation was completed, a major fire broke out that spread to the wooden support structure of the bell. Guards threw cold water on it as they feared damage and a huge 10 ton (!!!) slab broke off.
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A fun little story.
We were walking on the grounds trying to find the second exit/entrance of the Kremlin. I tried to find our location on Google Maps but my phone couldn’t find our location. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought that my phone wasn’t working as it was quite cold outside. Later that day I stumbled upon this interesting article from the Moscow times that explains that geolocation inside the Kremlin isn’t working due to a transmitter that spoofs the signals, and devices think that the current location is Vnukovo airport. So now all the pictures that I took near there have the geotag of Vnukovo airport… :D
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Other entrance/exit

Even though that our start was rather annoying (buying tickets), but you just have to get used to such things in Russia when you are a foreigner. Also, I had the feeling that some of the churches just look the same from the inside, but I am just not used to iconostasis and I am not really into religion in general. I just admire the architecture and the art itself. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. The Kremlin complex is vast, beautiful and interesting. I could have spent more time there, but the cold weather (and other plans that we had) unfortunately prevented us from spending the whole day there.

The second Kremlin of Moscow.

 

A ‘Kremlin’ is not only the Moscow Kremlin, but it is actually just the word for a major fortified central complex that is found in historic Russian cities (but also in some others such as Kiev). Within this citadel-like area there used to be important buildings such as the armoury, churches, and administration. Kremlins were mainly built on hills near rivers, and around the kremlin the ‘посад’ (posad) emerged – more or less a suburb for craftsmen. The first Russian kremlins were wooden, and due to fires, wars and destruction in general, none of them survived until today. Only some later kremlins that were built of stone survived the passing of time.

On a rather cold and windy Sunday afternoon a few friends and I decided to take the metro and pay a visit to the ‘second’ Kremlin of Moscow. We were actually lucky as during our stay there the sun came out and it turned out to be the perfect day for spending some time outside. It was still a bit cold, though. ;)

The (rather fake) Kremlin in Izmailovo

This ‘kremlin’ – Кремль в Измайлово – is a cultural complex that was actually founded and established in the early 2000s and is a place for entertainment and culture. So yes, it is not a real Kremlin (in my eyes), especially when you compare it to the (real) Moscow Kremlin. The mission of the cultural complex is to revive Russian family traditions. Open craft workshops are held there for both children and adults, several museums can be found within the complex (eg. Vodka museum?!, bread museum, chocolate museum, Russian toy museum). There is much space for celebrations, there are a few cozy coffee places, and there is even something like a wedding chapel there. Also on the grounds of the Kremlin the famous ‘Izamilovo Vernissage’ was formed – a market for art, antiques, books, traditional Russian crafts, and of course souvenirs.

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When you go there (by metro) you actually enter the vernissage first and reach the Kremlin later, but it is also possible to walk around and enter it via a bridge with a beautiful view at the complex.

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A church dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra, the patron of crafts and trade, was erected in the center of the kremlin.

An interesting story – there was a fire at the Kremlin in Izmailovo in 2005, and both the kremlin and the adjacent ‘vernissage’ suffered enormous damage, but the fire more or less stopped before reaching the church, not daring to encroach the ‘sacred’ building.

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Izmailovo Vernissage 

This ‘Vernissage’ is a huge exhibition-fair of products and objects of art and craft that opened 25 years ago. It developed into a multi-purpose complex which purpose it is to maintain and develop Russian culture, crafts, and traditions.

Part of it resembles more like a flea market, whereas others are just dedicated to selling tourist stuff such as матрёшка (Matryoshka dolls). The vendors of the tourist section can ‘speak’ many common languages such as English, German or Spanish, and it is even possible to haggle over the prices. Some of the tourist things are really cheap in comparison to the ones that you find in the city centre.

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Entrance to the market (vernissage)

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Cold War chess set

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At one point of the market (between the tourist area and the flea maket) we found a staircase that we just climbed. We were pretty sure that we weren’t supposed to do this, but no one stopped us or said anything to us, so we could actually have a good view over the market and the surroundings of the area. In general I had the feeling that this area wasn’t the nicest one, and even though that the market/kremlin was more or less newly built, the surroundings were either still under construction, or just ignored.

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Some of the things they sell werde really strange – we saw so many license plates from ‘around the world’, and other random crap. But that’s just the charm of a good flea market!

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Even though the place screamed ‘tourist trap’ and the in my opinion the Kremlin in Izmailovo is not a real real Kremlin, it was still very very beautiful to look at. Especially walking through the (flea) market was super interesting. I would have bought a few interesting things if I didn’t have the problem of a suitcase weight limit…