MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the category “Travel”

Life on a canvas

1- Exterior viewA city’s culture is usually illustrated in the artwork it hosts, in the respect it demonstrates towards works of art no matter how old, and in the immortality it grants to those who laboured for them. The modern, clean-cut building that dominates the central landscape of the capital of Cyprus is a solid proof of how a private collection can enrich an entire country’s cultural life.

It is not often that such a rich collection of rare works of art is displayed in a public gallery. The A.G. Leventis Gallery in Nicosia, situated at the very heart of the city, features over 800 works and objects of European 2 - Entranceart spanning over 400 years across three magnificent floors. It is in these modern facilities, which also host regular events in the specially designed rooms, that a private collection belonging to one of Cyprus’ most famous (cultural) benefactors, Anastasios G. Leventis, becomes public for Cyprus and the world to discover and admire.

The vision that would become the Gallery, as it exists today, was a seven-year project that began in 2007 and culminated in the inauguration on3 - Gallery view 1st floor 26 April 2014. Just one year after it opened its doors, the Gallery has already established itself as an important cultural centre, displaying the European cultural heritage of Cyprus.

With its three floors of Cypriot, European and Greek art, and the use of modern audiovisual technology to enrich the visiting experience, the Gallery is worthy of its counterparts in the most renowned European cities.

This essential visit begins with the Cyprus Collection found on the Ground Floor, where the first steps of modern Cypriot art are 4 - Adamantios Diamantis - The World of Cyprusportrayed. The paintings mainly illustrate narrative and figurative characters, inspired from everyday life, landscape and history of the island. Most notable is the monumental piece by Adamantios Diamantis, The World of Cyprus, a large-scale composition (1.75 x 17.5 m) based on 75 drawings depicting the people and landscapes of the island. Drawn between 1931 and 1959, it portrays the traditional world of the island and its people, a world that the painter described as ‘bearing the long heritage of Cyprus’. Along with the other works in the Collection, it captures the spirit of a past time and place, enriching our knowledge and understanding of Cyprus and the Cypriot people.5 - Boiserie

Perhaps the most impressive display of art is found on the First Floor. The Paris Collection features paintings, furniture and objects which the Leventis Foundation acquired between the 1950s and 1970s. The name of the Collection alludes to the Parisian apartment in which it was housed for well over half a century. In fact, a wood paneled-room (the boiserie) was transported from the apartment itself and re-erected inside the Gallery, offering a vivid image, as it revives the unique atmosphere of Leventis’ residence with a view over Paris with its tree-lined avenues and the Eiffel Tower. This unique ambience is also conveyed through the rich collection of furniture from the era of Louis XV and Louis XVI, as well as rare 6 - PorcelainChinese porcelain, European Meissen and Sévres porcelain, miniatures, small sculptures, and period clocks.

The Collection brings together works from a broad spectrum of the history of art and underlines the collector’s eclectic outlook through a whole range of artistic schools and styles, from the 17th to the 20th century. The Collection includes paintings by El Greco, 17th century still lifes by Dutch, French and Spanish schools, Rococo art, 18th century French landscape as drawn by Oudry, Boucher and Fragonard, Venetian view masterpieces exemplified by Canaletto and Guardi, as well as 7 - Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Comediens Italiens dans un jardinpaintings by Rubens. It also includes a peek into Impressionism to the early days of Modernism, featuring exquisite works by Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Pissarro. Vivid canvases exemplify the turn from the Post-Impressionism to Fauvism and beyond, represented by the bold bushwork of Signac, Bonnard, Dufy, Vlaminck, Utrillo, van Dongen and Chagall.

Moving up one more floor, the Greek Collection, most of which Leventis acquired from Evangelos Averoff-Tossizza in 1973, displays oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints, from the aftermath 8 - Emilios Prosalenits - Welcoming Admiral Miaoulis in Hydraof the Greek War of Independence in 1821 to around 1970. The Collection showcases a variety of artistic movements and approaches, including exemplary paintings from artists who shaped the face of Greek art, such as Konstantinos Parthenis, Konstantinos Maleas, Spyros Papaloukas, Yiannis Tsarouchis, and Yiannis Moralis. 19th century portraitures, as illustrated by München school artists such as Nicolaos Gyzis and Nikiforos Lytras are also featured here, together with newer compositions of landscapes and seascapes by Pericles Pantazis, 9 - 20150423_134151and the Modernism depicted by Nikos Engonopoulos.

This exceptional experience can only be enhanced by a secret carefully concealed within the Gallery’s halls. The most beautiful, yet most delicate, watercolours and pencil drawings on paper are hidden. They are protected from light and constan10 - 20150423_140031t exposure by a thick casing that is only removed if you press the round button on the side of what appears to be just another shiny inner wall.

All in all, this Gallery is of the highest possibly standards in the centre of a city that still remains divided. For what it hosts among its walls is more than just a series of paintings. It is a splash of colours, of emotions, of perspectives and views, of people, animals and things, of events you’ve never seen, of places you’ve never been, of times you’ve never experienced. It is life imprinted on a canvas.

N.B. All photos are mine taken on 23 April 2015.

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The tomb of a king and the trouble of a peasant

Macedonian starIt was not every day you would visit a King. No matter if he was no longer alive. A King would forever be a King. And that was important and majestic in its own right. Billy had learnt to live with the bare necessities, as his farm would produce all he needed to live and some extras to sell at the market. That was all his income and how he managed to scrape by. So, to him, an audience with a King was something extraordinary. A true privilege. At least he thought so.

The discovery of the royal tomb found deep underground by archaeologists who had devoted a large part of their careers excavating in search of this, had taken the country by surprise. No-one expected they would be lucky enough or even blessed with the honor of witnessing at least some of the riches a past monarch had lived with. And to everyone’s delight, it was announced that this was the Warrior King, the General, the one who had united their country and who had made it the most prosperous in the region, at least during his reign. He was the figure that adorned their national currency, whose name was on countless of streets, buildings and auditoriums. He was the King children first learned about during their history lessons. And now, Billy would go see for himself the magnitude of his greatness.

Even that, though, was no easy task.

It was winter and a heavy one for that matter. The town had never been so snowed down for at least twenty years now. But it was a day when Billy did not have a market to go to and he wanted to escape the frost. The royal tombs were located an hour’s drive away, he was told.

So he went to the train station and purchased a return ticket. It wasn’t too expensive and he was already excited about his venture. Then the delay came.

The train had ran into some bad weather, which caused it to slow down. But it was not too bad, Billy thought. A half-hour delay would only mean he would have to read the inscriptions that accompanied each relic a bit faster now. The museum, after al,l was only open for five hours during the day. It was located in the very space the tomb was found, especially constructed so as to preserve and properly exhibit the findings. So it was only right that it would be open while still daylight – because, really, who would want to be touring a tomb after dark?DSC00784

So, anyway, Billy had an enjoyable train ride to his destination, although the heating seemed to not be working properly because by the time he had arrived he could not feel his feet. He thought two icicles were attached to his lower ends instead. Once off the train, he looked around, hoping to at least find a café where he could grab a hot drink to get his blood flowing normally again. But there was nothing.

Absolutely nothing. This station might as well have been located in the middle of his field. There was no sign of civilization around it. Nor any other train for that matter. There was only a bus, whose driver was hastily announcing that it was departing any minute now. Billy ran up to him and enquired how he could get to the royal tombs. The bus driver said it was another half hour from there but this bus would take him to the centre of the town and from them he would have to take another bus to go to the Museum.

Billy was already getting a headache. But there was no other way, so he took a seat on the bus (after paying of course) and tried to understand how his route would fan out now.

DSC00776It took Billy three and a half hours to finally arrive at the museum. You see, he unfortunately got on the wrong bus at the town centre and was driven off somewhere else, so by the time the next bus came he was already waiting for 20 minutes in the cold. And in this next bus, which rattled like a wooden cart drawn to market, the bus driver said that he should obtain his own ticket from the machine, but the machine would not cooperate, and he could not make any sense out of what the old men on the bus were trying to tell him. In the racket that was going on, he sensed that the stone gates and the large sign that said “Royal Tomb – Museum” was where he should get off. He thanked everyone, still not understanding their response and jumped off.

Billy was awed by the Museum. The Royal Tombs were strategically camouflaged under a hill that had turned white from the snow that was now falling heavily. As you walked inside, you could feel the imperialness overwhelm you. The gold jewelry, together with the silver blades, shields and weapons and other precious ornaments that were found in the sealed-off tomb sparkled in the darkness of the museum. It was all too much for words. It was so much more than Billy ever imagined. There was even the exact entrance of the royal burial chamber, left just as it was found by the archaeologists. You could just feel the magnificence it emanated and the chills that would have filled the very people who first discovered this.

Macedonian-queen's-wreathBilly was enthralled and enraptured by every piece of that museum. So much, that he did not even realise he had seen it all, twice, and that it was now time to go. He had to hurry back if he was to catch the last train home.

But did he have to scramble with bus routes again? Fortunately, there was a tourist group leaving the museum at the same time, and he was smart and lucky enough to smuggle into the back of the bus without being seen; he was small enough and looked foreign so he could easily be assumed to be one of the group. The only problem was, he didn’t know where the bus was heading to.

The group stopped for lunch somewhere, and Billy jumped off, noticing that a bus with the same number as the one that brought him from the station was about to depart across the street. He ran again and jumped in. “I bet the Kings didn’t have such problems,” he thought to himself as he arrived at the train station still panting.

DSC00815Just as he got off the bus, the train stationmaster appeared, straightening his thick white moustache, and pulling up his trousers to cover his oversized belly. It was snowing very heavily now and the train tracks could not even be seen.

I’m afraid you’re gonna have to find alternative transport, young man. There are no trains passing tonight.

Billy froze. Literally. You could stick a hat on him and call him a snowman.

The bus driver who had just dropped him off felt pity for him and offered to take him to the suburban bus station, where after more expenses and another couple of hours, Billy was finally back home, wrapped under a blanket in front of the fireplace.

It’s no easy task visiting a King!

 

N.B. 1 This story was inspired by a visit to the Macedonian Royal Tombs in Vergina, Greece and the adventure to get there.

N.B. 2. The photos are mine, taken in Aegae (Vergina) and Veria respectively on 30 December 2014.

Il ritorno del grifo

1 DSC08984There are few cities that invite you back no matter how much time has passed. Cities where you spent a significant part of your life, your ‘formation years’ and which draw you back to inject in you every now and then that adolescent hope which you had when you first set foot there. Few cities actually have something new to offer every time you visit. And even fewer make you feel as if you arrive at home. Every time.

The highway ends and you can begin to sense the excitement creeping up inside you. As you turn on those winding roads lined with blooming green trees, you feel that you are returning somewhere familiar. 2 DSC09120And the moment you see that first building, that first location which springs a memory to mind, you know you’re there. Where you left a piece of your heart, a piece of yourself. At a place which is filled with experiences and a best friend who always awaits you with arms wide open. It’s a place where you have a family and it feels like home no matter how long it’s been since your last visit. All it takes is a couple of hours to rediscover it all and blend right back in, as if you never left. As if a part of you continues to live here, evolving along with the city and yearning to remain free, independent and energetic, just like your youthful self when you first arrived.

3 IMG_0746Perugia is a city that registers in your mind and heart. With historic medieval stone buildings, situated in the heart of Umbria at the centre of Italy, between Renaissance Florence and the capital Rome, Perugia is famous. It is a well-known cultural and artistic centre of Italy, rich in architecture.

It hosts arguably the best Italian language school for foreigners, while famous Popes, 4 IMG_0739as well as renowned actress Monica Bellucci (among others) were students at its university. The famous painter Pietro Vannucci, nicknamed Perugino, who was the teacher of famous Renaissance artist Raphael, was a native of Città della Pieve near Perugia, while famous painter Pinturicchio lived in Perugia. Also from Perugia was the famous architect Galeazzo Alessi.

5 DSC08995Situated in the Umbrian hills with an elevation of 493 metres, Perugia is a beautiful medieval city where you can go pretty much anywhere on foot. It is actually more convenient to walk rather than try to drive a car through the narrow winding roads, especially in the city centre.

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With so many uphills and downhills, it is also an ideal city to exercise naturally. Perugia is one of the rare cities that even require the presence of escalators and lifts – hundreds of steps exist throughout the city joining the different levels created due to its very particular geographic location.

7 DSC08989And the most exciting thing is that every strait around every winding corner leads to a magnificent scenery, a stone balcony full of colourful flowers smelling like spring and a series of steps that invite you to follow them to quench your curiosity.

Perugia is a city that inspires and encourages you to enjoy its elegant and interesting lifestyle to the fullest. 8 DSC09145It was only fitting therefore that the city chose as its protector during the Renaissance the mythological griffin – il grifo. With the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, the griffin – found all over Perugia – is the city’s symbol, its emblem, its mascot, and during a football match, the city team’s nickname. It is associated with strength, courage and intelligence. The wings give it speed; the claws give it ferocious power – a proper combination of the king of beasts and the king of birds.

9 DSC09117Even more fascinating is the presence of an old city, buried when Pope III Farnese at the end of the ‘salt war’ in 1540 decided to build a fortress – Rocca Paolina – to keep the Perugians in line. Five levels high and symbolic of the papal domain, it encompassed an entire medieval neighbourhood, complete with houses, towers and streets. It was finally razed to the ground in 1860 and all that remains are the charming and unique basements, crossed through by escalators and used for cultural exhibitions.

No matter how long or how little you stay, 10 DSC09749there is always something new to discover – a small artisan shop, a tasty dish, a delicious drink. With festivals taking place all year round – be it Umbria Jazz in the summer (when the streets fill with music) or Eurochocolate in the winter (when the city is overflowing with chocolate) – the city invites tourists worldwide to discover the fascination of being a Perugino (and this is not only in reference to the famous Baci chocolates).

11 DSC09053In addition, few cities can boast an ideal balance between provincial traditions (the city’s population counts a mere 170,000) and technological progressions. With almost everyone in possession of a smartphone, the Umbria region even offers free Wi-Fi for two hours a day wherever you are in the city. Plus, the Perugini are avid recyclers – with containers separating waste found throughout the town, thus making the city exceptionally clean.

12 IMG_0735The best thing about a constant stroll up and down the city is that you return home tired but upbeat. Particularly since most of the high-ceiling houses here are naturally cooler inside than outside in the summer and in the winter do not require heaters to retain their warmth. This is when you truly feel fulfilled, when you are falling fast asleep in the warm embrace of a bed bigger and more comfortable than the one you usually lie in, to wake up refreshed, elated and safe of being among family.

13 DSC09057Then when the time comes you don’t want to leave. You already feel accustomed to this tranquil life, carefree and stress-free. Why return to the other side of reality? But departing will only make the next return taste sweeter. Because you will return. That is for certain.

 

N.B. All photos are mine taken in Perugia, Italy on 15-24 July 2014

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap

Love is an island

DSC08896Every now and again everyone needs to get away for a while. From the routine, the noise, the crowds, the hectic lifestyle, the stress, the things that simply aggravate you. You need to devote some time to yourself, to things and people you love, and most of all to relax and rediscover the beauty of life.

What better place to do so than on a beautiful Greek island just an hour away from the bustling capital city, Athens?

Islands like Aegina offer you the getaway you long for since the start of each week. And it is close enough that you can decide to go for the weekend only a few hours before jumping on the ship. DSC08818Watching the waves foam as the ship skids through the ocean leaving the city behind, you can feel your shoulders lighten a little as you leave your troubles behind.

Calmly sliding through tranquil waters, you can already feel the anticipation of what awaits you on the island – sun, sea and relaxation.

Even the seagulls can sDSC08828ense it and come to escort you into port as a VIP entrance should be!

And then you reach the marina. DSC08928That awesome place with all these shiny white yachts finely lined up for you to gaze and wish you owned the one on the right, between the two smaller ones, that one with the large mast and sail.

Being on an island – aIMG_0916 small one that is, no matter for how long, makes you wish your life was as relaxed and carefree as the days you spend there.

Taking long strolls along the golden beaches and watching your feet sink into the sand.
Watching the sunset in the arms of your loved one.

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Having a drink and a snack at wonderful, picturesque villages.

DSC08935Enjoying a carriage ride by a horse you just met and became friends with before taking you around to see amazing old manor houses that even featured in a movie.

Re-discovering the joys of life, simply by forgetting that every day needs to have a schedule and a to-do list.

Love is like an island. Endless, calm, and ready to embrace you as soon as you set foot there.DSC08838

With friendly smiles greeting you immediately and conversations that can start as easily as you take a breath, it makes you wonder why exactly it is that you live in a busy city where you are constantly pushed and shoved around and not there – there where you walk into the supermarket and the next time you go the cashier even remembers your name. Where you are given discounts simply because you engaged in an amusing conversationIMG_0913 with the proprietor. Where you make friends that are always ready to welcome you back.

We all need a sanctuary to recharge our batteries. To re-energise us, at the same time as it calms us down. To remind us that life is not as hard as we all make it out to be. It’s just that we have forgotten how to live.

 

N.B. All photos are mine taken on the island of Aegina on 03-04 May 2014

P.S. This is my 200th blog post!      

Enchantment by the river

DSC08009There are few cities in the world that enrapture you from the moment you enter their borders. Cities that overwhelm you with their distinct architecture, their harmonious environment and their cultural warmth. Strasbourg is one such city.

The capital of the Alsace region is situated on the borders between France and Germany and has over the years been the subject of dispute between these two great powers. IMG_0487Its historic city centre – the Grande Île– is surrounded by the river Ill flowing beneath the stunning 18th century bridges that are found throughout. It was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre.With its picturesque buildings, the city combines Germanic discipline and French finesse. It is a city that keeps you mesmerised with its stunning architecture, its scenic landscapes, and its breathtaking skylines.

DSC08121_CathedralThe Cathedral dominating over the city with its 142 metre spire was described by Victor Hugo as a “giant and delicate marvel”. Its appearance of carved-like stone make it a magnificent sight right in the heart of the centre in one of the busiest squares all year round.
Inside it is just as elegant with its colourful stained glass windows, and its Madonna vitro with a crown of stars on a blue background which inspired the European Union flag.

DSC08176_Astronomical ClockAnd there is the skillfully carved Pillar of Angels standing right next to the Astronomical Clock – a wonder of craftsmanship that every day at 12.30 features the twelve Apostles passing in front of Christ to receive His blessing, while a cock crows thrice.

DSC08575_Panoramic ViewAfter taking a spiralling 332 steps up the tower that literally take your breath away, you discover a view of the city that makes it all worth it.
DSC08102_Palais Rohan

Situated just opposite the Cathedral is the imposing Palais Rohan, formally an episcopal residence, which now hosts three museums: the State Apartments and Decorative Arts, the Fine Arts, and the Archaelogical Museum.

DSC08621_State ApartmentsWith Louis XV being the royal apartments’ first guest in the 18th century, the palace was built along the lines of Versailles.

 
But that is not the only thing that is reminiscent of the rest of France in Strasbourg. Petite France is the former tanners’ quarter which originally hosted a hospital treating patients with the “French disease” (syphilis) which was spread at the end of the 15thDSC08315_Petite France century. Now it is a prominent tourist destination for a drink and a traditional dish under the shade of the large trees, admiring the timber-framed charming houses interwoven with four canals.

 

IMG_0481_Ponts CouvertsBut the most majestic view of all is at the Ponts Couverts – the four Medieval Towers that served as fortification. The towers originally guarded the entrance to the city and were linked up by wooden bridges, protected by a roof until the 18th century.

 

IMG_0473_Barrage VaubanExactly opposite the bridge stands the Barrage Vauban, a barrage and lock designed in the 18th century to inundate the waterways of Strasbourg and defend the city in the event of a siege. In 1966 a panoramic terrace was built on top granting access to one of the most beautiful views of the city.

 
A walk along the river bank is essential as it reinvigorates the sense of nature that is usually lacking in big cities. Swans and ducks glide gracefully in the tranquil water, disturbed only by the occasional boat tour around the city.
DSC08507_Place de la Republique
The regal neo-Renaissance buildings around Place de la Republique – the Palais du Rhin, the National and University Library – appear all the more beautiful viewed among the colourful spring flowers, while the hundreds of youth in the city rush to the parks to absorb the cloudless sunlight.

Strasbourg encompasses the beauty of the countryside with the prestige of a DSC08033European capital as many EU institutions are situated here – most notably the European Parliament, the Court of Human Rights, the Ombudsman and the Council of Europe.

With only 273,000 inhabitants Strasbourg draws people of all ages from all around the world. A vibrant city and a lively atmosphere, it embraces you to its core and invites you to explore every corner of its fascinating culture. There is always something more to see from a European capital. And when it is as elegant, heart-warming and enchanting as Strasbourg, there is no doubt it will have you back sooner than you know it!

 

N.B. All photos are mine taken in Strasbourg on 9-13 April 2014.

Sweet but not salty

DSC07900Salt is considered perhaps the most important element on earth. Among its many uses, salt is essential for seasoning and savouring. Thus, a place that produces salt would be historically important with a huge heritage to deliver.

Such a place is Salzburg. Not just because of the salt, but because it truly is a city of music and arts. With its most famous resident being the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus MozartDSC07842, Salzburg boasts a plethora of cultural, historical and artistic monuments and many, many, many churches! Here even the cemetery is a must-see place to visit. In fact the whole of the city’s historic centre was named UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

DSC07857Salzburg, one of Austria’s most beautiful cities, developed over the period from the Middle Ages to the 19th century when it was a city-state ruled by a prince-archbishop. Its Gothic art attracted many craftsmen and artists before the city became even better known through the work of the Italian architects Vincenzo Scamozzi and Santino Solari, to whom the centre of Salzburg owes much of its Baroque appearance.

DSC07702This meeting-point of central and southern Europe features breathtaking panoramic views, with the Hohensalzburg fortress situated high on the hills, as Salzburg’s famous landmark. People from all over the world flock to the city, not only due to Mozart or the famous chocolates that bear his name, but also to see the picturesque settings that formed the background of one of the most famous musicals of all time “The Sound of Music“. There are even specific tours just for this! (Just make sure you board a relatively new bus, otherwise you’ll feel as if you’re on an old carriage off to a Renaissance market place!).

DSC07887Salzburg is a city that is just as beautiful covered in snow as it is in spring with its blooming flowers and colourful gardens. Its palaces, squares, and pedestrian alleys are a pleasure to walk through and given the warm weather, a boat ride across the Salzach is ideal!

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And since you’re in Austria, don’t forget to visit the famous historical Sacher Hotel with its renowned torte with a bit of sahne (fresh cream) and a capuccino! It is mouth-watering and an essential part of a day at one of Europe’s most scenic and idyllic cities!

All photos are mine taken in Salzburg on 02 January 2014.

Sparkles and bangs

imageIt is truly surprising how much you can learn of a place from its people’s everyday habits, like their food and drink. In Bavaria in particular, everyone knows that beer is drunk like water. It is like that quote from Cocktail where barman Doug told the inexperienced Brian that “Beer is for breakfast around here, drink or be gone.” That is exactly how a first-timer feels in Bavaria. In fact, in Munich, the beer capital of the world and home of the Oktoberfest, beer often costs less than water. And the smallest beer you can get (at least without being laughed at) is a half-litre glass. Beer here is drunk from the late mornings to the early hours of the next day. It truly is gulped down more easily than water, a liquid which is hard to find in a large bottle and costs up to even twice as much! For some strange and yet to be found reason.

But as the New Year approaches, champagne is in order. The bubbly alcohol is the best way to start the New Year with a bang. And the popping of the cork is an excellent accompaniment to the sparkles and bursts of the fireworks that will fill the night sky.
So raise your glass (whatever it may be filled with) and make a wish that this New Year will be 2014 and more times better than the last!

photo(1)Happy New Year!

Glückliches Neues Jahr!

Felice Anno Nuovo!

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Bonne Année!

Καλή Χρονιά!

Blue-bloods and Castles

DSC07165Every little girl dreams of being a princess. Be it Cinderella (the rags-to-riches type), Snow White (the I-have-seven-dwarves-to-protect-me type), Little Mermaid (the sea-lover type), or even Sleeping Beauty (the I’ll-wake-up-when-reality-is-better type), being part of a royal kingdom is part of every girl’s dream.

Heck, everyone at some time or other dreams of being royalty, because it fits into the idyllic image of being able to do whatever you want, having whatever you desire, without a care in the world. But the best part of it all, is that you get to enjoy royal castles and palaces. DSC06981Especially the ones hidden away in the Bavarian Alps, like Neuschwanstein. The one Walt Disney used as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle. And one of the most famous and beautiful royal castles in the world.

Having already completed the idyllic scenery of this castle in a puzzle a few years ago, it was only fitting that we would also visit the ‘life-size’ Neuschwanstein.

DSC07127After all, there is always something majestic about visiting a palace, or royal castle. Even a smaller one like Linderhof.

DSC06990 Both built by and for King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century, the latter was intended as his summer residence and modeled on the Versailles Palace, idolizing the absolutism of the French monarchy, something he could not have in Bavaria where he was forced to share power with parliament.

spiegelsaal LiderhofAdorned with gold inside and endless gardens and statues outside, Linderhof is a treat. Even covered in snow it is truly magical.

And then, secluded and enwrapped within the Bavarian Alps appears the fairy tale castle.

The one whose paintings feature the legends of Tristan and Isolde; Sigurd the Dragon Slayer and Gudrún the Avenger; Lohengrin the Swan Knight; and Tannhäuser, as well as the famous opera by Richard Wagner Parcifal the Knight of the Holy Grail. schlafzimmer NeuschwansteinThese resulted in a spectacular interior design for his castle, a castle that was never completed, as he died having just lived 172 days inside it.

Visiting royal castles and palaces and listening to the myths and stories behind the history of the places and people who inhabited them transfers you to a different time. When people needed horse-drawn carriages to climb up to their palaces, that featured hundreds of steps and in which each room served a different purpose – and in which in order to get from one end to the other you needed a map, or even an entire day!

DSC07142Yet, there is a beauty in being inside these 19th century castles. You imagine yourself living in the time when court jesters where the entertainment available, not playstations and tablets; when the longer and more extravagant the dress, the more elegant it was considered; when gentlemen courted the ladies; when the court was a symbol of richness and power.

And no matter how high or how far you need to travel, sometimes visiting such places is worth the trouble. DSC07121

Even if you slide down iced-snow slopes and fall flat on your bottom and lose your breath for a minute or two. The experience of walking in the same corridors and rooms in which a king lived over 200 years ago certainly compensates any fall!

All photos (apart from the interior rooms – not allowed) are mine, taken in Bavaria on 27 December 2013.

Naughty or Nice (in a busy city)

DSC06230With Christmas being only a few hours away, everyone is anxiously rushing for their last minute shopping – either the gifts or the food and drink. And there is a general feeling of excitement in the air. With everything closed at around midday of the 24th December, you can sense something important is happening tomorrow (and it’s not just my birthday ;))

Germany is one of the places you want to be during Christmas time. You truly feel like it’s the most wonderful time of the year here, because of all the beautiful Weihnachtsmärkte abundantly found in almost every square and opening in every city. The markets are overlowing with Glühwein, Lebkuchen, Stollen, and chocolates, as well as beer of course, and  the famous German sausages cooked fresh for consumption and mystifying the air with the aroma of a German Christmas. Artisans and handscraftsmen find the greatest opportunities to reveal their work and fill the stalls with the delicately prepared ornaments and perfect ideas for gifts!

DSC06190Germans have many traditions for Christmas. One of them, for example, is that St Nikolaus arrives on the 6th of December bringing children chocolates to sweeten their arrival of Father Christmas later on. DSC06193

This is something represented in the Krampuslauf  in the München Weihnachtsmarkt, where St Nick parades through the market with his trolls (if you see one of these up close, you’ll never be bad again!)

DSC06269The heart of German Christmas Markets has for long now been in Nürnberg (Nuremberg).

An old city enwrapped within stone walls but as busy as a metropolis, visiting this during the busy Christmas season, and particularly during its last days, is truly a challenge. With all sorts of languages being heard in the streets, and people from all over the world being overcrowded in the pedestrianized streets. But it is definitely worth it.DSC06247

There is so much to see in Nürnberg.

The beautifully sculptured Church of St. Sebaldus  appears in almost every city skyline with visitors gathering at its central square – the crossroads for the numerous festive markets spread throughout the city.

A city that draws you in the deeper you go.

DSC06302With stunning views being commonplace, and with a horse-drawn carriage never lacking.

DSC06320There is even a royal castle which offers for an even more beautiful glimpse of the city from above.

The Pegnitz river crosses through the city and provides a magnificent, tranquil atmosphere in which to stroll and take artistic photos.

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It causes tourists to flock on its bridges and take souvenirs of their visit to Nürnberg, be it with a simple phone camera, or the latest technology available. The river and its little inhabitants – the ducks, for example– are a demonstration that no matter how commercial a city may get, there still remains another side, the more humane and “real” one. DSC06359

Whatever the reason behind a visit, finding the time to tour around the city itself and learn a bit of its history, traditions, and culture, will always make you a little bit wiser. And will certainly put a smile on your face and give you a sense of fulfillment.

P.S. All photos included are my own, taken in München and Nürnberg on 22-23 December 2013.

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Frohe Weihnachten!                                                

Merry Christmas!

Buon Natale!

Feliz Navidad!

Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

                                                     Joyeux Noël!

     Also part of Daily Prompt: The Best Day Ever

Living in a bubble

Photo 16-10-13 18 46 23The signs in Brussels Airport say “Welcome to Europe”; because let’s face it, you think of Brussels and European Union (EU) springs to mind.

I was over there for a two-and-a-half day workshop for young journalists, hosted by the European Parliament. It was stressful and hard work, but it was an amazing experience and the contacts and friendships made were more than worth it. To be honest the amount and quality of work we managed to produce in such a short time is indeed impressive. Especially given all the challenges we faced.

For starters there was the adventure of finding your way in Brussels and to the EU institutions. For first-timers it was no piece of cake. Three years after my first time in Brussels and there are still construction works going on all around the EU Quarter. Something which makes orientating yourself so much harder. And for people (like myself) who have a bit of trouble with orientation, it means getting lost countless of times. But hey, that’s how you learn a place better. At least that’s what they say. Because I’ve seen beautiful places that I have no idea how to get back to!

So, after walking in circles between the Schuman and Maelbeek metro stations, that is between the Commission, Council and Parliament buildings, there on one side of rue Belliard appears the impressive esplanade of the European Parliament (EP), with the fancy digital screen of the Parlamentarium inviting you in, and this period calling you to vote in the 2014 EU elections.

So all is well, and having already burnt the calories you had for breakfast, you’ve passed the security checks and you’re in! You’re in this huge (I mean really huge) building that hosts representatives from 28 European countries and serves (or at least claims to do so) as the ‘voice of EU citizens’. Being inside is impressive. But there are so many offices, rooms, floors, towers, buildings, that it is almost impossible not to get lost. Yet everyone who works there seems so comfortable in moving (actually rushing) around that it makes you wonder: do they have a secret map embedded in their brain that we do not know of? Personally, I had to ask for directions a handful of times while going around and up and down that building. It seems like a maze. And one person who kindly directed me to the right elevator (yes, I had trouble finding these too!) told me that ‘this building is so confusing it’s as if it is designed to trap people inside’. For example, did you know that there is an exit on the third floor?

Even finding the canteen required asking for directions. And then actually getting the food was itself a complex process, or so it seemed to us, because everyone else pretty much knew what they were doing and where to go. We were just in their way.

This EP mall, as it is called, is exactly that. Fully equipped with a sports centre, hairdresser’s, banks, cafés, restaurants, shops, florists, and I’m sure there is a ‘nap-pad’ hidden somewhere. It’s like the Google playground in The Internship, only for EU civil servants. And I’m sure the buildings of the other EU institutions are similar to this.

But seeing and experiencing all this from the inside, you are left to wonder: do these EU officials live in their own world? They don’t even need to go outside. Heck, by the time a visitor would manage to find the exit, it would be time to go back in again to resume their work! But it seems that after all, the EU does live in a bubble. Detached from reality, distant from what people’s lives are really like. They make decisions, reports and dossiers, all drowning in bureaucracy, but they seem to be unaware of how all these policies affect people’s lives in practice. Just ask any citizen of a Memorandum country and you’ll see the negative view that prevails of the EU, its officials and its policies.

If the confusion and disorder that reigns in the EU Quarter and is encountered by visitors is in any way symbolic of the ‘Europe’ that Brussels proclaims it represents, then it is no surprise why the EU is in such chaos and is constantly losing credibility and trust in the eyes of its citizens.

EU officials should exit their bubble once in a while and see for themselves how their decisions affect the people they claim to represent. After all, isn’t that their job? They’re supposed to be accessible and close to their constituents. Not locked in an office, a building or a mall. Particularly one in which you need a map, comfortable shoes, security badges, and a lot of patience, in order to find your way around.

Brussels is a beautiful city, but if you’re isolated inside what in essence can only be described as a ‘small state’, you don’t really get to experience it.  And if you’re in there too long, when you do get out in the real world, you should cover your ears at the deafening sound of your bubble bursting.

18 October 2013, Brussels

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