Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

Part 2: Along the Baltic Sea – Lithuania and Poland.

July 20th, 2018

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August 31, 2017. Kuldīga, Latvia to Klaipeda, Lithuania.

I put on shorts for the first time in weeks and it was a good feeling. 

How long the better weather would last along the Baltic Sea, was questionable, but I wanted to make the most of what little summer we had left. 

On the way to Klaipeda in Lithuania we stopped in Liepāja for a coffee and then went to the beach. 

Another stretch of wind blown sand. 

There were more people in the water, as the temperature had climbed into the mid thirties. 

You can certainly see while people from this part of the world are attracted to the Adriatic. 

Wind turbines are a sure sign of wind and Liepāja is regarded as the windiest region in Latvia. There is a plan to construct a wind farm of 19 generators in the area.

We had come to Klaipēda, which is the gateway to the Curonian Spit. However the town offers more than just a stepping off point, with a relaxed, stylish lifestyle and many good bars and restaurants. 

Klaipēda is the third largest city in Lithuania and situated on the confluence of the Kurškju and smaller Danēs rivers.

The most impressive part of the town is the Theatre Square and the Klaipēda Theatre. An attractive Neo-Classical building from 1857.

Surrounding the square are many bars and restaurants and the square itself is home to the local handicrafts stalls.

The square has seen some history.

On March 23, 1939, Adolf Hitler made a speech from the balcony of the Klaipēda Theatre. This followed Lithuania accepting the Nazi German ultimatum to surrender the region.

We had dinner in one of the many restaurants on the square and afterwards visited Nesé, the Irish Pub that was opposite. During dinner there were roars of delight and groans of displeasure coming from the pub and we wondered what football game was on.

It turned out to be a basketball game between Lithuania and Georgia.

Unfortunately for the locals, Georgia won by two points, in the dying moments. (Georgia 79 defeated Lithuania 77)

 

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September 1, 2017. Klaipēda, Lithuania.

The Curonian Spit is a 98 kilometre long sand dune thats stretches from Klaipēda in the north to the Russian state of Kaliningrad in the south. It varies in width from 400 metres to nearly 4 kilometres. 

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by Lithuania and Russia and has an interesting history. Baltic mythology suggest that the Curonian Spit was created by a giantess, named Neringa, who was playing on the seashore. Apparently she scooped up sand and brought it there to shelter the local fishermen from violent storms on the Baltic sea.

There is a ferry that leaves Klaipēda every 20 minutes and crosses the Curonian Lagoon to Neringa on the Curonian Spit – on the other side of the spit is the Baltic Sea. 

My faith in the weather improving was mistaken, as the morning was dark, overcast and cold. In defiance I stupidly put on my shorts.

Even that didn’t help.

 

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September 2, 2017. Klaipēda to Šiauliai, Lithuania.

The drive from Klaipēda to Šiauliai is about two hours, or 160 kilometres, depending on the roadworks. 

The main reason for our one night stay in Šiauliai was to visit the Hill of Crosses. This is a pilgrimage site, about 12 kilometres out of the town.

It is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai Hill Fort after the 1831 Uprising. (Also known as the Polish-Russian War of 1830-31)

All sorts of religious icons, large and small, have been placed on the hill by Catholic pilgrims.

Over the years they have come and gone, as political entities flexed their muscles.

In the late 1800’s there were an estimated 9,000 items on the hill and in 1922, just 50.

In 1961 the Soviets destroyed 5,000 and in 1975 a further 1,200 more.

During the years of Soviet occupation, the Lithuanians used the hill to demonstrate their allegiances to their original culture and identity.

By 1990 there were 55,000 items placed there and it is estimated that there are well over 100,000 there today.

There was certainly a lot and I wasn’t about to start counting.

It’s also a popular place to visit for locals, especially wedding parties. Two groups turned up while we were there.

The city of Šiauliai was said to have been founded in 1236. It was named Saule, after the Battle of Saule, or Sun, fought in the same year. 

We found no sun in Šiauliai. 

In Šiauliai we were staying at the Hotel Turnê. This was another Soviet era pub with the mandatory USSR Green walls. 

After trolling through TripAdvisor I found what looked like good place to eat. Black Bar described itself as a gastropub and they had 12 draught beers on the menu. 

Things were looking great.

When I went to order one of the beers, I was told that they only had two available. 

The food was good. 

We had just finished our meal and the reality TV, that was in the background and mute, was turned off and the Eurobasket was turned on. It was live, loud and suddenly the pub was full. 

We didn’t stay to watch the game but later discovered that the locals had a good win against Israel. (Lithuania 88 defeated Israel 73)

They love their basketball in Lithuania.

 

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September 3, 2017. Šiauliai to Kaunas, Lithuania. 

Kaunas was first mentioned in history in 1361.

Over time It has been invaded or occupied by the Russians, Swedes, French and Germans. 

It is Lithuania’s second largest city with a population of over 300,000. Up until the Second World War there was a large Jewish population living in Kaunas. Under the Nazi occupation many were exterminated. 

We arrived in Kaunas mid afternoon and our accommodation, Hotel Hof, was just meters from the main walking street. 

It was a Sunday afternoon yet the place was buzzing, especially compared to Šiauliai, where we had been the night before. 

We found Green Cafe, a free trade, eco-sustainable coffee house. It was stylish and the coffee was good. 

In the afternoon we visited Vytautas the Great War Museum. 

The weather was still overcast with intermittent drizzle. What better place to go than a museum on a foul day. 

The museum was established in 1921 and in its current location since 1930.  

It was named after Vytautas the Great, a ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Born in 1350 he is regarded by modern day Lithuanians as a national hero. Posthumously he was an important figure in the 19th century national rebirth.

This museum is part of a complex containing, the War Museum, which is by far the largest and the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum, the Ethnography Museum and periodic exhibitions. 

They were designed by the eminent architects of the day, Vladimiras Dubeneckis, Karolis Reisonas, and Kazimieras Kriščiukaitis. 

The theme of the museum is war, conflict and weaponry. 

Something the Lithuanians know a lot about. 

It traces the history of Lithuania, from the Stone, Bronze and Middle Ages to the current day. 

The dioramas, in the early part of the exhibition, were a great way to see how fortifications developed over the millennia. 

Another fascinating display was the  Exhibition of the History of Weapons. It displayed swords, rifles and handguns from the 16th to the 20th Century. 

The Main Street in Kaunas was alive and the blare of the TV sets in the bars and pubs was deafening. 

Lithuanian sides were competing in both basketball and football, so there was no escaping the excitement. 

We did manage to find a local restaurant, off the main drag that was quiet. 

They didn’t have a TV. 

In fact it was so quiet, that apart from the two of us, there were only four others in the place, at various times during the night. 

The food was great but, as to be expected, there wasn’t much ambiance. 

 

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September 4, 2017. Kaunas, Lithuania.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania and is on the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers. It is a cultural, economic and academic hub. It has been named ‘Little Paris’ due to its rich heritage and architecture.

It was a Monday and everything was shut, especially the museums, so we decided to walk.

Our first stop was the Bank of Lithuania which was built in in 1928,  in a Neoclassical style, as a result of a competition held in 1924. A French company initially won the tender but the plans were deemed to be far too complex and expensive. The responsibility then passed into local hands and M. Songaila, the only Lithuanian professor of architecture at the time, was appointed.

He also happened to be the chairman of the jury judging the competition.

One of the main features of Kaunas is Laisvės Alėja. It is supposedly the longest pedestrian avenue in Eastern Europe, measuring 1.6 kilometres. 

Walking the entire length, there and back, gave us some exercise and an excellent opportunity to see the city.

At the start of 2017 Kaunas was chosen as one of the European Capitals of Culture and it’s easy to see why.

Stunning street murals are everywhere.

One that particularly attracted my attention was the giant wall painting entitled Wise Old Man. This 440 square metre artwork, on the side of an abandoned factory, was created by Gyva Grafika in 2013.

We then crossed over the Nemunas River to ride the Aleksotas Funicular Railway. Opened in 1935, it’s not the oldest funicular in Kaunas, that honour goes to the Žaliakalnis Funicular, built in 1931.

The weather turned balmy in the afternoon and we actually took our coats off.

That didn’t last as it was raining again that evening.

 

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September 5, 2017. Kaunas, Lithuania to Reszel, Poland, including Wolf’s Lair.

It was a long day of driving and sightseeing.

It’s approximately 280 kilometres from Kaunas, in Lithuania to Reszel, in Poland. The famous hideout for Hitler and his henchmen, Wolf’s Lair, was on the way.

We were also loosing an hour of daylight, as there was a time change moving from Lithuania to Poland.

Wolf’s Lair was Adolf Hitler’s first Eastern Front military headquarters. It was a high security site hidden deep in the Masurian woods. Hitler spent more than 800 days at Wolf’s Lair and it was there that the most famous assassination attempt was made on his life on July 20, 1944. 

The name ‘Wolf’ was one that Hitler gave to himself in the early 1930s.

The forrest complex is 6.5 square kilometres in area and at it height of use housed about 2,000 people.

Hitler departed from the complex on November 20, 1944 when the Red Army’s Baltic Offensive reached Angerburg, (now Węgorzewo) which was only 15 kilometres away.

Wolf’s lair was demolished by the Soviets on January 24 and 25, 1945. It is estimated that it took 8,000 kilograms of TNT to partially destroy the buildings.

What remains there now is a mass of reinforced steel and concrete that’s slowly disappearing back into the forest.

We arrived in Reszel late in the afternoon and had a quick walk around the castle. As we were actually staying in the Zamku Reszel, the hotel within the castle, we decided to do a more comprehensive tour the next day before we left for Gdansk.

 

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September 6, 2017. Reszel to Gdánsk, Poland.

The castle in Reszel, apart from being our accommodation, was the town’s main tourist attraction. Reszel is dominated by both the castle and the Peter and Paul Church, which is practically next door.

The castle was built by the Teutonic Order between 1350 and 1401, while the church was built in much the same time from 1360 to 1402.

Both are in red brick and built in the Gothic style.

Apart from climbing the castle tower, which gives you an excellent vista of the town, it’s the Reszel Tower Museum that’s within, that holds the most interest.

The main theme of the museum is Medieval torture.

There are 30 plus methods of inflicting pain in the torture tower and a further 25 methods were on display in the dungeon.

The Virgin of Nuremberg, or Iron Maiden was a standout.

Used in the 16th century to torture and extract confessions, this 2.2 meters high casket could accommodate a man standing. The victim was tied inside the Maiden and when the doors were shut spikes would penetrate the flesh. The spikes were strategically places so as to not damage the vital organs. 

They didn’t want the victim to die immediately – just suffer.

Once the doors were completely closed their screams couldn’t be heard from outside and concurrently the victim couldn’t see any light or hear anything from the inside.

Talking of torture.

Summer and autumn in Europe is wasp season. Whenever you eat outside these flying pests, with a nasty sting, want to sample your food and drink. Especially if what you are consuming is sweet.

They hover around the table and the more you try to wave them away the angrier they get.

We have found that the best strategy is to just ignore them and, like most pests, they give up and leave.

After our castle experience in the morning we started the drive to the Baltic coast and Gdansk. It was a good trip until we got to within 30 kilometres and then we struck roadworks – again. 

When we arrived in Gdansk it was raining – again. 

 

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September 7, 2017. Gdánsk, Poland.

Gdansk was first established as a Polish stronghold in the 980s and over the centuries has been ruled by the Prussians, Germans, Russians and Poles.

We were in Gdansk to try and get an understanding of this famous Polish port city. I first remember hearing about Gdansk in the early 80s. It was the home of Lech Wałęnsa and the Solidarity Movement – a movement credited by many, with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Solidarity was the first independent labor movement in the Soviet-bloc and spawned an anti-communist social movement that, at its peak, claimed 9.4 million members.

What set it apart was the fact that it was non violent.

The morning was spent dodging the rain and exploring this beautiful old town.

We were staying in another apartment but unfortunately couldn’t find a good supermarket. This meant that we couldn’t self-cater for breakfast as we normally do.

We had to eat out yet again.

In the afternoon we joined a free 2.5 hour Solidarity walking tour around Gdansk.

Kasia was our guide and she made it very clear, right from the start, that she expected a tip. 

So it was free in name only, which wasn’t an issue as it was worth every Złoty of the tip. 

The tour was designed to put the Solidarity movement in context. It traced the the Polish freedom movements growth from 1945, culminating in the Revolution of 1989.

The tour covered a lot more than Lech Wałęsa. 

We were taken around the city and shown how it had been restored after the Second World War. The restoration of Polish cities like Warsaw and Gdansk was a miracle, especially when you see what was left of the them after 1945.

Many parts of the city were rebuilt during the 1950s and 1960s. Any trace of German influence and tradition was suppressed and only Flemish/Dutch, Italian and French influences were revived.

Fittingly the tour finished at the European Solidarity Centre, near the Gdansk Shipyards. Opened in 2014 the museum and library is dedicated to the Polish Solidarity Movement and other opposition movements in Communist Eastern Europe.

The design is intended to suggest the hulls of a ship built at the Gdansk Shipyard.

Both the interior and exterior are made of steel which have oxidised to produce a rust effect.

There is a rooftop terrace with views of the Gdansk shipyards on one side and the a city-scape on the other.

The building is an impressive example of contemporary architecture.

Supposedly Lech Wałęsa has an office there.

We didn’t see him.

Kasia did share her views of the current state of Polish politics. She did take care to mention that she really shouldn’t discuss political issues. But…

One of the things that disturbed Kaisa most was the demonising of Lech Wałęsa by the current right-wing populist government in Poland.

Many fear that Poland is on the road from a liberal democracy to authoritarianism. There is a push within Polish politics to re write the history books regarding the Second World War and the rise of the Solidarity Movement. The Polish government is also turning its back on many of the liberal values and democratic principles that are a core part of the European Union, to which it belongs.

 

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September 8, 2017. Gdánsk, Poland.

We took a day trip by train to Gdynia, Polands largest port on the Baltic Sea.

We actually got off by mistake at Sopot, which is a seaside and spa town. We then hopped on the next train to Gdynia. 

The trains were running every fifteen minutes so we didn’t waste much time. 

I was very impressed with the tourist facilities provided by the city. The Observatory of Change in Gdynia was a viewing platform. This was free to visit and gave the tourist a great view of the city and port area.

There was also an InfoBox at the top of the tower that allowed people to discover more of the city. You could find out where the public parking and city bikes were located and see the trolley bus routes.

We then took the two minute ride on the Kamienna Góra Funicular to the top of the Kamienna Góra Hill, which is near the centre of the town. Again it was free and we got another good view. Unfortunately the weather was rather grey.

Gdynia is one of the youngest cities in Poland, only receiving its rights in 1926. Before that it was only a fishing village. 

Because of its young age the architectural style of the day was chosen for many of the buildings. This has led to it becoming the Modernist capital of Poland.

Even now, many of the contemporary buildings have adopted elements of Modernism.  

Modernist is the most important new architectural style of the 20th century. It turned its back on ornament and embraced minimalism.

Steel, glass and reinforced concrete are the most populate building materials in Modernist architecture.

There are a number of leisure craft on Passenger Ship Alley, some still sail, but most don’t. 

There was one ship that impressed me the Orb Błyskawica. This destroyer was built in England between 1935 and 1937 and certainly saw some action during the Second World War. 

It was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Normandy landing, as well as operating in the North Atlantic, the Pacific and Bay of Biscay. 

On returning to Gdansk we wandered down to the Motlawa River again and took a few snaps of The Crane.

Built in 1444 this Medieval ship’s loading crane used hemp rope and a system of blocks and two wooden turnstiles. The crane was powered by men walking inside the turnstiles to load cargo and erect masts onto the ships moored by the river’s edge.

On the last night we discovered a proper supermarket, just around the corner from our apartment. The one we found on our first night was very average. 

And much to my horror we also discovered a Craft Beer Pub, Labeerynt, also nearby. 

We had been looking in the wrong direction. 

At least we found it before we left. Imagine discovering it as we drove away. 

 

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September 9, 2017. Gdánsk to Poznań, via Toruń, Poland.

It was 299 kilometres to Poznań. Not a long drive but considering our luck with roadworks, we expected the worse.

We stopped for lunch at Toruń but once we got there, finding the Old Town wasn’t easy.

Both our satellite navigation systems (one in the car and the other in our travel phone) sent us to an obscure part of the city, certainly not the centre. We have discovered that the Tourist Information Office is usually in the centre of most towns and cities and near the main town square, if there is one.

This is definitely an area that Sat Navs can improve on. I must talk to Hayden about that.

This was definitely a town on the tourist map as the streets were bulging with tour groups. 

Toruń is a UNESCO World Heritage City, but more than that it is the City of Copernicus.

Copernicus monuments, street names, houses and souvenirs are everywhere.

Born in Toruń in 1473, Copernicus was a Renaissance Man, in every sense. He was a mathematician, astronomer, physician, governor, diplomat and economist.

His greatest claim to fame was in developing the Copernican Revolution, that put the sun at the centre of the universe (Solar System) not the earth.

The foundation charter for Toruń was signed in 1233 by Herman von Salza, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. It was managed by the Knights until 1454 when it became incorporated into the Polish Republic.

 

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September 10, 2017. Poznań, Poland.

Poznań is one of the ancient cities of Poland. 

It’s earliest remains can be traced back to the Stone Age. It was first written about in history as early as 966 and became a city in 1253.

On our first night we just wandered into the Old Town to find some dinner. This wasn’t as easy as we had imagined.

Everyone was drinking and there seemed to be very few people eating.

The next morning we walked down the length of Stary Browar. This is a huge mall and arts complex, just opposite our hotel. 

The architecture was strikingly industrial, with red brick and steel. Not surprising, as it was built on the site of the old Brewery Huggerów. 

The award Winning design of Stary Browar, or Old Brewery, has preserved much of the architecture and many elements of the original brewery. 

The first brewery was constructed on the site in 1844, by a brewer from Württemberg, Ambrosias Hugger.

The walk through the mall kept us out of the rain, at least until we reached the Póhwiejska, the walking street.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around Poznań.

Firstly to the Old Market Square, one of the most attractive in Europe. The main feature is the Renaissance Town Hall, designed by the Italian architect, Giovanni Baptista Quadro.

Like many Polish cities the buildings surrounding the square have been painstakingly reconstructed, after the destruction of World War Two. The building facades are painted in subtle shades of creams, greens and browns and many of them also have intricate decoration.

Then to the lavish Baroque masterpiece, the Parish Church of St Stanislas.

We took the King’s route, which is a tourist walking path, to the see the Cathedral Basilica of St Peter and Paul on Cathedral Island. Originally built in the 10th century but rebuilt after WW2, when it was badly damaged.

The cellar holds the relics of the first rulers of Poland from the 10th century.

Apart from old architecture there are some modern buildings in Poznań. One of the most striking is the  Poznań Gate Ichot. This is a history museum that is linked to the Old City by a suspended footbridge over the Cybina River.

Back in the Old Town we discovered the Nikon Polish Press Photography competition, which was at the rear of the Parish Church of St Stanislaus.

That night we went back into the Old Town and again found very few people eating.

Poznań is a draw card for tourists, especially from Germany and Britain.

It could be the lower prices and excellent shopping or the fact that there are so many places to get a drink.

Part 1: Along the Baltic Sea – Estonia and Latvia.

July 18th, 2018

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August 20, 2017. Tallinn, Estonia.

We were back in Tallinn to start our trip along the Baltic Sea. Being our second time in the Estonian capital we decided to stay on the other side of the old town. 

This time at a hotel, the Park Inn by Radisson, rather than an apartment.

Little did we know that there was a new office building being constructed, right next door. 

And buildings sites work on Sundays in Tallinn. 

After getting up earlier than we had planned, we walked to Kadriorg Park to ‘smell the roses’. 

We discovered that nature also works on a Sunday as the bees and butterflies were hard at it.

Estonian flags were everywhere and we wondered why there were so many. They were on buildings, cars and some people were even carrying them. 

Then we discovered that it was the Day of Restoration of Independence. This was the day in 1991 that the Estonian Supreme Soviet in association with the Estonian Congress proclaimed Estonian independence from the Soviet Union.

As a result of the festivities there were no museums open so we just had to walk around.

We did visit Kumu, the Art Museum of Estonia, but that was just for coffee.

The museum is housed in a very impressive, contemporary building on the edge of Kadriorg Park.

Like so many public buildings the architect, Pekka Vapaavuori, was the winner of a competition in 1994.

It was constructed between 2003 and 2006 and is built into the limestone slopes on the side of the park.

Again built on the edge of the centuries old Kadriorg Park is the Kadriorg Art Museum. In total contrast to the glass and steel of the Kumu Museum, this one is housed in the grand baroque palace, that was built for Peter the Great in 1718.

Designed by the Italian architect Niccolo Michetti it’s a fine example of Tsarist extravagance. 

Unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside either as they were also shut.

 

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August 21, 2017. Tallinn to Pärnu, Estonia. 

It was meant to be 1.5 hours from Tallinn to Pärnu but due to roadworks and more rain it took a little longer. 

The receptionists at the Hotel Carolina told Thea, when she enquired about the rain, that it had been a ‘light summer’

When we walked into Pärnu there was a removals’ van taking away the umbrellas from one cafe. Then we saw workers removing the summer veranda from another. 

I’m afraid we have missed summer completely in this part of Europe. 

Pärnu Beach is regarded as the best beach in Estonia, so we walked down to have a look. 

There was no one bathing at this section of the beach but a number of people were wandering around on the sand. 

I think they were looking for summer. 

 

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August 22, 2017. Pärnu, Estonia.

This was adventure day. 

Thea had booked a day trip that involved a walk in a peat bog, lunch and a canoe ride on the Halliste River. 

We didn’t know much more than that.

It turned out to be a great experience and a chance to “enjoy the nature” as the locals say.

The entire excursion was set in Soomaa National Park, with the walk on the Ingasi nature trail.

Soomaa means ’The Land of Mires’. Over time these mires developed into bogs.

The trail was a combination of boardwalks, soil trails and a bog walk that required special ‘bog shoes’ that were provided.

At the end there is an 8 metre high observation tower that allows you to overlook the bog and the forests beyond.

Lunch was provided and certainly part of the experience. 

It was traditional Estonian fair, that consisted of potato porridge, homemade barley bread and desert (Kama) that was made from curd cheese.

After lunch it was time for part two of our nature adventure, canoeing on the Halliste River.

There was a lot of serious instructions on how to go about canoeing, especially the possibility of ending up in the river.

I decided that my camera and equipment would be better off remaining behind.

It was probably a wise decision as the bottom of our canoe did start to fill up with water. This was a combination of bad paddling, on my behalf, and rain that that started when we were about half way through the trip.

The Halliste River is one of four rivers that separates the mires within the national park.

The other rivers are the Navesti, Raudna and Lemmjögi.

The Soomaa National Park was created in 1993 and is 359 square kilometres in size. It is situated in what’s called Transitional Estonia and has been created to protect the raised bogs, grasslands, flood plains and rivers.

 

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August 23, 2017. Pärnu, Estonia to Cēsis, Latvia.

An elevator. 

It’s only when you don’t have one that you appreciate them. 

I thought this as we descended the five levels to the ground floor as we were leaving the Hotel Carolina in Pärnu. 

Most of our hotels or apartments are booked through bookings.com and we always have standard requests such as free off-street parking, WiFi and non-smoking. 

On the Eastern European stage of our trip, most of our accommodation has been in old cities and therefore old buildings. 

Carting our bags up has become a pain, literally, so we now include a lift as standard request. 

It doesn’t always work out that we get one, but when we do it’s much appreciated. 

Before leaving Pärnu for Cēsis we made good use of the hotel’s free parking and left the Captur there and wandered around the town. 

Pärnu is the fourth largest city in Estonia and situated on the coast of Pärnu Bay. The Pärnu River flows through the city and into the Gulf of Riga.

Perona, which was very close by, was founded in 1251 but was destroyed and replaced by the current town in 1265.

On our walk we discovered Villa Ammende, which was built in 1904. This mansion house is a fine example of the Art Nouveau style. It is now a luxury hotel that serves the resort area of Pärnu.

Another architectural discovery was the Church of the Saint Martyr Catharina.

Built in the baroque style, 1765-1768, by the architect Peter Yegorov and named after Catherine the Great.

Our apartment in Cēsis was a bit of a walk from the centre of town. But it was raining, again, so we found a restaurant close to home. 

2 Locals had good food and service at a reasonable price but they only take cash. 

This we discovered at the end of the meal. 

I am very uncomfortable with cash only places, as they are probably cheating the system in one way or another. 

I complained that there was nothing on the menu to alert me to their policy and was told that there was a sign on the front door. 

It was back to front and almost invisible. 

In Finland, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, credit cards are the norm and you always get a receipt, whether you ask for it or not. 

I can only assume that fraud, corruption and tax avoidance are still prevalent in this part of the former Soviet Union. 

 

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August 24, 2017. Cēsis, Latvia.

It rained all night and was still coming down in the morning. It was also cool, with the temperature hovering around 11°C. 

With our lantern in hand we took off to explore the Cēsis Castle complex. 

The lantern was so we could climb to top of the Western Tower, without being in complete darkness. 

It wasn’t really necessary but it was a nice Medieval touch. 

Cēsis Castle was built in the 13th century and the ruins are regarded as some of the most impressive in the Baltic states. It was once the most important castle of the Livonian Order. The Livonia Order was formed in 1237 and were a autonomous branch of the Teutonic Order.

During the Soviet occupation (1940 – 1990) Latvia, like the rest of the USSR, erected statues of Vladimir Ilich Lenin. One such statue was unveiled in Cēlcis in 1959. This particular statue was created by one of Latvia’s most talented 20th century sculptors, Kärlis Jansons (1896 to 1986). As a result, in the 1990 break-up of the Soviet Union, the statue was not destroyed but just dismantled.

It now lies in a wooden crate in the castle grounds.

Since 1949 the Cēsis History Museum has been situated in the New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The Museum covers the history of Cēsis and the Latvian people.

A very interesting exhibit was the wax reconstruction of a woman, aged in her mid 20s, who was found after the siege of 1577 by Ivan the Terrible.

After visiting the castle we went for a walk in the Gauja National Park and Sarkanãs Cliffs. The Gauja National Park is the largest national park in Latvia with an area of over 917 square kilometres.

Everyone was there for the water, which must have had some healing powers, and not the walk. 

The options for dinner were limited. After finding the main hotel was full, with tour groups, we discovered a local Latvian restaurant. 

A much better option. 

We ordered our meals but they were served to another table. Then they tried to get us to accept what the other table had ordered. We refused and then had to wait so that they could prepare what we had ordered in the first place.

The meal was worth the wait.

 

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August 25, 2017. Cēsis to Rīga, Latvia.

On the way to Rīga we visited Sigulda Castle. Built in 1207, this was yet another the castle of the Livonian Order.

The Sigulda Castle Complex was under renovation as was the entire town. Road works and reconstruction was everywhere.

In Rīga we were staying in the Bearsleys Downtown Apartments. Getting to our apartment was a complex task. It did have a lift but we also had to negotiate stairs, a walk, more stairs and a second lift before we reached our rooms.

It certainly wasn’t that bad, as just opposite our apartment was Bierhaus, a gastro brewery. 

How unfortunate. 

All the staff at Bierhaus were ‘hipsters’ who had a great command of English and a wonderful sense of humour.

The brewer is an American architect, turned brewmaster, Gordon Van Houten. After abandoning architecture, fifteen years ago, Gordon studied brewing in Germany then brewed beer in both the States and now in Latvia.

His wife is Latvian, hence the connection.

 

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August 26, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

After breakfast in the apartment, which was a rare pleasure, we went looking for a coffee. 

Miit Coffee was recommended by Triposo and right opposite our apartment. 

This area is fantastic.  

Great beer and coffee, just over the road.

We were in Rīga for five nights so we will be visiting both places more than once. 

The day was spent discovering the city of Rīga.

It was about a 25 minute walk from our apartment, which was in ‘Downtown’ to the Old City.

Rīga Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a history going back to 1201. 

It was set up by Albert of Bremen as a port city and a base to convert the local Livonians to Christianity, which he did by 1206.

Rīga has a diverse population, due to its rich history, which has been influenced by the many nationalities who have called it home over the centuries.

The Old Town is very compact and easy to get around.

Rīga is the capital of Latvia and has a population of over 700,000 inhabitants. One in three Latvians live in the city and its surrounds.

During the Soviet occupation Rīga was a popular destination with the Russian tourists and many Russians were living there as well. A lot of work was done to restore the Old City and make it more attractive. 

In 1989 only 36.5% of the population in Rīga were Latvians.

Having eaten at a Brewpub one night, it seemed only fair that we go to a gastro wine bar, that was just around the corner, the next. 

It was a Saturday night and they were shut. 

It was a great area for beer and coffee but not for restaurants. 

We did find an Armenian restaurant that was close by and ok. 

The food was fine but the service a little gruff – all part of the great Socialist experiment that spread the Russian’s lack of humour from the Baltic States through Armenia, Georgia and Central Asia. 

 

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August 27, 2017. Rīga, Latvia. 

We drove 25 kilometres west from Rīga to Jūrmala. This is a resort town with a population of about 57,000, making it the the fifth largest city in Latvia.

There is a toll of €2 to get into the town. 

I think all the money goes into hanging baskets – they were everywhere. 

Jūrmala has a 33 kilometre stretch of sandy beach which is long, flat and very, very shallow. You would have to almost walk to Sweden before the water got over your head. 

When Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, Jūrmala was a popular holiday resort for the high ranking Soviet officials.

Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Kruschchev graced their shores.

Not a pretty sight I am sure.

After an ice cream and a coffee on the beach we drove, west to the Kemeri National Park.  There we had a choice of two walks – the floodplain forest or forest trail which are both on the Vēršupīte River.

They were only about 1.2 kilometres in total, so we decided to do both.

The Vēršupīte River is fed from sulphur springs, which is obvious to the nose and a boom for the many therapeutic health resorts in the area.

There were wheel chairs everywhere.

 

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August 28, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

Today we went in search of the Art Nouveau district, which wasn’t far from our apartment. 

There are about 800, so called, Art Nouveau buildings within Rīga. 

This architectural style comes from the early years of the 20th century. And unlike other, older styles, many of these buildings were designed by Latvian architects. 

Art Nouveau in Europe was popular between 1890 and 1910 and inspired by natural forms, particularly plants and flowers.

In Latvia it’s known as Jugendstil.

Art Deco replaced Art Nouveau in 1910 and I think that there are many buildings that have been attributed to the wrong era, as I didn’t see that many authentic Art Nouveau buildings on our city walks.

Because of the decorative nature of Art Nouveau, there is a lot of surface sculpture and floral moulding on the building facades. 

If not properly maintained, this has a habit of coming lose, so a number of buildings were covered in protective netting. 

Rīga Central Market is the largest in Europe and part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Listing. 

It was constructed from 1924 to 1930 using old German Zeppelin hangars, as a basis for the design. The architectural style incorporates both Neoclassicism and Art Deco.

It measures 72,300 square metres with over 3,000 traders.

Traders have been operating on the banks of the Duagava River since 1571, so the area is no stranger to commerce.

 

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August 29, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

About 300 metres from our apartment was Gastranome, a gourmet food store, delicatessen, café, patisserie and butcher. 

Yes, on one side of this huge store was a purveyor of fine meat.

In large refrigerated cabinets were, what looked like, quality cuts of dry-aged beef.  

On the other side was everything else.

And upstairs was an upmarket seafood restaurant. 

While we were in an apartment we decided to eat in one night and availed ourselves of the wide selection that Gastranome had to offer.

The selection was huge and the quality top class.

As our apartment didn’t really have any condiments or ingredients to look after ourselves and cook, we decided to go for the pre-prepared take-away options.

Our last day in Rīga was spent just wandering around and revisiting some of our favourite sites. Especially those that had been difficult to capture, when the weather was foul and the light poor.

I was particularly taken by the Central Market and felt that I really hadn’t done justice to the place.

That, and the Dome Cathedral, definitely needed re-visiting. 

We also discovered a monument to George Armitstead, who was the Mayor of Rīga from 1901 to 1912. 

Born in 1847 to a British merchant family he became the fourth Mayor of Rīga. George was responsible for the cites rapid transformation from a regional town to a major city.

He was involved in the development of many of Rīga’s current building,s including 13 schools, 3 hospitals, the National Museum and the Zoo.

Many of these developments would have been during the Art Nouveau style, as his time in office was during that short period in architectural history.

At one point he was asked to become Mayor of St Petersburg by Emperor II of Russia – he refused.

On our final night we returned to the Brewpub across the road and again we weren’t disappointed.

The beer, was still, good and the food innovative, fresh and well presented.

It wasn’t nearly as busy as the first night we visited, so we got chatting to one of the owners.

He was one of four that have set out to create a real Gastro Brewery in Rīga.

Three of the owners are Latvian while, as I have mentioned, the brewer is an American guy, married to a Latvian woman, who needed to return home.

Originally an architect he decided to turn his hand to brewing. Latvia is better off for his change in occupation, as his beer is the best we have had in the Baltic States.

The current name of their restaurant is Bierhaus, which is very German. Which isn’t surprising as this is the origin of the original restaurant.

They are now trying to tun it into a contemporary Brewpub, under the name of ‘Alķīmiķis’ but are realising that time, and money, are involved.

I think they will succeed, as their ideas are sound and their product is exceptional.

Most of the local breweries are very traditional and a quality craft brewer will give the market a shake up.

I just hope that they can turn beer into gold.

Miit Coffee, which were next door, are also innovators. They have developed a confectionary, that looks like chocolate, but is made from coffee. Each segment in a bar has the equivalent hit of a double shot espresso.

 

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August 30, 2017. Rīga to Kuldīga, Latvia.

It was about two hours to Kuldīga, west of Rīga. We extended the drive by going to the coast, which is further north, and stopped in Ventspils. 

This is a Blue Flag Beach. Blue Flag is certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). It is only designated to those beaches, marinas or tourist boating that meets its very high standards.

The temperature had finally decided to rise above 17°C and managed to get to 25°C by the time we reached Kuldīga. 

In the afternoon we wandered around the town. One of the features is the Kuldīga Bridge which was built of brick in 1874 and runs across the Venta River. The Alekšupīte River runs through the centre of town while the Venta Rapids are the widest waterfall in Europe, measuring 164 metres. 

Kuldīga is an ancient town, with interesting architecture and a history dating back to 1242.

Being much warmer that night we ate at the hotel – outside.

Part 2: Finland – Savonlinna, Imatro and Porvoo.

July 6th, 2018

August 13, 2017. Helsinki to Savonlinna, Finland.

Savonlinna is 350 kilometres north east of Helsinki and is surrounded by lakes. Not surprisingly it’s in an area known as the Finish Lakeland. 

Finland is a country of forests, 70% of the country is covered by them, islands and lakes. We had certainly seen the trees on our trip to Lapland and some of the islands in Helsinki.

Now it was the lakes. 

There are over 168,000 lakes that are larger than 500 square metres and 179,000 islands.

Most of the Finish landscape is a result of the last Ice Age. The glaciers were thicker and lasted longer in this region, compared to the rest of Europe, leaving the landscape flat with few mountains.

As we left Helsinki we detoured to visit the Kallio Lutheran Church. We had seen it while touring around the city and were interested to get a closer look.

It was completed in 1912 and designed by Lars Sonck in the National Romanticism style with Art Nouveau influences. The grey granite structure is 65 metres high, and dominates the flat Helsinki landscape.

The Estonian coastline can be seen from the tower.

While we were in our long pants, jackets and jumpers, the local tourists were in T-shirts and shorts. 

I think they are living in a false sense of summer. 

 

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August 14, 2017. Savonlinna, Finland.

We were running out of clean clothes and the hotel didn’t have a laundry service.

Therefore our first job was to find a laundrette.

This took us to parts of Savonlinna that tourists wouldn’t normally go. There we found a commercial laundry and they had one small machine, so we left our clothes to be washed and went off sight seeing.

Olavinlinna Castle is the primary tourist drawcard in the Savonlinna area, apart form all the lakes.

And it was also only 200 metres from our hotel.

Olavinlinna Castle was started in 1475 by Eric Axelsson Tory (1415-1481) and renovated by the Finnish State between 1872 and 1877. 

The castle has been a constant battleground, as Finland has been under the control of both the Swedes and the Russians, for centuries.

In 1912, Aino Ackté, a world renowned Finnish opera singer started the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Olavinlinna Castle. She gave more performances in 1913, 1914, 1916 and 1930, after Finland’s independence. 

The festival was restarted in 1967 and has just celebrated its fiftieth year. It is now held annually, within the castle walls and had just finished. A temporary stage and seating allows the performances to continue, despite the weather.

About 60,000 people come to Savonlinna for the festival. That’s a lot more people than we ever saw in the town.

In a weird twist of culture, the festival season ends in August with a boxing match.

When the town is surrounded by lakes you don’t use a Hop-on Hop-off bus, you take a boat. 

We took an hour long cruise around the islands in the MS Leva.

This gave us yet another opportunity to view the Olavinlinna Castle, this time from the water.

One of the strangest sights we encountered was on our way into Savonlinna. There was a rather large bridge under construction and instead of metal scaffolding supporting the works, it was all timber.

I guess when 70% of your country is covered in trees, you need to use them.

 

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August 15, 2017. Savonlinna, Finland. 

After breakfast we set off to visit the wooden Lutheran church in Kerimäki, which is about 23 kilometres from Savonlinna.

Kerimäki is the world’s largest wooden church.

Designed by Anders Fredrik Granstedt and built between 1844 and 1847, it can hold up to 5,000 people. It measures 45 meters in length, 42 meters wide and 37 metres high. 

The reason that it’s so big is that Frederik Neovius, who held office at the time, believed that the church should be able to hold half the townsfolk of Kerimäki at any one time. 

When winter comes in Finland you don’t want the faithful standing out in the cold.

The rest of the day we negotiated the narrow stretches of land, between the lakes, and just drove around.

We had no particular plan other than look for some good photo opportunities.

We found these at Lake Puruvesi and Lake Enonvesi.

The constant threat of rain has produced some spectacular clouds as they constantly moved across the sky.

Fortunately the rain had held off for the last couple of days, which was good considering that most of our activities were outdoors.

In the evening we walked back into harbour area for dinner. We discovered that the best place was the Bistro Ŵaahto. 

They only had two draught beers but the food was excellent. 

On the way back to the hotel we walked past Olavinlinna Castle, yet again, and took more photos. 

I think I have take more photos of this Medieval castle than anything else on our travels. 

 

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August 16, 2017. Savonlinna to Imatra, Finland.

The Imatrankoski or Imatra Rapids were formed around 5,700 years ago, during the stone Age.

Water from the higher Saimaa lake penetrated the Salpausselkä Ridge, causing the river to flow into the lower Lake Ladoga, gouging out the ravine where the rapids run.

The rapids were so spectacular that they put Finland on the tourist map.

Since the 1700s’ people have come from around the world to visit the Imatra Rapids.

In 1903 a stone hotel, the Valtionhotelli, was built overlooking the rapids. This was after several smaller wooden ones burnt down.

Now the tourists and the dignitaries had somewhere grand to stay.

The Russian Empress, Catherine the Great, visited in 1772 and Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, in 1876.

Fourteen trains per day brought people to Imatra from St Petersburg to see the wonder of the rapids. 

In the 1920s’ tourism declined, as a result of the depression. So, in 1929, they dammed the rapids and built a hydro electricity plant. 

Now there’s nothing left except a dam wall, dry river bed, power lines and ‘graffiti’ carved into the rocks by famous visitors. 

As a compromise the dam gates are opened daily in the summer months and also on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Presently they are closed completely due to renovation work on the Imatra Hydroelectricity plant.

 

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August 17, 2017. Imatra, Finland.

Even though this was the high season Imatra was very quiet. 

The rain held off again so we decided to go on another forrest walk. This time to Lammassaari Park on Mulikionselka Lake. 

We only walked 4.5 kilometres but it took us two hours. 

Again the track was clearly marked, this time with white dots on the trees, not yellow. 

There weren’t the information boards along the way but small numbered posts with QR Codes. 

Much more high-tech, but useless unless you’re on-line. 

The walk was great. It wandered around a small peninsula, meandering along a mixture of coastal and forest tracks. 

There were many campfire spots with firewood and even axes and a bow saw, if you felt like a bit of exercise. 

One of the fireplaces was in a small cabin. Probably used in winter or when it rained, which is very often. 

We had a coffee at a lakeside restaurant and Thea got chatting to the owner. 

Apparently he is only open for four months of the year. The rest of the time he travels. 

To somewhere warmer, would be my guess. 

 

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August 18, 2017. Imatra to Porvoo, Finland.

We woke again to the sound of Eurovision style music coming from the town square.

Our hotel was the Centre Hotel Imatra and it certainly was right in the heart of the town. 

The drive from Imatra to Porvoo is about 230 kilometres, that’s if you take the longer route, as we did.

Just over the road from our hotel in Porvoo was the Porvoo Cathedral and Bell Tower. The first church to be built on the site was wooden and like most wooden structures of that time it burnt down. It was replaced by a stone sided church around 1410-1420.

Since then the church has been destroyed by fire again many times. In 1508, by the Danes, 1571, 1590, 1708 by the Russians and in 2006 by Kalle Holm, a Black Metal musician.

Porvoo has the oldest Town Hall in Finland, being completed in 1764. It sits proudly in the town square and now houses the Porvoo Museum.

Porvoo is one of the six Medieval towns of Finland with its first historical mention being in the 14th century. The original city was believed to have been founded in 1346.

It’s only 50 kilometres east of Helsinki, so day-trippers come there by the busload. 

The Old Town is famous for its Medieval wooden houses, especially the Shore Houses that run along the Porvoo River.

Porvoo is currently under consideration for a UNESCO World Heritage listing and I can understand why.

We have had two great ‘beef’ meals on our travels. The first was in Malbun, Lichtenstein, in 2012 with Hayden, the other one was in Porvoo, Finland. 

Ravintola Meat District is in Old Porvoo, about five minutes walk from our hotel and just near the river. 

Dry aged beef hangs in a large refrigerator in one part of the restaurant – proof that they knew something about their meat. 

The Meat District pride themselves on sustainability, with a focus on ecological meats and organic ingredients.

August 19, 2017. Porvoo, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia.

Today we had to get the ferry from Helsinki back to Tallinn in Estonia. 

So it was more sitting around. 

It started to rain as we arrived back in Helsinki and the sky was dark. Much as it had been when we arrived 13 days ago, and has been for most of our time in Finland.

Part 1: Finland – Helsinki and Rovaniemi in Lapland.

June 28th, 2018

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August 7, 2017. Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland.

The Renault was taking its first overseas trip, as we were on the car ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki in Finland.

It was only an 80 kilometre journey but it was a day of waiting, as we needed to be at the ferry terminal at least two hours before departure. 

We were in fact there almost three hours before. 

As we left our apartment in Tallinn the tourists were arriving, by the busload. If we had departed any later it would have taken much longer to get through the streets. 

The ferry pulled out right on time at 12 noon. 

The Finlandia was a huge, 100 metres long, hermetically sealed, floating casino. 

I counted five bars and countless gaming machines strategically placed around them. 

In the area where we were sitting there was a bandstand, with a band, to entertain the punters and a Finish magician to keep them amused. We didn’t understand a word of Finnish, but you don’t need to. 

Pulling the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat, is visual not verbal. 

Just as we arrived at our hotel, the Best Western Carlton, it poured down. We had obviously brought the rain with us from Tallinn. 

It cleared in the afternoon which gave us a few hours to wander around the Old City. Which isn’t really that old, as most of the buildings are from the late 1800s and mid 20th centuries. However the area does have a history dating back to the Iron Age.

Helsinki was developed as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550. The intention was to make it a rival for Hanseatic, modern day Tallinn. Not much came of the plan and Helsinki remained a small town afflicted by poverty and plague. In fact in 1710 the majority of the city’s residents died from plague.

Helsinki became the capital city of Finland in 1812, just after it gained autonomy from Russia in 1809. Finland didn’t get full independence until 1917, after the February Revolution in Russia.

Helsinki is the world’s northernmost metropolitan area with a population of over 1 million people. It is also the northernmost capital city of the European Union, which it joined in 1995. 

Most of the city’s growth occurred during the twentieth century, after independence. It held the 1952 Summer Olympics and undertook a rapid urbanisation in the 1970s’. In 2012 Helsinki was named the World Design Capital.

In the evening we found the Bryggeri Helsinki a Gastropub just off the Senate Square. 

The beers were great as was the food. 

We both had the smoked salmon steaks, which was on a rich roasted vegetable stew of carrots, onions asparagus and fennel. 

Beer has been brewed in Helsinki for over 500 years and over that time there have been 27 breweries in the city area.

Bryggeri is the latest.

 

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August 8, 2017. Helsinki, Finland.

We had been lulled into a false security with the low prices in Eastern Europe. 

Finland was another thing. 

Everything was more expensive than Melbourne and that’s saying a lot. In Sandringham a beer and wine will set you back $20 in Helsinki its €17 ($25.50)

On our first full day in the capital we decided to take the Helsinki Hop-On Hop-Off bus, just to get a feeling for the city. 

In the late afternoon we then walked to closer inspect some of the sites that interested us most from the bus tour. 

Temppeliaukio, or Church of the Rock is one of the most visited sites in Helsinki. Completed in 1969 and designed by the architectural brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. As the name suggests it’s built directly into solid rock.

Helsinki’s central railway station is a wonderful example of the Art Nouveau style. Designed by the Finish architect Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) and inaugurated in 1919. The massive, Monumental Style, sculptures out the front are a feature. 

The station is a hub of both the Finland overground and Helsinki Metro and handles over 200,000 commuters per day. 

In 2013 it was voted as one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations by the BBC. 

Our next site was the Sibelius Monument, designed by Eila Hiltunen and built in 1967.

Jean Sibelius 1865-1957 was a composer and violinists. He is regarded as Finland’s greatest composer and credited with helping Finland develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.

As usual a competition was run to find a suitable design for the sculpture. And, as usual, there was controversy over winning design. 

You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

Using over 600 hollow steel pipes welded together, the contemporary design resembles organ pipes. It is very striking – especially set against a rarely blue Helsinki sky.

Critics of the design argued that it was too abstract and, more importantly, Jean Sibelius created very little music for the organ.

Hiltunen answered her critics by adding a figurative piece, the face of Sibelius, as part of the main design.

We heard on the bus tour that the Finns’ are amongst the world’s biggest consumers of coffee. There was certainly no shortage of good coffee to be found in Helsinki. 

 

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August 9, 2017. Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Finland.

The Renault was having yet another first today, as it was going travel on the training to Rovaniemi, in Lapland. 

After checking out of the hotel we put our bags into the car, which was still in the underground car park and walked into the Market Square. 

The train wasn’t leaving until 7pm so we decided to take a boat cruise around the islands surrounding Helsinki. 

We took the Historical Helsinki Cruise, which lasted about 90 minutes. 

It was interesting to see the city from another perspective. However the commentary was a bit boring as it repeated much of the information we had head on the Hop-on Hop-Off bus. 

After the cruise we had a coffee at the covered market, which has been turned into a food hall for the Market Square. We walked around the city a bit more and then wandered through Stockmann on the way back to the car park.

Stockmann is the largest department store in the Nordic countries and makes the claim that: ‘If you can’t get it in Stockmann, you don’t need it.’

They were right, the store is huge and has an enormous range of goods on offer.

We didn’t want to be late for the train so headed to the station early. 

Getting out of the car park was an interesting experience. 

We travelled hundreds of metres, underground, just to get to our parking spot. Then we must have driven a kilometre or two just to get out. We had obviously taken a wrong turn and finished up doing a subterranean tour of Helsinki. 

We emerged, like a mole after winter, on the other side of the city and were very happy to see daylight. 

Even getting to the train wasn’t without it’s problems. There were roadworks along the way and when we got to what we thought was the departure point, the station was being demolished. 

We finally got to there only to be told that we were 70 minutes too early. 

Oh well, so much for planning. 

At dinner on the train Thea met her lover – well he was in love. 

A very drunk Finnish guy thought he had it made when he discovered Thea sitting, on her own, in the restaurant car. 

I was off getting us a drink and when I returned the look of disappointment on his face was priceless. 

He had a minder, whose job was to make sure he got off the train at the right station. 

They were both retired electrical engineers and had been in Tallinn for a few days with some former work mates. 

I think it had been a big few days.

After dinner I had some work to do so we stayed in the restaurant car. The internet on the train was excellent and I was able to upload files with ease. 

 

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August 10, 2017. Rovaniemi, Finland.

The car train arrived in Rovaniemi at 7:10 am and it took another 40 minutes to get all the cars off. 

That was still too early, as the town was deserted and nothing was open. 

We finally found a cafe open and had breakfast. 

Rovaniemi has been the business centre of Finnish Lapland since the 1800s but the city is relatively new. 

It was destroyed by the Germans in WWII and has been completely rebuilt. As a result there is a lot of featureless concrete constructions in the main town area. 

The Arctic Light Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in the newly constructed Rovaniemi. 

It dates ‘way back’ to 1949 and was used as the new town Hall for a number of years. 

Our hotel room had a record 12 pillows on the bed. Then we found another one in the wardrobe. 

Apart from an over abundance of pillows, the room was lit up like a carnival, all controlled by a computer touch pad. 

Well it was the Arctic Light Hotel.

On the outside the building was rather mundane but the fit-out was very stylish. Everything was in black, white, grey and chrome. 

It also boasts the oldest lift in Rovaniemi. 

We were up inside the Arctic Circle to visit Santa, so after breakfast we headed north to Santa’s Village. 

As you would expect it’s very tacky, but a lot of fun. 

We chatted and even had our photos taken with the bearded one. And when he discovered we were Australians, he revealed his secret love of Vegemite.

Visiting Santa is free, having your photo taken with him isn’t. We opted for the video and digital download.

Nothing is cheap in Finland.

The Arctic Circle is defined …as the line, north of which the sun never sets for at least one day in summer, and never rises for at least one day in winter.

From Santa’s Village we travelled further north, up the road, to Vikaköongäs and the Vaattunkiköongäs wilderness area. There we had a great walk around some of the tracks. 

Just as were we’re heading back to Rovaniemi it poured down. 

The rain had caught up with us yet again. 

We wandered around the city centre of Rovaniemi, which didn’t take long and then had dinner at the hotel restaurant. 

This wasn’t plan A, as were we’re going to eat at the Finnish restaurant next door. 

It was booked out. 

As it turned out it wasn’t a problem, as the hotel restaurant was excellent and no where near as crowded. 

We had Reindeer, cooked two ways, which was fantastic. 

 

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August 11, 2017. Rovaniemi to Helsinki, Finland.

The breakfast at the Arctic Light Hotel was amongst the best we’d had. 

Lots of interesting tastes but with a Lappish touch. Even smoked Reindeer with cream cheese. The breads and cheeses were also great and they had fresh berries. 

We have been seeing berries for sale in Estonia and Finland and this was the first time we were served them for breakfast. 

Walking in nature is a common summer pastime of the Finns, so we decided to join them. 

We drove about 80 kilometres east of Rovaniemi to Auttiköngäs to do the nature trail walk. 

The road was excellent and the trip took just over an hour.  

The walk was 3.5 kilometres of stairs, duckboard (boardwalk) and tracks. There were waterfalls, swing bridges and a lookout along the way. 

At the very start of the track is an old timber log chute, which is strange as this area is not meant to have been logged. 

The track was well marked and there were interesting commentary boards describing the flora, fauna and geography of the area.

It took us just over two hours, as we had many photo opportunities and reading stops along the way. 

On returning to Rovaniemi we did some shopping for the next day’s breakfast and had an early dinner. That night we were back on the train to Helsinki, boarding at 9:10pm and arriving 12 hours later.

Again we had to be at the station early to load the Renault. 

 

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August 12, 2017. Helsinki, Finland.

After an eventless night on the train, ie: no drunken engineers, we arrived in Pasila, on the outskirts of Helsinki at 9:05 am.

We again took the car to the underground car park, as it was too early to check into the hotel.

The first task was to buy an Olympus 40-150 mm lens. We had seen one before we left to go north and decided that the price was too good to miss.

Unlike so much in Finland that is expensive this lens was well below what we expected to be paying.

In the afternoon we wandered around the newer area of Helsinki and admired the street art that’s all over the city.

There was one very impressive piece of sculpture, sitting in front of the music centre, titled Song Tree. Created by Reijo Hukkanen in 2012, it’s 13 meters high and was inspired by a poem by Aaro Hellaakoski. It tells of a pike that rose from the sea and begins to sing. The song was so beautiful that birds in the trees stopped their singing to listen to the fish.

We then visited the City Park and Töölönlahti Lake, which is very close to the centre of the city. From there is was a short walk to the National Museum of Finland.

A visit to the museum gave us a good opportunity to immerse ourselves in some Finnish history.

The exhibits covers the country’s past from the Stone Age, though the Middle Ages, the Swedish Kingdom to the Russian Empire Era.

It included the rise of Christianity, the Reformation in 1517 and the influence of Martin Luther.

There are a number cafes in Helsinki that have adopted the US system of minimal service. 

It’s counter service and you clear away your own crockery, cutlery and glassware. The big difference is, that everything is real and gets washed and reused. 

No paper, no polystyrene and no tip. 

Staff levels in Finland seem to be low, compared to other places we have been this trip. 

People do multiple tasks and work very hard. 

For instance the receptionists, at two hotels we stayed in, also looked after the breakfast buffet. And at one hotel they also serviced the bar. 

Wait staff in restaurants are thin on the ground and service a large number of tables. Even the kitchens seem to operate with minimal staff.

Self service is the norm, especially in the pubs. You order at the counter, pay and basically look after yourself. 

I have a theory that it’s all to do with the basic wage and cost of employment. The unemployment rate in Finland, as of July 2017, was 8.08%. 

In the US it is currently 4.8% which isn’t surprising considering that their average wage is US$2.13 per hour. 

In Finland a bartender gets about €11 per hour, that’s about US$13. 

Basically it costs more to employ people in Finland but they get paid much more. 

We were impressed by the pub culture in Estonia but when we discovered the Sori Brewpub in Helsinki, we were overwhelmed. 

This brewery is based in Tallinn, Estonia but has a Brewpub in Helsinki, not far from our hotel. Ironically it was started by two Finns.

The quality of the beer and the food were exceptional.

We were appreciative of a cosy environment for dinner, as no sooner had we arrived than it poured down.

Part 3: Eastern Europe – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

June 16th, 2018

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July 21, 2017. Poprad-Spišská, Slovakia to Krakáu, Poland.

The task for today was simple – drive the 149 kilometres from Poprad-Spišská, Slovakia to Krakau in Poland. This was one of our shortest drives but it turned out to be one of the slowest. 

If Slovakia was ‘slow-quick’, Poland was ‘slow-slower’. 

We added nearly an hour and a half to the estimated time. The traffic density was twice what it had been in Slovakia and they were building a huge freeway along most of the route. 

This new road was certainly needed. 

As soon as we got to Krakáu, we found the tourists – in their thousands. 

Unlike where we had been over the last days in Slovakia, Poland was a tourist destination and Krakau was a tourist city.

Multiple languages, including English were being spoken on the streets, in the hotels and in the restaurants. Touts, hawkers and buskers were trying to relieve you of your money and souvenirs stands were on every corner. There was also Segways and horse-drawn carriages, ready to show you around.

Prices were also back to their usual inflated value and this meant that there were ATMs everywhere, just in case we ran our of cash.

I think I like places with fewer tourists.

 

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July 22, 2017. Krakáu, Poland.

We were in Krakáu to try and get an understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi  occupation of Poland.

Krakáu has a rich heritage, having grown from a stone age settlement to become Poland’s second most important city. In 1364 Casimir III founded the University of Krakáu and today it still remains a centre of academic excellence.

The 15th and 16th centuries were known as the Golden Age for the city. This was the time of the Polish Renaissance when architecture and art flourished. The High Synagogue, built in either 1407 or 1492 (scholars differ), was then rebuilt in 1570 and is regarded as one of the best examples of a Fortress Synagogue in Europe. The Jewish population played an important role in the growth of the city but even as far back as 1495 they were being persecuted. King John I Albert expelled them from the city wall and they were relocated to Kazimierz.

In 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland and Krakáu became part of the General Government. This was a separate administrative region of the Third Reich.

The Nazis wanted Krakáu to become a Germanised city which involved removing all the Jews and Poles – one way or another. They confined the Jews to a ghetto, where many died from starvation or illness. Later those in the ghetto were either murdered or sent to concentration camps.

After working in the morning, we headed out to discover the city. Our first stop was in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter and then the High Synagogue.

Having seen Steven Spielberg’s 1993 movie, Schindler’s List, we were interested to visit the factory where Oskar Schindler (1908-1974) saved the lives of over a thousand Polish Jews. Based on the Thomas Keneally book, Schindler’s Arch, most of the movie was shot in Krakáu.

The factory was built in 1936, by a  group of Jewish business men, for the Record Metal Goods Company. The business went broke at the start of the war and it was then rented by Oskar between 1939 and 1944.

The Schindler’s Enamel Factory is situated in the district of Zabłocie. In recent years the area has been redeveloped and is now a trendy new suburb, full of apartments, coffee shops and restaurants.

The exhibition, although in the Schindler factory, wasn’t about Oskar.  It was all about the German occupation of Krakáu between 1939 and 1945.

The Krakáu Ghetto was established in 1941 in the Podgórze district. This area originally housed 3,000 people but ultimately there were 15,000 crammed into its walled space. From 1942 the Nazis began deporting the Polish Jews to surrounding concentration camps.

In March 1943 the Nazis undertook the final ‘liquidation’ of the Ghetto. Eight thousand, who were deemed able to work, were sent to the Plazów labour camp while 2,000 were killed in the streets of the Ghetto. The remaining survivors were sent to Auschwitz.

The Poles have had it tough and the exhibition was a stark demonstration of that. 

They gained their independence from the Austro Hungarian Empire in 1918. Then in 1939 they lost if again, this time to the German’s. Only to lose it again in 1945, this time to the Russians. 

 

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July 23, 2017. Krakáu and Auschwitz – Birkenau, Poland.

We had booked an Auschwitz-Birkenau Full-Day Guided Tour from Krakáu. 

This wasn’t our intended way to see the Nazi concentration and extermination camps but it was the only option available. 

All the tours, for individuals, were booked out weeks in advance. 

It appears that the tour companies buy up all the tickets, so you are forced to use them. 

It took us just over an hour to drive to Auschwitz. 

Auschwitz I was the original concentration camp, constructed in 1940  it was primarily to hold Polish political prisoners. Then Auschwitz II – Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazis’ Final Solution

Auschwitz II – Birkenau was the largest Nazi German Concentration and Death Camp. 

Between 1942 and 1944 over 1.3 million people were sent to the camp. 

1.1 million people died in Auschwitz, 90% were Jews.

Just as we were about to finish our tour of the death camps the rain came down.

It was a fitting end to a very sobering experience.

Later in the afternoon we went in search of something a bit more uplifting and walked around Krakáu Old Town. This area was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.

We visited the The Cloth Hall, a beautiful late 15th century Renaissance building in the main market square.

We also stopped at the Town Hall Tower (1316), St. Florian’s Gate (1307) and the Barbican Gate (1498).

July 24, 2017. Krakáu to Kazimierz Dolny, Poland.

I worked again in the morning and then we drove to Kazimierz Dolny for a one night stand.

On the road we stopped at Ilźa for a break. This meant finding an ice cream for Thea and a coffee for me. The ice cream wasn’t a problem, as there were at least four places selling them, even though the town was tiny. 

Too tiny for a coffee as it turned out. 

We drove into Kazimierz Dolny and had a walk around the quaint Renaissance town.

That night it rained again.

 

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July 25, 2017. Kazimierz Dolny to Warsaw, Poland.

After I worked in the morning we then checked out of the hotel and walked into town. 

Along the way, beside the Vistula River, there’s a sculpture hanging over a wharf. It’s of a tightrope walking young boy with a kite. 

It’s by Jerzy Marian Kędzioraa, a Polish artist, born in 1947. He is famously known as the creator of the ‘Balancing Sculpture’ genre and has installations throughout Poland.

It was Market Day in Kazimierz Dolny. 

Ice Cream Day as well, as everyone seemed to be licking one. 

Apart from the Parish church and two restored town houses, Under St Nicolas and Under St Christopher, built in1615, there wasn’t much else.

We then continued on to Warsaw.

 

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July 26, 2017. Warsaw, Poland.

I worked yet again in the morning and then we walked into the Old Town, which was a lot further away than we thought it would be. From what we read on booking.com, our apartment should have been much closer. Warsaw’s Old Town appears to have grown, a bit like Brighton, and seemed to be a much larger in area than we remembered.

The last time we were in Warsaw was in 2007 and we were staying in the Bristol Hotel which was right next to the Old Town. 

Back then all the roads around the hotel were under repair, now everything was much more ordered. 

It’s not very often that coffee leaves a bad taste in your mouth. 

It did this day in Warsaw, when we found out that we were paying $13 for two double shot espressos. And to add insult to injury the service was non existent and they got grumpy when we didn’t leave a tip.

Warsaw’s Old Town has been almost entirely rebuilt following the Second Word War.

As a reprisal to the Polish resistance of the Nazi invasion, 85% of the city was destroyed. The German’s aim was to obliterate the centuries-old tradition of Polish statehood.

The rebuilding of the city included the reconstruction of the urban plan, which included the Old Market and the surrounding town houses, the city walls and the Royal Castle.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city.

We were lucky enough to see the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This  took about one minute, compared to the one at Arlington, in Washington DC, that took twenty.

The Palace of Culture and Science is a Soviet era building that dominated the city skyline and we were interested to get a closer look. Built between 1952 and 1955, in the Socialist Realism style, it has become a modern landmark in the Polish capital.

It is the tallest building in Poland and the eighth tallest in the European Union. It is 237 meters high, which includes the 43 meter spire.

It was originally known as the Joseph Stalin Palace. but after ‘Destalinisation’ its name was changed to the rather boring ‘Palace of Culture and Science’

Some less common names include ‘Stalin’s Syringe’ and ‘Stalin’s Dick’.

 

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July 27, 2017. Warsaw to Augustów, Poland.

After breakfast in the apartment we walk around the corner and got a coffee. 

12 Zloty (A$4) for both – a far cry from the 37 Zloty (A$13) the day before. And there was service with a smile. 

We then headed to Augustów, which is about 240 kilometres north of Warsaw. 

This is a seaside resort on the Augustów Lakes. 

We had booked another apartment which was in one of three old Soviet apartment blocks. 

It was small, very small, with three rooms and a bathroom. And it was painted in ‘Soviet Green’, like so much of that era. 

Soviet Green is like a Spring green but dulled down. 

After we had checked in we went for a walk into Augustów and then along the Netta River.

We only spent one night at the apartment in Augustów, which was a very Soviet experience, but well worth it.

 

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July 28, 2017. Augustów, Poland to Vilnius, via Trakai Castle, Lithuania

I have become very efficient at reverse parking onto footpaths. In a lot of places there is more room there than than on the road.

On the way to Vilnius we stopped off at Trakai Island Castle, which is on Lake Galve. 

And so did all the tour busses. 

The stone castle was started by Kęstutis in the 14th century and completed by his son, Vytautas the Great, in 1408.

Over the centuries the castle fell into disrepair and was then partially restored, but it wasn’t until after the Second World War, in 1948, that it was renovated to its current 15th century style.

The castle museum, founded in 1948, holds about 300,000 artefacts. 

There was an entire room dedicated to decorative pipes. 

Trakai is a major tourist attraction and regarded as a true Lithuanian heritage castle.

 

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July 29, 2017. Vilnius, Lithuania.

Our hotel was in a casino, but we were separate from it. 

Except for breakfast. 

This was in one of the casino’s restaurants and we had to be escorted through the casino, past the tables, to get there. Our escort was a big, burly casino security guy. 

In the casino there were people on the tables and at the bar – it was 9:30am. 

A family of three also turned up for breakfast and they were as confused as we were.  

This was Saturday and we were told that breakfast wasn’t available on Sunday. 

Why, we didn’t know, but in a way we were relieved, as we felt uncomfortable being minded by muscle that early in the morning.

We had a long walk around the city and visited Gediminas Castle Tower. The first brick tower was built in 1409 by Gediminas, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The tower is an important part of Lithuanian history and featured on the national currency, the Litas.

Within the tower was a temporary exhibition titled ‘The Baltic Way’.

On August 23rd 1989 more than 2 million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians made a living chain from Tompea Castle in Tallin, Estonia to Gediminas Tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. This was in protest of the USSR’s occupation of the Baltic States in 1939. This resulted from the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviets and the Nazis.

After the war the Soviets denied existence of the pact and claimed that the Baltic States joined the USSR voluntarily.

Vilnius is a city to see in the morning, because in the afternoon, everything is back-lit. 

After dinner we discover the Vilnius bike racks. Each rack held ten push bikes and very graphically demonstrated that each rack could take just one car or ten bikes.

 

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July 30, 2017. Vilnius, Lithuania to Ludza, Latvia.

It was about 300 kilometres from Vilnius to Ludza in Latvia. 

Given our experiences of the last few days I thought we would be in for a very long trip. 

This wasn’t the case. 

Being a Sunday the roads were very quiet and there were very few trucks and not a lot of of roadworks.

That’s until we got into Latvia. 

The roads were better than Lithuania but that was because they were repairing them. 

It was still a pleasant trip that took about six hours, including stops for coffee and delays due to the roadworks. 

Ludza is the oldest town in Latvia and first mentioned in history in 1173. 

It has a stone built, Livonian Order, crusader castle constructed in 1399. The castle, as usual, is on top of a hill that overlooks the Lielā Ezerkrasta iela (lake)

It is located on the main Riga to Moscow road and only 30 km from the Russian border. 

The town is relatively small so it didn’t take much time to walk around. 

Diner was at the Hotel Ludza, as there weren’t many options in the town. The hotel was a Soviet era building and again there were the green walls that we had seen in our apartment in Augustów.

There was a constant babble in the rooms adjoining the restaurant. As it turned out there was a birthday party in progress. 

I got chatting to a few of the guests when I went outside to take some snaps of the hotel. The group were very Russian in their look and their attitude and were intrigued as to why two Australians could possible end up in Ludza. 

 

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July 31, 2017. Ludza, Latvia to Tartu, Estonia.

It looked like being another longish drive into Estonia, up past the Russian border. 

Surprisingly the roads were free of repair gangs and there was very little traffic. 

There were virtually no trucks as well. 

Which is understandable, as the SatNav took us on a very back-roads route. This did give us some great scenery. Forests, lakes and quaint little villages were our companions for most of the drive. 

Estonia is regarded as one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. 

Fast free internet is everywhere. 

Our hotel was right next to the Emajögi River and was within an easy walk of the old town square. 

In the afternoon we wandered along the river and into town, then ended up at the botanical gardens. Established in 1803, they are small and built on a hilly site. This made for an interesting and varied landscape, and a good stroll. 

 

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August 1, 2017. Tartu, Estonia.

The Captur had done over 4,000 kilometres, so it was due for a wash. 

The roadkill was encrusted onto the front of the poor little Renault. And after the unmade roads of the previous day, it was looking rather shabby. 

The hotel directed to a local hand car wash. 

It was €20 (almost A$30) for a wash only. That’s a lot more than I pay at Clearwater in Brighton. 

Tartu was first mentioned 1030 and is the second largest city in Estonia, next to Tallinn.

Tartu Domed Cathedral has been partly restored and is now used as the University of Tartu History Museum. 

The University buildings have been beautifully restored and there is even an old elevator that still works.

In these eastern block countries there is a constant reminder of their Soviet past. In the foyer of the Hotel Dorpat, was a shiny red, rear engined, Soviet ZAZ-965. Produced in the ZAZ factory in Soviet Ukraine between 1960-1969, they were described as ‘Superminis.’

 

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August 2, 2017. Tartu to Vihula, Estonia.

After breakfast at the hotel we went over the road to the Taska Mall to get a coffee. 

Estonia is a very different part of Eastern Europe. The technology, culture, fashion and language all seem to be more Nordic. 

English is very widely spoken, not just in the tourist related establishments but all types of businesses. 

I had a haircut and they spoke English and in the car wash, again, English. 

We had been on the move since we left Berlin and decided to have a few days off in the country. 

The Vihula Manor Country Club and Spa was in a large old Estonian estate set within the Lahemaa National Park. 

It was spread over acres, with ponds, bridges, walkways and accommodation set within beautifully manicured gardens. 

They even have an old Dutch stone windmill at the front gates. 

Visual Vyoll, as it was then known, was first mentioned in history in 1501.

There is nothing left of that era as it was destroyed in the Great Nordic War of 1700 to 1721.

The structures that are there today date from the late 1800s.

During the Russian Revolution the Red Army Guards devastated the manor and then it was nationalised between the wars.

From 1941 to 1944 it was an Intelligence School for the German Abwehr. Then under Soviet rule it became part of the Ubja State Farm and from 1951 to 1980 it was a senior citizens asylum.

The park is set on a coastline that encompasses four peninsulas that jut out into the the Gulf of Finland. 

Lahemaa is one of Europe’s most important forest conservation areas, where many large mammals live. Apparently the area is home to moose, wild boars, brown bears, lynxes and foxes. 

We hope to see them, not meet them. 

Within Vihula Manor there is a car museum, with a small collection from the Soviet era. 

Volga (gAZ-21) 1959, Chaika (1970), Pobeda (1953) and a French Berliet (1927) and German Opel (1936). 

 

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August 3, 2017. Vihula, Estonia.

There are two nature trails around Vihula Manor, one is 3 kilometres and the other is 1.5. 

The longer of the two takes you through part of the forest, along the Vihula River and across the hay fields that are within the property. 

The property area of Vihula Manor is large, with the buildings occupying over 8,000 square meters, all set within 50 hectares of parkland.

In the afternoon we drove to the small fishing village of Altja on Vérgi Bay. We then drove further west to the much larger town of Vösu. 

There was a sandy beach and a very strong wind.

Windsurfers and sailboarders were taking advantage of the wind, while the sun bakers were hiding behind the long grass on the foreshore.

There were a couple of brave bathers actually in the Straits of Finland. 

In the evening we decided to go to the ‘swish’ restaurant. 

We were advised to book in advance. 

When we arrived there was only one other table occupied, and by the end of the evening there was only one more. 

At breakfast the place seemed full. So where are they eating?

My guess is, in their rooms. 

We have seen this a lot throughout Eastern Europe. The cities and sites seem busy, but the tourists retreat at the end of the day. 

We often see travellers, loaded down with plastic bags full of groceries, heading into their hotels. 

August 4, 2017. Vihula, Estonia.

We woke to the sound of rain pouring down the drainpipe, just outside our window.

Luckily we did our exploring the previous day, when the weather was fine.

Estonia has a vibrant craft beer industry. I don’t know how much is draught but there is certainly a lot of bottled beer on offer. 

At the Vihula Manor tavern there were 13 bottled craft beers on the bar blackboard. They were from three different breweries, Vihula, the local brew, Ollenaut and Purtse. 

They covered a wide variety of styles, including IPA, American Pale Ale, Pilsner, Brown Ale, Stouts and Porters. 

Over the last few weeks we have seen many storks and their nests. They are usually high up on a man made, purpose built, stork nest platform. 

We wondered why. 

Thea did a bit of digging and came up with a possible answer. 

Superstition. 

Apparently German peasant farmers believed that it was good luck to have a stork nest in your property. So they build places for them to do just that. 

The were originally cart wheels placed on top of chimneys, now they are metal frames on top of a specially erected pole. 

With the migration of Germans to all parts of Eastern Europe, this tradition has been maintained and stork nests are everywhere. They don’t just set up home on the man made locations but also on power poles and very occasionally in the tops of trees. 

 

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August 5, 2017. Vihula to Tallinn, Estonia.

We had our final breakfast at Vihula Manor. It wasn’t as crowded as the previous two days so the staff had a chance to be even more polite than usual. 

Then as we were leaving the hotel it dawned on me. The staff had obviously been trained in the You’re Welcome School of Hospitality. 

Wherever we went in the hotel we were greeted with “Have a nice day” and the phrase, “You’re welcome” was so overused that some of the staff actually said it before they served you. 

The weather has been very erratic over the last few weeks and suddenly it had taken a turn for the worse. 

On the drive from Vihula to Tallinn we were constantly buffeted by brief storms. We would have a few minutes of torrential rain, followed by bright blue sky. Then it would happen all over again a few kilometres down the road. 

The same pattern continued when we arrived in Tallinn. 

Our apartment was close to the old city and crowded with tour groups. 

They blanketed the road and it took me an age to wend my way through the narrow streets and alleys. 

After finding our apartment, we parked the car and went for a walk. 

Then the rain started again. 

While we were dodging the showers I noticed a graphic stencilled on the pavement. It was warning people about pick-pockets.

Well, Tallinn is a large city and there are lots of tourists.

 

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August 6, 2017. Tallinn, Estonia.

In the morning the rain was still pelting down and we were forced to stay inside. 

It persisted, so we made the executive decision to have a long lunch.

After all it was Sunday. 

By mid afternoon the skies were a little clearer so we set out to explore the city. 

Tallinn is the oldest capital in Northern Europe with a history dating back to 1154. 

The Old Town is one of Europe’s best preserved, walled, Medieval cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

It’s also only 80 kilometres to Helsinki in Finland, as the ferry flies. 

Because of its location Tallinn became an important trading centre from the 14th to the 16th centuries. As a result there are a number of wealthy merchant houses in the Old City. 

Tallinn wears its history proudly with well restored buildings and lots of tourist signs pointing to its colourful past. A large number of the old houses have been turned into museums. In fact there seems to be a museum for just about every topic. 

Just next door to our apartment was the Tallinn Museum of Estonian Drinking Culture. I think it was really a front for a bottle shop and bar. 

Tallinn a very popular destination with Russian tourists, as it’s a lot cheaper than Scandinavia and Western Europe. 

We had got a good feel for Tallinn in the time we were there but weren’t too concerned that we hadn’t done it justice, as we were due to return after visiting Finland. 

 

Part 2: Eastern Europe – Slovakia.

June 10th, 2018

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July 8, 2017. Brno, Czech Republic to Bratislava, Slovakia.

After breakfast and a coffee with Kate and Mark we parted ways. They still had more touring to do in the Czech Republic and we were heading to Bratislava in Slovakia. 

On the way we stopped in Mikulov, which is very close to the Austrian border. This small town is known for its architecture, with many buildings having Italian features.

Sitting above the town is Mikulov Castle. This reconstruction, built over the site of a 13th century castle, was built between 1719 and 1730 – it dominates the skyline.

Again weddings were everywhere. It was certainly a photogenic town and a great background for wedding snaps. 

This is in the heart of the Moravian wine district and there were hundreds of locals, on push bikes, doing wine tours. 

Just after we crossed into Slovakia we were forced to use the motorway, which was a toll road. 

However just before the toll station there was an office where you could buy an electronic toll pass. 

It was simple, relatively fast and saved all the hassle of having to find change at toll gates. 

In fact there are no toll gates, so you have to have buy a pass. 

We arrived in Bratislava mid afternoon, about the same time as the rain. 

Our accommodation in Bratislava was at the Film Hotel. It was, as you might expect, about all things ‘film’. 

There were human sized Oscars in the reception area, while the walls were covered in black and white photos of film stars, old and new. 

Each room was named after an actor or actress, we were in room 9, Leonardo de Caprio. 

We have been travelling for almost two months and this is our first new country on the itinerary. 

 

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July 9, 2017. Bratislava, Slovakia.

Bratislava is the only national capital that borders two sovereign states, Austria and Hungary. 

It sits on the banks of the Danube and Morava Rivers. With a population of just over 450,000 it’s one of Europe’s smallest capital cities.

Bratislava was first mentioned in written history in 903. It became the capital of Slovakia, after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, in 1993. Then, with the help of foreign investment, the economy took off.

In 2017 Bratislava was ranked as the third richest region in the European Union. It was certainly evident in the art, architecture, lifestyle and the people. 

Street art is everywhere within the city centre. The one that got a lot of attention was a bronze sculpture of a worker emerging from a manhole.

In the afternoon we spent a few hours wandering around Bratislava Castle. This massive fortification stands above the city, overlooking the Danube River, on the Little Carpathians.

It dominates the city and has done so for centuries.

On a clear day you can actually see Austria and get a glimpse of Hungary. It wasn’t a clear day when we visited.

It was progressively built between the 9th and 18th centuries and rebuilt between 1956 and 1964, following a catastrophic fire in 1811.

Because of its location, within the centre of Europe, the site has been inhabited for thousands of years. First by the Celts and Romans and then by successive European dynasties.

The architectural style is a rich mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. There is even an English park.

There was a glassware exhibition within the castle, celebrating 125 years of Rona in Bratislava. Rona was established in Ledniké Rovne, Slovakia, in 1892 and is famous for its unleaded drinking glasses. 

Craft beer isn’t just in Germany and the Czech Republic, it’s crossed the border, and is well and truly established in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Over two days we found two craft brewpubs serving excellent craft beers. Both Zil Verne and Klubovña had a selection of imported craft beer, as well as their own brews. 

However I don’t think they were serving their beer in Rona glassware.

 

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July 10, 2017. Bratislava, Slovakia.

Bratislava was an interesting city, as was the Film Hotel, so we decided to stay an extra night. 

Rather than moving on we made a day trip clockwise around the Bratislava area. 

The main purpose, and highlight, was a side trip to the Red Stone Castle, which is between Píla and Častá. 

Červený Kameň or Red Stone Castle was originally constructed around 1230 as a border castle between the Bohemian and Hungarian Kingdoms. 

It has been home to many noble families, the last being Pálffy who were there from 1583 to 1945. 

The beautifully crafted ceiling frescos in the living area were a feature. 

Being designed as a fortress, the castle cellars were very impressive. The largest being 70 meters long, 7 meters wide and 9 meters high. The cellars are unique and the largest of their type in Europe, there’s even a 110 meter deep well.

Weather in this area is reliably unpredictable.

One moment there’s a blue sky, with patchy clouds. Then suddenly, all the clouds gang-up on you, and there’s a thunderstorm. After being here for a few days we realised that this is a regular afternoon occurrence. 

No sooner had we arrived back at the Film Hotel than the thunder started to rumble. Which, by now, was to be expected. 

On our last night in Bratislava we found yet another brewpub. Výčap U Ernöho is on a corner, just outside the city gates. 

Just in front of the pub was a small square, which was well used by the pub patrons. They were chilling out in all styles of chairs and there was even a fountain and water spray to help cool the warm evening breeze. 

They do know how to relax and they don’t have to pay a fortune for it. 

A round of drinks (a large beer and wine) was €4.20 (A$6.50). We would be paying $20 in Hobsons. 

 

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July 11, 2017. Bratislava to Čičmany, Slovakia.

We made one stop on our way out of Bratislava and that was to see the Church of St Elizabeth. 

Built in the Hungarian Art Nouveau style between, 1909 and 1913, this church is number six on the top ten sites of the city. 

And it’s blue – very blue. 

The exterior is covered in mosaics, much of them glass. 

The vast majority of the drive to Čičmany was on a motorway. Then we got into the ‘slow-fast’ driving of the country roads. Slow through the villages, where the speed limit is 50 km/h and then a little faster through the countryside in between. 

There were lots of villages so the going was slow, then occasionally fast. 

We reached Čičmany in the early afternoon and were able to check into the hotel. 

It was then off to explore the village. 

Čičmany dates back to 1272 and is famous for its painted wooden houses. Which are much younger.

The houses date from the early part of the 20th century. The white motives painted on the black walls are inspired by the local embroidery. 

Off to the side of the village, behind a group of trees, sits the the Baroque Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross.  

It didn’t take us long to explore Čičmany so we were glad we had only booked one night. 

Our accommodation was at the Kaštieľ Čičmany. This was a traditional old house that had been completely renovated. It retained the old exterior but the inside had been made contemporary. 

And all the furnishings came from Ikea, which was a refreshing change from all the ‘old world charm’ we had been experiencing. 

The little village is surrounded by ski runs. So when it’s not hosting tourists in the summer, it’s full of skiers in the winter. 

Not much is in English in Čičmany, so it is really catering to the local tourist trade. 

It was obviously low season there as most places, that were open, shut early. 

We found an ‘interesting’ local bar and restaurant down the road from our hotel. Come 9pm we were the only ones left in the place. 

 

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July 12, 2017. Čičmany to Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia.

On the way we stopped stopped at Bojnice Castle. This was first mentioned in history in 1013, when it was originally a wooden fort.

The most famous owner of the castle was János Ferenc Pálffy (1829-1908). He was a man who loved art, more than anything else. After a failed love affair he devoted his time, energy and money to the castle. He was one of the greatest collectors of antiques, tapestries, drawings, paintings and sculpture of his time.

The last independent owner was Ján Bata of Bata Shoes.

Ironically the Bata family were never mentioned in our guided tour. Which is surprising as the Bata Shoe story is a very interesting one. Maybe not the noblest of families but certainly one of the most industrious.

Founded over 122 years ago in the Czech Republic by Tomáš Bata, Bata Shoes have over 5,200 retail stores in more that 70 countries with production facilities in 18.

The family were originally cobblers, and to overcome a serious debt developed a new style of shoe made out of canvas.

They were one of the first shoe companies in Europe to industrialise, by installing steam-driven machines. They later introduced mass production techniques from America.

The Bata’s were the Henry Ford of shoes.

They received military orders during World War 1 but they fell into decline during the depression years that followed.

Rather than put off staff, the company reduced the price of their shoes and put their staff on a reduced salary. They also provided subsidies for their food and clothing.

They then gave their staff share options in the company, giving them added incentive to work hard and remain loyal.

This radical approach saw Bata Shoes actually increase market share during the depression and helped them to survive.

Many others went under.

The Family may not have collected art or built magnificent castles but they were certainly a family of great resolve and ingenuity.

Just as many Slovakian are early to bed, they are also late to rise. Well if our hotels in Čičmany and Banská Štiavnica were anything to go by. 

The one in Čičmany didn’t start breakfast until 9am, while the Hotel Salamander, in Banská Štiavnica, didn’t start till 8am – how very civilised. 

The Slovakian national summer pastime is eating ice cream. Everyone does it and they seem to do it with great regularity. I was so impressed with their ice-cream eating that I devoted an entire post to it.

Parking is always an issue in Europe but when you get into the small towns it gets worse. 

In Banská Štiavnica we were staying in the Hotel Salamander.

They boasted parking. 

When we arrived all but one of the five spots were taken. Apparently that was ours and it was partially on the street. So if any of the four cars in front of us needed to move, we would have to move, in order to let them out. 

The solution was simple – just leave your keys at reception.

 

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July 13, 2017. Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia.

We took the ‘Tourist Train’ around Banská Štiavnica. Unfortunately the commentary wasn’t in English as English speaking tourists don’t seem to have discovered this part of Europe. In fact most of the travellers seem to be either local or from bordering countries, such as Hungary, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Banská Štiavnica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s built in a caldera.

It was first mentioned in history in 1157 and has been the centre of mining, especially during the Hapsburg Monarchy of the 18th century.

The oldest mining school in the Hungarian Kingdom was set up there in 1735 and in 1846 it joined with the Forest Academy which was founded in 1808. University and college buildings are dotted all over the city.

With its many attractions and relatively few tourists this area of Slovenia might just become a new ‘Hot Spot’ destination.

The Calvary of Banská Štiavnica was built in 1774, on the plug of the extinct volcano, which is in the centre of the caldera. It was under renovation, but its 23 monuments are worth the walk from town and the climb to get to the top.

The New Castle and the Old Castle are also worth a visit. The New castle has an interesting exhibition of Turkish artefacts and documents the history of the war with the Ottoman Empire. 

It was built as a defence against Turkish invasion. 

In the evening we found yet another brewpub, ERB. Edward Rada Breweries brew on the premises and also in an old synagogue, that’s just over the road. 

The Synagogue was built in 1893 and was used as a place of worship until 1941.

It has been used for a number of business over the years, such as a sheet metal workshop and a driving school.

It has been a National Heritage site since 1955.

 

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July 14, 2017. Banská Štiavnica to Košice, Slovakia.

This was the longest drive we had done for a few days. 

And made even longer by us going down a new motorway, the wrong way, for quite a few kilometres.

The motorway was in the middle of nowhere and there were no turn-offs.

Arriving in Košice and finding our hotel wasn’t without its difficulties. The usual road works and one way streets hindered our way. 

This is always going to be an issue when we chose hotels in the centre of the old town, which is usually pedestrian only streets.

The Hotel Zlaty Dukat is in one of the oldest buildings in Košice and built over the foundations of the old city wall. There is a staircase that descends to the basement, where there is a small wine bar built among the ruins. 

After checking in we spent an hour or so just wandering. 

Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia. The old town is concentrated along Hlavná (Street). This is a long walking area that’s dominated by St Elisabeth Cathedral, one of the largest Gothic churches in Europe. 

There is a green area between the two walking streets. This is occupied with parents and children playing, two fountains, a glockenspiel and wedding photographers with their victims.

Restaurants line both sides but it’s hard to find one where people are eating an evening meal. 

Most main meals seem to be taken at lunchtime, with pizza and cake being the staple in the summer twilight. 

Maybe we should consider lunch as an option. 

Košice was originally mentioned in history in the year 1230 and was the first settlement in Europe to be granted its own coat-of-arms in 1369.

 

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July 15, 2017. Košice, Slovakia.

After a bit of housekeeping, AKA ‘washing’, we headed back into the old town. 

The weather had threatened to be horrible but then turned out to be fine. Which meant the light was in the right position for most of the historic buildings. 

We paid the ridiculously low price of €1, that was for both of us, and ventured below, into the old city fortifications. 

They were from the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and 3 metres below the current city streets. Where we entered was the site of the original Lower or Southern Gate. 

Later in the afternoon we climbed to the top of St Elisabeth’s Cathedral Tower to get a better view of the city.

The city sprawls off in all directions from the old section. Out in the ‘burbs the architecture was very 70s, Soviet high rise and not very interesting.

It did start to rain late in the afternoon but by that time we had seen all there was to see in Košice.

 

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July 16, 2017. Košice to Viničky, Slovakia. (With a side trip into Hungary)

It was a day of ups and downs – literally. 

The drive from Košice to Viničky was very short so we arrive very early and then headed out to explore the Tokaj wine region. We were at the very top of the wine trail as most of the region is in Hungary.

We managed, even at an early hour, to check into Pension Zlatá Putňa, so we had most of the day left to explore.

Most of the vineyards are tiny plots of land huddled around small villages. 

There are the large commercial wineries but these are outnumbered by the small ones.

Out first stop was at the Tokaj Viewing Platform – our first up for the day.

The platform has been developed, with the help of some Swiss Francs, as a tourist attraction.

It’s 12 meters high and shaped like a wine barrel. It is certainly an interesting piece of architecture and was awarded so in 2015.

We then decided to make a side trip into Hungary. From the viewing platform we had sighted a cable car, and having nothing better to do, decided to try and find it.

One problem was that Hungary doesn’t use Euros, they have the Forint.

We managed to purchase tickets with our Visa card on the Nagas-hegyi Chair Lift and had our second up and down for the day.

We were in the Sátoraljaújhely area, which is an adventure playground for the locals, and they were there in their hundreds.

Apart from the chair lift there was a zip-line, cable car, stock car track and a strange style of toboggan run that was on rails.

We seemed to have been driving for kilometres but when we reached the top of the chair lift we could see Viničky, our village.

It was only about 8 kilometres away.

On our way back we stopped in Borsi to look at the castle. There wasn’t really much to see, as it was only a shell.

It seems its only claim to fame was that Ferenc Rákóczi II was born and lived there. Born in 1676 Ferenc Rákóczi is regarded as the hero of Hungary, leading the Hungarian uprising against the Hapsburgs between 1703 and 1711.

Our hotel was on the main road in Viničky and there wasn’t much else in the town.

Luckily the hotel had a restaurant. 

We seemed to be the only people staying in the Penzión Zlatá Putňa but there were certainly a number of drop-ins, all local. 

Thea had made enquiries about where we could have a local wine tasting. 

The receptionist arranged for the chef to do a tasting with dinner, which all sounded very swish. 

However it didn’t eventuate – apparently he was too busy. 

 

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July 17, 2017. Viničky to Prešov, Slovakia.

The next morning we didn’t seem to be expected for breakfast but it all happened, despite the confusion. 

We were also told, by some guy we had never seen before, but seemed to carry some weight, that we could go into town and have a wine tastings there.

Apparently the family owned a cellar in Viničky and his uncle, Attila, would show us around. 

It all seemed rather loose. 

After breakfast we headed into Viničky for our cellar tour and tasting. 

When we arrived at Zlatý Strapec, the wine cellar, nothing was open. After trying various doors, two women emerged from the adjoining building.

There seemed to be confusion as to why we were there. 

We had a taste of the wine we had the previous night and we decided to buy two 500 ml bottles. 

What else were we to do. We then headed back to our car. 

Suddenly a guy turns up and tells us to come with him, to do the cellar tour. This turned out to be Attila, the uncle of they guy at the hotel. 

Attila’s English was a little better than our Slovakian but he managed to communicate very well – especially with the help of Google Translate. 

After our very weird but confusing cellar tour we went to the Zemplinska Śirava or Slovak Sea, as it is sometimes called. The reservoir dam was built between 1961 and 1965 and covers an area of 33 square kilometres.

This is a recreational area and there was a café, resort and a sandy beach. There were also a number of rather impressive sand sculptures just near the beach.

When we arrived in Prešov the hotel felt empty, in fact the entire town seemed to be empty. We were starting to wonder if the tourist season hasn’t even started yet.

 

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July 18, 2017. Prešov to Poprad, via Spiš Castle and Spišsja Kaputula, Slovakia.

At breakfast there was only one other table – the hotel, like the town, was empty. 

We were getting the feeling that the tourist season hadn’t really started yet in Eastern Slovakia. 

When we got to Spiš Castle we found out where all the tourists were. 

The place was overrun. 

The car park was full and the overflow was lining the steep road leading up to the castle. 

And when we purchased our entry tickets we were told that they had run out of Audio Guides. 

Spiš Castle along with Calvery at Spišsja Kaputula are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

It is one of the largest castle sites in Europe with an area of 41,426 square metres.

This Medieval Castle was first mentioned in history in 1249 and then destroyed by fire in 1780.

From that point forward it fell into ruin.

There isn’t much left today, although there was an attempt at a partial reconstruction before 1993.

There are still remains left of those works that were done just after the break up of the Soviet Union.

The best views of the castle are from below, looking up. However it does have a small museum and chapel in the reconstructed castle tower.

We arrived at Poprad, at the foot of the High Tatra Mountains, at 3:30pm. 

The weather was being its usual cantankerous self and the dark clouds were building. 

 

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July 19, 2017. Poprad-Spišská, with a side trip to Dobšinská Ice Caves, Slovakia.

The main destination for the day was to the Dobšinská Ice Caves, which was 33 kilometres south of Poprad.

We again discovered where all the tourists were – they visit castles and caves.

At the ice caves we had to pay for everything. Parking was €3, the tickets were €7 (with seniors discount) and the toilets €0.50. 

However the most outrageous cost was €10 to take photos.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is part of the Caves of the Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst site.

They were discovered in 1850 by Eugen Ruffinyi, a mining engineer. Although they have been known by shepherds and hunters since time immemorial.

They were known as Studená Diera or Cold Hole.

They are regarded as one of the most important cave systems in the world and have been in existence for an estimated 250,000 years.

Once you have parked your car, and paid the fee, there’s about a 20 minute hike up to the entrance. The temperature was in the mid 20s for the climb up, but plummeted to zero once we got inside the caves. It certainly was a cold hole.

There was no English speaking guided tour so we joined in on the end of a Slovak one. We didn’t understand a word, which gave me the opportunity to hang back and take photos. At €10 each we decided to buy only one ticket to take snaps.

Apparently there has to be a minimum of 30 people to have a specific language guided tour.

Thea and I were the only English speakers, so we didn’t count as a group.

The caves are only open four and a half months of the year from May 15 to September 30. So I guess they have to make their money while they can.

The rest of the day was spent driving through the mountains.

By mistake, or good fortune, we ended up staying in Poprad-Spišská, not Poprad. 

This was about 1.5 kilometres away from the downtown area of the main city. 

It was built around a long, tree lined, square. There was a church at one end and old historic homes on either side. 

There was also a surprising number of restaurants in this small area. 

We booked three nights in the Boutique Hotel Fortuna and this gave us the opportunity to do two day trips. 

One to the Dobšinská Ice Caves and another to the High Tatras. 

 

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July 20, 2017. Poprad-Spišská, with a trip to the High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia.

We initially headed to Vysoké Tatry for our Hight Tatra experience but it was far too crowded and the parking scalpers were everywhere. 

We then drove down the road to Tatranká Lominica, where parking was free and the cable cars and chair lifts were open. We went as far up Mt Ve’ká Lomnická veža as we could, which was about 2,200 metres. 

We would have liked to go to Lomnickŷ Štit, which is at 2,558 metres, but that cable car was completely booked out. 

It was crowded but a very pleasant climb along the ridge that runs from the end of the chair lift. 

After our walking in the mountains, we went driving in them as well. 

First to Štrbské Pleso, then to Tatranká Štrba and finally back to Poprad-Spišská. 

It was a very pleasant day in the fresh air, without a church in sight. 

Part 1: Eastern Europe – The Czech Republic.

May 28th, 2018

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June 29, 2017. Kreuzwertheim, Germany to Pilsen, Czech Republic.

The windscreen wipers on the Opel Mokka didn’t stop for the entire trip from Kreuzwertheim in Germany to Pilsen in the Czech Republic. The first stop on our adventure to Eastern Europe.

The hold-ups, due to roadworks, were almost as relentless as the rain along the 340 km route. 

In the late afternoon we walked around Pilsen, the birthplace of Pilsner Urquell, the Czech Republic’s  distinctive, bottom-fermented lager. It’s regarded as one of the best beers in the world and having it in it’s unfiltered form, they might be right.  

Dinner was at U Salzmannū, established in 1637, it’s the world’s oldest Pilsen Beer House. 

Not to be outdone by the beer, the wine we had at dinner came from the Habánské Vineyard, Morava, which was established in 1614. 

Prices were also from another era. Our dinner at U Salzmannū only cost us A$45. I’ve not had a meal that cheap since the 80s’. 

 

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June 30, 2017. Pilsen, Czech Republic.

Pilsen, apart from beer, has a long history dating back to 1295 when it was established by ‘Good’ King Wenceslas II. 

Our hotel, the Continental, was metres from the main town square, so everything was accessible. 

School had recessed for the Summer and kids were everywhere. There was even a small fun-fair in the square. 

We had lunch at Švejk, a chain of Czech restaurants. 

The character featured on the restaurant livery is inspired by an unfinished, dark and satirical comedy (The Good Soldier Švejk) by Jaroslav Hašek. In the 1920s the character was carved, as a puppet, by Gustav Nosek, manipulated by Ludva Novák, voiced by Josef Skupa and performed in the puppet theatre of Pilsen. 

Now this weird, distorted face is everywhere in the restaurant. 

Menus, signage, crockery, even the base of the chairs features Švejk. 

In the afternoon we visited the Puppet Museum, which is at one end of the town square. 

Puppets, like ventriloquist dolls, are to my mind spooky, out-of-this-world beings. 

The Puppet Museum in Pilsen contains hundreds of them.

They ranged in size from miniature decorations, for your beer stein, to larger than life giants of the small stage. 

In the evening, after the children had gone home, the big kids came out to play. 

There must have been a football match on somewhere locally or on TV. 

The police were patrolling the streets as were the young men in their sports cars. 

The vehicles ranged from old Mustangs to new Mercedes, with a lot of ‘try-hards’ in between. 

Apart from the famous Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus Breweries, there are at least four craft breweries in the Pilsen area. 

Unfortunately you have to go to them to have a tasting and we just didn’t have enough time.

 

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July 1, 2017. Pilsen to Český Krumlov, Czech Republic.

On the drive to Český Krumlov we made a stop at Švihov Castle. A crumbling edifice with a moat on two sides.

This Medieval castle was built between 1480 and 1510 and was the seat of the Lords of Rýžemberk.

Our next stop was at Klatovy. We arrived around midday and the wedding parties were lined up at the town hall waiting to be ‘processed’. 

The weddings were preceded by a procession of cars, honking their horns as they drove around the town square before stopping at the registry office. 

One couple even did a circuit, in a large blue Mercedes Benz prime mover, after their ceremony. 

We arrived in Český Krumlov mid afternoon, on Saturday, and finding our accommodation wasn’t without its difficulties. The centre of town was predominantly a pedestrian area, so we had to negotiate the crowds of tourists, winding unmarked streets and the fact that our Pension didn’t have any signage. 

Český Krumlov is built on several bends of the Vltava River, making it difficult to get your bearings. 

It is certainly popular with tourists, both local and international. 

Many of the international visitors vanished in the evening as they had only been in the town on a day trip from Prague, Vienna or Salzburg. 

 

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July 2, 2017. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic.

Český Krumlo is regarded as one of the most beautiful historic towns in Europe.

The settlement was built below the castle which was erected around 1240. The Castle was first mentioned in history as Chrumbenowe in 1253. This means ‘Crooked meadow’ in Middle High German, after a bend in the Vltava River. 

Český Krumlov was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 and is best known for the castle. The castle has Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements and literally towers over the township.

We visited the Castle Museum, which chronicled the daily life of the the families that lived in the castle. 

One interesting fact was that the lady of the house had complete control of its running. She even attended a school to learn how to cope with the very demanding task of its day-to-day management.

A far cry from the British aristocracy. 

Another surprising fact was that some noble families were given the right to mint their own coins. Many of these were on display. These became the common means of payment from the 15th to the 18th centuries

The Rosenbergs, Eggenbergs and Scwarzenbergs, of Český Krumlov, had that privilege. 

We had dinner at Two Mary’s, a traditional Bohemian restaurant. There were lots of grains, millet and potatoes. It was certainly one of the most interesting meals we have had – so far. 

We then had a night cap at Hospoda Na Louži Hotel, a very local local. This Renaissance building first popped up in the history books in 1459.

The patrons were singing, but not much better than Thea and me. However they were incredibly enthusiastic and everyone had song books, plus they all knew the words. 

It was a great atmosphere, a lot like you used to find in English working class pubs of the 1970s’.

Much to my delight the walls were covered with old tin advertising posters from the 40s and 50s. 

July 3, 2017. Český Krumlov to Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

We broke the journey to Kutná Hora with a stop in Telč, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The town was built around a group of small lakes and originally inhabited in the 13th century. 

It’s main attraction is the huge, Zachariáš of Hradec Town Square.

It is surrounded by heavily decorated Renaissance buildings, painted in pastel colours. 

Despite its grand romantic history there is even a Švejk restaurant just off the square. 

The man is omnipotent. 

We had about a 45 minute hold up on route. It turned to be nothing more than a set of traffic lights. 

In the evening we had a walk around town of Kutná Hora, and then gravitated to the main square for dinner. 

There were many nationalities there but one guy stood out – he had a baseball cap on. 

Yes, he was American. 

Ten minutes later a group of five arrived at the restaurant. Two of the women were seriously obese. 

Yes, they were Americans.

 

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July 4, 2017. Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

This is the day that we were ‘reliably informed’, we should get our Renault Eurodrive vehicle. 

That didn’t happen. 

A driver was sent from Paris to Frankfurt, on the train, to pick up our car and drive it to us. 

When he got to Frankfurt he found that the number plates still hadn’t arrived, so he had to return to Paris, again on the train. 

We were then told that we would get the car the next day in Olomouc. 

Considering the distance between Frankfurt and Olomouc is approximately 750km and he wasn’t leaving Frankfurt until 2pm, we weren’t holding our breath. 

Kutná Hora is described as the ‘Town of Two Cathedrals’. 

The Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist at Sedlec, founded in 1142 and the Cathedral of Saint Barbara are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Saint Barbara Cathedral was a fine example Late Gothic architecture, with magnificent flying buttresses supporting a lofty interior, 30m high. Construction started in 1388 but wasn’t finally completed until 1905. 

Construction was interrupted for 60 years by the Hussite Wars. However the main hinderance to the building program, and its final size, was the wavering prosperity of the town’s silver mines.

As mining was such an important part of Kutná Hora we visited the Saint George Mine at the Hrádek Museum. This was an excellent display showing construction and renovation from 1388 to present day. 

Silver mining in Kutná Hora took place between the 13th and 16th centuries. It’s primary purpose was to mint silver and copper coins. Within that time 2,500 tonnes of silver and 20,000 tonnes of copper were extracted from the mine. 

After dinner at a local restaurant, that specialised in Bohemian cuisine, we walk down to the cathedral viewing point. This overlooks the Vrchlice River valley. 

Both Saint Barbara Cathedral and the Jesuit College were illuminated and stood out magnificently against the stormy night sky. 

 

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July 5, 2017. Kutná Hora to Olomouc, Czech Republic.

We had purchased a combined ticket to see the three main UNESCO sites in Kutná Hora, so on our way to Olomouc we visited the other two. 

The Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist and the Cemetery Church of All Saints with the Ossuary. 

Built in 1142, this is the site of first Cistercian abbey in Czechoslovakia. 

The Scwarzenbergs, who had a lot of influence in Český Krumlov Castle, also played a big part in the restoration and expansion of the Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist. 

Our next stop was the Cemetery Church of All Saints with the Ossuary is also known as the ‘The Bone Church’

Skeletal remains hang from the walls and ceiling as well as in the chapel niches. 

It was not surprising, given the macabre nature of the place, that it was far more crowded than the cathedral, just up the road.

There is even a skull and crossbones adorning the church spire.

The church was built in the 14th century and legend has it that a local abbot brought in soil from Jerusalem and by scattering around the cemetery made the place a ‘holy field’.

After the plague of 1318 around 30,000 bodies were buried there and a further 10,000 were also interned as a result of the Hussite wars.

In the 15th century the bones were exhumed and placed inside the church.

The current bone arrangements dates from 1870 and done by a Czech woodcarver, Franttišek Rint.

I had complete forgotten about paying to use the toilet, until we got into the Czech Republic.

I guess 30 cents is a small price to pay for a clean, well maintained, WC. 

And, unlike the USA, there are plenty of them. 

I would have thought that the idea of a ‘Washroom’ that you pay for would appeal to the American ideal of enterprise. 

Our travels took us from Bohemia to Olomouc in Moravia and again we found a restaurant serving the local cuisine.

We were hoping to sit outside on Moravská’s heated terrace, but that was full.

It was excellent food and great service and we found ourselves the last to leave – again.

People do seem to eat early.

When we left the streets were deserted, which was strange considering it was a public holiday.

 

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July 6, 2017. Olomouc, Czech Republic.

Again we were told that the Renault would be arriving. 

We were a little more hopeful as this information was coming from the driver, who was on the road from Frankfurt.

We were still in the Czech Republic and staying in the centre of Olomouc an old, historic town.

There was a lot to see but until we had the car we didn’t want to move too far from the hotel.

At 12:30 pm the Renault finally arrived.

It was only then, when we were doing the handover of the Opel Mokka, that we discovered it didn’t have a spare wheel.

We wished Jeanne good luck as he started the long drive back to Frankfurt.

We just hoped that he didn’t get a flat tyre. 

Now that we had our hands on the Renault we went about exploring Olomouc – on foot. 

The town was a work in progress, with construction and road closures at almost every turn. 

We found this out when we arrived

It is believed that Olomouc was originally built over a Roman fort from the late 2nd century.

The city is known for its six Baroque fountains, many featuring gods from Greek mythology, and its columns. The most important is the 35 meters high Holy Trinity Column, which is a UNESCO site and situated in the largest town square, Horní Námēstí.

Unlike other European cities, who removed their fountains after building water supply piping, Olomouc kept theirs as reservoirs in case of fire.

Tipping in the Czech Republic is a strange system. 

The locals don’t tip. But the tourists can be tricked into giving a tip by those waiters that understand the silly US system. 

If you speak English, you must be an American, seems to be the approach.

I really liked the unfiltered Pilsner Urquell Pilsen but the Chomout Pivo in Olomouc was better.

Chomout, a family run craft brewery, was started in 2014 and has a brewpub right next door to the brewery. There are always six beers on tap, Destíka, Pale larger, Ležál Amber Larger, two American style ales and two seasonal beers.

I had the Režná Bára, a full bodied IPA made from American hops. This beer had recently been voted as the best IPA in the Czech Republic.

I agreed with the judges.

 

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July 7, 2017. Olomouc to Brno, Czech Republic.

It was meant to be a short drive to Brno to catch up with Kate and Mark for a night. 

Due to interminable road works it turned out to be longer than anticipated. 

The rather round about way gave me an opportunity to ‘test drive’ the Renault. 

It was lunchtime when we reached Brno, so after a coffee for me and a quick bite for the others we set out to explore the town.

There’s the castle and cathedral but not a huge amount more, so we managed to do a superficial tour in a few hours. 

Kate and Mark had booked a restaurant for dinner and also found a couple of brewpubs for a pre dinner beer, and a wine of course. Nejepši Pub v ČR was a trendy bar with great beer and wine.

After all Moravia is the heart of the Czech wine growing region. 

To my mind the Nejepši Pub v ČR had one of the great brewpub logos. A guy with a beer baby belly and a graphic of a foaming pint mug superimposed over the top.

 

A brief stay in Germany before heading east.

May 13th, 2018

June 24, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

Arriving in Zurich we had 20 minutes to make our connection to Berlin. 

This involved a change of terminal. We made it with a few minutes to spare, but then had to wait an hour, as there was a discrepancy in the passenger list. 

It was a Saturday so Hayden and Andrea picked us up from the airport and took us back to their apartment. We immediately went round the corner for a coffee, which was served to us by an Australian. 

In the afternoon we went for a walk in Volkspark Friedrichshain. There were hundreds of Berliners enjoying the large green spaces. There are two ‘hills’ in the park that were once bunkers but are now covered in trees and vegetation. 

These are the only relief from what is a rather flat landscape in the Berlin area. 

Volkspark Friedrichshain is the oldest park in Berlin and at 52 hectares, the fourth largest. The oldest parts of the park were planted between 1846 and 1848, over the site a former vineyard.

After the Second World War the park was in the Soviet Sector.

 

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June 25, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

On our first ‘awake’ day in Berlin we did the touristy thing and went on a ‘Berlin from Below’ tour. 

This one was ‘Subways and Bunkers in the Cold War’. There are five tours that explore the city from a subterranean perspective. 

This was the story of how the Western Berliners used old subway tunnels from the 30s’ and new ones from the 80s’ to developed a series of civil defence shelters.

This was the time of the Cold War and both the East and the West were on high alert. They were ever mindful that a nuclear holocaust was just around the corner.

The underlying theme, of the presentation, was a sceptical one. Sceptical in that all the money that was spent on these precautions was really just part of a placebo effect.

It may have made the people of Berlin feel safe, but in effect it was useless.

Only 1% of the inhabitants could be housed in these bunkers. Compare this to the Swiss system of civil defence, where 120% of their population could be saved.

Unfortunately no photos were allowed on the tour – I wonder if there is thought of using these bunkers again.

In the afternoon we went to ‘The Art of Banksy’ exhibition.

This exhibition of Banksy’s work was totally unauthorised, created by his former agent, Steve Lazarides.

They have been estranged for over eight years.

Lazarides didn’t believe that he needed to get permission from the famous street artist, because he knew he wouldn’t get it anyway.

None of the work is ‘off the street’ but rather a collection of work that Banksy made for sale. Lazarides was more than likely the agent who sold the work in the first place.

There was a wide variety of work from screen printing, test images, oil paintings and even sculpture.

The exhibition has already been shown in a number of cities, including Melbourne.

It was not without controversy there, as it was ‘visually attacked’ by Melbourne street artist, Matt ‘Adnate’, two days before the opening.

Rats have always featured in Banksy’s work. When asked by Timeout Magazine in 2010, about his fascination with the rodents, he gave this typically self effacing answer:

“They exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilisations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved, then rats are the ultimate role model. I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said: ‘That’s clever it’s an anagram of art’. And I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”

The irony is, that there is a gift shop at the end of the exhibition. 

This goes against everything Banksy stands for. 

Late in the day we had a coffee at Oslo Coffee Bar, which is just around the corner from where Hayden works. The coffee is great but what stands out at this cafe is their re-usable, dishwasher safe, coffee cups made from recycled coffee beans.

Created by the product designer Julian Lechner, these unique coffee cups took three years to develop. They were first launched in 2015 and are made from Kaffeeform. This is an entirely new material, that recycles coffee grounds, combines them with a renewable raw material, which is then moulded into espresso, cappuccino and take-away coffee cups.

(To find out more visit: kaffeeform.com)

 

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June 26, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

It was another day devoted to exploring more of Berlin.

Our first stop was at the site of the Führerbunker (Hitler’s Bunker). There is nothing there except a car park. It is certainly not a memorial and everything is done to play down its significance. 

The Führerbunker was an air-raid shelter near the Reich Chancellery. Built in two stages, 1936 and 1944, it was designed by Albert Spier and Karl Piepenburg.

Hitler spent the last few weeks of the war here, marrying Evan Braun, shortly before they both committed suicide.

Then, on a more sobering note we visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is also known as the Holocaust Memorial.

Inaugurated in 2005, it was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineered by Buro Happold. The 19,000 square metre site is covered with 2,711 grey concrete slabs or stelae. 

There is believed to be no exact interpretation of the design but I felt the stelae had an erie resemblance to coffins.

It certainly makes you think and it is to be hoped that this thinking and reflection will continue in Germany for an eternity.

We walked from the Jewish Memorial down to the Berlin Cathedral or Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church in Berlin. 

There has been a church on the site since 1608. The current cathedral was built between 1894 and 1905 during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was designed by Julius Raschdorff in the High Renaissance style. 

It was extensively damaged during World War II and rebuilt between 1975 and 1993, when it was rededicated. The restoration work wasn’t finally completed until 2002. 

To my mind the Berliner Dom is yet another opulent church that’s had far too much money spent on glorifying clergy and monarchs, rather than helping the people of the parish. 

 

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June 27, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

There is so much recent history in Berlin – WWII and the rise of the Nazi state, the ‘Final Solution’ resulting in the Holocaust and the DDR rule of Berlin’s Eastern Sector.

We had decided to cover a bit of it all.

The  DDR Museum is located on the Spree River, opposite the Berlin Cathedral.

It’s small, crowded and very hands-on, giving the visitor a chance to look at and experience life in the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik)

There are three themed areas. Public Life, State and Ideology and Life in a Tower Block.

The museum was opened in 2006 and was initially privately funded. This was regarded by the public museums as a threat to their funding. 

One of the exhibits that caught my attention was of an East German Trabi. This quaint and very basic people mover was produced by VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau from 1957 to 1990.

It was the laughing stock of the big West German auto manufacturers and the butt of many jokes.

One being: How do you double the value of a Trabi? Fill up the tank. 

The Trabi wasn’t entirely a dud as it had a plastic body on a monocoque chassis, front wheel drive and independent suspension. 

All unusual and contemporary features for a car at that time.

Hayden and Andrea understand my love of craft beer and took us to the BrewDog Craft Brewery.

They had thirty beers on tap, with great names such as Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club, Hop Fiction and at 0.5% Alcohol by Volume, my favourite, Nanny State.

BrewDog have a very alternative view on marketing, they have open-sourced their beer recipes, making them a form of Free Beer.

You won’t find the big brewers doing that.

Despite their punk approach, BrewDog, based in Ellon, Scotland, are an international brewery. They opened in 2007 and now produce bottled and keg beer for local consumption and export. They have bars throughout the UK and also in Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden, Helsinki in Finland, Florence in Italy, São Paulo in Brazil and of course Berlin in Germany.

BrewDog also has plans to open a brewery in Brisbane. This means that some of their excellent draught and bottled beers might end up down in Melbourne.

June 28, 2017. Berlin to Frankfurt and Kreuzwertheim, Germany.

The day didn’t go as well as we had planned. 

Firstly our plane from Berlin to Frankfurt was an hour late. Then when we went to pick up our Renault Eurodrive lease car – it didn’t have any number plates. They hadn’t come with the car when it was shipped from France. 

After many discussions between Michael, the Renault Eurodrive representative and Renault in France, we were taken back to the airport to get an Avis hire car. 

This was only after Renault Roadside Assist couldn’t get a car in down-town Frankfurt, as they were all booked out. 

They were reluctant to go to the airport depot as they charge a 21.5% surcharge, which wasn’t our concern as they were paying.

At the end of the day we found ourselves driving an Opel Mokka rather than a Renault Captur. 

Renault had booked the rental car for ten days. The big question was how quickly could they get our Captur, with number plates, delivered to us. 

After all we were heading into Eastern Europe, and moving further and further away from France.  

 

Part 2: New York and the eastern states.

April 30th, 2018

Mabry Mill, 1910

June 5, 2017. Roanoke, Virginia to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The sky was dark and foreboding on the morning we left Roanoke and the rain had returned. Our plan was to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, continuing our journey in the eastern states.

We stuck to the plan but didn’t get out of the car as the weather was too foul.

One stop we did make was at Mabry Mill. Built in 1910 this was a multipurpose mill that not only ground corn but was also a sawmill and a woodworking shop. 

We continued our drive into Winston-Salem.

The further south we moved, the better the weather became and by the time we reached the hotel the rain had stopped completely.

There were still some very dark clouds clinging to the horizon.

Winston-Salem has a population of nearly a quarter of a million people, so it’s a lot larger than we have been used to.

It is a ‘Twin City’ due to its duel heritage. It is also know as ‘Camel City’ because of the locally based tobacco company RJ Reynolds.

Salem is the older part of the two cities, first being settled in 1753 by Bishop August Spangenber and his followers on behalf of the Moravian Church.

In 1849 the Salem congregation sold some land to the north, this then became Winston in 1851.

Winston was a sleepy country town until Pleasant Henderson Hanes, his brother John Wesley Hanes and Richard Joshua Reynolds built their tobacco factories there in the 1870s. By the 1880s there were almost 40 tobacco factories in the town of Winston.

The Hanes brothers and Reynolds were fierce competitors for the next 25 years until in 1900  when Pleasant Henderson and John Wesley Hanes sold out to Reynolds. They then built a second life in textiles.

This became the famous Hanes underwear and hosiery company. 

That evening we caught an Uber up to the Foothills Brewing Company for dinner.

The rain had started again so walking was out of the question, even though it was very close to our hotel.

The food, wine and beer were excellent. There was also a great display of their ‘Retro’ posters on the walls around the dining area.

This was a brewpub in the old tradition. The waitstaff grovelled for tips, unlike their counterparts in the west and north central parts of the US.

After some discussion with the wait staff we discovered that they get paid $2.30 per hour.

Why would anybody work for that?

The simple answer is – they have no choice. There are no unions, to push for better conditions and pay, and the owners are so heavily taxed that they are not making that much money.

Well that was the story we were told.

 

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June 6, 2017. Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

‘Reynolda House Museum of American Art’ is the description that is now given to the RJ Reynolds family home in Winston-Salem.

It was the passion and brainchild of Katharine Smith Reynolds, wife of RJ Reynolds.

The house was the centre piece of a 1,067 acre (4.32 square kilometres) estate just outside of the city centre.

Today the house has one of the finest collections of American paintings spanning three centuries.

It was designed by Charles Barton Keen (1868-1931), with construction starting in 1912 and completed in 1917.

Due to it’s low profile and wide verandas it was described by Katherine Reynolds as a ‘Bungalow’

It is far from any bungalow that we know, especially the Californian style.

The Reynolda House Estate was run on the style of an English estate in the 18th and 19th century. Think Downton Abbey.

Apart from the main house there was a self-sufficient estate that was run by Katharine Smith Reynolds. This consisted of gardens, facilities for recreation, a school, church, model farm and housing for the estate workers.

A short drive from the centre of town was the shell shaped service (gas) station. This single story Shell station, in the shape of a giant scallop shell, was built by R.H. Burton and his son, Ralph, in 1930. It is located at the corner of Sprague and Peachtree Streets in Winston-Salem. The owners decided to attract customers through a series of shell-shaped service stations.

A very good example of how literal 1920s and ‘30s advertising was.

 

Grove Arcade 1929

June 7, 2017. Winston-Salem to Asheville, North Carolina.

There was a lot to see and do in Asheville, so we just took the Interstate and made the trip as simple as possible. 

We had been told how great Asheville was by the owner of a wine store in NYC. 

She seemed to know her wines and craft beers and gave the city a great wrap, especially in regards to its off-beat culture. 

We found the Visitor’s Centre and they didn’t hesitate in sending us on the ‘Asheville Urban Trail’. 

This was a three hour, self-guided, walking tour of downtown. 

Apart from it’s vibrant arts culture Asheville has some of the best Art Deco buildings in the US. 

When most cities in the country were demolishing their ‘old’ buildings during the 60s Asheville was in a financial slump and had no plans for redevelopment. 

This saved the city and preserved its heritage. 

It is now one of the fastest growing regions in the country. 

Asheville was incorporated in 1797 and named after Governor Samuel Ashe. 

It also boasts the Basilica of St Lawrence and the Biltmore Estate.  

The dome of the basilica has a span of 58 by 82 feet (18 by 25 m) and is reputed to be the largest, freestanding, elliptical dome in North America.

While we were at the Visitor’s Centre we purchased, rather expensively, tickets to the Biltmore Estate. 

That was tomorrow’s adventure. 

 

Biltmore Estate 1895

June 8, 2017. Asheville, North Carolina.

America’s largest, privately owned home, Biltmore Estate, was built by George Washington Vanderbilt in 1895. 

The work began on the house in 1895 and it took 1,000 workers to complete the project. Vanderbilt not only used local labourers but international artists such as Viennese sculpture Karl Bitter and Spanish architect Rafael Guastavio..

It was modelled on the French Renaissance chateau style, with characteristically steeply pitched roofs, towers, turrets, and extensive sculptural ornamentation.

It contains 255 rooms, and 43 bathrooms, which is surprising considering that George Vanderbilt was a bachelor at the time of its construction.

The name Biltmore derives from ‘Bildt’, Vanderbilt’s ancestors’ place of origin in Holland, and ‘more’, Anglo-Saxon for open, rolling land.

Vanderbilt engaged Richard Morris Hunt to design Biltmore and Frederick Law Olmsted to landscape the 8,000 acre estate. 

This was Downton Abbey, but on a grander scale. 

George Vanderbilt and his wife Edith were Europhiles. They met and married in Paris in 1898. 

George Vanderbilt was an extensive traveller, visiting over 25 countries and crossing the Atlantic Ocean a total of 60 times in his life. 

He was an intellect, speaking three languages and having a love of art, music and science. 

Biltmore Estate is a huge drawcard for the Biltmore Foundation with 1.4 million visitors in 2016 alone.

 

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June 9, 2017. Asheville to Cherokee, North Carolina.

The main reason for going to Cherokee was to learn a little about the local Native Americans.

What made it even more rewarding was that we travelled on the Blue Ridge Parkway to get there. 

This was our third time on this scenic drive and to my mind the best yet. 

Due to the higher altitude, the wild flowers were still in bloom. 

At the Richland Balsam Overlook, which is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway we reached 6,947 feet (2,117 metres).

Blue Ridge Parkway is Americas’ longest linear park. It runs for 469 miles (755 kilometres) through Virginia and North Carolina. 

Construction was started during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 – that man did so much.

Museum of the Cherokee Indians was in the centre of the the town of Cherokee.

It was an interesting display that covered the aboriginals of the region through many periods, not just the Cherokee.

It showed the development of weapons from spears and throwing sticks to bow and arrow through the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian Periods.

One very interesting artefact was the Atlatl or throwing stick  - very similar to the Woomera.

Sequoyah was part Cherokee and in 1821 developed a written language for his people. He became know as ‘The man who made the leaves talk’

Another interesting character was the Anglo-American army officer, journalist and cartographer, Henry Timberlake (1730 or 1735 to 1765)

His memoirs published in 1765 had detailed descriptions of villages, houses, weapons and tools. All vital for anthropologists and historians when they uncovered archeological sites in the southern Appalachian region.

In May 1762 Timberlake returned to England with three Cherokee chiefs, who had expressed a desire to meet the king of England. They met King George III and had their portraits painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

There are copies of these in the Cherokee Museum.

Unfortunately the Museum lacked academic rigour. There weren’t the usual facts, figures, dates and timelines that normally accompany the displays.

 

Cades Cove Loop Road

June 10, 2017. Cherokee, North Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee.

We found, yet another, good coffee house in Bryson City, at Mountain Perks. The best coffee seems to be had at the places that roast their own beans.

If they roast they seem to care about the quality of their coffee.

Again getting to our destination was the purpose of the drive.

We took the Great Smoky Mountain National Park road from Cherokee. This was after consulting the staff at the Visitor’s Centre.

Unfortunately we had to do a little backtracking, as we were sent down a road that turned out to be closed. 

I blame the woman at the Visitor’s Centre, and the TomTom. 

They both should have known better. 

The road was surrounded on either side by stunning views, however it was, in parts, excruciatingly slow.

The mere glimpse of a bear or deer, however distant they were, caused the traffic to stop. 

The advice we received at the Visitor’s Centre was that this trip could take between two and four hours.

They were wrong about that as well, as it took more like five hours. It was worth it as the scenery was stunning.

The Great Smoky Mountains get their name from Cherokee tradition.

They are known as ’schaconage’ or ‘blue, like smoke’ because of their natural bluish haze.

In the evening we walked into Market Square in the heart of downtown Knoxville for dinner and discovered a small slice of ‘Euroamerica’. 

Market Square is a block long and surrounded by cafés, bars and restaurants – all with outdoor seating facing the square. 

There are buskers, musicians and lots of weird people, just as you would find in Barcelona, Paris or Berlin.

Being settled in 1786, Knoxville was the first capital of Tennessee.

It was bitterly divided during the Civil War and was occupied by both the Confederate and Union armies.

During the 1920s the economy stagnated, but in 1982 the city hosted the World’s Fair which helped to rejuvenate it.

The Sunsphere Tower, erected for the World’s fair, dominates the city skyline.

It is a 266’ (81 metres) tall hexagonal steel truss structure with a 75’ (23 metres) gold glass sphere on top.

It’s so disco and so 80s.

 

World's Fair Park and the Sunsphere Tower

June 11, 2017. Knoxville and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Continuing with the Euroamerican theme in Knoxville we had breakfast at the French Market Crêperie, near Market Square. 

The croissant, crêpes and coffee were very French, however everything was served on disposable plates and cups – very American. 

After breakfast we wandered around Knoxville, it was Sunday and very quiet. I think we were the only tourists in town.

Like so many of the small towns and cities we have see, Knoxville has a mixture of 19th century and early 20th century architecture.

Some of the Art Deco buildings are fantastic and many are now being restored.

Modern architecture is hard to find. There are some contemporary office blocks, but no domestic buildings.

All houses, motels and hotels seem to hark back to the 17th, 18th and 19th century for their designs. Most are in timber and have a gabled roof.

It’s easy to see why Frank Lloyd Wright is so revered. 

I discovered a website that was devoted to domestic American architecture. It was titled, American Home Styles, 1600 to Today.

It covered the following styles:

American Colonial House Styles 1600s – 1800

Neoclassical House Styles 1780 – 1860

Victorian House Styles 1840 – 1900

The Gilded Age 1880 – 1929

Frank Lloyd Wright Styles 1901 – 1955

Bungalow Styles 1905 – 1930

Early 20th Century House Styles 1905 – 1930

Mid-20th Century House Styles 1930 – 1965

Modernist Houses 1930 – Present

‘Neo’ House Styles 1965 – Present

Spanish and Mediterranean 1600s – Present

French Styles 1700s – Present

Prefab Houses 1906 – Present

Dome Homes 1954 – Present

Frontier Houses 1600s – Present

Native American House Styles Prehistoric – Present

Two things caught my interest in this article.

One, Frank Lloyd Wright had his own section and two, a number of styles, that were started in colonial times, are still used today.

This is very evident when you travel around the US. There is so much of the older style of architecture that is still being built and so little contemporary designs.

It seems that there is an unwritten rule that forbids people designing or building modern homes.

In the afternoon we visited the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge. This is a 30 minute car trip from Knoxville.

The feature exhibition is all about the part that the town played in the Manhattan Project.

Both Thea and I had an interest in the story of the atomic bomb, as we had both read ‘Brighter than a Thousand Suns’ by Robert Jungk. This was the first account of the Manhattan Project and the German atomic bomb project.

Subsequently the book has been discredited, especially by the military head of the project, General Leslie Groves, who said:

“I wouldn’t place any reliance on anything in that book Brighter than the Suns. For example, he gave quotes attributed to me that were the direct opposite of what I had given him. He did that with everybody he talked to. I’d say that he was thoroughly discredited in the eyes of everybody who knew him.”

The Manhattan Project was a highly secretive US research undertaking, designed to develop the atomic bomb during the Second World War.

It took place between 1942 and 1945, culminating in the building of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

The line that has always been pushed by the US, is that by dropping the bomb they shortened the war and saved thousands, if not millions, of lives.

In 1942 President Franklin D Roosevelt was convinced by a group of US and foreign scientists that Germany, under Hitler, was capable of producing the bomb.

Albert Einstein authored a letter to Roosevelt imploring him to act quickly in the national interest.

Three sites were used in the Manhattan Project. Hanford in Washington, Los Alamos in New Mexico and Oak Ridge in Tennessee.

The Oak Ridge facility was the biggest and at its peak housed 75,000 people, becoming the fifth largest city in Tennessee.

The layout of the exhibition was far too messy with an over abundance of conflicting information, both spoken and graphic. 

After three hours spent in the museum we felt that we had done the ‘book ends’ regarding the atomic bomb.

We had seen the destruction and misery it caused in Hiroshima, when we were in Japan in 2013. And then on this trip, where we saw how it was created.

Both the Japanese and the Americans put their own spin on the bomb, so we have seen both sides to this momentous part of 20th century history.

Apart from the Manhattan Project display, there were other exhibits covering nuclear fusion, oil and natural gas, plus a huge display on coal. 

Not surprisingly, very little was mentioned about renewable energy. 

We went back into Knoxville for dinner, this time to Gay Street. 

As we were walking in we kept seeing people carrying folded chairs. We thought that they were coming from a day at the river, as the temperature had skyrocketed over the last 24 hours. 

How wrong were we. 

After dinner we walked back into Market Square and there were about 600 people sitting, on ‘folded chairs’, watching a game of ice hockey on a big screen. 

They were there to watch their local team, which was from Nashville, a time zone away. 

The game was between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

This was part of the Stanley Cup final. 

Obviously a very important game, judging by the enthusiastic crowd. 

We left before the end, but later discovered that the Penguins beat the Predators, 2-0, winning the Stanley Cup. 

Fortunately we weren’t around to witness the crowd’s disappointment. 

 

June 12, 2017. Knoxville, Tennessee to Columbia, South Carolina.

Today was a longish drive to Columbia, our halfway stop before heading on to Wilmington and the coast. 

Again we went over the Great Smokey Mountains, but this time on the Interstate, not through the State Park.  

Apart from the erratic driving by some road users, both in cars and trucks, the roads are relatively easy to drive on. Once we were back in South Carolina, we could also cruise along at 70mph (112kph).

Just over the road from our hotel was the Carolina Ale House. 

The beer was excellent, the wine and food ok but the service was chaotic. 

The 13% tip seemed excessive.

 

Front Street Brewery posters

June 13, 2017. Columbia, South Carolina to Wilmington, North Carolina.

We drove into downtown Columbia and found the Wired Goat Cafe for a coffee, then started towards Wilmington on the coast. 

The temperate was much warmer now, so a few days by the sea would be welcome. 

All of our accommodation, apart from NYC with Ev and Steph, has been in hotels and motels. In Wilmington we decided to try an Airbnb and found one near the river. 

We had a bedroom, kitchen, dining room, sitting room and laundry on the top floor of  ‘Schubert Hall’ which was built in 1836.

It was great to be able to spread out for a few days.  

Wilmington is a port city, first incorporated in 1739/40 and named after Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington. 

We were staying in the downtown, Historic District which seemed to be set up for visitors. 

There were 11 breweries in town and one on the waterfront, just to the east. 

In fact, there seems to be a brewery or coffee shop on every corner. 

Which was very unfortunate as we only had three nights there. 

There was even a craft brewery just opposite our Airbnb. 

On our first night in Wilmington we walked back into town and had dinner at the Front Street Brewery. This is the oldest brewery in the area and by far the busiest. 

Most other places were empty, while there it was packed. 

They had five ‘Flagship’ draught beers and another five ‘Seasonals’, also on tap. 

I had the Port City IPA, it was the best India Pale Ale I had tried so far on the trip. 

This was also one of the first gastro breweries we had been to, on this trip, that actually had tanks on display. 

I believe that this adds a certain authenticity to the place. 

Each brew had its own poster on a rather impressive wall display. 

The graphics were great. 

 

Venus Fly Trap

June 14, 2017. Wilmington, North Carolina.

The Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden was created by George Stanley Rehder Sr. who was known locally as ‘The Fly Trap Man’.

Stanley spent 25 years transplanting and cultivating fly traps pitcher plants and sundews.

The garden is tiny, only three quarters of an acre (3035.14 square metres) but full of flesh eating plants.

The Venus Fly Trap can only be found within a 75-100 mile radius of Wilmington. They can’t be found in the wild, anywhere else in the world. 

Being so rare, it’s understandable that there is a black market in these plants. In 2013 a thousand plants were stolen from the park. 

Valued at over US$20,000, this was not an isolated incident. 

Since then state law has made it a felony to nick Venus Fly Traps. 

In the afternoon we drove east to Wrightsville Beach and had a coffee at The Workshop. 

According to their business card they specialise in Sandwiches, Espresso and Fossils. 

The fossils were sharks teeth and there was also a large collection of shark’s teeth Jewellry for sale. 

The North Carolina number plates have the line: ‘First in Flight’. We wondered what on earth that meant, until we discovered that Orville and Wilber Wright made their first flight, in a heavier than air, fixed wing aircraft, in North Carolina in 1903. This was near Kitty Hawk, which is just up the coast from Wilmington.

 

Bellamy Mansion Museum, children’s stage

June 15, 2017. Wilmington, North Carolina.

Time to get a haircut. 

After a bit of searching I found the Beale Street Barber Shop, which wasn’t actually in Beale Street but Castle Street. 

It’s named after the famous Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. 

This is a 1.8 mile (2.9 kilometre) strip that is significant in the history of the ‘Blues’

It was created in 1841 after a forgotten military hero and originally name Beale Avenue.

In 1903 Mayor Thornton of Memphis was looking for a music teacher for his band, the Knights of Pythias. He talked to his friend Booker T. Washington who recommended trumpet player, W. C. Handy. Thornton contacted Handy and Memphis became the home of the musician who created the ‘Blues on Beale Street’

Not surprising the Beale Street Barber Shop in Wilmington was a shrine to the Blues. There was also a lot of Rock and Country Music photos, records and memorabilia covering the walls.

Johnny Cash and Elvis were heavily featured.

There was even an old black and white TV playing video clips and a stage where bands perform on Friday nights.

We decided to make another trip to the coast this time to Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

No sooner did we reach the resort area of Carolina Beach than it started to rain. 

Then the rain got harder and harder. We have never experienced a downpour like it.

So much for our beach excursion.

Because we had a kitchen and the wherewithal to cook a meal, we decided to do just that.

The owner of the Airbnb had very kindly left us bacon and eggs. These were obviously intended for breakfast but we thought that they could be the start of a Spaghetti Carbonara.

As our beach trip was cut short we found a supermarket and got the rest of the ingredients we needed to make or ‘spag cab’.

Looking for something to fill in the rest of the afternoon we went to the Bellamy Mansion Museum.

It was built between 1859 and 1861, in a mixture of Neoclassical architectural styles, for Dr John D Bellamy.

The facade features a full colonnade of six Corinthian columns and is crowned with a belvedere, to allow the summer heat to escape from the lower levels.

Dr Bellamy and his wife Eliza had been married twenty years before they moved into the house. By that stage they had nine children and Eliza was pregnant with their tenth when they moved in.

No wonder they needed twenty two rooms.

Designed by architect James Frost, both enslaved and free workers were used in the construction. 

The house was taken over by federal troops during the American Civil War. It survived a fire, said to have been ignited by opponents of the Confederacy, in 1972.

It’s lucky to be still standing. 

Many of the rich, southern, plantation owners of the 19th century, were not only brutal to their slave workers but completely self possessed about their wealth. 

It was regarded as the ‘Gilded Age’. 

A phrase that was coined by Mark Twain, referring to a period that was glittering on the surface, yet corrupt beneath. 

It was a time of corruption, capitalism and conspicuous consumption. 

I have often wondered why most of the houses, especially the ones owned by wealthy people, were made of timber and not brick.

Our Bellamy Mansion guide said that timber was the main export in the area and it was more expensive than brick, especially if you used the best timber. 

Again they were being ostentatious.

This pales into insignificance when you consider that the Vanderbilt family imported marble from Italy to build their stately home.  

Before we cooked dinner, we walked over the road to Flytrap Brewing. Yet another craft brewery. 

It was literally, in a parking lot. 

They don’t serve food at the bar but there is a food truck, in the car park. 

Most of the seating is outside. Which was good as there was a live act playing, that was far too loud for the area. 

The rain held off – just. 

It was a true local, with people actually walking to get there, with their dogs. 

 

June 16, 2017. Wilmington, North Carolina to Washington, District of Columbia.

It was a long day on the road, from Wilmington to Washington DC. 

The search for a wake up espresso was also long, ending at Morning Addiction in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. 

How very apt. 

Later in the afternoon, I needed, and Thea found, another coffee shop in Richmond, Virginia, called Brewer’s Café.

It was owned by AJ Brewer – I guess he was born to be a barista. 

We were meeting Ev and Steph in Washington and spending the weekend with them discovering DC. 

It was also their second wedding anniversary, another great reason to catch up. 

 

Capitol Building

June 17, 2017. Washington, District of Columbia.

DC means the District of Columbia.  We found this out the hard way, trying to locate our Airbnb on the SatNav. 

Washington DC is the compact capital of the USA and situated on the Potomac River, bordered by Maryland and Virginia. 

It houses the three branches of government: the Capital, White House and Supreme Court. 

Occasionally ‘The Donald’ lives there but it was the weekend and we suspected that he might be somewhere that treats him more favourably, like Mar-a-Lago. 

We found out later that he was ‘slumming it’ at Camp David.

His first visit since taking office. 

Our day was spent sightseeing. 

We started at the Capital Building and the Library of Congress. We then walked along the National Mall, detouring to the White House before ending up at the Lincoln Memorial. 

That evening we went to the Right Proper Brewing Company’s, Shaw Brew Pub for dinner

Apart from great beer, cheese was their specialty.

But they didn’t food match the beer with either the main course or the cheese, which was a pity. However Ev and I did discover that the Porter went very well with the Stilton.

 

Portraits of the American Presidents

June 18, 2017. Washington, District of Columbia.

In the morning we went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for some culture.

One of the main exhibitions was ‘Down these Mean Streets’ (Community and place in urban photography). The display examines how Latino photographers depicted America’s urban streets as the concept of inner cities started to emerge.

The American Presidents portrait gallery was undergoing renovation but there was still good representation of the presidential portraits.

Missing was the planned interactive part of the display.

I am sure that this would have helped the poor Aussies who have not really studied American history that closely.

Another interesting exhibition was ‘The Gilded Age: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’. It featured works that had been created during the very opulent period from the 1870s to the 1920s.

The Gilded Age was a showcase for art and architecture that was funded by the enormous wealth that some American land owners and industrialists amassed during the time of slavery and industrialisation.

These families built their wealth through industry, shipping, railroads and real estate.

They built castles and filled them with the best art and artefacts that money could buy.

In the afternoon, after we dropped Ev and Steph off to get their bus back to NYC, we drove to Arlington National Cemetery.

This is where many of the dead from American conflicts have been buried.

The cemetery was established during the Civil War in 1864 and built on land that was owned by the wife of the Confederate Army commander, Robert E. Lee.

After wandering around we visited the Tombs of JFK and the Unknown Soldier.

There was a crowd building up around the tomb of the Unknown Soldier so we waited to see what it was all about.

It was the changing of the guard and it took nearly half an hour of pomp, ceremony, barking commands, clicking of heels and presenting of arms.

 

June 19, 2017. Washington, District of Columbia to New York City, New York State.

The drive into NYC was relatively easy – a lot easier than the drive into DC on the Friday afternoon. 

We drove along the Baltimore Parkway, an efficient freeway that runs through a tall, green, lush forest. 

After a coffee break in Baltimore we headed to NYC. We couldn’t avoid toll roads so got onto the New Jersey Turnpike. 

This was an experience.

Truckies or Truckers as they are known in the US are an ill disciplined group.

They believe they own the road and the road rules don’t apply to them. Fortunately the operators of the New Jersey Turnpike realise this and have segregated the trucks from the cars.

This makes for a much better driving experience.

After dropping off our bags at Ev and Steph’s apartment, we took the car back to Hertz.

We had covered 3,753 miles (6,040 km) in 32 days. 

All in all it was a relatively stress free drive, of less than 200 kilometres per day. 

The temperature was in the 90s F (30s C) for most of the day, that’s until a thunderstorm and the resulting deluge rammed into the city in the late afternoon.

Then the temperature dropped.

 

Grand Central Station

June 20, 2017. New York City, New York State.

Still doing the tourist thing, but without a panic to get all the sights ‘done’ we had a wander through NYC.

Grand Central Terminal, or Station as most people know it, was built in 1903 in the Beaux-Arts style.

While the facade is imposing it’s the interior concourse that is it’s main feature.

It measures 275 feet (84 metres) long by 120 feet (38 metres) wide. There is a four-faced brass clock that sits on top of the information booth and a large American flag hangs at one end. Put there just days after the September 11 attacks.

At one end is an Apple store complete with hangers-on availing themselves of the free WiFi.

Next was the Chrysler Building, the New York home of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, when I worked on Toyota in the 80s.

DFS had three floors of this classic 1930 New York skyscraper and was the largest agency in the city at the time.

Built for the auto giant Chrysler and designed by William van Alen, in the Art deco style, it was for about twelve months the world’s tallest building. Then the Empire State building came along.

The design of the decorative top of the tower was said to be inspired by the wheel caps of the 1920s Chrysler models.

The interior foyer area is equally inspiring with the decorative lift (elevator) doors and wall panels depicting 20th century transport.

New York Public Library was next on the list.

Completed in 1911 in the Beaux-Arts style, it is public in the fact that the public get to use it but it is financed privately.

Like most public places in the US, everything is privately paid for.

The main benefactor of the New York Public Library was Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886). He left the bulk of his fortune, about $2,4000,000 to build the library.

As stated in his will, he wanted to, “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.”

Like so many public buildings, a competition was held to find a suitable design – New York architects lined up to get in on the action.

The eventual winner was the firm of Carrier and Hastings. The corner stone was laid in 1902 and it was finally completed nine years later.

The response to the new library by the people of New York was astounding with between 30,000 and 50,000 visiting on the first day it was opened.

One of the most unusual exhibits in the library is ‘The Real Winnie-the-Poo and friends’.

These are the five dolls, Poo, Kanga, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger, that were given to Christopher Robin in the 1920s. They inspired the characters of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Poo books.

Why they are in America and not England is still a mystery to me.

 

Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees playing the Los Angeles Angels)

June 21, 2017. New York City, New York State.

We went to the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition at MoMA.

This was titled, Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive. It was a celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the American architect’s birth.

There were 450 examples of his designs, drawing, ideas, models, furniture and even publicity, covering his work from the 1880s through to the 1950s.

In his lifetime Wright designed over 1,000 buildings and realised about 500 of them. His work spans the era of optimism in the late 1800s through the Great depression of the 1930 and the post war boom period of the 1950s.

The exhibition reflected this and showed how his ideas developed and adapted to the rapidly changing society in the US.

As I have mentioned before, Wright was an architectural hero in the US. Even today he is regarded as a god, so much so that it would be hard for any architect to ever surpass him.

That evening we visited Yankee Stadium to see the New York Yankees playing the Los Angeles Angels.

Compared to cricket, there was little use of video technology. No spidercam or pitching (bowling) analytics.

I found it hard to concentrate on the game – I wasn’t alone. Most people fidgeted, talked and generally moved about during each innings. 

Yankee Stadium is in the Bronx and not the original ball park made famous in movies and TV shows.

This one was completed in 2009 and replaces the old park that is now known as Heritage Field, a public park. 

The current spectator capacity is for 47,422 fans.

I must admit that even through I played softball as a kid I have little knowledge of Major League Baseball and found the game hard to follow.

The evening ended with Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.

I guess that was to be expected.

 

Coney Island

June 22, 2017. New York City, New York State.

This was our last full day in NYC so we did the very touristy thing and went to Coney Island.

Situated in the borough of Brooklyn, Coney Island is known for its amusement parks, seaside resorts and hot dogs.

Fittingly, both Thea and Stephanie had a ‘dog’ for lunch from Feltman’s. They boast at being the creators of the original hot dog, which dates back to 1867.

Coney Island’s glory years were in the 1830s. Holiday hotels and fun parks for New Yorkers became the vogue.

Later in the afternoon we walk again through Greenwich Village, had a coffee in Blue Stone Lane, then went down to the Hudson River.

it was a casual day in NYC, but a lot of fun.

That evening we went to the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club on the Upper West Side. It was founded in 1999 by Paul Stache and Frank Christopher and is regarded as a very influential New York jazz club.

The concept is that you book dinner and a show which lasts about 90 minutes – then you are out the door as new customers are waiting to come in.

That night Stephen Kroon’s Latin Jazz Sextuplet were playing. It was a great venue with excellent music, I just wished that it could have lasted longer.

 

June 23, 2017. New York City, New York State to Berlin, Germany. 

The morning was spent on boring things like backing-up computers and packing, before a final coffee at Mason Harlem. 

We had been there often enough that we were almost ‘locals’. 

Then it was the long Metro ride to JFK for our flight to Berlin. 

We had one final drink at Flyzone, one of the JFK’s airport bars. Again the beer was great.

I will miss American craft beers and the great bars that, no matter where they are, seem to be able to create an atmosphere. 

But I do wonder and worry about where America is heading under Trump,

As Hayden described the US. “It’s the bastard child of Europe.”

However this bastard now has an even bigger identity crisis.

 

 

Part 1: New York and the eastern states.

April 4th, 2018

01_May 15, 2017_Tarrytown

May 11-18, 2017. New York City and Tarrytown, New York State.

After a very long flight from Melbourne, via Sydney and Los Angeles, we arrived in the Big Apple.

This was the first leg in another adventure – discovering new places and chasing our family around the world.

We are planning on being away for about ten months and the first part was all about family.

Over two years ago Evan and his wife Stephanie came to NYC. Steph had been offered a place, in the Masters program, at Columbia University.

We were in New York for her graduation and from there we were going to explore some of the eastern states.

Columbia University was first established in 1754 and was formerly known as King’s College. It was established by a royal charter from George II and was renamed as Columbia College in 1784, following the American Revolutionary war.

I wondered why a crown was on the crest of Columbia – the answer was in its history.

We arrived on a Thursday, just in time for Mother’s Day on the Sunday.

Jenny and Neil, Steph’s parents, were also in New York for the graduation and Ev and Steph had planned a Sunday lunch.

Where we were going and how we were to get there was a well kept secret.

A Mother’s Day mystery tour.

After a bus ride and a train trip we ended up in Tarrytown, about 40 kilometres north of Manhattan, on the Hudson River.

It was a wonderful surprise for everyone, especially the mums.

After an excellent lunch we had a stroll up and down Main Street in Tarrytown.

We even visited the local fire department and chatted with one of the local fireman, a huge 17 year old volunteer.

Then it poured down.

There was plenty of shelter, so we managed to get back to the station and New York without getting soaked.

The next few days were taken up with the graduation which is the subject of a separate post.

 

80 Church Lane, Bridgehampton

May 19, 2017. The Hamptons, New York State.

On our final day in NYC we picked up a Hertz rental near the Washington Bridge and made a very slow escape from the city.

The car was a white Nissan Sentra with cavernous boot space, so our bags and packs fitted in easily.

After our slow start we got onto Long Island and the speed increased as we hit the rural areas.

The Hamptons are the ‘escape’ towns for New Yorkers. They are quiet during autumn and winter but turn feral in the summer months.

We had arranged to spend time with our old friends, Cathie and Earl Gandel. They have had a house in Bridgehampton for over 40 years. It’s been both their principal residence and holiday home during that time.

The weather was very hot as we left New York and the Nissan’s air conditioner worked overtime. By the time we reached Bridgehampton it had dropped to a very pleasant 25°C.

The next day the New York weather had reached us and the temperature had risen to 35°C again.

In the morning Earl and Cathie drove us around the Hamptons and we caught a glimpse of some of the vast hedged estates that are home to rich and famous New Yorkers.

We stopped for lunch and had one of the notorious lobster rolls, a local specialty we were told.

Two serves were enough for the four of us.

We were back in the States and the servings were huge.

How quickly you forget.

Earl and Cathie had just sold the Bridgehampton house and were planning to move back to LA.

We spent two nights and a full day with Earl and Cathie.

I met Earl at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in 1982.

The agency was a partnership between Schofield Sherbon Baker in Sydney and Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (DFS) from New York.

The founding and primary reason for the creation of DFS was the servicing of the Toyota business in Australia.

Commercial vehicles were handled out of the Sydney office and passenger cars from Melbourne.

Earl was sent to Melbourne as General Manager and chief authority on all things Toyota.

Earl still has a love of cars and owns two beautiful vintage British sports cars – a 1949 Triumph and a 1950s’ MG.

Earl is retired but still holds honorary positions with the local fire station and historical society. While Cathie still works as a free-lance journalist.

 

Sterling Library, Yale University, New Haven

May 20, 2017. Bridgehampton, New York State to West Haven, Connecticut. 

It took three ferry trips to get from Bridgehampton, in New York State, to West Haven in Connecticut.

Two short and one long.

The longer journey was from Orient Point to New London. This is the only one we needed to book in advance.

We broke our trip at Greenpoint, with a good cup of coffee at Aldo’s, followed by a short walk.

It was a pleasant 80 minute boat ride, marred briefly by the beeping of a car alarm coming from a black BMW.

Our ferry was the New London, operated by Cross Sound Ferries.

We stopped in New Haven, the home of Yale University to explore the campus.

A strange feature of the city landscape, especially around the campus, were the ‘Personal emergency stations’. These were freestanding poles, with a blue light mounted on top and down below, an emergency button.

I can only surmise that students on the campus are at risk of muggings or other attacks. The poles were everywhere and placed at 50 metre intervals.

Wandering around the campus we also discovered the Women’s Table, a sculptural piece by the artist Maya Lin.

Maya Lin was a student at Yale and in 1993 designed the piece to celebrate the growing number of female students that have and will attend the university.

There were women at the university right from its very start in 1701. They were what was called ‘silent listeners’ and could only sit in on classes and not participate.

The first female students on record registered in 1837.

The hotel/motel prices in New Haven were over the top. Probably due to graduation season in Yale.

We therefore stayed out of the main centre in West Haven, at a small and rather run down motel.

Our evening meal was at Cask Republic, a brewpub with 43 beers and ciders on tap.

Again we were rewarded with a good meal, at reasonable prices, with excellent local craft beers and wines.

Thea has decided on a new strategy for accommodation. By staying out of the main town or city centres we can save on accommodation costs. That saving can then be spent on using an Uber to travel to where the action is.

So far it has worked well.

May 21, 2017. New Haven, Connecticut to Kingston, New York State.

We headed back into New York State, on our way to Kingston and the Catskills. This was via Scenic Byway 58 into Bethel.

Here we had a cup of coffee at Molten Java – the write-up and reviews were better than the coffee.

The drive into Kingston was again on a Scenic Byway. The countryside was verdant green with spring growth.

Kingston is a strange town as there is no apparent centre or commercial area. In fact there is very little accommodation at all in the town, with most of it being centred near the Hudson Valley Mall.

Luckily this was where we were staying.

Surprisingly I took no snaps this day.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

May 22, 2017. Kingston and the Catskills, New York State.

This was a day of country and culture.

Firstly we found a good coffee at Coffee Beanery. The guy was very anxious to find out how we discovered his café. He seemed surprised that we had Googled ‘good coffee close by’ and his name popped up.

We then headed into the Catskills for a drive.

The weather had turned cold and cloudy and rain was constantly threatening.

Part of our country drive took us along Railroad Avenue where we came across an old dilapidated hotel. It was a huge, rambling structure that was literally collapsing in on itself.

On the way to the Vanderbilt Mansion we discovered Kaaterskill Falls. This has been a tourist destination since the 1820s and is one of the highest waterfalls in New York State.

There are two stages to Kaaterskill Falls. The total height is 79m and the longest drop is 55m.

It was quite a hike up to the viewing platform but the views were worth it.

Even if everything was shrouded in mist.

In November 2016 a 30 year old hiker fell to his death. However it was winter and the ground was slippery with ice.

It took us almost two hours for the return trip and as soon as we arrived back at the car park, it started to rain.

We didn’t get to the Vanderbilt Mansion until late in the afternoon and the main building was shut. It was a little disappointing but we had enjoyed a great walk in the morning and you can’t do everything.

To add to it all, the mansion was undergoing major renovations and scaffolding adorned all sides of the Neo Classical construction.

The 54 room Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White and built between 1896 and 1899. It all sits on 85 hectares of formal gardens, woodlands and auxiliary buildings.

The estate originally dates back to 1764 when it was then used as agricultural land.

The Vanderbilt family were of Dutch origin and prominent during the ‘Gilded Age’ from about 1870 to 1900. They made their money through shipping and railroads. Two generations of the Vanderbilt’s were the richest family in America from the late 1800’s to the middle of the 20th century.

As with so many families that achieve great wealth, the Vanderbilt’s legacy only lasted three generations. It was described to us as ‘Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves’ with the first generation building an empire from nothing and the last generation loosing it all.

 

Deer at Ashokan Reservoir

May 23, 2017. Kingston to Ithaca, New York State. 

On the way to Ithaca and the Finger Lakes we stopped at the Ashokan Reservoir. The temperature was still fresh but it promised to warm up in the afternoon.

Construction on the reservoir was started in the early 1900s, with the first drinking water pumped to New York City in 1915.

It was a monumental project that used over 3,000 workers, all of whom were housed near the construction site.

It was ground breaking in that the authority offered food, housing, doctors, recreation and a broad education to the children of the workforce, as well as English classes to the immigrant families.

In the 1880s’ New York’s water supply was being stretched and the new Ashokan Reservoir promised to deliver 600 million gallons (2,271,247 litres) per day into the city.

The project displaced many locals from their farms and homes.

Once completed the system included four reservoirs and over 127 miles (204 kilometres) of aqueducts and tunnels.

The cost then was $177 million, today it would be over $4 Billion.

On the way to Ithaca we had a scare – there was a screeching of alarms in the Nissan.

Initially we thought it was a warning from the car, but nothing seemed to show up.

No lights or any indications.

Then we realised it was coming from our iPhones.

The alarm was from an alert, that had been put out by police, in regards to an abduction.

The offence had taken place hundreds of kilometres from where we were.

We still kept an eye out for the red Ford Pick-up truck.

In Ithaca we were staying out of town again and planned on getting an Uber to go to dinner.

There were no Ubers in Ithaca.

So we were back to the old, dated and extremely ineffective taxi system.

We were told that the taxi would be 20 minutes, it only took 10. We were also told it would cost $12, it only cost $10.

Maybe they are starting to learn.

 

1950 Chevrolet Pick-up Truck, Montour

May 24, 2017. Ithaca and the Finger Lakes, New York State. 

We found yet another excellent coffee at Montour House in Montour Falls.

The Montour or Sch-qua-ga Falls are a looming backdrop to this quaint little village – they seem to cascade right into the main street.

From there we drove to Geneva, along Seneca Lake, one of the many long narrow lakes in the Finger Lakes region.

Geneva it at the very top of Seneca lake and boasts a number of beautifully restored buildings from the turn of last century.

My favourite was the Romanesque revival YMCA building (1898) with its beautiful Art Nouveau typography on the facade.

From Geneva, on the shores of Seneca lake we then drove to Seneca Falls which is very close to Cayuga Lake.

The US women’s rights movement started in Seneca Falls in 1848. However it wasn’t until 1920 when women, across the US, actually got the vote.

The Seneca Falls Convention ran over two days, July 19-20 and attracted widespread attention. The convention’s Declaration of Sentiments became the single most important factor in spreading the news of the women’s rights movement around the US.

There is a life sized statue on the Seneca River, not far from the falls that depicts three women. This was the meeting between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, introduced by a mutual friend, Amelia Bloomer.

This chance meeting is said to have been the start of the suffragette movement in the US. This ultimately led to the Nineteenth Amendment to the American Constitution – the right for women to vote.

 

WWI Poster exhibition, Johnston Museum of Art, Cornell University

May 25, 2017. Ithaca, New York State.

Ithaca is the home of Cornell University.

Cornell, like Columbia and Yale, is another Ivy League, private University. It was established in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White.

Its charter was to make contributions in all fields of knowledge. From the classics to the sciences – from theoretical to the applied.

It has always been co-educational and non-sectarian. Ideals that were unconventional for the time.

As of 2017 Cornell claims amongst its 245,000 living alumni to have, 34 Marshall Scholars, 30 Rhodes Scholars, 29 Truman Scholars, 7 Gates Scholars, 56 Nobel Laureates and 14 living billionaires.

The currents students also like to drink.

We were in Ithaca just before the Commencements, or Graduation Ceremonies (This depends on whether your are starting or ending your academic year) and there were a lot of very ‘merry’ graduates.

They were harmless and who could blame them for letting off a bit of ‘academic or practical ‘ steam.

Ithaca, named after the Greek island, was founded in 1740 and incorporated in 1888.

Due to its large student population the voters are more liberal than upstate New York.

Ithaca hasn’t always been liberal leading. In the late 1800s, it was home to the Ithaca Gun Company, manufactures of high quality shot guns.

The company became the icon of the hunting and shooting world. The famous trick-shooter, Annie Oakley favoured, and promoted, Ithaca guns.

On our last day in Ithaca the weather turned foul so we visited the Johnston Museum of Art at Cornell University.

There was an interesting poster exhibition, immediately we entered the museum.

During WWI, posters went from artistically advertising products, to aggressively promoting propaganda for the war effort.

The exhibition was all about that transformation.

This was followed by an interesting retrospective of printmaking with artists such as Albrecht Dürer, William Hogarth, Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Batista Tiepolo, Antonio Canaletto and Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

Installations and diverse collections were also in the museum.

Thea even donated her old red iPhone case to an exhibition of Abandoned Red Objects.

It’s all about the art.

There was even an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup collection from 1969.

The entire collection was very eclectic, in that there were a small number exhibits from many periods.

This is probably due to the fact that almost everything was from a bequest or donated.

In the afternoon the weather hadn’t got much better so we went in search of a mall to replace Thea’s iPhone cover.

We then had a short drive and a quick walk to Ithaca Falls, which is almost in the centre of town.

This is the site of the infamous Ithaca Gun Company.

Much of the area has been fenced off, as it was polluted with lead from the factory.

Rehabilitation is still taking place.

 

Grey Towers near Milford

May 26, 2017. Ithaca, New York State to Milford, Pennsylvania.

We drove out of Ithaca and eventually got onto the NY 97, a scenic drive that took us down the Delaware River.

This is the border between New York State and Pennsylvania.

Near the junction of the Delaware and Lackawaxen Rivers we found the John A Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct that was built in 1847-1848 and opened in 1849. It is also known as the Roebling Bridge and was originally designed as an aqueduct that connected two parts of the Delaware and Hudson canal.

It has now been converted to carry vehicles and pedestrians.

We also found a public toilet, which is rather rare in the US.

The construction of the canal and the subsequent building of the Erie Railroad in 1848 help development in the Upper Delaware region.

Late in the afternoon we made our way to Grey Towers, a stately mansion on the outskirts of Milford.

Grey Towers was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built by the philanthropist and businessman James Pinchot in 1886.

The Pinchot family originally came from France and the mansion reflected their French heritage.

James Pinchot was deeply disturbed by the deforestation, caused by over logging in the US, and convinced his eldest son, Gifford Pinchot to consider a career in forestry.

After studying abroad, because no forestry schools existed in the US, Gifford went on to become the first Chief Forester. This was in the the newly created United States Forest Service, formed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

During his tenure, national forests more than tripled in size to over 170 million acres.

Gifford went on to serve two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania.

In 1963 Gifford Bryce Pinchot, son of Gifford, donated the property to the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

On September 24, 1963, President John F Kennedy dedicated the site to the American public in the hope of further promoting the ideals of conservation.

There is a monument to the Forest Service in the forecourt of Grey Towers.

 

Washington's headquarters, Valley Forge

May 27, 2017. Milford to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Our morning started with breakfast at the Village Diner, which was next to our motel.

Bad move.

It’s only saving grace was that their menu had been designed in the Googie style (1950s’ space age design genre)

The service was lazy and the food was poor.

Dissatisfied we headed to Philadelphia, via Valley Forge.

This was an interesting side trip as Valley Forge is regarded as one of the seminal locations in US history.

Valley Forge was the site of General Washington’s headquarters during the winter encampment of 1777-78. This was the third year of what was the eight year War of Independence.

No battles were ever fought at Valley Forge.

The area became famous as the place where, though extreme hardship, the Continental Army survived a brutal winter and went on to eventually triumph over the British.

This is seen as the defining moment in the US – the time when the American spirit was established.

It’s a bit like our ANZAC Day.

Late in the afternoon we discovered the King of Prussia Mall. This has the dubious honour of being the largest, by rentable space, mall in the US.

To their credit they have a Bluestone Lane coffee shop. This is a part of an Australian chain, that now has 7 outlets in the eastern US.

They serve great coffee and much to Thea’s delight, Lamingtons.

That night we stayed in the university district of Philadelphia and discovered the White Dog Restaurant for dinner.

This proudly boasts being the first Philadelphia establishment to source all their ingredients locally.

True or not, their food was fantastic.

The restaurant’s design followed the ‘canine’ theme with dog busts on the walls. As well, cushions and art were all incorporated into the decor.

 

White Dog Restaurant, Philadelphia

May 28, 2017. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We were in Philadelphia for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

This is the day that Americans remember those who died serving in the American Armed Forces.

It is held on the last Monday in May.

It was about 5 km into the old part of Philadelphia, so we decided to walk, having been stuck in the car for the last few days.

Stupidly we stood in line to see the famous Liberty Bell, only to discover that our view was through a window.

Once we found the real queue it took 45 minutes to get inside.

Well the Liberty Bell is one of the patriotic touchstones in the US and this was the Memorial Day long weekend.

The Liberty Bell was commissioned in 1752 by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly and was originally placed in the Pennsylvania State House.

While it is closely associated with the Declaration of Independence, there is no account of it actually being rung on July 4, 1776. However most historians agree that it probably was one of the bells rung on July 8, to mark the reading of the declaration.

The bell fell into obscurity until the 1830s’ when it was adopted as a symbol by the abolitionist societies who called it the ‘Liberty Bell.’

The bell has been recast twice, due to cracking and there is a large crack in the one on display. Since being retired it has made many road trips across the US.

We then continued on a few more kilometres down to Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River.

There is a big Irish influence in Philadelphia. This is mainly due to the influx of Irish immigrants following the potato famine of 1847.

There is a large memorial to the Irish near Penn’s Landing  and many Irish pubs and bars in the city area.

We discovered The Plough and the Stars, a lively pub that was bursting at the seams with weekend revellers.

We managed to get an outside table. I think the locals knew something that we didn’t, as it wasn’t long before the rain came.

 

Portrait of Dr Hayes Agnew (The Agnew Clinic) Thomas Eakins 1889

May 29, 2017. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The rain held off and we again walked. This time to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was just over the Schuylkill River from where we were staying.

The steps leading up to the Museum were made famous in the Rocky movies, staring Sylvester Stallone. There is even a ‘Rocky’ statue out the front, and tourists line up to have their photo taken with him.

We spent three hours in the gallery, mainly concentrating on the America art that spanned the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The exhibit that caught my attention was Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’.

One hundred years ago this piece turned the art world upside down with its uniqueness and sheer audacity.

Duchamp created the concept of ‘readymades’ by taking mass produced items, and presenting them as art.

The ‘Fountain’ was a urinal that he purchased from the New York showroom of J. L. Mott Iron Works. He then signed it ‘R. Mutt’ and submitted it to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.

It was rejected.

Today the debate still continues as to whether it is object or art.

After our cultural experience in the gallery we went in search of more basic needs.

A good glass of wine and a local craft beer.

The 2nd Story Brewing Company, on Chestnut Street, fitted the bill.

Just next door is the Han Dynasty, a Chinese restaurant with a difference.

Despite the food descriptions being foreign to us the meal was great.

Fresh ingredients, manageable portions and full of flavour.

It was in an old bank and the lofty ceilings and timber features made it all the more impressive.

There was even a row of large clocks with world times displayed.

Unfortunately they didn’t work.

 

Eshleman's Covered Bridge, built 1845, rebuilt 1883

May 30, 2017. Philadelphia to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The morning we left Philadelphia was overcast and drizzling.

It didn’t improve.

It wasn’t so bad as we planned to spend the day driving in search of covered bridges and the Amish folk. There are a number of covered bridges around Lancaster and we had been to the Tourist Information centre to get a map.

We did stop in Lancaster for a coffee and visited the market. Built in 1730, it’s one of the oldest covered markets in the US.

There were once as many as 12,000 covered bridges in the US, today there are fewer than 1,500.

There is a romanticism associated with these quaint old structures, but they are entirely practical.

Their timber truss design allowed for a greater span and they were covered to give them greater longevity.

We drove around the area for about 20 miles (32 Km) and visited four of the bridges, each one was different.

Being in Amish Country we wanted to see if we could spot these traditional Christians. They have been made famous by their simple living, plain dress and a reluctance to adopt modern ways.

The Amish began with a schism in Switzerland between a group Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists, led by Jakob Andaman in 1693. Many in this group emigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century.

We did see many in farm yards and in their traditional horse drawn buggies. But what was surprising was a lot were also driving their John Deere tractors.

Obviously not all the Amish have rejected technology.

Historically we were travelling in the right direction.

Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, especially Valley Forge were the site of Washington’s winter encampment of 1777-78. These were the touchstones of the American’s strive for independence.

Now we were in Gettysburg, founded by Samuel Getty in 1761.

This is where the Civil War was won.

This war wasn’t about sovereignty but more about states’ rights and slavery.

Fought between 1861 and 1865 it was an idealogical battle between the north and the south.

In 1862 seven southern ’slave’ states individually declared secession from the US to form the Confederate States of America.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought between July 1 and 3, 1863. The battle involved the largest number of casualties in the civil war and was the turning point. After three days of battle in Gettysburg, Robert E Lee’s army, of North Virginia, were defeated in their attempts to invade the north.

This changed the course of history.

Speaking to the locals, they say that if the north had lost then America would never have become ’The United States’ and world history would have been very different.

Given the current politics within the US, I wonder if that would have been such a bad thing.

Our accommodation in Gettysburg was right in the heart of town, at the Inn at Lincoln Square.

This was an historic house, originally built by Joel Buchanan Danner (1804-1885) in 1824. Joel B Danner was born in Liberty Maryland and was a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives between 1850 and 1851. He was probably comfortably retired from politics and running his hardware business when the Civil War broke out in his front yard in 1863.

Apart from a few modifications, the room we stayed in had an authentic 19th century feel.

There’d were even steps to get up into the four poster bed.

 

The Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest in Gettysburg

May 31, 2017. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The day was spent on the battlefields of Gettysburg.

It was suggested that we hire a guide for a few hours to escort us around the site. The guides were all booked out, so we purchased a CD pack and escorted ourselves.

The itinerary was intended to run for two and a half hours.

We took much longer than that – about five and a half hours.

We had a rough beginning, as we couldn’t find the start of the tour. After that it all went extremely well.

The guided tour was a mix of facts, yarns and dramatisations.

There are over 1,400 monuments dotted around the battlefield area, making it the largest open air gallery in the US.

That’s if you regard monuments as art.

One was of an indian chief, erected for the Tammany Regiment Memorial. The monument is a bronze statue of the Delaware Indian Chief Tammany standing in front of a teepee. Tammany was a friend to colonists in the early days of America and became the symbol for the powerful New York City political hall that raised the regiment.

It sits rather incongruously with the images of white men in uniform.

There were three CDs in the set, one for each day of that battle that was fought from July 1 to 3 in 1863.

Our final stop was at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. This is set within the Gettysburg battlefield and was consecrated on November 19, 1863.

This is the place where Abraham Lincoln delivered the historic and eloquent ‘Gettysburg Address’

This must go down as one of the most monumental speeches in history.

Surprisingly it is only 272 words long, yet it expressed so much.

 

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mill Run

June 1, 2017. Gettysburg to Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

Mowing the lawn takes on a whole new meaning, once you escape the big cities.

Wherever we went, men and occasionally woman, sat astride their ride-on-mowers and ‘cultivated’ their lawns. This seems to be a national pastime at this time of the year. It’s needed, as there are so many blocks of land, about the size of a small European country, that need constant maintenance, especially in spring.

Our primary adventure for the day was a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

This is regarded by many as the finest piece of domestic architecture in America.

The irony is that he achieved this greatness by ignoring the brief.

Designed and built between 1935 and 1939 for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the house is cantilevered over a 30’ (9.1 metres) waterfall.

The Kaufmann’s owned a large estate at Bear Run and wanted the house to overlook the waterfall.

Wright decided to build the house over the falls instead.

It was part of Wright’s new architectural philosophy of incorporating the surroundings into the design. The stone used to construct the house came from a local quarry, also owned by the Kaufmanns.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed about 1,000 houses in his lifetime, 500 of those were created after Fallingwater, when he was in his 70s.

This is regarded as his best.

Fallingwater is so popular, that at the height of the season, 1,000 visitors file through the house every day.

On the day we were there it processed about 800 tourists.

You can only take pictures outside, as they believe it will hold up the tours if photos are taken inside.

If you want to photograph the interior, you can book one of the Photo Tours, but these only run in the early morning and are booked out weeks in advance.

I did try a grab a few snaps through the windows.

As with most of his designs, Wright also created the furniture, lighting and interior decor. So it’s a pity I couldn’t have captured a few more images.

Fallingwater was designed to be the Kaufmann’s summer house, so cooling was important. Wright, without using a traditional air conditioning system, utilised windows and the draft from the waterfall below to allow cool air to flow through the house.

 

The Strasburg Hotel

June 2, 2017. Uniontown, Pennsylvania to Strasburg, Virginia.

Heading south we crossed the Mason-Dixon line again. This is a line that was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, between 1763 and 1767.

The line ultimately became a symbolic and cultural division between the North and the South, especially in regards to slavery.

It is 250 years since Mason and Dixon were commissioned to survey the 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometres) of disputed territory.

The survey was a result of a disagreement between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware in Colonial America.

The two British surveyors used the most advanced equipment that was available in the day. The accuracy was so extraordinary, that even today it astounds the scientific world.

The countryside was green and heavily wooded. We went off the main road and had a great drive through the countryside on very narrow, winding roads.

Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles was released on May 26, 1967 in the United Kingdom and June 2, 1967 in the United States.

We were in the US on the 50th anniversary, so dutifully played the album as we were driving through Virginia.

It’s a classic.

We arrived in Strasburg, Virginia in the afternoon and decided to drive around town to see what was happening.

The drive was very short.

Strasburg, founded in 1761, is on the Shenandoah River and is know for pottery, antiques and Civil War history.

However most people would remember the name from the American folk song, ‘Oh Shenandoah’ This was recorded by many artists, including Bob Dylan, Glen Campbell and even Judy Garland.

For a change we were staying in an old colonial pub, the Hotel Strasburg. This was very different to our usual motel/hotel style accommodation.

The building was constructed in 1902, as a private hospital, but then became a lodging house.

It was restored in 1977 to its current state.

Antiques were everywhere and our computers and digital cameras seemed very out of place. Apparently the Hotel Strasburg used to be owned by one of the large antique dealers in the town and everything in the place was available to purchase.

 

Little Devils Stairs Overlook

June 3, 2017. Strasburg to Roanoke, Virginia.

Antiques are still big business in the US, well at least in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The vast majority of domestic architecture in the eastern US hasn’t changed in the last 100 to 150 years. Modern houses are very hard to find and even the decor in the motels and hotel we have stayed in seem to hark back to an older era.

That combined with the fact that the American War of Independence and the Civil War all loom large in the culture of these towns.

We found a great coffee shop in Front Royal, which is only about a twenty minute drive away from Strasburg.

There we met Bruce.

He lived in Front Royal and loved a chat. He was retired but had been a salesman, worked on the railroads and even in the funeral business.

There was music coming from the town square and Bruce told us that there was a Baptist revival meeting going on.

According to Bruce, another regular Font Royal activity happens on Wednesdays. This is when the Democrats and Republicans face off in the square, yelling and waving placards at each other.

The main part of the day was to be spent driving along the Skyline, a ridge road in the Shenandoah National Park, within the Blue Ridge Mountains

Bruce told us it was well worth it even if it was a little slow.

He wasn’t wrong.

The drive is 105 miles (169km) long with 75 overlooks on both sides of the road. However you are restricted to 35mph (55kph), which makes the trip very long indeed.

We drove from near Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the south.

It certainly was a great drive, regarded by many as one of the best mountain roads in the US.

Apart from the day trippers on the road, there were many on bikes and an unknown number walking in the forests.

Every car park, leading to one of the many walking tracks, was full.

On the recommendation of the hotel receptionist we went to Billy’s for dinner. This was in the market area of Roanoke and about a twenty minute walk from the hotel.

From the outside Billy’s looked rather small and very crowned but when we got inside it was much larger than it appeared.

It was a beautiful balmy evening so we opted to eat outside.

The food was great and a change from burgers, sandwiches and over sauced pastas.

Uber is operating in Roanoke, so we booked one to bring us back to the hotel.

That’s when we met Perry, ‘The best Uber driver in the world’. They were Perry’s words not mine.

Apart from his huge ego, Perry did have some interesting innovations. One was a small blue illuminated Uber sign on the top of his car.

It did help us to find him. There was the 59th Annual Sidewalk Art Show in the streets around the market area and Perry was forced to park at the end of the streets, as the road in front of the restaurant was blocked off.

We saw Perry again the next day. His other job was in a hot dog stand.

I wonder if he made the best hot dogs in the world?

 

Taubman Museum of Art

June 4, 2017. Roanoke, Virginia.

In 1852 the town was known ‘Big Lick’, after a large outcrop of salt that drew wildlife to the site near the Roanoke River.

This name wasn’t well regarded by the locals, so in 1882 it was renamed to Roanoke and became an independent city in 1884.

One of the main attractions in Roanoke is the Taubman Museum of Art. This was designed by Randall Stout, a southern architect originally from Tennessee, and built in 2008.

For seven years Stout worked with Frank Gehry and this is very evident in his design.

The Museum is rather boxed in, with the railway line on one side and a bridge on the other.

This is ironic, considering that there is so much space in this city, most of it taken up by vast carparks

Fortunately the interior was much more spacious.

The collections in the Taubman place an emphasis on South Eastern US art. There was a small, rather diverse offering that ranged from 18th century colonial works to contemporary painting and arts and crafts.

One that I particularly liked was an installation of images projected onto four boxes filled with different foods. Entitled I am not in the business, I am the business it was created by Eva Rocha.

It was surprising how dramatically the images were altered by the background material.

There was also a collection of highly decorative handbags entitled, Earthly Delights by Judith Lieber.

She was born in Hungary in 1921 and after the war, in 1946, married an American GI, Gerson (Gus) Lieber, then moved to the US.

She obtained a traineeship at a handbag company and eventually became the first woman to join the Hungarian Handbag Guild.

In 1963 she founded her own company and became famous for her unique designs that featured animals, fruit, birds and snakes.

Her bags have been carried on the red carpet by the rich and famous, as well as a number of US First Ladies.

Another collection was some beautifully intricate metal work entitled, Metal Delicious by Alison Pack.

It was suggested that we go to the museum inside the visitor’s centre, however it was closed.

There was a small exhibition on Raymond Loewy in the foyer, so we had a wander around there instead.

Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) was a French born American industrial/graphic designer. He designed everything from famous corporate logos like Shell, Exxon and TWA, to Greyhound buses, Studebaker cars and the first Streamliner locomotive for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

He is regarded by many as the Father of Industrial Design in the US.

Later in the afternoon we walked down to the Virginia Museum of Transportation. This concentrates on cars and trains, with the odd motorcycle and bus thrown in for variety.

A very interesting exhibit, in the train section, was an old mail sorting carriage. Most mail in the US moved on railroads, in Railway Post Offices cars, until the 1960s.

The term ZIP Code means Zone Improvement Plan and was used from 1963.

Who killed the electric car?

This was a question asked on the exhibit sheet from a 1996 General Motors EV1 Electric Car.

The vehicles were produced between 1996 to 1999 and only ever leased, not sold outright.

They were limited to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson but were popular enough to expand to San Francisco and Sacramento.

Then, in 2002 the program was discontinued. The majority of the cars were recalled and crushed. The remainder were given to museums with their power trains deactivated.

One has to ask why?

We then wandered back into downtown Roanoke for dinner.

Then it started to pour down, but it did clear long enough for us to walk back to our hotel.

No Uber that night.