Big City Tales

A Trio of Sparkling German Gems

March 30, 2018
Leave a Comment

For a country that found itself on the wrong side of history and internally divided along political lines as East and West for a good portion of the 20th century, Germany has experienced a major rebound in recent decades. Since being reunified after the end of the Cold War, the world definitely no longer feels ‘chilly’ about Deutschland and interest in the country’s major cities has heated up. After years of restoration, areas that were heavily damaged by Allied attacks during World War II have been returned to their pre-war shining and sumptuous splendor. This blog explores a trio of sparkling German gems: Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich.

Berlin

As the longtime capital of Germany, Berlin is a city steeped in history, politics and culture. It is widely known for its many world-class universities, museums, orchestras and sporting venues that tantalize all the senses. The city is also home to famous national landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Berlin Cathedral, the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. Other notable sites are Alexanderplatz and the Holocaust Memorial.

Brandenburg Gate – Located at the end of the famous Unter den Linden boulevard that runs east-west through the centre of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was erected as a symbol of peace in the late 1700s. The gate features five passages that were originally assigned designated users. The central passage was intended for the royals, the inner adjacent passages were for the aristocracy, and the outer two passages were meant for commoners. The gate is topped with an elaborate bronze quadriga crowned in victory. The four-horse chariot is driven by the Goddess of Victory who is shown raising a triumphant laurel wreath that is decorated with an iron cross and eagle.

Reichstag – Home of the German parliament since 1894, the Reichstag’s most striking feature is the glass dome that was constructed after the reunification of Germany in 1990. The dome is open to the public and it offers a view of the interior plenary hall, as well as fantastic exterior views of the surrounding grounds and the broader city.

Berlin Cathedral – As one of the non-museum buildings that is situated on Museum Island, the Berlin Cathedral dates back to the early 1900s and is the largest church in the city. The cathedral was intended to be the Protestant rival of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was thus ornately decorated in the Baroque style complete with marble columns, stained glass windows, and sculpted stone sarcophagi. The basement crypt contains the remains of Frederick William, the Great Elector, as well as other royal family members.

Berlin Wall – Following the end of World War II, Germany was first divided into four quadrants each represented by one of the winning Allied countries: Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. While Berlin was situated in the Soviet Union’s quadrant, it was also split into four quadrants. A power struggle ensued in the city and in 1948 the Soviets initiated an attempt at full control. The annexation effort ultimately failed but was the precursor for the establishment of the Soviet-led German Democratic Republic (known as East Germany) and the amalgamation of the other three quadrants into the Federal Republic of Germany (known as West Germany). As living conditions and economic prospects were far better in post-war West Germany, the Soviets decided to install a barrier to prevent East Germans from fleeing. Initially, barbed wire served the purpose but was eventually replaced in 1961 by a wall nearly 4 metres high that was guarded by soldiers who were ordered to shoot and kill anyone trying to escape. The Berlin Wall stood for nearly 30 years until the fall of Communism in 1989. Today, only remnants of the wall remain with the East Side Gallery being one of the most famous sections still standing. The open-air gallery features 106 paintings created by local artists.

Checkpoint Charlie – After the erection of the Berlin Wall by the Soviets, U.S. President John F. Kennedy ordered that three checkpoints be built along the wall to allow the free movement of diplomats, Allied forces and visiting foreigners between West and East Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous of the three (the others being Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo) and was notorious for being the location of a tank stand-off between the Soviets and Americans. The checkpoint was removed in 1990 near the completion of Germany’s reunification but a replica of the booth and its sign was installed and is close to a museum dedicated to the history of the Berlin Wall and associated aspects such as escape attempts and the checkpoints.

Alexanderplatz – Originally called the Ox Market, this major square was renamed the  Alexanderplatz after a visit by Russian Tsar Alexander I in 1805. Over the next century, the square evolved from a shopping district into a transportation hub with both a railway station and subway station being built. After World War II, Alexanderplatz ended up in Soviet territory and the area became the focal point of East Berlin where Socialist architecture could be prominently displayed. The largely concrete buildings and structures in the Alexanderplatz embody the simple and plain designs of the Soviet style. Two of the most prominent attractions are the Fernsehturm TV Tower and the Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock).

Holocaust Memorial – To mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime, the city of Berlin dedicated the Holocaust Memorial to the memory of the 6,000,000 Jews who were murdered under orders by Hitler and his forces. The memorial covers 19,000 square metres and includes 2,711 unmarked concrete slabs. The slabs are all five-sided and are of different sizes ranging from just above the ground to high in the sky. Stone pathways separate the slabs and were installed in a wave-like pattern intended to create a sense of instability and disorientation reminiscent of the general chaos and malaise that Hitler’s Nazi movement inflicted on Jewish society.

Frankfurt

Given that Frankfurt is the major financial centre in Germany (and Europe, for that matter), the city has a definite ‘Wall Street’ feel to it complete with a Manhattan-like skyline. Yet, for all its glitzy concrete and glass skyscrapers and its bustling commerce district that welcomes thousands of business travellers every year, Frankfurt also has an old world, medieval vibe that greatly appeals to history- and culture-seeking buffs. As the city is divided by the River Main; it is formally known as ‘Frankfurt am Main‘ and no matter which side of the river bank visitors land on, this German gem serves up a good time with its many impressive amenities and attractions. But, first some words about arriving via Frankfurt’s superb airport and central train station that set the stage for wonders to come.

Frankfurt Airport – With four runways and two terminals, Frankfurt Airport is one of the busiest in Europe in terms of both total flights and total passenger traffic. It is the hub for Lufthansa and Condor airlines, and provides convenient railway connections for regional and long distance destinations. Flying into Frankfurt Airport is a treat for the eyes as it is surrounded by the dense and lush Frankfurt City Forest. Once on the ground, the airport’s interior is easy to navigate and is also very clean; the city’s major historical and business landmarks are now just a short commute away.

Frankfurt Central Station – Along with being the busiest railway station in Frankfurt, the Deutsche Bahn railway company considers Central Station to be the most important transportation hub in all of Germany. Volume of passengers notwithstanding, the station is also a beautiful work of architecture that is decorated inside with Neo-Renaissance and neoclassical elements. The exterior facade features a large clock with two carved statues representing Day and Night on either side. On the roof is a large statue of the mythological Greek Titan, Atlas, shown holding the world on his shoulders, supported by two symbolic figures representing Iron and Steam.

Romer and Romerberg – Frankfurt’s city hall and most important public square is comprised of a complex of nine houses that date back to the early 1400s. The Romer is the middle building of a set of three with matching facades and it sits directly in front of the Romerberg open plaza and opposite of Old St. Nicholas Church, a medieval building noteworthy for its 51 bells and tall, green spire.

St. Paul’s Church – Considered to be a national historic monument, St. Paul’s is a Protestant church and was also the site where the first democratically elected German parliament briefly met between May 1848 and May 1849. This revolutionary period was ultimately quashed by the Prussian Empire as it did not want to lose control of coveted territory. Nonetheless, the Frankfurt Parliament marked a pivotal point in Germany’s political development and the constitution created at the time would be drawn upon again in the next century.

Central Business District – Known as Bankenviertel and Mainhattan, this area is home to many of Germany’s largest banks and tallest skyscrapers.  Deutsche Bank’s Twin Towers is the company’s headquarters and the two buildings have been referred to as ‘Debit’ and ‘Credit’. International financial firms such as Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and Bank of China also have branch offices located in the district.

European Central Bank – Frankfurt is the headquarter of the European Central Bank (ECB) that administers financial policies for the Eurozone member countries utilizing the euro as their sole legal currency. The ECB’s main office building opened in 2015 and consists of two towers (one 45 storeys high and one 43 storeys high) that are joined by a common atrium area.

Munich

Every fall since 1810, beer lovers and carnival enthusiasts alike have descended in droves to the city of Munich to experience the gluttony and fun of the annual Oktoberfest folk festival. For a place that takes its name from the strict Benedictine order that once ran a monastery on the site that became known as the Old Town of Munich, the city’s early Catholic roots may seem incongruous with its modern ‘party town’ image but the dichotomy seems to work. Visitors to Munich can experience aspects of both its pious and humble beginnings to its rise as the raucous and ever-beating heart of Bavaria.

Marienplatz – During the Middle Ages, Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) was the main gathering place for citizens to take part in tournaments and shop at markets. A town hall building was constructed in the 1300s and a central Marian column was erected in the 1600s to mark the end of Swedish occupation. Old Town Hall was eventually replaced by New Town Hall, which features a Glockenspiel display clock with 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures that act out two historical stories dating back to the 16th century.

Schleissheim Palace – German Baroque architecture is finely displayed in the Schleissheim Palace, which was the summer home of the royal family members of the House of Wittelsbach. Comprised of three individual buildings, the New Palace is the largest and grandest being over 300 metres in length and features elaborate interior decorations and an illustrious exterior garden and park area.

Maximilianeum – Home to the Landtag of Bavaria (the region’s representative assembly), the Maximilianeum is a palatial building that was the brainchild of King Maximilian II in the late 1850s. The building took nearly 20 years to complete and sits at the eastern end of the Maximilianstrasse, one of Munich’s royal avenues. Its ornate facade is decorated with arches, columns, mosaics and niches filled with busts.

Frauenkirche – With its onion dome twin towers that are clearly visible from many parts of Munich, the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) is an important landmark and one of the city’s symbols. The staircase in the south tower is open to anyone willing to walk up and enjoy a view of the city and mountains in the distance.

Englischer Garten – The English Garden is one of the world’s largest urban parks that stretches from Munich’s city centre all the way to its northeast city limits. The garden’s informal landscape is reminiscent of the style popularized by the English in the late 1700s through to the early 1800s. The Monopteros is a Greek-style stone temple that sits atop a 15 metre high foundation surrounded by a hill. There are 10 Ionic columns that support a copper covered dome. Other garden attractions include a Japanese Teahouse, a Chinese Tower, and the Schönfeldwiese (beautiful field meadow), which is notorious for its nude sunbathers that have been allowed to bare all in public since the 1960s.

Theresienwiese – As the official grounds of the annual Oktoberfest celebrations, Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadows) is 420,000 square metres of open space located south west of the city centre. During Oktoberfest, the grounds are turned into an amusement park and beer garden complete with roller coaster, carousel, chair swing and other rides. Millions of visitors partake of copious amounts of locally-brewed beer and the wearing of traditional Bavarian costumes such as Dirndl for the ladies and Lederhosen for the men is highly encouraged.

Olympiapark – Constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics, Olympiapark consisted of four parts: Olympic Area that housed the main sports facilities, Olympic Village where the athletes resided, Olympia-Pressestadt that hosted the world’s media, and Olympic Park which consisted of a lake and mountain. Olympiapark is still utilized today for athletic, cultural, social and religious events. The Olympiaturm (Olympic Tower) stands 291 metres tall and has an observation deck, Rock and Roll Museum, and a revolving restaurant. The tower is also used for television and radio broadcasting.

Advertisements

Behold the Best of the British Isles

March 27, 2018
Leave a Comment

Anyone who has studied European history knows that the countries that occupy the territory known as the British Isles have not always been on friendly terms. Scotland invaded Ireland in 1315; bad blood spewed between England, Scotland and Ireland during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the 1600s; and Northern Ireland waged guerrilla warfare with British security forces from the 1960s to the 1990s. Despite past conflicts, however, the countries and their respective major municipalities have managed to maintain an aura of neighbourly civility and hold fast to their distinctive identities. In this blog, the best of the British Isles explores the cities of Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow that are sometimes over-shadowed by jolly ol’ Londontown but are equally deserving of being in the spotlight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Belfast

As the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast has had its fair share of economic and political ups and downs.

In the 19th century, the city was at the centre of the Industrial Revolution owing to its linen, tobacco, rope-making and shipbuilding production efforts. Belfast’s economy continued to grow into the early 20th century and the city gained renown as the location where the RMS Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the world’s largest and most productive of its kind.

Following World War II, industrial activity waned for many decades and in the late 1960s the city descended into a prolonged period of political strife known as The Troubles, or Northern Ireland Conflict.

The Troubles pitted Irish nationalists desiring an independent Northern Ireland against Union loyalists who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom in a sometimes violent battle over the country’s constitutional status. Riots and bombings made for a state of general unrest and the city suffered the consequences, especially in the 1970s and 1980s when Belfast was deemed to be one of the world’s most violent cities. In the 1990s, hostilities subsided and, with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the city has since enjoyed a peaceful rebirth.

Today, Belfast is booming again and terrorism has made way for tourism. Popular attractions such as the Titanic Belfast, St. George’s Market, Botanic Gardens and Cave Hill Country Park show off the city’s finest aspects and are doing a good job drawing people in. So good, in fact, that in 2016 the Titanic Belfast earned the coveted distinction of World’s Leading Tourist Attraction according to the World Travel Awards. Here’s hoping that Belfast’s “heart will go on and on” for centuries to come.

Dublin

Fans of the rock band U2 will certainly know that beloved lead singer, Bono, hails from Dublin, Ireland, as does drummer,  Larry Mullen Jr. These good ol’ Dubliner boys definitely helped to put the city on the map in recent history but, long before they took the music world by storm, Dublin rocked out on its own in other significant ways.

The Norman Invasion and Dublin Castle

While the Norman Invasions marked the beginning of a very long period of English/British presence in Ireland, one of the positive outcomes was the creation of Dublin Castle. Initially a defensive fortress with tall, thick walls and surrounding deep ditches, the castle was also eventually used as a residence for the Lord of Ireland assigned by the English monarchy, as well as a meeting place for parliament and the courts. It even served for a time as a military post. Following the end of the Irish War of Independence and subsequent creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the castle was handed over to Michael Collins, the famed revolutionary who was head of the new provisional government. Going forward, the castle would no longer be used as a seat for the English; rather it became the site for presidential inaugurations and other official state ceremonies. More recently, the castle has been renovated to serve as a conference centre and host of an annual Irish music festival.

The River Liffey and Ha’Penny Bridge

Flowing through the centre of Dublin, the River Liffey divides the city along north-south lines and, in addition to being a major water source, also provides a venue for numerous recreational opportunities. Along with an annual canoeing and swimming event, the river is used by rowing clubs and for fishing and rafting purposes. Waterfront activities include admiring the many bridges that span the River Liffey (over 20 within the Greater Dublin Area alone). One of the most unique is the Liffey Bridge, commonly referred to as the Ha’Penny Bridge, which is a cast iron, arch pedestrian bridge. The name Ha’Penny refers to the toll that was initially charged to bridge users and remained in place up until 1919.  The Ha’Penny is a city icon and is one of the most photographed landmarks in Dublin.

The Temple Bar Pub Scene and Guinness Beer

Known as Dublin’s cultural centre, the Temple Bar area is located on the south side of the River Liffey.  In addition to a lively pub scene, the region includes institutions such as the Irish Photography Centre, the Irish Film Institute and the Irish Stock Exchange that are frequented during the day. Once nighttime falls and work is done for the day, it goes without saying that the pubs fill up, beer starts flowing and Guinness is most assuredly on tap. The much consumed and much loved Irish dry stout has been wetting the lips of Dubliners since 1759 when it was first made at St. James’ Gate Brewery. The Guinness Storehouse located at the historic site of the brewery is a must-see spot for all ale aficionados. A self-guided tour is offered that includes an overview of ingredients and brewing techniques, and sampling a pint in the traditional tall Guinness glass complete with sinking bubbles when the spout is poured. Cheers to you, Dublin!

Edinburgh

Whether you’re a high brow or low brow enthusiast, Edinburgh is sure to provide opportunities to challenge your intellect and delight your senses in equal measure.

An ‘Enlightened’ City

The capital city of Scotland earned one of its nicknames, ‘Athens of the North’ during the 18th century when great Scottish thinkers such as Robert Burns, David Hume, Adam Smith, James Hutton and Joseph Black became well known for their contributions to the Scottish Enlightenment period. Art, literature, philosophy and the sciences were at the forefront of intellectual pursuits and the myriad accomplishments of Edinburgh residents at this time resulted in the city being held in high esteem. The tradition of high brow culture continues to this day with some of the world’s best festivals held annually in Edinburgh to celebrate theatre, music and literature. Among the most popular are the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

An ‘Unrefined’ City

Along with being an impressive think-tank, Edinburgh also has a reputation for some of its citizens cutting lose and enjoying the less-than-lofty pursuits of an all-night pub crawl or dancing by bonfires in the street in homage to ancient pagan rituals. This seedier side of Edinburgh is known as Auld Reekie, a basic, down-to-earth, unpretentious approach to life that favours good beer over good books, and offers up plenty of uncensored fun.

A ‘Beautiful’ City 

Edinburgh’s city centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site for good reason. Be it the medieval spires of St. Giles’ Cathedral and the steep, narrow streets of the “Royal Mile” in Old Town; or the neo-Classical and Georgian inspired architecture along Princes Street in New Town, the city’s core is a bevy of beautiful buildings and picturesque parks such as Princes Street Gardens. Head to the top of Calton Hill for an incredible view of both Old Town and New Town, and take time to admire the many memorials located there such as the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, and the Robert Burns Monument. Also, don’t miss a visit to Edinburgh Castle that sits high on Castle Rock and is considered to be one of the city’s most important historical structures.

Glasgow

Aye, ’tis true, lads and lassies, Glasgow is touted as the “world’s friendliest city” and it’s not just the local Glaswegians (or Weegies) who sing its praises. From the New York  Times to Conde Naste Traveller’s guides, the city is landing on “must-see” and top cuisine lists owing to the wide range of world-class attractions and gastronomical options it offers. The city has also been lauded for its diverse architectural styles ranging from Neo-Gothic to Victorian to Art Nouveau buildings that are best viewed on a leisurely walk.  For those taking a tour, be forewarned that the local dialect known as Glasgow patter and its euphemisms may be difficult to understand but, rest assured, the guide is sure to be warm, welcoming and full of a wealth of information.

“Must See” Sights

City Centre Mural Trail – Quirky street art is all the rage in Glasgow’s City Centre region and it’s not hard to spot the huge and colorful works of art that comprise the City Centre Mural Trail. From the famous floating taxi and Spaceman to Glasgow’s Panda and Hip Hop Marionettes, the murals cover an array of subject matter and are a true showcase of local artistic talent.

Clyde Arc – Also known as Squinty Bridge, the Clyde Arc spans the River Clyde and is famous for its curved design and how it crosses the river on an angle. The bridge provides direct access to the Pacific Quay district and various waterfront amenities such as the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Glasgow Science Centre and Clyde Auditorium (known as the SEC Armadillo).

George Square – Located in the city centre, George Square is named after King George III and was first laid out by city planners in 1781. The square is the home of Glasgow City Chambers and contains a number of historical monuments honouring famous Scots such as Robert Burns, James Watt, Sir Robert Peel and Sir Walter Scott.

Glasgow Cathedral – Considered to be one of the finest examples of Scottish Gothic architecture, the Glasgow Cathedral was built in the 12th century and is purported to be situated on the site where the patron saint of Glasgow, Saint Mungo, built his church. The cathedral was also the first location of classes offered by the University of Glasgow.

Glasgow Science Centre – Consisting of three buildings (Science Mall, Glasgow Tower and IMAX Cinema), the Glasgow Science Centre is a top-rated visitor attraction. The centre was built as part of the Clyde Waterfront Regeneration urban renewal project and is located on the south side of the River Clyde.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – With its state-of-the-art galleries and 8,000 artifacts, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of Glasgow’s most popular attractions. Bonus: Admission is free! Offering a mix of civic art, animal displays and Ancient Egyptian exhibits, there is also a special area dedicated to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Mackintosh was a local architect and designer known for being a founder of the Glasgow School movement that fused elements of Celtic Revival, Arts and Craft Movement and Japonisme that came to be associated with the definition of the emerging Art Nouveau style.

SEC Armadillo – Originally named the Clyde Auditorium, the SEC Armadillo owes its nickname to the armour-like shell appearance of its exterior. The complex is part of the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), which also includes the SEC Centre and SSE Hydro indoor arena. The SEC Armadillo is notable for being the location where singer Susan Boyle was discovered during auditions for Britain’s Got Talent.

 


Launching Dreams in Lisbon and Beyond

March 23, 2018
Leave a Comment

Long before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal made a name for himself leading numerous exploration and trade missions along the coastline of Western Africa, the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, and regions further afar. The prince’s maritime ventures initiated the era known as the Age of Discoveries wherein European empires sought to extend their land holdings and cultural influence on a global scale. Henry the Navigator inspired legions of future Portuguese mariners such as Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Ferdinand Magellan who were interested in launching their own dreams in Lisbon and beyond.

lisbon 12

Monument to the Discoveries

Built in honour of Prince Henry and other famed maritime explorers, the Monument to the Discoveries features a total of 30 statues. The monument also pays homage to individuals who supported the overseas voyages such as navigators, writers, missionaries, mathematicians, cartographers and other professions prominent at the time.

At the foot of the monument is a massive wind rose, a tool used to show the direction and speed of prevailing regional winds. In the centre of the wind rose is a world map that identifies the dates, ships, and locations of the most important Portuguese explorations.

lisbon 5

Belem Tower

While Portuguese explorers were out on the high seas seeking new frontiers, there was also a concerted effort to protect the country’s ports. The Belem Tower was thus built in the 16th century to serve as a fortress guarding the seaport entrance into Lisbon via the Tagus River. Despite its purpose as a defensive stronghold, the tower is elaborately decorated with various maritime and religious motifs carved in limestone that show off the incredible wealth amassed by the Portuguese during the Age of Discoveries. The tower also included a basement prison, and an armory and private residences with balconies on the upper floors.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Commerce Square

Also known as Palace Yard because of its location on the site of the old Royal Ribeira Palace that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, Commerce Square was intended to commemorate the rebuilding of Lisbon. It was also meant to send a message to the world that Lisbon was a city to be reckoned with; it was thus designed to rival the great European squares of the day. Along with its prime position along the Tagus River, the square features an equestrian statue of King Jose I and a triumphal arch called the Rua Augusta Arch that is topped with statues of Glory, Ingenuity and Valor.

Old City Charm / New World Delight

Not unlike other historical European capitals, Lisbon serves up healthy doses of old city charm intermixed with new world delights, with the added bonus of a warm, Mediterranean climate. Sun, blue skies and sparkling water definitely add to the splendor of this seaside destination.


Kicking It Up in Kansas City

March 22, 2018
Leave a Comment

If you’re a fan of the National Football League and the glorious spectacle that is game day, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri needs to be on your bucket list. Whether scoring a touchdown or tackling an opponent, fans of the Kansas City Chiefs are known for their uber-boisterous cheering that has set two Guinness Book of World Records for loudest stadium noise. But kicking it up in Kansas City (KC for short) is not just confined to the football field; the city offers a host of other unique aspects, and interesting activities and venues to get excited about. As the locals know, the ‘Paris of the Plains’ is an urban-chic metropolis begging to be explored.

kansas city 11

City of Fountains

The obsession with water fountains in KC dates back to the late 1800s when a man named George Kessler, a landscape architect and urban planner, was inspired by the City Beautiful Movement to design a fountain to be situated along The Paseo parkway that runs through the city center. Kessler’s fountain would be the first of many to be installed around the city. Today, there are 49 ornamental fountains that are maintained by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department with the support of the City of Fountains Foundation that is dedicated to the preservation of these historical treasures.

Located at 47 Street and Main, the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain is the city’s most well-known fountain. It was sculpted by Henri Greber, a French artist, and features four equestrian figures.

kansas city 12

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

KC is one of 28 cities around the world fortunate to have a cast of The Thinker, Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture, on permanent public display. The cast sits on the south side of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art overlooking the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. The sculpture park is noted for its collection of Henry Moore bronze monuments, and the Shuttlecocks display that features four over-sized badminton birdies scattered around the back lawn.

In addition to its eclectic exterior sculptures, the museum is home to the Hallmark Photographic Collection, as well as an extensive number of European and American paintings and Asian art pieces.

kansas city 9

Kauffmann Center for the Performing Arts

Aside from its eye-catching exterior design, the Kauffmann Center for the Performing Arts is heralded for its interior technical innovations that have revolutionized the way artistic companies deliver their programs and how patrons experience live music, opera, theater, and dance.

Located downtown, the center is home to the Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony, and Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Each of the building’s shells contain performance halls that feature a glass roof and glass walls. In the main foyer, the Brandmeyer Great Hall provides a panoramic view of the city.

kansas city 2

National World War I Museum and Memorial

As America’s official museum dedicated to World War I, the National World War I Museum and Memorial opened in 1926 and tells the story of events leading up to the conflict’s beginning in 1914 through to the Armistice in 1918 and the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

The central Liberty Tower is constructed of limestone and stands 217-feet tall. The top of the tower emits light at night that looks like a burning flame and can be seen from far away.

Another notable feature of the museum is the glass bridge that visitors cross to enter the main exhibit space. Underneath the bridge is a field of 9,000 red poppies, each poppy representing 1,000 lives lost in combat.

kansas city 10

Do It All in KC

With its many sports offerings and exuberant fans, its picturesque and peaceful fountains, its lively arts and culture communities, and its well-preserved civic, state and national history monuments there really is a lot to see and do in KC.


Magnifico Madrid

March 21, 2018
Leave a Comment

With its ultra-modern infrastructure built up around well-preserved historical sites, there is no doubt that Magnifico Madrid is Spain’s most visited city. From the AZCA and CBTA business districts to the Gran Via and Royal Palace tourist areas, there is plenty to say “Ole!” about in, you guessed it, the bullfighting capital of the world.

madrid 10

Business is Booming

As the third largest city in the European Union, Madrid is the headquarter location for many of Spain’s major companies such as Telefonica, IAG and Repsol. The city is also the home of the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Royal Spanish Academy.

AZCA

The AZCA financial district in northern Madrid is often referred to as ‘Madrid’s Manhattan’ because of the many skyscrapers it contains. The district’s tallest building is the Torre Picasso that was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who created the original World Trade Center (WTC) towers in New York City.  The Torre Picasso and WTC towers share the same rectangular shape and sleek, minimalist exterior. AZCA’s other significant skyscrapers are the Torre Europa,  Torre Banco de Balboa Vizcaya (Torre BBVA), Torre Titania and Torre Mahou; all standing over 100 metres in height.

Interestingly, the most famous building in AZCA is not a skyscraper; rather, it is Bernabeu Stadium where the Real Madrid football team plays. The stadium holds up to 80,000 spectators and is very loud and raucous, especially when beloved fan favourite, Ronaldo, or another cherished team star scores a GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!!

madrid 21

CBTA

The CBTA district (Four Towers Business Area) is home to the four tallest buildings in Madrid that are all over 200 metres in height: Torre Espacio, Torre de Cristal, Torre PwC and Torre Cepsa. The four towers are located next to each other along the Paseo de la Castellana, one of the widest and longest avenues in Madrid.

Gran Via

The shopping and nightlife destination of choice in Madrid is the Gran Via, which is also known for its elaborately designed building facades that showcase the best of early 20th century architectural styles. The Metropolis Building is one of the area’s most famous and most beautiful with its tall dome and numerous decorative statues.

Green Space is Thriving

Of all European cities, Madrid has the most number of trees and green space per resident meaning that most people are within a 15-minute walk from a designated park area.

Along with the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid and Casa de Campo, a large urban parkland on the city’s western edge, Buen Retiro Park is a popular destination that offers scenic pathways and an artificial lake with row boat rentals.  On the weekends, an array of street performers descend on the park to entertain the crowds.

Buen Retiro Park was originally built as a royal retreat and there are thus some very regal statues located throughout it such as the Monument to Alfonso XII that provides an impressive jaw-dropping backdrop while rowing on the lake.

madrid 22

Progress and History is Working Well Together

Madrid’s city planners deserve full credit for not sacrificing its myriad historical landmarks in the name of progress. Whether it’s the ultra-modern inclined Gate of Europe twin towers, or the elegant and statuesque Puerta de Alcala and Cybele Palace and Fountain, the city really does offer the best of both worlds resulting in a metropolis that oozes a definite hip and urban vibe AND pays homage to its glorious past. Vamos Madrid!


The Intrigue and Mystique of Istanbul

March 19, 2018
Leave a Comment

Being a transcontinental city spanning the continents of Europe and Asia, the city of Istanbul, Turkey is truly a place where there is no shortage of intrigue and mystique.

Yes, East meets West in Istanbul and traditional customs blend seamlessly with modern activities across the city.

Prepare to revel in glorious displays of food stuffs, household goods and personal wares at ancient markets; then be awed by magnificent examples of artistic and architectural brilliance in centuries-old churches and mosques.

istanbul 14

The Grand Bazaar

In operation since the 1400s, the Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets that includes over 4,000 shops and stretches over 60 streets.

Located within the walled city in the Fatih district, the Grand Bazaar is a marvelous sprawl of alluring scents and dazzling sights that will leave mouths watering and eyes bulging with stand after stand of local delights.

Bartering with merchants for bargains is expected, as well as partaking of copious amounts of tea. Losing track of time is also a given in order to explore the hans tucked away in narrow side lanes where artisans can be found toiling away at their crafts.

Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

As if the sensory overload of the Grand Bazaar wasn’t enough, Istanbul’s art and architecture blows the mind in masterpiece structures such as the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Hagia Sophia

Built in the 6th century by Justinian the Great, Byzantine Emperor from 527 to 565, the Hagia Sophia was originally constructed as a Christian church (later Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic) and was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years.

While under Ottoman rule, the church was converted to a mosque, which it would remain as from 1453 until 1931. Christian symbols were covered over with plaster or outright destroyed in favor of Islamic elements such as mihrab niches, a minbar pulpit, and four minaret towers.

Since 1935, the building has served as a museum and is widely known for its massive dome and other quintessential Byzantine architectural elements such as elaborate abstract designs and mosaics on the walls, floors, pillars and curved vaults.

istanbul 15

Blue Mosque

Located next to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque (known formally as Sultan Ahmed Mosque) was built in the early 1600s as a Muslim mosque. The ‘Blue Mosque’ nickname is derived from the hand-painted blue tiles that decorate the mosque’s interior, as well as the light that bathes the mosque’s exterior domes and minarets in shades of blue at night.

The mosque is a blend of Byzantine and Islamic elements that were commonly used in the Classical period of Ottoman architecture.

The exterior features five main domes, eight secondary domes and six minarets situated around a large courtyard with a small central fountain.

The interior is lined with 20,000 ceramic tiles designed in the popular Iznik style that was prevalent at the time. There are also 200 stained glass windows that provide natural light. The marble mihrab is noteworthy for its fine carvings and sculptural elements, and the surrounding numerous windows and ceramic-covered walls. A unique aspect of the mosque’s interior is that it was designed to ensure that no matter how crowded and no matter where worshipers stand, the imam can always be seen and heard.

 

 


Singing Anything but the Blues in St. Louis

March 18, 2018
Leave a Comment

It may not be the official ‘home of the blues’ but the genre is certainly a central part of the music scene in St. Louis, Missouri. Thankfully, the city’s vibe is not defined by the melancholy overtones often expressed in blues’ lyrics. Rather, visitors are sure to be singing anything but the blues as they explore this vibrant and ‘spirited’ metropolis.

st louis 6

Gateway to the West

Created as a symbolic expression of American expansion to the west, the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis is the city’s most iconic landmark. The arch is located at the official spot where the city was founded along the banks of the Mississippi River and marks the entrance into Gateway Arch National Park.

A unique feature of the arch’s construction is that its height and width are the same at 630 feet. There is also an observation area near the top that offers a 30-mile view to the west and east.

The arch is reflective of the soaring spirit of the region’s early pioneers and is intended to inspire future generations to continually strive for new frontiers.

st louis 10

Forest Park Welcomes the World

1904 was a BIG year in St. Louis as the city played host to the Summer Olympics and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (also referred to as the St. Louis World’s Fair).

Covering nearly 1,300 acres and offering a wide array of amenities, Forest Park was the ideal location to welcome the world in. During the Olympics, the diving, swimming and water polo events were held in the park. For the World’s Fair, parts of the park were redesigned and new structures such as the Grand Basin and statues such as ‘The Apotheosis of St. Louis’ were added giving the park a sense of grandeur appreciated by both the attendees and permanent city residents.

Today, the park is heralded as the ‘Heart of St. Louis’ and hosts several cultural, entertainment and athletic events such as a hot air balloon competition, music festival, beer festival and nighttime bike race. The St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Science Center, and Missouri History Museum, and the Muny Ampitheatre are all located in the park making it the primary area for visiting important civic institutions.

The Rhythm of the Night

Along with the blues, the St. Louis music scene is also known for its long association with jazz and ragtime genres, as well as symphonic. The St. Louis Symphony is the second oldest symphony orchestra in the United States and has toured both nationally and internationally.

More recently, tribute bands and burlesque shows have added to the diversity of the city’s live music offerings. There is also a thriving folk music scene.

Neighborhoods such as Soulard and the Loop, and venues such as Blueberry Hill and Jazz St. Louis are typically rocking out the tunes nightly. There truly is something to satisfy everyone’s musical tastes.

st louis 14

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Busch Stadium is home to the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball, a team that has won 11 World Series championships in its highly successful history.

Attending a game in this retro-classic designed facility and taking in the fun activities in the adjoining Ballpark Village is a must for die-hard fans. Ballpark food options include St. Louis-area fare such as pork steak sandwiches and toasted ravioli.

Not unlike other downtown-based sports venues, the stadium also provides one of the best views of the city skyline that includes many office towers. The Old St. Louis County Courthouse is also clearly visible with its tall cast iron green dome that was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The courthouse is part of Gateway Arch National Park and was once the city’s tallest habitable building.

st louis 15

Soak Up the Spirit of St. Louis

Beyond the glorious Gateway Arch and the city’s historic downtown district, the spirit of St. Louis permeates into all of its outlying neighborhoods. Wherever visitors venture, eclectic architecture, well-kept green spaces, specialty boutiques, artisan markets and more are in store…soak it up and enjoy!


Defying Gravity and the Desert Sand in Dubai

March 16, 2018
Leave a Comment

Whenever I think about the city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the famous movie line “If you build it, they will come” pops into my mind. From the Burj Khalifa to the Palm Jumeirah and the Miracle Garden, city planners and architects are defying gravity and the desert sand with their incredible world-class and record-breaking creations.

dubai 10

Mega Structures

While the Burj Khalifa has bragging rights as the world’s tallest building and is a veritable mega-tall skyscraper, it certainly isn’t the only mega structure in Dubai.

Indeed, with 73 buildings standing at 200 metres in height and 18 standing at 300 metres, looking up (WAY UP!) is part and parcel of the city’s appeal. Overall, Dubai’s skyline ranks in the top 10 tallest skylines in the world.

Along with the Dubai Marina district, skyscrapers are clustered in the Business Bay district, and along Sheikh Zayed Road, where the Burj Khalifa is located in the Downtown Dubai development.

dubai 17

Multicultural Shopping Mecca

Just like its numerous high-rises and skyscrapers, Dubai boasts many shopping malls and is known for its market districts, called souks.

Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping centre and includes 1,200 shops that have attracted millions of bargain hunters and jet setters alike from around the world. The mall is also home to a luxury hotel, aquarium and underwater zoo, theme park, 22-screen cinema and rain forest cafe.

Millionaire Playground

Tourism is an important part of Dubai’s economic engine and complexes such as the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Burj Al Arab and Atlantis, The Palm provide the perfect playground for millionaire get-away vacations.

Man-made islands such as the Palm Jumeirah, Palm Deira and Palm Jebel Ali also appeal to the rich and famous. The islands contain residential, leisure and entertainment centres and take the form of palm trees when viewed from above.

When the sand and water gets to be too much, refuge can be found in the Dubai Miracle Garden where over 100 million flowers bloom in, of course, the world’s largest natural flower garden. The garden is also listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the largest flower arrangement/structure that forms the shape of an Airbus A380 plane.


Beyond the Concrete Sprawl of Sao Paulo

March 16, 2018
Leave a Comment

To the casual observer the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil may appear to be just another urban jungle ripe with crowded streets, polluted air and frenzied citizens. However, when you take a deeper look through the lenses of its passionate residents, there is much more beyond its concrete sprawl that makes it a must-see destination.

sao paulo 7

Arts Scene

From ancient Brazilian artifacts to modernist paintings and works of European masters, there are plenty of places to please the palates of art lovers.

The Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo features the largest collection of Brazilian paintings and sculptures; Museu do Ipiranga showcases furniture and historical paintings from the Brazilian Empire era; the Sao Paulo Museum of Art has one of the most important permanent collections of paintings from the French and Italian schools, as well as temporary exhibitions of contemporary works.

sao paulo 14

In addition to its numerous world-class museums, Sao Paulo is known for its colorful, eclectic and vibrant ethnic neighborhoods that are reflective of the city’s status as the most multicultural in Brazil.

Intermixed with born and bred Paulistanos are immigrants hailing from all over Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other South American countries who proudly put their respective cultural heritages on full display.

Urban street art is very common giving the city an “open air” museum vibe.

 

Foodie Scene

Owing to its ethnic diversity, Sao Paulo offers a wide variety of dining options and is considered to be the gastronomical capital of Latin America.

Along with regional delights such as traditional steak dishes and tapioca stuffed with dulce de leche, foodies will enjoy the tastes of Italian pizza and Japanese sushi. Of note, there are over 6,000 pizzerias across the city and over 600 restaurants serving Japanese cuisine.

 

Nightlife Scene

Rivaling the likes of New York and Tokyo, Sao Paulo comes to life at night. Be it live theatre or cinema, a concert, or bar-hopping and dancing, opportunities to be entertained around the clock abound.

sao paulo 17

For those craving something a little more tame/family-friendly for a night out on the town, Ibirapuera Park has a planetarium and a fountain water show.

 


Budapest In All Its Golden Splendor

March 15, 2018
Leave a Comment

The first time I ever saw a Viking River Cruises TV commercial, the one destination that immediately struck me was Budapest, Hungary.

As the elegant Viking Longship sailed along the Danube River and passed by the magnificent Parliament House, it was crystal clear that this landmark delights the eyes by day and dazzles them by night.

Yes, when fully lit, Parliament House reveals Budapest in all its golden splendor and there is no question about its status as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Riverfront Treasures

Not surprisingly, Budapest’s central area along the Danube River is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the notable riverfront monuments to explore are: Parliament House, Szechenyi Chain Bridge, and the Shoes on the Danube Memorial.

Parliament House

Inspired by the Houses of Parliament in London, England, construction of Budapest’s Parliament House was completed in 1902. The building’s exterior spans 268 metres and features statues of past Hungarian rulers, along with several spires, gargoyles and a massive central dome. Inside, 691 rooms showcase the best of neo-Gothic, Renaissance and Byzantine design. There is also an elaborate central staircase decorated with granite columns, gold-covered ornaments and a painted ceiling.

budapest 15

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Once upon a time, Budapest was a divided city with the municipality of Buda on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other. The only way to cross the river was by ferry but that changed in the 1800s when one Count István Széchenyi made it his mission to oversee the design and construction of a permanent bridge. The count secured the services of an English civil engineer who had experience with unique suspension designs. The Chain Bridge derives its name from the iron chains that span between the two massive towers that anchor each end.

budapest 16

Shoes on the Danube Bank

During World War II, a fascist organization called the Arrow Cross Party carried out a mass execution of thousands of citizens, many of Jewish descent. The victims were lined up along the banks of the Danube River then ordered to remove their shoes before being shot and falling into the river. The memorial depicts the shoes that were left behind and pays honor to those who perished.

budapest 18

Inland Gems

Beyond the spectacular riverfront views, Budapest has many other sparkling gems to explore within the city proper.

Buda Castle

Originally home to Hungarian royalty dating back to the 14th century, Buda Castle is also referred to as the Royal Palace. Having been built, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, the complex is a true reflection of Budapest’s storied past that has included occupation by foreign invaders. While nothing remains of the castle’s earliest designs and grand interior decorations, its 300 metre facade that faces the Danube River is visually stunning. Today, the castle is the location of the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Library each containing important historical artifacts.

budapest 19

Fisherman’s Bastion

Located high on a hill in the Castle District, Fisherman’s Bastion offers one of the best panoramic views of Budapest. It is also a popular destination because of its fairy tale-ish, castle-like appearance that includes seven towers and a double stairway that connects the bastion with the streets below.  The towers are symbolic of the Magyar tribes who originally settled the country of Hungary centuries ago.

budapest 17

Heroes’ Square/Millennium Monument

To mark the thousandth anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary, Heroes’ Square was built at the end of the 19th century to pay tribute to the country’s great leaders. In the middle of the square, the Millennium Monument features statues of the seven Magyar leaders at its base; a semi-circular colonnade at its rear with statues of notable Hungarians and symbols representing War, Peace, Work and Welfare, and Knowledge and Glory; and a soaring central column that is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel. The square is used as a gathering place for numerous special events and official ceremonies.

budapest 20

Matthias Church

Named after King Matthias who ruled Hungary from 1458 to 1490, Matthias Church is officially registered as Church of our Lady. Along with being the site of many coronations, the church contains tombs and other significant clerical and royal items such as the neo-Gothic Triptych main altar, the Matthias Chalice and other coronation regalia.

budapest 21

A Most Beautiful City

No matter the time of day or the season, Budapest truly stands out for its spectacular scenery and rich cultural history that can be admired and appreciated whether just cruising by or disembarking for a more in depth look.


Next Page »