Big City Tales

Launching Dreams in Lisbon and Beyond

March 23, 2018
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.


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!!!!!

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tallinn’s Old Town Stands Tall and Strong

March 14, 2018
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It may not be the most recognizable European capital, but it happens to be one of the continent’s best preserved medieval cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Indeed, Tallin’s Old Town in Estonia is proud of its history and its buildings dating back to the Middle Ages that continue to stand tall and strong.

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St. Olaf’s Church

As the tallest church in the Baltic states since the 12th century, there is also reason to believe that for a period of time between 1549 and 1625 that St. Olaf’s was the world’s tallest building owing to the length of its spire.

After a number of rebuilds, the height of the spire now measures just under 124 metres. While it has since been dwarfed by the likes of the Strasbourg Cathedral, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Cologne Cathedral, it nonetheless remains the most prominent building in Old Town.

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Toompea Castle

Situated in the “Upper Town” section of Old Town, Toompea Castle was originally used as a defensive stronghold because of its hilltop position.

Over the centuries, the castle was occupied by invading forces such as the Danes, Germans, Swedes, Poles and Russians.

Following the declaration of Estonian independence in 1918, a building to house the new parliament (Riigikogu) was constructed in the castle’s courtyard area. Although the exterior has a traditionalist look, the architects opted for an avant-garde Expressionist interior making it unique among other parliamentary halls.

Tallinn Town Hall and Town Hall Square

In the “Lower Town” region, Tallinn Town Hall (Tallinna raekoda) and Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) are located next to each other in the geographical centre of Old Town.

Tallinn Town Hall’s most famous exterior feature is its weather vane, called Old Thomas, that has long been considered a symbol and guardian of the city. Inside the hall, a number of elaborate tapestries provide the main decoration. Due to their value and delicate nature, the original tapestries were placed in safekeeping at the Tallinn City Museum in 1937 and replaced with copies.

Town Hall Square is utilized as a market and a venue for festivals and concerts. There are also several bars and restaurants located nearby. During the festive season, a Christmas tree display is the primary attraction in the square, a long-standing tradition that dates back to 1441.

Walls of Tallinn

First constructed around the city in 1265, the Walls of Tallinn and its many gates and structures are still largely in place today. In subsequent centuries the walls were enlarged and strengthened to better defend the city. Additionally, around the 14th century the citizens of Tallinn were required to perform guard duty as a sign of their civic loyalty to ward off invaders.

Some of the structures still in existence along the wall include the Long Leg Gate Tower, Nun’s Tower, and Kiek in de Kok, which translates to “Peep into the Kitchen” and denotes the smaller towers that were low enough to allow tower occupants to peek into the kitchens of nearby houses. Fat Margaret is another notable wall tower so-named because of its thick walls and broad diameter that made it an ideal defensive structure in Tallinn’s port.

Medieval Magic

With its cobblestone streets, Gothic spires and other remnants from centuries gone by, Tallinn’s Old Town is full of medieval magic at every turn that guarantees to leave visitors spellbound by its beauty and charm.

A Showcase of Palaces, Parks and Political Institutes in Brussels

March 13, 2018
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As the home of the King of Belgium, the unofficial capital of the European Union (EU) and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the city of Brussels, Belgium has its fair share of palaces, parks and political institutes to showcase to the world.

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Here a Palace, There a Palace

Unlike Buckingham Palace in London, the Royal Palace of Brussels is not the residence of the Belgian monarchy. It is, however, the official palace where the King exercises his duties as Head of State, grants audiences and conducts other general affairs. The palace hosts large receptions in the State Rooms and also provides lodging for foreign Heads of State.

The Palace of Charles of Lorraine was occupied by Charles Alexander of Lorraine, governor-general of the former Austrian-Netherlands region in the 1700s. Today, the palace is a museum that contains five main halls and features a grand staircase leading to a large main floor rotunda with an elaborately decorated floor and painted ceiling.

Here a Park, There a Park

Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large, urban park that includes a monumental arch and a U-shaped complex. The park was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence and sits on 30 hectares of land that is decorated with gardens, ponds and waterfalls. The statues in the central arch were constructed of iron, glass and stone with the intention of demonstrating Belgium’s economic and industrial success.

Praised as a destination offering a botanical, historical and cultural experience, Josaphat Park is divided into three sections: the historical park, the great lawns and the playground area. There is also a series of sculptures and open fields for sporting events and concerts.

Brussels Park is located next to the Royal Palace and the Belgian House of Parliament and is home to several public buildings and monuments. It is the largest urban public park in the city and is surrounded by a double row of lime trees.

Here a Public Institution, There a Public Institution

As previously mentioned, Brussels is home to the EU and NATO.

The city hosts the seats of the European Commission (EC), Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers), and European Council. The EC manages the day-to-day business of the EU as well as proposes and implements legislation and maintains various treaties. The Council of Ministers represents the governments of the individual EU members and primarily oversees budgetary matters, as well as foreign policy and macro-level coordination of intergovernmental EU affairs. The European Council defines the EU’s high-level political agenda and is more strategic in nature.

As for NATO, it dates back to 1949 and is a military alliance comprised of 29 European and North American countries. The basic mandate of NATO is to defend its members in the event of attack by a third party, but the entity also advocates for creating more trusting relationships with non-participating European countries and the former Soviet Union via its Partnership for Peace program.

La Piece de Resistance – The Grand Place

OK, it’s not a palace, park or public institution, but you can’t write about Brussels without mentioning the Grand Place, the city’s central square. Surrounded by guild houses, Old Town Hall and the King’s House, the Grand Place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe.

Guild Houses

Some of the guild houses are: House of the Corporation of Bakers, House of the Oath of Archers, House of the Corporation of Brewers, and House of the Corporation of Sculptors, Masons, Stone-cutters and Slate-cutters. In addition to guilds, there are also a number of private homes on the streets around the Grand Place.

Town Hall

Town Hall is noted for its asymmetrical design with the main tower being off-center. It also has the distinction of being the last standing Medieval building in the square.

King’s House

The King’s House is also referred to as the Bread Hall because it was the location where bread was sold dating back to the 12th century. Since the late 1800s, the building is home to the Museum of the City of Brussels.

Flower Power

Every two years the inner square area of the Grand Place is converted into a massive floral carpet made up of millions of begonias laid out in colourful patterns. The display takes place in the month of August and lasts only for a few days but attracts thousands of visitors eager to take in the splendid sight.

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