February 19, 2017

Off the Beaten Path – The French Basque Region

I have been fortunate to travel in some wonderful areas of Europe.  Some  are the tried and true tourist areas and others are lesser known and less traveled areas, at least to Americans.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit one of these “off the beaten path” destinations in France. The French Basque Region is an area not regularly frequented by Americans.  I find it interesting that Americans tend to spend their time in more well-known destinations – Paris, Rome, Florence, London or Munich – but don’t venture to some of the lesser known areas. I really have no clue why this is but wonder if US travelers view their European trip is a once in a lifetime event and must cram as much in as possible and, therefore, only hit the highlight.  Or is it because they are trendy spots and ones they must visit or they are just not “with it”?

No matter the reason, I truly enjoy getting “off the beaten path” and enjoy areas not on the usual tourist track.   It is one of these that I want tell you about.

I had the pleasure to spend a week in the French Basque region specifically the area between Bayonne and St. Jean de Luz a few years ago with the French Government Tourist Bureau. This trip was busy and I didn’t get do some extensive exploring but I definitely came away wanting to spend more time in this beautiful less traveled area.

Basque vista Southwest France

Basque Hills

The Southwest corner of France, from Bayonne to St. Jean de Luz, offers something for everyone. Whether you want beautiful beaches or rolling green hills, sleepy villages or towns of international renown; you can find it all in this striking region. The coastal villages offer dramatic sandy beaches, fishing ports, beautiful architecture and storied histories.

Bayonne France

Bayonne

Bayonne is the capital of the region and is known for its narrow streets, cathedral and chocolate. Bayonne was the first city in France to make chocolate  dating way back to the early 1600’s. Wandering the streets will offer ample opportunities to sample the wonderful chocolate of Bayonne.

Biarritz Seaview France

Biarritz

Once a whaling village, Biarritz is now a resort to the rich and famous. Biarritz was the summer home of Eugenie and Napoleon and you can still see the impact of this in the stunning Hotel du Palais. Biarritz offers shopping, scenic views, museums and more. You will enjoy wandering the charming old town. After enjoying the sights which include a lighthouse and a Chocolate museum, you may want to spend some time in the casino before turning in for the night.

St Jean du Luz French Basque region

St Jean du Luz by marsupilami92, on Flickr

St. Jean de Luz is an enchanting town offering a sandy beach, picturesque harbor, outdoor cafes, architectural gems and a quaint town square. St. Jean de Luz is another great strolling town with beautiful narrow streets.

Basque Farm in Southwest France

Basque Farm

The French Basque have a well preserved culture and once you start moving inland you sense a more Basque feel to the environs. Moving inland you will find rolling green hills, peace and quiet, tradition and villages called “most beautiful villages in France.”

Scenic Basque Country France

Scenic Basque Country

Driving inland you will meet charming villages like Ascain, Sare and Ortillopitz. The storybook quality of this area make drives through the region an amazing journey. The discoveries you will find include churches, distinctive Basque architecture, lush countryside, vineyards, farms, pilgrimage routes and spectacular vistas. If you are a walker, you will be able to find many walking routes.

This section of France left a definite impression on me and I intend on returning.

 

What “off the beaten path” destinations have impacted you?

5 Cities To Take a Walk In

While I am in Europe I am hoping to take a few new walking tours and will share them with you when I get back.  For now, lets dig a little deeper into the archives and discover walking tours in 5 European cities!

A fairly recent new love of mine is walking tours. My love for walking tours began when my daughter went off to college and I needed to get out of my empty nest! Since I live in the San Francisco bay area, my husband and I headed off and enjoyed a fantastic walking tour of Nob Hill. Since then I have enjoyed many walking tours and look forward to new walking adventures in any city I visit.

To me, a walking tour allows you to really get to know a neighborhood at a much slower pace. I feel the amount of area covered is more limited allowing for a more in depth look into the subject of the walk. I have found the guides to be very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the subject. You can find walking tours in larger cities covering a vast range of topics – some are even free!

So to inspire you to walk a bit, I picked 5 European cities to begin a list of walking tour companies. Guides from all companies listed are from all walks of life (no pun intended) including historians, literary experts, art historians, performers and authors. Most of the tours listed do not require reservations, however, some do have minimums so look for this when deciding on the tour you will enjoy.

House of Parliament London

House of Parliament London by cookipediachef, on Flickr

London:

London Walks is a company offering many walking tours covering the neighborhoods of London. Their tours include: The Secrets of Westminster Abbey (From Opus Dei & Death’s Palace to The Da Vinci Code), The Beatles ‘In My Life’ Walk, The Hidden Pubs of Old London Town, Ghosts Gaslight & Guinness, and The Blitz – London at War. There is no need to book ahead and most walking tours are priced at 8£ (about $15). The biggest problem with this company is which tour to choose??

Eiffel Tower Paris France

Eiffel Tower

Paris :

Paris Walks offers many walking tours covering many of the wonderful neighborhoods Paris is so famous for. You could enjoy The Medieval Latin Quarter, The French Revolution, a Fashion Walk, the Village of Montmartre, Hemingway’s Paris or even a Chocolate walking tour! Again, the cost for these walking tours is quite reasonable at 12 € (about $16). Sign me up for the Chocolate tour! Is there a better way to enjoy chocolate and work off the calories at the same time?

Prague Czech Republic

Prague by photojenni, on Flickr

Prague:

Learn about all that makes Prague famous by taking one of these walking tours from Prague Walks: Prague Castle Walk, Jewish Prague, Ghost Walk, Pubs of the Old Town and the Best of Prague, which also includes lunch and a river cruise. Prices range from 300 czk to 890 czk (from $17 to $50 for the Best of Prague). A few of these tours have minimums so be sure to check their website for more details. For you early risers, they offer a Good Morning Walk where you will be able to enjoy Prague before the crowds are even up!

 

Brandenburg Gate Berlin Germany

Brandenburg Gate Berlin by Bernt Rostad, on Flickr

Berlin:

Original Berlin Walks offers tours that help you discover Berlin and its storied history. You may decide to choose one of these tours: Discover Berlin Tour, Infamous Third Reich Sites, Jewish Life in Berlin and Nest of Spies Tours. These tours are 12 € ($16). While looking at their website, I noticed their guides list their favorite restaurants which I think is a real bonus. . . local recommendations can’t be beat!

Marienplatz Munich Germany

Marienplatz Munich by JoeDuck, on Flickr

Munich:

Munich Walk Tours offers a unique way to learn about Munich and its history and culture. Walking tours include: Bavarian Food Tasting & Viktualienmarkt, Haunted Munich Ghost Tour, Beer and Brewery Tour (you are in Munich!), Hitler’s Munich (aka Third Reich Tour) and The City Walk & English Garden tour. These tours range in price from 12 €22 € ($16-$30). Munich Walk Tours also offer a couple bike riding tours, which is my next “adventure” to tackle.

There you have it, 5 cities 5 different walking tour companies. Try one, you won’t be disappointed. This list is not complete and inclusion here does not mean an endorsement is being made.

I do, however, suggest you venture out and walk a bit. . .


Have you taken a walking tour?

Which walking tour would you most like to enjoy??

Beer Festivals. Munich. No Crowds. You can’t be serious???

By the time you read this I will have finished my Beer Extravaganza in Bamberg Germany. Since I have been enjoying so many great German beers, I thought  I would share a post revealing Beer Festivals in Munich that you may not know about!  Prost 🙂

So do you like beer, would love to attend a Beer Festival in Munich but hate crowds? Everyone knows about the grand celebration that takes place in Munich late September into early October called Oktoberfest, right? During this festival over 1.75 million gallons of beer are consumed which equates to about 30% of all Munich breweries production for the year! That is a lot of beer to drink in a short 2 week period, but is this the only time to visit Munich for a beer festival? That answer is no. In fact, unbeknownst to non-beer aficionados (myself included) there are different beers for each season and, therefore, many reasons to visit Munich for beer other than during the granddaddy of them all, Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest Bavaria Munich

It's time for Oktoberfest!

My personal opinion is, it is always a great time to visit Munich but if you are looking strictly for beer and festivals then you may want to visit in early spring for Starkbierzeit or “Strong Beer Season”. Beginning after Fat Tuesday, Munich gets ready to welcome the coming warmer weather by celebrating all that is holy, Beer. Brewers in Munich unleash their version of a Doppelbock, which actually dates back to mid-1600s. Since the monks during this time were forbidden to eat food during Lent they developed a nutritious version of “Liquid Bread” we call Dopplebock! You may have heard of these beers as they have names like Maximator, Optimator, Unimator or Triumphator. During this festival the breweries of Munich, such as Paulaner, Augustiner and Lowenbrau, showcase their version in beer tents along with Oompah bands, singing, dancing, and traditional German sausages and pretzels. All without the crowds experienced during Oktoberfest. What could be better?

Next we move on to Bavarian Beer Week which coincides with Bavarian Beer Day, April 23. This date is important because on this date in 1516 the Bavarian Purity Law was enacted. Bavarians take their beer very seriously and because of this law you will not find any rice, tree bark, corn or other flavorings in your Bavarian beer. Bavarian Beer Week is a celebration of the importance beer has in German life and includes festivals, tastings, brewing

Chinesischer Turm Munich Bavaria Germany

Enjoying beer at Munich's Chinesischer Turm

demonstrations, brewery tours, beer seminars and even free beer! Yes, free beer may be yours if you show up on Bavarian Beer Day, in front of the Bavarian Brewer’s Federation’s Brewers House in downtown Munich.

Sorry to say, but there are no Beer Festivals during the summer! During the wonderfully warm summer months all self-respecting Germans spend their free time in their beloved Beer gardens. If you have never experienced a beer garden during the summer, it is something you definitely need to put on your list of “things to do”. In Munich, visit the beer garden under the Chinesischer Turm in the Englischer Garten. Each afternoon you can spend time visiting with Munichers on their way home sitting under the trees enjoying a relaxing beer along with pretzels or even rotisserie chicken! This experience is wunderbar! Or try visiting the beer garden at the Viktualien markt. The Viktualien markt is one of my personal favorite spots in Munich. This open air market dates back to medieval times and is a place you can gather amazing food snacks and then stop for a beer . . . or two! Beers during the summer range from blond Maibock to the straw colored Helles beers.

Augustiner Brewery Munich Bavaria Germany

Beer garden Augustiner Brewery Munich

As summer rolls into fall, it is time for Oktoberfest but the fun doesn’t stop here! As the days shorten and the weather chills, it is time for Festbier Season. The holiday season is very special in Munich and there is no better way to celebrate than with a special brew. Festbiers are dark and great for sipping while gazing out the window as the snow falls or strolling amongst the stalls at the Christmas Market. There is much revelry and celebration that accompanies the magical Christmas Markets. The original is held at Marienplatz Square where you are surrounded by Medieval architecture and history while shopping for special trinkets. At the market you can purchase handmade ornaments, toys, and ceramics or enjoy homemade baked apples, sausages or potato pancakes all while enjoying festive holiday music! After you have wandered the markets shopping for the perfect gift, stop by a beer hall for a Festbier. In my opinion, that’s the perfect way to shop.

What beer festivals have you attended or which one(s) would you like to attend?


Oktoberfest picture courtesy of Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH
Chinesischer Turm picture courtesy of Andrew Cowin
Augustiner Brewery picture courtesy of Rainer Kiedrowski

Bavaria, Bavaria How do I Love Thee?

While I’m away I thought it would a good time to look back in the archives of European Travelista!  I’m sure by now, you all know that Bavaria is a very special place to me and since I will be in Bavaria for a few days, I thought it was a perfect time to share with you a post that is an attempt at putting into words the reasons  I love Bavaria!  I hope you enjoy it and know that I will have a few more Bavarian tales to tell when I return.

My first trip to Bavaria was in 1981 and I have been passionate about this area ever since. I fell in love with Bavaria then and nothing has changed since.  I get tingly looking at pictures of Bavaria and love telling people about this wondrous place. Pictures of Bavarian villages or mountains send a sense of peace, calm, joy and excitement coursing through me. For me, it is one of the most peaceful and fun places I have been.

Hohenschwangau Bavarian Castle

View from Hohenschwangau

A few years ago we took our 2 teenage children to Germany including Bavaria.  During our stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen we spent time visiting the castles in the area – Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau and Linderhof.  As I was sitting in a village nearby I remember looking around at the beautiful village, majestic Neuschwanstein Castle high up on the hill, the cows meandering in the field and I thought “What could be better than this?”  To this day, I haven’t been able to come up with an answer.

Why do I love this area?  Let me see if I can put it into words.

  1. The Lakes. Who can pass up Starnbergersee, Chiemsee, Tegernsee or Konigsee?

    Bavarian Scenery Germany

    Beautiful Bavarian Scenery

  2. The Castles. Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, Nymphenberg Palace, Herrenchiemsee, Trausntz or the Imperial Castle in Nuremburg.
  3. The Beer. Sitting at a Bavarian beer garden is one of the most enjoyable things to do and if there are mountains in view, even better!
  4. The History.
  5. The People.
  6. Those Cows!! If you’re lucky you’ll be in time to witness the annual cattle drive.
  7. Peace and Tranquility.
  8. The Mountains.
  9. The Window Boxes teeming with geraniums.
  10. The cities and villages.  Make sure to visit Munich, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Coburg along with the smaller villages of Fussen, Inglostadt, Kempten and Rothenburg.

    Linderhof Palace Bavaria Germany

    Linderhof Palace

  11. The Food. Schnitzel, wursts and sauerkraut. Yum!!
  12. Tradition. Oompah bands, dancing and dirndls and lederhosen.
  13. The views!
Rothenburg Bavaria Germany

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

 

Take all these together and I think this must be the definition of “Gemutlichkeit”!

 

While I love Bavaria, I know you must have a country, region, city that evokes much the same for you. Tell me about it. . .

Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Linderhof Palace pictures courtesy of Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH All other pictures are personal ones taken by me.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Train to Paris

As I prepare for my trip to Europe, I wanted to share this guest post with you.  Jesse Langley will transport you with him as he takes a night train to Paris!

The sun hung hot in the late afternoon sky and my clothing clung to me with varying degrees of dampness. Even my linen pants were moist. I had escaped the cold gray drizzle of Amsterdam the month before. After a detour into Germany to visit some old university buddies for a week I had continued south through France until arriving in Montpellier. Three weeks of studying French had given me a case of verb conjugation confusion and a serious addiction to mussels covered in stinky cheese. Besides, I had played hooky long enough and had some serious academic work cut out for me in Edinburgh. But Edinburgh wasn’t going anywhere any time soon and Paris was sort of on the way. Besides, not stopping in Paris when I was this close would be a crime.

 St-Clément Aqueduct Montpellier France

Montpellier Aqueduct by jparise, on Flickr

As I walked past the old Roman aqueduct under the load of my heavy backpack I stopped long enough to wipe sweat out of my eyes and admire the aqueduct’s engineering. I looked at the sturdy Roman lines and the pristine condition of the aqueduct and briefly wondered why we still have problems building sturdy roads in the states. I limped into the train station determined to never load so much into a backpack. I guess that’ll require a smaller backpack. The gendarmerie was trying to inconspicuously scan for suspicious passengers from the balcony in the train station but the German Shepherds kind of blew their cover. The French police don’t do inconspicuous well, but at least they’re better than the Italians.

I waited for the one o’clock to Paris in the shade of the station. When it pulled in and was ready for boarding I was the first one in. I had learned the hard way on the stretch from Cologne to Montpellier that stragglers with enormous backpacks will always suffer if the luggage rack in the corner of the train car gets full. There is no humanly possible way to stuff seventy-five pounds of pack in an overhead bin. I got my backpack securely stowed, found my seat and plugged in my headphones. As the train left the station Bob Dylan was mumbling his way through Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again and Montpellier began to recede into the distance.

Eiffel Tower Paris France at sunrise

Eiffel Tower by Tristan Nitot

I fell asleep and when I woke the sun was hanging just over the mountains to the west painting the peaks in brilliant shades of oranges and pinks. I made my way to the bar car for a drink and sat near the bar sipping a glass of wine and watching the sun through the bar car window as it slowly sank below the mountains until they were silhouettes. I finished my wine and made my way back to my seat. The train car was quiet except for the soft snoring of passengers so I worked for a while with my dissertation on Joyces’s Ulysses until my eyelids got heavy again. I opened my eyes as the train began to slow coming into the Paris Gare du Nord station.

I collected my backpack and hailed a cab. The taxi driver’s English was actually worse than my French, and I was pleased that he understood the hotel directions I gave him on the first try. We chatted as much as my horrible French would allow until we got to the hotel. Upon arrival I paid him an extra four Euros for putting up with my mangled conjugations. The interior of the hotel lobby was high-ceilinged and airy. I waited while the young woman behind the counter checked my name against the reservations before producing a gigantic old fashioned skeleton key. I thanked her and headed for my room. Inside the hotel room large windows were open outwards and a light breeze blew softly and rustled the pulled back linen curtains. Just visible in the distance the Arc de Triomphe glowed against the night sky lit from underneath with spotlights.

Arc Triomphe Paris France at night

Arc Triomphe by Benh LIEU SONG

I took a quick hot shower and wiped the steam off the mirror for a quick shave. I rooted around in the backpack until I found a pair of linen pants with the fewest wrinkles. I put on a clean white oxford and stepped into a pair of bright red espadrilles. After a quick look in the mirror I wiped a wisp of shaving cream off my ear and put the skeleton key in my left pants pocket where I noted with disapproval that it caused the pocket to sag under its weight. I walked out past the check-in counter and noticed that the young woman who had given me my key had a pixie haircut and looked like a young Audrey Hepburn like so many French women do. I had a hankering for a croissant and a good cup of coffee, so I continued out the lobby into the balmy Paris night to look for a late night café and a conversation.

 

Ah Paris, Tell us about a favorite memory you have of Paris!

 

Jesse Langley lives near Chicago. He divides his time among work, writing and family life. He is an advocate for online education and has a keen interest in blogging and social media.

Crazy Strange Sports?

While I was doing research on the Strange Games and Unique Festivals in Europe post I found many more “events” that would qualify but didn’t include.  There was one unique thing that a lot of these “events” had in common.  They were all being held somewhere in England!

Let’s celebrate some of the crazy strange sports taking place in England.

Cheese Rolling Festival
This annual event is held on Cooper Hill near Gloucester England.  Competitors stand at the top of the hill and roll a round of Gloucester cheese down the hill, racing after it.  The first to cross the finish line is declared the winner.  Theoretically contestants are supposed to catch the round of cheese at the bottom but the rounds of cheese can reach speeds of up to 70 mph, so that might not be such a good idea!

Cheese Rolling Race Glousester England

Cheese Rolling Racel by by Dave Farrance

World Toe Wrestling Championship
Yes this is a real event that is, in fact, gaining popularity in the UK!  There are even rules for this event that started in the 1970’s.  Both shoes and socks must be removed and it is common courtesy for each wrestler to remove their opponent’s shoes and socks!  After linking toes the match begins and the first to pin their opponent wins.  This year’s event was held in Derbyshire and the final contestants were Paul “Predatoe” Beech and Alan “Nasty” Nash.  Since they have nicknames, they must take this seriously, right?

World Black Pudding Throwing Championship
Otherwise known as Blood Pudding, the World Black Pudding Throwing Championship is held in Ramsbottom and revisits the centuries old rivalry between the Yorkshire and Lancashires!  For this competition, the Yorkshire pudding is set 20 feet high and competitors hurl their black pudding in an attempt to tumble over the stacks of Yorkshire pudding.  The festival like atmosphere makes this sound very intriguing!

Black Pudding Throwing in Ramsbottom England

Black Pudding Throwing by Paul Anderson

Strip Poker World Championship
This event is held in London and probably doesn’t need too much explanation!  Texas Hold ‘em is the game played.  Each competitor starts off with 5 pieces of clothing, which is given to them, and a towel to sit on and cover up with once they have lost all their clothing.  For obvious reasons, no pictures are included 🙂

Strip Poker Championship London England

by RenoTahoe, on Flickr

World’s Biggest Liar Competition
Wasdall England is the location for this annual event looking for the person who can spin the biggest believable yarn!  Each contestant is given 5 minutes to tell the biggest bestest lie without using any props or scripts.  Politicians and Lawyers are not allowed to compete – gee let me guess why?  This contest is held in honor of Will Ritson who was a local pub owner known for his ability at telling larger than life tales.

World Water Bombing Championship
This team competition draws people from all around helping out one of their favorite charities.  All team members must be dressed up.  Some come as babies with diapers, or men dressed in women’s finest and others come as scary ghouls! There are award for the best bombs, costumes and most fund raising but all teams are treated to a wonderful “pie and pea” supper after all the fun is over.

Football in the River
Ok, I’ll admit I included this one not because it is so strange but because it looks like so much fun!  Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire is home to this annual game of medieval football.  Goal posts are set up in the Windrush River and two teams duke it out.  There is a referee whose job it is to keep things civil or at least try.  As you can imagine, spectators who line the banks of the river.  If you’re in England, this year the event will take place on August 29.  Make sure you dress appropriately as you will definitely get wet!

 

 

Would you like to see any of these events?

Why do you think so many of these events are held in England?

Wine Tasting & Biking in Burgundy

A couple months ago I started exploring an area of France I want to visit, Burgundy.  In Burgundy France – Land of Plenty and Viva La France-Back to Burgundy! I talked about all that Burgundy has to offer any traveler and now its time to sample some of the wine Burgundy produces!

There are many ways to take part in wine tasting while in Burgundy.  You could drive on the “Route des Grands Crus” or hike along one of the 14 marked footpaths or enjoy a cycling tour.  All will take you through vineyards and villages.

Vineyard in Côte de Beaune Burgundy France

Vineyard in Côte de Beaune by Megan Mallen

Cycling Tours of Burgundy allows visitors to enjoy the small towns and villages, their history, art, scenic landscapes all while tasting wine along the way!  We all know Burgundy is synonymous with wine and this type of adventure looks like a great way to enjoy the scenery and enjoy wine in a little different way.

Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot, Bourgogne Aligote Burgundy France

Bourgogne Aligote by titanium22, on Flickr

There are many different biking routes in the region.  Whether you want to make this a multi-day event or a short day expedition, you will find it.  The different routes take you past the many different terrains in Burgundy.  While riding you will be feasting on the scenery along rivers and canals as well as the gastronomy that Burgundy is also famous for.

Each biking option offers its own variety of discovery whether you want to explore the local produce and foods from Morvan hams, fish stew, Bresse chicken, sausage and delicious cheese or discover the prehistoric past, myths, spiritual traditions, and charming villages of Burgundy.

The five Voies Vertes (Green Ways) of Burgundy include:

  • The ride in Southern Burgundy is approximately 50 miles and features the best known wine collections including Maconnais, Pouilly-Fuisse and Saint-Veran.  Along this ride are the towns of Cluny with its abbey and Cormatin home to a beautiful chateau.
  • Saone to the Loire is a 60 mile ride along the Canal du Centre and home to red wines with a fruity nose and delicious whites.  In Bourbon-Lancy you will discover a wonderful medieval village that includes a spa.
  • Canal du Centre Burgundy France

    Canal du Centre by PRA from wikimedia

  • Riding along the Nivernais Canal takes you 105 miles through rich farmland and the natural beauty of Burgundy.  Pass drawbridges, swimming holes and wine villages or you can even do a little rock climbing!
  • The 130 mile ride along the Burgundy Canal wanders through everything Burgundy is known for:  farms, chateaux, enchanting towns and, of course, vineyards.  This ride takes you past Fontenay and Semur-en-Auxois two exquisite medieval villages.
  • The Vineyard Way ride is a short 12 mile ride from Beaune to Santenay through vineyards riding along paths that are still used by winegrowers.  This ride takes you through the heart of the Burgundy wine country and also passes through some of the most picturesque villages.

    Burgundy France views of cathedral

    Burgundy countryside by AEngineer, on Flickr

Lodging can be found along all of the routes above if you would like to spend a night or two along the way!  Luggage transfer can even be accommodated.

I know I didn’t delve into the technicalities of Burgundy wine and that’s because I am not a wine aficionado just a wine drinker!  So if you want to learn more about the varieties, classifications or labels from the wines of this area you might find the article Burgundy Wine Guide by the Wine Doctor very informative!

 

Would you like to explore Burgundy by bike?

The 6 EST’s of Europe

What is the largest, longest or biggest in Europe?  Come on a journey with us to find out the best-EST and most-EST that Europe has to offer.

Largest Castle – Prague Castle

In fact, Prague Castle is the largest castle in the world and not just Europe.  Dating back to 870, the castle is home to the Bohemian crown jewels, the National Gallery, Toy Museum, Czech history museum and a gallery displaying the history of the castle.  Over the years, the castle has been remodeled and, therefore, you will find representations of every architectural style including Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral and Romanesque Basilica of St. George.  No visit to Prague is complete without taking a tour of the castle or spending time in one of its many museums.

Prague Castle Czech Republic

Prague Castle by Adam Zivner

Tallest Mountain – Mount Elbrus

At 18,510 feet this inactive volcano stands above the rest in this part of the Urals.  Located near the Georgian border, Mt Elbrus’ permanent ice cap feeds 22 glaciers which in turn feed into the Baksan, Kuban and Malka rivers.  Legend has it, this is the place where Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock!  This mountaineering area will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Mt Elbrus and the Caucasus Mountains

Mt Elbrus by Jialiang Gao

Largest City – Moscow, Russia

The capital of Russia was first mentioned in 1147 and is the most northern city to have a population of over 10 million people.  Sitting along the banks of the Moskva River, Moscow has seen the history of Russia play out before its very eyes.  To say that Russia’s history has been stormy is an understatement but Moscow has been the capital through the Grand Duchy of Moscow, Tsardom of Russia, Soviet Union and today’s Russia.  With the fall of the Iron Curtain Moscow has become quite a tourist destination and no one does not recognize the famous architectural style, the Onion Dome.  Sites to be seen include 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Red Square and the Kremlin, a zoo, museums, art galleries, 96 parks, 18 gardens and the world famous ballet.  One of Moscow’s newest claim to fame is it has the most billionaires (79) than anywhere else beating out NYC!

Red Square Moscow Russia

Red Square Moscow by Christophe Meneboeuf

Northernest City – Hammerfest & Honningsvag, Norway

Seems there is a little disagreement on what constitutes a city which is why there are 2 claimants to the most northern city in Europe.  Norwegian law says that to be a city there needs to be a population of at least 5,000 people.  Hammerfest is south of Honningsvag but Hammerfest is the only one that meets the city population requirements.  Both cities are important fishing and hunting areas with histories dating to prehistoric time.  Strange as it may seem for the most northern city, but the ocean off Honningsvag is ice free!  Hammerfest has a huge migration of reindeer during the summer.

Hammerfest Norway

Hammerfest Norway by Clemensfranz

Honningsvåg Norway

Honningsvåg Norway by Luca Boldrini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longest River – Volga

Ending in the Caspian Sea, this 2,194 mile long river skirts its way through Central Russia after its humble beginning in the Valdai Hills about 200 miles south east of St. Petersburg.  Even though the Volga freezes for most of its length for 3 months of the year, it has played a very important role in the movement of people from Asia to Europe during decades past.  The Volga estuary, the largest in Europe, is the center of the caviar industry and home to many species of animals including pelicans, flamingos, lotuses and beaver.  The river has also endured many wars, much strife by its people, pollution and the destruction of towns to make way for dams.  As with other great rivers of the world, if only they could talk the stories we would hear!

Volga River Russia

Volga River by Evgeny Pavlov

Oldest Amusement Park – Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens is in the center of Copenhagen, Denmark and was opened on August 15, 1843.  At this time it was actually outside the city limits but as the city grew the park became one of its central points and is right next to Copenhagen’s central station.  Legend says that Walt Disney decided to build Disneyland after visiting Tivoli.  The park is best known for its wooden roller coast, which was built in 1914, but today has many other modern roller coasters containing loop-to-loops and zero-G’s.  Inside this beautiful park there are performing art theaters, including one dedicated to Pantomime, concert areas, parades and gardens.  The park is spectacular at night where it sparkles under the many lights.

Tivoli Gardens Copenhagen Denmark

Tivoli Gardens by Tbmurray

 

These are few of the -ests of Europe.  I’m sure there are many more.

What other -ests or do you know?

Bridging Europe

When traveling we come across many bridges that are part of the local customs, history and folklore.

Some bridges are very famous or very high

Đurđevića Tara Bridge over the river Tara in Montenegro

Đurđevića Tara Bridge in Montenegro by Cornelius Bechtler

Tower Bridge London England

Tower Bridge London England by Diliff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some are very beautiful and some you couldn’t pay me to cross!

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

Kapellbrucke Lucerne Switzerland

Rickety Bridge in Europe

Rickety Bridge Latvia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they all are works of art, functional and just plain amazing. I’m not an engineer, so it always amazes me how these structures can stretch so far, reach so high and withstand all the abuse they take from vehicles and the elements.

 

I thought it would be fun to look at few bridges Europe has to offer!

Oresund Bridge

Öresund Bridge Sweden Denmark

Öresund Bridge by Hardo, on Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Øresund or Öresund Bridge is one of the more unique bridges I have ever seen. This bridge connects Denmark and Sweden and is both a bridge and tunnel! The bridge portion spans 25,739 feet from Sweden to a manmade island, Peberholm, from here you enter the tunnel to cross under the Drogden strait. The tunnel includes 2 rail tracks and 4 lanes for cars. During construction there were 2 delays one being do to finding 16 unexploded bombs from WWII laying on the seafloor.

Goltzsch Viaduct

Goltzsch Viaduct Saxony Germany

Goltzsch Viaduct Saxony Germany© Chriusha (Хрюша)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goltzsch Viaduct is the largest brick built bridge in the world. This railway bridge was built between 1846 – 1851, spans the Goltzsch valley and connects Bavaria and Saxony in Germany. There are 98 vaults over 4 levels with the top level made up of 29 arches.

Rio-Antirrio Bridge

Rio-Antirrio Bridge Greece

Rio-Antirrio Bridge Greece © Guillaume Piolle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful Rio-Antirrio Bridge is official known as the Charilaos Trikoupis bridge and is the longest multi span cable-stayed bridge in the world. Crossing the Gulf of Corinth and connecting the towns of Rion and Antrion (on the Greek mainland), this 9,449’ long bridge is a feast for the eyes! The bridge has 2 lanes for traffic in each direction and a path for walkers or bikers. An interesting fact is the piers can slide on the gravel to accommodate any tectonic movement.

Bosphorus Bridge

Bosphorus Bridge Istanbul Turkey

Bosphorus Bridge Istanbul Turkey By Kara Sabahat

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bosphorus Bridge is one of the few bridges on this earth that spans 2 continents. This beautiful bridge spans the Borphorus strait connecting Europe and Asia. The suspension bridge has 3 lanes in each direction for cars and when it is fully loaded sags 35” at mid span! There is an annual marathon that includes running over the bridge.

Vasco de Gama Bridge

Vasco de Gama Bridge Lisbon Portugal

Vasco de Gama Bridge Lisbon Portugal by Till Niermann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The longest bridge in Europe is the Vasco de Gama which spans the Tagus river near Lisbon, Portugal. The bridge is almost 11 miles long and was opened in 1998 just in time for Expo 98 which celebrated the 500th anniversary of de Gama’s discovery of the route from Europe to India.

Magdeburg Water Bridge

Madgeburg Water Bridge Germany

Madgeburg Water Bridge Germany by Botaurus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magdeburg Water Bridge caught my eye because it isn’t a bridge made for cars or trains. This bridge is a navigable aqueduct for boats connecting the Elbe-Havel canal to the Mittelandkanal by spanning the Elbe river in Eastern Germany! There is a walkway and bike path along the span including signs telling the history and construction of the bridge.

So there you have it! Some beautiful, unique and interesting bridges you could find while in Europe.


Have you seen any of these? Do you like Bridges?

European Villages Discovered-Kuressaare

Europe is home to many world famous cities; Paris, London, Prague and Munich to name a few.  We have all visited or dream of visiting these cities but there are many more small villages that offer travelers a closer look into the culture of the country.  There are even some that may be labeled as “secret” because they are not on the normal tourist routes.

I thought it would be fun to open the door on a few of these “secret” villages.

First up is a wonderful village on Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa.

Kuressaare on Saaremaa Island of Estonia

by ** Maurice **, on Flickr

Estonia may not be Europe’s best kept secret anymore but Kuressaare is one of Estonia’s.  This lovely village has a feeling that time has stood still and, if this is true, we have the Soviets to thank. During the 1940’s they closed the island, Saaremaa, to all foreigners and most Estonians.  So for 50 years Kuressaare was isolated allowing for its small town feel to remain intact.

Kuressaare church Saaremaa Estonia

Church by Ivo Kruusamägi via Wikimedia

This favored summer get-away was reopened in 1991 and the charms of Kuressaare can once again be enjoyed.  Long summer days and warm weather make this a favored spot.  There are many beaches to enjoy and swim in.  I didn’t know this but the Baltic has a lower salinity level due to the amount of fresh water that flows into it! So swimming in the Baltic won’t leave you with the icky crusty salt feeling.  The weather during the summer months averages in the low 70’s making it not balmy but an enjoyable temperature.

Kuressaare Castle Saaremaa Estonia

Kuressaare Castle & Park by Erik Christensen

What else can you find in Kuressaare?

  • The best preserved medieval castle in the Baltic’s sits at the waterfront and will make all castle lovers happy!  Wander the halls and make your way to the fortifications for amazing views!  While visiting the castle
    Suur Toll Sculpture Kuressaare Estonia

    Suur Toll Sculpture by Beentree via wikimedia

    make sure to visit the regional museum with its own creepy legends.

  • For peaceful way to spend an afternoon, rent a row boat and float in the lake surrounding the castle.
  • Golfers can enjoy a round on the 18 hole golf course.
  • Walking around town you will find some interesting and unique sculptures including the Suur Toll which depicts one of Saaremaa’s heroes.
  • Spend time wandering the historic buildings and churches nestled in the Keskvaljak square area.  Many date back to the 1670’s.
  • The city is flat and, therefore, very friendly to bikers.  Grab a picnic and take off to explore on your own.
  • Kuressaare also has a spa offering a bit of pampering.  How about a bath full of coastal mud?
  • Enjoy the many restaurants, shops, museums and galleries waiting to be sampled.

What do you think?  Could you see yourself wandering Kuressaare?