Monday, April 27, 2015

Future POIs - Heroes' Square (Hősök tere) [Budapest, Hungary]

I have only been to Italy in Europe (my one day in Paris I don't count) and it has a large number of squares and it seems like other European countries are like this as well.

Heroes' Square during the day (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
The Heroes' Square looks neat based on the images and it would be good to understand what the significance is behind all the statues and the square itself.

Construction began in 1896 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of Hungary (like the Fisherman's Bastion) and it finished in 1900.

Archangel Gabriel (Courtesy of visitbudapest.travel)
At the very front of the monument (before the column), there is a large stone cenotaph (an empty tomb).  The statue atop the column is of the archangel Gabriel with the Holy Crown of St Stephen in his right hand and a double barred cross in his left which was given to St Stephen for his efforts in converting Hungary to Christianity. Surrounding the column are the seven Magyar chieftians who founded Hungary.

Topping the two colonnades from left to right are a statue of a man with a scythe and a woman sowing seed which represent Labor and Wealth.  A male riding a chariot with a snake as a whip representing War.  A statue of female in a chariot representing Peace.  And lastly a man and woman representing Knowledge and Glory.

Heroes' Square at night (Courtesy of visitbudapest.travel)
The statues within the colonnades are kings and import historical figures which are too detailed for me to write about but they are as follows.  The statues within the left colonnade are as follows, Stephen I, Ladislaus I, Coloman, Andrew II, Béla IV, Charles I, and Louis I.  The statues within the right colonnade are as follows, John Hunyadi, Matthias Corvinus, István Bocskay, Gabriel Bethlen, Imre Thököly, Francis II Rákóczi, and Lajos Kossuth.

Neat fact, there is a square just like this one in Shanghai.

Do come by during the day and at night for a different look at the square.

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Past POIs - Gibraltar [Gibraltar, British Territories]

While in Morocco, we debated about going to Gibraltar since it was a ferry ride and taxi to get there.  Since we couldn't decide, we decided to write down our votes and do a tally based on everyone's opinion to see if we would go and in the end we did and am I glad that we did, even though I voted against it.

Mosaic welcoming us to the Rock.
Gibraltar is part of the British Colonies even though it is actually on the southern tip of Spain.  Gibraltar is not a large territory, it is 6,843 square kilometers (2,642 square miles) and it shares 1.2 kilometers (0.75 mile) land border with Spain.  From Tangier, it is a ferry ride (roughly an hour) and bus ride (roughly 30 minutes) to get there.  It was odd to travel through so many countries in such a short period of time (Tangier, Morroco to Tarifa, Spain to Gibraltar, British Territories)

View from atop the Rock.
The Rock of Gibraltar is the most notable attraction here outside of the Barbary macaques that occupy it.  The Rock is 426 meters high (1,398 ft) and to get to the top you can either drive up or take the cable car up.  There are tickets for just the cable car as well as package deals with some sights as well.

Barbary macaques!
The Barbary macaques are the only wild monkey population in the European continent!  They have existed before Gibraltar was captured by the British back in 1704.  Rumor has it that if the apes disappear, so will the British.

Feeding area.
Feeding the macaques is an offense punishable by law where you can be fined up to 4,000 euros.  But fear not! There is an organization that feeds the monkeys and keeps track of them via microchips and random exams.

These people thought the macaques can't see their food through their windshield.
Gibraltar is a fun one day stop.  I'm not sure you would spend that much more time there and our day trip was more than sufficient for us.  There were a few points of interest on the Rock of Gibraltar that we missed out on, but it is not the end of the world.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Future POIs - Petřín Lookout Tower [Prague, Czech Republic]

Observation towers are one of the best ways to get a aerial view of the area that you are at and usually we try to climb one even though I'm pretty afraid of heights (got to keep telling myself not to look down).  In Prague, just a short 30 minute walk from the main train station is the Petřín Lookout Tower .


The tower was built in 1891 and only took 4 months to complete.  At first glance, you may think that it is like the Eiffel Tower and you are correct.  It was inspired by the Eiffel Tower but significantly shorter at 63.5 metres tall vs Eiffel Tower's 301 metres.

There are two options to get here, either you can walk up the hill which takes about 30 minutes or you can ride the funicular up.  The tower itself has two viewing platforms both of which are octagonal in shape.  To go up, you have two options, there is an elevator or you can walk up the 299 stairs to the top.

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Past POIs - Leaning Tower of Pisa [Pisa, Italy]

The Leaning Tower of Pisa or just Tower of Pisa is a free standing bell tower known for its poorly planned construction.  The Tower of Pisa is 56 metres (186 feet) tall and started to lean during construction due to poor foundation back in 1173 when construction first started.  It took roughly 200 years to complete due to various wars that took place during its construction.

The Tower of Pisa (Campanile) is one of four buildings which make up the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), the others being the cathedral (Duomo), the baptistery and the cemetery (Campo Santo).


It consists of 207 columns split among the 8 stories it has.  There are 15 arches at the base, 30 arches for the next 6 stories.  It weighs in at roughly 14,500 tons of white marble and has a 297 step spiral staircase that leads you to the top.  Originally, the lean was 5.5 degrees but this was corrected in recent years to about 4 degrees and said to be stable for the 200 years.

If you look closely, you will see that the upper floors are not level.  One side was built to try to compensate for the tilt.  From 1990 to 2001, corrective reconstruction was done on the building meaning that tourists were not allowed in.


It is situated in a town that you can get to by bus from Florence.  I feel that while we made the trip to see this neat building, there isn't really much else in the area to keep you here, so if you had to ask me if it was worth it, I think it is skippable (we did this as a day trip with Lucca).

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Future POIs - Nymphenburg Palace [Munich, Germany]

Nymphenburg Palace is an enormous palace complex just roughly 15 minutes by public transportation from the city centre of Munich, Germany and should not be missed based on the pictures.

Aerial View (http://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/)
The original plan was just the center complex and construction started in 1664 and it was completed on 1679 based on plans by Italian architect Agostino Barelli.  This was built for Max Emanuel by his parents Ferdinand Maria and Henriette Adelaide.

What you see today was not fully completed until the 1800s.

Great Hall (http://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/)
The adjacent structures to the north and south of the main complex was built later by Max Emanuel.  Around 1715, the overall plans for what you see today was designed by Joseph Effner and Dominique Girard and it took until the 1800s to complete which involved redesigns of halls, rooms, the gardens and is it what we see now.

Hall of Mirrors (http://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/)
Nymphenburg is an entire complex and the admission tickets are priced accordingly (you can purchase tickets as a package which includes all sites or individually which include the Nymphenburg palace, Marstallmuseum, the Museum of Nymphenburg Porcelain, Amalienburg, Badenburg, Pagodenburg, and Magdalenenklause).  11.50 euros for all sites or reduce amounts per site.  Currently, everything is open from April to mid-October (9:00 am - 6:00 pm) with closures from mid-October to March.

View from the cascade (http://www.schloss-nymphenburg.de/)
For anyone with a smart phone, there is an app for this in the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.  It includes tours, information on certain points of interest and is GPS-based but does not require data.

Today, this palace complex is managed by the Palace Department (can't say I've ever heard of this department in Canada before) which maintains 45 palaces, castles and residences, 32 historic gardens and 21 lakes.

Here are some neat stats about the place.  The section within the walls covers around 180 hectares, the entire complex is around 229 hectares of which 158 hectares are for trees, 32 hectares for meadows and lawns, 20 hectares for water and 19 hectares for paths and squares.

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Past POIs - Cloud Gate [Chicago, Illinois]

This is a site that I knew I would visit whenever I went to Chicago and we did this in 2014.  Within Millennium Park lies Cloud Gate (or as I refer to it, the giant bean) which is a 10 m by 20 m by 13 m sculpture.  It is a public sculpture designed by contest winner Anish Kapoor.  Originally built for the park's debut in 2004 but due to construction difficulties, the construction started in 2004 and ended in 2006.


It consists of 168 stainless steel plates welded together with highly polished exterior, which leaves it with no visible seams.  Cloud Gate's design was inspired by liquid mercury and weighs 98 tons.


Surprisingly, this was funded entirely by individuals and corporate donations to the tune of $11.5 million.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest.

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 - Montreal

Last year, Mike mentioned that he wanted to try to go to the Sugar Shack in Montreal and I had agreed since in general, Mike knows where to go to eat.  The process was, apply in December (give the place a few preferred dates and number of people) and wait for a response.  We did not hear back until February for a seating in April!  But we lucked out, and we got to go for Easter long weekend.  Note that we did not really do much other than eat here, so you have been warned about the content of this post.

To start, this took place from April 2 - April 5 and there would be 7 of us.  To our surprise, roughly 3/4 of the way there, the highway slowed to a complete stop and we saw smoke up ahead.  At this point, we were worried that we would not be able to make it there in time.  Luckily, it cleared up after about 30 minutes.

End result of the car fire.
Stop #1 - Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon


This is the place that Mike was talking about and this entire roadtrip was around going here.  During the winter season, this place specializes in a set menu that revolves around maple syrup.  It cost roughly $65 + tax/tip per person and you don't get a choice, except if you have dietary restrictions, they will try to accommodate.  This was the biggest meal that I have ever had.  It had its ups and downs, but in general, I thought it was pretty good and worth a try if you can get a reservation.  With all the food that we got, we still had plenty of left-overs.  The menu was divided into 4 courses, each which consisted of anywhere between 2 - 4 dishes.

Us!
Course 1, Dish 1 - Lamb dumplings steamed on top of maple leaves.
Course 1, Dish 2 - Asian inspired hot and sour soup.
Course 2, Dish 1 - Omelette with tongue and iceberg lettuce.
Course 2, Dish 2 - Cake with foie gras with a maple syrup and blackberry sauce.
Course 2, Dish 3 - Lobster pasta
Course 3, Dish 1 - Pig face with sausages.
Course 3, Dish 1 (sides) - Sides for the pig face (mini donuts and fennel salad).
Course 3, Dish 2 - Ducks in squid ink with stuffed calamari.
Course 3, Dish 3 - Rabbit stuffed with foie gras.
Course 4, Dish 1 - Maple taffy.
Course 4, Dish 2 - Pineapple and maple ice cream with beaver tails and maple butter.
Course 4, Dish 3 - Maple cotton candy with milk shooters (milk in a jug, no pictures) with baklava.
Course 4, Dish 4 - Lemon souffle.
Stop #2 - Olive Et Gourmando

I remember Mike and I trying to come to this place before but failed and we decided to wait this time.  Don't try to come with a big group (5 or more) because the wait is pretty bad.  2-3 is ideal it seems.  The sandwich and salad that we had were nice although I don't feel that the price was justified and having waited for 30 minutes, it built up a bit of anticipation which it failed to live up to.

The Cubain sandwich with a Green Salad.
Stop #3 - Les Glaceurs

This is Allison's favourite cupcake shop here and still remains that way.  6 cupcakes set us back $20 and in general they were pretty good.  Since we came during Easter, they had one which was mint based with easter eggs on top.

Cupcakes from Les Glaceurs
Stop #4 - Le Belle Province

Stopped by here for poutine.  I thought it was pretty good with the smoked meat, we got both a regular one and one with smoked meat on top.  It seems a bit pricey at almost $10, but the portion that you get is pretty good and with 7 people splitting 2 of them, we were satisfied with this as a snack before dinner.

Smoked meat poutine.
Stop #5 - L'Entrecôte Saint-Jean

This place was interesting.  It literally only has two set menu options.  One which is a subset of the full set menu.  Full menu is soup of the day or tomato juice, walnut salad, steak and frites, and profiteroles.  The smaller menu is walnut salad and steak and frites.  I enjoyed the soup which was a cream of leek, the steak was okay, I enjoyed the fries and salad as well as the profiteroles.  Full set menu was $30 and the smaller one was $24 if I remember correctly.

Us with our steak and frites.
Stop #6 - Juliette et chocolat

We stopped by here for late night chocolate.  This is a pastry shop that has drinks like coffee and hot chocolate.  We ordered the praline and caramel petit pot and the hot chocolate with marshmallows.  Service could use some work at the shop, but the treats were nice.

Praline petit pot and hot chocolate.
Stop #7 - St-Viateur Bagel

Stop here for bagels and for some reason, the location at Monkland screwed up most of our to-go orders which is unfortunate.  Fortunately, the bagels that we got were still good.  Do try to make a stop here if you can while you are here.

Stop #8 - Buster Rhino

BBQ!  Oddly located in a very quiet area although it may be because we came on Easter Sunday.  The waitress was obviously understaffed since she was running around a lot and she was the only waitress.  We ordered the chicken and waffles and the BBQ chicken sandwich.  I thought the chicken was still very moist which was nice.  The fries I thought were very good as well.  Now that I think about it, why didn't we get something that was BBQ?  Oh well.

Until our next trip!

Future POIS - Autobahn [Germany]

The autobahn, for those who don't know, this is the highway system in Germany that has NO SPEED LIMIT.  Well, technically that is correct, since there are a large amount of sections that don't have a speed limit, but there are areas that do (due to it being in a urban areas, accident prone areas, etc).  However, outside of these areas, there is a 'suggested speed limit' of 130 km/hr (81 mph) but it is generally not enforced.

Autobahn network (from Wikipedia)
The autobahn was conceived in the mid 1920s but never really took off until the Nazis took over.  Adolf Hitler eagerly backed the project.  Although it is often assumed that it was built for military purposes in mind, that is false since it was cheaper to transport cargo by train instead of by car.

General numbering system of the autobahn (from wikipedia)
The highways are numbered A blank number, where single digits are for those that go across Germany.  Shorter ones have double digits are regional ones. Even shorter ones have triple digits. In general, the autobahn numbers increase from west to east and from north to south.

Sign to indicate 'no speed limit' (from wikipedia)
Some interesting stats, the autobahn network is about 12,917 km (8,026 miles) in 2014.  There are roughly 16,000 emergency phones along it.  The autobahn was the first high-speed road network in the world when the first section from Frankfurt to Darmstadt opened in 1935.

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Past POIs - Colosseum [Rome, Italy]

The colosseum (colosseo in Italian) is located in Rome, Italy and is the largest amphitheatre in the world!  Built in 72 AD and completed in 80 AD, this site was used for gladiatorial contests, mock sea battles (yes, they were able to fill the base with water), animal fights, executions among other things.

If you look closely, you can see people!
The site is an ellipse that is 188 m long and 156 m wide and with 80 arched entryways, it is estimated to hold 50,000 spectators.  Emperor Vespasian was the one who commissioned the site with his son Titus completing it and later on Titus' son Domitian added improvements to it.

When you go, make sure you call ahead and book a tour of the underground portion and the 3rd ring (the 3rd level).  It is well worth it since it is not open to the public unless you are part of the tour and there were only roughly 20 people in our group.  With the tour, in the picture below, you get to enter from the opposite side of where the people are.  The 3rd ring is a small portion and gives you some very nice views of the colosseum.  The underground portion shows the rooms/cells that the gladiators would be at prior to and after the battles.


Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest.