Friday, January 29, 2016

Past POIs - Széchenyi lánchíd [Budapest, Hungary]

It seems that in Europe, there are a lot of famous bridges there, moreso than bridges here in North America. Aside from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, I'm not sure that I can say that any others really stick out to me as must see attractions (people, it is just a bridge...)

When you visit Budapest, I would say that odds are, you will stumble across this bridge since it is the main suspension bridge that connects Buda (west of Danube River) with Pest (east of Danube River) spanning across the Danube River. It is called the Széchenyi lánchíd or Chain Bridge, named after a Hungarian politician István Széchenyi who brought this bridge to life in 1849. The bridge was the first permanent bridge connecting Buda and Pest, is used by both vehicles and pedestrians.

Unfortunately, due to World War II, the bridge was actually completely destroyed with just the two stone pillars remaining. After the war ended, reconstruction of the bridge started in 1947 and ended in 1949 bringing it back to its original form.

When you cross the bridge, there is a tunnel on the Buda side which goes through Buda Hill under the Buda Castle and out to the other side. This tunnel is almost exactly the same length as the bridge leading to talks about people thinking that the Chain Bridge can be moved into the tunnel if it rains (which sounds really silly).

When you are on the Buda side of the bridge, make sure to look for the 'Zero KM stone'. We did see this on our trip, but we didn't know what it was while there. This is the marker used to calculate distance, like in Canada, there is a 0 km spot (it's in B.C.)

While I still believe that it is just a bridge, its importance cannot be understated.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Past POIs - Austrian Parliament Building [Vienna, Austria]

During our Europe trip in 2015, we visited the Austrian Parliament Building (which I labelled as Vienna Parliament in prior posts) and it was quite the surprise stop for me in Vienna. We stopped here in time for the public guided tour which at the time was 5,00 € and lasts roughly 55 minutes, available in both German and English. You are given a headset to use and feel free to bring your own headphones because you can use your own headphones with the headset.

Yup, inside parliament!
Construction started in 1874 and was completed in 1883 with the design of almost everything by Theophil Hansen. The building is designed with a Greek style in mind and not only did Hansen design the building, he was also responsible for the statues, paintings, furniture, light fixtures and other items! And yes, the fountain that is out front is also by Hansen as well, although it was built later with construction beginning in 1898 and completion in 1902.

Fountain outside parliament with parliament in the background.
This parliament building is where the President of Austria gets sworn-in and where the state speeches takes place. During World War II, it sustained heavy damage, however it has since been restored to its original state. But, you will notice that some things are not perfect and it is a remainder of what happened in the past. One such area is in the Colonnaded Hall, where you will notice that the columns aren't all of the same stone and they are patched where they were damaged.

Yup, this is inside parliament!
When I did research on the site, I'm glad that we made it when we did. Starting in 2017, they will renovate the parliament building to deal with issues like leaky roofs, ventilation and electrical system upgrades. This also includes removing building damages and repurposing unused spaces which means that the Parliament Building that we saw, may not exist in the future. Looking at the concept images of this makes it look very modern and it loses, in my opinion, what wowed me when I visited. However, it is entirely possible that these modern looks are in separate areas. You can read more about it here: Austrian Parliament renovations.

Yes, this is actually inside the parliament building.
While I could write about all the places that we saw, I will comment about the one that struck me as the most awe inspiring. I think that this is likely due to my expectations (which was, oh, a boring government building), when I walked in and saw the Colonnaded Hall, I felt like I was transported back to Italy where I saw the Pantheon. As you enter, a hall opens up at 40 m by 24 m where you will see 24 Corinthian marble columns which weigh a staggering 16 tons EACH. These columns support the ceiling and the glass roof above. If you come during the day, it is so well light, it was beautiful.

Colonnaded Hall.
If you are here, definitely try to plan to take a tour here. I don't know if there is a space limitation, but when we went, we just walked to the visitor center and just paid for the next available tour. You can check on their website when the tours are. Oh, and oddly, like most places that we visit, this is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Past POIs - Old Québec [Quebec City, Quebec, Canada]

Old Québec is a place we visited two years ago during the winter time and I thought it was very neat to revisit even though I do recall coming here a long time ago as a child.

Did you know that Old Québec is the only walled city north of Mexico and it is a UNESCO world heritage site as of 1985? Or that here lies the site of the first permanent French settlement in North America dating back to 1608 when it was discovered by Samuel de Champlain? And that it is home to Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, North America's oldest stone church dating back to 1688?

Château Frontenac
There are a lot of things to see here, Château Frontenac, built in 1893 overlooks the St. Lawrence River and the Dufferin Terrace, which has an awesome toboggan slide in the winter which can reach speeds of up to 70 km/hr. Stop by the funicular, built in 1879, which connects Lower Town to Upper Town. Visit the Parliament Building, built between 1877 and 1886, on Parliament Hill

Mural in Old Québec
Stop by Battlefields Park, which is 103 hectares (1.03 km²) of green space right in the heart of Quebec City. And if you like, you can learn about the history behind this battlegrounds while you are there.

St. Lawrence River
If you come by during winter time, they host Carnaval de Québec (Quebec's Winter Carnival) which has been running annually since 1955. Bonhomme is their mascot and every year, they have a different Bonhomme figure which you tie to your jacket to show that you are allowed in. It is a paid event, however, it runs for 17 days usually late January to mid-February and the figure is good for the entire time.

Lower Town
While I think based on how we visited Old Québec, you can probably do everything within a day, it is nice to see an area that has so much history to it. I definitely think that it is worth visiting if you never have, and definitely try out the toboggan slide if you have a chance.

Dufferin Terrace Slide
Dufferin Terrace Slide
Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Past POIs - Winterlude [Ottawa, Ontario, Canada]

Winterlude (Bal de Neige in French) is an event that takes place in Ottawa and Gatineau which started in 1979 and draws in over a million visits is one not to miss if you are in the area.

Poster from Winterlude 2014.
The event lasts three weeks and usually ends on Family Day in February (which is the third Monday of February). There isn't a lot to do during the week, so skating in the rinks or along the Rideau Canal is nice, however, all the action happens during the weekends.

Ice sculptures from Winterlude 2014.
Three primary areas make up the event, the Rideau Canal for skating, Jacques-Cartier Park which is in Gatineau (it is just across the river, so it isn't as far as it may sound), becomes the Snowflake Kingdom is an area for kids and adults alike who want to experience tube slides, snow slides or a chance to meet the Ice Hog Family, the mascots of Winterlude. Last but not least is Confederation Park which becomes Crystal Garden where ice carvers come from all around the world to compete in a ice carving competition.

Me in front of one of the snow slides from Winterlude 2014.
As a bonus, here are some other activities that you might experience while there, see the Annual Bed Race, yes, that's right, bed race, where people modify beds and race them on the Rideau Canal. You can try Kicksleds, which you can do alone or with a child sitting up front, imagine a chair but on skis. Or you can check out the snow sculptures in the ByWard Market among other things.

Me at km 1.0 on the Rideau Canal.
There are plenty of activities here for everyone and best of all, it is FREE! Yup, no need to pay for admission and you can go whenever you like (although some things take place are certain times, to check the website or the brochure for details). There are some things that require payment but when we went in 2014, we didn't pay for anything besides hot chocolate and beavertails.

Source -
Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Past POI - Rideau Canal [Ottawa, Ontario, Canada]

Last winter we went to visit Ottawa during Winterlude and got to experience skating on the Rideau Canal and had a great time and thought that I could use a bit of a history lesson behind it.

Start of the Rideau Canal Skateway.
Construction of the canal started in 1826 and it took 6 years to complete with it ending at 1832. It was actually built as a defensive measure against the United States but was never used for that purpose and it spans 202 km from Ottawa all the way to Kingston. There are a total of 49 locks in the systems and the locks are used to lower boats to a lower water level or raise them to a higher one.

In 1925 it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. In 2000 it was designated as a Canadian Heritage Site. In 2005 it was named the Largest Naturally Frozen Ice Rink by Guinness World Records and in 2007 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Me near the beginning.
During the winter time, starting in 1971, you can actually skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and it is 7.8 km in length. This attractions brings over one million visits a year, pretty impressive for something that is only open for a month or two depending on the weather. It is maintained 24/7 during the winter time.

Rideau is actually French for curtain, which describes how it looks where the two rivers that make up the Rideau, the Ridea River and the Cataraqui River, meets at the Ottawa River.

Enjoy a beavertail while skating (one of the stalls you see on the Rideau).
If you are in the area during wintertime, you should definitely check it out. I believe they have skates to rent there and while it is really busy at the beginning of the skating rink, it empties out really quickly (I would say before 0.5 km in). On the rink there are actual stalls that are set up for people to take a break and they serve drinks and snacks. While visitors only use it for fun, locals actually use it as a way to get to and from places.

Example of how it empties later on.
Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!