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Showing posts with the label scenery

The Palaces of Kyoto: Home of the Emperor

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Along with the futuristic megacity of Tokyo and the foodie heaven of Osaka, no trip to Japan would be complete without visiting its cultural capital, Kyoto.
Home to the Japanese imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is full of palaces, temples, shrines, and gardens; which thanks to not being targeted by Allied bombing during World War II, has been preserved in all its authenticity. This is Part 1 of our Kyoto Series: Palaces.
Kyoto Imperial Palace

* From 794 AD to 1869, Japan was ruled by its Emperor from his Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Plaza de Espana: A Tribute to the Spanish Empire

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At the peak of its height, the Spanish Empire ruled supreme over territory that now includes Western and Southern United States, Mexico, half of South America, the Philippine Islands, Naples and Southern Italy, and the Low Countries (Netherlands and Belgium).
To showcase the diversity and cultural richness of its formerly vast and far-reaching empire, Spain held the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929 with the city of Seville playing its host. 

* And at the center of the Exposition, stood the splendid Plaza de España, one of Sevilla's main landmarks and an icon of Spanish tourism.

Crossing No Man's Land: A Journey from Finland to Russia

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The end of the Cold War in the early 90's ushered in a lot of positive changes for Europe: military deescalation, the emergence of democracy in the former Soviet Bloc countries, a more relaxed atmosphere across the continent, and the opening of tourism. Finally, Western tourists found themselves being able to take a peek behind the Iron Curtain and actually visit Russia itself. 
From Finland's capital, Helsinki, we drove past the densely wooded countryside of Finland, into the no man's land that signified the neutral zone between the former adversaries of the Soviet and Western powers, and finally into Russia.

* Unlike border control procedures within the European Union, the experience of entering Russia is an adventure in itself! Entry can take over a couple of hours with immigration officials having the discretion to take as much time as they wish.

Novgorod: The Birthplace of Russia

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While the general public is very much aware of Moscow, as the capital of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union, and of St. Petersburg, the most European and Imperial of all Russian cities, few know the history, vastness, and grandeur of the early Russian people.
Russia in all its greatness started as a small city in the patch of land directly between Moscow and St. Petersburg; the city known as Novgorod.

* It was my great pleasure and honor to be able to visit and explore the Cradle of Russian Civilization.

The Portuguese Palace of Sintra

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Sintra is one of Portugal's most visited (and Instagram featured) tourist destinations! 
A triumph of Romanticist architecture, the town is stocked-full of areas to explore: palaces, ruins, historic estates, villas, gardens, cafes, and Michelin star restaurants.

* And from this view, we can see why Sintra is one of the Iberian peninsula's most sought after real estate markets; home of some of the wealthiest people in the European continent!

Trinity Lavra: Russia's Most Important Monastery

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An integral part of WHY I travel is my personal desire to visit and pray in as many spiritual centers as I can. Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, Muslim, Hebrew, I personally believe that each faith offers wisdom, guidance, and philosophies to help us be what we were meant to be: good human beings and dependable people. 
In Moscow, I had the privilege of visiting the Russian people's most important monastery and spiritual center, the Russian Orthodox Church of Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.

* Located almost two hours from downtown Moscow, the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius can be found  in the town of Sergiyev Posad.

Stockholm: City of 50 Bridges and Pop Music

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There really is something special about them Scandinavians. From the land of the "world's happiest people", Denmark, we now travel across the narrow strait, to the "world's cleanest country", Sweden. And lets not forget the land of attractive blonde men and women, Swedish meatballs, pop music hits, and ABSOLUT Vodka.
At the center of all of this is Stockholm, capital of Sweden; a city spread out across fourteen islands, linked by over fifty bridges.

* Stockholm is exactly how I imagined it to be: architecturally impressive, progressive, extremely walkable, and clean.

Mt. Fuji: Japan's Most Sacred Mountain

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When I used to picture the land of the rising sun as a child, somehow Mt. Fuji and its perfectly shaped cone always came to mind. You know the school activity: draw a horizontally-longer triangle on a piece of paper, add criss cross lines near the peak to signify snow, add a sun behind the peak, and you have Mt. Fuji.  It was grand yet mysterious, elegant yet mystical.
So when I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo, I knew that it was the right time to pay my respects to Japan's most sacred of mountains.

* And boy did she not disappoint! Despite the freezing temperature, what a view!

Roadtrip: Denmark To Sweden

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I personally love long drives. There is nothing quite like spending a day on the road looking at wonderful scenery armed with a good book or a solid podcast on my iPod (yes an iPod), to get the creative juices flowin' and the life batteries rechargin'. There was plenty of this to be had on our road trip from Copenhagen, Denmark to Stockholm, Sweden.  

* Our trip would take us from Copenhagen, up the coast to the Danish city of Helsingor, where we would then board the ferry to take us across the Oresund strait, separating Denmark and Sweden, to arrive at the Swedish city of Helsingborg, continuing on across the Swedish countryside until we arrive at its capital, Stockholm.

Cabo Da Roca: The End of the World and Other Portuguese Towns

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Aside form being home to imperial monuments and maritime wonders, Lisbon is also the entry point to several charming towns and sights. And like the rest of Western Europe, roads are organized and well-maintained, transportation is easy to find, and the spirit of adventure is high.

* Cabo da Roca, apart from being one of the most dramatic looking coastlines I have ever seen, is more famously known as the westernmost point of Europe.

A Walk Around Quirky Copenhagen

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Denmark is considered one of the most developed countries in the world. Economically, while the Danes have INSANE income tax levels which range from 45% to 60%, Danes have access to FREE education, health care, and welfare protection.. which are ALL of excellent quality! 
Income inequality is low; which means that the gap between the wealthy and poor is miniscule. Social mobility is high; which means that a person's status can actually go from poor to rich based simply on merit or how hard that person works. Corruption levels are one of the lowest in the world. Per capita income is one of the highest in the world, I guess, to make up for the high income tax. 
Furthermore, the Danes enjoy and practice a wider range of freedom and civil liberties as compared to other countries in the West. One truly FEELS free here, like you're part of an ideal society.
No wonder the Danes are referred to as the "happiest people on earth"!

* Like most European cities, street performer…

The Royal Castles and Palaces of Denmark

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Denmark, like many of the former great European powers, is a monarchy.  And as such, Denmark's main (and largest) island, Zealand, is dotted with gorgeous Royal Castles.

* Such as the incredible, Frederiksborg Castle, the largest Renaissance castle in all of Scandinavia.

Belém and the Legacy of Portuguese Exploration

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Enduring for over six centuries, the Portuguese Empire was actually the first colonial empire of Europe, leading the continent's Age of Discovery. With superior cutting-edge maritime technology and having a who's-who of historical explorers and sailors, the Portuguese mapped out whole coasts of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, while its European rivals were still squabbling on the main land. 
And Lisbon's Belem district, contains monuments and landmarks to this proud Portuguese legacy.

* By far, the coolest monument in Belem is that of the Monument of the Discoveries; featuring some of the world's most important explorers and situated right on the port where ships used to depart for Africa, India, and the Orient.

Copenhagen: From Viking Village to Royal Capital

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Copenhagen.
What started as a small Viking fishing village eventually grew to become the seat of the Dano-Norwegian Empire, and current capital of Denmark.
Now while Denmark is well-known for being one of the world leaders in design, clean energy, and sustainability, as well as liberalism, human rights, and modernism (free education, healthcare, and social security for all), its capital contains multiple treasures to its glorious royal past!

* Like most people from Scandinavia (the people formerly known as the Vikings), the Danes LOVE the water. One of Copenhagen's most picturesque spots is the waterfront area known as the Nyhavn.

How To Skillfully Navigate Venice

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Short answer: Don't! 
To anyone but local Venetians themselves, Venice might as well be a labyrinth. Built over an archipelago of 118 islands linked by bridges, the city is a real challenge to accurately navigate that one might as well purposely wander around and trust in the gods to find the way back home. 


* A few random turns and we find the infamous Bridge of Sighs (in the far background). Local legend has it that it was called so as this was the bridge leading to the prison from the Doge's Palace, and convicts were known to "sigh" as they got one more glimpse of the beauty of Venice before being incarcerated.

Culture Overload at Venice's Piazza San Marco

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At the height of its power, the Republic of Venice was THE major superpower in the world. Insanely wealthy due to its prime position as conduit between Europe, North Africa, and Asia, Venice has been lavishly decorated by its rulers and inhabitants throughout the centuries to showcase its grandeur.
And in this city-state, the social, political, and religious worlds revolved around the Piazza San Marco. 

* From the Lagoon, the Piazza can be accessed via the Piazzetta di San Marco, which contains the famous Lion of Venice (left), symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist, and Statue of St. Theodore (right), a warrior saint venerated by the Greek Orthodox Church.

Hello Venice!!

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After enduring my penchant for picking museums, beer halls, cathedrals and war memorials to visit on this trip, it was finally time for Monicca to get to her dream honeymoon location!
The island of Venice is mythical in its beauty, fame, and grandeur. Once THE superpower in the medieval world (for over 700 years - think today's USA), Venice is every bit as charming and awe-inspiring as it appears in all photos showing its magnificence.   

* The only way to and from Venice is via water transportation (water-buses, water-taxis, speedboats and gondolas).

Prague the Iconic - A Walk Along Charles Bridge

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Charles Bridge is one of Prague's most incredible and iconic landmarks. Crossing the Vltava River, the bridge serves to connect the Old Town Square with the Lesser Quarter, also known as Mala Strana. * The bridge was constructed in 1357 under orders from King Charles IV, the first King of Bohemia to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

Prague the Mighty - Castle Complex and St. Vitus Cathedral

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Apart from being the home to the Kings of Bohemia, several Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, and Presidents of Czechoslovakia, Prague Castle also has the distinction of being the largest ancient castle in the world.

* Nothing screams WELCOME than two giant sculptures of legendary characters beating their foes to a bloody pulp.

The Castles of Mad King Ludwig - Neuschwanstein

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The high point of a traveler's journey along the Romantic Road is seeing the majestic castles of King Ludwig II: the Linderhof and Neuschwanstein.  No wonder a lot of our beloved childhood fairy tales come from this part of the world as there is an ample supply of folklore, scenery, and structures to encourage these!
Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside any of the castles, credit is given to images not taken personally. * The Linderhof Palace! While we were expecting a palace of such beauty..