Browsing Category

Europe

Europe Poland Warsaw

Warsaw – The Newest Old Town in Europe

September 24, 2017
The mermaid in the centre of Warsaw's Old Town

Europe – Poland

Warsaw –52.2297° N, 21.0122° E

Mermaids…Jewish Ghetto…Uprising…

Warsaw or Krakow

72hrJetsetterGirl was keen to explore Poland in particular Krakow.  In her research, she found that yes Krakow, is probably the jewel of Poland, however in terms of things to do and see in the former capital one day would be more than enough for 72hrJetsetterGirl.

St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow's Main Market Square

St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow’s Main Market Square

Researching the Polish Adventure

Whilst researching this adventure, the package deal to Warsaw was significantly cheaper than to Krakow, another reason to choose Warsaw.  From Warsaw day trips to Krakow and Auschwitz could be arranged.  In the planning stages, 72hrJetsetterGirl had found tour companies that offer these day trips for less than US$100.  Ok theoretically everything as sorted.

Old City Walls of Warsaw

Old City Walls of Warsaw

A couple of weeks, prior to jumping on the Air France flight from Dulles International Airport to the Polish Capital, 72hrJetsetterGirl thought about planning those side adventures.  You remember that US$100 tour to Auschwitz, well when 72hrJetsetterGirl entered the intended day of the tour and the number attending, just one – Guess what … the cost jumped up by 400% to US$400 WHAT THE!! After searching a couple of other travel websites for a tour to Auschwitz from Warsaw, the same thing happens. OK, it must be going rate.

Krakow is about a 3.5-hour high speed train ride from Warsaw, yes it would be a very long day, so 72hrJetsetterGirl contacted the travel company to see if they could accommodate Krakow and Auschwitz on the same day.  Yes, they were very accommodating and able to do so. In the planning stage 72hrJetsetterGirl thought that whilst she was in that part of the world, lets also include a trip to The Wieliczka Salt Mine, and this will mean overnighting Krakow.  With this addition side trip, it was still more cost effective to fly in and out of Warsaw.  Everything was now sorted!

Main Square, Kraków  

Main Square, Kraków

Exploring Warsaw

The transit from Chopin International Airport to 72hrJetsetterGirl’s accommodation was a piece of cake. Warsaw has a very modern, efficient and cost-effective airport transportation system for travelers.  See details in the Nuts and Bolt section of this blog.

After checking into her 4-star accommodation, it was now time to explore the city.  The accommodation was situated in the Embassy area and approximately a 25-minute walk to the Old Town district.  Yes, the Australian Embassy was just around the corner from 72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel. Hopefully she will not be calling upon their services during this adventure.  It is always nice to see the Aussie flag blowing in the breeze when abroad.

Australian Embassy in Warsaw

Australian Embassy in Warsaw

History Lesson and Getting Fit

To get acquainted with Warsaw and to keep the jet lag at bay, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for a free walking tour of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto.  There is nothing like the flight touching down at 11.30am and then participate on a walking tour starting at 2pm.  Yes, 72hrJetsetterGirl certainly tries to do and see as much as she can within her 72 hour adventures and quickly made her way to Sigismund’s Column in the main square of Warsaw for the tour.

Sigismund's Column

Sigismund’s Column

The temperature in Warsaw whilst 72hrJetsetterGirl was in town was hitting around 38degC, probably not the best conditions to be out walking in the sun.  Oh, a hat, sunnies and a water is all you need!

Patricia the guide who is a native Varsovian and fluent in four languages (Polish, English, Spanish and Italian) started with a brief overview of what the tour will be covering in the next 2 or so hours and will do her best to keep us in the shade as much as possible.  Man, you have to give it to these Europeans they are usually fluent in more than 2 languages, yes the majority of us native English speakers certainly lag behind in the linguistic area.

View of Warsaw from St. Anne's Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne’s Church

First stop on the tour, was in front of the Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw also know as the Warsaw Nike (Just do it! LOL!).  The monument commemorates all those who died in the city from 1939 to 1945 in the defense of Warsaw (1939) and the participants of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising as well as for the victims who suffered by the German terror.

Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw

Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw

The biggest challenge for this monument was casting the sword which weighs about 1000 kg. The special design of steel bars embedded inside it makes it very strong and if it is a bit breezy, the sword can sway from its position by up to 15 cm… mmm lucky 72hrJetsetterGirl was viewing the monument from across a busy road.

Met Life

Patricia explained the boundaries of the Jewish Ghetto and tested the group and asked why a modernist building (Met Life Building) was right up beside a traditional building?  As the heat was affecting 72hrJetsetterGirl, she just looked blankly back at her. Well, where the Met Life building is now situated, in prewar days it was part of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto and was bombed to rumble during WW2 and the traditional building right next door was saved as it was outside of the Ghetto perimeter. 72hrJetsetterGirl did not have camera out ready for a photo opportunity and missed this picture 🙁

Map of Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Map of Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Making new friends

Wandering down a once bustling street in the Ghetto, 72hrJetsetterGirl recognized an Aussie accent in the tour group and was introduced to Tegan and Jono from Newcastle (can’t get more Australian than Jono!).  Learning that the traveling Aussie duo were on a 12 month “working adventure” in Europe and they were very keen to shared their recent travel experience with 72hrJetsetterGirl.  Yes, the story of the dreaded bed bugs in the hostel dorms.  Oh, the things you remember when on a tour.

Once a bustling street in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Once a bustling street in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto

Cannot believe what is being told

Throughout the tour, Patricia explained the horrific living conditions in the Ghetto as the entry gates were guarded by the Nazis, and therefore they reduced the amount of supplies (food and medical) that were allowed into the Ghetto.  The recommended daily calorie intake is around 1500 calories per day, those living in the Ghetto were given 650, which resulted in starvation and the spread of disease. Just terrible conditions.  Patricia then went onto advise that people could escape from the Ghetto however, remaining outside of the perimeter walls was the test and few managed to remain alive. The details that the tour guide provided were in-comprehensive for group.  72hrJetsetterGirl had tears of sorrow running down her face just as the majority of others in the group upon hearing the atrocities that occurred to fellow human beings.

Warsaw Ghetto Wall Border

Warsaw Ghetto Wall Border

The Heroes

The mood of the tour group was certainly very somber, as the realization of what occurred between 1940-1943 in this part of the world is still to this day very, very hard to comprehend.  Patricia made reference to two very important people who tried to spread the word to the West on what was actually happening in Warsaw during this period of history.  Firstly, Jan Karski, has been christened the “man who tried to stop the holocaust”.  Irena Sendlen was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize due to her actions to save children by smuggling them out of the Ghetto by hiding them in ambulances, taking them through underground passageways or wheeling them out in suitcases or boxes to safety.  Irena made notes of the children’s name and stored the information on little pieces of paper in canisters. 72hrJetsetterGirl hopes that the time will come that the world officially recognizes the courageous and heroic efforts of Jan and Irena.

Jan Karksi - the Man who tried to stop the Holocaust

Jan Karksi – the Man who tried to stop the Holocaust

A new language

Before reaching the final destination of the walking tour, Patricia educated the group on Ludwik Zamenhof, a Polish-Jewish medical doctor, inventor and writer and creator of  the most successful constructed language in the world “Esperanto“.  The murals depicts common expressions in Esperanto. Also around this area, the housing apartments are raised significantly above street level.  As the Ghetto was reduced to rumble, instead of removing the rumble, apartments were just built on top.  Even today, local residents tell of “ghostly” occurrences happening in the area.

Ludwik Zamenhof, creator of the most successful constructed language in the world "Esperanto“.

Ludwik Zamenhof, creator of the most successful constructed language in the world “Esperanto“.

Commonly known expression written in Esperanto

Commonly known expression written in Esperanto

A place to remember

The last stop on the tour was in front of the POLIN – Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Jewish Ghetto Memorial.

POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews

POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews

Jewish Ghetto Memorial

Jewish Ghetto Memorial

Time to say Good-Bye

After a very informative and heart felt tour, it was time to reward Patricia for her services and in return a useful map/guide was given to all. This useful pocket guide will be very handy for 72hrJetsetterGirl to navigate her way around Warsaw. 72hrJetsetterGirl bid farewell to Tegan and Jono and wish them well on for their continued adventures around Europe and hope they do not have any more encounters with the dreaded bed bugs.

Polish Cuisine in the New Town

As 72hrJetsetterGirl skipped lunch it was now time to taste some traditional Polish cuisine in New Town.  Just for the record, New Town is 100 years younger than Old Town which is about 700 years old.

Warsaw New Town

Warsaw New Town

Whilst browsing the menu, it dawned on 72hrJetsetterGirl that Polish cuisine is not what you would call “light” or suitable for someone watching their waist line (more like watching the waist line expand).  That being said 72hrJetsetterGirl settled for Placek po zbojnicku (Potato pancake with spicy pork goulash) and to wash it down with a local draught beer.  Taking a conservative approach, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for the 0.33l size of ale instead of 0.50l – it’s all about moderation.

Placek po zbojnicku (Potato pancake with spicy pork goulash)

Placek po zbojnicku (Potato pancake with spicy pork goulash)

The Rebuild

From reading history books, 72hrJetsetterGirl knew that the locals of Warsaw were not the type to sit back and wait out the Nazi occupation.  As the Warsaw Uprising enraged Hitler, his retribution was brutal by destroying anything of cultural importance and setting whole districts on fire.  When liberation occurred over 90% of the city lay in ruins.

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Today, due to the indefatigable spirit of the Polish people, Rynek Starego Miasta has been rebuilt by using paintings and photographs as architectural blueprints to recreate the burgher style houses that once framed the Old Town Square.  This work has been recognized and the Square is now an UNESCO World Heritage site. Warsaw is now the old new town of Europe.

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Sunset on the Old Town

As the sun was setting in the West, 72hrJetsetterGirl climbed the stairs to the viewing platform at the top of St Anne’s Church for a panoramic view of Warsaw Old Town with the surrounding walls and the Royal Castle. Which was also re-built after the war.

View of Warsaw from St. Anne's Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne’s Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne's Church

View of Warsaw from St. Anne’s Church

It was now time for 72hrJetsetterGirl to wander down Krakowskie Przedmiescie pass the Presidential Palace to the fake “Palm Tree” and hang a right along the main street of  Al Jerozolimskie back to her hotel.  The fake Palm tree is a great landmark for directions but really, a Palm Tree in Poland, it is certainly not Dubai!

Presidential Palace

Presidential Palace

Beautiful Buildings along - Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along – Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along - Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along – Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along - Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Beautiful Buildings along – Krakowskie Przedmiescie

Defining Landmark

Across the road from 72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel is Poland’s tallest and largest structure, standing at just over 231 meters high – the Palace of Culture and Science.  This architecture building was commissioned by Stalin as “a gift from the Soviet People” to the people of Warsaw in 1955. It is estimated that over 40 million bricks were used in its construction.

Palace of Culture and Science

Palace of Culture and Science

Another Walking Tour

As 72hrJetsetterGirl enjoyed the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto walking tour, she signed up for the Old Town Walking tour.  Meeting at Zygmunt’s Column, she was greeted by another cheerful guide named B.  As pronouncing B’s Polish name is a bit challenging for a non-Polish speaker, so he prefers to go by B to make it easier for us tourists.  B, was certainly a very passionate Varsovian and firmly believed that Zygmunt made the right decision back in 1596 to move the capital of Poland to Warsaw from Krakow.  Nothing like a bit of intercity rivalry.

Royal Castle

The first stop on B’s tour was the Royal Castle which was rebuilt from 1971-1984.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

As the group meandered down the cobble stones alleyways the next stop was at St John’s Cathedral.

St John's Archcathedral

St John’s Archcathedral

As Pope John Paul II, was a Pole, he conducted his first official tour as Pope from Warsaw, which irked the residents of Krakow as the Pope had spent the last 4 decades living in the town in south west Poland.  B was certainly gloating at this stage.  A plaque is located on the walls of the cathedral to commemorate this event.  72hrJetsetterGirl though that the plaque looked like a cable network dish rather than something of religious importance.  Oh, suppose each to their own.

Pope John Paul's Plaque

Pope John Paul’s Plaque

Square

Of course, you cannot have an Old Town walking tour and not visit the main focal place of the town – the Square.  B provided a narrative on the significance of the mermaid statue located in the centre of Rynek Starego Miasta.

Rynek Starego Miasta

Rynek Starego Miasta

Leaving the Old Town, and walking by the City Walls to New Town, B pointed out to the group a “milk bar”.  The milk bars are remnants of former Soviet life.  The milk bars sold milk and egg products and today offer good value for money meals, with the main source of the meals being milk or egg based.

Milk Bar

Milk Bar

I thought she was French!

During tours, a lot of information is given and to be honest 72hrJetsetterGirl fails to recall every single fact, however her ears certainly pricked up when reaching the next information point.  Marie Curie was Polish not French! B pointed out the house where the two time Nobel Prize winner was born and now houses the Marie Curie Museum.

Marie Curie Plaque

Marie Curie Plaque

Marie Curie Museum

Marie Curie Museum

Jewish Ghetto

New Town borders the Jewish Ghetto and B gave the group an overview of the Ghetto before proceeding to the memorial for the Warsaw Uprising.  The Warsaw Uprising took place in 1944 and became both the most glorious and tragic episode of the city’s history.

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Memorial for the Warsaw Uprising

Music in the Streets

As the great composer Frederyk Chopin was a Varsovian and th benches in the Old Town area have  been installed to play the composer’s works as you sit back and enjoy the atmosphere of the old new town of Warsaw. It was at that note (sorry for the punt), that B concluded the informative Old Town tour

Time to Eat?

With all this walking, 72hrJetsetterGirl was ready for some late lunch.  Once again keen to try regional Polish cuisine, this time she ordered homemade fried dumplings (meat, potato, onions)  served on a hot frying pan with sour cream on the side.  Of course, not to disappoint,72hrJetsetterGirl’s beverage of choice was a local beer, still keeping with 0.33l size.

Homemade fried dumplings

Homemade fried dumplings

Child Soldiers

72hrJetSetterGirl noted an unique statue nearby.  Maly Powstaniec is a statue in commemoration of the child soldiers who fought and died during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

Maly Powstaniec

Maly Powstaniec

Decisions due to the Weather

As 72hrJetsetterGirl loves a good palace, she was keen to visit Warsaw’s Imperial beauty – Wilanow Palace – dubbed “the Polish Versailles” which was a 30-minute bus ride from the Old Town.  However, the skies of Warsaw decided to open up and drench the cobblestone alleyways and 72hrJetsetterGirl rethinking her touristic options, decided to go to Warsaw Uprising Museum instead.  The museum claimed to be one of Poland’s best was about a 25-minute walk from her hotel in the opposite direction to Old Town.

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Surprisingly there was a minimal wait time to purchase the entry ticket for the museum. Once inside the museum, 72hrJetsetterGirl was certainly overwhelmed as it was packed with many people and filled with interactive displays, photographs, footage and exhibits.

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Going Solo

Not electing to use the audio guide, 72hrJetsetterGirl navigated her way around the museum the old fashion way with a floorplan guide. Yes, the museum provides a good description/overview of the Uprising, the role of the Allies (or lack you could say) and an explanation on why Warsaw was bombed to rubble.  In her research, 72hrJetsetterGirl did read in the tourist forums, that the direction indicators in the museum, ie. sequence of the exhibits and the follow from one level to another was not that clear and made the visit a little more challenging.  On the whole the museum is very well done, however once again the over load of information is sometimes a little harder to retain in a short period of time. Or has 72hrJetsetterGirl had too many beers!!

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Golden Terraces

After leaving the Uprising Museum and feeling sad, 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way along Prosta Swietokrzyska to Zlote Tarasy for some retail therapy. The Golden Terraces as it is also known as is the most significant shopping center in Warsaw which is located in the very heart of the city.

Warsaw City Centre

Warsaw City Centre

Palace of Culture & Science

Palace of Culture & Science

The shopping centre has all the major retail brands that are available in the US.  After walking the multi levels of the shopping complex, 72hrJetsetterGirl found a supermarket on the lower level where she could pick up some supplies for dinner, at this stage all she wanted was a garden salad to take back to her hotel room as she had very early morning start for her trip to Krakow.

Warsaw City Centre

Warsaw City Centre

Getting Home? Well not today

72hrJetsetterGirl had enjoyed her time visiting Warsaw and Krakow, even thought it was quite an emotional adventure, she was now ready to head back to Washington DC, to start work the next day. Arriving at Chopin International Airport in sufficient time and had received notification from her travel app that the flight from Warsaw to Paris was “looking good” (code for on time).

Up Up and Away

Up Up and Away

When presenting her travel documentation to the check in agent, she was quickly advised to go the Air France Customer Service desk as there has been a change.  Actually, that travel app had it all wrong…. The flight from Warsaw to Paris was delayed by 2 hours and hence 72hrJetsetterGirl would miss her connection in Paris for the onward 7-hour flight back to the US.  The helpful Air France staff, had transferred her to a Lufthansa flight which was leaving earlier and instead of transiting through Paris, it was now Munich and arriving back in Washington 15 minutes later – not big deal. Everything was now OK, well that is 72hrJetsetterGirl thought.

As 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way to the Lufthansa check in counter she was promptly advised that they will not accept her, as their flight out of Warsaw was also delayed and they did not want to handle the possibility of a misconnection in Munich.  Back to the Air France counter.  After 35 minutes waiting, whilst the agent tried various other routes, 72hrJetsetterGirl was advised that she won’t be heading back home today, either overnight in Warsaw or go to Paris and overnight there.  Off to Paris 72hrJetsetterGirl goes.

Whilst waiting on the Tarmac, the captain comes over the pa system in a very calm and captain like manner advising the passengers the reasons for the delay.  As it was a public holiday in Poland, they were holding a military air show, hence all commercial flights in and out of Warsaw were disrupted, along with bad weather over Germany and a mechanical issue, the flight will be arriving 2 1/2 hrs behind schedule.

Up Up and Away

Getting Ready for Takeoff

Upon arrival in Charles DeGaulle Rossiy airport, 72hrJetsetterGirl was provided with accommodation, transfers and meals vouchers and was booked on the flight back to the District for the following day.  A night in Paris?? No it was not that glamorous – airport hotel right under the flight path – very little sleep.

Charles De Gaulle Airport

Charles De Gaulle Airport

On the upside, 72hrJetsetterGirl received an upgrade for her flight from Paris to Washington as compensation for the inconvenience.  Hey this all part of the traveling experience, just need to roll with it.

Premium Economy - Air France

Premium Economy – Air France

Nuts and Bolts of this New Old Town Adventure

Why this Destination
  • Krakow was on 72hrJetsetterGirl’s bucket list and after doing some research it was more economical to base herself in Warsaw.  An opportunity to explore another city.
Considerations
  • A day trip to Krakow from Warsaw is certainly a very early morning start with a very late finish in the evening. As 72hrJetsetterGirl does not have the luxury of added vacation days, (she does work) the plan put together by the travel agent was well worth the money, to take visit Auschwitz, the Salt Mines and a guided tour of Krakow.  If you have time, yes of course you could have planned the adventure yourself.  Unfortunately, due to the extended stay in Krakow, 72hrJetsetterGirl did not have the opportunity to visit the Warsaw Zoo.
  • Just a note:  Even though Poland is part of the EU, they have not converted their currency to the Euro as yet and uses the PLN. Schengen immigration policies apply for Poland.
How Long
  • 4 nights, with 3 1/2 days for sightseeing. Departed Washington DC on Thursday evening, arriving into Paris Friday morning with about a 90 minute layover and then into Warsaw around 11.30am. It was interesting, as 72hrJetsetterGirl and the other passengers were disembarking the plane in Warsaw, Polish Police Officers were at the plane’s door for a passport inspection. Originally planned to depart Warsaw around lunchtime on Tuesday with a 80 minute layover in Paris before connecting back to the US. However due the travel delays, overnighted in Paris an additional night.
Getting Around
  • The 20-minute train journey in a modern and efficient train from the airport to Warsaw Central train station costs 4.40zt (or approximately 1 euro).  72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel was located within a 2-minute walk from the Central Station and opposite the most well-known landmark of the city – The Palace of Culture and Science. It was a 25-minute walk to Old Town from the hotel and about 10-minute walk to the City Centre.
What to take
  • Definitely check the weather guide before going as 72hrJetsetterGirl adventure occurred during an extreme heatwave. For females would not recommend wearing any form of heeled shoe as the cobbled streets makes walking a little bit more challenging in the Old Town area. Casual attire would be more than appropriate.

Verdict

The trip to Warsaw was certainly an emotional adventure for 72hrJetsetterGirl, given the events of World War II and the devastation of Jews and the destruction of the city of Warsaw. As this is part of history, it is important that we remember those who suffered and hope that these terrible acts of crime are never never ever repeated again.

Europe Ljubljana Slovenia

Ljubljana…Europe’s Hidden Gem

August 23, 2017
Ljubljana, Slovenia

Europe – Slovenia 

Ljubljana –46.0569° N,14.5058° E

Castles… Dragons…Cobbled Streets

Why this location

When scrolling through her Instagram feeds 72hrJetsetterGirl was always in awe of the stunning pics of Lake Bled and added this destination to her ever growing wish/bucket list.  Not sure where Lake Bled was;  knew if was somewhere in the Balkans (she thinks) but if playing “who wants to be millionaire” 72hrJetsetterGirl would have had to phone a friend for the exact country, somehow not sure if her friends knew where Lake Bled was either!   After a quick Google search, it was discovered that Lake Bled is in Slovenia near its capital of Ljubljana.  Now how do you say that!

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Making the Booking

Jumping on to Expedia 72hrJetsetterGirl snagged a 3 night adventure to one of the six member socialist republics of the former federated nation of Yugoslavia. Just a side note, Slovenia gained independence on 25 June 1991.  This will be enough time for 72hrJesetterGirl to explore Ljubljana, Bled and the Slovenian coastline. 72hrJetsetterGirl did want to include a few days, more like a week exploring Croatia however due to work commitments, Croatia had to be added to the travel wish list which seems to grow and grow.  Now time to explore Slovenia, not to be confused with Slovakia which used to be part of Czechoslovakia.

Cobbled Streets of Ljubljana

Cobbled Streets of Ljubljana

Unfortunately there are no direct flights to the petite capital city of Ljubljana (population of 282,000) from Washington, DC so 72hrJetsetterGirl had a brief layover in Zurich en-route to Slovenia which has a population of 2 million inhabitants. 

Cobbled Streets of Ljubljana

Cobbled Streets of Ljubljana

Exploring Ljubljana

Two hours after touching down in Ljubljana 72hrJetsetterGirl was getting acquainted with the city that has been crowned the “European Green Capital” on a walking and canal boat tour. Yes, there was an option to explore the city’s waterway via Stand Up Paddle-board.  Mmmm 72hrJetsetterGirl gave this option a wide berth, as her last SUP experience ended in a very embarrassing fall from grace in the Caribbean. The canal boat tour will be just fine this time!

View of Ljubljana from Ljubljana Castle

View of Ljubljana from Ljubljana Castle

Medieval Centre Point

The small walking tour started where else but at centre of this very pedestrian friendly city –  Ljubljana’s Town Hall.  The town hall was first built in 1484 and rebuilt 1718 with the famous Fountain of the Three Carinolan Rivers (Robba Fountain) near by. When 72hrJetsetterGirl hears these dates, she really realizes that Australia is still a “newborn” country. The persevered memorials inside town hall provide a history lesson of Ljubljana’s past from its days under the rule of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire (hence why one of the favorite Slovenian dishes is schnitzel) to holding off an invasion by the Ottoman Empire in 15th Century.  The only area of the Balkans that managed to do so. Sounds like a little country with a very big patriotic spirit!

Ljubljana Town Hall, Slovenia

Ljubljana Town Hall, Slovenia

The Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers or Robba Fountain

The Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers or Robba Fountain

Dome and Twin Towers

Next stop along the cobbled streets of Ljubljana was the Baroque style of St Nicholas’ Church (Ljubljana Cathedral) with its green dome and twin towers, which was erected from 1701 to 1708. 

Ljubljana Catherdral - Twin Towers and Dome

Ljubljana Catherdral – Twin Towers and Dome

An unique feature of this cathedral is its bronze sculptured doors to mark 250 years of Christianity in Slovenia (1996).  The front door is now named the “Slovene Door”. 

Ljubljana Catherdral - Slovene Door

Ljubljana Cathedral – Slovene Door

Inside the Cathedral, frescoes of Giglio Quaglio adorn the ceiling, absolutely beautiful.  Touring the cathedrals of Europe certainly gives 72hrJetsetterGirl a stiff neck as she always seems to looking to the heavens to admire the amazing artwork.

Ljubljana Cathedral - Frescoes of Giglio Quaglio

Ljubljana Cathedral – Frescoes of Giglio Quaglio

Preseren Square

Leaving the Cathedral, the tour party made its way along the banks of the Ljubljana River and crossed over the triple bridge to Preseren Square, the heart of the city where everyone meets.  This square is named after the great Slovenian poet, France Preseren, whose work “A Toast” is Slovenia’s national anthem.

France Prešeren, Prešeren Square Ljubljana

France Prešeren, Prešeren Square Ljubljana

Art Deco Influence

As 72hrJetsetterGirl is keen Art Nouveau fan,  Preseren Square has two facades representing this architecture style.  The Hauptmann and first department store in Ljubljana “Galerija Emporium” with its exquisite flower designed awning.

Galerija Emporium, first department store in Ljubljana

Galerija Emporium, first department store in Ljubljana

As Ljubljana can get quite warm in the summer months, in the centre of the square in front of the 17th Century Franciscan Church was a ground level water fountain that shot nice cold water into the air to cool the atmosphere, which is very popular with the city’s young children.  However,  72hrJetsetterGirl was pretty keen to get a nice cool feeling as the day of her visit Ljubljana recorded one of its hottest day on record; a whopping 40 degC, for those who still use the imperial system around 120F. Yes southern Europe was experiencing a heatwave, but for an Aussie it was hot, but at least it did not have the humidity element.

Preseren Square, Ljubljana

Preseren Square, Ljubljana

Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, Preseren Square, Ljubljana

Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, Preseren Square, Ljubljana

Show must go onto

As the tour guide navigated the group under shaded alleyways, the next stop attraction was another square.  72hrJetsetterGirl came to the realization that Ljubljana could be also be named the City of Squares. 

Congress Square

Under the shade of the trees, the walking group had a bird’s eye view of Ljubljana Castle sitting high up on the hill overlooking the old town.  Congress Square, today one of the most important squares in the City, was reconstructed for the Congress of the Holy Alliance in 1821 (Just for the record Australia has been discovered by this time!). Once again the architecture of the building lining this square are very impressive – the Slovenian Philharmonic building, the seat of the University of Ljubljana and the Baroque Ursuine Church. 

View of Ljubljana Castle from Congress Square

View of Ljubljana Castle from Congress Square

Congress Square - University of Ljubljana

Congress Square – University of Ljubljana

Florist shop in Congress Square

Florist shop in Congress Square

Congress Square

Congress Square

A short detour from Congress Square is the National and University Library.  The home to the archives of medieval prints, was built between 1936 and 1941. This building is to be considered one of architect’s Joze Plecnik’s most important work in Slovenia. 72hrJetsetterGirl appreciated the different materials Plecnik used in his architecture masterpiece.

National and University Library

National and University Library

Cobbled Streets

Crossing the Ljubjlanica River to the other side, the walking group meandered down a lovely cobblestone street, filled with open air restaurants and shops.  The pedestrian friendly old town allows for the opportunity to wander around without worrying about being collected by motor scooters.  Many Slovenians do ride bicycles to get around the city, however they are far more courteous than the pushbike riders of Amsterdam. 

Streets of Ljubljana

Streets of Ljubljana

As 72hrJetsetterGirl was wandering with the tour around this part of the old town, she knew would have to come back and spend more time discovering the shops and taste the many ice cream stores along the way. 

Streets of Ljubljana

Streets of Ljubljana

Canal Scenic Boat Ride

Time to rest weary feet and spend 30 minutes admiring Ljubljana from its waterways.  The canal boat (yes very similar to the Amsterdam canal boats with its see through roof) provided a different perspective of Ljubljana. 

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

 

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

During the tour, we cruised along the river passing under landmark bridges and getting a great photo opportunity of Preseren Square’s Franciscan Church and Hauptmann with the Triple Bridge in the foreground. 72hrJetsetterGirl will admit it was rather difficult getting a picture of all of the Triple Bridge. A photographic drone would be the best way to capture its uniqueness.  However, you can always Google to get the picture – sorry for the punt!

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

Cobblers’ Bridge

As the boat made its way downstream along the Ljubjlanica River, the first bridge sighting was Cobblers’ Bridge. This bridge was constructed between 1931 and 1932 and designed by Joze Plecnik.  it was formerly a wooden covered bridge linking Mestni trg and Novi trg Squares (more squares – see it should be the City of Squares).  The bridge got its name as it provided space for cobblers workshops.

Cobblers Bridge

Cobblers Bridge

Triple Bridge

Making a gentle U-turn, the river boat headed upstream. The  boat passed under the Triple Bridge, which is a special architectural feature of the city.  The bridge is made up of an old stone bridge (1842) and two more bridges.  Guess who was the architect of this bridge?? I am sure you know… Joze Plecnik.  Designed in 1931, this bridge provides an elegant entrance to the Old Town of Ljubljana.

Triple Bridge

Triple Bridge

Butchers’ Bridge

72hrJetsetterGirl was sitting back and enjoying the scenic boat cruise as the next overpass was Butchers’  Bridge.  Yes, in the past this is where butcher shops were once located and today is the bridge of love, no pork chop in sight only padlocks.   Constructed in 2000 countless lovers padlocked their love to the bridge and then drop the key in the Ljubjlanica River. Oh how romantic!

Butchers’ Bridge

Butchers’ Bridge

Butchers’ Bridge

Butchers’ Bridge

Dragon Bridge

The iconic symbol of Ljubljana adorns the final bridge on the tour – Dragon Bridge.  The famous dragon statues are located on each corner of the bridge.  The bridge is considered to an extraordinary piece of technical heritage and a wonderful example of Art Nouveau architecture. Constructed between 1900 and 1901 it was Ljubljana’s first reinforced concrete structure and was designed by no not Plecnik, but rather Jakov Brdar.

 Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge

Dragon's Bridge

Dragon’s Bridge

Time to explore solo

After bidding farewell to the other tourists on the walk, 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way to the distinct symbol of the City for the past 900 years – Ljubljana Castle.  As the temperature was hitting 40degC, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for the funicular ride to the top.  In hindsight, she could have walked as it was not such a steep incline, but the admission fee included the return funicular ride and admission to the tower. 

Funicular Ride

Funicular Ride

Ljubljana Castle

The Castle, at first was a fort, then the seat of the regional governor and later a barrack and even a prison.  Today, visitors can walk the circular staircase to the top of the tower for 360 panoramic view of Ljubljana.   Yes, the cool breezes at the top were definitely well received on this scorcher of a day.

 Ljubljana Castle from Congress Square

Ljubljana Castle from Congress Square

Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle

Staircase of Ljubljana Castle

Staircase of Ljubljana Castle

The Roofs of Ljubljana from Ljubljana Castle

The Roofs of Ljubljana from Ljubljana Castle

Panoramic view

Panoramic view

Nearby the funicular station, is Ljubljana’s Central Markets where locals meet and enjoy themselves.  Unfortunately, by the time 72hrJetsetterGirl arrived the market was closing up.  The market is an open air-market, covered market and a series of small food shops along the Ljubjlanica River.  These markets are also referred to as Plecnik’s Covered Markets, as they are located in a colonnade designed by Ljubljana’s famous architect. You guess it Joze Plecnik.

Plecnik’s Covered Markets

Plecnik’s Covered Markets

Art Nouveau Find

As 72hrJetsetterGirl made her way back to her centrally located hotel in the Old Town city centre to refresh before heading out for dinner, she mistook a street, which proved to be a good thing and stumbled upon the Art Nouveau Miklosic street.  This street was established 10 years after the earthquake of 1895 and is known for its Art Nouveau facades.

Art Nouveau Find!

Art Nouveau Find!

Ljubljana at Sunset

The ambience of the Ljubljana certainly comes alive with sunset approaching.  The sunlight gleeing off the medieval building, friends meeting in Preseren Square, diners enjoying the summer time in the many open air restaurants along the Ljubljanica River, Ljubljana is certainly a hidden gem in Europe.  72hrJetsetterGirl joined in on the relax and social atmosphere of the City of Ljubljana and enjoyed a Slovenian pork dish, washed down with a Lasso beer and finished off with a chocolate and orange fondant ice cream.  A great day was had buy all.

Sunset in Ljubljana

Sunset in Ljubljana

Dining out in Ljubljana

Dining out in Ljubljana

Slovenian Cuisine

Slovenian Cuisine

#FunFacts – Slovenia

  • Only country in Europe that combines 4 diverse geographical regions – the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pannonia plains and the Karst.

Useful Tips

  • Slovenia has one of the purest tap water supply in Europe and there a many water fountains located around the city to enjoy nice and cool drinking water – no need to purchase bottle water.  Just bring along your water bottle and you are set. 72hrJetsetterGirl was certainly surprised how cool the water was from the fountains given the temperatures were around 40DegC mark.
  • Everyone speaks English.  72hrJetsetterGirl had wondered if she would have trouble navigating around Slovenia due to the language barrier.  She was very pleasantly surprised that everyone (shopkeepers, wait staff, people in the street) speak English – not issue what so ever.  During a day tour 72hrJetsetterGirl commented this to her guide and was advised that there is no dubbing of television programs/movies in Slovenia which has helps the population to speak English.    
Streets of Ljubljana

Streets of Ljubljana

Nuts and Bolts of this Hidden Gem Adventure

Why this destination?
  • 72hrJetsetterGirl had not visited any of the Balkan countries and having seen so many gorgeous picture of Lake Bled it was time to explore this country. 
Considerations
  • Ljubljana (yes it did take 72hrJetsetterGirl quite a while to get her tongue around pronunciatting this city) is certainly a very beautiful city to visit.  However, given the size of the city, exploring Ljubljana can be achieved in one day, so plan activities accordingly, it is not like a Prague or Budapest where you need 2/3 full days to explore. 72hrJetsetterGirl had organized two full day tours from Ljubljana – one to Bled and another one along the Slovenian Coastline.  (Blogs to follow)
How Long
  • 3 nights, with 2 1/2 days for sightseeing. Departed Washington DC on Wednesday evening, arriving into Zurich Thursday morning with about 2 hour layover and then into Ljubljana around 11.30am.  Departed Ljubljana very early on Sunday morning.  A 7am flight to Munich with 4 hour layover before returning back to the US.   Ljubljana airport is small and therefore not a big selection of flights available especially with a US connection.
Getting Around
  • Shuttle to and from airport/hotel.  72hrJetsetterGirl had the shuttle to herself, about 40 minutes from Airport to city centre.  72hrJetsetterGirl’s hotel was located in the Old Town City Centre, could explore everywhere on foot.  Most of the accommodation is located within a 5 minute walk from the city centre, with a few being 10 minutes away.  There are no metro/subway services in Ljubljana, bus are available however 72hrJetsetterGirl did not experience any Slovenian public transport service. There is a train station, where intercity trains run from. 72hrJetsetterGirl felt very safe wandering around the streets of Ljubljana.
What to take
  • Definitely check the weather guide before going as 72hrJetsetterGirl adventure occurred during an extreme heatwave. For females would not recommend wearing any form of heeled shoe as the cobble street makes walking a little bit more challenging. Casual attire would be more than  approach.

Verdict

72hrJetsetterGirl really enjoyed her time exploring Ljubljana.  it is certainly a hidden gem in Europe.  Locals are very friendly, English is widely spoken. 

If you elect to rent a vehicle and go exploring outside of Ljubljana, 72hrJetsetterGirl does not foresee any major concerns with sign posting (main tourist attractions are well sign posted) and the highway network system is good. Traffic is fine except when roadworks are occurring or there has been an accident, yes the highway traffic does back up but that is no different to other cities. 72hrJetsetterGirl did organized small tours to Bled and the Slovenian Coastline and some of the side roads are a bit tight.  The guide did take some back road  to avoid highway traffic delays and it was nice to see local village life, however did not see any visible street/road names.

At this stage, the tourist bubble has not erupted in Ljubljana, so go now while the crowds are low.  Tourists are certainly out and about exploring but nothing like the crowds of Prague, Milan and Budapest in the summertime.  72hrJetsetterGirl did not realize how close (ie driving) Ljubljana is to other popular European destinations – 2 hours to Venice, 1 hour to Croatia, 2 hours to Salzburg and 2 1/2 hours to Vienna just to name a few. 

Slovenia is very economical for the dollar conscious traveller.  Beer is the drink of choice, cheaper than soft drinks/sodas. A traditional Slovenian meal at a restaurant is generally priced somewhere between 9-12 Euros, tipping for wait staff is 10-15%.  Ice cream is very affordable (meaning can have several serves per day – 1 large scoop of ice cream around 1.40 euro).  Credit cards are widely accepted.

72hrJetsetterGirl would certainly recommend a stopover in Ljubljana for anyone visiting other Balkan countries, or as 72hrJetsetterGirl, had a 72hour adventure and enjoyed every minute of it.

 

When have you found a hidden gem?

Europe Russia St Petersburg

The Regal Tsar Palaces of St Petersburg…Pavlovsk and Catherine

July 27, 2017

Europe – Russia

Pavlovsk Palace, Saint Petersburg –59.6856° N,30.4526° E

Catherine Palace, Saint Petersburg –59.7161° N,30.3957° E

Russian Royalty Spectacular Summer Houses

The Planning

Whilst planning for her St Petersburg (that is Russia, not Florida USA!) adventure, 72hrJetsetterGirl’s Estonian co-worker suggested going in the summer to visit the magnificent Tsar palaces of Pavlovsk and Catherine, located a stone’s throw away from the former Russian Capital – St Petersburg, previously known as Leningrad.

As a Baltic native and fluent Russian speaker, the co-worker suggested to 72hrJetsetterGirl to organize a tour of the palaces as very little English is spoken outside of the city limits and navigating her way there might prove to be a bit of a challenge as there are no train, metro or direct bus services available.  Even though 72hrJetsetterGirl is always up for a challenge, probably this is not the time to rely upon her Google translate app.  As beautiful as the Cyrillic alphabet is, it may be a touch challenging to enter the characters onto a keypad of a small phone (yes you can read iPhone4 here).  Taking this advice on board, a day tour was booked prior to leaving ‘Merica. 

Catherines Palace

Catherine Palace

The Day had finally arrived

Whilst waiting to be collected from her apartment just off Nevsky Prospect, 72hrJetsetterGirl assumed that she was part of a small tour group to visit Catherine and Pavlovsk Palaces.  You know what they say…when you assume, you make an a$$ of yourself; well this happened to 72hrJetsetterGirl.  No small tour group; but her own personal tour guide, with her own personal driver in a Mercedes Benz. SWEET…As this outing occurred on 72hrJetsetterGirl’s birthday, she certainly felt like a Russian Princess for the day!

St Petersburg - The Hero City Obelisk of Leningrad

St Petersburg – The Hero City Obelisk of Leningrad

After the introductions, Alex the driver, found out that 72hrJetsetterGirl was an Aussie and had great pleasure in telling her that the Bee Gees are his all time favourite band! Therefore the music of choice for the day, was that of the British trio brothers who immigrated to Brisbane in the 60s and took the world by storm with their 3 part tight harmonies. For the rest of the day 72hrJetsetterGirl wanted to break out to John Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” moves and reach the vocal stratosphere of Barry Gibb’s “Stayin’ Alive” and for all concerned it would have been a “Tragedy” to witness.

Ancestry.Com

The private tour headed south on the St Petersburg’s motorway for about 30 kms to the palaces located in the municipal town of Pushkin. On the way, Irina the guide, provided a very comprehensive history lesson of the Russian dynasty – the House of Romanov.  72hrJetsetterGirl’s head was spinning with Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Catherine I, time to purchase a family tree chart.

The English Summer House in Russia

Pavlovsk Palace is located 4 kms down the road from Catherine Palace and Irina advised 72hrJetsetterGirl that it was better to go to Pavlovsk Palace before Catherine Palace, thinking to herself for historical importance.  No, that was not actually the case. Irina advised, tongue in cheek, that the crowds at Catherine Palace will be lower after lunch as the river boat cruises have their excursion there in the mornings and they would have departed St Petersburg onto to their next European destination by the time we arrive in the afternoon. 72hrJetsetterGirl quickly learned that Irina was a character and certainly appreciated her eagerness to please her client on this tour.

Pavlovsk Palace

Pavlovsk Palace

 

Catherine the Great (also known as Catherine II of Russia) gave a parcel of a thousand hectares of forest along the winding Slavyanka River to her son Grand Duke Paul (Paul I) and his wife Maria Feodorovna.   Pavlovsk was built in 1777 to celebrate the birth of Paul’s and Maria’s first born son (Alexander I of Russia). Getting the drift why 72hrJetsetterGirl was getting completely confused about all the titles!

Emperor Paul I in front of Pavlovsk Palace

Emperor Paul I in front of Pavlovsk Palace

 

Pavlovsk was initially designed by Catherine the Great’s official architect Scotsman Charles Cameron.  Cameron’s concept was to design a Palace in the Palladian style. However there was some tension regarding the design style between the Scotsman and Russian Royalty owners.  This tension lead to the parting of the ways in 1786 and a new architect was appointed,  Italian Vincenzo Brenna.  Brenna’ style reflected Paul and Maria’s preferred taste of Roman classicism.

Pavlovsk Palace

Pavlovsk Palace

History lesson in Russian royalty, Catherine the Great died in 1796 and Paul became Emperor.  He enlarged Pavlovsk, then was murdered by his court in 1801 and his son Alexander became Emperor.  Maria remained in the palace and created a shrine to her late husband. This is 72hrJetsetterGirl’s concise version of the Romanov dynasty.

Irina also advised the history of Pavlovsk Palace. After the October Revolution (1917), Pavlovsk was converted into an art and history museum and open to the public. During WWII, Pavlovsk Palace suffered tremendous damage due to the Siege of Leningrad. Fortunately, the curators of the museum were able to remove all valuable objects to a safe haven. The town of Pushkin was occupied by the Nazis, who plundered the palace, destroyed many garden pavilions and knocked down 70,000 trees before retreating and burning the palace down. Restoration and reconstruction work commenced after the war and is now close to completion.

Example of the restoration and reconstruction work - Pavlovsk Palace

Example of the restoration and reconstruction work – Pavlovsk Palace

Today, the palace and surrounding English Gardens are now a Russian State Museum and public park.

English Garden at Pavlovsk Palace

English Garden at Pavlovsk Palace

The tour begins

Upon arrival at the 18th Century Russian Imperial residence, Irina used her many years as a personal guide to skillfully navigate 72hrJetsetterGirl to the front of the line, to out wit the flag waving Chinese tour guides.  Otherwise 72hrJetsetterGirl’s experience at Pavlovsk might have been many hits to the head by the Chinese welding selfie-stick users.

Entrance - Pavlovsk Palace

Entrance – Pavlovsk Palace

Once inside the Palace, 72hrJetsetterGirl’s jaw dropped.  From the outside Pavlovsk, is what you might call an understated palace – no big WOW factor. As Irina guided 72hrJetsetterGirl through the 40 room palace,  Brenna’s influence became very evident. The first room was the circular Italian Hall with its sky high dome, chandelier hanging from the ceiling and Roman like statues located in  each of the alcoves. 

Circular Italian Hall - Pavlovsk Palace

Circular Italian Hall – Pavlovsk Palace

Circular Italian Hall - Pavlovsk Palace

Circular Italian Hall – Pavlovsk Palace

Next stop in the 18th Century Russian Imperial residence was the Greek Hall with its roman columns and glass encased chandeliers – a perfect room for dancing the night away. The other key rooms in Pavlovsk Palace are the Throne room, the Chapel, library, dining room and state bedroom. 

Greek Hall with its roman columns and glass encased chandeliers - Pavlovsk Palace

Greek Hall with its roman columns and glass encased chandeliers – Pavlovsk Palace

Greek Hall with its roman columns and glass encased chandeliers - Pavlovsk Palace

Greek Hall with its roman columns and glass encased chandeliers – Pavlovsk Palace

State Bedroom - Pavlovsk Palace

State Bedroom – Pavlovsk Palace

State Bedroom - Pavlovsk Palace

State Bedroom – Pavlovsk Palace

Dining Room - Pavlovsk Palace

Dining Room – Pavlovsk Palace

Chapel - Pavlovsk Palace

Chapel – Pavlovsk Palace

Interior of Pavlovsk Palace

Interior of Pavlovsk Palace

Library - Pavlovsk Palace

Library – Pavlovsk Palace

The palace has an excellent art collection in particular the painting of “Cupid Shooting a Bow” by Carle van Loo (1761).  The eyes of cupid follows you around the entire room. The tour took about 90 minutes.

"Cupid Shooting a Bow" by Carle van Loo (1761)

“Cupid Shooting a Bow” by Carle van Loo (1761)

Understanding life under a State Run Institution

Before exploring the English Gardens of the Palace, 72hrJetsetterGirl wanted to purchase a small memento (aka a magnet) of her visit to Pavlovsk in the state run gift shop.  Whilst browsing through the gift shop, 72hrJetsetterGirl mentioned to Irina, that a book in the gift shop was half the price of what she had seen in a bookshop in St Petersburg.  Irina’s response, who appeared to be pro-democracy by her previous comments, stated that was one of the benefits of living under a state run government that the prices were all the same no matter where you shopped.  This comment reinforced to 72hrJetsetterGirl that for a Russian coming out of a state run economy into a “free market” must have been a challenging transition.

With storm clouds threatening, 72hrJetsetterGirl and Irina were able to wander around a small portion of the thousand hectares of Pavlovsk’s English Gardens to admire its beauty.

English Gardens - Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens – Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens - Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens – Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens - Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens – Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens - Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens – Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens - Pavlovsk Palace

English Gardens – Pavlovsk Palace

The Adventure Continues

After exploring the gardens, Irina summoned Alex to bring the car around for the next destination on the day’s itinerary – lunch! During lunch 72hrJetsetterGirl had an opportunity to get to know Irina in a more personal way.  Irina spent her early years in Germany and after WWII, her family immigrated to Russia and settled in St Petersburg.  A daughter of a doctor, Irina explained her life under communist rule as she entered university to study law.  Today Irina practices law as a legal aid lawyer and guides tourists around her beloved St Petersburg.

Catherine Palace – the WOW Factor

After consuming a 5 course Russian lunch, 72hrJetsetterGirl was ready for a Nanna nap, however Irina was keen to keep this adventure going and show 72hrJetsetterGirl, the piece de residence of Palaces – Catherine Palace.

72hrJetsetterGirl at Catherine Palace

72hrJetsetterGirl at Catherine Palace

Irina navigated 72hrJetsetterGirl to a side entrance of the palace to avoid the long queues and expedited a speedy arrival at the front door.  This enable 72hrJetsetterGirl to witness a different side of the palace, which many tourists do not have the opportunity to witness. Throughout the day, Irina was always offering to take happy snaps of 72hrJetsetterGirl as treasured memories of her visit.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

The Load-down on Catherine Palace

This 325 metre long Rococo palace located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin) was the summer residence of the Russian Tsars. Catherine I of Russia (no – not Catherine the Great aka Catherine II, but Catherine, the second wife of Peter the Great) hired a German architect in 1717 to construct a modest two-storey summer palace for her pleasure.  The sheer grandeur of the palace can be attributed to Catherine’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth.  Elizabeth chose the palace as her chief summer residence and commissioned 4 different architects during its construction.  They were instructed (probably ordered) to completely redesign the building to rival France’s Versailles. Nothing like a bit of royalty competition between monarchs. To say that 72hrJetsetterGirl was totally gob-smacked when she arrived at the entrance was a complete understatement.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Irina informed that Catherine I was not very happy with Elizabeth. During Elizabeth’s reign, over 100kg of gold was used to decorate the palace exteriors.  Mum, was totally deplored when she discovered the state and private funds that had been lavished on the building.

Just like Pavlovsk Palace, when the German troops retreated after the Siege of Leningrad, they intentionally destroyed the residence leaving only the hollow shell behind.  Luckily, prior to WWII Soviet archivists managed to document the interior of the palace, which played a critical role in its reconstruction.

Let the Tour of Catherine Palace Begin

After slipping on their shoe covers, Irina took charge of the situation yet again to ensure that 72hrJetsetterGirl had a wonderful experience exploring Catherine Palace.  Upon entry, the interior of Palace did not fail disappoint – no less spectacular that the exterior. 

Entry Foyer - Catherine Palace

State Staircase – Catherine Palace

The State Staircase with its ornate banister and marble cupids gave 72hrJetsetterGirl a taste of what is to come.  The 1,000sq metre Great Hall, also known as the Hall of Light, is absolutely magnificent with its gilded stucco decorating the walls and has superb views of the palace grounds.

The Great Hall -Catherine Palace

The Great Hall -Catherine Palace

The Great Hall -Catherine Palace

The Great Hall -Catherine Palace

State Dining Hall -Catherine Palace

White Dining Hall – Catherine Palace

Traditional blue-and-white tiled stove - Catherine Palace

Traditional blue-and-white tiled stove – Catherine Palace

Room in Catherine Palace

Room in Catherine Palace

Highlights of Catherine Palace

Other highlights of this Grand Enfilade include the Portrait Hall, which contains portraits of both Catherine and Elizabeth, the Picture Gallery and of course the legendary Amber Room. The Amber Room was recreated in 1982 and the process took over 20 years to complete and cost more than $12M.  This restored room is truly exquisite and testament to those craft-persons who restored it. Due to this reason, no photography is allowed in the Amber Room.  72hrJetsetterGirl’s photos were taken from the doorways of the adjoining room.

Portrait Hall - Catherine the Great - Catherine Palace

Portrait Hall – Catherine the Great – Catherine Palace

Picture Gallery - Catherine Palace

Picture Gallery – Catherine Palace

Amber Room - Catherine Palace

Amber Room – Catherine Palace

Catherine Park

After visiting the truly beautiful Catherine Palace, it was time to get some fresh air and explore Catherine Park.  72hrJetsetterGirl strolled along the garden alleys taking in the beauty of the marble statues, waterfalls, pavilions and ponds within this beautiful park.

Catherine Park - Catherine Palace

Catherine Park – Catherine Palace

Catherine Park - Catherine Palace

Catherine Park – Catherine Palace

Catherine Park - Catherine Palace

Catherine Park – Catherine Palace

Catherine Park - Catherine Palace

Catherine Park – Catherine Palace

The next adventure

After spending a fascinating day exploring the municipal town of Pushkin, it was now time to head back to St Petersburg.  As the traveling trio made their way along the St Petersburg motorway, 72hrJetsetterGirl asked Irina about a colourful, also most Willy Wonker looking like church she had seen on a poster at the metro station. Irina did not need a moment to think of the name of the church, she knew exactly the church 72hrJetsetterGirl was referring to and ask Alex if it was possible to make a brief stop at that church as it was on the way back to St Petersburg.  Alex had no hesitation in making a detour for 72hrJetsetterGirl.

Chesme Church - St Petersburg

Chesme Church – St Petersburg

Chesme Church

Unbeknown to 72hrJetsetterGirl, the neo-gothic Cheseme Church was built at the direction of Catherine the Great in 1780 and like most things in St Petersburg during WW2, the church was damaged during the siege.

Chesme Church - St Petersburg

Chesme Church – St Petersburg

According to Google (Google is certainly 72hrJetsetterGirl’s go to reference guide), Church of St John the Baptist Chesme is considered the single most impressive church in St Petersburg and is a rare example of very early Gothic revival in Russian church architecture.  As the church is not situated in the main tourist district of St Petersburg,  it would have probably been mission impossible for 72hrJetsetterGirl to navigate her own way there. However, on this occasion the stars were aligned, or Alex and Irina were aligned to ensure 72hrJetsetterGirl had a wonderful day touring their home town.

Inside - Chesme Church - St Petersburg

Inside – Chesme Church – St Petersburg

After a very informative and enjoyable day it was time for 72hrJetsetterGirl to bid farewell to Alex and Irina in St Petersburg.  However, 72hrJetsetterGirl and Irina will be reconnecting again to visit Peterhof, another royal palace in St Petersburg.

Verdict

Catherine and Pavlovsk Palaces are certainly a must see for any tourist vising St Petersburg.  When booking the tour back in America, 72hrJetsetterGirl did think the cost of the tour was on the high side as she thought she would be a participant on 50+ person bus tour.  So with the advice from her co-worker and the very slim possibility of her returning back to Russia, she decided to make the booking even given the cost.  In hindsight, it was the best decision.  Private tour guide, own driver, lunch and the ability to tailor the day to her requirements was certainly USDs well spent. As 72hrJetsetterGirl was travelling solo she had the opportunity to connect with Irina in a more personal way and develop a special friendship.

Whilst wandering around St Petersburg, 72hrJetsetterGirl did see tourist operators on Nevsky Prospect promoting tours to the royal palaces, however the tours were only conducted in Russian.  If you are visiting Russia and do not speak Russian, 72hrJetsetterGirl certainly recommends that you book excursions prior to leaving your home country.

The craftsmanship of the restoration work of the palaces are absolutely superb and the sheer extravagance of them are absolutely mind-blowing.  A definite must been seen when visiting St Petersburg.

 When have you been totally blown away by the sheer extravagance of an attraction?

Europe Iceland

Iceland…Northern Lights…Glaciers…Vikings…Waterfalls…Better than words can describe

June 21, 2017
Amazing Iceland

Europe – Iceland

Reykjavik – 64.1265° N, 21.8174° W

Iceland – Experiences are the new possessions!

The Deal

One snowy Sunday afternoon in Washington, DC, 72hrJetsetterGirl was surfing the net in search of a deal for her next “tropical” destination and up popped a good value independent package to Iceland. Mmmm, another cold and snowy location she thought, but the travel dates were the “right” time to see the Northern Lights.  Ok we all know that Mother Nature can have a mind of her own! Tentatively she hovered the cursor over the link with a sense of anticipation, thinking it won’t hurt to look. Then thought what the heck just do it! 72hrJetsetterGirl just could not pass up the opportunity to see aurora borealis.

Snowy night in Reykjavik

Snowy night in Reykjavik

Getting Excited

A few days before departing to the world’s northernmost capital of a sovereign state, 72hrJetsetterGirl searched her reservation on the airline’s on-line system. Entered her surname and reservation code and then in big RED letters received an error message saying “unable to find this reservation”.  Try again, this time she hit the keys with a bit more force (not sure how this approach would help!) and received the exact same message. What is going on she thought as a wave of fear came over her. “Keep calm and phone the airline”.  After a discussion with the airline agent, 72hrJetsetterGirl had incorrectly typed her surname when making the original booking, some time back.  Now the name on the e-ticket did not match the name in the passport – HUGE BLUNDER and then incurred a change fee of US$50 because of her fat fingers! An expensive lesson learnt.

101 Serendipity

72hrJetsetterGirl’s first Icelandic’s experience was an introduction to Reykjavik, otherwise known as 101 (its postal code).  101 is a petite city filled with colour and character that can be easily explored on foot.  One of the tallest concrete structure (73m) and the largest Lutheran church in Iceland is Hallgrimskirkja Church which offers panoramic views of the city. In front of the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson, the first European to discover America.  Records suggest that he landed on American soil 500 years before Columbus.  The church has an impressive gargantuan pipe organ and the elevator ride to the top is definitely worth the small fee.

Hallgrimskirkja Church

Hallgrimskirkja Church

Hallgrimskirkja Church - Inside the Church and Gargantuan Pipe Organ

Hallgrimskirkja Church – Inside the Church and Gargantuan Pipe Organ

Whilst admiring the city’s colourful roofs from the top of the Church, 72hrJetsetterGirl met two other travelers who were also exploring this little city with a “big heart”. To christen this new traveling friendship, the trio decided to celebrate in one of the many local craft breweries in town.  Check #funfact to find out about Iceland’s beer ban.

View of Reykjavik's colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

View of Reykjavik’s colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

View of Reykjavik's colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

View of Reykjavik’s colourful roofs from Hallgrimskirkja Church

After a refreshing ale, the three new traveling buddies paid a visit to Höfði House, the house in which Gorby and Reagan met in 1986 for the Iceland Summit; a quick stop at the rotating Perlan glass dome with sweeping views of the sea and hills and a visit to the Sculpture Gardens of Asunder Sveinsson.

Höfði House

Höfði House

Perlan (The Pearl) at 25.7 metres high

Perlan (The Pearl) at 25.7 metres high

Sculpture Gardens of Asunder Sveinsson

Sculpture Gardens of Asunder Sveinsson

An attraction not to be missed in Reykjavik is Harpa – the Country’s concert and conference center.  The center has a distinctive coloured glass façade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. Very impressive.

Harpa - concert hall and

Harpa – concert hall and conference centre

Anyone for Puffin or Minke?

The new travel buddies found themselves wandering around the ferry terminal area of 101 and stumbled upon a cosy and cute fish-market where the Icelandic delicacy of minke whale was on offer. Debating whether to have minke, salmon or puffin (yes Puffin), another couple overheard the predicament and joined in on the quandary.  Just to set the record straight 72hrJetsetterGirl settled for salmon, the thought of chowing down on “Free Willy” was just too much to bear. 

New Friends

New Friends

Peace Man!

One became three and then three became five and before you knew it the new buddies were on their way across the bay to Viðey Island to tour the Imagine Peace Tower.  The tower is a beam of light from a wishing well bearing the words “imagine peace” in 24 languages.  The “Tower of Light” was Yoko Ono’s tribute to her late husband John Lennon.

Peace Tower - “imagine peace” in 24 languages!

Peace Tower – “imagine peace” in 24 languages!

Peace Tower - “Tower of Light”

Peace Tower – “Tower of Light”

Peace Tower - “Tower of Light”

Peace Tower – “Tower of Light”

The trip to Viðey Island was certainly a stroke of serendipity for 72hrJetsetterGirl.  Unaware of the tribute and if she had not met her traveling buddies she would not have visited the tower nor had witnessed the amazing light show of the Northern Lights.  A smile is all it takes to make new friends and experience new adventures.

When in Rome do as the Romans do! Right? Well Reykjavik has the reputation of having a vibrant nightlife that starts late and carries on long into the early morning hours. The five new travel buddies deserved to have some Icelandic’s fun after a very busy day exploring.

Gateway to waterfalls, geysers and Icelandic horses…

As 72hrJetsetterGirl was in Iceland during the winter months, it was more appropriate for her to join a small tour group to explore beyond the city limits of Reykjavik. Today’s adventure was the popular Golden Circle tourist route.

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle

This picturesque 300km loop starts in Reykjavik and then routes its way to the southern uplands of Iceland and back.  During the day, 72hrJetsetterGirl was in awe of the stunning landscape with never seemed to end.  Definitely postcard material and no need to play candy crush between stops! The Golden Circle is an amazing experience which has significant importance to the history and culture of this sovereign country with the added bonus of geological wonders.

Golden Circle

The Golden Circle

The World’s First Parliament

The first stop to admire was the UNESCO-listed Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Þingvellir is the site of the world’s first parliament, Alþingi (Althing). The Icelandic parliament gathered at this location each year from 930AD to 1798. Wow!  From a geological wonder Þingvellir is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.  72hrJetsetterGirl had an opportunity to walk between the plates along the Almannagjá fault.  Another interesting fact is that Þingvellir has the largest natural lake in Iceland.

UNESCO-listed Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

UNESCO-listed Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park

Aaah So Cute!

As 72hrJetsetterGirl traveled along this natural beauty route, there was a photo opportunity to get up close and personal with the adorable pony size Icelandic horses. Who could resist!  The ponies were brought to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th century and now Icelandic law prohibits any horses being imported into the country and once exported they are not allowed to return, resulting in a horse breed with very few diseases.  Oh they are so cute!

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses

Mane Waterfall

The next picture perfect stop on the itinerary was Faxi Waterfall.  Quite appropriate after getting acquainted with the horses at the last stop as Faxi means “mane”.  The waterfall formation is in the shape of an Icelandic Horse’s mane..Ahhh

Faxi Waterfall

Faxi Waterfall

Iconic Waterfall

The iconic waterfall of Iceland, Gullfoss is the next attraction along this scenic route. When 72hrJetsetterGirl arrived at the waterfall, she thought that the Hvítá (White) river simply vanished into the earth as the edge is obscured from view. The force of the following water matched with the beauty of the untouched nature offers a spectacular view.  Not only is Gullfoss, also known as “Golden Falls”, a wonder of mother nature, it also tells of a wonderful story. Thanks to Sigríður Tómasdóttir we can all enjoy this amazing waterfall today.

Gullfoss with an amazing 21 metre

Gullfoss

Gullfoss with an amazing 21 metre drop

Gullfoss with an amazing 21 metre drop

The sweet smell of sulphur in the air….NOT

The highlight of the day for 72hrJetsetterGirl was Haukadalur geothermal area. There is nothing like the aroma of sulphur in the air, the hissing noise of steam vents, the bubbling and gurgling noises of mud pools and the eruption of thermal water and steam shooting high into the air to activate one’s senses. The main attraction at Haukadalur is the mighty Strokkur geysir. Strokkur, meaning “churn”, is constantly boiling so there in no warning of its imminent eruption. On a positive note, as the force of nature erupts every 5-8 minutes there are ample opportunities for that perfect photo/video or just to be entertained by the water show over and over again.

Strokkur Geyser hurling boiling water 30 metres into the area every few minutes

Strokkur Geyser hurling boiling water 30 metres into the area every few minutes

Geothermal Area

Geothermal Area

Experiences Galore Await

While doing research on things to do in Iceland, the “experiences” activities were certainly overwhelming – scuba driving between the tectonic plates sounded amazing but 72hrJetsetterGirl is not a fan of getting her hair when swimming, so will pass on this activity.  One that got her attention was a “glacier walk”. As a native of a very dry and arid country, the opportunity to experience a glacier walk in her own backyard just did not exist.

Once again 72hrJetsetterGirl was collected from her hotel and joined a very small tour group  to explore Iceland’s South Coast which is on the Eurasian plate.  As the travelers were getting to know each other on their way to Vik, 72HrJetsetterGirl learnt that she was the only one in the party doing a glacier walk.  The others option for snowmobiling and felt disappointed as the weather forecast was not promising for that adventure. They now had “experience” envy!

After traveling around 180kms in a southeast direction from Reykjavik, Vik was the first stop of the day. Vik is the southernmost village and warmest place in Iceland and home to one of the ten most beautiful beaches on Earth. The “famous” black basalt sand beach is one of the wettest places in Iceland. 

The Black Sand Beach @ Vik

The Black Sand Beach @ Vik

Vik is surrounded by cliffs and has a quaint red church on its  rolling hills.  The cliffs to the west of the beach are home to Puffins, which burrow into the shallow soils during nesting time. Out to sea lies stacks of basalt rock remnants of a previous extensive cliff-line. There is no landmass between Vik and Antarctica and hence the Atlantic ocean can attack with mighty force. 72hrJetsetterGirl was blown along the black sandy beach.

Vik

Vik

Whilst wandering around Vik, (mind you there is only a gas station, a restaurant and a wool shop), 72hrJetsetterGirl notice trolls appearing at every opportunity.  Just off the shore of Vik the basalt rock formation, Reynidrangar, sticks out in the Atlantic ocean like fingers.  According to folklore, these spindly rock formation are actually trolls frozen in time as the trolls were trying to drag three ships ashore when they were caught in the sunlight and turned to stone!

Troll Folklore - three spindly rock formations in the distance

Troll Folklore – three spindly rock formations in the distance

Clamping on the crampons

Before conquering the glacier,  72hrJetsetterGirl needed to be dressed for the occasion, swapping her high heels for crampons (metal spikes attached to soles of hiking shoes, so as not to slip on the glacier ice) and ice axe at the ready.  The adventure was about to begin.

Crampons on - Ready for an ice adventure!

Crampons on – Ready for an ice adventure!

Under the guidance of a certified glacier guide 72hrJetsetterGirl  was ready for her glacier adventure on the Sólheimajökull glacier.  This glacier is the tongue that extends from the great Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

Iceland's 4th largest glacier - ready to explore

Iceland’s 4th largest glacier – ready to explore

During the fun and moderate level walk, the weather conditions changed dramatically on the glacier – one moment the sun is shining and 72hrJetsetterGirl wanted to ripped off her Eskimo outfit as she was getting quite warm and then five minutes later she is getting pelted by hail. 

The glacier guide in action on Sólheimajökull glacier.

The glacier guide in action on Sólheimajökull glacier.

During the walk, 72hrJetsetterGirl explored the wonderland of ice sculptures, water cauldrons, and deep crevasses on the breathtaking Sólheimajökull glacier.

Ice sculpture

Ice sculpture and deep crevasses

The guide provided information, about the behavior of glaciers and their importance on nature.  This was a unique experience for 72hrJetsetterGirl and yes, experiences are the new possessions.

The final experience…The Blue Lagoon…

Ok, just like everyone else 72hrJetSetterGirl had read reviews about the Blue Lagoon, some saying it is a must whilst others say it is overrated.   As 72hrJetsetterGirl had not experienced a hot thermal spring pool, then this was a new experience.  Certainly a lovely way for 72hrJetsetterGirl to end her Icelandic Adventure.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

Useful tips

  • When making the initial airline booking; check that you have entered your personal details correctly.  Most airlines will waive the change fee if they are notified immediately of the error.  Moral of the story check personal details especially names once you have received the confirmation advice.
  • Drink the tap water in Iceland – it is pure and wonderful, no need for bottled water

Iceland #FunFacts:   

  • Icelandic Beer ban 1915-1989.  Beer in Iceland was ban until 1989.  It was a holdover from Prohibition from 1915 to 1 March 1989 – which is now celebrated as “Beer-Day”;
  • Perlan – was built on water tanks that hold the city’s hot water supply;
  • The name “Golden Circle” is just a marketing term and has not connection to Icelandic History – who would have thought! Go those marketers.

The Nuts and Bolts of this Experience Destination:

Why this destination:

  • 72hrJetsetterGirl always wanted to see the Northern Lights;
  • Go to the place that everyone is raving about. So many unique experiences;
  • Only 6 hours away compared to 20 hours from Brisvegas and a LOT cheaper;
  • Despite its northern latitude, Iceland does not get as cold as one would expect due to the North Atlantic Current and Gulf Stream – rarely drops below −15 °C;
  • Good $$ deal – independent package included flights, accommodation, city tour and Northern Lights Boat cruise.

How long:

  • 3 days / 4 nights (Departed the US Wednesday evening, arrived early Thursday morning into Reykjavik, Out Saturday pm). 

Getting Around

  • Flew into KEP (Keflavik International Airport)
  • Express bus service from airport to hotel.  The buses are literally at the ready lined up waiting for passengers (also equipped with Wi-Fi) – definitely no hanging around 30+ minutes for a shuttle service.
  • 72hrJetsetterGirl’s accommodation was located outside of the City Centre and “tokens” were provided to use the local bus services. The bus service was fairly regular.
  • As 72hrJetsetterGirl was traveling solo, day tours were the preferred option for sightseeing and hotel pickup was included and given the variance in the weather at the moment’s notice this was the best option for 72hrJetsetterGirl.
  • On the final day, 72hrJetsetterGirl opted for the Blue Lagoon activity. Collected from the hotel in the morning, taken to the Blue Lagoon and then transported to the airport for flight back to the US. Storage of luggage at Blue Lagoon does incur a fee depending on the size of the suitcase.

What to take

  • Eskimo outfit! – 72hrJetsettergirl for a March adventure. Warm outdoor clothing, waterproof jacket / pants, headwear & gloves, hiking boots

Considerations

  • 72hrJetsetterGirl found the weather conditions in Iceland can change very quickly.  One moment the sun is shining and it is quite warm  than all of a sudden you are being pelted with small hail and gusty winds.
  • Google best time to go to Iceland depending on what you are wanting to experience (Northern Lights, Glacier Walks, Snowmobiling etc.).  We all know that Mother Nature does not always guarantee the perfect conditions for the chosen experience.
  • Food is quite expensive in Iceland and eating out even at the cheaper options are costly compared to American prices.
  • Depending on the time of year and if on a driving adventure, you may not see another car for miles and miles once outside of Reykjavik metro area. This is same for services (gas/food etc).

Verdict

  • The Icelandic tourism industry is one of the slickest around and they cater very much for the tourist. It made traveling a total breeze. Everyone speaks “impeccable” English.  Iceland should be on everyone’s travel list – whether you are like 72hrJetsetterGirl who opted for organized day tours or want to create your own adventure of this stunning country.  For photographers – this is a photographic paradise.  Due to the increased number of travelers to this peaceful country, remember the basics of responsible travel – don’t litter, reduce your footprint and leave the place better than how you found it, so many more travelers can enjoy its beauty. The scenery is picturesque and better than words can describe! Experiences are the new possessions. Two Words:  VISIT ICELAND!!

  

Who else has had a travel booking mishap? Did it work out in the end?