The title of this post seems like a mouthful: Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Basilica of our Lady of Altagracia).
This massive structure in Higüey, Dominican Republic is to honor the Virgin of Altagracia, national patron saint of the country. It was inaugurated in the 1970s and is within reach of many tourist centers in the DR, like Punta Cana. Its design is very original and it is worth checking out whenever you are ready to take a break from the beach! While you are at it, maybe meander around town – who knows what hole-in-the-wall delicious food you may find! A few more photos to wrap this post!
Detail of the front door
Bucharest was my gateway into Romania and I was eager to see this city that has always -for some strange reason- been an object of my curiosity. The capital of Romania has been called the “Paris of the east” due to French architecture influence – but perhaps also because the pre-communist elite had the airs? I am not really sure but it definitelyhas architecture reminiscent of the French capital. In any case, Bucharest is a relative newcomer as a capital city having been picked as capital of Romania only in 1862. It is a city of over 1.6 million inhabitants – and it feels that way: a city with the weight of any capital city, with all the attributes of a European city, yet not quite a megalopolis or an international center.
There are too many photos to share so I will place them here in a gallery at the end so you can see some of what caught my eye in terms of architecture, monuments (especially to the 1989 revolution), streets, etc. Just click on the images to enlarge them! But first some thoughts on the city…
It is very interesting to see this architecture in Bucharest because it usually is mixed in with very different styles. It almost feels that either construction in the city skipped a few periods or styles as some parts have very different styled buildings next to each other. Maybe that is what some communism legacy does and what a deliberate demolition of old portions of a city will do (Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator, razed parts of the city for his grandiose building, now the Parliament). I don’t know as I am not an expert either in architecture or Romania! This cacophony of styles gives it an interesting air… And/or perhaps, I needed to see more of the city than I got to?
Old Town Bucharest
Old Town Bucharest is charming like the older part of a any city and, at night, is very lively and a great place to go to have dinner, watching folks go by, and then stay for drinks and more people watching. We enjoyed a night out on a nice summer evening the night before our return home – good food, good wine, and lots of good laughs.
Not far from Old Town you encounter the grandiose communist buildings sponsored by Ceausescu – a madman of sorts yet independent enough to say no to the USSR whenever he felt like it. (How DID he get away with it??!!) In any case as I mentioned earlier, much of the older city was destroyed by him to pave way for these new buildings. It is sad to think that, until the early 1980s, the old district was much larger and probably containing some gems that are now lost.
Sights around Bucharest
Bucharest has a canal going through it (the Dâmboviţa river that goes through town was channelized in the late 1800s to prevent the flooding that the city suffered periodically) and nice parks, especially near the Romanian Arc de Triomphe. In that area you will tend to see foreign embassies and it seems a nice place to be if you live in Bucharest. The most grandiose building of the communist period already has an entire post to itself here so I will not add those pictures to the gallery here. Just know that around it are similar though slightly smaller buildings also built as part of Ceausescu’s grand plan. One of those was built to house guests of Mr. Ceausescu and now serves as a magnificent J.W. Marriott!
Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time in Bucharest as the focus of my trip was elsewhere. However, I did get to see some of the key places around town, such as the former royal palace, a few churches, the monument to the revolution (eerie), and the balcony where Ceausescu stood in his final days trying to give a speech but, in a crucial moment in history, the crowd turned on him and the whole thing unraveled for Nicky (I remember watching that in the US in the news the day it happened!). I will end the post with the gallery of sights around Bucharest – enjoy!
(Click on the thumbnail to see the entire photo!)
Calea Victoriei, one of the main streets in the city
Athenaeum near Revolution Square
University Library Building in C. Victoriei
More on the memorial to the revolution that freed Romania from communism
Powerful memorial to the pains of communism at Revolution Square
The Novotel Hotel on C. Victoriei also blends the old and new
One of my favorite buildings ever! Creative juxtaposition
National Art Museum – a former palace
Front of the Cretulescu Basilica
Cretulescu Basilica towards C. Victoriei
CEC Bank Palace
One of the many streets to enter Old Town; very lively at night!
The faithful at Goldsmith’s Church dating from the 1850s
A veritable cable maze!
Home in the center
Dambovita river riverside near the National Opera
Detail of the facade of the National Opera
Cismigiu park benches
Well, today is the day the apocalypse was to happen. I guess a few hours are still left so maybe I shouldn’t count my eggs just yet. BUT, if the end did happen, guess what? I can still blog from purgatory and you KNOW that would be an incredible travel story. Just hope it is not one of being stuck there forever, like when I was stuck in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano (which did turn out well) or someone else’s horrible travel story. Also, if the world did end, purgatory looks a lot like my house (and if the world did NOT end, I need to make some minor changes at home…).
So the end of anything usually calls for some reflection and be it the end of the world or the end of the year, I feel like reflecting on my very busy 2012…
A Texas tweetup in January
January saw me taking what felt like a bold step – to travel somewhere to meet people I met online. At first that has an almost dirty sound to it, doesn’t it? But I had been talking on Twitter with these three folks for many months and they were clearly people I would enjoy meeting in person and exploring with. So off to awesome Austin, Texas for the Texas tweetup! There I met in person @kirkcole, @L_e_a_h, and @LolaDiMarco. Unfortunately, a severe cold hit me on the day I traveled so I was not able to partake in all the activities but enjoyed a good day’s worth of laughing and eating in Austin!
Can you find the Austin tweetup fab 5 in the picture?
Normal in February – and other months
Traveling to DC for work permeates every month this year so my normal continued in February. Recovered from the Austin tweetup and post-Christmas parties in January, February was time to relax and be home (or in DC). Over the year, I got to check new things in DC that I had not explored yet in the last year. Doing the White House tour was a long-time bucket list item that I finally made happen. I continued exploring and enjoying many of the DC’s finest hotels like The Mayflower, the Sofitel Lafayette, and the Renaissance on 9th St. DC is a wonderful town if you get out and explore. Its many beautiful brownstones and local eateries are a joy to explore.
March Madness: Mile High Skiing
The traveling continued in March – this time a great ski trip with dear friends to Vail and Breckendridge, two places I had been dying to try for many years. The trip did not disappoint and neither did my skiing, not having skied since Valle Nevado, Chile in the Andes in 2010. Vail and Breck WILL be in a future ski trip for me, I can tell. The bowls of Vail where incredible: one bowl, then another one behind it, then another. It seemed to never end!
How thoughtful! Vail had a statue of me at the base of one of the slopes!
Amicci en Italia and diving into eastern Europe in April
April finally brought about the “long”-planned trip to Italy with two sets of great friends. Though mainly focused on Rome (a city I love re-visiting), a side trip to finally see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast was built into the itinerary. It did not disappoint, especially our guide in Pompeii, one of the preeminent experts on Pompeii!.
But I took advantage of being on the other side of the pond to add another iconic destination I had never explored: Dubrovnik, Croatia. Its tiled roofs and architecture combined with the natural setting of its location made it a magical place for me. Of course, ever eager to see more, I decided to get further into eastern Europe while in Dubrovnik by doing day trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Mostar) and into the beautiful mountains and bays of Montenegro! These day trips were short, obviously, but they definitely opened the appetite to see more of these countries and this part of Europe.
One of the ridges that divides Kotor Bay into 2 bays in Montenegro
Re-charging, re-connecting, and exploring Chicago
May saw a second tweetup, this time in the Windy City since we were eager to connect with other travel bloggers we had been chatting with for awhile. The Windy City tweetup had a little bit of everything: from French goodness (courtesy of the Sofitel Water Tower), Charlie’s Angels, boat tour, fallen traffic lights (not our fault!), doughnuts, cold coffee, good food, drinks (repeat), and the mob. It was a very fun weekend indeed meeting @workmomtravels, @travelingted, @jettingaround, and @elatlboy in person.
Being tourists at The Bean
More fun with fellow travelers and good learnings
In June, TBEX, a travel bloggers conference, held its North America conference in Keystone, Colorado (very close to Breckenridge where I’d just been 3 months before; who knew I would be returning to the area so soon!). Besides the interesting learnings, the reception at the mountaintop on Friday night and the ensuing party at the pub at base (free!) really made the weekend a lot of fun and a good time to meet others who share the travel bug and re-connect with others. Among the great folks I met (too many to list all!): @BlBrtravel, @stayadventurous, @captainandclark, @lazytravelers, @budgettravelsac, and @travelrinserept.
A trek with a purpose in Romania and a true relic of the USSR
Romania had been a mysterious place that I had always dreamed of seeing. Not because I knew I would love it but it just called to me. A wonderful opportunity came my way to do a hike in the Transylvanian Alps with Trekking for Kids, a non-profit seeking to bring improved lives to orphaned/at-risk children around the world. We worked with the orphanage and just “were” with the kids before and after a hike through some beautiful landscapes around Brasov – we even saw castles other than Dracula’s! An experience I will never forget every which way, including it was my first multi-day hike ever!
Who knew there was a Sphinx atop the Transylvanian Alps (near Omu Peak)??
Since I was headed that way, I decided Romania (more precisely, the town of Iasi, Romania’s cultural capital) would be a great springboard to explore Moldova. So with my great guide, I explored churches, monasteries, towns (including the capital, Chisinau), and wineries in this little known former Soviet socialist republic still working to undo decades of horrible communist dictatorship. I am SO glad I made the time for this unpolished gem at the edge of eastern Europe!
The trip ended with a one-day, two-night in awesome Paris, my home away from home in Europe. Always love re-visiting my favorite areas and still finding new things to enjoy!
Time with Family in Tampa on my sister’s birthday in August
August also included a trip to Tampa where my family lives – always good to be with them, and enjoy good Cuban food and TLC! I had just been there in June (when I visited the impressively set-up Dali museum) but my Mom turned 70 while I was in Romania and my sister was hitting a milestone birthday of her own in August so I just HAD to go and celebrate with them!
Rest in September
In September, I took a break from travel. Well, non-business travel… But read on, the year of travel is not over!
Architecture and Wine: Tuscany or Bordeaux, you say? No, Virginia in October!
I finally succumbed to friends’ suggestion that I explore Virginia wine country with them. I had been wanting to do this for a long time but other travel got in the way. I took advantage of being in the DC area for work to go ahead and spend a weekend with them in wine country. And got out RIGHT BEFORE Sandy passed by! As you can read in my writings about this central part of Virginia, Monticello, Charlottesville and the countryside are filled with early colonial history and architecture as well as delicious wines. And there are close to 200 other wineries in the state to be found and explored! I was glad to have this opportunity to see more of my own country and other places will be in my sights in 2013 (like Michigan and Wisconsin thanks to friends from Chicago who write about these places!).
Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day
OK, now I rest ‘xcept for Thanksgiving in November
So, my fun travels wrap up for the year save for visiting family again in Tampa where I discover yet another new place for good Cuban food! Someone STOP the madness!
I reflect back on the year and I am amazed at how much I have been able to see of places I have always wanted to see. And this is setting aside the twenty-something weeks of work travel to DC! The bucket list shrinks and yet I add new places I learn about. I consider THAT my most important key performance indicator – a never-ending travel bucket list!
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and the best in 2013 for you and yours!
On the day we finished the four days of hiking in the Transylvanian Alps, on our way back to Braşov we took a slight detour to visit two very beautiful castles in the Sinaia area of Romania: the Peleş Castle and its sidekick, the Pelişor Castle. While these two castles are not as old or as “famous” as Bran Castle (of Dracula notoriety), they are beautiful and quite evocative of a time and life past. So this post is for “other”, lesser-known castles in surprising Romania!
Brief History of the Peleş and Pelişor Castles
Peleş Castle began being built around 1873-5. It was ordered built by King Charles I of Romania. It became an official summer royal residence around 1883 and it remained so until after World War II when it was confiscated by the communist government. In 2007 it was returned to the ex-royal family though not its contents. The family rents it back to the government to serve as a museum though I have also read that the family sold it back to the government (this could be more recent news). (By the way these are the same ex-royals who still parade themselves at weddings and funerals of other European royal families still using royal titles – I think some folks need to get a grip… But I digress.) A lot of the objects in the castle originated from Austria or Germany. Its main tower reminded me a little bit of the tower of Palace of Culture, in Iaşi.
Pelişor Castle, which sits a short walk away from Peleş, was also ordered built by Charles I but for his heir (and nephew), Ferdinand, to live in. It was built around the turn of the 20th century from 1899-1903. Since then, it shares the same history as Peleş.
Indoors and Outdoors at Peleş Castle
I was about to say (er, write) that my favorite part of this castle was the courtyard and the front yard. Then I remembered the chandeliers I saw and some of the incredible rooms (especially the “oriental” room – how cool!). The castle is worth the detour and worth paying the photo fee to take pictures.
Note the painting of men holding flags but also how the white spaces look like the profile of two faces looking at each other!
The ever-present St. George slaying the cursed dragon! (Photo courtesy of J. Stanmore)
(Photo courtesy of J. Stanmore)
My favorite: the oriental room! (Photo courtesy of J. Stanmore)
The majestic dining room (Photo courtesy of J. Stanmore)
Indoors and Outdoors at Pelişor Castle
While Peleş felt more “grown-up”, Pelişor felt more like a regular home. Not only because it was smaller, more manageable than Peleş but also because it had rooms for little kids on exhibit – it truly felt like a family’s home. You could be forgiven for thinking that at any moment, kids were about to run in.
(Photo courtesy of J. Stanmore)
Child’s desk (Photo courtesy of J. Stanmore)
Detail of a door at the castle (Photo courtesy of J. Stanmore)
So while Bran Castle is much better known (or, perhaps, the only known) castle in Romania to folks far from that country, it is a shame if a visitor to Romania makes it to Bran to see its castle and does not take the short detour to see these two gems of castles nestled in the lands around Sinaia. It is well worth the effort!
Having added Moldova to my Romania trip itinerary , Chisinau (pronounced KISH-now), its capital, had to be central to the visit as it is the main town in this country of approximately 3.6 million people (Chisinau itself has around 750,000 inhabitants).
Welcome to Chisinau
Street scene near central Chisinau (and darkening skies!)
Bus stop scene in Chisinau
The city, which was founded in the 1430s, has a complex history since it was at the crossroads of various empires. It is said that it had the largest proportion of Jewish population in Europe in 1900 at 43% of the city’s population. The city was nearly destroyed in 1940 when the Soviets took over and the city was hit by an earthquake, and, later by Nazi attacks and occupation. I saw old structures but not many that pre-date this period (to my untrained eye). The Jewish population, as in other places, was wiped out to a good extent during the Nazi occupation.
Perhaps one of the older structures around??!!
Example of older architecture in Chisinau, Moldova
City Hall, finished in 1901 but re-built after WW II due to the damage it sustained, is one of the best architectural pieces in town, built in Italian Gothic style.
Chisinau City Hall
Of course, a lot of buildings I saw are post-WW II. Many of the big style government buildings, apartment bloc buildings, and hotels were built in that post-war period, with the implications to architecture that that entails…
Apartment blocs, many in different states of repair
Parliament Building was damaged during demonstrations in 2009 and is under repair. It used to house the Central Committee of the Communist Party during Soviet times.
The now-abandoned National Hotel
Hotel Chisinau (open)
Underground tunnel for pedestrians – great artwork
Ministry of Agriculture
I enjoy looking at the architecture in a city to get a mental image of the place and how it evolved. Clearly, history has been wiped out a good bit by war, earthquakes, and the Soviet regime. But I also like to see what people do. Unfortunately, a countryside-heavy itinerary kept me mostly out of Chisinau. Also, I didn’t find any cafés in the central part of the city as I walked around so it was harder to sit back and watch life go by (well, I could have sat on a sidewalk but not the same!). Still, I saw life go by in its own way.
Old lady crossing Stefan cel Mare Boulevard
Man crossing street
I did visit the main park in the city center, named after the national hero Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), which definitely seems to be popular with locals with its trees, lawn areas, fountains and the Alley of the Classics (with sculptures of literature and political greats for Moldovans).
Stefan cel Mare Central Park
Ever-present Stefan cel Mare near the same-named park
My guide asked me asked me when we met “why Moldova?”. I answered because “it’s there and I wanted to see what it was like.” Yet, I fully realize that to really get to know a country and its people, it takes a lot more than a short visit and the sightseeing. I was fortunate to have a great guide, Dumitru, (whom I’d recommend for anyone traveling there!) for 3 days who shared a lot with me about Moldova and Moldovans, about the times before and after the fall of the USSR, about the country’s current challenges, about the business environment, and about the hidden treasures this small country has to offer for those willing to take the extra steps to get to see it.
For me, visiting any city in the world means seeking to know its unique character, exploring the different types of neighborhoods, visiting some of the key sites (monuments, museums, grand boulevards, riversides, etc.), sampling its food, and watching life go by when time allows it. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, the Latin Quarter, and the omni-present cafés. Rome has Roman ruins galore, the Trastevere, and the Campo de Fiore. Santiago has the Cerro Santa Lucia and the Barrio Bellavista. And, as I have recently learned, Bucharest has the Palace of Parliament and Old Town.
The Palace of Parliament (“Parliament”) is such a massive building and its story equally massive in the insanity of the project that it is worth its own writeup. It is the second largest building in the world (after the U.S. Pentagon) and, ergo, the largest civilian building the world. And it certainly is a great way to understand recent Romanian history and the mental health, perhaps, of its long-in-power, last communist leader, Ceausescu.
Seeing the building from the outside is quite a sight. It is HUGE. But to best appreciate the scale of the structure and the ego that drove its construction, one MUST see it from the inside. This means going for a tour. There are a couple of options, one that covers the main rooms and another that adds to that visiting the main balcony and the basement. I highly recommend the latter and it only takes about 2 hrs for the longer tour (hours are 10AM – 4PM as of July 2012).
Entrance for visitors is along the north side of the building shown here
I was surprised to learn that it has 12 stories. It just seems so much more monumental from the outside! It also has:
- 340,000 sq m or 3,700,000 sq ft (the Pentagon, as a comparison, has 600,000 sq m or 6,500,000 sq ft)
- 1,100 rooms
- 1,000,000 cubic m of marble
- 480 chandeliers
- 200,000 sq m of woolen carpets (some sown on-site so they could be installed as they were so big!)
- and so on…
Get the picture? It is worth noting that about 95% of all materials were sourced within Romania itself.
Seeing the land around the building (the tour takes you to the roof terrace, the best platform for the 360 degree view) also gives a sense of the massive destruction that was required in order to clear the way for its construction. In fact, such is the extent of the land around the Parliament building that the largest Orthodox church in southeastern Europe is being built in a corner of its grounds!! (picture that follows)
The History behind Parliament
Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were, to put it simply, megalomaniacs. Crazy, narcissist, cruel, and all such words would apply as well. Maverick applies too as he was able to keep the USSR at bay; but that is another story. The point is that they saw the need for a monumentally-scaled building to house all of the key government bodies (to be called the “House of the People”), including serving as his residence (and bunker). One can see easily how it would help them better control government as just being in the building would give one a sense of their (Nicolae’s and Elena’s) power and omnipresence as opposed to feeling semi-secure and semi-removed a few blocks away from them. The new construction (though in neoclassical style) also helped drive forward the battle between the old and new which was not about aesthetics or modernity but the battle to cement communism over past systems and regimes.
So one of the most historic parts of Bucharest (with over 20 churches and 30,000 residences) was destroyed and a major hill was razed in order to clear the land for this building and other structures. What shocked me was to learn this all happened in the 1980s! Somehow that blew me away: that in such “modern times”, what is called the largest peacetime (willful) destruction of a city in recent history took place.
The Ceausescus, poor them, did not get to see the building finished (it is still not finished!). The revolution swept them out of power and out of this life in 1989. Sweet revenge by karma, I say.
The tour will take you from meeting rooms to large halls to massive hallways to ballrooms to grand staircases and everything else needed to convince people of someone’s greatness. Even the chamber that serves as preamble to the grand ballroom was designed so that as the Ceausescus’ approached the grand ballroom, the clapping of people in the ante-chamber got acoustically magnified by the room’s design so the people waiting in the grand ballroom heard an even louder reception for them before they walked in to the grand ballroom. (Mental note: consider that for a future renovation of my home’s foyer…)
The grand ballroom is of great scale and the other rooms not too shabby either. Some of them have big open spaces on the walls – were portraits of the grand couple were supposed to be hanged…
The meeting rooms had everything you may expect including hidden doors behind the chair Ceausescu would use in case he had to make an emergency exit. The hall (music hall, theater, whatever you want to call it) has what has to be one of the largest chandeliers in the world (per an article in Wikipedia, the largest chandelier in the world is in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul – who knew). Some of the chandeliers have over 7,000 light bulbs! For the chandelier below, there is actually a hidden room or passageway above that is used to access the light bulbs when they need to be changed! I imagine that STILL does not make it an easy endeavor…
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Palace_of_the_parliament_Chandelier.JPG. Author: Ferran Cornellà)
The rooms in the building are not all alike. The styles vary based on purpose, location, etc. As I mentioned before, the building actually is not yet finished. In fact, there are a lot of unfinished spaces. Curiously, the original main architect, Anca Petrescu, (there was a rather large team of architects involved – about 700!) is still the main architect today.
The grand balcony is worth stepping into. The scale of the building carries onto the balcony and its columns. Also, a little secret is that the balcony railing is shorter than normal because Mr. Ceausescu was a short man and he wanted to make sure that the “adulating crowds” saw him as tall. Were there no psychotherapists in communist Romania?? LOL.
So – What to Make of this One HUMONGOUS Building in Bucharest??
A few pictures do not do this building justice. I am sure there are thousands out there. But, of course, the best is seeing in for oneself.
It is hard to be happy with the destruction of a historic city quarter to satisfy someone’s ego. Having said that, the building is already there and it is something to see if travels take you to Bucharest. The scale and grandeur of this structure should put it on everyone’s must-see list for sure!
Have you been to the Palace of Parliament? What were your thoughts as you saw it?
I had no idea when I first thought of going to Moldova that I would see a treasure trove of church and monastery architecture but as I researched a possible visit to Moldova, I learned that was exactly what I was going to see.
Moldova, as a Soviet Socialist Republic, was a place where the system tried to take man’s humanity out of the equation – and part of that was removing the strength and hope that faith can provide. Churches and monasteries were either destroyed or severely damaged; those that were not totally destroyed were re-purposed as mental hospitals, children’s institutions, etc. and the religious communities were broken up.
It is evident that Moldova is trying to shed its Soviet past in the ways that are possible for a small economy that is not in the EU and that is talked about as one of the poorest, if not the poorest, in Europe. For example, roads are being re-built in and around the capital, Chisinau. The airport is modern. But what I noticed was how churches and monasteries have been worked on to restore them to their greatness, even if not all buildings in the complexes are completely restored yet.
Visiting monasteries does not require an appointment nor are there entrance fees. Simply walk in. Do remember to dress appropriately!
But after showing you these monasteries below, I have a conclusion I would like to share.
This small and beautiful monastery, which reminded me of the Greek isles due to its sharp blue and white colors, was the focus of my photo of the week post earlier this week but it is worthy of including here as it was such a gem. The monastery is about 14 km from Calarasi town which in turn is about 50 km from Chisinau. It is also a convenient monastery to see if visiting the Curchi monastery.
This monastery (pronounced COOR-key) is considered one of the most beautiful and famous monastery complex in Moldova with 2 large churches (and other small ones I did not get to see) and many other spaces and buildings in its footprint. It was founded around the 1770s. Between the 1950s and the early 2000s it did not operate as a monastery though now it has again become a monastery for men. Lots of visitors/pilgrims the day I went though it was a weekday. And strict rules as no photography was allowed within the churches.
The main church, painted in bright red, is the Church of the Mother of God and was built in the late 19th century. It is a beautiful building up close but even more impressive as one approaches the monastery by road.
This monastery, one of the oldest in Moldova dating to the 1420s, is just 40 km away from Chisinau. It is one of the most important ones because rulers, including the most important one, Stefan cel Mare, helped build it. The two main churches, St. George and St. Nicholas, were built in the 1840s and 1900s, respectively.
Image of Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great)
Chisinau Center Churches/Cathedrals
Chisinau as a city has a good number of churches (for views of Chisinau itself, check my post on it here). Right in the city center there are a few worth checking out.
1. Near the Hotel National lies the St. Great Martyr Tiron Cathedral, quite a beautiful structure built in the 1850s.
2. The Transfiguration Cathedral (or the Church of Schimbarea La Fata in Moldovan) sits next to the Ministry of Agriculture. It has been beautifully restored inside. It’d be easy to pass it up given the size of nearby Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity but don’t miss visiting it.
3. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity, however, is the most imposing of the churches I saw in Chisinau. It is a Russian Orthodox Church built around the 1830s. It, and its front tower and outdoor baptistry, sit in a large square facing the Triumphal Arch and, beyond, the imposing (though unimaginatevely architected) Government House building.
The outdoor baptistry
Small Churches in Orhei
The predominant religion in Moldova is Orthodox Christianity. In Orhei, a town north of Chisinau with about 25,000 inhabitants, I visited the small Catholic Church. We asked the attendant what percent of the town’s people were Catholic and she replied: ”4% - but working on it.” What a spirit!
The town had small Orthodox churches but because of our itinerary/schedule, I could not explore except from the car. But they were definitely colorful!
My Conclusion: It’s about More than Architecture
So the renewal I witnessed in Moldova was impressive but even more impressive was seeing the faithful visit these religious places so openly, something that I am sure was impossible (or close to it?) during the decades of Soviet communism. Those images are the ones that really stay with me…
You can find more information about monasteries in Moldova here.
“You may normally see me in bathrooms but here I am among friends in this spectacular piece of architecture with a slightly different coating than my bathroom brethren. I hear the blogger will be re-issuing some writeups about our site, our host town and the neighboring area. You will see me and my buddies in all our glory! Stay tuned!”
(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel)
Salvador Dali, one of the most interesting painters of the 20th century was, let’s say, a tad eccentric – but a genius nevertheless. The new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL does a great job of presenting of how Salvador Dali evolved his style in a way that a layperson like me can grasp and enjoy. Guided tour and/or audio guide are included in the price of the ticket which makes it an easy decision – and makes the experience and appreciation VASTLY more meaningful. I left with a better understanding of Dali, his motivators, and his evolution.
Here are some pix of the museum and its grounds (but none of the art!).
The cars at the entrance of the museum (not sure the purpose)
The entrance to the museum on a beautiful day
The top of the spiral staircase which reminded me of the tip of Dali’s mustache
Looking towards the staircase and the ceiling on the 3rd floor
The glass ceiling
Trying out Dali’s mustache
The back of the museum
This serranita sandwich at the museum cafe was good but those olives were really outstanding!!
Entry wrist tags at the wish tree – clever idea to avoid trash around the parking lot!
These well-traveled eyes have seen a lot of great cities and still have others left to discover. But they can say that they have seen truly one of the most interesting and enjoyable cities in the U.S. – as long as it is not winter, of course! (OK, it still can be fun in winter as my visits many moons ago can attest though my memory cannot fully recollect…)
Chicago is vibrant, day or night. It is not the 200+ yr old charm that Philly has (Chicago burnt deep and well in the famous fire). It is not the capital of everything that NY is. It is not the power center that DC is. But it is a city that has everything that an urban area should have: unique neighborhoods, a vibrant center, a body of water (or two) running through it, great food, great hotels, diversity of entertainment options (blues clubs, skyscraper-top bars, mafia lore, shopping, people watching, and on and on), and a strong business community. Of course, it also has that required element of large cities: corrupt (or dubious) power brokers – but I digress.
But one thing it that tood out to me as if I had never been here before was the architecture. Not sure if it was the scale (as in the Hancock and ex-Sears Towers or as in the Merchandise Mart), or the contrasts between ”old” and new, or just the fact that I got see it on foot, on boat, and on a bus.
View from the Wrigley Building to the “south side” of the river
If you have any interest in learning about the city’s architecture (and you most definitely do not need to be an architect for that!), the boat tour is a great option. The boat tour we took was offered was by Wendella Boats (http://www.wendellaboats.com/ (right by the Wrigley Building on Michigan Ave.). They provide an excellent narration of the architecture of the city by cruising the river – and they help you learn why the river no longer flows into Lake Michigan… I won’t spoil it for you. They also offer you a free drink (and you can pay for more) – the Honker’s Ale was very nice. And I digress again.
Here are examples of the architecture of Chicago (more pictures on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ILiveToTravel):
The building on the left was inspired by a champagne bottle
The real and reflected skyline (at The Bean in Millenium Park)
Other stories from our tweetup:
Tweetup, what is that?
Since it is the first time I write in my blog about a “tweetup“, I feel I should have an intro section here on what they are! Tweetups are gathering of tweeps (people who have connected via Twitter) who share a common interest, say travel, photography, etc. It does seem a little odd to go to one to meet people one has only met online. However, if the tweetup doesn’t happen, it stays only online, doesn’t it?
After almost a year of participating in travel talks on Twitter, a few of us decided it was time to meet in person these other folks we so enjoyed exchanging travel ideas and experiences with in Twitter. We held our first tweetup in Austin, Texas.
We realized this is something we needed to do again and, sort of on its own, one day, we were chatting in Twitter when someone just said we should all meet in Chicago. And, that was it. Chicago in May it was. Chicago had many pluses but definitely meeting local tweeps was a key driver.
So What Happens – Where Do We Stay?
Those of us traveling, while we don’t have big budgets, want a memorable experience all around. And that starts with our accommodations.
We found out that the Hotel Sofitel Chicago Water Tower not only had a great deal at hand but a great location, sleek designs for the rooms, and an incredible-looking lobby with tons of ambience. We look forward to the phenomenal service levels typical of the Sofitels! Check them out here -> http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-2993-sofitel-chicago-water-tower/index.shtml. We will let you know how it goes!
So What Happens – Where Do We Eat? Where Do We Have Cocktails?
Well, this is very much a problem in a town like Chicago since the options for good food are so many. Here is where our local tweeps and some research on the travelers’ part comes into play.
We certainly wish we were able to engage with some of the local establishments pre-tweetup so we could perhaps better understand what was possible to create the right environment for a groups of folks that want to get each other better while enjoying some food and/or some drinks.
Of course, being a travel tweetup, this group will be “broadcasting” in Twitter and via their blogs about the experience so we sure hope we have great things to say and great tips to provide fellow travelers so their future visit to the Windy City benefits from our insights!! That is what we travel bloggers love to do most – help point others to the best travel experiences!
So far, we have identified The Pump Room (http://www.pumproom.com/) at Public Chicago as a place we definitely will spend time at. The Pump Room evokes the vibe of the 1930s/40s yet caters to a modern-day crowd. It has been celebrated by Travel + Leisure, The Today Show, The New York Times, Chicago Live, etc. This place has catered to just about every big star over the decades. And now it will cater to this tweetup crew!
So What Happens – What Do We Do?
We have not planned out the day time hours but we have decided to do a river architecture boat tour with Wendella Boat Tours (http://www.wendellaboats.com/). We got a great deal via Groupon and we liked the fact they would serve us a drink during the tour – this crew enjoys nice beverages so we sure hope that is what will be served! We will tell you about the tour during our ride!
We are certainly open to ideas so feel free to share any you have. And if you are in the Chicago area and like travel, feel free to connect with us so you can meet us during the weekend events on May 11-12, 2012!!!
Chicago, here we come!