Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

September 1st, 2015

As mentioned towards the end of the Oslo highlights essay, there is one attraction in Oslo that I rate as unique and utterly fascinating. It is the Vigeland installation in Frogner Park, which consists of over two hundred of bronze and granite sculptures by a single Norwegian artist, Gustav Vigeland.

The sculptures represent a wide-ranging study of human body, emotion, and interaction. I am not enough of an expert to judge the artistic quality of the work but the cumulative effect is tremendously impressive.

Here is the view along the main axis of the park.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
A closer perspective of the main fountain.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
58 bronze sculptures are located on the central bridge. Here is a fragment of it.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
Let’s take a closer look at these. What do they represent?

This looks like a simple contemplative figure. A thinker? A schemer? Or do you sense a hint of disapproval in his pose?
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
A couple doing tai chi exercises?
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
A woman coming to an important decision in her life?
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
The continuous conflict between male and female parts?
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
Next one is easy. I don’t have boys, but I know the expression really well.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
Being together again after a long separation?
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
Passionate joining? Or figure skating practice?
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
The focal point of the installation, the Monolith, surrounded by 36 figure groups.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
Each of these 36 statues brings a piece of the “circle of life” message. Here are a couple.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
The view from the Monolith towards the fountain and the bridge.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
And another elevated view from the farthest point into the park, looking back onto the Monolith.
 

Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park, Oslo

 
We lingered for nearly three hours in the park. If there is a must-see in Oslo, this is it.

These and other pictures taken in Frogner Park have been added to my Flickr Oslo album.

Travel

Highlights of Oslo

August 29th, 2015

Oslo has one of the lowest “tourist attraction quotients” of all of Western Europe’s major cities. The reputation is, admittedly, mostly deserved. There is not much in terms of must-see in the Norwegian capital; not truly any significant historic monuments; not really any museums or art galleries of world renown; and not any exceptional ambiance or vibrancy that can make a city a magnet for visitors. There are a few impressive architectural masterpieces but probably not of the kind to be worth visiting Oslo all by themselves.

At the same time, I feel that Oslo is quite underrated. A determined visitor can find quite a lot of interesting things to do there, from cruising on the fjord to admiring Edward Munch’s works, from climbing aboard a 120-year-old polar exploration ship to walking up the sloping roof of a stand-out 21st-century building. It is more than just a nice city – it is a pretty interesting place to get to know.

I suppose the question is of relative attraction. There are other places in Europe that rate as more attractive destinations than Oslo. On our recent itinerary, it was objectively the least impressive major stop. But I am happy I got to see and explore it.

Let’s start with a long look along the main pedestrian street of the city, Karl Johans gate, that leads up to the Royal Palace.
 

Karl Johans gate and the Royal Palace, Oslo

 
We chanced to be there during probably the best summer day Oslo was going to experience all year, and the street was quite busy. Not Ramblas-busy or anything of that kind, but you get the drift. And yet, you only had to step a block or two away from it, and the number of pedestrians on the street would dwindle to a veritably provincial quantities.

A closer look at the palace.
 

The Royal Palace, Oslo

 
It takes some advance planning to get on an English-language guided tour of the place, but it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our stay in town. The presentation is very lively, the rooms are worth checking out, and the history of the comparatively young monarchy is quite interesting.

While on the palace square, we accidentally came across the changing of the guard ceremony. Here are the Royal guards.
 

The Royal guards, Oslo

 
 

The Royal guards, Oslo

 
Churches are not a major feature in Oslo (in fact, the natives freely mark themselves as a not overly religious nation). Only the Cathedral might be considered a place of worship worth touring, primarily on account of its uncommon ceiling paintings. Here is a fragment.
 

Inside Oslo cathedral

 
The City Hall’s vast interior space is definitely a sight to behold. The setting of the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, it is marvelously airy and brilliant.
 

Inside City Hall, Oslo

 
The City Hall is partially seen on the right of the next shot and I have to admit that I find it too industrial-looking for my taste. It does not spoil that view, though.
 

View from Akershus Castle, Oslo

 
Akershus castle is none too remarkable a point of interest but some views from its ramparts, such as the one above taken before sunset, are quite grand.

The building of National Theater is one of architectural delights.
 

National Theater, Oslo

 
Where Oslo seemingly exceeds most of the other capitals is in density of statues on its streets and squares. They range from famous Norwegians to manifestations of human body to animals to random scenes or symbols. Henrik Ibsen on the left and Bjørnstjerne Bjornson (a writer, politician and Nobel prize winner) on the right are in the previous shot.

Around the National Theater is the highest concentration of cultural personalities. This is Per Aabel, an actor and dancer.
 

Sculptures in central Oslo

 
And this is Ludvig Holberg, a philosopher and playwright.
 

Sculptures in central Oslo

 
Gunnar Sønsteby, a resistance hero who is one of the most respected figures in Norwegian history, is immortalized with his bike.
 

Sculptures in central Oslo

 
A woman on the City Hall square.
 

Sculptures in central Oslo

 
A feline in front of the central train station.
 

Sculptures in central Oslo

 
And an esoteric piece called She Lies in the lagoon off the Opera House.
 

She Lies, Oslo

 
The Opera House is an undeniable highlight, of significantly more modern nature – it was completed in 2007. Its sloping forms allow any visitor to literally freely walk on its roof. Here are a couple of angles that may not be truly illustrative of the experience.
 

On Opera roof, Oslo

 
 

On Opera roof, Oslo

 
In the center of the city, there are plenty of pretty houses and attractive points of view.
 

In Oslo

 
 

In Oslo

 
 

In Oslo

 
Rain bothered us only intermittently while in Oslo – and allowed for this opportunity to catch the moment when it stopped on one occasion.
 

In Oslo

 
As you can probably surmise from the last few shots, the automotive traffic in the center of town is tranquil to the point of being barely existent. Surprisingly, among the few cars we saw passing by, there was a significant percentage of vintage vehicles, more so than anywhere I’ve seen. I only managed to capture one of these beauties while it was stationary.
 

In Oslo

 
Among the best museums in Oslo is the Viking Ship museum, which showcases three ships in different stages of preservation along with a treasure trove from a viking burial, and the very impressive Fram museum, which allows you to walk around the famous polar ship and provides wealth of information about science and the history of polar exploration.
 

In Viking Ship museum, Oslo

 
 

In Fram museum, Oslo

 
And another sculpture, so to speak. This is called the Liberté project – a trio of working toilets doubling as an artistic installation which is meant to celebrate France as the inventor of both the highest and the lowest institutions of a modern society: a democratic constitution and public toilets. As one website puts it, it “allows an intimate relationship with its audience; the visitors fulfilling the work, performing inside.”
 

Toilets with a message, Oslo

 
I don’t know if I would be able to put on a proper performance under such hallowed motto. Your mileage may vary.

There is one other attraction in Oslo that for me rises to the level of fascinating and unique, but it is worth a separate blog entry. Stand by for that. I am also splitting the excursion around Oslo fjord into a separate essay. Which creates a bit of a paradox: A city declared the least impressive of all of the stops on the itinerary is providing plenty of material for these pages. Thank you, Oslo – is all I can say.

These and quite a few other pictures of Oslo have been uploaded to the Flickr Oslo album.

Travel

Chasing World Heritage: #87 (Kronborg Castle)

August 25th, 2015

The imposing Kronborg Castle in 16th-18th centuries controlled the narrowest part of the naval gateway to the Baltic which ensured its place in the history of Northern Europe, forming the basis for its UNESCO recognition. It is also a fine example of Renaissance architecture and, for some people most importantly, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (called Elsinore in the play – the English name for Helsingør, the town where it is located – it could not have truly been the setting of the famous play since the events in it must be taking place at least three hundred years before the start of the construction of the castle in 1574).

This is my favorite shot of the castle, from the second ring of defenses across the moat.
 

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
It is impossible to divine from the picture, but I actually got myself a slightly elevated vantage point in the form of a wooden dining table. And still, the angle remained visibly upward. I am starting to begrudge more professional – or simply more patient – photographers their ability to find better angles. That might explain my new-found willingness to lower my standards of behavior and climb with my feet onto a table in full view of disapproving public.

Be as it may, here are a few more upward angles with various perspectives of the castle.
 

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
 

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
 

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
The castle interior is a bit on underwhelming side. There are a few impressive spaces, some original tapestry, massive fireplaces, intricate ceilings, and interesting objects. But overall the impression it leaves is of being a bit empty and unadorned. Which, you will hear if you join a guided tour, only makes sense since the castle was never a permanent royal residence – it was mostly furnished with the travel furniture that the court brought along when it arrived.

Here are a couple of interior shots. The first is in the Great Hall.
 

Inside Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
 

Inside Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
There are several different “routes” to explore the castle on your own, plus a separate chapel which inhabits the oldest original space within the walls. A fragment of chapel’s benches.
 

Inside Chapel at Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
Inside the first ring of defenses, there is some impressive artillery on display.
 

Artillery at Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
 

Artillery at Kronborg Castle, Helsingor, Denmark

 
It was an interesting visit, although not to the level of being blown over by what we saw. I want to be careful in staying away from direct comparisons but it feels as if we have seen more awe-inducing castles on our travels. We spent a little under two hours at Kronborg, including the half-hour introductory guided tour. I have no doubt that a true connoisseur would find hours worth of exploration there.

Helsingør takes about 45 minutes to get to from Copenhagen central station; trains run every 20 minutes at their least frequent during the day. The walk to the castle from the station is another 10 minutes or so.

These and a few other pictures of Kronborg Castle have been added to my Copenhagen Flickr album (scroll to the end of second page).

Travel, World Heritage

Chasing World Heritage: #86 (Roskilde Cathedral)

August 22nd, 2015

As I posited a number of times on these pages, I combine secular attitudes with healthy dose of admiration for religious architecture. Due to the European-centric nature of my travels to-date, a few synagogues and Mezquita aside, most of such architecture that I encounter is of ecclesiastical nature. Since I rarely pass a chance to step inside a church for sometimes very quick or sometimes rather detailed look, I have to admit that after a while they start to blur. Each church obviously has its individual features, but without a truly standout or unique one – think Brunelleschi dome in Florence or the colorful domes of St Basil’s in Moscow or “whispering gallery” of St Paul’s in London – I recently find myself struggling to recall a defining element of many cathedrals that nonetheless appear marked as must-sees in my travel notes.

Roskilde Cathedral offers its standout feature on approach. It is built of bricks. Although I have seen one or two Brick Gothic buildings in my past travels (as well as a couple more later on this same trip), this is my first major point of interest where I have been actively aware that a magnificent edifice is made of bricks, as opposed to stone slabs. It helps to appreciate the architectural accomplishment when you recognize its relative uncommonness.

The cathedral is recognized by UNESCO as the earliest example of northern-european brick-built building which continued to influence religious architecture for hundreds of years. The original brick structure was built in 12th-13th centuries and then royal additions happened through centuries, the latest as recently as 30 years ago. There are plenty of impressive details inside the cathedral, and quite a number of lavishly executed royal tombs.

My photography remains lacking in that I cannot convey the magnificence in pictures. The task was not helped by the fact that the cathedral is fairly closed in by surrounding buildings – and I did not manage to find a remote elevated viewpoint to attempt to take the whole structure in. The exterior shots only reveal the cathedral in fragments. Here are a couple.
 

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

 
 

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

 
The view along the nave away from the altar.
 

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

 
Pulpits are always among my favorite details of any church.
 

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

 
A view towards altar from the upper gallery.
 

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

 
King Christian IV’s private box is one of the most jaw-dropping features of the cathedral’s interior.
 

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

 
Of the many chapels in the cathedral each is impressive in its own right, and each is centered on a deceased royal family. Below is one of the chapels that happens to originate with the already mentioned king, Christian IV.
 

Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

 
I will remember this foremost as a “brick cathedral”, but overall it is an outstanding example of sacred architecture, well worth its UNESCO designation.

These and other pictures of Roskilde Cathedral have been added to my Copenhagen Flickr album (scroll to the second page).

Roskilde can be reached in about 25 minutes from the main Copenhagen station via trains that run at least once every 20 minutes at off-peak times. A 10-minute walk from the station through the town center will take you to the cathedral. There are other points of interest in Roskilde (for instance, a viking ship museum) that may be worth checking out if you come to town with more than a single purpose in mind.

Travel, World Heritage

Highlights of Copenhagen

August 19th, 2015

Northern European capitals get short shrift when compared to their more southern counterparts. The overall “tourist attraction quotient” – including things like can’t-miss museums, famous art collections, street ambiance, food scene, night life, etc. – is probably lower in places like Copenhagen or Stockholm compared to the likes of Paris or Rome.

To say nothing of the weather factor.

Nonetheless, Copenhagen – the first stop on our recent itinerary – did its best to charm with its colorful and grand architecture, intimate and wide spaces, impressive points of interest, and sufficiently non-threatening skies. (We also had superb culinary experiences on every one of our nights in town, which obviously only helped the overall impression.)

Here is the view of the city center from the viewing platform atop Church of Our Savior.
 

Copenhagen view from the tower of Church of Our Savior

 
The dominating tower on the left belongs to Christiansborg Palace, one of four major royal palaces inside the city boundaries. It is now primarily the seat of government, in addition to allowing access to the royal apartments and two other museums.

The winter residence of the royal family, Amalienborg, holds daily changing of the guard ceremonies that are a big tourist attraction. If you ask me, the ceremony is quite boring, but when the crowds disperse afterwards the view of the square and the Marble Church nearby is fantastic.
 

Amalienborg Palace Square and Frederiks (Marble) Church, Copenhagen

 
“Marble Church” is a nickname, officially this church is called Frederik’s – and it is one of the most impressive churches in town, in no small part on the account of its massive dome. Among the statuary under the dome are these saints that are seemingly engaged in some theological disagreement.
 

Fragment of Marble Church, Copenhagen

 
One of the most striking buildings in Copenhagen is the Old Stock Exchange, built in 17th century.
 

Old Stock Exchange, Copenhagen

 
Caritas Well (Caritasbrønden, in Danish) is the oldest fountain in Copenhagen, over 400 years old now. It sits on a square that is part of the Strøget pedestrain zone in the historic city center.
 

Caritas Well, Gammeltorv, Copenhagen

 
We climbed not one but two elevated points in Copenhagen. The tower of the Church of Our Savior that provided the opening shot of this essay is a more celebrated – and, in a sense, more exciting – high viewpoint, but the platform atop the Round Tower is easier to reach, offers more space, and I would argue facilitates better perspectives of the city roof line.

Here is one shot from Round Tower (Rundetårn, sometimes spelled as Rundetaarn), with the spire of St Peter’s Church in focus.
 

View from Round Tower with St Peter Church, Copenhagen

 
And another perspective, with the imposing tower of St Nicholas Church in the foreground and the Church of Our Savior (Vor Frelsers Kirke) seen farther back.
 

View from Round Tower with St Nicholas Church, Copenhagen

 
And a view over one of the pedestrian streets of central Copenhagen, Købmagergade.
 

View from Round Tower over Købmagergade, Copenhagen

 
 

In Copenhagen

 
I made no records and have not been able to figure out what this statue on the leafy square next to Round Tower may represent, but it made for a nice composition.
 

In Copenhagen

 
One of the most colorful areas not just in Copenhagen but in all of Europe is Nyhavn. It was awfully hard for me to pick just a couple of shots of its canalside buildings from among many for this essay.
 

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

 
 

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

 
Love locks craze is everywhere. Copenhagen is no exception.
 

Love locks at Nyhavn, Copenhagen

 
Colorful houses appear on many central streets.
 

In Copenhagen

 
Sometimes it is not the house itself but a shop sign at the entrance that attracts attention.
 

Shop sign in Copenhagen, Copenhagen

 
The mix of old and new architecture is frequently seen in different parts of Copenhagen. This juxtaposition of Christian’s Church and some harborside modern buildings is an example.
 

Old and new in Copenhagen

 
On the other side of the harbor, the modern photographic museum on the right contrasts with more aged look of the museum of military history on the left, Jewish museum on the right back, and the tower of Christiansborg in the background.
 

Harborside in Copenhagen

 
Rosenborg Castle Gardens (frequently called Kongens Have, or King’s Gardens) is the large tranquil park in the city center that is home to several diversions. Rosenborg Castle, in the background of the next shot, is my favorite of the royal palaces in Copenhagen, both exterior- and interior-wise.
 

Rosenborg Castle Gardens, Copenhagen

 
This fearsome earth-bound gargoyle and its brethren guard the City Hall.
 

On City Hall Square, Copenhagen

 
And around the corner one can find a statue of one of the most famous Danes in history, Hans-Christian Andersen.
 

Hans Christian Andersen, Copenhagen

 
There is also an Andersen statue inside Kongens Have.

Another point of interest related to Andersen is the statue of the Little Mermaid, located on the waterfront to the north of city center. The sculpture is one of the most popular attractions in Copenhagen, but I would be hard-pressed to explain why.
 

The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

 
It is a nice sculpture, I suppose.

On the way to seeing the Mermaid, one can pass the impressive Gefion Fountain and the beautiful Church of St Alban.
 

St Albans Church and Gefion Fountain, Copenhagen

 
Old Navy barracks are a frequent feature in different areas of town. These days, some house small museums while others are being redeveloped into residential or business spaces.
 

Old Navy barracks, Copenhagen

 
Christianshavn is a residential area to the south of historic city core with a lot of attractive architecture and appreciable laid-back feel. The main canal that goes through it is chock-full of boats.
 

Christianshavn Canal, Copenhagen

 
 

Boats on Christianshavn Canal, Copenhagen

 
Here is a street in Christianshavn which is home to the already mentioned Church of Our Savior.
 

In Christianshavn, Copenhagen

 
You can see the exterior spiral stairs that lead to nearly the very top of the church – yes, we climbed that, how could we not!?

Overall, Copenhagen certainly achieved a “would like to come back” status in our hearts. There is plenty to see and do and plenty to admire.

These and nearly a hundred other shots from Copenhagen can be seen in a new Flickr album.

Travel

Back from Scandinavia

August 10th, 2015

3 countries, all visited for the first time. 4 major towns, each explored in significant depth. Several day-trip excursions of varying durations. 6 UNESCO sites added to my collection. Travel between destinations using planes, trains, boats, buses, trams, metro, and an occasional taxi (not a single minute behind the wheel, though). Approximately 250,000 steps as counted by Fitbit. Nearly 3,000 photographic clicks.

As is always the case, our latest traveling adventure can be proclaimed an unqualified success. Although the weather showed its summery side only on the last leg of the trip, we had just one day in two weeks that was spoiled by uncooperative skies (the fact that the day was the one during which we were exploring the most dramatic natural phenomena on our itinerary could simply be my karmic payment for always prioritizing man-made attractions over nature-built ones).

This was our first ever attempt to cover “highlights” of a multi-state region on a single trip, as opposed to a circuit around a single country. Although we certainly did not rush through stops on our itinerary, we probably left another couple of days of exploration off the table in places that we did visit, and also completely bypassed a few other destinations that warrant attention. Which can only mean that we will back one day.

And if you have been following us on Facebook, you are aware of our culinary exploits (although, truth be told, we set the bar so high in Copenhagen that the rest of the trip paled in comparison in food context).

I will be publishing photographic evidence for all to see as I progress with post-processing. My guess is late fall is when it is all will be finished. You all have months and months of anticipation and admiration ahead of you.

For first impressions, here is a panorama of Bergen from Floyen mountain.
 

Bergen view from Floyen

 

Travel

Montmorency Falls

August 1st, 2015

Montmorency waterfalls and the surrounding park are an excellent half-day trip destination when you are in Quebec City – or even full-day depending on how much you want to take advantage of available activities.

The falls are higher than Niagara by good 30 meters but visually, of course, may be slightly less impressive. Nonetheless, they offer an excellent diversion from the city scene less than 20 minutes away by car from central Quebec. Ride the cable car to the top, walk on the bridge over the falls, descend via wooden stairs clinging to the side of a cliff. You’ll get all possible perspectives of the waterfalls, a few of which are presented here.

This is the view from the bridge.
 

Montmorency Falls, near Quebec City

 
View from one of the stairs landings.
 

Montmorency Falls, near Quebec City

 
Bonus double rainbow.
 

Montmorency Falls, near Quebec City

 
We were up on that bridge in a previous shot.
 

Montmorency Falls, near Quebec City

 
Frontal view from ground level.
 

Montmorency Falls, near Quebec City

 
And a view towards the city from one of the elevated viewpoints.
 

View to Quebec City from Montmorency Falls

 
There are a couple of children playgrounds, extensive picnic areas, full-service restaurant at the top, a number of walking trails, and several advance hiking routes available in the park for those inclined.

These pictures are part of my Quebec Flickr album.

Travel

Night shots of Quebec

July 28th, 2015

I am admittedly not dedicated enough as a photographer to frequently attempt what true enthusiasts undertake habitually: Carry a tripod, get up before sunrise to catch majestic vistas, etc. I also happen to like capping any day of sightseeing with a nice dinner accompanied by a fair amount of wine, which more or less negates any inclination I may have for late-night photography.

Nonetheless, while in Quebec City I actually worked up sufficient willpower to wander through major sights after most of the city had gone to sleep. Declining temperatures prevented me from doing that for more than an hour, but I snapped a dozen different perspectives of Château Frontenac and caught a few other locations at their quietest and emptiest of people. Here is a handful of best results.
 

Chateau Frontenac and Champlain Monument, Quebec City

 
 

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires on Place Royal, Quebec City

 
 

Chateau Frontenac viewed from the quay, Quebec City

 
These pictures are part of my Quebec Flickr album.

Travel

Shop signs in Quartier Petit Champlain

July 25th, 2015

Quartier Petit Champlain in Quebec City is very compact, with just a few narrow streets full of shops and restaurants. It seems just a touch amusement-park artificial but is no less delightful for that.
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
Every establishment in the area has a colorful sign above the entrance. Here is a sampler.
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 

These photos are part of my Quebec Flickr album.

Travel

Chasing World Heritage: #85 (Quebec City)

July 22nd, 2015

Québec City is the only town in North America to have preserved its defensive ramparts and its historic center presents one of the best examples of a fortified colonial city. That gives the city a shade of a European feel which is quite welcome by these particular europhiles.

Here is the iconic look of the town from St. Lawrence river, dominated by Château Frontenac (which, underwhelmingly, is just a hotel and has never been anything but a hotel).
 

Quebec City

 
Fortifications themselves are not too visually impressive but the fact that they are still here is.
 

Fortifications, Quebec City

 
Major arteries into the heart of Upper City go through the gates that were built towards the end of 19th century with the expressed aim of preserving the city walls. This is St-Jean’s Gate.
 

Porte Saint-Jean, Quebec City

 
The edge of the Upper City overlooking the river from high above is occupied by Terrace Dufferin, a wide boardwalk named after the Canadian governor general who contributed to the preservation of the city heritage in the 19th century. It is also where the Château Frontenac is.
 

Terrace Dufferin, Quebec City

 
At the beginning of the terrace there stands a monument to Samuel de Champlain, founder of Québec.
 

Champlain Monument, Quebec City

 
A guide on a walking tour around the city told us that no one knows what Champlain actually had looked like, since there are no surviving portraits of him, so the model for the monument had been some random nobleman. Not sure whether it’s a local urban legend.

Here is another perspective of the Château, from Rue St-Louis, with the Champlain monument seen in the background.
 

Rue Saint-Louis, Quebec City

 
Less than a few hundred steps from Terrace Dufferin and the main tourist routes one can find quiet and picturesque locations such as this corner of Rue des Jardins.
 

Rue des Jardins, Quebec City

 
The focal point of Lower City is cozy but busy Place Royal. My favorite perspective of it is of this corner, which is probably as European as you can get in North America.
 

On Place Royal, Quebec City

 
And here is a fragment of Rue du Petit Champlain, the main pedestrian street of the picturesque lower quarter.
 

In Quartier Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
Two full days seem a sufficient time to explore the city and its main attractions.

These and other photographs of Quebec City have been added to a Flickr album.

Travel, World Heritage

Grand-Place encore

July 18th, 2015

At the conclusion of my recent day-trip to Brussels I had about 15 minutes to expand my portfolio of pictures taken on the magnificent Grand-Place. Here is a selection:
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 

Grand-Place previously featured in my World Heritage re-counting series.

Travel, World Heritage

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #41 (Horta)

July 16th, 2015

If you recall from this post, I took a day-trip to Brussels from Amsterdam on my recent Dutch journey. That allowed me not only to spend time with my eldest child who was studying in Brussels at the time, but also to take a look at UNESCO World Heritage sites within boundaries of the Belgian capital.

Victor Horta is to Brussels what Antoni Gaudi is to Barcelona, only on a smaller and admittedly less impressive scale. Nonetheless, he is recognized as one of the foremost Art Nouveau architects and four of his houses comprise a designated UNESCO site.

On our first visit to Brussels a number of years ago we already stopped by Horta Museum located in one of the four properties, Maison Horta (as well as seeing another Horta house, Maison d’Autrique, which is not part of World Heritage designation). But we took no pictures on the visit, which I intended to correct.

Unfortunately, three of the four houses are nowadays private office buildings, inaccessible for the general public. Only the museum can be visited – but photography is not permitted inside while on tour. I exchanged emails with the museum administration and received an invitation to come and take interior pictures at a designated time when the museum would not be open to visitors. That would be a remarkable opportunity if not for the fact that I could not physically be in Brussels at those hours.

In the end, all I could do is walk around these houses and take pictures of their exteriors.

The front of Horta Museum was partially obscured by parked vans from a nearby house renovation site, so all I got was a fragment.
 

Maison Horta, Brussels

 
It is actually 2 houses – the full name is Maison & Atelier Horta – joined together.

Hôtel Tassel offered a slightly better opportunity.
 

Hotel Tassel, Brussels

 
Hôtel Solvay turned out the best picture of the bunch.
 

Hotel Solvay, Brussels

 
You can see some elements of Art Nouveau in the exteriors but it is still a challenge to be duly impressed without seeing what’s inside.

The last property, Hôtel van Eetvelde, remained unseen by me even from the outside. It is located in a slightly different part of town and I did not use my time efficiently enough to fit it in.

Horta Museum is open for only a few hours each afternoon. Seeing it takes under an hour. It is reachable via a couple of tram lines but if you prefer walking it is only about 20 minutes away from the Central Station. The other two houses that I stopped by are within close proximity of the museum. The station’s information kiosk offers a good map of all Art Nouveau edifices in the city, including all Horta houses.

Travel, World Heritage

More from Netherlands

July 13th, 2015

A few more impressions from my recent trip around Netherlands.

Houses in the village of Het Kalf.
 

In Het Kalf, Netherlands

 
 

In Het Kalf, Netherlands

 
Country landscape between Zaanse Schans and Het Twiske park.
 

Somewhere in Netherlands

 
 

Somewhere in Netherlands

 
In the village of Muiden.
 

Muiden, Netherlands

 
In the village of Weesp.
 

Weesp, Netherlands

 
Looking over Afsluitdijk.
 

Afsluitdijk, Netherlands

 

Travel

Tulips

July 11th, 2015

Some might argue that the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Holland is not windmills but tulips. Definitely in the top two for me. So, during the car-enabled portion of my journey around the country, I stopped here and there to snap some tulip fields pictures.

Turns out flowers, like humans, do not come out exceptionally well in my photographic exploits, but nonetheless here is a small selection of views.
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 

Travel

Zaanse Schans

July 8th, 2015

This is not a World Heritage site. It can be quite touristy at some points and even feel artificially prettied-up. And still, this windmills-centric attraction is awfully picturesque and cozy, and I count it among my favorite destinations in Holland.

Here is a sampler.
 

In Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

A giant clog at Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

In Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

In Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

View to Zaandijk from Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
Besides a museum in a working windmill, the village offers a couple of traditional shops that are a delight to explore, a short if enlightening clog-making demonstration held every half an hour in the visitor center, and a number of spots to linger, relax, take pictures and simply enjoy the scenery.

Zaanse Schans can be reached by car from Amsterdam in less than 20 minutes. On my recent visit, I ventured there on a bicycle. The ride took me roughly an hour and a half in each direction, at a fairly non-athletic pace, including intervals where I got slightly lost (using a GPS would be a good idea; a detailed map is absolutely essential, although you can technically follow the bike path markers, if you know how to interpret them).

Travel

Counting World Heritage sites: #84 (Van Nelle Factory)

July 6th, 2015

Van Nelle Factory is the newest Dutch addition to the UNESCO list, having been inscribed just last year. Its recognition stems from its pioneering place in industrial architecture. The couple of interior pictures at the official link above suggest elements of interest but I doubt I would come here at all if not for UNESCO designation.

The factory is a functional office, event, and industry complex with some museum elements. It is possible to join a tour of the factory on specific days at specific times, which did not fit into my itinerary. It is also possible to gain an invitation to the complex during occasional special events, none of which was happening on the day of my visit (and probably would not fit into my itinerary either).

So I drove up to the gates, walked to the security booth with the telescopic lenses on my camera fully extended to add heft to my appearance and inquired of the guard inside if I could pass through the territory to take a few exterior pictures. He interrupted his late lunch for long enough to indicate that I had to stay outside of the fence. And that was that. I walked around the fence and took a few different perspectives of the building, one of which is presented here.
 

Van Nelle Factory, Rotterdam, Netherlands

 
This is stretching the boundaries of “visited” when it comes to my collection of sights, I have to admit. Nonetheless, the loose definition of “seeing the sight to the maximum extent of its accessibility at the time of my visit” more of less applies. I made a dedicated drive to get here, I tried to get in, I took several pictures. Another UNESCO site in the bag. Highly unlikely to be ever visited again.

And with that, I covered every single World Heritage site in the Netherlands home country. The only one remaining Dutch site for me is the town of Willemstad, on Curaçao, which is somewhere down on my list of travel targets for the future.

Van Nelle Factory is located on outskirts of Rotterdam. I am not sure about its accessibility from town, but it is about an hour away drive from Amsterdam.

Travel, World Heritage

Flowers

July 3rd, 2015

To break the monotony of my travel pictures, here is a sampler of flowers that adorn our backyard.
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

Suburbia

Counting World Heritage sites: #83 (Kinderdijk)

June 30th, 2015

Windmills. I suspect this is the likeliest image to form in anyone’s head after hearing the word “Holland”. Not surprisingly, there is a World Heritage site in Netherlands which is mainly about windmills.

Kinderdijk is recognized by UNESCO as yet another example of Dutch ingenuity in the art of water management but most visitors certainly come here not so much for the dykes and pumping stations but rather for windmills.

There are 19 of them on the site. I did not manage to take a shot with all of them in the frame – even panoramic approach somehow “lost” a couple. Here is the best non-panoramic view.
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
A few of the windmills function as museums, but if you have no inclination for visiting any you can still take in the scenery on foot or on a bike or on a leisurely boat ride around the main reservoir. The following are a few close-ups and perspectives.
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
The skies were only intermittently blue which dampened the impression somewhat. To a certain degree, the cozier Zaanse Schans is more picturesque and memorable (although clearly less important historically, not being on the UNESCO list).

Kinderdijk is about half an hour away from central Rotterdam by car, an hour and a half away from Amsterdam. I spent roughly three hours at the site, which feels like the right amount of time. But I did not go in for any windmill or pumping station museums.

These and other pictures of Kinderdijk have been added to my Netherlands Flickr album.

Travel, World Heritage

Counting World Heritage sites: #82 (Rietveld Schröderhuis)

June 27th, 2015

Rietveld Schröder House is a small family house, built in 1924, that is recognized as one of the icons of the Modern Movement in architecture. It is one of the smallest – if not the smallest – UNESCO World Heritage sites you can see, but it definitely leaves an impression.

Interior photography is not allowed on a visit so I have to refer you to Google Images “rietveld schroder house interior” search results, but the photos do not do the place justice. It is truly a tiny house for the number of people that lived there after its completion, but the usage of space with multi-functional convertible features is simply fascinating and the design is unusual and unconventional in many aspects.

For my own photography, I can only offer a couple of cookie-cutter exterior perspectives.
 

Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands

 
Advance reservations are essential for visiting Rietveld Schröderhuis. The audioguide-enabled tour of no more than 12 people at a time lasts about 45 minutes; a museum worker accompanies every scheduled group and demonstrates space conversion procedures at appropriate points in the itinerary. The house is located at the edge of Utrecht central area, with 15-20 minutes of walking required to get to it.

Travel, World Heritage

Utrecht

June 23rd, 2015

Through quirks of planned and unplanned travel, Utrecht holds the distinction of the most frequent destination for me in Netherlands – I seem to always stop by for a few hours whenever I am in the vicinity. On the most recent trip I had a specific target in mind (more on that in a later post), but I also managed to spend an evening walking around the city center. Here are a few pictures illustrating the charms of Utrecht’s architecture around the main canal, Oudegracht.
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
There are several museums and a couple of interesting churches in Utrecht, so it can certainly support a full day or more of exploration. In good weather, hire a waterbike for a circle around Oudegracht – the experience is different from the same activity in Amsterdam because the scale is much more intimate. I should do Utrecht more justice one of these days and spend longer time there.

These and other pictures of Utrecht have been added to my Netherlands Flickr album.

Travel