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Archive for the ‘Europe travel’ Category

International Stereotypes of a Different Kind

The image that people have of a certain country or culture is often very stereotypical, and many people have ideas about a place even if they have never been there.

We found this really interesting T-shirt in Ljubljana, Slovenia. One of Slovenia’s tourist marketing tools is using the word “love” embedded in the country’s name. This T-shirt design has taken the heart and used it to create an image for the other countries depicted on it. A very clever idea.

Neither South Africa nor Zimbabwe is there, but Africa in general is, and that heart is probably fairly accurate for the indigenous people. The USA has a cowboy—what do you think of that?

Look at the other countries—we thought many were actually quite true at capturing what people imagine when they think of that country. For example, a koala for Australia, a sheep for New Zealand, a panda for China, or a bull for Spain. Some are not quite so obvious (to me anyway).

Is your country there? What do you think?

Tshirt

 

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Coming to the end of this 3-part series commemorating 650 years at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University.

The tour starts in the gorgeous old library

The tour starts in the gorgeous old library

Our guide discusses some old instruments

Our guide discusses some old instruments

The Collegium Maius Museum: We watched the 11am clock show and at that time bought a ticket for the next English museum tour at 1pm. You have to go on a guided tour in a small group, which is offered a few times a day. Our tickets were 12 Polish Zloty (PLN) each (senior discount), about $3.75; normal adult price is 16 PLN (about $5) and children 6 PLN. See Part B next post for the tour.

It was a great tour, which took about an hour and a half, although the allotted time was one hour. Our guide was excellent, fluent in English and a really remarkable fount of knowledge and information about her topic, which is very broad—anything and everything to do with this university, all the contents of all the rooms, the people and artists involved etc. Our group asked many questions and she was able to answer pretty much all of them in detail. Security was tight getting in, and then a guard followed the group and closed doors behind the group as the people exited each room.

Universities in those days were closely linked to religion and this is still very Catholic in tradition. Religion dictated what they could do. Originally the professors were celibate and lived and ate together like monks, showing the importance of religion. Later, they could marry and live outside the university.

The communal dining room

The communal dining room

They started with three core areas: theology, philosophy and law. Then they added medicine and physical sciences.

It’s a really beautiful building with gorgeous rooms, mostly upstairs, such as the Library and the Green Room. This is an incredible collection of old university artefacts (furniture etc), plus many instruments. The Library houses a great collection of old books in neo-Baroque bookcases. The nobility of that time played a large role in donating money that allowed the university to be built and for it to buy all these things. On the tour, our guide named many of the benefactors over the years.

Many famous names are linked to the university but (for us) Copernicus is the greatest—with his link to astronomy and cartography 100 years before Galileo. He knew about the earth being round, and about planets travelling in ellipses even. He had 4 brothers who all studied here too. His Polish parents moved to Scandinavia, but the boys came back here to study because the university had the reputation in astronomy and the right equipment—the earliest is from the Moors in 1064. In the small Copernicus Room the guide pointed out discs, globes and other instruments that Copernicus would have used. Much of his original paperwork is now in Sweden at the Uppsala University Library.

The Green Room

The Green Room

 

Chopin's piano

Chopin’s piano

Many famous Poles studied here and achieved great things in the world of science, arts, and literature. For example, Marie Curie and Chopin. Chopin’s piano is there in the Green Room, the one on which he actually gave a concert.

We went on the tour to see the museum but actually much of the space is still used, which is amazing. The Senate meets monthly in the Library; they eat in the Stuba Communis (dining room), which is still used for ceremonial meetings (such as signing agreements with other institutions). Built in 1430, it still has 3 tables in a horseshoe shape; and they use the ornate Aula, or Jagellonian Hall, for university award ceremonies—it’s the oldest and one of the most beautiful lecture rooms of the university.

 

 

The ornate Aula Hall

The ornate Aula Hall

There are many things of note. The museum has the first globe, which shows North America, but in the wrong place, right at the South Pole! Globes were always done in pairs—celestial and terrestrial. One set had universities and intellectual centers marked. And one globe even had Madagascar marked.

A celestial globe from 1480

A celestial globe from 1480

A collection of clocks, of measuring instruments—like weights and measures—and of old telescopes reminded us of the collections in Arts and Metiers in Paris. There are some priceless treasures and we can understand why security is tight.

They also have a wonderful collection of tapestries, art works, painted ceilings, portraits of people related to the university, some stained-glass windows that would have been lost if not saved here, and some wooden madonnas.

We also saw the original charters of the university. First, the Latin model where students elected the rector and then the French model where the professors elected the rector.

In fact, there is so much in there that’s it’s difficult to assimilate in one visit.

This tour got us thinking about the role of universities and teaching/knowledge in our modern world. It’s a great tradition for universities to follow intellectual pursuits and to try and preserve both knowledge and artefacts. Passing on knowledge and learning is so important and that’s one role of universities. We wonder about the future; with all the digital age stuff, will we lose track of what’s real and not, and of the actual truth. With all these online courses, universities are losing control of passing on the knowledge. Is it potentially the start of the end of the importance of universities? We sure hope not!

An old globe

An old globe

Old astrolabe

Old astrolabe

 

 

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All over the islands, everything is written in English and Gaelic

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Waiting in line to drive onto the ferry on the Isle of Mull

Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebridean and Clyde Ferries

The Calmac ferry system connects Scotland’s western isles to each other and to the mainland. It’s a vast network that has been perfected over the years and we were very impressed.

In most of Scotland you are never far from water—be it the sea, a strait, a loch, a firth—and that’s especially true around the western isles and west coast, where it’s often difficult to know what’s island, what’s peninsula, what’s mainland.

As a result, over the centuries the Scots became very adept at living with the waters, and at using them as means of communication rather than as obstacles and barriers and until fairly recently many places could only be reached by water.

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

Our ferry arrives and a string of vehicles drive off

The Calmac company owns and operates ferry boats of all shapes and sizes to suit all the different needs and routes. The company was founded in 1851 as David Hutcheson & Co, and was renamed David MacBrayne in 1879 when David MacBrayne (a partner and nephew) gained full ownership. It stayed in the hands of the MacBrayne family until 1928. Then MacBrayne and the Caledonian Steam Packet Co were jointly involved and in 1973 the name changed to Caledonian MacBrayne.

Traveling on a ferry is almost inevitable if you visit this part of Scotland, whether as a foot passenger or a car driver. We did both, and it’s a fun way to observe this part of Scottish life. We drove a car onto the ferry from Oban on the mainland to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, and we were foot passengers on the smaller ferry that goes from Fionnphort on Mull to the sacred Isle of Iona.

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

A fuel tanker drives on not far from our car

It’s fun to watch how the ferry workers direct all the vehicles on and off and often seem to manage to squeeze something else on (the whole process reminded us of the ferries in Greece). We were amazed at all the types of vehicles that get on and off the big ferries, but it’s totally logical as this is the only way to get certain things onto the islands. We saw many camper vans, the British Royal Mail vans, huge tourist buses, delivery trucks, fire engines, and fuel tankers for example.

If you are driving a car in the summer (high) season, it’s probably best to try and make a ferry reservation if you can, as if you just rock up you might not get on.

The bigger ferries have a lounge and cafes.

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As we walk up to the lounges and decks, another tanker drives in

www.calmac.co.uk

Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Going back to Fionnphort from Iona, the ferry has the mail van and another small van. Note Rod by the railings

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island---just commercial vehicles or residents

Walking off the smaller ferry to Iona. Visitors cannot take their cars to the island—just commercial vehicles or residents’ cars

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Entrance to the museum building , 2011

Entrance to the museum building , 2011

flame

 

 

 

 

The Showcase of the Olympic Movement

VivsignThe important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well”—Pierre de Coubertin

The Winter Olympics are about to take place in Sochi, Russia, and as we all know, there is much talk about the actual games and the security surrounding them. This gets many people thinking about what the games are, what their main goal is (Build a Better World Through Sport), and how they fit into modern life.

The idea of a museum dedicated to appreciating the Olympic idea goes back to Pierre de Coubertin, who revived the Olympic Games and founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Olympic Museum reflects the spirit of the games, which bring nations and people together.

The museum, which was inaugurated in 1993, was closed for renovation and extension in January 2012. After almost two years, it re-opened with its new look, the tag line: The New Olympic Museum—Keeping the Torch Burning.

We visited this lovely museum in late 2011, before it closed for extensive work, and I’m hoping to get back to it soon. It was a

From the museum, view of part of the gardens and the view over the lake

From the museum, view of part of the gardens and the view over the lake

fascinating place then, so I wonder how they have expanded and improved it. The website tells us that the permanent exhibitions are now on 3 floors and incorporate the museum grounds. The Tom restaurant has been moved to the south side of the museum with a view over the lake and the Alps.

Details may have changed, but the beautiful location has not. The museum has an unusual architectural style on the side of a hill on the edge of Lake Geneva, in pretty gardens with many outdoor sculptures of athletes or related to the Olympics in some way.

cyclists

Statue of a human foot at the starting line

Statue of a human foot at the starting line

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IN a small courtyard is an olive tree---each winner gets an olive branch, symbolizing the link with the ancient Games

IN a small courtyard is an olive tree—each winner gets an olive branch, symbolizing the link with the ancient Games

It is home to interactive exhibitions, documents, films and unique collections of precious Olympic objects dating from Greek antiquity up until modern times. The museum is the largest information center on the subject of the Olympic Games in the world.

Thanks to computer technology, audiovisual media and presentations, and special effects, it’s possible for us to experience the Olympics almost as the athletes did, and to relive the highlights and memorable moments. The permanent and temporary exhibits document the history of the Games from antiquity to modern times, with stories of past Olympic Games and their champions, whether actual medal winners or not. We can also find out what sports there were and are, and the athletes for each; and find out the answers to such questions as, What is the Olympian Legacy? What are the Youth Olympic Games?

Besides the exhibitions, the museum houses an Olympic Studies Centre, a library, a video library, an education section, an auditorium, meeting rooms, a good restaurant and souvenir shop with an array of very tempting items! There’s also a terrace with a stunning view across to the Alps and down to Lake Geneva and the Olympic Park with its works of art. We found the gardens and the view worth a visit in their own right, besides the amazing exhibits inside. When we were there, the special exhibition was entitled “Hope”.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The museum runs a great website that is the official website of the Olympic Movement, covering everything and featuring past and potential champions this year:

http://www.olympic.org

For practical information visit the website:

http://www.olympic.org/museum/visit/practical-information

Open daily 9-6 May 1-October 19; 10-6 rest of year, but closed Monday

Admission: CHF18 adults, CHF10 children, CHF16 seniors, other reductions possible.

Statue with a view

Statue with a view

One runner greets another!

One runner greets another!

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Entrance lobby. Note the clever sign/logo with the break in it

Entrance lobby. Note the clever sign/logo with the break in it

Museum banner

Museum banner

Museum of Broken Relationships

As you wander around the Upper Old Town in Zagreb, you will come across an intriguing and unusual museum not far from the lovely St Mark’s Square with its Church of St Mark. The Museum of Broken Relationships grew from a traveling exhibition centered around the concept of failed relationships, their ruins and repercussions. Unlike “self-help” instructions for recovery from failed or lost loves, this museum offers a chance to overcome emotional stress through a creative process, by contributing to the museum collection. And people all over the world have contributed, by the thousands.

Conceptualized in Croatia and located permanently in the historical part of Zagreb, the museum has toured internationally in over 25 cities so far, including Taipei, Paris, Berlin, Cape Town, Singapore, and Kilkenny, Ireland. In 2013, it traveled to Taiwan, Boulder (Colorado, USA), and Paris (France). Currently there is an exhibition in Amsterdam (see below).

Some of the rooms are all white. Rod reads about the key (see next pics)

Some of the rooms are all white. Rod reads about the key (see next pics)

The museum’s exhibits take the viewer on a unique emotional journey around the world through a variety of items symbolizing break-ups in relationships. The founders realized that most societies around the world have special ceremonies to mark events such as births, deaths, marriages, graduations, and retirements, but most have no way of recognizing or marking the end of a relationship. Hence, the invitation to share personal items that tell a story about a loss.

This is an unusual concept for a museum, but one that has universal appeal, as everyone has experienced a loss of some sort. It has many kinds of personal items, from teddy bears, to pieces of clothing, to everyday household items, to letters, to pictures, all telling a story of some relationship that ended: a few by death, or separation by war, but most because of a couple splitting up. Each item is exhibited individually and has a board with its story—some very poignant, some funny, some very sad, some angry.

A key bottle opener tells a poignant story

A key bottle opener tells a poignant story

keywriting

The items in one alcove illustrate Whims of Desire

The items in one alcove illustrate Whims of Desire

The museum is housed in an old building—the beautiful baroque Kulmer Palace in the Upper Town (Gradec)—but the interior has been completely re-done. So, it’s modern inside, with very simple, clean lines and excellent lighting. It’s not a large exhibit, but it gets the message across—really capturing the sorrow and hope of a common humanity. We enjoyed reading the story attached to each item, laughing out loud at a few, commiserating with others, totally empathizing with a few, especially those who were using their story as a catharsis for anger. Look at some of the words accompanying the pictures here. The information boards are all in English and Croatian, but using the QR codes visitors can also read the captions in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

Well worth a couple of hours. There is also a small café and shop.

This little wardrobe tells about breaking a different kind of relationship (see words below)

This little wardrobe tells about breaking a different kind of relationship (see words below)

wardrobewords

A visiting exhibition of new donations plus some from the permanent collection is currently in Amsterdam—in the Oude Kerk cathedral, from November 16, 2013 to March 2, 2014.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

25kuna/adult (about US$4.50), seniors and students 20 kuna

9am-10:30pm (June 1-September 30),  9am-9pm (October 1-May 31)

Closed November 1, December 25, January 1, and Easter

Sv. Cirila Metoda 2, Upper Town, Zagreb

www.brokenships.com

An ex-axe

An ex-axe

The story of what the axe did in anger!

The story of what the axe did in anger!

Clothes bring memories too

Clothes bring memories too

A 'clandestino' in our apartment during the war

A ‘clandestino’ in our apartment during the war

This iron was used to iron my wedding suit. Now it is the only thing left

This iron was used to iron my wedding suit. Now it is the only thing left

 

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Waiting on the CAT platform at Wein-Mitte station

Waiting on the CAT platform at Wein-Mitte station

The train arrives

The train arrives

This CAT just “purrs” along

Vienna’s CAT (City Airport Train) is an amazing service and the best city-airport link we’ve ever experienced in all our travels.

This is a train dedicated just to moving people between Vienna’s International Airport and the city center. In only 16 minutes the non-stop train whisks you from the airport to the Wein-Mitte station, or vice versa.

The system makes it really easy for people to use. When you are collecting baggage at the airport, look for the CAT ticket machines in the baggage claim area, where you can buy your ticket. The machines take credit cards or cash (euros). If you miss that opportunity, don’t worry as there are more ticket machines on the platform. As you exit into the Arrivals Hall, turn right and follow the signs down the ramp to the CAT station: the distinctive CAT letters and logo of white plane on a green background are easy to see and follow.

Trains leave the airport twice an hour at :06 and :36, from 6:06 to 23:36. They also leave from Wein-Mitte every 30 minutes at :06 and :36 (from 5:36 to 23:06)—times that are easy to remember. The train is speedy, quiet, air-conditioned, with proper luggage racks and seating downstairs and upstairs.

You must have a ticket, as a ticket collector comes by on every train.

One of the big adds for CAT

One of the big adds for CAT

Getting into the city this way is great, as at Wein-Mitte you can connect to the excellent U-Bahn (underground) system that also links to the buses and trams, all of which can get you to almost anywhere in the city.

But, what is even more useful is the service offered when returning to the airport. At Wein-Mitte CAT station, you can check into your flight: they tag your checked luggage and get it to the relevant airline and you don’t see it again until your final destination, plus you get your boarding passes. So, it’s much easier than at the airport. How cool is that?!

We used this twice on our last trip: once from Vienna to Slovakia; and once to London via Dusseldorf (me) and to Shanghai via Frankfurt (Rod) and it worked perfectly—luggage in London and Shanghai.

A single ticket per person is 12 euros and a return is 19 euros (children under 15 are free). This is a great price when compared to a taxi one-way, which can cost up to 50 euros depending on traffic.

Definitely recommended.

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Kosice, Slovakia: Smelly Cat café and bar, on Zvonarska cesta 6

One day, while strolling the side streets of Kosice, I came across a café with an intriguing name and accompanying logo: “Smelly Cat”.

Sign for the Smelly Cat

Sign for the Smelly Cat

Cover of the Smelly Cat menu

Cover of the Smelly Cat menu

“Why on earth a smelly cat?”  I wondered. Didn’t seem like a very appealing name. So, the next afternoon we went in for a coffee and asked the waitress. Turns out it’s taken from the NBC hit series, “Friends”, in which Lisa Kudrow played Phoebe Buffay. There’s a well-known song in the series, called “Smelly Cat”. The writers of the series penned the lyrics to the infamous song, but she came up with the tune.

Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat

What are they feeding you?

Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat

It’s not your fault……..(and many more verses)

Turns out, this fun café/bar is very popular, especially at night and especially with young folk. We ended up going there 3 times: once for coffee, once for a glass of wine and once for a bottle of wine and a snack, and really liked it each time.

Outside of the Smelly Cat one very cold afternoon

Outside of the Smelly Cat one very cold afternoon

 

Rod inside Smelly Cat early one evening

Rod inside Smelly Cat early one evening

Outside is painted bright yellow, and has seating with blankets for the cool evenings. Inside it’s cozy, with tables and chairs of different shapes and sizes, lots of framed photos of local people and bookshelves stuffed with books. There’s even a corner with a toy box for kids. There’s a good choice of local wines, beers, coffee drinks, cakes and savory snacks. The servers speak quite reasonable English and are very happy to advise on what to have. Prices are pretty reasonable. If you are ever in Kosice it’s definitely worthwhile seeking out this lively place.

Who would imagine that we’d find NBC “Friends” alive and well here in eastern Slovakia?

 

 

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