Category Archives: Europe

Farewell Europe

Frankfurt is my last stop in Europe as I catch a 12 hour flight to Cancun tomorrow. In this 1.5 month trip, I’ve visited England, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. So many beautiful places, fun people, and good times.

I will now spend 3 months in Mexico and Central America. I start in Cancun, and will finish in Panama City on February 15. As I’ve had snow here in Germany and Austria, I am looking forward to the warm weather, nice beaches, and outdoor adventures! It’ll be good times!

I’ve enjoyed my last days here in Frankfurt, and checked out the historic Romer with beautiful buildings and plaza. There is a lot of work going on now to prepare the Christmas Market. You’ll notice this in some of the photos. Another very interesting stop is the Staedel Museum – it has a vast collection of contemporary, modern, and ancient art. If you like art, this is a must!

Cheers to all my European friends. If you want to visit Canada and check out the Northern Lights (after February), give me a shout!

Cheers, Shawn

Salzburg – Salt Fortress!

Salzburg, Austria – what a fantastic town! You have a medieval fortress up on the hill, a picturesque river flowing by, hills to wander around, and the Alps in the background! What more could you ask for?

It’s nice to visit a smaller town and just wander around. The old town here is very beautiful, and is right next to the medieval Hohensalzburg Castle. It’s positioned on a high hill that towers over the town. The archbishop of Salzburg used to rule here until it became a part of Austria in 1805.

While meandering through the town, you can check out a large array of sights, including: churches, convents, monasteries, a palace, towers, etc. The Kapuzinerberg is a hill right next to Salzburg, where a Capuchin monastery is built. It’s a great area to hike and contemplate. You can even grab a beer once you reach the top at the restaurant. Well earned I say!

I couldn’t help but notice a bunch of political posters around the town. In December Austria will be having a presidential election. The two main contenders are: 1) a fairly moderate/liberal candidate who has affiliations with the Green Party, and 2) a “far right-wing” candidate who has taken a firm stand for Austrian independence and against immigration. Reminds me of another recent election. I wonder what direction Europe will take in the next few years… should be interesting.

I only have one more stop in Europe. Off to Frankfurt, and then west to Mexico!

Cheers, Shawn

P.S. You may wonder about the title – Salt Fortress. Back in the day salt was very important for food preservation, and the area around Salzburg had plenty of natural salt reserves. Given that the town has quite an impressive fortress, they named the town Salz (salt) burg (fortress). A good bit of trivia, eh?

Munich – Heart of Bavaria

I’ve been having fun in the active and historical capital of Bavaria, in southern Germany! I wandered around the old city yesterday, and checked out the Haus Der Kunst, an art museum from the post-war years. It’s a very expansive collection of contemporary art covering an array of topics and art expression. Some of it is a little far out, but overall I really enjoyed it!

I was checking out some parks and gardens, and came across one canal where people were surfing! Yes, they had wet suits and surf boards, and were riding on a wave generated from the canal. So random and cool! Check out the photo below.

Today was a bit rainy, but I still headed out to Nymphenburg Palace here in Munich. It’s quite a sprawling area, and includes a fantastic garden/park. I actually got lost and wandered around for over an hour. During these wanderings I came across a flock of Canadian Geese – made me feel right at home! I also stopped by the Pinakothek der Moderne, a massive collection of modern art. They had some very interesting pieces of Salvador Dali, a pretty imaginative surrealist painter.

Munich is a city that has something for everyone. It goes without saying that the nightlife here is fantastic, especially during Oktoberfest. There’s also all kinds of museums ranging from art, cars, history, etc. The parks and plazas are beautiful, and you can even go surfing!

It’s been a blast! Now I’m off to Salzburg, Austria for 3 days. Back to the mountains!

Cheers, Shawn

Switzerland – Chilling in the Mountains

Into the Alps and the beautiful nation of Switzerland! I arrived in Zürich 2 days ago, and have been loving it. Even though it’s crazy expensive, the city has such a beautiful location on the lake and is surrounded by mountains. It’s a lot of fun to walk around the old town and check out the cobblestone streets as they climb and wind up the hills. It has a uniqueness about it that is very different from other European cities, and I like it!

Today I made a day trip to Lucerne, a small town 45 minutes from Zürich. I have a bunch of photos below. Lucerne is such a picture perfect spot, arguably one of the most beautiful towns in the world! The murals, statues, churches, and lake/mountain setting is fantastic!

There’s a very unique monument in Lucerne – the Lion’s Monument. A mortally wounded lion has been carved into a massive rock. This represents the many Swiss soldiers that were slaughter by Napoleon back in the late 1700’s. A bit sombre, but very beautiful.

My brief visit to Switzerland is coming to an end, as I will be heading to Munich, Germany, tomorrow morning. It’s been a lot of fun!

Cheers, Shawn

Turin – Italy’s Northern Jewel

My last stop in Italy is the beautiful city of Turin. A fantastic thing here is that it feels like a real city – very few tourists! There are so many things to check out from the world-class Egyptian Museum, relaxing in the parks around the city, or taking a trip down memory lane in the Theatre/Cinema Museum.

Turin feels like a more authentic city, as it’s not geared so much to tourists. I really enjoyed wandering around the city and climbing the surrounding hills. There’s always a church or shrine to visit, along with great views of the area. The food is also very good and much cheaper than the more touristy areas.

The Egyptian Museum is an absolute must! The collection is amazing, and ranges from several Book of the Dead scrolls, mummies, statues of several gods/pharaohs, and even a 6000 year old beer jug! Very cool!

The Theatre/Cinema Museum was really interesting! It starts how cinema originated, and moves through the old classics with Marilyn Monroe to modern-day films with 3D effects. There’s a tower at this museum called the Mole Antonelliana, and you can catch the elevator with a panoramic view of the museum on the way up. You can wander around the museum and walk through all kinds of movie sets. By the end I felt I was actually in a movie!

Overall I had a great time. Now I head over the Alps to Zürich, Switzerland!

Cheers, Shawn

Milan – Fashion, Style, and Churches

No matter what Milan does, it’s done in style! From its many clothing lines, shopping malls, churches, or cemeteries, there’s nothing to match! My first impression after arising from the metro was the massive Duomo, Milan’s cathedral. It has 135 spires/pinnacles, and is the 2nd largest church in Italy. It is a true gothic church with pillars reaching to the sky! Check out the photos below.

I was surprised to find some very beautiful and huge parks in Milan. Take a stroll to the Sforza Castle, and wander through Sempione Park. While crossing the moat to the castle, there were several cats out and about. Maybe a good spot to catch the castle mice! They make pretty good guards!

Another interesting place to check out is the Monumental Cemetery a little north of the city. The metro stop goes right there. They don’t have headstones, they have mausoleums! Milanese even go out in style!

There are so many cool areas to check out from shopping malls, arches, Leonardo statues, etc. There seems to be something for everyone. I’ve enjoyed my time here, and will be making my way to Turin next – my last stop in Italy!

Cheers, Shawn

Ravenna – Stunning Mosaics!

Ravenna has a jaw-dropping collection of Roman religious mosaics! These date back to the year 430, and are located in the city’s ancient churches and baptisteries. To think that these amazing pieces of art are almost 1600 years old is stunning!

Many of the mosaics are on the roofs of baptisteries, most of which have a dome shape. One of the basilicas has mosaics on the roof and the walls of the church. Keep this in mind when you’re viewing the photos. To actually be there is amazing, and gives you a “full immersion” experience of art similar to the Sistine Chapel. When I was planning my time in northern Italy I was debating about going to Ravenna – I am sure glad that I went!

Most of the key sites are close by the train station, so it’s easy to see everything by walking. The town itself is very picturesque, especially with the great weather when I was there. From Bologna you can catch a train very easily that takes around 1.5 hours. Italian trains are very convenient and cheap!

My next destination is Milan. Onward to the north!

Cheers, Shawn

Bologna – Chill and Beautiful

Why go to Bologna? They have towers that are higher and lean more than Pisa, you enjoy fantastic mountain views, it is less busy and less touristy than neighbouring Florence, and you get to see the lecture hall where human bodies were dissected! So cool!

The “Two Towers” of Bologna are called Asinelli and Garisenda. Garisenda has such a significant lean that it is closed to the public. Asinelli is 318 feet high (97 meters), and climbs 498 steps high – and I was complaining about Pisa’s tower of 284! It only costs 2 or 3 euro to climb the tower and you get some fantastic views. A definite must if you’re in the city.

Later on I took a climb up to the shrine of Santuario Madonna di San Luca. It’s a good 1.5 hour climb up the hill with steep inclines and steps. Great views from the top! On my way back I was hoping to check out the Neptune Fountain in the city centre… but it was all scafolded up! I sort of got a look at Neptune’s head through the bars, but it wasn’t the same. Ah well, lots of other cool stuff to check out. You’ll also notice in my photos the facade of the Basilica of San Petronio – it’s not done yet! They started building this church back in 1390, but no one could figure out the facade… but the inside is really cool, so check it out!

There’s one more building that you have to check out – the Archiginnasio of Bologna. It used to be part of the university in Bologna, but now it houses the public library and a museum-like area including the Anatomical Theatre and the Stabat Mater lecture hall. The Anatomical Theatre has beautifully carved statues on the ceilings, and a large slab in the middle of the room. This is where human bodies were dissected for scientific research, with a crowd of students and faculty to watch. Sort of creepy, but fascinating!

The Stabat Mater lecture hall has a traditional decor and student insignias. Check out the photos below. In this same building is the public library – this has to be the coolest public library in the world! I also have a few photos from Siena below. I forgot to put them in my previous post, so here they are.

Overall, Bologna was a blast! If you’re in Italy, definitely spend a few days here.

Cheers, Shawn

Flawed Architecture – Pisa!

Today I hopped the train to check out a 650 year old botched building project! Sorta funny how it’s so cool because it’s a little off – kind of like people?

Even though this is a stereotypical tourist destination, Pisa is absolutely worth it. I really appreciate the fact that only 40 people are allowed in at a time, so that you’re not fighting through crazy crowds while climbing the tower. And a good climb it is at 296 steps – gets the blood pumping!

While out in Pisa, it’s worthwhile checking out the Cathedral and Baptistery. The Baptistery has a unique style in its circular shape and a blending of Romanesque/Gothic styles. What’s really crazy is that the Tower of Pisa and the Baptistery starting being built back in the 12th century, and the Cathedral in the 11th century. These are people back in the Dark Ages! Maybe they weren’t so dark after all…

As most of you know, I am staying in Florence for 4 nights, and made a day trip from Florence to Pisa. The train system in Italy is very slick and fairly cheap – perfect for backpacking. If you have an extra day in Florence, Pisa is definitely worth it.

You’ll notice a few photos from Florence – I thought I would throw them into this post. When I was in Florence 1 year ago, I made a post about the city. I won’t repeat everything from last year, but will give you the link. Here it is: Florence – Art, Beauty, and Class

Cheers, Shawn

Rome 2.0

I’ve really been enjoying my time in Rome so far. I checked out the Vatican Museum today, and am still amazed by the vast collection of frescoes, statues, and the Sistine Chapel. Such beauty, talent, and grace!

I was here almost 1 year ago, and it’s nice to really take in these amazing sights. I realize how fortunate I am to be here and observe the glories of human achievement. At the same time, many countries in Europe are so closely tied with their pasts that it inhibits their ability to deal with modern-day issues. For example, many European countries have a hard time dealing with their neighbours and addressing internal corruption problems. The UK has rejected the EU, and Rome’s newly elected mayor’s key election campaign was to stamp our organized/criminal corruption. Canada, meanwhile, carries on in a much more stable and prosperous path. I used to think that Canada’s “boring” politics/history was a bad thing… but now I better appreciate being from such an amazing country!

I also have to wade into current events here. The EU and Canada have been negotiating a free trade agreement, CETA, since 2008. Everything was finalized and was to be signed next week, but one region in Belgium seeks to veto the entire agreement! Unless Europe can salvage this agreement, the EU has lost all credibility on the international stage! Instead of the EU, Canada should pursue stronger relations with the UK once they are not gagged by the EU bloc.

Anyways… back to the travels. I could go on and on about the fantastic sites in Rome, but I would be repeating much of my blog post from one year ago. I’m going to cheat by putting in a link to my last year’s Rome post. I hope it’s not arrogant to link to my own content… in any case, here it is: Rome – Wonder and Awe

So much happened in the year since my last Rome post – I wonder where I’ll be 1 year from now. Your guess is as good as mine!

Cheers, Shawn