About Jonny Scott Blair
Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. His website Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.
Latest Posts by Jonny Scott Blair
“Damn my education, I can’t find the words to say for all the things
caught in my mind” – Noel Gallagher.
Kaliningrad was a magical place – it was to be my final travel venture before deciding to settle in Gdańsk in Poland. No need to cry.
“Shed a tear cos I’m missing you” – Guns’n’Roses.
An end of an era
I crossed the border from Poland to Kaliningrad and I was back on Russian soil for the first time in nine years. I ended up at the Ibis Hotel in Kaliningrad city centre for a night and later headed out into a residential neighbourhood to spend a couple of nights at the Crazy Dog.
Kaliningrad city is huge so you will need a few days to see the main attractions.
Ploschad Pobedy (Victory Square)
Cities like Minsk and Bishkek also have Victory Squares, and here, it is a sombre and relaxing place to hang out.
Upside Down House ( перевернутая комната), Yunost Park
My Polish friend Ola had shown me a photo of the crazy upside in Kaliningrad and so I had to find it — it’s based in Yunost Park.
Crazy Upside Down House ( перевернутая комната), Yunost Park – viewed from the Ferris Wheel
For 150 Rupees (£2) you can go inside and take some wacky photos taken to make it look like you are walking on the ceiling!
Crazy Upside Down House ( перевернутая комната), Yunost Park, Kaliningrad
Ferris Wheel, Yunost Park
It is rare for me to get into a Ferris Wheel on my travels because typically they are have long queues and are never worth the time.
The view itself was worth taking a ride for….
View of Kaliningrad from Ferris Wheel, Yunost Park
View of Kaliningrad from Ferris Wheel, Yunost Park
Historically speaking, the city used to be called Konigsberg and was protected by inner walls and outer walls. Many of the bastions, towers and walls still remain.
Wrangel Tower and city walls
Peace Lane (Пусть мир возобладал на земле), Yunost Park
Пусть мир возобладал на земле – Peace Lane
Grey Palace (Center for Development of Interpersonal Communication, Yunost Park)
Sometimes on my travels, I just admire buildings. You cannot help but notice charming buildings scattered throughout Kaliningrad. The Grey Palace (as I called it) is opposite the crazy house in Yunost Park. I discovered that it is used for the development of Interpersonal Communication.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
At the bottom of Victory Square, you can visit the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It’s a Russian Orthodox church with golden domes and green rooves. It is the largest church in the whole of the Kaliningrad region. The smaller building to the right is also a place for prayer and can house 3,000 people and it is 73 metres high.
House of Soviets
How I love buildings like this. The “House of Soviets” is a textbook Soviet Union era Lego Black building! The local people often refer to it as “buried robot” because its appearance resembles the head of a giant robot which is buried in the ground up to the shoulders. The chief architect was Yulian L. Shvartsbreim. It was built on the original territory of the Konigsberg Castle. Similarly to the crazy Ryuygong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, this building was never properly finished and now sits a bit lonely on your walk through the city!
Kaliningrad Regional Government Building
As Kaliningrad is an autonomous and geographically separated region of Russia, there is a regional government building here, but it’s not so obvious and I didn’t even see it the first time I walked past. This was originally used at the financial administration of the East Prussia region, which ended its existence in 1945.
Frederick Schiller Monument
The monument by Cauer is an important part of Kaliningrad history. According to legend, after the assault on Konigsberg an unknown Russian soldier wrote on it “don’t shoot. He is a proletarian poet”, and as a result the monument remained intact.
Fighting Bisons Sculpture
The sculpture by August Gaul was presented to the city in 1912 and became one of the symbols. Konigsberg citizens once called the two bisons “Prosecutor” and “Advocate” as it sits outside the courts.
On Lenin Boulevard sits a statue of the man himself. I visited the city 99 years after the Revolutions of 1917! I do draw some comparisons between Bishkek and Kaliningrad in fact and the fact that both have a Lenin statue is one of them. I still dream of visiting Ulan Ude to see the world’s biggest Lenin head.
One of my loves of touring ex Soviet Union states is about the architecture in their theatres. This one is not dissimilar to the theatre in Tiraspol in Transnistria.
Oktyabrskaya Street (Fishing Village)
The English name of this place as a Fishing Village confused me somewhat, as it’s not really a fishing village but a street with a lighthouse by the river and with some nice buildings, coffee shops and a bridge with locks on it.
Oktyabrskaya Street (Fishing Village)
Kaliningrad reminded me a bit of Stockholm as it is a city with lots of rivers and lakes within it. The one nearest my hostel was a huge lake – Nizhnee Lake. Again it’s good for strolls and very peaceful. Locals tend to go jogging here.
Queen Louise Church
Another church on the list and worth checking out is the Queen Louise Church – this is now used as a puppet theatre and while you are here, you can also enjoy the leafy central park of culture and leisure. Within the park is a House of Artists and some statues of famous people from Kaliningrad.
Park Pobedy (Victory Park)
Victory Park is different from Victory Square, and just a 10 minute walk down towards the river. It is known as Park Pobedy and also features an eternal flame for the unknown soldiers. It is a war memorial for the Second World War.
Konigsberg Cathedral and Imannuel Kant Museum
Head over to Kant island and check out all the sights here. It is mainly the large Konigsberg Catherdal, which also houses the tomb of Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest philosophers.
Commemorative Token to Countrymen Cosmonauts
The Soviet Union was massive on space exploration back in the days of Yuri Gagarin and the Cold War and moon race with the Untied States. Kaliningrad played its part here too – Aleksey Leonov, Viktor Patsaev and Yuriy Romanenko all hail from the city. There’s a cool monument to mark this on Prospekt Mira Street.
First World War Monument in Kaliningrad City
Kaliningrad was the only part of Russia that experienced the First World War (or the ‘Great’ War) and as such a monument is here to remember those who died in the Battle of Kaliningrad.
Kutuzova Street District
Visit the famous old district of Kaliningrad, Kutuzova Street. Although there’s not much to do or see here, it is very lush and green.
One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, and certainly a bucket list adventure, the Great Barrier Reef is one of those places that you must see if you are on holiday in Australia. The best way to access the Great Barrier Reef is by taking excursions out from one of the five major port cities along the Queensland coast adjacent to the reef.
The five major port cities are Port Douglas, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, and Rockhampton. Each of these 5 major port cities on the Great Barrier Reef have something quite different to offer, but all include amazing adventures in nature along Australia’s natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef as well as plenty in the way of boat, dividing, and fishing charters and things to do on land, accommodations, restaurants, and more.
For our journey down the Queensland coast, we will start at the top in the Far North of Queensland. Port Douglas is the northernmost major port city to the Great Barrier Reef. Especially if you are visiting from the northern hemisphere, it is important to know that the further north you go, the warmer and more tropical it gets. From Port Douglas, you can take a charter out to the Low Isles, two islands located 15 km off shore where snorkelling, SCUBA and sailing are quite popular since the clear waters there are filled with coral, marine life, and especially turtles. It makes for a great day trip.
Heron Island is also a popular Great Barrier Reef destination from Port Douglas. There are only a handful of islands on the Great Barrier Reef where you can spend the night and Heron Island is one of them. While there, you can snorkel, relax on the beach, and enjoy being surrounded by beauty and nature. While on land in Port Douglas, you should visit Mossman Gorge, the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Daintree Rainforest is a must see. It is the oldest and largest contiguous tropical rainforest left in the world. It is thought to be 140 million years old and has more biodiversity per square metre than anywhere else on the planet.
Cairns is just about an hour south of Port Douglas and still considered northern Queensland. Cairns is one of the most popular places for visitors on holiday. It is home to some of the best dividing on the Great Barrier Reef. There are many different daily charters that host dives out on some of the best places on the reef. Just as the Daintree Rainforest is a must see for visitors to Port Douglas, the Kuranda Rainforest is a must see spot for visitors to Cairns.
The lush tropical rainforest can be explored under the canopy on foot or above from the scenic railway or scenic skyway. In addition to the Kuranda Rainforest, there are quite a lot of places to visit on land in Cairns including Barron Gorge National Park, Paronella Park, the Cairns Zoo, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure Park, Chillagoe Caves, Tjapukai Cultural Park, or go white water rafting or horseback riding.
Sunrise at Point Danger
Heading further south down the Queensland coast, the next stop is Townsville, which is about 350 km south of Cairns. This is the central region of the Great Barrier Reef but is still a very tropical climate. You can expect some good steak dinners in Townsville as it is the beef capital of Australia. Off the coast of Townsville are several different islands that allow you to enjoy everything the Great Barrier Reef has to offer. These islands near Townsville include Magnetic Island, Hinchinbrook Island, Orpheus Island and Great Palm Island. On land in Townsville and surrounds, you can visit the Billabong Sanctuary, the Museum of Tropical Queensland, Reef HQ Aquarium, or hike Castle Hill. In addition to those attractions, there are several national parks nearby like Bowling Green National Park, Paluma Range National Park, Girringun National Park, Koombooloomba National Park, and Wooroonooran National Park.
Mackay is a very popular holiday destination. This city is located less than 400 km south of Townsville. Mackay is the port city that is closest to the well-known Whitsunday Islands close to the southern section of the Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsundays are the world’s largest archipelago, made up of 74 islands and cays. The beaches on these islands are some of the purest white sand beaches in the entire world. The picturesque scenery with the contrast of the bright turquoise Coral Sea is something to behold.
The Whitsundays have some island resorts where you can stay overnight and also some spots just for some relaxing day trips to commune with nature, the sea turtles, and the rest of the marine life here in the waters surrounding the islands and cays. On land, you have even more sights to see including the Pioneer Valley with a rich colonial history, Eungella National Park where you can see platypus in their natural environment, and Hillsborough National Park, right on the coastline with protected beaches to savor.
Our last stop is the southernmost port on the Great Barrier Reef and that is Rockhampton, 335 km south of Mackay. In this port city, you are a short boat ride away from Great Keppel Island, the Keppel Bay Islands National Park, Curtis Island National Park, in addition to some popular dive spots. When on land in Rockhampton, you can enjoy fresh water sailing on the Fitzroy River or visit the Capricorn Caves in Mt Archer National park. No matter which city you visit, always try to take an Aboriginal tour to learn about the culture and history of each region.
Here are five classic romantic stops for your Venice bucket list. Truth be told friends, this is not off the beaten path, but they are traditional sites in Venice that you must experience, particularly if it’s your first time. For second and third times and beyond, it’s a bit like Paris that way – who doesn’t love a gondola ride and the architecture of St. Mark’s Church? For romantic moments, take in the experience very deeply in each and every spot.
Getting a gondola will remain a highlight from my time in Venice — it is for a lot of people as it has such a long lasting memory. It’s beautiful, romantic and unique — imagine sailing down the fantastic grand canal, a must do regardless of how touristy it is to do. This is the famous one, though admittedly some of the smaller canals also have their charm. The Canal Grande snakes through the city of Venice in a large S shape, traveling from the Saint Mark Basin on one end to a lagoon near the Santa Lucia rail station on the other. This ancient waterway measures 2.36 long and ranges from 100-300 feet wide. In most places, the canal is approximately 16 feet deep.
Photo credit: helenbbrowngroup.com.
The canal is an ancient waterway, lined with buildings – about 170 in all – that were mostly built from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Most were constructed by wealthy Venetian families at the time. Foot traffic gathers around three famous bridges that cross the canal: the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte Degli Scalzi, and the Ponte dell’Accademia. A fourth, modern (and controversial) bridge was recently added not far from the Scalzi bridge: the Calatrava Bridge. It is believed that the Grand Canal follows the course of an ancient river. One of the first settlements in the area grew along the canal around the area of the Rialto. By the tenth century, it was a center for trade and a safe, ship-accessible port. Because of this, some of the earliest houses along the canal belonged to merchants who did their business on the seas. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, homes along the canal became much more ornate and often included Byzantine-style decoration like elongated arches and large loggias. Today, it is as busy as ever and despite how crowded it is, it’s magical nevertheless – best advice is to go off season to avoid the crowds.
Noemi and I loved Lido beach — it’s a simple boat crossing to get to it and then a short walk down to the golden sands and strip. This beach also helps you escape the vibe and character of the normal Venice we all know. The Lido, or Venice Lido, is an 11-kilometre long sandbar in Venice and houses about 20,000 residents. Also worth noting is that the Venice Film Festival takes place at the Lido every September.
While it is in theory, an island, locals simply refer to it as ‘the Lido’. It is the narrow strip of land which separates the central part of the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Once just a natural barrier, the Lido is now Venice’s seaside. It’s also the origin of the word ‘lido’ as used in the English-speaking world to describe bathing establishments. It was developed as a seaside resort at the beginning of the twentieth century, and has been popular for beach holidays ever since.
The Lido is Venice, yet not Venice. For residents, it’s a compromise between the practical mainland and the historic city. The atmosphere on the Lido is very different from Venice: there are leafy residential avenues, roads, cars, cyclists and pavements. Out of season it feels ‘normal’, with reasonably-priced shops and restaurants, and locals taking their children for walks. There are lovely views over the lagoon to Venice, and in winter and spring you may be lucky enough, on a clear day, to see the snow-capped summits of the Dolomites behind the city’s towers and rooftops. As summer approaches the big hotels open for the season, streams of beach-goers cross from the lagoon, and there are ice-cream shops on every corner.
Although there is a church with ancient origins on the island, the Lido doesn’t appear much in the history of Venice. Geographically it was a crucial part of the lagoon system which protected Venice, but the Venetians left the island as a long sandy bar, useful for anchoring ships and quartering armies. It is possible that the Lido once had greater significance: traditionally the original chief settlement of the lagoon was Malamocco. A modern settlement of that name sits on the southern part of the Lido, but hazy historical traditions suggest that the original Malamocco was lost to the sea, perhaps even being an Adriatic island.
The most important historical monument that is actually visible is in the north of the island, facing over the lagoon. This is the Chiesa di San Nicolò di Lido. Historically this was an important church. It dates to the eleventh century, and for some time the Venetians claimed it housed the body of St. Nicholas, attempting to ignore the much stronger claims of the people of Bari. It’s rather disappointing nowadays, although it comes alive once a year for the annual Festa della Sensa, a symbolic marriage ceremony between Venice and the waters.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org.
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco aka St. Mark’s Square, is the principal public square of Venice, Italy, where it is generally known just as “the Piazza”. All other urban spaces in the city are called “campi” St. Mark’s Square is essentially Venice on parade, where everyone comes to see and be seen, and of course feed pigeons. This has been the epicenter of the city since the early days of the Republic, when it was a market as well as the center of civic and religious life. Considered one of the finest squares in the world and certainly Venice’s prime attraction, it is surrounded on three sides by the stately arcades of public buildings and on the fourth, by Basilica di San Marco’s riot of domes and arches and the soaring campanile. No obstruction mars its vast stone-paved expanse, where the only traffic is Venetians, tourists, and the zillions of pigeons.
There is excellent music in the cafes nearby, a tres romantic spot for a glass of beer, wine of coffee — a beautiful spot for sunrise or sunset too and for that special kiss.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. It is the oldest bridge across the canal, and was the dividing line for the districts of San Marco and San Polo. It’s the city’s most famous of the bridges that cross the Grand Canal (the other two are the Accademia Bridge and the Scalzi). In this area, which originally housed the food market, there has always been a canal crossing, at first, a simple bridge of boats, and later areal wooden bridge, made from two inclined ramps with a mobile section in the middle, in order to allow the passage of ships. The current Rialto Bridge, a stone arch, was constructed under the supervision of Antonio da Ponte, between 1588 and 1591. When Venice was a marine power, that navigated and traded throughout a good part of the modern world, big cargo ships coming from many other countries stopped here in order to unload and sell their merchandise wholesale. Here gathered Venetians, with silk and spices from the Orient, traders from Lombardy and Florence who offered work in metal and textiles, together with Germans and many others coming from other parts of Italy and from across the Alps.
The bridge has three walkways: two along the outer balustrades, and a wider central walkway leading between two rows of small shops that sell jewelry, linens, Murano glass, and other items for the tourist trade. (Warning: The bridge consists primarily of steps, making it a challenge for tourists with strollers or wheelchairs.)
Over the centuries, the Ponte di Rialto has earned both praise and scorn from critics. Consider this description from Ian Littlewood’s Venice: A Literary Companion:
“The bridge of the Rialto has had a mixed press. In the judgement of the Venetians, says Moryson, it ‘deserves to be reputed the eighth miracle of the world.’ Coryate, while deploring the ‘vicious and licentious varlets’ who worked the traghetto underneath it, was in agreement–’the fairest bridge by many degrees for one arch that ever I saw, or heard of.’ But then both Moryson and Coryate were there within a few years of the bridge’s completion. Others have since been less charitable, condemning it as top-heavy and ungraceful. The dispute is academic. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Rialto has acquired a symbolic status that puts it well beyond the reach of aesthetic judgments.”
St. Mark’s Basilica
No visit to southern Europe is complete without checking out a church or cathedral and Italy certainly has no shortage of them. In one of the most Catholic countries in the world, St. Mark’s Basilica is a masterpiece that deserves to be toured. The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy. It is the most famous of the city’s churches and one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. To build St. Mark’s Church, Venice brought the spiritual and material heritage of Byzantium to the West. The Greek cross plan stands on a structure which in the longitudinal nave has basilica architectural motifs: the vertical arm of the cross is greater than those of the transepts and the altar is in the apse area. Above the cross are five cupolas, according to the eastern model, as a symbol of God’s presence. Organisation of the space is rich in evocations that are not found in other Byzantine churches. The interior has a unitary sequence subdivided into individual spatial orchestrations to which gold background mosaics ensure continuity and the church’s special way of being.
Also, don’t forget if you visit Venice, you are also close to Italian gems like Trieste (on the Slovenia border), Rimini and San Marino.
Let’s face it — India can be overwhelming and chaotic as much as it can be beautiful and awe-inspiring. India is a test of your travel adrenalin and at the same time, one of the most beautiful destinations to visit in Asia. New Delhi is one of its massive cities that you can’t miss and is full of significant history. There is so much to see and do, that it can be daunting to choose if you have a short period of time. Here are five top places to hit when you’re in New Delhi, all of which will be a marvel for the architecture, historical buffs, photography lovers and culture enthusiast readers.
Chandni Chowk & Other Market Gems
To really get the feel of what old India would have been like, then put some time aside to visit the historic Chandi Chowk market located in the heart of old Delhi. The Chandi Chowk is till today one of the busiest open air markets in New Delhi and is close to a lot of beautiful temples and monuments, making it a great place to start your journey through New Delhi. If you’re feeling really adventurous then you should try some of the well-known local delicacies for sale. Chandni Chowk is one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi and is located close to Old Delhi Railway Station. The Chhatta Chowk Bazaar, which dates back to the 17th century, was meant for ladies in veil. In this covered thoroughfare leading up to the Red Fort, the caravan traders would lay out their wares and move away. The ladies could then come and make their choice without being observed. Today, the market has 40-odd shops selling artificial and semi-precious jewellery, embroidered bags, hand-painted wall hangings and ‘antiques’ with dubious authenticity.
This densely populated market has been around for more than three centuries and was once visited by merchants from Turkey, China and even Holland. Dariba Kalan is known for its pearl, gold and silver jewellery and attar (natural perfumes). Gulab Singh Johri Mal, established in 1819, are well-known manufacturers and exporters of attar. A visit to Khari Baoli is a must for the spice-lover — don’t forget spices are what connected India to the West. Kinari Bazaar is the best place to look for zari and zardozi trimmings and tinsel. The cloth bazaar of Katra Neel offers all kinds of fabrics such as silks, satin, crepe, cotton and muslin. Bhagirath Palace is Asia’s largest market for electrical goods and also offers medical equipment and allopathic medicines. Moti Bazaar is famous for shawls and pearls and Tilak Bazaar for chemicals. Nai Sarak: A popular book-shopping destination in Old Delhi is Nai Sarak. Connecting the main Chandni Chowk Road with Chawri Bazaar, Nai Sarak has numerous wholesale and retail shops selling college and school textbooks. Just a left turn from the famous Paranthewali Gali will take you to Nai Sarak. Chor Bazaar: Located near the Red Fort and Lajpat Rai Market, Chor Bazaar literally means “Thieves’ Market”. From electronic items to designer clothes, you can find everything here.
Another word to note: the Red Fort monument which is also on this list, is located within the Chandni Chowk.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org.
Arguably one of the most famous places to visit in the area, the Red Fort is a testament to the medieval Indian engineers’ design capabilities. The name comes from the red sandstone that the enclosing walls are constructed from, and has been and is still is today the site of important events in the Indian history. If you have some time while visiting, make sure to check the one hour sound and light show that recounts some of the fort’s colorful history. The Red Fort was the residence of the Mughal emperor for nearly 200 years, until 1857. It is located in the center of Delhi and houses a number of museums as well.
It is definitely worth a meander and spending time to reflect and feel the history and all that it represents and has represented for Indian culture.
Photo credit: www.aliengrove.com
What I love most about the Red Fort is the way the light hits it during different times of day!!
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org.
The Lotus Temple
The Lotus Temple is a Bahá’í House of Worship that was completed in 1986. Notable for its flowerlike shape, it serves as the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent and has become a prominent attraction in the city. East of Nehru place, this temple is built in the shape of a lotus flower and is the last of seven Major Bahai’s temples built around the world. This beautiful piece of architecture is set among the lush green landscaped gardens and the structure is made up of pure white marble.
The Lotus Temple derives its name from its design. Like every other Bahāʾīmashriq, it is characterized by a nine-sided construction, in keeping with the Bahāʾī belief in the mystical properties of the number nine. Set on an elevated plinth in a 26-acre expanse of landscaped gardens and surrounded by nine pools bordered by red sandstone walkways, the white marble edifice rises to a height of more than 130 feet. The temple complex comprises 27 independent marble “petals,” which are clustered into groups of three to form nine sides (through which open nine entrances into a central space) and into groups of nine to form three concentric rings. Petals in the first ring face outward, forming canopies over the nine entrances. The second ring covers the outer hall. In the innermost ring, the petals curve inward to partially enclose the central prayer hall, which accommodates about 2,500 people. The top of the structure appears open but actually contains a glass-and-steel roof that admits natural daylight. The overall effect is that of a floating lotus flower—a Bahāʾī symbol of purity, beauty, and divinity—on the verge of blooming and surrounded by its leaves.
The architect Furiburz Sabha chose the lotus as the symbol common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. Adherents of any faith are free to visit the temple and pray or meditate. Around the blooming petals, the nine pools of water light up in natural light. It looks spectacular at dusk when it is flood lit and of course at night when it almost seems as if it is glowing in the dark.
Photo credit: wikipedia.org.
A lot of people say that the Humayan’s Tomb looks very familiar when they see it and that is because the Humayun’s Tomb was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Beyond that, the tomb was built in 1570 and marked the first successful execution of this type of architecture that using red sandstone as its primary component. Humayun’s tomb is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun and was commissioned by Humayun’s son Akbar in 1569-70, and designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect chosen by Bega Begum. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal. The mausoleum itself stands on a high, wide terraced platform with two bay deep vaulted cells on all four sides. It has an irregular octagon plan with four long sides and chamfered edges. It is surmounted by a 42.5 meters high double dome clad with marble flanked by pillared kiosks (chhatris) and the domes of the central chhatris are adorned with glazed ceramic tiles. The middle of each side is deeply recessed by large arched vaults with a series of smaller ones set into the facade.
Located in the eastern part of Dehli, Humayun’s tomb is one of the best preserved Mughal monuments. This spellbinding mausoleum is the first example of Mughal architecture in India. This building is the unique connecting link between the Gur Emir, where Humayun’s ancestor Tamerlane is buried, and the mausoleum of his grandson Shah Jahan, i.e. Taj Mahal.
Humayun’s Tomb was built thanks to the initiative of his widow Hamida Banu Begum, who commenced the construction of a mausoleum for her deceased husband in 1565, nine years after his death. The construction was finished in 1572. The architecture of the tomb is strongly influenced by Persian architecture; the architect himself Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, was of Persian origin. Ghiyas constructed the tomb in the center of a Persian-style chaharbagh garden (translated from Farsi – four gardens) with quadrilateral form. The garden, divided in four main parts by walkways or flowing water is created to resemble the paradise garden described in the Quran. This structure is oh so stunning, is on the U NESCO World Heritage List, and is a wonderful place to spend a day.
Photo credit: www.travelkhana.com
This 73 meter high tower is the second tallest minar in India. It’s truly an awe-inspiring sight to see. Qutab Minar was built in 1193 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom. The tower has five distinct storeys, each marked by a projecting balcony and tapers from a 15 m diameter at the base to just 2.5 m at the top. The first three storeys are made of red sandstone; the fourth and fifth storeys are of marble and sandstone. At the foot of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India. An inscription over its eastern gate provocatively informs that it was built with material obtained from demolishing ’27 Hindu temples and a 7 meter high iron pillar stands in the courtyard of the mosque. It is said that if you can encircle it with your hands while standing with your back to it your wish will be fulfilled.
The origins of Qutab Minar are shrouded in controversy. Some believe it was erected as a tower of victory to signify the beginning of the Muslim rule in India. Others say it served as a minaret to the muezzins to call the faithful to prayer. No one can, however, dispute that the tower is not only one of the finest monuments in India, but also in the world. Qutab-ud-din Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, commenced the construction of the Qutab Minar in 1200 AD, but could only finish the basement. His successor, Iltutmush, added three more storeys, and in 1368, Firoz Shah Tughlak constructed the fifth and the last storey.The development of architectural styles from Aibak to Tughlak is quite evident in the minar. The relief work and even the materials used for construction differ. The 238 feet Qutab Minar is 47 feet at the base and tapers to nine feet at the apex. The tower is ornamented by bands of inscriptions and by four projecting balconies supported by elaborately decorated brackets. Even though in ruins, the Quwwat Ui Islam (Light of Islam) Mosque in the Qutab complex is one of the most magnificent structures in the world. The main mosque comprises of an inner and outer courtyard,decorated with shafts and surrounded by piller. Most of these shafts are from the 27 Hindu temples, which were plundered to construct the mosque. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Muslim mosque has typical Hindu ornamentation. There is so much WOW here!
Photo credit: www.thousandwonders.net
Below, just look at the intricacy of the Arabic characters close up — this is every historians, language guru and lover and architecture’s dream stop.
Photo credit: Caught my Sight.com.
For those who have never heard of Starogard Gdański, it’s a town in Eastern Pomerania in northwestern Poland with just under 50,000 inhabitants. Starogard is the capital and second biggest city (after Tczew) of the region called Kociewie and is populated by Kocievians.
Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org
After my time in the beautiful city of Gdańsk, I knew it wasn’t quite off the wall enough for me, so I took two side trips – first to Gdynia for a food tour and then to visit the sand dunes at Slowinski National Park. I felt that I needed another Polish city with less tourists and a whole lotta charm and Starogard certainly fits the bill.
I didn’t know much about Starogard Gdański so it was a real treat to visit without expectations: I absolutely love this charming town.
To get to Starogard Gdański from the city of Gdańsk, you can get a car or go by bus or train and it generally takes a little over an hour to get there from Gdańsk Główny.
In Starogard Gdański, I stayed at the Noclegi Rekord, which is a very old hotel, however there are not that many options. It is connected to the sports stadium and club and includes breakfast and WiFi. It also has a mini football museum, which is a quirky feature. It is fairly central making it easy to get to the attractions you’d likely want to see. Starogard Gdański is inland but has the Wierzyca River flowing through it. For me, the town has a beautiful name and it was a sentimental enchanting journey here.
Starogard Gdański reminded me a bit of my home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland and interestingly enough, I later discovered that it is twinned with Limerick in the Republic of Ireland! The name Starogard means “old city” or “old stronghold” in the Pomeranian language. I have been to lots of cities and towns with a similar name – even Machu Picchu translates as “old mountain” and weirdly again, my birth town is the opposite – its name is Newtownards – the “new town in Ards”. The reason they added the word Gdański in the 20th century is because Gdańsk is the largest nearby city, therefore this differentiates Starogard Gdański from other cities also known as Starogard. Literally, as someone learning Polish this translates as the Starogard of Gdańsk.
What is there to do in this off the wall Polish gem?
Rynek (Main Square/Market Square)
The Rynek is of course the main square and heart of this town. Around the Rynek are some cool bars, cafes and shops as well as two churches and the Ratusz – the Town Hall. Allegedly, the Town Hall is connected to dungeons and subterranean ways behind the city wall. There’s a little mystery in the air here!
The River Wierzyca runs through Starogard Gdański and you have many options to cross the river. There are lots of bridges and canals. Noclegi Rekord is on a mini island in the city and you can go canoeing on the canals or jogging in leafy parks alongside the river.
Leafy parks by the river
Kościół sw Katarzyny (St. Catherine’s Church)
This is easily the most distinctive church in Starogard Gdański, right on the corner by the Rynek and appearing in most photographs to promote the town. The city centre has a holy and pleasant feel and this church gives the place a real peace. It was quite soothing walking past this one every day.
At a guess, I’d say it’s also the highest building in the city.
Parafia Rzymskokatolicka św. Mateusza (St. Matthew’s Church)
The Oldest Church in Starogard Gdański is St. Matthews. Inside it has a huge mural and outside, there are a few plaques. The Gothic features decorate from outside the inner forms, with baroque furnishings inside. It is considered to be the most valuable monument of medieval architecture in the town.
Parafia Rzymskokatolicka św. Mateusza (St. Matthew’s Church)
Ratusz (Town Hall)
The Town Hall is of yellow paint and red brick and distinctive in the heart of the Rynek. On the gable flies a flag of 1339, the year when Starogard got its coat of arms.
Urząd Miasta (City Hall)
Confusing? The odd thing about the name Urząd Miasta is that it means “City Hall” rather than Town Hall and yet there is already a Town Hall in the Rynek. This building is bigger and about 7-8 minutes walk north from the Rynek.
Although it’s no longer open, it’s stunning to look at from the outside.Built by Franz Wichert in the 19th century, it is an eclectic villa with a huge entrance arch and five statues at the front. It is also one of the sights on Starogard Gdanski’s tourist trail (all of which I “ticked off” of course).
Baszta Gdanska (Gdansk Bastion)
You could be forgiven for walking past this and missing it. It is a relic of gothic architecture from 1325 and was a strong defense point for the old city. Today the bastion defends and presents the treasures in the museum next door.
Muzeum Ziemi Kociewskiej
This museum (next door to the Bastion) gives you the history of the region Kociewie, an ethnocultural region in the eastern part of Tuchola Forest. Check out the webpages at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kociewie and http://www.muzeum-kociewie.gda.pl/historia/historia.htm
Muzeum Ziemi Kociewskie
Buildings with character are notable on your walk through the city. This one, the Sąd Rejonowy is the district court house. It’s on the tourist trail as well and worth checking out.
There are quite a few War Memorials in Starogard Gdanski so it’s worth seeing them.
For some brilliant ice cream and waffles, head to Słodka Dziupla, which has tables by the river in an idyllic setting.
Beer Garden in Rynek
Perhaps this was a summer line only, but I was able to relax on deck chairs in a mock beach, sip beer and listen to live music in the square.
With the meaning “Wardrobe Cafe”, this is a cosy place to relax and drink coffee. It’s only a few minutes walk from the Rynek and also has WiFi, good food and serves wine.
Parafia Rzymskokatolicka św. Wojciecha (Wojciech’s Church)
This church is south of the town centre and a leisurely dander through a park which also features a statue of Pope John Paul. I mistook this for a Russian Orthodox Church at first due to the shape, but it’s definitely a Roman Catholic Church. Here are some more photos of Starogard Gdański.
Truth be told, Poland continues to excite, entice and inspire me. After three weeks, I decided to head to the forests of Poland, specifically Slosinski National Park by the Baltic Sea near Łeba in Pomerania. Słowiński National Park is a national park in Pomeranian Voivodeship in the north and is situated on the Baltic coast, between Łeba and Rowy. The northern boundary of the park consists of 32.5 kilometres of coastline and beautiful is an understatement.
Photo credit: festiwalsztukifotoreportazu.org
The movement of the dunes uncovers dead tree stumps – fossilized remains of an ancient forest buried underneath. The lakes of Łebsko and Gardno are an important refuge for aquatic birds. Various plant colonies in the Słowiński National Park are of special interest. They range from the dune and pioneer plant species on the sandy beaches to the typical coastal pinewood and marsh plants in the numerous peat bogs and on the lakeshores. The park is inhabited by a number of rare bird species including the white tailed eagle, the eagle owl, cormorant, the black stork, and many species of aquatic birds. Also worth noting is that the park is entered in the UNESCO list of World Biosphere Reserves and is also under the protection of the RAMSAR International Convention.
Photo Credit: HDWallpaperup.com.
Getting to Łeba – Gdańsk to Gdynia
To get to Łeba, we decided to go by train from Gdańsk where the day began. First, we went to Gdańsk Glowny to grab a local train to Gdynia which as astonishing as it sounds, cost under 1 Euro and they run every 15 – 20 minutes during the day. We had about an 8 minute wait and then boarded for Gdynia Glowna – extremely seamless overall.
From there, it’s an easy train ride to Leba after a change of platforms – rather than take a local train, you’ll board the longer Inter City trains. From Gdynia to Łeba, the train took around two hours.
The Słowiński National Park is around 40 kilometres from Łeba so the best option is to hire bicycles for the day or rent a car.
The Forest at Słowiński National Park
Cycle through the Forest for a few hours as it’s truly beautiful and a natural wonderland — dense woods and open space combined along decent cycle paths. Because you’re on a peninsula, there are views to both sides – on your right is the Baltic Sea and on the left, a large lake.
The Forest at Słowiński National Park
After exploring the Forest, I’d recommend exploring the sand dunes, which has plenty of trees and grass. and breathtaking views.
The peninsula at Słowiński National Park
The Forest and dunes at Słowiński National Park
The Sand Dunes at Słowiński National Park
You can only cycle up to a certain point and then you’ll walk to the dunes or get a cart.
The beach is non-commercial which is lovely. In other words, no bars, no restaurants, no touristy shops. The beach is in its purest form so there’s plenty of time to take in the serenity and tranquility of the Baltic Sea before you, which you can also experience in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania among other countries.
The Beach and the Baltic Sea at Słowiński National Park
Two thumbs up on this spectacular trip!
Photo credit: www.dvo.com. (Not on the tour but a classic Polish dish)
My fourth visit to Poland took me on an exciting new adventure that I concocted in my mind during a history lesson at Ards Tech in Northern Ireland. You see, I remembered the “Free city of Danzig” (once an autonomous region protected by the League of Nations), it wasn’t part of Poland, it wasn’t part of Germany and it wasn’t part of Russia from 1920 – 1939. It was its own wee off the wall micronation if you like. Here, in 2016 however, the city, now called Gdansk is of course part of Poland and the country’s main seaport. It also is home to some great food delicacies!
It wasn’t the history of Gdansk and touring the sights that left me hanging, however but the delicious Polish food. Not actually in Gdansk itself, but slightly north in Gdynia. I went on a Food Tour with Eat Polska. The tours are limited to just 6 people to make the most of the experience and get a detailed understanding of Polish food and culture. You can do the tours in Gdansk, Krakow or Warsaw. Strangely, I’ve now been to all three cities but this was my first time to team up with Eat Polska. Below are the stops we made on the tour:
We start off in the local Gdynia Market, a very local place and visit various stalls with Daniel, our guide, explaining the history of each place along the way.
In the fish section, Daniel makes us aware that seafood will be offered on many of the foodie stops.
Onion Honey Syrup, which is apparently great if you get sick.
Market Meat at Hala Targowz
Our first food stop in the market is to sample some Polish cold meat. It is a local shop with a good range of smoked, peppered and spiced meats, mostly pork. Here, we tasted Kabanosy long sausage and a type of sliced meat, which is popular in both Lithuania and Poland.
Our selection of Market Meat in Gdynia
The Cold cuts selection: kindziuk (smoked and dried pork sausage), kiełbasa myśliwska (hunter’s pork sausage with juniper), kabanos (thin, finger-shaped pork sausage), szynka (pork ham) and schab (pork tenderloin).
Gadus Fishmonger – Delikatesy Rybne
We head to another market called Gadus Delikatesy Rybne where we dive into some fish dishes. Oh so delicious – here, we taste a few balls of cod, fresh herring and a herring in a special sauce.
Two of our samples in Gadus Fishmonger: Cod meatballs, marinated herring with sour cream, onions and apple, marinated herring with chili peppers.
Stuczka (The Trick)
We then head to one of the most recommended restaurants in Gdynia, Stuczka and apparently recognized by Gault and Millau as one of the best restaurants in Poland. It’s easy to see why. Michelin Star restaurants guides have only included two Polish restaurants which are in Krakow and Warsaw, so this is the best it gets in Gdynia.
Here, our treat is three different soups. First, pickled cucumber cream with beef and natural yoghurt. Oh so yum!
Next up is Beetroot soup with Gorgonzola cheese!!
And lastly, a basic but delicious Minestrone Soup.
Polish people love their soups and is why they included three on the food tour. And this is only the warm up.
GDY 50 Boat Restaurant
We then get headed over to the harbour side part of Gdynia where we sampled fish on a fishing boat called GDY 50, which has been converted to a restaurant spanning two floors.
In true Polish style, we had vodka shots with battered fish.
We took a stroll along the harbour before heading back into the city centre while listening to interesting anecdotes and stories. Daniel backs these up with photos, including photos of Old Gdynia, which was just a tiny village back in 1920.
Touring Gdynia harbour
Cyganeria – Kawairnia Artystyczna (Artists Cafe)
Of all the venues we explored on the tour, the artists cafe was the most charming. The official name of this place is Cyganeria – Kawairnia Artystyczna, which was once famous for attracting local artists to paint, draw, write, create, produce and dream.
The interior design is exquisite and the ambiance perfect for our Fried Herring with radish, potatoes, onion, lettuce and vinaigrette.
The fried herring above and below, Pork cheek, potato, carrot, beans and onions.
Marinated and fried herring with potatoes and sour cream coated “butter” lettuce and Pork chick with potatoes and mustard seeds puree.
The cafe Delicije (Delicious) is the last point of the tour, which is an old school cafe which was also here during communist times and retains the original decor inside. We head upstairs and alas, it’s dessert time. This is a great place for sweets and coffees! Here we taste scrumptious homemade Makowi, a cake made from poppy seeds.
The tour was brilliant and gives you a great introduction into Polish cuisines and culture. If you are wondering why Pierogi and Bigos are not included on the tour, it is because they are cliched and most tourists who visit Poland will try these anyway, as I did on my previous visits to the country.
This summer, I stayed in Poland for a prolonged period, which was the first time I had spent longer than a month in one country in Eastern Europe. I spent my first month in Pomerania exclusively and love it here. After touring Gdynia, Sopot, Starogard Gdański, Gdańsk and Łeba, I ended up in the town of Tczew! Where to stay in Tczew? In the best hotel in town of course: Link Hotel.
This modern hotel is about two kilometers from the Wiatrak windmill and 3 km from the 1857-built, iron and stone Tczew Bridge. The relaxed rooms have sitting areas/couches with an upgrade and blackout blinds. Complimentary amenities include hot breakfast and monitored parking. There’s also a hip restaurant serving Polish dishes and a multimedia conference room. For an additional fee, they’ll take your pet as well.
The staff are warm and friendly, and provide useful information worth knowing about the town culturally and historically. In Poland, the people have genuine warm hearts, smiles and seem to really care about you — I found that the service and hospitality at most hotels are similar.
The rooms here are comfortable — basic and simple, but modern and chic. They offer air conditioning, tea and coffee in the rooms, fast Wi-Fi, a desk, a TV and a modern and very clean bathroom.
Above, my breakfast at the Link Hotel, which is a variety of cereals and yoghurt, tea, coffee, juices, cheese, salad, meat and some tasty hot Polish sausages!. There’s also a spa on the premises, and here you can get everything from eyelash extensions, massages and body scrubs to micro-dermabrasion, lifts, facials and facial massages with algae.
Walking past the murals of Tczew, Poland nearby. There is a cool windmill worth seeing also, as well as the bridge where World War II began.
There is bicycle hire nearby where you can take a cycle by the Wisla River, which is oh so lovely. Below are a few more photos from my time at the Link Hotel in Tczew.
Link Hotel is situated in the city center of Tczew and also close to the most important communication routes (route No 1 North and RouteNo 22 – East – West: Berlin – Królewiec), and the exit of A1 highway: Pruszcz Gdański – Nowe Marzy.