Moscow:City Nights, Sights and Lights

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Sep 092014

Moscow is a 24/7 wide open vibrant city that is colorful, energetic and desirable destination for young Russians who seek opportunity and “success.” Traffic stands still at rush hour but also at many other times of the day and night. Expensive cars are an attainable status symbol for people who still live in their 600 square foot apartment in a city with a highly efficient and reasonably priced metro system. It feels like NYC.

Lighting the iconic buildings seems like a way to lure and/or keep Russians downtown. They fill the streets, strolling the plazas and “hanging out” in Red Square which looks like Disneyland. Check out the YouTube below to see university students living it up even in winter.

May 182014

Originally we had intended to visit and stay in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. But less than an hour away is Varaždin, reputed to be  less traveled but well worth the visit. What a refreshing change. We were part of handful of tourists in the enite town–no groups led by bobbing flags–just the delightful locals and us.

This central European Baroque town and former ancient Croatian capital, is a ” history book come alive,” according to the locals. Varaždin  is one of the best-kept secrets in Croatia. The Nelson’s decided to risk a non-UNESCO endorsed site BUT I will confess, on the NYT list of places to visit in 2013. Although travelers visiting Zagreb do occasionally take a day trip to Varaždin, it still seems to remain quaint (and incredibly less expensive) with cafés, unique museums, a majestic medieval castle – and one of Europe’s best collections of intact Baroque buildings. Varaždin is known as “Little Vienna” among Croatians and owes its Baroque bonanza to its position as Croatia’s once capital from 1756 to 1776. Though its reign was short lived, a fire in 1776 destroyed much of the town, and the capital was moved back to Zagreb. During those two decades, religious orders, noble families and wealthy tradesmen brought in some of the country’s best architects and painters to construct mansions and palaces most of which have been meticulously reconstructed and maintained. A huge bonus for illiterate Americans is that young persons under 30 speaks fluent English and love to practice.

Stari Grad – “old town” – a medieval fortress built in the 14th century

Stari Grad – “old town” – a medieval fortress built in the 14th century

The historic town square (Trg Kralja Tomislava), makes it impossible not to be charmed by the elegantly exuberant, pastel-colored facades of the baroque buildings that line Varaždin’s centre.

The lack of tourists means the city doesn’t have the theme-park-like atmosphere we have often experienced in well-trodden historical towns. This lack of tourist infrastructure is more appealing than annoying – with one notable exception: the Croatian-only signage on most lavatory doors; (NB Muskarc means men, Zene means women.)

As an homage to its historic heritage, every year in late September to early October the city holds an internationally acclaimed series, Varazdin Baroque Evenings, during which soloists, orchestras and opera singers from around the world gather to fete Baroque music. Performances are held across the city as well as in castles and churches in neighboring towns.


About the Castle

Stari Grad – “old town” – a medieval fortress built in the 14th century that presently houses a cultural collection of Varazdin artifacts dating from the Middle Ages. Stari Grad, is much more whimsical; with its whitewashed exterior and numerous, rotund, red-capped towers it looks like something that fell from the clouds or out of a child’s fairytale.


Around Town and Townies


On and Off the Town Square

May 162014


Two ancient archeological treasures were in route. Salona, just a bit north of Split, was a tribal center of the Illyrians and was seized by the Romans under Augustus about 100 years CE and became the administrative headquarters for the Dalmatian province. Diocletian was attracted to area for his retirement in part because of this link. When the area was leveled by invading Slavs in the 6th century all of Salona fled to Split and found refuge inside the walls of the abandoned Diocletian Palace. Today Salona is an active archeological site and the main attractions are the forum and the amphitheater.


Trogir was the second destination enroute. A small medieval town set within walls but along a wide seaside promenade and unique for its collection Venetian and Romanesque architecture. When Venice bought Dalmatia in 1409 Trogir refused to submit and the Venetians bombarded the town into submission. The Venetian influence is still very evident today. Particularly in the cathedral and the bell tower which took 200 years to complete and is straightforward Gothic at the bottom level, Venetian Gothic in the middle and Renaissance at the top.


May 152014

According to a travel article in the NY Times, Zadar may be Croatia’s most underrated destination. A Roman-era city on the northern Dalmatian coast it has a rich architectural legacy along with dozens of nearby islands to explore.

The city’s architectural treasures, which span some 2,000 years include the Forum, a football-field-sized public square designed in the first century B.C. Encircling it are subsequent outcroppings of history: the ninth-century Church of St. Donat, the 11th-century St. Mary’s convent, an Orthodox church built upon a Roman temple and the St. Anastasia Cathedral — Dalmatia’s largest — begun in the 12th century.

The Romans were so smitten with Zadar that they gave it municipium status, the second highest among cities. Today’s population is about 75,000 — most of whom live on the newer, mainland side which is reached either by a pedestrian bridge or by waving down the boatman of Zadar, whose family has rowed folks across the harbor for centuries.

Like many coastal cities, Zadar’s inhabitants meld a progressive spirit with respect for a tumultuous past: oppressive Venetian rule, the constant threat of Turkish attack, 65 percent of the city was obliterated in World War II and heavy shelling during the war of 1991-95.

Again according to the NYT “Zadar — which is seeking heritage-site status of its historic center from UNESCO–possesses a combination of Split’s ancient, blue-collar moxie and Dubrovnik’s well-heeled, outdoor-museum aura. Like those Dalmatian cousins, Zadar is still most famous for an abundance of historical and architectural riches. The newly remodeled Archeological Museum has more than 100,000 pieces from the Paleolithic period to the 11th century.” Imagine the Nelson’s visited BEFORE the UNESCO

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We joined the Saturday morning Zadarian shoppers at the local farmers market and then as they had coffee and we people watched in the square. This appeared to be a regular Saturday morning ritual especially when the weather is glorious as it was today.



Savoring Sarajevo

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May 102014

Pigeon Square

Early this morning while the air was fresh we were out on the cobblestones of the Ottoman influenced old town, the Baščaršija. We started at “Pigeon Square,” nicknamed for the abundant flighty residents and right down the street from our hotel. The entire area felt like a mini-Istanbul with mosques and cramped markets and even a caravanserai which all blend seamlessly into the Hapsburg’s Sarajevo on Ferhadija Street with the Jewish quarter and the Catholic Cathedral and including the Markale covered market where the natives buy meet, cheese and eggs.

Moving down Maršala Street toward the highrise district, commercial and government buildings into Sniper Alley. Shelling scars still show on many buildings in this area. Memorials and tributes to the fallen of the war are present in every sector and every park. They are side by side against new skyscrapers and rennovated office and condominium complexes.

Today demonstrators were out in front of the President’s Residence protesting government corruption and unemployment. Sympathizers pounded their horns as they roared past. Apparently the “temporary” negotiated peace settlement brokered by American Richard Holbrook that was to replaced by a “real” constitution has never happened and the unwieldy and ineffectual layers of redundant government has led to massive corruption. Three branches of legislative bodies all have final veto so nothing ever gets passed. The presidency is apparently a triumvirate that has similar entrenchment issues, The economy, high unemployment and ethnic tensions all contribute to concerns for a fabulous resilient county and this treasure of a city


Ever Present Scars of War


Turban Shaped Tombstones


Longhorns In Sarajevo


Proud Bakers of our Savory Bosnian Meat Pies for Lunch