Category Archives: Historic Sites

German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin

Berlin’s German Resistance Memorial Center (Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand) is a 13-minute walk from the nearest  subway and train station at Potsdamer Platz, but don’t let that discourage you from visiting. There are two other interesting museums nearby – Modern Art Museum (Neue Nationalgalerie) and the Gallery of Paintings (Gemäldegalerie), though you likely won’t be able to visit all three on the same day, since you should set aside at least three hours for the Resistance Center, more if you plan on being very thorough and read every single display and story about those who stood up to the regime of Nazi Germany.

If you think the museum looks like a nondescript office building from the outside, you are correct – it was built in the early 1900s for the Naval Office, and since 1933 it housed the General Army Office in the Army High Command.

It was in this building that Adolf Hitler announced to the leaders of the German Military (Reichswehr) that he would “conquer new living space (Lebensraum) in the East.”

This building was also the center of an attempted coup against Hitler on July 20, 1944, and a place of execution of the conspirators shortly thereafter. Continue reading German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin

Collegium Maius: Museum of Jagiellonian University in Krakow

May 12, 1364 – Polish King Kazimierz III (Casimir) the Great issues a royal charter establishing a university in Kraków, the capital of Poland at that time.

While there are already some thirty universities in operation in Europe, this is the first university in Poland, and the second oldest in Central Europe. Charles University in Prague was founded some twenty years earlier, in 1348.

The university has no buildings, the lectures are held in various buildings around the city. After Kazimierz’s death in 1370, his successor Louis I of Hungary has no interest supporting the Polish university, so the few professors and students move to Prague or other universities. The kings change, however, and in 1390s, the new king and queen – Władysław II Jagiełło and Jadwiga of Anjou – decide to revive the university and succeed. Jadwiga even bequeaths part of her private wealth and estate to the university.

The following year, 1400 King Jagiełło donates to the university a house he bought near the edge of the city, and inaugurates reopening of the university on July 26, 1400, with 206 students enrolled.

Continue reading Collegium Maius: Museum of Jagiellonian University in Krakow

Visiting Chichen Itza: An overview and tips for visiting

After a few minutes in the full sun you can almost feel your skin sizzle, and your hair nearly burns your fingers as you run your hand through it. The area is vast, but the tourists surrounding the guide crowd under the sparse trees, seeking shade from the oppressive heat.

This is what visiting Chichén Itzá feels like in April. In short: it’s ungodly hot.

We saw Chichén Itzá in 2013, when we vacationed in Cancun on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. That over was two years ago, but I don’t suppose the area has changed much since then, though some of the excavation work has probably moved forward.

A Bit of History (as always)

“Chi” means “mouth” and “chen” means “well” in Mayan, thus Chichén Itzá means “at the mouth of the well of the Itzá tribe.”

I’m afraid I found conflicting information as to who the Itza were and when they arrived in the region, so I’m not going to say anything about that.

The well mentioned in the name is the nearby cenote, a naturally formed round, deep depression in the ground filled with water, and pretty steep walls. This particular cenote wasn’t actually used for fresh water, however, but rather ceremonial purposes. When the cenote was dredged at the beginning of the 20th century, the archeologists found not only hundreds of objects at the bottom, but also human remains that showed signs of human sacrifice.

Chichén Itzá was a large city, which archaeologists think started gaining importance between 700 to 1,000 A.D.

At the beginning of the 10th century the region saw the arrival of outsiders from the Central Valley, the Toltecs (or people influenced by the Toltecs according to Encyclopaedia Britannica), who made the locals accept their own gods. The main Toltec god was the Feathered Serpent called Quetzalcoatl in Aztec, which was translated to Kukulkan in Mayan.

The most spectacular structures in Chichén Itzá were built during that period – 11th to the 13th century, but the whole area of Chichén Itzá includes both Toltec and earlier, Mayan structures.

panoramic view of the temple of Kukulkan
panoramic view of the temple of Kukulkan

Continue reading Visiting Chichen Itza: An overview and tips for visiting

In the Footsteps of Royalty: Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

Right past the wide open massive iron gates, the vast courtyard is full of tourists eager to catch a glimpse of imperial splendors of the past.

In the times of Emperor Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1848 till 1916, on Mondays and Thursdays any subject of his empire could supposedly ask for an audience with the monarch in his opulent Walnut Room.

What did it feel like, I wonder, to approach the Schönbrunn Palace, crunching gravel underfoot and petition in hand?

Schönbrunn’s size must have must have impressed even the wealthiest of the emperor’s subjects, not to mention the simple city dwellers, if they were in fact ever allowed to see the Emperor.

The grand entrance to the Schönbrunn Palace up close
The grand entrance to the Schönbrunn Palace up close

Continue reading In the Footsteps of Royalty: Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

Krakow, Poland Photo Essay

If you’ve never been to Kraków (Cracow), Poland and aren’t sure whether it’s worth visiting, this essay is for you.

What’s is there to see in Kraków, you may ask? Take a look at the photos below, highlighting just a few places you might enjoy seeing in this beautiful city, with history going back into the medieval times.

The Wawel Castle

The Wawel Castle is, of course, a must. Dating back to the tenth century, it was the seat of the kings of Poland for several hundred years, and includes both Gothic and baroque elements.

You need tickets to go inside the castle, but walking around the Wawel Castle hill, and within the courtyard is free of charge.

the Wawel Castle as seen from Starodomska street
the Wawel Castle as seen from Starodomska street

Continue reading Krakow, Poland Photo Essay

Old Quebec Bus Tours: Les Tours du Vieux Quebec

Whenever we’re in a new city, and especially if we’re there for only a few days, we like to do a bus tour, because it’s a great way to cover a large area in a relatively short time, and also helps us see if there are any places that we might like to visit again during the rest of our stay.

During our recent trip to Québec City, we spent the first day of our short stay there admiring the city from the second deck of a big red bus, on a sightseeing tour organized by Les Tours du Vieux Québec (Old Quebec Tours).

Where Do You Get On?

The tours begin in the Old Québec, at Place d’Armes, right by the famous (and impressive) Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, but you can get on the bus at any of the 12 stops. Just make sure to check the bus schedule to see what time the next bus is coming, because they depart every 30 minutes so, and you might be in for quite a bit of a wait if you just miss the previous one, like we did the second time we boarded.

route of Ligne Rouge (Red Loop) of Les Tours du Vieux Quebec (click on the photo to open the pdf of the official tour guide)
route of Ligne Rouge (Red Loop) of Les Tours du Vieux Quebec (click on the photo to open the pdf of the official tour guide)

Continue reading Old Quebec Bus Tours: Les Tours du Vieux Quebec