Tag Archives: old town


Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. It borders Bulgaria (south), Ukraine (north), Hungary (west), Serbia (southwest), Moldova (east), and the Black Sea (southeast).

Romania is particularly known for the forested region of Transylvania, long associated with the Dracula legend. It is ringed by the Carpathian Mountains and has many well preserved medieval towns and fortified churches and castles.

Human remains found in Romania have been dated back to 40,000 years ago, making them the oldest known homo sapiens in Europe.

Castle Dracula

We did not get near this one, but I thought that I should at least mention it and provide a few stolen tourist brochure shots. More rightly known as Bran Castle it was built in 1377 and attracts over 700,000 visitors a year.

Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, is a Transylvanian Count with a castle located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below in the Principality of Transylvania.

Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that fits Bram Stoker’s description.

The Bram castle website offers the opportunity to get in touch with the creatures of the night through an exhibition entitled ‘A history of dreads in Transylvania’. This provides a history of local myths and fears (their symbols and significance) and the way they were reflected in the historiography of the 15th century. And how they were then discovered and used by Bram Stoker in the 19th century for the creation of Count Dracula.


My relationship with Bucharest is a mixed one. I have both loved and hated it at the same time. My first introduction was magnificent, we hopped off the plane and straight onto a local transfer bus that delivered us (close enough) to our hotel – seamless. Our hotel was one of the best we had seen thus far and was clean and efficient. The room was luxurious with a fully functioning air conditioning unit (it was about 37 degrees) which pleased me nicely.

Bucharest is a big capital city (2.2 million), and it doesn’t really have much to make it stand out apart from the main two or three tourist attractions. While certain aspects of the place are stunning and photogenic, the majority are in a terrible state of disrepair. Billions have been spent on the presidential palace and constitution square etc. but the rest of the place is being left to crumble down upon itself.

Having relaxed and cooled off, we had to find our way to the Bucharest Nord train station to pick up our physical tickets (to Moldova) for the next evening. On the map, it seemed like a simple enough task but this is where the wheels started to fall off.

There are two stations at the Nord, one is for the longer trains while another is for the local trains. We landed at the local one one first of all and it was a dump. Having been redirected to the main one (about 800m away) we walked along the urine soaked, rusting, vandalised and generally dilapidated path that at one time connected the two stations together. Travellators had been smashed and destroyed and at some point had became shelter to the homeless population leaving a very overt stench of urine. These have now been barred off to keep the homeless out.

We eventually got to the main station and after some consternation was able to locate and find our tickets (mainly due to the magnificent website the man in seat 61).

This is actually worth mentioning (www.seat61.com) is a privately run website by a guy called Mark Smith who started it as a hobby.

If you are ever looking to get on a train you need to check this website out. It gives you answers virtually any question that you may have almost everywhere in the world.

Having gotten our tickets (and sweltered in the heat) we (at considerable urging from me) opted to catch the Metro to Old Town. Disappointment number two. Old town Bucharest is almost entirely dilapidated or under repair. The buildings are falling down or are covered in scaffolding (at least they are trying to bring it back to its former glory). Those that are open are nightclubs, strip clubs, brothels, rub-and-tugs and really loud (overpriced) lager-lout bars.

Stavropoleos Monastery is a monastery for nuns and was about the only thing in Old Town still worth looking at.

The building which dates back nearly 300 years has been heavily affected by earthquakes. Only the church still stands from its original state. 

Feeling very disillusioned, we caught the bus back to our hotel and had a nice meal in pleasant surroundings… tomorrow would be another day.

Its main draw is the Palace of Parliament is the heaviest building in the world coming in at just over 4 billion kilograms. This place is huge it is 84m tall with a floor area of 365,000 sqm. It was ordered by Nicolae Ceausescu the president of communist Romania and took 13 years to build. Uranus Hill was levelled, and the Uranus-Izvor neighbourhood was destroyed so the building could be erected. It was finished in 1997.

We came at it from the side (through the park) and were impressed by what we saw, but once you make your way around to the front things go up another level. The palace houses the two branches of the Parliament of Romania, three museums (contemporary art, communist totalitarianism and palace) and an international conference centre. The building has eight underground levels, the deepest housing a nuclear bunker, linked to main state institutions by 20 km (12.4 mi) of tunnels. From the palace, you look out onto Constitution Square.

Bulevardul Unirii (Union Boulevard) the Palace and Constitution Square were designed at the same time as an architectural unit.

It connects the Palace with  Alba Iulia Square (Piața Alba Iulia), running through Union Square.

The Romanian Athenaeum is the main concert hall in town and has been since it opened back in 1888. As we arrived almost the entire symphony orchestra was chain smoking at the side door in full tuxedos, not sure what was playing that day, but they were clearly on a break.

Kretzulescu Church is an Eastern Orthodox Church located in one of the corners of Revolution Square. 

Arcul de Triumf is a triumphal arch located in the northern part of Bucharest, Romania, on the Kiseleff Road. It was originally hurriedly built of wood in 1878 so that the victorious troops could march under it after Romania gained its independence. The current version was built in 1921–22, renovated in 1935–36, and renovated again starting in 2014. And of course, it is now the home to Instagrammers (who apparently now bring their own chairs with them for their photoshoots).

Having done the long tourist hike, we found ourselves back in the Old Town area again and thought we would give it one more try. Sadly, the CEC Palace, George Enescu Museum, peoples Salvation Cathedral, Coral Jewish Temple and many of the things we came to see were covered in scaffolding and were unable to be seen. The central part still sucked, but if you hunt hard on the fringes you can get glimpses of what it may once have looked like and hopefully what it may once again be.

There isn’t a lot of nature in Bucharest outside a few parks. It is a major city, and like most major cities it doesn’t have tons and tons of green space. However, Romania more broadly is known for its incredible scenery and nature. It is a bit of a shame that you don’t get a taste of that in Bucharest.

Other things that we missed but would like to come back and see include the Transfagarasan Highway this 80+ kilometer highway runs from Wallachia to Transylvania.

Also, the Statue of King Decebalus which is carved into the rock as you sail through the Iron Gates on the Danube River.

This 141-foot-high face of Decebalus honors this last king, who fought for the country’s independence against the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan.

And beyond Brand Castle there are another 309 castles dotted throughout Romania that would be nice to see. They were mostly created between the 14th and 18th centuries and have served as fortresses for armies to defend the country against its many intruders.

Leaving Bucharest we once again headed to the Bucharest Nord train station for our overnight train to Moldova. Having learned our lesson we went straight to the main entrance and managed to avoid the urine soaked mess that we were met with on the first day.

A few days later, we found ourselves back in Romania on our way back from Moldova. Nothing really to report other than the highway robbery that was taking place at the train station and airport. Coffee usually ran to $2 but at the railway station it was $7 and at the airport, it was just over $10. We were going to get some food but even the Hungry Jacks at Bucharest airport was charging $25 Aussie for a small whopper meal. We chose to go without.

As I said up front, my relationship with Bucharest is a mixed one. The bad here is very bad and the normal is only barely passable. But the good is exceptional. On the whole, it was ok and eventually, it probably won me over. I would however like to come back to Romania to see some of the sights that exist a little further outside the capital.


Serbia is a landlocked country in the Balkans. It shares land borders with Hungary (north), Romania (northeast), Bulgaria (southeast), North Macedonia (south), Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (west), and Montenegro (southwest), and Kosovo.

Serbia has about 6.6 million people.

Having loved our (240 km and 8 hour) bus ride into Bosnia and Herzegovina we decided to fly out for a 40 minute puddle jump into Serbia, more specifically Belgrade.


Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the junction of the Sava and Danube rivers with a population of around 1.6 million. Belgrade is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world with the first dated records of habitation going back to the the 3rd century BC.

Our accommodation saw us perched between the old and new town directly opposite the old main railway station and associated park.

The park is amazing with an incredibly impressive monument to Stefan Nemanja (over 20m high).

He was a medieval Serbian nobleman who together with his son Sava (who the big church is named after) are considered the fathers of the Serbian Orthodox Church).

As it was early enough we dropped off our gear and headed out on a walk to see the sights. We chose to hit the ones that were away from old town, where we would be spending most of our time the following day. So we turned the corner from our hotel and started our way up the hill aiming towards St Sava Temple.

But within two blocks we had already landed upon the railway museum, which was incredibly impressive in its own right.

Half a block up and across the street we came upon the Government of the Republic of Serbia building.

This was built in the 1920s and was the first public building built in Belgrade for the purposes of the public administration of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Next came the Department of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Belgrade city museum, public health department. And they were all housed in amazing soviet era architecturally designed buildings that were incredibly impressive.

Anyway, we did eventually make it to St Sava Temple which again, blew our socks off. The church is dedicated to Saint Sava (son of the dude with the big statue opposite our hotel), the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an important figure in medieval Serbia. It was built on the location of St. Sava’s grave.

The next morning we were up and off to the 160 acre Belgrade Fortress. For many centuries the entire town existed within the walls of the fortress. It sits at the meeting of the Sava and Danube rivers.

As with all of Europe, the warring tribes saw this piece of land change hands many times over the millennia. The romans had their turn and according to wiki “in the period between 378 AD and 441 the Roman camp was repeatedly destroyed in the invasions by the Goths and the Huns. Legend says that Attila’s grave lies at the confluence of the Sava and the Danube (under the fortress)”. In the following centuries the fortress suffered continuous destruction under the Avar sieges. 

The name Belgrade was first mentioned in AD 878 by Bulgarians. The fortress kept changing its master as Bulgaria had it then the Byzantines and then Bulgaria again, in the 11th century it was given to the new Serbian state as a wedding gift. In the 15th century it was conquered by the Turks (with short periods of Austrian and Serbian occupation), but it remained under Ottoman Empire rule until 1867, when the Turks withdrew from Belgrade and Serbia. 

From the fortress you got a fair view of the Gardoš Tower or Millennium Tower.

It was built and opened in 1896 to celebrate a thousand years of Hungarian settlement in the region.

Within the walls is St Petka’s Chapel which was built in 1417 and was allegedly erected over a sacred spring. At one time it held the holy relics of St Petka. With all of the destruction of the fortress over the years, the exact location of this chapel is not known so a replacement was built on the grounds in the 1930s.

The amazing thing for us was that to visit and walk through the fortress and associated grounds was 100% free.

There was one odd children’s playground area with dinosaurs in it that had a small fee.

But as we did not want to play on the playground, we avoided that cost.

From the fortress, you spill out into the remainder of old town and the main tourist and shopping district of Belgrade. This part of town is full of funky old buildings with tons of character.

As you wander through you come upon the Cathedral Church of St. Michael the Archangel or simply St Michael’s Cathedral. This is a Serbian Orthodox church in the centre of the old part of Belgrade. It was built around 1840, on the site of an older church dedicated to Archangel Michael.

The Historical Museum of Serbia is currently in this building but it has been granted the building opposite our hotel (the old main railway station) as its permanent home and will be moving soon.

The Stari Dvor or old palace was the royal residence of the Obrenović dynasty (1800’s).

Today it houses the City Assembly of Belgrade. 

Novi Dvor or new palace was was a royal residence of the Karađorđević dynasty (late 1700 & 1800’s)

Today it is the seat of the President of Serbia. 

House of the National Assembly was built in 1936 and has served as the seat of parliament for the Parliaments of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro and since 2006, Serbia.

For the most part, Serbia has been great. The food is good (if not exactly heart smart), the prices are reasonable, the beer is well-priced, and there is plenty to see and do (mostly without charge). I would certainly not hesitate in coming back.

The Golubac Fortress is somewhere that looked amazing but sadly (at about 120km from Belgrade) we could not get to. It was a medieval (fortified) town on the Danube 4 km downstream from the current town of Golubac. The fortress was built during the 14th century and has ten towers. Most of these started square but evolved to get many-sided reinforcements to accommodate modern firearms.


Zagreb is the cultural, scientific, economic, political and administrative centre of the Republic of Croatia. Zagreb (with a population of just over 800,000), contains almost a quarter of the entire Croatian population. Over the centuries, the city has been inhabited by people from all over Europe.

It is flat and is relatively small compared to other European capitals so walking around is not too taxing.

There are lots of parks and even forests within the city limits.

For us simple tourists it is beautifully laid out in a U shape meaning if you go up one major park, across a bit and back down the other park you have pretty much ticked all the big tourist boxes.

The strict town planning scheme outlined that all streets must be straight and of the same width, and all buildings of the same type and height. The town itself is lovely, but it is a terrible state of disrepair. The main tourist walks are ok but stray just a little off the path and the neglect and graffiti become painfully evident. And they have seriously taken their toll on the city. While it is clear that attempts are being made to pull this back (scaffolding and renovations abound) for now the city looks quite derelict.

For us the obvious place to start our tour of the town was at the top end of the U which was the central railway station. An impressive building (but a rubbish train station) , directly opposite is a huge statue of Kralj Tomislav (former prince and believed ruler dating around the 9th century) on a horse and a park leading towards the Art Pavilion.

Crossing the road from the the Art Pavillion you enter the Park Josipa Jurja Strossmayera (a Croatian bishop, theologian, politician, and founder of central Croatian scientific and cultural institutions). The park is another lovely green space making up the straight part of the U but in reality is a park full of old guy statues.

Next on the U is Park Zrinjevac another green space with fountains and a meteorological column at the end that was erected in 1884.

Popping out of here you find yourself in Ban Jelacic Square. This is the main square of Zagreb and is the starting point for exploring the downtown area. The square is huge, with lovely buildings surrounding it on all four sides. The majority of buildings date back to the 19th century and feature different architectural styles: from post-modernism, Art Nouveau, and Biedermeier.

In the square is yet another very impressive statue of a dude on a horse (Count Josip Jelacic – an important Croatian politician of the 19th century). There is a very impressive copper diorama showing the old town area, also a local (Dolac) market and the usual array of retail shops and transport.

Just around the corner is the main church in town (Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed virgin Mary) which has been under permanent renovations for decades. In fact there is not one photo of it in its original form (without scaffolding) for many years. I found one on google images but cannot tell how long ago it looked this way. Our photos are what most people get to see.

Across the U and you find yourself at the bottom of the Lotrščak Tower and the the Grič cannon which fires every day exactly at noon, and has done for over 100 years. The tower was part of the southern gate and town defences against the Turks, built in 1266. The Zagreb Funicular is the shortest funicular in the world but also the oldest and first means of public transportation in Zagreb.

Once up the top you find yourself among a bunch of impressive buildings, museums and galleries along with the impressively roofed St. Marc Church.

Finishing off the bottom of the U you come across the Stone gate (Kamenita Vrata), a very cool horse and dragon statue and into the usual retail and tourist offerings that cannot be avoided.

With all of that done all that is left is to walk the straight part of the other side of the U. The first thing you hit is the Hrvatsko narodno kazalište (Croatian National Theatre), a tribute to Marko Marulić ( the 14th century father of Croatian literature). And of course, lots of green space along the way and finally finishing at the botanical garden.

According to the blurb, the key bits of upper town are the tucked away courtyards within the buildings. Twice a year celebrations (Secrets of Grič, and Dvorišta) open the courtyards to reveal their secrets.

Oh and as is our way, we might have taken the opportunity to sample some of the local beers. They do tend to be very tasty and along the Czech lines however, they are much more gassy which left us feeling similarly.

Horse Statues

On doing the research for this and other cities I came across the following blurb about people who are represented in statues on horses. The position of the horse indicates how the figure died in real life. If the horse has one leg raised it is meant to mean that the person died of wounds from the battlefield. If the horse had its both legs raised, the person died in combat. Lastly, if the horse had all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes. 


Slovakia is yet another landlocked country in central Europe, with a population of over 5.4 million.

It is bordered by Poland (north), Ukraine (east), Hungary (south), Austria (southwest), and the Czech Republic (northwest). The country is mostly mountainous (Carpathian Mountains) offering views of wine-growing valleys, picturesque castles, and historical cities. 

In 1536, Bratislava was declared the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Getting to Bratislava from Austria was a breeze, a tiny puddle jump of a bit more than an hour. We hopped off our train and did the 600m walk to our hotel, dropped our bags and hit the streets. Our day started and ended in a sunny manner, but at around 4pm all  hell broke loose as rain tumbled from the skies and flooded the roads, for about an hour.


Bratislava sits on the Danube River by the border with Austria and Hungary. It is the capital of Slovakia and at its heart lies the pedestrian-only, 18th-century old town. This has all of the usual mix of old buildings and churches along with the tourist shops, cafes and bars.

As usual, the big show in town is Bratislava Castle. The first written reference to the city was in 907 but the castle hill was thought to be populated as early as the late Stone Age. The first known inhabitants were the Celts, who founded a fortified settlement here called ‘Oppidum’. In the 16th century, King Ferdinand ordered the rebuilding of the castle in the Renaissance style.

Michael’s Gate is the only preserved 14th century gate of the city fortification system.

The 51-metre-high tower provides a great view of the Castle and Old Town. The tower houses the Museum of Arms.

The SNP Bridge was built in 1967-1972 as a symbol of the Slovak National Uprising. It has a UFO restaurant on top of the 80 metre tall pylon.

The bridge is 432 m long and 21 m wide.

Old Town Hall is the oldest city hall in the country with the tower being built around 1370. It became the town hall in the 15th century when three townhouses were connected.

St. Martin’s Cathedral was the site that ten men were crowned king between 1563 and 1830.

The first reigning king was Maximilian from the Habsburg Dynasty, while the famous era of coronations came to an end for Bratislava with the crowning of Ferdinand V.

Primates Palace was built in the 18th century and today serves as the seat of the Mayor of Bratislava.

It also houses a gallery of 17th century English tapestries.

Grassalkovich Palace was built in 1760 and is now the official residence of the President of the Slovak Republic.

The Blue Church is officially known as the Church of St Elizabeth of Hungary.

The blurb tells me that “It is Bratislava’s most appealing art nouveau building”.

Not sure if I agree.

The Slavin is the largest war memorial in Central Europe. It is 52m tall.

It commemorates the 6845 soldiers who died during the liberation of Bratislava in World War II.

Sadly, due to a tight schedule we never got to Devin Castle. It is a castle ruin on the border with Austria, built on a high rock towering above the merging of the Danube and Morava rivers.

As our luck has been running, we jag being in town for the Bratislava Coronation Celebration, where ceremonies are reenacted by actors and enthusiasts wearing period costumes. It runs over multiple days with events such as jousting (featuring knights in armor), theater and music performances, lectures and exhibitions, and guided tours. We were sadly only in town for the procession.

Bratislava was great, however given its proximity to Vienna and the ease of access, we could easily have done this as a day trip. Hopping a train each way would give you plenty of time to see everything in Bratislava and get back to Vienna in the late afternoon/early evening thereby allowing you to spend more time in Vienna.


Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a small country of 41,000 square km and a population of under 9 million.

It is bordered by Italy (south), France (west), Germany (north) and Austria and Liechtenstein (east). Once again I was here in 1996 but had a single stop in the Swiss Alps (with no real recollection of which mountain).

A Google search of similar trips to the one I took suggests that the mountain was most likely Jungfrau.


This was a quick stop off as we transited towards Liechtenstein. Sargens is a small village of a bit over 6,000 people that serves as a fairly major transportation hub.

Sargans is known for its castle, which dates from before 1291. Since 1899, it has been run by the local church and now houses the Sarganserland museum.


Zurich is at the northern tip of Lake Zurich on the Limmat River and is a global centre for banking and finance. And oh my god isn’t that obvious!

This place expensive.

Seriously expensive.

Our first exposure to the city was an economic one. The prices charged here in Geneva are obscene at best and when you couple this with a rubbish exchange rate it makes Zurich almost out of reach for us poor Australians. One Swiss Franc will cost you $1.70 Australian and the prices that you pay back home are generally a lot lower than the ones charged here.

We checked into our hotel and did the usual search for nearby restaurants for dinner. This is where the wheels fell off. An entree soup was 15 francs ($25) and the cheapest steak was 56 francs ($95). Ok time to recalibrate our expectations here. How about a pizza – starts at 19.50 ($33), ok how about a burger – starts at 16.50 ($28), umm maybe a salad – starts at 26 ($44).

Oh, this is going to hurt. We found a kebab shop nearby, they’re cheap right. So we went and bought a (very ordinary) kebab and a soft drink each. The final bill came to 36 francs ($61.30). Anyway, we were fed and would be out in 2 days.

The next thing that we got to experience properly was the public transport system. As we were staying a few km from the centre we chose to tram it in and out of town to the train station and walk from there. This was both easy and efficient. The train station is truly something to behold. It is split over 3 levels with 15 train lines coming in and out of each level, 44 lines in total.

Zurich certainly has a stunning location on the shores of Lake Zurich and the historic old town with amazing buildings is right in its center.

There are about 50 museums and 100 art galleries within the city to keep you amused if your interests run that way. And if you’re after rest and relaxation, you can be in the Swiss mountains in less than an hour.

The twin towers of the Grossmünster are one of the most recognisable images of the city.

According to legend, Charlemagne discovered the graves of the city’s patron saints Felix and Regula and had a church built on the spot.

Construction started in around 1100 and it finished around 1220.

The Fraumünster church in Zürich which was built on the remains of a former abbey for aristocratic women which was founded in 853.

After the Reformation, the Fraumünster came into the possession of the city.

The Bahnhofstrasse is the main shopping street that connects Lake Zurich with the train station, Zurich Hardbrücke. It runs a distance of 1.4 kilometres with all of the usual high end boutiques, department stores and watch shops.

St. Peter’s church is the oldest parish church in Zurich.

The original foundation walls from the 9th century are still visible under the choir.

It also has the largest church clock face in Europe (measures 8.7meters in diameter). There are five bells in the tower, dating from 1880.

Beyond the big ticket items, there are lovely old buildings with amazing architecture and styling almost everywhere you look. The people tend to keep to themselves but are mostly friendly, if a little stand offish.

Our time in Zurich was really nice. Getting around was a breeze thanks to a super-efficient (if a little confusing at times) tram system. The old town was a great wander as was the newer section (although we had no interest in the high end shops). The only real detraction was the price. It quite literally costs about 3 times more for anything that you would get back home.

Our meal situation was overcome by going to Lidl and Co-op and buying groceries. The hotel gave us a well priced ($26 a head) continental breakfast which saw us set up for the day and the shopping run got us through the rest of the day reasonably painlessly. It is amazing how far cheese, tomato, avocado and some decent bread rolls will get you. On our last evening we did treat ourselves to some local beers, but I still ate a ($12) salad in my room.

Prague (Part 1)

Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic (now Chechia and formerly Czechoslovakia). I made it here on an (almost) all-expenses paid work trip back in the day and loved every bit of it. It was stunningly beautiful and it was as cheap as chips. And from my perspective, Pilsner Urquell has been one of my favourite drops for a very long time. So I have been telling Jill for over a decade now that she would love it.

So after a quick 3 hr flight to get here from Crete, we were picked up and delivered to our hotel. It is amazing to see the way some people behave on a 3 hr flight. I guess from a European context, 3 hrs is a long flight whereas for us it is a puddle jump. The guy in front of us (about 50) was honestly worse than a kid with ADD. He fidgeted, farted and moved every few seconds for the entire flight. He sat in 4 different seats (not a full plane) throughout the flight and sat in 3 of them changing on average every 5 mins.

In addition to this, both he and the woman he was with had to urinate 3 times (each) in a short flight. The last bit was pretty common as I was passed by about 4 different people heading to the loo who also made at least 3 trips. At one point there was a line of 8 people queued up the aisle.

If you could ignore the carry-on and just stare out the window, it was lovely. The river meandered through a beautiful green countryside, and every now and then you would see some snow-capped mountains.

In doing my research for this post I found that the Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world and has topped the per capita beer drinking table for 24 consecutive years.

Maybe this influenced why I loved this place.

Anyway, Prague has been a populated area for several thousands of years with decent records showing consistent habitation since around 500 BC. In the 5th and 6th centuries, Slavic tribes moved in and began building fortifications. By the 9th and 10th centuries, this fortification had extended to the building of Prague Castle. By the 1300’s Prague had developed into an imperial capital and significant planned expansions took place. By the 1700s many rich merchants and nobles moved in and built a host of palaces, churches and gardens. The big point is that Prague’s cultural attractions mostly survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe (WWI and WWII).  

According to the blurb, today Prague has over 2,000 officially recognised architectural and artistic monuments, ranging in period from the Romanesque through the Gothic to the Baroque, Rococo, Classical, and Neoclassical. And this I can truly believe, you cannot walk 5 meters without seeing amazing buildings, architecture and statues.

So the question has become, how to attack this in a way that seems semi-logical. This is pretty tough when there is so much to see in such close proximity. I tried my usual chronology but there was just so much that is amazing so I have had to split it into two parts and have had to group items as things get really confusing, really quickly.

As we were staying on the western side of the river, this was where we explored first. I must say upfront, we were gifted on the days that we had. The temperature was in the low 20s, and the skies were a beautiful blue, with the odd wispy cloud to give the photos a touch of character. The buildings of Prague are stunning. Everywhere you look there is character, whether old or new the place is a blast.

Old Town

Old Town is on the eastern bank of the River it started as a marketplace back in the 10th century. Old town Square (or Staromestske Namesti) is the main square where you will find major tourist attractions including the:

  • old town hall – originally built in 1364 and fixed multiple times due to varying conflicts etc over the years,
  • astronomical clock – first installed in 1410
  • Rococo Kinský Palace – former palace that is now part of the National Gallery Prague.
  • Gothic House at the Stone Bell
  • in the pavement of the square are memorial stones marking the execution of 27 Czech lords in 1621, and
  • the Prague meridian – a narrow brass strip in Prague’s Old Town Square that was used to tell time from 1652 to 1918.

Church of Our Lady before Týn is a 14th-century landmark with 80m towers, ornately carved exteriors & a baroque altarpiece.

The story goes that Walt Disney was inspired by this church when he was designing the very famous Disney Castle.

I can see it…

Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia is one of the oldest (1230’s) and most important Gothic buildings in Prague. It functioned as a religious building for around 550 years before falling to ruin. It was restored and now houses the National Gallery.

The Baroque Church of St Nicholas took 51 years (1704-1755) to build and is in Lesser town (the area below the palace but before you cross the Charles Bridge into Old Town).

It was built on the same site where there used to be a Gothic church.

Žofín Palace messed up my plans to go east and west of the river as it was built on an island in the middle of the river. Dating back to the 1830’s this new Renaissance building was built as a cultural centre / concert hall. In 1884, the entire island was purchased by the City of Prague, which decided to thoroughly re-build and extend the original building.

Marking the exit from Old Town is the Powder Tower. Built in 1475, the dark Gothic structure is one of the 13 original city gates and was used for gunpowder storage in the 17th century. 

Charles Bridge connects the Old Town with the Prague Castle area of the city. It was started in 1357 and took a half-century to finish. It was the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841.

The bridge is lined with a series of 30 statues on both sides, many of which are over 300 years old.

Prague Castle (Vyšehrad ) Complex is the main show in town. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². It consists of the Old Royal Palace, St Virus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and the Great South Tower. The castle itself is about 570 metres long and around 130 metres wide, with a history that dates back to the 9th century.

St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and the most important temple in Prague. It is a Gothic cathedral where construction began in 1344 and it is situated in the middle of the Prague Castle Complex. Apart from religious services, coronations of Czech kings and queens also took place here.

St George’s Basilica, Golden Lane and the Great South Tower (the old prison area) are all also located in the complex that is Prague Castle.

Hradčanské náměstí (Hradcany Square) is the square directly in front of Prague Castle that is the home to virtually everything that you can imagine in a historic sense. The list of what is around the square includes Salmovsky Palace ( National Gallery ), Schwarzenberg Palace (National Gallery, built in 1567), Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, St. Benedict’s Church, Tuscan Palace, Martinique Palace, Saxe-Lauenburg Palace, Losenovsky Palace (U Labutí house), Sternberg Palace (National Gallery), Archbishop’s Palace and Canon houses. Along with any number of statues and columns.

The Loreta is a baroque place of pilgrimage founded in 1626. It was designed as a replica of the Santa Casa (Sacred House; the home of the Virgin Mary) in the Holy Land. These replicas were once found across Catholic Europe (50 in the Czech lands alone), but the Prague Loreta is claimed to be extra special.

Legend says the original Santa Casa was carried by angels to the Italian town of Loreto as the Turks were advancing on Nazareth.

Along with all of the Palaces and historic buildings, Prague is the capital of Museums. Everywhere you look there is another museum. Some of the museums that we came across included the: Alchemy, Apple products, Army, Beer, Chocolate, Communism, Decorative Arts, Fantastic Illusions, Franz Kafka, Historical toilets and chamber ports, Illusion art, Jewish, KGB, Lego, Lobkowicz, Marionette, Military history, Miniatures, Modern art, Mucha, Music, National, Pop-up, Porcelain, Senses, Sex machines, Slivovitz Museum, Technical and many more…

We chose to go to the Old Masters exhibit in the Schwarzenberg Palace. At this point, I realised that I liked statues and sculptures, but could not get excited about paintings. From here we headed up the hill to the Museum of Miniatures. Here you use a microscope or magnifying glass to view micro-miniature sculptures and paintings. Some of these include the Eiffel Tower in a cherry stone, a golden bicycle on a needle, the lord’s prayer on a hair and a camel train within the eye of a needle. Needless to say, the zoom on my phone was not up to this so I grabbed these photos from their website.

And of course we hit the National Museum, but that comes in part 2.


We have been to Malaysia a lot – we regularly transit through Kuala Lumpur and Penang is one of my favourite places on the planet. We have hit the west coast and Borneo extensively but had never made it south or to the east coast. So this trip we are.

After a nice easy transit through Kuala Lumpur (again) – I should talk about our KL transits as we do them so often. We have found a little hotel right in the midst of KLIA2 (the airport) that gives us access to an air conditioned room, a shower and a bed (for about $60 a night). It is a short walk from the terminal (about 600-800 meters) and is set up especially for those in transit. There is a 24 hour reception and the buffet breakfast starts at 4am to accommodate the early flights. We have stayed here many times and probably will again.

So after a shower, a meal (including beer) and a sleep we hopped on a bus from the airport and headed south to Melaka (Malacca). Oh and by the way – the spelling of the name of this place changes regularly and inconsistently.

Probably worth mentioning the busses here. These are things that I typically have avoided at all costs as they are slow, cumbersome and uncomfortable. In addition they really are not built for people over 6 foot tall. Add to this Jill’s amusement by booking us on (what has come to be known as) chicken busses. We have travelled on some truly atrocious local bus transports.

But I am very happy to say that in Malaysia, this is definitely not the case. Bus transport in Malaysia (at least the long haul stuff) is clean, comfortable and a highly pleasant experience. There are 3 seats across rather than the usual 4, and the seats are spaced reasonably apart so that there is ample leg room. There is, in fact, a hell of a lot more comfort to be found on a Malaysian bus than there is on any economy airline seat anywhere in the world.

We had long heard of the importance of the Malacca Straits (the vital trade route that keeps Asian and global trade flourishing) but had not made it down here until now.

Virtually all shipping between the Far East and the Mediterranean / Middle East has to pass through this channel and has done so for hundreds of years (since around 1400). Because of this it has been a critical global port (along with places like Singapore and Shang-Hai) for many centuries.

Every year, around 90,000 ships pass through the sea lane of the Malacca Strait, which links the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. The cargo lanes make up an estimated 40 % of global trade. In addition, along the seabed is a dense array of internet cables that keep the world online. It is one of the most vital arteries of the global economy and a well-known global choke point.

Melaka was the location of one of the earliest Malay sultanates but this all went away when the Portuguese conquered it in 1511. The Dutch then had a turn from 1641 to 1798, who then ceded to the British in 1824. Even Japan had a turn during WWII (1942–1945). Until finally on 31 August 1957, Malaya became an independent nation.

Melaka has it all, from old Chinese churches to Portuguese forts, palaces to heritage museums, mosques, sanctuaries to cultural parks. For the most part they are relics of the colonisation by the Dutch, Portuguese and the British But there is plenty to see and do (as long as you can abide the heat and humidity).