Flight MH17- Turning outrage into a Firestorm

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It’s been a very difficult time in the past few days in the Netherlands. Just last week there  was immense celebration and euphoria coming off the success of the Dutch National team’s performance in the World Cup. Now, we are experiencing a complete pivot of emotion due to the cowardly attack on flight MH17. This despicable and shameful act of shooting down a passenger plane filled with innocent people. Three of which were infants.

To say we are outraged does not begin to reflect how we feel. But we, and I mean “we” as a collective world community need to go beyond our feelings of mutual outrage. We need to pull together in a concerted effort and act. We need to collectively galvanize our outrage into action against Putin and his criminal regime. We need to let them know that no matter how cowardly, heinous,  and dastard their terrorist acts are the peaceful communities of the world will never succumb to their will. And this act only solidifies the resolve of peaceful people of all nations.

When it comes to air travel, the peaceful nations of the world share a bond. A common thread of decency. A reciprocal agreement that we signed onto to secure a sacred trust of passage for one another. It is this  sacred trust that allows us to travel safely and freely from country to country without the fear of cowardly acts such as this incident.

So we need to go further and charge them with this crime and if found guilty, isolate these criminals within the self imposed prison of their own making. We need to let them know that there are a thousand lights in the forest, burning brightly and together they, we create a firestorm with such an intense flame it will burn the paws off any bear in it’s path. You will never break us.

Our hearts are with the families at this difficult time.~ZT

 

 

Mucking about in Notting Hill!..or Where the hell is Hugh Grant?!

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Ahhh…Saturday morning, the sun is shinning, not a cloud in the sky and nary a football hooligan in sight. What a great day to be in London! As the occasion calls for I suppose I should make like a proper English chap, put on my Windsor cap and skip over to Kensington.  I’m catching the tube to Notting Hill for a bit of slacking off, British style! You  are welcome to join me if you like. If you fancy walking that is!

Just outside of London proper, fifteen minutes by the underground, the world’s oldest underground rail system, is the quaint area in west London know as Notting Hill. I boarded the tube at King’s Cross station and exited at Notting Hill gate. The early morning rain had given way to golden strands of sunlight, a  slight breeze but weak by London standards. A perfect day to muck around in Knotting Hill. I began my requiescence  with a quiet stroll down Pembridge road.  The houses were awash in the brightest pastel colors. As if Van Gogh used his color palate to splash each house with elaborate hues of brilliance. Then though better of himself  and applied a different palate on the next street. Completely out of character for a borough of London. But that is the curious charm of Notting Hill. Diffused of the grit and bite of the central area, it is flirtatiously unapologetic for it’s unabashed liberalism. Yet still retaining that essential Anglo ambiance.

 

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Walking down Pembridge, around the next corner I came to Ladbroke Square. Bright colors give way to dusky browns and variant shades of umber colored houses, uniquely stylized from the Victorian era. Adjacent are the gardens of Ladbroke which is used as an ideal picnic spot by locals. Sandwiched in between two rustic looking antique shops was a quaint little book store. I half-heartedly expected Hugh Grant to emerge at any moment!  Just ahead of me the crowds thickened as a flurry of activity began to create quite a stir.

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At the intersection I saw what all the hubbub was about as I approached the infamous Portobello Road Market. There were so many people moving every which way in what can only be described as orderly pandemonium. The ruckus ensued throughout the market as each shopper searched for that special item to fill their sack. The Notting Hill market is one of west London’s great attractions. Vendors line the street selling wares ranging from antiques, trendy souvenirs, vintage clothing, dusty old books and a few relics from England’s illustrious past.  You may even find an ancient English artifact tucked away in a dusky corner ala Indiana Jones. I spied a vintage rugby ball that was quite worn and looked as though it had seem it’s share of games. After a trite bit of haggling I quickly snapped it up from the vendor and stowed it in my bag.

 

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Just beyond the market the area presents a more affable surrounding. The combination of posh restaurants, ultra chic shops and earthy local pubs give the streets sort of a cool vitality. There is usually a street band or two playing for coins adding a festive feel to the atmosphere. All this and more for the price of a tube fare!England 2012 086

After a day of haggling with street vendors and some fiesty street dancing I felt like getting lost in one of those old book shops!

Still no sign of Hugh Grant!-ZT

 

 

 

 

 

London along the Thames!

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Farther afield along the Thames embankment is the world renown Tate Modern Museum which houses some of the finest artwork in the world. You  may want to stop here and treat yourself to the likes of Picasso, Dali, Monet, Pollock and more. As well a diverse collection of British artist from the past century. There is a new Henri Matisse exhibit beginning April through September 2014 which is well worth a look over.
the south tower of St Paul's Cathedral

the south tower of St Paul’s Cathedral

Directly across the river from the Tate, past Queen Victoria street is St Paul’s Cathedral. The church was founded in 604 AD. Now that’s old! Although it’s current facade, the Baroque design construct dates back a mere 300 years to the 17th century. For a few pounds you are free to test you fate at climbing to the dome for divine views of London. But be fair warned you will  have to be in shape to conquer the 376 steps to the top. The winding stairs  are narrow and can only accommodate one person at a time and certainly not for the skittish as often there is a hole in the stairway big enough to see through. After all, they were built in the 600’s AD. So do not attempt if you  cannot make it back down because there is no ambulance at the top of the dome!
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The stunning view from atop St Paul’s Cathedral

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The Tower Bridge

Passing over Southwark Bridge is the infamous Tower Bridge to the right. Often confused as the London Bridge, yet it is quite young by London standards as it was constructed at the end  of the 19th century. A stones throw to the left is the imposing Tower of London. A thousand years old, this was the historic castle of the Kings and Queens of England. As well as prison to Elizabeth l. The castle creates a ripple in time giving you a window into civilization in Medieval England. This and more is all approachable while walking the Thames.
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Tower of London

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Palace guards on duty outside the Tower of London

After a couple of hours of trekking the Thames it was now time to replenish my energies. If bangers and mash, or fish and chips is not your cup of tea there are plenty of restaurants  around central London to quell those  annoying hunger pangs. Today I was in the mood for pizza and I heard that Franco Manca had a new restaurant on Lordship lane.  Franco Manca is renown for it’s gourmet pizza using slow rising pizza dough featuring wild boar and other exotic beasts! Ahhh..I mean meats! Londoners in the know site it as the best pizza in London. I can personally attest to this after a superb course of the wild boar pizza washed down by a local craft brew. Feeling replenished I was off to explore what else is new and old in London!

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Next entry: Mucking about in Notting Hill!..or Where the hell is Hugh Grant?!

Stomping in LondonTown! – Whats up?!

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The mesmerizing view of London’s skyline

A lot of people don’t like London. For the life of me I cant figure out what their reasoning is. It is a city I have visited many times and will always be a special place that I will return to over and over again. Aside from the fact that it is the most visited city in the world, the truth is, it’s extremely hard to have a bad time in London because it never seems to disappoint. Unequivocally, London is one of the top three cities on the planet and one of the few that is not overrated.

London Gardens

London Gardens

Despite some of the more prurient references afloat regarding England’s capitol, London beams with character and radiates with other worldly charm exclusive only to this legendary city. It has a splash of naughtiness and is forever finding ways to shake things up and make itself more interesting. There are two characteristics that set London apart form other large metroplexes. First, no matter how many times you visit you will always discover something new. Second, you can count on finding something old. Very old.

 

 

 

                                                    A blend of what’s new mixed with what’s old.England 2012 081 (2)

 

The first thing new thing you will notice when arriving at Heathrow Airport is the newly renovated Terminal 2.  T2 is completely redone to the tune of 2.6 billion pounds! Ouch! The terminal houses 63 shops and restaurants sweeping panoramic views overtly —glass windows. Describes as the  worlds first green airport  because it operates on solar panels, LED and natural lighting. It is also the home of a new sculpture entitled “Slipstream” by artist Richard Wilson. An homage to aviation and the worlds longest continuous artist sculpture. It is a rare thing indeed  that an airport is a tourist attraction in itself. Brilliant!

 

Bird's eye view of the River Thames

Bird’s eye view of the River Thames

My first order of business when I come to London is to stroll the embankment along the Thames. It’s one on the things I enjoy most about the city. Whether you have done it once or a thousand times it’s always a thrill. Walking east you receive specular views of the House of Parliament and  London’s iconic time clock referred to affectionately as Big Ben. Just across the river I came upon the fantastic sight of the London eye. For a mere 18 pounds you can indulge yourself with views from atop Europe’s largest Ferris wheel which features as the Brits would say “eye popping” views of London.

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Next Post: More of what new and old from London!-ZT

The old man…

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IMG_20140521_091534019_HDRThe old man frequently had too much to drink. But I was happy to indulge him for he was the most absolute gentleman. His eyes widened as he recounted to me fantastic stories of World War II when he was a child. Stories of strife, courage, raw with the full range of human insouciance and indifference. Accounts told to  me first hand from someone who actually was there and lived to tell about it.  I eagerly listened, giving my full attention. Salivating at every morsel he uttered. His stories  seemed more like fables or fairy tales rather than historical events and personal accounts of someone’s life.

I ordered another round of beers.

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It  occurred to me that those of his generation who lived through that turbulent time would not be around too much longer to retell these experiences. Most people outside of the Netherlands are familiar with the story of  gentle Anne Frank and the horrendous conditions under which she lived. And ultimately died. But living in Amsterdam you come to understand that there were so many Anne Franks. Millions of them with their own stories of human tragedy and cruelty. Not only in the Netherlands but all across Europe.  I was privy to receive these stories and deeply honored the old man entrusted me with them. This was the gift he gave to me for the price of a beer.  And for that I am eternally grateful. It is a debt I can never repay.~ZT, From My Amsterdam

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Amsterdam Bridges

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Shit happens here too.
It’s not all wine and roses.
I was riding my bike over the bridge that crosses the Amstel river on one of those beautifully cold, wet, rainy days. You know, one of those wonderfully nasty days when the wind is so strong its blowing you backward and the rain is coming at you sideways so there is absolutely no place you can hide except maybe say…hell. This kind of weather even the most hardened Dutchie can tell you is certainly not for the faint of heart.  But I made peace my with  the weather a long time ago as it is part of the deal for living  in Amsterdam. So onward I rode backwards!!
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Suddenly a motor scooter came speeding by from a side  street heading straight towards me. I knew that in this rain it was going to be difficult to avoid. I only had a split second to react.
So I dumped my bike and
took a spill right at the end of the bridge. I was the lucky one. I was ok.The guy riding in back of me was not. From my vantage point on the ground I watched the scooter  careen head on into the elderly man resulting in a  obscenely loud crash.

New Amsterdam 023 (2)I jumped up and quickly rushed over to the scene of the accident. The driver on the scooter began to get up as well and she seemed to be alright. However, the older gent was laid out  like a rag doll in the rain. He laid there motionless on the bridge, blood gushing from his forehead.

The scooter-girl and I began administering aid to the man, I took off my
scarf, wiped away the blood and pressed it firmly against the gash above
his right eye. The girl was on her cell phone with the ambulance while
simultaneously placing her scarf under his head. All the while we kept asking, are you ok? Are you ok? He started to move his
head from side to side. The scooter-girl and I let out a deep sigh of relief. We sat there, the three of us waiting for the
ambulance. In the rain. We kept talking to the man and he began to regain consciousness. We exchanged names, forced smiles
and waited. On the bridge. In the rain.
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The Ambulance finally arrived and took Jost, I learned he was called,  to the hospital. Explaining that he suffered from a concussion but he should be fine. We all said tot zien, and left.
A few days later I got a call from Jost. He said that he had contacted Anne, the scooter-girl and wanted to get together with us to celebrate that the rain had stopped.  So there we were, a patchwork of characters three days later at a quiet little cafe sharing beers. Somewhere near a bridge on a canal.
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The bridges in Amsterdam support the canal system and connect the streets, boulevards and passageways. But there are other more subtle bridges being constructed between the people of the city every day.  New relationships being forged  between strangers in a cafe. Clandestine meetings among would be lovers.  People of diverse backgrounds and nationalities of every stripe finding common ground to travel by. Profound and deep relationships develop beyond the cheap narrative  and popular stereotype being built daily in this amazing town. It is indeed something to celebrate.
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Three people were randomly slung together and shared a fortuitous experience at a bridge on an awful day in the Amsterdam rain. On occasion the three of us still get together for beers. Despite the rain.
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A friend of mine once mused that people are so busy building towers that they have little time to build bridges. Here in Amsterdam you will find your bridge.~ZT

Copenhagen…perhaps the happiest place on earth!!

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Waterside at Nyhavn in springtime

I had not seen her since right after I left college. It was not by chance that I was in Copenhagen at springtime. I was here to see someone special and it was in the spring several years ago that I had seen her last. Over the years I thought of her often. Many times while traveling to Copenhagen but managing my schedule to visit her was a regretable mea culpa at best. And for this I felt tremendously guilty. I remember how beautiful she was the first time I laid eyes on her. And the way she looked at me with that wide-eyed far away stare. How could I ever forget our time together.  This occasion however would be different. My mind was set in stone. I had to see her again.

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It was a bit of a hike from Tivoli  where I was staying in the city center. Tivoli Gardens is a grand amusement park of epic proportions  just south of Central Station. While the main attractions are the thrilling amusement rides there is a diverse  smattering of theaters, concerts, festivals, exhibitions, restaurants and healthy amount of green areas where you can stroll until your heart is content.  It is the second oldest amusement park in the world and a magnet for locals and visitors alike.

I walked up the broader boulevards to Nyhavn center. Then a set of narrower streets that wound around and jigsawed every which way towards the direction of the harbor. But I was not in the mood to be caught like a rat in a maze. My gait was purposeful. Resolute, as if driven by an expectancy of some unfulfilled premonition. Each stride bringing me closer to my goal.

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Eventually my efforts were rewarded when I came upon the Gefion Fountain, the largest monument in Copenhagen. Lady Gefion in all her glory was as defiant and graceful as I remember. Legend has it that Swedish king, Gylfi offered Gefion all the land she could plow in a single night. Knowing full well she had no means to achieve this task.

But cunning Gefion outsmarted the king and turned her four sons into oxen and and thus achieved her reward. This fountain celebrates  her victory. However lady Gefion was not the reason I came this way.  I tossed a coin into the fountain in hopes that I would return someday soon and pushed onward.IMG_0460 (4)

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Gefion and her Oxen

After a short jaunt through the gardens on Langelinie promenade the path brought me to the inviting shores of the Oresund straight which lead to the Baltic sea and my journey come to an end.

There she was. She had not aged at all. So poised and as beautiful as ever. Stoic and forever vigilant in her task watching over the harbor just as Hans Christian Andersen intended. The Little Mermaid.

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Copenhagen is actually quite small compared to most capital cities in Europe. It is the prized gem in the crown of the Danes dating back to the Viking era. The hearty Danes do not hibernate during the cold winter months so there is plenty of activity and much to do to keep everyone busy. However the radiant Baltic sun combined with the crisp Nordic air makes springtime the ideal season to experience the buoyant energy and effervescent spirit of Copenhagen.IMG_0453

The Nyhavn area, packed with waterfront cafes is the perfect place for the discriminating sport of people watching. And the Danes do put on quite a show.
Neatly situated between two seas, the North and the Baltic , Copenhagen shares much of its communal activities with its sister city, Malmo in Sweden. It is one of the greenest cities in the world brimming with culture, fine universities, parks, architecture and excellent museums. There is also a respectable presence of nightlife, cafes and restaurants that goes beyond the cliche’ but it is not over done. Once you  are here you will understand why Copenhagen is consistantly voted the happiest city in the world.

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Bring your smile. And let the happiness begin!

The Danes by nature are not garish or effusive, nor mischievous or circumspect. Alternatively, there is a homogeneous acquiescence of civic conformity. Here, there is a more subtle and refined approach to leisure. It is a welcoming city and accommodating to all. Weather you are  a local, a foreigner or just visiting to see a fin tailed friend.~ZT

Antwerp, Belgium!.. More than chocolate and beer!

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There is a new, hipper vibe running through the city streets, cafes and nightlife of Antwerp. Inviting cool spots with white hot energy heralding boundless possibilities of eventful times to come. It is a small city that is easily accessible by foot. Just point yourself in any direction starting from Grote Markt, the scenic old town square and allow your feet to wander.

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The statue of Brabo proudly stands in the center of Antwerp’s Grote Markt. Legend has it that brave Brabo freed the city from paying excessive taxes imposed by the evil giant Antigoon.

While  carousing the exquisite chocolate shops is the local past time, there is plenty of strong beer in ample supply that will swell your head to perfection. After all the Belgians practically invented beer. If you cant find a suitable malt to seduce your palate here then you should probably switch to  drinking smoothies.

Street musician in the old town area.

Street musician in the old town area.

The chic cafes and cozy comfort bars clustered just outside of the square range in variety.  Many of them are throw-backs from the early 1900’s. Some are so old they predate World War I. All are indescribably cool.
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The cracks in the walls are part of the decor. Perhaps this is the most beguiling  feature of Antwerp’s cafe intrigue. It would have been sacrilege to mend the old peeling paint and cracked stone and overlay them with cheap plaster. It is this ingredient that makes the city unique unto itself. The ability to allow things to loosely remain as they were and collect so much history along with the dust. To ensure that modernity peacefully coexist with the worn tile, finely cracked walls and aged stone.
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The Cathedral of Our Lady rises high in the Belgian sky.

The Cathedral of Our Lady rises high in the Belgian sky.

Historically, Antwerp was of  significant importance in many of Europe’s conflicts and was also a strategic player in WWII because of the logistics of its massive harbor. It has the  dubious distinction of being bombed more than any other city in Europe during that time. Since then a great deal of the city was modernized but much of the original infrastructure has been retained.
It was also a major source of angst  between the Allies and Axis and a cache of spy activities were reputed to be afoot in back rooms and quiet cafes.
Suspicions of cloak and dagger meetings were rumored throughout, persisting during the Cold War and perhaps continuing even today. You can almost imagine Bogart and Bergman stewing in a dusky corner cafe over a brandy and vodka.Shaken not stirred~ZT
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Experiencing the Mystique of Prague

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I arrived in Prague under cover of  darkness. My flight was late and the midnight sky only added to the allure and mystique of a place rumored to be untouched by time and of an era long past. By the time I cleared customs it was early morning and I was quite content to begin my exploration  oIMG_3296f the city in the afternoon. In fact I would have but something  called to me. An unsolicited summons compelling me to venture onward.  Perhaps it was something in the air. Maybe it was the ancient souls of those beckoning from a distant time. Or perhaps the song of some wayward  siren  prompting me  to delve further into the night.  Whatever the reason I was drawn to the city like lemmings to the cliffs edge. And there was no way I could retire to my hotel for the night, with the mystique of Prague laying at my feet.The temptation was too great. So  I ventured into the dimly lit night, feet ablaze onto the streets.

I walked up Norodni Trida but decided to bypass the main artery in lieu of the side streets decernibly littered with quiet cafes, kiosks and bodegas.  Very characteristic of old town  eastern European villages. Near the corner of Naprstkova I  came upon a narrow corridor which led down  to a candle lit stairway to a cafe at IMG_3235basement level. This is quite typical for an authentic Czech style cafe.IMG_3249

Budvar! Budvar! Budvar! was the chant I was greeted with upon entering the underground bar. The crowd was cheering for more beer as the server happily  slammed down stein after stein of the foamy local brew. This was definitely my kind of place.

Cozy, cheerful, honest and filled with some of the best tasting beer in the world. The locals are welcoming and gracious. Before long I was engaged in a host of conversations always ending with a click of  our glasses. As delightful as this was I could not stay. The wanderlust had taken  hold of me now. The lure of exploration set in and I had to move. After  a healthy round of beers  and home made sausages I hastily  retreated  heading toward the Vltava river and the Charles Bridge.

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Locals and visitors gather in the sun at Prague’s Old Town center.

Something magical happens when your feet meet the grey stone streets of Prague’s old town. You are replenished  with frenetic energy. Your senses  are in overdrive absorbing the sights of architectural marvels, castles and  cathedrals, unrivaled throughout the world. The cityscape teeming with ornate statues  on every structure, street, and alley from Wenceslas square to Mala Strana.IMG_3367

Buildings like polished gold shimmering in the midnight moonlight. The windows on the boulevard reflecting images of the proud Czech people treading on cold stone. It is European opulence at its most grand.  Still with so much to consume there was one structure that stood out among all others.
And there it was. Garishly stunning..

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…The Charles Bridge.

It is not often that I am at a loss for words. Seeing  The Charles Bridge for the first time rendered me speechless.  It stands steadfast along the Vltava connecting the Old Town and the ornate style bridge tower on the Mala Strana side and Prague Castle high on a hill.

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Statues on the Charles Bridge

Imagine walking on an ancient piece of art sanctioned by  UNESCO as a world heritage site. Conspicuously adorned with its overpowering statues of brooding saints standing like some ancient sentinels guarding the bridge and its patrons. Simply awe inspiring. But what was even more exhilarating was at this moment. In this late hour I was the only one there. For a brief moment in time I was the only human on one of the most beautiful and historically significant artifact in the world. I shared it with no one. Magic. The best I could  do was draw a breath.

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It is said that one day in Prague is worth 10 days anywhere else. It is one of the most enchanting and amazing cities in the world and probably the most beautiful in Eastern Europe. Since the Velvet revolution began in Wenceslas Square the Czechs have made swift moves to relieve itself from the politics  of the past. IMG_3282 (2)

It is modern, colorful and most of all exhilarating to explore. A historical and architectural paradise infused with  Gothic and Baroque structures from Stare Mesto to the Old town square.

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Understanding the city’s past helps to close the gap between  cultures old and new. Blending  the past and present in our hearts creating the illusion of tranquility in our minds, binding us together in spirit. It is in this moment that we transcend the

boundaries of time itself. With all of its complexity and historical disposition Prague still embodies a temperate honor. A genuineness that has weathered the test of the ages and  imbues a pertinence of quality to stand uniquely on its own.

It is in this moment that we peacefully surrender to the mystique of Prague.~ZT

Stockholm, a nordic paradice

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When building a city comprised of 14  islands, there are so many pitfalls and design anomalies one can fall into that would result in disaster. But it seems the Swedes have circumvented them all. Unlike most cities built on water you are not segmented by a series of arterial canals and wayward bridges.Image

The sizable boulevards and low building construct gives  the city a certain ease and flow as pedestrian traffic filters form island to island. This open design pattern can be found throughout  the city and adds to the allure of space and freedom. The first thing you notice is that water is everywhere. But thanks to the ingImageenuity of Swedish design, walking around Stockholm you feel as though you are connected to the sea as much as terra firma.

From the  historic area where Ostermalm meets the sea, it’s as if your eyes can see forever. Take a moment to pause and breathe in the sumptuous Nordic air. Is it your imagination or can you actually taste the freshness and purity?A short waterside walk over a rustic stone bridge overlooking lake Malaren your pace will quicken when you approach the more lively area of Sodermalm.
While touring the streets of Sodermalm, you can almost feel the spirit of the vikings howling in the wind from the spires of Skeppsholmen.Crossing the bridge from Sodermalm to Gamla Stan, a feast for your eyes emerges when you behold one of the oldest medieval cities in Europe.

773d5-img_3724Bask in the splendor and glory of old Stockholm as you stroll along Osterlangaten, the longest street in Gamla Stan. Traipsing past a slight incline  you are greeted by a friendly troll inviting you to explore the passage ways and catacombs of the old town.c9517-img_3808 ec4fd-img_3809Travere a series  of narrow alleys lined  with cobblestone is Gamla Stan’s center, which is more reminiscent of 17th century Dutch architecture than Scandinavian.

Spend the waning hours bathing in the sunshine on a park bench where Sodra Benickebrinken meets Svartmangaten. You will be treated to the spectacular  Nordic sun as it shines long into the night.

The Swedes are very proud of their city and with good reason. They know they have something special and wondrous in this cold Baltic region. The winters are long and conditions harsh.IMG_3767 - Copy (2)

But experiencing the warm hospitality of the Scandinavians, in a city renown for its grandeur and solemnity, devoid of the pomp and circumstance makes the experience a bit more palatable. And enchanting Stockholm is sure to indulge any need the temperate climate fails to satisfy.~ZT894df-img_3764

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