Wednesday, 30 May 2012



Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan area is the third largest in the European Union after London and Paris.

The city is located on the Manzanares river in the centre of both the country and the Community of Madrid (which comprises the city of Madrid, its conurbation and extended suburbs and villages); this community is bordered by the autonomous communities of Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha. As the capital city of Spain, seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political centre of Spain.

Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times, and there are archeological remains of a small Visigoth basilica near the church of Santa María de la Almudena and two visigoth necropolises near Casa de campo and Tetúan, the first historical certainty about the existence of an established settlement in Madrid dates from the Muslim age. At the second half of the 9th century, Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba built a fortress on a headland near the river Manzanares, as one of the many fortress he ordered to be built on the border between Al-Andalus and the kingdoms of León and Castile, with the objective of protecting Toledo from the Christian invasions and also as a starting point for Muslim offensives. After the disintegration of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Madrid was integrated in the Taifa of Toledo.

With the surrender of Toledo by Alfonso VI of León and Castile, the city was conquered by Christians in 1085, and it was integrated into the kingdom of Castile as a property of the Crown. Christians replaced Muslims in the occupation of the center of the city, while Arabs and Jews settled in the suburbs. The city was thriving and was given the title of "villa", whose administrative district extended from the Jarama in the east to the river Guadarrama in the west. The government of the town was vested to the neighboring of Madrid since 1346, when king Alfonso XI of Castile implements the regiment, for which only the local oligarchy was taking sides in city decisions. Since 1188, Madrid won the right to be a city with representation in the courts of Castile. In 1202, King Alfonso VIII of Castile gave Madrid its first charter to regulate the municipal council, which was expanded in 1222 by Fernando III of Castile.

In June 1561, when the town had 30,000 inhabitants, Philip II of Spain moved his court from Toledo to Madrid, installing it in the old castle. Thanks to this, the city of Madrid became the political center of the monarchy, being the capital of Spain except for a short period between 1601 to 1606 (Philip III of Spain government), in which the Court translates to Valladolid. This fact was decisive for the evolution of the city and influenced its fate. 

Royal Palace
The death of Charles II of Spain resulted in the War of the Spanish succession. The city supported the claim of Philip of Anjou as Philip V. While the city was occupied in 1706 by Anglo-Portuguese army, who proclaimed king the Archduke Charles of Austria under the name of Charles III, and again in 1710, remained loyal to Philip V.

Philip V built the Royal Palace and the main Royal Academies. But the most important Bourbon was King Charles III of Spain, who was known as "the best major of Madrid". Charles III proposed himself the feat to transforms Madrid into a capital worthy of this category. He ordered the construction of sewers, electric lighting, cemeteries outside the city, and many monuments (Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles Fountain), and cultural institutions (El Prado Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Royal Observatory, etc.).

Madrid was one of the most heavily affected cities of Spain in the Civil War (1936–1939). The city was a stronghold of the Republicans from July 1936. Its western suburbs were the scene of an all-out battle in November 1936 and it was during the Civil War that Madrid became the first European city to be bombed by airplanes.

After the death of Franco and the democratic regime, the 1978 constitution confirms Madrid as the capital of Spain. In 1979, the first municipal elections bring democracy to Madrid's first democratically elected mayor since the Second Republic. Madrid was the scene of some of the most important events of the time, as the mass demonstrations of support for democracy after the foiled coup on February 23, 1981. Benefiting from increasing prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s, the capital city of Spain has consolidated its position as an important economic, cultural, industrial, educational, and technological centre on the European continent. 

The nightlife in Madrid is undoubtedly one of the city's main attractions. Tapas bars, cocktail bars, clubs, jazz lounges, live music venues, flamenco theatres and establishments of all kinds cater for all tastes and ages. Every night, venues pertaining to the Live Music Venues Association La Noche en Vivo host a wide range of live music shows. Everything from acclaimed to up-and-coming artists, singer-songwriters to rock bands, jazz concerts or electronic music sessions to enjoy music at its best.

Some of the most popular night destinations include the neighbourhoods of: Bilbao, Tribunal, Atocha, Alonso Martinez or Moncloa, together with Puerta del Sol area (including Opera and Gran Via, both adjacent to the popular square) and Huertas (barrio de Las Letras), destinations which are also filled with tourists day and night.

What is also popular is the practice of meeting in parks or streets with friends and drinking alcohol together (this is called 'botellón', from 'botella', bottle), but in recent years, drinking in the street is punished with a fine and now young madrileños drink together all around the city instead of in better-known places.

Madrid hosts the largest Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Spain, Las Ventas. Madrid's bullfighting season begins in March and ends in October. Bullfights are held every day during the festivities of San Isidro (Madrid's patron saint) from mid May to early June, and every Sunday, and public holiday, the rest of the season. The style of the plaza is Neo-Mudéjar. Las Ventas also hosts music concerts and other events outside of the bullfighting season. 

You can find just about everything in Madrid. People have come to the city in search of the sophisticated, the unique or even the eccentric. Variety is the essence of shopping in the city: from the elegance and flair of the shops in the Salamanca district to the hip, alternative clothing of Fuencarral Street. Madrid transcends fashion; its style cannot be defined. It is said that the city is the sum of all trends, an amazing, living collage. The Tourism Information Centre at Casa de la Panadería on Plaza Mayor sells items related to the city under the brand ¡Madrid!. It features books on the history of the city, its architecture and museums as well as t-shirts and CD's with tunes inspired by the capital. 

City Hall

In Madrid, gastronomy is culture, leisure and business. There is a vast range of culinary variety on offer: in Madrid you can find everything, from traditional homemade dishes to the most innovative and creative cuisine. Enjoy international food from all over the globe, made with the best raw ingredients, and the stoves of the city offer some of the most surprising dishes of modern cuisine.

One of Madrid's most long-established traditions is going out for tapas. There are time-honoured and modern taverns, traditional venues and trendy restaurants,  they all serve the famous small delicatessen bites that go down perfectly with a glass of wine and excellent conversations.

In the centre of Madrid, the streets are dotted with establishments that have been here for over a century. Some are patisseries, others are chemists, but most are taverns that seem to have blended into the environment. They are still run traditionally, using methods that have allowed them to survive over several generations without altering their aspect. Walking into these taverns is like stepping one hundred years back in time. Most still have red façades, a trend that started in the 19th century to set them apart from other venues, and a decoration based on tiles with drawings. Inside, cold marble tables, wooden benches, zinc bars and an intense aroma of wine, mainly from Valdepeñas, stand the test of time.

Historical records reveal taverns were a flourishing business already in the Middle Ages. The establishments were preferred by the lower classes, who got together to chat over a glass of wine which was served in jugs that came covered with a slice of bread to avoid spilling the liquid they contained. That custom may have originated the ‘tapas' (covers), referring to the portion of food that is always served with a drink.

These taverns, located in the oldest part of the capital -Cava Baja, Cava Alta, Cava de San Miguel, Puerta de Sol orLa Latina- have been host to meetings of intellectuals, politicians, writers and commoners avid for a good debate over a tasty meal. They are now an absolute reference point for Madrid's gastronomy that no one, local or tourist, should miss.

Museo Del Prado

                                                        Madrid’s Top 5:
  1. Santa María la Real de La Almudena is a Catholic cathedral in Madrid. When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo; so the new capital – unusually for a Catholic country – had no cathedral. Plans were discussed as early as the 16th century to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena, but construction did not begin until 1879. The cathedral seems to have been built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI reconquered Madrid. The Neo-Gothic interior is uniquely modern, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, in heretogeneous styles, from historical revivals to "pop-art" decor. The Neo-Romanesque crypt houses a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. Nearby along the Calle Mayor excavations have unearthed remains of Moorish and medieval city walls.
  2. City Hall.  The most prominent of the buildings at the Plaza de Cibeles is the Cibeles Palace (formerly named Communications Palace). The cathedral-like landmark was built in 1909 by Antonio Palacios as the headquarters of the postal service. This impressive building was home to the Postal and Telegraphic Museum until 2007 when the landmark building became the Madrid City Hall.
  3. The Royal Palace and Armoury. Home to the Kings of Spain from Carlos III to Alfonso XIII, Madrid's Royal Palace is now open to the public. Though it is no longer the royal family's home, it continues to be their official residence. Long before Madrid became the capital of Spain, Emir Mohamed I chose Magerit (the city's Arabic name) as the site for a fortress to protect Toledo from the advancing Christians. The building was eventually used by the Kings of Castille until finally becoming what would be known as the Antiguo Alcázar (Old Fortress) in the 14th century. Carlos I and his son Felipe II turned the building into a permanent residence for the Spanish royal family. However, in 1734 a fire burnt the Palace of the Austrias to the ground, and Felipe V ordered the construction of the palace that stands today. It was Carlos III (known as the "Mayor of Madrid" due to the large number of reforms and initiatives that he undertook in the city) who became the first monarch to occupy the new building. His successors Carlos IV (responsible for the creation of the Hall of Mirrors) and Fernando VII added many decorative details and furnishings, such as clocks, items of furniture and chandeliers.
  4. The Museo del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture, it also contains important collections of other types of works. A new, recently opened wing enlarged the display area by about 400 paintings, and it is currently used mainly for temporary expositions. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered to be among the greatest museums of art. The large numbers of works by Velázquez and Francisco de Goya (the artist more extensively represented in the collection), Titian, Rubens and Bosch are among the highlights of the collection. The collection currently comprises around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents.
  5. The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is a famous bullring in Madrid. Situated in the Guindalera quarter of the district of Salamanca, it was inaugurated on June 17, 1931. It has a seating capacity of 25,000 and is regarded as the home of bullfighting in Spain.
    This bullring was designed by the architect José Espeliú in the Neo-Mudéjar (Moorish) style with ceramic incrustations. The seats are situated in ten "tendidos". The price of the seats depends upon how close they are to the arena and whether they are in the sun or the shade (the latter being more expensive). The bullfighting season starts in March and ends in December; bullfights are held every day during the San Isidro Fiesta, and every Sunday or holiday during the season. Bullfights start at 6 or 7pm and last for two to three hours.

Monday, 28 May 2012



Malmö, in the southernmost province of Scania, is Sweden's third largest city by population after Gothenburg and Stockholm, and is one of the largest cities in Scandinavia. Malmö is the seat of Malmö Municipality and the capital of Skåne County.

Malmö is thought to have been founded in the year 1275, as a fortified quay or ferry berth of the Archbishop of Lund, some 20 km to the north-east. It was, for centuries, Denmark's second biggest city. Its original name was Malmhaug (with alternate spellings), meaning "Gravel pile".

In the 15th century, Malmö became one of Denmark's largest and most frequented cities, reaching a population of approximately 5,000 inhabitants. It became the most important city around the Sound, with the German Hanseatic League frequenting it as a marketplace, notable for its flourishing herring fishing. During that time, the city arms were granted in 1437 by King Eric of Pomerania. It was based on Eric's own arms from Pomerania: an argent with a griffin gules. It gave the griffin's head to Malmö, eventually this extended to the entire province of Scania.

In the 17th century, Malmö and the Scanian region (Skåneland) came into Swedish possession. This happened following the Treaty of Roskilde, signed in 1658. Fighting was not yet over, however; in June 1677, 14,000 Danish troops laid siege to Malmö for a month, but were unable to conquer the Swedish troops holding it.

The Town Hall
In 1840, the Kockums shipyard was founded and it eventually became one of the largest shipyards in the world. In 1870, Malmö overtook Norrköping to become Sweden's third most populous city and by 1900 Malmö had strengthened this position with 60,000 inhabitants. 

Malmö continued through the first half of the 20th century. The population had swiftly increased to 100,000 by 1915 and to 200,000 by 1952. By 1971, Malmö reached 265,000 inhabitants, but this was the peak which would stand for more than 30 years.

By the mid 1970s, Sweden experienced a recession that struck especially hard on the industrial sector; shipyards and manufacturing industries were hard hit, which led to high unemployment in many cities of Scania. Kockums shipyard had become a symbol of Malmö as its greatest employer and when the shipbuilding ceased in 1986 the reassurance for the future of Malmö plummeted among politicians and the public. Since the 1970's the Kockums Crane had been a landmark in Malmö and a symbol of the city's manufacturing industry, but in 2002 it was disassembled and moved to South Korea. In 2005 Malmö got a new landmark with completion of Turning Torso, the tallest skyscraper in Scandinavia. 

Malmö is unique in many ways. No matter where you are, you are near to almost everything since the city is built as a semicircle. Even in the outer areas there are good public transportations and closeness to nature and the beach.  Malmö has five popular bathing places, all located at the coast of Öresund. Two beaches have comfortable white sand, one a great green area and the other two spacious wooden decks. Common for every one of them is that the water quality is so good, that they can display Blue Flag. 
The beaches are also popular walking areas all year long, especially those evenings when the sky is coloured purple red in west.

Malmö is known for having a great number of restaurants and pubs. The style is very international. Here, you have the opportunity to try out virtually everything at reasonable prices, thanks to the tough competition. It's very easy to find a good restaurant because Malmö is a culinary stronghold. Traditional Swedish dishes, foreign specialties to gourmet dinners, cheap or expensive, there's a wide variety of food in Malmö. Look out for pepparkakor, literally pepper cookies, but flavoured with cinnamon, ginger, molasses and cloves. Traditional accompaniment to glögg (mulled wine). Have a seat outdoors or indoors and enjoy a good meal. 

Something from the latest Prada collection, or a cute, unique piece of art made by a local co-operative? An antique jewellery box, or a shiny coffee pot designed by a young promising Swedish designer? Malmö has it all, and shopping is conveniently conglomerated in the city centre, along the pedestrian streets Södergatan andSödra Förstadsgatan, and in surroundings blocks nearby, especially Lilla torg and Davidhallstorg.

The pedestrian street stretches from Stortorget along Södergatan, via Gustav Adolfs Torg, continuing along Södra Förstadsgatan across the square to the shopping centre Triangeln. Even if the whole route is almost 2 km/1.2 mi long, you will have plenty of possibilities to rest in one of the many cafés or restaurants on your way.  From Triangeln one can keep on south, towards Möllevången, Malmö's bohemian quarter, where exotic food boutiques and markets can bring some flavour to this shopping round, which also turns out to be a delightful sight-seeing tour.

Malmö also has a large variety of shopping malls in the city centre as well as in the outskirts of the city. Every mall has its own style and assortment. Some are very exclusive, others offer a wide selection of shops and international and national chain of shops. You find almost everything is under the same roof: clothes, electronics, provisions, restaurants, jewellery, toys, books and more. The malls have extended opening hours and most of them are open on Sundays as well. 
Malmö Castle

Malmö has a vibrant night life, but prices are for the most part substantially higher than they are across the bridge in Copenhagen. Lille Torg is the epicentre but prices are high, you could also try Möllevångstorget where any of the many bars, cafés and restaurants in this bustling part of town are good value. Like in Copenhagen, and indeed most of Scandinavia, expect most of the drinking to be limited to Friday and Saturday except at the height of summer when many Swedes are on vacation. 

                                                        Malmo’s Top 5:
  1. The Church of Saint Peter.  Malmö's oldest building is St Peter's Church. It was built in the early 14th century in Baltic Brick Gothic probably after St Mary's Church in Lübeck. Construction was started in 1319. It is built in the Gothic style and has a 105-metre (344 ft) tall tower.  The church is built with a nave, two aisles, a transept and a tower. Its exterior is characterized above all by the flying buttresses spanning its airy arches over the aisles and ambulatory. The tower, which fell down twice during the 15th century, got its current look in 1890.
  2. Malmö Castle. The first castle was founded in 1434 by King Eric of Pomerania. This structure was demolished in early 16th century, and a new one was built in its place in the 1530s by King Christian III of Denmark. Historically, this fortress was one of the most important strongholds of Denmark. The castle was for five years (1568–1573) the prison of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The earl was taken into custody on the orders of the Protestant Danish king Frederick II of Denmark when his ship ran aground in Bergen, Norway during a storm. 
  3. HSB Turning Torso is the tallest skyscraper in Sweden and the Nordic countries,  located on the Swedish side of the Öresund strait. Upon completion, it was the tallest building in Scandinavia, the tallest residential building in the EU and the second tallest residential building in Europe. It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and officially opened on 27 August 2005. The tower reaches a height of 190 metres (623 feet) with 54 stories
  4. Rådhuset (The Town Hall) It was originally built in 1546, but has been altered several times. The facade got its today's appearance - in Dutch Renaissance style - in 1864-69. It is home to the seat of the Malmö Municipality in Skåne County. When the first Swedish local government acts were implemented in 1863 the old City of Malmö was made one of the country's 88 city municipalities and the first city council was elected.
  5. The Öresund Bridge (called also Øresund Link) opened for traffic in 2000. The bridge is one of the biggest constructions in Europe and consists of an 8 kilometres (5 miles) long bridge, a 4 kilometres artificially made island called Pepparholmen, and a 4 kilometres long tunnel. The Öresund Region is today one of Europe's most important areas in terms of growth and environment, and the bridge has been a important factor here. A city tunnel - a railway tunnel that connects stations: Malmö Central, Malmö Triangeln, and Malmö Hyllie with the Öresund link - makes it easier and quicker to travel in the region. The bridge is unique because it connects two countries. And a travel between Malmö and Danish Copenhagen takes only approx. 20 minutes.

Sunday, 27 May 2012



Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia with 95,200 inhabitants as of 2011. Maribor is also the largest city of the traditional region of Lower Styria and the seat of the City Municipality of Maribor.  Maribor is situated among the Pohorje Mountain, the Slovenske gorice Hills and the Kozjak Hills on the gravel terrace of the Drava Valley. The river Drava divides the city on the left (north) and the right (south) bank. The city`s old town core is situated on the left bank of the river Drava. To the north, Maribor is embraced with the town (wine-growing) hills, and on the south-western part of the city, the foothills of the Pohorje Mountain start to rise.

In 1164, a castle known as the Marchburch (Middle High German for "March Castle") was documented in Styria. It was first built on Piramida Hill, which is located just above the city. Maribor was first mentioned as a market near the castle in 1204, and received town privileges in 1254. 

It began to grow rapidly after the victory of Rudolf I of Habsburg over Otakar II of Bohemia in 1278. Maribor withstood sieges by Matthias Corvinus in 1480 and 1481 and by the Ottoman Empire in 1532 and 1683, and the city remained under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy until 1918.
During World War I, many Slovenes in Carinthia and Styria were detained on suspicion of being enemies of the Austrian Empire. This led to distrust between Austrian Germans and Slovenes. After the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918, Maribor was claimed by both the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs and German Austria. On 1 November 1918, a meeting was held by Colonel Anton Holik in Melje's barracks, where it was decided that the German speaking city should be part of German Austria. 

On 27 January 1919, Austrian Germans gathered to await the United States peace delegation at the city's marketplace were fired on by Slovenian troops, who apparently feared the crowd of thousands of ethnic German citizens. Nine citizens were killed and more than eighteen were seriously wounded; who ordered the shooting has never been conclusively established. German sources accused Maister's troops of shooting without cause. Conversely, Slovene witnesses such as Maks Pohar claimed that the Austrian Germans attacked the Slovenian soldiers guarding the Maribor city hall. Regardless of who was responsible, the Austrian German victims had all been unarmed. The German-language media called the incident Marburg's Bloody Sunday.

Maribor Castle
As Maribor was now firmly in the hands of the Slovenian forces and encircled completely by Slovenian territory, the city was recognized as part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes without a plebiscite in the Treaty of Saint-Germain of September 1919 between the victors and German Austria.

After 1918, most of Maribor's Austrian Germans left the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs for Austria. This included the German-speaking officials who did not originate from the region. Austrian German schools, clubs, and organisations were ordered closed by the new state of Yugoslavia, even though ethnic Germans still made up more than 25% of the city's total population as late as the 1930s. A policy of cultural assimilation was pursued in Yugoslavia against the Austrian German minority similar to the Germanization policy followed by Austria against its Slovene minority in Carinthia. However, in the late 1930s the policy was abandoned and the Austrian German minority's position improved significantly in an attempt to gain better diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany.

In 1941, Lower Styria, the Yugoslav part of Styria, was annexed by Nazi Germany. German troops marched into the town at about 9 pm on April 8, 1941. The city, a major industrial center with an extensive armaments industry, was systematically bombed by the Allies in the closing years of World War II. A total of 29 bombing raids completely destroyed and devastated around 47% of the city area, killing 483 civilians and leaving over 4,200 people homeless. By the end of the war Maribor was the most destroyed and devastated larger town in Yugoslavia. The remaining German-speaking population, except those who had actively collaborated with the resistance during the war, was summarily expelled following the end of the war in 1945.

After the liberation, Maribor capitalized on its proximity to Austria as well as its skilled workforce, and developed into a major transit and cultural center of Northern Slovenia, enabled by Tito's decision not to build an Iron Curtain at the borders with Austria and Italy and to provide passports to Yugoslav citizens.

When Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, the loss of the Yugoslav market severely strained the city's economy which was based on heavy industry. This resulted in a record unemployment rate of nearly 25%. The economic situation has improved since the mid-1990s. Through the development of small- and medium-sized businesses and industry, Maribor was able to overcome the industrial crisis. Slovenia entered the European Union in 2004. Moreover, Slovenia introduced the Euro currency in 2007 and joined the Schengen treaty; accordingly all border controls between Slovenia and Austria ceased on 25 December 2007.

With one of the country's best ski resorts only a few minutes' drive from the city centre, Maribor is a top destination for both foreign visitors and Slovenes alike during the winter season. In mid-January the city hosts the prestigious Zlata Lisica (or Golden Fox) Audi FIS Women's World Ski Championship, which draws competitors and spectators from around the world, and engulfs Maribor in a citywide party atmosphere. Thanks in part to its 48 years of experience hosting such a major sports event, Maribor has also been chosen as the site of the 26th Winter Universiade in 2013. 

Wine and food form an important part of the Slovene tradition. Mariborians appreciate their wine and swear by it - just as they do the tasty specialties of their cuisine. Tourist farms and wine shops on the three wine roads are choice places to visit during a stay or trip to Maribor and at the same time a pleasant way to end a tiring day. Here you can sit and relax with a glass or two of excellent vintage wine. Likewise in the city and suburb restaurants, inns and pubs you will be pampered with culinary delights.

Maribor's medieval Water Tower
The delights of Slovenian cooking, hidden in old recipes, are now available at almost every turn. Food with tradition can be seen in family inns, special events called osmice and rural experiences. Its faithful companions are the excellent Slovenian wines. Almost everywhere you go in Slovenia you can find tasty and varied dishes, and Slovenian wines can enthuse even the most demanding wine connoisseur. Slovenia's varied cuisine developed with influences from the cuisines of the Mediterranean, the Pannonian plain, the Alps and the Balkans. One special feature of Slovenian cuisine is the osmice in the Karst. At these social events, for eight days farmers serve home-made wine at extremely low prices. Cheeses and dried meat products, particularly the outstanding kraški pršut (air-dried ham), are always available.

While shopping is not the primary motivation for most trips to Maribor, you shouldn't have any trouble finding what you need, be it local crafts, a replacement MP3 player, fresh flowers to brighten up your hotel room or some faded Yugoslav relics from the country's not-too-distant past. In general, souvenir shops are of the specialist variety, with dedicated stores for wine, honey, chocolate and ceramics among others, and there are also some great outdoor markets (ortržnica) that are worth visiting even if you're not interested in actually buying anything. Keep in mind that aside from the modern Europark shopping centre and various markets, only the rarest of exceptions are open on Sunday.

Town Hall
In Maribor the term 'nightlife' is a slight misnomer, since the drinking usually begins well before the sun goes down and can continue until the morning light reminds you that it might be time for bed. With university students accounting for over twenty per cent of its population, the city definitely has a carefree time-to-party vibe to it - although the weekends can be comparatively quiet, as that's when a lot of students return to their parents' houses to stock up on home-made food and have mother do their laundry. In absolute terms, there may not be an overwhelming number of options, but most places do seem to draw quite a crowd and everyone should be able to find something to suit their tastes.

                                                        Maribor’s Top 5:
  1. Maribor Cathedral  The Gothic building dates to the 12th century, and is dedicated to John the Baptist. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Maribor.  The construction of the cathedral and its further development brought Maribor additional cultural impetus and enforcement. It was originally built as a Romanesque building, but today it shows a Gothic style with a long chancel dating from the 14th century and a central church nave from the 15th century. Climb to the top of the bell tower and you will have a view over the city and far beyond.
  2. Maribor Town Hall  Built in 1515, it was remodeled in Renaissance style between 1563 and 1565. In the mid-19th century, it was again renovated in the late Classical style, but was later restored to its original 16th century appearance. Adolf Hitler addressed local Germans from the building's main balcony, overlooking the square during his brief 1941 visit to the city. In addition to city offices, the hall also houses a Slovene national cuisine restaurant, Toti Rotovž. In the square outside the hall there stands the Plague Memorial, which commemorates the “black death” that devastated the city in 1680.
  3. Maribor castle (Mariborski grad). Built by Emperor Frederick III in the 15th century to fortify the northwestern part of the town wall. The castle is located right in the centre of Maribor, surrounded by the Castle square (Grajski trg) and the Trg svobode square (Trg svobode). In the castle, you can visit the Maribor Regional Museum.
  4. The Water Tower is a medieval fortified tower. The tower directly abuts the river Drava, and dates from 1555. A late-renaissance fortification, it consists of massive stone blocks interspersed with embrasures. It was built to secure the southeast part of the city walls from the direction of the river.  At present, the Water Tower houses a wine shop which specializes in top-quality Slovenian wines. It is Slovenia's oldest wine cellar, and is situated in what is now the centre of Maribor. The shop is on the ground floor. The top floor of the tower contains a large, round hall with a high ceiling, reminiscent of a medieval banquet hall, which is dedicated entirely to wine tasting.
  5. Franciscan church The current church with a monastery was built between 1892 and 1900 and replaced an older Capuchin church from 17th century but the vault itself has been preserved.The church has been ordered by the Franciscan monk Kalist Heric, deisgned by Viennese architect Richard Jordan and built by a Viennese builder Josef Schmalzhofer. It's major architectural symbol are the two 58m tall bell towers.  The church interior is decorated with various magnificent details of which the main altar made of 17 different types of marble is the most prominent. In addition there are also 6 side altars.
Franciscan Church


Saturday, 26 May 2012



Marseille is the second largest city in France, after Paris. Located on the southeast coast of France, Marseille is France's largest city on the Mediterranean coast and largest commercial port. Marseille is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, as well as the capital of the Bouches-du-Rhône department.

Humans have inhabited Marseille and its environs for almost 30,000 years: palaeolithic cave paintings in the underwater Cosquer cave near the calanque of Morgiou date back to between 27,000 and 19,000 BC; and very recent excavations near the railway station have unearthed neolithic brick habitations from around 6000 BC.

Marseille, which can be called the oldest city in France, was founded in 600 BC by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port under the name Massalia. The connection between Μassalia and the Phoceans is mentioned in Book I, 13 of the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. The precise circumstances and date of founding remain obscure, but nevertheless a legend survives. Protis, while exploring for a new trading outpost or emporion for Phocaea, discovered the Mediterranean cove of the Lacydon, fed by a freshwater stream and protected by two rocky promontories. Protis was invited inland to a banquet held by the chief of the local Ligurian tribe for suitors seeking the hand of his daughter Gyptis in marriage. At the end of the banquet, Gyptis presented the ceremonial cup of wine to Protis, indicating her unequivocal choice. Following their marriage, they moved to the hill just to the north of the Lacydon; and from this settlement grew Massalia. 

Palais Longchamp
Massalia was one of the first Greek ports in Western Europe, growing to a population of over 1000. It was the first settlement given city status in France. Facing an opposing alliance of the Etruscans, Carthage and the Celts, the Greek colony allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic for protection. This protectionist association brought aid in the event of future attacks, and perhaps equally important, it also brought the people of Massalia into the complex Roman market. The city thrived by acting as a link between inland Gaul, hungry for Roman goods and wine (which Massalia was steadily exporting by 500 BC), and Rome's insatiable need for new products and slaves. Under this arrangement the city maintained its independence until the rise of Julius Caesar, when it joined the losing side (Pompey and the optimates) in civil war, and lost its independence in 49 BC.

It was the site of a siege and naval battle, after which the fleet was confiscated by the Roman authorities. During Roman times the city was called Massilia. It was the home port of Pytheas. Most of the archaeological remnants of the original Greek settlement were replaced by later Roman additions.

Marseille adapted well to its new status under Rome. During the Roman era, the city was controlled by a directory of 15 selected "first" among 600 senators. Three of them had the preeminence and the essence of the executive power. The city's laws amongst other things forbade the drinking of wine by women and allowed, by a vote of the senators, assistance to a person to commit suicide.

It was during this time that Christianity first appeared in Marseille, as evidenced by catacombs above the harbour and records of Roman martyrs. According to provencal tradition, Mary Magdalen evangelised Marseille with her brother Lazarus. The diocese of Marseille was set up in the 1st century (it became the Archdiocese of Marseille in 1948).

With the decline of the Roman Empire the town fell into the hands of the Visigoths. Eventually Frankish kings succeeded in taking the town in the mid 6th century. Emperor Charlemagne and the Carolingian dynasty granted civic power to Marseille, which remained a major French trading port until the medieval period. The city regained much of its wealth and trading power when it was revived in the 10th century by the counts of Provence. 

in 1437, the Count of Provence, René of Anjou, who succeeded his father Louis II of Anjou as King of Sicily and Duke of Anjou, arrived in Marseille and established it as France's most fortified settlement outside of Paris. He helped raise the status of the town to a city and allowed certain privileges to be granted to it. Marseille was then used by the Duke of Anjou as a strategic maritime base to reconquer his kingdom of Sicily. King René, who wished to equip the entrance of the port with a solid defense, decided to build on the ruins of the old Maubert tower and to establish a series of ramparts guarding the harbour. Jean Pardo, engineer, conceived the plans and Jehan Robert, mason of Tarascon, carried out the work. The construction of the new city defenses took place between 1447 and 1453.

During the Second World War, Marseille was bombed by the German and the Italian forces in 1940. The city was occupied by Germans from November 1942 to August 1944. On 22 January 1943, over 4,000 Jews were seized in Marseilles as part of "Action Tiger." They were held in detention camps before being deported to Poland to be murdered. The Old Port was bombed in 1944 by the Allies to prepare for liberation of France. After the war much of the city was rebuilt during the 1950s. The governments of East Germany, West Germany and Italy paid massive reparations, plus compound interest, to compensate civilians killed, injured or left homeless or destitute as a result of the war.

From the 1950s onward, the city served as an entrance port for over a million immigrants to France. In 1962 there was a large influx from the newly independent Algeria, including around 150,000 returned Algerian settlers (pieds-noirs). Many immigrants have stayed and given the city a French-African quarter with a large market.

Le Panier
The City Centre of modern day Marseille offers a wide range of shops with big brands sitting alongside small arts and crafts boutiques, department stores or shops selling Provencal gifts and souvenirs - something for everyone. The pedestrianised streets: Rue Saint-Ferréol, Rue de la Tour (often referred to as "Fashion Street") and the Cours d’Estienne d’Orves with its Italian-style square which offers the pleasure of combining shopping with eating out. In the surrounding streets, between the opera house and the Prefecture, you will find kitchen and dining ware, home furnishing, confectioners and traditional shops, jewellers, bookshops, fashion stores and accessories…

Rue Paradis and Rue Grignan are home to luxury goods stores and independent boutiques with all the major brands. The Centre Bourse with its department stores is a haven for shopaholics with more than 200 shops, offering a range of chic or more casual ready-to-wear fashion. The souvenir and gift shops (soaps, olive oil, etc.) are to be found between the Old Port and Le Panier, popular tourist areas. There are also regional gourmet and craft products on sale in the department stores (Galeries Lafayette, etc.) as well as at the Tourist Office shop (where you can find some unique “Marseilles-themed” items).

Over the last few years the old town district of Le Panier has become a popular location for artist studios (painting, sculpture), crafts (ceramics, santons, wood), galleries, gastronomic produce (chocolates, olive oil, navette cakes), etc. There are a myriad of places to visit as you stroll through Marseille’s oldest quarter.

The friendly atmosphere is the main flavour of meals in Marseille where the typical daily fare includes olive oil and garlic. At the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Marseille is no stranger to foreign cuisine and has even adopted some recipes as its own. The result? Spicy dishes with a sunny touch, not to mention fish, shellfish and other seafood delicacies that make up the local fare. There are many restaurants in Marseille, ranging from traditional cuisine to world food, not to mention oriental fare and Mediterranean food with a strong Italian influence, and of course the seafood specialties. Establishments tend to be well decorated and the popular "city" style is a sign of these contemporary times.

                                                        Marseille’s Top 5:
  1. Marseille Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille or Cathédrale de la Major) is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France. It has been a basilica minor since 1896. It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Marseille (formerly the Diocese of Marseille until its elevation in 1948). Some modest structures remaining from the largely demolished earlier cathedral, the "Vieille Major", still stand alongside, dwarfed by the huge scale of the later construction. The present cathedral, the "Nouvelle Major", was built on an enormous scale in Byzantine-Roman style from 1852 to 1896 on the site used for the cathedrals of Marseille since the fifth century, principally by the architects Léon Vaudoyer and Henri-Jacques Espérendieu (1829-1874). 
  2. The Palais Longchamp is a monument in the 4th arrondisement of Marseille. It houses the city's museum of fine arts and natural history museum. The surrounding park (the Parc Longchamp) is listed by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France. The Palais Longchamp was created to celebrate the construction of the Canal de Marseille, which was built to bring water from the Durance River to Marseille. Although the foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Orleans on 15 November 1839, the building took 30 years to complete, partly because of the enormous expense and partly because of difficulties with local regulations. Designed by the architect Henry Esperandieu, the building was centered on the structure and elaborate fountain known as the chateau d'eau ("water castle").
  3. La Vieille Charité is a former almshouse, now functioning as a museum and cultural centre, situated in the heart of the old Panier quarter. Constructed between 1671 and 1749 in the Baroque style to the designs of the architect Pierre Puget, it comprises four ranges of arcaded galleries in three storeys surrounding a space with a central chapel surmounted by an ovoid dome. The idea of an almshouse for the poor, dedicated to Notre-Dame, mère de Charité (Our Lady, Mother of Charity), was originally conceived in 1622; but it was not until 1640 that a suitable plot of land was acquired, with the first pensioners admitted in the following year. Although the foundation stone was laid in that year, construction commenced only in 1671, following a grand plan of the architect Pierre Puget. It was not completed until 1749, construction being prolonged as the result of reductions to the project imposed by the aldermen of Marseille. The central chapel was erected between 1679 and 1704, although Puget died before its completion.
  4. The Abbey of St. Victor is a late Roman former monastic foundation named after the local soldier saint and martyr, Victor of Marseilles. The Abbey is one of the oldest places of Christian worship in Europe. In about 415, John Cassian founded two monasteries of St. Victor at Marseille, one for men (the later Abbey of St. Victor), the other for women. In the eighth or ninth centuries both monasteries were destroyed by the Saracens, either in 731 or in 838, when the then abbess Saint Eusebia was martyred with 39 nuns. The nunnery was never re-established. No rebuilding took place until the first half of the eleventh century when through the efforts of the then abbot, Saint Wiffred, the men's monastery was at last rebuilt. It soon recovered, and from the middle of the eleventh century its renown was such that from all points of the south appeals were sent to the abbots of this church to restore the religious life in decadent monasteries. The remains of Saint John Cassian were formerly in the crypt, with those of Saints Maurice, Marcellinus and Peter, the body of one of the Holy Innocents, and Bishop Saint Maurontius. All that now remains of the abbey is the church of St. Victor, dedicated by Pope Benedict IX in 1040 and rebuilt in 1200. It was made into a minor basilica in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. 
  5. Notre-Dame de la Garde This ornate Neo-Byzantine church is situated at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 162 m (532 ft) limestone outcrop on the south side of the Old Port. As well as being a major local landmark, it is the site of a popular annual pilgrimage every Assumption Day (August 15). Local inhabitants commonly refer to it as la bonne mère ("the good mother"). A minor basilica of the Catholic church, it is situated on a limestone peak of 149m (490 feet), on the walls and foundations of an old fort. Built by architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu, the basilica was consecrated on 5 June 1864. It replaced a church of the same name built in 1214 and reconstructed in the 15th century. The basilica was built on the foundations of a 16th-century fort constructed by Francis I of France to resist the 1536 siege of the city by the Emperor Charles V. The basilica is made up of two parts: a lower church, or crypt, dug out of the rock and in the Romanesque style, and an upper church of Neo-Byzantine style decorated with mosaics. A square bell-tower of 41m (135 feet) is surmounted by a belfry of 12.5m (42 feet) which itself supports a monumental, 11.2m (27 feet) tall statue of the Madonna and Child made out of copper gilded with gold leaf.

    Notre-Dame de la Garde

Thursday, 24 May 2012



Messina is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, Italy and the capital of the province of Messina. It has a population of about 250,000 inhabitants in the city proper and about 650,000 in the province. It is located near the northeast corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, just opposite Villa San Giovanni on the mainland.

Founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC, Messina was originally called Zancle, from the Greek: ζάγκλον meaning "scythe" because of the shape of its natural harbour (though a legend attributes the name to King Zanclus). A comune of its province, located at the southern entrance of the Strait of Messina, is to this day called 'Scaletta Zanclea'. In the early 5th century BC, Anaxilas of Rhegium renamed it Messene in honour of the Greek city of the same name. The city was sacked in 397 BC by the Carthaginians and then reconquered by Dionysius I of Syracuse.

In 288 BC the Mamertines seized the city by treachery, killing all the men and taking the women as their wives. The city became a base from which they ravaged the countryside, leading to a conflict with the expanding regional empire of Syracuse. Hiero II, tyrant of Syracuse, defeated the Mamertines near Mylae on the Longanus River and besieged Messina. Carthage assisted the Mamertines because of a long-standing conflict with Syracuse over dominance in Sicily. When Hiero attacked a second time in 264 BC, the Mamertines petitioned the Roman Republic for an alliance, hoping for more reliable protection. Although initially reluctant to assist lest it encourage other mercenary groups to mutiny, Rome was unwilling to see Carthaginian power spread further over Sicily and encroach on Italy. Rome therefore entered into an alliance with the Mamertines. In 264 BC, Roman troops were deployed to Sicily, the first time a Roman army acted outside the Italian Peninsula.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was successively ruled by Goths from 476, then by the Byzantine Empire in 535, by the Arabs in 842, and in 1061 by the Norman brothers Robert and Roger Guiscard (later count Roger I of Sicily). In 1189 the English King Richard I, ("The Lionheart") stopped at Messina en route to the Holy Land and briefly occupied the city after a dispute over the dowry of his sister, who had been married to William the Good, King of Sicily

Messina was most likely the harbour at which the Black Death entered Europe: the plague was brought by Genoese ships coming from Caffa in the Crimea.

The city reached the peak of its splendour in the early 17th century, under Spanish domination: at the time it was one of the ten greatest cities in Europe. In 1674 the city rebelled against the foreign garrison. It managed to remain independent for some time, thanks to the help of the French king Louis XIV, but in 1678, with the Peace of Nijmegen, it was reconquered by the Spaniards and sacked: the university, the senate and all the privileges of autonomy it had enjoyed since the Roman times were abolished. A massive fortress was built by the occupants and Messina decayed steadily. In 1743, 48,000 died of plague in Messina. In 1783, an earthquake devastated much of the city, and it took decades to rebuild and rekindle the cultural life of Messina.

In 1847 it was one of the first cities in Italy where Risorgimento riots broke out. In 1848 it rebelled openly against the reigning Bourbons, but was heavily suppressed again. Only in 1860, after the Battle of Milazzo, the Garibaldine troops occupied the city. One of the main figures of the unification of Italy, Giuseppe Mazzini, was elected deputy at Messina in the general elections of 1866.

The city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake and associated tsunami on the morning of December 28, 1908, killing about 60,000 people and destroying most of the ancient architecture. The city was largely rebuilt in the following year, according to a more modern and rational plan. It incurred further damage from the massive Allied air bombardments of 1943, which caused thousands of deaths. Later, the city gained a Gold Medal for Military Valour and one for Civil Valour in memory of the event and the subsequent effort of reconstruction.

Despite its somewhat explosive history, Messina is a thriving town with characteristic annual festivals and celebrations of its long history. On the 13th and 14th of every August the Ride of the Giants takes place, with two enormous statues, one black and one white, known as Grifone and Mata are paraded through the city on horseback in celebration of the mythical founder of the city. The following day, a feast is held in which are placed large wagon withPapier Mache figures, and driven by more than a thousand people. In more recent times this festival has been given a more religious aspect, but originally it was simply a celebration of the origins of the city. 

Palazzo Zanca
There's no doubt about it. Food and wine are among Sicily's main attractions, and you may have sampled something of both long before arriving in Sicily. When most people think of Italian food, pasta and pizza come to mind. But Sicilian cuisine, and the Mediterranean Diet, transcends these ubiquitous culinary delights. 

Caponata is a tasty salad made with eggplant (aubergines), olives, capers and celery, it makes a great appetizer. There is also an artichoke-based version of this traditional dish, though you're less likely to find it in most restaurants. Sfincione is a local form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and (sometimes) anchovies. Prepared on a thick bread and more likely found in a bakery than in a pizzeria, sfincione is good as a snack or appetizer. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and served fried. Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same bean. Crocché(croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Arancine are fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese.

Sicily is renowned for its seafood. Grilled swordfish is popular. Smaller fish, especially snapper, is sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finnochio con sarde (fennel with sardines). Meat dishes are always popular. Many are traditionally made with lamb or goat. Best known outside Sicily is vitello alla marsala (veal marsala), one of many regional meat specialties. Chicken "alla marsala" can be prepared using a similar recipe and method. Milza (veal spleen) sandwiches are a bit "native" for most tastes, and loaded with cholesterol, but delicious anyway.

Sicilian desserts are superlative. Cannoli are tubular crusts with creamy ricotta and sugar filling. If they taste a little different from the ones you've had outside Italy, that's because the ricotta here is made from sheep's milk. Cassata is a rich, sugary cake filled with the same delicious filling. Frutta di Martorana (or pasta reale) are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit. Sicilian gelato (ice cream) is excellent. In fact, it is possible that ice cream was invented in Sicily during Roman times, when a relay of runners would bring snow down from Mount Etna to be flavored and served to wealthy patricians. You'll find flavors ranging from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese). Granita is sweetened crushed ice made in Summer and flavored with lemons or strawberries.

Many visitors to Messina use the city as a base to explore the larger area. Taormina is a medieval village perched alongside the steep terrain jutting out of the ocean and is the main attraction in the greater Messina area. While it has kept its Medieval character, it is now a shopper's paradise. The main pedestrian shopping street is loaded with shops, boutiques and specialty stores selling everything under the sun. Near the top of Taormina Village is a wonderfully preserved Roman Theater. This pretty much sums up Taormina's charm. There is something for everyone. Great shopping, wonderful restaurants, Roman Ruins, Medieval pedestrian streets and even stairs to a great beach. What more could anyone want? Plus it is all connected by one simple street and stairway.

Likewise, Mt. Etna the most active volcano in Europe is close by. How active? It has erupted almost every year for the past ten years. A tour of Mt. Etna is an interesting look at how current volcanic action affects today's European culture.

Messina shopping is an opportunity to learn more about the city's art, culture, and historic legacy. Among the best souvenirs you can get here, local pottery and ceramics are the main highlights. Art comes in second, followed by leather goods, fresh produce from the farmer's market (including vegetables, fish and olive oils), as well as fashion inspired by traditional costumes. Sicily may be a small island, but it's still Italy, so you can shop for international fashion brands if local genuine artifacts are not for you. 

                                                       Messina’s Top 5:
  1. Messina Cathedral (originally 12th century), containing the remains of king Conrad, ruler of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century. The building had to be almost entirely rebuilt in 1919-1920, following the devastating 1908 earthquake, and again in 1943, after a fire triggered by Allied bombings. The original Norman structure can be recognised in the apsidal area. The façade has three late Gothic portals, the central of which probably dates back to the early 15th century. The architrave is decorated with a sculpture of Christ Among the Evangelists and various representations of men, animals and plants. Some decorative elements belong the original building, whereas the mosaics in the apse are reconstructions. Tombs of illustrious men besides Conrad IV, include those of Archbishops Palmer (died in 1195), Guidotto de Abbiate (14th century) and Antonio La Legname (16th century). The bell tower holds one of the largest astronomical clocks in the world, built in 1933 by the Ungerer Company of Strasbourg. The belfry mechanically animated statues, which illustrate events from the civil and religious history of the city every day at noon, are a popular touristic attraction. 
  2. Monte di Pieta. The work of Natale Masuccio, Monte di Pieta is an impressive construction dating back from 1616. During the 18th century, extensive reconstruction works included the first floor, the bell tower and the staircase. What remains today from the original building is the beautiful facade, a large balcony and baroque style windows. It is used now for exhibitions and theater performances.
  3. Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II Built in the late 19th century by the order of Ferdinand II of Bourbon, Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II is a neoclassical project of architect Pietro Valente. Damaged in 1908, the theatre was subject of an extensive restoration project, being almost rebuilt from ground up. The theatre was expanded considerably and the belated reopening in 1985 was marked by a performance of Aida, which was also the last show before the damaging events eight decades earlier.
  4. Palazzo Zanca. The City Hall of Messina was severely damaged by the earthquakes in 1783 and 1908 and was rebuilt son after the 1908 events under the supervision of Antonia Zanca. With a beautiful neoclassical style, the city hall covers more than 12,000 square meters, with the facade dedicated to statues and tombstones that recreate the troublesome history of the city.
  5. San Ranieri lighthouse. Built in 1555, The lighthouse is situated on the southern tip of the peninsula at Porto di Messina. The light can be seen for more than 21 miles.

    Monte Di Pieta