praha, the royal bohemian city of 500 spires—photo essay

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One of my wanderings in Central and Eastern Europe was through Prague—or Praha in Czech—the economic, political, and cultural centre of Central Europe for most of its 1,100 years of existence. Generally acclaimed as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, it is after London, Paris, Istanbul, and Rome, the fifth most visited European city.

An overnight train from Budapest in a dark, panelled, velvet-clad train compartment took me to the “City of a Hundred Spires” [based on the count of a 19th Century mathematician]; a statistic which has now increased to 500 spires piercing its ethereal skyline. Praha was left largely untouched by the second World War unlike other European cities since Hitler made it a Nazi Germany protectorate in 1939. The result is a precinct pulled straight from the pages of a mythical past: Those that are romanticized and reminiscenced about, and are a treasure trove of art and architectural styles. Continue reading

36 hours in krakow

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Krakow is my last stop as I travel through Central Eastern Europe.

The royal capital of Poland, the city is unlike any other I have visited. And yes, this may well sound clichéd, but its past justifies the claim. The Old Town with its Jewish Quarter and Auschwitz II-Birkenau were one of the first to go on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Pronounced “Krakuf” in Polish, the medieval city of Krakow is straight from a mythical tale replete with dragons and princes. According to legend the 1,000-year-old city was founded by Krakus, a Polish prince who slayed the evil Wawel Dragon, and went on to build his castle and city over its lair on Wawel Hill by the banks of the River Vistula.

A set of bones of a pleistocene creature hangs over the Wawel Cathedral entrance. I am told they belong to the dragon and “The world will come to its end when the bones will fall on the ground.” Continue reading

global travel shot: remembering german nazi auschwitz, 70 years on

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When the bus dropped me off at Auschwitz II–Birkenau—a former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp on the outskirts of Krakow in Poland—on a summer day in 2012, I was not sure what to expect.

I was no stranger to scenes of debased humanity, having wandered through the Killing Fields in Cambodia, and explored the corridors of Robben Island in South Africa. I knew I would see pain, suffering, and the manifestation of an absolute ruthless version of humankind. But to what extent and how it was mourned 70 years on in Auschwitz II–Birkenau gave me both the jitters and hope. It still does. Continue reading

once upon a time, there was a fairy tale called buda-pest

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“Once upon a time I was young and beautiful. I flirted. I was brash. I was elegant. Time changed me. History scarred me. Will you love me still?”

Lying on the banks of the Danube, the twin cities of Buda and Pest are a bygone romantic fairytale draped in swaths of 60 years of communism, and at present the capital of a nation struggling to find its place in a capitalist world. Budapest demands and deserves delving beyond the obvious as one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations and beautiful cities; if for no other reason than to just believe in fairy-tales again. Continue reading

empress sisi’s vienna – today

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“I am a seagull, of no land,
I call no shore my home,
I am bound to no place,
I fly from wave to wave.”
~ Empress Elisabeth of Austria aka Sisi (1837-1898)

A fervent traveler, the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, Sisi, born Elizabeth, the Duchess of Bavaria, was a beautiful, lonely, reclusive woman. An adamant non-conformist and free spirit, she married her cousin Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria (1848–1867) at 17, and spent the rest of her life refusing to carry out the traditional roles of empress, wife or mother expected of her. The death of her eldest child at two, and the suicide of Rudolf, her fourth child, pushed her deeper into her shell. She was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898. Continue reading