Category Archives: Europe

The port of Copenhagen


CopenhagenEven from a quick glance it’s abundantly clear that Copenhagen is – and has been for centuries – the place of commerce. Copenhagen is located on a busy maritime route between the Baltic and the North Sea. Its name in Danish, København, means “merchants’ harbor.” Indeed since the city’s beginnings in the 11th century as a humble fishing village Kopenhagen has been attracting economic activity with its excellent natural harbor and rich fisheries.

The most photographed place in the city, 17th-century canal and waterfront called Nyhavn, features picturesque houses of merchants and historical wooden ships that once used to carry trading goods. Constructed by King Christian V, Nyhavn became the key gateway from the sea to the inner city center, Kongens Nytorv, or King’s Square, where ships unloaded cargo and fish. Today Nyhavn is a great place for people watching and to grab a tasty bite. Don’t miss smørrebrød, a Danish version of sandwich but I’d say it’s more accurately described as an excuse to put a whole lot of delicious stuff on a slice of bread. Many places offer great smørrebrød throughout the city, it’s not hard to find. The one I enjoyed just off Nyhavn was Cafe Brooklyn (Toldbodgade 3).

Continuing with Copenhagen’s commercial heritage, another place not to miss is Børsen, a gorgeous Dutch renaissance style building constructed by King Christian IV in the early 17th century. It was built to house the stock exchange, reflecting the growing importance of commerce in the country’s economy and in the life of its capital city. The most impressive part of the building is the dragon spire – four intertwined dragon tails topped by three crowns symbolizing the empire that spanned Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Børsen housed the Copenhagen Stock Exchange until 1974. Read the rest of this entry


Cars, palaces, truffles, and chocolate


TurinTurin – Torino – does not usually come to mind when you ask someone to list the top ten cities to visit in Italy. Most widely known as the car city, or Italy’s Detroit, Turin conjures images of industrial bleakness – and that’s too bad. Yes, it is the home of FIAT, a popular car brand that hides its geographic origin in the acronym that spells out Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino. But Turin is also an ancient Roman city, Augusta Taurinorum, that for centuries was the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, later the Kingdom of Sardinia, and finally in 1861 the first capital of unified Italy. And it has opulent palaces, impressive piazzas, the famous Shroud, and the grandeur of world-class restaurants, cafes, museums, theaters, and opera houses to prove it.

Nestled at the foothills of the majestic Alps (that is what the Piedmont means literally, “at the foot of the mountains”), Turin is conveniently located close to France, Switzerland, and the Italian coast. It is surrounded by Piedmontese vineyards famous for Barolo Barbaresco wines made from the Nebbiolo grape, and close to the truffle capital, Alba. A compact city center makes it easy to reach major attractions by foot. All these make Turin a wonderful place to visit and the city has been reclaiming its fame in recent years, boosted by hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics. Ready for a quick tour? Read the rest of this entry

We will remember them


London poppiesAs far as I’m concerned, every visit to London is a special treat. This year, an amazing art project commemorating the World War I, made it even more special. For a few brief months (August 5 to November 11, 2014 to be exact), the moat surrounding the mighty Tower of London was transformed into a crimson sea of poppies – one for each British soldier fallen during the Great War. Created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, the installation called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red filled the moat over the summer with 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies. Read the rest of this entry

White City of the North


HelsinkiI must admit I was unexpectedly charmed by Helsinki. Visiting there in early March, I was envisioning a frozen Nordic capital. The weather was indeed on the chilly side but I barely noticed, having been totally amazed by the city’s stunning architecture and welcoming vibe. Above all, I was surprised – and delighted – by the “North-meets-East” feel of the place. The Northern part does not need much explanation: Helsinki is the second northernmost capital city in the world after Reykjavik. It is Helsinki’s eastern character that is less commonly appreciated. While in the common consciousness Finland, a member state of the European Union, is firmly a part of Western Europe, geographically and historically it also has strong ties to the East – namely Russia.

After centuries of Swedish rule, Finland came under Russia’s influence after the 1808-09 war fought between the Kingdom of Sweden and the Russian Empire. As a result of the war, the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland was established within the Russian Empire. When Tsar Alexander I moved the new duchy’s capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg, the city began its transformation into a modern metropolis. Its downtown in particular was shaped in the neoclassical image of the tsarist capital by a German-born architect Carl Ludvig Engel. Read the rest of this entry

Bella Roma


JP II canonization

Crowds gathered at the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII (Image: CNN)

Santo subito! – Saint now! the crowds of faithful gathered in Rome were demanding at the Polish Pope John Paul II’s funeral on April 8, 2005. Last Sunday, these calls were answered when John Paul II, along with John XXIII were canonized by Pope Francis in an unprecedented ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican. For Poles in particular – religious or not – this was a special day. John Paul II was “our” pope, for people from my generation the only pope we’d ever known, a source of spiritual strength in bleak communist reality of Poland at the time, and a source of inspiration to millions that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly, during the days surrounding the canonization ceremony Rome became a Polish city with thousands of pilgrims from Poland flocking to the Italian capital. Read the rest of this entry

Fun in Frankfurt



Frankfurt skyline

Yes, I meant for the title of this blog to be provocative. For most people Frankfurt – the one on the Main river – has three leading associations: 1) one of the few European cities with a U.S.-style skyline, 2) the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB), and 3) a giant airport that they always transit through but never leave. None of the above (but especially the airport) typically brings the word “fun” to mind. But that impression changed for me when, after countless flight connections at FRA, my husband and I finally decided to venture outside having built two days in the city into our itinerary. And it was totally worth it!

Did you know that there used to be a Roman settlement here? While few artifacts remain, the Roman heritage lives on in the name of a hallmark medieval building in the compact yet surprisingly charming Old Town (Altstadt) called Römer, or Roman, after a merchant family that used to own it. Did you know that the world-famous Frankfurt Trade Fair (or Frankfurter Messe) dates back to 1150? Did you know that German kings and emperors were elected in Frankfurt since 855 and also crowned there from 1562 until 1792 at the impressive Frankfurt Cathedral of St. Bartholomäus? Did you know that Goethe was born here in 1749? I didn’t until I finally took the time to explore. Read the rest of this entry

In love with Verona

Juliet's balcony in Verona

Juliet’s balcony in Verona

Seeing a superb performance of Romeo and Juliet directed by Aaron Posner at Washington DC’s beautiful Folger Theatre took me back to summer days in Verona. Before I went there I really knew nothing about this city beyond its association with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Verona surprised me, charmed me, exceeded expectations in every way. I was anticipating a mini-Disneyland with Romeo & Juliet-themed rides. I found a city rich in history and and points of interest beyond the famed Juliet’s balcony (which by the way is a tourist zoo).

Juliet’s house at Via Cappello 23 (Casa di Giulietta), dating back to the 13th century and owned by the family dell Capello, is usually the first stop on everybody’s Verona itinerary. Never mind that we’re not really sure whether Romeo and Juliet ever existed and that the balcony that overlooks the courtyard was added in the 20th century. Capello apparently sounds close enough to Capulet and that’s sufficient to create a tourist craze. Read the rest of this entry

London calling


IMG_0249Earlier this year I saw a superb adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick at Washington, DC’s Atlas Theatre. The story’s protagonist, Richard Mayhew, rescues a mysterious wounded girl he finds on the London sidewalk and he is soon plunged into an underworld of “London Below” where the struggle between good and evil, heroes and monsters, plays out among imaginary spaces with familiar names of London Underground tube stations. I had been to London before many years ago, but Neverwhere inspired me to reconnect and incorporate a few days in the city into the itinerary of a recent trip to Europe.

My impressions of London were not unlike those of Richard Mayhew:

“Richard had originally imagined London as a gray city, even a black city, from pictures he had seen, and he was surprised to find it filled with color. It was a city of red brick and white stone, red buses and large black taxis, bright red mailboxes and green grassy parks and cemeteries.” Read the rest of this entry

Discovering Arad


IMG_9332A Romanian city of Arad doesn’t get many blogs written about it and that’s a shame because it’s definitely worth a visit even though it may not be among the top tier destinations in Eastern Europe. But such off-the-beaten-path places are precisely where you get to experience the country in a more authentic way, removed from throngs of tourists. Arad in a way felt very familiar, easy. The language is a relatively simple to decipher mix of Romance and Slavic influences, plus Turkish words like the delicious ciorbă soup but that didn’t quite help me =) And the architecture – except for Orthodox churches – made me think of my Polish hometown, Kielce (and right now I’m realizing I still haven’t blogged about it – shame!)

The third largest city in Western Romania after Timişoara and Oradea, Arad is an important transportation hub and urban center. The city straddles the banks of the Mureș River that arches in an inverted U-shape around an expansive park with the 18th century fortress. It was built after the 1699 Treaty of Carlowitz that ended 16 years of hostilities between the Ottoman Empire and a coalition of Austria, Poland, Venice, and Russia. As a result of the treaty Transylvania and much of Hungary were transferred from Turkish control to the Habsburg Empire. The Mureș became a boarder between Habsburg Austria and Ottoman Turkey and Arad a frontier town in need of fortification. Read the rest of this entry

Culinary highlights of Budapest


BudapestBudapest: breathtaking views of the lazily flowing Danube river, artful bridges connecting the buzzing urban Pest side on the east bank with the steep, green, royal Buda hill to the west, expansive Parliament Building and imposing St. Stephen’s Cathedral… I loved them all and I’ll write about them – some other time. Right now, with the memories of my trip to Budapest I am, well, hungry to recapture some of the culinary highlights. Let the journey begin!

The day starts with a fortifying breakfast buffet at a charming boutique place, Three Corners Hotel Art‘s La Perle restaurant. My favorites were various Hungarian salamis, duck liver pate, and delicious pickled herring – perhaps not universally appreciated as a breakfast item but what can I say, that’s where my Polish roots show =) Read the rest of this entry