Places with photo galleries in Europe
Tiraspol is, besides being the second biggest city in Moldova, the capital of the unrecognized republic of Transdniestr. It is a true ex-soviet city with a wide main boulevard, Strada 25 Octombrie, vacuumed for traffic, but lined with odd military monuments and crowned with a fine Lenin statue. There are hardly any restaurants or shops in town, so shopping can be a difficult task unless you are looking for a bottle of Kvint, the quasi-famous local Transdniestran cognac. There is a small market in classic Eastern-Bloc style behind the main square on Strada Karl Marx, but otherwise the main attraction is just to walk around and soak up the strange Soviet-era atmosphere.
Trans-what? Yes, Transdniestr is a self-proclaimed republic located mostly between Dniester River and the eastern Moldovan border to Ukraine. The breakaway territory declared independence from Moldova in 1990 and sports its own president, border control, police, and even money. Even with these impressive efforts, nobody recognises Transdniestr as an independent state, besides a few similar breakaway states like the ex-soviet territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nevertheless, it has recently become possible, and rather easy, to visit this wanna-be-state. Crossing into Transdniestr from Moldova feels like travelling back in time and makes Moldova look like a futuristic utopia. The journey requires border crossings (your passport is not stamped, sorry), change of money, and the skill of reading Russian since this is the official language of Trandsniestr. Dobro pozhalovat!
Very few seem to know this, but Moldova is actually semi-famous for its wine. You will however notice this right away when arriving to the country for every hill and every field seem to be covered in long rows of grapevines. The two biggest wineries are Milestii Mici and Cricova, both can be visited on a winery tour. They are both located underground in limestone mines and are very large, as in largest in the world. The wine collection at Milestii Mici alone contains more than 1.5 million bottles, which makes it the largest collection in the world. The underground network at Milestii Mici is more than 200 km long (Cricova is "only" 120 km in length), though only 55 km of those are used for storage, and every underground street has a catchy wine-name like Sauvignon street. Any wine tour ends of course with some wine sampling, which in our case was more about quantity than quality. Keep in mind that bookings are necessary with these not-so-foreign-tourist-friendly wineries.
Ohrid is beautiful old city right on the shore of Lake Ohrid. It's so rich in history that it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old part of town is deadly charming with old houses, winding streets and exquisite churches, where St. John at Kaneo is probably the most famous one. The church was built in the 3rd century and have a magnificent location high on a cape overlooking the lake. In summer time the city transforms itself into holiday zone for mostly local tourists and partygoers. North Macedonia isn't packed with mind-blowing sights, so Ohrid will for sure be the highlight of any trip to North Macedonia.
Let's be honest, Skopje is not the most exciting capital on the globe. The city is a strange mix of ancient stuff, some might even date back to Roman times, and dull concrete blocks. The fast flowing Vardar river splits the city into the old Muslim part, with bazaar, Turkish bathhouses and mosques, and the Orthodox side which is the "new" part. Here you will find Soviet-style public buildings, grand squares along with Orthodox churches, green neighborhoods with local cafes, and more drab concrete. The city center has a small flashy strip which act as a playground for the young and well-off.
Longyearbyen is the northernmost real town on the planet with university, supermarket, bank, library, and yes, even night clubs. The town is located so close to The North Pole (1300 km... yes, that's close) that it's in the dark half of the year and enjoys the midnight sun the other half. During autumn and spring, there is a good chance of catching northern lights waving up and down the sky in the most amazing hues of greens and violets. Svalbard has a big population of polar bears, so Longyearbyen is probably the only place on the planet where students are allowed to carry firearms to uni (we kid you not). Polar bear protection (firearms) also need to be carried when venturing into the amazing raw arctic wilderness, which lies unspoiled beyond the settlement. Just grab your ski, snowmobile, dog sled or hiking boots and off you go - just remember your rifle... or better, join a tour.
Northern lights (aurora borealis) are a natural phenomenon caused by solar eruptions. It is often associated to the far North and winter, but can be seen at any time of year and at almost any place. However, it's best observed during the dark winter months in a belt around the magnetic pole at a distance of about 2,500 km called the auroral zone, which includes parts of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Greenland, Iceland, and Scandinavia. Svalbard, where the pictures are from, lies in the periphery of this belt, meaning the mainland of Norway actually is a better place to see northern lights. On the southern hemisphere, the similar phenomenon is called aurora australis and happens simultaneously with the northern lights.
Warsaw might not impress at first sight. Though the tourist-haunted old town is UNESCO enlisted, most buildings needed to be rebuilt after WWII. Outside the Old Town, Warsaw is an odd mix of imposing 19th centuries mansions, Soviet-era 'masterpieces', tired workers' apartment blocks and sparkling new glass'n'steel business towers. Nowhere is this more evident than around the 'Palace of Culture and Science' which was a hard-to-decline present from the USSR. Its 231 m still make it the tallest building in Poland, but the modern skyscrapers around it are getting higher and higher every year. The amount of black luxury SUVs in the streets indicate that many are surfing the capitalism wave, leaving solidarity to the past. But Warsaw is still raw and full of lovely places with cheap beers, vodka and hearty food served through a hole in the wall.
Braga is the third largest city in Portugal (after Lisbon and Porto) and like the other ones, has a lovely historical centre. However, the old town of Braga isn't as compact as some other Portuguese medieval towns, and contemporary concrete buildings and shopping malls have seeped in between the fine churches (there are lots) and the old dilapidated houses. Nevertheless, the city still has its fair share of faded decayed houses with crooked balconies that Portugal is so famous for.
The well-preserved historical centre of Evora is considered one of the finest in Portugal - and is, of course, on UNESCO's World Heritage list. The old town, which dates back to Roman times, is still enclosed by 17th century walls and boasts a large amount of exquisite monuments and medieval buildings, including a Roman temple, a fine cathedral, and a chapel decorated with human bones. With cobblestone alleyways and houses kept in a strict white-and-yellow colour scheme, Evora is very picturesque - and popular with visitors. However, the town manages to tone down its status as a tourist magnet and keeps a humble attitude to its fine heritage.