Places with photo galleries in Europe
The old part of Guimaraes is not just another charming medieval town in Portugal. The historical centre is UNESCO listed and includes ruins of a cute castle which is considered to be the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. The views from up here stretch beyond the pretty old town with its charming narrow lanes, lovely old houses and picturesque squares with cafes. Luckily, the tourist flow seems to be concentrated on a few sections, leaving other parts to the local people of Guimaraes - and the few curious visitors. Here, life goes on as it has done for decades, even centuries, in such ways that elderly ladies still do their laundry in the public outdoor washing basins.
Cute Lisbon doesn't feel like a western European capital. The pace is slow and there is nothing flashy about the lovely historical downtown. Here, a castle and grand buildings rise among decrepit, though charming, working-class neighbourhoods, where grannies yelling to each other from their windows, and there is a tavern at every other corner. The different quarters all have a different vibe. Some are decayed with lots of graffiti, while others are up-coming areas for the young and creative. Since Lisbon is built on sloping hills, you can find amazing panoramic views over the city's red roofs and blue sea, by ascending winding narrow streets and steep staircases. So, even though downtown Lisbon is very compact and walkable, it's easy to get lost (and out of breath) in the 3-dimensional maze of alleyways. Luckily, you can always jump on a tram and get back to a main square. Take a break here, have a pastry or a glass of port wine, before venturing into another quarter for some more exploration.
Right from the start, when you arrive in Porto, you get the feeling that the city has edge and character. Blue tiled churches and soaring towers rise over ramshackle houses with hanging clotheslines. Hilly streets and narrow alleyways wind their way through the UNESCO-listed historical centre. The fine university attracts a fair share of students, boosting the city with a youthful and arty vibe - and a large range of great cafes and bars. The tourists, however, seem to be spellbound by the picturesque riverfront right next to the iconic metal bridge, Ponte Luis I. A trip across Douro River will bring you to Vila Nova de Gaia, the main location for port wine cellars. A glass or two (or three or...) is of course inevitable.
Bucharest is Romania's buzzing capital with more than 2.1 million inhabitants. The streets are choked with traffic and sidewalks are patrolled by stray dogs, but it still is a fascinating place. One part was totally redone by dictator Ceaușescu inspired by North Korea's capital Pyongyang, and is an architectonic masterpiece in neo-Stalinistic city design that only dictators can come up with. The crown jewel from that period is of course the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in world only beaten by the Pentagon, USA. Another part of Bucharest, and probably more enjoyable, is the historical part, the one that Ceausescu didn't managed to demolish. Here you fine grand old buildings, big squares, manicured parks, interesting museums and flashy shopping streets - along with cafes, bars and surprisingly many pizzerias.
In 1935, a local wood carver started to make artistic crosses for the local graveyard in the small town of Săpânța. He succeeded turning the otherwise sad symbol into a cheerful monument by painting the crosses in bright colours and pictured the deceased in either their occupation or what they liked to do (which could be drinking). A funny poem or a small story from the deceased's life is carved under the picture and is often written in the first person, as if the deceased himself/herself were telling the story. Other stories on the crosses describe how the person died and one even warns visitors not to wake up a dead mother-in-law. When you see some of the pictures among the 800 crosses, you wish you could read Romanian.
Fort No. 5, or Pyaty Fort in Russian, was the fifth of 15 forts that made the strong defence of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). It was constructed in the end of the 19th century and was a prime example of defence structure of the time: A heavily armed fortified island of concrete surrounded by a moat. Today, it's an overgrown ruin open to the public. Rusty old cannons are still hidden in the woods and many of the mouldy bunkers and underground passageways are open for exploration. Though the Fifth Fort lies a bit outside downtown Kaliningrad, it's easily reachable by public transportation (just take tram no. 1).
Irkutsk is the mandatory stop on the Trans-Siberian journey if you want to go to the gorgeous Baikal lake. During the colonization of Siberia, it played an important role as an administrative centre, which still today gives the otherwise pleasant town a bit of a wild-east edge. There several colourful Orthodox churches and some residential quarters are still made up by wobbling old wooden houses with windows at curb level. Down at the lively market area, there are a lot of food stores (think smoked fish) and fur shops, along with street vendors and tough looking men in camouflage clothes hanging around - probably just like during the Siberian gold rush.
Besides being (maybe) the most heavily used subway system in the world (competing with Tokyo's), the metro of Moscow is also home to extravagant decorated stations, built more like palaces than transport hubs. Some of the most elaborated stations boast marble columns, bronze statues, mosaics or stained-glass pieces while ceilings can be ornamented or even lit up by large chandeliers. The end walls are usually fine examples of Socialist art that celebrate the Communist past. Enjoy these masterpieces while getting around in Moscow, or make them a destination in themselves.
A beautiful island located in the equally beautiful Lake Baikal. The only village, Khuzhir, is inhabited by tough-looking people who live in weather-beaten wooden cottages and get around on the dirt roads by Russian jeeps – or horses. There are several shamanic areas on the island with colourful clothes-wrapped poles. The only way to get here is by ferry or, in winter when the lake freezes over, simply by driving on the lake. Explore the island by jeep, foot, horse or even dog-sledge, is the main thing to do, besides enjoying the tranquility of the Siberian island life.
Either the end, or even better, the start of the Trans-Siberian railway, 9288 km from Moscow. This harbour town is beautifully set along a peninsula separating Golden Horn Bay from the Amursky Golf. It is the base for Russia's Pacific fleet which gives the town a real navy feel, with a fort and a submarine museum inside a docked submarine. There is even a city beach, which must be quite a sight on one of the few hot summer days. If you are planning on going east, it's possible to take the ferry to both Japan and South Korea.