The European Series are articles that cover a number of regions that don't have their own specific multi-page series. Cities such as Florence & Messina in Italy, Marseilles & Aix-en-Provence in France, Athens & Mykonos in Greece, Croatian cities, as well as the historical Valletta in Malta can be found here. They aren't grouped by country but alphabetically listed to make finding a specific city easier.
Plus, over time the series will expand with other areas not yet included.
Aix-en-Provence, 19 miles north of Marseille, has a moderate Mediterranean climate and gives you the impression of an easy, laid-back lifestyle. The Cours Mirabeau, a hub of history and leisure, has a wide thoroughfare planted with double rows of trees which enhance the outdoor ambiance of cafes and restaurants that border this major boulevard with its shopping areas. Fountains and fine houses also decorate the borders of the street...more
First, let me say that Athens is not a favorite city of mine even though the Acropolis and the Parthenon are breathtaking. I found it disconcerting to see all of the graffiti in the city. It was definitely a distraction and I wondered why it hadn’t been cleaned up considering how much Greece relies on tourism.
UPDATE: Initial visit was 2009 and it was the same on a return visit in 2012.
The fact that any Greek person, young or old, would defile their wonderful heritage and spoil a tourist’s memories of Athens…was beyond my thinking. Tourists are such a major industry (millions visit each year) it really is a shame to have people leave with that bad aftertaste…even the Acropolis doesn’t entirely overcome those lasting images. Thankfully however, the Greek Islands haven't been blemished in this manner.
With that being said, the natural beauty of the city, with such a grand location and its monolithic ruins is still something to be seen at least once...more
Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde (our Lady of the Guard)...former lighthouse, former fortress, a sacred site of pilgrimage...is a major symbol of Marseille. It matters little where you are in the city because you can constantly gaze upward to the city"s highest point and spot "La Bonne Mere", the nickname for the monumental statue of Mary that adorns the top of the Basilica. It is made of copper gilded with gold leaf...more
The Cetina River is in southern Croatia and it has a length of about 63 miles. It flows into the Adriatic Sea. It rises from a spring near a small village called Cetina. It is believed that in medieval times it was a frontier between Slavic and late Roman power.
The river is scenic as it meanders, twisting and turning. Along the way there is evidence of ancient ruins but no one was expanding our knowledge of what they were...more
The Diocletian Palace spans almost 10 acres. What tends to stand out in your mind as you stroll through the subterranean passageways and wander through the streets above ground is that Roman Praetorian Guards and an Emperor of Rome once placed their feet where you step.
Diocletian spent the 3 last years of his life at his palace and it combined the refinements and opulence of a massive villa with those of a military camp…both of which gave him comfort...more
Dubrovnik is a walled city on the Adriatic Sea coast of Croatia. In 1979 the city joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. It was the only eastern Adriatic city-state to rival Venice. It is among the 10 best medieval walled cities in the world.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans led to a lot of the fortifications being built. Bosnia fell in 14163 and that also was a motivation to build with speed...more
Florence was on our list of historic cities that we wanted to visit. A personal perception was that while Rome had its historical place in history as being the mighty capital of its powerful conquering armies...that this city was the romantic and artistic center that spawned such greats as Michelangelo.
Although we would give the "romantic" award to Venice, this city does merit recognition for its Renaissance art, architecture and original monuments that exist in very few other places.
The historic center of Florence does indeed attract millions of tourists each year and despite the fact that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982 and has been ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world...it simply didn't "grab" us. However, we could still appreciate its artistic and architectural heritage and admire the fabulous sculptures...more
The Grand Marina Hotel, located in the heart of Port Vell in Barcelona, has a very modern, contemporary design. When you step into the main lobby entrance the impressive, circular staircase jumps out at you and pleasantly assaults your senses with its symmetry. The designer was also the creator of the pyramid forming the main entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Everywhere you look there are many innovative and artistic displays, some exhibiting a Spartan, simple beauty. All of the hotel’s 291 rooms are exterior rooms with either a sea view or garden/patio view. The World Trade Center buildings are also visible from some rooms because the hotel shares the space with this complex. Room service is available 24 hours a day...more
The Auberge de Castille et Leon was formerly the official seat of the Knights of Malta and it now houses the office of the Prime Minister of Malta. Auberges were temporary residences for visiting knights who didn't maintain a home in Malta. Other dignitaries needing hospitality while traveling also were given accommodations.
The Magisterial Palace, built between 1571 and 1574, formerly the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, now houses the Maltese Parliament and offices of the President of Malta...more
Koper is a coastal town with the largest commercial port and is the oldest town in Slovenia. Koper is also one of the main road entry points into Slovenia from Italy which lies to the north. It also has a rail connection to Ljubijana which is the capitol of Slovenia.
Italian used to be the main language, spoken by about 90% of the population, until it was incorporated into Yugoslavia in 1954 and a lot of the Italians left. From Slovenia’s borders you can cross into Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and of course Italy. It had a varied history until Koper joined the Republic of Venice in 1278.
The 16th century saw the drastic fall of the population due to repeated plague epidemics. It was assigned to Italy after the 1st World War and then it was controlled by Yugoslavia after the 2nd World War. It was the first state within Yugoslavia to successfully declare its independence...more
Loggia dei Lanzi (sometimes called the Loggia della Signoria) is a building on the corner of the Piazza della Signoria adjoining the Uffizi Gallery. It has three wide arches and is an open-air sculpture gallery of Renaissance art and antiques. It is in stark contrast to the austere design of Palazzo Vecchio nearby...more
Marseille has been called the oldest city in France because it was founded in 600 B.C. by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port. Currently it is the second largest city in France boasting the largest commercial port and over one third of the population can trace their roots back to Italy...more
Mdina-Malta was the small, walled, medieval capital of Malta. The current capital, Valletta, located on the peninsula, is dealt with on another page but Mdina was the ancient capital. The region is located on one of the island’s highest points and at a maximum distance from the sea.
It had been where the Roman Governor built his palace when the area was under Roman rule. Over the centuries, other noble families also built palaces there.
When Malta passed to the Knights in 1530 AD, Mdina was pretty much a safe place for the nobility while the Knights of Malta fought off intruders miles away in either Birgu or Valletta. It is believed that it was first fortified by the Phoenicians in around 1000 BC but that they didn’t wall it in. It appears that this task was undertaken by the Saracens much later, in 870 AD...more
Messina, the capitol of Sicily, was our next port of call. As we headed into the harbor the sun was just rising. The Madonnina of Port stood proudly atop a high pillar. The city was supposedly founded by Greek colonists in the 8thcentury B.C. but legends suggest they were pirates.
The following centuries were comprised of turbulence, wars, and power struggles (such as the city being sacked by the Carthaginians and then reconquered by Dionysius I of Syracuse).
The Mamertines (Italian born mercenaries hired by Syracuse) eventually overthrew those from Syracuse and requested an alliance with the Roman Republic. So in 264 BC, Roman troops were deployed to Sicily, and this was the first time a Roman army acted outside the Italian Peninsula...more
Mykonos is one of the Greek Islands that is high on the list of cruise ship destinations for a multitude of reasons. It is on Aegean Sea and boasts gorgeous sapphire blue waters, it contains an array of art galleries and designer boutiques, and has a cosmopolitan flair that appeals to both jet-setters and casual sightseers, and it's only 90 miles east of Athens. Like many of the Greek Islands, the whitewashed buildings are in stark contrast to the deep blue waters of the surrounding seas...more
Omis is a town and port in the Dalmatia region of Croatia that was the starting point for our river boat ride up the Cetina River to Radman’s Mill. It is approx. 16 miles from Split. Omis is the location where the Cetina River meets the Adriatic Sea. The town is small, with a population of under 16,000...more
Piazza Duomo is the main square in Messina, Sicily and it contained some marvelous structures that had been restored, repaired or replaced over several centuries. The square is also known by the name Cathedral Square.
We opted to take the tour called Highlight of Messina (the list is on page called Messina). One of the major highlights was the Cathedral of Messina which dates back to the 12th century. It contains the remains of King Conrad, ruler of Germany & Sicily in the 13th century...more
Pompei was fascinating but it was unfortunate that on the day we were visiting the area the skies were cloudy. It was also windy and heavy rain was forecast. Our guide hurried a little more than he might of if the weather had cooperated. However, it was still a pilgrimage into the distant past.
The city of Pompei, located near modern Naples, was buried under 13-20 feet of molten ash and pumice during the eruption in 79 AD of Mount Vesuvius which was only 7 miles away. It is estimated that the volcano blew fire and pumice into the sky for over 24 hours and then the lava and the ash rained down on them for over 6 hours. Pompei was mummified…as was its sister city a few miles away, Herculaneum...more
The Forum in Pompei was a massive open space adorned with pillars and paved with stone. Pompei lifestyles were social and varied. The affluent had large homes with their own gardens and statues but for those that had more humble dwellings many areas were available.
The Macellum was a huge marketplace with shops offering a variety of items pretty much like our shopping malls do today. It was a pleasant gathering place to meet up with friends and shop for daily needs...more
Around 293 A.D. the first inhabitant of Split was the Roman emperor Diocletian who started to build his palace in this balmy bay off the Adriatic Sea. After his abdication he withdrew to his luxurious palace of approx. 323,000 square feet.
After turbulent centuries passed, the palace was made into a town first populated by the citizens of the nearby Salona, who fled the Avars and Slavs.
The town expanded beyond the walls of the palace and its authorities kept changing…from Croatian kings in the 10th century A.D. to Hungarian and Venetian administrators…to French rulers and Austro-Hungarian monarchy. This colorful past left its stamp and traces are evident even today...more
Toulon is the 4th largest French city on the Mediterranean coast. The city is also famous for being a central location in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables". It has the prison, Bagne of Toulon which was created by King Louis XV in 1748, where the novel's main character Jean Valjean spends 19 years in hard labor. It is also the birthplace of the novel's "Javert"...more
Valletta-Malta ...we could only imagine the mix of discoveries awaiting us in this city interwoven with the historical exploits of the noble Knights of Malta. It was like a time capsule into a checkered past of those valiant souls. This fact evoked compelling reasons to linger and savor each new morsel of history.
Valletta-Malta (population of about 7,000) dates from Stone Age temples, to the coming of the Romans and Arabs, then to the rule of the Knights and the ensuing Crusades, ending with WWII inflicting a horrific raining of bombs upon them.
Now an independent republic, the three small islands that make up the Republic of Malta (Malta, Gozo, Comino) are positioned strategically just south of Sicily, an area that has access not only to Europe but to Northern Africa and the Middle East...more
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