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10 Amazing Churches I Visited

In terms of travelling, churches are not only places of worship for Christians, but also popular tourist attractions and landmarks, representing history and cultural richness of the city. Since beauty is eventually in the eye of the beholder, I think the “most beautiful” churches don’t really exist. But definitely, there are many beautiful churches spreading in many cities in this planet earth.

Here is my list of 10 amazing churches I managed to capture for the last 12 years of my travels. Anyways, the numbers on the list is nothing more than just numbers and define neither best nor the most beautiful.

1. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or so called Il Duomo is a Gothic church constructed in 1296 based on the designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and completed with the dome in 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi. The pink and green polychrome marble on the façade, lavish details of the statues never fail to mesmerize me. Nonetheless, on the contrary, Il Duomo’s interior seems simple and feel empty compared to the exterior. So it would be enough to enjoy the church merely from the outside.

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2. Valencia Cathedral, Valencia, Spain

Valencia Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church built in the 13th century on the site of a Roman temple, that was once a mosque before it was changed into a church. Due to its development and changes through the centuries until the 18th century, it shows a combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical style in its architecture. The cathedral is located in the heart of the city at Plaza de la Virgen and no one could and should miss the most iconic and beautiful site in Valencia.

Further post about my visit in Valencia can be found here.

3. Rock Church / Temppeliaukio Church, Helsinki, Finland

Rock Church was created by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen opened in 1969. Unlike any other churches, the unconventional Lutheran Church was built inside a massive block of natural granite that makes it have an incredible acoustics quality and a popular place for music concerts. I truly enjoyed a beautiful piece of classical music played by a Japanese pianist on that day. The silence and serenity atmosphere could be maintained pretty well inside, despite the fast traffic of crowds visiting the church, showing their respect in the house of God.
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4. Cave Churches in Göreme Open Air Museum, Cappadocia, Turkey

Listed on UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Göreme Open Air Museum is situated in Nevşehir Province in Cappadocia. It attracts millions of visitors worldwide, thanks to the churches built by the Christians inside the carved rocks as shelters from the Arab troops when they pressurized Byzantine borders.

Over the centuries, the act of worshiping statues and drawings of religious characters provoked a reaction. In 726 AD, Iconoclastic period began under the law promulgated by Leon III to forbid religious drawings, closed churches, monasteries and destroyed numerous icons until Empress Theodora ended the period in 843 AD. The churches in Göreme were created from 10th until 13th century. The frescoes inside were from post-iconoclastic period with typical Byzantine style.

The remaining churches people can see are St. Basil Church, Apple Church, St. Barbara Chapel, Snake Church, Dark Church, St. Catherine Chapel, Sandal Church, and Buckle Church, that never fail to mesmerize me until now.

Further post about my visit in Cappadocia and how I got cheated by the local tour package is here.

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St. Barbara Chapel
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Apple Church
Façade of a rock church
Façade of a rock church

5. Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood or Church on Spilled Blood was built in 1883 by Alexander III as a memorial of his father, Alexander II. Its location is right on the site where Alexander II was assassinated by a group of revolutionaries. A stonework canopy inside the church symbolizes the holiness of the memorial, as pictured on the second image on the right side.

Unlike other churches with full of sculptures, Church on Spilled Blood is famous for  thousands of pieces of extremely detailed mosaic depicting biblical stories covering the entire part of the wall. I was way too stunned to witness its magnificent beauty that I couldn’t decide the best angles and spots to capture with my camera. They all are just incredible!

Further post about my visit in St. Petersburg can be found here.

6. The Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peter and Paul Cathedral is the oldest and the first landmark in St. Petersburg built inside the Peter and Paul Fortress during the reign of Peter the Great. The Russian Orthodox church situated along the Neva River was designed between 1712 and 1733 by Domenico Trezzini.

Apart from holding religious services, Peter and Paul Cathedral has become the final resting place of nearly all members of Russian royal families, including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Tsar Nicholas II and his family members who were brutally assassinated during the Bolshevik revolution. Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II who was often rumored that she escaped the massacre, was buried here as well after her remaining body was found in 2007.

Further post about my visit in St. Petersburg can be found here.

7. St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

Built between 1818 and 1858, St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Russia designed by a French-born architect August Montferrand, dedicated to St. Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great. The church is very lavish with red granite façade and gold-plated statues and engravings, amazing details of mosaic paintings and icons, as well as pillars made of malachite.

I completely lost my words to describe this wonderful masterpiece right before my eyes when I visited the site.

Further post about my visit in St. Petersburg can be found here.

8. Aarhus Cathedral, Aarhus, Denmark

Aarhus Cathedral was built after year 1190 and finished in 1350, dedicated to St. Clements, the patron saint of sailors. It is one of the few preserved Romanesque churches in history and the longest church in Denmark with 93 meters length. The frescoes, created between 1470 and 1520, once covered most parts of the wall. Nonetheless, they are only a few remains nowadays. I can imagine how beautiful the interior supposed to be, and it still is despite the fading colours of the frescoes. I guess the sculptures are just complementary of the design, otherwise it looks too chaotic.

Besides, it also stores a model war ship, hanged on the ceiling and failed to ship to Peter the Great in Russia because of the shipwreck in Skagen. Local fishermen bought the model and donated to the church. Don’t forget to listen the beautiful sound of religious music from the largest organ pipe in the country inside the cathedral!

Further post about my visit in Aarhus can be found here.

9. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Vatican

St. Peter’s Basilica is the biggest Roman Catholic church in the world built in 1506 and finished in 1626 to replace the old one dated from the 4th century AD. Being famous as a place for Catholic pilgrimage, it is a burial site of St. Peter, the first Pope and one of Jesus’ apostles, now located at the Grottos along with kings, queens and other popes including Pope John Paul II. It is also the place where the pope leads liturgies in front of 15,000 to 80,000 audiences.

My first visit to the basilica is when I was only 7 years old. I couldn’t remember much of the details, indeed, until I returned to the same place in 2006 (time flies, huh?). I was glad that I did because apart from adoring the Renaissance style architecture and interior, I could also appreciate more Michaelagelo’s  Pietá inside the basilica and his famous fresco ceiling at the Sistine Chapel when I grow up. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t own a good quality camera back then, except borrowing one from a friend.

10. Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, Canada

Church of the Redeemer is not as lavish and grand as other churches I previously mentioned, but I noticed a particular thing about the photographed I captured while looking at it in my laptop the year after. When it’s seen as a whole, there’s an impression of “old and new” here. Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican Church founded in 1871, has a modern office building background that looks like a mountain. Seems like a man-made version of natural landscape.

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In case I don’t include some other beautiful churches in this post, there possible reasons behind it: either I failed to capture them, I lost the file, I haven’t had a passion in photography back then or I just haven’t got a chance to visit them.

Of course, I still have a pile of bucket lists and hopefully I’ll be able to fulfill all of them in the future.

Merry (belated) Christmas for those who celebrate it and have a great new year!

 

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Off the Beaten Path City Hopping Near Berlin Part II: Rostock

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/rostock-2865.html

WHY CHOOSING ROSTOCK OVER BERLIN 

Pier 7 in Warnemünde has become one of the docking stations in Germany for a number of major international cruise ships having a Baltic Cruise Trip, including the ship we took, Princess Cruise. Spending only 8 hours in Warnemünde, my family and I found out that the best deal was to explore 2 places on the same day, which were Warnemünde itself and Rostock. Since they are not big cities, it was doable to do so.

In fact, Warnemünde station has a direct train to Rostock that only takes 20 minutes journey, situated 5 minutes walking distance from Pier 7. Therefore, I didn’t see the point of visiting Berlin, the closest big city from Warnemünde, although it’s a wonderful destination. The 6 hour journey round trip to Berlin was the main reason why it was not a wise choice. Remember, we only had 8 hours in total!

As mentioned in the previous post, we came to a conclusion that it would be better to visit Rostock in the first place as soon as we arrived in Warnemünde and explored Warnemünde later on after returning from Rostock.

Rostock is the biggest city in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state in the north side of Germany situated on the Warnow river and a getaway to Scandinavian countries and Baltic Sea, especially it owns the autonomy of the seaside district Warnemünde since 1323. The name Rostock derived from Roztoc, meaning fork of river, when Polabian Slavs found a settlement at the Warnow river in 11th century.

To maximize the 4 hour trip, where the other 4 was for Warnemünde, we created our own version of self-guided tour that allowed us to visit the following places of interest:

ST. MARY’S CHURCH

Walking down the street from Rostock Station, Marienkirche or St. Mary’s Church stood out compared to other buildings nearby. We followed what our hearts said, instead of map, and quickly decided that it was the first attraction to visit.

St. Mary’s Church is the biggest church in Rostock build in 1232, then modified into a three-nave hall design. In 1398, the façade was added with 2 different tones of brick stone, red and green-brown, defining the present appearance people see nowadays. The brick stone Gothic building is a signature style of the Hanseatic port cities in North Germany.

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Every craftsmanship detail in the church never failed to mesmerize me no matter how many times I’ve been to churches in Europe, from the Renaissance / Baroque pulpit, the altar, the 13th century astronomical clock created by Hans Düringer, the tapestry, the 18th century organ, to stained glass windows. I didn’t capture some of them with my old camera, though, since its quality started to decline along with more visible noise, especially for macro shots. Nonetheless, I was happy to indulge my naked eyes with priceless masterpieces inside.

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KRÖPELINER STRASSE

The weather outside the church was something too good to be missed with refreshing breeze and sun without rain. So, we continued our own version of walking tour to the heart of Rostock. Kröpeliner Strasse is the main shopping street in Rostock, a vibrant melting pot between locals and foreigners, offering fashion, beauty, electronic goods, cafes and some necessities, too, from supermarkets, banks to drug stores.

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Strolling along the street seeing colourful gabled houses with multiple architecture styles, such baroque, classicism, and historicism was a pleasant activity, even if it didn’t include shopping at all. Moreover, they are example of surviving historical buildings in Rostock, where many other medieval buildings in the city are already destroyed. Somehow, the shape of the gabled houses reminds me of those in The Netherlands.

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UNIVERSITY SQUARE

Approximately 30 minutes walking distance Kröpeliner Strasse, University Square or Universitätsplatz showed a different side of Rostock apart from being a stopover for Baltic Cruise passengers with the presence of Rostock University as the limelight of the square.

The majestic building of the university caught our attention with its red brick domination façade, decorated with impressive engraving and sculptures. Rostock University is the 3rd oldest university in Germany founded in 1419, offering various majors in scientific field.

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Having about 14,000 students nowadays, the studies are conducted in German and English for postgraduate programs. There were 5 graduate students from the university who received Nobel prize in 600 years since its establishment. Albert Einstein earned his honorary doctorate in 1919 in Rostock University, but it was annulled during the reign of Nazi.

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The Joy of Life fountain outside the university spices up the university surroundings and becomes an attraction for visitors. Created in 1980 by Jo Jastram and Reinhard Dietrich, its main concept is the end of World War II and the city rebirth. Thanks to the naked human figures in erotic positions, it gains a nickname as the Porn Fountain.

The biggest sculpture in front of the fountain is actually a bench, where a lot of people like to seat and take a picture on it.

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NEW MARKET SQUARE AND TOWN HALL

Our visit to New Market Square, whose main landmark is Rostock Town Hall, marked the end of our brief exploration in the Hanseatic City of Rostock. Rostock Town Hal it the oldest Town Hall in brick Gothic architecture in Germany build in 1270 and once used as a store during the middle ages. Only in the 18th century did the building was transformed into a Baroque style, added with the 7 towers behind it, representing the 7 Baltic countries.

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Although the town hall still functions as administrative headquarters, it would be lovely to see further what’s inside if we had time, the interior hall, the prison and the torture chamber. There’s a German restaurant in front of the town hall as well, named Ratskeller 21, that seemed like a cozy place to hang out.

We also skimmed the markets at the square mostly selling fresh fruits and veggies. I believe they would be more suitable for locals’ grocery than souvenirs for tourists like us. Moreover, the unlimited amount of food at the ship didn’t allow our stomach to accommodate any more food from outside.

 

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somewhere not far from New Market Square

That’s a wrap for our trip to Rostock. It was a nice city to walk with save environment and not too crowded. In 4 hours, I’d rather visit a smaller city with no rush than a bigger one in hustling and bustling environment for a couple of hours, while complaining that there are too many great places but no time to explore.

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/rostock-2865.html

 

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Off the Beaten Path City Hopping Near Berlin Part I: Warnemuende

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/rostock-2865.html

WE SKIPPED BERLIN FOR THIS!

I don’t know about you, but I feel excited and curious about cities or towns I haven’t heard of. On a Princess Cruise trip to Baltic Sea, passengers are always informed about the next destination on a daily newsletter. I was familiar with all the cities mentioned in the itinerary, except Warnemünde. I purposely didn’t search any information about it, hoping that it would be a pleasant surprise.

When the ship docked for 8 hours at the port, so-called Pier 7, in Warnemünde, there were quite a lot of passengers prefer to go to Berlin, instead of exploring the city right before their eyes, by taking a bus tour to Berlin offered by Princess Cruise itself.

In my point of view, it’s just not a very wise choice, especially the journey from Warnemünde to Berlin and back takes nearly 6 hours by bus. It means they only had 2 hours to explore the city. Although I believe the bus tour has a very well-planned itinerary that they won’t miss major landmarks in limited time, Berlin is such a very nice city that deserves more than 2 days to visit.

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Warnemuende Station

I’ve been there before, and so the rest of my family who joined the trip. Thus, we decided to visit 2 places in 8 hours: Warnemünde and the main city of Rostock itself. But in reality, we explored Warnemünde later after returning from Rostock by train, that only took 20 minutes for less than € 5.

FYI, Warnemünde station is situated only 5 minutes walking distance from Pier 7, thats’s why it was possible for us to go to Rostock in limited hours.

Without further much ado, I’d like to bring Warnemunde to the limelight first in this post. So, Warnemünde, here we go.

ENCHANTING SEASIDE RESORT

Warnemünde is a seaside resort and a district in the suburb of Rostock that belongs to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region in north Germany, located at the mouth of the Warnow River, with a direct access to Baltic Sea. Once a small fishing village when founded in the 11th century, it started to develop in 19th century.

Nowadays, Warnemünde has become one of the busiest cruise ports in the world. Despite its reputation, Warnemünde is still not a very popular destination for overland trips, overshadowed by bigger cities nearby like Berlin and Potsdam.

Enchanting views of Warnemünde were revealed as soon as our ship approached the shore of the German side of Baltic Sea. No one could miss them from the breakfast room, but I would rather go to the top deck to get a better angle and view, as well as to avoid window reflections while capturing with my old camera.

Sometimes I wonder why anyone would skip this lovely town if he or she is already there.

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The first still-live objects I found near the port when I got off from the ship was a cute strawberry-shaped booth I don’t know what it stands for and a sand sculpture.

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ALTER STROM: THE NEAREST ATTRACTION FROM PIER 7

Since time was luxury for us, with only less than 4 hours to explore the lovely seaside resort, Alter Strom or Old Channel was a perfect choice for us since it was just 10 minutes walking distance from the port. Alter Strom has been operating since 1423 and was the only access from Baltic Sea to the harbour of Rostock. Since 1903, it has been replaced by Neuen Strom or New Channel.

Not to mention the weather, which was something I couldn’t ask for more. The combination of warming sunshine, breeze and an approximate temperature of 20 degrees Celsius has been my ideal weather for travelling. Nonetheless, forget about less crowds that a lot of us (and may be you, too) expected. My family and I were not the only ones who loved the preserved maritime atmosphere as a whole.

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The promenade of Alter Strom is undoubtedly the melting pot between locals and foreigners, especially those who get off from cruise ships. The well-maintained rows of fishermen’s cottages turned into cafes, restaurants and small shops, hotels and pension houses in white and pastel colours contribute a picturesque landscape that Alter Strom has already possessed for many centuries. The yachts and excursion boats occupied the river banks, giving alternative ways to enjoy Warnemünde when they are available for rent.

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“Will they allow me to the yacht?”

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Not to mention the weather, which was something I couldn’t ask for more. The combination of bright sunshine, breeze and an approximate temperature of 20 degrees Celsius has been my ideal weather for travelling. Nonetheless, forget about less crowds that a lot of us (and may be you, too) expected. My family and I were not the only ones who loved the preserved maritime atmosphere as a whole.

Apparently, human beings are not the only ones who love hanging out.

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Love padlock tradition is also available in Warnemünde, apart from many other European countries. One of the locations is at the station bridge. The padlocks are usually engraved, or written with a marker for practical and cheaper reason, with (initial) names of the couple. Sometimes they put the name of their children, wedding or anniversary dates as well. The couple then throw the key into the river together to bind their love, hoping that it will last forever.

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the cutest padlock – Hello Kitty!

Hanging out at one of the cafes is a recommended activity, too. I got a chance to taste Rostocker beer. But beware of the wind, as it may blow harder sometimes. I lost my € 20 banknote that I got as a change from the waiter and I only realized it after I returned to the ship!!

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ON THE WAY TO WARNEMÜNDE LIGHTHOUSE AND TEAPOT

The best part of Warnemünde is all attractions are basically reachable on foot. Thus, we continued walking to other landmarks, The Old Lighthouse and Teapot.

To be honest, I was more interested in “on the way to the landmarks” then the landmarks themselves as I found lovely details of objects attached in the traditional buildings along the way, from flower garland, vines, vintage mailbox to newspaper delivery tube.

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The lighthouse was constructed in 1897 bu Friedrich Kerner. The renovation began in 1968, but only completed in 1993. Nowadays, the 37-meter lighthouse becomes an observation deck in summer, allowing people to get a bird’s eye view of Baltic Sea and northern district of Rostock.

The other landmark next to it is Teepott, or Teapot in German, is a popular place to hang out since it has several restaurants under one roof. Firstly opened in 1926, the Bauhaus style building with Hyparschale-curved roof is an example of of remaining East German architecture. After it was burned down after the World War II, the reconstruction started in 1960 and underwent a renovation in 2002.

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The Old Lighthouse and Teapot

Though we didn’t have much time to go inside both landmarks and may not notice some other important attractions, we were happy to stroll around the town. We simply followed our hearts on where we would love to see and experience from a new place we had not heard of and chasing landmarks were not really our goal anyways.

I personally was convinced that Warnemünde is not a place you should not miss when travelling to Baltic Sea.

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/rostock-2865.html

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Warung Swietie: Best Budget “Baka Bana” and Javanese-Surinamese Snack Bar in Amsterdam

Reuniting with good fellas with whom I shared the good and the bad times during school life in Amsterdam would not be complete without visiting one of our favourite restaurants those days (in my case, until now). No, it’s not a typical Dutch stamppot or uitsmijter that I was looking for.

We headed to Amsterdam West, situated in the border of zone 1 known as Centrum and the starting point of zone 2. Next to the former Jewish bath house (Joden Badhuis) or about 10 minutes walking distance from Albert Cuyp Market, the most well-known landmark in the area, we finally arrived at “Surinaams  Afhaal Centrum: Warung Swietie” (pronounced as sweety for Swietie), a Surinamese-Javanese restaurant in De Pijp district.

Warung is an Indonesian word literally translated as “stall”, a modest and small-scaled family-owned business in different forms, from a grocery store, a restaurant until a cafe. Nowadays, the term is also commercially used for defining a traditional Indonesian influence in products and services the business offers.

The Surinamese-Javanese warung doesn’t really have traditional elements, though, except some framed pictures of Suriname main landmarks on the walls.

The indoor area is a bit too packed; the distance between seats are too close one to another, not to mention a long table attached on the wall behind the entrance door. Nonetheless, it’s a very common ambiance for an afhaalcentrum (afhaal: to-go, centrum: center) dining concept in The Netherlands, prioritizing on to-go services over dine-ins with limited amount of seats available.

Besides, when it comes to warung, the cramped space may be associated with togetherness and intimacy between friends and family. Nobody needs to complain about anything in this matter as cleanliness is pretty well-maintained, although I personally prefer seating outside if the weather is nice and not too windy for the sake of fresh air and roomy space.

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the facade of Warung Swietie

Picture credit: http://depijpinbeeld.blogspot.co.id/2011_07_01_archive.html

For those who were born and grew up in Indonesia, there’s a missing subject in our local history lesson, mainly on the period when the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij or NHM (Dutch Trading Society) transported Javanese contract labours from Java Island, the most populated Island in Indonesia, to work at the cane plantation and sugar factory in Mariënburg, Suriname, in the late 19th century, influencing an acculturation in several aspects, including gastronomy.

I even initially thought that the small country in South America called Suriname is in Africa.

Baka bana met pindasaus is the warung’s masterpiece and my main reason for a revisit. Baka bana is a Papiamentu word for gebakken banaan in Dutch, banana fritters in English and pisang goreng in Indonesian. Met pindasaus? It’s a Dutch word for “with peanut sauce”.  Since I always can get any delicious pisang goreng or baka bana anywhere in my hometown, why bother coming to a small Surinamese snack bar in Amsterdam to get something similar?

Back to school life, I once had a kinda disgusted feeling with the Surinamese way of eating banana fritters with peanut sauce (Indonesians usually put icing sugar instead). However, soon after tasting the dish, I realized that the truth is the opposite, that the pindasaus (peanut sauce) is actually the real trade secret.

The pindasaus texture is smoother than that of Indonesian chicken skewers, somewhat like a paste, with subtler nutty taste and hints of sweetness, that merges so well with the thinly-sliced ripened bananas covered with thin flour. For a €3.00 dish, it’s more than just worth the price. An extra sauce is available for another €1 for those who can’t get enough of it.

The craving for baka bana lives on ever since, even after I left The Netherlands for good. And I’m glad that the taste and quality remain the same, it’s still as good as before!

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not photogenic enough for food photography, but it tastes super!

Apart from the signature baka bana, saoto soep is an interesting menu because of its rendition of the Indonesian soto ayam, turmeric-based clear chicken soup, as an appetizer. While Indonesians categorize it as a main dish served with full portion of rice, the soup on saoto soup is merely half of the original portion with a little rice on the side in a saucer. In my opinion, this could also be an adaptation of the Dutch (and European) habit of having soup as an appetizer.

Tempe (fermented soybean), rames (mixed rice dish), lemper (glutinous rice with shredded chicken), kroepoek (crackers), gado-gado (salad dish with peanut sauce, check my post further about this), dawet (or cendol; grass jelly with coconut milk), emping (melinjo / paddy oat crackers), kipsate (chicken skewers), kroepoek (crackers), pitjel (or pecel, Javanese salad dish) are some other dishes whose names are either remain unchanged (from Indonesian) or adapted with Dutch pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling.

Despite familiarity of the menus for Indonesians, they may have wrong perception of nasi and bami stated there. If nasi originally means steamed rice, and bami –adapted from bakmi- means (boiled) noodle in Indonesian, the Dutch (and Surinamese, apparently) use nasi to define fried rice or nasi goreng and bami to define fried noodle or bakmi goreng or mie goreng. And that’s also how Indonesian restaurants in The Netherlands perceive the meaning of nasi and bami.

Witte rijst (literally meaning white rice) is a common term for steamed rice and bami soep for noodle soup, aka the non-fried noodle version.

Moksi meti (mixed rice with chicken and pork, probably inspired by Chinese food), bakkeljauw (dried and salty fish), roti (Indian flat bread with meat and vegetables) are also worth to try to get the new experience in Surinamese culinary.

Warung Switie basically offers a warung modesty in a Dutch building complex, affordable dishes in a relatively big portion with no exceeding €15 per portion (excluding drinks) and very convenient for students and budget-conscious travelers.

Additionally, try to speak Javanese (ngoko register) to the staffs as they may understand it, but they do not speak Indonesian at all, little English and fluent Dutch of course!

 

 

This Pipe Player Could Have Fainted on Stage!

I only had 8 hours to explore Tallinn. When my love of the city started to grow, time’s up. I should head to the next destination as scheduled. Reluctantly, I became a sheep, following the rest of the packs (read: passengers) obediently to walk back to the Princess ship docking at Saaremaa Harbour, the Port of Tallinn. While the rest turned right, I walked straight instead to the source of the rhythm of a brass instrument that reminded me of a Scottish pipe. I wasn’t familiar with the song being played, but for sure it wasn’t an American pop music. May be a folk song, or a local pop music. That’s why it triggered me to approach the sound of music.

Shortly after, I was face to face with an adolescent playing a bagpipe. Right in front of her feet, a tote bag was left open, functioning as a “piggy bank” for keeping tips from tourists.

The port has been the main location for cruise ships to anchor, carrying thousands of international tourists worldwide, who spend a day or even some hours (yep, they don’t have much time in the world) in Estonia during their trip to European countries situated around Baltic Sea. No wonder that the blond teenager in front of me tried to get a stroke of luck from the situation.

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With her bagpipe, she could use the opportunity to be anyone she wants to be. A cultural ambassador, a professional musician or just a street artist collecting small changes, it’s her call. She managed to keep the strain smooth and uninterrupted at the beginning. All the notes, the melodies came out flawlessly by heart. Though I couldn’t tell the quality of her performance since I know nothing about the instrument.

I took my camera out of my pocket to immortalize the moment before it was over. A moment later, something happened. When I pressed the shutter button, I heard a pitch. More than once. It seemed that the melody was getting out of the line. It just didn’t sound right. What was going on?

I believe the mind controls one’s gesture, physical movement. Anxiety, distraction struck her. Her eyes didn’t look down any longer to her busy fingers opening and closing the pipe holes. Those eyes were staring at the lens instead, posing like a model, leaving the core mission of her presence: to perform beautifully and bring some money home.

I bet she loves camera and selfie too, like many other teens in today’s generation and that’s all right. As long as she kept concentrating to her music. But she failed to do so. She lost her focus from the moment my lens was on her. I stepped aside, hoping that she was back in track. Anyways, I had to make myself back to the “pack”.

Coincidentally, I looked back for no particular reason. I saw another man behind me doing the same thing like I did. And guess what happened next. The pitch was worse than ever; that no one was able to distinguish the piece she was playing. It was on and on and on, lasted longer than I expected.

What if she was performing on a live concert, or a competition, where thousands of spectators are on her? Where those camera flashes blink repeatedly, ceaselessly, blinding her eyesight. Something she still needs to deal with it, overcoming her nervousness, anxiety during performance.

I think to myself: she could have fainted on Eurovision!

Street performance is one of the best ways to practice and I was glad she had guts to that despite the weaknesses. Best of luck for this young and pretty blond girl. She still has a long way to go to reach her dreams.

Time for my ship to leave the port.

Hüvasti! 

The Jaywalker

A trailer parked on the side of the street. A bunch of people were busy with setting up cameras and lighting and actors I don’t know their names for a film shooting session. It caught my attention in the beginning as I was walking down the street. But not for long.

Outside the shooting area, there was a man in a hat and a trench coat walking comfortably until he reached in front of the zebra cross. He paused, noticing that the pedestrian signal was in red. Although it only took four (big) steps away to the other side of the street. A law-abiding citizen he was.

Until he changed his mind seconds later.

His stretched his leg to step on the first white line of the zebra cross when the red signal had not changed yet into green. Oh well, I probably would do the same if I were he.

Nope. He's the crew member of the film shooting, not the jaywalker
Nope. He’s the crew member of the film shooting, not the jaywalker

However, he didn’t succeed making his second step as a police officer suddenly asked him to step back from where he stood. The man looked surprised. So did I. The officer was like Superman – without the signature outfit and muscular body – appearing in time out of the blue.

The law enforcement member unintentionally blocked half of my sight of his face. Moreover, since he turned his back from me to face his law-breaker, I couldn’t see his face at all. I was too far to hear their conversation and to read the French lip-sync. However, I would like to satisfy my curiosity about what would happen next, so I stayed a little longer to observe both gentlemen.

The conversation started when the officer pointed his finger to the red signal. The law-breaker shrugged his shoulders with his palms opened facing upwards. He raised his eyebrows, his lips moved fast, trying to explain why he did what he did without being defensive. He ended his words by faintly shaking his head.

The officer took his turn to reply. The former law-abiding citizen fixed his eye gaze to him and nodded attentively. The conversation kept flowing and it felt like watching a non-subtitled silent movie in Technicolor. I had no idea what they were talking about, yet I could sense the less tension between two men after a while. Furthermore, he didn’t take anything out from his pocket, like a piece of paper or pen.

I was neither cursing the man to get sentenced nor questioning the officer’s authority. I was just expecting a climax, like truTV fighting scenes, or at least, an intense argument. Thus I didn’t stand and tremble in coldness in vain.

The conversation I couldn’t hear started to bore me. I was about to leave the scene.

Oh, wait. The red (pedestrian signal) suddenly turned green. The man was aware of that. He quickly looked at it and his body faintly moved forward to make his first move before it turned red once again. But he kept himself on a short leash. A moment later, he raised his right foot with the heel still on the ground. Yet he put it back with no further action.

Nonetheless, the police officer was still carried away with his storytelling. I wasn’t sure whether he was lecturing about the danger of jaywalking or telling about his new-born granddaughter. Regardless, the trench-coated man was reluctant to interrupt no matter what.

Later on, the officer noticed a glimpse of restrained impatient gesture from the man’s side and finally realized that signal was green. I saw his upper arm slightly swung back and forth from behind. Just a lucky guess, if viewed from the front side, probably he was actually raising his index finger and waving it a couple of times towards the law-breaker, to remind him not to do the same mistake ever again.

The man nodded, giving a sign of full understanding. The officer had no longer reason to hold him from crossing the street. He expanded his left arm, giving the man a permission to do what he had wanted to do in the first place. He didn’t ticket the man at all and simply let him go.

After that, both of them walked separately from their accidental meeting point. I left the scene for catching my dinner.

Despite not knowing each other, we shared something in common. None of us considered the shooting session as a point of interest on that day.

 

Valencia – Beauty in Details

Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, has it all. It is the birthplace of traditional Spanish rice dish called paella, world-class porcelain craftsmanship called Lladró, Valencia oranges – that are widely distributed in markets and supermarkets in Europe -, and the only city in the country with a touch of modernism, thanks to The City of Arts and Sciences.

Moreover, my search results of Valencia from Google Images doesn’t lie. Thanks to this, I’ve learned the new way to choose a destination. Say, you search a city and what Google Images shows is one historical building or even just a particular beach in different angles and nada mas. What does it imply? Those places are the only thing the city offers to the world, most probably that’s all it has. In short, nothing much to see.

How about Valencia? Hundreds of pictures, taken by both amateurs and professionals, imply numerous buildings with astounding architecture and various city landscape from different angles. That’s the kind of place I wanna go!

Let’s begin with a closer look at the details of the buildings. Turn to your right, left, or just right in front of you, or even take a last look behind you before you continue walking. Don’t forget to look up and down as well. Valencia is rich in carvings and colours everywhere you go, so make sure you don’t miss this part although you claim yourself you’re not an art freak! Ready?

 

 1.

Built in 13th century, Valencia Cathedral underwent some transformations and restorations through the ages. My favourite part of the huge cathedral transformation lies on the lavish Baroque main entrance, which was only created about 500 years after its establishment, in 18th century. Did you notice that both wings of the façade look like a big hug? It never let you, pilgrimage and tourists around the world leave the site.

valencia cathedral

 

 2.

The best part of Valencia Cathedral interior is the altar and its surroundings, decorated with exquisite gold ornaments and original paintings from Spanish masters (not to mention the blue ceiling and gold carvings on the ribs). It is best to embrace it as a whole, in my opinion, rather than focusing on one or two particular works of art.

valencia cathedral interior

 

3.

One of the significant influences of the Arab world in Spain is the application of tiles in architecture, interior and also to mark the name of the district and commemoration of prominent events in local history.

virgin mary tile

 

4.

Originally the home of Marquis de Dos Aguas, a noble and wealthy merchant in Valencia, the palace now houses precious collections of Spanish and foreign ceramics that belong to a dedicated ceramic collector named González Martí. That’s how the museum gets its name, González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Sumptuary Arts (Museo Nacional de Cerámica y Artes Suntuarias González Martí). 

Unless you have time to visit the museum, fear not. The Rococo style palace is already an open air museum, especially  the exquisite entrance gate made of alabaster stone by Ignacio Vergara.

Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas
Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas

 

5.

A closer look at the Virgin Mary sculpture. See what I mean?

 

6.

 Still from the same palace, wish I had this kind of window…..

 

7.

Valencia is not only about churches, it has a synagogue as well. Nice colours, right?

synagogue
synagogue

 

8.

Banco de Valencia. Probably the most beautiful bank I’ve ever seen! Does it look like a legendary five-star hotel?

banco de valencia
banco de valencia

 

9.

A tiny sculpture from Torres de Serrano, its real position is facing down on top of the gate arch.

 

10.

Another sculpture of Torres de Serrano with the same real position as the pilgrimage and his cross above: facing down on top of the arch. Somehow the lion reminds me of the wise Aslan of Narnia. I hope I’m right about it, and he’s not trying to bully the boy and make him his lunch later on!

 

11.

A ticket counter at North Station. Again, another application of tiles in Spanish design. The bluish interior made of tiles refreshes my sight.

north station interior

 

12.

“Fashion makes me uncomfortable”. I’m not sure what’s behind the rolling door, but I guess it’s a vintage fashion store, with a provocative statement to grab public attention.

 

13.

“Marenga Unisex Hair Salon, Beauty”. Wall-paintings are simply everywhere no matter how simple it looks like.

 

13.

Probably not the most famous architecture in the city, but I love this in particular. I think it does look like an Art Nouveau-inspired façade. Take a look at the stone-carved balcony, tree-shaped top pillars and flower paintings separating each window apart.

 

14.

Unless you notice there’s a modern part of Valencia, that means you simply haven’t seen it all. The City of Arts and Sciences is something you can’t offer to miss. It’s not as elaborated as Rococo, Baroque, Renaissance and all that stuff, but there’s a way to appreciate modern art. Think about bone structures, ribs of prehistoric animals turned into art d’oeuvre.

 

 

That’s not it! Everything I saw in the city is not enough to show in one post. There will be more to explore in my upcoming post. So, stay tuned!

 

 

On My Way to Amsterdam Part 2: The Bus Issue

Evening in a pedestrian side of a highway in Budapest. Though I finally found my way to Ferihegy station (here’s how, check this out), I faced the second challenge: where to catch the bus 200E to the airport.

Assuming that the crowds were the answer to my challenge, I followed them walking away from Ferihegy drop-off point (there’s no shelter, seats or anything else, so I don’t feel like calling it a station) to an intersection, side by side with the bushes, where there was another bus halted. That should be it, isn’t it? If so, I didn’t have to speak English with those who don’t speak one. I was (about to be) happy about that.

I lifted my suitcases and stepped in the bus. Then, I showed the ticket I purchased earlier to the driver.

yummy….

“To the airport?” I asked.

He responded me in Hungarian and pointed the rear window of the bus. Gosh, here we go again. I should have taken Hungarian 101 prior to the trip.

I repeated my question.

It was almost 8 pm. My flight would be at 9.30 pm and until now, I was still standing inside whatever bus that could take me somewhere only God knows. My heart started pounding. I found myself in the limelight among other passengers who watched me with great sympathy (or stupidity), yet somehow language barrier ceased them from helping me.

Finally, the man on the front seat voluntarily replied in stammered English, “You… ehm….. go that side….. for airport.”

funiculaire to buda castle

He referred that side to rear window. In other words, I had to return to the same area where I got off from the train. Soon after I left the bus, before dragging my suitcases too far, I looked back at the rear window for the last time. It was written 106, or 105 -if not mistaken-, not 200E. How come I missed such an important detail??

Strangers in the darkness were the only group of people I could count on to lead me to the right direction. Thank God one of them understood what airport means. The bus stand for 200E lied on the other side of the highway and the only way to get there was to cross the bridge, if stopping high-speed vehicles to give some space to walk is way too dangerous.

I stared at the pedestrian bridge in front of me for a moment. I mind the city’s incomplete facility for (world) travelers: where’s the elevator? I should have used a backpacker’s backpack, but it was too late.

The only thing I could think of was, “I have to be in the airport right away, I don’t care how!”

maimano house

So I did what I had not done in my entire life, and would not do it again in a million years. I took 40 steps up carefully in order not to slip off, while trying to balance my body with a 20 kg suitcase in my right hand, another 2 kg left. I bent my elbows a little bit to avoid them from hitting the aluminium stairs. It all worked out and I was immediately on top of the bridge. Wow, I was a gym class hero of the day.

What a (temporary) relief. I could extend the retractable handles again to drag my suitcases with more ease, releasing any tension from my muscles. After a few steps of walking, all of a sudden, eureka! An elevator!! Gosh, you have no idea how much I embraced it as my life saviour. I hurriedly pressed the arrow down button, let myself in the tube taking me down to the bus station.

But, hey! I think I had seen the Ferihegy signboard before, situated not far from my sight. Moreover, I saw the railroad stretched along the pavement where I stood. That’s right, train from Nyugati station dropped me in this place before I chased the wrong bus.

iron curtain, in front of house of terror

At the same time, a big red bus passed a few meters from another side of a highway. Damn, it was 200E! So the bus stand was next to the third lane of the highway, and I was still on the second lane. My goodness! Hopefully the time-lapse for the next bus wouldn’t last for an hour.

There was nothing else I could think of other than returning to my life saviour to lift me up. Before I knew it, a middle-aged local lady was with me, starting a conversation in a language beyond my comprehension. She did it attentively with her sharp eye gaze, as if she was trying to warn me about an armageddon that would struck in minutes. I nodded, thanking her for something I couldn’t figure out.

Farewell to my one and only dearest elevator. I walked further to find stairs, no elevator available, that directly linked to the bus stop. Same story, another 40 steps down with suitcases in both hands. Fortunately, going down was much easier.

st.stephen basilica

I found the schedule of bus 200E on the announcement board, saying that it would come within 15 minutes. It came on time and the driver nodded to my question whether his bus was going to the airport.

Still in the mood of suspicion, I kept staring at the digital board inside the bus. The text Ferenc Liszt International Airport finally appeared. Aha, so that’s the real name of the airport. I had always thought that Ferihegy is the one.

However, I wasn’t totally wrong in this case. Budapest Ferihegy International Airport was the old name before it changed into Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport in 2011. Ferenc Liszt refers to one of the most notable classical musicians in the country, as well as the world, known as Franz Liszt in English (Hungarian: Liszt Ferenc).

I finally arrived in front of the check-in counter at 8.35 pm, approximately 10 minutes before closing. Since the weight of my checked baggage was still far from its limit, the lady offered me if I would like to put my hand-carry there as well instead of the cabin. Well, I couldn’t agree more. I was more than happy to be empty-handed for several hours before landing in Amsterdam.

I didn’t miss the flight despite all the difficulties I experienced. Praise the Lord!

To Prague, Stumbled Upon in Places Less Known: Litoměřice and Terezín

When our lecturer announced that the school trip destination would be Prague, I was overjoyed. My excitement with Eastern Europe, not limited to Czech Republic, is indescribable.

A SMUGGLER AMONG US

Having lack of sleep the day before and motion sickness prevented me from doing anything more productive than sleeping in the bus departing from Amsterdam at 7 am. So, nothing really special along the way until a poodle barked us in the custom and immigration area of Czech border, that changed the atmosphere of our journey.

Speaking of poodle, this one was anything but ordinary. He was big, black, robust, sharp eye-gazed and not groomed for (dog) shows. Cuteness didn’t belong to him.

The border officials summoned a brunette girl from our group for further investigation outside the bus area. An intense situation started to rise, especially they were eager to hear her confession for smuggling marijuana to their country. On the other hand, she struggled to convince her innocence.

I see. That’s why the black dog barked triumphantly: he noticed the smell of marijuana on her.

Our school mentor tried to calm both sides down, explaining the anxious Czechs nicely that her bag smelled like marijuana because she usually carried it every time she worked as a part-timer cash register in a Dutch coffee shop (not cafe), causing the smell all over the bag despite the absence of marijuana.

In the mean time, the other official and his four-legged companion, that happened to be the black poodle, jumped in the empty bus for a search. We, who were not allowed to approach the “scene”, could only watch and pray that things would go all right. The last thing I saw that they searched the brunette’s tote bag, taking out all the contents inside – which were basically like any other girls’ bag, from a wallet, a lipstick to tampons -, and no traces of dried and ground “leaves”.

They let the brunette go, and so the rest of us.

The road to experience the beauty of Prague was still not even after the incident. As hunger struck us, we dined in the worst Italian restaurant ever – while the reason for choosing an Italian cuisine over a local one remained unclear. Furthermore, non-wine drinkers, including me, had to pay the same amount as those who zip some wine, which was an unfair decision from the coordinators. Nonetheless, we were just too tired to argue.

I didn’t have any specific impression about Prague on the first day. We checked-in the hotel at night, a couple of hours behind schedule. Saving energy for the next trip was a top priority, so there was no space for night life.

DOWNTOWN LITOMERICE: PEACEFUL AND COLOURFUL 

Next morning, we left for Litoměřice, a small town in the northern part of Czech Republic situated 64 kilometers from Prague, which is part of Ústí nad Labem Region. Our main purpose is to visit a garment factory as part of our study program. Here lies a hidden treasure of international business with its notable clients, including Tommy Hilfiger, who appointed this factory as their undergarment supplier. Nevertheless, I had quite an eerie feeling to see the workers cutting fabrics with a gigantic cutter machine without cut-resistant gloves.

I probably would not have a chance to be in the main square of the town I had never heard of without this trip. So, I was so happy about the accidental visit. The city centre of Litoměřice looks merrier with the density of colours of buildings that speak louder than its inhabitants. The mélange of various architecture styles, from Baroque, Renaissance to Gothic creates spectacular view in a small piece of land in the junction of river Elbe and Ohře.

However, there is always too little time to observe and unfortunately, time cannot be bought. After getting some Koruna (CZK) from a local bank, I made the most of my “little time” to capture the beauty of the East (Europe) for the first time.

the statue
the house of “at the black eagle”
still colourful, but i prefer to show it in black and white. haunted enough?
annunciation church
sneak-peaking all saints church
st. stephen’s cathedral

 

TEREZÍN: OPENING THE OLD WOUND

About five minutes from downtown Litoměřice, we came to see the darkest side of Czech Republic history in a town called Terezín or Theresienstadt, named after the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa. The famous fortress of Terezín, originally built in 1780 for military defense, to to protect river Elbe and Ohře from Prussian troops during the reign of Habsburg Monarchy. Nonetheless, it gained its notorious reputation when the Nazi transformed it into a concentration camp in World War II called Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.

jewish cemetary

Overshadowed by Auschwitz, the largest extermination camp, the condition of Terezín was far from decent. The amount of overcrowded inmates didn’t comply the actual capacity of the prison, not to mention the mistreatment by the guards, causing malnutrition and death of Jewish prisoners before being transported to Auschwitz. The cell with just one toilet bowl for over 50 inmates is one of the silent witnesses.

Without a doubt, the history behind the camp attracts millions of people worldwide, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to call it a “tourist attraction”. It is the memorial of truth that hurts. Many of us expressed grief, sadness and uneasy feeling on location.

remains of bullet holes on the wall where jewish prisoners got shot

“So ashamed with what my people did.” The German schoolmates said with full of regrets.

On the contrary, I didn’t hear a word from the Jewish mates. I only could imagine what was on their mind.

However, I heard some “narrow-minded” comments as well.

“We should skip this part and go to the shopping centre instead.”

Confession of a shopaholic?

“This is not related to our (fashion) study.”

It’s time to learn some history. Deal?

fortress turned into a camp

May be now I can “vaguely” describe why I’ve been so excited with Eastern Europe. The old glory combined with traces of past oppression and the openness to the world after the collapse of dictatorship and communism produce some sort mysterious forces, like a huge magnet attracting me to the foreign beauty in places I know the least. Nobody, except the coordinators, knew that we would visit these places. But I was glad we did.

Finally, the bus headed back to Prague, the city everyone had been waiting for to explore. Here we come!

Male Genital Exhibition

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ADULT ENTERTAINMENT? GAY PORN?

Wait a second! The name of the place exhibiting male genitals doesn’t actually sound as vulgar as the title of my post: The Icelandic Phallological Museum (see what I mean?). Should you not know the meaning of phallological, you may overlook and forget that you once did pass the museum.

Phallological is a new vocabulary for me. So let’s talk about etymology first. Phallological derives from phallus, a synonym for penis in Latin. Phallology itself is a scientific study of the penis (Wiktionary).

Let’s take a closer look at what the place actually reveals. Indeed, it deserves to have its own space in my blog, separately from my previous Reykjavik post.

sperm whale penis

WHOSE IDEA IS THAT?

Sigurdur Hjartarson, the man behind the museum establishment, is a retired teacher from Hamrahlíd College in Reykjavik. His passion for collecting animal penises started in 1974 when he received a bull’s penis for the first time, then a whale penis from a whaling station in the same year.

The long-term dedication of his hobby resulted in the opening of the first Phallological Museum in 1994, focusing on assorted Icelandic animal penises and penis-related parts, from whales, walruses, to land mammals, after he succeeded collecting 62 specimens. Thanks to the contribution of local fishermen who found dead animals, nowadays it has 280 specimens from 93 different species. In 2012, Hjartarson inherited the museum to his son, Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson. Then, it was relocated from Húsavík to Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik.

moose and pig penis

PHALLOLOBIA

Don’t think big when it comes to the size of the museum as it is “only” as big as a three-bedroom grand penthouse that cost me IKr 1000 or €8 (now IKr 1250) to get in. Okay, I found it quite expensive. Nonetheless, what it exhibits matters more than just the size of the (exhibition) room.

Each visitor received a “penis bible” in an A4-sized folder that should be returned after the visit, mentioning details of each item, for instance from which animal it belongs (in several languages), size, height, weight, when and where it was found and how it was preserved. A biology class never taught me this. It would be a tough question for “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” contestants, when “phone a friend” and “ask the audience” couldn’t be much of help.

animal kingdom penis, from largest to smallest penis in order: whale, elephant, giraffe, bull, horse, pig, porpoise, ram, goat, hyena, dog, man

The exhibits amazed me, especially how penises, preserved in a number of methods, e.g. formaldehyde, pickling, drying, stuffing and salting, can come in various forms I’d never thought of. I remember standing in front of the longest whale penis in the room, which is 170 cm, while I’m just 155 cm! Though I couldn’t recall much what the “bible” said, I noticed that the length of a whale penis is approximately one-thirds of the whole body one, weighing up to 100 kg. Whoa!

scrotum lampshade

“Phallolobia” is something no one can miss, displaying mammals’ penis bones, such as walrus, seal, pig, mouse including that of a hamster with only 2 mm length. A flower vase made of dried sperm whale penis, lampshades made of a bull’s scrotum, a wall decoration from a nearly 1-metered-length elephant penis, a pair of earrings made of oosik (mammal’s penis bone) and carved penis bones are some artsy stuffs created from the reproduction organ. Sex shop and red light district souvenirs, namely dolls, pens, plastic statuettes and other sex toys prove public interest and wild fantasy of a particular male organ that conclude the “phallolo-section”.

elephant’s penis

Somehow I pity the big elephant, shot while attempting to trespass Kruger National Park border just to chase the juicy cane. He didn’t know that his genital part will be seen by millions of visitors per year…..

a vase made of dried sperm whale penis

HOMO SAPIENS, TOO

Here comes the peak of my male cousin’s awkwardness about the idea of displaying a genital part from his own gender in public. So yeah, perhaps he made the right decision not to enter the museum.

Starting 2011, the museum receives donations of human penises. John Dower, a British resident, donated the mould of his penis in honour to his friend Alan, who once challenged him to do so yet unfortunately killed in year 2000.

mould of a penis

Other contributions include 15 penis sculptures of Icelandic national handball team members and a preserved penis of a 95-year-old Icelandic man. Even the founder, Sigurdur, plans to donate his own penis to his museum when he dies.

penis of a homo sapiens

Icelandic Phallological Museum has become one of the most unusual museums in the world dedicated to a male reproduction organ. Anything porn about it? I don’t think so. What I see is the result of a long-term passion and dedication of an Icelandic family to a peculiar think that many people do not consider. Moreover, it boosts the country’s income with thousands of visitors per year, apart from its majestic wonders of nature.

penis toilet door handle

Should you spend more time in Reykjavík, make sure you visit this peculiar tourist attraction. I guarantee you’ll get an interesting tell-a-tale story to share with friends and family. Why not?

 

Benidorm 2: British Invasions

NOT A TYPICAL SPANISH TOWN

Firstly, I remind you that what you mainly see in Benidorm as a tourist are skyscrapers, beaches, rows of restaurant, bar, discotheque and shop. Nada mas. So forget about medieval churches, palacio real, painting museums, historical buildings and so on. They are just not what it offers. The only signs signifying that you’re in still in Spain is the plaza mayor and the locals speaking Spanish. I was disappointed at first. However, it gives me unforgettable experiences with British visitors occupying the east coast of Spain.

plaza mayor benidorm
the plaza mayor corridor

BRIT NIGHT LIFE

Initially, I wanted to observe Dutch tourist behaviour in a Spanish town. But Great Britain was shifting to Spain. Their presence was not only marked by their accents, but also some bars and night clubs purposely targeting on British customers with Brit Pop and Beatles nights. Even one of the pubs is named after a British rock legend besides The Beatles: (The) Rolling Stones. I guess the only locals in those places were bartenders, janitors and bodyguards.

rolling stones pub

No matter where they go, they just love being noticed with their peculiar outfits. The bizarre habit doesn’t surprise me at all. I have seen British tourist dozens of times in Amsterdam. They usually come in groups with certain dress codes approved by their own peers: Playboy bunnies, Alice in Wonderland, Vampires etc. Santa Claus is no exception, even if it is not the month of December. By the way, did you notice Union Jack garland below the Bahamas neon lights?

“THIS IS MY APARTMENT!”

Next morning at 8 am, somebody knocked our apartment door. Nobody wished to be an early riser after a long night, drinking and getting dizzy at dawn. Nonetheless, the sound of banging door wouldn’t stop unless somebody opened the door. Unfortunately, I was the only one who managed to wake up.

“This is my apartment!” A half-drunken guy in his heavy British accent standing in front of me claimed that the room we were staying was his.

“The receptionist gave us the key yesterday and the room was empty!” I defended myself. My gals and I did nothing wrong.

The girl behind him kept trying to calm him down. “It’s OK, baby. C’mon, let’s go!” She said to him repeatedly.

He explained that he and his girlfriend stayed in our room earlier, then left for another city for 2 nights and planned to returned to the room after that. They said they had not checked out yet and couldn’t understand why we were in their room instead. I advised them to talk to the receptionist and deal with it. They agreed, and finally left me in peace. Phew!!

BEACH FIGHT

the main reason why people come to Benidorm

I’m not a beach person. Sunbathing and tanning my skin are not my things at all from the start. But my gals wanted it so badly.  As mentioned on the previous post that I had to skip working for this trip, I had a specific reason to avoid it. Can you imagine if the office people saw me getting tanned as soon as I recovered from illness?

Undoubtedly, the weather was perfect with lots of sun combined with heavenly wind breeze that made me feel relaxed and fall asleep like a baby. I couldn’t bare missing it. Again, I broke the rule. Fortunately, the rented beach chair was equipped with an umbrella to protect my skin from tanning effect.

afternoon in Benidorm

It was a perfect afternoon until someone pushed me to the right side when I was sitting on my beach chair. Before I knew it, my ass became half-seated. A guy coming out of the blue stole the other half of my seating space without permission. I was shocked and jumped from my seat. The gals were also surprised who on earth that guy was. I forgot what he said exactly. The point is that he and I should get to know each other more. But hey, please treat a gal with more respect! Even if he just won an Oscar last week, or he looks as hot as Ryan Gosling…- Wait! He’s British, so take Jude Law instead – I didn’t give a shit!

My days in the office were such a crap already. It took time and energy to find a perfect getaway to a dreamland where I could temporarily vanish from that crappy circle of life. My funding was in shortage, but still I forced myself to make the trip come true. In that kind of circumstances, I believe I deserve to get pissed off if anybody ruin my holiday. I usually didn’t sweat small irritating stuff, except this one. I really wanted him to get out of my territory.

“SHUT UP AND GET OUT! I TELL YOU, GET OUT!!!” I yelled it repeatedly while pointing the exit way of the beach area nearby. That guy was persistent at first to stay. But finally he walked out to the exit I pointed. Shortly after, I realized that other people sunbathing around me became spectators of the battle. Pretty ashamed, to be honest. My gals stared at me and were silent, couldn’t believe with what I just did.

There were abundant of topless women on the beach, both young and old. I was wearing shorts and tank top. Not even a bikini showing abs and cleavage. So why he locked his target on me, not my gals and other naked women, remains a mystery.

I didn’t mean to dislike British people by the way, so don’t get me wrong. In fact, I have met nice and friendly Brits in other places, been in love with London capital and have a relative living in the country for decades. If have bad experience with them, it’s just a random misfortune. If I only focus on one nationality in my story this time, it’s just coincidental since it was something significant during the trip.

In a nutshell, Benidorm is about having fun. Get used to with unexpected behaviour from its visitors!

spraying the last supper

Benidorm 1: First Night Out with Beautiful Strangers

BEST DEAL ONLINE: BENIDORM

One of the greatest thing about living in Europe is that the distance between countries is not so much to bare. The most beautiful cities in the world you see on postcards are much nearer than you though. Gosh, you have no idea how much I miss those good old days. Especially, when the trips are on low-season promotion.

evening in benidorm

“Do you know what to see in Benidorm?” Assuming I’m a very keen traveller, she expected me to know many names of places on earth.

“Huh? What is that? Haven’t heard before.” I replied.

Then, I checked the fantastic offer to Benidorm on internet: € 150 per person, including return flight from Amsterdam – Alicante, shuttle bus to Benidorm that takes an hour journey,  apartment for 3 persons for 3 nights.

I was like, “Really? This isn’t happening!” None of us had any idea what to do and see in Benidorm, yet what we really care about was to click the offer before it was gone.

FIRST NIGHT OUT: KFC AND SANGRIA

The most proper way to describe our apartment is we got what we paid. It was as simple as a spacious student flat with a huge balcony on 15th floor facing other hotels, swimming pools and a glimpse of sea water a few hundred meters from us. The kitchen utensils were adequate to save our budget on food and KFC was just across the street.

view from the 15th floor

As we decided not to take the balcony for granted, we bought a bucket of fried chicken from KFC, large coke from the mini mart and cooked rice with my own portable rice cooker. Oh, FYI, I purposely bought a small pack of rice in a supermarket in Holland the day before departure. Other people’s tea time was our first lunch time we had after checking in. It was the best lunch time experience ever!

As the sun went down, we started our night life with a typical Spanish drink: a pitcher of Sangria!

Sangria night

We took a long walk along the street with rows of bars, restaurants, cafes, pubs and discotheques on both sides opening until dawn, some are even closed at 5 am or 7 am. Asian tourists were very rare. Most probably we were the only ones that night. Well, the town is more popular among European visitors than Asians. Unless I lived in Holland, I would think Benidorm is a canned food brand.

Finding pubs with great music, lovely atmosphere and decent people inside all at once wasn’t as easy as we thought. There was a pub with decent people, but the music didn’t really suit us. There was a quite nice bar but we felt like power(less) puff girls entering a Mexican drug cartel community. Finally, we left that place in less than 30 seconds without ordering any drinks.

There was another bar where an Italian guy asked me to dance with him after my 2 gals refused him. He was not bad. The only thing he did was to make himself foolish by asking a silly question like, “Will you marry me?” only 15 minutes after meeting me. Was he spontaneous or drunk? Regardless, my gals somehow regretted refusing him after being approached by another scary pervert guy who seduced them while I was dancing with the Italian guy.

Finally, our night life ended up in the western food restaurant where we ordered fish and chips as our supper. I think that was the only place we felt more secure and comfortable. There were only 2 seats occupied, including ours, since less people eating heavy meals like steak and fish and chips after 1 am. For sure, nobody bothered us at all.

BEAUTIFUL STRANGERS

Strangers in Benidorm love camera. They did not hesitate to appear all of the sudden in front of my camera lens by the time I got the right angle. I couldn’t tell their nationalities. I only knew English was not their mother tongue.

a bartender posing while getting some fresh air
can I be the next cover girl?
evening joggers just wanna say “hi” to a stranger photographer

Sometimes we felt like tourist objects rather than tourists. Some people looked at us, wondering how we ended up in the beach town whose name sounds foreign among Asians. So who were the strangers actually? People in the photographs or the photographer and her gals?

It won’t be necessary to fly or drive to Benidorm just to enjoy night life. However, strangers we met on or off cameras, they made the difference, adding more colours of our travel experience.