Crete and the Minoan Civilization

Knossos, Crete

Tourists visit Greece to explore archaeological wonders like the Acropolis, but they often forget where western civilization truly began: in Minoan Crete. Home to the Minoans long before Athen’s heyday, the kingdom of Crete boasted magnificent palaces, cities, and a rich culture that influenced most of the Mediterranean. Although it is shrouded in mystery and legend, archaeological evidence gives us a glimpse into the rise and fall of this advanced society. During our travels through Crete I made it my mission to visit these ancient Minoan sites and examine the evidence of their greatness firsthand. Continue reading

All Roads Lead to Rome

Rome, Italy

Throughout our European travels we have found evidence of the greatness of the Roman Empire; from Hadrian’s Wall in the misty isles of Britain as far as Ephesus on the Aegean shores of Turkey. Every church, every castle, and every European city we visited was built upon the foundations of Roman temples, forts, and towns. Roman language, culture, and technologies spread all across the western world and are still used today. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when at last we had arrived at the centre of it all, the birthplace of western civilisation, to which all roads once led: Rome.

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Christmas Eve and Tales of Brno

Christmas, Freedom Square, Brno, Czech

Having a weekend off from babysitting duty in Vienna, we were trying to figure out the best place to spend our Christmas holidays– and it had to be somewhere cheap because Austria was killing us! A fine thing about being in central Europe is that you’re rarely more than a couple hours away from the nearest border, Austria itself being closed in at all sides by Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic (don’t forget Liechtenstein!). Surveying our choices, we decided it would be fun (and cheap) to take a couples’ vacation up to Brno, Czech, only a couple hours by bus from Vienna. Czech is a country we’ve visited before on our trip to Prague and Karlovy-Vary, and we were more than happy to return to its loving embrace.

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The Krampus Creeps through Salzburg

St. nicholas, Krampus, Salzburg

St. Nicholas consoling the children

When we arrived in Salzburg, Austria on Dec. 5th, Christmas had already come! The streets were lit up with brilliant lights and the smells of baked goods wafted deep into our senses. Around every corner Christmas carollers galore sang traditional tunes, accompanied by brass bands and accordion players. Mulled wine was being quaffed in sickening amounts and temporary stalls, set up in several of Salzburg’s squares, were selling a multitude of bees-wax candles, holiday decorations, and mountains of sugary sweets. Little did we know that all of these familiar festivities were leading up to something strange…. and possibly terrible.

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Dante’s Inferno in Slovenia

Tolmin Gorge Cave, Tolmin, Slovenia

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

From the top of Šentviška Gora Plateau, Ashleigh and I descended along a walking trail that had been altogether obscured by a passing storm. Felled trees littered the path like strewn match sticks and we had to scramble our way through like an obstacle course. We were staying with English expatriate Helpx hosts who lived in a terribly remote region of Slovenia, amidst the tiny settlement of Ponikve– a carpenter and a hairdresser who decided to make a new home in a strange country. Unable to get a ride, and with no other way to get off the mountain, we set off on our weekend adventure on foot in an attempt to get to the beautiful Tolmin Gorge, about 15 kilometres away.

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Walking the Streets of Troy

Brad Pitt’s Trojan Horse

          The Illiad, one of the two popular epics attributed to Homer, is an ancient Greek story set during the Trojan War. The Illiad is probably one of the greatest tales of all time, retold for centuries in the courts of kings, before the thrones of emperors and is still a favourite of today. Although Homer stirred many outlandish deeds of mighty heroes and angry gods into his stories, the Trojan War is believed to have actually occurred and the ruins of the ancient city of Troy still exist. Continue reading

The Marble City of Ephesus

          Sometimes more powerful forces than your own direct you down paths you wouldn’t otherwise go, and our plans always seem to change. This time, the great forces of “cheap airline tickets” directed us to Izmir in Turkey. Apparently many Finlanders travel there during their summer holidays to get a bit closer to the sun and work on their non-existent tans, thus there were many different airlines offering thrifty flights to Turkey. Climbing on-board the Sun Express, we set off on our own holiday towards a whole new world under the blazing sun.

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Krakow and the Wawel Dragon

Lair of the Dragon

           Poland was a thrilling, financial break for us. After being traumatized by a $30 bowl of soup at a fish-market in Oslo, not to mention the ludicrously lavish living expenses in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and London—Poland was a pleasant dream that just kept getting better. Suddenly, a pint of beer at a bar cost $2.50 instead of $12. Milk Bars, a cheap and excellent source of perogies and sauerkraut, could be found around every corner and offered decent meals for as little as five dollars. In the end we likely spent more money than usual, surrounded by a sea of “good deals”, but we certainly felt better about it.

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A Crash Course in Castles PART II

Flint Castle, Wales, Britain

Map of our UK castle tour

Map of our UK castle tour

           Due to the large number of castles Ashleigh and I visited on our tour of the United Kingdom (16 in total!), and the vast amount of information attached to each, I have been forced to split my article into two parts. Welcome to PART 2! If you haven’t seen PART 1, please read it here.

The last outpost of Scotland awaited us next in the Shetland Isles! We visited a few English castles in Tamworth and Newcastle, the Scottish castle of Edinburgh, and others in the Midlothian region. Muness Castle on Unst Island, the most northern tip of land in Scotland, was to be our next stop, followed by Urquhart Castle on the waters of Loch Ness, Cuchulainn’s Castle in Ireland, and Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy, Rhuddlan, and, finally, Flint Castle in Wales. Each one of these imposing strongholds had their own stories to tell, through their importance in history, the way they were designed, and the legends surrounding them.

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A Crash Course in Castles PART I

Edinburgh castle, Scotland

Map of our UK castle tour

         Before coming to Britain, even before embarking on our European journey, I would often sit and dream of treading through stone passageways, patrolling the length of rocky defences, and keeping watch from the tallest turrets on a windy night. Castles were raised by the ruling powers through the blood and sweat of their toiling subjects; impenetrable fortresses of carved stone blocks atop rocky crags, castles are truly an awesome sight to behold. They were, at many times, scenes of bloodshed: from sword clashing medieval battles to the assassination of nobles. They were once the seat of lords and kings, protecting, as well as dominating, the countryside. They have stood for hundreds of years and will hopefully continue to stand for centuries more (partially thanks to the National Trust).

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King Arthur and the Standing Stones

Beaumaris Castle, Wales

      Staggering off the ferry, we took our first steps back into Great Britain. Bleary-eyed from grabbing a handful of hours sleep on the ferry we set off from Holyhead to meet up with my brother, Braeden, in Beaumaris! We had meticulously (or so we thought) planned the next week and a half that the three of us would be touring to maximize our sightseeing.

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The Path of Cúchulainn

     

        A long time ago, sometime between about 600 and 150 BC, the Celtic people travelled across the sea from western Europe and invaded Ireland. The land was lush, green and beautiful, a much desired location for a new home, but another people had already settled in Ireland, and had been there for thousands of years. The Tuatha Dé Danann were recorded in Irish mythology as being a race with supernatural powers and god-like abilities. Whoever these people were they left their mark on the landscape, building enormous burial chambers and temples, erecting massive standing boulders, and leaving behind exquisite, scrolling carvings in stone, a style that is still duplicated today in Celtic art.

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Bifröst and the Footsteps of the Gods

Bifrost, Iceland

Bifröst, the bridge to Asgard.

These are the words from the journal of Nathanael Weirson:

“Bifröst seems to be everywhere. In every new place we visit in Iceland, Bifröst is already there, a glowing arch on the horizon. In the old legends it is said that Bifröst is composed of burning fire, the golden colour of the sun, growing grass, and running water. Scandinavians, once believers of the Norse religion, knew what we call a “rainbow” was really a bridge to the world of the gods.”

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Hidden People

Hidden People, Iceland

Stone figures made to represent the hidden people.

These are the words from the journal of Nathanael Weirson:

“There is a story we learned about how the elves of Iceland came to be:

“When the human world was just beginning, Adam and Eve existed. They had many children together, so many that they were hard to count. God one day asked Eve if He could meet all of her children personally. Eve brought her children before Him, all, that is, but for a handful who hadn’t washed for a while and were very dirty. Eve was ashamed to show them to God at the time, and hid them while He met the others. God, knowing of her folly, proclaimed from that day forth these ‘dirty’ children shall forever be the ‘hidden people’ and be invisible to all eyes”

for-the-hidden-people-iceland

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