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  • Nature | Australia > Mission Beach
    Updated at Aug 5,2013

    "…Later on, we traveled to Mission Beach, apparently a well-known beach. We hadn’t heard anything about it… The beach supplied us with nice weather and a cool breeze. Wonderful coconuts grow nearby, and every morning one of them “fell on our head” straight from the tree. You can see the islands not far from the shore. It’s fun just to relax and not do anything. Here, very very close, you can stroll between beautiful Fan Palm…"

  • Nature | Australia > Broken Head
    Updated at Aug 5,2013

    "…It's rainy. Not much to do. We skipped ahead through the beach towns, and when the rain stopped we quickly found a small and charming reserve by chance – a wet rainforest gliding down to the sandy beach of Broken Head. In the ocean, naturally, the guys are catching some waves. No idea what lies ahead at the end of the road…"

  • Nature | China > Jiuzhaigou Valley, Ziyang, Sichuan, China
    Updated at Aug 15,2013

    Jiuzhaigou is a reservation, packed with tourists, water pools, and lakes with amazingly crazy colors. You just can't stop shooting your camera. The water has intense, crystal clear colors. You just cannot believe it's natural!  

  • Nature
    Updated at Feb 17,2014

    The Royal Botanical Kew Gardens: a cure for stress and burn out. Allow lots of time !

    Start & End: Kew Bridge train station or Kew Gardens tube station.

    By National Rail Train:

    Train services (South West Trains) from Waterloo, via Vauxhall and Clapham Junction, stop at Kew Bridge Station. Kew Bridge Station is 800 metres from the Elizabeth Gate entrance to the Gardens.

    Note: There is currently a 2FOR1 special offer for admission to Kew Gardens when you travel to Kew by train from a National Rail station – you need to pick up a voucher from a National Rail station to present on arrival at the entrance gate. Your Travelcard applies of course.

    The place is huge and it will take several trips to see everything that's there.

    By Underground tube: Kew Gardens Station (District Line- Richmond branch and London Overground) is the closest London Underground station, and is in zone 3. Kew Gardens Station is 400 metres from the Victoria Gate entrance to the Gardens. Exit the station past the parade of shops, cross Sandycombe Road at the zebra crossing and walk down Lichfield Road (opposite) to reach Victoria Gate.

    By bus: Route 65 between Ealing Broadway and Kingston, via Richmond town centre, stops close to Lion Gate and Victoria Gate. Route 391 between Fulham and Richmond stops near Kew Gardens Station. Routes 237 and 267 stop at Kew Bridge station.

    To save money from paying for the out of the district fare, take the Underground District Line to Richmond and get off at Hammersmith station. Go upstairs and take Bus #391 to Richmond. Get off at Bus Stop B-- about a 25 min. ride over. This will help alleviate you having to purchase the additional Zone 2 ticket.

    Opening times: Kew Gardens opens daily at 9.30am, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when the Gardens are closed.

    Gates close (last entry 30 minutes before): Sat 8 Feb to Sat 29 Mar 2014: 17.30, Sun 30 March to Mon 25 Aug 2014: 18.30, Tue 26 Aug to Sat 25 Oct 2014: 18.00, Winter 2014-2015: 16.15.

    Duration: The place is massive but is well worth the visit. At least 5-6 hours.

    Weather: your visit must coincide with sunny weather !!!


    Avoid weekends and rainy days.

    The best way to enjoy this place is to pack a picnic, take a lot of water with you to drink and accept that you won't see it all in one day. Orangery self-service restaurant is pricey !

    Better if you have a 2 for 1 coupon !!

    Difficult to find a toilet if needed - so keep it in mind for your drinks.

    From time to time - some glasshouses may be closed temporarily.

    The gift shop is at the Victoria gate and with a wide selection of flower/vegetable seeds and tasteful souvenirs (albeit expensive).

    During the Autumn months: the trees are magnificent and the change of leaves makes for some stunning scenery. On the other hand - lack of flowers...

    Noise of passing planes, over your head, may spoil the expected tranquility in the gardens.

    If you wear glasses be prepared for them to fog up badly inside some glasshouses - they have a very warm and humid environment.

    Kew Gardens map:

    Fees: Kew Gardens tickets: Adults £14.50. Going on the pleasant tram ride which costs an additional 4 GBP. You can buy family pass which costs 93 GBP for 2 for the whole year.

    Kew Gardens tickets: Concessions (registered disabled, student with ID, senior citizen 60+). £12.50.

    Children 16 and under Children must be accompanied by an adult.

    There are 5 Cafés and restaurants at Kew Gardens.

    Lake and Front of Palms Conservatory:

    Inside the Palms Conservatory: The Palm House is magic. The Palm House has a great variety of different types of plants that vary from tropical, vegetables, fruits, and there is a marine display downstairs.

    View from Palms Conservatory:

    Waterlilies Conservatory: You must see the WaterLily House next door to the Palm House-- the Giant Amazon waterlilies are so unique and pretty! They are huge!! Colors range from purple, pink, yellow, and white:

    Temperate Conservatory:

    Nash Conservatory:

    The Japanese Garden:

    Minka - Japanese House without Nails:

    Desert Plants Square:

    Prince of Wales conservatory: whose layout and content will keep you happily wandering around it. It contains several climate zones/sections. The Prince of Wales greenhouse is out of this world ! :



    Desert Plants in the Prince of Wales Conservatory:

    Dry Tropical Conservatory:

    Rock Garden:

    Alpine Garden:

    Trees in Kew Gardens:

    The "Monkey Tree" - a Conifer:

    Ginko Biloba with Wisteria:

    Tumer's Oak from year 1798:

    Leucombe Oak planted in th end of the 18 Centurey:

    General Views:

    View of Syon House:

    View of the Thames:



    Central Lake and Sackler Crossing:

    The Human Factor:

    Plantastic Playground:

    Animals in Kew Gardens:

    Kew Palace: Sometimes referred to as the Dutch House, was built in 1631 by Samuel Fortrey. Frederick, Prince of Wales, took a long lease of the house and made it his frequent residence.  George III's residency of the Dutch House was originally intended to be brief,  but as the royal family became larger it became necessary to take over other properties on Kew Green, including the Dutch House. George III's wife, Queen Charlotte died at the Dutch House on 17 November 1818. On ascending the throne in 1837 Queen Victoria gave most of Kew Gardens to the nation, retaining for her own use only a small summer house once belonging to Queen Charlotte. Therefore, this palace is known as "Queen's Cottage". But Queen Victoria seldom visited it and to mark her Golden Jubilee in year 1887 she presented the palace/cottage also to the country. This third transformation or re-structure was designed in part by King George III, and otherwise by James Wyatt. It was demolished during the reign of her Queen Charlotte's son, George IV, in 1828. Kew Palace was used to hold a dinner hosted by Charles, Prince of Wales to celebrate the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, his mother, on year 2006. It reopened as a visitor attraction, following a ten-year closure for restoration.

    George III - Kew Palace:

    Queen Charlotte:

    Kew Palace Gardens:

    Hew Hedge behind Kew Palace:

    Line of Statues that symbolize the reign of Edward IV:

    The Lion's Gate and the Japanese Pagoda:

    Near Victoria gate:


  • Nature | United Kingdom > London, United Kingdom > WWT London Wetland Centre
    Updated at Mar 16,2014

    Start: Hammersmith Bus Station. Buses: 283, 33, 72 and 209. All stop near the main Entrance. 15 minutes ride.
    Back: Same buses (Pref. 283).

    Admission Prices: Adult - 10.50 GBP, Concessions - 8 GBP.

    Duration: Allow one full day. Coose a bright, sunny day. The lagunes in this nature reserve are glorious in a pretty day.
    General directions: There are TWO ROUTES: Southern and Western. Every route will consume 3-4 hours. Allow time to watch the reserve with binoculars (from special hides or watch-points) and take with you a long-zoom camera. A special experience for children. Allow time for a relaxed walk in the remote and desolate paths of the nature reserve. Better, come during the Spring or Summer weeks. A wonderful site. All paths are well sign-posted. No need for a map.

    Food: Nothing to write home about. Bring your own food until 15.00 or 16.00. You'll find budget food in Hammersmith BUs Station or in Earls Court area.

    Very good Gift Shop: Many original items.

    The main entrance:

         -----------       The Southern Route       ----------

    Oost House:

    Sustainable Gardens:

    View from Dulverton Hide:

    The Peacock Tower:

    View from the Peacock Tower:

    ----------- The Western Route ----------

    The Otters Pond (Feeding times: 11.00 and 14.00):




    Swans: In this case - a black swan...


  • Nature | Austria
    Updated at Nov 18,2014

    Schönbrunn Grounds:

    Schönbrunn Entrance:

    Even the approach to the palace is like a skilfully staged progress towards the presence of the monarch. Avenues lead to the main gate which is flanked by two obelisks crowned with eagles as symbols of imperial sovereignty. Once through the gates, one is confronted with the vast open space of the cour d’honneur, at the other end of which stands the palace itself:

    The Palace Gardens: By walking through the planted flower beds of the park, one first does not imagine that the whole area of the palace garden extends in a legnth and width of nearly one kilometer each. The view to the backside of the castle Schönbrunn and the Gloriette that enthrones on a small hill are more than imposing. Everywhere in the palace gardens of Schönbrunn one finds nicely arranged paths with some fountains or benches for relaxing. Our view fell to widely arranged lawns and abundantly adorned fountains. The park was an integral part of this complex, as a symbol of Nature subjected to monarchical will and as a spectacular backdrop for summer festivities, evening illuminations and firework displays. Music, an art cultivated at the highest level at the Habsburg Court and one that was also deployed to serve the needs of courtly display, took the form of sumptuous operas and serenatas, dances and ballets, for which parts of the palace or its gardens were adapted. There was also a permanent stage available in the palace theatre at Schönbrunn.

    Great Parterre: The central axis of the palace formed the backbone of the gardens whose symmetry was determined by orthogonal and diagonal axes. Behind the garden façade of the palace the Parterre occupied the largest space with its strictly symmetrical beds. The beds consisted of formal patterns made with strips of box and coloured stones or sand and were known as "broderie" parterres since these formal motifs were mostly taken from embroidery patterns. To either side of the parterre were formal plantings of severely clipped hedges forming passageways, small openings and hidden enclosures:

    The great Parterre from the southern facade of the Schonbrunn Palace:

    The south facade of the Palace:

    Palm House:  Emperor Franz Joseph commissioned the construction of the Palm House in 1882 to Architect Franz Segenschmid. it is the largest Palm House on the European continent. The Palm House is located on the site of the former Dutch Garden. The Palm House is divided into three pavilions and three climate zones, which are connected to each other by tunnel-like corridors. The tallest room exhibits plants from the Mediterranean region, the Canary Islands, South Africa, America and Australia. The northern room houses plants from China, Japan, the Himalayas and New Zealand. Tropical and subtropical plants grow in the third area. There are several outstanding plants in the Palm House: a 23 meter-tall palm, the largest water lily in the world (with a leaf diameter of 1.20 meters). Temperatures in the Palm House range between 8 and 17  degrees Celsius. The Schönbrunn Palm House was the last of its type to be constructed in continental Europe:

    The Desert House (Wüstenhaus) is east to the Palm house. The vegetation in the desert house mainly consists on cacti. In the desert house right in front of the palm house, I first had the same feeling. The flora with the many different cacti is surely impressive if one has only few chances to see such things somewhere else. But if one considers that the Emperor Franz Joseph I. had this glass house built that was finally finished in the year 1904 in order to give the plants coming from Australia and Africa a good chance to grow, this house gets something interesting. Today, one can walk through subterranean alleyways with glass inserts and above the ground on solid pathways and see the flora and fauna of three different dry regions. But beside plenty of different birds we only saw one little mouse; the other animals were either well hidden or not there at all. While we took some 30 minutes time to view the palm house, 10-15 minutes were enough for the desert house. It was not the money worth. But anyway, it is a welcolmed chance to get to the tilet after those long walks in the palace garden:

    Note: The Zoo (Tiergarten) is close-by. We left its description to end of this Tip.

    Botanic Garden and the Japanese Garden: The small Japanese Garden is north to the Palm House:

    The Botanic Garden extends all along the most eastern stretch of the Schonbrunn park.

    In 1753, Maria Theresa's husband, Emperor Franz I Stephan, who was a keen amateur natural scientist, bought a neglected hedged field from the neighbouring village of Hietzing, on which he had a "Dutch Garden" laid out. This garden, which was located on the site today occupied by the Palm House, had a geometrical layout and consisted of three sections. Each section had four quadrants with a fountain at their centres. The northern section was a flower garden, the central section contained vegetable beds and spaliered fruit trees while the southern section was an orchard. A large glasshouse was also erected on the north side. During the reigns of Joseph II and Emperor Franz II/I, the old "Dutch-Botanic" Garden was extended through the purchase of additional pieces of land. A number of new glasshouses were erected in this new part of the garden, together with an arboretum consisting of exotic American trees planted in evenly-spaced rows in sandy soil and equipped with inscribed plaques. The four mighty plane trees still standing near the Palm House date from this time. An inventory of the entire stock of the Dutch-Botanic Garden dated 1799 lists 4,000 plants of nearly 800 different species. From 1828 the Dutch-Botanic Garden was transformed into a landscape garden in the English style and renamed the "Court Plant Garden". Today's Botanic Garden is located on the site of the extra plots of land acquired by Joseph II and Franz II/I:

    Neptune Fountain: The Neptunbrunnen ("Neptune Fountain") marks exactly the centre of the garden. Sited at the foot of the hill south to the palace, west to the Zoo and the Botanic Garden and north to the  Great Parterre and north-west to the Japanese Garden and the Palms House. It was conceived as part of the overall design of the gardens and park commissioned by Maria Theresa in the 1770s. Excavations for the pool began in 1776 and the fountain was completed four years later, just before the death of the Empress. It was very probably designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, while the sculptural group of Sterzing marble was executed by Wilhelm Beyer. At the centre of the figural group above a rocky grotto stands Neptune in a shell-shaped chariot, his trident in his hand. To his left is a nymph, while on his right kneels the sea-goddess Thetis, entreating Neptune to favour the voyage of her son, Achilles, who has set off to conquer Troy. Frolicking at the foot of the grotto are the Tritons, creatures who are half-man and half-fish, and belong to Neptune's entourage. They hold conch shell trumpets with which they can inspire fear in both man and beast, and are restraining the hippocampi or sea-horses who draw Neptune's chariot across the seas. Neptune driving across the seas in dominion over the watery element is a common motif in 16th to 18th-century art, being used as a symbol for monarchs controlling the destiny of their nations. The figural group was originally free-standing, but a screen of trees was planted behind it during the 19th century to provide a foil:

    The Palace from the Neptune Fountain:

    From the Neptune Fountain we had north. The fountain is in our back, we see the Palace in front of us. We bypass it, climb the hill and arrive to the Gloriette which is, immediately, north to the Palace.

    The Gloriette:  The Early Classicistic colonnaded Gloriette was built to Hohenberg's designs on the crest of the hill in 1775. The structure consists of a central section in the form of a triumphal arch, flanked by arcaded wings with lofty semi-circular arches. The central section, which was glazed during the last year of Maria Theresa's life, is crowned with a mighty imperial eagle perching on a globe and surrounded by trophies. The flat roof with its retaining balustrade was already being used as a viewing platform by the beginning of the 19th century. It can be accessed today via a stairway. Besides the external flight of steps leading up to the glazed central section, which today houses Café Gloriette, there are additional lateral flights of steps which are lined with massive sculpted trophies. These are arrangements composed of antique Roman armour with shields, standards and lions, and were executed by the sculptor Johann Baptist Hagenauer. The central eagle motif and the other sculptural decorations were executed by Benedikt Henrici.  Never completed, the palace was made over to the army in 1774 to be used as a powder magazine. Maria Theresa subsequently gave orders for the valuable architectural features to be dismantled and used in the remodelling of the park and gardens at Schönbrunn. The Gloriette has been repeatedly interpreted by historians as a monument to the notion of a "just war", which according to 18th-century ideals was not waged senselessly but with the purpose of restoring the balance of power and consolidating established order. During the 19th century the glazed inner hall of the Gloriette was frequently used as a dining room. A kitchen was built nearby so that food could be freshly prepared, but this was demolished around 1925. One year later the glazing was also removed. In 1945 part of the east wing was destroyed by a bomb, but was rebuilt in the years following the war. The Gloriette underwent complete restoration in 1994/95 during the course of which the central section was reglazed. Today, the Gloriette houses a popular café with a remarkable view over the imperial palace and its formal gardens. It seems that many visitors want to climb up the small branched paths to the Gloriette. Thus, you wo'nt be very surprised when you don't not get any seat in the small café in the Gloriette, that, with a lot of view windows, offers an attractive possibility to rest. But the seats are positioned very closely together and the lack of cosiness in the overfull room is not very inviting, as any few minutes the door is opened and people enter the room in order to look for a seat. But at the front of the café there are enough benches from which you can have a look down to the castle Schönbrunn. It is surely worthwhile to visit the Palace Schönbrunn and climb the Gloriette hill in the summer time when everything blossoms but then one surely has to count with more visitors respectively than there are in the autumn season.

    The view to the Palace and Vienna Forests during the climb to the Gloriette Hill:

    The Gloriette Restaurant:

    View of Schonbrunn Park from the Gloriette:

    View of Vienna from the Gloriette:

    We head south-west from the Gloriette to the Obelisk. The Obelisk Fountain is exactly west to the Neptune Fountain, on the most west border of the park - in its centre. Like the other features in the park this fountain was also designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg and according to the inscription on the socle of the obelisk was erected in 1777. The statuary work was carried out by Benedikt Henrici partly following designs by Wilhelm Beyer. The fountain consists of a pool contained against the slope behind it by a retaining wall topped by a balustrade with vases. Projecting forward into basin from the centre of the back wall is a mountain grotto peopled with river gods and crowned by an obelisk. The water flows out of the mouth of a central mask and the vases held by the river gods via a succession of three basins into the main pool. The obelisk, borne on the backs of four turtles as the symbol of stability, is covered in hieroglyphs purporting to tell the history of the Habsburg dynasty. However, these are spurious, as hieroglyphs were not in fact deciphered until 1822. Between the mountain grotto and the retaining wall is a double flight of steps leading to a platform from where a small cave reveals a view of the avenue. As cosmic symbols, obelisks were associated with the sun cult of the Ancient Egyptians. Crowned by a golden sphere symbolising the sun, the obelisk represents the path of the rays of the sun down to earth, while the four edges signify the cardinal directions. In Baroque iconography the obelisk stood for princely steadfastness and stable government. The eagle perching on top of the sphere, held to be the only creature that can approach the sun without coming to harm, symbolises the ruler mediating between heaven and earth. The Obelisk Fountain at Schönbrunn was doubtless also intended to express the Habsburg claim to absolute and enduring dominion:

    The Rusten Allee leads from the Obelisk directly east to the Roman Ruin. Designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg and built in 1778, the ensemble is completely integrated into the surrounding landscape as a picturesque garden feature. The fashion for picturesque artificial ruins had started before the middle of the 18th century in England but it had taken several decades for it to spread further afield.
    Hohenberg created the Roman Ruin at Schönbrunn as an entirely new structure on the model of the Ancient Roman temple of Vespasian and Titus, the remains of which had been recorded in an engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi dating to around 1756. In contrast to the Gloriette, all the architectural elements of the structure, including the columns and reliefs, were made under the supervision of the court architect, as has only recently been verified. The ensemble consists of a rectangular pool framed by a massive semi-circular arch with lateral walls evoking the impression of an ancient edifice slowly crumbling into the ground. The centre of the ensemble is the arch with its fragmented architrave and frieze, which is decorated with reliefs of various sacrificial implements based on Roman models. The lateral walls projecting forward at right angles display the same relief decoration in addition to Classicistic figures and busts. In the pool in front of the ruin is a figural group representing the gods of the Rivers Danube and Enns, executed by Wilhelm Beyer. The aisle in the woods rising directly behind the central arch was originally terraced to simulate a cascade. It leads to the statue of Hercules fighting Cerberus, the three-headed hound which guarded the entrance to Hades, as well as the personified Vices, while beneath his feet lies the defeated Hydra, a many-headed water-snake. Quite apart from the romantic or picturesque effect that the architect was striving for, the fact that the structure was commonly referred to as the 'Ruin of Carthage' indicates that it was probably intended as an allusion to the victory of Rome over Carthage. For centuries, the Habsburgs had embodied the office of Roman-German Emperor, seeing themselves as the legitimate successors to the ancient Roman Empire; this edifice was thus also intended as an expression of their dynastic claims:

    From the Roman Ruin go south along the Ruinenallee to the Round Pool. The Star Pool (its eastern counter-part) was originally sited at the centre of the Great Parterre. In 1772, during the course of Hohenberg's remodelling of the Great Parterre it was moved to its present location on the western diagonal axis of the gardens. At the same time, as a counterpart to it, the Round Pool was created at the centre of the star-shaped system of avenues on the eastern side of the park. The groups of naiads, made in both cases of marble from Sterzing in South Tyrol, were executed at the same time as the Neptune Fountain, between 1770 and 1780. Naiads are nymphs of springs and streams who belong to Neptune's followers. At the edge of each of the circular expanses that contain the Star and Round Pools at their centres are eight large marble vases sculpted by Johann Baptist Hagenauer between 1772 and 1780:

    We are still on the west side of the Schonbrunn park. Continue more southward along the Ruinenallee and you arrive to the Oranjerie or Orangery. As far back as the time of the dowager empress Wilhelmine Amalie an orangery garden was laid out at Schönbrunn which included a hothouse for overwintering bitter orange trees. In 1754 Franz I Stephan instigated the building of the Orangery by Nicola Pacassi, probably to designs by Nicolas Jadot. One hundred and eighty-nine metres long and ten metres wide, the Schönbrunn Orangery is one of the two largest Baroque orangeries in the world, the other being at Versailles. The south façade is articulated by an alternating series of large and smaller apertures with rusticated pilasters decorated with masks. The interior has a rhythmic sequence of shallow vaults and is heated by a hypocaust system. The Orangery served not only as the winter quarters for citrus trees and other potted plants but was also a winter garden used for imperial court festivities. Joseph II was especially fond of holding celebrations in the Orangery with festively-decorated banqueting tables, ranks of flowering plants and illuminations in the citrus trees. The rear part of the Orangery is still used in its original function, while the front section, which has been renovated, is used for events such as the Schönbrunn Palace Concert series:

    North to the Orangerie (Orangery) the Meidlinger Fahrstrsse leads east to the KronPrinzenGarten (Crown Prince Garden) (on your left, north of the road). Adults: 3,50 €, Children: 2,70 €, (Free admission for children under 6 years of age). Opening hours: 15th March to 30th June 09.00  to 17.00, 1st July to 31st August 09.00 to 18.00, 1st September to 25th October 09.00 to 17.00, 26th October to 1st November 09.00 to 16.00. Part of the Meidling Kammergärten, the Crown Prince Garden lies immediately in front of the east façade of the palace, outside the ground floor suite that was furnished for Crown Prince Rudolf in 1870. The four parterre sections are framed with narrow beds, and at the centre of the garden stands an old yew tree. As the garden is sheltered from the wind, fine specimens from the citrus collection of the Federal Parks Authority are transferred here during the summer months:

    From the Crown Prince Garden - head north along the Great Parterre. Arrive to its north-east edge to see the the Maze of Schönbrunn (Irr garten). the Maze was started between 1698 and 1740. It originally consisted of four different parts with a central, raised pavilion, from which one could overlook the labyrinth. During the nineteenth century, the Maze was cut back, until the last hedge was razed in 1892. Through the use of historic models, the new Maze was created in the fall of 1998. The maze exists since not earlier than the year 1998 in the way we can visit it today. On a surface of a total of more than 1700m², it has been tried to imitate the original arquitecture the way it had been arranged between the years 1698 und 1740. It finally is a small gag to explore the room that is surrounded by some high hedges. Here, there is again to consider to save some euros, as there is again some entrance fee to pay:

    The Labyrinth is rather something for sport lovers and explorers. With its total surface of approximately 2700m², it is bigger than the maze and also offers more possibilities to entertain the whole family. For the case the feet still do not ache too much, here, one can play some grope and climbing games and solve some mathematical riddles.

    Museum Of Carriages (Wagenburg): Often overlooked is the exceptional Museum of Carriages (Wagenburg) located in on the Schönbrunn Palace grounds - north-west to the palace. The highlights of the Carriage Collection include the gilded “Imperial Carriage,” the Golden Carousel Carriage of Maria Theresia, the Child’s Phaeton of Napoleon’s son, the Black Hearse of the Viennese court, the personal Landaulet of Empress Elisabeth and the only preserved Court Automobile of 1914. Daily Hours: November-April 10.00-16.00 & May-October 09.00-18.00. Cost: 6€ (5€ with Vienna Card), 3€ Guided Tour, 2€ Audio Tour:

    Schönbrunn Zoo: In the summer of 1752, Emperor Franz I. Stephan von Lothringen, Maria Theresia's husband, took his royal guests to the newly constructed park at Schönbrunn Palace for the first time. In 1906, Schönbrunn was the site of an exceptional event: the birth of an African elephant conceived in human care. Another extraordinary event occured in 2007: a Panda baby that was naturally conceived in a zoo by the name of Fu Long was born in Schönbrunn. In August 2010 the second bear cub was born. The Nature Experience Trail was opened in spring 2010. in August 2013 the third. The next generation of elephants also arrived in September 2013. In May 2014 polar bears returned to the zoo. Today the Zoo at Schönbrunn is considered one of the best and most modern zoos in the world - but the zoo's historic charm still prevails. More than 500 animal species - from Siberian tigers and Hippos to one-horned Rhinos - live here. The Tiergarten Zoo's hours follow closely to that of the palace and costs 14€ for adults, 6€ for children. Tiergarten Schönbrunn - Zoological Garden Something I have always found much more interesting (being a zoologist) was the Zoological Garden Tiergarten Schönbrunn. It claims to be the oldest in the World (wrong, Salzburg′s zoo is ways older, but had to close for a few years in the 19th century - and the bloody Viennese made us start from zero again). In any case, it′s a good one with attractive Baroque cages that used to be in a very poor shape up to the 1980ies. In the past 30 years, a massive refurbishment has taken place that transformed the zoo into the most modern institutions of its kind in Europe. The small enclosures from Baroque times are used only for old or sick animals these days. Beyond the classic zoo, there is also a park in "Tyrolian Style" (Tirolergarten), which imported a Tyrolian mountain farm into the backyard of the emperor. Open daily from 09.00 - 365 days a year – also on public holidays. Closing time varies according to the seasons and is between 16.30  and 18.30. The ticket office closes 30 minutes before closing time – this is also the latest entry time for the zoo.
    January 09.00 – 16.3.
    February 09.00 – 17.00.
    March 09.00 - 17.30.
    April–September 09.00 – 18.30.
    October (until daylight saving time ends) 09.00 – 17.30.
    November–December 09.00  – 16.30.

    Prices: Adults € 16,50, Children and adolescents € 8, children under 6 yrs old: free:

  • Nature
    Updated at Jul 17,2015

    Tip 2: Izmailovo Park and the Tsar Estate:

    Duration: 2-3 hours. Can be combined with Izmailovo market into FULL ONE wonderful day !

    Weather: we did the stroll in the park in a rainy day. No problems ! Wonderful air and beautiful nature.

    The entrance is free.
    Promenade area working hours: 24/7
    Working hours of amusement rides: on Fridays, days off and holidays from 11.00 am to 19.00. The paths are well paved and marked (in Russian...). THERE IS NO PROBLEM OF LOSING YOU WAY !

    Near the giant Izmailovo hotel complex there is one of the largest city parks in Europe - Izmailovo Park. It is far bigger than the Central Park in NY. The park offers relative peace and quiet being somewhat apart from the hassle and bustle of the city. Walking along the paths, alongside the pond and the forests is quite relaxing before or after a day of exploring the city.

    History: The small village lzmailovo was founded on the bank of the Serebryanka River at the turn of the 16th century. It belonged to the noble family of the lzmailovs. In the middle of the 16th century the ancestral village larnailovo was the part of Vasiltsev settlement (Stan) owned by boyar Nikita Zakharyin-Juriev, the grandfather of Tsar Mikhail Fiodorovich Romanov. In 1654 lsrnailovo Estate became a fief of Tsar Alexsey Mikhaylovich. In the beginning he was attracted by the forests encompassing the territory. It was a nice place hunting ground. But in 1663 he decided to establish a new type of economic estate there. The old village with the wooden buildings of boyars and a wooden church constructed in 1620s was turned into an island. In 1667 by the order of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich the bed of Serebryanka River was dammed in such a wsay that the two ponds - Vinogradniy and Serebrianly - were turned into a water ring with an island in the middle via stone and earthen weirs. The island accommodated the palace ensemble. The economic development of lzmailovo began in 1654 when Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich started to relocate the peasants from other regions of Russia to lzrnailovo. A lot of skillful serfs were resettled from Peskov, Belgorod, Smolensk, Astrakhan and Kiev to farm the land and build chambers and churches. The relocation was conditioned by a decision to create a model agricultural center in lzrnailovo. The idea was to enable the cultivation southern horticultures there. Therefore, advanced types of husbandry were introduced. Some of them were more advanced than the past-European ones. Several attempts were made to cultivate exotic plants like silk trees, almonds, roses. Gardens and orchards were equipped with irrigation systems and further mechanization was picking upspeed. Observation towers were built on the fields of the estate along with dams and watermills on Serebryanka.

    The vast territory of Izmailovo Park is designed for walks and entertainments. It provides lots of opportunities. Apart from numerous amusement rides, one can ride horses, ride a boat, hire skates and roller-skates depending on the season. One can come here with children of any ages. In summer weekends concert programs take place, orchestra plays and there are performances for children and jazz evenings in Izmailovo Park. State and folk holidays are celebrated here with large-scale festivals. Traditionally, on September 5, on the City Day, festive fireworks paint the sky above Izmailovo Park with bright colors.

    Izmailovo Park from the Izmailovo Gamma-Delta Hotel, room 2224 in the 22nd fllor:

    Into the Izmailovo Park. The walk from the Izmailovo hotels to the Tsar Estate lasts 20-30 minutes:

    The Izmailovo Kremlin from the Izmailovo Park:

    The Izmailovo Park is fluent with splendid woods views. Sometimes, it looks more a forest than a park:

    Here and there you see neglected, decaying houses near the Tsar estate:

    Tsar's Estate "Izmailovo" (Усадьба Измайлово). The windows of the rooms command a lovely view onto the Izmailovsky Island surrounded with the ring of Serebryano-Vinogradnye ponds. On the island there is the Tsar's Estate "Izmailovo", historical complex of architectural monuments of the 18-19th centuries related to the most important events in the history of the Russian state where excursions and fancy-dress parades rake place.

    The estate is situated on the unique artificial island created by imperial order of the second Tsar of the Romanov family – Alexei Mikhaolovich, the father of Peter I. Peter’s Childhood and years of youth passed in the estate. In 1685—1694 Izmailovo woods were the place for maneuvers of his toy armies.

    The Mostovaya Tower used to be the front gate of the estate where now there is a branch of the State Historical Museum "Izmailovo and Rulers of Russia". The estate briefly flourished under Tsar Alexis and his daughter Sophia Alekseyevna, being the center of a large estate park with model farms, workshops and hunting reserves. The heart of the estate, the Izmailovo Court of Tsar Alexis (Государев двор в Измайлово), was a wooden palace built on an artificial island - a hill surrounded by man-made ponds. The present-day Court retains two sets of palace gates, a cathedral and a barbican tower built in the 1670s-1680s. Other extant structures of the Court were built by Konstantin Thon and Mikhail Bykovsky in 1839–1859, when the island was converted into an almshouse, and in the 1970s. The present-day Court is a FREELY accessible open-air museum.

    Architectural and Park Ensemble Tsars Country Estate lzmaylovo is a unique historical complex of cultural heritage of the 17th-l9th centuries. The property represents one of the best examples of outstanding estate ensembles of this time. The architectural ensemble of the Estate is a picturesque composition of various structures standing out against the background of the park's greenery and mirror-like waters of the pond. The combination of austere composition of Tsar's Yard, the stately Intersession Cathedral, the barbican Mostovaya Tower located on the artificially created island of Serebryanno-Vinogradnyi pond, and well preserved ancient park forms a unique cultural landscape in perfect consonance with the infrastructure of modern Moscow mega-city:

    Izmaylovo Estate  became part of the expanding Moscow city in the 20th century. Its territory spanned 10 to 15 square kilometres of the Serebryanka river valley and corresponds, roughly, to present-day Izmaylovo Forest, Terletsky Forest (south-east) and the Cherkizovo market (north-west) territories between the inner ring of the Moscow Railroad and the green beltway:

    The main attraction of the park is the beautiful Pokhorovoskiy Cathedral on Silver Island or Cathedral of Intercession, which was completed in 1679. Although badly damaged during Napoleon's 1812 invasion, the cathedral was restored by the great Moscow architect Konstantin Ton in 1840. He also supervised the construction of the buildings which now surround the cathedral, originally designed as a military hospital. Two more buildings from the original estate, the Ceremonial Gate and the Bridge Tower, lie in front of and behind the cathedral respectively.The Cathedral of Intercession was restored externally in the 1960s and reopened as an Orthodox church in 1993. As at September, 2008, historical buildings of the Tsar's Court operate as a division of the Moscow United Museum, which also includes Kolomenskoe, Lefortovo and Lyublino Estate. The Court itself (but not the interiors of the Court buildings) is freely accessible to the public. There is a small exhibition of 17th-century art in the groundfloor of the barbican tower; the tower periodically houses chamber music concerts.

    Tsar estate gardens:

  • Nature
    Updated at Oct 11,2018


    Main Attractions: Trakai History Museum, Kenesa, Trakai Island Castle Museum, Kibinine.

    Duration: 1/2 day. Weather: ONLY bright or sunny day. Avoid very hot or rainy, cold days. Walking distance: 5 km. Facilities: there 2 supermarkets along the main road. There are several kiosks near the bridge leading to the castle. Toilet - ONLY into the castle site (you must pay the entrance fees to use it). Many eateries and restaurants along the main road leading to the castle. Many of them offer the Kibinai (see below). Weather: only during the summer months. Try to time your trip in the middle of the week, to avoid weekend crowds – it does become really busy, especially on nice days and in the summer. Don’t go if it rains – the lakeside walk will cover your legs/clothes in mud.

    Getting thereBy bus: from Vilnius Bus Station (Sodų St. 22, tel. 1661), platforms No. 5, 6, 7, 8 (local), 28 and 29 (intercity, via Alytus). Buses to Trakai run approximately 50 times per day (at weekends about 40 times), at intervals of about 10–20 minutes. Price: approx. 2 euros. Duration: 35 minutes ride. From Trakai to Vilnius: platforms 5 and 6.

    By train: from the Railway Station (Geležinkelio St. 16, tel. +370 5 233 0088),

    You can pay the ticket inspector on the train for the ticket but that costs a little extra. You can also pay the driver of the bus but passengers with tickets have priority boarding and others are taken on only if there are seats left- in high summer it's mission impossible, so to be safe than sorry head for the ticket's office first when at the bus station.

    Walk to the Bus Station/Railway Station from Comfort Hotel LT - Rock 'N' Roll, Kauno g. 14, Vilnius: walk About 10 min or 750 m. Head east on Kauno g. toward Mindaugo g., Continue onto V. Šopeno g., Turn right onto Sodų g. Turn left. Enter the roundabout. Railway station is on the left. Bus Station is on the right.

    Introduction: Trakai is an unbelievable historic city with an impressive lake - making it a famous resort in Lithuania. It lies 28 kilometres west of Vilnius. Because of its proximity to Vilnius, Trakai is a popular tourist destination. Trakai is inhabited approx. by 5,500 inhabitants. The UNIQUE feature of Trakai is that it was a melting-pot and preserved by people of SO MANY different nationalities: Karaims, Tatars, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Poles lived in this small piece of land. The atmosphere around is very quiet and does not hint of this historical heritage. Presently, 2/3 of the population is Lithuanian, 20% are Polish and the rest are Russians and other minorities. Trakai is a town built on water. The town is surrounded by 200 lakes. The history museum in the castle, our main destination in this day tour, was established in 1962. Festivals and concerts take place in the island castle in summer. Choose a sunny day for this visit. You won't believe - but this small, modest city was the cradle of Lituanian monarchy and the capital of its Dukes. Today, is is a retreat from the NOT SO bustling city of Vilnius. Its main assets, for the foreign tourist - are walks around the beautiful area or yacht trips on one of the numerous lakes.

    The Karaims: Karaims are a small Turkish-speaking, a special and unique religious and ethnic group which was transported to Trakai by Grand Duke Vytautas in year 1397 and 1398 from Crimea (nowadays, in Ukraine). The  Karaims were granted separate self-government.  From then, Trakai remained a notable center of Karaim cultural and religious life. The Karaite religion is a derivative of Judaism. Some famous scholars were active in Trakai in the 16th and 17th centuries, all of them with pure Jewish names:  Isaac ben (ben = son of) Abraham of Trakai (1533–1594), Joseph ben Mordecai Malinovski, Zera ben Nathan of Trakai, Salomon (Shlomo) ben Aharon of Trakai, Ezra ben Nissan (died in 1666) and Joshuah ben Judah (died In 1658). The local Karaim community, the backbone of the town's economy, suffered severely (like the Jews) during the Khmelnytsky uprising against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the massacres of 1648. By 1680, only 30 Karaim families were left in Trakai. Early in the 18th century wars, famines, and plagues reduced the Karaims to three families. By 1765 the Karaim community increased to 300. Trakai's Karaim Kenesa (synagogue ) is a rare example of a surviving wooden synagogue with an interior dome. Kibinai, the traditional Karaim pastry, can be found everywhere in Trakai and other place around Lithuania:

    Our itinerary in Trakai: The suggested route below would give a first-time visitor in Trakai a good idea of what the most important landmarks in this small town are. With our face to the bus station - turn RIGHT (north) and walk along the lake and the asphalted street. Vytauto g. It is almost 2 km. walk from the town stations to Trakai Island Castle Museum – with very nice walk along the colored houses of the Trakai town and the lakes’ shores. For anyone with average fitness it shouldn't take more than 40-45 minutes. The signs in the railway station show you the general direction and it’s really impossible to get lost. Walking along Vytauto galve - note the old,colored, wooden, Karaite houses or huts along this picturesque street (especially on your left, the lake side). Karaim houses always have three windows facing the street. In the Middle Ages, having so many windows showed your status, since you had to afford to pay window tax. According to legend Karaites used to build their houses dedicating one window to God, a second to Vytautas (the ruler), and the third one for the owner himself. In reality it was all about money – windows could only be installed after a tribute was paid to the duke. Therefore, less wealthy residents had one or two windows on the street side.

    Vytauto g. #93:

    Vytauto g. #51:

    After passing Maironio gatve on your right - you see the Orthodox Church of Nativity of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary on your right. The widest section of this historic area was  inhabited by Catholics and is also rich in architectural variety: different building sizes, shapes of the roofs and so on. One of the main accents of this part of the old town is this traditional Orthodox church:  

    Lake shores on your way along Vytauto g. to the Castle:

    Nearly before we slight to the east - heading to the Castle Island - Vytauto g. changes to Karaimų g. On our right, at Vytauto g. #5 we see a blue wooden house: the headquarters of the Trakai Historical Park. It was built in the first half of the 19th century by Dominicans who resided in the nearby Peninsula Castle. The symmetrical one-storey log house with vertical boards nailed around was common to this period. Nearly 50 years later the Dominican monastery was closed and the building they owned was converted into Trakai county police offices. Soon afterwards the Russian Empire post office began functioning in its place. Lastly, for nearly 100 years (up until 1960) it served as the Vilnius county post office and telegraph, was used to safeguard the archives, and to accommodate postal workers who lived in five of its rooms. The former Post of the Russian Empire is, actually,  on the corner of Karaim and Kęstutis streets. The main facade of the building is facing Karaim Street. On the south side the plot is limited by Kęstučio street, and in the north by the ruins of the Karaimai g.7. The Post Office operated here until 1960, and then the building was adapted to different needs of administrative institutions. Currently, the Directorate of Trakai Historical National Park is located here:

    Beyond (north-east to) the Russian Post Office resides the Trakai History Museum (Trakų istorijos muziejus), Kęstučio g. 4. Open: TUE - SUN: 10.00 - 18.00. MAY-SEP: 10.00 - 18.00, NOV-MAR: 10.00 - 17.00. Mondays - closed. Prices: adults - 8 euros, students/seniors - 4 euros. The museum resides in a former chapel/monastery of the Domenican order. Fortunately it has survived the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1990. Most of the exhibition in this small museum is of sacred art.

    We continue walking along Karaimu g. (our face to the north-west) and see more wooden houses:

    At Karaimų g. 22, we pass through the Karaite Ethnographic Museum. Three small rooms dedicated to the life, history, culture and memory of the Karaite communities of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. Price: adult - €2, student/senior €1. O Mondays, Tuesdays - closed. Open during the summer months: WED-SUN: 10.00 - 18.00.  NOV-APR: 10.00 - 17.00.

    Before we slight RIGHT (north-east), heading to the bridges leading to the Castle-island - we see this modern, wooden, Karaite house (on our left):

    Approx. at 41 Karaimų g. we turn right (north-east) to approach the Tourist Information Office and the path leading to the bridges:

    Nearby Kenesa (main Synagogue) of the Qaraite Jewish community in Trakai. A rare example of one of the surviving wooden synagogues of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth with an interior dome. It is still in use. Karaite architectural and interior design features can be seen in this unique one-storey wooden structure. It consists of two spaces: main part (for men) and a balcony (for women) supported by four columns. As in other temples of Eastern religions women and men pray separately in the Kenesa and everyone is required to wear a head covering. The Kenesa has an impressive light blue dome shaped ceiling made with eight arches. Geometrical and plant components beautify the interior of the house of prayer. Interestingly, the altar is in the southern part and all burial ceremonies are held with the deceased person's head pointing southward. The wooden Trakai Kenesa was build back in the latter part of the 14th century and endured numerous wars and fires. Today you can see another Karaite temple in Vilnius, in the part of the city called Žvėrynas:

    We pass two bridges and tow lakes on our way from Trakai mainland to the island where the Trakai Island Castle Museum resides. Crossing the first bridge - we awalk with our face to the north-east:

    With the second bridge - we are with our face to the north and the Castle Museum is opposite us:

    on both sides of the second bridge you see giant wooden Totems:

    As we approach the Castle - we see it more clear and more in detail. Towering over the calm waters, it tells the story of the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania and its golden age, when the territory of the country spanned from the Baltic to the Black Sea:

    Entrance to the Trakai Island Castle Museum:

    Trakai Island Castle Museum: Trakai Castle was originally built in the late 1300s to help protect the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and nearby capital Vilnius from crusading Teutonic Knights that plagued the Baltic region. After the troublesome knights were trounced in the Battle of Grunwald, Trakai was no longer needed as a military bastion. Instead, it was refashioned into a ducal palace that remained in use until the end of the 17th century. Interestingly, several different empires and occupiers had a hand in the restoration of Trakai Castle. Work that was begun by Imperial Russia in the early 1900s was continued by Germans and Poles until the end of World War II. Soviet authorities finished the job and established the Trakai History Museum. The end result is surprisingly cohesive and the stuff childhood fantasies. Stone foundations are topped with red brick towers in the French Gothic style and wooden balconies encircle every floor of the soaring ducal palace. Entry prices: €8 Adult, €4 Student/Senior  + Photography permission €1.50.

    Trakai - a picture from 1923:

    The castle is located in the middle of the lake and is very picturesque. The entrance is 9 euros. You can see most of the site FREE without payment. 7 euros the paddle boat onto the lake around. The cruise around the castle costs 5 euro per person and goes for 30 minutes. The castle is VERY BEAUTIFUL (especially, in a bright day) and well restored from the outside. Inside, it has many exhibition rooms about the life of the medieval times - and, for us, it was a total disappointment. The castle museum has an extensive collection of artifacts and interesting historical displays about the castle, the town, the country, its history and people. The whole inner courtyard is busy with heavy machines and reconstruction works (AUG 2018). Minimal toilets (under payment). No toilets outside, nearby. If you are used to visiting castles and palaces with elaborate interior designs and décor elements, this castle might come as a disappointment since décor elements have not survived the turbulent twists and turns of historical events. Moreover, you have to buy a separate ticket in order to be able to take pictures inside:

    Better, take a stroll around the castle (1/2 hour walk) and enjoy the pastoral lake shores OR take a paddle boat in one of the numerous lakes around:

    We walked around the castle and enjoyed taking photos from many angles and sides of this mighty complex. The scenery along the lakes' shores - was  very pastoral and relaxing. If you like spending short time in wilderness this is for you:

    You walk back to the bus station or railway station on the same way you've arrived to the Castle. Take the time to sample Trakai cuisine in Kibinine. It is a tradition in Lithuania to eat some kibinai, traditional Karaim pasty and meat dish, whenever a local visits Trakai. Kibinai are Lithuania’s tastiest pastry snack, filled with anything under the sun but usually pork, mutton or chicken. There are even venison, mushroom, spinach-and-curd and chocolate-and-hazelnut versions. Kibinai is very much like an English Cornish pasty. It is also exactly the same as “Empanadas” from northwest provinces of Argentina. Kibinai has become so popular in Lithuania, that many cafes, shops and street vendors offer them as a fast food option. A lot of commentators note that the small size of Karaim community is disproportionate to its strong influence in Lithuanian cuisine. One of the best places to try them is Kybynlar , a restaurant which seems to put a lot of effort into presenting the Karaim culture through their cuisine. Another one is Senoji Kibinine, Karaimu g. 65:

    Try also Cepinilai:

  • Nature | Montenegro > Black Lake
    Updated at Jul 2,2013

    We admired the beautiful Crno Lake (black lake), but couldn’t drive around it like we had planned on account of the rain. We had lunch in a local restaurant on the lake’s shores. It was delicious and also inexpensive. When we finished we headed for the lake again, and for a moment the skies cleared and we could see the snowy peaks of the mountain across the lake. An Israeli tour guide we met in the restaurant told us that the road to Trsa is closed because of the snow, so we had to cancel our visit to Piva Canyon. 

  • Nature | Croatia > Zadvarje
    Updated at Jul 2,2013

    Day 7 – A Picturesque Bay

    Following Adrian’s advice we headed first thing in the morning to Gubavica waterfall, located in Zadvarje. The trail to the waterfall begins just before the gas station to the left, and from there you can see the canyon of the Cetina River. The waterfall was gorgeous, dropping to the bottom with a stop in the middle, but it's pretty far away and I think that in the summer the stream is weak.