Located on the Inn River, Innsbruck is one of Europe’s most beautiful and lively cities. It is the capital city of Tyrol, a federal state in Western Austria which comprises the Princely County of Tyrol. An international center for winter sports, it has hosted the Winter Olympic twice. This capital of the Alps, has a history of 800 years. Innsbruck is famous for the Golden Roof or “Goldenes Dachl”, an ornate Gothic balcony erected by the Emperor Maximillian I decorated with gold painted copper shingles.
Innsbruck lies about half way between Munich in Germany and Verona in Italy. It is located in the broad valley between high mountains, the so-called North Chain in the Karwendel Alps.
The Piazza dei Miracoli (English: Square of Miracles) is a walled 8.87 hectare area located in Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. It is recognized as an important center of European medieval art and one of the finest architectural complexes in the world. Considered sacred by the Catholic Church, its owner, the square is dominated by four great religious edifices – the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistery, the Campanile (world famous Leaning Tower of Pisa) and the Monumental Cemetery. The whole square was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At the heart of the Square of Miracles is the medieval cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption. The church is known also as the Primatial, the archbishop of Pisa being a Primate since 1092. The construction of the Cathedral began in 1064 by the architect Buscheto which set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style of architecture. The mosaics of the interior, as well as the pointed arches, show a strong Byzantine influence. The church contains the bones of St Ranieri the patron saint of Pisa and tomb of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII. Pope Gregory VIII was also buried in the cathedral, but a fire in 1595 destroyed his tomb.
The Baptistery, dedicated St John the Baptist, stands opposite the west end of the Cathedral. The round Romanesque building was begun in the mid 12th Century. The architect was Diotisalvi, whose name is mentioned on a pillar. However the construction was not finished until the 14th Century, when the loggia, the top storey and the dome were added in Gothic style by Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano. It is the largest baptistery in Italy, with the a circumference measuring 107 meters. Taking into account the statue of St John the Baptist atop the dome, it is even a few centimeters taller than the Leaning Tower.
The Bell Tower (The Leaning Tower of Pisa)
Of course the most famous structure in the square is the Bell Tower, commonly known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa which is located behind the cathedral. The last of the three major buildings on the square to be built the construction of the bell tower bean in 1173 and took place in three stages over a period of 177 years, with the bell chamber only added in 1372. Five years after construction began, when the building had reached the third floor level, the weak subsoil and poor foundation led to the building sinking on the south side. The building was left for a century, which allowed the subsoil to stabilize itself and prevented the building from collapsing. 1272, to adjust the lean of the building, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. The seventh and final floor was added in 1319. By the time building was completed the lean was approximately 1 degree (2.5 feet) from vertical. When measured in 1990, the lean was 5.5 degrees. As of 2010, the lean was reduced to approximately 4 degrees.
The Monumental Cemetery
The Monumental Cemetery also known as Old Cemetery, is locate at the norther edge of the square. This walled cemetery is said to have been built around shipload of sacred soil from Calvary, brought from the fourth Crusade by the archbishop of Pisa in the 12th Century. The construction started in 1278 by architect Giovanni di Simone over the earlier burial ground. The cemetery was only completed in 1464. The outer wall is composed of 43 arches. There are two door ways.
Other than the square of miracle and these monumental buildings there are much more to explore outside the walls of the square. Outside the walls of the square there are ethnic markets which sell souvenirs and other curios.
Heidelberg is situated on the river Neckar in south-west Germany. Heidelberg is part of the densely populated Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. It was the former residence of the Electorate of the Palatinate. Heidelberg is Germany’s oldest and most famous university (Heidelberg University) town.
Heidelberg is a popular tourist destination due to its romantic and picturesque city scape and baroque style old town the “Altstadt”. Heidelberg is a jewel among the travel destinations of Germany due to its awe-inspiring surroundings.
Hampton Court Palace is located on the Richmond upon Thames in England 19 km south west of Central London. Along with St James’s Palace, it is one of only two surviving palaces out of the many owned by Henry VIII, the Tudor King.
Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, Chief Minister and favourite of Henry VIII, took over the site of Hampton court Palace in 1514. Previously it was the property of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Over a period of seven years, Wolsey spent around 2,00,000 gold crowns to build the finest palace in England at Hampton Court. He rebuilt the existing manor house to form the nucleus of the present palace. Very little of Wolsey’s building work remains unchanged, today. The first courtyard, the Base Court, the second inner gatehouse which leads to the Clock Court (Wolsey’s seal remains visible over the entrance arch of the clock tower) were his creations. The Clock Court contained the very best rooms – the state apartments – reserved for the King and his family. Henry VIII stayed in the state apartments as Wolsey’s guest immediately after their completion in 1525. Wolsey was only to enjoy his palace only for a few years. In 1528, knowing that his enemies and the King were engineering his down fall, he passed the palace to the King as a gift. Wolsey died two years later in 1530.
Within six months of coming into ownership, the King began his own rebuilding and expansion of the palace to accommodate his court consisted of over thousand people and transform Hampton Court to his principal residence. The first step towards this goal was to build vast kitchens. The architecture of King Henry’s new palace followed the design precedent set by Wolsey, perpendicular Gothic-inspired Tudor with restrained renaissance ornament. Between 1532 and 1535 Henry added the Great Hall and Royal Tennis Court. The gatehouse to the second inner court was adorned in 1540 with an astronomical clock. This gatehouse is also known today as Anne Boleyn’s gate, after Henry’s second wife. Work was still underway on Anne Boleyn’s apartments above the gate when the King, who had become tired of her, had her executed.
During the Tudor period, the palace was the scene of many historic events. In1537, the King’s much desired male heir, the future Edward VI, was born at the place and the child’s mother, Jane Seymour died there two weeks later. Four years afterwards, while attending Mass in the palace’s chapel, the King was informed of his fifth wife’s adultery. The Queen, Catherine Howard, was then confined to her room for few days before being sent to Syon House and then on to the Tower of London to be executed. Legends claims, she briefly escaped her guards and ran through The Haunted Gallery to beg Henry for her life but she was recaptured.
King Henry died in January 1547 and was succeeded first by his son Edward VI, and then by both his daughters in turn. It was Hampton Court that Queen Mary retreated with King Philip to spend her honeymoon after their wedding at Winchester. Mary was succeeded by her half-sister, Elezabth I and it was Elizabeth who had the eastern kitchen built, now this is the palace’s public tea room.
On the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the Tudor period came to an end. The Queen was succeeded by the Scottish King, James VI who became James I of the House Stuart. He was succeeded in 1625 by his ill-fated son Charles I. Hampton Court was to become his palace and prison. It was also the setting for his honeymoon with his bride Henrietta Maria in 1625. Following King Charles execution in 1649, palace become the property of the Commonwealth presided over by Oliver Cromwell. While the government auctioned much of the contents, the building was ignored.
After Restoration King Charles II and successor James II visited Hampton Court but largely preferred to reside elsewhere. It was in 1689, England had two new joint monarchs, William of Orange and his wife Queen Mary II. Within months of their accession they embarked on a massive rebuilding project at Hampton Court. The intention was to demolish the Tudor palace a section at a time, while replacing it with a huge modern palace in the Baroque style retaining only Henry VIII’s Great Hall.
The country’s most eminent architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was called upon to draw the plans, while master of works was to be William Talman. During this work, half of the Tudor palace was replaced and Henry VIII’s state rooms and private apartments were both lost; the new wing around the Fountain Court contained new state apartments and private rooms, one set for the King and one for the Queen.
After the death of Queen Mary, King William lost interest in the renovations and work ceased. He was succeeded by his sister-in-law Queen Anne who continued the decoration and completion of the state apartments. On Queen Anne’s death in 1714 the Stuart rule came to an end. Her Successor George I and his son George II were the last monarchs to reside at Hampton Court.
Like in India there is a ghost story associated with Hampton Court Palace. The ghost of Catherine Howard is believed to frequent Hampton Court’s haunted gallery, where she was dragged back screaming to her rooms while under house arrest, accused of committing adultery by her husband King Henry VIII.
Catherine was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII and in 1541 was accused of adultery and put under house arrest in the palace. But she escaped from her guards and ran down the gallery looking for the King to plead for her life. She was caught and dragged back screaming to her rooms… and in due course executed in the Tower of London.
The Great Vine of Hampton Court – The oldest grapevine in the world
The Great Vine in Hampton Court Palace Gardens is the oldest and largest known vine in the world. The Great Vine is more than 240 years old and 36.5 meters long. It is believed to have been planted by Lancelot “Capability” Brown around 1768, during his time as Surveyor to George III’s Gardens and Waters. It was planted from a small cutting of Black Hamburg (‘Schiava Grossa’) from Valentine’s Park in Essex. The Great Vine was first planted in a glass house built to house Queen Mary’s collection of exotics from the tropics. Its roots were planted outside and its branches were trained inside the glass house, which measured 18 by 4 meters.
By 1800 the girth of the trunk was about 1 foot. In 1887, it was already 4 feet around the base and today it measures 12 feet around the base. Its longest rod is 120 feet. The current aluminum Vine House was built in 1969. The vine was first shown to public in the 1840s when Queen Victoria opened the gardens to the public. The Vine usually blossoms in early May with small & fragrant flowers. The harvest takes place in September which weighs 220 to 320 kg.
The grapes, which are black and sweet, have always been used by the Royal household as dessert grapes. However in 1930, George V started sending the grapes to hospitals and within 5 years they were being sold to visitors in the palace shops.
So if you are visiting in September you can buy these grapes from the counter. When I visited in May the Vine was all in blossoms.
I would like to express my special thanks to my friend Thomas Dsouza for making this visit a reality.
Lucerne is the most populous city in Central Switzerland and a major center for transportation, communication and government of this region. It is located on the shore of Lake Lucerne (der Vierwaldstattersee) with wonderful view of Mount Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps. The official language of Lucerne is German. Lucerne has long been a hot spot for tourists. The most famous landmark of the city is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke), a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th Century. This covered bridge was burned down on 18th August 1993. It was rebuilt in few months. The tower used as oubliette (a secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling) is still in original condition.
One should get around on foot to really enjoy this well preserved medieval town. Bicycles are available for rent at the central railway station.
Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy is an important business and cultural center of northern Italy. The city is located on the western bank of the Po River and surrounded by western Alpine Arch. In India Turin is well known for being the headquarters of the automobile manufacturer FIAT which was a favorite brand in India in the last decades. Above all Turin is well known for the Holy Shroud of Turin believed to be the burial shroud of Jesus.
The shroud is kept in the royal chapel of Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin. The shroud is respected by many Christians of several traditions, including Catholics and Protestants. The Catholic Church has neither formally endorsed nor rejected the shroud, but in 1958 Pope Pius XII approved of the image in association with the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. More recently, Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI have both described the shroud of Turin as “an icon”, and Pope John Paul II called the shroud “a mirror of the Gospel”.
The shroud is rectangular, measuring approximately 4.4 by 4.4 meters. Its most distinctive characteristic is faint, brownish image of a front and back view of a naked man with his hand folded across his groin. The two views are aligned along the mid plane of the body and point in opposite directions. The image of the “Man of the Shroud” has beard, moustache and shoulder-length hair parted in the middle. He is muscular and tall (various experts have measured him as from 5 ft 7 in to 6 ft 2 in). Reddish brown stains are found on the cloth, showing various wounds that according to proponents, correlate with the yellowish image the pathophysiology of crucifixion, and the Biblical description of the death of Jesus. The details of the image on the shroud are not easily seen with the naked eyes, but they can be more clearly revealed through photography.
The origin of the shroud and its images are the subject of intense debate among theologians, historians and researchers. Diverse arguments have been made in scientific and popular publications claiming to “prove” that the cloth is the authentic burial shroud of Jesus.
Irrespective of all these controversies millions of visitors flocked to Turin when the Shroud was kept on public display from 10 April to 23 May 2010 at the chapel of Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. Pope Benedict XVI came to Turin to visit the Shroud on May 2, 2010 and delivered a touching Meditation of the Holy Shroud. I was lucky enough to be in Turin on 20th May 2010 and view this rare display of the Holy Shroud. As authorized by Pope Francis the Shroud was put on public display from April 19 to June 24, 2015 and more than two million visitors came to Turin from around the world. On June 21, 2015 Pope Francis visited Turin to see the shroud and made headlines around the world. The next public exhibition of the shroud is scheduled to occur in 2025.
Other than the Holy Shroud, there are more to explore in Turin including its buildings from the Roman times. In the 1st century BC, probably 28 BC, the Romans created a military camp later dedicated to Augustus. The typical Roman street grid can still be seen in the modern city, especially in the neighbourhood known as the Quadrilatero Romano (Roman Quadrilateral). The Palatine Gate represents the primary archaeological evidence of the city’s Roman phase, and is one of the best preserved 1st Century BC Roman gateways in the world. Together with the ancient theatre’s remains, located a short distance away, it is part of the so called Archaeological Park opened in 2006.
No trip to United Kingdom could possibly be complete without a visit to amazing Windsor Castle, located in the English county of Berkshire. The breath taking size of the Castle (13 acres) is in fact the largest and oldest occupied Castle in the world and it is where Her Majesty the Queen chooses to spend most of her private weekends. With so many areas to explore and enjoy the spectacular view of the surrounding country side from the top, please allow at least 3 hours for your visit.
The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I, it has been used by all monarchs. Inside the Castle walls is the 15th Century St George’s Chapel noted for its English Gothic design. Originally designed to protect Norman dominance around the outskirts of London and oversee a strategically important part of the River Thames, Windsor Castle was built as motte-and-bailey with three wards surrounding the mound. The present day castle was created during a sequence of phased building project, culminating in the reconstruction work after a fire in 1992. It is in essence Georgian and Victorian design based on a medieval structure with Gothic features reinvented in a modern style.
Windsor Castle survived the tumultuous period of the English Civil War, when it was used as a military headquarters for the Parliamentary forces and a prison for Charles I. During the Second World War the castle was readied for war time conditions. It was used as a safe haven for the king and queen from the German bombings.
At the heart of the Windsor castle is the middle ward, a bailey formed around the motte or artificial hill in the center of the ward. The motte is 50 feet high and is made from mud excavated from the surrounding ditch. Above that is the Round Tower originally built in 12th century and extended upwards in the early 19th century.
The upper ward of Windsor Castle comprises a number of major buildings enclosed by the upper bailey wall, forming a central quadrangle. The State Apartments run along north of the ward, with a range of buildings along the east wall.
The lower ward lies below and to the west of the Round Tower, reached through the Norman Gate. The lower ward holds St George’s Chapel. At the east end of the St George’s Chapel is the Lady Chapel and the west end of the lower ward is the Horseshoe Cloister, originally build in 1480 near to the Chapel to house the clergy.
The Changing of Guard
The privilege of guarding the Sovereign traditionally belongs to the Household Troops, better known as ‘the Guards’, who has carried out this duty since 1660. For operational and other reasons this privilege is periodically extended to other regiments of the British Army. The Guards consists of infantry regiments – the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards – and two regiments of Household Cavalry – the Life Guards and Blues and Royals. Most of the Guards will have seen action overseas.
Changing of Guard, also known as ‘Guard Mounting’, begins with the Windsor Castle Guard forming up outside the Guard Room. In due course, the new Guard will arrive, led by a Regimental Band, Corps of Drums or occasionally by a Pipe Band. During the ceremony the handover of the duties will take place including the changeover of the sentries. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the old Guard will return to Victoria Barracks in Windsor Town.
I would like to express my special thanks to my friend Tintes Das for making this visit a reality.
Venice (Italian: Venezia) is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world for its art and architecture. The city has an average of 50,000 visitors a day, often regarded as one of the most beautiful cities of the world. This sanctuary on a lagoon is virtually the same as it was 600 years ago which adds to its fascinating character. It comprises a group of 117 small islands that are separated by 177 canals and linked by 409 bridges. These are located on the Venetian Lagoon which stretches along shoreline, between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. The lagoon and part of the city are listed as World Heritage Site.
The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced wooden piles. Most of these piles are still intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on plates of Istrian limestone placed on top of the piles and building of brick or stone sit above these footings. Submerged by water, in oxygen- poor conditions, wood does not decay as rapidly as on the surface. Most of these piles were made from trunks for alder trees, a wood noted of its water resistance. The alder came from Slovenia and Croatia.
Beyond the road and rail land entrances at the northern edge of the city, transportation within the city remains (as it was centuries ago) entirely on water or on foot. Venice is Europe’s largest urban car-free area, a city functioning entirely without motor cars and trucks.
Venice has a rich and diverse architectural style, the most famous of which is the Gothic style. Venetian Gothic architecture is a style combining the use of Gothic lancet arch with Byzantine and Ottoman influences. This style originated in the 14th century Venice, where the confluence of Byzantine style from Constantinople met Arab influence from Moorish Spain.
The banks of the Grand Canal are lined with more than 170 buildings, most of which belongs to the 13th to 18th century and demonstrate the art created by the Republic of Venice. The noble Venetian families face huge expenses to show off their richness in suitable palazzos. A visit to Venice is incomplete without a ride through the Grand Canal.
Piazza San Marco (English: St. Mark’s Square) is the principal public square of Venice, where it is generally known just as “la Piazza” (The Square). The square is dominated at its eastern end by the great church of St. Mark along with a bunch of few other historic buildings including the Doge’s Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) and Palazzo Patriarcale, the seat of the Patriarch of Venice. Opposite to this, standing free in the Piazza, is the Campanile of St Mark’s church (Italian: Campanile di San Marco), the most recognizable symbols of the city of Venice. The tower is 98.6 meters tall. The tower is capped by a pyramidal spire, at the top of which sits a golden weathervane in the form of the archangel Gabriel. The tower reached its present form in 1514.
The classical Venetian boat is the gondola, although it is now mostly used for tourists, weddings, funerals or for ceremonies. Many gondolas are lushly fitted with velvet seats and Persian rugs. Less well-known is the smaller sandolo. At the front of each gondola that works in the city, there is a large piece of metal called the fero (iron). Its shape has evolved through centuries, as documented in well-known paintings. Its form, topped by a likeness of the Duke’s hat, become gradually standardized, and was then fixed by local law.
Large luxury cruise liners are a familiar scene in Venice. The city relies heavily on cruise business. It is estimated that cruise ship passengers spend more than 150 million euros annually in the city.
Warwickshire has been named one of the best places to visit in Europe, according to the Lonely Planet guide. Warwick, the county town is famous for its magnificent castle and historic charm. Warwick castle originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068 is situated on a bend of the Avon River. The original wooden castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th Century. It was used as a stronghold until the early 17th century, when it was granted to Sir Fulke Greville by James I in 1604. Greville converted it to a country house and it was owned by the Greville family, who became the Earls of Warwick in 1759, until 1978 when it was bought by the Tussauds Group. In 2007, Tussauds Group merged with Merlin Entertainments, which is the current owner of Warwick Castle. The castle have a large collection of armoury on display which is regarded as second only to that of the Tower of London.
Warwick Castle is 95 miles from London, and a 2 hour drive will take you there from London. Warwick railway station is approximately one mile from the castle.
The Warwick Trebuchet
Trebuchet is a machine used in medieval siege warfare for hurling large stone or other missiles. The trebuchet at the Warwick Castle is the largest in the world. In June 2005, Warwick castle become home to one of the world’s largest working siege engine. The trebuchet is 18 meters tall, made from over 300 pieces of oak and weighs 22 tons. The machine was built with drawings from the Danish museum Middelaldercentret, who were the first to recreate a fully functioning trebuchet in 1989. It was built in Wiltshire with expertise from the Danish Museum and now situate on the riverbank below the castle.
The trebuchet takes eight men half an hour to load and release, the process involves four men running in 4 meters tall wheels to lift the counterweight, weighing 6 tons into the air. It is designed to be capable of hurling projectiles distances of up to 300 meters and as high as 25 meters and can throw projectiles weighing up to 150 kilograms.
From the castle top one can get the amazing views of the charming city of Warwick with St. Mary’s church dominating its skyline. Also look out for the golden fields brightening the landscapes with the rapeseed farms with its yellow flowers. Rapeseed oil, sometimes called canola oil forms the third most important crop grown in the UK after wheat and barley.
Once through with the castle one should not miss a walk through the narrow streets of Warwick to explore some of the medieval buildings and traditional houses.