Luc Pols: European journey
Editor’s note: Luc Pols is on a five-week trip through Europe, hitting Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and more. Each week, he is filing a report on his travels and sending it back along with photos of the journey. What a beautiful capital city Bratislava is of Slovakia, now nicknamed BratisLover in the city’s new promotional material. Not too big, but with a delightful downtown area and gorgeous old buildings, including the castle that overlooks the town. Unfortunately, the communists, in their infinite wisdom, decided during their reign to put an expressway right through the town, separating the castle from the rest of the old city and thereby destroying the old Jewish quarter. Quite a shame, but I guess that was the communist way: We’ll show the rest of the world that we can do it, and the bigger, the better – who cares what we destroy.
In the city there are sculptures all through the town. One depicts a worker coming out of a sewer, and all you see is his head and shoulders. Another sculpture shows a paparazzi, who takes a picture from around a corner. Quite cleverly done.We take an early flight to Amsterdam and spend three days in my old home country. Besides meeting with old friends and having dinners and drinks, we take the boat ride through the canals. We walk though the old part of Amsterdam with its 17th- and 18th-century churches, gawk at the houses with the world-renowned “gevels” (gables) and do some shopping in the famous Leidsestraat. No, we did not visit the even more famous coffee shops, where coffee is the furthest thing from any customer’s mind. We unfortunately also did not visit the Van Gogh Museum with the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world. The line was way too long, which was quite unusual for February.We then go to The Hague, the capital of the Netherlands and the place where I was born. There we visit the seat of the government, het Binnenhof, with its great pond. We take a stroll to the International Court of Justice and visit a museum that is quite unknown, but which I can recommend heartily to anybody visiting here. It is the Museum Mesdag, the only museum in the round left in Europe, where there used to be approximately 28. You go up a small staircase, stand in the middle and gaze at the 45-foot-high canvas all around you – a sight to behold. We also take a (way too quick) stroll through het Mauritshuis, the museum next to the Parliament buildings. One of its most famous paintings, which after the successful book and movie “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” now has even more worldwide fame, is Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl in a Turban.” For me, one of the highlights is some of the Dutch food, which includes fresh raw herring, eaten the Dutch way: You hold the fish by the tail and take bites that way. Tastes “like an angel is peeing on your tongue” (old Dutch saying, but don’t ask me where it came from).
Back to Bratislava for a night, and then we decide to spend the weekend in Trencin in Slovakia. This has – what else – a beautiful castle overlooking the town. We climb up and visit the galleries within. Lots of paintings from the old owners, but this is a case where the painters should have taken artistic liberties. These people, without exception, are ugly as sin. Maybe the painters did take liberties and in reality they were even worse, but it is hard to imagine. This castle, the second-largest in Slovakia, has been here since the eighth century, but parts were added later on. Even the Romans were here in the first century, it being one of the farthest outpost from Rome and the northernmost point of the Roman Empire.Next week it is off to Venetia and its famous winter carnival and some other towns in the Friuli region before returning home and skiing. That and more in next week’s last article…
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