Category Archives: Europe

Athens

A Rough Guide for Athens!

In these hot summer days I would be more than happy to give you suggestions about great vacation spots of Greece, including its famous islands where you can enjoy your holiday and have a tranquil, relaxing time at the natural beaches. However, this essay is to address Athens in a broad sense with its well-known historical monuments, rich and delicious cuisine, and a glimpse of daily life in the capital.

On these grounds, I will try to share my recent observations with my best of knowledge and goodwill rather than fulfilling a mission or professional duty. In this dossier you will find basic background information as well as places to go and things to do and taste.     

   

pantheon                                          (The Parthenon – Acropolis)        

 

Although the title is “A Rough Guide for Athens” you will find in this file rather comprehensive information. Athens is a historical city and the capital of Greece. But more importantly many of Classical civilizations’ intellectual and artistic ideas originated there, and the city is generally considered to be the birthplace of Western civilization. Therefore, writing a 3 or 4 day-trip guide on things to do in Athens would be a disrespect to this cultural heritage, in my understanding. So, I decided to start with introducing its history, geographical position and climate and continue in the second part about suggestions on places to go and things to do in Athens in 4 days. As I acknowledge that it might be boring to read this brief introduction or you might already know it beforehand than you can directly start reading from page 7 for the practical information before your travel.  

Enjoy your stay in Athens!

 

Please click on the link for the file “A Rough Guide for the Athens“.

 

Ergun UNUTMAZ, 13/07/2014

 

My Journeys to Europe

europe 2

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”  Lao Tzu

If you are eager to learn and discover things by yourselves, travelling should be an inevitable part of your plans. I do not remember how did it get in my blood but it was in year 2000 when I went to my first abroad trip – to Rome, Italy on my personnel will. Because, first two years of my life has passed in Paris, France but I can not start counting from that moment. Since then I have been in many places of Europe in different times of year, which enabled me to make up a better picture.

In this page I will try to narrate my experience on these journeys to Europe from different perspectives. The map above shows the major cities I have been (at least the ones that I remember). More than that, I have also managed to make observations between the areas covered on the above map. In this regard, I will start writing with countries first and give some information about the flag and brief statistics of the country. History, geography and cuisine will be the details to follow. Then I will express my ideas about the cities based on these facts.
 
Hope you enjoy it!

Ergun UNUTMAZ, 23/07/2013

Montenegro

 Crna-gora-zastava The flag of Montenegro was officially adopted on 13 July 2004  and sanctioned with the proclamation of the Constitution on 22 October 2007.  It is a red banner with broader golden edges all around the red field with the coat of arms of Montenegro in its center. The charge is a two-headed eagle which is a symbol of Byzantine and ultimately Roman origin. It symbolises dual authority, such as that over the church and state and the eagle holds a golden scepter in its right claw and a blue orb in its left. The lion passant on the escutcheon is as a sign of episcopal authority and could have been inspired by the metaphor of the Lion of Judah.

Montenegro* is an independent and sovereign state, with the republican form of government. It is located in the South-eastern Europe, along the Adriatic Sea; bordering to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.

Area         : 13.812 sq km
Population: 653.474 (July 2013 est.)
Language : Montenegrin**
Currency  : Euro

 map

*   The name comes from Italian and it is Crna Gora in Montenegrin and Black Mountain in English.
** Serbian, Bosniac, Albanian and Croatian are also in the official use, and Cyrillic and Latin alphabet deemed to be equal by constitution.

Arrivals to Montenegro via air can be made either through Podgorica or Tivat Airports. Although mountains make transportation exhausting there are many connecting roads to nearby cities and neighbouring countries. There are buses and trains, but as time is valuable I suggest you to rent a car for a comprehensive trip within the country.

History

9 AD – Roman annexation of the region incorporates most of present-day Montenegro into the province of Dalmatia.
990   – Slav state of Duklja established.
1190 – Successor state of Zeta annexed by Serbia.
1499 – Ottoman Empire controls the interior and Venetian Empire controls the coast.
1697 – Petrović clan assumes control after Ottomans retreat.
1797 – Venice falls to Napoleon, who transfers the Gulf of Kotor to Austrian rule.
1878 – Montenegro granted independence following the Congress of Berlin.
1918 – Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes formed, incorporating Montenegro.
1929 – Montenegro becomes part of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
1945 – Tito becomes prime minister (president from 1953) and Podgorica renamed Titograd.
1991 – Break-up of Yugoslavia; Montenegro votes to stay with Serbia in referendum.
2006 – A second referendum brings independence to Montenegro.   

Geography

 5 I think it is apt to state that Montenegro has two different offerings in broader sense: inner parts and coast line. Therefore, it also has two different climate regions. While Mediterranean climate prevails at coast line; hot dry summers and autumns and relatively cold winters with heavy snowfalls occur at inland. As it is seen from the model on the left (which is exhibited at next to Biliarda), life is challenging at inner parts due to steep mountains and harsh conditions. On the other hand coast line is appealing based on fjord-like bays, beaches, old towns, bars and restaurants.

The Interior

The capital city is Podgorica and according to 2011 census, population of this largest city is 156.169. In contemporary history the city had also been known as Titograd from 1946 to 1992 during the existence of SFR Yugoslavia.  Having said that, the Constitution also mentions “The Old Royal Capital of Montenegro shall be Cetinje” and the presidential seat still remains in Cetinje. After visiting five museums there, I believe that this reference is very appropriate. These museums can be visited with one single ticket which costs €10,00 per person and museums are namely;

  1. Palace of King Nicola
  2. Ethnographic Museum
  3. Njegoš’s Museum (Biliarda)
  4. History Museum
  5. Art Museum

Whole sight-seeing in central Cetinje will not take you more than half an hour, but visiting above mentioned museums will definitely change your schedule and perceptions.

Presidential seat

Museums district

In adition to Lovćen, two other destinations at interior are: Lake Skadar and Durmitor National Park. Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkans and a walk along it or biking are suggested activities, if not just lie down and relax the fresh air. When it comes to Durmitor, it is the most scenic place in inland Montenegro with dozens of 2.000-meter-plus peaks drop down to the spectacular Tara Canyon. Durmitor is a hive of skiing, hiking, camping, rafting and far more activities.

The Coast Line

On a hot summer day, after a tiring trip even seeing the coast line from above the mountains will make you feel better. Especially, if you are indulged to nature, fjord types, bays and picturesque towns. From north to south coast line is 293,5 km long and on this direction Herceg Novi, Kotor, Budva, Bar and Ulcinj are places to see.

kotor

Bay of Kotor

 

A view from Old Town

Kotor reminded me little bit of Croatia’s islands and city of Dubrovnik in a smaller scale. Kotor has the best preserved medieval old town in Adriatic sea and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The atmosphere of old town, maze of cobbled alleyways and definitely delicious seafood are among the things that make it special in my opinion. Of course, I have to mention here the joy of delicious ice-cream and strong coffee. For Budva, it is seen as the most popular one by locals and tourists. There are lots of cafés, bars, restaurants and limestone houses. Beaches are not sandy, but sea is clear and seafront bars are enticing for a cold drink in a hot summer day.

Food and Vines

As interior differs a lot from the coast line, it is inevitable to have two distinct kitchens. For the interior part; climate, geography and habits comprise of a stronger culture. Belveder Nacionalni Restoran, which is located on the way to Podgorica, has a rich menu, and great product and service quality.

belveder 1

Nutritious homemade breads of rye (ražani) and corn (rumetinov) are served with Njeguški pršut and cheese. For the soups there are chicken (kokošija), beef (goveđa/juneća/teleća) and lamb (jagnjeća) soup options and I have to remind that soups can be clear (supa/juha) or dense (čorba). As a main dish, roasted meat in a special oven with special pots (pečenje ispod sača) and salad accompanied to it will be a great choice. Lastly, don’t forget to try the Montenegrin pancakes (Crnogorske palačinke) as a desert.
belveder

 galion On the other side of the coin, coast line will make you happy with tasty seafood varieties. I can recommend Restoran Galion at the Kotor, Old Town overlooking the Bay of Kotor. Fresh and delicious products are served in a well decorated manner in this place will make a dinner more of a joy. From left to write, starters with shrimp and mussel, black squid ink risotto, sea bass and sea bream with vegetables and shrimp, followed by a chocolate cake was a great combination.
 1  2  3  4

And a final word about the Montenegrin wines… Many vineyards are located in the southern and coastal regions. There are various grape types being cultivated and Krstač, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Vranac are among these. Krstač is an ancient variety of grape that is indigenous to Serbia and Montenegro. A high quality dry white wine is made of it. The wine may be rich, of harmonious bouquet and of light yellow colour with 12.5% alcohol. Vranac is an ancient variety of grape that is indigenous to the Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro. Vranac is considered the most important variety of grape in Montenegro, and it produces a dry red wine of a unique taste.

After a wine tasting I performed in Kotor Old Town, I come up with the decision that “Vranac Barrique” is distinct from other matches. The wine had an intense red colour and the complex flavour was enriched by cherry, blackberry and blueberry notes. And in the base notes oak smell was fervent, but not dominant. On the palate, I can say that it was possible to feel the harmony and balance of these mixes. When it comes to body, it was round and soft with pleasant tannin existence.

Ergun UNUTMAZ, 05/07/2013


I would like to express my gratitude to OECD SIGMA delegation for organising a conference at Montenegro. Because if this opportunity would not arise, it might take me a longer time to discover this amenities, and I also would like to thank Aida and Boban for their hosipitality and patience.  


References:

Rough Guide to Europe, February 2010, p.784.
CIA World Factbook
Photos by Ergun UNUTMAZ
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podgorica
http://belveder.me/
http://www.winesofbalkans.com/index.php?balkan-states/montenegro

Paris

There are many reasons to visit Paris: Beginning with, it is being one of the business and politic centres of Europe. Second, it is home to priceless art collections, world-known museums and literature collections. Furthermore, I know people just go to Paris for delicious French cuisine and tasting exquisite French wines. It is easy to expand the list with cultural and historic richness that has been offered on the one hand, and colourful night life and fun at Moulin Rouge on the other. But if we set aside all the reasons, Paris is a destination just being-for-itself for me. Maybe it is because that I lived the very first two-years of my life there or it tempted me more and more in every visit I made.


ArcTriomphe


Apart from my biased opinion, there is a reality that Paris is usually on top of the official “Most Visited Cities Lists” with around 20 million tourists per year. Due to economic downturn and Olympic fever, it was second on the 2012’s list with 16 million visitors after London (16.9 million).

Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile


Paris is capital of France with a population of 2,2 million habitants[1] and it is located on the River Seine, which is at the centre of Île de France[2] region. Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements as administrative districts and these are named separately and numbered in a clockwise order, nautilus shape. Every arrondissement has its offerings in a different kind. Your time and indulgences will determine your sight-seeing schedule but I will try to provide some help with must see places for a three day visit at Paris.


parismap_new

Basically, it is possible to define four broad categories in a systematic approach and count five prominent places under each of these categories. But it must be kept in mind that, this is just a list to give you a general idea and you can add more places in a second.

Museums and Art Galleries:

  1. Musée du Louvre
  2. Musée d’Orsay
  3. Musée Rodin
  4. Musée Picasso
  5. Centre Pompidou
Churches:

  1. Sacré-Coeur
  2. Notre-Dame
  3. St-Séverin
  4. Dôme
  5. Panthéon
Parks:

  1. Esplanade des Invalides
  2. Jardins des Champs-Elysées
  3. Jardin du Luxembourg
  4. Jardins de Tuileries
  5. Bois de Boulogne
Buildings and Monuments:

  1. Tower Eiffel
  2. Palais de Chaillot
  3. Assemblée Nationale Palais-Bourbon
  4. Grande Palais et Petit Palais
  5. Arc de Triomphe

As it is impossible to think Paris without considering River Seine, I strictly recommend you to spare a day for a boat trip. There are hop on hop off boat tours which will enable you to save time and see as many places as you would like to.

Microsoft Word - Plan de croisire.doc

Daily pass are around €15 per adult and you can get on from either side during the scheduled time. Once you disembark at any of the stops, enjoy your sight-seeing for monuments, palaces or squares and walk to the closest port for your next destination. However, don’t forget to take pictures during your boat trip, because every bridge at River Seine has its own story and statues. So you can read and would like to see it again by looking your pictures. Few prominent ones that I can name are Pont d’Iena, Pont de l’Alma and Pont Alexandre III.

Musée du Louvre

Louvre_Museum

In the second day, I suggest you to visit the Louvre Museum in the morning. Although it is possible to spend all day there, it would be convenient to go to the Eiffel Tower and have a view from the top floor at the afternoon. In a clear sky you can see whole Paris with a naked eye and you can pick your next place to go. My humble suggestion for the elevator is to buy your Eiffel Tower ticket online. Because there are usually huge queues at any time of the day (especially in the summer season) and I can guarantee that it will be boring to wait. In the evening St-Germain des-Prés is a very nice place to hang out and relax with a drink. I bet you will enjoy the atmosphere there.

La Tour Eiffel                                                                Les Jardins du Troadéro

Eiffel trocadero

In the third day of your visit you can combine art and nature. It would be wise to start with strolling down from the Les escaliers de Montmarte rather than climbing it up, so you can enjoy the inspiring environment for painters, musicians and poets in old times. If you go to Place du Tertre you can still meet street painters at the tourism centre of Montmarte. Then you can extend your visit to Quartier Opera if you like the crowd. It is banking, trade and news centre of Paris and as there are many stylish and expensive stores, it is not surprising that area to be full of people during day. But don’t worry your next place to see is very tranquil and peaceful area; Quartier Luxembourg. In the gardens of Luxembourg you will be welcomed by the lake, fountains, amazing statues and various tones of green. Therefore, you will forget your tiredness.

As I warned you in the beginning, it is not possible to see everything in three days and you need a good planning about what you would like to see. However, whichever course you follow or whatever route you take, don’t pass over the French cuisine and drink culture. Start a day with a French style breakfast, which usually contains croissant, beurre, confiture, chocolat, baguette and café. Then reward yourself with selections from ravishing French cuisine. As hors d’oeuvre (appetizers); “soupe à l’oignon”, “terrine de saumon” or “croûtons crémeux aux canneberges et au jambon de Parme” are among the most prominent flavours that I come up with first. As main dishes; “coq au vin”, “moules marinière”, or “escargots à la Bourguignonne” are exotic meals that you should try at Paris. However, if you would like to go traditional I can also suggest “boeuf à la ficelle” or “le poisson rouge”. Needless to say “crème brûlée” or “mousse au chocolat” will be nice choices as a dessert.

croutons
coqauvinplatform
creme brule

Last but not least, if you have a taste for wine and cheese you will find both in plenty and at top quality in Paris. Prices vary according to your preference and can go to sky high, but it is usually affordable. Besides, as it is a part of the French culture, I recommend wine rather than beer at the bars and restaurants.

Bon appétit!

Ergun UNUTMAZ, 05/03/2013


[1] http://www.paris.fr/english/presentation-of-the-city/demographics-a-cosmopolitan-city/rub_8125_stand_29896_port_18748
[2] This region is the wealthiest and most populated (11,5 million) of the 27 administrative regions of France.

France


france flag


“Le drapeau tricolore”

The origin of the flag dates to 1790, the French Revolution when the ancient French colour of white was combined with the blue and red colours of the Parisian militia.

Thanks to its historical, cultural and geopolitical characteristics France is one the multipurpose journey destinations. Whatever your objective would be, you will find it in abundance at France due to its variety and richness in tastes.


France[1] is located in the Western Europe; bordering Bay of Biscay and English Channel between Spain and Belgium, bordering the Mediterranean Sea between Spain and Italy.

France is also neighbour to Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg.

Area         : 551.500 sq km
Population: 62.814.233 (July 2012 est.)
Language : French
Currency  : Euro

 France 3

The capital city is Paris and it is located in the centre of Île de France region which is home to 11,5 million of above mentioned population. Other popular cities are; Lyon and Bordeaux for gastronomic pleasures, Monpellier and Toulouse as student cities, Marseille and Pyrenees for the explorers, Normandy, Alsace, Lille and Strasbourg for historical, political or general visits. Last but not least, spare some time for Cannes, Nice and St Tropez at the Côte d’Azur, which lies on the south east of France at Mediterranean Sea and offers great enjoyment.

The main hub for arrivals by air is Paris Charles de Gaulle, which is served by both major and budget airlines. The main access points by train from most countries are Gare du Nord, Gare de Lyon and Gare d’Austerlitz. The Eurolines coach service connects most European countries to France, and the main arrival point in Paris is Gare Routière. Once you are in France you will take the benefit of most extensive rail network in Western Europe, which is run by government owned SNCF.

France’s cultural heritage is the fruit of a long history and French passion for the arts. Some 750 pieces of property are classified on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The architectural heritage is particularly important, whether it be religious, civilian, military or industrial. France’s museums count exceptional collections bearing testimony to the history of art from around the world, such as the Louvre and the great schools of French paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries. France is also the country of great writers and distinguished composers, not to mention the homeland of cinema, renowned filmmakers, as well as actors and actresses who have been recognized around the world.

As I particularly witnessed all of these above mentioned amenities of life during my various visits I recommend you to plan your vacation on advance. Take your camera, read some French literature, watch some French movies and try to learn few French words to make your staying flawless. Although English is  widely spoken, efforts to express yourselves in French is highly appreciated.

For further information you can visit the official website of the French Government Tourist Office and
 in addition to that, you can find information on festivals, expos, events and concerts here at your finger tip.

Au revoir!


[1] French Republic comprise of Metropolitan France, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Reunion. However, in this essay the term France only refers to the Metropolitan France.

Ergun UNUTMAZ, 26/02/2013