Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Stop #21

I wanted to visit Veliko Tarnovo because a colleague from Deloitte was born and raised in this city.  I did enjoy seeing some of the history that she described come alive.


  • Grand old city of the czars – Veliko Tarnovo was the capital in Medieval times.
  • Bulgarian czars lived in a palace that is now in ruins close to the Cathedral in Tsaravets Fortress.
  • Set amidst beautiful forested hills, especially colorful in October.
  • Citadel of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
  • Most prestigious university in the country.
  • Tsaravets Fortress one of Bulgaria’s most beloved monuments.
  • The Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God  is a former Eastern Orthodox cathedral located on top of Tsarevets hill. The cathedral was the seat of the Bulgarian patriarch from its construction in the 11th–12th century to its destruction in 1393.

One of my favorite things about this visit was the unique modern style of paining in the Cathedral.

Sinaia, Romania

Stop #19

Wow! Wow! Wow!  This place makes you feel like royalty!  I’ve never been this intimate with such gorgeous woodwork (all walnut, which is by far my favorite), Murano glass, marbles, expensive artwork and tapestries.  If you visit one thing in Transylvania, this is your stop!


  • The beautiful Bucegi Mountains are in the background.
  • Sinaia is full of colored wooden houses that contrast with wgrander 19th century buildings.
  • The town was a summer retreat for Romania’s first king, Carol 1.
  • Pele’s Castle / palace has everything you would expect to see in a palace – hidden passages, fairy tale turets, galleries all over the place, and classical statues. It is by far the best castle I saw in Transylvania.
  • The Grand Reception Halls of the palace borrow from Moorish, Florentine, and French styles.
  • The only grander palaces I’ve seen are now the Hermitage and the Royal Palace in Madrid.


Corvin Castle, Romania

Stop #14

Corvin Castle is one of the largest castles in Europe, and definitely Randy’s favorite visit of the trip. The castle was was laid out in 1446.

The castle is Renaissance-Gothic style. The castle also has a double wall for fortification and has both rectangular and circular towers, typical for Transylvanian architecture. Some of the towers were used as prisons.

We visited the Knight’s Hall, the Diet Hall and the circular stairway.

While we were in Budapest, we came across a painting of the Castle, which I’ve posted below with the information about the painting.



Spis Castle, Slovakia

Stop #11

Built in the 12th century, Spiš Castle was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and then owned by several families and later by the state of Czechoslovakia then Slovakia.

Originally a Romanesque stone castle with fortifications, a two-story Romanesque palace and a three-nave Romanesque-Gothic basilica were constructed by the second half of the 13th century. It underwent multiple additions and renovations over the centuries and even burned down in the 1700s.

In 1993, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Guimarães, Portugal

Stop #28:

One of my favorite cities on this trip was medieval Guimarães.  We stayed at an old monastery converted into a hotel.  In the fact, the history of the monastery is described below.

The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a 2012 European Capital of Culture.  You will see a picture below with the words “aqui nasceu Portugal”, which means “ Portugal was born here”.  Actually, Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, was born here.  He eventually brought together lands between the Minho and Douro rivers.  From Guimaeres, Afonso Henriques eventually took back Lisbon from the Moors in 1147.  While the city was the first capital of Portugal, power eventually moved to Coimbra and later to Lisbon.


  • Castelo de Guimarães – Alfonso Henriques was born in this castle (lots of photos of the ruins below).
  • Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Bragança). The Paço dos Duques de Bragança is a 15th-century palace that once belonged to the dukes of Bragança but which is now the official regional seat of Portugal’s president. These are the photos below with the tapestries and heavy wood furniture with porcelain and paintings.
  • Pousada de Guimarães, Santa Marinha – We stayed at this pousada (former monastery) from the 12th-century.  It was originally founded by the wife of Dom Afonso Henriques to honor the patron saint of pregnant women. Our room was a former monk cell.  We enjoyed the gardens on a sunny and warm February day.  The views were also pretty extraordinary.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Madrid, Spain

Stop #17:

While I like Madrid, I prefer to be driving through all the beautiful smaller cities throughout Spain.  I visited Madrid when I was in my 20s, and it looks much the same.  The weather wasn’t the greatest on this visit, but luckily the Prado can keep one entertained for quite  long time.  We also spent quite  bit of time in the Palace.

You have to see google “Interior Madrid Palace” because you won’t believe the inside of the palace.  Photography is not allowed, so I cooperated with the rules.  But I would have had a field day in there if I could have.  See the porcelain room and dining room for the highlights.

The last picture is a photo of my brochure from the Prado.  You’ll recognize some paintings or at least some artists for sure.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Alhambra (Granada, Spain)

Stop 15:

Fodor’s says that Alhambra is Spain’s most popular attraction. It has three main parts: the Alcazaba, the Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces), and the Generalife, or ancient summer palace. We didn’t spend any time in Generalife, but we did spend a good bit of time in the Palaces and Alcazaba.

Alhambra’s history dates to 1238.  The palace has all of the beautiful arches and patterns in the photos below.  The geometric patterns are mostly made of ceramic and stucco.  Because the Alhambra was not kept up over the ceturies, it began to decay until the Duke of Wellington came to escape the Peninsular War. In 1829, Washington Irving arrived and wrote Tales of the Alhambra in 1832.  Restoration has continued since then.

Alcazaba’s tower (from which you see city views in the photos) is called Torre de la Vela (Watchtower).  I made a couple of panoramas from multiple pictures to try to capture the full view from the tower

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.


Córdoba, Spain

Stop 12:


  • The Roman Walls surrounding Cordoba were built after the Romans captured the city in 206 BC.  The walls are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site designating the town’s historic center.
  • Mezquita (Mosque) – see this portfolio here.  The Mezquita is Córdoba’s mosque that was converted to a Cathedral in the 13th century.  It is so beautiful that it required its own portfolio.
  • Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Fortress of the Christian Monarchs). Built by Alfonso XI in 1328, the Alcázar is a Mudejar-style palace with splendid gardens. (The original Moorish Alcázar stood beside the Mezquita, on the site of the present Bishop’s Palace.).  The Christopher Columbus statues and pools and fountains were located here.
  • The Caliphal Baths are Arab baths located in the Cordoba’s historic center and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Photos are below.
  • Madinat Al-Zahra (Medina Azahara). This building no longer exists in full form.  It is basically some ruins currently being restored and excavated and a museum. Abd ar-Rahman III built this massive building in the foothills of the Sierra Morena by for his favorite concubine, az-Zahra (the Flower) starting in 936 and continuing for 25 years. In 1013, it was sacked and destroyed by Berber mercenaries and wasn’t rediscovered until 1944.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Seville, Spain

Stop 10:

Seville was amazing. I had no idea how much I would see there. In fact, the Alcazar is so incredible that I have separated the pictures into a separate portfolio from the rest of Seville. A compact city, Seville  appears to be a bigger city than it is. In the Centro, around the cathedral, are the Alcazar and the Plaza Nueva, the launching point for most of the places we visited.


  • Alcazar (which means fortress). Within the Alcazar is the Plaza del Triunfo, where there is an entrance to the Mudejar palace, the official residence of the king and queen when they’re in town. It was built by Pedro I (1350– 69) on the site of Seville’s former Moorish Alcázar. No photographs were allowed, but I must admit that it was one of the most beautifully decorated palaces I’ve ever seen (after the palace in Madrid). It was especially unique with all of the Moorish geometric patterns in each of the rooms.
  • Plaza Nueva – the main shopping and dining areas
  • Seville’s Cathedral is the largest and highest cathedral in Spain, the largest Gothic building in the world, and the world’s third-largest church, after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. What started as a mosque in 1171 was converted to a Christian Cathedral in 1248. The Cathedral was rebuilt in 1401. On one side of the Cathedral is a monument to Christopher Columbus with his coffin held by the four kings representing the medieval kingdoms of Spain: Castile, León, Aragón, and Navarra. Columbus’s son Fernando Colón is also buried here (see photos with translation: “ To Castile and León, Columbus gave a new world”). The opposite side has a Silver Altar.
  • El Arenal, which is the Maestranza bullring.
  • Plaza de Espana – a half-moon shaped set of buildings built for the 1929 World’s Fair. Azulejo pictures represent the provinces of Spain. The four bridges symbolize the medieval kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.
  • While we had hoped to visit Triana, known for traditional habitat for sailors, bullfighters, and flamenco artists, we just couldn’t fit it in.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.