Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest is the capital of Romania and was the first city that we visited during our trip to Romania before heading to Brasov. We were there in winter and the streets were covered with snow, but we still found it interesting. Bucharest became the capital of Romania in 1862 and was, at one time, considered to be “little Paris” because of its architecture and culture, but due to the wars, much of the architecture was destroyed. Although many of buildings have been restored, the city has evolved over time.

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The University Building
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One of the Interesting Churches
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Dome at a Church Entrance
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Museum of Art
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Interesting Artwork in the Monastery

Like most historic cities, walking the streets of the old town area is certainly a worthwhile experience. You will find many restaurants, some old churches and buildings, as well as some modern shops and adult stores. Although there is a definite mix of utilitarian buildings as well as historic buildings, we definitely saw several very interesting buildings. It is certainly worth visiting the Galeria de Arta Romaneasca and the Central de la Universidad de Bucharest, with its statue of Carol I on horseback, has wonderful architectural features. The area is also known as Revolution Square and there is an interesting obelisk that is a monument for the anti-communist revolution of 1989.

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Monastery Exterior
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Walking the Streets of Old Town
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Unique Architecture
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Snow Covered Statue
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More Traditional Church

There are several old churches that you can visit as well that are very interesting. One of the most interesting is the Church of Stavropoleos Monastery in old town Bucharest. With interesting murals inside on the walls and ceilings, its architecture is done in the Byzantine tradition. It is certainly quite a contrast to the buildings that surround it. We went to a couple of restaurants and found the people to be very friendly, but be sure to always have small change with you as the waiters are likely to tell you that they don’t have change in hopes of getting you to pay more than the actual price. We were fortunate enough to have musicians playing local, folk music at one of the restaurants that we visited.

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Monastery Entrance

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Ceiling in the Monastery
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Spicy Beef with Polenta

In general, we found Bucharest to be a city of contrasts. It was our first experience in an Eastern European country and it was very fascinating. Bucharest is the sixth larges city in the European Union with almost 2.5 million residents, so it can certainly be busy. After leaving Bucharest, we went to Transylvania and the city of Brasov, which was quite different than the capital city and something that we would highly recommend. We will be visiting the neighboring country of Hungary and the city of Budapest in a couple of months and are anxious to compare our different experiences.

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Revolution Square Statue
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Culturally Important Statues
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Monastery Dome
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Interesting Architecture
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Sweet Dessert
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Statue of Carol I

 

Casco Viejo in Panama City

If you go to Panama City, it is important that you take time to visit Casco Viejo, which is the historic district in the city. Originally established in 1673 by the Spanish, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a variety of historic buildings, churches, restaurants, shops, and hotels. As you walk the streets of Casco Viejo you will find a wonderful mix of architecture that spans the 350+ years of its history. Depending upon the time of day, it can be quite busy, especially on the weekend, but not so busy that you can’t enjoy all of the sights.

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Presidential Palace
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The Flat Arch
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Colorful Dancers
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Quiet Side Street
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Iglesia San Francisco de Asis

Although you can hire a guide to take you through Casco Viejo, we felt that it was easy enough to navigate and learn about the various historic sites without the need for a guide or the hassle of dealing with a group tour. All of the signs were in both Spanish as well as English, so it was easy to understand what you were seeing and there is plenty of information on each of the sites in tourist books, maps, and the internet. We started our tour of Casco Viejo at Plaza Herrera where we enjoyed the park with its Christmas decorations as well as the statue of General Tomas Herrera. We were in Panama City days before National Independence Day, so many of the buildings were adorned with flags, buntings, and banners.

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General Tomas Herrera
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Plaza Francia
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Institute of National Culture
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Tents with Local Arts and Crafts
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La Iglecia de La Merced

Our next stop was at Iglesia Santo Domingo and the Flat Arch (Arco Chato), which is a 17th century church and convent that was destroyed by fire in 1756 and never rebuilt.  From there, we made our way down to Plaza Francia, which was once the main square of the city. Today, it provides wonderful views of downtown Panama City as well as hosts a walking street that is lined with local artists selling traditional Panamanian arts and crafts.

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Beautiful Streets
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Colorful Dancers in Costumes
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View of Downtown Panama City
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Casco Viejo
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Statue at Plaza Francia

There are several wonderful churches within Casco Viejo such as Iglesia San Francisco de Asis, which is the smallest, but perhaps one of the prettiest. It sits on Plaza Bolivar, which is pretty much the heart of Casco Viejo. The beautiful Catedral Metropolitana is certainly an important feature within the city as is La Iglesia de La Merced with its unique architecture. There is also the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, which was destroyed by a fire in 1781 and later damaged further by an earthquake in 1882. We were fortunate that it was open the day that we visited as we were in Casco Viejo on several other days and the gate was locked, keeping visitors on the outside of the building.

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Interesting Architecture
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Artists on Walking Street
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Catedral Metropolitana
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Church Tower from a Plaza
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Fountain with Downtown Panama City in the Background

The presidential palace is also located in Casco Viejo, although you aren’t allowed to enter as it is still the residence of the president of Panama. The National Theatre was closed for renovations while we were there, but we read that it is worth visiting as it is supposed to be beautiful on the inside. The Canal Museum is certainly worth visiting as it provides not only a history of the Panama Canal, but it also provides insight into the history of the isthmus in general. We were fortunate to catch part of a dance competition in one of the plazas during our visit, which a unique cultural experience.

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Church Courtyard
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More Dancers
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The Flat Arch
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Street Art
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Inside of One of the Stores

If you are looking for souvenirs, Casco Viejo is certainly the place to go. There are many shops selling local items as well as typical tourist items. We ate dinner almost every night in Casco Viejo as there are so many restaurants to choose from. Without a doubt, any visit to Panama City should include spending time in this wonderful historic district. You will likely find yourself caught in a downpour at some point during your time in Casco Viejo, so use that opportunity to join the locals in a pub or café as they watch the rain quickly come and go.

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Building Façade
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National Pride
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Plaza Herrera
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Mix of Old and New
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Dating Back to the 1700’s

 

Altstadt Frankfurt, Germany

One of our favorite places in Frankfurt was the old town or Altstadt and we spent many afternoons there during our time there. Frankfurt has a reputation for being a very modern city and is considered the Manhattan of Germany, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still have some historic charm. Although many of the historical buildings were not rebuilt after World War II as they were in many other cities in Germany, the old town area still has some wonderful buildings that are hundreds of years old.

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Historic Building
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Old Town Plaza
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View from the Pub

Not surprisingly, the heart of the old town area is a courtyard with a wonderful fountain. Just like the hearts of most of old towns, this was a gathering place for everyone in the city and it is certainly still true today. During the festival season, the courtyard gets transformed into a bustling market with plenty of vendors selling food, drinks, and a variety of products.

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Vendor Setting Up
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Along the River
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Walking into the Courtyard

There are some traditional restaurants around the courtyard where you can certainly get your fill of schnitzel, bratwurst (or other wursts), sauerkraut, beer, and wine. Our favorite little pub called Alten Limpurg was also located in the plaza and we became friends with all of the staff there. Like many places in Europe, people can be found sitting at tables on the patios outside of the restaurant throughout the year, with heat lamps providing warmth during the cold winter months.

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Our Favorite Spot
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Plaza Fountain
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Enjoying a Pint

The old town in Frankfurt is also just a few steps away from the Main River where you can go for a walk along the river, get a tour on a sightseeing ship, or just sit on one of the benches and people watch. It is hard to believe that is has been two years since we moved to Frankfurt for a while and one of the things that we miss most about living there was our time in the old town plaza. If you want to get away from the historic feel of old town, the heart of the modern shopping area is also within walking distance.

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View Across the River
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The Modern City
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Another Little Pub

The town hall is also located in the old town plaza and one of our favorite memories was seeing wedding ceremonies take place there. The people would come out of town hall dressed in their wedding attire and celebrate with all of the people in the plaza. One of our favorite weddings concluded with the bride and groom climbing onto an old tractor to be whisked off to their reception. We really felt as if we were one of the locals.

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Wedding Procession
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Another Beautiful Building
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Food at a Festival