These were taken in November of 2010, so let’s say it was eight years ago or so. Things may look different now — hopefully better, given how much tourism this little town gets each year.

It was one of our typical jaunts through the medieval fortress, along its walls and back down the stairs toward the bottom of the hill. Still, the images show different spots from the ones you’ve seen here and here.

Should you want to know more about the town, click here and here. Enjoy the photographs!

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More images from Sighisoara

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The fortified church in Hetiur

Hetiur is a small village located between Sighișoara and Tg. Mureș in Transilvania, about 10 km away from the former. Formerly named Hetur and Hetura, known in Saxon as Marembrich and Hungarian as Hétúr, it is a Saxon settlement first mentioned in written documents in 1301. As is typical with settlements in Romania, the place is much older than the written documents. Coins from the time of Hadrian, made between 119-121 AD, were found in the village. Pieces of gold and silver jewelry made by the Daci were also found there. The village’s curious name comes from Hungarian and it means “seven masters” or “seven rulers”.

The fortified church was built in the 15th century in the Gothic style and underwent modifications and repairs in the 17th and 19th centuries. The church was blessed in person by Pope Martin the 5th, who also granted it a tax-free status, meaning the church no longer had to pay yearly dues to the Catholic Church. (source)

Enjoy the photographs!

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Not much is known about the small medieval church in this Transylvanian village. Known in Romanian as Viișoara, it is Hundorf in German and Csatófalva in Hungarian. The clue about it not being fortified perhaps lies in its German name: “Hun-dorf” means “Hungarian village”. Since it was predominantly Hungarian with few Saxons, and it was the Saxons who fortified churches during medieval times… it didn’t happen here.

One source states the church was finished in the 15th century and then underwent modifications or restorations in 16th, 17th and 19th centuries. When we visited it in 2011, it wasn’t in the greatest of shapes. A date on one of the buttresses said “2010”, as in some repairs had been made just a year before our visit, but the place didn’t look it. Still, it wasn’t falling down either, so it was getting some care, though it wasn’t getting any good use.

Enjoy the photographs!

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The medieval church in Viișoara

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Dumbrăveni ((before 1945 “Ibașfalău”; German: “Elisabethstadt”; Saxon dialect: “Eppeschdorf”; Hungarian: “Erzsébetváros”) is an historically significant town in Transilvania. Archaeological digs revealed proof that it was an inhabited place as early as the Paleolithic. We fast-forward through history to come to the time of the Hungarian colonization/occupation of Transilvania, when in 1214, it became part of a region controlled by the Hungarian rulers.

In 1552, the Apafi family obtained all of the land around the town of Dumbraveni and Grigore Apafi became the ruler. He immediately began the construction of a castle in the center of the town, a castle of which I will talk in a future post. The interesting part of it is that the castle adjoins the Armenian Catholic church, or rather that the church ended up being built next to it hundreds of years later.

The Armenians were invited to colonize the region in 1671 by the Apafi family. As they were very good merchants and the town was already a market town, they (and the town) quickly prospered. In turn, they gained a good amount of autonomy and in 1766, they started the construction of this large church right next to the Apafi Castle. The construction ended in 1783 and the church was dedicated to St. Elizabeth, in concordance with the town’s new name (at the time) of Elisabethopolis. (source)

As a structure, the church is striking. You’d have to visit a Western European town to find its equivalent. Scale-size, it is much larger than the churches of its time in Romania. One thing you’ll notice right away is the facade is asymmetric, and that’s because the top of one of the towers was knocked down by a storm in 1927. Instead of re-creating the cupola, the town decided to cover it with a flat roof.

The church altar and statues were made by sculptor Simon Hoffmayer. The church hall houses a valuable collection of books, about 2200 volumes on religion, language and natural sciences from the 16th-19th centuries, written in Italian, Armenian, Hungarian, and French Altin. (source)

By the way, there’s another old Catholic church in Dumbraveni, with catacombs. That one doesn’t seem to be maintained and isn’t known by tourists. You can see it here.

Enjoy the photographs!

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The Armenian Catholic Church in Dumbraveni

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Valea Viilor (“Wurmloch” in German, “Nagybaromlak” in Hungarian) is a village in Sibiu County, Transilvania, in a region known for its wine production during medieval times. Its name is translated in English as “The Valley of the Vineyards”. It is first mentioned in written documents in 1263 as “posessio Barwmlak”.

The church in this Saxon village was first built in the 14th century (see source). Its ruins can be seen beneath the floor of the sacristy. In 1414 a new church was erected over it. In turn, most of that later structure was then demolished or modified during the years 1500-1528, as the church was enlarged and fortified walls were built around it, making it a fortified church (see source).

Unlike a lot of other Saxon fortified churches in Transilvania, this structure received attention from later generations, and underwent needed repairs in 1738, 1782, 1826, 1969, 1987, 1996 and in recent years as well.

When we visited it back in April of 2011, the gates were locked and no gatekeeper was to be found, so we walked around its defensive walls, admiring the solid medieval architecture that has stood the test of time. Enjoy the photographs!

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The fortified church in Valea Viilor

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The fortified church in Bazna

The village of Bazna (“Baaßen” in German and “Bázna” in Hungarian) is technically a commune comprised of three villages: Bazna, Boian and Velt. Settled by Saxons in the 13th century, the land was great not only for agriculture but also gave forth natural gas and springs of water containing salt and iodine.

The fortified church you’re about to see in my photographs was built in the 15th century. A hundred years or so later, it gained the surrounding fortified walls and defense tower. You’ll find an oddity in that tower: it’s also a bell tower and it has three bells made sometime between the 14-15th century. That’s not something often seen in Transilvania, where most of the bells were melted to make weapons during WWI.

The church has a caretaker and is well-maintained, which is more (much more) than can be said for most of the other fortified churches in Transilvania.

Enjoy the photographs! I took them in April of 2010.

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A visit to Villa Vizcaya

The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, previously known as Villa Vizcaya, is the former villa and estate of businessman James Deering, of the Deering McCormick-International Harvester fortune. It’s located on Biscayne Bay, in the present day Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida. Deering used Vizcaya as his winter residence from 1916 until his death in 1925.

The estate property originally consisted of 180 acres of shoreline mangrove swamps and dense inland native tropical forests. The villa was built primarily between 1914 and 1922, at a cost of $15,000,000, while the construction of the extensive elaborate Italian Renaissance gardens and the village continued into 1923.

The estate’s name refers to the northern Spanish province Vizcaya (In English Biscay), in the Basque region along the east Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay, as ‘Vizcaya’ is on the west Atlantic’s Biscayne Bay. Records indicate Deering wished the name also to commemorate an early Spaniard named Vizcaya who he thought explored the area, although later he was corrected that the explorer’s name was Sebastián Vizcaíno. Deering used the Caravel, a type of ship style used during the ‘Age of Exploration’, as the symbol and emblem of Vizcaya. A representation of the mythical explorer “Bel Vizcaya” welcomes visitors at the entrance to the property.

Vizcaya is noteworthy for adapting historical European aesthetic traditions to South Florida’s subtropical ecoregion. For example; it combined imported French and Italian garden layouts and elements implemented in Cuban limestone stonework with Floridian coral architectural trim and planted with sub-tropic compatible and native plants that thrived in the habitat and climate. Palms and Philodendrons had not been represented in the emulated gardens of Tuscany or Île-de-France.

James Deering died in September 1925 on board the steamship “SS City of Paris” en route back to the United States. After his death Vizcaya was inherited by his two nieces, Marion Chauncey Deering McCormick and Ely Deering McCormick Danielson, and that’s where the tale turns even sadder, at least for me. I do wish heirs could hold on to these grand estates after they inherit them. Surely they also got some money as inheritance. Couldn’t they have become proper stewards of the place? History answers that question with a no. Over the decades, after hurricanes and increasing maintenance costs, they began selling the estate’s surrounding land parcels and outer gardens. In 1945 they sold significant portions of the Vizcaya property to the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, to build Miami’s Mercy Hospital. 50 acres (200,000 m2) comprising the main house, the formal gardens, and the village were retained.

In 1952 Miami-Dade County acquired the villa and formal Italian gardens, needing significant restoration, for $1 million. Deering’s heirs donated the villa’s furnishings and antiquities to the County-Museum. Vizcaya began operation in 1953 as the Dade County Art Museum. The village and remaining property were acquired by the County during the mid-1950s. In 1994 the Vizcaya estate was designated as a National Historic Landmark. In 1998, in conjunction with Vizcaya’s reaccreditation process by the American Alliance of Museums, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust was formed to be the museum’s governing body.

Visitors can now see the villa, estate and surrounding gardens at 3251 S Miami Ave, Miami, FL 33129, USA. You can get tickets and consult visiting hours at the official website.

I have prepared a gallery of 103 photographs we took there, and I hope you enjoy seeing them!

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A visit to Las Vegas

Situated in the Mojave Desert, its Spanish name means “The Meadows” because of the wild grasses and desert springs originally found there. An oasis in an otherwise dry and unwelcoming place, it became known to Native Americans over 10,000 years ago. It was discovered by the modern world in 1829, when a young Mexican scout named Rafael Rivera put it on the map. Settlers were slowly but surely drawn there and in 1905, it became a city. In 1911, it was incorporated.

Its growth back then was limited by the small water supply, but in a couple of decades, things were about to change in a big way. The year when Las Vegas came to be known as the place we know it today was 1931, when it legalized gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. This move was “blessed” later that year when construction on the massive Hoover Dam started nearby. This meant the city now had access to an incredible water supply and it began to grow in spite of the Great Depression, helped by the influx of workers who stayed there to work on the Dam. The workers wanted to have fun when they weren’t working and thus Las Vegas began to gain its reputation as Sin City. After WWII, the big real estate developments began and the Strip as we know it today began to take shape. Hotels, casinos and stores, each bigger, more colorful and more lit than the other, dotted the ever-changing cityscape. And let’s not forget the appearance of heavy-duty, commercial air conditioning units in the 1950s, which can be credited with the tremendous growth in human settlements in what were uninhabitable areas. None of the large real estate developments in any of the hot places in the world would function without air conditioning.

Here is a gallery of photographs I took back in 2010 during a visit to Las Vegas. Drab during the day, its colors washed out by the desert sunlight, this place truly comes alive at night and it stays that way till morning. Throngs of people always crowd its sidewalks and the car traffic slows to a near halt on the Strip due to gawkers. If you’re going to visit, I recommend you do it during the cooler seasons (autumn, winter or spring). Visit the shops and museums during the daytime and save your evenings for walking around on the Strip and taking in the lights and the entertainment. It is unlike anything on Earth at night. The place screams abundance and availability of anything and everything. It is the pinnacle of consumerism. While I was there, I got a clear sense that everything you could want was readily available. Ads are everywhere, for every thing. All of the luxury brands have a visible presence there. Every big hotel has its own shopping mall inside, exquisitely decorated, lit to perfection and air conditioned to keep you comfy and happy. Restaurants are everywhere. Bars are everywhere. Should you want to go outside, hustlers on the sidewalk hand you phone numbers for “entertainers” of all sorts. Young women invite you into the casinos. Big LED panels flash ads at you non-stop. The buildings are all lit to perfection, to accentuate their architecture and make them stand out and draw you in. You will get visually and mentally overwhelmed by it all, so be ready for that. As I said above, I took these photos in 2010. The city has changed yet again since then. Some places already look different. Frequent change is the only constant there.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Italian road trip – Day 6 – Rome

Day 5 ended with us exhausted, crashing onto our beds and having a sound night’s sleep after a paradoxical search for a hotel with available rooms in what is one of the largest cities in the world with plenty of hotels. But that’s how things were that night. We woke up to a beautiful day and we set out to explore Rome.

I had set a grand goal: to show my companions the Rome I knew from 1999, ten years earlier. The part I hadn’t worked out yet in my enthusiasm, was that I’d explored Rome in three weeks, by myself, and now I was going to drag four people in tow to see a lofty list of places in a single day. Make no mistake about it, there were repeated protestations as the day progressed, but it was hard to hear them as I walked ahead at a military pace…

When it was all said and done, after putting my incredibly patient companions through a full day of exploration with little food or drink (there was no time, we had to see everything on my list…), I set another goal: reach a seaside town called Ladispoli by nightfall and find a hotel. Yeah, I did that to them, too! I didn’t let them sleep, I packed them into the car and off we went. I still can’t believe they put up with me. I know I wouldn’t have. Now that I’m in my 40s (this was back in 2009 mind you), I know I wouldn’t do this to myself or to others. The pace was too hectic, we couldn’t take things in. By the end of the day, it was all a blur. Thank goodness we took photos, or else we wouldn’t remember much.

Enjoy our memories from that day!