Medieval Splendor in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Holland

DenBoschHollandBefore I begin, let me tell you the name of this Dutch town, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, does begin with an apostrophe.

But good news: it is commonly known as Den Bosch. What a relief!

Den Bosch is a very picturesque medieval town located in the south part of Holland, just about an hour train ride from Amsterdam.

And like Dutch people say, it’s also a very gezellig (cozy) town.

Its origin goes back to the 12 Century, when Henry I, Duke of Brabant founded the town.

And today it has a population of about 150,000 people, making it very easy to walk around and explore.

So what to do when visiting Den Bosch?

Den Bosch offers its visitors a great wealth of history and culture.

To begin, you can admire one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all of Holland. The majestic Saint Jan Cathedral was built 800 years ago in a Gothic-Brabantine style.

Inside the cathedral you can admire a huge pipe organ, beautiful detailed sculptures all over the building, and colorful stained glass.

DenBoschHolland2For most visitors, the main attraction in Den Bosch is the river boat tour on the serene waters of the Binnendieze, the historic river that goes through the city.

The river has its origins in Belgium, where it is called Dommel,  a stream of water that forms part of the short Dieze River. It changes names as soon as it crosses the walls of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

During this relaxing ride, Den Bosch reveals its medieval beauty.

Its versatile channels also show how important they were for the trade of many goods such as beer, wool, and other products.

At points, you will even go through low tunnels, right below the main buildings of the town! And if you think this is claustrophobic, I won’t even tell you about the bat nests you can see inside. Oops!

DenBoschHolland3Don’t forget to explore the colorful open markets in the main square and check all the action.

You can find clothes, flowers, shoes, produce, and all types of food. I love the fresh herring sandwiches with lots of onions, Dutch style of course. Yum!

At nights, there are many great bars and restaurants for all tastes. Some even offer live music.

You’ll see Dutch people love to go out a lot and have fun.

Interesting Facts About Den Bosch:

Perhaps the most famous person in Den Bosch is renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch.

HieronymusBoschPaintingContrary to other Flemish styles, his paintings were dark and frequently used evil figures to incite fear and to symbolize the sins of men (see photo).

King Philip II of Spain acquired many of Bosch’s paintings and therefore, many of his works are in display the Prado Museum in Madrid.

The town’s professional soccer team is FC Den Bosch, the first club of Dutch international player Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

Den Bosch also had a sad chapter in its recent history. During World War II the Nazis operated Kamp Vught, a concentration camp near Den Bosch were 30,000 prisoners (12,000 of them Jewish) were placed.

Greek Treasures at the Heraklion Archeological Museum

HeraklionArcheologicalMuseumCreteGreece4Those traveling like Indiana Jones in search of archeological treasures will find an abundance of fantastic historical sites in Greece.

If you visit the island of Crete, you must see the ruins of the Knossos Palace, the center of the Minoan civilization.

However, many of the original artifacts related to the Minoans are no longer there, but in the Heraklion Archeological Museum. And to be honest with you, I consider this place a hidden treasure since most visitors skip it to go shopping. Sad but true.

Why this museum is worth a visit

This museum contains a great collection of artifacts from the Minoan civilization including pottery, jewelry, tools and weapons, frescoes, clay figurines, and art, including some valuable objects from the Neolithic and Greco-Roman periods.

HeraklionArcheologicalMuseumCreteGreece1Some artifacts go all the way back to 6,000 BCE!

It won’t be long before you notice that most objects in the museum’s collection are very well preserved.

For example, the level of detail in the gold jewelry is simply incredible, especially since some of these ornaments are thousands of years old. I dare a present-day jeweler to design a golden necklace like the Minoans using only the tools they had back then!

PhaistosDiskMinoanPalaceCreteGreeceOne of the most valuable objects of the museum’s collection is the Phaistos Disc (photo), a disk of clay about 4,000 years old.

The strangest thing about this disk is that both of its sides are covered with a spiral of codes and no one has been able to decipher the symbols, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archeology!

Another very well preserved object is the Hagia Triada sarcophagus. From the late Bronze Age, it has both Minoan and Mycenaean artistic styles and provides valuable information on the importance of burial ceremonies for this civilization.

HeraklionArcheologicalMuseumCreteGreece3A favorite piece among the visitors is the Minoan “Snake Goddess” (see picture).

This particular figurine depicts a “goddess of fertility”; this is mainly because of her large breasts and the fact that she is holding two snakes. Snakes are associated to the renewal of life since they shed their skin from time to time.

I can go on and on about the impressive collection of archeological treasures that you can find here but trust me, if you are going to Greece and one of your stops is Crete, make sure you visit the Heraklion Archeological Museum.

My recommendation: be prepared (and delighted) to absorb a wealth of valuable historical information. You won’t be disappointed.

Feel 8 Years Younger in Ethiopia

That’s right, you can feel 8 years younger the minute you step foot in Ethiopia without the need for surgery or expensive cosmetic treatments!

The reason? Ethiopia uses a different calendar, called the Ge’ez, which is 8 years behind the international calendar. How cool is that?

EthiopianKidsBesides being known for its exquisite coffee and its Olympic runners, Ethiopia is home to one of the oldest Christian civilizations on the planet. This, combined with a very small tourism industry, makes Ethiopia one of the most exotic travel destinations in the world.

If you love exploring archeological sites like Indiana Jones, then you will enjoy Ethiopia’s historical route, which features three main cities: Gondar, Axum, and Lalibela. This is, by far, Ethiopia’s main attraction.

Where to Begin

You can start this tour in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital city. Depending on your time, you can either visit each location comfortably by plane, or be more adventurous and go by land.

KebraNagastIf you choose the former, Ethiopian Airlines has direct flights to and from each of the three locations. Their planes are very new and comfortable and the service onboard is top class. Besides, all three destinations are only a short flight away from Addis Ababa, about one hour on average.

However, if you have more time available and wish to be more adventurous, I strongly recommend you hire a driver with an all-terrain vehicle and hit the road. Even though most parts of the country do not have paved roads, the scenery is spectacular, especially when you drive through the majestic Semien Mountains.

European Elegance in Gondar

The first place along the historical route is Gondar, located in the northwestern part of the country. As you enter the city you will discover the art-deco style of many structures built in the 1930’s during the short-lived Italian occupation.

Castle in Gondar, Ethiopia

Castle in Gondar, Ethiopia

But the real magnet that draws people to Gondar is a very well preserved medieval castle which belonged to Emperor Fasilides when he made Gondar the capital of Ethiopia in the 1600’s. Many guide books refer to this place as the Camelot of Africa because the architecture of the castle is very similar to those in Great Britain.

Near the castle, in Gondar, you can find the Debre Berhan Selassie church or “Trinity at the Mountain of Light”. This religious site was built in the 17th century and inside you can admire the colorful paintings of Haile Meskel, one of Ethiopia’s most revered artists. Here in Gondar, you can take advantage of your time and try the injera, the traditional Ethiopian dish.

Pilgrimage to Axum

Semien Mountains

Semien Mountains

After you visit Gondar, the drive to Axum is about six hours heading north, close to the border with Eritrea. You’ll be driving through the awe-inspiring Semien Mountains National Park, yet another spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll know you’ve entered the mountain range the moment you start smelling the fresh scent of eucalyptus.

Stelae Park in Axum, Ethiopia

Stelae Park in Axum

Axum is to the Orthodox Christians what the Vatican is for the Catholics. It is a holy site where you’ll find the most important church in Ethiopia, the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this church is that it is said to house the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the tablets with the Ten Commandments.

Other sites you must visit in Axum are the ruins of the Palace of Queen Sheba and the impressive Axumite monuments at the Northern Stelae Park. If you are invited, attend a coffee ceremony, this is one of the most beautiful expressions of friendliness in the Ethiopian culture.

Be Indiana Jones in Lalibela

Bet Giorgis Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Bet Giorgis Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Saving the best for last — your final destination of the historical route is Lalibela, famous around the world for its rock-hewn monolithic churches built during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Lalibela is often labeled as the “Petra” of Africa due to the similarity of architectural structures that exist in Petra, Jordan.

Each of the 12 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela has a name and a purpose, but the two most important for both archeologists and tourists are Bet Medhane Alem (the biggest rock-hewn monolithic church in the world) and Bet Giorgis, or Saint George, the best preserved of all.

Don’t be surprised if you start singing the Indiana Jones tune unintentionally as you walk through the hallways of this fascinating archeological complex. It’s almost inevitable!

Wines

Believe it or not, Ethiopia actually has a wine industry. Their most famous red wines are the Gouder and the Dukam, both produced by government initiative. Even though there are no native grapes in the region, the Gouder is made from a blend of grapes and has a strong, dry taste almost going towards a Côtes-du-Rhône.

Among other wines, Ethiopia also produces the Tej, a golden color wine made out of honey. It is semi-sweet to sweet and the alcohol content by volume varies from 13 to 14%.

Planning your trip

If this article entices you to make the journey to Ethiopia, know that it’s a place you won’t regret visiting! Remember that Ethiopia is located in a politically fragile region of the world, so as with all destinations, it is highly recommended you ‘put your ear to the ground’ and check travel reports/warnings before you go.

Unless you have several weeks or all the time in the world to travel around Ethiopia by bus, we suggest going through a reputable travel agency to book your trip. Hiring a private guide/driver during your time in Ethiopia is very affordable. A recommended travel agency is Paradise Ethiopia Travel.

Teanaste’lle’n and have a safe trip.