Neuschwanstein Castle: A Visitor’s Guide

Few places in the world can be compared to the Neuschwanstein castle, and believe me this is not an overstatement. Only a few hours away from Munich, this fantasy-like castle constructed by the ‘mad’ king offers an unforgettable experience, one which can be expanded through a better understanding of the history behind the king and the castle themselves.

Here is my personal guide on how to get to the castle from Munich, as well as a little bit of background on who Ludwig II was, what he went through, and what the Neuschwanstein castle is all about.

The Story Behind the Neuschwanstein

The Legacy of King Ludwig II

His Highness, King Ludwig II, ruler of Bavaria, had already become a sort of a legend while he was still alive. The shy and introverted dreamer was early in his life brought to kingship and forced to deal with a huge loss in the war against Prussia.

Stripped of his political roles, he then sank into a fantasy world out of which he would never come out. The now vassal, far removed from reality, decided to materialize his fantasy world around him, where he would become a true king. And thus the idea of Neuschwanstein was born.

The story becomes even more tragic with what followed. Due to increasing debts and irrational mismanagement of the royal treasure, which was almost entirely spent on the creation of magical places, the Bavarian government decided to depose the king through an illegal move not provided for in the Bavarian constitution.

The king was officially declared insane and deposed by the Bavarian government in 1886, with the help of a sponsored psychiatrist, who on the next day after the king’s hospitalization, was found dead together with the king on Lake Starnberg.

The Construction of the Neuschwanstein Castle

Ludwig II spent most of his infant years at the Hohenschwangau castle, where he fell in love with the beautiful mountain scenery. After becoming king, he decided to build his own fantasy castle in this place which was so dear to him.

On the narrow mountain ridge near his father’s castle, there were the ruins of two small castles: Vorder- and Hinterhohenschwangau. It seemed like the perfect place to begin construction. The foundation stone of his fantasy castle was laid in 1869, but the castle itself would only be inaugurated eleven years later (1880), with the king moving in only in 1884, two years before being deposed.

How to Get to the Neuschwanstein Castle

Munich to Hohenschwangau

To reach the Neuschwanstein Castle, you have two main options, either going there by car or by train. By car is the easier option, as you only need to take the A96 route, and drive yourself for roughly two hours towards the parking lot of the castle. In case you don’t have a car, you should take the following routes:

Train: München Hbf → Füssen Hbf
Füssen → Steingarden / Garmisch-Partenkirchen (RVA/OVG 73) or
Füssen → Schwangau (RVA/OVG 78)
exiting at:
Hohenschwangau/Castles – Alpseestrasse (Alpsee Street)

Keep in mind that the cheapest option to go from Munich to Füssen is by purchasing a Bayern Ticket, which grants you a 2-way transfer. Also, the actual distance between Füssen and Hohenschwangau is 5km, so taking a taxi to the castle is also possible.

Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein Castle

Once you arrive in Hohenschwangau, it’s time to purchase your ticket. Ideally, you should have bought it beforehand here. But in case you haven’t, all you need to do is go to the ticket center by the foot of the mountain.

After buying the tickets, all you need to do is walk to the castle, which can be quite tiresome for some. It’s an uphill walk of almost half an hour. In case you either do not wish to suffer this fate, or someone involved in the trip has any sort of physical impediment, you have two main options: a bus trip or a carriage ride. Honestly, the carriage ride is not that expensive and adds to the experience, so I would go for that.

Outside the Neuschwanstein Castle

The View of the Castle

Throughout most of the journey, from the moment you drop in Hohenschwangau to the entrance gate, you will have some sort of a view of the castle. The tiny distant towers slowly become larger and larger until this glorious structure materializes in front of you from behind the trees.

Its exterior appearance itself is already worth the visit. From it, we can already see that Ludwig II was not joking when he told everyone he intended to build a fantasy-like castle to honor his medieval heroes.

The View from the Hill

As glorious as the view of the castle is the view of the surroundings from its ledges. From up here, you can see the Alps, the large Alpsee and the little Schwansee lakes, as well as the tiny Hohenschwangau castle where Ludwig spent most of his early years.

Up the mountain, outside of the castle, there are many metal ledges where you can see the whole natural environment surrounding the place. At some specific places, you will even find fixed binoculars to help you admire the farther sights.

Inside the Neuschwanstein Castle

While taking pictures of the outside of the castle is allowed, it is strictly forbidden to take photographs or videos inside the castle. If you wish to take photographs or film, you need formal permission from the administration, and it comes with a fee.

For those reasons, I will be using the photographs of Joseph Albert, the photographer of Ludwig II, to illustrate the most beautiful rooms in the castle.

Wohnzimmer (Drawing Room)

This large saloon was mainly utilized by Ludwig II to spend time with family and guests. The room is divided by columns, wherein one side we find an alcove furnished with chairs. The curtains of this room are made of blue silk and embroidered with swans and lilies.

The paintings on the walls refer to the Lohengrin Saga, who is a character in German Arthurian literature, as in related to the legend of King Arthur. Lohengrin was the son of Parzival (Percival), and a knight of the Holy Grail sent in a boat pulled by swans to rescue a damsel who can never ask his identity.

Ludwig II had a personal connection with the story, mostly due to the fact that the swan was his heraldic animal, as he was the Knight of Schwangau (swan village).

Arbeitszimmer (Study Room)

Upon entering this room, we can see Ludwig’s study table right at the center of the room, where his writing set still can be found. The cupboard in this room used to contain the castle plans and drafts.

The paintings on the walls refer to Tannhäuser, a knight and poet who is said to have found the Venusberg, the subterranean home of Venus, where he spent a year worshipping her. Tannhäuser, filled with remorse, travels to Rome to ask Pope Urban IV for papal forgiveness. The Pope then replies that it would be easier for his papal staff to blossom, than for him to be forgiven for his heresy. Three days after Tannhäuser left, Urban’s staff bloomed with flowers.

Schlafzimmer (Bedroom)

Ludwig’s bedroom is one of the most ornamented rooms in the whole castle. The royal bed was carved in neo-gothic style and the seat coverings sewed in blue silk, with embroidered and appliquéd lions, swans, crowns, lilies, as well as the Bavarian coat of arms.

The paintings on the walls refer to the legend of Tristan and Isolde, the famous tragedy of adulterous love. According to legend, after defeating the mighty knight Morholt, Tristan returns to his home country with the beautiful Isolde for his uncle, the reigning king, to marry. The tragedy begins when, on their way home, both ingest a love potion which causes them to fall madly in love with each other.

Speisezimmer (Dining Room)

As the name suggests, this is the room where Ludwig II had his meals. It served as an entrance to the apartments of the king, where people entered through an oak-paneled anteroom. It even has its own electric bell system, which Ludwig used to call upon his servant in charge.

The paintings on the walls refer to the legendary Bavarian knight and poet, Wolfram von Eschenbach, who was responsible for the writing of the Parzival (Percival) epic; as well as the motif of the battle of Siegfried against the Dragon, as detailed in the epic Nibelungenlied (the Song of the Nibelungs).

Sängersaal (Singers’ Hall)

The Singers’ Hall was one of Ludwig’s favorite rooms in the whole castle, second only to the Throne Hall. It’s gigantic size, occupying a great part of the fourth floor of the castle, signifies the importance of what happened here: it was the king’s personal sanctuary to the knights and legends of medieval times. Here, musical performances of the epics of Tannhäuser, Parzival and Lohengrin took place, to honor the history of Bavaria.

All over the walls of this room, you will see allegories to medieval German myths, including and actually focusing on the ones mentioned here before. The hall itself provides a sight that no words can accurately describe, especially due to the artistic weight it has.

Thronsaal (Throne Hall)

Finally, we reach the Throne Hall. Inspired by Byzantine churches, it was built so to represent the role that Ludwig believed he was born to play, that of king by God’s grace, a mediator between the divine and the mundane.

This colossal hall occupies the third and fourth floors and the entire west section of the castle. It hosts a massive four meter tall chandelier, descending from a glorious cupola. On the apse area we can see Jesus Christ together with the Twelve Apostles, acompanied by six holy kings.

This hall was never intended to be used for ceremonial or State occasions, it was solely built to represent how Ludwig saw himself as king. Walking into the hall is a unique experience which grants us access to the deepest beliefs of the Bavarian monarch.

Prague Scams: How Not To Ruin Your Prague Trip

Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the whole of Europe. It attracts millions of tourists every year. But together with the popularity, the number of scams and tourist traps also grew with time.

After visiting Prague a couple of times and talking to locals about the situation, I came up with a short list of things to avoid when visiting this marvelous city, so you can enjoy your trip nice and safe.

Astronomical Clock

The first item in this list is not a scam per se, but something to keep in mind. The Prague Oroloj is, of course, a marvel of engineering and has a loaded history attached to it; but it does not justify looking at it for hours in the middle of a crowded square.

You can see in the image above the number of people that stop there just to look at the clock or take pictures of it during the night. First of all, if you go during the day the crowd will be almost unexistent, if you go early in the morning before the sun rises, even more so. Second of all, there are many other marvelous places in Prague that deserve as much attention (or perhaps even more).

If you are exploring the Prague old town, chances are you are going to walk in front of this clock at least 5x per day, so don’t just stop and stare for hours, it is not worth it and honestly a bit cringe.

Delicious Trdelník

See the delicious Trdelník in the picture above? Doesn’t it look delicious? Doesn’t it make you drool? Yeaaaah, this is actually a Kürtőskalács (chimney cake) I ate in Budapest.

You will see these being sold everywhere in Prague, and tourists buying them in mass, thinking it’s a traditional Czech snack. In reality, they have little to do with Czech culture and have been recently imported from Hungary.

I am not so sure why tourists bought into this trap, but now it’s a mania (check it on Instagram). The worst part is that these knock-offs are not even that tasty, and a good part of them end up in the trash bins of the city.

Do yourself and the city of Prague a favor, instead of getting a Trdelník, simply enter one of the many Lokáls across the city and enjoy real traditional Czech food and beer.

Money Exchange

Now, this is an important one to keep in mind, in case you don’t wanna get robbed of almost half your money. Yes, we are talking about money exchange companies in Prague.

A lot of exchange places (and this includes machines, especially) have huuuuge commission rates for the conversion of currencies. These rates can be as high as freaking 50%, which is absurd.

And please, UNDER ABSOLUTE NO CIRCUMSTANCE exchange money with random people in the street. There is a great chance you are buying old Belarussian rubles that are not even usable in Belarus anymore, which means you are losing 100% of your money, and thus being robbed.

In case you want a place where you are 100% safe when converting your cash, you should look for one of the shops from Exchange. They are very trustworthy and can be found in many places around Prague. The one in the image above is on the Franz Kafka square, near the Old Town square.

Marijuana Shops

Buying Marijuana (or Cannabinoids in general) in the Czech Republic is a crime. And yes, you can be arrested for it. So when you see the many shops around the city center selling Marijuana leaves and green souvenirs, you are being sold just that: a green souvenir with no cannabis inside.

Prague is not a drug paradise, as it is sometimes advertised in cringe movies. There are plenty of other things to enjoy in the city and to go there to try to get a cheap ‘trip’ is disrespectful to the history and culture of the place. If you wanna have fun with your friends, you are much better off going for a beer taste test of some of the many great traditional beers from the country.

Absinthe Shops

Similar to the situation with Cannabis is the one with Absinth. You will see stores throughout the whole city selling these green Absinth bottles for very cheap.

Although Absinthe is currently legal in the Czech Republic, believe me, it is not this cheap. Most of these stores are selling cheap Vodka with green colorants inside. Yeah, what a bummer.

How to know if you are drinking real Absinth? You can easily recognize a licorice flavor coming from its Anise and Fennel contents, while a substance called Wormwood will make you a bit extra drunk when compared to other distilled drinks. Absinth absolutely does not taste like Vodka.

Campanile Di San Marco: The Highest Point In Venice

The Campanile di San Marco is one of the most iconic buildings in Venice. Situated near the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale, it stands at 98.6 meters tall (323 ft) and provides an incredible view of the whole region.

St. Mark’s Square

Apr-Oct 08:30 – 21:00
Nov-Mar 09:30 – 17:30
1st-15th Apr 09:00 – 17:00
Entrance Price:

The History Behind The Campanile

The Magyar invasions from 898 and 899 led to the short occupation of important cities in the region, such as Cittanova, Padova and Treviso. Although the Venetians ultimately defeated the Magyars, the city remained vulnerable to attacks, especially from Slavic pirates who very often attacked Venetian ships on the Adriatic sea.

To solve the problem, Doge Pietro Tribuno ordered the construction of a series of fortifications around the city. One of these structures was to be a huge watch tower on St. Mark’s Square.

The View From the Campanile

From the top of the Campanile you will be able to see many kilometers alway, and as consequence, the whole city of Venice and its adjecent islands.

From the southern side, you can see the rest of Piazza di San Marco, as well as the rooftops of the Museo Correr and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marziana. Up ahead you can see the entrance to the famous Grand Canal, with the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute on the edge of the island.

From the northern side, you can see the Basilica di San Marco and the Torre dell’Orologio, as well as the entirety of the San Marco neighborhood. If you look further behind, you can see up until the continent, which gives you an idea of the reach the tower has.

Visiting the Campanile at Night

In my personal opinion, the best time to visit the campanile is at night. You will not only be able to see how bright the city gets, with the light reflecting on the waves, but also the starry sky. A sky that attracted many throughout the centuries, including Galileo Galilei. A demonstration of his famous telescope was done at the tower and until today, the it holds a sign that says:

Galileo Galilei con il suo cannocchiale
da qui il 21 agosto 1609
allargava gli orizzonti dell’uomo
nel quarto centenario.

A dedicatory written by the city, which translated to English means:

Galileo Galilei with his telescope
from here on August 21, 1609
widened the horizons of man
in the fourth centenary.

Rila Monastery: A Sacred Place In Bulgaria

The holiest place in Bulgaria is a must-see for anyone visiting Sofia, or even Bulgaria as a whole. The Rila Monastery lived and bled together with the Bulgarian people, therefore trying to understand Bulgaria without understanding its religion and customs is in senseless endeavor.

Although the Rila Monastery is particularly beautiful during spring, given the amount of nature surrounding it, visiting it during Christmas is an old tradition among Bulgarians. So I would suggest joining them.

St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila)

Ivan Rilski was already a saint when he was still alive. The holiest man in Bulgarian achieved this through performing unbelievable miracles.

At the age of 25 he became a priest in the St. Dimitrii Monastery, but after accepting the life of a monk he decided to become a hermit and live in solitude and prayer inside a cave at the Rila mountains.

He could not stand to see people suffering, so in an attempt to help them, he managed to perform a series of miracles. This brought him unwanted attention, as he wanted to live the life of a hermit.

The Founding of the Monastery

Believers and supporters from all over Bulgaria set up camps around the cave in which Ivan Rislki lived, seeking blessings from the holy man. This eventually led to the construction of the Rila Monastery.

Ever since its creation, Rila Monastery has been supported by the Bulgarian Tsars. Large donations were made by all the Tsars from the Second Bulgarian Empire up to the Ottoman Invasion.

The Monastery has become a cultural and spiritual center for Bulgarians, as it lived Bulgarian history together with its people through the highs and the lows.

This was proved at most during the times of Ottoman occupation, when the Monastery served as a depository of Bulgarian language and culture in times when those were being publicly destroyed by the foreign invader.

It even served as a hidding spot for revolutionaries from the period of the Bulgarian Liberation, giving shelter to famous revolutionary characters such as Vasil Levski himself.

The Rila Monastery Today

The Monastery today contains a main church, a residential part and a museum. You cannot really visit the residences, as those are reserved for the monks living there, but you should definitely see the church and the museum.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside of the church, so be respectful. There you can purchase candles and light them for both living as well as passed-away relatives. At the very center of the church, there is a major golden device that channels good spiritual energies onto the person standing on the center of it. It is said that if you stand under it, you will receive energy from the heavens themselves.

On the back, outside of the complex, you can follow a path that will take you to a beautiful river, with a beautiful sight of the mountain and forests surrounding it. There will also be some kittens following you through the path, something cute that adds up to the whole experience.

In case you are visiting during the winter, which in my opinion is one of the best times to see the Rila Monastery, you can take a break outside and try some Bulgarian traditional snacks.

My favorite is the Mekitsa, a flatbread made with kneaded dough that is then deep-fried in hot oil. The dough usually consists of flour, water, salt, oil, eggs, yogurt, and a leavening agent. Definitely very warming, ideal for the cold mountain temperature.

5 Reasons Why ‘Acqua Alta’ Is The Loveliest Bookstore In Venice

About The Acqua Alta Bookstore

Named “the most beautiful bookstore in the whole of Italy“, Libreria Acqua Alta is a must-see when visiting Venice. Why? An intriguing atmosphere with a creative solution for salvaging the books from the threat posed by the constant floodings in Venice: putting the books on gondolas and bathtubs.

Apart from the curious look and atmosphere, Libreria Acqua Alta is the best spot in town to get your hand on local books written in their native language, which will give you genuine insights into Venetian history and culture.

Why The Best Bookstore In Venice

#1 Here You Can Buy Books On A Budget

Along the narrow corridors of Libreria Acqua Alta, you will find many second-hand books that can be as cheap as 3 EUR. Those are not only novels but also treatises on politics, sociology, philosophy, etc. There are no limits to the rabbit-holes that these books will suck you into, opening your field of knowledge to parts of history that are mostly unknown to foreigners.

Note that most of the books here will be written in Italian. But take this as an opportunity to learn the language and dig deeper into the vast culture of Venice and Italy as a whole.

#2 Here You Can Get A Nice Canal View

The fire exit is one of the most famous parts of Libreria Acqua Alta, sou you will always see plenty of people taking pictures here. It gives access to the canal on the back of the bookstore, so you will eventually see boats passing by here.

You will spot it when you see a large green door, with the name of the bookstore written on it with yellow color. If you have the courage, you can climb the ramp and sit on the gondola that is resting outside, but be careful since it is quite unstable.

#3 Here You Can Buy Nice Souvenirs

If you are looking for nice souvenirs and prints to take home, Acqua Alta is the place for you. Together with the Museum shop at the Palazzo Ducale, this is one of my favorite places to get souvenirs in town.

If you are interested in prints, you can get copies of ancient maps of the city and paintings of beautiful sights across Venice done by locals. If you are looking for something more tangible and that you can take with you anywhere, they also have beautiful golden keychains and pins with the Lion of St. Mark. 

#4 Here You Can Take Great Photos

Another one of the most famous parts of the Acqua Alta Bookstore is definitely the staircase on the back. It consists of a pile of books that were irreversibly damaged by the floodings of the city, piled together to give access to the view of the canal on the back of the bookstore.

You cannot underestimate how famous this place is. Throughout the whole year, this place with be filled with tourists taking pictures on the top of the staircase. If you wanna have some alone time here, make sure you come early in the morning or right before the closing time. Just make sure you leave in time, so you do not annoy the owners.

#5 Here You Can Pet Cats

A very lovely aspect of this bookstore is the owner’s cats. They are constantly strolling around, moving their hips from left to right on top of the piles of books throughout the bookstore.

If I am not mistaken, there are five in total. They stay in the bookstore the whole day, but depending on when you come, they might be taking a nap, so you might not be able to see all of them at the same time. Either way, they make visiting the bookstore a much cozier experience.

Book Recommendations

The books shown above are close to the entrance, laying on the gondola that rests inside the bookstore. They all come from the publisher Edizioni Helvetia and offer a very easy read for beginners in Italian, while at the same time telling very curious stories reflecting the history of Venice.

Claudio Dell’Orso – Venezia Arcana
This book is for those eager to learn about what Venice has that is most unusual: the evocation of the devil by the courtesan Veronica Franco with the King of France, Edgar Allan Poe’s black agenda found by Baron Corvo, the head that screams in Lista dei Bari, the young Stalin at the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, deposits of human bones in the lagoon islands, the mysterious fall of boulders in Campo San Boldo, haunted houses and UFO sightings.

Espedita Grandesso – Fiol d’un can!
Although Venice has a very particular condition, being on the water, the city is not rid of animals. This book tells 17 tales of animals that left their mark on the city’s history: old restaurants perpetually keeping an eye on by dogs ready to take the launch of a bite and run away, the corroded semi-abandoned warehouses where cats hide and fight their eternal war against the brown rats, the dark artisan shops that give onto the streets where sneaky cats from their nook keep the owners company while they work, etc.

Ernesto Maria Sfriso – Serenissima
This book describes 56 portraits of Venetian women who represented the spirit of an age or a particular cultural climate with their way of being, starting from the distant foundation of the lagoon to the present day. Not only famous and widely described figures from historiography, such as the Queen of Cyprus Caterina Cornaro and the courtesan Veronica Franco, but also common people that are almost forgotten such as the rower Maria Boscolo, the embroiderers Lucrezia and Vittoria Torre, the impudaressa Elisabetta Lazzari or the tabacchina Maria Teresa Trevisan.

Espedita Grandesso – Fantasmi di Venezia
This book describes 17 damned legends illustrated by nineteenth-century prints and accompanied by a brief historical-artistic apparatus that orients the reader to their “crime scenes”. Examples of these legends are the remains of a mysterious skeleton, found in the church of Santo Stefano, the story of a man who pretends to be a beggar to earn alms and gives vent to an abominable vice, and the man in charge of delivering some precious and top-secret documents, stumbling upon the Austrian militia and confessing only at the hands of a not so holy abbot.

Vaporetto On The Grand Canal: A Cheap Gondola Alternative

What A Vaporetto Is

To put it short, a Vaporetto (batèlo or vaporino for the locals) is a waterbus that functions as the main public transport vehicle within the city of Venice. They operate not only on the main island but also has connections to Murano, Burano, Giudecca, and Lido.

The Vaporetto is not a necessity when visiting Venice, as most of the city’s attractions are located on the main island. But if you want to make things quicker and also visit other amazing places that can be found in the other Venetian islands, getting a Vaporetto ticket is the way to go.

Vaporetto vs. Gondola

The first and most obvious thing to compare between the Gondolas and the Vaporetti is the price. While a single Vaporetto ride will cost you 7.5 EUR for up to 75 minutes, riding a Gondola will cost you between 80 and 120 EUR for half an hour, depending on the time of the day, the night being more expensive.

The other aspect we should take a look at is privacy. While in the Gondola you will be alone (or together with your significant other), the idea is that in the Vaporetto, given that it is a public means of transport, you will be in a crowded place. That is partially true, but if you know at which time to hop in, as well as which line to take, you will find yourself alone in the front seats, enjoying the best views in town.

Access To The Vaporetto

The first step for riding the Vaporetto is choosing your ticket. ACTV, the company that runs the Vaporetti, has many different types of tickets available, mostly time-based:

  • Single Ticket (75min) – 7.5 EUR
  • 1-Day Ticket (24h) – 20 EUR
  • 2-Day Ticket (48h) – 30 EUR
  • 3-Day Ticket (72h) – 40 EUR
  • 7-Day Ticket – 60 EUR

Apart from the main ticket, you can ride the Vaporetti at a discount or even for “free” when purchasing specific city cards such as the Rolling Venice or the City Pass. If you are visiting Venice for more than a day, I highly recommend getting the City pass, as it not only gives you unlimited access to the Vaporetti, but also a free pass to all the city’s civic museums, most of the churches and also the Doge’s Palace.

You can purchase your tickets online and get a print version in the machines near the Vaporetto stations, or simply buy your ticket at one of the Venezia Unica kiosks around town. Remember that before every trip, you need to validate your ticket/card on the machines right in front of the stations, this is mandatory and if not done will lead to very expensive fines.

The Best Vaporetto Route

When it comes to the best Vaporetto line to enjoy the sights Venice has to offer, my definite pick is:

Line 2: S. Zaccaria → P. Roma → San Marco (8:13→15:49 – Daily)

There are many different reasons for this choice: not only this line has many stops across the Grand Canal, but it also has very nice sits right in front of it. If you get it during working hours, and especially during the low season, you will be alone there enjoying the canal just for yourself.

Among the places that you will be able to go through with this line are the Giudecca island, San Tomà, the Accademia gallery, and of course San Marco. Apart from that, this line stops both in the Tronchetto Bus Station and in the Santa Lucia Train Station.

Line 2 at night will be slightly more limited when it comes to stops but is just as amazing. Also, by going at night, you will also have high chances of getting all front seats to yourself.

Ca’ Foscari: The Place Where Art, Architecture And Education Meet

Ca’ Foscari is of high importance to me personally. Not only it was my gateway to living in Venice, but it has taught me art, philosophy, and management. For those reasons, I am in eternal debt to this brilliant institution.

Founded on the 6th of August 1868, as the “Scuola Superiore di Commercio” (Advanced School for Commerce), it was the first Italian institution to deal with advanced education in Business and Economics.

It is located in the palace of the Foscari family, a Gothic building on the waterfront of the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro sestiere. The building itself was built for the doge Francesco Foscari in 1453 and designed by the architect Bartolomeo Bon. 

The Portal

One of the most important pieces in the building is right at the entrance, and that is the portal. Made of Istrian stone, it has a rectangular shape in the lower part and an arched lunette inflected in the upper part. The Foscari coat of arms is inside the lunette.

The portal was recently restored, in 2008 to be precise, by some recent graduates of the course of Sciences and Technologies of Restoration, coordinated by Professor Biscontin.

The Building

The Casa delle due Torri, where the university building is currently located, was a Byzantine-style classical monument that was known in the city for its position “facing the Canal” and for the two side towers that gave it a very unique appearance. It was demolished to make way for the house of the Foscari family.

The construction of Ca’ Foscari began in 1453. As mentioned before, the building is attributed to Bartolomeo Bon, famous architect who also created the Porta della Carta in the Palazzo Ducale.

Compared to the Casa delle due Torri, substantial modifications were made, including the addition of a second piano nobile; the main courtyard was enlarged, which is now actually the largest belonging to a private house with 940 squared meters, being only smaller to the one in the Palazzo Ducale.

During the fall of the Republic of Venice, when the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Habsburg Austria invaded the city, Ca’ Foscari took a hit.

Until today, the cannonballs used to attack the city are still stuck to the walls of the courtyard, both on the main building and on the staircase.

The Entrance Hall

The entrance hall of the building was reformed by Carlo Scarpa in 1936 when he designed the new glass wall entrance similar to the great hall on the second floor, the benched with the typical t-shape pattern, the handrail of the nineteenth-century stairway, as well as the lamps.

Mario Baratto Hall

On the second floor, you will find the Mario Baratto Hall, named after a famous professor of Italian literature and antifascist. Nowadays the hall is used for conferences, conventions, formal ceremonies, advanced training courses and important events of Ca’ Foscari University.

A great portal introduces the hall, with the Latin phrase “Studia Decus Ornamentumque Vitae” inscribed onto it, which stands for “study honors and equips life”. Several interventions have been also done here by Carlo Scarpa, such as the window, the boiserie, and the footboard.

Czech Beer: What You Need To Know Before Visiting Prague

Czech Beer Culture

Czechs take their beer very seriously, so there is an etiquette to it. First of all, always use the beer coaster, the waiters will definitely appreciate you helping keep the pub or table clean. Second of all, look into the eyes of the other person while toasting. Third, although Czechs usually say “čau” while toasting, meaning a simple “hey”, it is preferable that you say “na zdraví“, which in English translates into “to health”.

An important point is that Czech beer is categorized by degrees. The Balling scale is a measurement (expressed as °Balling) of the concentration of dissolved solids (mainly sugars) in a brewery wort. That means the higher the degree, the stronger the sweetness and flavor.

Czech Pilsner

Pilsner beer first appeared in the 19th century in the city of Plzeň. There, brewers discovered a bottom-fermenting yeast that produces a golden and more drinkable beer compared to stronger top-fermented ales from the time.

Pilsner Urquell started the production of its beer in 1842, and since then the Pilsner-style beer became so famous that most Czech breweries did not produce anything else until quite recently.

Czech Beer Foam

Many tourists who visit Prague, or even the Czech Republic in general, get surprised when they order a beer and get a glass full of foam, some might even feel cheated. But in reality, beer foam is traditional in the Czech Republic.

Foam is flavor, and for that reason, the way beer is poured into the glass makes a difference. The difference in taste comes from a different proportion between golden lager and dense foam. You can pour Pilsner beer in three main ways:

  • Hladinka: With three fingers of foam on top of the golden lager, Hladinka goes perfectly with rich foods like a grilled duck. The thick top of dense and wet foam gives the beer a perfect balance between sweetness and bitterness while sealing the freshness and flavor.
  • Šnyt: With three parts foam and one part empty at the top of the glass, the Šnyt is perfect for enjoying together with some hearty food such as goulash or a burger. 
  • Mliko: With the glass full of foam and just a bit of beer at the bottom, the Mliko tastes the best together with dessert. The excessive foam brings out the rich aromas from the hops and the sweetness from the malt. It will taste like a delicious sweet drink.

Where to Drink in Prague

Skautsky Institut

When you think of the Old Town Square, the first thing that comes to mind is expensive stuff and tourist traps. But there is a hidden place right by the Astronomical Clock that will definitely surprise you.

Skautsky Institute is a mostly student’s meetup place, located in a historical building with no logo and no name. To find it, you must first enter a golden door and climb to the first floor.

Here you can enjoy Pilsner beers at different degrees as well as other types of drinks, accompanied by snacks such as chips and toasts. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and if you are lucky to sit on the edge of the building, you will have an amazing view of the Old Town Square from the window.

Branická Formanka

Branická Formanka is quite small and hidden, so if you are not paying attention you might just pass over it. It is quite known for having the cheapest beer in Prague and a very cozy atmosphere.

This place is visited mostly by locals, so you will not be hearing any English. Remember that it is a very small place, so be polite and quiet if you visit it.

Here you can enjoy Branik beer. Branik is originally brewed at Prazske Pivovar, belonging to the same company as Staropramen and is today brewed by this brewery in Prague. This particular brand has a very bitter and hoppy taste with a touch of citrus.

Lokál U Bílé kuželky

Lokál serves traditional Czech food prepared with fresh and local ingredients and all of this in a very cozy atmosphere at their cellar. As you exit the Charle’s bridge, you will have to go against all tourists to find this place, but you will be rewarded with quality food and beer.

Here is the perfect place to enjoy and compare the Hladinka, Šnyt, and Mliko. You can order all three at the same time, but you will have to drink fast since the foam from Czech beers disappears in a split second. You can clearly see in the picture above that my Mliko was almost turning into a Šnyt, and believe me, I took the picture 10 seconds after it arrived at the table.

The Mystical Kukeri: Bulgaria’s Guardians

Need to get rid of some evil spirits? Bulgarians have an ancient and mystical tradition which helps them keeping these bad fellas away. Every last weekend of January, people gather in various parts of the country to perform a magical ritual that dates back millennia.

This is known as the Surva Festival, most characteristic of the city of Pernik, where people dress in sheepskin and wooden masks, as the Kukeri, to drive back to the forest all illnesses. The name kuker has been derived from Latin cuculla meaning “hood, cowl” or cucurum, “quiver” (i.e. in the sense of a container; an abbreviation of koukouros geros).

The Origins Of The Bulgarian Kukeri

The custom in Bulgarian lands has a long and rich history, it dates back to the times when the Thracians ruled these lands, where it was celebrated during the days of the Thracian god of merriment Dionysius. It was mostly a celebration of the agricultural new year, associated with plowing the fields.

The Surva Festival celebrates the passing of winter and the onset of summer fertility. And what better way to do it than wearing scary masks and huge costumes to scare away any ill-intended spirit trying to ruin your crop.

Most Kukeri masks have a wooden frame, multiple threads, pieces of multicolored fabrics, mirrors, shiny sequins and many other elements. They have to make it uglier and scarier to scare away evil.

The most ancient are the masks representing the species of ram, goat and bull. Their obligatory presence in the Surva Festival proves the thesis that the festival itself is originally related to the ancient worshipers of Dionysius

The Bulgarian Kukeri Mythology

Although the Surva Festival has its roots in Dionysian rituals, it adopted a more Bulgarian face with the passing of time. It started involving other Bulgarian mythological creatures apart from the Kukeri, as well as a narrative to teach morals to the young.

Legend says that hundreds of years ago, the land was plagued with evil spirits, which tormented people undisturbed. These demons were led by the most terrible of all creatures: Chuma, the plague.

Living was a constant state of despair, and no one knew how to solve the issue. But one day, mythical creatures known as the Samodivi water nymphs felt too sorry for us humans and decided to help… in their own way. The animation The Golden Apple explains it in a lovely way.

The Kuker’s Magical Bells

Not only it is visually appealing, but most of the attractiveness of the festival also comes from the sounds it creates. Since the legend states that the Kukers magic bells drive the evil spirits into the woods, to this day the same bells are used and can be heard all over the city.

The bells come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Each different frequency created by these bells is said to scare away a particular type of evil spirit. If you wish to one day experience this first person, prepare youself for the amazing sound!

The Pernik’s Surva Festival

The Surva Feestival is not only the biggest festival of Bulgaria, but also of the entire Balkan peninsula. Every year, it counts with close to 6.000 participants divided into around 100 groups from every folklore region of Bulgaria. Also important to notice is that it also involves participants from other European countries, as well as Asian and African.

The city of Pernik has been hosting the Surva festival since 1966. In 1985 the festival gained international-event status. In June 2009, Pernik was proclaimed as the European capital of Surva’s and Mummers.

And don’t get things wrong, the contestants come here to win! The awards for the three first places are the mystical gold, silver and bronze Kuker masks. The categories of the competition are the following:

  • Maintenance of the Local Tradition
  • Group Attractiveness
  • Masks and Costumes
  • Training in Tradition
  • Comprehensive Presentation
  • Best Mask (Child and Adult)

A Living Bulgarian Tradition

The Surva Festival is still alive after centuries, surviving many wars, occupations and the Christianization of Bulgaria. It is the pure expression of the culture of a people who suffered greatly throughout history, but managed to keep their sense of identity. Definitely worth seeing with your own eyes.