Trek Talk - ElderTreks Blog

 

Geographically, there's a reason Peter Jackson chose this location to shoot the Lord of the Rings movies, and not just because New Zealand is his own backyard. This 'backyard' boasts incredibly beautiful and diverse geography in a relatively small area, where you can find alpine, tropical, temperate and maritime landscapes within miles of each other on the two main island landmasses that make up the country. The south island is the larger of the two islands, and is split down the centre by the Southern Alps which has 18 peaks over 9,000 feet, deep fiords and glaciers.

The north island has fewer mountains, but is home to volcanoes and the country's largest lake, formed in the caldera of one of the world's most active supervolcanoes.

The geography is spectacular, worthy of any shutterbug's tripod, or adventure lover's adrenaline rush. (Not to mention the wildlife spotting in those rainforests, marine habitats and inland waterways.)

Whether your passion is capturing landscapes through your lens; rafting or hiking, through those landscapes; or just spotting the creatures who live there, New Zealand is the destination for you.

But it would be a mistake to judge New Zealand only by its physical beauty. New Zealand is beautiful on the inside, too. Culturally, its population is a mixture of Maori, European, and Asian people, whose influence is seen in everything from the government system to the arts and the cuisine.

The Maori's Polynesian influence and tribal heritage is celebrated in traditional crafts such as carving and weaving, particularly their cloaks made of flax and patterned with unique black, red and white geometric shapes. Their songs and dance performances also reflect this south Pacific heritage, and if you've been to luau's in Hawaii, you'll notice similarities in some Maori food and the fire pit cooking technique where meat is wrapped and buried with hot coals to roast. Visiting a Maori festival is always a highlight of any visit to New Zealand.

The European immigrants who followed Abel Tasman (the Dutch explorer who first sighted New Zealand in 1642) brought their own influences to New Zealand as well, especially the British, as the country is officially part of the Commonwealth. Architecturally, you'll find beautifully restored colonial buildings in old Auckland, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Parliament Buildings in Wellington, and of course Botanical Gardens, which seem to sprout up wherever the British settled.


Wellington’s Botanic Gardens

What all this means for the traveller is the opportunity to visit a country of delightful contrasts: somewhat familiar yet different in many ways; discovered, yet undiscovered due to its remote location; and a country that is both urban and rural, yet maintains a friendly vibe in both big cities and small towns. After all, Kiwi's are prolific travellers themselves, so they understand that hospitality and adventure go hand in hand.

Experience a little of that hospitality first-hand with our New Zealand adventure. Learn more here.

Jane Canapini - June 29, 2015
 


Sighisoara, Romania

When you hear the word “Transylvania”, and the only structure that comes to mind is a turreted castle inhabited by a blood-sucking night creature, it might be time to get to know a completely different Transylvania. Castles, indeed, are part of the Romanian and Hungarian landscapes that make up this region, (even if Dracula isn’t), but there are also other architectural gems to be discovered here, including Saxon villages, Gothic churches, painted monasteries, and palaces that not only hold priceless works of art, but are works of art themselves.

Setting the Record Straight

Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, never even laid eyes on Bran Castle, the Romanian landmark that has become associated for decades with his dark protagonist. Nor did Vlad the Impaler, a brutal 15th century ruler of Walachia who is often credited as the real-life inspiration for the vampire, ever call it home – at least not for very long. (He did spend a couple of months there in prison.) 


Bran Castle by Todor Bozhinov

But despite the fact that the vampire legend has little to do with its actual history, a visit to Transylvania wouldn’t be complete without a visit Bran Castle, not only because of its imposing location on the top of a cliff, but also because it is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture with its turreted towers, charming courtyard and unique construction that combines both wood and stone.


Bran Castle’s charming courtyard Photo by Mark Ahsmann

Brag-worthy Buildings in Brasov

One of seven main Saxon cities in Romania, Brasov boasts a beautiful downtown square surrounded by buildings that date back to the 15th century, including the Black Church, one of the most famous examples of Gothic architecture in Transylvania, and the second most visited site in the country after Bran Castle. 


Brasov’s Black Church Photo by Daniel Pandelea

Initially named Saint Mary’s Church, the church became known as the Black Church (Biserica Neagra) after a fire in 1689 that blackened its walls. Considered the greatest place of worship in Romania, the church can house 5,000 people under a ceiling that soars over 200 feet, with a 4000-pipe organ that is one of the most impressive in Europe.


Gothic Details of the Black Church Photo by Sailko

Bucovina’s Painted Monasteries

Travel deeper into the heart of Transylvania, and you discover the painted monasteries – one-of-a-kind examples of Byzantine art and architecture, seven of which have been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. 

Covered with colourful frescoes inside and out, these beautifully decorated 15th and 16th century buildings visually bring to life the story of the Bible, from Genesis to stories of the saints, and even a few sinners. Creating the frescoes involved a complex blend of art and science, since the pigments themselves were made by crushing natural minerals and even semi-precious stones, and then applying the colour to still-wet plaster. The drying process of the plaster reacting with these minerals fixed the colours, making them more durable than other Renaissance church examples which used organic materials such as egg as a binder and whose colours tend to degrade with time. 


Interior Frescos at Voronet monastery  Photo by Cristian Bortes

Hungary’s Architectural Jewel

Composers and poets have often romanticized the Danube River, but the city of Budapest, which lies on the shores of the famous river’s Danube Bend, is music to the eyes for architecture lovers. Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classic, Art Nouveau – you name the architectural style and you’ll find it here. 

Budapest’s Royal Palace details
Budapest’s Royal Palace details

Particularly beautiful are the Opera House, the Parliament Buildings, Buda Castle and the Royal Palace in the Castle Hill district. 


The Opera House Interior Photo by Andrea Puggioni

These last two palaces are home to world-class art collections that are as beautiful as the buildings in which they are housed. And as a city known for its spa culture, Budapest is one of the few places where you will find Turkish spas and baths from the 1500’s that are still functioning, making them some of the most historic and atmospheric structures in the city.


Interior of Kiraly Baths, Budapest

Beyond the Legend

Transylvania has much more to offer the traveller than dark fantasies, and architecture is only the beginning when it comes to its cultural and historical treasures – not to mention the region’s gorgeous geography. Learn more about our trip to this fascinating region here.

Jane Canapini - April 28, 2015
 

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