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The biggest monument in Europe: Völkerschlachtdenkmal

Leipzig October 1813. More than 600.000 soldiers from almost all the corners of Europe are about to clash in one of the bloodiest battles in history. 100,000 killed and a century later after the massacre, a massive landmark was erected on the battle field, not far from the place where Napoleon once issued his orders. The famous French Emperor suffered here a severe defeat that had to change the fate of the continent, forcing him to abandon his control over Germany.

The colossal structure of concrete and granite is 300 feet high (91 meters). In German it received the long and intimidating name of Völkerschlachtdenkmal, but it's also known as the Monument to the Battle of the Nations. At first it was designed as a memorial to commemorate the end of the battle, viewed also as a victory of Germanic people. This was part of the process that had to help creating the spirit of the country, to establish the future state of Germany.

But the winds of the times were blowing in a slightly different direction. The temptation was too obvious, and when they emerged, the Nazis put their hands on the pantheon. The monument soon became the meeting point for Hitler's rallies in Saxony:

Monument to the Battle of the Nations
Völkerschlachtdenkmal (or Völki for the friends) is not an Icelandic volcano, but an imposing landmark of European history. Image by Westend

Leipzig Monument
There is a fantastic view over the city and its surroundings from the monument's platform in the top. At the bottom there is also a pavilion with a museum about the Battle of Leipzig. Weapons, uniforms, equipments and more illustrate the war time situation, and gives an idea of a soldier's life during that period. Image by Sandeepsreevalsan

Leipzig Monumenten
To be honest, it looks to me like a jumbo upset vacuum cleaner.
Image by Snoopsmaus

Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig
Who's moving up there? Compare the size of this impressive circle of gigantic knights in the top with a man; I was lucky to catch what it seems an employee doing some maintenance works.

Battle of the Nations
A bit more of history: in 1813 the French army together with regiments from Poland, Italy and some Germanic states (the Confederation of the Rhine), were facing a larger coalition led by Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden. It was the decisive encounter of the War of the Sixth Coalition. Lithograph by the French painter Carle Vernet

Völkerschlacht bei Leipzig
- Paris, we've got a problem.
Images from the historical reenactment to commemorate the 200th anniversary of The Battle of Nations in 2013.
Photos by Bobertson and Westend

Biggest monument in Europe
The facade of the main door is carved with a sculpture of 39 feet (12 m) representing the archangel Michael, that according to the source in Wikipedia is considered as the War god of Germans. Image by Snoopsmaus

After the disaster in 1812 in Russia, Napoleon was not invincible anymore. Leipzig in 1813 was his first defeat in the battle field, Waterloo in 1815 would be the second and the last. Image by Elena

Battle of Nations Monument Leipzig
Inside the crypt, the herculean proportion of four enormous statues sparks your imagination. They can make you feel inside one of those mythical fortress or dungeons from fantasy literature, like the world of Lord of the Rings.

Leipzig Napoleon
The nearly 33 feet (10 meters) figures represent bravery, faith, sacrifice, and fertility, that are the supposedly qualities of German people from those romantic times. Image by Stefano Corso

Völki Leipzig
The passages and corridors inside the pyramid also have their charm. They can be a bit claustrophobic if there are too many people going up and down. To avoid these situations, an electronic system lets you know when the corridor is free.

Biggest Monument Germany
The dome is often used for concerts and other performances because of its excellent acoustics.
Image by Crosa

Nazis Battle of Leipzig
In 1945, with the fall of Nazi Germany, the monument was the last stronghold in the city for 150 stubborn SS troops. They were entrenched with ammo and food foodstuffs to last three months. At the end, these fanatics had to be convinced to surrender with the help of heavy artillery.

Nazis Leipzig
Nowadays, civic movements like the satiric Front Deutscher Äpfel (Front of German Apples), are the city's response to neo-Nazis, that may try to use the memorial for their demonstrations. Images by ¡0-8-15! and Daniel Arnold

Battle of Nations Leipzig
Apparently, during the communist era, it helped the monument to survive the fact that at the end, it was commemorating a war when Russians and Germans fought together against a common enemy. Image by Philipp

Leipzig Russian
If you walk to Völkerschlachtdenkmal from the city center, crossing Friedenspark, you may find a very unusual place for these latitudes: the Russian Orthodox architecture of St Alexei's church, build to the memory of the most than 20,000 soldiers from the Tsar's army that died in the conflict. Image by MOdmate

Leipzig memorial
This last image is from the celebrations Leipzig 1813-1913-2013, when a spectacular show was organized for the double anniversary of 200 years of the Battle of the Nations. Image by Westend

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Where was The Avengers: Age of Ultron filmed?

The second part of the Hollywood blockbuster The Avengers, is the most international Marvel movie yet. The filming took place basically in five countries: Italy, South Africa, South Korea, United Kingdom and Bangladesh.

The movie shows an impressive cast of stars, including Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark or Iron Man) (Robert Downey Jr.), Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury or the S.H.I.E.L.D. boss), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers or Captain America), and Chris Hemsworth (Thor). No contains spoilers!

The Avengers filming locations in Italy

The Avengers castle

Kuril Islands: 101 Fabulous volcanoes in Russia's Easternmost territory

There’s almost no tourism here. The brutal beauty of many of these frontier islands is reserved to sporadic military patrols, local fisherman and to the fearless wildlife. This is the extreme east, we're right on the edge of the rim of the Eurasian plate. On the line where this plate is slowly engulfing the Pacific one. A small lost world, where the most remote islands are almost left at the mercy of the elements.

Kuril Islands are about 100 volcanoes (40 still smoking) on 56 islands, which only 7 are inhabited with no more than 20,000 souls. They belong to Russia and you need a special permission to enter each island. Independent travel to some of the beautiful deserted islands is almost impossible, unless you've got a boat or an helicopter (and a large budget).

As many of this incredible landscapes are out of reach for most of us, we took the opportunity to show some images courtesy of Eugene Kaspersky, who organized a private expedition, touring the islands on a boat. You can find more information, photos and entertaining stories here, on his personal blog.

Kuril Volcanoes

Kayaköy, an abandoned Greek town in Turkey

Thanks to another traveler, I got to know about the existence of a ghost town perched in the mountains in Turkey, near the Lycian coast. I immediately added this promised land to my route, imagining myself cutting weeds with a machete before I could pass through.

Too fast too furious. The place has become already a tourist attraction, and you even have to pay an entrance fee to access to the ruins. But as you can check on the pictures below, definitely worth getting lost in what is left of Kayaköy, since it was finally abandoned more than ninety years ago.

The history behind is a fascinating drama, so 20th century: Once upon a time, it was a mainly Greek village in Western Anatolia called Livissi, living in peace with their Turkish neighbours, that called the same village Kayaköy. But following the Greco-Turkish War, it was decided to separate these communities forever to stop the bloodshed. After the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey in 1923, the remaining Greek inhabitants from the town that survived, were evacuated to Attica region, near Athens.


Where was Grand Budapest Hotel filmed?

The cities of Görlitz and Dresden in Germany, along with some other spots in Saxony, are the main filming locations where The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place. Also, the film director Wes Anderson, took inspiration from a cocktail between Vienna, Prague and Budapest to create the city of Lutz, in the invented Republic of Zubrowka. The plot occurs in a background with clear references to the history of Central Europe, during the interwar period of the 20th century.

The production team did a magnificent job recreating a fictional universe, that is at the same time familiar to the public. Also the shooting locations are not very difficult to recognize for those who have been there. Many films try to mask or hide the real film locations. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, on many occasions the camera was pointing at the same perspective as postcards do:

Grand Budapest Hotel film locations

Yazd, the desert city that caught the wind

Yazd, the metropolis in Iran that grew in the middle of the desert, is a very special place in an incredibly interesting and welcoming country. Centuries of improvements and adaptation to survive extreme climatic conditions, led the builders of the city to provide shapes and structures that look, to the eyes of an alien like me, out of this world.

Tall walls to project more shadow in narrow alleys, windows and apertures placed strategically to avoid the sun, and the fascinating windcatchers or Bagdirs standing above the roofs and domes in the horizon.

Windcatchers are nothing less than natural air conditioning without plugs or the use of mechanical devices, apparently invented by the old Persians several millennia ago. These imposing air cooling systems are especially big and varied in Yazd:

Yazd Iran

Salina Turda, the most spectacular underground mine

We are entering a subterranean world that seems out of a crepuscular sci-fi movie. But descending the stairs that led you to the base of the immense cave carved in salt, you will soon forget about Blade Runner, once you hear the echo of people talking out loud form the top of a fun fair big wheel.

This vast space has been transformed into an underground theme park; You can play from minigolf to tennis table, there is a mini soccer ground, an amphitheatre for concerts and you can even row in the waters of a tenebrous lake.

Turda salt mine dates from the seventeenth century, but it was not opened as a tourist attraction until 1992. Located near Cluj-Napoca, the capital of the mythical and historical region of Transylvania (Romania), in 2009 it was refurbished to get the incredible futuristic design, that looks so good in pictures:

Salina Turda

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