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The Palaces of Potsdam

Berlin - Potsdam

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After a busy day in the centre of Berlin, today we were going outside the city to Potsdam, home of the Prussian Kings, and capital of the German province of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin. Unlike the rest of the trip, which was mostly to places I had seen on previous trips to Berlin, the journey to Potsdam was a new experience for me.

Glienicke Bridge

Glienicke Bridge

We began by heading down to the Glienicke Bridge on the border of Berlin and Brandenburg. This bridge was closed during the Cold War, and used for the transfer of spies. Now reopened, we were able to walk into the former East Germany.

Potsdam High Street

Potsdam High Street

We then got on a tram and arrived in the centre of Potsdam, walking down the main shopping street, stopping for ice cream, before making our way into the Sanssouci Park, where the palaces of the city are located.

Sanssouci Palace

Sanssouci Palace

We began by walking firstly towards the impressive Sanssouci Palace, overlooking the park above terraces and a water fountain, before continuing along the central path towards the New Palace

Orangery Palace

Orangery Palace

This park was huge, but also cool and shady, and whilst walking through every few minutes the view of another palace came into view.

New Palace

New Palace

After reaching the New Palace we headed north to the bus stop to make our way back to Berlin. Annoyingly there were construction works on the train line, and so we had to get a replacement bus from Potsdam to Wannsee, which was a bit of a nightmare to find, but eventually we were on our way back to the city.

With it being mid-afternoon, we decided to make our way back to the hotel via the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Olympics. We had originally planned to go inside, but as our feet were aching, and only guided tours permitted (due to the imminent hosting of the European Athletics Championships) we decided to head back to the hotel instead after viewing from outside.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

By now we were very tired, but with another full day yet to come we spent the rest of the evening chilling in the hotel and claiming another free drink from the bar!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 04:25 Archived in Germany Tagged park palace bridge city berlin border royal olympic Comments (0)

Terminating in Tokyo

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Tokyo & Mount Fuji

all seasons in one day 18 °C
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Leaving our very excitable host in Kyoto, we made our way over to the station to catch the bullet train I had reserved the day before, bound for Tokyo. The Japanese capital would in fact be the last of our bases on this trip, staying here for the final four nights of this East Asian adventure.

Sitting in the reserved part of the train, we had a bit more room around us for bags which made the trip more comfortable, even if it was only for a few hours. The one thing I didn't get to do last time I was in Tokyo, was see Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, the humid summer air meant seeing it from the city was too difficult. This time we had more opportunities, and our first would be on our way to Tokyo - through the city of Fuji.

Seeing the mountain is always difficult, as the weather conditions need to be just right. Having researched when we would be able to gain a view, as we headed through the last hill before the city, we got up and headed towards the window at the door (all of the seats on this side were already booked when I requested our seats the night before). However our luck was not in, and the unseasonably warm humid air blocked the view, with us just managing to catch a glimpse of the snow peak through the haze. Never mind, there would be more opportunities!

Fuji through the haze

Fuji through the haze

Not long after, we arrived in the heart of Tokyo city. With our Japanese rail passes still valid for a few more days, and a good network of local rail in the city, it wasn't even necessary for us to use the metro initially. We got on a local train and headed to our hotel - the same one I had stayed in 4.5 years earlier. After dropping off our bags, we headed back into the city, deciding to visit the central sights, beginning with the Pokemon shop inside the station.

Pokemon Store

Pokemon Store

After taking a look inside the shop, we headed outside the station and made our way around the corner to the Imperial Gardens. It was yet another beautiful hot and sunny day in Japan, and we enjoyed a walk around this idyll in the middle of metropolis.

Imperial East Gardens

Imperial East Gardens

After a lot of travelling already, and ample time in the city, we headed to get some food before making our way back to our hotel for a break. Once it got dark we then headed back out and made our way to the Senso-ji Shrine in Asakusa. By day this a bustling shopping street and active shrine, but by night it's a more peaceful and lit up attraction.

Senso-ji by night

Senso-ji by night

After enjoying views of the beautiful complex, we headed back for our first night's sleep in the city.

Lanterns at Senso-ji

Lanterns at Senso-ji

The following morning the weather had changed completely - after a week and a half of warm summer weather, it was now down 10˚C, feeling much more like early April.

Having not been able to see Mount Fuji very well on the train to Tokyo, we planned to visit the Fuji Five Lakes area for a better view. With our Japan Rail passes ending the following day - giving us free travel on most of the trains to this area, we were trying to make the most of it, as well as using the weather forecasts in order get the best views of the mountain. Annoyingly as the weather had changed, clouds were coming in making the opportunity to view Mt Fuji even more limited.

It now looked very iffy we would get to see the mountain at all, but tomorrow looked more promising and so we gambled and spent today in the city. After having a lie in, we headed out to view some of the sights outside the centre centre - starting with the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead (including war criminals from WWII) are commemorated.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine


Takeshita Street

Takeshita Street

We then headed over to the Harajuku area, heading straight out of the station and down Takeshita Street, a popular shopping street full of novelty and small gifts. After buying a few keyrings and doing a loop of the area, we then headed into Yoyogi park and towards the Imperial Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Rice Barrels in Yoyogi Park

Heading back out of the park we then walked south towards Shibuya, and the bustling crossing in the heart of the area. We stopped at the Starbucks that looks over the crossing and sat watching the huge amount of people crossing in all directions every minute.

Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing


Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Tokyo Tower overlooking Zojo-ji Shrine

Our last sight for the day was the Tokyo Tower, from the Zojo-ii Shrine, where upon arrival we found a service was being carried out.

Service inside Zojo-ji

Service inside Zojo-ji

After watching part of the service, we then headed to Tokyo Bay, for views over the port area.

Tokyo Bay

Tokyo Bay

We then headed back to our hotel for a rest before we headed out for dinner. Originally we had planned to go for Ramen, and with us wanting to head to Shinjuku we found a few places to visit. However as suspected, even early there were long long queues, and with it being quite chilly, we decided to scrap that and eat at Burger King. We can always have Ramen at home!

Kabukicho

Kabukicho

After eating, we took a tour around the Kabukicho area, which is famous for it's LED lights and billboards, before heading back to the hotel for some well earned sleep.

The following morning we got up early and headed to Shinjuku station for our trip outside the city, to the Fuji Five Lakes area. The weather still looked iffy, but there was a better chance of seeing the mountain earlier. Using our Japan Rail passes for the last day, we spent an hour or so on the train heading outside the city before changing at Otsuki to a private line, that would take us the final journey to Fujiyoshida. As we headed up the valley it became clear that we would see Mount Fuji, as the huge mountain dominated the backdrop.

Mount Fuji - finally

Mount Fuji - finally

We got off at a small local station, that was clearly a tourist draw, as signs led us all the way to the Chureito Pagoda. Making the most of the views, which could be scuppered at any moment by the ominous clouds, we headed up the steep hillside towards the top. Chris paused halfway whilst I continued, in what was one of the biggest struggles I've ever faced! Two weeks of exhaustion against the strong winds in a rush against time almost seemed impossible.

The amazing view

The amazing view

Nevertheless I made it, and the views were worth it. As Cherry Blossom had come early this year, it meant that although there was nothing left in Tokyo, this area was full! Approximately two weeks earlier than normal. It meant we got to see one of the most picture perfect views that are in many of the tourist guidebooks. Our luck clearly was in! And after taking some photos, Chris had also made it to the top and we took in some of the breathtaking views.

We then headed back down to the train station, and eventually back to the city. It was a lot of faffing about, spending about 6 hours getting there and back just for 10 minutes of views, but it was worth it.

Our last thing to do in the city, was head back to the Senso-ji shrine, this time during the day, and grab some souvenirs. After grabbing some dinner we then got some sleep before our last full day on this long trip.

Shopping at Senso-ji

Shopping at Senso-ji

Having overestimated how much time we needed, we had already seen everything in the city, with a day to spare. Therefore we decided to spend out last day at Tokyo Disneyland. It had been years since either of us had been to Disneyland, and so this was a nice experience. With the sun shining, we headed out early to the park early to try and beat some of the weekend rush.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland

Starting with Westernland, we headed onto Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise before the queues got so long. Whilst we waited in the queue for Thunder Mountain however, the sunshine was masked by clouds, not to be seen again. The wind was picking up, as were the length of the queues.

We continued around, heading inside the Haunted Mansion and the Snow White ride, before we headed over to Tomorrowland. Japan is generally quite warm, and so the park is not built to break the wind - despite this being on a reclaimed island in Tokyo Bay, and with long queues, it meant for a freezing experience, for which we certainly weren't dressed accordingly.

After waiting over an hour and a half for the Buzz Lightyear ride, we went inside the gift shops to warm up and wait for the parade. However just before it was due to start, there was an announcement that because of the wind this would not take place - hardly surprising, but a real shame. We headed back to the Star Tours ride, luckily most of the queue here being inside, before cutting out losses and heading back to our hotel.

After two busy weeks it had been an amazing adventure, we were thoroughly exhausted and now just had the ridiculously long journey back.

With this being the peak time to visit Japan, flights were not cheap. There were two flights each from Tokyo to Beijing and Beijing to London, but taking the combination with just 4 hours to transfer was twice as expensive as that with 7. We therefore took the cheaper option, even if this did mean we would be travelling for 24 hours.

Getting up at 3am in Japan, we headed on the first train to the airport, eventually leaving Japan at 7:20am. We flew west, heading right over Mount Fuji, getting great aerial views of the iconic mountain.

Views over Mount Fuji

Views over Mount Fuji

Eventually, after circling the city for ages, over three hours later we had arrived in Beijing. Originally it was possible that we may leave some things in the city for this return leg, and use the 5 hours to sit about, to explore the city. However having seen everything we wanted two weeks ago, as knowing how much time would be wasted to get down there, we instead decided to stay in the airport.

Airport Lounge

Airport Lounge

Transferring for over four hours meant we also got free access to an airport lounge, which although wasn't the best, did give us free food and drinks. Despite not being able to connect to most of the internet, time went by quite quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to board our final flight of the trip, the long 10 hours back to London.

Having exhausted not only the entertainment, but also ourselves - despite not being able to sleep for fear of worsening our jetlag, this was a tough journey. By the end of the flight eating was a struggle, and so was staying awake. I even napped for an hour with Chris unable to wake me back up.

Sunset over Siberia

Sunset over Siberia

Arriving back in London was a relief, but having been awake for over 24 hours, also a struggle. Waiting for ages to get our bag back evetually we made it out, to find my dad who picked us up and took us home. Eventually we made it to bed - but only after having been awake for 28 hours!

Nevertheless, even with all these struggles the trip was amazing, fascinating and totally worth it!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 13:06 Archived in Japan Tagged park temple mountain airport palace train city shrine themepark eastasia Comments (0)

Southern Honshu

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Hiroshima & Himeji

sunny 21 °C
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With yet another early morning flight, we checked out of our hotel early and began heading to Seoul's Incheon airport. This was our only flight not with Air China, being with Asiana Airways, and after a short pleasant flight we arrived in the city of Fukuoka, Japan.

We flew via Fukuoka, as it had the best connections to get to Hiroshima, and after getting through immigration, we boarded the short bus transfer to the station, and got hold of our Japan Rail Passes which we would be using for the next week. With everywhere being so busy, it was several hours after we had landed that we finally boarded our bullet train to Hiroshima, but nevertheless we made the train we wanted and got to enjoy the journey on this legendary train.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

Bullet trains look so futuristic, and felt also very strange, as although travelling exceptionally fast they pivot and thus don't feel particularly faster than regular fast train travel, except the noticeable sensation of ears popping. After just over an hour, we arrived at Hiroshima station, and after buying a few snacks, we headed to our hotel to leave our bags.

Hypocentre

Hypocentre

Our time in Hiroshima was limited to just one night, and this afternoon was our opportunity to explore the city. We began by heading to Hiroshima castle, before making our way to see the sights that are connected to what the city of Hiroshima is most famous for - the atomic bombing in 1945. Starting at the plaque marking the hypocentre of the bomb, we walked around the corner to see the A-bomb Dome, the closest building to survive the bomb, and symbol of the event, surrounded by cherry blossom.

A-bomb Dome

A-bomb Dome

The trip had been scheduled to coincide with the Cherry Blossom Season. However as time was limited, and the cherry blossom takes place in just a few weeks, it was unsure where we would actually get to see it. If it came late, we would catch it in Tokyo just before we left, whilst if it came early we would catch it in Hiroshima as we arrived. This year it came over a week early, and Hiroshima was already at the peak of the blooming.

Eternal Flame within the gardens

Eternal Flame within the gardens

The immediate surrounding area of the A-bomb dome is now a peace park, with monuments and landscaped gardens alongside a couple of museums, which contain artefacts from the bombing as well as other items, such a clock counting the days since the bomb, as well as the last nuclear test.

Peace Watch

Peace Watch

Having taken a brief look around the city, we headed back towards the station to grab food, from a food court on the 11th floor of a department store overlooking the surrounding area, before checking into our room at the hotel.

View from the Food Court

View from the Food Court

The hotel itself had its own Onsen, and after having a bit of a rest, I headed up there to enjoy the heated baths. Although as it was traditionally Japanese, this did mean having to go in naked!

After a soothing bath, it was finally time to sleep before the next day's adventure. However in the morning Chris had not slept well and was exhausted from the week's travel so far. Therefore I left him to get some rest, whilst I headed outside the city towards Miyajima Island.

Taking the train south for half an hour, upon arrival almost everyone got off - evidently full of tourists doing the same, and after a quick walk across the small village I boarded the ferry that would cross the small channel to the island. Upon arrival it was clear the traditional fishing village had now become a tourist magnet, being full of little shops and cafés.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

A five minute walk later and I arrived at the magnet of the island, the Itsukushima Shrine and it's torii gate. I had deliberately timed the visit this morning to coincide with high tide, when the gate appears to float in the water.

Floating Torii

Floating Torii

And with the local area also in full Cherry Blossom bloom, it made this one of the most pretty on the trip so far. After popping in the shops, and observing the local pagoda, I headed back to the ferry port and eventually the hotel to collect our bits.

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Toyokuni Shrine Pagoda

Having rested this morning Chris now felt a bit better, and we headed back to the station to continue our journey, now headed for the city of Himeji. Himeji is not exciting enough to warrant a stay here overnight, but it does have one of the most important and beautiful castles in the country. And being just ten minutes from the station we decided to take a look.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Arriving at the palace, surrounded in cherry blossom, it was packed full of tourists, but not feeling completely better, Chris stayed outside with the bags, whilst I took a look inside. However the queues inside were long, and it took ages to get around the complex. Queuing to enter the palace took an hour, and I ended up skipping some of the sections altogether. Nevertheless it was an interesting place to visit and did look beautiful.

Inside Himeji Castle

Inside Himeji Castle

Relying on the trains, if we headed back to the station quickly we could make the next train, or otherwise we would have quite a long wait. We therefore decided to hurry and not long later we were back on the bullet train headed for the next city of destination - Kyoto.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 06:37 Archived in Japan Tagged palace train museum castle spa shrine nuclear gate bomb macabre eastasia cherryblossom Comments (0)

Beginning in Beijing

Cherry Blossom Adventures - Beijing

semi-overcast 25 °C
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After six months without travel, it was finally time for our two week 2018 holiday to East Asia. Beginning with the Chinese capital of Beijing.

The trip had been planned for over a year, in order to not only make Cherry Blossom season, but also to take advantage of the Easter Bank Holiday. It had been difficult to get all the dates to fit, and this first stopover was worked to take advantage of the 72 hour visa policy.

Annoyingly after booking, flights were cancelled and earlier flights were required in order to fit the visa policy. Only to find a few weeks later that the 72 hour visa was extended to 144 hours, making a lot of the stress unnecessary. Nevertheless, after a 10 hour overnight flight, with morning views of desolate Siberia and Mongolia, we finally arrived in a surprisingly modern looking Beijing.

Anticipating lots of smog, we were pleasantly surprised at the midday sky, being beautiful and blue. Getting to our courtyard hotel, we checked in and headed back out to make the most of the nice weather, heading first to Tiananmen Square, where the scale of the security checks throughout the city would become evident. It took us ten minutes to get into the square itself, by which time the Forbidden City had already been closed.

Tiananmen Gate

Tiananmen Gate

We enjoyed views of the Tiananmen Gate, before walking south into the huge square itself. A local guy asked to take a photo with us for his own photo collection, before we headed past Mao's mausoleum and exited the square heading into the souvenir shop we found.

Afterwards, and now by early evening, we headed north to the Olympic Park site, to see the Bird's Nest Stadium before ending our first day with food and bed.

Bird's Nest Stadium

Bird's Nest Stadium

With limited jetlag having travelled eastwards, the following morning we awoke early in plenty of time for our excursion to the Great Wall of China. Meeting our guide who wondered if we were brothers or friends (we went for friends), we jumped in the car for our private excursion, an hour or so north of the city. Although more expensive than a group tour, it meant our day would be much shorter, and thus more time to explore the rest of the city in our limited stay. We also got to arrive nice and early, beating the crowd.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

Taking the cable car up, we quickly arrived at a relatively quiet section of the open wall, more extreme in steepness than expected. Our guide 'Jenny' was quite good, not too chatty, and also allowing us to explore it by ourselves, as well as giving us tips for the rest of our stay in the city. After lots of photos and walks (or climbs) across a short section we headed back down via toboggan, and back to Beijing.

Arriving back at lunchtime we headed out to the Temple of Heaven, one of the city's imperial temples which was used by Ming and Qing Emperors to pray a good Harvest.

Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven

With time left today, our last sight was the Summer Palace, located out in the north of the city. By this stage we were quite tired and achy, so we only took a look around the palace buildings to the north of the huge complex, before heading back to the hotel for a well earned sleep.

Inside the Summer Palace

Inside the Summer Palace

Our final day was to spend time at the Forbidden City. Originally we had planned to visit the mausoleum and National People's Congress first. However getting to Tiananmen at 8am, it was already packed and took an hour to get through the security. This was before the queues for these sights too, and thus we decided to give these a miss, and headed straight for the Forbidden City, where we toured the complex for few hours before exiting to the north and heading towards the Jingshan Hill for views over the complex.

Inside the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City

Before climbing up the hill, we popped in the toilets. Chris went inside a cubical, before quickly running back out, I wondered what was going on as the attendant directed him to the one at the far end. Having noticed Chris's panicked face, he clearly knew that this panicked westerner would prefer a sit down toilet instead of a squat one and directed him accordingly!

Squat Toilets

Squat Toilets

Up on Jingshan Hill

Up on Jingshan Hill

After walking up the hill for limited views through the smog, we walked through some hutongs to the nearest metro station and headed to our last sight in the city, Beijing Zoo. After having seen panda merchandise all over the city (even though pandas don't even live in this part of China) we decided to pay a visit to the few in Beijing.

Pandas

Pandas

After three busy days it was time to rest up for our early start the following morning, heading to the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Beijing was much more modern and less smoggy than expected. However it was shabby in a lot of places and the locals were not ones to be very courteous of tourists nor each other. Nevertheless an interesting place to visit!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 11:43 Archived in China Tagged architecture culture temple history palace zoo city hill capital eastasia Comments (0)

The Viennese Wetz

Vienna

all seasons in one day 26 °C
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Less than a month after having visited Salzburg, Chris and I were heading back to Austria, and this time to the capital - Vienna. Although I had been to Austria three times previously, this was the first time I would be actually flying in, as all previous times had been en route via a neighbouring country.

After taking an early morning flight, we arrived in Vienna mid morning, and made our way to our hotel, where we hoped to be able to check in early, or at least leave our bags before exploring.

Upon arrival our room was being cleaned, and so we waited for ten minutes, whilst being offered a complimentary drink, despite being two hours before official check in - brilliant customer service!

With the weather at home being terrible (rarely above 20C, despite it being the middle of summer), the hot and sunny 35C Vienna was welcome. However as a storm was to hit tomorrow, this would be our only day with these kind of temperatures, and so we made the most of it going out in shorts. Did we need a raincoat? Not today we didn't!

We headed over to the Schönbrunn, where our first sight was the zoo, where one year old pandas and koalas lived - something unique! Beginning with the panda talk, it became clear that for many of the animals the prolonged heat had worn them out.

Panda Cub

Panda Cub

As we toured the zoo the clouds started to darken and noises could be heard. Hoping it was just lorries, it soon became clear this was impending thunder. Hoping we could avoid it was too much to ask, and as we were almost done in the zoo we headed up a wooded hill when the heavens opened. Without raincoats or umbrellas we ran from tree to tree to avoid the rain, before entering a farm animal building along with many other visitors who had the same problem as us.

After hanging about for 10 minutes, the rain looked like it had eased a little and so we decided to carry on anyway - we were far from the metro station and still had a few things to see.

Gloriette

Gloriette

Leaving the zoo we entered the Schönbrunn Palace Gardens and ran between the trees viewing the Gloriette before heading down towards the Palace building itself. Even in the rain it was pretty but it was a shame the rain prevented us from spending more time enjoying the area.

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

After having taken photos between the trees and under what little shelter we could find, we headed back towards the metro station as the rain stopped - typical!

Having grabbed food we headed back to the hotel where we could dry off and have a good night's sleep after the busy long day. However not long after we had fallen asleep, the bulk of the storm arrived and in the midst of over thirty flashes of lightning we went off back to sleep.

As the storm had arrived early, it did mean that the following day would be almost entirely dry, despite being over 10C cooler. After having had breakfast, we headed into the city centre to view the old city.

St. Stephen's Cathedral

St. Stephen's Cathedral

Beginning with the St. Stephen's Cathedral, we then headed via many souvenir shops to the Hofburg Palace, the Royal Palace and where the Spanish Riding School is based.

Hofburg

Hofburg

By now we had made it to the Ringstraße, the ring road where some of the grandest and most important city buildings are located. Beginning at the Burgtheater, we crossed the ring outside the City Hall, where the Vienna Film Festival is held.

City Hall

City Hall

Walking around the building, we then went past the Parliament building and headed down to the Museum Quarter and the Maria Theresa Square, where many of the buildings were in the same style.

Charles Church

Charles Church

We then diverged from the ring road and made our way to the Charles Church, before arriving at our last destination in the city centre - the Heroes' Monument. This monument, a Russian language Soviet War Memorial was completely out of place in the imperial city, but highlighted the mid 20th century reality of this Central European city.

Soviet War Memorial

Soviet War Memorial

Having seen the sights of the city centre, we headed back to the hotel for a rest before we went for an evening walk to the Danube, not far from our hotel, where we could see the UN buildings over the mighty river.

The Viennese Danube

The Viennese Danube


The Prater

The Prater

Heading back our last sight was the Prater, where we would grab dinner in the Rollercoaster Restaurant and tour the amusement park.

Rollercoaster Restaurant

Rollercoaster Restaurant

After a busy day we went back to the hotel and chilled before our final full day tomorrow in Bratislava.

Vienna, like all the other Central European capitals of Prague and Budapest is very grand and has beautiful buildings. However despite it being on the Danube, the river flows on the outskirts of the city and with very little hills I personally prefer the others, who also have the river, bridges and hills to see, whereas the focus on Vienna is simply it's grand buildings. Nevertheless it's a beautiful city, and was a lovely place to visit.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 11:13 Archived in Austria Tagged rain architecture culture palace zoo city parliament vienna&bratislava Comments (0)

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