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Sascha Grabow

Destination Guide
Siberia Print
Written by Elliot Koch, edited by Sascha Grabow   
Monday, 19 October 2015

Trans-Siberian Sensations


Published in May 2008. Viewable for non-subscribers.

What can you see through the woods but for the trees? On my May ’07 Trans-Siberian Railroad trip I saw plenty.

I saw the different shades and hues of the forest trees, the pristine crispness of the trees and tundra, and the majestic snowcapped mountains in the far background.

I saw the enormity of it all, the huge expanse and vastness, the isolation and remoteness. I saw the loneliness and solitude it offered. The raw beauty of its nature, its ruggedness, and its calmness.

I saw its streams and lakes — and was totally taken in. The awe-inspiring landscape that I wish I could have captured in its length and breadth. It was a dream.

While I jumped from one side of the train to the other to see the views of Lake Baikal as we turned the bends, I was hypnotized by it all. There was no right or wrong side of the tracks.

There were villages along the way, the homes with barn-like roofs, the people with their efficient lifestyles surviving in a harsh environment. It was a wonder to see how they do it!

Each home had a backyard vegetable garden, a tool shed, a water well, an outhouse, a smokehouse, a sauna, hothouses — everything you need. As well, they each had a chicken coop or duck coop, some had rabbit hutches, others a few goats or sheep, a cow or a pigpen. I guess they barter.

All the homes had stacks and stacks of wood for their fireplaces. Siberia: the way it was is the way it is!

On the train, a lady walked from car to car, selling food. I snacked on a hot steaming bun of a golden color and with a dark brown top. When I took my first bite deep into it, I tasted its softness and found a hot, rich, creamy center of mashed potatoes. Wow, I just had a Russian knish!



Last Updated ( Monday, 19 October 2015 )
10 Days in Mount Athos Print
Written by Jorge Sanchez, edited by Sascha Grabow   
Friday, 20 March 2015
The most impenetrable territory in Europe - Aghion Oros (Mount Athos)
The most impenetrable territory in Europe

Mount Athos is a unique place in Greece, in Europe and in the world. There are twenty Christian Orthodox monasteries; seventeen are Greek, there is one Russian, one Serbian and one Bulgarian.

First of all I have to inform you that the Mount Athos is forbidden for women and female animals! Only men are allowed to get in with much difficulty after applying to the religious authorities in Athens or Thessalonica. They only issue ten permissions daily and only for a stay of four days. The Peninsula of Khalkidhiki, in the Aegean Sea, has three “fingers”: Kassandra, Khersonisos Sithonia, and the third is called Agion Oros, or Mount Athos, a religious place which first monastery was founded in the IX century. Today the monk’s population is about 1600, but in the past it lodged a maximum of 5000 monks. Apart from the official twenty monasteries, there is what they call skites, or monk’s houses in an abbey’s area, and Hermitages for monks fasting. In Ouranoupolis, every morning there is boat to the port of Dafne. Overland is not possible. After you pass the control you can board it. Once in Dafne you still have to go until Kariai, or Karies, where you present your permission to the religious authorities and then you are free to visit any of the twenty monasteries during only four days. (I was exceptionally lucky to visit ten monasteries during ten days!). The trekking between monasteries is very pleasant and only takes you about four or five hours. On the way you see many wild flowers, blossom trees, butterflies, etc. You cross mountains, gorges, forests, beaches... Somehow it reminded me the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, in Spain. As soon as you arrive to a monastery there is a monk of charge of the visitors who will show you a room where you can spend the night (only one in every monastery, no more) and the dinning room where there is always a cup of ouzo and baklava (sweets) as a sign of welcome. Afterwards he will inform you about the mass schedules and other activities. During the meals a monk reads in loud voice fragments of the Bible. Wine is allowed to drink. For you guidance, everything is free. Money is a vile material in Mount Athos.

Dionysius was the most intimate monastery that I visited because the monks allowed me to share their work in the kitchen and in the garden picking up vegetables at the same time that we discussed religious themes. Magistis Lavras, with its colossal size, is the greatest in Aghion Oros. Saint Panteleimon, or Panteleimonos, the Russian, with its Byzantine cupules, was another amazing monastery where I spent one night. There lived monks coming from Sergiyev Posad, from Valaam Monastery (in one island in the Ladoga Lake), and from the Islands Solovetskiye. Simono Petras, with the balconies resembling the Potala Palace in Lhasa, and located in a rocky cliff facing the sea, was my favourite monastery because it was the first that I visited and I was excited to be in such a fantastic part of the world.


Dohiariou Monastery (Greek).

Each monastery is a wonder and contains an incredible amount of precious gems, marvellous frescos, old icons, golden lamps, ancient manuscripts, kings’ presents, etc., apart from the fantastic architecture. If you multiply for twenty all these riches, then the treasures in Mount Athos are beyond imagination.

Everything and every moment is special in Mount Athos; the nature, the birds, the wind... That journey helps you to appreciate life more deeply.

Ten Days in Mount Athos
lovely view of the Monastery - Aghion Oros (Mount Athos)

Lovely view of the Monastery

  • Pros:The most fabulous place in Europe

  • Cons:Forbidden for women and female animals

  • In a nutshell:The Greek Vatican

  • Last visit to Aghion Oros (Mount Athos): Jul 1984
  • Intro Updated Oct 14, 2014
Last Updated ( Monday, 19 October 2015 )
Portugal Print
Written by Jorge Sanchez, edited by Sascha Grabow   
Friday, 09 January 2015


SMALL GREAT COUNTRY --------------------------------------- Portugal's population is only 10 million people, but the Portuguese sailors discovered for all of Europe many islands and lands in the five continents. That is why today the Portuguese language is spoken by more than 200 million people in the seven Lusofonia countries, that is Portugal, Brazil, Guinea Bissau, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Angola, and Sao Tome and Principe (and perhaps also recently independent East Timor should be included).

Even now you can find in your atlas many Portuguese named islands in the Indian and Atlantic oceans such as Fernando de Noronha, Tristan da Cunha, Diego Garcia, Cargados Carajos, Mascarenhas archipelago, Almirante islands, etc.

Historically Portugal and Spain were always a single country, but in the XII century Portugal preferred to be independent from Spain. From 1580 to 1640, the two neighbour countries sharing the Iberian Peninsula were again united, but presently they form two separated governments. There was a time (mainly in the XV, XVI and XVII centuries) when Portugal and Spain were the dominant powers of the world and even divided the planet in two spheres for evangelization purposes; the Portuguese, from Brazil to Moluccas islands, and the Spanish, which included all America except Brazil, all the Pacific Ocean archipelagos and the Philippines.

Some beautiful cities that you should visit while in Portugal, are … Lisbon, of course, with the Monastery of the Jeronimos (UNESCO Patrimony of the Humankind), the Belem tower, and nearby Sintra, Estoril, Cascais and the Cabo da Roca, the most western point of Europe, where they will even issue you a certificate to that regard.

At night you could be an assistent to a fado show in the Bairro Alto, Lisbon. I spent an evening in Luso restaurant, where apart from fados there were funny performances of folkloric dances from all the Portuguese regions.

Another wonderful place worth spending a few days in is Oporto, an amazing and charming town protected by UNESCO, with its narrow streets and the Oporto wine cellars on the bank of the river Douro (Duero in Spanish). Do not miss the Commerce Palace, the interior of which looks like the Alhambra of Granada. A good place for fados there is the restaurant Mal Cozhinado, by the river Douro, inside an old XIV century stone palace; their show is better than Luso’s in Lisbon.

Finally, I advice you to take an excursion boat along the Douro River until the Atlantic Ocean, passing through an iron bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Fatima is interesting as well, even if you are not Christian or Muslim. The only annoyance is the commercialization of this holy place by hundreds of business shops selling wine, all kind of souvenirs and the typical portuguese rooster statue everywhere.

Coimbra deserves a one-day visit because of its university, the oldest in Portugal, on top of a hill, and the walled Jewish quarter. And for children and adults alike, please go to Portugal dos pequeninos (Portugal for children), a Portuguese thematic park with seven parts corresponding to the seven countries where Portuguese is the official language (Angola, Brazil, etc).

Enchanting walled Obidos, historical Batalha monastery and the beaches of Nazaret are also a must during your stay in Portugal. The island of Madeira and Azores archipelago are very interesting places to visit if you can afford to get there (or maybe on another trip during a cruise stopover).

The cost of living is slightly cheaper in Portugal than in Spain. Apart from the good and affordable Portuguese wines, you should also consider buying Conimbriga delicate porcelain. If going to Sintra, then trying CREAM CODFISH is a must (delicious in any restaurant!).


Portugal Palaces  ----------------------- Probably the most beautiful palace in Portugal is PENA. To get there go to Sintra, a lovely town about 24 kilometres outside Lisbon. In the centre of Sintra you can visit another nice palace, but Pena is more beautiful. From town you have to take a taxi (8 €) up to the Palace. Once in Pena you will not believe your eyes. The palace is fantastic; it looks like the romantic Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, and in fact it was constructed in 1840, in the ruins of a former monastery, by order of Fernando II, a Portuguese king born in Germany.

If you are fond of palaces, then another one I can suggest, still more impressive than even Pena, is in Bussaco, about 20 kilometres north of Coimbra, where you can even stay overnight (take a suite @ 1000€, or pay 80 for a double room).


 In any case you will have a wonderful time in this country. Enjoy your stay to the fullest !!




Last Updated ( Friday, 09 January 2015 )

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