„The Megalithic Temples of Malta (Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Skorba, Ta’ Ħaġrat and Tarxien) are prehistoric monumental buildings constructed during the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC. They rank amongst the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world and are remarkable for their diversity of form and decoration. Each complex is a unique architectural masterpiece and a witness to an exceptional prehistoric culture renowned for its remarkable architectural, artistic and technological achievements.“ (UNESCO) Continue reading “Megalithic Temples of Malta”
Approaching Valletta by a ferry gave us the opportunity to see the city from the seaside, protected by its strong, pale, rigid fortifications. Within them, with domes, spires and roofs jutting out from their limits, the city seemed like a random arrangement of dwellings that refuses to contain its playful spirit despite the strict appearance imposed by the fortifications. It was an interesting contrast, and we were looking forward to discovering which of the two sides of the city would prevail. Continue reading “An Instant Crush”
My visit to Malta came about as a result of a series of very fortunate circumstances. It wasn’t one of those trips you spend months planning, researching for, reading blogs and creating itineraries – my boyfriend and I haven’t been on a trip together for some time and the travel bug kept munching us, so once we came upon ridiculously cheap airplane tickets at the time we both could get days off from work, that was pretty much it. We were going to Malta!
In my (at that point, still insufficiently knowledgeable) mind, our trip was about to be focused, almost exclusively, on relaxation. I expected loads and loads of sun – our trip took place before Easter and I was looking forward to arriving home with my first tan of the year; very warm weather – everything I ever read about Malta mentioned how warm the weather was throughout the year, so I packed accordingly (or so I thought) and expected to spend at least a part of our visit basking in the sun on the sandy beaches and swimming in the warm Mediterranean sea; I also expected this to be a laid back kind of holiday – usually, when I travel, I want to see as much of the architecture, art and history of the place. This means I usually don’t enjoy having too much free time on my hands because, if I wanted to relax and take it easy, I could have very well stayed at home. However, I was mentally prepared to change my ways in Malta and spend the eight days there taking a slower pace – enjoying the beaches, taking walks in nature and only occasionally visiting different towns and cultural sights. However, Malta prepared a shock for us so things definitely did not go as we planned.
As I already mentioned, this was the first longer trip I took with my boyfriend in a while, so I don’t have to explain how excited and elated we felt as we sat in the plane, squeezing around the small plane window, trying to catch a good aerial view of this island we knew so little about and that could surprise us in any way. Our airplane seat neighbor was a nice man who realized that we never visited Malta before (it wasn’t a difficult guess, considering our exciting squeals and exclamations), explained to us what we were seeing and told us some stories about the island, its tradition and culture. It was such a lovely introduction to the island and its hospitality.
From the moment we landed at the Luqa Airport, we felt like we were in another world. We were greeted by the strong sun, humidity, palm trees, flower meadows scattered among strange architecture and a very busy, bustling atmosphere of cars, taxis and buses swiftly driving around and picking up tourists from all around the world as well as local people communicating in a peculiar language. From the very first moment of being introduced to Malta, a funny feeling took over, and it remained that way for the duration of our trip. This feeling of not being able to pinpoint precisely the essence of Malta, to find a category where we could safely store it, an expression or a sentence that could clearly describe it follow us throughout our stay. The island kept surprising us, over and over again, refusing to let us relax and sink into the feeling of familiarity, overwhelming us with its dualities and contrasts: simultaneously, it felt familiar and new, European and Arabic, traditional and exotic, cosmopolitan and idiosyncratic, full of contrasts in architecture – in small, compact houses and monumental public buildings and churches, in language varying from perfect English to peculiar mishmash of Maltese, in the atmosphere of places – resorts tailored for tourists and places so hidden and authentic that they honestly leave you speechless.
After we returned home from Malta, everyone kept asking me about the island and our trip. And for a very long time, I didn’t really know what to say, apart from stating that it may be the most interesting place I have ever visited. Some may have concluded from my stories that I didn’t really like it, but I just needed time for all those things, details, differences and uniqueness to sink in. From my return, I thought a lot about what is it that makes this country so different from what I was used to and knew. I’m still not sure about the answer, almost a year after my visit (maybe that is why I postponed writing about it for so long), but it must have something to do with all of its historic, geographic and cultural elements and the way they were woven together and intertwined to create a fascinating and rich mosaic of a country. Due to its location, Malta had rulers that included the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St John, French and British. Today, it is tucked away in the middle of the Mediterranean, small and specific, slightly outcast and totally independent, but still affected – historically, culturally and geographically, by three continents and their heritage. It is a country of mysterious atmosphere, particularly present in its fabulous architectural and historic monuments, such as the Megalithic Temples, some on the oldest free-standing structures in the world, quiet but strong witnesses of another time, shrouded in mystery and myth, or in St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, a triumph of what we might call European art and culture. It has to do with a million other different things and I am looking forward to analyzing it more thoroughly as I write about different aspects of Malta in the posts to follow, if for no other reason, than to try to understand the country myself.
Ultimately, as many great destinations do, Malta shattered my shallow preconceptions and showed me much more than what I was prepared for – that it is a country of rich and dramatic history, beautiful nature, poetic towns, wonderful people and that is very different, very unexpected and hard to compartmentalize. Malta refuses to be defined in simple terms, and just as you thought you got the gist of it, it shows you something else, something more, something completely different. What a stubborn, mysterious, fascinating island!
Prior to the visit to the Palace of Caserta, I felt a bit conflicted, expecting at the same time a lot and not much at all. On one side, extreme figures that the palace boasts with sent chills down my spine: volume of over 2 million m2, area of almost 50 000 m2, 120 ha of royal gardens… How large could this place be? On the other hand, the palace was modeled after the Palace of Versailles, and since I have seen “the original”, I did not expect this palace to surpass it. Continue reading “Baroque grandeur of the Palace of Caserta”
High summer temperatures that we were experiencing in Croatia for the last couple of weeks caused a general mobilization of the locals trying to escape the heat of the asphalt and replace it with the breezy air of the beach or a shaded, cooler air of the mountain areas nearby. My boyfriend and I decided to visit Istria for a week and to spend our days alternating between the beach and lazy explorations of small towns and villages of the peninsula. Continue reading “Searching for tranquility in Istria”
I don’t think I have ever visited a city that people have such drastically polar opinions about as Naples: for some, this is one of the most beautiful cities not only in Italy, but in entire Europe, while for some, the city is simply not their cup of tea. While everyone, of course, has a right to their opinion, it seems that people who don’t like Naples are extremely strict in their judgments, accusing the city of being dangerous, dirty, soulless or boring. Continue reading “What Naples is not”
Often when I find myself visiting a castle I think about what life must have been like for the people who lived there and… Well, what I would do if I had a castle of my own. How I would decorate it, what purpose would parts of it have, what types of events and parties I would organise and for whom. It may be a pretty childish way of observing things, but without it, castles for me would only be huge buildings filled with dusty rooms. This way, they turn out to be much more fun.
Last year, my boyfriend and I visited Miramare Castle in Trieste. It was a pretty spontaneous decision as we were just looking for a nice place to spend a day and did not properly prepare for the visit at all. I didn’t even take my camera! Continue reading “Marvelling at Miramare”
It is not easy to define what is it about Sorrento that reminds you so vividly of the old glitzy European resorts of the first half of the 20th century. Maybe it’s the Mediterranean architecture of luxurious old hotels, or its small streets and hidden squares, or the fact that Piazza Tasso, the town’s central square, turns into a pedestrian area in the evening – the crazy traffic gets shut down and tourists stroll around, merrily and nonchalantly, enjoying a gelato or a late drink in one of the cafés surrounding the square. Add to the picture palm trees and fragrant flowers, romantic gold illumination of the street lamps and views of the sea… and you feel like you have walked into a set of an old Hollywood movie.
Although the first impression is that of a classic, classy Italian resort, Sorrento on a second glance turns into a strange little town where unexpected sights lurk at every corner.
For example, as you approach Piazza Tasso, what might slightly surprise you is the deep, steep valley filled with shrubbery in the middle of the area that is otherwise filled with palatial, beautifully lit hotels and buildings. What at first seems like a strange example of neglecting in an otherwise lovely and up kept town centre, turns out to be, as the quick look into your guide book will probably show you, a deep crack in the rock created during a huge eruption that happened 35 000 years ago. Today, this area is known as Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills), taking its name from the largest of several abandoned brick mills that were built at the beginning of the 20th century at the bottom of the valley in order to take advantage of the constant stream of water located there.
Peeking down the gigantic crack and seeing the surreal ruins of buildings reminds you of the fact that the Sorrento peninsula – and the entire area surrounding the Gulf of Naples – is a fascinating geological area full of examples of Mother Earth’s power, wonder, quirkiness and fickleness.
Another thing that shows you that Sorrento is not a typical seaside town, but a strange place situated in fascinating natural surroundings is its location – perched at the very edge of a high cliff, on a massive stone formation looking as if it was cut off, in clear, straight cuts, from a block of stone that no longer exists.
If you want to come to Piazza Tasso from Marina Piccola, Sorrento’s little harbor that serves as a sea link with other parts of the peninsula and Italy in general, due to the very impressive elevation difference, you can either choose to take the long, curvaceous, somewhat steep road and marvel the town’s layers of architecture and views of the sea, or climb the steep steps carved directly into the cliff and test your physical fitness to the very limits.
Once you discover Sorrento’s peculiarities and conclude that the town would be a perfect setting for one of Agatha Christie’s crime novels due to the just right amount of grittiness behind the glitz and the poshness of the town, you can relax and start exploring Sorrento’s narrow side streets full of restaurants and tiny shops.
The leitmotif of your walk will surely be color yellow. It is everywhere and in everything: in bottles of limoncello, soaps and souvenirs, biscuits, candy and in or on every other imaginable sellable item. Before you succumb to the urge to have everything that Sorrento’s sellers have to offer, because the color yellow never seemed so bright and inviting before, and the smell of lemon that you can’t escape gets soaked up into your clothes, you will be offered, almost in every shop, different lemony treats – lemon liquors and creams, biscuits, hard and soft candy and chocolate.
If you get overwhelmed with lemon-themed shops, there are other popular souvenirs that will remind you of Sorrento, such as pepperoncini and other fragrant condiments, maiolica pottery and inlay wood objects. They all add to the festival of fragrances, colors and details that you simply cannot avoid to experience with all your senses.
If experienced in too high doses, even delight can be a bit tiring. So once you fulfill your lemony desires and collect all necessary and not-so-necessary reminders of Sorrento, the best thing is to have a drink at one of the many terraces on Piazza Tasso, enjoy the atmosphere of the town and listen to wonderful, romantic canzone Italiane played by street musicians.
It is a wonder of nature and human skill that attracts more than three million visitors each year. Recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site, with 61 of its buildings protected as historic monuments, it is among the most famous touristic places of France and the entire Europe. Through history, this island inspired artists such as Henry Adams and Claude Debussy, and even became a part of contemporary culture when it was used as an inspiration for the design of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings’ Return of the King. Continue reading “Mont Saint Michel: A Wonder of Nature and Human Skill”
Contrasts of narrow medieval streets and spacious open squares. Sounds of loud Italians and authentic music of minorities. Smells of focaccia and seafood and the chatter of people in the restaurants. And occasional temperament yelling coming from inside the houses of the Old Town. Welcome to Genova – the capital of Italian region Liguria, second largest harbor in the Mediterranean, and a majestic city with proud history that brought it the nickname „La Superba“. Continue reading “„La Superba“, pt. 1 (or How the Old Genova Makes You Feel at Home)”