Splendid Sevilla, pt. 1: A Warm Welcome and a Town-Within-a-Town

I expected so much from Sevilla – it is one of those towns whose name alone is so laden with expectations and images inspired by literature, music and art that you actually think you know what the city will look, feel, smell and sound like. Finally arriving to the city after years of creating your own ideas about it and realizing – yes, we really are in passionate, romantic Sevilla, the very heart of Andalucia – was immensely exciting. Continue reading “Splendid Sevilla, pt. 1: A Warm Welcome and a Town-Within-a-Town”

On Nature

After returning home from Malta, I talked to a friend who was very interested to hear my impressions of the island. She visited Malta a few years ago and fell in love with the rich culture, history and food so when she asked me to highlight the best thing about Malta and I answered, probably the nature, she was left with a puzzled look on her face. At the same time, with images of wild flowers and beautiful natural vistas still fresh in my mind, I didn’t know what was so strange about what I had said. Continue reading “On Nature”

Introduction to the Mystery of Malta

Sliema

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!

The scenery

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.

It's always Cisk time

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.

View of the Grand Harbour

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.     

Valletta, Parliament HouseArchitecture, detailArchitecture of MaltaValletta, detail

Tourism in Sliema

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.

Megalithic templesBalconies and windows of MaltaGozoMarsaxlokk

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!

Sunset on Malta

Baroque grandeur of the Palace of Caserta

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”

Mythical Capri

We were in a hurry to get to Capri. While standing in line in the Sorrento harbour, waiting for our turn to buy the tickets alongside a large group of other tourists, we were anxiously glancing from the line over to the catamaran that was apparently already starting its ride and wondering whether we will make it. We were being ridiculos, of course, because boats, water taxies and catamarans were traveling from Sorrento to Capri really often and our inability to get on board of this one would maybe impede our arrival to the island for 10-20 minutes. But we couldn’t wait so long, filled with impatience about visiting the island described so often as an island of myth, history, poetry, art and good living. We needed to know – and sooner rather than later – whether the hype was justified and whether we will love Capri as much as everyone else apparently does. Continue reading “Mythical Capri”

Marvelling at Miramare

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”

Strada Statale 163 and one crazy Amalfi ride

Ingredients are the same as in so many other parts of the world: there is sea, sun, mild weather, small coastal towns and villages, beaches and lovely vegetation. What makes Costiera Amalfitana stand out as one of the most memorable places I have ever seen, though, is the road – crazy Strada Statale 163 Amalfitana that connects towns situated along the Amalfi coast, starting with Meta and ending with Vietri sul Mare. It follows the coast for some 50 kilometers and, on its way, twists into more than 1 500 bends. Continue reading “Strada Statale 163 and one crazy Amalfi ride”

Torna a Surriento

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.

Piazza Tasso, an international placeRomantic evening in the town centre

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.

Blue skies and palm trees everywhere

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.  

Valle dei Mulini_2Valle dei mulini_ mill ruins

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.

High upIf 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.

Curvy road from Marina PiccolaMarina Piccola

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.

Narrow streets bustling with lifeHere comes the sun...

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.

Sorrento souvenirsAnd it was all yellow...A taste of Sorrento

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. 

PepperonciniColorful Sorrento souvenirs

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.

Small town lifeBecause what else do you need to live the lifestyle of  Italian Dolce vita?

Beautiful views everywhere

Mont Saint Michel: A Wonder of Nature and Human Skill

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”

A Four-Star Trakošćan Experience

With a literal translation of “beyond the mountain”, Zagorje is a cultural-historical region in the north-west part of Croatia. It is an area of great natural beauty, scattered with hills and small villages situated on their slopes, and famous for its spa resorts, authentic villages and the gastronomy. Continue reading “A Four-Star Trakošćan Experience”