Like every year, Christmas has arrived to my beloved Rijeka. Unlike every year, however, one of Rijeka’s main touristic sights, the Trsat Castle, this year got a new sparkly holiday makeover and brought even more holiday cheer to people of Rijeka and their visitors. Yesterday I got the chance to visit the Trsat castle in the evening and was completely stunned by how fairy-tale like it looks! Continue reading “Holiday Magic at Trsat Castle”
With Portugal having a pretty long coastline (1,794 km), we couldn’t miss spending one day of our trip driving to the coast, seeing the ocean and having some fun in the sun. Continue reading “Fun in the sun”
Some four years ago, during a youth exchange that took place in my home town, I met Joana, a girl from Porto. In the evenings, when all activities were done and participants of the exchange relaxed and mingled on the terrace of the hostel they were staying in, Joana and I talked about our homes. She talked about Porto and Portugal, while I talked about Rijeka and Croatia. She talked with much love and appreciation, without sugarcoating, about things that defined Portugal – about the then-actual economic crisis and many problems the young people were facing, about the saudade, the language, the Douro, the specific atmosphere and “feel” of her home town Porto and the way of life of the Portuguese people. And as she was leaving for home, we made a deal that, now that she has seen my home, I would have to visit hers, one day.
This year, this deal was finally realized, as Portugal became the destination of our annual family trip. Unfortunatally, I didn’t get the chance to meet with Joana (I was with my family and on a tight schedule, she was working and quite busy), but I thought of her quite often as I was visiting places and experiencing things I remembered her talking about. It turned out that she prepared me well for Portugal – the things I imagined all those years ago as I was listening to her stories were pretty similar to the things I saw and experienced “in situ”, during our ten-day trip through northern and central parts of the country. And although her stories were colored with her love of her home, they were not really exaggerated, and the Portugal we visited was as beautiful and dreamy and real, all at the same time, as she had presented it.
During our ten days in Portugal, we only scraped the surface of the complex and rich county and got a tiny peek into the life of a place, but even that was enough to see, hear, taste and experience many things to love.
I loved the relaxed, simple life of the country, not polluted by mass tourism. After visiting so many European countries that live from tourism and completely subjugate themselves to the requirements of the visitors, this felt like a wonderful refreshment and a reminder that there still are authentic countries that are so much more than just touristic destinations.
I loved the people – simple, honest, modest people, going around their daily activities, minding their own business, living a simple life of work and play in the shadow of their great, at times tragic, history and rich heritage.
I loved the coast – the never-ending white, sandy beaches of the western Portuguese coast and the mighty Atlantic… The feeling I had at Cabo da Roca of being at the edge of the world.
I loved Pasteis de Nata, the sweet pastry that became an essential part of our Portuguese every day, small, incredibly tasty and very fulfilling.
I loved vinho verde, young wine from the northern parts of Portugal, clear, of beautiful color, with a touch of fizz, tasty, fragrant and mild.
I loved the Douro, the quiet meandering river responsible for so much of what makes Portugal special.
I loved Porto, a gritty, untidy, punk city that knows what it is, loves it and savors its quirkiness.
I loved Lisabon, the capital whose twisty narrow streets and hilly atmospheric neighborhoods trick you into believing that this is a small, crowded town, and not a wondrous, monumental capital.
I loved the weather, and the constant breeze smelling of salt and sea, never allowing you to forget that Portugal is the country by the sea, of the sea.
The list could go on, with all the things springing into my head now as images through a filter with washed-out, overexposed hues. Quite a remarkable country, warm and beautiful both inside and out. A wonderful place full of wonderful people. Joana, you were right! 🙂
With the arrival of the holiday season, the mood instantly changes. It becomes more elevated, more nervous at times because there is so many things to do, so many presents to buy, cakes and cookies to bake and visits to plan, but also more cheerful as you keep hearing holiday songs on the radio and you see the towns put on their most festive apparel and are full of lights, decorations and smell of mulled wine.Continue reading “Holiday Season in Rijeka and Graz”
Finally, one of my greatest wishes came true! After years and years of being the craziest and most enthusiastic Christmas-obsessed individual around, terrorizing everyone with holiday preparations and festive spirit long before they were due, my family finally granted me the wish and organized a weekend trip to Vienna and Graz, to visit some of their Christmas markets that rank among the most famous ones in Europe. I was really excited about “Christmas coming early this year” in a literal sense, and the experience really did not disappoint me one bit – for two lovely days, in two beautiful Austrian cities, I have lived Christmas with all my senses. Continue reading “Christmas Wonderland in Austria”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, indeed. It’s the fresh winter air, snowy surprises, smell of Christmas cookies, decorations all around, general excitement, warmth in your home… For me, December really is the culmination of the year. Maybe because everyone knows that yet another year is passing and try really hard to make the most of it before it ends, maybe because all the festivities encourage people to just relax and be nicer to each other, maybe because Christmas lights and decorations all around the town keep everyone excited and positive… Or maybe it’s the fact that I was born in December and always feel something special when it finally arrives J Continue reading “Happy December!”