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”
Sevilla is full of grand buildings and public spaces, as can be expected from a royal city of such great history and heritage. On our last day in the city, we got the chance to see some of them: Continue reading “Splendid Sevilla, pt. 4: Tobacco and History, Immortalized”
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”
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”
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!
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.
Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are five colorful fishing villages on the coast of Liguria that have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Dramatically situated between the sea and the land, they can be reached by walking paths, trains and boats, but not by cars. Not that that poses a problem for the rivers of tourists that flock them every year. Continue reading “The Due Terre”
Driving in Italy is not for the faint-hearted. Driving down Strada Stradale 227, the road that connects Portofino with Santa Margherita Ligure and other parts of Liguria, might just be the most tense, Bond-like drive you will ever take in your life. Continue reading “I found my love in Portofino, and my joy in Santa Margherita Ligure”
I read in my guide that Genova’s Porto Antico (the Old Port) was a dark, seedy place before it was genially revamped by the local boy turned world famous architect, Renzo Piano in 1992, just in time to celebrate the anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Seeing the area for the first time this summer, I couldn’t imagine that there was time when walking around the port was a dangerous endeavor. On the contrary: for me, the city port was the experience that made me fall hopelessly in love with Genova, its sun, its sea, the light breeze and palms… Continue reading “„La Superba“, Pt. 2: Falling In Love with Mediterranean Ports and Palm Trees”