SANTA MARTA: THE DOOR OF THE SIERRA NEVADA

Santa Marta is located in Magdalena department, on the Caribbean coast in the north of Colombia, between Barranquilla and Riohacha.

The city is a good place to stop off if you are doing a tour of the country and you want to go in the Sierra Nevada or to the Guajira Department.

It is one of the most tourist-focused cities on the coast. Its location between the Sierra Nevada and the Caribbean coast makes this city very attractive, especially considering the variety of fauna and flora to be found there.

 It is important also for the historical and cultural heritage, Santa Marta, was a colonial city, where you can admire the colonial architecture and monuments such as the Basilica of Santa Marta, which is a one of the biggest tourist destinations on the Caribbean coast.

As a Caribbean city, Santa Marta has suffered from repetitive British, French and Dutch attacks. The city is steeped in history and legends. One of them, says that Santa Marta´s Cathedral contains the heart of the famous Simón Bolívar, hidden somewhere. In fact Bolivar spent his last part of the life here.

A walking tour is the perfect way to orient yourself within the city and learn about its history and culture with your guide: follow your guide along the beach, check out top landmarks such as the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, and end your tour with a prime spot for watching the sunset.

I was in Santa Marta as starting point for the “Ciudad perdida” I was by trekking! The Lost City, or Ciudad Perdida, is the archaeological site of an ancient indigenous city in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It has been a commercial center around 700 A.D., and its population probably ranged between 1,400 and 3,000 inhabitants. Hidden in the jungle for over a thousand years, the Lost City was found in 1972 when treasure hunters followed a series of stone steps leading up to an abandoned city.

From Santa Marta tour operators offer three- to five-day guided treks to the Lost City which include transportation, lodging, food.

Read more about the city!

 

VOSS: AT THE CROSS OF THE 2 MOST LONGEST NORVEGIAN FJIORDS

As one of my closest friend lived in Voss for 6 months and I promised her to reach her there this summer I decided to go in Norway. After several stops I arrived in Voss, a little town that is a strategic place due to the fact it is in the cross of 2 fjords: the sognefjiord and the Hardangerfjiord, the 2 biggest ones.

I just described some of the attraction you can find there the easiest if you are on foot!

ATTRACTION

Voss Folk Museum

At Voss Folk Museum you can visit Molstertunet, a farmstead composed by 16 houses. This was in use still 1927 and think that the oldest building comes from 16th century!

The nice aspect is this is an outstanding example of the traditional buildings customs of the area. You can also just go up to the Museum and have a nice view on the city from the top drinking a coffee there chilling on a bench.

To arrie from the station is 30 minutes walking, if you go by car just 10 minutes. Remember that it is daily open just in summer (from June to August) while in the rest of the year it opens just for groups for a new exhibition that they are realizing for 2019.

Voss Church

The church was built in 1271 but it is not in woods as the remained oldest and most famous 29 churches of Norway (the ones with the Vikings Mythology symbols and originally in woods).  The interesting thing is that this is made in stones due to a nobility aspect…. As Voss was a rich town in the past the woods church was replaced by the existing one because the woods was for poor people and stones for rich ones! The church also hosts some concerts during the summer.

Hiking

Voss has a wide range of walks and hiking trails with different levels of difficulty. The hiking season starts in June and ends in October, as said it depends from the weather conditions and altitude. You need to be prepared anyway, so just take your raincoat with you and wear good footwear. If you like to do picnic bring also food and drink with you!

For more info there is a touristic center in the main road of Voss where you can ask info on the suggested hikes and let’s go on your path!

More than this you can also rent a bike and go on quiet and rural roads to attractions such as Tvindefossen and Skjervsfossen waterfalls or for shorter excursion.

Bordalsgjelet gorge

Bordalsgjelet gorge is a natural attraction within very short distance from Voss, 30 minutes to arrive there and other 30 to reach the gorges. It is an easy path as the deep and imposing gorge has been adapted for the visiting public, there are also viewpoint and benches for resting the legs! If there is no snow you can arrive to the gorge. Here you can experience an impressive view of the potholes that have been shaped by the ice and river over the time (thousand of years!).

HAMBURG: PERFECT CITY TO VISIT BY BIKE!

Hamburg is an ideal cycling city with thousands of metres of waterside cycle routes. You can enjoy several two-wheeled tour of Germany's premier port.

Similar to Copenhagen, for hundreds of years, much of today’s Hamburg was Danish territory. More than 150 passed but it’s easy enough to see the sign of the past. Like Copenhagen, Hamburg is flat as a pancake. Hamburg has only recently accept the idea that the odd rain shower shouldn’t put people off their bikes. Now, it is easy-access to rent-a-bike and choose a cycle tour of Hamburg a no-brainer.

THE OUTER and INNER ALSTER

Hamburg grew around the Alster river, which was dammed in the early Middle Ages, creating two lakes. One, the small “Inner Alster” is at the centre of town and is the classic postcard snapshot. The other, much larger “Outer Alster” is one of the best place for the locals that say that this is where central Hamburg is at its most beautiful. Starting at the legendary Hotel Atlantic, home to spies and rock stars alike, head north past the cafés and sailboat moorings to your left. It’s a bit loud at first but you’ll get your first pay-off with a great view across the water after a while. After that, the streets get quieter, the houses get bigger, and the views back into town just keep getting better. Just stick close to the water and cross at Krugkoppelbrücke to start heading back into town, stopping off for a drink if you’re thirsty.

 

THE other RIVER ELBE

 

Hamburg has another important river, economically far more important, the River Elbe, a mighty European waterway and home to the city’s port. Head to Landüngsbrücken for a first view of the impressive docks and then use the Alter Elbtunnel to cross. Don’t forget to look back across the water for the view that most miss, and then follow Hermann-Blohm-Straße and the railway sidings along Veddeler Damm for a unique look into the workings of a modern port. Turn left back towards town at Moldauhafen, crossing the river over the iconic Elbe bridges, and then head for HafenCity for a look at the city’s biggest brownfield regeneration project.

Another route you can enjoy, starts from Landungsbrücken and follows the river downstream. You’ll pass the renovated redbrick warehouses where cod, coffee and carpets were once traded. Next, it’s the unmistakeable rhomboid form of the Dockland cruise terminal: yes, you can climb up the stairs on the rear of it - and doing so will reward you with a sweeping panorama of the harbour. Keep heading out of town for the village-y charm of Övelgönne and its old fisherman’s cottages and, if you’ve got a whole afternoon, ride out as far as the Teufelsbrück ferry and then turn inland for the beautiful Jenischpark and the Botanic Gardens.

Read more articles about Europe!

 

LA CIUDAD PERDIDA: TREKKING IN THE HEART OF SIERRA NEVADA

In the heart of the dense tropical jungle in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, is located "La Ciudad Perdida" (The Lost City). This is an ancient sanctuary, Teyuna that goes back to the VIII Century A.D. and it was rediscovered only in 1972 by a body of explorers.

La ciudad Perdida today is the most known archaeological site of Colombia, and considered a sacred place by the 3 ethnic groups that still live in the Sierra Nevada: the Kogi, the Wiwa and the Arhuaco.

The area is an indigenous jurisdiction, so the natives manage the visitors flow. The only way to visit La Ciudad Perdida is a trekking of 4/5 days that cost around 200 - 250 Euros depending on the selected packet.

 

The packages includes the breakfast, lunch and dinner for all the days, the guide and the transportation to and from there (you can ask to bring you in Santa Marta, Palomino or all the places between the 2 locations). The path starts from a height of about 800 meters to arrive at 1200 meters. The journey is not so simple especially if you find raining days. The best way to deal with it should be prepared and equipped.

The local agencies where you can book your trekking will pick you up early in the morning at the hostel where you are staying, and bring you up to the base camp of “El Mamey”, real starting point, where you will meet your guide (mandatory). The transfer takes place in jeep 4×4 and lasts about 3 hours.

It would be dishonest if I told you that the journey is simple, , you will meet some long ascents steep and the great warmth will affect your strength, so it is good to know this that in order to reach the Ciudad Perdida. Better to have a decent physical preparation. An advice is to not do the trekking during the era of the rains (March, April, May, September, October, November) precisely because it often rains and the ground becomes inevitably muddy and slippery.

Day 1: You can have lunch at “El Mamey”, and there the guide will do a briefing introduction on the trekking. The first day, you walk 7 km (3-4 hours depending on the step that brought) to reach the first camp, where you will spend the night in hammocks. You will pass some ascents, waterfalls and rushing brooks that characterize the landscape.

Furthermore, along the path, you will stop in small kiosks and the guide will offer you water and fruit.

Day 2: the second day starts at dawn, since you must walk for about 8 hours to reach the second camp, at the foot of the Ciudad Perdida, Teyuna or as they call the natives. During the walk you will meet even the indigenous community of Mutanzhi. At the end of a long day you can relax in the fresh water of the river that flows to the side of the camp.

Day 3: The great day. It starts at 5.30 a.m., and after breakfast, is the time of the Ciudad Perdida. Before you will start better for you because you will have more time alone on the top. To arrive at the top of the Sacred City, you will have to climb 1.200 stone steps, built by the ancients and the only way of access to the site. The climb is hard, and puts a strain on your psycho-physical skills, but once on the view is unbelievable and the effort is worth it.

After a thorough visit of the site on the late morning, you will start your way back. It will take at least 5-6 hours to reach the camp (Mumake). Remember to not charge you more than what is needed because you will do the trekking with all your equipment. You need clothes to change all the days especially if it rains…. Chocolate and few other things.

Day 4: the Fourth day will be in descent in the same path you did for arriving to the Ciudad Perdida. After you wet in the waters of fresh streams, you will reach the starting point, El Mamey. Here await you already transfers that late afternoon will lead you to your hostel.

For other articles on Colombia, click here!

CHEFCHAOUEN: THE BLUE CITY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIF

Chefchaouen (Scesciàuen the exact pronunciation) is a blue pearl nestled in the middle of the Rif Mountains, part of the national park of Talassemane. A Berber village with a particular Andalusian atmosphere and a Moroccan identity: you will remain surprised!

It is one of the most beautiful cities of the North Africa and - even if the tourism has taken root in recent years - it must be said that it is not easy to arrive in Chefchaouen, so the city maintain itself out if the most touristic tour of Morocco. It is still pure and if you want to see a good example of the Moroccan beauty enjoy this city, all painted of the various shades of blue. Alleys, stairs, doors and windows: everything is blue, turquoise, and aquamarine.

If you love to take pictures you will be in the right place, every corner is perfect and the view changes completely during the day or the night.

Chefchaouen welcomes you, embraces you, emotion you. The people is warm as it is in Spain and the city seems so small but is just the characteristic of all the Moroccan cities: you will lost yourself in the tiny streets where you can’t see anything more the walls around you!



The city is full of panoramic terraces where you can have your dinner or enjoy the sunrise in front of a meant tea with Chefchaouen that changes his colors behind you.

At some time during the day, you can also listen the muezzin call (for Muslims to prayer that resounds for the city 5 times a day).) The voice comes loud and clear just from the minaret! it was too charming not to listen it concentrated!

I arrived in the city during the evening coming from Fez with a bus. It was a long road (4 hours if I remember well) but when you can see the blue of the Chefchaouen houses you will be positively surprised… Despite the tiredness I started to feel, I decided to go in the alleys of Chefchaouen, without worrying about find points of reference useful for orientation. The risk of being lost is in fact does not exist because the Medina is circular and so, if you don’t push yourself out from the city doors, you will be inevitably back to the starting point.

You will feel yourself lost walking in a peaceful atmosphere of this village where nobody (different from the other Moroccan cities) stop you to sell something or to accompany you somewhere, where all the people you meet smile even if they see you take pictures to any piece of their city.

OUT OF THE CITY

Leaving the city from the north eastern of the medina you can find some nice pools where families love to spend many hours of the day, until sunset forwarded.

Just ask to people for the waterfall and they will guide you. These waterfalls, derive from the Ras al-Ma river, and are very good to pass some hours during the sunset. In addition to local people who take a bath in the river you can enjoy an "aperitifs" from small stalls illuminated by artificial lights. From here you can walk toward the church from where you can have one of the more spectacular sunset I ever seen!

Another activity to do is a trekking in the Rif. The easiest trek to do is in the Park of Talassemtane that can be visited with daily excursions from Chefchaouen or you can do a trekking for several days, 5 shall serve for the complete tour. You will be accompanied by guides and mules for the transport of luggage and food - and spend nights in mountain huts or camping areas. Each itinerary requires approximately 4/5 hours of trekking per day.


NIGHTLIFE IN THE BLUE CITY

When the night arrives, Chefchaouen loses in color but earns in magic. Outa el-Hammam square is the best place to pass the night. Populated by candles and tables and local people, the square will be full of people that dinner, drinking a mint tea with the mosque Tarik-Ben-Ziad that stands out among all the rest. It is truly an experience not to be missed!

If you don’t want to sit in a place and stay there, you can also enjoy the street food. The shops close late, so you can eat something walking and discovering the true soul of this place stay in contact with the local people.

WHY CHEFCHAOUEN IS BLUE PAINTED?

Anyone who has been in India, knows that there is a blue city, Jodhpur in Rajasthan. The oldest suburb of the city is still today painted blue because in the past lived there the caste of the Brahmins, Indian priests. So in India the reason is religious to differentiate the upper cast to the other ones. Starting from this and understand that Morocco is a bit different I can try to explain an historical reason. Of course, there is more than a hypothesis. We can start thinking that up to the 40th the city was considered sacred to Muslims and for this, it was forbidden entry of people of other religious faith and to foreigners.

Going back in the history, since in 1471 the exiles from Andalusia- Muslims and Jews - have founded Chefchaouen, one of the most valid hypotheses is that the Jews painted the houses and streets of blue to recall the colors of what should be their paradise.

Another theory is more practical: blue would be a color that takes away flies and mosquitoes.

The various cultures of Chefchaouen today merge together in the city just like the various shades of blue: the Berbers, Muslims and Jews-Andalusians.

If you will come to Morocco, please pass some days in this beautiful blue paradise, it really worth to spend your time here!


MONTEZUMA: “Pura Vida” BEACH TOWN

Montezuma is on the southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. This Peninsula is very remote and  Montezuma is one of the most difficult place to reach but it is never overly crowded. The people who arrive here are a mixture of backpackers and young families, looking for a quite getaway.

Back in the past

Montezuma was originally a small fishing village and it was “discovered” by some adventurous travelers back in the 1960’s and 70’s and has been a hippie center ever since. Home to many conservationists, musicians, artists, naturalists, and 'hippies', Montezuma is a mellow and tranquil beach town that has maintained the essence of simple life.

In November, Montezuma hosts an annual film festival.

Today

Montezuma is composed of quiet beaches, wild forest, and lots of monkeys, butterflies, and birds. One of the things that makes it unique is it’s the feeling of peace you have in this magic place. It is a vibrant community, made up of expats and locals.

The landscape is amazing and here you can find a unique open-air comfort and culture. At night, the town's generally relaxed-vibe transitions to a more upbeat fiesta, once locals and visitors have had time to reborn after a full day in the sun.

You can also find notable restaurants host excellent cuisine. The smell of Ceviche and Empanadas of the restaurant is filled the air.

The best beach is sitting at Montezuma's doorstep, Playa Grande (Grande Beach) where many visitors go to relax and chilling in the beautiful surroundings. Some people do also surfing, that is generally good. I passed my afternoons there finding some shade under a tree and the sounds of palm trees rustling in the breeze and waves crashing on shore gently lulled me to sleep.

If you want to trek a bit you can go up and down the coast. There lost in the vegetation you can find tide pools form around rocky outcroppings, and just outside of town, there is a gorgeous 80-foot cascading waterfall with excellent swimming holes and all that just 20 min hike up the Montezuma River.

Montezuma offers many cheap accommodations and hostels.

The most important concept to understand and feel in Costa Rica and especially here in Montezuma is what they mean for “Pura Vida”. To me “Pura Vida” meant Pure Life. Natural, untouched, simple and pure. To explain it in more depth ‘Pura Vida’ can be a greeting, a state of mind, a way of life. You meet someone walking down the street, you say ‘Pura Vida’. You catch the perfect wave while surfing, you say ‘Pura Vida’. You have a wonderful day, you say ‘Pura Vida’. You find a great bar while walking the streets of Montezuma, you say ‘Pura Vida’. It can mean anything but always something good. Anytime something good happens, “Pura Vida” is the appropriate thing to say.

Getting There

Visitors have several options for getting to Montezuma. If you’re on a budget, the public bus is the best choice. You can take the direct bus from San Jose and really enjoyed it because the road view is really nice. Although it is a long trip (around 6 hours), it includes a scenic ride on a ferry.

Montezuma truly feels like paradise at the end of the world, and for a true getaway cannot be beaten as a destination!

PORTO : A FAIRYTALE IN THE NORTH OF PORTUGAL

Porto is a quiet city, really nice for long walks on sunny days. Porto has changed during the last years. I was there more than 10 years before and I can say now

it is a touristic city that is growing in beauty and in charm. I was really happy to see a new renewed Porto, full of colors and life.

Let yourself be inspired by the narrow alleys, the ocean breeze and the vibrant colors of the houses: Porto is really a magical city and has a very long history.  It is less crowded than Lisbon if you prefer an elegant but not crazy night life city to visit.

The visit to the city can start from the famous Livrarua Di Lello and Irmao, It is one of the oldest and most spectacular libraries in the world. It is note especially because it inspired Harry Potter writer J.K.Rowling. It is a library in liberty style, full of treasures to discover. In the last few years, is necessary ticket to visit the library, at a cost of 4 euros which can be discounted to purchase a book (not cumulative).

A place I loved was the market of Bolhão that  is a symbol of the buildings of the center of Porto and is the most important market of the city. The project was originally made by the Architect António Correia da Silva and dated back to 1850. The inauguration was in 1914. I decided to buy fresh fish and vegetable and cooked them at home!

If you are looking for a relaxing experience, you can opt for a walk on Luis bridge at sunset. The bridge was built in 1831 and it connects the port with the town Vila Nova de Gaia, famous for the wine cellars with wine tasting of the famous Porto wine.

My Friend and I having a walk

 

In Villa Nova My friend and I decided to do a tour to know better the Porto Story. We decided for the Offley.  Located in Vila Nova de Gaia near the waterfront, at Caves Offley you will learn the fascinating story of the Baron of Forrester and its role in the Port wine industry. In this guided tour through the cellar, there will be wine Port tastings and for small groups of connoisseurs there is also available an intimate visit with a wider selection of Port Wine tastings. Founded in 1737  by William Offley the company became international and today is one of the most important Porto cellar. But if you desire to have a full experience of Porto Wine you need to go in the Douro Valley and see with your eyes the grapevines from the river. Amazing!

If you are hungry after the walks I suggest a place where you can eat a lot of fish for a good price: Restaurante Casa Adão.

If time permits, a trip toward the Ocean is a good option. You can do it in 2 different ways:

  • aboard the characteristic yellow tram,.The tram line 1 - Infante - Passeio Alegre is located in front of the San Francisco. church. The ticket costs 2,50€ and it can be done directly on board.
  • Or you can take a small boat from Villa Nova de Gaia and do a small trip under the 5 bridges of the city till the Ocean. I did this. We bought a ticket with the boat tour, a tasting in the Porto Cruz building and a tour in the OFFLEY cellar.  We bought the ticket directly in front of the river and we paid 12 Euro.

When you want to go back to the other part of the city you can also take a cable-way, that will bring you to the top in front of the saint Luiz. Nice to go after the sunset because you see the city full of lights!  The cost id around 7 Euro for both ways.

Another thing to do, a  good way to visit the city with a guide is a walking tour, for example with portowakers  . 

If you like the street art they also organize some good walking tour in the afternoon on it!

 

 

PALOMINO: WHERE THE TIME STOPS HIS FLOW

The first imagine I remember of Palomino is the picture below:

My first thought: yes it is! The paint was on a wall, close to the point where the bus stop. It is not a real bus stop, there is an old bus station, and you leave the bus there when you heard: “Palomino!”

When you watch around you at the beginning, you see only a long road that divides the small village in two parts. From there, you cannot immediately understand the soul of the place.
I have to say that I stopped in Palomino just because some days before in the “Ciudad perdida” trekking I met a Colombian guy, really beautiful and gentle, a guide for the 5 days trekking.
During the long walk in the middle of the Sierra Nevada, we had a lot of time to know each other deeper and deeper. One of the long talks we had was on the places I did not have to loose on my journey discovering Colombia.
So, He told me to go to Cabo de la Vela and before that He suggested to stop some days in his “finca” outside Palomino, just chilling under the pilework He built, drinking rum, sleeping on the hammocks, enjoy the view and going to the beach passing through the cocoa palm forest He had to take care of.

Before going ahead, I would like to introduce the Sierra Nevada, called the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is the birthplace of the Tayrona, an indigenous civilization of the north Colombia. The descendants of the Tayrona still live there. Currently there are almost 70,000 indigenous people, belonging to the Kogui, Arhuaco, Kankuamo and Wiwa ethnicities. This mountain formation contains an area of particular beauty and mystery with a great cultural heritage. The area is a sacred sight for the four indigenous groups that inhabit the Sierra and it is called Teyuna Archeological Park also known as the “Ciudad Perdida”. This Park start from the mountains and slide down till the Caribbean see where you find Palomino.

Coming back to my story, I decided to meet this guy, because He seems a really great person and as Italian I couldn’t say no. In Italy when somebody invite you to his home, it is good habit to go and pass time there cooking for  an Italian dishes to thank for the invitation. I did it of course!

So stopped in Palomino. I searched a moto taxi asking to bring me to my friend and the drivers knew him and the place where he lived. He was not born in this area, so all the locals called him the foreigner.

After 10 minutes, we arrived and I was surprised! Such a beautiful and peaceful place… To let you understand the best thing I can do, is show you pictures, as my words can tell you what my eyes saw but better let you dream on my pictures, hoping you will enjoy them!

As you can see, I felt myself totally free and full of happiness. I was there and the time stopped for two days let me the time to steal the energy and the good vibrations of this place.

We spent the day drinking coffee, Colombian one. Locals love to pass all the day with a cup of good coffee in their hands smelling his flavor and enjoy a talk with a friend in front of it.
However, when the sun was going down we moved to cross the cocoa palm forecast and we went to watch the sunset from the beach.

Another surprise. We were at the end of the land where the river became part of the sea. You can take a bath in the fresh water or decided for the salt water.
We were almost alone because from Palomino village, it is a walk long 5 Km and not all the people love to walk so long.

After 2 hours, we decided to go back to my new temporary home because we were hungry. My friend asked what we would like to eat and I said fish! We called an angler of Palomino that arrived with this big fish ( many beers and a bottle of rum):

I had the honor to cook it! Wonderful! However, I can say that one of the amazing things of Palomino is the fresh fish you can find.

The second day I was with another guy, hosted by my friend to buy fish and after half an hour of searching and asking to local people we found some good, rural fish shops! Yes in Palomino you need to talk with locals to find the best food and activities to do.

We spent a good night there forgot by everyone, talking and drinking all together. Anyway, you can pass the night in the village, that did not have a crazy nightlife, but there were plenty of bars where friendly travelers chat, enjoying tropical cocktails and cheap beers.

The day after I decided to go for a rafting, a typical activity to do in Palomino as there are many rivers and one of that is perfect for an easy rafting. You rent inner tubes, ride with them on the back of a moto taxi up into the jungle, hike a bit further, and then float back down to the beach on a river. Everywhere you go in town there are booths offering to rent tubes. You pay around 5 Euro.

In conclusion, I can say Palomino was unexpectedly a nice place to pass 2 days and after restart with my journey!