FLORENCE: NOT JUST A MUSEUM, IT IS MAGIC

All the time I pass from Florence, it happens: I walk in the center of Florence and my mind is projected into another dimension. You can image the life of centuries ago that made the city great: culture, history, art, poetry and food… this city is also ingenuity, wisdom, mystery and magic. The pillars of an unprecedented beauty that has no equal. But Florence is not just a museum. It is more….

One of the most famous square in Florence

Florence and its genetic traits attracted artists, poets and novelists from all around the world as the source of their inspiration and as their temporary home, their refuge. Florence is life. Florence is even the city of craftsmen that also today are the citizen of this beautiful city. Churning out large and small masterpieces, handing skills, values and character.

Enjoy the Flavors of Florence

Florence is the heart of Tuscany... maybe one of the best representation of Italy. If you pass from Tuscany you will stop here, walk around Florence, taking photos from Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River.  A trip to Florence means a visit to the Uffizi Museum, and the imposing Palazzo della Signoria. To truly taste Florence, you need to enjoy also the food of Florence and the wine. Stop in one of the small restaurant and take your glass of red wine sitting there in the middle of this amazing city!

You can also inhale the perfume of leather at the markets and eat a real Fiorentina. “Ristorantedel Fagioli” in Corso dei Tintori, 47 R - FIRENZE, one of the best! But you need a reservation!

Some good place to eat an amazing Italian sandwich (La schiacciata) are:

From Fratellini

Or you can go to the Sant’ Ambrogio Market and choose what you like.

For the night you can go to Piazza Santo Spirito and take an aperitivo. If you are Vegetarian search for “Il Vegetariano”. It is incredible, how it is delicious!

In Florence the best thing to do is walking, lose yourself in the middle of the town, and don’t pass your time to visit only museum and buildings …. Enjoy the peace and the beauty all around you!

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!

 

ARENAL: THE COSTA RICA VOLCANO!

The Arenal Volcano is one of the main touristic destination in Costa Rica. It is in the North of the Country and around this area, you can do, lots of things! From the relaxing massage to the trekking to the top of the volcano…. there are several tours that take place in the area surrounding the volcano, and for good reason! You can have access to the rainforest, waterfalls, the country’s largest lake...

First, explore Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal, is without a doubt, the most popular and well-recognized of Costa Rica’s volcanoes. When you arrive there…. You will be impressed by the huge symmetrical cone that dominates the fertile landscape at his foot. From San Jose you can simply take a bus that will bring you to Arenal. For the accommodation, no worries! I arrived there and I searched for a place to stay. I found a nice woman that also had an activity to sell Tour, but she was very nice, as I was a girl alone, so she gave me some good discount. At first I didn’t know if I chose well, but the days after spoken with several other backpackers I understood I was right… good compromise between me and her to have both the best we could from the bargain! I slept for 7 euros, and I bought a tour for the afternoon to the Park and waterfalls plus the tour of the day after to the top of the volcano and last, the passage with the jeep to Monteverde to do the most amazing zip line all for 150 Euros….

Coming back to the national Park…until recently, Arenal was the country’s most active volcano with an average of 41 eruptions per day. The Arenal Volcano is currently in a resting phase, you cannot hike up the volcano itself, but I recommend hiking through Arenal Volcano National Park with a bilingual naturalist guide in search of old lava flow and wildlife.

Slight changes in altitude create unique micro-climates and ecosystems through this region, making it home to a variety of exotic species.

Rest yourself in Arenal Volcano All-Natural Hot Springs

Another amazing thing to do here is to soak your muscles in thermal pools of water! Arenal is also home to several hot springs. Formed when water is heated underground and bubbles to the surface, Costa Rica’s mineral waters have been used as therapeutic baths for more than two hundred years to treat rheumatism and other ailments. These natural wonders tempt even the most experienced traveler – for a good reason! What could be better than a relaxing warm bath, surrounded by jungle and shadowed by the beauty of the volcano after a day of adventure?

Neighborhood:

Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall

Close to Arenal, there is a little farming town of La Fortuna that is named for its beautiful neighbor, the La Fortuna Waterfall. As one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country and luckily enough, it can only be arrived at by foot (a 15-minute hike) or horseback, if you don’t like to walk. From the lush rainforest greenery, La Fortuna plummets 200 feet to fall into a pool of crystal clear water. Remember: the pool is delightfully cool on hot summer days!

Tenorio Volcano National Park

Tenorio has everything you could want in a tropical forest natural area.  Hiking to the sky blue Celeste waterfall is a highlight, but the hanging bridges in the rainforest and trail to Lago Danta through the cloud forest from the Heliconias entrance are equally amazing.

Celeste Waterfall: At a glance these are what puts the region around Bijagua on the list of the best places in Costa Rica.  From ranger station at the west entrance of Tenorio National Park (El Pilón) to the azure tinted cataract a couple of kilometers to the south.

Many hypotheses, conjectures and beliefs have been brought up about the rier color in a sunny day, intense blue, including that the color was due to the presence of a metal such as copper, the river’s proximity to the Tenorio Volcano or because of minerals such as calcium carbonate and sulfur. But all of those explanations are now known to be false,read more about this....

"To understand the enigma of this matter, one should know that two completely transparent rivers, Sour Creek (Quebrada Agria) and the Good View River (Río Buena Vista), converge to form the Río Celeste. It is precisely from the point of union of the two where the waters cease to be transparent and become light blue for the following 14 kilometers of river. For that reason, this point is known as The Dyer (El Teñidero)."

Hanging Bridges Hike

If you like to hike, another possibility is to hike through a private nature preserve along well-maintained trails and across a series of fixed and hanging bridges with views of Arenal Volcano. It is relaxing and it doesn’t take a long time if you don’t like long trails. A naturalist guide will point out the flora and fauna of the area like monkeys, sloths, tree frogs, and more. Don’t miss the waterfall extension trail at the end of the hike!

The Lake Arenal: the passage to Monteverde

The Arenal Volcano is also the base of Costa Rica’s largest lake, Lake Arenal. With the mighty volcano as its backdrop and the surrounding rolling hills and forests, Lake Arenal is truly a vision of peacefulness. Several activities are here possible: fishing, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding are some of the most popular activities enjoyed from the lake. I pass from here with a cruise to reach my next stop… Monteverde. You can most certainly enjoy its added beauty to the scenery.

PRAGUE: MY FIRST DAY!

Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic is a perfect mix of architecture and culture. This beautiful city is called the “City of a Hundred Spires” and “Mother of All Cities” and has so much to offer its many visitors.

The name of the city means “Rapids” (as in a river). Old Bohemia meets the modern world, here beauty is never lacking. I hope you will get appetite after reading my article!

Let’s start: the castle and the upper city (Petrin Hill)

I love to walk when the city is quite and not full of tourists, so at 7 am I started my day from the Prague Castle, where from 10 am is almost impossible to take a picture without unknown people included….. It is the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic and it is located in the Hradčany district of Prague. The castle has been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia.

A curiosity: it is also the largest ancient castle in the world still alive!

It's open to the public between 6am and 11pm, and you can see the changing of the guard every hour. The gardens are open to the public as well and are a sight to see! If you arrive from the center you will have to do some stairs to arrive to the top…stop there and look the panorama on the city, because it will be one of the best in Prague!

 

Closed to the castle there is also the upper part of the city Petrin Hill…. I stopped in a bench there for one hour just reading a book under the sun in front of the park you will find there… I have also to say that Petrin Hill has the best views of Prague as well as several more attractions: the 14th century Hunger Wall, the Strahov Monastery, Stefanik Observatory, and a memorial for the victims of the Communist regime. It rises some 130 meters above the left bank of the Valtava River and is almost entirely covered with parks.

Remember to drink an original monastery beer when you go down…. To chill a bit in the ancient city!

Charles Bridge

If you are walking a perfect place to go is the “Charles Bridge”: full of people but also of artists…. Really nice also the view from the most famous historical bridge in Prague. Below it you can see the “ Valtava” river and lots of small “pedalo” of all types…

Furthermore, the ancient bridge is not the only one in the city… Spanning both banks of the Valtava River, Prague is home to many bridges – some old, some new, most built in the beautiful Bohemian style that is so characteristic of the city.

Remember also that from there you can see, 2 small islands, where you can go by walking and pass a nice break or have a coffee or beer!

Going down to the city center you can stop also to the “Dancing House” (Nicknamed “Fred and Ginger”), houses a Dutch insurance company. This non-traditional design (to say the least) was controversial at the time because it contrasts with the Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings of Prague. The shape is supported by 99 concrete panels, each a different shape and dimension and at the top of the building is a large twisted structure nicknamed “Medusa”

Explore the Old Town Square

Prague lived a history of invasions, but the Old Town Square has remained relatively untouched since the 10th Century. Take in your mind that swarms of tourists’ crowd the historical streets, packing out the restaurants every day. Of course, the square itself is the perfect place to admire the wonderful architecture Prague has to offer and if that isn’t your thing then the various street performers, musicians and merchants that line the streets here will certainly keep you entertained.

GDANSK: THE PEARL OF THE NORTH

Gdansk has a long story, that many people sometimes forgive… it was crucial during the Second World War and a milestone of the labour union fights. It was exemplar for the last point, as the polish people fought with energy against the system and against the established rules to let workers have a better life and recognize their dignity and value. Many cultures, nationalities and denominations you will find here, the city of the Amber, for me special of course…my name says everything…

The location was also crucial because it is at the crossroads of important commercial and communication routes, an extensive port and mercantile traditions.

The dynamic development of trade, fishery and craft guilds and more had their best period in the 14th – 15th century: the "golden age." During this time Gdańsk was one of the wealthiest and most significant cities in Europe.

Furthermore, the religious freedom gained in the 16th century turned the city into a true melting pot of nationalities and denominations, giving it yet another stimulus for development, thanks to the specific "community of differences." It was one of the few such places in the world at the time.

We need also to remember that after the Swedish wars and partitions of Poland in the 18th century, the city was cut off from Poland and in 1793 it was annexed to Prussia.

What followed was a period of decline till Napoleon arrived here. In 1919, the Free City of Gdańsk was established under the Treaty of Versailles, which brought the city back to the elite of European ports.

After that Gdansk started again to be famous… not for a good fact… Unfortunately, in 1933 Nazis took power and fascist terror started to escalate in the city. On 1 September 1939, it was here, in Gdańsk, that the Second World War started with shots fired from the battleship Schleswig-Holstein.

Here the people of the city started to be fighter against a bad destiny. The heroic fighting in Westerplatte and the martyrdom of the defenders of the Polish Post Office opened a new, tragic chapter in the history of Gdańsk. Te city were destroyed and the reconstruction were long and difficult…. . For the whole world, the city was becoming a synonym for the liberation aspirations of Poles.
The tragic December 1970, and then August 1980 and the martial law period are the successive dates symbolizing the fight of the citizens of Gdańsk against the prevailing communist regime. Gdańsk became the cradle of "Solidarność" which was to transform the then map of Europe. History has come full circle. Contemporary Gdańsk - a half-a-million, dynamically developing agglomeration - is vibrant with life as before and again deserves to be called "the Pearl of the North."

 

 WHAT TO SEE

 Street art

If you like street art, Gdansk is perfect! Just four stops from Gdansk Glowny is the Gdansk Zaspa district. This largely residential area may not have many traditional “attractions”, but the facades of its communist-era tower blocks are painted in intricate and often colourful murals.

Visit the museums: “Solidarnosc” Museum and the second World War Mesuem

Gdansk has some of the best museums in Poland and I think in Europe too. Especially because here you will find theSolidarnosc” Museum (ECS: European center of Solidariety) and the second World War Mesuem.  The European Solidarity Centre tells the story of a steelworkers’ strike, which set in motion a cultural movement that spread around Poland and ultimately led to the fall of communism. What you will feel inside is incredible, there are also free auodio guide that will help you to live again those events or at least, if you are too young to understand what really this population passed during the last decades and how the people that really fight for their rights and their freedom act. Nothing compared to the politicians of today…. Both the Museum are modern and opened not so many years ago…. So you will really appreciate the style of those Museums.

Explore the Old Town

It is the most touristy (and busiest) part of the city, but Gdansk Old Town is beautiful and a walk around is an essential part of any visit. Each building carries a story, from the seemingly “medieval” facade close to the Golden Gate (which was actually painted by Soviet authorities), to the statues atop buildings rebuilt after the Second World War. A walk alongside the marina is a must if the weather is good, and the historic Soldek ship is also worth checking out.

Not forgive to pass in Ulica Mariacka, in the city centre retains its pre-Second World War terraces and is now home to a number of artisan shops selling amber jewellery, for which Gdansk is famous.

The sea in Poland!

As I stayed 2 days I decided to go to the sea….. I arrived by fly and I have to admit I was not thinking of long beaches in Poland… my fault…. If you have time just go, take a normal tram ticket and arrive to the end in Brzezno, and from there you can walk to Sopot, the best place to stay at the sea!

 

 

 

 

GOTHENBURG: WELCOME TO THE SOUTHERN ARCHIPELAGO

Closed to the city of ,Gothenburg reachable with a normal public transport ticket, there is a group of small but really beautiful, nice and quiet islands where you can pass a relaxing day, going from one to the another small piece of land.

There you will find a very scenic environment, where pass a memorable day outing for a picnic, swim (if you can!) and go for amazing walks.

These islands are unique and on them 4.500 residents pass their quite life in the middle of the nature. During the summer of course you will find more people on them but they are not crowded and if you are lucky you will enjoy also local events.

Everything is at a walk distance, a human scale so it is very easy to enjoy the surroundings and converse when walking the tranquil country lanes.

The major island are Vargo, Galtero and Vrango all natural reserves. Here remember that special regulations for the protection of plants and animals are applied.

Unfortunately camping is prohibited throughout the entire archipelago.

HISTORY OF THE ISLANDS

The islands were mentioned early in the Viking era. The ships waited in the shelter of the islands before starting out in their long voyages. Viking markets around the sheltered sound are also referred to. During the Nordic wars throughout the middle Ages these islands changed sovereignty.  During the 18th century, the islands became involved in organized piracy. After they changed their focus and became a base for fishing fleets, salting and processing fish oil.

In the 19th century the islands changed and started to be richer, so they became land of holidays for the population.

I was on Branno (with Galtero), Vrango and Styrso.

BRANNO

Preserved Village Street with a local history museum. Here there is a network of Nature trails leading west towards Galtero.

VRANGO

This is a fishing village surrounded by large areas of untouchable nature. There are large harbors and plenty of places to bathe.

STYRSO

It is more a mixture of island and city culture: the community is also compose by farmers and half by fishermen. Here there is also a guesthouse if you would like to pass the night on  the island.

Read my articles on Europe!

KARMOY ISLAND: BEAUTIFUL BEACHES IN NORWAY

Someone said about Karmoy:

“Great and rich your verdant pastures,
Stout against the sea you face,
Karmoy praise your hardy coastline!” (cit: Nils AAroy)

Norway is not only fjords but also beautiful beaches and I was in some of them. With rocks and skerries protecting Norway from the raging sea in the West, Karmoy was historically important for Vikings but also during the Second World War.
What I found there were long, silky-smooth, sandy beaches in bays and inlets and with eternal swells pounding the coast.
Karmoy is also maritime culture, ocean, silvery fresh fish and a vibrant heritage. You can walk in the footsteps of Harald Fairhair who first united Norway in a single kingdom.

An important note to leave you is the origin of Norway: why this Country has this name? Norway was the Way to the North starting from the Vikings considered fundamental for the fishing, commerce and other activities of this places: an historic landscape with views across the narrow strait that brought you to the north…

The Karmoy countryside is both inviting and diverse offering a range of pursuits in the great outdoors, communion with nature and relax. You can just prepare your pic nic stuff and go to discover the island!

AVALDSNES – the first Royal Throne of Norway
Harals Fairhair chose this as the site of his Royal manors. Here you can feel the revival of the ancient facts about the legendary first Norway king that appears often in sagas and songs. The chieftains and kings who controlled the vital “Northern Way” left till today a church that is a history centre and in the East, a reconstruction of a Viking Farm.
Just as info, the Viking era ranged from AD 750 to AD 1100 when people from Norway, Sweden and Denmark made their mark to Europe. The Vikings are mostly known as pirates and warriors, but they were also traders, craftsmen, farmers, fishermen, poets and discoverers. The nation of Scandinavia were established in those times.

VISNES – momentous industrial heritage
This location was a mining community in the 1800s and here lived the most modern and known copper workers of Northern Europe. The Statue of Liberty in New York is made from a copper produced here!

AKRASANDEN BEACH
It was voted as the Norway’s finest sandy beach! I have to say this place surprised me a lot. You can find them discovering the coast between Akrehamn and Ferkingstad. During the year it is possible also to do surf here.. .and if you look for historic things…. You can find some small holes and bunker of the Second War War, just ask them to local people and they will teach you!

SKUDENESHAVN – A charming town
It is located on the outermost southerly tip of Karmoy. It is a place where you can wander about in peace and quiet surrounded by beautiful architecture, taste freshly-made waffles in cozy cafès, shop for antiques and other treasures, or discover great hiking areas and sandy beaches.

3 DAYS IN BARCELONA: A PERFECT LONG WEEKEND!

3 days are the perfect time to experience Barcelona at your first visit, you could see most of the city’s main tourist attractions and even get a little bit more! The city, widely considered one of Europe’s is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, with unique mix of culture,and energy. Here’s some tips on how to spend 3 days in Barcelona!

FIRST DAY:STARTING TO GO AROUND...

If you want start from the heart of Barcelona, you can have a great start with a walk on the Rambla and go to visit its most iconic market: the Boquería Market (La Rambla, 91). Today it has become a bit touristic but it’s still a must-visit in Barcelona. Better to go in the morning before it will be too crowd. You can you’re your breakfast there from one of the stalls and do some morning grocery shopping.

After your good breakfast, continue to the Paseo de Gracia, where you’ll find two of Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí‘s most famous works. First, Casa Batlló: go inside to fully understand Gaudì prospective!

Following you will arrive to the nearby Casa Milá, Gaudí’s last work. Known as “La Pedrera” (“the quarry”), the interior is quite fascinating as well. The nice thing is to go on the spectacular rooftop terrace for some of the best views in Barcelona and take some pictures.

There, go around the neighborhood: Gracìa was a little village before being completely absorbed by the sprawling metropolis becoming part of Barcelona! Take your time to admire its picturesque, narrow streets and see where they take you.

You can end your day having some good Tapas there and after that see what the night will bring you!

SECOND DAY: SAGRADA FAMILIA Y PARC GUELL

The second day can start with the visit to the most beautiful church I ever see in my life: the Sagrada Familia, another Gaudí masterpiece. The building began to be constructed in 1882 and today is still uncompleted! Gaudì died before finishing this amazing pace of art and the legend says He was almost obsessed of it…. Actually He died in the meanwhile He was admiring the uncompleted construction mashed by a carriage and anybody recognized him in that moment. After few days people started to ask where He was, and finally they discovered He was dead….

The Curch is built thanks to the tips and the entrances the tourists pay to visit it!

The interior is reminiscent of a magical fairytale forest, with its towering tree-like columns and glittering light produced by the stained glass windows. Tip: book your entrance before going to Barcelona, there is difficult to find free places!

After the visit you can relax yourself in the park and have lunch.. Maybe not closed to the church, there is more expensive.

A must-stop in Barcelona is the Park Guell. The famous architect originally intended to build an upper-class housing development. That vision never came to pass, but the public areas of the development were completed and turned into a whimsical park.

Closed to there you can visit also the Carmel Bunkers (Carrer de Marià Labèrnia) located to the north of Park Guell. It is an abandoned military structures left over from Spain’s Civil War in the 1930s might be Barcelona’s best-kept secret. It’s a spectacular place to watch the Barcelona sunset!

For the night you can go around the “Barrio Gotico”. There take some cervezas or cocktails and enjoy the Barcelona nightlife!

THIRD DAY: VISIT THE GOTHIC BARRIO AND CILL IN BARCELONETA

The last day, you can visit the storied Gothic Barrio that maybe you saw during the night the day before. With over 2,000 years of history lining its streets, there’s no shortage of things to see and do here. Step into the shoes of Gaudí or Picasso, relax in a picturesque plaza or get lost in the winding streets of the old Jewish Quarter. The Gothic Quarter is full of magic just waiting to be discovered.

You can also visit some museum, for example the one of the Spain’s most iconic artist, the Picasso Museum (Carrer Montcada, 15-23), or enjoy the Gaudí’s works at the Gaudí Exhibition Center (Pla de la Seu, 7). After that you can stop to the cathedral!

The long walking day can continue on the beach of Barceloneta, so relax take some sun and drink a good mojito there…..

In alternative you can go for a tour of the street art of Barcelona, in that case see my article: BARCELLONA: STREETART WALK – THE POBLENOU

You can do so many more things in Barcelona… this is just a part of them so be ready to go back to this amazing city!