Assisi, IT

Assisi, IT

Interrupting your Winter mood – and mine, for that matter – with a full blast from the warmer past, as I’m finally getting to tell you a bit about the trip we took to Assisi somewhere in August last year. Yeah, people, I know, I know… it took me about 6 months to write this text, it’s inexcusable. But this year I set my mind to be more active here, so hopefully this will not be the case anymore. I’m just hoping that someone will actually be reading all of this, but one step at a time…

Right, let’s talk about Assisi. First of all, did you know this place existed? I kind of did and didn’t. First thing that came to mind was St. Francis of Assisi and of course I assumed that “of” pointed to a place, but it remained a bit abstract. Luckily, the abstract little place proved to be quite real and a really, really pleasant experience.

Having bought (again) tickets to Rome, the plan was to rent a car and stop for a few nights in several places across Italy. We decided on Rome and I wanted Florence (for the fourth time), but what else? And Assisi popped up from the world wide web. The exact article that flared my imagination and rightfully made me anticipate that it was a little gem is this. So, if you are doing the same think and browse the web to decide whether you should visit Assisi and you ended up here, the answer for you is YES.

Now, let me give you a few reasons why.

First of all, it is beautiful. Like straight out of a postcard, especially around sunset. It is located in Umbria, around a 2 hours drive from Florence, so you might be expecting a different feeling compared to Tuscany. And it is so, but it is still one of warmth and well being. The city is built on a hill and you get a lot of cobblestone little streets, going up and down, and beautiful buildings that have so much charm that will make fall in love with them.

Since I’ve mentioned the hills, a word of caution: wear heels (see what I did there?:) at your own risk. Actually, if you do manage to do that, do send me a picture, because you might be a superwoman and I need to see that.

Also related to the hills and narrow streets, you need to know that you cannot park your car in the old city and you have to leave it in the paid parking lots available downhill. And then you’ll have to take quite a trek back up. So, the best course of action would be to drive to the hotel (if you’re staying in the city centre), leave your baggage and then go park the car. That is if you don’t want to drag your suitcase up while cursing the life out of you. I mean you wouldn’t want to curse here, after all this place is most famous for its religious background.

And this brings me to the second reason I think you will love this town. It makes religion approachable. For the entire time we were there, we didn’t feel we were in a place that is all about religion. You didn’t have to keep your head down and keep quiet or anything else like that. It actually showed you that you could enjoy life and have a good laugh, so don’t be put down by the fact that this is one of the most famous pilgrimage places in the world. You will enjoy it even if you aren’t religious at all.

Still, if that’s your case, do visit the religious landmarks here, because they are very beautiful architecturally and, no wonder, absolutely peaceful. So do put place like Basilica San Francesco and the Assisi monastery and the San Rufino cathedral on your list, I promise you’ll enjoy the visit.

Moving on to reason #3: this place will make you earn your pizza. The hills and the narrow streets, the fact that cars are not allowed in the city centre, all make for the perfect reason to just walk and walk and walk. And if you’re up for a real stroll, then you should climb to the Rocca Maggiore from where you can enjoy a panoramic view over the city. Added bonus: toned legs and lot of calories burnt. Which, of course, you can replenish in full with a good meal at one of the restaurants in town. We were a little bit boring and kept eating at a place called “La Lanterna”, it was absolutely beautiful, but there are several good restaurant within walking distance (of course😊), so you’ll get the chance to pick your favourite.

Let’s spend a bit of time with the practicalities now.

How to get here: when we’re Italy, we usually rent a car. The weapon of choice is a Fiat 500, but this time the rental company ran out of those and we got a Fiat Panda instead. My recommendation, regardless of the brand you prefer, is to go for something similar in size. At one point, we found ourselves on front of something that looked like the entrance in someone’s courtyard, but no, that was the actual street. So you can draw your own conclusion on what type of car is needed here.

Where to stay: we booked a room at Hotel Il Palazzo and it was a great choice. It’s right on the main street and if you’re lucky to get a room on the last floor, you’re in for an amazing view. The rooms are really nice and comfortable and the breakfast room is amazing, with exposed brick walls. The breakfast itself could be tastier or the staff there could have done a better job in restocking the different items, but it didn’t matter that much, I’m a fussy eater anyway…

Where to eat: I’ve already mentioned La Lanterna, but there were also other restaurants recommended by the hotel. I don’t actually remember their names, but you may find some recommendations in the blog post I linked to at the beginning of the article.

All in all, do go to Assisi, I am really convinced you’ll love it!

Instabits

Zabola Estate, RO

Zabola Estate, RO

I’m pretty convinced that in a former life I must have been some kind of aristocrat…you know, like a donkey at a king’s castle or, if I were to really go overboard, the house cat at said castle. Oh, that’s the life! And this is probably why I like palaces and castles and manors so much.

But even without such a high rank heritage, I’m sure that I would have loved anyway the place we’re talking about today: the Mikes Castle in Zabola.

The Zabola Estate is located in Transilvania, Romania, a 45 minutes drive from Brasov…and well, to set the expectations straight from the very beginning, once you pass the main entrance gates, do get prepared for a fairytale.

The estate belongs to the Roy Chowdhury – Mikes family, who have regained possession of the domain a few years ago, after it has been taken away by the government during the Communist period. The family lives on the estate, in one of the castles (the one called the Old Castle), but it is also open to guests, first at the Machine House and now at the New Castle too. The latter has been a hospital for patients with mental illnesses and, during that time, it has been seriously damaged. I read in an article that the hospital continued to function a while after it has been returned to the family, as they didn’t want to just evict the doctors and patients from there and waited until they could be relocated to a nearby location. I think this is very considerate and really adds to the feeling that you get when you are at Zabola.

Talking about this feeling, I struggled a bit to find the best way to describe it, and my final choice was “good living”. Now, this is by no means lavish or extravagant, is just that when you’re there you feel that everything is good, cosy, comfortable and…this might surprise you, simple and unadorned. Mind you, this is a countryside estate and you see this blended with the old and aristocratic features of the place.

The rooms are a mixture of old and modern and very comfortable. Most recently, we stayed here during winter, last year and this January, and one of the things I really loved is how warm the room is. It’s that childhood “winter by the stove” kind of warmth, which welcomes you and, quite honestly, creates the best setup for a good night sleep. The dimming lights also. And, to add to the
relaxation part, the bathrooms feature both a walk-in shower and a gorgeous looking tub which, in some of the cases, is placed in the bedroom. I probably should not mention that I actually thought whether this could be replicated in an apartment bedroom. Well, one can only dream…

When it comes to things to do, my favourite activity was to take long walks in the castle park and in the woods. To make the walk even more beautiful, you can count on the company of some very special guys. Guys and girl, to be more exact: Shadow, a very friendly black Labrador who’s always up for a stroll; a Vizsla girl whose name I don’t know but decided to call Zuza, because she’s always all over the place and just a bundle of joy; and another dog (again, who’s name I don’t know), a quite
old fellow, very friendly although kind of a slow walker.

If walking is not your thing, there are a lot of activities which you can book, such as bear watching, the sauna in the woods, special dinners, horse riding and so on. You can take a look on www.zabola.com for more details.

Another important aspect: food. In a word: delicious. In several words: the breakfast is to die for, really diverse and you can enjoy local products. Because I’m very boring, I made an obsession for the bread, I think I’ve exaggerated a bit with toast with butter and jam, but you can really make your pick as there are quite a few hot and cold dishes.

For lunch and dinner, you can order from the a la carte menu. Suiting the location, it’s a really short menu, which, if you stay for several days, can get a bit repetitive. Nevertheless, the food is very good and there’s also a generous drinks menu to choose from.
During the previous stay, there was a different meal setup. You needed to let the hosts know what meal you wanted and there was a fixed menu of the day. I kind of liked this setup more, because every meal was a surprise. The only downside was that I needed to announce my weird culinary preferences, or rather what I wouldn’t eat in a thousand years, in advance…

Price-wise, it’s not cheap, but I would say it’s worth it. I probably wouldn’t spend a week or so here, but it’s the most relaxing weekend getaway that I’ve ever experienced, so count me in for some more. Although I had a look at the booking calendar for Summer and they seem to be fully booked.

 

But maybe Winters here are my thing, who knows?

 

To see more images from the Zabola Estate, take a look at the ghost story here.

Instabits

Parga, GR

Parga, GR

If you fear that you have read the title of this post wrong or that is has been somehow misspelled, rest assured, it is not the case. Parga really does exist, and it is a charming seaside town in the North-West of Greece. And when I say “charming”, I do not take the term lightly; this little gem will surprise you whether you are the “sun, sea and sand” type or, on the contrary, nothing of the sort.

And just to set things straight from the very beginning, I am not this type and I will always prefer a city break to a seaside one. More than 2 days on the beach are too much for me, and I must confess that this was my first trip to Greece. After years (literally😊) of avoiding it, we’ve finally decided to spend a week here and the actual destination, after extensive research, was done by choosing Parga out of a random Google search. But hey, now you know that you should always trust Google!:)

You can reach Parga by plane, the nearest airport is in the city of Preveza, or by car. We chose the latter and that meant a 14-hour drive from Bucharest, with minimal stops. Too minimal, if you’ll allow me a bad speech construction just to make a point… Upon arrival, it is totally worth the drive, the views are breathtaking, and the city will definitely remind you of Cinque Terre. Actually, that is not surprising at all, as Parga was at some point under Venetian rule. A very distant point in time, around 1400, to be exact. This is truly showing in the architecture, colors and overall setup.

On the practical side, you should know that the city is built on a hill, so lots and lots and lots of stairs are waiting for you. If you don’t fancy going up and down all the time, make sure to enquire also about altitude, not only distance, when you choose your hotel. We’ve randomly chosen Alfa Hotel and got totally lucky. Not only it is situated on the lowest level, relatively close to the waterside, but it was also recently renovated, boasting a super clean and minimalist Nordic design. Which is right up my alley, of course😊, but quite unexpected for a Greek destination. The mystery didn’t take long to uncover itself – it seems that Parga is a very popular choice for Scandinavian tourists.

Being all set up, here’s a short account of what I liked the most in Parga.

The hiking trail to Lichnos Beach. Yes, I know that sounds twisted, but although I liked the beach itself, the hiking trail was the highlight here. From the hotel to the beach, there was a 10 minutes drive. But there is also the possibility to go there through a hiking trail, which basically crosses over a hill. A big hill, that is, and it takes around 1 hour of walking. It’s totally worth it, because you get to go through an olive tree orchard and come across a little church, and the sun is shining, and….you know, all those things that scream vacation. The only word of advice I would give here is to wear proper shoes, I actually managed to get a toe infection because of several calluses due to…well, cute but unpractical white canvas snickers.

The food. OMG, delicious. Let me write that again, with caps: DELICIOUS. I haven’t known until now that I like moussaka, but it turns out I do. Minus the béchamel sauce that they put on top, but that can be easily scraped.

Every place where we ate served absolutely gorgeous foods, but there were a few that stood out. The first one is Arkoudas, located in the marina, where the main specialty is…the owner😊  The food was great, but it was an absolute treat to talk to the owner of the restaurant, who was welcoming guests, serving at the tables, who knew and talked to everyone, absolute delight. If you happen to go there, you’ll get what I’m talking about.

Also liked a lot Krioneri Taverna, ate there several times and discovered a dish called buyurdi, cheese cooked in the oven with tomatoes and onions, wonderful. Another great place is Sakis, located uphill and absolutely worth the walk.

Running on the waterside. Well, I hate running, but took this up around the time we went to Parga as a way to boost my energy during the day. So I made a point out of running at least 10 minutes every day and I usually hate it. But in Parga I loved it. Because it meant running on the waterside, exactly when the city was starting to awake, the sun not shining too bright. Didn’t make me love running per se and forever, but I do recommend to try it here.

Sarakiniko Beach. There you have it, there’s a beach on the list. But it must be noted that to get there you need to drive on a somehow offroad route, so what you get in return is a very scenic small beach, with that kind of water that you only see in pictures, nested by cliffs and really quiet and relaxing. We were welcomed by a very nice host who was running a small business there and I was really impressed by how comfortable and simple everything was. There were beach beds, a changing cabin, there was a small bar there and a restaurant up the hill – basically, everything you needed, but very low key and understated. And that made the place even nicer and complemented the raw beauty of nature.

All in all, this was a surprise trip. Wasn’t really sure that I would like it, but it turns out I loved the city.

The views are of course beautiful and everywhere you turn there’s something that just feel cozy and simple and gives you that soothing vacation feel. So you might want to put Parga on your travel list, it might turn out to be an unexpected excellent choice.

How about you? What place you weren’t so keen on going to and proved to be a game changer?

Instabits

A day at the seasidse

A day at the seasidse

 

If you’re in the mood for a quick getaway and you happen to live relatively close to the seaside, I would suggest to go for it and take a one-day trip to say hello to the sea.  This works especially well when you’re not really the type to soak in the sun all day and prefer enjoying some good food and a walk on the sea shore.

 

 

In all fairness, this trip was not really planned, but if we happened to be there, just though that it would be great to walk a bit around Constanta and take some photos. And, of course, to stop and have a seafood-loaded lunch. I mean, seaside without a giant dish of mussels doesn’t seem like a done deal, doesn’t it?

 

 

All in all, this was a great day, a bit tiring, but I would say these photos were really, really worth it. I had some ideas for the photos and took props from home (hello, cute yellow lamp!), but not the whole story in my head.

So, I guess this could the story of a summer evening, plain and wonderful like that.

Instabits

Barcelona, ES

Barcelona, ES

Barcelona has been on my “to visit” list for a long time. It’s definitely safe to say that I had great expectations from visiting the city and I was quite looking forward to it. Yet, while I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy my time here, I can neither say that this was the love story I was expecting. And I’m thinking that this happened because I had a projection in mind and…well, you know, maybe this is not always a good thing, be it when we talk about travel or maybe anything else in life.

Quite honestly, I think I was expecting Italy. That feeling for which I will come back again and again in Tuscany and in Rome …well-being, stress free living… Barcelona has it and doesn’t, I would say.

It did feel more like a CITY. A beautiful one, with great architecture and history and places to emerge into tradition. But I would say it was not quite as relaxed as the Italian cities. Or maybe I wasn’t…there’s always the other side to the story, too.

That being said, I would for sure come back to explore more and get a chance to actually fall in love with Barcelona. Nevertheless, even for now I can list a few mini love stories.

La Boqueria was definitely one of them. It has the vibe of food markets such as Borough Market in London or Mercato Centrale in Florence, but somehow more functional. The social side is not that developed, although there are places where you can sit and eat in the market. For me, the number one attraction here were the freshly squeezed juices. Totally amazing. And even this might be some kind of an understatement😊 Well, the best fresh juices I have ever tasted and I’m standing by this.

La Sagrada Familia. Of course, food before spirituality, but what can I do? Now, it might be completely stereotype to equal Barcelona to La Sagrada Familia, but it is one of a kind and you cannot deny this even if you hate it and the whole idea and hysteria behind it. Whatever one might say, Gaudi was a genius and his mind worked in ways completely different than the average. What he envisioned here is really outstanding and the level of detail is amazing. The shapes, the corners, the way the light falls, everything is so unusual, you cannot say it’s not a masterpiece. Also, it’s the most optimistic church I have ever seen. No gloomy feelings or cold arches, just lots and lots of light and colours. It’s no doubt a celebration of life.

Casa Mila. Looking from the outside, hard to imagine that the primary function of the building is to actually be lived in. And thinking about the time it was built, it seems even more spectacular. But no form without function, no beauty just for beauty’s sake – that’s what Gaudi did and advocated for and this is a great illustration of this belief. On the inside, everything speaks comfort and does just what is supposed to be. The apartment that is open for visitors is quite charming and it’s really an immersion into another age, another world. So definitely go visit it.

The streets and all the buildings. A mere walk, not visiting anything in particular, is a great experience. It’s true that we kept manly in the city center (the extended city center😊), but buildings in Barcelona are a piece of art in themselves. Barri Gotic gives you that mysterious feeling and the more recent buildings bring what lies beyond that feeling into today’s reality. I believe they speak about the people of Barcelona, of them being proud of who they are and of the care they put into their everyday life.

And speaking of this, at some point we came across a folk group, dressed in period costumes. It was great to see how proud they and the people on the streets were of their traditional values and it’s clear how that translated over time.

So, if you’re wondering – is this a positive text or not? – the answer is yes.

But, probably, as I’ve said, I had a set of expectations in mind and I must continue to make friends with Barcelona.

Instabits

Stockholm, SE – Part 2

Stockholm, SE – Part 2

Welcome back to the second article about Stockholm. Didn’t really plan to write a 2-part piece on this, but when I started writing, I just realized that there are too many things to include, hence the decision not to cram them all in a long text. Today we’re talking about places to visit here, using the word in its very broad definition.

List #2: places

This was a tourist trip, so let’s get as touristy as possible.

Vasa Museet. The museum is built (literally) around Vasa, the great ship that sank after only 1.5 km at sea and was retrieved after 300 years of being under water. At first sight, when you enter, the museum is a bit underwhelming. I mean, yes, there is the ship there, in the middle, but you circle it two times and that’s that, right? Well, not quite. You get to know how the ship was built, then how it sank and was rescued, all that in a very captivating way of displaying the events. Just as an example, on the second level of the building, there is a real size replica of a cabin, giving you a sense of how it felt to be on the ship.

There are also a lot of objects rescued from Vasa and, most captivating – albeit in a slightly creepy way – the skeletons of some of the people who drown with it and the very realistic reconstructions of their faces based on the bone structure. These were creepier than the skeletons, to be honest, but amazingly well done.

Skansen. This was not part of this trip, but I went there last winter, during a work trip, and loved it entirely. It’s basically a village museum, showing you how people lived throughout Swedish history. My favorite was a house dating somewhere around 1950s, where you could see the household prepared for Christmas, as all of them were in fact, given the time of the year. I would say this is a place to put on your list of places to visit in any season, but if you happen to be there around Christmas, make sure not to miss it. It is indeed delightful.

One particular thing that I liked is the similarity of some of the motives in the tapestries and other objects to such Romanian motives. Haven’t researched this at all yet, there must be some anthropological influences happening at that time, but surely it was a nice thing to notice.

Nordiska Museet. This was the biggest surprise of them all. Because I was expecting lots of history, and Vikings and such, which would not have been a problem at all – I’m sure I would have loved it. Except that what I got was so much better – an exhibition on Swedish customs and civilization. Super realistic or creative reenactments of Midsummer, Christmas, Easter celebrations and such, what you would find on the table at, let’s say, a birthday celebration, how a wedding would look like… I know I used this word before, but it was all utterly delightful. And the level of detail with which food was reproduced is fantastic; you knew very well that what you saw was not real food, but you couldn’t help yourself craving it. I, for one, couldn’t.

Fotografiska. I knew I would love this, just didn’t know I would love it that much. In my book, Nordics are best when it comes to design and visuals, so I expected this museum to be great. But in all honesty, although I do enjoy seeing museum when abroad, there’s a degree of boredom attached to this. Don’t know if you can relate, but yours truly got tired and a bit bored of the Louvre at some point. Well, guess we’re just not perfect 😊 Anyway, I didn’t get bored here. Main ingredient for this is, I think, that the size of the exhibition was just enough to let you enjoy it. And that it was current, with contemporary artists whom I just loved to discover. Chen Man was my favourite, a Chinese fashion photographer with stunning visuals, but also loved Nick Veasley’s use of X-Ray to create super captivating photography.

Also, this museum ranks a solid ten on the comfort scale, if this is even a thing. You have everything you need to make your visit enjoyable, including cloth towels at the bathrooms. Hey, it’s a small thing, but such a nice touch, pun intended.

Espresso House. Any of them, as there are so many. This might be the Swedish equivalent of Starbucks (with better coffee, though) and it’s quite mainstream. I usually like smaller, specialty coffee places, but in Stockholm this is the place I loved the most. Probably because it’s cosy, welcoming, always a good choice for a fika (which is the best excuse for us who don’t have such a concept for indulging in sweets, pastry and coffee). And because it’s such a good sensation to get out of the cold and spend some time here. You actually get to kind of love the cold a bit, if that makes any sense.

Aaaand….I’m gonna stop here, because otherwise I might decide for a 3rd part of the article and who knows when I’m going to stop? But, mind you, the list of words, or places, or wonderful things about Stockholm isn’t by any means complete. Of course, I’m biased and, of course, there are aspects that you’ll probably not like there, but no doubt it’s worth visiting this city.

Hope you’ll enjoy it, with its windy and cold wonderfulness! 

Instabits