Malmö: Sweden’s southern bridge

After my few days in Stockholm, I had to find a way to make my way back to continental Europe. Malmö, located in southern Sweden, was a perfect choice for my next destination. Considering there is an approximate 600 km distance between Stockholm and Malmö, that would make for a very long bus ride. Instead I took a fifty minute flight with Norwegian Air; a lot more convenient wouldn’t you agree? Hubert, my host in Malmö, picked me up from the airport and we drove into the city. For the record, I did not see any IKEA stores here either, I don’t quite understand where they are hidden.

The Øresund Bridge in the distance

The Øresund Bridge in the distance

Hubert lived in a small apartment pretty close to the centre of Malmö with two beautiful dogs, Eva and Fillipo. Unfortunately, Eva passed away recently, she was such a sweet dog. My host took me on a small road trip through the city to get a feel for the place I had just arrived in. The city is not very big, but big enough to keep someone busy for a few days. I was there for three nights and I definitely did not see everything Malmö has to offer.

The dogs and I

The dogs and I

Originally Malmö belonged to Denmark and was one of its most important cities. In the 17th century the city came into Swedish possession and has remained so ever since. My first night in Malmö, I walked to the centre with Hubert and spent some time exploring there. Beautiful Christmas decorations were up and that holiday feel was in the air. There are plenty of pedestrian streets to enjoy and little shops to explore. Hubert decided to treat me to some Mongolian BBQ. This was my first time hearing of the concept, so obviously I was curious and eager to try it. The entire restaurant was a buffet, with Japanese, Chinese, and intercontinental available in the back, and the Mongolian option available in the front. A Mongolian BBQ is when you have a ton of raw vegetables, meat, seafood to choose from, mixed with your choice of noodles or rice, and this is grilled with some sauce and made into something resembling stir fry. I actually have no idea if this is what people on Mongolia eat, or if it is some Western concept someone came up with. Whatever the origin, the food was fantastic. It is called Restaurant Bamboo City, I have provided the link to their website below.

Eating at the restaurant

Eating at the restaurant

The next day we took a drive to a small area on the coast located near a restaurant called Luftkastellet. I didn’t eat at the restaurant, but it looks super cool and you should check it out if you get the chance. Hubert and I came to this spot for the view of the Øresund Bridge, an 8 km bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark. It was a super windy and cold day, so walking out by the water wasn’t very pleasant, but it was cool to see the bridge and know that Denmark was not so very far away, maybe even swimming distance… For lunch we ate at a small fish restaurant located in the ship yard. I call it a ship yard, but it was an area for wintering boats that are usually in the harbour. The food was fantastic, I ate some breaded fish with some sweet cream sauce, parisian potatoes and some steamed vegetables. The fish was amazing, and Sweden is definitely a place where seafood and fish should be eaten.

At the brewery with my tasters

At the brewery with my tasters

Malmö has a fantastic microbrewery called Malmö Brygghus (link at the end of article). It is the only microbrewery in Malmö and has many different beers on tap to offer. They have a taster option, where you can pay for five smaller glasses of beer and try all of their locally brewed beer. This probably cost about $15, which is slightly more expensive than what you would pay in Canada, but then again it is Scandinavia, everything is more expensive over there. The five beers I tried were the Vete-öl, Pilsner, Amber Ale, Beersson D.I.P.A., and Cacao-Porter. My favourite was probably the Amber Ale, but all the options were good. I would visit this place again when I visit Malmö in the future.

On the nature side, Malmö has beautiful parks and open green space. I was there in November and the leaves were orange and red, but I am sure that in the spring and summer the bright colours are breathtaking. There is a man made body of water surrounded my trails and fields of grass. The green space is very well arranged and incorporated into the city. When I was here I really felt as if I had escaped from the harshness of the city and concrete and entered an oasis of natural elements. It is the perfect space for jogging and dog walking.

In one of the parks

In one of the parks

On my final day in Malmö I had to travel across the bridge by train to Copenhagen and catch my bus to Berlin. This is when the usefulness of the bridge became apparent and I don’t think that normal trade and travel activities could function normally without it. Travel to Copenhagen’s central station from Malmö is approximately thirty minutes. As a result of Malmö’s proximity to a large city metropolis such as Copenhagen and to the North it makes a great travel destination.

Links:

http://www.bamboocitymalmo.kvartersmenyn.se
http://www.malmobrygghus.se/in-english
http://www.malmo.se/English.html

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stockholm: Scandinavian capital

Stockholm is a beautiful city with many contrasting personalities. It has achieved a wonderful balance between modernity and antiquity where many cities have not. The many islands and canals create a sense of unknown and, at times, mystery. In November, Stockholm has some pretty pleasant weather. There was no snow, only some rain and fog, but not enough to put a damper on my visit.

I only had three days here and I am not quite sure if it was enough. There are so many places to visit, so many restaurants and bars to check out. I will not talk again about the cost of Scandinavian countries, that was mentioned in my blog on Tromsø. I will instead mention some of the places I visited while in Stockholm and I hope to help you decide if you would ever want to check them out on your own.

Main shopping street

Main shopping street

One of the first things I did in Sweden, was visit the H&M flagship store. I am not a HUGE H&M fan, but I think that it should be visited in its country of origin. It was necessary to switch my wardrobe from  late summer to winter, and when you are on a budget, H&M is the place to go. The choice of inventory is not any different than what I saw in other European countries, other than a couple extra styles and possibly lower prices. Point of the story is, H&M is reliable in times of need. While I am on the topic of original Swedish merchandise, I did not see one IKEA anywhere in my week in Sweden. The furniture is everywhere, but I am not quite sure where it comes from. Maybe it is a bigger phenomenon in North America than it is in Scandinavia…that is a mystery to be solved next time around.

A fellow couch surfer from Vienna named Martin happened to be in Sweden during the same time period and met me in Stockholm for a little bit of sightseeing. I invested in the 72-hour SL Travel Card (230 SEK) which gave me access to all the public transportation in the city plus a few ferry lines. We took a ferry over to Djurgården where you can find the Skansen Museum. This exhibit has been set up as a historic town demonstrating the homes of the time and trades and activities that would have gone on there. The Stockholm Zoo is also included in the museum and houses animals found in Scandinavia.  You can even bring your own food and grill it on communal grills found in the centre of the island. It was a really enjoyable day, despite some rain. I also visited the Vasa Museum, which I must say is fantastic! From what I remember, the Vasa was a ship sponsored by the King of Sweden, but it was not built correctly so when it set sail on its maiden voyage it sank a couple kilometres off shore. I found this somewhat amusing to be honest. The ship was found and restored and now sits in the centre of the museum with all the other exhibits built around it. It is a definite must see if you happen to visit Stockholm, I promise you will not be disappointed.

In Skansen

In Skansen

The Vasa

The Vasa

The Vasa from the upper deck

The Vasa from the upper deck

I have to mention a super cool bar I went to in Gamla Stan, which is the old part of Stockholm. Gamla Stan is full of cobble stone roads and closely packed homes with lanterns and cafes all along its narrow streets; a truly mystical place. Now this bar, which is called Sjätte Tunnan, is an underground medieval bar that has candles for lighting and walls of stone. I wouldn’t suggest this place for the claustrophobic individuals out there. They even have medieval music and pints of mead. How much cooler can it get? The tables and benches are made of wood covered in animal skins and the bartenders are dressed in costumes. It is such a great place to experience. They have a beer selection from all over the world, and some microbrewery choices from local Swedish producers. Go drink and let loose!

Finally, one of my favourite experiences in Stockholm occurred at the City Hall on a foggy night. After taking a very long walk around the city, I came to City Hall which has a courtyard on the side facing the water. As I mentioned, it was very foggy, and I could barely see the water straight ahead of me once I reached the stone wall. There was darkness all around and I could not help but feel that something was there with me, it was a very creepy experience. In a city full of canals, much like Amsterdam, fog can be a powerful force of nature.

Stockholm is a beautiful city, everyone should visit it one day when they find the passion, the time, and the money. Everything functions properly, the people are polite, and you will have no problems getting around the city. There are great discounts for youth, students, and elderly individuals too, even more incentive to travel. Please go, you won’t regret it.

Links:

http://www.visitstockholm.com/en/

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tromsø: Brrr it’s cold outside

At this point of my trip I hadn’t seen my sister for almost 3 months, which is totally unusual for us considering that her and I would spend all our time together while she lived in Toronto. We worked together, went out together, had the same friends. So I decided to visit her at the end of October after my trip to the Netherlands. When I saw her face I came to the realization that nothing feels better than seeing your family again after a prolonged amount of time. She made sure I will never forget the tears I shed when I saw her; the photograph is now on Facebook for all our friends to see.

A grey day in the city

A grey day in the city

My specific city of residence during my ten day stay was Tromsø. A small city, or town depending how you want to look at it, up in the Arctic Circle. I would never have visited this place otherwise, but since my sister was here for school, I made the trip. I was welcomed by freezing rain, which was followed by four days of snow. And I HATE snow. I might be from Canada, but there is something about snow that makes my insides boil, so as you can imagine I definitely did not want to head outside and acquaint myself with the white stuff. So I was in the cold and snowy Arctic, in the same city that a few days before I arrived was pleasant and snowless, but I am not Mother Nature so I just had to toughen up and live with it.

The quality of living in Norway is fantastic. The houses are large and everyone has a car or two. There are no homeless people from what I could see, and the public transportation is great. However, this place is super expensive by Canadian standards. I think there are about 5.5 Norwegian Krone in a Canadian Dollar. And bananas cost about 60 NOK, so you do the math. Everything is expensive over there. A 24-hour bus pass is about $20, a bottle of wine in a restaurant is $60. If you ever plan on travelling to Norway, definitely set aside a hefty budget.

I will admit that I spent a lot of my time in Tromsø sleeping because I was trying to recover from a cold or flu, and it was cold outside. The perfect combination for some much needed rest, especially after two and a half months of backpacking at this point. I spent some time with my sister in her dorm, which consisted of a house with two floors, separated into four sections with five rooms in each section. The heating and water pressure were both fantastic for such a remote part of the world. This arrangement is typical for northern university campuses in Norway. The rest of my time I spent out in the town walking around or checking out museums.

The harbour

The harbour

I visited the Perspektivet Museum which is located on the main pedestrian road in the centre of the city. At the time they had a photography exhibit displaying human obsession with perfection and artificial modification of the body. It was interesting to see some of the things that people will do to themselves to achieve an aesthetic goal. The second floor exhibit explained the history of Tromsø and its relationship with Russian seamen back in the day. It was an interesting look into the background of the region. Another worthwhile visit is to the University of Tromsø Museum where you can learn about many topics relevant to Arctic Norway such as archaeology, astronomy, physics, biology, and social issues concerning the Sami. The Sami are Norway’s equivalent to Canada’s First Nations people, except Norway treats theirs much better than we do ours.

Another good attraction is the Polaria Museum where you can see a live seal feeding. The show occurs twice a day, and the seals are fed in between performing all kinds of tricks. The commentary is given in both Norwegian and English and photography and video recording are allowed. There are four seals in total, all female. I was surprised by how intelligent these animals are, apparently more intelligent than our domestic dogs. The museum also has a cool aquarium exhibit displaying some of the organisms and ecosystems present in northern Norway. I was very impressed by the place.

The beach, a good Norwegian joke

The beach, a good Norwegian joke

I had the pleasure of enjoying a gift from my sister: a ride out into the north Atlantic on the ship Vulkana outfitted with a sauna and hot tub. This boat trip lasts about 2.5 hours and offers the passengers a chance to enjoy the warm spa services before plunging into the cold depths of the Atlantic and literally freezing your butt off. I was so nervous to do it, but it was fun, and a unique experience. Now I am somewhat able to understand how those maniacs feel when they go running into Lake Ontario in the middle of winter.

However, the highlight of my northern experience is, without a doubt, the Northern Lights. For much of my visit to Tromsø the sky was cloudy, but finally in the last few days everything cleared up and my chances of glimpsing the dancing lights were brighter, no pun intended. One night we spent a couple hours out by the water, in the cold, waiting for them to appear but to no avail. Another night we headed to a dark cemetery to catch a glimpse of it but again nothing. Finally after finishing some grocery shopping on my last night in Tromsø, my sister looked up and let out a gasp: finally I would get to see the Northern Lights. We headed up the hill to the cemetery and I got to watch the lights dance and sway. It was a completely breathtaking experience and will remember it for the rest of my life.

Darkness, went Northern Lights hunting

Darkness, went Northern Lights hunting

If any of you ever have the chance to take a trip to the Arctic, please do! There are so many things to do in all seasons. The hiking and fishing are fantastic in the spring and summer. In the winter you can enjoy dog sledding and ice fishing. It is a very diverse place and I can guarantee you will have a fantastic northern experience!

Sunset just after 2 PM

Sunset just after 2 PM

Links:

http://www.visittromso.no/en/

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Netherlands: Land of canals

Finally the day came to leave warm southern Europe for the cold and grey parts of northern Europe. I took a discount flight from Porto, Portugal to Eindhoven, Netherlands and then moved directly on to Rotterdam. This is much easier said than done. Well it should have been easy, but it definitely was not. There is a bus from the airport to Eindhoven’s main train station and from there it is possible to catch a train to Rotterdam. However on this particular morning, there was an ‘obstruction’ on the tracks and I had to fight with hundreds of people for a spot on a shuttle bus. I thought the Netherlands would have a much more efficient way to deal with the scenario, but I was very wrong. Finally I got on a bus headed to a station called Tilburg which is the middle of a small town and there is no clear information about which train I am supposed to take to Rotterdam. So I get on a train at random, heading in the direction of the university and get off at the station where most people were leaving; and then I was able to find the connecting train to my destination.

Rotterdam

Rotterdam

Rotterdam is by no means an old city. It was flattened by the Germans in World War II when the Dutch Army resisted takeover, and then was rebuilt over the last 70 years (1). Therefore most first impressions of the city are mixed. Most people travel thousands of kilometres to visit cities with old architecture and intense history. Rotterdam is missing the historical architecture part, but it does make up for it with its efforts on the modern architecture front. There are some quite extraordinary structural aspects to the city. Rotterdam is also home to the largest port in Europe and one of the largest in the world, and has existed since the 14th century; Shanghai and Singapore hold the first and second place (2).

Harbour Museum

Harbour Museum

I did spend time walking through the old portion of the harbour that is now used to showcase old boats and ships in the Maritime Museum (3). There is an entrance fee to enter the building and look at the exhibits there but access to the harbour is free. Each vessel has a description beside it including the name and the history behind that particular boat and everything is really well laid out. I had the opportunity to go onto one of the larger transport ships and check out the interior. The living quarters are very cramped for my personal taste, but then again not everyone is made for that sort of lifestyle. I felt fortunate to have had the chance to see what sort of environment some sailors may have enjoyed or suffered with while out at sea. This portion of the harbour though isn’t used for any trade and transport. It would take days to walk through all the corners of the port, it spans about 319 sq. km. It is probable that goods coming to Canada pass through this port and vice versa. It was a very different image of Europe compared to what I encountered in the south.

Amsterdam, the largest city in the Netherlands, is the home to approximately 780,000 people today (4). It is also known as the city of bikes. I almost got run over a few times for sure. Bicycles have the right of way here, then the people, then the cars, so I guess it makes sense to own a bike if you plan on living here. However it is by no means cheap. Rent in the centre can run around 3000,00 €/month. Travel to and from Amsterdam is very effective; I was able to take a train from Delft to Amsterdam Centraal for 12,00 € (5). Luckily I was staying very close to the centre and did not have to rely on other forms of public transportation, but I am sure that transportation services in Amsterdam are first class like most popular European cities. I cannot make any other comments on it though.

Amsterdam is made up of a series of canals covering many kilometres. I cannot count how many bridges I crossed in the few days I was there. I will cover some of the areas I visited and the things I saw. The Red Light District: I always thought this place would be more grungy, but I was mistaken. It is a series of small streets separated by canals lined with windows outlined by red lights and filled with scantily clad girls looking for your money. I definitely didn’t feel unsafe in such a place, and it is very normal to walk through on your way to the centre of the city. But coming from a country where prostitution is illegal it is definitely a reality check to see this part of Amsterdam, and even more surprising is the normality of it. West of Dam Square walking along Raadhuisstraat there are plenty of opportunities to venture down one of the many smaller streets and check out plenty of little shops selling all sorts of goodies; from chocolate to christmas decorations to handmade shoes. The prices however are not so forgiving. If your walk takes you to Westerkerk you can find the Anne Frank Museum nearby. I would highly suggest showing up early because during the busy tourist season the line for admission can reach up to 2 km long! I could not believe it when I heard it.

Canal in Amsterdam

Canal in Amsterdam

One morning I took a trip to the flower market, or the Bloemenmarkt. This is in the south part of the city and consists of a medium sized strip of tents and stalls selling all kinds of flowers. Obviously the most popular buy is the famous tulip. The link between Canada and the Netherlands is maintained through this small flower. In 1942 the Canadian government gave refuge to the Dutch Princess Juliana and her daughters. The Dutch sent 100,000 tulips bulbs in return for the favour and has continued to send them every year since then. Today, the Canadian Tulip Festival is one of the largest in the world (6). Amsterdam has a lot to see; there are many art museums to indulge in for those who have an interest or festivals to see during the summer months. I had only a small taste of this great city, a second round is definitely in order.

I ended up in Utrecht for one day during my stay in Amsterdam. An old friend from university contacted me asking me how long I would be in Holland and suggested we meet in this small city; something new for me to see and a different angle of the country. Rotterdam and Amsterdam are much larger than Utrecht, but I think this place was the most beautiful. It helped that for once it stopped raining, but the small, winding, cobblestone roads along with the architecture made for a picture perfect day. There is a gorgeous church here called Domkerk and its tower. The view from the top must be gorgeous, unfortunately I did not climb it. This is a great city to visit if you want some time away from the busy city and some great photos.

Domkerk in Utrecht

Domkerk in Utrecht

In Utrecht

In Utrecht

The Netherlands is a very interesting country, considering that a good portion of it was once underwater. The Dutch managed to come up with a system of building dams and then drying the water out to reveal the earth that was once covered and then build on it after a few years. Many parts of Amsterdam and Rotterdam have been built in this way. It is quite an interesting process actually and more information can be found here: http://www.ahaack.net/travel/holland01/holland-travel-report-200105.html. I am not sure how much there is to see in the rest of the country, but Eindhoven and Maastricht are also good destination choices and have good access to Belgium and Luxembourg. If you choose the Netherlands as your next stop, have fun!

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotterdam#History
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_of_Rotterdam
http://www.maritiemmuseum.nl/website/index.cfm?fuseaction=tentoon.digest&lang=engels
http://www.iamsterdam.com/
http://www.ns.nl/en/travellers/home
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Tulip_Festival

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Granada & Sevilla: Spirit of Andalucía

Madrid is located in the desert of Spain. Barcelona on the eastern coast. And Andalucia lies in the south, hot and full of spirit. This is the part of Spain where bullfighting, flamenco, and Arabic influence can be found. I visited two cities in this region: Granada and Sevilla. Sevilla is the capital of Andalusia, while Granada is home to the Alhambra, one of the most visited places in all of Spain. Travel to the south of Spain can be difficult at times and should be done by either train or bus. I took a train from Barcelona overnight, but ALSA (Spain’s major bus company) offers good prices for travel within Spain and to neighbouring countries. Routes and prices for both modes of transportation can be found at http://www.alsa.es and http://www.renfe.com.

Pedestrian street in Granada

Pedestrian street in Granada

I spent 3 nights in Granada with a guy named Jorge who I met through the CouchSurfing community. He is a law student at the university and fortunately had plenty of time to show me around the city. The only obstacle was the language barrier; I had no choice but to speak in Spanish, which proved to be useful because my Spanish is a bit rusty. Granada is a lovely place. The population is only around 240,000 people making it much smaller than Madrid. This is the city where the Moors built their palace, the Alhambra, and their influence on the architecture can be seen everywhere. The Moors maintained control here for a couple hundred years until they surrended their power in 1492 to Ferdinand II and Isabella I, the same year that Colombus set sail for the Americas and when the Inquisition was at its most powerful point.

Granada at night, view of the Alhambra on the next hill

Granada at night, view of the Alhambra on the next hill

Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains meaning that the city is very green and the view is beautiful at some of its highest points. Mirador de San Nicolas is one of these look-out points. From here you can see the Alhambra, Granada’s prized possession, and the surrounding mountain with their snow covered peaks. The sight must be totally wonderful in the winter when they are covered in snow and ready for the ski season. As in most of Spain, tapas is very popular, and maybe even more popular in the south  of Spain. I enjoyed some beer and Arabic inspired tapas at a very small bar entirely decorated in Arabic style. The ambience of the place was fantastic. Many places like this exist in the Arabic quarter of Granada.

Gardens of the Alhambra

Gardens of the Alhambra

Jorge and I enjoyed a night walk in the gardens surrounding the Alhambra which are open to the public all night. Much of the foliage in the garden is not visible in the dark, but you can hear the water flowing down the  hills. There is something so peaceful about sitting in the dark and listening to the movement of water. Every place I have visited to date that had some sort of body of water has calmed my mind. Visiting the garden at night is very therapeutic for the soul and the mind. Of course I visited the place during the day. The gardens are picture perfect, with green all around and chestnuts on the ground. Roasted chestnuts can be found in kiosks along the road in the city centre. Entrance prices to the Alhambra vary based on which type of tour is in question. I bought the general one, and the cheapest one costing around 8 euros, which allowed me entrance into the Generalife exhibit, and the Alhambra itself. The buildings are beautiful, the small Moorish details in the architecture are breathtaking. The fortress is a massive structure built of brown stone with most of the inner structural walls no longer existent; only a skeleton of the original building is visible. One can only imagine how impressive it must have been when the Moors were at the height of their empire.

Me in the botanical gardens, Alhambra

Me in the botanical gardens, Alhambra

Some beautiful architecture, Alhambra

Some beautiful architecture, Alhambra

The night life in Granada is not as big as it would be in larger European cities, but its large student population helps stimulate this a bit. Many international students find their way to this city for work and pleasure, and who could really blame them? It is a beautiful place. Clubs are scattered throughout the city and I happened to go to one called El Cambodio. This club is located on top of one of the hills just west of the Alhambra. It is quite a walk up the hill to get there, I definitely thought my legs would fall off, but maybe I am just out of shape. On Thursday nights women get free cover if they sign up on the guest list through facebook and they get free drinks until 11:30 pm. The place isn’t very big and can get quite full on the weekends. I had a good time but the music was not anything spectacular unfortunately. But the view in the morning is beautiful, for this alone it is worth checking out.

I had my taste of Moorish flavour in Granada and the next stop was Sevilla, about 1.5 hours west by train. Sevilla is the capital of Andalucia and definitely acts like it. The place is full of life and confidence, qualities needed for both flamenco and bull fighting, Seville’s cultural treasures. This time my host’s name was Pablo, a professor at one of the universities in the city, perfect for some stimulating conversations. He showed me a really nice bar with fantastic mojitos on Calle Regina close to Plaza de Encarnacion. It seems that all of Spain has a plentiful supply of good mojitos, best I have ever had.  Alameda de Hercules is another area where you can find a ton of bars and late night tapas, but there are some sketchy people there at night. I am pretty sure there were quite a few drug deals being made in those few minutes I walked through the square. And as I am sure I have mentioned before, Spanish beer is not that great, but in Andalucia you can find Cruz Campo which is better than Estrella so my suggestion would be to order it when possible.

Standing on a bridge over the river, Sevilla

Standing on a bridge over the river, Sevilla

The Guadalaquivir River surrounds Sevilla and unfortunately is not very clean so swimming is not recommended. You should travel 30 minutes to an hour southwest to Juerez de la Frontera or to Cadiz where there are some fantastic beaches. There are ferries that run along the river if you are interested in a different kind of view of the city. The promenade here is also in good shape for walking and cycling with many riverside restaurants and bars to choose from. The cathedral of Sevilla, on Avenida de la Constitucion beside the Reales Alcazares, is probably the liveliest place in the entire city. It was built in the gothic style and looms over everything around it. In all honesty though, the entire area in the southeastern portion of the city is gorgeous. The parks are well taken care of and the fountains are clean. There is no garbage on the streets and there is a special tropical feel to the place. At night you can smell jasmine growing in the gardens, total paradise in my opinion. Days can be spent walking through all the parks here and appreciating all of them. In Parque de Marialuisa stands the Plaza de Espana which people will recognize from one of the scenes in the Star Wars movies. Each province of Spain is depicted with its own mural along the semi circle of wall. In the centre is a large fountain and you can rent peddle boats to kill some time on a warm afternoon. Definitely a must see.

The cathedral, Sevilla

The cathedral, Sevilla

Plaza de España, Star Wars anyone??

Plaza de España, Star Wars anyone??

Sevilla is one of Spain’s cultural cores and what better way to see some culture than to go watch a flamenco show? Well that is just what I did. I met with some couch surfers like myself and went to a local show. I had no idea that flamenco included singing; so much imagery associated with the dance including flowing red and black dresses and black heels. The vocalist had such a powerful voice and her emotion could be felt in every note. I was totally blown away by her performance. The dancers were very good as well, but I suppose the singing made a bigger impression on me since it was unexpected. I have never seen a flamenco show in Toronto or in Cuba that included vocals. I did not have the chance to see bullfighting in Sevilla and it actually might be illegal there. Usually following the fight, the bull is killed in the arena, but many people began to see this as a form of animal cruelty. I can see their point in a way. Perhaps it is better I didn’t see bullfighting at its best.

Andalucia is a beautiful region of Spain. There is much more animation to everything in southern Spain such as the food, night life, music, dance, and architecture. The weather is warmer as well making it a fantastic vacation spot, especially with so many cities to choose from. In the future I will probably take a well deserved holiday here along the coast somewhere. Try to find me if you can.

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Barcelona: Gothic capital

Unfortunately I won’t be beginning this blog entry on a positive note. Spain has one of the most expensive train networks I have ever used. To travel from Madrid to Barcelona costs around 140€ on the fastest line, which happens to be the only line available. Ryanair offers flights from Madrid to Girona airport in Barcelona for around 60€ AND it is much faster to fly. So guess which option I chose? The bus from the airport costs 15€ for one trip and 25€ for a return trip ticket, and it takes you directly to the main bus station in Barcelona. Unless you have a car, the only way to get to the city is by using this bus service. Gasoline prices must be the reason why the ride is so expensive. Maps of the city are available for free at the tourist desk where you get off the bus so I suggest picking one up.

Using my new map I began my walk to Placa de Catalunya which is the main square in Barcelona. Along my walk I stopped to get some cash from an ATM and this was the point at which I realized that I had lost my debit card in Madrid. I don’t know which day it happened or where, not good at all. It made me realize that anything can happen on a trip, good or bad. A phone call to the bank was now another task added to my to do list.

At Placa de Catalunya there is a tourist office underground in the southeast corner of the square. The line up was large, and I have a feeling it usually is, since a ridiculous number of tourists visit Barcelona every year. Here you can find all the information you need to enjoy the city. I had to leave my bags in a storage facility not far from Placa de Catalunya called Locker Barcelona at Carrer Estruc, 36. I was able to put my 80L backpacking bag and my carry on in a large size locker for 5,50€ per day, with unlimited access to the locker. The bags are secured by a pin number lock, so no need to worry about losing keys. The staff here were very helpful and willingly provide you with any information you might need. There is internet at this facility if needed, but internet cafes or  “locutorios” are much cheaper.

La Rambla

La Rambla

I spent the day walking on La Rambla, the central tourist street in Barcelona. The street was filled with people of all ages and ethnicity. So many people from all over the world come to this beautiful city to enjoy the history and architecture. However, before I could enjoy it with everyone, I had to find a payphone and put a call through to my bank to report my debit card lost and request a new one. Finding a payphone that worked proved to be a much harder task than I anticipated. After four phones I finally found one that allowed me to make a collect call to TD Bank. If you want to make a collect call in Spain, or any country for that matter, I suggest going directly to a payphone instead of a hotel or an internet cafe. Hotels generally charge you to use their phones and internet cafes don’t allow collect calls to be made at all.

I had to kill some more time until I met my CouchSurfing host in the evening so I spent some time sitting in Placa de Catalunya. This square was built in the 19th century after the medieval walls of the city were removed. This is the place where all the protests in Catalunya take place, and also the place where many public transportation routes converge and where tourist buses wait for their passengers to board. It is essentially the centre of the city where almost all important functions occur. My alone time sitting on the bench here was interrupted by a middle aged Spanish man asking me if he could show me a magic trick. It is understandable why I would be a bit spooked by this question; a total stranger approaching me in an unfamiliar city. But I agreed and he showed me three tricks using a handkerchief and some cards and even taught me how to perform them as well. I obviously can’t divulge the secrets though, that would ruin magic for everyone else. It was a nice way to spend the evening and it put a smile on my face just in time to meet my host for the next few days in Barcelona.

Pedro was a really kind and generous person. After meeting at Placa Urquinaona we walked to his apartment close to MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona). Luckily he lived close to the centre and to all of the sights I would be interested in. He lived with his roommate Noe and his hamster Dylan. This was my first encounter with Portuguese people in Europe before my visit to Portugal in mid-October. My first impression of them was very positive. Pedro cooked an amazing dinner and I slept like a baby after a long day of travelling.

La Boqueria

La Boqueria

A new day arrived and I set out to explore Barcelona and get a feel for the city. I needed an umbrella since the weather was unsettled and cloudy. As usual, the rain started once I was outside and it began to pour heavily as I headed in the direction of La Rambla. Shelter was necessary and I found myself in a market called La Boqueria. This place was heaven under one roof. There were fruits and vegetables, chocolate, fresh fruit smoothies, fish, meat, tapas, beer, international cuisine, EVERYTHING. However it isn’t the cheapest market in Barcelona, that’s for sure. I enjoyed a calzone while walking through the aisles waiting for the rain to stop outside and it was delish! After a half hour or so I wandered back outside to La Rambla and walked south to the Mirador de Colon. This is a tower with a statue of Christopher Columbus at the top, built to remind the people that this explorer reported to the Spanish royalty when he set off for the Americas. South of this is the Rambla de Mar which extends into the water and then connects to Port Vell. I had wanted to walk along the boardwalk but there was a boat show that weekend in Barcelona so the boardwalk was closed for the event. Instead I walked along Passeig de Colom until I reached Via Laietana. This stretch of road has many buildings that actually remind me of Havana, Cuba. That colonial style architecture is prominent in many parts of the city. The palm trees really add to the look as well.

Port of Barcelona

Port of Barcelona

Many of the buildings on Via Laietana are large skyscrapers similar to what you would find in North American cities. But behind the scenes you have the neighbourhood called el Gotic. This aspect of the city is actually one of the things that makes Barcelona so famous. I walked north along this street to Placa del Rei which flanks the Palau Reial Major occupied in the past by the Kings of Aragon. Just west of this square and palace is the Catedral de Barcelona. The architecture of the church is absolutely gorgeous, and is truly unique and completely different from anything else I had seen on my trip up until this point. There are some stairs in front of the church leading to a square, and in this square some musicians were playing live for a delighted crowd of people who had come to check out the little market set up there selling glass crafts. On this afternoon I came upon an interesting shop that sells handmade leather shoes from Barcelona. I can’t remember the name for the life of me, but when I do I will update this post. This store had a huge collection of leather flats of all colours and sizes, from black to fluorescent green. The prices were decent as well, but the colours were the attention catcher.

Sagrada Familia

 Catedral de Barcelona

Streets in Barri Gotic

Streets in Barri Gotic

Northwest of Placa de Catalunya is the University of Barcelona. The campus isn’t very large but there is a gorgeous garden at the back of the university on the other side of the main lobby. They have even posted information about some of the vegetation that can be found there. This garden leads to another courtyard containing another garden and benches to enjoy it from. There are a lot of international students studying here, so definitely a place to consider if you want to join an erasmus or exchange program. Who wouldn’t love to have temperatures above 15 C in the winter? Once I finished at the university and my feelings of nostalgia for school had evaporated, I headed to Rambla de Raval which is a street parallel to La Rambla on the west side. I somehow managed to get lost here after walking through some small roads and had trouble locating where I was on the map. I walked in circles for a while and then I decided to enter a store resembling Future Shop and pretended to show interest in some digital cameras. As I exited I asked for directions to Placa Catalunya and it turned out, miraculously, that I was not so far away after all. These old cities can be incredibly confusing. This area has many markets and little cafes to go check out. It may look dingy but the neighbourhood is going through a revitalization period.

As for night life, I am not a big party goer. We did go out for some fantastic icecream to try and cure the blues from all the rain that was falling. The place is called Belgious and has some really unusual flavours of icecream, such as hemp and wasabi. I would totally recommend checking it out and trying some of them for yourself. It is a real taste bud teaser. You can find them at Avinyo, 50, 08002 Barcelona. Then we had some fantastic food at a Pakistani restaurant southwest of MACBA, but I don’t remember the name, but so try to find it if you have some time, you won’t be disappointed I promise you. And finally we ended up at a bar called Bun Bo Vietnam (Calle de Angels 6, Barcelona) for some great mojitos. Definitely not stingy on the rum.

Barcelona is a beautiful city with too many tourists. I do plan to visit it again in the future and get a feel for it in the summer months, I am sure it is a very different place. I will then offer you guys a different perspective on the place. But for a now it is not my favourite place in Spain, but it is somewhere that shouldn’t be missed. Now off to Andalucia!

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Madrid & Toledo: The two capitals

After a 1.5 hour flight delay in Naples, I finally landed at Barajas airport in Madrid, Spain. This airport is one of the biggest I have ever stepped foot in and after grabbing my bags, I had to walk twenty minutes to get to the metro station. Although, I think if there was a metro station connecting Pearson airport with downtown Toronto, you would also have to walk for a while to get to it. I had to transfer lines twice to get to Nadia’s house; she is a very good friend of mine from Toronto, but living and working in Madrid for the time being.

I arrived at her place around midnight where she informed me that there was a Barbie & Ken theme party being held at a friend’s house. So I had to shower quickly, get dressed, and somehow we made it there by 1:30 AM with still some time to drink with everyone. I didn’t look much like Barbie, but luckily I have light hair and had a bright pink shirt to go with it. I met some new people at the party and some had really cool costumes, while others didn’t bother to dress up at all. But it was fun and we left at the end of the night happy and relaxed. On our walk home one of Nadia’s friends called us up and we headed to a gay club in Chueca. We hid the bottle of liquor under some tables belonging to a nearby restaurant and went inside the club. So this place had a 10 € cover charge that included one drink which I suppose is better than what any Toronto club would offer. We danced all night and left around 5 AM deciding to finish the bottle of liquor we left under the table, and then headed to an after hours club down the street. There we got in for free and didn’t leave until 8:30 AM! Only once before have I left a club when the sun was out and that was in Vienna a few years ago. This time I was so tired I couldn’t even walk. So when we arrived back at the apartment I collapsed into bed and didn’t wake up until 6 PM that day. Talk about being totally hung over. I hadn’t felt that horrible for a very long time, so the only way to cure it was with junk food! Nadia and I walked down to Telepizza, which is a pizza chain in Spain and other parts of southern Europe. We got 3 pizzas for 15 euros, which is a pretty good deal, and then picked up some pop and chips at the local store. We sat down for some serious chow down and some good old Spanish TV. Spanish television doesn’t have many programs in English. Most of the shows are in Spanish or are voiced over in Spanish. You can also choose to have it voiced over or to listen to the program in its original language. But the voice over is the reason for why Spaniards speak horrible English. How can they become familiar with the sounds of English if they don’t hear it on a daily basis?

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

Madrid is the largest city in Spain and is comparable in size to Toronto. This is probably the largest city I have visited so far on my trip, and it may be the largest I will visit in Europe. It has a metropolitan population of roughly 6.5 million people. You can just imagine the amount of people in the downtown core during the day and night. The pedestrian traffic is astounding. On my first day I walked down Calle San Bernardo to Gran Via. Gran Via is one of the largest, if not the largest, streets in Madrid and is lined by tons of shops and restaurants. The traffic on this street is also disgusting so my suggestion would be to avoid it if you can. Many of the streets from Gran Via lead south to Puerta del Sol which is the centre of Spain. Here you can find Kilometre Zero which is where the roads to the rest of Spain begin, theoretically speaking. From here I headed northeast along Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de Cibeles. Here there is a very beautiful fountain in the centre of the roundabout called Fuente de Cibeles and just to the east there is the Post Office. You can go to the top of this building, I think for free, at certain times of the day and get a great view of the city. Unfortunately when I went they were closing for siesta so I couldn’t get to the top for some good photos. I then walked south through the park along Paseo del Prado and then headed back west toward Puerta del Sol. It is a good idea to use this place as an anchor point in case you get lost in the city. There is a metro station nearby and it will be easy to find your orientation again.

Southwest of Puerta del Sol is Plaza Mayor. A large square surrounded on all sides by restaurants and apartments. The place is full of people, tourists and locals, and others trying to sell little toys and such for children. There isn’t a lot going on here during the day, but it is nice to get away from the crowds in Puerta del Sol and take a breather. From there I continued to Teatro Real and Opera station. I didn’t enter the building so I can’t share what the interior looks like, but I am sure it wouldn’t hurt for someone else to do it when they head to Madrid. I then met Nadia and another friend to help with some shopping for a wedding. Once that was finished, Nadia and I headed to a cafe where everything on the menu is 1 €! Even the beer! It is a good place to kill some hunger if you don’t feel like eating a big meal. I can’t remember the name unfortunately but it is on Gran Via between Calle de San Bernardo and Calle de Silva.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

The Post Office

The Post Office

The next day was the day for my day trip to Toledo, the old capital of Spain. Located about one hour south of Madrid by train, it is really not difficult to get to and definitely a place you should see time permitted of course. This city is a fusion of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and elements from all three religions can be seen in the architecture of the city. When I arrived in Toledo station I took a bus for 2 € that drops people off in the city centre, a good way to avoid getting lost. From the stop I headed south to the Cathedral of Toledo.

Art gallery in the cathedral

Art gallery in the cathedral

At first I was not going to enter the building, but I decided that 8 € was not a bad price for entry and an audio guide in English. the guide gives you the freedom to walk through the Cathedral at your own pace and repeat the descriptions if needed. All I can say is that this cathedral was absolutely breathtaking. When I walked in I had no idea what to expect, but WOW it was gorgeous. The size is impressive and there was so much artwork inside and gold everywhere. There was an art gallery inside as well by artists such as Greco and Cèzanne, totally impressive. I could talk all day about this cathedral but in all honesty, it has to be seen in person to really appreciate the details of the entire structure. Overall the city is nice to walk through. Food is expensive because a lot of tourists visit, but deals can be found. I tried paella here which is a rice dish mixed with seafood or meat. Very tasty but at times can be too salty, so I would suggest asking them to hold the salt if it is something you are not used to eating. Toledo is also famous for mazapán, or marzipan as most of us know it. I bought of a few of these little treats and they taste fantastic. They are slightly different from marzipan but the concept behind them is the same. I decided to walk back to the station to catch my train to Madrid and as usual ended up getting lost in the maze of streets. I had to take a taxi with 5 minutes to spare and miraculously made it there on time. If I had missed the train I would have had to stay in Toledo overnight.

The rest of the trip brought more sight seeing. The most notable places I visited were the Parque de la Montana that contains the Temple of Debod, Plaza de España, and the Royal Palace of Madrid and Plaza de Oriente. There is quite a bit of green space in Madrid, making it a great place to raise children, but when you are in the centre of the city, all the concrete can become tiring. By the time I reached the temple I had already covered a lot of distance that day so it was nice to enter some green space and let my mind relax. The Temple of Debod was a gift from the Egyptian government to Spain as a sign of appreciation for Spain’s help with preserving temples in Egypt. It has stood in the park since 1968. The park is two tiered, with the temple and some landscaping on the top tier and then bike trails on the bottom tier. All the leaves were still green in late September making the park really enjoyable to walk through. After walking through this park a bit I headed to Plaza de España to see square and the monument erected there. The park is laid out very nicely actually, there is a lot of shrubs and trees with a large fountain. The monument honours Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of the novel Don Quixote. The monument even has statues depicting some of the main characters of his book. My father called me while I was here and I have to admit that it is really nice when your family surprises you with a phone call, especially when you are alone for so long. While on the phone catching up with my Dad, I walked over to the Royal Palace. Because this landmark is so close to Puerta del Sol there were obviously many tourists around. Well the palace is gorgeous, and the church beside it is even more so. The park in front called Plaza de Oriente is really well laid out and has plenty of space to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

Temple of Debod

Temple of Debod

Almudena Cathedral beside the Royal Palace

Almudena Cathedral beside the Royal Palace

My first impression of Spain was a positive one. The city was clean and I never felt unsafe there, except when the protests would start. I was in Puerta del Sol one evening during a protest and thankfully I had left early because it turned violent halfway through. Police presence is high in tourist areas so usually nothing out of the ordinary happens. The weather there was pleasant in September, totally perfect for walking around all day. However, Madrid is not the definition of Spain. A traveler should visit other cities as well to get a taste of what Spain is, the country is pretty big after all. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Amalfi & Salerno: Sunny paradise

Patio at the hostel

Patio at the hostel

This entry will be a bit shorter than some of my others. I came to Salerno to relax a bit with the smell of the Mediterranean and the sun kissing my skin. I arrived by train from Rome and ended up getting a little lost, as usual, trying to find my hostel. I asked a young guy working at a cafe where I could find the street I was looking for and he tried so hard to help me in English, but in the end I had to get help from someone else. I really appreciated the effort from the Italians to communicate with me in English though. So I found my way to my hostel, Ave Gratia Plena, in Salerno. Really great location and the place was beautiful. The hostel was in an old convent sort of thing, with a beautiful patio and fountain on the ground floor. The staff were great and the room was clean and quiet. I even had a lovely view from my room of the cobble stone road below leading to the main road and ocean beyond that.

I met with Alfonso, who also is active on the CouchSurfing site, and after a walk in the city he took me to Cetara, a small small city not far from Salerno, where they have fantastic seafood. We ordered some tuna, anchovies, and squid fried with some light batter. I don’t think I have ever eaten better seafood than I did that night. We sat by the water for a while and then I headed back to my hostel for a good night’s sleep. A very much needed sleep.

Me in Cetara

Me in Cetara

I woke up the next morning and went out to find a bookstore that might sell some books in English. I needed something good to read and reading is so much more relaxing when you are sitting by the water. After reading the entire book Fifty Shades of Grey in the store, I picked up the book Never Let Me Go. I totally loved it and left it behind in Sevilla for another couchsurfer to enjoy as much as I did. With my book, I headed down to the promenade on the water to read and catch some rays. I was totally relaxed. I met Loborio, another couchsurfer, for lunch and we went to a pizzeria in the centre. I decided to try the pizza topped with mozzarella made with buffalo milk, which is a specialty from this region of Italy. Well it was AMAZING. Mozzarella in Canada just isn’t the same thing at all. Actually I will probably never eat it in Canada again to be honest. On my way back to the hostel I ran into the waiter that tried to help me with directions the day before. He treated me to some coffee on the house and proceeded to try to have a conversation with me mostly in Italian. I think it was the most difficult conversation I have ever had in my life! That night I went with Alfonso to Pompei to see it at night and the beautiful church. The place is picturesque and very small. And I couldn’t help but wonder why they would rebuild a city in the same place where the other one was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Humans work in mysterious ways.

Main church in Pompeii

Main church in Pompeii

On my 3rd day in Salerno I headed to the ferry dock to catch a ride along the coast to Amalfi. One of the most beautiful places in the world. On this particular day the sun was hot and the weather warm, so good for some tanning and a bit of a swim. This was my first time ever in the Mediterranean, and so memorable. I met a local there named Luca who works for a wine making company and he shared some of his stories about traveling in Australia and some knowledge about the wines and the process with which they are made. Then he took me by scooter to a small waterfall just east of Amalfi where the water was crystal clear. I think it was one of the most refreshing swims of my life. I spent the entire day on the beach and in the evening took the ferry back to Salerno.

Me in Amalfi

Me in Amalfi

That night in Salerno was the celebration of San Matteo, the protector of the city. There were parades and music and food. There was a fantastic fireworks show at the end that lasted around 20 minutes. Loborio agreed to watch the fireworks with me. We then went on a hunt for calzones and beer. I have to say again that Italian food is fantastic. The calzone was so stuffed with cheese, definitely got my money’s worth. The streets were filled with people, an amusement park was running and there was garbage everywhere. I don’t know how the city managed to clean it all.

View of Salerno Harbour from Arechi Castle

View of Salerno Harbour from Arechi Castle

On my last day I headed up to the Arechi castle that sits and watches over the city from the mountain. It is a small place with a nice trail that circles around the grounds. The view of the bay is beautiful from this high up. It was peaceful to sit there and contemplate the last few days I spent in the city. I then headed back to the hostel to grab my bags and catch my train to Naples and head to the airport. My flight to Madrid ended up being 1.5 hours delayed and I was so exhausted by the end of it all. Italy is a beautiful country and I am definitely going back in the future. The people are beautiful as well as the language and the history, and the food is fantabulous. I could never get enough of this place.

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Roma: Italian romance

Ah, Rome. There is so much I can say about Rome, but it wouldn’t be enough to capture how beautiful it really is. I am sitting here right now at a loss for words to describe it. I arrived to Roma Termini (the train station) early, which, I must add, almost never happens in Italy. My host’s name in Rome was Giuseppe, and he agreed to meet me at the station to help me with my bags since I was so worried about thieves (maybe a stereotype??). I had my first public transportation experience on a bus on this day, and wow traffic in Rome is horrible. Toronto can’t beat it, so you can only imagine how bad it is. Giuseppe lives southwest of Trastevere, a neighbourhood in Rome, and actually had good access to the centre of the city and was pretty quiet with good neighbours. Actually to be specific, all the neighbours were retired.

Fontana di TreviSo Giuseppe spoke very good English, and he was a fantastic host and guide through the city. My first night there he took me on his scooter to the center to see the Fontana di Trevi because it is nicer at night with all the lights. I have to admit it is very magical at night, but way too many tourists. Apparently it is best to go see it around 2 or 3 in the morning because there is no one there and you can really enjoy the atmosphere. But the fountain really is beautiful, the detail of the entire structure is magnificent. Then we walked around a bit to see the surrounding area such as Piazza Venezia, Piazza del Parlamento, Area Sacra Argentina, and Campo de’ Fiori. I will, of course, give you some background on all of these places. Piazza Venezia is in the centre of the city and is named after Cardinal Venezia and the Palazzo Venezia used to be the embassy of the Republic of Venice back in the day. In this ‘square’ there is a very large, white, colossal building on the top of a hill that has two flames constantly watched by two guards. These flames are always burning and are a tribute to an unknown soldier who died in one of the world wars, I wish I could remember which one now. But it is a symbol in Rome. OK the Piazza del Parlamento I think is self-explanatory. It was built in the 17th century and is now used by the government for their daily activities. The Area Sacra Argentina is actually really cool. It is the remnants of a part of the old Roman city but now has hundreds of cats living in it. There is an organization that feeds and takes care of cats in the monument, and when visiting it you can see the cats sitting around watching you. And lastly, the Campo de’ Fiori is a square lined with cafes and in the centre the statue of a philosopher named Giordano Bruno who insisted to the Church that they should look into science and trust it more than they did. He was burned alive in this square and the statue of him is there to honour him.

Area Sacra Argentina

Area Sacra Argentina

Campo de' Fiori

Campo de’ Fiori

Across the street from the Colosseum

Across the street from the Colosseum

The next day I headed toward the Colosseum to grab a ticket to check out the site. Luckily on my way I was approached by a guy working for an agency that specializes in guided tours provided in English. I paid 37€ for a guided tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill. I was the only one signed up for the tour so the guide and I headed out to begin, only to be called back 20 minutes later so that I could join a later tour. The owner of the company treated me to a drink for the inconvenience and even offered to hire me because it is so hard to find fluent English speakers in Italy. So any of you who may want to go abroad, Italy is full of opportunities! Thankfully this later tour included the dungeons of the Colosseum, while mine did not, so I got a good deal! The Colosseum was so cool! I was most excited about this part I think because my favourite movie is the Gladiator, I know that is a little lame.

So the Colosseum is fantastic. The sheer size of the building is unimaginable because the structure isn’t complete today. It was built by the Flavian dynasty of emperors in Rome on the sight where Nero’s Domus Aurea used to be. From what I remember in the tour, the theatre can seat around 50,000 people. There is so much history behind it that I really cannot cover it all here so you will need to do some research on your own, but I can tell you for sure that I was totally fascinated by the place. The guide then took us to the Palatine Hill which is just a short walk from the Colosseum. The hill is where the emperors of Rome had their homes overlooking the entire city. The grounds have gorgeous gardens and monuments. A walk through the Palatine grounds leads you to the Roman Forum which is where the daily life of the Romans used to take place. The Via Sacra, the road that the Roman soldiers walked when entering the city after victory, is located here as well as where Julius Casear’s body was burned after he was assassinated. The entire tour was fantastic and I learned a lot from it. Rome is a huge archaeological site waiting to be excavated.

From the top tier of the Colosseum

From the top tier of the Colosseum

One part of the Palatine Hill

One part of the Palatine Hill

View of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill gardens

View of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill gardens

The next day in Rome was to be spent seeing some of the places I hadn’t yet been to. My first stop was in Vatican City. I arrived there by bus and had to walk along the Vatican wall to get to the entrance to the city. So opinions are very personal obviously, and I have to say that I wasn’t very impressed by the Vatican. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it was the sheer amount of people, or perhaps it is overrated. I wish I knew. So I quickly left and walked east toward the castle of San Angelo. The grounds are beautiful; the castle sits in the centre with a two tiered park around the structure. The castle is connected to the other side of the Tevere river by the Ponte San Angelo, which is flanked by gorgeous statues along its entire length. I then walked up along the river and then to the east to Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps. The climb isn’t horrible and the view is beautiful. The Villa Borghese is just behind this place and the surrounding area is very ritzy, with lots of boutiques and fancy restaurants. I then continued my walk back to Piazza Venezia in the centre.

Vatican City

Vatican City

Castel San Angelo

Castel San Angelo

Ponte San Angelo

Ponte San Angelo

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

My last night in Rome I went to finally see the Pantheon. This building is huge, I can’t even explain it. Its presence is so overwhelming. The columns are lit and bats fly around the top of the columns. I couldn’t enter at night but apparently in the centre of the ceiling there is hole and when it rains the water is collected in a vase on the floor. This would have been interesting to see, but it didn’t rain in Rome until the day after I left for Salerno. From the Pantheon we took a short walk west to Piazza Navona which I would say is my favourite square in Rome. There is a large fountain in the centre with four men, each representing one of the great rivers of the world. At either end of the square there are two smaller fountains and in the background there is a large church. At night this place is so peaceful and the lighting of the fountains and church add to the mysticism. Then Giuseppe and I headed to Trastevere which is an artsy part of the city where there are a lot of nice wine bars and restaurants to try. I had some grilled lamb which is common to eat in Rome and some fried appetizers that are filled with rice and cheese, or zucchini flower, sort of like an Italian vegetable roll.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Everything in Rome was enjoyable. I will definitely visit it again one day in the future in addition to many other cities.

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Florence & Siena: Tuscany’s rivals

Next city on my hit list was Florence, Italy and I managed to make a day trip to Siena as well. I arrived by train as usual, because the train network in Italy is fantastic in my opinion. My host in Florence was Alessandro, who actually lives in Sesto Fiorentino which is a suburb of Florence. He met me at the train station like a real gentleman and helped me take my stuff to his apartment. We then headed over to his judo lesson because it is his life. It was interesting to watch considering I have never watched judo in my life, and I learned a little bit of Italian, I think haha.

My hosts and I in Florence

My hosts and I in Florence

When we returned home he prepared a proper Italian dinner for me and invited some friends to welcome me to Florence. The meal began with 3 different types of meat and 4 types of cheese. The usual Italian fridge is full of this kind of stuff. And you can never have meat and cheese without wine. We tried a wine from Tuscany in the Chianti region, and one from Sicily. Actually Simone and Alessandro are both from Sicily and Nicolletta is from Campania. I preferred the wine from Sicily because the taste is much fuller and there is something spicy about the wine. Next Alessandro served us some pasta with meat and tomato sauce which was fantastic. The food in Italy was so amazing. I am surprised I didn’t gain weight while I was there. The dinner ended with some fruit. I had some peaches and pears and apparently in Sicily the proper way to eat peach is to soak it in your red wine for a while and then eat it. It actually tastes pretty good and is a good balance between the sweetness of the fruit and the bitterness of the wine.

The next day I decided to make a day trip to Siena, which is probably an hour away from Florence by train. Now I got fined on he train for apparently not validating my ticket before getting on the train. So when you buy a ticket that doesn’t have a seat reservation you have to validate the ticket at the station in one of the machines. I didn’t know this so I had to pay 40 euros. Just a warning for those of you who decide to take the trains in Italy, validate the ticket!!

Torre del Mangia and part of the Piazza del Campo

Torre del Mangia and part of the Piazza del Campo

Siena and Florence are actually rival cities and fought wars in the past. It is a medieval city, and looks more medieval than Florence does. I took a bus to the centre from the train station and started my walk into the old city. Siena’s fame and fortune always depended on how Florence was doing in these aspects. During the power of the Government of the Nine in the late 1200s and early 1300s Siena reached its highest point of glory. The city’s most famous structure is the Piazza del Campo. It is a half circular shape that is separated into nine triangles which correspond to the Government of Nine mentioned earlier. In the centre is the Gaia Fountain and at the base of the square is the Palazzo Pubblico. The tower is called Torre del Mangia and is the tallest building in Siena. From what I remember, I think that twice a year there is a horse race in the Piazza that is actually one of the most tourist drawing events in this area of Tuscany. I really enjoyed walking through the cobblestone streets and see the red brick buildings towering over me on each side. I decided that I wanted to walk back to the train station instead of taking the bus there. So I set out on my trek but ended up lost as usual. After some time of aimlessly wandering I stopped at a bus stop only to find that there was a strike going on and that I would have to walk anyway. I missed my train due to being lost and then had to wait an hour for the next train to leave. It was quite an eventful day. Outside of the medieval portion of Siena, there isn’t much to see in my opinion, so spend as much time as possible in the old part of the city if you can.

My view walking down a street in Siena

My view walking down a street in Siena

My second full day in Florence I decided to go into the city centre and take a look around at all the beautiful buildings and monuments to be found. Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany in northern Italy. The Renaissance was born in this city and was ruled by the Medici family that built most of its stunning masterpieces that can be seen today. Lorenzo Medici was the family member who invested the most in the arts and music in Florence and was loved by the entire region for his contributions.

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and the surrounding square

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and the surrounding square

I started near the Santa Maria Novella train station and walked south to see the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. The square this church is found in is picturesque and is really quite stunning on a sunny day. There are a couple museums to be found in this area as well. Next I walked east toward Basilica di San Lorenzo which is a more simplistic church of brown brick. However it has attached to it a circular building that holds a medical library and can be entered for a small fee. I didn’t choose to go inside due to time constraints but it is open to the public everyday of the week.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

I walked southeast from Basilica di San Lorenzo along a street called borgo San Lorenzo and suddenly I came into the Piazza San Giovanni and I stopped short at the sight of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. This church is so far one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen on my trip. When I came into the square and saw it I suddenly had goosebumps all over my body. The sun made the entire structure gleam and the detail in the facade was so pronounced. The image was totally breathtaking. The inside of the cathedral is also very impressive with its high ceilings and sheer size.

Directly south of this cathedral is the Palazzo Vecchio with its awkwardly large tower and the large statues decorating the outside. Two large statues flank the door to the palace and a large fountain sits in the square. The decor seems so misplaced beside the palace. There is a corridor that leads from the south side of the palace across to the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge, and then to Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river where the family used to stay in the winter. The stores on Ponte Vecchio are all jewelry shops and has been this way for hundreds of years.

Palazza Vecchio

Palazza Vecchio

Tuscany has some fantastic food and I couldn’t possibly list them all. The cheese and meat are amazing as I mentioned earlier. I do need to mention one more thing though which absolutely made my day. The hazelnut gelato in the city is to die for. And there is a bread called scchiacciata which is bread sprinkled with olive oil and salt. I died when I ate this with some cheese and meat. Everyone should try it.

Florence was a beautiful city and I would love to go back in the future, to see my new friends, and to see the sights in more detail. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the largest art galleries in the world and I think that it would be wonderful to take a few hours to walk through it. Hopefully one day I will have a blog entry dedicated to my visit there.

Me with the Ponte Vecchio in the background

Me with the Ponte Vecchio in the background

© Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open., 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, links, and photos may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tijana Djokic and Eyes.Wide.Open with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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