Sirmione (Italy): a photo-diary

Sirmione, Italy
the Scaliger Castle in Sirmione

Sirmione is a charming little Italian town on the Lake Garda. When it’s not overrun with day-trippers it offers tranquility and spa treatments at its many hotels. The symbol of Sirmione is the Scaliger castle (13th ct). You can climb its tower to get a nice view of the Lake Garda and the entire town. Once you cross the castle’s drawbridge you enter historical Sirmione. Another noteworthy attraction is the Grottoes of Catullus, the remains of a Roman private house, the largest such uncovered in the northern Italy. This villa is mentioned in the poems of the first famous resident of Sirmione who lived there in 1st century BC (the Roman poet  Gaius Valerius Catullus). There are several interesting small churches too. But the town’s claim to fame are its thermal springs. Many famous writers visited Sirmione such as Alfred Tennyson, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. I shouldn’t forget to mention the famous Italian writers Giosuè Carducci and Antonio Fogazzaro who wrote about Sirmione as well as the notorious Gabriele D’Annunzio who found the short-lived Italian Regency of Carnaro in Fiume (Rijeka, Croatia) with himself as the Fascist leader. English writer Naomi Jacob made Sirmione her home. One of the best opera singers of all times had a villa here too: Maria Callas.

Scaliger Castle, Sirmione
Scaliger Castle

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Christmas markets in Villach & Velden, Austria

Villach
Christmas market in Villach

Three years ago I took my mum to Austria for a day trip. Our destinations were Villach and Velden and their charming Christmas markets. We both love Christmas markets very much so I decided to ask her and not my boyfriend (now my husband) to join me. Besides my boyfriend and I went to a chocolate factory near Graz (Austria) just a few weeks before this Christmas markets day trip.

About Villach & Velden

Villach is located on the Drau river and it’s the seventh largest town in Austria with a population of around 62 000. It’s got a big Croatian community too so it’s not a surprise that Villach is very popular for shopping and Christmas trips from Croatia. Velden am Wörthersee is a market-town and a popular holiday resort situated at the Wörthersee lake and close to Villach.

Villach
Villach

Villach

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Colourful palace&ocean&fado

Sintra
Sintra

During our week in Lisbon we took two day trips. I already wrote about our day trip to Evora where we saw the ancient Roman temple among other landmarks and where we had a wine tour as well.So this post is about our second day trip.

It was a warm & sunny day when we visited Sintra & its surroundings. Firstly, we saw the Roman aqueduct and then we continued on the motorway to Sintra which is roughly an hour away from Lisbon. At the entrance of Pena Palace grounds we left our mini bus and boarded another crowded mini bus which takes tourists to the gates of the colorful Pena National Palace. I have never seen such a palace. It’s a mix of all styles and yet it’s fairly modern; it dates from the 19 th century but it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It looks more like something from a fairy-tale and yet it was a home of the Portuguese royal family. Our guide told us some basic facts about the palace at the entrance and then we explored it at our pace. It looks more like a proper palace once you get in with the huge chandelier-decorated rooms, lots of beautiful furniture and modern-day amenities such as a fully functional bathroom. The kitchen was amazing too with all the giant copper pots. I like visiting castles and palaces and this is definitely one of the most interesting I have ever visited.

The view from the palace is lovely too and you can see as far as the ocean (which isn’t that far away actually). If we did this tour by ourselves then we would have had time to visit the Moorish castle and the Sintra National Palace as well but then we probably wouldn’t have seen the other places on this tour because we would have just visited Sintra. Hopefully, my husband and I will return to Lisbon one day ( maybe for some anniversary?) and then I’d like to visit Sintra again but on our own.

Sintra, Pena Palace
Pena Palace

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Wines & Roman temple

Evora, Portugal

Do you enjoy wine? Do you like Roman ruins? If so, do continue reading about my day trip to Portuguese town of Évora.

During our week in Lisbon we took two organized day trips. Since it was our honeymoon I didn’t really want to spend hours and hours like I usually do trying to find the best way to get to a certain  place, making our sightseeing plan and doing all the other travel-related planning. One day trip was to Sintra region and for another I chose Évora. Why that town you might ask? Well, I’ve got this book called 501 must-visit cities which I got for my graduation from my BFF and I often flick through it and so in Portugal section I saw a photo of a big Roman temple and read about university town of Évora. So the decision was made to visit it while in Lisbon.

The tour company picked us up in front of our hotel. I was very pleased with the tour guide on our day trip to Sintra but this wasn’t the case on this trip even though both of the trips were organized by the same agency. The old gentleman who had to explain everything in multiple languages to our versatile group was however very strict and ununderstanding of the needs of his group. Nevertheless I didn’t let that ruin our day trip.

university, Evora
university, Evora

We arrived to Évora in about an hour and a quarter and were greeted by clouds and an intermittent rain. The first thing we saw were the remains of the medieval city wall and then we left the bus at the University building. Evora University is actually the second oldest university in Portugal since it was founded in 1559. I have a thing for university cities such as Cambridge and Bologna so I was pleased to start the sightseeing of Evora by a quick walk around its main university building.

We proceeded on foot and soon I felt like I was in a scene from a Mexican soap opera even though I’ve never been to Mexico. The white-washed houses on the streets really looked like something I had seen on TV. The only thing missing were men wearing sombrero and possibly carrying a machine gun too. Sorry for the prejudice but that’s how it looked like to me 🙂 The streets were half-empty and wherever you looked you saw beautiful historical buildings and monuments. Well, Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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A perfect day in Bruges ( April 2015)

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Have you ever had a perfect day trip? Our trip to Bruges was just that.

When I planned our Brussels weekend trip my husband suggested we spend a day in Bruges. I was against it since it was just a short trip but I’m so glad that he managed to change my mind. Bruges is a perfect picture postcard town. And it kind of reminded me of English countryside towns and I seriously love the English countryside.

So, on a beautiful Sunday morning we boarded our train to Bruges from Brussels Midi station. The train was packed full with tourists and somehow after walking through several carriages we eventually found ourselves a place to sit. It was only a short train ride since Belgium isn’t really big and on our way to Bruges we passed near several other tourist-worthy Belgian towns such as Ghent. There was an older Belgian gentleman sitting opposite me and he struck a conversation with me. I have to say that I speak some French and I tried to use my French as much as possible during this trip but everyone we met spoke good English. So we talked briefly about Brussels and Bruges and Belgian coast and about French and Flemish language representation in Belgium.
Soon we arrived to Bruges and followed the mass of tourists out of the train station and into the town. However, the groups of tourists dispersed quickly since everyone obviously had another idea of how to get to the strict center of the town.


We walked past a row of old small houses which looked more like they belonged in a fairy tale book than in a modern-day world. Passing the St.Salvator’s Cathedral we found ourselves in a busy street leading to the main square Markt. And what a sight to behold! The square is surrounded by colourful picturesque buildings from different periods. There’s also the majestic Provincial Court building which can be mistaken for a town hall and of course looming over the square is the 83-meter-high Belfry tower from 1248. There was also a kind of carnival at the square which I must say looked a bit out of odds with the beautiful square. You could spend hours at the square just admiring the beautiful facades of the buildings or watching the world go by from one of the many café terraces on the square. But the first thing we did in Brugge or Bruges was to climb 366 steps up to the top of the Belfry tower to see the whole town. However, it wasn’t an easy climb since the passage was often very narrow and steep and we had to wait in queue for half an hour before. There’s not much inside the tower except from the big wooden chest in the Treasure Room and the intricate clock/bells mechanism further up. Nevertheless, the view alone was worth the climb and the hefty 8 euros ticket.

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