Travel tips

Table for one, please.

There is something quite liberating in approaching a restaurant and, with the confidence of an Olympic games medallist, say: – Table for one, please.

I recently travelled alone to Lisbon, in Portugal, and I really wanted to experience their culinary. I usually have no problems being on my own, but I have to say… it had been a while since I sat in a restaurant, ordered a dish, ate and paid the bill entirely on my own, having just myself as company during the meal. It was almost like a new experience for me. Something that represented freedom in many ways.

Eleven years ago I went travelling in Italy. For 10 days, I explored Italy completely on my own. My goal was to see as much as I could, so I started in the south and made my way up north. The great thing about this trip was that I didn’t have any hotels booked, no train timetables printed out, nothing. I didn’t even know all the places I could go to. I just went. I was literally arriving in each city and fighting for survival (ok, that sounds a bit too extreme, but if I chose not to do anything, I’d literally sleep on the streets and probably get arrested or something). Arriving in an unknown place, not knowing where I’d sleep that night was such an adventure. Yes, of course I know that many people have done that before a million times, but I recall that experience one of the best ones of my life. I felt so proud of myself every night when I laid my head on a pillow, knowing that I made my way there on my own. I guess it was the time I felt most responsible for myself. And that didn’t change since then, so I suppose it was a bit of a turning point.

caminhando sem rumo

There is a lot more to travelling alone than just finding a bed, though. You can decide everything… ON YOUR OWN. You are the queen of your own trip and no one will dare telling you what to do, because no one knows you! I find that visiting a place alone works as a great opportunity for a very close meeting with yourself. You can get your mind wandering about everything and not get these thoughts interrupted by people talking to you. It’s like meditating the whole time, with amazing discoveries along the way.

On this recent trip to Lisbon, I remember getting out of the hotel (yes, I had booked it in advance – I guess my gypsy ways are gone) and looking to the right and to the left. I then remember thinking: which way should I go? I answered my own question by giving myself a little spin and thinking: whichever side I face, that’s where I’m going! To the right it was, then. On this trip, I walked, walked and walked the entire time. I didn’t have a long time to explore the place and I wanted to make the most of it. However, although I did see amazing sights, what I felt most amazed about was the way I was feeling. Walking down the street, with a fresh breeze on my face and the impulse you get when you are walking downwards, combined with the very appealing idea that I had no clue where I was going gave me this fantastic feeling of freedom. It was almost like I was floating on the streets, just letting that breeze take me wherever. And my mind was wandering all the same, making up all these thoughts that would come in and go out in the speed of light.

I had two incredible days in Lisbon. I just couldn’t believe how insightful it was to just detach myself from my usual surroundings for a couple of days and what a difference it made to my outlook on life. That freedom, that adventurous spirit stayed with me, and reminded me of the girl I was 11 years ago. It reminded me of my courage, of my ‘happy-go-lucky’ ways, of my free spirit. The same one that I’m not letting feel trapped ever again, for whatever reason.

Sometimes we just need a gentle reminder of who we really are to go look for that person inside ourselves and bring them back.

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Categories: Insights, Travel tips, Travelling alone | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dubrovnik – a “Wow!” on each corner…

In our more than relaxed way of travelling, we found out in Split that the only way to go from Split to Dubrovnik was by bus, on a trip that takes 5 hours. Oh, dear… 5 hours on a bus? Mmmmm, I even quickly considered not going at all for a second, but our flight back was from there, so there really was no choice.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken by a bus trip, though, and I can safely say that this was probably the most beautiful bus journey I have ever been on. With an amazing skyline and blue waters everywhere you look, each corner is a new opportunity to let your jaw drop that little bit more whilst you slowly say ‘WOW!’.

The bus also goes through Bosnia, which I heard is an amazing place to visit (maybe next time, eh?). The trip is so amazing that you don’t even realise how long you have been on it.


On the way to Dubrovnik


Scenery seen from the bus

When we arrived in Dubrovnik, the first thing we did was to go to the hotel. This time, since it was the last leg of the holiday, we went for a nicer one, as one of the intentions was to just chill by the lovely torquise waters. Now when I say ‘nicer’ I never imagined it was going to be as nice as it was. From our room, we had a fantastic sea view and the hotel had its own access to the sea, with lots of sun loungers by the rocks. So I don’t even have to tell you that we quickly decided to give our feet a deserved rest from walking and just enjoy the day by the sun. And there were no regrets.

At night, all relaxed and sun-kissed, we went to the Old Town, which was about 15 minutes from the hotel by bus. When we arrived, another ‘WOW!’ Completely iluminated, the place is magnificent and almost hipnotizing. The Old Town is surrounded by the City Walls, which were extremely important during various wars. Today, the walls are part of the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. The preservation of the site is impecable, even after the damage caused in 1991, when the city was bombarded by military forces, in the process of Yugoslavia’s fragmentation.


City Walls


View from the top of the City Walls

On our second day, we went all the way up the stairs and then allll the way around (no, it’s not free, it costs about £10, but I would highly reccommend it). It took us about 2 and a half hours to walk the whole thing. The highest point is almost 2 metres high (oh, yes, you go a bit dizzy if you look down!), and the views are magnificent! Me and my friend were even joking that it was so beautiful that we found ourselves taking it for granted, so we were not even noticing it that much anymore. That was until we realised it and then started stopping at every corner again.

The best bit for me, though, was to be able to observe the people within the city walls. A lot of people live in many buildings in that area and you can get a pretty good idea of what life is like over there. In fact, you can even get a bit too much information, judging by the pic I took, below. Hehe… You can witness the daily life, you can feel the place breathing and you can gauge people’s habits by just looking around. To me, this is the best bit of travelling:  to see how people go about their lives in a place that is unfamiliar to me.


Local life… literally

Dubrovnik is on the east coast of the Adriatic sea and one of Croatia’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s also a harbour and the most important city of the Dubrovnik-Neretva county. For its natural and urban beauty, Dubrovnik is called ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’.


Harbour


View from the top of the City Walls

It can’t be denied that Dubrovnik has already been ‘discovered’, though. And by that I mean discovered by the tourists. They are everywhere! And lots and lots of them! The place is nothing like peaceful Vis, with its calmness, silence and lots of space to walk around without bumping into anyone. No, no. Dubrovnik is busy, busy, busy.  You see people taking photographs from any angle you can imagine, you get grabbed by the waiter by the hand so he can show you the restaurant menu, you can hardly talk to your friend right next to you as the place is full of noise coming from everywhere. If I was to spend a full week’s holiday in Dubrovnik, I’d probably come home wanting another holiday after that, but I guess this is part of the places’ charm. The place is so nice it’s no wonder it’s full of people all the time.


View from the top of the City Walls


Old Town from the top of the City Walls

One of the advantadges of being in a busy place is to be able to people watch, one of my favourite past times. Just pick one of the many cafés and forget about the time. Look at everyone… the ones in a rush to go to the next site, the loved-up couples, the groups of teenagers, the older couples re-discovering the beauty of travelling on their own again… they all have a story to tell if you look close enough. And surrounded by the medieval, renascentist and baroque architecture, you have the perfect seeting for your story already!

The Irish author and journalist George Bernard Shaw once referred to Dubrovnik as the ‘paradise on Earth’. Mmmm… I’m still to decide if Dubrovnik is my favourite place in Croacia but, regardless of my opinion, you can’t deny that the place is magical and a feast for the eyes. The architecture is great, the city is fantastic at night, the beaches are beautiful and the sea… ah, the sea… I would definitely visit again, I’d just have to find out first which is the month that all the other tourists don’t have the same idea.

Categories: Croatia, Holiday, Travel tips | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall in love in a ‘Split’ second

My recent trip to Croacia was fantastic. I have already blogged about the island of Vis but, during the week I was in Croatia, I also visited Split and Dubrovnik. So, here is a bit about Split…

Split is situated in the Mediterranean Basin of the Adriatic sea, and it was where I spent the first few days of the trip. It was also the place that gave me those valuable first impressions of a country. With its palm trees on the Riva Harbor and water everywhere you look, I’d say it’s easy to fall in love already on the first day of visit. I’m usually one of those that fall in love with a place pretty quickly and I immediately know if I like a location or not. It was different with Split, however. And this is because Split is one of those places that reveals itself slowly, presenting you with little surprises around each corner, almost like people in love that want to retain the attention of their loved ones when they have just started dating. It didn’t take long for me, though. In 3 days, I was head over heels in love.


Riva Harbor -perfect place to have a coffee and just watch the world go by…


Riva Harbor at night

One of the oldest cities of the region, Split  has a population of nearly 180,000, who in their majority work in commerce, in tourism or in the food industry, selling fish, olive oil and wine. Since 1998, Split hosts the Annual Croatian Boat Show. During my vist, the show was on and I could see how many visitors it attracts to the place.


Boats everywhere!

Split’s main attraction is the old town, where you can find the buildings that still stand from the former Diocletian’s Palace, which dates back to 300 D.C. Diocletian lived in the palace until he died and, to this day, the place is home to a considerable number of families (even though a local told me that this number reduces by the year, mainly because of the age of the building and the problems that come with this). The remaining buildings of the entire old town are classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Diocletian’s Palace – old and new together

Deocletian’s Palace is a beautiful landmark of Split. You can get lost within its walls and its narrow cobbled streets, the cul de sacs and its long corridors that you just follow without knowing where you are going to get to exactly. Today, the historic space is also full of quirky and cool shops and restaurants. Don’t think that it’s all modern, though. The planning was done so well that you notice a perfect balance between the old and the new, making the place rich for its history and interesting for the additions of modern life. On the night that I arrived, I went to the palace for a stroll and was drawn to a part of the building that was beautifully iluminated and where I could hear live music. There, sat by the rocks and steps of the old palace, a group of young people enjoyed the warm night and the music coming from one of the bars. I couldn’t help but join them. I noticed throughout my stay in Split that the local people really take advantage of the location and really appreciate the beauty of it.


Palácio de Deoclécio

The next day, when we were again walking around the palace (remember I said you can get lost in there? Exactly. One visit is not enough!), we stopped for a chat with the owner of the restaurant where we had had dinner the night before (a scrumptious sea food risotto, by the way). I asked him about the little dog that was always around the restaurant but that we had also seen around other places within the palace. He then told us that the dog was called Rocky but no one owned him, he belonged to everyone that worked in the palace and they all looked after him. Awww…


Rocky

On this second day, our mission was to find the beach, of course. On the way, we went past many groups of men, either sitting on the benches at the squares or just standing around. They were either playing dominos, cards or were just standing there, observing the passers-by. Some local people told us that there is a shortage of work, which explains the amount of men not doing a lot. They all seemed really friendly, though, and loyal friends to each other.

Everywhere you look in Croatia there is water. It’s just so beautiful. However, the Croatian’s concept of beach is a little different to the Brazilians’. This is possibly due to the fact that the shores are quite small, so our little dream of lying in the sun by the beach all day didn’t quite come to life. Having said that, the beaches are absolutely beautiful, with blue and green water, sunshine and happy people. The only pity was the water being so cold (this was end of April). So we learned the lesson that the best time to visit Croatia is in September, which is when all the tourists have gone away, but the climate is great and the water is still warm. Mental note for next time.


Groups of men: they are on every corner!


One of the beaches of Split

One night, we went for dinner at a restaurant called Fife, near the harbour, but also far enough to be a little hidden secret of the place. Many local people visit the restaurant and the food is just to die for! I had a pasticada, a typical Croatian dish made with beef and red wine sauce, served with gnocchi. Check out my ‘not-at-all-generous’ serving below (!) – I just couldn’t help it, it was sooo delicious! Fife is a restaurant I’d definitely recommend on a visit to Split. It has a very relaxed atmosphere, with its long tables that are usually shared by more than one group. The cook is obviously extremely skilled and the staff is helpful and patient – even when we asked them to explain almost every dish on the menu!


Pasticada – Yum!

On our last day, on a stroll by the Riva harbour, we met a local man that had two dogs. He told us that one of them was Italian and the other Croatian, but even so they got along really well, which is quite funny. He also explained that many Croatian people don’t have jobs and that in the calm months, the place can be quite empty. He also said that fishing is a big thing in Split, and this is obvious by the number of boats that can be seen everywhere. On this same day, we went past a groups of fishing men that seemed to be celebrating something at their HQ. They were drinking and singing with lots of energy. A few hours later, on our way back, we went past the same place and heard the same fishing men singing, but this time the words were slurred because of the alcohol. Funny and real.


Dogs – the Croatian and the Italian (left to right, don’t get confused!)


Sea, the beautiful sea…

Split is a place where you see families everywhere. If not complete families, pregnant women and their partners. I don’t think I have ever seen that many pregnant women in one place! Split has its own energy, people are very warm and they seem to live a colourful life. I would recommend Split to anyone that visits Croatia. It’s a place where you see life through rose-tinted glasses. And who doesn’t fancy a bit of that once in a while?

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Vis – the island of tranquility

From the catamaran, you already get the feeling that there is no such thing as high speed in this island. People walk in no rush at all, car drivers don’t even think about going over the speed limits, the water is calm and serene. Even the birds translate the tranquility of the island into their long and lazy singing.

View of the island from the catamaran

The hugs of the people who are meeting after the journey are long and sincere, with no time limit, with no reservations. People seem to have time for one another. They seem to appreciate their time together. No running, no rushing.

Early morning in Vis

On our arrival, we meet our host. Yes, she went to pick us up to take us to the house we booked for two nights. My friend and I prefer to stay in actual local houses whenever possible instead of big hotels. Of course, this depends on each person’s travelling style, but come on… how many times have you been picked up by your host to be taken to the place you booked over the internet with no added charges and with a big smile on their face? Exactly.

Komiza’s local woman

Komiza’s streets

Vis island is about 100 Kilometres from the Italian coast and has an average of 3,000 inhabitants. They work in agriculture, they fish, they make wine or they work in tourism. The island has magnificent beaches, 3 restaurants, a couple of bars, many boats and not many people. Ideal to relax.

Scenery of wars and disputes along he years, Vis started being populated by the Croatians in the 7th century. The island belonged, over the years, to Italy, Austria, France, England and Yugoslavia. In the years of socialist Yugoslavia, Vis became its army base because of its strategic position and Tito, the Yugoslavian leader, hid in the island with all his army for a long time. Vis only started to be inhabited again in 1989.

This isolation, however difficult it was for the inhabitants of the island, placed Vis amongst some of the favourite destinations of the entire Mediterranean when Croatia  became independent. Vis’ beautiful beaches, preserved nature, ecological agriculture and preserved traditional architecture bring more and more visitors to the island each year. It’s still considered a ‘best kept secret’, though, as many people are just not ready to take things slow – and, believe me, this is a requirement when you visit Vis.

On my first day on the island, I witnessed a magnificent sunset. The skies went orange, then red, then pink, until purple slowly took over and covered the entire sky, like a blanket. In a sacred silence I took pictures, looked at the many boats and appreciated the singing of the birds. My friend and I didn’t even speak much, as if breaking the silence would be like committing a sin. A sin against nature.

The most amazing sunset

On our second day, we ‘hired’ a tour guide and his taxi to explore the island for a few hours. Ideally we would have done this by foot, since the entire island is marked for trekking, but our short time didn’t allow us to do so. Our tour guide was a sweet and talkative local and my friend and I came to the conclusion that people in the island must get lonely sometimes – he wouldn’t stop talking, even for one full minute.

Having said that, he gave us a pretty god picture of what life is like in the island. He told us about the relations between people and how sometimes people just need to get out of the island or they might go insane (his own words!). I can only imagine, though. Think about being in one place that is quite remote for a long period of time. I’d probably go crazy too. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate peace and quiet, but all the time? Nah, thanks.

One of Vis’ beaches

The tour took us to the highest point of the island, called Hum. There, you’ll find a tiny church where you would only fit about 10 people, if that many. We also went to Komiza, an island of fishermen with shiny sea and weird stuff up on the walls.

Komiza’s walls – what IS that?

Tiny church

Komiza

We visited the beaches (all with pebbles – no sand. Boo!)  and also stopped by a bar to appreciate the sea. Our guide, with his cheeks going slightly red and a big smile on his face, told us then that right there, at that bar, he met his wife, years ago. Sweet.

Where Harry met Sally (haha, where our guide met his wife)

Walking around Vis is the equivalent of stopping in time for a few hours or for a day or two. Everything slows down. The mind starts thinking slower, ideas find their slots within our usually hurried thinking, as if all that was necessary for this to happen was to get out of the rush of real life. Visiting Vis is like putting all the stress you may be going through inside a bottle and then letting the sea take it away, slowly. A luxury I certainly recommend.

* Pictures: Marilia Spindler

Categories: Croatia, Relaxation, Travel tips | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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