Monday 31 December 2012

What to see and do in Lisbon?

Being a capital of Portugal - once a world-class colonial superpower, says enough about this city on its own. Still today all over Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) there are many reminders of this once glorious past. Wealth flowing in from many colonies and successful spice trade with far east resulted in many magnificent buildings for us to admire today.

Strangely, despite all of that and also being very affordable, it is not as popular as many other European capital cities - unduly so if you ask me.

There would be many more magnificent buildings but unfortunately the 1755 Lisbon earthquake destroyed 85% of city's structures. Even before that time the city had quite a "ground-shaking" history.

The city itself is very old - archeological finds suggest the area was populated even before first millennium BC. Phoenician influences date back to 1200 BC but it really started to prosper during the Roman times.

Today it is a city with a population of around 550.000 within its administrative limits and over 3 million in a wider metropolitan area.

Lisbon is also called The City of Seven Hills - like many other great cities, it is built on seven hills. Rome probably being the most famous of those, the list of cities built on seven hills stretches to 60.

There are many attractions scattered among those 7 hills. We tried to visit at least some of them in our 4 days there.

These things made it onto our list:

  • walks around various city districts (Alfama, Baixa, Bairro Alto, Belém, Chiado, Estrela),
  • Jerónimos Monastery,
  • Torre de Belém and the Discoveries Monument,
  • a panoramic ride on the Tram 28,
  • Castelo de Sao Jorge,
  • Oceanario de Lisboa,
  • Fado music experience,
  • Basilica da Estrela,
  • Elevador de Santa Justa,
  • a trip to Sintra,
  • a trip to Cabo da Roca.

There are also many great museums worth looking into (Gulbenkian Museum, National Tile Museum, National Coach Museum, etc.). In addition to those, there are also many great parks worth checking out (e.g. Parque das Nacoes) and many other interesting places. I will try to share some useful information about the most interesting attractions from the above list in the next few posts.


Friday 28 December 2012

Why visit Lisbon?

As I already mentioned a while ago I recently decided it was time to visit a nearby destination with at least a bit warmer climate (I announced the trip here). This was not a very challenging task, since we have recently had some periods of really low temperature in Slovenia - it dropped even below 20 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country during a couple of nights.

The destination of choice for this time was Lisbon - the capital of Portugal. We flew in from Venice.

Usually getting from any airport to a larger city center can be a bit of a challenge or at least prove to be quite an expensive thing to do. In Lisbon this is definitely not the case. Since the last stretch of subway (Metropolitano de Lisboa) was completed at the end of summer 2012 it is a really easy and cheap thing to do in Lisbon.

A one way metro ticket (to anywhere within the city) only costs €1,25 which is really affordable. The only thing you have to take care about are the metro working hours (every day from 06:30 till 01:00).
Our plane landed quite late in the evening, but we still had plenty of time to get to the hostel we were staying in.

There is one thing I should probably mention about hostels in Lisbon - there seem to be many of really good ones available at more then affordable prices. We started our search for a hostel with Hostelworld's 2012 Hoscar Awards.

As we learned there are surprisingly many Lisbon hostels on that world's top list in almost every category. We checked out feedback on a few of those and in the end chose the Lisbon Destination Hostel, which actually didn't make it to those top 10 lists. Affordable price, very positive overall feedback and top location were the things that had the most to do with our decision. In the end we were really happy with our choice - it provided everything we needed and more. I really recommend it!

Lisbon Destination Hostel is actually located inside Rossio train station. This might seem odd, but it is a magnificent old building in the very center of Lisbon. I was afraid there might be some noise and vibrations coming from trains, but we did not notice anything. A pleasant surprise really.

Apart from good accommodation we liked almost everything else about the city. It was quite affordable and there is a lot to see and do. Also food and wine was my kind of thing - I loved almost everything I tasted. The fact I love seafood definitely helped.
For more information about food and great Port wine I tasted for the first time, you will have to wait for one of my following posts.

Actually the only thing that did not meet my expectations was the weather. I was hoping for a dry holiday with as much sun as possible, but got mostly rain.
At least the last two days were pretty sunny. That allowed me to take at least a few nice photos.


Wednesday 26 December 2012

Which airline hobbits fly?

Obviously it is Air New Zealand! This video commercial is just one of many similar tries by New Zealand to attract more tourists with the help of popular Lord of the rings and Hobbit movies.

What’s the best way to get to Middle-earth? Fly, you fools, fly!

That is just one of cool quotes used in a video commercial for Air New Zealand. The video presents An Unexpected Safety Briefing in the most entertaining way.

Besides a good looking elf-eared attendant also many dwarves, orcs, hobbits, elves, wizards and Sauron himself can be seen on board a Boeing 777 on their way to Middle-earth. Tolkien's great-grandsons, Hobbit‘s Fili the Dwarf and even movie director Peter Jackson all appear in the commercial. Oh, and let us not forget the Gollum. Enjoy!

There is also a behind the scenes video available here.


Monday 24 December 2012

End of the World in Ljubljana

Ljubljana - the capital of Slovenia, has had similar Christmas lighting for a few years now. It represents planets, stars, constellations and other space objects. Besides the fact I find it really nice, some sections of it are also very appropriate for the announced end of the world.

If you have been hiding in a dark cave for the last few years, let me inform you that the end of the world was scheduled for 21st of December 2012. As you have probably noticed by now, the world is still here and internet is still up and running.

I will leave you with this photo of shooting stars in the skies over Ljubljana and an interesting quote on the end of the world topic by Richard Bach:

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.


Monday 17 December 2012

Soča river valley video presentation

Another video promoting (in my opinion) the most beautiful part of Slovenia has recently been released. It focuses on Soča river valley. The Emerald river really is something special and definitely deserves your attention.

Enjoy the video and feel free to ask any questions about the area that might pop up. I will gladly help you out with some local advice.

I have posted about different sports activities in these parts before - it is a perfect place for trying out various adrenaline packed activities. You can check out a post about kayaking and there is also another one about my ziplining adventure in the area.


Friday 14 December 2012

Dej še'n litro concert in Ljubljana

Those of you out there who are having second thoughts about visiting the capital of Slovenia during winter season do not have to worry - December is as good time as any to do it. The city streets might not be as vibrant at this time as during summer months but there are still many reasons that will definitely leave a happy smile on your face every day before turning in for the night.

Two days ago was no different as a brass band Dej še'n litro held a concert in the picturesque streets of Ljubljana, Slovenia. This was a perfect excuse to get together with a group of friends and have a good time. It was a traditional, free concert dedicated to band supporters, friends and random passers-by alike.

The band took care of everything - good mood, mulled wine, excellent music and there was even a little something for those with a sweet tooth. A perfect evening in my eyes!

Ljubljana city streets provided a perfect setting for the event with holiday season lighting already set up. The sound of brass music echoed the streets long into the cold night.

I can only imagine how much effort they had to put into this event. Even the cold (it was below minus 5 degrees Celsius!) could not stop them and the crowd from having a great time.

It has to be quite a challenge playing an instrument in those conditions. Gloves get in the way, bare fingers get stiffened by the cold and despite of all that, songs have to be played just as fast as any other time. No wonder alcoholic beverages were the preferred choice of the evening.

It seemed to me the crowd really appreciated the band's effort and cheered loud after every piece they played. I really hope the band was also happy with how the whole event turned out.
Hopefully it was not the last time they did something like this. If I get a chance to visit another performance of Dej še'n litro brass band, I will definitely try to attend. I can hardly wait!


Wednesday 12 December 2012

Nikon photo day

For the sixth time in a row Nikon Slovenia has organized an annual event for photography enthusiasts once again. Until recently Nikon was the only one of big photo names to do such a thing in a small country like Slovenia - just yesterday Canon did something similar (the event was titled You can party by Canon)! Unfortunately I could not attend - maybe next year.

Since a little bit of competition is almost always a good thing, I hope this will be one of many such events.

Nikon Day 2012 - Hot & Cool, as they named the event this year, took place 10 days ago on 30th of November in Ljubljana. Every photo lover could find something interesting there. This year's theme was cold white winter and everything that comes with it - from polar bears, to snow sports photography.

For me the definite highlights were great photo lectures by three great photographers: Florian Schulz, Marcel Lämmerhirt and Arne Hodalič (Google them - they have done lots of great work so far). Unfortunately I got to see just two of them.

Another service first 70 participants could take advantage of was Check&Clean. The team of professionals checked and cleaned one camera body and one lens per person. Such professional service was just what my equipment needed, so I embraced this opportunity with both hands. I must say they did a great job on my D7000 and my most used Nikkor lens!

There were also countless opportunities to test your own or new Nikon photo equipment on models in studio conditions. There was an interesting studio set with a group of models posing for many photographers lined up to take a shot or two.

Good work Nikon Slovenia! I am already looking forward to visiting the next year's event.


Wednesday 5 December 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Cabo da Roca Lighthouse

Greetings from Cabo da Roca, Portugal - the westernmost point of continental Europe!


Friday 23 November 2012

Day trip to Zagreb

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to take a day trip to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Since it is the largest city of a neighboring country it is actually pretty strange I have never visited it before.
I am not counting a couple of times going through or flying from the nearby airport.

Since I arrived quite early I was a bit worried about getting to a scheduled meeting on time due to the morning rush hour. City traffic in Zagreb can definitely be quite challenging. Besides cars there are also trams and buses rushing through busy streets.
Even for a seasoned driver like me this could have proved to be too much of a challenge. At this point I just have to thank my Android powered mobile navigation for getting me to the desired destination on time without a sweat. In times like this it really is a handy tool.

I found a nice seafood restaurant where I treated myself with a great lunch and a good glass of local white wine. Gastro Mare restaurant (on the second floor of a modern building at Trg Petra Peradovića 6) is not cheap but offers great quality sea food. I definitely recommend it.
Unfortunately after a good and relaxed meal I did not have much time left for other things I would love to check out. A short stroll I did around the center was hardly enough to really see the city. I did however get to feel the vibe.

I must say the city center had a really nice and lively feel to it, with all the people walking around on a Thursday morning.

Many cafes with outside tables gave away there is probably quite a lot of action also in the evening. Sadly I could not stay long enough to check whether my predictions were correct.
Similarly there was also not enough time to visit a local museum or two.

With all of that in mind I will definitely return sooner or later to have a deeper look into this charming and lively city.

These few photos were taken near the main city square. Ban Jelačić - a Croatian hero, is watching over the crowds of people from his saddle high above.


Monday 19 November 2012

Akordika group through my lens

Every summer for the last few years there is an interesting festival held in the Slovenian town of Idrija. It is called "Četrtki na placu", which literally translates into "Thursdays on the square".
The stage set on the main town square makes a great venue for events like this. Hopefully there will be even more of them in the future years.

Every year this small festival features different bands, vocal groups and even a theater group or two. So on every Thursday evening in July and August mostly local crowd gathers to listen to event.
If you ever happen to be in the neighborhood during that period, you should definitely check it out. The entrance is free of charge.

Often there is also something on the stage well worth a look. These photos are from a pleasant August evening I spent with a group Akordika. A guy I know plays trombone for them so it was an even more interesting performance from my point of view.

They advertise themselves as Musical theatre performers - a group of 10 talented people who perform popular musical theatre pieces.

Apart from top notch musicians, there is also a group of three dancers adding another dimension to their performances. They mostly perform pieces from various musicals, but also have many other great scores up their sleeves.

They do a great job and I really recommend you check them out if you ever get a chance.

I promised to send them a couple of photos and since some quite nice ones turned out I thought to also share them with you. I hope you like them.


Wednesday 14 November 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Canoe on Planinsko jezero


Monday 12 November 2012

Rain storms hit Slovenia

The last few weeks weather was not too kind to travellers around Slovenia. There were some really nice and sunny days in between the rain storms but when it was raining it was next to impossible to do anything outside.

One weekend ago we had loads of rain for the second time in a couple of weeks in Slovenia. In some areas it did not stop pouring throughout the whole weekend. I am talking serious rainfall - both times up to 250 millimeters of rain in 48 hours (that is just under 10 inches or 250 liters per square meter)!

For the most unfortunate parts of the country this meant the amount of rain in two weeks topped the cumulative rainfall of the past 9 months.

I do not know what is to blame but climate changes definitely come to mind. We could have witnessed quite a lot of these extreme weather situations in the last years. It seems like there are more and more every year and they range from extreme cold winter months to scorching hot summer periods and from summer drought to autumn floods.

Obviously there were quite a few problems with flooding in the last weeks but fortunately we made it through without any serious problems. A few of the nearby roads were temporary closed and a few basements flooded. As the last photo shows, some roads were literally disappearing into water even a week after.

In some parts of Slovenia they were not so lucky - many homes and some industrial buildings were completely flooded and ruined by the water.

I took a few shots when it was raining near the town of Idrija (the first two photos) and another bunch a week later when water in some parts was still draining after a whole week without rain. The last three photos were taken at Planinsko polje which turns from a grass field to a lake a couple times per year due to extensive rainfall.

For the next few days meteorologists are predicting strong rainfall again. I hope this time forecasts are not correct and it will not be so bad...


Monday 29 October 2012

17th Ljubljana marathon in snow

Yesterday was the day of the 17th Ljubljana marathon. The last Sunday in October has been reserved for this event in the Slovenian capital for quite some time.

Yesterday's weather conditions however, were not something one would wish for. After a night of torrential downpour temperatures dropped to zero Celsius and rain turned to snow all over Slovenia. We woke up into the first white morning this season! Luckily I had anticipated this and changed to winter tires just a couple of days ago.

As I expected, all this did not turn M. away from participating - hardly anything is an obstacle for her when it comes to running.

After a usual morning routine we made our way to Ljubljana. On our way we drove through some areas with quite a lot of snow - at one point there was even a fallen tree partly blocking the road.

Once we reached Ljubljana things looked a little better but still far from perfect. After I dropped M. off for a warmup I met up with a couple of friends. Together we went to the start line and cheered to the crowd of eager runners. On our way there were running-late runners whooshing by us all the time. Obviously not everyone was expecting winter road conditions.

With live music and snow falling down on the excited crowd, the air was buzzing with energy. Group performing on the stage set over the start line was a great choice - the percussion extravaganza group The Stroj made even my heart jump!
There were also many other bands playing at multiple points around the track, helping runners' spirits to stay high throughout the whole experience.

We chose to retreat to a nice bar nearby for a quick drink. After our quick warming up session we proceeded to the finish line.

Some participants obviously did not take the event too seriously - many were dressed up in funny costumes. My personal favorite were a group of Paleolithic runners - with beards, wooden clubs and some even in flip-flops!
We watched the Ethiopian runner Shiferaw Berhanu win the 42 kilometer event (and a check for €15.000,00) in the time of 2:09,40. An excellent time in given conditions.

Because of a lack of practice in the last two months, M. was not so very sure what her expectations and target time should be. In the end everything worked out more then fine and she easily finished her second half-marathon with a personal best of 2 hours 4 minutes and 57 seconds. Congratulations!

Despite far from perfect conditions, 16.441 runners competed in various events in the two days of the event. Although this year's record number of registrations (25.686 runners from 41 countries) seemed enough to break last year's record in participation, they came roughly 2.000 participants short.
I think with the weather we have had, this was a formidable achievement as well. Big thumbs up to all the runners who took up this challenge!


Wednesday 24 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Fishermen at Sunset


Monday 15 October 2012

How to escape bad weather?

Many of my faithful readers know I live in Slovenia. When people hear about it for the first time many imagine a cold country somewhere in the the middle of former Soviet Union.

In fact it is a small country in the very middle of Europe. Slovenia is tucked among its larger neighbors: Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. As with some other things, it also seems like this little diverse county adopted some climate characteristics from every one of those neighboring countries.

No matter how sunny and hot it might get during the summer on that little stretch of Slovenia's Adriatic coast, the hills get freaking cold during the winter months. It is not unusual for temperatures to drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) for a week or two in January or February.

As much as I love skiing and the book&TV series where they keep repeating that "winter is coming", I am not too fond of cold, cold winter. That said it should be obvious I try to escape damp, cold weather every winter for at least a week or so.
This year I am already planing an escape trip to Portugal - more specifically Lisbon.
As we are expecting temperatures around zero Centigrade and below at the end of November in Slovenia, we are looking forward to 15 degrees and hopefully less rain in Lisbon. I hope everything works out.

This time we are going as a group of 7 friends. I wish it would turn out to be very much like two years ago when we visited Berlin. Well, actually I am hoping for a little less snow and a lot more sunshine.

Airplane tickets and hostel rooms are already booked. So far it seems like this is going to be a very affordable trip. Both - low budget airline tickets and 4 days of hostel expenses added up to under 130 EUR per person. A bargain if you ask me!

A friend living in UK also wanted to join us but something else came up - he will be going on a Maldives Holiday instead. He found a really good deal through an online flight search engine. It searches for flights from UK to all parts of the world and includes both budget and conventional airlines - a very useful tool indeed.

Nowadays it is not all that hard to get a good deal for a flight. Since we won't be flying from UK we could not use the handy search tool mentioned above, but in the end we found very affordable EasyJet tickets from Venice to Lisbon.
I am really looking forward to this trip. This year I can hardly wait for the cold to come... Just to get away from it for a while, of course.


Friday 7 September 2012

Kayaking on Soča river

Since I tried kayaking for the first time (I posted about it here) I could not get it out of my head. I decided to take the first chance and try some white water kayaking.

I have tasted just enough of it to know I should approach this challenge with caution. As you can probably imagine kayaking over some serious rapids is a completely different thing compared to doing some simple paddling on still water.

Fortunately some of my friends take this sport pretty seriously and are already quite experienced in it. As luck would have it they had already planned a weekend adventure on Soča river and have invited me to join them. I did not hesitate for a bit and was more then happy to seize the opportunity.

I wrote about the beauty of Soča river valley before - you can check out this post about zip-lining in the area.

This time we stayed in a nice camping site in the village of Čezsoča just next to Bovec (Prijon Camping). It is a small camping site frequented by kayakers. It is possible to buy and rent kayaking equipment on site and they also offer guided tours and even personal lessons.

The Soča river flows by just next to the camping site which makes it a great spot for starting a kayaking adventure. However it is worth checking the water levels before choosing this spot. Keep in mind that at some times the river can be too shallow in some areas.
This part of the river might not prove to be all that interesting for seasoned kayakers but for me it was perfect. A little bit of warming up was just the thing I needed but I guess it would be virtually impossible to be bored with such scenery around. At times it felt like I could just sit in the boat and admire surreal colors of the river and mountain peaks rising high above.

Of course I could only enjoy the scenery for a while. Soon enough I had to try some advanced maneuvers.
As every beginner I at first had problems with keeping the kayak in the exact direction I wanted. After some time I got a pretty good feel of the boat trying to turn away from the intended heading. This meant I could make little corrections and keep good direction.

Of course there were other challenges as well. Using counter-currents generated behind every larger rock proved to be quite a challenge. This maneuver can be quite useful for gaining valuable time to access the situation further downstream and to catch a breath if you need it.

I guess I was entering those counter-currents quite OK, but getting out of them was a totally different thing. I kept doing something wrong and my kayak kept capsizing almost every time I was entering a stronger current.
Since I did not master an Eskimo roll yet (I explained this maneuver in a post about my first kayaking experience), this took quite some time. My kayak obviously got filled with water every time and I had to push it ashore and get all the water out.

It took us quite a few hours to complete our run. Soča river is divided into a few sections and level of difficulty is increasing further downstream you go. Knowing your capabilities and the river is vital for doing this. Since some people are obviously very brave (and stupid) there are a few casualties every year.
We chose our stretch according to our capabilities and fully enjoyed throughout the whole experience. I guess my "chaperones" did not have so much fun as I did, but they definitely seemed happy just to be there and take in the beauty of the whole area.

We decided that doing two runs a day should be just the thing we needed. We were right and had also some energy left for late night partying.
It was a great weekend in gorgeous surroundings and I would be more than happy to do it again some time. Special thanks goes to three great guys - Tine, Tine and Dejan who invited me to join them and even let me use some of their equipment.

I obviously did not take my camera along for the ride and could only snatch a few photos from the shore at the end of one of our runs. Anyway I hope you get the idea of the beauty of this area and get to see it in person someday.


Wednesday 5 September 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Kayak lineup


Friday 31 August 2012

A week on Lošinj island

This summer there is something going on all the time and it looks like M. and I will not get to go on a serious vacation. The good side of this is we are doing many shorter trips.

Since we both fall into sea-lovers category, hardly any summer vacation goes by without at least a short trip to the seaside. After all this year will not be so much different - we are heading on a short (one week) trip to Croatian island of Lošinj.

We have been there quite a few times before and we always love going back. It is relatively close to Slovenia and it offers a unique combination of hiking opportunities, crystal clear waters, lots of shade and that great smell of pine trees. As usually we are going camping - we love camping!

These two photos are from one of our previous trips to the island. I guess it is quite obvious we can hardly wait to head back there. You can expect some more details about the trip when we return.


Monday 27 August 2012

Introduction to Kayaking

A few weeks ago a friend of mine invited me to join him on a Kayaking introduction course. He was one of the organizers of this event taking place at a regional park near the Slovenian town of Idrija.

The place is called Idrijska Bela and it has been a popular local summer getaway destination for ages. A narrow road from the town of Idrija follows the Idrijca river upstream to the point where a stream called Belca joins it.

On your way to this public natural swimming spot where you also pass by the interesting Divje jezero. This "Wild lake" (as it translates into English) is remarkably deep. Actually the depths of this lake still remain undiscovered.
The lake is also the source of the shortest river in Slovenia (only 55 meters or 180 ft long).

The Kayaking event was a part of series of sports events taking place in this beautiful setting almost every summer weekend. As such it was also free of charge.
When we heard about this M. and I were both very excited about it as it was going to be our first kayaking experience.

We expected to see a serious crowd trying to seize this opportunity but it was not so bad. Actually there were quite a few spaces left for random passers-by. This kayaking preschool as organizers called it, was divided into a few rounds - each taking one hour.

The part of Idrijca river where the event took place is dammed, so the water was pretty calm. This meant instructors could come up with different games to make things interesting. At the same time each of those games included various exercises aimed to help us develop a better feel for our kayaks.

We both did quite well but at the same time we also began to understand how much effort we would have to invest before being able to tackle some serious rapids. Some things were quite hard to do even on still water. We could only imagine how it would feel on some white water rapids.

At the end of our course we also got to try an Eskimo roll. This is the act of righting a capsized kayak by use of body motion and/or a paddle.
It does not just look hard - it actually is. I guess I do not have to point out no one of us succeeded without at least a little bit of help from our trusty instructor.

Fortunately the Eskimo roll is not the only way of freeing yourself from a capsized kayak. You can also simply swim out of it and drag your kayak to the shore. By doing this it gets filled with water. Emptying it usually requires quite a bit of effort.

Some of us had the privilege of trying it a couple of times.

All in all it was another great day spent in the beautiful nature. We were really glad we took part in the event and got a taste of kayaking. We actually liked it so much, we are thinking of trying it in a little bit more serious environment.
Luckily in Slovenia one can find some of the best rivers for this sport. The only problem is, I would never dare to attempt it without some professional guidance...

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