Friday 22 February 2013

Cross-country skiing class

Winter has been quite generous with snow so far in Slovenia and it looks like we are getting some more this week. Snow usually brings along some trouble but it also enables us snow sports enthusiasts to have lots of fun.

I have been lucky enough to spend quite a few really nice and fun days on skis so far this season and I do not intend to stop just yet.
Apart from alpine skiing I also like to go cross-country skiing from time to time. Last weekend I had a great opportunity to improve my skills at a training course. It was led by a friend of mine, so I knew pretty well what to expect.

We chose a great location - Vojsko cross-country skiing center. It is located near the town of Idrija in Slovenia (you can check out its location here). I posted about this great activity before - you can check out what I wrote about a great day I spent cross-country skiing on this same location roughly 3 years ago (you should probably click on the link if you like this post).

We were a group of eight and considering there were some first-timers amongst us, we all did great. We started with some warm-up exercises and continued with an introduction to skate skiing. After more than three hours of improving ours skills and doing quite a few kilometers of skating through a section of available tracks, we enjoyed a brief break.

Weather was quite nice. Apart from a foggy morning we had a nice and sunny day. Snow was still on trees, providing an idyllic setting for spending a day in the nature.

The afternoon was reserved for a cross-country trek. We changed from skate to classic style skis and ventured off the track into the forest. Wading through nearly meter and a half of snow wearing only boots would be almost impossible, but with skis on, it was quite easy.
It took us around two hours to do a ten kilometer track. Views and natural beauty were just breathtaking. Almost every one of us preferred this part to our morning skating exercises. There were however a few who had trouble with deep snow - I guess being overweight does not actually help with this activity.

Since we really enjoyed this day, we will try to repeat it as soon as possible. I also intend to go on a bit more serious cross country trek as soon as possible.

If you ever find yourself in Slovenia and would like to try a winter activity like this, do not hesitate. If you need an advice or help in organizing such an event feel free to contact me through email or simply leave a comment on this post. I will gladly help you out.


Wednesday 13 February 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Tiled spring in Sintra


Monday 11 February 2013

Portugal, the beauty of simplicity

As it is evident from the promotional clip below there is a lot more to Portugal besides Lisbon. A local I spoke to, even described Lisbon as overrated and extremely pricey compared to other parts of the country. Especially the northern part of it is supposed to be really beautiful.

I will definitely not take his word for it and rather go check it out on my own. Considering I really liked Lisbon I think chances are I would also like the rest of the country. Portugal, I will definitely be back for more!


Friday 8 February 2013

Legend of the Rooster of Barcelos

Rooster of Barcelos (Galo de Barcelos) is one of the most common Portuguese emblems. It can be found all over the country and Lisbon is no exception.

As the legend goes, this story unfolded in the city of Barcelos (it is located in northwestern part of Portugal) a long time ago.

Once upon the time silver had been stolen from a landowner in Barcelos. Everyone was looking for the criminal who had committed the crime. One day, a man from neighboring Galicia turned up and became suspect. The man swore that he was merely passing through Barcelos on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to complete a promise he had made.

In spite of everything, the authorities arrested the Galician and found him guilty of theft. This was a serious charge for which a guilty verdict meant certain death, so they condemned him to death by hanging. The man asked his guards to take him in front of the judge who had condemned him. The authorities honored his request and took him to the house of the magistrate, who was holding a banquet with some friends. Feeling vulnerable in a strange village and knowing what his sorry fate might be, the Galician pointed to a roasted cock on top of the banquet table and exclaimed, "It is as certain that I am innocent as it is certain that this rooster will crow when they hang me." The judge pushed aside his plate because he decided to not eat the rooster. But still, the judge ignored the Galician's appeal.

But, as the pilgrim was hanged, the cockerel jumped up and crowed. Realizing his mistake, the judge rushed to the gallows and found that the pilgrim had miraculously survived due to a loose knot. He was released immediately.

According to the legend, the pilgrim returned many years later to carve the Crucifix to the Lord of the Rooster (Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo) which is now housed in the Museu Arqueologico in Barcelos.

Ever since, the Barcelos Cockerel has been a symbol of faith, justice and good fortune as well as the country of Portugal.

As is the case with many legends this one also has many variations but the main part of the story is very similar in all of them.

Today one can find the famous rooster in many varieties. Walking around Lisbon you will get a feeling it particularly likes to hang out in various souvenir shops.


Wednesday 6 February 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Lisbon Metro Art


Monday 4 February 2013

Sintra and Cabo da Roca

There are at least a few day trips well worth doing when in Lisbon, Portugal. One of them is definitely Sintra - a small town situated 30 kilometers west of the capital. It is dotted by royal retreats, estates, castles and buildings. The fact it was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995 can only give you an idea how special this place actually is.

The top attractions of Sintra are: the Castelo dos Mouros, the Pena National Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and the Sintra National Palace. The Pena National Palace (summer residence of the monarchs of Portugal during the 18th-19th century) is definitely the thing that impressed me the most. It looks magnificent from the outside and when you walk through its front gates it feels like you have just walked into a fairytale. Details are simply breathtaking.

I should probably also mention a vast collection of artifacts from the time this place was still in use by the royalty. Definitely worth a closer look.

Large areas around those palaces are actually quite nice parks one could spend days exploring. Some parts with large boulders, tall trees and ancient fountains are especially beautiful.

Also views from both the walls of Pena National Palace as well as Castelo dos Mouros are something not to be missed. Even though it was cloudy and foggy on the day of our visit it was well worth it - the mist made it all feel even more magical. I can hardly imagine the views on a clear sunny day.

Since Cabo da Roca - the westernmost point of continental Europe is just a few kilometers further to the west, we decided to squeeze both of these attractions into the same day. This is definitely doable if you do not intend to visit everything Sintra has to offer and just wish to get a feeling of the place. Just make sure you start really early.
If you like to explore historical sites in detail, you should probably reserve at least a couple of days for Sintra - there are simply so many interesting things packed into this little town you will have

Cabo da Roca is nothing so special - you can find a lighthouse, a monument and a restaurant there on the top of some cliffs dropping down to the ocean. Nevertheless, it is the end of earth and for this fact alone it attracts crowds of visitors year-round.

We took a train from Lisbon (Rossio train station) to Sintra and caught a bus which took us to Cabo da Roca. From there we returned to Lisbon via Cascais (by bus), where we changed to a train. Cascais is a seaside city we unfortunately did not have time to explore.
We opted for an all-inclusive day travel ticket, which we used for the round trip and it also included buses linking various attractions in Sintra. You should keep in mind those attractions are scattered on quite a large area in and around Sintra and placed on neighboring hilltops (you can check out the area on this map).

If you are not a fan of public transport there are also many car rental companies in Lisbon offering good deals. As I was told prices are supposed to be really affordable, especially in the off-season.

Another interesting day trip we did not manage to squeeze into our schedule is a trip to Evora. Evora is another UNESCO World Heritage Site located approximately 135 kilometers to the east of Lisbon. I definitely recommend you to take a look into it if you have enough time.

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