Friday 28 June 2013

City Breaks in Greece

Greece has many historical cities just waiting to be explored, with archaeological sights, museums and monuments to discover along with fantastic hotels, restaurants and shopping on offer, a city break in Greece comes with the hot sunny climate and stunning scenery.
There are many affordable vacation deals available most of the time and both of my faithful readers can probably remember my latest trip to the island of Corfu, when I took such an opportunity (everybody else can check it out by clicking on the Corfu label).

Athens is the Greek capital. It took its name from the Greek goddess Athena and is steeped in myth and history. Thought to be 3000 years old, Athens is one of the oldest cities in Europe, known widely as the cradle of great civilization and for Acropolis. Politics, science and philosophy began here. Today it is the bustling centre of Greece’s financial, commercial, political and cultural markets. Visit the many ancient monuments and temples here whilst staying in one of the many excellent centrally located hotels.

Thessaloniki is situated in the north and is the second largest city in Greece. A popular choice for those looking to explore many historical landmarks, as well as enjoying relaxing on nearby beaches and by night, taking in the vibrant nightlife. The white tower at the waterfront is probably the most famous landmark, symbolising the town through the years. The Kamara is another popular sight; an arch that Roman general Galerius constructed to celebrate its victory against the Persians in the 3rd century AD. This picturesque town has lots to see and do and comes to life at night.

Patras is the third largest city situated on the northern most point of Peloponnese and is best known for its port which is where many of Greece’s trade goods come and go. Each year a vibrant carnival is held here, bringing many crowds to this beautiful town. There are many historical sights to see as well as the delightful beach promenade where you can enjoy a coffee or something to eat.

Vacations in Greece don’t have to be spent lazing on a beach - why not discover the hidden gems and ancient history of this amazing country on a city break?


Wednesday 26 June 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Bridge to Tiber Island


Monday 24 June 2013

Police in Rome

Those of you who have done some traveling around Italy probably know law enforcement there comes in many shapes and forms. If Wikipedia is to be believed, there are at least seven types of Police in Italy.

I suppose their efficiency is somewhat debatable but some of them are definitely not to be taken lightly. While there might be room for a discussion when confronted with Polizia Stradale there is usually no place for that when stopped by Guardia di Finanza or Arma dei Carabinieri. Often they are equipped with automatic weapons and are usually pretty serious about using them.

Another interesting fact about them is that they usually look pretty darn good. There might be more reasons for it but an important one is definitely the design of their uniforms. Italian Police uniforms are actually designed by no other then Giorgio Armani himself. The uniforms of Carabinieri, who act like police, but are technically an army branch, are from Valentino.

While in Rome I even saw some types that were new to me. These two examples on the photos are just some of many types I saw on this trip but usually they were not all that photogenic.
Luckily this time neither I nor them felt the need for interaction.


Friday 21 June 2013

Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill

When in Rome there are some sights one can hardly overlook. Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are definitely on the very top of every must see list that has something to do with the Eternal city.

Since you can only buy admission to all three together they are usually mentioned together. It is worth noting the ticket is valid for two consecutive days and since Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are really huge, I suggest you take advantage of that. Those two are linked together and once you enter either of them, you can not do it again on the next day with the same ticket.
Consequently I suggest you visit Colosseum on the first day and use the following one on Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (or vice versa).

If Colosseum can be seen in a few hours, you should definitely reserve a full day for the other two - they are spread over a huge area and just walking will take a lot of time.
Even the Colosseum can take a lot of time if you are into details. The really interesting part of it is its underground area. Unfortunately that is not covered by the standard ticket - you will have to book a separate guided tour to see underground chambers, cells and cages once occupied by gladiators, convicts and exotic animals.

To bypass the usually very long queue at the entrance I suggest you book your tickets online. Do not forget to print your confirmation!

In theory it should not matter if you print the confirmation from your email or the actual confirmation page at the end of purchase procedure. In my case though, the email printout was not enough. The lady at the entrance mumbled something about me not being on her list. She even consulted her colleague and they were not happy with anything I could provide on the spot. I even logged on their page with my smartphone and presented the confirmation.
I had to go find an internet place where I could print out the exact same data I already had in a bit different layout. Fortunately this did the trick. When I asked the lady to explain the difference between those two pieces of paper, she just repeated the same line again: "You are not on my list."

I was not pleased with that to say the least but there was not much more I could really do. Nevertheless, I definitely did share my views of the whole situation with the "kind" lady before entering.

If you fail to book your tickets online ahead of time I suggest you purchase them at the entrance of Roman Forum or Palatine Hill. The queue tends to be much shorter there compared to the one in front of the Colosseum.

I must admit I was a bit skeptical about the value of these attractions for the money but was definitely convinced in the end. Even though the ticket is not at all cheap, it is not very expensive either (€13,50 at the time of our visit). Especially if you take into account the time you can spend there - you can easily spend one and a half days for all three attractions.

Apart from everything else there are countless excellent photo opportunities available within and near these attractions. One of the best views of the Colosseum is actually from the Palatine Hill (not far from the entrance). The best view of the Roman Forum in my opinion is from the Capitoline Hill.

If you liked these photos you are welcome to also check out my other posts about our Roman adventure. You will not be disappointed!


Wednesday 19 June 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Vatican in the distance

If you like the first photo you should probably also check out my previous post with some more picture-postcard material shot around the same area (Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome). The second one was shot from the Palatine Hill.


Monday 17 June 2013

Picture-postcard views of Castel Sant'Angelo

Within the vast selection of world famous attractions Rome has to offer, there are some that deserve your attention even though they usually do not make it to the top 5 lists. Castel Sant'Angelo is one of those attractions.

This cylindrical building on the bank of river Tiber was built by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family and was later used by popes as a fortress, castle and a retreat in times of trouble. It is now a museum.

Amongst popes that found this fortress especially useful was also pope Alexander VI of the Borgia family. He is the main character of the popular TV series The Borgias (starring Jeremy Irons). It was him who built the secret passageway linking the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo, for which also many of his successors were duly grateful.

If you approach the castle from the other bank of the river, you will have to cross a beautiful bridge with angel statues (Ponte Sant'Angelo). There is also a great photo opportunity from the bridge in the direction of Vatican.

The castle and the surrounding area offer many great views every photographer will appreciate. You can see a few quite nice examples here, but I guess if I visited the same location at some other time of day (or night), many new photo opportunities would appear.

Among highlights this castle has to offer are also views from the top of its walls. You can see most of the city but the view towards Vatican city is one of the best. You are also welcome to check out a photo taken in the direction of St. Peter's Basilica from the castle's cafeteria in the next Wordless Wednesday's post.


Friday 14 June 2013

Rome's birthday celebration

During our recent trip to Rome we were lucky enough to witness the celebration of city's 2,766th birthday. Yes, it is that old! Romulus supposedly founded the city on April 21, 753 B.C.

Romans have been celebrating Natale di Roma for over two millennia and this year was no exception. There were a few events honoring this holiday and as luck would have it, we were just passing by National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (aka Altare della Patria) when Roman mayor stopped by to place a wreath on the monument. The event was accompanied by a few tunes from a military marching band.

I also posted a couple of photos of this huge monument in my previous Wordless Wednesday post - you are welcome to check them out. The monument truly is magnificent and definitely deserves a special mention.

Despite of all the festal spirit we were very much amused by a bunch of policemen trying to maintain temporary traffic arrangement. One of the exits from the roundabout in front of the monument was closed during the event but local drivers did not take that easily. Every few minutes a car stopped, with someone trying to explain his reasons for an exception. It was funny to watch how the police officer's attitude was changing from strict at the beginning of each conversation to a more understanding and in some cases indulgent in the end.

You could hardly witness such a display somewhere in the UK. This was also a perfect example of how rules are often meant to be bent and even broken in a society like Italian. If you are aware of this fact, an Italian vacation might prove to run a lot smoother.

Every year on 21st of April Aventine Hill is decorated with lights, and often there is a fireworks display set over the Tiber River. This year there was also a free open-air concert held on the Piazza del Popolo. Another thing worth noting is that on this day most museums and city parks are open and also offer free admission to the public.


Wednesday 12 June 2013

Altare della Patria monument in Rome


Monday 10 June 2013

Top 3 ice-cream places in Rome

As I have already mentioned in my previous post, choosing the best ice-cream Rome has to offer is next to impossible. There are simply too many really good choices and people also have very different tastes... and as we say in Slovenia:
One should never question the tastes of others.

Since some people would give a top rating to an ice-cream parlor simply on the basis of countless ice-cream varieties on offer, some only care about a particular variety and could not care less about anything else, it is impossible to select the best place from everyone's point of view.

When reading this article, you should keep in mind this is our subjective opinion, based on the limited number of places we visited while in Rome. In our tasting method there is also a total lack of any kind of scientific approach - we rely only on our own subjective criteria. We enjoy doing it, though. A lot.

So what are we usually looking for in an ice-cream? It is hard to put a finger on it actually... First of all it is a combination of color and consistency that lures us into one place and not the one next door. We like milky, creamy, fruity and chocolate flavours, but usually we get our first idea of a place by checking out strawberry and the darkest chocolate varieties.

When it comes to taste it has to be as natural as possible, with as little added sugar as possible. Fruity varieties (strawberry and blueberry are our favorites) usually taste better if there are some chunks of fruit still in there.

We were mostly ordering strawberry and dark chocolate varieties. So if you are not interested in those two, the below list might not be all that relevant to you. However, you can give them a try and leave your feedback later - I think everyone will appreciate that.

So without further ado, here is our list of top 3 ice-cream places in Rome:

  1. Fior di Luna - gelato e cioccolato
    They only use high quality natural ingredients and they make strawberry ice-cream to die for. You can find them in the Trastevere area on Via della Lungaretta, 96.
  2. Venchi
    This is a place with 135 years of tradition. All of their Gelato is produced using only natural ingredients and has very low fat content. Chocolate is their other specialty. They are located on via della Croce 25 (near the Spanish steps).
  3. Giolitti
    I guess this is the most popular of the three and also quite expensive. Although we liked their wast selection of gelato, we didn't like it as much at the top two places - still enough to make it to the 3rd place though. They also have a vast selection of cakes and other deserts that will be hard to ignore once you enter their store on via Uffici del Vicario, 40 (a stone's throw from the Pantheon).
Do you know these places? Do you have your own favorite ice-cream place in Rome? We would love to read your comments on the subject.


Friday 7 June 2013

Where not to eat ice-cream in Rome?

It is hard to name the place with the best ice-cream in Rome. There are quite a few places claiming to be the best but frankly when it comes to taste, everything can be quite subjective.
Since it would be at least as hard naming the worst one, I am not even going to try walking down that road...

We have visited many different ice-cream parlors (gelaterie) while in Rome and liked most of what we tasted. We figured that if it looked good it must taste good as well. We are happy to report, we did not stumble upon a bad ice-cream while in Rome - actually not even a mediocre one.
It is fair to say we can judge pretty well by the looks of them and we definitely skipped the suspiciously looking ones. We usually look for just the right combination of consistency and natural color.

Prices for a cone (cono) or a small cup (coppa piccola) start at around 2 Euros at better places. You should expect to pay more if you order sitting down.

The place that deserves a special mention is not selling the worst ice-cream in Rome, but falls into the tourist trap category just as well.
We successfully avoided Gelateria Antica Roma on Via di Propaganda, 26 (near the Spanish steps). At this place they supposedly offer mediocre ice-cream for an outrageous price. You can expect to pay 16 Euros for a single cone of ice-cream!
Due to its top location, this Gelateria seems to be always busy with tourists in spite of all the bad publicity it has been getting lately. I hope you will not be one of them.

If you are looking for a place with some really good ice-cream in Rome, you should check out our next post with our top selection.


Wednesday 5 June 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Roman Forum remains


Monday 3 June 2013

Idrija - Home of Mercury, Lace and Žlikrofi

The town of Idrija does not usually find itself on a average tourist's itinerary when rushing through Slovenia. It is true travelers are discovering Slovenia, but usually they still stay on the beaten path - if we suppose such a path even exists in Slovenia.
Unfortunately by doing this, they miss some pretty awesome places. In my opinion Idrija is definitely one of the places that deserve more attention. Since it was recently added to the UNESCO heritage list, I am obviously not the only one with such an opinion.

Centuries old lace making tradition is not the only thing this over 500 years old Slovenian town has to offer. During the annual lace festival the thread used for lace making is carefully intertwined with rich technical heritage mostly related to half of a millennium of mercury mining and many local culinary delights. You should definitely consider visiting this charming town during the festival - I wrote about it in my previous post.

Amongst the sights there is one definitely worth visiting - Antonijev rov mine shaft is a part of Idrija Mercury Mine that remains open to the public. The mine was actually officially closed a few years ago but serious mining has not been practiced for a couple of decades.

A visitor to Antonijev rov (literary meaning Antony's shaft) can get a pretty good idea about how mining looked in the old days. Now the mine is closed down due to exploited ore deposits but the memory of life revolving around mercury mining still remains very alive within the people of this old Slovenian town.

A charming castle located near the very center of the town houses an interesting museum, mostly dedicated to mining history. There are also other items on display but mainly things revolve around mercury and lace.

There are also a few other dislocated units of museum scattered around the town and some interesting sites are also located in the surrounding hills but I will address those at some other time.

For more information about Idrija and its surroundings you should click on the Idrija label.

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