Balkan Hot Step

It took me a very long time to put together my impressions from various travels around Balkans. The diversity, and the amount of beautiful pictures I took was simply overwhelming and I couldn’t really decide should I be crafting a single blog entry or multiple ones.

Truth is, it’s been over a year ago since my last visit to Croatian Zadar, Nin, Plitvice Lakes and Ugljan island and I am officially ashamed of procrastinating publishing these gems.

To start off with, visiting Zadar in April 2017 was a great idea, since the springtime in Berlin didn’t really kick in, and the amount of sun, friendliness and music coming from the famous Sea Organs were literally a bliss to me, after a few intense weeks and healing after some operations I had to take last year.

I decided to take a day trip to Plitvice National Park, where the spring was only blossoming, as it is located further up in the mountains. It was still not so crowded, so I could enjoy myself visiting at my own pace, not worrying about the massive groups stepping on my shoes.

I can imagine though that Croatia, being one of the most popular tourist locations, attracts thousands of visitors to their national parks during the high season. To avoid getting too much crowds, there is a daily limit of entrance, which seems a valid thing to do to protect this stunning nature.

Some other sites around Zadar’s area I’ve visited include the picturesque town of Nin and nearby island Ugljan, where you can explore various hiking trails and peace of mind. I didn’t manage to visit the islands of Kornati where thousands of bird species are nesting, due to the lack of ferry service around the lower season.

Looking back to 2016, I spent over a week in between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, as I was invited to speak at a conference in Dubrovnik.

I was amazed by a daily trip to Mostar in Herzegovina region, where the cultures truly melt, and years after the war, the city is shining. Driving through the country, the signs of the painful times remained, making me wonder how come such terror could have happened in this beautiful land.

Dubrovnik itself is a special city. Located in a land strip between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, is typically more expensive than the rest of Croatia, but is a gem nevertheless. Old town, villas, riveras and wonderful neighbourhoods are spread around the hills and various bays.

I also took an opportunity to visit the Kotor Bay in Montenegro, which stole my heart, especially taking a boat trip to a monastery located in the middle of the bay, and exploring the sleepy and not so crowded town of Kotor.

Even though Montenegro is not a part of EU, due to an economic post-war treaty, it is possible to pay in Euro currency.

Taking time to drive around these three countries was a great experience, as I wanted to learn much as I could about various cultures, religions, conflicts and its resolutions alongside the history.

Last but not least, I explored the area of Split, where my flight was originating from and I had a great time both in the city and on the surrounding islands of Hvar and Bol.

Split is a lively port connecting Croatia and Italy, and Dalmatian history is very well preserved there. Besides the old town rich in historic monuments, there’s a lot of city beaches and relaxing spots.

It is very easy to travel from Split for a day trip and hike around the magical islands, like Hvar and Bol, with its turquoise waters and golden sands, some of them rated as a top sites according to the beachtesters.

Since Croatia has over thousands of islands to visit, I don’t think this is the last time I’ll be exploring that place and can’t wait to be back in the warmth of these regions. I still would love to visit the inland part and countries of Serbia and Macedonia, but sooner or later I know I will, especially knowing I have some great friends coming from these places. Hvala!

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(You’re not) alone in Kyoto

The title of this post is true, even in the times of post-truth, since during my stay in Japan I felt it was the most flooded place with tourists. Even so, I managed to get away and spend some quality time with me, myself and I. How did I manage to do it, surrounded by the crowds of tourists dressed as geishas and selfie-sticks?

Well, weather was somewhat on my side, since the thyphoon hit me just as I was walking through the Fushimi Inari temple at dusk. Geishas and selfie-sticksters were not prepared for the sudden weather change and they escaped quickly, leaving me in peace and shelter of this magic temple. The thyphoon heading from Okinawa Islands to mainland Japan was not as strong anymore, the gusts of wind and rain were just fine for me to do the sightseeing, thinking that this sort of winds are nothing special in Berlin. However, as a disclaimer &promoting staying safe during travels I would not recommend ignoring thyphoons!

The next day I had a chance to revisit Fushimi Inari in the radiant sun, and enjoy the 4-km walk underneath the countless Torii, hoping that the Fox (messenger for luck in business and wealth) will listen to my thoughts.

While staying in Tokyo it may take you years to notice a real geisha, in Kyoto is the question of minutes. Not only it’s a city hosting the most traditional education for this special profession, it’s naturally more conservative than Tokyo or Osaka. I even got to know an Italian professor educating the foreigners about the art of wearing kimonos.

However, there are parts of Kyoto trying to overcome the stereotype of being the old capital and traditional design only. The tower of Kyoto is a good example – hated by some, I managed to capture its controversial beauty from various perspectives.

Kyoto is fascinating for its small town-like neighbourhoods like Hanazono, Gion or Higashiyama which makes you forget you’re in almost 3-million city. I especially enjoyed the walks by the river.

One walk that can’t be missed while in Kyoto is the Philosopher’s Path by the Daimonjiyama mountain’s creek. I was lucky enough to meet an elderly man with a corgi dog, probably both a pair of renowned philosophers!

 

Thanks to my friend’s brother Kay, Kyoto’s local and Cabo Verde music’s expert, I was introduced to a bunch of Italian expats living in the city and to the local food and sake. What a treat it was, and I had a lovely evening in the mixed sounds of Japanese/English/Italian and Portuguese surrounding me! The next day I couldn’t help myself and visited the Nishiki Market.

Kyoto is a city of sacred temples, zen contemplation and letting the nature speak for itself. I found the less-crowded places like Ryoan-Ji very special (and quiet that your thoughts are louder than the frogs in the pond). The iconic Golden Pavillon (aka Kinkaku-Ji) is probably one of the most picturesque places I’ve seen in my life, regardless of the crowds.

Last but not least, during my 3-day stay, I took a walk through the Bamboo Forest, reflecting on how small I am comparing to these beautiful trees and the time it took them to grow. I often wondered how Kyoto looked hundreds years ago, and I can only imagine wonderful pictures in my head.

During writing this post I was listening to the LPs released in Berlin in early 2000s, which were somewhat related to this wonderful city: Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun and Jazzanova – Hanazono.

New Year’s Chungking Express

I ended up 2016 with reminiscing travel locations I managed to visit in the past 12 months, and I kicked off 2017 in one of the most crazy places: Hong Kong. I’ve dreaming about going there since I watched Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, so it comes as no surprise that I stayed in a microscopic room for the first 3 nights at Chungking Mansions in Kowloon.

New Year’s Eve celebrations took place in Victoria’s Harbour – since I arrived there around 9 pm, I had no chance for a better view of the fireworks, but I was pretty impressed by the syncronised smartphone lights of people recording the show.

Afterwards, I stayed in the area of the Hong Kong Island called Causeway Bay renowned for its nightlife. And I fell in love with the skyline from the first sight. From above, from below, doesn’t matter from which perspective you look. As a comparison, I think that only the skyline of Nagasaki I visited in October last year can picture the sea, the mountains, the bay and the skyscrapers in such a harmony.

But Hong Kong is so much more than bars on the 144th floor, skylines and luxury stores: it’s a very strategic place on the map, and thus rich in its history. The influence of the British reign can be found in the presence of double-decker buses and trains, the language and the pace, and the city lives 24/7.

Although it is such a dynamic place (some saying New York City’s minute is Hong Kong’s second!), it does not lack amazing opportunities for hiking in the stunning nature sites. Victoria Peak and Dragon’s Back trails are definitely a must-do hikes with some of the most rewarding views in the world!

And Mid levels Escalator System – why would it be interesting? Apart from Kowloon, Midlevels is a part of Hong Kong featured heavily in ‘Chungking Express’. I tracked down all the places ‘starring’ the movie: the bar with Chef’s Salad is in reality a tobacco place, but the crowd on the escalators is equally crazy like in the movie. ‘Crowd management’ is actually very impressive in Hong Kong – lanes, overground pavements and escalator systems make walking around the city very convenient. Or even: possible, taking into consideration the number of residents and visitors, making one of the most crowded places in the world.

To relax and unwind (it was still crowded though, also with the cows!) I took a subway line to a green Lantau Island, where the famous Buddha sits on the top of the mountain. The journey paid off in the views, albeit the smog was quite thick on that day.

And the Star Ferry… The cheapest and the most romantic way to commute between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, offering the wind breeze and spectacular views for some 25 cents for a one-way ticket!

I know I will come back to Hong Kong at some point, but how will it look like the next time? During the time I stayed, I bumped into a ‘camping protest’ on one of the major streets of the Hong Kong Island. Movements such as the Umbrella Revolution show the democratic needs of the society.

Overwhelmed, enchanted after all that, we took a ferry to visit curious place called: Macau… And then, Taiwan!

 

Travelogue edition 2016: 13 countries in 12 months

What a year it was. In many ways, it came with negative happenings and sad surprises. Life seems very unpredictable and one has to find way to cope with the current crises. On the other hand, personally it was one of the best year I’ve had: professionally, and personally. My major highlights stay around the experiences I’ve lived, not only in Berlin, but also travelling. In order to get my head around these reflections, I would like to dedicate my last post of 2016 to shortcountdown of the countries I’ve visited and their depictions. I did not included countries like Hungary, Finland and France which have been my stopover locations.

  1. Portugal – I actually started 2016 on Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio with my family and friends, newly arrived from Cabo Verde. We were all very hopeful of what the year will bring and cheering with the crowd below amazing fireworks. I managed to come back to Portugal once again in September: revisiting beautiful city of Porto and having fun at Lisb:On Festival: Jardim Sonoro. I bet I’ll be back in 2017, possibly discovering more of the magical Azores archipelago.
  2. Poland – It almost doesn’t feel like a proper travel, but I always get excited either coming home, or visiting friends and family in different cities. I spent here my 30th birthday, even if suffering from a disease I brought from the previous journey, I had a blast in the freezing January temperatures. One thing I want to make sure is to come back as often as I can to cycle in the picturesque lakesides, Baltic Sea coastline and visit my nearest and dearest, especially in these turbulent times.
  3. Spain – My second home. I escaped to Barcelona already in February to visit my friend’s awesome flat-warming party. Only to encourage him to apply for a job in Berlin and seeing him leaving his precious hometown behind in 3 months of time (and the flat anyway). Coming back to Barcelona is almost like coming to Poznań – here are my dearest friends who are always there for me and things don’t change even as time passes by. Apart from that I escaped to Mallorca (like a proper German!) around summer – and it was blissful too, revisiting one of my favourite archipelago even if for 48 hours weekend. To top it up, I’ll spend my Christmas in Andalucia, ole!
  4. Greece – To be honest, I have a big backlog when it comes to Greece and during Easter time, I decided to visit Thessaloniki. What a heavenly tresure!
  5. Latvia – Speaking of Baltic countries, I’ve visited both Estonia and Lithuania earlier, and never been to Latvia before. So it was pretty much spontaneous to pack myself for an early spring break to visit friends in Riga and hike around the gorgeous Sigulga and Jurmala.
  6. Malta – This Mediterranean smallest country is perfect for a week-long getaway to search for the sun, historic treasures, hiking and island-hopping.
  7. Croatia – I was invited for a conference in Dubrovnik, and this sounded like a perfect opportunity to explore at least the Southern part of this island-abundant country. I’ve got to know the North of the country already in the 90s, and it was amazing to see how it developed during the last 20 years. The historic sites in Split and Dubrovnik are breath-taking, but so is the nature and its islands like Bol with the ‘Golden Triangle’ beach.
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina – I only visited some part of the Herzegovina: around the multicultural city of Mostar, destroyed heavily during the civil war and currently being the symbol of fragile peace and unification. The landscapes in this country and its unique culture amazed me so much that I promised to return to its central and northern part soon.
  9. Montenegro – South of Croatia, there is a small country of Montenegro, known for its beach resorts and stunning hiking sites. I’ve only had a chance to discover the bay of Kotor and it was simply precious.
  10. Romania – Invited for a very special wedding, I had a chance to explore the city of Oradea, near the neighbouring Hungary. Enough saying that the wedding was a blast, I got to know the local cuisine, customs alongside with celebrating my friend’s happiness with a very international crowd.
  11. Japan – The ‘long’ trip of 2016. I have no words to describe how enriching these 15 days were. Travelling all the way from Tokyo to Kyushu (and beyond, to spectacular islands like Gunkanjima), I balanced my time among big cities, hiking and sanctuary places. It will probably take me some time to describe all I’ve seen, but sit tight, at some point I will publish more about this amazing trip.
  12. The Netherlands – In November I spoke at the European Women in Technology in Amsterdam and visited this lovely city when free. Even if it was short, it’s always good to remind oneself how sweet the Dutch capital is.
  13. Hong-Kong – so this will be a final destination in 2016: I will celebrate the ending and the beginning of 2017 with my Brazilian friends in this incredible place!

What will 2017 bring? I can only reveal that I will keep visiting the places that are or used to be my home (Poland, Portugal and Spain), I will discover more of the Nordics (Faroe Islands) and follow my Arctic obsession all the way to Greenland. I decided to see Taiwan while in Hong-Kong. And in the meantime…well, the time will tell!