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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Italianissima

I don’t think there is such a thing like the Italian overdose, but if there is, I am close to trespassing the limit. I am the lucky one who managed to visit Italy twice this month and following the addiction metaphor, I want more of it!

I’ve been to Italy many times and it’s been always a great and intense: with an exception of working out the frustration in the touristic sites (Venice is such a dead place experience). Having said that, I loved wandering around Roma’s diverse neighbourhoods (and not caring about the infamous public transport), meeting the locals in Sardegna (and trying the best sea urchins in my life) or hiking around the beautiful Lago di Como.

More importantly, I met amazing Italian people on my way in almost all the locations I’ve lived in: be it Poland, Portugal, Barcelona or Berlin. I hate to generalize but all of them were from a different part of their country and I loved the diverse aspect of it. Apart from that, for a reason of being loyal to dressing in mostly Italian brands,  my friends call me Italianissima. Funnily enough, I never felt attracted to an idea of living in Italy or learning the language. My best friend Olga is a witness of some of my most embarrassing attempts of speaking Spanish with an Italian accent and failing it. Big time.

These two city breaks: in Naples and in Milan this month gave me such a great energy and creativity boost. The spontaneity, certain level of chaos and celebration of life and art of living with all the senses (for a reason one call it dolce vita) makes Italy so different than in other places. For a reason the Renaissance, Baroque and Quartieri della Moda were invented.

Visiting Naples was a perfect balance between the urban and landscape, and the highlight of the stay was the spontaneous visit in the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest and the most picturesque opera in the world for the acoustic concert of Al di Meola and his band. On the other hand, Milan is the non-traditional, creative burst I always enjoy, regardless of the temperatures one can expect in June.

So what’s the connection with Berlin? Of course, the cheap flight connections, though I think it’s the level of craziness and creativity. And a lots of Italians influencing the scene that make the German capital especially vibrant or sensual. And edible. And black-colour-clothes-loving.

I came back with a sound resolution of making more weekend breaks in Italy, not only to charge myself with the sun, day and night.

Update: I revisited Italy once more that year, on Sicily, and quite recently, in April 2018 in Sardegna. Seeing the diversity of these islands and the country in general, I’m looking forward to come back for more.

Sicily included a trip to Catania, Taormina, Palermo and Isola delle Femmine.

Sardegna was more of a long weekend getaway and included Costa Smeralda: Olbia, Pittulongu, and Golfo Aranci. I’ve visited the North of Sardegna in 2013 and am still in love with Alghero, Stintino and the surroundings. Hope to be back soon!

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!

Gunkanjima – the possibility of an island

Hashima Island (端島), commonly called Gunkanjima (軍艦島; meaning Battleship Island) was one of the highlights of my trip to Japan in October. Situated just a couple of kilometres away from the port of Nagasaki, it is one of the most unusual places I’ve ever seen.

I found out about Hashima thanks to Google Earth and a friend of mine who has visited Japan earlier last year. She didn’t make it to visit the island, but knowing my passion for the beautiful decay and abandoned places, she knew that I will do my best to reach it during this trip.

Reaching Hashima proved to be not as complicated as I initially thought. Obviously, it depends greatly on the weather and sea conditions, but since it was awarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining in 2015, regular boat cruises to the island started to operate from Nagasaki port.

According to the tour operator, and my fellow travellers, cancellation of the cruises happen very often. Especially that I was visiting in the typhoon period, the dock on Hashima is pretty steep and landing not always is possible. I was lucky to sail when the sea was relatively quiet and on the way, I managed to hear various stories about the industrial revolution, Mitsubishi’s investment in the area that left impressive massive port architecture landscape in the Nagasaki Bay. However, a big part of the narration was also about the consequences of the brutal 19th century capitalism, and further decay of the settlements.

During the cruise, a former mining company employee was sharing both thrilling stories, and anecdotes about life on Hashima. Unfortunately, the narration was not always comprehensible or translated, so I could only read through his emotional language and further investigate about the industrial battleship exile.

Although the trip took only a few hours, it left me very impacted by the possibilities of afterlife for the post-industrial settlements. As the world will be hopefully becoming a more sustainable place in the future, endless opportunities or creating architectural memories of the massive coal mining, or steel industry will become a destination about learning about the past.

Maltese Mediterranean mood

Summer on my mind… Lately a friend of mine visited me and while singing karaoke (picking the most horrible choices like Geri Halliwell’s ‘Chico Latino’) our minds traveled to where it’s sunny, stunningly beautiful and the Mediterranean breeze is blowing.

Malta is definitely  one of these places, and I could share the whole series of Baleares, Sardegna and Adriatic tales to cheer up those still working and looking forward to the ‘real’ summer holidays. Since I am not a fan of high season travels, it’s not my case and I’ll share with you my impressions from this little Mediterranean island and country I visited in the springtime.

I spent some time in the Northern Part of Malta, where the widest and longest sandy beach is located, as well as the picturesque town of Mellieha. I strongly recommend visiting the town, since it’s still very authentic and has some stunning views to offer (when the visibility is good, one can spot the islands Comino and Gozo). For more spiritual or religious people, I’d recommend visiting the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grotto, a very tranquil and soothing place for those searching for peace of mind and… oh well, shadow. Another interesting point worth visiting is the abandoned village of Popeye, since the movie was shot here years ago. Somewhat funny, somewhat scary!

Staying at the Northern tip of Malta allowed me to travel easily to the neighbouring islands of Comino (with its emblematic Blue Lagoon) and Gozo. Unfortunately, Blue Lagoon is already too popular and touristic – even off the high season, so I enjoyed mostly hiking around this small island and taking stunning photos of the blue waters.

However, Gozo will offer you much more: towns and villages with craft food, places to eat out authentic Maltese cuisine and again, excellent views of the Maltese sculptures of its own: rocks.

As opposed to the North, the South of Malta, including the Valetta-Gzira-Sliema three-in-one towns is full of history. Military buildings, museums and churches tell a story of years of battles and resistance of Malta.

I recommend a long walk throughout the Old Town of Valetta, including the port, and beyond: multicultural Gzira and posh Sliema. While Valetta reminds of a living monument, Gzira and Sliema are actually very lively places with the whole bunch of cafés and restaurants.

I didn’t have chance to visit St. Julian’s but its party image was not something I was looking for during this stay. All in all, I have to say that a couple of days on Malta made for a very relaxing, but also inspiring experience. It’s very well communicated, so it’s not too stressful to visit place, and yet not too expensive. I have a lot of thoughts around the sustainable tourism, which should be something to implement in places such as the Blue Lagoon, so please enjoy responsibly!

Auseklis of Latvia 

Auseklis in Latvian means ‘The morning star’ and symbolizes protection from dark and evil. As somewhat my long weekend getaway coincided with the season change in Latvia: from long winter to springtime awakening, I feel that this could be a could symbols for the changes that were going on not only in nature, but also in my life.

For some reason, even while I visited both Lithuania and Estonia years ago, Latvia was always a pending country in Europe to see. What accelerated my visit were a few spare days in April I could use up for holidays and having two of my friends living there and posting beautiful Instagram pictures of Riga, Baltic coast and Sigulda, even in the gloomy wintertime.

I stayed in the hipster part of Riga (where else I could end up, ha ha) nearby Miera Street, full of original cafes, craft beer bars, theatres and streetart. And Laima – the chocolate factory, which tested really good!

I obviously checked the must-see boxes in the beautiful Riga’s Old Town learning about Latvia’s rich yet turbulent history, including visiting the Jewish Ghetto. I was equally enchanted by the Art Nouveau district, and post-industrial parts of the city, as much as the parks.

I didn’t go out at night beyond the Miera Street – my friends warned me that most likely for clubbing in Riga, I’d need to dress up in high heels. Berlin all-black-everything-I-don’t-give-a-damn style still didn’t get in here.

Instead, I chose an early morning escape to Sigulda, Krimulda and Turaida. 1 hour train ride from Riga you can find yourself in the beautiful Gauja National Park which is a paradise for hiking. Local tourist information offers a lot of advice regarding the most interesting paths. I opted for the 25 km one which was ambitious but extremely pleasant, including visiting the castle in Turaida, Park of Walking Sticks in Sigulda (?!), Sculpture Park of Krisjan Baron (Latvian natural art representative), as well as some bird-watching reserve. And since it was a very early springtime one could witness the sheer awakening of all the species!

On the third day I visited Jurmala, a seaside resort town and hosting of one of the most beautiful beaches. All in all, I was extremely happy to have discovered Latvia, and I would like to thank my friends for the extensive list of tips prior to visiting it.

And today I’m even more happy since one of them is re-visiting me in Berlin!