Tag Archives: solo traveler

Kenya: safari in Maasai Mara (1)

– I will go to Africa one day to see the lions. And when I’ll see them, I will cry.

This is what I used to say to my friends about one of my biggest dreams: the African safari. The big truth that I now know it is that nothing can prepare anyone for Africa, the red continent where all expectations are exceeded.

The morning before

– Excuse me…Hello….Good morning….Excuse me….Pleaseee

Loud knocks at the entrance door. I opened one eye in the dark room with the curtains pulled and my first thought was: where am I now?

Ahhh, yes, Nairobi! My brain figured out: that one week safari starts today! That was the fuel I needed to jump out of the bed like a rocket and reach the door in 2 steps. I opened it and the light blinded me. A very worried man was standing there, and all I could see first were his eyes contrasting its cocoa skin.

– Sister, excuse me, they came for you, for the safari. Are waiting, I tried to call… he said in a hurry.

I loved how he called me sister. I must have been quite a chaos in person myself, in pyjamas, my hair was a mess and my eyes barely opened on a sleepy face.

– OMG, I overstepped! The safari, yes! I went crazy going in circles inside the dark room, trying to figure out what to grab first. What time it is?

-It’s 7! They came and….

– What??? 7? Only? They’re supposed to come for me at 8:30! I started to laugh, covering my eyes with one hand and leaning against the wall in relief.

The guy asked then three times if I permit him to enter in my room to check the phone. He stepped in very shy and saw it was actually unplugged.

In one hour I was ready to go. I met Josea again, my too early bird friend I met the day before, at my arrival. He and another guy drove me first to the centre of Nairobi, at the tour agency office. I recognised the narrow passages between the buildings, close to the place where the evening before I managed to change, with his help, 200 euro into Kenyan shillings. The whole operation seemed like a drug traffic scene in a thriller. The census that was taking place those days has been shutting down the whole city, closing all shops, banks and exchange offices very early. That evening, after asking around a few people with no success, Josea made me a discreet sign to wait where I was. He then approached two security officers, talked to them for a few seconds making sighs towards me. He followed one of them on a back street and made me a discreet sigh to follow them. I couldn’t see much because of the dark but enough to figure out that the place looked very grim and quite spooky, with dumpsters all around and trash spread on a dirty broken pavement between two old buildings with walls covered in old graffiti. It smelled like garbage. I was assessing how low was the level of my safety in those circumstances and it seemed what we were doing was illegal. The idea of being scammed came only second. Happily it all worked well, the “operation” was a success, I even got a good exchange rate and finally had Kenyan money in my pocket.

During the day it was different, except that garbage smell. We entered a building, got inside a small elevator, then passed through a corridor with a beauty salon where a few Kenyan ladies were doing their curly hair straight, and then a door opened to a small office:

– I’m Simon, welcome to Kenya!

Simon was the type of guy looking like those black male models that we see on fashion catwalks or Vogue magazines: tall, well build, killer sensual lips and a sexy smile on a very handsome face. That and his leather jacket brought that kind of smile on my face, the kind that attractive people can only bring, instinctively.

I payed all the expenses for the safari trip and stored my big luggage in their office till I was coming back. It felt so good that for the next days all was taken care of. All my safari outfits were in my polka dot backpack: the sunscreen, the hat and the 7 types of mosquito repellent. In my country Malarone, the prevention pills for malaria, was impossible to find, so my plan B strategy was to keep mosquitos away.

And off we were

One American couple from Carolina, one Spanish couple from Catalunya, two Chinese girls and myself. That was our group in the white old safari van with 8 seats, drove by Richard, our driver and guide, who’s grey hair and pronounced lines around his eyes were a guarantee for how much he saw and knew. Ohh, and how he exceeded all our expectations by the end of those 7 days and 6 nights! We were already set to become friends the moment we stepped in that van, as great experiences always create strong bonds between people that live them. I started off on the right foot and got the single seat in the front of the van. Well, again, the perks of traveling alone! Well, the downsides came later…

The van started to move, following the other 3 in the font, heading to Masai Mara. I kept staring outside, at the streets, the people, the buildings. I didn’t felt like talking, socialising, getting to know the other people in the van, blabla. At all! But when there’s a pure blood Spanish – Catalan around, this doesn’t last long. As soon the wheels started rolling, he started talking and by the time we left Nairobi we all got to know each other, our names (except the Chinese girls…), where do we came from, what we do for work, what languages do we speak and how our Kenyan holiday plan looked like. Hearing that the American couple was starting a 7 months long journey in Africa and Asia caused a loud awwww in the van. Then the Spanish couple was going to Serengeti, in Tanzania and after to Zanzibar. The Chinese girls and I only Kenya. Richard joined the conversation soon and the atmosphere became quite cheerful, and we talked until all of us got tired and some fell asleep. I continued watching Kenya revealing itself from my window seat.

market, Africa, Kenya trip
market in Kenya

As soon as we left the busy Nairobi and its concrete city vibe, the savannah started showing its patterns, one by one. First tree by tree, image by image, as if a video was loading, and then like an explosion of frames that turned all my previous imagination into reality: umbrella acacia trees, tall dry grass, vast horizons crossed by apparently endless roads passing through villages with the most colourful cottages I ever saw, built straight on that unbelievably red soil. The red continent was revealing its beauty rapidly, strong and tangible. Elegant women in beautiful and colourful dresses, wearing high heels and makeup on the dustiest roads I ever saw. These images were so contrasting. Later only I understood it was not a feminine statement as it is in the so called West. It was about being strong and fearless and elegant and feminine no matter what and where. Such power can only be profoundly admired and applauded.

For 8 long hours Kenya was showing itself to me as the rest of the group went quiet and asleep. I kept watching that movie playing on the screen of my window, with every town, village and markets we passed by, with every kid waving his hand, with every corner looking like a Pulitzer awarded photography.

trip to Kenya, Amazing
Kenya, Africa

Hell’s Gates, the door to Maasai Mara

After lunch in a restaurant where many other vans and safari jeeps were stopping in front, we made a short stop at Hell’s Gates, the point offering perfect views over Rift Valley, the vast savanna below, reaching far away as if it owned this world. Once here was a prehistoric lake that fed our human ancestors. We got sooo excited observing in the bushes some rodents looking like huge rats. Some Asian tourists started taking photos of them frenetically. We were all at the beginning of our journey and that seems to me now so funny, comparing to the photo opportunities that followed.

Maasai Mara starts here

The roads got dustier and bumpier and the landscape wilder. Richard announced that we were entering Maasai Mara. His voice came as a poke to reality to me: I was in Maasai Mara! Then the dust, the heat of the late afternoon and the constant same views of the savannah, still and quiet, made me sleepy. I was struggling not to close my eyes fearing that I will miss something great. What a premonition. And then I saw them, like two silhouettes from another world – tall, very slim, with unusual long legs and hands, with skin like black velvet and their bodies half covered with blood red rags, with high sharp swards in their hands and a fearless yet calm sight, with colourful large necklaces around their neck and long earrings hanging down their ears. I almost hurt my neck trying to gain one more second of this: two Maasai warriors watching us passing by in a cloud of dust, leaving them behind, vanishing into the immensity of Mara.

– Did you see that…??? I said seconds later, when I could again articulate.

No one did saw them but me and it was impossible to describe it in just words. Such a powerless instrument for such striking scenes. The image of those Maasai warriors was like a tattoo on the memory, two uncrowned gods of the wild who’s image is one of the strongest I have about Kenya.

This was how Maasai Mara, the land of Maasai tribes – in translation meaning the people that speak the language Maa, opened its doors to us. And I could feel that my moment – “I will go to Africa to see the lions. And when I’ll see them, I’ll cry.” was close….

Kenya, africa, Maasai Mara, Maasai tribe woman
Maasai woman in Kenya

I was watching ahead, with a far-off look, in silent, resting my chin against the front seat back next to Richard. For quite some time the sandy track we were following was just a pale yellow line crossing the dry fields. The afternoon heat was making the landscape blurry. Then I think I saw something… First I thought my eyes are wrong, then that it was because of the heat or maybe a piece of dry bush left there, in the middle of the road, by the wind. It was still there, right in the middle of the road, as the distance between us was reducing fast. I lift up my head and focused to that. It still wasn’t moving and a shape was slowly contouring now. The shape of a young impala was becoming a certainty. We were getting dangerously close and Richard didn’t seem to thing of slowing down. Before I could spell “Richard, watch out”, only when we got a few meters away, as if it was challenging its courage, the impala decided to jump away and instantly vanish. So Richard wasn’t risking to hit it, he just knew it will jump aside in the last moment. This time we all saw and got super excited. I saw a smile on Richard face in the mirror. How many people he must have drove like this, through their first safari experience, whitening their first reactions.

Now the wilderness around us was as cut off from the National Geo documentaries about Africa, those I used to watch sitting down, on the carpet, in our living-room, when I was a kid, so I could see better.

We didn’t even had the time to process what we just saw and finish all excitement exclamations when suddenly a large group of giraffes appeared out of nowhere. It happened so suddenly that it took us all by surprise and without phones or cameras at hand. In spite of all the promises and guarantees made on the tens of tours operators sites I checked while organising the trip, I never thought it could be quite like that: an abundance of wildlife in one place: about 20 giraffes, tens of zebras and even more wildebeests appeared out of no where. Richard stopped the car and the engine and let us wonder as the animals were just a few meters away from the road, doing what they do all day long: eating. They didn’t even blink seeing us. And there it happen. In front of a sight that no zoo could ever offer and no documentary can even get close to, in the middle of the savannah, my tears didn’t wait for that first lion. My eyes got wet. For feelings like that make days in our lives worth remembering there is no effort too big, no distance too long and no boundaries impossible to cross.

Maasai Mara safari, Kenya, African safari, giraffes, wildlife, nature, photography
Kenya

The camp

At the end of a 9 hours ride we arrived in the camp. Our neighbours for the next days were the inhabitants of a Maasai village. We passed by their settlement, followed by a cloud of dust, as a few young men were directing the cattle inside their village walls build of clay and soil. A large group of barefoot kids dressed very colourful stop their game in front of the village to salute us and didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the dust that came after us, leaving them invisible.

A few Maasai men in front of the camp helped us with the luggages in change of a tip. I only had my blue-marine polka dot backpack. This is how tourists coming to see the lions bring a benefit to the local community, besides buying hand made souvenirs or sometimes making small donations.

A few rows of large tents built on the ground, closed with a zipper, housing two beds covered with mosquito nests and in the back, a bricked up, well, almost up, bathroom with a shower in the wall, a toilet and a sink. One tent was mine alone. It was basic but having all it needs and the bed was clean. Cleaner then in other places where running water is not as precious as it is in the middle of the savannah. The water pressure at the sink was very low, it took a lot of patience for a hand wash, but the shower was good, with warm water. Outside, a kitchen, a small bar and a large room with white plastic tables and chairs where guests could serve the food from the buffet. Electricity was available only during the night. That was our camp, simple but filled with excited people.

We had one hour to leave our luggages and get ready for the first safari. I sit on my porch a bit. In the tent on the right the Spanish couple was laughing loud of something only they knew, on the left Elaine, the American woman saw doing some stretching.

The afternoon: the first safari

We jumped back in our white old van and headed straight into the wild. Richard opened the roof and like this it looked more as a safari car. Well, still quite far from the jeeps we’ve seen around. The cool air of the afternoon smelled like vast fields and dry grass. A few minutes only after we left the camp, we started meeting the animals. Wildebeests were everywhere, zebras came after, impala in small or bigger herds with many calves among them, a few warthogs with their funny walk and constantly on the move, an ostrich female. With every distance covered, advancing into the dry depths of Mara, we were more and more mind-blown. Like a dream you have for so long and when it becomes reality you realise it has exceeded any scenarios your imagination could have crafted.

Maasai Mara, Kenya safari

I got my camera out of the bag in a general “woww” from my safari companions. My new lens, a telezoom, bought especially for the trip, was one of the best acquisitions I ever made. Even though is the cheapest available from Sony, it totally made the difference when it comes to taking photos during a safari. The phones, even the newest models, were quite useless so I promised the others to share my photos when back home.

We were talking about that when I instinctively turned my head away and looked far, to an area where the dry grass was even taller growing by some bushes. I just couldn’t take my eyes off that spot, without seeing something there, as if I felt it. And there it was, perfectly blending in, part of that far away field, a lonely gorgeous lioness.

– A lion!

Only after long minutes and using Richard binoculars all the others manage to see her. Laying in the grass, with her mouth opened, breathing relaxed and calm.

– Girl, you got eyes for lions! I couldn’t see her not even after pointing the exact spot!

The first of the big 5 was that lioness. The 2nd came fast after, was a Cape buffalo in a swamp we passed by, looking angry at us with his dark massive horns covering its upper head and curving around its head like a true threat. Called the Black Death, it is known to have killed more game hunters than any other animal in Africa. It’s a karma weapon after all.

Maasai Mara buffalo, safari, Kenya
Cape Buffalo in Maasai Mara

A cloud of dust raising up in the sky was the target Richard was aiming. The old white van was running wild on the bumpy track and five other jeeps were following us. We arrived to what it seemed to be at first a jeeps an vans gathering in a cloud of dust. But that was not it. We saw the reason of this madness: two male cheetah laying in the grass a few meters away, totally ignoring us silly humans making excited noises and using phones, cameras and even half meter long lens to get an image of them. The sun was setting and it was the most perfect golden hour that our home, planet Earth, can offer as another gift to us.

Next: 12h safari and the Great Migration

Copenhagen: Hygge & 10 little big secrets

The Friday

I smelled pot. Not like in Amsterdam but strong enough. In a few meters I saw where the smell was coming from. The street I entered was full of dealers with small stalls improvised where piles of different types of dry marijuana were waiting to make someone happy.

– Come, wanna try? It’s good stuff, come try and see. Here… said a loud voice.

I ignored the invitation. If I didn’t know I was in one of the safest capitals in Europe, I might have felt very insecure in that underground area. Was just one of the colourful sides of Copenhagen.


When there’s an avalanche forecast and terrible weather in Lofoten, Norway, good old Europe has always a treat to offer for a freezing weekend at the end of January. I got the ticket three days before the flight.

A chilly Friday morning in a city with deserted streets after the cold winter rain. The kind of welcome typical for the North that I so deeply love.

The icon, Nyhavn

With very little preparation since it was a last minute decision, I decided to see the city by going with the flow and see what happens. I took my camera and left the room from the hotel near by the Central Station. I took a cold deep breath before what was to be a whole day long walk, my favourite thing to do when I’m away. I followed the flow of people, passed by Tivoli Gardens, City Hall Square, Rådhuspladsen and found a pedestrian street that seemed nice to walk, filled with stores. I later found out it was the famous Strøget Street, one of the longest shopping streets in Europe, of 1,1km, also one of the most high-profile streets of “København”.

When a student doing a poll among those looking like tourists asked if I liked the city and why, I replied I still don’t now, it’s been 2h only. But I already felt I will.

I was quickly convinced a few meters in the front, where I smelled something delicious coming from on oven. I was hungry so I entered the place and bought a Kanelstang, a cinnamon rod. It was a bakery with an impossible name: Lagkagehuset. The next second I thought why didn’t I know this exists?! This famous, old and very traditional Danish delicious pastry, I’ve learned after, a cinnamon twist but much larger and cut in slices, is a wonder of taste with two types of filling, vanilla cream and cinnamon filling. From that moment I’ve found my obsession in Copenhagen and every day I had 2-3 slices, even bought a few pieces for home.

In King’s New Square, enjoying my street food lunch, a hotdog, (another reason why I like Northern Europe), I watched the sky getting clear and the rays of sun enhancing the colours of Nyhavn, the symbol of the city. A picture perfect view in a place where you’d wish your stroll to be a never-ending one.

Nyhavn, best of Copenhagen, Denmark

I continued by the water, in a quiet area, crossing a bridge and arriving in a place where the Nordic architecture, perfect in its minimalism, was at home. I crossed a street following the indicator for the place I was searching for. A few steps further another world has opened: old buildings, abandoned warehouses with rusty walls covered in graffiti and impressive street art murals, little streets with cosy little eateries and bars – Freetown Christiania. An autonomous anarchist district and most hippie neighbourhood in Denmark’s capital. Placed in a once abandoned military base, where in the 70’s a group of hippies broke down the barricades and declared the place as their own, completely independent of the Danish government and laws. Since then it stays like this. Nowadays 1000 people live there, by their own rules, once published at the entrance: “Dear friends, There are three rules in the green light district: have fun; don’t run—it causes panic; no photos—buying and selling hash is still illegal.”

Christiania, free town in Copenhagen

The so called Green Light District was that day ,as in most days when the police is not coming for a visit that ends in multiple arrests, covered in a cloud of pot smoke. Some were selling, some were buying, many were smoking. Everywhere. All in the open. In spite this taste of freedom, cannabis is illegal in Denmark and  consumption, possession and selling will get one in prison if caught. If…but until then, freedom gets translated here is disobedience.

Besides the dizzying clouds lifting up in the air, over the roofs, the place is also known for adopting a way of living that discourages consumerism, mass production and many other sins of our modern world. Here those are replaced with a slow living garnished with its benefits: hand crafted products, bio foods and the serenity of those 1000 living far from the madding crowds working 9 to 5 and more to pay for what they, and myself included here, don’t even need. After all, Christiania has a strong point, besides being a controversial commune.

The blue hour in Nyhavn is magical. Has so much of that charm from the old times. As the lights in each of the coloured houses are turned on, the guests occupy their tables in restaurants, voices and laughs and kitchen noises begin and the scent of delicious meals fill the air of an almost there Friday night.

Nyhavn restaurants, Copenhagen

A light cold drizzle fell over the streets, the roofs and all those people wandering the city just as I arrived back at my hotel.

Learning Hygge in Copenhagen 

Meeting new people is one of the best things that happen when traveling solo. So I got an invitation for a late drink that I accepted.

– Happy New Year!

I raised my eyes from my tom yom soup, in the Thai restaurant across my hotel where we met.

– It’s almost February, for how long are people going to continue make this wish? I said amused.

– Exactly why I said it.

It was almost midnight and I didn’t feel the next hours vanishing. I had a lovely night, with great company, conversation and beer, in a bar decorated as if for one main purpose: to explain to foreigners the principles of hygge concept. From the warm atmosphere as we entered the place, completely hidden in dark, with the only source of light from the white candles placed on black tables or by the large windows facing the street, were rare passers by were moving as shadows in the dark, to the low nice music. The minimal design inside, with simple yet smart chosen pieces, cozy pillows and candles everywhere, still maintaining a diffused light, was the perfect picture of the famous Danish way of life that took in recent years the world by storm, with books, classes and masters promising to explaining basically how to live slow and enjoy the moments of peace. Hygge is about enjoying the good things in life with dear people around, lighting a candle in a long cold winter night, have a glass of wine or movie. Candlelight is hygge, cosying up with a loved one is hygge, relax is hygge….

– What we are doing right now, this is hygge. Now you understand it.

By the end of that Friday night the drizzle stopped, the streets got empty and I have learned hot to pronounce the word HYGGE like Danish do. Somehow similar to the English word “hiccup” .

The Saturday

I took a long walk in that cold sunny day. Rød pølse (red sausage) from one of the the ubiquitous stalls selling hot dogs and kanelstang (cinnamon rod) from Lagkagehuset for my Danish breakfast.

Strøget Street was entirely packed with people, Nyhavn even more. The normal Saturday mood in any European capital, busy and madly crowded. A waiter was cleaning the tables outside the restaurant opened in the former St. Nicholas Church, just in case the sunny day will encourage anyone to eat al fresco. The oldest church in town is used now also as a gallery for a contemporary art centre. In the North, this kind of metamorphoses of churches is not rare.

I continued my stroll from Amalienborg, the home of the Danish royal family where the serious guards were the subject of tourists thousands of photos, to Kastellet, a star shaped old military fortress, with the near-by beautiful Anglican church St Alban, built in grey stone, with a high spire and gorgeous stained glass windows. I couldn’t decide which side is best, the one facing the green park, next to an old tree, or the one by the lake behind it. With its peace and green in the middle of winter, the white clouds mirroring the lake, this place is probably my favourite in Copenhagen.

St Alban's Church, Copenhagen, Denmark

Langeline Park for a little stop and then another long walk, by the sea, to Copenhagen most photographed stop: The Little Mermaid, inspired by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up immortality in the depths for the love of a prince on land. The rays of sun right before sunset were penetrating the heavy grey clouds and the little statue in bronze, caught in the middle of the scene, with the sea as a background, like the celebrity of the city, which indeed she is. It took me about 20 minutes to get a chance to take a single photo without having many people by the statue.

Copenhagen, Denmark, the mermaid

Known as the oldest and most beautiful street in Copenhagen, there is no wonder why  Magstræde, with its coloured old houses and cobbled pavement is the most instagrammed, photographed, shared, posted and liked. Little adorable shops like one in the basement of an old building, with baby blue wooden old windows, where a woman was creating arrangements made of dry flowers while I stoped in front that pretty window and couldn’t stop watching her, the bar with in an old library, the shining old silverware shop. I went up and down the street a few times until blue hour covered again the city.

Snaregade and Magstræde street

I waited 30 minutes for a bubble tea inside Tase of Taiwan just because I got convinced by the line in front. I got taro milk tea just because it was purple. And just because I wanted to try something new, I discovered my next crush. I fell in love with the taste of taro.

Tivoli, the 176 years old amusement park, right in the middle of the city, was closed for guests in those days. To see it just a little bit I entered through a restaurant, then access the terrace outside, facing the park. With cold hands in a freezing windy evening, I sipped my taro ice bubble tea in the most dreamy winter wonderland….of fake snow. The park was being painted in white for Winter in Tivoli, an event meant to bring the white winter in a city that so far that winter have seen no snow.

– In my first winter here, 8 years ago, it was snow starting November and lasted a few months. In recent years…global worming…and now, this year, no snow at all.

Was the answer to my silly question: does it snow in Copenhagen. Sure it does.

I met my good old friend from Nepal in a cozy 18th-century basement venue with ceiling beams: Puk restaurant. A place well known for the delicious traditional food it serves. We had the famous Smørrebrød, open-faced sandwich with rye bread topped with all kind of toppings, pickled herring, wild salmon, flæskesteg – Danish pork roast, Leverpostej – Danish liver pate, frikadeller – Danish meatballs and so many dishes in small portions so we can taste more. In the end, I felt like a balloon. but I knew the memories of this dinner will make me crave for it many times later.

We said fair well when the night was turning to morning, after 2 more bars and 2 more beers with long and pleasant conversations about Denmark, his life as a Nepalese in Copenhagen, about Nepal wonders and caste traditions and our more then 10 years friendship. I renewed my promise to visit his country. At that time we draw a plan for next year.

Nothing did I know in that weekend at the end of January 2020, with crowded streets, Saturday night out, dining in restaurants and so many travels on the list for the year that has just begun. That reality seemed forever. Copenhagen was wonderful in all means, was like a deep breath before a long dive. How much I now miss what I never thought I will one day: flying

Next: my favourite beaches in Europe.

Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and more

My feet were burning! A hot long day of wandering got me exhausted. I touched the sea and felt it as if it was a step to heaven. Cold and calm. I entered knee deep with a Hmmm whispered to myself only. The sunset light melted the skyscrapers on Corniche Street into liquid gold, ready to ooze into the sea. It was my long expected moment. And then I heard in the back, someone was approaching:

– Excuse me, please step out of the sea. Is forbidden after 6pm. I’m sorry…the law…

“Ohh, Abu Dhabi, don’t do this to me!”…


Almost midnight

A never-ending 3h night bus ride took me from Dubai to Abu Dhabi the night before. Finding a taxi driver that spoke good English, with no Indian accent, was the first big and good difference that happened in the second Emirates city I came to see: Abu Dhabi. He was from Uganda and my 3 Swahili words turned our conversation into a friendly one.

The second difference, a lavish one this time, was the 4 stars hotel by the sea in central Abu Dhabi I afforded. In Dubai that would have been a fantasy. Thanks to the late room service and the Indonesian restaurant downstairs I had chicken satay with peanut sauce and nasi goreng, Indonesian fried rice. What a dinner at 2am!

12pm

I overslept, damn it! Or my phone didn’t rang… Or maybe I ate too much to late…

I took a look at the hotel pool and fancy interiors and left. I lost more then an hour looking for an exchange office. After the posh Dubai, Abu Dhabi was just another city: large empty boulevards, a few fast food restaurants, shops with ugly dirty windows and an unbearable heat.

After sweeting 2l I finally jumped in a taxi and drove to the very reason of my visit there: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, ranked by travellers in the last 2 years as the world’s second favourite landmark, according to TripAdvisor, after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. (about that one soon). A place I found about from Instagram….

After a 30min drive the white minarets of the Grand Mosque started to be visible and soon was clear why it is called Grand, cause it’s huge!

No entrance fee, all man and women were split in groups to the changing rooms. I wanted a burgundy abayas, a robe, those looked prettier, but I got a light brown one instead. Only two colours available to rent, for free as well. The garment had a hood so you can cover your head, which is mandatory inside. The rule is simple: no visible ankles or head. If anyone wants to wear her own clothes, no problem, as long as that rule is applied.

I then joined the row of hundreds of people going in, passing by the other hundreds getting out. When I stepped out into the light and all became suddenly bright white around, I know I have arrived to another beautiful place I so much wanted to see: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was sublime!

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The strong sun shining right above and the perfect blue sky made the whole place look like an Arabian Nights white palace. The details were gorgeous.

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The interior yard was surrounded by a no crossing tape so that no one could pass over the limit, on the mosaic forming large flowers spreading all over the white yard. There were special spots where photos could be taken, so photographers, instagrammers, likes addicts and others have all the conditions they needed for the perfect shot and the best memory.

Well that for a change was a struggle to me: I was alone. And I only wanted one nice photo of myself with the mosque large yard in the back. If possible no minaret getting straight out of my head. Simple? Nop! It took me an hour to get it and 7 people who tried. In vain. I got either an ID type photo, either one without my feet, one without my forehead, of course the one where a minaret coming straight out of my head, a few with my eyes closed and many on the move… I felt discouraged after all the options I could think of for how to ruin a photo ran out. I thank everyone for their (usually) one photo taken. The 3pm free tour was lost. I stood in a corner and admire the place. It was too beautiful to care about a photo. The photo opportunity spot I was sitting got empty, when a Japanese couple came. He had a camera. I thought I should ask him nicely for a photo, like I did previously with other 3 people carrying good cameras…. He accepted smiling. That’s a good start, some people look interrupted… I found my place. He made a two steps more in the back. Hmm…another good sign, not a close up photo this time, huh! He gave me back my camera and they leave before I could check the result. I never do this on the spot, my reactions can hurt feelings.

I catch them up in a few minutes, among the crowds.

– You take great photos, thank you so much. I love it.

– Yes he does indeed, isn’t it, his wife confirmed smiling.

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

He was one of those rare begins born with a natural gift for framing a photo. We changed a few words and they told me about another free tour starting in 30 minutes and what they saw during the previous one where they can enter inside the mosque.

It was getting late and after a wandered around a little bit more, I decided to follow the crowds and see the interior of the mosque without a tour inside.

Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The interior was just as dreamy as the white yard, with the biggest chandeliers I ever saw.  After all, 545M $ for 22K square meters, about 4 football fields, do look fabulous, inside and outside!

Marathon walk on Corniche St

It looked like this beautiful! I almost destroyed my Havaiannas flip-flops rushing on the endless boardwalk, from Al Ain Palace all the way up to Corniche Beach, 5,2km in less then 30min. Passing by passers by, runners, playing kids, The Lake Park, and then Abu Dhabi Beach.

Sunset on Corniche street, Abu Dhabi

When my feet were hurting me close to an unbearable level, I arrived.  I crossed the beach, threw by flip flops on the sand and stop when I reached the see. What a feeling! It was too cold for a swim and too empty but perfect to cool away a hot long day. The beach at sunset looked fantastic, surrounded by glass skyscrapers on one side and the silver sea on the other, quiet like a hot day in the desert. I was happy there, all I had was all I needed. I didn’t even noticed the guardian:

– Excuse me, please step out of the sea. Is forbidden after 6pm. I’m sorry…the law…

So I found out in Abu Dhabi you can’t swim at sunset. That’s why there was no one in the water. The sea was cold anyway. I sit on the sand and admire the place and enjoy my peace and excitement: I finally was in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi, Corniche Beach

I left the beach when was already dark. I took a taxi and asked him for a good restaurant with local food. I almost wanted to kiss him 10 minutes later when I saw in front of my eyes 3 big letters: GAD. My favourite place to eat in Hurghada, Egypt was in Abu Dhabi too. I ate until I couldn’t breath any more and talked about Egypt with the waiter there.

I walked on Sheyk Zayed Bin Sultan Street that evening, happy I added a new country to by beautiful collection and more new beautiful places. That evening of January, with 28C temperatures, the streets were filled with people, the restaurants, the terraces, the bars, the coffee shops… The heart of the city was beating. The big world was there and I was part of it, me and my wanderlust, ready for my next flight. How I will miss that feeling of perfect freedom later this year.

PS: lesson learned – always check the check in conditions when I book a room inside the airport. I didn’t that time and it cost me tones of stress, 100 euro lost for another room, outside the airport and almost my connection flight for back home.

Next: one day in Istanbul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai – the desert and the city (Day 3)

An invisible sun lit up the horizon. Earth and Sky, soon that everything will be melted together in one shade of fire I adore, cut in halves by a straight line ready to explode: the far horizon. A sparkle slipped out behind the dark mountain silhouette, like a promise for more. I left the jeep and the cold air gave me goosebumps as my feet sank deep into the freezing sand. It didn’t matter. It was time for a rising sun. Time to welcome a new day….


5am

The window in my room was still dark. I was afraid to count how little time I’ve slept. Maybe 2 h and a yawn. Dubai was becoming the newest city to keep me awake, I thought, while making efforts to accommodate my sight and get dressed. Fast! 15min later I was out in the hotel lobby, where my friend, the Indian who’s shift was always during the night, every night, 365 nights a year, welcomed me with the same kind and joyful smile.

– Ohh…you can’t sleep?…

– I could’ve very well slept, but I have a sunrise to catch in the desert! I won’t leave Dubai without it! I answered him in a hurry, closing the big entrance door behind me.

There I was 30 min later, with three other Indians: the driver and another couple we picked up from the opposite side of the city, driving to catch the sunrise on the red dunes, leaving the city behind, still sleeping and still quiet. I thought then of another fact about Dubai: there are more Indians there then Arabs. It surely looked so from where I stayed. On the road I listened to those three companions talking about their India and the region there they all called home.

We stopped in a gas station after a while of running on a straight and empty road crossing the desert. Surprise for the fool of me: it was freezing outside! Damn it! Of course it was, it was in the desert! If only I haven’t had forgotten that slight detail…. With all the glam and spam of Dubai it seemed I lost my head completely. With nothing to do or buy, I got some candies from the store to sweeten my cold dark morning. At least it worked for that pain in the bum flu, a Christmas Eve present, that had followed me all the way to Dubai and was still bothering me with an awkward cough. I was struggling to keep it under some control and avoid weird looks by pumping sugar in my blood while constantly eating candies until my tongue hurt.

the wait….

From all the waitings in my life, there’s one I love most: the wait for the sun to rise. Living on the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains and high hills, where the sun rose bright and set even brighter, I was a kid that grew up without sunsets and sunrises. The once in a year occasions in summer when my family and I drove for 2 days to see the sea , set the ground for my eternal admiration for the sun in its first and last moments every day. It turned me into a sunset & sunrise chaser for life. One that fights sleepless nights, desert cold, chilly sand and more only to see that first sparkle of fire in the horizon and watch it growing until it becomes too bright to see. From the top of the large red dune, like a wave in a see of sand dunes, I forgot all but that: sunrise in the desert. Always fantastic.

Dubai, sunrise in the desert

riding the dunes

Sandboarding was not my thing. I tried it, got sand in my mouth and I was fine with it. Plus carrying the huge board all the way back on top of the dune, climbing it in a run on a moving sand was a hell of a workout at 6am. If there were no people watching probably it would have taken me the whole day. At least I didn’t felt cold anymore after. Next, please!

Our driver reduced the tire pressure, a manoeuvre meant to enable smooth movement over the dunes. And the dunes bashing started. First smoother and then faster and furious until my entire stomach was upside down. My front seat offered the best feelings of this crazy ride among waves of sand. A big like for it.

oh, not camels again….

Oh, yes! I was wandering how many times I said it was the last time…

– Did you ever do this?

– About 5 times in the last 2 years…. And I hate it, I then whispered to her, the Indian girl.

Her experience was much worse then mine, trying not to fall and break all bones. She had a zoophobia or animal phobia. Of all animals. So when my camel tried to scratch her cheek on the back of her camel, reaching her foot, this turned into a mix of hysteria and screams. It took a few long second to the rest of us, while her partner was repeating that she’s afraid of animals. Finally our driver saved the day and remove my camel away from her leg. Back home I have two good friends who are terrified of birds so this was no so uncommon.

the falcon

Falcons have eyesight eight times as sharp as humans. Peregrine falcons can dive at speeds over 300km/h. Seeing such a majestic bird imprisoned, with its eyes covered by the leather telwah, so it couldn’t fly, was heartbreaking to me. I know about speeches evoking country’s culture and history, the people of the desert traditions. But this is 2020 and entertainments from hundreds of years before can be also updated and creatures that belong to the sky will be better left where they belong: free.

We had breakfast in a Bedouin camp that looked like the scene of a long and loud party the night before. It was. Two women dancers still wearing their costumes crossed from one tent to another with sleepy faces and messed up hair. A few tourists came out blinded by the sun light and ran inside quickly. I took my plate and went outside the tent, sit down on a wet pillow and enjoyed my breakfast struggling to keep the cats away. The Indian couple joined me later, after he convinced her that the cats are harmless. It was such a nice morning in the desert and the sun was just perfectly warm.

the Old

The place was deserted. The 30+C temperatures of a hot start of January in Dubai have left the streets empty. The old limestone buildings, the narrow dirty streets in the back, the small shops and the merchants carrying huge bags had nothing in common with the city of Dubai that shone bright from just a few km away, across the river. Two worlds of the same city set apart from the very river that once gave life to a small fishermen village in these desert lands, the foundation of all that it is now.

Dubai Old Town, Deira

The Gold Souk, The Perfume Souk and The Spice Souk are now the pride of Deira, the most mainstream in the old town. Unfortunately most of the stalls were closed, but those still opened offered a clear view of the place. I politely refused all the invitations to get inside the shops filled with sparkling jewelries just because I knew I wasn’t going to buy any. Just because gold’s just not for me.

Naif Souk I found it by chance, looking for a bracelet for my collection gathered from all the countries I go. Two levels filled with shops selling everything from pashmina scarfs to colourful hijabs or cheap jewelries and frequented by locals. The only thing I found came in set with a matched ring. About 5$ each, I decided to take two. but  first.

– I promise you next year at this time they will look just the same! the merchant wearing too much Arab perfume said approaching. I did a step back only to get some air.

– That’s quite a hazardous promise at this price, don’t you think…? I like them even if they won’t last long.

– What phone you have?

And so I got the price I wanted using my good 4 years old iPhone. Never thought it can be helpful in negotiations. But in Dubai the image is everything and the phone is the financial business card.

coconut green, mango and sugar cane juice

….were the treats of my afternoon, enjoyed on a dirty street in front of a small fast food with 3 white plastic table in front. At one a large Indian family with kids, at the second an Arab old man was cleaning the dirt between its toes, leaving too much to see under his thobe.  Before seeing him I was sure that the poor of  Dubai where only Indian, Pakistani, Filipinos. I left the old Dubai live its live in Banyias Square and headed to the beach.

sunset on Kite Beach

A taxi from Mall of The Emirates took me straight to Kite Beach, when the sun was ready to hide behind Burj al Arab and soon enter the sea. I bought snacks and devoured them all on the beach, upset that I missed the chance to take a swim in Dubai and comforting myself that the water was too cold anyway. Indeed it was but I swam colder waters before.

Sunset at Kite Beach, Dubai

I walked all the boardwalk from Kite Beach to Jumeirah Beach and Burj Al Arab. Again Google Maps fooled me about the distances in Dubai that seem small online and you finally walk till you drop.

I couldn’t find a bus to get me to Dubai Marina. Instead I took a taxi and decided to get to Atlantis. The last hot spot on my to do list in Dubai. I just wanted to see the hotel up-close.

We drove from the roots al the way up to the top of The Palm. The taxi left me in the front, on the left side main entrance. What a difference compared to the old Deira I left only a couple of hours before. The beautiful architecture, like a palace from The Arabian Nights, surrounded by lush gardens with palm trees and frangipani is one of the luxury hot spots not just in Dubai but the world. And of course with many taking selfies in the front… I left The Palm and Atlantis like all mortals, by train, the one that crosses the island and I found out about only then, offering great views to all the leaves filled with villas of The Palm.

Dubai Marina, again

Dubai Marina view by night

For the third time I came to one of my favourite places in Dubai, I couldn’t leave without one last boardwalk stroll. After all, where else you get to see parked in line 3 or 5 cars that together worth more then 1M, or 2, or 3, if not here? I like the place for its mood of eternal holiday that few places manage to induce. I found wasabi peas in one market near by and finished the whole pack staring at the skyscrapers curtain of lights surrounding the Marina, thinking about the two handsome men dressed in immaculate thobs I saw before, by the beach.

And that was Dubai: recalibrating my expectations about what money can built, tracing higher limits between luxury and poverty and raising the bar so high when it comes to what entertainment a city can offer. Two sleepless nights and for long days let me discover my Dubai. From the serene desert to the noisy downtown, from the old souks to level 148 in Burj Khalifa, from Jumeirah beach to The Palm and Dubai Maria, it fascinates me.

I will come back for that missed swim in the sea.

Next: 24h in Abu Dhabi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai – All that money can buy (Day 2)

In a city that offers all that money can buy, it can be difficult to decide what you want and how to spent the most precious currency that exists: time. But I knew: my first helicopter ride. I will fly above Dubai.


Morning: High in Dubai

Dubai Marina, Dubai, UAE

A breakfast with a view, Dubai Marina view. Not on a terrace, but a bridge. And not a real breakfast actually, but definitely one to remember. The day started like this, with dates milkshake and gazing at the grey curtain of skyscrapers mirroring their shapes in the silver waters where luxury white yachts slid up and down the Marina. Doing this cost me 30 minutes of my second day in Dubai.

12pm

The taxi dropped me in front of Dubai Police Academy, close to Jumeirah beach. A jeep was already for me at the gates, to drive me inside through the security zone. It looked like a highly protected area. I knew by the noise, minutes later, that we’ve reached the starting point: a white helicopter was just landing.

The preparation for the helicopter ride took about an hour, inside the centre, with a session of safety instructions and technical info, including how to get in and off the helicopter when it lands on land or water. After the theoretical part, waiting for my ride and watching other customers coming and going, I observed how the whole thing was happening. I’ve noticed there was also a second helicopter operating, a black one that landed later. That looked so cool, I instantly wished my ride will be with that one. There were 5 seats in a helicopter, so only one seat in front, near the pilot. A kind of VIP seat… No matter the colour of the helicopter, I thought, I just hoped I won’t be sitting on a middle seat…. Seeing people leaving and the expressions of thrilled they had when they were landing back was not just fun to watch, but also increasing my impatience.

Finally my turn came. Me and 3 other girls were forming the group. The white helicopter was on the helipad, waiting for the next group. We were waiting in line and I thought that one it’ll be ours… And then I heard the noise. The trees outside started moving. The black one was landing back and the white helicopter just took off. I heard someone from the security telling us to wait in line inside.

– You’re alone so you’ll be sitting in the front, he told me.

These were the words I wanted to hear after paying almost 200$ for a few minutes ride. I was so happy.

The next minute my hair was blowing all over my face as I approached the black and cool helicopter. I took my seat in the front with a smile reaching from one ear to the other, that got even bigger when I laid my eyes on the so very good looking pilot: dark haired, with a short beard, wearing a pilot uniform and a fab smile.

Dubai, helicopter ride

– Hi, welcome! And there we were, all 5, ready to fly up in the sky.

I got the headset on, receiving the last indications from the security stuff as they closed the door. I heard the noise increasing and felt the moment we took off, leaving the ground, going up and up until the cars got smaller and the highway above became a line beneath us. Seen from the sky, the distances didn’t seem so large and the map of Dubai started imprinting on my mind. The Palm and The Atlantis, Dubai Marina, then we turned right and headed towards downtown, where Burj Khalifa was guarding the city from its heart, the middle of the skyscrapers that look tinny compared to the 160 levels sharp structure. It was a clear day with great visibility for this mind-blowing desert city where this is a rare gift.

Dubai, downtown, Burj Khalifa

The views were spectacular. We were communicating through the headset and I was the one asking questions: how close can you get to the downtown and Burj Al Arab – not very unless you have a permit to land there, where was the famous Kite Beach. Then we turned back, flying along the coast line, Jumeirah beach, Kite Beach and then Burj Al Arab, half a circle around the 7th stars hotel passing a little over the legal limit of distance for helicopters that are not landing on its helipad. We saw again the huge The Palm, the man made complex of islands forming the shape of a palm tree, we saw The World, the artificial archipelago of 300 islands laid out in the Persian Golf in the shape of Earth’s continents.

Dubai, The Palm, aerial view

Two more breath takes and we were heading back, getting closer to the helipad, ready to land. I was thrilled! It was worth every scent and choosing Dubai for my first helicopter ride was a great idea for the unique landmarks.

At the end of the ride, as we step out the helicopter, a few cameras jumped in as if we got famous while up there in the air. Then I found out our memories came with a price. I took the cheapest version, 2 photos (only) for 50bucks. It wasn’t allowed to do any photo shooting around the helicopter but of course I got my selfie with the pilot up in the sky 😉 In Dubai, even memories come with a price.

3pm

Afternoon: Man made miracle  

Another taxi dropped me an hour later in front of Miracle Garden. I wandered among structures of all shapes, from a castle to a plane and cartoon characters, all made of flowers. With 28C, the garden smelled like summer, the January summer in the Golf. This place is another superlative of Dubai: the world’s largest natural flower garden, 72K square metres with over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

In the middle of the desert, open for visitors between November and March, before the burning summer temperatures start turning all into dust. My battle here was a classic one for single travellers: obtaining 2-3 decently framed photos that, as an exception, will include myself. An exception because I prefer the photos of beautiful places with no people in the picture, an achievement that in most places takes a lot of patience. But the biggest challenge when traveling alone is people’s natural gift for ruining a photo. Of course, many of my friends are too in this category but at least I can ask nicely for a new try and help with indications. With strangers, that would be rude…. I can talk a whole day about these funny yet annoying fails that happened to me, like for ex. the best panoramic pic of Dubrovnik where my feet were cut off or the one with the RIP Blue Window in Gozo, Malta, (now gone into the see) where the natural monument, the window, the reason of the photo, was cut in half… Still, I never give up and eventually I get the photo I want. And so I did in Miracle Garden, though people were swarming everywhere at that hour.

Miracle Garden, Dubai

 

6pm

Evening: At the top

45 minutes of waiting for a bus that didn’t come change my plans for saving some budget using the public transport. I jumped in a taxi to get right in time in Dubai Mall, for my VIP entrance for At The Top of Burj Khalifa at 7pm. I got the ticket the day before, from an open office I saw in the mall, where people were waiting in line. I thought that must be the place. I almost had a heart attack when I heard the price: almost 100 euro. My credit card was in pain. Only long after I realised IT was a good deal, because most people go to see level 128. My crazy pricey ticket offered priority access and the chance to see Dubai from level no 148.

We were about 5 people in the line: two Russian women, beautiful and very branded, a French couple, both very tall and good looking, him looking more young. And myself, this time dressed for a helicopter ride + a drink in the highest lounge in the world, so nicely. On the other side, for normal tickets line, tens of people were waiting.  We entered through a separate door after they checked our passes, the stuff repeated the check later.  In a hall a long line of people were waiting. We passed by them and went further. It felt nice that VIP status. I very soon realised Burj Khalifa is not just a huge building of 160 floors, there are 160 levels of luxury and the most perfect finishes, the contractor save no penny when it came to materials and designs. It’s spotless from what I’ve seen this entire private property where the only access is through the mall, buying a ticket, or the main entrance if you have a reservation at one of the restaurants inside.

We took two elevators and in seconds we were at level 148. From the moment the doors opened, it is jaw dropping. The lounge is small but cosy, with scattered light, candles and orchid as decorations. The closed balcony that surrounds the place offers views that makes you feel you’re on top of the world.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, downtown Dubai by night

 

It was getting dark and I think it was the best moment, to see as the blue hour turns into night into millions of lights from the skyscrapers beneath and the multitude of highways and boulevards. What a city, indeed! I had to admit, I was impressed. An ambition made reality but with a good dose of good taste and elegance. I admired the views and I just couldn’t get enough.

At The Top, Burj Khalifa, Dubai city lights

Level 128, crowded and closer to the earth seemed quite ordinary after I finally decided to leave level 148. I didn’t even wanna take many photos. The best part here was that the water fountain, the Dubai Fountain started the show of lights and music and seen from above it looked gorgeous.

Due to the large number of people, the place feels very touristy, compared to the laid back and spoiled mood from the previous level. A souvenir shop covers most of the place, where the price for a box of chocolate gives you ideas that it might be gold, leaving a little room for an interactive floor made of a screen with image of the city above that cracks under people’s feet as they step on it.

I felt overwhelmed enough and I wanted to leave. Hundreds were forming an endless line to the elevators. Oh God, I will sleep here tonight… I thought. But my 100 euro ticket saved me, the VIP guests had priority using another elevator, smaller and faster. Suddenly, adding this too, plus the whole experience, those 100 euro I payed for didn’t hurt any more. I’m glad that just by chance I made the best choice.

9pm

Dubai Fountain was playing the moment I got out the mall. With people filling every single place at the tables around, with waiters from the restaurants running with plates filled with dishes, with crowds gathered around Burj Khalifa lake, the music, the water jets up the sky, the night sky with the moon watching down to us. When the show of water and light stopped, the lake was completely covered with little lights, as a replica of the sky above.

11pm

The day was done, with every minute from morning till night spent so perfectly – Carpe Diem. A summer night mood was filling the city with its warm breeze. In this city of so many worlds where all that money could buy has been build, created and raised from the desert sand, I wished I had more… not money, but time.

Next: Dubai day 3 – sunrise in the desert, Old Town, Jumeirah beach

Dubai – Best of fancy on a budget (Day 1)

Three days in Dubai proved me wrong. All I’ve been hearing about this fancy desert city is true. After three days and 3 nights all I wished for was more time. I considered it artificial, too fake and opulent for my taste. Then I saw the best of Dubai and fell for it.


1.1.2020

Al Fahidi neighborhood, at my first glance that late afternoon, the first one in 2020, didn’t look like the Dubai I imagined. I woke up late after the exhausting NYE “adventure” the night before. It was curious to see Dubai by day. I draw the dark heavy curtains and opened the window to the little garden in front where a few dusty palm-trees were the only green spots on a limestone shade paint. On the wide vacant lot in front, in a cloud of dust, e few barefoot boys were playing football with a worn-out ball. Yalla, yalla (cmon) was all I could hear. A strong smell of frying hit me from what seemed to be the kitchen of the hotel, judging by the noise. I thought this must be a reason for the cheap price I payed for 3 nights in a city where New Years Eve makes hotel prices explode like its famous fireworks. But the room was nice, large, clean and the location was good, a few minutes walk to the metro station.

Behind the dusty palm-trees, the vacant lot and the hotel’s kitchen, the city was already up, ready to start a new year filled with life. The noise of the urban chaos was calling.

Spicy brunch

I love Indian food and I soon discovered I love the prices it has in Dubai too. Bhindi masala (dish made with okra) and chicken masala was the name of my brunch. A spicy brunch. I got totally lost in the tens of meals with names I could hardly pronounce listed in the menu of the first restaurant I saw on the street. The waiter stole me from the competition near by meeting me meters away from the entrance, in the middle of the crosswalk. I let him believe his strategy was a success when in fact my decision was taken the moment I saw the place with people eating on the terrace. At 2pm, 28C and a burning sun, coming from the freezing temperatures back home, I felt I will melt if I don’t eat fast. Though it was a hasty decision picking the restaurant, the food was tasty.

Dubai downtown

It was time to be wowed by my first day in Dubai! I took the metro and headed towards downtown. One thing no one told me about Dubai is that there are so many Indians, it makes you wander if that’s truly Dubai, UAE, Middle East.

When it comes to skyscrapers, modern architecture and infrastructure, Dubai gets all the 5 stars. And the downtown area stands as a prove for this. You could easily end up with a glazed look, mouth opened, eyes looking up the sky, among high structures of steel and glass. I admitted, it’s impressive but I’m not a fan of modern buildings with their cold minimal shapes. Burj Khalifa still is so high it makes you dizzy. It dominates the city like a crowned god of buildings. 163 floors. My apartment back home is at 8.

I hate malls…

“I’ll just take a look, it won’t take long… it’s just a mall.” It started like this. After 5h, dizzy and exhausted I couldn’t solve this mystery: where did all that time vanished?!

Dubai Mall, Dubai Downtown,

There are two reasons why I enter a mall, in my city, in any city: see a movie or get my coats from the dry cleaning. This was before I stepped in Dubai Mall. It makes The Harrods in London or Galleries Lafayette in Paris seem like two little shops. This place is not a mall, but a wicked city where you enter in the morning and leave at night, wandering where did all that sunny day disappeared. From the butler at the entrance, the welcoming ladies offering sweets, to the 1200 large stores on 502,000 square metres, this place is madness, a shopping industry by itself and above all, it’s a time trap. A very pretty one that has everything inside: a hotel, an ice rink, an aquarium where people can go for a dive among sharks and leopard rays of who’s existence I had no idea before, a VR Park, a lake with a water fountain, access to the highest building in the world from the largest mall in the world. Dubai seems to love superlatives. Shopping there is an true  experience. Benefiting from the large spaces, the brands have built stories out of their shops. In Dubai Mall the stores don’t just sell, they entertain and spoil. The prices seem a bit higher for a few brands I usually buy but it still is a shopper’s paradise on Earth.

Dubai Mall, Dubai Downtown,

From the Earth to the sky: Burj Khalifa 

Seeing the tallest building in the world right outside the biggest mall in the world, moving your eyes from its base and all the way up to its top, it’s really something extraordinary.  A blue huge pool in the middle of the desert, now downtown Dubai, stands for Burj Khalifa Lake. Why knot? If 218 millions where waiting to be spent. You can even take a boat ride in a traditional “abra”, probably the last reminder in that area of what Dubai was in times not that old: a poor fishing village. Right now the city looks like what all that money can built: artificial, as I used to consider it before, but so damn beautiful, as I was starting to see it.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, downtown

Souk Al Bahar, the drop of tradition

I found it by chance, just wandering around Burj Khalifa, trying to find its best angle for a photo with the entire building. Or almost entire… This modern and luxury Arabian souk on the Old Town island brings back the magic in a place made of steel and glass. I spent long minutes admiring the details of Iranian hand made carpets and testing tens of luxury Arabian perfumes in precious bottles. The prices were just as precious too, up to 600 euro. Ehh…Dubai, places like that make me feel poor. There’s too much you can’t afford right under your nose.

Dubai UAE, Burj Khalifa

The golden hour and the orange sun rays turned the city into gold as the night was coming. I felt overwhelmed by so much I’ve seen.

Dubai Marina by night

In this city with many worlds, Dubai Marina is one of them. A Western corner in a rich city. Skyscrapers, restaurants, shops, the beach and the promenade. I had in mind the image of the tall buildings reflecting in the harbour and I got lost trying to find it. I was exhausted and ready to go back to the metro for the 1h ride to my hotel when, I have no idea how, I found it:

If by day, iron and glass looks modern, by night it looks the best.

Dubai Marina view by night

The Frame of dreams

The two sides of the city, the old and new are framed by The Frame, another architectural landmark of Dubai. The name of this square building, called the biggest picture frame on the planet, reflects its shape, 150m tall and 95m wide. From my seat in the metro, at passed 11 at night, heading to the old (and poor I should add) side of Dubai, this day seemed like a fantasy. All the glitter and gold of Dubai gives a feeling of mixed realities, polishing all in happiness. But The Frame, no mater how big it is, can’t include all the 3.331 million stories lived each day in this city. My story, as a visitor fulfilling another destination dream, the story of the Filipino woman that was selling ice-cream in the mall, waiting for her dream, the stories of the rich and good looking of all races I’ve noticed on Fashion Avenue, living their dream…. and the stories of the Indian workers I saw right next to Dubai Mall, up high on metallic scaffold, working in construction on January the 1st, building their dream.

A dream city that is made of so many different dreams, that is the big picture of Dubai.

Next: Day 2 in Dubai: helicopter ride, at the top of Burj Khalifa and more

 

 

Croatia: Legends and charm of Dubrovnik

Can’t be a better time to remember my rainiest summer holiday than a rainy evening of May. If now I’m happy for the forests surrounding my hometown, the fields with tall grass and all that’s green and alive is finally enjoying rain after a dry spring, I wasn’t so happy that day, arriving in Dubrovnik on a ferocious storm……

Dubrovnik under waters

I felt lucky when I found tickets for the buss departing in 10 minutes from Split, heading to Dubrovnik. It was going to rain heavily, the dark clouds and winds weren’t joking, and the first heavy drops started hitting the window next to my seat very soon. The rain continued the whole trip, in violent episodes, as we passed through Bosnia Herzegovina and back to Croatia, and finally reaching Dubrovnik. A light rain, a afar away thunder and a sky that seemed to get brighter. I was optimistic those were the last drops and I can walk to my not so far accommodation with my clothes dry. But little do I know about rain… In a few minutes the drops became more frequent, the sky got darker and the wind was blowing the rain towards us, under the bus station roof. Should I take a taxi? But was very close…. I saw a little pub across the street which seemed a good refuge. By the time I’ll have lunch, rain will stop. But little do I know about rain… All I could do was sneaking under the roof of a tinny newspapers kiosk that was on my way. And that was it! A curtain of water started falling down, violent and determined to cover all in water. Lightnings, thunders and strong guts followed by darkness. The afternoon became evening under the black clouds. In a few minutes all got flooded, the street I had to cross to reach that pub and the pub also. So no more lunch! No more refugee. I was stuck under the tinny roof in the middle of a storm. I decided to buy an umbrella from the lady only to hold it in front of me under that shower. People were running, cars were swimming and soon nothing moved but the rain and wind. I was now sharing the tinny roof with other 4 people. We exchanged empathy smiles. After 30 minutes the rain calmed down but the whole place was a lake. A car drove by and we all watch the driver to see if he’s gonna have the same faith as the one before him with a X5 BMW with German numbers and now a dead engine. His car survived but we all had to hold our suitcases up from the waves of water coming from the street. After another 30 minutes of waiting and watching the terrible effects of the storm, I finally find a safer zone to walk away, hoping there’s no canal opened under the ankle deep water.  And so I was welcomed to Dubrovnik!

– How come a girl like you is not married?

After climbing up and down a few tens of steps, when I finally got out of the flooded area and I was misdirected by the only person I meet, I was finally found by my host looking all drenched, this time form the effort not the rain. And there I was, in their living room. My hosts were two nice seniors renting 2 rooms of their apartment to support their pension income. Nice and curious like people who have reached a certain age. The homemade sweet cherry soften my tongue and I answered simply:

– I haven’t met my perfect match.

Classic. But I got support immediately.

– So sais Ana, our niece. She is 33 soon, said his wife nodding her head.

– She doesn’t trust men these days, continues her grandfather.

I even got pancakes with homemade quince jam so I was opened to any question now that the storm was forgotten, the sun was up and my foodie spirit was spoilt.

The 1st best moment in Dubrovnik was opening the window of my room. The area where  my accommodation was was built on a hill. I was at 9th floor. The blue sky, the clear fresh light after the storm and the panoramic view of the city by the sea was a gift.

It took a 30 minutes walk to the old city of Dubrovnik, a distance that I was going to hate the next days and regret Split and the perfect location I had there. Dubrovnik is pricey and I thought I did a good deal. Only thought…

 Old town of Dubrovnik

Finally I was in front of the drawbridge to the Old Town, via Pile Gate! Packed with tourists. Once I crossed it, Dubrovnik, the so photographed and talked about one, began. Placa, or Stradun, the main street, appears like a straight and wide limestone channel beneath grand ancient houses.

Dubrovnik Olt Town, Croatia, Dalmatia

The glistening limestone pavement walked with thousands of visitors each day connects two of the gates to the citadel, Pile Gate and Polce Gate. With small restaurants or shops on each side, it is a sudden prelude to what seems to be a different world, an ancient one where seeing a knight at the corner won’t seem here out of place. Like in Venice, one you cross the bridge, the wonder world begins. The Rector’s Palace, Sponza Palace, the Cathedral, Church of Saint Blaise, Clock Tower, the Large Onofrio’s Fountain and the little limestone streets offering teasing sights to the terracotta roofs and the long stairs passages hidden in the shade, behind the bright facades in Placa.

Croatia, Dubrovnik, stairs in Old City
Old Town, Dubrovnik, Croatia

I like it and all I wanted to was wander. And so I meet the see, the cobalt blue Adriatic, still rough after the storm earlier that day. Next to St John Fortress strong waves were exploding in thousands as they hit the massive walls build in the 16th century.

I called it a day with a glass of Dalmatia white wine and a local treat: black rice, enjoyed at Dalmatino restaurant in the old town, where I was lucky to get a table, outside, on the busy little street. Dubrovnik was more alive now, under the stars, in a beautiful summer night.

  Walls of Dubrovnik

My plan for that bright clear sky morning was a walk on the citadel walls. A perfect start for a day in Dubrovnik. The old town is surrounded by a wall so thick that on top of it there’s a narrow cobbled alley, a 2km long walk that offers the best views of the old town.

Croatia, Dubrovnik, Old Town

A fresh morning, just before the sun starts to burn is the best moment for this. The sea of square shaped terracotta roofs, hundreds of them, meet the Adriatic blue where Lokrum island is the only green spot.

City Walls, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Adriatic Sea

It’s an Instagrammable picture perfect view, one among many others: The Placa, the baseball stadium, the Large Onofrio’s Fountain. King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms viewed from the height of it walls and after from its little streets kept me busy all day with long walks interrupted by ice-cream short breaks in places like the Franciscan Monastery where one of the oldest pharmacy in the world still exists since 1300.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, sea view

A swim on Banje beach cooled down the day and my nerves. After a failed attempt to find a restaurant with local food, that was placed high on Mount Srd, an adventure that took me way far from all the mainstream spots frequented by tourists, trespassing a few private properties, I ended up going down again on the same killer steps that took away every drop of energy. At least I got to see more of Dubrovnik, the less accessible part, including bird’s eye views towards the bay. And as usual, I tried to get to know a place in my own way.

Croatia, old town Dubrovnik

The golden hour turned the limestone old town into a golden citadel, where the rush inside the restaurants kitchens matched perfectly the one on its busy streets. And so the evenings begin.

Close to the Large Onofrio’s Fountain, next to the stairs of the Franciscan monastery lies one of the living legends of the citadel: the Maskeron, a 20cm wide weird gargoyle head coming out of the wall like a tinny step. It’s easy to miss it, unless there are people gathered around. It is said that those who manage to stay on top of it, keeping the balance while also take off their shirt, will be lucky in love. Therefore, encouraged by the myth, boys, girls, even adults were testing their balance with more fun then success. The performances were attracting passers by from the street and each time someone was getting close to fulfilling the challenge, applauds and encouragements were filling the night. The kind of night that  I already knew will turn into an amazing memory of one of my beautiful places, finally discovered:  the old and charming Dubrovnik.

Next: Kotor, Montenegro

 

 

 

 

 

 

Croatia – Plitvice Lakes and so much more

The narrow path was going up. Every person in front of me was like an obstacle meant to slow me down. I was trying to be as polite as someone in a desperate hurry can be. I was literally running and sweating but the worse was that I had no idea if the direction was right. At one point people became very rare obstacles. I looked down from the edge of the cliff and the view was spectacular, a row of people was crossing the long wooden bridge above the turquoise water of the lakes and a big high curtain of waterfalls was opening in front of them. All in a beautiful green scenery painted in all shades. A few seconds for a photo I’ll always have so I stopped… No faces that I could recognise around. My heart was beating so hard I could hear it. Damn it! I had to admit it, my biggest fear that day has happened: I got lost in Plitvice.

Split, what a nice surprise!

The summer of 2019 have been awarded ever since winter to Croatia. My 10 years old birthday tradition demanded a new place to be enjoyed that summer. Another two reasons were Plitvice Park, present in many tops of the most beautiful places in this world and… King’s Landing. After the fatal and disappointing end of Game of Thrones, I had to see Dubrovnik.

After a short stop in Zagreb, I flew straight to the seaside, to Split. At the end of a short walk from the port, where the bus from the airport dropped me, I easily found my hotel: tinny, basic but cosy, with a little park in front where tall pines were cooling the hot July afternoon air with their dark shade and where cicadas were singing their summer hits, right next to a very fancy and pricey hotel and…. now comes the best part: a few meters away from the beach, one of the most frequented in Split. My booking wasn’t that generous with these precious details and I was terribly happy to have my expectations so exceeded.

Beach in Split, Croatia

A few minutes later I was, of course, already out in the street, ready to start counting many steps on my Garmin bracelet that day. I had a frugal beef salad in one fast food kiosk recommended by my host. Waiting for the sun to be more friendly and less burning, I wandered around, on quiet streets with beautiful old villas with little balconies nicely decorated with flowerpots. I discovered a little church with limestone walls covered with fuchsia bougainvilleas, those flowering factories that I adore. A few palm trees in its yard were making it look so like it was somewhere on the Italian coast…

A late afternoon swim and a lazy time on the beach in front of my hotel assured me that finally my summer vacation was ON. This time made in Croatia.

Split, Croatia

Evening by the Adriatic in Split

It was amazing to discover that Split was way more beautiful than I imagined. As I walked by the yachts aligned in the harbour and reached the beautiful promenade build in yellowstone and called Riva, the central stage for the city life during the day but mostly after dusk, with restaurants on one side, facing the sea, and palm trees on the other, it was obvious why Croatia is making so much money out of tourism. I couldn’t wish for more in a summer evening at the end of July then one of those places where holiday never seems to end.

I left the lively boardwalk behind and followed a song that seemed to come from a street somewhere in the back. A party? No… The 1700 years old columns from the Diocletian’s Palace, that have seen so much history, were now witnessing a wedding. And as events like this are not always seen in an ancient site, the place was now a huge gathering of tourists and wedding guests where the bride and groom, golding red wine glasses up in their hands, were the main voices of a song that all the guests seem to know by heart. This happiness was so contagious that all the people around were smiling. The toasting continued late into the night as I passed again by the place. An important day was starting early, in just a few hours, so was time to call it a day. A great one!

OMG, Plitvice Lakes

I’m not a morning person. But there are two things in this world that would make me jump out of bed at early hours: a beautiful place I want to see, that I already payed for.

Like Cinque Terre in Italy, like Benaghil, the beach inside the cave in Portugal and like so many other beautiful places I heard about before seeing them, Plitvice was a little obsession. I wanted to get there.

Split at 7am was something I wouldn’t normally enjoy. Fresh and laid back, like all places by the sea in the morning. I arrived at the meeting point 10 min earlier. To avoid the hustle and bustle I payed for a small group tour to take me to Plitvice, 250km from Split.

At about 11am we were in front of one of the entrances in the national park. The parking lot was packed with big buses bringing tourists from all the cities on the coast, also from Dubrovnik and even as far as Zagreb. A few tourists who didn’t had a tour booked and came by themselves were trying to buy entrance tickets. They were told to wait and see, at that hour all tickets were already reserved by the tour operators. The joy of summer high season…

– The authorities had to limit the daily admissions to the park, they had to, the place was too crowded before, our guide told me.

Then, with a little map of the itinerary in the hand, we were directed to the tourist bus. After a short ride, we reached the starting point. I looked at the map… I’m terrible with these things and space orientation in nature. “I hope I won’t get lost here” I thought, thinking about what the guide repeated a few times during that morning, “If you get lost, you’re on your own, we will have to leave at 5pm from the parking lot.” I wasn’t in the mood of socialising but I tried to remember o few of the people in the group by the clothes they were wearing: the tall blond guy in shorts, the Spanish girls, the Indian family…

It started like this:

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The more we advanced, the greener and wilder it became. Like an Avatar land of wonder where lakes with the clearest water were either reflecting the trees around or offering perfect views to their depths, where plenty of fish were moving among fallen tree trunks now covered with dark green algae. Swimming was forbidden. The Spanish girls I was with at one point, we couldn’t stop fantasying about a swim in that paradise. The place looked spotless, no track of garbage as if the thousands of people wandering around every day didn’t exist to spoil it. The park was well taken care of.

As we walked deep into this trekking paradise made of a chain of 16 terraced lakes, united by waterfalls, walkways made of wood across the water were offering breathtaking views.  My photos took time, I wanted to breath in this place and take my time so I lost sight of any person from the group. I was too relaxed to care and I still had plenty of time to enjoy this:

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

And this:

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

The place was becoming crowded and at one point we even got blocked and had to wait for about 30 minutes. The moment I figured out people were actually waiting in line to take a photo in a specific place in front of a waterfall, I went further, outrunning the crowd. I found another spot, even better.

Waterfall in Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

An electric boat inside the Plitvice park links the 12 upper lakes with other 4 lower lakes. By chance I suppose I got to the jetty in the same time as many others from the group. A short boat ride took us to a new starting point, this time to Veliki Slap, a 78m-high waterfall, known as the Big Waterfall, the largest fall in Plitvice and in Croatia. The landscape was constantly changing, from unreal turquoise lakes to forest clearings where the sun rays were sneaking in and again to lakes, this time with light blue shades, with shallow waters where hundreds of fish were swarming in peace right next to the narrow path where, this time, no one else was walking. Such a bliss! For a few minutes I was all alone, sitting in the shade, watching all those fish so close I could touch them and hearing nothing but the birds. I stopped and look around at how wonderful this place could be. Waterfalls everywhere, small and big, solitary or covering an entire wall where water was pouring down noisy on parts covered with vegetation or on rocks. The picturesque landscapes were indescribably beautiful, with picture perfect spots every few meters.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Time was running out and one of the main attractions, the Big Waterfall was close. As if all the people in the busses that morning were gathered here in the very same time, the narrow path leading to the place was very crowded. I saw two women in the group but they were too fast to follow if I still wanted to enjoy the views I was passing buy not running as if I was on a treadmill at the gym, facing a window with nothing to see. I was in a hurry now and I got a few shots from above. It was impossible to stop for more then one second since we were now packed, moving like a human snake formed by hundreds.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

I got down only to take a look from the bottom of the fall all the way to its top. A few seconds was all I had. I started running up again, grateful that most of the people were heading down and not up so I could move faster. 30 minutes left to find the parking lot where the bus was waiting. The top view of the Big Waterfall hold me in place for a few seconds in a aww moment.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

It was so hot outside. The perfect blue sky from the morning was now turning lighter. The way up was dusty from all the people walking up and down. I got to a crossroads. I made a choice though I wasn’t sure. Then I turned back, took another way. At one point the crowds were far away and I could run. 15 minutes left. Then 10. I thought OMG! Then, one minute later, oh shit! Where the hell was everybody? I saw light, a sign and I was out in a parking lot, a huge one with a few busses. Now which one is ours? I saw an information office and went to ask them. Damn it! it was another parking lot! The one I had to go was down the alley, then turn left, continue straight, then at the sign turn right… the king of answer that can drive one crazy even in a relaxed moment. I ran on the alley back again. 10 minutes passed the meeting hour. I was already thinking wether I will sleep in the woods or beg for a car to take me somewhere, anywhere where I could find public transport. I was desperate but in a way accepting the drama and looking for solutions as I was left alone there. And then, I saw in front the Indian family! They were running too but seemed to be more confident about the direction then I was. I followed them and I finally found the right parking lot, the bus and the guide:

– Why didn’t you called me to wait for you? I waited for your call…

– I didn’t think I will be in time so…. I was barely articulating the words but I was so relieved! I wasn’t going to sleep in the woods that night! And I had all the beauty of Plitvice with me now, as a dear memory.

Right now, as I write this, in my balcony back home, after a month since I have escaped my quarantined big city and returned in my hometown to wait here or better times, these memories are so sweet. From the slopes of a mountain, between two high hills covered with forests and a river, nature has been my comfort where the song of birds have silenced any bad thought and the scent of acacia flowers in bloom makes me grateful for this never expected break from a constant rush and optimistic for the better times to come.

Next: Dubrovnic and Kotor

My fave 10 Instagrammable places in Bali

Bali is so touristy it hurts. But Ohh so beautiful also it makes you wanna go back there. An island of green, with rice paddies, waterfalls, jungle views, beach sunsets with skies set on fire, temples… Endless possibilities to discover beautiful places and shot great photos. The place always does the job. All it’s left is to frame the image and shot the photo.

I searched, I read, I choose. The places that charmed me the most are these, Instagrammable, famous, visited and so photographed.

10. Butterfly Park – Who doesn’t love an up close photo with a huge butterfly?! How about 10 butterflies? The place houses about that many species of Bali butterflies, including some protected ones. Huge, gorgeous and delicate. You’ll witness as they hatch, fly, eat flowers nectar, mate and eventually die falling on the ground. The Atlas moth is the special guest of the park, a nature wonder with its wingspan up to 25cm.

Butterflies in Bali, Butterfly Park

9. Campuhan Ridge Walk – picture perfect jungle on the right, a few cottages perfectly blending in the lush vegetation, high grass fields waving in the wind on the left, a narrow winding paved trail in the middle. A perfect short walk outside Ubud that can easily turn into a few hours long walk among rice fields, small cafes and little villages. Take the time and enjoy the golden hour and sunset here.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

8. Lotus Caffe Ubud – I can’t get enough of the lotus flowers in bloom in the interior yard of the famous Lotus Cafe in central Ubud. Early in the morning you can enjoy the place in peace. Then cross the street, forget about any notion of time and get lost in the labyrinth of Ubud Traditional Art Market. Don’t hesitate to taste all the fruits you see on the stalls and you’ve never tried before. My favourite: salak, snake fruit. But beware of instantaneous addiction.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

7. Tirta Empul Temple – One of the most iconic places in Bali. Wear the sarong provided at the entrance and follow the purification ritual inside the temple. Don’t miss the pond full of huge koi fish and enjoy the serenity of the place.

Tirta Empul Temple, Bali, Purification ritual

6. Kelingking Beach in Nusa Penida – a short boat ride to one of the most spectacular beaches, not only in Bali or Asia, but in the world. Crystal clear waves hit the bright gold sand beach. Shades of blue meet shades of yellow at the base of the iconic T-Rex shaped cliff that has become one of the most Instagrammable places in Bali. Mainstream but still gorgeous. Not to be missed.

Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida, Bali

5. Sunset in Kuta beach – Bali without a sunset? No way! The suns puts on the skies a breathtaking show as it says good night to Kuta beach. I thought people are exaggerating about this. Not they’re not. I’ve never seen before a sunset that conquers the entire horizon and sets it on fire like this. Grab a green coconut, sit on the sand and enjoy the 180′ sunset.

Sunset in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

4. Besakih Temple – known as Mother Temple, my favourite by far. The oldest, biggest and most sacred temple in Bali. Doesn’t happen every day to see 86 (no kidding) temples in one place. That’s how many form the huge complex surrounded by breathtaking views of Mount Agung, still an active vulcano and scenic rice paddies and hills. This doesn’t mean other iconic temples should be missed, like Uluwatu or Tanah Lot.

Besakih Temple, Mother Temple, Bali

3. Rice paddies, Ubud – prepare yourself a little before you will be charmed by Tegalalang Rice Terraces. Behind Lotus Cafe in Ubud you’ll find a secret path. Don’t be afraid to venture among cottages and backyards. At one point, a see of green will be revealed in front of you. And that’s my favourite place in Ubud, serene, quiet, like a beautiful secret well kept. At the end of the path, surrounded by rice paddies, sits Sweet Orange Warung. Delicious lunch & the best view.

Ubud, Bali, rice paddies

2. Tegalalang Rice Terraces – the image you have in mind about Bali is probably this. Wild jungle and high palm trees surround the hills transformed in rice paddies, large terraces where white clouds mirror their shapes in the so many sunny days. A magnet for tourists, so wake up early to be there soon after the run rises and the light is perfect for photos, and you’ll have the place only for yourself.

Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

1. Waterfalls of Bali – All of them For nature aficionados, adventure seekers, trekking fans or simply beauty admirers, Bali is a piece of heaven where some of the most spectacular waterfalls found their ways through the lush vegetation of the jungle. A true paradise, Tukad Cepung Waterfall is a breathtaking beauty and represents my favourite place in Bali from what I’ve seen so far. Not just the waterfall itself, hidden in a cave, where the sun rays reach only in the mornings, but the wild surroundings and the feel on untouched nature beauty. Take a step close to the waterfall and watch the sky as the water drops cover you in seconds. Tibumana Waterfall is another beautiful one.

Tukad Cepung, top best waterfalls in Bali

Private tours are an excellent way of seeing what you really want to see in Bali, with the help of a local driver. For about 30$ a day, you’ll have an amazing time. Or rent a scooter, cheaper and more adventurous. But beware of accidents, one unfortunate event like this can let you quite skinned, in pain and with a ruined holiday.

Tip – For night street photography + a great foodie spoil, head after dark to Gianyar Street Night Market.

Street food Bali, Ginyar, chicken satay

For my second trip to Bali, I’ve already saved a few places too see, like Lembongan island, (closed after the earthquake when I was there), Gates of Heaven in Lampuyang, Ulan Danu Temple, Thousands Island Viewpoint and Rumah Pohon Treehouse in Nusa Penida.

Next: Croatia and Montenegro

 

 

 

 

Most Magical Christmas markets in Europe

How precious are now my memories of past Christmases!

Those old times when I needed a ladder to fix the golden star on top of the big natural Christmas tree, decorated with the same decorations every year, always on Christmas Eve, never sooner. Puffy bright white snowdrifts, taller then us, red frozen cheeks, that crisp cold and the huge snowflakes falling, my old wooden sled running down the hill, the delicious scent of baked cookies coming from my mom’s kitchen, the carolers’ bells outside, all my best friends from the small street that served as the scene for my amazing childhood… And I can not forget the Christmas carols my friends and I sang from door to door, in our neighbourhood, in the most expected evening of the year, the Christmas Eve. The presents under the tree come second to all these joys thanks to which I am now among those that love Christmas truly madly deeply.

And this Christmas joy takes me every year to the amazing Christmas markets throughout Europe. I love them all, some maybe a little more:

Paris Christmas Market

Paris in December, Christmas market in Jardin des Tuileries

This year Avenue des Champs-Élysées was no longer the scene of the main Christmas Market in Paris. Instead, the joy was placed in Jardin des Tuileries, a perfect location if you ask me. Close to Place Vendôme and its stylish jewellery stores, where a handsome butler dressed in red invites you to see the mind-blowing diamond necklaces at Cartier, close to Louvre, under the ray of light sent to the sky from the far Eiffel Tower, with the big white wheel and white wooden stalls serving French délicatesses from oisters and all sorts of cheese, to soup a l’onion or raclettes. Paris is always a good idea, I use to say. And a great one in December, even during the big strike. And if you get there by January the 5th, don’t miss out the fabulous Christmas tree in Galeries Lafayette, where this year’s Christmas decorations theme is inspired by the amazing bees.

Paris in December, Christmas tree, wonderland, Galeries Lafayette

Reykjavik in December

Reykjavik, Iceland, December mood, Christmas market

December in the North is special. I tested it a few years ago in Iceland. Trolls legends, myths about the elves and a land of fire and ice like I have never elsewhere. Sure it has also its dose of Christmas spirit market: an ice rink, animated with kids skating around, surrounded by a few stalls serving hot drinks and hod-dogs (I love Islandic hod-dogs) in central Reykjavik. It is very different from the Christmas mood in Germany, Bavaria for ex, for sure not so colourful and joyful but it’s magical in its own Nordic way.

Germany – Munich winter wonderland 

Christmas Market in Munich, Germany

And speaking of the German Christmas mood… if you wanna be amazed, just head straight to Bavaria! Because Germans take Christmas very seriously, probably the most serious in Europe! You will feel like a child again wandering among the wonderful stalls, every one of them looking like a winter fairytale. There was even a traditional contest held every year to honour the best decorated stalls.

Munich Christmas Market, Germany

The food is the best, the roasted almonds with caramel and cinnamon are something to dye for, the sweet hot glühwein will get you dizzy and wanting for more and the stores windows will make you wanna stare in front of each one forever.

Munich, Bavaria, Germany, December, Christmas market

Plus, there are so many Christmas Markets in Munich, I only got to see about 5 of them. The Medieval Christmas Market was fantastic, looking as if I was back in 1600.

Austrian cities and the wonderful Christmas markets

Close to Munich, there is another Christmas markets hot spot, in the very heart of Tirol region, in Austria. The white snowy Alps surrounding Innsbruck, with its gingerbread like colourful houses by the river that splits the city in half, the stalls selling baked maroons, glühwein, apfelstrudel or yummy wursts seasoned with sauerkraut, it all looks and tastes as in a mix between the Sound of Music and The Snow Queen movies put all together. A place where meeting Santa on the street comes naturally.

Innsbruck, Austria, Tirol, Christmas Market, December, winter in Austria

This is no way all that Austria has to say when it comes to Christmas Markets. For sure its capital, Wien, is among the most popular destinations in December and its Christmas Markets, found everywhere around the city, look just so Christmasy with their pretty stalls that make you crave you could buy everything.

Wien, Austria, Christmas Market, December

 

But my favourite place in Austria, in December, is actually the city of music, the birthplace of Mozart: Salzburg. This city looks as if it was made especially for the Christmas spirit. Add a bright full moon shining above its main square Christmas Market, surrounded by snowy mountains, with a choir of carol singers interpreting “The Firs Noel” Christmas carol in front of an old church and there it is, the perfect December post card.

Salzburg in Austria, Christmas Market in December

Bratislava winter fairytale

Bratislava, Slovakia, Christmas Market in December

Blackcurrant mulled wine, traditional bread and goose fat with red onion and even delicious Asian food were among the treats I choose in Bratislava Christmas Market. This city holds the Christmas mood with pride, tempting visitors from its richer and fancier neighbour, Wien, with great prices and a beautiful old town. Bratislava offers a great place to enjoy December in a great European style.

Prague – a scent of Christmas

I still remember the scent of freshly baked gingerbread in Prague. With traditional Czech music, plenty of treats and a variety of hot drinks, in a city old square that looks sublime and ideal for a Christmas Market, with the huge Christmas tree placed in the middle, Prague is also among my beautiful places and favourite destinations in December.

December in Prague, Christmas market,

There would also be a few words to say about London and Milan in December, but those are a bit older memories and for sure Christmas Markets there have changed a lot since when I was there during December.

Wherever you may be, at home or away, with family, friends, loved ones, pets or even alone, just do that: let the Christmas joy tickle your soul and enjoy it. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. And let’s not forget there is one place where Christmas lasts 360 days a year and that is Rovaniemi in Finland, where Santa’s official home is.

XOXO

December, Christmas, Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland