My Story of Côte d’Azur part 3

Cannes

Cannes, another Royal of the coast, some 30 minutes away by train from Nice, was our last day trip in France. 

Sunday morning, we headed to the Nice Ville train station one last time, bought return tickets to Cannes, and boarded a much emptier train than the one that took us to Monaco a day before. Which meant I had a window seat and full view of the Mediterranean, so naturally I plastered my face to the window and only moved when we reached our destination. 

Marche Forville

We got off in the central area of Cannes and proceeded in the general direction of the sea, but also in search of the Marché Forville (Forville Market), one of the largest and most popular markets in Cannes. When we got there, it was busting with people. The stalls had everything from fish to vegetables, fruits, and flowers and despite my general discomfort when visiting markets, I very much enjoyed it. Around the market, there are some cafes and restaurants, where you can have a bite and we thought we’d come back later for lunch. 

We continued our way to the sea but had to go around the finish line of a semi-marathon taking place at the time. It was interesting to see people crossing the finish line, being cheered on by their loved ones. It gives one a sort of thrill, even if you’re not participating. I and running are not on the same track (pun intended), but I’ve always admired people with the will to do such feats. Are they crazy for running so many km? Maybe. Are they happy and get a confidence boost and hype themselves up every time they pass the finish line? I’m 100% sure they do. Cheers to them!

Part of the beach in Cannes

We went to the end of the pier, where ferries leave for the Islands of Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat. We decided not to go there and instead took a long walk all the way to the other side of the promenade aka the Boulevard de la Croisette. Before getting there, we passed the famous convention center, Palais des Festival, where the Cannes Film Festival takes place. 

The weather was really warm that day with no clouds and the wind wasn’t blowing at all in Cannes, so it was perfect for sunbathing. If only we’d been prepared. The beach in Cannes is split into smaller private patches, belonging to the hotels on the other side of the Croisette, each with a terrace, bar, or restaurant. Among the hotels, there are also high-end stores and luxury brands you can shop from. 

Rue d’Antibes

We stopped where the promenade seem to come to an end and spent some time on the rocks, relaxing and taking pictures and videos. 

We then explored the streets a bit more and went back to the market. Unfortunately, all the cafes around it were completely packed, so there was no way we could find a table corner to sit at. After looking around a bit more, we decided to go back to Nice. 

So, overall, what to do in Cannes?

1.         Visit the Islands of Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat

If you’re not planning to visit any museums or spend too much time shopping in Cannes, you can definitely afford going to one of the Islands. Sainte-Marguerite holds a fort and Saint-Honorat a monastery. If you have more than one day in Cannes, you can probably visit both. 

2.         Check out Marché Forville

Whether you’re shopping or just visiting, the hustle and bustle, the colours, and the scents are worth it. 

3.         Sunbathe

Although most of the beach seems to be split between the hotels, there are public patches too, so you can enjoy some time in the sun. Besides, the sand is the fine kind, as opposed to the rocky beach in Nice. 

4.         Walk the Croisette promenade

Enjoy the seaside walkway, have a sit on one of the blue chairs, maybe bring a book to read and just relax.

5.         Check out the shops on Boulevard de la Croisette

Whether you’re actually shopping or just browsing around, it’s worth a look-up. Also, check the street parallel to this boulevard, Rue d’Antibes, and really all the streets in-between. It’s a sort of luxury shopping heaven. 

Cafés in Charles de Gaulle Square

A note:

For those of you travelling on a budget, Cannes seemed to be the most expensive of the “holy trinity” of Côte d’Azur. Now, I might be wrong, since I spent so little time there, so don’t take it for granted, but thought I’d share my impression. 

The end

This concludes my 3-part story of Côte d’Azur, a trip I’ve been meaning to take for a long time and that’s been “planned” in my head for at least 2 years now. I’m glad it finally happened and am very happy with the result. I would return anytime.

If you’ve missed the first two parts, you can read them here: Nice and Monaco.

My Story of Côte d’Azur part 2

Monaco: The Prince of the Holy Trinity of Côte d’Azur

Why “The Prince” you might wonder…well, I thought it fit as we’re talking about the Principality of Monaco, a micro-state, located on the Côte d’Azur, some 15 km away from the Italian border. So, Monaco is a sovereign city-state, a constitutional monarchy, led by Prince Albert II. 

Now enough of the history/geography lesson, let’s get to the travel part. As you might recall from My Story of Côte d’Azur part 1, I was staying in Nice and went to Monaco for a one-day trip. 

View of Monaco from the hill

How I got there:

By train, of course. For those of you who’ve been reading my posts so far, you know I usually choose the train to travel between cities as at least in some European countries, it seems like the best option. In this case, a return ticket from Nice to Monaco was around 8 euros and took about 20 minutes. It was a Saturday morning and the train was packed, but with the trip being so short, it didn’t really matter.

TIP TIME: if you’re buying tickets from the machines, you only need to scan their barcodes at the entrance to the platform. If you’re buying them from the ticket office, you have to stamp them in the yellow boxes (also found at the entrance to the platform, or, in some cases, on the platform). Trains run every hour and you can also buy tickets from online platforms or apps such as http://www.thetrainline.com or http://www.omio.com.

A pigeon casually standing on one of the statues in the Palace Square

Upon our arrival at Monaco train station, we headed up to the Palace. The state of Monaco has several wards or “neighbourhoods”, and one of them is Monaco-Ville or the “Old” Monaco, where you’ll find the Palace of Monaco, the Cathedral of Monaco, the Gardens of Saint Martin (Jardins de Saint-Martin), and the Oceanographic Museum. You’ll also get beautiful panoramic views of Monaco from the hill. 

TIP TIME: make sure you closely check the signs on the route to the Palace and do not trust google maps. However, if you do get a bit lost and go around the hill instead, you’ll find a mini-zoo, the Museum of Stamps and Coins, the Prince’s private car collection, and the Naval Museum. So, not really a loss there, depending on how much time you have.

Front of Monaco Cathedral

After taking enough pictures to last us a lifetime in the Palace Square, we started downwards to the Cathedral, which we entered briefly, and then to the Oceanographic Museum, which I was set on visiting. 

A one-day ticket to the museum is 16 euro and can be bought online, at the ticket office located near the entrance and at ticket machines, where we bought them from (without having to wait in line). The museum holds an aquarium with many types of fish and other sea creatures including a turtle. You’ll also find an interesting exhibit with interactive props and games, that both adults and children will enjoy. They’ve also set up a space with video projections that will make you feel as if you’re in the ocean. Absolutely gorgeous. 

One of the magical jellyfish in the huge tank at the Oceanographic Museum

After the museum, we made our way down to the port, in the neighbourhood La Condamine. We spent some time watching people having fun at a funfair and wondering how are they even able to walk after being launched into the air, spun around, turned upside-down, and dropped from oh, so many meters high…

From the water walkway, we turned to a more touristy area full of cafes and restaurants, where we stopped for a burger and fries at Cheesegrubers. Not your usual French menu, for sure, but the food was very good. After that, we headed to Monte-Carlo, another, very famous, Monégasque neighbourhood, where the casino is located. The whole area around the casino is filled with high-end shops like Dior, Gucci, Chanel, etc. In front of the casino is the Casino Garden and the Jardins de la Petite Afrique (Gardens of Small Africa). You can go around the casino to reach the seafront walkway, which we did and then made our way back to the train station and eventually, Nice.

The Casino of Monte Carlo

So, here’s a list of things to do/see in Monaco:

1.         The Palace of Monaco, The Cathedral of Monaco, and The Oceanographic Museum

These are must-see and can be visited in one go. But be ready to feel exhausted at the end as there’s plenty of walking involved.

2.         The zoo, The Museum of Stamps, Prince Albert’s Private Car Collection, and the Naval Museum 

If you’re staying in Monaco for more than a day, these can also be visited in one go. If I had more time, I would’ve definitely added them to my list.

3.         Walk around the port and check out the streets with cafes and restaurants.

4.         Go to the Casino.

5.         Pick some of the beautiful gardens around to take a walk and relax: Jardins de Saint-Martin, Jardins de la Petite Afrique, Jardin Japonais – Princesse Grace, Jardin Exotique de Monaco (this one is temporarily closed)

Beautiful flower in the Casino Garden

All in all, Monaco is royalty among places to visit and not because of money and fame, but because despite it being a tiny state, there’s still plenty to visit and get fascinated by. It’s hard to explain the happy-peaceful feeling it gave me, but you might experience it too while visiting. 

My Story of Côte d’Azur part 1

Nice: the Queen of the Holy Trinity of Côte d’Azur

I finally made it to France! It’s been forever since I spent half a day on Cote d’Azur back in high school and ever since I’ve been dreaming of going back for a proper visit. Although the entire coast is gorgeous and I’m sure each small town has its charm, I feel like Nice, Monaco, and Cannes form the “Holy Trinity”. And my story starts with Nice.

We flew to Nice and found good accommodation there, very near the train station, at Hotel du Midi. We opted for a room without breakfast included, so instead, we grabbed fresh baguettes each morning from the boulangeries nearby. There was basically one at each corner, so no chance of starving. 

Statue of Apollo in Massena Square (he’s got horses on his head)

TIP TIME:

From the airport, you can take tramway 2 to the city center. The ride takes about 30 minutes and tickets can be bought from the far right end of the airport at 1.5 euro. You are required to stamp your ticket on entering the tram. The ticket is valid for 74 minutes from stamping. 

A first look at Nice:

We got to Nice city center in the afternoon and walked around till we got to the seaside walkway: Promenade des Anglais. Nearby is the most popular market in Nice: Cours Saleya. Besides stalls with different products on different days (flowers, produce, fish, antiques), the place is also lined with restaurants. We sat down at Chez Freddy, where I had a giant Niçoise salad and my partner enjoyed 1 kg of mussels with fries. Both dishes were very tasty and I was surprised to like the salad so much since I’m usually not a big fan of salads. So, 10/10 I would recommend trying a Niçoise salad in its hometown. 

Street of the Old Nice

After wandering some tiny streets in Old Nice we got back to the promenade, took more pictures, then slowly made our way back to the main street and the hotel to get enough rest for the following day, reserved for a visit to Monaco. But I’ll tell you all about that in part 2 of this story. For now, we’re sticking to Nice, where we also spent the last day of the trip. 

Here are some things you can do while in Nice:

  1. Stroll down Promenade des Anglais

I’ve already mentioned this one, but it’s truly a must. And if the weather is nice and sunny as it was for us, it’s a delight.

A tiny part of Promenade des Anglais
  1. Visit the Matisse and Marc Chagall Museums. 

Matisse was unfortunately closed while we were there and we were too exhausted for Marc Chagall, but if you are into art museums, you should definitely check them out.

  1. Go up Castle Hill or Colline du Château

This is a small hill at the end of Promenade des Anglais, with an artificial waterfall at the top. Besides the waterfall, you’ll get beautiful panoramic views of the city below. We went there on our last day in Nice and I enjoyed it very much. There are also some cemeteries you can visit and marvel at the angel statues all around. 

The waterfall at Castle Hill
  1. Check out Port Lympia

On the other side of this hill are the Port of Nice and a side of the city less populated by tourists, which is also worth a stroll.

  1. Hike to Parc du Mont Boron

If you cross the port, you’ll find another, bigger hill that holds Parc du Mont Boron and Fort du Mont Alban. If you have more time and enjoy outdoor activities, this could be a good option for you.

View of Nice from Castle Hill
  1. Spend time at the beach

Although it was the end of October, the weather was very nice, with around 22 degrees Celsius during the day and no clouds, so many people were sunbathing or simply spending time at the beach. 

A sneak peek of the beach in Nice

What and where you could eat in Nice:

I told you about Niçoise salad, which of course, as its name suggests, has its origins in Nice, so what better place to try it than here? Most restaurants serve it, but I suggest you check out a few different areas before deciding on one, as depending on the location you’ll see some pretty big price differences. 

Niçoise salad at Chez Freddy

On Sunday night we had dinner at a small french restaurant, right across from our hotel. We’re always looking for small restaurants, hidden on small streets, that usually only locals know about and this was perfect. Voyageur Nissart had a short, one-page menu with entrees, main course, and desert, about 4 of each. I believe the menu changes either daily or weekly though. We had a dish with fish on a bed of eggplants and I tried an interesting desert: figs in red wine – delicious. While we were there it got pretty crowded, so if you plan on going, better make a reservation. 

Figs in wine at Voyageur Nissart

But other than this, the main street has some restaurants along with big chain fast food places, Old Nice is full of many restaurants with many different cuisines, not just French and you’ll also find a conglomerate of eateries on Rue Massena, near the city centre. 

And of course, let’s not forget about French pastries and the boulangeries – found at almost every corner, the smell of bread and pastries lures you from a distance and you have to try as many products as possible. Besides the morning baguettes, we also had the traditional croissants with butter and a tasty coffee cream roll. 

Coffee cream roll

Hope you’re not drooling as much as I am at this recollection. Stay tuned for our next stop: Monaco: one of the Kings of the Holy Trinity of Cote d’Azur – coming soon.

My Story of Prague, Czech Republic

I’m going down memory lane again, recalling a trip I took in the autumn of 2018. A lifetime ago. And yet, with the last few years feeling like a blur, maybe it wasn’t that long ago. We’ll see how well my memory serves me. 

I’ve only spent two days in Prague, hardly enough time to properly enjoy it, but still plenty to fall in love with this beautiful city. Having so little time, I chose to wander its streets instead of visiting museums, with a few exceptions, of course.

Getting acquainted

I remember the hotel was in one corner of The Old Town Square, an old building with a classical vibe and windows that looked over the park. The Astronomical Clock was being renovated and yet tourists were flocking to see it, despite it being covered. Being one of the most famous tourist attractions, there are many cafes and stores around it and people queue to get sweet chimney cakes filled with candy and cream and chocolate any other sweet you can think of. Yum!

The Old Town Square

We spent some time in the Old Town Square taking pictures and admiring the beautiful architecture, but steered clear from the giant chimney cakes, thinking it would have been a pity to waste half of it, as they were quite big, though I’m sure they were delicious.

We strolled down the streets and got to the famous Charles Bridge and up to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, which we actually visited – a truly impressive piece of gothic architecture. 

St Vitus Cathedral

One of the roads leading up to the castle was also lined with a bunch of food stalls, so we had to try some wurst – delicious. Apparently I can steer clear of sweets, but never of salty foods 🙂

In the evening, we took a stroll down the river Vltava walkway and stopped for dinner at a hip restaurant where the food was simply wonderful. The restaurant is called Kavarna Velryba. I’ll leave you a picture of the food.

Dinner at Kavarna Velryba

Discoveries

The following day we visited Klementinum, a large historical building complex that holds one of the most beautiful libraries in the world: The Baroque Library. Yes, that is the main reason I chose to visit this complex. There are guided tours that take about 50 minutes, so you get a better understanding of what you see. 

View of the city from Klementinum

After this, we took a bus to Troja Castle, located across the street from the Zoo and the Botanical Garden. So, if you have a full day, and aren’t too tired of walking, you can check out three tourist attractions. 

We chose to only go to Troja Castle, as we only had a few hours, but I really enjoyed it. The castle is more like a big mansion, in terms of architecture, and it holds an exhibit of art pieces. What I fell in love with were the castle grounds. Vast garden and apple orchard. You can walk around, take pictures, rest on a park bench and relax. 

Troja Castle

Going back into the city, we decided on another stroll and found a nice chocolate cafe on one of the winding streets: Choco Café U Červené židle. We had hot chocolate. What was interesting was that you could ask for a certain type (milk, dark) and combine it with forest fruit or nuts. IT WAS NUTS. Probably one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had.

The end

On that delicious note, I conclude my very short and vague story of Prague. If you were to visit every museum here, it would probably take at least a week, so organize your time wisely. And definitely try some hot chocolate.

My Story of Balchik, Bulgaria

Balchik is a town in the northeast of Bulgaria, on the coast of the Black Sea. It’s popularity is mainly due to Queen Mary’s castle. Long story short: a Romanian queen looking for a pretty and quiet place decided to have her summer residence here. The castle grounds include a wine cellar, a monastery, a chapel, and a beautiful park that now serves as the Botanical Gardens.

So naturally, I’ve visited this place a couple of times when I was younger but it was only last year when I discovered the other part of Balchik, the seafront. 

Queen Mary’s Palace at night

The reason the seafront was a mystery to me was mainly that visiting the castle only, you don’t really get to see a beach nor much of the seafront walkway. But last year, with the pandemic keeping me closer to home, I thought Balchik might be a good idea to enjoy the seaside for a few days. I was not wrong. Which is why I went again this year.

What can you do in and around Balchik? Here are some suggestions:

Sunbathe

Balchik has one main beach which is a medium-sized beach, with lounge chairs and umbrellas for daily rent and a bar. The entrance to this beach is not the happiest one, as it’s right next to a big abandoned building and the overall vibe is a bit depressing. But once you get past that, it should be good. 

The beach I spent time at was a tiny one, at the Nomad Beach Bar. Although very small, it was clean and pleasant. However, if you plan on staying at this beach, you have to be a very early bird. There’s a no-reservation policy, but rather a first come – first served policy. A seat is considered occupied if it has a towel on it. What we did was wake up early, go to the beach, leave the towels and go back to the hotel for breakfast. However, most seats are already taken by 7:30 am. 

TIP TIME: If you can’t find a spot, you can try crossing the walkway to the Nomad Beach Club, where there’s a pool and lounge chairs with umbrellas that you can rent.

Another beach or rather sand patch can be found right next to the castle. However, for that one, you have to cross the street to get into the water through a stairwell that goes down between the rocks, so I wouldn’t recommend it to families with kids, as it doesn’t seem kid-friendly.

Most of the town is located up the hill

Visit the castle and its grounds

As I mentioned, the Balchik Palace is the most popular tourist attraction here and it is definitely worth a visit. My favourite part is the rose garden that has the most incredibly intoxicating smell when roses are in full bloom. 

Go to Cape Kaliakra

Cape Kaliakra is about 35km away from Balchik and can be reached by car. I think some hotels or your tour agency if you take this trip through an agency can arrange transport for you, if needed. Cape Kaliakra has steep cliffs about 70m above sea level and features the remnants of a medieval fortress. The view is quite impressive. 

One of the views at Cape Kaliakra

Dalboka Mussel Farm

Near Cape Kaliakra is the Dalboka Mussel Farm, where the Dalboka company grows…you guessed it: mussels. There’s also a restaurant where you can get fresh mussels, as well as other types of seafood or fish. It’s recommended you make a reservation, as, despite the restaurant having many seats, it tends to fill up quickly, with people waiting in a long queue to be seated. Also, the road down to Dalboka is a dirt road, partly paved, but not quite and fairly steep. So, if you’re going by motorcycle (as we were), leave it somewhere up and go on foot, it’s safer. And also, be prepared to climb back up after your meal. 

Walk, eat, drink, repeat

The Balchik seafront walkway is probably one of my favourite places. Although it can get pretty crowded, particularly on Friday and Saturday night, it has the best restaurants and terraces and it can get quieter and more intimate if you get closer to the palace grounds. I recommend daily walks. You’ll notice new things every time and find some artists, along the way, playing the violin. There’s also an open air public library where you can help yourself to some reading material, as long as you know Bulgarian.

The library

For eating, I’m not sure I found a bad restaurant yet. All of them have great food with very similar menus, most of them featuring seafood and fish, but also meat, pasta, and pizza, so there’s really something for everyone. There’s also a bunch of cafes that serve dessert and ice cream. 

Restaurant La Terrassa

My favourite restaurant is Restaurant La Terrassa Balchik, part of the hotel complex Maria Palace. Besides the good food, the service was 20 (on a scale of 1 to 10). We had a particular gentleman who served us almost every day and he (as well as his colleagues) went through the trouble of speaking to us in Romanian (our native tongue) and was very nice and helpful. 

Yummy seafood at La Terrassa

For drinks, I recommend the Nomad Beach Bar. They make very good cocktails. The Raspberry Mojito was on point. 

Raspberry Mojito at Nomad Beach Bar

Where to stay in Balchik

I’ve only stayed at one hotel both times I went because I liked it very much the first time. And that is Hotel Antik. Located in between the two beaches I told you about, it features very large, beautifully decorated rooms and a restaurant. We had a good breakfast there, which somehow got even better this year. 

Other than this, I think it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to be close to the beach, or perhaps choose a hotel that has a pool. Many of the hotels look very good and seem to be a good value for money. 

To conclude, Balchik is a great place for a short (or long) relaxing getaway. Bonus points: it’s got a lot of stray cats. Have you ever been?

Another Italian Trip part 5

My Story of Milan, Italy

We’ve now reached the final part of “Another Italian Trip”, culminating with Milan, Italy. I prefer the Italian spelling and pronunciation, so I will be using “Milano” in this article. This is one of the most popular cities in the world and somehow I felt it had a sort of “overhype” to it. 

I was here before as a teenager, spent a couple of hours in the Duomo Piazza and the Vittorio Emanuele Gallery and I remember thinking “there are too many people in this city.”

A nice little tram on the streets of Milano

But this time around, I got to appreciate it a bit more. Here’s how:

First off, you might remember from my previous story about Lake Como that we had to switch our plans because of stormy weather, so of course, we had a stormy day in Milano. The heat was already high in the morning, and the atmosphere thick and heavy with the prospect of rain. Nevertheless, we got ready to go to Piazza del Duomo and despite being only 2 metro stations away, which some other time might have seemed like nothing, we decided to make full use of the Milano public transport. Luckily, we were able to pay contactless with our debit cards. 

TIP TIME: In Milano, as in some other European cities, you have to present your metro card(or any other method of payment you have chosen) not only on entering the station but also on exiting it. So make sure you don’t throw it away and have it ready, so as not to cause a “traffic jam”. 

Piazza del Duomo

Once arriving at the Piazza del Duomo, we took plenty of pictures, noticed the pigeons that were missing from Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, and thought that even though I wasn’t interested in entering the Cathedral, we might go around it to further admire its architecture. The weather had other plans. Some huge droplets started dribbling from the sky and we took refuge in the Vittorio Emanuele Gallery. Soon, the droplets turned into a mass of water flooding the centre. 

Rain, rain, go away!

And despite it looking like it might end in a few minutes, the rain lasted more than expected, so we ended up spending some time just wandering around the gallery, waiting for the sun to come out again. 

Once the rain settled down enough to let us walk around with an umbrella (yes, it was that bad) we braved through and headed towards Teatro alla Scala, the famous opera house. I’m hoping one day to have the opportunity to see a show there, but for now, I simply wanted to remember my high school choir days, when “Va, pensiero” from “Nabucco” haunted us for 2 years straight, so much that I still remember the lyrics. 

One of the walls and towers of Castello Sforzesco

A pleasant surprise

But, the main attraction of the day was the Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle) which I did not know existed, and once I found out about it I HAD to see it. I was not sorry. From most Italian attractions this was one by far the best in terms of value for money. 

We paid, if I remember correctly, 5 euros each and had access to all museums and exhibits. We got to see lots of art, both Antique and new, decorative art, musical instruments, weaponry…you name it – it was there. 

As we exhausted all exhibits and of course, got tired in the process, we slowly made our way out in search of food, but also made some shop-stops along the way. We made a loop and came back to Piazza del Duomo where we got some sunny pictures too. 

Coat of arms on stained glass at Castello Sforzesco

The day before we’d noticed a cat cafe nearby our hotel so we decided to go there. Despite the allure of the place, we didn’t receive a very warm welcome from the staff and somehow, by the time we got seated we were both feeling quite uncomfortable and decided to leave, sad that we didn’t get to say “hello” to any of the cats. 

Even closer to the hotel, across the road, we found a restaurant with a terrace where they had a nice offer for “business lunch”, where for about 12 euro, you could choose a first and second course and also get coffee and water. The name of the restaurant is “L’Antro della Sibilla” and of course they had a whole menu besides the lunch one, so you could order “à la carte” as well. 

The food was good. I had spaghetti with tomatoes, olives, and capers and if I could get that dish every day (without me cooking it) I’d be oh, so happy. 

After this big late lunch and so many days of walking, we retired to our hotel room for rest and got ready to go home the following day. 

On that final day, there wasn’t much left for us to do. After breakfast, we saw a bit more of the Milano Centrale train station, which is quite an impressive building, and then hopped on the bus to Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport, which took about one hour to get there and the ticket cost was about 8 or 10 euro. 

The end

And that concludes “Another Italian Trip”. I hope you enjoyed these stories and got some inspiration for future travels or perhaps went down memory lane in one of your past trips. Let me know which part was your favourite in the comments: Verona, Venezia, Lake Garda, Lake Como, or Milano?

Another Italian Trip part 4

My Story of Lake Como

After taking you to Lake Garda last time, we’re now jumping onto another great lake, this time closer to Milan, Lake Como. 

Although we previously planned to go from Verona to Milano, spend a day there and then visit Como, the weather had other plans. Rain and storms were forecasted for the day we initially planned to visit Como, so we switched. 

However, this meant we greatly cut down our time at this lake, which turned our day into a sort of speed race. 

So brace yourselves for the ride:

There was no direct train from Verona to Como, so we had to change at Milano. Hence, we decided to stop at Milano and take our backpacks to the hotel so as not to carry them everywhere. Luckily, we found a hotel near the main train station “Milano Centrale” (just as we did in Verona), so we were able to do this in very little time. However, the train from Verona to Milano Centrale took about 2 hours. 

The welcoming hands of Como

We left the luggage at the hotel around 11:30, in a room that was actually the hotel staircase, where many others had left their luggage. 

Then we rushed back to the station to get the train to Como. Luckily, this one only takes about 30 minutes to arrive in the lovely town of Como. Nevertheless, we ended up getting there around 13:30. From there, we wanted to see Bellagio, so we took a “speed” boat that takes about 45-60 minutes to get to Bellagio. 

TIP TIME: There are two types of boats going from Como to Bellagio and Varenna, as well as making several other stops to the main towns around Lake Como. You can find out more about the service here.

One of the boats takes about 2 hours, the other one is faster and takes only 1 hour (or even 45 minutes). Of course, the faster one is also more expensive and operates more seldom. That said, plan your travels around the boat timetable which you can find here.

A view of the lake from the Como ferry station

Bellagio

Once on the boat, we finally got to slow down and enjoy the views. However, we were only allowed to stay inside. At Bellagio, we wandered the streets – as we do – and I marveled at how much power these Italian cobbled winding streets have over me that I could walk them forever. Of course, my feet have an entirely different opinion on this, but that’s a whole other story. It is worth mentioning that there are plenty of stairs to climb in this town. So be prepared. As charming as the towns at Lake Garda, Bellagio also boasts a beautiful lakeside walkway, lined with blossoming trees. Two grand villas and their gardens guard its ends and in between a myriad of stone houses, tiny shops, and restaurants reside. 

A small part of the Bellagio lakefront

After climbing one of the many stairs, we got some rest and enjoyed some Sicilian arancini. I mentioned these delicious rice balls in “My Story of Catania, Sicily” and I was keen on trying them again. I was not disappointed. 

After getting enough of the cobbled streets and stairways, we went back to the ferry station, got our tickets, and patiently waited on one of the benches that line the gorgeous lakefront walkway.

View of Bellagio from the boat

Once back to Como, we met with a co-worker of mine and his wife, who reside in Como. We had drinks at a nice terrace just in front of the beautiful Como Cathedral and they told us a bit about the town and walked us back to the train station when it was time to go back to Milano. 

Fun fact: I’m calling this a fun fact because I had no idea about it. However, I’m sure many of you might be aware. Como was one of the main silk centers of Europe until China took over and ran the city out of business a few decades ago. Nevertheless, my colleague remarked that some local producers have opened up shops again, so things look promising.

Como Cathedral

This is all we have

Upon our arrival at the hotel, we finally checked in and asked for our luggage. The slightly embarrassed receptionist opened the staircase door, showed us our backpacks, and told us “this is all we have” which seemed to me a sort of “if you want them, take ‘em. If not, too bad for you.” Anyways, we laughed about it and proceeded to our room, longing for a much-needed rest.

All in all, I recommend you take at least a full day to visit Lake Como and try to see Como, Bellagio, and perhaps even Varenna. For our usual pace, we would have probably had the time, if not for the change of weather. So keep one eye on the forecast and one on the boat schedule, and you’ll be fine. 

There’s still one final part of “Another Italian Trip” coming soon, with our last day in Milan when we did get that storm I was telling you about in the beginning. Stay tuned. Stay dry. 

Another Italian Trip part 3

My Story of Lake Garda

We’ve now reached the middle of our latest trip to Italy, a day spent in an area that can easily qualify for a fairytale setting – Lake Garda. 

Of course, I didn’t get to see everything but instead planned a few stops in what I considered to be key locations. 

A first glimpse at the lake

The logistics:

As I was saying in My Story of Verona and My Story of Venice, our accommodation was near Verona Porta Nuova, the main train station in Verona. There is also a bus terminal here, with both urban and regional busses. For Lake Garda, there are several buses you can take and connections to make to get the most of your visit. From this particular bus terminal, there are 3 buses. We decided on the yellow line (185) which was the shortest way to the town called Garda, from where we could take buses 484 or 483 further north to Malcesine.

TIP TIME: The tickets can be bought at vending machines found at this bus terminal. We bought 2 x 10 euro tickets, valid for a full day on all lines. You can also see some timetables here.

A small park in Garda

Garda

The bus was a few minutes late, but nothing too worrisome, and it took a bit over one hour to get to Garda, as there was a bit of traffic. But we blamed it on being Sunday. As we had 1 hour to spare before taking the 483 (red line) to Malcesine, we took a walk on the waterfront and got a better glimpse of Garda. Garda is one of the many beautiful towns around the eponymous lake. Imagine narrow streets leading to the waterfront walkway, lined with palm trees. Fancy terraces, seagull cries, and water shining in the sunlight. Need I say more?

Street in Malcesine

Malcesine

The second bus ride to Malcesine took another 50 minutes. After getting there, we went to the Funivia Malcesine-Monte Baldo (cable car) and got tickets. However, again, we had an hour to kill before going up, so we spent it winding down the streets of Malcesine. This town had a sort of older vibe to it. More cobbled streets, stone houses… The main attraction was a castle right on the shore. We weren’t sure how much time we had to visit so instead, we went around and took plenty of pictures of the gorgeous lake. We then made our way back to the funivia, queued to get in, and up-up we went! 

Castle in Malcesine

TIP TIME: Here’s how the Malcesine Monte Baldo Funivia operates: a limited number of people are allowed to go up in a timeframe of 30 minutes. There is a half-hour break between groups. The person at the ticket office will let you know what time you can go up. So, for example, if you get there at 12 (as we did), you’ll buy tickets for the 13:00-13:00 group. You can find out more here.

View of Lake Garda from Monte Baldo

The way up offers some great views of the lake and mountains. You can get down halfway up, or go all the way to 1760m altitude. Which is where we went. After the scorching heat on the lakeshore, the refreshing temperatures of Monte Baldo were invigorating. We relaxed at the SkyWalk Monte Baldo, a very nice place, with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and of course a bar. This is also where we had lunch – two delicious grilled sandwiches and coffee. I want to mention the spectacular view, but really, you just have to go there. After spending about an hour here and again, taking lots of pictures, we headed back down, as we still had one town to visit. 

Dock in Bardolino

Bardolino

We took the 483 bus back south to Bardolino. This town, although slightly similar to Garda, especially in terms of the waterfront walkway, seemed to be a bit less crowded and also quieter. If it hadn’t been for the heat, I would have stayed a lot longer, just relaxing on a bench by the lake, watching swans on the glittery water. 

Lake Garda is a wonderful place to relax and I made a mental note to return someday for at least a full week (or month) and go town-hopping, sun-bathing, and just relax and enjoy the bliss. 

A swan taking a break from paddling

Before leaving Bardolino, we stacked up on snacks and beer at a supermarket, in preparation for the Euro 2020 (football) final that night. So, that evening, we watched the final between Italy and England, from our hotel room in Verona, drinking Birra Moretti and munching on “pistacchio” and enjoying the fireworks from our window, as Italy won. 

Next time we go to Lake Como for part 4 of “Another Italian Trip”. Stay tuned.

Another Italian Trip part 2

My Story of Venice

As promised, we continue our travels through Italy with a day in Venice and a very short story. If you missed part 1 of this series: My Story of Verona, you can read it here.

After the day in Verona, on Saturday we took the train to Venice. The train ride took about 1.5 hours and it was a pleasant one. 

A Gondola Station on the Grand Canal

TIP TIME:

Trains are a good and reliable means of transportation in Italy. Delays are quite rare, most trains (that I went on) are fairly new and some have air conditioning. 

Tickets can be purchased online, from vending machines at the train station, or, if you prefer human interaction, from ticket offices, also located at the train stations. For online purchases, I’ve personally used www.thetrainline.com and www.omio.com (there are apps too).

In terms of pricing, it very much depends on distance, but also on the provider. For example, most trains in Italy are “Trenitalia” or “Trenord” or “Frecciarossa” (this one is the high-speed line). In most cases (if not all) the Frecciarossa has more expensive tickets, but it is also the fastest. 

But enough about trains, let’s talk about boats. After reaching Venice and exiting the train station, there’s a big boat station right in front. Here, you can purchase tickets for “water buses” that will take you through the Grand Canal to the key locations around Venice, including Saint Mark’s Square, also making a few stops on the way. 

Rialto Bridge

The boat ride from Santa Lucia Train Station to Piazza San Marco takes about 30 minutes, costs 7 euros and it is completely worth it. I’d say it was one of my favourite things to do on this trip. Of course, the boat was packed, with everyone flooding to the stern to get the best view and the best pictures. And yes, I was one of those people – even got a chair. So if you can do that, get your elbows up and get in there. You will really have a great view. 

Venice activities – the compact, lazy-tourist version:

We got off at San Marco Vallaresso, made a quick stop at the Royal Gardens, then made our way to the famous Saint Mark’s square, which, to my surprise, had no pigeons. None. There were a bunch of seagulls, but they weren’t flocking to eat from tourists’ hands. You’re probably wondering what’s with the pigeon obsession. Well, this wasn’t my first trip to Venice. Back in high school I went on a trip through Italy and made a stop in Venice where pigeons ruled this square. And so, I braced myself for the flutter of wings, rain of seeds, and piles of poop. I was pleasantly disappointed. However, I do hope the pigeons have been safely relocated and not exterminated.  

Front of San Marco Basilica

As it is very close to the square, we also got a look at Ponte dei Suspiri (Bridge of Sighs), probably the most famous bridge in Venice. It’s a small one, but catches the eye, by being enclosed and having stone windows. It connects the New Prison with the interrogation room in Doge’s Palace. The name was chosen to suggest the idea that prisoners are sighing at the last view of Venice from the bridge, before being imprisoned. You can walk it by visiting the Doge’s Palace

Next, we took a stroll around Piazza San Marco and admired Saint Mark’s Basilica, a magnificent structure. We decided not to go in, as the queue was literally circling the building, and the heat was already getting unbearable. After taking plenty of pictures we made our way through the streets and canals of Venice. 

View of one of Venice’s canals

Food is always good (in Italy)

We crossed the big bridge we saw from the boat at Rialto, did a lot of window shopping too and finally decided on lunch at “Al Nono Risorto”. There was no planning, but simply saw this nice garden restaurant that looked inviting, took a seat and we were not sorry. The food was good, the waiter was nice and funny and we overall had a good experience. They had some lunch offers, so you could combine the first and second courses. However, I chose a platter of fried seafood that was very big but also very tasty. We also got some refreshing local beer: “Birra Venezia”, which came in 3 different colours and flavours: white, red, and blonde. 

Fried seafood with grilled polenta and white Birra Venezia

After eating, we slowly made our way back to the train station as all the walking in the heat took its toll. 

Th-Th-The – That’s all folks (for now)

All in all, I hope you got some inspiration on what to do in a very short time in Venice, the lazy-tourist version. Stay tuned for part 3: “My Story of Lake Garda” coming soon.

Another Italian Trip part 1:

My Story of Verona

I know it hasn’t been long since I told you my stories of “A trip to Tuscany and Beyond” but I’m back with another series on Italy as I just finished another trip to this beautiful country. This time I visited Verona, Venezia, Milano and some towns from the two big lakes: Garda and Como. 

As usual, I will be talking about these locations one at a time, despite spending only one day in each, so expect fairly short stories. 

The take off:

We booked the flight and all accommodations just a week prior, which made everything a bit pricier than usual. However, the return flight Bucharest – Bergamo (Milano) was only 64 euro, which isn’t bad at all. Waking up at 4 am is at the top of my hate list, along with coriander, but we all make sacrifices… After landing in Bergamo, we went window-shopping at the mall across the street from the airport as we had some time to kill before our bus to Verona.

Castelvecchio

The bus trip from Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport to Verona Porta Nuova took about 1.5 hr. We arrived in Verona around mid-day. We chose an accommodation near the train station as we were planning to travel by train and bus to Venezia and Garda. The hotel near Porta Nuova was great and I do recommend it. It’s called Novo Hotel Rossi. Besides its great location, it was opened recently and it’s very modern and clean. 

Only a few hours to spare? Here’s what you can do in Verona:

Our half-day in Verona started with a walk to the Castelvecchio (Old Castle) which is a red-brick structure, with a big bridge and a great view. It also holds a museum, which we didn’t visit as we still had a lot of walking left to do, but if you have more time than we did, it might be worth considering it. 

View of Verona from Castelvecchio Bridge

After taking plenty of picks on the Castelvecchio Bridge, we made our way through the city centre, passing Piazza Bra and Verona Arena, which is extremely similar to Rome’s Colosseum. To a non-architecture-connoisseur and with pictures taken from the right angles, they’re pretty much interchangeable. However, it appeared that the Arena is in use for concerts, opera, etc.

Piazza Bra and Verona Arena

Our further wanderings led us to Piazza delle Erbe, one of the busiest ones, and of course, to Juliet’s House. After staying in a fast-moving queue to take pictures with Juliet’s statue and her very shiny right breast (you’re supposed to rub it for good luck), we wandered the streets a bit more. Juliet’s House is also open for visitors, but most people only go for the statue. However, if you’re a big fan, you can go up and take pictures on Juliet’s balcony and reenact the famous “Oh, Romeo” scene. 

Inside Juliet’s House courtyard

Completely exhausted by this time, we surrendered and went back to the hotel, where we ordered pizza delivery, using an app we use at home (Glovo). Surprised that the app works, we got two pizzas and asked for no cutlery, not knowing that our pizza would arrive uncut. Is that some sort of new Italian trend? Anyways, we had some fun eating and then got some well-deserved rest to be ready to tackle the following day in Venezia. So, stay tuned for my next story.