Tbilisi, (Georgia)

“Old Georgian T’bilisi, meaning warm location”, “Grand City of the Silk Road”

Coming to our last destination in Georgia before leaving for Armenia having been to Batumi and Kutaisi the days before, we arrive to its fascinating capital city for a bit longer this time; almost 3 days in Tbilisi. It worked just about right in counting 2 entire days for visiting the countless sights and 3 nights, time enough for also enjoying so much great food like nowhere else, and seeing some nightlife with local beers and drinks in incredible truly Georgia style restaurants and bars. We would have been pleased with an extra day, however that was impossible due to the tight schedule.

The countless historic houses perched from the hill overlooking the Kura (Mtkvari) River bend, the views from the bridges, and the unparalleled views from the cable car itself will be your postcard perfect memory from Tbilisi. Still, there are plenty of restoration projects going on, and many more to come, the city has simply kicked-off greatly opening more and more to the thriving tourism industry which will soon come in the masses. The potential at any place in the Caucasus is been always there, only dormant until recently. Take your chance to visit Georgia before the big tourism boom; thereafter its uniqueness might be compromised on behalf of a heavily tourist-orientated mentality.

Back on a bit of history, would you ever imagine that since its foundation in the 5th century AD it has been destroyed and rebuilt at least 29 times? Incredible fact and dramatic number. But the location says it all. Next to the once thriving and lucrative Silk Road, right in between Europe and Asia, no wonder every power through the centuries wanted to take over it. The many different empires left their legacy, notably visible today in the vast architectural collection. This is the real deal, no hesitation. In this city you will get to see plenty of the impressive Ottoman architecture the city is so proud from, among other styles such as medieval, neo-classical Beaux Arts, art-nouveau, art-deco, modernist and Stalinist. Continue reading

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Batumi, (Georgia)

“Ancient Greek Bathus”, “The Caucasus Las Vegas”

Our second destination in Georgia, the major resort in the country along the Black Sea, and largest port in the country: Batumi. It is also considered the “second” city in the country, although in truth that title is for Kutaisi. Batumi is the second most populous that’s for sure, and one of the most visited by either Georgians and foreigners in search of sandy beaches, good climate and a quite fashionable and developed city without making a big damage to the pockets. Still with every year passing, it is turning more and more expensive and attracting a more wealthy tourist. Be no surprise to find plenty of Turkish holidaying here, but not for the beach resort. After all, Turkey has endless kilometres of great coast!, but because of the gambling. It is forbidden in Turkey, but casinos in Georgia are legal, with Batumi leading the league.

Considering the history of the country, from ancient times through the different civilizations and kingdoms, this is not a city where to admire remains from the past nor the fascinating architecture in the churches and cathedral. It is nevertheless unique in the country for being the only city where a growing number of skyscrapers are arising, some of which in a very futuristic style, completed with post-modern, post-neoclassical and others that are making it a very trendy spot for local and foreign investors. A city looking towards a very bright future ahead.

It was great to come here, see all this and wondering yourself how only in the matter of just around 10 years this is a completely different city. From a rather poor past, with crumbling buildings, grey and that very communist style, to an spectacular waterfront and a meticulous care for the architecture and urbanism, all so clean and well cared it feels at some points like an amusement park. Continue reading

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Kutaisi, (Georgia)

“Ancient Kingdom of Colchis capital”, “Middle Ages Kingdom of Georgia capital”

As Easter holidays come, that generally means another great occasion for a longer trip, farther where possible and using the chance for visiting some new destinations not ever been before. Gladly I can say this time it was not an exception, and while not really heading into a different continent than the one we are living in, we traveled to the very far eastern edges, to the Caucasus: the meeting point between Europe and Asia. Starting at Kutaisi in Georgia, where this new flight route from London would take us and setting foot at what became country 89 in the list, then continuing through the country across other cities and places and onto Armenia, visiting most of its unmissable spots, country number 90. Will I ever manage to reach the count of 100 countries by the age of 35? even if this is just a day before turning 36? Time will tell.

For now, I’m simply overwhelmed and excited for being here and living this moment. One of the countries I’ve dreamed for so long now and becoming so thriving in the tourism industry, together with its neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. We were possible at the edge, enjoying every place we visited with relatively not too many tourists and as such, the real life of the people, unspoiled. However it does all point that year 2018 is the breaking point in which the Caucasus will become the next hot pot destination worldwide.

Kutaisi is the second largest city in the country, and if being honest with you, there is really not much there to see or do, nor to really feel that you are in Georgia. This was in the other hand, our arriving point, and a great place to make the first base in order to reach other cities and sites nearby. It worked too good to be true. Arriving in Tbilisi instead was not even possible on a direct flight, and was thrice the cost than to Kutaisi. Simple maths here, especially if you plan a trip similar to ours including visiting other countries where you can easily arrange for an open-jaw flight style, saving you not only time (in not needing to return to your arrival point), but a lot of money, believe me in this. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 02. March, 03. April, 2018, Big Trips, Georgia, Select by Continent | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Gimignano, (Italy)

“The Town of Fine Towers”, “Medieval Skyscraper City”

Finally the city I wanted to reach 2 years ago but could not fir running out of time visiting Cinque Terre for the first time and repeating Siena where I did not return since 2001. In this occasion, the trip was planned having as main consideration San Gimignano, and of course taking the chance for revisiting Florence, the third time in that city, however, never enough. Flying to Pisa and making the base over there was all pointing to be the perfect decision, and not only because of flying there is a fraction of the cost than getting into Florence, but also saving half the cost in a hotel there, and as last, the commuting from Pisa is easier, better and faster than if coming to San Gimignano from Florence instead.

As you’ve might have read at the heading of this guide, one of the nicknames is the “Medieval Skyscraper City”, or the “Medieval New York City”. Once you are there it is easy to know why, the many tall stone and brick towers spread across, yet believe it or not, once upon a time there were 72! Now it’s a very reduced number to “just” 14, although it is still the only city in the world with such a large collection. But why building such towers? It was all about a display of family wealthiness. The larger and higher, the wealthier the family was, like a competition. Nevertheless the past, it is today a fascinating and unique sight to see, hence its protection in being listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is way more that its towers. A wide playground for the arts and culture with impressive buildings, palaces and churches complete with beautifully preserved paintings dating as old as the 13th century. Small town that’s for sure, easy and straightforward to visit where a half day is well enough. Careful in not overestimating your time as there is no need for that, and if you are a first timer in Pisa, let me tell tell you it is then possible to enjoy both cities without rush in one same day.

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Florence, (Italy)

“Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance”, “Athens of the Middle Ages”, “Roman Fluentia”

Returning for a 3rd time in my life to one of the most wonderful cities in the world: Florence. It was year 2001 with my school for a cultural trip through Italy where we would spend 3 days in Florence, then in 2009 as a quick day trip from London where I would return to both Pisa and Florence, and back at night to London; and now, a well deserved return with some more time to revisit this beautiful city. Flying to Pisa does always work well, and this occasion was no exception. It is the perfect base to visit numerous other cities and places around as are Cinque Terre, Siena, San Gimignano, and of course, Florence, barely an hour away by train. For sure it won’t be the last in any case, but for now, it will be good enough for creating a well deserve guide for it.

After Rome, this is the next most visited city in Italy and by far, one of the most emblematic, acclaimed and visited cities in the world; while once upon a time, the most important city in Europe for the course of over 250 years. It Ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and it’s inscribed as you could imagine, in the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its artistic, architectural and cultural heritage.

Florence is the birthplace of Opera, the Renaissance and neoclassical architecture. The cathedral’s Brunelleschi’s dome is the largest built in brick and mortar in the world, and third largest Christian church in the world. With so much rich history and the hundreds of sights it is guaranteed you will have a great time in the city. Plan at least two full days to enjoy the most, never a day trip unless you’ve already been here before. It is the fact that even a 2 full days will still be too short time if you consider on visiting the many museums and galleries, which some of them you cannot simply give a miss to be honest. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 01. October, 03. March, 2009, 2018, Italy, Short Trips, Southern Europe | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lecce, (Italy)

“Florence of the South”, “A Baroque City”

Reaching our second destination for today, and the highlight of the day without any doubt after spending the morning in Brindisi, we arrive to the farthest south we’ve ever been in Italy: Lecce. A small city yet packed with sights on every corner, a Baroque masterpiece hence its well deserved nickname, the Florence of the south. To be honest I was not expecting to enjoy so much this place, nor I knew there was that many great sights and places to visit all over the city. Should I’ve known this beforehand, I would have planned a little bit better around by cutting extra time from Brindisi which after all, it was nothing special, and give it instead more to Lecce. This is another of the reasons why I’ve split Brindisi and Lecce into two separate guides, as my original plan were both in the same.

Anyway, the city is quite small and of course a day is more than enough. Any longer than this and you would not know where else to go unless other cities nearby. Its historic old town is so compact that it’s a matter of minutes from one to the other end, although that won’t be the case for a tourist, since visiting around means getting lost through the narrow streets and squares admiring the architecture and history at every turn.

The major landmarks are next to each others. starting with the remains of the Roman coliseum where an entire quarter is excavated and implemented in one of the largest squares, still being used for performances; and through a street from here leading towards the Cathedral Square, the next of the unmissable highlights.

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Brindisi, (Italy)

“Greek Greek Brentesion”, “Roman Brundisium

Continuing on the second part for this weekend after visiting Matera, Alberobello and Fasano the day before, we set off to the streets of Brindisi, the city that we actually flew into, and later in the day to spend the afternoon in nearby Lecce before returning for the flight back to London. Another great day ahead of us with plenty of sights and lots of history, beautiful corners and a nice weather considering it was March. And so, the usual “suspects” adding to the good times: coffee, ice cream, baba cake and of course, a stone baked pizza.

While at the beginning I was going to combine both cities in the same travel guide, it is after visiting Lecce that I decided it would be better to split it into separate guides. Basically, Lecce is quite an unique and truly worth it city, with lots of sights hence the best way was to have a guide alone. Brindisi in the other hand, is a small port city, very important since antiquity for the trade links with Greece and Africa across the Aegean Sea, but something very strong as of today. Linking it to the capital of the former Roman Empire is the Via Appia, the city being the southern terminus which you can see marked by the monumental Roman column still standing in place at over 2000 years since its creation. Although there were originally two such columns, the second fell to pieces in the 16th century, then taken to the city of Lecce and rebuilt to hold the statue of Saint Oronzo, patron of that city.

There’s not much to see in this city hence it won’t take you long to visit, that’s the reason why you should include Lecce as we did, or other nearby destination. After all, it’s also nice to sometimes travel to smaller cities and not “kill” your feet walking for many kilometres or rushing in an attempt to visit as much as possible. All the contrary here.

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Matera, Alberobello and Fasano (Italy)

“Most intact troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean”, “Drywall constructions”

Finally the time we’ve managed to come to this region, although for a very short time and a larger than average program to visit as much as we could. So while our point of arrival was Brindisi that city together with Lecce would be scheduled for the following day while today instead, driving towards two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, and the Trulli di Alberobello; ending up in the small city of Fasano towards the evening for a nice dinner before returning to the base for the night, Brindisi. Incredible we managed to do this all in a day, considering it was literally right after landing from the very early flight from London, hence tired and sleepy without much rest from the short night before. Quite unfortunate there were no other more suitable flights!

Glad we found these flights anyway, during the low season avoiding the hordes or tourists and high prices for everything, especially accommodation, and good to know how nice all this region in the southeast of Italy is. Definitely worth for returning in the near future, possibly with a flight to Bari instead and continue to enjoy up north from there. Our less visited part of Italy in the other hand.

So as you’ve guessed, the UNESCO sites collectors that we are, this was our plan and main aim for the trip. Matera, home to the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, fully dotted with caves and rock churches with invaluable painting works or art covering the walls and ceilings; and on the other hand something unique legacy from prehistoric techniques still in use today, the trulli constructions found in the southern region of Puglia, being the most remarkable the ones at Alberobello. These are limestone dwellings built drywall (mortarless) in the general form or cones. Really fascinating and impressive to see, and honestly nothing I could compare it to. Continue reading

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