Kavala, (Greece)

“Ancient Neapolis (New City)”, Middle Ages Christoupolis (City of Christ)”

Don’t even ask me how did I find a flight here. All I know is that there was nothing booked for this weekend, and out of curiosity I checked what flights are there available to anywhere (via skyscanner), and this pop as one of the cheapest destinations, considering such a short notice just 10 days before. I did also never heard of such place, so I quickly checked some pictures and location, and here we are of course. How to resist such a temptation! No matter how short the overall time there was going to be, all that crossed my mind was something different: I fancy Greek food. Let’s have it in real Greece then!.

The best of all, this is a place unknown for the majority of tourists, hence you can have a great time without the hordes and tour operators shifting the hundreds of people that is generally at other cities. Here you will feel extremely relaxed and quiet, and will actually feel (possibly) for the first time, how the Greeks really live, without any strong tourist orientated mind. Still, from reading through the history of the city, I must admit this was a very important place back in the ancient Greek times. Not far north of Kavala sits ancient Philippi, founded by Alexander the Great’s father, Phillip, and where the apostle Paul baptized the first European Christian. Next to this city is the Pangaio mountain where ancient Macedonia’s gold mines were.

Later after the Greeks, during the Roman times one of the most celebrated achievements of engineering was laid, the Via Egnatia road, connecting Byzantium (modern Istanbul) with Dyrrachium (Durres), then by sea onto Brindisi in mainland Italy to connect with the Via Appia leading to Rome. You can still see great entire remaining portions around the region, just north of the city for example. As for some contemporary history, Kavala is the birthplace of modern Egypt’s founder Muhammad Ali of Egypt (4 March 1769). His house is now a museum you can visit. Continue reading

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Valencia, (Spain)

“Roman Valentia Edetanorum”, “Moorish Medina bu-Tarab”

Quickly piling up on more trips for 2018, we do also continue to benefit from destinations which are way cheaper during the low season months that would rather be very expensive otherwise. 2 weeks ago it was Gran Canaria, the previous weekend, Seville; and now, Valencia. Although all of these three destinations are repeated, it was for some a chance to keep visiting other places, while for others, it was just too many years since we were there and therefore almost forgotten. Not just that, Valencia is also an incredible beautiful and large city, the 3rd largest in Spain where a weekend is even too short time. Now I do also finally get the chance to create this well deserved travel guide for it; and I know it will be laborious and quite in-detail in the sights section. There are just too many!

Founded by the Romans, is has survived periods of prosperity and depression through the centuries. Thriving, then wars and decline; destruction, rebuilding and so forth. From a Roman province, to the Moorish invasion, then reconquered by the Christians to become part of one of the Kingdoms that once were in the Iberian Peninsula: the Crown of Aragon. It was the 15th century what is best known as the Golden Age of Valencia, when the city lived a great economic expansion, culture and arts flourished and an overall wealth that saw the construction of most of the impressive buildings still standing today from that period. Its university, created in 1499 is one of the oldest surviving in Spain too. However, from one of the most influential cities on the Mediterranean to an economic crisis following the discovery of the Americas. Valencians, like the Catalans, Aragonese and Majorcans were prohibited participation in the cross-Atlantic commerce with the New World and any trade with the colonies. This left Valencia secluded with no riches coming in, nor benefiting from it.

To my personal opinion, this city is the combination of Madrid and Barcelona. From Barcelona it takes the fascinating elegant architecture, notably in the modernist style (art nouveau), and the urbanism; a perfect grid of orthogonal streets and avenues (although this is also traditional in Madrid and in any city in Spain during the late 19th early 20th century extensions). From Madrid it takes a vibrant and thriving life, day and night; and that feeling of a great big capital city. Nowadays, although the capital of the autonomous region of Comunidad Valenciana, it was for a brief period in the summer of 1812 the capital of Spain when Joseph Bonaparte moved the Court here; and then again, between 1936 and 1937 during the Second Spanish Republic. Continue reading

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Seville, (Spain)

“Roman Hispalis”, “Arabic Ishbiliyya”, “NO8DO: It has not abandoned me”

After so many years, 8 already, it’s finally time to return to one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in my life: Seville. Sadly for such a short time, a weekend (well the usual through the year with the weekend trips anywhere in Europe), but for a city like Seville, please reconsider you time. 2 days is definitely too short, at least 3 days will be the best; still, for a first timer, you can skip entering the Alcazar which will take half of your day and if too tight, skip entering the Cathedral, then a weekend will be just about right, however on behalf of missing two unique masterpieces.

What we did not do the last time was entering to the Alcazar, hence why this was a priority in this trip. And since we visited the Cathedral and climbed up the Giralda tower back then, there was no need for repeating on this occasion. Making such arrangements meant we could re-visit the entire city in all the time we had; and of course now, having the chance to finally create a proper travel guide which I never did for Seville in my blog. I know it will be a harder job once I reach the listing of sights to visit and what to do. That will be a long list definitely, but will try my best to group them by districts/areas and follow the best and most optional route as I generally do for anyone to freely enjoy.

Consider the entire city as an open museum, because it really feels like this, same way as you can say for Rome, Prague, Vienna or Paris. And it’s home to one of the world’s largest monumental historic town. At every turn you will find a piece of history in the puzzle when Spain was once the most powerful and largest empire on earth. The capital city for the New World that was being discovered; the city from where any expedition and trade to/from the colonies will start and terminate, and the port of call where all the wealth and riches from the colonies would arrive. Continue reading

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Gran Canaria, (Spain)

The Eternal Spring Island

As pretty much similar to what we are doing from few years ago till today, travelling to the Spanish islands, especially to the Canaries is great during low season months between October until beginning of March. It is almost guaranteed you can find a great flight deal, and this time was not different at all. With Gran Canaria, this is another island to tick off from the list, leaving just two more left to visit to complete them all (as of January 2018). But generally finding some further “impossible” to beat deals to at least the islands we’ve already been anytime during these months, it’s impossible to resist temptation. But be quick, such fares do not last long.

This was the second time we fly to Gran Canaria, and knew this was not a beach holiday at all, but an usual for what we tend do on a weekend trip, a short city break. Back in 2016 this was to the capital city Las Palmas and the nearby villages of the central-north part of the island. And in this occasion, the southern half of the island making the base in Maspalomas. But if you are looking for a beach break middle of winter elsewhere in Europe, this is your best option. Here in the Canaries you have a guaranteed weather of 24 degrees every day, while Gran Canaria seems to be the most favorable island in the world for its climate, hence its nickname “eternal spring”. It is common to see the New Year’s celebrations in the news how people is having a bath in the sea. However, sun is not completely guaranteed. This is a very green island too, and very mountainous therefore it’s good you know the northern half of the island is the rainy one, while the southern half is the sunnier one home to the famous resorts of Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles.

It is an unusual fact to discover majority of the tourists coming to the island do never visit beautiful Las Palmas. All they seem to know is Maspalomas, Mogan and nothing else. This were good news to us to be honest, and it applies in the same way to Palma in Mallorca. With millions of tourists coming yearly, it’s great to enjoy the big city without the hordes and instead having a more laid back feeling enjoying the life as the locals do. In the neighbouring islands of LanzaroteTenerife or Fuerteventura for example, this is not the case because are islands that people come to visit north to south, east to west for their unique volcanic landscapes. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 01. January, 10. November, 2016, 2018, Short Trips, Southern Europe, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Santiago de Cuba, (Cuba)

“Rebels yesterday, hospitable today, always heroic”

Reaching our last point in our tour through Cuba, arriving from Camaguey into Santiago de Cuba. 3 more nights here, before returning to Havana for one last night full day before the start of our way back to Europe, to the winter once again. That’s as usual the hardest part in this kind of trips we generally do from the end of December to the middle of January escaping the cold for a hot place in the sun. Thereafter, it will be a while until the next proper longer holiday, (Easter time), but first, plenty of the usual weekend trips around Europe, easy and fast to reach.

Santiago is the second largest city in Cuba, and was the first capital in the island right after the Spanish foundation in 1516. Surprisingly, from this period there is one house completely preserved. It is said to be not just the oldest house in Cuba, but in the Americas from the colonial times still standing! It was the home of the first Spanish governor in Cuba, Diego Velazquez de Cuellar. But there’s more, and plenty more to see and do in one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities in the country. The cathedral for example, was the first one built in the island too, and so the first museum in Cuba, and the first copper mine in the whole of the Americas.

The city is also very well known for being the birthplace of the world famous rum brand Bacardi, which was started by the wealthy Catalan from Sitges, Facundo Bacardí Masso in 1862 who emigrated to Cuba. In the very same building you have now the museum that displays the extensive art collection of the Bacardí family. And lastly, an event that changed the history of Cuba forever. It was January the 1 of 1959, when Fidel Castro proclaimed the victory of the Cuban Revolution from a balcony in the City Hall. These are just a few facts of what you are about to experience in the city, and why it really should ranks high if you ever consider a trip to Cuba. This country is not just about Havana and Varadero, but so, so much more! Santiago was a fascinating end point in our tour which we are glad to have done and include. Continue reading

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Camaguey, (Cuba)

“Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe”

Continuing along the east and towards our farthest and last point in our trip through Cuba, we leave behind Santa Clara in another longer but comfortable bus journey with Viazul for a one last stop in the way: Camaguey. Another of the impressive colonial masterpieces of Cuba, listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The third largest city in the country after Havana and Santiago therefore expect to spend a little longer than in previous smaller cities. Our overall stay here was 2 nights and a day and a half in full to enjoy the time. Arriving that late at night from Santa Clara, and having to depart towards the evening for Santiago, there was no other way around than making here a small base, having some bumper time just in case anything was not coming as originally planned like for example if not being able to take the next bus to Santiago, then at least, having the time to seek for an alternative like taking the train instead, or other possible way.

To us, what was originally planned worked well, and the day and a half in the city was about right. Yes it’s true a day is well enough, having the little extra becomes sometimes a “luxury” in such a trips we do where we usually end up running from one place to another in order to fit as much as we can, way more than anyone can even think! But here in Cuba I do strongly recommend you to take your time and enjoy the quiet life and lazy living. The simple fact of entering one of these ancient bars for a drink it’s already as fulfilling as the sightseeing itself.

Camaguey is a proper exception not just in Cuba but across the “New World” in what relates to urbanism. It is one of the few examples where the streets do not follow an orthogonal grid but instead these are a maze of bendy streets, small and narrow in most of the cases with rarely any order at all. The entire old town is as such, however the newer extensions of the 19th and 20th centuries surrounding the historic core do all follow the perfect orthogonal grid. It is easy to lose the consciousness of orientation and to follow an ideal sightseeing route. Continue reading

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Santa Clara, (Cuba)

“Cayo Nuevo”, “Dos Cayos”, “Villa Nueva de Santa Clara”, “Pueblo Nuevo de Antón Díaz”

Leaving behind the second main base in Cuba, Varadero; we do start making our way all the way to the east towards Santiago de Cuba however, with 2 middle stops. First, Santa Clara; city that we did briefly visit some days ago in our busy organised tour there including Trinidad and Cienfuegos; and secondly, Camaguey. Although we could have done the trip all the way from Varadero to Camaguey, it was physically impossible due to the poor bus services in the country hence this was the only possible way fitting our needs and route, a stop over in Santa Clara which in any case, worked great for better enjoying this time without rushing a proper visit, and giving us some bumper time in case anything would not have come according to plan.

It was anyway a short time to be honest. Mostly to have a night in between and rest, enjoy a lazy breakfast on the day which was the half-way of our trip in Cuba, and spend the morning and afternoon until the next bus departure towards Camaguey at 19.00pm. Plenty of time, but in a very charming city although pretty much anywhere in Cuba is charming and nice.

Like any city in Cuba, or anywhere in the “New World”, cities were created following a perfect urban plan of orthogonal street grid and squares, where the largest one, Plaza Mayor, would be the centrepoint for politics, religious, entertainment and shopping activities. Santa Clara is no exception, and it is actually one of the best and finest examples with beautiful constructions all over and its spectacular theatre. Elsewhere, churches, colonial and neoclassical constructions complete the central streets, yet beyond, the situation changes for a more deteriorated and run-down state. This is the unfortunate double reality of Cuba, where people have not too much for living, at poor standards and building crumbling down.

Continue reading

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Cienfuegos, (Cuba)

“The Pearl of the South”, “One Hundred Fires”

As last on this busy day tour from our base Varadero to Santa Clara, then Trinidad; now finally we arrive to another of the Cuban masterpiece cities: Cienfuegos. Another colonial dream where time yet again stood still. In this case, a city bigger than Trinidad, with more to see however a bit more unfortunate for us that it’s the last we visited for today hence not too much time to be honest. We missed just couple of hours more, although we could not really make it either since it was getting dark when we departed back to Varadero. Anyway, it still worked great for us in being able to enjoy once again another unique and fascinating place. A city entirely listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is the only city in Cuba not founded by the Spanish, but the French instead. Yes, possibly a fact very few people will know. As such, its urbanism is a bit different to any other city in the island, with wide streets perfectly planned; although still following the same traditional Spanish orthogonal grid system. Thereafter under the Spanish colony, all influenced the style and charm. It was one of the last cities to be founded in Cuba too.

Starting by one of its nicknames, the Pearl of the South (La Perla del Sur), it’s then not complicated to understand such a name and why, while the UNESCO describe it as the best extant example of early 19th century Spanish Enlightenment implementation in urban planning. There is nowhere else in the Caribbean a place with such a huge amount of neoclassical architecture as is in this city. Now it’s not difficult anymore to predict what to expect when visiting Cienfuegos and probably what’s now in your mind would be why not to plan a bit longer visit of at least an entire day for it, and not just few hours as was in our case. Continue reading

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