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Istanbul - Galata and the Golden Horn

Istanbul – Turkey

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The City on Seven Hills

Istanbul, one of the greatest cities in the world since antiquity to current date, is always a treat to come and repeat. That’s the third time in my case, and will certainly be more to come. It is way too big, the largest city in Europe, and fascinating everywhere offering the visitor a great and vast amount of sights, monuments, museums and historical places. Once named Byzantium, the capital city of the great Byzantine Empire founded by the Greeks in the 7th century BC; then Constantinople after the Roman emperor Constantine the Great made it his imperial capital in 330 AD, it continued capital during the even greater Ottoman Empire. Buildings from every era are still standing in great fusion with the modern and elegant architecture, where broad avenues where laid out on top of the ancient city, Roman basilicas turned into churches, then into mosques; impressive royal residences and palaces built.

The Romans made of Constantinople the second capital of the empire only after Rome, and transformed it into one of the most beautiful and luxurious city the world has ever seen in antiquity. Embellished with monuments created in situ and others taken here from all over the empire, notably the Obelisk of Thutmose III from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor or the Serpent Column from Delphi in Greece to be placed in the great hippodrome, thankfully there still today. Other one of such stunning monuments created were the bronze horses decorating the main entrance of the hippodrome, thereafter taken by the Venetians to Venice and ever since located at Saint Mark’s Basilica; of the Column of Constantine still in its original site at the former Imperial Forum.

With many civilizations and different empires eager to take the strategic city, there’s been rise and fall periods, sieges, war, destruction and reconstruction. Too many layers of history below current ground level where every hole you dig and the history comes back to live. Noteworthy the Basilica Cistern. A spectacular water cistern described as the “sunken palace” located few meters away from the Blue Mosque itself, however, not the only cistern in Istanbul. Plenty more, however not all opened to the public.

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Read more about the article Avila – Spain
Avila - Spain

Avila – Spain

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The Town of Stones and Saints

Impossible to think, nor remember when was the only time I’ve ever been to this beautiful city. I was just a kid and never returned to Avila. Silly to think about it, how is it possible being that near Madrid and so easy accessible from here whether by train or bus, merely an hour and a half centre to centre. Considering the enormous patrimony and heritage, the only city in Spain retaining its medieval town walls absolutely complete and the city with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches and constructions in the whole of Spain, it is no surprise it became one of the first entire cities to be listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

It’s the capital of the province of the same name, one of 9 that forms Castile and Leon, also one of the less populated. Barely 50.000 inhabitants. For much of its history it has been coexisting in the shadow, where no important events have taken place other than the fights between the Moors and the Christians. It was this quietness and somewhat remoteness from other bigger and important cities that left the heritage almost intact, a city that never needed to expand beyond its walls hence never tearing these apart, a perfect medieval city with some of the finest Romanesque buildings in Spain.

Not to mention, a day is well more than enough to enjoy it in full. The perfect day away from Madrid if that’s your base. After all, Madrid can be an idyllic base in order to reach stunning places and cities at around a maximum of an hour and a half distance, most of which listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Talavera de la Reina, Toledo, Aranjuez, Cuenca, Alcala de Henares, Guadalajara, Segovia, El Escorial.

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Read more about the article Leon – Spain
Leon - Spain

Leon – Spain

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The cradle of Parliamentarism

Finally my hands are on the most awaited travel guide ever since I started my blog project. And why is that you might ask? Certainly the answer is direct, Leon is the city I was born, hence why it hosts a special place and meaning in my heart. Of course, I will try to make it one of the most complete too, as are the likes of Madrid, Barcelona or Brussels to name a few of the cities I travel very often. With Leon nowadays, it’s a different story, not only I left to study in Madrid, but then left Spain itself to come to London where I made my living for the past 13 years. Unfortunately, travelling to Leon for a weekend is not possible since there are no direct flights, nor flights to the next nearest international airport at Valladolid where Ryanair scrapped the flights to London long ago. In the other hand, there is really no need for finding a suitable airport nearby, since the high-speed train links Madrid in barely only 2 hours.

Leon is a city of over 2000 years history, and a very very rich past. All started as a small Roman camp and base for farther extend the empire up north towards Galicia and Asturias, but due to an ideal location at what became to be a cross-roads in the north, northwestern of the country, with easy access to the rest of the country, and the newly discovered gold mines Las Medulas, it soon reached the status of a city during the Roman times. This is something quite unknown to most people, however these Roman mines were one of the richest and largest during the Empire, with the gold taken to Rome. The mines are now listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and are west of Leon some 130 kilometres, beyond the city of Ponferrada, in El Bierzo region, once so rich through the coal rush years until the industry collapse in the 1980’s.

While you can admire in Leon some of its Roman past, noteworthy the city’s walls, it is not the place you come for this, but instead, to admire its impressive medieval and Gothic architecture. One of the most complete of any city in the country, being its iconic highlight the Cathedral, finest example of French-style classic Gothic architecture in Spain. (more…)

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Read more about the article Zakynthos – Greece
Zakynthos - Greece

Zakynthos – Greece

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Son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos

Time to get to another Greek island, and this time to one of the most famous and celebrated, Zakynthos. Finding such flights are not an easy task, and generally mean either horrible and odd flight times, or a very reduced overall stay. In our case this time, is the second, merely 24 hours in the island since there were no other flights at other times or dates that could work for us, unless taking “precious” days off work as holidays, but as anyone knows by now, that is the very last option. Such days are for the longer holidays hence not really keen to use them for short destinations.

Anyway, a day was good enough to have a glimpse of the island, enjoy a fabulous hot and sunny day, and the incredible Greek food as usual. That’s the second time in Greece this year, being only 6 weeks since we’ve been to Kavala. From now on it will be highly impossible to find any other deal anywhere in Greece since the beginning of the season is around the corner, so I would say it’s time to check what’s available from October 2018 through March 2019. Sounds crazy I know to plan that in advance, but hey! that’s how we manage to keep travelling almost every weekend of the year, and discover so many places in so many countries and all for a really great budget.

Zakynthos is nowadays one of the most popular islands in Greece for tourist, notably in search of great beaches and the weather of course, but the island is more than just a sea resort: nature in this case, and scenery. But for sure what you cannot expect or be looking for is sightseeing cities and villages. It is very unfortunate that the many earthquakes, notably the 1953, have flattened almost everything where only 3 structures were left standing at the capital city. Rebuilding everything had to be fast and did not care much in the aesthetics hence the lack of real sights worth visiting. (more…)

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Read more about the article Trieste – Italy
Trieste - Italy

Trieste – Italy

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Roman Tergestum

Once again it’s Italy! Yet never ever tired for coming to this fascinating country. It must be together with my mother land Spain, the most visited for sure. And even so that I’ve been to so many cities, from large to medium and small villages, there are still plenty more to enjoy and keep returning. I don’t mind even for repeating at some coming the case, there are always many corners not seen, Rome, Milan and Naples being the most renown cases. In this case, Trieste although not a new place, I can strongly feel and say as if it would be the first time.

It was back in March 2010 when after not having a positive experience in neighboring Slovenia, we decided to come to Trieste for dinner from Ljubljana. As you can imagine it was night hence not much we could do other than, you guessed it, having one of the most delicious pizza we did ever have back then, and a proper ice-cream. The mere fact of crossing the border from the rather boring and almost no life outside of Ljubljana to thriving Italy even at its tiny villages near Trieste, was already enough to enjoy the trip.

So finally here I am writing a guide for this beautiful city after the very well deserved visit. Very often bypassed by tourists who head towards the larger cities of Milan and Venice, or nearby neighboring Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia; it is in the other hand an incredibly beautiful city with impressive architecture. It is one of the rare examples with plenty of Autrian Empire architecture, hence its elegance and resemble to the avenues you see in in Vienna or Budapest, coupled with a priceless addition, the Mediterranean Sea at the backdrop. (more…)

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Read more about the article San Gimignano – Italy
San Gimignano - Italy

San Gimignano – Italy

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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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Read more about the article Florence – Italy
Florence - Italy

Florence – Italy

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The Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance

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. (more…)

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Read more about the article Lecce – Italy
Lecce - Italy

Lecce – Italy

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Florence of the South

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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