Day Trip to Colmar
After seeing postcard perfect Alsace towns on the internet, we knew we had to visit them. We had 2 days to spend in the Alsace region and there were a number of towns. So, we picked the two most popular ones - Strasbourg and Colmar. We stayed in Strasbourg at the Holiday Inn Express Strasbourg Centre, which was a 15-minute walk away from the centre.
Strasbourg is called "Capitale de Noel" or "Christmas Capital" for a reason. When you walk around centre, you'll almost every building decorated. Some of them in bows, some in presents, etc. The cutest ones were the ones with hanging teddy bears! We've been to a number of places in Europe during Christmas and had never seen anything like it.
Strasbourg is also home to the Strasbourg Cathedral - a large 16th century Gothic cathedral with an impressive façade. We had to wait in line to get into this one. However, it was worth. it.
Make sure you walk along the canal so you can admire all the colours and architecture. Sadly, we didn't see the sun in Strasbourg. However, the cute decor all over the place made up for it.
Strasbourg also has one of the best Christmas markets I've seen so far! This market also happens be the oldest market in France dating back to the 16th century.
Day Trip to Colmar
Colmar is merely half an hour away from Strasbourg (by train). Once we reach the train station, we had to walk for about 10 minutes to reach the city centre. This wasn't a boring walk. On the way, we saw Christmas décor and little Christmas markets.
To be honest, we didn't notice much of a difference between Strasbourg and Colmar. Just like Strasbourg, Colmar is super crowded and equally pretty with the same style of buildings and cute decorations everywhere.
We visited St. Martin's Church - a beautiful Gothic and the main church in Colmar.
Of course, we nibbled our way through the Christmas markets and indulged in a lot of festive food.
You can plan your visit to the Alsace region depending on the towns you want to visit. We felt that one day was good enough to see two major places.
Okay guys, I hope you're ready for this rather long post! I promise, its gonna be a good one. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from The Travel Hub (an online platform where travel lovers share their travel experiences) asking me whether I would be interested in joining them for a trip to Sri Lanka. Obviously, I said yes! We would be flying FLY DUBAI's business class and exploring the cities of Colombo, Kandy and Galle for 4 whole days. Like ... how could I refuse?!
Flying with FLY DUBAI
Fast forward, a month later, I was in Dubai in front of the Fly Dubai business class counter getting my bags checked in for Sri Lanka. To be honest, I hadn't flown Fly Dubai for quite sometime. The last time I used them was in 2010 (Economy Class), so I barely remembered a thing. I was definitely looking forward to this.
Since I had to reach Dubai that day (I live in Abu Dhabi), I skipped lunch and was literally dying of hunger! ... although I pretended like I wasn't. When I reached the lounge, I dived straight into the food while the others had coffee! Fly Dubai's business class lounge comprises of 2 floors. The upper floor has a bar and is more of a lounge, while the lower has all the food! You can guess where I was most of the time. What I particularly liked about their business class facility was the snacks kept at the departure gates. I've travelled business class a few times, however, I had never seen anything like this. The foodie inside me couldn't help but grab a choco chip muffin!
The seats on Fly Dubai were rather spacious. The leg rests do not go up entirely, however, they are still quite comfy. We were offered blankets by the cabin crew immediately after we were seated. They actually took very good care of us. For a short haul flight, they definitely had quite a good selection of snacks. There were packeted olives, chocolates, pringles and more. And I absolutely loved the dinner menu. This was probably the first time I had shrimps on a plane! After that late lunch at the lounge, muffin at the departure gate, I just had to have another meal. This was all within a span of 3 hours! Fly Dubai has also wi-fi onboard. Sadly, it was charged.
Four something hours later, we were in Colombo. We got our bags earlier than everyone else (business class perks) and were soon on our way to our hotel with Hasan. Hasan was basically our driver throughout the trip. Except for a fact that he lost his way a couple of times, he was a humble and genuine man and was there whenever we needed him.
We checked into FairView Hotel and went straight to bed.
We spent most of our first day in Sri Lanka exploring Colombo with a tour company called "Pepper Tours". Pepper Tours organize various kinds of tours within Sri Lanka depending on your time and budget. We did the Colombo's Culture Tour with them. Colombo in so many ways reminded me of my hometown Mangalore in India. The chaos, the palm trees, the weather ... all of it. So it kinda felt like home.
We started off with a visit to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, where our hosts Arshad and Dula from Pepper Tours waited to welcome us. I absolutely loved the little buddhas all over the temple.
This was followed by a tuk-tuk ride on Colombo's busy street ....
to the Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil - a granite temple with intricate sculptures and carvings. I was surprised when I saw the outside of the temple, but nothing prepared me for what was inside. If you have to choose just one place to visit in Colombo, choose this!
We then walked along the streets of Colombo looking at the vendors, street food, etc until we reached St. Anthony’s Shrine. There was a service going on so we couldn't click any pictures. And it was jam packed!
Before heading to the next attraction, we stopped at a little restaurant for a quick bite. I had a delicious paneer masala dosa and lassi! By then, the heat had really gotten to me!
Later, we stopped by a Town Hall and Dutch bell tower before ending our walking tour at Jami Ul-Afar Mosque or the Red Mosque. I've seen mosques before, but nothing like this! It looked like a structure from the Aladdin movie! In red and white, this was probably one of the prettiest mosques Id seen till date.
I was particularly impressed with our 2 hosts from Pepper Tours. They were friendly, knowledgeable and excellent photographers. They even got water and shawls for the ladies in our group, just incase we needed to cover up to visit something.
In the late afternoon, we were on our way to Geragama Tea Plantation in Kandy. The tea plantation was almost closed when we reached, and yet they were kind enough to accommodate us. We learnt about the tea process - how it was grown, plucked and processed. I managed to hear a bit about the process but was more concerned about that cup of tea I would receive after the tour!. They have a nice tea shop where you can purchase various kinds of their home grown tea.
We spent our night at Cinnamon Citadel Kandy. They have an absolutely gorgeous pool btw which we sadly didn't have much time to use. If you're in one of those pool facing room, you'll have a lovely foggy view of the river and forest.
After a scrumptious breakfast (I really needed it that day) and admiring the views from my room, we set out to see what they call the "Eighth Wonder of the World". Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress and one of Sri Lanka most important monuments. We did not opt for a guided tour and decided to explore it ourselves. After walking through ancient ruins and weird shaped rocks, we were on our way to the real thing!
Okay guys, I have to be honest here. Climbing this rock is not for the faint hearted. My legs kept quivering everytime I stopped to take a break, and I really wanted to give up halfway. If it wasn't for my encouraging travel mates, I probably would have! I stopped at various points for a break and to sink in some views, and finally managed to reach the top after an hour or so. The view from the top were amazing and it felt like the most rewarding hike ever! We were surrounded by mountains and lush greenery.
After this tour, we stopped at a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant (Chuti Restaurant) for lunch. Do not be deceived by the looks of this place. I had an absolutely delicious meat macaroni while the others tried out dishes like Kothu Roti and fried rice.
Getting around in Sri Lanka takes quite sometimes as places are located very far away from each other. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at some picturesque spots for views and decided to have dinner at a restaurant called Theva. They had a lovely terrace where we could admire the sunset, however, we got lost and reached a bit late. We still enjoyed some lovely views and a fab dinner. Let me remind us, the food at Theva is not cheap as compared to other restaurants. Their presentation is on point! And the taste and ambiance too!
After dinner, we were back at Cinnamon Citadel Kandy and by then it was raining cats and dogs ... when my ceiling suddenly decided to leak! Although I was quite upset at this point, coz some of my clothes were already went, the hotel took quick action and I was transferred to a different room.
We started this day with a visit to the Millennium Elephant Foundation. This foundation basically rescues captive elephants and gives them a new life. They have a emergency unit that goes anywhere around the country to treat sick elephants. Our tour started off with a introduction about the foundation and the life of an elephant.
We then did a jungle walk with our elephant Raja, where he basically led the way and we followed. Of course, he had quite a few lunch breaks in between. At one point, he even managed to eat a whole banana tree.
At this foundation, you have an option to bathe the elephants too. Our tour ended with a simple lunch at the foundation.
Later that day, we headed to Galle. Galle in located in the South of Sri Lanka and is more of a beach city. Here, we met Pepper Tours team yet again for a walking tour of Galle. This time our hosts were Dilip, Alice and the lovely Dula.
In 2001, Galle was was totally destroyed by the tsunami. You'll be surprised at how they've rebuilt it. Galle is full of colonial buildings, old walls and beautiful sunsets. It was so different from Colombo!
The highlight of this tour was the incredible sunset and seeing a crazy jumper jump from a rock! We ended this tour with a view of the lighthouse.
Before heading for dinner that evening, we checked into our amazing room at the Jetwing Lighthouse. Their bathroom was basically like a ginormous walk in closest! My room overlooked the pool as well as the sea.
We headed into the city that evening to have a nice seafood meal, while it rained like mad outside.
Our last day in Sri Lanka was a rather long one. We woke up at 4.30am ... yup you heard me! .... to catch Sri Lanka's popular stilt fishermen in action. We basically drove along an entire line of beaches until we reached Ahangama beach. To our luck, we spotted one fisherman here. These fishmen, btw, and not the actual stilt fishermen. The stilt fishing industry faded away during the 2001 tsunami. However, these guys do it to earn some some money. So even if its not the real thing, you would be supporting them and getting some good pictures too.
Did I tell you how beautiful the beaches of Galle are? We stopped at this "Instagram popular" beach to take pictures of this coconut tree! It was like a postcard.
After a quick shower and brekkie at Jetwing Hotel, we were on our way to another hotel. This time it was for a market tour and cooking class with Chef Anthony Dcosta. Chef Anthony is a chef of "The Runcible Spoon" at Owl and The Pussycat Hotel. This was probably the highlight of our whole trip. I believe that there's no better way to experience a country than by its food.
Chef Anthony took us to some of his favourite fish, veggie, fruit and spice markets in the city and explained about the key ingredients of Sri Lankan food. I particularly enjoyed the fish market tour. We picked up all the necessary ingredients for our cooking class. We then proceeded to the hotel for his cooking class.
At his kitchen, we learnt to make dishes like seared tuna, prawn curry, banana blossom and more. After his lesson, I vowed to take a cooking class in every country that I visit henceforth! Chef Anthony was also kind enough to share some of his recipes with us.
Of course, he cooked more than just those dishes while we roamed about admiring this beautiful beachside property. The meal we had that afternoon was one of the best meals we had in Sri Lanka! I'd highly recommend doing this market tour + cooking class in Galle or atleast trying out "The Runcible Spoon". Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed.
After lunch, we headed back to Jetwing Lighthouse were I relaxed until our flight back home the evening.
Flying back to Dubai with Fly Dubai was equally amazing, although I have no recollection of what happened as I slept through the entire flight!
If you haven't visited Sri Lanka yet, I highly recommend that you do. Its a little gem waiting to be discovered and a mere 4 hour journey from UAE. I cannot thank The Travel Hub and Fly Dubai enough for taking me there.
Visiting Luxembourg was a last minute decision. Lets say, it wasn't entirely a bad one. To be honest, there wasn't really much to see here. Clearly, one day was good enough! In addition to that, the weather was super gloomy. We stayed at the lovely DoubleTree by Hilton, which was a bit away from the city centre. However, the bus to the centre stopped right outside it.
In the few hours that we were there, we visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral, sunk in some beautiful views and munched our way through the Christmas markets. Here are a few photos from our time there.
During the festive season, we always make it a point to visit Germany somehow! Last year was no exception. This time it was through Aachen, where we stayed at Novotel Aachen. Aachen isnt as big as other German cities and proved to be the perfect stopover before heading to Luxembourg. Since we were there for 2 days, we thought we'll hop into another country as well (Netherlands) by doing a day trip to Maastricht.
We checked out 2 main attractions within Aachen (excluding the Christmas market). The first one was the Aachen Cathedral. This church dates back to 800 AD and had the most beautiful interior ever. I have to admit, we got kinda bored seeing Gothic churches everywhere, so this was welcome change. What a ceiling!
Another important building that we visited was the Aachen City Hall. It looked like any normal European style building on the outside, however, the interior was pretty impressive.
Obviously our main intention of stepping into Germany (for the 3rd time!) was to see the Christmas market. It wasn't as big as some of the markets in other German cities, however, it wasn't too bad. The market was all around the Cathedral and City Hall area.
A Day Trip to Maastricht
Early next morning, we took a bus (just outside our hotel) to Maastricht. To be honest, we couldn't believe Netherlands was just 1 hour away from our hotel! We were excited be stepping into another country ... atleast for a few hours.
Maastricht is very doable in a day. Once we arrived, we walked a bit to the tourist office and purchased a map for a self-guided walking tour. The tourist office building itself happens to be a tourist attraction! It is a Gothic building which dates back to the 15th century.
We got a chance to visit one of the oldest churches in Netherlands - Basilica of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek), which dates back to almost 1000 AD and looked like a castle!
The other church that we visited was a Romanesque one called the Basilica of Saint Servatius.
Although it was quite cold in Maastricht, we managed to walk around the old city walls until we reached Helpoort. It was a very scenic walk till these medieval gates. These gates are said to have been built in the 12th century and are the oldest in Netherlands.
At some point while walking around, we got to smell of fresh bread which led our to our next attraction. By the way, this wasn't a part of the walking tour. It was a bakery that still uses an ancient water mill in its food preparation.
Maastricht in full of cute streets, however, the highlight of our time here was the bookstore. This bookstore used to be a 13th century Dominican church that has now been converted into a modern bookstore. I'm a bit ashamed to admit this, both of us do not read! However, we had coffee and cake in the bookstore's lovely cafe and took a lot of pictures!
We concluded our trip with a visit to Maastricht's gorgeous Christmas market!
Ghent looked a lot different from Brussels and Antwerp. It felt like a sleepy medieval kinda city and had a charm of its own. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Ghent. Our hotel was a bit away from the main attractions, however, a bus stopped pretty close making it easy for us to get around.
Most of the popular attractions in Ghent were concentrated in one area ... including the Christmas markets. We visited the Gravensteen - a picturesque 10th century castle that has some amazing views of Ghent.
We even enjoyed walking along the canal and admiring Ghent's medieval architecture.
Ghent has a number of Gothic churches and we visited two of them. One was St Nicholas Church ... a 13th century church which also happens to be one of the largest and oldest churches in Ghent. The other was St. Bavo's Cathedral.
Ghent's Christmas markets are really beautiful and all pretty close to one another. We spent out free time under the giant ferrous wheel exploring Ghent's Christmas markets.
A Day Trip to Bruges
I have to admit, Bruges was my favourite city in the whole of Belgium. Lucky for us, the bus to Bruges stopped right outside our hotel in Ghent. So this was pretty convenient.
Bruges was totally different from Ghent, even though it was like a 30 minute ride away. Most of the buildings here were red brick buildings and we could see horse carriages roaming around. It felt like as though we stepped back in time.
We checked out the really cool St. John's Hospital at Bruges, which in reality didn't even look like a hospital! I mean, this hospital is about 800 years old and is now converted into a museum. We visited the wards, chapel, pharmacy, etc and got to see artworks and medical instruments from the good ol' days.
And if you visit Bruges during the holiday season, be prepared to take a lotta pictures. Each and every store here was super, duper cute and so beautifully decorated. Just walking around the place and by the canal made it all the more special.
We even checked out the Bruges Beer Museum. This wasn't one of those boring museums, because you could test your knowledge here by answering a quiz. It was more of an interactive museum and we got to learn about the history of beer and of course sample beers too!
The Choco-Story Museum was also located pretty closeby. There's not much we could here other than learn about the history of the humble cocoa bean. Sadly, there were no chocolates to nibble on at the end (unlike the beer museum).
Both the museums were located within walking distance of Bruges Market Place where there had a lovely Christmas market and an ice rink. We spent the rest of our time here nibbling on some goodies before heading back to Ghent.
After spending 2 days in the French speaking city of Brussels, we were off to the Dutch speaking city of Antwerp. Antwerp is merely a 45 minute train ride from Brussels. A friend from Belgium told us that it wasn't necessary to book our inter-city train ticket in advance, so we ended by buying it on the spot. We spent 1 day in Antwerp ... that was just the day we arrived. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Antwerp City which was easily accessible from the main station (a bus stops pretty close to the station and in front of the hotel). Here's what we did during our stay:
Antwerp Railway Station - We didn't try hard to find this place, as our train arrived here. And I couldn't believe my eyes. It felt like as though we were in one of those clockworks movies! Till now, I keep telling everyone that it was one the best stations I had ever seen. Mr. D and I spent nearly half an hour analyzing every minuscule detail of station and of course clicking lots of pictures.
Street Art - With regards to street art, we definitely had more luck in Antwerp than we did in Brussels. The art scene here is totally different. Its isn't comic street art like Brussels. These were more like paintings.
Grote Markt - Just like Brussels, Antwerp had its own central square with a town hall and closely lined buildings. In the middle of the square, was the Brabo Fountain which consisted of a man holding a hand! We loved the Christmas market in the square. Some of the buildings here were built around the 15th and 16th century.
St. Anna's Tunnel - An usual looking tunnel that runs under a river and connects two parts of the city. We loved walking over the age old wooden escalator that led to the tunnel. It seemed to go on forever. This pedestrian tube-shaped tunnel was built is the 1930's and is about 500 metres long.
Shopping Stadfeestzaal - I do not always encourage everyone to visit a shopping mall when they travel, however, this one is worth visiting for its amazing architecture. It had a dome shaped ceiling and houses a number of stores.
St. Carolus Borromeus Church - There are a number of churches in Antwerp and we pretty much had a tough time deciding which one to visit. Unfortunately, we couldn't visit the very popular St. Paul's Church as it was closed. So, we visited St. Carolus Borromeus Church instead. This Baroque church had a beautiful facade and interior.
Getting around in Antwerp is pretty simple. We used a bus to get close to the main square and then just walked around the whole time. Everything is within walking distance of each other and you can see quite a lot in a few hours.
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I am a bit ashamed to say this, but this post and a few posts to follow are from my Eurotrip in December (yup thats the shameful part). So please excuse me if you find a little bit of Santa Claus, red bows and all things Christmassy in my posts. Basically, I've been procrastinating like a boss! Think of it as an inspiration for your upcoming Christmas trip :P.
Anyway, we usually plan our winter vacation based on Christmas markets, and this trip was no exception. Last year, we visited quite a few cities ... countries to be precise. The 1st on our agenda was Belgium, and our first stop was Brussels, where we spent 2 days. We stayed at the amazing Courtyard by Marriott, which was barely a week old back then and got to have breakfast buffet for only 3 Euros per day! This was a steal. Getting around Brussels and even its neighboring cities is relatively easy. Within Brussels, we used the subway to visit the various attractions.
The first place we visited was the Market Place ... which is sorta like a central square with important buildings such as the Brussels Town Hall. It is especially beautiful at night because everything is lit up. And if you are visiting around November, you'll see a giant Christmas tree.
There's a Beer Museum in the Grand Place area as well. You wouldn't notice it at first as its well hidden. It just a little museum that shows steps on a how beer is produced. And you end up getting a free beer with your tickets. I would suggest visiting this museum only if you do not have time to visit a proper, full fledged museum/factory.
We also visited the Manneken Pis. This statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain is symbolic of Belgium. Oh! And around that area, you'll find a number of waffle shops selling waffles for only 1 Euro!
The Atomium is another fancy structure worth checking out. Its this giant metallic thing with atoms joined to each other. Kinda reminded me of my chemistry class. If I'm not mistaken, people can actually go inside those giant balls and possibly have a meal. However, we decided to admire it from the outside
And right next to it is Mini Euro. Here, we saw miniature exhibits of various cities in Europe ... basically something popular in that country, eg. Eiffel Tower for France.
Brussels is also famous for its comic street art scene. Before leaving for Belgium, I promised myself to hunt down as many murals as I could. Unfortunately, they were scattered all around the city and it wasn't easy to spot them. We ended up seeing only a few.
Another favourite place of mine was Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Its like this typical French gallery housing many high-end shops and even restaurants. I found some amazing confectionaries inside here. You do know that Belgium is famous for chocolate!
We checked out a really beautiful Gothic Cathedral known as the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula. It had a very impressive interior, however, it wasn't too different from other Gothic cathedrals that we'd seen in Europe. Nevertheless, its worth checking it out.
Personally, I found 2 days to be good enough to touch upon all the major attractions within Brussels.
Ever since I'd seen a picture of Plitvice Lakes on Instagram, I knew I wanted to be there. Even if it meant it a 2 hour journey from Zagreb (each way), I didn't wanna miss it. The question was - how do we go there? There were a number of guided tours on the internet and they were expensive. I was pretty sure that this was definitely something we could do ourselves.
We looked up on BusCroatia.com and saw are a number of buses going to Plitvice Lakes. We ended up booking a return trip on one of those. This was way cheaper than a guided tour. We gave ourselves about 5 hours at the park. Unless you wanna hike, 5 hours is pretty decent to see a bit of both the upper and lower lakes.
The bus dropped us near the entrance of the lower park. After we bought our tickets, we hopped on a boat that took us to the starting point of the lower lakes.
Even though we reached there early, the park wasn't all that empty, however, we did get a few secluded spots. The water at Plitvice Lakes is just so green and clear. It was like a dream. Whichever direction we walked, we saw something beautiful - little waterfalls, wooden paths, turquoise ponds, etc. It was hard to believe that a place like this actually existed!
After walking around for nearly 2 hours, we decided to head to the upper lakes. There was a particular picture of Plitvice Lakes that I'd seen on the internet (which I hadn't see at the lower lakes) and I was determined to find it. I was hoping I'd find it at the upper lakes. We boarded a bus at the exit of the lower lakes which took us to the entrance of the upper lakes. As most of my group mates were pretty exhausted by then, they just did a bit of the upper lake before giving up. However, I walked a bit further and witnessed some incredible sights.
The upper and lower lakes actually consist of a number of lakes, and people spend 2 days hiking and exploring all of it. It all depends on personal interest. The main difference in both the lakes is that in the lower lakes - you are kinda on the ground level looking up or looking at things that are at ground level. Whereas, for the upper lakes, you're looking down at everything.
After we were done, we had lunch at a restaurant in the park but the burger was so dry! I wouldn't recommend it unless you're really hungry. Plitvice Lakes is totally gorgeous and a must visit when you are in Croatia.
Zagreb was the last leg of our Croatian journey, and it was only included in our itinerary because we had to catch a flight back home from there. After visiting Zagreb, I completely regretted not spending more days here. It also made me realize that I am a "city girl" and not a "beach girl". It was typical European city, and it was cold ... like really cold! Basically, we had to change our entire wardrobe! We tried to squeeze in as much as we could in 2 days.
We stayed at the Hilton Zagreb which had a beautiful view of the city and was pretty close to a tram stop. Even if we decided to walk, the centre wasn't too far away (about 10 minutes or so). Being a lazy lot, we bought tram day tickets to get around. Since none of us were the normal "museum" kinda people, we decided to explore some quirky museums in the city as well as cafes, churches and markets.
The first museum that we visited was the "Museum of Broken Relationships". As weird as it sounds, thats what the museum was all about. In this museum, you'll find artifacts submitted by men/women who's relationship didnt turn out ... well, as well as the story behind it. It might sound sad, however, its quite amusing too.
The other museum that we visited was the "Museum of Illusions". If you have already visited the Trick Eye Museum anywhere in the world, I wouldn't recommend visiting it. The artifacts are comparatively less as compared to Trick Eye. Of course, if you still want to have some fun, you can visit.
Zagreb is divided into 2 parts - "Upper Town" and "Lower Town". We took the funicular to the upper down (coz we didn't have all the energy to walk up the slopes). With our tram day ticket, the funicular ride was free. This funicular also happens to be the shortest one in the world. Once we reached the top, we had a beautiful view of Zagreb. The Upper Town also happens to be comparatively quieter than Lower Town.
Zagreb has an amazing cafe culture and we loved exploring cafes and restaurants. Two cafes that we highly recommend visiting are - Kava Tava and Johann Franch. Kava's Tava's stacked nutella pancakes is da bomb! Make sure you go there on on empty stomach.
Johan Franck serves amazing breakfast. We enjoyed a breakfast plate for two! 3 of us could have easily shared it! Talk about huge portions! The interior of this restaurant will surprise you.
We would also recommend visiting Restoran Lanterna na Dolcu for amazing food and a unique dining experience (inside a cave!).
Since we were there over a weekend, we got to see some outdoor markets. At these markets, they sell everything from fruits to handicrafts, homemade cheese to cured meats .. and much more. We sampled homemade Croatian cheese and it was really good!
We visited only two churches in Zagreb. One of them was the Church of St. Mark. More than the interior. it was the rooftop that impressed us. We saw quite a few people get married in there.
The other was the Zagreb Cathedral - a 13th century cathedral with a Gothic interior.
Don't forget to visit the chapel at the Gradec Stone Gate! This tiny chapel is located where you least expect it!
The highlight of our trip was a visit to Mirogoj Cemetry. This place looked more like a palace than a cemetery with ferns all over. It is considered as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe, and once you visit you'll see why. Many famous Croatians are said to have been buried here.
When you ask someone about the best places to visit in Croatia, you may often hear them say "Go to Zagreb, Split or Dubrovnik" ... but how often do people tell you to visit Pula or Rovinj ... or anywhere is Istria? To be honest, I didn't know this part of Croatia even existed, until I did a little research. Although, I have to admit, the main reason for visiting Istria was the truffles! Istria (or the Croatian Pensinsula) is a well know producer of truffles! We spent 2 days in this region.
We decided to stay in Pula, at the Park Plaza Arena Pula, mainly because the airport was based there & because we wanted to collect points. Although, it turned out to be quite an awesome hotel ... with a private beach. This hotel just was a 10 minute ride away from the centre. We opted to use the bus, that stopped 7 minutes outside the hotel to get around.
Pula is mainly popular for 3 things:
Arco dei Sergi - An ancient Roman arch located in downtown Pula, which serves as a reminder of Pula's past.
Temple of Augustus - Another well preserved Roman structure with long columns. Unfortunately, we didn't go inside. It was supposedly built between 2 BC and AD 14.
Pula Arena - The most popular monument in Pula, built in the 1st century. To appreciate its beauty, you need to visit the arena both during day and night. It kinda resembles the Colosseum in Rome ... although I haven't visited that one yet. Once a battlefield for gladiator fights, this arena is now used for operas, concerts, sports, etc.
The city centre lies on a straight road filled with shops and restaurants on either side. We walked along and stopped at restaurants for gelato and truffle dishes.
Because there wasn't much to do within Pula itself, we decided to explore a neighbouring town and village the following day. If you are spending more time in Istria, there are a lot of little villages that you can visit. And if you're a big group, I suggest hiring a private vehicle. We were lucky because we got an excellent driver to drop us to the hotel the previous day, and ended up hiring him to take us around Motovun and Rovinj. Even more lucky, because he looked like Adam Levine!
Road-tripping to Motovun & Rovinj
Motovun is a small village situated on a hilltop, located an hour away from Pula.
It also happens to be the HOME of truffles ... so if you want to buy or try anything truffle, this is the place. People go truffle hunting here! The village itself in small, however, the hilly terrain makes it difficult to walk. Cars are only allowed until a certain point. We stopped by various truffle shops picking up truffle paste, truffle oil and even truffle alcohol!
Everything about Motovun was picturesque - the buildings, shops, etc. Even the view from Motovun wasn't too shabby!
I even saw the prettiest outdoor vegetable shop overlooking a green valley.
A 50-minute roadtrip from Motovun brought us to Rovinj ... a fishing town situated on the sea. They say that, on a clear day you can see Venice from Rovinj. Some folks even do a daytrip(by boat) from here. We didn't see Venice nor do a day trip, instead we spent our entire time wandering around the beautiful old town.
First, we visited an outdoor market in Rovinj. I was surprised to see the way they hung chillis!
Just like Motovun, Rovinj isn't a very easy place to walk around because of its cobblestone roads and slopes. However, that didn't stop us from exploring it. There was prettiness almost everywhere! When you are in Rovinj, don't forget to look up!
Clearly, 2 hours isn't enough to see everything. That's why some people prefer to stay here. Since we had only 2 days in Istria, we could only manage a day trip. Rovinj also happens to be very touristy.
We visited Saint Euphemia Cathedral, the building with the striking tower that can be seen from anywhere in Rovinj. I assumed that this church was situated at the highest post in this town. It also had a nice view of the sea.
We spent the next few hours eating Istrian food, listening to live music and admiring this beautiful town.
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