It was a guy I met in Gjrokaster, Albania, who made me want to visit Georgia and Armenia. He said that these were his favorite countries (he visited plenty), but he decided to open and manage a hostel in Albania because he thought it had much potential. And I believe he was right.
Anyway, one year after Albania I was in Georgia.
Tbilisi, the capital, was the first stop. I was immediately fascinated by the elegant decadence of the Old Town.
We stayed in Tbilisi for a few days, I didn’t want to leave. The town is charming, food is delicious and guesthouse very welcoming.
Some pictures of the guesthouse, Skadaveli, that from outside seems to be falling down, but inside it’s all renovated and very warm and welcoming. In the historic centre of Tbilisi. So welcoming that I want to go back and just stay there for one month.
Breakfast was not included, but there was a small shop not far from the house selling fresh bread, cheese, tomatoes and eggs. The best breakfast.
There’s an antiques market in Tbilisi with many russian and Orthodox relics that I really liked. Sort of an open-air museum.
For a couple of days we walked around the Old Town, the markets, the castle, the Baths…
Public transport is quite efficient in Georgia, and moving from one part of the country to the other is pretty easy. But not to Davit Gareja, a monastery in a semi-deserted area at about 2 hours drive from Tbilisi, near the border with Azerbaijan. To go there we took a tourist minibus leaving at 11am from the center of the town. You get there that it’s very hot, you can visit the monastery and in a couple of hours you can walk around the hill where you can see some caves with frescoes that are part of another monastery. All very interesting. And amazing panorama.
Going back from Davit Gareja we stopped in a hostel-campsite for lunch/coffee/snacks. An amazing place, seems out of the world, with grazing pigs, horses, hammocks, good food, a lot of books. A place to go back to and stay for a few days, even though sleeping and eating there is slightly more expensive than in the city.
Other than Davit Gareja, we did another day trip while staying in Tbilisi.
The spiritual capital of Georgia, Mtskheta isn’t very far from Tbilisi and can be reached by Marshrutky, the public buses of Georgia.
One early morning we left to go to Armenia, about which I will write in another post…
Below continues the trip in Georgia.
Akhaltsikhe & Vardzia
We went back to Tbilisi on a minibus from Armenia. After a short wait we got on another bus to Akhaltsikhe.
Along the road we passed through Borjomi, a quiet resort with thermal waters, surrounded by nature. Having more time, it would have been nice to stop there for a bit. Backpacking it’s nice to stop in a quiet place to rest from time to time.
In Akhaltsikhe there’s a castle that has been recently refurbished, pretty but seems fake, but the town is famous for Vardzia, a caves village. Born as a monastery, Vardzia grew into a small town that could host up to 2,000 monks. A very special place, not to miss.
Unfortunately with public transport you are not free to travel at the time you want, I would have liked to be there for sunset, but we had to take the bus back to Akhaltsikhe (I am traveling on a budget, I can’t afford a taxi for 60 km).
Pretty and comfortable. Guesthouse brand new, very clean and very welcoming.
I must say that guesthouses in Georgia are very good.
Vardzia. Hot hot hot. It’s recommended to bring a lot of water from the town, as there are no villages near Vardzia, just a small restaurant with a nice terrace, but to visit the site you need a couple of hours and there’s no water on the hill.
After Vardzia e Akhaltsikhe we went North.
We hadn’t booked any place for the night because we weren’t sure where we would stop.
The fist minibus took us to Kutaisi. I was thinking of stopping there, but it was very hot and the city seemed so big, I thought it would be difficult to find a place to stay.
So we took another bus to Zugdidi. We were also thinking of Batumi, a holiday resort by the Black Sea, but we didn’t have the time during this trip. We preferred to focus on other parts of Georgia.
Zugdidi seemed a bit anonymous. The interesting side of this town is that it’s near the border with Abkhazia, and in the last decades Zugdidi has hosted many refugees from this part of the world.
There’s a nice museum/palace with a beautiful park.
For many it’s the departure point for Mestia and the Svaneti mountains.
This is just a small preview of Svaneti, because I want to write a whole post about the trekking here. It was the best part of our trip in Georgia.
Mestia, Ushguli e Svaneti
Svaneti belongs to the Caucasus and it is the highest inhabited area in Europe.
From Mestia we hiked for three days up to Ushguli, three days in the nature, among fields in bloom, glaciers and old villages with the traditional medieval towers.
I didn’t really want to leave the little paradise that is Svaneti, but the trip must go on.
There was a minivan going directly to Tbilisi, fortunately, but the trip was quite long anyway, we arrived in Tbilisi at 7pm.
The Skadaveli guesthouse was fully booked, so we decided to rent a room in the new part of the town.
Very nice there too.
Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue is a walking street completely renovated, with pretty pastel houses, small restaurants and many clubs. Very touristic, but pretty nonetheless.
Tbilisi New Town
The following day we left for Kazbegi, about three hours away, on a marhrutky.
Kazbegi is in the mountains (near the border with Russia), famous for a church on a hill overlooking the town.
Tsminda Sameba Church (not easy at all Georgian names) can be reached on a easy hike, the path is steep but short.
Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for too long here neither, there are some nice hiking trails to be tested.
The following day we left.
Marshrutky to Tbilisi (basically you need to go back to Tbilisi almost any time you move from one part to the other of Georgia) then another to Sighnaghi.
Kakheti is the main region for the production of wine in Georgia.
We stayed a couple of nights in Sighnaghi, a pretty little town, and we stayed in a guesthouse overlooking the valley.
On the way to Telavi
From Sighnaghi we took part to a tour organized from our guesthouse to take us to Telavi. We took advantage of this tour, so that on the way to Telavi we could stop at a monastery, at the house-museum of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze, at a winery with a museum and the qvevri, large terracotta pots buried in the ground, the way wine is traditionally made in Georgia.
Telavi is a bit too modern maybe, with some picturesque corner, very welcoming indeed.
Once we put foot out of the guesthouse to visit the town, we met a guy on a bench who invited to his house to drink Georgian wine and eat some snacks (probably I don’t have big memories of Telavi because we spent most of our time with our new friend).
At dinner we decided to eat at the guesthouse. The host cooked so much for us! And everything was delicious, another proof of the quality of Georgian cuisine.
Last days in Tbilisi
And here we are, at the end of the trip. Last couple of days in Tbilisi before we go back to Italy.
We walked around the old town again, always charming, we also went back to the new town to take some pictures in the night, and one early morning we flew back home.
Last Sunday I went hiking with my brother on the mountains not far from home.
Wanted to go to Cima Marana how we often do during the year, but instead of taking one of the most common paths, those starting from Contrada Gebbani (or Castagna) and going up directly to Cima Marana, we chose Sentiero 203, that from Gebbani goes to Malga Casoline and ends at the dirty road that goes from Piatta di Montefalcone.
The sentiero 203
Taking the path that starts between the Gebbani and Castagna contrade that goes directly up to Cima Marana (the path we call “of the ridge”), not far from the departure point there’s fork: to the left you go to the Marana peak, to the right you go to Malga Casoline, that is Path no. 203.
Here we were close to Malga Casoline, at about one hour from departure.
The 203 is longer and a bit harder than the other paths that go to Cima Marana, but it’s almost entirely in the shade and it crosses a beautiful forest.
Passo della Porta
After about 2 hours of hiking (consider that I’m not very fit), we got to Passo della Porta, along the dirty road that connects Campodavanti to Montefalcone.
Instead of walking on the road to go to Montefalcone, we decided to walk on the ridge.
But on the other side of the mountain there was quite some fog, adn we could see nothing.
The view from up there is amazing.
I know because I took the same path one year ago, in a nice sunny day.
That is why I am showing you here the pictures I too one year ago.
The ridge one year ago
You can see the Carega peak and Rifugio Fraccaroli from up there, if it’s not foggy or raining.
It might have been foggy, but I managed to find some pretty cute things that deserved a photograph.
And finally, the Rifugio Montefalcone
It took us more than half an hour to get to the lodge from Passo della Porta, partly because I was starting to feel tired and the ridge has some pretty hard climbs, partly because I was taking pictures on the way.
Lunch at Rifugio Montefalcone with minestrone soup and red fruits strudel 🙂
Towards Cima Marana
After a short siesta we left for Cima Marana.
Again, beautiful landscape and nature, despite the fog.
what about these roots???
Cima Marana is one of the southernmost peaks of the Dolomites, and one of the lowest.
At 1554 meters above sea level, it has a special view of the Chiampo and Agno valleys and you can even see the Garda Lake and Venice Lagoon on bright clear days.
It’s a shame there’s always someone who leaves some garbage behind.
I collected 5 cigarette butts, only around the cross of Cima Marana.
The descent towards the Gebbani was a bit hard for me, I was feeling more and more tired and my knees were starting to ache.
but I love this itinerary so much, I’m looking forward to the next time!
I’m so excited, I’m going to London very soooonnn!! I am staying at friends’, so I don’t need to look for an accommodation, but I only have 3 days and so many places I want to go back, I need to plan my visit carefully.
I lived in London for 4 years, between 2005 and 2010. It’s such a vibrant city, you surely can’t get bored here, and I loved it. I loved its parks, its musical shows, the architecture, the Thames, the markets, the pubs. Even the cemeteries! Living there was really nice, but I missed family and friends, and decided to move back to Italy.
And after 7 years I am finally going back. While I was living there, I was coming home every two months, so when I left London I thought I wouldn’t have missed it much as I could always come back, once or twice per year. But I didn’t. I don’t know why. And now, looking again at the tube map, at the name of the places that I almost forgot, I get emotional.
London Planning Ahead
So, as I mentioned I am staying only for the weekend, and I have to select the places I don’t want to miss and think of a rough itinerary. I know I want to go to Notting Hill, Borough Market, South Bank, Brick Lane, Canary Wharf if I manage to, possibly the famous and new Sky Garden (it wasn’t there 7 years ago), Hyde Park. I would also like to go to Putney, where I used to live, but I don’t think I will have time for it. London must have changed so much, I am really curious.
Transportation in London
I am not sure my Oyster card is still working. It’s a card that you buy (I think it’s 5 pounds), but you can have a refund if you give it back once you leave London; you have to top it up and you can travel anywhere. If you plan to use the tube quite often, you should buy a one week travelcard (with Oyster it’s cheaper than the paper card) or check at the TFL (Transport For London) website what the best option is. And the coolest part is that even if you don’t buy a one day card with your Oyster, you still get charged up to the cost of the day card; every time that you travel, the cost of the trip is taken from your Oyster, but up to the maximum cost of a day card. This is what I used to do. I used my Oyster, and already at the second trip it would only take the money up to the day ticket. Public transport in London is quite expensive, but if you buy a travel card, or even better an Oyster, it’s more affordable.
I am super excited because there’s a pretty good bike rental net now in London. I have always owned a bike while I was living there. Cycling to work was a great booster and quite often I also cycled to Soho or Old Street to meet with friends. On Sundays I was cycling to visit new places. It would have been sad to go back to London and take bus or tube all the time (you can’t really walk from one place to another in London, it’s too big), but this new bike rentals think has made me the happiest girl in the world. And it’s actually fairly cheap. You pay 2 pounds per day, and every time you take a bike you have 30 minutes free. So, for example you can rent a bike in Hyde Park and cycle to Piccadilly, park your bike, visit a bit on foot, take another bike and cycle to St. Peter’s, park and walk to South Bank, and so on.
There’s an excellent app where you can check where to park and where you can find available bikes. You can also choose the best itinerary for you.
Things I want to do in London
There are a few things I used to do in London that I miss:
Visit a Charity Shop. I don’t know how many second-hand books I have bought while I was living there. Charity Shops were my favorite, for books and other stuff. I could please my random need of spending money and feel good at the same time.
British Breakfast. Oh, I miss hash browns and beans so much! I must have one English Breakfast at least once.
Read in a cemetery. In Summer months it was my favorite activity. After work I often stopped at a cemetery on the way home, and spend one hour there, relaxing and reading. There’s a different attitude towards cemeteries than there is in Italy: you can often walk through them, families have picnics, you meet friends, you go jogging, they are almost like parks. And I love it. You get to live with the passed ones as if they were there again.
Have a beer at a pub along the Thames. There are so many gorgeous pubs along the river in London! I worked in one of them, and it was super popular, in particular on Sundays. But there are some that are even better. I have great memories of time spent at pubs. In particular watching the World Cup with friends.
Enjoy the view of London from the Tate Modern. You have a great view over London and in particular St. Paul’s from a terrace on the third floor of the Tate Modern. And entrance is free.
So, two days to go and I’m super happy. Hopefully it won’t be 7 years again before I go back to London.
Last Monday (April 25 is Liberation Day, a National Holiday in Italy) I took a walk on the hills near home, in San Zeno of Arzignano, during the local “sagra”, a food and cultural festival that takes place every year in my village.
The “sagra” is spread in two weekends and it’s very well organized, considering San Zeno is a very small village. Every day there’s something different in the menu: porchetta (roasted pork), risotto, paella, fried fish, etc. There’s a photography exhibition and contest (I won the third prize this year 🙂 ), a vintage motorbikes show, a music festival for teenagers (I get emotional at hearing these youngster singing with so much passion and talent).
The walk takes place on April 25. As usual I loved walking in the nature and seeing the old houses in the countryside. Plus, it’s an occasion to meet new and old friends, your neighbors that you don’t have the chance to meet often. And there’s always some food. At half walk we could eat loads of “panini” with home-made salami, cheese and peppers. A pleasure for the palate and the soul.
Below is a short video I made of the walk in San Zeno, hope you’ll enjoy it.
My experience on the Floating Piers on Lake Iseo was not the happiest. It was very tiring and a bit unsuccessful.
The Floating Piers is a work by the Bulgarian-American artist Christo on Lake Iseo. It consists in 3 kilometers of polyethylene boardwalk (covered in a yellow tissue) that connects Sulzano, a small village on the shores of the lake, to Monte Isola and another small and private island. The work of art is free, open to public and walkable for about 2 weeks, from June 18th to July 3rd, 2016.
I went there yesterday, Wednesday, in the afternoon, because I was told that it’s less crowded in the afternoon and on weekdays. Yesterday it was not. It was crazy. We could tell it from the traffic on the road to get to the Lake. From home it took us three hours instead of two. You can’t drive into Sulzano, from where the Floating Piers start, which is a very small village and couldn’t welcome all the people flocking to the work of art. So there are other options to get there: you can either drive or take a train to one of the other villages around the lake and from there take a bus, a ferry or a train to Sulzano or Monte Isola. But none of those ways of transport is simple (or guarantee you will be able to get to the Floating Piers); most ferries are booked, buses are slow, trains are irregular. We went to Marone, north of Sulzano, because I was told that from the northern part of the lake it’s easier to get to Sulzano than from Iseo, in the South, where most people go. Still, we had to wait for one hour for the train from Marone to Sulzano, because Sulzano was congested, and people were not allowed in for some time. Once we got to Sulzano, the situation was even worse. We had to queue for almost 3 hours before we could get onto the boardwalk. I admired all those kids that queued with us, they were very brave.
While on the queue, we heard some people that left Bologna at 7 am; they were queuing with us at 9 pm because once in Brescia they were told that Sulzano was closed. They had to wait various hours in Brescia before they could come to the lake.
We got onto the Floating Piers at 9.30 pm. And we could only stay for about 10 minutes, because it was late and probably the last train back to Marone was at 10.20 pm. I say “probably” because nothing seemed to be clear and certain. On the timetable at the station the last train was specified at 10.20, but the lady that sold us the tickets said the last train was at midnight. To be on the safe side, and not to have to walk 1 hour and a half back, we decided to take the train earlier. And anyway we had 2 more hours drive to go home, it was getting really late.
It was nice to walk on the Floating Piers. Nothing really exciting though; I think most people like the idea of being part of something that has been publicized so much. I like that you can walk to an island when normally you can only take a ferry there. But I would have liked to enjoy it for longer; the plan was to be there by 5 or max 6 pm, and walk a couple of hours.
Why are the Floating Piers so popular? Or crowded? Probably if they were there for more than 2 weeks, the visits wouldn’t be so concentrated. So, why is it available only for 2 weeks? Is it because it needs lots of maintenance? Or because the holiday season has started and the hotels by the lake need some quiet for their guests? I don’t know.
Anyway, I have just checked the live camera of the square in front of the city hall where we spent 2 hours yesterday, and there’s no queue at all today. So I was really unlucky. And I’m even more upset. I wish I had gone today instead. What I complain about is that there was not enough information. Yesterday, in the morning, before we started our trip to Sulzano, I checked the official website of the Floating Piers; there’s a “news” section and the last news was from June 25th (yesterday it was the 29th); no news about a congestion in town, so I thought that everything was fine. If I had been advised that it was particularly crowded, I wouldn’t have gone and like me I think many people. Probably not those that left at 7 am to get there, but those living a bit closer like me, I’m sure they would have preferred to go today and spend less time on a queue.
I also lament that after so many hours of queue you still had to wait to leave Sulzano. To go north it was ok, we “only” had to wait for 40 minutes (the train was actually at 10.40, not 10.20 as on the timetable ). But the queue to go to Iseo and Brescia was crazy. Why can’t you arrange more trains when you know that there are so many people that want to leave the town? I felt like the whole thing was really badly organized.
Maybe they weren’t expecting so many people, but they could have done something to improve the situation. They could at least have avoided more waiting for those that wanted to leave this unrepeatable (because it’s extremely exciting or extremely tiring, it’s up to you) experience, the Floating Piers.
In May 2016 I traveled for 2 weeks in the Balkans; a very short time to get to know it, but enough to fall in love with the region.
I left home (in Vicenza) without knowing my itinerary. All I knew was that I was going by train to Trieste, and from there I would take a bus to Dubrovnik, in Croatia.
In Trieste I had one hour and a half before my bus, so I decided to take a walk to the main square, Piazza Unità d’Italia, which is one of the most beautiful squares I’ve ever seen and it’s only 15 minutes walk from the two stations.
Here is a video I made of that hour in Trieste:
10 minutes to get to the Balkans
Trieste is close to the border with Slovenia, so after 10 minutes on the bus I was already in the Balkans. But it took me 15 hours to get to Dubrovnik. Anyway, just crossing the border and seeing road signs in a different language threw me on a state of euphoria.
It was interesting in the North of Croatia to see many billboards advertising dental clinics. I had recently seen a program on TV describing this new trend of doing “dental” trips to Croatia from Italy to have your teeth fixed: it’s much cheaper (even with the travel expenses) and of good quality. There were so many ads, I had the impression even postmen have become dentists in Croatia now.
I left Trieste at 6.30 pm and the following morning, at 9.30 am (one hour after the scheduled time) I arrived in Dubrovnik. I went to the hostel to leave my luggage (fortunately my bed was ready) and shower and I went out immediately. I had seen many pictures of Dubrovnik before and dreamt of seeing it in person. I was not disappointed.
The only negative aspect of this beautiful walled town: cruise ships stop here and every day they toss thousands of tourists into its streets.
After Dubrovnik I decided to go to Montenegro. Kotor is only a couple of hours from Dubrovnik. Again, a cruise ships stop, a walled town, and a WOW place. What was nice here is that you can have some nice skewers for a few euro: Montenegrins love their grilled food! Much cheaper than Croatia.
Kotor can be visited in a few hours, so on the second day I took a day trip to the north of Montenegro, organized by a local agency. It only cost me 39 euro and it would have been difficult to get there by myself on public transportation. And what I saw made me really happy I did this trip, although we didn’t stop to take pictures where I wanted. We visited Salt Lake, the Tara bridge, Durmitor National Park with its Black Lake, and the Ostrog Monastery, carved in a rock.
In these few days traveling I had made a plan to go to Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania and from there take a ferry to Italy, but the bus from Podgorica, the capital city of Montenegro, arrives in Pristina in Kosovo at 5 am. And what was I meant to do in Pristina at that time of the day? I did it in the past, I am not willing to repeat it again; I’m getting old I guess.
So the following day I decided to go to Ulcinj, on the border with Albania, and on the way I stopped in Budva.
Another beautiful walled town by the sea, a holiday destination favorited by Montenegrins, Russian and Ukrainians.
After a couple of hours walking along the tiny alleys of Budva, I took a small bus to Ulcinj. There was an accident on the way and we stopped for about an hour; I basically wasted the whole afternoon for a 2 hours drive. But these things happen when you are backpacking, and it’s no big deal. I actually enjoyed the positive side of it: I studied how Montenegrins react when they are blocked on the road and don’t know why and how long it’s going to take. They get upset and anxious, just like Italians. We are not that different after all. Although I’m not sure I can say for sure they were Montenegrins the people that were on the bus. Apparently in Montenegro live people coming from the whole region, mainly Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania.
Ulcinj was in Albania until a few years ago, and its name is pronounced differently according to whom you are talking to. I knew it was a preview of what I would witness in Albania, and I was very excited. And what did I find here: there were only men at the cafes. There were women walking in the street or in the shops, but only men at the cafes. And me. Quite interesting.
Another walled town, with nudist beaches, nice food and great coffee. Unfortunately because I had little time, I could only stay here one night. The following afternoon I was on my way to Albania.
Albanians don’t have a good reputation in Italy, but while I was living in London and here in Arzignano I have met a few people from Albania and I found them nice and interesting. I really wanted to go and meet them in their natural environment.
The first stop was Shkoder. A beautiful town with Venetian influence in the architecture and the language, a great outdoor-time-spending culture and therefore many cafes (some – mainly sports bar – with only male guests, others with both men and women).
I arrived at about 6.30 pm and went immediately to the hostel. A few hours later I was in love with Albania. It was probably all these people in the pedestrian streets of Shkoder that seduced me (I guess the great food at little price helped too). Very helpful people, ready to give you an advice if you were lost, never trying to take advantage of a solo female traveller, curious, enjoying their time socializing face to face.
The next day I crossed the artificial Koman Lake and got to Valbona. The local boat from Koman is built from an old German bus and stops in the middle of nowhere and you see people walking up hidden paths towards hidden houses lost in the rocky mountains whose slopes decline towards the lake.
The idea was to trek from Valbona to Theth, but some people scared me off, saying that a few months before a German lady died along the path, so I did some hiking on the hills of Valbona and went back to Shkoder the same way. I enjoyed Valbona a lot. It’s lost in the mountains. It’s a place of peace and shepherds, of quiet tourism, but with a big potential. I bet it will become a top travel destination soon.
From Valbona I went back to Shkoder and from there to Tirana, 2 hours away. I must say that Tirana was not my favorite destination. All religious buildings were destroyed by communism; the only building that survived was this old mosque.
But one thing I liked in Tirana a lot: all the outdoor cafes, some in beautiful gardens, and again people enjoying their time outside. I’m afraid in Italy we have lost this habit. We do go out for a coffee and meet friends in the street, but not as much as in Albania.
I spent the day walking around Tirana and the following day I was on a bus to Berat.
Berat is also called “the town of the thousand windows”. Its peculiarity are the ottoman houses that have many windows; therefore the name. It’s a Unesco Heritage Site since 2008. Very charming.
After Berat I went to Gjirokaster in the south, near the Greek border. I loved it because despite being a Unesco Heritage Site, it has little tourism. But things are going to change, or so believes (and hopes) William, the dutch owner of the best hostel I’ve ever been to.
During the communism were built many bunkers in Albania, to protect the Nomenklatura from possible nuclear attacks. In Gjirokaster you can visit one quiet big with long tunnels and many rooms. Creepy.
I also went hiking on the hills near Gjirokaster, to see a roman amphitheater and two monasteries abandoned many years ago.
From Gjirokaster I went back to Durres; thanks to the new roads it is now just 3 hours away. From there I took a night ferry to Bari. The ferry was only 30 euro, less than what I had seen on the web.
I arrived in Bari at about 9 am. I decided to take a train back to Vicenza in the afternoon, so that I could walk a bit around Bari. And the old town is amazing. I had seen pictures of Lecce before and I know that Puglia is a beautiful region, but I wasn’t expecting the old town of Bari to be so beautiful.
There was music coming out from every window and people chatting in the streets. But two local elderly people told me to keep an eye on my stuff. I was so relaxed and untroubled in Albania, I had forgotten you need to be careful in Italy. But nothing bad happened, despite I was walking with one big backpack and one smaller bag on the front. I really enjoyed my 4 hours in Bari.
I have discovered a new beautiful world lived by amazing people just a few hours from home. I wonder why it took me so long to go there and I hope it won’t take too long before I go back. There’s a lot more I want to see in the Balkans!
I have always loved traveling, since I was in my mother's womb. I love to see new places, meet new cultures, eat the food of the world. Recently I discovered that pictures can sometimes show more than I can do