Monday, 20 March 2017

Four enchanted places you should visit right now

1) Chefchaouen

Believe me when I say that I love Morocco, but I must recognize that in big cities like Fez or Marrakesh you can easily feel overwhelmed. The strong smells and the chaos of the medina, the touts, or simply the amount of people walking down the street can make you feel like you've already had enough of this country. In that case a good idea is to spend a few days in Chefchaouen, a small quiet town nestled in the hills of northern Morocco.

A quiet street in the medina
There I just walked around, taking ridiculously gorgeous pictures, and shopping for Moroccan slippers or scarfs without feeling the pressure of the vendors in bigger towns. The walls of the medina are painted a deep blue and even the doors, the stone stairs and the furniture are often blue. 

Men wear the traditional djellaba and look like mysterious wizards, as if they were the last of a disappearing population of magical beings. In Chefchaouen I found people to be extremely welcoming and I appreciated the fact that children could play happily on the quiet streets and small squares. 

Add that to the fact that there are great hiking possibilities all around and you have your perfect Moroccan getaway from the bustling city life of Moroccan cities.

Read more about Chefchaouen in this post from April 2015.

2) Bled

Did you ever wonder what the place where Snow White and Prince Charming come from might look like? I think it must look like Bled.

Lake Bled
If you've never heard of this lake, maybe it's because it is found in a tiny and relatively unknown European country called Slovenia. Other than being the birthplace of Melania Trump, this Alpine country is little known. In a novel by Paulo Coelho a librarian from the capital Ljubljiana decides to commit suicide after reading an article in a magazine about her country, making people believe that she did it because people don't even know where Slovenia is.

Lake Bled seen from the castle
I have a plan to visit Bled in every season: in winter with snow, in autumn with yellow leaves and in spring with flowers in bloom. I have already been in the summer and it is gorgeous: I cannot think of a better country than Slovenia to breathe some fresh air and rest your eyes with a palette of colours unlike that of any other country.

Read more about Bled and Slovenia in this post, which is actually the first one I wrote on this blog.

3) Sintra

In "Journey to Portugal" Saramago described this small town a few kilometers from Lisbon: as an "English folly, paid for by the cloth trade ...  a monument to an age that had every taste imaginable, but never really defined any of them ....  eclectic to the point of eccentricity .... As empires dominated the world economically, they amused themselves with alien cultures". 

Palacio da Pena
Sintra resembles the dream of a king that went slightly mad  at the end of his life.  Several royal palaces dot the hilly landscape, each one slightly crazier than the other. Some elements are Gothic, others call back to traditional Muslim architecture, or to the Portuguese Manueline style. As if this wasn't enough, mysterious gargoyles look at you from weird angles.

Palacio da Pena

The most charming palace according to me is Quinta da Regaleira, especially the Gothic-style gardens. I spent a couple of hours exploring the grottoes, the statues and the ponds, wondering what the upside-down staircase might mean and feeling that every pinnacle and gargoyle has a secret to reveal.

The gardens of Quinta da Regaleira

If palaces are not your thing in the small town the charming yellow-trimmed houses are a pleasure for the eyes, and the streets bear the names of the writers and artists who tread and wrote about this place, including Lord Byron. 

Read more about my trip to Sintra in December 2015 here.

4) Ait-Benhaddou

I know, I'm listing Morocco twice in this list, but it's merely because that country of djinns is literally bewitching. Moreover Ait-Benhaddou is one of the most incredible places I have been to.
Ait Benhaddou
You may have seen it as the location for countless movies and TV shows, including as Yunkai in Game of Thrones. It is usually portrayed as a city made of sand that appears like a mirage in the middle of the desert. And that is actually what it is: a particularly good-looking ksar that is not completely abandoned and that is at the edge of the desert. The Touareg guides in blue turbans lead the way into a magic world, where you may find anything from Ali Baba's lamp to an ancient amulet.
A berber guide in Ait Benhaddou
This was one of the highlights of my trip to Morocco. It is a perfect stop on the way to the Sahara desert and it is a good opportunity to learn about the ancient trade routes that pass through this part of the world.
Souvenirs in Ait Benhaddou

Monday, 6 March 2017

Exploring the Big Mango: 4 days in Bangkok

"There it was, spread largely on both banks, the Oriental capital which had yet suffered no white conqueror…" - Joseph Conrad
I've already written a Bangkok survival guide, but I would like to go more in detail about this incredible city.

The temples

I literally love temples and history so I just couldn't miss the emerald Buddha inside Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho, located at walking distance one from the other. The former is inside the grounds of  the Grand Palace, which is the only tourist attraction in the city that has a steep entrance fee: 500 baht (13,50€). It also closes early, at 3:30 pm,  so I had to schedule the visit carefully. Wat Pho was equally beautiful and at 100 baht (2,70€) was more affordable. Another plus it that it is open until 6:30 pm so I had no excuse.

A stone giant in Wat Pho

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