What to see one the way from Graz to Zagreb through Slovenia

End of May this year my boyfriend and I were invited to a wedding which took place in Zagreb, Croatia. However, we decided to fly to Graz, because the flights timetable fitted us better. Our idea was to rent a car and drive a small circle Graz – Zagreb – Rijeka – Trieste – Ljubljana – Bled – Graz. The plan was fulfilled to 120% and here are some tips what to see on the way from Graz to Zagreb (other segments of the trip will follow shortly).

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From Graz to Zagreb

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Sunny Sicilian getaway

Especially now, when the weather in Berlin makes us dreaming about better (read: warmer) place, it is so satisfying – thinking about last long weekend on Sicily. We had such luck with the wetter, bright sun and clear blue skyes three days out of four, temperatures over 18 degrees, everything blossoming and pleasantly smelling… This all was as a bonus to the beautiful nature, cozy cities, delicious food, fresh vegetables and good wine. Therefore, this post is less words, more pictures, juicy colors and captured impressions.

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On Sicily, colors everywhere

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Colmar: immensely beautiful

Very often, when you are looking through the photos of a place you want to visit, they appear a bit brighter than the place itself when you finally there. Photographers use filters and sophisticated means to make their works if not a piece of art but at least simply look better. I cannot argue, their works are catchy, but sometimes too far away from reality. In that sense, Colmar is exactly the same as when you see it on all the artistic pictures. It is bright and beautiful without any filters and colors’ amplification. Blossoming flowers, sweet gingerbread houses and lively channels… Total awesomeness!

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Paris, Paris… Cliché and hidden gems.

Third time in Paris. Almost all cliché highlights already seen. Several to be visited again: you can’t just avoid it – being in Paris and not seeing the Notre Dame de Paris or Eiffel tower. To climb it or not is another question. In addition to these overwhelming-touristy must-see places we included couple of “hidden gems” in our list and even succeed to find them.

La Pagode.

An old movie theater (that is still working), built in 1896, that looks like Japanese pagoda surrounded by the bamboo garden.
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Quiet, cozy, close to the Musée de l’Armée. A place to take a little break and picturesque photos before heading to the Eiffel Tower.
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Rue Cremieux.

A colorful paradise in the very heart of the city (close to Gare de Lyon train station). Pastel colored houses and shutters, almost no people around, very clean and intimate little street called Rue Cremieux…

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Rue Dauphine.

A lively bustling street leading to the river Seine. Lots of restaurants, cafes, small shops where you could either enjoy a good meal or buy a little treat to go and eat it at the bank of the river.

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If you took a bottle of wine with you and want to enjoy a little picnic in a public place (indeed, what can be more romantic to have a glass of wine with fine cheese watching the waters of Seine and breathing clear autumn air), be careful: French police is inconsistent in application of rules when it comes to alcohol. A nice description of drinking and non-drinking places in Paris you can find here: http://www.myfrenchlife.org/2012/06/15/france-paris-rules-on-drinking-in-public-places/

Montparnasse Tower.

The line to climb the Eiffel tower is always endless (but gets shorter at night, closer to 10 pm), and I doubt if it is worth it to wait so long. The view to the Eiffel Tower and not from it is amazing at night. So you better take a metro to the Tour Montparnasse and an elevator to the 56th floor to appreciate a panoramic view of Paris. A ticket costs around 15 Euro (same price as to Louvre and Versailles). Inside you can enjoy both: a coffee and a view.

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A great area for dinner.

After visiting Basílica de Sacré Cœur take a street to the right: it will lead you to the Rue Lepic where you can try the best tarts in Paris. This area is in general a perfect area to have a delicious French dinner. Try Onion Soup Gratinee cooked in a pot and served with fresh crispy bread. Bread and pastry is indeed a separate story in Paris. It seems that batons and croissants taste just better than anywhere else.

Free entrance to the museums. Versailles.

Do you know that entrance to many museums is free of charge on the first Sunday of a month? We proved this in Versailles. It is free, indeed, but a line is incredibly long, though it moves fast. For those who travel with a suitcase there are lockers inside.
Versailles is spacious and luxurious. Though, not so impressing as Petergof, a suburb of Sankt Petersburg.

Probably, a one-in-a-lifetime trip. But worth seeing. If you live next to the park, it is a nice place for a weekend walk with a family or a picnic with friends.
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Metro.

The only thing that confused us was Parisian metro. The directions are not always clearly pointed, the metro maps are not always available… Often we were making circles and loops to empirically find the right direction. There are no ticket machines when you change from a regional train to an ordinary city train and vice versa. My advice: buy tickets in advance. 10 single trips cost 14 Euro. A RER from CDG airport costs 10 Euro one way.

Paris is definitely a city one would return to many times. Perfect for a long weekend. Next time – in summer.

Georgia: a song about food.

Indeed! It’s so much about the food here. Having a hasteless dinner with a bottle of wine, enjoying incredible meal, listening to live music, getting to know people at the neighbor table – priceless! And so affordable – Oh My Goodness! So affordable, that we managed going out every single night to a good restaurant, ordering whatever we like and choosing a good wine. Below are a couple of tips and places where you can have a delicious meal with a good atmosphere for a nice price.

Breakfast. Here you don’t have any problem of choice. You should only decide how much time is in your command. This will define the place you choose. Fast food that you grab on the street costs almost nothing: in Kutaisi we had a Kada for 70 Tetri (25 cents = 0,7 Lari. Further I will give the prices only in Lari: keep in mind, you have to divide it to 2,4-2,7 to get a price in Euro) and a simple chachapuri (that tastes good but not so amazing as special ones) for 1,8 Lari while exploring the city and not willing to wait in a café.

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In Tbilisi, on the opposite, we went to a nice open café and ordered an Adjarian chachapuri (Acharuli/Adjaruli) – here the dough is formed into an open boat shape and the hot cheese inside is topped with a raw egg and a pat of butter before serving. You should mix the cheese with the egg and butter and eat it together with the dough. Mmm, yummy! A huge, huge portion that is enough for two if you are not extremely hungry. Costs about 8 to 12 Lari for a portion.

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You can order an ice-coffee for 3 Lari, Coca-Cola for 1,5 Lari. Mineral water 0,5l costs in small shops on your way about 20-50 Tetri depending on the proximity of touristic attractions. By the way, you should try the salty mineral water. Same price, new taste. A lot of minerals, but still very specific. Some people say it quenches your thirst. Anyway, try to get to know if you like it or hate it.

Fruit is in abundance, fresh, juicy and tasty. For instance, 1kg of grapes costs 1,5 Lari. Another local thing you should try is churchhela. It’s receipt is ages old: it is made by dipping strings of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.) or dried fruits into thickened grape juice with addition of flour and drying it in the sun. One piece costs 2 to 4 Lari. Looks, probably, a bit weird, but tastes gooood.

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In Kazbegi we were very short of time and bought just a bread on our way to a hill we were willing to climb. De-li-ci-o-us! Freshly baked, crispy, flavorous, huge (talking about the size of the portions again). Bread is called “puri” in Georgian and is being baked in a deep circular clay oven. We had luck to find one bakery right next to the place we stayed.

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After climbing a hill we had a light lunch at Khavi, a restaurant that offers a fine selection of meals and cheapest prices in the very heart of Kazbegi (next to the “bus station”). It was recommended by our host, but we didn’t manage to get inside the night before as it was booked for a private dinner.
Instead, the evening before we had a great meal in a place called Shorena’s Bar Restaurant (Al.Kazbegi Square). We ordered a recommended dish called “Shkmeruli” – chicken cooked in milk and garlic. It took us a while (more than an hour for sure, but be prepared: in Georgian restaurants you should not be in a hurry – it always lasts long if you want it cooked from A to Z and be super fresh).

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Excuse me, but I will repeat myself again: the portion is sooo huge, enormous. Enough for 2-3 persons. It cost 25 Lari. The eggplant cooked with tomatoes and spices – 9 Lari. A bottle of wine Kindzamarauli, the best wine they offer in Shorena’s, – 32 Lari. Second best – Saperavi – 23 Lari. Chacha – 5 Lari for a shot.
The waiters in this restaurant speak at least four languages (Georgian, Hebrew, Russian and English) and have an interesting sense of humor. An answer to our any question was first “No”, then they did what they have been asked. Young funny guys, have an Israel’s flag in the room and singing Georgian pop songs with a TV on. A charming evening with a nice couple from Tel-Aviv and lots of wine.
Another thing to do in Kazbegi in the evening is to go to the Hotel Rooms Kazbegi and grab a drink there. The prices and not Georgian at all. But the view is breathtaking. Those, who do not climb the hill to get to the Gergeti Trinity Church, should definitely enjoy the view on the terrace of this hotel.

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In Tbilisi we went twice to the same restaurant, called “Georgian”. Not so easy to find, as I recognized later. The restaurant is in a small cellar, open late in the afternoon, live music every evening: two elderly guys playing American songs and some other swingy-jazzy music. A liter of wine costs about 15 Lari. You should try mushrooms baked in cheese with nuts, khinkali, suluguni (local mild cheese), you should just basically try everything! And local Georgian Brandy. If you like it, you can find it in the wine shops in the city. It costs 14 Lari and more. Wine you can buy for 6 Lari and higher. For my favorite Kindzamarauli I paid 18 Lari in Tbilisi and 7,5 Euro in the duty free in Kutaissi. That was the medium price. It can cost 40 euros and more. But one of the best red semi-sweet wines I’ve ever tried. Definitely a must.
The best dinner we had in Batumi in the restaurant Shemoikhede Genatsvale (8 Noe Zhordania St). It cost us 48 Lari – where else you could enjoy a whole palette of local cuisine and drinks (out of that 16 Lari a bottle of white wine, Chachapuri on a stick, fried suluguni in a pan, four khinkali, meat dish, 2 shots chacha). On the photo delow is suluguni fried in a pan. A bit bread and tkemali sause (beware, a lot of coriander as in almost all dishes of Georgian cuisine) – is all what you need for these savory moments.

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We were stuffed and happy. However, not only the meal was good but so was a “show”. Next to us, about 15 Georgians at the table sang before they started their meal, during and after. Strong voices, great sense of melody, surprisingly good sound. We were literally impressed. It suited very well together: delicious slow meal and powerful voices. Applauses followed. The link to the video is below (filmed somewhat secretly):

Georgians singing

Last night before our flight back to Berlin we spent in a restaurant “Palaty” (Pushkini Street II) in Kutaisi. Medium check with wine was 45-50 Lari. We had something different that we tried in Georgia before: a lechkhumian smoked pork on a wooden plate, with local moist bread and slices of suluguni. The combination was heavenly savory, and the portion, as ever, immense.
We absolutely come back to Georgia to enjoy more great stuff and authentic cuisine. And wine, for sure!

Weekend trip to Lombardy: Milan and Bergamo

With Milan we definitely don’t have a match. Last time I’ve been there it was over Christmas, all shops and restaurants were closed, it was raining and everything but Duomo was grey. Last weekend I decided to give this city the second chance, because, in general, I like Italy a lot. Here are a couple of my personal tips and tricks as well as lessons learnt, because this trip turned over to be life-educational, indeed.

From Berlin you can book a spontaneous trip over a weekend for less than 50 Euros both ways: Ryanair flies to Milan several times a day. But, be careful, the airport is only called Milan-Bergamo, in fact it’s 45 km from Milan and only 3km from Bergamo. So if you rent a car, check twice the name of the airport, there are three airports in Milan. The one I’m writing about is called Aeroporto di Bergamo-Orio al Serio.

A pretty tricky thing are the toll roads – highways where you have to pay a fee to use it. In many countries they don’t have them, so it is somehow unusual. Anyway, the shortest road between the Milan-Bergamo airport and Milan is a toll road. You have to pay 3,40 Euro to drive on it. If you don’t have a Telepass (if you are not a frequent guest in Italy, you probably don’t have one), choose the entry line with the depiction of coins, notes or credit card. On the entry you get a ticket from an automat. On the exit you either pay to an officer or to an automat as well.

The roads are good, but parking is a catastrophe. We made rounds and rounds in order to find a parking slot. Finally, we ended up in a fully automatic garage and payed four Euro pro hour (a full day costs 25 Euro). Overpriced, isn’t it? But we were starving for Italian food and couldn’t afford another hour cruising along Milan streets searching for a spot for our Lancia.

The cuisine is amazing, that is true. Wine culture is outstanding (you should try homemade wine if available). Espresso after the meal – delicious and life-enhancing. You should consider that many restaurants have so called “coperta” – a service fee of 2-3 Euro pro person for bread, tissues and cuttlery. Please, mind, coperta is not the same as tips. To tip or not to tip you shoud decide yourself.

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Narrow streets of Brera area are worth seeing and strolling along. Though, they are pretty crowded on weekends.

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An absolute highlight is taking stairs or an elevator to the terrace of the Duomo. It costs 8 Euro stairs and 13 Euro elevator and open 9-20 in October. The place is tremendous. The spikes and statues are countless and make a great and long lasting cosmic impression. Absolutely must see.

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Another lesson learnt – you should know the right places in Milan or a person who will show them to you. Unfortunately, we didn’t, and therefore ended up, dressed up and ready for partying, in from of a club that was closed a couple of years back. The description and program could still be found online, so check before you head up to a place you discovered in the Internet. By that time is was completely dark and raining heavily. Walking in pumps for long was not in our plans, so we decided to grab a cocktail (price of a cocktail in center vary from 9 to 15 Euro) in a nice place and head back home. That was our idea. Milan thought otherwise. We finished the cocktails and tried to catch a cab – no luck. It was raining and all taxis were occupied. We asked in the bar to call for a taxi. It didn’t work either. “It’s raining”, explained the barista. “Okey”, we thought, “let’s then have another cocktail, may be the situation will change in an hour”. No way. After an hour already three nice Italian guys were trying to call a taxi. After half an hour (in the rain, oh dear boy) one caught a taxi on the street. What a relief…we don’t have to stay up the whole night drinking and can go home.

Next day we checked out and decided to have a breakfast in a cafeteria nearby. The buffet was full of attractive snacks. On broken Italian we asked, what was it. “Aperitivo”. Okey, we take it. What do you think we got? Strong alcohol at 11 o’clock in the morning. For three Euro. Buffet for free. Sounds great, heh? Unfortunately, I was the driver, so my companion took both drinks and I got coffee.

First half of a day we dedicated to shopping. There is an outlet village called Franciacorta about 40 km from Bergamo (http://www.franciacortaoutlet.it/en/home). If you have a couple of free hours you could drop by. Free parking, public Wi-Fi. The set of the shops and outlets it similar to any outlet village.

Second half of a day we spent in Bergamo. The city is charming, with its beautiful old town upstairs where you can find lots of restaurants, souvenir shops and narrow paved streets. You have to take a funicular to get up there (it costs 1,30 Euro one way). To go back to the downtown you can take a walk. We needed at least one hour and two Limoncello shots for each of us.

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We were incredibly lucky with a place to stay in Bergamo: B&B Donizetti (http://www.bebdonizetti.com/) Cozy, super clean, bright, hospitable and helpful staff (they even served us a breakfast though we left at 4 in the morning). Central location and moderate price (50 Euro for two of us with city tax included). If you have a chance to stay there – do it! No regret.

If you leave Bergamo early in the morning, make sure you spot a tank station that works during the night. We didn’t (and there were no stations open on our way to the airport at 4 am) and had to pay a fee for fueling.

Indeed, a cool trip. Two days, two cities, two absolutely different impressions and a lot of lessons learnt.