Category: Europe

Dawn to Dusk in Trieste

Trieste. Coming here was nearly an afterthought. Unashamedly, we worried over Croatian cuisine and someone thought an Italian prelude is most appropriate. Well, that was a brilliant idea. And Trieste is just on the northeastern tip of Italy and juts out near enough our destination. From here, it was also only a couple of hours by train or ferry towards Venezia. But we’ve covered Venice in the past and opted to enjoy Trieste as much as we could. We ended up staying 2 nights here. Another brilliant idea.

Our hotel is just 2 short blocks from the Gran Canale and maybe a few meters more towards the main piazza. Gran Canale looks out to the wharf and on its other end sits the all-white Church Of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo where we heard Sunday mass. The first photo you see here is that of Gran Canale early in the morning before the outdoor cafes got busy. A statue of the Irish novelist and poet James Joyce Of Ulysses fame and many more stands in one of the bridges spanning the canal. Yes, that same James Joyce once quoted saying:

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

Joyce once lived in Trieste with his wife and wrote many of his novels, plays and poetry here in this coastal city which Illy Coffee likewise calls home.

The Piazza Unita d’ Italia looks out to the wharf too and is the starting point for the hop on, hop off bus. Across it is Molo Audace or Audace Pier. At night, the square is very vibrant and festive with buskers playing beautiful music. The lighting adds charm to the iconic buildings around the Piazza and the outdoor cafes look inviting. One whiff of the seafood cooking in the kitchen was enough to get us inside one of those trattorias. My best fish meal was here. Turbot. The Piazza looks pretty during the day but more so when the sun sets and around twilight time. Sky is so blue and the buildings are all lit up. If you need to spend an entire evening in Trieste, go to UNITA Square.

The hop on, hop off bus is good value for €11. Brings you to all the city attractions including the Miramare Castle and beach area which is further out. Eataly is one of the destinations too and so are the Piazza Sant’Antonio, Ponterosso, Cattedrale Di San Giusto, Scala Dei Giganti (Giant Stairway), Propylaeum, Roman Basilica, Museum of History and Art, among others. It’s all you need to cover all the city sites. We hopped off in Miramare, a seafront castle that allegedly was “downsized” owing to budget issues. It’s small by European standards but looks just as regal.

If you’re on your way to Croatia from Slovenia or even from Italy’s more popular destinations Trieste is a good break. Less touristy, very relaxing and surely a happy place for gourmands. We had our best meals here. Buon Giorno!

📸 Rick C

In less than an hour, we drove from Ljubljana to Lake Bled. The weather forecast wasn’t at all encouraging, but we reached Bled Castle with light showers not enough to dampen our spirits nor our enthusiasm. We hit the stairs towards the Castle, took our shots, browsed through the Museum and savoured our hot bev with that famous Slovenian cream cake from Lake Bled. Quite honestly, I thought it must be some overhyped national dessert but I actually enjoyed this local semi-sweet and creamy treat. Was it the best cream cake we had? Am not sure but it certainly passed the test: creamy enough that it sways when shaken, crispy enough that it crunches and pops once you stick your fork into the cake.

That Famous Slovenian Cream Cake from Lake Bled

The Church of the Assumption as viewed from the Bled Castle

Perched on top of a cliff is a castle that has sat there for over a thousand years. There are many photo spots around the Medieval Castle. We took as many each step of the way as we climbed up this oldest Slovenian Castle. Though it’s 130 meters above the lake, our van drove up to a point, leaving us to struggle up a steep path just for a few more meters from the castle’s drawbridge to the top of the precipice. Of course, the shots got better the higher you go. By the time we reached the highest level, I was ready to delete my earlier lakeview shots. While it grew cloudier and actually started to rain, the calm and turquoise waters of the lake remained. Frankly speaking, I dare say the view of Bled Island is better from the cliff than from the Lake. Very picturesque with the lake looking quite glacial. When it poured, we took our time in the Museum before deciding to leave. There is a chapel too within the Castle, 2 courtyards, a wine cellar and a very interesting cafe. My straw hat was soaking wet by the time we reached our van waiting at the parking area.

At a certain point, I’ve stopped snapping photos. The tranquil waters (despite a thunderstorm) makes one relish the scenery – the lake, the island, the Church, the Castle, the lovely Slovenian Alps providing a majestic setting and background. All these make it a worthwhile trip despite the inclement weather and the horrendous traffic. The photos here don’t do justice to its beauty nor this post add value to many blogs earlier written on Bled. But some things need to be said. And some cream cakes tried 🤣 and shared.

📸 Gizelle J.

Summer in Ljubljana!

Ljubljana is the capital and largest city of Slovenia. Being a university city, it is also the most populated. Lying between Vienna in Austria and Venice in Italy, it has gained some importance as a transport route from Northern Europe and the Adriatic Sea. Its geographical location likewise rendered it a natural passage between Central Europe and the Mediterranean. As such,it’s a city which is like a “Little Vienna” with a very Mediterranean feel. And evenings have a particular charm when lamplights flood the lovely bridges and buildings, and cast a reflection on the waters.

📸 Rick C.

We instantly liked Ljubljana even as we felt its summer temps walking and crossing its triple bridges in Preseren Square. It is a mid-sized city by European standards and is manageable to tour around. Affectionately called the “beloved” because its name is derived from “Ljuba” which translates to “love”, its residents express this love and pride for this young capital in the way it’s kept clean, safe and orderly. It is a capital city with small-town friendliness, yet retaining its historical heritage. In the two nights we spent here, we covered most of the city attractions. It helped that our hotel is right within the pedestrians-only area of the Old Town and near the river lined with many interesting shops and dining places. Dining here was a rewarding experience too as we enjoyed all our meals without burning a hole in our pockets.

Triple Bridge

Reminds me of Piazza Navona in Rome

What Gaudi was to Barcelona, Plecnik was to Ljubljana. This Slovenian architect put his stamp on nearly all landmarks here and is so loved by the locals. It’s a fine example of urban planning as Plecnik took charge of the construction and renovation of many key buildings here. From the three bridges fronting the Preseren Square to the Central Market building along the river, to a theatre, a stadium, among others. The locals adore him and accord him the respect like he’s a national hero. Another such icon is Preseren, a poet and composer responsible for the country’s national anthem. The main square is named after him, a statue standing tall quite unlike other city squares graced with monuments of military men/heroes or national leaders. An architect and a poet — men of art. This alone says a lot about the Slovenian psyche.

City Hall Of Ljubljana

The Franciscan Church In Preseren Square

A city of dragons? There’s a good legend behind this country’s symbol. But it involved a “swamp monster” rather than a dragon. A dragon Bridge was so named to honor this legend of Jason who allegedly founded Ljubljana. One of many such bridges spanning the River Ljubljanica. There are many photos of this reinforced concrete Dragon Bridge given its popularity among tourists. And there are more legends attached to it. One such is that the dragons wag their tails when a virgin crosses this bridge. How about that? 😜 Well, you can say Slovenians have a flair for storytelling!

📸 Rick C

📸 Rick C.

For those who love to hike, you can climb up to Ljubljana Castle. There’s a “Camino-like” hiking trail for the avid hikers but there is also the funicular to reach the hilltop fortress without much effort. I’ve got to admit I wasn’t particularly thrilled with what I found — a fortress more than a castle, but the hilltop views are good. So if you feel like walking or wish to enjoy the city’s panorama, try this. Better still, check if there’s a movie showing “under the stars” and plan to have dinner at the top before or after the movie. Yeah, that should be nice.

📸 Rick C

Thanks, Rick C for the lovely borrowed photos 👍

GRAZ In a Heartbeat

We touched down in Vienna around 8 in the morning and was promptly whisked away in a van towards Ljubljana. All of 5 hours drive for more than a dozen sleep-deprived people from the Tropics. Not wasting time, we planned this pit stop in Graz, just over 2 hours south of the Austrian capital. So what’s in Graz, you ask? As the capital of the Austrian province of Styria and 2nd largest next to Vienna, it has much to offer. You may even say it’s a disservice to spend only a few hours here, do lunch and to visit it “just because” it’s along the way towards our destination in Slovenia. For starters, it was the cultural capital of Europe once upon a time. Not too long ago, it was also hailed as a city of culinary delights. This last one has a special charm to our group of food adventurers.

It was, however, a very brief visit. Just enough time to do the City Square where a Food Market was in full swing. We had our fill of bratwurst, schnitzel, beer and other sausages here. Nothing fancy as we only had 3 hours to tour around. From the square, we walked towards the river to view Kuntshaus, Murinsel, and finally the Schlossberg. The latter gave us a 360 degree panoramic view of the city from the Clock Tower area.

The Schlossberg has a well-manicured garden at the top, and an open air cafe bar. What’s interesting about the Schlossberg is the way up and back. One can take the lift, funicular or climb up. Then exit via the same lift, the same staircase or SLIDE! We chose to take the lift but cheered those brave enough to slide down through a transparent cylinder that zigzags down. That 35 second slide ride can’t possibly convince me.

If you don’t have the nerve to try the slide, nor the time to cover all the attractions in Graz, then just enjoy the city view from the top. From the Square to this hilltop attraction, you’d find many interesting architectural landmarks. Enjoy!

My last visit was in 2003 but that was on official business so it shouldn’t count. In 1986 and 2000, I was there. First as a student, the next as a tourist. Most things remained the same, but for the price of West End tickets. As a newbie watching musicals for the first time, I was very lucky to be there when Les Miserables first showed some 3 months before my arrival in 1986. With my student discount, it was a steal watching it and quite frankly, I was beyond awed. I’ve never seen the likes of it till then. I’ve watched it several times since, both in West End and Broadway, and even back in my home country. This Cameron Mackintosh was my new hero. Fast forward 2019. Ticket prices have spiralled. Lowest-priced musicals still hovered from £30 upwards. Some at £200 and up. And I mean really upwards. If you’re aiming to watch only one or 2, sure you can splurge. But not if you’re meaning to watch more. And so, rather than stay longer in London, we moved to stay nearly a week in Amsterdam and then another week in Brussels before heading back to London and onwards for 8 nights in Bath and The Cotswolds. We made many day trips from our chosen city base using trains, buses and vans. This is our Trip Summary from May 19 to June 12, 2019.



Day Trip from London: Stonehenge


DayTrips from Amsterdam


Zaanse Schans

Volendam & Marken

Delft & The Hague


Day Trips from Brussels




Back to UK


The Cotswolds

Day Trip to Cardiff, Wales

The Castle looms at the end of the Main Street. From Bath Spa Station, we bought a “Group Save” return train fare for only £86 for 5 pax. The promo deal works so long as we hop on the train off peak hours. Not bad for an hour’s train ride out of Bath. And Cardiff is so manageable. From the train station, we just walked out and took a left at the first corner and walked along that main road towards the castle. I’d say no more than 10 minutes walking. The Castle is where you can board the hop on, hop off red bus. My tip? Forget that. Just do the Castle and then perhaps the Museum after. Just another ten-minute walk. Then head back to the same Main Street to walk back to catch your return train. You can browse through a couple of churches, some good restaurants and a few shops. But do take your time in the Castle. It’s the highlight of your Cardiff visit.

Cardiff Castle packs 2,000 years of history. Your admission ticket includes an audio guide and takes care of introducing you to Wales’ leading heritage site. The Roman fort was built around 55 AD, but the original motte and bailey castle was built in the very late 11th century by Norman invaders. Norman architecture and Victorian elements have been incorporated and thus transformed the Castle to what it is today. Some of the lavish interiors even have Gothic, Mediterranean and Arabian designs. And how about those falcons (or dragons?) on the vast Castle grounds?

The main hall with its intricately designed ceilings, arches, murals, fireplace and chandeliers may look a tad eccentric with a good mishmash of many elements here and there. Like not a space was spared to display power and wealth. But the study hall cum library remains my favorite. There’s a quiet elegance seeing how those books were lined and neatly stacked in those shelves. God knows how many monarchs and blue-blooded men and women have gently flipped the pages of those old books. And it looked so regal to have picked a book to read, chosen a seat to occupy and while away the time while intermittently looking out the elegant glass windows. Perhaps with a cup of tea, pinkie up for good measure.

The mishmash may be explained by the castle’s long, complicated history. Ownership passed many families and generations, where major renovations have been introduced with each set of owners from Norman invaders to Kings to Earls to Marquesses until 1947 when the Castle was given to the City of Cardiff. Today, it is Cardiff’s topmost attraction and houses the “Firing Line Regimental Museum”. It is also a favorite and default events place for many of the city’s many festivals, celebrations and other musical performances.

Did I say Firing Line? The Cardiff Castle Museum of the Welsh Soldier lies underneath the main entrance and we took the opportunity to claim some chairs here to rest our aching leg muscles after doing the castle rounds. More so if you climb the Keep’s Tower. On display here are the Queen’s collection of Dragoon Guards Museum and the Royal Welsh. Two men, obviously ex-soldiers, offered to make a presentation about the significance of these collections including the artillery used by the guards. Out of curiosity, I tried one as you can see in the photo above. No big fan here.

We did take the hop-on, hop-off bus. Rode it right in front of the Castle and ensured an hour’s “joy ride” with audio guides. If we had time, we could have gotten off to take advantage of free museum admissions. Outside of that, nothing much drew interest. By the time the red bus passed near the Cardiff Central Station, we were ready to have our very late lunch at the Prince of Wales restaurant which we passed earlier. Then back to the station to board our train out of this Welsh capital. Not bad for a day trip from Bath which cost us only £17 for the train, £13.50 for the Castle and £15 for the hop on/off red bus. You may skip the red bus when you visit and just linger at The Castle, then walk to the Cardiff National Museum near the City Hall and Cardiff University. How about that? Just £ 30 for a day trip in this Welsh capital!

The Cotswolds

Always in my mind. Always in my list. Been to Stratford-upon-Avon on its north side, and south of it, Bath, but never stepped into the real Cotswolds territory. Until now. Time well spent in the English Countryside. In some places, time stood still. The honey-coloured stone cottages, the centuries-old market halls, “wool churches” and biscuit-hued houses with dry stone wall fences. So lovely!

Castle Combe




Arlington Row in Bibury


Tetbury and Cirencester

And finally, Chippenham, where the wedding was held. The reason why we’re here. The Lost Orangery in Euridge Manor was the perfect venue for such a fairytale wedding.


We came here for this wedding. So did the rest of the family and friends. Like six continents represented. Yes, only Antarctica wasn’t represented. It was a gathering of treasured friends over many years. For 2 lovely souls who swiped right and found each other. Destiny happened and we were all called in as witnesses to this ceremony that held so much meaning for everyone.

The weather forecast was WET and COLD. But the warmth from families and friends reuniting for this joyous occasion likely reversed that warning. The sun shone and there was not a drop of rain. It still grew terribly cold towards evening but by that time, everyone has warmed to the epic speeches, enjoyed the cocktails and sumptuous dinner, and later swayed to the beat as the dancing (and more drinking) began. Two nights in a row in this pre-wedding and wedding venue. Even the dog was invited!

This wedding has set the bar for truly meaningful, intimate and elegant weddings. Not just because of an excellent wedding venue and reception. More because of the chemistry among the wedding guests (you’d never guess some were meeting for the first time!), the hilarious and good natured banter between the fathers of the bride and groom, the sweet message from the bride’s mom, the groom’s speech which spoke volumes of love and friendship, and the epic speech of the best man who has known the groom since they were children and who shared many funny anecdotes that drew the most laughs and cheers from everyone.

The Euridge Manor, Chippenham looks out to a vast green field where you’d spot cattle and sheep grazing. Too bad we failed to watch the sunset at 10pm at this time of the year. Too busy watching the newlyweds’ nice moves on the dance floor! Must have been truly breathtaking, especially when viewed from the backyard of the nearby cottage where the bride and her family stayed on the eve of the wedding events. It may have grown quite uncomfortable as the temps dipped, but this is one wedding affair for the books. We do not wish to forget it. To the bride and groom, all our best wishes for a happy life together!

The “capital” of the Cotswold is Cirencester, but a Prince lives and runs a business store in Tetbury. Cirencester is the biggest town in the Cotswolds area and its skyline is dominated by the Saint John the Baptist Parish Church, one of the finest “wool” churches in England. Wandering around, you get a feel of a “big city” yet marvel at the stone buildings which used to be the 16th century manors of wool merchants now turned into hotels, boutiques, pubs, bistros, bed & breakfast inns.

The St. John Baptist Church in Cirencester is Gothic in architectural style with pillars bearing the crest of the wool merchants who financed its construction. Its glass stained windows and fan vaulting invite you inside the parish church that feels more like a Cathedral in grandeur and style. Behind is the Abbey Grounds where once stood an Augustinian monastery. A bit further down and through a Norman archway is your Cotswolds “countryside” beyond the city. Not too far from here is the more popular and more photographed Bibury, just 8 miles and 12 minute drive away. And don’t forget the very first college of agriculture in the English-speaking world. Founded in 1845, the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester has no less than HRH Prince Charles as University President.

In 2008, Prince Charles opened Highgrove Store in Tetbury, named after Highgrove House where the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall has a family residence. Prince Charles’ environmentalist philosophy echoes in the running of his private residence and gardens. Just as well, he sells his organic products in Highgrove Store here in Tetbury and the sales proceeds donated to the Prince’s Charitable Fund. It’s a lovely boutique where one finds anything from teas, jams to ceramic products and toys.

Along the main road – Church Street – and right in the center of town is the popular 17th century Market House. Its bright mustard hue stands out and is a favorite spot among photography buffs. An important part of Tetbury’s history, this stone building used to house a wool and yarn market in medieval times. It is still used as a market hall for various crafts fairs and other functions. Because of its alleged “royal connections” and much “wool history”, Tetbury has claimed fame and in fact, an architectural gem with many listed merchant houses and weavers’ cottages. If you’re in the area, drop by the Prince’s creatively inspired Highgrove Gardens and buy something from the Highgrove Store. Walk the streets and marvel at the many historic stone buildings. Who knows? You may even bump into Tony, Tetbury’s resident town crier, dressed in full regalia!

We were famished by the time we got to Stow-on-the-Wold. This time, a proper afternoon tea with scones in Lucy’s. The Old Bakery is full but no worries, this old market town has an abundance of tea rooms and also antique shops. Between the two, you know where I headed to. Hard to resist freshly-baked scones with lashings of good ol’ clotted cream and strawberry jam. But I needed more than that and so I settled for the Cotswold ham served with matured cheddar and homemade brown bread warmed and toasted under the grill. You bet I waddled out of Lucy’s Tearoom after that meal.

Lucy’s Tea Room

Scones from Lucy’s Tearoom

Lucy’s Tearoom is one of many in Stow-on-the-Wold. It comes with a good reputation and the cafe itself has a charming courtyard garden you’d pass on the way to the loo 😜 Obviously, Stow-on-the-Wold is a choice spot for lunch or afternoon tea. Most cafes were full even at a very late lunch hour, and the car park confirms this is a pit stop for many visitors to Cotswolds. It is the highest among the Cotswolds towns at 800 feet where 7 major roads converge. A hub, if I may call it that, just like in the past when it hosted big sheep trading fairs at the height of the wool industry of Cotswolds.

Cotswold Ham, anyone?

Just like the other villages in the 5 counties covered by The Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold has the same biscuit-colored cottages and green fields. Art enthusiasts would love visiting the 3 art galleries to be found here. Or you can choose to shop in any of the antique shops or like us, check out some of the ancient inns and tearooms. It is said that J. R. R. Tolkien was inspired by Stow-on-the-Wold when he wrote Lord of the Rings. Specifically, the Doors of Durin were inspired by the north door of St. Edward’s Parish Church. Many photos were taken here. So I’d grab one just to show you. Why? Because we failed to see this. Darn. Too busy and too hungry for lunch. By the time we were done with lunch, it was time to move.

Sourced from the Net

Sourced from the Net

Indeed, this market town is a jumble of art, history, culture and gastronomy. From what I gather, there’s a wide range of dining options from fine restaurants to artsy cafes to ale pubs. And as I mentioned earlier, at least 3 art galleries. Choice is yours to make. Unless you’re staying the night here, better plan on which to check out or which NOT to miss! Listen and take our advice. Learn from us 🙄