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Month: April 2017

Home page 25

Trieste, Italy

Trieste has been called the ultimate nowhere-place: officially part of several successive 64341-004-0D739460countries and empires through the ages, yet spiritually bound to none of them. Many of the 200,000 Triestine, I came to learn, do not see themselves as truly Italian. They belong to Trieste, and Trieste alone. In fact, a small but committed independence movement is seeking the recognition of Trieste as a free city-state.

From 16th to the end of World War l it was a part of Habsburg Empire, but more a city – state than ruled by anyone. Then inhabited by the citizens of the ex – Yugoslavia and Gypsies.

Me visiting this city was kinda ad hoc everytime, as I was catching the low budget flights¬†from local airport to Sicily and later to London. That time I was living in Zagreb as a student and tried to catch the world by its tail. Fours years laer, still the same… ūüôā

My local guide was a great friend of mine Andrea, who I met in Barcelona couple of years ago. So, he showed me great places and offered me great local specialties.

We sterted with the main square Piazza Unita d’Italia¬†with many head office buildings mostly of ¬†classical architecture.

In the middle of the square is the monument of  Thetis (sea nymphe) and Venus.  As the square faces the Adriatic sea it shows how important seaport it was since the Austro-Hungarian Empire times. Actually, I would call it an elegant triumph of Austro-Hungarian town planning.

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Main square in Trieste facing the sea and so being Italy’s largest sea-facing piazza
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Canal streets of Trieste facing the seaside

Le Sartine¬†are famous stressless ladies sitting next to the sea and chatting around. I found them very inspirative so I decided to sit next to them. ūüôā

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Le Sartine

 

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In the end we climbed to the hill San Giusto and enjoyed the great view of the city. We had a local spritz drink and some pizzetta crisps and fingerfood.

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View from San Giusto hill

 

Home page 19

TrakoŇ°ńáan castle, Croatia

Being placed atop a small hill in northern Croatia,¬†TrakoŇ°ńáan Castle looks like a fairytale castle, proudly peeking its spires.

It dates back to the 13 century as pat of fortification system and small observation fortress for monitoring the road from Ptuj, Slovenia.

According to a legend, TrakoŇ°ńáan was named after another fortification (arx Thacorum) that was built at¬†the same spot back in antiquity. Another source claims that it was named after the knights of Drachenstein who were in control of the region in early Middle Ages.

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The later owners were¬†Counts of Celje, which the same time ruled with entire Zagorje County (my hometown region!) ūüôā then in some moment it was even given to¬†Ivanis Korvin – King of Bosnia and illegitimate son of Matthias Korvin, King of Hungary. Oh tempora!¬†

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Later Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I gave it to croatian noble Juraj Draskovic, so finally as of 16th century, Trakoscan belongs to Draskovic family until the independence of Republic of Croatia from Yugoslavia, when the castle started to be owned by the Republic of Croatia with the permanent exhibition of the building.

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Blazon of the noble DraŇ°kovińá family

The museum features large artworkcollection from the Renaissance to historicism, with pieces ranging from paintings to furniture and small armory. There is also a set of dungeons below the castle.

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The castle is surrounded by the artificial lake and a forest with numerous paths to walk. Today, people are coming on a sunny day to have a picnic with a great view on a mighty castle.

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Ptuj castle, I feel sLOVEnia

This time in Slovenia, my brother and I visited Styria region again. We woke up earlier and took our car to the road from my hometown Krapina in Croatia.

Ptuj is the oldest city in Slovenia. There is evidence that the area was settled in the Stone Age and the Late Iron Age when it was settled by Celts. By the 1st century BC, the settlement was controlled by Ancient Rome as part of the Pannonian province. From these times, the first written mention of the city of Ptuj is dating, thanks to Roman Emperor Vespasian.

From those times it is dating  Orpheus Monument, almost 5 metres high carved of white Pohorje marble. The monument is the oldest public monument preserved in its original location in Slovenia and actually a grave marker from 2nd century, to honor the memory of Marcus Valerius Verus.

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Orpheus monument and the Belfry 

In the Middle Ages, it was used as a pillory of shame, where criminals were tied to the iron rings attached to its lower part. Nowadays has the status of a national cultural monument

From those times it is dating  Orpheus Monument, almost 5 metres high carved of white Pohorje marble. The monument is the oldest public monument preserved in its original location in Slovenia and actually a grave marker from 2nd century, to honor the memory of Marcus Valerius Verus.

The city has beautiful reneissance architecture, so my brother and I really enjoyed the beauty and the peace the city offers. So many small streets, yet wide enough with tall houses and small windows, decorations on the walls whitnessing the crafts of the times . Today many  small shops and bars are occupying these spaces.

In the early Middle ages, after the fall of Roman Empire, the Slavic tribes are populating the area, and Ptuj became part of the Frankish Empire.

Soon, after the renaissance, the Ottomans are trying to enter the city, so the citizens are building the Ptuj castle (originally from 12th century). The castle is situated on a hill alongside the river Drava overlooking the town, and is a prominent landmark.

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The last Lord of Ptuj, Friedrich IX, died in 15 century. His tombstone made of red marble from Salzburg, is built in the ground floor of the castle, where it was brought from a devastated Dominican church.

This mighty fortified construction was handovered then to the Hungarian leaders and Austrian Emperor Maximilian l.

It will take five more centuries  to be returned to its original slovenian owners.

A strategically remarkable position from which it was possible to control the vast surrounding flatland, was the main reason why the castle was important. The same beauty of the views on nearby Alps, river Danube, neighbour country Croatia and local wineyard region are the reason why many tourists visit this place. My brother and I decided to enjoy the exhibiton of the ottoman/islam portraits and glass of Traminac (croatian – slovenian sort of wine).

I am not sure if you still remember the oldest grape variety in the worldfrom Maribor Lent, but its graft was planted there too.

Enjoy the view!

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View on the city of Ptuj, river Drava, wineyards, Alps and croatian hills

 

 

 

Home page 13

Macedonia: Skopje and Mavrovo

The very beautiful Macedonia (FYR of Macedonia, to be more exact) ūüôā after belonging to many empires over time, it is nowadays mostly shared¬†by Christians and Muslims, who still come together at the fascinating Old Bazaar in Skopje, one of the Balkans’ largest markets.

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Old Bazaar
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Traditional Macedonian bags at Old Bazaar

The territory of Skopje has been inhabited since the times of Neolithic and later Bronze ages. The most famous settlements have been found within the old Kale Fortress situated upon the city. The word kale arrives from turkish  word for the fortress. The fortress is thought to have been built during the rule of emperor Justinian I, the Byzantin Emperor.

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Kale Fortress since the Byzantine Empire

Macedonia was part of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empire, and most recently it was a federal Yugoslavian republic until it¬†gained its independence in 1991, and Skopje became¬†country’s political, cultural, economic, and academic center.

The city survived the great earthquake in 1963 of a 6.1 magnitude which destroyed 80% of the area. Today’s symbol of the earthquake is The Old Railway Station in¬†Skopje with the clock on it. The clock stopped at 5.17 on July 26, 1963 as the earthquake hit the city.

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Old Railway Station clock stopped after the earthquake in Skopje, 1963

Through Skopje flows the river Vardar¬†over which is spreaded Stone Bridge¬†that connects city center and Old Bazaar. Built on Roman foundations under the patronage of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, the bridge is also less frequently known as the DuŇ°an Bridge¬†after Stephen UroŇ° IV /DuŇ°an of Serbia.

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Stone bridge, 5th century
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Incription on the Stone Bridge

My very good friend from Skopje brought me up the city walls to eat typical local food: ajvar (various vegetables’ souce) and drink Skopsko beer. ¬†The place where we ate is called ńĆarŇ°ija and has many great restaurants with local food, music and the best view on the city.

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Maria and me drinking Skopsko beer

Skopje has a projekt of 2014 which has been postponed to nowadays. It includes building many statues, renovating old buildings and building new ones but with its upmost kitchy style if I am to be asked, and many locals too, especially if they are asked where their money is going to. The¬†estimated unofficial price tag of the project is ‚ā¨500 million.

It is a project of a questionable taste that brings in conflict urbanisms vs. politics as the government is trying to re-build the history as weel by this project. This is well to be seen with the Statue of the Warrior on a Horse, supposed to be Alexander The Great or Alexander of Macedonia (which was that time the region of Greece).

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Alexander Great at the main square

Then there are this small statues after every corner representing girls from Skopje or some other public figure…

Then there is this kitchy bridge, one of many actually, over the river Vardar, with many lamps and statues, again.

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Kitchy bridges of river Vardar
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Kitchy bridges of river Vardar with many new buildings under construction

Aside from locals who have issues with the cost, I have to say this Porta Macedonia looks great. A¬†triumphal arch located on Pella Square, whos construction started in 2011 (small giggle) ūüôā

The Greek Foreign Ministry has lodged an official complaint to authorities in the Republic of Macedonia following the inauguration of the arch which features images of historical figures including Alexander the Great, ofcourse. ūüôā

Arch

Amongst famous people from Macedonia, are Mother Teresa¬†and singer ToŇ°e Proeski.¬†

Although she was from parents of albenian heritage, she was born in Skopje in 1910 (then part of Ottoman Empire) and practiced christian catholics religion. She left to Calcutta, India and became famous¬†for her work to help the poor, and was affectionately called the “saint of the gutters”. Before she died, she recieved the Nobel Prize for Peace. As a nun and missionary, the pope Francis ¬†canonized her as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

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Statue of Mother Teresa in front of Her Memorial House built on the spot of her birth house 
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ToŇ°e Proeski

ToŇ°e Proeski was pop singer from Skopje, born in 1981 and popular across Balkan area but died in a car accident on a highway in Croatia coming back from his concert. He was 26.

After Skopje I was heading to Mavrovo.¬†A national park consisted of ҆ar mountain and Lake Mavrovo. ¬†We were¬†accommodated in a 5 star hotel Mavrovo for 4 beautiful days.

Set in breathtaking scenery amid grassy plateaus and snowy peaks, the abandoned church of St Nicholas was reportedly the victim of an artificial lake created to supply water to a local power plant.

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Mavrovo Lake with submergd St Nicholas church

We visited as well the cave ҆arkova dupka, found by locals and guided down by them as well. It was claustrophobic at the beginning but we managed to do it.

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҆arkova dupka cave

Travelling more through the National Park of Mavrovo, we were admiring the green landscape that was covering rocky mountains and their cliffs secered by the brooks and rivers.

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National Park Mavrovo 

The last point we reached was a Macedonian Orthodox monastery Saint Jovan Bigorski, lovated on a cliff amongst the forest as mystical place. The church is dedicated to saint John the Baptist with many beautiful frescos inside. It is considered one of the finest examples of wood-carved iconostases. According to its 1833 chronicle, the monastery was built in 1020 by Ivan I Debranin. The Ottomans destroyed the monastery in the 16th century, but it was restored in 1743 by the monk Ilarion.

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The cloaster of the monastery
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View from the monastery
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Zen place

The monastery has a large collection of holy relics including John the Baptist, Clement of Ohrid, Lazarus of Bethany, Saint Stephen, Saint Nicholas, Saint Barbara and part of the Holy Cross.

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Main altar
Home page 5

Keukenhof, the Tulip Garden in Holland

Keukenhof is Hollands most famous tulip garden in bloom. It is open for 7 weeks every year and has a variety of  more than 7 million bulbs in bloom with a total of 800 varieties of tulips. In 2017, you can visit the tulip gardens of Keukenhof from March 22 until May 21.

I went there for a one day trip with my colleague and friend from work. As we were approaching the place, we were whitnessing many tulip fields in different colours. People were walking down the paths between those fields or cycling. It was amazing. ūüôā

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Tulip fields with a windmill.

At the entrance to the garden or the park itself, there were many shops with various flowers to grow like tulip bulbs, hyacinth etc. We decided to take the coffee first and slowly walk around.

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The beginning of the garden
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Through the forest

The majority of flowers that decorate this garden are the various types of tulips with various colors. However, biodiversity adorns the Garden of Europe is not only that, in Keukenhof you can also find various other interesting flowers, such as lavender, rose, chrysanthemum, daffodils etc. The flowers are planted, arranged and combined in such good based on the annual theme, of course, with the added touch of Dutch culture, make beauty rows of colorful flowers.

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Daffodils
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Hyacinths and daffodils
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Hyacinths

Fun fact: originally cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey), Holland began importing tulips in the 1500s. In the17 century, tulips were so popular that they created the first economic bubble, known as ‚ÄúTulip Mania‚ÄĚ (Tulipomania). As people bought the bulbs like crazy, tulips became so expensive that they were used as money until the market in them crashed. ūüôā Crazy Dutch!

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Books 1

Midnight in St Petersburg

midnight in st petersburg Revolutionary Russia, the main character Inna Feldman, who decides to flee Kiev after witnessing the assassination of Prime Minister Stolypin in a theatre, is  a Jewish orphan and by that fact almost inappropriate in a society.

She is travelling to ¬†St Petersburg to a distant relative in search of safety and security. There she faces two men¬†she is torn between. First is a violin-maker who is filled with revolutionary fervour. The other man who will feature in this love triangle is the Englishman Horace Wallich, who works for the famous jeweller Faberg√©. Even more Prince Youssoupof is mentioned in the novel as well, as the Father Grigory, revealed to be the notorious Rasputin –¬† a Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man who befriended the family of Tsar Nicholas II and gained considerable influence in late imperial Russia.

The author Vanora Bennett was  inspired by and based on her own great-uncle, which adds a personal twist to the novel.

Through the book, I discovered artist Alexey Titorenko: http://www.alexeytitarenko.com/ Photographer from St Petersburg famous by photos of Nomenklatura of Signs, as his view on the Communist regime as an oppressive system.

Books 2

Winter in Madrid

Winter in MadridSet in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Winter in Madrid, by C. J. Sansom is about three British citizens already scarred by their experiences of life and warfare when they come to Madrid.

Harry Brett accepts a Special Intelligence Service mission in Franco’s Spain, when the armies of fascism seemed invincible and the Communist revolution was utterly betrayed by the Stalin-Hitler Pact.

His old school collegue, the cynical and resentful Sandy Forsyth, is involved in a secretive business project which some believe could tip the balance toward an alliance between Spain and Nazi Germany. Barbara Clare is his lady but shattered by the loss of her lover some yeaers ago, when she realizes the love of her life might be alive and imprisoned in old war labor camp in Cuenca. It was surprising to read about the camp and surroundings after I visited the place in 2012, not knowing its history. My thoughts lead me thinking how Spain turned such a suffering place into tourist site.

The Spain of 1940 is itself a character, the Madrid of its time is a charracter as well. As I lived in Madrid¬†¬†for some time, I enjoed the author’s describing of the city’s sites and trying to imagine them 77 years ago.

Primarily, this is a political novel in the very best sense of that term Рa novel that thoughtfully considers what can happen to an ordinarily person, trapped by the system. Great lifes thet anyhow went to forgiveness as the life strolls.

 

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Palermo, Sicily

So much to discover about about Sicilian capital, and so less time… I had a day and a half and made my best of the days! I woke up early in the morning and crashed into the buzz of the Saturday’s streets.

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The city is such a mixture of Western, Islamic and Byzantine styles which is the reason many of the region’s churches have been granted Unesco World Heritage status. My first sightseeing¬†was¬†stunning Palatine Chapel¬† to see the ornate mosaics,¬†the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily. The chapel dates from 12 century and it is dedicated to Saint Peter.

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Capella Palatina
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Interior of capella

Next to it I discovered¬†Catacombe dei Cappuccini¬†–¬†mummified remains of the 16th-century Capuchin monks. With the time, rich citizens of Palermo ¬†started to be burried in their crypt. It actually became a bit of a status symbol. Families would visit the catacombs to pray with their deceased loved ones, and there are thousands of bodies there, in different states of preservation, and some set in particular poses. The most schocking for me was a 4 years old girl, the youngest burried body, died of cholera and hence preserved in its best condition. For the personal respective reasons of mine and finding it inappropriate, I will not post the photo here of her.

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Catacombs

After this, ¬†I just needed a refreshment so I walked around and discovered the streets, admiring the architecture and noticed lots of balconies on the buildings. Streets were loud, chaotic, lots of cars and neurotic drivers, but I guess it is Italian way ūüôā It is one of the reasons why sicilian mafia Cosa Nostra is succesful. ¬†The city is constructed as cross points of many small streets ending in weird directions which was¬†fruitful for the development of crime in small, abstruse and dark streets. The local government decided to reshape the city and built some avenues to make it a bit more¬†spacious.

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Amazing street architecture of Palermo
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Lively neighbourhoods of Palermo

Basta! Time for a coffee!

551492_10201188063726155_1737038981_nAnd this is what you get when you order a coffee to go in Palermo! ūüôā As the Italians are famous by drinking their small espresso¬†at the bar quickl while it is still hot. My failure of trying to be local, obviously! ūüôā

Wondering around I discovered the birth house of Giuseppe Garibaldi. The Italian general, politician and nationalist who played a large role in the history of Italy, by uniting the city states into a kingdom during the Italian Revoluiton of 19th century, placing King Vittorio Emanuele l at the throne.

Close by is the theater dedicated to him called Teatro Politeama Garibaldi located in the central Piazza Ruggero Settimo. It is aristotratic opera house, built in the neoclassical architectural style.

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Teatro Politeama Garibaldi

Note on the photo cheerfully painted wooden carts. It was the Ancient Greeks who brought the concept of a simple, rectangular cart with two wheels to Sicily and carts of this type can be seen in the Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina. They are called Patti Chiari. 

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Patti Chiari de Sicilia

By that time I was already hungry so I ran towards the market. And there I realized¬†Palermo’s importance as a trading centre. Just the spirit that lives on in the city’s lively markets, like Vucciria (meaning ‘chatter’ or ‘hubbub’) made me feel lively as well. There was lots of cheap food, vegetables and even cheap vintage clothes, all while inhaling the scents of flowers and spices and taking in the bright colours. ūüôā Sicily you are vivid!

One of the sites of Palermo is Quattro Canti at Piazza Vigliena.  It is a baroque square built in 17 century, with the facades of bronze and marble that contain fountains with statues of the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and of the patronesses of Palermo, (Christina, Ninfa, Olivia and Agata).

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Quatro Canti – nothern and eastern facade
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Quatro canti – southern facade
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Quatro canti – the fountain decoration
Home page 5

The Landscapes of Sicily ‚ėÄ

The largest of italian islands, seeking for independence and great place of landscapes – it is a gift of God! My 8 days of discovering northern part of Sicily was just not enough! ūüôā

So here is how it started!

Prior landing to Palermo Airport, we flew over crater of¬†Etna –¬†3,323 m high¬†volcano that is still active. Apparently it has long and even mythological history:¬†Aetna¬†was the mother of¬†Zeus of the Palikoi, gods of geysers and hot-water springs. The giant Typhoeus or Enkelados (Enceladus) was buried beneath the bulk of the vulcano. His restless turnings were the cause of earthquakes and lava-flows.

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Semi-active Etna from the plane

Travelling through the islands I admired the agriculture, fields, wineyards, smells of nature and tame villages! Everywhere we go, there were yellow flowers called mimosis!

Being there I was eager to try some of their wines. Sicily has more vineyards than any other region in Italy; it also grows more grapes. Indeed, this island is blessed with the climate and great rows of wineyards. I tried Malvasia and Perricone. ūüôā

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Wineyards of Sicily

The earliest archaeological evidence of human activity on the island dates from as early as 12,000 BC.¬†By around 750 BC, Sicily had three Phoenician and a dozen Greek colonies and, for the next 600 years, it was the site of the Sicilian Wars and the Punic Wars, which ended with the Roman Republic’s destruction of Carthage at the battle of Carthage in 2nd century.

We visited Segesta: originally one of the major cities of the Elymian people, one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily, but later a Greek colony. There can be found a doric temple of Segesta and amphitheater. It is said, wherever the Greeks builded the temple as a place of worshipping Рit must have been a speacial place to do so. Unfortunately, the city was destroyed by Vandals, like almost every ancient city of Europe of that time.

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Walking around the Segesta and admiring the temple behind us
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Some more landscape of Segesta
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Segesta temple
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Segesta temple
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Segesta temple
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The amphitheater with great acoustic
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Me performing an old local croatian song from region of Zagorje. The name of the song is The tear for Hills of Zagorje.

Then there was Trapani! Founded by the mentioned¬†Elymians, the city is still an important fishing port and the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands.¬†In ancient times, Saturn was the god-protector of Trapani. Today, Saturn’s statue stands in a piazza in the centre of the city.

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Main Square in Erice
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Narrow streets of Erice
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The Fountain of Saturn

From Trapani up to the hill is the old city of Erice. There are two castles that remain in the city: Pepoli Castle, which dates from Saracen times, and the Venus Castle, dating from the Norman period, built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, where Venus Ericina was worshipped.

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The Temple of Venus in Erice

In Alcamo we had canoli –¬†typical sweet sicilian dolci.¬†Too sweet if you ask me, but it was a worth to try by visiting typical gelateria and buying some local products.¬†¬†

That night we decided to scroll down the bar and try italian liquors. ūüôā Digestivos¬†are alcoholic drinks infused with herbs or aromas such as limoncello, fragolino (strawberry liquor), maraschino (cherry liquor) or ¬†nocino¬†(nut liquor).

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My night-out finished at 5 am, watching the sun rise over the nearby city Castellamare¬† del Golfo and admiring this beautiful island. ūüôā There was something so special about it.

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Sunrise over Castellamare del Golfo
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Sunrise over Castellamare del Golfo, 5 am.