When I got off the Vaporetto in the early evening sun on the Venetian island of Burano, I felt like in a fairy tale. The warm light made stand out the bright colors around me. Yellow, blue, red, pink, green … square houses with white-framed windows and green shutters, all painted as on a picture of a crazy artist. Narrow water channels were like life-giving arteries sown with moored boats. I was surrounded by the aroma of freshly baked Margharita pizza, fried fish, singing the Italian language, and the sound of the sea. In short, it was a fairy tale called Vita Felice. I was very impressed by the small island of Burano.
Now a bit of geography: Burano is a group of 4 islands connected by bridges. It lies about 7 km from Venice. The Vaporetto cruise (line no. 12) from San Marco Square takes about 30 minutes. Approximately 2,400 people live permanently on the 21-hectare paved marshy land.
Burano does not have a significant architectural monument if we do not count the slightly inclined bell tower of the church of San Martino. It enchants you by its colors, Italian charm, and peaceful atmosphere.
The color of the houses is managed by the local town hall. They make sure that none of the houses deviates from the strictly regulated concept. They say that the colorful, radiant houses were a signal tool for local fishermen, who used them as navigation for their berths when they tired returned from fishing in the evening.
Burano – the place of artists
We often passed a lonely painter or a group of young artists in the alleys which trying to capture the picturesque rows of houses reflected in the calm water with boats tied to old, wooden poles with graceful arches of bridges in the background.
Burano is home of artists. For example, the painter Leonardo D’Este, the designer and architect Philippe Starck, and the sculptor Remigio Barbaro live here. From the past – the composer Baldassare Galuppi, after whom is named the main square.
The house of sculptor Remigio Barbara is located on the coast, outside the busier parts of the island.
Burano in lace
Once upon a time, a fisherman from Burano caught a beautiful siren. The tempting siren tried to entice him with her singing. But the young fisherman was engaged so he resisted all the love proposals and let her go back to the sea. The queen of sirens was enchanted by his fidelity. She decided to reward the fisherman. She created foam around the ship with her tail, which turned into a beautiful, delicate wedding veil. On the day of the wedding, the young ladies envied fisherman’s fiancee unseen lace. They longed for lace as soft as sea foam too. They began to weave it, thinner and thinner, hoping to be dressed in soft lace at their wedding, just like a fisherman’s bride. This is how Buranian women allegedly learned the art of lacemaking.
Another legend says that lacemaking started on the island after Leonardo da Vinci bought beautiful lace in the distant Cypriot town Pano Lefkara for the main altar of Milan Cathedral. Lacemaking was the main commodity of the small island in the 16th century. Due to high demand among the high French nobility, King Louis XIV employed a pair of Venetian lacemakers right in his yard.
If you want to know more about lace, you find out everything at the Museo del Merletto. And if you would like to learn how to make lace, visit a lace school named La Scuola Dei Merletti di Burano. It sounds so melodic!
Burano must be eperienced
If you want to relax far from the crowded Venice, the island of Burano is the ideal place. Wander the colorful alleys, have a special risotto de gò in the trattoria, which is creamy rice cooked in a strong fish broth with pieces of gò fish, or have just cappuccino with local butter biscuits bussolà. The sounds, the smells, and in general, the atmosphere of this place surely settles in a drawer of pleasant memories.
And don’t forget to stop on the island of Murano and see the Italian glass art and meditate for a while in the old monastery on the island of Torcello. But about this next time.
It is a lifestyle whose credo is well-being, coziness, enjoying the good that life brings. Hygge is not just about candles, a crackling fire in the fireplace, a soft blanket, and a hot cup of cocoa. It’s about the art of enjoying ordinary things, about the art of seeing the goodness in people, and the art of spreading a pleasant atmosphere around you.
The Danes are simply a happy nation. They have happiness in their blood, or, as the CEO of Happiness Research Institute Meik Wiking said, they have it encoded in their DNA.
I was in Denmark, more precisely in the capital Copenhagen, in May 2019. And after a few hours, I fell in love with it. It’s not hard either, because of hygge radiates from everything here. Here you are a few of Copenhagen’s highlights with some extra info if you will travel there in the future.
Den lille havfrue
The statue of the Little Mermaid on the Langelinie promenade is the most famous symbol of Denmark. I don’t know why. It was cast in bronze in 1913 by sculptor Edvard Eriksen, fascinated by the sad story of H.CH. Andersen about the unfulfilled love of a mermaid for a beautiful prince.
The statue measures 125 cm and is surrounded by tourists throughout the day. Many from them are disappointed at how inconspicuous it is.
Now, in the era of selfies and smartphones, the beautiful sea girl has become one of the most photographed fairy-tale creatures in the world.
The model for Edvard Eriksen was the prima ballerina of the Danish Royal Ballet Ellen Juliette Collin Price de Plane, who danced the role of a mermaid. However, the statue has only Ellen’s delicate face and head. Ellen was very shy, so the sculptor’s wife became a model for the naked body of the fairy. The statue was funded by philanthropist and art lover Carl Jacobsen, one of the owners of the Carlsberg brewery.
Interestingly, the Little Mermaid has two other statues – in Monaco and in Sicily. But they are not so popular at all.
All roads lead to the port of Nyhavn
Whoever visits Copenhagen, the port of Nyhavn (New Port) simply will not miss. It is lined by colored 17th and 18th-century houses, bars, and restaurants. At a time, when it was full of fishing boats from which fishermen’s catches were processed and sold in the nearby Kongens Nytorv square, it was famous for its good beer and women of light manners. Writer Hans Christian Andersen lived here for 18 years. The house he used to live in is not even marked, but I heard, it is the dark red one. After all, it is depicted on every magnet.
After World War II Nyhavn orphaned, cargo ships sailed to other ports. The port was revitalized in 1977 and adapted to evolving tourism. Today, this icon of Copenhagen is full of tourists. Sitting here with the glass of Carlsberg beer and watching the sunset between the masts of the ship is just hygge.
Christiania – hippies and marihuana
Christiania is a very strange, scribbled place. It is an autonomous community of settlers (or more aptly a mixture of hippies, squatters, and anarchists) in a 19 acres area of abandoned barracks founded in 1971. They are governed by their own laws, independent of the Danish government. The rules prohibit theft, violence, weapons, knives, bulletproof vests, and hard drugs. However, marijuana is sold quite openly on Pusher Street.
In its 50-year history, despite its peaceful laws, Christiania has experienced many evils – drug murders, resident uprisings after police intervention, a grenade blast at a Nemoland cafe, a shootout and the deaths of two police officers, violence caused by Hells Angels…, and that’s not all.
But to balance this, various interesting cultural events take place here. Concerts, open-air festivals, theaters, talk shows. In addition to cannabis, you can buy a lot of colorful hippies clothes, accessories, jewelry, handbags.
It is not allowed to take photos in this area, but I could not resist it. I photographed until the stout guy scream “NO photo!” at me. Then we heroically fled Christiania away. 🙂
Kastellet is one of the best-preserved fortifications in northern Europe. Today it is used as a barracks, several hundred employees of the armed forces work here. The area is really large and photogenic. There were fewer tourists, we just got involved unwittingly in small cross-country running races. We didn’t win unfortunately 😀
The fortification began to be built in 1626 by the Danish king Christian IV because it was necessary to better protect the royal city. The construction of enormous dimensions was completed by his son, Frederik III. On October 28, 1664, the first soldiers ceremoniously entered the fortress. This is the day when the birthday festivities take place here every year.
The walls have the shape of a pentagon, length 1750 meters with a bastion in each corner. There is a church in the complex, built-in 1704, opposite it is a prison and many other buildings. The biggest attraction is the mill from 1847.
Smørrebrød – bread with butter by Denmark
It is a traditional food. It is actually an open sandwich with butter, sausage, or most often fish specialties. Copenhagen is full of street food markets with dishes from around the world. But the open sandwich is top.
There are many variations of smørrebrød, such as this one called Veterinarian’s Midnight Snack: a piece of dark rye bread, butter, liver pate, layered with a slice of salted beef and a slice of aspic. Garnish with onion rings and garden persimmon.
Stjerneskud – falling star: white bread with butter, a piece of stewed white fish on one half, fried plaice on the other half. A pile of shrimps on it, a drop or two of mayonnaise, red caviar, and a slice of lemon.
Kastrup sea bath
On the way to the airport, for example, reserve about three hours for a short trip to the coast. In the suburban part of Copenhagen – Kastrup -there is an architectural pearl – a circular sea swimming pool, also called “snail” by locals. The best way to get here from the center is by overground subway. The sea swimming pool is right behind the yachting and canoeing club.
The wooden pier leads to the construction of the swimming pool, which gradually rises and ends with a 5-meter platform. The building stands on slender pylons one meter above the water level and the whole is made of African Azobé wood. This exotic wood excels in remarkable longevity and resistance to seawater. The circular shape protects visitors from the wind and concentrates the sunshine. The construction is illuminated to provide a visual experience during an evening swim. The White Architects group has won several world awards for its project.
It was lively on the platforms during my visit. The sun was a little jagged in the afternoon and the temperature was around 15 degrees. A young mother in jacked was dressing her little daughter in a swimsuit, two sportswomen put on a wetsuit and went for a swim, some warmly dressed visitors sat and just relaxed, and the old couple, grandfather and grandmother naked and without hesitations walked down the stairs into the cold water. Everybody was completely natural. It was a demonstration of the Danish high tolerance rate for me.
Øresundsbroen – Øresund Bridge
The bridge connects Copenhagen with Swedish Malmö. It is one of the longest bridges in the world. 4km is a bridge over the sea, on an artificial island it turns into an underwater tunnel with a length of 8km. We went to Sweden by train, you can also take a regular bus line. Cars pay tolls.
I was looking forward to driving on the bridge, but the train was going over the bridge so very fast that I saw almost nothing. But I highly recommend a trip to Malmö.
I could write a lot more about Copenhagen, but probably no one would read it anymore. I did not mention anything royal – neither the palaces, nor the surprisingly long change of castle guards, nor the churches and temples and the amazing canals full of houseboats and ships. Not even an expedition to Kronborg for Hamlet. I only spent five “hygge” days here. I can say that I probably never felt as safe and comfortable as here. Go to Copenhagen!
For all the pictures from this trip, click on Trip to Denmark in my photo-spective. There are enough of them, but they are nicely thematically sorted into albums.
We shamble up by car more than a precipitous hill. There are low houses on the right side. A few stone stairs at each front door to balance the steep slope and cut from the desperately narrow road. A deep gorge is on the opposite side. I see down the blue Atlantic and the people as tiny as ants. I have number one gears speed, my old Renault roars, and gasps. The clutch begins to smoke. I hold the steering wheel firmly with my sweaty hands. Just don’t stop! Because I’m going to have to reverse down the hill. I’m fainting. The local Fittipaldi appears suddenly from the top opposite, at least by the big tank car! There is no other option, just to squeeze back between the two stairs, which I use as a stop, and pray that somebody does not open doors or shutters… Even this is Madeira.
The island Madeira is the autonomous region of Portugal and has approximately 57 x 22 km. It is also nicknamed the “Floating Garden of the Atlantic”. Rightly. The volcanic subsoil, pleasant climate, and humidity are well-mixed conditions for vegetation.
Capital city of Madeira Funchal – some tips and insights
Zona Velha – the oldest part of Funchal is just the thing. It consists of narrow, cobbled streets with small shops full of magnets, keychains, clothes, Madeiran wine, or works of art. They alternate with cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating. In one of them, be sure to have Espada con banana. This is a fried fish similar to an eel with grilled banana and it is excellent. The prices are very favorable here, the price of the complete menu, including the appetizer and dessert, costs €12 – €18.
Monte toboggan – take the cable car to Mount Monte and ride down on sleigh as fast as a whirlwind. Right, on the sleigh in the summer. With two guides who are either holding you back or pushing you. Depending on the circumstances. Notice their soles – they have them reinforced with rubber from the tire. Approximately 2 km long ride of sled takes 10 minutes and costs €30 for two persons.
Mercado dos Lavradores – buy true Madeiran bananas in an amazing, colorful marketplace. They grow them here in large quantities. They are exported to Portugal only because of the EU reportedly concluded that their curvature was insufficient. Or too big? If you notice black, long fish lay on the counter, it’s Espada (you ate them with grilled banana). They have spooky bulging eyes, supposedly because of rapid pressure decrease during fishing. They live in great depth.
Hotel Ritz – enjoy a coffee on the terrace of this magnificent hotel, which has been here for over 100 years, and observe the relaxed atmosphere of the capital
Poncha – after a walk through the botanical garden, have a drink of fresh orange juice with Madeiran rum, sweetened with honey from orange blossoms
Cruise ship The Santa Maria de Colombo – take a three-hour cruise on an “exact” replica of Christopher Columbus’ Galeon to Cabo Girão rock, which is the second-highest cliff in Europe (580m). Those who have the courage and a healthy heart can jump across the deck into the icy water. By the way, he was a joker, this Christopher. He did not confess that he had a diesel engine below decks.
Madeira Art of Open Doors
The Zona Velha was old and deteriorating part of the capital. In 2010, José Maria Montero had the idea – to have artists paint on the doors of abandoned shops and homes. He asked more than 100 artists to participate in the Arte Portas Abertas project. Entering was easy: pick a door and create whatever you want on it. Around 200 works of art have been created until today using various techniques – painting, clay, metal, glass, stones, ceramic tiles, and even the keys on a computer keyboard. The name of the project means the Art of Open Doors and captures the main idea – to attract people and culture to this part of the city. And it works excellently. By the way, if you want to see all 200 doors it will be a long stroll.
Santana – houses like in a fairy tale
These picturesque houses now stand only in the open-air museum in Santana. Palheiros, as they are called in Madeira, were used by shepherds a long time ago. These wooden houses were small, they could disassemble, and the shepherds only slept in them or hid from the rain.
Porto Moniz is located on the north coast of Madeira. It is a small village with 1600 inhabitants, whose main attraction are natural pools with sea water. They have an area of 3800 m², with a depth of approximately 2m. They are formed by volcanic lava and the ocean water flows freely into them. Therefore, only a few hardy people bathed in them. At the beginning of June, the water was only 18 degrees. However, the pools are open all year round.
Pico do Arieiro
To Madeira’s second-highest peak you can go by car. It is 1818 m tall and in addition to beautiful views, frequent inversion, it is the starting point for a mountain hike. Tourists will enjoy hiking in Madeira. They will fall in love with tens of kilometers of trails through the mountains, along the levadas (these are narrow water channels) and the coast.
Funchal Airport only for the more courageous
Finally, something about arrival and departure. Have a glass of Madeira wine before. The runway is short, situated between the ocean and rocky cliffs, much of which stands on 180 pillars above the water. Funchal Airport is one of the 10 most dangerous in the world. Uff. Pilots flying here must have special training. Our pilot managed to land on the first try, but we landed so steeply that I was deaf all the next day.
Standing within reach of perhaps the most famous statue in the world – five meters high David – is a great experience. Thinking that the ingenious artist Michelangelo Buonarroti had touched it five hundred years ago, sent chills down my spine…
If you like paintings, sculptures, and Renaissance architecture, you will find all these and many many more in Florence. There is even a diagnosis – Stendhal syndrome – from the amazement of many monuments and art. Named after the French writer, it is most often manifested by dizziness and palpitations. I think I overcame it too. Fortunately, the treatment is simple. Sit for a while in the cozy trattoria, have a pizza, ristretto, and a glass or two of well-chilled spumante. It is guaranteed that it will help.
Florence in december
I went to Florence – one of the places from my bucket list – in early December and it was a good decision. There were fewer tourists than usual. We got to the gallery, where during the tourist season you either have to stand through a long queue or make an online reservation in advance, without waiting. The main square, Piazza del Duomo, was easily passable with the magical Christmas atmosphere of the historic city center, as a bonus.
I was going to see the best of Florence, so the most advantageous choice was to buy a Firenzecard, where the price of €85 includes admission to about 70 museums and churches. The holder of this card also does not need to wait in queues at the cash registers but may enter straight away. Please note that during the high season, it is necessary to book entry for a specific day and hour in the Uffizzi Gallery and Della Academia, even if you have the Firenzecard.
Galleria degli Uffizi
First in line were Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus or Primavera, Michelangelo’s Holy Family, Da Vinci, Giotto, Lippi, Rembrandt, Brueghel, and dozens more at the Uffizi Gallery. It is a space with exceptional charm. When you walk its lit corridors with a beautiful wooden ceiling above you, rows of statues lining the walls, and rooms with paintings of ancient masters on your way, you find yourself with bated breath. By the way, you generally don’t see so many naked marble people anywhere. 🙂 If you want to see the arts in the Uffizzi in more detail, reserve at least half a day. At the end of the visit, I was no longer able to look at any more paintings.
The building of the gallery in the shape of a narrow letter “U” was built in 1560 by Cosimo I. de Medici. He needed offices for the Florentine municipality and the judicial authorities of the Tuscany. Uffizi in ancient Italian meant office – offices. The project was designed by the court artist of the Medici, Giorgio Vasari. It became a gallery full of masterpieces in 1769. Today it is one of the most famous in the world.
The most beautiful and most famous of the Florentine nudes is called David. Located in the Galleria dell´Academia it’s really impressive. It dominates the whole museum.
Michelangelo sculpted it at the age of 26. Originally, the statue was to be placed along of roofline of Florence Cathedral. The huge block of marble used for the sculpture lay in the opera courtyard for many years. Agostino di Duccio originally started sculpting it but gave up because of numerous defects of material. Michelangelo received this complicated order and sculpted the shepherd David at the moment when he accepted the challenge to fight the giant Goliath. A stone in one hand and a slingshot in the other. Vigilant eyes and expression of tension, humility, and love for God, whom Goliath cursed so much.
Michelangelo’s portrayal of David was unusual. Until then, all the artists captured him only after the fight, victoriously holding the Goliath’s cut-off head .
It is known from the archives that he was sculpting it for more than two years (1501-1503). During that time, no one was allowed to see the statue. He worked hard all days long, slept little, barely ate. After unveiling the work, the council decided that it would be a pity to place such beauty high on the wall of the cathedral and proposed to place it in the heart of Florence, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. The famous statue moved to the gallery in 1873.
In the gallery, you will also find a room called Gipsoteca Bartolini. It is full of plaster casts from the 19th century by Lorenzo Bartolini, one of the great sculptors and excellent professors of the academy.
In the next room, there is a collection of recently restored late Gothic Florentine paintings.
Dante Alighieri and Palazzo Vecchio
Famous writer Dante Alighieri, the author of the masterpiece of the Middle Ages – the Divine Comedy, grew up in Florence. His birthplace, Casa di Dante, where you will discover the original Divina Commedia illustrated by Sandro Botticelli, is worth a short visit. Dante’s posthumous mask is exhibited in the Palazzo Vecchio, the old town hall, dated back to 1499. And there is much to see here. Gorgeous halls with ornate ceilings got me to my knees. In the largest one, called Salone dei Cinquecento, the Grand City Council used to sit, holding as many as 500 members.
Duomo di Firenze
And, of course, the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen – the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria del Fiore also called the Duomo di Firenze with the Baptistry. Robert Langdon and his Inferno – do you remember the scenes from the book by Dan Brown? 460 steps lead to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome, the icon of the Florence panorama. Nothing for people with heart disease, claustrophobia, or fear of height. The double-layered octagonal dome built-in 1434 is considered a miracle of construction technology. It was built from the outside in, using 4 million bricks laid in a herringbone pattern, without the use of scaffold! Brunelleschi, who is buried in the cathedral, took his know-how to the grave. He left no building plans and diagrams detailing the dome, carrying everything in his head out of fear that a competitor might steal his idea.
Just to give you a conception of what a giant cathedral means in this case – it’s the fourth largest cathedral in the world and inside you can fit an incredible number of 25,000 people. The Giotta bell tower is also worth mentioning. You need to take 414 steps to get to the top. The bell ringers had to be in a good physical condition!
The first mention of this exceptional bridge over the Arno River dates back to 996. It was built of wood and was swept away by floods several times over the centuries until it was built of stone in 1345. The identity of the author of the bridge has not been proven yet.
There are shops on both sides of the bridge. Butchers, tanners, and other craftsmen were replaced by goldsmiths and jewelers in 1593 because Cosimo I. used to go through the bridge to his palace, and the bad smell and dirt bothered him.
Even during the retreat of German troops in World War II, the bridge was not destroyed, directly on Hitler’s orders. Other bridges in Florence and the surrounding area were blown up by soldiers.
The oldest pharmacy
The oldest pharmacy in the city, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, is worth a visit too. It has been working continuously for 400 years. A porter will take you to the beautiful old, frescoed areas of the pharmacy. Under their own brand, they mix custom perfumes, produce vitamin capsules, teas, ointments, and creams. And those scents! Inside there is an office, a tearoom, a room with an exhibition on old pharmacy methods, and an herb room.
The charm of the old town is completed by trattorias, cafes, and restaurants. I am not going to argue about the prices, but for example to give €5 for a single scoop of ice cream at Ponte Vecchio seemed a bit too much, even though it was yummy.
For a person who loves art in every form, Florence is almost a paradise on earth. It will draw you into the Renaissance and Gothic times, the days when Florence was ruled by the Medici family. Often you will barely breathe when you look at famous paintings, statues, or old books. Your neck will hurt from your eyes trying to take in all of the beautiful ceilings in the old town hall, you won’t feel your feet, because you will be constantly tempted to cross the old, narrow streets, shops, squares, churches, and markets. You will love the ubiquitous scent of treated leather and the sight of the huge dome of the Duomo. And you will humbly bow down before all the old masters who created this beauty.