Friday, July 29, 2011

The most beautiful beach?

Lists, Best-ofs, Top 10s are an easy and ready to digest information format but no matter how much I like them, they are always controversial.

Lonely Planet does a fantastic job at highlighting good spots for this, that and the other, but it is inevitable there will be people offended by spots that haven't made the shorlist of the most beautiful, the best, the nicest, the friendliest... places they would consider top of their list.

At the end of the day, all lists are flawed: firstly, they are written by one individual, with his/her preferences, opinions, mindset, mood and circumstances... and secondly, he/she quite possibly haven't been to every single place in the world for the list to be the most accurate or scientifically proven.

Having said that, and considering there are many places I haven't been, I would like to share these shots of Boca do Rio beach in Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia.

I can't say it is the most beautiful beach in the whole wide world - because I'm aware there are many amazing beaches out there yet to be discovered. But at the time of visiting, with childhood friends, on a sunny day in mid-July, it certainly felt like the most incredible place in the world - almost impossibly perfect. The most beautiful beach, the best of my list. So far, anyway.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

La lluvia es una canción sin letra (Rain is a song without lyrics). Book...

Here's the book trailer for the debut novel by my friend Angel.
It is beautifully photographed and very touching, it has been partly filmed in Dublin and partly filmed in Castellon and Villarreal, Spain. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beach life, but not as we know it

The Croatian village of Petrcane, some 7km north of Zadar city, is known to festival nomads for its sun-soaked seaside music festivals (mainly the Garden Festival that takes place at the beginning of July) but in June it is a beat-free chill-out zone by the sea, just don’t expect to find any sand.

Organised travelers (maybe most travelers) might advice research and planning is essential for a good stress-free holiday. However, sometimes, a bit of spontaneity (and lack of time) can land you some of the best travel experiences. This was the case with our trip to Croatia in June. Due to work/college commitments, it felt as if suddenly we were off without much of a plan, apart from the intention of visiting a good friend in Zagreb for a couple of days.

A couple of weeks before travelling, one of the four members of the group had found an apartment by the coast, in Petrcane, through and we decided to book it straight away, for four nights: it looked good and we didn’t have that much time to be fussying around anyway. It matched the boxes: on the coast, close enough to Zadar, affordable.

Having asked our friend in Zagreb about Croatian public transport (Zagreb is about 240km from Zadar), she recommended we rented a car. None of the travelers felt like renting a car, since we were all on ‘chillax’ mission and didn’t know much about the area, so the day before travelling it was decided – out of pure apathy more than a carefully studied decision - we would just get a taxi transfer from the airport to Petrcane and take it from there.

So we landed in Zadar airport at 20,30 and got ferried to the apartment we had booked, at Villa Lisica.

By pure chance we got given the best apartment in the building, we were told, as all the smaller units were booked and we were a party of four. The five-bedroom apartment with a huge terrace leading directly to a little harbour on the seafront left us thinking maybe there had been a mistake somewhere, it was just too good to be true.

Later we learnt the apartment had been recently refurbished and it had been a restaurant until the year before. This fact ended up being slightly annoying, as people would still think it was a restaurant and stroll into the terrace (or as far as the main door) wondering what was going on before realizing it was a private space.

We couldn’t believe our luck, since we chose Petrcane by pure chance and turned out to be just what we needed, and we got this amazing apartment for a much lower price.

If we were expecting sandy beaches we were very wrong but the Dalmatian concept of beach is as attractive as it is unusual: no sticky sand getting everywhere, no overcrowded strands... just people chilling by the man-made sea front and pontoons, dipping in and out of the warm crystal clear Adriatic as if it was a huge salty pool.

A 5-minute walk along the seafront would take us from Villa Lisica to the main street in the village, where there is a shop, a post office, an information office and many restaurants serving plenty of seafood (at premium prices for Croatian standards but still pretty good when travelling from Ireland), as well as a bus stop for the line that connects Zadar with Nin and it is regular enough for you to ditch the rental car. The trip from Petrcane to Zadar is merely 15 minutes so if your intention is to chill out by the sea for a few days, you might not need to rent a car.

The restaurants we tried were all pretty similar in price, quality and menu; however, quantity can vary from place to place. It was in Petrcane that I first came across ‘noah’s arks’ some mollusc (I’m told from the Mediterranean) that resembles a big boxy clam and tastes like a tough mussel. Not that I was that impressed but it was worth trying for sure. Our friend in Zagreb later told us they are also eaten in the Valencia region in Spain, and they are called caixetes in Catalan...


After chilling in Petrcane for a day and a half, we decided to rent some bikes at the nearby Hotel Pinjia and cycle to Nin, some 7km north of the village. Nin is a walled medieval town with its historic centre on an island connected to the rest of the town by a couple of gates and bridges.

Known for its salt making industry and for having the smallest cathedral in the world, Nin also has a sandy beach (coarse darkish sand though), which is pretty unique around, on the north side of the old town.

The cycle was pretty easy, especially due to the fact that there is a cycle lane almost all the way to Nin. As you get into Nin from the south, on the left there is St Nicolas church on a mound by the side of the road, which is pretty picturesque - and a good excuse for a little cycle break. On the way in, we stumbled into a fruit market where five women were selling local fruit. With the help of some sign language sprinkled with some German words, we managed to buy some apricots, cherries and strawberries.

Once inside the walled town, it is nice to wander around the tiny streets off the main street where cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops are packed with visitors.

The Kornati Islands

There are many islands off the coast of Zadar, including the Kornati National Park, which is a popular tourist day trip. There are many organised boat trips for around €40, including food and entrance to the national park. The boats usually leave from Zadar at around 8,30am and get back around 5ish, but, in our case, the organisers picked us up at our accommodation in Petrcane. It is common to see the boat trip ‘sales men’ strolling up and down Petrcane and other villages getting people to book a place in one of their trips.

George Bernard Shaw once said (according to some leaflets we found about the Kornati) "On the last day of Creation, God wished to crown his work and made the Kornati island out of his tears, the stars and his breath.”

The scenery approaching the Kornati islands is just spectacular: the barren landscape dotting the sea and the vertical cliffs; its remoteness and wild beauty. As for the food on board, it had a few wild surprises too: like a breakfast that consisted of a very potent snap and a wafer biscuit, at 9,30 in the morning! They were €40 well spent, despite the fact that I was nursing a very bad cold that kept me from enjoying it 100% - or do some swimming in the bluest of waters I had ever seen. The downside was obviously the crowds once we got our 2-hour stop at the National Park, as many of the boats doing the day trip seem to have a very similar schedule.

It would have been amazing - maybe take note for next time - to stay in one of the islands' small villages in Dugi Otok and really forget about the rest of the world for a week or so, just enjoying the sea, the sun and the quiet.


Our journey to Zagreb, the Croatian capital, took us around 3,30 hours (with a 15-minute break). There are many bus companies linking Zadar and Zagreb but some of them can take up to 8 hours so you need to make sure you go for a ‘direct line’. We had some issues on the way back – as we had a return ticket but we didn’t know we still had to book our seats in advance to secure a place – but in general, the bus experience in Croatia was positive.

What Zagreb lacked in seaside pleasures, we surely compensated with museum visits and very cheap and tasty food. In the 48 hours we spent in Zagreb we visited: the Archaeology Museum, where we saw the Zagreb mummy; The Art and Design Museum (where they had an Art Deco exhibition) and the Croatian Museum of Naive Art which was small but good for poster/souvenirs. All worth the visit. Also in the Upper Town and almost across the road from the Naive museum, there was the Museum of Broken Relationships, which we were tempted to go and see just out of curiosity but didn’t, in the end.

Apart from a personal tour of the Upper Town, courtesy of our resident friend Maria, the highlight was definitely the food - and also the nightlife. We ate seafood and fish at three seriously cheap and tasty restaurants:

A tiny bar/eatery by the fruit and fish market, Nocturno (a favourite with the locals, I'm told) and Ribice fish restaurant - a very artistic and bright looking fish restaurant. In general, eating out was half price of what we had been paying in the coast (Zagreb price was around 300 kunas for 5 people for a fishy lunch with drinks – approx. €40).

One of the charms of Zagreb was that hanging out with locals is not a mission impossible, since it is not a city geared towards tourism - specially when it's 30 degrees celsius at 8 in the evening and not a chance of dipping into the sea...unlike the coast, that attracts all the foreign travellers, it feels genuine, authentic.


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After having a last swim and reluctantly saying goodbye to Petrcane, our last day was spent visiting (quickly) Zadar city, walking around the walled town and the lavender-scented sea front, chilling by the sea organ and having some pretty good farewell grilled squid (squid must have been in my diet some 5 days out of the 7 that week!).

Some good artists exhibit around the touristy squares of Zadar, including one called Ana Kolega, which I really liked for its colourful, very 20s inspired imagery - so I bought a little piece of her work as a souvenir and another one as a present.

We could have done with some more time to chill in Zadar, investigating its market where homemade snaps are found next to tacky souvenirs and local fruit. Then again, we could have done with more time living it up in Petrcane, but that was the end of our week and it was time to go home.

Useful bits:

*Because of the area’s historic relationship with Italy, many people seem to speak Italian. English is also widely spoken, especially by younger Croats.

*Public transport from Petrcane to Zadar city is regular enough during weekdays and less so on Saturdays and Sunday, but still doable. The journey takes approximately 15-20 minutes all the way to Zadar’s bus station.

*Hotel Pinjia has a bike rental service (even for non-residents) for the equivalent of €10 for the day (less if you rent it half-day).

*Information on intercity buses can be found here:

There are many different companies and tickets are bought at the station, however, bear in mind seats are allocated and you must validate your ticket and secure your seat before travelling (we didn’t know this when we travelled back from Zagreb and we almost missed the last bus, since it was completely booked up)

* for information on the Zadar region.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Glendalough video slideshow

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Here's a little video slideshow with pictures taken in Glendalough, Wicklow National Park, while doing The Spinc walk trail over the two lakes and back at the monastic site.

Artists survey!

If you live in Ireland and paint, illustrate, design, do crafts... please share your thoughts with me on this survey!!