Driving through Europe: cities to remember (I)

(No Rome, Paris, Barcelona in this post) 1

Rooftops of Cefalu from La Rocca

When I was a young teenager with just a several cities in my travel experience list, I had two main goals about the future travels. First, I always admired mountains and the activities it offers, so my first dream goal was to go skiing into the Alps. Second, from the early age I liked the idea of travelling with the car 2, so my second dream goal was to go on a road trip through Europe.

Now, I think, that I understand what skiing in the Alps is, and I can count three and a half road trips with 4000+ km through awesome European cities + the ones around the neighboring countries. Bam, achievement unlocked!

If we add 14 years of other type of travel experience 3, we will get quite a good personal experience and opinion about some cities, countries and regions in Europe. However, due to the different variables, over the years some places I remember more often, than the others. So, I decided that these places – in this post cities – deserves to be described out loud. Prepare, it will be a lot of love in this post.

Here are the cities, that I want to return to – Part I. Tamtararararaaaaam. 

Cefalu, Sicily, Italy

Intriguing façade of Cefalu

To be truthful, I love a whole Sicily, or at least that part, that I had a chance to explore. This island has a strong character without no artificial nonsenses. Strong connection between family, friends and neighbours, preserved traditions, strong beliefs – you can feel it in the air.

However, the place I spent the most of my time in Sicily, was Cefalu. Located in the middle of the northern shore of the island, city is popular for its sandy beaches, charming old town, etc. All this traditional tourist stuff is really perfect there, however Cefalu opens my TOP 6 list because of other reason.

Reason #1 – a huge rock you can climb, in the middle of the city center. The idea that there is a mountain you can go hiking to, just in the middle of the city center, sounded awesome and just by looking up you can see that the view from the top is very promising. So one day we 4 decided to go for a walk there.  And, Dear Reader, it is one of the best hiking experiences I have ever had. Yes, the rock isn’t as high as real mountains, no waterfalls or other traditional hiking stuff there, but it makes you feel like you are exploring the city from up above. You can see each narrow street of the old town, beaches and mountains in the horizon, yachts parked in the port, residences of locals lying on the green hills of the city. And that’s not all. You can find a lot of history on that head shaped rock. Ruins from the old days of the city shows, that La Rocca was important safeguard of the people of medieval Cefalu. So, to sum up, you have a huge fortress in the middle of the town, to which you can go hiking, or to explore city’s history, or just to admire the panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.

Tasty Saturday morning in Cefalu

Reason #2 – unexpected local farmers market on the main road. This came like a surprise for us. Our acquaintance with the city started on the Saturday morning. First thing we see when we turn round a corner, is the big local farmers market on the road through which we reached our apartaments the day before. It meandered for a few, or maybe even more kilometers 5 down to the direction of port of Cefalu. I think that we spent about two hours just walking, exploring and tasting what locals have to offer. So, if you will be staying at Cefalu, remember, that each Saturday morning a really authentic market is taking place near the yacht harbour. It is a perfect place to buy some fruits or vegetables, to taste the variety of local cheeses, or some good quality spices. We did everything, and I have to tell you that we made super tasty lunch later that day. 

Going up to the top of La Rocca

Reason #3 – wild beaches just outside the city. I am not a huge fan of city beaches. I prefer more private and peaceful spots to spend a day at the beach, and the surroundings of Cefalu has to offer that. However, a car is a huge advantage in a search of such places.

Reason #4 – a bench with a charming view to the façade of the city. Nothing more to say here. A pier at the old part of the city is the perfect place to sit and admire a romantic angle of the city.

Reason #5 – variety of perspectives to explore the city. If my memory serves me right, I can count 5 different angles of Cefalu – each of them reveales a totally different city’s face. First is the old town with a splendid Cathedral in the middle of curved, narrow streets 6. Here you have a little bit of everything a good old town has to offer: you can go shopping, exploring churches and museums, tasting best seafood dishes, pizzas, pastas, sweeten yourself with gelato, or Sicilian cannoli. Secondly, you can explore city from up above – La Rocca (Reason #1) offers you that. Third are the two main beaches, which both offers sunbathers a beautiful view of La Rocca and the old town. However, this is the point I least enjoyed. For me main city beaches left a little dirty impression, but, however, a lot of main city beaches have such disadvantages (it is good, that there is Reason #3). Fourth angle of Cefalu is the sidewalk: from the old town to the port of Cefalu. Not long, but picturesque route for a walk with the sound of waves crashing into the shore. Classic, but proven holiday activity. And, finally, fifth perspective reveals a romantic face of the city and is seen from the benches in front of the city’s façade (Reason #4). It is awesome, that such a small city 7 has so much to show to you.

So, basically, Cefalu had won me over for its diversity and variety of stuff to do. However, I am sure, that for those who have been in Sicily, this love for Cefalu won’t be a surprise.

Let’s move forward.

Melabes, Crete, Greece

Crazy little place. Try to google it – you won’t find anything special there. If the information I found is correct, there are only 4k local residents. During the half an hour of our visit there, I saw only 4 of them. So what is so special about Melabes?

White and blue – a perfect match

I have crossed that small village in the mountains while travelling from Rethymno to Matala. It was 30+ degrees and it was siesta time. The thing that caught our eyes and made us to stop, was the view to the mountains from the main and the only bus stop. It turned out to be a village with small white houses, narrow streets and a small cozy white church in the middle of them. You can see everything by 15-20 minutes walk. But…

Mine perfect moment place

Have you ever caught yourself in a perfect moment? The moment when you are not thinking about anything else – just enjoying it. Personally, I dream about a lot of things and have quite a great number of goals and plans in my head, and at the same moment when they become reality, I start thinking about something else, I start picturing new goals or desires 8. However, I know that I’m not the only one, who is always in a run for a cake. So when the perfect moments happen, you remember them for a long time.

One of those happened for me in Melabes. I was sitting on the boarder of the city, in front of the bus station and enjoying the mountains with the cigarette in my hand9. And, I think, a lot of pieces of the puzzle came into one perfect moment – vacation mood, extremely peaceful town with the feeling that civilization is somewhere far away, simple, small, cozy and perfectly colored houses, the view to the mountains and a taste of my favourite menthol cigarettes.

I love small, peaceful villages and the simplicity they offer.

San Sebastian, Spain

It was rainy February and we were driving through Europe towards Portugal. Each city that we visited, greeted us with wind and tones of water from the sky. San Sebastian wasn’t exception.

Rainy winter day on the Monte Igueldo

It is a city at the Atlantic Ocean shore (Bay of  Biscay, to be precise) in the Northern Spain, just outside the France border 10. City is located in the bay and protected by the mountains. The most important of them in this story is Monte Igueldo.

I heard a lot about San Sebastian since I was a teenager. And in all those stories Monte Igueldo was the main character. My brother, who travelled a lot through Europe with the car, visited that city four or five times, and each time spoke about it with enthusiasm. But why Monte Igueldo was so important? Because of the view, attractions and an opportunity to spend a night with that view. So, when we entered the main part of the city and saw Igueldo mountain in front of us, we decided to go up a hill.

Enjoying the moment with my good old friend H.

Cliffs, ocean, waves, other mountains in the horizon, panoramic view of the city and the beach, funicular 11, and even a retro looking Amusement Park 12 – everything were there.

That moment P. made a quick, and I think the best decision during the entire road trip 13 he went and booked a room in the Monte Igueldo hotel with the view to the city. Best hotel room EVER, but not because of its service, facilities or interior. 14

I mean it, when I say that street lamps deserves a separate story

First thing what you do, when you’re living on the mountain with the picturesque view – take as much photos and videos as you can and send the best of them to your family and friends, who are working hard in their offices. Second thing is to really appreciate the moment. A bottle of tasty wheat beer made that moment perfect for me. And, finally, the third, and, probably, the most important step is to go down the mountain 15 and start to explore the city center of wonderland.

However, I feel that the promenades, shell form beaches, railings, even street lights, tasty tapas, panoramic walks on the mountains and people of San Sebastian deserves a detailed (and very emotional) description. So at this point I am pressing a pause. You will hear a full story of our 24 hour stay at the tastiest pintxo of the Basque country, in the near future.


Enough for today. I have three more cities, that I want to share and I promise that I will do it in the near future.

A small teaser until then: have you ever heard of Curonian Spit?

  1. Yes, we all know about the beauty of Paris, Rome or Barcelona  I totally agree that they are spectacular and each is worth a separate blog post , but I have to admit that crowds of tourist around the beautiful landmarks sucks. It takes half of the fun. The thing is that when I rewind all the travel memories, I have enjoyed smaller, or not so crowded cities a lot more.
  2. You can stop wherever you want, you can spend there as much time as you want, no annoying people, adventures around each corner, etc.
  3. My first trip abroad was when I was 10
  4. Me and my mother
  5. It’s definitely the longest market I have ever been to. And the most surprising.
  6. When we arrived to Cefalu, I randomly told, that it would be super awesome to see a Sicilian wedding (you know, Godfather style) and guess what was going on in front of the Cathedral at the first day of our visit! YES, a real sicilian style wedding celebration. I don’t want to be a Drama Queen, or again, a girl living in the fantasy world, but I’m sure that father of the bride had a lot of respect among the people of Cefalu..  
  7. ~14k inhabitants.
  8. I want an ice-cream —> I am working / saving on ice-cream –> I have bought an ice-cream –> I am eating an ice-cream and thinking that later on I would like to buy a cake.
  9. Yes, back then I was a heavy smoker.
  10. I have to say that with the Pyranees Mountains all across the border, Spain and France chose a good location were to draw a line. However, in my opinion, with San Sebastian on their side, Spain is winning 101:100.  
  11. Funicular Monte Igueldo is the best way to reach the top of the mountain, unless, of course, you have a car. However, at the winter time, when Amusement Park isn’t working, funicular doesn’t work, either.

  12. To be fair, the Park isn’t just retro looking. It is retro. Most of the attractions where built in 1920s and, for example, scenic railway coaster is the oldest still operating steel coaster in the world. However, we were visiting Monte Igueldo at a, probably annual, Park reconstruction time, and I think it’s the saddest thing of visiting San Sebastian in the winter. I would be super excited, if I could go on a ride with the train on the edge of Igueldo.  
  13. ‘Not the smartest move financially,’ while reading this post said P.
  14. In this case it’s good that it was winter and rooms were half cheaper.
  15. Here a grumpy P. switches on and starts to grumble about the fact that we will have to climb back to it. However, I have a good ignoring skills developed over the years.