Ligny Tower between the two seas

Here I am once again talking about one of the enchanting beauties of my hometown. Those who have been following my blog for a while already know how passionate I am about Trapani (which I have described in details in this article for Travelista) and Sicily in general. Although I’ve traveled to many places, I am still amazed by the uniqueness of the place where I was born.

 

In this post I will introduce you to one of  Trapani’s historical buildings: Ligny Tower. There is a lot to be said about it. However, I am not a specialist hence I have used other websites as references to provide a decent overview of the tower’s history and its most important features (the websites I used are trapaniistruzioniperluso and turismotrapani.net).

The history and structure of the building

 

Ligny Tower’s construction dates back to the year 1671, when Claudio La Moraldo, Prince of Ligny and viceroy of the Two Sicilies Kingdom ordered the edification of a tower as a defense for the city of Trapani. Hence the building was born as a coastal fortress in Spanish style (as a matter of fact, Sicily experienced a period of Spanish domination between the XVI and XVIII Century).

 

The core structure of the tower is made out of stone and tuff, collected from Favignana, one of the Egadi Islands. The building is divided into three levels: the ground floor is characterized by a barrel vault, a stone staircase brings the visitors up to the first floor and the top terrace, which is opened to the visitors as well. The prospectus is characterized by stone walls.

 

Throughout the centuries, Ligny Tower’s function has changed several times. It served as a deflection tower during the XVIII century, due to its advantageous position with a view on the Egadi Islands. In 1865 the tower was transferred to Trapani’s town hall ownership, and since then its uses have been multiples: it became a lighthouse, a telegraph station, a traffic light station; until it became a private residence in the ‘70s. Ligny Tower was restored in 2015, among the disputes of Trapani’s citizens who did not entirely appreciated the white plastering on the front face.

 

The Museum

 

Nowadays the tower hosts a museum of antiquities, where visitors can admire cultural relics and foundings from Trapani’s territory – particularly remarkable are those from the Punic Wars in 241 a.C. The museum is managed by Associazione Euploia e Beni Culturali, which also organizes temporary exhibitions inside the tower. The entrance ticket is cheap: 1 euro to visit the museum, 2 euros to get to the terrace. The visit is recommended for tourists as well as locals and can be a plus to a regular family vacation at the beach.

 

The location and scenic spots

 

It is due to spend a few words on the spot where the tower is located. As I have already mentioned elsewhere, this the extreme point of Sicily, where the Tyrrenium Sea and the Mediterranean Sea meet each other. As you climb on the tower’s terrace, you’ll see the remains of a rocky path that leads into the water; while on the opposite side of the  tower, the one facing the city, you will see Trapani’s coast on the left side and the harbor and the Colombaia Castle on the right side, both of them framing the city center. It is a unique panorama.

The place where the two seas meet each other

 

Besides that, that one part of Trapani is also a perfect place for swimming and sunbathing. Many locals appreciate it so much that it gets pretty crowded during the weekends.

The surrounding area is suitable for a nice walk with a view on the sea: especially if you decide to visit during the weekend, you might find a wedding celebration in San Liberale’s Church, which is as small and as picturesque. The view is embellished by the tiny fishermen’s boat, who rest along the shore during the day.

On top of that, many of the visitors enjoy the food in the neighborhood. There are couples of restaurants just by the tower and on the sidewalk by the coast, where tourists enjoy trying typical Sicilian delicacies and good fish recipes. Besides that, there are some very good gelaterie (gelato shops) which also offer granita, typical Sicilian sweet snack, deeply appreciated during the hot season. All these features make Ligny tower a place where you mix swimming, sunbathing, culture and even good Sicilian food. What else could anyone desire?

 

Thank you for reading this, I hope you enjoyed this post. I’m always looking forward to taking you with me to my next destination!

Speleo-hike in San Vito Lo Capo

Introducing San Vito Lo Capo

San Vito Lo Capo is a small city located in the province of Trapani, on the North-West coast of Sicily. As well as several other spots in the area, it has beautiful shores and crystal clear water: no wonder it is one of the hottest destinations for domestic and international tourism.

 

San Vito has a lot to offer to its visitors: sunbathing, swimming, several outdoor activities, good Sicilian food, nice souvenirs shops spread among the central streets. It is popular both among young people looking for entertainment and for families willing to spend their holidays by the sea. However, someone might argue that the city has become a little too crowded and pricey due to its popularity.

Picture by Adriano Cristillo

In this post, I won’t tell you about the many gifts San Vito has to offer. Instead, I have decided to write about a quite unusual experience which has inspired been just a couple of days ago. It all started with a good friend of mine who invited me to join a hike around San Vito’s rocky coast. The event seemed particularly appealing thanks to the contribute offered by the speleologist Antonino Filippi, who gave us some more specific information about the area we were visiting.

 

Let’s spend a few words about the location. The specific spot where our speleo-hike experience took place is slightly detached from San Vito’s central area, but still really easy to reach by foot walking from the city center or the beach. Indeed, if you’re renting a place in San Vito’s center or if you’re planning a one day journey, I would recommend you to park your vehicle somewhere in the parking lots available in the city (many of them are even free of charge), and then continue walking.  

 

One more tip: it might seem obvious, but I strongly recommend NOT TO START HIKING in the hottest hours of the day, if you care for your health. Even in the late months of summer, Sicilian weather remains hot. Better start heading after 55 PM if you want to enjoy your experience: you’ll have time to walk around and see a great sunset.

How to get there

To head from the city to the hiking area, the path is pretty simple: you’ll just have to follow Via Calamancina until the residential area. Once in there, do not turn left towards the villas, take the dirt road on the right instead. Then the path will be linear, and it’ll lead you to the caves and also to some stunning bathing spots.

Hiking Area

Curiosity: among the other things, Sicily is famous for being a seismic island: it is the meeting point of several fractures which shape the earth’s crust. We’ve learned this during our hike: the fractures are visible on the hills’ walls, shaping the surrounding area with gigantic steps. This phenomenon is visible underwater as well. If you plan on scuba diving in San Vito,  moving about 400m away from the coast, you’d see how these steps make the seabed incredibly deep all of a sudden.

 

Free Climbing? Yes.

San Vito Lo Capo is one of the most popular destinations for free climbing practitioners too. The value of San Vito’s free climbing stand in the extended season: a great number of visitors comes from colder countries, such as Germany or Austria, where the paths get freezing soon due to early snows. San Vito instead allows practitioners to fully exploit the late weeks of September and even the early ones in October. The area is well prepared for the tourists’ affluence:  there are several residences and villas used to welcome the guests, just beside the hills already prepared with the climbing paths.

Important: even if the paths have already been settled, this is not an activity for amateurs. A patent is needed to go on your own.

The Caves

Let’s go a bit more into the main focus of our speleo-hike experience: the caves. As above mentioned, the territory around San Vito’s is subjected to considerable seismic movements, which have shaped the surrounding area throughout the centuries and millennials. The caves are the result of such moves, they are about 10,000 years old. We have visited two of them during our hike.

 

The Incisions’ Cave

This cave is a small one; it does not extend very deep. Its main particularity is the presence of ancient incisions on the walls: a geometric one has been named “the kite.” However, the real meaning and purpose of such incision are unknown, as it is strictly connected to the time and the situation in which it was made.

 

The Horses’ Cave

The Horses’ Cave is much bigger than the previous one, and deeper. Make sure you’re wearing a helmet before getting inside, better bringing a light if you want to see the paintings on the walls.

The ancient paintings date back to 10,000 years ago; they represent both male and female figures as well as labyrinths: once again, the exact purpose of the pictures is unknown. The red color is due to the usage of ochre, which is naturally present in the area. Besides the paintings, the cave offers the possibility to admire stalactites and stalagmites, with a suggestive shore on the background.

Panorama from the Cave

 

And this is all for today’s post! I hope it made you curious about these places; many locals are not even aware of them (me included, until some days ago). I am always proud to talk about my motherland and spread the word about its beauties 🙂 Looking forward to seeing your feedback about your adventures in Sicily!

Donna Franca Florio in Palermo

The city of Palermo has been entitled  “Capital of Culture 2018”. Palermo is the capital of Sicily, it is indeed a big city blessed with the beautiful landscape of the Sicilian coastline, but also a lot of history and amazing cultural heritage. Such features are evident to anybody even just walking along the city center: the extremely variated architecture, the multiethnicity of the Ballarò, everything talks about Palermo’s millenary culture.

To someone organizing a trip to Palermo, maybe the seaside and the street food might be the first thoughts (and who could blame them? It’s all so good!) but there is so much more to discover.

I am Sicilian, I spent my teenage living in Trapani (here is my article about Trapani!). My hometown is so close to Palermo I have been there plenty (PLENTY) of times, for all kinds of reasons: holidays, school trips, university, meeting friends etc… And after all of these visits, I couldn’t see anything new in the city. But in reality, I was ignoring so much!

The nomination as Capital of Culture 2018 gave the city a new input for tourism and cultural events. Among them, I have had the chance to join one during Easter Holidays (I am doing my MA in the Netherlands at the moment). Such event has been an exhibition organized by Federazione Sicilia, the main piece of the exhibition was as a portray of Donna Franca Florio, which will remain exhibited in Villa Zito until May 20th 2018.

Villa Zito

Let’s start with an introduction of the exhibition’s seat. Villa Zito was built in the XVIII Century, back then it used to be the palace of Francesco Scicli, it changed ownership several times (the palace owes its name to Francesco Zito, who named the palace after himself in 1909) before 1926 – when the Banco di Sicilia took it over. In those years, the general manager Ignazio Mormino had put together an exquisite collection of art pieces, was then entrusted to the Fondazione Mormino of Banco di Sicilia. In 1958 the Banco di Sicilia renovated the palace to use it for the exhibition of some archeological pieces from the Ministry of Public Education; in 1980 the exhibition has been opened to the public. In the year 2015 the palace has been turned into a seat for paintings’ exhibitions. The gallery covers 1000 square meters and includes more than 300 pieces, going from ‘600’s painters to 800’s Sicilian masters.

The tour

I’ have been lucky to have the chance to join a private tour of the gallery, and I would recommend getting a tour guide if you are thinking of visiting the exhibition. The display is organized on three floors of the palace, the rooms divide the operas per historical period or artistic current. Personally, I found very interesting the pieces from Sicilian landscapers, and above all my favorite one was Renato Guttuso. In particular, I found his painting L’Etna stunning.

L’Etna by Guttuso

Donna Franca Florio

This beautiful painting is a portray of Jacotta della Motta dei Baroni di San Giuliano, an extremely charming woman, who the famous author Gabriele D’annunzio defined as L’Unica (The Only One), and the Kaiser William II used to call Stella dell’Italia (Star of Italy). She was a descendant of an aristocratic family in Sicily and became the wife of the Ignazio Florio.

It was him, Ignazio Florio, who commissioned the painting to Giovanni Boldini in 1901, to immortalize his wife’s charm and beauty. So, Boldini moved from Paris to Palermo, and has been Florio’s guest while designin the painting. The initial version of the portray is different from the one we see now: as Boldini was working on the painting, the fashion changed as well. While he was first projecting his painting, Boldini imagined Donna Franca Florio wearing a longsleeved black gown, with lace decorations. He also added and removed a chair several times. After a few years he changed the gown discovering Donna Franca Florio’s arms, adapting the style to the 20s’ fashion. There were rumors about an adulterous relationship between Boldini and Donna Franca as well.

The painting was completed in 1903, however in those years Florio’s family was experiencing a dramatic economic breakdown, therefore they couldn’t afford the portray anymore. Consequentially, about twenty years later Boldini sold the painting to Baron Rothschild, who took him in the US with him. It took seventy years for the painting to be auctioned and brought back to Italy. It is finally back to Palermo, and exhibited to the public in Villa Zito.

Donna Franca Florio by Boldini

The location chosen for the painting is interesting: it is exhibited in a room in the half-light, which is meant to reproduce the light of a parlor of the early Twentieth Century, where we see Donna Franca moving graciously across the hall. In the same room you can see a reproduction of the dress represented in the painting, including the beautiful necklace and a description of the opera.

 

So this my contribution to sponsor Palermo as Culture Capita 2018, I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and I have inspired you to discover more about Palermo! Looking forward to know about your journeys 😀

Trapani and Folklore: the Holy Week

It is particularly significant for me to write about Trapani, as it is my hometown. In my previous article for Travelicious (click here to check it out!) I gave a general overview of the city’s history and culture, as well as some suggestions for touristic points. But Trapani’s charm is not limited to summertime only: being full of folklore, there is a lot more going on. An example of it are the town events taking place during the Holy Week.

As I suggested in my previous article, Trapani’s Catholic heritage is permeant in the city’s culture, and the folkloristic activities taking place before Easter are part of our oldest traditions. As one may expect, they have a strong religious focus, but only a part of the citizens who take part in them is animated by Catholic faith: indeed, they are mostly religious practices. As I have already mentioned, due to the participation of Trapanese people, they are commonly seen as folkloristic activities. Everyone is welcome to join, and the tourists are usually delighted to.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Holy Week. Among all the other celebrations, this one is the most religious one: a procession takes place, with all participants holding palm leaves or olives branches, which recall Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem, and the beginning of His Passion. As the Bible narrates, in when Jesus entered the city, he was welcomed by the habitants waving palm leaves and olives branches at his passage: from that derives the procession tradition.

The procession inevitably ends with the I still wanted to mention it in this post though, for people who do not know much about the traditions taking place during the Holy Week.

Holy Tuesday: Madonna della pietà

That signs the beginning of the Holy week for Trapanese people. It is a procession starting at Chiesa del Purgatorio, in the afternoon of Holy Tuesday at 16.00. During such parade, a portray of the Virgin Mary is taken around in Trapani’s historic center and surroundings. Is not exactly known when the procession took place for the first time, but for sure it is very antique: the primary documents referring to it strike back to 1850 (more references at drepanon.org).

Holy Wednesday: Madonna del Popolo

This procession is even more antique than the other, taking place in 1723 for the first time. What is peculiar about it is that once the Icon arrives at Piazza Lucatelli, the “taper exchange” between the Massari and Fruttivendoli, the two fraternities who operates this procession.

Holy Thursday: I Sepolcri

This is one of the most significant moments of the Holy Weeks for Catholic believers. Sepolcri is the name which refers to the altar displayed in the several churches of the city, which are decorated with wheat seeds sprouted in the dark. This event is strictly connected to Biblical episodes again: the believers converge in the churches in adoration of the Eucharist, in memory of Jesus washing the Apostils feet, and the loneliness in the Gethsemane, the olive grove where he was betrayed and caught. It is a moment of profound faith for many. However, for many other people in the city, it’s just a moment to enjoy a walk in the city center and take a look at the decorated churches.

Good Friday: I Misteri

This is the most famous procession held in Trapani for the Holy Week. I Misteri are 18 groups of simulacra of Jesus Christ and the Lady of Sorrows. The 79 statues, which represent 18 moments of The Passion, they have been created by Trapanese craftsmen in ‘600 – ‘700, using wood, glue, and fabric. They are real art pieces. During the procession, the statues are carried along the streets of the city center by volunteers who carry the floats by hand, with the typical swinging movement annacata. The procession is big, accompanied by a band, believers holding candles and so on. It is a very involving moment, even if you’re not a religious person.

Click here to watch part of the procession!

Group “Gesù nell’orto”

The procession starts at 14.00 PM on Good Friday afternoon, in the Chiesa del Purgatorio, where the statues are kept during the year. The parade is long, and many streets of the center are sealed off from traffic for the occasion. The simulacra are brought around all night long, coming back to the Chiesa del Purgatorio di almost 24 hours after their departure. Taking part to the whole procession can be extremely tiring.

Still, on Good Friday there is one more event taking place in Chiesa Santa Maria di Gesù: the descent from the cross, popularly known as “a scinnuta ‘cruci di Santamariagesù.” This representation was introduced by the Jesuits in ancient times; it is a commemoration of Jesus’ deposition from the Cross. It takes place almost at the same time with the beginning of the Misteri, but until the ’60 the procession was allowed only after the commemoration’s ending. The events consist in the deposition of a simulacrum of Jesus from the Cross, which is then enveloped in a white sheet and adored by the believers.

Easter Monday: Pasquetta!

There is no specific event taking place on Holy Saturday, being it the day of mourning for Jesus’ death, and as regards Easter there is not much special to say: believer families go to Church to attend the Mass, and then everyone has lunch with his family. So, I’ll go straight to Easter Monday: Pasquetta’s barbeque!

It is a tradition for Sicilian people on Easter Monday to have a huge barbeque with families and friends: sausages and bruschette and carcocciole (artichokes) are the main dishes. If the weather is good (as it is often), it’s gonna be a great moment.

There are plenty of places where to go in Trapani’s countryside for Pasquetta, but the most famous and convenient one is probably Bosco Scurace. It is a bit far from the city, but there you’d find pick-nick areas and free barbeques available, you’d only need to bring the wood, your food and enjoy the day. You might want to make sure not to leave too late because you might find the place already too crowded.

I enjoyed writing this post so much; it’s a pleasure to write about my hometown and what makes it so unique 😊 hope to see you all next year, write me your feedback in the comment below!

Survival Guide for International Students of Shandong University, Jinan (济南,山东大学)

Jinan, the capital city of Shandong Province, the city where the main headquarters of Shandong University is located. It is highly populated (over 7,000,000 habitants), still for Chinese standards doesn’t really count as a big metropolis. For me, and for many other international students who happened to find themselves in a study abroad period in Shanda, or decided to take their BA or Ma there, that city is filled with memories.

I’m already back in Europe while I’m writing this post, and honestly, the chances that I’ll be back to Jinan soon are not many, but the memories of there stay with me. Of course, in the beginning, it has not been easy to get myself adjusted to China, and among my friends, there’re many who’ve experienced cultural shock. Nothing that hasn’t been overcome with the time, but arriving in China for a study abroad can be harsh. Therefore, I’ve decided to outline a small guide about the city, specifically for international students who are about to settle in Jinan’s Shandong University for a while. Who knows, it might turn out to be useful for somebody 😉

1. Explore the city: main touristic points of interests

As I’ve mentioned above, Jinan is not a big touristic city. Still, there are some pretty cool things to see, and because it is not a famous capital of China, it’s good to avoid the floods of tourists you’d find elsewhere (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou…).
Here is a tiny list of places you’ll have the chance to visit for sure, especially if you happen to have a Chinese Buddy from the study abroad program, these are the defaults spots to get to know the city.


As international students in China, you cannot miss a visit to Daminghu (大明湖), the Lake Park, in the city center. The Park is free entrance for everyone, and if you want to see it at its best, I’d recommend an evening visit with the buildings lighten up (till 23.00, so don’t take it too easy). Another must is the city’s hot spring park, quite famous because of Jinan’s nickname “the city of hot springs.” Unfortunately, there is a small entrance fee that you need to pay to get in, but it is worth it because the park is unique in its style, and you can learn about Jinan’s peculiarities.

Finally, my favorite one: the street food! Everyone in Jinan must know Furongjie (芙蓉街), where you can find lots of street food stands, with much variety and an affordable price (most of the times). The street is located in city center, very close to the hudong area (the traditional quarters). It is intriguing to have a walk in there if you want to have an idea of Jinan’s life before the Economic Reform, where “genuine Chinese life” can be found.


In Furongjie you’ll find roasted meat sticks, stinky tofu, even sushi and delicious Muslim bread. There’s the option to eat while standing for sure, but if you feel like sitting down (away from the stinky tofu maybe), there are also plenty of cheap and good restaurant nearby. Which leads me to the following point:

2. A new world of food specialties (never seen a spring roll)

What is the first thing you are always sure to find on the menu of a cheap Chinese restaurant? Spring rolls of course. Well, here is the breaking news: spring rolls are Vietnamese food, you wouldn’t find it easily in China. But don’t lose heart, because you are going to have the chance to discover real Chinese cuisine, and to fall in love with it.
If you are Shandong University students, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the canteen of the campus of course. A canteen is a canteen, it’s very cheap for the students, but the food is not the best quality. Personally, I used to like the canteen-food a lot, and there is also a full variety: four floors, quality, and the price raise the higher you go. However, if that’s not your cup of tea, there is plenty of restaurants all around the campus. There is something to be found literally at each gate of the campus, but the most convenient one is probably the North gate. There are some tiny good restaurants right opposite the entrance, but also if you’re looking for something unique, just walk towards the Catholic Church at Hongjialou, the other university campus, and you will not be disappointed.

Finally, if you want to experience Jinan’s typical cuisine, I would recommend going to Shimao (世贸), the city’s shopping mall. There you can find many restaurants, some more expensive than the others, where Jinan’s dishes are the specialties. Give it a shot!

3. Nightlife, yes there is some

International students = party hard; everyone knows that. Jinan is a perfect city if you want to improve your Chinese because it is not “westernized,” but this also means not much entertainment after 9 pm. Are there no clubs? Yes, there are some, but there is also the possibility of finding yourself and your friend surrounded by sketchy businessmen sitting on the sofa with pretty girls, smoking and drink a lot. Love Song is the most famous club among the international students, but the entrance is a bit expensive (50 RBM for girls, 100 for boys), although it is open bar. Besides that, you can also take a look at the Space Bar in the city center or the other pubs around the campus.

But if you really want to have a Chinese experience, then you must go to KTV. There is one at about 15 minutes walk from the central campus, as in all KTVs you pay according to how much time you want to spend here, but it is very cheap compared to the other places. And you can stay all night 😉 Officially, drinks from the outside are not allowed, you could buy something there or sneak some bottles in (as we always managed to do). Try KTV once, and you’ll get addicted to it.

So this is my overview of international students living in Jinan, I hope it can be helpful for someone 😊 It can be difficult to find yourself in Jinan, but I can tell you that all the people I met, in spite of the initial difficulties had a great time at Shandong University: nobody wants to leave in the end. Wish you a lot of fun!

Harbin and the Ice Festival (哈尔滨)

We’ve been to Harbin for Christmas, the provincial capital of Heilongjiang. We have decided to go there with the suggestions of some friends, who told us that it is magical.

We got to Harbin on December the 22nd, just on time to visit the Ice festival and the exposition before the actual beginning of the festival, which is usually in Chunjie (春节),Chinese New Year. On the one hand, this has been a reasonable choice for us, because we could visit the points of interests avoiding the crowd typical of the holidays in China, especially during the Spring Festival, the most important festival. On the other hand though, not all the expositions were ready for the visitors, although there was no ticket discount for us.

Still, it’s been a way to get a bit of a “Christmas atmosphere” in China (in the city where we live, Jinan, people do not care much about Christmas).

Here are my suggestions if you want to have a short stay and visit the city during the Festival

The River

When people suggested having a look at the river a wasn’t interested at all: why should a frozen river be interesting for me at all? Being from the South of Italy, I have never thought that spending hours sliding on the frozen surface of the river could be so much fun! There are many people renting snow-toboggans of all kinds for a low price, and you can use them as long as you want. Needless to say, if you plan to enjoy the experience mind to wear enough clothes, especially for the shoes, snow boots are a good idea. Otherwise you would stop feeling your toes within one hour.


I didn’t know that river is the same where the ice blocks used to build the Ice Festival’s buildings come from! If you’re interested in of the ice blocs are craved, check out this video!

The Snow Sculptures Exhibition

Very expensive actually, but personally I thought it was worth to be visited. When we went there, the ticket was about 300 yuan, way more than any other museum or touristic point in China. But anyway, it was a unique exposition, and it is a reasonable price in comparison with what we usually pay in Europe.
The exposition is composed of several snow sculptures, with a brief explanation of the opera in Chinese and English. The landscape is breath-taking, it’s white with snow everywhere you look. Also, some of the sculptures are very well done and interesting in the meaning they’re trying to represent.


Again, you’ll find a little ice-slide in the ice sculptures exposition too, where you can have entered for free (it’s included in the exposition’s ticket) and have fun for as long as you want. Near the slide, there is also a little souvenirs shop (or at least I guess that’s a souvenirs shop) inside of a snow building. There are also some cafes, but where you could get some cheap meal, but do not expect too much: watery coffee or instant noodles. It would warm you up at least.

The Ice Festival

That’s the main attraction of the city during the Spring Festival. It is stunning; some people describe it as an Ice Disneyland. If you want tp see more, here is a video from HI, China travel via CCTV


Yes, it’s true, it is magical. “Even better than in Europe!” I heard two Chinese people claiming. To be fair, I agree: I don’t think we’d ever find anything similar in Europe. But this is also because you need a little bit of a kitsch taste to make up so many ice sculptures in rainbow colors: only Chinese people could think of turning the Temple of Haven into a giant Ice Blue/Green/Red Pagoda. No complaints anyway, the result is stunning. Thumbs up.

There are a couple of bad remarks I want to do though, about the exploitation of animal: from the reindeers to the sled dogs, from the seals and penguins exposed in tiny cages to the foxes that you can hold and take a picture with them for 50 yuan. These things I would have been happy not to see.
Tips: If you plan to go the festival be aware that you might need to queue to get in, so mind to go a bit in advance. When we went there, the ticket was 300 yuan, but if you’re a student under 25 years old, you can get a discount. Inside the festival’s area, there is no real restaurant, but there are a few places where you can get a snack or a hot drink. However, there is a Mc Donald right in front of the entrance, if you like this option.

The European Street and the Catholic Church

I didn’t know why that street is named “The European Street,” and I didn’t get the answer after going there. Personally, I don’t think there is any specific “European” feature about this street; it is just a pretty boulevard where to have a walk, with a bunch of shops (many of which sells Russian souvenirs, due to the Russian influence on the culture of the city). What made the street very pretty where the ice sculptures at every corner: they were smaller than in the Ice Festival of course but still pretty for the tourists to take pictures. It is funny how many of the sculptures are advertising the sponsor who’s paying for them.


The Catholic Church is just at the end of the European Street. The pretty architecture shows the influence of Russian culture in the town. In fact, the Church is not a holy church anymore; it has now been turned into a museum of Harbin’s history, with tons of pictures of daily life’s sceneries from the 20th century onwards. The entrance ticket price is 5 yuan with students’ discount. It is interesting, but unfortunately, the explanation panels in English are not many, so it is easier to understand for Chinese speakers. Also, the inside of the Church lacks restauration; it looks like everything is about to fall apart.

So, this is an overview of my impression of Harbin. All in all i highly recommend visiting it, not only for the Ice Festival which is a great exposition, but also because the unique allure of this city. One last tip: mind to wear enonught layers of clothing, or you won’t enjoy your stay!

Five fun things to do in Qingdao in winter (青岛市)

Qingdao is one of the most beautiful cities in Shandong province: there is history, a beautiful architecture, museums, the beach, pubs. It worth visiting it.

The peak touristic season for Qingdao is in the summertime because it has the most famous seaside in Shandong province, and the weather doesn’t get too hot, so it is a good option for an easy drive if you live nearby. However, we have recently been in Qingdao for the weekend to celebrate our friend’s birthday, and we had a great time: this city maintains its charm also in the cold weather.

So here is the reason for this post: who said that cities on the seaside are worth to be visited only in summer? I am from one of them as well, and I can say that tourists coming to Trapani in winter (although not many) are never disappointed. If you want to know more about Trapani, click here to read my article 🙂

Some people might think that besides sunbathing or other outdoors activities there is not much to do… But if you decide to visit Qingdao in winter, what would you choose to do?

Before starting with the listing, Qingdao’s allure deserves to spend a little on it. One important thing to mention is that, as I said above, the city’s history has influenced its culture and appearance. If you want to learn more about it, this article by China Daily is an exhaustive source which resumes the essential information.

Personally, what that hits me the most is the city’s architecture. As soon as you get out of the central train station, it is immediately clear how the German domination has influenced it. Qingdao’s buildings merge the Chinese style and the German one, a characteristic feature that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Among Qingdao’s visitors, many people consider the city to “have an identity,” more than the majority of other cities in China, and this can be seen in different aspects.

So, let’s begin our small tour.

Number One: having a walk in May Fourth Square (五四广场)

Picture by Ryan Famiglietti

The square is located in Qingdao’s central business district. It is mainly recognized for its red sculpture, “Wind of May.” The bright color of the sculpture, the blue sky (if you’re lucky) and the beach make the square a place to go for a relaxing walk in the weekend. If it’s a sunny day, you’ll see children playing around the sculpture and kites flying in the sky. Moreover, there is a scenic spot surrounded by the sea. Although this is not the bathing spot, you can still have a walk on the beach, and take pretty pictures with the red sculpture in the background.

Number Two: visiting Zhan Qiao (栈桥)

This is my favorite spot in Qingdao. Zhan Qiao is a pier the stretches into the sea on the southern coastline of the city. Why is it special? First, because of the pavilion that stands at the end of the pier, which many consider the symbol of Qingdao. The visit inside is a free entrance, inside you will find a tiny museum with pictures that show the history of the pier’s construction and the German domination.

One more thing that makes Qingdao unique in winter: you can see seagulls in beach surrounding the pier. The bravest tourists often like venturing out on the edge of the coastline to feed them.

Zhang Qiao is one of the liveliest areas of the city as concerns food. Besides the restaurants (where you can bring your fish or seafood and ask the chef to cook it for you), it is clear that Qingdao has a surprisingly strong coffee culture: probably as a result of the western influence, there are many good cafeterias and bakeries. Sitting in a warm cafeteria, with a good coffee in your hands, while chatting with your friends and looking at the sea, can restore you after a long walk in the cold weather.

Number Three: visiting the St. Michael Cathedral (圣弥爱尔大教堂)

Catholicism is quite spread in China, although not as much as Buddhism. In many Chinese cities there are Catholic cathedrals, the one in Qingdao has a peculiar German taste. I’ve been there with some German friends, and they agreed that it looks very similar to how a church would look like in their country. However, it is still possible to recognize the “Chinese touch” in some of the decorations, especially in the paintings.

Number Four: having a tour of the Qingdao Beer Museum (青岛啤酒博物馆)

Picture by Ryan Famiglietti

“Give me one hour, and I will return you 100 years” is the museum’s slogan, meaning that in a one-hour tour you can learn about 100 years of Qingdao beer’s history.

Of course, one of the reasons why Qingdao is famous in China is its brewery, founded by German people, who have transferred their beer culture to the city. Nowadays, Qingdao beer is one of the most famous and successful Chinese brands for beer, and no one can go to the city without visiting its beer museum. The Museum is divided into two sections: Section A and Section B. The first one introduces you to the history of the beer, of how the brand was founded and how it developed during the years; the latter shows you how the production process works, ending with a lounge section where visitors can sample freshly brewed beers for free. It’s a fun experience for everyone: it gives you the possibility to learn more about one of the most successful Chinese brands and to actually taste the culture behind it. The little dancing shows offered by the Museum’s staff are just the cherry on top.

Number Five: getting wasted in a pub

Why? Because Qingdao there is a bit of a drinking culture in Qingdao, there are many pubs and they’re easy to find. A special mention goes to the Beer street where the brewery is located: there you can see many European-style bars where the locals hang out together, or buy beers that they take away in plastic bags (yes this is how you do it in Qingdao!!). Besides that, the pubs around the city are often cozy and not too expensive, which makes the Qingdao just as fun as other big cities in China but more affordable 😉

And that’s the end of my list! Qingdao is such a beautiful city, let’s not let the cold weather stop us from traveling! Of course, there are many options that I haven’t mentioned, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below! I am looking forward to reading them 😊