Sicily seen from the sky

In August of 2017 I went with my boyfriend to Sicily, in the south of Italy. We stayed in Catania, visited Palermo and did skydiving in Siracusa.¬†An amazing experience! Another thing from my bucket list ūüôā

CATANIA

Facts about the city:

Mount Etna is an active volcano. It lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate. It is currently 3,329 m high. Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is in an almost constant state of activity. The fertile volcanic soils support extensive agriculture, with vineyards and orchards spread across the lower slopes of the mountain.

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In August I went with Alejandro to Sicily, in Italy. We live in Malta now and we haven’t had visited the south of Italy, here so close! The flight takes about 20, 30 minutes. We stayed there in Catania for 4 days.

The city is a bit dirty and the south of Italy seems like a place that stopped in the 90’s – the people, the publicity and advertisements¬†in the shops, the food… everything had a vibe of my childhood memories. What I didn’t like is that no one speaks English, they are terrible with that!

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The apartment that we rented was amazing! It’s called¬†Appartamento Giada,¬†located in¬†Via Reitano 60, 95121 Catania.¬†I really recommend it. It’s really close to the main square and it was cheap. It had two floors, with the room upstairs.

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We spent an amazing time there, listening to music on the radio, watching¬†Friends¬†on TV, drinking this strong beer that they have there called¬†Biere du Demon¬†with 12% of alcohol, chatting, dancing on the couch, kissing…¬†This trip brought us even closer as a couple, it made me fall in love with him even more ūüôā

In Catania we went for long walks, we played air hockey in a bar, we went to buy makeup and new shoes in Via Etnea, a big commercial street. Then, we rode an old carousel in Giardino Bellini. This garden is the oldest urban park in Catania and it was  inaugurated in 1883.

We visited the main square Piazza Duomo, where we ate¬†cannoli and¬†we saw the fish market located close by. In the center of the Piazza is a fountain dating from 1736, named Fontana dell’Elefant, with an elephant that is the symbol of Catania.

We also visited the ruins of an old Roman¬†Theater. It was built around the 2nd century AD and brought to the light during the excavations in 1904 and 1906. Unfortunately only part of it is visible today, because other part is still buried under lava bridge or stones were removed in order to reconstruct other buildings. We didn’t go to the Mount Etna¬†because it was too expensive.¬†¬†


 

PALERMO

Facts about the city:

The Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo provide a macabre tourist attraction as well as an extraordinary historical record. There lies the mummy of Rosalia Lombardo, an Italian child who died in 1920 of pneumonia. Her body was one of the last to be admitted to the catacombs and is one of the best preserved bodies in the world.

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In our second day in Sicily we went by train to the other extreme of the island РPalermo. It took us about 4 hours to get there but it was worth it. I liked Palermo much more than Catania. Palermo has this natural charm. We went to eat in a sushi restaurant when we got there and then we went to explore the city.

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I loved a gigantic fountain called Fontana Pretoria, with lots of beautiful statues and surrounded by palaces and interesting old buildings. The fountain was built by Francesco Camilliani in the city of Florence in 1554, but was then transferred to Palermo in 1574. In order to transport it, the fountain was disassembled in 644 pieces. Then, in order to make room for the fountain, several buildings were demolished. However, not all the pieces arrived in Palermo. Some sculptures were damaged during the transport others were stolen. The fountain represents the Twelve Olympians, other mythological figures, animals and the rivers of Palermo.

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Another thing I really liked to visit was the Palermo¬†Cathedral.¬†Very impressive the architecture!¬†It is dedicated to the¬†Assumption of the Virgin Mary. As an architectural complex, it is characterized by the presence of different styles, due to a long history of additions, alterations and restorations, the last of which occurred in the 18th century.¬†It was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil, the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo and King William II’s minister.

We ate ice cream, strolled around the commercial streets and saw some street artists performing in Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The piazza is octagonal, four sides being the streets; the remaining four sides are Baroque buildings, the near-identical facades of which 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). It was a very fun day.


 

SIRACUSA

In our last day we went to Siracusa. We didn’t have time to visit anything in the city. We just took a taxi and went to¬†Skydive Sicilia¬†to do something totally crazy – skydive!! ūüėÄ It was super super hot! First we went inside a shelter where the crew explained us the basic stuff and prepared the equipment. Then, we entered a small plane.

It was cool that me and Alejandro jumped from the same plane, at the same time, more or less! It was just me and him with the crew. My instructor was Italian and very nice. We payed an extra so that the guys could take pictures and film us while we jumped.

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It was very scary to see when they opened the door of the plane and the crew jumped. Everything seems so small from up there! First Alejandro jumped and then I jumped. It was amazing! The first few seconds you panic because it’s a free fall of 4.500 meters at 220km/h. We feel so much wind in our face that we cannot even breath. Also, you feel like you want to grab on to something but you can’t.

Then they open the mini parachute and the speed goes down a bit. Finally, they open the big one and you just stay there, flying in the air, enjoying the amazing view from above. Very beautiful! I felt like a bird. The landing was very smooth too, much more than what I was expecting.

After the jump we had to call a taxi because our flight was right next. I totally recommend this experience. I was very proud of myself for not being scared ūüôā

 

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In the South of France

In June 2017 I went with Alejandro to Portugal. Then we went to Marseille for two days, to get to know the south of France. Marseille is a city full of contrasts, with both beautiful and ugly areas, but very interesting and full of life!

Facts about the city:

Marseille is the second largest city in France with a population of 1,604,550. Marseille is the oldest city in France and was created over 2,600 years ago.

The Count of Monte Cristo¬†by¬†Alexandre Dumas¬†is set in the Old Port and on the¬†Ch√Ęteau d’If, in Marseille.

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After our trip to Portugal, we took advantage of the fact that we had to change flights somewhere and we decided to stay in Marseille, in the south of France, for two days. The city was beautiful but a bit dangerous and ugly in some areas.

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When we got there, we couldn’t find anyone to give us the keys of our apartment. We had to wait for a while but finally someone came. On the outside the building looked terrible but the apartment was super beautiful and cozy. I really liked it! The name of the apartment is¬†Grand Studio Vieux Port¬†and it’s located in¬†4eme √©tage 24 Rue Pavillon, Marseille.

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In Marseille we visited the Vieux Port, the maritime port with a lot of yachts and boats, and a giant wheel behind. The Old Port was renovated in 2013. It is still the beating heart of Marseille and the U-shaped port is lined by restaurants and cafés, and is a social focus of the city. In 2013, the area was semi-pedestrianized as part of a big redevelopment project designed by the British architect Norman Foster.

We went to Abbaye Saint Victor. In 1794 the abbey was stripped of its treasures. The relics were burned, the gold and silver objects were melted down to make coins and the building itself became a warehouse, prison and barracks. All that now remains of the abbey is the church of St. Victor, dedicated by Pope Benedict IX in 1040 and rebuilt in 1200. The abbey was again used for worship under the First Empire and restored in the 19th century. The church was made into a minor basilica in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.

We saw the graffiti the lead to La Vielle Charité, a former almshouse, now functioning as a museum and cultural center. Constructed between 1671 and 1749 in the Baroque style to the designs of the architect Pierre Puget, it comprises four ranges of arcaded galleries in three storeys surrounding a space with a central chapel surmounted by an ovoid dome.

We passed in front of the¬†Cath√©drale de Marseille. It was built on an enormous scale in Byzantine-Roman style. It is 142 meters long, and the main cupola is 70 meters high. With a capacity of 3,000 seats, it is one of the largest cathedrals in France. Then we¬†went down to the modern part of the city where there’s a big sign with the name of the city. I enjoyed exploring the narrow streets that reminded me of Porto.

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We took a bus to visit Parc Borély. The park was created in the 17th century by a French ship owner and merchant, Joseph Borely. From 1880 until 1915, the park was the site of a botanical garden, which moved to a different site adjoining the park. In 2002, a promenade of two hectares was laid out between the park and sea. Very beautiful.

Then we took another one to visit the¬†Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde,¬†the city’s best-known symbol. It was built on the foundations of an ancient fort at the highest natural point in Marseille, 149 m high.¬†It’s on the top of a giant hill and the views from up there are amazing, it’s really worth the climb.

The construction of the basilica began in 1852 and lasted for 21 years. The basilica consists of a lower church or crypt in the Romanesque style, carved from the rock, and an upper church of Neo-Byzantine style decorated with mosaics. A square 41 m bell tower topped by a 12.5 m belfry supports a monumental 11.2 m statue of the Madonna and Child made of copper gilded with gold leaf.

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In the last day we went to see the¬†Palais Longchamp¬†before going to the airport and we were lucky to have met a Venezuelan girl in a coffee place that kept our luggage there while we were out. This is a monument that houses the city’s¬†mus√©e des beaux-arts¬†and¬†natural history museum.

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We sat in the surrounding park (the¬†Parc Longchamp), chatting for a long time. It was really nice. We spent these two weeks alone, always together, and we never had a fight. It was a good test to our relationship ūüôā¬†We didn’t have the chance to visit¬†Ch√Ęteau d’If, Palais du Pharo, Les Calanques¬†or the beaches, but we live in Malta, we have nice beaches here too.

Being a tourist in my own country

In the summer of 2017 I went with my boyfriend to Portugal. I really wanted to show him my country and I really felt like a tourist there. We went to my hometown Paredes, Penafiel, Porto, Braga, Guimar√£es and the capital Lisbon.

 

PAREDES / PENAFIEL

The first place I took him to was my hometown, Paredes. Paredes is located 25 km away from Porto and it’s one of the youngest cities in the country.¬† We stayed at my place, he met my mom and my dog and they got along fine, even with the language barrier ūüôā I showed him my favorites places in my city, like the City Park or the town hall park – Parque Jose Guilherme. We had dinner with my friends and my mom several times.

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Then, I also took him to Penafiel, the city next to mine, which was the first place where I lived. I showed him the city center and the Sameiro church and we also went to the graveyard so that he could ‘meet’ my father too.


 

BRAGA

The next stop was Braga, in the north. The city was the European Youth Capital in 2012. It is host to the archdiocese, the oldest in Portugal. Braga is a major hub for inland Northern Portugal.

We had lunch there in an amazing typical restaurant and we visited the old city center. We also went up to Bom Jesus de Braga. The Sanctuary is a notable example of pilgrimage site with a monumental, Baroque stairway that climbs 116 meters. It is an important tourist attraction of Braga.

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At the end, we found a cheap place where we bought a lot of typical Portuguese pastry, like pasteis de nata, bolos de arroz and bolas de berlim and Alejandro loved it.


 

GUIMARAES

In the same day we went to Braga we also went to Guimarães. We visited the cute little streets and then we went inside the Guimarães Castle with the statue of Afonso Henriques, the first kind of Portugal. Emblematic of the medieval Portuguese castle, Guimarães is associated with the origins of the Portuguese nation. It was built under the orders of Mumadona Dias in the 10th century to defend the monastery from attacks by Moors and Norsemen.

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We also stopped in Praça de Santiago and Largo da Oliveira, that are two of the most popular squares with open air cafes and restaurants, which are an ideal stopping point for lunch or a coffee.


 

PORTO

Facts about the city:

Porto is known for its beautiful bridges. Often the city is called as ‚ÄúCity of Bridges‚ÄĚ having 6 iconic bridges making the city more attractive. These bridges start from Porto and go a long way to connect to another city Vila Nova de Gaia.

Porto is where Port (Fortified Wine, usually strong and red in color) comes from. An interesting fact is that Porto has a something called Vintage year when a special vintage port is made; this is a classy year with best climate condition for port making. There’s a lot of cellars in the city that tourists can visit and taste the wine.

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We also visited Porto, of course. The city that owns my heart and forever will. The city where I studied and worked for the last years before moving to Malta. We went for a tour inside Sandeman, the wine cellars where I used to work as a tour guide and then we had dinner with my old co-workers.

We visited Aliados (the main square of the city, where the Town Hall is located) and then we went down to the Ribeira. The Ribeira spreads alongside the Douro river and used to be a center of intense commercial and manufacturing activity since the Middle Ages. In 1491 the buildings around the square were destroyed in a fire, and the houses were rebuilt with arcades in their ground floors. The square was enclosed by the medieval walls (Muralhas Fernandinas) of Porto. These walls were torned down in 1821, opening the square to the river. Nowadays the Ribeira Square is a favorite spot for tourists.

From the Ribeira we can see the D. Luís I Bridge, a double-deck metal arch bridge that spans the River Douro between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. At its construction, its 172 meters span was the longest of its type in the world. This bridge is one of the most recognized symbols of Porto.

Coming up again from the Ribeira, we stopped at the Se (Porto Cathedral), which is one of the city’s oldest monuments and one of the most important local¬†Romanesque¬†monuments.¬†The beginning of its construction dates from the first half of the twelfth century, and continued until the beginning of the thirteenth century.

We also saw the Clerigos Tower, that can be seen from various points of the city and is one of its most characteristic symbols. The church was built for the Brotherhood of the Clérigos (Clergy) by Nicolau Nasoni, an Italian architect and painter who left an extense work in the north of Portugal during the 18th century. Construction of the church began in 1732 and was finished around 1750. After that, we strolled down the Cedofeita street, a commercial area.

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After we went to see the¬† Jardins do Palacio de Cristal.¬†These gardens are¬†a delightful green space, from which you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Douro River and the sea.¬†These romantic gardens were designed in the 1860s by √Čmile David, to involve the then Crystal Palace, replaced by the Rosa Mota Pavilion in the 1950s.

We also found a place with Venezuelan food and Alejandro went crazy. I could finally try the¬†tequenos. For the last night in the North, we stayed in Porto in my best friend Soraya’s place. We had dinner there with my friends before saying goodbye. It was so nice to see them again!


 

LISBON

Facts about the city:

Lisbon is the oldest city in Western Europe, even predating capitals such as Rome, Paris and London.

The Vasco da Gama bridge is the longest bridge in Europe, measuring 17 km.

Pasteis de nata are a Lisbon delicacy. The sweet custard tart is reproduced throughout the city, but according to locals there is only one place to get them: Casa Pastéis de Belém was the very first bakery to sell the pastry and is still open today.

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Last stop was the capital, Lisbon. I forgot how nice is the capital of my country! We stayed in the house of a Brazilian couple, friends of Alejandro from Dublin. We visited the main tourist places.

The first was the São Jorge Castle, a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic center of Lisbon. The strongly fortified citadel dates from medieval period of Portuguese history, and is one of the main tourist sites of Lisbon.

We then went to the National Pantheon, created in 1836, intended to honor and perpetuate the memory of Portuguese citizens who have distinguished themselves for services rendered to the country, in the exercise of high public office, high military services, in the expansion of Portuguese culture, in literary, scientific and artistic creation or in the defense of values of civilization, for the dignification of the human person and the cause of freedom. There are the remainings of important Portuguese people like Almeida Garrett, Amália Rodrigues, Eusebio, etc.

We visited¬†Jer√≥nimos Monastery,¬†a former monastery that was secularized on 28 December 1833. This monastery is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic¬†Manueline style¬†of architecture in Lisbon. Close to this monastery, there’s the statue of¬†Padrao dos Descobrimentos.¬†Located along the river where ships departed to explore and trade with India and Orient, the monument celebrates the Portuguese¬†Age of Discovery¬†during the 15th and 16th centuries.

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Also in this area, there’s the¬†Torre de Belem.¬†Bel√©m Tower¬†is a fortified tower that played a¬†significant role it played in the Portuguese maritime discoveries. The tower was commissioned by¬†King John¬†II¬†to be part of a defense system of the city.¬†It was built in the early 16th century and is a prominent example of the Portuguese¬†Manueline¬†style. The tower was built in the middle of the Tejo river in a small island and now sits near the shore because the river was redirected after the¬†1755 Lisbon earthquake.

We also visited some typical neighborhoods like  Bairro Alto, Chiado and Alfama. We ended our walk in Praca do Comercio, the main square of the city. The Praça do Comércio is still commonly known as Terreiro do Paço, the name it used to have until it was destroyed by the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake. After the earthquake, the square was completely remodeled. Opening towards Augusta Street, which links the square with the other traditional Lisbon square, the Rossio, the original project by Eugénio dos Santos planned a triumphal arch, completed in 1873. This arch, usually called the Arco da Rua Augusta, was designed by Veríssimo da Costa.

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We took the¬†Eletrico 28, that passes in all the nice spots of the city. I loved to see all the¬†view points.¬†I also got to see one of my best friends that now lives in Lisbon and finally got to meet her baby, my nephew ūüôā For the last night, we had dinner with Alejandro’s friends in a Mexican restaurant. This trip was amazing and I was very very happy so be able to let Alejandro see my country and meet my family and friends ūüôā

Malta, the Mediterranean jewel

In January 2017 I decided to change my life completely and move to Malta. I didn’t know anything about this country and my initial plan was to stay just for 2 months. However, I fell in love with it and I’m still here, after 1 year. It’s a small island but very multicultural!

 

Facts about the country:

There are two official languages in Malta: Maltese and English. English is a legacy of the times when the country was part of the British Empire. The country became a republic in 1974.

It lies 80¬†km south of Italy, 284¬†km east of¬†Tunisia and 333¬†km north of¬†Libya. The country covers 316¬†km2, with a population of 450,000, making it one of the world’s¬†smallest and¬†most densely populated¬†countries in the world. The capital Valletta, which at 0.8¬†km2, is the smallest¬†national capital¬†in the¬†EU by area.

Car ownership in Malta is exceedingly high, considering the very small size of the islands; it is the fourth-highest in the European Union and the average is 3 cars per house.

King George VI¬†of the UK¬†awarded the George Cross to Malta¬†in 1942 for the then British colony’s bravery in the¬†Second World War. This Cross continues to appear on Malta’s national flag.

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This small country has 3 islands (Malta, Gozo and¬†Comino). It’s in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, very close to Sicily (south of Italy).¬†This geographic position, associated with decisive historical events, gave the Maltese islands a very own identity when it comes to the landscape, architecture, culture and¬†religion.

I would say that Malta is like the Caribbean in the Mediterranean sea, with Middle Eastern architecture. Or something like that. The islands are quite small but there is so much to see and do in Malta.


 

AM LANGUAGE STUDIO

I came to Malta on the 8th of January and I came as a student. I started my journey in an English school called AM Language Studio. My plan was to study advanced English there for 2 months and then come back to Portugal in March and go back to my old job as a tour guide at Sandeman’s Port Wine cellars (because it’s a seasonal job). My time as a student was great! I felt like I was in this bubble, living a totally different life than the one I used to live.

I met people from all over the world and we became tight friends. My best friend in Malta is Sara, an Italian girl I met back then when we were students. The rest left Malta already, but she stayed, like me. Annalisa, another Italian, stayed too.

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It was very cool to be independent for the first time and share the school’s apartment with other people. I spent some amazing moments with Ida from Norway and Evelyn from Hungary, we became like sisters. I had to learn how to cook, wash my clothes, clean, etc. We were always going out in Paceville and going to the school’s activities and I finally felt free to do whatever I wanted and learned how to enjoy myself and have fun ūüôā

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During this time as a student¬†I also made some friends outside the school. Patric was the most special one. He’s half German half Portuguese and I met him in Portugal, before coming to Malta. We started a casual relationship and we spent some good moments together. He was the one who showed me the cool places in Malta and helped me to settle here. I also met Pedro, a Portuguese guy and Cuneyt, a turkish guy, among others. I received two visits – one from my friend Carla from Portugal and one from my friend Oussama, from Morocco.


 

SLIEMA MARINA HOTEL

While I was studying English at AM Language Studio, I started an internship arranged by them at the same time. I worked for two months as a receptionist in a nice hotel called Sliema Marina Hotel. It was a very nice experience! I love to work in Tourism and have a direct contact with tourists. My manager, Pierre, was a very nice guy. I used to help the staff upstairs in the breakfast room and I used to love being busy. The view from the hotel was very nice.

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ROBERT ARRIGO & SONS

At the hotel they offered me a job at the end, but the salary was very low for Malta’s standards. Over time I made up my mind and decided to stay in Malta for the summer so I had to find another job. I met this guy called Vincent and he was working for a Tourism company, so he got me a job there, at Robert Arrigo and Sons. I used to handle bookings from old tourists that wanted to visit Malta and arrange everything for them – transfers, tours, hotel, etc. It was good for my CV and I met some nice people like Abraham, Giusy, Melanie, Sara and Loriana.

The job was boring but our group was great and we used to have lunch together everyday and have a nice time together. However, they started to quit the company one by one, until there was almost no one left (no one foreign or young) and it is a challenge to work just with Maltese people sometimes. I started to feel bad at the job and wanted to leave.

Also, when I finished school I had to find another apartment and I was not happy there either. It was in Balutta Bay, close to this job, but I was sharing it with a Russian girl and a couple from Poland and the guy was a horrible person, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing that space with them.

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EC MALTA

Finally I had another job opportunity at EC English Centres, an English school. It was a very good decision to move there. The salary was better an I met some amazing people along the way! I’ve been working at EC ever since. I met a lot of interns that I loved that already went back home, like Samy from France,¬†Vojtech from Czech Republic or Marketa. They were like brothers and sisters to me. I still have good friends here like Sherif, Florian, Noran, Luis, Dulce, Claire, Marie (who just left), Mo, Rina, Hee, Keiko, Manuela, etc.

I was working for the Admissions department – Europe pod, handling the bookings from agents from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden. However, I had a low point when they moved me to E-admissions (now I work with students directly, not with agents anymore). Now I actually prefer this position, because it’s more relaxed, but when that happened I was pissed and not feeling motivated. But little by little, I think I’ve conquered my place in this company and now I get along well with everyone and I feel comfortable here.¬†We traveled¬†together to Rome (Italy) not long ago, it was amazing to be given this type of opportunities¬†ūüôā

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APARTMENTS, FRIENDS AND LOVE LIFE

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PLACES TO VISIT

  • 3 Cities

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  • Gozo

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  • Mdina

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  • Marsaxlokk

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  • St. Peters pool

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  • Popeye Village

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  • Mosta

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  • Comino

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  • Valletta

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  • Sliema and St. Julians

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  • Marsaskala

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  • Ta’Xbiex

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  • Blue Grotto

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  • Catacombs Rabat

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  • Buggiba

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  • St. Anton Gardens

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  • Mellieha (scuba diving)

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  • National Park

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  • Ghar Dalam Caves

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  • etc