Back to the land of beers and waffles

In January 2018 me and some friends from work decided to go on a weekend trip to Brussels. The four of us came from such different countries, but we all enjoy the same things: belgium beer, chocolates and waffles.

Facts about the city:

About 27 percent of the residents in Brussels are not Belgium citizens.

Chips, also commonly known as French Fries were invented in Brussels. In fact, in almost all the eateries in the city, you will find a variation of French Fries being served.

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It was my third time in Brussels. Me and some colleagues from work – Rina (from Japan), Florian (from France) and Sherif (from Egypt) – decided to buy a cheap weekend trip together with Ryanair. We left work on a Friday to go straight to the airport, to come back on a Sunday night, ready to work again the next day. We stayed for two nights in a nice hostel called Brxxl 5, located in Rue de Woeringen 5, 10 minutes away from the Grand-Place.

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We arrived at night. We left our stuff at the hostel and went for a walk to see the Grand-Place at night. This is the central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the King’s House or Breadhouse, a building containing the Museum of the City of Brussels. The square is the most memorable landmark in Brussels and it’s considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.

After that, we went for some typical frites (french fries, that were invented in Brussels) and for some beers in a nice pub. Brussels is a major trader of beer, waffles and chocolate. There are more than 800 brands of beer on sale in Brussels. We passed many walls on houses in Brussels that are covered with comic book references.

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The next day we woke up early in the morning and had breakfast in a nice coffee place. At 10.30 am we started a free walking tour around Brussels, that started in Grand-Place, organized by Bravo Discovery.

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The tour took us to many places like the Galleries Royales Saint-Hubert (Europe’s oldest shopping arcade), the Manneken Pis and the Jeanneke Pis, among others.  The Manneken Pis is a landmark small bronze sculpture with 61 cm, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618. The statue embodies the sense of humor of people from Brussels and their independence of mind.

The Jeanneke Pis is similar, but it’s the statue of a girl peeing. They say that if you throw a coin there, she will make your partner be faithful to you. The guide also showed us a nice place to eat waffles, from 1829. After the tour, we went to have lunch at Quick and then we spent the afternoon shopping at Primark, Sports Direct, etc.

At night we went to have dinner in a really nice restaurant called Chez Leon, where we tried the famous mussels. After dinner, we tried to go to Delirium bar but it was packed so we ended up in two other pubs, once called Brasserie Lombard and the other one I don’t remember the name but it was amazing because the music selection was awesome (class rock hits). After that, we went to a famous chocolate shop to buy some famous Belgian chocolates for ourselves.

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The next day we woke up went to take a look at a flea market close to our hostel and had an amazing breakfast there. For this last day we decided to have lunch in a Thai restaurant where the food was delicious.

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In the afternoon we went to see Manneken Pis again and then we walked to the Petit Sablon garden (very beautifully decorated with some nice statues) and to Mont des Arts. This area, situated between the Royal Palace and the Grand Place, offers one of Brussels’ finest views. After that, we had some rest in a cosy coffee place called Les gens que j’aime.

We visited the Chocolate Museum, where a man explained us how they make the real Belgian chocolate. The chocolate demonstration is quite satisfactory as you watch the chocolate go from liquid to hard shell and then taste the result. It lasts for about 15 minutes and you are offered chocolate to taste throughout the routine – he speaks English and French throughout the demonstration.

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After a last walk in the center, we went back to the airport. It was a nice weekend trip that allowed us to have a break from the routine and to get to know each other better.

BUDGET:

  • Flights: 49€
  • Accommodation: 50€
  • Chocolate Museum: 6€
  • Dinner at Chez Leon: 20€

 

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Team building in bella Roma

I was fortunate enough to travel to Rome with my company EC this year. They decided to do a team building event in Italy, everything paid for. It was my first time in Rome and I had a lot of fun getting to know the city and my coworkers.

 

Facts about the city:

Modern Rome has 280 fountains and more than 900 churches.

The mascot of Rome is a she-wolf that cared for brothers Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome. Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. They were abandoned as babies and put into a basket in the River Tiber. They were discovered by a female wolf, who nursed them until they were found by a shepherd. When Romulus and Remus became adults, they decided to found a city where the wolf had found them. The brothers quarreled over where the site should be and Remus was killed by his brother. This left Romulus as the sole founder of the new city, Rome. The date given for the founding of Rome is 753 BC.

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I cannot complain much about my company EC. This year they decided to take us on a paid trip to Rome, as a team building event. I never had this type of opportunities in Portugal, so I’m very grateful. Also, it was the first time I was in Rome and that city was in my bucket list for a long time.

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We were 22 people from the Admissions department. My best friends from Admissions couldn’t come so I had to be opened to make new friendships which was good. I shared the room with Keiko from Japan. She’s a sweetheart. Also, I got to know Florian, a french new guy, that I loved. He’s super funny! Rina and Mo were also there. We went on a Friday after work and we came back on a Sunday afternoon. It was short but good.

On Friday we just arrived to the hotel and had some rest. We stayed in Hotel Nizza, in Via Massimo d’Azeglio 16. The hotel was OK, but not that great. However, the breakfast we took the next morning was very good!

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We started the in Piazza VeneziaPiazza Venezia is the central hub of Rome, in which several thoroughfares intersect, including the Via dei Fori Imperiali and the Via del Corso. It takes its name from the Palazzo Venezia, built by the Venetian Cardinal, Pietro Barbo (later Pope Paul II) alongside the church of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice.

One side of the Piazza is the site of Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Altare della Patria, part of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, first king of Italy. The square is at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and next to Trajan’s Forum. The main artery, the Viale di Fori Imperiali begins there and leads past the Roman Forum to the Colosseum.

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Then we walked until Fontana di Trevi. I always wanted to visit this place and throw a coin to make a wish! It’s very beautiful. Fontana di Trevi is a fountain designed by the Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing more than 25 meters high, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It was completed in 1762. The central figures are Neptun flaked by two Tritons.

The fountain has appeared in several notable films, including Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Three Coins in the Fountain or Roman Holiday. An estimated 3,000€ are thrown into the fountain each day. In 2016, an estimated US $1.5 million was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy. However, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, even though it’s illegal.

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After that we walked to Piazza di Spagna. Since we went to Rome during the Black Friday weekend, we did that. I bought a nice jacket from Zara. Piazza di Spagna, at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, is one of the most famous squares in Rome. It owes its name to the Palazzo di Spagna, seat of the Embassy of Spain among the Holy See. Nearby is the famed Column of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The imposing 135-step staircase was inaugurated by Pope Benedict XIII in 1725, in order to connect the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Church of Trinità dei Monti. The Spanish steps, once a year, host a famous fashion show and they are used as a catwalk. All the shopping streets lead to this square so it’s an ideal point to start shopping.

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Later that afternoon, some of us went to the Vatican City. We didn’t go inside but it was worth going there to see the impotent cathedral. St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica represent the most Christian place in the world and the home of the Pope. The Vatican city is the smallest state in the world. The Vatican was built over the tomb of Saint Peter.

The Vatican’s position as a sovereign state within a state was guaranteed by the Lateran Treaty of 1929. It’s has 920 inhabitants and an area of approximately 44 hectares. Inside the Vatican there are 11 museums and some of the most famous art in the world, like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Pieta.

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Then Keiko, Florian, Irina and me went to have a closer look at the ColosseumThe Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. It was commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son in 80. Vespesian ordered the Colosseum to be built on the site of Nero’s palace, to dissociate himself from the hated tyrant. His aim was to gain popularity by staging deadly combats of gladiators.

The Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on Classical mythology.

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On Saturday night we went to have dinner all together in an amazing restaurant called Alfredo alla Scrofa. This is considered the restaurant of the celebrities and they even have a lot of pictures of famous people that went there on the walls (Greta Garbo, Dean Martin, Andrea Bocelli, Jimi Hendrix, etc.). The food was amazing and we tried the famous Fettuccine Alfredo. The restaurant was funded in 1907.

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After dinner we stopped for some pictures in Piazza NavonaPiazza Navona has three amazing baroque fountains. The central one is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, designed by Bernini in 1651. At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575). At the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) also created by Giacomo; There is also the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Pamphili Palace.

We went to some bars and pubs close to this square and then we headed back to the hotel. The next morning we had breakfast again in the hotel and then we took a flight back to Malta. It was a very nice weekend! 

Stargazing in the Sahara desert

I went with Alejandro to Morocco, one of my dream destinations. We visited Fez and Marrakech, both with amazing souks and colorful souvenirs. We also did a tour in the Sahara desert with a camel ride, a visit to a nomad berber family and a night in the middle of the desert, under the starry sky.

 

MARRAKECH

We traveled to Morocco with Ryanair, with a change of flights in Madrid. We were lucky, because we found some cheap flights. In total, the 4 flights costed us around 98 euros!

When we arrived in Morocco, we arrived in Marrakech very late at night, so we decided to spend one night there before taking the train the next morning to Fez. Our first impression of Morocco was not so good, since some people saw us a bit lost with our luggage and started to follow us to mislead us with wrong information and ask us for money at the end. It was a cultural shock because we were not used to that. We knew the way to the ryad, but they told us that we were going the wrong way and after making us walk more than necessary, asked us for 20€. Of course we didn’t give them anything, but they got annoyed.

We spent the night in Ryad Hamza, in the old medina – 108 Sidi Boulougate. We paid 30€ for a double room for one night. We didn’t need anything fancy since it was just to sleep and since we had to take the train at 6:20 am  in the next day.

When we exchanged money in Malta for our trip, I asked specifically for Moroccan dirhams, but the girl gave me dirhams from Dubai by mistake! 1 euro equals 11 dirhams from Morocco but only like 3 or 4 dirhams from Dubai. During the first night/ morning in Marrakech we paid for the taxis with this wrong currency and no one told us the truth. We lost some money with this joke. Only the next morning, at the train station, when we were trying to buy the tickets, someone was finally honest and told us that we were using the wrong currency.


 

FEZ

Facts about the city:

Founded by Idris I in 789, the city of Fez was the capital of Morocco until 1912.

It’s a car-free city. Built in the 9th century, the Fez medina is a labyrinth of about 10,000 alleys that are too narrow for cars, with small artisanal shops selling all kinds of hand-made products and the only means of transporting goods inside the medina are mules or small chariots.

The red top hat that Moroccans wear, particularly in ceremonies and special events, is named the “Fez,” just like the city. Historically, the fez hats were exclusively hand made in the city of Fez by talented craftsmen known as “Trabshi.” The hats have become a symbol of the kingdom. Now they are produced in many places but the best quality hats are still those coming from Fez.

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The train ride was very long and it took us 8 hours to arrive to Fez. We passed other important cities like Casablanca and Rabat, but we didn’t have time to stop there. The ticket costed us 412 dirhams, which is around 40 euros. We stayed 2 days in Fez.

When we arrived, the same thing happened. The taxis cannot take us into the narrow streets of the medina, so we had to figure out the way by ourselves and we got lost again because these small streets all look the same and even with google maps, it’s difficult to get the right orientations. Some kids saw us with our luggage and they started to follow us, trying to take us to the ryad, but they were being very annoying and persistent. At one point, Alejandro was surrounded by like 8 kids asking for money, when we had given them money already, so we were starting to get scared. Finally we managed to find the ryad.

We stayed in Dar Chrif Idrissi, located in 32 Akbat Zerka Kettanin, Medina. We paid 39€ for a double room, one night, with a nice breakfast included.

We liked this ryad very much because the owner was amazing with us. We became friends with him and he gave us some tips and even invited us to go out at night with him. We went together to the new part of the city, to a bar, and we saw a Moroccan singer singing live and we tried Moroccan beer (it’s difficult to find alcohol in Morocco).

The terrace was also very nice, with a good view to the city. It’s weird to be there and listen to the sound that comes from the mosques calling people to pray 5 times a day. Moroccan people are super religious. Also, they love their King, because in every shop and every place we could see pictures of the King.

When we arrived in Fez we went to visit the famous Chaouwara Tanneries. Although the largest and most famous tannery is in Bab Ghissa, Chouara Tannery is said to be the oldest leather tannery in the world. These are one of the city’s most iconic sights (and smells), offering a unique window into the natural process of producing world-class leather using methods that have changed little since medieval times. In 2016 they underwent a year-long restoration to spruce up the crumbling environs surrounding the pits, including the viewing terraces. The colors are very nice!

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After seeing the tanneries, we bought some stuff with leather. I bought a purse and Alejandro bought a nice leather jacket. In Morocco, we really have to be good at negotiating prices! My god, they start with suuuper high prices and you have to keep pushing down and down and even pretend to leave so that they can finally offer a fair price. For sure they fool a lot of tourists. According to Alejandro, I’m super good at negotiating, I guess I inherited the skills from my father 😉

We visited Medersa el-Attarine. Founded by Abu Said in 1325 in the heart of the medina, the Attarine was designed as an annex to the nearby Kairaouine. The central courtyard displays the traditional patterns of Merenid artisanship, with magnificent zellij, carved plaster and cedar wood. Onyx columns flank the mihrab. Slightly smaller than the Medersa Bou Inania, it has been sensitively restored.

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We also visited Medersa Bou Inania. A short walk down Talaa Kebira from Bab Bou Jeloud, the Medersa Bou Inania is the finest of Fez’ theological colleges. It was built by the Merenid sultan Bou Inan between 1351 and 1357, and has been impressively restored with elaborate zellij (tiles) and carved plaster, beautiful cedar mashrabiyyas (lattice screens) and massive brass entrance doors. Whereas most medersas just have a simple prayer hall, the Bou Inania is unusual in that it hosts a complete mosque.

We also tried to take a sneak pick at Kairaouine Mosque and University (last picture above), but they didn’t let us in. This is one of Africa’s largest mosques in Africa. Founded in 859, the historic university of Fez is actually recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest degree-granting university in the world.

This complex is the spiritual heart of Fez and Morocco itself. It’s so large that it can be difficult to actually see: over the centuries the streets and houses of the Kairaouine quarter have encroached on the building so much they disguise its true shape. Non-Muslims cannot enter, but the university library has recently been impressively restored and opened to the public in 2016.

After that, we visited Jnan Sbil (Bou Jeloud Gardens). These lush gardens are a breath of fresh air after the intensity of Fez’ medina. Although over a century old, extensive renovation and replanting have reinvigorated the gardens’ splendor, and locals come in droves to promenade the leafy trails, cool off around the grand central fountains and lounge beside the bird-filled lake – especially at dusk.

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We found this amazing restaurant (forgot the name) in the middle of the medina and it’s architecture and decoration amazed us. I think it was the nicest restaurant I’ve even been to in my life. The food was great too and the prices were very accessible. We loved the typical tagines and couscous rice with vegetables.

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We also visited the Royal Palace. The entrance to Palais Royale is a stunning example of modern restoration, but the 80 hectares of palace grounds are not open to the public. Visitors must be satisfied with viewing its imposing brass doors, surrounded by fine zellij and carved cedar wood.

We passed the Bab Boujloud, which is a gate that leads to the old medina. Surrounded by high walls, the Pasha Baghdadi square connects the medina with Fez el-Jedid. On one side of the square, you can make out the Bab Bou Jeloud, a beautiful monumental gate built in 1913 and the main entrance to Fez el-Bali. From this entrance you can see the silhouette of the Minarets of a mosque and the Bou Inania Madrasa.

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During these two days in Fez we tried to explore everything we could in the souks and old medina and we didn’t mind getting lost among the shops. On our first night we had dinner close to the gate of Place R’cif, which was close to our ryad.

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It was amazing to see all the shops with colorful things, I wanted to buy everything. Fez was a city that started by scaring us but we left Fez in love with the cities and its colors, smells and sounds.

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At night we took a Supratours bus from Fez to Merzouga. It took us 10 hours to reach Merzouga and the famous Sahara desert.

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I even vomited and everything, but it was worth the trip! We left Fez at 8.30 pm and we arrived in Merzouga at 6:30 am so technically, we spent the night sleeping on the bus.


 

MERZOUGA – SAHARA DESERT

Facts about the city:

The Sahara Desert is the third largest in the world. The first two are Antarctica and the Arctic. Sahara means ‘the greatest desert’ in Arabic.

The desert has gone through shifts in temperature and moisture over the past few hundred thousand years. Although the Sahara Desert is very dry today, it is expected that it will become green again in about 15000 years.

The Sahara Desert covers 3.6 million square miles. It is almost the same size as the United States or China. There are sand dunes in the Sahara as tall as 590 feet. There are several mountain ranges in the Sahara that get snow regularly. It’s not common anywhere else.

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When we arrived in Merzouga, we had no plan, we didn’t even have a hotel reservation. However, we were lucky because we decided to go to this hotel called Hotel Palais des Dunes, where the tour to the desert that we booked was going to start on the next day, at 5 pm. We talked to the guy there and he made us a really nice price! 40 euros per person for a room until 5 pm so we could rest from the bus ride, breakfast, lunch, tour 4×4 in the dunes in the afternoon and breakfast after the night in the desert. Amazing!

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The tour 4×4 was very worth it! We went with our guide, Ismael, and we visited a village with black people where they played songs and danced for us (we danced with them as well), we did rally in the dunes (very scary but exciting experience, to be driving so fast in the dunes – one time we even got stuck in the sand and couldn’t move the car and another time even Ismael got scared because he drove too fast and we bumped into the ground when we climbed down a dune). Very cool!

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We also visited a place where the french used to work to produce glass. We were very close to the border with Algeria, we could see it on the other side of the mountain.

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Another thing I liked was when we went to visit a berber nomad family in the middle of the desert. There were 2 or 3 wifes there from the same husband and lots of kids. It was very impressive to see the conditions where the kids were living. There was a little girl there with dozens of flies in her face, mouth and even eyes and she was so used to that that she was not even blinking!

They offered us some bread but we didn’t want to eat it because of the lack of hygiene so we just drank the mint tea that they prepared for us. The kids had a ball to play football and it was nice to see them playing with Alejandro and Ismael.

These kids don’t go to school and they speak berber so we couldn’t communicate with them, only Ismael could. He himself was a nomad when he was a kid, for 7 years. He said that despite the conditions, he was very happy living in the desert like that.

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After this tour we came back to the hotel to have a shower and at 5 pm we met our guide to do the camel trekking tour in the Sahara desert. We were a group of more or less 10 tourists. It was very cool the sensation of riding a camel in the middle of nothing but sand. The color of the sand is amazing and it’s even more beautiful at sunset.

When the sun was setting, we climbed a dune and we saw it from the top, before proceeding with our journey. We were on camels for about 1h30, 2h, until we reached our camp with our berber tents called haima, in a valley between the dunes, chosen because its isolation allows the absolute solitude of the group.

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We had dinner outside, in some tables that they set for us. The dinner was tasty, an ideal example of local cuisine and we ate around the fire. Then, at night, we could enjoy the overwhelming experience of silence and the starry night sky above you. It is an unforgettable impression. I never saw a sky so beautiful in my life! The sky was very dark, with no cities lights, and with thousands of stars everywhere. I saw two shooting stars, for the first time in my life!

We gathered around with the rest of the group around the fire while our guides played their instruments for us. It was the most spectacular night of my life and I loved the fact that I could share this experience with Alejandro.

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We slept in the tents that had a proper bed and even bathrooms. The next day we rise before the sunrise and we came back with our camels to the hotel. We stopped again on the way and we climbed another dune to see the sun rising, while our guide made a fire to warm us up there.

After the breakfast we took the bus to Marrakesh. The price that we paid for this camel trekking tour with one night in the desert was just 35€ per person, can you believe it? The most well spent money ever. The company with which we booked the tour is called Camel Excursions.


 

MARRAKECH

Facts about the city:

Although the majority of residents are either Arabic or Berber, Marrakech is very multi-lingual – from business people to shopkeepers – most will be able to pin-point your nationality before you say a single word.

Marrakech is referred to as the Red City, because of the shade of the walls surrounding its old town.

Though many Moroccan men and women still wear djellabas, or traditional loose-fitting robes with a hood, locals do strip down at the hammans – gender-segregated bathhouses peppered through Marrakech’s medina, where they clean themselves with savon noir soap and ghassoul clay masks.

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It took us even longer to get to Marrakech from Merzouga – 12 hours by bus! We got on the bus at 7.30 am and we arrived at 8 pm so we lost the whole day travelling. This time we decided to stay in a nicer ryad in Marrakech, to end our trip in style, so we stayed in Ryad Dar Alif located right outside the old medina – 17 Derb El Kheir Hay Salam, Mellah.

We paid a bit more, 136€ for a double room for 2 nights but it was well worth it. The staff was super nice and the owner is a sweetheart. She is a french lady that just moved recently to Morocco. The ryad had a nice indoor pool and a relaxing terrace on top.

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We started by visiting the famous Jardin Majorelle. One of the most popular locations in Morocco, the Jardin Majorelle is the creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle who spent 40 years injecting his passion and creativity into this magical garden. Complete with enchanting little lanes, magical trees and over 300 species of stunning plants and tranquil streams, Jardin Majorelle is perfect for those who want a break from the busy city and want to experience the Art Deco and Moorish influences in a relaxing environment. The garden was in ruins and the famous Yves Saint Laurent decided to buy it and make it look nice again and now the garden holds his aches in his memory.

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Then we went to the most famous place in Marrakech, the vibrant Jemaa el-Fna square. Somewhat of an open-air theater and museum combined, Jemaa el-Fna is the pulse of Marrakech. The daily square buzzes with snake charmers, henna tattoo artists and various other entertainers, while at night there are countless stalls boasting traditional lamb heads and fresh orange juice. Tourists flock here all year round to experience the true heart of the city and to discover the intriguing things the locals have to offer in this magical Moroccan square.

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The natural fruit juices were so cheap there (approximately 1€) that we were always buying them. We also had dinner in this square on our first night in Marrakech. Close to this main square, there’s the Koutoubia Mosque, with it’s big tower. The largest mosque in Marrakech, the Koutoubia is not only a spiritual center but a point of reference for international architecture. Setting the trend for buildings in Spain and Rabat, the beautiful 12th-century minaret is an example of the Moorish ornamental expertise: with characterful arches and rigid proportions, it’s an admirable piece of architecture.

Another place we visited were the Saadian Tombs. These tombs were created to stand as the final resting place of the many rulers and members of the Saadi dynasty. Rich in history, the Saadian tombs were rediscovered in 1917 after having been sealed up for centuries. Magnificently decorated with bright tiles, Arabic calligraphy, and intricate carvings, Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi certainly spared no expense on his tomb, making for a beautiful site for tourists.

In our spare time during these two days we got lost on purpose in the maze of souks in Marrakech. Labeled one of the most exotic and magical cities in the country, Marrakech boasts a full medina with typical winding souks and countless treasures, from bags, to ceramics. Whether you’re looking for literature, handicrafts, or food, there’s a street and an alleyway for everything. Tourists like us can get lost for hours in the labyrinth of enticing streets.

It was lovely to discover some locally made treasures. We bought more souvenirs for our friends (I also negotiated a lamp and a nice mirror for myself) and we went inside a big store that sold spices and teas and we bought some mint tea and some Moroccan medicine. We had lunch and dinner in the middle of the souks, eating more tagines.

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We went inside Ben Youssef MadrasaMadrasas, translating to schools, now stand all around Morocco as historical representations of the education of the past. This particular Quranic school, once the largest in North Africa, was dedicated to the teaching of Islamic law, and has stood since the 14th century. Guests can explore 100 tiny windowless student chambers and admire the medieval architecture, from the great courtyard to the richly decorated prayer halls. After almost six centuries, this medieval madrasa still has plenty of charm and stands are one of the key tourist attractions of the city.

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In the last morning before our flight we visited the Bahia Palace. The Bahia Palace was built in the late 19th century, intended to be the greatest palace of its time. Set up at the end of the 19th century by Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan, for his personal use, this palace would bear the name of one of his wives. Here, the harem, which includes a vast court decorated with a central basin and surrounded by rooms intended for the concubines. As the black slave Abu Ahmed rose to power and wealth towards the end of the 19th century, he had the Bahia palace built by bringing in craftsmen from Fez. This is the only palace open to tourists.

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We said goodbye to Marrakech in a garden close to the Jemaa el-Fna square, where we stayed there sitting on a bench for a long time, just absorbing the life of the Moroccan people and trying to take it all in. This was an amazing trip. Apart from the annoying people on the streets trying to get money out of you, the rest of the people were extremely kind and nice and the whole experience was incredible! This trip joined me and Alejandro closer together 🙂


 

MADRID (SPAIN)

To go back to Malta, we had to change flights again in Madrid, Spain. This time we had to spend a night there, because we only had a connection flight the next morning. We stayed in Hostal Alonso and we paid 35€ for the room. It was very well located, close to Puerta del Sol: Espoz y Mina, 17 3o. The lady was very nice.

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Since we didn’t have a lot of time in Madrid and we both had visited the city before, we just visited the main places like Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Cibeles, Gran Via, etc.

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We stopped in a famous place where they sell churros con chocolate and in another place where we ate a lot of tapas (jamon iberico y queso iberico). We also visited a nice closed market with some restaurants. This time I actually enjoyed Madrid.

 

BUDGET:

  • Flights: 98€
  • Accommodation: 280€
  • Train from Marrakech to Fez: 40€
  • Supratours Buses: 30€
  • Camel trekking in the desert: 35€
  • Jardin Majorelle: 6€
  • Medersa el-Attarine: 2€
  • Medersa Bou Inania: 2€
  • Saadian Tombs: 1€
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa: 2€
  • Bahia Palace: 1€

 

Poland from North to South

In September 2017 I went to Poland with my boyfriend. It was a very demanding trip – visiting 5 places in 5 days: beautiful Gdansk, modern Warsaw, elegant Krakow, sad Auschwitz and colorful Wroclaw. It’s hard to say which one I loved the most! We were tired but very happy to visit a country that has met our expectations and surprised us in a good way!

 

GDANSK

Facts about the city:

Gdansk still has its historical Beer Bell that was used to announce the opening of pubs in the old times.

Gdansk was a part of Germany for many years. In fact, this city is just as German as Polish. It was incorporated to Poland after World War II, in 1945. Actually, World War II began in Gdansk. German invasion on Poland started on 1st September 1939 by attacking the Free City of Gdansk.

Most of the amber stones washed by the Baltic Sea are found on the Gdansk seaside. The boardwalk, bearing the name of John Paul II, is 511.5 meters long.

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Our first stop was Gdansk. We booked a direct flight from Malta that lasted about 3 hours. I didn’t even know this city before this trip but it’s really amazing! In Gdansk we stayed in an apartment called Był sobie Gdańsk – Stare Miasto for one night. It costed us around 25€ each and it was well located in the city center: Stajenna 3/A/2, 80-842. It was very nice!

We started by seeing the Great Mill area. We went to buy some food and beers (by the way, everything is cheap in Poland, due to the different currency – 1 euro = 4 zlotys) and we stop by a nice fountain in that area.

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In front there was a church where we could climb up to the top the see the clock and we did it because of the amazing views from up there. Then we went to Mariacka Street, a cute narrow street with a lot of shop that sell jewelry with amber stones (famous from this area). We tried to visit St. Mary’s church, right next to it, but they were doing some works in the building.

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We continued our walk along the Motlawa River Embankment (Dlugie Pobrzeze), along the river side. The restaurants in this area are very cute, with lots of colorful flowers. We also saw the Crane (Zuraw), a house with a strange shape.

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After that, we strolled around the main street – Dluga Street. This is probably one of the most beautiful streets I’ve ever visited! It has amazing nice buildings on both sides, it has a lot of flowers as well, it has the amazing tower of the old Main Town Hall (Ratusz Glownego Miasta), the Neptune’s Fountain, etc.

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We ended our walk in Piwna Street, right next to Dluga street. I got sick on my first day in Poland. It was sooo cold (and I didn’t come prepared for that, with warm clothes) that I had a fever and obstructed nose right away from day 1. Alejandro was amazing and took good care of me 🙂


 

WARSAW

Facts about the city:

Warsaw, rebuilt after World War II based on paintings from the 17th-18th centuries, is protected by UNESCO and is a perfect example of restoration of cultural heritage.

Warsaw is the most congested city in Europe – Poles spend an average of 106 hours per year stuck in traffic.

The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw was a gift of the Soviet dictator Stalin to the Polish nation. At 237 metres tall, it’s the tallest building in Poland, and at 165 metres, the clock tower is considered to be the tallest in Europe.

Warsaw, Poland. Palace of Culture and Science and skyscrapers

After Gdansk, we flew to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. We found a cheap flight for 4,99€ and we decided that it was way better and faster than to go by train – approximately 50 minutes. In Warsaw we stayed in an apartment called Rondo ONZ 1. Again, we paid an average of 25€ each for one night. It was located in Śliska 10 Sródmiescie 00-127. The apartment was modern and nice, but super small and the lady who gave us the keys couldn’t speak English (like a lot of Polish people we saw) and she was kind of rude because we were confused about the price.

In our second day in this trip around Poland it was raining all day. We were cold and completely wet. I didn’t really like the city. Not because of that, but because it was completely destroyed by the war and they had to rebuilt it all over again. Now it’s too big, modern, with a lot of skyscrapers and not a lot of beautiful things to see, like the other ones we visited.

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We walked around a park and strolled along Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street and Nowy Swiat. We went to the main square called Royal Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy). The main building was under reconstruction work.

We kept walking until we reached the Old Town Market Square. It’s the most beautiful place in Warsaw for me, but it’s quite small. The building of the Palace of Culture & Science is also very impressive and reminds us of NY. I was still very sick in this day. We had dinner in a shopping mall close to this building and we went to sleep early.


 

KRAKOW

Facts about the city:

The Town Hall Tower of Krakow is the city’s own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Even though the tower deviates from the base by mere 55 cm, it can be clearly seen thanks to its being 70 m high.

Stephen Spielberg’s famous movie Schindler’s List was shot in one of Krakow’s Jewish quarters, called Kazimierz. Most of the quarter’s houses are still decorated with Stars of David. The local synagogues and tiny shops and cafés that serve Jewish dishes are all enshrouded in the spirit of those times.

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After Warsaw, we decided to catch a train to Krakow. I was working that day, so I used that 2h40 trip to check my emails on my tablet. In Krakow we stayed in an apartment called Horizon Apartments-Bożego Ciała. We paid around 20€ each for one night. It was located in the beautiful Jewish neighborhood, where there’s a lot of restaurants and bars: Bożego Ciała 9/11 Old Town 31-059. I really liked this apartment, I think it was my favorite. The girl who gave us the keys was very nice and I felt cozy there. The bathroom was amazing and big!

In Krakow we started by visiting the Wawel Cathedral and Castle and some churches in the way to get to the Main Market Square. This square is huge and really impressive! There’s a market inside the arches and the Church of the Virgin Mary (Kosciol Mariacki) is also located in this church. There we met a family from Cuba and we talked with them for a bit. They were very nice 🙂

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We also went to the Planty Park and Collegium Maius, as well as kind of “castle” I don’t remember the name. Krakow is very beautiful as well! At night we went to have dinner in a typical polish restaurant and then we went for some drinks in a nice pub nearby. I was getting better from my cold but the weather was still bad.

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AUSCHWITZ

Facts about it:

Auschwitz was a German Nazi concentration camp during World War II that was in operation from 1940 to 1945. It was a network of concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazis in Poland. Auschwitz I was built to house political prisoners from Poland but soon Auschwitz II was being used to exterminate Jewish prisoners and prisoners of other nationalities. Of the estimated 1.1 million prisoners who died at Auschwitz it is believed that 90% were Jewish.

More people died in Auschwitz than the British and American losses of WWII combined.

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From Krakow we took a direct train to Oswiecim. It took us 1h30 to get there. Auschwitz and Birkenau are located in Oswiecim, about 66km west of Krakow. Then, from the train station, we took a taxi because we were a bit late for the guided tour. We booked a trip in Spanish and it costed is around 10€, really cheap. The tour takes about 3h30.

Auschwitz is a very interesting place. Everyone should have the chance to visit it. The first part of the tour is in Auschwitz I. This camp was initially set up to hold Polish political prisons before being a hub for Jewish prisoners. This was the first camp to be build and was the headquarters for the SS. Prisoner number reached 16,000.

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Walking up to the infamous Arbeit macht frei (work brings freedom) gates, I felt a strange sense of familiarity. Maybe it was because I had seen these gates before in films, books and on the internet. We continued on through the gates, and for the next hours we followed our guide across the grounds of Auschwitz I and into the buildings of the barracks, prison cells and gas chamber.

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We saw the wall where they used to shot people and we entered the only gas chamber that is still standing (even though it’s not the original one). Inside the buildings we could see objects from the people who died there. Glasses, hair, luggage, shoes… It’s really sad to think that they were real people like me and that some human beings were able to to this to other human beings and kill over 1.5 million people in two years there. It was hard to see the pictures of some of the prisoners with the date of when they entered Auschwitz and when they died. Some of them just lasted some days or weeks there. There’s no record of the ones who were killed as soon as they got there.

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Located 3km away from Auschwitz I is Birkenau II. This is the largest concentration camp constructed to house more prisoners after Auschwitz I became crowded. Approximately 1.1m people died here (mainly Jews). We went by bus with the rest of our Spanish group.

As we walked up to the main building, the first thing I could see was the red brick building that is all so familiar. The next thing that came to vision was the single train track that once led millions of prisoners to their death. It was clear from here this was a one-way train. Nobody was leaving.

As we walked from the top to the bottom of the rail line, on our left and right were rows upon rows of housing barracks – all identical. We later learned that these were not actually build in a way to house prisoners, but rather crush them together until it lead to their death. This camp was also a site where extensive tests and experiments were undertaken on prisoners, mostly twins (children) and women.

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The tour took us down to the very end of the train tracks where we witnessed the demolished gas chambers. At this site, there is also a monument erected to honor the victims, as well as a small memorial stone set up for all those prisoners bodies and ashes were buried and scattered on the surrounding ground.


 

WROCLAW

Facts about the city:

Wroclaw has had a long a varied history stretching back over a thousand years. For many years Wroclaw was a German city. It has also been part of the Czech Republic and Austria.

Because of the many rivers, islands, some 200 or so bridges and the sheer beauty of the city, Wroclaw has a growing reputation as the Venice of the North.

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Finally, our last stop was Wroclaw. From Auschwitz we took two trains: one from Oswiecim to Lubliniec and another from Lubliniec to Wroclaw. It took us around 4 hours to do this. In Wroclaw we stayed one night in an apartment called City Apartments Old Town I. We paid 29€ each. It was located right in the heart of the city center: Biskupia 7 Stare Miasto 50-148. The girl who gave us the keys was nice. The apartment was OK, but the decoration was weird and the WiFi was not working.

The biggest surprise for me in Wroclaw were the little Dwarfs. Mostly bronze, often cheeky, and each about a foot tall, there are more than 300 dwarfs (or krasnale) dotted about the city in various guises. It only takes a few hours of strolling around the Old Town to have the chance to meet them.

Why is there so many dwarf statues in Poland? Back in the 80’s, communism was still present in Poland and police were very strict about any sort of secret meeting and manifestation against the ruling regime. Luckily, a group of eccentric individuals began a movement called the Orange Alternative. Their strategy? Using the absurd and the nonsensical in order to avoid being arrested by the police.

Can you treat a police officer seriously when he is asking you: “Why did you participate in an illegal meeting of dwarfs?” said one of the leaders. Their tactics involved drawing dwarf graffiti on top of the anti-communist signs that were constantly painted white by the authorities. Eventually, the movement succeeded in planting the seeds of peaceful opposition and now there is a relatively big statue of a dwarf (called Papa Dwarf by the locals) standing in Wroclaw and funded by the modern-day government of Poland.

Then, in 2005, the mayor of the city of Wroclaw decided to continue the tradition of having dwarf statues and hired Tomasz Moczek, a renowned Polish sculptor, to make five small dwarf statues to adorn the main touristy sights of Wroclaw’s old town. They were an instant hit and soon the city demanded more and more dwarfs, each one representing a different profession or an aspect of everyday life. These are some of the ones I saw:

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I loved Wroclaw. It’s such a colorful cute city! We arrived at night and we went out for dinner in a fancy restaurant where we ate a lot of meat. The next day we were lucky because it didn’t rain and I was fine again. We visited Saint Mary Magdalene’s Church and we paid to go up to the Witches Bridge. It was a very good idea because the view from up there is really breathtaking!

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Then we visited the Town Hall, a really nice medieval building, In this building is also the oldest restaurant in Europe, called Piwnica Swidnicka. Some famous people ate there. It’s from the year 1200 or something like that.

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The old town of this city is amazing. The buildings are super cute. We spent a lot of time there just walking and appreciating it’s beauty.

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Then we passed Ossolineum Garden and visited the islands – Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Island) and Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It’s very cute the blue bridge with the love locks. After that, we returned to the old city centre (stare miastro) and had dinner in a nice restaurant in the main square.

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We took a tram to visit the Multimedia Fountain at Pergola. Before going to the airport we went to check the Pomnik Anonimowego Przechodnia statues, that looks like they are coming out from the ground, close to the train station. I really loved this trip!

 

BUDGET:

  • Flights: 98,50€
  • Accommodation: 100€
  • Flight to Warsaw: 5€ 
  • Train to Krakow: 53,50€
  • Train to Auschwitz: 8,50€
  • Train to Wroclaw: 14€