Alone in Switzerland

Design sem nome

This year my mom had some health issues and I had an unplanned trip to Portugal. Since it was not booked way in advance, the best option for the return flight was with a connection flight from Geneva, Switzerland. Last time I was there it was in 2011, to visit my sister. It definitely brought some memories back!

 

GENEVA

Interesting facts about Geneva:

Geneva’s English Garden has the world’s largest Flower Clock. Its face is five meters in diameter, and consists of 6,500 live flowers that grow and bloom at different times, making the clock periodically change in color.

Geneva is the birthplace of Internet as we know it today. The World Wide Web was created in a laboratory in the city. Today millions around the world log on to this innovation to get the latest information, news, trends and keep up with their contacts via social media.

With Switzerland being politically neutral, it is no wonder that Geneva is home to the headquarters of the European branch of the United Nations, the European branch of the International Red Cross and the World Health Organization. It is also the place where the Geneva Conventions were signed.

With 40% of its residents coming from outside of Switzerland, Geneva is the most international city in the world.

Lake-Geneva

This year my mom had some health issues and in April I had to fly to Portugal to check on her. Since this trip was not planned and booked way in advance, the flights were very expensive. The best option for the return flight was to stop in Geneva, Switzerland for 8h.

I thought this could be a nice opportunity to see my sister again, as we haven’t seen each other since I moved to Malta. However, she was in France that weekend so we couldn’t meet.

The last time I was in Geneva it was in 2011. I was a kid. I remember that I went with my mom to visit my sister, right after our father passed away. However, last time my sister was working the whole time and we didn’t have a lot of time to see the city properly. This time I did, and it was nice wondering around the city alone. The city looked more bright, as now it was sunny and warm and last time I went it was cold and snowy.

There is never a shortage of things to do in Geneva as the city has a history that dates back more than four thousand years. There are monuments, many museums and dazzling architecture to take in, not to mention the many gardens and botanic sites throughout the green city where nature walks and marvelous views abound.

As the second largest city in the country situated on the banks of Lac Léman, Geneva is home to many cultural, historical and natural attractions while also being the hub of banking, technology and tourism.

Lac Léman claims the distinction of being the largest lake in Europe. This lake brings the drama and awe-inspiring natural splendour of the Alps to the centre of the city. The lake’s beauty has affected the design of the city itself, as a promenade was built around the shore in the mid-19th century. Next to the water are tree-lined promenades with palatial townhouses or serene parks.

In this lake you can find Jet d’eau, which is one of the world’s tallest water fountains. The Jet d’Eau is five hundred litres of water per second propelled to a height of 140 metres. This water fountain has become one of the best known symbols and landmarks of Switzerland.

If you do want to get a closer look, take care as the plume is susceptible to the wind and you may get wet. The jet has been at its present spot since 1951, and originally had an important practical use: It started in 1886 as a safety valve for the hydraulic power plant, and became a permanent monument as the city loved the way it looked.

The locals of Geneva consider the Mont Blanc Bridge, stretching over the River Rhône and Lake Geneva, to be of symbolic value. There are 27 flags of Switzerland’s regions, symbolizing the country’s unity.

I continue walking and started climbing to visit the old part of the city – Vielle Ville. The Vielle Ville twists around the hill capped by a cathedral and was once enveloped by defensive walls. Getting around on these steep cobblestone streets and stairways is tiring but worthwhile: The old centre is densely packed with intriguing little corners, fountains, terraces with lookouts, as well as places of real historic value.

I visited the Cathedrale de St-Pierre there. This famous cathedral is best known for its historic significance as the church where John Calvin gave his inspiring sermons during the mid-16th century.

One of the oldest architectural structures in Geneva – the Tavel House – has been attracting curious travelers from around the world for over nine centuries. Today, it hosts a history museum with expositions that reflect the local people’s everyday lives from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.

Then I walked back to the lake shore and visited the Flower Clock, located in the English Gardens. This was first built in 1955 and is an ode to the watch industry, of which Geneva sets the standard. The centerpiece of these gardens is the fountain, cast at a foundry in Val d’Osne in France in 1862. The park’s curving paths radiate off this monument, out to the promenade where you can get a photo of the Jet d’Eau and contemplate the lake.

Portuguese in Luxembourg

Design sem nome (5)

This year Alejandro and I decided to visit Luxembourg. This country has fascinated us ever since we watched an episode of Madrilenos por el Mundo in Luxembourg and saw how well people live there and how beautiful this small country is. Luxembourg also has a huge Portuguese community and I truly felt at home there!

 

LUXEMBOURG

Interesting facts about Luxembourg:

Luxembourg is the only Grand Duchy in the world. Which means they have a Grand-Duke and Grand-Duchess, instead of a King and Queen.

Foreigners account for nearly half of Luxembourg’s population. Portuguese represent 16% of the total population and make up the biggest group of the foreigns.

Luxembourg is the richest country in the world, according to the projections for GDP per capita for 2019. Luxembourg has the highest minimum wage in the EU: 2,071 EUR per month.

Nearly half of Luxembourg’s workforce commutes to work in Luxembourg from another country. Most non-Luxembourg nationals traveling across the border are French, Belgians and Germans.

Luxembourg is home to many stunning castles. Several castles have been preserved and restored, and are very much worth visiting.

Luxembourg-Vianden-Vianden-Castle-1440x954

We’d been meaning to visit Luxembourg for quite some time, as it always felt to us like a fascinating little place in the middle of Europe where we could even see ourselves living in a few years time. This year Ryanair opened a direct new route from Malta and we saw it as a sign and decided to book a trip right away.

We stayed at Melia Luxembourg for three nights and paid a total of 310 euros. The room was very comfortable and it was at a walking distance from the historical city centre. There was also a free gym and sauna.

Next our hotel there was a big park and an old fort with a lovely view. One thing we loved about Luxembourg is the amount of green and nature you see everywhere. Even in the city centre, next to monuments, you can find always a park or a small forest.

We explored the narrow cute street on our way to the city centre and took a lift to go up, as Luxembourg is surrounded by valleys and stands tall on top of a hill. The views from the lift were breathtaking as well.

Once we got up there, we started by visiting the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter in Luxembourg is the perfect place to kick off a trip to this delightful country and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The center was surrounded by graceful ancient fortifications that once were known as the Gibraltar of the North but were destroyed in 1883. Nowadays you will find tree lined cobbled streets as well as lush parks and gardens. As you wander around you can check out scenic bridges and winding alleyways.

We stopped at Place d’Armes. In this square there’s the Cercle Cité Luxembourg, which is an early 20th-century palace and former government building, now used for exhibitions & events. There was this piano on the street, for everyone to play, and this random guy started playing Queen songs and was truly amazing! We stayed there a bit just listening to him play. In this square there was a street market, where people were selling second-hand things.

We continued walking and saw another nice street market in the square where the Monument of Remembrance is located. This monument has a golden statue on top which is the symbol of the city. There we met a dutch guy who’s married to a Portuguese woman that was selling Portuguese Delta coffee and pastéis de nata. He even had chocolate pastéis de nata, which were divine!

This street market was really close to the Notre Dame Cathedral, so we went there to check it out. This cathedral was built in the 17th century by Jesuit priests. One of the signature features here is the north gate which is baroque in style and is covered with pretty stained glass that dates from the 19th -20th cent.

As well as traditional structures you will also find modern pieces of sculpture as well as a famous statue of the Madonna and Jesus in miniature form that sits over the altar. It is also famous for its crypt which contains graves of members of the Luxembourg royal family and which is guarded by two lion statues.

After that, we decided to cross the valley through the main bridge and check the other side of the city. The views are incredible. And on the other side we saw all the Portuguese banks and shops. I really felt at home!

On this side of the city we had lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant called Nhân Nhân. We went to this place out of despair, as we were starving but it was already 3pm and all the places had stopped cooking meals. It was an amazing choice, the food was unbelievably good. Totally recommend it.

Once we were done with exploring the other side of the city, we took a bus and went back to the old town. Over there we visited the Palais Grand-Ducal, which is the official residence of the Grand Duke and royal family of Luxembourg and is one of the most stunning feats of architecture in Luxembourg City. It dates from the 16th century and mixes a range of style including romantic touches and medieval and Gothic designs.

Close to the Palais, we saw the Place Guillaume II. This square is known for its spacious open areas that used to be the location of a Franciscan convent. However, when we went there we didn’t see any open spaces, as some construction works were going on and because there was also a food market happening there that weekend.

In the middle of the square there is a famous statue here of William II on horseback who was the King of Holland and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and also the Town Hall. We also randomly found a nice park with lots of colourful flowers close by.

We stopped to have lunch in a Portuguese restaurant called Resto Cafe Bodega. I ate octopus and drank our national beer Super Bock. Again, felt super at home. At the end I started speaking the the owner and she was very lovely.

20190525_144354.jpg

All the Portuguese people we met there were very lovely – they made me proud 😉 Pretty much all the businesses we saw on the streets were owned by Portuguese people, I was amazed! From fancy restaurants to tobacco & convenience shops. And all of our drinks and food products were available in all supermarkets. Crazy!

During our stay, we went to visit Alejandro’s friend from Venezuela – Anghelina. She moved to Luxembourg two years ago, and already has her life in order. She’s working at Amazon and just had a baby and bought a house. She told us that living there is amazing – the quality of life, salaries, services, etc.

We had dinner at her house with her family, and ended up sleeping in her couch, as we got a bit tipsy and lost the last buses to go back to the centre. She lives in a place called Esch-sur-Alzette. According to her, this place is pretty much ‘owned’ by Portuguese people. Even in governmental institutions, things are written in Portuguese as well, as if it was an official language 😮 

When we woke up the next morning we went to explore this city a bit. It’s really close to the French border. Then we took a train to go back to the centre and rest a bit at the hotel.

Later that day, we visited the Walls of the Corniche, which look over the city down onto a valley. This is also the spot where the Gate of the Grund is located which was built in 1632 and there are a range of houses and other curiosities in the area such as St. Michael’s Church and the Abbey of Neumünster which has a famous pipe organ as well as a ‘black virgin’ from the 14th century.

After that, we visited Bock Cliff, known for its cannons and its fortifications. It is here that the Casemates du Bock are located and we went to explore them. These are a series of underground passages in a 17 kilometer long tunnel, initially carved out of the rock by the Spanish between 1737 and 1746.

Being a shelter for more than 35,000 locals and thousands of soldiers during the WWI and WWII, the Casemates is known for its historical importance in Luxembourg. Consisting of atmospheric passages, different levels and impressive rock stairways, the historic tunnel of Casemates is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For our last day in Luxembourg, we decided to take a bus and visit a different city – Echternach. This city sits on the banks of the pretty River Sûre which is also on the border with neighboring Germany. The town is famous for a few of its festivals such as an international music festival that is run from May to June as well as a dancing procession that has been held here for centuries on Whit Tuesday. In the town itself you will find old fashioned houses, winding streets, and medieval architecture that hark back to another era.

If you visit the town of Echternach then make sure to check out the Benedictine Abbey which dates from the seventh century and has an adjoining museum. It is made up of four buildings and a central courtyard and the basilica here has a huge amount of religious significance throughout Luxembourg. One of the reasons for this is that it contains a crypt with the sarcophagus of St. Willibrord which is made of white marble and the vaults here are covered in colorful frescoes that were painted in the 10th century.

The next day, we flew back to Malta. We definitely enjoyed our trip in this small but interesting country! It is definitely worth a visit.

 

 

Charming Germany

IMG_20190318_211602_218

One month after we visited Berlin we went back to Germany, this time to visit Cologne, Düsseldorf and Bonn. That European old charm that Berlin lacks, these cities definitely have it.

Cologne

Interesting facts about the city:

The city is home to the headquarters of the most significant national and regional TV and radio companies, and the country’s largest university. Cologne is also second in the world after New York in terms of the number of galleries.

From time immemorial, it’s been one of the biggest European transport centers: on average, it’s crossed by 8 trains every minute.

Cologne has one of Europe’s oldest perfume factories. The Cologne Museum offers its visitors to buy a bottle of the world’s most famous cologne – the Eau de Cologne (which gave birth to this type of perfume). The famous perfume was initially a medicine against the pox.

header

In March, only one month after visiting Berlin, we decided to visit Germany again – this time Cologne, Düsseldorf and Bonn. Since all three cities are located very close to each other, we stayed in Cologne and moved around by train.

We stayed at Chocolate Museum a-partments CologneCity. We paid €184 for three nights (€61 per night). It was very nice and central, only 12 min walking to the Cathedral.

Speaking about the cathedral, it is very impressive. The Cathedral of Cologne – the main symbol of the city – has been under construction from 1248 to 1888 (more than 600 years!) and it’s the third tallest cathedral in the world.

The Cathedral of Cologne is the final resting place of the Three Kings, whose remains are stored in a reliquary, which took artisans as many as 10 years to make. Furthermore, the cathedral also guards St. Peter’s Staff and his pyx. The world’s largest functional bell, called Peter, can be found in the belfry of the Cologne Cathedral. It weighs 24 tonnes.

Close to the Cathedral, we also visited Cologne’s Old Town, with its narrow streets with pubs and bars and its colourful old houses. Next to those houses, we visited the church Gross St. Martin as well.

The city is also home to the Chocolate Museum of Lindt, which not only acquaints its visitors with the history of this delicacy’s manufacturing process but also invites them to get a taste – degustation takes place on the museum’s roof. This museum was right next to our apartment. We didn’t do the tour but visited the shop and bought some nice chocolates for us and for our friends.

On the other side of the street, we also visited the Mustard Museum & Shop. We could try for free different and exotic mustards that Germans eat with their sausages, pretty much like curry. My favorite was the garlic mustard. Alejandro liked a citric one, that tasted like orange.

We also visited the Heumarkt on our way to the commercial streets of the city. This nice square is where Cologne’s Christmas market takes place every year. The Schildergasse and Hohe Straße are the most popular shopping streets in Cologne. We spent some time there, doing some shopping.

One thing I recommend you to do if you ever come to Cologne is to cross the famous Hohenzollern Bridge by metro and pay to go to the top of a building called KölnTriangle, where there is an observatory deck from where you can see the whole city. The tickets only cost €3 per person, so it is well worth it.

After seeing the panoramic city views, we crossed the bridge on foot back to the city center and saw all the love locks that couples left there over the years. I’ve seen many bridges in different cities with locks, but none with as many as this one!

Cologne has a top-quality array of cultural attractions. It is home to over 40 museums and more than 110 galleries. We didn’t have time to visit any, but I do recommend you visit Ludwig Museum. This museum includes works from Pop Art, Abstract and Surrealism, and has one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe. It holds many works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Another thing you should do while in Cologne is to try Kölsch, their local beer. Compared to any other German beers, it tastes sweeter and more refreshing than any other German beer.


Düsseldorf

Interesting facts about the city:

There are 400 advertising agencies in Düsseldorf, including three of the largest in Germany. With international agencies based there too, it makes the city a hotbed of creativity.

Düsseldorf’s Altstadt (Old Town) is often referred to as ‘the longest bar in the world’ due to the concentration of over 300 bars and clubs in the relatively small area.

The custom of turning cartwheels is credited to the children of Düsseldorf, who celebrated with them on 14 August 1288. Today, an image of the Düsseldorfer Radschläger (‘boy who does cartwheels’) can be found on many souvenirs and landmarks around the city.

DSC_6829

We spent a day in Düsseldorf. We paid €11 to go by train, a trip that takes about half an hour. Düsseldorf is in constant competition against Cologne. Both towns hate each other and compete whenever possible and in every matter possible against the other one.

Other reasons include rival football and ice hockey clubs, mostly in the lower leagues recently – only Köln has a team in the First Bundesliga at the moment. On the other hand, Köln got a shock when it didn’t become the capital of NRW – let alone Germany – after WW2. Düsseldorf instead became the capital of the state they are both located in.

After we left the train station, we walked along Königsallee, which is noted for both the landscaped canal that runs along its center, as well as for the fashion showrooms and luxury retail stores located along its sides.

Then we walked all the way to the Embankment Promenade. The sun was out and it felt like the whole city had decided to come for a wander at this promenade on the right bank of the Rhine. The view is very nice. You can see some houses on the other side of the river and the famous Rhine Tower. This tower is the tallest building in Düsseldorf. Next to this promenade, we visited the St. Lambertus church.

We met our friend Nicole in Burgplatz, next to the riverside. She’s German and lives close by. We met her in Malta, as she is dating a Venezuelan friend of ours and is currently traveling back and forth between the two countries because of that. She took us to this cozy coffee place called Rösterei VIER.  We drank cappuccino and ate banana bread, which was very good.

This coffee place is right in front of the Old Town Hall. This building’s architecture is amazing, super cute. It is located in the Marktplatz. The square is edged on all sides by rows of buildings that are listed monuments, all facing one of Germany’s most feted equestrian statues.

Later on, Nicole took us to a bar called Kürzer, where we tried the typical beer from Dusseldorf, that competes against Kölsch, the one from Cologne. This beer is called Altbier and it is darker. Even though Nicole prefers Kölsch, this one was our favorite.


Bonn

Interesting facts about the city:

Haribo is a German confectionery company known in the whole Europe for their gummy bears. The company was founded in 1920 in Bonn by Hans Riegen and its name comes from an abbreviation of Hans-Riegen-Bonn. The famous Haribo Factory Shop is located in Bonn and there are thousands of jelly beans. Colorful candies will make your day!

It functioned as the provisional seat of government of reunited Germany until 1999, when the government moved to Berlin. Some government functions remained here.

Bonn is the birthplace of the famous classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven, born in 1770. His birth house is now a museum.

Beethoven-Denkmal_in_Bonn_c_Tourismus__Congress_GmbH_Region_Bonn___Rhein-Sieg_Ahrweiler_RET

On our last full day in Germany, we decided to take another train, this time to visit Bonn. Just like Dusseldorf, it took us only half an hour to get to Bonn. This is a good day trip, as the city is very small, and you can see the main places in only one afternoon.

The first thing we saw as we entered the city center was the Bonn Minster. This is a Roman Catholic church in Bonn. It is one of Germany’s oldest churches, having been built between the 11th and 13th centuries. At one point the church served as the cathedral for the Archbishopric of Cologne. However, the Minster is now a minor basilica.

We then strolled around the commercial streets that lead to the market place and did some shopping there. While we were shopping, we saw a gate called Sterntor. It was built around 1244 at the end of the Sternstraße and was part of the medieval city fortification. At the end of the 19th century, the former city fortification gate was demolished, in order to improve the traffic flow.

Next to these commercial streets and to the market place, there is the Old City Hall, built in 1737 in Rococo style, under the rule of Clemens August of Bavaria. It is used for receptions of guests of the city, and as an office for the mayor.

Bonn is known for being the birthplace of Beethoven. Beethoven’s House is located in Bonngasse, also near the market place. The museum is actually an annex of two buildings; the street-front facade and the building around the back in which Beethoven was born and grew up.

In low-ceilinged rooms at the back are captivating artifacts from his time in Bonn up to 1792, like his baptism entry or original portraits of his family. The front building delves into his move to Vienna and has hand-written sheet music, instruments played by Beethoven, ear trumpets for his deafness and even his death mask. In the city, there is also a large bronze statue of Ludwig van Beethoven that stands on the Münsterplatz.

We continued walking and headed down to the riverside, to see the boats. When we came back to the city center, we passed in front of Kurfürstliches Schloss, built as a residence for the prince-elector and now the main building of the University of Bonn.

It was a very short visit, but we definitely enjoyed our time there. Close to Bonn, there is a very nice castle called Schloss Drachenburg. We didn’t have time to visit it. I recommend you go there though.

We came to Malta more tired then we left, as we walked a lot during these few days in these three different cities. However, as always, it was worth it. It felt good to be out of our normal daily routine again.

Another brick in the wall

IMG_20190216_162156_006

We traveled to Berlin, Germany, for Valentine’s Day this year. It was an interesting trip, with lots of different activities, like a Twenty One Pilot concert and a football match.

BERLIN (GERMANY)

Interesting facts about the city:

There are more museums in Berlin (180) than rainy days per year (106).

The city has half a million foreigners who hail from 185 countries. Every day, 435 people move into Berlin.

Berlin Subway systems’ (SBahn and UBahn) combined length equals 473Km. Add another 120Km of tram lines and you have one of the most impressive public transportation systems in the world.
Currywurst has been called the city’s “culinary emblem” thanks to its popularity, and about 70 million servings are consumed every year in Berlin!
Berlin has more bridges than Venice – around 1,700 – and more waterways than Amsterdam, Stockholm and Venice combined. The most famous and instagrammed bridge is the Oberbaumbrücke.
612664395a40232133447d33247d3833333736313730

Alejandro and I flew to Berlin with Ryanair and flew back to Malta with AirMalta. We decided to stay in a flat with kitchenette in order to save some money by avoiding eating outside everyday. The place where we stayed is called Citadines Kurfürstendamm Berlin Aparthotel. We paid €293 for four nights (€37 per person, per night). The apartment was nice and the location was amazing as well, close to the famous Kurfürstendamm, which is the largest and most famous shopping street in the city, with around 200,000 square metres of shops and restaurants.

We walked around that commercial street and went crazy with the huge Primark shops they have in Berlin. At the end of this street, there’s the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The original church on the site was built in the 1890s. It was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943. The present building was built between 1959 and 1963. The damaged spire of the old church has been retained and its ground floor has been made into a memorial hall.

We also visited Alexanderplatz, which is a large public square and transport hub in the central Mitte district of Berlin. One of city’s the most visited squares, Alexanderplatz is the site of many attractions and sights in Berlin.

We were walking around the city when we saw a nice street market in Hackescher Markt square. There, I saw this family selling Portuguese pastries called ‘Pastéis de Nata’. I missed them so much! 😀 In Malta unfortunately there are no Portuguese food places so I take every chance I get to eat food from my country. We spoke with them a bit – he is Portuguese and she is Brazilian, and they are planning on opening an actual Portuguese cafe soon.

On our second day, we went to see the Museum Island. This is the name of the northern half of an island in the Spree river in the central Mitte district of Berlin. It is so-called for the complex of internationally significant museums, all part of the Berlin State Museums, that occupy the island’s northern part. In 1999, the museum complex was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

On Museum Island, there is Berlin Cathedral. This place has a long history starting as a Roman Catholic place of worship in the 15th century. The current building was finished in 1905 and is a main work of Historicist architecture of the “Kaiserzeit.” The Berlin Cathedral has never been a cathedral in the actual sense of that term since it has never been the seat of a bishop. We paid €7 to visit the interior of the cathedral and to go up to the rooftop, to see the view.

After that, as we were walking around the museums of Museum Island, wondering whether we should buy a ticket to see at least of them, a nice couple approached us and offered us their ticket, which was valid to visit all museums until the end of the day. They were leaving and didn’t need the ticket anymore, so they just offered it to us. We were lucky! 😀

Since we got this free ticket, we decided to visit some museums. The first one we visited was Pergamon Museum. This museum houses monumental buildings such as the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, the Market Gate of Miletus, reconstructed from the ruins found in Anatolia, as well as the Mshatta Facade.

After that, we went to visit the Atles Museum (altes means old). One of the most striking buildings in Berlin, the Altes Museum houses a vast range of ancient artefacts from the Greek, Roman and Etruscan eras.

Last but not least, we went to the Neues Museum (neues means new). Exhibits include the Egyptian and Prehistory and Early History collections, as it did before the war. The artifacts it houses include the iconic bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti.

After seeing all these museums, we were tired. However, since it was Valentine’s Day, we went to a concert of the famous band Twenty One Pilots. The concert took place in the famous Mercedes-Benz Arena, close to the East Side Gallery. We paid around €60 for the tickets, per person. We listened to their biggest hits, like ‘Stressed Out’ or ‘Heathens’ and had fun. Twenty One Pilots is not exactly our cup of tea or one of our favorite bands or anything, but we decided to go because of the date. Alejandro didn’t like the concert that much, but I enjoyed it.

The next morning we went to visit the Brandenburg Gate. This get is Berlin’s most famous landmark. It is an 18th-century neoclassical triumphal arch built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II. Built according to the plans of Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791, the Brandenburg Gate is modeled on the Propylaeum of Athens’ Acropolis. The monument is 26 meters (85 feet) high and 65 meters (213 feet) wide, with 12 Doric columns, six to each side measuring 15 meters (49 feet) in height.

I had booked in advance a tour inside the Reichstag building, which is located right next to the Brandenburg Gate. If you want to visit it and go up to the cupola on the rooftop, you should book it in advance as well, free of charge.

This impressive building is the seat of the German Parliament. It was constructed to house the Reichstag (“Imperial Diet”) of the German Empire. After its destruction by fire in 1933 and in World War II, much of the former structure was rebuilt in 1970, but with the decision to return the seat of government to Berlin from Bonn after reunification, the Reichstag underwent a complete renovation in the late 1990s.

We were given some headphones to hear the history of the city, as we climbed to the very top of the glass dome in circles. The view is very impressive from up there, one can see most of the city’s landmarks. I totally recommend this tour.

After the tour, we made a quick stop to see the Holocaust Memorial. This is a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It consists of a 19,000 square meters site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II, and opened to the public two days later.

On our way to the Topography of Terror, we passed by Postdamer Platz. The Topography of Terror is a free museum located both in and outdoors on the former site of the Gestapo and SS headquarters and the Reich Security Main Office.  These were the principal security agencies responsible for policing, forced labor and maintaining despotism under the Nazi regime. Nowadays, little physical evidence of its dark past remains on the site, as allied bombs damaged the buildings in 1945 and its remnants were torn down by 1956.

A visit to the Topography of Terror can be a truly chilling experience, as one must confront the evil that took over Germany while standing at the site of countless abuses against human dignity.

We ended the day with a visit to the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction.

We also visited Charlottenburg Palace. One of Berlin’s most famous and best-loved sights – the rococo palace, built for Sophie Charlotte, Queen consort in Prussia.

We started our full day in Berlin with a visit to the famous East Side Gallery, the longest open air gallery in the world with a little over 1.3 Km. The East Side Gallery showcases over 100 murals from artists from all over the world on the remainings of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps the most famous is “The Fraternal Kiss”. The section was painted by 118 artists from 21 countries with 101 works.

The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier in and around Berlin, Germany, that physically and ideologically divided Berlin (in East Berlin and West Berlin) from 1961 to 1989 during the era of the Cold War. It was thrown up overnight, on 13 August 1961. When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, its destruction was nearly as instantaneous as its creation.

After seeing the Berlin Wall, we went to a place called Gendarmenmarkt square, that houses several monuments: the KonzertHaus in the middle,and two identical churches on both sides – the French Cathedral on the right side and the New Cathedral on the left side.

At night we went to see a Football match – Hertha BSC vs. SV Werder Bremen. We paid €21 per person. The match took place at the Olympiastadion Berlin. The game ended 1-1, but we missed the last goal, as we were already walking to get to the S-Bahn. Even though our seats were not the best ones (we were siting too low, in one of the corners), it was still a very nice experience.

The next morning we returned to Malta. Alejandro was lucky that people from Air Malta didn’t notice that his name was wrong in the boarding pass, and he didn’t have to pay any extra fees.

This trip was a nice break from the routine. When we arrived in Berlin we were both super sick, but we were lucky with the weather there, and actually got well after only one day there.

Berlin is a city that is very alive, with lots of cultural events happening all the time, and with a very efficient public transportation system. Even though it is not one of the prettiest European capitals, as it was destroyed by the war and rebuilt in a modern style, it seems to be, however, a very good city to live in.

The land of Uncle Sam

Capture

In December 2018 Alejandro and I went to the United States of America to spent Christmas there with his family. We went to Miami Beach in the sunny state of Florida, spent a day in amusement parks in Orlando and enjoyed family time in Atlanta, Georgia. Amazing!

ISTANBUL (TURKEY)

Facts about the city:

Istanbul is the only city in the world that’s half in Asia and half in Europe. The Bosporus strait which divides the two continents passes through Istanbul and is the link between Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

Istanbul is the city of mosques. You will find a mosque in every corner of Istanbul. It has a total of 3,113 mosques.

hx5qbku99niz

We flew to USA with Turkish Airlines. We don’t have direct flights from Malta to Miami, so we had to fly with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, Turkey, and get a connection flight from there. We landed in Istanbul at 10.30pm, and our flight to Miami departed only the next day, at 1pm.

With Turkish Airlines, passengers having a connection time of 10 hours or longer can benefit from hotel service free of charge in case there’s no transit flight with a shorter connection time. This was our case, so we had free accommodation provided by Turkish Airlines. We stayed in a very nice hotel called Ramada Encore Istanbul Bayrampasa. The airline offered us transportation to/from the hotel and we also had breakfast included.

Istanbul is the largest and most populous city in Turkey. Spread across Bosporus Channel, Istanbul is one of the world’s greatest cities, known for its magnificent historical monuments and scenic beauty. I’ve never been in Istanbul until this trip, and it was on my bucket list for years, so I was very excited!

Despite the short time we had, we took a taxi to the city center and tried to explore the city the best we could. We managed to see some mosques – the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. These two mosques are connected by a nice park – Sultanahmet Square.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design. This mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I.

Hagia Sophia, often referred to as the eighth wonder of the World, is easily one of Istanbul’s most impressive sights. It is the second most visited museum in Turkey and attracts over 3 million tourists every year. Another interesting fact about Hagia Sophia is that it was the largest church in the world for about 900 years until the Seville Cathedral of Spain was completed in 1520.

After seeing these two mosques, we went to visit the Basilica Cistern, which is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city. The cistern, located 150 meters southwest of the Hagia Sophia, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

Then we walked around the city for a bit and saw other small mosques and interesting buildings.

We finalized our mini-tour in the Grand Bazaar, before heading back to the hotel, to go back to the airport. In operation since 1461, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest and largest shielded markets in the world. It is a shopper’s paradise with over 5,000 shops and 60 streets, which attract over 300,000 visitors daily. The Grand Bazaar was the world’s most visited tourist attraction in 2014 with 91,250,000 visitors annually.


 

MIAMI (USA)

Facts about the city:

Miami is the cruise capital of the world. The large seaport city of Miami has the world’s busiest cruise port.

Miami Beach is known as America’s Riviera and the Latin Hollywood. More than 70% of the population comes from Cuba and other countries from Latin America and you can hear Spanish everywhere you go!

Miami was once a mangrove swamp and the land we now know was mostly man made. As a result, some of the beaches need to be replenished with sand regularly.

miami-beach 

After 13 hours on a plane, we finally arrived in Miami, Florida (USA). It was my first time in the land of Uncle Sam and from the very beginning I felt like I was in a movie. At the airport, they easily let me in, as I am European. I just had to pay for the ESTA online, no need for Visa.

Alejandro’s parents and brother (Arturo) were there at the airport, waiting for us. I was super excited to finally meet them, as Alejandro and I have been together for almost two years and so far I could only see them through the phone. They seemed super nice and friendly from the very beginning and I really felt at home with them 🙂

We took a taxi to Arturo’s place. He’s living in a very nice neighborhood, with the typical american houses, with nice porches and front gardens. Since it was Christmas season, all the houses were very well decorated with lights and festive stuff. His house was very nice and even had a back terrace with a view to a lake.

On our first day in Miami we went to a place called Knaus Berry Farm. We thought that this was an Amish farm/shop, as many people do as well. The folks who run the farm look Amish, with bonnets, long beards and plain cotton clothes. However, they are members of the German-origin Church of the Brethren, often called Dunkers because they believe in full-immersion baptism. Even though they are not Amish, they do produce some of the finest fresh baked goods ever.

In the right season, Knaus Berry Farm is one of the few u-pick strawberry farms left in South Florida. It also offers u-pick tomatoes, and variety of other locally grown vegetables. This means you can go and pick your own vegetables and fruits from the ground.

The item that causes those long lines to form out front – from early morning until they close at sundown – is their world famous sticky cinnamon rolls. We had to wait in the queue for a while, but it was worth it. We bought there some cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls, cheesecake and bread. The milkshakes are amazing there as well. We bought a pumpkin milkshake and I really think it was the best milkshake I’ve ever tried in my life!

In that same day we went to the Everglades National Park. The Everglades is the largest tropical wilderness park in the United States. Unless you have a boat, you can only visit a fraction of the park, since the Everglades are a network of wetlands and forests fed by a river. The park is home to manatees, American crocodiles, a huge number of birds, and even panthers. This fragile ecosystem is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and it is an International Biosphere Reserve.

We did a mini tour inside the park, where a guide explained us everything about alligators, turtles and snakes. Then we went on an Airboat Tour across the swamps, where we could spot more alligators in the water. It was raining a lot, but it actually felt very nice to feel the clean water running down our faces. It was liberating!

Miami is one of the world’s greatest and most iconic tourist destinations – thanks to its sub tropical climate, pristine beaches and relaxed ambiance. I took only winter clothes with me, but the breeze was very warm and wet. So warm we even went to the beach – to the worldwide famous Miami Beach!

Many celebrities visit Miami Beach every day. This may be because it’s not only just a few miles from South Beach, but it is a little less than two hours from the luxurious city of Palm Beach. There are more than 800 buildings that feature Art Deco architecture in Miami Beach. This makes it the largest collection of this type of architecture in the entire world.

Miami Beach is one of the few man-made islands in the United States. It was once a desolate coconut grove plantation. It is also a very diverse place. It is estimated that there are at least 150 ethnicities as well as over 60 different languages spoken there. When visiting Miami Beach it doesn’t matter what race you are or what language you speak, you will probably find someone who speaks the same language as you.

The beach is exactly as I expected it to be, just like in the movies and TV series. You can expect to see fit people doing exercise and playing sports at the beach, good looking girls in bikinis, luxurious cars cruising down the Ocean Drive avenue and over the top bars right in front of the beach. The weather was good so we even had the chance to go for a quick swim at the beach.

Miami is a complex city and has this beachy-relaxed side, but also a cosmopolitan side. The Downtown has lots of skyscrapers. At night we went to see the famous Miami Port and went to a shopping center at open air called Bayside. There we saw Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., the company from the movie Forrest Gump. We even took pictures outside, in his famous bench.

On our last day in Miami, we also went to an artistic neighborhood called Wynwood and visited Wynwood Walls. This place is a unique outdoor destination featuring huge, colorful street murals by artists from around the globe.

Open to the public, free of charge, the Wynwood Walls was established in 2009 by the legendary placemaker and visionary Tony Goldman as an outdoor museum of international street art.


 

ORLANDO (USA)

Facts about the city:

Tons of films are shot in Orlando. The Waterboy, Days of Thunder, Parenthood, Transformers, Apollo 13, Armageddon, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Magic Mike, Sydney White, My Girl and Ocean’s 11 all had scenes shot here.

Orlando is home to more than 100 lakes, many of which are the result of sinkholes.

Orlando is the ‘Theme Park Capital of the World’, with theme parks like Disney Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Universal’s Island of Adventure, Busch Gardens Tampa, Legoland Florida, and SeaWorld.

walt-disney-world-six-parks-uk-video-loop

We took a Megabus bus to go from Miami to Orlando, and in Orlando we rented a car to make it easier to move around. The bus ticket costed us around $17 per person. The five of us stayed in a 4-bed room at Orlando Continental Plaza Hotel. Arturo paid for our stay – thanks Arturo 🙂

We went to two amusement parks in Orlando – Universal’s Island of Adventure and Universal Studios. We didn’t get the chance to go to Disney Magic Kingdom. I cannot complain at all, since Arturo also got us free tickets to go to these two parks, as he has a friend that works there.

Universal’s Island of Adventure opened on May 28, 1999. In 2013, this theme park hosted approximately 8.1 million guests, ranking it seventh among United States parks and eleventh worldwide.

capture

We entered the park and went to Marvel Super Hero Island. There, we went for a ride on Hulk’s roller coaster. Then we visited the Spider Man attraction, a motion-based ride, combining 3-D film, ride movement, and special effects. The ride takes place in New York City and since it was the first ride I experienced of this kind on that day, so close to reality, it really blew my mind away!

After that, we went to the Jurassic Park attraction, where you get a bit wet at the end. This scenic water cruise starts out innocently enough. You’re gliding along in your raft, watching a baby stegosaurus and its mother share a moment. When out of nowhere, you’re bumped off course and thrust into the ominous “restricted area” of Jurassic Park. This is where they keep the dangerous creatures. Your only possible escape is going down a big waterfall.

After this wet adventure, we entered the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It opened at Universal’s Island of Adventures in 2010. Disney had the rights to Harry Potter first, but sources say J. K. Rowling went with Universal for better collaboration. Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are located in this park.

We went inside Hogwarts and made our way down the familiar passageways, visited iconic locations such as Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor common room, etc. In this ride, we flew above the castle grounds as joined Harry Potter on an unforgettably thrilling adventure, coming face-to-face with an array of magical creatures and even playing Quiddich. This amazing attraction uses groundbreaking, state-of-the-art technology to create a one-of-a-kind ride. Amazing!

Then we visited Hogsmeade, with all its famous shops. We drank butter beer and went to Ollivanders, to see if I would be the chosen one for a free magic wand (they always choose one person from the crowd from each show). These wands can also be bought, but are quite expensive, since they are interactive wands and let you ‘spell’ casts at several things around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.

After Hogsmeade, there’s the famous King’s Cross station. There, we took the famous train – Hogwarts Express – that connects both parks  (Island of Adventure and Universal Studios). The ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ continues in this second amusement park.

At Universal Studios, we entered the wizard’s bank, Gringott’s, beneath the massive fire-breathing dragon at the far end of Diagon Alley. Inside, we walked through the bank’s grand marble lobby and saw the goblins at work. Then, we took a 5D journey through cavernous passageways that lead deep underground as you climb aboard this mind-blowing, multi-dimensional thrill ride. Along the way we encountered Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Then, we had to evade the wrath of malicious villains Voldemort and Bellatrix, as well as trolls and other creatures.

Gringott’s is one of the most recent attractions of the park and it was definitely one of my favorites. This enchanted world of Harry Potter on both Universal parks is reported to have cost more than half-a-billion dollars.

universal-studios-park-map

Inside Universal Studios, there’s Springfield, Home of Simpsons. It was pretty cool seeing all the characters and places from this animated TV show.

Another thing I really liked in this park was the huge roller coaster they have there, called Rockit! It has a height of 51 m, a length of 1,200 m, and a top speed of 105 km/h.

It was super scary but thrilling to go on this roller coaster! It was definitely the biggest one I’ve ever been on. I really liked the fact that you can choose songs like ‘Born to be Wild’, ‘Rollin’ or ‘Gimme all your Lovin’ to listen to while you’re on that crazy ride! You have 7 seconds to select the song and then you can hear it from the speakers they placed close to your head. It was so cool I even went twice!

We went inside many other rides, like Shrek, Jimmy Fallon, Men in Black, etc. After all the excitement, at the end of the day we rested a bit watching the parade, with all the famous characters.

It was an amazing day. Two amusement parks in one day! I still don’t know how we had the energy to do all that. I think it’s so cool that Alejandro’s parents came with us and did pretty much everything (apart from the roller coasters) with us! My mom wouldn’t last two hours 😉

On our second day in Orlando, we went to this very typical american all-you-can-eat restaurant called Golden Corral. It’s amazing how you pay around $10 and can stay there all day and eat everything. I would be super fat if I lived in the US for sure.

We also stopped by Hulk’s Hogan shop, the famous mustached-wrestler from WWE. We also saw two very unusual houses – Ripley (a leaned house) and Wonderworks (a house that is upside down). We didn’t go inside any of these houses, but just seeing them from outside is quite a show already.

Then we wanted to get close to NASA and Kennedy Space Center. It was a bit too expensive, so we decided not to go inside. However, since we were in the area, we decided to explore the Canaveral Cape and saw the SpaceX launch complex. They design, manufacture and launch advanced rockets and spacecraft there.

After trying to (unluckily) see any rockets, we headed out to Cocoa Beach, a very famous beach in the area. A historic landmark on Florida’s Space Coast, the world-famous Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier stretches 800 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and is home to restaurants, bars, gift shops and live musical entertainment. It is a nice place for surfers as well. “I Dream of Jeannie” was set in Cocoa Beach and the most famous surfer in the world — Kelly Slater — is from Cocoa Beach.

At night, since we didn’t manage to go to Disney, at least we went to Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney, now known as Disney Springs, is an open shopping, dining, and entertainment venue. You do not need any pass or ticket to go there and shop or eat and it is totally worth a visit.


 

ATLANTA (USA)

Facts about the city:

atlanta_2

Atlanta is one of only two cities in the world to be the home of two Nobel Peace Prize winners – both Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr. called Atlanta home.

It has the busiest airport in the world. The terminal is as big as 45 football fields.

Gone with the Wind was written and set in Atlanta. In fact, Atlanta is becoming the new Hollywood: The Hunger GamesZombielandDriving Miss DaisyThe Walking DeadCaptain America: Civil WarThe Vampire DiariesInsurgentFurious 7, etc.

We took another Megabus bus from Orlando to Atlanta. The bus ticket costed us around $31 per person. Alejandro and Arturo went to drop off the car that we had rented in Orlando, took too long to get back and missed the bus! I had stayed with Alejandro’s parents close to the bus stop, so the three of us managed to take it. We took a night bus, while Alejandro and Arturo only got to Atlanta the next day, in the afternoon.

I got to meet Alejandro’s sister – Adriana, her kids – Annette and Amy, and her husband – Charbel. They all welcomed me very well and showed me their house, where we spent most of the time.

We didn’t sleep there though, we rented an apartment for Alejandro, Arturo and I, and only slept at Adriana’s place on Christmas eve. We stayed at Suburban Extender Stay and shared the cost of the apartment between the three of us – I paid around $226.

In Atlanta we rented Charbel’s car, as he did a special price – we shared the cost and I paid $79. For approximately $70 we decided to buy the City Pass to visit several attractions in Atlanta. With this pass you can get access to Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola, CNN Studio Tours, Zoo Atlanta OR National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and Fernbank Museum of Natural History OR College Football Hall of Fame.

The Georgia Aquarium houses more than a hundred thousand animals and represents several thousand species, all of which reside in 38 millions liters of marine and salt water. It was the largest aquarium in the world from its opening in 2005 until 2012, when it was surpassed by Marine Life Park in Singapore.

Originally intended as a patent medicine, Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton. The World of Coca-Cola is a museum, showcasing the history of The Coca-Cola Company. The 81,000-square-meter complex opened to the public on May 24, 2007.

Centennial Olympic Park is a public park located in downtown Atlanta. It was built by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) as part of the infrastructure improvements for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

CNN’s global headquarter is in Atlanta. We did the CNN Studio Tour.

The Zoo Atlanta was founded in 1889, when businessman George V. Gress purchased a bankrupt traveling circus and donated the animals to the city of Atlanta. The Zoo offers memorable close encounters with more than 1,000 animals from around the world, like giant pandas, apes, flamingos, etc.

Arturo, Alejandro and I went for a quick visit to Kennesaw Mountain Park. Unfortunately, the visitors center was closed that day and we didn’t have much time, so we just took some pictures at the entrance. This national park preserves a Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign, where over 67,000 soldiers died.

We also went with the whole family to Amicalola Falls State Park. The park is home to Amicalola Falls, a 222 meters waterfall, the highest in Georgia.

In that same day, later on, we also went to visit a very cute town called Dahlonega. Dahlonega is rich in culture and charm and has a beautifully preserved downtown historic district.

While we were in Atlanta, we decided to go with Charbel to watch some live sports, since it’s something we can’t do in Malta. First, we went to a Hockey game: Atlanta Gladiators vs Jacksonville IceMen, at Infinite Energy Center. They lost, but the game and the atmosphere was amazing, and I even got the chance to take a picture with the mascot.

We also went to a Basket game with Charbel: Atlanta Hawks vs Indiana Pacers, at the State Farm Arena. This stadium was amazing! When they introduce the players, in the beginning of the game, I really felt like I was in a different dimension. It is really quite a show! Loved it. Also, the entertainment shows they have during the breaks and a show on their own! From kiss cams, to people performing acrobatics, they really know how to keep viewers entertained.

We visited Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. This park consists of several buildings in Atlanta, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood home and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where King was baptized and both him and his father were pastors.

In 1977, a memorial tomb was dedicated to Martin Luther King. His remains were moved to the tomb, on a plaza between the center and the church. King’s gravesite and a reflecting pool are located next to Freedom Hall. After her death, Mrs. King was interred with her husband on February 7, 2006. An eternal flame is located nearby.

Apart from all these cultural activities, we spent some quality time as a family at Adriana’s place as well. In one of the days we went bowling and it was super fun. Christmas was also very very nice, all together, preparing and eating Venezuelan food. I felt blessed to have the chance to know this family, that is now my family as well 🙂 I hope I get to see them again soon!

Greece, the ancient land of Gods

IMG_3541

In September 2018 my boyfriend and I went to Greece. We visited Athens, Santorini and Mykonos for about a week. It’s a country with amazing views and amazing history.

ATHENS

Facts about the city:

Athens’ history dates back to 3000BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world and Europe’s oldest capital. Athens has been continuously inhabited for those 3,000 years.

Famous as a philosopher, scholar and mathematician, Plato was also responsible for creating the Academy, the first institute of higher learning in the Western world, making Athens the home of the first university.

The Parthenon hasn’t had an easy past. During the 2,500 years it has overlooked the city, the temple has been used as a munitions store, converted into a mosque, looted by Lord Elgin, served as army barracks and been bombarded with canons by the Venetians.

maxresdefault

Our flight arrived  in Athens very late – at around 1 am. We decided to book a room in a cheap hotel close to the city center, since we would have another flight to Santorini the next day at 11 pm and therefore we wouldn’t have a lot of time to visit Athens. We chose Hotel Cosmos and paid around €29 for the night. It was actually a good choice. The room was OK and they even kept our luggage for free the next day so we could walk freely.

We started the day by visiting the low part of the ancient city – the Ancient Agora. The ‘Agoras‘ were public squares where the inhabitants would meet to discuss politics and their quotidian lives. It is also where elections, religious celebrations, athletic competitions and various types of shows were held. Furthermore, they were also important commercial spaces and considered the heart of the city.

The first excavations in the Agora area took place between 1859 and 1912. During the following years, important remains, including large sculptures, were found in a deep trench when the railway tracks were being installed. Subsequently, 360 modern edifices were demolished to expose the whole Agora. When the entire area was excavated, the Stoa of Attalos, a large building constructed during the Hellenistic period, was rebuilt according to the original plans. Nowadays, it features the Ancient Agora Museum.

After visiting the low part of the ancient city, we walked all the way up to see the higher part – the famous Acropolis. This is an old fortification on top of a hill that overlooks the old Theater of Dionysus, which could hold up to 17,000 people and is considered to be the world’s first theater. The sacred buildings on top of the Acropolis include the Erechtheion (a temple known for its “Porch of the Maidens”, with six draped female figures supporting the columns), the Propylaia (a monumental gateway that was the entrance to the Acropolis), and, of course, the Parthenon – all of which date back to the 5th century BC.

The construction of the Parthenon began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art.

The Parthenon itself replaced an older temple of Athena, which was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon served a practical purpose as the city treasury. For a time, it served as the treasury of the Athenian Empire. In the final decade of the sixth century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s. On 26 September 1687, an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures.

From 1800 to 1803, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed some of the surviving sculptures with the alleged permission of the Ottoman Empire. These sculptures, now known as the Parthenon Marbles, were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are now displayed. Since 1983, the Greek government has been committed to the return of the sculptures to Greece. As of 2007 the Greek Ministry of Culture was carrying out a programme of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.

After the Acropolis, we passed in front of the Acropolis Museum, but decided not to go inside. Instead, we kept on walking and went to visit Plaka, a neighborhood with cute narrow and colorful streets. This area has a lot of restaurants, jewelry stores, tourist shops and cafes.

We also saw the Temple of the Olympian Zeus and Syntagma square, both very close to the National Garden. Another area I liked was Monastiraki. There are a lot of people in that square and some nice shops in a famous flea market close by.

We had dinner in a place that sells the typical pita gyros and then at night we went to the airport to catch our flight to Santorini.


 

SANTORINI

Facts about the city:

Before it was called Santorini, the island was known as Kallístē, meaning “the most beautiful one”. The name Santorini was invented in 1153 by the Venetians and it is the pronunciation of the words Santa and Irene (Saint Irene), one of the martyr virgin sisters of Christendom.

The island sits in the water-filled caldera of a massive volcano. The ‘Minoan eruption’ was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history and it is thought to have ended Minoan civilization. This eruption split the island into three. Many believe Santorini may be the Atlantis Plato wrote about.

There are more churches than houses on Santorini, however most are small and private. Also, there are more donkeys than men.

2eumuhd6om

We landed in Santorini after midnight. Since we were arriving so late and we had rented a car, we decided that we might as well sleep in the car for the first night and save that money, and so we did.

We rented a car with a rental company called MotorInn. We paid €193 for four days (this amount includes full insurance and a fee for picking up the car out of working hours) and they gave us a Fiat Panda.

My father gave me a Ford Fiesta when I turned 18. I drove that car until I moved to Malta. In my current job, the company gave me a car – another Ford Fiesta. I realized I don’t “know” how to drive a car other than that one! At first it was a bit stressful trying to get used to this Fiat Panda, but actually by the next day I felt more confident already. By the end of our stay in Santorini, I felt like I was back in my own car.

Like I was saying, we slept on the car on our first night in Santorini. We stopped at a beach close to the airport – Monolithos Beach. The next day our backs hurt but it was fun. We watched the sunrise from the car. It was beautiful.

Then since it was too early to check in at the hotel, we decided to drove around the coast and visit some Greek beaches. We visited Kamari Beach and Perissa Beach. These beaches are very close from the archaeological site of Ancient Thera.

The scenery that the black lava sand along with the sandy sea bottom and the dark blue, crystal clear waters compose is impressive. These are two of the longest and most famous beaches in Santorini, a characteristic sight of the volcanic island. Due to its volcanic past, Santorini has white, black, AND red beaches.

One of the things I loved the most about these beaches are actually the bars and restaurants next to them. They all have this cool beach vibe decoration and look super cozy.

On our way to the hotel, we made a stop in Pyrgos. The former capital of Santorini and the best-preserved medieval settlement on the island, the village of Pyrgos is really a hidden gem. Pyrgos affords panoramic views. Yet, located a bit further from the famous caldera, it has been spared the terraces, balconies, infinity pools and master suites and it remains a bit more authentic.