Charming Germany

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.
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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.

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€

 

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! 

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!

 

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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€

 

Sicily seen from the sky

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

CATANIA

Facts about the city:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

PALERMO

Facts about the city:

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

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

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

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

We ate ice cream, strolled around the commercial streets and saw some street artists performing in Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The piazza is octagonal, four sides being the streets; the remaining four sides are Baroque buildings, the near-identical facades of which contain fountains with statues of the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and of the patronesses of Palermo, (Christina, Ninfa, Olivia and Agata). It was a very fun day.


 

SIRACUSA

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

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

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

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

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

 

In the South of France

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

Facts about the city:

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

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is set in the Old Port and on the Château d’If, in Marseille.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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