Trip to Valencia in times of COVID

Despite the fact that the world has stopped lately due to the coronavirus pandemic, I still decided to go on a short trip to Valencia and get some ‘fresh air’, as I was desperate to get out of the island. Here’s a 3-day itinerary you can follow if you ever visit this beautiful city!

Trip valencia

Facts about the city:

While Valencia’s official language is Spanish, they have their own language called Valencian, which is a dialect of Catalan. Another insteresting fact, the Túria park in Valencia was once a river which flooded the whole city in the ’50s.

3 Days in Valencia

Trip to Valencia – Day 1

Our brazilian friends, Sérgio and Marina, found some very cheap Ryanair flights (5 euros each way!) to Valencia, Spain. Despite the fact that no one is travelling for leisure nowadays, because the situation with COVID-19 is getting out of control everywhere, we still decided to go.

The truth is that we were all craving to get some ‘fresh air’ and see someplace new and this trip to Valencia seemed like the perfect getaway. Malta can seem quite small an suffocating when you’re forced to stay in the island! Alejandro had visited Valencia before, but for the rest of us, it was the first time.

We booked three nights at Hotel Conqueridor, located in the heart of the city. The hotel was decent, but we were expecting a bit more for a four star hotel, to be honest.

We went to the hotel to leave our backpacks there, and then went for a walk in the city centre. One of the first attractions we saw was Mercado Central. This is one of the oldest public markets in Europe still in operation The Mercado Central is also one of the largest in Europe, with a predominantly Valencian Art Nouveau style.

This is where you can find the flavors and colors of the city, a true temple of gastronomy: with seasonal fruits and vegetables, an abundance of fresh fish, Iberian pork stalls, huge varieties of ham and cheese, bread makers, olive producers, wine traders, and even a section dedicated to saffron (a spice used in the preparation of Valencian paella and Fideuà)!

We found a stall inside the market where they were selling Venezuelan and Brazilian food. Sérgio was delighted to finally find farofa, and Alejandro was also happy to buy some venezuelan arequipe.

Also, right outside the Market, we found another place where you could buy all types of food from Latin America. We bought some empanadas, tequeños and coxinha, and they were delicious!

Right across the market, we saw another landmark – Llotja de la Seda. Built between 1482 and 1533, it was originally used for trading in silk, and it has always been a centre for commerce. It is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. 

We continued walking and got to the Ayuntamiento – the City Hall. We only viewed from the outside but the façade of The Town Hall is very impressive. It is situated in a lovely square with a nice dancing fountain which is lit up in the evenings.

On our way to the Cathedral, we stopped to buy some horchata. This is a sweet drink made of grains, ground nuts, and spices, typical from Valencia. You can find it everywhere around the city!

After drinking our horchata, we reached Plaza de la Virgen. The Plaza de la Virgen is one of the most beautiful squares in Valencia and is located behind the Cathedral. Beside it is the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, from where it gets its name.

We only saw the Catedral de Valencia from the outside. Some people claim the holy grail is inside! The very impressive octagonal bell-tower, El Micalet, is the landmark of Valencia.

The last landmark we visited on the first day was the Torres de Serranos. These towers are considered to be the largest Gothic city gateway in all of Europe, and were constructed at the end of the 14th century as part of the city’s fortification, provisionaly housing prison cells.

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a tapas bar called Barecito to eat something and drink some wine and beers before we passed out. We were super tired because we had to be up at 5am to catch our flight, and without realizing, we had walked non-stop for like 10h around the city! The service was amazing and the tapas (nachos with an amazing guacamole sauce and friend calamares) were great. I totally recommend it!


Trip to Valencia – Day 2

On our second day in Valencia we took a bus to visit the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences). This place is just incredibly beautiful! This cultural and architectural complex houses several buildings and structures.

One of them is the L’Oceanogràfic, which is the largest aquarium in Europe. This aquarium is a home to over 500 different species. We were tempted to go inside, but the admission tickets are quite expensive! Since Alejandro and I already been to the largest aquarium in the world in Atlanta, we were not that excited about this one. However, I’m sure the Oceanogràfic is worth the visit!

There is also the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (Felipe Science Museum), which is an interactive museum of science that resembles the skeleton of a whale, and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, which is an opera house and performing arts center.

Then there’s the L’Hemisfèric, which houses an IMAX Cinema, planetarium and laserium. The building is meant to resemble a giant eye. The surrounding water pool’s bottom is glass, creating the illusion of the eye as a whole. This was the first building being completed, back in 1998. You can rent little boats and go into the water pool.

The last structure I would like to highlight is L’Umbracle. This is an open structure enveloping a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia. This structure, built over a car park, was designed as an entrance to the City of Arts and Sciences. 

After exploring the City of Arts and Sciences, we stopped at a restaurant called La Mar to have lunch. The guys ate lobster paella, and I ate pulpo a la plancha. My octopus was amazing, but they regreted having ordered lobster, because it’s super messy to eat – and not much meat inside!

After lunch, we took a long walk along the Turia Park, which is located right next to the City of Arts and Sciences. This place was the former riverbed of the river Turia, which was drained and rerouted after a catastrophic flood in 1957. The old riverbed was then turned into this picturesque sunken park!

This is the largest purely urban garden of Spain. It runs through the city along 9 km of green space boasting foot paths, leisure and sports areas, and romantic spots. This is the perfect place for runners, cyclists, families and nature enthusiasts. Crossed by 18 bridges full of history, the former riverbed passes by the city’s main museums and monuments on either bank.

After a long walk across the park, we went back to the city center and stopped at a Brazilian place to buy some pão de queijo. We passed in front of nice buildings, like the Plaza de Toros, and did some shopping (Primark, yey!).

We ended the day next to the Central Market again, and sat down for some tapas and Agua de Valencia at a place called Boatella Tapas. Even though this drink has ‘water’ in its name, it is a famous alcoholic drink in Valencia: a mix of cava, orange juice, vodka and gin. After our drinks, we headed back to the hotel.


Trip to Valencia – Day 3

On our last day in Valencia, we took a taxi and went to the Albufera area. This area is where you can eat the most authentic Valencian paella. We had lunch at a restaurant called Bon Aire. I totally recommend it, the paellas were amazing!

After lunch, we did a boat trip in Albufera, around the lake. This is a vast expanse of water with various migratory and resident birds. The natural biodiversity of the nature reserve allows a great variety of flora and fauna to thrive and be observed year-round. Very beautiful and peaceful!

On our way back to the city centre, we’ve decided to stop at a random beach – Playa Autocine, since we wouldn’t have time to see the main beach of Valencia – Playa de la Malvarrosa – in daylight, because we were quite far. Even though this was a ‘random’ beach, we loved being there for a bit, feel the sea breeze in our faces and the sand in our toes!

This stop marked the end of our trip in Valencia. Thankfully, everything went well and none of us felt any virus symptoms. We had to wear the mask at all times, but it was definitely worth it. Valencia is a beautiful city, and I enjoyed every moment of this well-deserved break from reality!


Check other posts about my travel adventures in the Travel section of my blog

Trip to Belgium: My Birthday Surprise!

My boyfriend bought me a surprise trip for my birthday – I only found out I was going to Belgium when I was already at the airport! I revisited cities like Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent and visited Leuven for the first time. Best gift ever!

Brussels

Interesting facts about the city:

Belgians do not share one common language. In fact, there are three official languages in Belgium. In Brussels, people mostly speak French, but all public signs and documents are in French and Flemish Dutch. The third language is German.

The city is home to 40,000 EU employees, 4,000 NATO employees and hosts about 300 permanent representations: lobby groups, embassies and press corporations.

Opened in 1847, the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert in Brussels are the oldest shopping arcades in Europe. Today the Galeries remain one of the most visited spots in the city, where one can find beautiful stores like Meert and Tropismes Libraires.

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My boyfriend bought me a surprise trip for my birthday and I didn’t know where we were traveling to – I only found out the surprise destination was Belgium on the departure day, already at the airport!

We flew to Brussels Charleroi, which is located in the south of Brussels and it’s not the main airport. Since we arrived at night and our idea was to go straight to Bruges the following day, we stayed close to the airport, at the Hotel Ibis Charleroi Airport.

After coming back from Bruges, we stayed for the last two nights at the Marivaux Hotel, which was much better! It is very well located, I recommend it.

On Saturday night, after coming back from Bruges and Ghent, we went out for some beers and explored Brussels nightlife. Famous bars like the Delirium Bar are overrated in my opinion, as they are always too crowded and noisy. We just bought some beers at a mini market and some waffles on the street and walked randomly around the city, visiting famous places like the Grand Place, Manneken Pis (the famous peeing boy) and Jeanneke Pis (the peeing girl).

On Sunday the weather was terrible because there was a storm passing through Europe. It was super windy and rainy. We ate brunch at Le Pain Quotidien. This is a sweet, nice place where one can enjoy coffee and bakery goods. To be honest I didn’t like what I ate that much. Alejandro ate a salmon and avocado sandwich which was really good though. I liked the fact that they seemed to be ‘bio’ conscious in everything they do.

Then we spent that entire day with our friends, Florian and Kostas. They used to live in Malta as well, and last year they moved to Brussels. It was so nice seeing them again! It’s nice to see that even though some time has passed, the friendship stays the same 🙂

The four of us went for a walk around the city and stopped at Mont des Arts, amongst other famous touristic spots.

We had lunch at a food court called WOLF Food Market. I really liked this place, especially on a rainy day! Taking its name from the street, the Wolf complex provides space for 17 different restaurants to dispense their gastronomic wares to the public in a magnificent hall that used to be the public banking hall.

One can have anything from anywhere – Asian, Syrian, Thai, Greek, Vietnamese and more. I ate a very good pizza from the Italian place and the guys ate at the Syrian place. Flo and Kostas didn’t have any problems with the food, but Alejandro had to wait a long time for his, despite the fact that he was the first one to order! That was not cool, so I do not recommend the Syrian place.

After eating, we all went for a couple of beers at Bar des Amis, close to our hotel. This pub had a great atmosphere and decor. The music selection was also great!

On our last day in Brussels, we had lunch at Beat. I ate a mushroom toast that was divine and Alejandro ate a burger that looked like a waffle. Very nice!

After lunch, we headed up to the Charleroi airport to catch our flight back to Malta. We had to pay 17 euros for a shuttle bus from Flibco, but if you reserve your tickets online in advance they are cheaper – around 14 euros.


Bruges

Interesting facts about the city:

Thanks to its large number of canals and bridges (more than 80) Bruges is often referred to as Venice of the North and was considered one of the major commercial centres of Europe during the Middle Ages.

The city is known for its exquisitely beautiful lace products. Bruges makes some of the most luxurious lace pieces in the world.

There are more castles per square inch than any other country in the world. About 50 of the 470 castles in the Flanders region are based around Bruges.

The famous pop singer Gotye, the author of the hit song Somebody That I Used to Known, was born in Bruges. This is also the city where the movie In Bruges was shot. The main roles were played by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes.

in-bruges

As I mentioned before, we landed on a Thursday at night and decided to take our first full day to visit Bruges. So we took a train from Brussels to Bruges on Friday, which takes approximately 1 hour and costs around 15 euros each way.

I had visited Bruges before, back in 2014, and it has been my favorite city in Europe ever since! It’s very charming and beautiful, with its well preserved medieval architecture. When you’re in Bruges, you feel like you’re in a true fairy tale. I’m glad I got the chance to introduce Alejandro to this beautiful place.

We stayed one night at the Hotel Ibis Brugge Centrum. This Ibis was way better than the one in Brussels. It was very well located and I really recommend it.

We started by visiting the Burg, the main square of the city, where the Town Hall and the Belfort are located. The Belfort was erected in the 12th century and has been rebuilt several times due to fires. During the past four centuries, the 83-meter-high belfry lurched to the left by as much as one meter. To reach the top, you’ll have to climb 366 steps, but we decided not to do it.

I don’t remember seeing the Halve Maan (the half-moon) brewery last time, but this time it really caught my eye! This place has built a pipeline from its Bruges brewery to its bottling plant 3 kilometers away. The brewery was facing criticism as beer lorries struggled to get down the narrow streets to transport the beer. There were suggestions that the brewery should move out of its central Bruges home. However, they were there since 1564 and up until very recently, it was the only brewery left inside the city walls.

The current owner didn’t want to lose that historical connection with the city and came up with a unique solution – a pipeline! Completed in late 2016, it takes forty minutes for the beer to make the journey along the pipeline, which cost 4 million euros to build. Really interesting story!

We continued our walk around the city and visited the Basilica of the Sacred Blood. This church is famous for having a venerated relic of the Holy Blood of Christ. Last time I didn’t enter, but this time we paid two euros to see the relic. After that, we walked all the way to Jan Van Eyck Square.

Another place I loved seeing again was Rozenhoedkaai, a part of the main canal with amazing views of the city. I think this must be the single most photographed place in Bruges! Next to this place, we discovered a really cool shop with Belgian products and comic strips merchandising and a cool bar, with a wall full of beer bottles, called 2be Beer Wall.

Another touristic spot I revisited with Alejandro was the Beginhof. This corner of Bruges is out of bounds to men after 6.30pm. In the 13th century, groups of women – often those who had been widowed by war – founded these places around Belgium. These were enclosed communities designed to meet the spiritual and material needs of these women. Today a group of nuns lives in some of the houses, while other houses offer social housing for women who are by themselves.

I didn’t want to leave Bruges without visiting my single favorite place there – the Bonifacius Bridge. This bridge is kind of hidden, but we managed to find it. It is right next to the Church of our Lady – that one is hard to miss, with its huge tower.

After visiting the entire city we were extremely tired, so we went back to the hotel to rest for a bit. We were getting really hungry, but it was so cold outside that we were feeling lazy to go out. We ended up walking to a restaurant located close by and ate a seaweed pizza at La Trattoria, an Italian restaurant.

The following day we had breakfast at That’s Toast, before catching a train to visit Ghent. This place was AMAZING! I give it 5 stars and really recommend you go there for breakfast if you have a chance to visit the city!

There was a huge queue when we got there, so the place must be kind of famous already. Amazing food, nice staff, cool branding. Loved it! After that, we headed to the train station and said goodbye to Bruges.


Ghent

Interesting facts about the city:

Back in the 11th century Ghent was the second biggest city in Northern Europe after Paris, with its growth driven by its leadership in cloth production and trading.

Ghent promotes a meat-free day every Thursday called Donderdag Veggiedag. Vegetarian food is promoted everywhere and Ghent is said to have the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.

Ghent’s medieval architecture remains well preserved and cars are banned in the city center, which is Belgium’s largest carfree area. The streets are filled with people biking. Much like it’s neighbor, the Netherlands, everyone has their own bike and most short-distanced trips are done with it.

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After visiting Bruges, it was time to visit another beautiful Belgian city – Ghent. I had also visited Ghent before, back in 2016, on my own. I remember it was the first and only time I traveled alone. I had forgotten how amazing and lively the city is!

We took the tram from the train station to the city center and did the same walk as I did last time. This time we paid to climb to the top of Belfry of Ghent, the huge clock tower. The 91-meter-tall belfry is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city center – the other two belonging to Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church, two other places we also visited. The belfry of Ghent is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

We went to Korenmarkt, crossed the bridge Vleeshuisbrug and walked all the way to the Gravensteen Castle or the Castle of the Counts, which is a medieval castle situated in the middle Ghent. While the top of the castle offers superb views of the city, the inside today houses a torture museum. We didn’t pay to go inside the castle though.

There is also a special graffiti street that I missed last time. It is called Werrengarestraat and it is a legal graffiti street. It’s full of great art which means that the wall paintings change a lot.

Lastly, we went to my favorite place in Ghent, called Korenlei. From there you have the most amazing view to a canal with several beautiful medieval buildings and to Saint Michael’s Church. The views from there, especially from the bridge Sint-Michielsbrug, are just breathtaking!


Leuven

Interesting facts about the city:

Leuven hosts Belgium’s biggest university – Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and it is Belgium’s #1 student town: 1 out of 4 citizens are students.

Leuven is home of the world’s largest brewery group, Anheuser-Busch In-Bev. Their portfolio includes Stelle Artois, Budweiser, Corona, Beck’s, Hoegaarden and Leffe.

AB InBev Ends Beer Blockade

On our last day, despite the fact that the weather was still not amazing, we decided to take a train to visit Leuven. This was my first time there.

Leuven is located very close to Brussels – around 30 minutes by train – and it houses the oldest university of the Benelux. Having the highest student density of Belgium (1 out of 4 inhabitants), it can’t be a coincidence that Leuven calls itself the ultimate beer city. Leuven’s soul is young, hip and vibrant.

We walked from the train station all the way to the Town Hall (Stadhuis). Built in a Brabantine Late Gothic style between 1448 and 1469, it is Leuven’s most impressive building by far. Whilst the city suffered heavily from both world wars, the town hall survived. During WWII, an Allied bomb barely hit the façade.

In front of the Town Hall and also in the city’s Grote Markt, is the amazing Saint Peter’s Church. Built mainly in the 15th century in Brabantine Gothic style, the church has a cruciform floor plan and a low bell tower that has never been completed. It is 93 meters long.

The Academic Library is another gem in the city. Actually, it’s not that old, because it was destroyed and rebuilt twice. But Belgium wasn’t Belgium if they wouldn’t rebuild the masterpiece in the same authentic way.

In Leuven, one can also enjoy the longest bar in the world. At least that’s what Belgians call the Oude Markt (Old Market). It’s a market place where almost every building is a bar; You will find at least 37 bars, and each bar has something unique to offer. Leuven will keep you busy at night.

On our way back to the train station we walk along a shopping street named Diestsestraat. Once we were back in Brussels, we went back to our hotel to get our stuff and then we went to Charleroi Aiport to catch our flight back to Malta. I loved this extended weekend! Since Monday was a public holiday in Malta, with only 1 day off, we managed to stay there from Thursday evening till Monday evening.

This was the best birthday surprise ever, and the best gift someone could ever offer me! I love traveling, and it was amazing feeling the thrill of not knowing where I was going to till I was about the get on the plane. Thanks for the surprise feito – I LOVE YOU <3


Check other posts about my travel adventures in the Travel section of my blog

Trip to Meteora: Road Trip Across Mainland Greece

Mainland Greece

In order to celebrate Carlos’s and my birthday, we decided to book some holidays and go on a road trip adventure in mainland Greece. We went with no expectations, but these places really surprised us a lot and this ended up being one of my favorites trips ever in Europe!

Meteora

Interesting facts about the city:

The rock pillars where the monasteries were built were formed approximately 60 million years ago by earthquakes and weathering.

Out of the original 24 monastery, only 6 remain. All six are in use; however many monks have left the site.

During World War II the site was frequently bombed. And, when the bombs were not being dropped, the monasteries were being raided for priceless works of art, which were stolen – never to be seen again.

The site is featured in the James Bond movie, ‘For Your Eyes Only’. It all takes place at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

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Carlos, Jane, Alejandro and I decided to do a road trip across Greece to celebrate our birthdays. The four of us lived together in Malta for over a year, but this was the first time we traveled together.

We landed in Athens and rented a car with Sixt for 5 days for 133€. As for accommodation, we stayed in a house called Kastraki Σπίτι με θέα and paid a total of 225€ for four nights. I totally recommend this place! We had a big house with a large outdoor space and a nice view to the Meteora mountains. Two friendly cats that live there were also a bonus!

Meteora (which literally means ‘suspended in the air’), a UNESCO World Heritage-listed place, is an eroded rock which monks have built their monasteries on so they could be closer to God. Twenty-four of these almost inaccessible monasteries were built during the 15th century despite incredible difficulties.

The rock masses were formed some 60 million years ago, their distinctive and varied shapes sculpted over time by earthquakes, rain, and wind. The sandstone megaliths on which the monasteries were built average 300 meters in height, with several reaching 550 meters.

Although 24 monasteries were built, each containing a church or two, monks’ cells, and a refectory, only 6 remain – Great Meteoron, Varlaám, Roussanou, St. Nikolas, Holy Trinity, and St. Stephen.

Great Meteoron is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries of the Meteora. However, it was the only one of two we couldn’t visit inside, as it was closed.

Varlaam is the second largest monastery in the complex. It was built in 1541 and embellished in 1548. There is a church dedicated to All Saints, in the Athonite type (cross-in-square with dome and choirs), with spacious exonarthex which is surrounded by a dome. 

Roussanou was founded in the middle of the 16th century and decorated in 1560. It occupies a lower rock than the others of the Meteora. St. Nikolas is another monastery, notable for its unique construction.

St. Stephen’s was founded around 1400. It has a small church built in the 16th century and decorated in 1545. This monastery rests on the plain rather than on a cliff. It was shelled by the Nazis during World War II who believed it was harboring insurgents and was abandoned. Nuns took it over and reconstructed it.

Last but not least, Holy Trinity. This monastery is very difficult to reach. You need to cross the valley and continue high up through the rock before arriving outside the entrance. The church is in the cross-in-square type with the dome based in two columns, built in 1475-76 and decorated in 1741.

There are a lot of well-preserved frescoes inside all of these monasteries. We paid 3 euros to enter each monastery, which is a very reasonable price. Before you enter, if you are a girl, shoulders must be covered and long skirts (provided at the entrance) need to be worn as a sign of respect, even if you were already wearing jeans.

The UNESCO has characterized the Meteora as a “monument of Humanity that has to be maintained“. They don’t belong only to Greece but also to the entire world and they are a unique harmonious matching of Byzantine architecture and natural beauty.

Meteora is a place where monks spend their days in prayer for the good of others. And they do this in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. This is a place that seems to be created for peace and tranquility – the perfect haven for those looking to escape from the world.

From sunrise to sunset, the valley at Meteora shifts and changes. For Carlos’s birthday, we decided to go to the top of a mountain and watch the sunset from there, with some blankets, nice music and a bottle of wine. It was truly magical! We were listening to ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, just enjoying that amazing moment!

We stayed there till night, and then watched the stars and constellations, which was equally incredible. The moon and the stars cast a glow over the valley. There are no lights here, other than those in the sky, and you can not hope to count the number of stars your eyes can see.

To celebrate Carlos’s birthday we ate at this place called Meteoron Panorama. This girl that works