Trip to Belgium: My Birthday Surprise!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 there (Monica) was super friendly and the food was amazing! The oven-baked beef with four kinds of cheese was one of the best main dishes that I’ve ever eaten.

I can’t stress enough how nice people were to us all the time. If the economy wasn’t so bad, I would definitely move to Greece just because everyone is so nice! The best example of this was the lady from the bakery we went to every morning to buy bread and sweets for breakfast and the guy from the coffee place where we went to every morning to have coffee who let us eat there the sweets we bought outside. He was super friendly and was always taking our trash away and serving more water, etc. Amazing service! Usually, I don’t tip, but on this trip, I was tipping everyone!

I couldn’t find the name of the bakery nor the coffee place, but the latter is located in this house below and the bakery was right across the street.


Ioanninna

Interesting facts about the city:

Ioanninna is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. The island of Pamvotida Lake is the sole inhabited lake island in Europe. Only about 100 people live in that island!

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For my birthday, since we had already visited Meteora and pretty much seen all the monasteries the day before, we decided to do something different and visit a cute town called Ioannina.

This charming city lies in the north-western part of Greece. Even though it barely makes it into the travel guides, it has a lot to offer. We had no expectations whatsoever and it really surprised us! Its narrow centric streets with bars and cozy coffee places, the castle walls and, mainly, the island in the middle of the lake!

Ioannina’s castle, with the famous southeastern citadel of Its Kale, and the stories of the colorful Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha (1740-1822) who ruled the city for 34 years before being executed by the Ottoman central government, help define the city’s unique atmosphere.

However, the main attraction of Ioannina for me was indeed Lake Pamvotida, an ideal place for long strolls along its banks. From the lake, you can see the Aslan Pasha Mosque building, which will make you feel like you’re in Turkey.

We took a small boat for 2euros to visit the island within the lake, which is home to beautiful monasteries and a few restaurants. This is the only inhabited lake island in Europe. There are not a lot of people living there, but, again, everyone was super friendly to us!

We bought a very good alcoholic drink from an old lady – which she produces with lots of honey and cinnamon, supposedly good as a digestive – and had some wine in a restaurant in the central square of the island, where the lady gave us some food for free to go with the wine. Amazing service!

After coming back from the island, we had my birthday dinner at Balsamico. Again, it was an excellent choice! I ate what’s in the picture – with chicken and cheese inside – and it was divine!


Pozar & Edessa

Interesting facts about the city:

Edessa is famous for its beautiful waterfalls. The falls are a natural phenomenon that arose after a strong earthquake that struck the surrounding area in the 14th century.

In Ancient times, there was a temple of a water-deity near Edessa waterfalls, which can be seen on some older paintings.

The most unique thing about Pozar Thermal Baths is the cold stream and waterfall located right next to the hot springs.

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On our last full day in Greece, we headed to visit Pozar Thermal Baths. For couples and for groups of friends like us, the baths are a popular and wholesome alternative to a nightcap; the indoor private baths operate 24h a day and can remain full almost throughout the night, especially on weekends. A year-round destination, it attracts a mainly younger crowd on day trips in the cooler months. In the summer, older patrons often come for stays of a week or two.

There were three, two of them natural. It felt so nice being in that hot steamy water in winter when it was cold outside! And it’s very cheap – at just 2 euros each, enjoying both pools is an affordable indulgence. Pozar, which means “beneath the fire” in Slavic, is nature at its most luxurious, combining rugged beauty with pure sensual pleasure.

After being in the pools for a while, we explored its rugged side, hiking through the forested gorge for a bit. There are trails to suit every ability level, starting with a flat paved path following the Thermopotamos River.

Before leaving, we had dinner at Taverna Τo Χωριάτικο. After eating, we headed to Edessa to see the waterfall. The Waterfall Park in Edessa is nearly a must-see when in the region. Edessa itself lies on top of a rock-hill, and its famous waterfalls running down from the height of ca 70 meters to the valley below.

There is a well-arranged park with promenade-paths all around the area with 2 bigger waterfalls, one named Karanos, and the other a Double-one, and some smaller cascades of water and pools. It is possible to come behind the biggest waterfall and see waters fall down right in front of you, an imaginative picture on a sunny day – even though unfortunately we went there after sunset when it was already dark.


Delphi

Interesting facts about the city:

Delphi was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo.

Located on Mt. Parnassus, the sanctuary was home to the famous oracle of Apollo which gave cryptic predictions and guidance to both city-states and individuals. In addition, Delphi was also home to the panhellenic Pythian Games.

Delphi was also considered the centre of the world, as Zeus released two eagles, one to the east and another to the west, and Delphi was the point at which they met after encircling the world. This fact was represented by the omphalos (or navel), a dome-shaped stone which stood outside Apollo’s temple and which also marked the spot where Apollo killed the Python.

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On our last day, before going back to Athens to catch our flight back to Malta, we made one last stop in Delphi. The name ‘Delphi’ was coined from ‘Dolphin’ because it is widely believed that Apollo first visited the region in the shape of a Dolphin. The city is well known as the seat of the high priestess of Apollo called Pythia. It was the city where guidance and predictions were given to humans in ancient times.

Since it was free of charge and still open after 3pm, we visited the Delphi Tholos, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a circular design and stands about 13.5m in height in the middle of the Athena Pronaia temple. Metopes were constructed on these buildings to depict different events.

There were a lot of other ancient monuments that we didn’t have the chance to visit, such as the Delphi Theatre, which was built in the same hill as the Temple of Apollo. The theatre was constructed with limestone in the 4th century. It has over 35 rows that can accommodate an audience of about 5000. Many events are still hosted here to date. The Treasury of Athens is another example. It was constructed in Delphi to accommodate offerings and dedications made to Apollo by Athenians.

After visiting the city, we ate at Υδρία Δελφοί, with an amazing view to watch the sunset over the sea and the mountains.

After spending 5 amazing days in Greece, it was time to go back home. As I mentioned before, even though we had no big expectations, this trip and the places we visited surprised me a lot and I had an amazing time! I definitely recommend everyone to not just visit the Greek islands but also the mainland.


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

Road Trip Across the Glamorous French Riviera

The Glamorous Côte d'Azur

Alejandro and I went on a road trip adventure with two friends across the French Riviera. Explore the glamorous Côte D’Azur region with us and find out more about cities like Nice, Monte Carlo, Cannes or Avignon.

Nice

Interesting facts about the city:

Nice has only been part of France since 1860, when Italy reluctantly gave the city up to repay France for helping defend itself from the Austrians.

Nice’s beaches are unusual – they are not sandy, they are filled with smooth stones that come from the mouth of the Var and Paillon rivers.

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For this trip, we decided to do a road trip in the south of France. We landed in Nice and rented a car at the airport with Sixt. We paid €245 for 7 days, including basic insurance. Everything went well, but at some point, we saw that the windshield had a small scratch but, fortunately, they never noticed it and our deposit was fully returned.

Nice is incredibly beautiful! From the whole trip, it was one of my favorite cities. Nice is the capital of the Cote D’Azur, and thousands of tourists from across the globe travel to this charming, historic and beautiful french city. Many world-famous celebrities have chosen the city as the location for a holiday home, including Elton John, Tina Turner, Keith Richards, and Bono, just to name a few

We arrived at night and booked two nights at the Villa Calliste, paying €285 for two rooms. The place was amazing! It was this big house with big balconies and a backyard with nice trees, a trampoline, a table, and a big BBQ. The owner was a friendly French guy who helped us a lot with everything we needed.

The next morning we went to Menton and Monaco (will talk about it below), and when we got back, we decided to take advantage of the backyard of our Villa and did a barbecue there. It was super nice! The food was amazing and we had music, drinks… it was fun!

On our second day, before heading up to Montpellier, the owner of the Villa had some bicycles there and let us use them for free. It nice riding a bike again, I surely missed it 🙂 We drove all the way to the closest beach and stopped there to go for a quick swim. This beach was not one of the most famous ones in Nice, but we loved it!

After our bike ride, we visited the thriving Promenade des Anglais, which hugs 7 km of the gorgeous coastline in the South of France. It takes its name from the English tourists who would promenade along the sea. Among the celebrated Brits that fancied Nice were Queen Victoria or Winston Churchill.

The historic Old Town is very nice as well. We walked around the old town, and one of my favourite sites was a fountain called Fountain of the Sun,  which was surrounded by a nice square – Place Masséna – and a nice garden – Jardin Albert I.

The Iron Man world championship competition was taking place there on that day. There were thousands of people from all over the world watching and/or competing. Connected to this fountain is the Avenue Jean Médecin, the main commercial street of the city. We went there as well to do some shopping.

We only had time to go for a swim in the Plage des Ponchettes on one of our last days, before catching the plane back to Malta. The beaches of Nice are rocky, which, among tourists is considered both positive and negative. Some people hate it and others love it. You don’t get sand between your toes, however, laying on the beach is very hard. I personally hated it! The waves were huge and the stones made it more difficult to enter or leave the water, and laying down was too uncomfortable.

Before leaving Nice we went close to the ‘I Love Nice’ sign to take some pics. There were a lot of asian tourists there, queuing for their alone-time with the sign, so it was quite difficult for us to do it.


Menton

Interesting facts about the city:

Menton, located at the Italian border, is nicknamed “The Pearl of France“.

The lemon became the symbol of the city, since it is the only region in France where, thanks to a unique microclimate, lemon trees grow. Also, since sixty-five years, the lemon festival takes place in the city.

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As I mentioned before, on our first full day in France we went to Menton. This city is situated on the French Riviera along the Franco-Italian border, 30km from Nice and 170km from Genoa (Italy).

A general view of the historic part of Menton from the seafront gives the appearance of a perched village. The narrow streets of the old town are bordered with the ochre façades of tall houses and are often dark, winding and vaulted. They are linked by covered passages (such as Traverse Saint-Miche) or reach cool little squares.

The campanile of St. Michel Church proudly soars above the steep narrow lanes and pastel-shaded façades of the historic old town, squeezed between two bays. From the seafront, a succession of majestic flight of steps leads up to the cobbled parvis of the church. It was a quick stop due to the small size of the city, but definetely worth it!


Monaco

Interesting facts about the city:

Almost 30% of the population of Monaco was a millionaire in 2014, similar to Zurich or Geneva. Monaco doesn’t allow its own citizens to enter casinos in the country.

Monaco was never a part of France despite its long history and geographical intimacy with France.

Three of James Bond Films have been shot here in Monte-Carlo Casino. The casino was opened in Monaco 153 years ago, in 1863.

Monaco Grand Prix is one of the main events that the country hosts every year. If you are curious about the winner of the event, note that “Ayrton Senna” has won the Grand Prix 6 times, more than any other race car driver.

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After Menton, we headed back to Nice but, before that, we made a quick stop in Monaco. Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, is a sovereign city-state, country, and microstate on the French Riviera. The principality stretches for only 2 square kilometers but, what it may lack in size, it certainly makes up for in style! This is one of the most affluent spots in the world as well as being blessed with an abundance of nature.

The old part of Monaco sits on a high rock called Le Rocher. We climbed all the way up and visited the Palais du Prince, where the prince lives. The views are really nice from there!

Close to the palace was the Monaco Cathedral. However, I couldn’t enter because of my clothes, as they didn’t offer anything to put on and cover your shoulders. Next to the Cathedral were Les Jardins Saint-Martin. These gardens are known for a memorial statue of Prince Albert I. The gardens skirt along the coast and take you along the Le Rocher coastline.

Of course, we couldn’t miss the main spot – the worldwide famous Casino de Monte Carlo. We saw a lot of fancy cars outside, for sure there were a lot of rich people there. We went inside and actually spent like 5 euros each, playing slot machines, just to get the experience. Needless to say, we all lost our money! Next to the casino was another impressive building, the Opera de Monte Carlo.

It was very nice to see the luxury of this tiny country. Even the tunnels where we drove looked like they had diamonds on the floor! We left Monaco feeling poor, but definetely amazed.


Montpellier

Interesting facts about the city:

The University of Montpellier is one of the world’s oldest universities, established in 1289 by William VII.

Montpellier is the 8th largest City in France. It is now the fastest growing city in France over the last half-century – as well as one of the most multicultural – more than doubling in size from 119,000 in 1962.

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On our third day we drove all the way to Montpellier. From Nice to Montpellier it was a 3h30 drive, quite a lot – specially for people who are now used to drive in the small Maltese islands! We arrived at night and stayed at my sister’s place.

It was so nice to see my sister Isabel again, after 6 or 7 years without seeing each other! I can’t believe we spent that much time apart, time just flies! I haven’t seen any of my siblings since I moved to Malta, almost 3 years ago, which is a shame.

My sister looks very nice! She’s 50 something years old but she looks younger now than the last time I saw her. It’s nice to see that she built a nice career path for herself. She’s now the owner of a real state agency chain, and travels a lot to check on what her employees are doing.

She lives in Dijon, like most of my siblings. However, she just bought a house in Montpellier and, luckily, she was still in Montpellier to finish decorating the place by the time we got there – which, by the way, was amazing – in order to rent it out to some students. My nephew (her son) lives next door so I also got to see him and his kids, which was cool!

The next day we explored the city. We started at Promenade du Peyrou. This is the part of the city that goes from the elegant Arc de Triomphe to the magnificent Château d’eau. It is the work of Etienne Giral and his son Jean-Antoine, although the castle-like building with Corinthian pillars that stands on top of the romantic pond was designed by Henri Pitot in 1768.

Behind it visitors will be able to observe one of Montpellier’s Roman aqueducts, a wonderful work of art that is beautifully preserved to this day. In this Promenade there was a flea market and we had some fun seeing the old stuff that people were selling.

We visited Place de la Comédie, this big central square. The imposing building at one end of the square is the city’s Opera, and there are also many cute French cafes and cinemas lining the sides. At another end there is a shopping mall with some exciting French stores, and in front lies the Esplanade, a beautiful green area where there is a relaxing pond.