Greece, the ancient land of Gods

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

ATHENS

Facts about the city:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

SANTORINI

Facts about the city:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Pyrgos, we went to our villa to do the check-in. We stayed at Agia Irini and paid €216 for three nights. That place was amazing! It’s a family-run business, owned by a Greek family. They don’t speak English very well, so their son decided to hire the services of Milan, a tourist guide that also works part-time there, helping the guests to check-in and to know more about the island.

Milan was super helpful. He gave us a map of Santorini and explained everything about the island. The places we should visit. The restaurants where we should eat. The history of the volcano and the Minoan civilization.

Santorini is one of a kind. This series of volcanic islands in the Aegean Sea is the only inhabited caldera (underwater volcano structure) in the world. The Minoan Eruption at Santorini created a devastating tsunami in the Aegean Sea, believed to have destroyed the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.

More than 3,600 years ago, someone saw the signs and knew when to get out.  Scientists believe the nearly 30,000 residents of the island successfully evacuated prior to the volcanic eruption. In the late 1950’s archaeologists uncovered the near perfectly preserved city of Akrotiri encased in three to six feet of ash.

Artifacts recovered from the site indicate the city was active in trade with other parts of the world and sophisticated in design. The site, now open for tours, reveals multilevel buildings, indoor bathrooms, sewage systems, and elaborate frescos. With no trace of human remains or valuable objects left behind scientists believe the residents most likely successfully evacuated the island.

After resting for a bit and taking some nice pictures at the villa‘s pool with the sea in the back, we drove to watch the sunset. Milan told us that it would be best to watch it from Ammoudi Bay, down there, and not from the top of Oia, where all the tourist gather around. We had bought a bottle of wine and sat there on a wall to see the spectacular colors in the sky. It was a magical moment! It’s very cliche to watch the sunset in Santorini but now I understand why.

After the sunset, we went to one of these fancy restaurants in Ammoudi Bay, called Sunset Ammoudi Taverna. This place had the pictures of some famous people that had visited the site, like Oprah Winfrey or Dani Alves. The fish was OK but for the price we paid, we expected to have something else other than a basic salad to go with the fish.

After dinner, we went for a walk across Oia. It was a bit more peaceful at night, but still packed with lots of tourists. Oia’s name should be pronounced “Ia“. It is the most famous of all villages of Santorini. It is known throughout the world for its quiet life and fantastic sunset, and is certainly the most beautiful and picturesque village of Santorini. The village is also situated on top of an impressive cliff and offers a spectacular view over the caldera.

The next day we went to visit Imerovigli. Its position at the highest, most central part of the caldera gave it visual command of the whole area. There is a path from Imerovigli caldera walkway to Skaros Rock. We didn’t go to this rock, because we already had a pretty amazing view from the village. Imerovigli has many lovely churches, all made in the Cycladic architectural style.

Then we went to Thira, the capital. There are lots of cafes, bars, restaurants, all with views and some with several levels of patios and balconies to make the most of the space they have and the fact that when there are several cruise ships sitting below the town is packed with tourists. We stopped close to the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral and watched a live concert there. We were lucky enough to be there for the Ifestia Festival 2018, which celebrates the birthday of the big eruption in the volcano. There were fireworks in Volcano island and we watched the colorful lights in the sky from Thira.

The day after we went to see Oia again, this time during day time. I loved the charming houses in narrow streets, blue domed churches, and sun-bathed verandas. Its streets have plenty of tourist shops, taverns, cafes, art galleries and other shops.

We walked all the way to the Byzantine Castle Ruins. Everything is white and blue in Oia and every place is a good opportunity for a nice picture – and we took many.

We ended the day with a visit to several beaches. We went to Theros wave bar, to the Red Beach and ended the day in the Black Beach, close to Akro, with a nice relaxing swim. When we got back to our villa, we swam at the pool as well, and went outside to watch the stars in the sky and try to meditate together. Very nice! Another thing I forgot to mention is that the previous day we woke up super early to watch the sunrise again, this time from the swimming pool of our hotel. It was worth it 🙂

We had dinner in an amazing place close to our villa, called Aēdáni. We both ate fish (octopus and squid) and some typical fried tomatoes (tomatokeftedes) and it was delicious! This place is a family-owned business and the guy serving us was super friendly. He even introduced us to his parents and his mum prepared a nice typical digestive for us after the meal, with cinnamon.

It was similar to another typical drink I had tried in Athens, called Rakomelo. which is made by combining raki or Tsipouro with honey and several spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, or other regional herbs. Ouzo is the national drink, a dry anise-flavored aperitif and we tried it as well.

For our last day in Santorini, we didn’t do much. We went to the port to catch the ferry to Mykonos, but the ferry was delayed by two hours.


 

MYKONOS

Facts about the city:

The windmills of Mykonos are some of the most recognized landmarks of the island, some of them date back as far as the 16th century.

The only colors allowed for doors and windows are blue, green and red. This dates back to the old days when sailors painted doors and shutters blue, farmers green and the other red.

‘Petros The Pelican’ has been a local celebrity and it became the mascot of Mykonos. Back in 1958, a local fisherman discovered a wounded pelican, and decided to take of him. When the pelican finally regained his strength and was set for release, he decided not to leave. When Petros died, everyone on the island went into mourning. With many donors throughout the years, Mykonos welcomes three pelicans in and around the main town, with one always given the name of Petros.

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Our last top in Greece was Mykonos, the party island. Many top DJs have played sets on the island of Mykonos in recent years. It’s now an island that has two of the best 20 top clubs in the world because of this. In our case, we didn’t go to Mykonos to party, but to enjoy the views and beaches.

We went to Mykonos by ferry. It took us about three hours to get there from Santorini and we paid €85.50 in total for both of us. You can buy the tickets here.

We rented another car in Mykonos, this time with a company called Car n Motion. We paid €87 for two days and they gave me a Suzuki Alto. It is important to note that for both I paid for full cover insurance, just in case. This car was awful! I really didn’t like it.

The guy from the company gave me the keys and just left, and I couldn’t make the car move at first, because the crotch was in a really bad shape. By the end of the trip I kind of got used to it. But still, I really didn’t like this car. Also, when we tried to return it at the airport, on our last day, there was a queue of people waiting to do the same, and no one was there. We had to wait approximately 20 minutes. I actually don’t recommend this car rental company.

In Mykonos we decided to stay at Mykonos Pro-care Suites. We paid €159 for an apartment for two nights. The apartment was so nicely decorated and so cozy that I even said I wouldn’t mind having a place like that one day. The villa had a nice swimming pool and an amazing jacuzzi. We followed the advise of the girl who welcomed us there and decided to try the jacuzzi at night. It was very cold and windy at night, and the jacuzzi was outside, but with the hot water you don’t even feel the cold and it is actually a very relaxing experience!

On our first day we had dinner in a small town called Ano Mera, in a restaurant located in the main square (I confess I forgot the name). We ate so much meat there that I felt full for the entire night!

My favorite places in Mykonos were the beaches. First went to Super Paradise Beach. This is a magnificent beach with crystal clear blue water in a small, deep bay. It is one of the busiest and youngest beaches on the island, with a restaurant and a nice beach bar with music all day long.

Then we went to Psarou Beach. This was my ultimate favorite, as you can see from the videos we recorded at the end of this post. I know I live in Malta, another summer island, but nothing can compare to this amazing sandy beach. It is one of the most popular and famous beaches on the island, with pure and clean white sand and crystal clean waters (the waters are always calm, as the beach is enclosed by mountains around), ideal for sunbathing and relaxing and also for watersports. Psarou attracts many movie stars,the world famous celebrities. Unfortunately, we didn’t see anyone!

We also visited Kelafatis Beach. We didn’t go for a swim on this one, we just went there for a nice walk. We wanted to go to Delos, another small island that belongs to Mykonos, but we didn’t have enough time.

Apart from beaches, we also visited the main town, Hora. I loved it. Hora is a warren of narrow alleyways and whitewashed buildings. The streets are crowded with chic stores, cool galleries, jangling jewellers and both languid and loud music bars – plus a catwalk cast of thousands.

White cube-shaped houses with colorful wooden balconies, the circular-shaped white spots on the floor and the tiny churches with blue and dark red domes – the locals claim there are 700 churches on the island – make it memorable as one of the most beautiful places among the Greek islands.

In Hora there is the famous Little Venice: two storey buildings built literally in the sea with colorful wooden balconies hanging over the water, facing one of the most beautiful sunsets in Greece.  The Greek version of Venice is full of bright sunlight, colors and sea breeze.

The Venetian connection dates back to the roots of Mykonos. Whilst Greece and Mykonos is connected with the Roman Empire, the island was under direct rule of the Venetians from 1390. The final Venetians left the area in 1718 once it was conquered by the Ottomans.

Just across Little Venice of Mykonos there are the famous Windmills. Don’t miss the chance to visit the islands most visited and photographed place and feel the Aegean Sea winds blowing your minds away.

After a week in Greece, it was time to go back to Malta. It was a very nice and relaxing trip. ευχαριστώ – efcharisto – Greece!

 

Main Budget

Flights – €180 total per person (€78,50 Malta – Athens / Athens – Malta, €40 Athens – Santorini, €61,50 Mykonos – Athens)

Ferry – €42,50 per person (Santorini – Mykonos)

Accommodation – €202 total per person (€14,50 Athens, €108 Santorini, €79,50 Mykonos)

Car Rental – €140 total per person (€96,50 Santorini, €43,50 Mykonos)

Total – €564,50

Exploring central Europe

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In May 2018 I decided to go with my boyfriend on a real road trip around Europe. In 11 days we visited Munich (Germany), Füssen & Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria) and Budapest (Hungary). Amazing!

MUNICH (GERMANY)

Facts about the city:

Munich is the home of BMW – one of the best-known car manufacturers in the world. There’s even a BMW Museum. Munich’s tax authority is considered the boldest in the world – even Hitler was forced to declare his income.

This city is considered to be Germany’s beer capital: Munich and its suburbs are home to 21 brewery, 22 beer restaurants and 60 beer gardens.

The city is known for hosting the famous Oktoberfest. Despite its name, it actually starts in September. It draws up to six million visitors over its three-week run.

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Alejandro and I decided to travel for 11 days across central Europe. Our first destination was the south of Germany and the Bavaria area. We flew directly to Munich with Air Malta. Munich is Germany’s third largest city and has a population of about 1.4 million.

We stayed in Munich for 2 nights in a double room at Pension/Guesthouse am Hauptbahnhof, located in Schillerstraße 18.

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My favourite place in Munich was the English Garden. Munich’s English Garden is among Europe’s biggest city parks, even beating London’s Hyde Park – and New York’s Central Park, too. It is filled with sculptures and is heavily influenced by Asian architecture. It has a Chinese pagoda and a Japanese tea house, as well as a Greek temple.

We saw some nudists laid down in the sun, we saw young people drinking and playing sports… there was a lot going on in that park. Locals are mindful of the park’s popularity and tolerate the close quarters of cyclists, walkers and joggers. Street musicians dodge balls kicked by children and students sprawl on the grass to chat about missed lectures.

We sat down next to the river for a bit, just relaxing. In this park there’s a famous wave called Eisbach Wave.

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Some surfers try to go there and surf it, but we couldn’t spot them when we went there.

After visiting the park, we went to see the Residenz museum, which is the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria. On our way to the center, we saw the Frauenkirche, one of Munich’s most famous landmarks. Then, we go to Marienplatz. This square is a popular gathering spot and packs a lot of personality into a compact frame. This is the busiest spot in all Munich.

The Neues Rathaus, in Marienplatz, is one of Germany’s most distinctive buildings. The neo-Gothic structure is decorated with gargoyles and statues and is home to the famous Munich glockenspiel. At the top of the 85m tower stands Münchner Kindl, the monk-child mascot of the city. Close to Marienplatz there’s St. Peter’s Church, which also deserves a visit.

To every sports enthusiast, the image of this city cannot be divorced from FC Bayern – the most famous football club in Germany. We went to visit the stadium – Allianz Arena.

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The Olympiapark  is an Olympic Park which was constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics. Located in the Oberwiesenfeld neighborhood of Munich, the Park continues to serve as a venue for cultural, social, and religious events, such as events of worship.

Next to the Olympiapark we went to see the BMW Welt, which is a multi-use exhibition center used for meetings and promotional events. Very interesting!

On our last day in Munich, we went to visit the famous Schloss Nymphenburg palace. This commanding palace and its lavish gardens were the royal family’s summer residence. Franz Duke of Bavaria, head of the once royal Wittelsbach family, still occupies an apartment here. The sprawling park behind Schloss Nymphenburg is a favourite spot with Münchners and visitors for strolling, jogging or whiling away a lazy afternoon.

We went to check the Hofbräuhaus. Every visitor to Munich should make a pilgrimage to this mothership of all beer halls, if only once. Next to it, we stopped by for a drink in HB beer garden.

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Another nice place to go for a beer is the Viktualienmarkt. Fresh fruit and vegetables, piles of artisan cheeses, tubs of exotic olives, hams and jams, chanterelles and truffles – Viktualienmarkt is a feast of flavours and one of central Europe’s finest gourmet markets. This market has it’s own beer garden.

While we were in Munich, there was a festival going on called Munich Spring Festival.  The Munich spring festival is Bavaria’s best kept secret. This smaller spring version of the Oktoberfest is just as fun and less crowded! There were beer tents, amusement rides, and the largest flea market in southern Europe. A lot of people attended the festival wearing the tradition bavarian clothes. Very nice!


NEUSCHEWANSTEIN CASTLE & FÜSSEN (GERMANY)

Facts about the city:

Neuschwanstein means “New Swan Stone”. The name derives from one of Wagner’s opera’s character, the Swan Knight. The Neuschwanstein castle was built for only one person – the King Ludwig II.

Neuschwanstein is so immense though, that in some days it is visited by up to 6000 tourists. The castle is one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

The Sleeping Beauty Castle’s design in Disneyland was inspired by it.

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On our second day in Germany we decided to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. To get there, we took a train to Füssen and then a bus to the castle. The train ride was incredible, the best of my life. The landscape is nothing but amazing!

Once we got to Füssen, we took another bus to go up the hill. If you prefer to walk, it takes about 30-40 minutes to walk from the ticket center to the castle (around 1.5 km on a steep uphill road).

Few places on Earth look more like storybook illustrations that Neuschwanstein Castle. With its towers, turrets, frescoes, and throne hall, Neuschwanstein looks like it was plucked straight from your favorite fairy tale.

After visiting the castle, we stopped in Füssen to visit the town. The town is super cute! Before going to the train station, we bought some beers and laid down in a nice grass field with an amazing view to the mountains.


PRAGUE (CZECH REPUBLIC)

Facts about the city:

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest castle in the world is in Prague, with the incredible area of 18 acres.

The narrowest street in Prague is barely 50 cm wide, yet it has deserved the right to have its own traffic light.

After the murder of John Lennon in 1980, a portrait of the rock star was drawn on the wall opposite the French Embassy in Prague. This wall is covered in quotes, images, and lyrics from his songs.

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After Munich, we took a bus from Flixbus during the night to Prague, in the Czech Republic. We stayed in an apartment for two nights at Retro Style Studio Sokolovská, in Sokolovská 43.

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We arrived in Prague at 5.30 am and we didn’t get enough sleep on the bus, so we were super tired. We had to wait for our check in time, so we decided to go for a walk around Prague’s city center.

Perhaps Prague’s most famous landmark, the Astronomical clock stands regally in front of the Old Town Hall and gathers hundreds of tourists from around the world. Every hour a procession of 12 apostles appear from the sides of the clock as well as the ominous figure of death striking the time. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see this symbol of Prague because it was covered up, going under some renovation.

Next to it is the Old Town Square. The square features various architectural styles including the Church of Our Lady before Týn, which has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. The church’s towers are 80 m high.

During that morning we also went to see the Prague Jewish Quarter. Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto, is dotted with somber reminders of its past. These include the weathered tombstones of the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Pinkas Synagogue, now a Holocaust memorial with exhibits focusing on Jewish children. The Jewish Museum houses a huge collection of cultural artifacts.

Then we went to the Wenceslas Square, one of the main city squares and the center of the business and cultural communities of Prague. There we met my friend Vojtech! I met him in Malta, we worked together at EC. He’s Czech. We became good friends so it was super nice to see him again 🙂

He took us to see the famous Charles Bridge. This is a historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. As the only means of crossing the river Vltava until 1841, Charles Bridge was the most important connection between Prague Castle and the city’s Old Town and adjacent areas.

The bridge is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town Bridge Tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil Gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas.

After crossing the bridge, we went all the way up to Prague Castle. It is a castle complex dating from the 9th century. It is the official office of the President of the Czech Republic. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square meters. Close to the Castle is St. Vitus Cathedral.

After this, we walked through the castle gardens until we reached Letná Park. Letná’s elevation and location afford commanding views of the Prague Old Town. We were super tired after visiting all these places so we stopped with Vojtech at Kantyna to eat something. The food was delicious! After that, we finally went to our apartment to have some rest.

The next day we went for a walk along the riverside. We saw the famous Dancing House. This building has a very non-traditional design, very interesting. On our way there, we also saw a vegan market where they were selling vegan products and giving out some samples. We stopped there for a while.

Then we walked back and crossed the bridge again to the other side. We saw the John Lennon Wall. After John Lennon’s murder in 1980 an image was painted on the wall opposite the French Embassy in Mala Strana. Despite repeated coats of whitewash, the wall has become covered in John Lennon-inspired graffiti and lyrics from Beatles songs. The site is seen as a memorial to John Lennon but also as a symbol of free speech and non-violent rebellion.


VIENNA (AUSTRIA)

Facts about the city:

After WWII Vienna was divided into four occupation zones. Russia, France, Britain and the United States took control over different parts of the city.

Vienna is the only capital in the World with a major wine production within the limits of the city. Every year in Vienna over 600 wine framers produce 2.5 million liters of wine.

More famous composers have lived here than anywhere else in the world, including Mozart, Beethoven, Joseph Haydn and Johann Strauss.

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After Prague, we took a train to Vienna, in Austria. We stayed for 2 nights in an apartment at Royal Living Apartments Vienna, in Knöllgasse 30.

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On our first day in Vienna we visited the famous Schönbrunn Palace. The Palace consists of 1441 rooms and one of the most historical monuments in the country. Since the mid-1950s it has been a major tourist attraction. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs.

On our second day we started by visiting the Hofburg. The Hofburg is the former principal imperial palace. Built in the 13th century and expanded in the centuries since, the palace has been the seat of power of the Habsburg dynasty rulers, and today the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.

Since 1279 the Hofburg area has been the documented seat of government. The Hofburg has been expanded over the centuries to include various residences, the imperial chapel, the imperial library, the treasury, the Burgtheater, the Spanish Riding School and the imperial mews. The palace faces the Heldenplatz (Heroes Square).

Close to it is the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts). Housed in its festive palatial building on Ringstraße, it is crowned with an octagonal dome. It was opened around 1891 at the same time as the Natural History Museum. The two museums have similar exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz.

After this square you can find the Museumsquartier. The MQ is home to a range of installations from large art museums like the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna).

We strolled down the commercial streets of Vienna and went inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365). St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with its multi-coloured tile roof, become one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.

We also visited the Rathaus (City Hall) and the famous Vienna State Opera. We wanted to have a typical Viennese experience and book tickets for a Vienna Mozart Concert at the Vienna State Opera but we ended up not doing it. Built between 1861 and 1869, the Staatsoper was the house for some of the most iconic directors in history, including Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Herbert van Karajan. Close to this central area, we also visited a couple of nice parks.

On our last day in Vienna we visited another palace: Schloss Belvedere. Before going in there, we saw a Venezuelan embassy and we decided to go inside. I always wanted to step on Venezuelan soil so this was my chance, since I cannot visit the country now due to the fact that it is so dangerous nowadays. It was cool, we talked for a bit with the guy that works there.

The Belvedere is a historic building complex, consisting of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. It houses the Belvedere museum. The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates.

Finally, before leaving Vienna, we went to a park close to the Danube river – a travel tip from the guy we met at the Embassy. We loved it! It was actually one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. We had lunch there and stayed there lying on the grass for hours, listening to music, talking and kissing. It was amazing 🙂

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BUDAPEST (HUNGARY)

Facts about the city:

Budapest has more thermal springs than any other capital city in the world. An amazing 70 million liters of thermal water rises to the surface daily. The hot springs have given birth to dozens of medicinal baths.

Budapest was created when three cities joined together: Óbuda, Buda and Pest. While Buda is usually associated with stately quarters and high class, Pest is where you will find the largest part of the population and so-called urban living.

The holocaust had a big effect on Hungary. Next to the parliament, by the edge of the river Danube, you can find lots of shoes made of bronze fixed to the ground. These are a tribute to all the Jews that were killed.

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Our forth and last destination was Budapest in Hungary. We took a bus from Flixbus. We stayed for 3 nights in an apartment at La Stella di Budapest, at Csengery u. 6.

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In Budapest we started off by visiting the Hungarian Parliament Building. It is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary. It lies in Lajos Kossuth Square, on the bank of the Danube. It is currently the largest building in Hungary and it is still the tallest building in Budapest.

Then we crossed the river and went to see the Buda Castle. It was first completed in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace today occupying most of the site was built between 1749 and 1769. Buda Castle sits on the south tip of Castle Hill, bounded on the north by what is known as the Castle District (Várnegyed), which is famous for medieval, Baroque and 19th-century houses, churches and public buildings. The hill is linked to Clark Ádám Square and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge by the Castle Hill Funicular.

Close to the castle, we went to see the Fisherman’s Bastion & Mathias Church. The first one is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style. It was designed and built between 1895 and 1902. Regarding the church, the current building was constructed in the florid late Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century. It was the second largest church of medieval Buda.

On that side of the river we also went to the House of Houdini and saw a magic show. It was on my bucket list, so that’s why we did it 😉 Alejandro didn’t really like the magic show, claiming that he has seen better. For me it was nice. If you want to book, you can do it here.

On the first night we went to Stifler Bar to meet Marcia, a Brazilian friend of ours that used to live in Malta and work with Alejandro but has recently moved to Budapest. It was cool to see her there. She had some German friends that also came to visit her on the same dates, so we all stayed in that bar for a bit drinking beers and chatting.

On our second day in Budapest we passed in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is the third largest church building in present-day Hungary. Then we went to check the famous Széchenyi thermal bath. This is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Its water is supplied by two thermal springs, their temperature is 74 °C and 77 °C, respectively. We wanted to go inside but the prices were too high and we ended up not going. Also, it was too crowded.

Closed to it, we visited a park and Heroes Square. This is one of the major squares in Budapest, noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We decided to cross the bridge and go to the Citadella, a nice place on top of a hill. It was hard to climb but once we got there, it was totally worth it. From there you have the most amazing view of Pest.

After the hill, we went to see the Margaret Island, in the middle of the Danube. Leafy Margaret Island is neither Buda nor Pest, but its shaded walkways, large swimming complexes, thermal spa and gardens offer refuge to the denizens of both sides of the river. There were a lot of people there. I like the fountain at the entrance of the island, with color & music shows.

In Budapest you can find the second biggest synagogue in the world, after the one in New York – Dohány Street Synagogue. We went there but we didn’t go inside because it was too expensive. We also didn’t have time to visit the Great Market Hall, but if you have time, visit it.

Alejandro and I celebrated our first anniversary together in Budapest on our last day there. He was super sweet and bought me some flowers 🙂 Later on that day we went to have dinner in a nice restaurant called Zeller Bistro. I loved the decoration of the place, with an internal garden. The next day we had to fly back to Malta. I loved this trip!

 

 

BUDGET:

  • Flights: 38€ + 66€ = 104€
  • Accommodation Munich: 144€ (72€ per person)
  • Accommodation Prague: 87€ (43,50€ per person)
  • Accommodation Vienna: 128€ (64€ per person)
  • Accommodation Budapest: 135€ (67,50€ per person)
  • Bus to Prague: 23€
  • Train to Vienna: 14€
  • Bus to Budapest: 9€
  • Train to the castle: 14€
  • Buses to the castle: 1,50€

From Brazil with love

In the summer of 2015 I went with a friend to Brazil. First we visited the north: Recife, Olinda and Porto de Galinhas. Then, we flew to the most beautiful city ever, Rio de Janeiro.

RECIFE

Facts about the city:

In Recife they dance Frevo, not Samba. Frevo is a rhythm born in Recife, and that’s what you’ll see people dancing during Carnival. Frevo was included on the UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage.

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First we visited Recife, in the Northeast of Brazil. Me and Rita went there to visit Claudia, a former college classmate. Claudia went to Brazil to study there and ended up staying there for good, because her family is from Recife. Her house is super nice, we felt like we were right in the middle of the jungle, with that abundant vegetation, with monkeys roaming the electric cables and with that tropical climate, super humid and hot. We hated that weather, it seems we can’t even breathe.

Recife is a city that is below the sea level and thank God we didn’t witness a terrible flood that stroke the city a few days before our trip. It is a city full of canals and therefore is easily flooded. The sea there is not very good there because you are not allowed to swim since there are some sharks. We went out for drinks twice in a bar near Claudia’s house.

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What shocked me and Rita the most is the way they go out in Brazil at night. The boys are really confident and the girls are really sluts. We also went out in a bar and in a nightclub with Cláudia’s friends. In the nightclub I drank a lot and let some boys pull me to dance, but Rita helped me to send them away when they got annoying. By the end of the night we were the only ones who were not kissing anyone.

Claudia’s brother already took hundreds of girls to motels, disgusting! Even Claudia was there kissing a random boy. Another thing that is different there is the fact that the music is almost only sertanejo, and that they play it live in clubs with covers bands, which does not happen in Portugal.

In one of the days we stayed there Claudia showed us Recife. We went to the Marco Zero square and to a museum there called Caixa Cultural Recife and then we went to see the Recife Antigo (old Recife). Recife Antigo consists of the initial Portuguese settlement in the 16th century around the port.

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We were also in a rock bar, Rock & Ribs, and went to have dinner at Cláudia’s cousin’s place. I loved Abel, he is very nice.

We went to the Cais do Sertão museum. Inaugurated in 2014, this bold new museum highlights the culture of the sertão, especially as it relates to the godfather of forró music, Luiz Gonzaga, who was a major player not only in bringing the music of the region to national prominence but the culture as well. This museum also talks about the history of Recife, the Portuguese occupation, frevo music, etc.

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We went to the two main shopping malls in the city, both with panoramic views of the canals and bridges of the city. The best part was when we did a catamaran boat tour around the city, it was beautiful.

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We took this opportunity to eat different things: graviola, cajá, mamão, tapioca (prepared by Cláudia’s mom), castanha de caju, bolinhos de goma, açaí, etc. We were addicted to Paçoquita, which is a peanut butter candy.


PORTO DE GALINHAS

Facts about the city:

The town was called Porto Rico (Rich Port) until 1850 when it became a place where people traded slaves to work in the plantations of sugar cane. To evade the control of the illegal transaction, slaves were transported together with guineafowl and passwords were created by traffickers (Portuguese: “Tem galinha nova no porto” – “There are new chickens in the port”), hence the origin of the name.

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In one of the days we were in Recife, we went with Claudia and her mother to visit Porto de Galinhas. The beach of Porto de Galinhas, 60 kilometers south of Recife has been repeatedly awarded the title of best beach in Brazil and has drawn many tourists.

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That place is heavenly! Porto de Galinhas beach is a major tourist destination and it is famous for its bright-water beaches and the natural pools.

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The water there is hot even in winter, but in summer it reaches 28 degrees! Claudia and I took a swim and it felt amazing. The city center is also nice, with craft shops and souvenirs, with chickens statues and images everywhere. I liked it!


OLINDA

Facts about the city:

Pernambuco was a Portuguese colony. While Recife had port functions, Olinda was the capital. However, in 1630 the Dutch invaded this area and set Olinda partially on fire. Recife became the seat of the Dutch government and Olinda lost his importance. Olinda is still one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Brazil and its historic town center considered a world heritage site by UNESCO.

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Still during our stay in Recife, we went with Cláudia and her cousin, Abel, to visit the city of Olinda. Olinda has a great connection to Portugal, with the azulejos (tiles) and the cute churches. We visited some of them: Igreja da Se, Convento de S. Francisco, etc.

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We also used a lift to go up to a lookout point where we could enjoy a beautiful view of Recife on the other side.

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We visited street markets and more craft shops. I ate a delicious tapioca there. Too bad we did not go there for the Carnival, it is super famous there.


RIO DE JANEIRO

Facts about the city:

According to tradition, Rio de Janeiro was first visited in January 1502 by Portuguese explorers, who believed the bay they encountered (now called Guanabara Bay) was the mouth of a river. They named the area named Rio de Janeiro, “River of January.”

There are more than 1,000 favelas (slums) in Rio and almost one fourth of Cariocas (nickname of the locals) live in them. Rio’s residents have been living in favelas since the end of the 19th century, being the most affordable housing option. It was there, in the favelas, that former African slaves first created the music style we now know as samba. Nowadays, most of the city’s renowned samba schools that compete in the world’s most famous Carnival parade are located in favelas.

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After all this, we went to visit Rio de Janeiro, the famous cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city). Well, loveeeed it! Rita’s cousin, who lives in Rio and is a taxi driver, picked us up at the airport and then showed us around the city. First, we visited the favela where he lives and we met Rita’s family. Afterwards, we went to Maracanã stadium. The stadium was opened in 1950 to host the FIFA World Cup.

Then we went to Copacabana beach. There, at the Copacabana Palace, Rita was hoping to see some of the Globo’s famous actors, but nothing (btw, we also saw Globo and Projac, where they shoot the famous Brazilian soap operas). Back in Copacabana, we went to a street market and bought some souvenirs. The people of Rio are very friendly and cheerful, gave me the urge to go and live there!

Next we went to our hotel which is the best hotel I have stayed at in my entire life! Right on the calçadão, on the Ipanema Beach line! It is called Best Western Sol Ipanema Hotel and is located on Avenida Vieira Souto. What a luxury!! We had gym and hotel at the top of the hotel, overlooking the beach and Morro dos Dois Irmaos (two mountains that rise at the western end of the beach). We paid x for x nights.

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The people at the hotel were also super friendly. Our hotel was super comfortable and with a magnificent view, like a postcard. We always fell asleep with the sound of the waves. The next day we had a luxury breakfast at the hotel and spent the morning strolling down the promenade from Leblon beach to Ipanema beach.

The Leblon beach is known for its elegant development and its social life. Two mountains called the Dois Irmãos rise at the western end of the beach, which is divided into segments delineated by postos, or lifeguard towers. In Ipanema beach there’s usually a lot of people playing football, volleyball and footvolley. Beer is sold everywhere, along with the traditional cachaça.

We finished our walk in Pedra do Arpoador. This is a rock located between Ipanema and Copacabana. During some time around midsummer it is possible to see the sun setting over the sea from Arpoador, a rare event on the generally eastward-facing Brazilian coast. On these occasions crowds gather around the place and cheer when the sun disappears.

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This place is a natural viewpoint with giant rocks and a beautiful sunset view to Morro dos Dois Irmãos and Favela do Vidigal. Beautiful! Then we went for a walk to see the shops in the center of Rio de Janeiro. We went to Girl from Ipanema bar, to Vinicius de Moraes Bar, we went to McDonalds (they use names like McLanche Feliz or the slogan Amo tudo Isso). At the end of the day we went for a swim in our hotel’s pool.

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The next day was awesome. Rita’s cousin came to pick us up in the taxi and took us to Cristo Rei. Before Cristo Rei, we went up to Mirante Dona Marta, with the best possible view possible for Pão de Açúcar! This lookout offers a spectacular view of the city. On one side you can see the Guanabara Bay, Niterói and the mountains of the Serrana region in the background. On the other side, next to the heliport, one can see the Lagoa and the South Zone, besides the Christ statue. This viewpoint has one of the most perfect angles of the city to take photos. I took some of my favorite photos of the trip there.

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This day was very hot, which was great. After that, we climbed up 700 metres to reach the top of Monte Corcovado, in the Tijuca Forest National Park, in some vans. Finally, we reached the Cristo Rei (Christ the Redeemer) statue! 😀 Well, what an amazing place!! There are no words to describe it… It was the most beautiful place I have ever visited in my life.

Constructed between 1922 and 1931, the statue is 30m tall, excluding its 8m pedestal. A symbol of Christianity across the world, the statue has also become a cultural icon of both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, and is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. What a breathtaking view! Even the crowd of tourists like us, trying to take a thousand photos, did not take away the charm. I’m glad I went there with Rita, I really like her. After the photos we stayed there for a while trying to absorb the landscape.

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Rita’s cousin took us through Floresta da Tijuca and Barra da Tijuca. We had lunch at a restaurant and in the afternoon we went to the Botanical Gardens and Praia da Barra. Barra da Tijuca is believed to be the safest of Rio’s upper-class neighborhoods because of its lack of favelas and plentiful private and public security. Barra da Tijuca neighborhood is well known for being the home of celebrities and soccer stars.

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Then we passed the house of Roberto Carlos in Urca, we went to Morro da Urca, Praia Vermelha and Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf mountain). Pão de Açúcar is amazing! Rising 396m above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. It is terrifying to get on its cableway (bondinho) because it shakes a lot, but the sight from the two or three places where we stopped is almost as perfect as the view from the Christ. It’s amazing! It was a fantastic day.

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The next day was amazing too. We booked a guided tour with a private guide, to show us the historic center of Rio, because we were afraid to go there alone. The guide was a super friendly African guy. First he took us by car to the neighborhood and favela of Santa Teresa.

Then we went to Escadaria de Selaron (Selaron Steps), which is a set of world-famous steps create by the Cilean-born artist Jorge Selarón, with donated tiles from all over the world. I’ve been looking for tiles from Portugal and Porto and found a lot! I had no idea. There are over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.

In 1990, Selarón began renovating dilapidated steps that ran along the front of his house. At first, neighbors mocked him for his choice of colors as he covered the steps in fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles – the colors of the Brazilian flag. It started out as a side-project to his main passion, painting, but soon became an obsession. He found he was constantly out of money, so Selarón sold paintings to fund his work. It was long and exhausting work but he continued on and eventually covered the entire set of steps in tiles, ceramics and mirrors.

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Then we went to the historical center, with some trace elements of the Portuguese influence, in a museum that spoke about the Portuguese and our empire there, in the House of Carmen Miranda, in the Candelaria Church, in the cultural center, in Arcos da Lapa (the aqueduct serves as a bridge for a popular tram that connects the city center with the Santa Teresa favela uphill), in the cylindrical Cathedral, etc.

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At the end of the tour we went to eat açaí and the guide brought us back to the hotel by metro. In the afternoon we went to say goodbye to the Calçadão, we went to the beach, drank coconut water, took photos with the statue of Tom Jobim and enjoyed the wonderful view of those beaches for the last time.

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We were sitting on a bench that had the quote: Pare aqui. Aprecie a vida por um minuto e SORRIA – Stop here. Appreciate life for one minute and smile. Isn’t it beautiful? 🙂

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