macedonia travel itinerary

8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

The Macedonia travel itinerary below is kindly provided by Experience Balkan, an incoming tour operator for the Balkans and especially for the Republic of Macedonia. See their contacts at the bottom of the page, in case you are planning your Balkan holiday 🙂

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Republic of Macedonia is a beautiful country settled on the central part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is still an unknown tourist destination, but it has lots of things to offer to its’ tourists. It is a small multi-colored piece of land, which attracts visitors with its natural beauty and tradition and these insignia, which leave a mark of recognition and singularity, are the reason why you should visit our country. The natural resources of Macedonia are interesting for adventurers and visitors who want to discover different countries. The beautiful lakes and the mineral baths are appealing for vacation and enjoyment. The mountains, decorated with different kinds of trees, but also with their mysterious caves, springs and picturesque waterfalls are a pleasure for everyone who wants to get away in the beauty of each season. Hundreds of churches and monasteries scattered around the country speak about the tradition forged in the stones and it is a real challenge to visit them all. The archeological excavations call all the passionate researchers of the past to tell their story covered with dust and soil. And about the gourmands, those who live to eat, the wealth of flavors is going to rapture them and fill them with longing for a new revival of that magic.

 

Macedonia travel itinerary tip #1

Rich history and land of archaeology

 

Through the centuries, Macedonia was a crossroad of many civilizations, and each one of them left traces of their existence. With more than 4000 archaeological localities, Macedonia is the land of archaeologists. Many invaluable artifacts and ancient cites are found all over the country. Found artifacts and their stories can be seen in the museums throughout Macedonia. The central museum, where you can see most of the artifacts is the Archaeological museum, in the capital Skopje. Built in 2014, the Archaeological museum has more than 6000 exhibits on three flоors.

 

archeology 1 - 8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

 

 

Macedonia travel itinerary tip #2

Ohrid and Ohrid Lake

 

The main tourist attraction in Macedonia is the city of Ohrid and Ohrid Lake. Ohrid Lake is one of the oldest and one of the deepest lakes in Europe, it is more than 4 million years old and 286 m deep. Also, Ohrid Lake is one of the lakes which has one of the clearest waters in the world. In these millions of years, more than 200 endemic species have developed inside the lake. The city of Ohrid is situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid. It has a rich cultural and historical heritage and is known as the Jerusalem on the Balkans because it once had 365 churches and was for a long time the center of Ohrid archbishopric. Ohrid is the city which was the center of Slavic literacy as well. When visiting Ohrid, you will see monuments, early Christian basilicas, medieval churches, fortresses and antique theaters, and they all provide magnificent views of the Ohrid Lake. Because of these historical and natural values, Ohrid and Ohrid Lake are part of the UNESCO cultural heritage.

 

ohrid - 8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

 

 

Macedonia travel itinerary tip #3

Macedonian food and wine

 

The Republic of Macedonia has a very rich wine tradition. Today,the Republic of Macedonia has 24.000 vineyards, all of which produce high-quality grapes. The Macedonian wine is of great quality and wine production is a large part of Macedonian export. Production of red wine dominates with around 80% of the total. Tourists can visit Macedonians wineries, where they may taste domestic wines and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. One of the biggest wineries are Tikvesh winery, Popovakula winery,Stobi winery, etc. The exclusive Macedonian wine contains a large number of ingredients that are found only in this country. The suitable climate of the country provides excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits. The most popular vegetables here are tomatoes and peppers, and the most famous delicacy in Macedonia is made from mixed peppers and is called “ajvar”. Macedonian cuisine is also known for the variety of dairy products and pork meat. If you visit Macedonia, you will no doubt enjoy its’ magnificent food and probably gain some weight!

 

food - 8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

 

Macedonia travel itinerary tip #4

Kokino Observatory

 

Kokino observatory is one of the oldest and biggest observatories in the world. It is located in the Staro Nagorichane municipality, around 30km from the city of Kumanovo. Situated between 1010 m and 1030 m altitude above the sea level, it is a remarkable archaeological site dating from the early Bronze Age. Recently, in 2009, an Iron Age settlement was also found in the area, pointing to the site being frequented even further back in antiquity. The observatory and the sacred site were first discovered in 2001 and ranked as the world’s fourth most important ancient observatory by NASA, listed together with Stonehenge in England, Angkor Watt in Cambodia and Abu Simbel in Egypt.

 

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Macedonia travel itinerary tip #5

Skopje – the capital of Macedonia

 

Skopje is the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, and has a population of around one million. Before 2014, Skopje was not such an appealing tourist attraction. However, in 2014, with the implementation of the project “Skopje 2014”, the city got a completely new look; i.e. lots of monuments and baroque buildings were built at the time and now, Skopje is very attractive for tourists from around the world. Apart from these new buildings, you can visit the Old Turkish Bazaar in Skopje, one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans built in the 12thcentury.

Skopje is also known as the birthplace of Mother Teresa. In the center of the city, you have the chance to visit the memorial house of Mother Teresa and learn more about her life.

 

Skopje - 8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

 

 

Macedonia travel itinerary tip #6

Natural beauties of Macedonia

 

Macedonia is a mountainous country, i.e. around 80% of its territory is covered with mountains with dense forests, high peaks and beautiful landscapes. It is a landlocked country, with 3 major natural lakes, plenty of rivers, canyons and caves. One of the most beautiful canyons in Europe – Canyon Matka, is located in Macedonia.

 

canyon matka - 8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

 

 

Macedonia travel itinerary tip #7

Churches and monasteries

 

Macedonia has more than 1000 churches and monasteries, rich with remarkable fresco paintings, woodcarvings and architecture, where you can see the work of one of the most famous icon painters and wood carvers on the Balkans and the whole Byzantine Empire. In Macedonia, you can see plenty of early Christian basilicas, or the first churches were built in the 4th century when Christianity became the official religion in the Roman Empire. Inside those early Christian basilicas, you may admire the beautiful mosaics which are still well-preserved.

 

churches - 8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

 

 

Macedonia travel itinerary tip #8

Rural tourism

 

In Macedonian villages you can see the traditional lifestyle of the Macedonian peasant. Here, you can taste local Macedonian food and drink home-made wine and the traditional Macedonian drink – “rakija”. Moreover, villagers offer tourists different kinds of tours and activities such as donkey safari, where you can ride donkeys and explore the nature surrounding the villages. Some of the most famous Macedonian villages are: Vevchani,Galichnik,Trpejca and Elshani.

 

villages - 8 reasons to visit the Republic of Macedonia

 

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Thank you, Experience Balkan for this Macedonia travel itinerary!
Experience Balkan is an incoming tour operator for the Balkans and especially for the Republic of Macedonia. If you would like to visit Macedonia and you need arrangements, you may contact us at: contact@experiencebalkan.mk
For more information, you can visit our web-sites:

www.experiencebalkan.mk
www.experience-macedonia.com
www.experience-ohrid.com

 

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Budapest City Break

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My Budapest City Break Itinerary

This Budapest city break happened accidentally. Lets say the city was easy to reach from all the places our ‘group’ came from – Ukraine, Romania, Turkey, and since it was many people travelling under my supervision I was really ambitious about showing not only the city’s beautiful parts, but also the surrounding region (and even farther)!

 

In fact, I never loved (not even liked) Budapest, but as I already know, it all depends on how planned you are, how responsible you face the new place. Imagine you come to any European capital, where do you end up without knowing where exactly to go? Where all the other tourists do, that’s why those places are called ‘touristic’ places, because their geo position was perfect for a first comer’s path. At the end you’ll say the same thing I heard from a very unlucky traveler: ‘Is there any place in the world to do anything special at all?’ Poor guy, he went around a bit, he is an expat, and he still thinks that it’s all about bars, and even the bars are all the same, because that’s right: all touristic places in the world are having more or less similar bars.

What if you do your pre-holiday homework? You’ll fell in love with the diversity of the globe and the specific spot you are visiting right know. Me and Budapest – our relationship is the best example of that. Hated for 25 years, and now liked so much that I’m even ready to move there ?

 

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Day 1 – arriving and finding our Budapest city break guide

Budapest airport is quite well equipped and well functioning as for Eastern Europe, but getting from there to the city won’t be the best part of your trip. So I’ll reveal the best ways of getting from Ferihegy airport to Budapest downtown here

For the first day of our Budapest city break I booked a local guide from one of my most frequently used apps – Showaround. It’s not always helpful, doesn’t cover all the places I went to (so I had to discover other solutions of getting a local guide), but in here Showaround offers quite a wide portfolio of locals. Which doesn’t mean they are all suitable for guiding ? I really spent a while on researching profiles, filtering just those boys & girls who’re only interested in meeting a foreign person, without having any knowledge of their city, being able to do a memorable tour, from those who really know what to show in Budapest and how.

 

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That’s how we ended up with Lili – our local guide in Budapest. The tour lasted for 3 hours and during that time we walked from Pest seeing and saving on maps all the best bars and restaurants, visiting the magnificent Saint Stephen (Szent István) Basilica. Afterwards we crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to reach the royal part of the city – Buda, climbed up to the Buda Castle, walked around the historical part of the 1st District which is full of architectural miracles like the Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and Holy Trinity Column.

 

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We ended our tour going back to Pest by bus to see the Parliament shining in warm orange lights at night and heading towards our restaurant nearby (kindly booked by Lili for us). To sum up, I’d say it was a traditional sightseeing tour which is very much needed if you are visiting a city for the first time, and if you’re a person who loves taking photos of everything around and spamming your friends’ Instagram feeds 😉

Above all it’s important to have this kind of a tour on your first day, it makes you feel so much more at home during the remaining time of your stay!

Sharing Lili’s profile for those who’re willing to listen to my advice and get a local guide leading them through the city’s best sights! I’d recommend to contact your guide a few days before your city break in Budapest.

What about the dinner? I’ll tell you everything about eating and going out in Budapest here. So far, I can confirm that everywhere we went was unique, unforgettable and delicious!

 

Did you know that…

  • Buda and Pest were two separate cities until 1873, in fact the first bridge across Danube to connect the 2 cities was built only in 1849
  • Buda – is the royal part of the city, settled on the hills with its wealthy grand Hapsburg palace
  • Pest – is the party & gastronomy heaven with plenty pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and bistros
  • The height of St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest is 96 m, current regulations prohibit constructing anything higher than 96 m, so the Basilica is visible from everywhere

 

Useful links:

 

Day 2 – a boat trip on Danube to visit a traditional Hungarian town Szentendre

 

So what is the best thing to do in Budapest or any other place close to water (river, lake, sea, ocean – doesn’t matter)? Boat tours or cruises, or just using the boat as a way of commuting!

For the second day I planned a boat trip to Szentendre – a little picturesque town, just 22 km away from the capital. It’s a perfect day/half-day boat trip from Budapest for mid-season, from the end of April and beginning of May the Danube is getting full of boats running back and forth to Esztergom, Visegrád and Vác – these are the other towns along Danube.

 

  • Esztergom – the town where the first king of Hungary, Saint Stephen was born and crowned
  • Visegrád– a former royal town, famous for the remains of the Renaissance summer residence of King Matthias (which was the first appearance of Renaissance outside of Italy in Europe)
  • Vác– famous for its Baroque city centre, catholic cathedral and ice cream 🙂
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view from our boat

 

Besides that you can opt for a ‘program boat’ as Hungarians say, meaning a boat tour on Danube with fine dining, authentic local beer tasting, boat-cafes, wine tastings, cocktail and finally party boat tours.

 

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this is how a morning on a boat should start!

 

And for goddess’ sake, don’t buy those tours from international websites (lets call it like that). Book at the first source, at the provider – BKV Cruises, and if you have difficulties with Hungarian language, ask me for help! Direct booking will ensure you pay less, and find yourself in a more authentic place with either

 

locals, or people who know how to look for the best deals ?

 

Useful links:

  • Danube boats with dinners, parties, tastings etc. – here
  • Gasto-boats – here
  • Danube boat trips to towns along the river – here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So as you understand now, after checking all the schedules under the links above, I chose Szentendre for it being the only available boat tour in the beginning of April 😀 But it’s definitely worth it for a few reasons.

  • It’s the best example of a traditional Hungarian little town with colourful houses, churches and people still earning money by doing traditional Hungarian arts (dollmaking, pottery, palinka and marzipan production).
  • There are many nice restaurants serving very Hungarian food, meaning – deep fried meet, chicken, vegetables and whatever else can be deep fried, various potato & pasta based meals, and Lángos – a traditional Hungarian delicacy, made of deep fried donut dough, covered with cheese, sour cream, bacon and other toppings at your choice. (As you see, Hungary is not a place for starting a low-fat diet!).
  • It’s much better (read: less expensive) to buy souvenirs in Szentendre, rather than in Budapest. First of all, it’s an experience: there are houses full of traditional tablecloths, pottery, wooden goods, whilst in Budapest it all looks crap on those touristy stalls in the centre.

 

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Did I tell you that the weather was very much unfriendly? I even wanted to cancel it all, but then came back to my senses and searched for indoor activities in Szentendre. There are a few interesting museums, but only in case you like museums ? We were much more eager to walk along the river, actually until the point the town finished.

The thing I wanted a lot from this trip is to eat lángos (the fried dough with toppings), which we successfully managed at a very traditional place, it’s just a window in a wall, leading to an extremely hot kitchen where oil is boiling and women are running around to manage all the orders. It’s called Fantázia Lángos Büfé – it’s up to you to chose whether you want to stay at that unique kitchen window with comic streetart on the walls and sit on cheap white plastic chairs (an experience in my opinion!), or you prefer to go behind the corner, facing the river, and have a table at the very same establishment’s terrace with knitted chairs, blankets and all the nice stuff. The Lángos will be the same :}

 

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Szentendre is famous for some orthodox churches (the town is very much influenced by slavik people, as I noticed – especially Serbians), what I didn’t like is that you have to pay an entrance fee at all of them (I’m okay with voluntarily donations, but paying to a church is a bit too much). So here they are if churches make you excited:

  • Belgrade Cathedral
  • Blagovestenska Church (the most famous)
  • Preobrazsenska Church
  • Pozsarevacska Church

Link to their locations here

 

Remembering about museums for rainy days (or not only). There is a traditional marzipan museum and shop, some pálinka tastings around the main square, then a house with handmade pottery, and a shop with traditional Hungarian household items like kitchen & bathroom textile, toys for kids, they have very special dolls. These I consider half shops, half museums. Then purely museums:

 

 

Many more museums here (the page is in Hungarian but easily convertible to English with google translate)

 

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That’s how we spent our day – entering little shops and houses, walking along the Danube, eating Lángos, and, almost forgot to mention, there are many nice ice-cream shops in Szentendre. My favourite one, available also in Budapest, is Levendula Fagylaltozo – they have dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free ice-cream along with ‘normal’ sweetie-milky ones ?

The boat back is at 5 pm, and it arrives in Budapest at 6 pm, quite fast comparing to the fact that the route to Szentendre by boat takes 1h30 (which is because you are sailing against the current).

 

Useful links:

 

Going out in Budapest

 

Evenings in Budapest are nice, if you know where to hang out. Which we did, of course ? The Spring Terrace of Akvárium Klub impresses by blooming design outdoors, and the fact that you are actually within an aquarium once inside (you’ll see:) Well, since the indoor area is mostly for kids – cinema, art space, even castings are held here, we enjoyed the buzzing outdoor terrace with drinks, music, lots of locals and almost no tables/chairs available. I’d recommend to take a glass of Hungarian champagne and enjoy the sunset, and take any chair from anywhere, because no one really cares how you ‘settle down’ there…

 

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Akvárium Klub

 

…but hunger never lets you in peace, right? So while everyone was having fun and drinking, I had to desperately search for a dinner spot on a Saturday evening… At the end we left it for the destiny to decide, and ended up in a restaurant called Konyha (kitchen).

 

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They position themselves as a sophisticated Hungarian cuisine promoters, and what can I say, they do it great. I don’t remember the exact meals we had, but I know that our group ordered all the main courses they had in the menu, so lets say we did a broad tasting at Konyha. By the way, they only have daily menus, so it’s actually just a page of choices and that’s it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best thing Hungary could inherit from Ottomans (and it’s not the brunette men)?

Turkish Baths in Budapest

After returning from Konyha and having some rest to digest our excellent dinner, we planned to have a night bathing session in Rudas Baths – from 10 pm to 4 am, on Friday and Saturday nights they do allow mixed bathing (men vs women), otherwise it’s separated, like in a traditional hammam.

Therefore, see below my little guide of Turkish Baths in Budapest and let me know if you have difficulties to choose one out of all (I was struggling so much, that I promised to return and try out all of them, otherwise it’s unfair!)

 

Some photos from Gellért spa to boost your imagination 🙂

 

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Budapest is extremely lucky to be a capital city which can brag about having thermal springs, in fact having 118 of them beneath the city, and all purely natural. Just imagine 70 million liters of hot water spring forth daily in Budapest. They have different mineral composition (some are smelly…), and have various healing effects.

 

I recommend (and mostly you’ll hear this advice all over the city) to focus on 4 famous thermal baths in Budapest, and as a bonus I’m adding some info for those who prefer hidden spas, revealing you some facts about 2 not very famous baths in Budapest ?

 

  • Rudas – built by Ottomans in the 16th century, and still functions in the very same building. The coolest thing about Rudas is that they organize a night bathing on Friday and Saturday nights, where mixed swimming is allowed (remember, it’s Turkish baths, so there are days for women, and there are for men). Besides the fact that it’s fun to swim at night (until 4 am), Rudas also offers a panorama outdoor pool on the rooftop. From there you’ll enjoy the Parliament view, and if you look behind, you actually see the Buda Castle in the closest vicinity. Rudas bath is built under the castle (Gellert) hill. The disadvantage is that the outdoor pool is small, people hardly find a place to sit (or even stay), it’s actually a small, but beautiful, jacuzzi pool, not for crowds for sure. Price from 4200 HUF/day (13,5 EUR).
  • Gellert – as for me, the most beautiful and well-equipped thermal bath in Budapest. It’s an exquisite spa with a hotel for those who plan to have a continuous spa retreat in the city. They offer various treatments and massages, 10 pools, and are open every day of the year, with the open-air pool only functioning in summer season. The prices are higher here, but it ensures you won’t be crowding in the water. Price from 5600 HUF/day (18 EUR).
  • Szechenyi – the most popular among locals and tourists alike. It’s a leisure place, or I can even say palace! It was built in the 20th century in Neo Baroque style, and I’d say it’s so well done, that passing by the palace from outside you stop and desperately try to search on maps where the hell are you to spot such an immense palace on your way. It’s more affordable than Gellert, thus more crowded, but at the same time they offer more pools as well (16 comparing to 10 in Gellert). Price from 5200 HUF/day (17 EUR).
  • Kiraly – one of the smallest baths in Budapest, constructed in the 16th century, offering steam rooms, hot air chamber, jacuzzi and a fitness room. The Kiraly bath is perfect for those who don’t rush to get various treatments in spas, but prefer a unique and intimate, less crowded location. Price from 2800 HUF/day (9 EUR).
  • Veli Bej – the most secret spa of Budapest, less know, was under reconstruction for a while. A very special spa, since it’s not part of the Budapest thermal baths network and belongs to a hospital. Recently renovated, but the modern adjustments were made in harmony with the original Turkish architecture. The water is 100% thermal, no chlorine added, and it’s changed 4 times a day. The maximum quantity of visitors at a time can’t exceed 80, which means it’s never crowded. Veli Bej is officially the oldest bath in Budapest, and has the largest Turkish pool in Central Europe. Prices from 2800 HUF (9 EUR), but the ticket is valid for 3 hours, you have to pay extra for staying longer.
  • Lukacs – built in 12th century as a monastery baths (so way before Ottomans), the hot springs are rich in calcium, magnesium, fluoride ions, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate, sodium and chloride. Who knows maybe this is the only non-Turkish bath in Budapest? They offer several pools – both indoor and outdoor, a salt wall, sauna and lounge. Prices are from 3300 HUF/day (11 EUR).

 

Useful links:

 

Wine in Hungary. Bikavér & Tokaji

 

Here I wanted to emphasize that Hungarian wine is something you should pay a lot of attention to, since traditionally the country produces very high quality red wine (Bikavér) and worldwide famous dessert wines (mostly Tokaji). Therefore if you are in Hungary, I wouldn’t recommend you to order something like an ordinary Merlot from the wine-list (unless the sommelier proves you that it’s special, because there are vineyards in the country which are doing experimental wine – planting vine coming from US or France), try as many varieties of Bikavér (translated as ‘bull’s blood’) and maybe find a favourite one to bring back home, as the most precious souvenir from your trip ?

 

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photo credit: Minden, ami Egér blog

 

Bikavér – the first quality wine in Hungary’s history to be produced within a single region, in Eger. It’s a full body wine, based on blue-frank, cabernet, merlot and kadarka grapes, however no single grape can dominate in a glass of wine. There are 3 tiers of quality: classicus, superior and grand superior. It’s low on tannin, has deep ruby colour, and a fruity and spicy flavour.

 

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photo credit: winefolly.com

 

Dessert wines – there’ve been times when Tokaji (dessert wines from Tokaj region) were extremely famous (renown Austrian composer Joseph Haydn even used to receive payments in Tokaji Eszencia, the most expensive variety). Then there’ve been times when the Hungarian wineries were neglected during the Communist regime, so forget about quality…

 

1990 became a turning point for Hungarian winemaking – the wineries turned to private property again, some bought by worldwide holdings (like AXA insurance group, which buys vineyards all over the world), grapes were replanted, and as a result, the quality raised a lot.

 

Tokaji can contain only 6 local grape varieties – Furmint, Hárslevelü, Kabar, Kövérszölö and Sárgamuskotály. Now the most famous of wines is Tokaji Aszú, where not the variety of grape is the most important, but the fruit fungus called gray mold.

Which means that the harvest is done after the grapes are infected by the fungus, which makes them shrivel and become sweet.

 

 

 

 

The classification – 3-4-5-6 puttonyos – historically the locals where measuring Aszú berries in baskets (puttony), then marking the barrels by the quantity of baskets used. So a 6-puttonyos Aszú wine meant that for it’s production they used 6 baskets. The more baskets you put, the sweeter is the outcome ?

 

 

Nowadays the -puttonyos labels lost their technical use (since no one is using baskets for measurements), but it stayed for marketing purposes. In fact, 3-4-5 puttonyos term discontinued since 2013, and only the 6 puttonyos Aszú is officially valid. Which means that every wine which is below the 150 grams of sugar/liter (6 puttonyos) can be called only Aszú.

 

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‘angyalka’ spoon for drinking the precious Eszencia

 

Talking about the most expensive Tokaji Aszú – it’s called Eszencia. This wine (or better say syrop) is made of the noble rot only, it has to age for 4-5 years to gain as little as 3-4 % ABV, then it can continue aging for 200+ years, since the sugar preserves it well. The Eszencia contains 450+ grams sugar/liter, it’s so sweet that people drink it from special spoons, tenderly called by Hungarians

as ‘angyalka’ (little angel).

 

So because I made this pre-story, you might have suspect that the next day of my Hungarian adventures is going to take place in Tokaj ?

 

 

 

Day #3 Tokaj

 

It’s around 2h15min ride from Budapest, which isn’t a little, is it? So I scheduled the vineyard tour and tasting for 3 pm in order for us to pick up the car and have all the group members awaken.

 

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The route is beautiful! Maybe it’s my ancestors whispering in my blood, but hopefully not, and I’m objective. Hungary is a plainland, very much focused on agriculture, so you’ll see all around ploughed fields with some minor incorporation of human-planted forests. And keep your eyes on: you can usually spot deer and hare families on the fields ? It’s a picturesque trip to north-eastern Hungary, to the boarder with Slovakia, and apropos, the part of Tokaj wine-making region is actually on the territory of Slovakia.

 

 

How was I choosing a winery among so many of them in the region?

 

I used this Hungarian online wine-shop to see a list of wine-producers of Tokaj region. After checking out all of them, one by one, I ended up choosing between Royal Tokaji and Disznókő winery (the 6 puttonyos Aszú of the second one I already knew, read loved, very well). As I usually do in this doubting situations, I contacted both and let the first replied to win!

Both replied and the proposals were so good, that I cried for a while, that I’m not travelling alone, otherwise I’d definitely visit all two wineries, and actually spend at least 2 days in Tokaj. But it was a group trip, so we headed towards the winner – Disznókő winery.

 

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The winery is just at the entrance to the Tokaj region (UNESCO Heritage since 2002), and you’ll notice it by unique architecture which is not usual for Hungarian vineyards. The oldest building is the Sárga Bórház – before AXA Millésimes invested in the vineyard, that was the only construction on site. Today it’s functioning as a traditional Tokaji restaurant, and the production processes moved to new, but very impressive constructions.

 

Axa built a state-of-art winery, perhaps, the most impressive viticultural architecture in Central Europe. It has 3 floors, and each represents a process of wine-making:

  • The ground floor where the grapes arrive and get under press
  • The fermentation of the grape juice is done a level below in stainless steel tanks
  • Finally the wines are ageing in French oak barrels in the subterranean cellar (which will be the most impressive part of your tour, since it’s very cold and almost 100% humid, you’ll see water dripping from the ceiling, walls, everywhere, and the famous fungus is here as well)

 

Then there is a yurt shaped huge garage for tractors, which is at the same time the most beloved by Hungarians concert venue ?

 

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Talking about the wine – I explained the Tokaji Aszú quite in details above. Now I have to mention that the winery is producing dry and another special sweet wine as well:

 

  • 1413 Tokaji – named after the first mentioning of the vineyard in 1413. The wine type is called Szamorodni (which means ‘born by itself’ in many Slavic languages). This explains the processing method – the grapes are not selected one by one, but picked as whole bunches with many shriveled and botrytized grapes. The young wine might be a bit acid (but I love that), with age it gains more honey notes.
  • Dry Furmint – a wine perfectly matching vegetable meals (in my non-professional opinion), it has a fresh citrus taste, the flavour is refreshing, I could feel some hints of grapefruit.

 

The experience in Disznókő combines a tour around the vineyard, to the chapel which leads to outstanding views around all the estate. You’ll see the famous stone which was believed to have a shape of a hog, that’s where the name comes from (Disznókő – literally means ‘Hog stone’). Then your guide will take you to the winery, where you’ll experience all stages of winemaking. After which you’ll end up at an underground cellar where they do the tastings. You can choose which wines to taste, the winery will provide you with 3 options – dry wines only, Aszú wines, or all of them combined. We chose the most complete one of course ?

 

It was a memorable trip worth those hours on the way, the winery actually made me finalizing and putting in words my feelings towards wine – one day I definitely want to have my own estate, it is one of the most beautiful businesses a human being could ever have))

 

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Since we couldn’t eat at the Sárga Bórház (it’s booked for private events often, so you’d rather make a reservation), I impressed my foreign guests by, finally!, real Hungarian cuisine at a roadside restaurant, in a village leaving Tokaj. Which contains of: various potato side dishes, porc-wheel-chicken-vegetables all deep-fried in a ‘schnitzel’ way, large pieces of bread, and salads including anything but vegetables. No surprise that I was quite ‘big’ in childhood 😀

 

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Nightlife in Budapest

 

The plan for tonight was clubbing and lately I became an expert in finding very unique places for that (but I still couldn’t learn drinking responsibly). I chose 3 active, local, stylish nightlife spots in Budapest:

 

  • Csendes Bar (meaning quiet bar) – an extraordinary designed ruin bar with toys, bicycles, parts of mannequins handing from the walls and ceiling. As it’s name states, it’s not a dancing-shouting place, but a very artistic bar for those who prefer meaningful conversations with a glass of Hungarian sparkling (typical me…) They even close quite early, or just that was a Monday, and they closed at around 11.

 

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photo credit: Csendes facebook page

 

  • Szimpla Kert – szimpla means simple, however the place is anything but simple, it’s very hard to describe, so I encourage you to visit it asap ? Imagine you are entering a closed courtyard (a very large one), with bars all around you, crazy British (read drunk) guys having their bachelor party, even more crazy locals, and many expats, dancing just in the middle of the yard, preventing you from moving forward, everything is lighty-shiny as a x-mas tree. Then at the end you’ll face a huge screen with a smart, (muted), movie, which no one actually watches, but it’s so cool to see it there, and stare if you can’t find a spot to niche yourself. And voila, there are some crazy, iron stairs leading upstairs where you’ll find a concert room (with a band actually recording), and another endless labyrinth of bars, so you can in fact spend a few hours by just entering a door, and finding another one to enter, endless… Then you’ll reach a small courtyard (mainly used in old times to dry laundry surrounded by balconies), and again stairs but now within a multi-floor stairway taking you downstairs.

 

It’s an ideal place for those Alices which always dreamed to find themselves in Wonderland ? After spending there a while I can’t believe there might be something more impressive in Budapest in terms of nightlife (but I’ll come back to double check!)

 

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Szimpla Kert in Budapest

 

  • As the 3rd in my list I had Instant – the biggest ruin pub in Budapest. But guess what, after Szimpla we were even more satisfied than expected, so seeing a huge queue to enter Instant we decided to leave the place for the next time. What I know about Instant from my research: it’s the most famous nightlife spot in Budapest, hiding 4 dance floors, 8 bars and a restaurant inside. If you visited the Parliament, the Fisherman’s Bastion, then Instant is another sight to see and not to miss.

 

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photo credit: Instant facebook page

 

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Day #4 Balaton & Siófok. Hévíz thermal lake

 

I wouldn’t plan going there, I guess))) After long driving to Tokaj yesterday, another 1h 20 min/one way, wasn’t very much exciting, but one of our ‘team members’ had to attend an event in Siófok, and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t treat this as an opportunity to see the famous ‘Hungarian Sea’ – Balaton.

 

A bit of details about the place:

  • The most popular Hungarian summer resort, although a bit expensive for locals)))
  • The mud of the lake is considered to be a remedy for people with fatigue, anemia and nervous diseases
  • The name of the lake comes from Slavic ‘Bloto’, meaning ‘mud’
  • It’s the largest freshwater lake in Europe

 

If you are about to visit Balaton, the easiest to reach is Siófok (by train), but there is another interesting spot around – Hévíz. It’s small town and world’s 2nd largest thermal lake, and 1st most active natural lake, as you understand the whole town is actually a wellness resort (and it’s another to do thing in my list for the next visit to Hungary). The lake is formed by hot and cold water springs coming from 38m underground, and the impressive thing is the stability of the lake’s temperature – it doesn’t change almost at all in years, and even in coldest winters it doesn’t drop below 24 °C. The tradition of thermal baths in Hévíz has been going on from 2nd century, under the Roman Empire, the scientific research of its’ healing properties started in 18th century by Festetics family.

 

The bathing time is from 9 to 18, the prices for bathing only are around 17 EUR/day, then there are many extra options, for example you can have various medical procedures, or just massage and traditional wellness treatments (search for these extra services under the Festetics Day Spa page). For bathing only consult the Lake Hévíz page.

 

So returning to Siofok in April ? Even though we took our swimming suits, it’s not Hévíz, it’s not year-round bathing. There are many great boat tours on the Balaton lake, but… they all start from end of April (which wasn’t our case).

 

Boat Tours on Balaton Lake

 

Apparently there are boats running all year round, but I didn’t know that when on Balaton. There is a ferry which takes you and your vehicle on the other side, and there are boat tours (very little though), even from March 30th. But you won’t have problems with it if you plan your Budapest city break for May or later on.

 

I found a great brochure with all the schedules for 2018, but… it’s in Hungarian. So let’s agree that if you don’t understand it, you just comment below with a preferred departure point (there are many ports around the lake), or just shout out saying ‘I don’t know from where, but I know it should be on Balaton’. I’ll help you to find the suitable boat and clarify the schedule ? Here is the link to this Hungarian puzzle-schedule in pdf)))

 

So we spent around 2 hours in Siofok walking around, eating a bit, and enjoying the swans and ducks on the lake. By the way, it’s really huuuuge, immense ‘water reservoir’ (as I call the too large water formations)))) For those coming in summertime – there is a paid beach which is comfortable for swimming, has sand and sunbeds, and doesn’t cost a lot. It’s from 2,4 to 3 EUR/day/adult, but it will definitely make your experience on the lake hustle-free.

 

Medieval restaurant in Budapest – a feast for the strong ones

 

After returning from Balaton we had a crazy plan – dinner in a medieval restaurant (isn’t it crazy? At least I never had one). If you are about to try this for the first time in your life, be ready – it’s a lot of food, and you better come with friends who are famous for having more than healthy appetite ?

 

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photo credit: Sir Lancelot Medieval Restaurant facebook page

 

Let’s have a look at the menu together and try to make clarifications:

 

  • Any plate (see last page) for 2 is actually for 4, and plate for 4 is for 8 people (otherwise you’ll overeat, believe me)
  • Although the plates are huge it’s much more fun to order them, than single meals, because this way you’re getting a change to try almost all their menu
  • The service fee is included in the bill, but I’m sure you’ll be happy to leave more tips, and I’m about to tell you why.

 

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photo credit: Sir Lancelot Medieval Restaurant facebook page

 

The restaurant is far not only about food. You’ll see belly dancers, fire dancers, fire eaters, medieval dancers, sword fights, and actually anything anytime. So, whenever you come (and do come only by reservation, they are mostly full), you have a guarantee of a show. And a tip: if your reservation is at 9 pm for example, come on time, or even a bit earlier to get a table closer to the stage. Otherwise they are placing everyone on first come first served basis.

 

Of course here you won’t find too many locals 🙂 The visitors are mainly travellers, just as you and me, trying to make the best out of their Budapest city break.

 

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photo credit: Sir Lancelot Medieval Restaurant facebook page

 

 

Well, I guess you can imagine that on the day after no one was fancy for breakfast ? And the day after was the departure time for most of us, while only me, the lucky one, managed to squeeze in the schedule the coolest ever dinner in Budapest!

 

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Budapest Café New York

 

I’ve never seen that many people just passing by on the street to stop in front of a restaurant and starting to take photos like hypnotized! Thanks god they don’t know how much more photogenic it is inside))

 

The New York Palace first opened in Budapest in 1894, at that time it was the most beloved coffee house in Budapest, a very artistic place, gathering famous editors, writers, composers. Unfortunately, the golden era of this sophisticated palace ended with the WW II – it was functioning as a sporting goods shop, and, of course, was very much neglected. Even though in 1954 it reopened under ‘Hungaria cafe’ name, it was really reborn in 2006 with its’ original name and proper reconstruction to its’ very best look.

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and with this kind of ceiling you’ll be trying to focus on your meal :))

 

Today New York Palace is a hotel, a café, a salon restaurant, and a bar. It proudly keeps its’ original Italian renaissance style, serving traditional meals of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

 

Why is it worth coming to Café New York? Far not in every city (even within the ancient European continent where we are spoiled by ‘old stones’) you can visit a restaurant or café within a luxurious, but at the same time elegant, palace, with fine cuisine (but delicious that you want to leak your plates), intelligent waiters for having a meaningful conversation. I was so fascinated by our waiters knowledge in Hungarian wine, that I couldn’t stop asking him questions, he actually had to delicately turn my attention to drinking wine, rather than continuing bombing with questions about Tokaji Aszú (maybe he was afraid that at some point he won’t be able to give an answer))

 

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With the most beautiful dining place in Budapest I officially conclude my Hungarian adventures and get ready for the plane at 6 am (but I’ll be back, for sure!) But I’m looking forward to see what did you do during your Budapest city break, share your experiences in a comment below!

 

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The Weirdest Things About Armenia

The article is kindly provided by Armenia Discovery – our partner for vacations in Armenia 🙂

***

 

Like all foreign countries, Armenia has some unique quirks that visitors can have fun experiencing, there are definitely some odd occurrences one will be sure to write home about!

 

Public Transportation

First of all, minus the nicely laid out, single line metro in Yerevan, there is no map or time schedule of Armenia’s public transportation. With over 100 marshrutkas (Soviet-style minibuses) and buses, this can be a bit overwhelming, but it is easy to make friends with people waiting at the numerous bus stops around the city who will be happy to help you determine which bus will take you where you need to go.

 

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After boarding the bus, be prepared to be jammed into the tiniest standing space available as there are no capacity limits for the number of people that can board a bus. The standard rule is, if you can fit, you can ride! When it comes to payment, bus rides are 100 AMD = 0.20 € and the strangest thing about the whole public transit situation is customers pay when getting off the bus instead of getting on! Of course, we also have new modern buses with wifi but they don’t astonish seeing that than seeing minibuses or marshrutkas.

 

Food and Drink

Scattered generously around cities throughout Armenia are major sources of drink: drinking fountains․ These drinking fountains, called pulpulaks, provide a constant stream of fresh, cold, drinking water to passersby and the occasional dog.

 

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The water in Armenia is something of a miracle and is rumored to be the tastiest, sweetest drinking water in the world. Perhaps the best place to start your Armenian water tasting tour is in the capital city, Yerevan. On the anniversary of Yerevan’s 2750th birthday, the city was gifted 2750 drinking fountains which provide endless streams of cold, fresh, delicious water for free to all who pass by. How the city survived its hot, dry summers for 2,750 years without these fountains is impossible to imagine.

Unfortunately, there are no such food dispensers aside from the standard vending machine, but the “tonir” is a famous Armenian oven that cannot be overlooked. The traditional tonir is a cylindrical oven dug into the ground, where the opening of the oven is in line with the ground level.

 

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There is a second, above ground version, of this oven which looks like a mound of bricks with a circular opening at the top. These ovens are primarily used for baking bread and the raw dough is slapped onto the sides of the oven to be scooped out via a metal hook once baked. To get the dough into the oven, the baker must reach deep into the oven opening. What looks like a precarious dive into the tonir, unlikely for a hope of returning without major burns, is actually an age-old technique that has been passed down from generation to generation!

 

Driving

If the public transportation situation seems a bit overwhelming, taxis are an excellent choice for traveling around Armenia (rates at about 100 AMD = 0.20 € per kilometer), but even taxis are not exempt from oddities!

 

 

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Cars drive on the right side of the road in Armenia, but steering wheels can be found on the right or left side of cars, so check twice before you pop into the passenger’s seat, you might just find yourself opening the driver’s door!

Generally, Armenia is known for its wide open roads, with no traffic jams, but there is one sort of roadblock that is quite common: sheep or cows!

 

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© Hendo Grigoryan

 

Many roads pass through pastures and farms, so cows and sheep often find themselves hanging out in the middle of the road. Not to worry, though, honking a few times is certain to have them moving on their way. Last, but not least, bright red Coca-Cola tents at every gas station. Gas stations often are equipped with two things: the above-mentioned coffee machines and Coca-Cola tents filled with plastic furniture, available for travelers to rest in while their cars are being filled with gas!

 

Cleanliness

In many cities in Armenia, especially Yerevan, visitors are taken aback by the extreme cleanliness. In the early morning and late evening, it is common to come across ladies with brooms sweeping dust and leaves from sidewalks and park paths. In the Yerevan metro, one will find not even a single scrap of trash and the escalators leading from the street to the metro tracks are constantly polished and clean. Especially in the summers, to follow up with the work of the sweeping ladies, shop and restaurant owners “wash” the sidewalks in front of their stores. Either with hoses or buckets, the sidewalk is sprayed clean of any remaining particles.

Lexicon

Do you know which word Armenians like to use most?

The answer to this question is clear. “Djan”. A word that has no translation in any language.

djan e1521552721508 - The Weirdest Things About ArmeniaWe use that word after calling someone’s name showing our warm gratitude towards that person, even if we speak with a stranger. Thus if you are Michael and here Armenians will call you Michael Jan, don’t be surprised. Just enjoy, because they welcome you warmly.

 

Hospitality

The first rule, Don’t be surprised if your new stranger friend invites you his house either for having dinner or drinking black coffee. No other purpose, or something bad in that invitation.

 

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Just Armenians are very hospitable and it is not a secret for the world. We love to treat our national foods to others. You will make sure in that when you would be out of the capital. In every village you will find guest houses, where you will be accepted as a member of a family, they will offer you a tasty dinner with an overnight stay.

 

We don’t smile to everyone

In a lot of European countries, you will meet strangers who will smile you while passing. Remember you will not see it in Armenia. Maybe, many of you will be astonished by that fact, but it is a normal phenomenon for us.

Not smiling to the strangers doesn’t mean that we don’t like them or accept you. But be sure if you approach someone and ask something, that, not smiling Armenian, will do his best to help you, even not knowing the language.

Maybe this is enough. Have you ever been in Armenia? If yes, tell us what kind of weird things you noticed here.

Now, all that is left is to come to Armenia and see these odd phenomenon first hand and discover even more curious spectacles!

 

The article is kindly provided by Armenia Discovery – our partner for vacations in Armenia 🙂

 

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Myanmar, A Time Traveller Country

This article is kindly provided by Emerald Garden Myanmar Travel – our partner for vacations in Myanmar 🙂

You can book any of their holiday packages via our Customised Tours page with our 5% partner discount!

 

Buddhism Little Monks - Myanmar, A Time Traveller Country

 

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is almost a virgin country mesmerizing with full of pleasures, ethnic cultures, glided pagodas, adventures and natural resources. Myanmar is truly the one and the only country left in South-east Asia to explore. You will find a charming country of wonderful scenery and incredible local people in Myanmar (Burma). Want to get feelings like a time traveler? Yes, visit to Myanmar. It is a new world and a new light.

 

We suggest to pick up some famous destinations in Myanmar such as Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake with 5 days/ 4 Nights tour program with 4 stars hotels for each destination. Most of the travelers visit the country between October and April (high season). But you may visit between May and September (low season) because the rates are low and you can see still see the beautiful nature of Myanmar.

 

 

 

 

Tour Highlights in Myanmar

  • The world largest Man-Made attraction, The Amazing Shwedagon Pagoda and Yangon Highlights.
  • The fantastic experience of enjoying Sunset in Bagan from antique temples and pagodas and River Irrawaddy.
  • Regardless of who you are or where you are from, Bagan will welcome you warmly with his aesthetics culture.
  • Lifestyles of Bagan people.
  • Feel the cultures of Myanmar people in Old Cities and absorb fantastic experiences.
  • Observe the wonderful scenes in Inle Lake.
  • Learn the nature of Inntha’s village on water and observe their methods of fishing and planting.

 

Yangon – Bagan – Inle Lake – Yangon (5 Days/4 Nights)

Day 1
Yangon Excursion

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Shwedagon Pagoda. Kaba Aye Pagoda. Sule Pagoda

Your trip will start at Yangon International Airport, where the private transfer is already waiting for you to take you to the hotel, however before that, on the way to the hotel, we visit Kaba-Aye (World Peace) Pagoda that is referred to the peace of the world, Maha Pasana Guha Cave that is a place of sixth Buddhist council was detained. During the day we also visit Buddhist Art Museum which are in same compound. We visit Gem Mart that is located within in Gem Museum where gem-sets of valuable stones can be watched.

After having our lunch, we continue to National Museum that keeps Myanmar’s art, history and culture. We set out to Sule Pagoda that is located at the center of downtown in Yangon and Mahabandoola Park near Sule Pagoda. Then, we visit The Amazing Shwedagon Pagoda that is enshrined by the four relics of four Buddhas at nightfall

 

Day 2
Yangon to Bagan , Bagan Exploration

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The Ancient Bagan Historic Shwezigon Pagoda Fine Stucco Carvings

After having breakfast at hotel, you fly to Bagan by domestic flight (K7-262) in the morning. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to Bagan. Here you will visit some famous places such as Nyaung-Oo Market that is a buzzling marketplace. The most outstanding sights of the day will be: Shwe-zi-gon Pagoda that is an attractive feature of Myanmar stupa built on stonework, Kyan-Sit-thar U-min that is a tunnel with well complicated paintings and Wet-kyi-in Gu-byuk-kyi Temple with antique wall painting of Jartaka scenes.
After these exceptional visits, you have some time to rest in the hotel and continue later with experiences in Bagan!

Mesmerizing Bagan - Myanmar, A Time Traveller Country
Mesmerizing Bagan

The Archeological Museum comes next, and that is a perfect place to explore history and culture of ancient Bagan city, Ananda Temple that is a temple of enormous and best brick works, That-byin-nyu Temple that is rising to a height of 201 feet above the ground overseeing other memorials around, Bu-pa-ya that is near to Irrawaddy river and a good place to watch sunset.

 

Day 3
Bagan to Inle Lake, Inle Lake Exploration

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Inntha’s Lifestyle Nga Phe Chaung Monastery Floating Villages

On the 3rd day you fly from Bagan to Heho Airport by morning flight (K7-224). A private transfer will take you to the Inle Lake, where you continue the natural discovery by a motor boat.
Some of the activities you can experience here are the traditional methods of fishing of Intha locals, gold and silversmith workshops at Ywama Village and Cheroot-making workshop in Nam Pan village.

After the workshops you are going to visit Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda that is one of the most famous pagodas in Myanmar. This pagoda has 5 gilded Ancient Buddha images and it is a major attraction in Inle Lake. But the most exciting part comes after the lunch – Shan Shoulder Bag Weaving Center, Floating Garden and Nga Phe Chaung Monastery a very noticeable construction made of wood at the end of the 1850 called as “Jumping Cat Monastery”.

 

Day 4
Indein Excursion

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The Ancient Pagodas. Floating Garden. The Old Monastery

After having breakfast at the hotel, you continue to visit Indein with several antique pagod complexes. While sigthseeing here you can observe the natural scenic beauty of floating villages.

 

Day 5
Yangon Excursion, Departure Yangon, See you again

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The Reclining Buddha Image Scott Market

Today is the last day of your stay in Myanmar. We fly from Heho to Yangon by morning flight (K7-249). After refreshments, you visit the Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda Temple (Reclining Buddha Image) that is one of the largest and most graceful Reclining Buddha Images in South East Asia. Chauk Htet Gyi Pagoda is a six storey-high Buddha image. Then you may go to Scott Market for shopping, because it’s time to say good bye and, hopefully, see you soon, in Myanmar!

 

This article is kindly provided by Emerald Garden Myanmar Travel – our partner for vacations in Myanmar 🙂

You can book any of their holiday packages via our Customised Tours page with our 5% partner discount!

 

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Athens, Greece

This wasn’t the most active trip of mine … But it was the longest one I had lately! 7 days in Athens Greece – perhaps, having this much of time available, it’s okay to afford some laziness in between. Therefore, I invite you to review my life in Athens – all the things to do, all the places to go (or to avoid), and definitely all the restaurants to dine in 😀

The route from the airport was unbelievably green. We took the fastest route through the highway, but it also happened to be the most picturesque. As usually, using uber for getting to the city.

You can check here the detailed instructions on how to get from Athens Airport to the city.

During this vacation in Athens I switched 3 hotels 🙂 Not because they were that bad, but it was the original plan – to try out and review as much as possible hotels, but without a hassle of relocating every day. All hotels are part of SPG network, so we had some enhanced conditions while booking.

You can see my experiences in all 3 hotels in Where to stay in Athens. Best boutique hotels, B&B, stays on a budget

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Day #1 Must see in Athens, Greece. Or a light sightseeing which ended up in a tavern

 

After all the commuting and checking in hassle, which was actually quite hassle free 🙂 it was the right time to turn on activity mode.

Well, what can you do after checking in at 3 pm? A light sightseeing, with a nice dinner afterwards – that’s an active enough plan after all the passed kilometers behind.

As sightseeing route I would recommend to rely on your feet in the beginning, especially if you stay between Acropolis – Plaka.

We went towards Acropolis and had an obstacle on our way – a street artist making caricature paintings of you. I was in that holiday start mood when I couldn’t ignore such an obstacle.

So 5 min – and the best souvenir from Athens is ready. The cost is 15 EUR/person.

 

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We walked along Dionysiou Areopagitou street, where we met our artist, bought some caramelized almond and took the stairs on the right to the Acropolis – it was of course closed, 25th of December 🙂 But anyways we had no huge desire to enter any museums that day.

Just to confirm: if we take AthensWas for a starting point, by walking straight along the street, the subway station Acropolis will be on the left, as well as the New Acropolis Museum, whilst the Acropolis itself – with all the ancient sites, will be on the right. If you turn right a bit earlier from the Dionysiou Areopagitou street, you’ll end up in Plaka – the most touristic part of the city, but also quite a photogenic one. The majority of tavernas with live music are situated there. But we’ll talk about it later 🙂

 

In case you chose to take our route, you’ll notice a hill (not too high one) – it’s the Areopagus (Mars) Hill. Always crowded, people are literally standing on each other’s feet for taking photos of Acropolis… Don’t climb up there, isn’t it a shame capturing these beautiful monuments in a complete chaos. There is a better place for that.

 

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And it’s called The Filopappou Hill or the Hill of Muses – my very much loved piece of Athens :>

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The Filopappou Hill or the Hill of Muses is just nearby – deep green & rocky, definitely my favourite place in Athens. It’s a nice itinerary for a walk (there are several caves, one of them is known as ‘Sokrates Prison’), birds, olive trees, and great photo spots! So just take the time to walk around and after the ‘Sokrates Prison’, on the right side you’ll see a path leading up. Take it and go until the very top, just until there is nothing else to climb up. You’ll find a perfect Acropolis & selfie spot, as well as a view of the seaside nearby.

 

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Going back downstairs, and leaving the Hill of Muses, you’ll spot a traditional Greek Dances Theatre ‘Dora Stratou’. That’s actually a place where you could join a sirtaki dance workshop 🙂 We couldn’t (festive days…), but in case you’ll do, don’t forget to share your experience in a comment or even a short article maybe!

 

In the meantime while walking I made a reservation for a Greek tavern. Why not starting the trip with one of the most characteristic things you can spot in Greece! But before commencing with the dinner (starts at 9 pm), we decided to hang out a bit with locals, with a view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bar 360° – is a bit too fancy (or pricey) but a worth going place to celebrate the arrival to Athens. The bar occupies the top three floors of a large building on Monastiraki square. A glass of white wine sangria is 7,5 EUR, but you’ll get the Acropolis view and the vibrating ambience of a ‘locals go’ place. Tip: the elevator will take you to the 2nd or 3rd floor – which is marked as 360°, but don’t stop there, go one floor further – that’s Bacardi bar, and one more floor by stairs – and voila, you are in the maybe most beautiful and active rooftop bar in Athens.

 

Though later on I understood that it’s not a big deal getting the view of Acropolis in Athens – you can see it from almost  from everywhere 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for dinner – we headed towards Oinopoleion taverna (use their website to read the story and the menu, and their facebook for updates on events). We had a very Greek dinner with many different appetizers; amongst all of them above all I loved the zucchini balls and kept ordering them everywhere. And also a very Greek night with a band singing and playing local notes.

 

 

Surprisingly all the clients were Greek (well, it’s not a touristy place, their facebook page is in Greek only, and I just understood by the photo attached to the event, that there will be music & wine), and even more surprisingly, they didn’t react too much on the music. Almost no one was clapping, or singing, not even talking about standing up and spinning around in a dance. Actually I was the only one who clapped the rhythm until my palms started to burn (but they did already at ‘home’, at night).

 

Day #2. Trip to Sounio and the Poseidon’s Temple, followed by our active nightlife in Athens

 

Being extremely active after waking up, around noon, I decided that it’s time for a road trip, since there are some many beautiful sites around Athens. Indeed there are, but in case you didn’t rent a car, and rely on speed of buses, or other public transport means, you either wake up early at sunrise to afford some hours for commuting, or spend the largest part of the light day watching the views through the window.

And of course my ‘behind the window’ scenery below 🙂

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Our destination was the Poseidon Temple in Kato Sounio. A place which I’ll always remember for heartbreaking sunsets : >

To reach Sounio you’ll have to take a bus from the Terminal and here is the timetable

The bus terminal of Athens is located at Kotsika 2 – near Omonia and Victoria metro stations. It’s not easy with google maps in Greece – the street names are inserted in Greek in many cases, which makes it impossible for you to type in and find.

Here is the link to the correct bus station, and just in case, the name which is searchable in maps – K.T.E.L. Nomou Attikis S.A

The one way ticket is 6,9 EUR/p

The route is beautiful, but a bit too long – in fact, it takes 2 hours, when it’s just 70 km!

Generally, you can enter the Temple – working hours from 9 AM to 8 PM, but we couldn’t… Probably because of the public holidays, on the other hand, I completely forgot that an open air temple might have any working hours… So we took photos from distance 🙂

 

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And since we arrived at 3 pm, and didn’t have any breakfast before, it was quite a good time for the first meal of the day.

I found some restaurants during our long way there, and chosen Taverna Ilias which, surprisingly, was also closed, but, luckily, it’s smaller neighbor – Acrogiali – was fully functioning (and by fully, I mean that almost all the tables were occupied).

 

The food was great! I loved the shrimp saganaki, the fresh fried octopus, and especially the fried cheese. Talking about local attractions – the terrace is full of cats, huge, strong, ‘mafia’ cats. They have their own hierarchy, and a weak and small can eat only once the ‘boss’ is fed. So I destroyed this hierarchy a bit, by feeding exclusively a small favourite of mine 🙂

 

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From your table you can access directly the narrow beach (you’re just one step away), observe the pinkest sunset ever, drink rose and prepare for 30 min of climbing up the hill towards the bus stop.

 

That’s what I forgot to mention – the bus leaves you on the top of the hill (comfy if you are about to enter the Poseidon temple), but if you don’t want to stay at the only restaurant available on the hill top (obviously it’s overpriced, and not a ‘local go’ place), then you’ll be willing to walk those 30 min down & up, for a great atmosphere, mouthwatering meal, and, btw, the view over the coast and the temple is much more unique from the bottom, than from where everyone else is…

 

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But this wasn’t the end of the day for us. We had Napoleon plans for the nightlife in Athens. Not being a nightlife creature, I’ve spent a while on researching and finding (!) the best places, loved above all by locals.

 

Our first attempt was ‘Drunk Sinatra’ and I fell in love from the entrance. Actually, the entrance was the only thing I saw 😐  A magnetic vintage red curtain covering the entrance and then you hear that the bar is full, without even passing the curtain… I’m still disappointed that I couldn’t see the inside… It’s well known that Sinatra is always fully booked, so be smart and make a reservation!

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photo credit: elle.gr

 

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Well, I always have spare jokers in my sleeves 🙂 So we continued our night in Noel – definitely the most beautiful and amusing night spot in Athens. Also fully occupied, but there was no one meeting us at the entrance door, so we sneaked in and found two tiny chairs at the stand. Everything in Noel is sophisticated and created with an overwhelming love to design. Even the menu was something exceptional, so well-done,  that we even took photos of every single page 🙂

 

That’s where our night ended.

My heels flew me above the old city’s cobblestones and AthensWas disappointed by the absence of a kettle 🙂

 

 

Day #3 The best breakfast place in Athens, and the best dinner place and the best bar in Athens discovered on the same day. In between we had a trip to Mont Parnes Casino…

 

The third day in Athens was dedicated for late breakfasts and … casino! And again my super-planning nature faced the problem with finishings… Imagine me reading the reviews of the casino saying that you should take your passport with you to enter. Is there any possible answer I could give than ‘am I stupid not to take a passport to a casino’. And guess what happened 🙂

 

Let’s start from the beginning – the breakfast.

 

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Perhaps, that was the best breakfast in Athens. Well, they were all great (especially those consumed, when others are about to have dinner), but this time I would like to point out the exceptional spot for breakfasting.

 

Couleur Locale is a 100% my style place! You go to the Monastiraki flea market, walk around, then secretly turn right to an empty street with some vintage shops, take care for not being noticed, turn right again  now into the passeige and  see in front of you a bar. Don’t stay on the ground floor (unless great fun is happening there), but take the elevator to the highest level possible (although in case you walk, you’ll see some antique chairs and tables at every level for a perfect selfie). Enter the rooftop terrace, say hello to Acropolis, find a chair and a piece of table, and order the reward for the dangerous spy route.

 

No jokes, the atmosphere is so completely local, that there is nothing left to do but to say ‘kalimera’.

 

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As (an almost) local host who even had her own guest, I promised to show a casino with a view!

 

The Regency Casino is hanging on a level of 1055 meters on Mont Parnitha, in the centre of Athens National Forest. And I clap for the Casino to facilitate the access to this national park! They constructed their own private cable car station to give a special experience to those on their way to the heaven of table games. The funicular is free and no one requires you to use it only in case you come to gamble, in fact, many people use the cable car to get to the top and then enjoy a hike in the national park to get back down on their own, by foot. Besides that there is a free shuttle service for those having fear of heights.

 

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On the other hand, if you are not using the shuttle, getting to the Regency Casino cable car station access is a bit problematic.  It takes around 2h according to google maps and those who did the long route, and you’ll have to change 3 times, after which walk 22 min more… We chose uber, because we already missed half of the day by sleeping, so time was a concern.

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This is your destination name for accessing the station for navigation: Cable Car Station, Parnithos, Acharnes. Our uber ride wasn’t more than 20 EUR, it took us 30 min to get there. I don’t know how much are the bus/train tickets, but if it’s 2 people and 3 changes, at the end it won’t cost less than our actual ride.

 

 

 

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The problem is when you want to return from the casino. You won’t call uber, it just doesn’t find drivers in the area, but you’ll get only taxi drivers waiting for lost eyed first comers. Well, we had to take a cab, not too many options around. It went allright, and the total cost was 25 EUR, but the disgusting moment was at the end when the driver, who spoke okayish English all our way to Athens, stopped understanding a word after we asked for a receipt. Not a big deal, we could have called the police, but it wasn’t the amount to fight for and lose our precious time. However, after this episode I’m ready to cut a tongue of anyone who blames uber for whatever blamable against taxis.

 

Talking about the amazing casino 🙂 It was very good looking, a bit oldish, but let’s call it vintage. And here comes me with my ‘I always have my ID in the wallet’, who was proposing the receptionist to see the missing ID on a photo in my phone. Why not?  😉 There is always a chance, but this time it didn’t work out.

 

The restaurant was opening at 7 pm (we were a bit early birds), and all we could afford was getting out to the national park, taking panoramas and having fun of Greek children happily playing with the poor snow which they almost never see ‘downstairs’, in Athens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were a bit in a hurry though… Since a very special dining experience was waiting for us in the city!

Strofi restaurant is not something you will find in the buzzling centre of Athens. Strofi restaurant is not something which will advertise itself. Strofi restaurant is not for tourists. It’s for local gourmands (including expats who love it), who are coming there for a fine dining experience. And it will be traditional Greek cuisine, but completely different from the one you can find in the best Greek tavernas. Really, I was impressed!

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We booked a table on their rooftop terrace, of course, with Acropolis view. For the main course we ordered lamb wrapped in vine leaves and goat baked in parchment paper and both were unbelievably delicious, that we even couldn’t decide whose meal is better. My guest even had the idea of coming here every evening for a dinner 🙂

 

What happened afterwards? Another local night out did 🙂

 

Baba au Rum – you won’t notice it from outside, but once you’re in, you won’t go anywhere until the party ends. Ranked among world’s 50 best bars in 2016, and, right now, when I’m writing these lines, I’m really missing the possibility of going out to Baba.

What impressed me the most was the service we got from the very entrance. No one prohibited entering, even though the bar was full. We got in, looked around the crowd and felt like it’s hopeless to find a spot, so we were about to leave, when the waiter caught us and offered two places at the DJs stand, for the beginning, as he said. And that was good enough for us till the end.

This was something in between the discipline of Sinatra and freedom of Noel. In the first you couldn’t enter because it’s full, in the second – no one cares if you entered unless you find yourself a spot, that’s when they come and serve you. Here it was crowded, but we got a helper to find a place 🙂 And the cocktails are amazing, just as their website says!

 

Day #4 Relocation to Hotel Grande Bretagne. The Benaki Toy Museum and the best taverna in Athens

 

This day was the check in to Hotel Grande Bretagne – my favourite out of all the hotels during this trip. A very lively lobby full of people, arriving and leaving, or just chit chatting next to the Christmas tree. The wedding of Prince and Princess of Montenegro took place in the hotel on the day we arrived 🙂 In a nutshell, it’s one of those 5* hotels which are not only showing stars, but also align the level of service and the quantity of stars.

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We got the needed attention from the hotel’s employees, we enjoyed the spa downstairs with saunas and pool, and all the facilities were on the highest level. I can’t remember that I had some comments about possible improvements)) Only some modern buttons would be nice in the rooms – like ‘clean up’ or ‘do not disturb’ 🙂

 

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Next in the plan was the Toy Museum! To be more specific it’s The Benaki Toy Museum, and it was logical (at least for me) to expect that the Benaki Museum on the maps, is exactly where the Toy Museum is. Not at all!

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We came to the Benaki Museum, which made me suspicious from the very entrance, since they were announcing some religious expositions. At the reception we were told that the toy museum is at a different address and we can access it maybe by tram.

We took uber, which was around 5-7 EUR, but there are, of course other ways of getting there:

  • line B2 – here is the route – you should get off at ΟΥΛΕΝ, Palaio Faliro. It will take 20 min. The address of the Toy Museum is Leof. Posidonos 14, Palaio Faliro – use this address for google maps.
  • By foot – it’ll take 1:30 to 2 hours – but it’s a pleasant walk in Athens towards the sea, especially when the weather is nice.

 

The museum is very well done, and a great fun if you are with kids. The entrance ticket is 8 EUR/p, reduced for children. Some of the toys are actually functioning and you can spend some time on playing with your kids. I just enjoyed the atmosphere around, since most of the visitors are Greek families, so it was another roleplay for me, feeling that I’m also a local from Athens 🙂

 

You’ll find a Marina in front of the Toy Museum, across the road. That’s where you can stay longer and visit the Neraida Floating Museum – one of the free things to do in Athens, how about that? 🙂

Besides the museum visit, you can have lunch in the marina area – an option for those who came when the boat-museum was already closed 🙂 We’ve been to  Napolitivo, and just next to it you can find TGI Friday.

 

The evening continued at our newly beloved hotel’s spa and followed by a night out in another Greek tavern 🙂

 

This time it was Orea Penteli – full of locals, nice Greek food and welcoming staff. The restaurant has 3 floors – underground, ground and first floor, and imagine to move dishes and meals between these, they installed a small elevator for food commuting only 🙂 That food traffic entertained me a lot, but besides this fun, there was also a very good band playing Greek music (of course). I liked a lot the singer’s voice and we stayed till the very end, until they stopped playing.

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The location to Orea Penteli is here – again, because of their name been inserted in google maps in Cyrillic, you won’t find them, unless you have a Greek keyboard.

Since the taverna doesn’t have a website, the only source of information is your ears. We were on Thursday and they had the band in. Walk around (not earlier than 9:30) and either ask or stop where you’ll hear bouzouki 🙂 Actually there are many tavernas in that square, and the ones I know, are just the neighbours, almost next doors  – it’s Oinopoleion (where we celebrated our arrival with a Greek band), the other is Taverna Tour Psirri, which was on my check list, but we couldn’t manage to visit all the Greek tavernas due to lack of stomach capacity.

 

Day #5 A guide to best fish restaurants in Piraeus, or where to eat fish in Athens

 

Next day I woke up as early as possible to enjoy a walk in Athens, just aimless pedestrian experience 🙂 I walked up to Acropolis by a secret route which I knew last year (when my local host showed it), and discovered that this year many people started using that half-hidden path 🙂 I went down to Monastiraki, my favourite square in the city, and then hardly passed through Ermou street – perhaps, the busiest in Athens.

Ermou is full of trade – not only shops, known and unknown outside of Greece, but also salep & simit sellers (so common in Turkey). Then I discovered amazing coconut bars and bought a few home, and, of course, realized, that shopping on this street doesn’t make sense, only passing by does. Sunglasses I liked costed 300 EUR in a shop on Ermou, in Athens airport it was 180 EUR, and I’m not talking about tax free… So just pass and enjoy the atmosphere 🙂

 

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It was the first time we’ve visited Piraeus within this stay. And let’s talk about how to get to Piraeus from Athens in details:

 

  • There is a metro line M1 which takes you to Piraeus from Monastiraki station in less than 20 min
  • The ticket is 2,9/person and you can buy only a 2-trip ticket in the machine (at least that’s how I understood it)

 

And here you are in Piraeus – the ancient port of Athens, full of huge ferries, arriving and departing, and also some exclusive boats like the one we saw 😉 It was Al Mirqab – one of the largest motor yachts in the world, owned by former Qatar’s Prime Minister.

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Piraeus is popular for two things – it’s a departure point for local and international ferries, and for its seafood restaurants. Locals love the fish restaurants in Piraeus, in fact, you will hardly find a Greek ordering seafood in Athens centre. Why? If in 20 minutes you can get the best of it with a view of yachts.

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We chose Thea Thalassa (Sea View) restaurant, for its perfect view, rustic Greek interior and availability of tables on the terrace at the window. Although we were targeting another place – Varoulko Seaside, which happened to be a very famous Michelin star restaurant. But it wasn’t the place + mood + hunger for Michelin dining. We wanted ouzo and calamari! Luckily, the choice was made correctly and we weren’t disappointed at all!

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The funny part of it was that most probably the head waiter and the waiter were father and son. And poor guy, he dropped everything he could, he messed up whatever he was involved into, and his father just kept complaining and hurrying him up 🙂

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Day #6 Aegina island trip from Piraeus, which was actually a quadbike driving marathon

 

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We had a crazy idea of returning to Piraeus again, now for a sea trip! The destination was Aegina – the closest island to Piraeus. If you won’t be tight on time (I mean you’re able to wake up early to make it for the ferry, I would rather suggest Hydra island. It’s a bit further, but locals say it’s enchanting by the rustic style it kept in this modern world. The island is car-free – only donkeys, and maybe some motorbikes 🙂

 

The schedule for Aegina ferries is here – the fastest boat is the ‘Flying Dolphin’ from Hellenic Seaways –  it takes 40 min, but all this time you’ll be sitting inside the cabin (since it goes really fast, there is no, almost no, open deck), and there is no possibility to board with vehicle. The ‘Dolphin’ is more expensive than the other one.

 

 

The other option is a ‘classical’ ferry from Saronic Ferries – the route will take 1h15min. The tickets can be purchased either online, or in the port, and I didn’t notice a difference in price, however, for the ‘Dolphin’ the tickets might not be available anymore before the departure. It all depends on the day and time, since some locals might use it for getting at work.

The schedule for ferries to Hydra is available on the same website. It takes either 2h by the ‘Flyingcat’ or 1h35 min by the ‘Flying Dolphin’ – both operated by Hellenic Seaways.

 

 

 

As soon as we arrived to Aegina port we faced an obstacle which we couldn’t overcome. Quadbike hire office 🙂 The price is between 20 and 45 EUR a day + fuel. Fuel tip: don’t fill full tank at the petrol station, the usage is very small, you’ll bring it back almost full (when the rental office requires a quarter full). Here is the link to the rental agency we used, they also have cars, motorcycles, bicycles etc.

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What are the things to do in Aegina? Well, don’t expect too much, the situation looks the following way:

  • The bike/car rental will provide you a map with all the sites to see and explains how to g et there
  • But I was I and prepared the itinerary the day before myself
  • There are some historical sites on this small island, a monastery, and beautiful coastal area with the best fish restaurants in Aegina

 

Although the biggest fun part was riding it all around on a quadbike with a maximum speed of 35 km/h 🙂

 

But talking about the historical sites:

 

  • Monastery of Agios Nektarios – a pilgrimage spot for orthodox people, where they visit the cell of Saint Nektarios. A beautiful monastery, can’t say anything against, but I’m not too much interested in religious places, although respect those who come there, and try not to disturb them by being a tourist in a saint’s cell.

However we’ve spent a while here, because the area is large and you can take the stairs from the monastery up to the Saint’s cell, on your way you’ll have a great photo spot with a view 🙂

 

  • Paleahora – a medieval village on the hills. From 9th to 19th century it was the island’s capital, now only the castle’s ruins and numerous churches remained. The story says that there were 365 churches, one for each day of the year, today the confirmed number of churches is 70, out of them 33 are open to visitors. The majority of the churches are getting destroyed just in front of your eyes, and it’s a shame that there is no ongoing restoration. On the contrary, the quarry nearby causes a lot of damage. We met a local boy and his father who warned us about not entering into ‘small caves’ if we spot some. Indeed, you’ll spot some of those on your way walking up to the hill, they are ruins of the ancient town, almost buried in soil, so commonly called ‘caves’.

 

  • Temple of Aphaia – the cult activity on the site was continuous from the 14th century BC, the ruins of the temple you’ll find today belong to the 5th century BC, they were built on top of several previous temples. The entrance ticket is 3 EUR/p and it takes you 2 min to walk around the temple and take a few photos. In my opinion, it didn’t make much sense to enter, because for me Greece is much more than the ancient ruins. But I don’t deny that it thanks to the great past the ambience of the country became so much liked by me, and, probably, by those millions of visitors from all around the world.

 

  • Perdika coast – that’s the park which we couldn’t cover, but it’s said to be the most beautiful side of the island with beaches and seafood restaurants. From here you can also take a boat taxi (8 min) to Moni island. It has no inhabitants, only goats and peacocks, deep water for diving and fishing and sandy beaches for those fishermen’s families. The regular boats go from Easter to September, although if you are in Perdika, I’m sure you’ll find a ride 🙂

 

  • Pistachio – Aegina is called a ‘pistachio island’ so as soon as you arrive you’ll see many sales points 😀

 

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What we did is that before leaving the island we had dinner in a coastal restaurant. No, we didn’t have time to visit Perdika, but found a nice spot closer to the port – O Mantas sto Kima – they have live music quite often, just in case you’ll decide to stay overnight in Aegina 😉 The food was very good, we only regret for not being able to stay longer and enjoy it without being on the run.

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The only thing we could do after returning from this quad bike driving trip back to Athens is getting upstairs to our rooftop bar in Grande Bretagne and enjoying the view of … guess what? Of course, Acropolis! Didn’t I say you can see it from almost everywhere))

The GB rooftop bar doesn’t deserve to be called ‘everywhere’,  at least because it’s pricey, but what else can you expect on the roof of a 5* hotel!

 

 

Day #7 Celebrating New Year in Athens, Greece – with some inevitable adventures

 

It was the New Year’s Eve! Actually the reason we travelled to Athens. So after a late breakfast in Mani Mani we only had some little time to walk around, drink a tea in another rooftop bar with a view, and do our make-up 🙂

 

 

But let’s see the bullet points of this special day:

  • Breakfast (in lunch time) in Mani Mani – originally wanted to eat in Lotte bistro, but when we arrived they apologized saying that they have problems with electricity and the kitchen is not functioning. The next closest spot on my list of best restaurants in Athens was Mani Mani. New York Times recommended it amongst best restaurants, shops & sights in Athens, and maybe that’s the reason you’ll see lots of foreigners there. I didn’t like the food, it was too fusion 😀 Just look at the Greek salad in their understanding of it :)I don’t eat onions, so in Greek salads, since they are cut in large pieces, I happily remove them from the plate. In this interpretation of the famous salad the onions were almost in a puree state… I wish I knew :||The location is nice, it’s also a bit like hidden, doesn’t attract your attention from outside. The food is also good, but a bit too specific, and depends on your taste, of course. So check it out, maybe that’s exactly what you were looking for in Athens, or maybe not at all))

 

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  • The National Garden, used to be the Royal Garden – greenery and peace in the heart of Athens. Locals with their children and dogs 🙂 I would imagine myself here sitting on the Zappeion’s stairs with a laptop open on my knees.

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  • The Presidential Palace (or Maison) – just in front of the garden and something very much fun happens here daily, hourly. Perhaps you heard about the guard change at the Parliament, which happens hourly at Syntagma. And guess what!  We were passing by to reach the National Garden, when the guard was leaving the Parliament (after the change) and heading towards… god knows where…

 

I imagined that I’m a princess and they guard me, that’s why I walk directly behind those tall guys with a weird walking manner. In fact, they stopped at a luxurious ‘maison’ and started to perform the ‘guard change’. Which was much more interesting to observe, almost alone, one-to-one with the guard, rather than staying in a crowd at Syntagma.

 

It seems like they perform the same guard change at the Presidential Palace every hour – in my case it started at 16:15, so I guess you can keep in mind it as a starting point for the hourly calculations.

 

 

  • The Panathenaic Stadium – where the first Olympics were held. Well, I saw it, but didn’t enter. The tickets are 10 EUR/p, and let’s say we bought them and payed 20 EUR for spending 5 min on the marble benches, taking some photos. But I’m very happy that we haven’t, because this really doesn’t make sense, and it’s very rude and unfair for taking this entrance fee for a passive activity like visiting a large piece of marble. It is beautiful, but it doesn’t fulfill you, best case your Instagram.

 

  • City Zen – the evening tea spot in Athens with a view of the Acropolis. Since we didn’t try anything besides tea, I can’t speak too much about their menu. But the place seems to be less popular than 360° and less pricey. If your main goal is to visit a rooftop bar with a view – it might be a very suitable place 🙂

 

 

And then preparations for the most important dinner of the year 🙂 Guess what, even here I managed to make a story with adventures!

We made a reservation well in advance for a NYE dinner at Hotel St George Lycabettus

 

Here I have to quote my Instagram post from that evening (I can’t let the emotions go, unless I publish them somewhere))

  • Imagine you are booking a NYE dinner in a hotel calling themselves as: ‘AWARDED BEST LUXURY ROOFTOP VIEW HOTEL at World Luxury Hotel Awards 2017’

… and then you are placed at a table behind the DJs back next to the kitchen, in a hall which probably doesn’t function as a restaurant, even the ceiling is much lower than the first hall

  • Imagine you are in this very festive #newyearmood

… and then the Head Waiter says that he ensured everyone was informed about being placed in this ‘backyard’ and almost blames you actually lie, that you weren’t ?

  • Imagine that he is that arrogant that looks like ready to slap you for not being happy with the kitchen table 🙂

… did I mention that the welcome drink is whiskey (sorry, ladies) and nothing else, the price for the dinner in the restaurant hall and the ‘backyard ‘ is the same (150 EUR/p) and we didn’t even hear a single sorry from the Head ? Waiter ???

that what I call a 5* hotel

Happy New Year @stgeorge_lycabettus_hotel ???

Hope in 2018 you’ll learn what is #customerservice ?’

haveneverbeenthereig - Athens, Greece

 

I guess you got the point. We received the refund of our deposit and sat in the hall calling all the existing restaurants and hotels in Athens city, at 10 pm, on the 31st of December, if they have a table available (by chance)).

 

After numerous attempts we were able to get the desired ‘yes’  from Athenaeum InterContinental Athens – again a rooftop, but fair, no one is sat in the kitchen, lobby, or balcony, a very nice dinner in elegant surroundings and intelligent audience and service.

 

A bit boring though… It was that kind of audience which sits quietly at their table, consuming their food and talking about … maybe… weather 😉 There was a singer during the dinner, but she never stood up from her chair, or changed the notes of her voice once it got closer to the festive midnight.

athens greece holidays 81 - Athens, Greece

However, I’m very happy that we ended up here, in a good place, again with Acropolis view 😀 But next year I’ll make sure to find a place where people celebrate loud (but not wild), where they express their excitement about the clock ticking towards a new year (and do have this excitement!).

 

Let’s treat it as a promise for 2018!

 

P.S. some fun & positivity from Monastiraki

 

 

 

 

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amsterdam nightlife

Amsterdam, Holland


It’s been a while since my trip to Amsterdam. However, I still remember the conclusion I made during that short city-break. I finally ound a city where I’d happily stay for a while, get settled for some 5 years maybe =)

Since I don’t remember my exact itinerary, and I did it much before I had an idea of creating this website and getting into a partnership with Tavsan Surat, I will just go through the ‘Amsterdam’ folder in my photo library and tell a few words to you about the best places I went to.

Let’s start from a fast sightseeing ⇓⇓⇓

 

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W Hotel Amsterdam

 

What can I say? I was lucky to stay in this 5* hotel listed in 10 best boutique hotels of Amsterdam

It’s spilt across two buildings – a former telephone exchange building and a bank. So are they called – Exchange and Bank.

I stayed in W Bank, and imagine, in my 3 days in Amsterdam, I managed to stay in 2 completely different rooms within the W Hotel 🙂

Amsterdam 2 - Amsterdam, Holland
window view from my room =))

Room #1 – it was either the Fabulous Canal Bank or the Wonderful Canal Bank:

  • A room from 24 to 40 sq.m.
  • Perfectly constructed, I didn’t feel lack of space at all
  • With a round bath tube =))

I loved it, it was the best example of a smart hotel where everything is well thought out, compact, designed with a taste.

Amsterdam 3 - Amsterdam, Holland
oh, i’m still missing that breakfast, especially the raw choco shake…

However, as Platinum SPG guests we were supposed to get the best room they had available (and the hotel got a red card for not providing it to us from the 1st night!), so on the next day we relocated to:

Room #2 – Marvelous Suite Bank

  • A 2-floor suite
  • Living room area + bedroom upstairs
  • We had a gramophone, vinyl records, retro radio, TV, a bar stand, two toilets etc.

It was considered a luxury suite, but I was so disappointed by it. It wasn’t designed that smart – the stairs were very uncomfortable to use, each of them was too high. Perhaps you can use them comfortably only having long Dutch legs))

The duplex had a shower, not the romantic round bath tube like the ‘small room’. And imagine, the first night I was so exhausted that I didn’t use my wonderful bath tube. And on the 2nd, I didn’t have it anymore… 🙁

 

So I would definitely recommend the rooms, against the duplex suite.  Checking out the other rooms in W Bank, I would pay attention to Fantastic Bank, with a terrace and jacuzzi, a WOW Suite Bank, with a round bath tube, or an almost 200 sq. m. Extreme WOW Suite, in case you want the most expensive room they have – from 2400 EUR 😀

We stayed in W Amsterdam as SPG members, but if you are not limited by SPG choice, have a look at the Hotels in Amsterdam. Boutique and budget stays page. I list some authentic accommodation options there.

 

 

Walking along the canals

 

It was more of a relaxing trip, I can even say romantic. The type of trip you’d prefer to get red roses & champagne, not chasing activities.

Amsterdam 4 - Amsterdam, Holland

 

 

So in alco-flower-free time I just recommend some walks along the canals, I didn’t use any maps, guides, I don’t know anything about the buildings on the photos. For me it was just absolutely beautiful, which doesn’t require any information behind it.

 

 

Amsterdam 5 - Amsterdam, Holland

 

 

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum

 

Accidentally I found myself in front of the Tulip Museum. Of course I entered, bought a ticket, and went through the whole thing. After which I can clearly state that it’s a waste of money and time. You’ll see a couple of films about the history of tulip business, some photos on the walls, and basically that’s it. The admission fee is 5 EUR/adults.

 

 

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Well, I found out that tulips came to the Dutch from Ottomans. But I’m sure that most of you already know it, and if not – you can read about it on the web))

 

 

 

 

 

Heinen Delftware & The Royal Delft Experience Amsterdam

 

Located in the very centre, at KalverStraat crosswalk. It’s a shop of the famous Delft pottery and next doors – the Delft Experience Tour. Unluckily during my stay in Amsterdam the experience tour wasn’t running due to restoration works in the building. So I had access only to the shop, where I was happy to spend both time, and money 😉

 

  • Amsterdam 52 627x62 - Amsterdam, Holland

 

 

The Heinen Delftware shop is a great place:

  • To see how it’s done – on the 1st floor you’ll find an artist handpainting pottery
  • To buy souvenirs – anything from 2 EUR till thousands of euros worth items
  • To give your eyes a while of rest – it’s really peaceful to be surrounded by white-blue pottery, even when the shop is full of customers

 

 

Restaurant De Kas

 

It’s definitely a great place, although I have some mixed feelings here:

 

Amsterdam 17 - Amsterdam, Holland

 

  • De Kas is a restaurant with greenhouses & garden just on the premises of the restaurant
  • The founder is taking care of the nursery and you can meet him every day while he’s taking care of the vegetables
  • It worth reading the short history of the restaurant, saying how the owner, a top chef, converted an old municipal greenhouse (which was about to be demolished) into a successful restaurant with a revolutionary concept.
  • De Kas serves only organic food, produced either by themselves, or by partner-farmers in Amsterdam area
  • The only disadvantage, for me personally, is the too sophisticated dishes. Well, you might be a fan of them, if you are used to this very organic cuisine, but as for me, it was too much of onions, celery, carrots and whatever else under sometimes weird seasoning 🙂
  • The interior is a WOW-WOW for me!
  • The menu is daily, so you can’t choose specific dishes, only have to decide whether you want a 3 or 4 course lunch menu, and the dinner is always 5 dishes.
  • You can book a table directly in the kitchen and be in the middle of the ongoing masterpiece creation!

 

So as you see, I only have concerns about the cuisine itself, but I know many people who’d say they’d love to eat this kind of food daily.

 

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The restaurant is located outside the city centre, surrounded by private gardens with little summer houses (just for a person, or two), happy Dutch ducks are walking around. Don’t forget to book a table well in advance, we could get one only for lunch, not for dinner.

 

 

Zaanse Schans

 

A typical Dutch village with goats, milk, cheese, windmills and within a 20-min drive from Amsterdam!

 

Be prepared to find many reviews saying that it’s too touristy, and not authentic, and whatever else people in wrong mood might say. In fact, it’s me always looking for non touristy places, zero crowd space and air to breathe. So if I loved Zaanse Schans, I’m sure most of you will.

 

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Things to do & see in Zaanse Schans:

 

  • Clog workshop – see how the traditional Dutch clogs are made, take some clogs with you home, to get your neighbors downstairs relocate =)
  • Cheese workshop – any comments? Watch & learn how the creamy Dutch cheese is prepared (you can also buy plush toys, like goats, in the workshop)
  • Goat & poultry farm – that’s a great fun for kids (and never grown ups like me). Here you can pet, film & feed the animals, they are extremely friends and safe, especially if you give them some food – can be purchased in the farm, for 50 cents, as far as I remember.
  • CacaoLab – a shop with fine chocolate selection from the most ‘choco-countries’, handmade choco bonbons and a chocolate making workshops upstairs, above the shop.
  • Ice-cream – regardless of the weather and time of year, try the best milky ice-cream ever at Zaanse Schans. It’s sold from a caravan, you’ll find it just before turning to the farm.
  • Windmills – various museums and workshops are located inside the windmills, like spice warehouse, oil, paint, cocoa etc.
  • Other workshops & museums – by the time I got to Zaanse, it was almost 5 pm, exactly when the majority of shops & workshops close in the village. Hopefully you’ll get there earlier and manage to visit much more. A great guideline can be found on the official page of Zaanse Schans

 

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The Smallest House in Amsterdam

 

2,02 m wide and 5 m deep, and in fact it has 3 floors where you can find a tea shop and a private tearoom.  We entered the house without knowing that it’s something special, and all we wanted was breakfast. Only after we actually started to have it, step by step, we found out that it’s the smallest house in Amsterdam, dates back to 18th century, or even earlier, you can book the tearoom for breakfast, brunch, lunch or just tea. The room can fit 5 guests.

 

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The Smallest House is a very memorable place hidden in the centre of Amsterdam, and a real must visit, in my opinion!

 

 

Floating Flower Market – Bloemenmarkt

 

Don’t expect it to float =) You can’t feel that unfortunately, since it’s a very stable construction above the Singel canal. However it’s the brightest place in Amsterdam, and a high danger for shopaholics – even if you are not crazy about flowers normally, you’ll get addicted to them here. Some recommendations:

  • I bought a lot of ‘canned flowers’ – you get a tin can with soil and seed(s) to plant back home. I’m not a pro gardener, but there was no plant grown out of those sets ? and I bought around 10 cans))
  • On the other hand simply packed seeds in paper bags were a good investment – I had great cherries & basil on my balcony this summer

 

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Besides that, there are many souvenirs (nice & ugly), so it’s another good place for presents from Amsterdam.

 

 

Old Amsterdam – cheese & wine pairing

 

The very strong flavoured Old Amsterdam cheese is not only a perfect match for a dinner, but also an educational experience in the Dutch capital. During the cheese & wine pairing (you taste 5 cheeses & 3 wines) we learned about the production process of their signature cheese, found out that there is no precise duration of the maturing process (the company’s cheese experts are trying the cheese in aging rooms and give the green light if they taste done), why goat cheese is suitable for lactose intolerant people, and a lot of other things.

 

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After the tasting we had a quiz, and guess who won =)

 

Old Amsterdam has 3 shops in the capital and 3 cheese tasting rooms respectively.

 

 

De Hallen

The best place in Amsterdam for a morning, day and even night out, loved by locals & pro-travellers 😉 And I was so excited, that I didn’t take too many photos, sorry… So photos bellow are credited to: renthouse.nl; citybussexpress.com; asthebirdfliesblog.com; foodhallen.nl; olivemagazine.com; topazandsapphire.com

 

foodhallen compressor 630x41 410x410 - Amsterdam, HollandFoodhallen amsterdam compressor 630x1 410x410 - Amsterdam, Hollandinside de foodhallen de foodhallen amsterdam oud west x960 compressor 448x448 - Amsterdam, HollandFoodhallen 9 e5e9660 compressor 630x40 410x410 - Amsterdam, HollandSfeerbeeld Foodhallen 6 1024x574 compressor 402x402 - Amsterdam, HollandIMG 4620 1024x683 compressor 444x444 - Amsterdam, Holland

 

De Hallen is a food, media, culture, crafts centre located in an old tram depot in the Amsterdam West district.

 

Let me start from FoodHallen – it’s divided in 2 major parts. First with plenty of different restaurants and open space eating table all around (in fact, it’s extremely crowded during dinner time, so come in advance!).

 

The second part is Kanarie Club. It’s less crowded here, but more expensive, and you’ll need a reservation to get a table. Besides the dining area, they have a wine-bar & a pool-bar.

 

Both parts of FoodHallen have DJ nights and special events announced at their web-sites. Additionally, let me mention that the place is great not only for nighty hunger, but also for breakfast, brunch, lunch and any kind of bites.

 

Even though FoodHallen is far from the centre, crowded, requires reservation (in case of Kanarie Club), it’s a must visit in order to feel the impulsive temperament of the city. Amsterdam is here, not in the red lights or cannabis.

 

 

Coming back to other directions of De Hallen centre. Let’s go through some of their ‘tenants’:

  • Kinki Academy – an arty place to get a haircut or learn hairdressing
  • AmsterGem – hand-made jewelry. They also offer a 3h workshop here
  • Filmhallen – a movie theatre with 9 screening rooms
  • Jean School – the world’s first full time denim developer school, exactly: sewing, fitting, washing, designing. The students graduate with a Level 3 diploma in Art & Design
  • House of Denim – in collaboration with the Jean School, the House of Denim hosts denim workshops, mainly focused on recycling & re-using denim
  • The full list of tenants can be found here

 

Accommodation in De Hallen

 

I don’t know if you did, but all the info above ensured me once again that De Hallen is a place to engage you for at least a whole day. But you don’t have to leave when the activities end. The old tram depot offers accommodation options as well:

 

 

Dinner on Boat

 

And let me finish this Amsterdam storytelling with a romantic note – a dinner cruise 🙂

Amsterdam 55 - Amsterdam, Holland
this cruise is something like – bar on the boat =) there are many different options you can choose from!

 

We booked the cruise through Viator, but since now I know the provider, as usually I would recommend to make a reservation directly. It was the Blue Boat canal cruise company and a great 3-course dinner, wine, a chef onboard, and some light, but not overwhelming commentaries from the captain when passing by a sightseeing spot. Magic two and a half hours, great memories and no photos 😉

 

01 amsterdam dinner cruise dinner on a boat compressor - Amsterdam, Holland
Photo by stromma.nl

 

Am I the only one not having in mind photos when being in the very best company and surroundings? 🙂

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Larnaca, Cyprus


I didn’t want to go to Cyprus. But I was forced to)) Where would you go if someone asked you to choose between Vienna and Larnaca? I always go for seaside places, even though I wasn’t interested in swimming at all.

 

However, this trip proved me a lot:

  • A 3-day escape can feel like a real holiday (one of those when after arrival back home you don’t know where you usually keep the dishes).
  • Always rely on locals, especially those who speak poor English. Indeed those are the real helpful people, who will save you in the most unexpected situations.
  • Don’t believe official reviews, trust your own experience and intuition (this is how I ended up staying in a hotel without a single review on booking or wherever, and it was the best hotel I’ve ever been to!)

 

So let’s see how much is too much, because how I felt was definitely too much in Cyprus (but in the very best meaning of this word).

 

Day 1

Loulla Efthymiou’s Halloumi Workshop

in Choirokitia (Khirokitia – another spelling)

 

IMAG3651 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus

One of the most amazing things I did when in Larnaca, and in fact, the reason why my day went so crazy!

 

When making my travel plan in a hurry (I found out about the trip a day before departure), I was sure I can cover all those villages by taxi – yes, expensive, but a good solution when you have limited time, no driving license and want to see it all.

 

However the taxi app I downloaded was hopeless, so I came back to my senses and checked the bus timetables. Which was nice – Choirokitia, the one I planned to visit first, had a direct bus connection with Larnaca, and the rest of them … I preferred to check afterwards, not to lose my positive attitude from the start.

 

I called Loulla a day before to agree about my arrival. Unfortunately, she doesn’t speak English, so she could only say: ‘Come to my house’. I checked the village – 600 inhabitants, won’t I find the famous woman cooking halloumi!

 

Getting out of the bus in the middle of nowhere – a few roadside restaurants, besides me only an afro guy left at this stop, the normal people continued their way to Limassol. I asked a butcher where should I go to reach the village itself, he showed and said up, to the mountains, along the roadway. So I decided I can manage to walk on a roadway for some ten minutes.

 

The road is over, the village is there, some houses but all dead, meaning empty, no one around. Then on my right side I see: ‘Nature Trail’ and stairs, and an ancient settlement up on the hills. So I could even believe that the halloumi lady is somewhere there in the ancient settlements)) I’m really living in Wonderland, I know. We climbed up the hill with Tavşan Surat, took some photos, and went back down. That’s a Neolithic site, worth visiting if you are a history lover.

 

IMAG3650 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus

From the top I notice a sign ‘Choirokitia 2km’, so calmed down Tavşan and we went ahead. And what was ahead? Some more houses, but still no sign of halloumi.

 

It was hot (noon in August in south Cyprus), so I gave up with this village and decided to go to the next one – Skarinou. On my way back we stopped at a corner bar/shop with some lively people to ask where is the bus stop which goes to Skarinou.

 

The super kind lady inside said it’s impossible, it’s the next village, but you can get there directly only by car… Me, desperate, persistent, asking with a half-live hope… maybe a taxi??? She went out to the terrace and when returned asked me to wait saying that the taxi will come in 10 min. Happy with the result, I didn’t want to think too much ahead or too much behind, but the lady asked what am I doing in Choirokitia 🙂 So I told her the story about looking for halloumi. She confirmed it’s here, but far away in the mountains, and suggested that the taxi which is coming would take me to Loulla, wait (she said it’s not more than 15 min) and take then to Skarinou 🙂 Am I not lucky? And they even explained him all this))

 

So Loulla. Finally there, she took us to the workshop where anari cheese (something like Italian ricotta) is sweating in hot brine. And then bags with halloumi thrown again to the brine and kept for an hour. And it’s ready! She explained (better to say showed) the microflora she’s using for fermentation, the press which she puts when the soft cheese is done. How she rolls it (that’s why halloumi has a tiny hole in the middle), and, finally, how is it kept – easy, in a 5l bottle with brine for a year without any refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

Since she didn’t take any money for the workshop, I wanted to contribute somehow. Despite having a long day of travelling ahead I said I want to buy a piece of halloumi. She let me to choose, packed it in a vacuum and gave it for free 🙂 No common language, no benefit for her (she didn’t know I would write here), just pure enthusiasm which you can find only in places not spoiled by tourists.

 

IMAG3648 compressor 470x469 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3652 compressor 470x469 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3653 compressor 470x469 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3654 compressor 470x469 - Larnaca, Cyprus

 

Places & contacts:

 

  • Bus Larnaca – Choirokitia – departs from Finnikoudes bus stop, next to the Finnikoudes beach. The schedule can be found here (that’s an online bus route planner, not a smart one, but helped me out a lot). Search for Finnikoudes (not Larnaca) and Chirokitia. It’s an intercity bus going to Limassol. The price is 4 EUR (whether you go to Chirokitia or Limassol), duration – approx. 30-40 min. It will drop you outside the village at some roadside restaurants, you’ll have to go under the bridge and continue up and right towards Chirokitia – around 10 min.
  • Loulla’s Halloumi workshop – there is no address to give you. Just stop at Chirokitia and ask locals, even without too much of English knowledge they’ll be able to explain you where to go. It’s actually up in the mountains, not too much of civilisation around.
  • Taxi from Chirokitia to Loulla’s workshop, waiting time and then the way to Skarinou Golden Donkey farm – 20 EUR. The contact tel. of the driver (he lives in that area, but doesn’t speak English, just really a bit) +357 99 676 460
  • Taxi from Larnaca to Khirokitia and other villages & cities in Cyprus – in fact, to order a taxi in Larnaca you have to go to a taxi kiosk, they offer trip around all the island and will give you a quote and make a reservation for you. I found this out only on my last day.

 

Golden Donkey Farm, Skarinou

– feeling already very confident in my new vehicle, I told the driver that after Skarinou I would go to Vavla and maybe he could take me and give his number to call. He did (that’s why you have it above:)

 

IMAG3673 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus

 

The donkey farm is definitely a great place for children – hens, donkeys, horses, mules. For their parents – souvenir shop at the starting point where you can buy liquors and cosmetics from donkey milk, olive oil from the farm’s olives, soaps, magnets, bags, t-shirts etc. I entered saying that I want to see it all! So they gave me a ticket for the museum and one for the donkey ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum wasn’t something very special – demonstration of villagers’ life in the area, basket weaving, silversmithing, farming, olive mill, wine press and so on. Then you actually get to the donkeys (adorable animals) and ask a guy to take you for a ride. Which I did 🙂 It takes about 15 min, but a nice experience if you have never done it before. We had a chat with the guy taking care of animals, he told me about the Safari nights which they organize – the owner shows how to milk a donkey, they do riding all together, dance sertaki, eat & drink 🙂

 

IMAG3665 compressor 63 469x470 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3679 compressor 634x470 469x470 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3669 compressor 634x470 469x470 - Larnaca, Cyprus

 

It was still early, so I went to drink some lemonade in the bar-restaurant they have there. I’ve noticed the owner – it was obvious it’s him. In the meantime I decided to call my driver, even though it was still early (I was booked at the next place for 5 pm), but what to do.

 

IMAG3656 compressor 470x634 470x469 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3677 compressor 470x634 470x469 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3660 compressor 470x634 470x469 - Larnaca, CyprusIMAG3662 compressor 470x634 470x469 - Larnaca, Cyprus

 

I had to wait for him for 30 min, spending my time in their souvenir shop. That’s when I met the owner, who tried to entertain me in my waiting time. Talking about plans & present, I was invited for the Safari night as his guest, so I really decided to finish now with the next village asap and come back.

 

However, it all happened in a very different way 🙂

 

Place & price:

 

  • Golden Donkey Farm, Skarinou – the entrance + donkey ride in the farm I paid 16 EUR. You can also purchase a certificate with your photo on a donkey, kinda donkey driving license. Besides that they always have some fun activities, like Safari Night, Dionysos Night, Gurmet Master Chef workshops – just call them at +357 996 20 736 and ask what’s going on!
  • The taxi from Skarinou to Kato Drys (my next stop) was 15 EUR, it’s about a 20 min ride.

 

 

Kato Drys medieval village

 

IMAG3682 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus

So a day before my trip I contacted Ecophysis – a family business offering eco tours and educational programs with a focus on bee farming. They are located in Vavla village and would have a ‘Bee keeping day’ starting at 5 pm on that Saturday.

 

However, it was only 2 pm when I left the Golden Donkey Farm. I  thought to come and finish there earlier, and still have time to return to Donkeys. But life always makes fun of my planning.

 

From the taxi I called Georgia (the owner of Ecophysis, along with her husband) and asked to give directions to my driver. Since it was too early, she told the driver to take me to another neighbour-village, let me walk around & eat, and then she would pick me up before the bee keeping activity. So bye-bye donkeys 🙁

 

That’s how I’ve seen a village, which was more of a museum, than anything inhabited by humans. Especially in siesta hours (don’t know how they call it in Greek).

 

 

 

From the roadside restaurant where I’ve seen my driver for the last time, I found my way to the village itself. All doors and shutters closed, only sometimes you hear TV noise behind the walls – the only proof there are live people in this place.

 

Imagine walking on empty streets of a village, every single house of which is constructed around 300 years ago, and remained the same, without the air-conditioning adds-on, repainting, metal-plastic windows and so on. There is no new construction in Kato Drys.

 

IMAG3695 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus

So I really enjoyed walking and taking photos, there are some signs on the streets, which lead you to a church, or to a museum… And then was very suspicious to notice a Bee & Embroidery museum here, just before I’m going to have a bee keeping day. Maybe I can do it all here?…

 

Bee & Embroidery Museum

– a quite interesting house covered with intense pink climbing flowers appeared in front of us. The door was open, the sign on it stating ‘We are open’, so I said to Tavşan Surat ‘Haydi Bakalim’ and we went.

 

I looked around and entered the house where some locals were spending the hottest hours of the year in a cool room at the table. Asked where am I and if I can look around 🙂 So a handsome Cypriot showed me the so called museum. I say so called, because, in fact, it’s not a typical museum, it’s one of the ancient houses in this village, where everything stayed in its original condition – household items, kitchen, bedroom, stove, zivania making press. Imagine a parrot cage hanging from the ceiling, which is not for birds, but against – so actually a ‘fridge’ where you keep the cheese and avoid birds steeling it 🙂

 

A room was dedicated to beekeeping history in the region, and generally, throughout human history. He proved me that the symbiosis of people & bees is indeed beneficial for both parties. In nature bees consume all the honey they produce, they eat more and produce less, because their life is shorter and the conditions of survival are more difficult. Being a part of human husbandry they live longer, need less food, and produce more. People don’t take the honey bees produce as their own food, but they put another beehive on top of the first one (where they produce their food-honey), where bees store honey, when the first one is full. People only use the honey from the top beehive.

 

 

 

Then Michalis showed me a ‘new’ part of the house – the place where his grandparents used to live. Actually, all the museum is created because of his father’s addiction to aged things. And I understood this passion only after realizing the past of this family.

 

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The first embroidery merchant

 

Women in this village were always (since long long years) making embroidery. But only for their own usage. One day there was a woman who lost her husband and stayed with children alone, without having any chance for income. Then a local school teacher asked why not trying to sell the embroidery she makes. Locals were sure that everyone all around the globe is making the same embroidery 🙂

 

But the widow was desperate and she took a donkey, and went up to the mountains, where, surprisingly, she sold quite successfully to foreigners. So let’s say she was lucky that Cyprus was part of British Empire!

 

Villagers found out about it and started to sell embroidery massively – women were responsible for the handicraft, men were travelling abroad, selling the goods and taking orders.

 

That’s how money and new fashions reached the village – after long sailing trips they even started to design ornaments on walls imitating cabin windows.

 

I could compare myself the village life before and after this ‘merchant revolution’ – Michalis showed me two houses – some 20 years of difference between them, but your eyes will say it’s at least a hundred of years path from stone floor and walls to a very well-designed interior.

 

 

 

 

 

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The present to Queen Elisabeth II coronation made by Michalis’ grandma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what about Michalis’ family? His grandma prepared an embroidery present for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, but the queen refused to accept it with an excuse that it’s not an official present from Cyprus island. In fact, the relationship was very tough because of the separatist movement, so Her Majesty just found a way to express her feelings, probably.

 

The new part of the house belonging to Michalis’ grandparents is full of embroidery and old photos, including the first lace merchant lady’s picture.

 

Besides that – a garden in bloom and fruits, a country house which they are renting out for tourists, and then a desert called ‘shoefig’ made out of cactus flowers.

 

 

Thank you, Michalis for making these hours in Kato Drys one of the most colourful ones in Cyprus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch in Kato Drys – restaurant Platanos – it is the place where Georgia from Ecophysis asked the driver to drop me and advised to have lunch. So after my adventures in the medieval village I returned to the roadside restaurant – a huge terrace under a more than a hundred years old Platan tree. I took a table, but since there was no one in a hurry to serve me I started to write notes about my day so far for sharing with you here on this page. I guess the restaurant manager/owner got panicked, he served me politely, asking twice what am I writing and then all the staff was passing by occasionally to ask if all is good 🙂 From now on I go dining with notepads!

 

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The food wasn’t very good. Unfortunately the dolma (stuffed vine leaves, I don’t remember the Greek name) was old, you can detect it by the leaves – they are getting dark, full of holes, and thin after multiple heating. Additionally I ordered a Greek salad (which had no cheese for some reason) and grilled halloumi – which was dry and tough, so I’m not sure if it was grilled now or just warmed up.

 

Although I recommend you to go there– the place is lovely, green and with small lanterns hanging above you. It has a parking and obviously it’s comfortable to stop by when you are on your way to somewhere else. The food might be better on Sundays (I’ve read the choice is better on Sundays, than on Saturdays).

 

 

Places & Prices:

 

 

 

Ecophysis

– Georgia promised to pick me up from the restaurant at 4:30 pm. When I was about to call her, Kostas – her lovely husband entered the restaurant and took me to Vavla, to their eco  business!

 

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Besides me they had four other guests – all Greek-speaking. The couple showed us a movie about bees, one of them was always translating for me, did a honey tasting & let us try the creams made of honey.

 

After that we put on the beekeepers’ protective suits and went towards the beehives – they have 4 beehives for demonstrations.

 

It’s just next to the house where the initial presentation is done. They of course have much more beehives in a different location for the honey production Ecophysis does.

 

Their honey is great! I received a small jar as a present from Georgia & Kostas – it was 120 ml, but to feel covered during the airport security check, I asked them for a ‘best before sticker’ to hide the 120 ml marking. Criminal. I know. But the honey was worth it!

 

 

Our hosts explained that we shouldn’t stay directly in front of them (it might cause aggression from the bees’ side), they took out the frames one by one, showed how they store honey and lay eggs, and we even found the Queen.

 

Smoking in the bees is not anything they suffer a lot from. On the other hand, it was a pleasure seeing that the owners take care of every single bee, carefully closing the beehive, paying attention not to smash a tiny creature.

 

Beekeeping suits are important only in case you are allergic, and an accidentally gone crazy bee can cause major health issues for you. Other than that, there was no bee even touching my cloths.

 

 

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When we proved ourselves as beekeepers the chill part began– Georgia and Kostas served lemonades, coffee, cheese, honey, toasts. Unfortunately, I had to miss this (I only managed to buy some creams and received a jar of honey as a gift), as I was in a hurry to catch the bus back home, to Larnaca. I always call hotels home, I feel so cozy there 🙂

 

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Georgia took me to the station in Khirokitia and just when the car stopped a bus arrived – it was not mine, but the one going to Limassol, so we kept staying for a while.

 

More than half an hour passed, the bus is not coming, I’m worried we missed it and really eager to call a cab. Instead of it Georgia called the bus company and they ensured that the bus is on its way.

 

Indeed in 5 min it arrived, but just as in Spain, if it’s full, he won’t let you in. Georgia really did her best, asking him to let ‘just a wee little girl’ L He said another bus is coming because he left a lot of people on his way… I told my kind host that it’s already late she should go home, but also asked to call the bus company again to check if there is really a bus coming. She did, they confirmed, she left. I stayed alone with a guy who’s waiting for his bus to Nicosia for more than an hour already. I waited for half an hour under the dark Cypriot sky and then magic happened.

 

A taxi driver stopped just near me and went upstairs to the restaurant – I looked at him like a hungry lion seen a gazelle. Please understand me – the taxi app is not working here, I already knew that. The taxi driver I got daytime was a courtesy from the Khirokitia villagers. Now at night, alone with a rabbit in my bag, no civilization (don’t count that restaurant behind – I didn’t know what to expect, and if they understand English enough to call me a cab), and a taxi, like an angel stops next to me.

 

I decided if the bus doesn’t come before he returns from the restaurant, I’ll ask him to take me to Larnaca. And of course the bus didn’t come)) In order to get a quote for me he had to call the office and was very straightforward in saying that he doesn’t know Larnaca and if I don’t know the place we don’t go anywhere))

 

Google help!

 

That’s how I arrived back home on my first day, and to finish it appropriately, I got stuck on the emergency exit’s stairs of my hotel 🙂 Yes, I wanted to go and check out the jacuzzi upstairs, but really wanted to go by foot, not elevator. So I’ve chosen the wrong stairs – the ones you can enter from inside, but can’t get into the hotel once you are out. I hoped to get to the jacuzzi and find a secret door leading to the elevator – so I was lucky again and didn’t have to call the reception asking ‘Let me in, pleeeeease!’

 

Places & Price:

 

  • Ecophysis beekeeping day – the cost depends on the quantity of participants and on the activity. For example, they also do tracking days, they pick up mushrooms, learn about plants etc. We were 5 people and payed 40 EUR/person
  • Taxi – Khirokitia to Larnaca – 40 EUR again … The bus cost would be 4 EUR…

 

 

Day 2

 

Pano Lefkara

 

The night before (that hard day’s night!) I decided that I’ll go to Lefkara only if there is a direct connection – bus, easily catchable taxi, whatever. I asked my favourite receptionist in the hotel and he showed me on the map where to find a bus station which has direct connections. Hardly, but I found it and when asking the lovely Greek moustached man in the ticket office about the desired bus line, he said: ‘Run! This is it! Be quick!’. So I jumped in the bus and told I need a ticket to Pano Lefkara, the driver looked a bit confused, but who cares – we are on our way to a new adventure, tavşan & me!

 

Being a smart blond I knew it won’t be easy to detect the needed stop without a preparation, so I was regularly checking google maps to see where we are and how much left to Lefkara.

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…and again he sneaked into a bus without a ticket!

 

But it can’t be that smooth in my life, can it?! We arrived to Kofinou (I knew it’s the place where you have to change in order to get to smaller villages), the bus driver looked at me and said ‘Lefkara’, so I understood it’s time to get out and find another bus…

 

The drivers are very friendly there, surprisingly. Well, maybe because I’m too cute 🙂

 

I hopped on a microbus and was the only passenger in it. Tried to pay, but the driver explained that ‘there is no ticket in this bus’. Later on I realised these microbuses were really free of charge, connecting villages and financed by the government.

 

By the way, talking about Kofinou. It’s an important point not only because the majority of busses to tiny villages start there, but also because there is a large refugee camp with refugees from Africa and the Middle East. I didn’t know it back then, when passing the village, otherwise I guess I would try to get in to see it. If you are interested, I found an article which really makes you feel like been there.

 

That’s how we reached Pano Lefkara.

 

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I didn’t really know where to go in Lefkara, meaning that I knew there is a loukkoumi factory, a silversmith workshop, embroidery, a handicraft center, but I couldn’t find any direction or address. In this kind of situations, I need a break – a lemonade, shadow and sitting time to search the web.

 

We went to a great place – a terrace with ripening grape bunches above our heads, they have lemonade & smiley staff. Still I couldn’t find any information online, so I asked at the counter if they know the  loukkoumi place, and, luckily, it was just 50 m ahead of us 🙂

 

Places & Prices:

 

  • Bus Larnaca – Kofinou – departs from the Central Bus Station which comes after the Marina (it’s not the Finkoudes stop!). Price – 1,5 EUR/person, schedule can be found here, as well as other bus options.
  • Kofinou – Pano Lefkara – free of charge, departs exactly where the previous bus leaves you and arrives to the center of Lefkara. Schedule can be found here.

 

Loukkoumi Factory

 

So I was lucky to find another great place – the  loukkoumi factory is a family business founded in 1895 and still remains within the Kramvidis family. I met the current owner, unfortunately it was Sunday and there was no production in progress, but I’ve seen the machines and bought some award-winning  loukkoumi from him. Come there during the week and see how is the Cypriot delight produced live!

 

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Michalakis Christou Silversmith Workshop

 

We continued our way – Lefkara is a picturesque place for a couple of hours of walk, until you discover and shoot every blooming corner of it. By chance I see a silversmith workshop on the corner. The owner – name of silversmith – did a very skilled marketing job – in front of the workshop & shop you can see written: ‘One of the last famous workshops. Free to take photos. Free engraving. You can order things in silver. Workshop prices.’ Don’t you feel good once you know that it’s free to take photos, and you don’t have to get embarrassed by secretly shooting someone’s silvesmithing tools?

 

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The owner – Michalakis – is a very welcoming man. I had enough time for photos whilst he was busy with some customers, after which, of course, I continued to the shop (second part of the house), because there is no girl who’d ignore those shinny decorations 🙂 And then of course he came to me offering discounts, and I actually would buy even without them – the most glowing silver I’ve ever seen!

 

 

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Michalakis told me that it’s their family business – he and his son are working with silver, his wife, Nina, is making embroidery (I also met her), and his daughter-in-law is also a needlewoman, I guess. I’m always happy to meet families which are creating business for generations and doing it all together, as it should be within a family. So I was more than happy to spot this workshop.

 

Michalakis Christou has 40 years of silversmith experience. After walking all along Lefkara I realised that he has the right to say this being the last real silversmith workshop – the others around are only selling or reselling silver.

 

They advised me to visit the Handicraft center, which I actually was looking for…

 

Staying on a street next to those numerous embroidery shops and checking the center’s brochure the silversmith family gave me, a woman with lace in her hands asked if I need some help. I asked about the place, but she answered that it’s far away, outside the village, I can go there only by car, and, by the way, why do I need to go there if she can show it all herself, in her shop 🙂 Am I a fish to get caught on this obvious hook?! Politely I left, promising to come back & shop before my bus.

 

 

Lefkara Handicraft Center

 

I walked a lot in Lefkara, and very satisfied because the biggest part of my Cypriot portfolio was taken there. In the end, I’ve seen a sign ‘Lefkara handicraft center’ and followed it – Voilà!, and it’s just next street to the shop where I was tried to be convinced it’s been far away…

 

Rely on locals, but stay vigilant!

 

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The center is a very nice place where no one is trying to sell you anything 🙂 It consists of showrooms with separate entrances each belonging to a craftsman – some have paintings, some – sculptures, others – embroidery and so on. You can’t buy anything and you won’t meet there shop-assistants, just two ladies observing you behave 🙂 But you can take business cards of the craftsmen and order. The place where I actually felt sorry they don’t sell lace, because I really liked their collection (anyways, I have nowhere to put it at home)

 

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Places & Prices:

 

 

 

 

Lefkara to Kato Drys Walking Trail

 

It was around 2 pm, the bus is at 3:30, and everything in the village is very close of course, so I don’t have to go towards the station well in advance. I’ve seen everything in Lefkara (never used to say that about places), besides of course sites which are outside the village and can be reached only by car. By the way, an interesting activity in Lefkara if you have some spare hours – a walking trail from Lefkara to Kato Drys. The walk is approx. 1 hour, low difficulty, the views are promised to be spectacular! Here you have the map 🙂

 

 

Lefkara Coffee Yard

 

In the remaining time I decided to have lunch and found the entrance which said something about being a restaurant with a garden. In fact, it was just another entrance to the terrace I’ve been to in the beginning of my trip in Lefkara – so the terrace with juicy grapes hanging above the heads of customers.

 

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A had a club sandwich which came with a big portion of chips (which I never eat). Their lemonade is very good, and if I came again I would definitely go for a carrot cake from their menu!

 

We returned back with the same bus drivers, both Lefkara and Kofinou buses, and they were so friendly like if we know each other for years

 

 

So back in Larnaca around 4:30 pm, cooling down in the hotel, I tried to decide what to do the rest of the day. Sorry, I was tired, couldn’t find anything better than laying on a sunbed on the Castila beach. Taking into account that I came there around 6, they didn’t take money for the sunbed, so if you are an evening sealover just like me, keep this in mind 😉

 

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Souvlaki.gr

 

Late at night I had dinner in one of the top restaurants in Larnaca. Firstly, I had in mind To Kazani Traditional Tavern – the #1 in tripadvisor, however, they are closed on Sundays L Out of the remaining ones I was attracted only by Souvlaki.gr –  it’s a Greek fast-foodish tavern. Imagine, coming there I saw three similar taverns, out of three – Souvlaki.gr is full without any table available, the other two are completely empty. The staff is very welcoming and responsive, the food is very well prepared and the prices are hard to believe – I had a Greek salad, souvlaki, grilled halloumi and water, all this costed less than 10 EUR. The most expensive part was Perrier (I would do cheaper drinking wine).

 

Another restaurant I paid attention to was Militzis Tavern – overlooking the beach, with a very traditional Greek design and blue palette, it felt like they not only look local, but also taste! Once you go there, please let me know if I was right 🙂

 

Places & Prices:

 

 

Day 3

Larnaca

 

My last day and believe me, I was tired! As a plan for Larnaca discovery I decided:

 

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  • Wake up early and check all the beaches – by checking I mean swim at each of them, evaluate the facilities and sandiness, take photos

 

  • Go for a city tour and find something interesting in a place which completely transformed into a tourist base

 

 

Before the trip I really wanted to have a gastro tour this day, combining eating and discovering Larnaca, but the organizing company rejected my request, because they can do it for at least two people, rabbits don’t count!

 

So talking about beaches in Larnaca:

 

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Here you can find the official list of beaches in Larnaca, and Cyprus in general.

 

Then for sophisticated ones, list of Blue Flag beaches in Cyprus.

 

The main city-beaches are: Finnikoudes, Castela, Mackenzie

 

They all have very shallow sea – good for children, and actually not a problem to swim a bit away to get deeper – and as I understood, all the coastline around Larnaca region is shallow.

 

Not the most beautiful surroundings – road behind it, ships, oil depots, hotels and even planes landing just behind Mackenzie beach (why did I pay 20 EUR for a taxi if I could just go along the beach ?)

 

The boat trips are starting from the Larnaca Marina, just behind Finnikoudes. I didn’t find them too exciting to join, very typical trips offered at every seaside resort – fishing & dining on board, boat trip to Agia Napa, shipwreck watching from glass bottom boat etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Finnikoudes beach – the central beach, named after the palm trees. It’s very large and has all the facilities (one of the Blue Flag beaches in the town), suitable for families with children, it has a playground, a volleyball net, and a bus stop behind taking you to nice places as Paphos, Limassol, Nicosia, and my small villages in between 🙂

 

  • Flamingo beach – usually not marked as a separate beach, but you can find it on maps. It’s not nice as a beach place at all, but that’s where you should go if you are in to paddle board surfing, beach tennis, surfing, diving etc.

 

  • Kastela beach – comes afterwards, my favourite one. I liked the sunbeds, the service and the beach bar. Comes just 1km after the castle, it has a parking, and all the facilities, marked as Blue Flag beach.

 

  • Mackenzie beach – the most developed place in terms of beach clubs, restaurants, taverns. If I wasn’t with Tavşan Surat , but with a handsome tanned guy, I would go for one of their beach clubs with lovely sunbeds & cocktails. Mackenzie is a place where you can meet the sunset and wait for the sunrise, some of the beach clubs don’t close until the very morning.

 

The most complete beach-review I found here, besides that, they also mention the hotels located at every particular beach.

 

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I wouldn’t recommend going to Larnaca for a beach holiday, maybe I’m too demanding, but I really don’t enjoy staying on a beach and seeing oil depots. And the water (obvious, isn’t it?) is not as clear as it could be. If you go a bit north, you’ll end up sharing your beach with cargo ships and factories.

 

In case you are already there, go at least 8 km from Larnaca to the north – to the Oroklini area with Yannathes beach and Orkolini village restored to its original style in blue with some local tavernas.

 

Another option is in the south – Kiti village, another traditional place with folk festivals going on all summer long and a less crowded and more natural beach.

 

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Cat family on Mckenzie beach

I was done with the beaches, and I was so desperate about Larnaca having nothing authentic, that I downgraded to a simple tourist – I went to the tourist office to ask for help.

 

They weren’t very kind & helpful though (and I didn’t expect the worse customer service in Cyprus in a Cyprus Tourist Information office). I asked where can I go from Larnaca to return back by 5 pm. First of all, she became angry: ‘So you don’t want to see Larnaca, you are not interested in it!’, then she kept giving me the bus timetable, saying that I can go everywhere – Nicosia, Paphos etc. Every time I was pointing out I have to return by 5, she insisted on going everywhere, but pointed out that it’s all about how much time do I need to look around once I’m there :)))

 

So I got the Larnaca city walking map, which was actually zero, nothing worth. I wouldn’t recommend going to the CTO in Larnaca – you’ll waste your time for getting a walking map. In fact, better ask at your hotel reception – you might receive more valuable information.

 

Until a point I tried to follow the map – I wanted to prove I’m wrong and these tourist info-points are helpful. But no, impossible. You’ll die of boredom having this kind of city-walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I gave up following the map I went to the mosque – they give ropes you have to wear. A very nice place indeed. With taps and benches for cleaning yourself, shadow, drinking water – I really enjoyed.

 

There were three men inside – two were praying, one – whatsapping))) I felt I can go wherever I want and none of them wouldn’t even pay attention at me, I felt completely safe and in peace there.

 

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Next doors was the Larnaca castle – a fort which used to be a prison and an old time police station where people sentenced to death were executed by hanging. Not the best atmosphere actually. The good thing about the fort is that they have some old pine trees in the garden with chairs underneath – it’s a popular place for summer concerts, so I enjoyed staying for half an hour in the shadow. It was priceless on a hot Cypriot day in August!

 

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The map indicated the Turkish quarter been close, they call it handicraft quarter. So I got excited and prepared to see authenticity. Well, there are no Turkish guys hanging there around, only the street names are very Ottoman-style. And there are only three pottery workshops I knew about, out of which I spotted two:

 

  • Efthymios Symeou Ceramic Artist– a very nice workshop with, I would say, exclusive products, the pottery really look unique. Well, I came around lunch time and the owner was about to leave, I really wanted to come back at 4, but another pottery workshop took me over!

 

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  • Emira Pottery – I received a very warm welcome, from both the son and the father. I was almost leaving when the guy turned my attention back by offering me to see the workshop/production area. I saw the stove, a hundred of shelves filled with various pottery, the potter’s wheel, and then, when I was ready to buy it all, the guy said that I can try to create a piece of art on my own! Of course she said yeeaah 🙂

 

 

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The class was at 4 pm when his father arrived. And, just to remind, my taxi to the airport was scheduled for 7. Normally people leave their pottery creations for a week in the workshop, during this time it dries and gets baked under 1000 C for 9 hours! Me – as always – no time, let me take it raw)))  So they asked me to leave my jar for at least 2h.

 

 

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To sum up, it was a great experience – I did it all on my own, even though having zero talent to handicraft (my teacher didn’t comment and was very polite about my skills). Then I took this raw jar, packed into my suitcase, passed the security control which checked every inch of my bag, and my pottery creation kept its perfect shape despite it all!

 

 

That’s how my day & trip ended – in a very artistic way!

 

 

My accommodation in Cyprus

 

It was really hard to book a stay for the weekend in Cyprus: August, you are in Thursday, arriving on Friday, 98 % of the properties booked… Either I take something disgusting, or something suspicious with negative reviews, or something too expensive for a girl and a Tavşan … or a real miracle! That’s what I’ve chosen 🙂

 

Qbic City Hotel Larnaca

– a suspiciously good looking place for a price of 90 EUR/night in Cyprus , in August. But I risked, and won!

 

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Even the correspondence with the manager was on highest level – the free shuttle they offer wasn’t available at late hours of my arrival, so they ordered me a taxi, and the price wasn’t higher than the official rate:

 

20 EUR to/from the airport in late hours

15 EUR to/from the airport in working hours

 

I entered the hotel and felt in wonderland – so new, so well-kept, perfect colour range, and service! The receptionist like an angel in the entrance to the heaven, I never felt that welcomed in any hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though I was tired, I had to take photos of the room – it’s designed in a very eco-smart style. The mirror transforms to a TV, the lights are managed by a touchscreen.

It was a single-room, but a very spacious bed and room in general. I had a kettle with a couple of cups, some tea-begs and instant coffee – well, this is the most important for me, a midnight tea drinker. Even in hotels with room service, I sometimes get embarrassed of ordering two cups of tea (both for me) at night, and nothing else. What can I do sometimes, I avoid eating sweets in those late hours, and tea actually has nothing to do with any kind of food for me.

 

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Besides that I was recommended to visit the open-air jacuzzi on the rooftop. Which I haven’t had time to try, but it looks great! And clean (which is crucial).

 

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On the next day  after arrival I was stroke down by the breakfast. A beautiful lobby full of light, wooden furnishings & traditional blue elements, very ‘zen’ music, and last but not least a buffet full of delicacies! Can I wish for more? Yes! Little glass bottles with freshly squeezed orange juice and a waiter coming to my table asking if they can prepare me eggs and some coffee… My mornings were never that peaceful and light!

 

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The location is also great – 5 min to the sea and you are actually located in the center, talking about shops and going out.

 

So why didn’t they have any glorifying reviews? Because they opened just on the day of my arrival and I was one of the first customers)) So they were trying their hospitality skills on me and the task was completed with excellent results! Well, nowadays they already have their 10 out of 10 at booking.com 🙂

 

P.S. Remember the plugs in Cyprus are British Standard. So either take an adaptor with you, or ask at the reception (or buy at any store nearby – which I did!)

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Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain


Barcelona already impressed me by the diversity of activities available even on the distance, when doing pre-trip research. But that’s half the trouble! Once you are there, you actually understand that you won’t be able to do all planed – because it’s Spain, it’s siesta, it’s mas o menos, and the cava is so sparkling… that even a wine tasting can occupy half of your day!

So my advice to you: regardless the quantity of time you’re going to spend in Barcelona, plan not more than two activities per day. Leave yourself time to follow the Spanish unpredictable nature, to aimlessly walk around the Gothic quarter, to end up in a bar which wasn’t marked in your itinerary and be happy with staying there too long to wake up early in the morning for another scheduled tour.

I believe I am a successful planner and controller, but despite my hard efforts I couldn’t control the whole universe around. Well, let’s see what I managed to accomplish out of my plan and what appeared in my trip as serendipity. Be both, my guest and judge in one.


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Day 1

That’s where I left time for magic on purpose 🙂 However, even this wasn’t enough. Finding ourselves in one of the most famous tapas places/restaurants in Barcelona – Els 4 Gats – and then in a very popular but quite hidden bar which is located on the most unhidden place of the city – Rambla, Boadas cocktail bar – the oldest bar in Barcelona (read about the places below). The night finished for me with a very upset stomach (and I don’t blame any of the places we went to), so there was no way to wake up for the booked Segway Tour starting at 11 am. Luckily I bought it from direct provider and they were understanding enough to take us in the afternoon. And by the way, the tour was private, though it wasn’t mentioned in the description.

 

Places:

 

Els 4 Gats – the restaurant opened in 1897 and became a very popular place of bohemian gatherings, I guess, a tavern, where you must hang out if you consider yourself being artistic. Picasso was a frequent visitor since the age of 17, then, he carried out his first exhibition in the big hall of Els 4 Gats. Big names like Gaudí and Rusiñol were not a surprise to see among the restaurant’s guests. I advise you to read the history of the place before visiting, so you can experience the atmosphere consciously once there.

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Boadas Cocktails – opened in 1933 by a very charismatic person, Miguel Boadas, who was raised up in the bars of Havana and a quiet fishermen town – Lloret de Mar, at the same time (right, Lloret wasn’t a popular tourist destination a hundred of years ago). After settling down in Barcelona and meeting his future wife, Miguel started his own cocktail heaven in a tiny place on the Rambla corner.

 

Visit it – it is a spiritual place, because Miguel, and later on his daughter, they loved it as their home, Miguel died having a vision that all his friends are in the room and said to his daughter: ‘We must make a cocktail for all these people’. He died giving the glass mixer to his daughter and handing the Boadas Cocktail Bar to her hands. Today the bartenders are still wearing tailcoats and serving you a real masterpiece in glass. Average price: 10-15 EUR/cocktail

 

Besides Els 4 Gats we wanted to visit Bar La Plata – one of the oldest tapas place in the city. However, believe me or not (and if you knew me, you would!), there was no way to find it, whatever maps we tried to use. So maybe you’ll be luckier!

 

All the best places to eat you can find below in the section Where to eat in Barcelona

 

 

 

So passo por passo recovering after the night out, we found ourselves near the Arc de Triomf and La Ciudadela Park having a delicious Spanish brunch on the terrace of La Ciudadela Hotel Restaurant.

 

The Segway afterwards was amazing! Luckily I managed to learn it immediately and feel comfortable along all the 90 min (they also have 120 and 180 min tours!) Well, the best thing about it was the riding itself. For those who never tried, let me mention that you don’t have brakes, the eco-vehicle moves and stops based on your body-movements.

 

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Some of the views were quite impressive – I really loved Ciudadela park and especially the fountain – disagree with me, but I’m so convinced that the fountain is much more beautiful as a whole composition than even Di Trevi in Rome. The guide was a good Segway rider, but not a guide – we didn’t get too many explanations about the places, stories behind their creation, local gossips etc. But generally he was a lovely guy performing magic tricks to entertain us. A very nice experience!

 

On our way to Segway we noticed a place with Asian mango ice-cream and other delicacies, so once again good fortune brought us to a worth recommending place – Tasmango Dessert – the visit in general can be called: ‘mango, mango, mango with a hint of coconut’.

 

If these words make you melting like white chocolate, than you are a my type of person! Besides the mango ice-cream (I would rather say sorbet), we had those rice-flour mochi cakes popular in Japanese places. And again – with mango!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Places:

 

La Ciudadela Hotel and Restaurant – tapas and wine on a terrace next to Ciudadela Park

Tasmango Dessert – a place to go for something non-Catalan/Spanish, when you want to taste Asia’s best desserts while visiting a single place

 

All the best places to eat you can find below in the section Where to eat in Barcelona

 

In the morning before the Segway ride we bought a voucher for the Barcelona treasure hunt. I’ve chosen the Gaudí secrets in Park Güell. This is where we failed (and it was my fault, not the provider!). So the treasure hunt is a quiz online which leads you through hidden gems of Park Güell (in our case) by asking questions and making you answering them. And we walked up till the park 🙂 Already tired, I realized we need tickets to enter – no problem, I told myself! Trying to buy the tickets directly from the dedicated machine I was stopped by a staff guy, who didn’t let me and said that there are no tickets left for today. We could walk in the park itself – the greenery part, but not in the monumental area – which is the Gaudí-made park Güell! I lost my mood immediately, anger fulfilled me and of course the quiz is taking place in the monumental park, not among the trees.

 

So 15 EUR and an evening plan lost, and my email to the provider proofed that there is a note on their website stating that you’d need admissions for the park to do the treasure hunt. Well, based on this experience I can advise you a couple of things:

 

  • preferably choose any other treasure hunt path, so you won’t be tied to the availability of tickets to Park Güell (besides this they have 5 other routes available)
  • if you still want to do it in the park be sure that you bought the tickets in advance, because the treasure hunt is always available, but the Gaudí masterpiece on the Catalan hills is not
  • and definitely, with the treasure hunt or without you should see the park. The entrance before 8 am and after 9:30 pm is for free (at least the staff said so), normally the tickets costs 7 EUR
  • separately you can purchase tickets for the Gaudí house (5,50 EUR) – which wasn’t too impressive though. I would prefer to visit a house-museum which has all the furnishing left as it’s been in reality, but when it’s 80% empty – that’s not fun at all

 

And even without the monuments the park is lovely. If I lived in Barcelona I would just come here as often as possible in a peaceful hidden green corner, with a dog or a laptop 🙂

 

The day finished for us in a Spanish restaurant with amazing paella, again a not crowded place, located at the very end of the restaurant line in the port, too far for an average tourist to get there without being dragged over to a touristy place with a usually southern-oriental guy screaming about the best ‘cava, paella and whatever’. El Gangrejo Loco was a politely place, as I call them 🙂

 

Price and book:

  • Segway Tour – private tour 90 min – 45 EUR/person – Arc de Triomf – from Eco Moving Rent
  • Unpuzzle Barcelona – Secrets of Gaudí, discover Park Güell – 15 EUR from Unpuzzle BCN
  • Park Güell – 7 EUR/admission or 14 EUR/admission + tour or a private guide on request – buy in advance, online!
  • Casa Museu Gaudí – 5,50 EUR/person (located in the free zone of the park), online purchase
  • El Gangrejo Loco – the restaurant in Port Olimpic where we had a Spanish dinner with seafood paella and cava. Make a reservation online!

 

All the best places to eat you can find below in the section Where to eat in Barcelona

 

Day 2

Second day was supposed to be very saturated – morning pick up of the rented car, then trip to Pubol  – the Gala Dalí Castle, wine-tasting with vineyard, cellars and a castle visit in Perelada, finishing the day with a trip to Port Ligat and Dalí’s house. Grand plans! And I’m so proud I could arrange it all before the trip happened. However, human interaction is always unpredictable, so you never know for sure where you will spend double of the planed time.

 

We found a vintage looking Fiat 500c Cabrio in Europcar’s catalogue. The negative side of the story was that we couldn’t find rental office – we didn’t receive any email confirmation about the rental, so knowing only it’s Barcelona Sants didn’t help too much (maps showed only the parking place). The other problem was that when you are returning the car in non-working hours, you just leave it on the parking with all the documents. We brought it with full tank (and spent half an hour on finding a gas station in the area), however Europcar charged us for refueling, saying that they had to add fuel for 40 EUR. What a lie and unpleasant experience!

 

NB!:  For some magic reason, the cabrio Fiat can’t be found on the desktop web-site, but is easily found in the Luxury & Fun section of the mobile web-site. Also if you want the pick up to be in Barcelona Sants, the Europcar office is inside the railway station, behind McDonald’s.

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Tavşan Surat – the most optimistic character in my life!

 

Price and book:

 

Europcar – The price depends on the day, we paid approx. 90 EUR with basic insurance included. Book online

 

Let’s leave negativity behind, Tavsan Surat is on a road trip in his little cabrio! We bought some pastry, fresh orange juice, coffee and water in the Sants station near Europcar’s office, so it sweetened our way to Pubol!

 

It took us around 1,3h to get to the Gala Dalí Castle – a beautiful place in a medieval village, far away from civilization even now. Actually, Dalí bought this castle to Gala because she was in need of a refuge and peace. The best part of the castle-museum is the garden with extravagant sculptures, lots of trees and hidden paths and a fountain.

 

Gala is buried in the castle, even though she passed away in Port Ligat. That was the reason Dalí had to get fake documents stating that the place of death was Pubol.

You will visit the bathroom with the dressing room and a fireplace in it, the kitchen, her bedroom and the guest room. Most of the furnishing is there, which makes you much closer to the Dalí couple’s life in their castle. Besides that – retro cars in the garage, the little park where you feel get lost.  And the empty medieval village itself – perhaps, we were lucky to come in rain, so there were no tourist hanging around the streets 😉

 

Price and book:

 

  • Gala Dalí Castle (Castle of Pubol) – you can buy the ticket online – the admission is 8 EUR, admission + tour – 10 EUR

 

So let’s have a walk in Gala Dali Castle!

 

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Another remarkable spot in the village was a medieval cathedral – you will definitely notice it when entering Pubol! We wanted to see it, however – shower-rain, no parking place around the cathedral, so we gave up 🙂 Send us some photos once you get there!

 

So we headed to our next destination – Perelada winery & estate – this is a huge project of a Catalan businessman Miquel Mateu. He bought the Perelada castle from noble inherits; he started a casino there, kept the former monastery transforming it into a museum of his antiques and a library, planted the vineyards and started to produce his own wine. I planned to spend twice less time here, but there was surprisingly too much to see.

 

We had the wine-tasting & visit scheduled at 4 pm, however as we planned to visit the castle and were ready with Pubol, we arrived a bit after 3 pm. We were told that the Perelada castle opens only at 4 (weird, isn’t it?) so we have to visit it after the wine-tasting. Okay, Tavsan Surat didn’t mind having some snacks in the meantime.

 

For the vineyard visit we needed the car – to arrive there from the wine-shop (the starting point). Afterwards our guide took us to the cellars where we’ve seen huge barrels and old dusty bottles with precious wine. By the way, one of the collections was not for sale – that’s Centenary Dalí – wine made of the first harvest from their most precious vineyard finca Garbet in 2000 – all the few bottles are dedicated to the Dalí Association, since Salvador Dalí and Miquel Mateu were good friends.

 

Finalizing the Perelada experience we joined the wine-tasting of 2 red, 1 white and 1 cava, however, unfortunately, the wines didn’t impress us at all. Tastes differ of course, but I guess if they made the tasting more expensive and would serve their best wines, like the ones from Garbet (100-200 EUR/bottle), it would make the visit more special and encourage clients to buy their most expensive wines in the boutique afterwards. Agree?

 

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Coming back to the castle. We bought our tickets at the wine-shop, arrived to the castle and the security guys pointed toward Plaça del Carme, saying that this is not the entrance we need. Okay, arriving to Plaça del Carme we understood that it’s a monastery, not a castle, and even worse it’s closed. I didn’t give up – if the ticket is bought I will enter, I don’t care about locked doors, so I did my best to unlock the entrance door, but failed. However I was so notable, that a guy from the balcony of one of the houses on that Plaça, tried to explain something in Spanish and pointing somewhere right side. Which was a bench with old people, one of which said ‘siete’ – so seven… It was six, I still planned to get to Gaudí’s house in Port Ligat with last admission at 20:10… We tried to decide, Tavsan Surat voted for the monastery (even though not being religious), and I agreed – since we are already here, wasted a lot of time on ‘research’ and the place looks enormous, let’s wait a bit more to see if it was worth. And we had enough of Dalí that day in the Gala castle.

Just imagine my reaction when at 6:55 I saw people leaving the monastery with a guide – I run after the lady asking to let us in!

 

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So now the explanation: the castle itself is a private property which you can’t access, it belongs to Miquel Mateu’s family. Part of the estate now hosts a casino – which you can access, of course. And the monastery also belongs to the family, and is now a museum where you can see one of the biggest antique – glass & ceramic – collections and libraries in the world. The entrance is each hour (so at 4, or 3, or 6, or 7 – or whatever else) – but be precise, otherwise the door is closed! The tour is private – only you and the guide, available in English, Spanish and, I guess, in Russian.

 

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Even though it’s only a museum, it has a history of full castle value! The first fortress was destroyed in the 13th century during a war with France, after which the viscounts of Peralada decided to build something more spacious instead and the land of the destroyed fortress was given to Carmelite friars to build a convent there. And now the fun starts: the Carmelite monks were moved out during the confiscation of church properties in Spain. For twenty years the convent was empty, after which three brothers of the count family relocated there from Paris and faced a medieval, run down, out of fashion estate. Reconstruction, removal of the heavy baroque decoration, the brothers brought the first books to the now renowned library, after which they established a school for children from the village. One of counts was a teacher himself. However the next owner of Peralada didn’t have that progressive mentality and Peralada was waiting for its next wave of prosperity – under Miquel Mateu.

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The glass collection is probably the most special thing about this museum!

A passionate collectionair who finally found a spacious depository for his treasures. Nowadays the most notable part of the museum is the Glass and Ceramics collection – it is, in fact, the most important glass museum of Spain containing more than 2500 pieces. It’s worth to mention the jugs collection – or ‘porro’ in Catalan, which is a traditional wedding present in Catalonia, when the bride and the groom are getting separate ones, a male and female version. Besides that various drinking vessels, perfume (and sometimes opium) bottles, and even milk extractors.

 

The library contains around 100 000 books with the most spectacular collection of Cervantes, one of the best private collections in the world. The library and archive are open for researchers in the mornings and it must be really a once-in-lifetime experience to touch the books ageing back to XVIII century.

It’s definitely worth that one hour you’ll spend in the museum, and especially because you’ll have a guide to lead you through the history of the place. Without the very well-trained guide we had, it would end up being a sightseeing with lots of photos, without any understanding of the story behind those glass & ceramic ‘toys’.

 

Price and book:

  1. Option A: vineyard visit + ageing cellar + tasting of 4 wines – 10 EUR/person, book in advance
  2. Museu Castell Perelada – admission is 6 EUR, prices and tour options here

The original plan for the evening was to visit Dalí’s house-museum in Port Ligat and spend an evening on a beach I found in the internet, named as one of the most non-touristy and beautiful place in Catalunya. Well, being persistent, I wanted to follow the plan and at least get to the beach. In fact, it was a rocky place with many stones in the water and actually no sand. So for security reasons we stayed dry that evening and instead book a local hotel, had a great dinner on the coast and hoped to swim on the next day.  There were a couple of reasons encouraging us to stay, but the most important was that Cadaques (Port Ligat is just nearby) is such an impressive white-blue housed town, all built on hills above a little bay, with many many boats (I guess their quantity is higher than the inhabitants’), that you just can’t resist staying there overnight!

 

 

My experience says that an accidentally opened door leads to uncovered miracles! That is why I’m so obsessed about whatever is closed 🙂

 

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Price and book:

 

Salvador Dalí House – Portlligat – 11 EUR/person for House and Olive garden visit, and the web-site says that it must be always reserved!

 

Platja S’Arenella – not worth going for swimming, but I guess is nice if you have a boat rented. By the way, the island itself – Isla S’Arenella – might be an interesting spot, I found information that you can rent it out!

 

Hotel Sol ixent – a very beautiful B&B in Cadaques. Imagine you go on your terrace and see (and smell!) lavender all around, it has a great pool with sunbeds, restaurant which we didn’t manage to visit. It was a perfect last minute deal on booking.com – instead of 260 EUR/night price at the hotel’s direct web-site, it was 156 EUR on booking 🙂 So check out all, before you book!

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Hotel Sol Ixent – a lavender field retreat!

Xiringuito la Sal – the beach terrace restaurant where we had our dinner upon arrival to Cadaques. First time in our lives we ate paella with ink (octopus ink), it’s so interesting, not like any other kind of paella at all. Make a reservation, they are quite busy, though we were lucky to get a table!

All the best places to eat you can find below in the section Where to eat in Barcelona

 

Day 3

We couldn’t swim though 🙂 All the so-called beaches in Cadaques are not actually beaches, but slippery stones in the very shallow sea. The only way you should get wet in Cadaques is renting one of those shiny catamarans and deep diving on a solid distance from the town.

Instead of it, let’s go for lunch. But not as obvious as yesterday – somewhere hidden in those tiny-shiny white streets with climbing roses on their walls.

 

Cadaques – my new Catalan love!

 

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I don’t know how, but I swear no google, no tripadvisor, just my 37-sized feet brought us to a restaurant located on the 1st floor of one of those white houses around, with sophisticated fine menu and some tables on their little balcony drowning in rose bloom. And they even run after us when I forgot my famous hat on the chair after we left. Amazing experience, that moment when unplanned impresses more than the whole carefully worked out itinerary (but you know only the one who worked hard deserves to be luckily surprised!)

 

We didn’t give up and tried to get another beach! Led to Bagur – the story says that Costa Brava was baptized on one of its beaches 🙂 I’ve chosen a beach club called Mar I Vente with extremely good reviews. We arrived and while staying in the queue to the public parking, I noticed the beach club’s private parking – which was closed. An A4 sheet on the entrance saying that they won’t open this year, but will be happy to see us in 2018…

 

The public beach downstairs was ‘fully booked’, no space even for a kitten, not to mention us with Tavsan. Both beach-restaurants saying that they are closed (!). Anyways we arrived, so we found a third restaurant, which also didn’t serve food – they started the sentence from saying that they’re closed, but served sangria which was good enough.  So only their kitchen was actually closed.

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Well, the beach was very nice – again a bay in the rocks, but now sandy. But quite small as for me, so you don’t feel spacious enough (if it’s not April, when there are no tourists). Next day we understood, that the best beach is in Barcelona, especially when you have no time for trusting online sources and facing the opposite of what expected. Or when you are not a solo-traveler, but a couple (or family) in need of comfort and hygiene (talking about sunbeds and showers).

 

So we headed to Barcelona, passing the famous Platja d’Aro and I’m sorry we were too exhausted to check it out, but as a bonus I can recommend you a restaurant there, it’s owned by an Armenian lady I know from an expat group 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Price and book:

 

  • Restaurant Es Balconet – the super authentic restaurant we had our early lunch in Cadaques. Unique interior, blooming balconies and fine cuisine – all on a first floor of a hidden house on a tiny street! To get a table on the balcony – book in advance!
  • Mar I Vent, Aiguablava in Bagur – in case you go in 2018, tell me how was it, if it’s a nice place, okay? And call them, not to end up in our shoes!
  • Mediterrani restaurant at Platja d’Aro – owned by an Armenian lady whom I know from a common group. Have never been there, but Armenians cook well)) – Avinguda de s’Agaró, 117, 17250 Platja d’Aro, Girona (no web-site)

All the best places to eat you can find below in the section Where to eat in Barcelona

 

Day 4

The last day in Barcelona. Actually not a full day to enjoy, because the end of it is bittered by the departure time blinking on my phone screen. But still we managed a lot!

 

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Sunday morning we started at Camp Nou with their experience tour. I could never believe we’ll spend there two hours and that’s really something to see if you are not bored by football.

 

Very well thought out tour, a smart environment, just as I like. On each step when you would need guides to lead you – you have them there before you even think. Extremely high tech interactive materials – projectors, screens, touchscreens, headsets with the anthem sang on all the players’ native languages, tour to the pitch, press box, VIP-zone, changing rooms, and all the way long the staff is taking photos of you with a CL cup, at the entrance, with a player at your choice (they photoshop him:)

 

And guess what, the photos are ready and packed in albums when you are exiting – perfect strategy, when it’s in your hands already, packed in FCB album, you should really appear ugly on those pics not to buy it! You can buy the album with 3 photos for 39 EUR, one single photo, no album costs – 20 EUR, or have all the photos with the album for 59 EUR. A great business they do over there!

 

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After the stadium we went for tapas in a nearby restaurant – apparently, where all the fans snack before games. And not only the food was authentic, but we had a bottle of white from Bodegas Iniesta! The blaugrana spirit didn’t leave us alone even outside of Camp Nou.

 

I was obsessed about seeing some more Gaudí places and since it was time to check out, we went to the one closest to the hotel – Palau Güell. I can’t say it wasn’t interesting, but it’s either me being not a fan of architecture and museums at all, or simply too dark and monotonous. Right, you see a couple of flours with rooms (again) where most of the furnishing is gone, only the walls left, then the famous roof with Gaudí chimneys, and yes, the ceiling in the guest room was made of gold (and had special holes to see from upstairs what are the guests doing), but it didn’t catch my attention for too long.

 

Price and book:

 

  • Camp Nou Experience: Tour & Museum – 25 EUR/adult, additionally you can purchase a guide or an audio guide option. Book in advance on the official web-site!
  • Bodegas Iniesta: el Vuit Barcelona – even though we were in another restaurant, I just can’t find it on the maps to advise you. So to continue the FCB experience Tavsan Surat suggests you a Barca fan restaurant with Bodegas Iniesta wines. Check it out and tell us how was it!
  • Palau Güell – the admission on the first Sunday of the month is free, general ticket (includes audio guide) is 12 EUR/adult. Buy online, or keep in mind that you can pay only cash on spot, no cards accepted!

 

All the best places to eat you can find below in the section Where to eat in Barcelona

 

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So we finished with Gaudí and… wanted to go somewhere high!

 

As an option I had the Mirador de Colom – but the weather was greyish and I was upset I wouldn’t take nice shots. Then I’ve seen cable cars – why didn’t I know about them before! Going from Montjuic to the Port Vella they are an always exciting experience wherever I was before. But maps showed too far to get there, which was not completely true – it was shown that you can enter from Montjuic only, but in fact there is an entrance in the Port Vella.

The last option was the sky bar at W Hotel – certainly, one of the most noticeable, remarkable buildings in Barcelona. So we ended up there on the 26th floor with the shower-rain starting behind the windows. But what a beautiful place to watch Barcelona getting wet!

 

IMG 20170731 WA0009 compressor - Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Window view from Eclipse sky bar at W Hotel Barcelona

 

Soon after – waiting in the taxi line in front of the hotel and staying in the traffic on our way to the flamenco show. Yes, I know that Barcelona is not a flamenco place, but it was Tavsan Surat asking for dancing girls. What I loved about staying in traffic in Barcelona is that a car in front of you can be just a motorboat moving from one port to another 😉

 

Even though I lived in Andalusia – the birthplace of flamenco, and used to be kind of a flamenco dancer myself (even a bit performing), I was pleasantly surprised by the level of dancers and the show itself. They started from an introductory movie, then with a flamenco experience – we were asked to stand up and learn some basic steps and claps (golpe and palmas), and only then the show commenced. Sometimes flamenco, sometimes traditional Spanish dance & ballet – I even teared remembering my days on the dance-floor. Definitely recommend!

 

And, of course, as predicted our day ended up in the airport El Prat – on our way back home, to prepare for our next adventures and discoveries (that’s how I call home-staying!).

 

Price and book:

 

  • Mirador de Colom – 5,10 EUR/adult, buy online!
  • Montjuic Cable Car – 11,25 EUR/adult, buy online!
  • Eclipse Barcelona Sky Bar at W Hotel – reserve online
  • Palacio del Flamenco – prices start from 35 EUR/person for ‘Show & Drink’ option, besides that you can purchase dining, tapas and an VIP zone options. Book in advance on their web-site!

 

More sky bars & restaurants you can find in Where to eat in Barcelona section.

 

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