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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things to do in Malta

Malta


Definitely Malta has its advantages, but let me admit, it’s not my favourite holiday destination. However, I don’t want to be negative – you’ll see my story below and understand, what went wrong. First of all, let’s start from the reasons why Malta is a great holiday place for you, my dear reader:

 

 

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  • If you are a diver – (and excuse me in advance, if I’m saying something stupid now – I’m not even a tiny bit of a diver 🙂 – Malta is a rocky island and the waters around it are deep. By the way, the biggest white shark was caught at Gozo! The ‘pre-African’ shelf is very rich of sea life, in fact, there is a possibility of encountering unexplored ordnance, especially in places like Filfla island, where fishing, because of this reason, was prohibited until 1990.

 

There are plenty of diving clubs offering their services to both beginners and advanced divers, the sea is crystal clear and the topography of the island is so various (you can dive wrecks, caves and tunnels, shallow reefs, drop offs and archways, which are unforgettable due to 20 – 40 meter visibility), that I’m sure there is a lot to explore!

 

 

 

  • If you are learning English – who doesn’t know that there are plenty of English schools & camps where regardless of your age you can combine learning & being on a beautiful holiday island. Malta is not only full of native English expats, at the same time I couldn’t find a Maltese person not speaking English. Therefore you can immerse in English environment without getting the UK weather 🙂
  • If you like been understood on holidays – Italy is great, but it’s so rare to find English-speaking Italians 🙂 This was my first holiday without a language barrier – each and every person I met spoke enough English to communicate. Perhaps, that’s why I had so many interesting conversations with the taxi drivers.
  • If you are a history addict – and especially WW II – I was surprised to find out that the biggest quantity of bombs during World War II where thrown on Malta (over 6000!). This lead to two outcomes: 1) there is a huge quantity of museums dedicated to weapon & WW II; 2) most of the island is destroyed, so don’t expect to walk too much along romantic medieval streets. True, there are places untouched by WW II, like Mdina, but the majority is new construction.

 

Well, that’s it, I guess. Additionally, you may find yourself in Malta because of your cruise stop, or by coming here on a wedding (it is a popular wedding celebration spot).

So in case you happened to be in Malta and you want to know what to do, where to go, what to see and what not, please be my guest 🙂

See my experience below or go directly to What to do in Malta page for the broadest selection of activities.

 

 

 

Day 1

 

I arrived to Malta almost midnight, so we skip the part of airport transportation – you can see it in How to get from the Luqa airport & Transport in Malta – my experience pages, and let’s  start from the early morning next day.

 

6:30 am – taxi from my apartment to Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk is a fishermen village with an open market, which mainly sells great fish & seafood, and also other ‘useful’ household items ?

 

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It’s not worth spending there more than 1-2 hours – but it’s important that you come early morning 7-8 am to 10-11, after 12 the stalls become emptier, and the market will actually close by 2 pm!

 

I arrived early morning when the market was just waking up, and it was great since I could catch the best photo moment – sunrise. Those beautiful fishing boats called in Maltese ‘luzzu’ are worth coming, and the bay looks really cute. Every ‘luzzu’ has two Osiris eyes on it – painted or carved, it was brought here by Phoenicians.

 

Tavsan Surat loved taking selfies in the port ⇓

 

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As a breakfast spot  we recommend the Duncan restaurant just at the church in the centre.  They have pastizzi and serve tea in glass ? They open at 7-7:30 and that’s where I waited for the bright sunrise 🙂

 

After I walked around the village up and down, my taxi arrived and took me to Siggiewi.

 

 

9:00 am – taxi from Marsaxlokk to Malta Falconry Centre in Siggiewi

 

Yeesss! I was really looking forward to this experience. Imagine real falcons all around, you can keep them on your hand, feed or even fly!

 

The Malta Falconry Centre is more of a shelter, rather than a falconry centre where people would learn hunting with birds of prey. It’s a family run project, I can’t call it business, because their intentions don’t concern profit. Doreen – the owner, is like a mother to all their birds. In fact she’s feeding them in her kitchen from their first day of life, it’s not a surprise that these birds feel more like humans, not birds. However, we don’t forget about their instincts!

 

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The centre has a rule – they only keep birds which are grown up been surrounded by humans. They buy birds from people who are not satisfied with their breeding, hunting, appearance characteristics, or find owners which are not taking care of their pets, then Doreen buys them out. The centre also sells birds (some of them enjoy their new life so much, that they give birth quite often!), but only to people from the island, whom they know and can keep an eye on the future of the sold birds.

 

Coming to a place like this and paying for admission or the experiences is more like a donation, supporting the great job the centre does by giving a second life to unwanted pets.

 

I booked a half-day experience which starts at 9:30 and finishes at 12:30. There is also a full-day experience which lasts until 14:30. During the experience you meet all the birds, hear about their ‘life stories’, than prepare them for the flight show which happens at 11:30. By preparing I mean mainly weighting – because birds fly only at a certain weight. Their weight influences their hunting need as well – birds hunt only if they get the ‘hunting weight’. So it happens the following way: the bird reached its flying weight, it flies, gets lighter and reaches the hunting weight.

 

That’s why in order to demonstrate birds flying during the show, it’s important to put them on the scale. And they never reach the hunting weight here in the centre – because we remember about their instincts. A bird with too low weight might fly away and look food on its own.

 

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All these we did with the centre’s falconer – Warren. He is a passionate professional of falconry and regularly joins world falconry expos, competitions and even huntings, as one of the best falconers of Malta.

 

By the end I was so touched by the destiny of these birds, their instincts, behaviour, that I even adopted one 🙂 Of course, only on paper! In the centre you have a possibility to adopt a bird for a year – it costs 50 EUR, and the money goes for the bird’s maintenance. As a reward (but actually knowing they are fed is the biggest reward, isn’t it?) you will get a framed certificate hanging on the wall at the centre’s reception, stating that you adopted a bird for a year. As well you’ll get a certificate by email, together with photos and the story of life of your bird.

 

 

Taxi from Siggiewi to Mdina

 

Now it was time for sightseeing. Everyone in the web says ‘You should definitely visit Mdina’, so even I was hooked.

 

Mdina is a typical medieval town; you can find a looooot like this around Europe. Without even brainstorming I can instantly suggest Girona and Bologna, for similar colour range, and then many more. So that wasn’t too exciting for me… Of course walking along narrow warm terracotta coloured streets is great (especially for instagram), but there are no real experiences to join. I mean there are some museums to visit – some noble houses where you can see how does a Maltese luxury look like, besides that a couple of nice restaurants and that’s it.

 

Being optimistic I planned to spend 2h in Mdina and 1h in Rabat. However, 2 hours for both sites is the most, in my opinion.

 

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So after walking around and taking all the possible photos, I went to a very recommended place. It comes out first if you search for Mdina, check tripadvisor or actually any other travel advisory.

 

‘When in Mdina you should definitely go to Fontanella tea garden. Their view is astonishing and cakes are just a masterpiece’. I’m literally quoting the reviews.

 

So we went.

 

Since many other people read those reviews there was a queue to the terrace with the ‘astonishing view’, yes, exactly, a queue to get a table. At first I also stood in that queue, than I came back to my senses and remembered that I’m never waiting for a table. Still since it was said that the cakes are a masterpiece I decided to get a table in their patio and enjoy the dessert. In the menu you’ll find two categories with cakes – one with normal cakes, the second – something like signature cakes. So of course I ordered from the second one. My strawberry Meringue cake was nothing but sugar. It didn’t have any special flavors to remember. It costed around 6,5 EUR I guess, but the portion was enormous.

 

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Being not interested in the place anymore, I ate some parts of the cake and left very soon. I turned right and saw a ‘public’ observation deck just next to Fontanella offering exactly the same view. And the view actually is not too special, but is available and for free, and is exactly the one I would see from Fontanella.

 

And in case you want sweets & view, let me suggest another scenario. You go to Fior di latte for an ice-cream (it’s just near Fontanella and in front of the observation deck) and eat it under the pine tree at the above mentioned observation deck.

 

Out of local restaurants which caught my eye were:

  • Coogi’s restaurant – a great terrace restaurant & tea garden on St Agatha esplanade, just going right from Fontanella. The street is quiet and the restaurant is known by locals mainly
  • Other restaurants see in Where to eat in Malta

 

malta where to go 27 1 - Malta

 

Before heading towards Rabat, I wanted to check out a park which was mentioned as a local spot, not very known by tourists. It’s called il-Foss, Mdina Ditch Gardens, and as you might guess the park is located in a ditch. It’s very stark, spacious and empty, not a shady park for lazy time spending on a bench.

 

However, if you want some peace & silence, that’s a great place to escape to. But beware that the park closes for the night, meaning they will really lock all the entrances, and there were some cases when people were locked in =)

 

Walk to Rabat

 

Now it was time for Rabat, my maps showed it’s around 30 min to go, so I said ‘why not’, after all I’ve spent enough on taxis that day. Exiting Mdina I saw a bus, it’s screen said ‘Rabat’, so happily I asked the driver if he goes there. He was a bit confused and said that Rabat is over there, showing me like if it is just behind the corner.

 

I decided to interpret it as the bus stop is on the other side of the street. So I asked some ladies if the bus from this stop goes to Rabat, and they said they don’t know, but Rabat is here…. So in fact, Rabat starts as soon as you exit Mdina and lasts probably for the next 30 min walking time (as mentioned by my maps).

 

Since I understood that Rabat is actually almost the same as Mdina – a bit less tourists, but the same architecture, I just walked across it and since I was ready to walk, I went for some 30 min till Dingli village, from which it’s only 20 min till the famous cliffs.

 

 

 

malta where to go 68 1 - Malta

 

On my way in Rabat I noticed a very cozy looking place to eat & snack:

 

Chalk Café Bar – the have a great exterior, and I guess a matching interior, that’s how they made me stop for a shoot.

 

Besides that on your way from Rabat to Dingli you can enter the famous catacombs – St. Paul’s & St. Agatha’s. These are Christian burial catacombs from the 4th to 9th century AD. I didn’t go there, because: a) I don’t like burial catacombs;  b) it was Sunday and they were closed 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walk to Dingli Cliffs

 

In 30 min I found myself in Dingli village. Unfortunately, there is nothing special to tell you about, I only found a nice church.

 

Although only now, when putting it all into words, I managed to find something out-of-the-box:

 

Diar il-Bniet – is a family run restaurant & estate with a field to fork concept. The estate is located in Dingli, and it’s called Diar il-Bniet, which means ‘House for the Girls’. Some people might scare you saying they still see the mysterious girls-ghosts walking around.

 

 

Today it’s an estate run by a family promoting their grandma’s recipes, the 600 acres of field is religiously ploughed, you’ll find only organic

production there and some of their olive trees date back to 12th century…

 

You can book a table in their restaurant, visit their shop or even join a cooking class & tour around the estate.

 

I wish I found them that day 🙁

 

 

malta where to go 71 - Malta
Dingli Cliffs

 

 

So I’ve spent 20 min more on walking till the cliffs. The Dingli cliffs are the highest point on Malta island – 253m above sea.

 

Definitely you should admire the site’s natural beauty from the sea (which I didn’t manage to do). Just take an ‘around island’ boat trip from Valletta, or other larger ports.

 

Talking about the view from the top ?

 

? If you look down from the cliffs, you’ll see the fields where locals still work (the fields were the reason Dingli village appeared). So it’s very important not to throw stones just for fun from the height ✌

 

? The tiny island in front of the cliffs (you can also see it on the photo) made me very curious – Dingli is on the southern part of the island, so it’s not Gozo, as you might thought.

 

☝The name of the islet is Filfla – it used to be a training field for the British army.

Nowadays uninhabited, possibly was sacred to the ancient inhabitants of Malta – the neolithic temples  Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra are built on the Maltese side precisely in front of Filfla.

 

?that is the island I would definitely visit if I had a boat and a ‘boat driving’ licence

 

? Although keep in mind that you must get a special permission to visit it, since the entrance is allowed only for those with scientific and educational intentions.

 

Blue Grotto Beach

 

I was really tired after this walking all around, my knee was also aching, so I called a taxi and decided to go to a place where I not only see the sea, but also have a chance to get wet!

 

Most of the nice beaches suitable for swimming are located on the north-west & north-east of the island, so just the opposite to where I was… And I really wanted to go towards Valletta – it was late afternoon, no willing for long trips and high cab rates 🙂 So the closest ‘swimmable’ place was the Blue Grotto and actually it’s a ‘must-see spot, so why not?

 

When I entered the taxi the driver said he can’t understand why people come here (to Dingli cliffs): nothing to do, just to look down. Partially, I agreed. So I said that now I’m going to Blue grotto, where I at least can swim. He ignored these words.

 

We arrived to a village and he said it’s here. I asked where is blue, where is grotto, he said it’s over there (again this ‘behind the corner’ saying!), and added ‘there is no beach there’. I left the cab in an angry mood, typed in google Blue Grotto and found out that it’s some 25 min away.

 

In fact the guy brought me to Żurrieq – a town next to the Blue grotto. So I was forced to walk again, but I don’t regret.

 

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Blue Grotto at sunset

 

 

There are boats to the caves around Blue grotto – from April till October 9 am to 5 pm, from November till March – 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. These are the working hours of the kiosk selling tickets to Blue Grotto and the caves, prices are 8 and 4 EUR – adult & child. I heard the most impressive is to visit the caves in the morning!

 

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It must be quite lively here when the boats are departing, but unfortunately and luckily I missed the boat times, so the place was almost empty.

 

 

 

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So I reached the beach which I was told doesn’t exist.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

… but I rely on my research capabilities more than on a taxi driver who picked me up at Dingli and said ‘I’m Maltese, but I’ve never been here’ ? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

So once you get to the Blue Grotto (googlemaps will lead you precisely), just keep going down towards the kiosks selling tickets on boat trips to the caves. Go down till the very end and you’ll see this ‘swimming place’

Correct, this is not a type of beach you can sunbath, let you children play in the sand, take an umbrella….⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

But it’s a great place to swim – the water is deep and there are stairs (I felt like in a swimming pool), and after the shallow beaches in Larnaka, and then rocky beaches in Malta, I really enjoyed a swim here. I met there only locals who confirmed they come to swim to this specific place all year round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also met something & someone special. There were 5 kittens and their mother (actually, just like Greece, Malta is full of good-looking street cats), living under a boat. I was sitting there and waiting for my taxi back to Valletta (finally!). A woman came with a pink transportation cage, I was suspicious, and also the people around were. She said she’s feeding them here, and then taking the babies at home for the night, and on the next day morning brings them back to freedom & port life : >

 

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Valletta dinner

 

I found some nice restaurants in Valletta when preparing for my trip and decided to go to restaurant described as ‘small, cozy place with local cuisine’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t check out if it’s true…

 

There is a tiny problem of solo travelers, at least in my case.  When travelling alone I never pack any fine-dining outfits or make-up, I go and spend my time as a simple, natural beauty 🙂

 

Besides that, restaurants are not very happy about dedicating a whole table to one single person (unless they know you well, and know you eat big & leave tips).

 

So after being unsuccessful here and checking out the other recommended places, I was so desperate and tired that I just wanted to order food ‘home’ – Time to Eat Malta (if you find yourself in a similar drama!)

 

At the moment when I was actually half-way to order, I spotted a terrace on my way (just in the middle of Merchant street). It’s called Anglo-Maltese League, and this time the rating (3.1) was very precise. Well, the waiter is very friendly, he gets 5, but the food is far from being even a tiny bit sophisticated, it’s just average home cooking. I ordered rabbit stew and some white wine, and then of course black tea to finish this long day.

 

 

Day 2

 

The plan for this day was impressive. Just have a look to know how great that could be:

 

  • Wake up at 4 am
  • Taxi arrives at 4:45 and takes me to the northernmost part of the island, Cirkewwa port
  • I take a ferry at 5:45 to Gozo island
  • In Gozo I have breakfast and get a taxi to Ramla Bay – the most beautiful beach on the island (my personal opinion)
  • I spend 3 morning hours laying on the red sand & swimming and then get a cab back to the port
  • Boat to Comino islet at 11:30
  • A 90 min segway tour on an island which has only 4 inhabitants, but lots of greenery, caves and the famous Blue Lagoon
  • Boat to Cirkewwa, Malta
  • Bus to Golden Bay & lunch somewhere there
  • A 90 min horse riding tour on the sunset
  • A ‘Malta at night tour’, departure at 18:40, to see the beauty of Maltese sites at night
  • Arrival to Valleta at midnight

 

Oh, I was looking forward to this day soooo much!

 

But there are powers more influential than perfect planning. Mother Nature and weather, for example 🙂

 

Ramla Bay & Gozo

 

I knew it would rain that day, but some light summerish showers don’t hurt. When I woke up that morning I poked my nose into the open window to ‘smell the temperature’, and  came to a conclusion that I don’t even need a jacket! But I took my pareo to use as a beach towel and wore the shortest shorts I have))

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Ramla Bay – early morning, just at sunrise

 

So in fact when I was going by cab to Ramla bay the driver asked if I have an umbrella. I answered that I hope to get one on the beach. He said, it will rain and perhaps he has one… So when we arrived (the weather was getting worse and worse), he gave me a rain umbrella from his trunk! We agreed for pick-up at 11:15

 

So well-equipped I went to the beach.

 

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my unforgettable beach set 🙂

 

 

Black clouds and thunderstorms on the horizon – I decided to swim until I can, because obviously it’s coming here. I had a fast morning swim in this crystal clear water, this beach is just created for light swims – the water isn’t shallow, but at the same time, I can’t call it deep, since the entrance is gradual.

 

Calypso cave on my right, dark black night-coloured storm in front of me, still blue morning shiny sky above my head, and a closed mojito bar behind. Perhaps it was my best beach getaway ever.  It took me a while to relax and feel comfortable one-to-one with the sea, and once I did, I never felt that peaceful. I actually wrapped myself up in my pareo and lied down on the sand. That’s how I’ve spent almost two hours before the storm arrived (and passed!).

 

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I used the closed beach bar to hide away from the rain and sever wind. I changed back to my shorts, and covered myself with the pareo, after some half an hour sitting like that I heard a voice from the closed bar, then a door getting unlocked, and the owner appeared behind me. He greeted the romantic girl sitting in the rain on his plastic chaired terrace, and the girl politely asked when do they open (I actually didn’t mind getting a tea!). He said they won’t. I waited for a while, didn’t want to pick up & run, opened my umbrella and went towards Xaghra – the closest village, so I could at least have some tea & treats.

 

When was the last time you walked on a countryside road, surrounded by a cactus jungle from one side, and vineyards from the other? And almost forgot, with an umbrella in your hand.

 

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So you are just in between Sicily and Africa, the only live creatures you meet on your way are a shepherd and his sheep, and a taxi driver gives you an umbrella for the rain.

 

Every time life embeds some of these cutest surprises into my well-planned schedule, and I love them  <:

 

They become the most remembered moments of travel, but I know that life awards you with these only when you spend enough effort on planning, otherwise you just end up walking around Mdina with other nice tourists.

 

I arrived to Xaghra, had 3 cups of tea and called my driver to pick me up from there.

 

However, the surprises were not over …

 

No Comino.  Segway in Malta

 

During my stay at Ramla bay Sam from Comino Segway called me saying that most probably we won’t be able to make it today, the sea is stormy and the waves get very high, so the boats to Comino won’t go. We agreed to talk again around 11, so I had some weak hopes, but not too much. At the end, it was cancelled, but I really appreciated that Sam even sent me a list of things to do to fulfil the time I allowed for Segway.

 

I started to search for things to do in the northern part of the island – I already asked the driver to bring me to Mgarr port for the ferry, so I will definitely leave, arriving at the northern part of Malta.

 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find too exciting things to do/see – visiting Popeye village was too boring for me, going sightseeing is not my style, and I really wanted to do Segway. So there were two companies I found Segway Malta in Mellieha and Malta Segway Fun Tour. The first said they don’t go today (weather + Monday), the second said they might. So when I arrived to Cirkewwa I got a confirmation call from the Fun Tour, and they advised me the bus which would bring me to Bugibba/Qawra, it’s #221.

 

The Malta Segway Fun Tour is run by a British expat couple, I’m happy I got the segway ride, but Bugibba is definitely not a place where you should go for any kind of tour. It is destroyed, and not by WW II, but because of untidy people, with all my respect to Brits, most of the residents are UK expats and they transformed the place into English breakfast restaurants & Sky sport bars. There are some Brits which I love with all my heart, but most of the times those relocated to southern countries lose the sense of order, cleanliness, discipline. You guys feel like being on year-round holidays, year after year.

 

So our segway stops were at rubbish dumps looking for chameleons, and then the gentleman on the segway introduced me to local flora – pomegranate, lemon, olive, castor trees… And by the way, they promise to take photos of you during the tour and send it to you by email. I still didn’t get them.

 

I would definitely recommend joining a segway tour in Comino, they are really customer friendly even before you actually start the tour, but I wouldn’t recommend you to do a tour with Malta Segway Fun Tour.

 

 

Golden Bay Horse Riding. Restaurants in Golden Bay

 

 

malta where to go 11 - Malta

 

 

 

From Bugibba I took bus #223 to Golden Bay where I was about to have my horse riding evening (I called them in advance to reconfirm if it’s not going to be cancelled). You have to get off at Riviera stop and walk approx. 10 min to Golden Bay, where the big (and 16 y.o.) Radisson Blue stays and a restaurant overlooking the bay. Here I had my fast & light lunch (before horse riding!), the restaurant’s name is Apple’s Eye. The cuisine is not too special, but it’s not bad either, so I’m very happy they have that restaurant in the bay.

 

I arrived to the horse rancho, and was a bit upset with the conditions. The place is too small for the quantity of horses they have, and it’s not too well maintained. Since I was the first and had to wait for the group to come, I’ve spent my time enjoying the spider nets on the ceiling.

 

 

But I have to admit, that the tour is a great experience, especially taking into account that there are not too many things to do in Malta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So horse riding on the sunset at Golden Bay Horse Riding

 

It felt like Malta is created for this way of commuting :)) those rocky hills are good only on a horse back ?

 

I’m convinced that this is the way one should see a very touristy place like Malta – on a horseback in silence, on an empty beach at Ramla, or among falcons…

 

Indeed it was a happy 90-minute tour and a decent part of this crazy day.

 

Before the horse riding started I booked a taxi back to Valletta. I gave up with the idea of the night tour (although I pre-payed it), because I already started to feel exhausted, and I wasn’t sure we would finish in time here with horses.

 

In fact, I was right – the tour finished at 7, not 6:30 as it would if we started at 5 pm sharp.

 

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My taxi was about to come at 8 pm, so by that time I planned to have dinner at the above mentioned and visited restaurant. It was dark already, but everyone said that Malta is a very law-abiding country with almost zero crime.

 

However going back from the rancho to the bay, I just made a single step behind the corner and saw a group of English-speaking men, probably drunk, but definitely very aggressive, screaming god knows what to god knows whom. Thanks to the high greenery and my fast reaction they didn’t notice me; I turned back and with half-running steps took the longest route to the bay, along the roadway.

 

 

Then I was in peace in my restaurant, drinking tea and waiting for my food, when I saw the notification that my cab arrived. The call centre confirmed it’s almost here, so I took my risotto and cake as take-away and hoped to eat it in the very best conditions at ‘home’

 

Funny but the taxi driver had dinner exactly at the same place and exactly at the same time. He finished, left, parked at the entrance of Radisson and sent the notification. Not knowing this I took my take-away bag, stood at the entrance gate of Radisson for 15 min hoping to see him arriving. And only after calling the company we managed to connect and share our experiences 🙂

 

Taxi drivers in Malta are fun people, besides that one who picked me up at Dingli (he’s from another company). I will tell you more about taxi service on the island on Transport in Malta page.

 

So the final disappointment of the day:

 

What most of us expect to have at home when coming back with a piece of chocolate cake? Me personally – TEA!

 

 

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I booked a studio apartment in a house which had 4 floors, with various types of accommodation, and a kitchen on the ground floor. If you provide a kitchen to your guests, which has all the cooking utensils, salt, pepper, sugar, instant coffee etc., why don’t you have some tea bags? Especially in a country where a great part of residents and tourists are from the UK.

 

I was so desperate… that I couldn’t agree with this unfairness. It was 8:45 pm, and I knew that in my room (floor 3, stairs) I have a list of shops in the area. Running up, finding the list and checking if any is open. Gigi shop closes at 9 pm! I’m running out checking its location – should be behind the corner, but can’t find anything open. Asking a woman passing by the street and she says it’s already closed. But I didn’t give up!

 

I started to check petrol stations; they’re usually 24/7. Well, the closest open one was at Luqa…

 

One more hope left – pharmacies. I was ready to buy chamomile and brew it. But there was no open pharmacy at 9 pm in Valletta.

 

So I warmed up some water in a pot (the electric kettle didn’t work) and imagined I drink tea.

 

That’s how this glorious day finished.

 

 

Day 3

 

This was the final day – in the evening I had to be in the airport. But still I had a lot of plans, why else would you book a night flight 😉

 

  • Valletta sightseeing – I had to see the St. John’s Knights city
  • The Three Cities across the Grand Harbour
  • Ta’ Qali Crafts Village
  • In the meantime – check out at 10, store my luggage at the office of my accommodation company by 5 pm
  • From 5 to 6 pm – stay enjoying some tea at a nice terrace

 

Not bad as for a last day. But the weather got so much worse, that actually I couldn’t complete any of these.

 

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I woke up early to see Valletta on the sunrise and take some photos. Partially I managed to do that and also to understand that Valletta is not worth seeing for a person like me. It’s so over constructed! Once you find a high observation spot you see that it’s full of stone. I don’t really like observing architecture, checking which are ancient buildings, which are built after WW II, going to history museums etc. There was a luxurious yacht entering the port – it was the Indian Express, that was something I liked.

 

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I went to the famous Upper Barakka Gardens – that wasn’t something special besides the facts that you can see the saluting shooting at 12 and 4 pm, and that there is a lift taking you downstairs to the boats to The Three Cities.

 

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Heavy rain started all of a sudden on my way to the Lower Barakka Gardens. Well, heavy can’t transmit all the essence of the awful weather that day. Luckily I was on the street where my apartment is located, and luckily it was before I checked out not after. So in two minutes getting a good natural wash – both me and my phone, I entered my apartment 45 min before check out and without having a clue about what to do next – where to go, how to go, or even to go or not.

 

What is the best place to stay all rainy day long with your laptop? There is no cafe being happy to have you all day long, and even I can’t drink that much of tea. Then my thoughts turned towards the freelance hubs & coworkings, which wasn’t a bad idea. I found 2 places but didn’t use them – Valletta Hub and Grand Central. I remembered the Maltese glassware I wanted to buy for home in Ta’ Qali and decided to go whatever it looks like outside. So I partially kept the old plan.

 

I dropped my luggage at the company’s office, got my boarding pass printed because my phone’s functionality went very bad after the shower rain, and I felt in danger. I bought an umbrella and my mood went up. I understood the functionality of the bus terminal and found the places to get the Ta’Qali bus and also the airport shuttle.

 

 

 

Ta’ Qali Crafts Village

 

To Ta’ Qali take either bus #56 (get off at Villagg stop) or #53 (this stops only at Qali 1 which is 10 min walk to the crafts village). The crafts village is a great place to go especially if you are by car and have checked in luggage to bring back home all the beautiful things purchased.  You actually shouldn’t buy souvenirs or presents elsewhere; here you can get really authentic crafts!

 

Please do not misunderstand me – far not all the items are nice, some are created for tourists, some are unique for those who can respect the hand-made work of local artists.

 

I was sure it’s a whole market under a single roof, with little shops of craftsmen, one after another. It would make my life easier that rainy day. However, every company has a separate house, so it’s a real crafts village, just as the name says. I wish it didn’t rain, and then I would really go into each of the houses, be in mood to film the glass-blowing, pottery, ceramic, jewelery artists. But I only had patience to walk in the rain towards the Phoenician Glass house, I didn’t even go for visiting the famous Mdina Glass company – it was 10 more minutes of walking.

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Mdina Glass shop in Mdina

 

 

The glassware was great, and since they close their shop for reorganizing I spot some attractive discounts and bought three vases and three tiny candleholders, one of the vases even contains silver.

 

Then I had a smoothie in the Mediterranean Ceramics shop & café and decided that having two bags full of glassware in my hands means that I should go get my luggage and head towards the dry airport with lots of tea. After all, the weather was really encouraging me to get settled down.

 

So I hopped on the bus going back to Valletta, when there called a cab to pick me up from the luggage office and get me asap to the airport. The weather was so bad and my new umbrella got so broken that there was no way to walk around getting back to the terminal for the airport shuttle.

 

That’s how I ended up in the airport 7 hours before the departure 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restaurants, breakfast places in Valletta. Buying silver in Valletta

 

Oh, and by the way, during my ‘walk’ under the rain in Valletta I found some very good looking and not pompous restaurants:

 

  • Café Volare – I would enjoy having here a breakfast. A simple café with fresh orange juice, coffee, pastries, ice-cream, salads and of course English breakfast))
  • Several restaurants at Triq San Qwann and St. John square – sorry, my phone was already half-dead of humidity, I couldn’t mark the names under the rain, but you’ll definitely find them once there!
  • Reno’s Cafe – pasta, salads, burgers, rolls, fish & chips etc

 

And by the way, the famous Caffe Cordina – I entered to have a breakfast, since everyone recommends it… But it’s just the same story as with Fontanella in Mdina – unfriendly, crowded, nothing special when it comes to food. I left after I saw the unpleasant atmosphere inside, understood that the waiters wouldn’t serve me fast enough and not finding anything appetizing in their menu and display case.

 

I also noted some shops on my way! If you want to buy silverware & jewellery go to Republika street, you’ll find at least three shops which are actually workshops. There you can see the craftsmen in the process of creation, and also get factory prices!

 

Enjoy Malta and tell me if you managed to do the things which I couldn’t!

 

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Larnaka banner main post final - Larnaca, Cyprus

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)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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:)

 

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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 🙂

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

IMAG3791 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus
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.

IMG 20170814 205229 012 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus
…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 😉

 

IMAG3838 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus

 

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:

 

IMG 20170816 171539 795 compressor 1 - Larnaca, Cyprus

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.

 

IMG 20170814 102513 828 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus
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!

 

IMAG3825 compressor - Larnaca, Cyprus

 

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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