Lisbon, an Authentic City Full of Life

Olá!

If you ever find yourself in the need of some good food, shopping and vitamin sea, I strongly recommend you to visit Lisboa. However, if you want to stroll around in peace and be on your own in silence, do not visit this city. I repeat, do not!

Sorry, I just had to make this public service announcement. Continue reading please.

Bacalhau?

The Portuguese capital is definitely not what I expected it to be. It’s a modern and trendy city mixed with authentic and ancient Portuguese influences. For example, you can take an old metro or taxi-like vehicle for a ride around the city, but in the mean time, you can shop till you drop in huge malls. Also, the language was very funny to hear. The pronunciation is special, I couldn’t pull it off! The funniest word I heard was bacalhau, pronounced ba-ka-lah-w. It means fish. Or a sort of fish I think. I don’t know. I’m not a fish expert.

Unfortunately (actually, I’m kind of proud of it) I didn’t take the funny metro or one of the little vehicles to discover Lisbon. Oh no. As usual, I walked throughout the whole city. I know I said it before, but that is really the best way to discover a city! Especially such a special one as Lisbon. It has many different sides.

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Lisboa is made out of different villages. I’ll start with Alfama. Alfama is based on the east side of the Lisbon area and exists out of the cutest and most colourful houses. Here, you’ll also find stunning views and the Sao Jorge Cathedral. Warning: it contains a lot of stairs and steep streets! But hey, if you take it slow, you’ll get there. I went there with my friend – who is a fitness freak – so every time I wanted to take a little break, her disappointment in me increased drastically. Whoops. Sorry to let you down there, buddy. We good?

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Craving some candy?

Secondly, there is bairro alto. As the name reveals, again, this village is located much higher than the city centre. Which means: steps a la volonté. Yaaay!

Bairro alto is where you can find all the bars, clubs, and candy. If you know what I mean. *wink*. It’s a village where youngsters rule, sangria costs nothing and where you’ll definitely meet new people.

Okay enough about villages: now, let’s talk about the really important stuff: food and drinks! Portugal has delicious traditional and fresh food, but be careful which restaurant you pay a visit to. You can go for a full dinner from €8 to €30 (for the same quality). Restaurants can charge a lot per dish, and its almost impossible not to take more than one dish. For example: if you order a steak, you’ll pay extra for salad, fries, whatever. Nothing is included. Just a tip: be mindful!

After discovering Lisbon, I also paid a visit to Cascais. Honestly, I just needed vitamin sea. I mean really. Sandy beaches, that salty smell of the ocean, waves and win in your hair. I want all of it! Cascais has a lovely beach and that is the main reason why I visited it. You can also find fantastic restaurants and bars here and you can make beautiful walks at the docks and in the nature of Cascais. Plus, it was easily reachable by train from the station of Lisbon. And it only costed €1,50 per ride!

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Belém is a place I ended up accidentally. The plan was to go to Sintra and visit the palace there, but the journey was too long and expensive. I didn’t know where I should go to next. Next thing I know, my friend made me pick a number from 1 till 6, and at that number we would get out of the train. Belém was my lucky number. Don’t regret it at all!

The main attractions of Portugal are to be found here and they are absolutely stunning. The castle in the water, the sculptures, the gigantic castle… Belém really was a beautiful city.

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Another must-visit is LX Factory. It is originally an industrial park where the work of artists came alive. Now, its a small village with trendy restaurants, unique shops and cool bars. Close to LX Factory you’ll find a small harbour, again filled with the best restaurants. Plus, you get the best view here – the iconic Portugese bridge and the statue of Jezus in the distance. And every few minutes, descending airplanes flew by and made a turn to the airport. Talking about views!

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I have a feeling I’m talking about food too much. But one last tip: go to Time Out Food Market. It. Is. Food. Heaven. You get all the best restaurants from Portugal in one market. Just follow my lead and try the sushi, pizza, sangria and desserts there. You will not regret it at all! This market is based in the centre of Lisbon.

So that was about it. I only stayed three days in Lisbon, maybe it was a bit too short. I didn’t get to see the main attractions and do the things I really would love to do in Portugal (make a boat ride, go see the Jezus statue, visit other cities) but one day I’ll definitely go back!

Até a vista!

Malta, a Ravishing Island of African & Italian Influences

Malta, you stole my heart. With its charming streets, tropical islands and romantic architecture, Mediterranean Malta really is a stunning island. Their mixed influences, as an ex-British colony and located between Italy and Africa, resolve in an original and unique style throughout the whole island. 

First day – Wandering In Valletta

What I recommend you to do – if you ever go to Valletta – is to book a stay in the centre, get up early, and just walk. Wander. Explore. Get lost. Throw away that map, Google Maps, whatever. This city is made to explore impulsively.

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I had no idea where I was going. I walked through small alleys, managed to survive very steep streets and took time-outs to enjoy peaceful ocean views. Their beautiful architectural style can be described as Baroque with an Italian touch and British influences – the Maltese Baroque style, one of its kind.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

The most stunning place was the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Because it is built on a high point in Valletta, it offers a lookout over the whole city. You can even see the The Cities (Birgu, Senglea and Bormla), which are three medieval, fortified cities, located next to each other.

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Lower Barrakka Gardens

Afterwards, I stumbled onto the Lower Barrakka Gardens – this is comparable to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, expect for the views and the location – as the name suggests, these gardens are located more lower than the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Again, these natural gardens with an influence of old Greek architecture had many feasts for the eye.

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At night, I stumbled upon a huge building, and when I entered, I found food heaven. This place was featuring the best restaurants in Malta, each representing a different culture and offering fresh food. A Maltese friend told me that this used to be an old market and that they recently turned it into a modern “market”. It’s called Is-Suq tal-Belt, remember this name, fellow foodies!

Talking about food: when in Malta, you should definitely try pastizzi -inspired by the Greek (thero)pita – and ftira – inspired by the Italian focaccia.

There is also a museum of armoury, so filled with soldiers costumes and weapons, very interesting. And also, talking about soldiers: you can witness the soldiers’ salute every day.

Second day – City life in St Julian’s

St Julian’s is not far away from Valletta, but this city is very different from the capital town. St Julian’s offers beautiful harbour views, a lot of restaurants clubs and beach bays where you can chill out. It’s called the Vegas of Malta for a reason. You will notice a big change in social life and the population- St Julians has a lot more younger people, bars and parties in the city than Valletta.

What you can do best in St Julians, is walk at the coastline all the way to Sliema. This way, you’ve seen all the best spots at seaside.

Tips for St Julians are eating in The Avenue (mediterranean food), Vecchia Napoli (Italian food) and Gululu (Maltese food).

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Third day – listening to the sound of silence in Mdina, The Silent City

Mdina is a small village where time (and noise) are unknown. Walking around in Mdina is like walking around in a fairytale; it’s so calm, so silent and so unreal. The buildings are so cute and of beautiful architecture.

When in Mdina, try the chocolate cake at La Fontanella – you won’t regret it. Also, there are two palaces in Mdina open for the public. Here, you can go upstairs and enjoy the views.

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Fourth day – Views from the Blue Grotto 

My trip was going as planned, everything was going perfectly. I fell in love with Valletta, experienced the nightlife in St Julians and sought out silence in Mdina.

In my case, that means something has to go wrong. That’s just how my life works: yin and yang. Gotta stay in balance, you know.

Full of energy and positivity, I hopped on a bus to take me to the Blue Grotto the next day. The trip to the Blue Grotto, which is in the south of the island, was my furthest trip.

When I finally arrived after a bus ride of two and a half hours, I enjoyed the views from the cliffs before heading down to do some diving, a boat tour through the Blue Grotto, etc.

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Once I succeeded to walk down to the coast, I was eager to find out which boat would take me on a tour and how this diving thing works. But all I saw was one paper with “CLOSED- call this number for support”. Turns out they were closed – unforeseen – because of the windy weather.

Well, now at least my life has come back to a healthy balance now.

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Fifth day – Mini-island life in Gozo

Close to Malta, you can find Gozo. Gozo is a small paradise with only a few hotels and attractions. 

The trip to the ferry station is long, but easy. There is a direct bus ride from Valletta to Cirkewwa ferry station that lasts almost two hours.

Once you have arrived at the ferry station,  you just get on board for free. When returning from Gozo, you have to buy your ticket for €4,60. Ridiculously cheap for two boat trips of half an hour.

When I arrived at Gozo, I saw everybody walking to the buses for hop-on hop-off tours, but honestly, never in my life have I done such a tour and never will I ever do. Why sit all day in a bus and drive past everything when you can experience it completely different?

So, as usual, I walked in the opposite direction of the other tourists and wandered through the island. It was a wonderful experience. Although, again, the transport was a bit of a bummer. In Gozo, you have beautiful spots at the other side of the island. The harbour and the village itself were so calm and beautiful.

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Sixth day – The Three Cities

My next and final stay was in Senglea, one of “The Three Cities”. I stayed at the loveliest guesthouse and really felt like a local.

I’ll be honest with you guys: it seemed that there was no sign of life anywhere in Senglea. The weather wasn’t very nice, but there was literally no one outside and everything was closed, even though it was Carnaval and it was a Monday.

I explored Senglea and despite these circumstances, I didn’t regret visiting Senglea at all. It’s a small part of land and crossing the village only takes a ten minute-walk. In other words: you have sea side and charming  harbour views everywhere.

Just say “garden” and I’ll be there

Besides the Barakka Gardens in Valletta, another must-visit are the Gardjola Gardens in Senglea. It’s is much smaller than the Barrakka gardens, but equally beautiful.

The other two cities are like Senglea: charming, small and full of beautiful Maltese buildings. I do recommend you to visit these three cities in one day, because my two-night stay in Senglea was a bit long, especially because of the lack of life in town.

Seventh day – Valletta Carnival 

The second last day of my stay, I decided to visit Valletta once again. Today was the fourth day of carnival, and the Maltese people were still going strong. I’m not really a fan of carnaval and my attempts to avoid it succeeded very well until this day. The main streets in Valletta were blocked because of the carnaval parade and there was way too loud music, but the atmosphere was nice.

Maltese people really celebrate carnaval.

I left the city centre. It was time for some Valletta- wandering. I discovered new hidden gems in Valletta, unfortunately I cannot tell you where exactly of how I got there. When in Valletta, take a day or two to wander in the city, walk in streets nobody else walks in, and explore hidden places.

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I left a piece of my heart in Malta. I’ll definitely visit this island again. I really felt the vibe, it was amazing. The locals were welcoming, warm and really friendly. As you have read, I also had typical ups-and-downs moments, but that’s part of travel (and life), right? Yin and yang.

Croatia – A Hidden Mediterranean Gem 

If you’re looking for a cheap but beautiful holiday for this spring or summer – stop looking then, because Croatia will conquer your heart. I would have never thought to travel to Croatia – mainly because you don’t hear anything about this country. Did you know they have their own coin? – However, I did travel to Croatia, a few times actually, and did not regret it. I’ll share my experiences in Croatia during this zen-vacation filled with sunsets and cocktails.

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I went to Crikvenica, a small village in eastern Croatia. So, first things first: how on earth do you get to a small village in eastern Croatia? Well, I have bad news for you: no matter which airport you fly to, you have to survive a 2-3 hours bus drive to this town. Personally, this was the worst for me. I love to fly, I love to sail, but don’t put me that long in a hot bus which, apparently, can only drive up and down the mountains. Because, dear readers, Croatia is made of millions of mountains. Millions. Which is beautiful, but make sure you got your travel pills with ya.

So, when once arrived in Crikvenica, your best option is to rent an apartment. There aren’t many hotels there, and to live like a local is a wonderful experience. As I said, Croatia is full of mountains, and so is Crikvenica. At the top you’ll find everyone’s houses and down under, you can find the beach with some small bars and restaurants. If you walk further into the city, you’ll notice a wonderful little bridge (and a lot of couples taking romantic photos there). This little bridge is known for its romantic atmosphere and offers a beautiful view.

The city centre of Crikvenica is very chill: across the beach is a big square where every night, musicians or artists entertain the public. This square is surrounded by the most cozy and cheap restaurants – which offer a mixture of Mediterranean food – Italian, Greek and Spanish mostly. Behind the square, you’ll find a boulevard full of restaurants, bars and shops. Across these restaurants you get a view across the beach, and that is the beautiful part. You get ocean view everywhere.

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I recommend you to visit the beach at sunset and sit at the beach bar (there is only one big beach bar in the city centre) because they offer delicious cocktails and have cushions on the beach – I’m sorry if that’s too much detail, but put cushions on a beach and you have reached my biggest weakness – where you can chill and have an Instagram photoshoot. Or just enjoy the view.

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If you go there on time, you can buy a ticket for the ferry and that is something I regret not having done. The ferry costed nothing, and you would have an amazing view over the ocean! Yet I didn’t went on this boat trip… But, you have to understand, when I went, the European Football Championship was playing and I went there with my friend, a football lover, so yeah… We spent our evenings in the restaurants and bars watching football – but the best part is, the whole town and other tourists had the same idea. And every night, there were other countries playing, and you could definitely tell who was from which country, The atmosphere was certainly on point in Croatia.

Overall, Croatia is very beautiful, and the language they speak there is sort of a mixture between Italian and Eastern-Europe-ish. The food is also based on Italian dishes – a lot of pasta, pizza and fish. Furthermore, life is very cheap in Croatia: 7 Kuna (their coin) is worth €1. And the people are very welcoming and open. Croatia is really a Mediterranean country, I felt the same atmosphere as in Italy and Greece, but yet, the country has a different culture and language. That’s what makes it one of a kind.

The Undiscovered Beauty of Corfu and Its Islands

Corfu and its islands are a treat for all kinds of travellers. To really discover what these islands have to offer, I went on a 4-day roadtrip through Corfu, Paxos and Anti Paxos.

Mpenitses

Mpenitses. Lovely people, delicious food, crystal clear water. It is a perfect place to come to peace and meet the local people. It’s not so far from the airport – since our flight arrived at night, we took a cab, but the bus connection is pretty good by day so that’s also an option – and on the way, the taxi-driver stopped by a coffee shop to grab a frappé (an ice coffee). Now, you need to understand something very important: frappé is life, frappé is a gods gift in Greece. Whether it’s six in the morning or midnight, it’s always frappé-o’ clock.

Mpenitses is a small village with lots of local restaurants, bars, and shops. The beach is lovely, it’s a sand beach with clear water. There are bars that serve you while you’re laying on the beach and if you buy a drink, you don’t have to pay for a seat – a fair deal, since you have to drink while laying in the sun all day.

At night, Mpenitses is everything but boring – if you want to party hard all night long, this is NOT the place to be- I am talking about local bars and restaurants who have live concerts of greek singers (what else?!).

I strongly recommend – you can choose what suits you best, but this was my experience – to stay in a local hostel or guesthouse. It’s not luxurious at all, but it is authentic and it makes you feel like you are one of the inhabitants. There are also luxury hotels there, so there’s something for everyone’s taste.

Corfu Town

The habitants have been super creative and Greek with the name of the capital of Corfu: “Corfu Town”. However, what I find so special about this capital, are the restaurants: they come together with a private swimming area. You can eat outside and when you’re feeling hot or the ocean is calling you, you can just take off you clothes (everybody wears swimwear beneath their clothes in Corfu because you never know when you’re going to swim) and jump into the water. Or, if you’ve eaten a bit too much, you can also take the stairs.

Corfu Town is all about climbing. No worries, I’m far from sportive and even I survived it, but the views are certainly worth it. This is me, feeling like a Greek princess – yes, we bought those authentic Greek dresses, yes, I wore a braid and yes, I walked with pride through the whole city like dis.

Achilleion

Next stop was the Achilleion Palace. It was built by Empress Elizabeth of Austria who is also known as the queen Sissy. The palace is decorated with statues of ancient philosophers, heroes and mythical ancient gods. A visit to this divine palace is one everybody should check off while visiting Corfu.

Paxos island 

What you can also do is take a ferry from Corfu to Paxos island. If you’re lucky, the owners of the boats let you sit all the way in the front, like Jack and Rose in Titanic – but with a smaller version of the Titanic, and in the Ionean Sea – fresh air and a beautiful sight guaranteed. Paxos island is undoubtedly the place where the word “relax” was invented -right here, on this very island of 30km².

What do you do on a small island that consists of 80% coastlines and 20% village centre? Right. You lay down at the beach every day, you wander around the coastlines, hike through the island. I did see lots of people renting a boat (or owning one) and sailing around the island. That’s also an option when you’re visiting an island, of course. Or maybe you can summon some turtles and ask them to escort you to the nearest island, Captain Jack Sparrow-style.

Antipaxos

This is the third and last island we visited. Antipaxos is smaller than Paxos, it is only 4km². Again, there is just one thing to do- swim!

On Paxos and Antipaxos, you can find great restaurants, tavernas, bars, ice cream shops,… they are all local of course, and they have that Greek authentic touch you can’t find anywhere else than the country itself. One thing that people in Corfu, Paxos and Antipaxos love are pancakes: crepes. You can find them literally everywhere. Why would someone want to eat hot and heavy (but delicious) pancakes on a tropical island where you are hot every single second of the day, you may ask? Well, the answer is always frappé.

Kavos

Kavos is a famous town in south Corfu and is known for its nightlife. The atmosphere, people and clubs are full of life, and the prices are great, too. There are bowling alleys, dance clubs, karaoke bars, etc. If you want to go on a party vacation with your friends, this is the place to be.