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Europe, Spain, Travel

Witnessing History in Barcelona

June 11, 2018

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Witnessing History in Barcelona

Arriving in Barcelona the same week as the Catalan independence referendum and the violence that came with it made me somewhat nervous, but I knew I would be witnessing history in Barcelona as well. Not that I usually let things like that affect my plans. I moved to New York City nine months after 9/11, I moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and I went to the Caribbean for three months during hurricane season the year after Hurricane Ike. This was a bit different as it was so soon, but I decided I couldn’t miss Barcelona and it really was too close to my travel time to change my plans. 

Protests 

My flight landed in the early morning hours on October 7, 2017, so I didn’t see all the Catalan flags that were hanging from many balconies. I also had no idea that protests had been planned for that day and for the next day after.

As I walked from my hotel to the Picasso Museum, I had to pass by the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, the presidential offices of Catalonia. Not that I knew what it was at the time. Crowds of people were dressed in white holding signs that read “Shall we talk?” in Spanish and Catalan, calling for discussions between Catalonia and Madrid. My nerves took hold and I wondered if I should find another way, but I soon realized what the signs read and many people had their small children with them. News cameras were also present and I felt a bit more comfortable but did not hang around.

Helicopters woke me the next morning. That day I had tickets for the Casa Museu Gaudi at Park Guell. Given I already purchased tickets, I was not going let the protest get in the way. Along the way, the taxi had to stop many times for the protestors to cross. These were pro-union protestors and were carrying the Spanish flag.

While this protest still seemed peaceful, there were many more people than the day before and they were chanting loudly. The taxi driver thought it wouldn’t last all day so I decided to spend more time near Park Guell than originally planned as it wasn’t near the protest site at all. Of course, vertigo hit that day and I eventually ended up back in bed at the hotel that afternoon unable to sleep due to the helicopters I could still hear overhead.

Feeling better but still hearing the helicopters and chanting, I decided to go out anyway and went to Las Ramblas outside my hotel. It still didn’t feel dangerous, but I kept up my caution and only stayed on Las Ramblas for a few minutes. Fortunately, these all the protests stayed peaceful even though more unrest continued through the week I was there.

Travel During Unrest

Many people were concerned about me going to Barcelona and for a few days, I was as well. I watched the news and decided to go ahead. However, I know that this political unrest did change people’s travel plans. This included a trip my parents recently returned from where the itinerary changed from Barcelona to Valencia instead. Of course, I had told them it was fine but they were on a tour so they had to go with the tour.

Making the decision to keep or change your plans has to be made on your own personal level of safety, news, and cost. If you feel comfortable and the news is peaceful then I would say continue on with your trip. But do need to remain aware of what is happening in the area. Which while there can be hard if you don’t speak the language.

Avoid the areas of protest if you can. I was really unable due to lack of knowledge and my hotel location on Las Ramblas. Do not get involved as you do not know the whole situation.

If you do decide to change your plans, check with you travel insurance and see if changing your trip might be covered. See if modifying your plans would cost that much. I could have flown into Barcelona and flown out right away, but this would have cost me my entire whole hotel stay as I had pre-paid for a discount. However, if things had been violent and I had been stuck in my hotel then I might not have cared.

Ultimately, you have to decide what you are comfortable with. I kept my family and friends up to date with daily calls so they knew I was safe. I also had decided that if it did get violent, I would stay in my hotel until it was time to go. It was exciting to know that I was potentially witnessing history in Barcelona. 

Have you ever traveled somewhere during unrest? What was your experience?

Europe, Museums, Travel

15 Things To Do in Malta

May 29, 2018

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
15 Things to do in Malta

Malta made its way onto my travel bucket list when I was living in Qatar and I kept hearing about it from other travel bloggers. It doesn’t hurt that it is an island as I have a weakness for them and there are so many things to do in Malta. Since I was working my way West after Greece, Malta made a logical next stop.

Malta is located in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa. It consists of 18 uninhabited islands and three inhabited that include, Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is full of history and beautiful architecture.

Malta is not very big but much of the places to see are spread out and the public transportation is not efficient and many times the buses were very full. This is something to keep in mind when making your plans. If you rent a car, Malta drives on the left!

1. Valletta City Gate

This impressive structure is the fifth gate to be located at this site. It makes for a grand entrance to Valletta, the capital of Malta. As you enter, look down into the ditch and see how deep it is. You can also see the curtain wall that surrounds much of the city of Valletta.

15 Things to do in Malta

The Valletta City Gate takes you to Republic street which runs all the way to the other side of the city to Fort St. Elmo. It is a great street to walk down, see local life and many sites. Since Valletta is small, you can easily walk everywhere you want to go, just beware of the hills.

2. St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral is one of the most ornate cathedrals I have ever seen. It is decorated in the Baroque style. The construction was completed in 1577, however, the Baroque interior wasn’t installed until the 1660s.

15 Things to do in Malta

15 Things to do in Malta

There was a line to get into the cathedral, so go early and be prepared to wait. The cost to get in was €10 for adults. It was very crowded as they don’t seem to limit the number of people they allow inside.

15 Things to do in Malta

3. Fort St. Elmo

Fort St. Elmo is a star fort, meaning it is shaped like a star. While there was a small post present prior to 1552, the current fort was started in 1552 after Malta was attacked by the Ottomans. Malta was attacked again by the Ottomans in 1565.

15 Things to do in Malta

The fort offers stunning views of the surrounding harbors. The fort now contains the National War Museum. It costs €10 to enter for adults.

4. Upper Barrakka Gardens

The gardens offer the best view of the Grand Harbour. They were originally built as a place of recreation for the knights of the Italian language of the Order of St. John. It is a great place to relax and watch boats enter and leave the harbor.

15 Things to do in Malta

For the gardens, you can see the cannons of the Saluting Battery. Twice a day the cannons are fired. Once at noon and again at 5:00 pm. Both the gardens and cannons are free.

15 Things to do in Malta

5. Auberge de Castille

This is the office of the Prime Minister of Malta. The building is in the Baroque style. You can go in on a guided tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this when I was there and so I didn’t get to go inside.

15 Things to do in Malta

Even though I couldn’t go inside, I noticed a crowd gathering outside and guards. I began to ask around as to what was happening and people said Prince Charles was coming! About 45 minutes later, he finally arrived and I was able to get a couple of photos. Just wish I had my telephoto lens! The guards were pretty impressive as well.

6. Grandmaster’s Palace

The Grandmaster’s Palace is one of the most popular things to do in Malta. Built between the 16th and 18th century, the Palace was built for the Grand Master of the Order of St. John. The order ruled Malta from 1530 to 1798. This rule had great effects on Malta, which can still see today in the many forts, bastions, and towers they built.

15 Things to do in Malta

The Palace is home to the State Rooms and the Armoury. Both can be visited for the entrance fee of €10. Be sure to look up and down in the State Rooms as some of the ceilings have great paintings on them. Also, walk around the courtyards to enjoy the architecture.

15 Things to do in Malta

7. National Museum of Archeology

Every history lover will need to stop here to discover the ancient history of Malta. Artifacts inside range from 5000 BC to 400 BC. The museum is not large, but definitely has some interesting things on exhibit. It is located on Republic Street in Valletta.

15 Things to do in Malta

One of the highlights is the “Venus of Malta.” Having seen the real Venus, I was expecting a statue of a woman. It is a statue but it is about three inches tall. It is still stunning, but much smaller than expected!

8. Mdina Gate

Many of you Game of Thrones fans will recognize this gate from the third episode of season one. The Mdina gate is the main entrance into the city of Mdina. Mdina is also known as the ‘quiet city’ because very few cars are allowed to drive inside. If you arrive at Mdina by bus or taxi, the Mdina Gate is the most likely place for them to drop you off.

15 Things to do in Malta

The Mdina Gate was built in 1724 as the new entrance to Mdina. To the right of the gate, you can see the walled up medieval gate that was the entrance before. You can also get a good look at the city walls from the bridge to the gate.

9. St. Paul’s Cathedral

The official name of this cathedral is the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Paul. It is located inside the city of Mdina. The current cathedral was built from 1696 to 1705 after the previous one was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1693.

15 Things to do in Malta

The exterior is built in the Baroque style, like many of the historic building in Malta. It has a commanding presence in the square it occupies. While not as gilded as St. John’s Co-Cathedral, St. Paul’s has some beautiful frescos on the ceiling. Several frescos have adorned the ceiling and been destroyed in earthquakes and repair work.

10. Cathedral Museum

Right next door to the Cathedral is the museum. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside but the artifacts were stunning. Some of the silver pieces were bigger than me. There are also silver and gold statues of the apostles. The museum also houses a rare coin collection that spans 2000 years.

The building the museum is located in is the former Seminary. It was built between 1733 and 1742. The museum was moved from the cathedral to the Seminary in 1969. The entrance fee includes the museum and the Cathedral. When I went you had to buy your ticket at the museum first then go to the Cathedral.

11. Palazzo Falson

This was one of those gems I found by accident. I passed the entrance to this house and the courtyard caught my eye. It was then that I realized I could go inside. I really had no idea what it was all about but I love a historic house.

15 Things to do in Malta

The house was likely built in 1495 incorporating a synagogue that was next to the site. This makes it the second oldest house in Mdina. There is some doubt as to if the Falsone family ever lived in the house or if it was just named after them. Now it operates as a museum that represents a house, which is divided into 17 rooms. My favorites were the library and the kitchen. An audio tour is included in the entrance fee.

15 Things to do in Malta

12. Bastion Square

A short walk from Palazzo Falson is Bastion Square. It is the perfect place to rest a bit and eat a gelato! There is a gelato shop right in the square. Not only that but it offers amazing views of Malta! You can also get a sense of the thickness of the city walls here.

15 Things to do in Malta

13. Eat a Pastizzi at Crystal Palace

A Maltese pastry, called a pastizzi is a must eat while at Mdina. The Crystal Palace, probably the oldest pastizzi shop on the island, is located right outside Mdina in Rabat. The pastizzi, flaky pastry puffs, comes with either ricotta cheese or mushy peas inside.

15 Things to do in Malta

I ordered two because they are so cheap, but if you aren’t that hungry just get one. They are bigger than they look. Mine was very hot as they had just come out of the oven. One was a perfect cheesy snack!

14. Sliema Beach

Going to the beach is what most people come to do in Malta. You can swim right off the rocks in Sliema. There are places to lay out and sunbath there as well. However, it is all flat rock in this part of Malta so you might want to bring something soft to lay on.

What I thought was great was the small pools that had been carved into the rocks to sit in. There were also several beach clubs along the beach. It was too chilly for me to swim, but I enjoyed watching the water from here. Plus you can walk along the street above the beach get great views of the coast.

15 Things to do in Malta

15 Things to do in Malta

15. Take the Sliema Ferry

When the weather is good, you can take the Sliema Ferry to Valletta. It is the more time efficient way to get to Valletta than the bus. Best of all it offers great views of Valletta from the water. Some of the most iconic views can be seen this way. When you arrive in Valletta, you can walk up the hill to Valletta or take a mini bus to the center, which is an extra charge. Then on the return, you get great views of Sliema.

15 Things to do in Malta

There is so much more to do in Malta and on the other two islands, but I was only there for three days and as I mentioned two were rainy so I didn’t get to Gozo or Comino. Have you been to Malta? What is your favorite part?

 

Europe, Greece, Hotel/Accommodation, Travel

Kritikakis Village Hotel Ios, Greece

October 23, 2017
Kritikakis Village Hotel

When deciding where I was going to “live” for a month on the Greek island of Ios, I knew I wanted to be able to cook while I was there. This meant I needed to find a place with a kitchen and I was hoping for a place that had a monthly rate as well. I did lots of research trying to find the right place including Airbnbs and looking at smaller hotels. The Airbnbs were further away from my preferred location and some only had a shared kitchen. Finally, I found the amazing Kritikakis Village Hotel. Not only did each room have a small kitchen, I was able to ask for a monthly rate and they had two pools!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Hotel

The hotel is set up like a small Greek Village and has all the lovely characteristics of that including whitewashed walls and blue doors. There are less than 50 rooms and it feels like even less. The reception area is located outside the village right on the road from the port. You can walk from the ferry to Kritikakis Village Hotel.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The two pools are located on two different levels. One has the pool bar and the other has built-in sunbeds and is smaller. The smaller pool is also more shallow. The pool offers great views of Yialos beach. Breakfast is served a few levels up with a small cold breakfast and offers traditional Greek yogurt and delicious local honey.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Rooms

There are many room options to choose from at Kritikakis Village Hotel. You can choose from a studio with many single beds or a double. You can also choose an apartment style room that has a separate living area. The great thing about these rooms is that it allows for groups of friends to split the cost of a room and each have their own bed. The apartments are great for couples or people with small children.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

I chose an apartment since I really didn’t want to look at the kitchen for a month! When I contacted them about a monthly rate, they offered me a double bed apartment at a discounted rate. This was something you definitely had to contact them about and it may not be available during the high season. It was more than I wanted to spend, but I was very happy that I chose to do this instead of the studio.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The benefits of staying in a hotel for a month was that I had daily maid service if I wanted. This meant no washing sheets and towels or mopping floors, which is definitely a plus while on vacation. It also meant I had help planning things or calling restaurants for reservations.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

Kritikakis Village Hotel

My apartment had a large terrace with a table and chairs and umbrella. Many mornings were spent here having my breakfast. The hotel also faces the west so you can catch a view of the amazing sunset on Ios. You are also close to the port and I could hear the ferries come and go, which I enjoyed. I preferred this location versus the village or the party beach of Myloplotas. I was close to the port, a grocery store, Yialos beach and many great restaurants. The bus stops right outside of reception and it takes you to the village or Mylopotas beach. You can also walk the path to the village if your legs are up for it. The path is also right next to Kritikakis Village Hotel.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Staff

By far the best thing about this hotel was the friendly hotel staff! They made my stay very memorable. Many times I would come back to my room to discover fruit or chocolates. One day I had a knock on the door only to be presented with a plate of fruit and loukoumades, Greek donuts!

Kritikakis Village Hotel

I chatted with the staff almost every day and made good friends with them. One night they even asked me to have dinner with them. It definitely made my time in Ios less lonely and I would have missed out on some great restaurants without their help. When I checked out they gave me a Kritikakis Village Hotel t-shirt! Which I have worn in Portugal a few times.

Kritikakis Village Hotel

The Location

As I mentioned before, Kritikakis Village Hotel is located not far from the port in Ios, Greece. There is also the bus stop right outside the reception door. The bus takes you directly to the Chora(village) and then onto one of the best beaches. In the port area is many restaurants, a grocery store and a bakery. Kritikakis is located in the best spot in Ios, Greece!

So if you are planning a trip to Ios, Greece, I highly recommend staying at the Kritikakis Village Hotel, check rates here. You will feel at home right away and be close to all that Ios, Greece has to offer!

Europe, Greece, Travel

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

October 16, 2017

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

You dream of going to a Greek Island and soaking up the sun while sipping ouzo, but how did you get to those beautiful islands you dream of? Most of the islands are only accessible by ferry, although some of the larger more popular islands have airports. Booking ferry tickets are much easier than it used to be, but a first timer may need some help navigating the ins and outs of taking a Greek ferry.

Flights and the Ferry

My advice is to never ever book your ferry tickets the same day as your flight. This is especially true if you have hotel reservations paid for or work to return to after your vacation. Fly in and stay in Athens for the night or book a hotel near the ferry port. On my last trip, my ferry choices were to leave either at 7 AM or 4:30 PM which meant arriving in Ios after midnight. I opted for 7 AM, so I booked myself a hotel at Piraeus port for the night before. In this case, I could have never made a 7 AM ferry with any flight.

Which Ferry

There are many ferry lines, but not all the ferry lines go to every island. Which means you won’t have a lot of choices on which ferry line you take. You may be able to choose a fast or a slow ferry depending on which island you are going to.

The advantages of taking the fast ferry are less time on the ferry and more time on the Greek Islands. The other advantage is that the fast ferries are usually more modern than the slow ferries.

The disadvantages are if you get sea sick easily, the fast ferry might not be for you. Many of the fast ferries are hydrofoils, which are less stable in the sense that you feel the waves not that they are going to flip over. Another disadvantage is that you are usually not allowed on the deck, especially if the weather is bad. If the weather is really bad, the hydrofoils will be canceled. If you are going to a Greek island in winter, keep this in mind and allow for it in your schedule and bookings.

Which Port

Athens has three ports in which ferries leave from, Piraeus, Lavrio and Rafina. The issue with this is that not all islands are served by each port. For example, to get to Kea, you will have to leave from Lavrio. If you are booking your own ferry tickets, then I recommend using FerryHopper. (This is not an affiliate link.) It is straightforward and will give you indirect routes as well as direct routes.  If you are booking your tickets through an agent, make sure to check which port you are leaving from before you set out for your ferry as they are far apart and you will miss your ferry.

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

Getting On and Off

The first time I took a Greek ferry, it was from Ios to Santorini and back. Ios is small enough, and I had help, so it wasn’t very hard. But in Santorini, I was alone, and there were a lot more people and a lot more ferries. It also seemed a bit disorganized, although in hindsight it wasn’t.

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

If you are on an early morning ferry, go early as you may be able to get on without all the rushing that is associated with getting on later in the day.

At Piraeus there are many gates the ferries leave from and from the beginning to the end is far, so check it and arrive early to find the right gate. On the islands, there may only be one gate or very few. The best way to figure out where your ferry will depart from is the ask the Port police. They are in navy uniforms that look a little military in style. Your ferry ticket should have the name of the ferry on it, and most ferries are clearly marked.

You need to be there early but not more than 30 minutes. Rarely are ferries early in Greece and more often a few minutes or more late. But the disembarkation and embarkation process is fast, and they won’t wait for you.

Once you are on, you should store your larger luggage in the area you are directed to. Unless your bag is light, leave it here. It will be fine. There are too many stairs involved on the ferry, and you won’t want to bring it to your seat.

Proceed up the stairs, and someone will help you find your seat. Last year, I sat where I wanted, well except for business class but this year they really seemed keen on people sitting in their assigned seats.

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

They will announce each port as they get close and everyone will move downstairs to gather their luggage. It will seem chaotic, but don’t stress you will get your luggage and get off the ferry. It is a very efficient system even if it doesn’t look like it.

Do you have any tips for the Greek ferry? Share with us.