Puerto Vallarta: the beach, the town & around

So May was crazy… I came back after 5 weeks in Spain, repacked my suitcase and was off to Mexico. This time we did not go alone, but took a bunch of Lithuanians and decided to show them the best that Mexico has to offer. We started in the crazy Mexico city, then continued to Chihuahua, later moved to Jalisco and visited Guadalajara and the actual town of Tequila and ended up in Puerto Vallarta.

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Santorini – the most photogenic Greek island

As it does not feel like spring yet, I keep on coming back to the pictures from my last summer trips. The Greek island hopping trip, that we did last August, is something I was meaning to share for a while now. It was yet another grim and rainy Sunday afternoon in Brussels, I desperately needed to see some sun. So I went back to Santorini…pictures… A few days on this island last summer was spent simply enjoying the gorgeous views, hiding from the daytime heat, reading and trying out specialties of different tavernas.  

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430 meters below Sea Level – Visiting the Dead Sea

Everybody knows that the mountain Everest is the highest point on the face of the Earth, and it is definitely on my to do list. But before I save $30K for the group climbing excursion, I decided first to pay a visit to the lowest point on Earth – the Dead Sea.

It is located right in middle of the Middle East and is officially is shared by Palestine, Israel and Jordan. However after taking the Highway 90 from Tel Aviv down to this area and passing by what (according to the map) should be the Palestinian part of this lake, it seemed like it is completely under Israel’s  control. Well, but we’ve already known that Israel is not particularly good in sticking with the border lines

So, we rented a car in Tel Aviv and after less than 2 hours we were crossing by the dessert mountains and palm trees forests. It was midday of Saturday, so the road was empty with only few cars passing by.

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One thing that impressed me about this wonder is the perfect, mirror-like reflection of the Dead Sea. Here is the closer look to it:

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If you look deep enough, you can see the Jordan mountains thought the clouds

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No, he is not lying on the bottom of the sea here. He is floating!

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A piece of salt from the beach

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We spent a night in Ein Bokek, not a town, rather a hotel strip. Do I recommend it? No, not really, hotels here are very expensive and quite old. Also, almost no eating out/going out options available. But again it was the beginning of January.

In the morning, we gave a lift to a couple of hitchhikers, who spent a night on the beach and woke with mosquito bites on their faces (not sure if they slept at all). So, don’t do it either!

Around the Dead Sea

So, the Dead Sea can be fun for some time, but as it is not recommended spending more than 15 minutes in its salty waters, you might get bored quite quickly. But there are a few other things you can do around here.

Masada

A very special site for many Israelis and Jews. Masada is remainings of an ancient town, situated  on the top of the rock. A heroic legend of Siege of Masada attacks locals to visit this place,  for others it is a chance to look over the Dead Sea and the Judean desert from 400 meters up:

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You can hike up or take a cable car

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Ein Gedi hikes:

Ein Gedi is described as an oasis in the dessert and offers a number of hiking routes situated across the shore of the Dead Sea. We stopped at Wadi David and did an hour long hike to the David’s waterfall and back.

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One of the smaller waterfalls on this hike
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David’s falls

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We made friends with these little guys…
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and stayed way from him

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Ein Gedi kibbutz & Botanical garden

The local kibbutz (commune) is situated on the hill overlooking the Dead Sea and mountains. The community here runs a hotel and a famous Botanical garden (in the middle of the dessert!) with plans from all over the world.

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Looks like a house on a tropical island…

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and then and here it was a time leave back to Tel Aviv.

At the end of this blog I would like to share a few tips, should you be interested in visiting Palestine. This trip was too short for us to do so, but here is what I learned from my research:

Jericho (the city of Palms) – if you are in the Dead Sea area do not miss out on this town in West Bank. Believed to be one of the oldest villages in the world offers plenty of archaeological and Biblical attractions.

The Dead Sea area is quite badly reachable by the public transport, so to travel around here you will need to rent a car (or hitchhike). But with a car rented in Israel you will not be able to visit West Bank. Here is one of the alternatives for you to rent in Jerusalem.

Note to myself: next time I am around the Dead Sea I want to stay here.

Exploring the 3 islands of Malta

The teeny tiny spot in the Mediterranean sea – this is how Malta looks if you try to find it the world atlas. But then in December the 3 of us decided to zoom in to see what treasures this country, settled over the three islands, is hiding inside.

Malta’s surprises:

  1.  The traffic is on the wrong side of the road – it is the legacy of the British rule and influence over the island. The special relation is very much visible in the everyday life: crowds of the British tourists; shops like M&S and Costa cafes to cater for their taste and prices which are more similar to the UK than other Mediterranean countries.
  2. Language –  the sound of Maltese took me by surprise. People behind me in the plane were speaking something that was completely unfamiliar to my ear, so I made a conclusion it was Hungarian… Only later, I realized it is the original Maltese language, which vocabulary is 52% Italian/Sicilian, 32% Siculo-Arabic, and 6% English, with some of the remainder being French. But don’t worry, your won’t have to break your tongue – English is co-official language of the country.
  3. Churches, churches everywhere… Malta tops the list of the religious believes and is easy to see why: everywhere you look you see church(es) in the horizon. Only in Gozo alone you can find 46 churches and it’s a big number for a 67 km² island.
  4. And it is not the only list, where Malta is leading. Malta is also European country with the best LGBT rights. A big lesson to be learnt here for many other secular, yet very conservative, governments, including my native Lithuania!

and now let’s hit the left side of road and start the trip:

Valletta

The capital of Malta and the World Heritage Site. Tiny, feels more like a district than a city. Valletta begins with a panoramic view on the hill at the Upper Barrakka gardens and ends with Fort Saint Elmo all the way down the hill. The famous Saint John’s Co-Cathedral is right in the middle – don’t miss it!

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Gozo

Only half an hour on a ferry and you are in Gozo – the second biggest island of Malta. img_6638img_6637img_6636img_6635

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Azure Window

This rock is one of the biggest attractions in Gozo. Impressive from up close!

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Cittadella

Already from the ferry you can see the crosses of the citadel. A walk through the tiny streets of this walled city is a must. The panoramic views from the top are just spectacular.

Mdina

The old Malta’s capital and another World Heritage site. We were only able to reach Mdina in the evening, and it was breathtaking. Tiny streets, little light, almost no people. Could not get more mystic…But then out of the sudden the light inside this city went out… The only light that was left was from the full moon…

Blue Grotto

Another spectacular nature creation in the main island – the Blue Grotto. Look at it from up the hill and then go down to take a small boat ride through the caves.

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Marsaxlokk

Probably the most popular Sunday’s village in Malta with well advertised traditional fish market. On this day you have locals coming in from around the island and double as many tourists trying to glimpse at this “famous tradition of selling fish”.

The market is just like any other market, anywhere else around the world. But it is a beautiful place for a seafood lunch in the terrace.

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It was a 3 day visit to Malta, and even though we tried to see as much as possible, we had to leave a bunch of things for the next time. Malta is a beautiful mix of nature, architecture, history, and holiday fun for those who visit in the summer. I am definitely coming back again… maybe next December…

and last but not least… a few restaurants, we tried it and we loved it:

La Pira in Valletta for local Maltese food and wine.

Filippo in Marsaxlokk – Italian seafood place in the middle of the most famous market in Malta.

Life in Medina part II – Tanger blues 

Tangier was the second city we visited during our Morocco excursion. And if one knows that the next destination is a sunny place on the cost of the Mediterranean, one just can’t wait to get there. So were we! We shortened our time in Fez, jumped on the train, hoping to reach Tangier just before the sunset…

…it turns out the train service in Morocco is not that great, disturbances are common and not very surprising for locals. So 300 km and 8 hours later, just before the midnight, we arrived to Tangier.

Leaving 1000 year old Fez’ Medina and arriving to the modern Tangier’s train station felt like a time travel. The surroundings were quite different from what we left behind: skyscrapers with the international hotel names on them, perfect roads etc…

Then the taxi driver ‘by mistake’ took us to the similarly sounding hotel on the other side of the city, and we were back to reality. The defense mode was on again.

It was the middle of the night when we finally reach our little Dar Jameel hotel, right in the middle of the Medina. And yet again Morocco did its magic! Shabby on the outside, but breathtaking inside. We sat down for some mint tea and absorbed the beauty of Moroccan signature interior design, its colors and structures.

The next morning after the traditional breakfast on the rooftop we started to discover the old and new Tangier.

Tangier is blue

In Tangier, Medina blends in the mixture of different shades of blue, some from the sky and some from the sea. The white-blue houses, shops, pottery, carpets… Everything is blue! img_6345img_6376img_6360img_6342img_6368img_6377img_6344

Stairway to Kasbah

The Medina here is like a mountain. Climb it! It gets better with every stair you take. On the top of the mountain you will find Kasbah museum, which previously served as residence for Morocco’s sultans. It was closed for us, but I wish more luck for you.

Again, Medina here is a maze, enjoy it, get lost in it, peak into the local life, and of course, sip the mint tea on every corner.

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The cool Tangier

Due to its proximity to Europe, and the recent political situation, over the past decades Tangier has become a cool place to visit. With its art nouveau buildings, 70s style cinemas, the legendary cafes in  petit and grand socco, Tangier is full  of tourists, artists, traders. Again, it’s like a time travel back to when deals were made by shaking hands, and bargaining was an art on its own.img_6371img_6366img_6335img_6355img_6354img_6353img_6370img_6369img_6336img_6365

The new Tangier

The girl that we met on the train told us:

“You will love Tangier. It’s like New York. It never sleeps.”

In the search for this Tangier, we left the Medina, so see a little part of the new city.

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And then it was the end of our short holidays. We took the white Mercedes taxi to the airport,  leaving behind this newly discovered life in Medina. Morocco is not an easy country to travel: the tourist here equals the walking wallet, not everything works smoothly, be ready to bargain till you drop. But these are the minor things.

Morocco is beautiful! Still untouched by western trends, at least in its Medinas…

Go! See it for yourself!..

Nida – the biking challenge

Kursiu Nerija or Curonian Spit is  a tiny,  50 km  long piece of land, accessible only by water transport thus beautiful, green, fresh aired place. Often called the Lithuanian riviera offers a unique scenery of dunes, forests and white sand Nordic beaches.

This place takes its rightful place in the UNESCO heritage list. The spit is harshly protected from urbanization and is a perfect location for camping, hiking and biking. The local government do strongly encourage you to leave your car in Klaipeda, the other side of Kursiu Marios – Curonian Lagoon and take a bike as the main mean of transportation and enjoy a  nice & easy 50 km ride through a (flat) forest.

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A passage through Kursiu Marios – Curonian Lagoon from Klaipeda, Lithuania
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The navy ships of Lithuania
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The Port of Klaipeda
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The seagull
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First timer at the Baltic coast

With the lagoon on your left and deserted beaches on your right, biking here is a perfect form of meditation. If you travel off the season you are very likely not to meet any people in 10 km or 20 km.

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White
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Empty
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Beaches

The spit is famous for its dunes. A number of them are under strict protection and are not accessible to tourists. My personal favorite is the Naglis dune. The latest biking discovery Vecekrugo dune – possibly the highest point of the spit. The dune of Parnydis is the most known and it will take your breath away…

There are several fishermen villages across the spit. Nida being the biggest and the most famous one – right at the end of your biking challenge, next to boarder with Russia’s Kaliningrad.

This place is very special for me, and for many Lithuanians. It is unique, untouched, somewhat mysterious and very  wild. I hope it stays like this. I hope I will bring my children here one day and they will bring theirs…

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Long trip through dunes – Ilga kelione per kopas

Aš, viską praūžęs,
Rūkais užsirūkęs,
Geriu
Žalių vynų
Nakties.
Geriu
Žalią tylą,
Geriu
Žalią šilą.
Geriu
Ir apsvaigęs
Einu. 

Paulius Širvys

Pacific 101: San Diego to San Francisco

If you’re planning a road trip through California then the 101 is your route. It takes longer than a faster alternative – Interstate 5, but having tried both, it’s so much worth the time. Every stop you make – it’s a new scenery, from little towns, to beautiful long Californian beaches to walks though the forests and dunes. It’s a constant change of altitude, green and blue shades but … it’s California…sun stays up in the sky wherever you go (well not around San Francisco – but they told us the heavy rain weekend was bad luck… yeah right…).

The 101 is 2222.97 km long and connects US West’s the south and north through four different states.We (mostly me to all fairness) drove from San Diego to San Francisco and this is how it went:

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Orange County – The Palms Avenue
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Laguna Beach
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Palms trees come in every size and shape
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Happy US
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The Squared Motel
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California Coast
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Reflecting on life – part I
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Reflecting on life – part II
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Almost LA
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Santa Barbara!
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US in Santa Barbara
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101 at its best
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Walk to the beach through dunes
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The Eagle is surveying US
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Happy you
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Happy US
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To San Francisco!!!

And if you put it all in about 40 seconds you get something like this:

Palm trees of Los Angeles

Los Angeles – home of Brandon and Brenda, Pretty Woman, Mitch Buchannon and many other people you see on TV. Nr 18 biggest city in the World but hosts the whole word inside itself. China Town, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia, Little Bangladesh, Koreatown, Eastside LA is only a top of an iceberg of the melting pot that is LA.
If you are in LA for a first time choosing a place to stay is like … Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Melrouse Place, Malibu, Santa Monica and all other fancy neighborhood you hear on TV. We were lucky to find cosy The Rose hotel in front of the ocean in the Venice beach and we couldn’t have been more  lucky with the location.

Venice Beach

Once a resort town now a trending LA neighborhood with its crazy freaky (in a good way) Beach Boardwalk.

Venice was founded in 1905 as a seaside resort town. It was an independent city until 1926, when it merged with Los Angeles. Today, Venice is known for its canals, beaches, and the circus-like Ocean Front Walk, a two-and-a-half-mile pedestrian-only promenade that features performers, mystics, artists and vendors.

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Venice beach
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As seen on Baywatch
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Venice glam
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Tattoo, anyone?
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Venice sky
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Ocean Front
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I approve this message
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Let’s recreate
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Just in case of a Tsunami…
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Canals – it is Venice!
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He trades advises for a cup of coffee
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The Orange bus

Downtown LA

Around 20 km up the hills or 40 min Uber ride away from the ocean lies the center of the LA. The famous Olvera street is the birth place of LA (established end of XVIII century by  Spanish settlers).

Once downtown LA was not the safest place to go for a stroll but now it is blooming. China Town and Little Tokyo is just next by and definitely worth a visit.

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downtown through the Uber window
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the famous LA’s skyline monument
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which way?

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Hollywood

Yes yes yes the main attraction for all tourists!  Come here to take a picture with you fav star on the walk of fame, shopping and clubbing at night (haven’t tried it but that was a tip of my Uber driver).

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Summa summarum LA is great and it can be whatever you want it to be. Just go there and enjoy it. It’s better than they show it on TV.