It was the beginning of 2017 and the middle of a very grey winter in Brussels. It was the right time to make some changes. I pulled out a map of Spain, closed my eyes and blindly pointed my finger to an unknown location… When I opened my eyes I saw that Malaga is going to be a place where I am going to start an early summer.
It was the Semana Santa week in the South of Spain and the unusual 30 degrees for mid-April. The conditions were perfect to explore the beautiful white villages that are hiding in the mountains of Andalusia.
Semana Santa in Andalusia is a very special celebration. For locals it is a life long tradition, inviting to come back home to their own or their parents villages, meet their childhood friends, enjoy free afternoons and extra days-off. For people of faith, this week is a spiritual journey, taking through various stages of excruciation and revival. And for the rest, it is a street spectacle and an opportunity to join the famous Spanish street fiesta.
It has now been 10 days that I am living in the south of Spain region of Andalusia. Many of the things that represent Spain around the world have originated from here. And bullfighting is one of them. I know, there is a wide debate about banning the bull-fighting, and some regions of Spain have done it already. But by the look of things here, Andalusia will be the last one, if ever, to let it go…
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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!
Only half an hour on a ferry and you are in Gozo – the second biggest island of Malta.
This rock is one of the biggest attractions in Gozo. Impressive from up close!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Georgia – a country with a very successful word of mouth marketing campaign… at least in Lithuania.
Every Lithuanian can tell you a few good things about Georgia but only some lucky ones have gone to check if this land of honey is for real. I haven’t had the pleasure to see it myself yet, but I already know that it is a country with the most welcoming people, wine and food there is to die for, and nature… ohhh mountains…
So as soon as Jurgita and Gediminas came back from their Georgia exploration trip I asked them to share their tips & tricks. And this is what they had to say…
In Georgia wine is offered more often than water, including a glass for breakfast on the house. Make sure no to refuse, this could be treated as an insult. When in country, be ready for Georgian hospitality, that will fill your adventurous soul with memorable experiences. And here are 3 things you must do during your trip:
1. Visit Mountains
Georgia is a country of mountains. Forget Batumi, there are nicer beaches and seaside towns in Europe. Our plan was to spend 4 days in Svaneti, flying there from Tbilisi with local airplane. Unlucky us, heavy rain changed the programme, our flight was cancelled. We decided to skip other alternative – a 10 hrs ride by marshrutka to Mestia, and ended up having a closer trip to Kazbegi mountain – 3 hours drive north from Tbilisi. Breath-taking scenery…
Arranging a car was super easy – we just stopped a taxi in Tbilisi and asked the driver to bring us to mountains next day. Short negotiation for a price and deal was done.
Asking your B&B owner for a ride is also a great option, though usually such offer comes even without asking and with additional sightseeing suggestions and glass of local wine (this is supposed to help you make a right decision).
2. Taste local food
Eating all-up can be tough challenge – portions are huge, dishes are heavy in sauces. Wine or local spirit drink ča-ča is definitely good for digestion. Food is rich in meat (lamb, beef especially), baked vegetables, pastries. Chachapuri with cheese is very filling for lunch, ‘ponchiki’ (cream-filled pastry) is great for afternoon dessert.
3. Visit Tbilisi
Tbilisi is a remarkable example how new is blending into old. The city is soaking in western culture, Dunkin’ Donuts being top trendy place for fashionistas and hipsters (despite the fact that quality service is still far away from the western standards). For sightseeing we took super fun free tour with Anna, who showed us nooks and crannies, shared so many stories, insightful comments and funny observations about Georgians.
*Btw, we believe free tours with locals are the best way to explore city! If you are interested, check free London Grafitti tour.
Religion plays an important role in local lives. Whenever a Georgian sees a church, he crosses himself three times. Even when driving a narrow mountain road. Anna told us, that young generation are also strictly into religion. She witnessed a group of young girls, dancing in an open-roof bus when driving around the city and promoting event. Suddenly, when seeing the church, all girls stopped dancing, crossed themselves, and then continued dancing like nothing happened.
Georgia is so vivid in colours, tastes, nature, sounds. Lured us so much that we are planning a comeback, hopefully this time rain will not stop us to go to Svaneti mountains.
- Free Tbilisi tour with Anna
- To eat in Tbilisi: g.Vino, Funicular – best ‘ponchiki’; cream-filled pastry; Machakhela – eat with locals.