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.

The top 3 experiences in Georgia

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…

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Jurgita and Gediminas in action

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…

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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.

We recommend:

  • Free Tbilisi tour with Anna
  • To eat in Tbilisi: g.Vino, Funicular – best ‘ponchiki’; cream-filled pastry; Machakhela – eat with locals.

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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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.

Tijuana – 2 km inside Mexico

 Tijuana, according to some sources, the most crossed border in the world, for some others probably the one and only Mexico they’ve seen.

When starting our California experience down in San Diego, we decided to have a sneak peak into the Baja California, the Mexico’s appendix. This is what we found 2 km down the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

So this is how we got into Mexico:

After pleasant Mexico’s (no queue!) border control officers welcomed us to the country, we strolled all the way down to Avenida Revolución.

It was a warm Sunday afternoon, but the morning rain has washed away the crowds from the busiest tourists attraction. This is what we found:

We also found one particularly interesting Cumbia’s (a COLOMBIAN, not Mexican) place. Check out these local dancing moves:

It was a beautiful sunset when it was time to leave Tijuana. Even Avenida Revolution has lost its shine and glitter and seen more bad things than good in the recent past, it is only more than worth to go abajo. They say the lobster on the cost of the ocean is yummy!

 

Ding Dong in Venice

Venice is, undoubtedly, a spectacular place. During my recent visit these little pieces of metal grabbed my attention. This island city has a particularly beautiful doorbells!

Knock know Venice:

 

(h)And(g)rea meets Europe

So Andrea came to visit us… Don’t worry we treated her well! She is already back in the beautiful and sunny Chuauauaua. But while she was here we tried to show her as much as possible in Europe. So besides Brussels we also made 3 weekend trips: to Jaime’s beloved Netherlands, a wonder city of Venice and took a bus ride to Paris!

Andrea also brought Hangrea. Hangrea was particularly interested in finding something as close as it could get to tacos. So this is how it all went…

Amsterdam

Canals, bicycles, little streets, Ana Frank museum, corner bars… January is cold and windy in this port city but even so it is beautiful and a unique place to visit!

Venice

Ohhh Venice what a pleasure to see you in deep winter! With less people on the streets, shorter queues and fog you only look more mystical! We did not mind the rain and high tide at all. There is something magical about you and, in my opinion, it is more visible in winter!

Not to mention that Hangrea was very happy here! All the pizzas, pastas, lasagnias….

A few tips:

  • A free Venice walking tour is definitely worth your time
  • hi!tide Venice is a very useful app if you want keep your shoes dry in here!

And last but not least. Find 10 difference now and 10 years ago…

Paris

Everybody knows that Nr 1 to do thing in Paris is the Eiffel Tower pic! Success!

But apart from the Eiffel Tower we did all classic Paris’ spots: Tuileries Garden, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Champ de Mars, Jardin du Luxembourg, Panthéon etc etc. And Paris played its magic on Andrea!

We miss you Andrea! Come back soon!

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