My Story of Krakow, Poland

I spent the first two weeks of August 2022 on a road trip through parts of Poland and Austria. Left Bucharest, Romania, went through Oradea, Romania with the first destination being Krakow, Poland.

The road trip itself was an interesting experience as it was done with a fully electric car and the time spent in parking lots of gas stations, shopping centres, and McDonald’s-es to charge it… well, let’s just say, I’ve never had that many long “pit stops” in my life. Other than that, I totally recommend electric cars 😀 

We stayed far from the city centre, at Hotel Apis. Luckily, we had a bus going from near the hotel to the heart of the town. Besides, the hotel was great, with a very good breakfast. 

Vintage trams at the Museum of Engineering

TIP TIME: In Krakow, but also in Warsaw and Wroclaw, you can buy bus tickets from the machines inside the bus(tram) or through mobile apps. 
The bus left us in front of a shopping centre which despite being open had all its stores closed. And that was how we found out that in Poland, all stores are closed on Sundays. The only exception are small private-owned shops. The reason behind it is owners are not allowed to ask their employees to work on Sundays. 

But, before judging me for wasting my precious tourist time on shopping centres, I do have a good excuse for it: I left Bucharest, Romania at 40 degrees Celsius and my first day in Krakow was rainy and windy and 16 degrees Celsius. I needed an extra layer. Luckily, I did find a scarf in a small Indian shop in the old town. 

Saint Florian’s Gate Tower

The old town is surrounded by greenery and we entered it at the Saint Florian’s Gate Tower, a medieval gothic building, adjoining the city’s fortified walls. Immediately after, one can visit the Barbican Gateway, now part of the city’s Historical Museum. 

From there, you’re officially inside the old town. You enter cobbled streets, flanked by old buildings with tiny shops on the ground floor. The entrance to the shops is usually fairly narrow, making you think the space is quite small, when in fact, once you’re inside it seems to expand in length like some sort of magic tunnel with no end-light in sight. Luckily, the effect is to make you want to go further and explore, rather than run out screaming. Which is exactly what I did, when I entered a candy store, called Castle Sweet and only left it half an hour later with a bag full of sweets.

Castle Sweets

By the time we reached the main square, it’d started drizzling, so we took refuge inside the Cloth Hall – a market hall with stalls selling traditional Polish trinkets and the largest amount of amber I’ve ever seen. So, if you’re a fan of amber, Krakow is the city for it. The Cloth Hall also holds at least one museum in its walls and underground. Besides this building there are three other noteworthy structures in the Main Square (Rynek Glowny): Saint Mary’s Basilica, a big red-bricked, two-towered church in one corner of the square, the Town Hall Tower, and the Church of St. Wojciech, a small, 11th-century church, that looks like it doesn’t really belong here, sort of like a lost child in a crowd of adults, which is weird, considering it’s probably the great-great-great grandma of the buildings around.

The Main Square

The old town ends in a crowning glory with, you guessed it – a castle. The Wawel Royal Castle. It’s a museum you can visit, but I strongly suggest you buy your tickets online and pay close attention to the timetable of the tours. We didn’t, and we were supposed to wait another almost two hours for the next tour, so we decided against it. Instead, we enjoyed the pouring rain and views over the river, then went down through the Dragon’s Den, a cave at the mouth of which the dragon itself awaits, breathing fire at regular intervals. Fun!

Side of the Castle building holding the cafe

After walking a bit along the river, we had a very good lunch at Karakter, a very nice restaurant with delicious French-style cuisine. 

We then explored a bit more of the part of town called Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter, saw the street famously known as Schindler’s List Passage (from the movie), then visited the Museum of Engineering, particularly the barn full of vintage trams, which concluded our first day in Krakow.

The Dragon

On the following day, despite initially not planning to go, we decided to visit Auschwitz – very last minute. Which meant there weren’t any tickets left for the English-guided tour, so we ended up going on the Spanish-guided tour, which actually turned out all right. But the point is: don’t make up your mind about it at the last minute and make sure you book your tour in advance. Other than that, it’s difficult to describe the experience of visiting this place, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t go into details. I would say it is worth the visit.

After coming back from Auschwitz, we spent the evening on the other side of the river Vistula in the Stare Podgorze, visiting the Saint Joseph Church and its surroundings, which I was very impressed with. The church’s architecture is neo-gothic and has a striking, embellished appearance. But what struck me more were the sculptures around it, representing scenes of Jesus’s way to Golgotha. The sculptures are exhibited on a cliff surrounding the church. If you follow the scenes composing the story, they will take you up some stairs and into a small, but beautiful park, where you can stop on a bench to rest and admire the beauty of nature and church. 

Saint Joseph Church

Being in this neighbourhood, we also made a stop at the Jewish Ghetto Memorial, a big square filled with giant metal chairs, representing the abandoned possessions of the Jewish people who were gathered in this square before being deported.

Overall, this day revolved around the story of the Jewish people and their oppression which made it a rather sad and introspective day. Nonetheless, an interesting one. 


Next stop on my journey and story: Warsaw, Poland. 

A Trip Around Puglia part 4

My Story of Polignano a Mare

After a full and rather tiring trip to Matera, we decided Sunday is the day of rest, so we only took a smaller trip from Bari to Polignano a Mare. It’s a short train ride of about 20 minutes and costs about 5 euros round-trip. 

The sea

But why Polignano a Mare? Well, because it’s one of those places that keep popping up on social media: beautiful views of the sea, cave restaurants, tiny piece of beach flanked by rocks… you know, the usual. 

After getting off the train along with what felt like the entire population of Bari – I swear a mass of people disembarked into Polignano a Mare and started in the direction of the sea. Naturally, we followed and soon reached the town center. Limestoned and searing hot, with tiny, winding streets that felt like a labyrinth I gladly got lost in. 

Walking the streets of Polignano a Mare

Before reaching the “labyrinth”, we passed a trinkets market in the square. I’m not sure if it was a one-time thing or a Sunday Market, but there were lots of cute souvenirs to choose from. 

Crochet shop at market

Once we got our fill of trinkets, we started exploring the tiny streets. The labyrinth paths take you out to sea from time to time, giving you a breather and a panoramic view to enjoy and take plenty of pictures of. There’s also a belvedere of the beach where we stayed for a while, watching a group of people jumping off the cliffs into the sea – for recreational purposes, of course. I don’t think I’d ever do that – must have something to do with my fear of heights and inability to swim – but it was quite thrilling watching.

View of the beach

We then tried our luck at the beach, but besides us not being properly equipped for the beach, there was barely any sand space left. Also, the bars overlooking the sea would charge a fixed fee that equaled a bottle of wine, if you wanted a table. So, if you plan to go there and have a coffee looking out onto the beach and sea, be ready to have a bottle of wine as well, or at least to pay for it. However, I recommend you enjoy the view for free from other town corners. 

A strip of the beach seen through the bridge columns

When we got enough of the town, we headed back to the train station and as we had another hour to spare before the train arrived, we found a park nearby, with a refreshments kiosk where we spent our time having a drink and relaxing in the quiet. I also found a fun minion-inspired bench that had written on it: “Happiness is found in the smile of a child”.

The minion-themed park bench

Now, I know it doesn’t sound like much from my description of the place, but truly, you have to be there. By the time I visited the place, I was already tired and lazy from the previous travel days, but Polignano a Mare is a beautiful town with great seascapes and it’s worth a trip if you’re in the area.  

A Trip Around Puglia part 3

My Story of Matera, Italy

I’ve told you about Bari and Alberobello and it is now time for another Pugliese gemstone: Matera

It appears that this area of Italy has a thing for quirky dwellings, as while Alberobello is the town of trulli, Matera is a cave town. Literally. A large portion of this town has been built into the side of hills, dug into rock. 

You’ll find plenty of cave churches and houses too and you’ll see the hills opposite the town are also holey… with caves. 


But, first things first, a bit about how we got there. We woke up terribly early, walked to the train station, took the train to the airport and from there a bus that went to Matera. 

TIP TIME: You can buy the bus tickets online, but pay close attention to the bus schedule and train schedule and expect some long waits in between. Suffice it to say getting to Matera from Bari using public transport can be a bit tricky.

The street going into the center

The bus left us at the main bus and train station in Matera. From there, we made a short stop at the Info Point where we got a map. After that, we stopped for gelato and mini cakes. Before reaching the rocky neighbourhoods, Matera looks very much like a regular Italian town. The main pedestrian street, lined with shops and cafes, takes you to a square where it all begins. As it was a Saturday, we even caught a glimpse of a bride walking up the steps of a cathedral, then marvelled at a weird-looking ballerina sculpture. 

Ballerina on a piano with legs

Another church featured mainly skulls on its outer walls, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. Slowly, we reached a part of town where we could get a panoramic view of the entire Matera and then entered a cave that used to be a church. 

View of Sasso Caveoso

TIP TIME: If you choose to visit this part of Italy in the summer, know that it’s very hot. The sun is burning and in Matera, there aren’t many places to get cover, except for the cool caves. So, take advantage of that and enter as many as you can. Alternatively, get plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and some sort of head coverage. You’ll need it.

Wooden skull sculpture on church door

After walking around the whole town – that is, the touristic part, we visited a subterranean cistern, called Palombaro Lungo. It was the place where some of the town’s drinking water used to be stored. And it provided a cool shelter from the blistering heat outside. 

A glimpse into Palombaro Lungo

We then tried to find something to eat and finally decided on a small café, where we got a small bite, coffee, and some fruity iced tea, and spent a couple of relaxing hours. 

TIP TIME: As everywhere in Italy, restaurants close between lunch and dinner, with a few exceptions, so be careful how you plan your meals to sync with their schedule. Our eating habits get pretty hectic when on holiday so we sometimes end up spending a long time finding a place that’s open at 3 pm for example. 


So, what to do in Matera:

–           Walk around Sasso Caveoso and Sassi di Matera and visit cave dwellings, stop to take pictures of some of the best panoramic views. Pay close attention, as some of the caves hold art exhibits worth at least a glance.

–           If you have more time, go for a hike across the river to the other hills and the caves found there. These caves also hold churches and chapels

View of the opposite hills

–           Visit Tramontano Castle

–           Visit Palombaro Lungo (the cistern) and all the other small museum, such as the Ipogeo Materasum

–           Make a stop in Piazza Vittorio Veneto at Bar Caffe Tripoli for an espresso and a snack.

View of another part of Matera

And that concludes my brief story of Matera. Next stop: Polignano a Mare.

A Trip Around Puglia part 2

My Story of Alberobello

I wanted to squeeze all the gemstones of Puglia in this article: Alberobello, Matera, and Polignano a Mare, but thought better of it, so you’ll get some really short reads with these next stories.

First stop: Alberobello

On the second day of the trip – see part 1 here, we went to the central train station and boarded a bus to Alberobello. Tickets were bought online from www.trainline.com for a little over 4 euros. So, a round-trip is almost 9 euros. Timewise, we got there in about 1 hour.

TIP TIME: FFP2 masks are still required on public transportation around Italy, so if you’re travelling there, make sure you have some on hand.  

Most photographed trulli

On the way to Alberobello, you can already spot tiny stone huts, scattered on the fields. Why is this important? Well, because the old part of Alberobello is fully comprised of trulli. A trullo is a traditional dry stone hut with a corbelled roof. It is specific to this region and dates back centuries, being initially built either for storage or as dwellings for workers of the land. 

Nowadays, they make up one of the most popular tourist attractions in Puglia, being also recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Why are these huts so special? Well, not only for their local allure and history, but I suppose, for most of us, regular mortals, Alberobello makes us think of a Smurf village – with no actual connection. 

Floral alley in Alberobello

Once we got there and hopped off the bus, a little after 11:00 am, we got a taste of sunny Italian summer, with the sun already burning the cobbled streets. Nevertheless, we made our way to the Belvedere Terazza Santa Lucia, where we got our best view of the trulli, along with tons of pictures. After that, we slowly made our way through the “neighbourhood” wandering at the blindingly whitewashed walls and awesome roofs. Plus, the people here really make an effort to keep the area clean and pretty, with plenty of flowers decorating window seals, doorsteps, and tiny alleys. 

A street in Alberobello

We didn’t get a tour guide, but if you have the chance, you might want to consider it, as I’m sure you’ll get a better sense of the historical and social importance of the Trulli of Alberobello. Even so, marvelling at the “smurf town” – sorry, Italians, I can’t help it – without having a guide, is still worth the trip from Bari. And, if you’re a photography enthusiast, passionate Instagrammer or trendy TikToker, YouTuber, etc…this is the place for you. I kid you not. The shots you’ll get here – spectacular. 

When we got enough of the trulli, we stopped for some gelato and ice coffee at a café, where we hid from the sun for a while and cooled off, and where, most importantly, I ate a “tit”. That’s right, I said what I said. A “tit”/ “boob” or tette, more officially “tette delle monache”, is an Italian sweet pastry with cream and custard, that resembles a breast. I loved it. It was sort of fluffy, sweet but not overly sweet and it topped the cannolo on my top deserts list… left it behind… the cannolo is sitting in a corner crying. Sorry not sorry.

Tette delle Monache

And with that ended my day in Alberobello. We then went back to the bus station and enjoyed the road back, stopped for an octopus sandwich at Muto Like a Fish for a lunchinner…dlunch?

Octopus sandwich

And back to our comfy accommodation to get some rest for the following day: a trip to Matera… coming soon.

A Trip Around Puglia part 1

My Story of Bari, Italy

Long time – no travel, but I’m back to my backpack and the first journey was to the Puglia (Apulia) region in Italy. More specifically, Bari, Matera, Alberobello and Polignano a Mare. 

Puglia is the “heel” of Italy’s “boot”, with Bari, the largest city in the region, as a sort of capital. However, besides Bari, there are many places worth visiting here and I only got to see a few of them. So, if you’re looking to do more thorough research on this part of Italy, have a look at its official travel website.

But if you’re curious about my story, keep on reading. I promise not to make it too boring. 

First things first, some logistics. I travelled by plane from Bucharest, Romania, to Bari, Italy with Wizzair. The round-trip tickets were bought about 2 weeks before the trip for around 50 euros. 


TIP time

From the Bari Airport to Bari Centrale (Central Train Station) there is a train that takes about 20 minutes and costs 5,10 euros. This line is different from the regular train line and tickets won’t appear available on apps such as Trainline or Omio. But you can find the timetables on their website here. Tickets are available at the automatic vending machines in the stations.


Story time

After reaching Bari Centrale, we started by foot towards the accommodation, located some 2km away from the station, in the direction opposite the city centre. Perhaps not our best decision, given we walked a lot and refused to take the bus, but other than not being in the city centre, the accommodation was great. It’s called Morris Bed&Breakfast, it’s located in a quiet neighbourhood, and has anything you need, including a very helpful and friendly host, who welcomed us and offered lots of useful information and maps of Bari. 

Once we settled, we headed back to the city, past the train station, into the modern shopping streets of Bari (Murat), filled with bars and restaurants, and then to the old town, with its cobbled streets, Svevo Castle, churches, and port. 

Part of Castle Svevo

We slowly made our way around the castle and stopped at the most popular gelato shop, located in the castle square: Gelateria Gentile. After enjoying some traditional gelato flavours, we continued exploring and found something that gave us a better feel of Bari – a tiny street lined with pasta-covered tables where some Barese ladies were making that pasta, fresh, right there in front of you. 

Gelateria Gentile

After that, we wandered the streets of the old town, the waterfront, then back to one of the main streets of Bari, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, which marks the border of the old and new town and at the end of which we found a foodie’s treasure: La Porchetteria di Ariccia(Bari). As I’ve mentioned before, starting with My Story of Rome, when we first discovered porchetta, this Italian delicious savoury pork belly roll has become a staple in our Italian travels and we try it everywhere we can find it. It is specific to Rome and the centre of Italy, but there are some other places you might be lucky enough to find it. Bari is one of them. And La Porchetteria di Ariccia did not disappoint. It is a fast-food restaurant, which offers so many sandwich options, it was hard for us to decide what to pick. But just ask for a porchetta sandwich and start from there, adding as many extras as you’d like. Even now, thinking back to the sundried tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, and artichokes topping the juicy porchetta makes my mouth water. And yes, if it wasn’t obvious already, we ate here several times during our stay. 

Porchetta – the non-sandwich version

So, what to eat in Bari?

Besides the porchetta I already told you about, which is not specific to this region, you can also try the following:

•          Gelato (Italian ice cream)

This is obviously a must anywhere you find yourself in Italy. So whether you try the old Gelateria Gentile or any other shop around, give it a try. 

•          Orecchiete (small ears)

Don’t worry, these aren’t actual ears, but pasta specific to the Puglia region. Their shape sort of resembles ears, if ears are Dopey (Snow-White’s dwarf) style. I guess it’s an artistic choice, which I’m totally up for. 

•          Seafood

Being a seafront city, Bari offers plenty of seafood and fish options. The one I tried and actually saw displayed in various eateries was the octopus sandwich (panino con polpo). The version I had, was with spinach and burrata at the Muto Like a Fish restaurant in the Murat neighbourhood. 

Sandwiches on display at one of the many eateries in Bari

And now that we’ve eaten our way through Bari, let’s get walking.

What to do in Bari:

•          Walk the streets of the city centre, go shopping in the Murat neighbourhood and enjoy a cosmopolitan afternoon at the cafes.

•          Explore the old town and enjoy the tiny streets, finding hidden treasures, such as the pasta street I told you about, or tiny cafes and restaurants. 

The “Pasta” Street in Bari

•          Visit Svevo Castle and the Bari Cathedral. Located within a few steps from each other, these are, by far, the main attractions of the old town. However, in the same area, you’ll find at least three other museums. So, if you’re a culture buff, you’ll surely find plenty to see here, including Museo Civico and the Archaeological Museum.

•          Take a walk along the seafront, have a look at the boats, and rest on one of the benches near the port. 

•          Spend some time at the beach. You’ll find some small beaches on either side of the old town and port. The beaches to the south can be reached by train from Bari Centrale in about 10 minutes. 

View of the port in Bari

Stay tuned for my next stories of Puglia, to discover places such as Alberobello, Matera, and Polignano a Mare. Coming soon.

My Story of Naples, Italy

Two years ago, just before the pandemic took over Europe, I was on my last “unmasked” trip. The destination: Naples, Italy, which I will refer to as “Napoli” (it’s the Italian name, and it comes easier to me). 

I had four days to spend here and tried to make the best of it. The accommodation was an apartment in the Materdei neighbourhood, close to the Materdei subway station and one of the oldest pizza restaurants in Napoli: Starita

Pizza from Starita

We arrived in the evening and only had time for dinner: takeaway pizza from a place nearby (not Starita though, as the queue was to the street corner). 

Capri

The next day, a very sunny one, we decided to visit the Island of Capri. To get there, we took a ferry from Napoli. Once in Capri, there are small buses that take you up to the small town at the top of the island. From there, there are several directions you can go. We didn’t exactly plan what to do on Capri, so we just decided to let our feet take us someplace, knowing, from the moment we stepped on the island, that it will be beautiful everywhere. 

Belvedere di Punta Cannone

First, we reached Belvedere di Punta Cannone, a spot from where you could admire a gorgeous view. Then, we somehow got back to the center and started in a different direction, eventually reaching the Arco Naturale, a rock formation resembling a huge arc, creating some other amazing views of the sea. 

What you have to keep in mind is that these spots, although beautiful, were really just the cherries on top of an already wonderful cake. All the winding roads, the white houses, the trees and flowers, and the overly enthusiastic sun made Capri a heaven on earth kind of place. You know, the kind you dream of retiring to someday. 

Arco Naturale

If you have the time, I recommend you spend at least one full day on Capri, as it has so many things to offer, besides the two I mentioned, such as grottoes, parks, and forts.

Pompei

The following day was reserved for Pompei, the ruins of the ancient city once covered in ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. We reached the town by train, a trip that took about 40 minutes from Napoli. The site of the ruins is incredibly big – truly an entire stone city. The atmosphere was heavy, foretelling a storm. Dark clouds were gathering over and combined with the tragic story of the city, it made for a sombre visit. However, if you are in this region of Italy, I do believe you should make a stop in Pompei. Another similar site can be found at Herculaneum. We made a stop there as well, had lunch at a café near the train station, and had a look at the archaeological site from above and decided to skip it, as we found it quite similar to Pompei, except a bit smaller. 

Small part of the ruins of Pompei

Napoli

Finally, a full day in Napoli. We started the day with a tour of Napoli’s Sotterranea (underground tunnels). 10/10 recommend. It was great! Squeezing through the incredibly narrow stone tunnels, finding out more about the city’s history… a great experience overall. Afterward, we wandered a bit more around the old town then walked towards the sea, took pictures with the wolves in Piazza Municipio, marvelled at Castle Nuovo, the Royal Palace, and Ovo Castle. We also enjoyed a long walk on Napoli’s waterfront, getting a better sense of the city as a seaside destination. We had a great lunch at a restaurant near Ovo Castle. Several fancy restaurants lined the docks of the old marina and we stopped at La Scialuppa, where I had some tuna and salad. Staying on the food topic, in the evening, we finally got a table at Starita, the pizza restaurant near our apartment, and enjoyed a very original Neapolitan pizza. 

Ovo Castle

On the last day of the trip, as we still had some time to kill before leaving for the airport, we decided to visit the Archaeological Museum of Napoli, a building we kept passing by on our strolls through the city.

Beautiful and delicious food at La Scialuppa

All in all, Napoli is worth a visit. For the pizza, for the castles, the underground, the museums, and waterfront walkways. And of course, for the other attractions nearby, such as Capri or Pompei. Not to mention that, if you have more time and perhaps decide to rent a car, spend some time on the Amalfi Coast and visit Sorrento and Positano. I also hear the Island of Ischia is worth visiting, so really, there’s plenty to do in the region for at least a full week.  

12 Books I Read in 2021

Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash

or

How I traveled Fictionally Last Year

I wrote a similar article about the books I read in 2020, which you can read here. You’ll find I was a much more “productive” reader back then, with 19 books read, as opposed to only 12 this past year. For some reason, despite the very long to-read list, I can’t seem to get myself wrapped up in a story the way I used to… I do blame social media and Netflix binging for it, but also, it might be just me. 

I’ve also started the year with the idea of writing book reviews…that only lasted for a few months. However, laziness aside, I did discover some superb stories this year, one of which I can now count as a favourite. 

So, here’s my list of 12 books I read in 2021 and be careful, there are spoilers ahead:

1.         The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E.Schwab

Not a bad read at all and based on the clever idea of someone living for several centuries (without being a vampire) and being “invisible”. Addie LaRue prays to the wrong god, wishes for the wrong things, and starts living an extraordinary life, spanning centuries, with no one acknowledging her existence, until one day, when she steals a book from an old books shop, she gets caught…for the first time. This is marked as an adult fantasy novel, although, at times, it felt a bit more like young adult. Overall, I enjoyed this story and got to write in more detail about it here. I gave it 4/5 stars.

2.         Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

I am a fan of Joanne Harris, after reading her “Chocolat” series and this book did not disappoint either. A historical fiction novel, with a strong family/mother-daughter relationship theme, it’s the story of Framboise and her family living through World War II on a farm in German-occupied France. You can read more details about it here. I gave it 4.5/5 stars.

3.         Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Also reviewed in the same article as the previous book. Silver in the Wood is more of a short fantasy novella about a large man living in the forest, protecting its fairy inhabitants as well as the villagers nearby. The story starts when Andrew Silver moves into the mansion at the edge of the forest and the two develop a strong bond. 3/5 stars from me.

4.         The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Another historical fiction novel with two intertwined storylines, one from World War I and the other from the late ‘40s. A young woman goes in search of her long-lost cousin and the only connection she finds is a war spy, who is, at first, reluctant to help. While the story of the spy (Eve) is very intense and at times borders on the grotesque, the story of the young woman (Charlie) is softer, with some romance and lots of fashion. Overall, I very much enjoyed this book, reviewed it in more detail here, and gave it 5/5 stars.

     5 – 6 -7. The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty

Now, this – is a favourite. I started reading the first volume “The City of Brass” now knowing what I’m getting myself into and got so wrapped up, I read the next two books like there was no tomorrow. They were “unputdownable” to me. Let me tell you why. This is an adventure-fantasy novel, with a heavy socio-political theme. We have a girl from the 1800s in Cairo with powers she doesn’t quite understand, who meets a strong and mysterious man who guides us to the city of the daevas, or as we know them, djinnies. The city is ruled by a not-so-loved king, whose son, prince Ali, has connections with the rebels. From here, we get deeper into the story and the magic unravels more and more. I wholeheartedly recommend this trilogy for adventure and fantasy lovers. I wrote a review of the first volume, which you can read here. Overall, 5/5 stars

8. The Binding by Bridget Collins

Another fantasy novel with a very interesting subject: people (their memories) get bound into books. In a society where people and their thoughts and memories are discarded and seen as disposable, a young man becomes an apprentice to a bookbinder. His life gets complicated when he encounters another young man looking to get bound. Check out the entire review here. Another 4/5 stars for this book.

9. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I know, I should’ve read this one a long time ago, but hey, better late than never. Everyone’s at least heard about it, so I won’t go into details. I enjoyed it and was surprised at how modern it was and in awe at the brain of the young author, who’s cooked up such a story. Again, 4/5 stars. 

10. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio 

A novel slightly different from my usual reads, set in the theatre world, with extensive passages from Shakespeare’s plays, it follows the story of a group of theatre students, who get a little too into their characters. Kind of a dark gothic story. I liked how it was written and very much enjoyed the descriptions of the sets. 3.5/5 stars from me. 

11. The Archive of the Forgotten by A.J. Hackwith

This is the second book in the Hell’s Library trilogy, the first of which I read back in 2020, and the last of which I read in the first days of 2022. Also a fantasy novel, it follows former librarian, now arcanist Claire, muse librarian Brevity, the angel Ramiel and the book Hero through some adventures as they try to uncover the mystery of the ink pool which appeared in the middle of the Arcane Wing out of nowhere. The entire series was to my liking as it’s first and foremost about books. I give it 5/5 stars and I recommend you read them all. 

12. How to Argue with a Cat by Jay Heinrichs

I almost forgot about this one, a non-fiction book I got as a present. It talks about how to convince strong-minded people (and cats) or how to negotiate with them. I’m not a big fan of this kind of books and I find that mostly they say things I already know, but it wasn’t a bad read overall. It’s a short and easy book, so if you’re curious or maybe you have a cat, you could give it a try. 

Did you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?

My Story of Malta

Throwback to my 2019 holidays

This year, I’m spending the holidays at home, in peace and quiet, which I do enjoy, but I also miss travelling. In 2019, I got to spend the holidays in Malta. We arrived on Christmas Day and left on New Year’s Day 2020. It was a full week of exploring the gorgeous island of Malta, plus a day in Gozo.
From the airport, we got a bus that took us close to Valetta, then on another, that took us to our accommodation, a cozy apartment, located in Il-Gzira.

View of a street in Il Gzira. Love the colourful balconies


TIP TIME: Buses are very reliable in Malta and cover most (if not all) of the tourist attractions. Tickets can be bought from the drivers or you can get a travel card “tallinja” to cover several days. We got the “Explore” card, which offered unlimited travel for 7 days and cost 21 euros. You can find more information here.


Day 1
The first evening was spent exploring the surroundings and taking pictures of the sunset over the gulf of Sliema. Being Christmas day, most restaurants had fixed special Christmas menus that weren’t very appealing to us, but we found a place where we had some very delicious pasta.

Statue of a happy god


Day 2
The following day was reserved for Valetta, the capital of Malta, a lovely and lively city, which was quite crowded, despite the time of year. Here, from the impressive gates to Fort St. Elmo, which we visited, everything gives the impression of light and joy, with a touch of history at every step. Besides wandering the stoned streets, and visiting Fort St. Elmo, we made a stop at the Lower Barakka Gardens, which were possibly my favourite place. If you have more than a day to spend in Valetta, there’s a big list of Museums you should visit, including the Museum of Archaeology.

View from the Fort


Day 3
On the third day, we went further, on the opposite shore from Valetta, and visited Fort St. Angelo, The Inquisitor’s Palace, Malta at War Museum, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, and the Tarxien Temples, the last two being ancient sites and despite not being extraordinary to look at, the fact that the ruins lasted so long and the simple idea of stepping on something that’s been built by people who lived thousands of years before is what makes them extraordinary.

Tarxien Temple


Day 4
On our 4th day in Malta, we visited Mdina, the old capital and by far, one of my favourite spots. We got there by bus, of course, and explored the cobbled streets, Domus Romana, and Saint Paul’s Catacombs. Domus Romana was impressive for me as it was Roman style house, very well preserved, with mosaic floors.
The second part of the day, we went to Buggiba, another part of Malta, where we visited the Aquarium, walked along the rocky shore, and had a lovely dinner at a fish restaurant called Ocean Basket. The food was great and I definitely recommend it.

View of Mdina from the bus


Day 5
Day 5 was reserved for some other ancient ruins, at Hagar Qim, then tried to make it to the Blue Grotto, but then decided not to go on a boat and instead took a bus to Marsaxlokk, a very famous fish town, where a big market is organized every Sunday. The town itself is charming, but we only got there when the market was already almost wrapped up and the place was bustling with tourists, so much you could barely enjoy the sights. Not to mention all restaurants were full. Because I was terribly hungry, I ended up grabbing a Colombian hot dog, from a street vendor. The food was good and lasted enough until we returned to Il-Gzira.

The Blue Grotto


Day 6
A day reserved for Malta’s little brother, the island of Gozo. Again, we took a bus to the far end of the island, then got the ferry to Gozo. The ferry trip takes roughly 20 minutes. From the boat, we took another bus to the centre of the island, where another stone town, with small winding streets, awaited. Here, we visited the citadel, surrounded by large stone walls and holding a cathedral, an old prison, an archaeology museum, and surprisingly many small jewellery and glass shops.
Leaving the island of Gozo, the skies darkened and by the time we reached the shore of Malta it was raining so heavily, we got soaked before we reached the bus station, only a few meters away. We waited for the bus for what seemed like forever and the ride back was probably the longest of my life. However, by the time we reached familiar neighbourhoods, specifically St. Julian’s, we were dry and got off the bus early, to explore a bit more by foot. We also made a last stop at an eatery we discovered in Sliema, called Sea Salt. A tiny place on a street corner, that sells seafood and the best octopus burgers you’ll ever eat. If only they delivered to Bucharest…

View of Gozo port from the ferry


The last day of the year was for recovery, so we spent it mostly inside, watching tv. We went out just before midnight for a leisure walk at the waterfront. Got a glimpse of the fireworks from Valetta, then made it back to the apartment. The next day we went to the airport and back home. Careful though, buses weren’t working on New Year’s Day, so better grab a taxi than wait for the bus for over an hour… as we did.


Anyway, all in all, Malta is a must-see. There are so many spots worth visiting, enough to keep you entertained a full week and if you’re going when it’s warmer, you can definitely add beaches to the list. In December, the high was about 16-17 degrees Celsius and mostly sunny, except for that dreadful rain on the 30th. However, the wind is pretty strong and the air crisp, so make sure you’re prepared with wind/waterproof jacket.

A tiny street in Mdina


That’s how I spent my 2019 holidays and with this story I conclude my 2021 blog posts. Hope you enjoy my stories and keep on reading in 2022-too 🙂

My Story of Malmö & Copenhagen

A beginning of winter

The end of November 2018 was a lifetime ago. And yet, a memorable (life)time as I went on a double-city break to Malmö, Sweden, and Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Because it’s been some time since then and I vaguely remember it, it won’t be a very detailed story, but I hope at least to make you curious about these places or stir up some memories. 

There was a time when flights from Bucharest, Romania to Malmö, Sweden were some of the cheapest. So naturally, we booked a return flight and accommodation in Malmö. From the airport, we took a bus to the train station, as our hotel was nearby. On our ride from the airport, we were already noticing how good the infrastructure was, how buses were electric and noiseless, which we’re still missing in Bucharest.

Malmö Town Hall

The hotel was one of the best we stayed at and offered an amazing breakfast, where every morning guests would queue in to get second helpings of mustard herring or cut slices of freshly baked bread. I found it saved on my map, it’s called First Hotel Jörgen Kock, in case you want to check it out.

It was already late evening when we got there, so we only took a brief walk outside, as besides being dark, it was freezing cold. Although temperatures were pretty much the same at home that time of year, around 4-5 degrees Celsius, it seemed a lot colder in Malmö – a different type of cold, the kind that chills you to the bone. 

Copenhagen

The following day was reserved for a trip to Copenhagen. So, after a delicious filling breakfast, we went to the train station, got tickets, and boarded a very crowded train to Copenhagen. The trip took about 30 minutes or so and the train went over the Øresund Bridge, that connects the two countries (and cities).

From the Central Station in Copenhagen, we walked towards the city centre and almost immediately fell in love with the city. Besides the general cold that got into my bones even before I got to the city centre, everything was lovely. Architecture, streets, stores, everything. The pedestrian street we walked on was full of stores, all decorated for Christmas. 

Tapestry at Christianborg Palace

A side note:

A lot of them actually sold decorations and of course, the ones that caught our attention were tomte or nisse or tomtenisse, the little humanoid felt creatures with beards and long hats, that barely have a body – some of you might call them little Santas, or elves maybe. You know, the ones that are all beard, hat, and nose. They’re a common Scandinavian Christmas decoration and although legend says they were quite mischievous, they’re also supposed to be protectors of homes, from what I gathered. Anyways, they were everywhere and I had to have one. 

Fredrik’s Church

With only one day in Copenhagen and so much to see, we had to pick just a few stops. After a brief stop at the Christmas Market, we visited Christianborg Palace, where we particularly enjoyed some intricate tapestries, the horse stables, and the kitchen. We also went to Fredrik’s Church, which boasts an impressive dome. We then went further, passed an Anglican church, called St. Alban’s. In the little light remaining from the dusk, the place was eerie, yet fascinating. We entered Kastellet, a sort of fortress small island surrounded by water, the home of the Danish Army Forces, then stumbled upon The Little Mermaid, sitting on her rock, minding her business. By the time we reached her, it was almost dark. 

The Little Mermaid

All the walking got us hungry, of course, so on our way back to the centre, we stopped at a restaurant called Kastellet, which was…closed. Most restaurants were opening later in the evening. Luckily, we managed to make a reservation and returned an hour later, after taking a stroll to Amalienborg, where we stared at the nicely dressed and heavy-hatted guards. 

The restaurant was very nice, a bit more on the elegant side and the food was delicious. We had fish and pork roast, both very good, along with hot tea, to warm ourselves up a bit, before heading out into the cold again. 

Dinner at Restaurant Kastellet

Malmö

The next day was reserved for Malmö, which at first doesn’t strike one like a place that has much to offer to tourists. However, don’t let yourself be fooled. Malmö is a quiet, clean city that’s worth at least a stroll. You’ll be surprised at how many things you’ll discover. 

Malmö Castle

As we left the hotel, we took to the port side and made a short stop at the Old Light House. Then we wandered the streets, till we reached Malmö Castle. The castle is surrounded by a moat and holds a historical museum. Nearby, we also visited the Technology and Maritime Museum, where we were able to enter a submarine and experience all sorts of interactive exhibits. After this, we took a walk in Slottsträdgården, a nice park, surrounding the castle grounds, that features a windmill. This whole area of Malmö is where we spent most of our day and I strongly recommend you do the same if you travel there. 

We ate at one of the many restaurants at the train station, which probably sounds strange, especially if you’re Romanian and familiar with Romanian train stations…the Malmö Central Station is a whole other world. Trust me on this. The cafés, restaurants, small islands with sandwiches, they all look great. And the food was also very good – Swedish meatballs.

Swedish meatballs at Malmö Central Station

The following day, with all the walking done previously, we enjoyed a bit of sun in the city centre, went to a mall, where we bought not one, not two, but three tomtes; had some smørrebrød, which is a sort of open-faced sandwich composed of dark bread and pretty much any toppings, but mostly some sort of fish. You’ll find it in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway too, from what I gathered. Do try some, if you have the chance. 

Smørrebrød

In the afternoon, we took the bus to the airport and headed back home with our three tomtes, which have been protecting our home ever since and have a place of honour around the Christmas tree every year. 

The three tomtes

My Story of Côte d’Azur part 3

Cannes

Cannes, another Royal of the coast, some 30 minutes away by train from Nice, was our last day trip in France. 

Sunday morning, we headed to the Nice Ville train station one last time, bought return tickets to Cannes, and boarded a much emptier train than the one that took us to Monaco a day before. Which meant I had a window seat and full view of the Mediterranean, so naturally I plastered my face to the window and only moved when we reached our destination. 

Marche Forville

We got off in the central area of Cannes and proceeded in the general direction of the sea, but also in search of the Marché Forville (Forville Market), one of the largest and most popular markets in Cannes. When we got there, it was busting with people. The stalls had everything from fish to vegetables, fruits, and flowers and despite my general discomfort when visiting markets, I very much enjoyed it. Around the market, there are some cafes and restaurants, where you can have a bite and we thought we’d come back later for lunch. 

We continued our way to the sea but had to go around the finish line of a semi-marathon taking place at the time. It was interesting to see people crossing the finish line, being cheered on by their loved ones. It gives one a sort of thrill, even if you’re not participating. I and running are not on the same track (pun intended), but I’ve always admired people with the will to do such feats. Are they crazy for running so many km? Maybe. Are they happy and get a confidence boost and hype themselves up every time they pass the finish line? I’m 100% sure they do. Cheers to them!

Part of the beach in Cannes

We went to the end of the pier, where ferries leave for the Islands of Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat. We decided not to go there and instead took a long walk all the way to the other side of the promenade aka the Boulevard de la Croisette. Before getting there, we passed the famous convention center, Palais des Festival, where the Cannes Film Festival takes place. 

The weather was really warm that day with no clouds and the wind wasn’t blowing at all in Cannes, so it was perfect for sunbathing. If only we’d been prepared. The beach in Cannes is split into smaller private patches, belonging to the hotels on the other side of the Croisette, each with a terrace, bar, or restaurant. Among the hotels, there are also high-end stores and luxury brands you can shop from. 

Rue d’Antibes

We stopped where the promenade seem to come to an end and spent some time on the rocks, relaxing and taking pictures and videos. 

We then explored the streets a bit more and went back to the market. Unfortunately, all the cafes around it were completely packed, so there was no way we could find a table corner to sit at. After looking around a bit more, we decided to go back to Nice. 

So, overall, what to do in Cannes?

1.         Visit the Islands of Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat

If you’re not planning to visit any museums or spend too much time shopping in Cannes, you can definitely afford going to one of the Islands. Sainte-Marguerite holds a fort and Saint-Honorat a monastery. If you have more than one day in Cannes, you can probably visit both. 

2.         Check out Marché Forville

Whether you’re shopping or just visiting, the hustle and bustle, the colours, and the scents are worth it. 

3.         Sunbathe

Although most of the beach seems to be split between the hotels, there are public patches too, so you can enjoy some time in the sun. Besides, the sand is the fine kind, as opposed to the rocky beach in Nice. 

4.         Walk the Croisette promenade

Enjoy the seaside walkway, have a sit on one of the blue chairs, maybe bring a book to read and just relax.

5.         Check out the shops on Boulevard de la Croisette

Whether you’re actually shopping or just browsing around, it’s worth a look-up. Also, check the street parallel to this boulevard, Rue d’Antibes, and really all the streets in-between. It’s a sort of luxury shopping heaven. 

Cafés in Charles de Gaulle Square

A note:

For those of you travelling on a budget, Cannes seemed to be the most expensive of the “holy trinity” of Côte d’Azur. Now, I might be wrong, since I spent so little time there, so don’t take it for granted, but thought I’d share my impression. 

The end

This concludes my 3-part story of Côte d’Azur, a trip I’ve been meaning to take for a long time and that’s been “planned” in my head for at least 2 years now. I’m glad it finally happened and am very happy with the result. I would return anytime.

If you’ve missed the first two parts, you can read them here: Nice and Monaco.