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.

My Story of Côte d’Azur part 2

Monaco: The Prince of the Holy Trinity of Côte d’Azur

Why “The Prince” you might wonder…well, I thought it fit as we’re talking about the Principality of Monaco, a micro-state, located on the Côte d’Azur, some 15 km away from the Italian border. So, Monaco is a sovereign city-state, a constitutional monarchy, led by Prince Albert II. 

Now enough of the history/geography lesson, let’s get to the travel part. As you might recall from My Story of Côte d’Azur part 1, I was staying in Nice and went to Monaco for a one-day trip. 

View of Monaco from the hill

How I got there:

By train, of course. For those of you who’ve been reading my posts so far, you know I usually choose the train to travel between cities as at least in some European countries, it seems like the best option. In this case, a return ticket from Nice to Monaco was around 8 euros and took about 20 minutes. It was a Saturday morning and the train was packed, but with the trip being so short, it didn’t really matter.

TIP TIME: if you’re buying tickets from the machines, you only need to scan their barcodes at the entrance to the platform. If you’re buying them from the ticket office, you have to stamp them in the yellow boxes (also found at the entrance to the platform, or, in some cases, on the platform). Trains run every hour and you can also buy tickets from online platforms or apps such as http://www.thetrainline.com or http://www.omio.com.

A pigeon casually standing on one of the statues in the Palace Square

Upon our arrival at Monaco train station, we headed up to the Palace. The state of Monaco has several wards or “neighbourhoods”, and one of them is Monaco-Ville or the “Old” Monaco, where you’ll find the Palace of Monaco, the Cathedral of Monaco, the Gardens of Saint Martin (Jardins de Saint-Martin), and the Oceanographic Museum. You’ll also get beautiful panoramic views of Monaco from the hill. 

TIP TIME: make sure you closely check the signs on the route to the Palace and do not trust google maps. However, if you do get a bit lost and go around the hill instead, you’ll find a mini-zoo, the Museum of Stamps and Coins, the Prince’s private car collection, and the Naval Museum. So, not really a loss there, depending on how much time you have.

Front of Monaco Cathedral

After taking enough pictures to last us a lifetime in the Palace Square, we started downwards to the Cathedral, which we entered briefly, and then to the Oceanographic Museum, which I was set on visiting. 

A one-day ticket to the museum is 16 euro and can be bought online, at the ticket office located near the entrance and at ticket machines, where we bought them from (without having to wait in line). The museum holds an aquarium with many types of fish and other sea creatures including a turtle. You’ll also find an interesting exhibit with interactive props and games, that both adults and children will enjoy. They’ve also set up a space with video projections that will make you feel as if you’re in the ocean. Absolutely gorgeous. 

One of the magical jellyfish in the huge tank at the Oceanographic Museum

After the museum, we made our way down to the port, in the neighbourhood La Condamine. We spent some time watching people having fun at a funfair and wondering how are they even able to walk after being launched into the air, spun around, turned upside-down, and dropped from oh, so many meters high…

From the water walkway, we turned to a more touristy area full of cafes and restaurants, where we stopped for a burger and fries at Cheesegrubers. Not your usual French menu, for sure, but the food was very good. After that, we headed to Monte-Carlo, another, very famous, Monégasque neighbourhood, where the casino is located. The whole area around the casino is filled with high-end shops like Dior, Gucci, Chanel, etc. In front of the casino is the Casino Garden and the Jardins de la Petite Afrique (Gardens of Small Africa). You can go around the casino to reach the seafront walkway, which we did and then made our way back to the train station and eventually, Nice.

The Casino of Monte Carlo

So, here’s a list of things to do/see in Monaco:

1.         The Palace of Monaco, The Cathedral of Monaco, and The Oceanographic Museum

These are must-see and can be visited in one go. But be ready to feel exhausted at the end as there’s plenty of walking involved.

2.         The zoo, The Museum of Stamps, Prince Albert’s Private Car Collection, and the Naval Museum 

If you’re staying in Monaco for more than a day, these can also be visited in one go. If I had more time, I would’ve definitely added them to my list.

3.         Walk around the port and check out the streets with cafes and restaurants.

4.         Go to the Casino.

5.         Pick some of the beautiful gardens around to take a walk and relax: Jardins de Saint-Martin, Jardins de la Petite Afrique, Jardin Japonais – Princesse Grace, Jardin Exotique de Monaco (this one is temporarily closed)

Beautiful flower in the Casino Garden

All in all, Monaco is royalty among places to visit and not because of money and fame, but because despite it being a tiny state, there’s still plenty to visit and get fascinated by. It’s hard to explain the happy-peaceful feeling it gave me, but you might experience it too while visiting. 

My Story of Côte d’Azur part 1

Nice: the Queen of the Holy Trinity of Côte d’Azur

I finally made it to France! It’s been forever since I spent half a day on Cote d’Azur back in high school and ever since I’ve been dreaming of going back for a proper visit. Although the entire coast is gorgeous and I’m sure each small town has its charm, I feel like Nice, Monaco, and Cannes form the “Holy Trinity”. And my story starts with Nice.

We flew to Nice and found good accommodation there, very near the train station, at Hotel du Midi. We opted for a room without breakfast included, so instead, we grabbed fresh baguettes each morning from the boulangeries nearby. There was basically one at each corner, so no chance of starving. 

Statue of Apollo in Massena Square (he’s got horses on his head)

TIP TIME:

From the airport, you can take tramway 2 to the city center. The ride takes about 30 minutes and tickets can be bought from the far right end of the airport at 1.5 euro. You are required to stamp your ticket on entering the tram. The ticket is valid for 74 minutes from stamping. 

A first look at Nice:

We got to Nice city center in the afternoon and walked around till we got to the seaside walkway: Promenade des Anglais. Nearby is the most popular market in Nice: Cours Saleya. Besides stalls with different products on different days (flowers, produce, fish, antiques), the place is also lined with restaurants. We sat down at Chez Freddy, where I had a giant Niçoise salad and my partner enjoyed 1 kg of mussels with fries. Both dishes were very tasty and I was surprised to like the salad so much since I’m usually not a big fan of salads. So, 10/10 I would recommend trying a Niçoise salad in its hometown. 

Street of the Old Nice

After wandering some tiny streets in Old Nice we got back to the promenade, took more pictures, then slowly made our way back to the main street and the hotel to get enough rest for the following day, reserved for a visit to Monaco. But I’ll tell you all about that in part 2 of this story. For now, we’re sticking to Nice, where we also spent the last day of the trip. 

Here are some things you can do while in Nice:

  1. Stroll down Promenade des Anglais

I’ve already mentioned this one, but it’s truly a must. And if the weather is nice and sunny as it was for us, it’s a delight.

A tiny part of Promenade des Anglais
  1. Visit the Matisse and Marc Chagall Museums. 

Matisse was unfortunately closed while we were there and we were too exhausted for Marc Chagall, but if you are into art museums, you should definitely check them out.

  1. Go up Castle Hill or Colline du Château

This is a small hill at the end of Promenade des Anglais, with an artificial waterfall at the top. Besides the waterfall, you’ll get beautiful panoramic views of the city below. We went there on our last day in Nice and I enjoyed it very much. There are also some cemeteries you can visit and marvel at the angel statues all around. 

The waterfall at Castle Hill
  1. Check out Port Lympia

On the other side of this hill are the Port of Nice and a side of the city less populated by tourists, which is also worth a stroll.

  1. Hike to Parc du Mont Boron

If you cross the port, you’ll find another, bigger hill that holds Parc du Mont Boron and Fort du Mont Alban. If you have more time and enjoy outdoor activities, this could be a good option for you.

View of Nice from Castle Hill
  1. Spend time at the beach

Although it was the end of October, the weather was very nice, with around 22 degrees Celsius during the day and no clouds, so many people were sunbathing or simply spending time at the beach. 

A sneak peek of the beach in Nice

What and where you could eat in Nice:

I told you about Niçoise salad, which of course, as its name suggests, has its origins in Nice, so what better place to try it than here? Most restaurants serve it, but I suggest you check out a few different areas before deciding on one, as depending on the location you’ll see some pretty big price differences. 

Niçoise salad at Chez Freddy

On Sunday night we had dinner at a small french restaurant, right across from our hotel. We’re always looking for small restaurants, hidden on small streets, that usually only locals know about and this was perfect. Voyageur Nissart had a short, one-page menu with entrees, main course, and desert, about 4 of each. I believe the menu changes either daily or weekly though. We had a dish with fish on a bed of eggplants and I tried an interesting desert: figs in red wine – delicious. While we were there it got pretty crowded, so if you plan on going, better make a reservation. 

Figs in wine at Voyageur Nissart

But other than this, the main street has some restaurants along with big chain fast food places, Old Nice is full of many restaurants with many different cuisines, not just French and you’ll also find a conglomerate of eateries on Rue Massena, near the city centre. 

And of course, let’s not forget about French pastries and the boulangeries – found at almost every corner, the smell of bread and pastries lures you from a distance and you have to try as many products as possible. Besides the morning baguettes, we also had the traditional croissants with butter and a tasty coffee cream roll. 

Coffee cream roll

Hope you’re not drooling as much as I am at this recollection. Stay tuned for our next stop: Monaco: one of the Kings of the Holy Trinity of Cote d’Azur – coming soon.

My Story of Prague, Czech Republic

I’m going down memory lane again, recalling a trip I took in the autumn of 2018. A lifetime ago. And yet, with the last few years feeling like a blur, maybe it wasn’t that long ago. We’ll see how well my memory serves me. 

I’ve only spent two days in Prague, hardly enough time to properly enjoy it, but still plenty to fall in love with this beautiful city. Having so little time, I chose to wander its streets instead of visiting museums, with a few exceptions, of course.

Getting acquainted

I remember the hotel was in one corner of The Old Town Square, an old building with a classical vibe and windows that looked over the park. The Astronomical Clock was being renovated and yet tourists were flocking to see it, despite it being covered. Being one of the most famous tourist attractions, there are many cafes and stores around it and people queue to get sweet chimney cakes filled with candy and cream and chocolate any other sweet you can think of. Yum!

The Old Town Square

We spent some time in the Old Town Square taking pictures and admiring the beautiful architecture, but steered clear from the giant chimney cakes, thinking it would have been a pity to waste half of it, as they were quite big, though I’m sure they were delicious.

We strolled down the streets and got to the famous Charles Bridge and up to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, which we actually visited – a truly impressive piece of gothic architecture. 

St Vitus Cathedral

One of the roads leading up to the castle was also lined with a bunch of food stalls, so we had to try some wurst – delicious. Apparently I can steer clear of sweets, but never of salty foods 🙂

In the evening, we took a stroll down the river Vltava walkway and stopped for dinner at a hip restaurant where the food was simply wonderful. The restaurant is called Kavarna Velryba. I’ll leave you a picture of the food.

Dinner at Kavarna Velryba

Discoveries

The following day we visited Klementinum, a large historical building complex that holds one of the most beautiful libraries in the world: The Baroque Library. Yes, that is the main reason I chose to visit this complex. There are guided tours that take about 50 minutes, so you get a better understanding of what you see. 

View of the city from Klementinum

After this, we took a bus to Troja Castle, located across the street from the Zoo and the Botanical Garden. So, if you have a full day, and aren’t too tired of walking, you can check out three tourist attractions. 

We chose to only go to Troja Castle, as we only had a few hours, but I really enjoyed it. The castle is more like a big mansion, in terms of architecture, and it holds an exhibit of art pieces. What I fell in love with were the castle grounds. Vast garden and apple orchard. You can walk around, take pictures, rest on a park bench and relax. 

Troja Castle

Going back into the city, we decided on another stroll and found a nice chocolate cafe on one of the winding streets: Choco Café U Červené židle. We had hot chocolate. What was interesting was that you could ask for a certain type (milk, dark) and combine it with forest fruit or nuts. IT WAS NUTS. Probably one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had.

The end

On that delicious note, I conclude my very short and vague story of Prague. If you were to visit every museum here, it would probably take at least a week, so organize your time wisely. And definitely try some hot chocolate.

My Story of Balchik, Bulgaria

Balchik is a town in the northeast of Bulgaria, on the coast of the Black Sea. It’s popularity is mainly due to Queen Mary’s castle. Long story short: a Romanian queen looking for a pretty and quiet place decided to have her summer residence here. The castle grounds include a wine cellar, a monastery, a chapel, and a beautiful park that now serves as the Botanical Gardens.

So naturally, I’ve visited this place a couple of times when I was younger but it was only last year when I discovered the other part of Balchik, the seafront. 

Queen Mary’s Palace at night

The reason the seafront was a mystery to me was mainly that visiting the castle only, you don’t really get to see a beach nor much of the seafront walkway. But last year, with the pandemic keeping me closer to home, I thought Balchik might be a good idea to enjoy the seaside for a few days. I was not wrong. Which is why I went again this year.

What can you do in and around Balchik? Here are some suggestions:

Sunbathe

Balchik has one main beach which is a medium-sized beach, with lounge chairs and umbrellas for daily rent and a bar. The entrance to this beach is not the happiest one, as it’s right next to a big abandoned building and the overall vibe is a bit depressing. But once you get past that, it should be good. 

The beach I spent time at was a tiny one, at the Nomad Beach Bar. Although very small, it was clean and pleasant. However, if you plan on staying at this beach, you have to be a very early bird. There’s a no-reservation policy, but rather a first come – first served policy. A seat is considered occupied if it has a towel on it. What we did was wake up early, go to the beach, leave the towels and go back to the hotel for breakfast. However, most seats are already taken by 7:30 am. 

TIP TIME: If you can’t find a spot, you can try crossing the walkway to the Nomad Beach Club, where there’s a pool and lounge chairs with umbrellas that you can rent.

Another beach or rather sand patch can be found right next to the castle. However, for that one, you have to cross the street to get into the water through a stairwell that goes down between the rocks, so I wouldn’t recommend it to families with kids, as it doesn’t seem kid-friendly.

Most of the town is located up the hill

Visit the castle and its grounds

As I mentioned, the Balchik Palace is the most popular tourist attraction here and it is definitely worth a visit. My favourite part is the rose garden that has the most incredibly intoxicating smell when roses are in full bloom. 

Go to Cape Kaliakra

Cape Kaliakra is about 35km away from Balchik and can be reached by car. I think some hotels or your tour agency if you take this trip through an agency can arrange transport for you, if needed. Cape Kaliakra has steep cliffs about 70m above sea level and features the remnants of a medieval fortress. The view is quite impressive. 

One of the views at Cape Kaliakra

Dalboka Mussel Farm

Near Cape Kaliakra is the Dalboka Mussel Farm, where the Dalboka company grows…you guessed it: mussels. There’s also a restaurant where you can get fresh mussels, as well as other types of seafood or fish. It’s recommended you make a reservation, as, despite the restaurant having many seats, it tends to fill up quickly, with people waiting in a long queue to be seated. Also, the road down to Dalboka is a dirt road, partly paved, but not quite and fairly steep. So, if you’re going by motorcycle (as we were), leave it somewhere up and go on foot, it’s safer. And also, be prepared to climb back up after your meal. 

Walk, eat, drink, repeat

The Balchik seafront walkway is probably one of my favourite places. Although it can get pretty crowded, particularly on Friday and Saturday night, it has the best restaurants and terraces and it can get quieter and more intimate if you get closer to the palace grounds. I recommend daily walks. You’ll notice new things every time and find some artists, along the way, playing the violin. There’s also an open air public library where you can help yourself to some reading material, as long as you know Bulgarian.

The library

For eating, I’m not sure I found a bad restaurant yet. All of them have great food with very similar menus, most of them featuring seafood and fish, but also meat, pasta, and pizza, so there’s really something for everyone. There’s also a bunch of cafes that serve dessert and ice cream. 

Restaurant La Terrassa

My favourite restaurant is Restaurant La Terrassa Balchik, part of the hotel complex Maria Palace. Besides the good food, the service was 20 (on a scale of 1 to 10). We had a particular gentleman who served us almost every day and he (as well as his colleagues) went through the trouble of speaking to us in Romanian (our native tongue) and was very nice and helpful. 

Yummy seafood at La Terrassa

For drinks, I recommend the Nomad Beach Bar. They make very good cocktails. The Raspberry Mojito was on point. 

Raspberry Mojito at Nomad Beach Bar

Where to stay in Balchik

I’ve only stayed at one hotel both times I went because I liked it very much the first time. And that is Hotel Antik. Located in between the two beaches I told you about, it features very large, beautifully decorated rooms and a restaurant. We had a good breakfast there, which somehow got even better this year. 

Other than this, I think it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to be close to the beach, or perhaps choose a hotel that has a pool. Many of the hotels look very good and seem to be a good value for money. 

To conclude, Balchik is a great place for a short (or long) relaxing getaway. Bonus points: it’s got a lot of stray cats. Have you ever been?

Another Italian Trip part 5

My Story of Milan, Italy

We’ve now reached the final part of “Another Italian Trip”, culminating with Milan, Italy. I prefer the Italian spelling and pronunciation, so I will be using “Milano” in this article. This is one of the most popular cities in the world and somehow I felt it had a sort of “overhype” to it. 

I was here before as a teenager, spent a couple of hours in the Duomo Piazza and the Vittorio Emanuele Gallery and I remember thinking “there are too many people in this city.”

A nice little tram on the streets of Milano

But this time around, I got to appreciate it a bit more. Here’s how:

First off, you might remember from my previous story about Lake Como that we had to switch our plans because of stormy weather, so of course, we had a stormy day in Milano. The heat was already high in the morning, and the atmosphere thick and heavy with the prospect of rain. Nevertheless, we got ready to go to Piazza del Duomo and despite being only 2 metro stations away, which some other time might have seemed like nothing, we decided to make full use of the Milano public transport. Luckily, we were able to pay contactless with our debit cards. 

TIP TIME: In Milano, as in some other European cities, you have to present your metro card(or any other method of payment you have chosen) not only on entering the station but also on exiting it. So make sure you don’t throw it away and have it ready, so as not to cause a “traffic jam”. 

Piazza del Duomo

Once arriving at the Piazza del Duomo, we took plenty of pictures, noticed the pigeons that were missing from Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, and thought that even though I wasn’t interested in entering the Cathedral, we might go around it to further admire its architecture. The weather had other plans. Some huge droplets started dribbling from the sky and we took refuge in the Vittorio Emanuele Gallery. Soon, the droplets turned into a mass of water flooding the centre. 

Rain, rain, go away!

And despite it looking like it might end in a few minutes, the rain lasted more than expected, so we ended up spending some time just wandering around the gallery, waiting for the sun to come out again. 

Once the rain settled down enough to let us walk around with an umbrella (yes, it was that bad) we braved through and headed towards Teatro alla Scala, the famous opera house. I’m hoping one day to have the opportunity to see a show there, but for now, I simply wanted to remember my high school choir days, when “Va, pensiero” from “Nabucco” haunted us for 2 years straight, so much that I still remember the lyrics. 

One of the walls and towers of Castello Sforzesco

A pleasant surprise

But, the main attraction of the day was the Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle) which I did not know existed, and once I found out about it I HAD to see it. I was not sorry. From most Italian attractions this was one by far the best in terms of value for money. 

We paid, if I remember correctly, 5 euros each and had access to all museums and exhibits. We got to see lots of art, both Antique and new, decorative art, musical instruments, weaponry…you name it – it was there. 

As we exhausted all exhibits and of course, got tired in the process, we slowly made our way out in search of food, but also made some shop-stops along the way. We made a loop and came back to Piazza del Duomo where we got some sunny pictures too. 

Coat of arms on stained glass at Castello Sforzesco

The day before we’d noticed a cat cafe nearby our hotel so we decided to go there. Despite the allure of the place, we didn’t receive a very warm welcome from the staff and somehow, by the time we got seated we were both feeling quite uncomfortable and decided to leave, sad that we didn’t get to say “hello” to any of the cats. 

Even closer to the hotel, across the road, we found a restaurant with a terrace where they had a nice offer for “business lunch”, where for about 12 euro, you could choose a first and second course and also get coffee and water. The name of the restaurant is “L’Antro della Sibilla” and of course they had a whole menu besides the lunch one, so you could order “à la carte” as well. 

The food was good. I had spaghetti with tomatoes, olives, and capers and if I could get that dish every day (without me cooking it) I’d be oh, so happy. 

After this big late lunch and so many days of walking, we retired to our hotel room for rest and got ready to go home the following day. 

On that final day, there wasn’t much left for us to do. After breakfast, we saw a bit more of the Milano Centrale train station, which is quite an impressive building, and then hopped on the bus to Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport, which took about one hour to get there and the ticket cost was about 8 or 10 euro. 

The end

And that concludes “Another Italian Trip”. I hope you enjoyed these stories and got some inspiration for future travels or perhaps went down memory lane in one of your past trips. Let me know which part was your favourite in the comments: Verona, Venezia, Lake Garda, Lake Como, or Milano?