The Streets of Antwerp

Waking up in Ghent is an experience in itself. Our room at the B&B we were staying in, was only a couple of floors up, however the night before, I had purposefully left the curtains of the two large windows open, so as to be able to see the sun rising over the medieval streets. I say ‘we’, but I really mean me. The bf started grumbling as soon as the first shaft of light hit the pillow, so I had to get up and close the curtains, however (and this had been my intent all along) I took the opportunity to take a couple of photos before going back to bed.

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The cobbled streets were silent and deserted. As I watched the alley across our room, an early-bird (possibly a baker judging from his overalls) locked his house behind him, got on his bike and pedalled off to work. Cars, of course, are not permitted within the small historic streets of Ghent. Only bikes. And boats of course. Did I mention the fact that Ghent is full of canals? Like Bruges, some actually call it the Venice of Northern Europe!

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More of that later. After another short nap, I heard the landlady tapping at our bedroom door, signalling that she had left our breakfast tray outside. As I opened the door, the scent of newly-baked bread almost made me swoon (she later told me that she went expressly for it at the baker’s at around 5.30am each day – blessed lady!). There were pots of jam, some delicatessen items, hot milk, eggs (we could prepare them on our small stove in the kitchenette as we preferred), etc… I must say it was one of the best breakfasts I ever ate. Obviously compounded by the peaceful medieval view from the breakfast table! As we ate, we planned our day, which we were going to spend in Antwerp.

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Antwerp, another Flemish medieval city in Belgium, is actually a port city, and its port is one of the largest in the world, ranking second in Europe. Its origins date back even before the 14th century. It has a large number of historical landmarks, not to mention cultural ones, since the artworks created by its famous 17th century school of painting (not to mention other arts such as weaving), were sought after throughout the world. Unfortunately, we knew we would be unable to visit as many of the places we were interested in as we would have liked, since we only had one day to spend in Antwerp, however we fully intended to try our very best.

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After taking the train from Ghent to Antwerp, while leaving the train station, I was immediately enchanted by the beautiful flowering streets of this sweet city. Colorful flowers and plants flourishing in the warm spring sun, decorated every corner, as people from every imaginable country, ethnicity and nationality thronged the pavements. Shops sporting popular brands abounded, however to be honest I was more drawn to the tall medieval gothic-style buildings which majestically reared their sculptured facades right next to them! It seemed like there was so much to see! Everywhere I looked, the past sat right next to the present, and the mad cacophony of everyday life vied with the dreamy awe galloping through my senses.

Suddenly, incredibly, I heard a burst of classical music. It was a grand piano! Yes, right there in the middle of the street! A street-artist had somehow transported his enormous polished piano amidst all the flowers, gothic palaces and grand stores, and was playing a sonata as though his heart would break. Tourists, locals, and passers-by thronged around him clicking away madly at their cameras and mobile phones. Talk about live street-art!

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And we hadn’t even visited any of the places on our itinerary yet!

… more to come in a later entry!

P.S All photos are originals, taken by me on site.

 

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Ghent by Night

Ghent by night is a magical place. We arrived from Brussels Airport by train at around 8pm, then took a tram which left us very near our B&B. Actually, the tram left us right in front of the Gravensteen, which is a medieval castle right at the heart of the tiny cobbled city. The Gravensteen, originally built in 1180, had served as the seat for the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century, and was brought to life again in 1885 by the City of Ghent, which renovated it.

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Needless to be said, the sight of those historic ramparts glimmering like a fairytale at 9.30pm, was a real sight for sore eyes, especially after a journey consisting of a tiring 3.5hr flight, 1hr train, and the 10min tram.

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We were travelling with only our hand-luggage, since we were staying for a romantic long weekend in Belgium, however we were so tired, that these actually seemed to weigh much more than they did.

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Hubby was hungry and I really needed to sit down (and admire Ghent-by-night). As we walked slowly down the main cobbled streets around the Gravensteen, young people and tourists thronged the many small bars and cafes dotting the landscape. Most of these, I was overjoyed to note, sported windows full of a myriad of different types of beers and ciders! What can I say – I simply had to stop for a drink! My other half took the opportunity to buy a cone of the famous Belgian chips, which, placed in (yes) a cone of rolled-up newspaper, seriously rivalled those of Britain… and the sauce! Omg!

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Thirst and hunger appeased, we walked on towards our cozy bed and breakfast. Actually, at that point I did not actually know what to expect from our accomodation. The trip had been a Valentine’s pressie by the hubby, who had arranged everything himself. As we rang the doorbell and waited in the nippy chill (it WAS around 11pm by this time), a sweet eccentric lady opened the glass door for us, while a black and white cat bumped jocosely around her feet. The Lady, we were to learn later, was a live-at-home artist whose Asian-inspired paintings belied the fact that she was a spiritualist and a Buddhist (she was Belgian, but had travelled extensively to Asia). Honestly, I wish I had had the time to strike up a real friendship with her, but we were there to explore Belgium and enjoy the weekend togather after all, not spend the time with our landlady hehe.

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The b&b was simply charming. There were only two rooms to let, and I admit, my love had once again shown he really knew me by choosing the one I would have picked out myself. It was called ‘The Peacock Room’, and it was decorated in a vintage chick style. The color was, of course, peacock blue, and the walls had been painted with a couple of interesting murals by the landlady herself. The double canopy bed was adorned with Chinese lanterns and wind-chimes. There was also an ensuite bathroom and a tiny kitchenette with a well-stocked fridge, and complete with a small collection of quirky teapots!! Cute!

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We were really exhausted at this point, so after a quick shower and some minor unpacking, we went to bed, obviously looking forward to the first day of our stay (as well as the home-made breakfast which the landlady promised to leave outside our door the following morning)!

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… more to come in another post

P.S The photos, of course, are originals and were all taken by me on site.

Mini-Break in Sicily – Day 1

We were quite lucky this December as Thursday 8th and Tuesday 13th, which are Maltese national holidays, made it possible for us to take a 6-day break from work without taking too many days off. Since people don’t work during National Holidays we just needed to take Friday 9th and Monday 12th as Vacation Leave off from work and off we went for a 4-night mini break to the nearby island of Sicily!

Thanks to Ryanair the flight was only 30euro each – yes with the return flight included! And we only needed hand luggage for those few days so we didn’t even need to pay for extra luggage.

I just love Sicily. Had already visited twice, once during the first year with my boyfriend (it was our first holiday together) and the second time was just last June! Thing is flights there are so cheap and there is so much to see and experience that I never tire of going there to relax and explore!

We usually take the flight to the Airport in Trapani and stay in the Western side of Sicily. This time we took a flight to the Airport of Catania on the Eastern part of the island instead so we visited an entirely different region.

The flight from Malta only took 35 minutes – yes we are THAT close! We arrived in the afternoon and there was enough time to visit the Christmas market in Catania itself before heading to the self catering apartment we had rented in the historical city of Noto, which is approximately an hour away by car from Catania.

I admit, the Christmas open market was smaller than I thought it would be, yet its charm was that everything was handmade and so very cute and original! Loved those stalls!

After a quick trip to a local supermarket for milk, cereal and other needful things, off we went to discover our new apartment which we had only seen in photos. Needless to be said we were charmed – wouldn’t you be? Look at my pics!

That night we decided on a quite eve in. We wanted to enjoy some time alone plus the excitement had tired us out. We cooked some burgers and chips and cuddled while planning what to do on day Number 2… not to mention enjoying that big TV!

More about Day 2 in a future post!

Different but Exciting!

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So, here I am again on the brink of another adventure. In another two hours I will be on a plane off to the Italian island of Sicily for a much needed break. Goodbye stressful everyday life, hello sunny beach, ancient ruins, beautiful nature reserves and mysterious mystic monasteries!

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This holiday will be a bit different from the ones I usually enjoy with my other half. This is because, for once, it will be a SUMMER holiday. Usually we tend to travel more during Autumn/Winter because, let’s face it, travelling and accomodation rates are cheaper at that time of the year. This will also be the first time I will be swimming abroad! Sure, it will still be the Mediterranean sea… and yet, I still feel as excited as a ten year old!

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Yes, we still plan on visiting cultural sites (I just love walking amidst hundred year old ruins) BUT the apartment I booked is located just up the road from two major beaches – so we will definitely be using that swimwear too!

That’s another first by the way – usually my bf books for everything (no need for any feminists here to get on their high horses yet – we DO split the costs ofc). However THIS time the flight to Sicily itself + the apartment we are staying in were found and booked by me, as this was a birthday gift for my bf. His bday was last May, but it was nice giving him the printed bookings in his bday card and telling him we had another travelling adventure to look forward to this year. The next one, I admit, will be bigger and better – we’ll be going for a ten-day trip to Scotland next September.

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Four holidays abroad in 1 year – not bad for someone who has just bought and re-furbished a house if I may say so! *feels proud of her monetary-management skills*

Ok, no more patting myself on the back! To be sure, my bf/bae has gifted me with a number of voyages to unknown (for me) countries too, so I just took a leaf out of his book, so to speak.

Anyways, I plan on sunbathing, swimming, taking lots of pics, sampling the local food/drinks, and generally rocking it all the way! It’s not the first time we went to Sicily, in fact our first holiday togather, 4 years ago, was in Sicily. Ahh the memories… well the only thing better than having amazing memories is making new ones! So… on we go!

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By the way – the pics I pasted on here are from our first trip to Sicily – obviously it’s Winter too haha, so I bet the next photos I take will be quite more colorful!

 

Gozo – The Good, the Bad, and the Overpriced

Last Friday was a public feast in Malta, and as we had planned some time ago, me, my friends, and of course my bf, decided to spend three nights (starting Thursday evening) relaxing togather in a rustic farmhouse on the island of Gozo.

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For those who are not aware of it, Malta is actually made up of three main islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, and most Maltese view Gozo not only as a sister-island, but also as a place for them to relax and spend their holidays. The island of Gozo itself has a specific market to cater for young people, couples and families who are looking for cheap or un-expensive accomodation and services, so it is kind of a win-win situation.

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Gozo is beautiful. The flora and fauna are exactly like those of Malta, however it is a cleaner, less traffic-polluted and greener version of Malta. It is also more sparsely populated, so even though it is much smaller than the main island, one can visit beaches which are more beautiful, more scenic picnic locations, not to mention eat fresher food.

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On the other hand, unfortunately, many natives of the island, being aware of the fact that not only people from different countries, but Maltese people themselves, love to visit Gozo for short weekend-breaks, for these reasons, tend to over-do it. The farmhouse we stayed in this weekend was very beautiful, the kitchen was very well stocked with all needed utensils and everything was very clean. The pool was a bit small, but that was ok since not all of us swam anyways as the weather is still not warm enough for everyone.

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The issues started to crop up when it came to money. First of all, when my bf booked a couple of months ago, the browser suddenly got stuck as he was clicking the booking dates section and the wrong dates were booked. He called the owner of the farmhouse immediately, since we could not make it on those dates, not to mention the fact that the price was a lot more expensive than the dates we truly wanted to go in. The owner refused to cancel the booking, even though this was a genuine mistake due to the browser not working properly. In the end and after a week of trying to come to some sort of terms, the owner let us change the dates instead of cancelling them, however we still had to go three weeks before the dates we had actually wanted, due to the rates (which is why half of the people could not use the pool). Apart from that, there was a 100-euro damage protection money charge, and that was fine. The thing is, when we arrived to the farmhouse four days ago, the owner seemed convinced that we had NOT yet paid the damage-money, which, he stated, was 300 euros. OFC we had already payed… and he had told us it was 100 euros and not 300! Thank all the gods my boyfriend had saved the email and banking proof of our payment, and since we had our laptop with us, we could show that as proof. So, not only was the owner unhelpful when it came to booking, but he also tried to rob us…

Moving on, the farmhouse was not cheap and due to the booking mistake, we also ended up paying more than we bargained for, for different dates. Moreover, when we arrived we realized that while in the living room and kitchen downstairs, electricity and water heating worked normally, in the bedrooms and corridors upstairs, apart from the main ceiling bulbs, other electricity outlets like bedside lights, electricity plug-ins, and other outlets where one could plug things like hair-dryers, etc, did not work! That is, they did not work for free. You had to put two euros in a slot for these to work, and they would only work for a limited amount of time, and not for the whole hour. Same thing with the water heaters in the showers!! Unbelievable!

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Currently there’s been an issue mentioned on the media that Gozitans were becoming irritated because tourism in Gozo was diminishing due to low cost airlines, as people from Malta were preferring to go to Italy, Spain, France, UK, or other locations, instead of going to Gozo. Well, I can well understand that!! A couple of years ago I went for a long weekend break in Sicily for just 30 euros, including the return flight!! We found a really good and non-expensive hotel and the whole thing (minus the rental car) was as expensive as four days in Gozo would have been!

So, would I prefer to spend the same amount of money to go somewhere I have already been to four or five times each year starting from my childhood, or another country where I could explore new places and where water heating was included in the accomodation price…? I don’t need to tell you my answer do I??

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