RELAXED DAYS AND RUINS IN THE SUN: A long weekend in Cyprus

cyprus 10

We don’t usually have beach holidays, but spending a few lazy days in chilled Paphos was a nice little break.

Paphos Archaeological Park and Tombs of the Kings:

There are two main ruin sites in Paphos, and both are worth a visit. The Archaeological Park (tickets 4.50€) has plenty of impressive mosaics, and the Tombs of the Kings (tickets 2.50€) covers a large area full of ruins.

Both are linked by a pedestrian promenade by the sea, so it’s nice to visit them on the same day.

cyprus 08

Coral Bay:

This popular sandy beach 10km north of Paphos is a good place to spend the day. You can lounge about on a deck chair (two and a parasol for hire for 7.50€), go for a swim and have lunch at one of the many restaurants on the main road. To get there, take bus 615 from the city centre.

cyprus 01

Paphos Harbour:

Paphos Harbour is a nice area where tourists lounge in the sun or sip cheap cocktails in the many local bars. There are plenty of places to stop for a meal or an ice cream break.

cyprus 07

Pingouino:

A popular cafe in the city centre serving snacks and drinks. I had a delicious cocktail of mastiha and prosecco called Greek Spritz for 5.50€.

cyprus 09

Flintstones bar:

This themed cocktail bar is a popular stop. It serves good drinks and service is nice and friendly. The place is as kitsch as it sounds. Cocktails for about 5€.

cyprus 06

Namaste:

This Indian street food restaurant serves delicious meals in the city centre. A great find. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 40€.

cyprus 05

Money:

Paphos is very cheap as compared to London. Even in the most expensive places by the harbour, prices are still relatively low. Venture off the main tourist areas and you get a beer or glass of wine for less than 3€ each.

cyprus 04

Food:

We did a lot of self-catering, but local produce was very good and we found loads of yummy fruit and vegetables. Restaurants tend to have a good range of veggie options, such as mezze and salads.

cyprus 03

Stay:

Paphos is full of resorts and holiday apartments. We stayed at Elysia Park, which had huge flats and great service.

cyprus 02

Advertisements

AMAZING FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL DAYS: A week driving around Sicily

sicily 03

PALERMO

Palermo’s centre is easy to navigate on foot and on a sunny day you can cover many of the main sights on Via Roma and Vittorio Emanuele. Stop by Teatro Massimo to reenact the famous last scene from Godfather 3, or wander around the park by the Norman Palace.

sicily 08

Palatina Chapel: This famous chapel located by the Norman Palace is full of intricate details and beautiful mosaics. Tickets for 10€.

Pizza Frida: I was looking for recommendations of good pizza places in Palermo (of course there are plenty) when I came across Pizza Frida. This place is popular so it’s best to book in advance. They have lots of different options and they’re all AMAZING. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 90€. Highly recommended.

sicily 09

Villa San Giovanni Degli Eremiti: a great local restaurant where large families taste the local fare. Meal with drink and tip for 15€ per person.

L’Antica Focacceria San Francesco: This popular place serves yummy street food, like arancini and aubergine caponata. Portions are huge. Dinner with drinks and tip for 15€ per person.

sicily 06

Haiku: The only vegan place in Palermo is located in a nice area to the north of the city centre. The menu is varied and includes a mix of Italian and international dishes. The gnocchi had the best tomato sauce, and their famous pistachio tiramisu was definitely worth trying. Lunch for two including drinks, dessert and tip for 55€.

Stay: This Airbnb is great for a family trip. Each of the four rooms has its own bathroom and Giovanni, the host, is super helpful.

sicily 07

sicily 05

sicily 04

ERICE

This little medieval town over the hills is a great place for a day trip. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the little alleys and stop around for lunch at one of the many restaurants.

Follow that with a stop for dessert at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which serves yummy boozy pastries.

sicily 29

CATANIA

From Palermo to Catania by car it takes about three hours through the countryside. You get amazing views of Mount Etna with its snowed peak along the way.

Catania’s centre is a combination of mismatched grandiose buildings and areas that have seen better days. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the fancy Corso Italia with lots of high end shops, or explore the Old Town, with its busy street markets and lively piazzas.

sicily 27

Savia: This is a great stop for lunch. They are famous for serving the best arancini, for just 2.50€. Portions are huge and everything is delicious.

Nievski: This cool bar and restaurant with a revolution theme is a good place for a relaxed meal in an area where there are lots of nice restaurants. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 88€.

sicily 28

sicily 26

MOUNT ETNA

About one hour off Catania, Mount Etna provides the impressive backdrop for the city. You can take a cable car up the mountain, then get on a 4X4 bus and finally walk around a couple of the highest craters.

The trip costs 64€ per person and can be booked directly at the cable car entrance. Go early before it gets busy.

sicily 10

sicily 17

sicily 16

sicily 15

sicily 14

sicily 13

sicily 12

sicily 11

TAORMINA:

A good stop after visiting Mount Etna, Taormina is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in Sicily. The small centre provides scenic views over the sea and there are lots of cute restaurants around serving delicious pizza and Aperol.

The main local attraction is the Ancient Theatre (tickets for 10€) with beautiful ruins and panoramic views of the sea and mountains.

sicily 25

sicily 24

sicily 23

sicily 22

sicily 21

sicily 20

sicily 19

sicily 18

AGRIGENTO:

Located on the south of Sicily, Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, an impressive collection of ancient temples and ruins overlooking the Sicilian countryside and the Mediterranean sea.

You can spend a couple of hours exploring the site before driving on to Catania or Palermo. Tickets for 10€.

sicily 38

sicily 37

sicily 35

sicily 34

sicily 33

sicily 31

sicily 30

ITINERARY PLANNING:

There’s plenty to do in Sicily, and you can spend lots of time exploring the coast, the countryside and historical sites.

The best way to travel around is to rent a car. Navigating is relatively easy with Google Maps but traffic can be a bit crazy, especially around big cities.

We spent seven days in Sicily, staying in Palermo and Catania and exploring from there.

sicily 02

sicily 01

CRAFT BEER AND FREEZING TEMPERATURES: A weekend in Riga

riga6

We went to Riga on a quick break in mid-March and were greeted with subzero temperatures! Still it was a nice place for a weekend away and we had fun exploring. The city has lots of really cool bars and restaurants and a great craft beer scene.

These are our favourite places:

Central Market

This market is one of the most popular attractions in Riga and it’s definitely worth a visit. There are lots of fruit and vegetable stalls selling all sorts of local produce including mountains of pickles.

Inside the market we found Labietis, a local brewery offering lots of delicious beers. You can have a drink on the spot or fill a litre bottle to take home.

riga8

Old Town

Riga’s Old Town is small but pretty, and you can spend some time looking at the nice architecture or taking a walk by the river. It’s the best area to stay as everything is within walking distance.

riga1

Skyline Bar

A popular place for brunch and cocktails, this bar at the Radisson has great views over the city and it’s a great place to chill for a couple of hours. A bit pricey for Riga standards but definitely worth it (2 drinks and tip for 15€).

riga5

Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs

This huge and popular underground bar has a great selection of local beers and other drinks. It is very cheap – even more at happy hour when you can get a beer for just 1.80€.

riga2

Fat Pumpkin

This veggie restaurant serving delicious food and plenty of vegan cakes is a great find (dinner for two including dessert and tip for 42€).

riga3

Miit Coffee

This is a nice veggie place. Their brunch costs 9.50€ and it includes lots of delicious salads and fruit.

riga4

Indian Raja

The veggie place we were going to was closed, so we ended up at Indian Raja. This restaurant served lots of yummy food, including a delicious naan bread filled with potatoes (dinner for 2 including drinks and tip for 35€).

riga7

COCKTAILS BY THE ACROPOLIS AND TOO MANY CAKES: Food and drink in Athens

athens 003

Athens is full of amazing places to eat and drink. Cafes are everywhere, serving great coffee and even better cakes and sweets. Here are my favourites:

DESSERT:

MELIARTOS

Meliartos is a bakery selling all sorts of sandwiches, cakes, coffee and ice cream. There’s lots on offer at the shop downstairs and table service upstairs. I had a delicious feta filo pastry and coffee (7.50€ including tip). Then I came back for some cake (a generous slice for 3.80€).

athens 007

LUKUMADES

The most popular dessert place in Athens, Lukumades is a great place to visit. They serve the Greek equivalent of donuts, and they’re really delicious. There are many flavours (I chose the ones with honey and cinnamon – 3.20€ for 10 little donuts), and portions are huge! They are made to order and served hot, which is really nice.

ZUCCHERINO

Zuccherino is a nice ice cream and dessert shop in a cute square close to Ermou street. Their ice cream is really delicious and creamy, and their desserts are also yummy (unnecessarily huge portions for 3.80€).

athens 019

FRESKO

There are many places to try Greek yogurt in Athens, but Fresko is one of the most popular. I tried the one with honey and walnuts (3.20€ for the small size), and it was really creamy and delicious.

ASSIMAKOPOULOS BAKERY

I ended up here because I read something about it online, but it is located in a bit of a rough area. This is a traditional pastry shop and bakery with the most amazing displays. I tried a pistachio mousse (cheap at 3.40€) which was absolutely amazing!

athens 038

BARS:

  • BRETTOS: Brettos comes up in any list of Athens recommendations, and it’s a definite must. They distil their own liquor and also have a huge wine and cocktail list. Plus their colourful display of bottles is so cool! Cocktails for 8€.
  • SIX DOGS: This popular bar is Athens’ equivalent of a ruin bar. The place looks really cool and gets quite busy. Drinks for around 5€.
  • CITI ZEN: You need to go up to the fourth floor to get to Citi Zen, but when you get there, you are greeted with the most amazing views of the Acropolis (make sure to sit outside)! Drinks for 6€.

athens 040

FOOD:

MAMA ROUX: I found this place by chance on my last day and it was a great find. It’s a popular brunch and cocktails place serving international food, and they have plenty of veggie and vegan options (meal and drink for one, including tip for 15€).

FALAFEL HOUSE: This veggie falafel place serving wraps and salads was really good – and cheap: dishes cost 3€ to 3.50€ and portions are massive.

athens 023

AVOCADO: Located between Syntagma Square and the Plaka, Avocado is a great veggie restaurant (dinner for two including drinks and tip for 34€). The food is delicious and the menu very varied.

ZAHARI & ALATI: This little cafe serving mostly vegan food is a great find. The food is delicious and portions are generous. Lunch for two including drinks and tip for 21€.

athens 005

HOW TO DO IT:

STAY: I stayed at two Airbnbs and both were good (prices were great). This place was perfect in terms of location – the Plaka is definitely the best choice as you can explore everything on foot easily.

WHEN TO GO: I visited in November, and I got some bad weather. But other than a few days of rain, this was a good time to visit as temperatures are still 10-20 degrees and it’s low season. For travelling around it’s best to visit between March and October as transportation to Greek Islands or to tourist sites in mainland Greece is mostly seasonal.

TRANSPORTATION: You can cover pretty much all of the key areas of Athens on foot. The metro network is good but doesn’t go everywhere (single tickets 1.40€, tickets to the airport 10€).

athens 015

athens 016

DORIC COLUMNS AND SCENIC VIEWS OF THE PARTHENON: Highlights of Athens

athens 041

Athens is a lively and interesting city. The Acropolis provides a scenic backdrop to the city, but in truth Athens is not as focused on its past as other places (like Rome).

There are many different places to explore, the Plaka with its traditional streets, Meliartos with its cool cafes and bars. But Athens is not a place for doing lots – it’s a place to slow down with a cup of coffee and cake, preferably with a view of the Parthenon.

athens 001

ACROPOLIS

Athens’ most famous attraction is the Acropolis. Hosting the Parthenon and other temples, it really is an impressive sight. To get there you need to go up a hill, and along the way you already get great views over Athens.

athens 014

Tickets cost only 10€ during the winter (November to March), and you also avoid most of the crowds.

There are a few different things to see at the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena, the Theatre of Dionysus and, of course, the Parthenon.

athens 017

The Parthenon itself has been going through a big renovation project over many years, so inevitably there are cranes around it. You still get a feel for the scale of it though.

athens 008

athens 009

athens 010

athens 011

athens 012

ACROPOLIS MUSEUM

Near the Acropolis is the interesting Acropolis Museum (tickets 5€). It hosts all sort of objects from the Acropolis, from statues from the Parthenon to vases and household objects.

athens 013

It is a new museum which opened in 2009, and there are lots of explanations and videos, many of them highlighting the pillaging of key features of the Parthenon (British Museum, I’m looking at you).

It is a great place to visit right after you see the Acropolis as the two really complement each other – and you even get views of the Acropolis from the museum.

athens 006

PLAKA

Plaka is a pedestrianised area of Athens at the bottom of the Acropolis. It is full of pedestrianised streets with little souvenir shops and taverns, and it looks like what you’d imagine Greece to look like. Even though it’s at the heart of the city, it feels like you’re in a small town – it reminded me a bit of the Old Town in Dubrovnik.

athens 028

You can definitely spend a few hours wandering around and exploring the little streets during the day, or stopping for drinks in the evening. It’s also a great place to stay as it’s very centrally located and close to many of Athens’ attractions.

athens 039

TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS AND HADRIAN’S ARCH

Very close to the Plaka you can find the Temple of Olympian Zeus (ticket 3€) and Hadrian’s Arch (free of charge). These are impressive ruins which are conveniently located with the Acropolis in the background.

The most interesting thing about these is the scale. They are definitely worth a visit but you don’t need more than 20 minutes to see both.

athens 021

athens 024

athens 025

athens 020

athens 018

ANCIENT AGORA

The ancient Agora of Athens (tickets 4€) is a large archaeological site not far from the Acropolis. The site has lots of columns, a museum and marble statues. The main highlight of this site is the temple of Hephaestus, which is the best preserved temple of its kind, and it does look really nice.

athens 032

athens 034

athens 036

athens 037

ROMAN AGORA

Just a few hundred metres from the Ancient Agora is the Roman Agora (tickets 3€) which is a smaller but interesting site, with a range of ruins. It includes the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal clock tower with a really nice design

athens 030

OTHER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

Hadrian’s Library and the Kerameikos Cemetery are two other sites to visit in central Athens. I chose not to go into either as you can get a good view of what they offer from the outside. I also thought that the other sites in Athens didn’t offer much in way of explanation, so once you have a look at the ruins you already got all the value from the site.

athens 002

NATIONAL GARDEN

Located behind Syntagma square, the National Garden is a beautiful urban park, full of gardens, lively birds and people running around. When I visited it was autumn, so you got a beautiful effect with the leaves falling. A great place to check out for a couple of relaxing hours.

athens 033

PANATHENAIC STADIUM

Athens is rightly proud of its Olympic past, and you get a glimpse of that at the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built for the first modern Olympic Games. You can pay to go in (tickets 5€), but in reality you can see the whole stadium from the outside which is what most people do.

athens 004

SYNTAGMA SQUARE, MONASTIRAKI AND PSYRI

Syntagma Square is the central square of Athens. It is close to the Plaka and it leads to Ermou street, which is full of the high street shops you see anywhere in Europe. But the area around it, Monastiraki, is also full of really cool bars and cafes, always busy with people having a drink and eating some cake.

Nearby Psyri is home to lots of traditional tavernas and cafes, busy with people and live music.

athens 029

MOUNT LYCABETTUS

The best view of Athens, and particularly the Acropolis, is from Mount Lycabettus. You need to climb up some steps, but the hike up is really nice with great views and – weirdly – the odd tortoise passing by. From the top you see the Parthenon, all the main ruins scattered around Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium and all the way to the sea.

It is a lovely place to visit on a sunny day!

athens 026

athens 027

FILOPAPPOU HILL

Filopappou Hill, or Hill of the Muses, is another great place to get a good view of Athens and the Acropolis. The hill itself is not that high, but it’s located right across from the Acropolis, so you see the ruins on one side and the sea on the other.

A good thing about this place is that it’s right next to the Acropolis Museum, so it’s easily accessible on a day of sightseeing.

athens 031

NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM

The National Archaeological Museum (tickets 5€) is a bit further from most other attractions in Greece, but it does have an impressive collection. It is home to lots of ancient statues and all the amphorae you may need.

The display itself could use a few more explanations of the context of the objects, but it’s still worth a visit.

athens 035

MUSEUM OF CYCLADIC ART

The Museum of Cycladic Art (ticket 7€) is famous for the figurines of white marble on display. These are interesting and they do have a nice collection, but they also have an interesting display of classic Greek household objects, with interesting explanations bringing it all to life.

BENAKI MUSEUM

The Benaki Museum (tickets usually 9€, but when I visited it was free for some reason) also has a good collection of Greek artefacts, from the antiquity to the XIX century. The museum is located in a beautiful building not far from Syntagma square and it’s worth a visit if you’re in Athens for a good amount of time.

CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE BY TRAIN: How to plan your itinerary

germany 16

It’s very easy and convenient to travel around Central and Eastern Europe by train. The distances are generally not very big and the trains are good and run on time.

Itinerary planning:

We visited Munich, Prague, Brno, Vienna and Budapest. All of them were easy to reach and had good connections.

Another alternative would be to head towards Poland instead, or start out in Romania.

czech republic 06

Booking tickets:

As ever, Seat 61 had all the best tips for booking everything online. The booking process in the various sites was easy and tickets very cheap – the key thing for international trips from Germany is to buy the ticket from the website of the other country you’re visiting: for instance, tickets for the same train from Munich to Prague were much more expensive on Bahn.de than via the Czech website.

czech republic 14

Roadworks:

A few weeks before our trip, I got an email informing of changes to train times and taking a bus replacement for one of the legs of our trip. The email was in Czech, but other than that things went as planned and we didn’t have any issues.

germany 20

On the trains:

All the trains we took were punctual, well-equipped and generally very good. Express trains usually had a good cafe on board and served a good range of snacks and drinks.

COOL BARS AND STREET ART: Yet another break in Budapest

hungary 07

This was my fourth time in Budapest and the city never disappoints!

After dropping our bags in our flat, we headed out for a late lunch. The area around Lizst Ferenc Ter has lots of cools places, but we stopped at Menza, an old favourite (lunch for three including drinks and tip for 12000 HUF).

hungary 01

We then explored the area around Andrassy Utca and Kiraly Utca, stopping at the Opera House and checking out the many cool bars around before heading back to our flat for the evening.

In the morning we visited the Central Market Hall. There you can buy local produce, souvenirs and paprika in all its forms. It’s a great place to visit and to stock up if you’re self-catering.

We then took the bus to the other side of the river to explore the area around Buda Castle and the citadel for a bit, although it was cold and a bit rainy.

hungary 04

hungary 03

hungary 02

We had lunch at the beautiful Mazel Tov (lunch for four including drinks and tip for 12000 HUF). They serve lots of yummy Middle Eastern food with plenty of veggie options.

In the evening we stopped at Szimpla, the most famous of Budapest’s ruin bars for a drink (drinks for four for 3500 HUF) before going home to cook the food we’d bought at the market earlier in the day.

hungary 09

Thermal baths are very popular in Budapest, and as usual we headed to Szechenyi. This is a massive complex of indoor and outdoor thermal pools, and a nice way of spending a few relaxing hours (weekend day ticket for 5000 HUF).

For lunch we visited Porto di Pest, a nice but a bit expensive place in Liszt Ferenc Ter (lunch for four including drinks and tip for 20000 HUF).

After stopping at our flat for a bit, we met my local friend for drinks and ended the night at Kuplung, which served nice but dodgy cocktails (two drinks for 1200 HUF).

hungary 08

Our last full day in Budapest was nice and sunny, so we walked to the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial to victims of World War II. We then walked all the way back to Jonas, a craft brewery with nice views over the river (four beers for 3000 HUF).

To finish the trip in style, we had an early dinner at Pomo D’Oro, an upscale Italian restaurant serving delicious pasta and yummy desserts (meal for three including drinks and tip for 24000 HUF).

hungary 05

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: We took the train from Vienna (takes about 2h30), but there are plenty of flights from London. Budapest is also a great option for the end of an Eastern Europe trip as it has good connections with the whole region.
  • Stay: We stayed at this fancy place in Kiraly Utca, which was both a great place and the perfect location. Budapest has lots of good accommodation options, so it’s easy to find a good alternative.
  • Money: Budapest is very cheap and even upscale places are affordable in comparison to London prices. Exchange places are easily available and generally the rates are very good as there’s lots of competition.

hungary 06