DELICIOUS FOOD AND SUNNY DAYS: A weekend in Paris

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It was a sunny weekend in Paris. With temperatures over 30 degrees, the weather was ideal for hanging out in parks and cooling off in cafes, so that’s what we did most of the time.

I’ve been to Paris many times, so I mostly enjoy wandering around local neighbourhoods finding new cool places.

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These we my favourites from this trip:

  • La Buvette: A great find south of Montmartre. This local bistro has an amazing selection of wines and serves yummy light bites. We had the best sparkling wine, a selection of small dishes and chocolate mousse. 100€ for three including tip.
  • Atelier des Lumieres: This new museum in a converted warehouse creates immersive art displays by projecting famous artworks all over the walls. Their first exhibition focused on Klimt (tickets 13.50€). It’s also a good area to explore, as there’s a beautiful canal nearby and a chilled atmosphere.
  • Angelina: a famous patisserie popular with tourists. They serve delicious dessert and the best drinking chocolate. Lunch for three for 110€ including tip.

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RELAXED NEIGHBOURHOODS AND VEGAN FOOD: A sunny weekend in Berlin

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We went to Berlin for the weekend with the intention of sampling all the vegan food – and that’s exactly what we did! We found lots of cool places:

  • Markthalle Neun: This is a cool indoor market with lots of independent shops. Stop for organic gelato at Rosa Canina then follow it up with craft beer from Heiden Peters.
  • Brammibal’s Donuts is a popular stop with lots of different donut flavours. Everything is vegan and they have two convenient locations.
  • Backbord: This vegan place serving street food is a great place to try some traditionally meaty German snacks. We had currywurst, schnitzel and sweet potato fries. Yum!
  • Bamerang: This rock bar in Prenzlauer Berg has a simple vegan menu of pub food. Relaxed atmosphere and friendly service.
  • Ataya Cafe: A popular vegan place with a buffet service for brunch. The food is a good mix of Italian and Northern African.
  • Kaschk: A craft beer bar with a relaxed atmosphere and a good selection of beers on tap.
  • Chay Viet: A popular Vietnamese place serving delicious veggie dishes.

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We also spent some time exploring the city off the beaten track:

  • Mauerpark is an old favourite and a great place to visit on Sundays, when they have lots of stalls selling anything from handmade artwork to local souvenirs. There’s always a crowd and plenty of musicians keeping things lively. Follow that with the nearby Berlin Wall memorial, which is a good place to see the wall far from the tourist crowd.
  • South of the river Spree, Neukolln is a cool neighbourhood full of bars, cafes and independent shops. It’s a great place to explore for a few hours on a sunny day.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: It’s not the usual type of accommodation we choose, but H2 Alexanderplatz had a good deal. Comfortable rooms and great location (close to Prenzlauer Berg which is my preferred area).

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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€.

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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€.

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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€.

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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.

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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.

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Stay:

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

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AMAZING FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL DAYS: A week driving around Sicily

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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€.

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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.

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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.

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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€.

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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.

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CRAFT BEER AND FREEZING TEMPERATURES: A weekend in Riga

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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.

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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.

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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€).

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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€.

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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€).

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Miit Coffee

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

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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€).

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

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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€).

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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€).

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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!

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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€.

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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.

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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€.

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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€).

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.