Europe · Travel Reviews · Travel Tips

Three Days in Malta

Malta is an amazing country and was it not for a wedding, I could have easily gone my entire life without setting foot on its islands.

Dividing vacation time between Manila and Malta almost seems like a mistake: a typo when booking, perhaps. One is a metropolitan city on a tropical island in South-East Asia and the other an ancient Mediterranean archipelago now popular among European tourists.

Regardless, it was the itinerary of the month.

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A Bit of Maltese History

From Saint Paul’s shipwrecking to Cersei’s naked walk of shame, the small island of Malta has hosted many significant events.

Malta has been occupied by the Romans, Arabs, and a horde of others. The famous Maltese knights arrived in the sixteenth century and the stage was set for the Great Siege of Malta–a tale that quite frankly puts the Battle of Blackwater to shame.

Eventually, it was Napoleon who took Malta from the knights at the end of the eighteenth century. It took the French only two petite years to surrender, leaving the Islanders in the hands of the British Commonwealth and forever fated to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Malta also played a role in the Second World War. With so much historical bloodshed, the islands of Malta have offered an excellent setting for blockbusters such as Troy, Gladiator, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

Curiously, for all the testaments to Malta’s rich history, the most renowned monument appears to be King’s Landing.

Things to do in Malta

A: Visit historical sights
B: Go to the beach

At least, that was the debate for my partner and me as we only had three days on the island–one of which was fully occupied by the wedding.

Upon arrival at the airport, we met up with a few family members and were spirited to Qawra Point in St. Paul’s Bay.

We stayed at Seashells Resort (great place, very friendly and accommodating staff) and enjoyed the nearby Qawra Point Beach as well as a sunset swim in the infinity pool, followed by dinner, at Café Del Mar.

Also in St. Paul’s Bay: the National Aquarium. Which is where you go if you haven’t been able to find any fish in the ocean.

The following day was spent at the wedding venue. Popeye Village, named after the spinach eater and apparently the only film set still standing in Europe, is now functioning as a small amusement park. This charming film-set-turned-theme-park located along the beautiful cliffs of Anchor Bay becomes quite magical when the sun begins to set.

On the third and final day before departure, we decided to explore one of the other islands.

The largest island of Malta is (you guessed it) Malta. Next comes Gozo and in between the two lies the smallest of the three and home of the Blue Lagoon: Comino.

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From Marfa in Mellieha, which lies in the north Malta, you can catch a ferry straight to the Blue Lagoon.

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Getting Around the Main Island

1. Public Busses
They have routes and schedules but also, apparently, a mind of their own.

2. Taxis
There is no Uber in Malta but you can use an app called eCabs to book taxis from your phone. Most trips ranged from €18 to €25.

3. Car Rentals
Cars can be rented at the airport for anywhere between €16 and €28 per day. Keep in mind that the Maltese don’t drive on the right side of the road.

The turquoise bay was awfully crowded when we arrived, so we trekked to another point on the island and found a quieter spot to enjoy the Mediterranean sun and sea.

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We ended the day with dinner at Ocean Basket back in St. Paul’s Bay and for the first time in my five months of vegetarianism I felt sincerely envious as lavish platters of seafood were brought to the table.

That being said, I did enjoy their vegetable dishes and a plate of tasty vegetarian sushi.

We saw castles and fortresses all along the landscape but didn’t visit any of them. Among other interesting places which I didn’t get to see but heard good things about are the walled city of Mdina–which embodied King’s Landing–and the Dingli Cliffs. You can also find St. Paul’s Catacombs more or less in between those two locations.

Malta was entirely a delight, though I must say I was a little disappointed that they had knights in all the souvenir shops but Maltesers were nowhere to be found.

Here a few aerial views of almost the entire island on the way out:

And thus the end of this staccato account.

Day Trips · Europe · Travel Tips

The ABCs of a Child-Friendly Weekend in Luxembourg

Animals at Parc Merveilleux

Parc Merveilleux is a wonderful place for children and adults alike in the way it bring wildlife and nature to your fingertips.

In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Come face to face with animals big and small, enjoy a walk through nature–or a train ride, have a picnic along the way or perhaps a relaxing drink at the cafe while kids go wild at one of the many exciting playgrounds.

 

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Brunch at Le Paris

Le Paris in Mondorf is another place for everyone, with a fine-dining feel, (some) affordable food, and an outdoor play area for children.

Their menu is reasonably varied and has at least a few vegetarian items on it; by holding the cheese, they can easily be turned vegan as well.

Celts at Bealtaine

On May 19 and 20, the Bealtaine Festival was in Luxembourg town.

Whether you’re a medieval nerd, a sword fanatic, a leather head, a metal head, a child, or none of the above, you’re certain to find entertainment among the various stalls, activities, and shows at this Celtic-themed festival.

At Bealtaine, you can converse with the craftsmen and women on their trade, take your child  from activity to activity, drink local brews, and watch scantily clad grown men play at being gladiators–don’t worry, it’s child appropriate (enough).

If you’re willing to wait until the woods darken, you might catch a fire show as well.

 

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Check out their website to see if you can spot these traveling Celts in your neck of the woods this year.

 

Day Trips · Europe · Travel Tips

Dagje Amsterdam

Amsterdam map
Suggestions on how to spend 24 hours in Amsterdam

09:00 Centraal Station to Oud-West

In under an hour, you can walk casually from Central Station to the most fabulous brunch in Amsterdam. You can pass the Dam, enjoy lots of canal scenery, and work up a solid appetite on your entirely doable 4 kilometer stroll. (My four-year-old daughter can do it and so can you.)

10:00 Brunch at Staring at Jacob

Get here when they open at ten and you’re guaranteed a table; any later and they might be packed. This American-owned brunch bar serves what they like to call “funky classics and daring dishes”.

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From the menu, we ordered Rasco (that’s fried chicken, waffles, soft scrambled eggs, maple syrup, and butter) and Fuckin Everything (that’s tons of vegetarian stuff with a fried egg on top). For the little one, a side of fried chicken, a side of waffles with syrup, and ketchup.

Besides an inventive menu and delicious food, I loved how every server who came to our table had a different accent, from Italian to British and Dutch to American. The staff were warm, friendly, and entirely accommodating.

11:00 Drinks at Cafe Lennep

While it’s lovely to catch an outside table for brunch along the canal, Staring at Jacob is on the shaded side of the street at this time of day.

Not to worry, walk to the other side of the canal and directly across from the brunch bar you’ll find Cafe Lennep, with benches literally along the water and in full sun.

Another reason to come here: they have an excellent selection of beers.

12:00 Shopping and tramming at Ten Kate Markt

Walk to the Ten Katestraat tram stop on the corner of Kinker and Ten Katestraat and, if it’s a Saturday, enjoy a typically Dutch markt with such treats as Hollands Nieuwe (fresh, raw haring), other fishes, poffertjes, and fried snacks to the tune of de hooiwagen (a street music wagon).

When you’ve had your fill of market goods, catch a tram to Nemo.

13:00 Exploring the Nemo Science Museum

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Nemo–Amsterdam’s big green boat–is a favorite spot in the city for all ages.

With six levels, each dedicated to its own area of science–elementa, fenomena, technium, elementa, humania, and energtica up on the roof–this hands-on museum has something to fascinate anyone.

Nemo is a place where babies and toddlers can perform their first scientific experiments and adults can learn new and amusing things about themselves and their world. I visited once at the age of six, once around sixteen, and again at twenty-six with my own daughter in tow; each experience stood out in its own way.

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17:00 An oasis in the city: Amsterdam Roest

Tired of the touristy bars in the city center? Head east along IJ (the waterfront separating Amsterdam Centraal from Amsterdam Noord) to Oostenburg and you’ll find Roest.

Inside, you can raid the coolers for drinks and snacks and simply pay at the bar. Not that you can’t order food and drinks as you would at any bar, but grabbing a bottle for yourself is certainly a cheaper and more convenient option.

When you are ready to order food, this is an excellent spot for dinner with great options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Outside, you can chill at tables and hammocks in the sand along the canal until the sun sets and you’re ready to leave or head back to the bar and check out the nights’ lineup.

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22:00 Waterkant: the tropical canal experience

Whether the sun has set or not, this another place to be in Amsterdam. However, if you show up too late on the weekend, you might not get in–which exactly what happened to us on Kingsday. It is a fun spot and worth checking out though and only a 30-minute walk from Central Station.

00:00 Highschool nostalgia at De School

There are of course all sorts of bars and clubs in Amsterdam but if you’re serious about pulling an all-nighter, this may very well be the place: a high-school-turned-night-club that stays open until 6 AM on the weekend. It’s is more than just a club and live music venue, too; besides the basement and concert room, they have a fine dining restaurant, a casual cafe, art exhibits, and a gym.

Arriving before midnight at De School will save you a potentially hour-or-longer wait at Amsterdam’s most popular alternative nightclub. People line up around the block to go to school but if they don’t look the part they can just as quickly be turned away. Standards for who gets in maybe not be what you’d expect.

Fun fact: once a month, De School hosts Het Weekend and keeps its doors open from Friday night to Sunday morning. With such a wide range of facilities, they say everything you need to last that out is right there.

06:00

Good question.

I would say: enjoy a quiet walk along the canals until you find something that’s open for breakfast.

As far as what’s open at 6 am in Amsterdam, I can’t say that I know. Any suggestions?

Day Trips · Europe · Travel Reviews

A Brisk Day at Burgers’ Zoo

Standing on a riverbank inside Burgers’ Zoo, it feels as though you’ve stepped right up to the edge of an African safari.

Not long along, the zoo announced the birth of a baby rhino and from here we watched the stout little creature chase giraffes ten times its size: quite a spectacle for a random passerby to take part in.

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A generational zoo with a myriad of ecosystems and Europe’s largest live coral reef, Burgers’ is unique for being managed by the same family since its meager beginnings as not more than a petting zoo over a century ago.

My daughter–who had never been here before–insisted that she had a number of secret places to lead us to as she mock followed the map and picked random directions. When we stumbled into a beautiful aquarium, she announced that this was it: her secret place at last.

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There’s a restaurant in “the bush”–a domed section mimicking the hot and sticky topics–where you can grab a terrasje even in winter. Coming from Manila, I found the humidity almost comforting on this otherwise chilly day.

(As Dutch as een terrasje pakken is–enjoying food and drink in the outdoor seating area of a cafe or restaurant–the wait for warm or at least sunny weather can be long.)

Besides the safari, tropical bush, and aquarium, there is a reptile area, a dessert zone and a vast expanse of outdoor enclosures with lions and tigers, no bears (oh my) but lots of other animals.

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There is a massive apenkooien playground, another smaller outdoor one, and an indoor playground by the restaurant as well.

(Literally, apenkooien translates to “monkey cages” and refers to an obstacle-course style play area where kids can climb, swing, and jump around.)

The zoo is a beautiful place where unexpected things can happen and when you’re watching animals in near enough their natural habitat every visit provides a new experience. We watch animals do crazy like be born, chase each other around, and get into fights, yelling matches, and displays of power.

But we people do crazy things there too. Maybe we carry to our day out ordinary worries and fears and maybe our time there is so otherworldly that it brings us to tears. We see the bond between human and animal and our mutual dependence on nature. We see children and parents and couples and maybe even proposals.

Burgers’ Zoo is a wonderful place for all of this because it is respectful to all: people, animals, and nature.

While I’ve only discussed snippets of Burgers’ here, I would strongly encourage making a zoo trip of your own if you find yourself near Arnhem.

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