Rome and Cats

I don’t believe there is anything that I can tell you about Rome that you don’t already know or haven’t already seen so I’ll keep this short.

So after our trip to Santorini, we flew out to Rome to spend one night there before going back to Berlin. So with two whole days to go roam around, we tried to make the most out of it.

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But first, lunch. Buffalo mozzarella is an essential part every trip to Italy. It’s just sooo goood.

After lunch, we took the mandatory tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Obviously, it was fantastic and worth a visit – just probably not on a summer’s day because it just gets really hot in Rome this time of the year. We would have wanted to see more if it hadn’t been 40C outside.

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But this is just gorgeous from all angles.

We were surprised by how cheap a cab ride is in this city – to a point that we even let ourselves be toured by a local cab driver, showing us the most important attractions in this city. We didn’t have to pay more than 10 € for a 10 minute ride with light traffic.

For more flexibility, we decided to rent Vespas – one for each couple, to complete the whole Italian experience.

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And realised they are not exactly comfortable for riding in tandem…

At night we drove around Vatican City, and then to Fountain Trevi. Some attractions in this city are just so busy even late at night.

The next day, our friends woke up to some bad news from back home and they had to leave for LA with the next flight. We were supposed to leave Rome at night then spend the whole day in Berlin the next day and drive them to the airport the day after that. The wife and I then decided to make a quiet day of it, just driving around on our Vespa.

At some point in the afternoon, we went to Torre Argentina. Today it doubles as a cat sanctuary that houses around 150 gatti. It may be visited in the afternoons during which you may choose to adopt a little feline of all ages. They also sell some goodies like towels and mugs made by a few volunteers to help raise some money for the cats’ needs. Don’t forget to leave a donation!

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They are so lucky to be taken care of by volunteers, surviving off donations from locals and tourists alike. And they get to live among ancient ruins of this historical city!

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From there, we walked towards the Pantheon, which in my opinion, was the most beautiful attraction in this city. Seeing the inside of this building is free of charge and it’s just amazing how it’s still standing hundreds of years after it was built.

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And after we have satisfied our eyes and tastebuds with all the best of Italy, we took our ride to the airport to take our flight back to Berlin. It was a short holiday indeed, but so eventful.

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All these in less than a week!

 

Ah, but before we go…

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Gelato!

Santorini, Greece

I’m excited to share with you all this post on our recent trip to Santorini, Greece. It is, as you can see, one of the most romantic places in Europe – maybe even the world, and rightfully so. The famous whitewashed cave-houses by the cliffside of this beautiful volcano island, resting in the middle of the blue Aegean are surely hard to resist for all lovebirds out there. And it doesn’t help that it’s in a land known for excellent food and exquisite wine – it just makes me wonder why I had waited this long to come to Greece!

Some time last year, an old friend of Joan’s had told us she wanted to come over to Berlin to visit us and to do a mini tour of Europe together. She had brought her wife, who had never been to Europe before, and they flew in all the way from LA. Their goal was to see Europe so I cooked up a travel plan to let them see as much as possible in the one week they were to stay here. This is where my madness kicked in…

Getting there:

The island of Santorini has one airport big enough to accommodate only a handful of flights a day. I did not find a direct flight from Berlin to Santorini so I took the opportunity to get creative – sending us all over Europe.

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All this from Saturday to Thursday. I told my colleagues about this plan (since the nature of our work involves a LOT of travel planning) and they thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, but these destinations were carefully picked out. Our guests wanted a city break somewhere in Spain so I made that happen, choosing the beautiful city of Barcelona. They left Saturday early in the morning to make the most of the day. I did not join them until Sunday night – before leaving for Santorini – because I had already been to Barcelona two years ago and I did not want to miss work for too long because summer time is always high season in our industry.

So on that faithful Sunday in summer, I started work at 5 AM and from there I went straight to the airport to catch my flight going to Barcelona to meet with my wife and our friends. I got there at 8 PM and realised I hadn’t eaten anything since I woke up at 3 AM. Our flight wasn’t until late, around 11 PM and we had plenty of time to grab a bite and chat. It’s my first time officially meeting them so it was a great time to get to know each other over card games. When we got to the aircraft, I finally got some shut eye for maybe one collective hour until we landed in Santorini at around 3 AM the next day. We picked up our rental car and looked around for food. Good thing we found a bakery nearby – apparently those are open 24h a day.

Since it was still much too early to check into our Airbnb, we all watched the sunrise together at Kamari Beach.

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Most of the breakfast places did not open until 8 AM so we drove around a little bit until then. We chose this place called Galini Café, which we had found thanks to Foursquare. It offered a beautiful vista and a rich breakfast.

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It was not too early for the local desert wine.

We hit the shops after our meal and then it was finally time for our Airbnb, which was located in Fira. So on the way there, we couldn’t help but notice the many ATV rentals and we all decided to rent two of those, one for each couple. For the rest of the day we were driving around on those, forgetting about the small confinement of our car.

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And they’re great for when you want to enjoy the view around you.

Red Beach

We just dropped our stuff off at the Airbnb and got ready for the beach. I must say, the beach is not the highlight of this island. I’ve heard of plenty of great beaches all over Greece but Santorini isn’t the place if you’re looking for fine, white sand. We hit Red Beach, which is black and partially pebbly, but it looks really gorgeous nonetheless.

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Gorgeous.

Though the water did not show any plastic wastes, it had brought a lot of sea weed residue ashore which got in the way of a nice swim in the open water. We decided to go back to Kamari beach later on since it’s also the closest one to home. This beach is very pebbly but the water was clean.

Late afternoon we went back home and had our take-out dinner there. Our Airbnb was at a holiday apartment complex with a private pool so we had a night swim there until we finally called it a day – and what a long one!

Oia

The next day we finally went to Oia – the very place seen on all those postcards, a honeymooners’ haven. We looked for a place that served breakfast at yet another terrace with a great view and it took us to Skiza Café.

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By now anyone would have noticed an abundance of Freddo Cappuccino (iced cappuccino, Greek style, on the right) on the island. Regular Greek coffee is also a yummy alternative to espresso.

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Bougainvillea on plain white houses will only ever remind you of Greece, don’t you think?
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Byzantine Ruins in Oia

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We spent the rest of the day buying souvenirs in Oia, going back to Kamari beach, and having dinner at a Taverna. It was a short stay on this island but it felt like just enough time to get to know it. I didn’t think there was much else to see on the island itself, but there were a handful of excursions to the neighbouring islands, or to the volcano, that are being offered by many tour operators on the island.

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Next stop  Rome!

Donauwelle: Bratislava

The first leg of this summer’s trip was Bratislava. Aside from not having done much research about the places we’re about to go to, we didn’t know what to expect from Slovakia’s capital beforehand. I always had a feeling that, given its history and location, it has an inferiority towards the capitals of the neighbouring countries. I must say, though, it might not be as big as say, Prague or Vienna, but it is charming in its own right, and it’s easily one of my favourite cities so far. As I go further into this post, I will discuss more about why it’s a must-go for everybody.

Here’s how our trip went by:

July 26, 2016

The Airbnb we have booked offers Airport pick-ups if you stay three nights minimum. Surely, we have availed of this service. We arrived in our apartment at around 17:30. By then, we were dead-tired because we have had to stay up all night to fix our old apartment to make it turnover-ready. So, not surprisingly, we hadn’t done much that night but, thankfully, we were right in the historical centre and there was enough to see within a 300 metre radius. Our host has recommended a nice restaurant we must try – something I would have frowned upon and considered a tourist trap if I wasn’t too tired to look for another place – so we went and we were glad we did. It was right around the corner, and it’s called Bratislavská Reštaurácía, a flagship restaurant with a very nice traditional ambience and excellent authentic Slovakian food. With fair prices, too.

We then just checked out the grocery stores for our breakfast we would prepare the next morning and just called it a day because we were, in fact, just really tired.

Airbnb 116 € for 3 nights / Ryanair flight 50,98 € for two Berlin SXF to Bratislava

July 27, 2016

After breakfast, we walked to the old town to see what it has in store and there was, in fact, plenty to see. It wasn’t as crowded as many other tourist destinations which helps if you like to take some decent photos. One very much photographed site here is the Man at Work statue.

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Man at Work

Another site one can’t miss seeing as you go towards the water is the UFO Tower. It’s basically an odd looking tower, resembling some kind of UFO. It’s an interesting site, too, as it is on the bridge. And since we didn’t know where to go next, we decided to give this one a go for a view of Bratislava from the top.

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View of Historical Centre of Bratislava from UFO Tower
Entrance fee to UFO Tower observation deck: 7,40 € per person

From there, we got the idea to go to Bratislava Castle. It’s a quick hike from the bottom of the hill which is also easily reachable by local transportation or by foot from old town. We didn’t enter the building. Instead, we just enjoyed the sights, sat on the lawn, and just indulged in a serving of gelato from the restaurant. After a whole day of walking around town, you will surely have noticed all the signs that say “lemonade available here”. We have tried a few jars from various places and we have found different flavours from each restaurant.

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Lavender and blueberry
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Standing on the grounds of the castle, this church looks huge and it’s so close

July 28, 2016

Another one of the things one will have noticed by now is Bratislava’s reading culture. We have spotted a few bookstores, bookstore cafés, bistros or restaurants with used books you can grab, or just booths with used books in them. The number of these places really surprised me for a small city like this one. And so we had breakfast in one of these places before going around some more. Today, we had seen the Church of St. Elizabeth, or otherwise known as the “Blue Church”.

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Lil’ Blue Church

Today’s plan also included a trip to Devín Castle, which is located in Devin, a borough of Bratislava, about 10km away from the city centre. There is a bus that takes you right to the bottom of the hill and from there it’s a few minutes’ hike to the castle itself. You get the most amazing view of the Danube river from there, and also of the Morava river and Austria.

Entrance fee to Devin Castle: 4€ per person

I am still amazed by this magical little city. It’s just so nice to be able to explore almost everything by foot and just get lost. I’ve also never been to a city that is more enthusiastic for reading than this one. I even bought a few books from some of the bookstores we’ve passed by, many of which have a big selection of english books.

Tips:

  • Coins. Make sure you always have some! Cashiers always ask for change, it’s like the city doesn’t have enough of it. Our theory is that it gets collected in the local transportation ticket machines because they only accept change.
  • Walk. A 3-day local transportation ticket is pretty cheap, sure (10€ for 3 days), but most of the sights are best reached by foot.
  • Uber. It’s our first time trying it, and if you’re a big fan of the app and its services, you’d be surprised by how easy it is to get a ride here (because it’s just lacking in neighbouring countries).

Next stop → Vienna!