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A small note about cruising for non-cruise lovers

Before starting to write about the beautiful island of St. Lucia I would like to explain my ideas about going on a cruise. From when I started travelling I had never ever considered the idea of going on a cruise. It may be the dream holiday of many but not mine. I was always reluctant of going on a ship with thousands of others with limited time to visit destinations that deserve much more than a couple of hours. So how was I convinced to go on a cruise this time?

  • I was travelling long haul for the first time with my 8 month old baby – hopping from island to island carrying around luggage, finding accommodation with kitchen facilities to prepare her food and shopping for food etc. was too much of a hassle this time.
  • The islands in the southern Caribbean are very small and 1 day was a reasonable time to visit most of the interesting places.
  • Money-wise it was totally worth it. Going on cruise may seem beyond affordable and against all budgeting ideas. However we would have spent much more had we decided to fly from island to island. There are no low-cost airlines in the area and accommodation is quite expensive. Therefore if you are looking for the most convenient option, I would suggest taking a cruise.
  • The ship we were cruising on was quite small and it did  not feel like being in a crowded place. Disembarking and embarking was very easy and there were no queues.
  • We did not take any excursions from the ship; they were over priced in our opinion and we preferred going around on our own rather than having to stick to schedules with other people we did not know. We rented a car in each of the ports of call and explored the islands on our own.

Having said this, taking the decision of going on a cruise implied saying goodbye to my beloved sunrise and sunset photos from the best spots of course (I still took some good shots from the ship). It also involved planning very well our days to make sure we visited the best places yet have some relaxing time as well since we were on our own. However it worked very well for us.

If you would like more information on this Caribbean cruise I invite you to contact me on the Travel Planner page.

The tropical island of St. Lucia

The island of St. Lucia was our next stop in the Caribbean after visiting Barbados. This island had been on my mind for very long and I had heard so many nice things about this place. St. Lucia may seem a small island, but don’t get the wrong idea. Getting from a place to another is very time consuming since the roads go up and down the mountains. We arrived at Castries at around 8 in the morning and our idea was to visit the southern part of the island focusing on Soufrière and its surroundings (Don’t even think of visiting the north and the south in a day as it is absolutely impossible).

Here are the main sights that we managed to visit in a day:

Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens
Soufrière
Anse la Raye
Recommendations

Our plan was quite different from what we actually managed to visit. We had to skip the Tet Paul trek as it was raining heavily in the morning. Moreover driving took longer due to the rain and also the winding uphill and downhill roads.  I was disappointed with the beaches of St. Lucia. We tried to visit Anse Chastanet and Anse Cochon however after driving along the bumpy roads we were stopped metres from the beach by resort securities claiming that the beach was private (even though I had researched before and online there is written that all beaches are public). We ended up not visiting any beaches in St. Lucia! In conclusion I don’t suggest visiting St. Lucia on a cruise. It was our first port of call and I was quite upset at the end of the day. It was one of the reasons I had chosen this cruise but it is the only place where I think a minimum of 3 days are required to visit well. My favourite part of the island was the greenery in its centre and I would have loved to trek in the jungle. I hope to visit again and spend more time only on St. Lucia.

The post Cruising the Southern Caribbean: Tropical St. Lucia appeared first on Lenise Calleja Travel Photography.

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We have finally decided to take the big leap. Our baby is now 8 months old and we have decided to try and go on a long-haul flight. You may think it is insane, but we wanted to give it a try. I am the type of person that does not step backward before trying. So with the necessary research on the best connections, the shortest travel time and a good destination we have decided that it’s time for a big adventure. How did our flights go? I would say not bad! Our baby is at the right stage for this type of journey; she can play and be distracted; getting her to sleep got a little easier and she is not yet crawling or walking so she can stay seated for a long time. Of course she becomes a little cranky when she is sleepy, so we had to move and walk along the aisles to get her to sleep. However, it was not that bad.

I am sure there are a lot of people who have never heard about this island. It is a micro nation and usually we group the islands in this region as Caribbean islands. However the Caribbean consists of thousands of islands; some inhabited and some not. Some of these islands are independent, while others form part of other nations like the United States or are European colonies. Barbados in fact is a former British colony and this is one of the numerous characteristics that make it similar to my homeland Malta. They drive on the left hand side and being a Commonwealth country we didn’t need any Visa. Here are some quick facts for those of you that have never heard about this island.

Quick Facts
  • Area: 439 km2 (slightly larger than Malta)
  • Population: 270,000
  • Languages: English, Bajan Creole
  • Religion: Christian majority
  • Capital city: Bridgetown
  • Currency: Barbadian Dollar
  • Official Tourism Site: https://www.visitbarbados.org/
Why Barbados?
  • Direct daily flights from London
  • Ideal destination to escape the European winter
  • Barbados lies outside the principal Atlantic hurricane belt (hurricane season goes from June to November in the Caribbean)
  • Amazing clear blue seas, white sand and the perfect destination for a break
  • Caribbean hospitality
  • Delicious food featuring barbecued food and fresh fish
  • A safe place that is family-friendly
  • A good place to drive; we find it easier to drive with our baby than going around with public transport
  • There are interesting places to visit (although 3 full days are just the right time in my opinion); I wouldn’t suggest staying longer than a maximum of 5 days, unless of course you like to spend entire days at the beach

Our itinerary was not packed and we had ample time in the afternoon to relax at the beach. Below are the places included in our itinerary.

Day 1 – North
Morgan Lewis Windmill – the last sugar windmill on the island
Animal Flower Cave – where the rough Atlantic meets the quaint Caribbean
Have lunch by the beach in Speightstown
Swim at Heywoods Beach
Day 2 – East & Centre
Watch surfers at Bathsheba Park
Be enchanted by the rainbow of colours at Hunte’s Gardens
Explore the undergrounds at Harrison’s Caves
Swim at the most popular beach on the island – Carlisle Bay
Day 3 – South Beach Hopping
Start with a coffee in the capital Bridgetown
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Munich’s Christmas Markets are among the most famous in Germany. They start towards the end of November and continue until a couple of days before Christmas. If you plan on visiting make sure to plan well ahead, as finding accommodation might be difficult due to the huge flow of tourists that visit. I would suggest an accommodation that is close to the main train station and the historical pedestrian area. In Munich there are several Christmas markets but below are the main ones:

Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz

This is the largest Christmas market in the city and it is located in the main square of Munich in front of the city hall. There are hundreds stalls and you need at least 2/3 hours to see all of them (more if you stop to buy). Clearly this is the place to go if you are limited with time and visiting Munich only for a day.

Medieval Christmas Market at Wittelsbacherplatz

I particularly loved this market as it was different from all the others. Let’s face it, seeing similar things from stall to stall can become boring and repetitive. This Christmas market was a breath of fresh air as the theme is completely different. There are shows with medieval warriors, stalls are all made of wood and the sellers wear costumes! The items for sale that you find here are particularly different and you can even drink mulled wine from a ceramic chalice.

Kripperlmarkt at Neuhauser Strasse

This is the place to go if you are looking for cribs, nativity scenes, figurines and everything that has to do with the religious aspect of Christmas. The detail of the statues sold here is impressive and so are the prices. Obviously you do not expect to purchase these works of art at cheap prices. It is less crowded than the other Christmas markets (maybe because there is no food here hehe!), and you can buy in all tranquility.

Rindermarkt

Technically this Christmas market is a continuation of Marienplatz’s market, however you might miss it if you do not know about it. Just walk along Rindermarkt in front of the town hall and you will end up in another small square, with other stalls selling different food items.

Viktualienmarkt

This food market is present all year round in Viktualienmarkt and you can find all types of fresh food from meat to vegetables and fish. However during Christmas there is a small addon with decorated stalls and shops.

Other Christmas Markets

These are not the only Christmas markets in Munich. There are lots of other smaller Christmas markets which can be included in your itinerary such as:

  • Residenz Christmas Village
  • Chinese Tower Christmas Market (inside the English Gardens)
  • Sendlinger Tor
  • Munich Airport Christmas Market (if you’re early at the airport you may want to spend a couple of hours here)
Foods to try at a German Christmas Market
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The Slovak capital may not be high on your places to go list. Most people decide to visit Bratislava for a day or two maximum and rightly so. To be honest there aren’t a lot of things to do and spending more than 2 days is, in my opinion, not worth it. Slovakia has so much more to offer especially in its central part as well as in the Tatras region. For more information on these destinations you can check out my previous blog posts on central Slovakia and the Tatras National Park. You can choose to visit Bratislava either at the beginning or the end of your trip to Slovakia or else you can also choose to go on a day trip from Vienna which is connected by train or coach with trips starting from just 10 Euros each way.

We spent 24 hours in Bratislava at the end of our trip in Slovakia and my impressions on the city were very positive. I loved this city because it is not a very busy metropolis like other European capitals. A walk in the historical centre is actually relaxing! I have never been to a quieter capital city. The buildings are very elegant and the city is very clean and well-kept. Although the prices are not as cheap as other parts of Slovakia, they are very affordable both in terms of accommodation as well as in terms of food and drinks. Here are some places that should be included if you are visiting Bratislava in a day.

Blue Church
St. Martin’s Cathedral
Bratislava Castle
Župné námestie
St. Michael’s Gate and Street
Hlavné námestie or Main Square
Primatial Palace
UFO Observation Deck

The post 24 hours in Bratislava appeared first on Lenise Calleja Travel Photography.

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Banská Štiavnica
The ideal spot for a coffee break

This small town, home to 10,000 people is the ideal place to break down your drive from Bratislava to the Tatras. It is very tranquil and picturesque, with a good choice of cafes along its main road. The town lies amidst the forests and mountains and is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Banská Štiavnica is one of the most beautiful towns in Slovakia as well as the oldest mining town of the country. Apart from Trinity Square dominated by the plague column, this elegant town also offers its visitors the opportunity to visit two castles. These have now been transformed into museums. You can also learn more about the past of this mining town by visiting the mining museum.

175km
Distance from Bratislava
165km
Distance from Tatras Mountains

The post Places to visit in central Slovakia appeared first on Lenise Calleja Travel Photography.

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As soon as we arrived at our first accommodation, the hotel manager asked me why did you choose this destination? I replied because I love mountains and open spaces. I had been researching on which destination to travel to for ages. After all this was our first trip with our little Nyana who is now 4 months old. After hours and days of research I concluded that Slovakia was going to be our next destination. Here are the reasons why:

  • I wanted to go somewhere in Eastern Europe for the first time
  • I try to avoid places where everyone seems to travel to and Slovakia doesn’t seem to be high on everyone’s bucket lists
  • It is a family friendly destination; this was our first trip with a baby and we wanted somewhere safe
  • Great options for trekking and outdoor activities including family friendly activities
  • Tranquil and peaceful
  • Delicious food with excellent value for money

We spent 3 nights in total in the area and below are some of the places we visited during our stay in the High Tatras National Park.

Štrbské Pleso

Štrbské Pleso is the most chic destination in Slovakia and the most iconic mountain location in the Tatras. It is selected as a base for several travellers who choose the region for outdoor activities that can be done both in winter (skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing etc.) and summer (hiking, biking, trekking, mountain climbing). Staying by the lake, though may sound appealing, can prove to be quite expensive as these are the most luxurious hotels of the country. We visited for half a day enjoying some relaxing time walking around this magical lake with the backdrop of the Tatras mountains. This walk apart from being relaxing is also push chair and wheel chair friendly. Moreover if you wish to buy some souvenirs near the parking there are several stalls selling local products as well. Štrbské Pleso is the perfect place to detach yourself from everything in a relaxing manner.

Popradské Pleso

This lake is also very popular however it is not as easy to reach like Štrbské Pleso. There are several options to reach Popradské pleso, either trek directly through the forest or walk along the asphalted path (making this route again push chair and wheel chair friendly). Reaching this lake takes around 1.5/2 hours uphill but the walk is very pleasant (depending on your level of fitness). Look out for wildlife as the area is populated by bears, deer, squirrels and several species of birds (we saw a lot of squirrels and birds but no deer or bears). After reaching the lake, which is more raw than Štrbské Pleso (no luxurious hotels here), you can enjoy a warm cup of coffee or a beer at one of the two huts by the lake. Or else if you have enough stamina you can continue to trek to reach the top of the mountain. Popradské Pleso is the place for nature lovers with an adventure spirit.

Tatranská Lomnica and Skalnaté Pleso

From the village of Tatranská Lomnica you can get the cable car up to Skalnaté Pleso. Apart from the wonderful scenery there is a magnificent glacial lake at 1,700m. During the month of October the level of water is quite low (you need to visit during late spring/early summer for the highest levels of water), but the scenery is absolutely awesome. You can try out some warm goulash at the restaurant or else sunbathe and relax enjoying the views. Moreover there are several options available such as walking down towards Hrebienok or reach the summit of Lomnický štít with another cable car.

Starý Smokovec

Starý Smokovec is the most popular skiing resort in the area. The highlight of our visit to this village (also because it was raining very heavily) was the divine food we ate. I do not usually mention any restaurants but I was amazed at the delicious dishes we tried at Koliba Kamzík! Apart from the cosy and stylish ambience, this restaurant was the best we ate at during our stay in Slovakia. We had a full meal with starters consisting of soups, main courses consisting of venison and veal steak and also dessert based on strawberries. The staff will also serve you in traditional Slovak costumes. This town is also nice to walk around as there are some cute souvenir shops and cafes. I also suggest going up the funicular from Hrebienok and walk to the stream (we did not do this as it was raining too heavily).

Salaš Krajinkas in Ružemborok
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Travelling to a white destination is a must each year for me. I have to visit a mountain destination and enjoy some skiing or simply breathe in the cold fresh air. My husband loves Austria so we decided to go for a trip in Austria to celebrate the New Year with our friends a couple of years ago. It was a truly magical destination and as soon as we arrived it was snowing heavily, exactly like we had imagined. Spending the New Year in Austria is a good idea for anyone who loves magical white landscapes but wants to enjoy some good vibes on new year’s eve. It is less expensive than the neighbouring Switzerland and the scenery is equally impressive.

New Year’s Eve in Innsbruck

Innsbruck is the perfect place to spend your new year if you want to enjoy some live music in the streets and a fireworks show on the Inn river at midnight. There are several concerts in different parts of the city ranging from parties with DJs to rock music as well as pop and dancing shows. All of this at the dramatic backdrop of the Nordkette mountain range that surrounds Innsbruck.

Tip: if you plan to stay outside be careful to be adequately dressed as it gets really cold. Most of the people will be wearing ski wear and do not bother with being elegant as most probably you will be the only one.

Skiing in Steinach am Brenner

We were staying in Gries am Brenner (shown above) a village close to this skiing resort and we decided to give it a try. This was our first time ‘skiing’. We rented the equipment and took the cable car up the mountain. The visibility was not ideal as it was snowing very heavily, but we had the time of our lives. We laughed so hard as we kept on falling all the time. It was an experience that I will remember forever. After all the hard training, (skiing can become really tiring) you can always enjoy a warm drink in the cosy restaurant while enjoying the views.

Day trip to Neuschwanstein

This was not the perfect day as nothing went as planned. We ended up in a traffic jam that delayed a lot our arrival. As soon as we arrived in Schwangau and went to buy tickets for the castle we discovered that it was fully booked. For anyone intending to visit Neuschwanstein castle I recommend booking in advance since it is very popular all year round. Instead we visited Hohenschwangau which was very interesting.

Tip: An interesting stop along the way can be the castle of Fernstein situated right by the lake of Fernstein on the Fernpass. You can even opt to spend the night in this castle.

Crossing the border to Liechtenstein

As we were quite close to Liechtenstein we decided to take a look at the principality. Be sure to carry with you your passports as they are checked at the borders. We stopped in Vaduz; the capital city of this micro country that is famous for its medieval castle. Honestly there is nothing special to visit here apart from the castle and everything is extremely expensive. The currency used is the Swiss Franc. However if you would like to tick off a country from your list this might be a good excuse to visit.

Tip: An interesting stop on your way might be the village of Feldkirch. It is situated right at the border between Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Relaxing by the lake in Davos

This was one of the highlights of this trip. Davos is a magical destination and we happened to visit during the most beautiful time of the day; around sunset. Getting to Davos is also very spectacular as you drive along a narrow valley with mountain peaks on both sides. Apart from a popular winter sports destination, this Swiss village is also ideal for a relaxing walk around its lake.

Postcard village of Hallstatt
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Have you ever travelled to somewhere just for the sake of tasting food? I have! The cuisine of certain destinations is so inviting that makes travelling even more worth it. I did not travel to Sicily just for food (like I had for Penang in Malaysia), but well it was one of the highlights. All trips to Italy are like that. Sicily is one of those places where you look forward to lunch or dinner time. Here are some of the top delicacies to look out for if you intend to visit the island.

Breakfast with Nutella Cornetto

Is there any better way to start the day? I don’t think so! This is not a typically Sicilian product, but this kind of breakfast is popular all around Italy. This cornetto will give you all the energy you need to start the day and put you in a good mood as well. What about the calories? Don’t let the addiction get you; just leave this habit for when you are on holiday only.

Snacking on Arancini and Panzerotti

We all need a lot of energy to go around while travelling don’t we? So the perfect mid morning snack while in Sicily is an arancina or a panzerotto. What are they? Arancini are rice balls stuffed with anything from ragu, ham and cheese, mushrooms, bolognese sauce or anything that may come to mind to whoever is preparing them. They are then coated with breadcrumbs, deep fried and served warm. Panzerotti are like a closed pizza. They are made of dough stuffed with different ingredients usually including tomatoes and mozzarella. Both arancini and panzerotti can be found in every bar and they are popular with tourists and locals alike. Perfect for when you are on the go!

Don’t Miss the Antipasto

In general Italians do not serve abundant portions in restaurants. I am from Malta and at home this is completely different. In Italy on the other hand portions are smaller allowing you to sample different dishes. A mixed antipasto is the perfect start to your dinner allowing you to sample different Sicilian products including cheeses and cured meats and other local products.

Caponata

Another option for your antipasto is the Caponata, which is a delicious alternative for vegetarians. I love Caponata and I cook it very frequently at home. It is a dish based on aubergines and other vegetables like celery and bell peppers that are prepared with a sweet and sour sauce.

Busiate con gamberi in Trapani

If you are in the province of Trapani make sure to order this dish. This pasta is usually home made and you do not find it in supermarkets. The above plate was prepared with a pistachio and sea urchins based sauce, cherry tomatoes and prawns. My favourite ingredients all in one plate! No wonder this was my favourite meal during my trip in Sicily.

Cannoli

Either for breakfast or as an afternoon snack or else as dessert, it is always a good time for a ricotta cannolo. Be sure to buy the ones which are prepared there and then to make sure you can savour the crunchy pastry forming its crust. There are several variations of the cannolo; the sweet ricotta ends are dipped in chocolate, pistachio, candied fruits or other nuts.

Cassata al forno

You may have heard about the traditional cassata siciliana; easily available out of Sicily. However while in Sicily we were usually offered this version of the Cassata as a dessert. I preferred it to the traditional version as the crust is made up of a less sweet pastry. A pleasant surprise!

Pasta alla norma

Another pasta dish? Yes of course, we’re in Italy after all! This dish, that originated in Catania, is prepared with aubergines and tomatoes and topped with ricotta salata. It is curious that even within the same region you will find different typical dishes. Pasta alla norma is more common on the eastern coast while other pasta dishes are served in other parts of the island.

Gelato all day

Ice cream is another Italian favourite; not only on this island but all around the country. However here I tasted the best ice cream ever! It is not the one of the picture above (I was too busy enjoying my ice cream to take a photo), but the one I tasted in Cefalù at Gelateria Tentazioni. You can read more about this heavenly gelateria here. Most of the gelaterie also have home made granitas and sorbetti. I am not a big fan of these and I usually opt for ice creams. However I would suggest trying out a lemon sorbetto (my husband’s favourite), especially after a heavy meal. Sicilians use their own lemons and they prepare sorbettos that have a very creamy texture. I can promise it will help you with digestion and make you feel less guilty at the same time since it has less calories than ice cream.

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This trip was very unplanned and I flew without knowing what to expect and which places to visit. My first impressions of Wales where that this place is the perfect destination if you want a relaxing trip. It is what you imagine the British countryside to be; lush hills and meadows with grazing sheep, cows and horses. Driving along the Welsh countryside is what we needed to unwind and take a break from the busy roads of Malta. Apart from the picturesque countryside, Southern Wales was a surprising destination with a lot of things to do and places to visit. Here are some ideas to help you plan your itinerary in the region.

Tenby

Tenby was my favourite place in Southern Wales. It is a small coastal town featuring a small harbour and colourful Victorian buildings cheering the quiet roads. Tenby also has a nice beach from where you can admire St. Catherine’s island and fort. If I could go back I would choose Tenby as my base both because of its good location as well for the couple of restaurants and bar situated in its pedestrian centre. A small tip – If you feel hungry try the seafood sandwiches shop situated on the harbour … finger-licking goodness!

Cardiff

Forget about busy London. Cardiff is completely different from England’s capital. It is very quiet and although it is the main economic hub for Wales, it is a pleasant place to visit even if you do not like cities. It is also located on the coast and a stoll near the Millenium centre is a must. My favourite attraction was surely Cardiff castle; a mix of medieval and Gothic style in one place. Fascinating is not only the exterior but also the interiors especially the Arab Room as you can see above. No visit to Cardiff is complete without visiting the castle!

Brecon Beacons National Park

The Brecon Beacons is the paradise for nature lovers. The park consists of a mountain range, forests, rivers, lakes and waterfalls where several activities that can be done like trekking, water sports, cycling and horse-riding. We spent a day trekking from a waterfall to the next and I loved observing the different types of flora of the park. This is what I call a relaxing day disconnected from the rest of the world.

Pembrokeshire Coastal Park

The Pembrokeshire Coastal Park, as its name implies, is a very extended park covering the Welsh south west coast. Apart from numerous beaches and cliffs, the park area also includes several towns and architectural gems like St. David’s Cathedral. The park is also popular with wildlife and bird watchers as this is a good place to observe amongst others the Atlantic puffins.

Raglan Castle

The number of castles you can visit in southern wales is uncountable. Well most of them are ruins of castles, however we found Raglan castle as one of the best preserved castles in Southern Wales. This medieval castle has a curious hexagonal shape and was built more for a show rather than for warfare. An extra reason to visit the castle is its location as it is in the middle of the countryside and can be seen from quite far away.

Rhossili Beach
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