Tag Archives: discover

Return to Athens – 25 years later

I had been to Athens before. I had ticked Greece off my list already. It was a long 25 years ago. It was a family holiday. All I remembered of Athens was walking around the Acropolis in the excruciating  heat. And a major public transport strike that made us travel around town in army vans. The latter sounded incredibly cool.

Then suddenly I found myself booking a flight to Athens. Ready to re-discover the city and see how much it had changed. I don’t often go back to a place where I have been before, more eager as I am to explore new countries. But this time was different. Certainly the Acropolis would still be there, but how about the city that had been re-modernised thanks to the 2004 Olympics? How about the impact of the economic crisis?

A desire to escape the UK in search of another connection with my Mediterranean roots was the final push I needed. Not that getting me on a plane needs much convincing…

Keep reading my next posts to see what I discovered in my 4 days in Athens!

A visit to Echternach, Luxembourg

Just over an hour by bus from Luxembourg City lies Echternach, the oldest town in Luxembourg.

I picked it over Vianden Castle (another popular destination for short trips from Luxembourg City) for no particular reason. Except that I was curious about crossing the border into Germany – just a walk across the bridge over the river Sauer – and back…

Yet the main attractions here are the Abbey of Echternach, which was founded in the 7th century, and the Roman Basilica, rebuilt after World War II. The museum of the Abbey is only open during the summer, though, so I couldn’t visit.

The town itself retains a medieval feel, with its narrow streets, old churches, town walls, towers and a marketplace with a Gothic townhouse. This makes a stroll around very enjoyable.

Echternach has also been recognised at European level for its cultural value: in 2008 it was rewarded by the European Commission as “European destination of excellence”. In 2010, the famous Dancing Procession that always takes place on Whit Tuesday became part of UNESCO’s Intangible World Cultural Heritage.

For the summer, there is also a lake and lots of opportunities for outdoor activities. Unfortunately a cold day wasn’t too suitable for that.

A lot going on for such a small place – really worth adding it to your to-do list for Luxembourg!

Luxembourg here I am!

How did I get here? Luxembourg had never been anywhere near my top 20 countries to visit…

But when my Emirates airmiles where converted into an EasyJet flight, all I could reach from London was Luxembourg. So I thought: why not?!

And one Friday evening I found myself on a bus from the airport to Luxembourg City, listening to announcements in French and wondering what to expect from the city.

It didn’t take me long to get excited at the idea of a new destination to discover, though! And with the help of a map, a travel app and an ice cream – while relaxing at my hostel – I quickly set my itinerary for the following day.

A new adventure was about to start!

Isla Mujeres – part 2

What can you do in Isla Mujeres once you are tired of lazing around at the beach and going shopping?

A popular attraction is the Tortugranja, a turtle farm run by the Government in partnership with private funding that can be easily reached by taxi or bicycle. The centre was established to protect the sea turtles and increase their population. Accessible to visitors, in addition to the indoor and outdoor turtle pools there is also a small section with other marine life like fish, crabs, seahorses.

Not far from Tortugranja there is a beautiful hidden cove that was indicated to us by a local lady. Most tourists go instead to the beach and restaurant area by the Playa Tiburon restaurant. It is still interesting to walk around there and watch local fishermen on their boats or preparing seashells for sale. And don’t forget to try the Tikinxik, a local traditional fish dish!

I also recommend anyone should hire a bicycle and go around and explore Isla Mujeres this way.
Cycle to the island’s southern point, where you will see the ruins of a tiny Mayan temple as well as an open air art exhibition. You may also come across a few iguanas enjoying the sun along the walking path.
Wander around the streets outside the main tourist area for a more authentic feel of the place. Have a fresh conocut from a stall by the side of the street. Enjoy riding in the sea breeze.

Then return to the main town for a drink and meal in the warm evening weather.

 

I fell in love with Caye Caulker

 

I fell in love with Caye Caulker the moment I got off the water taxi, in a mild December evening.
White sand under my feet as I walked down the street looking for my guesthouse, houses in pastel colours, locals cheerfully welcoming the new arrivals to the island, music everywhere, a strong Caribbean feel.

Go Slow

Belize "Caye Caulker"Go Slow is the motto here. Everything is relaxed, very laid back, no one rushes. There are no cars in Caye Caulker. Everyone walks or cycles everywhere. If you want a taxi you’ll hop into a golf cart.

There isn’t much to do on the island, and there is a lot to do at the same time. Plenty of tour agencies offer diving, snorkelling, kayaking, paddleboarding, scenic flights, boat tours. Or you can hire a bicycle and explore this tiny island (about 8Km long) on your own. Or just sit by the beach and relax.

Everyone seems to go to the Split and the Lazy Lizard bar during the day and to the Sports Bar in the evening. The local guys will tell you about the Sports Bar as soon as you arrive.

I fell in love with Caye Caulker. Small but with a lot to do if you are curious.

Explore the tiny island with a curious eye and an open mind. Enter the shops. Talk to the local people. Walk barefoot. Buy a fresh juice from a grocery stall. Eat fryjacks. Take a yoga class. Hang out at the Split during the day. Swim in the clear Caribbean waters. Eat seafood. Watch the sunset. Enjoy the sea breeze.

But most of all Go Slow and savour every moment in Caye Caulker. Because when you’re gone you will miss it. And more than you think.

Discovering Bacalar town

The name “Bacalar” most likely derives from the Mayan b’ak halal, which means “surrounded by reeds”. The town was named a “Pueblo Magico” in 2006 because of the magical experience it offers thanks to its natural beauty and historical relevance.

So when you are tired of trying outdoor activities, go for a walk around town! The highlights are the main square and the Fuerte de San Felipe Bacalar (the fort), which was completed in 1729 and is open to visitors. But don’t miss exploring the streets, with their shops, restaurants and food stalls. The town comes alive at night, when most of the eateries start serving food.

A 10-min walk from the centre is the municipal market. If you’ve been following me for some time you’ll know how much I love markets! I love the vibe, the colours, the people, the interactions that develop in what is often a loud and chaotic environment. The market and the little grocery stores in Bacalar were quieter than I expected. But the colours and the people didn’t disappoint.

Discovering Marrakech

Before travelling to Marrakech I didn’t really know what to expect. I had the feeling that it would be a chaotic place full of historic buildings, people in traditional clothing, and lots of colourful stalls dotted around the narrow alleys in the souks.

In simple words, that’s exactly what Marrakech is.

The Medina. This is Marrakech in its essence. The old Marrakech. The traditional Marrakech. The most intriguing part of this city. The Medina of Marrakech is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cultural value and its impressive number of masterpieces of architecture and arts. And it will not disappoint!

Visit the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, once a theological college dating back to the 14th century but rebuilt two centuries later and the largest madrasa of all Morocco. Spend some time at Palais Bahia, built in the late 19th century and intended to be the greatest palace of its times.

Walk with no purpose except that of discovering the city, lose yourself in the maze of narrow alleys, follow the pungent scent of spices, let the local artisans approach you as they are trying to sell you some of their artifacts.

Reach Jemaa el-Fnaa, the real centre of Marrakech. This square is synonymous with chaos but this is what makes it such a great place too! Visit around sunset and you will be rewarded with amazing colours and incredibly vivid images. Bargain a price with the water sellers and they will be “yours” for as long as you like. Watch the women in colourful traditional dresses, the snake charmers, wander around the food stalls displaying a large variety of dishes: they all contribute to the charm of Jemaa el-Fnaa.

Then sit down and eat at one of the food stalls, all easy to identify because they use reference numbers. One word of warning though: they tend to overcharge tourists so make sure that you only order from menus with prices on display! But don’t let this spoil the experience: the food is very good and fresh, and a meal in Jemaa el-Fnaa will be the perfect end to a day of discovery of Marrakech.