The Most Christmasy Place In NYC: Rolf’s German Restaurant.

It’s the holiday season and time to review one of my favorite holiday spots in New York City! You’ve all seen it – Rolf’s German Restaurant on the East Side (22nd and 3rd). This is the famously booked restaurant that is decked out to the MAX in Christmas lights, baubles, dolls, and Santas. Seemingly forgotten until the Christmas rush, Rolf’s offers authentic Alsatian food that is good year-round. However, it is best at Christmas, despite how difficult it may be to score a reservation. Well, this will be my 3rd year going and I’m to give you all the required information to secure that coveted reservation and enjoy a holiday meal (albeit next year)!

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The exterior.

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Rolf’s at Christmas!!

First off, if you are looking for a reservation during holiday season, you cannot book too early. I always make reservations in September or early October via telephone (there is NO internet booking capability) early in the day. Rolf’s takes down handwritten reservations and stops answering its phone once November hits (and often sooner if booked up). If you miss the reservation call period and you are in NYC, stop by and try to make a reservation in person. Weekday lunches are your best bet for last minute reservations during the holiday season.

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Lunch at Rolf’s last Christmas!

You should also know that Rolf’s has some interesting rules regarding meals during the holiday season. As of this year (2019), Rolf’s only takes reservations of parties of up to 4 people and each reservation is limited to 1 hour and 15 minutes (they will ask you to leave)! Seating is tight and service is quick, but its worth the effort, even for a meager 75 minutes! Also, since the restaurant is so tiny, this is not the place to come with loads of Christmas shopping – there’s simply nowhere to store it!

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Christmas craziness at Rolf’s at Christmas.

If you are unable to score a reservation during the holidays, you can wait in line for the bar area (for cocktails only, no food is served in the bar during the holiday season). To do this arrive, as early as possible and join the long queue on 22nd Street. You will probably wait hours for an overpriced cocktail, but this is an option to get that Instagram shot. Bucket list: check. That being said, if you’re local, decorations go up in early October and stay up well into the new year, so you can go and get that shot early or late. We actually took Dan’s cousins in October of this year just to see it! It was not crowded at all and we could stay as long as we wanted!

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The bar line during the holidays.

In any case, if you have a reservation, review the menu prior to arriving at Rolf’s. You do not want to waste your 1.25 hours looking at the menu. You want to waste it taking Instagram pics! Rolf’s makes choosing your food pretty easy – their menu is online and they don’t do specials during the holidays.

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Rolf’s menu.

The one wild card is the drink menu, which is usually pretty fantastic! Rolf’s always offers fun holiday cocktails, as well as a long schnapps list and beer by the stein.  Be ready to make a quick decision. Due to the time crunch, we generally order drinks as soon as the waiter comes by. Usually a Gluhwein, but sometimes we go rogue!

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Christmas drink list.

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Schnapps list.

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Eggnog.

As you will see from reviewing the menu, the menu at Rolf’s is fairly small and is solely compromised of traditional Alsatian dishes. Think pork and veal schnitzels, potato and cabbage based sides, and even rabbit. For the most part, main dishes cost around $35 USD and come with two sides. While a bit pricey, it is New York and Rolf’s dishes are HUGE!

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Traditional veal schnitzel.

My go-to meal is generally the above-pictured veal schnitzel, which is served with spatzel (German pasta), a lemon, and green beans. The schnitzel is pounded very thin and is always tasty. The spatzel is my favorite side dish, and I barely touched the green beans (I had better things to eat). I usually also order a side of German potato salad to split amongst the table, which was absolutely large enough to split between 4 people.

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The potato salad.

Other popular dishes are the meatloaf, which is even larger than the schnitzel and is served with purple cabbage and mashed potatoes, and the Jaegar Schnitzel, a non-breaded piece of meat served in a mushroom cream sauce, that is served with green beans and spatzel!

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Meatloaf!

Despite the dishes being huge, I always order dessert, which are really good! Recently, I’ve split the Black Forest Cake and the Apple Strudel, which is served warm(!), with my fellow dinners. Both are terribly delicious and huge.

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Black Forest Cake.

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Warm Apple Strudel.

All in all, I think Rolf’s is a super fun NYC Christmas experience. Its worth the annoyances, but only if you book early or go at an off time.  I don’t think waiting in line for just drinks is worth it, but that’s up to you. If you go that route, arrive early and be prepared to wait a long time and be super crowded inside the standing-room only bar.

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Standing room only at the bar around Christmas.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Rolf’s German Restaurant:281 Third Ave, New York, NY 10010. T: 212-477-4750 and 212-473-8718. IG: rolfsnyc. Open 12h – 20h, closed on Monday through Labor Day. Christmas decor up October – May.

ON A BUDGET

Rolf’s at Christmas is definitely a worthy splurge! If you are on a super tight budget, you can wait in line for access to the bar – but drinks are still $18 – or find another fun bar decorated to the nines for Christmas! There are a lot in NYC!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Delicious Food Tour Though Belgrade, Serbia!

Dan and I spent a long weekend in Belgrade, Serbia earlier this year after our trip to Montenegro, as our Air Serbia flight connected in Belgrade to NYC and we thought, why not see a bit of Belgrade? Since we had limited time, basically 1 day in Belgrade proper, we decided to make the most of our time by taking a food tour through Belgrade, one of our favorite ways to explore a new city! Spoiler alert, we really like to eat and drink! There are a couple food tour options in Belgrade, but we went with the Food Tour Belgrade company based on a fellow traveler’s recommendation.

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Interesting Belgrade.

The first stop and the start of our tour was at the Question Mark cafe, or simply “?,” a landmark in Belgrade. The Question Mark is the oldest operating cafe, or “kafana,” in Belgrade, and its associated with loads of Serbian history. Decorated in a traditional manner, ? showcases gorgeous furniture in its main room, as well as a large beer garden in the back. We were welcomed with the Jelen beer branded (a popular mass produced beer in Belgrade; its ok) swag all over ?!

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We found it – the ?

To start our tour at ?, we tasted traditional Turkish coffee, which is very strong dark coffee prepared in a traditional Turkish (and Serbian) manner and served with a cube of sugar and a Turkish Delight, or a sweet candy. Turkish coffee is really popular in Belgrade, due to it being a part of the Ottoman Empire at one time. The coffee at ? was solid and the presentation was 100%. After we finished the coffee, our guide even showed us how to read our fortune (I won’t spoil the surprise!) More excitingly, we learned that the work Jelen (from the beer brand fame) is one of the most common female names, pronounced “Yellen,” like Helen according to our guide = )

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Turkish coffee at ? in Belgrade.

After finish our coffee at ?, we took a short stroll through a popular and upscale area of Belgrade, before reaching our second destination, a “dumpling” shop.

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A stroll through Belgrade. Could not resist a picture of the cute blue moto.

In contrast to ?, the second stop on our tour was super modern, and Instagramable, store called Ferdinand Knedle. Ferdinand Knedle only makes knedles, or Serbian dumplings, and they are served in sweet and savory flavors, with plum being the most famous flavor. Despite translating to dumpling, they are not the dumplings that I think of; instead, they are more like fried dough balls filled with a soft filling. Our guide described it as something you would eat after school.

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Modern interior of Ferdinand Knedle.

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Menu at Ferdinand Knedle.

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Lots of knedles at Ferdinand.

At Ferdinand, Dan and I each got to pick our own knedle to try. We decided to split the two, opting for the plum knedle and the 4 cheese knedle. Both were delicious and I would love to return and try allll of the flavors. The knedle was quite filling, and I was super surprised to learn that its only a snack here!

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Plum knedle from the outside.

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Interior of the plum version.

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Inside of the 4 cheese knedle.

After the knedles, we took another stroll, this time down a touristy street, and cut into a restaurant with an unexpected back courtyard. The restaurant felt fancy, with waiters in suits, but it was most certainly casual. First up, our choice of Serbian wine of the traditional liquor, Rakija. I had enough rakija in Montenegro, so I ordered red Serbian wine. Dan went with a flavored rakija. Both were sizeable pours and quite tasty.

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Serbian red wine.

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Dan’s rakija.

Shortly after ordering the wine, we were each brought a plate of traditional Serbian appetizers. Our plates included two types of Serbian cheese, two Serbian dried meats, a slice of tomato, an order of traditional sun-dried tomato spread, and the most delicious bean salad. My favorites were the bean salad and and the tomato spread. I really loved the bean salad! However, my favorite food on the plate was a prosciutto wrapped prune. OMG. Absolutely delicious. This type of plate is a popular appetizer plate in Serbia and you can find something similar at more traditional restaurants throughout the city. Pro tip, split one with your travel partner or order it as a meal.

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Serbian appetizer.

After this meal, we stopped at one of Serbia’s most popular ice cream shops, Crna Ovca (or, the “Black Sheep”). Seriously, there was a line outside. I ordered white chocolate blueberry and straticella (my choice!), but there were so many flavors that I would have love to have tried, including Pear and Fennel. How cool does that sound?! The ice cream was excellent and a nice cap to our big appetizer.

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Ice cream from the Black Sheep.

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More ice cream at Crna Ovca!

Our next stop was a quick one, more meats and cheese at a local meat and cheese shop! Good think Serbia does great meats and cheese. Here, were tried 4 dried meats, a sausage, two pieces of Serbian cheese, and breads dipped in Serbian olive oil, more of that tasty tomato paste, and a sweet Serbian jelly. We also tried some fried pork fat, which was absolutely amazing!! By far my favorite dish. I wish I had purchased some to eat later.

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Meats at the meat shop – delish!

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Fried pork fat, even more delish!

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Our meats plate!

Moving along, our next stop was just down the road at homemade Serbian liquor store with a woman very reminiscent of the Amsterdam hostel woman in Eurotrip… In any case, and as you may have gathered, rakija is very popular in the Balkans, including Serbia. We had already tried a bunch on this trip; I hate it, and Dan loves it. Here, we tried an herbal rakija that ended up coming home with us in a bottle too big for our wine bags, some cherry wine, and a few other liquors. Most were too strong for my taste, but the shop was pretty interesting. The owner, a/k/a the Amsterdam hostel owner, was also really sweet and hospitable. Definitely look this shop up if you are into Serbian liquors.

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Some of the liquers.

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Cherry liquer.

En route leaving the shop, we swung by a little market to pick up some raspberries – one of Serbia’s most famous exports. Who knew?! Aside from buying raspberries, the market was super cute and would make a fun stop for tourists!

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Said raspberries.

Our very final destination was the bohemian district of Skadarlija, which is often compared to Paris’ Montmartre. I didn’t really get that comparison, but really nothing compares to my beloved Paris! Skadarlija is home to cute restaurants, cafes, and shops, many catering to tourists. We walked around Skadarlija for a few minutes and ended at an upscale sit down restaurant for another meal of classic Serbian foods. Yes, truly another complete meal.

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Skadarlija.

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Dan and me in Skadarlija.

I cannot recall the name of the restaurant; it is right on the corner next to direction sign in the above picture. I recommend a reservation. For our last meal of the tour, we started with Serbian red wine and Serbian grilled cheese. A perfect combo! Serbian wine is actually quite good and has a long history (which I will write about in another post, stay tuned!) and the cheese was fantastic. Our cheese and wine was paired with a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and Balkan cheese (like the ones we had in Montenegro!) called sopska salad, and cabbage salad. The tomato, cucumber, and cheese salad reminded me so much of a classic Greek salad – incredibly tasty! 

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Grilled cheese salad.

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Serbian salad.

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Cabbage salad.

After, we each were served a plate of cevapi – Serbian grilled meat in a tube form – served on traditional Serbian bread in sandwich type format. The cevapi was very, very good, especially on the pita bread. During our meal, our guide answered all of our questions about Serbia – its history, conflicts, growing up in the Balkans (she grew up as a Serb in Bosnia), and modern day Serbia. Our conversation was really interesting, and reading up on Balkan history will definitely make your visit and a conversation such as this much more interesting. Our tour was over after this meal, and Dan and I set off to see Belgrade’s Church of Saint Sava.

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The delicious cevapi.

Looking back, this food tour was an excellent way to explore Belgrade; we saw a lot of the city and tasted many foods that we would not have been able to try on our own. For those thinking of visiting Belgrade or the Balkans, Belgrade is quite safe these days, despite its outdated reputation of being a war torn country. There is still conflict in the Balkans, but tourists won’t see that on a visit to Belgrade. Today, Belgrade is hip, charming, and a great value to budget minded travelers. Plus, many people speak English due to growing up on US television shows. Belgrade is definitely worth visiting, and is an easy pair with more popular Balkan destinations, such as Croatia and Montenegro, especially from the East Coast of the US due to Air Serbia’s daily nonstop flight from JFK to Belgrade (which I took, it was a fine flight).  Feel free to email or comment with any questions about Belgrade!

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Belgrade’s famous Church of Saint Sava.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Food Tour Belgrade: We did the Serbia On Your Plate Tour at 56 euro per person, which included an English Speaking guide and all food and drink mentioned in this article. The food was more than enough for a meal. This company offers a few other tours, but the one we took is billed as their “most popular.”

 

Virpazar on Lake Skadar: Montenegro’s Wine Destination.

Dan and I finally vacationed in Montenegro earlier this year! I had been dreaming of going to Montenegro for seriously like 10 years, and I was really excited to execute this trip! In planning, and in my last 10 years of Montenegro dreams, I mainly focused on the Adriatic coast: the Bay of Kotor, Budva, Petrovac, and Sveti Stefan. When actually planning our trip, however, I learned that Montenegro has much more to offer than its gorgeous coastline, including a really good wine industry. Yes, who knew?! The center of Montenegro’s wine industry is the tiny town of Virpazar, so we promptly booked a stay in Virpazar as part of our trip.

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Virpazar on Lake Skadar.

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Wareontheglobe’s Guide To Holidaying In Perast, Montenegro.

I have wanted to visit the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro for years, and I finally went for a week for Dan and my 2nd wedding anniversary this past August! We spent 11 days in Montenegro and Belgrade, Serbia, with most of those days in Perast, Montenegro. Perast, and the Kotor Bay in general, were even more beautiful than I imagined, and I highly recommend them as an “off the beaten path” destination for travelers.

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View from our room at Hotel Conte in Perast, Montenegro.

PERAST, MONTENEGRO

For those unfamiliar with Perast, which I am assuming is most people reading this blog (ha), Perast is a tiny, tiny town on the Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Perast is located about 30 minutes from Kotor, Montenegro and 1.5 hours from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Currently, Perast only has a population of around 400, but it has loads of history and a very Venetian feel, which makes sense, as Perast was part of the Venetian empire. Perast was also home to one of the best sailing schools in the world and historically educated some of the most well-regarded sailors. To date, Perast maintains the feel of a small fisherman’s village, but the look of a super swanky and expensive destination.

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Sailing waters.

While today Perast is mostly a tourist town, its well worth a visit. Perast has only one main road, running right along the Bay, with most businesses being located right on this road. The entirety of the town can be walked in 20 minutes, but you should spend at least few hours soaking in the city. Its charming and you will want to stay longer. If visiting from neighboring Kotor, plan to spend a half-day, including lunch at Restaurant Conte.

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Perast’s main street on a summer evening.

WHERE TO STAY IN PERAST, MONTENEGRO

Perast has many hotels, plenty for all the tourists in town, yet does not feel overly touristy or crowded. Since there are many options in choosing a Perast hotel, I would look for the following characteristics: 1. Is there air conditioning (since Perast’s buildings are old, some do not have this amenity) 2. Is there a pool? A pool is useful in the hot summer, especially since there is no proper beach in Perast. 3. Location of the hotel and your room. As buildings in Perast are old, many hotels have rooms in multiple buildings, and hardly any hotels have elevators. Confirm you are staying on the ground level if you have trouble with stairs. That being said, many hotels have golf carts to transport visitors around town (just call the front desk) and will have a strong local insist on carrying your luggage to your room (don’t forget to tip!).

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Stairs to our room in Hotel Conte.

We stayed at the lovely Hotel Conte, which we absolutely adored!! Hotel Conte’s main building is located next to Restaurant Conte in the center of town, but its guest rooms are spread out in several buildings . Our room was located high in the town over looking the Kotor Bay – what a treat!

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More views from our room.

Hotel Conte offered American-style air conditioning and a pool just outside of our room. Hotel Conte also had golf carts to drive guests around town and the staff insisted on carrying our luggage to and from our room, so the stairs were not a problem. If you do have mobility issues however, be sure to ask for a ground level room.

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The gorgeous pool out side our room.

In terms of other hotels, most seemed locally owned and quite charming. The only chain we saw was an Iberostar outpost, which also had a golf cart driving guests around. One downside of staying on the Kotor Bay, no loyalty chains here.

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Said golf carts for transporting hotel guests around town.

WHERE TO EAT IN PERAST, MONTENEGRO

If you talk to a Kotor Bay local, they will tell you that Perast has some of the best food on the Bay, and recommend a meal in one of Perast’s many waterfront restaurants. At least that’s what several locals told us! And they weren’t wrong; Perast has a string of waterfront restaurants right on the Bay, which make for particularly romantic sunset dinners. Our favorite was Restaurant Conte, where we ate twice! Reservations for more popular restaurants are recommended for sunset, especially on the weekends during high season. However, since there are so many restaurants, you should be able to find a table on most days even for dinner during high season. Most restaurants feature a similar menu of seafood, pasta, and pizza, showcasing Italy’s influence on Perast.

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Anniversary dinner at Restaurant Conte.

Restaurant Conte. We stayed at Hotel Conte, which is attached to Restaurant Conte, and dined here twice. Conte’s speciality is seafood, and more than one person told us that this is the best seafood restaurant in town. Both of our meals and service were excellent. Make a reservation if you want to sit on the water like us; Conte books up.

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Squid ink risotto. A speciality of the general area.

Konoba Skolji. Just off the water, Konoba Skolji specializes in Balkan meats, as well as seafood. Meat is cooked in an outdoor grill, which definitely catches the eye. We choose this restaurant based on several reviews I read online. Unfortunately, neither of us loved our meals at Konoba Skolji. We found them to be fine, but nothing to write home about. That being said, Konoba Skolji is good alternative if you don’t want seafood or pizza.

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Octopus salad at Konoba Skolji.

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Truffle Pasta at Konoba Skolji.

Bocalibre Pizza. A quick and casual pizza restaurant in a pretty courtyard. The dinner pizzas were just OK. The banana-Nutella dessert pizza, however, was out of this world. No reservations needed.

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A BBQ Sauce based pizza at Bocalibre.

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That banana and Nutella pie!

Pirate Bar. A simple beach bar serving hamburgers and a few fried things. We only had sunset drinks here, but the Pirate Bar would be useful for a quick lunch or for those traveling with children.

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View from Pirate’s Bar.

WHAT TO DO IN PERAST MONTENEGRO

Perast is best for relaxing, strolling the town’s sole road, sipping a cafe of an adult beverage, and popping into the few shops in town. One end of town to the other only takes about 15 minutes, but its a fun stroll and there are numerous shops and cafes for breaks. Be sure to try the Pomegranate wine from the little wine stand – a local sweet wine!

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Tiny Perast.

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The local pomegranate wine.

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Walking through town.

In terms of actual sight-seeing, Perast’s St. Nikola Church houses an interesting bell tower that tourists can climb, as well as a small maritime museum.

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Bell Tower of Perast’s St. Nikola Church.

 

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Perast’s Museum.

However, Perast’s main attraction is located on a small man-made island just off Perast’s coast in the Bay – St. George Island and Our Lady of the Rocks. Both are small man made islands in the Bay of Kotor that are best seen from Perast. Tourists cannot (well, are not supposed to) access St. George Island, as its a working monastery. However, tourists are welcome to visit Our Lady of the Rocks, which houses a gorgeous church with paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a Baroque artist from Perast, and a really interesting art museum. 

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Our Lady of the Rocks.

Legend has it that Our Lady of the Rocks Island started as a “pile of rocks” when some local fisherman saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. After that sighting, fisherman continued adding rocks to until the island formed. Entrance to the island is by small boat from Perast that leave almost constantly during the day in high season. The island is also home to decently clean public WCs. Entry is a few Euros, as is the boat shuttle. Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour on the island.

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From the front – gorgeous chapel.

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The ceiling in Our Lady of the Rocks.

While Perast lacks a proper beach, the Pirate bar referenced above is a beach club and offers access to the Bay, as well as lounge chairs right on the water. If we had stayed longer, I would have spent a day here on the water. 

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Wholeheartedly agree with this sign.

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Pirate Bar.

HOW LONG TO STAY IN PERAST

How long one stays in Perast is really a matter of personal opinion. Perast is one of those places where you take it slow, enjoy the views, and simply relax. We stayed 5 days, but you could certainly linger. I felt that 5 days gave us enough time to see Perast and the highlights of the Kotor Bay, without feeling rushed. 

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Pretty Perast.

If you are visiting as a day trip from a neighboring town, you can stay anywhere from a couple hours to a full day. The town can be walked in less than an hour, but it takes a while to get to the islands and you will certainly want to enjoy a seaside meal.

EXCURSIONS FROM PERAST

While public transportation is limited to the Blue Line bus route, tourists wanting to take excursions and willing to pay for a taxi will find Perast a good base. On our trip, we took a day trip to Dubrovnik (via private car), spent a 1/2 day in Kotor (via the Blue Line bus), and spent an afternoon in Herceg Novi (via taxi). We also did a 6 hour Bay tour from Kotor (again, via the Blue Line bus).

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Day trip to Herceg Novi – at Savina Winery.

The one negative about taking excursions from Perast is that its expensive. Staying in Kotor will be easier (and less expensive) if you want to take many excursions around the area. There are lots of companies in Kotor offering day tours and excursions, as well as a more robust public transportation system.

HOW TO GET TO PERAST AND PRACTICALITIES

The closest airport to Perast is the Tivat International Airport in Montenegro, which is about 25 minutes from Perast. Coordinate with your hotel to arrange for a taxi.  Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital, has a larger international airport. Podgorica is about an hour drive from Perast. I prefer to fly into Tivat to save time, but I would fly into Podgorica if it was easier or much cheaper.

While not a member of the European Union, Montenegro uses the Euro and ATMs distribute Euros.

If you rent a car, which many people do and can be helpful in Montenegro (we did not), know that cars are not allowed in Perast during the summer season. Cars must park on either side of town. Some hotels claim to have private parking lots.

Once in Perast, the Blue Line local bus service runs between Perast and Kotor, where you can connect to other bus lines. The Blue Line picks up at Restaurant Conte and comes about once an hour. Check with your hotel for the current schedule (it picked up on the half-hour when we were there). We found the bus to be very punctual. Tickets were about 2 Euro per person, paid directly to the driver.

There are currently no ride-sharing apps (like Uber or Lyft) in the Kotor Bay. However, there are tons of taxi companies, which will drive you all over the Kotor Bay if you are willing to pay. Coordinate with your hotel to call a taxi and confirm the average cost. If a taxi picks you up since there are no cars in Perast, you meet the taxi driver just outside of town near the Pirate Bar.

Everyone in the tourist industry speaks English. English speakers will have no trouble getting around.

There is exactly 1 ATM (outside Hotel Conte) in Perast and no Pharmacies. Bring essentials or buy in neighboring Kotor (20 bus ride).

Perast is extremely safe.

In case you aren’t ready to jump on a plane just yet, here are some more of my favorite pics from Perast!

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Cute little bike.

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Perast is so pretty.

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Old streets.

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One more of Perast.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Hotel and Restaurant Conte: Obala Kapetana Marka Martinovića BB
85336 Perast, Crna Gora. Reservations recommended for restaurant, especially to sit right on the water. Hotel reservations via the linked website. Breakfast at the hotel is awesome – included with most rooms, 10 Euro per person otherwise and to the public.

Konoba Skolji: Open daily 11 – 23. Close to Bocalibre. Reservations not needed.

Bocalibre: Located near the Wisteria Cafe, to the left of Hotel Conte when facing the water. Open daily – 23h. Reservations not needed. Budget friendly.

Pirates Beach Bar: Located near the parking lot just outside town (5 – 10 minute walk from Hotel Conte). Open daily 8 – 21 during summer season only. Reservations not required. 

Taking The Scenic Route To The Top Of Kotor, Montenegro!

Kotor is an old triangle-shaped, walled town on the Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Its the most well-known and well-touristed town on the Kotor Bay, and probably in all of Montenegro, despite its small size. Why you may ask, especially if you’ve never heard of Kotor (or possibly even Montenegro)? 1. Kotor, and the Kotor Bay, are totally stunning and make for a gorgeous vacation destination. 2. Kotor is now on the Adriatic cruise ship circuit and smaller (but not that small) cruise ships dock in Kotor for the day. 3. Rick Steves has written a lot about Kotor, and its an easy day trip from neighboring Dubrovnik. In sum, people know Kotor and its a busy destination. If you want off the beaten path, stay down the road in Perast, like we did! That being said, nothing beats the views from Kotor and its a terribly lovely place to spend a day.

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Kotor, Montenegro in a photograph.

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Airport Lounge Review: Business Club, Belgrade Nikola Tesla, Serbia.

Dan and I flew through Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport this summer on our vacation to Montenegro. We connected in Belgrade after flying Air Serbia’s sole transatlantic flight from JFK, which is almost 10 hours long… Landing in the morning, we exhausted tired and ready for a rest and some food before flying the last 45 minutes to Tivat, Montenegro (50 minutes, also via Air Serbia).  

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Final destination: Perast, Montenegro.

Lucky for us, or so I thought, the Belgrade airport is home to a Priority Pass lounge, and not much else. After deplaning, we found the Business Club pretty easily; it was located quite close to where we entered the airport. Delirious, we did not do much looking around aside from locating the lounge.

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Welcome to the Belgrade Business Club!

Checkin to the Business Club was quick and easy. We simply presented our boarding pass and Priority Pass card. A quick swipe and we were in! 

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Getting settled in the Business Club.

The Business Club is on the smaller side, and you can view the entire lounge at checkin.   The lounge is separated into three main parts: a food service area, an eating and business area, and a lounging area.  The most comfortable of these 3 areas is what I dub the lounging area. This area is slightly removed from the food and is filled with couch-like chairs and sofas. There are numerous coffee/end tables in this area, too, and it makes for a comfortable place to relax before your flight.  There are TVs scattered throughout this area playing CNN. This area was pretty crowded when we landed on Saturday morning, so we set up shop in the business/food area (yes, odd pairing).

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The kitchen/business area.

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Crowded lounge area.

The business portion of the business/food area is comprised of several kitchen-style tables that are perfect for eating and drinking, they also make a good desk for getting some work done (there’s the combo!).  Just behind these tables is a row of computers that can apparently be used for working. However, I didn’t see anyone using the computers when we visited.

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Computers for use.

Next to the business area is the food, which I found to be lacking. We visited the Business Club twice during breakfast hours, which once spilled into lunch. At breakfast, the food options are slim, with a cold buffet and a few slices of cold cuts and cheese playing the starring role. There were also some pre-packaged tuna sandwiches in one of the fridges and some odd salad fixings. Hard pass.

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Serbian meats.

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Salad?

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The aforementioned tuna sandwiches.

When lunch rolled around, the lounge staff, who were very nice, set out soup, pasta, and rice. Nothing looked too appetizing or tasty, so I skipped it all around. I believe Dan tried some of the pasta. He didn’t get sick, so that’s a win.

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Lunch food.

The drink set-up was only slightly better, although since it was so early, I didn’t properly explore all the options. There was a decent espresso machine, as well as soft drinks and plenty of bottled flat and sparking water. There was also this really popular Serbian energy drink called Guarana. Dan tried one and seemed to like it. It was all the rage in Belgrade!

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Non-alcoholic beverages.

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More non-alcoholic beverages.

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Guarana Serbian energy drink.

In terms of alcohol, I was excited to try the wine after noticing a sweet set-up in walking in.  To my disappointment, this was simply a set-up and there were only single bottles of wine in the mini-fridges, as well as a few types of beer, including Leffe (not bad!). There was, however, a decent display of rakijaa, but it was all warm…. I would note that people were still drinking it, and I probably could have found some ice.

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Rakijaa spread.

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The faux wine spread.

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Well-known Serbian wine from Aleksic – we visited this winery later in the trip!

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Beer and water.

In addition to the above, the lounge has a small bookshelf with reading materials and basic clean WCs and the staff was pleasant and constantly replaced the limited food options. In a small, not-great airport, the Business Lounge was a welcome distraction and an easy place to waste a few hours. I probably would not pay to enter, unless I planned to drink a lot of warm rakija!

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Reading materials.

STEAL OUR LOUNGE

Business Club Nikola Tesla Belgrade Airport: Between Gates A4 & A5. Open 5h30 – 13h. Complimentary access to Priority Pass members.

One Day in Kings Landing – 10 Years After My First Visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dubrovnik is Croatian city on the very southern tip of Croatia, just north of Montenegro and across the Adriatic from Bari, Italy. Dubrovnik is split into two parts: New Town, the modern part of town with swanky hotels and restaurants, and Old Town, the beautiful walled part of the city that stars as Kings Landing in Game of Thrones starting in Season 2 (it was filmed in Mdina, Malta in Season 1). Both are worthy of your time.

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Welcome to Dubrovnik!

With crystal clear green water and warm temperatures from May – early October, Dubrovnik has been a popular European and Russian vacation destination for decades, until the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, when Dubrovnik sustained significant war damage. Rebuilt and open for business since the early 2000s, Dubrovnik is back as a major vacation player and home to two busy cruise ports. Rick Steves famously named Dubrovnik “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” As a result of its newfound popularity, tourists are flocking to the city in droves and the Old Town can get crazy busy, especially during the height of summer. If you haven’t yet been to Dubrovnik, you’ve definitely “missed the boat” on this exotic destination, but its still a city worthy of a few days, especially as part of a larger Croatian or Balkan itinerary.

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Old Town Dubrovnik.

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Kotor Bay Wine Tasting: Savina Winery, Herceg Novi, Montenegro.

Surprising to many, myself included, Montenegro makes good, yet relatively unknown, red, white, and rose wine from both foreign grapes (although grown in Montenegro) and a handful of indigenous grapes found only in Montenegro. The most popular indigenous grape is the Vranac grape, which is used in red wine and is easily found in local restaurants and wine shops throughout Montenegro. Vranac, and generally all the wines that we tasted in Montenegro, was quite good. Outside of Montenegro, however, they are difficult, if not impossible, to find. Even Dan, my wine snob, liked Montenegrin wine!

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Montenegrin grape vines.

Since we love wine and wine tasting, I was on the hunt for Montenegrin wineries throughout our entire trip to Montenegro. I was pleased to find a number of wineries offering visits to tourists, but Savina was the only working professional winery that I found (via Trip Advisor) close to Perast, where we stayed for the majority of our trip. As soon as I read the reviews, I promptly booked a tasting via email. It sounded lovely!

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Savina corks.

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Al-Sahaby Lane: A Fun Dinner In Luxor, Egypt.

Al-Sahaby Lane is a good, while touristy, Egyptian restaurant right in the middle of Luxor, very close to the Luxor tourist souk and within walking distance of the river cruise port and the Temple of Luxor. Al-Sahaby Lane is located on the roof of the Nefertiti Hotel (there are many steps and I did not see an elevator). Reservations are not required and the restaurant is most certainly casual.

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Entrance to Al Sah-aby Lane from the street.

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Highlights of Aswan: A Pleasant Surprise In Southern Egypt

Aswan, Egypt. Its a small city in Southern Egypt, home to the High Aswan Dam, an unfinished obelisk, the Philae Temple, and the Old Cataract Hotel (of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile fame). Its also a really gorgeous city set along the Nile River and the gateway to Abu Simbel. The locals were friendly and, notably (and somewhat surprisingly), it felt more progressive than the other cities that we visited in Egypt. For all of these reasons, I loved Aswan, and I would love to go back and spend more time.

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Pretty flowers everywhere in Aswan.

We visited Aswan at the end of a 5-night Nile River cruise earlier this year. I knew nothing – at all – about Aswan prior to visiting and would have certainly skipped Aswan absent our cruise itinerary. However, I am so glad we stopped, as it was the prettiest city that we visited in Egypt! I kept saying that it reminded me of a Greek island. And it really did!

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Airport Lounge Review: SkyTeam Lounge, London Heathrow, Terminal 4.

When passing through London Heathrow after an overnight flight from JFK, we spent a few hours in the SkyTeam Lounge in Terminal 4 before our connecting flight to Malta via Air Malta.  We had a number of options through Priority Pass in selecting our London lounge, including a couple in Terminal 3 (where we landed), and multiple options in Terminal 4 (from where our Malta flight departed) – a branch of the Art & Lounge, a Plaza Premium Lounge, and the SkyTeam Lounge. We opted for the SkyTeam Lounge in Terminal 4 based on other online reviews, and we were not disappointed. The SkyTeam Lounge was a GREAT Priority Pass lounge! Side note – Heathrow is almost always a mess, so I always recommend lounging in your departure terminal rather than the arrival terminal and, more importantly, leaving LOTS of time between connections, especially coming from the US and then connecting elsewhere in Europe.

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New Zealand Cider and views at the SkyTeam Lounge!

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A Foodie’s Tour Through Old School Valletta, Malta.

As you probably know, we LOVE a good food tour and take them rather frequently on vacation, especially in new cities. They are generally a fabulous way to try small samples of the local cuisine, while also giving a good bit of information about the area. Before this summer, we had never bene to Malta, much less its capital, Valletta, so we signed up for a food tour with Offbeat Malta Food Trails, one of the only (if not the only) food tour in Malta. Offbeat Malta Food Trails currently offers two tours, the one we took in Valletta and a tour of Mdina. We choose the Valletta tour because we were already visiting Mdina on our own. We booked our tour before arriving in Malta and our tour started in the heart of tourist Valletta on a hot Saturday morning.

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Beautiful Valletta.

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Malta’s Blue Lagoon: The Most Beautiful Turquoise Water And The Most Tourists.

The Blue Lagoon is a pristine lagoon with crystal clear turquoise waters on the tiny, car-free island of Comino, Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. The Blue Lagoon is truly stunning and one of the “must see” activities in Malta. I’m talking paradise pretty and waters as turquoise as those you see in travel magazines. Since its so pretty, its super, super, super popular with tourists and a crazy amount of people descend on the Blue Lagoon everyday. Despite its touristy nature, I loved the Blue Lagoon and was more than happy to spend a day there! Dan on the other hand, thought it was just too touristy. We’ve summarized our experience in this post and how to make the most of your day!

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The touristy, yet gorgeous, Blue Lagoon.

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Two Days On The Mediterranean Island Of Gozo.

Gozo is one of three Maltese islands in the Mediterranean Sea (the other two being Malta and Comino). Gozo is the middle island in terms of size and a world apart from its big sister Malta. On our trip to Malta earlier this year, Dan and I ferried over to the Maltese island of Gozo for a couple nights to experience old school Malta, and that is exactly what we got.

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Mgarr Harbor, Gozo.

If you told someone that you were traveling to Gozo on vacation, they may have no idea where or what Gozo is. That’s because Gozo receives a lot less tourism that Malta or Comino, despite being close neighbors. This is probably due to the fact that Gozo lacks an airport, so you must go through Malta to access Gozo.  In any case, we found Gozo to be very chill and laid back, gorgeous, a bit of a time capsule, and less expensive than Malta.  

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Quiet Gozo.

Many companies offer day tours to Gozo from Malta and some Blue Lagoon tours offer a couple-hour stop off in Gozo, but I would not recommend these. You will miss out on what makes Gozo special.

WHAT TO SEE ON GOZO, MALTA

Gozo’s most famous site, the Azure Window (of Game of Thrones fame, Dany and Drogo married there), sadly crashed into the sea during a storm in 2017.  You can still visit the site where it was located, Dwerja Beach, and that’s just what we did! Even without the Azure Window, Dwerja Beach is very pretty and an interesting place to walk around a photograph. Just across the street is a popular swimming hole with crystal clear water. There is a parking lot at Dwerja Beach, a handful of kiosks selling food and beverage, and a sit down restaurant on site. I would plan to spend 30 minutes at Dwerja Beach, longer if you want to swim or eat.

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Former site of the Azure Window.

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Swimming behind Dwerja Beach.

Quite close to Dwerja Beach is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu. Ta’Pinu, for short, is a gorgeous basilica overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. And I mean GORGEOUS. Ta’Pinu is particularly well-known for a chapel that, as confirmed by the Catholic Church, has asked parishioners to say Hail Mary three times and then performed a miracle.  Many people make pilgrimages here, and the Pope has even visited Ta’Pinu. Entrance is free and you are not supposed to wear short shorts or tank tops, but this rule was not strictly enforced in the Summer heat.

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Interior of Ta’Pinu.

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View from Ta’Pinu.

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Danny at Ta’Pinu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite places in Gozo is Xlendi, a cute seaside town! Xlendi has great views, cool water front restaurants, and some walking trails. It also has a very small beach that is not exactly swimmable due to its size and boats; however if you take the path around Xlendi to the water, there are fabulous views and a few diving boards built into the coast! Swimming in this area seemed more sanitary than right in the port. There is parking around town. Xlendi would also make a nice town to stay in if you want to be in a town.

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Xlendi Bay.

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Swimming near Xlendi Bay.

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Xlendi at sunset.

Marsalforn is another cute little beach town with lots of restaurants and bars. The beach here is slightly larger and the water is gorgeous. Marsalforn would make another cute town to base your stay on Gozo.

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Marsalforn.

Just next to Marsalforn are the famous salt pans of Gozo. There is not much to do here except snap a picture and buy some salt from the older gentleman selling freshly made salt but its a cool place to see and quite close to Marsalforn. Tip if you’re planning on buying salt, which you should, bring a plastic ziplock bag to put it in. The bag our salt was sold in started to leak.

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Real salt from Marsalforn – just used it Tuesday!

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Salt pans.

If you are a history buff, you cannot miss a visit to the Ggantija Temples on Gozo. Similar to the Hypogeoum on Malta, the Ggantija Temples are ancient temples that were somewhat recently discovered and not much is known about their background. However, the temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and date back to around 3500 BC (older than Stonehenge!). There is an interesting museum that you visit before seeing the temples, which provides some interesting information and gives some suggestions as to what the temples may have been used for!

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Ggantija Temples

Just next to the Ggantija Temples is the Ta’Kola Windmill, which is an old windmill that you can visit and climb to the top. We did this, but only because our ticket to the Ggantija Temples included entrance to the windmill, as well. The windmill was interesting, but I probably would not go back. The most interest part was viewing it from the outside.

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Ta’Kola Windmill.

We also visited the Ta’Mena Estate, which is sort of a famous Agritourism farm and winery on Gozo. Ta’Mena hosts tours and tastings every Thursday (and I think Saturday), which you need to book in advance. The tour was quite long, but it did come with a substantial food and wine tasting after the tour. Ta’Mena also opens a shop after the tour selling all sorts of its organic products. The food tasting is enough for lunch.

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Welcome to Ta’Mena Estate.

Victoria is Gozo’s capital city, and its quite a lovely city. Victoria is home to quite winding streets, old school public squares, lots of churches, and a number of restaurants and shops. We spent an afternoon here and really enjoyed this picturesque town. If you are looking to shop, Victoria is definitely the spot. My favorite store was the adorable House of Gozo located right off Gozo’s main square.

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Adorable Gozo.

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So charming.

Victoria is also home to the Citadel, which was way cooler than I anticipated. The Citadel is the old walled-city and it looks straight out of Game of Thrones. It reminded me a lot of Dubrovnik, too. While its a steep climb uphill, the views from the Citadel are worth it. The Citadel is home to some shops and restaurants. Be sure to bring water in the summer.

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Top of the Citadel in Gozo.

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Inside the Citadel.

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Reminds me of Dubrovnik a decade ago.

WHERE WE STAYED ON GOZO

We stayed at the adorable Cescas Boutique Hotel, halfway between Xlendi and Victoria. Cescas is owned by the same people as Ta’Karolina Restaurant in Xlendi and like Ta’Karolina, the hotel is quite modern and swanky.  Cescas is located in a remodeled farmhouse and its really in the middle of nowhere – definitely a place to get away from it all. Cescas has a lovely pool and serves a nice breakfast each morning.

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Dining room views at Cesca’s.

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The pool at Cesca’s.

WHERE WE ATE

As mentioned in my previous post on my week in Malta, we ate pretty well on Gozo.  My favorite restaurants were Stanley’s Chippy Shop in Victoria and Ta’Karolina and The Boathouse in Xlendi. Here are a few pictures of some of my favorite foods.

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Dan and me at Ta’Karolina.

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Fried Gozitan cheese.

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English breakfast at Cesca’s.

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Nutella milkshake paired with Maltese red wine in Marsalforn.

Also, while not technically a restaurant, Lord Chambry Beer is a local craft beer brewed in Victoria. Its available all over Malta in general, even on the Gozo Ferry line(!), and each beer is named after something Malta-related. Definitely worth trying on Gozo!

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HOW WE ARRIVED

The only way to reach Gozo is via the Gozo Channel Line car ferry from Cirkewwa (Malta) to Mgarr (Gozo), which run every half-hour. The ferry was easy and only took 25 minutes. It cost €4.65 per person round trip (more for a car, clearly). You do not need to buy tickets in advance and you actually don’t even need a ticket on the way over from Malta; tickets are only checked on the return trip from Gozo. The ferries have a cafe serving food and drinks, as well as some small souvenirs. There are taxis meeting the ferry in both Cirkewwa and Mgarr.

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Ferry to Malta.

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Ferry to Gozo.

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Pulling into Mgarr Harbor.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR VISITING GOZO

As of July 2019, there are no ride sharing apps working in Gozo. I.e. no Uber, Lyft, ECabs, or Bolt. There are buses that run around Gozo, they are not frequent. If you do not rent a car, a taxi is probably your best bet.

In the summer, its HOT on Gozo. Take a hat and carry water with you everywhere. And on that note, while water is easy enough to find (usually for 1 euro per bottle), places in Gozo did not seem to have great air conditioning. We had trouble cooling down.

Try to spend at least 1 night on Gozo, if not a few, to get a feel for the island.

Take cash out on Malta. There are ATMs on Gozo, but they have been known to go out island-wide.

SOME PICTURES OF GOZO

And, since Gozo was so gorgeous, I will leave you with some of my favorite pictures from Gozo!

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Walking to Xlendi.

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The famous fishing boats.

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Kinnie soda.

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In Xlendi.

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View of Victoria.

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Victoria.

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Outskirts of Victoria.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Cescas Boutique Hotel: Triq tal-Ghajn, Il-Munxar, Malta. A true boutique hotel in a renovated farmhouse in Gozo. Kind of in the middle-of-nowhere, you can technically walk to Xlendi and Victoria. Good breakfast included with booking. Wifi and AC included. Pool on premises.

Ta’Mena Estate: Rabat Road, Xaghra XRA 9010, Malta. A popular winery and farm, with tours offered twice a week (I believe on Thursday and Saturday).  Book in advance via email.

The Boathouse: XLN1010, Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Malta. Right in downtown Xlendi, next to Ta’Karolina. Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday – Tuesday 12h – 15h30, 18h – 22h. Reservations recommended, especially for waterside dining.

Ta’Karolina: Triq L-Ghar ta Karolina, Munxar, Malta. Open 12h30 – 15h30, 18h30 – 22h30. Highly recommend booking a reservation online, especially to secure one of the romantic tables on the water like we had!

Stanley’s Chippy Shop: San Gorg Basilica, Victoria, Malta. Super casual and no reservations. Bring cash.

Gozo Ferry Line: Official website with timetables.

Gozo Taxi Service: The taxi service that I used to organize a day tour to some of Gozo’s most famous sites. They were very responsive via email and the driver was good. Would use again.

A Glorious Week in Mediterranean Malta!

Malta is a small country of of three islands, Malta, Gozo, and Comino, in the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily and Tunisia.  Part of the European Union, Malta is a popular European beach destination that is fairly easy to reach from mainland Europe. Dan and I spent a week in Malta in July, 2019, enjoying the sun, the crystal blue water, and the summer vibe! I definitely recommend Malta as a getaway from Europe or Northern Africa! For now, coming from the US, is a long ride, but that could change as Air Malta is allegedly looking to expand to the US East Coast… We shall see – fingers crossed!

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Summer in Gozo, Malta.

While currently a popular vacation destination, Malta has a long history, dating back to 5900 BC. Malta has been home to ancient indigenous populations, some of whose structures are still intact(!) and ruled by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British. We got a lot of British and Sicilian vibes, as well as a bit of Arabic. Malta also played a large role in World War II. I had no idea about Malta’s interesting and lengthy history, and it was definitely fun to learn about its history on our trip!

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Historic Valletta.

HIGHLIGHTS OF MALTA

If you’re planning to visit Malta, these are my personal highlights, but, rest assured, there is more than enough to keep one busy for more than a week! However, I thought a week was the perfect amount of time to explore Malta. Here are some of my favorite Maltese activities!

The Blue Lagoon on Comino island was probably the biggest highlight for me; the turquoise water in the Blue Lagoon was absolutely stunning and I had a great time swimming in the Blue Lagoon for a day, despite it being heavily touristy. I would note that Dan did not enjoy the Blue Lagoon as much as I did, mainly due to the crowds.

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Blue Lagoon. Comino, Malta.

Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a gorgeous capital that feels like its stuck in a time capsule. Do not miss a morning walking around this gorgeous city. And I do mean morning in the summer, to avoid the heat!

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Valletta, Malta.

Mdina, Malta’s former capital, is an impressive walled city, and it was also Kings Landing for Season 1 of Game of Thrones!! I found Mdina to have a similar awe-inspiring feel to that of Dubrovnik (Kings Landing post Season 1), but without the hoards of tourists. Go in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat.

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Mdina, Malta.

Malta is famous for its colorful doors and balconies for good reason. Valletta and Mdina are two of the best places to see and photograph Malta’s famous doors and balconies.

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Balconies in Valletta.

Gozo, the middle Maltese island size-wise, is a short ferry ride from Malta island. We spent two nights on Gozo and Gozo has a completely different, laid back feel than Malta. If you have more than a few days in Malta, I recommend venturing to Gozo for at least a day and night.

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Breakfast on Gozo.

OUR MALTESE ITINERARY

Our first full day in Malta was spent on a day trip to the Blue Lagoon with Hornblower Cruises, departing from Bugibba Jetty (we took a Bolt, Malta’s version of Uber, from St. Julian’s). Our day trip lasted from about 10:00 – 17:00 and it was totally amazing! The blue lagoon is awesome and while touristy, I think its totally worth fighting the crowds! We also took a 15 minute tour of some of the caves around Comino, which was organized by Hornblower. Highly recommend a tour of the Blue Lagoon to Malta visitors.

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Me in the Blue Lagoon. Not a bad way to spend a Monday.

Our second day started with a visit to a well-known Maltese winery, the Meridiana Wine Estate. The wine was okay, but the tour was interesting and it is located on land that was bombed during WWII. We sampled 4 glasses of wine for 12 euro per person.

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Meridiana Wine Estate.

After our wine tasting, we toured the Hypogeum, which is a UNSECO World Heritage Site. There are no pictures allowed inside the Hypogeum, but the Hypogeum is an ancient underground temple. Buy your tickets far in advance to tour the Hypogeum, only 80 people are allowed in per day. It was definitely an interesting site to visit, but I wouldn’t kill yourself to ensure a visit.

Our second day ended with a swim in the Intercontinental’s Sky Bar and dinner at the most delicious pizza restaurant – Restaurant Sotto! The pizza was amazing and deliciously Italian.

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Sky Bar at the Intercontinental. 

On our third day, we took the Gozo Channel Line ferry over to Gozo island for two nights. The ferry was super easy and only took about 25 minutes. It cost €4.65 per person round trip. Upon arrival in Gozo, we walked into its capital, Victoria, and had a tasty good meal at Stanley’s Chippy Shop (of TripAdvisor fame).

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Victoria, Gozo.

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Stanley’s Chippy Shop in Victoria, Gozo.

We ended the afternoon with a break at the hotel before walking into Xlendi for a romantic dinner on Xlendi bay at Restaurant Ta’Karolina!

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Dinner at Ta’Karolina.

Our second day on Gozo was spent driving around the island and seeing some of its beset sites. We saw Dwejra Bay (the former home of the Azure Window), the salt pans in Marsalforn, Our Lady of Ta’Pinu Basilica, and the Ggantija Temple.  All of these sites were really cool, and I felt like we saw a lot of Gozo!

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Our Lady of Ta’Pinu Basilica.

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Salt pans of Marsalforn.

After touring around the island, we did a wine tasting at Ta’Mena Estate, which was more of a farm than a winery.  Our day ended with another dinner in Xlendi, this time out The Boathouse.

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Ta’Mena Estate.

On Friday, we took the ferry back to Gozo and after checking into our new hotel, the Hilton St. Julian’s, we took a Bolt to Mdina for the afternoon, which was absolutely lovely!

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Gozo Ferry Line.

We ended Friday with a dinner at the Leglin wine bar in Valletta.

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One of the courses at Leglin Wine Bar.

On our final day in Malta, we took a food tour around Valletta, explored Valletta a bit on our own, and ended the evening with an Italian dinner in St. Julian’s.

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Valletta.

FAVORITE MALTESE EATING AND DRINKING HIGHLIGHTS

I’ll post about some of our favorite meals but in short, Malta is home to some interesting food that is not easy to find off the islands. That being said, I unfortunately kept comparing it to Italian food and, I just did not find it as good as Italian food… In any case, we still had some excellent meals and dishes. Here is a short list of some of my favorite Maltese finds!

The local Maltese soda, Kinnie, is every where in Malta; there are even vending machines and a diet version. Definitely worth trying when in Malta.

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Kinnie Soda!

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Kinnie vending machine on Gozo.

Fried foods, like British and American-style fried foods, are strangely popular and well-done (er, fried) in Malta. I guess its due to its close ties to Great Britain. We had quite good fried food (though it wasn’t the most exotic or healthy) all over Malta, including on Comino Island where the only food options are food kiosks geared strictly to tourists. Malta is also a good place to find a solid fish and chips.

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Fish and chips at Hugo Pub in St. Julian’s.

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Fried mozzarella sticks on Comino. Might as well be the USA.

Rabbit is the national dish of Malta, and many restaurants offer rabbit every night. I am not a rabbit lover, but Dan tried it a few times and enjoyed his dishes. If you’re adventurous or a fan or rabbit, Malta is definitely a good place to have the dish.

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Maltese rabbit dish at Ta’Karolina on Gozo.

Another must try in Malta is Italian food, since its so close to Italy! Italian food is readily available on Malta, and Italian coffees, cannolis, pasta, and pizza were everywhere. We had some AMAZING pizza at Restaurant Sotto in Valletta. Highly, highly recommended.

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Pizza at Restaurant Sotto!

Along the fried cheese theme, I had multiple Gozotian cheese served fried as an appetizer on the island of Gozo. The cheese was soft and white and often served with a berry sauce. Big fan! This dish was easy to find all over Gozo – less so on Malta.

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Fried Gozotian cheese.

Any and everything fig. I love figs and, lucky for me, figs are very popular in Malta, especially so in desserts and liquors. On our first night, I had a great fig pie served with homemade ice cream at Restaurant Peperoncino on Malta. 

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Fig cake with homemade ice cream.

In addition to fig liquors, Malta makes a lot of liquors from everything from fig to prickly pear to carob to limoncello. We tried a few different types on our trip, often as a complimentary after dinner drink at restaurants. Since these were liquors, they were not too strong and could easily be drank without a mixer.

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Maltese limoncello.

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Carob liquor.

We also tried Pastizzi on Malta as part of our Valletta food tour. Pastizzi may be the most famous Maltese food and its ubiquitous in Malta. Pastizzi is basically a puff pastry filled with a variety of fillings, from peas to cheese to Nutella. I tried the cheese, but pastizzis are quite cheap so you can try them all.

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Pastizzi.

Finally, Malta’s local beer, Cisk! Cisk is everywhere on all of the islands, and they even have some fun summer shandy-type flavors. I had a few Cisks on this trip and for a mass produced beer, its quite good! 

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Cisk on draft.

WHERE WE STAYED

On Malta, we stayed in 2 hotels in St. Julian’s – the Intercontinental and the Hilton. We choose these hotels because of points and status that we have at the hotels. I preferred the Hilton to the Intercontinental, but they were both nice.

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View from the room at the Hilton Malta.

As mentioned, both hotels were in St. Julian’s, a very popular tourist area on Malta. If you stay in St. Julian’s, know that there is a party atmosphere (clubs, bars, hookah), lots of chains, and loads of tourists. Stay elsewhere if you are searching for a more local feel.

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Dan having a hookah in St. Julian’s.

On Gozo, we stayed at Cescas Boutique Hotel, between Xlendi and Victoria. While it was a bit out of the way, Cescas was gorgeous and a complete 180 from St. Julian’s. We did not have a car and were fine, but renting a car is helpful at Cescas on Gozo, as its at least a 15 minute (somewhat dicey on the side of the road) walk from the nearest restaurant (except the one onsite).

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View from Cescas with Victoria in the background (a 30 minute walk uphill).

PRACTICALITIES

  • The Maltese speak English and Maltese, and many speak other languages.
  • Malta uses the euro. Large stores, hotels, and most restaurants accept credit card, but smaller shops, kiosks, and some restaurants only accept cash. As such, its advisable to carry cash, especially when not on Malta island.
  • Malta generally uses the UK 3-prong electric outlet, although some hotels also have the European 2-prong outlets.
  • The well-known white Malta taxis are pricey. We used the app Bolt and it worked pretty well, very similar to Uber (which does NOT work in Malta). Ecabs is a similar app that was recommended, but we did not try it. If you use Bolt, be sure to check that you want to pay by credit card if you do not have cash – otherwise the app defaults to cash payment. Note – as of July 2019, neither Bolt nor Ecabs work on Gozo or Comino.
  • Malta is by far the busiest and most modern of the 3 Maltese islands. You can find whatever you need on Malta. Things are much harder to find on Gozo and Comino.
  • Bring a cover for your shoulders if visiting churches; the Maltese are quite religious (Catholic).
  • Sicily is only a 90-minute ride away via fast ferry, making the two Mediterranean destinations an easy pair.
  • The island of Comino is tiny; there is only 1 hotel and restaurant on the island, and the Blue Lagoon is the primary site to see there. Don’t plan on spending more than a day unless you are staying at the hotel on the island.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Intercontinental Malta: St. George’s Bay St. Julian’s STJ, 3310, Malta. Located right in the middle of St. Julian’s with two pools.  The Sky Beach Restaurant and Champagne Bar costs money to access if you are not staying in one of the Executive Level rooms. Good AC and awesome gym.

Hilton Malta: Vjal Portomaso St Julian’s PTM, 01, Malta. While in St. Julian’s, the Hilton Malta is located a bit away from the hustle and bustle of St. Julian’s, but still within walking distance to the bars/restaurants of St. Julians. I preferred the Hilton to the Intercontinental, but we also had lounge access in the Hilton (and not the Intercontinental (like we did in Singapore), and that may have swayed my opinion. Good AC and multiple pools on property.

Cescas Boutique Hotel: Triq tal-Ghajn, Il-Munxar, Malta. A true boutique hotel in a renovated farmhouse in Gozo. Kind of in the middle-of-nowhere, you can technically walk to Xlendi and Victoria. Good breakfast included with booking. Wifi and AC included. Pool on premises.

Hornblower Cruises: Dawret Il-Gzejjer, San Pawl il-Baħar SPB 1480, Malta. One of the more popular Blue Lagoon cruises in Malta. Book in advance online to secure your spot.

Peperoncino: 8 Triq Il- Bajja, San Ġiljan, Malta. Open daily 18h30 – 22h. Reservations recommended for the best tables!

Sotto Pizzeria: 32 South St, Valletta, Malta. Open Tuesday – Sunday 12:00 – 14:45, 19:00 – 23:00. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended, as this place is popular! Casual attire.

Hypogeum: Triq Ic Cimiterju Raħal Ġdid PLA, 1116, Malta. Open daily 9 – 5. Book your tickets via my link months in advance, or be prepared to pay $$ via a third party vendor. Only 80 people allowed in per day. The Hypogeum was quite interesting, but not a “must do” if you are short on time or cannot procure tickets.

Meridiana Wine Estate: ATD 4000, Malta. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Use the “Book A Tour” feature on the bottom of their website to inquire about a tour/tasting, which are usually held during the week between 10:00 and 15:00. Our tasting was 12 euro/person for 4 wines and some crackers. I recommend upgrading to their full tray of snacks, which costs a bit more but is enough for lunch.

Ta’Mena Estate: Rabat Road, Xaghra XRA 9010, Malta. A popular winery and farm, with tours offered twice a week (I believe on Thursday and Saturday).  Book in advance via email.

Leglin Wine Bar: Old school wine bar in downtown Valletta. Book in advance via Facebook Messenger.

The Boathouse: XLN1010, Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Malta. Right in downtown Xlendi, next to Ta’Karolina. Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday – Tuesday 12h – 15h30, 18h – 22h. Reservations recommended, especially for waterside dining.

Ta’Karolina: Triq L-Ghar ta Karolina, Munxar, Malta. Open 12h30 – 15h30, 18h30 – 22h30. Highly recommend booking a reservation online, especially to secure one of the romantic tables on the water like we had!

Stanley’s Chippy Shop: San Gorg Basilica, Victoria, Malta. Super casual and no reservations. Bring cash.

Off Beat Malta Food Trails: Great food tour of Valletta – you try delicious food and walk though a good bit of the city. Book online in advance.

 

 

 

Mdina, Malta: One Of The Most Gorgeous Cities I Have Ever Visited.

Mdina, Malta is a walled, hilltop town on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, which stood as the capital of Malta until the Medieval period. Mdina is commonly known as the “Silent City,” its a UNESCO site, and Mdina is a hugely popular tourist destination in Malta. More importantly, its also Kings Landing from the first season of Game of Thrones!!!!

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Mdina or Kings Landing?

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A Day Trip To The Abu Simbel Temples – Worth The Time And Effort.

Prior to planning our trip to Egypt, I hardly knew anything about Abu Simbel. Yes, I had heard of it and I *kind of* knew what it looked like, but nothing more. At all. But, as soon as I dug into Abu Simbel, a visit was absolutely non-negotiable. Planning this “must do” activity turned out to be more work than anticipated, as its a flight from Cairo or Luxor or 6-hour round trip drive from Aswan! In any case, we worked it out and it was one of both Dan and my favorite activities in Egypt, rivaling even the pyramids!

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Shara sunrise en route to Abu Simbel.

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Eating Our Way Through Downtown Cairo!

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Fruit market in Downtown Cairo.

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My Best Meal in Malta: Sotto Pizzeria in Valletta!

Being so close to Italy, Italy heavily influences Malta’s cuisine. Pasta, cannoli, and pizza are everywhere in Malta, and we ate a lot of it. However, I kept thinking that it was just not as good as Italian food; a second best so to speak. However, when we dined at Sotto Pizzeria, I was completely blown away and had, by far, the best meal of the entire trip!

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Malta on a map.

Sotto Pizzeria is located in Malta’s capital, Valletta, in a nondescript basement with only a small sign announcing the restaurant.