Back to sewing

The last time I had sewn something for myself and blogged about it was when I made this dress.  It’s been over four years.  I have good and bad memories of this post.  I remember how happy I was when I finally clicked “post.”  A couple of hours later, that moment of happiness was eclipsed by gloom when my husband suffered a severe pain in his jaw.  That was the start of his battle with cancer.  I guess I can say, that was also the start of how I can’t even look at my sewing machine without feeling the gloom of that day again.  My brain somehow associated it with that memory.

Fast forward to four years.  Czech Republic was on lockdown in spring and everyone was ordered to wear a face mask anywhere outside their own home.  I had no choice but to dust off my sewing machine to sew face masks for myself and my husband from scrap fabrics I have.  That old memory attached to the sewing machine had to be exorcized with the need to dodge this virus that is affecting our lives.

At least something good came out of the bad.  I started sewing again.  The first few minutes were awkward, like it was my first time to sew.  After that initial haze, procedural memory kicked in.  I guess sewing is just like riding a bike.

Here are my little sewing projects after four years of hiatus:

I made a dozen of these reversible masks. When I started searching for an easy pattern, the one I found on YouTube in spring had less than a million views. When I checked it again in summer, it had over five million. Tells you something about the times we have now.

When I was rummaging in my fabric stash, I found this leftover fabric from a dress I had sewn for a colleague. She chose this particular pattern. She wanted to wear something festive for the Christmas dinner she was going to attend in Spain with her boyfriend and his family. I never got to know how it went because we lost touch afterwards. I wonder if they’re still together. 🙂

Anyway, I decided to make summer shorts out of this fabric. I’m quite happy how it turned out.

These shorts have back pockets and I thought two back pockets would be enough. Later I changed my mind and added two front ones. Shorts without front pockets just don’t work for me.

And it’s quite difficult to stop once I start the ball rolling. I also made shorts for my husband. The fabric is actually quite thick that these shorts can be worn outside if, say I would use drawstrings instead of just a thin elastic for waistband. Husband said a simple elastic will do for him so elastic it is.

So there. Feels good to be back posting about sewing projects no matter how small they are. I hope I won’t become lazy again and will finally do something about the rest of the fabric stash I have sitting in a box.

xoxo

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Autumn in Prague

I just realized I write about other European cities but I hardly post about my home,  my Prague.   It’s ironic because Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe or maybe even in the whole world.   I can only say this is probably a classic case of ignoring what we already have.

Autumn in Prague is beyond words.  Rain or shine, the city is beautiful in its different hues of brown, red, green, yellow and orange.  I love it especially when the sky is clear,  when its shade of blue highlights the above mentioned autumn hues.  The crisp air also adds to the already dramatic scene.   With your long trench coat blowing in the wind while the leaves fall around you,  you can pretend to be the star in your own drama.  Then again you are the star in your own show.  The only question is what genre it’s currently playing.  Oh, I’m digressing as always.

Prague is not just castles and narrow cobbled streets.  Some of my favorite things about  it are the parks and gardens in just about everywhere in the city.  It’s common for you to be walking on a busy street then suddenly finds yourself  surrounded with nothing but trees.  Living in Prague is like living in the middle of everything.  You have the castles, chateaus, cobblestones and the daily grind of city living on one hand,  the tranquility of nature on the other.

My husband and I took these photos during our walks around places less visited by tourists.  Above photos were taken just two days ago while the ones below, taken at a botanical garden, are about two weeks old.

This botanical garden is in the center, accessible with metro, buses and trams.  I like coming here because it’s not overwhelmingly big like the one in Troja. It’s also here where I see the plants of my childhood. It’s so sad I don’t see a lot of these plants in the town I grew up anymore.  The Philippines and a lot of its people ( not everyone but a lot of them), should really stop depleting their natural resources.

When I look at these photos I am in awe at how beautiful nature is and how Prague is still able to maintain its environmental sustainability to this date.  I just hope it will remain as is for a very long time.

Locations:

Letohrádek Hvězda

Botanická Zahrada Přírodovědecké fakulty Univerzity Karlovy v Praze

 

xoxo

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One day in Helsinki

I feel like I haven’t really been to Helsinki because Lillian and I were only there for a day.  Like most of our days in Tallinn,  it was also cold in Finland’s capital during our visit.  My memory of Helsinki is as hazy and misty like that summer day.

Helsink’s busy market square.

To get there from Tallinn, we took an 8:00 ferry.  There are three major ferry companies operating the Tallinn- Helsinki route.  The receptionist at our hotel recommended for us to take the one from Viking line because a) its terminal is the one closest to the hotel so it will save us time from walking, b) it’s cheaper, and 3) its terminal in Helsinki is just walking distance to the city’s highlights.  We were sold instantly.

Our ride to Helsinki heading back to Tallinn.

The funny thing is, this ferry ride is what I remember most of this trip especially the return to Tallinn.  The karaoke, the live band in another room and the busy bars and restaurants,  they reminded me of ferry rides in the Philippines.   A taste of home, no matter how slight, is always welcome.

A city is a city.  This is what I often answer whenever someone asks me about some cities I have been to in Europe.  What sets Helsinki  slightly apart is it’s the first one I’ve been to that has information carts with free maps and printed guides at its major tourist areas.  There’s also at least one person next to the cart whom you can ask about anything to help you navigate around the city to maximize your stay.  Quite impressive,  I must say.

It’s impressive how they have these carts around the city’s major sights. This lady was very helpful telling us the best route to follow around Suomenlinna island.

For our one day in Helsinki,  Lillian and I decided to spend most of it in the island fortress of Suomenlinna.  Ferries go there from the market square very often especially in summer.  It’s a beautiful island with plenty of museums and plenty of space for everyone no matter how crowded it can get in summer.  For once I didn’t mind the crowd.  It was just really cold, windy and gloomy.

Top photo: It was still quiet and not crowded when we got to the island at around 11:00. A few hours later, this tunnel was packed with people going through, Below: I don’t know why but Jose Mari Chan’s “Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile” plays in my head when I look at this photo of an empty cafe in the island.

Door series continues at Suomenlinna Church.

I would have loved to stay and explore the island more if we had more time.  Now that I’m older,  I’m not into cities or crowded places.  I like to be in a place devoid of noise, to breathe in the fresh, crisp air, to just be.  I can imagine that in Soumenlinna especially in the low season.  I just have to wear thicker clothes and everything would be perfect.

A sauna in Suomenlinna. There were naked people going outside for a shower despite the throng of tourists walking around in this area.

Ferries coming and going.  Return fare costs €5 per person.

Above photo showed us humans adjusting our pace to these waddling birds before us.  There were quite a lot of them in the island.  I’m educationally lacking when it comes to birds or animals in general.   When I got home I asked my husband if these were some kind of Nordic ducks.  My husband said they’re not ducks but geese.   True enough they’re actually barnacle geese.   The things you learn when you travel.

It was already afternoon when we got back to Helsinki.  The market square was still in full swing.  We walked around to check its famous white cathedral which is quite close to the market.  Another cathedral called Uspenski is also within walking distance.  From there we just walked towards its main shopping area, past locals and tourists enjoying their afternoon coffee, past big brands having their summer sale.  Lillian and I weren’t in a mood for shopping.   We just wanted to head back to the ferry terminal and call it a day.

Uspenski Cathedral. Oh hi, Nordic sky!

Quick facts:

  • Tallinn – Helsinki return fare costs €33 per person.
  • Be sure to be at the ferry terminal 30 minutes before departure.  That only gives you 10 minutes extra time before boarding closes.  Yes, you are required to have your ID/ passport for boarding
  • Helsinki is quite pricey especially when you’re at the touristy part of the city.  One bowl of soup costs about €13.  Main course starts from €20.
  • Don’t skip on Suomenlinna island.  I actually liked it better than Helsinki itself.

Shoes off for the photo because they got too dusty and dirty from walking. I wonder where these feet will be next year? Hopefully in some place warm.

Peace out, Finland!

Date of visit:  August 4, 2019

xoxo

 

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Tallinn, Estonia

When I got home from a five-day trip in Tallinn with my friend Lillian, my husband asked me what was my favorite part of the trip.  I answered “The ferry ride to Helsinki and back.” What about Tallinn itself,  the husband prodded. “Ummm…I’ll think about it tomorrow,” I replied, exhausted and a bit jet-lagged.  It was around 11 pm here in Prague, which meant  it was already midnight in Tallinn, way past my bed time.

Almost a month later, here I am writing about that trip and I still don’t know how to answer my husband’s question.  Tallinn was okay but that’s how far I would say it was for me.

The thing is, it’s not the city’s fault that I categorize it to just okay.  To be fair, its Old Town is charming with lots of interesting buildings with  interesting doors, beautiful churches and narrow cobbled streets.  The locals were friendly and quite helpful.  The problem is me and the fact that I live in Prague.  If you have been to Prague,  you know what I’m talking about.  The aesthetic meter of Prague is difficult to match and it can spoil you rotten.

Lillian in Tallinn’s Old Town.

Maybe another factor why I have nothing much to say about this trip was because of the weather.  It was mostly around 17 – 19°C but the wind from the Baltic Sea made it feel like 7°C.  Lilian and I were constantly  huddled in our layered outfits.   This somehow made us not want to stay out long to explore every nook and cranny of the city like we usually do on out travels together.  Funny how we chose to go there to kinda escape the summer inferno that was hitting Prague few weeks ago.  It’s true what they say:  Be careful what you wish for.

One of the things I noticed there was how interesting the doors were.  I mean, yeah, you see intricately designed and painted doors all over Europe but there was something compelling about the ones in Tallinn.  It was as if they told a story of their past or of unspoken dreams for their future.  At the airport before our flight back home,  I saw some bags for sale with pictures of Tallinn doors on them.  So I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

Speaking of noticing something,  one thing I disliked about Brussels when I was there also with Lillian few years back was the disarray of old and new buildings thrown together to create a massive eyesore.  It was only recently when I learned of  the term “Brusselization.”  I don’t think they have that in Tallinn, not even close, but it somehow gave me a similar vibe especially when you view the city from one of its vantage points.  There’s just something off about putting the old and the new structures in one frame.  Then again, maybe it’s just me.

This side of the view is pretty, but I didn’t like the sight of the old and new concrete in one frame down below.

I’ll probably rephrase my husband’s question to what makes Tallinn different from other European cities I’ve been to?  Well, if you couldn’t live without a fast internet connection, this city is for you.  There’s free and very fast wifi at almost everywhere.

If you’re also into windsurfing and kitesurfing,  Tallinn is it.  Pirita beach is just a few minutes bus ride from the city center.  The beach is beautiful but we couldn’t stay past 10 minutes there.  I was really excited to get there especially when I saw how fine the sand was  but the wind was biting cold.  One piece of advice when you’re going to visit Tallinn:  Always bring that warm jacket you shoved at the back of the closet thinking you won’t need it in the height of summer.    Trust me, honey bunny. In this part of the hemisphere, you will.

Quick tips and facts:

  • Stay at a hotel in the Old Town.  It saves you time since the harbor, tram and bus stops are within walking distances.  We stayed in Rija Old Town Hotel.  Most of the reviews about it are true.
  • You can get a transport card at any R-kiosk stores to get around the city.   You can choose how many days you want it valid.  Lillian and I bought a three-day card for €5.
  • No need to buy or print a map of the city ahead your visit.  The one made by the locals is accurate and has lots of tips about the city’s sights, eats and sounds.  You can get it at your hotel reception and yes, it’s for free.
  • Taxi to and from the airport is around €10.  The airport is not far from the city center and its Old Town.
  • Take time to sit with the locals and the tourists at the harbor to watch the sunset.  It’s probably not as spectacular as in some other places but it’s always a calming experience and a great one to end a hectic day.

Date visited: August 1-5,2019
Special thanks to Lillian for my “door series” shots. 🙂
xoxo

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Repurposed: Perfume bottles and shopping bags

Ok, so I have a new favorite word –  repurpose.  It’s what I have been doing the past few months.  Decluttering, separating, reusing, recycling and yes, repurposing —  anything to try to help save Mother Earth from turning into a giant trash bin.

My love for bottled scents only started when I moved here in Prague.   Before that I only liked one particular perfume by Issey Miyake.  Then some parents at school started giving me perfumes as  thank you gifts, and as they say, the rest is history.

I’ve thrown a lot of empty bottles in the past.  Yes, they are pretty but they take up space and I don’t like looking at empty ones no matter how pretty they are.  I decided to do something useful with this batch so I turned to the net for ideas.  Here’s what I found that I instantly liked and right away did myself:

Perfume bottle planters, here we are!

I love this idea as I love plants. I can’t imagine living in a house or an apartment without them. These planters are great because you can put them in the bathroom to give it that splash of life.

One thing though, opening these perfume bottles is a major task for your arms.  In my case, I needed the husband to open them.  The husband needed pliers to do the job.

On to the next repurposed project…

Shopping bags here in the Czech Republic are usually not for free.  You can bring your own or you can pay for it on top of what  you’re buying, but there are brands like Pandora that automatically gives that to you for free.  Through the years  I have accumulated quite a lot of these bags like a few pictured below:

So what to do with them?  I can’t just re-use them as gift bags without some tweaking.  Imagine handing out something to someone using these bags.  Their initial thought would be “Ohh Pandora, sweet!”  That sweetness might turn to blandness when they’d realize it’s actually something else inside.

The solution was simple.   I bought cheap rolls of stickers to decorate the bags.  Et voila,  I had gift bags for my friends who celebrated their birthdays in May!  I even had a few for friends and colleagues at work to carry the small thank you gifts I gave them for helping me survive the hardest school year I ever had to handle.

What about you? What projects are you working on to repurpose or reuse? I still have over a month of summer break to do more projects  so I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts.

xoxo

Posted in DIY Ideas, Home decor/ accessory, Repurposed projects | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Repurposed colored pages

How do you deal with stress? When you’re overwhelmed with worries and responsibilities, what do you do or who do you turn to?  Do you call a friend?  Do you talk to your closest family member?  Do you turn to social media?  Well, it’s usually none of the above for me.  I tend to deal with it on my own knowing everyone is going through something we know nothing about.  When I feel I’m losing it,  I color.

Turning to a coloring activity to clear my head only started about three years ago when I got these anti-stress coloring books from friends.   They probably sensed I needed something like this to help me keep it together and they were right.   When the finished pages started to accumulate,  I started wondering what to do with them.

There are probably hundreds of creative ideas online on how you can repurpose your finished coloring pages.   These two ideas of mine just popped  in my head  when I thought on how I could use them at home.

With the big book I have, the size is 20 x 25 cm.  Here’s what I did with some of the finished pages:

I laminated them!  We now use them as placemats or coasters for our kitchen counter/ mini bar:

The second book is a lot smaller.  The pages would actually look nice as drink coasters.  The size is just right for it’s 12.5 x 17.5cm.

I was staring at the pages when it hit me.  We have extra picture frames which we bought from Ikea two years ago that are just laying around somewhere.  Why not frame them? Well, that’s exactly what I did.

Our hallway walls have been quite empty since we moved in to this aparment three years ago.  One part is now decorated a bit, thanks to these framed colored pages.

Till next post, whenever that will be. 🙂

xoxo

Posted in DIY Ideas, Home decor/ accessory | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Summer baking: blueberry/ raspberry cake

Last month, we came home to Prague from the family’s summer house in the southern part of the country carrying boxes of freshly picked fruits and vegetables. The raspberries were picked from the garden and from the side road leading to the woods. There were also tons of red and black currants from the garden while the cherry trees by the public playground still had plenty of fruits. This kind is not the usual red picture-perfect kind. It’s smaller and black in color. I like this kind better in baking because the cherries kinda just melt in your mouth, except that you have to bake them with their pits.

I went on a baking spree right the next day.  I  found this cake recipe from an Albert magazine at my mother  in law’s kitchen and thought I would substitute the blueberries with the raspberries we had.   Mamka baked this cake following the recipe to the tee so I can say this one is really made for blueberries.  But the one I made with raspberries was also delicious.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.  Thank you, Albert!

The original recipe requires 400 g blueberries.  With raspberries, I cut it to half as I didn’t top the cake with them.  I also used two Philadelphia cream cheese instead of soft cottage cheese.

Here’s the original recipe roughly translated from Czech by me with my notes and tweaks in italics:

Ingredients:

  • 170 g softened butter
  • 170 g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 220 g fine flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 sachet vanilla sugar (Note: I think this can be substituted by a tsp of vanilla extract.)
  • 150 ml sour cream
  • 400 g blueberries  (200 g raspberries)

Frosting:

  • 200 g soft cottage cheese ( 200 g Philadelphia cream cheese)
  • 100 g powdered sugar

Instructions:

  • Pre-heat oven at 180°C.
  • Grease and line a 22 cm baking tin with a baking paper.  ( This I didn’t do.  I just greased the tin with a lot of butter because I know mine is 100% non-stick.)
  • Mix butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and vanilla sugar in a bowl with a wooden spoon for about two to three minutes until well blended.  Switch to a hand mixer and blend well for about two minutes.  (I just used a hand mixer right away until the dough/ batter was smooth.  Sometimes I find Czech recipes unnecessarily complicated.)
  • Mix in four spoons of sour cream and fold in half of the blueberries. (In my case, all  200 grams of raspberries.)
  • Pour the mixture in the prepared tin and even the top out.  Bake for about 50 minutes or until cake is smooth and skewer inserted comes out clean.  Leave in the baking tin for about ten minutes, then take it out and let it cool preferably on a wire rack.  ( I just left  it for a couple or so hours.  It was easy to take the cake out once it has completely cooled down.)
  • For the frosting, mix the cottage cheese and the powdered sugar together with the rest of the sour cream.  Mix or blend until smooth.  Spread the frosting on top and sides of the cake and top it with the rest of the blueberries.  ( I used the hand mixer to blend the Philadelphia cream cheese and sugar.  I also added a teaspoon of vanilla extract  because, well, I can. 🙂

And that’s it, cake’s ready.  This one’s best eaten after a few hours in the fridge.  I actually loved it after it was already two days old in the fridge as the flavors blended more together.

Happy summer baking!

xoxo

Posted in Dessert, Eat, Snack | Tagged | 1 Comment

Gozo, Malta (2/2)

I think of our one week stay in Gozo with fondness.  This island will always be special for us for many reasons.  For one, Adi was in his element there.   It was as if he wasn’t fighting off the devastating aftermath of his cancer treatments.  He hiked for hours and drove kilometers in the blistering Maltese sun without any problem.  We were apprehensive about this trip because he was experiencing terrible side effects from radiotherapy, but his main doctor encouraged him to go.  He said Adi can even fly to the space if he was chosen to.  Turned out he was right.  Sometimes a metaphor is all you need to nudge someone in the right direction.

Gozo is a small island.  There are buses that would take you to all villages and points of attractions, but they only go every half an hour and the stops are quite far from those cliffs or gorges you might want to explore.  The best way to explore the island is of course to drive.


Top: Our car provided by Eagle Garage for €30/day, gas excluded. Bottom: The winding and hilly roads of Gozo seen from the top of Victoria’s Citadel.

Problem is, well, at least for us, Malta is right-hand drive.  Driving on the left side of the road is like brain inversion for us.  The only thing to maximize yourself, however, is to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.   So we rented an automatic car and soldiered on.  Adi drove while I navigated.  We drove around the island without GPS, just relying on good old road signs to bring us to our destinations.

This brings us to the third reason why this trip  is the trip.

3.  Driving around Gozo

I read about how it’s crazy to drive in Malta and how it’s relatively fine to do it in Gozo since it’s smaller and quieter.  I understood why after just a few minutes in the car.  The roads are narrow,  the hills are steep and nobody seemed to follow the signs or be bothered by them.

When we drove through a busy intersection in Victoria,  there was  this massive queue of cars in all directions.  One policeman was manning the traffic in between chatting with motorcycle drivers passing him by.  I looked at the drivers and their passengers and no one seemed to mind  the delay.  If this happened in Prague, you would expect swear words flying out and car horns blowing like it was the end of days.


Top: Victoria, the capital city of Gozo with its massive Citadel, seen from the town of Xaghra. Middle: Yours truly at the Citadel. Bottom: Still at the Citadel.  It was so hot up there.

Another thing  is you don’t know if you’re on a main road when you’re driving through a town.  We told this later to Caroline who said there’s no need for that there.  How they drive is they just size up their opponents to see when you go or when you stop.  Simply put, you need some ninja skills when you drive there especially if it’s your first time manning a right-hand drive car.  Tip:  Drive an automatic.  The stress you put your poor brain for changing gears in a manual car would be catastrophic.

Halfway through the day, Adi already drove like part Maltese, part ninja slash octopus.  We drove through Victoria, the capital city of Gozo.  We went to Dwejra where the Azure Window once stood magnificent and amazing .  We marveled at the beauty of the Inland Sea and went on a boat ride to the Blue Hole.  We visited five churches.  We got lost and ended up in Mgarr Ix Xini to where Brangelina filmed their last movie together.  We sat down on top of beautiful gorges and communed with nature.  Lastly, Adi conquered his fear of crashing that Hyundai out of road confusion or disorientation.  He didn’t say it but I know this day made him feel accomplished.  I’m happy when he’s happy.


Top photo: The Inland Sea with its arch that leads to the open sea and to one of Malta’s most popular diving sites, the Blue Hole. Second photo: Entering the arch leading to the open sea and to the Blue Hole. Third photo: Where the Azure Window once stood proud and beautiful.  Bottom photo: Into the wild. Got lost and ended up in Mgarr Ix Xini  surrounded with these cacti taller than me.

4.  The Saltpans

This is my favorite part of the island, hands down.  The hike from Marsalforn to Saltpans passing through Xwejnij Bay and Qbajjar Bay is a feast to the senses and therapeutic to the soul.

From the touristy seaside village of Marsalforn  up north towards the salt pans, the view gets more dramatic as you go past wind-swept stone formations.  Let these photos do the talking:

These salt pans date back to the Roman times.  We were lucky to have witnessed a lady harvesting  salt and I assume it was her husband pumping salt water into the pans.  She told us to take a photo before she would cover the salt with a black tarp.

I stood there transfixed as both of them were working hard.  There are little but important things in life that we tend to take for granted.  Truth be told I never even thought prior to coming here were salt comes from.  I felt like one of our little kids at school.  When asked where bananas grow, they all chorused “Tesco!”

What they do with these salt pans or how they do it is best explained in this photo:

Further up north is an endless stretch of cliffs and hidden coves.  I think if we followed this route we would have ended up back to Mgarr Ix Xini.   Next time, someday, hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.

5. Food and Faith

Maltese cuisine is an eclectic mix of flavors.  Sometimes you taste Italy in your pasta and Spain in your risotto but each dish is definitely delicious.  I gained a kilo after just one week in Gozo.

For most parts we only dined in Xaghra.  Our favorite restaurant there is called Latini.  At least once a day for a week we ate there, trying almost everything they had on their menu.  Each meal was satisfying and each meal our server was attentive and friendly.  Adi and I said to each other how different it was there compared to Prague.  Prague or the Czech Republic in general, has some of the rudest waiters ever in the planet so it was a breath of fresh air when our servers talked to us about the weather,  gave us tips on what to see, where to go, how to get there and whatnot.


Top: Antipasti the Maltese way. Middle: That sinful but heavenly dessert at Latini. Bottom: Our daily diet of pasta and fresh seafood in Gozo.

On our last day,  I asked one of the servers, this very nice, smiling and sweet girl, if she lived there in Xaghra.  She said she’s actually not Maltese and that she’s from the Czech Republic. Hah!  The universe played a joke on us again but at least it was a funny one this time.

Where food nourishes the body, faith nourishes the soul, at least mine.  The past two years have given me a share of dark moments.  Dealing with the aftermath of Adi’s cancer treatments can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.  No one has any idea of the things we went through or the ones we are still going through.  In those dark moments,  I have learned to cope by praying.

Ta’ Pinu is located in the village of Gharb in the island of Gozo, Republic of Malta.

So it was a nice coincidence that our first trip abroad together after Adi’s diagnosis happened to be in an island that shares the same faith as mine.  In the absolute silence of Ta’ Pinu,  I said my thanks for this trip and for the every day chance of living and loving.

 

Traveled:  May 26- June 2, 2018

xoxo

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Gozo, Malta (1/2)

To date, this week-long trip in Malta has been my most favorite.  The island, the people, the food –  it had all the ingredients of a perfect holiday.  I’m torn between writing this post or just keeping the memories to myself as sharing them can sometimes break the magic.  Then again, the point of why I blog in the first place is for me to remember these moments later, as fresh as I remember them now.

This is going to be a long entry with a lot of photos in between a lot of words so I’m breaking it in two parts.  I’m happy that my personal photographer, Adi,  is back wandering off the beaten tracks with me.  It’s amazing how he has progressed from making me look so small like an ant in the photos to capturing professional shots in a blink.  Oh well, he has a great teacher, I suppose.  🙂

In random order, these are the reasons why this holiday is currently the one to beat in my heart of hearts:

1. Gozo, Malta’s sister island.

I didn’t know Malta is an archipelago until I researched for this trip.  This is Adi’s first trip abroad in two years after he got diagnosed with cancer so I wanted it to be special for him.  Back in February when I started planning for this trip, he was having  terrible nose bleeds as a side effect from the radiation he got in 2016.  When I say nosebleed, I don’t mean slow trickling of blood coming from your nose.  I mean bleeding to the scale of a Tarantino  movie.

So the requirements for this trip were;  sea, quiet and not touristy, only 2-3 hours flight from Prague, must be in Europe just in case of emergency, and a comfortable Bed and Breakfast.  Gozo, the second biggest island in Malta, provided those and more.

Gozo has its eccentricities which make this island all the more special for us. I felt like I  stepped back in time in my hometown, back in my childhood days when the stores/ restaurants’ opening hours depended on Manang’s mood, or when everyone went to church on Sundays dressed in their best.  It’s like having the best of rural living amidst the perks of being an EU/Schengen nation.

Some of Gozo’s quirks are:

  • The locals are very religious.  Their houses have statues of saints and the Virgin Mary.  This actually made me so nostalgic since I was raised in a strict Catholic household.  The fact that there are 365 churches in such a small country speaks volume at how serious they are in their religion.  Yup, one church for each day of the year!

Speaking of church, I had to rummage in my luggage to find something nice and conservative  I could wear for mass on our second day, a Sunday.  My nice and conservative was nothing compared to what people were wearing.  The ladies looked like they were attending an opera while the gentlemen were in their suits.  There was a confirmation going on so the church was jam-packed with locals and their families.   It was a nostalgic experience, one that I would never experience again in my hometown as time has changed and priorities have shifted.

The church in Xaghra, Gozo, Malta.

The children on their way inside the church to receive the sacrament of confirmation. Notice their families in their Sunday best.

My “nice and conservative” outfit that I can also wear straight from church to Ggantija Temples without boiling in it.

  • Part of their tradition, which has also something to do with the religion, is having a feast for their patron saints.  Their fiestas in Gozo start I think in April or May and end in September.  I’m sure about September because Xaghra is the last one to celebrate.

There was a fiesta going on when we were there.  You would know it because they would fire the canon in the morning, noon and evening.  You would hear this loud boom, like the island is under attack.  Good thing we were briefed by our host about it.  He said the local tradition is to fire the canon  to ward off the evil spirits.  Same goes for fireworks.  Yes, they have fireworks in broad daylight, in high noon when the sun shines at its brightest or in the afternoon when it is in its hottest.  The fireworks are also intermittent.  You hear it now and then.  Yes, hear is the word because who does fireworks during the day?  The Maltese apparently.

The village of Ghasri, decked and ready for their fiesta in June.

Each of the Gozitan village is dominated by a magnificent cathedral.

  • Another eccentricity Gozo has is its restaurants’ opening hours.  I’m not sure if this is exclusive for Xaghra where we stayed but for sure it can either make you laugh or grit your teeth.

Some restaurants are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays and sometimes it’s written they are open until 22:00 but when we went a few minutes past 21:00, the restaurant was already closed.

One time Adi went to buy chicken nuggets  for lunch, the lady at the counter asked him for how many orders.  He said one, to go.  The lady said to wait a bit.  When she came back she told him they didn’t have it now, but it will be available in the evening.  Mehdi, our host, said that’s quite a normal scenario there.

Mehdi told us he has this favorite local restaurant but you never seem to know when it’s actually open.  One time he called for reservations and he was told they were closed that day.  When he drove past the restaurant about two hours later, it was open with customers, operating in full swing.

Other than its eccentricities, Gozo is nature’s work of art. Its cliffs are dramatic, the gorges are breathtaking, its hills are steep and the valleys so deep. Everywhere you look you are reminded of mother nature’s power to create and how it hangs in balance at mankind’s power to destroy.

 Top photo:  Fungus Rock in Dwerja, one of my favorite places in the island.  Middle: Ramla Bay is a true beauty.  Bottom:  Adi in another favorite place of mine called Mgarr Ix Xini (pronounced em-jar-ee-shini).

2.  Daydream Gozo Bed and Breakfast

We chose to stay in the town of Xaghra (pronounced as Sha-ra), just a few minutes away from the busy capital of Victoria.  I fell in love with Daydream the moment I saw its photos online and fell in love with it even more while staying there.  This bed and breakfast’s great reviews are all true.  Mehdi and Caroline are excellent hosts.  They created a place for their visitors that really feels like home — with two swimming pools as a bonus.

I love that they have a library, with a great selection of books you can borrow or read during your stay.  I love that there’s tea, coffee and cakes/cookies in the kitchen for you to take anytime, or how you can just lounge on their comfortable sofa whenever you like.  The rooms are clean and have balconies with the beautiful view of Marsalforn bay.  The breakfasts are filling and entertaining as Mehdi provided us anecdotes about the island and its locals while cooking eggs for us or other guests.  Truly it was the best and most welcoming accommodation Adi and I ever had.  Even when we were still there, we already missed it.  We hope one day we will be able to visit Gozo and stay at Daydream once again.

Getting there:

There are a lot of options how to get to Gozo.  Here’s a detailed article about it from Air Malta.

For us, we booked it with Caroline and she was the one to organize the transfer for us.  We were greeted by a very nice and bubbly driver at the airport in his shiny Mercedes. He drove us to the port for us to take the ferry on our own.  The drive was about half an hour for €30.

Ferry ticket is €4.65/ person and the ferry trip takes about 25 minutes.  When we got to Gozo side, another driver was waiting for us  to drive us straight to Daydream for €15.  The whole time we felt totally safe and welcomed, which was a great start for embarking on any journey or holiday.

Click here for the complete ferry timetable, and here for car rentals or transfers in Gozo.  For the ultimate Bed and Breakfast, click here.

Til next post!

xoxo

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Dubrovnik (Part 2/2)

The Island of Lokrum

On our fourth and last day in Dubrovnik, Lillian and I woke up early to be able to visit Lokrum.  Our flight back to Prague was at 14:40.  That means we only had the morning to explore the island.

I wish we had more time, though.  I feel I only saw a tiny part of it.  It would be nice to spend a day or two there with a good book or at least swim in that clear Adriatic sea.  It’s remarkable how Croatia has managed to keep their waters clean despite the throng of tourists coming in each year.

It’s very easy to get to the island from Dubrovnik’s Old Town.  I think the boat leaves every 30 minutes from the morning until a certain time in the evening.  We got there at 10:00 and stayed for an hour.  Shame we had to rush back to our room to get our luggage in time to get to the airport at least 2 hours before departure.

Except for the fact that it’s a quick side trip from Dubrovnik and that some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed there,  I had no idea what to expect in this tiny island.  Most of the time, this is how I travel.  I don’t like reading much about the place ahead because for me, the point of visiting is to explore and form my judgement based on real-time experience.

First sight

It was a nice surprise to see lots of rabbits, peacocks and peahens minding their business in the island.  One field was occupied by a lot of grazing rabbits.  A few of them formed a welcoming party and checked out what we’ve got.  When they realized we had nothing to offer, they went back to busying themselves.  The other “locals,”  on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered by our presence.

Staying here overnight is not allowed unless you’re one of them who have dibs on the island, including its sun beds and loungers.

The beach

How come when I read or hear “the beach” the first thing that comes to mind is either the song from All Saints or Leonardo DiCaprio’s post Titanic face?  You’re as old as me if you right away know what I’m talking about.

So, Lokrum’s beach is pebbly and rocky, at least the one Lillian and I stayed on for several minutes on our very short stay in the island.  The water was not that cold considering it was already early autumn.  Maybe late summer or early autumn is the best time to visit Dubrovnik.  I couldn’t imagine how busy it can get in summer.  According to our host, Ante, it is not busy in summer.  It’s crazy.

Excuse our fashion confusion here.  Whereas it was hot in Dubrovnik and Lokrum, we were heading back to Prague on that same day which, most often than not, has a sweater/coat weather even in summer.

You know those bloggers who flood their Instagram feeds with surreal photos? When we were in this part of the island, I was thinking this is would be a perfect place for a fashion shoot.  Just like Dubrovnik, almost every corner here is photogenic.  These photos, taken in a hurry, can’t match the beauty of the place.

The Throne

Last but not the least,  The Throne.  This is the reason why we came here in the first place, because Lillian is a fan of Game of Thrones.  Like I said in my previous post,  I haven’t seen a single episode of the series but I’m always up for an adventure so I happily tagged along and took her reigning photos on the throne.

Since we were there early, there was no queue to get into the Benedictine monastery museum which houses the original iron throne.  I’ve read that the series’ creators  donated it to Dubrovnik.  Today, this is the main reason why GoT fans flock to the island.

In case you’re wondering if I had a photo of myself sitting on it, the answer is no.  I can just hear a chorus of GoT fans screaming why not in pure disbelief.  In a way I can now understand my Uncle’s reaction (or lack of) when we grilled him for details about the Menudo concert he went to decades ago.  He was there to accompany his friends’ kids  back in those times when we were little kids ourselves, and just the name Menudo made me and my friends scream and cry at the same time.  I remember being exasperated at his lack of details.  Me: Is Ricky cute? Him:  Which one is Ricky?  Right.

If ever I get to watch Game of Thrones later and would regret not doing what a fan should have done,  that’s just another reason to fly to Dubrovnik again and experience it differently next time.  It’s certainly one of the places I would like to revisit.

I shall be back.

Traveled: September 29 – October 2, 2017

xoxo

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