Tag Archives: travel

Our Etna Experience

Each holiday has at least one big highlight, and while we were in Sicily, one of the highlights was visiting Etna. I admit, it was long overdue – in fact, visiting Sicily was long overdue! I bet not many Maltese people can say that they have not been to Sicily by the age of thirty. The thing is, that I am fascinated with the UK, and I mostly ignored all other countries for a big chunk of my life. It was in 2016 that I started exploring properly and I have not looked back ever since.

We left Etna for our very last day, it being so close to Catania airport. We arrived at around 9:30AM after a two hours drive from where we were staying. The Etna car park, by the cable cars was almost full. It happened to be May the 1st, which is a bank holiday in most countries, so there were a lot of tourists there.

Steffi enjoying Etna, Sicily!

We bought our tickets and made our way to the queue for the cable cars. Once we were at a reasonable height, we queued again for 4×4-style buses. Most of the tourists were laughing hard while we made our way on what we could only describe as a bumpy ride!  It took us to almost to the top of the volcano in no time. It was rather astonishing seeing people walking all the way up from ground level, seeing that Etna is 3,500 meters high up. I bet it takes most of the day going up and then down. We thought it was money well spent as this way we could enjoy walking around and inside the craters for a longer time.

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As you set foot out of the bus, you realise that the temperature changed drastically. From almost 20 degrees to around 2 degrees! Once you get accustomed to the change of weather, you start to embrace the surroundings. The view is breathtaking, the colour of the gravel varies from black to red to yellow. I have never seen so many colours on such a huge stretch of mountain-like land. It was simply amazing being there. No words were enough to describe what we saw, what we felt being so high up, on such a clear day. You could see steam coming out, touching the floor underneath your feet feels warm. You could tell you are walking on top of an active volcano. A bit scary and risky, but it’s an experience I will never forget.

We spent roughly two hours walking and exploring, and around three hours in total including the transport. The souvenir shop comes highly recommended. While we were there we tried several liquors and the famous mandorla wine. We ended up buying some, as well as lava made statues and decor, adding onto the issue we already had since we traveled with just a hand-luggage for a five day long holiday! On the way down to the car-park, there is a restaurant which in our opinion had the best arancini in Sicily. Do give them a try if you feel peckish!

Engagement Day

For many, the 19th of May meant nothing but the marriage of Prince Harry to Megan dsc_5108.jpgMarkle. To myself, my partner and our families, it was the day of our Engagement Party. For us, it was a very important day, not just as a milestone in our relationship but also because we wanted to share this with our closest family and friends. We wanted them to be present and share with us the happiness and love such an event brings.

It was also the first time my partner, Daniel, met with my entire family – with all my uncles and aunties. I thought it is a very important step before our wedding day next year to get to know where I’ve come from.

Since we planned the party ourselves, the months which lead to our party were busy; we spent a considerable amount of time planning it out. Not just the food, but also the music list, the guest list. Coming up with the invitation, and the decor. Needless to say the decor was for me the most exciting and challenging part. Thinking about what we might need on the day, creating and customising props and buying decor. Although I did most of the research, we chose everything together. Daniel also worked on building a wooden box from scratch, in which we put the cards the guests brought us on the day.

The party itself was filled with smiles and happy relatives and friends. It was also a get-together, as some of the guests we did not see for a good number of years! I thought, it was great, that we managed to do this. Especially for the fact that it was the first time in 24 years that my mother’s siblings were all under the same roof! Having family living overseas, makes it difficult for all of us to meet for every occasion, especially those who live as far as South Africa!

The blessing of the rings, and the cutting of the cake, were the highlight of the evening for us, mainly because of what they symbolise. The joining of two, who have the same outlook and dreams in life. To love, and to cherish. Now onto the big day next year!

 

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Best Castles in Germany

I have quite a soft-spot for Germany. My fascination started way back when I was barely a teenager. At that time, I was supporting the German National Football Club, better known as Die Mannschaft. Since then, I discovered another love – Castles. After exhausting my travels in the UK, in 2016 I started traveling to Germany. So far, I have visited between 30 to 40 castles in Germany and based on my experience, I would like to write about my favourite 5 castles (so far!) in Deutschland!

Burg Hohenzollern

Located on top of Mount Hohenzollern, one can find a very distinguished castle.  What I would also call distinguished is the view from the castle onto the surroundings; the mesmerizing view of the Black Forest. Upon entering this castle, one would realise that no expense was spared in building and maintaining this castle.

The first mention of the castle was in 1267, however the mentioned castle was completely destroyed in 1423. Roughly 30 years later, the second Hohenzollern Castle was built – now bigger than ever. The fortification around it is a testimony of several conversions the castle has endured during its lifetime. To this day, the structure is sound and in perfect condition thanks to all the tourists who have visited and will visit in the years to come. Personally, I appreciate it when admission fees are used for the maintenance and renovation of the castle I visited.

 

Burg Eltz

Located along the Mosel Valley, one finds a breathtaking castle by the name of Eltz. Remembering the first time I visited this castle, I was unaware of the long (and pleasant) walk in the forest to reach it. We were puzzled; How is it that we are visiting a castle so out of sight? Trust me, the fifteen minute walk is worthwhile. If you find this as an obstacle, you can always take the shuttle bus however! English tours are available in this castle which is kind of expected considering how popular this castle is.

The castle is still owned by the same family who around 33 generation ago lived there. Eltz is one of the only three castles on the left bank of River Rhine which has never been destroyed. Construction started prior to 1157. Another house within the castle was built in the 1400s, whilst the third part of the castle was considered finished in the 1530s. The upside of this last construction is the fact that each room was heated, unlike the remaining parts of the castle which were partly heated only. The Eltz family is still considered noble to this day.

Schloss Drachenburg

Although Shloss Drachenburg looks like a castle, in fact to me, it looks very similar to Disney Castle, this is considered as a villa. What is unbelievable about it is that it was built in just two years between 1882 and 1884. It belonged to a banker who initially planned to make it a home, but then he didn’t. It was later donated to the State Foundation and is now open for the public. The western facade of the palace was heavily damaged in WW2. The restoration took many years to fulfill as even roofs needed to be replaced.

Aside from the beautiful views of Bonn and the river from the very top of the castle, one must admire the interiors who have been hand-painted all these years ago and are to this day so well maintained. I also remember huge stained glass windows, with details I have never witnessed before; and even after visiting several other castles in other countries, still remain unbeatable…

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

Pfalzgrafenstein – such a big name, for such a small castle! One can find this little gem in the middle of River Rhine. In fact, to gain access to it, you’d have to ride a short boat trip. Once we arrived on Falkenau island we started by admiring the river from a different angle. We also noticed that from a certain level, this castle looks like a ship. Since the river’s depth varies due to seasonality, the castle had to be built in such a way that it did not flood when the water rises.

Built between 1326 and 1327, its function was as a toll-collecting station. A chain across the river forced ships to stop and pay the fee. If they did not cooperate, they were kept in the castle’s dungeon until a ransom was received. Although the castle was restored to its glory, to this day one does not find neither electricity nor a lavatory. The area is a World Heritage site.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Possibly the more popular castle not only in Germany but worldwide. What many do not know, is the sad story behind it. Back in the 1800s, the King Ludwig II, started to build this most magnificent and luxurious castle, only he died before it was completely finished. In fact, the king only lived in the castle for 172 years (in his private headquarters, whilst it was still being built), and it was opened for public viewing shortly after he died in the year 1886.

It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day […]; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world…

— Ludwig II, Letter to Richard Wagner, May 1868[14]

 

Most of the photos above are my own (apart from interior photos of Neuschwanstein, Eltz and Hohenzollern for the simple reason that it was not allowed). Kindly seek permission before re-using.

5 Simple Ways to Wow Your Wedding Guests

You’d like to think that simply looking your stunning best will be enough to make your wedding guests say ‘wow,’ and it will! But it’s also true that every bride looks amazing on their special day. If you want to make yours stand out from the crowd, then you’ll want to go the extra mile to make it memorable. Below, we take a look at five ways you can make your guests feel the love – and have a day they’ll always remember.

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Pick a Unique Venue

You could pick a venue that’s close to where you live, but where’s the fun in that? There are a million and one unique, beautiful venues across Europe, and with inexpensive flights available to and from many countries, it’s not that much of a hassle to ask your friends and family to travel overseas. If you’re not of an overly traditional bent, then you might want to consider getting married away from the church. A beautiful ceremony set among lush woodlands, with fairy lights making the space look extra magical, for example, is guaranteed to impress your guests.

Make a Strong First Impression

Of course, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to wow your wedding guests before they reach the ceremony. You can make a strong first impression by investing in beautiful wedding invitations, and by asking your guests to RSVP with added details – such as a song they’d like to hear at the wedding party. You may even ‘wow’ your guests by simply asking that they don’t bring anything other than themselves – that means no gifts – to the wedding, which is a touching detail if the ceremony is taking place overseas. Get creative with your invites, and you’ll have people keenly anticipating the fun days to come!

Riding in Style

The ceremony and the party rarely take place at the same place, so how are your guests going to get from one place to the other? Normally, this will involve a series of taxis, but there’s not going to be anything normal about your wedding! Instead, put on some funky transport, such as a themed party coach, or limos, or – if it’s not too far – a series of horse carriages for everyone. It’ll be much more exciting than having everyone patiently queuing for the next series of taxis to turn up.

Extra Touches

You’re going to have people from all walks of life attending your wedding; relatives, old friends, work colleagues, and so on, and they’re not all going to know one another. So why not help them up by adding a “who’s who” to the seating plan? You can show everyone how they know each other through six degrees of separation. It’s a great way to move past small talk and onto the fun times!

And Relax

You’ve got a dance-floor; how about a place to relax? Some people don’t want to dance all night but do want to be involved. Create a space that allows them to be involved and also unwind. They’ll love you for it.

Auschwitz – A change of heart

If there was one place that I visited in Poland, which has impacted my life it’s Auschwitz. Although I read, view documentaries and discussed this place and what happened here a multitude of times, I could not have imagined what the people have went through.

Welcome to Auschwitz

Being there, in one of the coldest days in Poland in the last ten years, I began to imagine, how these innocent people must have felt. They arrived in this destination, feeling uneased, terrified of what’s next… taken away from their loved ones. They were stripped down off their clothes and possessions. Freezing cold, working harder than you ever thought possible, malnutritioned. Did you know that these workers on average didn’t last a week? And those, were the lucky ones. The rest, well you probably already know what happened to them.

I felt sadness, a heavy heart, bad things transpired here.

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What I did not know before going to Auschwitz was to how many men, women and children this happened. Although I was familiar with the numbers, I could not quantify it. In a few words, a section of this museum (it’s no longer referred as a concentration camp) is dedicated to “Proof”. Here, you can see an abundant amount of what was left behind – shoes, hair, utensils, luggage. This was what made my heart slow down with pain and disgust, what really angered me. Now, I understood. Now, I know that this was one of the worst, if not the worst experiment that ever happened in the world.  I felt humiliated to be called human, I hope that such a thing never happens again. Although we were not alive then, we should still be aware of what occurred, and we have to be intelligent enough to not let it happen ever again.

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All photos are my own, please seek permission before making use of them. Thank you.

Belated 30th Birthday Post

Exactly five months ago, on the 16th of October, it was my birthday. My 30th.

We woke up in Scotland, because we discovered that we like traveling for our birthdays. It was a windy day! So much so, Hurricane Ophelia was visiting! This did not stop us from having a lovely day out in the countryside, visiting several castles and eating at Jamie’s Italian in Glasgow. For the first time in my life, I had a clear picture of where my life is going. I did not care where I am, I was just happy spending my day with the person who means the most to me.

In the past years, I always reflected on what I have achieved, but this time round, I reflected on my future; our future. It is true, that in the year 2017, so much has happened. For starters I went on so many holidays: Hungary, Bath UK, Wales, Romania, Denmark, Cornwall, Austria, Scotland and Germany! But the most important of all, I met Daniel who has turned my life upside down. My traveling partner, the love of my life! I finally found him, and I ain’t letting him go. 🙂

But most of all, this birthday was so significant to me because as my birthday gift, Daniel bought me a promise ring. As much as I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man, I was still caught off guard. From then on, our path has become a little clearer. In fact, as of November, it’s been full-on planning for our big day coming up in 2019!

And folks, that is a happy ending right there!

When to get married in Malta: Seasonality

Maltese brides and grooms tend to play it safe when it comes to their wedding. Even if you are not a bride-zilla, you would most likely still not want a rainy wedding day as this would disrupt all your plans, be it traffic, wedding venue and dirtying your oh-so-white wedding dress! Funnily enough though, we don’t always think of the pros and cons that each season in Malta comes with!

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No snow in Malta, but you catch my drift!

Spring:
The weather starts changing from cold to warm
Happy guest mood since winter is over, and soon it is time for summer
A lot of fruit and veg are back in season, which means more variety when it comes to your menu
The grass is greener! And the flowers start bloom. Needless to say this will enhance your wedding photos, and no doubt, the floral choice for decor is at its best.
Allergy season (this was the only reason why I couldn’t go for a Spring wedding!)
Children are still in school, which might cause certain parents to not attend your wedding

Summer:
Risk of rain is close to none
Longer days, breezy evenings
If you are choosing Malta as your destination wedding, it is more likely that guests will attend as they can combine the wedding with a holiday, and the kids are off school
Summer season is the most popular season of all. If you are very specific on dates and venues, you have to plan very much ahead. Two years minimum, but three years ahead is advised
Noon summer weddings should be illegal. It is crazy to say the least!
Peak wedding season. Guests might choose to attend another wedding, not yours

Autumn:
Milder weather, ideal for noon weddings
The changes of the colour of leaves and trees makes for a magical and romantic background to your wedding photos
Children are back in school, which might cause certain parents to not attend your wedding
Risk of bad weather

Winter:
Classic and traditional Christmas themed weddings are amazing
Availability of venue and other suppliers are abundant
Cheaper deals on venue and vendors due to being off season
Noon weddings are appropriate as days are shorter
Brides have more dress options
✗ Bad weather is likely
✗ Wedding photos outdoors might be a bust due to weather conditions
✗ Festive season might discourage guests as they might rather spend it with close family
✗ Guest may be short on money as it is Christmas season

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Wedding in Malta: How to get started

Daniel and I are both planners, which I’d say is of an advantage when it comes to organizing our wedding plan. We have heard about so many stories, where couples are stressed beyond compare, fighting every minute they get, that we were a bit paranoid. Truth be told, none of this has happened. Three months into the preparation, we have been very respectful towards each other, and we have managed to compromise on everything so far, be it budget, and choosing our providers.

We believe, that the hardest thing that we had to come up with was our budget. The main reason being that we had absolutely no idea on how much a wedding should cost.  We heard of weddings which costed 10,000 and others which were 30,000 and more! This confused us further, as we were unsure how two weddings which had roughly the same items (sizable venue and guest-list, food, DJ, open bar) could differentiate so much in terms of cost!

wedding to do list

So how did we come up with a budget? In reality, we did not! Wait, what? We decided on what we can afford. We decided on the guests we wanted to invite. I come from a large family, and we had to draw a line somewhere. We made the guest list, and we asked vendors for quotations based on these numbers. Then by priority, we started to add additional costs – listing the must haves and the nice to haves.

This is the must-have list we came up with:

– Gather an approximate Guest list and request quotations for food and drinks
Chapel & Venue – booked on the same day
Food tasting from top 2 or 3 caterers (based on price, reputation and wedding date availability)
Photographer – A beautiful memory to cherish in the years to come
DJ – a wedding reception without music, is not really a celebration. In Malta, DJ is the most common form of entertainment for weddings. Some choose to have a live-band or singer
Cars – Bare necessity is a bridal car and taxi for groom and our respective family
Hair & Makeup – We all want to look at our best for our big day
Rings – The symbol for our marriage
Invitations – Compulsory
Souvenirs – A small thank you gift for our guests
Clothes – Bride, Groom, Bridesmaids, Groomsmen
Bride’s flower bouquet

Nice to have list:

Flowers (for the church)
Church Singer
– Themed Decor (for the venue)
Lighting
– Videographer
– Red Carpet (for the church)