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CRETE, GREECE // TRAVEL DIARY // JULY 2017

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I went to Crete for my most recent family holiday. The weather was beautiful but incredibly hot. I was really looking forward to this trip because I have a lot of interest in Greek (and Roman) mythology. Crete did not disappoint when it came to historical places of significance that had links to mythology, and I have included some below.

We stayed in Crete for two weeks up in the mountains and hills of the island, in Axos, in a villa which was part of a twin complex called Oros Villas. It was such a beautiful place to stay and was very traditionally designed and decorated. As a family of four we stayed in one of the villas and there was a different family in the one next door. However, you can rent them both if you are visiting Crete with a bigger party. It is also incredibly secluded right on a hilltop with beautiful views and a private shared pool. The villas themselves are close to a local town/big village where there is a church, a few walking routes, restaurants, a supermarket selling typical produce as well as Greek cheeses and meats and a convenience store, where you can buy products for the bathroom and kitchen.

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The Palace of Knossos (pictured below) is the biggest Bronze Age architectural site in Crete. The site contains many original ruins as well as some recreations, and was the site of the first Neolithic settlement in Crete. It was so amazing to walk around the old palace and be able to see the beautiful pieces of art and scenery. All around the site, there are various information boards where you can learn about the different areas. Near the entrance of the site, there are so many little trinket shops where you can buy Grecian themed products and decorations for your home. About a 20 minute drive away, is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, where you can learn even more about the palace as well as other aspects of Grecian history and culture.

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There are some notable beaches on and around the island which are well worth a visit. These include Balos beach, Elafonisi, Gramvousa, Vai beach and Chrysi beach.

Other places of interest include Lake Kournas (pictured below), which is the only freshwater lake in Crete with bright turquoise waters where you can rent a little pedal boat and glide serenely on the water (avoiding the ducks), as well as various monasteries including the Eastern Orthodox Arkadi Monastery (pictured below), with its gorgeous gardens and nearby restaurant and shop, the Agia Triada Monastery, and the Chrysoskalitissa Monastery, situated on a cliff with gorgeous sea views.

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I absolutely love visiting waterfalls, lakes and places where the water is beautifully turquoise. Two places in particular which are unforgettable are the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, with beautiful views, caves and natural springs, and the Cave of Zeus, named after the Greek God and is said to be his birthplace.

I also found that being up in the hills and mountains was just as good as relaxing on the beach in the hot sun. The views you get looking down on the island through the sunset are some of the best I have ever seen. If you’re lucky, you might also get the chance to see some beautiful birds flying over the hills whilst sitting out and having a drink at a local restaurant. It really helped that our villa was situated in the hills and there were little walks available to various small towns and villages – each one with different restaurants, trinket shops and beautiful terraced houses.

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Crete was a truly stunning island. It had the perfect mix of history, current culture, beaches, cliffs and mountains as well as having enough shops and restaurants and things to do. I missed a few things off my list when I went last year and I do hope to return and tick them off.

It is honestly the most perfect place for any kind of holiday and has lots of different things to do and see to suit everyone.

ARIA

 

 

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Previous blog post: https://ariaesmeralda.com/2018/07/05/travel-diary-lisbon-portual-april-2017/

LISBON, PORTUGAL // TRAVEL DIARY // APRIL 2017

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I visited beautiful Lisbon over the Easter of 2017 with both of my parents. It has everything – culture, beautiful sites and shopping as well as some of the most stunning hilltop views. Even visiting in April, the weather was gorgeous – sunny but cool.

Lisbon is well known for its colourful buildings and some huge hills. However I did not expect it to be as diverse as it was. There are so many parts of Lisbon to explore, including the busy Bairro Alto district filled with bars and nightclubs, the beautiful plaza of Praça de Comércio, one of the biggest plaza squares in Europe lined with little cafes and shops, and even the old São Jorge castle, a Moorish castle built on a hilltop which overlooks the city.

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There are lots of ways to see the city. You can walk, drive, cycle (beware of the fluctuating hills!), go on a moped or catch a tram. The latter was my absolute favourite, and I stayed on the tram for a whole circuit, just taking in the sights, sounds and smells.

Some notable landmarks and sites in Lisbon which are well worth a visit include the Belém Tower (pictured below), also known as the Tower of St Vincent, which is a medieval fortified tower and UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its role in maritime discoveries during the Age of Discoveries era. There is a little café right next door to it which is floating on the Tagus River. Its a lovely place to sit out with a drink and a classic pastel de nata, Portuguese’s famous egg tart pastry.

Other places of significance include the Church of Santa Engrácia (pictured below), a 17th century monument, National Pantheon of Portugal and former church which was so awesome and huge that it did not completely fit in my camera’s shot, the Jerónimos Monastery (within walking distance from the Belém Tower), a world heritage late Gothic-Manueline-style monastery which is also an archaeology and maritime museum, and the Santa Justa lift, an iron elevator with beautiful views over the city.

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Another notable place to visit is Eduardo VII park which is Lisbon’s largest public park. If you head to the top of the park you get some stunning views across the park and over parts of the city. There are also some beautiful stone statues nearby as well as the Pavilhão Carlos Lopes museum (all pictured below).

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In addition to architecture, museums and sculptures, there are also other forms of art all around the city of Lisbon in the form of graffiti. I know that some people can be against graffiti, however I consider these particular pieces to be some inspiring works of art that really add to the diversity of the city. Feel free to judge for yourself and make up your own mind!

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Like all the other places, I would love to return. It will be interesting to see what has changed, and whether new graffiti art has been added. But for now, I am content with relaxing here in England whilst dreaming of the Portuguese delicacy of francesinha (a large ham, sausage and steak sandwich, coupled with a fried egg, melted cheese and a spicy tomato sauce). It is a heart attack waiting to happen, but so so amazingly delicious!

ARIA

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SEVILLE, SPAIN // TRAVEL DIARY // FEBRUARY 2017

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In February 2017, I visited Seville with my mum for a quick girly getaway. I definitely need to go back at some point – the city completely consumed me. Seville is the capital of the Andalusia region of southern Spain and is known as the birthplace of Flamenco dancing. Even in February, the weather was sunny and warm and it is such a “convenient” city to travel round in – the various modes of transportation it provides are so easy and simple to use, including buses, trains, trams and even horse and carriage rides!

We stayed in the gorgeous Hotel San Gil Sevilla and were greeted straight away by friendly and helpful staff. The hotel itself has an outdoor pool, restaurant and bar (I had a mackerel and pesto starter one afternoon and it was so good!).

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The hotel is a relatively short walking distance to one of the many shopping precincts, plus its a really scenic walk where you can take in the local architecture and walk past the various (great-smelling) restaurants. The precinct itself contains many well known stores and chain restaurants, but also a range of nik-nak stores with homemade gifts – I remember walking out of H&M and then walking straight into a little shop which sold different styles of Spanish folding fans for Flamenco dancing.

When it comes to things to see and do, there are a lot of places of interest around the city within walking distance.

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One of the first sites which is definitely worth seeing is Seville Cathedral (pictured above). It is a Roman Catholic cathedral consecrated in 1507 with beautiful Gothic architecture. A phenomenal size, it is the third largest church in the world and in 1987 it was registered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Two additional places of interest in Seville are the Plaza de España, a prominent plaza originally built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and the Parque de María Luisa, in which the Plaza de España is set. The Plaza is full of beautiful architecture, contains many fountains and has various pop-up shops and stalls around it for people to buy trinkets and souvenirs. The Parque de María Luisa is Seville’s principal park which runs along the Guadalquivir River and it is breathtaking. Both places are on the “visit list” on the horse and carriage ride tours.

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We also managed to have a tour of the Maestranza (pictured below), a baroque bullring, and were able to visit the Basílica de la Macarena (pictured below), a church famous for housing “The Virgin of Hope” (a jewel encrusted statue). There are many places around Seville which serve delicious tapas and Spanish food. One of my absolute favourites was Iberian ham on toast or in a roll, its like a mildly spicy ham pâté and it is amazing.

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Other places which are well worth a visit include the Alcázar of Seville, a stunning Moorish royal palace with beautiful gardens and architecture, the Giralda (pictured below), a renaissance-style minaret with a Gothic bell tower, the Torre del Oro, a defensive tower with views over the city and Barrio Santa Cruz (pictured below), an area which contains the earlier mentioned cathedral and royal palace and also many shops and restaurants.

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Seville is an absolutely breathtaking city with beautiful architecture, delicious food and super friendly people. I’m definitely going back, but will revisit during the summer when there might be more things happening – five days was not enough time!

ARIA

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VENICE, ITALY // TRAVEL DIARY // OCTOBER 2016

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My trip to Venice was a 21st birthday getaway from my other half, and even though we were only there five days, it was such a gorgeous experience and I am really hoping to return and visit for longer. Even in the middle of October, the weather was still sunny and beautiful, the flights to and from Venice Marco Polo Airport were easy and transport from the airport was simple.

We stayed on the island of Lido, an 11km long sandbar and home to the Venice Film Festival, in the Marea Hotel Petit Palais, right on the beach and took a little boat to the main island each morning. Lido is full of various shops and restaurants, and one we kept returning to was the Pizzeria Ai Do Mati which does amazing mozzarella balls as well as a fries and pepperoni pizza (the fries being a topping on the pizza alongside the pepperoni – trust me, its the best!).

Even though we weren’t in Venice long, we managed to see quite a lot just through walking everywhere (bringing up those steps!). We visited the Piazza San Marco, the main public square in Venice dating back to the 12th century and overlooked by Saint Mark’s Basilica which is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice and connected to Doge’s Palace, a Venetian Gothic palace which was home to the “Doge” or Duke of Venice. We also saw the San Marco Campanile which is the bell tower of Sant Mark’s Basilica at 323ft tall and is one of the most recognisable structures of Venice (pictured below).

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We also managed to see the Grand Canal (pictured below), a major water channel with public boat transport and the Bridge of Sighs, a bridge over the Rio di Palazzo (Palace Channel) and nicknamed after prisoners sighing at their final view of Venice whilst crossing the bridge from the interrogation rooms at the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison.

Finally, we checked off Santa Maria della Salute, which is a phenomenal 16th century baroque-style Roman Catholic church and the San Zaccaria, a 15th century Gothic-Renaissance church filled with beautiful artworks (pictured below).

The main tourist attractions were pretty close together which made it so easy to visit the majority of places just by walking and only needing a short boat ride to and from the various islands.

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This is one of my shortest blogs in the travel diary series as unfortunately we weren’t able to see the more further out places such as Murano, Torcello and the San Giorgio Maggiore, but that will be something to tick off next time.

ARIA

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Places On the List for Next Time: