2013 in review

To all my favourite people (people who read my blog), thank you! And have a happy new year! Greetings from Berlin :)

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Valencia, Spain

Our second Spanish city – Valencia.

I enjoyed our short stay in Valencia. I actually wish we could have had an extra day there. One of the highlights of my entire travel experience I had here in this beautiful city.

ImageCathedral of Saint Maria of Valencia

This church is supposedly the home of the Holy Grail.ImageImageImage

No trip to Valencia is complete without trying the famous Horchata and Fartons. Horchateria El Siglo has been around since 1836. I tried the Horchata in Barcelona, and it doesn’t come close to the one I had here. However, you either love it or you don’t. I happen to love it. Horchata is made of tigernuts, which like peanuts, are not nuts! Horchata made with tigernuts is called Horchata de chufa. The youtiao looking pastry is called a Farton. Also similarly to youtiao, you dip them into Horchata. We just had it on its on, and oh my god, this is probably one of the best things I’ve eaten ever! So soft, so sweet. The perfect pastry.

Horchata El Siglo – Address: Plaza de Santa Catalina, 11, 46001 Valencia, Spain

ImageValencia’s narrowest house

It might very well be the narrowest in Europe (as far as I know). 105cm across. ImageThe back streets of Valencia

ImageOur very charming, Scottish tour guide. Wicked sense of humour.

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One of the nicest markets I’ve visited so far. Mercat Central (or Mercado Central). It is one of the oldest in all of Europe. Stalls sell everything from fresh produce, meat, cooked food and souvenirs too.

ImageLook up.

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ImageFruit lovers’ heaven! Yummy, fresh and plump figs and a wide variety of fruits.

ImageIberico ham

ImageTigernuts that are used to make Horchata

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We had cheap and relatively good paella and my favourite Bocadillo with Spanish tortilla just outside the market.

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The aquarium in Valencia is famous, more so for its architecture than for its marine wildlife (in my opinion). It is, however, huge! We visited Oceanogràfic and the City of Arts & Science. However, we only had the time to go into Oceanogràfic. I don’t recall it being cheap, but I quite enjoyed myself because we watched the dolphin show! Amazing dolphin show, except that it was all in Spanish. Ich spreche kein Spanisch!IMG_5431 IMG_5437IMG_5483

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After Oceanogràfic, we headed to the beach, where, apparently, there is excellent Valencian paella. Paella originates from Valencia, so make sure you don’t leave Valencia without having your fill of the authentic stuff.

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Honestly though, I still find the paella which my friend from Valencia cooked for me back in Singapore the best I’ve ever had.  This didn’t even come close, although I must say, it sure beats the ones we had in Barcelona.

As luck would have it, we were in Valencia when they hold the famous, annual tomato-throwing festival – La Tomatina. We didn’t have tickets and we heard that they recently passed a regulation on the maximum number of participants that could attend the festival. However, we decided to take our chances and took the train at about 6am to Buñol, the small town where it is held every last Wednesday of August. I had already known when we were planning our trip that we would be there, but I never expected that we would attend it! But I’m glad we took that train down to Buñol! It was an amazing experience. Yes, it rained in the first time in 8 years during the festival, I used the most filthy, disgusting public toilet ever, we were soaked in acidic tomato juice, sometimes hit hard with uncrushed tomatoes (hey, please crush before throwing), and we were freezing our asses off. But it was sooooooo worth it! I would go for again, this time armed with a Go Pro.

As we were busy throwing tomatoes at random strangers, we met Bing Chia, DJ’s friend and if not for him, we would not have this amazing photo! Proof we were at La Tomatina 2013!

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Credits to Bing Chia. Thank you :)

When the festival ends, there’s lots of partying going on. Kind locals hose you down from their balconies, but trust me, you WILL find some tomato stuck in your ears for days. And the sour smell of tomato gets stuck in your hair too, even after multiple washes. It was pretty unhygienic actually. Some people scoop the squashed tomatoes and its juices from the ground and just pour them over your heads. But, it’s all for the name of fun, so don’t get pissed off. Also, goggles may seem like a good idea, until someone throws a tomato so hard at you, it hits your goggles and it cuts you on the nose. True story. Ear plugs, however, are a better option.

Safe to say, I didn’t have tomatoes for a long time after.

Absolutely exhausted after the whole event, we headed back on a train packed like sardines in tomato paste :/ We took a shower and napped for a bit before heading out for dinner and to meet with Bing Chia again for some paella, the best churros I had in Spain and also for my last horchata.

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Churros with hot chocolate at Valor Chocolates. They have amazing hot chocolate! I prefer the churros here because I don’t like them too hard and crunchy, but I know people who do. These are made fresh for you when you order, and the chocolate is served steaming hot. So damn good in that rainy weather. Valor is in all major cities in Spain. Find them! You won’t regret it! Website here.

As I said, I wished we had an extra day there. We were so tired after La Tomatina, we didn’t go to the cathedral to see the Holy Grail. I really did like Valencia, more so than I enjoyed my time in Barcelona! I guess I prefer the less crowded, less touristy cities. They have their charm.

Ciao, Valencia.

Next stop, Madrid.

Barcelona, Spain (Part 2)

Back to Antoni Gaudi. His works are everywhere in Barcelona. We got to see a few more during a free walking tour. I really wanted to go into these buildings, unfortunately, we didn’t have the time. If only we did a little less shopping and more time sightseeing!ImagePalau Güell

ImageTiles designed with Gaudi which pave Passeig de Gràcia

ImageCasa Batlló

ImageCasa Milà

More photo spam:

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ImageYes, this was by Picasso.

ImageFC Barcelona

 Football players have perky butts!

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ImageFlag of Catalonia

ImageSANDEMANs Old City tour

Our free walking tour of choice. They operate in quite a few European cities. Check them here.

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ImagePicasso Museum

We queued for the museum as it was free. What a long queue.

ImageMercat de La Boqueria

On our last day, we visited the Mercat de La Boqueria. I love these markets. So much fresh food, fruits, and local specialties!

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ImageFood, glorious food.

 Off to our next Spanish city – Valencia.

Barcelona, Spain (Part 1)

Spain. My dream country. I remember flipping the pages of travel books in my younger days and always wanting to go to Spain. I actually wanted to go to Spain for exchange, but my mum would not allow it because it is “dangerous”. But I am perfectly happy with Austria now, and I got my chance to visit three cities in Spain. First stop – Barcelona.

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Parc Güell 

We visited Parc Guell on our first day in Barcelona. Parc Güell is another masterpiece by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The park was initially meant to be used as a housing estate for the rich. However, it was a flop and only Gaudií and Count Güell resided there.

Throughout the park, mosaic is used in the design. I think the park, like many of Gaudí’s creations, are pretty whimsical. At the entrance stands two gingerbread-looking houses, and as you walk in, you meet the mosaic salamander.

No visit to Barcelona is complete without seeing La Sagrada Familia. Once again, it is another work of art by Gaudí.

Construction of the basilica started in 1882, and it is still a work in progress. I wonder how many more years it will take before completion! To say that the basilica is huge is an understatement. I have never visited any that comes close to its size. It is over-the-top, in typical Gaudií fashion.

There are three façades – the Nativity, Passion and Glory. My favourite is the Nativity façade. It is also the most elaborate. I was amazed the sheer amount of detail.

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 Later in the night, we went to the Font Màgica de Montjuïc (the magic fountain of Montjuïc).

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 I really enjoyed the atmosphere during the spectacle. Great music, great crowd. And the water show was amazing. Vibrant, colourful.

Taking a break from the attractions… Let’s talk about food! I think we all loved the food in Spain. From the sweet to the savoury. Here are some of the delicious eats we had.

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We came across a lovely pastry shop called Bombeneria La Colmena Pasteleria. They sell such beautiful meringues (DJ’s favourite), chocolate mediants, cakes and pastries.

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Ensaïmada – traditional sweet bread from Mallorca

I loved it. I tasted a hint of citrus, like orange blossom, in the pastry. It is soft and light and just plain pretty.

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Magdalena – Spanish muffins

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More cookies. The longer variant looks like Langüeta del Gato (a.k.a. Cat’s Tongue cookies).

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Bocadillo

Everywhere I went, I had bocadillos, which are like Spanish baguette sandwiches. This one was from our favourite joint in Barcelona. Vegetable omelette. I also had the Spanish Tortilla bocadillo, chicken and tuna one too. I don’t know how they make their omelettes, but they are near perfect.

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Jamón Ibérico – Spanish ham from black Iberian pigs

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Sangria – my favourite drink 

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Paella – our first and certainly not last Paella during our stay in Spain

Unfortunately, no paella we tried in Spain, even in Valencia where it is supposed to have originated, tasted as good as the one my dear Valencian Exchange group mate made for us earlier this year. I was utterly disappointed! But the guys enjoyed themselves, and I am sure they would love to have paella agains soon. My goal – to reproduce my friend’s paella!

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Alfajores – sandwich cookies with dulce de leche filling and coconut

Part 2 of Barcelona soon! I need to get back to my workout. I am certainly getting much fatter here in Europe with all the traveling and the good food ):

Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

From Santorini, we took a short flight back to the Greek capital of Athens. Athens is rich in history and culture, and I was excited to explore the city. I couldn’t wait to visit the Akropolis, as I have read story books in my younger days about the Greek gods and goddesses, the temples, the heroes and the heroines.

 We got in pretty late, and wandered around looking for our hostel. We stayed at a place called Neos Olympos. It was a comfy place and we enjoyed our stay, except for the receptionist that is on night shift. He was just plain rude.

Here’s some photos from our two days in Athens.

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Monastiraki 

A good place to shop. No trip to Greece is complete without buying a pair of gladiator sandals, no?

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We spent a good few hours at the Akropolis. My favourite temple has to be the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.

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 The view of the city from the top of the hill is spectacular too. Here’s a good photo of DJ and I. The wind was so strong, it took many shots to take a decent photo of me, without hair flying everywhere.

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As the sun began to set, we made our way to Filopappos Hill to watch the sunset. Although not as great as Santorini sunsets, it was beautiful nonetheless. A really warm, red and orange sunset behind the hills.

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When in Greece, try Baklava and Kataifi. Diabetes-inducing, artery-clogging goodness.

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The best gyros we had in Athens, from Smile Cafe Restaurant.

Address: Syngrou Avenue 24, Athens, 117 42, Greece

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Panathenaic Stadium (Panathinaiko) – Venue of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

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Changing of guards at the Parliament Building, Syntagma Square

This has to be the most entertaining changing of guards I have ever seen. Over 6 feet tall men, dressed in pleated kilts, stockings and oversized, cutesy flats. Be sure to catch it. The ceremony takes place on the hour (apparently 24 hours) every day, and the grandest one every Sunday at 11am.

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Saying goodbye to my beautiful sandals. Fortunately, I did buy a pair of sandals at Monastiraki. Unfortunately, it is no longer sandal-weather in Graz!

Next stop, Barcelona!

Santorini, Greece (Part 2)

Day 3: Prehistoric Town of Akrotiri, Red Beach, Oia & Murphy’s

On our last full day in Santorini, we headed to Akrotiri to find out more about the history of the island. Like Pompeii, Akrotiri’s buildings were preserved by residue from a volcanic eruption.

ImageThe Ancient Town of Akrotiri

ImageRemnants – Pottery

Honestly, all three of us didn’t enjoy ourselves. Without a tour guide, you probably will not realise the significance. I am not sure how much the guided tour costs, but from the bits and pieces that I eavesdropped on, it seems much more interesting.

Next, we walked to Red Beach. Getting to Red Beach requires a walk along rocky paths. But the beach and the area surrounding it is definitely one of the most beautiful on the island. The cliffs and sand, rich in iron, are red (or in school, we say copper brown). We were not dressed for the beach, and honestly, were already extremely sunburnt by then, so we only took photographs overlooking Red Beach.

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ImageA lady selling handmade accessories

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ImageRed Beach

 I love the amazing colours. Blue waters, red sand.

Saving the best for last, we took the bus back to Fira, then another to Oia. We would catch the world’s most beautiful sunset! All travel magazines showcase the beautiful town of Oia on its pages with its whitewashed buildings with blue domes.

Warning: Photo spam ahead

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ImageA gift from the boyfriend. A necklace with lava rocks. And it matches my clothes! <3

We were walking along and noticed a cafe with an amazing display of cakes, pies and all ‘em sweet stuff that I love. We ordered the milk pie and walnut pie with chocolate.

ImageMilk Pie

ImageWalnut Pie with Chocolate 

The milk pie was so good! The pastry was perfectly done, the milk custard was smooth and not too sweet. The walnut pie, however, not so good. It was a tad too sweet and cloying for us. We were struggling to finish it.

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Following the throng of people, we quickly made our way to the viewpoint. We got there more than half an hour before the sunset, but it was already packed. We climbed on a ledge just so our view would not be obstructed by the crowd. We had the perfect spot, until people started climbing over fences and buildings in front of us. Still, the sunset was MAGNIFICENT! Now, if only I took better pictures!

IMG_4051The crowd at the viewpoint

ImageI guess the people do make the picture a little more interesting.

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To say the sunset was beautiful would be an understatement. The sun set, and the hundreds of people started applauding. I would say that watching the sunset at Oia is a MUST! The whole atmosphere also makes the experience all the more memorable. Although the sunset at Santo Wines was also beautiful, and we didn’t need to squeeze with hundreds of people, it wasn’t as enjoyable as the sunset at Oia.

We had our favourite gyros while waiting for the crowd to clear out of Oia.

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Later that night, we visited two clubs in Fira – Enigma and Murphy’s. Our first stop was Enigma. We weren’t so impressed by it, so we left in less than three minutes to look for somewhere more “happening”. Remembering that we passed a bar/club called Murphy’s, we looked around for it. It was free entry for us (at both Enigma and Murphy’s), because we used a trick. Just say that your friend was in Santorini recently, and she entered for free. Also ensure the bouncers that you will most certainly buy drinks. Before saying so, they tried to charge us for entry.

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1234440_10151610745471161_647743259_nMurphy’s

The music at Murphy’s – insanely good. The service – insanely good. We had the most amazing night in Santorini at Murphy’s, and I would recommend Murphy’s to anyone looking for some good nightlife.

734398_10151610745296161_525697147_nUs, with more pork gyros. And my slightly intoxicated look.

We did head back to Enigma to give it another shot, but it wasn’t as fun as Murphy’s. So back to Murphy’s for a short while, then back home. What a fun night!

Day 4: Fira

On our very last day in Santorini (sobs!), we just had to return to Souvlaros Cooking. That’s how much we love the food there. We really wanted to have the Moussaka again, but sadly, they didn’t have it.

1208969_10153229122850220_2103717456_nEggplant Saganaki with 5 Cheeses

1240168_10153229122825220_1710196975_nOmelette with Bacon and Cheese

We also had the pork gyros once again. The eggplant saganaki was nice, but I think my disappointment at not being able to have my Moussaka once again was too overwhelming to really enjoy my food!

Our last few hours spent in Santorini were spent walking around Fira once again, looking for souvenirs, taking more photos, and sulking at times because we had to leave!

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We also had dessert!

544898_10153229123405220_508313036_nBaklava ice cream

The ice cream was delish! Syrup-soaked phyllo in vanilla ice cream.

1185820_10153229123205220_2045333043_nAnd of course, the last of the best froyos we’ve ever had.

1209334_10153228835180220_1139061330_nThis was the best one we had in Santorini. How I long to have you once again!

We headed back to Anessis to pack up and finish up the wines we’d bought.

1187301_10151610744766161_1595578203_nDimitris, owner of Anessis Appartments

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This marked the end of our favourite leg of our travels. Santorini, you are beautiful, your people – the most hospitable and kind. We will be back :)

Stay tuned for our next stop – Athens.

Love, Maddie

Santorini, Greece (Part 1)

It’s official. Santorini is my favourite place on earth right now.

Our first stop in our amazing pre-exchange travels was this beautiful island in the Aegean sea. Famed for its stunning sunsets and whitewashed houses with blue domes that sit precariously along the cliffs, Santorini left us with memories we will hold dear forever. The people, the food, the scenery, the weather… What’s there not to love about Santorini?

Day 1: Souvlaros Cooking & Perissa Beach

We spent the night before our arrival at the Athens International Airport. Needless to say, we hardly caught any sleep. To make things worse, I didn’t get much on the flight from Singapore to Warsaw either. We arrived early in the morning, as the sun was rising.

We got lost in Fira after we got off the bus. It must have taken us about an hour before we finally relented and hopped onto a cab, which drove us just a minute to our apartment!

1009860_10153148371595220_1069084659_nThe boyfriend. Always helping with my luggage.

581795_10153148374990220_1836228099_nOur first and only sunrise in Santorini.

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1185084_10153148380085220_1728909993_nOur accommodation – Anessis Appartments

I would definitely recommend Anessis Appartments to anyone visiting Santorini. It is just a short walk away from the town of Fira, where all the cafes, restaurants, bars and night clubs are situated. A really quiet location just a street or two off the main street with an amazing view. The apartment was big and clean, and the owner, Dimitris, was hospitable and very kind. We all liked him very much. Even with the language barrier, he made attempts to converse with us.

After getting changed, we looked for a place to have our first Greek meal. We happened to chance upon a restaurant called Souvlaros Cooking (it was the first one we saw, and we were hungry), and decided to give it a shot.

1005229_10153148383280220_1330924927_nSouvlaros Cooking

734366_10153148385505220_753700088_nUs, before becoming extremely tanned from the Greek sun.

1175388_10153148386110220_1866708573_nGreek salad – tomatoes, cucumber, onion, bell pepper and a huge ass slab of feta cheese

1175491_10153148387100220_1023398579_nPork gyros, served with pita, chips and tzatziki - €8

1187176_10153148389240220_1938924699_nMoussaka - €7.50

One of the best meals ever. This was my best meal in Santorini. The Moussaka was amaze-balls! And I’m a huge fan of feta, so imagine the delight when we got served the Greek salad. The guys love pork gyros to death. I think we must have had gyros every day we were in Greece! I give Souvlaros Cooking two thumbs up!

After devouring our meal, we took the bus to Perissa Beach. Perissa Beach is famous for its black sand. We rented an umbrella and chilled for hours. We had free Wifi and a free drink too. The deep blue waters and blue sky were amazing. I’d never seen them so blue in my life.

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1170691_10153148400205220_165415286_nHot black sand

IMG_3357Back when I still had my abs :(

We ended off the day at Perissa as well. Another amazing Greek feast by the beach, at a place called Taberna Porto Castello. Apparently, they are the only restaurant in Perissa which is opened 24 hours.

946362_10153148737600220_1012789247_nShrimps Saganaki - €14.90

The boys loved the Shrimps Saganaki! I thought it was good, but not fantastic as the shrimps just smelled too strong for me. Shrimps Saganaki is a Greek dish cooked in a tomato sauce with feta cheese. This one came with capers (which I love love love) and a small serving of chips. The shrimps were fresh and well-cooked.

1175287_10153148741155220_2118667809_nBeef Yuvetsi - €9.90

I preferred the Beef Yuvetsi, which is basically a tomato-based beef stew with orzo and topped with cheese. This was so delicious! The beef was stewed till perfection. So tender and flavourful. I know it looks like rice, but it is orzo pasta in the dish.

1176334_10153148737570220_2034905330_nSpinach Pies - €4.50

Lastly, we had the spinach pies. I was expecting something else. Something like a Spanakopita, but we got this instead. It was spinach deep fried in puff pastry. Still, it was really good. The pastry wasn’t too oily and was deep fried till golden. Unfortunately, it costs €4.50, which is way too much for four small pies!

Day 2: Calderas Tour, Thirassia and Sunset at Santo Wines

On the second day, we visited the calderas. The tour took us to the volcanic island of Nea Kameni by boat. We decided to take the approximately six hundred steps down from Fira to the Old Port instead of paying for the cable car. It took us quite some time, and a hell lot of effort trying to avoid the donkey poo. Ultimately, we gave up as the stairs were caked with faeces and there was no avoiding it. Tip – Wear shoes. I wore flip flops. Oh boy, was that a mistake! Our journey down from Fira to the port took us about fifteen to twenty minutes by foot, whereas the cable car takes you down in less than two.

541778_10153176428735220_2046381087_nSantorini’s donkeys

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IMG_3609Nea Kameni. Last eruption in 1950.

Tip: Wear shoes. The hike up takes about twenty minutes and the path is just gravel and sand. We saw many people slip. Thankfully, I didn’t!

The next stop was to a hot spring just a short ride from Nea Kameni. I couldn’t go because we had to swim in really deep waters to get to the hot spring. So I waited in the boat while Dj and Joel enjoyed themselves. A word of caution though. The minerals in the mud in hot springs stain your clothes!

From the hot springs, we got off at Thirassia, a small island which was separated from the main island of Santorini during a huge volcanic eruption a long, long time ago.

We were famished, so we decided to have lunch first along the coast. Have I mentioned how amazing Greek food is? I think it is my favourite cuisine at the moment too!

IMG_3633Greek meatballs (keftedes)

These were some delicious meatballs. Very tender, very juicy. Served with the usual fries.

IMG_3635Lobster & prawn kebobs

The kebobs were exceptional! The seafood – one of the freshest I’ve had. The lobster was melt-in-your-mouth.

IMG_3636Calamari rings

Because Dj loves his calamari rings! Really fresh and delicious with a little drizzle of lemon juice.

After our hearty meal, we climbed a few more hundred steps up to the top and caught the amazing view. Simply breathtaking.

ImageView from top of Thirassia

Our last stop was Oia. Sadly, we didn’t catch the announcement to get off if we wanted to. There were many people who remained on the boat, so we stayed as well. We should’ve left and caught one of those spectacular sunsets at Oia on the second day. The boat left the port and we headed back to the Old Port at Fira.

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Rather than sulk about the mishap, we decided to make our way to another viewpoint to catch the sunset. Fortunately, the sun sets pretty late in Santorini. We caught a bus, followed by a short walk, to Santo Wines to catch our first Santorini sunset, as well as for some wine tasting.

Santorini has its own vineyards, so I’d say the wines are a must-try. The wine is also really cheap.

1176217_10153228838880220_1672000147_nViewpoint at Santo Wines

1187120_10153228839535220_419129787_nWine tasting. 12 different wines, accompanied by cheese, olive and herbed croutons.

IMG_3763Our virgin Santorini sunset. Spectacular.

I will be back with the remaining of our stay in Santorini. Till next time :)

Love, Maddie