Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Dear Diary.....Marsaxlokk (Malta)

Dear Diary,

Don’t you feel that the winter season this time round is longer and much colder? Well it does to me! Brrr.... This cold winter is really making me miss my summer travels, in particular, the trip to Malta!

Prior to my visit to Europe, I have never heard of Malta. It was only when my husband suggested to head there for a summer holiday that I took notice of this place. Malta is one of the largest islands in an archipelago (cluster of islands) in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African Coast. The country comprises of five islands, with only the three largest ones being inhabited. With its typically Mediterranean climate (mild winters and warm summer), awe-inspiring landscapes (such as the prehistoric temples and fortresses) as well as a distinct Maltese society created as a result of centuries of foreign rule by various powers, Malta is indeed a very unique place to visit!

Bearing in mind all the considerations for the mode of transport to Malta as well as considering its geographical position, we reckon flying into Malta would be the most straightforward method. With regards to transportation within the island, there is no railway or metro system in place and the inexpensive public transport system includes bus services on land and ferry services to and fro the different islands.

To pay for the public transport rides, there were two options that we could choose from - either paying in cash for each individual trip or purchasing one of the several versions of the tallinja card which could be used to tap in and out each time we board the public transport. We eventually settled for the ExplorePlus tallinja card which allowed us to have 7 days of unlimited travel on the public transports (including transport to and fro the airport), 2 trips on the Valletta ferry as well as a choice of either a full-day tour on the hop-on, hop-off buses in Malta or a boat trip to Comino island. (Note: The bus system in Malta can be quite confusing and it might be good to buy a map indicating the bus routes. Alternatively, you can download the “tallinja app” on your smart phone, which will give you the best bus routes to travel on when you type in the departure and arrival points.)

As for accommodation, we chose to stay in an Airbnb apartment in Valletta, the capital city of Malta. With most buses passing through Valletta, it is definitely a convenient point to access the various tourist sites situated all over the island. 

After putting down our luggage, we decided to head to Marsaxlokk, a colourful fishing village in Malta.


We have heard that Malta is a popular place for holiday-makers to visit during the summer and had expected to see tons of them in Marsaxlokk. However, surprisingly, it was rather peaceful and quiet there, with only a few locals sitting around and enjoying the beautiful sunset. It was a small village but my husband and I really enjoyed walking along the harbour bay and taking in the picturesque view of the colourful boats with the backdrop of a gorgeous sunset! Such is life indeed! It was also here that we had the best seafood ever! It was indeed a wise choice to head to a fishing village for a nice seafood meal!

The delicious clam spaghetti

Seafood platter :)

After dinner, as the sun has set and the streets were poorly lit, it was literally impossible to explore the place further and we decided to take the 40 minutes bus ride back to Valletta. We had wanted to have an early night rest when we were back at our accommodation but the hot summer sun had warmed up the house quite a bit and we felt like we were being baked in a hot oven. It certainly did not help having four fans in the house as they were all blowing hot air at us. It was a nightmare! Reminder to self: always choose our travel accommodation carefully!

Parish Church of Our Lady of Pompei, Marsaxlokk

However, despite not getting enough rest for this trip, the beautiful scenery that Malta had to offer on this first day of our trip was enough to let us look forward to the rest of the trip....

Yours Truly,

Related Post:
What are your considerations when it comes to choosing accommodations for your travels?

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Should I travel by plane, train, bus or.....?

Following on from my previous post on the considerations involved in choosing the right travel accommodation, the next big ticket item for a trip would be the mode of transport to bring one to the travel destination. There are many options such as self-drive, taking the train, boarding an airplane, sailing on a cruise, taking a bus and even cycling or walking (if one is adventurous enough). With so many options to choose from, how do we decide which is the best mode for us?

For my husband and I, we usually rely on three main modes of transport - airplane, train and bus. Although self-drive is a popular choice of transportation, the lack of confidence in our driving skills as well as the lack of familiarity of the roads in a foreign land resulted in us not utilizing this mode. Based on our experiences, we would like to share with you the various thought processes that we go through to pick the mode of transport that is best suited for each trip.

As with all other aspects of a trip, cost is usually the first consideration that we look at. When it comes to cost, there are different prices tagged to the different modes of transport. With the exception of travel promotions, the cost of travelling on an international flight is usually the highest, followed by the cost of travelling on a budget flight or travelling by train. Travelling by bus is usually the least expensive option out of these three choices. In most cases, the cost is usually inversely proportional to the duration of the commute.

Some questions that we usually ask ourselves when deciding on the budget for our mode of transport to our destinations would include:
· How much can we afford to spend on transport to our destination? (after taking into consideration the rough estimates of accommodation cost and daily living expenses)
· What are some of the hidden cost of the transportation that has to be factored in?

Similar to accommodation cost, we tend to be also prudent with regards to the cost involved for our mode of transport. This is crucial so that we do not burst our budget and end up having to scrimp and save on food and visits to the touristic sites at our destination. To ensure that this cost stays within budget, we also have to look into some other hidden costs as well. For example, some budget airlines would impose hefty charges on checked luggage and it might be useful to consider the possibilities of travelling light in such cases. Bringing on board our own snacks and drinks would also help to minimize additional charges on some flights/trains for meals on board. In addition, sometimes, the airport or bus/train station is located far way from the city center and transportation to and fro would be necessary. Hence, in cases like this, such additional transportation cost would also need to be factored into the transport budget.

As with travel accommodations, transportation should be comfortable enough to mark a good start to a trip! Imagine having to be stuck for what seems like an eternity on a bumpy ride in a cramped environment with super uncomfortable seats - I would surely need some time to recover from the journey before being able to start my trip proper!

When assessing the need for comfort for our transportation between countries, we usually ask ourselves the following questions:
· Will any discomfort on the journey be too long for us to bear?
· For overnight transports: Will we be able to get a good night rest on this mode of transport?
· Is there a great price difference between the different classes of transport?

Generally, the need for comfort during our commute from countries to countries depends on how long the journey is. A slight discomfort on a short journey is definitely something my husband and I can tolerate. However, for overnight transports, where it is crucial for us to get a good rest in order to be ready to explore places the next day, we would not hesitate to pay a bit more for a more comfortable ride!

Occasionally, my husband and I might also opt for a higher class of transport if there is no huge differences between the different classes of transport! Of course, this random indulgence have to stay within the transport budget that we have decided upon prior to the trip! If it is within the budget, why not? ;P

Convenience of a particular mode of transport, is another crucial yet often neglected factor to consider. All modes of transport will eventually bring us to the country of our destination but we must also consider the proximity in which it will bring us to the actual sites that we will be visiting during the trip!

Some of the questions pertaining to convenience that we will ask ourselves include:
· What are the transportation options to get to our destination?
· Upon arrival, how far are we away from the city centre?
· Is there a need for additional travelling to get into the city centre? If so, is it easy and straightforward to do so?
· Do we have to be at the station/airport a few hours in advance for security and border clearance?
· Are there amenities (toilet, snack bars etc) available?

It is important to determine what transportation options are available to bring us to our destinations. We can only make comparisons when there are two or more options available! My husband and I generally prefer travelling by train or bus than by plane. However, travelling by bus or train is not without its cons. For example, when we travel by bus, we would have to do additional preparatory work to identify the bus-stop to alight at. During the bus journey, we would also have to be on the constant lookout for the particular bus-stop lest we missed it and end up having to walk quite a distance to our destination. For trains, although the stations are located nearer to the city centre, most of them tend to be at the fringe of the city and hence there might still be the need to navigate a short distance to the city centre.

Despite all these, we still feel that travelling by train or bus is more convenient than travelling by plane due to two main reasons: (1) the bus/train stations are usually located nearer to the city center as compared to the airports - hence requiring lesser time to travel to the city center; (2) there is definitely a need to be at the airport a few hours in advance for security and border clearance whereas for most bus/train stations, there is only the need to be there 15-30 minutes prior to departure - lesser time spent at the transportation stations means more time to spend exploring places!

For us, we would also think about the availability of certain amenities when considering convenience of a mode of transport. Amenities such as toilets or snack bars are readily available on trains and planes. However, not all the travel buses have such amenities. For these buses, such amenities are only available when the bus stops at certain kiosks along the way for commuters to have their toilet breaks or to purchase some snacks. To me, I usually have a stronger preferences for the modes of transport that has such amenities easily available so that instead of waiting till the arrival at the next kiosk, I can use the toilet as and when there is a need to and I can easily purchase food to satisfy my hunger at any point during the commute.

Having said that, convenience, is by itself a rather subjective factor and ultimately, it all depends on what one feels is essential for a smooth commute to the destination! :)

Apart from the above mentioned three Cs, there is another consideration that we would give equal emphasis to when it comes to transportation, and that is Time. With that, I refer to the duration of commute to our destinations. Time is certainly an important consideration and we want to fully utilise it for our trip!

Some of the questions that we usually ask ourselves pertaining to transportation duration includes:
· How much time do we have for the trip?
· Will we face any problems if we arrive at our destination too early?
· Are there any additional benefits in opting for the longer duration transportation mode?

It is always important to assess how much time we have allocated for a trip. For example, when we only have a limited amount of time to spend on a trip, we would usually search for the mode of transport that would bring us to our destination in the shortest amount of time. This is crucial so that we can spend more time exploring places rather than spending it on transportation. However, on the other hand, when we are not as pressed for time, the modes of transport with a longer travel duration such as cruise or sleeper trains can be better options as we can enjoy the slow pace of the journey and enjoy the beautiful views along the way. Such overnight commutes are also good ways to save on accommodation!

Although arriving earlier at our destination means that we have more time to explore the place, it could also pose some problems that might dampen our moods. In a few of our travels, we arrived way too early at our destination and realised that most of the shops and restaurants remained closed and as it was still too early to check into our hotel, we were left wandering aimlessly on the quiet streets. Hence, when selecting the mode of transport, it would be beneficial to do some research to have a rough understanding of the opening hours of shops and restaurants and whether they are open on Sundays and public holidays (most of them remain closed during this period in Europe).

So, to sum up with regards to all the considerations that I have mentioned, I have come up with a table comparing the three main modes of transport that my husband and I usually use for our travels:

Comfort level
Long commute duration
Low cost
High (for short journey); Low (for long journey)
Average - Good (No need to be at station hours prior to departure, usually located within city center, amenities not readily available (tho some buses may have built in toilets))
Can be short or long, depending on destination
Can be low or high, depending on destination
Good (amenities readily available, no need to be at stations hours before departure, usually located near the city center)
Short commute duration
High cost
Average - High
Poor - Average (Amenities readily available, need to be at airport hours prior to departure for clearance, usually located far from city center and hence additional travelling cost to travel to and fro the airport)

How about you? What is your favorite mode of transport and what are your main considerations when it comes to such selections? Do feel free to share with us in the comment section below! :)

Related Post:

What are your considerations when it comes to choosing accommodations for your travels?

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

#random_thoughts........Lisbon + Sintra


  • The food in Lisbon is nice but generally quite salty....
  • Totally loving the street arts in Lisbon, especially those by Bordalo II (creator of the “Big Trash Animals”) - it was like a treasure hunt searching for his art pieces around Lisbon city!
Street art in Lisbon

One of the many art pieces by Bordalo II that we saw in Lisbon

  • Lisbon is a good place to escape the cold winter, although we did ended up getting a bit of sunburn ;P
  • The Pastéis de Belém (portuguese egg tarts) are to die-for! Yums!!

  • There is just something about the color, design and structure of the quaint yellow trams travelling within the city that adds to the charm of Lisbon!

  • A day trip to Sintra is a must, though you will probably need more than a day to explore all the wonderful places there...
Sintra town centre

Castle of the Moors as seen from afar...

  • Walking around in the hilly Lisbon is do-able but can be challenging at times especially when there is a need to climb up a steep slope :S

  • You really have to be wary of pickpockets in crowded areas (we were attacked by a group of gypsies who tried to open my bag when walking around the Lisbon city center :( )

Related post:

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Dear Diary.....Lisbon + Sintra

Dear Diary,

Winter is finally here and the cold is starting to get to us with each passing day. It was at this point that my husband and I decided to venture to somewhere warmer for a short holiday. Googling “warmest place in Europe during the winter” led us to Lisbon. It was perfect! We have heard so many wonderful stories about Lisbon from our friends and now is the best chance to head there! When we touched down in Lisbon, we heaved a sigh of relief as we were greeted with a cheery and sunny weather - we could finally take a break from the gloomy winter weathers!

Lisbon, to us, is a city with lots of photographic hot spots! The balanced mix of traditional facade with modernised architecture had without fail made the landscape of Lisbon much more mesmerising! Many of its iconic structures have also been shown to withstand the trial of time and still looked as fascinating as ever.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos

The main highlight for this travel is a day trip to Sintra, a beautiful town which is just a 40 minutes train ride from Lisbon. Interestingly, Sintra was never part of this trip’s itinerary as my husband and I had just wanted to spend a quiet and relaxing weekends exploring Lisbon. However, just a day prior to our departure, we came across several websites that strongly recommended a trip to Sintra. We were so glad that we decided to heed their advice despite the tight schedule as Sintra offered a glimpse of another facade of the Portuguese charm!

The trip to Sintra was relatively simple and straightforward. We started off the day by taking the morning train from Rossio station to Sintra station (the final stop). Once we arrived at Sintra, we joined the queue for bus 434 which offers a one-directional loop starting from the train station through to the town (where the National Palace and Quinta da Regaleir are located) and then to the hills (where the Pena Palace and Moors Castle are located) before arriving back at the train station. We got the single loop ticket and were allowed to hop on and hop off the bus three times during the day. This bus route through the hilly Sintra has definitely made it easier for us to visit the sites more efficiently!

Pena Palace as seen from the ticketing counter down the hill...

Entrance to Pena Palace

Due to time constraints, we had to be selective about which sites to explore. We decided to invest more time at Palacio da Pena (or Pena Palace) and Quinta da Regaleira. After buying our admission tickets at the entrance, we had to climb up a short slope to reach Pena Palace. Even before entering the palace, we could tell that it was quite different from the other palaces that we had visited before. The colourful and striking mix of bright yellow and red, decorative fortification walls and elegant design made it seemed like it belonged in the fairytale world! There were many instagram-worthy spots in all corners of the palace and it was certainly a joy to just forget about everything and immerse in the beauty of the palace!

The decorated windows in Pena Palace

After exploring Pena Palace, we took bus 434 to the town followed by a short walk to Quinta da Regaleira. It is an UNESCO site that encompasses the Regaleira Palace, the Regaleira Chapel and a park with an extensive system of tunnels, wells, lakes and fountains within its boundaries. One can certainly spend the entire day here just wandering about the different areas of this site! I was particularly drawn to the initiation well (or inverted towers) and cannot help but marvel at the design of it. The view, be it from the top of the well to the bottom or vice versa, was certainly spectacular and one can only be in awe by the amount of details and thoughts placed into the design of the well as one walks through the spiral stairway of the well!

The initiation well as seen from the bottom of the well..
Regaleira Palace

It was a weekend well spent in Lisbon and Sintra and we were glad to be able to be able to experience the warmth (in terms of the weather, the cheery monuments, food as well as hospitality of the locals) in the midst of this gloomy and cold winter period. We will certainly be back to explore more of the Portuguese landscape in the future!

Yours truly,