A Travelers Worst Nightmare

I think I speak in the name of quite a few travelers out there that we never thought that our passion will come to an abrupt end with the new pandemic that has taken over the world. Even though I know this might sound shallow, for many this was the fuel keeping us going and when this is taken away we feel lost.

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Even though I know I am not at the level where I would travel full time and I sustain myself from this lifestyle, I still feel like a huge part of my life was stripped and that now I might not be able to get it back just as fast as we initially thought. I monitored the situation ever since it began, especially with a trip to Africa planned at the end of February, but somehow I thought this will never become a world problem, but it will still be a China problem. As much as I would like to be politically correct, it’s the third time this happens for the same bloody reason, eating wildlife. I do not understand why there weren’t taken any actions after the last 2 viruses, but I will keep this speech for a different article.

Questions as: would we able to make it stop before we are all sick? Will we have a vaccine fast enough? Will we find a treatment that can save the lives of our loved ones? Those are all on our mind, along with: when will it be safe for me to travel again?

The past few years we experienced a boom in traveling with the plane tickets affordable to everyone, exotic destinations became a norm of social media and we all took advantage of the wanderlust trend. But will it all be the same after this? Will the economy of the world be strong enough for the tourism industry, one of the worst affected, to bounce back? Or will we be thrown in a new game where traveling will be a luxury that only a few will afford?

I still see some nomads that refused to be chased by the virus and keep their current plans in place. A part of me thinks that it’s good that they kept going, but the other one knows that in times like these where countries could start a war in 5 seconds when the medical system is down, it’s not a good idea to be far from home. Also, even the wild ones should listen to the authorities’ advice to stay indoors and isolated.

Following your passion should come second to responsibility, as much as you would want something, it’s important to understand that some reckless actions could cost lives, innocent lives. As much as it hurts me to make this call, we should all stop traveling, pause our pleasure and think big, the action of the individual will change the history for generations.

Perhaps this was the awaking that we all needed to understand how lucky we are but also how fragile. Our fate can change in a blink of an eye and there is nothing that we can do about it. I have a feeling that once this is over the planes will be full, everyone will try to follow as many as their dreams as possible. The need to return to a once normality will be on everyone’s list, but the aftermath will still to be seen. If there will be another economic crisis, if we will be able to bounce back to our routine or if our days as world travelers will come to an end.

These days are the worst nightmare for everyone, we are trapped inside with spring-blooming outside and an invisible enemy lurking in the shadow. I look at an empty sky that was once filled with airplanes. I look at the deserted airports that are now closing because of the restriction and I turn to my travel photography to keep me dreaming of the moment I can resume my passion.

Working from Home: Tips and Tricks

I have to admit that staying indoors it’s not a big problem for me, furthermore, I can now avoid commuting to work and I am finally up to date with laundry :-p. But I know for many people out there the change of scenery came with a lot of headaches, so I decided to share with the world a couple of tips on how to be more efficient and how you can make this period seem like a blessing in disguise.

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In 2012 I graduated college and the first job was on an online platform, for about 8 months I worked completely remote until I managed to find a “real” job. I will not lie and say that all those months were sunshine and smiles, but a big part of it was more than OK, it was what I needed. Fast forward 8 years, I am still constantly working from home since the domain allows it a couple of days a month. Clearly, if I would have to chose I would go to the office, but given the special circumstances, I know that those of us who can work from home, are privileged. So here is my advice for doing it right.

Set up your alarm clock at the same hour as if you would go to the office

Trust me, it will help you once you go back and also it will prevent you from oversleeping and starting the day in a rush. The morning routine should remain untouched.

Even more, with the extra time that you get because you no longer can commute, you can do some stretching or even a morning workout, read a few chapters and enjoy your morning cup of coffee in peace. Also, don’t forget about breakfast, you need to get food at regular hours as well.

Stay away from the TV

These are dark times and it seems like a good idea to open the TV and get the latest news but trust me it’s not. You do not want to start your day in panic mode, there will be plenty of time throughout the day to get your information. The morning should be for you and right now you are in the comfort of your own house, you are safe and the world can wait for a few minutes.

Have your desk prepared

This part might be easier said than done, because not everyone might afford to have a room designed for working, if you are among the lucky ones than you can proceed to the next tip, if you are among the others, well let’s make what you have work.

A big part of my life I stayed in a studio, so I had to improvise a working space. One of the key items is NOT to work from an uncomfortable position for your back ( trust me, back pain is real and is no fun at all). You will need a desk or a table and a good chair. You can use the kitchen table or any other space that allows you to have your laptop, mouse and a cup of coffee/water/tea. The ideal minimum length would be as long as your elbows if you would set them on the table.

Another important aspect is the background. This can also be fixed with tools that will blur the background if needed, but if possible set your space in a way in which you can enable your camera and your dignity to remain intact (now might be the best time to clean the room and don’t forget dildos or other personal items in view sight).

If you can choose, pick a place where you can get natural light, idly near a window. It is important for your eyes as I will state in a future tip 😉

Start work at the same hour and follow the checklist rule

Same as with the waking up hour, it is best to keep the old habits alive, your team needs to know they can count on you just the same. For me, it’s important to have a look over what happened the day before and go through the emails before my team gets online so that I can better facilitate what they need and even forecast some of those needs.

At the beginning of the day, I always look to see what I need to accomplish if there are meetings or important aspects that need my attention and I ALWAYS write them down. Once an item is done, I mark it and move on to the next. Having a backlog of items allows me to better manage my time and effort. Also, I try to do most of these in the morning, when I have more energy and I always make sure the items that require me to pay attention to details are done when my capacity to concentrate is at full.

Take a break and “leave” the office

It happened often for me to be so concentrated that I forgot to get up and stretch. Or a full day to go by without eating or drinking water. Make sure you set up a schedule for breaks. It can be every hour to get up and do 10 pushups or go get a glass of water etc. Whatever works for you, but it’s important to do this regularly. If you see that you cannot follow through, set the alarm on your phone to remind you.

Try to say away from distractions 

The opposite of being completely lost in your work is being unable to focus. For that, you will need to clear the environment and make sure you reduce the number of distractions. For example, don’t turn on the TV, if you want to see the news, use the internet and a reliable source for 10 minutes and then close the tab.

Facebook can also be a big distraction if you keep on scrolling to see what is new. The same goes for all social media platforms. You can take a break and have a peek, but only if you know you can limit yourself to that.

Even your pets can be a distraction and can make you lose your focus, so make sure you don’t let them interrupt you all the time. If they require your attention give it to them but don’t pet your cat for 8 hours.

Have a proper lunch break 

Try to avoid skipping lunch. Make sure you have the food ready or prepare it during your break. Never eat in front of the laptop and if you do, at least watch something positive. Take your time during this break and enjoy your food. It is important for your brain to take a break and let it focus on digesting your food.

Stay away from snacks 

Being indoor and on a resting setup, the body might ask for more food because it can think that you are preparing for intense effort. So make sure you don’t let yourself fooled into eating all the time. If you want a snack, make sure you have some seeds, nuts or fruits available and you say away from chips or chocolate. For me, this one is one of the biggest challenges and that is why you will normally don’t find any snacks in my home.

Take an eye break and get fresh air

The fact that you are looking at a monitor for a lot of time, your eyes also need a break. Therefore, give that to them by looking off the window to distant objects. If you don’t have a window near you, look away in the distance. Make this exercise as often as possible and from time to time, open the window to also get some oxygen.

Encourage people to turn the camera on

It is important to encourage human connections and using the web camera is one of the first steps. We need to know that we are still the same people and we are still working together. I have even used the opportunity to have a coffee break with my team where we would just discuss random stuff and enjoy our coffee.

I cannot stress this enough, the fact that we no longer work in the same place doesn’t have to mean we are not the same people. Keeping habits alive is extremely important.

Don’t forget to clock out 

Prepare for the next day by cleaning up the workspace, store your laptop away and make sure you can use the space as it was initially intended if you don’t have a dedicated desk. It’s important to have a clear border between work and personal life, so make sure you don’t respond to email all night.

Working from home can be easily seen as an opportunity, perhaps to show the company that the teams cam perform just as well wherever they are. To you, to prove that you can focus on your work and maybe switch to a digital nomad lifestyle, to your loved ones to protect them and clearly to the world to help stop spreading this awful disease that took our freedom away. #stayathome #staysafe

What the Virus Cannot Take From Us

I have to admit that I have never thought it will reach up to this point, that the Coronavirus will get to impact our lives this way and that even if I knew some of us will get sick, it will create this epidemic of fear and hate. Perhaps this will be the biggest challenge that our generation has to face, but even in these dark days, there is hope.

The news of officially declaring the COVID-19 a pandemic caught me on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, the trip that I wanted so badly and that was interrupted by the horrible news of the virus infection spreading like crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I knew about it and I kept an eye out for what was going on, even before leaving at the end of February. Unfortunately, it all went south from there.

It was just two days before my departure, that I got to see the fear that took over the world. My initial route was through Belgium, and because of the news and all the fuss made by the people around us we ended up buying new plane tickets to go through Dubai. In one day, the relaxation and the good vibes were all gone. Panic mode was set, we spent quite a little money on the new tickets and the stress level of not knowing what was going on reached new heights.

We arrived home almost 2 days earlier, but what we found here, was different from what the media was saying. Yes people were scared, yes we were advised to stay indoors, but the world went on with its normal course. Clearly, we regretted the decision to change the flights and the stress that we went through, but we agreed that it was the best decision given the pieces of information that we had.

Leaving aside the news, it’s important to understand that the virus is aggressive and it can be easily transmitted, yet it will only be a real threat to the elderly, people already suffering from a serious condition or for smokers. For the rest of the population, the virus might not even have any symptoms. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t look good, nor should be considered the ones that are vulnerable, unimportant, but we should also know the fact that our economy is now in great danger.

So, the one thing that the virus should and will never take from us is our ability to heal, understand and keep calm in this period when it looks like all is lost. Humanity has been through worst and we are still here, so there is no real reason to panic.

We should stay indoors, but with our morals up that we will get through this, with the hope that once this is all gone, we will appreciate way more the small things, like the sunrise and the walk in the park. Also, we should continue to help each other, here including the support of the local businesses that rely on us, to continue their work.

Although I am among the lucky ones who can work remotely and will be able to pay the credit card bills at the end of the month, I know it’s important to keep my daily habits alive and don’t stock on toilet paper (what the hell is up with that??). Therefore, it’s important to still trust your favorite restaurant to deliver the food you love, your mechanic to fix your car and your favorite coffee place to send you via UberEats your daily dose of caffeine. The same goes for the other daily habits that we used to have.

For a generation like ours, that never had to face anything truly scary as World Wars, plagues or hunger, the amount of anxiety generated by the possible loss of freedom or the possibility not to be able to get the basic necessities, made it easier for other to spread panic and fear. The media is now poisoning us with terror news, with the idea that it will be the end of the world or that we will not make it to summer. People everywhere are canceling the summer holidays and demanding money back, even if there is no certainty that we will not be able to travel in the months to come. And many other examples, that are only feeding us more fear.

I am optimistic about my trip to Croatia this June, I want to believe that we are now on the edge of having a vaccine or a treatment for the virus and that spring is around the corner and will make this intruder disappear from our lives. Also, I am sure that once this is over, we will all be way more appreciative of the things we have and took for granted. Some of us will be able to open new stores with the amount of supply that was hoarded during this month. :-p

With this being said, I wish you all good health and high moral, we will all get through this together, just don’t forget about the little ones that need our support in the time to come. Stay safe, but don’t go on lockdown, be vigilant, but not paranoia, keep your hopes up and only get your information from reliable sources that don’t take advantage of the situation to create panic.

 

Traveling: Unlocking Istanbul, The Fairest From Them All

It’s been a few years since I’ve last gone to Istanbul, yet I still consider it one of the most beautiful cities in the world, history, nature, and architecture, all combined in one of the most powerful ancient places, once named Constantinople, it will sweep you off your feet if you decide to pay it a visit.

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Since I first visited it in 2015 and I do not have the best memory I will try not to add prices, those will no longer be valid anyway. As a bonus, the pictures are with me with blond hair :D.

I always wanted to see the most famous city from Turkey and since it’s only a few hours’ drives from the capital of Romania, Bucharest, I decided to take the trip with one of my high school friends and her brother. We didn’t book anything in advance since the prices are much smaller if taken from there, it’s true that you will not get any receipt and you have to bargain for it, but in the end, the difference is pretty big and it’s in your favor. We stayed for 3 nights at a hotel in the city center and we mostly went on foot.

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Probably the most impressive thing is the mosques, Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, are beyond amazing, not to mention the surroundings. The line was a bit long, but fortunately, we didn’t have to wait in the sun for too long. Take into consideration this when you are planning your trip, we went in July, yet I feel that the weather now is much hotter in summer than it used to be.

We did go over the usual attractions as:  Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Galata Bridge and Tower, Dolmabahce Palace, Rumeli Fortress, Grand Bazaar. We crossed the Bosphorus bridge that links Europe and Asia and, probably the best experience:  the Bosphorus cruise at twilight. Even if I can say that some of them are better than others, if you go, you must see them, absorb the huge amount of history and beauty they offer. Perhaps it’s a personal opinion, but no other city has given me the vibe that Istanbul gave me.

We also tried going to one of the private beaches, yet I do not recommend those, the water was dirty and in 2016 there were just a few women in a bathing suit, perhaps this has changed in the last years, but to me, it was a disappointment. Another thing that was a bit on the bad side, is the huge amount of people trying to trick you into buying tickets, souvenirs or try to attract you to eat in their restaurants. They can be aggressive and I have to admit, this really bothers me, yet I know that for many even the bargaining can be fun.

The Grand Bazaar is beautiful to watch, don’t know if the prices are so good, rumors say that it’s the opposite, I wouldn’t know since I didn’t buy anything from there but from the shops that are lower on the street near the Galata Bridge. Turkish delight, the different baklavas, the fish sandwich that you can get at the docks, along with the famous kebab are all to try while here.

It is true, that if you would have asked me about the trip right after I returned home, I would have told you that is exhausting to keep on fighting back and try not to fall in the tourist traps that are set at all corners, yet the beauty of the city is worth the effort. To me, Istanbul should be on the bucket list of all travelers, since it is only here that you will get to see such architecture and find a history that dates back to the 11th century BC. To this day, for me, it’s the most beautiful city in the world. Not to mention, that is the only city that is on two continents.

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Traveling: Still a Good Idea in the Era of Massive Climate Changes?

2020 started in a very negative note with the fires from Australia, which I hope, made us all understand that there is no Planet B and that we need to make a change. Leaving aside the theories that the fires were started on purpose, the rising temperatures are a clear sign of climate change. With all of these being said, is it still a good idea to be a traveler in 2020?

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For many of us, the “traveler” life is a bohemian one, that brings us joy and many of us believe that we are not doing any harm. Yet it is also this life, that makes us travel thousands of miles in planes or cars, that are known to have one of the worst impacts on the environment. Therefore, the dilemma that many of us face, should we stop traveling, can we live a life where we can reduce the waste so that we can make up for what we do when traveling? And the best of the best, is there a way around this?

I like to think that when it comes to waste I am doing my best to reduce it, I have reusable bags and even when I forget to take those with me, I only buy biodegradable ones or reusable ones. I try not to buy more than I need when it comes to food, I try to avoid brands such as H&M or fast fashion brands that are known for underpaying employees and creating a lot us waste by overproducing. I like to buy vintage/pre-loved or second hand when possible. I volunteer and try to do good deeds for people in need. Never been a heavy meat eater and I try to replace it as much as possible. Also, I try to cook at home during the weekend and always eat at home in the morning and in the evening. I avoid driving to work and replace this with walking or taking the bus. Those are only a few and I try to constantly add more items to this list, but even with all of those, one trip to the US and all the effort is for nothing, everything that I mentioned doesn’t make up for half of the emissions caused by the plane, so how do we change that?

There are discussions about electric planes, yet those are still in testing. Not to mention that it can be the same as it is for the electric cars, creating the battery and they get rid of it, will cause more pollution than using a regular gas fulled car. We are back to square zero in that area as well. In a world filled with conspiracy, whom should we believe and how should we proceed?

Perhaps encouraged by a large number of travelers that our generation has, many companies are fighting to get more costumers and tickets are now extremely cheap. Everyone affords traveling, so there are more and more routs. Only to have a look over the flight view and you will be surprised to see just how many they are. If in the past years, this would have made me extremely happy, now that we can all afford something that only the rich were able to do, I am wondering if this is a good thing after all. I cannot help to make the comparison to everyone affording a car. In many countries because of the high number of cars, the traffic became impossible and to accommodate the huge number of people, laws that would make having a car very expensive forced people to chose an alternative, Eco-friendly solution, bikes. Today those cities have clear air and healthy people. Furthermore, they are very proud of their lifestyle and no longer want a car. Can we assume that it should be the same for travel?

Usually, before a big change, things get to a certain point where measures need to be taken immediately. Perhaps in the area of traveling, we haven’t reached that point yet, but it’s safe to assume that we will and very soon. Intercontinental flights for 350 euros can be a blessing and a curse, pretty much the same as eating a very tasty fast-food snack, we are pleased with the immediate response of the body, but suffer the consequences in the long term.

Whether we like to accept this or not, the future of the traveler is not looking good with all the climate changes that are happening around us. As with many areas from our lives, the decision to cut back and reduce the miles spent in the air, or by car, will have to be taken by most of us. There is still the matter of the trains, that might be an eco-friendly option, but this is only for shorter distances and many of the exotic places will become out of reach.

2020 is for me a year when I want to re-evaluate my lifestyle and to try to become as Eco-friendly as possible giving the circumstances. Unfortunately, my biggest passion is also the biggest problem when it comes to pollution, so I am forced to rethink that area as well and at least for the time being the decision to cut back when possible, seems to be the smartest. I am wondering if I am alone in this or are there others struggling with this and if there is such thing as eco-friendly travelers?

 

Traveling: Unlocking Las Vegas, The Sin City

2019 was indeed good to me and in December when I started to work on a new project, I got sent for two weeks to the “Sin City”. At first, I had very low expectations, since it didn’t sound as it was a place that fitted my style, yet in the end, I loved every second that I spent in the crazy Las Vegas.

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December might not be the best time to visit this area, yet beggars can’t be choosers, therefore I embarked on the plane and a lot of hours after, I landed in the sunny, surrounded by canyons city of Las Vegas. The first impression was that it has a lot more to it than the infamous Strip street.  The Red Canyon was the first thing I saw when I got to the hotel and I have to admit, the view was amazing, never have I thought that the dessert can be so beautiful.

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The Red Canyon area, has also, a lot of very good restaurants and pubs, the ones that I have tried (and loved) are Frank & Fina’s Cocina and The Bar. If you plan a trip there, make sure you are hungry since the portions are HUGE. Compared to Chicago, I can say that the food in Las Vegas is beyond amazing, pretty sure I have put on a few pounds while here.

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Getting to the “main star” of the city, The Strip and the famous casinos, I have to admit those are not my cup of tea. I have imagined more of a Casino Royale style, not flip-flops and shorts, also the image of people losing the track of hours spent on slot machines is not a pretty one. I do have to give it to the Venetian for the interior that resembles the real Venice and the sky that will trick you into thinking you are outside. The rest of them I would describe as kitsch. Since this is the city center, I saw that the food is mainly fast-food and expensive, aimed towards the tourists. Would recommend stepping away from the Strip if you want to eat.

Bellagio fountain and the Volcanos are nice shows to see, tacky yet cute in their own way. I guess for a once in a lifetime experience, you can check those out.

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A couple of other disappointments that I had were: The Pawn Shop, maybe I had high hopes since I watched their show for a while, but the store had little to nothing to see. Fremont Street is nothing but a highly artificially lighted place where people like to undress and “shock” the tourists, again, not my scene. Hard Rock Caffe, where you can listen to Nicky Minaj (wtf???) and drink an overpriced cocktail.

Clubbin in Caesar’s Palace Omnia wasn’t on my favorite list either, but here I knew from the beginning that the electronic music will not sweep me off my feet. All in all the experience is a nice one, with enough alcohol any type of music can be a good one.

Moving away from the not so great things, to the amazing ones, here are my top picks: Red Canyon, Grand Canyon ( technically not part of Las Vegas, but it’s only a few hours drive), Hoover Dam and, saved the best for last Cirque du Soleil – Mirage show. I will append a few of my favorite photos below, yet I cannot recommend those enough.

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In the two weeks that I spend in the city, I cannot say that I was bored, maybe it was because of the fact that I spend at least 8 hours at work, but even so, I would love to return to the infamous city that makes everyone lose their mind. As for a piece of advice if you plan a trip here, keep an open mind and if you are not planning to gamble, focus on the other attractions that the city has to offer.

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Traveling: All-Inclusive & Resorts

Last year it was the first time I have experienced the All-Inclusive plan in a resort in Egypt and I would like to give you all more information on how it felt and if it’s worth it. More about my trip to Egypt can be found here and here. 😉

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Visting the country that has the last ancient wonder of the world, was on my list ever since I saw the documentaries on National Geographic. Unfortunately, due to political and safety reasons, I went to a travel agency and I purchased a trip within one of the resorts from Hurghada, called Desert Rose (5*). The package included the charter from Cluj Napoca to Hurghada, 7 nights in the resort and the all-inclusive meal plan for 1200 euros for 2 persons.

Since I have never seen a resort other than in photos, I was amazed by the size and the facilities: 3 pools, one small aqua park, one restaurant opened all the time, 4 a-la-carte restaurants, 5 bars,  access to the sea, bay for snorkeling, yoga classes, aerobics, etc. Similar to a small town, you can easily stay within the walls of it for a few days.

Given the fact that I wanted to visit the surroundings, I didn’t get the chance to stay more than a few hours every day in the resort, but I have to admit for those of you who enjoy the laid back type of vacation, you might find it appealing. There are activities to keep you busing during the day and night, I saw that they have many parties and the cocktails are pretty decent, so you can easily dance the night away.

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The worst part of this type of vacation I would say is related to the excesses that people make, especially when it comes to food and drinks. I have never in my life seen so much food thrown away in a country where hunger is still an issue. People would fill their plates with lots of food only to eat a quarter from it and then leave it. I have to admit I also sometimes added more than what I could eat, only because I wanted to try them all, but that was nothing compared to the full plates that surrounded me.

Pretty much the same was for drinks, someone would by a beer, for example, dring half of it, and go for another one because it got warm. Excess drinking and waste were once again seen everywhere, the mentality is that “if I paid for this I want to take advantage as much as I can”, not taking into consideration the amount of waste that is created.

Another aspect that I don’t like is the fact that you are eating at buffets, and you cannot choose anything other than what is given, personally, I prefer to order from the menu something that I would like to eat and have only that. As for the a-la-carte restaurants, we only got the chance to make reservations to two of them, due to the fact that they were fully booked instantly. The seafood restaurant was a bit lame, all the good stuff was at extra charge and what was included didn’t taste as amazing as I would have hoped. The second one that we manage to find a reservation spot was at the Lebanese one called Fattoush. Here we were brought the food that was by default, so that was a bit odd, but it was tasty and I have to admit that I liked the presentation.

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There were 2 other a-la-carte restaurants but were fully booked so we had to continue eating at the buffet. Even if they gave their best to diversify the food, I cannot say that it was amazing or that I would have wanted to eat there for more than 7 days. So this part was not as great as it was advertised, yet it was decent. I stand by my choice of preferring to order from the menu, what I know I like and not waste that much food.

At the department of bars, I have to say that the resort was amazing, there were so many and the drinks were very good, I had so many different cocktails and I was impressed by the fact that they even had customed ones, that tasted very good. Some bars would even have pancakes, but we didn’t have the chance to try them since we were on trips all day and those closed after the sunset.

In my opinion, the worst thing is the fact that both the sea and the pool close at 6pm. Yes, you read it right, even if the pool was surrounded by lights and looked amazing in the night, you are not allowed to swim in it, adding to our frustration since most of the day trips take longer than 6pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any day to spend only in the resort so we ended up taking a swim on the run before the closing hours.

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Not the type of vacation that I am used to, the all-inclusive type wasn’t as amazing as it was described by many. If you are the adventurous type that likes to explore on his own and blend in with the locals, perhaps you should also stay away, yet considering the area and the conflicts that are present in Egypt, I do not recommend the DIY version. If I will do it again? I am not sure since there are areas where the safest way is to choose a resort, yet it will not be my default option.