2020 A Year in Review

One heck of a year for sure, here I don’t think there is a single soul that can argue with that phrase, yet I feel like it is also a misunderstood year, it did change our lives completely, there were a lot of people who suffered or even died from COVID-19, but it was also a wake-up call that should make us think and act differently.

For me 2020 started off well, I had my year planned and the lists were ready to be checked, up until March it went as I anticipated, yet after I my returned from Tanzania, the world was a different place. We were on lock-down, many people were sent to work from home, or were unable to work at all. The events and things we took for granted were now banned. I remember the first time I was able to grab a cup of coffee at the end of April, pure happiness. Something that was a routine for me, was now an event. So was the first time I was able to eat on a terrace and enjoy a drink outside, hearing a song played in the city center, seeing my friends and family. In 2020 I got reminded of how fragile we really are and how fast our world can be turned upside down.

In October I went to Croatia, with new restrictions and rules that had to be obeyed we manage to see one of the places that I had on my list and kept on postponing, just because if was “close by” and I didn’t see it as a priority. It was beyond amazing, we enjoyed the ride and the company of our dog. Different doesn’t always mean worst.

By November I had heard of people close to me getting the disease and a coupled of weeks later I got the news of acquaintances who passed away. The vaccine was so close to be released, yet not all of us will be able to benefit from it. Rumours about the “danger” of the vaccine were started to be spread and not long after there was a huge amount of misinformation circulating around. It’s still happening, yet I have hope that we will let the anger aside and educate the ones that are against it, fear is one of humans worst enemies, aggression and blaming is not the way to “treat” it.

We can look at 2020 as a horrible year, or we can look at it from a perspective of growth, we can see it as the enemy that took all of life’s pleasure away, or we can see it as the time we had to reflect on what is really important, on the time we got to spend with our pets or kids. But most importantly, the time we spend with ourselves. The only person to whom we are accountable is ourselves and we cannot hide from us.

This year, I’ve learned that perfectly lay-down plans are not always feasible, that is OK to fail, it is OK not to be perfect, it is normal to feel lonely and anxious about what is going to happen next. It is OK to take days off and just stay at home, it’s OK to love to stay indoors and it is OK to miss the old way of life. 2020 was the year when I achieved less that in the past years, and that is OK, I am happy with what I was able to do. I’ve learned that not everything is a competition and that I don’t have to sweat blood to win, as long as I feel comfortable with my decision and my performance.

As for the New Year’s resolution, I will have one, I have ever since 2012 so I will keep the tradition, I will make my list and I will chose my battles. Once again, I will place my bets on me, and I do plan on picking everything up and continuing. Blogging, writing, teaching, presenting, working, painting … living. If there is something that 2020 should have taught us, that is to be present and enjoy the little things, do better, be better and keep on going. We are the generation that survived the COVID-19, we are strong and we can do it. See you all in 2021.

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Traveling: Unlocking Croatia

Ever since I moved to the Transylvania area, I wanted to do a road trip to Croatia, yet each year another traveling destination popped and I kept on postponing this one. So in the crazy year of 2020, when more and more countries were banning traveling for foreign people, we found out that Croatia had no restrictions for Romanians, therefore we embarked on our trip, and for a full week, we drove up and down the roads of the beautiful Adriatic shore.

Our travel itinerary contained a few of the most popular destinations that we so badly wanted to see and it took us to over 3200 km in 8 days, including the trip from home. But if you are flighting in, then you will not have to spend that much time in the car. Another big thing to mention here, we decided to take our dog, Fox, with us, since Croatia is such a pet-friendly place, you might want to consider that too.

First stop: Plitvice National Park

This was our first stop and we planned a full day to wander around the park. We arrived in the afternoon and after 11hours of driving the only thing that we were able to do is sleep. Also, given the bad weather, we also were happy that we brought some basic snacks from home. The whole area is filled with hotels and Airbnb’s, but I would advise you to book in advance since, in normal times, this is a very popular destination.

The tickets for the park, we bought in advance, it is then when you specify the entry (there are 2 entries in the park) and the hour. Given the fact that the weather forecast was showing rain in the afternoon, we asked to be let in earlier than the 10 am admission. Since we were off-season and the park was empty, we were allowed to enter at 8 am. There are multiple trails that you can make, we took the C trail, which is for 6 hours. We manage to finish it in around 4.5 hours with a decent amount of stops.

The whole Covid-19 and the fact that we went at the end of September, allowed us to enjoy this area alone. We did encounter other people, but less than 4 groups. We had the park to ourselves and we were able to take some great pictures.

The flipside of that coin is that most of the touristic boutiques and restaurants were closed.

Second stop: Split

After the Plitvice park, we went to Split, the first city on the seashore. Unfortunately, the storm started right after we got there, so we were once again trapped inside for the evening. Not a bad thing, since I was able to get a good amount of sleep and enjoy a hot shower after the low temperatures that we got at the park.

The next day, we parked our car close to the city center and we walked the old town roads that date back to the Diocletian era. The ruins of the castle can be seen all around the city. We were able to walk around the old city, climb on the hill that oversees the city bay, and enjoy the amazing view of the port. At first, I wanted to spend more days here, but in the end, we were happy that we decided to spend more time in other areas.

Third stop: Dubrovnik

The fairytale city is more beautiful than words can describe. It’s no wonder Game of Thrones producers thought this is a great place for filming. The old town looks like a trip to the past. Not to mention the color of the sea, it’s beyond amazing. Just FYI none of the pictures have filters on them and even more, most of them were taken with the DSLR, so there is no beautify or any other filter that a phone might add.

We had 2 full days dedicated to the city, we walked on the city walls, visited the citadel, walked in the old city, and enjoyed the sunset with the castle. Also, on the first morning, we took Fox to the beach for the first time. All in all, we walked 25 km in a single day.

On the second day, we were surprised to be told that we can take the dog on a boat trip to visit the 3 islands. I cannot say that I was impressed with the islands, but the fact that we were able to swim and enjoy one last summer day, it was a blast. Even got a little bit of sunburn on the boat.

On the last day, before we left for our next stop, we went to the viewpoint that oversees the city. The road is a narrow one-way street, but the view is so worth it. Due to the fact that there were so few tourists we had space to enjoy the view and take some awesome pictures. 

Forth stop: Omis

Omis was our forth stop and I would like to mention that if you are traveling north from Dubrovnik you should avoid the highway and try the road that is near the coast. The cities that are right near the seashore are so beautiful and peaceful looking.

We planned on grabbing lunch in Omis, we did manage to find a terrace open to get some coffee and then stopped for some burgers. But I do want to point out that most of the bars and places to eat were closed. Most of the touristic places looked disserted and I do think that the COVID-19 impacted greatly the Croatian businesses.

After a few pictures and a shortstop, we headed north to the island of Krk.

Fifth stop: Krk island

Perhaps this was the biggest disappointment from them all since the island was deserted. We visited a couple of famous beaches and the city of Krk, but everything was empty and most of the places closed. The weather was not great, but at least it was not raining, but even so, there wasn’t much for us to do. 

We decided to head home one day earlier since the weather forecast started to show heavy rain and with this last stop, we ended our trip.

All in all, Croatia is an amazing destination and I have to admit that it was very safe given the whole virus issue. All the indoor places requested a mask and people would keep their distance. It is unfortunate that all of these once animated locations are now empty and look like ghost towns. But I am grateful that I was able to visit it and that I am now back home, almost 2 weeks after, and with no symptoms of the disease.

If I were to do this again, I would probably prefer it in the summer, to be able to enjoy those amazing beaches and the blue water. Yet, I know that during the high season it can be very crowded and the lines are ridiculous. We are also very grateful that we were able to make this trip with our dog, I do hope that in the future we can repeat this experience.

Unlocking Tanzania: Zanzibar, The Island of Spices

There will always be places that will make you feel as if the best thing in life is traveling and that your scope has been fulfilled, that place for me is the Island of Zanzibar. Someone once said that it is something about Africa that makes people fall in love and never want to leave, he couldn’t have been more right.

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My trip to Africa should have been a birthday present to myself and should have been in late March so that I could celebrate turning 30th in the southern part of the continent, but due to the wet season I ended up taking the trip at the end of February, probably one of the best decisions I ever made, since in March the Covid-19 pandemic took over the world and blocked everyone from traveling. With not the biggest budget and a lot of dreams, we packed our suitcases and headed to the airport, and after a day spent in Bruxelles we found ourselves in a small and modest airport, in 30+ degrees Celsius and a high humidity level from Zanzibar.

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Our trip started with a safari on the continent, that I described here. It was only after that amazing experience that we returned for a different one, 10 days on the sunny island. Our accommodation was at a Villa near the beach in the south part of the island. Some might say that the north is the best place to stay in, for us the proximity to Paje made it a perfect fit. We even walked to Paje when it was low tide, a 20  minutes walk on a virgin beach was one of the most peaceful experiences. Looking at the locals harvesting the algae and the kids going to school each morning made us connect to the beauty of the simple life.

Our host in the villa was a Romanian guy who moved to Tanzania to do tourism, he has two places in Zanzibar and one keeps only for Romanian guests. Around 10 rooms, in the 2 villas with a pool and restaurant that are built in a traditional style. The African food and the relaxed vibe made us understand that our crazy and rushed life is far from the ideal one. Food made from natural ingredients, cooked in a heavenly way made us gain a few pounds in a few days, but not regrets there. Probably because I am such a foody, I can say that for me heaven is serving African sea-food.

In the 10 days we took 5 trips to learn and see more of the island, as follows:

  • Stone Town and Prison Island

A cultural tour started in the capital of the island. A tough history lessons that take us all back to a time when slavery was run here and show us the gruesome truth about the lives of the locals during that time. At the end of the tour a visit to the Prison Island, it was never actually used as a prison, but more as an isolation place for people with leprosy. Nowadays is a hotel and a place where the endangered tortoise are kept and bread.

  • Safari Blue

A trip to the south of the island, from where a boat takes you to the most beautiful beaches with turquoise water. Relaxation and swimming in the crystal clear water.

  • Snorkeling Mnemba and the north beaches: Nungwi si Kendwa

Mnemba is one of the best places in the world for snorkeling, there is also some dead reef due to heavy fishing, but the one near the island owned by Bill Gates (yes you read it right) is magnificent. If you combine that with a summer storm you will get an amazing experience of staying in the rain to cool down. I wasn’t that impressed by the beaches from the north, yet we only stayed there for a little while.F87374BF-EDE5-4762-A12B-8E3D04E34F2B

  • Jozani Forest, The Rock and the sunset in Michamvi

Did you know that Zanzibar is the only place you can find the Red Colobus monkeys? The small primates live in the forests of the island and can be found in this cultural trip.

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The Rock is probably the most famous place from here, since all the searches for images from Zanzibar will return it. The restaurant itself didn’t impress me, it was overpriced and I thought that the view would actually be better from the restaurant from across the beach, where you could see The Rock.

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The last part of the tour would be the sunset on the beach since I was there with my significant other, you can imagine that it was nice to see the bonfire and the beautiful sunset.

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  • Spice Tour

The last tour that we made was to a spice farm, we got to learn about the different kind of spices that grow on the island and how those look before they get to us. We also enjoyed seeing how the coconut is harvested and eat lunch on the farm. This is a half-day trip that you should take if you have an extra day to spare.

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During the 10 days that I have spent on the island, one was very special, that was the day we got to see the giant starfish from the reef. Locals guided us through the sea when there was low tide (make sure you ask for help since there are A LOT of sea urchins and even with special shoes they could still sting you and ruin your trip). Once you get to the reef try not to touch it, and if you want to touch the starfish, don’t keep them out of the water and don’t bring them to the shore. The beauty of these creatures needs to be enjoyed in their natural habitat.

Usually, I don’t want to return to places I have already seen since I want to discover more and more of the world, yet it is something about Zanzibar that keeps on calling me back to it. I am not sure if it’s the white sand, the amazing food, the locals, or the sea, but I am sure that I will someday return to this place that found a special place in my heart. From all the places I have been, I will recommend this one the most.

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Unlocking Tanzania: Safari on the Continent

2020 was definitely a crazy year, for those of you who perhaps read this in the future, the spring of 2020 was when Covid-19 disease locked us all in our houses and banned us from traveling. Luckily for me I got to spend the end of February in one of the most beautiful places from Earth and I was able to enjoy a new experience altogether, a safari in Africa.

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A while back I wrote my bucket-list experiences and one of the items from there was the African safari. One of the best places to do this is on the sets of National Geographic, the natural parks from Tanzania. Given the already planned trip to Zanzibar, we ended up extending our visit just to be able to check this huge milestone from my list.

Our trip started in Cluj-Napoca, we had one night stop in Belgium on our way to Zanzibar. Another one night stop in the capital of the island, Stone Town and from there on our way to the continental area of Tanzania. Our flight with a tiny plane of just 10 seats, was an adventure on its own. Apart from seeing the island from above, we got to see the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro on our way to Arusha. It was from there where the real safari adventure started.

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On a Toyota Land-cruiser, we boarded with the destination of Tarangire National Park, home to the largest animals of Africa. From elephants to giraffes, baboons, and gazelles, zebras and wildebeest, only to name a few, it was beyond anything that I have ever imagined. The wild beauty of animals and baobabs is way better than it can be pictured on TV. Hours and hours of driving through the dusty roads of the national park, we were lucky enough to see up close a male African elephant, one of the biggest animals on Earth. The end of the first day was at a camping side with small houses, it was here where we got to enjoy live African music and some amazing traditional food.

In the second day of our safari trip we headed to Serengeti National Park, one of the most famous from Africa. With a painful history the park came to be worldwide known when Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael in the 1950s decided to do a movie named “Serengeti shall never die”  that helped the British people create a reservation and prohibit hunting, but also, unfortunately, evicting the local tribes from it. Nowadays the park is well known do be the set of National Geographic Channel.

On a side note, the safari that is made in Tanzania is only in the national parks and there are no fences between you and the animals. Obviously, you are not allowed in any circumstances to get out the car, but the roof of the car is lifted so that you can enjoy a great view.

The fauna from Serengeti is not very different from the one in Tarangire, but what we did manage to see was a leopard, though it was far and hiding in a tree, the amazing feline is a beauty that cannot be easily spotted. We were lucky enough to see many lions, hippos and different species of herbivores.  We spent the night in a tent, and we had a hippopotamus eating grass in the camping area. Definitely a scary experience to have the tent moved by a 1tonne+ animal, yet the upcoming night when a heard of buffalo come near the camping area we were a lot more relaxed, knowing the they will not stumble upon our “accommodation”.

The third day was dedicated to one of the greatest natural landscapes, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Initially a volcano, the crater is now home to a thousands of animals and the migration from Serengeti to Ngorongoro is happening year round. Completely different from the dry landscape of the other parks, everything in the crater was green, especially since we went at the beginning of the wet season. The flat ground allows you to see up close so many animals that you start to lose track of how many they were. Even one of the most discreet and unfortunately almost extinct one, made an appearance, the rhino. From a far distance we were able to see it’s horn while the animal took a break and rested on the ground. In the crater at the moment there are around 25 rhinos, a very small number, that is slowly increasing. Hopefully they will be able to keep poachers away, so that in the future we will be able to enjoy the presence of this amazing animal.

In the forth day we had to say our goodbyes to the amazing people who lead us through the safari and head to the airport in Kilimanjaro, from where we took the “regular” plane and headed back to Zanzibar for another 10 days of sun and relaxation. More about Zanzibar will follow ;).

In terms of costs for the safari, we had our deal negotiated by the same person who organized our trip in Zanzibar and it was 1200$ per person, for the “modest” or tent accommodation including the plane tickets from and to Zanzibar. There is the option to upgrade to lounge, that are indeed beautiful and more comfortable, yet the price starts from 1700$, only for the accommodation and safari (this is what the other couple from the car payed). The car has 6 seats, and there will be a dedicated driver and cook that will join you. Private tours are also available, but I do not know the costs for those. We shared our car with the sweetest American couple and two other girls from Germany. We got along very well and had the best time.

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Given the fact that we traveled to an African country there were some vaccines that we took, the yellow fever one, that is also mandatory for Tanzania and it is made once in a lifetime. The second one was the malaria pills that we took from Belgium with a prescription from our Romanian doctor. Luckily there were no side effects to the pills and we were able to enjoy our trip to the fullest. Mosquito spray is also a must, although it will not make much difference, we had three different brands from three different countries and none of those seamed to do much difference.

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In retrospective, the safari trip is probably the best experience I had in my life and made me look forward to the next one. At the beginning we thought this will be a once in a lifetime experience but it left us longing for more, therefore we are planning in the future to repeat the experience in a different part of Africa, Namibia.

 

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 then 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. Your brain needs 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 can 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

Traveling: Unlocking Istanbul, The Fairest From Them All

It’s been a few years since I’ve last visited 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’ drive 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, indeed, 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 all, absorb the huge amount of history and beauty they have to 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 it, the water was dirty and in 2015 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 instead 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 a must 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 placed 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 then getting rid of it, will cause more pollution than using a regular gas 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, but 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, such as 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 travel, 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. Is there 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 busy 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 get a beer, for example, drink half of it, and go for another one because this one got warm. Excess drinking and waste were once again seen everywhere, the mentality is that “if I paid for it 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 didn’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, since 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 custom 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 never be my default option.

Traveling: Unlocking Athena, Greece

The last trip for 2019 had to be in the place I love most, Greece. This time it was to Athena and it was just a short city break to chase the summer. For what we did in the short time we got there, along with costs and tips read along. 😉

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Once again we took the WizzAir flight from Cluj-Napoca to Athena at a bargain price of 100euros for 2 persons round trip at the beginning of October. For the accommodation we used Booking and went for a decent hotel near the subway entrance, it wasn’t very far from Plaka (the beautiful and animated neighborhood), around 20-25 minutes, yet the area that we needed to cross was an ugly and filthy one, after doing this once we started using the metro. The price of the hotel that included breakfast was 150 euros.

We arrived at 8am and we decided we wanted to see Acropolis in the morning before the cruises arrive and it was a smart move. To get from the airport to the city center you can take the metro, it’s a special ticket that costs 10 euros. If you want to go to Acropolis you will have to change the lines, but it was pretty well connected and with a map, you can find your way around the city easily.

The ticket for Acropolis can be either brought from an automated machine using the credit/debit card or from the entrance where you have an option to use cash as well. Don’t know if you can buy them online, but I do know that even if you purchase anything online, you need to go to the office and exchange it with a physical ticket since the mobile or printed version is not accepted. I think we spend around 20 minutes in the line and we ended up taking only the ticket for Acropolis for 20 euro per person. The 30 euro one includes other attractions, but we decided not to go to those. In the end, it was a wise decision since most of them are visible from the outside, but again we only had a day to spend in the center.

Even in October, the temperatures can be high, so appropriate clothing is required, also the fact that the rock is very slippery should be on your mind when you pick your shoes. Pregnant women should be extra careful, while we were there many tourists slipped and fell down. As for an advise, make sure you get there in the morning, once the clock hit 12 it was so full that people stayed in line to climb, so plan it accordingly.

After visiting the most important item from our list, we spent the rest of the day walking around the Acropolis mountain, doing some shopping in Plaka, and enjoying some amazing food. Make sure you try the famous gyros, souvlaki and tzatziki, for me it is the best food in the entire world.

The second day was dedicated to seeing the Aegina island, we took the regular ferry (8 euros) from the docs and in 2 hours we were on the small island. Here we were a bit disappointed that the beach wasn’t as pretty as we would have hoped and to get to the “nice” side you had to rent a scooter or a car. We ended up renting some sunbeds and enjoying the last bath in the sea for 2019, but if I were to recommend something, it would be renting that scooter and driving to see the island, next time we know this is what we should do. Getting back to my favorite part, here we had some amazing octopus and pasta with shrimps, and for dessert waffles and icecream. Let me tell you that my mouth is watering as I describe this to you, leaving the poof below. :-p

 

On the third day, we stayed in the city and visited the remaining items from our list: Zeus Temple, the park from the city center, Parlament building, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and changing of the guard. We also climbed to Lycabettus Hill using the cable car and the view from above was amazing, we stayed for coffee and enjoyed the view over the city and Acropolis.

We also tried going to one of the beaches near Athena, but unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. We spend half of the day riding the bus and staying in the rain, so I cannot say that I recommend doing this if the weather is bad. If you are lucky and it’s sunny, I would say that it’s pretty nice there and the beaches look cared for.

All in all, the 4 days that we spend in Athena were amazing, as always I am in love with everything that is related to Greece and this wasn’t a disappointment either. The city is a bit dirty if you get out of the touristic area, but I would recommend it for a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t plan on returning here to visit the city, but then I do intend to return here to take the plane to one of the islands near it (Santorini, Mikonos, Paros, Naxos). The total cost of the trip for 2 persons 4 days, was around 800 euros.