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.

 

 

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

With the end of the year just around the corner, it’s that moment when we are all heading home to enjoy Christmas time with our families. Also, it’s the best time to count our blessings and say thanks to 2019 and all that it had to give us. From severe colds to new adventures, for me, it was an amazing year and I can only hope the upcoming one is just as good.

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Every year, I go to my home town for Christmas and even with my crazy family, it’s still the holiday season when everyone is trying their best. Cannot say that is one of those picture-perfect moments, I think it is the exact opposite, yet it’s good to see everyone and enjoy a glass of homemade wine. Getting to see my high-school friends is a bonus, especially after so many days with the family.

For me, 2019 was indeed a great year, with many trips abroad, a promotion at work and with my family getting bigger with the addition of Fox, the german-shepherd. This was also the last year before I turn 30, and as scary as it sounds, I am happy with where I stand today, as an adult and as a woman. Hope it keeps getting better and better.

2019 was also the year that I started volunteering, and I have to admit, the feeling is amazing. Being part of a community that is set on doing good and on helping others, gave me a sense of belonging. It was after the days that I spend with this group, that I seriously thought of remaining in Romania for good, it’s still undecided, but I cannot say I am as anxious about leaving as I was last year.

Another great thing that happened this year, is the fact that I finally settled in my new apartment and the fact that my library keeps getting bigger, as is my list of books read in one year. Even if I know this is not my “forever” home, I am happy with how it all turned out.

For 2020, I hope it will bring everyone joy and happiness. A better world, where plastic is no longer used this much, where fast fashion losses the popularity and where people will be kind to each other. Happy new year!

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.

Book Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Ms. Gilber has really outdone herself with one of the best books I’ve read this year, feminist yet realistic, with a flare that few have, the story is one that will capture your heart up until the end. A book that needs to be read with an open mind and that will transport you back to a different New York. If there would be a book that I strongly recommend you to read this year, this is the City of Girls. Warning, the review might contain spoilers.

The narrator is Vivian, an old lady now that is telling her life story in a letter to a girl that asks what was the relationship that she had with her late dad. Unable to define it herself, Vivian gives the details of her life, for the conclusion to be taken by the readers. The story of the 19 years old girl, who is a college dropout, and sent by her parents to live in the New York of 1940 with her aunt Peg.

A virgin with no sexual experience, Vivian enters the world of the Lily Playhouse theater filled with burlesque dancers and showgirls, glamour, drama and low-cost tickets, the place is going to be her home in the next months. Since her talent included sewing, she volunteers to make the costumes for the actors in the plays.  She will stay in one of the apartments from the upper floors, one that belonged to Peg’s husband Billy, who she didn’t divorce although they were long separated and he lived in LA.

Celia, one of the showgirls, will be the one to guide Vivian through the process of sexual initiation, from staging, along with other dancers, where and with whom she will lose her virginity to nights of partying and meeting random men. Vivians life transforms, she becomes a dressmaker by day and party girl by night. It all changes when WWII starts in London and one of the best theater actresses joins the crew, also Billy the ex-husband makes an appearance in NY and they all decide to put in place a new show, City of Girls, that will take Lily in a new direction and the lives of everyone involved.

The moment when Vivian’s life will take a turn for the worst is when she is heartbroken and mislead into having an affair with Celia and the City of Girls’ main character’s husband. A mistake that will cause her to be expelled from the theater and sent back to her parent’s house.

The book has from the beginning a way of presenting the feminine sexual liberation as seen by the 20 years old girl and perhaps shows the way feminism was seen before and after the war. Even after falling in disgrace, she is still not taking full responsibility for her actions and doesn’t understand the harm she has caused up until the end when she is faced with the outcome.

I will not spoil the ending of the book, but I do want to say that it is not what you’ve expected. It will bring into light a different life path than you normally would have seen for that period and let’s face it, who doesn’t like to be taken back in time to a way different than now New York City. Perhaps I love this book even more, because of this place, but I do want to recommend you read it. I do hope they will make a movie out of it as well, so fingers crossed.