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 interdictions for Romanians, so we embarked on our trip and for a full week and 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 that took us to over 3200 km in 8 days, including the trip from and to 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, so 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 and that was for almost all destinations that we saw.

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 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 indeed our next stop, but 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 all of these places.

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 places 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 to do it in the summer, to be able to enjoy those amazing beaches and 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 I can repeat it. 

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.

 

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, 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: 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: 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.

Traveling: Unlocking Hurghada, Egypt – Day Trips

If you haven’t yet read the article on Tips and Tricks regarding my trip to Egypt you can find if here. As a big part of seeing this country is going on trips to famous places, you will have to plan your days wisely. We only had 6 full days and the half-day when we got there, and 6 trips that we wanted to make. It was extremely exhausting but definitely worth it, here is how it all went down.

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As I mentioned in my previous article, we decided to go with local agencies, they sent us the prices and we paid for them as we went. I will add the price for each of the trips below, along with details on what to expect.

1. Sindbad submarine 55 $ per person, was also the single trip we booked with the hotel agency, only because it was not in the list of the other agency and it was the only place where they asked for more in dollars than euros. I do not recommend you buy it from them, seek local agencies, or even contact Sindbad themselves.

You will be picked up from your hotel and taken to a meeting point. There you will get on a boat, sail for 30-40 minutes until the place you will be taking the submarine. A number will be given to you, with the place you will get to sit, this way there is no chance of people being all over you. If the places are respected, clearly not, many will switch and kids will be all over the place. The submarine has two sides (duh!) so don’t panic if you don’t see the pretty area from the beginning, it will turn and you will also get to see it too.

A diver will be out of the submarine and will feed the colorful fishes, there is a complete set of statues that you will get to see on the bottom of the sea. Unfortunately, due to the intervention made in the ecosystem the coral and the reef are mostly dead, possible because the fishes are now fed and no longer clean the reef.

As an experience, it’s great, going under the water and being in a submarine wasn’t something that I ever thought I would be able to do. So if you have a couple of hours to spear I think you can book your spot.

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2. Cairo by bus – 54 euros per person 

The most anticipated trip from my entire life was getting to see the Great Pyramid of Giza, I imagined myself standing next to it and looking at one of the greatest creation made by menkind. It’s safe to say that between what I imagined and the reality was a bit of a difference.

We left at 1am from the hotel and the bus drive was a long one (around 7hours). We took to-go breakfast from the hotel and the ones organizing the trip gave us some snacks and water for the road. Our first stop was the Egyptian Museum from Cairo where we got to see only a part of the artifacts that were present, probably the most important ones are Tutankhamun’s mask and treasure. My biggest regret from the museum was the fact that we didn’t get to see the mummies, because our guide told us they were “not worth it” and the ticket was an extra 10$. Since we ran out of time, I wasn’t able to purchase the ticket and left with the disappointment of missing it. Also in the museum, I observed the guides lack of respect for the monuments, since she kept on touching the artifacts with her hands and hitting them with a plastic bottle. I told her that it really bothered me and she stopped doing it, but I observed the exact same behavior on the rest of the guides. In the next couple of years, I don’t think there will be much left of them if they don’t change their behavior.

After the museum, we went to the pyramids and we were offered some choices with how we want to see them: first was spending 1.5 hours around the Big Pyramid and then walk to the Sphinx, the second was going by camel to see the panoramic view of the 6 pyramids, going by bus to the Big Pyramid and stay there for 30 minutes and by bus to the Sphinx and stay only 15 minutes, last option was to stay near the Big Pyramid and walk around it and even purchasing the ticket to go inside it, then by bus to the Sphinx.

We all went for the second option, the camel ride cost us an additional 10$ and the tip for the camel owner. Our guide recommends the tip to be 1$, but expect a show since they will try to force you to give them more, the ride has one stop where they will take pictures with you and the panoramic view of the pyramids. All in all, the trip was fast, the animals abused and the tip part horrible, since they will be aggressive in trying to get more money from you. The view is indeed beautiful, but you have less than a few minutes to see it since they will rush you back. After the ride, the guide negotiated a few souvenirs, big scarf 2$, small one 1$, and 10 statutes at the price of 10$. Personally, I only got the big scarfs.

In the 30 minutes that we got to stay around the Big Pyramid, we were constantly annoyed by street vendors that didn’t really want to sell, but try to trick or steal from us. We were advised by our guide to keeping our distance from them since they are skilled in tricking tourists. We did manage to go into the small pyramid (this one is included, for entering the big one you have to pay extra) and we were disappointed by the fact that there is nothing left in them. My imagination of staying in front of such a masterpiece and really enjoying the view was ruined by some many people constantly trying to sell things to and the fact that others were riding skinny hoses and beating them, along with the fact that many carved their names in the blocks and climbing on them even if that is not permitted.

We then went to the Sphinx were since we requested extra time, we also managed to see it closer and not only from near the bus. Over here the story is the same, so many street vendors and people saying that they just want to take a picture for you, but as soon as you hand them your phone they start asking for money and might even refuse giving it back unless you pay them. All the beauty that this place is shadowed by the fact that you cannot let your guard down.

In the end, we were taken to a factory shop, where they presented how they make oils and perfumes and try to sell you some, the price starts at 25$. I didn’t buy any, but as I understood from others those are only a tourist trap. Also, this is the place we stayed the most from the entire trip, the mummies weren’t important to them, but the perfume shop was (!!!??!??!?!!!). Again, here in the streets of Giza, I saw the most disgusting and filthy place, garbage all over the place, people fighting in the streets, kids screaming, people on horses beating the animals that were so skinny it hurt looking at. I was so disappointed by the lack of respect they show to everything around them. Unfortunately, the Egyptians that created the pyramids are long dead and gone, they were conquered first by the Greeks and later after the 600BC by the Arabian people.

The Nill cruise is not impressive at all and I consider it not worth it, even if it’s just 10$.

As for Cairo, I have never seen such chaos and filth, the plastic is everywhere, it is smelly and disorganized. The cars look awful, the insurance is not mandatory and there is no such thing as driving lessons, they just have to take the exam. On the roads, if there are 4 lanes, but 6 or even 7 rows of cars can be fitted this is how it will be. Along, with cars, you will see people crossing the streets, carets, people riding horses or donkeys, people caring childer, and so on. I understand that they are poor, but I cannot understand the way they treat their history, animals, and even kids. To me, this is a place I WILL NEVER EVER step foot in again.

Lunch is also included in the trip, but I have to admit the food didn’t look very appealing and since we already had an upset stomach we avoided it. We were back at the hotel at 11pm at night. This trip is the longest and unfortunately also the biggest disappointment.

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3. Scuba diving in the reef – 28$

They picked us from the hotel and took us to the boat, where we sign some papers that we are in good health and we can perform scuba diving ( I suggest you ask your doctor in case you have any lung or back problems). One of the divers from the boat gave us a short demo on how this will do and how we should breathe and remove water from our glasses in case it enters.

We took turns on doing the dive and while we waited we were able to swim and do some snorkeling. I recommend you bring your own snorkeling equipment, the one that we got from the boat was pretty damaged. But the reef is still pretty nice and colorful, yet when diving the instructor insisted I touch the reef even if I refused it multiple times, also signs of the corals dying can be seen.

Probably the best part while here, it was a dolphin that decided to join and play with the divers. We got to see it up close and swim with it. The only remark here will be NOT to try to touch it, every time someone did it ran away (DUH).

Another thing to consider is not to throw anything in the toilet, not even the paper since it will go right in the water and you will dive among everything that goes out. Yes, it is possible to encounter some poop since all the boats are parked near and the diving is made right there.

We were offered food on the boat and a glass of cola. The trip took almost all day.

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4. Orange Bay island – 35$ per person

Once again we were picked from the hotel and taken to a boat where we sailed for Orange bay island. The water is beautiful but very shallow so you cannot actually swim, if you want to take pictures at the swings you will get to spend around 30 minutes to an hour in the line. On the beach, you can get a henna tattoo for 10$ and there are drinks available (not included) at the bar. Honestly, I think this place is only for taking pictures.

After the island, there are 2 stops for snorkeling (again, don’t forget your equipment). In the first, we followed the instructor and got to see the amazing reef, in the second we decided to go on our own and enjoy the view without having to worry about the others and have our own pace. Again, while here make sure you DON’T touch the reef, by mistake an idiot ruined a big chunk of the coral when he stood up in the water.

Same as for the scuba trip, they gave us food and cola, and we got back to the hotel after 6pm.

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5. Luxor and Valley of the Kings – 54$ per person

The trip is scheduled from 5am up until 9pm and was also by bus. Since the trip begins right at sunrise, it’s very beautiful to see this while driving between the rocky mountains from the Sahara desert. Keep in mind that in this area the temperatures are very high, reaching up to 50degress Celcius in the summer. We got around 40, yet the fact that the wind is not present, made it feel way worst. Also, while preparing for this trip don’t use any sweet or powerful perfume, since this can cause others to feel nauseous.

The first stop was the Amon Ra Temple, where we got to walk and hear the story of how it was created and what type of ceremonies were kept here.  It is amazing to see that even after 4000 years the colors are still visible. Apart from going with the guide and hearing the stories we also got around 40 minutes of walking and taking pictures.

The second stop was the Valley of the Kings, where we visited 3 tombs of 3 pharaohs named Ramses. This part is extremely beautiful, the paintings, colors, and beauty are beyond words. I will insert some photos but trust me those don’t do them justice.

The third stop is at Hatshepsut Temple, still beautiful to watch, yet not as impressive as the others. The fact that the heat was getting worse and we were tired from the last stops made us not enjoy the walk as much. Another rather short stop is made at Memnon Colossus, this time we only got to take some photos and got back into the bus to go to lunch.

There was an additional stop at a statues shop, where they showed us how they create the Alabaster stone, the prices were really big therefore we avoided buying anything.

Same as in Cairo, the food wasn’t very good looking so we only eat some rice and dessert. but we were cautions, most of the people did enjoy the food.

Before we left we were taken on a trip to Banana Island on the Nile, the cruise itself is not impressive and neither is the island, we got to see the banana and mango trees, some caged crocodiles and monkeys that were kept in small places and fed for the tourist entertainment. The good part is that in the end, we got to eat some fresh fruit. The cost of the trip is optional and is 10$.

From all the trips made in Egypt, Luxor is probably the best for anyone interested in this place’s history. I loved the fact that we didn’t have much interaction with the street vendors and that they were not allowed in the temples.

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6. Sahara Safari – 25$ per person

The last trip for our holiday included going on a Jeep in the desert, riding an ATV, a camel (again), and a beach buggy. Also, we got to see how the traditional pita bread was made by the Beduin people and how they used to create their rugs. For me, this was not really worth it, since we would have liked to have some extra time at the hotel, but we were curious about having this last experience.

If I were to recommend you to drop one of the trips, it will be this one, yet most of the men loved the fact that they got to ride the ATVs and the beach buggies, so I am guessing it depends on what you like.

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All in all, each trip has its own charm, and visiting the history of Egypt should be a priority while you are here. If I were to do it again? NO, that is for sure! But it is a once in a lifetime experience that I am happy I had. It was very different from what I imagined it to be, and have to admit that it hurts to see the last remaining ancient wonder destroyed by indifference and hunger for money. Furthermore, I strongly advise you to visit this place soon if you have it on your bucket-list since in a few years from now the signs of heavy tourism will be even more visible.

 

Traveling: Unlocking Hurghada, Egypt – Tips and Tricks

The most anticipated travel experience from this year and most likely from my entire life was getting to see the pyramids from Egypt. I was always fascinated by their history and have been on my bucket list ever since I knew there is a plane that can take me there. Unfortunately, due to the conflict area and the politic instability, I keep on postponing this trip up until this year. For more details about the trip, costs, and experience, read along!

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I am a big fan of DIY vacations but in this particular case, after I did some homework on the matter, it’s better to go for a safe way. Even if the situation is not as bad as in the past, it is still not a very nice one either. There are still check-points where there are military men with automated guns, the population is very poor and there is still a conflict area in the north of the country. Not trying to convince anyone that this is the best way, but given the circumstances for me, it was.

It all started in February when we decided to go to the tourism fair and talk to the local agency about the offers that they have for this area. The recommended for our first visit to Egypt, Hurghada since it’s closest to Cairo and Luxor, the other popular destination Sharm El Sheikh has the best reef and corals and is more focused on scuba diving and snorkeling. The price for 2 persons was 1200euros and it included the plane tickets, 7 nights in an all-inclusive hotel named Desert Rose, and the period was in the last week in September.

Before we left, we were told to buy our own snorkeling equipment and swimming shoes. For the first, I recommend the tube with a valve that prevents the water from getting into your mouth, trust me it makes a huge difference. Also, it will be really helpful if you want to dive and see the reef up close, the price for it was under 20 euros. As for the shoes, you need them when you get into the water, the area is pretty rocky and there are sea urchins.

They don’t make a difference between dollars and euros, so it’s best to have $ on you. Also, the smaller the bills the better, the fact that they ask for tips everywhere, usually the tip is 1$ so you will need a lot of those. Another fun fact is the 2$ bill, I have never seen it before, even if I traveled to the US 4 times. Now I got one and I am holding onto it.

Another thing that needs to be kept in mind, while packing is that you will need clothes from natural fibers, the temperatures are high and you will need your skin to breath. If you are curious about what I packed, you can find all the details here.

The visa cost is 25$, but if you will be traveling with an agency they will call you to go their way and make you pay more, 32$ to be precise. If I were to do it again, I would go to the regular office and I would get my visa stamp from there.

A couple of information for the smokers out there, after landing near the baggage claim area, there is a shop where you can buy cigarettes, the price per pack is less than 2$, but as our friend noticed those have a different taste ( cannot give more details since I am not a smoker). Also, if you plan on taking some packs for your return home, you should buy them now, the price at the departure is bigger. If you are traveling from the EU, you will be allowed to bring only 2 packs per person, this is the law at least in Romania, the fact that there are many who said that they brought a lot more and nobody noticed is not the rule.

Before leaving the airport, on the left side, there is an Orange shop, from where you can buy sim cards. We chose the 9$ option with 16GB of the internet, and only got one for 2 persons since we didn’t need more for the 7 days we spend there.

Our hotel, Desert Rose, was pretty close to the airport, around 15 minutes’ drive and I highly recommend it for the food, pools and the amazing reef. This was also the best place for snorkeling, the corals were healthy and colorful and you get to see so many beautiful fishes, even compared to the place we went for scuba and the Orange Bay area. The rooms aren’t that great, definitely not 5 stars, more like 3, but it was clean, we had AC and a beautiful balcony, but if you put your hope up, you will get disappointed.

Some things to keep in mind while here, the water is not drinkable and you shouldn’t use it at washing your teeth either, every day they will bring bottled water and you should only use that. Also, we were told to request all of our drinks without ice, since it might happen for this to be made out of tap water. Again, some say they didn’t have any issues, but in our case we did had some stomach problems, that were solved with some of our own medicine, but in case it gets serious you should talk to the hotel guide since you will need some of their pills if yours don’t work.

In the case of this hotel, we also had four A La Carte restaurants, but to get to those you would need a prior reservation. We only got to go to 2 of them, because the others were fully booked. Also, the reservation can only be made 48hours before, so keep that in mind. The best experience was in Fattoush Restaurant, the tradition Arabian food tasted amazing, highly recommend it.

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Most likely you will want to go on some big trips, the full-day ones are Cairo and Luxor. The day before leaving go to the reception and request breakfast to go, the ones organizing the trips will also give you food, but in our case, it wasn’t that great so having the sandwiches from the hotel was a good decision.

We decided to go on 6 trips, I will document them in full in a feature article, but just to mention them: Sindbad submarine, Cairo by bus, Scuba diving in the reef, Orange bay island, Luxor and Valley of the Kings, Sahara Safari.  We didn’t go with the hotel guide, but with one that we researched online, they sent us the prices that were less than half of what the others were offering and we didn’t need to bargain, for me this was a huge relief. To be honest, 6 trips in 7 days is a lot, so I would suggest you go only on 5 and enjoy a day at the resort. We were so sad when we saw that the best reef was there and we only had a few hours to enjoy it. Furthermore, you will see that in the resort there are many activities that you can do, from yoga to water sports, disco, etc.

Egypt was definitely one of a kind type of experience, the reef is still pretty beautiful in this area, but the signs of heavy tourism are showing. In many areas the corals and the reef is dead, most of the people are touching and even taking pieces of it with them back home, what is even more disturbing is that the local guides are encouraging this. The amount of plastic and waste that can be seen in the desert and in the water is a huge one, imagine mountains of trash. The two major cities that we saw, Cairo and Luxor were filthy, filled with trash, people on horses and donkeys, kids without shoes and people fighting in the middle of the street. The street vendors are all over the place, they are annoying and somehow aggressive when trying to force you to buy. The poverty level is the highest that I’ve ever seen in my life and even if I would like to sympathize with them, it is very hard given the fact that they have 0 respect for their history, monuments, animals or water.

The car insurance isn’t mandatory, therefore many cars look awful, if there are 4 lanes but you can fit 7 rows of cars, that is how it would be. Honking means you get to go first, and among the cars there are carets, people riding horses, people crossing the streets. Another thing here is that they don’t have to take driving lessons, they just have to pass the exam. I would never recommend driving there.

If you would ask me if it is worth it, I would definitely say yes, one of a kind and once in a lifetime experience. Don’t think I will ever go back, perhaps in a few years and in Sharm El Sheikh, would only go on the trips by boat and would stay away from the major cities. All in all, the experience was a good one, you will get to see the last ancient wonder and some of the best places in the world for scuba and snorkeling, the Red Sea. Compared to the trip made in Thailand, I would say it is far less beautiful if I would have to choose I would definitely return to Thai, yet in the case of Egypt, it will happen only if I run out of places to see.

 

 

DIY Traveling: Planning, Pleasure or Burden?

When I was a kid, my parents kept on telling me that I was laking organizing skills, that I was all over the place and that I will never be a good planner. It looks like time really made a difference and I have changed my habits around. As you probably have guessed for me planning a trip is one of my favorite parts, so how can you go from seeing it as a burden to having fun while organizing your trip? Read along and you shall see!

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Find the place that you want to travel to! 

Clearly, the first step would be to know where you want to travel to, and if you don’t know specifics (like I want to go to Greece because I love the food and the sea), at least think of what you would like to get out of it ( see a new place, go to the beach, hike, surf, go with the kids, see a fancy place, hot weather in the winter, ski, etc.).

If you have no idea what so ever, you can also ask this on a group that is dedicated to traveling, people can wight in and give ideas. Since I have plenty of ideas on the subject, I don’t really have a problem with choosing where I wanna go, but I do suggest you create a list of dream destinations, will make your life easier. Mine can be seen here.

Visualize the place!

Let’s say that you have five places that I would really like to visit and you would like to get more information about them, you can create a Pinterest board and you can do your research there. Here I suggest you focus more on the experience that you would have there, rather than just scratching it off your list (For example, I want to go to Bali to see the rice fields and the temples, rather than I want to go to Bali because is cheap and I can take great selfies) .

The board that I am using is this one, Future Plans and I add and remove destinations from it. Before I really start thinking about a trip, I want to know what are the specifics, prices, dress code, religious celebration dates, rainy season, vaccination and so on. I do this even before I look at the budget since I want to know if it’s doable in the upcoming period or maybe I need to postpone it for next time.

Budget!

Yeap, the big and scary one is here and we need to talk about it. If you don’t have a budget great, you can pass to the next point, but most of us do, so plan it wisely. As much as we would like to think we can go anywhere in the world with a small budget, it might not be smart. Personally, I prefer to save some of the trips that I have in mind for later, if I know I wouldn’t have the money to do what I would love to. One example would be the Maldives, yes I can go on a budget and stay on the island, not on the sea bungalows, but that is not what I want, therefore I wait until I will be able to have the kind of experience that I desire. I don’t usually return to the same destinations, so I want to make sure I don’t go home with the regret of not being able to check everything I wanted to do.

Getting back to the budget you need to split the costs between transport, accommodation, food, tickets or trips, impulsive shopping and safety net.  

Transport -> Depending on the location you can choose to go by plane or by car, personally I prefer the plane since it’s a lot faster and I am doing a few too many road trips in the country. Most of the time I use Momondo to search for the best deals, what it does, it compiles a list of all travel companies and you can easily compare prices.

A while back I have written a full post on tips and tricks with how you can find the perfect deals for plane tickets, you can find it here.

Another transport cost that you need to think of in advance, is car rental. If you plan on getting one, do your research from home, there are things that you need to know beforehand, such as if the company accepts debit cards, if its best for you to get a full insurance, the type of car that you should get, the amount of money they will block from your card until you get it back, if they are a serious company. Luckily there are websites that offer you aggregations just as those for the planes, Momondo once again come to the rescue. You can compare prices and companies so that you can make the best purchase.

Accommodation -> Pretty much the same as plane tickets and car rentals, the best way to find what is suited for you is by finding what you need and comparing the prices. Once again you can search using Momondo. There are other aspects you need to take into consideration that you can find in the full post I dedicated to this, link here.

If for the transport and accommodation there will be plenty of options and websites that you can use, for the rest of the topics, it’s best to ask yourself how much should be budgeted. For example, food, if you are the type of person that wants to go safe, then you should think about all-inclusive plans. If you like to experiment then you need to do research on the meal costs and multiply that with the number of meals and number of days.

As an example Prague, we didn’t have the breakfast included so we needed 3 meals, in the morning we wanted a light snack and coffee most of the times to go, so around 10 euros per person, lunch would be the main meal, so we budgeted this to 20 euros including drinks per person, for dinner we went for the street food option 10 euros per person, to this we added around 20 euros per person for sweets, additional coffee or beer. The total was: 60 euros per day per person.

Another expense that can be calculated in advance is related to tickets or day trips. You can easily look it up online and see what are the best prices, most of the time I try to book them in advance so that I don’t get there and find out that they are all sold out. Also, it often happens for the prices to be better and you can skip the line, so make sure you check them up. It can happen for those not to be available online and you need to negotiate the prices at the location, so what I do, is look for blogs that have the prices listed so that I can make an idea about how much those can cost.

The example of the topics above would be Spain and Thailand. In Barcelona the best prices you get online, also you don’t have to sit in line to buy the tickets, this is the case in many European countries. In the opposite direction is Thailand, where you will see some huge prices that you have to negotiate on site.

Impulsive shopping is one of the things that I learned to add to the list. It can take the form of souvenirs, sweets, experiences or maybe something specific to that place, I want to have this included so that I don’t find myself crying for something that I wanted badly and I was unable to get.

The last item that should always be included, is the safety net or money for urgent situations. Although I suggest you have this money regularly, if you are traveling you should know that unexpected situations can happen. The best example I have is when the bus in Dusseldorf had more than 1h delay and we had to take a cab to the airport for 200km that cost us 200 euros. The vacation was intended as a low cost one, yet on the last day, we had to pay the price of our own mistake for not making sure we have multiple options for getting to the airport. Other situations might include injuries or medication, so make sure you always have access to extra money.

Vaccines and mosquito sprays! 

Not needed in all types of vacations, but mandatory in the exotic ones, the vaccines are a topic that many decide to research online, but I beg of you DON’T! Ask a doctor what are the types of risks you are exposing yourself and let the internet alone in this specific case. The fact that many decide to brag that they went on with no vaccine and are still alive is no proof since the confession can not be taken from the dead ones. You want to plan for a risk-free vacation!

If the vaccine can be skipped in many countries, the mosquito spray should always be with you when traveling in warm places ( I doubt you need one in Greenland). Even in countries without the risk of malaria, you still don’t want to get bitten by those little bastards, so make sure you grab one before you leave. Also, there are specific sprays for specific areas, the “regular” one will not work on exotic places for example.

Preparing and packing for the trip!

One of my favorite parts is to prepare and pack for the upcoming trip, I usually make a list with the necessities so I don’t forget anything important at home. Another step that I like to take is to plan every outfit so that I can bring only one carry on luggage with me. A full article on the steps I take and how I have fun while getting ready can be found here.

While this might look like a huge list to go through I learned that in time you can optimize this and enjoy every second of it. Have to say that I look forward to every new year when I get the chance to do the research for the upcoming travel experiences, it takes time, I have to admit, and it can be overwhelming at first, but I promise you that it will become part of the experience.

This is an article for Open World Travelers Ambassador Program @momondo. #owtravelers #admomondo

When I First Realized That I Am Hopelessly in Love with Traveling

It’s said that we are born travelers, but we have to wait until the demon is awakened by a random event to understand it. I was born in a family where my mom was in love with seeing the world, with conquering new lands and with understanding other cultures, it’s from her that I learned how to respect the places  I visit and their customs. As for the exact moment when I realized that I will never be able to save money for anything other than plane tickets and b&b hotels, well, let me tell you how it went!

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In 2009 I got into the Faculty of Computer Science and I was devasted about the fact that my parents pushed into this career path rather than letting me study journalism. I was sad and I cried almost every night in the first months spent in my dorm room. I felt out of place and had zero interest in learning programming, felt alone and with no friends in a city that I hated, so I needed something to focus on. It was then I learned about the Work and Travel program that allowed students to go to the States for 4 months during summer. I had to wait until the second year since it often happened for the juniors not to get the visa and I had to pass all my exams to maximize my chances. For two years I worked a boring data entry job to gather some of the money for the program,(I borrowed the remaining from my mom) while giving my best to pass and understand all the rocket science subjects from college.

In 2011 I was finally in the plane (for the first time) to cross the ocean to the destination I always dream of seeing: America. Landed in Boston with big eyes and for the next 3 months, I have worked my a*s off on shitty jobs. The working part of the program was awful since the agency that brought as overbooked the job offerings (they didn’t expect us all to pass the visa interview) and we ended up not having enough hours to support our living and since we arrived late (also due to their paperwork not being ready on time) most of the jobs were gone in the small place of Weirs Beach Laconia, New Hampshire.

Let’s just say that it was a very bad summer, filled with drama and money issues, that made me promised myself that I would never be in this position ever again, but then something out of the ordinary happened, I found myself in the best place in the world:  New York. It was on the streets of the never-sleeping city that I fall in love, both with the crazy place and with a friend of a friend. The 5 days spent there really put my life in a different perspective and made me understand that I looked for happiness in the wrong place all along. It was a combination of magic and love that it’s hard to explain.

From the fast-food that we brought from the streets to the small cheap apartment in New Harlem that we rented, to the Central Park vibe, I learned that I am not made to stay in one place, I will never be happy with just owning a car or a house and I am not cut for the white fence life. Finally understood what my mom kept on saying about wanting to see more, feel more and make traveling a priority. As I walked hand in hand on the Brooklyn Bridge in the cold days of October, my life started to make sense.

 

 

Of course, there will be times when I feel that my hobby is taking so much energy, there will be tourist traps that I would fall in, the places are not as I have expected or the weather will not be on my side, yet even in times like this, the memories are my treasure. It’s true that nothing can compare to my NYC moment (and I admit I am afraid to go back and ruin that special memory) but there are other places when I felt so happy that I had tears in my eyes ( Paris, Rome, Zakynthos, PhiPhi Island, Prague, etc).

Many will not understand, will think it’s just a phase and I will grow out of it, but the ones suffering from the same addiction will know that this is more than just a hobby is more of a lifestyle, a chosen life path, the taste of the forbidden apple. Yes, it will be hard working a full-time job and sometimes a part one as well, just to keep it going, but in the end, it’s all worth it.

Whenever I feel like I have to get away my day to day routine I just go on a plane aggregator website as Momondo and I look for my escape ticket, often I search for the route to the Big Apple just to fantasize how it could be, maybe someday I will have the courage to relive it, but until then the bucket list with destinations is set and ready.

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It’s been 8 years since the New York moment, yet it was the awakening that I always desired, the moment I finally knew what I want in life, the time where everything fell into the place it has to be and I knew that I am no longer lost. Probably the only time in my life when I was certain of something, my moment is frozen in time where a girl with big blue eyes and blond hair looked up the tall buildings and realized what she has to do in life to be happy.

How about you, when was the moment you realized you were a traveler at heart?

This is an article for Open World Travelers Ambassador Program @momondo. #owtravelers #admomondo

 

Bucketlist for Traveling Experiences

As I returned a few days ago from my trip to Prague, I thought about the travel experiences that I have on my to-do list for the upcoming years. If until now I wanted to see as much as possible from the globe no matter the country, now I want the unique experiences that are present only in certain places.

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When you want to travel as much as you can, there are certain limitations that you need to overcome, the most common one is the budget. Since we all have to pay rent and eat, traveling has to come second. This is the reason I am sometimes traveling to my second best destinations where I found a good deal on the plane tickets or a direct flight from my home town or a great price for the accommodation. But I do have a list of experiences that I wanted to have once in a lifetime and I try to get at least one done each year. For 2019 that experience will be visiting Egypt and doing scuba-diving in the Red Sea, in 2018 was visiting an exotic country like Thailand, seeing the temples and eating Thai food, in 2017 it was visiting Disneyland Paris and so on.

So the following items are on my list for the years to come, hopefully, I can include more than one in a year, so fingers crossed for 2020. Photo credit to Pixabay.

1.  Zanzibar’s blue water and lunch at The Rock, Zanzibar

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2. Fly with the hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey

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3. See the aurora borealis, Iceland

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4. Ride a pink vintage car on the streets of Havana, Cuba

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5. See the cherries blooming in Osaka, Japan

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6. See a cabaret show at Moulin Rouge in Paris, France

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7. Scuba-diving in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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8. The Great Balinese Temples, Indonesia

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9. Go on a cruise in the Caribbean Sea

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10. Safari in Africa to see the animals where they belong (in the wild)

11. See the lemurs in Madagascar, Madagascar

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12. Take a bath in an infinity pool overlooking Singapore, Singapore

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13. Walk on The Great Wall of China, China

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14. See the Great Canyon, US

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15. Party on the streets of New Orleans, US

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16. Hike to Machu Picchu, Peru

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17. Watch the sunset in Santorini, Greece

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18. The Great Temple of Petra, Jordan

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19. Walk the streets of Marrakech, Morocco

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20. Sunbathing on the flamingo beach, Aruba

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I didn’t include the items that are already planned for this year, also, I skipped the countries that I would love to do a city break just to see the capitals or the landscapes, here I would include Lisabona, Madeira, Tenerife, Moscova, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, and many others.

Even though I know this list will change every year, I have to say that there are certain items that we should all try to do once in a lifetime. For me, it’s the ones stated on the list above, what are yours?