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.

 

Stop and Stare: When I First Realized the Footprint We Leave on Earth

It’s often said that one of the side effects of traveling is the fact that you get to see other cultures and understand how they live, maybe appreciate a little bit more what you take for granted or see a world very different from your own. My story will be about the effects that I’ve seen on the beautiful destinations affected by heavy tourism and what I try to do to make a difference.

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Probably the trip that opened my eyes, also the first (and only) exotic one was to Thailand. Flying across the globe to a country that I’ve only seen in pictures and also DIY, was a bit scary, but it was also the best way to see things below the surface.

As a kid, I’ve always loved animals, were part of my everyday life, from pets (3 fishes, 1 hamster, 3 cats, 3 dogs) to my hobby of horseback riding, I respected and loved every each and one of them, cannot imagine my life without them. Therefore, I was extremely happy that I would get to pet a tiger and even play with it. I have seen photos on Instagram and Facebook and I thought WOW! I am really going to have this amazing experience. Yet, when I started looking into the Tiger sanctuary stories and I’ve seen what really happens to those animals in order to tame them, I started crying. It is beyond anything that I have ever imagined, the cubs are taken from the moms very early, they are beaten and drugged in order for them to be unable to hurt the “public”. Even more, once the cubs are no longer cute and small, they are killed and their skin is sold for people to use it as rugs. Perhaps it is disturbing for everyone to read this, but it is the truth.

What is even worst, is that it all made sense when I got to think about it, the fact that tigers are actually hunting and killing people makes it clear that they are not pets, there is no chance in hell this can be natural. So, there is no such thing as the real sanctuaries, just a tourist trap where people give money to torture the poor animals. Clearly, I didn’t go to any of those temples, yet I saw that it was among the most desired trips and that even people who I know would not agree to what is happening behind the curtains are paying for it.

Since we are also on the topic, another popular trip is the one to the elephant sanctuary. I will not discuss the trekking since that is just cruel and can be seen right away, the cages are causing severe wounds and bleeding and the stick used to “make” the elephants walk is more like a hammer that is hurting the animal. Anyone who would go on trekking should be fined with 100k $ just because of their ignorance and stupidity.  If you did that and I offend you, GOOD! You deserve it!

Getting back to the sanctuaries where you can wash elephants, the story is a toughing one, all the animals were saved or inherited and now they are just pampering them (blah blah blah). Well, let’s get back to what I’ve said in the first part, is it natural for humans to go into the wild and wash elephants? If not, then you can imagine that animal has little to no interest in having a bunch of people around them, touching, petting and washing them. Another thing that needs to be keep in mind, is that the same story as with the tigers is present with the elephants, even if the Asian one is not as aggressive as the African one, it’s still a huge animal that can easily kill a human, therefore most of them are once again tamed and drugged.

The fact that those two trips are the most requested by tourists created a big industry that is feed with the pain of the animals. If the authorities are ignorant of the issue or they just like the cash that is coming from them it’s uncertain, the sure thing is that as long as the request is out there, the offer will be also present, so what I’ve learned is that every time I found myself attracted to any experience that envolves animals I do my homework.

Even if this was not part of my trip to Thai, it was another experience that I wanted badly, swim with the dolphins. Again with a little bit of research, the sad truth will emerge and that is the fact that dolphins are captured from the wild and trained to play nice with people, pose and so on. Luckily, this type of experience can be had in the wild, this year I had the pleasure to swim with a wild dolphin that came out to play, I was not able to touch it, yet it was amazing to see it up close.

The golden rule when it comes to experiences that involve animals is to ask ourselves if this is natural for them, if it can be harmful or if it deprives the animal of its freedom.  If the answer is no, then it’s ok, if you have any doubts look it up and try to avoid feeding those despicable industries.

Leaving the animals aside, another thing that shocked me was the amount of plastic that is thrown in the water, forest or streets by heavy tourism. If you think that you are not the cause of the issues, have a look at the amount of plastic that you use. When I was there I got a plastic bag for EVERYTHING, if I bought a dring, they will give me a bag for it, a banana would also get a bag, if you had multiple items from the supermarket then you would get more and more. Everything was single-use, and they were always giving them to you even when you told them that you didn’t want them. If I were to be honest, even if we gave our best, after the 14 days we spend there, there was a pile of plastic that we created, even if we put it in the trash, most likely it ended up in the forest or water.

I live in Romania and we can see signs of plastic thrown in the forest, water and so on also, but its nothing compared to what I’ve seen in Thailand. Probably the only place where I’ve seen worst is in the Sahara desert, where mountains of trash can be spotted everywhere, yet to see that much plastic in the forest, where everything is part of an ecosystem hurts. After my trip there I made it my religion to make sure I use as less plastic as possible, reuse what I have and avoid single-use items. If I am successful every single time? No, but I do try. Also, ever since I returned I also tried to post my experience on travel groups so that more and more people are aware of the impact they are having on our planet, related to animals or the waste that they are creating.

Making a difference is possible only by using your own example. Awareness can help other travelers avoid traps and misleading information, so I try to use my own story to show people what we are doing only by being ignorant. The experiences that I had in Thailand were amazing and the fact that I managed to avoid those places is just a first step, I highly encourage everyone to visit this amazing place (plane tickets can be searched through Momondo) and make a difference.

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

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