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: All-Inclusive & Resorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

 

Beach Vacation Outfits

While for some of you the summer vacations are done and you guys are already daydreaming about the following ones, for others (including myself) the trip to the salty waters hasn’t yet happened and we are already stressing about what to put in the suitcase and what to leave for next time.

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Up until 3 years ago when I met my partner in crime, I used to carry one suitcase and a backpack (at least) when going to the beach. I loved to bring all my swimsuits, even if I would only get to wear two, loved to pack most of my summer dresses since I had plenty of seethrough ones that can only be used at the beach, 4 pairs of shoes, because what if? That all changed when we left for Thailand and my boyfriend removed more than half of the items that I wanted to bring and made me stick with the basics.

There are a million articles on the topic of the capsule vacation outfits and most likely you have already read a few,  but I do want to share some of the items that I love to have when I go to the sea. Some of them are practical, but some of them are just my idea of traveling in style.

Simple canvas bag

Perhaps this is something that I picked up from my mom, but for me, the perfect beach bag is a simple canvas one, where I can put the essentials (water bottle,  sunscreen, towel,  book or magazines) along with a smaller bag where I can keep the money, credit cards, phone, and keys.  As a piece of advice, never throw the keys & phone along with the towel, chances are when you will be removing the last, you will accidentally let the keys or phone slip ( this is how I manage to lose the keys once, and it was no fun since it was an Airbnb apartment).

Extra summer bag

Even if I can easily save some space by leaving the extra bag at home, I just can’t resist. I love to have a bag that screams vacation with me. For years I had a bag with wood totes that I only used when I went to the beach or to the pool. This year I brought one of the Bali round bags and I love to wear it while on vacation.

Flip-flops 

Although those shoes should only be allowed at the beach, those are some of the essentials that you should buy when you get there or bring with you from home. There are various flavors to them and clearly, there is a style that fits yours, the only thing you need to keep in mind is the material, never bring the leather ones (yes there are people that do this) since the water and sand will do wanders to them and also don’t choose the thin plastic ones that can get heated or give you lots of blisters when your feet will sweat (resist the temptation even if those look so cute).

Swimwear

I usually bring 3 swimsuits with me while on vacation if I know I will be spending most of the time sunbathing. Why 3? Well, I always have a one-piece that I love to wear when going on trips or if I spend some time at the pool, and the two pieces ones I usually use one in the morning and one in the afternoon ( my skin type doesn’t allow me to stay in the sun at noon). Why don’t I wear the same one twice? It often happens for the one that I used in the morning to still be wet when I want to use it once more.

A big shawl

As I mentioned earlier I cannot spend a lot of time in the sun if I don’t want to ruin my vacation and get severe burns, therefore I make sure I cover my skin after 12am. To do this I use a big shawl that I love to carry around. I can also convert it in a dress or a skirt while I am on the beach. I am careful when I chose it to have natural material and I also make sure to always have it in my bag.

Clothing 

This area is subjective to the style you prefer, personally, I only wear dresses after the sun goes down and the temperatures drop because I hate when my tights get sweaty, therefore I will prefer to use shorts or jumpsuits. Same as with the flip-flops the area where I pay the most attention is to the material, I strictly avoid any nylon or polyester pieces since I don’t want to sweat like a dog, I prefer the light natural ones like viscose and linen, but I also include a pair of denim shorts. Usually, I go with one dress, a pair of denim and one of viscose shorts, 2 white lose t-shirts, one linen shirt, and a jumpsuit, to those I add a denim jacket and a pair of long pants.

While most of the time I only spend one week on a beach vacation, it happened for me to reuse those pieces in the two weeks that I spent in Thailand.

White espadrilles 

Hard to keep them white, but totally worth the struggle, for me those are my favorite type of shoes, light, comfy and very versatile I can wear them with shorts, dresses, jeans, and jumpsuits. Another very good option would be a pair of white Converse that can also be adjusted. Since I will mostly be walking and visiting the cities at noon, I have to rely on a pair of comfortable shoes.

Time for my hair to be up

Everyone who knows me can tell you that I wear my hair down 99% of the time, if my hair is up then I didn’t have the time to wash it. During vacation especially when I will get to swim in the sea and walk in 30 degrees Celsius, I love to put my hair up and use a cute scarf to adjust it, this is my one and only hair accessory that I use. Also since I am not a big fan of hats is my way of elevating the look.

Accessories

Since I do have a tendency to sweat a lot, I don’t like to bring many accessories with me, therefore I go for my minimalistic silver necklace and pendant that I always wear and a pair of colorful earrings ( that I only get to wear once or twice since the ones made from anything but silver or gold will hurt my ears) . I don’t bring fancy or expensive jewelry with me, after one year when I lost my gold necklace when playing in the water. Not to mention those will get heated while you sit in the sun and can burn your skin.

I left the one accessory that I cannot live without and that I always have with me no matter the season is sunglasses. Always with UV protection, I cannot leave my house without them, if I forget them, I will go and buy a new pair since I don’t want to cry my eyes out (literally, I am sensitive to sunlight).

Visualize what you would like to wear

Many years I felt jealous when I saw other girls’ options for vacation outfits and I realized that I had more or less the same items but I didn’t bring them with me. It happens to lose inspiration or for me to completely forget about items that I have, that is why I learned to shop my own closet and to use Pinterest boards to help me visualize how I would like to dress. Periodically I do a check and I adjust the board with items that I think will work with my personal preferences while avoiding the trap of buying items that I know I will not be comfortable wearing.

While I don’t believe in a perfect list that gets checked when leaving for vacation, I do feel like there are steps that you cand take to make your life easier. Most of the time I stick to the items from above and only do small alterations. Every destination have each charm and while in the Muslim countries I will avoid short pants and seethrough items, in others I like to adjust the colors to complement the place, love to wear the royal blue with while in Greece (don’t know why but for me the white houses with the blue roofs are representative for it) and orange and red pastels while in Spain.

What are your beach vacation favorite outfits? How do you get past the panic of having to pack your bags?

Traveling: Unlocking Prague, Czech Republic

There are certain places so iconic that you will see on every bucket list or screensaver carousel there is. One of those places is Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and one of the most, if not the most, beautiful cities in the world. My trip there was a relatively short one, but if there were a place I would recommend you to do a city break, it will be here.

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We chose the low-cost version of the flight and landed in Vienna from where we took the Flexibus to Prague central station. If you also think about doing this, make sure you book your tickets in advance for the bus or the train. Due to common delays in the Wizz flights, we decided not to, and that cost us more. Also, take into consideration the 4.5 hours that you will spend on the bus.

For the accommodation, we chose to rent using Airbnb a studio near the central station and we walked to the city center every day. It might not be the best solution if you don’t like walking 27 km in a day, but luckily the public transport is very good and organized. The center of the city is pretty small, so the only ride you will need is from your accommodation to it.

Since we only had two full days to spend in the city we decided we wanted to get a glimpse of the city and see the most important attractions. We refrain from visiting museums, the only place we did entry was the Prague Castle, and I have to admit the best part of it it’s free, so if you find yourself here, don’t waste the money. You can even enter the church and see most of it, without the paid ticket.

 

 

Just like the saying best things in life are free, pretty much the same goes for the Prague attractions,  St. Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge, Prague Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, and Dancing House are all available to you in the city center. While here make sure to grab a beer, or a Radler to fully enjoy the Czech vibe. And since we are on the subject of beverages, they are known for their craft beer that goes very well with their cuisine. If might be problematic for vegetarians, since it does include a lot of meat, but for those of you who love it, you will be in heaven.

While here, there is a special treat for the sweet lovers, the Trdelnik, a rather interesting dessert that you will see everywhere, with chocolate, fruit gem, ice-cream, fruits or other devilish flavors (like the one I choose) those will make you go to heaven.

 

 

Prague is also a river city, so do include a cruise on the Vltava, where you can learn more about the city history and get to take a few gorgeous photos. In the summertime, there is no better relaxation than to sip on lemonade while overseeing this amazing place.

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The city panorama can be captured from many places, my personal favorite was the park where the Petrin Tower can be found. We didn’t climb on the tower, because of the line and the number of stairs, but we did admire the view from the park. Another great place is the tower from Charles Bridge where you can see the 360 degrees view, the best time to go is either in the morning or at twilight.

 

With a city this beautiful and popular you must pay attention to the tourist traps, there are a few and while you can never protect yourself from all, it’s good to do your homework before arriving. The most popular trap is the one that has to do with the money conversion, in the Czech Republic they use the koruna, and many places accept only cash payment, therefore you will need to exchange some money. If you plan on using the ATM machines make sure you read if they have any commission and verify the conversion rate, the Euronet ATM should be avoided at all times, those are known for offering the worts rates. I used my Revolut card to withdraw from a random ATM and the rate was decent. A better way to avoid this is by bringing cash and converting it. If you chose to do so, be very careful at the conversion rates and only accept the conversion if it’s the correct one. A trick that they make is they display the price they use to sell euro (or dollars) and not the one they will offer for buying the currency.

While on the ugly side of the touristic city, pay attention to the menu prices, if those are not displayed either ask or go to a different place. It happened for us to pay more than double for a bear just because they said they don’t have a menu ( we stayed only because the rain started). A friend of ours paid 4 times the price from the menu after the waiter asked if they would also like different types of salads with their food.

And lastly, make sure you don’t fall in the optional tips that they kindly calculated for you at around 20-25%. In Europe, unlike the US, the tips are NOT mandatory, if you liked the service you can leave one, usually is around 10%. The staff is fully paid (again unlike in the US where they are paid less because of the tips) so there is no obligation from your end to leave anything. Don’t get me wrong, I do tip, usually 10-15% but if the staff is rude or tries to trick me in any way that tip will vanish and I highly recommend you to do the same.

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Clearly, the bad parts and the tourist traps are everywhere these days, so if it does happen to you, try to let it be and continue to enjoy your time in Prague. I refuse to give the satisfaction that they ruined my vacation to some bad people, karma will take care of them for sure.

 

 

Prague was one of the destinations that weren’t really on my list for this year but somehow manage to get on it after I got a couple of recommendations from my friends and I am so happy that I squeezed it in. Made in a budget-friendly manner we spent around 600 euros for the plane tickets, accommodation, food and attractions, in 3 days. To us, this place will always be one to be remembered with a huge smile on our faces.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Traveling: Unlocking Copenhagen and Malmo

The Scandinavian area was on my list for quite a while, therefore you can imagine my joy when I saw a great deal for the plane tickets in March. Since the direct flight was to Malmo, 42km away from Copenhagen, I got to catch 2 rabbits in one hit, Sweden and Denmark in a short city-break.

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The flight was at a bargain price of 35 euros for 2 round trips with WizzAir. The prices for the hotels can be very high in the northern part of Europe, so I choose the Airbnb option with private rooms. One of the main benefits of this was the fact that I got to see how the local people leave, how their apartment looks and bonus, save a lot of money. For one night in Malmo and 2 in Copenhagen, I paid around 130 euros for 2 people, furthermore in Malmo, our host offered us breakfast and coffee. So what more to ask for?

 

The public transport is very well organized so there is no need to rent a car, unfortunately, most of the time we had to ask for guidance since not everything is intuitive. Also, if you plan on visiting Malmo, make sure to buy the bus tickets prior to getting on the bus, there is no option of buying from the driver. If you are also traveling from Malmo to Copenhagen and back, buy the return train ticket from Malmo since it will be cheaper. Traveling from one place to another is done by train, they come by Malmo Central every 15-30 minutes and the ride takes around 1h.

Both countries have their own currency and it can be hard to differentiate them, but you can use your credit/debit card everywhere, furthermore many places accept only payment by card, so make sure to bring one.

The favorite way of transport is by bicycles, so if you are also a fan, you can rent one. Just make sure the weather is on your side. In March, for me, it was pretty cold and the wind makes the real feel even worst, appropriate clothing is a must.

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Both Malmo and Copenhagen have a great architecture with old buildings and canals, so wandering on the streets of the city is a feast for the eyes. Both places have a lot of great places for coffee and food, from the mini-burgers I had on the Malmo Central to the amazing fish I had on the Nyhavn, everything was tasty and fresh. A recommendation that I got from my BFF in Amsterdam, was the cheesecake from Bertel’s Cheesecake Salon from Denmark side, probably the best cheesecake I ever had. If you are also, gourmand there is no better place for you!

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Speaking of places to check in Copenhagen, the ones that I had on my list were:

  • The Little Mermaid statue
  • Nyhavn – this is the place where you will shot the wallpaper pictures
  • Rosenborg Castle and the park around it
  • The Round Tower – great view of the city from above
  • Christanbor palace
  • Christiana park – keep an open mind about this one, since it will be a place with no rules

 

For Malmo, I cannot say that I had a list of items to check, I wandered around the streets and went to the port for a few minutes( the wind was too strong).

 

Both countries are rated among the first when it comes to the standard of living and just looking at the people that live there you can understand why. The overall atmosphere is a relaxed one and the citizens are clearly enjoying the moment. I cannot say that I will ever be able to get past the cold weather, but I do recommend visiting Scandinavia at least once in a lifetime.

Traveling: Unlocking Malta

I have been dreaming to see the little island for a while now and since there was a direct flight from my hometown, I decided to squeeze the city break into this year, even if it would be in October. Not everything went accordingly to my plans, but looking back I have to say that Malta has a charm of its own.IMG_5982

For those of you who don’t know this, Malta is a country located in the Mediterranean sea, close to Seychelles, Italy, and Tunis. It’s capital Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has so many influences from all over the world that it created its own culture from the mix.

What made Malta so famous? Apart from its financial laws that attracted many rich people, it’s the gorgeous landscapes and water. It even inspired the directors from Game of Thrones and many others to film in this amazing location. And yes the Azure Window is collapsed, but even so, the sightseeing from Gozo is absolutely gorgeous.

 

Even if October is usually a pretty good time to visit, since the temperature is nice and the water is warm, I wasn’t so lucky. I got to Malta on Friday afternoon, when it was sunny and warm, but in the 2 full days that we had there, it rained cats and dogs. The boats didn’t leave the harbor and I wasn’t able to get to probably the most famous place from there, the Blue Lagoon. Luckily we were able to do the other items from the list: Valletta, Sliema port, and Gozo.

 

As usual, I got a flight from WizzAir and paid around 120 euros for 2 round trip tickets, we landed at the only airport in Malta and got around the island with public transport. Even if the island is so small, the buses rout usually check a lot of places, we ended up taking around 1.5 hours for 12km, so make sure you keep this in mind when you schedule the itinerary. You can pay directly on the bus or buy a card, for one trip the cost is around 1.5 euros, the card is around 15 euros for 12 trips, so the prices are more or less the same.

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After making a bit of investigation we decided to go with a hotel in Sliema and we used Booking to purchase it. Hotel Europa is placed across from the beach and if you are lucky enough you can get a sea view room, I wasn’t, yet the hotel was decent and the breakfast was good, it had a great value given the price of 230 euros for 3 nights. When choosing the location make sure it is close to shops, the harbor and public transport, unfortunately, Airbnb didn’t have a great offer for Malta and the prices were higher for studios or even shared apartments than it was for hotels.

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Malta’s second national language is English so that makes thing easier when it comes to communicating, I have to give this as a big plus, I was able to talk to the bus drivers to tell me where to get off the bus, or what route to take. The same goes for restaurants and shops.

One of the first misfortune to have in Malta was the fact that the Revolut card is not working with BOV (Bank of Valletta), when I wanted to pay at the hotel the money got windrow, the transaction left pending and the POS rejected it, in about half an hour we got our money back, but it was pretty unpleasant to have to pay everywhere cash. If you own such a card, mine is a Visa, make sure to have a backup card or enough money in cash, to save yourself the trouble.

Since we had such limited time to spend there we went and purchased the boat tickets for Blue Lagoon and Gozo, full day with an open bar for 70 euros. Unfortunately because of the rain we had to exchange the tickets for the sightseeing bus in Gozo, cannot say that I regret it, since it was a nice trip, yet missing out on the Blue Lagoon made me realize that October might not be the best time to visit any country from Europe since the chance of rain is a high one. And to make things even more frustrating, before leaving for the airport the weather was amazing, sunny, people were swimming and the boats were leaving for the lagoon.

 

Most of the food I eat there was with an Italian influence, but I cannot say it was a remarkable one as I had in Italy. If you are a fan of the rabbit ( I am not, for me it’s as if I am eating a cat), then you will find a lot of places that serve it.

If you plan on booking a trip to this place, I recommend you do it in the summertime and if swimming is on your list make sure to bring water shoes since the shore is a rocky one. Also, don’t get impressed by the marketing that is made for the Aquarium, it might be a fun place to stop with the kids, otherwise you will spend more time in the line waiting to get in, than in the place itself.

Even if I didn’t manage to check everything from my list, I am not sure if I would return to this place. It definitely has its charm, yet it’s buildings with the neglected facades, the trash that was left on the streets, the holes from the grounds that were everywhere, wasn’t my cup of tea.  I would have to admit that the weather did play a big role in the fact that Malta didn’t impress me as much as Greece did, so I am trying to keep an open mind about this, who knows maybe I will return one day just for the blue water.

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