Venice

Venice, Venice, Venice!!! Who doesn’t know about Venice? Probably the most famous city on Water everyone dreams of visiting. I saw many a people go there for honeymoons and weddings and heard a lot about this gorgeous city and finally in the spring of 2016 I packed my bags to run to the airport in excitement because I was heading to Venice or Venezia as the locals call it…

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Venice is made up of small islands and the old city is entirely standing on these islands with canals serving as streets and while I imagined only water streets and no actual streets it was not correct. The space between these small islands (118 in total) is served by canals with a major canal in the middle of city called Grand Canal with that famous Rialto bridge standing in the middle..

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Venice has so many claims to fame throughout its history that you will run out of tme and I’ll run out of energy but the list won’t end. The city was built on marshy lands with some ingenious engineering. The city literally stands on a massive number of vertical logs that support the structures above in this soft marshy land. From those humble beginnings the rise of Venice is unparalleled where they built and empire, a navy so big it made the English navy looks like ‘some ships’. There was no end to the wealth of Venice. While it stands as a city in Italy today Venice is nothing like other cities in the country. It was its own empire and its own trading routes, a system of government and a very ‘modern’ society.

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The famous silk route ended in Venice which made it the gateway and the heart of trade in Europe with Venetians monopoly over exotic goods and spices as well as trade with East.
Fun Fact: Venice was known as the sin city in Europe because of its casinos, brothels and very liberal environment. At one time 12% of the population of the city was made up of prostitutes and unbeknownst of its time Venice used to serve women just like men giving them a somewhat equal status..

All things Venice

To and From Airports

The closest airport to Venice is Marco Polo Airport which is 20 minutes away by bus or you can walk 5-10 minutes and take the water taxi which is expensive (roughly 35 euros per persona nd you have to wait for the taxi to get full. The other option which I used was to get in through Trevisa Airport which is 25 km from the Venice city. You can take the local bus there that runs till mid night and is quite cheap. The bus dropped us at Piazzale Roma which is the main bus station and from there we took the water bus to Rialto bridge where we stayed.

Public Transport

Imagine your life without any ground traffic, pollution, honking cars, long queues outside stations and you will arrive at Venezia. The city has only one main station which takes you to the Venice on mainland and the other functional station which serves the whole of region.

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Venezia Santa Lucia Station

Now the structure of city is important, you have the Grand Canal in the middle branching out into small canals in each direction. You have small streets on islands with a lot of bridges connecting islands on each street so walking is just as convenient or probably more than taking public transport.

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The Grand Canal

You have the option of taking public boat bus called vaporetti which has set routes like any city but I’d highly recommend buying a day card instead of individual tickets which are expensive to say the least. (A single ticket is €7 at least..).
You can download the official ARTE app that runs these water busses in Venice, its is pretty good and has the map as well. You can download it here.

The second option is taking Water taxi but I think they keep the merchants of Venice in mind when quoting the price because a single ride will cost you at least €40-50.

The third option is the least practical and that is to take a gondola (the long boats) but they mostly for a romantic ride to see the city and its inner canals rather than going from Point A to Point B. Additonally a single ride will cost you at least €85.

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Gondola

Walking and Water bus are your best friends here unless you have a personal gondola which used to be the case in old times and almost every building in Venice has a water gate to get in and out of a gondola.

I find this oddly satisfying because no matter how rich you are in modern you have the same means of transport, slightly ironical for a city built on riches for the rich…
The main train station in Venice is Venezia Santa Lucia Railway station which is very convenient to go to the train station on mainland and it also has trains to neighbouring cities.

Gondola Ride

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A Gondola Ride

Like I mentioned above Gondola rides are mostly for pleasure than practical purposes. You can do this through people selling tours which will be slightly cheaper versus getting a ride on your own unless you want to be alone for romantic reasons.. The ride lasts roughly half an hour and tickets are easily available from the stalls around Piazza San marco.

Free Walking Tour

There is only one free walking tour of Venice and you can find the details here. You need to definitely book it well in advance as we were turned away on the first day as we didn’t have the booking…

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Starting Point of the tour

The tour was pretty mediocre to be honest but it was still good in order to understand the city it is still not a bad option and remember it FREE if you don’t like it and are free to go at any point.

p.s I was searching the link to free tour that I attended and I can see plenty of free tours in Venice now so take your pick, hopefully yours will be better than mince.

Vaporetto dell’Arte

This is a hop on hop off bus version of Venice which stops at different important stops related to art and you can see the most important sights along the Grand Canal. You can buy the tickets online with different validations here.

When to Visit?

When to visit Venice is trickier than you imagine and I would definitely go for late spring. This is the perfect time because in winter the city is ridiculously cold because of all the water. In summer it stinks because of the polluted water and the putrefying junk in the canals of Venezia. That leaves autumn which is not a bad option either but I would imagine the smell lingering on till winter cools the process.. Since you are heading to venice you should familiarize yourselves with Acqua Alta. I have copied the explanation below from wiki but it basically mean high tide which submerges some of the streets when water level is high.

Acqua alta (high water) has become a fact of life in Venice. The lagoon water level occasionally rises above the level of the squares and streets, flooding them. This can happen several times a year, at irregular intervals, usually in the colder months. Acqua alta usually lasts a few hours and coincides with high tide. You’ll see raised walkways in side alleys ready to be pulled out when acqua alta hits. When the city begins to flood, sirens will sound to warn residents and businesses. If you speak fluent Italian, tune into news programs since their predictions of the times the flood begins and ends are usually on the spot. Normally, the tide rises and falls in six-hour cycles.
You can get an acqua alta map at the tourist offices either at the railway station or St Marks. This will show you the higher, dry routes and the ones with walkways set up during the various flood alerts. There is a tide measuring station at the Rialto vaporetto piers, and a noticeboard at the base of the Campanile in the Piazza San Marco that shows a live tide reading and predictions for the next few days.

Fun Fact: Perhaps it was high tide or the infestations that travelled through Silk Route Venice had a lot of outbreaks of plagues and Black Death. They created an ingenious system which today we call Quarantine. They used to separate people with symptoms on a different island hospital which till this day remains as a macabre souvenir of those days. Additionally merchants coming in to Venice had to spend 40 days on an island in isolation to make sure they weren’t bringing any plague with them. What fun!

Food

Venice is a very touristy place and most of the places are very touristy unless you find a good Osteria which were traditionally small cafes with homemade food. Today they are not present in traditional sense but the name refers to smaller establishments. My favourite was Osteria Antico Giardinetto and I’d recommend a reservation for dinner. The food was delicious and the way to this small restaurant is through those beautiful streets of Venice which you love even more when you just had some good food.

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Entrance

Another place for some cheap local food is Osteria ‘Ai Osti with a more canteen like atmosphere and good pasta with fisha and seafood. It is a perfect stop if you want to stop on the way.

Near Rialto Bridge I’d recommend Da Mamo for some good pizza and risotto. Most of the restaurants lined around the Rialto and Grand canal are pretty poor quality with high prices and tourist traps and I got food poisoning from a seafood pizza from one of these places (which shall remain nameless to protect you from all of them..)

Fun Fact: Pasta didn’t originate in Italy as most people believe, it came from China with Marco Polo and to shake you a bit more, risotto isn’t Italian either..

Gay Venice

Like all cities in Italy, Venice doesn’t have a dedicated gay area and the dedicated gay establishments are few and far. There are a few gay hotels in the city but the bars and clubs side is pretty limited. There is a retro bar owned by a lesbian couple called I Due Girasole with music from 70’s and 80’s. Another famous bar is Porto de Mar but that’s pretty much it for Venice. Most gay guys head to nearby towns for the gay scene but Venice is generally very tolerant and friendly and at no point I felt threatened or judged or discriminated.

Grindr and scruff however have a good crowd and most guys are quite nice and friendly (DUH we are talking about Italians here, who doesn’t love these guys!).

Accommodation

Accommodation in Venice is not cheap by any means especially the hotels and if you want a good deal head to Airbnb like me. The best area to stay is around Rialto Bridge because it has good links and you can travel in most directions from here in equal time.

Things to Do

You can spend weeks in Venice and places to visit won’t end. We saw some of them with the tour and the rest here and there. I highly recommend booking your tickets for most of the attractions in advance because every day hordes of tourists descend upon Venice with cruise ships and the queues just eat in to your day.

Grand Canal of Venice

Grand Canal runs through the whole city and you will come back to this every time you want to go in or out somewhere unless you go through the bridges. It is really beautiful especially at night and the houses that line the canal are stunning. It is very busy during the day with cruise ships coming in and tourists running around but that has its own charm, surely it wasn’t any different in the old trading days..

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge is the main and the biggest bridge in Venice and it is a good example of Venetians trading minds. The bridge is lined with shops on both sides with the left side disappearing into smaller streets that eventually take you to St. Mark’s Square. On the right hand side there is a small square with a local market with fresh stuff . I liked it because it presented some form of normality in this town completely modified for tourists..

Piazza San Marco

The walk between Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s square is short and sweet with many a surprises typical of Venezia. Every street, every canal opens up to a new scenery with gondolas floating around. The upscale shopping area is also on the way and it is called Le Mercerie.

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Basilica from the Square

We arrived at the main square with a massive queue in front of us to enter the St. Mark’s Basilica. The piazza is big but not the biggest in Venice but it is the lifeline of Venetian life now and even back then with the Basilica in front and links to terra ferma or mainland from here and Doge’s palace on the right hand side of the Basilica. The buildings in the square today have been converted into restaurants and cafe’s and while I wouldn’t recommend food there, these are perfect places to get a drink or coffee and enjoy the beautiful Venetian spring sun..

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Panorama of Piazza

Fun Fact: The top floors of the buildings in past were brothels for visitors, which is quiote fascinating considering how the place was supposed to be ‘Holy’ with the Church as the focus of Piazza.

St. Mark’s Basilica

The main church has such a beautiful facade it glitters from a distance. It is the symbol of all the wealth. The whole church is made of golden murals and it is a stunning sight inside and out. We walked inside and then headed to the upper floor to see those beautiful horses standing atop the western facade of Basilica. The view is staggering and you can see the beautiful roofs of houses on each side. I will definitely recommend this and to avoid wasting time in long queues I reserved us the spot on the official site. You can do it here.

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Golden Delight?

Fun Fact: Saint Mark was originally buried in Alexandria in Egypt under Muslim rulers but Venetians were dying to have his body back because he was the patron Saint of the city. Two merchants cleverly dug his body up and hid it under pig meat. Muslims don’t like touching anything pig related and they were allowed to go out and this way St. Mark came here to Venice to this beautiful church. A dignified funeral? Perhaps not.

Warning: if you are not ‘appropriately’ dressed they will refuse entry and that means no bare legs or shoulders…

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Campanile

We came down satisfied to have seen this beautiful church and headed to Campanile, the tall bell tower with stunning bird eye views of Venice. Unfortunately the queue was ridiculously long and there is no way to pre book these tickets so we passed on these but you shouldn’t miss the lion; the symbol of Venice standing on top of a column on the far right in front of Doge’s palace.

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The queue went much longer…

Fun Fact: The lion that represents Venice and St. Mark was actually looted from Turkey and not something original, Venetians bought some of their wealth and the rest was simply taken by force. I think this is where they use the proverb ‘by hook or by crook’?
Doge’s Palace

Doge’s Palace

The next stop was Doge’s palace which is a massive complex and obviously it has a massive queue in front as well. You can avoid that as well by buying the tickets here. Unfortunately the ticket has to be combined with other museums which you can choose at  the link even if you don’t want to see the rest like we didn’t.

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The looks reverse completely inside..

You need a good hour or two to the beauty of this ridiculously beautiful palace. Every room is more beautiful than last and while Doge was head of the Venetians state and this was his palace, it has an awful lot of space for the rest of bureaucracy and even some dungeons and torture chambers…

Fun Fact: Venice had a very complex Government system and while the Doge was the head of city state of Venice his power had a lot of checks with different councils and bureaucracy. In the main hall there are portraits of all the previous Doges with one blackened out, he was the Doge who tried to get too much power…

Bridge of Sighs

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Not my fav bridge in Venice..

The bridge of sighs connects the palace with another prison. It is called bridge of sighs because it was often the place where the prisoners saw their last views of Venice before executions. Nothing romantic the story is rather gruesome but the bridge is beautiful but smaller than I had thought..

Basilica de Santa Maria della Salute

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The best of Venice

The floating church across from Piazza San Marco and my absolute favourite! Coming in and out of Venice it just puts life into the view. The interior absolutely matches the exterior, both grand and elegant.

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Venice is full of churches one more gorgeous than other. We were brought here with the tour and there is something really beautiful about this church that separates it from the rest, definitely worth a peek..

Carampene

Carampene is the old red light district and the bridge right in front of it is called the bridge of tits; how fitting! There isn’t much to see around but the area is really beautiful and quite devoid of tourists..

Fun Fact: Venice was the Las Vegas of Middle Ages with Casinos and brothels everywhere. This is where Jacomo Casanova got his fame as the womanizer…

Venetian Ghetto

Venetian Ghetto is the ancient area where jewish population lived. Venice had a slightly liberal stance towards Jews but they were still confined to a few jobs like banking and lending money. With time the Jews grew in power and influence and built beautiful synagogues hidden in plain sight..

The Jewish population of Venice was sadly deported during WWII but synagogues remain there and you should definitely check one in the area.

Fun Fact: The English word Ghetto comes from ghetto in Italian and it comes from Venice from this conferment of Jews in a single area.

Squero di San Trovaso

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Panorama of Venice from the other side

This is the area where they build gondolas and you can see the workshop in front with gondolas in production. Quite an interesting experience. The houses here are slightly different because the labour came from different areas and they preferred wooden houses to the brick ones in Venice..

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Gondola building site

Fun Fact: Venice established the first manufacturing assembly line in the world, 500 years before the modern manufacturing boom. They gave specialised tasks to teams with standard measurements and the ship was combined at the end with a staggering amount of 3 ships per day. No one had the same capability in Europe and even the Tudor Kings’ naval fleet seemed like ‘a few ships’ in front of Venetian Navy which they fiercely used to protect the city and their trade routes. You can still visit Arsenale to see this old shipyard.

Murano Island

No visit to Venice is complete without a visit to these two beautiful islands. You can either go with some tour which might add Torcello as well to the list but we wanted to be independent and do it our way so we took the bus from San Marco Piazza and headed first to Murano. The ride is peaceful and you get to see some more of this beautiful city from different angles. In 15-20 minutes you will arrive at Murano famous for its glass factories. There are quite a few around the landing area and you can walk into any one of them, buy the ticket and see them blowing glass and forming some beautiful shapes and animals. I’d recommend coming towards the end of the day so you are not rushed and there are less tourists. It is a quick and commercial experience and there isn’t much else on the island honestly so we headed to Burano, the prettier sister of Murano.

Burano Island

The boat will being you to the docking area which is beautiful but nothing compared to when you walk in the streets and get to the central canal. The houses lined on both sides, the beautiful balconies and everything around especially those flowers pots neatly decorated in balconies are just so beautiful. The food situation here is also better. We stayed there till it started getting dar and then headed back to Venice. I’d recommend heading back before it gets dark so you can see these colourful houses from a distance, it is such a beautiful rich coloured spectrum, it is etched in my memory forever along with the beautiful dream we all call Venice…

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Burano, the colour box island

You can spend ages in Venice and not be able to discover all the jewels of this beautiful city but it was time to go so we packed our bags and headed to the Railway station to take the train to Trieste, another beautiful surprise and the views of Italian North East coast reduced the sadness of leaving Venice very fast, give it a try as well…

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Vatican City

Vatican City is an enclaved state within Rome and has the population of 842; the smallest state in the world by population and size. Smallest yes but not poor by any means, culture, history, money and tradition, all are intertwined in this Holy city.

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Vatican was not a separate country but Mussolini made it one to separate the church and state in 1929. Since then it has its own boundaries, foreign policy and embassies all located within the enclosed walls. The most important person in Vatican is obviously the Pope and everything revolves around His Holiness.

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Ceilings that look like heaven..

Fun Fact: Vatican is the only country in the world that has diplomatic ties to almost every country in the world at present.

Despite its size, Vatican has treasures no other country does, from manuscripts dating back to original Saints to painting masterpieces to whole buildings that are revered around the world, St. Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel are two good examples.

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Just look at that…

Vatican has an interesting history and despite its current ‘Holy’ nature, Papal history is full of controversy, bigotry and even outright blasphemy. From lavish banquets and orgies to pope acting as pimps the whole story is an interesting read.

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There isn’t a corner that’s not decorated..

If you’d like to know more there is an 8 part BBC documentary on the history of Rome that will shed some more lights and the link is here, enjoy! 😉

Things to Do

Vatican is an extremely popular destination amongst tourists visiting Riome and indeed the history of Rome is utterly incomplete without Vatican for Popes have ruled this city and the rest of continent from this seat for 2 millennia. You need not spend a lot of money for this visit if you’re smart which I am very proud about 😉

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The heavens play with you here..

Tours and Tickets Bookings

This is the most important part of your trip and I booked my tickets considerable in advance which not only gave us access to official tours at much cheaper price but also official guides have access to far more areas than unofficial guides and tour operators.

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You can check the details of official Vatican Museum Tour that takes you around and choose the tour based on your needs be it Pilgrimage to hidden Vatican or Vatican by train or simply to see the collection and Sistine Chapel. They also do out of hours and night tours as well as archeological visits as well as papal gardens and villas. You will need to choose a few things and manage it based on timings and your interest. I chose the Collection and Sistine chapel as well as Sistine Chapel which gave us free entry and took us through the Museum to Sistine Chapel and ended in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Tip: Make sure you confirm that the tickets and tours include Fast Track entry to avoid queues.

Arrival

The closest metro stations to the entrance of Museum are Ottavino and Cipro on Mtero Line A, both on a few minutes’ walk. We arrived for the day at 9am and stood in the queue for 10am Tour start. Yes there is a queue even if you have booked tickets so come early. We stood in the fast track queue and after security checks we were handed our tickets and told to wait for the guide. Staff there was very courteous and tried to help everyone as much as they could.

The getting here page from Vatican Museum website is very useful and you can calculate the route as well. The link is here.

There was a feeling of distinctness once we entered Vatican like the city has a special aura around it. I won’t call it religious or spiritual but more about the history this place has seen and the role these walls played through millennia in shaping the world we live in from Crusades to burning people on stakes to the feeling that Michelangelo perhaps entered through the same door as me to paint Sistine Chapel…

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Surprises everywhere…

Tip: There are a lot of touts outside offering tickets and fast track tickets at a higher price. I would recommend bargaining with them to get tickets instead of waiting for the official queue. The queues outside Vatican Museum are legendary and as the day goes, they get bigger and slower.

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Mural floor..

Warning: If you arrive in dress code not considered appropriate you will be turned away, make sure you wear something that covers your shoulders and legs, sleeveless shirts and tops and shorts are not allowed, I’d recommend an extra scarf for women folk just to be cautious.

Tip: Please don’t turn up with massive bags, it will not only delay your visit with extra security checks but will hinder you throughout the visit or you will have to pay for the cloakroom.

Vatican Museum

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Entrance and ticket hall

Finally the tour started and we went from one room to another, one area more beautiful than other with stories of Popes, Saints, leaders, Kings, Queens and religion. The only part missing was the common people. I am not religious and nor do I criticize or compare religions particularly but it did make me wonder when the followers of a hungry man riding a donkey eating dry bread turned into these aristocrats and money gobblers they never paid any thought to the real message.

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It is a weird mix of Roman Empire and Christianity

In all honesty I only remember a little bit from all that talk and information but the decor and the interior, the paintings, sculptures shout beauty and the depth of papal involvement in patronage of art and architecture. My favourite part was the maps room because it revealed so much about the world at the time and I could imagine the Popes bending over deciding which part would go next and how. The fates of common men is always decided in rooms shielded from views of their faces and miseries..

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel is perhaps the most sought after experience in Vatican. This Chapel that sees herds of visitors every single day is located at the end of the tour was our last stop inside Vatican Museums and before St Peter’s Basilica. The guide explained the history and Michelangelo’s work and took us inside but since it is still a place of worship, guides are not allowed to provide info and you are definitely not allowed to take photos. The walls and ceilings are stuff of dreams. It was a very strong case of desire as well for I have been seeing pictures and reading about it for ages, got slightly emotional there..

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Pictures are strictly forbidden in Sistine Chapel..

We stayed for roughly 15 minutes before heading towards St Peter’s Basilica..

Fun Fact: The work Michelangelo was doing was very expensive. For example the blue colour was made with ground Lapis Lazuli, a blue stone that came from North East Afghanistan and at times Pope couldn’t afford it so the projected was halted..

Warning: If you have booked the guided tour that includes St. Peter’s Basilica, you cannot go back to the museum at the end of tour and you will have to stand in the queue and buy a separate ticket.

St. Peter’s Basilica

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St. Peter’s Square

The last stop on the tour was St. Peter’s Basilica and the tour guide brought us in and gave his details of the Basilica. For someone obsessed with Basilicas and cathedrals, It was a slightly weird experience. For starters all the paintings inside have been replaced with murals to avoid damage which seems a little bit like cheating. The statues on the other hand are absolutely magnificent and with so many of them and the really high dome, I felt like a small man, perhaps this effect was intended..

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Entrance

This Basilica has gone through immense changes throughout its existence and reported to be a guardian of a lot of secrets of Christianity and Vatican but there is a certain lack of spirituality that I was expecting and the city seems devoid of that. I am not sure whether it was because I was exposed only to the tourist areas or because I felt a certain sense of hypocrisy from a place that is supposed to be humble and helping but it actually sits o top of piles of money when the poor go hungry…

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The Papal Balcony

A few more minutes and then we headed to the most fun part of our tour, climbing the Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica…

Tip: the queues outside St Peter’s Basilica are longer than the one’s outside the museum and to avoid this book an inclusive tour. The queue moves much faster here than museum..

Climbing the Cupola

The cupola or dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is purely feast for senses. The art work inside and the arches around is so beautiful to look at, I could stare at that for hours. The main fun however is to climb this Cupola.

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View from Mid terrace

Warning: It is definitely not for the weak hearted and certainly not for claustrophobics.
The entrance is on the right hand side when you go out of Basilica where you will buy the tickets.

Tip: I strongly recommend buying the ticket with lift because the remaining 320 steps still drain a lot of energy and you don’t want to do 551 instead of 330. The difference is price is 2 Euros which is certainly not worth all the hassle.

We went up the lift and waited our turn to enter. The dome is a classical double dome with an inner dome and an outer dome and we started feeling the difference when we reached the interior balcony at the end of lift from where the spiral staircase starts. It is really narrow at times but the consolation is small windows around that provide the beautiful views outside.

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The inner dome up close..

After what seemed like never ending series of spiral stairs we reached the top which honestly felt like the back yard of some council estate with old stuff lying around but the views towards the square as well as the city were so beautiful I was willing to forgive and forget everything. The aches in my legs were replaced by the breeze in my heart when I saw the clouds floating above the square. It was a beautiful moment that stretched for some time and I wish it could have last a lifetime…

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It gets narrower..

Vatican city is a must-do attraction when you visit Rome whether you are Catholic, Christian, a history buff, Rome obsessed, obsessed with churches or simply a traveler passing by. It has all the right weapons to impress you with its grandeur, magnificence and 2 millennia of history (plus it also brings a welcome change from the Roman ruins around).

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Hvar

One of the most scenic and amazing places you will find in Croatia and date I say in the whole of Europe! Hvar is a mini paradise that is not only unique but also so beautiful that made me ask how utterly, ridiculously and fantastically beautiful this place is, while sitting on top of the mountains overlooking this paradise island.

Hvar works on two levels; the party island that can go on all day all night so much so that you get celebs like Beyoncé coming to experience the sunset at Hula Bar and the second is a serene island where you can watch the sun dawn and set in a hammock with only the sound of water waves breaking at the shore. How does that sound? I still haven’t been able to shake off the 2 and a half magical days I spent on Hvar sandwiched between Split and Dubrovnik.

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Vie w from the balcony

When I was booking the trip I wasn’t too sure about Hvar honestly because it seemed a bit like Mykonos or Ibiza where if you’re not too keen on partying there isn’t much to do other than lying on the beach but little did I know how Hvar is nothing like any other island I have been to. I saw some pictures, checked with some friends and reluctantly booked it considering it is the island with best connection to land both from Split and Dubrovnik.

All Things Hvar

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Hvar after sun set

Getting to Havr

Getting a to Hvar is easy by ferry or boat from neighbouring islands as well as mainland. The ferry from Split goes directly to Hvar and the journey isn’t long. You will easily arrive at the main port of Hvar which is on the right side of the city centre and quite close to everything a tourist can do.

The schedule changes seasonally but ferries to and from Split and frequent at least. Rest you can check and book here.

Tip: The ferries to Hvar go to another city on the island called StariGrad which was the original capital, make sure you’re not going there and if you do there’s a bus that can bring you to the right place.

Gay Hvar

Despite being a party island there are gay bars and clubs and the gay population is a few loca and some tourist guys which didn’t even cover the full screen of my iPhone. Everyone else was on another island or far but I didn’t care. There’s something about this place that makes you want to forget everything g and just relax and regenerate and rejuvenate. But yeah I wouldn’t go to Hvar for it’s gay scene ‘yet’.

Public Transport

The town is small and there is no public transport. The island generally has some public transport but you have to go to the station to get a taxi or bus. I personally didn’t feel the need and didn’t bother. I mean why bother with taxis when you can walk on beautiful trail right at sea shore, eh!

Food

The food scene is a bit of hit and miss to be honest. There are a lot of good restaurants but generally I found eating around at smaller establishments can be good and bad. One restaurant to try is Lungo Mare which was good especially for dinner with its amazing views but you definitely need a reservation.

Another really interesting thing that I came across was the Lavender ice cream. It was a bit of a weird experience at first with me contemplating. Whether I wanted to try it But I have in and it was quite a different taste but it wasn’t oily taste which I was expecting so that’s something fun.

Generally you can get good and freshly grilled fish pretty much everywhere even on the tour as well as pasta, you won’t go hungry I promise.

Tour

I spent one day on this amazing tour that took us around on the speed boat and showed us the green cave, blue cave, Komizo town and last Palmizana beach area where we had lunch and then I returned back with some friends I made on the tour to party in the town.

The tour can be easily bought from the people selling on the seaside road in small shops. I left at 10 and came back at 6ish.

Tip: Make sure you take some water and cash with you because you will need to pay for Blue Cave separately.

We left for the Green cave which is the first stop and I dodged the bullet because I was being put with 2 married couples and luckily they found a third couple and went on the fun boat with 4 young American girls and our muscly tour guide and boat driver. It was an amazing day with beautiful views, good company and seeing some muscles through a white t shirt whenever our guide got wet. The poor guy got a little nervous every single time we giggled at his wet wear. 😉

Green Cave

Green Cave is 30-40 minutes away and really beautiful. It is a cave and it is green when you look at the Water inside (DUH!!!). Boats are allowed to go inside and you’re allowed to swim and since I suck at that I sufficed with dipping my legs and taking pictures at the edge of boat. The Water is beautiful and clear and the day was really beautiful with perfect temperature.

We stayed there for half an hour and then moved on to the blue cave.

Blue Cave

Blue cave is slightly different but only a few minutes away from the green Cave. We were taken to the area where you buy the tickets and wait for your turn.

The entrance to the cave is narrow and you can go in the designated ships only in turns. We had to wait a little so we decided to chill there. I went up to the top on the waiting area, up the hill I mean and I had to call other up. The view was perfect with turquoise and emerald waters overlapping and playing with each other with boats flotiang around..

Finally we were called and we got in the shop to be taken to this ‘jewel’. We were told I duck in while getting inside and when I lifted my head we all just went wow in a trance. The Water is lit by natural blue light and the Water is so clear I felt like I could touch the rocks by extending my hand knowing well it was 16 meters deep..

The trip is long enough for you to enjoy the view but the magic not to be broken

Komiza Town & Beach

Next stop was this small town with a very tranquil beach with a few families and not a lot of tourists where we stopped for a bit. We walked around and grabbed a drink from a bar at the beach. The town had a beautiful sea front and I would love to build a house on top of the mountain, just think of the view. ❤

Palmizana Beach

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The view..

Last stop on our tour was Palmizana Island and beach. The island has many folds creating the beautiful lagoons but I do remember we went to this other small but beautiful beach for swimming but it was crowded and we were hungry by then and the task of finding something to eat at Palmizana beach was still there. We arrived and the hunt began, the restaurants are nice but fully booked or they ask for hefty amounts per person but we finally managed to find a place with a bit of a view. The food was pretty good but the drinks were better or they just felt better. I was happy to have found the right people around me and when you have good company, good food, good views and amazing weather what else do you need?

We came back around 6 and after a brief nap I got ready and headed to Falko Bar to meet the gal pals and watch the sunset at this beautiful island…

Itineraries

Day 1

Tour –> Falko Beach Bar

Day 2

Mustaco Beach –> Castle –> City –> Hula Hula Beach Bar

Things to do

Castle

The castle in Hvar is right on top of the hill and while the castle itself isn’t much the view from the top is to die for. You can either take the bus or taxi up there or you can walk up the mountain. The trail starts from the city centre and it is quite beautiful and a good way to digest your breakfast. A little under half an hour and I was on top of the hill outside the castle. You know the feeling where you feel the world halt to a still with nothing else happening other than a deep sense of peace and stillness; THAT HAPPENED!

If I have the chance to go back to do one thing on Hvar, it would be getting to the top and inhaling that view of this beautiful island, Adriatic’s blue water and the life on the tiny islands in front of it…

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I want to go back…

Partying

As soon as the sun goes down, Hvar turns into a party town. When I was there they had Ultra Europe Beach festival on so the place was busy but to make it even busier it was the annual Yacht week so Hvar was buzzing with full force. The sea from on the right hand of the port all the way to the end of city is full of bars and clubs. Near the port I saw a different lot of characters. The atmosphere was still very relaxed and honestly the choice of bars is endless despite the fact there isn’t a single gay bar in Hvar.

Beaches

Every few meters, Hvar will throw a beach at you. These are pebble beaches usually between the folds of mountains at sea front and most of them are not big especially the ones in the city centre but there are other beaches that are bigger and more amazing.

Mustaco Beach

My favourite beach is a little bit of a walk from the city centre, roughly 30-40 minutes or you can get a scooter, quad bike or a taxi but I preferred to walk early in the morning to enjoy the views on the way. There are other smaller beaches on the way but I’d recommend not stopping there. I got there hungry enough to eat the whole island and after some good food at the restaurant around I headed to the beach which was fast filling up and grabbed a chair and a little splish-splash later I was fast asleep. The restaurants are good and the water was crystal clear. Because it is a bit farther away from the city the beach is much cleaner.

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This one is from LiveLifelikeabestseller

Hula Hula Beach Bar

i won’t say much in praise except for ‘If it is good for Beyonce it is good for me’ for the queen visited and partied here and there was no f*cking way i was going to miss the chance. Luckily I met a guy on Grindr who is friends with the owner or the manager and I went with him. The sunset here was a different experience but an experience that includes drinks, drunk but happy people, getting wet, music and fun. This beach bar is considered one of the best in the world and world renowned DJ’d come here to play..

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The photo is from google, I accidentally deleted mine :/

Falko Beach Bar

Ahhh my flake bar, the beautiful Falko bar with its hammocks and the sun beds outside with its super friendly and sweet staff and amazing drinks and those nibbles..

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The best seat int he world

Falko is an amazing place to come and experience the sun set on Hvar in a more serene way, in a relaxed manner that makes you feel good about your whole day. Come a little early and snuggle in the hammock to enjoy the view with extra laziness. It is a further few minutes walk from Hula Hula which is a 5 minutes walk from city centre.

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Sunset

Brasov

Brasov; the second most famous city of Romania after its capital but a much different place in spirit and presence. Brasov is a popular place for visitors because of its proximity to Bran castle but this beautiful Transylvanian town was a pleasant surprise to say the least.

Brasov from Tampa Mountain

We decided to stay in Brasov because I wasn’t too keen on seeing the castles in a day and returning to Bucharest at the end. Brasov was much closer to them and we decided to head there after our Transylvanian castle adventure.

Brasov is quite different from Bucharest in terms of people and also in terms of its heritage. Since it wasn’t the centre of communist government’s agenda they mostly ignored it which preserved the heritage of this beautiful town with its multi-coloured houses and German population. It is located in a valley with absolutely stunning views from the top of the Tampa mountain and that Hollywood like BRASOV sign…
Generally it is a town with a few surprises, a booming younger population, skiing resorts and a pleasant time. The food scene is great and it is generally a cheap and affordable place.

All Things Brasov

Getting to Brasov

The drive from Bran to Brasov is not very long especially with no traffic. It took us roughly 40-50 minutes. You can also come here by bus or train and the links to Bucharest and other towns in Transylvanian towns like Sibiu and Sighisoara.

Bran when you leave..

Tip: If you are coming from Bran, you can also see the Rasnov Castle which apparently has great views on the top. We didn’t get around to it sadly but it is on the way..

Accommodation

City centre is Brasov is quite beautiful and small with views of Tampa Mountain on one side and the views of castle and black tower on the other. Some of the former fortification is gone but some is still very much there. I would prefer to stay in the city centre but there is a general alck of parking because it is quite a pedestrian place so we stayed a little outside. The city is generally small and it doesn’t take long to get from one place to the other.

City Centre..

Free Walking Tour

I was surprised to know there’s a free walking tour in Brasov because of its size but it makes sense when you think of the number of tourists who visit. It happens every day at 3pm in the main square near the fountain. It was quite an amazing 2 and a half hours we spent together ad the guide told us a lot of fun stories, history and those fun historical facts that just make you love this well kept city even more..

Tour meet up Point

You can get more info here.

Gay Brasov

Despite a lot of tourist influx there are no dedicated gay bars or clubs here and the only way to socialise is through apps like Grindr, Scruff and Hornet. There are a few guys around and most of them seemed friendly, I just didn’t have the time unfortunately to meet anyone..

Food

The food scene here is much better than I had thought. Brasov was a much better city than I had expected, I must admit! Main square in the city centre has a few very nice and fashionable coffee shops as well as restaurants. The younger generation here is not unfamiliar with any coffee flavours I get to see in the hip cafes of East London so bravo to Brasov!

The first restaurant that came with high recommendation was Sergiana. Located at the edge of City centre next to the bus station, it is quite a beautiful place with traditional décor and the staff wears the traditional dresses as well. The menu is traditional and mainly pork based so we had little choice but the food was good and the environment was awesome. The only slight negative was the Romanian music that was somehow very annoying ina repetitive way umm (I am not sure how to express that honestly..)

The second accidental discovery was strictly not Romanian but it was our last night in Romania so we decided to have a good dinner. I saw this interesting restaurant on the way back from Tampa Mountain and loved it because of its interior. The back of the restaurant is traditional Romanian building but the front is converted into a beautiful glass dining area. We headed there in the evening and it turned out to be a great choice (My friend patted me on the shoulder for excellent job) which I accepted with a small burp digesting the duck leg I had eaten 😉

The name of this beautiful restaurant is Casa Hirscher and I’d recommend getting a reservation at this beautiful place to try some modern continental food with great surroundings.

Skiing

Brasov is quite famous with people looking fro skiing adventures and with quite a few resorts around, it is not the cheapest place but having seen what the city has to offer from the top of the mountain I would head there for sure if I didn’t mind a few broken bones and torn limbs (honestly I don’t know anyone who has gone skiing without getting injured).

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Skiing Info

The bus station in Brasov has a sign outside showing the capacity and the status of each area so you don’t get disappointed when you reach the top and the buses are quite frequent.

Spa

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Spa in the city centre

When it is sub zero outside the whole time and you are jumping around seeing places, there is nothing more you’d love than a good spa (or may be that’s just me). I saw the website of Spa d’Or and booked a 75 minutes deep tissue massage (honestly it was so cheap I could get 2 massages a day every day for the rest of the year, damn its so far from London). The staff at the spa was amazing and I loved this little treat that was very welcomed. I love being pampered ahhhh!

P.S My masseur told me they are moving location but I guess you can get that info from their website.

Things to do

Brasov can be generally seen in a day and to make it solid you can attend the walking tour at 3pm to make sure you’re not missing anything..

Black Church

This beautiful Gothic church in the middle of the city centre seems like a big anomaly. Having seen so many Orthodox churches in Bucharest I was expecting something similar here but then again Transylvania has a different history.

It was built as a Roman Catholic Church but later converted to Lutheran Protestant church when the German population converted to Protestant faith and you can see the statue of Luther outside pointing to the first German school here. The church was mainly used by the German population.

I bought the ticket and walked in to this mammoth building which has a simple but elegant interior with rather simple walls. The most impressive thing in the whole church is the beautiful collection of carpets and rugs that Turks either gifted or sold to people here that came from all around Middle East and Central Asia.

You are not allowed to take photos inside but I took some any way (and felt bad later when I was told it was to prevent the damage of rugs any further.) Please don’t be a douche like me and don’t take any photos inside.

Fun Fact: A single rug could take up to a year of restoration work to be on display because the silk weaving is extremely delicate.

Rope Street

Rope Street

The narrowest street in Europe apparently and also known as the most Romantic street of Europe. It is indeed very narrow but I am not so sure about the Romantic side of it considering it was quite dirty and there is no credible story to prove the romance relationship but there is a veryyyy creepy story which goes something like this..

There daughter of the most wealthy man in the town was coming back from her lessons (apparently she was THE beauty with blonde hair and blue eyes..) when she was groped and kissed by a middle aged man in Rope street. She didn’t tell anyone and then this happened again and again and again until she started liking it and went on to become the mistress of this middle aged creepy dude (very 50-shades-of-Grey of them). This creepy guy was none other than Vlad Tepes, our famous Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler) but apparently he loved her enough to not have taken another mistress after he molested her into liking him.

p.s There is a small slightly tacky looking museum in front which has a nice coffee shop and some beautiful photos and it is free, do pop in..

Black Tower

Brasov is a very sceic town and with the main city admin tower and Black church the views from any higher point are amazing but to get a really good idea you need to come here. Our guide brought us here and I was every so glad not to have missed the tour. This tower was part of fortification system but oh dear, what a view!

You can see the city walls, the river (honestly I have seen sewers 10 times bigger than that ‘river’), the panorama of the city and the frozen mist in the air just made me forget how cold it was and I felt that single moment of bliss that makes me forget about the negative side of travelling and the weather and cold and people and issues, a true Carpe Diem moment.

Tampa Cable Car

The most amazing thing you will do it to go up the cable car to the top of Tampa Mountain. The way to the cable car is a bit of a mysterious one and we asked a few people before we got there. Romanians hate putting up signs which makes things awkward at time.
The cable car runs every 10 minutes so we bought the tickets and then our turn came to go up. The ride is short and sweet and once you get there, the view is absolutely exhilarating. So much beauty thatit took me a few minutes to absorb it in. The mountains on the other side, the castle on top of the hill in the city, black church and rows of houses, all covered in frozen mist.

The walk behind and the trail was cold and slippery and I wasn’t really in the mood to walk around instead of enjoying the view so we stayed for a bit and then headed back down to enjoy the rest of this gorgeous city. I took a hyperlapse of the journey down, enjoy!

Fun Fact: The BRASOV sign on top of the mountain is actually bigger than the Hollywood sign but because of its height seems smaller.

Brasov is a perfect beautiful little break if you don’t like big cities and with good connections to the rest of the cities and countries around, I am ever so glad I got to know this little townsmen if it was for a day and a half..

Peles & Bran Castles

Romania especially Transylvania is loaded with castles, one more scenic and beautiful than other but the most famous of course is Bran or Dracula castle and in my earlier ignorance I thought that was the only hotspot in the country, how wrong I was!

We travelled by car and saw both Peles and Bran castles in a day on the way to Brasov. It is very easily doable and we had a great day with amazing rural scenery as well as the castles.

Peles castle is located in Sinaia city on top of the hill and it takes roughly 2 hours from Bucharest city centre to get there. The castle was a summer palace for the German king Carol I and most of the people like us see it because it is on-the-way but the opinion changed the moment I stepped inside the castle.

If I had the chance again I’d see Bran castle first and Peles later because Bran castle is very rudimentary and basic compared to Peles. It has its own charm though and the intrigue comes from the beautiful Transylvanian forests around the castle standing atop a sordid mountain.

Going with Tour

A tour of Peles, Bran and possibly Rasnov castles in a day is very popular and you can book it online and also through tourism info offices. They pick you at 8am and drop you back at 8pm.

Bucharest to Sinaia (Peles Castle)

We left bucharest around 10am after picking up our car from SixT which turned our bill from €52 to €106 with magic, never again SixT!

Tip: The best time to leave is around 9:30 -10am because most of the tourist tour operators leave around 8 am causing a bit of a rush at that time.

We started from the city centre towards Brasov and after the airport started the scenery that just blew our minds away. The roads were clear despite snow and we didn’t have any disruption at any point even on the single road later.

The road from Bucharest to Peles is double and very good but there is a severe lack of service areas. We hadn’t had any breakfast. After looking around for half an hour we finally found a road side restaurant which was good but I’d recommend eating before leaving.

The scenery on both sides of the road is stunning, snow covered trees that on a grey cloudy day would scare any one and make you think of vampires, the barren branches and thick forest till your eyes can see. After a while you will see the River flowing next to the road which goes all the way to Sinaia, frozen at some spots and flowing in others. The day was nice and sunny and 2 hours passed without realising much.

The old houses build with wood are fascinating and with so many designs and types it was a sight especially near Comarnic where the houses were really beautiful.

We didn’t go into Sinaia but it looked like a typical countryside town with wooden houses, snow and some shops. The drive up to the castle is short and in a couple of minutes you will arrive at the parking area beyond which you can only go on foot.

We walked up and got to this beautiful castle which looks like a jewel from a distance sitting on top of the hill with its beautiful gardens and the grassy grounds around it covered with snow.

Peles Castle

You don’t have to be a genius to realise why this place was chosen by the German king for his summer residence. Even from far you can imagine yourself on top of the tower enjoying the views of the forest behind and across and the beautiful snow covered Carpathian mountains, I could imagine the range of colours that must run through this place in summer.

The walk to the entrance was quite long because you have to go around the grounds in front of castle but we finally go to the castle. The beautiful building is disintegrating but you can still see the care with which it was built especially the wooden balconies and the beautiful tower.

We bought the tickets and waited for the tour to start which happens every 20 minutes. You will need to pay extra 45 Lei if you want to take pictures but I am not entirely sure if it is official because it was a bit hush hush and no one gave any receipt for it.

Finally the tour started and we entered the main hall of castle after covering our shoes and at that one single point I realised what a wonder this place was..

The main hall and every single room is decorated with extreme care and with so much dedication, it is almost impossible to find a comparable example. It was the first castle in Europe to get electricity and since there are no windows the roof opens and closes with electricity, a triumph of engineering at the time.

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The Ceiling

You will walk through the armoury which has some stunning weapons (old style and a big metallic statue and knight)

to the Kings room where he took audiences

ending in the library which housed books in Romanian, English, German and French. Apparently there is a secret tunnel that goes through the book cases, they didn’t let us open it though, who knows what we’d find in there.

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The Library

The rest of the rooms are designed in different styles taking their inspiration from a range of places. This includes a Turkish smoking room, a Moorish style Alhambra inspired room, Italian, French and even an English one.

My favourite rooms…

There is even a cinema in there but we were not so keen on spending a full hour with the tour so we wrapped in up and stayed in the main hall for a few more minutes enjoying this beautiful castle, their impeccable taste and the detailed work that was brought over from workshops of Vienna and Germany. The palace is a representation of the subjects the German kings had from Turks to Romanians to Germans and Hungarians…

Tip: If you have more time there is another smaller castle called Pelisor right next to Peles castle. I have heard it is also good and it is just a few minutes away.

I felt good listening to the advice and coming to this stunning castle. I don’t think I have seen anywhere so beautiful and so well placed, we walked back in a bit of awe of this place but it was time to get to Bran Castle.

Sinaia to Bran

The drive from Sinaia to Bran is an hour long and the road is single for most of the journey. We grabbed some boiled corn to enjoy on the way from the huts outside Peles castle..

We passed through the forest and jungles and some really sudden turns but the drive was very pleasant.

We arrived in Bran and parked our car and there we realised what Tourism does to a place. While Peles was still very rural with a few locals selling stuff, the entrance and surroundings of Bran castle have been turned into a tourist attraction with some restaurants and even a scary house with some devilish laughter blaring out on loud speaker, tacky is the word to describe it.

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The House of Horrors (apparently…)

Bran Castle

We purchased the tickets and entered the place 10 minutes it closed. It closes at 4 in Winters so take that into account. The walk up is short but steep and when we finally arrived at the door, it was covered is scaffolding; it was such a massive disappointment n top of the sun that decided to come out that day of all days to ruin my view.

I am just being a baby, it really was very beautiful with the thick forest around. The castle inside is very basic and rudimentary with whitewashed walls and ceilings and basic furniture. The rooms and corridors are quite small and at a lot of places I had to duck to move. It is a maze and a lot of times you don’t know where in the castle you are.

There is a small hidden passage that is open for everyone and if you are claustrophobic, don’t go in, it is really narrow and I felt a little dizzy..

Fun Fact: Despite the famous novel of Bram Stoker and its international fame and movies, Vlad Tepes had nothing to do with the castle. He was reportedly captured and kept here as a prisoner for a couple of months.

You will see the details of Vlad and Dracula and Bran as well as local superstitious figures called Strigoi which were the disturbed spirits of dead and the whole thing around them; some one must have come up with that to exploit the poor villagers, I wish I could invent something like that and run it as a business on the side 😉

After an hour in and around the maze, we finally grew tired and I had a spa appointment in Brasov as well, we decided to leave. It was the perfect time to see this beauty in shadows. We drove past the castle in opposite direction and there we saw the majesty of this beautiful stunner in darkening light. I couldn’t stop admiring the way it strokes your imagination. I am sure Bram Stoker had felt the same way.

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The beauty..

The forest around the castle..

Bran to Brasov

The drive from Bran to Brasov is quite short and we got there in 40-50 minutes. Despite the road getting darker it was still very comfortable. I must give it to the Romanian government for keeping the roads open with all that snow around, we did get a lot of pot holes though which reminded me of rural roads in Pakistan, ah the joys of travelling…

Bucharest

Bucharest, the city of Dracula, Ceausescu, lots of beautiful snow, a bizarre mix of communist blocks and churches, cold people and the biggest palace in the world, the list is almost endless.

I came back from Romania yesterday and the world seems very different, I think it will take a few days to get back to normality. It is a place like no other. On one hand you have a nation struggling to forget its past and move forward but 50 years of communist rule has given way to a culture that is very ‘obedient’. People walk with a straight face in straight lines and I didn’t see many people chatting or laughing in the streets except for the younger generation which is more receptive to the European lifestyle.

Not sure which building is this but loved the lighting..

Bucharest is the capital of Romania but it was not the main reason for visit although it changed my opinion after the visit. I wanted to see the Dracula castle in all its might, on a grey snowy day when you get the chills in your spine but about that later, this is about Bucharest or Bucaresti. (Bewkareshti is how it is pronounced).

Fun Fact: Danube is the second biggest river in Europe. It flows through 10 countries and has 4 capitals located on it; Belgrade , Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna.

(This random fact because I, for some reason, believed Bucharest was on Danube, It is 60km South and the last Danube Capital is Belgrade).

According to folklore and legend Bucharest was founded by a shepherd named Bucur who loved the beautiful valley and decided to stay and gave the city its name. He is said to have married lovely Dambovita and produced the people of Bucharest. Such simplicity! There is a church dedicated to Bucur today in Bucharest on Radu Voda Street so with out wasting more time I’ll take you through this lovely city which I loved and hated both (loved a lot more honestly) with its beautiful surroundings and biting cold weather.

All Things Bucharest

To & From Airport

Bucharest has two airports but the main airport is Henri Coanda which is out of city in Otopeni and it is usually called Otopeni airport. It is modern and quite big with quite good food and drink options and getting to and from is easy.

You can either take the bus which can take from 30-60 minutes to take you the heart of city in Unirii square and the tickets can be bought at level 0 just outside the door on the right hand side. (It is a small booth). The other option is taxi which I had heard a lot about and honestly I was not comfortable with the remotest chance of being scammed on landing so we took the bus which was quite easy. If you want to take the taxi make sure the metre is running and it has some official number on it.
The tourist information counter at the airport wasn’t very helpful to put it mildly and they keep insisting you read the brochures, not sure why they sit there then?

Accommodation

We stayed in the Old town which is right in the middle of city but this comes with a bit of catch. Unlike other old towns this one is not ‘old’ culturally and most establishments are intended for nightlife (clubs, bars, erotica and ‘massage’ places) and it can be quite loud so stay at the periphery. Also the buildings are not entirely safe so use this map to check the safety if you are using airbnb or book a hotel which are not very expensive here. Most nightlife and things happen around Unirii square and University square and we stayed right in the middle which gave us easy access to all things.

Walking Tour

Bucharest has a free walking tour as well organised by Walkabout and we totally loved it. It is probably the best way to make sense of the city and learn some fun facts and history. Our guide was Mihaela and she kept us totally engaged for 2 and a half hours in -4C which says a lot. You can get more info here.

A really strange thing happened on the tour though. Our guide was telling us about the city and a guy randomly started hurling obscenities at her and called her a ‘Gypsy’. She laughed it off but it was such a random thing we were all shocked. We also saw another man being loud to a police woman while she stood there looking bored. Apparently Romanians like their opinions to be known, oh well!

Old City

The Old City of Bucharest is probably the biggest disappointment of all. I am used to roaming around in well kept old cities, preserved and revered. This one was full of Betting shops, Casinos, Erotica and ‘massage’ establishments, clubs and bars with loud music. The buildings are very unruly but I think a bit of regeneration work has started. They do have some good bars for cheap booze and most of the famous sites are located here along with some good restaurants as well.

Parliament Palace and Tour

The biggest palace in the world, the most expensive building in the world and the second biggest building in the world (after Pentagon) is a bit of an experience on its own. It is a mammoth with more than 1000 rooms but because of its size it requires massive amounts for its upkeep which unfortunately the country doesn’t have. I was told the tour was quite boring but luckily we had a good guide and we enjoyed the 90 minutes tour. You will not be allowed to go in on your own without the guide. I definitely think it is worth it. You can reserve the tour on the website here and don’t forget to give them a call one day in advance otherwise they will cancel your reservation.

After 90 minutes of roaming around this somewhat sad building, we only got to see 5% of the building, oh dear lord!

Fun Fact: They will also take you the balcony where the dictator wanted to address his subjects from. Ironically it was used by Michael Jackson for his concert. The amusement doesn’t stop here because he cheered the crowds in on the beautiful Unirii boulevard with greeting to BUDAPEST and not Bucharest. Some history the balcony has!

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View from the balcony is pretty amazing though..

The boulevard is really gorgeous and it is bigger than Champ de Elysees in Paris for that was the requirement. The building style was picked by Causescu by entering the room of structural models and simply choosing the biggest model by scale without any other inquiries. The architect was a 28 year old girl who spent her whole life creating and then maintaining this mammoth. At its height, it was worked on by thousand of workers 24 hours and up to 700 architects.

Fun Fact: When communism fell, Donal Trump tried to buy the building to turn it into a casino but ran away after it was appraised at 4 billion USD in 1989. I couldn’t help thinking if the Romanians had given him this one cheaper he wouldn’t have pursued White House perhaps?

Tip: There are entrance doors on each side but the entrance for tours is on the left hand side on Blvd. Natiunile Unite. We went to the wrong entrance and took us 30 minutes to get to the other side and we missed our tour.

Tip: Cash, please bring cash, they don’t take cards, another big surprise I got which meant going out again in -6C to get cash for our tour. Also don’t forget your ID card or passport.
The palace and the boulevard both have their own presence and while Romanians live with it amongst them, they have no particular fondness for it. I suppose this is what happens when you build stuff with the blood of your people by destroying oldest neighbourhoods in the city.

Tourist Office

Romanians are not friendly people generally and this truly reflects in the attitude of staff in Tourist offices. My God it is a mission to get anything out of them. Whatever you ask, they just keep insisting you have to read the lengthy brochure because it has EVERYTHING in it.

The main office is in Universitate metro station on lower level in the shopping area but I would highly recommend walking to Revolution centre and using the privately run Tourist info centre. The address is Calle Victoriei 68-70. The girls there were really lovely and helped us with all our questions and you can also book tours with them.

Public Transport

Public transport is quite good but honestly you won’t need it much because all the stuff to see is around the old city. The metro is quite good and is one of the biggest in eastern Europe. We didn’t use the buses so can’t tell you but don’t expect anything fancy. The metro stations still look very commy and basic but the trains are clean and run quite often.
Taxis are also common and very cheap throughout the city. Uber is fairly limited though.

Language

The younger generation understands and speaks English quite well but most folk on the street are not familiar with it. You will get most of the websites in English version as well along with Romanian.

Fun Fact: Romanian in its present form is the closest to Latin and the only language that still boasts that ‘honour’.

Food

Food was probably the biggest surprise in Romania and Bucharest. I was made scared of bland Eastern European food with pork filled menus which is fairly untrue. Bucharest has a lot of new restaurants with people experimenting with new ideas and giving a modern twist to traditional food.

The best thing for breakfast are these shops with a window hole that sell pastries and there was so much variety you can try a new thing every day. The swirly marbled chocolate bread to pancakes rolled with jam to croissants to nutella bread, grab a coffee to go and you are sorted! Totally loved the idea and how little time it takes out of your sightseeing day.

You simply cannot go to Bucharest and not go to Caru’ cu bere. This icon of Bucharest has been around since 1879 and the interior is absolutely stunning. It is a treat to enjoy food here. The name literally means The Beer Wagon. It opened when the trading routes opened and the first imported drink Romanians tasted was beer.

The current restaurant is more of a tourist attraction and in all honesty, the food was fairly average but the atmosphere was good and we loved the time we spent there. Don’t forget to get a reservation though, it can be quite busy. Smoked aubergine sauce with tomatoes was my absolute favourite, yum!

Fun Fact: The logo of Caru’ cu bere is a cat and a rooster which represented ‘We will party all night like the cat till the rooster sings in the morning.

The highlight of food in Bucharest was Lacrimi si Sfenti. This restaurant located within the Old city was the best food we had while in Bucharest. The interior is a fusion of modern and traditional and so is the food. Highly recommended! If you are lucky you will also get to hear some Live Romanian music like we did 😉

P.S I have never been anywhere where they love and Peat Polenta so much, don’t be afraid I totally loved it especially with sour cream and cheese. *drool*

And my favourite Leonnard Cafe in Hanul Manuc for some coffee..

Gay Bucharest

Bucharest is still fairly conservative but it is definitely coming out of the shadows. There are no dedicated bars and only one club that does gay nights on the weekends. It is called Queens Club but based on what I have heard it is very hookerish. Another alternative is Control club but you need to check the nights on their website.

A friend just told me that Queen’s has been closed so there goes the last gay club in Bucharest…

We didn’t really go out somewhere because honestly it was not very comfortable and I didn’t feel very safe. I met Vlad who I had been speaking to through Scruff and he helped me understand a few things about the gay scene in Bucharest. Coming out isn’t easy in Romania still despite EU law and switch because the culture is fairly conservative and most guys aren’t out. Grindr on the other hand was buzzing with quite a few guys and I was surprised to see so many of them with their faces on, a little positive surprise and a good break from all the torsos 😉

All in all if I were you, I wouldn’t go to Bucharest for its gay scene, not yet at least!

Nicolae Ceaușescu

Romanian history is full of tyrants and cruelty, sometimes so much that I shuddered and shivered and then some more. You will hear this name again and again and again until you start hating the guy as well! It is pronounced Chao-shes-ku btw.

The last communist leader whose demise came with the revolution in 1989 was one of the cruelest communist leaders with the strictest rules anywhere in the communist world at the time and he was competing with North Korea, China and Russia, go figure!

He is the architect of most of the city structure of Bucharest in its current form. He built the parliament palace and the boulevard in front of it for his grand vision of city, sadly at the expense of his people. He was quite loved at first with his reforms but then we went bonkers and in his obsession to pay the entire national debt of Romania he started importing everything out of the country and this lead to major shortages of everything. He was eventually toppled over in 1989, got captured with his wife Elena, had a one hour trial and shot by a firing squad on live TV, ummmm!

Vlad the Impaler

Draculaaaa or Vlad the impaler (or Vlad Tepes which was his real name), call him whatever the guy has international fame and while the rest of the world considers him an evil character he is surprisingly a Robin hood type figure for Romanians.
One of the Romanian princes, he ruled the country on behalf of Ottomans and rebelled. When his father first arrived in the city as conqueror he was carrying a flag of Order of Dragon (an order formed to fight Ottomans) and since Romanians had never seen a dragon symbol before they called it ‘Dracul’ or devil. With that extension Vlad was called Dracula or son of Dracul, nothing to do with blood sucking unfortunately for all those Vampire enthusiasts.

He was ruthless but he was also fair to Romanians and people from Walachia. He also refused to pay the tribute to Ottomans which resulted in them sending a small army of 2000 soldiers to fight him. He captured them all and the next time when the bigger army arrived, he impaled them and hung them on the way to Bucharest which terrified the Ottoman army.

The way impaling was done was a cruel to say the least. First you take a long wooden pole and make one end pointy. Then you enter it to the body through anus and then the man slide on it. The pole was designed not to pierce any major body organs and you died a slow and painful death which some times took more than 48 hours. Some Robin hood he was!
He didn’t last very long but stories of his cruelty are still alive, some more in Bran castle post…

Churches

Romanians are mostly Orthodox Christians and the churches are mostly similar Orthodox style. In contrast to the catholic mega structures, these are relatively smaller with one or two small domes which are a little elevated like minaret domes. It seems much closer to Greek Orthodox style and an interesting change because all the places I visited in the last year were massively catholic and despite my obsession with churches you do get bored of the grandeur and similar style.

The churches here are mostly very interesting buildings not because of their style but also where they are located. Most of them are surrounded by or are behind grey commy blocks and it is such a huge contrast comparing the decorated churches with dull square blocks, makes them look more ornate!

Another interesting thing that I saw in Bucharest only was the loud speakers. The churches have loud speakers that continuously relay the sermons to people going around on the streets in Romanian. I have never seen that anywhere in the world, even in Islamic countries where only call to prayer or Friday sermons are relayed to people on street and even that’s in decline. Quite an interesting aspect of Romanian religious side…

Therme Bucaresti

The biggest spa in Europe is located surprisingly in Bucharest and not London or Berlin or Paris and my god it is gorgeous! We spent the entire evening there. you can take the free shuttle that runs between the city and spa at different times and come back on the same shuttle. Check the schedule on the website here under How to get here section. The taxi cost us roughly 35 Lei.

The spa has three different areas based on the theme and the day we went only Galaxy was open. The whole spa is a massive complex and it was quite a good mix of relaxation, fun and excitement because with normal spa stuff and pools they also had water slides. It was a welcome break.

Unfortunately the massage is offered only in Elysium area which was closed but they did had hydromassage beds which were not as good but weren’t too bad either. The pools were amazing especially the hot pool with seating and a bar where you can chill and have drinks without walking out of water and last but not the least, the outdoor pool. I absolutely love outdoor pools and the experience here was absolutely amazing. We chilled out there for quite some time before heading back in. Sadly the only part missing was a good scenery but oh well! Oh and don’t forget to try different saunas which were really invigorating.

p.s I think they hired all the good looking guys from Bucharest to work in Therme, another reason to stay a bit longer… 😉

Itineraries

Bucharest is a big city and you need a lot of time to explore its different sides but I am assuming you are short of time and need to see the main highlights in a couple of days. If you have more time and it is not sub zero you can definitely do and see more.

Day 1

You can see the main attractions in two days around Bucharest and for most of them you don’t need to use public transport, walking around is the best option with plenty of bars, coffee shops, restaurants and shops at every corner. Day 1 is designed to spend around the Revolution square and with the Walking tour you can have a look around the Old City and Little Paris and you will end up in University square.

Romanian Atheneum –> Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei) –> National Museum of Arts –> Kretzulescu Church –> University Square (Piata Universitate) –> National Theatre –> Biserica Sfantul Gheorghe Nou –> Biserica Sfantul Ioan Nou –> Unirii Square (Piata Unirii)

Romanian Atheneum

A beautiful concert hall next to Revolution square with a gorgeous garden in front. It is quite a beautiful building and has a special presence in the square.

Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei)

The revolution square is surrounded by some really important buildings that played a key role in the history of Romania with the Royal palace and monument of rebirth located here as well as library of University of Romania.

Don’t forget to enjoy the ‘Impaled’ potato, Romanians like ase impaling. 😉

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Romania and it

National Museum of Arts

Right across is the former Royal palace which now hosts the National Museum of Arts. The entrance door is magnificent and feels like I needed the strength of 3 people to open it, beautiful building with a gorgeous gardens though.

Kretzulescu Church

Another beautiful building on the corner of Revolution square. The Eastern Orthodox Church has two domes. I just felt in love with the door and the ceiling at the entrance. The altar inside is even more beautiful, quite a peaceful place.

University Square (Piata Universitate)

You will walk to the university square which is the centre of life in Bucharest. You will come across some magnificent but abandoned buildings and some of them are being regenerated. The University of Bucharest has its beautiful building located one corner.

National Theatre

This newly constructed building has a beautiful edifice and my favourite statue in the whole of city in front of it.

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Unirii Square (Piata Unirii)

The walk from University square to Unirii square is quite beautiful with three churches on the left hand side. Remember when I wrote about the loud speakers above, it was right here. The park around Biserica Sfantul Gheorghe Nou is quite peaceful. The last church before Unirii square is Biserica Sfantul Ioan Nou.

Tour Route

Unirii Square –> Hanul Manuc –> Biscerica Sfantul Antoine –> Princely Court (Curtea Veche) –> National Museum of History –> Biscerica Stavropoleos –> University Square –> Therme Spa

Unirii Square (Piata Unirii)

Unirii square is the start of the tour. The Union square is one of the largest and is located between the Unirea shopping Mall.
The Unirii Boulevard bisects the square and on the other side, we saw probably the most communist blocks ever. The fountain in the middle is where we met our guide.

Hanul Manuc

The beautiful inn stands at the corner of Old city. It is elegant and mostly made of wood with a very gorgeous courtyard. The other side has one of the pastry shops for a quick snack and also my favourite coffee shop ‘Leonard Caffe’.

Biscerica Sfantul Antoine

The oldest church is Bucharest and with its beautiful red-orange interior and two domes, it is dedicated to St. Anthony who also happens to be the patron saint of Travellers so pop in to say hello to him..

Princely Court (Curtea Veche)

This is the spot with the statue of Vlad Tepes and the site where Romania was first considered a country in its own right. The old princely court isn’t more than a ruin sadly without much in the background either but the stories make up for the lack of glamour..

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National Museum of History

Romanian really went berserk after the revolution and most of the revolution came from Paris. For some reason all communist countries have a fascination with Paris. Even Russians used to think Paris was the height of sophistication. (I am not negating that just disputing that ;))

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Romanians imported a lot of architects from Paris and the Parisian style Palace building boom started and this was one of those buildings. Today it is a museum without much going on and a statue of an old Roman emperor  carrying the she-wolf that raise Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Not sure why it is there and also not sure why it is so ugly, hmmm?

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The palace opposite is my favourite with its stunning dome..

Biscerica Stavropoleos

The most beautiful church cum monetary in Bucharest! The building is small but the decoration and the details is fantastic. The central courtyard of monastery was full of snow which made it looks so beautiful with the windows above and the arches below. so calming!

We heard some more of the revolution on the way while passing through Little Paris and then the full story at University square where most of the action happened.

Day 2

We spent the second day by heading to the parliament and after the tour we walked back to the old town to walk around and see the places up close we had seen the day before during the walking tour. Then we took the metro to The Arch of Triumph and the outdoor museum and then headed back through Victoriei street back to the old city or you can take the shuttle or taxi from University square to Therme, the biggest spa in Europe for some amazing relaxed time and a great end to a busy walking day.

Palace of Parliament

The palace was built in 1980’s and like I mentioned above we went with the tour. Sadly it was built on the old city of Bucharest so the ancient part of city is lost.

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Fun Fact: The palace has 10 floors up and officially only 2 floors down but rumour has it that there are 9 floors down with the building 86 meters above and 91 meters below with reports of a nuclear bunker, tunnels and what not. I think the government likes the keep the intrigue under the name of national security with not much down there 😉

Fun Fact: The palace rents out rooms to individuals, companies and even governments so if you can afford it, you can get married here 😉

Arch of Triumph (Arch de Triumf)

The arch is close to Avaiatorlor metro station and it is the third one for the Romania soldiers to march under. The national day os Romania is 1st December and like all things Paris inspired this is quite Parisian albeit the statues and decorations are very Romanian.

Village Museum

Honestly it was so cold that we ran back to some cafe coffee and hot chocolate instead of going to this open air museum which is located inside the park. I have heard good things about it and you can see the beautiful houses and country life of Romania here.

Therme

Finally we went to Therme and I think spending the rest of the day was the best decision ever! There’s quite a lot to do and we didn’t feel like we were bored throughout the evening..

Romania

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Bran Castle (Dracula Castle)

Romaniiiiiaaaa will always be special for me because it is the 30th country I visited as part of my 30 before 30 challenge. Romania is exactly what I didn’t expect it to be. A former communist country added recently to EU and to makes things more interesting the country has three main regions all with different past.

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Bucharest

Times before Romania was united based on language and culture, the country was part of Ottoman empire, Russian empire and Austro Hungarian empire. The province in South called Wallachia was ruled by Ottoman appointed ruler (Vlad the Impaler was one of them), Moldovia was the same but has had some Russian influence. Transylvania with its castles was part of Hungarian and then Austro-Hungarian empire. Things change quite rapidly when you move from one region to another and you can clearly see the difference between Bucharest and Brasov for example.

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Romanian countryside

Romania still bears scars of the communist past and slowly and steadily it is coming out of the shadows and part of modern Western Europe. It is a beautiful country with gorgeous landscapes, endless opportunities in terms of things to do in every season and best of all it is super cheap!

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Brasov

I decided to go in Winter because I wanted to see the Bran castle covered in snow and also because it was off season and best of all I had never been anywhere as cold as this. (It was -17C at worst which I absolutely loved and hated at the same time).

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Peles Castle

The Racism Factor

Romanians are not friendly or warm people by any measure but they are not racist. I saw people going about their business all around me without any chatter or laughter almost in a mechanical fashion (reminds me of the scenes of movies shot for communist era) but I didn’t feel threatened because of the colour of my skin. There was a certain curiosity and inquisitiveness in the eyes of people which I quite enjoyed but again I didn’t feel discriminated against even in the rural areas or on the road.

The Gay Factor 

Despite being part of EU and signing up for the Human rights charter Romania is quite conservative. I think it is the only country in Europe still building churches. Things are not so bad in Bucharest but other cities are still quite conservative and based on a conversation I had with someone they feel they shouldn’t be subjected to acceptance of LGBT equality because they don’t think it is right.

There are no dedicated gay bars and clubs. In Bucharest there is one clubs that does gay nights only on weekends. I have been told abut gay clubs in other cities but I am not entirely sure. There are a few gay friendly establishments but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable roaming around with a guy’s hand in mine especially outside the tourist centre. You have to be careful about being gay in this country and I wouldn’t go to Romania for its gay scene, not for another 2 or 3 decades at least.
Grindr on the other hand has guys and some of them are gorgeous and friendly and so does scruff and hornet so take your pick while you’re there..

Value for Money

Romania is cheap as hell. You need very little to do a lot. You can eat well, party and go around very cheaply. I couldn’t believe this country lies in Europe. A very good meal will cost you no more than £20 and we are talking the best restaurants in Bucharest. The road side places serve food for £2-3 with massive portion and good quality. Similarly accommodation is quite cheap and so is fuel and recreation (£8 for a manicure, eh!)

Itinerary

I spent 4 days in Romania, 2 days for Bucharest, 1 day to see Bran and Peles Castles and 1 day for Brasov.
Bran is in Bran city and Peles castle is in Sinaia. In the winter Transfigurasan highway is closed (It opens only from July to October) and in summer you can add another couple of days for that. Other famous towns to see are Timisoara, Sibiu and Sigisoara.

Food

Romanian food is quite different to what I’d thought. I had a very Polish image of Romanian food owing to my ex who was Polish. The food leans more of Hungarian side and differs from region to region. It lacks fresh vegetables massively and is very pork based in typical Romanian restaurants which made it a bit of a headache but it was fine in other places. They do use veg in stews and soups though. Romanians like Hungarians love Paprika and you will feel the taste in pretty much all stews which were delicious.

There are quite a few places in the big cities that are introducing modern take on Romanian food and I just loved trying a few of them out. Apart from that I loved trying the sweet bakery cum shops. Around towns you will see the pastries and different pancakes in trays on display with a small window on the side and ladies baking things at the back. You can buy stuff here from a good variety. It is really good and very, very cheap. I had those rolled pancakes with jam in the middle for breakfast every day and they were really delicious.

Phone & Internet 

Phone reception is quite good throughout the country and data speed much better than expected. I used my roaming but I saw plenty of places selling SIM cards. For details you can check here.
Internet on the other hand was another story, Wifi was quite slow and at times even painful so we relied on our data. It was a bit bizarre because Mobile data ran fine but Wifi crawled, I think they will catch up soon, who knows!

Cash & Cards

Romania is part of EU but they still haven’t switched over to Euro. The official currency is Leu and it is denoted by RON. Like I mentioned earlier, it is super cheap and all currency notes are plastic instead of paper. You will need cash at most places in Romania. While a lot of places take cards now and the number is rising but for majority of places (including the parliament) you will need cash.

Cash machines and exchanges are quite common especially around city centres and airports. Be careful of exchanges though, someone was telling me about the scams that these guys can be involved in.

Fun Fact: Part of modernisation for EU inclusion meant a financial system upgrade and someone said “You need to move to plastic (meaning cards of course) but the government took it as plastic currency notes and they plasticized the whole currency notes. The locals still laugh about it, although they quite like it. They are much better than paper one’s for sure.

Tips

  • Based on the weather you need lots of warm clothes or lots of sunscreen. Romania gets both winters and summers with quite high intensity.
  • The old town in Bucharest has building at huge risk of collapse during even smaller scale earthquakes. Use this link to check the buildings by address before booking.
  • Get a car, it is a much better way to see this beautiful country than train or busses.
  • Romania has amazing ski resorts and if it is your thing, you are in luck with cheap hotels and great ski slopes.
  • While taking taxis, always note the taxi number and text someone, I have heard some horrific stories of taxi drivers scamming people although I didn’t come across one who was nasty.
  • You will need some extra time at the airport in Bucharest especially during the day.
  • The queues at security are long and it took us 45 minutes to get through the security alone and almost missed our flight back.
  • Gypsies are the biggest minority in the country and it is a sensitive issue to be called a Gypsy for a Romanian, be careful around the subject.
  • The most comprehensive source of information on Romania is Romaniantourism.com, although it is for Americans, the information remains the same and it helped me a lot during the planning.

Argentina

The silver mine of South America; literally! The word Argentina comes from the Greek word Argentos which stands for silver. Argentina was famous for its silver mines with Spanish colonisers and it is the second biggest country in South America. It is the eighth biggest country in the whole world and in days not in distant past, it used to be one of the wealthiest as well.

Argentina is blessed in every which way you can think of. It has magnificent mountains ranges, a massive coast line, gorgeous beaches, glaciers, wild life, jungles, desserts and the highest and the lowest points in South America are both located in Argentina.

This elongated paradise is every travellers envy for the opportunities it offers and Argentineans especially Portaños (Residents of Buenos Aires) and very proud of their mixed South American and European origins. The country has so much to offer you cannot stop yourself from going back. I do wish to go back and enjoy this beautiful paradise outside the capital. To sit on the beach one day and watch the whales and go hiking next day on a glacier and look at penguins; opportunities are endless!

Argentina is relatively safe for foreigners and tourists are generally treated well despite the political unrest in the country. During my visit I saw massive protests about the change of power with new president but it was more interesting in terms of a discussion topic than anything dangerous.

The Racism Factor

Like Brazil and probably most South American countries the issue of racism is two tiered; locals and foreigners. South Americans love tourists but things are slightly different in Argentina compared to Brazil. Buenos Aires and the North of country is different from the mid and south because these centres were at the heart of immigrants settlement from Europe and the population is more blonde, ginger-ish and fair skinned with light eyes.

The locals have a symptom almost all former colonies do; they try to be more European than the Europeans themselves and this sometimes comes off as embarrassing especially when they haven’t been to Europe. The reason I say this is because the immigrants were mostly from Italy and Spain and we all know how chilled out these two countries are!!!

Fair skin, light hair and eyes are superior mostly and more aboriginal features are considered almost subhuman which was sad to see. If you’re foreigner and white you’re golden but Portaños are still not as warm as Cariocas by any standard.

Now how did they see a stranger from Middle East roaming around was another thing! I got almost an inquisitive and curious reception. It’s almost like they couldn’t place me in any category and were trying to creat a reference point but I didn’t feel like I was being discriminated against and in older parts of city people were nice and warm. The taxi driver who picked me up from airport gave me a few extra tips to be nice and curiously asked about my origins. After all that essay, I would like to conclude that racism isn’t much of an issue in this beautiful country so roam freely you beautiful people..

The Gay Factor

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Portaños can be seriously hot and with open air gyms with shirtless guys working out almost throughout downtown in the evenings, there’s plenty of eye candy. The areas around Soho are the gay area and there are some very nice bars and clubs as well. I’ll add them to the Buenos Aires section.

Now the thing about the guys here! They are hot yes but so are Brazilians and pther latinos but Portaños are slightly colder and less accessible compared to others which honestly doesn’t appeal me much. Almost everyone I met in Argentina that I had good time was from other South American countries especially Venezuelans which you will find loads of since their beautiful country is going through such turmoil.

The general population is fairly nice and I don’t think anyone would feel threatened here based ons Excalibur although it’s nowhere close to Brazil in terms of openness.

Value for Money 

Argentina at one point was the seventh wealthiest country but the political instability that still reigns the country brought the economy down. It is quite cheap to travel around and get food in Argentina other than the posh areas of Buenos Aires.

Food is generally cheap as well and you can easily visit this beautiful country without feeling like you need to sleep on the streets now.

Things have also gotten much better recently with the new predefined who do very much trusted by international community and prospects are looking great. The rampant inflation is also seemingly slowing down so a big thumbs up for Argentina.

Itinerary

I spent roughly 5 days in Buenos Aires but you can see a lot more of you have time but Argentina is massive and you should consider the huge distances before planning anything more extensive. Even in 4 days you can’t see all of Buenos Aires but sadly that’s all the time I’ve had.

Food

All aside perhaps the biggest disappointment in Argentina was steaks! The Parillas are many and despite trying a LOT of them I came to the realisation that Argentinians don’t like blood on their plates at all. The steaks were almost always nearly well done with a hint of pink even when I asked for rare to medium rare. The second issue was lack of seasoning. It felt almost embarrassing to pour so much salt on steaks but I came back quite disappointed.

The general staple food is a lot of pizza and pasta and the Argentinian pizza is a good mix between American and Italian pizzas. Thinner crust with lots of toppings especially cheese And it is generally super cheap. The savoury pastries are also quite good and small shops and bakeries do them best.

The last mention that just had me in grip was Dulce de Leche and I gained so much weight after endless rounds of this sweet heavenly dessert. It is made with milk and lids of sugar. Basically you add sugar and some stuff to mil and cook it till it becomes a thick, viscous stuff that’s a very soft solid. Try it with milk cookies and please I seriously don’t take responsibility if you cannot stop eating this. I asked my best friend to get me some from Brazil and still have it in my fridge for those moments when you need a hit of sugar. (Do it with good stuff if you must) 😉

Phone & Internet 

Getting a SIM card is easy but setting it up a bit of a struggle in Buenos Aires and he tariff system is quite complicated. You can buy the sim card or Chip (as it is called in Argentina) from any number of shops but make sure they activate the relevant package and set it up for you. Internet reception is quite patchy even in the centre of Buenos Aires and Wifi is slow to put it nicely. Data is quite slow pretty much wherever you are! My accommodation had internet reminded me of days of dial up which was adorable yet extremely frustrating and annoying. You can have a detailed look at the phone options here.

Cash & Cards 

Argentina uses Peso as its currency but owing to its rapid depreciation and rampant inflation dollar is the king here.

Argentina put strict foreign exchange controls in the PST to avoid the rapid depreciation of peso which meant there was a massive black market where you could get much more than official rate. These are called blue dollar and most travellers were told to carry dollars instead of pesos to exchange there. The central areas around xxx were the hotspot of ‘Cambio Cambio’ pitches as you walked in.

I was given the same advice and I carried dollars and I ended up losing more money because capital and foreign exchange controls had been recently lifted and official rate was almost the same as black market rate. Don’t bother than random conversions and best to convert though usual means than waste money between conversions.

Cash is your friend here and card payments are accepted only at established places like international chains, restaurants and hotels. Cash machines are quite easily available in central areas but you won’t find many in slightly dodgy areas or old parts of the towns.

Tip: When travelling always divide and carry cash in 2 or 3 divides. Never keep it all with you especially in one place.

Tips

  • Bring some money with you and haggle with the taxi drivers because the airports are quite far from the cities and drivers try to take advantage of that fact.
  • Bring lots of sunscreen and an umbrella with you.
  • Remember Argentina lies on the Southern Hemisphere so reverse the season if you’re going from season. (Their summer is from November to March but that again changes on the location since the country is huge).
  • Learn some basic Spanish because majority of the population doesn’t speak to understand English.
  • Try to make some local friends even through Grindr. (It is slightly harder here compared to Brazil). Buenos Aires is a lot more fun with local friends.
  • Be very careful with money because pick pocketing is quite common in busy areas.
  • Buenos Aires is massive and public transport is a bit of a shock, take proper comfortable clothes with you as well as sturdy shoes.
  • Don’t forget to go to some local markets. Bargaining and haggling makes it a lot more fun than up market places.


Granada

Granada is home to Albaicin and Alhambra and you don’t need any reason more than that to visit this city. It exists in another dimension altogether. Every single time I hear or say the name I just feel this pulse shooting up my spine that lights my head with all the beautiful memories of the city, the breathtaking views, Semana Santa (Easter) processions and the most important, Alhambra.

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I got fascinated by the city when I was younger and read a travelogue about the place and somewhere inside the desire kept kicking to visit and finally when I decided to go to Andalusia it was only for Alhambra and Mezquita cathedral (Córdoba).

Granada offers not only the sprawling palaces of Alhambra and beautiful gardens of Generalife you can also go skiing in Sierra Nevada; the highest mountain range is Spain. The city stands at the foot of this mighty mountain range. No matter what your reason Granada fails to disappoint. Everything about this city is exquisite and beautiful.

I visited Granada during the Easter time and I think it was a good decision because I saw these very ‘Moorish’ towns in a catholic light and the contrast was this beautiful amalgam of two religions living in harmony with all the history in today’s world of intolerance and prejudice.

Granada is a university town and I saw many a students around the streets, bars and cafes and a night out is outrageous fun with great food, good drinks and many gay and gay friendly bars and clubs.

All Things Granada

Airport

Granada airport is quite small and it is mainly used for national flights but I think recently a few more international flights but when I was checking direct flights were quite expensive and there were no direct flights from London but Skyscanner is a good start to get an idea. Easyjet is planning on starting flights to Granada in early February 2017. I flew in and out from Malaga airport which is convenient and transport links between cities are very good.

The airport is located outside the city and you can take a bus to the city centre. The journey takes roughly 45 minutes and costs around €3. The busses are not very frequent though and there are only 10 a day. You can check the time table here.

Bus and Train

Train is not a good option to get to Granada from surrounding cities especially Malaga and Cordoba and you should use bus. It is also not on the fast line so it will take you ages, bus is a much better option and my local friend advised the same when I asked him. I bought the tickets from Malaga to Granada by bus through ALSA.

The bus from Malaga airport is slightly more complicated because you need to take the bus from airport to Malaga bus station and then take a bus from Malaga main bus station to Granada.

The bus station and train station both are fairly central and with good links to centre of the city through public transport. I got to Granada from Malaga in 2 hours quite conveniently and the bus to Cordoba from Granada was also quite easy and convenient.

Public Transport

Public Transport is quite reliable and frequent and covered under Granada card but honestly everything is so close you won’t need to use it. There are some lines that run through the old district Albaicin. Taxis are also quite easy available.

Granada Card & Alhambra Tickets

Granada card is like any other city tourist card and gets you access to a lot of locations with discounts to other locations and free public transport. I ended up buying this card because I didn’t book the tickets to Alhambra early enough. You can purchase the full or basic card and both include access to Alhambra and Generalife. To purchase a Granada card use this link.

Warning: You want to book your ticket to Alhambra as early as possible especially for weekend visits. The ticket has two parts and while the general area can be entered at any time based on the ticket type (morning, afternoon or evening), the entry to Nasrid palaces is only restricted to 30 minutes at exact time. If you don’t do this you will have to purchase Granada Card which is way more expensive.

You can also arrange for tours but you have to be absolutely sure and be on time because tickets sell like hot cakes and because visitors per day is limited, you cannot just go and buy more tickets. Use this link to purchase tickets and tours.

Food

Granada has a typical food scene of any city in Andalucía; a great mix of local food with that charming touch of Moorish style. Tapas is quite common and you will find a huge list of places that server great food.

Albaicin has a lot of small cafes tucked in that have amazing balconies and terraces epically at night to enjoy the food with a view of Alhambra and I ate at a few places. Surprisingly snails are quite common here but I didn’t like the way they make it here, French definitely do it better!

At the foot of Albaicin is an endless maze of cafes, restaurants, bars that offer endless options and the places are always full. You get a lot of variety for Tapas. Just a little outside around Plaza de Mariana Paneda, the small twisty, turny streets have some hidden gems. In the evening most of the tapas bars will be full and you will find people eating and drinking on the street.

The custom is to get a small portion of food (tapas) with every drink you get and surprisingly most of the restaurants only offer this style of food and you need to ask them for A la Carte menu. I spent an evening with a friend in La Botilleria and then headed out to the bars on the other side for a good night out.

Accommodation

If you want a magical experience at the cost of some stair climbing Albaicin is your area. The old Moorish quarters still have the same style, balconies, architecture and lifestyle. Perhaps the highlight of my trip was to see the Easter procession from the terrace heading towards the main cathedral with a full moon shining on top of Alhambra. It was so beautiful I just enevr wanted it to end. Alhambra sat there is a elegant old woman watching its kids acting like adults with a sly sense of amusement that only shows love and care.

For a more practical approach you can stay around the city centre but I didn’t like the idea, after all what’s more important than Alhambra in Granada?

Free Walking Tours

I definitely recommend getting a tour of Granada and the tour I did was Historical tour which shows not only around Albaicin but also the city centre. I definitely recommend getting a tour of Granada and the tour I did was Historical tour which shows not only around Albaicin but also the city centre. You can book it here. The guide was awesome and gave an amazing account of history and how Granada is today based on that.

The same company offers a Sacromonte tour which is the tour around Roma gypsies and Flamenco. Don’t forget some sturdy shoes because it is a lot of hiking and climbing.

Gay Granada

The birth town of famous writer Fredrico Garcia Lorca, Granada has come a long way from those days to the town which welcomes every sort with open arms. Granada is no Ibiza or Barcelona but you can still have a good time here. The guys here are absolutely gorgeous with that typical Spanish charm and warmth and every single one of them I met has been a pleasure. I am really proud to have made such beautiful in just a few days.

Grindr and Scruff are both quite openly used and while being gay is quite acceptable Andalucía is still relatively conservative so a lot of guys are not out. You will get a good mix of travelers and locals and most guys are friendly. I didn’t see much of a drugs scene so that’s another plus point for Granada and Andalusia in general.
The party scene starts quite late with dinner around 9 or 10pm, bars around 10 to 11pm and clubs around 1am; pace yourselves accordingly. I went to La Sal one day and Six colours the other day and both were quite nice and friendly and I could walk back home to Albaicin easily at the end. Most of the bars and clubs have mixed crowd but everyone is really friendly and being a university town you will meet people from all corners of Europe and outside. The scene here is clearly expanding and despite Easter weekend, the places were busy..

Day 1

Granada can be easily seen and enjoyed in two days but if you want to go skiing you’d need a couple more days ideally. You definitely need to dedicate the first day to Alhambra and to admire the beauty of this place you need a structured plan. The entrance to areas especially Nassrid palaces is restricted between certain times and the daily visit numbers are limited, you don’t want to miss this opportunity coming all this way..

I spent the first half of the day in Alhambra and the second half in Albaicin..

Alhambra

Alhambra needs no introduction! This beautiful palace and fortress complex was once described by an Arabic poet as a “A pearl set in emerald” because of the colour of Nassrid palaces and the surrounding greenery. Alhambra literally means ‘The red one” and comes from Al Hamra in Arabic or Qalat Al Hamra (The red fortresses). The fortress was build on top of ancient Roman fortress which then fell into ruins. In mid 13th century when the Emir landed here as the capital last outpost of Moorish empire and the golden days of this beautiful ruby started with a beautiful maze of palaces, gardens and fortifications.

Fun Fact: This is where Ferdinand and Isabel finally gave their go ahead for Columbus for the expedition which lead to the discovery of Americas.

A good starting point is Plaza Nueva at the bottom of Albaicin and you can take public transport or taxi all the way to the entrance of this stunning beauty. Take Cuesta de Gomerez all the way up to the entrance. The walk is uphill and will take roughly 20 minutes but I’d recommend taking a bus so you save your energy. Live C3 takes you right to the entrance from Plaza Nueva. You will need to have your ticket on you. I would recommend getting them from the atm machines or the best option is Tourism office in Plaza del Carmen.

The walk from the main entrance to Nassrid Palaces in about 15 minutes and you go through quite a lot of change in scenery so I would recommend entering at least 30 minutes before your entrance time to Nassrid palaces. I almost ran from the entrance to the queue which forms every 30 minutes.

The staff checked our tickets and led us through from the beautiful corridor. The doors and walls are piece of art which is so intricate you are scared to touch it. From courtyards to gardens through an intricate maze of rooms and corridors you arrive at the Lions courtyard. I could imagine the Emir with his people sitting and enjoying the evening breeze by the fountain. The beautiful balconies and arches just enhance the beauty and the domed ceilings magnify the rooms despite their size which are surprisingly small especially considering they were built for the kings.