Tag Archives: Backpackers

Day trips around Cambridge

We have been very lucky with the weather this year, less rain and more sunny spells and this only motivated me and my husband to take some day trips (in weekend only) to somewhere not too far from our home but to places which we will both enjoy.

In one of my latest posts, I spoke about the Audley End’s house. Now, I will talk about a couple more places, which are equally interesting and worth a visit, especially if you’re after some quality time with your family and do not want to fight over a table at a restaurant or wait long in queues.

Doing some research and asking friends about places they like to go, we have been given a whole list. While I do have some time for exploration and travels, Roy, is busy and available only during weekends. After some thought and discussions, we agreed to start with Huntingdon.

Huntingdon (8).jpg

One of the surprises for us was to discover that the town was chartered by King John in 1205. While a bit out of the main route, the River Great Ouse – the forth longest river in England – plaid an important role in Huntingdon’s development and success. First it grew into a market town and, in the 18th and 19th centuries was a coaching town. Huntington’s old town is relatively small and it will not be too difficult to find the river and the medieval bridge. This bridge is in good condition, is in use today and was once the main route of Ermine Street.

In 1599, Oliver Cromwell – a military and political leader, later Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland – was born. Details about his life, portraits and artifacts are displayed at the Cromwell Museum. This museum is the only one dedicated to Oliver Cromwell and was opened in 1962. The building hosting this museum was once an old grammar school where Cromwell was a pupil. More information about opening times, events, tickets, etc can be found on museum’s website.

Another famous resident of Huntington was John Major who became the youngest Prime Minister of the 20th Century.

St Ives (4).jpg

If visiting churches are in your “To do” list, then probably you should include the All Saints church which is one of the two surviving medieval churches.

Huntingdon can be busy at times due to its proximity to Cambridge. If you are willing to travel on a double-decker bus and save money on accommodation, then probably Huntington may be an option. This town offers a choice of places to stay including The Old Bridge Hotel and The George Hotel, where each year the historic courtyard plays host to ‘Shakespearean theater’ and plays by the Bard are enacted. Hotels, BBs and Inns are ready to welcome you. I have looked on Trivago website for price comparison and the cheapest accommodation found was £47 per night for a double room!

Huntingdon is one hour – depending on the day and traffic – by bus Cambridge.

Huntingdon (14)

 

If you want to do some shopping or bargain hunt, then consider visiting on the following days: on Wednesday and Saturday traditional markets are held. You will find them in the Market Square. Popular Farmers’ Markets are held on every other Friday and on the last Saturday of a five-week month. There is also a popular Crafts & Collectibles Market every Friday in the town’s Commemoration Hall.

Besides traditional markets, Huntingdon offers visitors a choice of independent and boutique shops. Make sure to visit Huntingdon First’s website for a full list of shops, where to find them and for any special offers.

TripAdvisor recommends a list of activities in Hundingdon. Make sure you check it, before you go. 🙂

Another place which we have visited that weekend and very very close to Huntindgon is St. Ives.

Huntingdon (1)

The old part of St Ives forms a beautiful historic town on the river Great Ouse. The colorful buildings, numerous cafes and restaurants offer a wealth of choice.

On the streets connecting the main roads with the riverside you will find plenty of fine and full of character buildings. One of the main points of attraction is the 15th Century Bridge and chapel over the river. This bridge is only one of three surviving in England. Regular cultural and family friendly events including the illuminated boat parade, a stomping Jazz & Blues Festival and a unique Snowman Festival can easy entertain a family with various needs and expectations.

As in any country town, in Is. Ives, regular markets  held every Monday and Friday, large Bank Holiday markets and an award winning Farmers’ Market held on the first and third Saturday of each month. You will find lots to do.

St Ives (15)

Around for more than a day? One possibility is to take a trip to The Old Riverport and discover the fabulous Cambridgeshire countryside.  The Ouse Washes Landscape is a short distance away. You can either hire a boat from St. Ives to explore the river network or admire the wildlife at nearby RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes and RSPB Ouse Fen.

For more information on The Old Riverport – St.Ives visit their website here.

For recommendations on what to do in St. Ives or where to eat, please click here and here.

 

We had no time for this, but surely will be back for more!

Regardless of where you go and what you do, Travel Safe and Wise!

St Ives (14)

 

Advertisements

The second biggest city, an important port, beautiful shore, movie festival, fireworks festival @Busan

Beomeosa
Beomeosa

After an incredible journey around Jeju-do we landed to Busan.
Over the centuries, this city was build around few mountains and that’s why, Busan is kind of spread and to go from one place (say temple, fortress or even mountain for hiking, trekking or some other touristic attractions) to another you might need to spend 30 minutes (if not more) on the way.

We thought that we have planned and reserved very well our time and trip, but as soon as we got there, it was clear that our time was very limited and we needed to improve our schedule, routes and even to give up some of the places we planned to visit.  Our strategy to gain time and travel stress free was to stop in Busan for more nights, leave all our backpacks at our hostel and travel light with only few things that we need during the day.  So, basically we went to explore Busan and surroundings with only a bottle of water and our cameras 🙂

I have used this method many times and it’s proved to be the best one from many points of view: comfier to travel, cheaper (you don’t change hostels, hotels every other day) and less stressful.

Before our departure for South Korea, we knew that we’ll travel quite a lot by train on the mainland, and because I used one in Japan as well (and was familiar with this kind of travel system) we bought in advance a railway pass, so that we could save money on our trips and even get the seats we wanted (it’s worth mentioning here that during high seasons and national holidays, it’s better to secure a seat…otherwise you might be left without a ticket or if you’ll be allowed to take a train, not always you’ll have a seat unless you travel in Business class).

Me at Haeundae Beach
Me at Haeundae Beach

If you want to try some of the Busan’s nice restaurants and cafes, I would recommend to go a bit out of the city center and not near the beach, as those tend to be more expensive. Nearby our hostel in Busan we have found a reaaaaally good restaurant – Wanna. We found this restaurant accidentally and we were very surprised by their service and prices. And yes, if you go often there you’ll have a great chance to get some food or drinks for free 😉 Our picture should be somewhere there on the board with frequent visitors 🙂
Also, around that area are plenty of small shops and restaurants that sell good food at convenient prices, don’t limit yourself to eat instant noodles or worse KFC and McDonald’s….try local foods!

Where to sleep and what to do in Busan?

We booked Mr Egg hostel, which has a spectacular view from their living room – towards the ocean!!!! But unfortunately, for us, it was fully booked and we were transferred to Miss Egg Hostel. This place is managed by 2 young men who traveled a lot and still travel whenever they have some time. On your check-in or check-out you might meet them there. At the time we were there, they seemed not very familiar with Busan (both grew up somewhere else and later moved to Busan for business), therefore don’t rely on tips from them too much! Ask instead other travelers you meet in the living room or in the small kitchen, they will ALWAYS have something to say about one or another place they have been or experienced 😉 One big big plus of this place are the showers and toilets which are kept VERY CLEAN!

Local market
Local market

Another advantage is that Miss Egg Hostel is very well located. Not far is a local market where you can have your breakfast (it’ll be of a great help if you have some knowledge of Korean) if not for breakfast then walk and observe people, what they do but don’t forget to keep a low profile and do not try to catch someone’s eyes on you. It’s not that you’re invisible, you cannot be invisible in Asia (especially if you’re from a different race or your clothing, hair styles are different than those worn by locals). Not far from a train station, too bad I forgot the name of it, but you can ask the staff where it is and how to get there.

The downside of this place is that there’s no elevators and if you’re traveling with a carry on/trolley luggage then you’ll have to be strong enough to pull it to the 3rd floor and the stair case is not that wide, therefore my suggestion to you will be to travel with a backpack and if possible (where possible) avoid the classic luggage.

At 15-20minutes walk is one of the most popular beach among locals and foreigners – Haeundae Beach.  Besides walking on a fine white sand or sun bathing, on Jung 1(il)-dong, Haeundae-gu, you can visit Korea’s largest aquarium. Whether you’re a solo traveler or you’re traveling with kids, this place can be one of the attractions to put on your must see list. Here you can swim with the sharks, for an extra pay, if you don’t want to swim then you can try to catch the time slot with the shark feeding show.

Tip : Ask hotels for vouchers to this attraction. Sometimes you can get 30% discount off the ticket price. And for those who want to swim with sharks, I’ll recommend to book this activity in advance (especially if you’re traveling to Busan on national holidays, high seasons or weekends).

Hiking hiking
Hiking hiking

If you want to go to less crowded shores, then you should go to Gwangalli Beach. Nearby this beach you will find cafes, bars, and restaurants and the Grand Gwangan Bridge. This bridge becomes the top destination during Busan Fireworks Festival (you can watch my short video here).

Another surprise we have found in the former China Town. What we have found was interesting and somehow surprising, a very wide use of Russian language. If you want to have some Russian food or Chinese food go there, otherwise it’s a place that can be skipped because it’s nothing special there. Nowadays this area is known as the “Foreigners’ Shopping Street” or “Texas Street”. You will see it right after walking out from the Busan Train Station.

Temple of the Nirvana Fishan
Temple of the Nirvana Fishan

My friend, Mr. Park recommended us Geumjeongsan. On slopes of this mountain you can see Beomeosa or Temple of the Nirvana Fishan – ancient temple, considered to be one of the most important and beautiful temples in the city and country. There’s an interesting story about this place. Locals believe that the mountain where Beomeosa is found has a huge rock at the summit and there is a golden well which never, ever dries up. The water of this well is believed to have very special magical properties as one day a golden fish came from heaven and has lived there ever since.

Yongdusan Park is home to the Busan Tower and Yongdusan Art Gallery. The view over the city and port from this tower are something not to be missed!

Busan Tower
Busan Tower

Another attraction pointed by Mr. Park was the Jwasuyeong Fortress, located in Suyeong-dong. This fortress is a bit out of the way and to get there isn’t that easy. There are busses that will take you to the temple and from there back to a small square (where you can see locals selling vegetables, kimchi, dry mushrooms and other herbs as well as several local restaurants with good prices and good cheap food!!!). From this square is just walking distance to one of the subway lines. We had a very long walk to the temple and took a bus on the way back. We were kind of guessing where to step out and were looking for familiar places 🙂 I guess that I’ll have to repeat myself and say it again: if you don’t have appropriate shoes for long walks or/and hiking better leave this place for the next time.

There are many other places to visit in Busan, but we had not enough time to visit them….we do hope that one day we’ll go back to Busan and visit more of this place.

Do you have time for shopping? 

If you do, then you’ll be amazed of the many options you have: shopping streets, malls and local small shops. Busan is the home to the world’s largest department store, the Shinsegae Centum City and the good news do not stop here. Walking around the city you’ll discover some of the commercial areas near busy intersections and adjacent to university campuses. If Seoul has the worldwide famous Gangnam business and shopping district, Busan has Seomyeon, Gwangbok-dong/Nampo-dong, Busan Dae Hakap in Jangjeon-dong, and Centum City in Haeundae-gu.

Somewhere far from downtown
Somewhere far from downtown

In Seomyeon, famous for shopping and entertainment, you’ll find “Seomyeon Medical Street“. On this street you’ll find about 160 cosmetic and other medical clinics, including those specializing in cosmetic surgery, dermatology, ophthalmology and dentistry.

If cosmetic procedures aren’t for you and if you’re around here, then you shouldn’t miss the Bujeon Market – the largest traditional market in the city. The other 2 important market streets are: Jagalchi Market – a large seafood market, and the Gukje Market.

What is the best time to visit Busan?

May to July are usually cooler than inland regions because of the ocean effect. August and September, are generally hot and humid and the city may experience typhoons at that time and be generally rainy. October and November are generally the most comfortable, with clear skies and pleasant temperatures. Winters are cold and comparatively dry with high winds.

Jwasuyeong Fortress
Jwasuyeong Fortress

Do you want to know more about this eclectic city? Below are some of the links that will help you find out more about Busan and plan your trip and budget:

  • For a better understanding which line to take and how to get from one place to another you most likely will use the subway, and here is the link.
  • A perfect time to go to Busan is October and those who want to see (if you get lucky) some of your favorite actors 2-11th of October is a date to be booked from now, because during those days in Busan will be held the Busan International Film Festival!
  • And finally, to read more about Busan – places to stop, restaurants to eat or maybe other useful information that you cannot find on this post, go here 🙂

Besides Busan, we managed to visit: Gohyeon, Geoje and Gyeongsangbuk-do and about these places I’ll write a new post…this one is already very long 😀

Travel safe and wise!

A day @Republic of San Marino

View from cable car
View from cable car

Back in 2008 I was living in Bologna, Italy in a 17th Century Villa – Villa Gandolfi Pallavicini. This was a very beautiful property with a large garden and forest. Early in the morning or at the sunset you could see from your windows hares and pheasants, who were coming to eat some grass or fruits. So, one day before going home for winter holidays some of my housemates wanted to go to somewhere. As we were talking about where to go, we decided to go to the station, early in the morning, and take the first departing train. At the beginning we were thinking about going to Milano, but we ended up on the train to Rimini and some hours later on the bust to San Marino 🙂

It was a day trip in a very nice company. The funniest and happiest of all was my friend from Brazil, who managed to spread her good mood to the rest of us and by the end of the day we all were going crazy 😀

The 4 of us :)
The 4 of us 🙂

What is nice in San Marino?

San Marino is a heaven country for visitors and businesses. All you buy here are TAX FREE! I was surprised of the common used Russian signs and announcements, especially in the luxurious shops and restaurants. We knew who were spending money here the most hehe

I think you understood, right? San Marino is a heaven for shopaholics! They do have sales periods and sometime you can even negotiate the price…but it depends on the situation and item you want to buy.

We started our journey walking and trying to see the most of this tiny country …but ended up doing shopping 🙂 We had a very good excuse, the weather wasn’t that good and when it was very cold or the view over the city was misty we  visited a church, museum, café or shops.

The “border” of San Marino is a kind of round gate on which will be written “ Benvenuti nell’antica terra della Liberta”  which is translated as “ Welcome to the ancient land of Liberty”.

Basilica di San Marino
Basilica di San Marino

Here are plenty of churches, museums and palazzi open for visit. I’ll mention just few of them: Castello della Guaita, Cesta Tower – the view from these 2 places is breathtaking and I only can imagine what a great experience would be to see a storm or even a rainbow from those places!,  Museo Arti Antichi, Museo delle Cere, Monte Titano, Piazza della Liberta, Palazzo Publico, State Museum of San Marino, Basilica di San Marino, Church of San Francisco and more.

How to arrive in San Marino?

By car 

You can drive to San Marino, but you should keep in mind that there are few streets/roads that will be allowed for driving. But if you still want to do it, then you’ll be happy to know that most of the parking lots are free of charge. When choosing a place to park your car, keep in mind that there is a 1.5 km cable railway connecting the city of San Marino to Borgo Maggiore.

 By bus

Bus 72 runs from Rimini to San Marino daily at regular intervals. A return ticket costs around €9. This bus can be found just outside the Rimini train station. An orientation point should serve the Burger King. We bought the tickets at the Tourist Information Centre. Because we arrived earlier than the next bus (about 30 minutes earlier) we got the best seats.

 By train

I have mentioned this in my post that me and my friends arrived to San Marino via Rimini. If you travel by train, this is you only option – to take a train to Rimini and from there a bus to San Marino.

 Important: San Marino has open borders, but foreigners staying more than 20 days in San Marino must have a permit from the government.

On the way to San Marino
On the way to San Marino

Where to stay?

Being at only 24 km from Rimini, Riccione, Milano Maritima and Cesenatico you have plenty of choices. You can opt for a hotel on the beach or closer to San Marino.

For those traveling in Campers, I have some very good news! There are at least 5 areas equipped for holidays in campers. If you consider traveling in camper and want to know about the location of these areas, check this link.

Take notes: In May will be held an important event, especially for those who love vintage cars! The Mille Miglia race – the vintage cars will be passing through the old-city centre of the Republic of San Marino during the morning of Friday 16 May.

Shops in San Marino
Shops in San Marino

More information about this country, you can find on the following pages:

One more thing about this place: check the “Pink Night” or the “La notte rosa” (info in Italian only). This is one of the MUST experienced events in Italy.It will be held on 4th of July, but if you want to be able to find a cheap accommodation, you should book your hotel/hostel/B&B/apartment/camping from now!!! Take some pink clothes with you and join the crowds.

I’ll make another post about this…I have been there, lived it and it’s one of the brightest memories from Italy 😉

I hope that now you have more reasons to visit San Marino and not only 😉

Travel safe and wise!

The old capital of Japan!

Kinkakuji (金閣寺) or the Golden Temple
Kinkakuji (金閣寺) or the Golden Temple

Sunrise and on the move again. TO KYOTO!

Shinkansen is an experience not to be missed 🙂 Few hours journey by train from Tokyo and you’re there, in Kyoto.
Kyoto Station is AMAZINGLY big! It’s Japan’s second-largest station building and is one of the country’s largest buildings, incorporating a shopping mall, hotel, movie theater, Isetan department store, and several local government facilities under one 15-story roof.

In Kyoto I stopped at K’s House and that place is still one of the best hostels I have been so far. It has a spacious bar area, at the entrance you have a locker where you leave your shoes  and take room slippers (they have two big baskets with slippers of different sizes, therefore you can choose a pair that is right for you). The staff is very welcoming and friendly and if it happens not to have a plan or you have a very limited time in Kyoto, they’ll make sure to point some of the must see and some places that will be interesting for you to experience and try.

Roof decorating elements at the Imperial Palace
Roof decorating elements at the Imperial Palace

I dropped my luggage here and went out to explore the city! At 8pm I had an appointment with a new friend I made during my trip to Kyoto. He invited me to a dinner with his friends at one of the izakaya (居酒屋 ) nearby Kyoto Tower.
Good decision to go there. I have met one of my Japanese friends and we’re talking even today!

Izakaya is a traditional Japanese restaurant, with tatami, low tables and cushions on the floor. You eat sitting on the floor….awesome experience!
Some of izakaya have a slightly higher tables and you can put your legs under the table. PLEASE DO NOT SPREAD your legs, it’s considered rude!!! For more information about dinning etiquette in Japan, please go here.

Kyoto Train Staition
Kyoto Train Staition

If you want to visit Kyoto you should AVOID national holidays and periods when high-school students are in holidays, otherwise most of the touristic attractions will be crowded with students and the long lines will “eat” your time easily.
Some of the places need booking in advance, therefore check for the availability and buy tickets online.

If you don’t want to rush and discover this city at an easy pace you’ll need to reserve about 1 week if not more only for Kyoto and its surroundings. Being the old capital of Japan and the cultural capital of Japan this city and nearby towns host so many things to see, that it’s impossible ( physically) to go to all in a shorter time. Some of the important places to be seen are far one from another and this requires extra time to reach. Renting bikes is a real deal, therefore go for it, and most of the hostels will have such a service.

Red Temple Gate - Kiyomizu Dera Temple
Red Temple Gate – Kiyomizu Dera Temple

When in Kyoto don’t forget about Geisha culture and streets! During the day is just a time spent for nothing if you decided to go for geisha hunting, because those aren’t the real ones 😀 I have went to see geisha at 2am! Yes, you read it right..at 2am! I have seen girls of a rare beauty and they don’t like to be  photographed, so you literally have to hunt them 😀 But again, don’t forget about good manners and respect their privacy and personality. One thing will be for sure, you’ll remember the Hollywoodian movie “Memoirs of Geisha” 🙂 They walk in pairs with their teacher and are disappearing in a second if they spot your camera on them!

Besides good food, geisha street, UNESCO temples, the imperial palace and the bamboo forest what can you do more?

And this more is the public bath! Keep in mind that not all the public baths are open for foreigners, and some won’t accept you if you have tattoos, especially big ones or the ones that somehow remind of the Jakuza type and style – dragons! Some public baths are common for men and women, therefore you’ll share the pool with other visitors, but if you want to have some privacy or you’re traveling with your partner or family you should look for a bath that can offer a private bath for one family only. These baths (family baths) are more expensive than the shared ones.
One general rule before going to any bath or onsen, is to take a shower and scrub your whole body, wash your hair and then move to the pool.
Is considered rude to go directly to the pool without taking shower first! For that you’ll be provided with towels and shower gel, body scrub and shampoo, therefore there’s no excuse not to do it!

High school students at Kinkakuji
High school students at Kinkakuji

If you have done it all, and still have time then just enjoy walking on the streets, along Kamo river that splits Kyoto in two or go to Kabuki! Kabuki (歌舞伎) is translated as : sing (歌),dance (舞), and skill (伎). Kabuki is therefore “the art of singing and dancing”. If this sounds interesting to you then you should check here for more information about theaters that offer such shows, schedules and ticket prices.

There are some other activities available, such as kanji writing courses, Japanese language courses, cooking classes, etc

Where to stop overnight?

Kyoto being a very touristic place has a wide range of accommodation, from 5*hotels to hostels, guesthouses and even temple stay.
For those who would love to try to stay in a temple, this is a possibility as well. There you can mediate and feel on your own skin how is to be a Buddhist monk.

Kiyomizu Dera Temple
Kiyomizu Dera Temple

I have mentioned it above that I stayed in K’s house and I loved every single moment spent there! It was one of my best experiences in a hostel, so far! I recommend it for everyone, regardless of their age or income!
I even met a friend that used to study at the same University with me and I knew most of her colleagues, but not her 😀 One of the guests that wasn’t very young came from Taiwan and remember that he was very good at playing guitar, he played and sung for us. Even some of the hostel staff joined us in the living room and we had great long nights with instant noodles and good songs 🙂

I hope you enjoyed reading this short review about Kyoto! I let pictures talk 🙂

Sake ... or the raw version of it :)
Sake … or the raw version of it 🙂

For more information about events, accommodation, dining and temples and shrines, visit these pages:

In my next post about Japan I will talk about some of the places I have been around Kyoto 😉

Travel safe and wise! 

White white nights in Riga!

IMG_3222Latvia is my first country that I chose to visit first from the 3 Baltic countries known also as Baltic States. The period of our travel coincided with the white nights month and is something one should experience 😉

How it feels, you may ask.

Well, it’s very confusing! You keep walking and enjoying your time out in Riga (or anywhere else in Latvia) and when you look at your watch it seems that it went crazy, because you don’t feel tired or sleepy and even though the sun is set, the day light is there and you feel like it’s around 9pm or 10 pm.

We planned to spend in Riga 3 nights, and if the first day we were just walking around the city and trying to enjoy it at the max, the second day and 3 day we went to see the Latvian Open Air Museum and Jurmala. Jurmala is a very popular destination among Russians, it might be the result of the numerous concerts and festivals organized by Russian artists and comedians in this country.

Not many bloggers will mention the things that least nice about a place, but I decided to do so. Therefore, what I disliked about Riga?

I didn’t like the feeling of being in Russia, even though I wasn’t there. I don’t have anything with this country, but I wanted to feel more of Latvian culture, to hear their native language and not Russian.

Also, you might have the chance of seeing the hysterical Russian, drunk or not, women who are screaming like crazy at their boyfriends/ husbands, waitresses and so on, because the things went not the way they wanted. We had a dinner at a very nice Japanese restaurant there, with this theatre at just 3 meters away from our table…not a very nice atmosphere and experience I have to say.

Ignoring the fact that some Russians need to read a guide of how to behave abroad, I have found locals very welcoming and ready to help you with the piece of information you need.

If you’re visiting UNESCO World Sites, then a trip to Riga must be on your list. Riga has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the collection of art nouveau buildings that is one of the largest in the world, as well as a city in whose architecture the entire history from 1201 to the present day is reflected. It is also valued as a city with a unique collection of wooden developments in its central section.

I bought from there some souvenirs and warm handmade glows, made from goat fur. I absolutely love them and my sister as well 🙂 At the local market you can find berries, fruits and veggies at reasonable prices. The market is at walking distance from the train station. If you’re somewhere around, don’t miss it! If not, then make some time and go there, I’m sure you’ll find something you’d like to eat or own 😉

For a view over the city and for, as one of my friends loves to say “exclusive drinks”, I will recommend the skyline bar. You’ll have to pay at the entrance – entrance ticket – even if you don’t buy any drinks or food.

If you like to enjoy your dinner while listening to some good live music, then one of the numerous bars with live music around the old town should interest you. During white nights, after the “dawn” or better said after 8pm, the central part of the city can be very lively and noisy. If you don’t want to have dinner or buy any drinks, then take your camera and be ready for some nice pictures 🙂

I want to mention here that, not far from the train station there’s a sort of gallery and in there you can find a bistro with live music as well. The food is not something out of the ordinary, but definitely is a good quality-price food. I’m sure this page will help you find the right place for you.

Just at 1 hour drive from Riga, there’s an Open Air Ethnographic Museum. It is very interesting to see and learn how people lived here some hundreds of years ago. Maybe you’ll find common aspects with your home country. I have found really close similarities to Moldova, my home country and I have found some similarities to Japan as well. 🙂 During summer week-ends masters of the old crafts work in the farmsteads, visitors can observe scenes from ancient life and participate in various events and celebrations. Winter offers sledge rides, possibility to try your hand in ice-fishing, to slide on a sledge-wheel ride. The slopes and paths of the museum are popular among skiers. More than 135 thousand people from all over the world visit the museum annually.

The Museum can be reached by buses No. 1, 821,826, 19 and 28, getting off at the bus-stop “Open-Air Museum” (Brīvdabas muzejs) or by tram No.6, getting off at the final stop.

In our last full day in Latvia, I wanted to visit the very famous city among Russians – Jurmala. I was curious to see what is there that Russians like and why this city is an attraction for them.
I loved the wooden houses there. Each of these houses has an interesting architecture. The beach is very nice, but crowded. Locals say that in Latvia there are places where you can have a beach only for yourself, this, because Latvia has the longest coastline from the 3 Baltic countries. Therefore, I will recommend you to go to Jurmala – take some pictures and then drive to another place in search of a quiet place where you can enjoy the Baltic sea and have a picnic there. Sounds romantic, right? We are planning to do this on our next trip to Latvia or any other Baltic country 😉

I hope that this short review of my trip to Latvia is interesting enough to make you want to go there and discover your favorite part of this country.

Two more things before I go 🙂 

  • We stopped at a very nice B&B a bit outside Riga – Homestay. This place is at about 20 minutes away from city center (tram ride). Homestay is located in a very nice green, clean and quiet area. We used to come back around 11pm – 12am and we never felt unsafe for even one second! If you want to REST and not be bothered the whole night long by people partying on the streets, then this is the place to go! The host is a family of a British – New Zealander and Latvian. They travel the world and know very well Riga 😉 I’m sure they can direct you to some unique places, restaurants and art galleries.

For more information about Homestay, please visit their web page.

  • Riga is the European Capital of Culture in 2014! One more reason to visit it. More details about what will happen during 2014, you can find on this web page.

I know that you may need more information about Latvia and here are two nice pages where you can read more:

Travel safe and wise!

A lovely city to be discovered!

A street fruit vendor. Tournai, Belgium
A street fruit vendor. Tournai, Belgium

Ok, so why is this title like this? What is this place about? Is it worth going out of your journey plan and visit this apparently little known place in Belgium? Too many question! And one the answer is so simple and is there…in BELGIUM! 🙂

A charming old house in Tournai
A charming old house in Tournai

As many of Belgian old cities or better said ancient cities and towns (Brugge, Ghent, Antwerpen…you name them), Tournai is one of the oldest towns in Belgium if not the oldest one. This beautiful small Belgian town is located at the border with France and is considered to be one of the most important cultural sites that Belgium has. How to arrive?  I live in Schiedam (Netherlands) and from home to Tournai are about 242km and it takes  two hours and 20 minutes approximately, by car. Renting a car and driving to there seems the cheapest way, but drive carefully (in Belgium) as many of the drivers won’t use any turn signals and just cut-cross in front of you and in some places (not everywhere in Belgium) the quality of roads is not very good, you can find holes even in the highway!

An old University of Arts in Tournai, Belgium
An old University of Arts in Tournai, Belgium

If you don’t have a car, then you can reach this place by bus or train. Your journey by train will be cheaper but it will take longer hours. For example, from Rotterdam to Tournai by bus will take you about 5h30min and will cost you 44 euro / one way, by train the same distance will be traveled in 2h30min and will cost you 52.3 euro / one way For more information about schedules and prices, please visit the following pages : bus and trains from (NetherlandsFrance and Belgium). Where to stay? Tournai is a town (some sources call it small city) that, as I have said above, is not very popular among foreign tourists, therefore the accommodation in the city is limited! Book in advance your accommodation, otherwise you’ll have to look for something nearby in France (Roubaix or Lille) or in Belgium (Brugge).

Decoration in a traditional backery. Tournai, Belgium
Decoration in a traditional backery. Tournai, Belgium

If you want to go camping, good news!!! There’s a place, at 4km from the city center with a manmade lake, cafeteria, games, barbecue, pedal boats and swimming pool with water slide, called Camping de l’Orient** (Rue Jean Baptiste Moens 8, 7500 TOURNAI). For more information and reservations, please call on this number : +32 (0) 69 22 26 35. Apparently they don’t have any web page…well, I couldn’t find any, but if you do find one, please let me know 😉 Where to eat? There are plenty of restaurants on the main square that will serve local food. Prices vary between 14 euro to 20 euro for a meal. If you want to save money, then small restaurants towards the train station or on small streets outside the city center that offer Turkish food or Italian pizzerias will save you some money.

Musee des beaux arts Tournai, Belgium
Musee des beaux arts Tournai, Belgium

Tip, go to Carrefour and next to it is a kind of bistro that serves tasty local food from 6 euro! What to visit? Notre-Dame cathedral and the Belfry, the oldest in Belgium, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. To visit Belfry you’ll have to pay 2.5 euro per person. To visit the cathedral you won’t have to pay anything, but to see the treasury you’ll need a ticket and it costs 2 euro/ person. Belfry is a tower of 70-metre which dates back to 1217 with fifty-five bells. These chimes symbolize the town’s freedom. The panorama from this tower is amazing! You see the whole town and even its surroundings.

The main square and the Belfry
The main square and the Belfry

If you are at the Cathedral and want to walk around (the old town can be visited on foot, therefore no need to drive or rent a bike), then you can walk towards the Train Station or just wonder around in the old town and the main square – Grand Place. If you go towards the Station then you’ll cross the canalized river Scheldt and from there is just 10 minutes walk to the Pont des Tours. The Musée des Beaux Arts (entrance fee 2.50 euro) is the only museum created by Victor Horta, the design genius of Art Nouveau.  The museum has two major works by Manet but also paintings and drawings by Ensor, van Gogh and Rogier van der Weyden. Two colossal scenes by the 19th-century artist Gallait will most likely stop and stare for good minutes – one depicting the dramatic abdication of Charles V, the other capturing the outpouring of faith in the plague procession of 1092.

Pont des Tours. Tournai, Belgium
Pont des Tours. Tournai, Belgium

TO NOTE: Tournai’s museums, including the tapestry museum, are free the first Sunday of every month. On rue Barre-St-Brice are two houses dating from between 1175 and 1200 and built in the Romanesque style are considered to be some of the oldest private houses in Europe, while the rue des Jésuites you can see a Gothic house from the 13th century.

View from the Belfry. Tournai, Belgium
View from the Belfry. Tournai, Belgium

My advice to you is the same as always: get the map check the places you want to visit. After doing it you may fold it and hide it in your bag or backpack and get lost, it’s always exciting to discover places hidden from visitors. For more information on the town’s attractions, please click here. If you want to know more about some specific pictures that I have taken during this trip, then you can go here. Travel safe and wise!

4 days in the old capital of Indonesia. Do you know that they have a king there? :)

IMG_8597We took a flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, as it’s the fastest way to reach this city. We were at the local airport around 7am, ready to start the adventure right from that moment 🙂 And to do this we decided that renting a car with a driver will give us the comfort and the flexibility we wanted.  The driver was very friendly and was happy to meet his first ever foreign tourists, in his whole career as a driver 🙂 Unfortunately the driver could not speak English but this wasn’t a barrier for us, my boyfriend speaks bahasa and this made our communication simple and easy. Anyway, the owner of this company, does know English and we had the chance to meet him as well.

For those who speak a little bit of bahasa and want to contact this company you can do it by clicking here or by e-mail.
I recommend this company, based on our experience. The driver didn’t ask for food or tips, but if you hire a driver for 8 to 10 hours then it will be nice of you to buy your driver a lunch. We considered appropriate to give him some tips because we did enjoyed our trip to Yogyakarta and he was a very welcoming and warm person. He even took us to his house and we met his family!

Reminder! In Indonesia it is a norm to give tips to everyone: taxi drivers, waitresses, bellman, in the street – people who somehow help you turn your car around or people working in the parking lots, etc.

Now back to the city 🙂 What to visit there or is there something special to see, you may ask. Well, here you can do a lot of things: from sightseeing to rafting and hiking. It’s only up to you to decide what to see and where to go 😉

What I like the most about this city is that has less traffic than Jakarta, is somehow cleaner and greener. You don’t see tall buildings, but instead there are a lot of buildings from the colonial era, therefore you may have the feeling of traveling back in time and somewhere in Europe, and you’ll be right, Indonesia was a Dutch colony.

One of the curiosities of this place is that, it’s still has a king or sultan. His name is  The king has the power only in Yogyakarta and his power doesn’t go beyond city borders.

My advice for those who’re planning to visit Yogyakarta is to have a clear idea of what you want to see in this city. At one point you might get confused and even lost in options, therefore planning your trip ahead will save you time and nerves later 🙂 I would say that renting a car will be the best option. You can rent it with or without a driver! If you want to be the driver, then make sure to bring your international driving license. If you want to enjoy the trip, without thinking about traffic, driving, police, roads, etc etc, then hiring a driver is the only option available. If you decide to rent a car, then you should discuss with your driver/car rental company in advance what you want to see, tell them your itinerary, arrival place and time, so that, the driver or a representative of the company can meet you at the airport/train station and save you from all the stress linked to your transportation.

Remember, that, in Yogyakarta, there are cheap possibilities to visit some of the touristic points you might be interested. The Trans Yogya buses are clean and air-con, following a number of set routes that pass by several major tourist areas, including Jalan Malioboro, Prambanan Temple, Giwangan bus terminal and the airport. Fares are a flat 3,000 rupiah per trip and the attendants can help you catch the right bus.

Taxis in Yogyakarta have meters and drivers usually turn them on without any argument. I don’t really know if there’s a Blue Bird taxi company, but you can ask at your hotel/hostel/guesthouse which taxi companies are the best in the city.

Becak are abundant here and you can use them for short distance trips. I would say that these are not the vehicles to take if you are in a hurry! The best way to travel with a becak is to arrange a price first!

Where to sleep?

Yogyakarta has plenty of hotels that will meet everyone’s requests in terms of comfort and service. We stopped at The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta, a very beautiful 5* hotel in the heart of Yogyakarta. If you think this is a very expensive place to sleep, then you can compare prices with other hotels in the area 😉

Some sites with reasonable priced hotels/guesthouses and hostels are:

Where to eat?

There are many restaurants here. We used to eat at Paprika (which is the hotel restaurant) and go across the street to a very nice restaurant that served local food. It was almost always full and not only with foreign visitors, but also with locals. If I remember the name of the place or find a picture with that place I will upload it to this post. Another place was Kraton. Yes, you may say that this is the Sultan’s palace and you’ll be right! There is a restaurant where you can have your lunch. You can choose from a wide range of dishes, some were Sultan’s favorite 😉

I know that my recommendations may seem a bit dry?! 😀 this is why I’ve looked a bit more into this subject and I have come across this very useful post about what to eat in Yogyakarta. Enjoy, explore and try new foods! 😉

What to drink?

Try HAPPY SODA! 🙂 It’s a very Indonesian drink, I haven’t seen something like this in China, Japan or South Korea. I was very happy with it 😀 Basically it’s a mix of coconut (milk and fruit) with fresh mango and other season fruits + a lot of ice!

Ok, at this point you should have a plan on how you want to go around, where to drop your luggage and were and what to eat, but what about the places to visit? There are many, but many doesn’t tell too much, so I will make a list with some of the places we have been and let you discover the rest 😉

  • Borobudur – is a Buddhist temple complex, set in a valley between two rivers and two volcanoes. There’s no certain date or information when this complex was built, but it is believed that it have been founded and constructed in the 8th and 9th centuries during the height of the Sailendra dynasty in central Java. Some sources say that it took 70 years to complete it. The structure of Borobudur is that of a mandala. The base is squared and it rises steadily through nine levels. The first six are square and the last three are circular. The last three levels are adorned with 72 smaller chedis, each one of which holds a small seated Buddha statue. Beside the smaller chedis, the walls of the rest of the monument are decorated with bas-relief carvings – there are over 2,500 in total. Sunrises and sunsets are a perfect time for taking pictures here!

Remark: when visiting any temple in Indonesia, you’ll be asked to wear sarong (a traditional cloth), thus don’t be surprised when at the entrance you’ll be asked to wear it. Actually there will be somebody that will help you 😉

  • Prambanan – This UNESCO heritage listed temple complex is home to some 224 individual Hindu temples. It is believed to be one of the largest Hindu temples in the world and is the largest in Java. It’s believed that the Prambanan complex was built around 850AD.
  • Parangritis Beach – if you haven’t had enough of sunbathing in Bali, then this is a nice place to go.
  • Kraton – Kraton or sultan’s Palace has been at the heart of civic life since the mid 1700’s and is still used as the current home for Yogyakarta’s sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, this is why most areas are off limits. I loved the large open-air pavilions. When we were there, we saw a small performance and this was like a moment of enlightenment (for me) of what Indonesian traditional music and songs are.

The curiosity about sultan’s family is that he has 4 daughters! He has no son, therefore the person that will come to the  “power” and follow Hamengkubuwono X, will be one of  his daughters and first sultan woman! Another curiosity about this family is the fact that the sultan has one wife and not many as his ancestors were used to have.

  • Water Palace – the complex hosts several bathing pools, canals, as well as rooms used for leisure and relaxation by the Sultan and his family and also, allegedly, secret rooms for his concubines. The guide told us that the pool in the back of the Sultan’s sleeping room was used mainly for him and the woman he had chosen for that night. In front of that house there are another 2 pools split by a kind of walking path or bridge if you want, the one closer to the house was designed for Sultan’s wives and the furthest one for sultan’s concubines. Here you’ll have the chance to sit or even lay on sultan’s bed 🙂 When you’re here take some more time and walk around this palace, you’ll discover a batik village. You can see how batik is made and maybe buy a souvenir from there 😉
  • Candi Ijo (Ijo Temple) – this temple is standing on the west slope of a hill (410m above the sea level) far from the busy residence, on the southern part of Ratu Bako Temple.
  • For those who’re into shopping and will want to buy some souvenirs for loved ones, Jalan Malioboro – a long street with shops that sell batik, handmade leader bags, wallets, and all kinds of souvenirs. Bargaining is a must, therefore be prepared to have some fun here! Those interested in Indonesian culture and daily life, can visit a local and very traditional bird market – Pasar Burung. You may be surprised by the dirt and the poor conditions these birds are kept. Be cautious and be prepared for some shocking things you might see there.

I hope that my story about Yogyakarta or shortly said Yogja made you curios about this place 😀 Don’t stop in Bali when visiting Indonesia, go out and explore some more places because sunbathing isn’t the only thing you can do in Indonesia 😉

Two thigs before I go:

  • You can have an elephant ride at Borobudur for about 50.000 rupiah (if I remember well)
  • Somewhere in Yogja there’s a catholic church that was adapted to Javanese culture. It’s a unique church and worth a visit. And if I talk about churches here, I will mention one more : the one that was on a movie about the bishop Seogija.

Travel safe and wise!