Romania Travel Guide, Land of Choice

February 25, 2017 by

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Romania is a country located in Eastern Europe, a member of the European Union and NATO, with a population of 19 million and a land surface of 238,391 square kilometers.

Truth be told, there are not many countries in the Old Continent like Romania. Branded by a former Tourism Minister as the Land of Choice, Romania can be described more accurately as the land of contrasts.

In Romania, you can still find not so remote rural areas, pretty close to the capital Bucharest and the country’s main cities, where farmers still use horse drawn wagons. Also, covered markets where farmers come in droves to sell their produce are still dominating over the shopping malls, especially in smaller cities.

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As I already told you, Romania is excelling in contrasts, as this country is playing in a league of its own.

Other Eastern European countries embraced the fertile and lucrative ground model of international restaurant chains, boutique hotels and the whole nine yards. On the other hand, Romania is still very traditional in many ways, clinging to the evergreen charm of old customs and it makes good on in 9 times out of ten.

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In most cases, a traveler arriving in Romania will first see the capital, Bucharest, which back in the day, before the Communists took over the country in the aftermath of War World 2, was known as Little Paris, thanks to the capital’s architecture and sophisticated charm, and also due to the bourgeoisie’s affinity for French culture.

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Today, Bucharest is a weird place, crammed with old and ugly blocks (just like the projects in the US) dating back from the Communist era, but also with grand architecture, traditional restaurants and fascinating museums. It’s pretty hard to define this place, where modernity meets traditionalism and the traffic is infernal.

Yet, after a few days spent in the best parts of Bucharest, the city grows on you. Basically, Bucharest alone deserves at least a couple of days of exploration alone, and the same goes for the resorts which spread along the Black Sea Coast, which are quite nice, offering beautiful ocean panoramas well groomed beaches.

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However, ultimately speaking, Romania is still defined by its small and traditional rural communities, many of which still dependent on ancient agricultural practices. I am talking here about remote and isolated villages,  some of them clinging to the Carpathian Mountains, where there’s no electricity and people are relying on horses and carriages for transportation as there are no roads either.

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Yes, there are still places like this in Romania, deep down in the mountains, where you can feel like you’re traveling back in time.

A tour of Romania’s old-school back-country is nothing short of magical and unique, as you’ll be able to discover the ancient (almost medieval)ways of life still intact and a treasure chest of unique cultural gems. Think along the lines of Amish communities and you’ll get a pretty accurate picture about what I am talking about.

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Transylvania is a place where you’ll stand in awe at the view of the impeccably preserved Saxon towns. Also, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the legendary castle at Bran, also known as Dracula’s Castle, the fictional vampire from Bram Stoker’s book. Bran castle is said to have inspired that disturbed  Irish writer into believing that there are such things as blood sucking vampires and things of that nature.

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The Carpathian Mountains will provide the traveler with epic views and they also shelter some of EU’s last remains of unspoiled wild life, the likes of wolves, brown bears and lynxes, whilst rare muskrats and raccoon dogs are to be found around rivers.

If you’re into driving, Romania has 2 epic roads which crisscross through the mountains for hundreds of kilometers. The roads are so good, they let the BBC Top Gear journalists flabbergasted. I am talking about the Transfagaras road, in the Fagaras Mountain Range and Transalpina.

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Also, while here, you must visit Moldova’s beautiful painted monasteries in Bucovina and the main city in Transylvania, Sibiu. Speaking of medieval towns, Sighisoara is another must-see place, being a perfectly preserved 15th century gem.

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Xiaomi Mi Mix, A Rare Jewel

February 25, 2017 by

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The Xiaomi Mi Mix smartphone took the world by storm as soon as it was released. Just take a look at it and you’ll understand the jewel particle in the title of the article. Yes indeed, the Xiaomi Mi Mix is a piece of high tech which is also beautifully crafted and designed, making for one of the best smartphones released into the wild last year.

Even if Xiaomi is not a well established brand in the Western world, with the Xiaomi Mi Mix they really proved their valor. This smartphone looks like it came from the future, or from a sci-fi movie, boasting its incredible almost bezel-less design and its edge to edge screen, drawing attention like no other smartphone before.

It’s very interesting to mention that this beauty was initially announced as a concept, an exercise in technology of sorts, but it was so well received by the public that Xiaomi decided to mass produce it and the rest is history.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix’s viral popularity surpassed even Apple’s best, the iPhone, at least in terms of positive interest, and that’s mainly due to its exquisite design. How many edgeless smartphones have you seen lately?

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While most of the competition nowadays takes place in the hardware department, Xiaomi focused on design and what a great job they did folk. However, that doesn’t mean the Xiaomi Mi Mix is just looks and nothing under the hood, it’s quite the opposite.

With a breathtaking design comes great responsibility, right? Especially for a company that used its fan-base with some of the fastest smartphones in the world and maybe the best in terms of price vs performance. Be warned though, the Xiaomi Mi Mix is both a technological powerhouse and a thing of beauty, and that comes at a price. A steep price, especially considering the branding. But I am digressing.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix comes in a a black premium looking/foldable box made from cardboard and inside you’ll find the smartphone, obviously, a USB Type C cable, a fast charger, a beautiful leather case for the precious designed exclusively for the Xiaomi Mi Mix, yet no headset.

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The smartphone is rather big and heavy, but it does not feel bulky at all, having virtually the same dimensions as the Huawei Mate 9 weighing 209 grams, yet the Xiaomi Mi Mix has a bigger display than the Huawei!

The 6 inches wide edge to edge screen takes up 85% of the front panel, with a non existing top bezel and beautiful rounded edges making the Xiaomi Mi Mix a joy to look at. The chassis is made using a state of the art ceramic material, which is the apotheosis of premium materials to be found in a flagship smartphone. There’s nothing cheap looking and feeling in the Xiaomi Mi Mix, no plastic strip bands, no nothing.

Everything is perfect and seamless, making this baby arguably the best looking smartphone I’ve ever seen. There’s no earpiece, as the Xiaomi Mi Mix uses a piezolectric ceramic driver which generates the sound through the smartphone’s chassis itself.

The 6.4 inches wide edgeless screen is custom mad by the Japanese at Sharp and boasts a resolution of 1080×2400 pixels for 362 pixels per inch density. The panel is an IPS RGB instead of an AMOLED and it guarantees a wow effect once turned on, being the definition of an attention grabber if it ever was one. Long story short, it’s brilliant.

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The 4400 mAh battery offers 97 hours of endurance rating which is spectacular, while the smartphone runs on the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 system on chip, which means that it comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a high end device. The Xiaomi Mi Mix comes loaded with Android Marshmallow and the MIUI 8.0 on top.

Among other cool things, the MIUI 8 allows  you to have two instances of the same app running on your smartphone, i.e. 2 Whatsapp accounts on the same phone, one for each SIM card.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix comes with 4 GB or 6 GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU, delivering flagship grade performance while staying quite cool doing so. The main camera is a 16 MP variety, which offers average performance while the selfie unit is uninspiring and blurry. Definitely, the Xiaomi Mi Mix doesn not excel in the multimedia department, yet it does a decent job.

Bottom line, if you can afford it, go for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand Travel Guide

January 30, 2017 by

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Thailand is a very popular travelling destination for westerners, especially during the winter months, due to the country’s warm climate and dirt cheap prices. And visiting this magic place is like taking a crash course into Asian culture. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with a land surface of 513 million square kilometers and a population just shy of 70 million. The attractions of this country are pretty hard to enumerate, but just for the sake of argument, we’ll give it a try.

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Starting with its ancient monasteries, ruined and mysterious cities speaking of forgotten civilizations, the country’s colorful hill tribes, Buddhist monks, pristine and lush rain-forests harboring exotic wildlife, its golden beaches and epic tropical islands, not to mention the monumental coral reefs and, why not, Thailand’s traditional floating markets and its cities crazy rave parties, especially in the capital Bangkok which is the most vivid and exuberant city to visit in Southern Asia, a place which by itself would justify a trip here, all these are the pearls in the crown of Thailand.

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To put the cherry on top, the Thai people are world famous for their friendliness and hospitality, with Thailand being actually one of the first Asian countries to open up in a meaningful manner to outsiders. Thailand’s love story with the west begun in the nineteenth century, due to the king’s Rama 4th’s appreciation of all things western.This king was responsible for launching the country on the path of modernization and he diplomatically convinced the Thai folk to replace chopsticks with knives and forks.

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Thailand is a unique place and thus it attracts all types of tourists, from Russian and Saudi billionaires to Lonely Planet backpackers. If you’re filthy rich or dirt poor, it doesn’t really matter, because you’ll have the time of your life while visiting Thailand, as you’ll be able to feel and live comfortably here regardless of your social status.

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Everything is easy to find, ranging from world class five star hotels and tourist resorts to hippy and cheap hostels. Truth be told, in recent years Thailand seems to have been following a more upmarket trend; I mean, long gone are the country’s backpacking heydays, as currently Thailand is a technological power house and very modern, with air conditioning everywhere and all that jazz.

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Almost every hotel now offers spa treatments and the famous Thai massages, so remember that when you’re planning the next holiday folks.

Even if Thailand is a place for adventurous people, one may wonder what can be more relaxing after a hard year’s work than to sit lavishly on the beach while enjoying a Thai massage? Just think about it for a moment. The beaches and islands in the southern part of the country are legendary among scuba diving and surfing enthusiasts, together with  water-sports  aficionados, whilst Thailand’s lush jungles in the north are a dream come true for wildlife spotters, trekkers and Bear Grylls fans. If you want to have a story to tell to your grand-kids, just go for a bath under a waterfall in the orchid filled jungles of Taiwan, that will make for an unforgettable experience.

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And finally, there’s the Thai cuisine, one of the best in the world and arguably the spiciest. Thai folks always seem to have a fork in hand, whether you’re cruising the night markets or in the five star restaurants and  street stalls. Visiting Thailand makes for a unique experience, during which you can forget about your modern life’s problems and issues and take a stroll along the sandy beaches, drink a cup of tea with a monk and afterwards, go snorkel over a coral reef and let it go. Also, if you’re into blood sports, don’t forget to go and cheer the fighters at a kickboxing (Muay Thai) match, which is the national sport of sorts in Taiwan.

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Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus Review, Budget Flagship

January 29, 2017 by

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The Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus can be regarded as a significant and long expected upgrade over the vanilla Mi 5 and even the Mi 5s, being a phablet rather than a smartphone, boasting its impressive 5.7 inches display and the full metal jacket chassis. But everybody knows that what’s under the hood turns the heads of geeks anywhere.

And here the good news keep on coming, because the Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus is flagship material by any metrics, running on Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 821 chipset and featuring a very promising state of the art dual camera setup for photography aficionados, which includes a monochrome sensor for low-light performance.

The front snapper is an ultrapixel camera, which is the ideal tool for selfie obsessed teens. The body of the Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus got bigger and better, also sturdier, and the hardware is now faster than ever. This baby is a significant improvement over the vanilla Mi 5, but let’s dig deeper into the specs and see what’s what, shall we?

Being a flagship breed, let’s begin with the main disadvantages or shortcomings: first, there’s no micro SD card and that’s hard to understand. Also, there’s no mentioning about any type of adequate screen protection, like Corning or whatever.

The battery is sealed and there’s no optical image stabilization nor bokeh effect.

The Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus features an unibody construction and it’s made of aluminum, with a flat and sturdy frame which circles perfectly the flat display. The back panel is built using brushed metal with a glossy finish, which is rather unusual. However, design wise,the Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus is a real looker, being manufactured with an almost obsessive attention to details and it fits nicely in hand, being also sufficiently grippy.

The display is a 5.7 incher, an IPS LCD variety of full HD resolution  with a 386 pixels per inch density which is more than enough, leaving the QSD 821 enough room to breathe in video intensive applications. I am talking about a high end chipset having to deal with a full HD resolution rather than a QHD (the mainstream for high end smartphones nowadays), which translates into less stress on the CPUs i.e. increased performance.

The display is great quality wise, it’s just prone to scratching easily so I’d suggest you to put a screen shield as soon as possible.

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The Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus is powered by a beefy 3800 mAh battery, which is quite enough even for a phablet, with the smartphone scoring absolutely great in endurance tests, offering 104 hours of endurance rating. The droid comes with all bells and whistles connectivity wise, including LTE Cat. 8, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and even an USB Type C port.

The software is an Android Marshmallow with the MIUI 8.0 on top, which is one of the best customizations out there, being made especially for the Chinese market where Google services are banned thus Xiaomi had to refocus its ecosystem away from Alphabet’s services.

Considering that the Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus runs on the latest hardware available, i.e. the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 with 4 gigs of RAM, the performance level is  top notch, both in day to day tasks and gaming, thanks to the latest gen Adreno 530 GPU.

The smartphone is amazingly fast and it stays cool under heavy loads, delivering flagship grade performance . In the multimedia department, the Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus comes with 2 x 13 megapixels cameras on the back panel, with the monochrome sensor using a Bayer filter and Sony’s IMX258 sensor. The photo quality is excellent, with good contrast and rich detail while the Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus is capable of shooting 4K / ultra hd videos with ease at a rock solid 30 frames per second.

Let’s sum it up: the build quality is flagship grade, the grip is great due to the prominent metal frame, the display is awesome, battery life is best in class, the software is nice and clean, the hardware offers stellar performance, the camera is so so, right in the middle but the selfie snapper is one of the best out there. There aren’t many smartphone to match the Xiaomi Mi 5s Plus considering the price asked, making for a strong candidate in the droid arena.

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Travel Guide, Endlessly Fascinating

January 29, 2017 by

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India is a huge country from all points of view, starting with its 3,3 million square kilometers of land surface and ending in its 1,4 billion population. Everything is great about India, a bamboozling yet incredibly beautiful place, endlessly fascinating and for most part, a timeless place.

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India is stretched between the majestic snowy caps of Himalaya mountains and the golden and beautiful beaches of the Indian ocean, larger than life so to speak, boasting its incredible melange of both natural and man made wonders, ranging from astounding ancient temples, frenetic and lively cities, mystical monasteries, lost kingdoms hidden in the jungle, pristine national parks, mesmerizing and colorful markets, lavish palaces and a place where you can admire some of the world’s breathtaking monuments.

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Traveling to India can be best described as a veritable assault on one’s senses. As soon as you get off the plane, you’ll be “hit” by India’s sounds, smells, sounds and sensations, which are to be experienced at maximum intensity, especially if you’re visiting the country for the first time.

I bet that your first day in Rajah country will be pretty intimidating, but you’ll get used to it in no time. By the end of your first week here you’ll feel like home and you’ll stop noticing the chaos and the noise, which will slowly and seamlessly become part of the ordinary life.

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What’s most important, you’ll soon discover that the incredible sensory stimulation will slowly become strangely addictive and you’ll have a hard time accommodating with normality when you’ll get back “in the world”.

In our day and age, multiculturalism is the mantra, at least in liberal circles, but America was at its inception and until the 1960’s a veritable melting pot of cultures, where all the immigrants became Americans, vowing to protect and uphold the Constitution and to live the American dream. Well folks, India is also a true melting pot of cultures, but in a sort of antithesis to traditional America.

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Basically, India is one of the most diverse nations on Earth, being home for an incredible number of ethnicities, cultures and religions, which unlike “politically correct” Western world, are somehow managing to live in perfect harmony, except from the Muslim minority which fought tooth and nail for Pakistan, but that’s another story.

India has one sixth of World’s population  and it’s also harboring an extraordinary array of deities and gods, with its over one billion people living in anything basically, ranging from inner city shantytowns to high rise apartments (the nouveaux rich) or in remote villages in primitive huts, where life hasn’t changed much in the last thousand years.

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India is a magic place which mesmerized westerners since it was discovered, and you could easily spend your entire life trying to explore all its relics which were left behind by forgotten ancient empires, not to mention India’s dramatic landscapes and its incredible biodiversity, ranging from frozen Himalayan deserts to tiger filled jungles.

It’s very probable that during your first trip, you’ll be taken along the Golden Triangle, a cool itinerary which zips from the world famous Taj Mahal at agra to the country’s colonial capital Delhi and then to Jaipur, the cosmopolitan capital of Rajahstan.

The Zangdok Pelri Temple, Leh Valley, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir State, India.

If you have enough time, you can try to pay a visit at least some of the thirty two UNESCO listed sights, from ancient fortresses to creaking mountain railways and mangrove forests, not to mention temples overflowing with forgotten deities.

It’s impossible for one to absorb all India has to offer in just one visit, as the country must be enjoyed and savored like a buffet table, i.e. repeating your visits year after year, trying to “sample” your next dish. And speaking of India’s  strong points, rest assured that each visit will make for a feast of friends, as the country has one of the best cuisines in the world.

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Moto G4 Plus Review, Powered Up

January 29, 2017 by

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The Moto G4 Plus has some pretty big shoes to fill, as the original Moto G was a hit back in the day, earning a well deserved, almost legendary status both for itself and for the company. Truth be told, the Moto G actually put the company on the map in many countries, especially emerging markets like China or India, due to the smartphone’s excellent price/features ratio.

The Moto G4 Plus was built and designed following the same principles: great build quality, lots of features, above average performance and affordability. Basically, in the best bang for the buck category, the Moto G4 Plus is a main contender, except from obscure Chinese brands. And speaking about Chinese brands, it’s worth mentioning that the Moto G4 Plus is not a true blue Motorola smartphone, as Motorola was bought by Lenovo, a Chinese state owned corporation, but that’s not very important now, is it?

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In terms of appearance, the Moto G4 Plus is definitely a Motorola smartphone, you can tell from distance even if you don’t notice at first the iconic M logo on the back. Unlike many other smartphones, the Moto G4 Plus doesn’t feature that cool full metal jacket chassis, nor a glass/metal sandwich built. Truth be told, there’s not an ounce of metal in the Moto G4 Plus, as this droid is entirely made of plastic.

However, the smartphone doesn’t look cheap at all, being built like a tank, feeling solid in the hand and also incredibly grippy. Plastic has its obvious advantages over metal, i.e. it doesn’t scratch easily, it will not bend, get bumps and all that nuisances you’d expect in an aluminum made smartphone. Not to mention a glass one, like the S7, which is as fragile as a snowflake.

Keep in mind that the Moto G4 Plus  is a budget droid, hence you’ll not have to break the piggy-bank in order to buy it, hence you should appreciate its qualities despite some shortcuts made by the company in order to keep the price on the down-low.

To begin with, the Moto G4 Plus boasts a 5.5 inches wide full HD 1080 IPS LCD display of above average quality, with great contrast and sunlight legibility.

I could actually say that this droid is among the best in its category screen quality wise, given its 401 pixels per inch density and color calibration out of the box.

The hardware is nothing to write home about, as the Moto G4 Plus runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 SoC, a relatively dated architecture, an octa-core variety relying on A 53 Cortex CPUs and an old Adreno 405 graphics processing unit.

The amount of RAM on-board differs, as you can buy the Moto G4 Plus with 2, 3 or 4 GB, depending on the price. The smartphone runs on a clean cut Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with zero bloatware. It’s worth mentioning the phone’s dual SIM capability and LTE Cat.4 connectivity, together with the dedicated micro SD card slot, up to 256 GB.

The battery is pretty good, offering an autonomy of 70 hours (endurance rating), which is not bad for a 5.5 inches wide smartphone of 1080p resolution. However, don’t expect miracles, as the Moto G4 Plus is pretty good on daily/regular use, but the dated hardware cannot keep up with the latest games. If you’re a heavy gamer, this is not the droid you’re looking for.

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Where the Moto G4 Plus really shines is in the camera department, as the 16 megapixels snapper boasts a relatively high end sensor, the Omni Visio  OV16860 PureCel Plus-S respectively, coupled with a f/2.0 lens and offering an excellent opportunity for photography aficionados to test their skills. The camera is great, both for still pics and videos (full HD), but then again, I am talking about low-mid range devices here, as per its price. Do not expect flagship quality in a ~$250 smartphone (or cheaper).

Basically, if you’re looking for high quality materials and an excellent build quality,a good display an above average battery , a pretty good camera and decent overall performance, the Moto G4 Plus is easy to recommend.

 

Vatican Travel Guide

January 26, 2017 by

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When speaking of world’s smallest sovereign nation, most people are probably thinking about Monaco or San Marino. However, this is not the case. As you have already guessed it by now from my preamble, the honor of being the smallest country in the world goes to Vatican City, which is actually a state in itself.

What’s very interesting about Vatican, and I am not talking about its huge walls which surround it completely, walls which were built to prevent a Muslim invasion in a time when Muslims were all over Italy, Spain and Europe generally speaking, this tiny self-contained nation, the home of the Pope which is the lighthouse of the Catholic world is basically situated inside the city of Rome. And I mean entirely within the city of Rome,like concentric circles.

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Basically, traveling to Vatican, the monument of Christianity is actually visiting Italy with a twist, and that’s kind of cool if you come to think about it. There are lots of visitors in a sort of pilgrimage to Vatican, for religious reasons that is, but you don’t have to be Catholic to have a blast whilst cruising this medieval fortress.

Being  huge monuments to Catholicism, the world famous Saint Peter Basilica and obviously the Vatican Palace itself are the main “selling points” of this holy place where the pope resides when he’s not campaigning for multiculturalism and a world without borders, not to mention interfering with the US elections and what not. I don’t like much Pope Bergoglio, who isn’t even European, marking a world first in this regard, but I am digressing.

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Inside the Vatican Palace you’ll be able to stand in awe in front of the legendary work of Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel, which claims to have and arguably it does the most famous ceiling in the known universe. While here, you’ll be flabbergasted to see Michelangelo’s magnum opus and I am talking about The Last Judgement.

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One thing that must be taken into account is that one doesn’t simply walk into the Vatican. Visiting Vatican City can be a bit of an effort, as the place is usually very crowded, being very busy all year round and at most times of the day, but if you will it, it is no dream.

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Just be patient, join the queues and be at peace with putting up with multitudes of tourists, this is a small price to pay after all if you’re into art and culture and what made the Old Continent great back in the day.

Following the masses and the guides, you’ll be able to take a peak at the state’s assorted treasures, especially inside the Vatican Museum, where you’ll be able to stand in front of an extraordinary collection of paintings wearing the signatures of masters like Giotto and Raphael in the Pinacoteca Vaticana.

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Naturally, you’ll also be able to  wash your eyes so to speak with artifacts dating from classical antiquity and even older stuff, as there are museums in the Vatican dedicated to older finds, from the Egyptians and Etruscan’s.  The Vatican was the leader of the Papal States for over a millennia until Italy’s unification in the nineteenth century.

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If you’re going to visit the Vatican, be advised that the official languages in Vatican City are Latin and Italian, but you’ll most probably be able to find a guide who knows English, at least approximately. Before the “latino” Pope (he’s an ex bouncer with heavy left political leanings) somehow got inside the Vatican, the holy place was home for a German Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, who was a very conservative Cardinal before being upped in the Catholic church’s ranks and he was heavily criticized by the trendies of our times for his hard line denouncements of important issues which plague the Western civilization, like birth control, moral relativism and the promotion of LGBT by the multicultural mass media. Ratzinger was the first Pope in history to resign and his place was taken by this guy Bergoglio, who is a true social justice warrior and not much of a Catholic Pope.

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Google Pixel Review

January 26, 2017 by

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The Google Pixel is one of the most sought after Android running smartphones of 2016 and it marks the Alphabet company’s return as a serious contender among the big dogs like Apple and Samsung.

The thing is that Google’s former Nexus line of droids was something very interesting, a melange of decent prices and excellent performance, aimed at offering the best Android experience possible for the money. The best bang for the buck, you know the drill.

Well, with the Google Pixel, things were changed radically. The Google Pixel and the Pixel XL (its bigger kin) are now boasting high end specs and premium looks and feel, and as a logical consequence, the prices skyrocketed. Basically, the Google Pixel costs just as much as an iPhone 7 if not more and that’s a bold move from Alphabet.

However, considering that Google has access to all of our metadata and internet search history, our bank accounts and all that, I bet that they planned this move pretty good, it wasn’t just a “fluke”, and I refer to the fact that despite its steep price, the Pixel line was a hit in terms of sales.

With the Pixel, Google is aiming at giving Apple’s iPhone 7 a run for its money so to speak, being a true flagship smartphone and on top of that, with the affordable Nexus line discontinued, the fans of the Google brand do not have much choice after all.

Starting at $650 (in the US) or if you want the XL model add $120 on top of the $650, the Google Pixel comes with unlimited storage space for videos and photos via cloud storage, i.e.  Google Photos and that’s pretty cool.

The Pixel is built and designed around Google’s ecosystem which is pretty vast and obviously, it will offer a Google-focused experience.

The Google Pixel comes with a sturdy chassis built from metal, featuring a premium unibody design and it boasts its 5 inches wide AMOLED display of full HD 1080p resolution and a 441 pixels per inch density.

Under the hood, you’ll find Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 821 system on chip, which makes for a quad core architecture with its Kryo CPUs clocked in pairs at 2.15 GHz and 1.6 GHz respectively.

For gaming and heavy stuff, there’s a new sheriff in town, the Adreno 530 graphics processing unit together with plenty of RAM, to the tune of 4 GB.

The main camera has 12.3 megapixels and it comes with all the bells and whistles you would expect from a 2016 flagship, the likes of laser assisted auto-focus, f/2.0 phase detection, dual LED flash, 4K video recording and all that jazz. The secondary snapper is an 8 megapixels variety while the Pixel will is available in 2 flavors, 32 GB or 128 GB of native storage capacity.

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Another interesting factoid is that the Pixel is the first smartphone to be shipped running on Android 7.1 Nougat on board, which means it’s fully optimized for the respective OS and everything will work buttery smooth, as was the case with all Nexuses in the past.

In the connectivity department, the Google Pixel has it all and then some, including LTE Cat. 12, GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi 2×2 MIMO and even NFC support for Android Beam and Android Play.

There’s also a bio-metric device on board obviously, Google’s Pixel Imprint authentication system, meaning that Google will have now your fingerprints too in their humongous database and I am not kidding either.

The non removable battery has a capacity of 2770 mAh and that’s quite enough for a 5 incher with AMOLED yet nothing to write home about in terms of endurance (64 hours).

The main drawbacks of the Google Pixel are its price first and foremost, and a distant second-third etc being an arguably boring design, the lack of wireless charging and/or an IR blaster, there’s no FM radio and no full water resistance.

If you want unlimited space for your pictures and videos and maybe the best camera on the market in low-lighting conditions, plus 2 years of Google updates and 3 and a half of security patches (guaranteed), well, the Pixel is an interesting option.

 

 

Monaco Travel Guide

January 26, 2017 by

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Monaco is one of the most interesting places on Earth if you’re a millionaire (or billionaire, even better) or a Formula 1 pilot. I mean, Monaco is a tiny, tiny state, more of a city, having an area of just 0.8 square miles and a population of 37,863.

 

I think only the City of Vatican is tinier, but I’m digressing. Monaco is a constitutional monarchy ruled by Prince Albert since 2005.Like most of the Euro monarchies, Monaco oozes privilege, and I am not talking about that stupid politically correct imbued term,but of real privilege.

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The thing is, Monaco is home for the world’s elite, Bernie Sanders’s millionaires and billionaires boasting their latest acquisitions, whether we’re talking about the latest Ferrari face-lift or multi million euro yachts. In Monaco you’ll find more Russian oligarchs than in Sankt Petersburg and more high end yachts glinting  in Monte Carlo’s smug harbor than in London.

Monaco is a place filled with top notch resorts and amenities and that’s the reason why world celebrities, including movie stars from Hollywood and basically the who’s who of the Fortune’s Top 500 are flocking here, riding an unending flow of Rothschild Chateau Lafitte Champagne.

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Besides its opulent lifestyle which is the opera (as in created) of the nouveau-riche class from Saudi Arabia, I mean here’s where sheikhs and princes are boasting their latest gold plated/diamond encrusted Porsches and Mercedes Benzes, Monaco’s Mediterranean members-only clubs and very discreet banking system together with the heavily policed streets make for a sanctuary of wealth and hedonism if it ever was one.

The Principality  of Monaco is basically a 200 hectare piece of real estate but I think this is the place where you can buy some of the most expensive houses and condos in the Old World (or maybe is it London?). However, one of the cool things about Monaco is the fact that if you’re rich or lucky enough to get a piece of property here, you’ll be automatically upped in the ranks, becoming a Monaco citizen.

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But that’s easier said than done, believe me folks. World’s smallest country after Vatican is more than it meets the eye. Visiting Monaco would make for an interesting opportunity to admire on of Europe’s most historical city states, and, why not, to enjoy in culinary feasts with your friends in the city’s terrific restaurants. But get that platinum Visa card ready, just in case.

Monaco’s natives are true blue polyglots but the official language is Monegasque, which is a dialect of sorts, something between Italian language and French.

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Another uber-cool thing about Monaco and one of the reasons for which being a Monaco resident means that you’ll never have to worry about getting a job unless you really want to is that Monaco citizens don’t have to pay taxes. That’s why the rich of the planet are buying property here like there’s no tomorrow and live the dream of freedom. Because where else in the world can you live tax-free except for Monaco?

If you think you got what it takes to visit the Rich Island, and I mean cash, lots of cash, Monaco offers lots of interesting events annually, the likes of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in May, Tennis Masters Series in April, together with various arts and films festivals all through the year.

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Monaco is a place where luxury hotels are the norm, along with glamorous nightclubs and some of the world’s most famous casinos. Monaco’s history with casinos is also a great story to tell, i.e. back in 1850 the head of state built a casino for himself, for providing him with a steady flow of income, instead of raising taxes on the Principality’s citizens.

Away from the Monaco’s glamour and shiny lights, the area’s balmy climate and the Principality’s seaside location make it a great place to visit during the summer.

Monaco’s cuisine is similar to France whilst specialties include Socca, Barbagiuan, Stocafi and Fougasse.

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Huawei Mate 9 Review, Big is Beautiful

January 24, 2017 by

 

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The Huawei Mate 9 follows into the steps of the P9 but with a twist. Yes, it’s flagship stuff inside out, but while the Huawei P9 was, how should I put it, more pocketable, the Huawei Mate 9 is the definition of a phablet, being aimed at users who spend most of their time pecking at their smartphones, i.e. watching movies, videos, live streams and what not.

And for that kind of heavy usage, there is no replacement for displacement. Err, screen real estate, but I think you know what I am talking about.

Arriving seven months after the P9, the Huawei Mate 9 was released actually in two flavors,the regular or “vanilla” if you like and the Porsche Design, which is a rare gem due to its prohibitive price.

The  Huawei Mate 9 Porsche Design costs twice as much as the proper version, yet it features a very interesting dual curved design. However, for all intents and purposes, we will focus on the Huawei Mate 9 today, because after all is said and done, I can’t think of a good enough reason to spend one grand (or more) on a smartphone branded Huawei. Nor a Vertu for that matter or even a gold plated iPhone, but hey, that’s just me, I don’t consider smartphones to fall into the bling/social status category. That’s what diamonds and Bugatti’s are for, gadgets are for everybody, or at least that’s my opinion and it’s the best in the world.

Kidding aside, true to its traditions, the Huawei Mate 9 boasts a 5.9 inches wide display and a huge 4000 mAh battery, everything packed tight into a full metal jacket aluminum unibody.

It’s already sounding pretty cool, doesn’t it? But wait, it gets better: this flagship phablet made in China runs on Huawei’s best/in-house made Kirin 960 system on chip, which marks a debut for ARM’s latest and greatest Cortex A73 CPUs, which are thirty percent faster than the previous generation. That’s quite a boost in terms of sheer power by any metrics, right?

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And speaking of world-premieres, the Huawei Mate 9 is powered by a Mali G71 graphics processing unit, i.e. this GPU is first seen here, featuring Vulkan support and being aimed at Virtual Reality applications.

Oh, and then let’s take a look at the camera. As we’re already accustomed with, Huawei works with Leica for providing them with high end optics for their flagships and of course, this is the case with the Huawei Mate 9.

This smartphone boasts a 20 megapixels/10 megapixels dual camera setup , with both monochrome/color sensors respectively but this time there’s optical image stabilization and 4 in 1 auto-focus, unlike the P9. Basically, the technology matured and more than that,it evolved into something beautiful.

Another first for the Mate lineup  is that the Huawei Mate 9 is capable of recording ultra High Definition videos, or 4k in the parlance of geeks.

So, we have a phablet with a premium aluminum unibody design, a 5.9 inches LCD IPS display of full HD resolution, 2.5 D glass, 96% NTSC and 373 pixels per inch density, a high end/in house made Kirin 960 SoC i.e. an octa-core CPU architecture, an octa-core GPU, an i6 co-processor and 4 GB of RAM, a Leica branded/co-engineered snapper, 64 GB of internal storage, expandable via micro SD, a finger print scanner, LTE Cat 12, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even an infrared blaster and finally a fast charging 4000 mAh monster of a battery.

The main shortcomings are the full HD display, which is not quite flagship grade, yet it improves the performance of the smartphone dramatically, the lack of dust and water proofing which would have been nice to have, but not a deal breaker and the lack of any mention about the display’s glass protection, like it was the case with the P9. That one’s really weird.

But bottom line, if you’re seeking for a cool top shelf phablet with a great display (even if it’s not AMOLED), looking and feeling as premium as they come, with a dependable battery and an epic camera, offering class leading performance at all levels, the Huawei Mate 9 is very easy to recommend.