Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Armenia Travel Guide, Small Country Big on Character

February 28, 2017

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Just like the title says, Armenia is a relatively small country, with a land surface of 29,743 square kilometers and a population of just 3 million as per UN’s estimate in 2016. However, even if Armenia is a small nation by any metrics, its character is unique and its history very troubled, especially in the 20th century when its current neighbor basically committed genocide against 1.5 million Armenians, its own citizens basically, as at the time Armenia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

Today the relations between the two countries are still edgy, as Turkish governments never apologized for that holocaust avant la lettre and they did not even recognize that it happened.

A visit to Armenia will please history and architecture aficionados, as this tiny country is filled with medieval treasures. The Armenian people are warm and welcoming, and meeting them is usually accompanied by a serving of traditional brandy. The Armenian countryside is very beautiful and even if tourists are seldom spotted, one may wonder why.

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Armenia is a country with a very serious legacy historically speaking. Armenia became Christian in AD 301, being one of the oldest Christian nations in the world, as Armenians themselves proudly affirm if one asks. When it comes to visitor itineraries, religion still plays the part, as you’ll be able to engage in well organized tours and savor hundreds of years old monasteries which are scattered all over the Lori region. Also, you must pay a visit to the extraordinary Museum of Ancient Manuscripts.

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Since Armenia managed to liberate itself from the USSR empire/The Soviet Union the country rediscovered its traditions and actually embraced them while moving on. The main city and capital is Yerevan and much of the country’s progress is focused here.

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Yerevan is Armenia’s hub of progressive thought and cultural activity and on clear days you can admire Mount Ararat across the border. You know, Mount Ararat, arguably the largest single mass mountain the world. Also, scientist believe that here they will find the remains of Noah’s Ark.

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Yerevan is also a place bursting with cultural activity, boasting its large scale development projects and a lively arts scene. Considering the country’s shady history, Armenia has a huge diaspora population and a great number of Armenian Americans returned to their homeland after the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing back a lot of wealth into the country as a logical result.

Armenia has a superior culture, a proud people with deep and interesting passions, which range from playing chess, the game of kings to sipping cognac. Armenian people  never feel ashamed to engage in patriotism and religion, yet they’re pretty secular, as they perfected a cafe culture and boast an awesome cuisine. Armenian food is a real treat and while visiting here, expect to gain a few pounds. You’ll definitely enjoy the mounds of vegetables from organic gardens nearby together with lots of grilled meats.

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Traveling anywhere in Armenia will be a delight for your senses. Highlights include the charming little city of Goris and the ancient mountain resort  of Dilijan, a little town set amid lush pine forests. Here you can go hiking using the walking trails nearby which ascend to mountain lakes.

Or, you can go visit Debed Canyon, home of UNESCO protected monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat. There’s a vast number of various cultural sites to be admired in Armenia, including the Yerevan library, the National Gallery or the State Museum of Armenian History in Yerevan, all of which are harboring the country’s impressive collection of ancient manuscripts and historic artifacts.

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While in Armenia, don’t forget to sample some of the country’s best brandies, which were Winston Churchill’s favorite (read Dvin and Ararat brandy). If you’re a born again hard explorer, Armenia’s limestone caverns in Vayots Dzor are pretty dazzling to say the least, while near Goris you can explore a number of man made cave homes carved into the city’s hillsides hundreds of years ago.

Forty three miles east of the capital Yerevan there’s Lake Sevan, the largest in the Caucasus, which is world famous for its crystal clear waters where you can fish a delicious salmon trout. Horse riding and hiking through the country’s spectacular countryside would make for a once in a lifetime experience, over the ancient roads through timeless villages or through mountain passes.

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Argentina Travel Guide, Welcome to Pampas

February 27, 2017

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Few people know that at the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world, even competing with its northern neighbor the United States.

In 1914, half of the country’s population was foreign born, most of them being immigrants from Europe . Argentina saw an incredible economic growth rate of 6% per year from 1914 until 1957, the fastest record in the world and it ranked in top ten richest countries, ahead of Italy, France and Germany.

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Argentina was basically a magnet for intrepid European immigrants who were drawn by the country’s fertile pampas, were cattle and crops were boosting Argentina’s economic prowess.

Things got terribly wrong after military coups became the norm and today Argentina is just a shadow of its former glory from an economical point of view. After more than 3 decades had come to past since the end of the last military dictatorship, Argentina is still trying to find itself and recoup its former glory.

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With a population just shy of 45 million and a huge land surface of 2.8 million square kilometers, the Federal Republic of Argentina is still very proud of its vast pampas, its glamorous capital Buenos Aires, its snowy peaks and rolling wine regions, being a land bursting with adventure at every step.

All the cliches you’ve ever heard about Argentina are basically true: even if they’re mostly catholic, the true religion of the land is essentially a mix of Jesus and  football. Obviously, the beef is extraordinary and if you’re talking about starting a night out, don’t expect it to begin before midnight.

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Argentinians really love their flamboyant life style and the vivid nightlife of Buenos Aires is hard to replicate anywhere in the world.

However, the natural wonders of the country are the secret which draws millions of tourists every year. Whether we’re talking about the epic Patagonian glaciers or the Andean Mountains plateaus, the wildlife enormously rich wetlands or the subtropical waterfalls, Argentina is a land of incredible beauty and diversity.

To know Argentina is to love it, and there’s an awful lot of love to give. The country’s capital Buenos Aires is located basically on the border, though it’s very much described as Argentina’s beating heart, both culturally and economically, its real centerpiece.

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Buenos Aires is the city of Maradona and Evita Peron, boasting its legendary tango halls, grill restaurants and feisty populace, which all provide an incredibly accurate introduction to Argentina. You can visit the high-life neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and you’ll feel like in Paris. I am talking about Palermo and Recoleta, where you’ll find trendy eateries and designer boutiques, whilst the historic San Telmo will amaze you with its old world cafes, antique stalls and a variety of live music.

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The north of Argentina abounds in otherworldly scenery, ranging from weird rock formations in the Salta region, where Gaucho and Spanish traditions come together to scorched mountains which look like the aftermath of an atomic exchange between 2 races of aliens of something along these lines.

The Mendoza region is situated further west,  where you will enjoy the country’s famous white wines that are flourishing here. You can have the skiing experience of a lifetime at the Andes Mountains foothills, yet down south in Patagonia you will be flabbergasted by the amazing spread of jagged peaks, expansive lakes and countless miles of open space.

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If you’re into whale watching, just go off the coast at Puerto Madryn, or you can take a picture of baby penguins in Punta Tambo, or walk the glistening Lake District. Or, why not, go explore the Jesuit chapels and Cordoba’s farmhouses.

Another incredibly rich place in terms of natural beauty is Iguazu Falls, which borders Brazil and Argentina. As you can see, Argentina is a very special place, boasting its vivacious and incredibly rich lust for life and natural beauty, being a mesmerizing country and the perfect place to spend a few weeks of your summer vacation.

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Romania Travel Guide, Land of Choice

February 25, 2017

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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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India Travel Guide, Endlessly Fascinating

January 29, 2017

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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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Vatican Travel Guide

January 26, 2017

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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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Monaco Travel Guide

January 26, 2017

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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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Ukraine Travel Guide

December 28, 2016

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Ukraine can be described as a very large and mysterious country, very little known to “outsiders” (read Westerners) despite its huge size, which makes it one of the biggest countries in Europe.

With a land surface of 603,700 square kilometers and a population just shy of 45 million, Ukraine was always associated with its larger than life neighbor, which is Russia. And by larger than life I don’t mean God President Vladimir Putin, but the fact that Russia is the largest country in the world by a wide margin.

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Now, despite its colossal neighbor, Ukraine  stands out on its own right due to its beautiful scenery and cultural diversity, which is hardly a surprise. Thing is, Ukraine in its current form is a weird place, as it was a former member of the USSR and large territories which nowadays comprise Ukraine were taken from the neighboring countries, including Russia, Romania and Poland. Oh, and I almost forgot Crimea, which was given to Ukraine by Khrushchev, the former USSR president 60 years ago, but now it was taken back by Russia.

The idea is that Ukraine is made from what some are calling an unholy alliance of diverse peoples, hence the cultural diversity which is not always a good thing, especially if we’re considering the de-facto civil war in East Ukraine.

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Thing is, Ukraine is a very interesting place, having a reputation of being home for a tough and “manly” people, hardy folk which are formidable by any metrics. Just like in Russia, smiling at a stranger in an Ukrainian city is deemed as a clear sign of madness, however, once you get to know the place and the ice is broken so to speak, you’ll end up falling in love with Ukraine and its people.

As you’re getting accustomed to the folks around, you’ll be surprised to see how warm they are behind their “cold blue eyes”, as they’ll invite you home for a borscht after showing you around and all that jazz.

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Ukraine’s scenery is also tough, and I mean the outdoor life, especially during the winter, when snow covers most of the country and the temperatures plummet. However, except for the harsh winter, the climate of Ukraine is surprisingly mild during the rest of the year.

Considering Ukraine’s verdant and idyllic interior, which is very natural as in unspoiled, this country is the ideal destination for outdoors enthusiasts, i.e. cyclists and hikers.

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Another thing to contemplate, like an additional reason for visiting Ukraine, are the Carpathian Mountains,  spilling over the border with Hungary, Poland and Romania, offering an epic view as they dominate authoritatively the west of the country, while the eastern region and the center of Ukraine is mostly flat plains carpeted with cereals and sunflowers.

The south of Ukraine is very comparable to the Mediterranean climate, and I am talking about the Black Sea coastline, not to mention the Crimean peninsula, which used to be part of Ukraine until recently, making for one of the most interesting traveling destinations in this part of the world.

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Even in heavy winters, the landscape is still flabbergasting, due to the plethora of Soviet era buildings and old churches where you can dive in and take shelter in case of emergency.

The country’s capital and main city is Kiev, a world famous name, founded in the 8th century and displaying a huge variety of architectural styles and buildings. Kiev used to be the capital of Kievan Rus, which was the precursor of the Russian empire, not to mention the modern Russian Federation, which is basically the same thing running under a different public relations policy. I am just kidding, but then again, who knows for sure?

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One of Europe’s oldest cities is also located in Ukraine, and I am talking about Lviv, a magical place where you can imbibe in baroque architecture and also some magnificent pieces from the Renaissance period.

Odessa is best known for the Potemkin Stairway, which is the place where the legendary The Battleship Potemkin movie was filmed, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Ukraine has been recently in the news (in a bad way I mean) due to the civil war involving Russian separatists on the border, but except for Eastern Ukraine, the rest of the country is perfectly safe to visit anytime.

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Lebanon Travel Guide

December 27, 2016

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Lebanon is a true gem of a traveling destination, being home to beautiful golden beaches, the Mid-East’s most famous party-city and blessed with quite a few World Heritage Sites. Basically, Lebanon has all the ingredients for becoming a hot-spot on any intrepid tourist’s bucket list, making for a classic yet hugely understated traveling destination.

However, the understated part is relatively normal and understandable, considering the country’s troubled past and the current reality which is pretty far from being rosy, to say the least. The thing is that Lebanon is still recovering from its violent civil war which raged into the country for fifteen years, from 1975 to 1990.

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Nowadays, this tiny 10,452 square kilometers country with a 6 million population is affected by its bordering Syrian conflict, which spills refugees across its borders. Not to mention the fact that Bekaa Valley, which is very close to Lebanon is a stronghold of Hezbollah, a militant group supported by Iran. The idea is that caution is required for Lebanon’s visitors.

Nevertheless, Lebanon is today a relatively peaceful country which welcomes visitors from all around the world, even if the peace is somewhat fragile. Beirut, the country’s capital was regarded before the civil war as the Paris of the Middle East and today it makes for a very friendly and warm party town, which is almost sandwiched between the foothills of Lebanon Mountain and the Mediterranean Sea.

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Basically, this beautiful city is located between the sea and the mountains, which makes it the ideal place for starting visiting Lebanon. This bustling city is world renowned for its dramatic coastline, its friendly and welcoming people and, very important for food aficionados, for its delicious cuisine which is arguably the best in the Middle East.

Sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Arabia, Lebanon benefited from the best (and some say from the worst) of both regions. Influences from the West and the East abound and, unlike in other muslim countries, it’s not uncommon to hear DJs competing with the muslim call to prayer in the livelier parts of Beirut.

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The city’s buildings are still marked by the past military conflicts, yet Beirut is a progressive, forward and out of the box thinking capital, where the biggest issue nowadays is not terrorism but traffic congestion.

Truth be told, if you’re a Westerner, crossing the road in Beirut may seem like an extreme sport, at least initially, before getting accustomed with the rules of the land so to speak, or the lack thereof.

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Despite its tiny size, Lebanon harbors no less than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including one of the world’s oldest Phoenician ports, the city of Byblos respectively, together with the ancient remains of Baalbeck, located in a sensitive area, the one I’ve told you previously, the Hezbollah controlled Bekaa Valley, making for one of the most representative examples of Greco-Roman pieces of architecture still standing.

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Other highlights of visiting Lebanon include old and impeccably preserved Christian monasteries in the Holy Valley, because Lebanon, just like Syria and Egypt back in the day, was one of the first Christian countries in the world. After the Islamic expansion, they were conquered and submitted to muslim rule in the 9th and 10th centuries AC.

The country is also renowned world wide for its magnificent cedar forests, as well as for its ancient cities, the likes of Tripoli and Tyr, with the former being home to one of the oldest seaports in the world.

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If all these historical sites are not enough for you, dear reader, you can always go skiing on Mount Lebanon, regardless how weird this may sound for you, as Lebanon is not exactly the most obvious place in the world for hitting the slopes. Regardless, Lebanon is one of those rare places where you can enjoy the sun, beautiful sandy beaches and skiing in just one day, and that’s what makes the country unique.

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Portugal Travel Guide

December 27, 2016

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Portugal means orange in more than one language and I bet you did not know that! However, besides being maybe the only country in the world named after a delicious fruit, Portugal is a very interesting traveling destination by any metrics.

With a land surface of 92, 345 square kilometers and a population of 10.3 million, Portugal sits on the shores of the Atlantic ocean, or vice-versa, depending upon your system of reference. The country boasts its friendly people, its vibrant and cosmopolitan cities, together with traditional villages and a beautiful scenery.

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Visiting Portugal will make for a memorable experience, as you’ll be flabbergasted by the country’s rolling countryside, its stunning golden beaches with the Atlantic lapping upon its shores, not to mention the abundance of UNESCO World Heritage sites, the likes of the fifteenth century port (impeccably preserved) of Angra do Heroismo or, why not, the prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa.

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Portugal has something to offer for everybody and that’s quite rare in such a small country. Lisbon is the main city and the country’s capital, a lively city with an incredibly energetic night life. Porto (just like the wine, yes indeed) is its vibrant Northern counterpart, the second largest city in Portugal and a true joy to explore and discover.

Both Porto and Lisbon are old-school cities, classic European architecture gems, with still-working trams which are rattling up and down hills, or along promenades, with majestic plazas, narrow and mysterious (even romantic) side streets, bohemian cafes and hip night clubs, alluring boutiques and world class restaurants.

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However, there’s more to see in Portugal than Porto and Lisbon. Thing is, as Portugal was conquered by muslims (Moors) back in the day, just like Spain, parts of Italy etc, the conquerors left behind a number of stunning palaces and mosques. In Portugal’s case, Sintra is the place to visit if you want to admire a former Moorish castle which is nowadays the National Palace. Other sites worth seeing are the dramatic villa of Quinta de Regaleira, not to mention the ancient cities of Guimaraes, Coimbra, Evora and Braga, all boasting their medieval charm and beautiful architecture. Evora is (very unusual) harboring a chapel that was build one hundred percent from human bones, which is very creepy to say the least, but it makes for the ideal place to visit if you’re into horror movies and cool stories to tell to your friends and family.

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For rural aficionados, Portugal will provide an unique opportunity to wander around the country’s ancient vineyards, or to trek the beautiful mountains in search of old stone-made villages, not to mention Portugal’s magnificent shoreline in the south, where you can take full advantage of the warm and sunny weather even now, in December.

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If you’re old and tired, don’t worry, as you can relax your bones in the sun as you drop in on a sleepy sulfur spa, and then, reinvigorated and healthy once again, hop around and enjoy the Pousadas, which makes for an exquisite collection of monasteries and covenants, which were converted into beautiful accommodations for the intrepid tourists.

For outdoors enthusiasts, Portugal has much to offer, and I am not talking about the country’s secluded beaches and imposing cliffs on the coastline. What I mean is that Portugal is the perfect place to visit if you’re into surfing waves, horseback riding, hill hiking, paddling down rivers, diving shipwrecks, or, last but not least, exploring ancient Roman ruins or Moorish castles, between having the time of your life playing golf on some of the world’s best courses.

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Portugal is also sovereign over a couple of offshore islands, the likes of Berlenga and Madeira, not to mention the Azores Archipelago, where you can go look for the elusive and mythical remains of the Atlantis.

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Scotland Travel Guide

December 24, 2016

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Scotland makes for one of the most iconic regions in the United Kingdom, having a land surface of 78,772 square kilometers and a population of 5.2 million.

Scotland is packed full with romantic lochs (that’s lakes if you don’t speak “Scottish”), sky high epic mountains, cultured cities populated by a fiercely proud people and rugged coastlines, all these features making for Scotland to be a truly incredible traveling destination, if it ever was one.

Every day spent in Scotland will make for a unique experience, whether you’ll be savoring a glass of scotch on the rocks or quaffing smoked salmon, enjoying a single malt in the glens or tracking the Jacobite army at Culloden battlefield, or experiencing the life of blue bloods at Stirling castle, Scotland has much to offer its visitors.

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If you’re a culture buff, you’ll have the time of your life trailing Harry Potter while visiting the genuine Hogwarts Express, or visiting local craft breweries sipping an original Scottish ale during an awesome music festival, or laughing your arse out while attending a stand up comedy at world famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

If you’re an ancient history aficionado, don’t worry, as you can literally travel back in time, some five thousand years ago whilst visiting the burial tombs and neolithic settlements at Orkney, a site listed on UNESCO’s world heritage catalog. Or, why not, immerse your soul into Scotland’s colored past at forts and citadels, the likes of Finlarig or the Eilean Donan Castle.

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Despite its relatively compact “size”, Scotland is the definition of a strong essence kept inside a tiny bottle, if you’re familiar with that saying, and I bet you are lad.

For urban dwellers, Scotland’s largest (and equally famous) cities, i.e.  Glasgow and Edinburgh will provide you with a taste of the old continent, boasting exceptional art galleries, traditional “Scottish” (read English) pubs, though the locals will strongly disagree, innovative restaurants, stylish boutiques, hip hotels and chic cocktail bars, though Scotland is all about scotch for social drinkers. And, why not, maybe a pint of that black stuff, landlord (Guinness if you’re not familiarized with the lingo).

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Beyond its beautiful and vivid cities, Scotland is also harboring delightful abbey towns, remote Highland communities where the Gaelic language is still alive, epic coastal villages, all these places being able to entice travelers with their scenic walks, picturesque buildings and a warm and welcoming people. The only trouble you’ll have in Scotland is the language, as English doesn’t seem to be the lingua franca on these lands.

A crash course in the Scottish dialect will definitely help you with getting around in Scotland, prior to your arrival, if you know what I mean. Scotland is also home for a bunch of eccentric festivals, things like porridge making competitions and classic Highland games, including hammer throwing and caber tossing.

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For outdoors enthusiasts, Scotland is a dream come true, being a place where adrenaline junkies will feel like a Muslim visiting Mecca. You can test your nerves and courage climbing the Glencoe ice falls, go down the rapids in Perthshire or trek along the outstanding views and dramatic glens of West Highland Way.

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If you’re into sightseeing, Scotland is the place where you can admire the elusive wild cat in the world famous Cairngorms National Park, or you may go salmon fishing on the Tweed River, whale watching in Orkneys and finally, tee off at Saint Andrews.

Last but not least, if you feel lucky enough, you may very well seel out Loch Ness’s “Nessie”, the famous and mystical monster-resident which whether it exists or not, it manages to attract tens of thousands of visitors  year after year.

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As per food and drinks, don’t forget Scotland’s famous haggis, porridge, smoked salmon, cullen skink and the country’s most famous export, the scotch whiskey.

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