Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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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Czech Republic Travel Guide, Fairy Tale Land

December 7, 2016

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The Czech Republic is a relatively small country in the European Union, with a land surface of 78, 866 square kilometers and a population of roughly 10 million. However, strong essences are kept in small bottles, hence the Czech Republic can be best described as a historic jewel located at the heart of Western Europe, boasting its impeccably preserved medieval towns, majestic palaces and castles, top notch spas and beautiful touristic resorts, not to mention the country’s scenic national parks.

Truth be told, despite having a relatively low profile from a globe trotter’s point of view, the Czech Republic has a lot to offer especially if you like beer. Because world’s finest beer is made in the Czech Republic, yes indeed, and I am talking about Budweiser folks. Are you interested just yet?

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Now, the beating heart of the Czech Republic is the culture crammed capital and main city Prague, a unique place which is dubbed as being the city of a thousand spirits, and I am not talking about alcohol again,don’t worry. Prague is home for beautiful cathedrals and churches whilst its cobbled streets, lanes and beautiful bridges dating back to the medieval age are all overshadowed by a castle which looks like it was teleported here from a fairy tale by Disney or something.

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Add to all these a pinch of fine restaurants, ancient monuments, bustling markets and old breweries, not to mention a fine selection of jazz clubs and you’ll understand why visiting Prague will make for an experience to remember.

However, if you’re just a city slicker who doesn’t like to explore the great outdoors, well, you don’t know what you’re missing. The Czech Republic harbors a number of extraordinary attractions for outdoors enthusiasts, just a short drive from Prague actually, and I am talking about the world renowned springs at Karlovy Vary. Or, why not, the humongous Karlstejn, an incredibly beautiful Gothic castle, not to mention Kutna Hora,  the horror church built using human bones. Or, last but not least, Plzen, the city who gave the world pilsner beer.

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The Czech Republic was formerly part of the communist republic of Czechoslovakia but after the Velvet Divorce that took place in 1993, Slovakia and the Czech Republic split up and the latter has emerged way more popular in terms of attracting tourists from all around the world. And its appeal is truly understandable, considering the country’s natural assets, like the epic wine growing county of Monrovia, which boasts its lush rolling hills, being the definition of vineyard country or cities like Olomouc and Brno, where traditional spirits and foods are attracting gourmets even from France, which is the world’s food and wine capital.

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Krkonose boasts its snow capped mountain scenery, not to mention the eerie rock formations you can admire in Cesky Raj, or Sumava National Park’s wild forests and, last but not least, the impeccably preserved medieval town of Cesky Krumlov which is proudly listed on Unesco’s World Heritage Site.

Obviously, the Czech Republic is way more than just the sum of all its natural beauty, cities and incredible sights, being a proud nation with a friendly and forthright people and even if it’s relatively petite as far as countries go, it will leave a strong impression especially if this is the first time you’re travelling to Europe.

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And while natural beauty and the country’s medieval atmosphere are as unique as they get, visiting the Czech Republic is a fine opportunity to enjoy the country’s hearty cuisine and excellent beer. The Czech food is dominated by meat, served with potatoes and bread, sometimes dumplings and lots of sauces. Germany, Hungary and Austria really influenced the Czech cuisine, in a big way actually but that’s a great thing in my view. Specialties include roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut, thick beef stews served with a rich onion base and bread dumplings, deep fried Edam cheese served with fries and tartar sauce, pancake made from baked potato, breadcrumbs, garlic and egg, pot roasted beef tenderloin and veggies served with cream cheese sauce and cranberries, steak tartar seasoned with egg yolk and above all else, everything tastes better with a bottle of Budweiser Budvar, arguably the best beer in the world.

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Egypt Travel Guide

December 7, 2016

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Egypt is one of those countries everyone should visit, at least once in a lifetime. Being the cradle of civilization and home of some of the world’s oldest and most enduring architectural wonders (the pyramids of course), Egypt makes for an unforgettable adventure and an exquisite travelling experience.

There’s an old saying, about how men fear time but time fears the pyramids. Well, to begin with, Egypt is a country with an incredible rich history which had passed through some turmoil recently, yet the country still stands its ground so to speak as accessible and welcoming for the intrepid tourist who’s not afraid to pay a visit to North Africa. With a land surface of approximately one million square kilometers and a population of 94 million, Egypt still has what it takes to thrill you times and times again, especially when it comes to its timeless pyramids and temples or its friendly and welcoming people.

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Some say that there are actually two Egypts, i.e. there’s a duality kind of thing, with the first being Cairo’s Egypt and the Nile, as Cairo is the country’s capital and a place buzzing with life, boasting its medieval bazaars, river cruises, the nose-less Sphinx and a British-era colonial exoticism, whilst the second Egypt is the Red Sea realm, the ideal place for water sports aficionados, where you can enjoy scuba diving and top notch resorts for sun seekers.

The best known large scale and modern resort is Sharm el Sheikh, where you’ll be flabbergasted by world-class hotels and top notch diving opportunities, not to mention the plethora of desert adventures available for intrepid tourists.

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Most of Egypt’s ancient architecture and treasures are due to the era of pharaohs, including  the last man standing of the world’s seven wonders, and I am talking about the Pyramids of Giza. Also, Egypt harbors the world-renowned lotus columned temples of Karnak and Luxor, Aswan, the Valley of Kings and the old temples of Abu Simbel.

These monuments are spread along the Nile’s course like a pearl of strings and they represent an ancient and proud legacy, drawing millions of visitors into Egypt for centuries, making for some of the most fabled treasures in human history.

Obviously, you can’t understand Egypt just from its coral reefs and great architecture. Impressive and beautiful as they are, you’ll have to understand Egypt’s people too and you’ll achieve that goal best bartering for a good deal in Khan al Khalil bazaar, Cairo’s ancient market, looking for a bargain whilst sipping hot tea and enjoying a nice and long conversation with a local art-dealer. Here you’ll understand what makes (and made) Egypt great, i.e. what gives it fortitude, character and color. Egyptians, of course.

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Besides Cairo, Alexandria is another great place to visit while in Egypt, being the country’s largest city, a realm imbibed in its French colonial atmosphere together with a laid back and relaxed Greek influence, making for an interesting melange of art deco architecture, continental cuisine i.e. French patisseries and excellent (yet crowded) sandy beaches. The museums are great, and don’t forget to visit the modern Bibliotecha and admire the mosaics of the old Roman Amphitheater.

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Theban Hills is the place which harbors the Valley of the Kings, the home of the mummy so to speak, where the remains of the greatest of the Egyptian pharaohs were put to rest for millennia. The tombs were pillaged centuries ago, but they still display incredible wall paintings, telling the story of the pharaohs life styles. Obviously, the most famous tomb to visit in the Valley of the Kings is that of Tutankhamen, which was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter in almost pristine condition.

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Don’t forget to explore the temples at Luxor, straddling the Nile river, especially the temple of Karnak which sits on the east bank and makes for a spectacular destination for architecture aficionados, where you can admire outstanding statues, lotus columned halls and obelisks, while in the city center is the incredible Luxor Temple which is breathtaking when lit up at night.

Visa and Passport requirements

You’ll need a valid passport to enter Egypt and sometimes a visa is required, easily obtainable from Egyptian consulates or at the port in Alexandria.

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Austria Travel Guide, the Good Germans

December 4, 2016

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Austria is a small country located in the heart of the European Union, with a long and well established reputation, at least from the intrepid traveler’s point of view. With a land surface of  83,871 square kilometers and a population just shy of 9 million, Austria is one of the most sought after touristic destinations in the world.

If you’ve never been to Austria, you probably know at least about the geniuses that made that country great and world-renowned, and I am not talking about Adolf Hitler either. When I think of Austria, I have my head full of names like Mozart (he was Austrian, you know), Strauss, Schubert, the Hapsburg Empire and, of course, epic Alpine visions.

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If you have these expectations in mind while travelling to Austria, don’t worry, they’ll be met and exceeded, with delightful grace. The mountain scenery in the country is absolutely outstanding, the country’s capital Vienna is bursting with culture and has all the old empire fingerprints still intact, the home grown classical music icons are championed (read played) everywhere, but there are also quite a few surprises kept up its sleeve by Austria.

Cutting edge architecture, contemporary art marvels and a truly out of the box and innovative cuisine, all these make the country to be one of the best places to live in the world, and it’s very easy to see why, provided you stay long enough here and you take a sip of everything, one at a time.

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The country already reached end history status, I mean everything is nice and clean, the life is easy, its cities offer you natural beauty, affordable culture and, very importantly in my view, lots of opportunities to learn new things and cleanse your eyes and your soul admiring elegant neoclassical and Baroque architecture. Oh, and the public transportation system works impeccable, so you’ll be able to ditch your car and enjoy the view.

Austria is also surprisingly diverse, as in varied, meaning that you can enjoy the bohemian life in one of Vienna’s numerous coffee shops, where coffee is almost a religion, or, why not, to have the time of your life in one of the country’s skiing paradises, the likes of, let’s say St Anton or Kitzbuhel. Summertime hikes are one of Austria’s main attractions for outdoors enthusiasts, while in the winter, besides skiing you can go ice skating on one of Austria’s numerous lakes.

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While in the city, you may stand in shock and awe admiring the intricate cathedral interiors or the almost ostentatious opulence of Hapsburg castles, or if you’re on the plebe’s side, take a more prole approach and imbibe yourself in the Mitteleuropa culture (that’s middle Europa) over the fabulously diverse  inner country inns where you can eat the best goulash in your life.

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Hundertwasser House is the place in Vienna which makes for a true Mecca of art aficionados, as visiting here you’ll be able to admire authentic paintings wearing the signatures of famous names, the likes of Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael and so on and so forth. Or, why not, to have the time of your life riding a horse through the country’s beautifully wooded tracts.

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It would be hard to squeeze it all in actually, so take your time, enjoy the show and remember that Austria is a place  of natural beauty which is best served calmly, one sip at a time. Austria is a country which indulges you to relax, recline and relish, being the end result of millennia of western civilization, boasting an impressive architecture, works of art, a deep and rich culture, all created by many hands and souls over the centuries. Allow yourself the most time you can afford to luxuriate and understand what’s going on, you’ll thank me later.

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Visa Requirements

Austria is a member of the European Union and it signed the Schengen treaty, hence if you’re an EU citizen, you’ll not require a passport, just an ID (if anything). For USA/Canadian tourists, a passport is required (no Visa though).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba Travel Guide

December 2, 2016

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Cuba is one of those countries in which old-school socialism is still alive. Despite being something close to the ideal place in terms of climate, landscape and touristic opportunities, Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a population of 11 million as per the 2015 census and a land surface of 110,860 square kilometers, despite its economical struggle, Cuba makes for a very interesting travelling destination.

One of the main advantages of visiting Cuba is the fact that you’ll be travelling back in time. From the pearl of the Caribbean, the new Las Vegas of the fifties, after the communist revolution in 1959, everything got frozen on this little island. Basically, 2016’s Cuba is just the same like it was 60 years ago. Even the cars are the same.

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However, everything is dirt cheap, I mean the prices will shock you if you’re from the EU or the US. The natural beauties of the island, like the wildlife rich rain-forests, its immaculate sandy beaches, its majestic mountains with tumbling waterfalls, everything is alluring for the intrepid tourist.

One may  even say that Cuba makes for one of the most unique traveling destinations on Earth…. In the fifties, Cuba was one of the richest, largest and most populous places in the Caribbean, with a booming economy and vibrant cities. After the socialist-communist coup, US imposed a trade embargo over the Castro regime, which confiscated billions of dollars in property from American companies and individuals. Subsequently, Cuba got frozen back in time, as today its cities  are still  boasting vintage American cars from the 50s and 60s, while in the countryside you’ll be shocked to discover that horses and carts are the main transportation method.

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As I already told you, visiting Cuba is like travelling back in time. The country’s capital is Havana, a city made of contrasts, making for a mind blowing melange of debauchery and dilapidation, a place where impeccably restored buildings dating back to the colonial era stand side by side with dirty slums which are the tenements of the plebes, i.e. the regular Cubans.

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However, Cuban people, the folks who didn’t make it to the US I mean, are very optimistic by nature and Havana makes for a vivid city despite the ubiquitous poverty, dancing on salsa rhythms around the clock, where people are very uninhibited and incredibly friendly, offering an enthralling and original urban experience like no other place on God’s green Earth.

Besides Havana, there are other interesting cities to visit, provided you get a visa. For example, let’s talk a little bit about Santiago de Cuba, which is the definition of a melting pot in terms of African Caribbean cultures, where multicolored buildings stand in the shadows of grand cathedrals. And then again, there’s always Trinidad, an old place which makes for a real life snapshot of the colonial era, with its cobbled streets and faded colonial architecture, a symbol of a bygone era if it ever was one.

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Cuba’s cities are very interesting provided misery and poverty are not a major turnoff, but for most of the country’s visitors, its splendid beaches are the main attraction. Christopher Columbus is quoted as saying about the coast of Guardalavaca as being the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. And boy, Columbus did saw a few places in his lifetime.

And yes indeed, he was right, considering the incredibly white sands and turquoise waters of Cuba’s coastline, which make for some of the most exquisite places on the planet. And also, some of the loneliest, i.e. if you’re into secluded beautiful places, Cuba will not let you down. If you have the means to go visit inland Cuba, you’ll be in for a real treat admiring the green limestone peaks of the Vinales, which is the blessed land upon which Cuba’s world famous tobacco is cultivated.

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Today, Cuba is slowly opening up to the Western civilization, with Castro dead and all that, and as a consequence, modern tourist resorts are starting to pop up all over the place. However, if you want to take a sip from the real Cuba, the most rewarding experience will be offered by staying in casa particulares, i.e. private home-stays which are as genuine as a regular Cuban’s life gets making for a unique experience you’ll never be able to get staying in a hotel. Keep in mind that you’ll require a passport and a Visa to enter and stay in Cuba for up to 30 days.

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United States of America, Land of the Free

October 24, 2016

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The United States of America is the greatest country in the world, at least in this writer’s opinion, and not necessarily from a traveler’s point of view. However, since this is a travel guide, I’ll refer to the United States of America as a touristic destination and I will not bore you with the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers and so on and so forth.

So, to begin with, with a population of 321 million officially (the real figure is north of 350 million if we’re including the illegal immigrants) and a land surface of almost ten million square kilometers, the United States of America is a huge country after any metrics.

Truth be told, the land of the free, home of the brave is a place of incredible beauty and genuine diversity, ranging from the dramatic skyline of New York City, the most adulated and cosmopolitan city in the world to the dramatic landscapes, the likes of Arizona’s Mesas .

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If you’re for the first time in the Big Apple, nothing can prepare you for the “cultural” shock in advance, and I am talking here about your fist glimpse of Manhattan surreal skyline. If you want to be flabbergasted by God’s green earth, just take a trip to the Grand Canyon, or imbibe yourself with the magic nightlife and the neon lit excesses of the nouveaux Gomora, and I mean Las Vegas. These are just a few of the United States of America’s highlights.

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Truth be told, you can spend your entire life in this country and you’ll have the sensation you’ve only scratched the surface, provided you’re not a millionaire who can travel non-stop and live his life on the road. Of course, I am talking from a traveler’s point of view. America is so vast and the touristic highlights so many, it would be next to impossible to visit everything in a single trip, that’s the idea.

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After all, the United States of America is the place where you can trek through hill country, I mean trekking the soaring Black Hills in the state of South Dakota, or admire the incredible spectacle offered by the world renowned Niagara Falls, or go West, because the West is the Best, Get here and We’ll do the rest, as Morrison used to sing back in the day talking about California’s epic Pacific Coast. Lake Tahoe is the best place for skiing in the world, whilst traveling in the Midwest you’ll be able to re-live the cowboy life in a cattle ranching trip, or imbibe in the creole live jazz culture of New Orleans. Visiting the United States of America will make you understand the sens of the phrase “endless options”.

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Truth be told, the man made landscapes in the United States of America, and I am talking about its wonderful megalopolises, are almost as great sa the natural ones. The most iconic skyscrapers in the world are in New York after all, the likes of the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building.

However, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas are equally recognizable architecturally speaking if you’ve watched Hollywood’s best movies.

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The folks who live in the United States of America are similarly diverse as the country’s  landscape and cities. America has them all, from the colorful and happy go lucky Cubans to the gun toting wranglers of Texas, this place is (or it used to be until affirmative action and cultural marxism) the definition of a cultural melting pot. Being a country built by European immigrants, at least until the sixties, 10 generations of English, Scottish, Irish, Italian, German and Northern European immigrants have shaped the United States of America’s national identity in almost every aspect, ranging from language, music, food and manners.

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The country’s capital is Washington DC and it was once derided as boring, but today the new Rome (the Empire’s capital) is a place bursting with life, hip new bars, beautiful boutiques and an incredibly culinary scene.

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Hong Kong Travel Guide

October 23, 2016

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Hong Kong is a magic place where Eastern culture meets and greets Western culture, an impressive and steamy city which has evolved in the last couple hundred of years into Asia’s most cosmopolit and lovable traveling destination, boasting its incredible skyline, part steel and glass and part neon lights, part towering hills, making for one of the most majestic cities in the world.

But what makes Hong Kong what it is is its incredible life-pulse, the vivid city life which is basically a twenty four hour flurry of non-stop activity. Hong Kong can be described as the city that never sleeps, boasting its boat buzzed waterfront and its fully packed dim-sum (these are Chinese pies, dim sum means little food actually) restaurants, clattering tea-houses and incense smoked temples, incredibly lively street markets and century old hotels with many stories to tell its visitors. All these features make for Hong Kong to be a traveling destination like no other, teeming with high-energy and a breathtaking diversity.

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Hong Kongs sits on a very interesting piece of land, being basically part of mainland China, on the south-western coast at the mouth of the Pearl River, making for an incredible melange of Western and Eastern influences. If you’re a traveler to Hong Kong, my best advice would be to go with the flow and forget everything else.

The city was under British rule for centuries and in 1997 the territory was handed over back to China, but the English legacy is still there, tangible in all sorts of aspects of life, ranging from the architecture to the local’s obsession with tea and horse racing.

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Victoria Harbor is the centerpiece of Hong Kong and even this moniker harks back to the British era. Today, Victoria Harbor and Hong Kong overall are a world class tourist destination due to their nightlife, gastronomy and shopping resorts, which are unique and flabbergasting, especially if you’re visiting here for the first time.

The heartbeat of the city is Hong Kong Island, something like what Manhattan is for New York, boasting its impressive high end shopping malls and glistening sky scrapers, but if you’re getting down to “street level” sort to speak, you’ll discover traditional Chinese haunts and wet markets, which will always remind you that Hong Kong is a melting pot of cultures and civilizations, and together with the “millionaires and billionaires” the city relies on a working-class populace, which still makes ends meet in the “old school” way, which is often pretty hard.

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Visiting Hong Kong is also much more than it meets the eye. Besides the incredible lively and cosmopolit city-life, the city offers tons of natural attractions, ranging from volcanic landscapes, hiker friendly ranges, sleepy islands, pristine woodlands, miles and miles of golden beaches and protected marine parks.

Macau is not a part of Hong Kong technically speaking, but it’s very similar in lots of respects, i.e. it’s a Special Autonomous Region, just like Hong Kong, which was also returned to China in 1999 (former Portugal colony) and if you’ll be visiting Hong Kong, you must take a trip to Macau also. For example, Macau made a fortune and a name for itself via its incredible casinos (there are none in Hong Kong where gambling is illegal except for horse racing) and it’s a hugely popular destination for weekend breaks and/or day trips.

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If you want to mingle with the crowds, Hong Kong’s Mong Kok is arguably the world’s most densely populated region and an excellent place to eat exotic fish and all sorts of sea foods.

And speaking of foods, Hong Kong’s cuisine is the perfect place to sample authentic Chinese food from all regions including Northern, Cantonese, Shanghai, Chiu Chow, Hakka and Szechuan. You can also enjoy these foods in exotic locations, i.e. on Aberdeen’s floating restaurants or on a sampan in Causeway Bay, on a street market or in a Kowloon restaurant. Chinese people love food and the dishes are by the hundreds.

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