Tag Archive: travel

Of course I wanted to fit in as many countries as we could before Annemarie had to be grounded to await the birth of our first child. So Russia would be final stop before that happened, and it was nice finale….for now. Russia, yet another country growing up I never thought I’d go to, but how things have changed, with myself and the state of Russia itself. They want visitors now to dump money into their economy, yet they still make it a challenge to get visas and go through quite a bit of unnecessary bullshit to make it happen, but all good things are tough.

We had an extra incentive to make this trip happen, as my cousin and her hubby were embarking on a summer travel tour, that started in Russia, so it worked out quite well. We decided on St. Petersburg as the city of choice for a few days, and only did that because we heard there was more to see there versus Moscow. I’d of course like to see the Kremlin and Red Square, but I’ll keep that for another time. We headed off, met up at the airport, and our adventure began…as soon as we got in the cab, as usual! Annemarie says I have a welcoming face, which could be true, but scam artists in every city at the airport are widespread, so it’s not that I’m the only one being taken. At least this time we were able to push back a bit, as the driver threatened to take us back to the airport…at no cost? Ok you fool, but we’ll carry on. He showed us a rate card, but it was self-made? Then threatened to call the cops if we didn’t pay? Ok, you just struck out buddy. Take this money, which is still more than we should pay, and take off. And he did, and that was the scam of the trip put behind us.

The Winter Palace

We dropped our things at the hotel, and hit the town for dinner. For having no clue where to go, and where we were, we found a decent spot with some decent food. Closed that place down, walked around a bit more, but wanted to get a good night of sleep for the next day of touring. St. Petersburg is quite a nice place, but things are very spread out. Kind of reminded me like Beijing, except every other person wasn’t touching you. Our hotel was on the main drag, so we could direct ourselves pretty easy based on that. We saw everything we could, and walked forever. We even took a hydrofoil out to the Summer Palace, which is more like a compound just to show off wealth, but it was amazing. I’ll describe the city in pictures as talking about it won’t do it justice. I thoroughly enjoyed the city, even if it was a bit too much like continental Europe. Nice people with a melting pot feel, and is building up to be quite a great place to visit.

Peterhof – The summer palace of Peter the Great

The Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood

Saint Isaacs Cathedral

Our transportation over to Peterhof

The view sitting in front of Peterhof….just a bit of water!


Next up for business and not leisure travel: Israel & Belarus



When we spoke about Norway in the past, we really wanted to visit Stavanger, and visit the fjords. That being said, that deemed to be a little too much seeing Annemarie is carrying our little gal, and the fact that tickets to Stavanger are rarely considered “cheap.” So, we headed off to Oslo for the weekend, which was our final piece in the Nordics. We visited Helsinki, Denmark & Sweden back in 2009 on our RTW Trip, and hit up Iceland back in October for my 34th birthday. Tickets are always cheap to get to Oslo, so it was more about the right weekend and lucking out with the weather.

The famous ski jump of Oslo…yup, that’s about it.

Now, we always though the most expensive city we visited was Tokyo, until we visited Denmark, and now that award goes to Norway….but a kilometer! The cheapest beer I could find was equivalent to €10…yes, euros, not even dollars! Everything was over the moon, even public transportation. The train from the airport to downtown was 22 minutes….and costs the equivalent of €25 per person. Unreal if you ask me. The odd fact about Norway…the have more oil on reserve than anyone in Europe, and they don’t use any for personal consumption….just in case the world runs out of oil. The taxes are through the roof, it has more darkness than sunlight, and it’s pretty remote. Oslo is also the heroin capital of the world, and has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Unique city to say the least…but on to the good stuff.

The Oslo Opera

Oslo is uber expensive, uber clean, uber modern and….kind of boring. I was warned about this from none other than my father, who had visited years before. There’s the ski jump, wow! Yeah, not really. There’s the fortress, which I guess is cool, but no great battles happened there and it’s practically 100% intact. There’s the waterfront, but unless you want the priciest of pricy restaurants and drinks, no reason to really bet there. They have a pretty cool opera house, but just the building is unique, as I don’t care much for opera personally. The only thing I really wanted to see, and it lived up to expectation, was Kon-Tiki. The raft that made it from South America to the Polynesian Islands. Although anthropologists and scientists now think that what they proved by sailing actually proves nothing, it’s pretty amazing they made it 4,300 miles on a raft made out of balsa logs.  There was also a boat in Oslo, a Viking ship, which is about 900 years old, and very well preserved. It actually was brought back from the Northwest Passage where it was frozen in ice. Not bad if you ask me.


One last highlight, or let’s say experience, was Frogner Park. I’ll just add some pictures of the sculptures, and this was one unique park, and probably R-Rated for most families in the USA 😉

The monolith in Frogner Park…400 naked people, circle of life!

Ya, ok….ride’em cowboy?

Will I be back in Oslo? Probably not, but I will get to Stavanger to check out those fjords one day. Next up, Andorra!

We originally tried to get to Portugal a bit earlier back in December, but due to family reasons, we were unable to make it. This time our trip was almost canceled as well because of an error made by TAP. I would suggest always double checking your bookings when flying with TAP since their online system is sub-par and leaves no room for error. Anyway, we made it to Porto and embarked on our weekend.

“the Sandwich”

Still amazed we never made it to Portugal earlier, but it’s not exactly the easiest place to get to, but none the less I booked these cheap tickets after I drank about 15 beers. Yes, when I’m tipsy, I book plane tickets. Landed in Porto, walked around town a bit since it was late and not much to see, and ended up getting one of those famous sandwiches called the Francesinha. It’s considered one of the top 10 sandwiches in the world, and Porto is the only place you can find it, at least a real one. It was tasty, but then again anything would be at 1am when you’re starving. Crashed for the night, and started our weekend.

Croft Tasting Room

While in Porto, of course you have to do what else, port tastings. Annemarie is pregnant of course, but did that stop me…no! I think I hit about 5, and ended up bringing home a bottle from Croft, which was my favorite. Completely different from wine tasting, and gets you loopy just a tad faster. We had quite a good time, definitely more me than her, but we can’t win them all. We proceed to walk around the area, Villa Nova de Gaia, for the rest of the day. It’s actually a different town than Porto, but they stare at each other with only the Douro River separating them. I honestly think most tourist spend most of their time sitting on either side of the river staring at each other, since it’s prettiest part of Porto by far. We followed suit, and spent the rest of the day sitting at a cafe with beanbags, and just relaxed with drinks staring that river and the bridge that you can’t ignore.

The best way to enjoy Porto

Our trip to Porto was quite short, only about 40 hours, but I drank enough port to have a reason to visit again, and hopefully travel down the coast to Lisbon as well.

Original Porto Homes

On to the next country as always…Norway!

We’ve been to Africa twice before, visiting Egypt & South Africa. They were completely different experiences to say the least, and completely different worlds. I still rate Cape Town as one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited. I’d be interested to know which cities in the world people think are more, but that’s always up for debate, and a matter of opinion. Since moving to the EU, I said I wanted to visit Morocco, but never pulled the trigger. Then after speaking with my cousin, and finding out she also wanted to see Morocco, I then had no excuse and had to do it. Some tickets came up, I booked them, and that was that. We decided on Marrakech simply because we wanted to fly direct, and have never heard much great about Casablanca. And we’re off…

Landing in Marrakech, connected with my cousin and her husband, and off to the hotel….sorry, the Riad. Unless staying outside the Medina, you are most likely to stay in a Riad, which is a private home that has been converted into a hotel, which can have anywhere from 4-20 rooms usually. Our choice mainly was done because a spa was connected to it, and we wanted to experience that before we left. The Riad was located in a maze of alleyways and streets that thankfully were made easier by a guide from the hotel who met us at the perimeter to grab our bags. So after following him, and checking in, we wanted to go for a stroll and get some dinner. The medina is not that large, but you can get lost quite easily. We found our way to the main market/square, where every night most locals get their dinner, and shop after shop is trying to convince you to eat at their place of business. We eventually sat down at one, just so we didn’t have to listen to them anymore. We tried all the local food, which was good, but in the end, WAY overpriced and quite honestly a rip off. They came up with prices out of thin air and then begged for tips afterward…not my type of scene. Was glad to get out of there.

Day 2 we wanted to see as much as we could, do some shopping, drink some beers, eat some local food, and relax. We did it all. I’m going to explain what we did in pictures instead of script since I don’t know the history behind most things in Morocco. One thing I can say is that we ended the night at dinner at a local restaurant that was on top of a roof, and it was fantastic. Once again, a local guide lead us back to our hotel since Marrakech is an eerie place at night, especially in the Medina.

Our flight was late home on Sunday, so we definitely wanted to have a hamman, a spa, before we left. The facilities next to the Riad were well-known in the area, so we figured it must be good. IT WAS. I had a scrub with local muds that pretty much ripped a whole layer of skin off, but pretty sure it was good for me and it felt fantastic. I also got a massage in a wet steam room, which was a bit strange to get used to, but by the end I was relaxed and felt extremely clean. I think relaxed for about 45 minutes in a cold, calm room with Annemarie while we sipped on local tea and ate cookies.

We then pushed off, but not after getting our customary magnet for the country visited, and picking up a Moroccan lamp for our future daughters room. Our house is going to look like a time warp once we settle somewhere for more than 5 years.

If you didn’t the theme of this blog, it’s pretty much to conquer the world from an aspect of seeing it all. That includes the countries no one wants to go to, and the places that some people don’t believe are actually countries (e.g. San Marino). The countries of mini-Europe are not very easy to get to, any of them really. We have already crossed the borders of Vatican City, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein & San Marino. We still needed to hit Monaco, and eventually Andorra…a few blog posts from now. Now, Monaco isn’t THAT hard to get to since a train stops there, and a major one at that, but it doesn’t have an airport…but does have a heliport. Actually out of all the mini-EU, only Luxembourg actually has an airport, but you rarely see any other airlines flying there except LuxAir, and they don’t have the largest network per se. Vatican City you walk to, Liechtenstein you take a bus from Switzerland, Andorra you have to drive from either Toulouse or Barcelona, both which are 2.5 hours away….so I guess Monaco is one of the easiest.

What most of Monaco is….old high rises

Anyway, we based ourselves out of Nice for the weekend, since overall, there really isn’t much to see or do in Monaco (apologies to the few people that I know live there, but there isn’t). It’s the playground of the tax evaders of the world, or if you are of  Monégasque blood, which very few are. It’s a tiny little piece of land in southeastern France which borders with Italy, and while a very pretty area, it’s polluted by high-rises and no real character. Most workers there are either from France or Italy, since let’s be honest, if you live in Monaco, you probably don’t work much, or at least not a job that the majority of the public would ever witness. Everything is expensive there just because….no other reason really. The same lunch I had in Monaco that took €100 out of my pocket would’ve cost less than half only 3 miles away…no joke. People pay the premium just to say they ate a certain place, or simply, ate a meal in Monaco. I pretty much laughed the whole time I was there, since you’d think that people who really don’t have a financial care in the world, would be laid back, but it’s not the case. They all look stressed, worried about keeping up with the masses, and wasting their days driving around…the country. That being said, I won’t say I didn’t enjoy looking at every other driving down the road which happened to be a Ferarri, or dropping my jaw looking at Yachts from places like Gibraltar, Isle of Man and Guernsey. It really is a bubble that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, but I don’t see the returns, other than the tax aspect of course.

I’d get into the stuff we saw while there, but I already did. There is a small “old town” area, but small is really describing it as large, since it’s tiny. I think it would be a fun place for the Gran Prix no doubt, but I was glad we didn’t camp out there for two nights as we would’ve had bored after a few hours. There’s much more to see and do in Nice, but this trip wasn’t about Nice, or the nice bistro’s we ate at, or the boardwalk along the coastline, or the vibrant feel of the city, nope.

Monaco train station…actually pretty impressive

If you can’t tell, I was completely underwhelmed with Monaco, and while I might go back to visit a few people I know that live there, I wouldn’t reco it to many people unless it’s on your bucket list or you are like us, trying to see everything in the world that we can.

In an effort to get my blog up to date, I’m going to do some short synopsis posts of our recent trips since life is about to change drastically in July with the arrival of our first child. The majority of the places we visited over the last 3 months don’t need long overviews anyway, as they were all quite small and pack a quick punch, rather than a 12 rounder. Again, I found a cheap plane ticket, so I figured we might as well take advantage of it….and off to Serbia we went. Not a country where probably 99% of the world would visit, but for any true traveler wanting to see everything the world has to offer, Belgrade is a must city to see.

old streets of Skadarlija

We headed in for a short weekend, which wasn’t too bad as Belgrade, the capital, is not that big. The old town area is quite nice, but is surrounded still of the destruction from the wars and violence in the past few decades. The ride into town is not memorable, and once again made me think “where the hell did I bring my wife this weekend?” But once you get into the city, especially the old town area, things start to turn. We stayed at a nice place right on the edge, called Townhouse 27, and used that as our homebase. The hotel was kind of a shock, as there are not many modern things in Belgrade, but this place was fitted with B&O components in each room, including a TV I had never seen before and the heaviest remote known to man, but let’s say the quality was high (it was). The first day we got there quite late, but we ventured out into town to find the main street where most of the shopping is. It was pretty dead, so we hit a small spot for dinner, and then crashed for the night.

The fortress entrance

Next morning we were up and on our way. Got lucky with great weather, and started on Knez Mihajlova that was dead the night before. Not so much now, with all the shops open, cafe’s packed and street performers everywhere. The street really connects all parts of Belgrade, as from one end is a bustling square, to the other end where the Kalemegdan Fortress is. This area alone will allow you to see most of the main focal points of Belgrade. We also found that the locals like to snack, and snack a lot, on popcorn. There are popcorn stands everywhere, making old style popcorn and filling bag after bag. It’s cheap, it’s salty, and really good. It really looked like the whole town was headed to the movies at times. So we grabbed some popcorn, and headed over to the fortress. It’s huge, and sits right on the Danube, albeit not the prettiest part of the river, or the best view all around. The fortress is pretty intact for being so old, as it was built in 535 AD. They also had some tanks and weapons on display on the perimeter of the fortress which were from the World Wars, which I had no idea Serbia was even involved. You also get to see the monument to “the Victor” while there, which stands on the corner of the fortress, and is the protector of Belgrade. If there was a place to find tourists in this town, it was around this monument.

“The Victor”

From there we actually made the trek to St. Sava Church, which is the largest Eastern Orthodox Church in the world. At present time, it’s under mass rehabilitation still on the interior, but should be done quite soon, and will be quite a sight. They don’t make them like this anymore, believe me. We then walked around the rest of the day, as the weather was great, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the day, since all the parks were flooded and the shops were buzzing. We then wanted to end the trip with a great dinner, and read about this place called Public, and it lived up to the hype and the reco. It is shoved back on a tiny, quiet street with a view over the river, is well let’s face it, not much of a view, but it didn’t matter. Had a great meal, with some local wine that was quite peppery, but that’s ok by me.

St. Sava Church

All in all, I’ll be honest, I probably won’t be back to Serbia, but glad we hit Belgrade and saw what it had to offer. From the church to the fortress, to eating popcorn all day, I think it was a weekend well spent.

It’s been quite a while since I last posted to our blog, and I’ve decided going forward the blog posts will be more streamlined, because, time is valuable, and it’s more about the experience than the recap. My views on life changed a bit since our trip to Iceland back in October. With the passing of my mother in December, and realizing that all she wanted to do when she retired was travel more and use up that new passport she had received the year prior, I realized that we need to enjoy it while we can.

One of the keepers of the Dragon Bridge

Back to recap of beautiful Slovenia. Talk about a country that is not easy to get to. We actually flew into Zagreb, Croatia and drove over to Ljubljana since it was half the cost and the rental cars were cheap. We rolled into the capital mid-afternoon, checked into Hotel Cubo, which rocks, and put together our plan of attack. The first night we just wanted to relax a bit and get a good dinner, which we did a local hotspot which had some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted and some great local wine.

Inside the Postojnska Jama....every inch impressive

Since we rented the car, we wanted to see as much as we could. We first headed down to the caves down in Postojnska. Slovenia is home to the second most caves in the world, and these were quite impressive. We took this child like mini-train into the caves, and then had about a 90 minute walking tour. They were quite impressive, and we are still amazed at how much work probably went into making these caves a tourist stop. Well worth the visit. From there we headed down the road to see the Predjama Castle, which you have to see in person to be truly impressed. The whole castle is built into a wall of limestone, and is in amazing structural shape. We were the only people there, seeing it was offseason, but still enjoyable and hard to imagine that one family lived here at one point.

Quite a unique castle...shocked that it had no water damage!

After the castle, we headed up to Lake Bled, which is probably the most popular destination for anyone visiting Slovenia. It was snowing the whole day, so we weren’t sure what to expect driving up there, but we were in for quite a unique experience. There’s a famous church on an island in the middle of Lake Bled, that you normally would take a gondola type boat out to. Well on this day, and for the first time in 20 years, Lake Bled was frozen over, and to the point where it was thick enough to walk from the mainland out to the church…which was about a kilometer! Hundreds of people were ice skating, sliding across the ice and enjoying the rare day, which was freezing, obviously. Safe to say, we enjoyed our time on the ice, and walking the 99 steps up to the church…which was closed! We hit more monuments on the day when they are closed than anyone, I guess it’s our calling card.

Once in a lifetime photo op? Probably not, but pretty cool.

From there, we headed back to the hotel to relax and ultimately pass out for a bit. We decided just to get some room service, only to find out that there was no room service on the weekend for dinner, d’oh! We took our time the next day and walked about the city some more, but then drove over to Zagreb to spend the night before heading home. Zagreb was under a foot of snow when we got there, so wasn’t exactly the best time to be there, and we didn’t see much, so nothing to report there.

Next up: Monaco

So after taking the summer off from travel, besides a couple business trips to the Ukraine (new country for me) and Germany, we decided to crank it up again. We ended up not going to South America for unrelated reasons to regular travel, but we’ll make it back down there next year. I found some great fares to Iceland for this past weekend, so decided to jump on them since it’s a country we’ve wanted to visit since 2008! We hit the road Thursday, hopped on our IcelandAir flight, and off to Keflavik Airport we went.

Starting the trip at the Blue Lagoon

We land and go grab the rental car, which was the smallest 4×4 I’ve ever seen, and if the wind had been stronger than the 30 MPH winds that we had while there, I think we would’ve been on our side. We held up, and the car was a trooper for the 3 days that we were there. Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, which is an infamous geothermal pool, which is fed from the runoff of the plant next door. They actually pump fresh water in every 40 hours! This place is nothing short of incredible, and was perfect for a cold (40 degrees) and rainy day! We paid our fees, grabbed our towels, and headed out. WOW IT IS DAMN COLD…until you get in, then it’s perfect! I’m not exactly sure how big it is, but I’m sure it could fit a few thousand people if it was packed. We floated around for a while before grabbing a few drinks, which only seems normal. Hanging outside in 40 degree weather, in a geothermal pool, with silica all over your face, drinking a beer. Yep, seems pretty normal to me.

At Gulfoss….quite a sight in person

They also have a few steam showers, saunas & waterfalls that are pretty soothing. The majority of the people there we noticed were Norwegian, or Americans who were on layovers over to Europe. All in all, it was pretty amazing, and a great kickoff to the trip.

We moved on from there, to only be handed a bill for about a million Icelandic Kroner! Well, not that high exactly, but the conversion rate is about 160/1, so even a €100 bill seems like it’s ridiculous, but whatever. So we hit the road to downtown Reykjavik, and checked into Hotel Reykjavik Centrum. The pad was pretty centrally located, not that the downtown area is that big, but it was nice not to drive to anything. After checking in, got a reco for a restaurant that night, which was a local’s joint, and was exactly what I was expecting. A little whale, steak & sashimi style, and some puffin. Yes, some readers might be against dining like this, but let me tell you, OUTSTANDING! I’ll leave it at that.

Skogafoss…only people there and the sun brought a surprise

Our first full day we wanted to complete the Golden Circle, and it typical fashion, we finished it in about half the time or normal travelers. We drove through Þingvellir National Park, stood in front of Strokkur and Geysir, and heard the thunderous noise while getting soaked at Gulfoss. The landscape of this country is incredible, as are the weather patterns. I wouldn’t say it was the most perfect day weather wise, but I don’t think they really have them in Iceland, so that’s ok. We drove around for a bit as well, and actually stopped to check out Kerið, a volcanic crater. I guess Bjork actually performed on a raft in the middle of this crater at one time, and the fans sat on the hills that surrounded it.

Since we had some daylight left, we headed back to town so we could walk around and get our bearings. We walked up the main drag to see the unique shops and cafes, only to end up at the top, where the infamous Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church sits, with a large statue of Leifur Eiríksson in front. Of course we were 5 minutes late to get inside and go to the top for the best view of the city, but we can’t do it all, even if we think we can. Ultimately, we headed back to hotel, had another great dinner, and crashed for the night.

Mýrdalsjökull Glacier…pretty sure we weren’t supposed to be here

Day 3, we wanted to see everything on the southern coast that we could. We saw a couple of waterfalls, Seljandfoss and Skogafoss, as well as driving by the volcano that interrupted travel for a week, Eyjafjallajokull. We drove all the way to a small town called Vik, which I think is the largest town in the southern part of the country. We hung out for a bit to see the view and the cliffs that reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. On our way back, we decided to go off road a bit, and check out the main glacier in the area, Mýrdalsjökull. Walking up to it really felt like being on the moon….If being on the moon is what I imagine it would be. Afterwards, we headed back to town again, and hit up the restaurant that was supposedly the new trendy spot to hit in the whole country, and it didn’t disappoint. A quick synopsis would be 10 courses, all different Icelandic food, with wasabi somehow incorporated. Yes, fantastic!

The volcano that caused havoc over Europe for 10 days

Iceland will definitely be a country that we’ll revisit and hopefully do the northern part of the country on our return and the more remote areas. It was great to finally get there and see all the sights that we’ve only salivated over for years through pictures. I’m not sure yet where our next destination will be, but 2012 I think will be our busiest year yet, with about 20 countries on the docket, if not more. My goal was to hit 50 countries before we slowed down a bit, and then I put it up at 75, but I really think by the end of 2013, and with our current home in Amsterdam, that we can see half the countries in the world, which right now would take us up towards 100 almost. So quite a bit of work in front of us seeing we aren’t even halfway there, but we’ll do it.

We want to see every country in the world, so that includes going to some countries that most people I know haven’t been to, or could point out on a map. That for some reason intrigues me more to go there, so of course I booked a trip to go to Bulgaria & Romania for a long weekend…that happend to fall on our 6th wedding anniversary. I wanted to make sure of one thing on this trip and that was it ended up better than Poland, which was also the weekend of Annemaries’ birthday. I was determined not to let that happen again, and I think we made out alright.

Peleş Castle

Another trip, another new airline. This time we flew TAROM, the national airline of Romania. Not bad, the most posture perfect seats I’ve ever sat in, which really aren’t that comfortable, but ok. They also had an interesting meal service, in that the meal was actually wrapped in a serving mat, genius, and came with a bag to put everything in when you’re done for easier cleanup. Not sure why every airline doesn’t do this, but I guess everyone has to be different. So we were off to Romania.

somewhere outside Brasov….our “try to be artsy” photo of the trip

We land in Bucharest, go through the 21 questions at immigration, and find a taxi…which one again we got ripped off by. I won’t get into the story, but Annemarie was right, I was wrong, and once again we got ripped off by a cab driver. It seems pretty par for the course nowadays, but I never seem to get around it. At least it was the only hiccup of the trip. We made our way to the hotel, Hotel Christina, right outside the city center. The rooms had some unique touches such as craftmatic adjustable beds, and sensors on the shower head to let you know if the water was cold or hot. They also had a pretty good restaurant there, and was uber cheap. I said the Baltics were cheap in an earlier post, but this made the Baltics seem like staying at the Ritz. We had 4 course meals for it was incredible. Again, meat is a staple of all meals in Romania, but we didn’t care.

Veliko Tarnova

So we called it a night, seeing our driver was picking us up early to take us down to Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria. This little town, which used to be the capital during the Byzantine Empire, was about 3 hours away from Bucharest. Again, not that much to see between the two towns, except an interesting border crossing where if weren’t with a driver, not sure if we could’ve managed. That being said, we got across ok, and headed down into Bulgaria. The town is quite small, with this fortress overlooking it from all angles. This fortress is massive, and had been around for about 600 years. Bulgaria at one time was the largest country in Europe, and this was the capital. Nowadays, most people can’t point out Bulgaria on a map and it’s one of the smaller, and less established countries in Europe. We spent some time walking around and checking out the views, as this town is right in the middle of a valley. It was pretty incredible, and I think we were the only English speaking people around, as I don’t think this is on the top 10 of anyone’s travel list from the states, but it is quite the destination for people in the Balkans.

the entrance to the fortress in Veliko Tarnovo

We had some time to walk around town as well, which again, wasn’t big, but had quite a few places to eat. Bringing up cheap again, this town was half the cost of Bucharest. Annemarie & I had two small pizza’s, two beers, and an appetizer for The pizzas were the size of small pizzas you’d order in the States, so this was a ton of food as shown below. I couldn’t believe how cheap this stuff was. The beer is actually a half liter as well, so really it’s two beers in one. Let’s just say we left full and felt we ate & drank for free.

We couldn’t find the house!

We headed back to the hotel, and then headed out to a local restaurant in Bucharest before we crashed for the night. The restaurant was Vatra, and was excellent. The only thing we found strange was it wasn’t that busy at 9pm on Friday night, but then we forgot it’s a Romanian restaurant, and mostly non-locals would go there. It was good none the less, and way too much food. We called it a night to get ready for our day trip up to Brasov.

Woke up early, grabbed breakfast, and out the door again for a 2 hour drive up to Brasov. This town was perfect, and right up our alley. It reminded us of Krakow and many other cities, as you’ll see from pictures. We took a tour around the city, and had some lunch before we headed off to see the castles. I’ll just post pictures to describe the places as I can’t do them justice. We did see Bran Castle, which most people know as Dracula’s Castle, even though Dracula has nothing to do with it. It’s a complete tourist trap, but still a sight to see. The area up there is picturesque like no other that we’ve seen, and was totally unexpected. We saw some great sights in the area that most wouldn’t see as our driver was actually from Rusnov, which is the town next to Brasov and knew where everything was. We even stopped by a dirtbike race, that ended up being the practice round for the Romanian Autocross Championships.

a view of Brasov from above

All in all, the trip was great and exceeded our expectations. If we had the chance, we would love to visit Brasov again an spend some time in northern Romania. The food, the wine and the people all made the experience great.

Bran Castle

The next time I update this blog as of now will be in early September, after we get back from Argentina, Chile, Peru & Ecuador….but knowing us we’ll probably hit up a couple more before then. Cheers

Every time I look into booking a trip, I always look to see if we can knock out at least a couple countries if possible. When I looked at booking a trip to the Baltics, I knew it would be quite easy to see Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a short amount of time. I also looked at adding Belarus to the trip, but after learning about the visa hassle, I decided against it. So we were off to the Baltics, not to be confused wit the Balkans, and during our trip we would hit our 40th country! When I said I wanted us to visit 50 countries before we settled down, I didn’t really think we could reach it. But at the time that I wrote this, we were already sitting on 43 and had plans to already be on 47 before the end of summer. I think we’ll hit 50 and keep going strong.

Orthodox church atop the hill in Tallinn

So we started the trip in Tallin, after a 2 hour flight on Estonian Airlines, yet another one to add to the list. I should put together a list of airlines that we’ve flown as well, that could be quite a list as well. Anyway, so we were coming in for landing, and I got deja vu as the area looked in pretty bad shape, and in fact the airport looked like it was surrounded by a ghetto! Well, it actually was a ghetto, and one of the poorest parts of Tallinn. Good thing the old town area was the exact opposite of this, otherwise I fear we would’ve been on the first flight out of Estonia, stat!

“Make sure the Church is in the middle or off to the side…ok thx!”…ugh

We were only staying in Tallinn for one night, so in our typical style, we needed to conquer the city quick. Well, not knowing that old town was as small as it actually is, we conquered all the sights in about 3 hours, tops! We spent a majority of the time at a cafe on the square drinking, and enjoying some of the best soup we’ve ever had. It was smoked gouda cheese soup with bacon. Now, meat is a staple of the Baltics, and it’s everywhere. I don’t know how the girls stay so thin, but you can’t escape meat here. Vegans, collect your and keep moving because there is nothing to see here. We had a nice dinner, although very heavy even for our tastes, and crashed for the night so we could be fresh for our bus ride down to Riga, Latvia!

old town square in Tallinn

We hopped the bus, which was actually quite nice, and headed to Latvia. The scenery between the two cities was, well, dreadful. There is nothing to see, and nothing to travel back for either. Then again, didn’t expect much, so just wanted to get to Riga. We pulled into the bus station, and nothing looked that great to be honest, but we had to walk for about 10 minutes to reach the old town area and our hotel. We turned the corner, and it we did a 180, as the old town area was beautiful and what we expected. Our hotel was quite unique, as it was built within the walls of an old building that was either torn down or bombed out. The backdrop of our bed was actually the original brick wall of the old building, quite unique actually.

our room at Old City Hotel in Riga

The old town area was great, and very easy to get around. Don’t think many cars have ever made it through Riga’s old town area, as the stones were still pretty jagged in areas, and hadn’t been worn down much. The architecture was very similar to Tallinns, as was the craving for meat 🙂 The weather was great, so we just walked around all day, looked at about a dozen church’s, and then once again, sat in the square and had some drinks while we people watched. After heading back to the hotel just to change, we headed out to some popular local stop for dinner, which was extremely cheap for the amount of food they gave you. Cheap is a word that is synonymous with Eastern Europe, and still holds true in the Baltics somewhat, but I can see prices creeping up slowly as they become even more popular. Glad we stopped by when we did. After taking a late stroll through town and admiring everything lit up, we crashed out and got ready for our trip down to Vilnius, Lithuania!

Freedom Tower in Riga…guarded 24/7 by two people

Morning came, breakfast was had, and we were off to the bus station one last time to head to Vilnius! This is a country that I always heard about growing up, especially during the Barcelona Olympics when their first national basketball team was allowed to play following the end of the Russian occupation. They were made famous by the tie-dye basketball shirts they wore as warm ups. Anyway, we arrived in Vilnius around 4pm, and again, I looked around and had thought I made a huge mistake, since everything looked very drab and dreary. A local man actually spotted us, and pointed in the right direction to our hotel. We walked down the road and saw a gate-like opening on the right side. We walked through it, and immediately things changed. All of these old towns in these cities are shut off because they were walled in like a fortress, just seems strange that nothing outside those walls ever developed as nicely.

Vegans Welcome??

So we roll in to Vilnius and walk around a bit, and much to our surprise, find the city very appealing. It was quiet that day, seeing it was Easter, but we could tell the city was pretty lively none the less. We had dinner at this basement restaurant, that was a favorite among the locals, and came on the recommendation of a business colleague. It lived up to its hype, and even made it’s own beer, which made it more special for me. Again, the food was extremely heavy, and we left quite a bit on our plates, but that’s ok, since again, it was cheap. We tackled the city early the next day, and hit every spot we read about and more, including walking through the part of town that is still identical to the time it was Russian occupied. You will be able to appreciate what we saw a bit more by the pictures we took, but fair to say that Vilnius was a surprise to us, and the highlight of the trip!

sign as you enter the “Russian Occupation” part of town

Also on day 2, we headed out to a small town about 30 minutes outside of Vilnius called Trakai. The town is famous for and old castle that lies on an island in town, and is extremely well preserved. It was the off season, so we figured we could get some good pictures that would make it seem like we were the only people there. I think we succeeded:

Trakai Castle

All in all I really enjoyed Vilnius, and would like to see other parts, especially Klaipeda on the coast, but that was all the time we had for this adventure. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to Belarus now seeing it’s not the easiest country to get to with the visa situation, and there is nothing near it that would be easy to go to either, but that really has never stopped us, so who knows.

Our snack outside the castle…deep fried garlic bread with cheese….nom nom

Keep on traveling!