Tag Archives: wanderlust

A weekend in Bucharest

11 Feb

I know that it seems as if I am constantly on holiday (and most people who know me tell me this on a regular basis) but this is all in aid of Challenge 2 on my 40 Before 40 – visit 40 countries in Europe. My trip to Romania means that I have now visited 28 countries in Europe.

Here are some of the things that we got up to on our long weekend in Romania.

First Impressions

Arriving when it is starting to get dark and trying to navigate yourself around an unfamiliar city is not one of my favourite activities. Large cities always look unwelcoming, dangerous and dirty at night. But it was clear that the Old Town was liveliest place to be in the evening, even if there were enough massage parlours to make you think that you might have ended up in Amsterdam by mistake.

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But during the day, the place was transformed with blue skies and busy streets. Some of the buildings are quite run down but the city has a certain charm to it and it is cleaner than a lot of Western European cities that I have visited. The influences of Communism can still be seen in the architecture and other parts of life.

Food and drink

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might have trouble finding dishes to eat in Romania. The main ingredient in almost every dish seems to be meat, meat and meat. You can by huge mixed grill platters, slow-cooked pork knuckle and different sausages and stews. We were keen to try the local food and beer and even tried the local shots called palinca, which definitely warmed us up on a cold February morning.

We also tried mici, which are small sausages, as well as a cold meat platter which was excellent. There were quite a few dishes that I didn’t get to try because all of the food was so filling.

Free Walking Tour

It is second nature for us to find a free walking tour as soon as we arrive in a city that we were visiting. More than 75 people turned up for the tour and we were split into two groups. The guide that we had was one of the most entertaining guides I have ever had and the 2.5 hours we spent standing with the cold wind on our faces in various parts of the city flew by with his interesting spin on things. We learnt a lot of surprising things about the city, the history and what life was like under Communist rule. I still find it mind-blowing that people living not so far away from us were being suppressed by dictators during our lifetime. It doesn’t really seem possible.

Thermal spa

A friend recommended a thermal spa to us, as he had discovered it on his trip to Bucharest a few years previously. There were an awful lot of people there but it was a great experience. There was an indoor pool, where you can enjoy a cocktail or beer in the pool, an outdoor pool with jacuzzis, aromatherapy pools, massage beds and saunas. The disadvantage of so many people being there was that people were queuing for the saunas, so we didn’t wait for them. It was great fun but not really the type of spa that I had expected – people drinking, smoking (outside) etc.

The Romania Parliament Building

The Parliament in Romania is the second largest administration building in the world, after the Pentagon. We had heard that visitors are able to take tours inside on production of a passport or ID. When we arrived a security guard stopped us at the gate and said that the tours had been fully booked out. The tours are less frequent from now until June 2019 because Romania currently holds the presidency of the EU and the building is being used more frequently for meetings for EU specific topics. It was disappointing as there are not many parliament buildings that are open for the public to view but if I ever go back to Bucharest that will be the first thing on my list to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was relaxing, with plenty of walking and fresh air and some nice food and drink.

I have already planned my next trip to another European country – Poland in May. It seems like a long way off but it will give me some time to do some research so that we can maximise our time there.

Day Tripping

23 Sep

My blog has taken a backseat for the past week but for a very good reason. My mum has come to stay for two weeks, which means that we have been busy doing some day trips in and around Switzerland. Unfortunately, this means that I haven’t had a lot of time to do any writing.

I really enjoying having people to come and stay because I get to go out and visit places. Even if I have been there before, the day is always different and I possibly wouldn’t make a This is what we have been up to over the past week in Switzerland and the surrounding areas.

Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Germany

As we live close to the border, we decided to drive to the Black Forest in Germany. It only took about 45 minutes in the car and we visited Tannenmühle. There is a huge trout farm there and we were able to sample some of the fresh produce in the hotel restaurant. I don’ often eat fish but it was worth it to eat there knowing that the fish were freshly caught. There are also a lot of attractions for children, such as a petting zoo, a big playground and a water playground. I was tempted to sit there a play in the sand myself but I was advised not to by my fellow day-trippers.

After a look around the gift shop and a short walk, we continued our journey to Rothaus brewery, which is the largest brewery in the region. We didn’t go on the free brewery tour because we have been on so many brewery tours before and they all tell you the same process of how the beer is made. Instead we sampled some of the beer at the bar and bought some beer to take home with us.

Konstanz, Germany

We took the train to Konstanz, Germany for some retail therapy. Quite of a lot of the shopping just over the border is cheaper than it is in Switzerland. I rarely go to Germany to get shopping because of the time involved it takes to get there and back but it has come to be a bit of a tradition to go there when my mum comes to visit. The weather wasn’t so great in the morning and it was really misty but the weather soon perked up so that we could sit outside and have something to eat and drink in the sunshine.

Mount Rigi, Switzerland

I have been to Rigi about five or six times since moving to Switzerland and it is one of my favourite places. The last time I visited I went with my friend, Jenny, who was visiting in January. The weather then was cold, icy, snowy and with poor visibility until we finally got to the top of the mountain and the weather cleared completely for 40 minutes. The weather this time couldn’t have been more different. The skies were completely clear, there was no snow and we were treated to beautiful views of the surrounding areas.

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After a hot chocolate at the restaurant at the top of the mountain, we headed down to Weggis on the train and on the cable car and then took the boat back to Luzern. We had a walk round Luzern and did a bit of shopping and then headed back to Zurich on the train.

We haven’t yet made a plan of where we are going to visit in the upcoming week but we are not lacking for choices. I have a huge list of places  that I want to visit again or for the first time. I will, of course, let you know what we get up to!

Spain and Andorra

29 Aug

Last weekend we went to visit some of my boyfriend’s friends just outside of Barcelona. It was a nice short break and we managed to eat, drink and see a lot.

After collecting our rental car, we drove to Montserrat, a mountain range just outside Barcelona. The views from the top were nothing short of stunning. It is possible to walk to the top but we took the cable car to save our legs!

There is an impressive Basilica at the top and even more impressive queues to go into the church and pray to the Madonna at the top of the High Altar. Because of the heat, we decided not to wait but to go and have some lunch.

Later we drove to Manresa, where we would be staying. We found an amazing jamón shop where we tried some jamón, tomato bread and red wine. The wine was only 1.50 Euros and I was expecting it to taste like vinegar but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. When we met up with our hosts, we got ready to go for evening meal and then onto a club where there was a jazz festival. It was a great atmosphere but after food and an early flight we were happy to go home for some rest.

The next day we went to Andorra. If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I have a #40Before40 challenge, in which I have challenged myself to do 40 challenges before I turn 40 (I have a few years to go yet!). One of my challenges is to visit 40 European countries and Andorra is one that I haven’t been to before.

Andorra wasn’t what I expected. It is a shoppers’ paradise because there are no taxes on the goods. It felt like every shop sold tobacco, booze, perfume and shoes and nothing else. I thought it had a bit of a weird atmosphere – like a place that’s in between here and there. I can’t imagine living there. It also took a long time to get in and out because so many people were crossing the border to get a bargain. However, I have been and it’s one less country to visit.

The next day we went to Sitges, a coastal town near to Barcelona. I had visited once before as part of a business trip but it was nice to go back again, especially for the delicious paella! I think Sitges is a bit like Blackpool for Spanish people. It was packed with lots of people who were just there for the weekend.

And then it was time to come home to Switzerland. I’m sure that weekends go quicker than weekdays – the secret is then to enjoy the weekends more!

Post-holiday Blues

29 Mar

Since I have arrived back, I have got a bad case of the Post-holiday Blues. I honestly wasn’t ready to come back. I thought after five weeks of moving from one place to another would be enough but I could have carried on travelling for at least another few weeks.

I don’t start my new job until next week and I had more than good intentions that this week I could get X,Y and Z done and use the time wisely and productively. I have no idea when I will next have to opportunity to spend a week doing what I want without any outside pressure.

So far I have only been able to find the motivation to download my photos (but not sort them or make them into a photobook) and to wash all of our clothes, which took the best part of a day.

To cheer myself up, I have decided to make a list of reasons why it is better to be back at home rather than on the road.

1. No daily application of suncream

I don’t need as long to get ready in the morning because I don’t need to apply suncream to every exposed part of my body before going out. I did go out once in Bolivia without suncream on and I was almost burnt to a crisp, even though the sun was hidden behind layers and layers of clouds. In fact, the only part of my body that is remotely brown are my feet. How am I meant to show that off in the office.

2.  I know where things are

On the road, I was constantly searching for things that I needed that had managed to find their way to the very bottom of my bag. It would take me five minutes to find the charger for my Kindle. Broadly speaking, at home I know where things are and they haven’t moved around during transit.

3. I have clean clothes

My bag was organised by using three plastic bags: one for clean clothes, one for “wearable” clothes and one for dirty clothes. At the end of the trip, I was nervous about opening thing bag with the dirty clothes. It really did stink. I was thinking about incinerating it when I got back home because I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to cope with the collective smell at the end of five weeks.

4. No mosquitos

Mosquitos are one of my pet hates. The ironic thing is that they really, really like me. No, I mean it. If there is one mosquito within twenty miles of me, it will find me and bite me. I’m like a walking-buffet for insects. This means that every early afternoon/evening I was reaching for the DEET, anti-mosquito wristbands and any other method which is remotely proven to keep mossies away. I don’t have that problem in Switzerland. At least not until the summer…

5. Toilet paper

This seems like a strange one but in a lot of South American countries you aren’t supposed to put toilet paper down the toilet. There is always a waste bin beside the toilet that you are meant to use. My problem with this wasn’t that I forgot to put the toilet paper in the bin but the fact that in public toilets this is just not so hygienic, although I get that the sewage systems in these countries aren’t so good and paper being flushed down the drains would increase the likelihood of blockages. I’m just glad that I no longer have to use a toilet paper bin.

6. Food

Although I did find the food amazing, there are always things that you miss when you are travelling, things that you can’t buy abroad. So it is nice to be back to essential foodstuffs that you are used to. In South America I was surprised by how few vegetables there were. It could have been the time of year that we were there but I’m glad to be back in a place where there is a greater variety of vegetables on offer.

7. Tea

Other countries just don’t go an English Breakfast tea right. I have been drinking coffee, which is not like me at all, and juices. There were “tea” options but the one time I tried it, I was bitterly disappointed. I saw on the menu that they served tea with milk. Perfect! Nice cuppa in the afternoon. Below is what arrived. I just didn’t know where to look. Lesson learnt: lay off the tea until you are back home with a Tetley teabag and just a splash of milk!

That’s the list. Now that I’ve written it, I do feel bit better. Experiencing amazing things each day makes you forget the little things that you miss. What do you miss when you are on holiday?

Final travel update

26 Mar

As I write this last travel update, I am back in the comfort of my own home in Switzerland. It already seems like life of the road ended a long time ago (even though I only arrived back yesterday). Here is what we got up to after we left Chile…

Mendoza, Argentina

By pure chance we noticed that it was the final of the Supercopa in Mendoza while we were there. Not only was it special because the final was between Boca Juniors and River Plate, fierce rivals from Buenos Aires, but also because away fans are not normally allowed to go to football games in Argentina. Since about 2013 away fans were banned from attending games because there had been so many deaths in recent years because of football related violence. This makes a complete difference to the atmosphere in the stadium. We had standing tickets in the River Plate end and, as Boca Juniors are currently the side with the better form, we weren’t too hopeful that “our” side would be victorious. A clear penalty in the 20th minute changed all that! And late in the second half a fantastic goal sealed the win for River Plate. I have never been to a football match like it – there were flares, banners, chanting for every minute of the game, fireworks and the stadium was almost full two and a half hours before the players even came onto the pitch to warm up. Crazy stuff!

Mendoza is also world famous for producing wine and for very good reasons. We stayed at a chateau that provided accommodation and we were able to make a tour of the other local chateaux and try some of the wine. One thing that we noticed was how different the wine making is here as to how it is in Bordeaux, for example. In Mendoza, there are some chateaux that don’t actually grow any grapes at all, but buy them from specialist growers each year. Where we stayed, the owner sells most of his grapes to someone else but also produces a smaller number of wine bottles every few years. The place where we stayed was really nice and the food that the onsite chef produced for us in the evening was also fantastic.

Montevideo, Uruguay

We caught a ferry and a bus (from Buenos Aires) to get to Montevideo. The ferry was about an hour and then the bus journey was two and a half hours. We arrived so late at the hotel that we almost missed the check-in time. The next day we explored the city and took a free walking tour. There isn’t a huge amount to see there but it was nice to relax and wander around the markets and the pier, where a huge amount of people were fishing. In the evening, we found the local St Patrick’s Day celebration so, of course, we had to join in.

The next morning I was woken up at 4am by thunder, lightning and rain. The rain continued and continued. That was our plan for a trip to the beach scuppered. The weather was, what I can only describe as being, biblical-like. The rain was bouncing down and it never stopped. I am used to rain but there was nothing that we could do, especially as it was Sunday and most of the museums were closed. We decided reluctantly to go to the airport and wait there. Our flight wasn’t until the evening so we had a long wait…

Ushuaia, Argentina

Our next flight was from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia in Patagonia in the early hours of the morning so we had more time to kill in the airport. Ushuaia was a lot cooler than Buenos Aires as it is only 1,000km away from Antarctica. It was a refreshing change and it wasn’t as cold as I thought it was going to be. I was glad that I had remembered to pack my wolly hat though.

The first thing we did was head to the Terria del Feugo National Park to take the “End of the World” train. It was an old Locomotive train and it went through the National Park. It is famous because the train used to transport prisoners, who were imprisoned in the End of the World prison.

The next day we had booked to go on a boat trip to see the sea lions, penguins and Haberton, which is a community that, until as recently as 1972, was isolated from the rest of civilisation. I was a bit disappointed because theren’t weren’t all that many penguins but we did see a humpback whale which was incredible. We weren’t all that close to it but you could see how big it was. In Haberton, we also visited a marine life museum, where they collect dead marine animals that they find in the area and preserve them. The guide told us some fansinating things about whale and dolphins that I never knew.

In the evening, I had the best fish I have ever tasted in my whole life. We ate King Crab legs as a starter which are not the most appertising thing to look at and then I had sea bass. I have no idea how big the fish was but I only had a small portion of it. It must have been massive. And, as I say, it was the best fish I have had in my life. Nothing really beats fresh seafood on the coast.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We found an incredible parrilla (barbequed meats that is common all over South America) to eat at when we came back to Buenos Aires to thaw out after our chilly experience in Patagonia. My steak looked like South America so I was beginning to wonder if this was a sign that I should not return back to Switzerland!

The next day we explored some of the places in Buenos Aires that I hadn’t been to befre and then we went for a tour of the Recoleta Cementary. It seems like a bit of  morbid thing to do but some of the masoleums are incredibly beautiful and have a lot of history surrounding them.

In the evening, we found another incredible parrilla to eat at that also had great wine. I was slightly distrubed that there was a picture of Maradona’s Hand of God incident from the World Cup on the wall where we were sitting. Cheating is not something that should be praised.

Colonia del Sacremento, Uruguay

Markus surprised me with a day trip back to Uruguay with the ferry. He had already visited here without me before I arrived and I was bitterly disappointed that he went there without me. Colonia is a lot nicer than Montevideo. It is so quiet and relaxed. Having a beer while looking out over the ocean was a perfect way to unwind and get ready for the long journey back home the next day. The ferry only takes one hour so the journey wasn’t stressful, but we didn arrive back in a wet Buenos Aires. This time we were lucky to miss the rain!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

After packing and heading out to do a bit of last minute shopping, we wandered back through the city. The city was full of people protesting/commemorating/gathering for their rememberance day. One thing about South America is that they love to get out and have their voices heard. Everything, in this respect, seems to be well organised. The streets are lined with BBQ, people selling merchandise etc.

We now had plenty of time to get to the airport – or so we thought. Someone realised that he didn’t have his passort on the way to the airport! I aged about 20 years in a second. I wasn’t looking forward to returning home alone. We realised that when we had changed money that morning that the woman at the money exchange place hadn’t given Markus his passport back. Cue a mad dash to the other side of town, with fngers and toes crossed that the passport was actually there and hadn’t been lost on the street or stolen, before relaxing for ten seconds before frantically finding a taxi to get us to the airport on time. As you might have guessed, we made it.

…And there you have the most memorable, interesting, hilarious and slightly scary five week that I have experienced for a very long time. I am still processing half of the things that we have seen, done and experienced. I don’t think it will be too long before we are back on the road exploring what other countries have to offer but first we might have to renew our passports – there aren’t too many pages left blank.

The demise of the humble postcard

17 Mar

On our travels in South America, I’ve been slightly shocked at the demise of the humble postcard and the Post service in general.

In Bolivia, we were keen to send a few postcards back home but, no matter how hard we tried, we weren’t able to find any at all in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. In fairness, these two cities are definitely not tourist destinations in the true sense of the word and we hardly saw any other tourists. So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising.

In La Paz we found postcards and stamps. Hooray! My general rule is that if you find a shop that doesn’t sell stamps to accompany the postcards then don’t buy them. You’ll end up forgetting to find a post office and end up carrying them with you for the whole time and then bringing them home with you. I also used the sneaky trick of asking the hotel to post them for us rather than look for a post box (and I have no idea what colour they are in South America, so it would take me ages to find one).

In Uyuni we found more postcards but no stamps. As I said before, my rule is if you can’t buy both together, don’t buy at all! But I was overruled. We found the post office but it was “closed for a week for a public holiday”. That seemed slightly suspicious to me as no one could tell us what public holiday it was and everything else seemed to be open.

We still had the postcards in Oruro. We found the post office but two days previously it had gone into administration!

We still had the postcards in Iquique, Chile. We found a post office that was open! So we now had Bolivian postcards with a Chilean stamp on. That wasn’t part of the plan and some people at home are going to be a bit confused if they study their postcard in detail.

We thought it would be good to buy some postcards of Chile at the post office because they had some on display. But it turned out these were for display only and they had none to sell us. In the rest of Iquique, we didn’t find any other postcards and now we have sort of stopped looking.

It is perhaps no wonder that people are sending less and less postcards because the stress of finding a stamp to send it home means that you need to plan another holiday for all the time you have spent looking for a post office.

I wonder how long it will be until postcards are no longer printed. I hope they continue for a long time to come. There is something quite lovely about receiving a note from someone you know who is in a far away land and marvelling over the pictures on the front and trying to decipher handwriting. This is a holiday tradition that I would hate to see no longer with us.

A week in Chile

14 Mar

After our time in Bolivia, we headed to Chile. Here is a brief summary about what we got up to –

Border crossing

This was the most ridiculous border crossing I have experienced which started when our bus departed an hour later than its scheduled time for no good reason. And ended with us waiting for around 3 hours to get through immigration because Chile only had one person on the immigration desk to Bolivia’s three, which caused a bottle neck!

Iquique

We arrived in Iquique after spending almost a day travelling. Iquique is on the coast and the smell of the salt air smacked you around the face when we got off the bus. The city is surrounded by sand dunes and the main street looks like something out of the Wild West.

There was plenty to do in Iquique. We explored the black sandy beaches, visited the fish market and saw and tasted some of the freshest catches of the day first hand, we planned paragliding (which was sadly cancelled), we went sandboarding and brought home about half of the sand dunes to the hotel, visited a thermal baths and the ghost town of Humberstone and Santa Laura, which used to be one of the biggest potassium nitrate mines in Chile.

The bus we travelled on to Humberstone also broke down and we had to wait for a replacement that took about 2 hours to get to us.

Santiago

We headed to the capital. The difference to Iquique and Bolivia couldn’t have been more stark. Being in Iquique was like being in Barcelona. Starbucks, Dominos, McDonalds and KFC everywhere – I was enjoying not missing these outlets! The city was bigger and lots more people were around.

We went to what we thought was another Jesus statue on a hill. When we got there we realised it was Mary. There was a great view of the whole city from the top. I was glad there was a funicular to get us up there. I never would have made it up there if I had had to walk.

On Sundays they close some of the main roads so people can bike, roller-blade and run along the streets, which is a great initiative.

The city is also full of amazing street art. I absolutely love it!

Valparaiso

We took the bus to what we thought was going to be a small fishing village but actually it was a lot bigger than we thought. We took a free walking tour and discovered a lot about the city’s history and what life is like for people here in the past and now.

The town is full of creative people and the old prison had actually been turned into a creative arts centre for artists, dancers and even cooks. What a great idea!

Not surprising that the city is also full of mosaics, murals and more street art!

We have now safely arrived back in Argentina; more specifically we are in Mendoza, wine country. Our accommodation is at the site of a vineyard. I think it is safe to say we will be sampling the local produce!

Cheers from Mendoza!