Walk Through History - Krakow, Poland

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Contributor:
 Andy

Nationality:
 Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andympics

Age Group:
 30-40 years

Gender:
 Male

Travel Style:
 Casual, photography

 

Destination: Krakow, Poland - July 2018.

Inspiration:

I had a few days available to travel and flicked through possible destination routes on the flydubai website to find one that looked interesting and had a good deal. Flights to Krakow were a great price and it was somewhere I hadn’t really thought too much about before but looked like a place to explore for a few days - booked a ticket and flew to Krakow! 

Getting There:

I flew with flydubai from Dubai to John Paul II International Airport. It is only a short distance outside from the main tourist area for Krakow – Old Town. The flight is around 6 hours and has you landing just before midnight. 
The airport is only relatively small with very few shops. After midnight, there is a Relax store that is open. Here you can purchase Orange sim cards with data (which is incredibly cheap – 6Gb for less than USD2). Have them activate your sim card. 
Currency in Poland is the Polish Zloty. It is easy to exchange money at any of the currency exchanges in Old Town or draw direct from an ATM.
I found in general that Uber worked extremely well in Krakow  - clean, efficient and not too expensive.  I was easily able to get an Uber from the airport to my hotel, which took around 25 minutes. 

Local Knowledge:

Krakow is a very old city, having been civilized for thousands of years. It has an incredible history – some colourful, some very sad and others full of tales that have been somewhat embellished over time. It is definitely worth doing some guided tours to learn more about some of these historical facts, myths and everything in between. Probably the most famous tale is that of the Wawel Dragon who, as legend has it, lived in a lair on the banks of the Vistula River. They would feed the dragon sheep to stop it from eating the city’s children. The dragon was eventually “slain” by a local cobbler who stuffed a lamb’s skin with poison. As reward, King Krakus offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. 

Where To Stay:

I stayed at Puro Krakow (map), which I found through booking.com. I chose this hotel mostly for the proximity to Old Town where I wanted to spend a lot of my time and the value for money.

Puro certainly represented great value for money and is perfectly suited for travellers. The design of the rooms is minimalist, yet has everything you need. It is very modern including tablets to control all the in room features.  It isn’t the sort of hotel I would recommend if you are looking to lounge around – but Krakow isn’t really the city for this anyway, its for getting out and exploring! I walked each day from the hotel to the North entrance of the Old Town, where a lot of the highlights an atmosphere of Krakow can be found. It is only around a 5-10 minute walk. 

Puro also have a new property in the district of Kazimierz (Puro Kazimierz), which is also a tourist highlight in its own right. This property is still only around 5-10 minutes walk from Old Town, but from the South end. The Kazimierz Puro has more features including fitness centre, spa and restaurants. It still represents excellent value for money and the rooms are really well set out. I did a tour of this hotel and would certainly recommend comparing each and deciding which suits your needs.

There are a huge number of hostels within Old Town and if this is your travel style, you will be well catered for. Hostels in the North East of the Old ~Town would be a great starting point. They are close to good places to eat and nightlife.

Some of the other chain hotels are further away from Old Town, however as a traveller looking to get the most out of a few days, I would suggest staying within walking distance of Old Town. 

What To Do:

 Krakow is a wonderful city to visit for people looking to really explore – there is a lot of fascinating history, both ancient and modern. Probably the best way to get to see and learn as much of the cities history in a short space of time is to go on one of the walking tours. I am not normally someone who goes on guided tours (I like to explore at my own pace), but I actually went on 2 of these walking tours with City Walks Krakow. They do a tour of Old Town and one for Kazimierz (The Jewish Quarter). The tours are “free” with a tipping system at the end. They are well worth it, you cover a LOT of the city in a relatively short space of time and they have loads of information about places to eat, other places to visit and helped getting my tours to Auschwitz and Salt Mines arranged. You can meet the guides everyday outside St Mary’s Bascilica (map).

1.    Old Town (Stare Miasto): (map)

This is a must visit area for anyone coming to Krakow - you almost can’t avoid it. It is the historical city centre and the history is incredible – some of the buildings have windows half below street level, because the ground of the city has been built up on top of itself so many times over the years, it has actually increased around 4 feet in some places. Much of the Old Town I covered with the City Walks Krakow guided tour..

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The highlights that you absolutely need to make sure you see include:

-      The Planty (map) is the park that surrounds the Old Town and is worth taking a walk around, especially on a summer weekend – there will be small concerts, entertainers and local people enjoying the park. It is a great place to ride around on a bike. Do make sure you stop at Chimney Cake Bakery (map) at the North of the Planty and get yourself a cake……..trust me!

-      At the North of the Planty is The Barbican (map) – a fortress that was used to defend the city from invaders. There is a famous story of the fort almost being sacked by an invading Russian army. The last remaining soldier, who had run out of bullets, used his coat button to shoot the Russian General and cause their retreat……….fact or fiction, the story is now infamous.

-      The walls that surrounded the Old Town were almost all torn down by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in an effort to open the city up for trading. Only 3 towers and part of the wall at the North still stand, as locals were able to convince them that this would protect the city from the cold North winds in Winter. St Florians Gate (map) at the north is a great place to enter Old Town. On the right as you walk through is a colourful display of paintings for sale.

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-      St Mary’s Basciica (map): With its 2 tall towers built by 2 brothers, it is an architectural focal point of Old Town. Inside the cathedral has some amazing stained glass windows and murals. Climb up the stairs of the tallest tower for a great view over the city. On the hour a trumpet player plays a song from each window at the top of the tower, stopping abruptly at the point in the song where according to locals, a trumpeter was shot in the neck by an arrow as he attempted to warn the city of an impending attack. Tickets to enter the Bascilica and climb the tower can be purchased from a small information office opposite the South of the building (near to Hard Rock Café - map) – it is 10 PZL to enter the Bascilica (only after 11:30) and 15PZL to climb the tower (you will need to book a time for this so go early and reserve the time you want).

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-      In front of St Mary’s Bascillica are numerous horse drawn carriages, known locally as Dorozka. They are, as expected, a little touristy, but offer a unique way of seeing the Old Town.

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-      Rynek Glowny (map) is the Main Market Square in the Old Town and remains one of the largest Medi-evil market squares in the world. It is surrounded by some impressive architecture including St Mary’s Bacillica, Cloth Hall (map) and the shadows of Town Hall Tower. Whilst the square is relatively quiet in the mornings, it gets progressively busier during the day, especially on the weekends. By late afternoon and into the evenings there are stalls and entertainers. On the other side of Cloth Hall is an area where seemingly each week a new form of entertainment is arranged and numerous stall selling locally made crafts, sweets and food. In the middle of Cloth Hall is the old market, which now is largely filled with shops selling souvenirs. There is also an underground museum beneath Cloth Hall, which is a great representation of what the city was like centuries ago.

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-      The Town Hall Tower (map) provides an alternative view across the city and looks at the Bascilica Towers across the square.

-      The Jagiellonian University (map) is one of the oldest surviving universities in the world, founded in 1364 by Casimir The Great. Past students include Nicholas Copernicus and Pope John Paul II. It is a wonderful old building and academics will get nostalgic about walking in the footsteps of one of humanity’s great mathematicians.

-      Wawel Castle (map) is at the Southern end of Old Town and stands as one of the most impressive and significant buildings. On the guided tour there is only time to briefly pass through the grounds, however you can come back and do a full tour for only 14PZL – it is worth noting there are 2 ticket offices and everyone tends to use the first one, so use the 2ndone inside, its much quicker! The castle also has some fascinating history. Like many important buildings, it was commissioned by Casimir The Great during the 13thCentury, however the land on Wawel Hill had been a significant settlement for some 50,000 years, with it becoming an important trading site on the banks of the Vistula River. After its completion, the castle became the residence of Polish Royal Families until the capital was moved to Warsaw. The best place for photos of Wawel Castle is in front of the cafes on the South-West of the castle (Trattoria Wawel) – it looks across the lawn and is ideal at sunset. The castle closes at 5pm and the security might try and hurry you up, but I just pretended that I was packing up each time. Another nice spot to photograph Wawel Castle is from Grunwaldski Bridge (map), especially after sunset for some long exposures.

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-      Otherwise, Old Town is just a great place to walk around, with so many fascinating little streets, shops and stalls. I mention a few of the different places to try for food, but to be honest, there are countless and you might stumble across a gem!  

1.    Kazimierz (The Jewish Quarter) (map):

Kazimierz is known as the “Jewish Quarter” as for many years it is where a large Jewish community lived – prior to the Nazi invasion during World War II. In reality, the original Jewish area of Krakow was part of the Old Town, however, the Jewish people moved to in 1495 Kazimierz after a fire in Krakow and the subsequent rebuilding of that area of the city. Kazimierz became a district rich in Jewish culture. During WWII however, Jews from Kazimierz and all of Krakow were forced to live in a small area that became known as the Jewish ghetto. A tour of Kazimierz will include some of the history that relates to this awful time in the city’s history.

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There is some fascinating architecture and incredible street art through the winding alleyways of Kazimierz. There are also a number of museums that contain details of events that occurred during the time of the Jewish ghetto. As the history is quite involved, it is definitely worth taking one of the guided tours if you are interested in learning about the details.

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Plac Nowy (map) is a market square in Kazimierz that has a flea market in the mornings. There are some antiques and clothes and it is the same area that the Zapikanka’s are sold – these are a must try!

 

2.    Zalew Zakrzowek (Zakrzowek Lake) (map):

This was one of the most surprising places in Krakow – I had never heard of this place until I started looking up some good places to take photos. It is an old mine quarry with stunning blue water, sheer white limestone faces and surrounded by dense forest. It is close enough to the south end of Old Town that you could ride there (or even take a long walk), otherwise, its about a 10 minute car ride.  

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It is absolutely somewhere to visit in the Summer, in fact on a warm Summer weekend, this is a must! The weather is warm enough that you can go swimming and there are areas that are patrolled and very safe. Other places have edges that are “safe” for cliff jumping and many locals will take the leap. 

You need to pay a small entrance fee (20 PZL) to access most areas.

It is a beautiful place to watch the sunset and for photos, or flying a drone!

 

3.    Wieliczka Salt Mines (map)

This is one of the major tourist attractions in Krakow and huge numbers of visitors go down beneath the surface to explore the ancient salt mines that have produced the once expensive commodity for centuries.

It is best to book a guided tour and similar to Auschwitz, there are companies that will arrange collection from your hotel, a reserved spot in a tour of your language and return afterwards.

It is interesting to see how they used to mine salt and how the process has evolved. The carvings, especially the underground cathedral (established in the hope of warding off mine collapses by providing a place for miners to pray) are incredible – almost everything underground is made from salt and you are encouraged to taste it to confirm. Just don’t taste the ground, it is made of concrete!

I wouldn’t describe it as an absolute highlight and personally if I had to choose between a tour of Auschwitz or the salt mines, I would definitely choose Auschwitz.

 

4.    Auschwitz:

See below in “Must See” or visit a “Review of visiting Auschwitz

Where To Eat:

Especially around Rynek Glowny, almost every shop seems to be a restaurant or café. There is certainly no shortage of places to try and have listed as many as I went to. There is a heavy emphasis on pork, which I don’t eat, but if that is your preference, you will find no shortage of places serving pork knuckle.

There are lots of cafés around Rynek Glowny (The Main Square) and the close you get to the square, the more expensive they become. Within a short walking distance are many less expensive options.

-      Goscinna Chata: (map) Close to Rynek Glowny. The food is fantastic, with a long menu of pretty traditional cuisine. It is one of the best options to try authentic Polish food. It is not too expensive with a main and dessert costing around 50-60PZL. Definitely get the potato pancakes with apple & honey – this was my best dessert in Krakow! On the down side, the service is average at best, but the food makes up for the slow staff.

-  Kuchnia Starapolska U Babci Maliny: (map) Very unique place to go for dinner! Half the fun is finding it – you need to walk down a hallway, into a small courtyard and then down the stairs on the right side. You go underground through a quirky entrance. The restaurant is very fun, with traditional décor and photos on the walls. It is bar service only and the food is very traditional! The food itself is only fair, but its a fun experience, especially if you’re going with a group.

Potato Pancakes at Goscinna Chata.

Potato Pancakes at Goscinna Chata.

-      Milkbar Tomazsu: (map) Great café for breakfast or lunch, serving pretty traditional polish food, including the local delicacy, pierogi. I had pierogi at several places and this was the best I had. They also do pretty good pancakes.  The café is only small and you may end up needing to share a table.

-      Przpiecek 24hr: (map) This is a 24 hour pierogi café – very handy to note if you plan on having a few late nights at some of the local pubs! The pierogi aren’t the best I had in Krakow, but at 3am, the availability may be a greater factor than the quality. I found them a bit bland and soggy – like wet ravioli with no sauce.

-      Gospoda Koko: (map) This is a very traditional polish restaurant. There are actually several rooms within the restaurant, with the downstairs being much more like a tavern. The food is very basic, so don’t expect fine dining. If you’re on a budget and want some Polish fare, its worth a try!

-      Café Camelot: (map) This is by far the best café close to Main Market Square and it came highly recommended from locals. It is a beautifully decorated café with setaing inside and out. Be warned, it opens at 9am and if you want a table outside, be there before 9! The menu itself is really nicely done and has a huge breakfast selection, including healthy options. Both the food and the coffee are really good. This is definitely another great place to come for breakfast.

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-      Chimney Cake Bakery: (map) I’m told there are these places in a few other Eastern European cities, but I hadn’t found them – it is a game changer. Chimney cakes are like large cylindrical cinnamon coated doughnuts that have a coating of a spread inside (I went for nutella) and then a sprinkling of almonds. When they are fresh and hot, they are incredible! It makes me happy and sad just writing about the,. Chimney Cake Bakery are the place I would highly recommend and there is one at the North East of the Platzy outside the wall of Old Town. Go there!

-      The Spaghetti: (map) One of the restaurants that borders the Main Market Square. It is typically Italian cuisine, so if you want a change from the Polish and Eastern European fare, this is a place to come for pizza and pasta.

-      Slodki Wentzl: (map) Café right on the Main Square. The coffee is good without being great. The dessert selection is also pretty good, however I would choose Good Lood over here for ice cream! The big appeal of this place is you can sit drinking your coffe and enjoying your cake while you watch the action of the Main Square! It is a good choice if you want that atmosphere.

-      Goralskie Praliny Coctail Bar: Another place that came highly recommended but to be honest, I would suggest others. The service wasn’t great and the doughnuts cost more than a Chimney Cake and cant be compared to them!

-      Piecarnia Buczek: (map) Just outside the Old Town. Decent bakery if you need somewhere to grab some lunch on the go. They have a reasonable selection of wraps, rolls and sandwhiches as well as pastries.

-      Siesta Café: (map) Doesn’t have a large menu, but a nice place to come for coffee and cake. Not far from the Main Market Square and is perfect for an afternoon tea stop………just like a siesta!

-     Ambasada Sledzia: (map) Very laid back tapas bar, also close to the Main Market Square. It is a great place to come for an afternmoon drink and small meal. You probably want to like herring, as this place specializes in different varieties of herring dishes. I had the mustards and bread coated herrings and loved both……..but I love herrings! Really like this place!

-     Morskie Oko: (map) Really traditional Polish restaurant that has wonderful decor and the staff are dressed traditionally also - makes for a pretty unique experience. The menu is Polish with options like potato pancakes (which were admittedly a little bland). Definitely worth trying is the Oscypek, a Tatra Mountain cheese that is a local specialy.

-      Obwarzanek: These are the local bagels sold from street carts all around the city. They are almost identical to “simit” in Istanbul. A very traditional food to eat in Krakow and always available.

-      There are loads of ice-cream, shops in Krakow and if youre visitiong in Summer, you will want to know where they are! Good Lood (map) came very highly recommended and on a hot day, you will see why – the queues will be out onto the streets. They have a huge range of really unique flavours that are constantly changing. There was a green apple & cherry sorbet when I was there that was amazing! There are 2 famous shops in Kazimierz, one is in Plac Nowy. Another good option for ice cream is Krakowski Lodi and these can be found in lots of locations!

-      Zapikanka in Plac Nowy, Kazimierz: (map) Zapikanka are another local favourite in Krakow and there is really only one place to go and try them. The circle in the middle of Plac Nowy has around 20 window fronts that make these open baguettes with pizza topping. You can walk around and choose which one you think has the toppings you like the best. I actually went 3 times and tended to just go to the windows that looked busy! They take around 20 minutes to make, so place your order then have a look around at the flea market.

Good Lood ice cream!

Good Lood ice cream!

-      Wesola Café: (map) This café would not be out of place in Melbourne! Whilst it isn’t overly Polish, it is outstanding! This is a must visit for lovers of good a breakfast, coffee and that genuine café atmosphere. It is not far from Galeria Krakowska Mall and Puro Hotel. The food really is excellent including healthy options or a selection of cakes. The coffee was the best I had in Krakow. 


Must See: Auschwitz (map)

I can only describe Auschwitz as “ a place nobody will enjoy, but everyone must visit”. I have written a comprehensive review of Auschwitz, that includes all the information about booking guided tours, what you can take and some of what to expect. (LINK TO AUSCHWITZ REVIEW)

Essentiually, “Auschwitz” is a complex of concentration camps that were used by the Garman Nazi regimn during World War II. The main camps were Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau. The tours take you around tehse two faciliuties and give some insight into trhe autrcities that occurred there. It is quite a sad, depressing and humbling experience to learn to depths humnanity can  reach. However, it also serves as a critical reminder, in the hope we don’t make the same mistakes again.

Gallery of Auschwitz:

Must Do: Walking Tour with City Walks Krakow (map)

Krakow, and especially Old Town, is a wonderful city to explore by foot. There is such a fascinating history with many folk tales and stories that blur facts and fiction. The best way to appreciate this is by taking one of the many guided tours. Many companies offer a “free “ service with the option to tip accordingly at the end. I did walking tours of Old Town and Kazimierz. I would suggest doing at least the Old Town tour in your first day and then the Kazimierz if you have enough time. On the Old Town tour, you will get pkenty of information about some good places to eat, what other things are wiorth seeing and you can book tours for places like the salt mines and Auschwitz.

Excess Baggage:

I visited Krakow solo and found it a really safe and easy city to explore. It probably isn’t an ideal family destination for young children as there isn’t a whole lot for them to see or do. The major attractions aren’t really suitable for children and to explore the city there is a lot of walking! Krakow is perfect for couples, groups of friends (the nightlife scene is great) backpackers and solo travellers. 


3 Top Places to Visit:

1.    Auschwitz Concentration Camps (map): I cannot say this will be a pleasant experience, but it is an absolute must! It’s a humbling and emotional look at a very sad reminder of what humanity is capable of. (Link to Auschwitz Review)

2.    Zalew Zakrzowek: (map) The old quarry that is now a “hidden lake” is an absolute must in the summer, especially on a warm weekend, when locals come in larhe numbers to swim, sunbathe and jump from the steep limestone cliffs.

3.    Rynek Glowny: (map) The focal point of Old Town Krakow. You can sopend hours simply wandering in and around this historical market square. There are so many places to eat and things to see and do – you will be drawn here.

Very sad history at Auschwitz

Very sad history at Auschwitz

Hidden gem of Zalew Zakrzowek

Hidden gem of Zalew Zakrzowek

Rynek Glowny - the centre of Old Town

Rynek Glowny - the centre of Old Town

3 Instagram Photos in Krakow:

1.    Wawel Castel from in front of Trattoria Wawel. (map)

Wawel Castle sunset

Wawel Castle sunset

2.    Arches of Cloth Hall looking at St Mary’s Bascilica (map)

Arches of Cloth Hall

Arches of Cloth Hall

3.    Zalew Zakrzowek: (map) Such a unique place close to centre of Krakow. It’s a perfect spot for drones, action shots of cliff diving in summer and sunset of the white cliffs.

Evenings at Zalew Zakrzowek

Evenings at Zalew Zakrzowek

3 Top Places to Eat:

1.    Plac Nowy for Zapikanka: (map) These are like an open baguette with pizza toppings. You can choose from a large variety of toppings including cheese, mushrooms, vegetables, meats, spices and sauces. In the centre of Plac Nowy is a circle of windows that serve traditional Zapikanka and this is the place to come to try it! There are around 20 window fronts, try either Endzior or Zapiekanki.

2.    Wesola Café (map) & Café Camelot (map): Tough to split these 2 cafes. They are quite different, but both excellent. Wesola being a much more cosmopolitan style that reminded me so much of going to a great café in Melbourne. Café Camelot is a little more unique and traditional, but avoids being bland (at all), the décor is beautiful and its easily the best café close to the main market square. If youy are in Krakow for 2 mornings – spend 1 at each of these! 

3.    Chimney Cake Bakery (map): I have had similar versions of this before, but none come close to the cakes from these stores. Try the one at the north of Old Town – nutella with crushed almonds…………you’re welcome.





























Incredible India Part 2 - Mumbai

 
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Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andymtravel

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Mumbai, India - May, 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My second stop on a 18 day tour around India was India's biggest city - Mumbai.

Getting There:

I flew into Mumbai on flydubai before getting a car to Pune. I then came back to Mumbai the same way. Getting around India with Uber proved to be really easy, clean and not expensive when converted into foreign currency. There are definitely cheaper ways to travel internally through India, but if you have a schedule to keep and just want to get from one place to another, Uber or private taxis is a great option.

Getting around Mumbai was a similar story. There weren't anywhere near as many rickshaws as there are in other parts of India, but Uber worked well and there are loads of local taxis. I didn't have any great issue catching the local taxis - they were relatively clean and very cheap.

Local Knowledge:

I was fortunate to meet someone living in Mumbai over Instagram before I travelled and made a good friend - local photographer Atul (Instagram, @atuljoshiphotography). It's always great when travelling to meet new people along the way and Atul was able to give me a few insights not Mumbai and take me to the Mumbai Press Club for dinner, where he has access through his job with Times of India

Where To Stay:

I chose to stay at the Taj Vivanta (map)- it is close to Whankhede Stadium for the cricket and in a nice area of Mumbai on Nariman Point - close to places like Gateway of India, Colaba Causeway and Girgoan Chowpatty.

The Taj Vivanta was a breath of fresh air compared to Sagar Plaza in Pune. It is a genuine 5 star property and the staff are wonderful. I couldn't fault the service of the staff and they helped me arranged shipments to Delhi, booked cars and sorted out issues with my sim card.

There is a very nice pool, fitness centre and spa - which in the Mumbai summer of 44 degrees and high humidity is a welcome sight to com back to.

The rooms are excellent and the buffet breakfast was one of the better ones I had in India. There are certainly cheaper options to stay in Mumbai that you may consider, however if Taj Vivant is in your price range, you wont be disappointed.

What To Do:

There is a small observation deck (map) close to the BMC Commissioner building that looks directly at the facade of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Its a great spot to go and visit at night when the BMC building an date terminus are both brightly lit up. The BMC building changes colour each night. Its a great spot for some night photography in Mumbai.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus facade illuminated at night

The Colaba Causeway (map) is a busy street (Shahid Bhagat Singh Rd) that is lined with shops, restaurants and street sellers. At night especially it becomes very busy and there is plenty of street life. You will get hassled by people trying to sell all sorts of different things. It isn't clean by any stretch, its Mumbai.

The Gateway of India (map) is probably Mumbai's most iconic landmark. It is on the water's edge in front of the Taj Palace Hotel. The structure was commissioned to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It overlooks the Arabian Sea and for many years it was seen as a ceremonial "gateway" into India. Following Indian independence in 1948, the last British soldiers left India after marching through the giant arch. It is a very popular tourist attraction and becomes extremely busy later in the day. Entry is free, but you do need to pass through a small security check point. If you want to get photos without a crowd, you're much better off coming early in the morning. Boats leave from the docks close to the Gateway to go on tours of places like Elephantra Island.

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There is an enormous outdoor laundry known as Dhobi Ghat (map). Its a functioning laundry that does the washing for hotels and hospitals in Mumbai, but it has also become a popular tourist atttaction. To get a good view of the vast rows of "Dhobis", go to the flyover bridge at Mahalaxmi Station (map).

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

I ended up using my flag to combat the heat and humidity

An obvious highlight for me was attending the IPL game at Whankede Stadium (map) - a famous cricket ground on Marine Drive. It was incredibly hot and humid, with the game starting at 4pm. We spent a lot of the first innings trying to find a spot to watch that wasn't in the sun. The crowd in Mumbai was one of the most intense I have ever seen at a sporting venue and something I will never forget. The team owners supply a flag to everyone, so when Mumbai scored a boundary or took a wicket, the entire crowd was a sea of blue flags.

Eating:

I had a great meal after the cricket at Mumbai Press Club (map). If you know someone working in press in Mumbai who can get you access to this restuarant, the food is really good and a great price.

Mumbai was the first place I tried some genuine street food. The beach area known as Girgoan Chowpatty (map) is extremely popular in the evenings during the summer, with lots of families, couples and groups of friends coming to enjoy the water. Lots of food vans set up near the beach making all sorts of local fare. I had a dal and a fresh mango juice. There are all different sorts of fried samosas, burger type things and grills that I have no idea what the names are. If you want to venture into a bit of street food, this might be an option!

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Just off the main road of Colaba Causeway is a place called Bademiya. There are actually 2, one is a sit down restaurant, the other is more of a street shop. It had been recommended as a good place to get a grilled kebabs. You order from the street shop and they will cook your meal literally in front of you. The chicken and lamb kebabs come with a small amount of salad and some sauces. I ended up waiting next to a man from Saudi and we ended up spreading our meal out on the bonnet of his hire car and enjoying a street side picnic! Not far from here are some other more western restaurants like Leopold Cafe that is very popular for tourists. If you ant to try some authentic Indian in the Colaba Causeway area, go to Delhi Darbar - the original in what has become a chain of popular restaurants.

Must Do:

Mumbai can be an overwhelming city - the sheer number of people is intense. On a warm evening, go down to the foreshore of Girgoan Chowpatty (map), where thousands of locals flock to enjoy the beach. Its a place where young couples come and are free from displaying affection in public. Families bring children to swim and play in the water. Large groups set out rugs and blankets up closer to tech road and sit for hours enjoying the food and lights. For a tourist, there is simply an overwhelming volume of people! It is not recommended to swim in the water and I wasn't interested in finding out, but many locals do 

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Must See:

My must see in Mumbai was somewhere that I doubt features in many tourist brochures! I stumbled across a really nice sunset spot by pure accident, which is why its my "must do" - because sometimes just being spontaneous when you travel leads to some of your best memories. I didn't have much luck finding a good sunset at either the Girgoan Chowpatty or Gateway of India, so on my last night in Mumbai just started walking from the hotel, waiting for a rickshaw to drive past and go looking for somewhere along the water. No rickshaws came and I just ended up waking to a little place called Kasav Point (map). The road came very close to the water and a really small "bay" with lots of fishing boats. The beach area was absolutely filthy, covered in rubbish and worse (perhaps one of the reasons it doesnt feature in tourism brochures). There was a group of kids playing football, who all wanted their photo taken. Along the "beach" were some building and a group of young boys were making dinner up on the rooftop of one of the buildings. They invited me up to get a better view for photos and have something to eat. I went up for the photos, but politely declined the food. Was a really great spot to take some unique sunset photos in Mumbai. Whilst I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, if you are into trying something a bit different, this is a for you. The area along the street is a small local market selling fresh fish and other foods. I later found out that this was also the site where the people involved in the Taj Palace bombings entered Mumbai.

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Many people had warned me about security and safety in Mumbai - theft, assault, etc. For me personally, I did not find this to be an issue. However, I met up with 2 ladies travelling from Northern India who did say that were subjected to frequent insults regarding their "asian" appearance, as well as sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it certainly appears that as a Western male, travelling in India is more comfortable than for a females. As general advice, based purely on my experience, I would suggest travelling in a small group with at least 1 male companion.

5 Word Travel:

An overwhelming number of people.

Excess Baggage:

Somewhere that didn't have a chance to visit was the Dharavi Slums. It is possible to do "guided tours" of what is regarded as the worlds largest slum/informal settlement. I've read some people suggesting that visiting the slums is unethical and that seeking "entertainment" from the unfortunate situation of others is poor taste. I tend to believe it is entirely personal preference and it is more to do with one's intentions. Probably the biggest thing that struck me in India on the whole was the overwhelming poverty and in particular child poverty. It put a lot of things in perspective for me and I hope influenced my life in a positive way. I believe that visiting these slums, if done in a way to gain a broader undetsanding of teh situation huge populations of people find themselves in and to educate yourself, then it is both worthwhile and ethical. I did a similar tour of the informal settlements in Soweto, South Africa. It was confronting, somewhat depressing, yet at the same time inspiring. I do feel that I spent a lot of time in India out walking the streets, markets and local areas to see and understand the enormity of substandard living and poverty. I didn't do that for entertainment, rather to get a better understanding of the situation so many people have found themselves in. This is only my opinion and I respect the opinion of those who do not want to visit these places.

Incredible India Part 1 - Pune

 
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Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian 

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual, photography

 

Destination: Pune, India, May 2018

Inspiration:

India had always been a destination that I had planned to travel to, so when the opportunity to combine a trip with my love for sport, it seemed like the perfect timing! The Indian Premier League cricket tournament held each year has rapidly become the highlight of the indian sporting calendar. Through an association with Australian clothing company, Big Dogg Clothing, I had the opportunity to meet with many of the players and go to games.

I also took the opportunity to ensure I had time to dedicate to seeing the sights and experiencing the culture of one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. My first stop on a 18 day tour around India would be Pune.

Getting There:

I fly into Mumbai with flydubai. Where I can, I prefer to fly with flydubai as their rates are always the best and I dont tend to need add ons like inflight meals or entertainment, so I prefer to pocket the savings.

I had originally planned to fly into Chennai, however the team playing in Chennai had been forced to move their games due to ongoing protests that had begun to affect the cricket games. So, instead I moved my flight to land in Mumbai and transfer from there to Pune, where Chennai would now play their home game.

Landing at Mumbai airport was far less dramatic than I imagined. Perhaps it was because it was 6:00am, but there was almost no crowd and getting through immigration was really quick. As Australian passport holder, I require only an online visa to enter India - be aware you need to complete this process at least 4 days prior to travel and the online form is quite long. You dont really receive any offical visa or even a pdf - only an email which you can print and take with you.

I spoke to a lot of people about internal transport in India. I had initially intended to use trains as my main way of getting from city to city, however was warned against this for several reasons - there can be long delays, lots of cancellations, they are extremely crowded during holiday times (when I was there) and that using private cars can be far easier. In some situations, even the process of booking train tickets can be a frustrating process - see the review on Agra! So, with that in mind, I actually found using Uber to be a really reliable way to get around India! It was safe, relatively clean and not too expensive. I caught an Uber from from Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport (Sahar International) (map) to Pune for Rs3,600 ($50) and it took just over 3 hours. It was an easy drive and we stopped on the way for food. 

Local Knowledge:

I always like to stay connected when I travel - partly to keep up on social media and sports results (no seriously.....), but mostly to remain contactable for family. So I try and get a sim card in the country I land in and load it with internet data. India was one of the more difficult places I have found to get a sim card - so be prepared to use your home sim and pay for some roaming! The shop at the airport weren't open until 10am which was the first problem. Next even at teh shops in Pune, I required a letter from the hotel (police clearance form), my passport, the print out of my visa and a passport photo - so have all these things with you. Even when purchased, the sim card took 2 days to activate. The coverage from my Vodafone sim was average at best. The only positive was that the internet was very cheap!

Where To Stay:

I stayed at Hotel Saga Plaza (map) and found it to be overall very disappointing. The hotel is quite dated, with old furniture and fittings. The rooms are adequate and if you are just looking for a place to sleep it may be sufficient. The disappointing aspect for me was that the staff appeared to show very little interest in their guests, to the point of ignoring you at the front desk - which is not something i had encountered to that extent in many hotels before!

Depending on your budget and expectations, I would likely look elsewhere in Pune. For the same price you are likely able to find somewhere better.

What To Do:

Pune is largely an academic city, with many top Universities. As a consequence the city is home to a lot of younger people either studying or working.

I found the easiest way to get around in most cities in India was via rickshaw - they are cheap, easy to find and for themes part faster than anything else. 

I caught a rickshaw to the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum (map) - which is a quirky collection of everyday items used in Indian life  - everything from spoons, typewriters, doors, artwork and statues. Its an interesting look back at how cultures in Indian have lived over time. Cost is Rs200 for foreigners and extra to use a camera (Rs500). The museum is open from 10am to 5pm.

From there I went to Shaniwar Wada Fort (map)- a palace once occupied by the Peshwar rulers. It was built in 1732 and largely damaged by fire in 1828. The huge fort walls and remained as did the enormous gateway, which was built so large because at the time, the rulers would arrive to the palace on the back of elephants. It is an easy walk around the walls of teh fort and lots of local families come of an afternoon to enjoy the gardens. Entry is Rs200 for foreigners and the gates are open 9am to 5pm

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Somewhere unique to visit close to Pune, which I dignity have time for is the Osho Meditation Resort. There are a long list of conditions, costs and procedures associated with entering the resort as a day guest. It is a luxurious property based around the practices Oshu (Bhagwan Three Rajneesh) a flamboyant "guru" who advocated sex as a pathway to enlightenment!

There is a fun nightlife scene in Pune and somewhere nice to visit on a weekend evening is Classic Rock Coffee Company (map)- a really laid back venue that hosts a lot of live music, including from local performers. It has a very chilled atmosphere and is a great place o go for a drink with friends or to meet people.

Eating:

Pune is a great place to try some traditional Maharashtran cuisine. Definitely find a restaurant serving traditional Thali style meals - you are presented with a large metal plate and the server will come and offer a range of foods which are placed around teh plate and eaten by hand. The dishes are vegetarian and range from very mild to moderately spiced. You will generally have rice, a range of dal, vegetables, pickles, chutneys and breads. It is an experience in itself to not just try the food, but the serving and eating. I ate at Shabree (map) and the food was full of flavour - definitely worth a try when visiting Pune.

There are a number of street food options everywhere in Pune. For the most part during my stay in India, I resisted the temptation of trying the genuine street food from the small stands. I normally love sampling all sorts of street food when I travel, but since i had a tight schedule and cricket games to get to, I didn't take the risk!

Pune has quite a strong food culture with cuisines from all over the world.  It is home to India's only dedicated food magazine - Trofii, so this will be a good start if you are visiting Pune and looking for some culinary inspiration!. I was lucky enough to have dinner with the magazine's director & editor, Vidhya (Instagram: @vidhyatiwari) who shared a lot of insight into the food scene in Pune and India.

Must Do:

My favourite thing to do in almost any city I travel to is to get out and walk around. I will usually try to find out where the local markets are, as thats usually the best place to find as many local people and get a great insight into a city's culture.

Shree Shiva Chhatrapati Market (Pune Yard Market) (map), the local market in Pune is relatively small and is not somewhere to visit for vegetarians or those who get a little queasy. Compared to some other markets I would visit in places like Bangalore, this market isn't really a on the same level. But for me its more about getting out, walking the streets, meeting local people and chatting with them about their lives.

Must See:

My main inspiration to visit India this time was the cricket! So my first IPL really was a highlight! Due to circumstances, this match had been shifted from Chennai to Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. The stadium isn't actually in Pune and the traffic getting from Pune to the ground meant I probably could've stayed in Mumbai and driven from there! That said, the experience of being in the crowd for a game featuring MS Dhoni's Chennai (who would go on to win the tournament) and Virat Kholi's Bangalore was unforgettable. The atmosphere in the stadiums is intense and the passion the fans have not just for teams, but for individual players is incredible. If you love sport and even more, if you love cricket, make a point of visiting India during the IPL!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

A huge concern for travellers visiting India is staying healthy! For the most part I avoided getting really sick by only drinking bottled water/juices/soft drinks (make sure the seals are genuine and haven't been refilled), not drinking ice cubes, avoiding salad and not eating at the small food stands. I still ate at a lot of local restaurants and cafes and had few issues.

I did take with me all the precautions in terms of electrolytes and immodium in case there was an issue, I got me vaccinations up to do date before I flew and was cautious about hygiene. Standards in India will range from genuine 5 star luxury to literally seeing people defecate in the street next to a restaurant! If you are careful and do a few basic things, you should be fine. I will write a blog on "staying healthy in India soon".

Excess Baggage:

Whilst I never felt unsafe in Pune, or in India for that matter, taking care when crossing roads and in traffic is a priority! The roads are busy, nobody indicates and a short toot o the horn is the only warning you will get as a rickshaw or taxi flies past you!

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Istanbul, Turkey - One City, Two Continents, A World of Culture

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Contributor:
Andy Marty

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual
Family

 

Destination: Istanbul, Turkey. April 2018

Inspiration:

I had visited Istanbul around 5 years ago and loved the unique culture, architecture and atmosphere of the city. This time I had the opportunity to take a group of Dubai based social media personalities to experience Istanbul as part of The Travel Hub's curated travel.

Getting There:

We were very fortunate to be looked after by flydubai and flew Business Class from Dubai to Sabiha Gocken (SAW) airport.  Often, the business class option with flydubai is comparable to the economy class fare on other airlines, meaning you can enjoy all the perks and comforts of business class without blowing your travel budget just getting there! The list of destinations offered by flydubai seems to grow every month, to learn more, check out the review on our website (click here).

There are 2 international airports in Istanbul, Attaturk and Sabiha Gocken. It is important to know which one you're flying in and out of, because quite literally Attaturk is in Europe and Sabiha Gocken is in Asia! Both are a little way out of the main area of Istanbul. Hotels will often provide an airport transfer or this can be arranged through your booking. Both our hotels provided transfers which saved any need for searching for options close to flying. Otherwise, we found Uber to work really well in Istanbul - cheap, efficient and clean. I would definitely use Uber in preference over the local taxis, which were for the most part rude and lazy. The Ubers are often actually quite luxurious - large vans with leather interior!

Local Knowledge:

Often when you travel, it helps to have certain things on the ground looked after for you. We used a service run by Istanbul Tourist Pass to assist in a lot of the logistical details during our visit. The website and app based platform provides a number of services that will make your visit to Istanbul easier and save you money. 

Staying connected online was an important feature for our group and we were provided with a portable "dongle" that provided unlimited wireless internet for multiple devices. Whether you're using this for social media, keeping in contact or simply searching for somewhere to eat nearby, having internet access is becoming essential for modern travel.

The pass also allowed priority access to things such as boarding the hop-on-hop-off Bosphorus cruise, which can be a huge advantage during busy months when these can get crowded. Similarly, we booked our guided tours of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern through Istanbul Tourist Pass and our private guide provided priority access, avoiding the lengthy queues and saving us hours of waiting in lines.

Istanbul Tourist Pass is an easy way to plan your your activities in Istanbul as well as a great way to save money if you're looking at experiencing a number of the attractions! 

Where To Stay:

Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet: (map)
We spent the first 2 nights in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood, staying at Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet. This property was opened in 2017 and is stunningly appointed in traditional Ottoman design, which really sets the atmosphere for where you are staying. The interior has been expertly handcrafted and the detail of the workmanship is an impressive feature.

The rooms are beautifully furnished and the bathrooms in particular are themselves an "instagrammable" highlight, with each having a unique Ottoman mosaic. If you are really looking to indulge, there is a glamorous Sultan suite that takes luxury to the next level. Your booking will even include private use of a Bentley chauffeur during your stay.

Ajwa has just opened the first of its neighbourhood apartments which provide a wonderful alternative to staying in a traditional hotel. The 4 bedroom apartments can be shared amongst a group or a family and have features including a small "winter garden", private Hammam and your own kitchen facilities which can come with staff.

The breakfast at Ajwa Hotel is a wonderful selection of traditional regional cuisine and in the evening you can dine at the Azerbaijan inspired Zefaran Restaurant. The food is richly traditional and the view back over the Sultanahmet area creates the perfect atmosphere.

The Afiya Spa is the ideal opportunity to enjoy a traditional Turkish Hammam, so after a day wandering through the Grand Bazaar you can return and be fully refreshed ready for your next day of exploring the cultural sights. 

Perhaps one of the best features of this stunning property is its location within Istanbul's most popular tourist area - Sultanahmet. It is one of few hotels providing 5 star luxury in this more traditional neighbourhood. The convenience of being able to walk straight from the hotel doorsteps, through the colourful streets and a short distance to the iconic Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia is a wonderful convenience.

Park Hyatt Istanbul - Macka Palas: (map)
We then stayed 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Istanbul, which is located in the heart of modern Istanbul, close to the trendy shopping and dining areas The hotel is everything you come to expect from a Park Hyatt property, with beautifully appointed rooms that are much larger than what you will find in most hotels. 

There is a rooftop pool and bar that is an oasis in the city, especially during the warmer months. The perfect place to relax and enjoy a poolside drink. The fitness centre is excellent if you are a traveller who likes to maintain their healthy lifestyle.

To upscale your stay at the Park Hyatt, you can consider the Presidential suite, which is more like an apartment than a hotel room. In addition to the stunning bedrooms, there is an upstairs sunroom perfect for unwinding with a good book and a large balcony with stunning views back over the iconic Bosphorus.

The breakfast at the Park Hyatt is something to absolutely ensure that you have included in your booking! You have the availability of a buffet breakfast along with selections from the menu including a variety of egg options, pancakes and local favourites such as Kuvurma & Menemen. 

A feature we found in both the Ajwa and Park Hyatt hotels was the staff were incredibly warm, friendly and accomodating. If you are visiting Istanbul for a 4 or more days, I would definitely recommend staying a couple of nights in Sultanahmet and then a couple of nights closer to Taksim. This allows the perfect opportunity to explore the best areas of Istanbul. I couldn't recommend these 2 hotels more highly based not just on the quality of the rooms, but also on the service they provide!

What To Do:

You can essentially separate Istanbul into different neighbourhoods and devote time to visiting each of these separately when travelling to the city.

Sultanahmet: (map)

My favourite area to explore in Istanbul is without doubt the "old" area known as Sultanahmet. It is here that much of the historically and culturally significant buildings can be found, but also where you will find a lot of the authentic places to eat, shop and just generally explore! A huge benefit of staying at the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet was the ease of walking from the hotel to any often highlights around this neighbourhood. Even the streets themselves are entertaining to wander through with camera in hand.

The Grand Bazaar (map) is an enormous traditional market with over 3,000 shops. You can buy almost anything here for a price that you will agree upon with the storekeeper. They are far more experienced with bargaining than you, but its entertaining to test your skills. You can definitely find great quality and good deals if you know what you want and have the time to wander through. Be aware the Bazaar is closed on Sundays and public holidays! Its opening hours are 8:30am to 7:00pm. We bought small souvenir bracelets, plates and scarves at a relatively cheap price. You can wander through most of the Bazaar in under 2-3 hours.

There is another small Bazaar close to the Blue Mosque - Arasta Bazaar (map), which is nice to walk through. It has several of the similar style of shops as the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar but on a far smaller scale. If you dont like crowds, this might be more appealing.

Not far from the Grand Bazaar is the Spice Bazaar (map) and this is the place to do some gift shopping! You can buy all variety of Turkish sweets (Turkish delight, baklava, nuts, dried fruits), a huge range of spices and every sort of tea you can imagine. Again, the price you pay will come down to your bargaining skills, so you dont have to settle on the first offer! It will take you less than an hour to wander through the straight Spice Bazaar.

We used a guide arranged through Istanbul Tourist Pass to take us through the main historical buildings of Sultanahmet. Even if you normally like to explore places yourself, I found having a tour guide around Sultanahmet really helpful. Firstly the history is quite complex and involves several different phases. Secondly, it saves a large amount of time being able to fastback the queues and know what areas of these very large buildings to visit. 

First we went to Topkapi Palace (map) - now a museum, it was once the residence and headquarters for the Ottoman Empire. The details of how the Sultan of the time lived during the Ottoman time is fascinating, as is the evolution of this role through history. The Palace is divided into distinct areas that at one time, separated different the classes. It is interesting to learn about the history and relationships of the Sultan, his family, associates and workers who all lived in the Palace. Much of the Palace is now a museum, containing a huge number of mostly Ottoman and Islamic artefacts. Entry is L40 and opening hours are 9am to 6:45 (April-Oct) 4:45 (Nov-March).

The Basilica Cistern (map) is an impressive underground chamber built in 532 during the Byzantine Empire. It was used to store water that was delivered via aqueducts, supplying the Great Palace. When the Byzantine vacated the Great Palace, the cistern was closed and forgotten about for centuries to the point nobody in Istanbul knew it existed. In 1545, it was rediscovered when rumours of people collecting water and even catching fish from their basement lead researchers to locate the huge chamber. The symmetrical marble columns are impressive, as is the feeling of walking through the dripping chamber on a hot day in Istanbul. There are currently restoration works being done and the water has been drained from the majority of the cistern, leaving a uniquely exposed floor. Normally the floor is covered in water and you may recognise it from the scenes in the movie Inferno. Entry is L20 and opening hours are 9am to 6pm. The lighting inside the cistern is very dull, so look to use long exposure settings on your camera to create striking images (especially if the ground is full of water),

The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) (map) is one of the most fascinating buildings in the world, let alone in Istanbul. Not only due to the architectural brilliance, but also because of the story it tells in relation to Istanbul as a city. Commissioned as a Church in 537 by the Byzantines, it became a mosque in 1453 during the Ottoman rule and since 1935, has been a museum. It is one of the only places in the world where you will see elements of Christian and Islamic design, artwork and traditions co-exist in the same building. Many of the original Christian mosaics have been painstakingly restored and this work continues, at considerable expense. Opening hours are 9am to 6pm (April to Oct) & 4pm (Nov to March), entry is L40 for adults.

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Unfortunately, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) (map) was closed inside for restorations when we visited Istanbul, so we could only see it from the outside. At most times, you are allowed to enter and do a tour inside the Blue Mosque (outside of prayer times unless you are there to pray). It is one of those buildings, that you can get so many different perspectives from different places and it can look quite different depending on the time of day. We even found a small carpet shop that allowed us to take photos from their rooftop terrace which offered a really unique view of the Blue Mosque. See below for my favourite places to view/photograph the Blue Mosque.

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Probably my favourite place in all of Istanbul is the area between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - Sultanahmet Park (map). Especially on a warm spring day, there is a wonderful atmosphere with so many people coming to spend time there. Street food vendors selling Simit and roast corn on the cob, the fountains going and the gardens full of colour........all that between 2 of the most impressive buildings. On the East side are some restaurants and a traditional Turkish Hammam, Ayasofya Sultan Hammam (map). If you're looking for somewhere to have lunch, try Mihri Restaurant (map) at the North of the Hammam an get the Pide!

Taksim & Istiklal Caddesi:

In contrast to the "Old Town" of Sultanahmet, the area around Taksim Square is much more modern - everything from the architecture to the atmosphere. Taksim Square (map) is a large area that itself is relatively unflattering. It can be the site where people congregate for political rallies, football games etc. However the streets that run off Taksim Square are of more interest to the visiting tourist. In particular, Istiklal Caddesi (or Istiklal Avenue) (map). It runs from the Northern end at Taksim Square right down to the Galata District. The street is lined by boutiques, department stores, cafes and restaurants. Istiklal seems busy no matter what time of day or night you visit. The atmosphere the night we visited was wonderful - the 2 larger football clubs in Istanbul were playing a big game, so lots of people were out watching the game and afterwards, celebrating/commiserating the result. You will find a number of known retail brand stores as well as lots of local boutiques and traditional shops. The food scene along Istiklal street is fantastic if you want to sample authentic cuisine. There are lots of narrow streets and alleyways that run off Istiklal and have there own little vibe - you can take a wander up Sahne Sk (map) for example with its market-style stalls, traditional food and boutiques - see Sampyion Kokorec below in "where to eat". There is a red tram which runs the length of Istiklal and provides more of a fun photo opportunity than a genuine mode of transport. 

I would definitely suggest visiting Istiklal in the early evening and walking the length, stopping from time to time to sample different eateries or dining in one of the terrace restaurants.

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Bosphorus:

The Bosphorus is more than just a stretch of water for the city of Istanbul - it has shaped the city's history and defines who the city is. The narrow Bosphorus Straight runs from The Black Sea in the North, to the Sea of Mamara in the South. On the east bank is the continent of Asia and on the west, Europe. This geographically made the Bosphorus Straight and Istanbul, hugely important and is one of the reasons it has been a critical city in the development of civilisations through history. 

Now, the Bosphorus is a busy waterway, with people commuting under it, over it and across it as part of their daily life in Istanbul. You can just sit on the banks and watch all manner of vessels travel up and down - from huge shipping containers to small fishing boats. For so many locals in Istanbul, spending time on the banks of the Bosphorus is part of life.

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The best way to experience the Bosphorus is by getting out on it! There are a huge variety of options and itineraries. For simplicity and convenience, we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off cruise through Istanbul Tourist Pass. By booking through the website, the confirmation is sent to your mobile phone app and this serves as your pre-booked ticket. We quite literally skipped past the huge queues and collected our ticket from the side office at the dock at Kabatas (map). Many waiting in line had to wait for the next boat as the queues on bright sunny weekends can get quite busy! The boats leave the dock at Kabatas Dentur every hour from 11:45 through to 16:45 (you can also start your cruise from Besiktas). The whole loop takes around 1 hour 40 minutes, but you can hop off at any of the stops along the way and visit attractions such as the summer palaces of the Ottoman Sultans in Beylerbeyi. We chose to hop off in Emirgan (map) for a traditional Turkish Breakfast as Emirgan Suitis (see "Eating" below). Emirgan has a long stretch along the Bosphorus where hundreds of people come sit, walk and enjoy the views. There are people fishing from the banks, street food vendors, cafes and parks. A short walk in from the cafes is the huge Emirgan Park (map). On a nice day it is full of people playing, having a picnic or just enjoying the sunshine and green. In April the park is home to the International Tulip Festival. All the neighbourhoods along the European side of the Bosphorus have their unique charm and if you have the time are definitely worth visiting. 

Galata Tower:

The area to the South of Istiklal is Galata and is dominated by the tall cylindrical Galata Tower (map). Built in 1348 you can climb the tower to get a view across the city - however, be warned, the queues acan be very long in the tourist season!

Galata Bridge:

Word of note! When you put "Galata Bridge" in Uber, be sure you dont select the Galata Bridge in Bulgaria, as it becomes difficult to explain the situation with the driver if they dont speak English! For some reason, a lot of the Uber drivers didn't know where Galata Bridge is and you may be better referring to it as Galata Koprusu (MAP). The bridge spans the Golden Horn and as a visitor to Istanbul, I think its a hugely important landmark for several reasons.

Firstly, it links the traditional old area of Sultanahmet with the more modern area of Istanbul. If you are feeling adventurous, you could potentially walk all the way from Taksim Square, down Istiklal, through the Galata District, over the Galata Bridge and into the Sultanahmet neighbourhood. It would take you around an hour..........if you didn't stop along the way, which would be nearly impossible.

Secondly, the area around Galata Bridge is in its own right a great place to visit. On a weekend, huge numbers of fishermen will line Galata Bridge, casting their lines over the side. On a level below them on the bridge are cafes and restaurants that will literally look out through the fishing lines. Looking up the Golden Horn from the bridge you will have a view of the beautiful Suleymaniye Mosque to your left and then over to the Galata Tower to your right, making it a wonderful spot to compare 2 sides of Istanbul.

If you walk down onto the old side of Galata Bridge, there are a number of floating "restaurants" cooking fresh sardine sandwiches which are a must try!

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There is a tunnel under the road that leads you to a walk-through Bazaar selling lots of spices and arabic sweets. If you keep walking South from here you will find your way back to the Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar and then eventually back to the Blue Mosque! You can also walk easily from here to the Suleymaniye Mosque (map) which overlooks the Golden Horn - there is a terrace behind the mosque with great views. It isn't the largest of the Ottoman mosques, but is definitely one of the more beautiful. The area around the Suleymaniye Mosque is also interesting with its very traditional wooden houses.

Eating:

If you love a place where you can walk around eating from small street stalls, calling in at cafes and sampling traditional cuisines...........you will love Istanbul!

There is absolutely no shortage of street vendors selling roast cobs of corn, roasted chestnuts, Turkish ice cream, fresh squeezed juices and of course, the Turkish equivalent of the bagel, Simit. You will be hard pressed to walk around most of the busier areas of the city and not find one of these mobile options.

In every Bazaar, from a small strip of stores through to the Grand Bazaar, there are countless stores selling Turkish sweets - baklava, Turkish delight, nougats, etc. Some are almost sickly sweet and you just have to censor the thought of calories and convince yourself that all the walking is burning it off. If you walk through the Spice Bazaar, there is no shortage of options and if you have the time/patience, you can sample whatever you fancy in the different stores and then bargain for a better price. There are a chain of stores called Hafiz Mustafa that are excellent for traditional sweets. Make a point of calling in to the store at Taksim square (map) and sitting down for a tea and some baklava...........you wont be the only person, its hugely popular. If you have a sweet tooth for chocolate, stop in at Tarihi Meshur (map) on Istiklal Caddesi and pick up some chocolate coated nuts. Another place for traditional deserts is the restaurant Saray Muhallebiisi (map) and the syrup dripping from the in the windows is sickly sweet!

The length of Istiklal Caddesi is a wonderful place for food. There are many terrace restaurants and bars which have seats overlooking the street, making them a perfect spot for dinner and watching everything go by below. Many are small and authentic with a cosy atmosphere. 

If you want something a little more upmarket and with a view to match, try 360 Istanbul (map) - more of a fine dining restaurant and the views are spectacular.

There are also a number of very authentic restaurants to try in the Taksim/Istiklal area. Tarihi Kalkanoglu Pilavcisi (map) serves hot dishes like Kavurma and beans - try the Karisik. Further down is Sampiyon Kokorec (map) - a well known local restaurant that specialises in traditional delicacies of Midye (stuffed mussels) and kokorec (sheeps intestine sandwich). The mussels are very nice, but I can honestly say the kokorec, despite the description, is actually really good! Its beautifully spiced, has a hint of chilli and the taste of "intestine" is not over-powering at all. A must try! Another local delicacy in Istanbul that tastes much better than it sounds are "wet hamburgers". At the top of Istiklal is a shop called Kizilkayalar Hamburger (map) - they sell doner kebabs and burgers. The hamburgers may not look much in the window, but they are surprisingly nice and its more than tempting to get another!

Near Galata Tower is Anemon Galata (map) - a hotel with a wonderful terrace overlooking the Golden Horn. Lovely spot for a drink, tea or coffee in the late afternoon or evening. 

As mentioned, close to Galata Bridge there are a number of floating restaurants that sell fresh fish sandwiches (map). The fish is cooked in front of you and placed in a fresh bun with lettuce and onion. Add a god squirt of lemon juice and a shake of salt and you have a very tasty snack to keep you going as you continue exploring.

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There are a huge number of options around the Blue Mosque/Hagia Sophia. For a nice traditional Pide, stop in at Mihri (map) at the Hagia Sophia end of the Ayasofya Hammam. Its a nice place to stop for lunch in the middle of your day in Sultanahmet. Pide is like a flat open pizza/calzone and with a  choice of toppings. The service perhaps leaves a little to be desired, but I think its a great place for lunch if you're doing the tours of the museums.

On the other side of Hagia Sofia (opposite the Basilica Cistern) (map) is a restaurant called Green Corner Cafe. The tea and coffee is quite good, although the food quite basic - kebab, chicken tawook, salads, etc. The staff were very entertaining and its a really nice spot for lunch our afternoon tea.

When you are exploring the Grand Bazaar for the day and need somewhere for lunch, the best place to try is Havuzlu Restaurant (map). This place in the heart of the bazaar is no-frills and serves home-style Turkish meals. You order from the warmer and the waiter will bring everything to your table. I recommend the roasted chicken and spiced meat-balls. There is also a good selection of vegetarian options.

If you want somewhere in Sultanahmet with an incredible view, look no further than Seven Hills Restaurant (at the top of Seven Hills Hotel) (map). Its a nice spot to come of an evening and you have wonderful views of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - one of the best views in the city actually. The staff weren't great and the seafood in the ice box" could've done with having some ice in there. They do make a nice traditional tea and the view itself is worth going up for a drink! Go here for the view alone, its worth it!

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The restaurant at the top of Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, Zeferan, serves traditional Azerbaijan cuisine (map). The food is wonderful with a strong emphasis on grilled meats and fresh ingredients. Certainly try the Pilaf - an Azerbaijan specialty of rice in a crispy outer layer. The view from the Zeferan restaurant is equally as impressive and gives a great look back over the Sultanahmet neighbourhood and across the Sea of Mamara.

Part of our Bosphorus cruise was to take us to Emirgan to enjoy one of the best Turkish Breakfasts in Istanbul at Emirgan Sutis (map). An absolute must for anyone visiting Istanbul is to enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast! It comprises of a huge spread of dishes ranging from a selection of breads, cheeses, honey and olives, to hot meals like egg dishes (Sucuk), Kavurma with meat and a delicious mince filled pasty known as Borek. Of course all this is accompanied with the customary Turkish tea! Emirgan Sutis came very highly recommended and it didn't disappoint, however if you're planning to visit here on a weekend, be prepared for a wait! They don't take bookings, so I would advise getting there a little earlier and putting your name down, then enjoying a stroll along the banks of the Bosphorus if you need to wait.

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If you are staying at the Park Hyatt Istanbul Macka Palas, you will be able to construct your own Turkish breakfast each morning. The breakfast here is excellent and includes your choice of a hot dish such as Kavurma. Just around the corner from the Park Hyatt, and walking distance from Taksim Square, is the Grand Hyatt Istanbul (map). Their restaurant 34 offers an all day menu of Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine. There is a lovely outdoor dining area that is perfectly suited to relaxing on warmer days and even when it cools down, in front of the open fire. The food is fantastic and I can definitely recommend the grilled octopus. They also have a great selection of Turkish desserts.

Must Do:

See Istanbul from the water! The Bosphorus has such importance to the city of Istanbul, through history and even now as it divides the uniquely different Asian and European sides. If you visit Istanbul, it is almost essential to view the city from the Bosphorus. The easiest way to do this is on one of the many cruise ships that go up and down the straight. We used our Istanbul Tourist Pass to catch the hop-on-hop-off boat from Kabatas, close to the Park Hyatt. The round trip takes you along both shorelines and you can see the different architecture on the Asian and European continents. We jumped off for a Turkish Breakfast at Emirgan. If you have time you can include a cruise of the Golden Horn and even out to places like Princes Island.

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Must See:

You won't visit Istanbul without seeing the Blue Mosque, so listing it as a must see almost goes without saying. However, it is truly one of those buildings you can find yourself looking at many times in the day and appreciating it in different ways. My top places to view the Blue Mosque include:

1. Sultanahmet Park (between the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia). Especially in the mornings when its quiet and again in the afternoon with the atmosphere of the crowd. (map)

2. A rooftop cafe such as Seven Hills in the evening around sunset. (map)

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3. From a residential terrace/rooftop, close to the Arasta Bazaar. (map)

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4. From the water.

5. For dinner from Zeferan Restaurant at Ajwa Hotel (map), giving you a stunning view back over the Sultanahmet neighbourhood. Especially just after sunset when the streetlights are taking over from the natural light.

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Plan your itinerary of things to see & do by areas. Each neighbourhood has its various things to experience and its best to really focus on that area for an entire day or at least a morning/afternoon. Even if you use the hop-on-hop-off bus (which I have done previously and really enjoyed), you will find you need an entire day as a minimum for Sultanahmet and at least an afternoon for Taksim/Istiklal and then a morning at least for the Bosphorous and so on.

5 Word Travel:

One of my favourite cities

Excess Baggage:

Whilst Istanbul has some wonderful areas for walking around to explore, in particular, Sultanahmet, there are also some neighbourhoods that are a little harder to reach. The hop-on-hop-off boat and bus services in Istanbul are a great way to see some of these area! It is probably the best way to visit the less touristy Asian side of the Bosphorus if you want to tick the box of being in 2 continents in a day. You could easily spend weeks visiting Istanbul and its many unique neighbourhoods and then doing day trips to some of the places not far from the city. I think as an absolute minimum you need 4 days in Istanbul to experience parts of the old and new areas, less than that and you will feel you have missed things..........which might be a great excuse to come back!

Bucharest, Romania - Visit the home of Dracula

 
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The Romanian capital, Bucharest, was a pleasant surprise for a 4 day visit! Be inspired to book a flight to visit the home of Dracula and find out where to go, what to see & where to eat. 

 

Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual
Adventure
Photography

 

Destination: Bucharest, Romania - August 2017

Inspiration:

To be completely honest, Bucharest wasn't a city that had featured on my travel list. The idea to visit the Romanian capital came from seeing a great deal on the flydubai website. It presented an opportunity to visit a really unique destination. I did a quick bit of googling and it looked like a great place to go and explore for a few days - so I booked flights and a couple of hotels.

Getting There:

The international airport is Henri Coanda, also known as Otopeni. It receives flights from a number of European cities, including London. Flydubai has a daily flight departing Dubai and this is an excellent link up for anyone looking to travel via this Middle Eastern hub. Flydubai is a less expensive carrier, giving the option to purchase a ticket without meal and entertainment, which I don't need! The money I save flying with flydubai goes straight into the travel budget for the next trip!

The airport is only relatively small and many people don't speak great English. As you exit on the right hand side, there is a stall that sells Orange mobile sim cards. The internet was quite cheap and worked really well.

From Otopeni airport, you have several options to reach central Bucharest. There is a bus that goes to downtown Bucharest (service 783), you need to purchase your tickets from a machine inside the airport. Some hotels offer a free shuttle service, which if you get might be worthwhile. I found Uber to work extremely well in Bucharest - if you dotty already have the app on your mobile, I would suggest downloading it and starting an Uber account before, it took all the hassle out of getting around. Many people warn against the taxis in Bucharest, whilst others insist the standards have improved in recent years. From my experience, I would avoid the taxis - they will try to rip you off and many look unsafe. 

When I couldn't walk somewhere, I tended to use Uber for short car trips and found it cheap, clean and easy to use! Not once did I have any issues at all.

The bus service in Bucharest works quite well, but it wasn't often where I needed to be.

You can rent bicycles quite cheaply - note you need to purchase a card from one of the I'Velo shops and you can then use this card to swap bikes around the city, which works really well. It looks a little crazy to ride around the main streets but definitely in places like Herastrau Park, taking a bike ride is the ideal way to get around!

Local Knowledge:

Bucharest is a great city to explore on foot. I did a lot of walking in my 4 days there. If you are a phone tragic like me, Google maps is great in Bucharest, especially since most of the places have names in Romanian and English! I have tried to add the google map links below for all the places of interest.

A word of warning for when you are walking around - be very cautious of the cars! They don't always stop at red lights and don't seem to look too carefully for pedestrians, so just always be on the watch!

Where To Stay:

I spent time in 2 hotels just to get a look at 2 areas:

Firstly, I stayed in Concorde Old Bucharest (map)- a 4 star hotel that opened early 2017. I chose this hotel because it had good reviews and its location was perfect for exploring Old Town. It is close to lots of the restaurants, cafes and clubs in Old Town which is perfect if you are planning to experience some of the nightlife in Bucharest. Old Town also has some of the attractions to visit and has a great atmosphere for walking around. The rooms in the Concorde were relatively small and basic. If you are just looking for a base to explore from, its very suitable. The amenities weren't great and there wasn't any complimentary water. The concierge/reception staff weren't great and didn't really have any recommendations for things like places to eat. I would definitely look at staying in or around Old Town if you are wanting to be amongst the night life.

The Bucharest Sheraton (map) is relatively centrally located and is a 5 star property. There was a noticeable difference in the quality and service compared to Concorde and the difference in price wasn't that much. The reception/concierge staff were excellent and gave great advice about places to visit & restaurants. The rooms are very nice, there is a gym/spa thats more than adequate.

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What To Do:

You can divide exploring Bucharest into a few areas:

1. Old Town (Lipscani):

This area of Bucharest has been revamped - the architecture and cobbled streets are largely original, but they have been developed into restaurants, cafes and boutiques amongst some cultural places. The streets are all closed to cars, so its easy to stroll around. At night, many of the areas flood with people and the clubs along Strada Setani are mostly open fronted, creating a great atmosphere.

Curtea Verche: The ruins of the Crown Palace built by Vlad "The Impaler" Tsepes during the 16th Century - a time when Bucharest was first becoming a city. (map)

Biserica Sfantul Anton: Said to be the first church in Bucharest. It is a stunning building that is still in use today. Definitely worth walking through. (map)

Carturesti Carusel : One of the more impressive bookstores you will visit. Really bright and colourful. In addition to books, has lots of music, stationary, toys etc. There is lots to do for kids. (map)

 
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Stavropoleos Monastery: Church built in the 18th Century and still in use today - you will see several nuns and priests going about their rituals inside and around the small garden. The exterior of the church is beautifully decorated and is one of the more impressive pieces of architecture in Old Town. (map)

National Bank of Romania Museum: A large and extremely impressive building that now houses a great collection of old coins. If you are interested in coins and history, the guided tours provide a great insight - the tours run every 2 hours from 10am to 4pm and you need to prebook via the website. (map)

2. Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue):

A main road that runs North-South through Bucharest. It was the first paved road in Bucharest and one of the only ever wooden paved roads in the world. Its ability to be used in the wet winter months made it a hugely important road in the development of Bucharest and the suburbs either side became very wealthy neighbourhoods. It was re-named "Calea Victoria" in 1878 after the Romanian Independence War - the army would march down this road after passing through the Arch of Triumph. Now, many boutiques and luxury stores line the road. It is a good route to walk up to see many of the interesting features of Bucharest.

Sarindar Fountain: When I visited the exterior was totally hoarded for restoration, however it is said to be quite attractive when lit up at night. (map)

Kretzulescu Church: A small, but very nice looking church that is also still in use. (map)

An old lady feeds pigeons outside Kretzulescu Church

An old lady feeds pigeons outside Kretzulescu Church

Piata Revolutiei (Revolution Square): The focal point of the square is a large monument commemorating those who suffered and died during the 1989 Revolution against communism. Romania and in particular Bucharest has a sad and interesting recent history tied into the Communist regime that ended with the arrest and execution of former dictator Nicholae Ceausescu. The monument is a strange looking one and still draws criticism from locals who claim it lacks context - it has been dubbed the "potato on a skewer". In 2012 it was vandalised with red paint which has never been removed and give the appearance that the "potato" is bleeding. There are several other statues and sculptures around the square. (map)

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Union of Architects: Just around the corner from Revolution Square is a unique building that is a fusion between old and new architecture. An interesting photo is to also include the classic communist architecture of the building behind it. (map)

Central University Library: A really impressive building with a large statue of King Carol I of Romania in front of it. (map)

 
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Museum of the Romanian Peasant: This museum is highly recommended, however it is unfortunately closed for renovations during 2017. There is a small room displaying some photos that is open, but best too wait until it re-opens. (map)

 
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Romanian Atheneum: A really impressive building and garden. It is used for concerts for the George Enescu Philharmonic. You can take a tour inside for 10L, which is really impressive but photos are not allowed. (map)

 
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Anticariat UNU: If you are looking for antiques or especially if you are interested in old books, pay a visit to Anticariat UNU. It is quite close to the Revolution Square. Its a bit crowded inside and not that well organised, but they do have some interesting things. (map)

Arch of Triumph (Arch De Triumf): This monument will have you thinking of the iconic Arch on the Champs Elysee in Paris. The arch was initially hurriedly built in 1878 for then victorious troops to march through. It has since been rebuilt and is still used for military parades to march beneath. The round-about is really busy with traffic and it makes for a nice photo spot at night.  (map)

 
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 3. Palace of Parliament: (map)

The most significant building in Bucharest. It was ordered to be built by Ceausescu during his reign - he wanted a building for all Government affairs and also for he and his family to live. He had become, somewhat justifiably, paranoid with the fear that people within Bucharest wanted to kill him. The design went to great lengths to protect Ceauscesu, including the exclusion of air-conditioning as he believed people would attempt to poison him through this. The building was only 70% completed when he was over-thrown. Following the Revolution, there was debate about what should be down to the building, with many believing it represented communism. The huge cost that had gone into its construction made it almost impossible to destroy and the decision was made to finish its construction and for it to be used as a Parliamentary building and host large events such as weddings.

The building is considered the 2nd largest in the world, after The Pentagon. One of the best view from the outside is from the eastern side - it looks directly at the balcony and is especially impressive at night when it is all lit up. There is a parking lot on the other side of the road and some colourful fountains that provide good vantage points for photography. The North entrance (public entrance) also gives some good views.

Guided tours of the interior cost 30L. You will need to book (get your concierge to call) during the busy times and tours are run in different languages at different times. You will need to bring, and then hand over your passport before entering! So if you are not comfortable with this, you won't be permitted entry. It costs extra to take photos with a camera but is free with phones. The tour is interesting, but doesn't give a deep insight into the history - I found that it was "carefully" worded when talking about Ceausescu. The balcony provides a nice view and was the place where Michael Jackson stood and infamously announced "Hello Budapest". There is also a terrace which apparently provides excellent views of the city, but it was closed when I visited due to "technical difficulties".

4. Parks:

Cismigiu Park (map): The park is around Cismigiu Lake - in the summer you can hire small row boats and in the winter it freezes over for ice skating. Its a nice park to walk through, especially on a Summer evening. There's also a nice terrace restaurant, Gradina Cismigiu (map), that opens in the evenings in the serves a pretty decent gelato with a great view of all the action on the lake. There is an nice photo spot of the Aleea Magnoliei bridge.

Kiselleff Park: Is a small and very green park. Has a small market on Friday mornings. If you don't get to visit, you haven't missed much other than a nice place to sit.

Herastrau Park (Parcul Herastrau): (map) This is the largest park in Bucharest and is situated around the massive land-makde Lake Herastrau. This park is definitely worth spending an afternoon walking around. Inside the park is the Dimitri Gusti National Village Museum - map, which is a large open air display of traditional Romanian dwellings and dating back centuries. There are exhibitions and traditional activities that kids can join in. There are a large number of paths through the park and I would suggest hiring one of the I'Velo bikes (need to purchase a card from one of the offices) from the south-west entrance (near to the Arch of Triumph). You can take cruises on the lake or hire small row boats. There are quite a few restaurant and cafes around the park, however if you are looking for a bit of atmosphere to unwind on a summers afternoon, definitely pay a visit to Beraria (map) - it is set up like a European beer garden with themes of many popular European cities. The food is good and they have a huge range of beers!

5. Other Places of Interest:

Palatul Primaverii (Former house of Nicholae Ceausescu): This is where the former Dictator and his family lived at the time he was overthrown. Ceausescu had made a point of styling individual rooms to replicate places around the world he had visited. You can take a guided tour and they run every 2 hours alternating between Romanian and English on Wednesday through to Sunday. It is best to book as they do get tour groups visit. (map)

 
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Piata Obor (Obor Market): This is the largest fresh food market in Bucharest. For some reason I love to visit fresh food markets in cities I visit - its always a great insight into the local culture. The Obor market is full of fresh fruit and vegetables and many of the flavours of Romanian dishes dominate the stalls - potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and berries! There is laneway after laneway of fresh produce and upstairs is a fresh and preserved meats section. Note, I was warned afterwards that you are not supposed to take photos in the upstairs area, not sure why. Outside, there is the customary stalls of cheap Chinese knock-offs and some more local food stalls. There is also a really great cafe with a bakery that is absolutely a must visit!! It is called Terasa Platou, its not on Google maps but is opposite this pin (map)

Eating:

Something that surprised me a lot was how late cafes and restaurants opened in Bucharest. If you like to go our for breakfast, you might spend a lot of time searching. Even in Old Town where there are lots of small restaurants, most dont open until 10am or more often midday - so hotel breakfasts are going to be almost a necessity! Caru Cu Bere (below) does serve breakfast from 8am if you are in the Old Town area.

I asked around (friends, locals and concierge) and visited the following:

Caru Cu Bere: Located in Old Town, this is a well known restaurant with great quality local cuisine. They're famous for their pork knuckle and sour cabbage. Really nice to sit outside on a summer evening. Meals average around 50L which is quite reasonable. (map)

Saray: Middle eastern style restaurant with really great atmosphere. Always busy and the food is very good. Not expensive. If you are in Old Town I would probably suggest Caru Cu Bere but this is an alternative. (map)

Vatra: Really authentic Romanian restaurant. Make a booking to be seated outside and you will also enjoy a traditional dancing show. If you want to experience some Romanian dishes, this is a good start. The chicken wrapped in cabbage leaves are worth trying! The deserts are nice, but be prepared - they are sickly sweet! I would definitely recommend this for a dinner. (map)

Aubergine: Located in Old Town. This came highly recommended. The food is really great and has a selection of fresh juices,  although the service was really slow. The decor and atmosphere is really nice and the menu is super healthy. The presentation of the food is great! The calamari/prawn with eggplant dish was definitely worth recommending. (map)

Storage Room: Located next to Aubergine. The food is well priced and this is a good spot to have something to eat before having a night out in Old Town. The dishes aren't overly adventurous but are ok. (map)

Dristor Kepap: The classic late night kabab shop. These are really popular with the locals, especially late at night when everything else will be shut. (map)

Other places discussed above include Beraria (Herastrau Park), Gradina Cismigiu (Cismigiu Park), Teresa Platou (Obor Market).

Must Do:

If you get the chance to do a day trip out of Bucharest there are some great places to visit. While I was there many people recommended visiting the town of Brasov - the landscape is meant to be stunning and theres some interesting history. It is a full day or an overnight trip, so you might want to plan this well in advance.

Instead, I took the bus out to the Monastery in Snagov where it is said the body of Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes III is buried. Following his death, his head was taken to Constantinople and his body was buried in a small Monastery on and island in Lake Snagov. Unless you have your own car, you will need to either Uber (which will be expensive) or catch public transport. The small buses are cheap (6 Lei) and relatively easy to catch from the station Piata Presei (map) - there is a small "ticket office" for AXI tours. There are 2 buses that run to Snagov - the 261 will take you to Silistea on the North of the lake and the 262 will take you to a road on the South. I took the 262 and it is a shortish walk to the Hotel Astoria (map). It is a little confusing but from the Astoria it is possible to convince someone to take you for a short boat trip to the Monastery island. The boat ride itself is quite fun and gives a good look around the lake. The man charged me 50 Lei, however this rate seemed that it was quite "flexible" The Monastery itself is small and has some interesting history about Vlad III - entry is a small fee (15 Lei). It remains unclear exactly why he was the inspiration for Bramm Stokers fictional character, Count Dracula - other than his bloodthirsty regime, there is no evidence to suggest he actually drank blood etc. 

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Whilst I never felt "unsafe" in Bucharest, I would advise to avoid the taxis, so downloading Uber on your phone and making sure you pick up a data card makes getting around much easier!

5 Word Travel:

Pleasantly surprising, full of culture.

Excess Baggage:

Bucharest is a city that wasn't high on my travel list.........but I am really glad I booked the flights. I wish I had planned to stay a little longer and spend more time exploring Romania.