Kittila - Its Cold Up There - Finish Lapland

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Read a review on one of the more unique destinations to visit - a land of ice, snow, adventure and beauty..........Finish Lapland.

 

Contributor:
Nicola

Nationality:
British

Social Links:
Instagram: @nikkiinwanderlust
#nikkiinwanderlust

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
backpacking, luxury, adventure, relaxing - all types!

 

Destination: Levi, Finish Lapland - Finland

To get to Finnish Lapland, we took a flight to Kittilä via Helsinki. While at passport control in Helsinki, the customs officer looked at my boarding pass and said in an ominous voice “Kittilä - it’s cold up there”.  Little did I realise, that this was a massive understatement. 

We stayed in Levi, which was a twenty minute drive from Kittilä, and checked into Hotel K5.  We arrived quite late, so after trying out the sauna in our room, we relaxed with some glögi by the fire in the hotel bar.  The centre of town is a short walk away from several restaurants, the ski slope, and a snowmobile rental shop.  As it was January, the sun never really rose above the horizon, and the temperature dropped to -35°C! As soon as we got outside, our eyelashes and hairs on our face would freeze! So if you plan to come at this time of year, pack thermals and good winter weather gear! 

 Its so cold, your eyelashes freeze!

Its so cold, your eyelashes freeze!

One evening we rented snowmobiles and went out and explored the forest area.  There were loads of trails, and we spent a few hours getting lost on them and then finding our way back. It was so much fun. The snow was so deep and lakes were frozen, making it perfect snowmobiling conditions.  This is one activity that you must try if you go anywhere with good snow! 

 Snowmobiles in the evenings

Snowmobiles in the evenings

The ski slope in Levi is lovely. It’s not too busy, and isn’t pretentious like other ski resorts can sometimes appear. It has a chilled vibe and has an amazing bar and restaurant at the top with a beautiful view and roaring fire - perfect for Après Ski. 

 The beautiful ski slopes of Levi

The beautiful ski slopes of Levi

A short drive away was a company that offered husky rides. What a fantastic experience, and another activity that we would definitely recommend. The huskies were beautiful and well looked after, and took us for an amazing ride through beautiful forests and countryside.  Another short drive away was the Arctic Snow Hotel - we didn’t stay there but were lucky enough to be attending a wedding in the Ice Chapel. It was such a unique and beautiful place - each room is decorated differently, and the art work involved in creating the hotel and chapel each year was astounding.  

 Alternative modes of transport in the snow

Alternative modes of transport in the snow

 Sami Hut, near the Arctic Snow Hotel

Sami Hut, near the Arctic Snow Hotel

Lapland was such a brilliant destination. There were fun activities, and the scenery was stunning and the snow was beautiful - it actually sparkled like glitter when it fell and the flakes were star shaped.  We’d recommend Lapland to everybody - it’s such a unique and beautiful part of the world. Just make sure that you take some warm clothing. Remember, “Kittilä - it’s cold up there”. 

 Star shaped snow flakes.........

Star shaped snow flakes.........

Bucketlist Travel Review - Yellowstone NP, USA

 
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Contributor:
Kayla and Silas

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Adventures of Kayla and Silas

Website: www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com
Instagram: @kaylaandsilas

Age Group:
19-30 years
30-40 years

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Spontaneous
Explore
Food

 

Destination: Yellowstone National Park, Late September, 5 days

Inspiration:

A friend of ours ask if we would go with him to Yellowstone. Having never been there before, we both quickly agreed! We all wanted to get in some hiking, enjoy the quiet of nature, and have fun hanging out together.

Getting There:

Yellowstone is not easily accessible. We drove there (17 hours!), but you could fly into a nearby city and rent a car or R.V. It seemed nearly half the cars on the roads inside the park were R.V.s, so that is really common.

Local Knowledge:

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are both unlike anything else I've ever seen! Here's what I already wrote about how amazing these places are:  https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/02/12-Reasons-to-Visit-Yellowstone

 

Where To Stay:

We stayed at an Airbnb in Driggs, ID. It was delightful, however we had a pretty long drive into the parks every morning. I think it would be preferable to stay inside the park unless you only need a couple hours of sleep. We found everything was booked when we were looking, so you'll need to make a reservation as early as a year in advance of your trip if you want to stay in the park!

What To Do:

We packed a lot into our time at Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Here's our recommended itinerary: https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/09/A-Week-in-Yellowstone-and-Grand-Teton-National-Parks

Join our Patreon community here: www.patreon.com/kaylaandsilas Subscribe to our channel! http://bit.ly/2FFgx6E Earlier this year we took a road trip with our...

Must Do:

You need to watch at least one geyser BESIDES Old Faithful. They are just amazing.

Must See:

Grand Prismatic Spring!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

The park is BUSY. Bring as much as you can -- toilet paper and sanitizer for unkept bathrooms, picnic lunches for when restaurants are busy or you get too far from a main service hub (or you just want to save money), and a map so

5 Word Travel:

Gorgeous, interesting, unbelievable, breathtaking, exercise

Excess Baggage:

Don't get close to the animals! We saw a lot of tourists putting themselves in dangerous situations, but park rangers suggest keeping 25 yards distance to all animals and 100 yards to wolves and bears.

Leon, Nicaragua - Why you should plan a Nicaragua visit

 
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Content creators and travel bloggers, Cathie & Al from Flat World Travel give us an amazing insight into one of the favourite cities they visited during a recent trip to Nicaragua/ Read all about Leon here and follow the links to their blog for more on travel in Nicaragua.

 

Contributor:
Cathie

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Website: http://travel.flatworldonline.com
Instagram: @flatworldtravel

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Couple travel
Adventure

 

Destination: Leon, Nicaragua, November 2017

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Inspiration:

We were hired to do photos and video for a destination wedding in Cancun in November. We decided to add on to the trip and go to Nicaragua. This was the perfect destination. We found one of our favorite cities on the trip was Leon.  We were looking for somewhere warm to go after the wedding.  And through Instagram and travel blogs we had seen some beautiful photos from Nicaragua. I always had an interest in this country. We started researching it and fell in love with it’s mixture of colonial historical cities that we love to explore as well as beautiful nature to be adventurous in. Nicaragua really does have it all. While we didn’t spend anytime in the major city of Managua we did enjoy Leon. You can get a real feel for city life of the people and not be far from nature and adventure at the same time. And who could pass up the opportunity to go to volcano boarding down an active volcano.!!!

Getting There:

We flew from Cancun to Nicaragua since we already had our flights arranged from Philadelphia to Cancun. Once we arrived in Nicaragua and for our travel around the country we hired private drivers through our various boutique hotels. Because we were traveling with a lot of photo and video gear, more than we normally do since we were coming from a wedding, we wanted to always make sure we traveled in the safest way possible. Even if that meant spending extra. It was also nice to always be in air conditioning and to  talk with the drivers. Well at least try since our Spanish is very limited. Our driver dropped us right off at teh place we were staying in Leon.

Local Knowledge:

Leon is known for being even the most artistic and progressive city in Nicaragua. The people of Leon were the first to support the Sandanistas in the 1960’s and ’70s. As a result, the city and its people suffered some of the worst attacks during Somoza’s crackdown. Their central market was torched, different parts of the city were bombed, and anyone suspected of sympathizing with the Sandanistas was often tortured or executed. And the United States flip flopped on who they supported, all to the detriment of the people of Nicaragua.
And you can see minutes of resistance throughout the city. From graffiti to beautifully painted murals. Definitely worth visiting is the Museum of Revolution

Leon is also known for its beautiful churches with sweeping vistas of the city, a lively Center Plaza, bustling commerce, and amazingly beautiful volcanoes.

Where To Stay:

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We stayed at the Hotel Azul for $72 a night. I would consider that a little high for most places in Leon but it had great rooms, a pool, a restaurant and breakfast included. Hotel Azul is a great spot and the location being so close to the main plaza was perfect. We would Totally stay there again!

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What To Do:

Really our favorite thing to do in Leon was just to wander around. Going to the areas where it's mostly locals. We really didn't see a ton of tourist when we were there. We spent hours just checking out neighborhoods around the city just seeing what it was truly like. We also were lucky to come across an amazingly fun festival in the central plaza one night. It was almost all locals there so we could really get a feel of what celebrations are like in Nicaragua. this one was for the "opening of Christmas " "The Festival of Lights" and it was a total party!

and Do check out the Revolution Museum. One of the highlights of touring around Leon was Museo Historico de la Revolucion the ‘Museum of Revolution”. It is so easy to spot with its anti-Bush graffiti still on the front. Once we paid to get in, we also had a tour guide. Of course he didn’t speak any English and our Spanish is very limited. However, knowing how to put together some words and with the help of Google translate, we felt like we learned a lot. And our tour guide was a very interesting man. He fought with the Sandinistas. You could even see on his shoulder where he’d been shot. And he showed us the spot in the building where it happened, this being the old City Hall building. You can still see blood on the walls and the impacts where the bullet hit.

One of the cool aspects of the tour is getting to go up on the roof. As a photographer and videographer, we always aim to get higher whenever visiting a new location. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land and get some killer views. There’s something so surreal about being up on the roof of the museum. And we had a great view to the white cathedral known as Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral).

Eating:

Nicaragua isnt really known for its "culinary delights" but we had some awesome food while there. in Leon we mostly ate at small places that didn't cost a whole lot. I don't eat meat but I am a pescatarian. One lunch place we really enjoyed was Cocinarte. It is a vegetarian place and is located in the oldest house in Leon.  
Another great lunch spot we went to was Pan y Paz French bakery, which was way cheap AND awesome! We didn't expect the sandwich shop to be so good. and there are a couple locations around the city. 
We ate dinner in at Al Carbon, that was pretty cool. Al really wanted some steak and I needed a place with good seafood. We also stopped in at a great rooftop bar at Calle Vicente to take in the local flavor mixed with a few tourists. It’s a great place for having a drink and doing some people watching!

Must Do:

Go Volcano Baording down Cerre Negro. So much fun you will want to hike right back up to do it again. Sadly we were only allowed the 1 time.
You have to do it with an organized tour. The drive was a little more than an hour and you have a chance to go to the bathroom before beginning your climb up (take the opportunity!) Everything I read talked about how easy the climb up was. Of course most articles focus on the fun and safety coming back down the hill on a thin piece of wood. Let me tell you that climb up was not easy. It was hot as hell, even though there was a nice breeze every now and then. It is rocky and straight up for most of it. It’s not the worst hike I’ve done by far, but it certainly is not the easiest either. Plus you are carrying a small cloth bag with your gear and a long thin piece of wood on your back. When you are small like me, it acts like a wind sail!!

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Must See:

Without a dounbt-the rooftop at  Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral). The Basilica de la Asuncion took over a 100 years to build and it is one of the largest churches in Central America. And it is Awesome. There are so many different details in the outside of the building. But the best part is certainly its roof. You need to check the schedule for when it is open and it costs 40 Cordobas to get in, this is less than $1.50 . Is really cool up there. You don’t expect It to look like a Greek city. It definitely looks very Grecian with all its white domes. And it offers wonderful vistas of the city. Just be mindful you will have to take your shoes off once you get to the top of the staircase.. 

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Take the time to at least learn some basic Spanish. And being polite and patience goes a long way. While we knew some Spanish words such common phrases, nouns and verbs we weren’t good at putting them all together. Also make sure to download Google translate on your phone. This will help you when trying to communicate. You can even hover over text and read the translation in English. Very few people speak English there. Often times, you could find at least one person working at the restaurant who may know English a little better and loves to practice their English with you. Bye-bye been able to communicate somewhatYou definitely have your experiences broadened.

And I know it's only supposed to be one tip but if you're a photographer or videographer don't bring your drone. They're not allowed. And it's just not worth the risk. Just honor their restrictions!

5 Word Travel:

Friendly
colorful
beautiful
cultural
Adventurous

Excess Baggage:

You’re not in Kansas anymore… things just aren’t like you might think. Even with all the above we found people just saying Si ‘(Yes) even when yes shouldn’t be the answer. For example, I may say “no come carne” when ordering chips and cheese and just stopped being surprised when still came with meat which I don’t eat. It seems like trying to get anything different than what they have listed just doesn’t translate. Remember this is a Spanish-speaking country!! So some things just won’t translate to be exactly what you mean.

and oh yeah....In Leon don’t be alarmed by the 6am church bells going off. And then at seven there’s a siren that goes off letting everybody know it is time to go to work. It can be quite jarring if nobody warned you in advance LOL!!

Gstaad, Switzerland - Go snowbiking in the Alps

 
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Get all the inside information on the Snow Bike Festival in Gstaad, Switzerland and start planning your visit for 2018's event! Ryan has been before and will be going back for the snow bike riding, fondue eating and incredible alpine landscapes.

 

Contributor:
Ryan

Nationality:
South African

Social Links:
Instagram: @ryanscott.33

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Adventure
Casual

 

Destination: Gstaad, Switzerland

The first snowfalls of the season have begun dusting the high ground in the Northern Hemisphere - it’s true because Instagram says so, and already my thoughts are floating in one direction - to Gstaad for the 2018 SnowBikeFestival.

Skiing, snowboarding and all the well known snow sports will always be tantalizing, but the experience of riding through the snow is something extra special, and not as extreme as you probably think.

 
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Inspiration:

I first road the SnowBikeFestival in 2016, and then again this year (2017). The first time I road I was super surprised at how quickly my nerves settled and I eased into quietly turning the pedals over and just enjoying riding next to a semi-iced over stream under a light snowfall and crisp Alpine air frosting in front of my face. This year was extra special as I took the time to stop and enjoy the small towns we rode through and really make the most of taking in the surroundings.

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How It Works:

Fat tyre bikes are really good for riding in the snow. Other than the oversized tyres, there is not too much difference to a normal mountain bike and with just a little familiarising myself with the effects of breaking and the crunch of snow under the wheels, I was good to go. Mostly the riding takes place on single tracks and catwalks, whether on a steep gradient climbing a mountain, or just cruising in a forest, or glorious open snowy fields.

After some strenuous climbing, the rewards of speed and extra adrenalin come into play when taking on the red runs of Gstaad’s ski slopes. Here it’s just the back brakes and a controlled slide of the back wheel to guide the bike down the run and all the hard work of climbing becomes instantly gratifying.

The Event:

Gstaad is a fantastic Swiss town for experiencing the myriad of activities such a versatile place has to offer. The valley is spread over a much wider area than most other skiing towns of the Alps, which makes mountain biking so enjoyable and one of the reasons the event is held here every year. It’s only a handful of top riders who really gun it at full throttle, most competitors are here for the full social experience and chilled vibe of taking part at your own pace.

 
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What to do:

Fondue in a cow shed, beers at some of the hotel bars, horse drawn carriage rides through the town and exploring the place at night under the fairytale lights are all part of the experience. Next to Gstaad is Saanen and my buddy Nick and I also went on an outdoor fondue adventure (the cheese eating does.not.stop in Switzerland) while taking in some downhill world cup skiing action and watching the slow motion air balloons above. It really becomes quite a surreal landscape once you get out to enjoy it from different angles. Snowboarding up on Glacier3000 was a special place to be too and the views on a clear day as spectacular as the buzz of a couple of beers at high altitude.

2018:

Bikes are available to rent all year around, just ask Gstaad tourism, but I’m going back for the access to the mountain via the 4 days of SnowBikeFestival, and this time I’m taking my drone along to track me through some of the most glorious mountain biking tracks in the world. See you in Gstaad!  

Getting There:

I fly SWISS from Cape Town into Zurich and jump on the imperious SBB Swiss trains from there to Gstaad. The train trip is one of the highlights of the whole adventure. Expect absolutely faultless timing on the trains and grab a window seat for a continuous picture-postcard view of lakes, mountains, forests, towns and general Swiss beauty.

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)

 
BucharestAug2017-1798.jpg
 

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.

Mt Fuji, Japan - Climbing Fujisan

 
 
 

 

Contributor  : Andy
Nationality   : Australian
Social Links  : Instagram: @andrewmarty_
Age Group    : 30-40 years
Gender          : Male
Travel Style   : Casual, adventure
Destination   : Mt Fuji, Japan. August 2016

Inspiration:

My wife and I booked a trip to Japan and to be completely truthful, climbing Mt Fuji was an afterthought - our main inspiration to visit Japan was for the food! 

It seemed when we looked into things to do in Japan, there were defined seasons; cherry blossom season, sumo wrestling season, ski season and a season for climbing Mt Fuji. As our trip was in the middle of summer, it was peak time for climbing Mt Fuji! 

 Sunrise at the summit of Mount Fuji

Sunrise at the summit of Mount Fuji

Getting There: 

We flew into Tokyo from Dubai on Emirates airlines. You can fly direct into Narita or Haneda airport. If you are looking for convenience, Haneda is much closer to Tokyo city and will save on the commute.

To reach Mt Fuji, it really depends on whether you are going to be part of an organised tour or do it yourself. Unless you are a local, know someone else going or you're a really experienced climber, I would strongly recommend being part of a tour group!

If you are going to arrange the climb yourself, you can get the train and then a bus to the 5th station where you start the climb for the more popular trails.

We booked through the tour company JAPANiCAN. The process of booking through to starting the tour was really well organised, with lots of information provided and your tour leader contacts you directly closer to the time.

From Tokyo, we were asked to meet early in the morning at a hotel to join our group. From there a bus takes everyone to the 5th station, with a short stop on the way to buy any last minute food etc.

Local Knowledge:

Mount Fuji stands at 3776m, making it the highest summit in Japan. The now inactive volcano forms an almost perfectly symmetrical cone shape and its outline has become one of the most recognised mountains in the world. Mount Fuji, and the opportunity to climb it, has become hugely symbolic in Japanese culture.

In the peak of the season, 5-7000 people will climb Mount Fuji everyday! Something that is surprising is the sheer numbers of people going up and down the mountain day and night.

Climbing Mount Fuji:

Most people will begin their climb from the "5th Station" - a meeting point around 2400m, where tour buses will continue to drop large numbers of tourists all day long. The station has food, toilet facilities, souvenirs and the worlds highest post office to send post cards. It is suggested that climbers take a few hours at the 5th Station to become accustomed to the altitude before commencing the climb - our group spent around 2 hours having something to eat, resting and sending postcards. You can leave things like a change of clothes in a bag at the station for when you come back down.

You can buy many of the things you might need like water, snacks, climbing poles and equipment that you may have forgotten.

The 5th station is also really popular with tourists who simply want a piece of the Mount Fuji experience. If you don't have time or don't want to do the climb, you can visit the 5th Station for photos, souvenirs and to experience the atmosphere.

 Huge crowds arrive at the Mount Fuji 5th Station ready to clim the mountain.

Huge crowds arrive at the Mount Fuji 5th Station ready to clim the mountain.

 Ready to start the climb up Fujisan

Ready to start the climb up Fujisan

From 5th Station, several trails can be taken to reach the summit. Our group climbed Yoshida trail - it has a large number of huts along the way and is regarded as one of the "easier: routes.

We left the 5th station around noon and short rest stops are made at each station along the trail. We arrived at the 8th station by 4pm and here we had a meal and sleep to again acclimatise to the altitude. The beds (communal bunk style beds) are simple but effective for a couple of hours sleep and its best to try and get some rest. It was at this time that some climbers were showing signs of altitude sickness and needed to be treated and return to the 5th station.

We commenced climbing again around midnight in order to reach the summit for sunrise. The further you go, the busier it gets - to the point where it becomes quite slow going in single file. We climbed on a still mild night, but I imagine in wind and rain, it could become quite slippery and dangerous.

 A trail of headlights makes their way up the mountain and a blanket of cloud over the city of Tokyo below.

A trail of headlights makes their way up the mountain and a blanket of cloud over the city of Tokyo below.

We reached the summit before dawn and its really crowded with people. The summit is actually a large crater of the volcano with a rim around the outside. The Yoshida trail reaches the summit on the Eastern side of the mountain. The true summit is on the Western side which is another 45 minute walk. On the Eastern side, you will see the shadow of the moon and the sunrises over the horizon/clouds. We chose to keep walking around the rim to the Western edge of the crater to see the incredible shadow of the mountain on the blanket of clouds formed as the sun rose. You also get a really beautiful sunrise over the crater. If you are feeling up to it, I would definitely suggest taking the extra effort to walk to the other side of the crater! The view is well worth the little bit extra hike.

 The mountain casts a shadow over the blanket of cloud as the sun rises..........and the full moon sits just above the summit of the mountain (where we are)

The mountain casts a shadow over the blanket of cloud as the sun rises..........and the full moon sits just above the summit of the mountain (where we are)

You can spend time at the summit taking pictures, having a break, eating before its time to start the descent. They warn before the climb that the descent is the hardest part of the climb. Whilst its much quicker  (around 3 hours) it is hard on the legs and is incredibly slippery in stages. Take your time getting back down, we saw quite a few spectacular tumbles and people can really hurt themselves getting back down.

After meeting back at the 5th station, our tour group organised a visit to a traditional Japanese hot spring. They are more like indoor pools than "hot springs" and we chose rather just to take a good rest in a comfortable chair. When you get back to your hotel that night, you will carve a big dinner of sushi......I promise!

 Back at the 5th Station.......exhausted

Back at the 5th Station.......exhausted

Eating:

You can buy lots of things from the huts on the mountain, including water, so if you would prefer to carry less weight and you're happy to pay the extra cost, it may be easier than starting with litres of water (a 500ml bottle will cost 500Y compared to 100Y in Tokyo). To avoid altitude sickness, you need to ensure you are keeping fully hydrated, so always have a bottle or 2 of water in your pack! As a rough guide, we drank around 3Lt of water each, so I would suggest budgeting to buy a few bottles on the mountain!

We brought some snacks with us - light things like nuts, jerky, chocolate bars that we ate along the way. i would suggest bringing these types of things if you are like me and get really hungry!

At the overnight rest stop, they provide a meal (rice, hambuege/tofuburger, noodles and miso soup) which is pretty filling.

5 Word Travel:

Adventure. Iconic. Summit. Sunrise. Fujisan

TravelTip:

The iconic Mount Fuji experience is to be at the summit for the sunrise - this requires an overnight hike and departing the 5th station around noon.

It very much comes down to luck with the weather in terms of what you will see when you reach the summit or even if you will able to climb at all, with some climbs having to be suspended.

We were especially fortunate that our climb coincided with a full moon. The result of a full moon and sunset is that you get the shadow of the mountain from both the moon and the sun at different times from opposite sides of the summit.

Excess Baggage:

Toilets are not free on Mount Fuji! Make sure you bring change as it is 100Y per use. Additionally there is a recommended maintenance payment of 1000Y, which goes to the upkeep of the facilities. My only issue was you then had to pay to use toilets and there were no bins on the mountain.

Altitude sickness is a potentially dangerous situation when climbing above 2000m. It is a result of the thinner air having less oxygen to supply the muscles and brain. There are a number of things you can do to reduce your chances of this being a problem:
- have a basis level of fitness before the climb.
- be well rested.
- keep really well hydrated.
- climb at a comfortable pace and take regular short breaks.
- make sure you take time to acclimatise at periodic rest points.
- be aware of the early signs of altitude sickness.

We did see several people suffering with degrees of altitude sickness and it didn't look at all a good situation. The tour leaders are experienced in recognising and treating situations of altitude sickness and this is another reason that inexperienced climbers should always go as part of an organised group.

The temperatures in Tokyo in Summer are quite hot, however if you are planning to climb Mount Fuji, you will need some warm clothes! We went layers - skins, t-shirts, light jackets and it was perfect. If you arrive in Japan a little light on for warm clothes, visit North Face or Uniqlo and you will get everything you need. Decent hiking shoes are definitely advisable as it gets pretty slippery. You will need a headlight for the night and sunglasses/sunscreen for the day as you are up above the clouds.

Declaration: 

We did not receive any discount from JAPANiCAN to write this review.