Another perfect weekend getaway: Romania

Probably, Romania is one of few countries where any weather is reasonable and has its advantages. Take the rain and fog and imagine how authentic the Transylvanian castles will look like in this ambience close to that you depict after watching all those Dracula movies… Take the snowfall and envision the cozy small Brasov all covered in white… The weather when the sun is shining does not need a separate presentation.

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On the way to Peles Castle

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A day-trip from Madrid: charming Toledo

I would declare that Toledo is probably one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. Peaceful sandy colors, narrow cobblestone streets, beautifully decorated houses and impressive doors, wonderful views to the city roofs from various observation points. Besides, you need less than an hour to reach this city from Madrid. This all makes Toledo a perfect candidate for a day-trip from Madrid.

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Beautiful Toledo

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Quick look at the Tegernsee from above

Another place is checked off from my endless travel bucket list: Tegernsee in Bavaria. The surroundings of this lake, Bavarian Alps and the Tirol, are a very famous hiking destination in general. But after I have seen this view of Tegernsee (better quality here: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Tegernsee_vom_Wallberg_14.jpeg), I got an idee fixe to see it exactly form the same point:

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Colmar: immensely beautiful

Very often, when you are looking through the photos of a place you want to visit, they appear a bit brighter than the place itself when you finally there. Photographers use filters and sophisticated means to make their works if not a piece of art but at least simply look better. I cannot argue, their works are catchy, but sometimes too far away from reality. In that sense, Colmar is exactly the same as when you see it on all the artistic pictures. It is bright and beautiful without any filters and colors’ amplification. Blossoming flowers, sweet gingerbread houses and lively channels… Total awesomeness!

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Fairytale Gent

During our last weekend in Belgium we decided to go to Gent instead of Bruges and didn’t regret it at all. Gent is literally stunning: big old city area, cobblestone streets, dark-red tiled roofs… You breath the history in every corner. Less words, more pictures…

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Benvenuti a Napoli

A weekend trip to the south of Italy. Naples is absolutely worth it. Less words, more photos. The essense in 5 abstracts.

  1. The best view to the city is from the viewing point in the medieval Castle Sant’Elmo that is situated in the uptowm (you can reach it with one of three funiculars).
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    From above you can see the island Capri as well (the one to the right).
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    The castle itself has a light oriental fleur…
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  2. Naples is the homeland of Pizza. Indeed, delicious. To our astonishment, the places with the best rating on the Tripadvisor were takeaways. The line in front of them was impressing.
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    A surpise for me was the revellation that Rum Baba (ромовая баба) so loved by Russians is a typical italian sweet.
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  3. Pompeii. Easy to reach with a train from Naples Central station. Be aware that the last admittance to the site is 15 o’clock, closure time – 17 o’clock. Probably, because of the absence of artificial backlight. You will need around 2-3 hours to walk through the area.
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    It you want to combine the trip with the mount Vesuvius, leave Naples early in the morning. The last bus from Pompeii to Vesuvius goes at about 14 o’clock. The one-way ride lasts 50 minutes.
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  4. The stories about thievery are true. Keep your belongings close to you and watch out. Especially during the pre-Christmas time. The streets in the old city are incredibly full with tourists and locals. Here you can find anything you want for your home decoration.
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  5. The city is eclectic, buzzy and still very attractive. Narrow streets and vivid atmosphere, stuff of all types sold on every corner, emotionalб loud and cheerful italians. Unforgettable. Repeatable.
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Paris, Paris… Cliché and hidden gems.

Third time in Paris. Almost all cliché highlights already seen. Several to be visited again: you can’t just avoid it – being in Paris and not seeing the Notre Dame de Paris or Eiffel tower. To climb it or not is another question. In addition to these overwhelming-touristy must-see places we included couple of “hidden gems” in our list and even succeed to find them.

La Pagode.

An old movie theater (that is still working), built in 1896, that looks like Japanese pagoda surrounded by the bamboo garden.
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Quiet, cozy, close to the Musée de l’Armée. A place to take a little break and picturesque photos before heading to the Eiffel Tower.
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Rue Cremieux.

A colorful paradise in the very heart of the city (close to Gare de Lyon train station). Pastel colored houses and shutters, almost no people around, very clean and intimate little street called Rue Cremieux…

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Rue Dauphine.

A lively bustling street leading to the river Seine. Lots of restaurants, cafes, small shops where you could either enjoy a good meal or buy a little treat to go and eat it at the bank of the river.

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If you took a bottle of wine with you and want to enjoy a little picnic in a public place (indeed, what can be more romantic to have a glass of wine with fine cheese watching the waters of Seine and breathing clear autumn air), be careful: French police is inconsistent in application of rules when it comes to alcohol. A nice description of drinking and non-drinking places in Paris you can find here: http://www.myfrenchlife.org/2012/06/15/france-paris-rules-on-drinking-in-public-places/

Montparnasse Tower.

The line to climb the Eiffel tower is always endless (but gets shorter at night, closer to 10 pm), and I doubt if it is worth it to wait so long. The view to the Eiffel Tower and not from it is amazing at night. So you better take a metro to the Tour Montparnasse and an elevator to the 56th floor to appreciate a panoramic view of Paris. A ticket costs around 15 Euro (same price as to Louvre and Versailles). Inside you can enjoy both: a coffee and a view.

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A great area for dinner.

After visiting Basílica de Sacré Cœur take a street to the right: it will lead you to the Rue Lepic where you can try the best tarts in Paris. This area is in general a perfect area to have a delicious French dinner. Try Onion Soup Gratinee cooked in a pot and served with fresh crispy bread. Bread and pastry is indeed a separate story in Paris. It seems that batons and croissants taste just better than anywhere else.

Free entrance to the museums. Versailles.

Do you know that entrance to many museums is free of charge on the first Sunday of a month? We proved this in Versailles. It is free, indeed, but a line is incredibly long, though it moves fast. For those who travel with a suitcase there are lockers inside.
Versailles is spacious and luxurious. Though, not so impressing as Petergof, a suburb of Sankt Petersburg.

Probably, a one-in-a-lifetime trip. But worth seeing. If you live next to the park, it is a nice place for a weekend walk with a family or a picnic with friends.
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Metro.

The only thing that confused us was Parisian metro. The directions are not always clearly pointed, the metro maps are not always available… Often we were making circles and loops to empirically find the right direction. There are no ticket machines when you change from a regional train to an ordinary city train and vice versa. My advice: buy tickets in advance. 10 single trips cost 14 Euro. A RER from CDG airport costs 10 Euro one way.

Paris is definitely a city one would return to many times. Perfect for a long weekend. Next time – in summer.

Georgia: a song about food.

Indeed! It’s so much about the food here. Having a hasteless dinner with a bottle of wine, enjoying incredible meal, listening to live music, getting to know people at the neighbor table – priceless! And so affordable – Oh My Goodness! So affordable, that we managed going out every single night to a good restaurant, ordering whatever we like and choosing a good wine. Below are a couple of tips and places where you can have a delicious meal with a good atmosphere for a nice price.

Breakfast. Here you don’t have any problem of choice. You should only decide how much time is in your command. This will define the place you choose. Fast food that you grab on the street costs almost nothing: in Kutaisi we had a Kada for 70 Tetri (25 cents = 0,7 Lari. Further I will give the prices only in Lari: keep in mind, you have to divide it to 2,4-2,7 to get a price in Euro) and a simple chachapuri (that tastes good but not so amazing as special ones) for 1,8 Lari while exploring the city and not willing to wait in a café.

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In Tbilisi, on the opposite, we went to a nice open café and ordered an Adjarian chachapuri (Acharuli/Adjaruli) – here the dough is formed into an open boat shape and the hot cheese inside is topped with a raw egg and a pat of butter before serving. You should mix the cheese with the egg and butter and eat it together with the dough. Mmm, yummy! A huge, huge portion that is enough for two if you are not extremely hungry. Costs about 8 to 12 Lari for a portion.

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You can order an ice-coffee for 3 Lari, Coca-Cola for 1,5 Lari. Mineral water 0,5l costs in small shops on your way about 20-50 Tetri depending on the proximity of touristic attractions. By the way, you should try the salty mineral water. Same price, new taste. A lot of minerals, but still very specific. Some people say it quenches your thirst. Anyway, try to get to know if you like it or hate it.

Fruit is in abundance, fresh, juicy and tasty. For instance, 1kg of grapes costs 1,5 Lari. Another local thing you should try is churchhela. It’s receipt is ages old: it is made by dipping strings of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.) or dried fruits into thickened grape juice with addition of flour and drying it in the sun. One piece costs 2 to 4 Lari. Looks, probably, a bit weird, but tastes gooood.

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In Kazbegi we were very short of time and bought just a bread on our way to a hill we were willing to climb. De-li-ci-o-us! Freshly baked, crispy, flavorous, huge (talking about the size of the portions again). Bread is called “puri” in Georgian and is being baked in a deep circular clay oven. We had luck to find one bakery right next to the place we stayed.

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After climbing a hill we had a light lunch at Khavi, a restaurant that offers a fine selection of meals and cheapest prices in the very heart of Kazbegi (next to the “bus station”). It was recommended by our host, but we didn’t manage to get inside the night before as it was booked for a private dinner.
Instead, the evening before we had a great meal in a place called Shorena’s Bar Restaurant (Al.Kazbegi Square). We ordered a recommended dish called “Shkmeruli” – chicken cooked in milk and garlic. It took us a while (more than an hour for sure, but be prepared: in Georgian restaurants you should not be in a hurry – it always lasts long if you want it cooked from A to Z and be super fresh).

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Excuse me, but I will repeat myself again: the portion is sooo huge, enormous. Enough for 2-3 persons. It cost 25 Lari. The eggplant cooked with tomatoes and spices – 9 Lari. A bottle of wine Kindzamarauli, the best wine they offer in Shorena’s, – 32 Lari. Second best – Saperavi – 23 Lari. Chacha – 5 Lari for a shot.
The waiters in this restaurant speak at least four languages (Georgian, Hebrew, Russian and English) and have an interesting sense of humor. An answer to our any question was first “No”, then they did what they have been asked. Young funny guys, have an Israel’s flag in the room and singing Georgian pop songs with a TV on. A charming evening with a nice couple from Tel-Aviv and lots of wine.
Another thing to do in Kazbegi in the evening is to go to the Hotel Rooms Kazbegi and grab a drink there. The prices and not Georgian at all. But the view is breathtaking. Those, who do not climb the hill to get to the Gergeti Trinity Church, should definitely enjoy the view on the terrace of this hotel.

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In Tbilisi we went twice to the same restaurant, called “Georgian”. Not so easy to find, as I recognized later. The restaurant is in a small cellar, open late in the afternoon, live music every evening: two elderly guys playing American songs and some other swingy-jazzy music. A liter of wine costs about 15 Lari. You should try mushrooms baked in cheese with nuts, khinkali, suluguni (local mild cheese), you should just basically try everything! And local Georgian Brandy. If you like it, you can find it in the wine shops in the city. It costs 14 Lari and more. Wine you can buy for 6 Lari and higher. For my favorite Kindzamarauli I paid 18 Lari in Tbilisi and 7,5 Euro in the duty free in Kutaissi. That was the medium price. It can cost 40 euros and more. But one of the best red semi-sweet wines I’ve ever tried. Definitely a must.
The best dinner we had in Batumi in the restaurant Shemoikhede Genatsvale (8 Noe Zhordania St). It cost us 48 Lari – where else you could enjoy a whole palette of local cuisine and drinks (out of that 16 Lari a bottle of white wine, Chachapuri on a stick, fried suluguni in a pan, four khinkali, meat dish, 2 shots chacha). On the photo delow is suluguni fried in a pan. A bit bread and tkemali sause (beware, a lot of coriander as in almost all dishes of Georgian cuisine) – is all what you need for these savory moments.

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We were stuffed and happy. However, not only the meal was good but so was a “show”. Next to us, about 15 Georgians at the table sang before they started their meal, during and after. Strong voices, great sense of melody, surprisingly good sound. We were literally impressed. It suited very well together: delicious slow meal and powerful voices. Applauses followed. The link to the video is below (filmed somewhat secretly):

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Last night before our flight back to Berlin we spent in a restaurant “Palaty” (Pushkini Street II) in Kutaisi. Medium check with wine was 45-50 Lari. We had something different that we tried in Georgia before: a lechkhumian smoked pork on a wooden plate, with local moist bread and slices of suluguni. The combination was heavenly savory, and the portion, as ever, immense.
We absolutely come back to Georgia to enjoy more great stuff and authentic cuisine. And wine, for sure!