Sleeper Train from Budapest to Bucharest

One of the best things about making your way through Eastern Europe is being able to do so on the extensive train network rather than relying on flying or buses, and one of the longest routes is the Budapest-Bucharest
I’ve listed some tips / things to be aware of for the trip below but, in summary, whilst its not the most comfortable of sleeps because of the number of stops, I’d say it’s overall worth it based on the scenery you see in Transylvania (in particular crossing the Transylvanian Alps), the savings on hotel costs for the night and the lessened environmental impact from flying.  But more than anything else, it’s just quite good fun.  Again, detailed tips below

Eger – wine tasting in the Valley of the Beautiful Women

Eger’s central square is very pretty and worth sitting around in whilst looking at the views of the Minorite Church, but it is the wine tasting in the Valley of the Beautiful Women that gains the attention.
To manage expectation though … it’s not quite what you’d expect.  There doesn’t quite seem to be the hoards of beautiful women helpfully grouped together in one picturesque valley.  It’s also not quite a valley …. more like a park around 70m x 35m / 230ft x 135ft with a few wineries round the outside.  False advertising? Yes for sure, but it is worth a visit as once you get past the initial surprise at what you’ve taken a 2 hour train from Budapest for, it does kind of grow on you.   Firstly, the wine cellars are deceptive – there must be around 40 of them and most have cellars / drinking / eating areas that go back around 100m / 330 feet under the hills, which makes for quite a lot of wine drinking area around such a small park.  And secondly, the Valley of the Beautiful Women attracts locals and tourists alike to generate what must be quite an atmosphere in this compact spot in the summer festivals (sadly we missed one by a couple of days)
Worth a day trip / overnight trip, but manage expectations
Some high level tips:
  • Getting there – trains leave every hour or so from Budapest’s Keleti station, and it’s less than a 10min taxi into the centre of Eger / the Valley of the Beautiful Women
  • Accommodation – we stayed at the Hotel Senator which had a perfect location and felt like going back in time a bit.  Slightly overpriced (USD100 per night) and maybe a tad basic in places, but worth it for the location and the randomness

Palaces, Concerts and Cathedrals in Imperial Vienna

Vienna is right up there with the great European cities of Paris, Rome and London for history and may be in a league of its own for palaces. It seems everywhere you turn there is another palace, cathedral or concert hall that would be the prize asset of almost any global city

The trick is to not let them tire you out – walking around so many places (especially the giant palaces) can be a exhausting. So, I’d recommend 4 tips to make you get the most out of a couple of days here:
  1. Be selective in which sites you go for. I found the Schönbrunner Place for its magnificent grounds and main building; Saint Stephen’s Cathedral for its views from the towers, the Hofburg for wandering in and nearby; and the Karlskirche for its magnificent interior and evening concerts the highlights and for a first timer I’d go with them. All have wow factor
  2. Buy a ticket for one of the concerts. There is nothing quite like a live event, in this case of classical music, in an atmospheric venue. I went to listen to Vivaldi’s 4 seasons in the Karlskirche and it was absolutely fantastic (€12 – €48 and very easy to buy just outside the venue / online).  They were also advertising for similar concerts in Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, and I’m sure you can find them in other venues. The dress code is fairly easy for these events – I was told smart casual and to avoid flip flops / shorts, but several people were wearing them. Should last around 1.5hours – 2hours
  3. Take a wander around a slightly different part of Vienna for a mini break from the grandness! I walked along the Danube Danube and Alte Donau river areas, which were gorgeous and gave a view of what a more suburban setting in Vienna looks like (Das Bootshaus was a great restaurant along there as well)
  4. For where to stay. It’s probably easiest to base yourself anything within or just next to the Innere Stadt ring of the city (fairly obvious when you see it in a map), just for ease of walking to a few of the highlighted places. But, the subway system is super easy and Ubers are widely available so I don’t think it really matters where you stay

Fairytale views by Lake Bled

Wow it really is as picture-perfect as you’ve been led to believe! All the ingredients of a fairy tale:

– small church perched perfectly on a small island ✅

– sitting in the middle of crystal clear water with only the light lapping of town boats ✅

– castle nearby hanging over a precarious ledge to the water ✅

– backdrop of the Julian Alps ✅

An Instagrammer’s dream!

The 6km / 3.7mile run around the lake, the swim over the island and the variety of other outdoor options nearby make this a great experience
Make sure to stay for 1 or 2 nights (as opposed to a day trip) so you can soak up the magical feeling of the place

2 days by the beautiful Lake Como

It’s a big shout when people say somewhere is the most beautiful place in the world . . . but, yep . . . Lake Como takes it.  Picture perfect Italian villages punctuating luscious forests as they meet the lake’s crystal clear waters, and all against the stunning dramatic backdrop of the Alps.  It’s hard not to just stop and gorp at it over, and over again

Naturally in such a beautiful place, it comes with a huge demand from others wanting to visit and, especially in summer, the costs go through the roof.  The cost is something hard to avoid, but it’s actually relatively easy to avoid the crowds with a few simple tips and enjoy what makes this place such a world famous destination

Wine tasting around Pinhao in the Duoro Valley

What a surprisingly wonderful experience the Duoro Valley offers! I must admit that, like many others, I hadn’t heard of it before making the trip to Portugal and had mainly thought of the Algarve and Lisbon area when thinking of Portugal. . How wrong I was – the Duoro’s combination of vineyards, steep dramatic slopes and river views is one I can’t think of anywhere else in the world, let alone Portugal.  When you add into the mix that there is the more unusual Port wine to sample along with the normal table wine, then you have a real gem of an experience and, in my opinion, the highlight of Portugal

2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also leaves me well placed to give you tips on how to have the best experience

For this review, I’m focusing on 10 classic highlights of Hong Kong and can give some tips that will improve your experience.  But my biggest tip overall is that Hong Kong is not just skyscrapers and neon signs – more than 3/4 of HK is undeveloped, 40% is national parks and a mini tropical paradise if you just jump on a ferry or take a short taxi ride.  For some ideas that will give you an even better HK experience, see the travel entry for 2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong – you maybe surprised at just how world-class an experience you can get from these little islands

2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also keen to share some tips to make sure you get the best from the place
The biggest overall tip I can give – many people when they think of Hong Kong think of the skyscrapers, the busy neon light lined streets, the sheer hustle of one of the most densely populated places on earth etc etc – and it is indeed all of these things.  But it is also 75% undeveloped and 40% national park.  In short, it is a world class city, with a tropical paradise a short ferry / taxi away.  That is why, for this review, I am focusing on some of the more unusual things to do in Hong Kong for a first time visitor
Should you want to check out the classic Hong Kong highlights – see my entry for 2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Exploring Petra in winter

We’ve all seen the famous Treasury building that sits within Petra – yes, the one from Indiana Jones – but the Treasury is only one small piece of a vast network of ancient buildings that sit within a labyrinth of dramatic red stone canyons, and all surrounded by equally dramatic mountains and deserts.  To combine a visit to one of the Wonders of the World with an exploration of the broader area makes this a truly unforgettable experience

I’ve written below some tips for how to get the most out of a visit to Petra, but my #1 tip is to get  local guide to walk with you from Little Petra through the back entrance of the mountains, via the Monastery, and to the main Treasury / Siq (the famous bit).  You won’t be disappointed as the views are world-class and the crowds less keen to stray so far from the Treasury.  We visited in winter, which naturally thinned the crowds, but the site is so vast that even in the busy periods you will be able to get away

2 days in Singapore

Similar to Hong Kong and Bangkok, Singapore is a place that people tend to pass through rather than visit purely for the city on its own.  But, just like those cities, Singapore is really worth the stop over for a night or two.  More than anything it’s great just to see what the “model city” could look like – wandering around has the combo feel of Disney Land / Truman Show / Stepford Wives meets tropical island functional finance hub, and it all … well … works very very well. Always worth a trip into the future

 

I’ve listed below the top 5 things I really enjoyed doing, plus some extra tips