6 day itinerary for Romania and the Transylvanian region

Romania, and in particular Transylvania, conjures up images and feelings of some far off place . . . in the mountains . . . in the forests . . . with castles . . . kind of like Lord of the Rings, but with a spooky vibe . . . and indeed it is all of this.  And while there are not as much of a concentration of stellar attractions as you would get in Western Europe, that is kind of Romania’s charm and it makes for a great roadtrip for a week or so, with the itinerary below

A day in Bucharest

The first time I visited Bucharest I think I left with the views of it being one of the worst capital cities I’ve been to and “never going back!”.  Perhaps that is a little harsh as, on second time visiting, and wandering through the Historic Centre I saw there are actually some impressive historic buildings and taking a tour to understand the history of Romania post WW2 is quite interesting.  I think it also comes down to if you go mid-week or at the weekends – the Historic Centre seemed to come to life at the weekends as they pedestrianised nearly the entire area and had more of a party atmosphere

 

That being said, I think you only really need a day in Bucharest and I’ve listed some top tips below for how to make sure your experience is like my second visit rather than my first!

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

7/8 week itinerary for the highlights of South East Asia

South East Asia has to be the premier world traveling region.  A big call?  For sure, but consider what genuinely world class offerings it can provide:

 

  • World class beaches and coastal areas – think of THAT beach in Ko Phi Phi and HaLong Bay, one of the Natural Wonders of the World
  • World class food – think Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and the genuine fusion into the mix with the large established Indian and Chinese communities
  • World class ancient sites and history – think of the temples of the “8th Wonder of the World” of Angkor Wat, and the breathtaking site of the pagodas stretching across the plain in Bagan
  • World class cities and party locations – think of Singapore as the city of the future and the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha-Ngan

 

And all this in a place that is super safe, outrageously friendly, easy and cheap to travel in.  A must for any keen traveler and the below itinerary will give you the highlights – enjoy!

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

 

2 days in London and top 10 things to do

One of the world’s premier cities and with just about everything you could hope for in a 2 day city visit.  World famous sites such as the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London; world class restaurants, shopping areas and entertainment venues; vast parks which give you the opportunity to break away from the mayhem; and, of course, the mania that surround the Royal Family and their residences.  Yes, its busy, but it’s also a must visit city

 

There’s obviously heaps and heaps of things to do.  I’ve listed out below what I think are the top 10 split between must-sees and great to sees.  Plus, some general tips for how to get the most out of your visit

6 months trip of a lifetime around Latin America

My girlfriend and I went on a 6month trip around Latin America (excluding Brazil).  Started in the far South in the Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and, broadly, made our way up the west coast to the Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico.  Best large scale trip I’ve done, and wanted to share the overall itinerary and tips here to hopefully help those who are considering something similar

A few high level points:

  • Other than the flights there and the first hotel, there were only three things we booked in advance: the Inca Trail (which we knew we needed to for permits); plus for Patagonia a trip through Torres del Paine National Park and a ferry through the fjords (as we were going at peak season and only a couple of weeks after we landed).  Everything else, we booked when in Latin America and, in our opinion, that is the best way to do it – gives you the freedom to relax in the places you find that you love and be super flexible to do what you want to do
  • Total costs – my girlfriend and I went in our 30s, with no kids and on sabbaticals from work.  We’re not poor, but certainly not mega wealthy.  We didn’t stay in super expensive hotels (other than for the occasional splurge), flew economy and used a bit of common sense for timings of certain expensive items, but never held back on doing the things we wanted to do.  Some examples of big ticket items: US$5k for a week diving in the remote Wolf & Darwin Islands in the Galapagos; US$1.2k for 4 days in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia; US$800 for a helicopter trip to see the El Mirador Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle; US$700 for the Inca Trail.  Total cost of the whole trip was US$34k each.  This included all flights, transport, hotels, activities, food, drink, guides, screwing things up, credit card fees – the lot.  Expensive, but so are most Experiences of a Lifetime
  • It’s not about trying to “do everything” – in a place as large as Latin America, you couldn’t even if you tried – so don’t think of things as a big tick box exercise.  Brazil, for example, we knew we couldn’t do justice whilst also trying to enjoy all the other amazing places we’d heard of, so left it for next time
  • In the similar vain, make sure you give yourself big chunks of time to chill out.  Not only to recharge the batteries, but also because most places are enjoyed when you spend time to soak up the feel for the place.  There were some places . . . like Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, Buenos Aires in Argentina, Isla Mujeres in Mexico, Bocas del Toro in Panama . . . where I could have spent weeks there just because the general vibe of the place was so wonderful
  • Safety – we weren’t robbed, but many people do either having a bag stolen or, unpleasantly, get robbed face to face.  Other than a couple of cities, we generally felt super safe the places we went and tried to just apply common sense to reduce our risks
  • Learn a bit of Spanish before you go – the app DuoLingo was great for getting us to a basic level that made a lot of difference.  But also don’t be afraid to pull out google for simultaneous conversation translations to really be able to have a conversation with someone – some long trips became some of our highlights just from being able to properly talk with the driver / locals.  I particularly remember a long taxi ride in Colombia where we went back and forward for 2 hours with the driver on everything from his home town to politics to football to his favourite movies to his family problems- never could have done that without Spanish or google.  In a similar vein, and using the right level of common sense, don’t turn down an invite for drinks / dinner / house visit with locals.  There are some truly unforgettable natural and cultural spots to see, but similarly an evening with a local family will be something likely to be just as unforgettable
  • Whenever checking out a place or must-do-site, its easy to get templed / churched / ancient site / beached out.  Always do a very basic bit of research to see if there is a more out of the ordinary way to experience it – by bike / drinking tour / kayaking / helicopter / whatever.  Thats what we tried to do, and I hope it reflected in some of the cool stuff listed below

2 / 3 weeks for the highlights of Peru

Peru really does have some world class attractions – world beating restaurants in Lima, a wonder of the world with Machu Picchu, the world’s deepest canyon and some of the best preserved ruins in the world courtesy of the master builder Incas.  The below 2/3 week itinerary lets you enjoy these key sites, plus great activities like hiking, paragliding, zip-lining; and gives you those critical ingredients in a great trip – a sense of fun and adventure as you head a bit off the beaten track

As with all such trips, having more time is ideal.  I’m sure you could easily take months on this itinerary, and indeed far longer for the rest of Peru.  But 2.5 weeks felt about perfect for this trip with the right combo of full-on days mixed in with chill-out days in each of the stops to soak up the place and generally recharge the batteries after the travelling and hiking.  Similarly, you could also, if super pressed for time, knock off the 5 chill-out days and blitz through this trip in 2 weeks – and indeed many have done – but just be aware that there are two quite strenuous hikes and the need to acclimatise to the altitude when you land in Cusco

One of the best 2/3 week adventures I’ve been on.  Highly recommend

A couple of days in Arequipa

I think the city centre of Arequipa must be my favourite old town in Latin America (or at least joint with Havana!).  The Unesco world heritage site is a series of beautifully maintained streets with white stone Baroque buildings all with facades of intricate carvings that give you the feeling of being in a different time and world.  The low rise nature of the buildings (almost all are only 2 stories tall to protect from earthquakes) add to this vibe, and so do the three majestic, dramatic,  perfectly coned volcanoes that surround the city off in the distance

On top of that, the food is superb and its a great starting point for a 3/4 day adventure for Hiking and zip-lining in the Colca Canyon

A must visit for Peru, along with the adventures near Cusco area (see entries for more details on these – Machu PicchuHiking the 4 day / 3 night Inca Trail, Driving through the Sacred Valley, A walk around some of the key Inca sites near Cusco)

Panama City and the Panama Canal

Panama City is definitely worth a visit.  First up, you get quite the pleasant surprise when you arrive at just how developed it is with its shimmering glass skyscrapers all the way along the Pacific coastline and an efficient, clean feel that is very different to any other city in Central America.  But its the colonial architecture of Casco Viejo Old Town on the waterfront and the great engineering feat of the Panama Canal that are the highlights

Considering you often have to fly through Panama City to get to where you’re going in this part of Central America, I’d actually say the city itself its a must visit if in the region.  As someone who’s a bit geeky when it comes to engineering, I personally found watching the ships pass through the docks of the Panama Canal mesmerising

Although sorry for the particularly poor photos for this one!