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!

3 days in Budapest for baths, architectural gems and nights out in the ruin bars

Big fan of Budapest.  The city itself has a certain unusual quality compared to other well known European cities just because of its history in the Austro-Hungarian empire and strong Eastern European (and Middle Eastern) influence.  This combined with the bath culture and great energy from the easily accessible night spots (think beer gardens rather than clubs) make it quite a gem for a long weekend trip

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 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

Going back in time for a week in Cuba

Cuba really does feel like going back in time . . . or like you’re in a parallel universe as the country went off on a tangent to the rest of the world.  Havana for sure has glimpses of this – the vibe is of a historic Old Town that generates thoughts of what it must have been like back in the days of Spanish colonial pomp, Caribbean pirates and vast trade running through to create such fine architectural buildings and general buzz – but it is when you start to leave the capital that you feel this more slightly . . . odd . . . feeling about the place.  As you drive through the vast swathes of untouched tropical Cuban countryside you’ll see the pace of life drop significantly and small towns that feel more like small town America of the 1950s – a single main street with shops, each complete with a long porch for people to watch the world go by and an even longer queue outside of people there to buy whatever they are trying to buy.  As you go a bit further out you will see evidence of the centralised planning with large complexes of apartment blocks or hotel grounds with practically no one there.  And, in amongst all of it, the Cuban people who are as friendly as they are proud of their country

All this really is slightly odd – but it is also the key ingredient that makes Cuba such a unique experience

The itinerary I’ve listed here is more for the west of Cuba and the one we enjoyed.  Your other option of course is to head south from Havana to the colonial landscape of Trinidad and then dive in Bahia de Cochinos, both of which we’ve heard great things about.  The below itinerary though gets you more off the beaten tourist track and this was in particular something that we enjoyed so much about Cuba – a glimpse into that strange tangent the country has taken

Nights out and soaking up Havana

Wandering the historic city streets of Havana, feeling at times like you’ve been transported back to the old colonial Spanish capital yet with an otherworldly feel of being in a country that went on a different tangent to the rest of the world, siping mojitos as you move from one music filled bar to the next and sampling food from restaurants that in any other city would be a highlight for their architecture alone.  When you throw in the sheer friendliness and positivity of the locals, Havana, if done the right way, is a truly unique experience and, in my opinion, the best Old Town to visit in Latin America

A week in Japan from Tokyo, to Mount Fuji and Kyoto

Japan is my favourite country to travel through.  A big call I know.  Whilst it may get pipped by some of the bigger countries when it comes to natural vistas and cultural pursuits, there are three things that cement it as number one:

  1. The people and surrounding culture is one of respect, politeness and calm – just travelling through Japan you find your blood pressure dropping, being more considerate and the pleasures that come with this
  2. Stuff works in Japan – it’s not just the trains being on time to within the second, it’s everything!  I know there is something wonderfully memorable about travelling with a few hiccups as part of the adventure., but there is also something rather pleasant about having a country like Japan to explore knowing it’ll be super easy (and safe)
  3. The food!  I know the French think they are the best in the world.  They are not
There’s a lot to see, but if you have a week, I’d recommend this itinerary which lets you see 3 highlights of Japan and with a bit of adventure thrown in

Cycling around Kyoto and sampling whiskies in the Suntory Distillery

Kyoto has been Japan’s Imperial capital for a thousand years and has . . . a thousand temples.  If, like me, you can get a bit templed out, its quite easy to get tired walking from one temple to the next and, honestly, whilst I enjoyed the trip to Kyoto, I don’t remember any of the specific temples.  So, my tips for a visit:

  • Rent a bike to cycle around the temples, and generally around Kyoto.  It adds a different angle to the day as you can see areas outside of the standard temples, including the large gardens, are not restricted by a driver, and Kyoto city centre is very safe to cycle, including being able to cycle along the canals
  • Unless you are a Japanese history geek, one day is more than enough for the temples
  • The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in the west of the city is definitely worth checking out as it’s super dense green bamboo forrest makes you think you’re in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  • I’d highly recommend taking a half day trip to the Suntory Whiskey Distillery just outside Kyoto.  Even if you are not a whiskey fan, it’s a nice experience as they show you how the whiskey is made, tell the history and give you some free samplings at the end.  Considering the standard of these whiskies and their recognition internationally (they won many of the world’s best awards), this is very generous.   It’s only a 25min train ride (which is fun on its own) from Kyoto Station and has very pleasant surroundings nestled in a glen
  • As with all things Japan, try and stay somewhere with an Onsen – coming back and relaxing in them at the end of the day really adds to the overall Japanese experience.  You’ll find your blood pressure dropping quickly and even catch yourself dropping in a small bow to people in the lifts
  • We stayed near the station, which was a perfect location
  • For more details on how Kyoto can fit into a week itinerary for the highlights of central Japan, see the individual travel entry for – A week in Japan from Tokyo, to Mount Fuji and Kyoto

The Palaces of Mysore

The Palaces of Mysore are grand and surrounded by very pleasant gardens.  Definitely worth a day trip if passing through some of the big nearby cities like Bangalore, I’m just a bit surprised, considering the main Mysore Palace is the second most visited sight in all of India only behind the Taj Mahal, that they manage to attract quite so much attention

 

Very brief review this time as it was years ago that I visited