Sinaia, Romania: A Great Addition to Your Bucharest Trip

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Bucharest, Romania, you will have much to explore and enjoy. Among the many things to see in Bucharest, you can tour the Palace of Parliament, one of the largest buildings in the world, peruse the stunningly beautiful Carturesti Carusel bookstore, and get pampered at Therme Bucuresti, an over-the-top relaxation center.

After you’ve seen what this amazing city has to offer, you may want to explore more of Romania.

Sinaia, Romania is a great choice. This town in the Bucegi Mountains is just 86 miles (140 km) north of Bucharest. It is most famous for being the home of Peles Castle, but it has so much more to offer.

You can see some of the highlights of Sinaia during a day trip, but I believe it deserves a longer stay.

Read on to discover all the things to do in and near Sinaia.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

A Little Background

Steve and I spent four weeks in Bucharest in the summer of 2018. While there, we took a group tour to Peles Castle and Bran Castle. During the bus ride, we drove through the center of Sinaia. We were both impressed with how picturesque it was, so when we found ourselves back in Bucharest in the summer of 2023, we took the opportunity to spend some time in Sinaia.

We spent five nights at the Hotel Boutique Vila LaKastel in Sinaia. It was pleasant enough, but we were disappointed with the breakfast. Not only didn’t we like the food, but they appeared to be rationing coffee. Our cups were only half filled, and we repeatedly had to ask for more. Because of this, we ate four breakfasts across the street at the Hotel Marami. They had a simple buffet and all the coffee we could drink for $9 per person.

Getting There and Getting Around

Getting to Sinaia from Bucharest

Sinaia is less than a two-hour drive from Bucharest. If you prefer public transportation, a train trip from Bucuresti Nord to Sinaia on CFR Calatori takes as little as 1.5 hours.

The Sinaia, Romania train station
The Sinaia train station

The train station is very close to the center of town. You can walk to your accommodations if you’re staying in town and don’t mind some stairs. You can also get a taxi or Uber.

We stayed near Peles Castle. You can walk to this area from the town center in about 20 minutes, and we did so several times. However, I wouldn’t recommend you do so with luggage. Sinaia is a mountain town, so there are a lot of inclines.

Getting Around Sinaia

A lot of Sinaia is walkable. One exception is the Telegondola station (more on that below), which is a 50-minute uphill walk from the town center. It is easy to get there by bus.

You can buy bus tickets at machines at the bus stops in town. If you’re boarding a bus elsewhere, you can get a ticket from the driver. Uber is available, and taxis are plentiful.

Things To Do in Sinaia

Peles Castle

The exterior of Peles Castle
Peles Castle in all its glory

Peles Castle is the main attraction in Sinaia. The castle was commissioned by Romania’s first king, Carol I, and inaugurated in 1883. The royal family used it as a hunting preserve and summer retreat until 1947, when King Michael I was forced to abdicate, and the royal properties were seized by the Communist government.

Carol I was of German heritage, which is reflected in the architecture. To call the castle ornate would be an understatement.

Fun Fact – Peles Castle was the first European castle to have electricity. There is a retractable glass ceiling and many other modern conveniences. You can learn more about them here.

The music room in Peles Castle
The music room

You can choose to see the first floor, the first and second floors, or all three floors. As of this writing, the cost is $11, $22, and $33, respectively. Expect to spend a few hours there.

The castle is closed on Monday and Tuesday, so those are great days to get photos on the patio without the crowds.

Click here for information on visiting Peles Castle and Pelisor Castle.

Pelisor Castle

Pelisor Castle exterior
The front of Pelisor Castle

I think of Pelisor Castle as Peles Castle’s little brother. It is just a four-minute walk between the two.

This castle was commissioned by King Carol I as the home for his nephew, Ferdinand I, and his wife, Marie. It was completed in 1902.

The exterior is in the German Neo-Renaissance style, like Peles Castle. However, the interior is filled with Art Nouveau elements. Most of the rooms are bland compared to the opulence of Peles Castle, but the Golden Room is a beautiful exception. The walls and ceiling have an intricate thistle design and are covered in 24-carat gold leaf.

The Golden Room in Pelisor Castle
The Golden Room

Ferdinand I became king upon Carol I’s death in 1914, as King Carol I did not have a male heir. He and his wife, Elisabeth, only had one child, a girl named Maria, who died from scarlet fever at the age of four.

Since this castle is much smaller than Peles, you only need about an hour here.

Stirbey Castle

Stirbey Castle is another 19th-century castle in Sinaia. It differs from the above two in that it is in the center of town and is much smaller. The castle was built by Princess Alina Stirbey, a Romanian noble, and her husband, General Emanuel Florescu, as a summer home.

Two pictures of Stirbey Castle
A drawing of the castle with Princess Alina and a current photo of the same view

The home is now a museum and a hotel with a cafe. In January 2024, the hotel rooms started at $60 per night. Get more information here.

It cost us $3.50 each to tour the museum. While not a must-see, it was interesting.

Dimitrie Ghica Park and the Town Center

The Dimitrie Ghica Park is in the center of town and was the area that made Steve and I want to see more of Sinaia when we drove through it in 2018.

The park has a large fountain and a pavilion. There are paved walkways and plenty of benches. The park is surrounded by impressive 19th and 20th-century buildings such as the Sinaia Casino (currently a conference center) and the Caraiman Hotel.

The Caraiman Hotel
The Caraiman Hotel as seen from Dimitrie Ghica Park

Bulevardul Carol I runs along one side of the park, then continues to the south. There are many restaurants, shops, and hotels on the stretch south of the park, including our favorite restaurant, Restaurant Wood, at Bulevardul Carol I 8.

Sinaia Monastery

The Sinaia Monastery is a ten-minute walk from Dimitrie Ghica Park. It includes two churches, the Old Church and the New Church.

The Old Church is over 300 years old. It is small, but the 17th-century Byzantine paintings are worth seeing. The New Church dates back to the mid-1800s.

The ceiling in the Old Church at the Sinaia Monastery
Look at the detail on the ceiling of the Old Church

The monastery served as a royal summer residence for King Carol I from his coronation in 1866 until the inauguration of Peles Castle 17 years later.

It is free to explore the grounds and the two churches. There may be a small fee to enter the museum. Learn more about it here.

Telegondola Sinaia

If you want some time in nature, the Telegondola is your ticket. We took the gondola to the top (6,560 feet or 2,000 meters). Even though it was pricy at $21 each round trip, it was worth it for the views.

Two views at the top of the Telegondola
At 2,000 meters – I’m not sure why there’s an abandoned phone booth

You can go to 1,400 meters or 2,000 meters. If you go to the top, you will change cars at 1,400 meters. Learn more here and in this article from The Balkans and Beyond.

Don’t forget a sweater or jacket (like I did). It was cool at 2,000 meters, even in the summer.

Hike and Ski

Sinaia and the land around it is so beautiful, you’ll want to spend every moment possible outside. One great way to do this is to hike some of the Sinaia trails. Here are some of the best trails to try from Wikiloc.

There is also a ski resort in Sinaia, but it doesn’t have a very good rating. A word of warning: if you get hurt, the health care may not be the best. I don’t have experience with health care in Romania, but Steve’s experience with health care in Bulgaria was abysmal.

Things To Do Near Sinaia

Bran Castle

The courtyard at Bran Castle
The courtyard at the castle

In less than one hour, you can drive from Sinaia to Bran Castle. You can also take a bus or train from Sinaia to Brasov and then get a bus to the castle.

Although it is known as Dracula’s Castle, this is a myth. Even so, it has undoubtedly brought many visitors to the castle. Learn the truth here.

We’ve been to the castle twice, both times in the summer, and it was packed. Since our first visit was part of a tour, we didn’t get to explore the grounds or the town. We had hoped to remedy that on our second visit, but that was not to be.

As we ended our tour of the inside of the castle and were ready to walk the grounds, heavy rains came down. We waited it out in the restaurant, hoping it would stop. It did lighten up a little, but not enough for us to walk around outdoors, so we returned to our hotel.

Getting directions to the castle was challenging. The desk clerk directed us to the central bus station (which is connected to the train station where we had arrived in Brasov). Once there, we couldn’t find any information on buses to Bran. We asked around, to no avail, although one man offered to drive us but wanted too much money.

Then I saw a line of people boarding a bus, so I asked them if they were going to Bran Castle. They weren’t, but the driver told us to get on, free of charge, as the bus was going to Autogara 2, where we could get a bus to the castle.

See the castle’s website to plan your visit and learn more about this fabled place.

We spent two nights at the Hotel Belvedere in Brasov. It was a nice hotel, but the best part was the restaurant, Restaurant Belvedere. We had two fabulous dinners there and highly recommend it.

Filet mignon and vegetable dinner
The food was as good as it looks and came with a small complimentary appetizer

Cantacuzino Castle

If you’re a fan of the delightfully quirky television show Wednesday, here’s your chance to see Nevermore Academy (or at least the building that was used for the exterior shots).

Don’t be surprised if the building looks different than on the show. Special effects and computer-generated imagery were used to make adjustments, especially to the roof line.

Cantacuzino Castle was the summer home of aristocrat and politician Prince Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino. It took ten years to build and was completed in 1911. Sadly, the prince died there two years later.

The castle is in the nearby town of Busteni. It is a short drive from Sinaia. You can also go by train. The trip will take about 30 minutes, with the last 18 minutes walking from the Busteni train station to the castle.

At the castle, you can tour the inside, check out the art gallery, stroll the grounds, or a combination of these. Expect to spend one to two hours there. Learn more at the castle’s website.

We didn’t get to Cantacuzino Castle. We’d planned to go on our last day in Sinaia, but it was raining. Since we weren’t staying near the train station, we would have had to take a bus there and then get on the train. This wouldn’t usually stop us, but that day, the bus and train schedules weren’t coordinated, so we gave it a pass.

You can read more about the castle and how it was used in the TV show in this Architectural Digest article.

Ialomita Cave and Monastery

If you want to venture a little further from Sinaia, you can take the hour-long drive to Ialomita Cave and Monastery in Moroeni. It may be challenging to get there using public transportation.

Once there, you can explore a large cave with a monastery at its entrance. We didn’t do this, but it is highly rated on Trip Advisor and Google Reviews.

You can learn more about Ialomita in the article from Calling For The Wild.

Our Costs

In Sinaia

Dates: July 27, 2023 – August 1, 2023
Number of nights: 5
Total cost for two people: $923
Cost per night: $184

Biggest costs: Accommodations: $482
Dining: 264
Activities: 90

In Brasov

Dates: August 1, 2023 – August 3, 2023
Number of nights: 2
Total cost for two people: $428
Cost per night: $214

Biggest costs: Accommodations: $235
Dining: 134

Final Thoughts

Sinaia was as magical as we had expected. It didn’t hurt that our 2023 trip gave us a break from the heat of Bucharest, either.

You can read about our month in Bucharest and Sinaia in our July 2023 update.

I would recommend Sinaia and the surrounding area to anyone who loves nature and history.

Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed this article about Sinaia. Steve and I would love to hear your thoughts. If you’ve been lucky enough to see Sinaia, please share your experiences and impressions with us.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Kotor, Montenegro Photo Gallery

Here are our favorite photos from our November 2023 trip to Kotor, Montenegro. There are also two photos from the nearby town of Tivat.

Most of the photos were taken in Kotor’s Old Town, my favorite old town to date. As you can see, there were few people as it was off-season, and the weather was often bad during our stay.

To see the images in a slideshow with captions, press any image.

What You Need to Know When Visiting Tirana, Albania

What’s it like to visit Tirana, the capital of Albania?

Except for the lack of street addresses and lackadaisical bus schedules, it was similar to visiting any other city.

Before traveling to Tirana, I knew nothing about the city or the country. In September 2023, Steve and I stayed there for four weeks. You can read about that in “Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: September 2023.”

Here are the practical things you need to know when visiting Tirana. There is a lot of information, but you can use the table of contents to find the information you need quickly.

All money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated

About Tirana

1. Tirana is the capital of Albania.

2. About 500,000 people live in Tirana.

3. The same number of people live in Skopje, North Macedonia, yet when we were in Skopje in August 2023, the city was uncrowded. In contrast, Tirana was crowded.

4. Tirana is growing by 30,000 people annually, and new buildings are popping up everywhere.

Two highrise buildings
Just two of the many modern buildings in Tirana

5. Skanderbeg Square is a large square in the city’s center. It honors a 15th-century nobleman who rebelled against the Ottomans.

6. The Lana River runs through the city, but don’t rush to see it. At least when we were there, it was not much more than a little creek.

The Lana River
The Lana River in September

About Albania

7. 2.8 million people live in Albania.

8. Albania is a Balkan country on the Adriatic Sea.

9. From 1946 to 1991, it was under communist rule.

10. Albania became a republic after the fall of communism in 1991.

11. The country’s official name is the Republic of Albania.

12. Unlike its neighbors, North Macedonia and Montenegro, Albania was never part of Yugoslavia.

13. You can learn about Albania’s historical periods in this article by Adventure Unbound.

Culture

14. The most unusual thing about Tirana was the lack of street addresses. Our Airbnb listing referenced the GPS coordinates instead. We used the name of the hotel across the street from our Airbnb when dealing with taxis and using map apps. You can read more about this in this BalkanInsight article.

15. Religion was banned in Albania in 1967 when the Communist Party declared Albania to be the first atheistic state. The ban on religion was lifted in 1990.

16. About 60% of Albanians are Muslim. Almost 40% are Christian (Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox). A small number of people are atheists or follow another religion.

Communication

17. Albanian is the official language.

18. The Albanian language has two dialects: Tosk, which is spoken in the south, and Gheg, which is spoken in the north.

19. English is widespread in Tirana. It is on many menus and in museums.

20. Google Translate worked great the few times we needed to translate something.

21. We used Vodafone SIMs. We each got 35GB of data for 30 days at $15 each. We typically use 3GB of data per month.

22. Our SIM cards work great in Tirana and the seaside town of Durres.

Money

23. The Albanian Lek is the official money in Albania. Its currency symbol is ALL.

24. The letter “L” indicates the currency is lek. So 500 L means 500 lek.

25. As of September 2023, 1000 L = ~$10.00. To convert the price to U.S. dollars, we divided by 100.

26. We were able to use Euro at stops along the bus route from Skopje to Tirana and to pay the taxi driver when we arrived in Tirana.

27. Credit cards aren’t accepted everywhere. We had to use cash at some restaurants and all the museums we visited.

28. Tipping isn’t expected, but it is nice to leave a little cash if the service is good.

29. Beware of the ATM fees. When we arrived in Tirana, I went to the first ATM I saw, which was a Tirana Bank ATM. I was charged $7.00 to withdraw $200. I read that ATM withdrawals from Credins Bank and Alpha Bank may be free, but that information was two years old. Still, it would be worth a try.

30. Spend your cash before leaving the country. It is difficult, if not impossible, to exchange it in other countries.

Getting Around

Walking

31. It was easy to get around the city by walking, but the sidewalks were usually crowded.

32. Google Maps worked great for walking directions.

33. Most streets have crosswalks painted on them. If there is no traffic light, all you have to do is step off the curb, and traffic should stop, even on busy streets with several lanes. Still, you should look both ways and use caution; bikes, scooters, and motorcycles don’t always stop.

34. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.

35. Bikes and scooters are less prevalent than in other cities. Even so, it’s best to walk outside the bike lanes and cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.

36. Look over your shoulder before moving left or right on the sidewalk (like you do when changing lanes while driving). Despite having designated bike lanes, bikes and scooters are often ridden on the sidewalks, and the riders seldom warn you when they want to pass. Motorcycles occasionally drive on the sidewalks, too.

Public Transportation

37. Uber and Lyft aren’t available in Tirana. Of course, there are taxis, but we usually used buses to get to places that were too far to walk.

38. Google Maps did not work for public transportation.

39. For bus information, we used Moovit. This helped a bit, but wasn’t totally reliable. For example, when we wanted to go to Bunk’Art 1, Moovit told us to take bus L4. We couldn’t find bus L4, but we knew we were supposed to head towards Porcelan, which was bus L11. If in doubt, ask the drivers.

40. Don’t expect to find traditional bus stations. We wanted to buy tickets from Tirana to Durres, so we headed to the bus station (per Google Maps), only to find it was just a bus stop. Fortunately, a local man told us how to get to Durres.

41. There is very little local bus information online. Just show up at the bus station or stop and ask around. Luckily, everyone was helpful.

42. Riding the bus is easy. You pay the ticket man after you get on. A ride in the city was 40 cents (40 lek). You don’t need exact change; the ticket man has plenty.

43. If you arrive by bus from an international city, you will be dropped off on the street near the Tirana International Bus Terminal. When leaving on an international trip, go to the back of the building where you were initially dropped off. There, you will find stores selling tickets for many destinations and bus lines. Again, when unsure, ask around.

44. Your best bet when using buses in Albania is to go with the mindset that as long as you are heading towards your destination, you’re okay.

Food and Water

45. A Google search on the safety of tap water in Tirana turned up everything from “Yes, it’s safe” to “Don’t drink it, you’ll get sick.” I dislike using bottled water, so I filtered and boiled tap water. That worked well.

46. Steve and I aren’t big on traditional food, but we did try some. Albanian cuisine is big on meat, which is often overcooked. The exception was the chicken kabob I had at Taverna Paidhage.

A woman with a chicken kabob
My chicken kabob at Taverna Paidhage tasted as good as it looked.

47. If you love trying traditional food, check out this list of Albanian foods from Nomad Paradise.

48. Generally, restaurant meals were inexpensive. Several times, we had two entrees and two beverages for under $20.

49. While restaurant food was inexpensive, the cost of drinks was often on par with what we’ve paid in other Southeastern European cities.

50. Conversely, we found the prices at grocery stores to be shockingly high, at least compared to other Balkan countries.

Restaurants

51. My favorite restaurant was Lissus Fish. They serve a complementary dish of marinated anchovies (super yummy) and have delicious fish dishes at reasonable prices.

52. We enjoyed dinner at Restaurant Tymi. This small restaurant is packed to the gills with pop culture decor. The food is cheap, and the music is lively. Warning: there may be a line to get in.

A wall of pop culture memorabilia
The walls and ceiling are a pop culture explosion at Restaurant Tymi

53. The food at Serendipity Mexican restaurant wasn’t as good as our homemade burritos, but we still enjoyed a platter of Mexican treats.

A platter of Mexican food
The variety platter for two at Serendipity

54. If you want to go full-on tourist, go to Oda one evening. This restaurant features traditional Albanian food and live music in a courtyard full of lemon trees. It is best to make reservations. We didn’t, so we had to wait a bit, but we got complementary raki while we waited! We didn’t love our food, but it was a fun experience.

Shopping

55. Grocery stores and pharmacies are open on Sunday.

56. We did most of our grocery shopping at Conad since there were several of these near our apartment.

57. The Conad store closest to us was on Bulevardi Zogu 1, but we preferred the Conad store in the Toptani Shopping Center and the one on Kavaja Street.

58. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at the checkout counter or bring your own.

59. You have to bag your own groceries, and there isn’t a separate area to do this as we’ve seen in some other cities. This can be challenging if you are alone and buying a lot.

60. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you buy over-the-counter medication here, too.

61. Rossmann & Lala is your best bet for toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.

Things to See and Do

Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2

62. Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2 are history museums in the abandoned bunkers of the communist era.

63. These are just two of the 750,000 bunkers built in Albania by dictator Enver Hoxha from the late 1960s until his death in 1985 as he became increasingly fearful of foreign invasions.

64. You can see bunkers throughout Albania. Learn more about them in this National Geographic article.

65. Bunk’Art 1 is located on the outskirts of the city and covers five decades from 1939 to 1990. You can learn what life was like under occupation by fascist Italy, during WWII and the short-lived German invasion, and under four and a half decades of communist rule.

A mannequin with a gas mask
This will be your guide at Bunk’Art 1

66. Bunk’Art 2 is in the city center not far from Skanderbeg Square. It focuses on the power of the police from 1912 to 1991.

67. Photos are allowed in both museums.

68. Here is the Bunk’Art museum website.

Churches and Mosques

The Et’ Hem Bej Mosque

Et'hem Bej Mosque
Et’hem Bej Mosque (the building on the left)

69. The Et’ Hem Bej Mosque is a small mosque on Skanderbeg Square.

70. The mosque was built in the 18th century during Ottoman rule. It was closed during the communist era but treated as a historical monument.

71. You can visit the mosque. Women must cover their hair, and everyone must remove their shoes.

72. I couldn’t find information about the visiting hours online. The best thing is to call or check the information posted at the mosque.

The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral

The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral

73. This modern church opened in 2012.

74. It is just a short walk from Skanderbeg Square.

The Great Mosque of Tirana

The Great Mosque of Tirana
The Great Mosque of Tirana

75. The mosque was still under construction in September 2023. Even so, it is worth seeing.

76. The mosque is also called the Namazgah Mosque. It is a thirteen-minute walk from Skanderbeg Square.

Dajti Mountain

77. Dajti Mountain is close to Bunk’Art 1. It is a great lookout place with much to do according to their website. We were there on a Wednesday in September, and many things were closed.

78. The Dajti Ekspres cable car takes you up and down the mountain. There are several ticket options posted at the office. We paid $14 each for a round trip on the cable car.

Cable cars going up and down Dajti Mountain
The Dajti Ekspres with the city of Tirana below

79. The cable car does not run on Tuesdays unless that Tuesday is a festival day.

The House of Leaves

80. The House of Leaves is also called the Museum of Secret Surveillance.

81. It was originally a private obstetrics clinic in Albania and was briefly used by the Gestapo during WWII. With the advent of communism, it became the headquarters of the Sigurimi, the country’s security, intelligence, and secret police.

82. The museum focuses on the equipment and methods of the Sigurimi.

83. No photos are allowed inside.

The National Historical Museum

84. The National Historical Museum is a large museum that covers the country’s history from the 4th century BC to the mid-20th century.

85. The museum has three floors. The Pavilion of Antiquity, on the first floor, had excellent English explanations. The other two floors did not.

The New Bazaar

86. The New Bazaar is in the Old Town of Tirana. The centerpiece is a glass and steel structure loaded with souvenir and food vendors. Other shops and restaurants fill the streets around it.

The New Bazaar
A small part of the New Bazaar

The Pyramid of Tirana

The Pyramid of Tirana
The Pyramid of Tirana

87. The Pyramid of Tirana was a museum dedicated to Enver Hoxha’s “legacy.” After the fall of communism, it had a few other short-lived uses.

88. The Pyramid is undergoing a renovation that will turn it into a cultural center with classrooms, studios, cafes, and restaurants.

Tanner’s Bridge

89. Tanner’s Bridge was built by the Ottomans in the 18th century. It’s worth your while to see it and get a photo or two if you are in the area.

90. The bridge is a three-minute walk from the Grand Mosque.

A man standing on Tanner’s Bridge
Steve on Tanner’s Bridge

Tirana Castle

91. The Tirana Castle dates back to the 1300s, and only a few walls remain. The area inside the walls now houses shops, bars, and restaurants.

Two photos of the Tirana Castle
The entrance of the Tirana Castle and raki bottles in a shop in the castle

See more photos of Tirana and Durres in our “Tirana, Albania Photo Gallery.”

In Summary

We didn’t love Tirana. It was too busy, and there wasn’t a lot to do. There is definitely a lack of museums. We were disappointed that the National Gallery of Art is permanently closed (according to their website).

If you are in the region, it is worth a short trip to see what it’s like. We were there for four weeks, which was too long.

Until Next Time

Do you live in Tirana, or have you been there? If so, Steve and I would love to hear what you think about it and if I left anything out. Just drop a comment in the comment section below.

If you’re planning to visit Skopje, check out our post “What You Need To Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

Happy traveling,
Linda

A Venetian Surprise in Shkoder, Albania

One of the many things I love when traveling is discovering something incongruous, like when Steve and I ran across the wonderful Beatles Museum in the Hungarian city of Eger. You can read about that in our post about Eger and Egerszalok.

In early October 2023, we discovered another unexpected gem while visiting the Albanian city of Shkoder. It was the Venice Art Mask Factory.

A Little Background

We spent most of September in Tirana, the capital of Albania. That was followed by four weeks in Montenegro’s capital of Podgorica. On the bus ride from Tirana to Podgorica, we passed through Shkoder, Albania.

Steve and I liked what little we saw of the city, the 5th largest in Albania. I was particularly enamored with the magnolia trees that lined the streets. Even though they were several months past blooming, they were loaded with seed pods, and they were magnificent.

Once we settled in Podgorica, we arranged to take a side trip to Shkoder.

What to Do in Shkoder

Shkoder, with a population of 200,000, has several interesting things for tourists to do.

You can explore the Rozafa Castle ruins. You can check out the “Marubi” National Museum of Photography and the Site of Witness and Memory museum, which commemorates the victims of the communist regime in Shkoder.

You can see two cathedrals: St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity. You can visit mosques, including the Ebu Bekr Mosque and the Lead Mosque.

Farther from the city, Shkodra Lake and the Mesi Bridge are waiting for you.

But what really caught us by surprise was the Venice Art Mask Factory.

About the Venice Art Mask Factory

According to their website, the Venice Art Mask Factory is the biggest supplier of Venetian and masquerade masks. All the masks are handmade and begin with handcrafted papier mache. Then, they are individually decorated.

Photo collage of Venetian-style masks
Just a few of the impressive masks

In addition to being worn at the Carnival of Venice and other masquerade festivals around the world, these marvelous masks are used in Las Vegas shows and movies like Eyes Wide Shut. They also adorn the walls of restaurants and homes.

How to Get to the Factory

The Venice Art Mask Factory building
The Venice Art Mask Factory

The factory is an eight-minute drive from the city center, which is great if you have a car. We found that public transportation in Shkoder is scarce, and information is hard to come by. We waited 45 minutes for one taxi and an hour for a second one that never showed up.

If you don’t have a car, you can rent a bike. They are all over the city.

Steve and I chose to walk. It was an easy half-hour walk from the city center.

Our Experience at the Factory

There are two sections to see at the factory: the showroom and the factory itself.

The entrance to the Venice Art Mask Factory showroom
The showroom entrance

We saw the showroom first and were blown away. There was so much to see, and it was all enchanting.

After taking in the showroom, we saw the factory. It is a light-filled building with two rows of long tables where the masks move from table to table as they become masterpieces.

We were there on a Sunday, so no one was working in the factory. According to Tripadvisor, if you go on a weekday, you can see the artists at work.

Photos aren’t allowed in the factory, but be sure to notice the lovely paintings on the walls.

We were shown around by Tony, who explained the mask-making process in detail and answered all our questions.

We toured the showroom and factory at no charge. However, some Tripadvisor posters said they paid 3 euro to tour the factory, so be prepared. Since we don’t buy souvenirs, as they would end up in our storage unit, we gave Tony a donation. We never felt any pressure to buy something, but there were many beautiful creations we would love to own.

Until Next Time

That’s it for this short but sweet post. If you get a chance to visit Shkoder, which I highly recommend, do not miss this gem.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Skopje, North Macedonia Photo Gallery

Steve and I spent most of August 2023 in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. This city is unlike any we have visited. It’s quirky, it’s over-the-top, it’s never boring. We enjoyed seeing hundreds of statues and loved the museums. I hope you enjoy a look at some of the highlights of Skopje.

To see a slideshow of the images with captions, press any image.

You can read more about Skopje in “What Is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review” and “What You Need to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

What Is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review

If you asked 1,000 people which European city they would most like to visit, I’d be surprised if even one would put Skopje, North Macedonia, at the top of their list.

It’s not because Skopje isn’t worth visiting, but it is not well known and can’t compare to the draw of many European cities. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider visiting it.

Read on to find out what Skopje is really like, at least from my perspective.

A Little Background

Steve and I spent most of August 2023 in Skopje. It was the 88th city we’ve visited. We chose it for several reasons:

1. It is outside the Schengen Area – we had to spend 90 days out of the Schengen Area after visiting Greece, Croatia, and Italy in the spring of 2023.

2. It is inexpensive – to keep our budget under control, we offset visits to expensive places like the U.K., the U.S., and Western Europe with trips to more economical places.

3. It looked unique – I had read about the elegant classical buildings, the multitude of statues, and the two new pedestrian bridges lined with sculptures that resulted from the Skopje 2014 project. I was curious to see them.

You can read about our stay in Skopje in “Wind and Whim’s Monthly Recap: August 2023” and see more of the city in our post “Skopje, North Macedonia Photo Gallery.”

What’s Good About Skopje?

It’s Never Boring

There’s no denying that Skopje is interesting. The buildings, sculptures, and bridges in the city center are fun to explore. Skopje is the perfect city for you if you love to turn a corner and see something unexpected.

Six photos of Skopje
Skopje is beauty mixed with quirkiness

The Compact City Center

Most of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. For example, you can visit Macedonia Square and then cross over the mid-15th century Stone Bridge to Old Town and the Old Bazaar.

The Stone Bridge in Skopje
The Stone Bridge heading towards Macedonia Square

Old Town and the Old Bazaar

You can spend hours exploring Old Town and the Old Bazaar and never get bored. In addition to oodles of souvenir shops, there is an entire street lined with jewelry stores.

A street in the Old Bazaar, Skopje
A typical street in the Old Bazaar

There are also many stores selling ballgowns and wedding dresses.

Two dresses for sale in the Old Bazaar
If you’re in the market for a fairytale dress, you can find it in the Old Bazaar

Learn more about the Old Bazaar in this article by Wander-Lush.

The Public Transportation

For times when you don’t want to walk, there are a lot of buses. You can use the Skopska app to get tickets for a single trip or a weekly or monthly pass.

Uber and Lyft aren’t available, but there are plenty of taxis.

Good Restaurants With Good Prices

You won’t want for places to eat. And the prices are kind to your budget. As you would expect, there are plenty of traditional restaurants. However, our favorite was a Mexican restaurant called Amigos. Their margaritas alone were worth a visit.

A Few Impressive Museums

While there aren’t many museums and tourist attractions in Skopje, the museums we visited were very good. Steve and I were particularly impressed with the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence.

The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia
The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia

English is Everywhere

It is easy to communicate since almost everyone speaks English. It is also widespread in museums and on menus.

Diverse Architecture

If you can take your eyes off the glitz of the Skopje 2014 project, you can see examples of other architectural styles.

Photos of four buildings in Skopje
Different architectural styles in Skopje clockwise from upper left: the neoclassical Ristik Palace, the postmodern Church of St. Clement of Ohrid, a Brutalist building, and a 15th-century Ottoman building (originally a bath, now an art gallery)

What Could Be Better?

As entertaining as it was to experience the city center, I couldn’t help thinking that with the Skopje 2014 project, the city leaders bit off more than they could chew. Maintenance seems to be a problem. There were just too many things that needed attention.

The Bridge of Art and the Bridge of Civilization

Both the Bridge of Art and the Bridge of Civilization were built as part of Skopje 2014. Both of these pedestrian bridges are lined with sculptures of men who were important to North Macedonian history. Only half of the sculptures on the Bridge of Art had name plates when we visited, and none on the Bridge of Civilization did. Older photos of the bridges show nameplates.

The Bridge of Art in Skopje
The Bridge of Art

In addition to the statues, both of these bridges are lined with ornate lights. We never saw them on even though we visited during tourist season.

The Bridge of Art in Skopje at night
What the Bridge of Art looks like with the lights on (photo from Canva)

The National Theater

The National Theater building is lovely to look at, being adorned with statues and theatrical masks. There are also several free-standing statues around the building. Unfortunately, the area near the ground is already in disrepair, as you can see from this photo:

The National Theater in Skopje
The National Theater – you can see the disrepair along the bottom of the photo

The Litter

There is a lot of litter. While it isn’t unusual for cities to have a litter problem, I think a city that is trying to attract tourists would take extra care to keep the city clean.

Surprisingly, we saw much more litter around the city center than where we stayed, which was a 20-minute walk from the center.

The Graffiti

There is also way too much graffiti.

Two photos of the National Opera and Ballet exterior
Top photo – mosaics on the National Opera and Ballet building; Bottom photo – graffiti on the side of the building

The River

The section of the Vardar River that flows through the city center was not the least bit pleasant. This may have been because the water level was low.

There was a lot of litter in the river, some of which was accumulating on posts. While looking online, I discovered these weren’t posts but water jets meant to put on a lighted water show. Like the lights on the bridges, these were not working when we were there.

You can see how pretty the fountain looks in the featured photo.

The Vardar River
The Vardar River was not picturesque

The Pirate Ships

Yes, you read that right. There are replicas of three pirate ships on the Vardar River. One ship is a restaurant and hotel, one is deserted, and one is in ruins.

If you’re wondering what pirate ships have to do with the landlocked country of North Macedonia, you are not alone. North Macedonian architect Nikola Strezovski said it best: “Skopje 2014 was something that shocked us all at the time. By the time the pirate ships arrived on the Vardar River, we were used to crazy.”

Two pirate ships in Skopje
Top photo: The Hotel Senigallia (hotel and restaurant). Bottom photo: an abandoned ship

The Fountain Water

This last item is minor, but the water in the Warrior on a Horse monument was green. A lovely shade of blue would be so much better.

Lower part of the Warrior on a Horse monument in Skopje
Blue water is pretty; green water – not so much

Should You Visit Skopje?

I don’t believe Skopje is a good choice for the occasional traveler. There are more exciting places with many more tourist attractions. But for frequent and full-time travelers, it is worth a look. You can revel in the kitsch, eat well without spending a fortune, and learn cool historical facts about a country and region you likely know little about.

If you are interested in visiting Skopje, check out our post “What You Need To Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia” for helpful tips.

Until Next Time

That’s it for my review of Skopje. As always, Steve and I would love to hear what you think of this unusual city. Do you live in Skopje? Have you been there? Do you agree with my assessment? Let us know!

Happy traveling
Linda

Feature image from Canva

What You Need to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia

If you’re looking for somewhere unique and inexpensive to visit in Europe, consider Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. This Balkan city is uncrowded and easy to get around. Its city center is a sight to see, with larger-than-life monuments, random statues, ornate bridges, and elegant buildings, thanks to the Skopje 2014 project (more on that below).

Steve and I ended up in Skopje in August 2023 for two reasons. One, we needed to find a place to visit outside the Schengen Area due to its visa restrictions. Two, I had read about the Skopje 2014 project and was intrigued.

We enjoyed our four weeks in Skopje. Now, I am happy to share what we learned while visiting Skopje so you can have an enjoyable visit too.

All money is in U.S. dollars

About Skopje

1. About 500,000 people live in Skopje.

2. Skopje is not crowded. There are 3,700 people per square mile. Compare this to New York City, with 29,000 people per square mile or 8,800 people per square mile in Budapest (data from Wikipedia). The only place we saw crowds was in the Old Bazaar, but even that wasn’t bad.

3. On July 26, 1963, an earthquake destroyed almost 80% of the city’s buildings and killed over 1,000 people.

4. The city is surrounded by mountains.

5. Macedonia Square is the center of the city. Visit it to see architecture, statues, fountains, and restaurants in a vibrant setting.

6. We saw little street art, but far too much graffiti.

7. The Vardar River runs through the city. The water level was low when we were there, and the section that runs through the city center had a lot of debris.

Vardar River view Skopje
Two lovely buildings, Skopje Fortress, and graffiti flank the Vardar River

About North Macedonia

8. Two million people call North Macedonia home.

9. The country’s official name is the Republic of North Macedonia.

10. The Republic of North Macedonia is a young country. It declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

11. Upon gaining independence, the country was named the Republic of Macedonia. Because there is a geographic region in Greece by the same name, the Greek government took issue with this. After 27 years, the official name became the Republic of North Macedonia. You can read more about this here.

Culture

12. Most stores and many restaurants are closed on Sunday.

13. About 60% of North Macedonians are Orthodox Christian. More than 30% are Muslim.

14. There are a lot of casinos and slot halls in Skopje.

15. I was impressed with the lack of pressure from vendors in the Old Bazaar. One storekeeper asked us if we would like to be his customers, but most let us walk by without comment if we didn’t show interest in their products. It is such a contrast to Morocco, where the taxi drivers grab your luggage and demand to know where you are going, and the vendors make leeches look timid.

16. Most stores, restaurants, and attractions will be closed during holidays. Holidayapi.com can help you see which holidays may impact your visit. Keep in mind: if a holiday falls on a weekend, businesses may be closed the Friday before or the Monday after.

The Skopje 2014 Project

17. The Skopje 2014 project took place from 2010 to 2014.

18. During this time, many new buildings were constructed, and others were renovated. Giant monuments and smaller statues were erected throughout the city center.

19. The project was intended to make the city more attractive to tourists and boost the national identity.

20. The project’s centerpiece is the majestic Warrior on a Horse monument in Macedonia Square. The warrior represented is Alexander the Great, but because of tensions with Greece over what they perceive to be the appropriation of Greek culture, the statue is not referred to as Alexander the Great.

The Warrior on a Horse statue in Skopje
The Warrior on a Horse statue in Macedonia Square

Language

21. Macedonian is the official language of North Macedonia.

22. Almost everyone speaks English. And they speak it well. The exception would be some of the older people.

23. Signs pointing to places of interest are in Macedonian, English, and Albanian.

24. It’s always nice to learn a few words, such as hello, please, and thank you, in the local language. However, you probably won’t use them much since English is so prevalent. If you need to communicate in Macedonian, an app like Google Translate should do the trick.

Communication

25. The European emergency number is 112. The operators speak English, which I learned when I had to call after getting stuck in an elevator in Bulgaria.

26. If you are looking for a local SIM card, the three main providers are Telekom (T Mobile), A1, and Lycamobile.

27. If you need a local SIM card, I recommend Lycamobile. We got our cards at Lycamobile POS Doctor Mobile on Blvd. Partizanski Odredi. For $3.50, we got 5GB of data for 30 days. Since we have wifi in our Airbnb, 5GB is more than enough for exploring the city.

28. I would advise you to stay away from Telekom. Their prices are much higher than Lycamobile’s, and many of their packages have to be purchased through the app. This would be fine, but neither Steve nor I could register on the app. It refused to accept our email addresses. It took four days to get corporate to install the package we chose, only to discover it was useless in North Macedonia. The package was called the Balkan package. It works in other Balkan countries but not in North Macedonia.

29. I can’t speak to the quality of A1. We tried to buy SIM cards at their store in Skopje City Mall and were shocked to find they didn’t have any left that day. This has never happened to us before.

30. The above experience is why you should always do your homework and know what data package you want. We got lazy, and it cost us time and money.

Money

31. The Macedonian denar is the official money in North Macedonia. Its currency symbol is MKD.

32. As of August 2023, 1,000 MDK = ~$18.00.

33. Credit cards are widely accepted.

34. Euro were required in the Flamingo Casino. If you don’t have any, you can change your denar in the casino.

35. North Macedonia does not have a tipping culture. If you do want to tip (we always do because it’s so ingrained in us), 10% – 15% is recommended in restaurants. I would use this as a guide for other times when service has been exceptional.

Getting Around

36. Most streets don’t have street name signs, but Google Maps worked well everywhere we went.

37. Uber and Lyft are not available in Skopje. There are plenty of taxis, but it is best to negotiate the price upfront.

38. Public buses were plentiful and easy to use with a map app like Google Maps or Moveit.

39. Bus stops are not consistent. Some have shelters, some are designated by the word “bus” painted on the street, and further away from the center, they can be hard to identify. Some stops have displays showing the time until buses arrive. Many do not. The map apps helped a lot in these situations.

40. The Skopska app is the best way to use the bus. You can buy a single ticket or a weekly or monthly pass. We paid $29.00 each for our monthly passes.

41. Using the Skopska app on the bus can be tricky. Once you’ve pushed the button on the app to use your ticket, you will hear a soft noise. You need to hold your phone up to the validation box with the screen facing the box until you see eight little dots load on the box’s screen.

42. For our first several bus rides, we had no idea how to use the app. After we figured it out, we had no wifi for a few days. We hoped that if we were questioned, it would be enough if we showed we had purchased a monthly pass. We never saw any inspectors on the buses.

Validation screen and validation machine for Skopje buses
The screen on your app and the validation machine on the bus

43. Buses come in several shapes and colors. There are single and double-decker buses. They are usually red but may be other colors because they are covered with ads. Some of the buses are very old.

44. Some buses have the bus number in lights at the top and some have it on a piece of cardboard in the lower corner of the front passenger side window.

45. Watch your head on the upper level of the double-decker buses unless you’re a shorty like me. The ceiling is low.

46. We found the city to be very walkable, partly because of how close together the main attractions are and partly because the streets and sidewalks weren’t crowded.

47. Most streets have crosswalks painted on them. If there is no traffic light, all you have to do is step off the curb, and traffic should stop, even on busy streets with several lanes. Still, you should look both ways and use caution; bikes and scooters don’t always stop.

48. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.

49. Bikes and scooters are popular, so it’s best to walk outside the bike lanes and cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.

50. Look over your shoulder before moving left or right on the sidewalk (like you do when changing lanes while driving). Despite having designated bike lanes, bikes and scooters are often ridden on the sidewalk, and the riders seldom warn you when they want to pass. Motorcycles and cars occasionally drive on the sidewalks, too.

Food and Water

51. The tap water is safe to drink; however, it is very hard. We used a filtered pitcher to get clearer water.

52. We aren’t adventurous about trying different foods, but here is an article by Nomad Paradise about Macedonian food.

Restaurants

53. The restaurant prices were the lowest we’ve seen in quite a while. They are affordable enough that you can eat at places right in the city center and still get a great deal. The prices for drinks were similar to what we’ve seen in other Central and Eastern European cities.

54. There is a row of welcoming-looking restaurants along the river in the city center. We ate at three of them. All were reasonably priced, the service was excellent, and the food was pretty good.

55. Restaurant Dion  – We enjoyed the food here. We both had the chicken crown.

Chicken in curry sauce with potatoes and carrots
The Chicken Crown – chicken filled with mozzarella and prosciutto and covered in curry sauce

56. Buenos Dias – the helpings were huge, despite the photos showing smaller amounts. While the quality of the food was good, our dishes were a little bland.

57. Carpe Diem  – We had a light lunch here. Steve had pasta; I had a salad. Both were okay, but nothing special.

58. We also ate at Restaurant Pelister on Macedonia Square. We both had sausage stew, which was not bad.

Restaurant Pelister in Skopje
The terrace at Restaurant Pelister

59. The restaurant we loved was Amigos. It is just a short walk from Macedonia Square. We had the fajitas for two for $14.00. My classic margaritas were the best margaritas I’ve ever had.

60. For a tasty and inexpensive takeout, try Plaset (there are several around the city). We enjoyed the chicken durum, which comes with your choice of toppings and sauces. It comes in three sizes.

Shopping

61. We frequented two supermarkets, Ramstore and Vero. Both are large and have a wide variety of products. We started out at Ramstore in the Skopje City Mall but found that too many items weren’t priced, and the store wasn’t as clean as the Vero supermarket.

62. We preferred the Vero store at the corner of New Delhi Rd and Mitropolit Teodosij Gologanov.

63. If you’re close to the city center, check out the Vero store in Shopping Center Vero.

64. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at the checkout counter or bring your own.

65. You have to bag your own groceries, and there isn’t a separate area to do this like we’ve seen in other cities. This can be challenging if you’re alone, and it always reminds me of this scene from I Love Lucy:

Hungry Cbs GIF by Paramount+ - Find & Share on GIPHY

66. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you can buy over-the-counter medication here, too.

67. DM is your best bet for toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.

68. If markets are more your style, check out Bit Pazar at the northern end of the Old Bazaar. The vendors here sell pretty much every cheap thing you can imagine. The largest fresh food market in Skopje is also located here.

69. You can find smaller fresh food markets throughout the city, like the one down the street from our apartment. It is in a seedy structure, but the produce is good, and the vendors are friendly. It is at Boulevard Partizanski Odredi 26.

Things to See and Do

The Old Bazaar

70. Skopje’s Old Bazaar is huge and has something for everyone. Steve and I spent some time wandering what we thought was the Old Bazaar, only to learn we were actually in the Bit Pazar. It turns out that the Old Bazaar is an area of many blocks lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Learn more about the oldest marketplace in the Balkans in this article by Wander-Lush.

Skopje Fortress

71. This fortress, also called the Kale Fortress, is worth a brief exploration. It is free to enter, and you can explore it on your own. There isn’t any written information at the fortress.

Skopje Fortress wall
You can walk the walls of the fortress and enjoy some city views

Mt. Vodno

72. You can recognize Mt. Vodno by the large cross on top of it. This is the Millennium Cross. It was erected in 2002 to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia.

73. You can hike up Mt. Vodno or take the Millennium Cross Cable Car to the top.

Museums

74. The museums we visited had almost everything explained in English as well as Macedonian.

75. The Archaeological Museum of Macedonia – Even if you aren’t interested in archaeology, at less than $3.00 per person, it’s worth it to see the inside of the building with its grey and white marble staircase and the striking way the artifacts are displayed. That’s the Archaeological Museum in the featured photo.

Exhibition hall in the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia
One of the stylish exhibit halls in the Archaeology Museum of Macedonia

76. The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia – This is another excellent museum. There is so much information that even after spending two hours there, we couldn’t take it all in. It cost us less than $2.00 per person to enter.

Large photo collage of Holocaust victims
The exhibit at the entrance of the museum

77. The Mother Teresa Memorial House – This small museum is free to enter. It showcases important moments and documents from Mother Teresa’s life. There is a small, pretty chapel on the second floor.

Statue of Mother Teresa
A statue of Mother Teresa watching over her museum

78. The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence – This museum documents the struggle for independence from the late 19th through the mid-20th century. Huge paintings of historical events and nicely done wax figures are an impressive touch. The ticket price of around $5.00 includes a guide if you wish. Our guide did a great job, but we had some trouble understanding him because of his accent. The entrance is on the side of the building away from the river. Their website is only in Macedonian, and we could only take photos in the lobby.

79. For even more things to do in and near Skopje, see “21 Things to Do in Skopje, North Macedonia” by Wander-Lush.

In Summary

To see more of Skopje, check out our post “Skopje, North Macedonia Photo Gallery.”

Skopje has some flaws, but if you can look past them, you will be rewarded with some wonderful museums, beautiful buildings, magnificent monuments, and quirky statues. English is prevalent, which gives you a break from language stress, and your dollar goes far. Skopje is a winner.

Until Next Time

Do you live in Skopje, or have you visited it? If so, Steve and I would love to hear what you think about it and if I left anything out. Just drop a comment in the comment section below.

If you’re planning to visit Budapest, check out our post, “75 Things to Know When Visiting Budapest.”

Happy traveling,
Linda

Why You’ll Fall in Love with Opatija, Croatia

If you love captivating natural beauty, amazing architecture, and gorgeous gardens, check out Opatija, Croatia.

Steve and I visited Opatija at the end of May, before the height of the tourist season. It was busy enough to be interesting without being crowded. The weather was warm and mostly sunny.

This seaside town of less than 12,000 residents on the Adriatic Sea is the perfect place for a restorative break. As is fitting for the area, most people were strolling or relaxing by the water. Read on to learn why you will fall in love with Opatija.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

But First, Where is Opatija?

Opatija is a small town on the eastern side of the Istrian Peninsula. It sits on the Kvarner Gulf (sometimes called the Kvarner Bay) at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. It is easy to reach by car or bus in a few hours from several larger cities, including Pula, Croatia, Trieste, Italy, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Map showing the location of Opatija, Croatia

A Few Opatija Facts

*How do you pronounce Opatija? uh·PAH·tuh·yuh The Croatian letter “J” is pronounced like the English “Y.”

*Modern-day Opatija began in the mid-1800s when a wealthy merchant, Ignio Scarpa, built the Villa Angiolina. Other wealthy families, including aristocrats, soon built vacation villas there. You can see these stately summer homes all around town.

*Opatija was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867–1918.

*Opatija has a Mediterranean climate. The summer season runs from mid-June to mid-September. Here is the year-round Opatija weather.

The Best Things About Opatija

The Lungomare

One of the things we loved about this area was the Lungomare. This 12 km or 7-mile-long seaside promenade passes through Opatija as it goes from the towns of Volosko to the north and Lovran to the south. Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I built the Lungomare. For this reason, it is also called the Franz Joseph I Promenade.

You can spend hours strolling the Lungomare. And we did. It is lined with trees and overlooks picturesque scenery. There are many stairways that lead down to landings close to the water. They are great places to sunbathe and take photos.

Four photos on the Lungomare in Opatija
Along the Lungomare

The Architecture

If you’re a fan of the elegant architecture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as Steve and I are, Opatija has you covered. The town is full of beautiful buildings for you to admire. Many of them are painted in pastels.

Four photos of buildings in Opatija, Croatia
Four of the impressive buildings in Opatija

Villa Angiolina, the building that started it all is home to the Croatian Museum of Tourism. As of this writing, it is temporarily closed.

The Gardens and Parks

Besides ogling architecture, we love spending time in gardens. We enjoyed two in Opatija: the American Gardens and Angiolina Park.

Gardens in Opatija
Small sections of the American Gardens and Angiolina Park

Angiolina Park is a heavily-treed garden with over 100 species of plants next to Villa Angiolina. There is a large floral display in front of the villa. To the north of it, you can wander several paths past shrubs, trees, large rock formations, and a few statues.

The American Gardens are inland and, therefore, a bit uphill. These terraced formal gardens overlook Kvarner Gulf. In addition to a wide variety of flowering plants, including roses and camellias, there is a row of weeping mulberry trees at the bottom of the gardens. They were loaded with delicious berries when we visited. The top of the gardens features an eye-catching row of cypress trees behind stone columns.

You may wonder why it is called the American Gardens. In the 1920s, a Hungarian merchant made a fortune selling paprika in the Americas. He built the gardens to honor his wife, an Opatija native.

Even More to See and Do

The Open Air Theater is next to Park Angiolina. It wasn’t open when we visited, but if you visit in the summer, you can catch a show or movie there.

The Wall of Fame is also next to Park Angiolina. It features portraits of famous people from Opatija and people who have visited the town. You can see images of Franz Joseph I, Albert Einstein, Robert DeNiro, Isadore Duncan (the only woman), and Kirk Douglas, among others. There is an empty space, so you, too, can show that you have been to Opatija.

Two people on the Wall of Fame in Opatija
Albert Einstein and Emperor Franz Joseph I on the Wall of Fame

Park Margarita is another park where you can stroll among trees and shrubs. Steve and I passed by the entrance of this park but didn’t venture inside.

Practical Stuff

Getting there – If you have a car, you can drive to Opatija. However, parking may be a problem. We took a bus and, as always, used getbybus.com to plan and book our trip. 

Getting around – Opatija is small enough that you can walk everywhere. You will have to deal with hills as you move away from the seafront, though. The local buses are easy to use and can even take you to nearby towns. You can buy tickets at Tisak stands, but beware that they only sell round-trip tickets.

Restaurants – Since we were only there for two nights, we didn’t get to try many restaurants. However, the ones we ate at were very good.

Restoran Ruzmarin was number one on our hotel’s list of recommended restaurants, with good reason. We had a wonderful lunch there and tried truffles for the first time.

Restoran Roko and Pizzaria Roko are next door to each other and were also high on the list our hotel provided. We had pizza from them one night, which was pretty good.

We discovered Restoran Mali Raj as we walked south along the Lungomare. It was an excellent place to stop for a seafood lunch or dinner. The restaurant is connected to the Boutique Hotel Mali Raj in the small town of Icici and overlooks the gulf. It is about half an hour’s walk from the center of Opatija if you don’t stop to take photos every ten steps.

Here are other restaurants recommended by Hotel Mozart:

Veloce by Roko (fast food)
Bistro Yacht Club
Restoran Molo
Restoran Bevanda
Restoran Istranka
Antica Osteria da Ugo

Hotels – We stayed at Hotel Mozart. It is listed as a 5-star hotel, but despite its charms, it is more like a 3-star hotel. The air conditioning in this 129-year-old building wasn’t working when we arrived, and we were not informed of this. I was ready to leave right then, but Steve asked for a discount, and we decided to stay the night. It was an uncomfortable night.

The next morning, the manager offered us the second night free, so we stayed. Thanks to it being a cooler night and with the aid of a cheap fan, we slept great. Wouldn’t you know, the air conditioning came on as we were checking out!

Hotel Mozart had a lot going for it: excellent staff, a delicious breakfast, and cool décor. We had a deluxe room with a sea-view balcony. We chose it for the location and reasonable price. If you are thinking of staying there, you might want to check on the air conditioning before you book.

Three photos of Hotel Mozart
The Hotel Mozart exterior and two of the charming touches inside

Here are some other sea-view hotels to consider, although we don’t have first-hand knowledge of them:

Hotel Miramar is a four-star hotel located in the 147-year-old Villa Neptune. That’s it in the photo at the top of this post. It has a spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a private garden.

The Grand Hotel Adriatic was the one I picked when it looked like we might move from Hotel Mozart. It is a modern four-star hotel. This one has an adults-only spa and wellness center (check out the photos, it looks incredible), an indoor pool, and an outdoor infinity pool. As we walked passed the outdoor pool one day, loud music was playing. If that’s not your thing when relaxing by the pool, this hotel may not be your best choice. It is gorgeous, though.

Like the Grand Hotel Adriatic, the Hotel Admiral–Liburnia is in a modern building. It is also a 4-star hotel with spa services, an indoor pool, and a seasonal outdoor pool overlooking the gulf. As we passed the outdoor pool, we noticed it was peaceful.

Cost

Staying in Opatija can be costly compared to other Balkan towns. The biggest expense will be your hotel, particularly if you want to be seaside. Our hotel was $157 per night and included breakfast. The cost of lodging increases significantly during the summer months.

A sit-down lunch or dinner for two with drinks was around $50. We also enjoyed take-out food while sitting on our balcony.

To give your budget a break, try the bakery chain Mlinar, which is a good place to grab a light bite.

For a do-it-yourself meal, there are two Konzum supermarkets on Ulica Marsala Tita, the street closest to the waterfront.

Until Next Time

Steve and I loved our short stay in Opatija. If you find yourself anywhere near the Kvarner Gulf, check it out. We think you’ll fall in love with it, too.

If you’ve been there, drop a comment below and let us know what you thought of it. And please consider sharing this post on social media. Just use the buttons at the top of the post.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image: The Hotel Miramar in Opatija

Back to the U.S. (For One Month)

More than three years. Almost 38 months. 1,146 days. That’s how long it was between our last visit to the U.S. and our recent one in March of 2023.

As the months and years rolled by, Steve and I were less and less interested in returning home. Aside from our daughters being there, we had little motivation to return.

Then we were invited to the wedding of a young lady we’ve known since she was born. And the wedding was in Key West, a place we had never visited. So we decided to go back to the U.S. (Jacksonville, Florida, specifically) for one month.

Here is what we did, what surprised us, what shocked us, and why we still plan to settle outside the U.S.

What We Did

We had several objectives for this trip: Stock up on clothes and supplies, see our doctors, and, most importantly, spend time with family and friends.

We did a lot of all three. So much so that we were often exhausted, and I ignored this blog and social media.

I won’t bore you with the shopping and medical details. The highlights were as follows:

A wedding on a catamaran in Key West – It was a pleasure to reconnect with family friends we have known for more than thirty years. The occasion was the wedding of one of the daughters in the family.

You could not ask for a more perfect setting for a wedding than a catamaran at sunset off Key West. We celebrated the newlyweds, Nicole and Erin, as they exchanged vows at sunset. Unfortunately, no green flash, but beautiful all the same.

Two women celebrating their marriage
The happy couple

Exploring the Keys – we stayed in Marathon but spent some time in Key West. We toured The Hemingway Home and Museum, got the requisite photo at Mile Marker 0, and enjoyed the floral beauty of the Key West Garden Club.

Four people in a garden
Laura, Steve, Linda, and Stephanie at the Key West Garden Club

Seeing our older daughter’s new apartment – Stephanie and her friend Jeff moved into a brand new apartment in Jacksonville several months ago. Not only is their apartment lovely, but the complex is also chock full of great spaces. Between the pool, outdoor kitchen, zen garden, and game area, it is like a resort.

As a parent, there are few things that please you as much as seeing your grown children happy and successful.

Spending a weekend in Orlando with our younger daughter – We finally had a chance to see Laura’s apartment. It is small but oh so cute.

We also got to see the office where she works as a therapist. We met her boss, Dora, and the practice’s therapy dog, Hess.

Two photos: a therapy dog and a woman holding a toy frog
At Laura’s office: therapy dog Hess, me on Laura’s pink therapy couch with a toy frog for World Frog Day

Our weekend was filled with good food, an upscale art festival (where I mentally spent $10,000 in the first ten minutes), and a visit to the Orlando Museum of Art. The Museum of Art had an excellent exhibit on the Ukraine invasion.

To top off the weekend, we had a wonderful time at dinner with Laura’s friends, Tanya and Van.

Visiting my cousin and her husband in their beautiful home – My cousin, who is more like a sister since we grew up doing everything together, retired to Palm Coast with her husband.

We finally got to see their golf course home, which is beautifully decorated. I will have to hire her should Steve and I ever settle down.

Reconnecting with old friends – I enjoyed a margarita-filled dinner with my friend Cari. We have been friends for more than thirty years. We are not the kind of friends who communicate often, but no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, it’s like no time has passed.

Steve and I also had lunch with our former neighbors, Roger and Sherry. Again, it was like the last several years had not passed.

Unfortunately, we weren’t astute enough to get photos during either of these meals.

What Surprised Us (In a Good Way)

Steve and I keep up with the news, especially about the U.S. For the past several years, we’ve seen countless reports about political strife and frequent mass shootings. Because of all this negative news, we were braced for a hostile and aggressive environment.

While we didn’t fear being shot because, let’s face it, the chances of that are small, we expected hostility on the roads and anger in the general population.

We were happy to find the opposite. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with the same friendliness we’d been enjoying during our travels.

What Shocked Us

I must have looked quite the fool when Steve and I were in Publix, a popular Florida supermarket chain. Several times I called Steve over to look at the price of something. The worst was just over two ounces of Boar’s Head cooked bacon for almost $8.

We knew that the U.S. was experiencing high inflation, but until we were face to face with the prices, we really didn’t grasp it. Luckily, we only had to live with those prices for a month.

Frustration on Florida’s Highways

Okay, venting time.

Florida, especially Orlando, is a hot tourist destination. As such, you would think the state would make travel easy for visitors. Even having lived in Florida for thirty years, Steve and I found the highways and toll system in Florida absurd.

Florida’s toll system sucks

Sorry to be so blunt, but it does.

Our flight from Casablanca landed in Orlando around midnight. After getting our luggage and breezing through customs, it took two hours to get our rental car. When asked if we wanted a transponder for tolls, we said no, we would pay the tolls ourselves.

We had decided to spend our first night in a hotel in Orlando and drive to Jacksonville the next day. As we drove to our hotel, we came across an unmanned toll booth. Our choices were to proceed with an Easy Pass (which we didn’t have) or pay a fifty-cent toll by tossing coins in a basket (which we also didn’t have).

We then got a SunPass (this site will only work if you are connected to a U.S. location). The pass allows you to put funds on your account to cover tolls. We stuck it on our rental car’s windshield, and we were good to go.

Then it was time to return our rental car. We left our hotel for a short drive to the airport and encountered another unmanned toll booth. Again we had the choice of the EasyPass lane or paying the toll with coins.

We were unsure if EasyPass and SunPass were interchangeable (they are), so I had the pleasure of tossing six quarters into a basket and one on the ground. See, Florida highways can be fun.

We removed the EasyPass from our rental car when we returned it, only to find out a few days later that this was not enough. Because our pass was linked to the rental car’s license plate, we had the pleasure of paying for someone else’s tolls for four days until I discovered I needed to remove the license plate number from my SunPass account.

Enough with “This Lane Ends”

Google Maps made it easy to find our way around. However, it drove me crazy how often lanes ended or were marked exit only. It seemed like we were constantly changing lanes, first to the left, then to the right (or maybe just to the left again for fun), then back again. Given how busy the roads are, this constant lane changing adds to the stress of driving in an unfamiliar place.

Why We Still Don’t Want to Settle in the U.S.

Despite our pre-trip apprehension, Steve and I enjoyed our time in Florida. Even so, this trip reinforced our view that when we finally settle down, we prefer it not to be in the U.S.

In addition to the high cost of living, we experienced once again how car-dependent the U.S. is. Even visiting the sprawling St. John’s Town Center open-air mall involves driving from one section to another.

Steve and I have been enjoying a lower cost of living in general while out of the U.S. We also love living in walkable cities with great public transportation.

Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed this look into our trip “home”. Now it’s time for me to get back to my blog so I can share more travel-related posts with you.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Derick McKinney on Unsplash.com (enhanced by author)

What You Need to Know About Drinking in Morocco

Are you thinking of visiting Morocco and wondering if you will have to forego a refreshing beer or relaxing glass of wine? You might be surprised to learn that alcohol is available in Morocco, although not as readily as in non-Muslim countries.

Steve and I spent two and a half months in Morocco in the winter of 2022-2023. During that time, I was able to find beer and wine. It wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always cheap.

Here’s the lowdown on drinking in Morocco.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

Is Drinking Legal in Morocco?

Yes. Drinking is legal in Morocco. Since Morocco is an Islamic country and the Quran forbids consuming alcohol, it plays a much smaller role in daily life than in non-Muslim countries. Even so, it is not illegal and can be found in bars, liquor stores, and some restaurants.

How Easy is it to Find Alcohol in Morocco?

Not so easy.

Most restaurants do not serve alcohol. They usually offer a wide variety of soft drinks, including delicious fruit juices and mocktails. Non-alcoholic beer is often available too.

If you want to check online before you visit a restaurant to see if they serve alcohol, you can try finding their menu online. Don’t be surprised if the restaurant you are interested in does not have a website. Many don’t. Sometimes the website is a FaceBook page.

You can also call and ask if they serve alcohol. Many people in food service speak English, but French and Arabic are the primary languages.

My best advice is to assume the restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, particularly if it’s a traditional Moroccan restaurant. If it does, consider it a bonus.

We spent time in six Moroccan cities, and in each one, there were liquor stores. You can get beer, wine, and hard liquor in these stores, but in our experience, you cannot get non-alcoholic beer or wine. That is available in some supermarkets, including Carrefour.

Supermarket chains like Carrefour may sell alcohol in some locations but not in others. When they do, it is sold in a separate store connected to the supermarket.

Google is your friend when hunting down your favorite libations in Morocco. I’ve had good luck Googling “where can I buy alcohol in name of city.”

Except for drinks at the Barcelo Tanger bar, where we were the only customers, we had no first-hand experience with Moroccan bars. We didn’t notice any bars as we explored, but some hotels have them. Again, you can check their websites or call to see if they have a bar.

If you’re looking to party, here are a few articles to help you find a bar:
“The 10 Liveliest Bars in Marrakesh” by Culture Trip
“The Best Bars in Casablanca, Morocco” by Culture Trip

We have never seen alcohol for sale or served in a medina. Your best bet is to look outside the medina.

How Much Does Alcohol Cost in Morocco?

As expected, you will pay a premium for alcohol you purchase in a restaurant. I found the cost in restaurants that offer alcohol equivalent to the high end of what we have seen in our travels.

When buying beer at a supermarket, I paid $2.00 for 50 ml of Flag Special. Some liquor stores were in line with this, while others were a bit higher.

As expected, wine prices vary depending on quality. I found the wine prices in liquor stores to be reasonable.

Our Experiences by City

Here are my experiences buying alcohol in five Moroccan cities.

Tangier

On our first night in Tangier, we went to the Barcelo Tanger hotel for drinks. I had one glass of wine and Steve had two 33ml non-alcoholic beers. We were shocked that the total was $23.

We ate dinner at the Barcelo Tanger hotel one night. My 50ml beer, with alcohol, was $10.

My go-to liquor store was a little hole in the wall on the waterfront. I do not have its address, but it is on Ave. Mohammed VI near the Marina Bay Hotel. They only accept cash.

Steve and I enjoyed a few meals at Anji Chinese Restaurant. It is at 156 Av. Youssef Ibn Tachfine. Their menu included alcohol, and it was more reasonably priced than at the Barcelo Tanger hotel.

Chefchaouen

During our few days in Chefchaouen, we discovered a great bar and restaurant, Bar Oum Rabie. It is just outside the medina at Bd Hassan 2.

Not only can you get drinks at relatively reasonable prices, but you will get free food, including a plate of fries, when you do. You can also order meals here.

I didn’t bother going to a liquor store since the ones I found online were too far away.

Rabat

It was easier to find alcohol in Rabat. We stayed in Quartier Hassan and had three places to buy alcohol within a 10-minute walk.

My go-to place for beer in Rabat was at the Carrefour Market Hassan Rabat on Ave. Moulay Ismail. The street-level grocery store did not sell alcohol but had plenty of zero-alcohol beers and wines.

The alcohol was sold in the basement, which was named Cave. The size of Cave and its stock could rival many Western liquor stores.

There was a large liquor store called La Bonne Maison on Rue Henri Popp not far from Carrefour. Their selection was impressive, but they were slightly more expensive than Cave.

There was also a small store near these two on Rue Mahamed El Jazouli, but I didn’t shop there.

Marrakesh

Steve and I enjoyed four nights in Marrakesh. Since we stayed in the medina and most of our sightseeing was there, I decided to stick to soft drinks. But serendipity intervened.

One day, we went to Jardin Majorelle, which is outside of the medina. While walking there, we noticed a large liquor store called Mini Marche Majorelle. It is at 7 Ave. Yacoub El Mansour. I bought a bottle of wine since I didn’t have a way to keep beer cold in our riad.

Check out our experiences in Marrakesh in “Marrakesh: Colorful, Crowded, and Just a Little Crazy.”

Casablanca

Finding alcohol in Casablanca was pretty easy. I mainly shopped at the Carrefour Market Yacoub El Mansour. Keep in mind that not all Carrefour markets sell alcohol.

I also discovered a chain of liquor stores called Nicolas. In addition to several stores in Casablanca, they have stores in several other Moroccan cities, including Rabat and Marrakesh.

Moroccan Wine and Beer

It may surprise you that beer and wine are produced in Morocco.

There are three brands of Moroccan beer: Casablanca (a lager), Flag (a pilsner), and Stork (a light lager).

Three cans of Flag Speciale beer
One of the three brands of beer produced in Morocco

You won’t find craft beer, but you will find many international brands, including Heineken and Budweiser. Heineken is even bottled in Marrakesh.

Forty million bottles of wine are produced annually in Morocco. This is more than one bottle for every resident of the country. About 75% is red wine.

A bottle of Touareg wine
One of the wines produced in Morocco

Learn about Moroccan wine in this article from Wine Enthusiast.

Things You Should Be Aware Of

I’m sure your Moroccan bucket list doesn’t include spending time in a Moroccan jail. Here are tips to keep in mind if you plan on drinking in Morocco.

The drinking age in Morocco is 18.

According to this U.K. government website, it is illegal to drink alcohol on the street or anywhere accept a licensed bar or restaurant. Of course, you can take it back to your accommodation.

Even on New Year’s Eve, we didn’t see any drunks on the street. To keep out of legal trouble and to avoid insulting the people of your host country, do not walk the streets while tipsy.

As it should be, there is zero tolerance for driving under the influence.

As you can see, those of us who choose to drink do not have to give it up in Morocco. We just have to work a little harder to find it and be aware of the cultural norms.

Until Next Time

I hope you find this information helpful. Feel free to add suggestions on how you handled drinking in Morocco.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Feature photo by Andreas M. on Unsplash.com

Marrakesh: Colorful, Crowded, and Just a Little Crazy

When Steve and I were planning our three-month Morocco trip, we decided against a long stay in Marrakesh. Much of what we read spoke of how overwhelming it can be. But we didn’t want to miss it, so we decided to spend four nights in this legendary city.

The articles we read were right; Marrakesh is intense.

Here are our experiences while visiting Marrakesh in January 2023, along with some helpful hints.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

Terms

Medina – the old part of a city. It is usually walled. Marrakesh’s medina is over 1,000 years old, and the streets are narrow. For that reason, cars cannot easily drive on them, although we did see a few cars carefully navigating the crowds. Here is more information about the Marrakesh medina.

Riad (or ryad) – a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an indoor garden and courtyard. Riads used to be homes for the well-to-do and are now used as guest houses. You can learn more about riads here.

Souk – an Arab market, marketplace, or bazaar. Souks can be inside or outside of the medina. Learn more about souks here.

Getting There

We visited Marrakesh while staying in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Trains run from the two Rabat train stations, Rabat Ville and Rabat Agdal, many times each day on a direct route that takes less than four hours.

A second-class ticket costs less than $20 per person as of this writing. This will get you a standard front-facing seat. We opted to go first-class since the ticket was just a few dollars more.

It is easy to order tickets online at the Moroccan Railway website. This is preferable to buying them at the station on the day of travel as the lines are often long. I caution you against using Rail Ninja. As we found out when we used them in Hungary, they add a significant upcharge.

The only downside of the trip, thanks to my sister, was that I couldn’t get the song “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash out of my head. You can hear the song and read about how it came about here. Now you, too, can have it stuck in your head (the video may not be available in all locations).

Arriving in Marrakesh

The first thing I noticed as we approached Marrakesh was the color of the buildings. After an overdose of white buildings in Tangier and Rabat and the omnipresent blue in Chefchaouen, I found the warm terracotta of the Marrakesh buildings a welcome change.

Early morning in Jemaa el Fna
Early morning glow on the terracotta-colored buildings in Jemaa el Fna

The Marrakesh train station (Gare de Marrakech) is in the new part of the city, in a neighborhood called Gueliz. It is only about a ten-minute drive to the outskirts of the medina.

Two photos of the Marrakesh train station
The Marrakesh train station is beautiful inside and out.

Because of the medina’s narrow roads, our taxi dropped us off near the entrance of the medina, and we had about a ten-minute walk to our riad.

Finding Our Riad

To get an authentic Marrakesh experience, we decided to stay in a riad. We booked a four-night stay at Riad Caesar, which like most riads, is in the medina.

Fortunately, Google maps worked its magic and led us the right way. But at first, we weren’t sure it was the right way. After weaving through crowds along narrow streets lined with shops, we found ourselves on a quiet, run-down street.

An alley in the Marrakesh medina
The way to our riad; at least the sun was shining

There weren’t any signs, and only a few doors had numbers, so we struggled to find our riad. To make matters worse, sewer work was being done, so the street smelled like, you guessed it, sewage.

Surely this couldn’t be where our riad was. But it was.

Into Another World

Once we entered the riad and the door closed on the unpleasantness, we found ourselves in a magical place. Because riads are built without exterior windows, there wasn’t any street noise, just a charming courtyard with the requisite water feature.

Courtyard at Riad Caesar in Marrakesh
The courtyard in our riad.

This was our second riad stay; the first was in Chefchaouen. In both cases, the rooms were comfortable and had adequate heat.

Because riads are small, you get personal attention. The smaller number of rooms also means that they can be individually decorated.

However, there were a few drawbacks. Neither riad had tea and coffee fixings in the rooms and breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30. And in both riads, the breakfast area was unheated. Being January, it was cold.

Like hotels, riads are available at all price levels. We found the prices similar to hotels.

Find out more about what staying in a riad is like here.

Souking It All In

Our first activity was to stroll the medina, particularly the souks. Steve loves wandering through markets, me, not so much. But how could I resist the chance to experience the Marrakesh souks? Although it may seem like one big souk, there are actually several in the medina as explained in this Marrakesh Souk Guide by Continent Hop.

This wasn’t our first time in a Moroccan souk, but it was the most intense. There is no such thing as window shopping in a souk. The moment you dare to look at a product, the vendor pops up at your side. He will not only try to sell you what you were looking at but start pulling things from his booth.

All I could think of as we wandered the souks was that the sellers should learn to read their customers. If I could check out the merchandise uninterrupted, I would be more likely to buy something. The way the sellers act causes me to walk through the souks avoiding all eye contact lest I be targeted.

Moroccan babouche
Beautiful babouche (Moroccan slippers); one of the few people-free photos I was able to get in the souk
A man with dusters hanging off his waist
Don’t you love this guy’s ingenuity?

Three Gardens

Steve and I saw three gardens in Marrakesh: Jardin Majorelle, Anima Garden, and Le Jardin Secret. I loved Jardin Majorelle, liked Anima Garden, and wasn’t impressed with Le Jardin Secret.

Steve was disappointed because of the lack of flowers, but that was to be expected in late January. In addition, these gardens are full of plants that aren’t known for showy flowers, such as palms and cacti.

Jardin Majorelle

Hands down, Jardin Majorelle was my favorite place in Marrakesh.

Four photos of Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh
Beautiful plants and vibrant colors in Jardin Majorelle

Judging by the crowds waiting to enter the garden, Jardin Majorelle appears to be one of the most popular attractions in Marrakech. I chose not to purchase online tickets because I expected it to be like most other gardens we’ve been to: not very crowded. Boy, was I wrong.

We were surprised to find a long line when we arrived. At first, our line moved at an acceptable pace, then it stopped. After a while, I went to the front to see why the line wasn’t moving.

A guard told me that they have to control the number of people who can enter at a given time, so we all had to wait until enough people exited the garden to go in.

We purchased online tickets for a few hours later, got lunch, and walked in at our scheduled time. If you go to Jardin Majorelle, you won’t have this problem. As of January 30, 2023, all tickets for the garden must be purchased online.

French artist Jacques Majorelle designed Jardin Majorelle when he and his wife lived on the property from the 1920s to the 1950s. The cubist villa was built in the 1930s.

When he and his wife divorced in the 1950s, he was forced to sell the property. It fell into disrepair over the next three decades. In the 1980s, Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge, purchased the property and restored it.

I loved walking along the paths where the green of the plants is punctuated with yellow, light blue, and dark blue accents, with a bit of red thrown in. The dark blue is known as Majorelle Blue, a color trademarked by Jacques Majorelle.

Check out “Magical Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco” by Exploration Vacation to learn more about this garden.

Anima Garden

Anima Garden was different from Jardin Majorelle but no less interesting. Austrian multimedia artist Andre Heller designed this garden. It opened in 2016.

The garden is a 40-minute drive from the Koutoubia Mosque (which is not far from the medina). Shuttle service is included in the ticket price.

Anima Garden was far less crowded than Jardin Majorelle. Many times Steve and I were alone. But what makes the garden unique are Heller’s statues placed throughout the space.

Two photos of artwork in Anima Garden
Just two of Heller’s creations in Anima Garden

Find out more in this article by MarocMama.

Le Jardin Secret

Unlike the first two gardens, Le Jardin Secret is in the medina. And it is not a secret. There was a huge sign in front of it, and it was busy.

Le Jardin Secret is on the grounds of a 400-year-old riad. The garden is divided into two parts, an exotic garden and a traditional Islamic garden.

There is an ornate gazebo, a tower, a restaurant, and an exhibition center. Perhaps the most interesting of all is that you can stay in Riad Jardin Secret. And for any artists reading this, they offer an artist residency.

The gazebo in Le Jardin Secret
The gazebo

Two Palaces

In Marrakesh, we toured two palaces: the Bahia Palace and El Badi Palace.

Bahia Palace

Surprisingly, the Bahia Palace is less than 200 years old. It was built for Si Moussa, a former slave who rose through the ranks of the royal government. The palace is set on two acres in the medina and has 150 rooms.

A courtyard in the Bahia Palace in Marrakesh
A spacious and colorful courtyard in the Bahia Palace

The Arabic word “bahia” translates to brilliance or beauty. And this palace certainly lives up to its name. Here you can enjoy exquisite mosaics, paintings, and stuccos. The downside is that there isn’t any furniture in the rooms. Reconstructing the rooms as they were during the palace’s heyday would make the palace more interesting.

We visited the palace midday, and it was mobbed. If you want to go when it’s less crowded and are more ambitious than us, consider getting there when it opens at 8:00 am.

El Badi Palace

Unlike the Bahia Palace, El Badi Palace is a ruin. It was built for Sultan Ahmad Al-Mansur in the late 1500s. The name means “incomparable.” Judging by the video shown at the palace, it was indeed incomparable.

Unfortunately, in the years after Sultan Al-Mansur’s death in 1603, the palace was stripped of its valuable materials. Only the ruins you see today were left standing.

Four photos of El Badi Palace
Inside the palace; the fourth photo is of a bookseller in the main square circa 1930

One Incredible Restaurant

Steve and I didn’t arrive at our riad until late afternoon, and we were famished. Our host recommended a restaurant in the main square, Jemaa el Fna. It served traditional Moroccan dishes, with many tangine and couscous options. Neither of us like these dishes very much, but we had to eat.

We hadn’t had many great meals during our first six weeks in Morocco. We chalked this one up to one more disappointing meal and accepted that we would have to endure so-so meals during our time in Marrakesh.

Then we found Mythe. We were walking through the medina on our way back to our riad when we noticed an attractive entrance to a restaurant along with a comprehensive menu. This alone was unique. The medina isn’t known for sophistication.

We tried Mythe the next day, and we loved it. The food was fresh, beautifully presented, and reasonably priced.

Salad and musicians at Mythe Restaurant, Marrakesh
Beautifully presented food and entertainment at Mythe

We ate our remaining meals there. Why risk another disappointment when we knew where to get food we enjoyed?

Other Places We Visited

Ben Youssef Madrasa

The Ben Youssef Madrasa is considered to be one of the most important historical buildings in Marrakesh. This college for Islamic instruction was built in the mid-sixteenth century and operated until 1960. The madrasa could accommodate up to 800 students at a time.

Tourists often come here to admire the architecture. In addition to the mosaics one would expect, the madrasa is beautifully decorated with intricately carved stucco and wood.

Four views inside the Ben Youssef Madrasa
Four views inside the madrasa

We didn’t see any written information in the madrasa. Like the Bahia Palace, I think it could benefit from including period furnishings.

House of Photography

On our last day in Marrakesh, Steve wanted to stroll the souks (again). I decided to check out the House of Photography instead.

Inside the House of Photography in Marrakesh
Inside the House of Photography

The House of Photography is a small museum whose goal is to show the diversity of Morocco through photography, postcards, newspapers, and documentaries. I think they hit the mark.

Everything was explained well, and English was prevalent. I particularly enjoyed the film “Landscapes and Faces in the High Atlas” by Daniel Chicault. In this 1957 film, Chicault traveled through various mountain villages to learn how the people of the High Atlas Mountains lived.

How Crowded Is Marrakesh?

It’s pretty crowded, as you can see in this photo:

A crowd of people in a medina
The medina on a Friday afternoon

Our first taste of Marrakesh’s intensity was when our taxi dropped us off near the main square, Jemaa el Fna. We walked past a line of horse-drawn carriages and into the square. The word chaotic does not do it justice. Vendors were everywhere, all yelling to get the attention of the passersby. A few of the famed snake charmers played flutes. People walked in every direction, and motorcycles and motorbikes zoomed through the crowd as quickly as possible without killing anyone.

Cost

Dates: January 21, 2023 to January 25, 2023
Number of days: 4
Total cost for two people: $750
Cost per day for two people: $188

Cost breakdown:
Lodging with breakfast: $340
Admission fees: $120
Food: $180
Transportation: $110

Admission fees included three gardens, two palaces, and two museums.

Final Thoughts and Tips

Locals may expect money for (often unsolicited) help – There are many Moroccans who will gladly help with minor issues, but some of them expect money for the simplest courtesies. Since you cannot tell who is being helpful and who is looking to profit, it is best not to accept unsolicited help unless you are willing to pay for it.

When Steve and I were looking for our riad, a young man asked what we were looking for. We told him the name of our riad. He walked down the alley a bit, returned, and told us it was a few doors down. Then he asked for money by walking alongside us while rubbing his fingers together.

We were hungry and tired, so we were in no mood to stop and start digging around for cash. Better luck next time, fella.

Some locals are persistent. We have learned that we have to be firm to the point of rudeness since a simple “no thank you” doesn’t work.

Be prepared to haggle in the souks – Never accept a vendor’s first offer. It will generally be higher than the item is worth, as the vendors expect you to haggle. Be prepared to walk away if you can’t reach an agreement, but don’t be surprised if the vendor runs after you.

Here are some haggling tips from Travel Talk.

There are a lot of beggars – This was true everywhere we went in Morocco. Sometimes they ask for money, but often they simply hold out their hand. These beggars can be of any age. We’ve seen many kids who reflexively hold out their hands for money as they pass us on the street.

We choose not to give to street beggars. We would rather give money to a respected charity.

Coughing and sneezing without covering the mouth is prevalent – Covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough is very uncommon in Morocco. It appears to be a cultural norm, although I couldn’t find any information about it. After going through the pandemic, we can’t understand why this practice continues.

Is it Marrakesh or Marrakech? – English speakers generally use the Marrakesh spelling, while Marrakech is the French way. The official languages in Morocco are Arabic and Berber, but French is also widely spoken. Most signs are in both Arabic and French.

There is another side to Marrakesh – Except for Jardin Majorelle and Anima Garden, everything we did was in the medina. There is a whole other side of Marrakesh we didn’t even touch on, the area called Gueliz (also spelled Guiliez).

You can read about the modern side of Marrakesh in “The New Town of Guiliez” by Marrakech Riad and in “Beyond the Medina: The Modern Side of Marrakech” by MarocMama.

Until Next Time

Marrakesh was one of the most unique places Steve and I have been. While it can be a little crazy, I think it is a must-see if you visit Morocco.

Have you been to Marrakesh? What did you think about it? Drop us a note in the comments section below. Steve and I love hearing from our readers.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Zakariae Daoui on Unsplash.com

Visiting Istanbul: The Good, The Bad, and The Startling

As the first step in writing this post, I thumbed through my photos of Istanbul. Steve and I sure saw a lot of beautiful things there. Despite that, it is our least favorite city. So what made us dislike Istanbul so much?

It all comes down to the extremes; beautiful neighborhoods surrounded by ghettos, decent public transportation but hard-to-find information, and a modern Airbnb in a building that caught fire.

In this post, I will share the good, the bad, and the startling things about visiting Istanbul.

All money is in U.S. dollars

A Little Background

During the summer and fall of 2022, Steve and I spent eleven weeks in Turkey. During the first six weeks, we visited six cities on the Mediterranean Coast, aka the Turkish Riviera, enjoying a side of Turkey we had no idea existed. Then we spent one week in Cappadocia. Hiking and a sunrise balloon ride were the highlights of that trip. We ended our Turkish tour with four weeks in Istanbul.

Check out our other Turkey posts:
6 Cities, 6 Vibes on the Turkish Riviera
18 Things to Know Before Visiting Cappadocia
Turkey is for Cat Lovers.”

A Little Istanbul Geography

Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus Straight. The western side is in Europe, while the eastern side is in Asia. Most of the tourist attractions are on the European side, and this impacts the lodging costs. Airbnbs on the Asian side were more modern and lower priced, so we decided to split our four weeks between the two continents.

The Good

Incredible Museums

The Topkapi Palace Museum

Four photos at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
Four scenes from the Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace is on the European side of Istanbul on the shore of the Bosphorus Straight where it meets the Sea of Marmara. It is a large complex with much to see.

The palace served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and the home of Ottoman sultans from the 1450s until the 1850s. At that time, the newly built Dolmabahce Palace became the home of the sultans.

Don’t miss the harem. It was the quarters for the imperial family and its servants. The word harem means forbidden or private.

You can read more about the harem here.

The Dolmabahce Palace

One of the gates at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul
A beautiful welcome to the Dolmabahce Palace

The Dolmabahce Palace is as impressive as the Topkapi Palace. It was built as a replacement for the Topkapi Palace, designed to match the luxury and style of European palaces.

The palace was completed in 1856. It was the home of six sultans until the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

Like the Topkapi Palace, it is on the European side of the city on the Bosphorus Straight, but further north.

The Basilica Cistern

Inside the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
Changing colored lights add to the cistern experience

You might not think that touring a cistern would be entertaining. Still, the stately architecture of the Basilica Cistern, highlighted by changing colored lights and sculptures, makes for an enjoyable visit with great photo ops.

This cistern was built in the 6th century. It is the largest of several hundred built beneath the city to meet the water needs of the people.

The Kucuksu Palace

Exterior of the Kucuksu Palace
Exterior of the Kucuksu Palace

Like the Dolmabahce Palace, the Kucuksu Palace was built in the mid-1850s by Sultan Abdulmecit I for use as a hunting palace.

The palace is on the Asian side of the city and quite a bit further north. There are only nine rooms and no bedrooms. Guests would only visit for the day.

An audio-guided tour takes less than one hour. Once you have seen the palace and the small garden area, you can take a ferry across the straight using the IstanbulKart, and visit the Rumeli Fortress.

Rumeli Fortress

The Rumeli Fortress in Istanbul by Yasincan Gunes on Unsplash
The Rumeli Fortress; photo by Yasincan Gunes on Unsplash.com

The 30-acre Rumeli Fortress sits along the Bosphorus Straight on the European side of Istanbul. Sultan Mehmed II built this imposing fortress before he conquered Constantinople (the name of Istanbul until 1930) in 1453.

Renovation work was going on when we visited, but the areas we could see made for a nice change from the opulence of the other sights.

Panorama 1453 Museum

Two photos from the Panorama 1453 Museum in Istanbul
Inside the dome

The Panorama 1453 Museum illustrates the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed II (Mehmed the Conqueror) in 1453. Despite the limited scope of the subject, this is an interesting museum.

First, you will find a series of photos that explain the events leading up to the conquest. Then you will enter the 38-meter-wide (124-foot) panoramic dome showing scenes of the city’s conquest.

Hagia Sofia and The Blue Mosque

Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia

Both of these famous mosques are in Sultanahmet. While we were visiting Istanbul, the Blue Mosque was undergoing renovations, so we could only see one small part. However, the Hagia Sofia was open.

The Hagia Sofia has a fascinating history. It was built in the 6th century as an Eastern Orthodox church. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was converted into a mosque. In 1935 it became a museum, and in 2020 it returned to being a working mosque.

You can visit the Hagia Sofia anytime during opening hours, but if you go during prayer hours, you will not be allowed in the prayer section. There are five prayer times each day, and the time changes. You can get the current information here.

The Blue Mosque is a baby compared to the Hagia Sofia. It wasn’t built until the 17th century.

Its official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it is called the Blue Mosque because the inside is decorated with handpainted blue tiles.

The Balat Neighborhood

Four photos of scenes from the Balat neighborhood in Istanbul
Colorful and funky; that is Balat

If you like exploring quirky neighborhoods, don’t miss Balat. Like much of the city, there are a lot of hills. However, they seemed even steeper here. If you’re up to walking on some severe inclines, this area is sure to delight you.

The People – Individually

Taxi Driver

Taxi drivers have a reputation for ripping off tourists. We were lucky to get an honest one.

We had spent the day exploring and found ourselves far from home at rush hour. We decided to take a bus home. When we arrived at the stop, it was mobbed.

A crowd of people waiting for a bus in Istanbul
All of these people were waiting for a bus

There were hundreds of people waiting to get on the express buses that went from the European side to the Asian side. Each time a bus approached, our hope rose, only to have it dashed as the bus drove by, unable to carry any more passengers.

We decided that a taxi was a better option. At first, the driver didn’t want to drive us because of the distance and the time it would take. Luckily, he took pity on us, explained it would be a slow ride, and quoted us a fare of $20.

It was a slow ride indeed. He kept the meter running, and I watched as it climbed over the amount quoted to $48. I wasn’t nervous until it exceeded the amount of cash we were carrying.

Once we arrived home, I asked him to wait while I ran upstairs and got more cash. He said we only owed him the $20 he had quoted. We gave him the $45 we had. We could see the relief on his face.

Lesson learned: We had never needed more than a few dollars in cash, usually for a tip. That experience taught us to carry more cash.

Impromtu Crossing Guard

Another person who warmed our hearts was an older man sitting on a chair by a store. He saw us attempting to cross a busy street at a crosswalk. The cars weren’t stopping, so he got up, walked into the street, and held up his hand to stop traffic.

It worked. However, as I reached the other side of the road, I almost got hit by a driver who lacked patience. That sums up Istanbul perfectly.

The Metro

Istanbul has an extensive subway system consisting of eight lines (six on the European side and two on the Asian side). There is also a tunnel called the Marmaray that connects the European and Asian lines.

To use the metro and other forms of public transportation, you need to buy an IstanbulKart and put some money on it. Then it’s just a matter of swiping it as you enter the vehicle or the terminal.

Here is a good article about public transportation in Istanbul.

The Cost

Outside of the high cost of lodging in Sultanahmet, you get a lot for your money in Istanbul. We used public transportation extensively. Our average cost was $6 per day. We ate eighteen meals out with an average cost of $30 for the two of us. These included main dishes, drinks, and a tip.

You can see what four weeks in Istanbul cost below.

Inexpensive Medications

While we were in Istanbul, both Steve and I needed to refill a few prescriptions. I assumed this would require a trip to a doctor’s office, but one day Steve discovered that we could get all our medications without a prescription.

I bought three months’ worth of all five of my medications for less than $100. Without insurance, two of them would cost over $500 each for a one-month supply in the U.S.

The Bad

Even though there are many remarkable things to see in Istanbul, several things detracted from our enjoyment.

The Slums

Right from the start, Istanbul played tough.

Initially, we wanted to stay in the Sultanahmet area, near the main tourist attractions. We spent hours combing through Airbnb and Booking.com listings, but there weren’t any places in our price range where we would be willing to stay.

However, there was an apartment in a new building in the Beyoglu neighborhood that caught our eye. It was a little far from the tourist area, but we were willing to spend a little travel time to stay in an attractive, affordable place.

Two photos; one of clean modern buildings and one of the run-down buildings and an empty lot
Top photo: our building and a hotel; Bottom photo: the view from our apartment

The apartment was everything we expected, at least inside. What the listing didn’t show was the garbage-filled lot outside our window and the trashy buildings across the way.

That was bad enough, but our building was in a row of about eight new high-rises. Everything else, in every direction, was slums. If we wanted to go anywhere, either by foot or to catch a bus, we had to walk through some terribly run-down neighborhoods.

Despite all the negatives of the area, we never felt unsafe, and nobody bothered us.

During the last two weeks of our trip, we stayed in the Kadikoy neighborhood on the Asian side of the city. It is filled with beautiful high-rise buildings and is more upscale than Beyoglu. Our view improved this time; we looked out at another high-rise under construction.

High-rise buildings in the Kadikoy neighborhood of Istanbul
Just a few of the many high-rises in the Kadikoy neighborhood in Istanbul

Lesson learned: We now use Google Street View to check the surrounding neighborhood of any accommodations we are considering.

The Crowds

Over 15 million people live in Istanbul. Add the tens of millions who visit each year, and you have massive overcrowding. Walking around the city was often a contact sport as people going in both directions refused to give an inch.

Here is information from World Population Review about the most heavily populated cities in the world.

Lesson learned: Crowded cities are not our thing. We will either avoid them or limit our stay in the future.

The Traffic

Congestion and aggression are two constants on Istanbul streets. There is also a confounding disregard for lane markers. Twice we had long taxi rides in which the drivers seldom stayed in their lanes.

There are a lot of motorcycles, which makes things even more chaotic. Motorcycle drivers in Istanbul ignore the fact that they are motor vehicles. It is common to see them run red lights, drive down crowded streets in the wrong direction, and drive on sidewalks.

Impassable Sidewalks

While walking in the city, you often have to walk in the street because the sidewalks are impassable. Cars, restaurant tables and chairs, and any number of other things block them. Sometimes they may be so poorly constructed that the street is a safer option.

A sidewalk with many obstacles
I wish this were an extreme example of Istanbul sidewalks, but it isn’t

The Buses

Istanbul has an extensive bus network, and Google Maps did a good job providing information. However, the buses seldom arrived when they were supposed to. They could be early or late. Basically, you stand at the stop and wait for your bus to show up.

Once on board, you will probably get to know your fellow travelers better than you would like. We were on one bus that was so crowded that a few people sat on other passengers’ laps, and up to ten people had to get off the bus to let other passengers off.

Lack of Information

The entire time we were in Turkey, we noticed that it was harder to find information online than expected. We found that bits of information were often lacking. This photo sums up how we felt about Turkish websites.

Istanbul bus terminal information
This is what passes for information in Istanbul

The Startling

Apartment Fire

The crowds and the crazy traffic were bad enough, but during our last week in the city, we had a frightening experience. The building we were staying in caught on fire.

We were relaxing one evening when the fire alarms went off. We grabbed our passports, money belts, phones, and my purse and evacuated the building. 

Once outside, we saw smoke billowing from the roof and upper part of the 24-story building. Soon after, we saw flames on the side our Airbnb was on. We feared we had lost everything but what we had carried out.

It took several hours to put out the fire. It had started in an air conditioning compressor and was confined to the outside of the building. Miraculously, there was no damage to the interior of the building.

Once we were allowed to return to our apartment, we were apprehensive about going to sleep in case the fire started again. But we were exhausted and slept well. We relied on the smoke detector we travel with to keep us safe, and it was quiet all night.

The next morning, we were awakened by someone knocking on our door. The fire had started up, and we had to evacuate a second time. This time we grabbed more things, including our laptops and medicines.

This wait was shorter, but our building was left without electricity and water, so our host offered to put us up in a hotel for a few nights.

The Worst Hotel Ever

The hotel’s exterior did not impress us. Steve said, “I hope the inside is better than the outside.” I said, “It probably is,” as we have seen many ugly exteriors that housed lovely apartments and hotel rooms.

We weren’t so optimistic when we opened the elevator door, and a bucket of filthy water was sitting there. There was also a small bag of garbage spilled on the floor in front of our room. We should have turned around and left right then.

Five photos of a disgusting hotel room
This is what we found in the hotel room

A random search led us to the Buem Hotel, one of the best hotels we have stayed in. We enjoyed two days of luxury and fabulous food there. 

A Bombing on Istiklal Street

Less than a month after we left Istanbul, a bomb exploded, killing six people and injuring 81 others. This occurred on Istiklal Street, a popular pedestrian shopping street.

The threat of terrorist attacks, which this is thought to be, may keep people away from certain cities or areas. Steve and I believe this should not make people afraid to explore this amazing world. As devastating as these attacks can be, the chances of being a victim of one are small.

A Few Other Thoughts

Would we recommend visiting Istanbul? Not really. However, there are many worthwhile things to see there. If we were to do it again (we won’t), we would visit for a week or less and stay in the Sultanahmet area, near many of the sights.

You may have noticed that the Grand Bazaar is missing from the lists above. That is because we found it to be neither good nor bad. Steve and I were both disappointed in it.

We expected a market-like atmosphere. What we saw was a lot of stores, many selling souvenirs. Since it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, it was no surprise that it was wall-to-wall people.

What It Cost

Dates: Sept. 22, 2022 to Oct. 19, 2022
Number of nights: 27
Total cost for two people: $3,900
Cost per day for two people: $144

Our costs:
Lodging: $2,500
Dining: $500
Groceries: $500
Activities: $100
Transportation: $300

Our lodging included two nights at the Buem Hotel after the fire in our Airbnb. This hotel is beautiful, the staff is exceptional, and the food was the best we had in Istanbul. Two nights with breakfast and dinner was $183.

Transportation includes $146 for both of us to fly from Cappadocia.

Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed reading about visiting Istanbul and all of the ups and downs we experienced. If you have been to Istanbul, Steve and I would love to hear what you thought about it. Just drop a comment below. And if you found this post helpful, please consider sharing it.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo: a small restaurant in the Balat neighborhood

12 of the Most Interesting Things to Do in Prague

Are you planning on visiting Prague, the city of 100 spires? If so, this post is for you. Even if you are not planning to visit this beautiful Czech city, it may inspire you to add it to your bucket list.

There are two things every visitor to Prague does. One is to brave the crowds on the Charles Bridge while admiring the statues that line both sides.

The other is to spend some time checking out Prague Castle with its Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral and the preserved homes on Golden Lane.

Houses on Golden Lane in Prague Castle
Can you believe people lived in these houses within Prague Castle until World War II?
Detail of the exterior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague
Detail on the St. Vitus Cathedral

So what should you do after you’ve seen these two staples of every Prague visitor’s itinerary? Here is a list of ten more interesting things to do in Prague.

A Little Background

Steve and I spent ten nights in May 2022 in Prague. For the first five nights, we stayed in District 1 at the Grand Majestic Hotel. We then moved to the Don Giovanni Hotel in District 3 because its elegant decor seduced me.

Two photos of the lobby of the Don Giovanni Hotel in Prague
Seriously, how incredible is the Don Giovanni Hotel lobby?

We had good stays in both hotels, but in hindsight, it would have been better to stay in District 1 the entire time. From the Grand Majestic Hotel, we could walk to most of the things we wanted to see, there were plenty of restaurants just a few minutes away, and the Palladium Mall was just around the corner.

The uniqueness of the Don Giovanni Hotel didn’t offset the time we had to spend on public transportation, and the area right around the hotel lacked supermarket and restaurant options. Lastly, the food at the Grand Majestic was better.

District 1

A note about the first three items

The Pinkas Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and the Maisel Synagogue are part of the Jewish Museum. In addition to these three places, a ticket to the museum includes the Ceremonial Hall; the Spanish Synagogue; and the Klaus Synagogue.

Steve and I visited only three of the six sites and found all of them interesting and worthwhile.

You can purchase tickets at the Information and Reservation Center on Maisel Street 15 or at the Spanish, Pinkas, or Maisel Synagogues.

If you love learning about the history and impact of the Holocaust, check out our post, “10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest”.

1. Pinkas Synagogue

There wasn’t a lot to see in the Pinkas Synagogue, but what we saw was powerful.

The walls are inscribed with the names of 80,000 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who perished during the Holocaust. There is also a permanent exhibit called Children’s Drawings from the Terezín Ghetto.

Window and walls in the Pinkas Synagogue, Prague
A wall in the synagogue with names of Jews killed during WWII

After you finish exploring the Pinkas Synagogue, you will enter the grounds of the Old Jewish Cemetery.

2. Old Jewish Cemetery

The Old Jewish Cemetery is the most chaotic-looking cemetery I have seen. The site is small and holds remains of the dead from 1439 – 1787.

Because of the lack of space, dirt was added on top of existing burial sites, and gravestones were added on the top layer to commemorate those buried in the lower layers. In some places, the graves are ten layers deep.

Gravestones in the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague
Some of the gravestones

3. Maisel Synagogue

Front of the Maisel Synagogue in Prague
The front of the Maisel Synagogue; don’t you love the bright blue fence?

The original Maisel Synagogue was a Renaissance temple founded by the Mayor of the Prague Jewish Town, Mordecai Maisel. It was built in 1592 in what was then the Jewish ghetto, where it thrived for a century.

In 1689, it was severely damaged by fire and was rebuilt several times over the next two centuries.

The Neo-Gothic synagogue you see today is the result of a reconstruction that took place at the turn of the 20th century.

During World War II, the synagogue served as a warehouse for property confiscated from the synagogues and Jewish homes.

The synagogue has an extensive collection of religious and everyday items. One of the items we saw was the Golem of Prague. You can read about its significance in Jewish folklore here.

The Golem in the Maisel Synagogue, Prague
Don’t forget to say hi to the Golem

To visit the Maisel Synagogue, you must purchase a ticket for the Jewish Museum (as described above).

4. Petrin Tower

Now let’s move on to a more light-hearted subject, the Petrin Tower.

If the Petrin Tower reminds you of the Eiffel Tower, that’s because it was inspired by it. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Tower was built for a world exhibition. In this case, it was the Jubilee Exhibition of 1891.

The Petrin Tower in Prague
It’s the mini-Eiffel

At 63.5 meters (208 feet), the tower is about one-fifth the size of the Eiffel Tower. You can climb the 299 stairs to the top and take in the majesty of Prague.

5. Wallenstein Palace

For a dose of Baroque beauty, stop by the Wallenstein Palace. This impressive Baroque building was built from 1624-1630 as the home of Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Mecklenburg.

Wallenstein was a Bohemian military leader, statesman, and mercenary. He only lived in the Wallenstein Palace for a year before he was assassinated on the order of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor.

After World War II, the palace became state property and was turned into government offices, albeit very lovely ones. Today it houses the Senate of the Czech Republic.

Make time to see the gardens, the aviary, the dripstone wall, and the frescos in the open presentation area.

Two views of the Wallenstein Palace in Prague
Frescos and gardens at the Wallenstein Palace

6. KGB Museum

This is a small museum showcasing items related to the Soviet Secret Service. You will either love this museum, hate it, or run screaming from it.

Three photos from the KGB Museum in Prague
These photos can’t convey the intensity of the presentation

Steve and I visited this museum and were dumbfounded by the presentation. After a short film, our guide, a Soviet native, talked about several items in the museum. He seemed particularly delighted while demonstrating the weapons, complete with ghastly sound effects, thrashing, and grotesque facial expressions.

At one point, I noticed stairs leading to a basement. Right then, I decided I was out of there if our guide suggested we go downstairs. But alas, the entire tour was on the main floor, and Steve and I were relieved to have escaped unharmed. However, we fear our entry fee may be funding a serial killer.

The price of 16 euro seemed high for the size of the museum, but I guarantee, if you dare to enter, you will be entertained.

7. Gallery of Steel Figures

The Gallery of Steel Figures is one of those places you come across that has nothing to do with the place you are visiting but turns out to be pretty cool.

A lion sculpture made of scrap metal
One of the many sculptures with impressive attention to detail

This gallery is full of sculptures made from scrap metal. To give you an idea of how intricate these are, a car sculpture can take up to 7,000 hours to complete. There is a wide variety of subject matter, from cars to cartoon characters, from animals to famous people. There is something for everyone.

8. Vrtba Garden

Vrtba Garden is an Italian Style Baroque garden on the slope of Petrin Hill. It is small, but it packs a large punch.

The Vrtba Garden in Prague
Peace and beauty in the heart of the city

Because of its location, the garden has several levels. The stairways are punctuated with statuary, adding to the elegance.

The garden is part of the Vrtbovsky Palace, the 18th-century home of Jan Josef, Earl of Vrtba. The garden took five years to establish, from 1715-1720.

Fast forward to the 1990s. The garden was in such disrepair that entry was forbidden. Luckily for us garden lovers, it was renovated from 1993-1998.

As you enter the garden, you will pass through Sala Terrena, an entrance hall linking the palace to the garden. The walls and ceiling of the Sala Terrena are covered with frescos, and it also has a few statues.

The garden is open from April to October and has a small admission charge.

The garden is at Karmelitska 25. It can be hard to find the entrance. Look for a small archway and signs that read “Vrtbovska Zahrada.”

Click here to read a helpful guide to the garden by Delve Into Europe.

District 2

9. Vysehrad Castle

Even though it is only three kilometers (about one and a half miles) from Prague Castle, Vysehrad Castle is a world apart. Here you can stroll through a park-like setting without dodging other tourists. 

This riverside fortress is believed to have been built in the 10th century. In addition to walking along the fortress walls, you can see the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul, enjoy the park with its statues, or enjoy a drink or a meal. You can also tour the underground casements that aided troop movement in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

A gate at the Vysehrad Castle in Prague
The entrance to Vysehrad Castle

If you enjoy exploring cemeteries as much as Steve and I do, don’t miss the Vysehrad Cemetery. Many Czechs from the arts, sciences, and politics are buried here, including the composer Antonin Dvorak.

Two scenes from Vysehrad Cemetery
Two scenes from the Vysehrad Cemetery

Here is the Vysehrad Castle tour information.

10. Franz Kafka’s Head

Seeing a shiny, giant rotating head may not top your list of interesting things to do in Prague, but then again, you may find Franz Kafka’s Head as entertaining as we did.

Franz, or at least his head, in all his 45-ton glory

The sculpture is 11 meters (36 feet) tall, weighs 45 tons, and has 42 rotating panels. You can see it rotating twice per hour from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

But the question has to be asked; what does this sculpture represent? Perhaps it represents the tortured soul of an artist, the complexity of Kafka’s personality, or the impermanence of life. Is it specific to Kafka, or is it a representation of everyman? Since the artist isn’t telling, it is up to each of us to decide what it means.

District 3

11. Olsany Cemetery

If you still haven’t gotten your fill of cemeteries, check out Olsany Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1680 to provide a final resting place for victims of the plague.

It is the largest cemetery in the city. It contains twelve sections, including the New Jewish Cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic. There are Muslim and Orthodox sections, as well as a military section that includes the graves of British and Soviet soldiers.

Scenes from Olsany Cemetery, Prague
A few scenes from the cemetery
The grave of Franz Kafka and his parents
The unassuming grave of Franz Kafka and his parents

District 7

12. Troja Chateau

Last but not least, don’t miss the Troja Chateau. Of all the memorable things Steve and I did in Prague, this was my favorite.

Even though this 17th-century chateau is outside the city center, it is well worth the trip. You can easily reach it by bus, and you will also be near the Prague Zoo and the Botanical Garden of Prague.

The chateau was built for the Sternberg family, members of the Czech aristocracy. Its Baroque design was inspired by French and Italian architecture and incorporated mythology into the building and the gardens.

The chateau has been owned by the Czech government since 1922.

A man sitting in front of the Troja Chateau
Steve and Hedgemeister in the garden of the Troja Chateau

The walls and ceilings in the chateau are covered with ornate frescos. There is so much to see that it is hard to know where to look first.

Fresco of a woman in the Troja Chateau
One of the many frescos in the chateau

Leave time to explore the grounds and get some photos on the grand staircase.

What It Cost

Dates: May 14, 2022 to May 24, 2022
Number of nights: 10
Total cost for two people: $2,300
Cost per day for two people: $230

Our costs:
Lodging: $1,000
Food (primarily restaurants): $900
Activities: $200
Transportation: $200

We were centered in Budapest then, so our airfare to Prague was only $174.

After buying metro tickets on the first day, we learned that anyone 65 years or older rides public transportation free. If this is you, be sure you have proof of your age.

Until Next Time

I hope that you enjoyed reading about some of the many interesting things to do in Prague as much as I enjoyed sharing them.

Of course, there are even more interesting things to do in Prague. Check them out here.

Happy traveling,
Linda

P.S. Blogging is a lonely pursuit. It would mean so much to me if you would share, save, or comment on this post and/or join our email list below.

The feature photo is the Czech toy store Pohádka – Toys at the Golden Lion.

Turkey is for Cat Lovers – With 25 Charming Cat Photos

For three months in the summer and fall of 2022, Steve and I visited eight cities in Turkey. To my delight, each town was full of cats roaming the streets.

These are not bedraggled strays. These cats are well-fed and look healthy. They are cared for and loved by the residents because, as we discovered, Turkey is for cat lovers.

A Little Background

When Steve and I arrived in the town of Cesme, the first stop on our Turkey trip, we were surprised to see hundreds of cats and dogs roaming the streets and lying everywhere. It was common to see dogs sleeping in the streets. The cars patiently drove around them. The cats, being wiser, did not sleep in the streets.

Most of the dogs looked healthy and weren’t aggressive. The dogs mostly slept. They had little interest in people, although there were plenty of people who fed them and cleaned up after them. Compared to the cats, the dogs in Turkey seemed to be an afterthought.

We saw two types of cats, those who ran away when people came near and those who were friendly. The friendly ones get all the attention they want. We soon found out cats are beloved throughout Turkey.

As we continued around Turkey, we found the same situation in other cities, except the dogs did not sleep in the streets.

Here is a quote from the website for the movie Kedi (more on that below) that describes the cat situation in Istanbul (and, from my experience, the rest of Turkey):

“Claiming no owner, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame – and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt.”

Here are photos of just a few of the cats that stole my heart.

The Cats of Turkey

Black and white cat sitting in front of a fence

This want-to-be model was hanging out in Cesme Harbor.

Calico cat on a concrete wall

We ran across this mellow calico while exploring Cesme.

Calico cat at the sea

And yet another Cesme cat, this one enjoying an evening by the sea.

Grey cat with green eyes looking up

This one wasn’t sure how close to get to us, but she was still sweet.

Cat hanging over a pole

This unique-looking cat was hanging out by a supermarket in Datca.

Orange and white cat on a plastic table

And this one was saving a table for her friends in the party town of Marmaris.

Orange cat lying against a wall

Also in Marmaris, this cat looks like he partied a little too hard.

Orange cat with a glass

And this one looks like he is doing just fine.

Two kittens sitting on a cushioned bench

These two kittens were part of a family that lived at the hotel we stayed at in Dalyan.

Grey and white kitten on a stone wall

This kitten was part of the same family. She was the most lovable.

Kitten on a motorcycle

It isn’t every day you see a motorcycle kitten. We saw her in Dalyan, too.

Cat lying against a wall

Steve snapped this cat’s photo while I explored rock tombs in Fethiye.

Cat and man on a lounger

We spent a lot of time relaxing by the pool at our hotel in Fethiye. This cat was happy to hang with us.

Grey cat lying down

There is nothing like walking out of a supermarket and seeing a cat looking like part of the merchandise.

Wide-eyed cat on a patio

If you visit the Riviera Restaurant in Antalya, you might meet this wide-eyed beauty.

Grey and white cat lying down

And this sleepy kitty found a purrfect spot to rest at our hotel in Goreme.

Cat lying in shrubs

I saw this cat every day when I walked past the Sheraton Hotel in Istanbul. Try as I might, I could not get her to come to me, but at least I got a photo of her gorgeous face.

Cat looking out of a window

Here is another Istanbul beauty. She is the resident cat at the Cher Hotel.

Orange and white cat sleeping on a chair

Apparently, chairs are for cats in Istanbul.

Orange and white cat on a metal bench

And so are bus stop benches.

Grey kitten looking at the camera

Steve and I were amused by this kitten and her two siblings at the Rumeli Fortress in Istanbul. They followed Steve around because he had food.

Cats on a cat tree

Some cat lovers in Istanbul set up a shelter for cats along a footpath. Here are two of the cats enjoying the cat tree.

A man surrounded by cats

These cats are residents of the cat shelter. They were curious to see what was in the bag. It was baklava, and no, they didn’t get any.

A cat in a clothing store

I don’t know how this cat managed to get into H&M at the Akasya Mall in Istanbul, but he loved the fuzzy ear muffs.

Cat sitting in front of a pink wall

We met this pensive cat in the quirky Istanbul neighborhood of Balat.

Why So Many Cats?

Cats have been revered in Turkey from the time of Ottoman rule (from 1300 to 1922) for two reasons.

The first reason was practical. Cats kept the population of mice and rats in check, which not only protected food but also kept books, which were rare and precious, safe from nibbling rodents.

The second reason was spiritual. In the Islamic religion, cats are admired for their cleanliness and hunting ability. The Ottomans were Muslim, and Islam remains the main religion in Turkey.

You can read more about why there are so many cats in Turkey in these two articles:

Meowza! Why Are There so Many Cats in Istanbul?” by Travel Atelier and “Stray Cats in Turkey: All There is to Know About Felines” by JTG Travel.

You can read about Jenny Sandiford’s experience with cats in Istanbul and see more cute kitty photos in her article “Cats of Istanbul.”

Daily Interaction

As you travel through Turkey, you can see several examples of how the residents care for and enjoy the cats.

If you look closely, you can see many places where food and shelter have been provided for the street cats. One group took this further when they set up a cat condo community along a footpath in Istanbul. There is plenty of food and water, and one day I saw a couple treating some of the condo kittens with medicine.

Multiple cat shelters in Istanbul

This cat shelter in Istanbul is extreme compared to most.

Occasionally, you will see someone dining outdoors with a cat nestled next to them or in their lap. This happened to me one day when a cat spent most of my meal curled up on my purse. As you would expect, some cats beg for food at the outdoor tables, but most are content to lie around.

Many people, including yours truly, take pleasure in talking to and petting the cats. I saw several instances of workers on their breaks enjoying a little feline fellowship.

Kedi

Kedi is the Turkish word for cat. It is also the name of a 2016 documentary that showcased the daily lives of seven of Istanbul’s street cats. It was directed by Ceyda Torun and was listed as one of the top ten films of 2017 by Time Magazine.

Click here to learn more about the movie and see a trailer.

Read More About Turkey

Check out our other posts about Turkey: “6 Cities, 6 Vibes on the Turkish Riviera” and “18 Things to Know Before Visiting Capadoccia.”

Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed meeting a few of Turkey’s cats as much as Steve and I did.

If you’ve been to Turkey, we would love to hear your impressions of the stray dogs and cats. Just drop us a note in the comment section below.

Happy traveling,
Linda

18 Things to Know Before Visiting Cappadocia

Thanks to Instagram, we all know about the enchanting Cappadocian landscape and the epic balloon rides. Like many places that are presented as ideal, there is more to the area than you see on the Internet. To help you plan your trip to this magical region, here are 18 things to know before visiting Cappadocia.

All costs are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted.

Our Experience

Steve and I spent six nights in Cappadocia in September 2022. We enjoyed our time there and had a great balloon experience because we researched the area and planned ahead.

We stayed in Goreme and did not have a car, which somewhat limited our travel around the area. Despite not having a car, we were able to do most of the items on our list.

If you choose to drive, you will find it easier to reach the outlying attractions. Be warned that driving in Goreme can be difficult due to poor road conditions, heavy traffic, and hilly, narrow roads.

What to Know

1. Cappadocia is a region, not a city

The region of Cappadocia is in the center of Turkey. Cappadocia includes the towns of Urgup and Avanos and the villages of Goreme and Uchisar.

The Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Goreme is the most touristy of the towns and is best for travelers without cars.

Like 97% of Turkey, Cappadocia is in Asia.

2. Cappadocia is not close to anything

If you are traveling in Turkey, adding Cappadocia to your itinerary seems like a no-brainer. But be aware that it is not close to other cities that are popular with tourists.

This chart shows the shortest number of hours it takes to travel from four popular cities in Turkey to Goreme. Data is from Rome2Rio.com.

Traveling byFrom IstanbulFrom AnkaraFrom AntalyaFrom Bodrum
Car8.547.512
Bus13.54.58.515
Train147NANA
Plane2.53.51.255.25

3. You will not fly into Goreme

If you choose to fly, you will fly to either Kayseri or Nevsehir. It takes one hour to drive from Kayseri to Goreme. The drive from Nevsehir to Goreme takes twenty minutes.

We were heading to Goreme from Antalya and did not want to spend eight hours on a bus, so we decided to fly. We wanted a direct flight. This meant flying to Kayseri.

The flight itself was fine. Unfortunately, our shuttle ride from the airport to Goreme was horrible. We had booked our transfer with Goreme Transfer through our hotel. Our driver was careless. If we had been near a town, I would have gotten off and found other transportation. Any company could have a bad driver, but I recommend avoiding this company.

When we headed back to the airport at the end of our trip, we used a shuttle service through Cappadocia Express. This was a better experience, but the shuttle didn’t leave as early as we would have liked since we like to be at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

Both of these transfers cost $10 per person. A private transfer for $80 was also an option.

4. Goreme is not a particularly pretty village

The village of Goreme, Turkey, at dusk

Goreme at dusk

Goreme is a study in contrasts. The town is built around the other-worldly beauty of the rock formations yet has a decidedly unattractive side.

Many of the streets were only partially paved, which caused a lot of dust. The dust was so bad that trucks drove around spraying water on the streets to keep the dust down.

A street in Goreme, Turkey

How most of the streets in Goreme looked when we visited

We found out that the roads were in bad shape because the town was laying gas pipes underground. According to the woman who told us this, the work had been going on for two years, but she didn’t know when it would be finished.

5. Many of the attractions and activities are easy to reach from Goreme

The village of Goreme is small and walkable. However, you will need more than your feet to see many of the highlights. You can find taxis readily enough. There are also local buses, but finding information about them is not easy.

From Goreme, it is easy to visit several stunning valleys full of fairy chimneys:
Love Valley – where you will see phallic rock formations.
Monk’s Valley – also called Pasabag Valley, great for hiking
Red Valley and Rose Valley – for ATV and horseback riding tours
Pigeon Valley – a great place to take an easy hike (see #12)
DerventValley – also called Imagination Valley because of the rock formations that resemble animal and human figures.

The “Camel” in Dervent Valley, Cappadocia

“The Camel” in Dervent Valley

You will also be close to the two open-air museums, the Zelve Open Air Museum and the Goreme Open Air Museum. See #14 to learn which one is worth your time.

A short taxi ride or a bus ride and walk can get you to Uchisar Castle. It is interesting, but in my opinion, not a must-see.

The balloon companies provide transportation to and from your hotel. If you stay far from Goreme, you might want to verify that they are willing to pick you up at your hotel.

Our ATV tour included hotel pick-up, but since the storefront was just a five-minute walk from our hotel, we decided to skip the pick-up. I assume the Jeep and horseback riding companies provide the same service, but of course, you should verify this.

6. A few of the attractions are further away

If you love exploring underground, there are two underground cities you can visit: the Derinkuyu Underground City and the Kaymakli Underground City. This article from Hello Jetlag does a good job of comparing the two.

Both underground cities are around a half-hour drive south of Goreme. It is recommended that you either drive there or visit with a tour as they are difficult to reach by public transportation.

Visiting the tunnels of these cities may be challenging for the taller among us and are probably not a good choice for the claustrophobic.

The Soganli Valley is a one-hour drive south of Goreme. Learn about visiting the Soganli Valley in this article from Cappadocia History.

The Ihlara Valley is a one-hour drive southwest of Goreme. It has been referred to as a green Grand Canyon. Learn more about the Ihlara Valley in the article from the Venere Travel Agency.

Also southwest of Goreme, not far from the Ihlara Valley, you will find the Selime Monastery. Here you can marvel at the largest religious building in Cappadocia and learn about its more than 1,000-year history. Here is more information about the Selime Monastery.

We chose to skip these attractions since we had plenty to do closer to Goreme.

7. You probably won’t want to drink the tap water

Goreme was the seventh city we visited during our three months in Turkey, and we were advised not to drink the tap water in each of them. Here is an overview of the tap water situation in Turkey by sipsafer.ca.

Bottled water is inexpensive, but the waste caused by all the people drinking bottled water is concerning.

8. You should book your balloon flight early, really early

If you have researched Cappadocia hot air balloon flights, you have probably seen advice to book your flight as early as possible. Heed this advice!

If you are worried about booking early and losing money should your plans change, check the FAQs for your chosen company. We flew with Voyager Balloons, and they allow cancellations without a fee up to one week ahead of the flight date.

We booked our flight two weeks ahead and couldn’t get our first or second choice. Our first choice was Royal Balloon, but they were fully booked for the entire duration of our trip. We then looked at Voyager Balloons. Our first choice here was the 60-minute flight. This was fully booked for our dates, so we chose the 75-minute flight. Our flight cost $270 per person, compared to $220 for the 60-minute flight.

9. You should schedule your balloon flight early in your trip

The second piece of advice is to book your flight early in your trip. Since the balloons can only fly when conditions are right, trips can be canceled up to flight time. By booking to fly early in your trip, should your balloon flight be canceled, you may have a chance to do it another day.

There was a honeymooning couple at our hotel who didn’t follow this advice. They booked their flight for the last day of their stay, and it was canceled.

10. Cappadocia balloon flights are safe and not scary at all

Steve and I loved our hot air balloon experience. Even for non-daredevils like us, there was nothing scary about it. We had two pilots, as one was still in training. We felt safe for the entire ride and were amazed at the pilots’ skills. When it was time to land, our pilot gently placed the balloon on a trailer bed the same size as the basket.

Three people sitting in front of a hot air balloon basket

Steve and me with one of our pilots after our flight

Regardless of who you fly with, the industry is highly regulated. Here is information about hot-air balloon safety in Turkey from Turkey Travel Planner.

11. Information about the balloon flights is readily available

Sailing over Cappadocia’s jaw-dropping landscape is a bucket list item for many travelers. Between the time spent to get to Cappadocia, the price of the balloon flights, and the effort to get the flight you want, it surprised me that many flyers had no idea what to expect.

If you check Voyager Balloons’ website, it does a great job of explaining what to expect.

Royal Balloon’s website isn’t quite as user friendly, but they do a nice job with their FAQs.

I mention this because of comments Steve and I heard from other flyers while having breakfast at the Voyager Balloon headquarters (the Voyager service includes hotel pick-up, drop-off, and breakfast).

One woman wanted to know if we would be sitting or standing in the balloon (standing).

Another woman wanted to know if there were restrooms on the balloon (there are not).

A third woman wondered if they would be serving cocktails (they do not).

I can’t imagine spending so much on an activity and not knowing what will occur, but maybe that’s just me.

12. Hiking in Pigeon Valley is easy and picturesque

There are a lot of places to hike near Goreme. Steve and I had gone to the Uchisar Castle and then walked to the Pigeon Valley Overlook. The overlook was teaming with tourists taking selfies. Only a few people were walking in the valley. We found a staircase to a lower level. From there, we were able to get to the valley floor.

We walked the trail back toward the castle. It was an easy walk on which we saw several caves and many fruit trees and bushes. Steve loved picking and eating the grapes.

Once we got closer to the castle, we headed back to our starting point.

We spent around two hours in the valley, with plenty of photo stops.

Pigeon Valley trail in Cappadocia

The start of our Pigeon Valley hike

Here is information about hiking Pigeon Valley (of course, you should double-check the information, as things may change).

13. Hiking in Love Valley is more challenging but equally amazing

Steve and I also hiked Love Valley, so called because of the many phallic-shaped rock formations.

Three photos of Love Valley in Cappadocia

Love Valley views

This hike goes from Goreme to Uchisar. We started from the Goreme end and enjoyed an easy walk for most of the trail. We found the Uchisar end of the trail a bit challenging with its steep inclines and parts of the trail laying on the edges of high rocks.

We each used a hiking pole, which helped a little, but the hard ground, which was often covered with gravel, made this hike more challenging than our Dales Way walk in England.

14. The Zelve Open Air Museum is worth your time; the Goreme Open Air Museum is not

There are two open-air museums in Cappadocia, the Zelve Open Air Museum and the Goreme Open Air Museum. The Zelve museum is in Avanos, a town next to Goreme and the Goreme museum is in Goreme.

The Zelve Open Air Museum is four times as large as Goreme’s. We visited it first and enjoyed exploring the homes and churches that had been carved into the rocks. Some of them date back to the 6th century. We highly recommend you spend a few hours there.

On our last day in Goreme, we decided to check out the Goreme Open Air Museum. It was a disappointment. Not only is it small, but there are several areas where repairs have been made in the past and need additional maintenance.

The side of a rock formation in the Goreme Open Air Museum

One of the rock formations in the Goreme Open Air Museum

Check out this article about the museum by kapadokyadayim.com. The article has several photos of the church frescos. Photos weren’t allowed in the churches when we visited.

In addition to being better kept and larger, the Zelve museum was also a better value at about $3.50 per person. The Goreme museum cost us over $8.00 per person.

15. You may want to rethink the ATV tour

ATV tours through the Red and Rose Valleys are popular. You can book this tour for about $30 per person.

Steve and I took a sunset tour. I was looking forward to it since it was my first time on an ATV. Steve had taken a private ATV tour in Jaco, Costa Rica, and loved it. Because this was a group tour, it was a much different experience.

If you decide to do this, know that you will be one of many people riding through the valleys. Our group had about sixteen ATVs that traveled in tandem, and our group was one of several.

The upside is that we got to see some lovely dusk views when we stopped to enjoy the scenery as the sun set.

Four photos of ATV riding in Cappadocia

Four photos from our ATV tour

This is one of those things I’m glad I did but wouldn’t do again. Several things took away from the enjoyment.

First, because we were in a large group, we had to stop frequently because of problems some riders in our group had or to let other groups pass.

Second, it was hard to enjoy the scenery while riding. It was everything I could do to keep up with the group, although the frequent stops gave me a chance to catch up.

And third, it was very dusty. A mask and sunglasses are a good idea. I took my sunglasses off near the end of the ride so I could see the trail at dusk, and regretted that move.

Two better options are hiking and horseback riding. Both allow you to enjoy the scenery and not be a pain in the butt to other people because of the dust and noise you are creating.

16. Dervish shows aren’t exciting or cheap

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “whirling dervish.” For many of us, this is used to describe frantic activity. But the whirling dervishes are real and are not frantic.

The dervishes follow a branch of Islam called Sufism. You can read about the beliefs of Sufism in this article by The Threshold Society.

The dervish ceremony, also called sema, symbolizes “… the rising of the human soul by releasing the ego to become enlightened, and thus to become united with God…” (from the article “Ancient Sufi Dance: Rumi’s Whirling Dervishes by Culture Trip).

Steve and I made arrangements through our hotel. The $40 per person fee included transportation to and from the show.

This is not an actual religious event but a show for tourists. Even so, it was solemn and, to my ignorant eye, appeared authentic. Since it isn’t a religious event, women do not have to cover their hair.

The show begins with music and prayer. Knowing nothing about Islam, this held little meaning for us. Then the dervishes come out and partake in a ritual of bowing and walking slowly in a circle for quite a while. After this, the whirling begins.

The show lasted about 45 minutes, during which photos were prohibited. There was a chance to take photos after the show.

The Dervishes are a-whirling

17. You may be asked to pay in cash or euro

During our travels along the Turkish coast, we used our Visa card for everything except tips, which we paid with lira. Then we arrived in Cappadocia.

Our hotel arranged the airport transfer and the Dervish show for us. In both cases, they would only accept cash and preferred euro. Since we were in Turkey, we had Turkish lira, not euro.

The manager did agree to accept the payment in lira, but that meant we had to go to an ATM to get more lira. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but the cost of 100 euro converted to 1,850 lira. We had to pay a $9 fee to get 2,000 lira from the ATM.

The hotel lost our business for the ATV ride and the transfer back to the airport because of this policy.

18. ATMs in Cappadocia charge hefty fees.

The best one we found to use with our U.S. credit union was QNB bank. If you take the cash in lira and don’t choose the bank’s conversion, you will only pay $5.

Until Next Time

Even though Cappadocia isn’t perfect, it is a magical place and is well worth visiting.

As always, Steve and I love to hear from our readers. Drop us a comment below with your thoughts and experiences in Cappadocia.

Happy traveling,
Linda

6 Cities, 6 Vibes on the Turkish Riviera

When you think of visiting Turkey, you probably think of Istanbul or Cappadocia. But did you know that there are many seaside cities and towns that also make for great trips?

Steve and I spent six weeks in the summer of 2022 in six cities, one on the Aegean coast and five on the Mediterranean coast. We loved a few, liked a few, and disliked one, but each had something different to offer.

In this post, I will share our experiences in these six cities on the Turkish Riviera so you can decide which are best for your next trip.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

The Aegean Coast

There are several towns on the western coast of Turkey that make for wonderful seaside vacations. We visited Cesme for one week and Alacanti for a day. Other popular destinations include Kusadasi, Guzelcamli, and Bodrum.

Cesme

Pronounced: CHESH meh
Population: 20,000
Vibe: Small town

Cesme is a seaside resort town on the Cesme Peninsula. It is 54 miles (87 km) from Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city.

The marina and the surrounding area are beautiful. The marina opened in 2010 and has room for hundreds of yachts. There are many shops and restaurants around it.

Don’t miss the Cesme Castle, a 16th-century Ottoman castle that overlooks the marina.

4 photos at Cesme Castle

Scenes of Cesme Castle

Cesme Old Town is adjacent to the castle. It is not large, but it is charming with its strong Greek vibe.

There is a small beach and a beach club near the seafront. There are other beaches in the area, but I would not consider this a beach town.

3 photos of Cesme, Turkey

Old Town, the marina, and Tekke Beach

One of the things you will notice right away is the large number of cats and dogs on the streets. Many of the cats are friendly. The dogs wish to be left alone but are not aggressive.

Not since we visited Paracas, Peru, have we seen so many free-range dogs. I cannot call them strays, as they appear well cared for. They are fed, and there is surprisingly little dog waste on the streets. They lie wherever they want, including in the street, and the residents respect their choices.

Just a 5-mile (8.8 km) drive away is the town of Alacati (Alaçatı in Turkish, pronounced ah LA cha tuh). Like Cesme, Alacati is not a beach town per se, but there are beaches to the north and south. The main part of town is in the center of the peninsula.

The two best things to do in Alacati are to wander the picturesque streets of Old Town or spend time at one of the spas.

2 photos of Alacati, Turkey

Fun sights in Alacati

Steve and I had difficulty deciding whether to visit Cesme or Alacati. Cesme won because it is on the sea. Even after staying in Cesme and spending a few hours in Alacati, it would still be a tough choice.

The Mediterranean Coast

As you turn along the coast and start traveling along the southern edge of Turkey, you will be on the Mediterranean Sea. This area has been nicknamed The Turquoise Coast.

Here, you will find many towns offering diverse experiences. In addition to the towns we saw, popular vacation places include Oludeniz, Kas, Finike, Kemer, Belek, Side, and Alanya.

Datca

Pronounced: Rhymes with cha cha
Population: 25,000
Vibe: Low-key resort town

The second town we visited was Datca (Datça in Turkish). It lies on a peninsula of the same name. The peninsula has the Aegean Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Datca is on the Mediterranean.

Visiting Datca is all about the waterfront. The beach is not very wide and was always full of people. There were also many windsurfers. The marina is large and lovely, as are the waterfront restaurants near it. If you head along the beach away from the marina, you can find a short hiking trail with some great views, too.

Four photos of Datca, Turkey

Scenes from Datca’s waterfront

There is a long seaside promenade with some resort-style hotels and many reasonably priced hotels. I tend not to make hotel and restaurant recommendations because business quality can change over time, and people have different tastes, but sometimes a place is so good that I want to share it with you. That is the case with the hotel we stayed at in Datca. The Datca Beyaz Ev Otel. And yes, that is the correct spelling. The Turkish word for hotel is otel. You will see both options throughout Turkey.

Datca Beyaz Ev Otel is a small, family-run hotel with exceptional service. The rooms are spacious, the pool is perfect, and there are several places around the property in which to relax. My favorite place was the dining area, which is covered but open to the pool. Besides being a comfortable spot for the daily breakfast buffet, it is a great place to relax out of the sun and perhaps have a drink.

Like Cesme, Datca isn’t full of sights, and it isn’t a party town, but it is a good place to chill near the sea.

Marmaris

Pronounced: MAA muh ruhs
Population: 28,000
Vibe: Party town

If you want to lie on the beach all day and party at night, Marmaris is the place for you. Its 6-mile long (10 km) beach curls around Marmaris bay and is surrounded by mountains.

The seafront promenade runs the length of the beach and is lined with one hi-rise after another and many restaurants. Much of the beach is commandeered by hotels or restaurants that fill them with sun loungers, umbrellas, and cabanas. You either pay to use them or use them for free, provided you buy food or drinks. There are a few public beaches without amenities.

In the evening, the beaches close, bright lights fill the seafront, and music pumps out of many restaurants. A little later in the evening, you can see shows at some restaurants, with drag shows appearing to be popular judging from the number of advertisements for them.

There are three marinas in Marmaris. One, the Albatros Marina, is chock full of charter boats with annoying touts trying to lure in customers. You can take different types of day trips or an evening cruise.

Four photos of Marmaris, Turkey

Marmaris views

Don’t make the same mistake we did. We were tempted by a moonlight cruise around the bay. The vendor said it was “romantic.” It wasn’t.

Our ship was chock full of people, and music blared on two of the three decks. I can’t call it a cruise because the ship sailed into the bay and then dropped anchor for a few hours. During this time, guests could buy drinks. A light dinner was served towards the end of the evening.

Steve and I were on the middle deck. When the music got to be too much, we went to the lower deck, where it was quiet. At least it was until a few people there started dancing and someone turned up the music. There was no escape!

Perhaps we should have expected what we got on a ship called the Davy Jones. Next time we want a cruise, we will ask a lot of questions.

Besides taking cruises, you can stroll through the Grand Bazaar. It is a large covered area filled with stores selling souvenirs and clothing you could buy anywhere. I didn’t live up to our image of a bazaar.

We ate at two restaurants that we recommend. The first is Deniz Cafe & Restaurant. It is on the waterfront overlooking the Nestel Marina. You can enjoy flavorful food and excellent service while admiring some beautiful yachts.

On our first visit, Steve had fajitas (very Turkish, no?). He said they were fantastic, so I had them on our second visit, and yes, they were great. Steve had a lamb and tomato dish that he also enjoyed.

We didn’t find this other gem until the end of our stay. If we had found it earlier, we would have paid it several visits. The restaurant is part of the Yeshill Beach Hotel & Restaurant, and quite frankly, we chose it because we were hungry and it looked inviting.

After we ordered our food, our waiter brought a tableful of meses (Turkish appetizers). Steve and I told the waiter we hadn’t ordered them, and he replied that they were on the house. We were confused, as we had been to restaurants where appetizers were placed on the table. If you ate them, you had to pay for them. Even so, we enjoyed the tasty treats, figuring that the price of food in Turkey is low enough that even if we were charged, it would not be a big deal.

After the meses, we ate our main dishes and asked for the check. Instead, our waiter arrived with a large plate of fresh fruit. Again, we were unsure about what was going on, but we went with it. After that, two plates of dessert arrived, but we were too full to enjoy them. Then we were offered coffee or tea, which we also declined.

By this time, we had no idea what our bill would be and were blown away when all this food, along with fabulous service, only cost $21.

Since we are not lie-on-the-beach or party people, Marmaris isn’t a place we would revisit, but it was a nice change of pace from the quiet towns of Cesme and Datca.

Dalyan

Pronounced: Like it looks
Population: 8,000
Vibe: Laid-back river town

Dalyan was an unexpected delight. It lies on the Dalyan River, 7 miles (12 km) inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Rocky hills and mountains run along the western side of the river, and the town lies to the east.

Four photos of rock formations in Dalyan, Turkey

Dalyan has amazing views wherever you are.

We stayed north of town in a quiet area lined with riverfront hotels. Many of the hotels had waterfront restaurants that were open to the public. It was a short walk along a stone-paved path to get to town.

We spent much of our week there relaxing at our hotel pool but ventured into town to eat at some of the many waterfront restaurants.

The riverfront in town is chock full of boats offering tours to local attractions, including visits to the mud baths and Turtle Beach (also called Iztuzu Beach), a protected breeding ground for loggerhead sea turtles.

You can visit Turtle Beach by taking a public water taxi for the bargain price of $3.30 per person round trip. We thoroughly enjoyed both forty-minute rides as each turn revealed more stunning beauty.

Our visit to Dalyan was the first time we had seen rock tombs. These are tombs the Lycians ( 15-14th centuries BC to 546 BC) carved into rock. Here is a bit of information about the rock tombs. Unfortunately, you can not get up close to the tombs, but they are an impressive sight.

Dalyan rock tombs at dusk

Dalyan rock tombs at dusk

There are a few other things to do in the Dalyan area, including visiting the Ancient City of Kaunos, taking a mud bath, hiking, and learning about loggerhead turtle conservation at the Kaptan June Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation.

Dalyan’s unexpected beauty made this one of our favorite stops on the Turkish coast.

Fethiye

Pronounced: FEH tee uh
Population: 70,000
Vibe: Poor man’s beach town

Our next stop was the town of Fethiye. It was our least favorite of the six places we visited.

Calis Beach is the big tourist draw in Fethiye, although it didn’t impress us. The beach is long but not very wide. However, we did have some of the best food we’ve had since arriving in Turkey. We particularly liked the moussaka at Hotel Idee and the pizza with slices of filet mignon and bearnaise sauce at Bella Mamma’s. Steve and I thought the pizza sounded unappealing, but we trusted our waiter, who said it was great. He was right!

Calis Beach, Fethiye, Turkey at dusk

Calis Beach at sunset

We spent much of our time relaxing by our hotel pool, but one day we took a water taxi from Calis Beach to the Ece Marina. From there, we walked around Old Town, which was not very impressive. One exception was the Paspatur Market. This market was smaller but more authentic than the Grand Bazaar in Marmaris.

Spices at the Paspatur Market in Fethiye, Turkey

So many spices at the Paspatur Market

Like Dalyan, Fethiye has Lycian rock tombs, but here you can go inside one, the Tomb of Amyntas. There are about 200 steps up the cliff, but before you reach the tomb, you have to navigate some rocks and three high stairs. Once you’ve managed all that, you can step inside a plain, small space, which is anticlimatic compared to the tomb’s exterior.

Three photos of rock tombs in Fethiye, Turkey

The Fethiye rock tombs

Antalya

Pronounced: Like it’s spelled
Population: 1.3 million
Vibe: Upscale (yet affordable) resort town

Hands down, this was our favorite stop on the Turquoise Coast. We stayed in the tourist area of Konyaalti, which has many hotels, resorts, and apartments overlooking Konyaalti Beach and the Mediterranean Sea.

Three photos of the sea and beach in Antalya, Turkey

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea

Steve and I knew this was a more upscale city when we arrived at the bus terminal. I didn’t get photos of it since we had to get to our Airbnb, but you can see it here. We also saw many gorgeous modern buildings in Konyaalti.

Four photos of modern buildings in Antalya, Turkey

Modern buildings in Konyaalti

To get an idea of how big the city is, take a ride on the cable car (Tünektepe Teleferik Tesisleri). You will be treated to wonderful city, mountain, and sea views.

Antalya has the largest Old Town of the six places we visited. We didn’t spend as long as we would have liked there because it was a hot and particularly humid day. However, we did spot several hotels that would make for a lovely stay if you choose not to stay seaside.

Two photos from Old Town Antalya

Two sights in Old Town Antalya

Antalya is home to the Antalya Aquarium. Not only is it one of the largest aquariums in Europe, but it also has one of the longest aquarium tunnels. The tunnel is 429-foot (131 m) long.

Despite the size, the aquarium was a disappointment given the price of $40 per person. While it had some well-done displays, the photos and names of the sea life on the signs didn’t always correspond to what was in the tanks. In addition, the tunnel was full of interesting undersea objects but lacking in sea life. There were some sharks and rays, but far from the number of sea creatures one usually sees in a sea tunnel.

On the plus side, the descriptions of the environments that were represented were informative and presented in English as well as Turkish and Russian.

Transportation in Antalya was surprisingly easy. Buses are easy to find using Google Maps, and once on board, you pay with a bank card. Each ride cost us 45 cents.

Unfortunately, Uber is not available in Antalya, but the taxis are inexpensive. The meter is in the rearview mirror. If you don’t see it, remind the driver to turn it on. To make it even easier to get around, there are call buttons on major streets that allow you to call a taxi. Just push the button, and a taxi will come for you.

Why Turkey?

Turkey wasn’t even on our radar until the spring of 2022. We were getting ready to leave Budapest, our home for two years because of the pandemic. We had taken advantage of our location to visit Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Lake Bled, and Ljubljana. We also had an eight-day walk in northern England in July. You can read all about that experience in “Walking the Dales Way: 81 Miles of Beauty and Charm.”

Between our side trips to the cities mentioned above and our Dales Way walk, we were spending a lot, so we wanted to pick an inexpensive place.

Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we wanted to avoid countries too close to Ukraine. And to complicate matters further, we wanted a country that isn’t in the Schengen Area since we are planning to spend three months in Greece in early 2023. As U.S. citizens, we can only spend 90 days out of every 180 days in the Schengen Area.

Nobody said travel planning was easy, but we worked through it and decided that Turkey filled the bill.

Getting to Cesme

Since our first stop was Cesme, we flew to Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city. We did not land until after midnight and spent the night at the TAV Airport Hotel Izmir. The hotel is in the airport, just a short walk from the baggage claim area.

Our room was spacious and modern, and a buffet breakfast was included. We used it to get some rest before heading to the coast, but I wish we had more time there to enjoy it.

Havas has a shuttle from Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport to Cesme many times every day. Here is information about that route. The bus stops in Alacati. It is best to pick up the bus at the domestic terminal, as it will not stop for pick up at the international terminal if it is full.

When riding this and other shuttle buses, you don’t buy tickets in advance. You simply get on the bus and pay the fare, which is surprisingly inexpensive.

Getting Around the Turkish Riviera

We used buses to move from city to city. All the buses we rode on were modern and comfortable, if not spacious. Using the buses was easy, even though there isn’t much information online. Locals are quick to answer any questions. Be aware that many people who work in the bus stations (otogar in Turkish) don’t speak English.

Our transfer from Cesme to Datca was the longest, with more than six hours of driving time. First, we took a shuttle bus from Cesme to the Izmir bus station. From there we took a long-distance bus to Datca.

The long-distance buses do not run as frequently as the shuttle buses and require you to have a ticket before you board the bus. Obilet.com is a good website for getting information about long-distance bus routes.

Steve and I were amazed when we arrived at the Izmir bus station. It was huge. There were over seventy buses lined up. Once we had tickets, we needed to find bay number 9. None of the bays we saw had numbers that low. I went searching for our bay while Steve watched the luggage. That’s when I discovered there was a second level of bays with another seventy or so buses.

The rest of our travel between cities was by intercity buses, which run frequently (every half hour or every hour). You just show up at the bus station, look on the windshields of the buses for the destination you want, get on board, and pay.

Drivers will stop for short restroom and smoke breaks on longer journeys. On the drive from Izmir to Datca, we had one twenty-minute break. The following three transfers were all a little over an hour long, so there weren’t any breaks. The drive from Fethiye to Antalya had a driving time of two and a half hours. That driver also stopped for a twenty-minute break, so be sure to factor that in on longer drives.

What Did Six Weeks Cost?

ItemCost in USD
Lodging$4,300
Flight from Manchester to Izmir$700
Local transportation$300
Food$2,000
Activites$200
Visas$100
Total$7,600
Number of days45
Cost per day$169

Until Next Time

I hope you have enjoyed learning about this lesser-known part of Turkey as much as Steve and I enjoyed discovering it. Drop a comment below and let us know your thoughts about the Turkish Riviera.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Walking The Dales Way: 81 Miles of Beauty and Charm

Do you love a challenge? Steve and I do, so when we first learned about the Dales Way, we were excited. It seemed like the perfect adventure for us. We planned our walk for June 2020, but the pandemic put our trip on hold for two years. In July 2022, Steve and I finally got to walk the Dales Way.

We spent ten days in northern England and walked on eight of them. We will never forget the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and the challenge of doing our first long-distance walk.

Read more to discover what the Dales Way is all about, our experiences, and where to find practical information for your Dales Way walk.

Note – all money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted.

About The Dales Way

What is The Dales Way?

The Dales Way is an 81-mile* (130 km) walk in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District of England. It runs north and south from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, to Bowness-On-Windermere, Cumbria. It is an easy to moderate walk that follows several waterways and takes you over the rolling hills of the dales. It passes through many farms (more on that later) and several villages and hamlets. 

*The length of the walk varies depending on the source. I have seen everything from 78 miles to 83 miles. However, the signs at the beginning and end of the walk say 81 miles.

Facts about the Dales Way

Collage of four signs on the Dales Way

Signs along the Dales Way

The first Dales Way walk was in 1969.

The Dales Way was created by the Ramblers Association, specifically the West Riding Ramblers led by Tom Wilcock and Colin Speakman. The Ramblers Association is a British charity that works to protect and expand the places people go walking. You can read more about the birth of the Dales Way here. 

According to Colin Speakman in this 2019 article, about 4,000 people walk the Dales Way every year and spend an average of £1,000 ($1,200).

A fair part of the walk is on paved roads, particularly near towns and villages. 

The path goes through two national parks, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District National Park.

It is possible but challenging to complete the walk in four days. A more reasonable number of days is six to eight. We chose to do the walk in eight days, with a rest day after the fifth day.

England and Wales have a right to roam. This gives walkers the legal right to travel over mountains, moorland, heath, downland, and common land without having to stay on paths. Even so, some farmers post signs requesting walkers to remain on the trail or run a fence along the trail to keep walkers in one area.

Despite more than a century of effort, the right to roam didn’t become law until 2000. It then took five years after it became law before the practicalities were worked out and it was put into practice. Here is the history behind the right to roam.

The Romance and The Reality

Imagine doing nothing for days but walking through a serene landscape, then spending the evening at a country inn where you share a few pints with other walkers and enjoy some well-earned sustenance and slumber. 

This is how I imagined our walk would be. And it was, to a point.

Collage of scenes on the Dales Way

A few scenes from our Dales Way walk

It really is this beautiful, but there are a few things you should know.

You will see endless expanses of greenery and mile upon mile of stone wall. But much of your time will be spent looking down, first to avoid a turned ankle or worse on the uneven terrain and second to avoid the ever-present animal waste.

Because that is what none of the Dales Way walkers mention in their articles. There is sheep, cattle, and horse dung everywhere. Obviously, it is in the fields. It is also on the roads. If you are lucky like Steve, you will be congested and not smell it very much.

A man standing in a field of sheep

You will see enough sheep to last you a lifetime.

You will open and close far too many gates.

You will also climb many stiles. While we found them all doable, they weren’t always easy. Sometimes there was a large distance between steps or a very narrow opening.

A man climbing a stile on the Dales Way

Steve climbing one of many stiles

A Surprising Risk

Walking is a low-risk endeavor, but it is not risk free. If you develop a medical emergency on the trail, there may not be a way to summons help (cell service was spotty), and it may be a long time until help arrives.

However, the most surprising risk was one we didn’t learn about until we were on the trail. That is the danger of being killed by a cow.

Our first cow experience was early in our walk. We entered the grounds of one farm and started following the riverside path. We could see many cattle gathered along the river and on the path. We approached them slowly, and one cow started walking toward us. We turned and slowly walked away from her.

She headed back to the group, but the cows remained on the path, so we decided to take a detour. We walked towards the road, only to find the fence along the road was topped with barbed wire. We saw a gate without barbed wire on top, but it was locked. So we did the next best thing, we climbed over it.

This detour set us back a little, but we found out we had made a wise choice when we met some hikers who told us about the risk of being killed by a cow. 

On average, cows kill five people in the U.K. every year. As you would expect, cows protecting their young are particularly dangerous. Farm workers are at the greatest risk, but walkers have been crushed or trampled by cows as well.

Here is an article from The Independent from 2015 that talks about cow deaths in Britain.

A cow on a rock on the Dales Way

How we like our cows – far away

Options and Costs

According to the data above, the average cost to walk the Dales Way is $1,200.

You can keep your cost lower than this if you carry all your gear and camp along the way. Here is a list of fifteen campsites on the Dales Way.

A more pricey option is to book your lodging directly and either carry all your gear or have what you don’t need on the trail moved from lodging to lodging by a service.

The easiest but most expensive way is to use a tour company to make arrangements for you.

Since this was our first long-distance walk, we used a tour company. There are several companies from which to choose. We chose Mickledore, a company that specializes in self-guided walking and cycling holidays in the U.K. We were happy with them.

Their services included arranging nightly lodging with breakfast, providing packed lunches, arranging daily transportation of our luggage, and providing maps, an itinerary, and a guidebook.

Sherpa Van is another popular service. They offer baggage transfers and accommodation bookings. We did not use them, so I cannot make a recommendation, but you can see their services and prices here.

If you use a tour company, you will still have to make plans for each night’s dinner. Mickledore advised us to make reservations in advance to be sure we had a place to eat each night.

Our Experience

How We Came to Walk The Dales Way

Our inspiration to walk the Dales Way came from Simon Fairbairn and Erin McNeaney at Never Ending Voyage. You can read about their experience in “The Ultimate Guide to Northern England’s Dales Way.”

Like Simon and Erin, we are not experienced hikers, yet something about this idea stuck with us. I think it was a combination of the uniqueness and the challenge, along with the assurance that it would be doable for two retirees in relatively good shape but far from athletic.

What We Loved

The peaceful, easy feeling – When all you have to do all day is place one foot in front of the other while soaking in the beautiful scenery, stress becomes a distant memory.

Meeting the best people – Whether they are fellow walkers, B&B staff, or random folks on the road, you will not find kinder, friendlier, more helpful people than the folks who live in northern England.

Seeing no chain hotels or restaurants – We did not see one Ramada or McDonald’s during our walk. Every place we stayed and every restaurant we ate at appeared to be a locally owned business.

The Riverside Inn in Ilkley, England

Our first stay during our walk – the Riverside Hotel in Ilkley, England

The Shepherds Cottage Luxury B&B – Most of our accommodations were basic, 2 or 3-star rooms. They were more than adequate, but when we reached the town of Ribblehead and walked into our room at Shepherds Cottage Luxury B&B, we were blown away.

A bedroom at Shepherd’s Cottage Luxury B&B

Our room at Shepherds Cottage. I doubt many shepherds had it this good.

Talking with Tony – Another great stay was at the Lakeland Hills B&B in Burneside. The lodging is in Tony’s house, so it was a different experience than at the previous B&Bs. The room and food were top-notch, but the best part was talking with Tony over breakfast.

What We Didn’t Love

The poop – Even so, we managed to keep it off our boots all but one day.

The trains – We spent a few days in Manchester before heading to Ilkley by train. Our train to Ilkley was canceled, and the replacement only went part way. Once we arrived at that stop, we had to grab a random worker at the small station to find out which train to take next. We did not see a ticket office.

On the way back to Manchester, the direct ride was changed to two trains after the journey had started.

The trains themselves were fine. Hopefully, England’s train travel issues will be straightened out soon.

The cost – It’s no secret that the U.K. is expensive.

The narrow roads – At least I didn’t like them. Far too often, we would walk on a road that was only wide enough for one car. When the road had vegetation or stone walls on both sides, there was very little room when cars passed. Even worse, the drivers seldom slowed down.

A narrow road in Yorkshire

One of the narrow roads

Memorable Experiences  

Record heat – England was experiencing a record-breaking heatwave on our first day of walking. Luckily it was a short 6 miles (10 km). The temperature reached 100 degrees F (38 C) in the afternoon. Fortunately, the heatwave was short-lived, and the temperatures were normal for the rest of our walk.

Lost guidebook – Mickledore provided a fantastic guidebook complete with hand-drawn maps. We found it very helpful the first day, but not so much after that since we lost it on day one! Mickledore mailed a replacement, but no one was at our B&B to sign for it, so we never got it.

Getting lost, a lot – We missed quite a few signs, adding miles to our journey.

Our Strangest Experience – Screaming Maggie

We had a strange experience at one B&B. We arrived about 30 minutes before check-in. We didn’t see anyone around, so we sat on a stone wall (is there any other kind in Yorkshire?) to wait. A few minutes later, a man came by and called into the house, “Maggie, your guests are here.”

Maggie was recovering from surgery and let us know she did not like being disturbed. She complained that we were early. This was so different than the hospitality we previously found in Northern England.

But that wasn’t the weird part. The owner, Jim, came back shortly, and while we were settling into our room, we could hear Maggie haranguing Jim over his lack of concern for her. She was yelling, swearing, and slamming doors!

There were two more tirades that afternoon, including one while Jim was ironing towels as Maggie sat nearby and complained. After all this, we didn’t see or hear her anymore. We still wonder why the screaming stopped.

Beside that, our stay was satisfactory. Jim never mentioned these incidents and did all he could to be a good host.

What It Cost Us

This experience was a budget buster. The total cost was $4,200 and breaks down like this:

ItemCost in USD
Flight to Manchester$600
Trains and buses$100
Mickledore fee - rooms, breakfasts, lunches, map, book, intinerary
for 8 walking days
$2,300
Mickledore - two extra nights with breakfast$400
Dinners$700
Lunches where not provided and drinks$100
Total$4,200

A few notes about our costs:

Several weeks before our trip, we booked an EasyJet flight from Budapest to Manchester for just over $200 for both of us. Shortly after we booked it, the flight was canceled. The replacement flight with Ryanair was almost $600.

Since we travel full-time, I only include the transportation cost of getting somewhere in the cost of visiting that location. Therefore, I am including only the cost to fly to England here but not the cost to fly out.

Our train trip from Manchester to Ilkley cost $70. When we bought tickets to return to Manchester at the end of the walk, it was only $24. The price can vary greatly depending on what time you choose to ride. I have also heard that buying tickets well in advance will save you quite a bit of cash.

We chose to eat dinner at nice places. This cost could certainly be lower.

I did not include the cost of supplies since this varies greatly. Many people will already have most or all of the items they need for this walk.

What We Would Do Differently

Truly waterproof boots – Steve and I thought our boots were waterproof, but a few minutes of walking over wet fields proved otherwise. We both wore Columbia boots. I had mine for several years, had worn them in the snow with no problem, and gave them an extra coating of waterproofing before our hike. Even so, they leaked. Steve’s were new Columbia waterproof boots, and they leaked too.

We noticed that many walkers had the same problem. Since my boots are ready to be replaced, I will be looking at the waterproof ratings closely.

Skip packed lunches – we paid $160 to have a packed lunch each walking day. This generally included a sandwich, some cookies, other packaged snacks, and an apple. We had a good breakfast each morning and found that we did not eat much on the trail. If we book future walks through a service, we will forgo the lunches and pack a few snacks.

Study the maps more – Steve had studied the maps before our walk and spent a lot of time annotating the guidebook, but I believed that the signposts would be adequate. They weren’t. Much of the trail is well marked, but the section between the two national parks is not. It is also easy to miss a signpost.

Secure maps and guidebook – When you’re tired and hot like we were after our first day of walking, it is easy to lose things. One of our party, who shall remain nameless, didn’t realize they had dropped our guidebook until a few hours later. We returned to the site the next morning, but we didn’t find it.

Skip the rest day – We weren’t sure how our senior bodies would react to days and days of walking, so we planned a rest day in the middle of our hike. This turned out to be unnecessary since the walk was not strenuous. We stayed in the charming town of Dent and ironically ended up hiking up a hill after we were told there was a fantastic view from the top. We never got to the top because we weren’t wearing the proper footwear to walk on the stone-covered path.

Skipping the rest day would have saved us $200 on lodging and $85 on meals.

Collage of a woman on a hike

Why wouldn’t you go for a hike on your rest day?

Book the extra night at the end directly – We had decided to spend an extra night in Bowness-on-Windermere at the end of our walk. We booked that night through Mickledore for $200. Our room was on the top floor, so it was fun carrying our suitcases up four flights. It was cute but small and certainly not worth $200 per night.

Practical Stuff

Learn More About Walking the Dales Way

The official website of The Dales Way Association is full of helpful information for learning more about the route and planning your walk.

Here is more helpful information about walking the Dales Way from the Waypoint51 website.

You can read more firsthand experiences of the Dales Way on the Dales Way Association website.

Good to Know

Steve and I each had a pair of hiking poles but ended up only using one each. Many people walk the Dales Way without poles, but we found them helpful for navigating muddy and rocky inclines. We also used them to steady ourselves when climbing over stiles.

A man hiking on the Dales Way

Steve with his hiking hat and pole

Rain gear, including a backpack cover, is necessary. After all, you can’t get emerald fields without rain. Luckily we only had light rain. Steve used a $6 poncho that kept him and his backpack dry, even if it did make him look like Quasimodo. I wore my Eddie Bauer rain jacket with hood and used a backpack cover, which also worked fine.

It is advisable to bring cash. We were able to pay for everything with a credit card, but if you run into a problem, you won’t find ATMs around every corner.

The same goes for supplies. Steve grabbed his poncho at Black’s in Manchester, but when we tried to find a shop along the Dales Way to replace our guidebook, the store had closed at 4 p.m. And since many of the villages along the Dales Way are tiny, there are a limited number of stores.

The Final Verdict

Despite the poop, the cows, and the countless stiles, Steve and I loved this experience and plan to do more long-distance walks. We basked in breathtaking beauty, met incredible people, and saw a lifestyle that defies the twenty-first century.

Man and woman kissing at the end of the Dales Way

At the end of our walk

A toy hedgehog in a backpack

Hedgemeister had it easy.

Have you walked the Dales Way? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences. Drop us a message in the comments section below.

Happy traveling,
Linda

What You Need to Know When Visiting Budapest, Hungary

Are you thinking of visiting Budapest? Go for it. This Hungarian city in Central Europe is chock full of beauty and history.

Steve and I arrived in Budapest in March 2020 for a four-week stay. Because of the pandemic, we ended up staying for more than two years. During this time, we have explored every corner of the city and are happy to be able to share what you need to know when visiting Budapest.

I have highlighted the main tips and shared a few top tips. Be sure to read to the end for a bonus tip. You can thank me later.

Layout of the City

1. The Danube River divides the city into two sides: Buda and Pest. The west side is Buda. The east side is Pest.

2. Buda is hilly. Pest is flat.

3. Pest is the touristy, party side. Buda is the quiet, stately side. As a tourist, you will probably stay in Pest.

4. The two sides weren’t connected until 1849, when the iconic Chain Bridge was built.

The Chain Bridge with pedestrians at night
The Chain Bridge on a summer night

5. The Chain Bridge is currently closed for renovation. The work is expected to be completed in August 2023.

6. There are 23 districts in Budapest.

Map of Budapest’s districts by Heizler, CC BY-SA 4.0
“Districts of Budapest Colored”, by Heizler, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

7. Street signs are plentiful. They usually have the district on the sign. This sign tells us that it is district 9. Utca means street.

Budapest street sign
A typical Budapest street sign

Culture

8. During the first Covid lockdown, Steve and I often commented on how clean the streets and sidewalks were. We thought it was because there were so few people out. Once the lockdown ended, we were happy to see that the streets were still very clean. Street sweeping machines and people sweeping and washing the sidewalks are common sights.

9. Tourism in Budapest has grown steadily over the last decade. According to Statistica.com, the annual number of tourists doubled from 2.3 million in 2009 to 4.6 million in 2019.

10. Most stores, restaurants, and attractions will be closed during holidays. These are the holidays that are celebrated in Hungary:

New Year’s DayJanuary 1
Memorial Day of the 1848 RevolutionMarch 15
Good FridayDate varies - a Friday in late March or early April
EasterDate varies - a Sunday in late March or early April
Easter MondayDate varies - a Monday in late March or early April
Labour DayMay 1
WhitsunDate varies - a Sunday in late May or early June
Whit MondayDate varies - a Monday in late May or early June
State Foundation DayAugust 20
1956 Revolution Memorial DayOctober 23
All Saint’s DayNovember 1
Christmas DayDecember 25
2nd Day of ChristmasDecember 26

11. Easter weekend can be especially challenging since most stores and many restaurants are closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. As you would expect, the stores are especially crowded on the Thursday before the weekend and the Saturday in the middle.

12. Dates are written with the day, then the month, then the year. So Christmas Day, 2019, would be written 25/12/2019.

13. Names are written last name first. When they are translated into English, the first name is first. So I am Gerbec Linda in Hungarian.

14. When a woman got married, traditionally, she not only took her husband’s last name, but she also changed her first name to his with “ne” added to the end. So a woman marrying a man named Istvan would become Istvanne. Modern women generally keep their own first name and may keep their maiden name if they wish.

Visas

15. Hungary is in the European Union (EU) and the Schengen Area. Visitors from the U.S. can spend up to 90 days out of 180 in the Schengen area, so you could spend up to 90 days in Hungary without procuring a special visa, providing you do not visit any other Schengen area country for the subsequent 90 days. Citizens of all other countries should be sure they understand the visa rules for their country.

Money


16. Even though Hungary is in the EU, it does not use Euro. The official currency of Hungary is the forint (HUF).

17. Some stores accept Euro and you might even see a sign telling you the exchange rate.

18. Paper bills start at 500 forints and go to 20,000 forints. Coins range from 5 forints to 200 forints.

19. It can be disconcerting when you first use forints because of the large numbers. In addition, commas are used where Americans use periods, and periods are used where we use commas. So a charge of 18.000,00 would equal about US$50.

20. As of this writing, 1 USD = 367 forints. 1 Euro = 394 forints

21. ATMs are readily available, but you may want to try a few to get the best one for you. As a holder of a U.S. bank account, I found the Sopron Bank ATM at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky útca 12 was the best deal.

22. A standard restaurant tip is 10-15%. However, a service charge is often added to the bill, so you should check before calculating your tip. If there is a service charge, it will usually vary from 10-12.5%. We often tip a little extra directly to the server, which should be handed to him, not left on the table.

23. Credit cards are widely accepted, but it is wise to carry some forints.

24. The value-added tax, which is similar to sales tax, is 27%. This is the highest in the world.

Language

25. The official language of Hungary is Hungarian (Magyar).

26. The Hungarian alphabet has 44 letters, including 14 vowels.

27. Some letters have more than one character. Seven letters have two characters, and one has three characters.

28. Each letter only has one sound, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can easily pronounce words. Here is a fun video on how to pronounce the letters of the Hungarian alphabet.

29. The letter sounds may not be what you think. For example, the letter S has the sound SH in Hungarian. So Budapest becomes Budapesht, and the grocery chain Spar is pronounced Shpar.

30. Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers. This is because the syntax is different, and often words that are separate in English get added to the end of the subject word.

31. English is widely spoken in businesses that cater to tourists. It is not so widely spoken in other places. We have found that most younger Hungarians are fluent in English, but older people are not since they grew up during Soviet rule when learning Russian was compulsory.

32. English translations are prevalent on public transportation and in museums and other tourist attractions. The translations are better than many of those we have found in other countries.

33. Here are some words that can help you while you are in Hungary courtesy of MyEnglishTeacher.eu. We use Hello – Jó napot! [yo nah-pot], Thank you – Köszönöm [koh-soh-nohm], and You’re welcome – Szívesen [see-ve-shan] the most.

Transportation

The Public Transportation System

34. Budapest is easy to get around. There is an extensive metro, tram, and bus system, and it is also a very walkable city.

35. We found the transportation system easy to use and very clean.

Inside of a metro car in Budapest
Inside a metro car

36. The transportation system is run by BKK. Here is their website.

37. The metro, tram, and bus systems within the city all use the same ticket. They are easy to buy at machines found at many stops. As of this writing, an individual ticket is 330 ft (less than US$1), but you can lower the cost to 300 ft per ticket by buying a group of ten.

A public transportation ticket machine
A ticket machine in a Metro station

38. A part of Metro Line 3 is currently under renovation and being replaced by buses. It is expected to be completed in March 2023.

39. There is a bus that runs between the airport and the city center (Deák Ferenc tér). It is easy to use and takes a special ticket. Here is more information on that bus.

40. Be sure to validate your ticket. Here is the BKK information on how to validate your ticket.

41. Top Tip
If you take nothing else away from this article, be sure to hold onto your ticket until you’re completely off the vehicle or out of the metro station. It is common for ticket checkers to screen passengers in the metro stations. The charge for traveling without a ticket is 8,000 ft. (about US$22) if you pay on the spot. It doubles if you can not pay immediately.

Three Cool Things About the Transportation System

42. Metro Line 1 was the first underground in mainland Europe and has been in constant operation since 1896. It consists of only 11 stops.

Cars on Metro line 1 in Budapest
A car on Metro line 1

43. You can take a funicular up the hill to Buda Castle and the Castle District. The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) is a 150-year-old funicular railway that will take you from Adam Clark Square at the end of the Buda side of the Chain Bridge up to the Buda Castle and back down again. It requires a special ticket. Learn more about it here.

Budapest funicular
The Budapest funicular


44. There is also a chairlift run by BKK. This takes you up to János Hill and back down. János Hill is the home of the Elizabeth Lookout tower. It also has hiking trails, and the Children’s Railway runs through it. Like the funicular, this requires a special ticket. Here is the chairlift information.

Other Ways to Get Around

E-Scooters

45. There are currently three e-scooter companies operating in the city: Lime Bike, Bird, and Tier. We have only used Lime Bike, and it works great. It is all done via an app, and it is the best sharing app we have tried so far. The scooters are easy to find and in good condition. After my second e-scooter accident, I gave up riding them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy them. You can read about that experience here.

Taxi’s and Ride Sharing

46. Uber is not allowed to operate in Hungary.

47. There are plenty of taxis, but it is often suggested that you should either hire one through a hotel or negotiate the price before you get in. They have been known to rip off tourists.

48. I have noticed a taxi service called Bolt on Google Maps but have not tried it.

Bike Sharing

49. The MOL Bubi Budapest bike-share system works well. You can find bikes all over the city. You will need to register on their app before you ride.

Walking

50. Most streets have crosswalks painted on them. If there is no traffic light, all you have to do is step off the curb, and traffic is required to stop. Still look both ways; bikes and scooters don’t always stop.

51. If there is a traffic light, obey the walk/don’t walk signs.

52. While it is common for traffic in many cities to stop if a pedestrian sets foot in a crosswalk, in Budapest, many cars stop even if you are still on the curb.

53. Cross bike lanes like you cross a street. Look both ways.

54. Top Tip
Be extra careful on the sidewalks. Scooters, bikes, and even motor scooters and motorcycles often ride on them. The worst part is that you seldom get a warning when one of the riders wants to pass you. It is best to walk like you drive; look over your shoulder before moving to the left or right.
A street with a bike lane and a crosswalk
A crosswalk and a bike lane on a Budapest street

Communication

55. If you are looking for a local SIM card, the three main providers are Telekom, Yettel (formerly Telenor), and Vodafone. We used Vodafone when we first got to Budapest, but their customer service was horrible: it was not uncommon to wait for an hour or more to talk to a clerk at the store. We switched to Telekom, which has been great.

56. The European emergency number is 112. The operators speak English, which I learned when I had to call after getting stuck in an elevator in Bulgaria.

Food (and Water)

57. The tap water in Hungary is safe to drink.

58. Langos are huge slabs of fried dough with toppings. Some of the most popular toppings are sour cream and cheese or Nutella.

Two varieties of langos
Just two ways you can enjoy your langos

59. As someone from the U.S. who grew up with goulash made from ground beef and macaroni, I was surprised to learn that Hungarian goulash is traditionally served as a soup. We have seen it served on a plate in a few places.

60. Paprika is popular in Hungary. You will see it everywhere. Chicken paprikash makes good use of it. Steve cooks this delectable version.

61. You will also see (and smell) chimney cakes. Chimney cakes are made with a sweet dough that is wrapped around a cylinder and baked. The dough can be coated with different things like cinnamon or walnuts, and they can be eaten empty or filled with any combination of ice cream, whipped cream, or Nutella.

Shopping

62. Bags are not provided at grocery stores. You can either buy them at check out or bring your own.

63. Groceries will not be bagged either. Most grocery stores have an area where you should bag your groceries. Simply put them back in the cart or basket as they are rung up, and move to the counter to bag them.

64. Pharmacies are indicated by a green cross. In addition to prescription medicine, you buy over-the-counter medicine here, too.

65. Over-the-counter medicines (OTC) are sold in small quantities and are pricey compared to what you can buy in the U.S. As of this writing, 20 200mg Advil capsules cost over $7.00. It is best to bring any OTC medicines you may need.

66. Drug stores, such as Rossmann and DM, sell toiletries, household cleaners, and personal care items.

Unique Things to See and Do

Thermal Baths

67. Budapest has 123 thermal springs, some of which feed the city’s thermal baths. Here is information about six of the baths along with tips for your visit.

68. The most well-known bath complex in Budapest is the century-old Szechenyi Baths. A bright yellow neo-baroque building surrounds the outdoor pools.

Szechenyi Baths on a winter day
The Szechenyi Baths on a winter day

69. Another iconic bath complex is the Gellert Baths. Along with the companion Gellert Hotel, the baths are closed for renovation.

70. For something more modern, consider Aquaworld. You can visit their waterpark for the day or stay in the attached hotel and enjoy both the waterpark and the hotel’s wellness center. As our six visits will attest, we love Aquaworld. You can read more about it here.

71. Top Tip
Make sure that in addition to your swimsuit and towel, you bring flip flops, the kind made of a rubbery material, not street shoes.

Ruin Bars

72. Ruin bars were originally underground bars set up in abandoned or decaying buildings. The bars were decorated with cheap, free, or even discarded furniture and novelties, eclecticism in the extreme. You don’t need to be a partier to enjoy them, as they are now open for lunches and dinners. Read Nomadic Matt’s take on ruin bars here.

A room in a ruin bar
Inside the most famous ruin bar, Szimpla Kert

Kolodko Mini Statues

73. The mini statues are the work of a sculptor named Mihály Kolodko. Some of the statues were commissioned, but others were placed around the city Banksy style by Kolodko. Some are whimsical, some are historical, and some are social commentary. There are Kolodko statues in a few other cities, but Budapest has the most. Read more about them here.

Kolodko’s mini statue “The Checkered-Eared Rabbit” watching over the city
Kolodko’s mini statue “The Checkered-Eared Rabbit” watching over the city

A Few More Things

74. Hopefully, you will not need medical care while visiting Budapest, but if you do, I recommend FirstMed. The entire staff speaks English, and they provide excellent medical care.

75. If you need to print something, here are two good print shops:
In District VII:
Hi Res Digit(All)
Wesselényi utca 16
https://www.digit-all.hu

In District IX:
Copy & More
Ferenc körút 43
https://solotag76.wixsite.com/copyandmore

Bonus Tip
For a fabulous breakfast, stop in at Cirkusz Cafe. They serve breakfast and brunch from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. Be warned, the lines can get long in the morning, so if you are interested in breakfast, it is best to get there early.

More About Budapest

Just in case this isn’t enough information, you can read more about Budapest in these posts :
The Beauty of Budapest in 50 Photos
20 Quick and Cool Things to See and Do in Budapest
The Funky Side of Budapest
10 Must-See Holocaust Memorials in Budapest
Budapest’s Marvelous Margaret Island
Unique Architectural Ornaments in Budapest

Until Next Time

I hope you have found these tips for visiting Budapest helpful and inspiring. Drop a note in the comment section and let us know your thoughts on Budapest and your top tips.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.com

 

The Best Things To Do in Szeged, Hungary

Steve and I took a five-night trip to Szeged, Hungary, in March. One of the reasons was to visit the thermal baths at Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which are connected to the Hunguest Hotel Forrás. We also wanted to see the Art Nouveau buildings that grace the city after it was rebuilt following a devastating flood in 1879.

Read on to learn more about the city and the best things to do in Szeged.

Szeged Facts

  • Szeged is 109 miles (176 km) southeast of Budapest near the borders of Serbia and Romania.
  • Szeged can be reached by train from Budapest in less than two and a half hours.
  • Szeged is the third-largest city in Hungary behind Budapest and Debrecen.
  • The Tizsa River divides the city into two parts, the western side, referred to as Szeged, and the eastern side, referred to as New Szeged.
  • It is easy to get around the city on foot or by public transportation.
  • Szeged is home to the University of Szeged, one of the most distinguished universities in Hungary.
  • Szeged is referred to as the city of sunshine.
  • English was spoken almost everywhere we went.
  • For an in-depth look at all things travel in Szeged, check out this site.

Szeged’s Unique History

Szeged has been inhabited since ancient times and was first mentioned in a royal charter from 1183. As you would expect, it saw many battles and many changes. But the event that makes this city unique could have wiped it out.

In 1879, most of the city was destroyed by a flood. Reconstruction during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries has led to a city of relatively modern architecture.

What to Do in Szeged

1. Marvel at the Architecture

During the decades when the city was being rebuilt after the flood, the Art Nouveau style was popular, so Szeged has many lovely buildings in this style.

Since our first full day in the city was a Monday, and many attractions were closed, we did a walking tour. Despite the cold and a few snow flurries, we managed to see quite a few stunning buildings. Here are a few highlights:

The Bridge of Sighs in Szeged, Hungary

The Bridge of Sighs was modeled after the one in Venice. It connects City Hall and the House of Labor.

Detail of the facade of the Beregi Palace in Szeged, Hungary

Detail on the facade of the Beregi Palace

2. Visit the Votive Church

The Votive Church overlooks Dóm Square. This Roman Catholic cathedral is the fourth largest in Hungary. Construction began in 1913, but because of WWI, it wasn’t completed until 1930.

Before you enter the church, you will be captivated by its beauty and abundance of decoration. The exterior is sparkling clean, which you can’t say about all the architectural gems in Szeged.

Detail on the front of the Votive Church in Szeged, Hungary

Detail on the front of the Votive Church

Collage of decorations on the Votive Church in Szeged, Hungary