Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Best of Eastern Europe

Western Europe is usually considered a more glamorous location for travelers, but those in search of out-of-the-way tourists spots may find Eastern Europe more appealing. There are all sorts of stigmas about the region, most of which having to do with the belief that these countries are poorer and less safe than their Western counterparts. However, with a few exceptions, many Eastern European countries are quite stable financially and are completely safe for tourists. Though the region may lack the villas of Italy, the lavender fields of France, and the beaches of Portugal, it makes up for all that with its rich culture and its beautiful nature. Here are some of the best sights to visit if you are ever traveling in Eastern Europe. (This list does not include the Baltic States or Slavic countries in Southern Europe.)

St. Michael's Golden-Dome Monastery, Kiev, Ukraine
Image result for st michael kiev

The structure was originally built in the Middle Ages and has since been demolished and rebuilt numerous times, most recently in 1991. The Ukraine Baroque style golden domes are what make the monastery's architecture unique. The monastery is one of the most popular tourist sights in Kiev and is a beautiful sight to visit in Eastern Europe.

Bran's Castle (Dracula's Castle)
Image result for romania dracula castle

Although the official name of the castle is Bran Castle, it is popularly called "Dracula's Castle". The nickname arose out of legend that Bram Stoker based the castle in his book Dracula off of this one. Though it's unclear whether the legend is true or not, there is an interesting museum inside that displays artifacts once belonging to Queen Maria, so it is still worth visiting.

Tatra Mountains, Slovakia
Image result for tatra mountains slovakia

Once you're in Slovakia, the Tatra Mountains won't be hard to find, since they cover most of the country. For centuries, they have been a home to the Slovak people and are a very important part of their culture. Perfect for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, the mountains are definitely worth a visit.

Town Square, Krakow, Poland

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Top Sights in Norway

 We've all heard of the Vikings, the cold weather and the Scandinavian stereotypes of Norway. But is the country actually worth a visit? The answer is a definite yes. Oslo, the capital, is a very interesting city and is fun to explore. However, most of the worthwhile sights lie far beyond Oslo. Here are some of the more spectacular ones that are definitely worth your time.

1. Svalbard

Svalbard, Norway

This is by far the most beautiful place in Norway. Not only are the icebergs and waterfalls breathtaking, but there is also a fair chance that you will spot a polar bear. If you are still unconvinced, just look at the picture! The entire archipelago lies within the Arctic Circle, so make sure to visit during the warmer months. Many companies also offer cruises with stops in Svalbard. Visiting this icy land is a MUST during your lifetime.

2. Trollstigen

Stelvio Pass - 48 hairpin turns to the top of the Italian Alps.

Trollstigen literally translates to Troll's Ladder. This treacherous road has eleven hairpin bends as it winds down the Norwegian Mountains in the Rauma municipality.You are free to take a hike and admire it from a distance, but if you decide to take the drive, then don't go too fast! You won't be alone, though. During peak tourist season, about 2,500 cars traverse the road. There is a viewing balcony off the road that displays the downward road and the Stigfossen waterfall.

3. Kjeragbolten

This precariously located boulder is wedged between two cliffs on the Kjerag mountain in Rogaland. It is wide and sturdy enough for a person to stand on. However, most do not have the guts because the boulder is situated right above a 984 meter deep abyss. Even if you don't feel like posing on top of the boulder for a picture, you can still hike up for an amazing view.

4. Trolltunga

Norway is full of cliffs and outstanding views, and so another one has made the list. Trolltunga means Troll's tongue, and the name fits its appearance. To get here, you will have to brave a four hour hike up the side of the mountain. The hike is very challenging, and you will spot waterfalls, mountain springs, and streams along the way. Part of the hike is climbing a ladder built into the mountain to reach the cliff. This is not an easy place to get to, but the view is unforgettable.

5. Geirangerfjord

Of course, I couldn't end a list about Norway without including a fjord. This particular one stood out to me because of its picturesque waterfalls, such as the Seven Sisters waterfall in the picture, which is the tallest in Norway. The fjord itself is 15 kilometers long. The easiest and best way to admire the scenery is to take a boat ride along the fjord. This way, you will be able to see the entire length of the fjord.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Five best places to see the Northern Lights

 The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are quite a beautiful phenomenon that occur during solar storms, when a solar wind is blocked by the Earth's magnetic field and creates a colorful light display in the sky. The auroral zone is the region where most auroras are visible, and the zone is a circle around each pole. The best places to see the aurora are typically within the zone. Because of Europe's location near the north pole, it is a great place to witness the northern lights. Be prepared for some cold weather, though, since the best time to catch a glimpse of the lights is in the winter when the solar winds are the most active. If you have your heart set on seeing the aurora in person, then here are the best places to go.

1. Tromso, Norway

Tromso is an ideal place to see the northern lights. Not only is it well into the auroral zone, but it is also a hospitable city with friendly locals. It is a vibrant city, but not so bright that the city lights would dim out the sky. Getting to the city is possible by bus, plane, train, or ferry. The city is in a remote location, but it is not a tiny Scandinavian town like some other locations nearby. Even if you can't manage to witness the aurora, skiing is always an option in this mountainous town. When it comes down to accessibility and convenience, Tromso is by far the best option on the list.

2. Isafjordur, Iceland

All of Iceland is completely in the aurora zone, but Isafjordur is a particularly good place for viewing the northern lights. Isafjordur is a small town in the northwest of Iceland with a population of 2,600.  The scenery is very beautiful, and there are many hiking trails around the town. Kayaking is also a fun activity here because of the calm waters. The view of the lights will be spectacular since there are no city lights and the town is relatively high in altitude.

3. Luosto, Finland

It would not be a complete list without mentioning Finland. The main attraction in Luosto is the famous Aurora Chalet, where you are given an "aurora alarm" that beeps whenever the lights are visible. This makes viewing the northern lights much easier, since you don't have to stay up all night watching the sky. The Aurora Chalet is one of the top hotels in Scandinavia, and it is surrounded by the Pyha-Luosto National Park, so there are plenty of activities in this remote area in Lapland.

4. Jukkasjarvi, Sweden

This is a more expensive option, but those that can afford it can get a good view of the aurora by staying at the world's first and only ice hotel. You can book a Northern Lights room with artistic depictions of the lights carved onto the ice walls. Every year, the hotel is rebuilt and new artists are hired to carve designs onto the ice. The hotel offers many other activities such as ice sculpting, snowmobile tours, and even a trip into space! The rooms fill up very fast, so don't hesitate to check it out as soon as possible.

5. Murmansk, Russia

Murmansk is located on the Kola Peninsula, which is mostly inside the Arctic Circle. The reason that Murmansk is number five on the list is because of its inconvenience. A visa is needed to travel to Russia, and Murmansk is quite far from Moscow, so you will either need to take a plane or a very long train ride to get up here. Murmansk doesn't have as many attractions as the other places on the list, but the reason is it on the list is because flights to Moscow are extremely cheap. If you are traveling on a tight budget and really want to see the lights, this might be your best option.

Some other locations outside of Europe great for watching the aurora are:
  • Denali National Park, Alaska
  • Nunavut, Canada
  • Southern Greenland
Some locations for watching the aurora australis, or the southern lights, are:
  • Ushuaia, Argentina
  • Southern Australia 
  • Southern New Zealand
  • Antarctica
 Remember, even if you do travel to these places in the right time of  year, you may have to wait for up to a month before the aurora appear. With time, patience, and a little bit of luck, you will have a great chance at witnessing an extraordinary sight.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ten natural wonders of Europe

After researching for this article, I was surprised to find that there are so many natural wonders in Europe. I will definitely make an effort to see some of these on my next trip. Some of these places are big tourist spots, but many are still hidden gems. It took me a while to narrow this list down to only ten places, so each and every location on this list is undoubtedly worth a visit. Once again, I have limited the places to one per country.

1. Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard, Norway

This archipelago belonging to Norway is fully inside the Arctic Circle. The best place on Earth for spotting polar bears, Svalbard's islands are mostly made out of ice. There are many iceberg waterfalls like the one in the picture. A trip to Svalbard will surely be an adventure full of beautiful scenery and one-of-a-kind wildlife.

2. Pamukkale, Turkey
Natural pools in Pamukkale, Turkey

These pools in the picture were naturally formed by calcium deposits. They are also known as petrified calcium waterfalls. In Pamukkale, there are also 17 hot springs. Everyone must remove their shoes before stepping into a pool in order to keep the waters pristine. The best time to travel here in is the summer, when the water is warm. This is technically in the Asian part of Turkey, but these pools are so beautiful that I decided to include them anyway.

3. Skaftafell Ice Cave, Iceland

This is truly one of the most stunning places on the planet. Adventurer or not, everyone can appreciate its beauty. The only way to see the cave is to join a trip to the glaciers in Vatnajokull National Park. The safest time to visit is in the winter, since the ice can melt and fall during the summer.

4. Greek Isles, Greece
Zakynthos, Greece. Wow never seen this before but it looks like the place I dreamed about! Literally dreamed I was in a place like this

This turquoise water is only found in a few places around the world, and one of those especially beautiful places is the Greek Isles. The beach in the picture is on the island of Zakynthos. There are many other lovely islands including Corfu, Crete, and the world-famous Santorini. Cruises are offered that explore many of these breathtaking islands.

5. Swiss Alps, Switzerland
Matterhorn, Swiss Alps

Supposedly the most scenic mountains in the world, this place is a skier's paradise. Perhaps the most famous peak, the Matterhorn (in the picture), is the most beautiful after all. The best experience in the Swiss Alps is witnessing a colorful mountain sunset. I am a passionate skier, so hitting the slopes up here is definitely on my bucket list.

6. Bigar Waterfall, Romania
Bigar Waterfall, Anina Mountains, Romania

This unique moss waterfall is still mostly unknown to the outside world. It looks slightly unreal the first time one looks at it, as though it popped right out of a fairy tale. But, I promise you, this does exist, and no editing was done to the photo. One day, this mystical forest waterfall might become as famous as Niagara Falls.

7. Crooked Forest, Poland
 The Crooked Forest, Gryfino, Poland. This grove of 400 pine trees was planted circa 1930, when its location was still within the German province of Pomerania. It is believed that a tool or technique was used to deliberately make all the trees bend in the same direction (north), but the method & motive are unknown. One theory is that tanks rolled over the young trees in WW!! snapping their trunks but not killing them. The mystery is part of the attraction

Take a look at these trees, and you'll notice that something is off. The Crooked Forest is a grove of 40 seemingly crooked pine trees. No one is exactly sure why these trees grew this way. The trees could have bent that way naturally, or humans could have intervened. Whichever you decide to believe, this forest will always be a mystery.

8. Sorvagsvatn Lake, Faroe Islands, Denmark
Sørvágsvatn Lake - The two-level lake on Vagar Island, located in the Faroe Islands Archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean.

This lake has an interesting location; it is situated on a cliff right above the Atlantic Ocean. The lake is close enough to the edge that it looks spectacular, but far enough so that it doesn't overflow, creating a narrow walking path. Straddling the path in between the lake and the 100-foot cliff is definitely something a daredevil should try.

9. Blue Grotto, Bisevo, Croatia

The water in this cave appears to be glowing blue. This is because the sunlight from the opening shines in and reflects off of the water to create a dim blue light. The entrance was artificially made, as the cave only had one natural entrance, and that was underwater. Now, the cave receives 10,000 tourists each year.

10. Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway was created by an ancient volcanic eruption. It is an area made up of about 40,000 hexagonal columns of basalt that interlock, creating a very unusual landscape. There is an identical group of basalt columns located across the sea on the Scottish island of Staffa, which influenced the legend that giants created the causeway by running across the sea.

Well, there you have it! Your itinerary is set for your next nature trip to Europe. Did I forget any places? Comment below, and don't forget to check out my Pinterest page!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Comparing Holland and Belgium

How much do you know about these countries? Well, you probably know that they are both low countries, both in Europe and relatively small in size, but what else? For instance, which would you rather visit if given the opportunity? Holland and Belgium may lie next to each other, but their cultures, cities and landscapes are actually quite different - they don't have the same national language! Let's take a look at these small but proud nations, and then you can decide which country you'd rather explore.

Also known as The Netherlands, this Dutch-speaking country was  one of the most powerful countries in the the world up until 1702, when France and other nations contributed to its downfall. This period of time was known as the Dutch Golden Age, and it lasted from about 1588 to 1702. Nowadays, Holland is much smaller in land area than it used to be, but it is still a very important and significant country in the world today. It was the first country in the entire world to legalize same-sex marriage (in 2001), which reflects its strong liberal values. The largest city, Amsterdam, is full of history and culture to be explored. The famous Anne Frank house is open for visitors on most days, and the Van Gogh Museum is the largest collection of Van Gogh's work in the entire world. It is an unforgettable experience to take a boat trip around Amsterdam's canal ring, and if the temperature stays below -4 degrees C (24.8 degrees F) for four nights in a row, people skate on the canals! Best of all, there is an actual floating flower market on one of the canals (the Singel canal) where one can buy the world famous Dutch tulips. These are just a few of the wonderful sights in the Netherlands, and there are countless others all across the nation.

Tulips in a flower market in Amsterdam

Belgium was actually a part of the Netherlands until the Belgian Revolution in 1830. This country has three national languages: Dutch (sometimes called Flemish), French, and German. Dutch is the most spoken language, with 59% of the population as native speakers. French is spoken as a first language in Brussels and Bruges, while Dutch is spoken in Antwerp. Brussells is not only the capitol of Flanders and Belgium, but also the unofficial capital of the European Union. Many people travel to Belgium for their legendary Belgian chocolate and Belgian waffles. While you're here, though, you can sightsee a bit as well. The Grand-Place is the main market square in Brussels, and an enormous flower carpet is laid out every two years in August, attracting millions of visitors. Don't miss the famous Manneken-Pis ("Pissing Boy") fountain that has been a humorous Brussels landmark since 1965. The classic Belgian specialties (chocolate, beer, waffles and muscles) won't be hard to find. There are countless chocolate shops and waffle stands lining the streets in Brussels, and Belgian beer and mussels are offered in most restaurants.

The Grand-Place flower carpet

So, we have two different countries which are close to each other geographically but offer different sights, activities and experiences for tourists. They are both great options for tourists, but which would you choose? Holland, Belgium, or both?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ten Longest Rivers in Europe

1. Volga River
This river runs through central Russia. It is the 17th longest 
river in the world.

2. Danube River

The Danube River crosses ten countries and flows through
many large cities, including Budapest, Vienna and Belgrade.
It is the longest river in the European Union.

3. Ural River

Flowing through the Ural Mountains, this river serves 
as the border between Europe and Asia.

4. Dnieper River

The Dnieper River flows through Russia, Ukraine 
and Belarus before it empties into the Black Sea.

5. Don River

The Don River is yet another Russian river that made 
its way onto this list. This river is not to be confused 
with the Don River in Canada.

6. Dniester River

The Dniester River runs through Ukraine, then into 
Moldova, and then back into Ukraine before emptying 
into the Black Sea.

7. Rhine River

Cruises are popular on this river because of the many castles
built along the coast. The Rhine River runs mainly through
Germany but also flows in France and Austria.

8. Elbe River

The second German river on this list, the Elbe River 
originates in the Czech Republic and empties into the North Sea.

9. Vistula River

The only Polish river to make the list, the Vistula River only
flows in Poland. It is considered a national symbol of Poland.

10. Daugava River

The Daugava River is the shortest river on this list. Flowing from
east to west, the river begins in Russia and runs through Belarus
and Latvia before draining into the Baltic Sea.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Top Ten: Europe's Best Beaches

Europe is not particularly known for its beaches, but it does have some that are pretty amazing. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, European beaches can vary a lot. Europe takes pride in may things, and, surprisingly, beaches are one of them. They may not be number one on your travel list, but they are not to be missed when visiting Europe. Here is my list of the top ten beaches in Europe (in no particular order). I have limited the beaches to one per country.

1. Split, Croatia

This city is over 1,700 years old.

2. Red Beach, Santorini, Greece

This beach is only accessible by boat, or by wading through the water.

3. Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural landscape.

4. Algarve Beaches, Portugal

Tourism is the most important industry in the Algarve.

5. Nissi Beach, Cyprus

The waters are clean enough to be awarded a blue flag destination.

6. Sile Beach, Turkey

Sile Beach, located in Istanbul, is actually both in Europe and in Asia.

7. French Riviera, France
Image of the island Porquerolles in the French Riviera
This beach is on the island of Pourquerolles.

8. Blue Lagoon, Malta

The Blue Lagoon is a body of water located between the Maltese islands of Comino and Cominoto.

9. Calo des Moro Beach, Spain

Even though this beach is very small, it is often extremely crowded.

10. Black Sand Beach, Iceland

Although the waters are too cold to swim in, people still walk up and down the beach for a wonderful view.