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?