Sunday, 24 May 2015

(Not Quite) The Paris of the East: Bucharest, Romania

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Is it just me, or does the phrase 'the Paris of the ...' get thrown around a lot? Truthfully I think there are a lot of cities that are a much more appropriate benchmark for beauty standards than the French capital (sorry!), but it's still an impressive title to hold. I've seen Bucharest referred to as The Paris of the East a lot, but though there are a lot of Romanian destinations on my bucket list, its capital has never really been one of them. But with a long Easter weekend to play with and dirt cheap flights out of Liverpool it seemed stupid to pass up on a visit. We (that's my boyfriend Tom and I, by the way) were initially a little worried about visiting a deeply religious country over Easter in case everything was closed, but it turns out that Easter is celebrated at a different time in the Orthodox calendar. You learn something new every day, huh?

Arriving fairly late on Friday our first day mostly involved a little exploration and a lot of burgers. My feelings towards Bucharest were mixed at this point and honestly, that didn't change very much at all over the next few days. 

Saturday started off on a bad note after we got a little too enthusiastic about the Novotel's spectacular breakfast and were late to set off to find the meeting point for the Bucharest Free Walking Tour. It turns out that I'm impressively terrible with directions and after rushing to university Square s fast as our full bellies would allow, we realised that the actual meeting point was actually more than a mile across town. After a brief tantrum and a browse around Sephora to make me feel better, we decided to visit the Museum of the Peasant instead. After all, we could still join the evening tour and the pastries were worth the change of plan.

The museum was actually quite a long walk from our hotel and we probably should have taken the bus instead, but even in a city as un-tourist-y as Bucharest it was nice to stroll around in some of the quieter parts of town. The museum was great and I'd highly recommend, but I wish we'd tried the Natural History Museum next door too. But desperately thirsty after exploring the museum and waiting at the side of the road for the open-top sightseeing bus that never turned up, we decided it would be better to make a quick pit-stop at McDonald's for a drink (I know, I know) and head back to the Old Town. We stopped for a coffee at the inventively named Coffee Shop and went off to do some more exploring when Tom realised that he'd left his rucksack behind. As fate would have it, retracing our steps to the coffee shop actually brought us to Turkish kebab shop which naturally we had to try. Lahmacun accompanied many drunken nights out when I studied in Germany and it is just the perfect comfort food. 

On our way to meet our guide for the tour we watched a wedding procession drive by where the happy couple celebrated in the back of a convertible, accompanied by lots of singing, clapping and a man playing a saxophone. It was so bizarrely wonderful. 

As with all the free walking tours we've been on across Europe, it was the highlight of our trip and our guide was wonderful. There was something really special about seeing Freedom Square just as night was falling and the insight she gave us about life under Ceaușescu's communist dictatorship was very moving, but also delivered with a great amount of humour too. If I could only recommend one thing it'd definitely be this. The evening was topped off perfectly by dinner at City Grill on the recommendation of our guide. Huge portions of insanely cheap Romanian comfort food - you just can't go wrong! 

We felt like we'd explored most of the city that day and considered taking a trip to Transylvania or Bulgaria on the Sunday, but when we saw that snow was still falling there we decided it might be best to stick to the sunny spring of Bucharest for our final day. We spent the morning walking to the Palace of the Parliament (which was very impressive, though we didn't go inside) and exploring supermarkets - a seriously underrated holiday activity if you ask me. Part of me wishes we had ventured further outside of the capital, but our afternoon was spent exploring Herăstrău Park and getting daytime drunk at the Hard Rock Cafe instead. Not the most cultured of afternoons, but it was definitely one of my better decisions.

And then as quickly as we arrived it was time to leave again. I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about Bucharest - it reminded me a little of Vilnius in that every street housed some incredibly beautiful buildings alongside the drab, grey communist-era buildings. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the city at all, you find yourself turning corners to be greeted by some incredible architecture that just seems to come out of nowhere. Is it the Paris of the East? Well, not quite, but it's a uniquely charming city that I would absolutely recommend and I can't wait to see what the rest of the country has to offer.

Do, see, eat

Herăstrău Park
Palace of the Parliament {Strada Izvor 2-4}
Stavropoleos Church {Strada Stavropoleos}
Revolution Square
The Coffee Shop {Calea Moșilor 221}
Burgerbar {Pasaj Selari}

Side note: We flew with Blue Air from Liverpool airport and as we couldn't find much information or any reviews about them online and their website is shocking I was a little sceptical. They're okay though. Slightly worse than Ryanair but we had no problems checking in and our flights were both on time. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

10 reasons you should visit kotor, montenegro

Perast, Montenegro
Church of Our Lady on the Rocks, Montenegro
Kotor, Montenegro Perast, MontenegroKotor, Montenegro

I've had a bit of a fascination with the Balkan countries for a few years now, but up until last year I'd never been. And as my curiosity was mostly piqued by the likes of Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia, Montenegro was a country that had mostly escaped my attention. I knew that the Bay of Kotor was apparently stunning, but it wasn't until finding some ridiculously cheap flights to Podgorica with Ryanair that I realised just how beautiful it was. I booked the tickets and after a quick overnighter in the capital I decided to spend the rest of the week exploring Kotor itself. Still relatively untouched by tourism, I fell in love with the laid-back vibe and breath-taking scenery and I think you will too.

10 reasons you should visit kotor, montenegro

001. That second picture? That's the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks and it's pretty much THE image of Kotor and it's pretty gorgeous right?
002. If you go in the summer the weather will probably be glorious and you can spend the day sipping cocktails next to the lake.
003. But it's also magnificent in the rain too, and once you see the rolling storm clouds clinging to the sides of the hills and the lightning striking the distant summits, you might find yourself praying for the sun to hold off a little while longer.
004. The mountain drive from Podgorica to the coast is just about the most scenic in Europe.
005. There are cats everywhere!
006. The Old Town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a dream with orange rooftops, charming cafes and pretty boutiques littering a maze of cobbled passageways.
007. Climbing the city walls to St John's fortress is terrifying, but the birdseye views of the bay band Old Town are incredible.
008. The country uses the Euro, but everything is still really cheap. In Kotor I took a chance on a 2€ bottle of wine and it was better than most that I've paid good money for here in the UK. 
009. Montenegro is the perfect location for country-hopping, so you can combine your visit with visits to Croatia, Albania and Bosnia if you have a little more time on your hands. 
010. And if not, you could be in the seaside resort of Budva, Lake Skadar National Park or Ostrog Monastery in less than two hours. But honestly, I don't think you'll want to leave. 

So...have you booked your flight yet?
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