Baalbeck, Anjar and Ksara, (Lebanon)

“Heliopolis, the Sun City”, “The Wine region of Lebanon”

Our second of the major tours while visiting Lebanon was for the actual highlight of the trip itself, the fascinating Roman city of Baalbeck with its impressive constructions, some of the largest ever created across the entire former empire. This was once again, an organised tour departing from our base Beirut, same as we did the day before when visiting Byblos, Jeita and Harissa; but also including another two great sights: the small city of Anjar with its beautiful Umayyad ruins and to finalise the tour, the Ksara Caves now in use by Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s oldest wine estate where a tasting will be offered. Both Baalbeck and Anjar are UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed, hence the added value that means for us.

While there are still some more amazing places in the country to see, we can say from our trip we are very satisfied for now, and certainly will return another occasion. Fingers crossed that by then it is at least as great as it is now; a beautiful and friendly country, safe wherever it can get, and not turning into any crisis or even a war as it’s sadly with the neighboring country Syria.

On the same note as I explained for the previous guide on Byblos, you can find lots of tour operators over the internet offering similar day trips, however pay attention to what’s and what is not included. From this experience I found tours which did not include lunch and entrance fees to the sites, quite silly right? While other agencies were listing everything included and even at more competitive price. It’s a matter of some research then all is straightforward, and if you want to have it already done, let me tell you which one is the best for the tours we did in this country (as of May 2018): Viator. Not only the best in the quality and quantity of tours they offer, but also one of the most trustful out there as it belongs to TripAdvisor. This is the tour we selected, click here. Continue reading

Posted in 03. Middle East, 04. May, 2018, Big Trips, Lebanon | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Byblos, Jeita and Harissa, (Lebanon)

“First city of Phoenicia”, “One of the world’s oldest inhabited cities”

Our first of the two day trip we would be doing while in Lebanon, was of course for visiting some of the greatest archaeological sites and natural wonders in the country. After all, this is one of the major reasons why to chose this country and not going just to be in the capital, Beirut. As you know by now, we are not that kind of person who travels to countries for the sake of ticking “I’ve been here” and counting up the number of countries they’ve been. Not at all and actually it is all the opposite in our case especially when travelling farther beyond Europe and considering our continuous running out of holidays because so much travelling.

So as the planning for a trip to Lebanon came to a reality, then was the hardest task, what to see and where to go. A first stage is easy for someone like me who love to collect UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A quick search and some of the answers were defined. The whole trip would pivot around Baalbeck, Byblos and Anjar, the three major WHS, and of course the capital. Anything else would be extra and very welcomed. However with such a limited time we had altogether, the only way to visit as much as we could was getting into organised tours, and so we did. This is not the first time we do so, where in certain countries is strongly recommended like in Lebanon. Yes, it’s a rather secure and safe country, but it’s nicer to refrain from driving as a tourist.

While over the internet you can find lots of tour operators offering similar day trips, pay attention to what’s and what is not included. From this experience I found tours which did not include lunch and entrance fees to the sites, quite silly right? While other agencies were listing everything included and even at more competitive price. It’s a matter of some research then all is straightforward, and if you want to have it already done, let me tell you which one is the best for the tours we did in this country (as of May 2018): Viator. Not only the best in the quality and quantity of tours they offer, but also one of the most trustful out there as it belongs to TripAdvisor. This is the tour we selected, click here. Continue reading

Posted in 03. Middle East, 04. May, 2018, Big Trips, Lebanon | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beirut, (Lebanon)

“European gateway to the Middle East”, “Paris of the East”, “Beirut, mother of laws”

Another country never been before, as excited as that can get for travelling onto what is it up to date, the country visited number 91! That’s a step closer to one of my desired dreams of travelling to 100 countries with the age of 35, no matter if by the first months on that age (which I know it will be impossible anyway), or if that’s by the last day before I turn 36, I will keep trying to make it a reality. In honest, the only thing that is holding me back from not doing this earlier is the huge logistic I am having in planning the holidays I have per year coupled with the bank holidays and the weekends in the best possible way to maximise the days and travel outside of Europe, since there are no more countries in the whole of Europe at the exception of Azerbaijan that I have not been.

Lebanon was for a long time now in the agenda, and considering how volatile these countries in that region can sometimes be, we thought it was about right to do it this year. You never know how the political situation or radical thoughts turn and change the fate of a country from the night to the morning, as is with the sad and unfortunate example of Syria. Lebanon nevertheless, since their civil war has been a pretty stable country, with an ongoing rising tourism, and overall rise in wealth as you can clearly see from the shiny and spotless capital city Beirut, where residential skyscrapers are the new trend, new designed neighborhoods everywhere, and a continuous restoration of the older parts that have become 100% gentrified with great bars, cafes, pubs and incredible nightlife.

Beirut is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities where many of the greatest civilizations have gained and lost their powers for ruling over the thousands of years. From Phoenician, Hellenistic, Roman, Arab and Ottoman civilizations, to French colony and finally the Independent Republic of Lebanon after WWII. Turmoil has always been a constant threat through the centuries, and so in more recent dates as was from the 1970’s with the 15 years civil war that ripped through the country until the early 1990’s. Even since it has become once again a thriving holiday destination, centre for the arts and culture, financial and motor of the country however the unfortunate threat of terrorism is still the weakest point, as is with all the countries in this part of the world. Continue reading

Posted in 03. Middle East, 04. May, 2018, Big Trips | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Aalborg, (Denmark)

“Paris of the North”, “Double A”

And here we are at another great destination, the third largest city in Denmark, and slowly completing more and more points in this rather small European country. After all, cities over here are indeed small hence easy and quick to visit. It was almost 2 years ago when I was for the last time in the country with my family, and while in my case repeating Copenhagen, there was a new city too, Helsingor. And many years back, Aarhus. Too many years ago that I do not even have the travel guide for it here in my blog. Anyway into what now matters, the once called “Paris of the North”: Aalborg.

Such a nickname that stands today comes from the elegance in the architecture, the broad tree-lined avenues and streets and the somewhat refinement of the population. Unfortunately entire districts were torn down to create larger stone and brick houses, still, the city is well known for the large collection of half-timbered mansions built by its prosperous merchants. In similar resemblance, it’s second city in the country after Copenhagen’s in number of such constructions, and to my review, the second most beautiful in the country too after the capital.

Considering our very short time here since that was such flight deal at only 24 hours since landing until departure the following day, it all worked perfectly well. The city is very straightforward and easy to navigate where distances are short and all the sights concentrated near each others, therefore that actually, any longer than a day as a full weekend, would be too much if that’s what you are planning on doing. If that’s your case, consider spending the second day for visiting another city of villages nearby. This area is really beautiful all over and very picturesque, especially the small fishing villages by the coastline. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 05. May, 2018, Denmark, Northern Europe, Short Trips | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Zakynthos, (Greece)

“The flower of the Levant”, “Italian Zante”, “Son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos”

Time to get to another Greek island, and this time to one of the most famous and celebrated. Finding such flights are not an easy task, and generally mean either horrible and odd flight times, or a very reduced overall stay. In our case this time, is the second, merely 24 hours in the island since there were no other flights at other times or dates that could work for us, unless taking “precious” days off work as holidays, but as anyone knows by now, that is the very last option. Such days are for the longer holidays hence not really keen to use them for short destinations.

Anyway, a day was good enough to have a glimpse of the island, enjoy a fabulous hot and sunny day, and the incredible Greek food as usual. That’s the second time in Greece this year, being only 6 weeks since we’ve been to Kavala. From now on it will be highly impossible to find any other deal anywhere in Greece since the beginning of the season is around the corner, so I would say it’s time to check what’s available from October 2018 through March 2019. Sounds crazy I know to plan that in advance, but hey! that’s how we manage to keep travelling almost every weekend of the year, and discover so many places in so many countries and all for a really great budget.

Zakynthos is nowadays one of the most popular islands in Greece for tourist, notably in search of great beaches and the weather of course, but the island is more than just a sea resort: nature in this case, and scenery. But for sure what you cannot expect or be looking for is sightseeing cities and villages. It is very unfortunate that the many earthquakes, notably the 1953, have flattened almost everything where only 3 structures were left standing at the capital city. Rebuilding everything had to be fast and did not care much in the aesthetics hence the lack of real sights worth visiting. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 04. April, 2018, Italy, Short Trips, Southern Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trieste, (Italy)

“Pre-Roman Tergeste”, “Roman Tergestum”, “Former Austro-Hungarian Empire city”

Once again it’s Italy! Yet never ever tired for coming to this fascinating country. It must be together with my mother land Spain, the most visited for sure. And even so that I’ve been to so many cities, from large to medium and small villages, there are still plenty more to enjoy and keep returning. I don’t mind even for repeating at some coming the case, there are always many corners not seen, Rome, Milan and Naples being the most renown cases. In this case, Trieste although not a new place, I can strongly feel and say as if it would be the first time.

It was back in March 2010 when after not having a positive experience in neighboring Slovenia, we decided to come to Trieste for dinner from Ljubljana. As you can imagine it was night hence not much we could do other than, you guessed it, having one of the most delicious pizza we did ever have back then, and a proper ice-cream. The mere fact of crossing the border from the rather boring and almost no life outside of Ljubljana to thriving Italy even at its tiny villages near Trieste, was already enough to enjoy the trip.

So finally here I am writing a guide for this beautiful city after the very well deserved visit. Very often bypassed by tourists who head towards the larger cities of Milan and Venice, or nearby neighboring Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia; it is in the other hand an incredibly beautiful city with impressive architecture. It is one of the rare examples with plenty of Autrian Empire architecture, hence its elegance and resemble to the avenues you see in in Vienna or Budapest, coupled with a priceless addition, the Mediterranean Sea at the backdrop. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 04. April, 2018, Italy, Short Trips, Southern Europe | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Yerevan and sites of Armenia, (Armenia)

“The Pink City”, “Ararat Mountain, the resting place of Noah’s Ark”

Reaching the next destination in this trip, entering country number 90! Armenia. Not a long journey from Tbilisi to Yerevan, the capital where we would make the next and last base in order to visit not only the capital, but the plenty of sites and sights, many of which UNESCO World Heritage listed in the nearby in a radius of 40 kilometres from the city centre. For now, another of the great capitals of the former Soviet Union (talking about recent times), full of history through the millennia and impressive architecture every corner.

Considering this is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities with foundation roots back to the 8th century BC (although evidence in the southern districts date to 3200 BC), and then the seat of one of the oldest dioceses in the world, the Araratian Pontifical Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, then one can only imagine all the chapters of history that has passed through it. But before I continue, let’s name “an event” of world-wide importance: the national symbol of Armenia are the sacred mountain of Ararat. Visible from most parts of the city, these are in fact 2 extant volcanoes however for Christianity, this is the resting place of Noah’s Ark. Well whether you believe in that or not, religion aside, it is an incredible beautiful national park all around it, and by all means one of the highest peaks in the whole of Europe, acting as a natural border with Turkey.

The city survived many times destruction, reconstruction and rise with every ruling power at the time: The ancient kingdom of Urartu; Iranian Median, Achaemenid Empire, Ancient Kingdom of Armenia, Sasanian, Persian Empire, Bagratid, Byzantine, Seljuk, Mongol, Aq Qoyunlu and Kara Koyunlu tribes, Iranian rule, Russian Empire, Soviet Union and finally the independent Republic of Armenia we know today. Of course, no one expects you to know all about such empires, tribes and ruling powers, nor I will go in detail explaining about, for that we have the internet and Wikipedia excelling on it. But a quick resume on the direct impact of this past, is the heritage you are about to experience and see, with constructions of every era and a great selection of museums displaying countless artifacts. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 02. March, 03. April, 2018, Armenia, Big Trips, Caucasus | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tbilisi, (Georgia)

“Old Georgian T’bilisi, meaning warm location”, “Grand City of the Silk Road”

Coming to our last destination in Georgia before leaving for Armenia having been to Batumi and Kutaisi the days before, we arrive to its fascinating capital city for a bit longer this time; almost 3 days in Tbilisi. It worked just about right in counting 2 entire days for visiting the countless sights and 3 nights, time enough for also enjoying so much great food like nowhere else, and seeing some nightlife with local beers and drinks in incredible truly Georgia style restaurants and bars. We would have been pleased with an extra day, however that was impossible due to the tight schedule.

The countless historic houses perched from the hill overlooking the Kura (Mtkvari) River bend, the views from the bridges, and the unparalleled views from the cable car itself will be your postcard perfect memory from Tbilisi. Still, there are plenty of restoration projects going on, and many more to come, the city has simply kicked-off greatly opening more and more to the thriving tourism industry which will soon come in the masses. The potential at any place in the Caucasus is been always there, only dormant until recently. Take your chance to visit Georgia before the big tourism boom; thereafter its uniqueness might be compromised on behalf of a heavily tourist-orientated mentality.

Back on a bit of history, would you ever imagine that since its foundation in the 5th century AD it has been destroyed and rebuilt at least 29 times? Incredible fact and dramatic number. But the location says it all. Next to the once thriving and lucrative Silk Road, right in between Europe and Asia, no wonder every power through the centuries wanted to take over it. The many different empires left their legacy, notably visible today in the vast architectural collection. This is the real deal, no hesitation. In this city you will get to see plenty of the impressive Ottoman architecture the city is so proud from, among other styles such as medieval, neo-classical Beaux Arts, art-nouveau, art-deco, modernist and Stalinist. Continue reading

Posted in 01. Europe, 02. March, 03. April, 2018, Big Trips, Caucasus, Georgia | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment