Kiev – Ukraine
Kiev - Ukraine

Kiev – Ukraine

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The City of Golden Domes

Finally the time came for this so awaited and expected trip to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Although not the first time in an ex-Soviet country, this is by far, one of the most important and largest of the ones I’ve been such as the neighbour Belarus, or the Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Certainly it was a show-off of power during that days together with Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Minsk. A very big city sightseeing-wise speaking, since it is almost everywhere where you will find beautiful and historical buildings, churches, monasteries and palaces.

Something you must clear from your mind is any idea you might have of the city and Ukraine as general of being any dangerous. Of course it is not, minding the “obvious”, which is knowing where you are at all times and you don’t go to any areas where a tourist should not be on first place. People is pretty nice and kind across all levels and everywhere but unfortunately finding anyone speaking English was a challenge; signs worked well on this trip.

With so much to see and do, 3 days in the city is the minimum you should consider, although it will be still short. We had 3 full days and this was not enough. Fortunately, the plan and route I created for each day, so fully loaded, was good to see the most important places and areas. It is therefore that the guide of sights below will be a long and in detail one. (more…)

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Warsaw – Poland
Warsaw - Poland

Warsaw – Poland

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The city that has risen from the ashes

Time for an entire remake of this travel guide for what it really deserves a city such a Warsaw, one of the most historical and beautiful not just in Poland, but in Europe itself. Yet considering how nice is always return here, this is merely my 3rd time, and very long time ago since the previous trips back in 2012 and 2004. I must say I’ve been quite busy trying to discover as many new cities as possible hence why I kept postponing a return to Warsaw, and plenty other great cities elsewhere in many other countries; however now that I am done with the 51 countries that form Europe as continent I’m glad for taking some further quality time returning. Not the last time either that’s for sure.

Now something I can say from comparing these 3 spacious in time visits is the enormous and sometimes radical change the city has experienced. An amazing gentrification and restoration with fine attention to detail in all that related the UNESCO listed Old Town area, and the incredible and fast growing shiny business district with plenty of ongoing projects to come adding to an already imposing skyline, mostly designed by world renown architects.

I recall being one of the few tourists wandering the city back in 2004, and now struggling to find local people that many years later among the hordes of tourists. Let’s not forget Poland is, over all, a very desirable tourist destination with lots to offer, and so much it has given the world in culture, the arts, astronomy, physics, science, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, biology, music, telecommunications… name any field no matter which, and there is certainly an inventor, a pioneer or a genius excelling at any of these. Are any of this familiar just as some examples?: Maksymilian Faktorowicz (founder of the Max Factor cosmetics company), Józef Hofmann (a pianist who invented paper clips), Ignacy Łukasiewicz (designed and built the world’s first oil refinery and oil well), the Warner Brothers (yeah the biggest media corporation and film studio), Frédéric Chopin (the composer), Nicolaus Copernicus (mathematician and astronomer), Marie Curie. Or stunning cities such as Krakow, Katowice, Gdansk, Torun, Poznan, Wroclaw.

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Malbork – Poland
Malbork - Poland

Malbork – Poland

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Civitas Beatae Virginis, Royal Prussia

An unexpected visit to what’s been for a while in the back of our ears: Malbork and its fascinating Teutonic castle. The reason is simple, since we’ve pretty much been to almost every possible important and historic city and place in Poland, there are still just a small bunch in our agenda, one of them was this, and with a double reason, the other being completing a visit to another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s not a secret how passionate we are about visiting as many WHS in the world as possible, so this is always fun and excitement for being to another one. That’s close to 100 alone this year so far!

Then, unplanned visit because when we booked the tickets to Gdansk to visit our friend there, same as for the last time, we though we will be there around and that’s all, however we are very pleased she did plan this trip for us. Being that near Gdansk it was a great decision, and now I can strongly recommend should you be staying in Gdansk, (and nearby Sopot and Gdynia), to include Malbork in your plans. However visiting all these places in just a weekend, even if they are small, it’s almost impossible. So like it was for us, returning to this region was the best bet, yet it won’t be the last, it is always great to have some nice time with our great friend here, even if we are not travelling for sightseeing.

Malbork is very small, and other than its huge castle, there is not much more there to see and do. Considering it was a member of the Hanseatic League, it was very elegant, with very imposing buildings however after the destruction of WWII, the city was not rebuilt and its brick ruins were used to rebuild the old areas of Gdansk and Warsaw instead. Still, there are some buildings such as the neo-Gothic railway station and around the area at both banks of the Nogat River, but a half day visit is all you need to fully explore. (more…)

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Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia – Poland
Gdansk - Poland

Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia – Poland

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The Tricity by the Baltic Sea

A bunch of years have passed since the first and only time in Gdansk, the beautiful city by the Baltic Sea; now glad to return and enjoy the same or more than the first time, considering it’s the third. Not just the city but the great company of our Polish friend whom we came to visit once more time. What a better way to escape the horrible weather in London after all? Surprisingly, this was the end of September, however still a nicer weather over here bearing in mind it generally chills earlier than other places. A coincidental fact back in June 2012 it was the weekend of a Football Euro Cup semi-finals where Spain was playing against France. Definitely we are not football fans at all, but being Spanish and such a great ambiance with all the terraces showing the game at the time we were in Sopot, made it for a great dinner time entertainment.

I take the chance to revamp this guide and further expand it in line to what I am generally doing for the places I do return. While there is still a large number of travel guides from the beginning of times in my blog quite outdated or even poor comparing to what I now do, it’s great to see the speed in recreating them as I keep returning to such beautiful places. It’s becoming more and more difficult anyway to get for a weekend trip to destinations not been before. It might sound silly, but yes, we are running out of flying routes with any airline within Europe!

Gdansk is the largest of the three cities, capital of the region and principal seaport of Poland. And also, one of the most beautiful cities in Poland, full of Medieval and Hanseatic buildings, remarkably well preserved even though many of these had to be painstakingly reconstructed after their destruction during WWII. All these facts, the history behind and the countless cultural places are one of the reasons for its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.

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Arad – Romania
Arad - Romania

Arad – Romania

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Westernmost part of Transylvania

On the following day after visiting Timisoara, our main destination for this weekend, and the beautiful city of Szeged right across the border in Hungary, all while enjoying a great time at the Spa Resort Hotel we booked for both nights, we spared Sunday to visit the small yet charming city of Arad, barely 60 kilometres north of Timisoara. The westernmost city in the Transylvania region, home to one of the fortresses built in the Vauban star-shaped style so typical in this area.

After all, we did have the time to visit in full every of the three cities we ended up going to in just 2 days, so the five of us decided it would be a great idea and a good opportunity while taking the chance to see more than originally we planned for this weekend. Distances are short in between the cities, and with a rental car booked for the length of our stay made it even much more convenient. However, after having visited both Timisoara and spectacular Szeged, our expectations were perhaps too high and did not see from Arad its beautiful historic centre as such but instead a more laid back place, where we were the only tourists in the entire city. We did not cross with any other foreigner at all! Not that we would mind, to be honest even better. You get the chance to take some nice pictures people-free.

Disregarding a bit my comment before, the city has charm and hosts a great collection of beautiful old buildings, more typical of a Central European city than East European, but as I described a bit on the Timisoara and Szeged guides, this was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire hence such urbanism and architecture, same you see in Vienna or Budapest, the main cities by excellence back in these times. (more…)

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Szeged – Hungary
Szeged - Hungary

Szeged – Hungary

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City of Sunshine

If I mentioned in the previous travel guide about Timisoara that we left Szeged only in mind should we have time for visiting it or not, well, here I am writing the guide for it. Yes, we did have the time for it, and yes, it was actually the best decision we could have done. We did not expect such a beautiful city at all, and in this occasion it was actually a proper surprise for me. If I always like to check pictures of the places I am going to visit before hand, for the Szeged it was not the case. I though we would not have the time to go so I decided not to find any further information. Now after the trip, I am extremely happy that we did go! Not only myself, but everyone of my friends we travelled with too.

Located on the eastern part of Hungary, it does actually borders not only with Romania but to Serbia. It’s the last city in the country on the east, and the 3rd biggest, and it’s curious nickname, the Sun City, comes because it is the city with the most hours of sun through the year! Who would have thought the more the east the more the sun, but this is due to its geographical location, with no nearby mountain ranges. Another unexpected fact, the incredible large amount of art-nouveau architecture everywhere in the old town. From modest to absolutely amazing examples that seem to be taken from Barcelona.

Due to its extremely compact historic old town core, where the streets follow a perfect orthogonal grid pattern, and right by the edges an inner ring road avenue divides it from the “newer” areas by the west, and the river to the east, it is very easy and straightforward to visit and enjoy every sight without needing too much time. To give you an idea, we arrived to Szeged from Timisoara at around 16.00pm, and left the city slightly before 20.00pm in order to have the first section of driving with some daylight before night. If I must confess, this was a bit too short time; an entire half a day would be perfect for anyone as there are no further important sights once you are out of the small historic core. (more…)

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Timisoara – Romania
Timisoara - Romania

Timisoara – Romania

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The Little Vienna

After a while since our first, and only visit to Romania before with Bucharest, Bran and Brasov; we return right in time benefiting from Ryanair’s new route from London Stansted on their introductory fare. Something we could not resist, furthermore their flight times could not be any better! Giving us the entire weekend over there, without having to rush away from work on Friday evening to the airport. I wish many of the European routes with any airline would be as good as this timetable.

Timisoara is Romania’s third largest city, yet second after Bucharest in regards to tourism, industry, economy and education. It’s location is also very favourable on the west of the country, very near the border with Serbia and Hungary; and its architecture, heritage from the times it was part of the Hungarian Empire has resulted in receiving the nickname of Little Vienna. The entire historic quarter retains almost intact its original fabric, with beautiful late 19th and early 20th century buildings among older palaces, cathedrals and churches.

It is very wrong when sometimes we think about Romania and come to our minds what we get through the news, unfaithfully believing that either the country is poor, their people untrustful or “not much” to see and do. It is actually all the opposite! And I already knew this after visiting the beautiful capital and the idyllic Transylvania villages and castles through Bran and Brasov; and now strengthen with Timisoara, (and Arad the following day). This leads me only to want more of this country and having a great potential here with so many destinations to go. (more…)

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Torun – Poland
Torun - Poland

Torun – Poland

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The City of Copernicus

Our second stop over for this weekend brought us to the beautiful historical city of Torun. Not only famously known to be the birthplace of astronomer Copernicus, but more important, it is the only example of perfectly preserved medieval and Gothic architecture that entirely survived during the war without any damage nor destruction; no wonder why the UNESCO included it in the list of World Heritage Sites.

Yet it’s true to city is very small, in the other hand it has a large old town core with plenty to see and do. Most tourists come here as part of a day trip from wherever their main city base is. In our example, we came from Poznan some 130 kilometres to the west of Torun. But coming here was not just pure chance. Knowing myself and while preparing the information and guide needed for visiting Poznan is when I realised with a day would be more than enough to see everything. And then what? Trying to figure out an alternative plan for Sunday, which as usual rule of thumb I googled for UNESCO sites “nearby” and Torun popped out to be the perfect candidate at a reasonable distance to Poznan airport which was our departure point.

This trip ended up in being a great choice! And it is the fact that both Poznan and Torun are ranking among the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to Poland so far. (more…)

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