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Home / North America / Canada / Niagara Falls Top 10 | Tour guide tips to exploring the best of Niagara

Niagara Falls Top 10 | Tour guide tips to exploring the best of Niagara

Updated: June 29, 2016
By: Ian Yacobucci
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, CA – view of Horseshoe falls (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Niagara Falls Canada is home to one of Canada’s most iconic natural wonders. Visitors to Niagara Falls get to experience the power of one of the worlds greatest waterfalls as the equivalent of one million bathtubs flows at nearly 50 km per hour over the edge of Canada’s Horseshoe Falls.

More than just a waterfall, the city of Niagara Falls and its surroundings offer visitors to this region an opportunity to experience Canadian culture, the natural beauty of the Niagara region, and so much more.

As an educational tour guide working in Niagara Falls and other Canadian cities over the past decade I’ve had the privilege of building an intimate relationship with the Niagara Region. That’s why, as one of the more than 8 million visitors to Niagara Falls, Expedia.ca asked me to create this guide that will give you an itinerary based on my touring experience in the city!

Day 1 – Niagara Falls

 Visit Niagara Falls at Table Rock

You can literally stand beside Niagara Falls! Less than a meter from the water you’ll get to see how powerful and mighty Canada’s greatest waterfall is. Take a selfie then head into the Table Rock centre for a famous Tim Horton’s coffee before continuing your journey.

Walk the promenade along the Niagara Gorge

Walk from Niagara Falls (Table Rock) to Clifton Hill. It only takes about 30 minutes to walk from Niagara Falls to Clifton Hill. Along the way you’ll get to experience the magnificence of Niagara Falls by walking along the gorge it created over millennia. It’s one of the most impressive walks where you’ll get to see the American falls on the other side of the Niagara River as well as the natural beauty of the Niagara Gorge.

Fun and lunch on Clifton Hill 

Clifton Hill is the entertainment centre of Niagara Falls. About a 30 minute walk along the impressive Niagara Gorge you find yourself surrounded by the carnival like street filled with restaurants, mini golf, bowling, a Ferris wheel, Ripleys Belive it or Not, Guiness Book of World Records, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum and so much more!!

It’s the perfect place to grab a quick lunch before your next adventure or a place to enjoy an evening of fun!

Take a Niagara Falls Boat tour

If you think Niagara Falls is impressive from the edge of the falls you’ll be blown away looking up at it from the Niagara River. Boat tours like the Hornblower Niagara take visitors along the Niagara River where they learn stories about Niagara Falls daredevils and experience the beauty of Niagara Falls from both the American and Canadian falls.

Skylon Tower buffet dinner

A classic dinner spot, I like the Skylon Tower for the buffet’s variety and the fact that it boasts a 365 degree view of Niagara Falls. Although it’s a little bit out of the way from the main drag of Clifton Hill, I’d recommend a visit for lunch or dinner if you want to see a unique view of the falls and enjoy a decent meal.

American Falls

Niagara Falls, CA – View of american falls from the Maid of the Mist now called Hornblower Niagara (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Day 2 – Niagara Region – Day Trip to Niagara on the Lake

Drive the Niagara Parkway

Described by Sir Winston Churchhill as “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world” the Niagara parkway that leads from Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake should be on everyone’s itinerary. Along the way is an opportunity to experience the natural beauty and culture of the Niagara region.

Botanical Gardens & Floral Clock

The botanical garden’s is a great place to spend an early morning walking through the nearly 100 acres of manicured gardens. If you’re pressed for time, or gardens aren’t something you’re interested in, you can stop off at Niagara Parks famous floral clock made up of 16, 000 plants to quickly to snap a picture.

Lunch and shopping in Niagara on the Lake

 Niagara on the Lake is a quaint lake side town that brings the uniqueness of colonial architecture along with with fine dining, quaint shops, and delicious café’s where you can sample local wines and experience small town Canada. It’s a great lunch stop where you will also find unique craft gifts and local Niagara wines to bring home for family and friends.

Embark on an afternoon Wine Tour in Niagara

The Niagara region, best known for its ice wine, hosts dozens of wineries that are a great way to spend an afternoon. You can book wine tours through local companies or plan your own visits. Ice wine is a favourite for visitors to try but the wineries host a wide range of local wines to sample.

Fallsview Casino for entertainment and/or buffet dinner

What would a visit to Niagara Falls be without a visit to one of its Casinos. If you’re not a gambler that’s okay, the Fallsview Casino is a great place to enjoy a dinner buffet as well as to enjoy some entertainment. You can check them out online to find out more about what shows are on and when.

Niagara Falls has so much to do and see that there’s simply not enough room to share it all. These are just a few suggestions of the best way to spend your time in Niagara Falls to make sure you get to experience all that Niagara has to offer. As a tour guide in the region these are my top recommendations and the best way to spend an enjoyable visit to Niagara Falls!

Useful links for planning your next Niagara Falls trip

https://www.niagarafallstourism.com/
http://www.niagaraparks.com/
http://winecountryontario.ca/

Home / Europe / France / Perfect Paris| Quintessentials for an artistic, cultural & culinary Parisian visit

Perfect Paris| Quintessentials for an artistic, cultural & culinary Parisian visit

Updated: June 1, 2016
By: Ian Yacobucci
Notre Dame de Paris

Paris, FR – Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral from across La Sienne on a dramatic March afternoon (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Don’t get bombarded with hundreds of ideas highlighting the best things to do in Paris, just ask yourself, “what is Paris known for?” If you answered art, food, architecture and French culture than this short list of ideas for your next Paris visit is all you need.

Typing “things to do in Paris” in any search engine will yield hundreds of ideas. You’ll find articles listing the best things to do in Paris, the top 10 things to do in Paris, the 20 ultimate things to do in Paris, 12 worst things to do in Paris, and of course the unrealistically long 101 things to do in Paris (not to mention the dozens of other “things to do in Paris” variations).

If you’re only in Paris for a few day’s than sifting through all that information just won’t do. Thankfully, this guide to Paris will sit you down for fantastic Parisian meal, help you find the best way to photograph and see the Eiffel tower, give you the must see Paris museum, while providing you with time to discover Paris on your own. 

Photograph the Eiffel tower & picnic at Champes de Mars at sunset

Eiffel Tower

Paris, FR – Eiffel Tower at sunset from Trocadero Gardens. Behind the tower is Champs de Mars where you can finish watching the sunset (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

A trip to Paris would not be whole without visiting the Eiffel tower, the iconic 300 meter wrought iron structure that might just be the most recognizable building in the world.   If you’re visiting Paris you’re bound to get there one way or another but some ways to visit the Eiffel tower are better than others.

Simply put, the best way to visit the Eiffel tower is from the Trocadero metro stop. As you exit the subway station at Trocadero you’ll be acquainted  with a full view of Les Jardins du Trocadero (Trocadero gardens) and it’s iconic fountain as the majestic and unmistakeable Eiffel Tower fills out the horizon.

The best time to visit the Eiffel tower is for sunset overlooking Les Jardins du Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower. At this time the Eiffel tower is front lit by the setting sun with a great view from the steps overlooking Trocadero Gardens and the tower itself. This is hands down the best place to get a photograph of the Eiffel Tower and the best time to do it!

If you plan ahead bring an evening snack, some wine, and a blanket because from Troccadero metro stop you can walk to the Eiffel tower then settle down in Champes de Mars (the large park the Eiffel Tower is located in) to enjoy the rest of the sunset while you sip some good French wine watching the day set over Paris.

Eat a Parisian meal at La Jacobine

In my quest to find the best French onion soup in Paris, a feat that would probably take a lifetime to discover, I found La Jacobine. Located down a narrow alleyway in the Odeon/Saint-Michel neighbourhood the quaint café atmosphere of La Jacobine lends itself to traditional Parisian flavours that are sure to excite your palate and bring you back more than once during your visit.   La Jacobine is a great place for a coffee and Parisian confection but even better for their salads, entrees, and of course their French onion soup.

The best time to visit La Jacobine is between 1pm-3pm to beat the lunch and dinner rushes. If you decide to come at a different time I suggest calling ahead or plan to wait a while, as there’s only select seating in this quintessential Parisian restaurant.

For a perfect day plan with a visit to La Jacobine, might I suggest an early morning visit to the Luvre before adventuring across La Sienne to Le Jacobin for a late afternoon lunch. It’s a great walk, just make sure you have something to hold you over while adventuring through the Louvre as you’ll want to get there early and spend at least a few hours.

La Jacobine Salad

Paris, FR – Salad at La Jacobine restaurant located down a quaint cobblestoned alley in Odeon/Saint-Michel neighbourhood (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Get cultured at Musée du Louvre

Like many Paris destinations the Louvre is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, and a must see if you’re visiting Paris. As you can probably expect, the line-ups to visit the Louvre are immense and often reach more than 100m in length. Yes, you read that correctly.

Louvre

Paris, FR – 11 am Louvre Line Up on a grey March day (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

So, how do you avoid long line-ups and ensure a great trip to the Louvre during your visit?  You do two things:

  1. Buy your tickets online ahead of time (9am is the best ticket time to purchase)
  2. Plan to arrive 30 minutes before it opens to use your 9am ticket

You should know that tickets are usable for the entire day so you can always go back. Getting there first thing in the morning is key because you can visit the more popular sections of the museum (the Mona Lisa and the more spectacular Wedding at Cana across from it) without huge throngs of tourists.

As I mentioned earlier, the best thing to do is to visit Musée du Louvre for the morning and early afternoon then head to La Jacobine for an incredible Parisian lunch!

Mona Lisa

Paris, FR – Mona Lisa at the Louvre (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Discover Impressionism at Musée d’Orsay

Le Musée D’Orsay is one of the greatest contemporary art museums I’ve ever been to. Forget the fact that it’s located in the impressive former Gare d’Orsey railway station, or that it hosts the worlds largest impressionist artwork collection. The Musée d’Orsay is a very well done museum in a cool building that’s impressive to just admire on it’s own.

The biggest mistake people make, and I’m one of them, is visiting the museum from the main floor and working your way up. Take my advice, start at the top on floor 5 (the impressionist gallery). Here you’ll get to explore the great impressionist works of Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Pissarro, Sisley and more. You’ll also get a great view overlooking the city of Paris from behind the buildings clock.

If you’re not arted out after exploring the greatest impressionist collection in the world there are lot’s of other exhibitions worth checking out as you work your way down. Just don’t burn yourself out by starting elsewhere before seeing the impressionist works.

The line up for this the museum d’Orsay is a lot faster and much less busy then the Louvre. You can still get tickets online to fast track, but the wait is usually a decent 30min regardless of what you do.

Walk along La Sienne & photo stop at Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral

Paris, FR – Notre Dame de Paris (Notre Dame Cathedral) from behind as we strolled along La Sienne (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Paris is an architectural marvel. Built along La Sienne, it’s wide boulevards and grandeur buildings are great for exploring by foot. Sure, you could splurge on a tourist filled boat ride down La Sienne, or even better you could meander at your own pace along the uncrowded riverside.

If you’re visiting Paris with a romantic partner walking is one of the most romantic things you can do in “the city of light”.  And while your exploring, be sure to pop into a café along your journey and watch the people of Paris mingle with daily life as you try to imagine what life living in one of the worlds greatest cities might be like.

Surely, you’ll need to stop of at the Notre Dame Cathedral, but my best advice is to take a quick picture and move along. If you’re really interested in going in, you can test your patience with the monstrous lines that rival that of the Louvre. To be honest, walking through the city is free, you’ll discover little shops and quaint eateries that you’ll never find online, and you can devote all your attention to the person you’re walking with.

Where to stay in Paris

Finding an affordable place to stay in Paris is hard. You’ll end up paying through the roof no matter what route you take. Thankfully, we found a great room (with breakfast) at the Median Porte de Versailles, right on the Paris metro line at Balard, giving us easy access to the entire city at an affordable rate (around 100€ per night for two). To be honest, we’ll definitely end up here again during our next stay in Paris because one visit to the “city of light” is impossible!

In the end, these are just the quintessential Paris attractions that made our most recent visit to the city a memorable one for my fiancée and I. These suggestions offer a reasonably priced way to experience Parisian food, art, and culture along with a little downtime too.

Whether you’re alone, with a friend, or a romantic partner Paris is a massive city with literally 101 things to do. Keeping that in mind, these ideas will ensure you don’t get overwhelmed looking for the best options of things to see and do in Paris, so you can concentrate on enjoying it.

Happy Travels,

Yak

 

Home / Asia / Cambodia / Cambodia| Get the most out of Phnom Penh

Cambodia| Get the most out of Phnom Penh

Updated: January 11, 2016
By: Ian Yacobucci
dep of justice

Phnom Penh, KH – motorcycle cruises past Department of Justice Phnom Penh Cambodia (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

If you’re coming to Cambodia to experience its world famous temples or natural beautry Phnom Penh you chose the wrong Cambodian city to visit.  Although not the most popular tourist city in Cambodia, as the national capital, Phnom Penh is a valuable starting point for visitors planning to travel this South East Asian country.

Cambodia’s tumultuous history holds much of its modern foundation in Phnom Penh, strongly attributed to the Khmer Rouge take over on the 17th of April 1975.

In order to truly understand Cambodia’s current situation it’s important to learn the basics of the country’s historical context, and Phnom Penh is the perfect place to do this.

As a working city with a few must visit attractions Phnom Penh a great place to recover from jet lag and rest.  Here’s what you should stretch over a day or two if you want to get the most out of your visit to Phnom Penh

 Get a Tuk Tuk

Surprisingly, no one walks in Phnom Penh.  Seriously, scooters, cars, trucks, and tuk tuks dominate the roads and the few sidewalks that exist in the city centre. For tourists and locals alike, Tuk Tuks are the main mode of transportation.

Choosing a tuk tuk to drive you around is a negotiating process and there are tones of websites that will help you gauge a fair price.  What you willing to pay is what its worth but $20 for the day is a good start (you can throw in a lunch for your driver too).  My only advice would be to find a friendly person who speaks relatively good English so you can communicate with them and learn about what life is like in Phnom Penh.

Note: You can also get your driver to take you to a place to purchase bus tickets for the next leg of your trip (Get your tickets a day before).

Tuol Sleng

Phnom Penh, KH – Memorial to Victims of the Democratic Kampuchea Regime at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

 Visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

An important first stop for your introductory history lesson to the tragic Khmer Rouge history that left deep national scars on Cambodia.  Tuol Sleng (also called S-21) was one of more than 200 secret prison centres scattered across the country.  In this horrific prison men, women and children were abducted, imprisoned and tortured by the Khmer Rouge.  Of the more than 3 million Cambodians that were killed by the Khmer Rouge between 12, 000 and 20, 000 people were imprisoned here.  Only 12 were confirmed survivors.

If you’re visiting Cambodia, no matter how horrible these atrocities were, it is our international responsibility as global citizens to bare witness to what humans are capable of so that we can stand up against human injustices such as the Cambodian Genocide.

BUY THE AUDIO TOUR $3
ENTRY $3
TIME: 1:30 – 2 hrs

Note: You can pay with large bills (100$) that machines give out and receive more functional change to use on your journey.

Killing Fields Monument

Phnom Penh, KH – Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre Monument (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Visit the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (Killing Fields)

The most well known of more than 300 killing fields across Cambodia used by Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea regime to rid the country of enemies of the state (mostly innocent Cambodians), Choeung Ek is the location of where the government killed and disposed of the thousands of prisoners who were captive at S-21.

Visiting this place and witnessing the barbaric and cruel crimes of the Khmer Rouge will help you fully understand what happened to Cambodia during the ultra communist years from 1975-79.  At the killing fields you will literally be walking over the mass graves of thousands of people where bones and clothes can still be seen in the ground before ending up at the memorial stupa filled with the remains (hundreds of sculls and bones) of the victims are reverently preserved.  Bare witness, be respectful, and remind yourself of what you’re taking pictures of and why.

BUY THE AUDIO TOUR $3
ENTRY $3
TIME: 30 min– 1 hr

Note: You can pay with large bills (100$) that machines give out and receive more functional change to use on your journey.

Central Market

If buying counterfeit anything is your thing or you need to pick up an item or two that you’re missing than the massive Central Market is a worthwhile stop.

This is a barter market but remember not to be insulting when trying find a deal.

Number 1 barter rule: What you’re willing to pay is what it’s worth.

rooftop pool

Phnom Penh, KH – relaxing by the rooftop pool (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Relax

Phnom Penh is a massive sprawling city that doen’t have an overwhelming number of tourist things to do so make sure you take advantage of it by staying at a comfortable hotel, preferably with a pool and be sure to relax.

riverside

Phnom Penh, KH – walking along the Mekong riverside in Phnom Penh (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Evening in Sisowath Quay (river side)

After a full day of history, a little shopping, and some relaxation you can end your day by spending the evening along Phnom Penh’s riverside.  Popular for expats and Cambodian’s alike you can enjoy lights, sights, and sounds of the local Cambodians spending time along the Meykong River’s esplanade, which is lined with palm trees and green space, or hit up some of the cities better restaurants and bars.  It’s a great atmosphere to grab a beer or a bite to eat, just be aware that as a touristy area there will be the typical hawkers selling drugs and tuk tuk rides by the plenty.

Happy Travels,

Yak

Home / Europe / Top 5 Things to Do In Dublin

Top 5 Things to Do In Dublin

Updated: November 23, 2015
By: Graeme Billinghurst
Guiness Brewery Dublin Ireland

DUBLIN, IR – Tourists at the Guiness Brewery (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

Dublin can move a mile a minute, but if you want to get the most out of your stay in Ireland’s capital, make sure to do these five things.

1.  Drink a pint of Guinness

If it’s not Ireland’s official drink, it probably should be. Guinness is a staple across the country, but is brewed and is most popular in Dublin. Whether you’ve decided to have one at the bar down the street from where you’re staying or overlooking the city on the 7th floor of the Guinness Storehouse, a pint of the black stuff will surely help you settle in.  If you want to further your Guinness experience, the Storehouse provides visitors with the option to become a certified Guinness pourer and will award you with a certificate to prove your expertise.

2.  Listen to live music

It seems that almost every bar and restaurant you walk into in Dublin has a local band playing music. If you don’t mind spending a pretty penny for a few drinks, heading to the Temple Bar District at night will guarantee you a chance to dance the night away with a mix of tourists and locals. While traditional Irish music is the most plentiful, rock and roll, acoustic sets and even rockabilly musicians will be somewhere around the corner.  Be ready to spend about 7-8€ a pint.  If you’re lucky enough to visit in mid July, the Longitude Music Festival has some fantastic headliners, many of whom like Hozier in 2015, are some of Ireland’s best-known acts.

Temple Bar Dublin Ireland Borderless Travels

DUBLIN, IR – The infamous Temple Bar in (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

3.  Talk to the locals

Irish people are known to be some of the friendliest people in the world and those in Dublin are no different.  One of the country’s famous sayings is “A hundred thousand welcomes” and this welcoming attitude is reflected throughout the city.  Locals are usually up for a conversation and if you catch them sitting down for a few pints in the bar, you’re likely to pick up some new vocabulary while deciphering exactly what they’re saying to you. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with an off the beaten path recommendation that could drastically improve the authenticity of your trip as well as a few new words like fech, craic, and what it means to be wrecked.

4.  Take a Free Walking Tour

Dublin is a very walkable city and with that in mind, a free walking tour can be the best way to see the sights. Companies such as Sandeman’s New Dublin Tours offer a comprehensive two and a half to three hour sightseeing tour to catch some of the buildings and neighbourhoods that make Dublin famous. Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Christchurch Cathedral and the Temple Bar District are just a few of the stops made along the way. It must be noted that free isn’t always free as these tour guides depend on tips to make a living.  Although there’s no minimum, anything around 5-10€ is a common tip at the conclusion of the tour.

Trinity College Dublin Ireland

DUBLIN, IR – tourists and students exploring Trinity College (Ian Yacobucci/Borderless Travels)

5.  See the natural landscape

This might sound like a difficult task in a city as old as Dublin, but the village of Howth which is accessible by public transportation will give you a taste of what’s outside the city limits. Cliff faces, lighthouses and fishing boats are only a short walk from the village and make this peninsula a must see for anyone who only has a few days in Ireland and can’t make it out to the country or the coast. For those tourists interested in hiking and small town life, Howth is the perfect getaway from the busyness that is downtown Dublin.

Cliffs of Howth

DUBLIN, IR – The Cliffs of Howth overlooking Dublin (Graeme Billinghurst/Borderless Travels)

Home / Europe / Moldova / 5 captivating tourist spots in Chisinau, Moldova

5 captivating tourist spots in Chisinau, Moldova

Updated: March 6, 2013
By: Ian Yacobucci
Arch Moldova

Triumph Arch, Cathedral Park – Chisinau, Moldova

Like many European cities the best way to explore Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, is by walking. Spending a good portion of the day wandering through Chisinau’s streets allowed me to see all the main sights and explore a little on my own. Here’s what I found:

# 1 – Memorial Park – as Moldova’s WWII memorial you won’t miss the orange pyramid towering high above the buildings in this area. The main structure is a unique world war two monuments and believe it or not has two soldiers standing guard during the day even in the thirty degree heat I was walking around in.

The park itself is beautiful with green trees and red roses lining the walkways of the memorial grounds. Behind the monument are the graves of those who fought in World War II as well as for Moldovan independence.

WW2 monument moldova

Moldovas World War 2 memorial – Chisinau, Moldova

# 2 – Parcul Valea Morilor – what a surprise! Just outside the centre of the city lies the man-made lake alongside a parkland area. There’s no better place to chill out than on the beachside where you can catch some sun, take a dip to get away from the hot summer heat, and relax with a view of the Moldovan hillside in the background. If you’re like me just walking through the park is a great way to enjoy this place.

Park Chisinau Moldova

Walkway leading to the man made lake of Parcul Valea, a great place to enjoy a good book – Chisinau, Moldova

# 3 – Parcul Aleea Clasicilor – also known as Puskin Park is on of Chisinau’s central parks. Don’t forget your computer if you’re going to chill out here. On a nice spring or summers day you’ll find its benches lined with people on their laptops chilling on the parks wifi and plugged in to the sockets that line the benches. If you’re with young ones, splashing around in the parks central fountain seems to be the thing to do while onlookers chill out and watch the kids play.

Internet Park Chisinau Moldova

A blogger sure could get used to working in this office! Chisinau, Moldova

# 4 – Art Market – just down from the central park, if you’re walking along the main street Bul. Stefan Cel Mare, you can stop by the art market to check out some local talents. I stopped with a friend who bought a necklace; you can also find old soviet souvenirs and other small trinkets there.

Art Market Moldova

Johnny looking for a necklace at the art market in Chisinau, Moldova

#5 – Cathedral Park - is Chisinau’s central park which is located in the dead centre of the city just down from the opera house. Usually filled with people on their lunch breaks you can get a few good shots of Nativity Cathedral, the city’s main church, and the Triumph Arch located across from the government house.

Chisinau Moldova Cathedral

The beautiful Nativity Cathedral in central Chisinau, Moldova

The best thing to do in Chisinau is walk. Like me you’ll find that the city has a great vibe that is best enjoyed on a warm day. The cities opera house, main cathedral, and parliament are all on the main street so don’t forget to bring your camera and have fun.

Yak

 

 

Home / Europe / Romania / Discover the origins of Dracula’s myth at his Romanian castle

Discover the origins of Dracula’s myth at his Romanian castle

Updated: February 27, 2013
By: Ian Yacobucci
Dracula's Castle

Dracula’s Castle also known as Bran Castle – Bran, Romania

There’s only one mythical character who sacrifices his victims by devouring them with his fanglike teeth, sinking them deep inside the nape of a neck to enjoy a bloody feast, and no its not Twilights Edward Cullen.  I’m talking about the original night hunter, Dracula, and I visited his castle!

Yes, I survived a trip the famous Romanian landmark known as Dracula’s castle. And although I looked in every nook and cranny of his place I wasn’t able to find the phantasmagoric character.

What I did find was a classical Romanian castle that brought the myth of Dracula back to life with the real story of Vlad the Impaler, and a castle filled with historical artifacts that recreated the 14th century style of Bran Castle.

Dracula's Castle

Bran Castle facade also known as Dracula’s Castle – Bran, Romania

The ancient castle Dracula calls home is located in Bran, Romania and is perched on top of a giant cliff, its blood red spires a landmark that can’t be missed. Does Dracula really exist? You’re best to answer it yourself with a visit to Bran Castle where you’ll be able to read the history of Dracula, his castle, and the people who really lived there.

The best way to visit the castle is by car as it’s only about 20 km from Brasov, one of Romania’s most popular and picturesque cities. There are buses available and entry tickets cost 10 LEU ($3 USD) for students and 25 LEU ($7.50 USD) full price.

Dracula's Castle

Dracula’s courtyard (Bran Castle) Bran, Romania

If you’re a huge Dracula fan it’s definitely worth a visit both inside and out, but don’t expect the haunted Transylvanian castle most commonly seen on the television screen. For those on a budget checking out the interior of the castle may not be necessary.

Inside you’ll be able to read the history of Dracula, where he came from, the royalty who called Bran castle home, and visit a few rooms that are decorated with period clothing and furniture. If you’re there I recommend walking to the highest room in the castle where you’ll get to read Dracula’s full story and get a great view of Bran.

Dracula's Castle

Posing in front of Dracula’s Castle (Bran Castle) in Bran, Romania

The landscape that surrounds Dracula’s castle is breathtaking with winding roads, river valleys, and sky high mountains encircling the countryside. For tourists, there are plenty of places to purchase Dracula memorabilia, eat lunch and chill out along the river or a nearby park. If you want a good picture of the castle I suggest driving a few minutes down the road, it’s worth the trip.

For most people, Halloween only comes once a year, a day where skeletons, monsters, and Dracula come out reigning terror as they walk the streets asking, “trick or treat.” For citizens of Bran, Romania Halloween lasts every day outside the castle walls, but you don’t have to come wearing a costume ;)

Happy Travels,

Yak

 

Home / Europe / Moldova / Charmed by Moldova’s ancient monasteries and seduced by it’s wineries

Charmed by Moldova’s ancient monasteries and seduced by it’s wineries

Updated: February 21, 2013
By: Ian Yacobucci
Moldova Cave Monestary

Orheiul Vechi cave monastery – Moldova

Escape from the city to visit ancient

monasteries, wineries and beautiful countryside only 30 minutes from Moldova’s capital city, Chisinau.

If you find yourself hanging out in Chisinau and think this sounds awesome (and it is) you won’t want to miss the opportunity to take day trip to Orheiul Vechi. Most tourists will go there on a tour organized with a local hostel. However, these tours only take you to one winery, can be rather expensive, and don’t stop at the breathtaking Orheiul Vechi Cave Monastery.

If you want to save money and experience all Orheiul Vechi has to offer getting a private taxi is definitely the way to go. To hire a taxi for the whole day my friend and I ended up paying 600 Leu ($ 50 USD) a more than reasonable price since public transportation isn’t the easiest.

If you do decide to hire your own driver a word of advice, make sure you are extremely clear about what you want, how long you will use the cab, and where you’ll be staying. Sometimes miscommunication can be a bit of an issue and if you’re not clear the taxi driver may try to get an extra few hundred Leu; be firm.

Moldova cave monastery

Posing on a precipice outside the Orheiul Vechi Cave Monestary in Moldova

Orheiul Vechi cave monastery is a 13th century monastery and one of Moldova’s most popular tourist sites. The monastery is located on top of a single ridge in the centre of spectacular valley filled with vineyards. Entry to this picturesque monastery is free, and a short hike from the visitors centre will take you along the ridge allowing for some great photos and a stop at the limestone cave.

Moldova monastery

Inside the Orheiul Vechi Cave Monastery (this is the cave that sits on the side of the ridge)

After a visit to the monastery I’d recommend a little wine tasting. Deciding to skip Cricova, one of the most recognizable if not best known Moldovan wineries in the area, our driver ended up pulling up to Pivnitle din Branesti Winery; a cheaper option. Although visits need to be booked in advance with a little convincing it was possible to organize a quick tour and tasting upon arrival. Turns out my friend and I made a good choice, and although not the most beautiful estate, this winery was certainly worth checking out.

Pivnitle din Branesti Winery - Moldova

Pivnitle din Branesti Winery – Moldova

For 100 leu ($8 USD) a guide who spoke some English took us through the underground passageways carved into the hillside where the wine is produced. Sparkling wine is a staple of Moldova and after walking through the cavernous underbelly of the winery we were ushered into a private tasting area where two Chinese dignitaries hold their private collections.

Moldovan Sparkling Wine

Enjoying some Moldovan sparking wine :)

Sitting over a bottle of semi-sweet sparkling wine my friend Johnny and I enjoyed the freshly uncorked bottle right off the line as we chilled out in the wineries private tasting room, something few tourists get to do.

In total, our entire day with a stop off at the winery and monastery cost roughly 425 Leu ($34 USD) per-person. Compared to an organized tour with the hostel, which would have cost 600 Leu and only included wine tasting, organizing the trip ourselves was cheaper and offered us complete control of the itinerary.

So if you’re looking for a way to see the Moldovan countryside, take in a little history, and enjoy some wine along the way this is a day trip I’d highly recommend.

Happy Travels,

Yak

 

Home / Europe / Kosovo / Drive Kosovo a rugged tourist free land of transcendent beauty

Drive Kosovo a rugged tourist free land of transcendent beauty

Updated: January 14, 2013
By: Ian Yacobucci
Rugova Gorge outside the walls of the Patrijarsija Monastery - Kosovo

Rugova Gorge outside the walls of the Patrijarsija Monastery – Kosovo

When I first arrived in Prestina I wasn’t sure if I would be able to see more of Kosovo, since I only had a couple of days in the country. Luckily, my friends and I were able to organize a taxi for a day through our hostel, and for 60 € our driver Ben toured us around.

Our plan was to visit three destinations around Peja on the western side of the country. The first was Patrijarsija Monastery, followed by Rugova Gorge, and finally Decani Monastery.

Inside Decani Monastery-Kosovo

Inside Decani Monastery-Kosovo

Before we started, our driver took us for a lunch stop to eat the best borak in Prestina. Borak is a famous dish made of light flakey pastry and layered with ground meat. The meal is best served with plain yogurt that you drink out of a plastic container and I wasn’t surprised to find it absolutely delicious, not to mention the fact that the entire meal cost around 2€; awesome!

After lunch and a short tour of Prestina, the capital of Kosovo, we headed out to explore the rest of the country. I saw the first real scars from the war that ravaged Kosovo in the 1990s when I arrived at Patrijarsija Monastery. It was here that I had to sign in with Serbian UN troops in order to visit the monastery.

Serbian UN soldiers protecting the Patrijarsija Monastery - Kosovo

Serbian UN soldiers protecting the Patrijarsija Monastery – Kosovo

The reason the two UN soldiers were stationed outside the monastery was to protect it from vandalism as these ancient monasteries, dating back more than 600 years, have occasionally been threatened by religious extremists.

Unfortunately, the reason for these threats to monasteries in Kosovo stems from a small number of Muslim extremists. Kosovo itself has a large Muslim population similar to that of its neighbour Albania. Whereas once it was part of Serbia, a predominately Christian country and the reason the monasteries are present, these monasteries are now threatened by a select few who do not represent the majority of Kosovars.

Patrijarsija Monastery-Kosovo

Patrijarsija Monastery-Kosovo

Once inside the walls of the Monastery the outside world melted away and the beauty and tranquility of its gardens were all that I could think about. Inside the Monastery I met a woman who was part of a team of six archeology students working to restore the frescoes that cover the inside of the church (no pics allowed).

She kindly toured us around, answered questions, and described some of the paintings of saints that adorned the walls. After our little tour we checked out the guest log where I discovered there weren’t many tourists visiting these ancient places. It was a shame more people weren’t visiting Kosovo, a result of the recent conflict, leaving the beauty of this country still to be discovered.

A drive through the Rugova Gorge was next on our list and it was truly impressive. Our driver Ben wound his way along the narrow mountain roads as we took in the thousand-meter limestone cliffs that lined the Decani River.

Breathtaking Rugova Gorge - Kosovo

Breathtaking Rugova Gorge (not sure how our driver managed these roads) – Kosovo

The drive took us far into the gorge and we ended up at a small ski town where we discovered we had already passed the waterfall, our intended destination. For us the drive was so scenic and relaxing that we didn’t mind.

We ended our day trip at our final destination, Decani Monastery, which was protected by Italian UN troops. This was another wonderful stop, and as a UNESCO world heritage site it was one of the places I wanted to see. The lush green lawns once again brought me away from the realities of the outside world. Inside the church, known for its acoustics, were frescoes dating back several hundred years and once again no tourists.

Decani Monastery - Kosovo

Decani Monastery – Kosovo

After touring the church and its grounds we went to the small gift shop to taste some cheese and take a look at the wine, its recipe dating back 700 years and made on-site from grapes grown outside the monastery walls.

It was there I met one of the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. He gave some insight on the threats of attacks on the monastery, telling me that a small portion of the Muslim population is unhappy with the monastery. Often, people try to graffiti the walls or throw stones at the monastery, but it’s still open to everyone and that’s the extent of the vandalism. Still, Italian UN peacekeepers are there to protect it.

Patrijarsija Monastery -Kosovo

Patrijarsija Monastery -Kosovo

The driving tour from Prestina to Peja was a great way to see the region and it was made better by the fact that I got to share it with a couple friends. It was nice to be in a place where the unexpected filled beauty of this country filled the day.

For me the highlights were learning about the people, history, politics, and culture of Kosovo. Moreover, since tourism is not big in Kosovo, I got the sensation of real travel in a unique place that was safe and unique.

I hope you too will break down travel stereotypes and visit countries that are off the tourist trail to discover the beauty of borderless travel!

So until next time, happy travels!

Yak

 

Home / Europe / Kosovo / Sightseeing in Prestina an incredible day of discovery in Kosovo’s capital

Sightseeing in Prestina an incredible day of discovery in Kosovo’s capital

Updated: December 7, 2012
By: Ian Yacobucci
Kosovo Museum

Kosovo Museum – Prestina, Kosovo

Prestina is the capital of Kosovo and its central economic hub, but as a city there aren’t many tourist attractions to see. This doesn’t detract from the character of the city or its people, as I spent a day there visiting monuments, shops, and restaurants throughout the city.

If you’re in Prestina you can’t leave without trying borak. Borak is a famous dish made of light flakey pastry that’s filled with meat and best served with plain yogurt that you drink out of the plastic container. Luckily, the driver who toured me around knew the best place to go in the city and I was able to enjoy the best borak in town. When I ordered, the small bakery/diner was packed with people and everyone was eating this local delight. If you’re wondering how to get there its easiest to ask a local where to go.

The only UNESCO site in the city is the Gracanica Monastery. Although it wasn’t as spectacular as those outside Peja (due mostly to its comparative location) it’s still worth a visit as the architecture and frescoes inside are beautiful. I got a cab there for a few euros and only needed a short time to check it out.

Gracanica Monastery

Gracanica Monastery – Prestina, Kosovo

In downtown Prestina there are two monuments you won’t want to miss. The first is Newborn. I found out that if you ask anyone on the street where it is they’ll stand up a little straighter and enthusiastically say, “Newborn” and then direct you right there. Everyone knows where the monument is since it’s a symbol of Kosovo’s independence, a very cool site.

Newborn

Newborn Monument – Prestina, Kosovo

The other monument that might seem out of place is the Bill Clinton statue. It’s there because of the American role in helping Kosovo during the war. The statue is placed at the corner of a busy intersection so you can’t miss it. I stopped there for a quick picture before heading off to see the “newborn” monument.

Bill Clinton Kosovo

Bill Clinton Statue – Prestina, Kosovo

All in all, if you visit the Gracanica Monastery, newborn, the Bill Clinton statue and enjoy a meal of borak you’ve done a good job of touring Prestina. There is also the historical Kosovo museum to check out, but unfortunately when I was there it was under restoration.

Have fun,

Yak

Tips:

Kosovo Museum Contact info.
Hours – 09:30-17:30 Tues – Fri, Sat/Sun 11:00-15:00, Closed Monday
Phone: +377 44 50 80 55
Admission: Free

 

Home / Europe / Bulgaria / Partying and sightseeing in Sofia, Bulgaria

Partying and sightseeing in Sofia, Bulgaria

Updated: November 9, 2012
By: Ian Yacobucci
St.Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Sofia, Bulgaria

St.Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – Sofia, Bulgaria

Discover Sofia, Bulgaria the perfect place for partying, food, and some relaxing sight seeing.

Partying in Sofia, Bulgaria is a great time. In Sofia, they close down the main street on the weekends so people can walk around and check out the various bars, restaurants or quaint little cafes that line the downtown streets.

I spent my time there with a few friends watching the Euro Cup, drinking beer and enjoying a fresh burger. The main street is a great place to start your night out before heading to one of the Sophia’s nightclubs.

The friendly locals are a good source of information on where to party. Funnily enough, most of the clubs are named after drinks like Tequila, and one of the most popular is aptly named Alcohol.

If you’re planning on partying in Bulgaria, Sofia is definitely a wicked place to spend a weekend.  People are super friendly, the drinks are ridiculously cheap and if you’re feeling adventurous you can hop on centre stage to dance like a maniac without any judgment.

Statue of St. Sophia - Sofia, Bulgaria

Statue of St. Sofia – Sofia, Bulgaria

The city itself is quite small and you can easily see the most popular tourist attractions in a day. Generally, hostels have good maps that clearly outline easy walking tours.

Some of the best things to see are St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a magnificently large cathedral in the centre of the city, Parliament, the communist party headquarters, and of course the statue of St. Sofia.

Having fun in front of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - Sofia, Bulgaria

Having fun in front of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – Sofia, Bulgaria

While I was there with a few friends we spent most of our day wandering the streets and trying a few restaurants. Because it’s so small, traveling by foot is a pleasure. Meals are relatively cheap and there are some great places that offer traditional Bulgarian foods.

If you’re looking to fill an hour or two in the afternoon, I would suggest a stopover at the central market. There you’ll find fresh produce and cheap clothing. There are also a number of food shops that sell olives, cheeses and breads.

Bulgarian Parliament - Sofia, Bulgaria

Bulgarian Parliament – Sofia, Bulgaria

While sightseeing in Sofia take your time, enjoy a coffee, and relax because there’s no reason to rush around. For me Sofia was exactly what I needed it to be: a fun city to party in with a few sights to enjoy, good food, cheap prices, and fun people.

Enjoy,

Yak