Category Archives: Travel Stories

Love Letter for Europe

My love,

What makes a trip wonderful? What makes a day beautiful? What makes our life happy?

For me, there is one answer: friends and family.

I travel to make friends, to meet different people who will make me feel something different, who will make me see the world a bit different and who will teach me to live differently than before.

I travel to confront and forget my old worries, fears and even hopes and forge new ones.

I travel to shed my own skin and leave a new layer take over.

I travel so I can be myself in the shadow of being nobody.

I travel so I can never forget how short my life is and how silly it is to be afraid to live fully.

This year I traveled to see you again. I had too. You gave me no choice. You made me lie in bed at night thinking of you, trying to remember your smell and imagining how I will feel when my hands will touch you again.

You, my amazing, ideal lover: you make me cry and you makes me laugh, you take me to busy streets, fancy restaurants, overwhelming me with warmth, then you take me shopping to beautiful stores just to wake me up in a cosy small cottage nestled between mountains covered with snow in the sound of Christmas carols and the smell of fresh baked cookies. In your arms, I feel at peace, proud of what I am, curious of what I will become.

So, between a love which just passes and one who just waits around the corner, there is always you, faithfully waiting to wipe my tears and make me feel alive once again.

We have a small house beside the river in Giethoorn, Holland. After a delicious breakfast in an open air cafe on the shores of the Bosphorus, we go hiking around Lake Como in Italy, then straight into the Ice Caves in Austria. We spend our afternoon swimming and watching the sunset over the wineries in Corniglia, Cinque Terre and go for lunch first to Hotel Obermayr near Salzburg and have a garlic soup and then to a Parisian fancy restaurant which serves delicious beef tartar. We spend the night on a boat in Monaco, feeling happy and free.

When you will ask my hand in marriage, assuming I will accept, we will go for honeymoon in Corniglia, sunbathing on the cliffs, listening to the loud, lively Italians sitting in front of their houses gossiping, having a true Italian pizza with a good glass of wine. I know that all these simple things will give us a feeling of surreal peace and happiness. I won’t take with me any laptop or iPhone. A camera, some books and you will be all I’ll need.

For now, I am back to the land of Oz dreaming of you, missing you and talking to all my friends about you. No matter how far I go, how much time we will be away from each other I will never forget you.

With all my love,

For my lover: Europe



Everyone and their seagull rides a bike in Holland :)

Everyone and their seagull rides a bike in Holland 🙂

Hansel and Gretel :)

Hansel and Gretel 🙂

Nice meeting you!

Nice meeting you!

Swiss made.

Swiss made.

A house with a view:)

A house with a view:)

Simplicity and beauty, always a good match.

Simplicity and beauty, always a good match.

Money, money, money always sunny in the rich men's world..Apparently not!:)

Money, money, money always sunny in the rich men’s world..Apparently not!:)

Dreaming of Cinque Terre.

Dreaming of Cinque Terre.

Nice Nise!:)

Nice Nise!:)

When around you is dark, look up!

When around you is dark, look up!

How many pairs of shoes do you need, darling?

How many pairs of shoes do you need, darling?

Goedemorgen Den Haag! Things to Do In Netherlands

Or Good morning Hague!

No matter how difficult is for one to learn to write Dutch, it is infinitely easier than trying to speak Dutch or even listening to Dutch.

When I was a child and my mom could not understand what I was mumbling about (not that now she fully understands 🙂 she used to say I speak Chinese, but little did she know…In fact, from experience I could say Chinese is way easier when compared to Dutch.

Having said that, the people of Holland are very proud of their language. All the signs are only in Dutch and in all the restaurants the menu is, of course, only in Dutch.

Do you want to know what you will eat? Tough luck! Trust their goodwill.


But, there is one word I wanted to learn and no, it is not the famous “I love you” or the less famous “shit.” Although, now that I think about both could be quite useful in times of war and peace.

It is stroopwaffel, which is a delicious Dutch cake made out of caramel.

Once you have one, you go for another one, and another one, until…oh well, until you taste the Dutch cheese and the cycle repeats itself. Dutch people eat their cheese with mustard or figs. To each type of cheese, a certain kind of mustard corresponds. As unusual as it might sound, the combination tastes quite good, for the adventurous ones. But, never better than the fresh Dutch mussels found in all the supermarkets cooked with garlic and fresh basil. Now we are in business!




After such daily  feasts, no wonder they need  to exercise which is why you can find bike lanes everywhere.

And, as long as there is a bike lane, who needs a footpath?! Indeed, there are places where there are only bike lanes. Biking is a real option in Holland. People go to work by bike, go between villages by bike, go shopping by bike, take their dogs for a walk on the bike. In the old days you might have associated Holland with windmills, but in the present days, when you say Holland you say love for biking. It might stem from economical reasons as well, as one way trip by tram is 3 euros. You can buy their Ov- chipcards and it can get cheaper, but still trams and trains are expensive.




Now let’s talk about something really interesting. Let’s talk about toilets.

Their design or their availability it is a point of interest for me wherever I go. If in Monte Carlo they are clean and all over the place, in the Netherlands they are just incredibly expensive: it starts from 50 cents and it goes up to 1 euro, which I found hilarious if it would not be a rip off. But, where there is a will, there is always a way…out.

One restaurant which I simply loved in Hague was Simonis. It does not look like much from the outside, but it was one of the best fish restaurants I have been to and quite decently priced.

It is close to their famous Scheveningen Beach which is a beautiful wide beach packed with cozy and elegant restaurants where the Dutch are stubborn enough to go to, no matter if it is warm or cold. The cold weather seems to be the norm here, even in the summer, and armed with warm sweaters, blankets, and wine (Spatlese nahe being my favorite) they sit on the beach, dance and listen to live music.


Despite the weather or the tiny flats, the Hague has the charm of an international city. It is named the legal capital of the world and more than 150 international organisations have their headquarters here.

Peace Palace is home to International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It is an impressive and beautiful building. In the Japanese Room, each state has its own seat for which it pays 25000 Euros and the ones who cannot afford are having regular chairs. Like in life, we are all equal, but some more equal than others.

At the entrance of the palace, on the marble floor, there is a famous Latin dicton: Sol Justitia ilustra nos, meaning justice should shine above us all. The message which can be found all around the palace in paintings or sculptures is one: each State needs justice and peace to progress. How those can be achieved it’s a more complicated issue and one should look no further than the symbolic story of the chairs in the Japanese Room to realise that.


If the Hague is the legal capital of the world, Amsterdam is the gay capital of the world and the gay flag presence wherever you look, is certainly a proof of that.

Amsterdam is charming. It’s classy, elegant, trendy, packed with all sorts of museums, shops, restaurants, events and the most famous red district.


The famous Amsterdam's canals.

The famous Amsterdam’s canals.




Give me a topic and I will give you a rhyme :)

Give me a topic and I will give you a rhyme 🙂

Man playing Halo - an instrument created in 2006 in USA

Man playing Halo – an instrument created in 2006 in USA

The Dutch version of Happiness

The Dutch version of Happiness


Exercising and drinking beer in the same time 🙂

I have been only to the Diamond Museum and the Boat museum. Next time I promised to see the Cannabis museum, the Beer Museum and the Movie Museum.

Diamond is the hardest mineral known and their name comes from Adamos which in Greek means hard. Because of its hardness when it was discovered, it could not be processed and it was used in decorations.

Diamonds were first discovered in India and the only continents where they were not found are Europe and Antarctica. For each diamond found, 250000 kg of rocks has to be extracted.

Only 20% out of the total world production of diamonds is processed into jewelry diamonds, the rest is used for industrial purposes.

The value of a diamond is determined by four quality factors: Carat, Colour, Cut and Clarity (the 4C factors).

The word Carat derives from the Greek Keration. Kerations are the seeds of the carob tree which, because of their constant weight of 0.2 grams, were used to determine the weight of gemstones.

The museum also has on display a large collection of crowns. The crowns are classified by function, such as: religious, marriage, ceremonials, dance, warrior and coronation crowns. If you’ve always dreamt of being a princess or a prince you can take your picture with a crown on your head and send it to yourself, your friends, or the whole world to see you.

Personally I have never fancy the royal life, but faced with the option, I could not resist and I took the picture. However, I did not get the email with it… One more proof that some things are meant to happen only in our dreams and we should get this into our head!



Amsterdam is also famous for the legal use of cannabis and others alike. One cannot produce it but can certainly use it. Stores sell relaxing herbs or more energetic ones.

I remember one saying: if you never want to get off the sofa, this is it. I could not figure it out why someone will never want to get off the sofa. Does it suppose to promote a blissful slow painless death or what? Of course, I want to get off the sofa… at least once, at some point during the day…


I even found one pill with my zodiac sign: Aquarius, the cosmic experience…

If you say so…who am I to contradict you?


Once one is done with the herbs, organic or less organic, he or she can more or less safely move to the red district.

But before that, a stop at one of the shops selling condoms will not hurt. One of them was in particular fun to get into and the website is

Let’s protect the knight for the night!



In the red district, beside condoms, money will also come in handy. 50 euros for 20 minutes of good time… or bad/ bed time. No idea if there is a discount for more than once:)

Rooms in the Red District

Rooms in the Red District


I could understand the herbs, I could understand the girls, but my mind could not make sense of the punch line found at the entrance of a strip club: “Here, you find writing shows.”

Are they for real? Banana shows, I get it. Candle shows, I get it. Vibrator shows, I get it. But, writing shows?? What a quirky combination of mental stimulation and other kinds of stimulation…

I have to admit I was never a fan of Woody Allen. I felt either depressed or stupid after watching one of his movies. None of those states of mind being quite a happy ending for me. But, I had to come to Amsterdam to discover a different side of him.

Here is what the maestro said:

“Is sex dirty? Only when its done right.”

Or another one:

“Don’t knock masturbation-it’s sex with someone you love…”

So, there is a sense of humor in all of us.

Giethoorn – the Venice of Holland

Giethoorn is my perfect Holland city. No cars are allowed, only boats and bikes.

The houses are all tidy and beautifully decorated and all with thatch roofs.

For 15 euros per hour you can rent a boat to visit the whole place and the natural reserve that surrounds it.





Volendam – Cheese factory


The Dutch version of hanging clothes ( I assume learnt from their Italian friends. Next time your thrust for knowledge hits please pick and choose :))

The Dutch version of hanging clothes ( I assume learnt from their Italian friends. Next time your thrust for knowledge hits please pick and choose :))

The Dutch version of hanging clothes. I assume it is learnt from their Italian friends. Next time your thrust for knowledge hits please pick and choose :))

Although quite a touristy place, it was interesting to see how the cheese is made. You need ten l of milk for one kg of cheese.

Zaanse Schans – Visiting windmills

I have never known that windmills made paper. And not only any kind of paper, but the windmills in the Zaan area made the best paper in the world starting from 1601.

The paper was made out of used clothing and rugs crushed into fibers, then soaked in water. Mixed with water, the fibers made a slurry which was the basis for the paper.


Zaan area was the first industrial area in the world with more than 1000 mills (grinding mills, paper mills, oil mills, watermills, peeling mills, corn mills). A mill was build in such a way so it could even be moved to a different location. People were working long hours and were remunerated poorly and on top of that there was the rule: no wind, no wages.
You can visit one of the mills or learn about them the Windmills Museum.

Marken-Clog (Klompen) making

There is a famous Clog making place in Marken. But, it is more than touristy. All you find is a huge shop with tons of clogs and no demonstration of how they are actually made.

On top of it, you cannot drive into the village and you need to park your car in the one and only parking lot where you will pay 3.50 euro plus 0.50 per person. Appalling!

But, if you drive further towards the city of Hoorn, you will find a beautiful store with free parking where you will have fun watching how a simple block of wood can be transformed into a wooden shoe (clog= klompen).

They are yellow because the farmers used cheese wax. Clogs are made out of green poplar and it takes about 5 weeks to dry them. They are very protective so you can wear them to work, hard so you can use them as a hammer or as a defensive weapon 🙂 Only when you have a date do not wear them.

The guy who makes them has been working in the shop for 16 years and I assume he still lives by the motto:
“7 days without laughter makes one weak.”

He was fun to listen to and made the experience quite interactive.

Sabotage comes from the French for clog: sabot. They sabotaged machines throwing in clogs.




My final story from Holland is from The Hague.

One day I was walking around the beautiful streets of the Hague when I have seen a man leaving on the doorsteps of a woman’s house a red rose and an envelope.

I guess even if the big world around us is not always beautiful the small world surrounding us can be beautiful… And it all depends on us…

We all need from time to time a rose on our doorsteps…

You can read more on my adventures in The Netherlands in my book, When Dreams are Calling. The book has been featured in numerous travel magazines in Australia and around the world.


Strasbourg – Paris. Travelling in style.

Salzburg to Strasbourg

If you are looking forward to zipping through Germany on the famous autobahn, forget it!
The German hwy which connects Salzburg to Strasbourg is supposed to be the fastest one with no speed limits: fast and furious! The reality though is different, like almost all 500 km are under construction and the speed limit varies from 80 km/h to 100 km/h. It was a big disappointment! We managed only once to get to 190 km/h.:(

The frustration in Germany did not stop here: I could not get into any of their cities as every car must take an emission test.

Once in Strasbourg I was again dissapointed. It is a sad city. It looks deserted and it is extremely dirty even the areas close to the Council of Europe and the other European institutions.



Strasbourg to Paris

Except for the expensive tolls (about 50 euro) I have only good things to say about this hwy, fast and modern, so you can drive with 130 km/h all the way.


It might be called the city of love. It might be called the city of lights. It might be famous and loved. It might be romantic. But, I could not feel or see any of it.
Instead, I was shocked by how dirty it is and how many beggars are on the streets. In Paris, nothing seems to work properly : the metro has problems every day, the stores are closed in the middle of the day because of power failure, people get stuck in the elevators and even the Disneyland world, the tram had mechanical problems for half an hour.

At the Kyriad hotel I have stayed at I was told during a week day, that the room cannot be cleaned as the housekeeping is on holiday 🙂 Oh well, I guess everybody deserves a holiday and I guess all the housekeeping personnel goes on holiday at the same time. 🙂

Next to the Tour Eiffel, there are beggars and it is hard to find a place on the grass, litter free.


Basilique du Sacre Coeur looked similar to me to the one in Montreal, Canada and I was more impressed by Notre Dame Cathedral built in 1300. That’s a long time!

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Moulin Rouge looked in disrepair and is under construction. So, if you are into cabaret, you can try the famous girls at Crazy Horse for around 130 euro per person.
In the famous Montmartre, beside paintings, I found the Erotic Museum (Musee de l’erotisme).
It is an interesting place, with exhibits and stories about sexuality all around the globe.
For example, I was not aware that for the Aztec people in Mexico, sexuality represented an attempt to find an equilibrium between the soul and the body and the female and the male were enemies so it was common for men to assault women on the streets.


In China, making love intensely, in complete harmony, is believed to be the only way to happiness and longevity. It is also believed that despite the apparent fragility of the woman, she is superior to the man (Lao Tseu).

In India, the man exists only as a carriage of the phallus. It is in the pleasure and abandon of the act of love when man forgets his ambitions and egotistic preoccupations so he can approach the happiness of divinity.

One famous saying in Japan says beautifully that, even with the belly full and an erection as large as a bow one can die of hunger for both food and love.

Inside the museum you can watch porno movies from the beginning of the television, which are quite comic.

One which I liked said something like:

“Having a husband is like having the same client every night.”

Wow..that’s tough ! You’d better have a really good husband!

The museum also tells the story of the brothels in Paris and their torture chambers.

Now, if the museum managed to put you in a more romantic mood or you are eager to give full rein to your imagination, there is always the Love hotel where for 25 euro per hour you can spend some “quality” time in one of their lavishly decorated rooms. The hotels, very popular in Tokyo, are not too many in Paris.

What else is to see in Paris?

Well, La Fayette galleries are beautifully decorated, but if you fancy buying an item from one of the stores, you are in for a dive.

La Fayette Galleries

La Fayette Galleries

16 km long and having 35000 exhibits, Louvre is the second largest museum in the world and I have spent an entire day there without seeing much.


There are all kinds of interesting exhibitions going on, such as La mecanique des dessous, at the Art Museum, explaining what people, mostly women, endure to make themselves look better.

A cruise on the Seine with Vedette Pont Neuf to see Paris at dusk is also a good idea and I have enjoyed it much more than taking the famous Bateau Mouche, which was more expensive and more commercial.

I also went to Disneyland Paris as it was on my list for a long time. Unfortunately, it was one of those things which you have to try to know that you don’t like it. However, seeing kids everywhere and listening to their funny, silly questions and seeing happy parents kissing and hugging made me feel quite happy hoping one day I will be the same.



Last but not least in was Versailles turn. The gardens were beautiful and the fountains’ show the same. However, it was very hot and humid, and no AC inside. So, I felt like fainting most of the time. It is good to know that after 4 pm you get much cheaper tickets, so for about 6 euro you are in. Unfortunately, so are the big tourists groups…

My Gardens :)

My Gardens 🙂

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

Dishes you must try:

  • Beef tartar which was delicious
  • The pissenlit which is nothing else than dandelion salad and
  • Motabbal (eggplant salad mixed with sesame).

Someone will have fun in the kitchen soon!:)

Love is an untamable creature. It does not come when you want, where you want and with whom you want. And I guess to have some control over it, one can just start by relinquishing control. Love does take prisoners and between the most dangerous one is our ego, our pride. Although, the trade off can be quite painful, confusing and sometimes might makes us think whether it is worth it, shared love is what can make a city like Paris from grey to beautiful and an evening on the grass watching the lights of tour Eiffel from ordinary to quite special.

When I was there, there was a statistic done, which found that 85% of the French people, make love four to five times per week. So, I guess after all, I was in the city of love… making.

Bye-Bye Paris. TGV to The Hague!

Bye-Bye Paris. TGV to The Hague!

Austria: Innsbruck and Salzburg Must See

I love Austria! I love the houses, the people, the food and I guess it was the vibe…

The only thing which is not to love about Austria is the police. They have radars everywhere and everyone drives under the speed limit.


Same as in Switzerland, there are dedicated bike lanes everywhere and people definitely use them. If in some countries people seem to have one car per family member, in Austria people seem to have one family car and one bike per family member.

Innsbruck is clean, beautiful, surrounded by mountains and has decent prices.


But, like always I avoid staying right in the middle of the action, so my hosts this time were Gasthof Post in Sistrans, 10 minutes away from Innsbruck, a true Austrian village.




Given my passion for crystals and my Swarovski jewellery collection, Swarovski museum it was a place I could not miss and it was my highlight for Innsbruck. The museum was much more than I was expecting: very entertaining, full of life and not the kind of museum in which you just admire different exhibits.



Mirror, mirror on the wall…

I love crystals because they remind me of how we all are: with rough and smooth edges, always shining differently depending on the waves we are riding at the moment and all of us beautiful in our unique way for someone out there.
One quote, which I guess can be applied to many things, including love, remained with me:
“It all depends on the distance. If u get the correct perspective and the best possible stance then nothing can go wrong .”(Hans Magnus Enzensberger, German writer).

It is fascinating what a distorted image you get, how many things you just do not see, if you stay to close to something or someone. Whenever I am in doubt, time and distance seem to be my best friends. They help me to detach myself and see things and people for what they truly are. Because people will always show their true colours and it is only us who, whenever we are too attached to the outcome, refuse to accept it. Once we see things for what they truly are, we can prepare ourselves and step quietly and content towards a new phase, whatever that might involve.

My new phase involved Salzburg and no matter how tired I was, I was also ready for it!


At Salzburg I have chosen to stay in the hills, at Hotel Obermayr, which was really nice and recently renovated and where I ate for the first time the delicious Garlic soup. It will not be for the last time and equipped with the recipe, I promised myself that I will cook it as soon as I am back to Aussie land. And, before I forget there is always, the obstler drink, a very strong drink made of pears and apples, one of their traditional drinks. However, I decided for the future to stick with my Romanian Palinca.

I’ve always associated Salzburg with two things: The Sound of Music and my piano lessons always followed by lectures about different composers, such as Mozart. I remembered sitting as a child on the bench trying to imagine Salzburg. Many things must have changed since Mozart’s time, but the charm of the city still remains.

I have visited Hellbrun Palace, built in 1600 by an archbishop who became wealthy from the salt mines in the region. If the palace itself is not what one could say a masterpiece of architecture or anything else, the gardens with their trick fountains are exquisite. Water sprays out from the most unexpected places and it powers mechanical displays and all of this is done using only gravity.


After visiting the palace, a phrase written in Latin above the main door, stuck with me. It loosely translates as follows: Divine unites the opposites.

Next to Hellbrun Palace, there is a Folk Museum, which tells you the story of common Austrian people and how they were living back in the 16th century.


not a queen size….ah…so disappointed…

I found my man!

I found my man!

Once I was done with the cultural side, I was happy to move on to my favourite part: caves and mines.

I have been to Hallein Salt Mines, where for 20 euros I swore I will never go again tobogganing. No matter how stubborn or determined never to give up I might be, I have to accept my limits and tobogganing is one of them. I did hate it and I will always do, unless I go veryyyy slow. Inside the mine they have 2 big slides, going from fast to very fast and I was not a happy camper. :((


Overall, it was a so so experience, as the only thing I have learnt over and over again was what a chicken I am – both in reality and in the Chinese Zodiac. I remember nothing about salt or how it is extracted. I guess you must go there to find out.

My MUST see in Salburg are the Ice Caves at Eisriesenwalt, which are the Largest in the world. Obviously!  I never go for the second best 🙂 Although, sometimes I do get distracted 🙁

The caves are 45 km long, but only the first km are covered in ice. The ice is formed in spring when the water from the mountains gets into the cave and it freezes and in some parts of the cave is 25 m thick.
The temperature inside the cave is around 0 C in the summer and -12C in the winter, which did not stop crazy people to get inside in flip flops and t-shirts. Not recommended!
To get to see the caves, you must either be fit or determined to get fit on the way up there. There are 2 steep climbs of 20 min each and a very very steep hike of 90 minutes. However, the last one can be skipped as there is a cable car, the steepest in Austria. Obviously, I chose to take it, but as nothing is as easy as it seams, I had to wait in line for about 2 long hours. To make things even worse, I had to endure seeing 2 German middle age love birds, who did not stop kissing, hugging, touching and could not be bothered by the crowds starring at them. Now I know what means to have eyes only for each other!

Once inside the cave, 750 stairs up and 750 stairs down are all waiting for you. But, you are more than rewarded for all your efforts. The Ice figures, illuminated by the guide using magnesium, are breathtaking. We went through a tunnel dug in the ice, holding in our hands davy lamps like in the old days.The Cave is open from May till October and it is not electrified.

I was very very happy I went there and it was an amazing day!!





As waiting in line for seeing the caves did not make me tired, go figure, I decided to cross the oldest border between Austria and Germany which is at Berchtesgaden, to see the Konigssee Lake in Bavaria.

The lake is beautiful, and you can go for a long walk around it, eating berries on the way as I have done or you can hire a boat. In the winter, the village is very popular for skiing and the village itself is very modern, clean and trendy.
I could not leave Salzburg, before seeing lake Fuschl and lake Wolfgang, made famous by The Sound of the Music.
I could have easily spent a few more days in Salzburg as three were definitely not enough.

I loved Austria everywhere I went!

Tip for women: Watch out for all those Austrian men. They are tall, dark and handsome! 🙂

Switzerland: St Moritz and Luzern Must See

St Moritz

The road from Como (Italy) to St Moritz is wonderful and a true paradise for motorcycles.


Once you are in Switzerland, to be allowed to drive on hwys, you must pay the vignette which is 40 euro per year, but then there are no more tolls like in Italy 🙂
Although St Moritz is well known as being a holiday destination for rich people, I was not impressed by it.



I have spent one full day in Luzern and I found it to be more than enough.
Everywhere I went it was outrageously expensive: 50 euro for a Swiss cowbell, 700 euro the ugliest shoes I have ever seen, a more than regular jacket about 2000 euros (it must have had gold threads hidden somewhere) and even to go to the washroom costs me 1 euro. It was definitely a place for deep royal pockets.



Such prices invited cars like Maserati, Ferrari together with their poor relatives like Mercedes or BMW.

Suddenly my Mazda looked like a vintage car, Monte Carlo became cheap, and I was left wondering how people survive in such a country.

But, on the bright side of things, there was a  dedicated bike lane on every single street.

The symbol of Luzerne is a lion cut in stone which signifies the heroic death of 700 Swiss soldiers during the French Revolution.


If you are willing to pay about 100 euro to take the cable car, there are plenty of hikes you can do in the area.

I was happy to leave Swiss and  I was quite curious about Austria which proved to be way more affordable and beautiful.

Bongiorno Italy! You are beautiful!

Cinque Terre

We drove from Nice to Cinque Terre, passing through San Remo and Genova.
The hwy which connects Nice to La Spezia, the closest city to Cinque Terre, is one of the most scenic hwy I have seen. However, the tolls are really expensive (almost 40 euros). Driving with 150 km/h and being constantly passed was the big fun of the day.

A big thumbs up for our Volvo V40!


War to all tolls in Italy! you are expensive!

War to all tolls in Italy! you are expensive!

All the Italian cities I have been to look quite the same in my eyes: dirty streets, bad roads, horrible to navigate, with many streets closed, but always full of museums, old churches and pizza shops.

But, what really struck me in Italy is how much and how loud Italians can talk. One can barely distinguish the words, and if you stop trying to understand, all you hear is just noise which keeps going on and on. They do not seem to obey any rules of traffic whatsoever and they can become quite annoyed if you do. But they are cheerful people, ready to party at any time of the day, but being more inclined to do so after 10 in the evening, even during the week days :): just about time for tired tourists like me to go to bed and hard working people like them to start partying. 🙂

White nights in La Spezia

White nights in La Spezia


Italian fashion :)

Italian fashion 🙂

I was sitting in a karaoke restaurant in La Spezia when the sales lady at the store close by could not resist the music anymore and between serving 2 customers she decided to join us and sing along. I guess I was more worried that she will lose her job than she will ever be.

Tip of the day:

In Italy, pizzas are ready usually after 7 pm and people eat them with farinata which is made out of chickpeas flour. The best pizza I ate in La Spezia was in La Pia pizzeria.



Because the parking spots are very limited in all 5 villages in Cinque Terre, we took the train. For 10 euros, you can hop on hop off for one day to all the villages.

My favourite one was Corniglia and my mind was set that if I were to have a honeymoon this will be the place. Corniglia is a small village, with beautiful cosy restaurants, clean, old and narrow streets and a beautiful,rocky, secluded beach. To get to the beach you will have to be fit or you will certainly become so. It is very steep and it takes about 30 minutes. But it’s well worth it. The water is clear, is quiet and many women choose to go topless which can be a point of attraction. I fell in love with the atmosphere and I wish I could have stayed there for a whole week.



Private is not part of the Italian vocabulary. Let the world see what I've got!

Private is not part of the Italian vocabulary. Let the world see what I’ve got!

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Street in Corneglia

Street in Corneglia


IMG_1582 IMG_1695

Next evening we drove to Cinque Terre to see the villages at night. Just be cautious, some roads are reserved for the locals and can be quite dangerous as they are one lane only.

For us, driving in pitch dark while listening to Toto Cutugno, was an exciting and well worth challenge.

From La Spezia you can visit Pisa for its famous tower. However, I found it quite boring. So, I cannot say that I remember too much of it. All the information  was in Italian  and so, I decided that if they didn’t want me to understand then I definitely do not want to find out.



Portovenere is another short trip from La Spezia. Although it is a scenic place, it is crowded and commercial.


Lake Como

When you want to write the story of two happy lovers, choose the shores of Lake Como as your setting, said Franz Liszt.

Those words are as true now, as they were then.
So, after Cinque Terre my honeymoon will definitely have to pass through Lake Como.

From Cinque Terre to Lake Como it takes about 4 to 5 hours.

We have stayed in Abadia Lariana at Le Colombine bed and breakfast and we loved it. I could not help thinking how much better the accommodation are in Europe compared to Australia. Sorry, but the truth must be told:(

In the first day, we circled the lake and although it was about 200 km, it took us the whole day given the speed limit of around 40 km/hour and all the stops.

Tip: this drive is best done clockwise so that at least the passenger gets a better view of the lake.

In Tremezzo, we have seen Villa Carlotta, famous mostly for its vast gardens. Lucio Bubacco had a glass art work exhibition inside, which I really enjoyed.


The other villa which we didn’t visit, but we have tried to visit was Villa Balbaniello.

After a strenuous twenty minutes walk up the hill, with no signs indicating the walking distance to the villa, we asked a guy how long till the villa and if it truly exists. He smiled and said that we should be there in about 5 minutes. After another 15 minutes walking, we started to believe that he was either in love which would have explained his aloofness or his watch was in need of an urgent repair.

When we finally reached the gates of the villa, we were disappointed by what we could see and we decided to go back.

There are few others famous villas which you can try asking if there are open for visitors. Some are owned by Versace, George Clooney or Richard Branson.

Bellagio is another great small village to visit. It is quite upscale, trendy and the waterfront walk is very nice. The road between Como and Bellagio was the highlight of my trip.



House in Bellagio

House in Bellagio








The second day we went hiking. There are tons of hikes to choose from. I prefer the more difficult ones in the mountains, far away from the crowds and less touristy.
We started in Rongio which is a small place near Mandello del Lario. After 1 hour we reached Grotta dell’acqua bianca and we continued on the trail to Gardata for another 4 hours. It is a difficult climb, but with amazing views of the mountains and of the lake. The return trip was easier as it was all downhill and it took us about 3 hours. I loved it and it was one of the best days of my life!




Another hike we recommend starts at Somana, from where you start walking for about 1 hour to Santa Maria, then for another 2 hours to Alpe D’Era.

No matter what you choose, there is beauty surrounding you everywhere.

From Lake Como you can drive for an hour and get to Milano. I did not like Milano, but again, I am not a city girl and I will always choose the seclusion of the nature over the city.

The American Dream: A dream, because it never becomes reality.
The Italian Dream: Lake Como, as real as it gets.

Till next time, Ciao Italy, Ciao amore by Ricchi E Poveri

Romania – An Amazing Place Worth Visiting

When we live in a place it is amazing with how many wonderful things we get used to and how easy it is to forget how lucky we are. I guess that’s why a holiday always helps 🙂

I left Romania many years ago and now, here I was, seeing Romania through the eyes of a tourist. It looked more beautiful than what I remembered of it.

This glimpse of Romania is dedicated to my dear friends Ralph and Debra from California. I hope one day we will see Romania together.

Romania is associated with Nadia Comaneci, Hagi or Ilie Nastase. Few people know that Angela Gheorghiu, the famous opera singer, Eugen Ionesco, Henry Coanda or Dr Popescu Iulian who discovered the limphocite T are also Romanian symbols.

Also, the largest flag ever made, three times the size of a football field is, according to Guinness World Record, the Romanian flag. Now this is what I call a proud nation.

But to me, first and foremost, Romania is a wonderland for all foodies.

Let’s dive into some of the most famous Romanian traditional dishes:

Drob: an Easter dish made out of lamb.

Mici: The Romanian meatballs just way better.

Cozonac: a sweet cake filled with walnuts. You will beg for more. Trust me on this.

Tuica:  a very strong drink made with nothing but plums.







In terms of sightseeing, there are two major beautiful roads crossing the mountains: Transalpina and Transfagarasan. I love them both.

This time, I have visited Transalpina.

From Bucharest you will need a minimum of 3 days to see Transalpina.

1 st day: drive from Bucharest to Rinca

The drive passes Romanian villages and on the way we stopped to see Horezu Monastery, Pestera Muierilor and Pestera Polovragi.

Horezu Monastery was built in 1690 and has been inscribed by UNESCO on its list of World Heritage Sites. It is a beautiful and sacred place surrounded by mountains.

Horezu Monastery

Horezu Monastery


Horezu Monastery

Horezu Monastery

Pestera Muierilor and Pestera Polovragi are 4 million years old caves. In Pestera Muierilor, a 30000 years old woman’s skull was found, which made the researchers believe at that time that Romanians might be the first people in Europe.

During my visit I found out that the bats who live in the caves are very tiny and weight about 15 grams. One of the paintings on the wall depicts the Death itself and was meant to scare the intruders.

There are more than 12,000 caves all over Romania, most of them being open to the public.


2nd day: drive from Rinca – Obirsia Lotrului- Dobra- Voineasa

This is the most scenic part of Transalpina. The highest point on the road is 2,145m above sea level. The road is very good, however due to very bad weather it is closed during the winter.










3rd day: Voineasa-Bucharest

Voineasa is a resort between the mountains where you can find many bed and breakfast places and you can easily spend a couple of days if you just want to rest.

On the way to Bucharest you can stop to see Cozia Monastery build in 1400. It is one of my favourite places and you can read more about the history of the place here.

I have also found out that Saint Livia actually exists in the Orthodox calendar and is on the 25th of June, the same day when I have visited the place. However, I assume the only similarity between me and Saint Livia is the middle name and I doubt I will want anything more 🙂

Cozia Monastery

Cozia Monastery

Cozia Monastery

Cozia Monastery

The monastery is close to Caciulata, Calimanesti which are famous for their thermal waters good for stomach, nerves and all sorts of ailments.

Back to Bucharest I was ready to continue my trip, but not without a tear in my eyes and a promise that one day I will dedicate a month to see the Danube Delta, Transfagarasan, Transylvania, the Bran Castle also known as Dracula’s castle, the city of Piatra Neamt close to all Moldavian monasteries, which all make Romania a must visit place if you are thinking of Eastern Europe.


Coltea Hospital

Coltea Hospital

Old City

Old City

Restaurant " Lacrimi si Sfinti"

Restaurant ” Lacrimi si Sfinti”


Piatra Neamt

Piatra Neamt

Piatra Neamt

Piatra Neamt

Piatra Neamt

Piatra Neamt

You can read more on my adventures in Romania in my book, When Dreams are Calling. The book has been featured in numerous travel magazines in Australia and around the world.

One week in Istanbul

After a long 14 hours red eye from Bangkok I arrived in Istanbul early morning.
Every time when I return to Europe I feel excited, peaceful and I have a sense of belonging hard to describe or explain.

I was recently asked what place do I call home. I was taken by surprise not by the question, but by realizing that I did not know the answer.
After living in Canada and coming to terms with the fact that I will grow old shovelling snow, walking in the bitter cold, or simply watching hockey, I decided to move. Again. This time I chose a much warmer place, but further away from Europe. I chose Australia, the lucky country. And once again, like a school girl who learns the alphabet quite sure it will be useful to her the whole life, I was learning the Aussie ways.
Only that this time I could not fool myself. I could not say without any doubts that Australia will be the place where I will raise kids and hopefully grankids.

So, I guess I cannot yet call Australia my home, same as I cannot call Canada my home anymore.

But, the happiness I feel each time I am in Europe tell me that, although I do not live in Europe for now, Eastern Europe was and remains my home.

I will always love the food markets, the music on the streets, the warmth of the people, what Italians simply call: la dolce vita.

With these thoughts in mind I stepped off the plane ready to discover Istanbul, the only city in the world on 2 continents, a place where Christians meet Muslims, where Asia meets Europe, where the Black Sea meets the Marmara Sea, where the old city meets the new city, where young people still play stones or chess drinking Turkish tea. Istanbul is a bit like myself, vibrant and a mix of everything.

The traffic is heavy. But, if in Bangkok the drivers make their own rules, in Istanbul the pedestrians are the dictators. No matter if you are not supposed to cross the street, you should be bold enough to do it. Rarely, someone will honk you and if they do, a true Turkish man will shake his head, mumble something and continue to cross the street same as before.

The public ferries in Istanbul connecting the Asian side with the European side, are very comfy and always on time.
For the Bosphorus Cruise, I took the public ferry and it cost me 25 TL. The ferry took 1 ½ hour each way , it passed the Galata tower, Dolmabahce palace, Ortakoy mosque, Bosphorus bridge, Beylerbeyi palace and it stopped at Anadolu Kavagi where I had 3 hours to relax and visit the place before embarking to return. The ticket does not include the hop on hop off option, so if you want to stop at the other places in between, this is not a good option and you will need to take separate ferries.
It is a beautiful cruise, and I was quite surprised by the greenery along the way, by the beautiful luxurious mansions on both sides of the Bosphorus and the elegant restaurants rights beside the water.





I stayed at Q Hotel Istanbul, located in Sultanahmet, in the old part of the city. The old city is surrounded by 1600 years old walls. The hotel was very clean, comfortable and the breakfast delicious.

I loved going to bed in the sound of violin playing on the streets and walking up at 5.30 in the morning by the calls to prayer. If  Salzburg, in old times, because of Mozart was named the city of music, in present times, the old city of Istanbul seemed to be quite as musical at any time of the day.

The city was packed with restaurants and, even if you were not hungry, after being fiercefully followed and persuaded by the army of ‘go-getters’ found in front of each restaurant, you’d end up eating . And, why not? Eating is one of the biggest pleasures in life and, something tells me, the Turkish cuisine is one of the reasons.
Each restaurant had at least 10 waiters even if it only had 5 tables. Royal treatment at its best.

On the Asian side, in Kadikoy I have tried Ciya Restaurant which serves traditional Anatolian cuisine. Enough to say that after sampling more than ten types of different delicious vegetarian appetizers with Ayran (the Turkish traditional drink – a mixture of yogurt with salt) I was quite convinced that I could easily become a vegetarian. But their famous dish, stuffed pork intestines stopped me right on time.

Their Iahmacun pizza, a turkish pizza very spicy which always comes with yogurt, was also to die for.


Then, on the banks of Bosphorus for 20TL, quite a bargain, it was time for freshly caught fish. Yummi!

Another favorite of mine was cigkofte, another vegetarian dish I tried at Anadolu Kavagi, a village at the northern tip of Bosphorus, at the intersection of Marmara Sea and Black Sea. Former a fishing village and now, a touristy destination, the place still keeps its old charm. The atmosphere is very laid back and the main attraction is what is what is left of an old castle, which is not much really. But, the scenery was amazing.

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Istanbul is famous for its Blue Mosque, which takes its name after the blue green Iznik tiles adorning the walls of its interior. The entry to all the mosques is free and you are given everything you need to cover your legs, head and shoulders. During the prayers, which take place 5 times per day, Muslims and Christians keep silent, as a sign of respect.
At night, Blue Mosque is a sight to behold, lit and with seagulls circling the minarets and the dome.



But my favorite was another mosque not so famous as the Blue Mosque but equally as beautiful: Rustem pasa camii mosque, located in the Spice Market. The mosque dates from 1560 and although the entrance is not grand, inside you can see amazing Iznik tiles, blue, yellow, red, white and green.
Suleymaniye mosque is the largest mosque in Istanbul, but after Blue Mosque and Rustem Pasa Camii I did not find it that special. However, the mosque, finished in 1558, is considered Mimar Sinan’s masterpiece.


Aya Sophia or Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece withstanding the test of time. Built during Constantine the Great between 306-337, it covers an area of 7000 m2. It is considered the greatest work of Byzantine architecture and it was symbol of Constantinopole. The name comes from the 2 greek words: hagia meaning divine and sophia meaning wisdom.
When Constantinopole was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II this Christian church was turned into a mosque and different sultans added four minarets and it became a symbol of the Islamic cult.

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Topkapi palace is another must see in Istanbul. Build in the 14th century it was the residence of the ottoman rulers from 1450 to 1850. You can visit the clocks’s chambers, with unique clocks made by watchmakers who grew up in whirling dervish and made only one clock during their entire life.
The treasury section was impressive with all kinds of gold plated objects encrusted with precious stones. The 48 kg candlesticks decorated with several thousands diamonds were a beauty.
The harem’s quarters is a maze of 400 halls and apartment and more than 200 courtesans of the sultan were living there. Harem in Arabic means forbidden. The concubines were highly educated women and were living in tiny cubicles some of them their whole life behind the walls of the palace without seeing the sultan not even once. Only the four chief wives were living in grand suites.The ruler of the harem was the sultan’s mother and for the women of the harem the road to the sultan ran through his mother’s quarters. Some things never change…
It took me almost 6 hours to have a glimpse and if you want to listen to the audio guide the whole place can probably take an entire day to see properly.



No trip in Istanbul will be complete without visiting the bazaars.
I have decided on three of them: the famous Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market and Sali Pazar.
Grand Bazaar was build in 15th century and has more than 20 entrances, covers 65 streets with more than 4000 shops. It is very pricey and it is not the best place if you are looking for a bargain. But, its paintings on the walls and the grandeur of the building are impressive.


The Spice bazaar or the Egyption bazaar has everything you might associate Turkey food with: spices; exotic fruits; millions of kinds of natural tea – with my favorite being the apple tea; turkish delights; sponges; baclava, turkish pastry and many others. In one of the shops, I was explained that cheap Pashmina’s scarves found everywhere in the world are actually not made in Turky and what was even more surprising, are not made out of pashmina. The genuine Pashmina is forbidden and it comes from the back of the baby goats, as opposed to Cashmere which comes from the old goats.
The genuine shahtoosh is also forbidden and comes from antelope and a scarf can be even $500 .
I have also learnt about their traditional rings with 2 stones inside: one red which you will wear if married and a green one if you are single. It made me smile as I remembered a sign saying: Married but looking.

I wonder what color one should wear for that.








Sali Pazar is another traditional market, on the Asian side. I would lie to say I know how to get there again. I have no idea how I got there in the first place. All I remember is that as soon as I got off the ferry at Kadakoi I was lost and after walking clueless for half an hour and trying desperately to ask for direction in English and getting answers in Turkish, I was literally taken by hand to a shuttle bus. And, here I was standing in a packed bus, clearly the only crazy foreigner.
Once there, I was in shock. As far as I could see there were tons of people selling everything one can dream of. I was lost and my first thought was how in the world will I find my way back to the docks.
To my delight, the prices in this market were by far the cheapest I found in Istanbul and if you are patient, which I am not, you can renew your whole wardrobe. The market takes place every Tuesday and Friday.
There is also a vegetable and fruit section where everything is fresh and tasty. The fresh garlic, the spinach, the countless types of olives, just made my day and I wished to be back in my own kitchen… or maybe not :)) Maybe a way better option would have been to be invited in a Turkish home at dinner time.
Once I was done with all the shopping, I hoped on the shuttle where, to my surprise, together with everyone else I was offered a free ride. You see, the driver was too busy talking on the phone.


Like all the women, I love spas and I was eager to enjoy the famous hamami, which is nothing else than old Turkish public baths.

If you think that having a private large jacuzzi in the comfort of your own quarters is expensive you are wrong. For 50 minutes in a hamami in Istanbul I paid 100 Euros. That’s right. 100 Euros cost me a trip to Aya sofya, the most luxurious and clean hamami in Istanbul. Situated between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia the building is from 1500, but it was recently renovated and transformed into the splendor it is today.

You can read more on how to make the most of this amazing experience  in my latest book, A Fool in Istanbul – The adventures of a self-denying workaholic.



One of my highlights in Istanbul was the Hodja Pasha Dance Show at HodjaPasha Dance Theatre. The ticket is around $50 and it’s worth every penny. The show has instrumental live turkish music, traditional Anatolian dances, dances of Balkan region, Gypsy dances, and Belly Dancing. It was just amazing and the vibe and the energy in the room were contagious. I was so proud of being born in the Balkan region, so proud to be Romanian and many times I had to resist the urge of going on stage and start dancing. The costumes and choreography were beautiful. It was one of my best evenings in Istanbul and I highly recommend it.

I loved everything about Istanbul.

In this amazing place, having a Turkish tea in a small restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus and listening to Turkish music makes you think that life is worth living. It makes you aware that there are  still places in this the world where people without having much, without being obsessed with money, know how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
The lascivious looks on every man in Turkey if will not flatter your ego at least will make you smile. The stray cats and dogs hiding behind tons of carpets at every corner will add to the charm of your everyday walks.
The typical street sellers always trying to offer you a “much better” price than anyone else will sometimes annoy you, other times amuse you.
Whatever you might feel in Turkey, one thing is guaranteed.

In Istanbul, you will feel fully alive enjoying the best that life has to offer: food, stories, lust, music, and fashion.

Bangkok in 4 Days

Before we arrive to a new place, we love to picture in our mind how that place will look like, don’t we?
I have imagined Bangkok as a dirty, smelly city, hot and humid, crowded and very polluted. Well, this time I was right.
As soon as I arrived in Bangkok I had a feeling of deja-vu. Its grey buildings, the noise, the traffic jams reminded me of Hong Kong, Denpassar or even Lima and same as back then, I had an overwhelming feeling of happiness for living in the laid back country of Oz.

Hiring a taxi in Bangkok is very cheap, but quite exciting, mostly for the passengers. The drivers change lanes constantly without signalling and it is not unusual for 2 drivers to decide merging into the same lane at the same funny time. But there is always luck in the air and right before the collision one of them decides quietly, with no fuss and no honking, to move over. So, relax and enjoy. The thrill is included in the price.

If you would like to rent a car, well, you’ll be happy to know that there are no traffic rules one must obey, no traffic lights frightening enough to slow you down and no verbal abuse by fellow drivers. I finally found an explanation for my personal horror of driving in Melbourne: far too many rules for me and far too many impetuous Aussies always happy to call me names at the slightest inconvenience I might cause.

From the airport to the hotel of my choice, Galleria 10 Hotel, the taxi cost me 350 Baht which is about 12 AUD. The hotel was very nice, cozy, clean and quiet and guess what? The first thing I have seen in the morning when I looked out the window was a huge vasectomy centre. Oh well, I always said that all the information we gather on the road, one day might come in handy. For now, it just made me laugh.

First day in Bangkok

I decided to see the Grand Palace, The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho, famous for the giant reclining Buddha, all in one big place.

Once I arrived, I was quite impressed by how many jobs can be created out of nothing. At the gate, one person invited me to go in, at the ticket office one person handed me the ticket for the palace, the museum and the Emerald Buddha, at the entrace to the museum another person made sure I do have the ticket, then another one checked again I still had the ticket.

The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 and it can take about two hours to see properly, half of the time being dedicated to trying desperately to take a photo without tons of people in it. It is very touristy and at some point I was more focused on trying to avoid the crowds than on trying to absorb the beauty of it. Over all, it was very beautiful and impressive. The entrance costs 1000 baht, which is about 35 AUD.

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The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles is located to the right of the visitor’s entrance to the Grand Palace and displays textiles of Her Majesty. Despite being quite an impressive building it has a small number of textiles and the only thing which I found interesting was the story about the life cycle of the silk worm. Thank you, dear worms for saving my day!

Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha were impressive. Here, you can also get a professional massage for around 10 AUD per hour. Quite a bargain.

In the afternoon, I went shopping and I had a bite in one of the food courts. The paying system was quite interesting and efficient. Payment for all the food stalls was done by prepaid card, which could be bought/ topped up at a central location.

Second day

My second day in Bangkok started promising. On my way to breakfast, at the elevator I saw a Thai lady on high heels, dressed extremely flashy coming out from a room. A shy Caucasian man waved to her and closed the door rapidly behind her. I smiled thinking now I know I am truly in Thailand.

Today was a big day. I wanted to see the largest golden teak palace in the world – Vimanmek Mansion, once home to Thailand’s King Rama 5. As there is no sky train or metro close enough the best way to reach it is by taxi. The entry is free for those, smart enough, who keep and can present the ticket for the Grand Palace. Not my case!
Inside, long pants are a must. And, if at the Grand Palace you could borrow a pair for no extra fee, here, if you do not have one, you must buy one from their shop.


As in all Thai houses you must leave the shoes outside. This made perfect sense in my mind until I have realized that from the place where I was “compelled” to leave my shoes until the actual entrance to the house it was a 2 minute walk on a wet and dirty footpath. Only after this arduous and exquisite journey, one is ready to step on the carpets inside the house… Oh well, you live and learn.
Unfortunately, there were no explanatory signs inside the mansion and I had pretty much no clue what was the meaning of different objects. Everything was in Thai which made me think that it must be a popular place with locals and definitely not a must see for tourists. You could hire a tour guide, but their English was so poor that it was better admiring the rooms at my own pace. You are not allowed to go inside the rooms and all you do is walk on a long hallway taking a peek into the ones open to the public eye.
Each room is fiercely guarded by 2 to 3 Thai people earning their living by keeping their prized possessions away from preying eyes.
I left the place disappointed and happy to be on my way to the popular public boat to see the skyline from the river.

But getting to the pier can quickly turn into quite an adventure as the taxi drivers can be quite fussy if you travel short distances. Some asked me for 200 Baht, others for 150 Baht and just when I was prepared to let them rip me off, an oldie but a goodie charged me only 45 Baht. Finally a starving but an honest taxi driver.

The boat trip was fun. At each stop, the mooring was done with the help of a high pitch series of whistles from the guy at the back to the captain at the front. Considering the bumps at quite a few stops, the system wasn’t the most efficient. In fact, it was terribly annoying. So much so that by the end of the trip I was willing to do almost anything to shut his mouth.

On the bright side of things, from the water you could see traditional water villages or what was left of them. They were in a terrible state of disrepair and it was quite a contrast with the high rise buildings found on the other side of the river.




My next stop was at Madame Tussaud at Siam mall. The price of the ticket varied on the floor you were buying it from. On the 5th floor you could buy the ticket for 720 Baht, on the 6th floor for 800 Baht or if you had internet access you could buy it for 500 Bath from which, by the way, is the best site I have found in terms of pricing for all the trips and shows around Bangkok.


Somehow I seem to be fascinated by the way the toilets are decorated all around the world.
And Bangkok made no exception.
At Siam’s mall toilet, if you are depressed, you just have to look up and start reading:

If you cannot be the best at least be different.

Then the signs for men and women toilets were just to funny to miss taking a shot at.


At Terminal 21 mall there is a complicated water cleaning system attached to the toilet with multiple setting for different jet speeds, temperature, direction and so on. Oh well, life is complicated in Thailand. I wonder how complicated it gets in Japan…


After such a long day, I came back to the hotel exhausted and ironically I ran into the same Thai girl who made me smile in the morning, wearing the same high heels shoes, flashy clothes, as freshly looking as she was in the morning, taking the elevator to the same floor.

I looked at myself in the mirror and all I could see was a tired face, dressed in long trekking pants, wearing my favorite Keen sandals. I guess, some choices are easier to explain than others.

Third day

3rd day started with a visit to the pharmacy. A real pharmacy with all kinds of medicines which you could buy over the counter, including antibiotics. No more appointments to the family doctor. Goodbye long waiting times. Here, I could buy an antibiotic with no fuss and as easy as buying an aspirin. While I do not contest that some people might abuse the use of antibiotics which made countries such as Australia or Canada to overregulate their prescription,  I am clearly against all of us getting the same treatment as a bunch of irresponsible people. There are places where you do not have a doctor 24/7 or a pharmacy and times when you need an antibiotic.  So, I will never understand why if a crazy guy decides to jump from the balcony, the Government decides for the safety of  us all that no balconies are allowed anymore. What happened to the natural selection process, where the strongest, smartest one survive?! Should idiocracy be encouraged?

One funny sign in the pharmacy was depicting the erection hardness score, starting from the tofu stage until the cucumber one. Hmmm? I always loved cucumbers, didn’t you?


Later in the day, I went to visit Suan Pakkad Palace Museum. It is a collection of seven traditional Thai houses and it was the residence of a Thai prince and his consort. It is an off the beaten path attraction and I was really impressed with it.
The central piece was the Lacquer Pavilion dating from the 17th century. Inside the Pavilion there were magnificent mural paintings, with gold and black lacquer depicting the life of Buddha and stories from Ramayana, the Indian epic.


Also there, you could see the Khon Museum, displaying masks and puppets. Khon is a masked dance telling stories from Ramayana.


There was also a display of traditional Thai musical instruments which belonged to the royal family. Particularly rare were the drums, gongs, idiophones and chordophones.


The houses were surrounded by beautiful gardens. You could actually enter the houses, escape the crowds at the Vimanmek Mansion and really go back in time. There were signs in English explaining to you the history of each house. It was a beautiful authentic Thai place, an unknown gem in the heart of Bangkok.



My next stop was at The Snake Farm. Despite its humble name, the place is impressive. It has a large collection of snakes, live demonstration of venom extract and handling snakes, and lots of information about everything you might want to know about snakes.
I loved it.


One more day was gone.

Back at my hotel, things were quiet and my Thai lady was nowhere to be found.

Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru in One Week

They say the best things in life are free, they happen when you least expect and can be found in the most unusual places.
A trip to the Northern Territories in Australia is not free and far from being cheap. It was not on my bucket list and so it was decided quite on the spur of the moment with not too much hope of returning home with a burning desire to go back.
Despite all my apprehensions and preconceived ideas, here I am, back home, feeling the call of those vast arid areas of land: the land where the dingos roam freely and the wild brumbies reinvent to notion of freedom.
My one week trip to Northern Territory has now a special place in my heart and after 3 years of living in Australia I can say one more time that I do not regret the moment when I decided to move here.

Alice Springs and the surroundings in 2 days.

I arrived in Alice Springs in May, the best time to visit Central Australia.
I was expecting to find a fairly big town with lots of Aboriginals. I was only half right.
The place is quite small and for the first time in my life, in a record time, I was comfortable navigating the streets without feeling lost. All the streets lead to the same main street where you can find the grocery store, the police, the hospital and the post office. Some will say quite boring. I would simply say quite charming in all its simplicity. And, I believe another 2000 Americans who choose to call Alice Springs their home will agree with me.
Alice Springs lies at the junction between the East MacDonnell Ranges and West MacDonnell Ranges.
Most of the sites in the East MacDonnell Ranges can be accessed by a conventional vehicle and can be seen in half a day. In our first afternoon there, we have stopped at Emily and Jessie Gaps, then at Trephina Gorge and at Ross River Resort. The last one looked like a quite lively place, very popular for families, but I could definitely say it was not my cup of tea for a comfortable, rather romantic holiday. It looked quite basic and a little bit rundown.

Trephina Gorge

Trephina Gorge

As darkness fell, we pulled over on a little dirt track to look at the sky. It was pitch dark, cold, complete silence, and from time to time you could see shooting stars. It was magical.
We have stayed at Desert Palms Resort, not a fancy place but otherwise quite clean and pleasant.
The next full day was entirely dedicated to West MacDonnell Ranges.
Our first stop was at Standley Chasm found 50 km from Alice Springs. From the parking lot it is a 15 minute easy walk. At the end you will find an amazing deep red cleft crowded on both sides by craggy 80 metres tall slopes.

Standley Chasm

Standley Chasm

If you are up for a challenge, then on your way back to the car, you can try a one hour section of the Larapinta trail. The hike is strenuous but well worth it. After the steep climb, at the top you will be rewarded with 360 degree view over the MacDonnell Ranges where the tallest mountains in the Northern Territory are located. Not too many people adventure so high up so our only friends up there were the flies which quickly became our enemies. Needless to say who won the war. The flies easily outnumbered us and their persistence was far stronger than any Deet might be. At the end, we had to admit defeat and to start out retreat back to the valley.

Larapinta Trail

Larapinta Trail

Our next stop was at Ochre Pits, a sacred but not a secret place. From the parking lot, after walking for 10 minutes on a paved road, you can see the splendour of the different shades of red of the pits. The multi-coloured, layered mineral ochre pits was, and still is, traditionally used by Aboriginals in ceremonies to paint their bodies.

Ochre Pits

Ochre Pits

The last stop was at Glen Helen Gorge. The place looked more like a desert oasis and just after a few minutes walk we could admire the beauty of the gorge. But, like everything else in life, which comes too easy, somehow I cannot say that I was too impressed with the place. The highlight of my day remained that strenuous walk on the Larapinta Trail followed by a cup of tea at the top while defending my own piece of Northern Territory against the flies.
We ate at the salon bar in Alice Springs – a place full of character which made me think of western movies, cowboys and beer. The ceiling of the place was decorated with boomerangs, old boots and the toilets’ seats were quite a masterpiece and a one of a kind attraction (for me at least).

Kings Canyon in 2 days

We reached Kings Canyon after driving a 4WD on a dirt track about 357 km via the Mereenie Loop Road. The road was not bad at all. At times we were able to travel at 90 km per hour. It took us probably around 5 hours from Alice Springs with couple of short stops in between.  We have spotted our first dingo and our first beautiful  bright coloured finches. Some good music and high spirits really came in handy, as the drive was quite boring and with nothing to see in between.

Road from Alice Springs to Kings Canyon

Road from Alice Springs to Kings Canyon

We booked a deluxe spa room at Kings Canyon Resort which is the closest place to stay near the Canyon, just 10km away. Camping is not permitted. The room was beautifully decorated and the indoor spa surrounded by red rocks was magnificent at night and well worth the extra money.

Kings Canyon Resort Deluxe Spa

Kings Canyon Resort Deluxe Spa

There are 2 main restaurants where you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner. Both of them are very good and the portions are quite generous. We had kangaroo steak and barramundi which were both delicious.
One restaurant had live entertainment with country Aussie hits such as Waltzing Matilda and Give Me A Home Amongst The Gum Trees. The atmosphere was quite congenial, very friendly and relaxing. A big group of French tourists were dancing and it was just lovely to see people coming from all parts of the world indulging in pure Australian cuisine and music.
Somehow it reminded me of the times in Canada when I used to go line dancing in cowboy boots, listening to American country music. The vibe in the room made it for me and I could not have thought of a better place to have dinner. I guess slowly by slowly the beauty of the outback Australia and its spirit was catching up with me.
Most of the staff is seasonal and they are usually young, but very helpful people travelling around Australia.
The petrol was very expensive, but I guess it should be expected given the remoteness of the area.
In the first day it was raining heavily and we were told we were “in luck” as the rainfall in the previous 72 hours had been equivalent to the 12 months average for the Kings Canyon area.
After a rainy night, we awoke into a fine day with beautiful sunshine streaming in through our bedroom window.
We had a generous buffet breakfast and decided to head off to the 7 km Rim Walk at Kings Canyon. We were told it should take us about 3 to 4 hours. However, it took us about 6 hours with all the stops in between for a cup of tea or simply to admire the impressive views looking out over the sandstone cliffs and down over the cliff faces.
The trail is very popular and very well marked so unless you are keen to know about each and every plant or story of the place you will not need a guide. I was definitely there for the experience, for some peace and quiet and I really enjoyed taking my time and feeling lost in the beauty of the scenery.
The trail started with a steep climb for about half an hour , but after that most of it was flat.

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

One place we really enjoyed was the Garden of Eden, a spectacular oasis where the natural spring waterhole was surrounded by greenery that we did not expect to see amongst the predominant rocky and harsh landscape. We were truly blown away by the beauty of it all. Despite the freezing water, we decided to give it a go and go in for a swim. It was a surreal feeling.

Kings Canyon- Garden of Eden

Kings Canyon- Garden of Eden

Kings Canyon was the highlight of our trip. We promised one day, when we will grow old and feel overwhelmed by memories, we will come back.

Kings Canyon- Rim Walk

Kings Canyon- Rim Walk

Kings Canyon- Rim Walk

Kings Canyon- Rim Walk

Kings Canyon- Rim Walk

Kings Canyon- Rim Walk


Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park in 2 days

From Kings Canyon it took us about 4 hours to get to Uluru. The roads are sealed and there are no places of interests in between.
At Uluru we stayed at Sails in the Desert Resort which I believe it was the best place to stay at. Very secluded, quiet and elegant. The rooms were spacious and tastefully decorated.
One night we ate at the hotel’s buffet restaurant. The food was decent, but nothing quite special and I have to say I was a bit disappointed, given the 65$ per person price. The following night we ordered room service and the red curry chicken was just delicious and at a fraction of the price.
We have tried the Red Ochre Spa, but I was not impressed at all and probably I would not do it again. Overall, the value for the money was quite poor.
In the first day, we drove around the base of Uluru to Mala Walk. Mala Walk takes about half an hour and is the most impressive part of the entire walk. You can see some of the sacred caves where the Aboriginals live and prepare for ceremony. The rest of the walk is along the bush, in full sun and you are entirely at the mercy of millions of flies. So, we decided to skip the rest of it, jumped in the car and drove around the Ayers Rock.

Uluru- Base Walk

Uluru- Base Walk

Uluru- Base Walk

Uluru- Base Walk

I felt overwhelmed by its monolithic size and I wish we could have been allowed to climb it. The ownership of Uluru rests with the Anangu Aboriginal Community which traditional leased the land to the Australian federal government for 99 years.
The sunset was spectacular and I felt I could have just sit there the whole night just looking at this magnificent 348 metres high rock. For a second, I was wondering how many people from all over the world have the chance to experience these incredible moments and suddenly I just felt blessed and incredible happy to be there.

Sunset- Uluru

Sunset- Uluru

The next day we have visited The Kata Tjuta area, also named the Olgas. The place is a collection of rock domes extending 6 km into the ground.
We have done the 2. 6 km Walpa gorge walk which was nice but very windy.
Then, we have commenced the walk into the Valley of the Winds, stopping to the Karu lookout first. The scenery was beautiful and then the walk between the domes seemed to be out of this world. The hike is challenging at times and sturdy hiking shoes are a must, unless you are truly an acrobat with a keen desire for injuries.

The Olgas

The Olgas

All my life I felt I am chasing the time just so I can see places like these ones. All unique in their own right, all having a story of their own, all beautiful and waiting to be discovered layer by layer. Some places strike you with their beauty, like North Queensland in Australia. Others, hiding their beauty, challenging your mind and your senses are waiting to be found, understood and ultimately loved. Northern Territories in Australia is one of those.
My short trip to Central Australia was just a reminder that true beauty can be found even in the most arid and unwelcoming places and that attaining true happiness is entirely within our power no matter if we are laying on a beach in Hawaii, in an expensive resort in Tahiti or just hiking the Kings Canyon in Australia and having a simple dinner at a local pub.

Paradise Found: Titicaca Lake

 I travel not to see a particular place. I travel because I love change, diversity, people and because when I travel I feel life is beautiful. I travel for the sake of travelling.
So, if you are like me, a citizen of the world, join me in a glimpse over the Titicaca Lake, a 3 million years old lake in Peru sitting 3,810 m above sea level: a gate to remote, unspoiled and serene Peruvian islands.
Our first stop was Uros, a group of man made floating islands.


On Uros, there are no stores to buy boats, building materials, furniture or toys for the youngsters. The one and only source is the lake where the totora reeds grow abundantly and people make everything they need out of it, including the islands themselves. Even the tender stems are used, this time in salads. In my eyes, it looks like a miracle plant, the best example of sustainable living: free, renewable and definitely clean. To top things up, the inhabitants earn extra money by taking tourists on a tour of their islands: a paradise of simple, cheap and happy life. A living proof of that was a 95 years old man still rowing a boat for around 8 people. On his face you could see everything that most people look for and do not easily find in nowadays society: peace. He belonged to the place in the same way the place belonged to him.


I left the Man made islands to go to a God made island – the Amantani Island. God definitely had more time to work on it as it was far bigger and far sturdier. However, in terms of modern amenities there was not too much difference and the lack of electricity was one of the highlights. Here, a romantic dinner surrounded by candlelight was the norm. For vegetarians, it was a paradise, as all the meals seemed to be made out of potatoes. But do not worry, they were not by far boring or tasteless and I bet that any chef in the world would be quite envious on the imagination of the ladies of the house when cooking day after day soups, main courses and desserts out of potatoes. Who would have thought that out of the five thousand potato varieties worldwide, four thousand are growing in Peru and come in countless colors and shapes.
During my one and only night on this island I have experienced the most terrifying and beautiful storm. In the pitch dark, I was laying on my hard as stone bed, still shivering despite the weight of the blankets, listening to the symphony of thunders. I was a world apart from what I was used to.

However, I was so happy and peaceful, just like the old man. I fell asleep thinking to myself la vita e bella – Benigni was, after all, right.

You can read more on my adventures in Australia in my book, When Dreams are Calling. The book has been featured in numerous travel magazines in Australia and around the world.