Driving the Transfagarasan, an epic Romanian roadrip

Transfagarasan, the name of the road that links the South part of Romania with Transilvania was made famous in Western Europe by the British TV show Top Gear where it received the title of “best road in the world”. But even before gaining this notoriety, it was considered one of the most spectacular roadrips in Eastern Europe for its hight and beautiful views. Tourists from all over the world are now going to Romania to drive this 90 km stretch of road that goes up to an altitude of 2000 km and crossing the Southern section of the Carpathians.

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Five days in Chianti, Italy – medieval cities hopping with the baby in tow

Italy is always a sure bet with me. If you read my earlier posts, you already know that I have a love-love relationship with this country that started back in 2004, when I did my Erasmus studies there. Now, fast forward to July 2016, when our LO was 8 months and I was in search of a trip to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I looked in particular for a place outside the city, that has its own vineyard in the midst of green scenery. We had a great experience in Apulia with the masseria stays. (you can read about it here) so I was looking for a similar feel in the North of the country. After a few searches on Tripadvisor and local blogs, I found Salvadonica in San Casciano in Val di Pesa. I then booked our flights to Florence.

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If you enjoy nature and good wine, you will fall in love with Georgia – first impressions

In Summer 2017, we were looking for a destination that was not yet firmly on the travel radar of Western Europeans to satisfy our thirst for off-the-beaten-track adventure. It was a trip for me and Mr only, so we were ready to step up the physical activites, be less picky about hotel  accomodation as well as cover more ground in a shorter time. As we only had a week of holiday available, we focused the search on the Middle East and Central Asia. Georgia seemed to tick all the right boxes. So, even before we saw Lonely Planet’s list with the top countries to visit in 2018, we had bought plane tickets to Tbilisi.

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Japan – Kyoto and Kinosaki-onsen (part 2)

With our toddler well accustomed to the train travel, on our 7th day in Japan, we headed to Kyoto. From Takayama we first had to go back to Nagoya for 2h30 min on the Hida express train. We then changed in a hurry (consider that the Shinkansen is usually in another part of the train station compared to the local (slower) trains) and took the Shinkansen for about one hour to Kyoto. We timed the departure at lunch break so that the LO would sleep on the train. This time it worked.

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Discovering the European South – Beaches and mountains of Cyprus

We travelled to Cyprus last year, in September. For residents of the European North, September is the month when we start to become itchy for another break in the Sun. This is especially when summer means two weeks with temperatures above 20 in June and two weeks again in August, if we are lucky. September is also when prices start to get back to more reasonable levels as most of schools holidays draw to a close.

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Tenerife- in search of the ‘real’ island in our first family vacation

I travelled well into my pregnancy, with the last trip to Puglia when I was about 7 months along. We also had a gorgeous ‘babymoon’ to Sri Lanka and Maldive that I shared on the blog. Still, after giving birth, I was again eager to discover someplace new and I started looking for a destination that we could share as a family in early April 2016. Friends were travelling at the same time to Tenerife so we decided to tag along.

It was not a package holiday but we did take it easy as regards accomodation and went for half board. We did not know how the baby will adapt (4 months at the time of travel) and preferred to make sure there will be some easily reachable food in case he decides to act up just as dinner draws close. We also rented a car (with a car seat) to give us some flexibility to explore the island.

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Family roadtrip in the Land Down Under – our itinerary and practical tips upon arrival

From about the time I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to use part of my parental leave to travel. The usual yearly holidays are a good place to start but, as I was looking at a few extra months of leave once the LO would join us, I wanted to use them to travel as well. This is how the idea of a long road trip through Australia was born.

We bought the plane tickets in Summer for a trip that took place shortly after Christmas 2016 and lasted a bit more than 6 weeks. LO was one year old at the time of travel so the first rounds of vaccinations were done and he already showed some willingness to accommodate plane constraints (we took him for 8 or so European flights since birth). This being said, we were still prepared to the teeth with squeaky toys, blankets, pacifiers and bottles. I might have even brought 8 or so jars of food and powder milk which was totally unnecessary as, you probably guessed it, everything is easily available pretty much everywhere except maybe the outback.

Planning:  After buying the flights to Sydney, I started with drawing up the itinerary. The initial idea was to travel by car, maybe even a caravan, and go down the East Coast. A classic!   As we were reading more and more about the country, several other points of interest popped up so we had to give up part of the road trip in order to cover more ground. Also, we were not too keen on driving in the outback with a one year old baby. After a few iterations we ended up with the following general itinerary :

  1. A week or so in Sydney upon arrival: to recover from Jet lag and see the Opera House fireworks at New Year. Fly to Melbourne
  2. About 8 days in Melbourne and up and down the Great Ocean Road. Return to Melbourne and fly to Uluru.
  3. Three nights in Uluru (also referred to as Ayeres Rock)
  4. About 26 days to drive down from Cairns to Sydney (including plenty of time in Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef)

 

As there is plenty to say and even much more to do, I will do separate posts for each of these legs.

What to bring from home (and what not): If it would have been just me and the Mr travelling, I would have probably said nothing or almost nothing.

We had our sun hats, sun glasses and diving masks, PADI certification and diving logs, international driving licence, emergency kit with some medicine in case of traveller’s tummy or sunburns and some insect repellent. Do not bring Sunscreen. The rays are much stronger, especially if going in the Summer as we did,  and local Sunscreen is better suited. Also took the camera, the underwater camera (GoPro) and water shoes.Good walking shoes or sandals are also a must as you will be spending lots of time outdoors.

For the baby, the list got somewhat longer and included also his health book and proof of vaccinations, powder milk, baby porridge, several jars of pureed food, a couple of bottles an teats, several soothers, some liquid soap to wash said bottles, a brush, skin cream and diaper cream, bath soap, baby insect repellent, a blanket, a small towel, a bed sheet, a few muslin cloths, a bunch of his favourite toys and clothes for pretty much any weather conditions you can imagine. We each had a backpack with our own stuff and an extra luggage for the baby. And the stroller.

Looking back, except for the minimum documentation, emergency medical kit for all and a few favourite toys, bottle and pacifiers, I could have left everything home. Baby food was easy to find in all supermarkets and the LO had no issues with changing the milk to a local Bio brand. Almost all places we stayed at had access to a washing machine and provided detergent and liquid detergent for dishes. Also, we had requested baby beds in advance and there was no problem in getting them as well as the sheets and towels. This experience served us well  to understand how little a baby actually needs to travel, especially if your destination is in a country with similar standards of living as Western Europe.

Rent a car: we went via Autoeurope and found good deals both for the car that we rented in Melbourne and the one in Cairns. We were lucky with the car seats, as both cars had quite new, good quality seats.  You can travel with your own one if you want as well.  We decided to give up the baby car seat and only travel with the stroller to reduce the number of luggage and also because we had periods (in Sydney and Uluru) where we had no car available. As for the transfer from the airport to the hotel in Sydney, we booked in advance a service that offers car seats (Bubs Taxi). It was not cheap but it gave us peace of mind. On the way back to the airport, we asked the reception to book as a taxi transfer with child seat and everything worked out fine (and cheaper that the first transfer).

Accommodation: As we were spending 6 weeks in Australia, we opted for flexibility and only booked Sydney, Melbourne and Uluru before leaving Europe. Sydney because that was the first stop and our period coincided with the New Year so we expected high prices and some crowds. Melbourne for similar reasons but also because we were in the Australian summer break. Uluru is a bit of a special scenario as there is a self contained resort and you are constrained by a limited number of accommodation places in each price bracket. If you are planning a longer journey, my advice would be to book the first two stops (for recovering for the flight, get accustomed to the place and enjoying some well deserved exploration time) and any other accommodation that might fill up fast or in a special location.

As we were expecting some jet lag induced early mornings for both us and the baby, we decided for a small apartment in Sydney. We booked the Meriton Serviced Appartments on Campbell Street. The small flat had a washing maschine, dish washer and fully equipped kitchen. More importantly, the sleeping room was separate, meaning that when the baby would wake up early, one parent could go out to the living room and entertain him or watch some TV while the other could still sleep a bit and take the early shift the next day. It worked out really great to give us some flexibility in the difficult first days of adjustment.

Internal flights: We ended up with 3 internal flights. 1) Sydney to Melbourne (aprox 1h), 2) Melbourne to Uluru (via Sydney aprox 5h30) and 3) Uluru to Cairns (about 2h30). We booked them all in advance as we were afraid the prices might go up over the holidays and once we are in Australia. Also, for the itinerary we chose, there were limited alternatives to/from Uluru. There are a few low cost carriers that go between Sydney and Melbourne but be careful about luggage fees as this might add up. We decided for two Virgin Australia and one Quantas flights for around 1200 Euro for all three flights Euros for the three of us.

International flight preparation: The golden rule of baby travel: book a bassinet as soon as you can! I called the airline the next day the tickets were booked (about 6 months in advance) to request seats with a bassinet. We went with Qatar Airways and bassinets were available but for the first part of the journey, to Doha, me and my husband could not sit next to eachother. That was not a big issue as most of the journey was during the day and the LO played, looked around and was generally easy to handle. We changed planes in Qatar and prepared LO for the night travel that followed by putting him in a pyjama and giving him the bottle as the flight to Sydney was taking off. Once he was sufficiently tired, I put him in the carrier and walked a bit in the plane. That was enough to put him to sleep so I then took him out of the carrier and laid him down him in the bassinet. He managed to get about 7h sleep in the bassinet which is not that bad bad considering the new surroundings and the noise. The most disruptive parts (for me rather than for him 🙂 were when during turbulence, I had to remove him from the bassinet and take him in my arms again. As this is a security measure to avoid injury, there is no leeway from the crew so even if I was just managed to get him to sleep in the bassinet. I  had to pick him up a couple of times during the night and secure him with the seatbelt.

We arrived in Sydney in the evening of the second day of our adventure , with our previously booked transfer (fitted with baby car seat) waiting for us at the airport. We went directly to our hotel-apartment (30 -40 min from the airport) and, after a very short dinner in a nearby arcade, all fell to sleep tired and jet lagged.

Of course, LO woke up at 3 AM refresed and wanted to eat and play. We had this for about 2-3 nights and the best cure for the jetlag was to actually try to keep him awake as long as possible during the day. We also immediatelly changed his meals to fit the new daytime hours ( he had an early breakfast when he would wake up and a small snack to keep him going till lunchtime). By the end of day 3, he was fully adjusted to the new timezone. It was actually faster for him than for us. We continued to wake up very early for a week or so.

Essential buy on arrival: a SIM card with a data plan. Already on our first day in Sydney we had identified a big shopping mall close to the aparthotel and compared several offers. If you will be in Australia for more than a few days, it makes a lot of sense to switch to local number. You can enjoy internet everywhere and pay a fraction of the price compared to Roaming. We went for Vodafone. It costs around 20 AUD and the initial credit is valid for 30 days. Offers may differ.

Stay tuned for great activities to do with children in Sydney in my next Australia post.

Happy Travels!

The Bump, the Temples and the Beach – our babymoon in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

In the beginning of 2015 we found out that our family was getting bigger. We were very happy that we will soon get to introduce him to the world and show him all the amazing places out there. But before that, we were ready to enjoy a few more trips together. During my pregnancy we went to a few places in Europe and I also took a girls trip to Israel and the Czech Republic but we wanted something a bit more ‘special’. I was very curious about Sri Lanka after my trip to India in 2014 but my husband was there already so we added Maldives to the mix.

Given my ‘situation’, this trip was planned a bit more in detail throughout. After buying the plane tickets (Brussels -Doha – Colombo, Colombo-Mahe and Mahe-Doha-Brussels) with Qatar Airlines, I looked for a driver/guide to accompany us in out tour. I already had a good idea of what we wanted to visit but still needed somebody with local experience to make sure the trip was doable in terms of distance and road conditions as well as weather. There are plenty of local travel companies on Trip advisor. I wrote to a few and asked a quote for the tour I had in mind. We went with Sri Lanka Personal Drivers and were very happy.

We had 8 days in Sri Lanka and 6 in the Maldives. As we had planned some beach time at the end of the trip, we focused our time in Sri Lanka on visiting temples and the natural scenery in the country.

If you are considering Sri Lanka as a destination, have a look at our itinerary packed with great sightseeing opportunities:

Day 1: arrived in Sri Lanka and arranged with our accommodation for a transfer from the airport. We decided to stay outside Colombo as we wanted to have the opportunity to relax as we arrived. We were based in Kotugoda, about 20 min from the airport. We stayed at the Wallawwa, a small hotel set in a restored colonial manor with a beautiful 3 acres garden that provided much needed respite after our travel. Highly recommended for couples and if you are looking for a secluded retreat.

Day 2, we started early and our driver was waiting for us at the reception. We went for a quick trip through Colombo and continued on to Kandy, in the Hill Country, our base for the next 3 days. We also stopped at the Millenium Elephant Foundation to see rescued elephants. They were offering rides but we didn’ t enjoy seeing the elephants ferrying visitors around and did not take the ride.

Day 3: Kandy. We kicked off the day with a visit to the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden. They are renowned for their collection of orchids and a great collection of indigenous plants. The afternoon we spent visiting the city. Our driver/guide took up up the hill above the city where we had the best panorama of this green city and the lake in the middle. In the evening, we saw a traditional dancing show at the atmospheric Red Cross building. After the show we visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic. It houses the country’s most important religious relic, the tooth of Buddha. We were in time for the evening ceremony or Puja which involved a lot of drumming and excitement. At the end of the ceremony, the relic is open to the public. It was a great experience!

Day 4: We explored more of the city, we walked the shopping streets leading to the lake, visited the old railway station and central market. Our hotel, the Kandy House was a great treat. Breakfast was brought to the patio in front of our room and they did a great cake for my husband’s birthday. Their dinners we superb as well. I never knew there were so many types of curry. Absolutely delicious!

Day 5: We left Kandy for Sigiriya. We stopped at the Dambulla Cave Complex on the way, about 3h away from Kandy. The caves are located on top of a hill and are more than 2000 year old. The are crammed with statues and murals of Buddha. On a clear day, you can see Sigiriya rock from the hill top. Our accommodation in the Cultural triangle was at the Wild Grass Nature Resort. This place is set amidst the forests of Sigiriya. We had a spacious villas with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a great way to enjoy the sunset.

Day 6: Visiting the Sigiriya rock and museum. Maybe the most impressive site of Sri Lanka, this is going to take the best part of a day and involve some serious climbing for about 1h. I took it easy, as I soon became out of breath and there are many things to see in the extensive gardens. Do not miss the museum explaining the history of the place and the original settlements. The rock is better climbed in the cool of the morning.

Day 7: We went for a safari in the Minneriya Natural Park part of the ‘elephant corridor’. We did not see that many elephants but it a nice experience reminding us of our African safari. In the afternoon, we went for an Ayurveda treatment in a village nearby : -Thrimal Ayurvedic Treatment Centre. The massage was great. However, you should count on smelled like curry spices for a few days.

Day 8: we started early to catch our plane from Colombo to Mahe. Once we arrived in Mahe, a resort representative was waiting for us at the airport and we boarded a small boat that would take us to our island.

The place we stayed at was called Baros Resort and it was probably the priciest hotel in all our travels around the world. It was also the most amazing, secluded escape with morning yoga and a house reef that you could access from the beach. Everything was top notch from service to the pregancy massage I got at the spa. I could not dive on that occasion but my husband went and he was quite impressed. I went on a couple of snorkelling trips and a night snorkelling trip. Do give night snorkelling a try! They have special lights that reflect on the colours of the marine life. It was surreal to swim in the black water, with a sky full of stars above and plenty of little fishes swimming on the bottom. I do hope we will go back one day.

If you consider the Maldives, do not be put off by the Summer in the islands. The climate in July and August are very similar in the Maldives. Humidity and rain do increase over these months, but as the islands are so low-lying, rain clouds blow over very quickly so rain will only be short lived. There are also usually less travellers during these months so that is a plus. We still had plenty of sunshine.

Happy Travels!

Just back from a road tripping week-end in the North of France – Le Touquet, Hardelot-Plage and Boulogne-sur-Mer

Against my own best advice as regards travelling in August, the weather in Belgium just managed to chase us out of the country once more. This time direction France, Nord-pas-de-Calais region. Now, this is not exactly the European South so we did not expect 30 + degrees and warm seas but we did want some sun and a change from the grey Brussels scenery.

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India – a place that will stir up all your senses

When planning my last year’s trip to India, I was a bit nervous.

For one, I was traveling with two other girls. Any travel advisory out there, from Lonley Panet to the UK Governement Travel advice will imply that might not be such a bright ideea. Couple or group might be better. Even so, in my view, as three is definitely better then one alone, I had good chances of survival.

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