After visiting a large part of Europe, I present you my top 10 of the most beautiful cities that have left a memorable impression. The top is composed only of the cities I visited, I’m sure there are other beautiful cities out there that I have not yet had the chance to visit. For these I’m waiting for your suggestions in the comments section. We have included only the cities that have preserved their character and authentic beauty, not including those who have sacrificed their personality just for the sake of tourism (I can give Venice as an example of this)
I wasn’t sure if this city deserves to be included in the top because it can also easily be included in the list of the most overrated cities to visit and depending on the area you stay, it can also be included in the list of the most dangerous cities to visit. In principle, the French capital lives on the laurels of the past, but although the city of lights doesn’t shine so bright as it used to, it is still quite bright and appealing. The central area that you see as a tourist is still very beautiful and an example of urban planning to be looked up to. Also, the city offers a very large concentration of attractions that will keep you busy for at least a week, so it’s always a safe bet for a successful holiday. Protests, strikes and locals who do not speak English and who do not stand criticism towards their city or their country, all make sure you get a really authentic experience. (see London vs Paris article HERE.)
Lisbon, an unpolished diamond at a finished price. The first vacation in 2019 found us in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I have wanted for a long time to reach the Western End of mainland Europe and now I am glad to have had this opportunity together with my friends from Romania.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ryanair has daily flights from Manchester to Lisbon, and the UK’s logistics, organization, prepaid airport parking, transfer to the terminal is simply impeccable. The first thing we had to do when we landed was to search for a means of transport to the city. Against my reason and judgement, we proceeded in to being stupid tourists and we went to the airport information desk to ask how we can get to Lisbon city center. They sent us to the Aerobus 1 service, which costs 4 EUR per person. Later I found out that there is a subway station inside the airport and also other normal regular buses where you pay € 1.5 per person ticket. That’s it, what to do now, so my first tip for everyone who wants to get to Lisbon, take the metro from the airport!
We found a cute apartment on Booking.com next to Rossio Square, which looked very nice in the pictures, but it proved to be lacking when we got there. The first thing we were asked by our host there was to pay the Lisbon tourist tax of 2 EUR per person per night, which must be paid separately on arrival. We knew about the tax from the site, but an extra cost of 48 EUR besides the already paid accommodation seems a bit expensive. I know all cities have a similar charge, but everywhere I have been, I didn’t pay more than 10-15 EUR, which were already included in the accommodation price. I have figured that it is for a good cause and at least something good is done with that money. I can not say that at the end of the holiday that I saw any great work done for tourists, but rather more for the locals.
It was the summer of 2017 and the weather was perfect for a Romania road trip. We decided to take advantage of our last vacation days and the available accommodation vouchers, so we jumped in the car and went roaming across Romania for a week. Our tour started at the “Danube Boilers”, stopping along the way at Orsova, Dubova, Timisoara, Deva, Hunedoara, Alba Iulia, Sovata, Praid, Sighisoara, Brasov and via Transfagarasan back to Constanta. As usual, the trip was planned on short notice and the accommodation was chosen from what was available through a travel agency.
Prague, a city that I always wanted to see and experience. I was always looking at the pictures of others and it seemed to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. After seeing it, I can say with all my heart that it is. The city offers beautiful landscapes, architecture, great old pedestrian squares, world class beer and bars where you can still smoke inside, and all this for prices almost identical to those in Romania.
From Romania there is no low cost direct flight to Prague, but the ticket on Czech Airlines is not too expensive, around 150 EUR per person bought a month in advance. Our 3-star hotel taken with TUI agency cost us only 121 EUR for 7 nights and not only it was very decent it also had breakfast included in the price.
From Václav Havel Airport to Prague city center take the AE (Airport Express) bus, the trip takes about 40 minutes and the ticket is bought directly from the airport counter and costs 60 Czech crowns (CZK) or about 2.3 EUR per person. I would advise to bring with you some Czech currency in order to buy the tickets, otherwise you have to deal with the currency exchange offices in the airport that offer rip off exchange rates. You will get of at the “Hlavní nádraží” central railway station, which is a huge underground hub where you can access the buses, the subway, the S trains and especially the trams. I underline the trams because these are the main and easiest way of transportation in the city. The Czech capital is covered everywhere by tramlines, and they come every three minutes. The trams have dedicated stations and dedicated lanes, and around half of them are of the latest generation of Skoda trains. Tram tickets are found at any cigarette or food kiosk and are divided according to the length of time. A 30-minute ticket costs 24 CZK (1 EUR), and one 24-hour ticket costs 110 CZK (4.3 EUR) and can be used from the moment of validation on any line and any time you want until the expiration date.
We wanted to avoid the big crowds of the National Navy Day back home so we decided to leave for the extended weekend on a road trip to Budapest. Like any good idea, this trip came to our minds during a drunken night in Vama Veche. All being said and done, on Saturday morning, two couples were in my car, on our way to the border with Hungary. From Constanta to Budapest there are about 1050 kilometers, of which only 218 km are on national two lane roads and not on the motorway, namely Olt Valley between Pitesti and Sibiu entrance, and the missing A1 section between Deva and Faget – Dumbrava. In theory you should do this trip in 11 hours, in practice we live in Romania and it’s baaaad , very bad. I recommend a lot of patience and cold blood, on the Olt Valley I lost at least 3 hours in the still traffic, blocked between coaches and an infinite number of cars on both lanes, bringing the time up to 15 hours. Once you cross the ring road of Bucharest and the Olt Valley and you reach the A1 highway from Sibiu, it’s clear roads from there. The new section of A1 highway goes all the way to the border of Hungary at Nadlac and on to Budapest. The new border crossing point at Nadlac has enough lanes and works like a drive-in, just show the id or passport at the booth and go on. Immediately after the border at the first car park on the M43 motorway, you need to stop and buy a vignette. A 10 days pass will cost 2975 Forints (10 EUR) and if you buy it from the Internet you pay this price, if you buy it from the parking lot you will pay EUR 14, as we have discovered. The roads and the highway system in Hungary are impeccable and everybody drives very civilized on lane 1, lane 2 being used on short intervals only when you overtake a slower car from lane 1. Lane 2 is not always busy and when you’re on it no one will come in your back and flash you insistently, but will rather wait calm until you finish overtaking and come back on lane 1 or at worst they will turn on the left signalling to alert you that you keeping the lane busy. The GPS assistance is truly holy during this trip, especially in the city.
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Due to the fact that all the trip was planned at a very short notice, finding accommodation was a challenge. Unlike the previous visit in 2012 Budapest , when all the travel package came at 100 EUR price per person, now we were at the peak of the season and on top of that we were going at the same weekend when the Sziget Festival was underway in Budapest. After I tried all the hotels and motels in town, I caught a break and got a last minute deal on Booking.com. We booked a lovely central apartment in Budapest with 2 bedrooms at a rate of 110 EUR / night. The high sealing historical building had an interior courtyard, fully equipped kitchen and the interior was designated in a minimalist modern style. It was worth every penny and was more than enough for two couples. There was even a third bed that you reached by a small staircase. Unfortunately it did not offer parking. The parking in Budapest, like in any major city in the West, is not free. Spots are scarce and the price per hour depends on the zone you are in. We were in zone 2 and here for an hour of parking you had to pay at the meter on the street 265 Forints (0.9 EUR) per hour between 08:00 to 18:00. After 18:00 and in the weekends, parking on the street is free of charge. You must pay by yourself the parking at one of the many meters on the street and keep in mind they work only with coins. Also keep in mind that in some areas in the center, parking is limited to 3-4 hours, after which you must come back to the car and renew your ticket. There are of course several underground secured parkings for long term parking.
After six years of life at sea all I’ve got to show for it are a lot of white hairs, a car, a plot of land, a few good and plenty of bad memories. I dedicate this article to all young people who are considering a career and life at sea.
I did my first six months voyage in 2010, during my last year at the naval academy and I was among the lucky few who caught a cadet contract during the academy years…. Now that I think about it, I was among the lucky few from my class who caught a cadet contract at all.
I was happy and excited when I first left. This was my first grand adventure in life, the first time I was leaving home for such a long period, the first time I was going across the ocean to America and on my plane ticket was written Los Angeles. Los Angeles I didn’t get to see that time, I only saw the highway from the airport to the ship. This turned out to be the usual case unfortunately. The enthusiasm vanished in less than a week, when I realized that I would spend the next six months sleeping in a narrow bed, in a narrow cabin, on a ship with a narrow deck, where everybody abuses you, where you work absolutely every day and where everyone only cares about their own skin.
Although I had the opportunity to see Spain during my voyages, I always wanted a holiday in this wonderful country so I can trully enjoy it. The small escapades and stays through Barcelona and Valencia were beautiful but too short, so between courses I managed to escape with my girlfriend nine days in the Spanish capital, Madrid. I flew with Wizzair from Bucharest, and the tikets bought a month before costed 100 Euro per person. You will not have problems with Wizzair as long as you respect the limits and conditions stated on their website, especially when it comes to hand luggage allowed on the flight.
We landed late in the country and met our hosts there, which whom I wish to thank you so much for your hospitality, and we went straight to sleep. In the morning we woke up to a beautiful view of Torrejon de Ardoz suburbia, which is a new neighborhood near Madrid, a quiet neighborhood, planned and executed properly, full of green spaces and parks where it was a pleasure to take a walk. [Read more after photos]
Although the suburb is about 30 kilometers from Madrid, you can easily reach the city using a very good transportation system that consists of suburban trains. The state run train company called Renfe , have a frequency of 15-20 minutes and looks flawless, even the older trains. And in the central areas the trains go underground and cross the whole town, very similar to the RER in Paris. Ticket prices vary depending on how many zones you cross, in our case a ticket costs 2.6 euros per trip, but there are cards with 10 or more trips, that make traveling more advantageous. We got off the train at Atocha station , a huge station, which is the city’s main railway hub with links to all Renfe lines, to the metro and also to the main train station were the AVE high-speed trains to other cities in Spain stop. Basically everything related to public transport looks flawless in Madrid. Mostly it’s all largely new, and is well maintained. [Read more after photos]
From here there is only one more stop to Puerta del Sol, the main tourist square in the historic city center. This square surrounded by old buildings is always full of tourists from all over the world, entertainers and street performers and from here you can walk to all the downtown attractions. We took the pedestrian street of Calle Arenal, where there are many shops with souvenirs, clothes, sweets and especially sausage shops where there are exposed proudly many types of Iberian Jamon. Spaniards have developed a passionate obsession for this slightly smoked meat that is sliced for you directly from the pulp of a whole pig. on This Jamon is quite expensive , but it’s quite good also …. and when I say expensive I mean an indicative price of 100 euros per kilogram. [Read more after photos]
Continuing our journey, we arrive at Opera Square following the route and on to the great Royal Palace. The palace is really impressive and serves today as the residence for the royal family of Spain. Near the palace is the great and grand cathedral “de la Almudena”, where the royal family ceremonies take place. This Cathedral which is the largest in Madrid, you can visit for free, but to climb to the dome terrace you will pay a fee of 5 euros. To visit the royal palace nearby the fee is 11 Euro. Also in the area you will find Plaza Mayor, which is a huge pedestrian space enclosed on all 4 sides of a historic buildings, full of cafes and restaurants. My recommendation is to walk along the many narrow streets paralel to the main attractions , which are not only less traveled places but offer superb views, that normally only locals enjoy. [Read more after photos]
The next day we went to the central station Atocha and on to Retiro Park. The main and most famous park of Madrid is simply huge, includes two lakes, a botanical garden, outdoor theater and two art galleries. Here you will find the Palacio de Cristal, which is a small palace made almost entirely of glass, and hosts exhibits (actually hung) bones of all age and sizes. A little further is the second lake, where the monument to Alfonso watchers over. [Read more after photos]
Leaving the park behind , we pass the Puerta de Alcala and glampse the Post Office palace called Palacio de Cibeles, an impressive structure that now houses the City Hall of Madrid. Immediately nextto it starts the Gran Via, where you can admire some of the most beautiful buildings in the “new”, structures from the golden age of imperial Madrid. Here we found many restaurants specializing in seafood and other goodies. A menu can be found here for as low as 15 euros if you search a little. The whole downtown area is filled with underground parking, pedestrian plazas, bicycle paths and the sidewalk here it is holy and usually much wider than roadways. Authorities discourages driving and coming here with your car, and the results are visible. Honestly I do not see why you would do that, given that you have a Metro or a Renfe station next to you almost everywhere. [Read more after photos]
The day after we dedicated to visiting Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The Spanish turned the house of Real Madrid club into a true international attraction. The tour cost 19 Euro per person but it’s worth it, you get to see everything including all the backstage areas. I admit it’s damn good to sit on the coaches bench near the play field. The Club’s history and achievements are presented in an interactive tour and the galleries which host countless trophies are impressive. A must see for any football fan. [Read more after photos]
The stadium is located in the newest part of town, near the financial center. Going forward we reach the Puerta del Europe. Here you will find two of the most tilted towers in the world, an impressive engineering achievement from any point of view. It would have been nice though to let you go up in one of the two towers but unfortunately are both towers are intended exclusively for commercial use. Right next door is the Cuatro Torres Business Area, a set of four of skyscrapers that are the tallest buildings on the Iberian peninsula. Although the financial center of Madrid can not compete La Défense in Paris or The City of London it’s still a must see for modern architecture fans. [Read more after photos]
The next two days we were lucky that our hosts had free from work and we all went to check out some medieval tourist towns near the capital. We started with Toledo, a medieval town located 60 kilometers from Madrid , which is simply superb. If you think Sighisoara is beautiful, you really need to see what’s there. The well preserved city on the hill is included in Unesco heritage, and it is most known for the fact that here started the reconquest of the peninsula by the Christians kings from the Muslims Moors , more than a thousand years ago. The Catholic Cathedral of Toledo combines gothic elements with is Arab elements and it is a delight for the eyes. [Read more after photos]
The next day we went in the opposite direction from Madrid, to Manzanares el Real Castle, one of the many medieval restored castles , which is about the size of Bran castle.From here we went to the winter resort of Navacerrada, but unfortunately the snow was missing completely, being replaced only by the cold and thick fog, so we continued on to the beautiful Segovia. Like Toledo, Segovia is part of Unesco and is a city developed by the Romans. The tall aqueduct built by them still watches over the city and today is one of the main attractions, as well as the Catholic cathedral built later during the Christian reconquest of the peninsula. I must admit that these medieval cities were my favorite part of the holiday and I can only imagine how it would look if our castles and medieval cities in Romania were properly restored. Here almost everywhere in the medieval cities, the car traffic is severely restricted or banned. Tourists who choose to come by car leave their car outside the city walls, or in one of underground parking under the city.[Read more after photos]
Likewise, in Madrid, it seems that the real achievements of the city are those that are not seen: everywhere near the main sights, the car traffic and parking spaces were moved underground without any problem. Besides the city river embankment, all car traffic that used to run along parallel to the river, was buried under the river with great effort, resulting in some large open spaces, meant for pedestrians, more details here. No negative remarks regarding the countries motorways either. Spain, which in the 90s was not too far from Romania, has today the most kilometers of motorway in Europe, most of them built on EU money, and most of them intersect in Madrid. The GPS was holy here. [Read more after photos]
On the last day we visited the amusement park “Parque de Atracciones de Madrid”, though it was not all open due to the season, and although it was raining that day , it still attracted quite a few customers. Here we found some of the coolest roller coasters, but the park has also attractions for the whole family and for all ages. I also recommend going to a Flamenco show, prices are quite steep but it’s worth every Euro for the performance. [Read more after photos]
In conclusion, Spain is a very beautiful country, where the people don’t seem to be bothered that there is a financial crisis and other stuff and rather prefer to keep going with their way of life and work, with their afternoon siesta breaks. They didn’t build or creat something amazing but simply did what it was supposed to be done and in the proper time , and they done a darn good job also. Well worth the trip.
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