Off the beaten path – Albania

Located in Southeastern Europe, Albania, sitting on the coast of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, is a little off the beaten path. Bordered by Serbia and Montenegro to the north, Greece to the south and Macedonia to the east, this Mediterranean country is an exotic holiday destination to sit back and relax without burning a hole in your pocket. Albania is a water lover’s paradise with azure seas and a long coastline. The Ionian has a sunny and warm sailing weather,  with predictable winds in summer – great for people learning to sail. And for hikers, there is a lot of mountainous terrain, perfect for an array of sports like climbing, hiking, scrambling, mountain biking and more. 

Experience the Dajti Ekspres Cable car at the Dajti mountain for an unforgettable 15 minute ride at 1200 metres above sea level, passing through Dajt Oark to reach Tirana.

The capital Tirana has a population of a little over 300,000, with an eclectic mix of traditional European structures, soviet style five story buildings and mid-east influenced architecture. There are places on the outskirts of Tirana for canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, and camping.

Korca is a city located in the east of Albania close to the border of Greece. Built high up on a plateau, Korca is a must see if you love Turkish style rugs and carpets. The entire city seems to be devoted to the manufacture and sale of every size, color and type of rug. The beautiful Orthodox Cathedral in the city center is the largest church in the country.

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Dating back to 500 AD, Petrela Castle is an ancient structure, which is in relatively good shape considering the history attached to it. At one time or another, Petrela was the primary defense of the city of Durres. It has been held, used and conquered by Romans, Greeks, Turks and other. Seriously off the beaten path, getting to Petrela requires a sturdy Jeep or Landcruiser. It is a very bumpy road, but the view is more than worth it.

While Albania is struggling to recovery from a communist pass, it is a fairly safe place to visit. The people are nice and it is definitely an opportunity to visit a country off the beaten path.

Two days in Kyoto

Holidayen is all about travel planning and creating automatic itineraries, and as we prepare ourselves for the launch, we would love to share itinerary ideas for some of the wonderful destinations around the world. Starting in the series today, we have here, a two day itinerary for the beautiful city of Kyoto.

First, a primer on how to get around the city. Subway and buses are your best bets, cabs fare are on slightly higher side, so the recommended way is to grab a two-day unlimited subway and bus card for 2000 yens from your nearest subway station and forget about the hassles of buying tickets for each ride. While subway rides are pretty standard with maps and station names in English, buses can be tricky, names and routes are almost never in English, and English knowing locals are not as ubiquitous as you might expect. But nothing to worry, take a copy of this document http://www.city.kyoto.jp/koho/eng/access/img/basunabieigo-omote.pdf and you will never need to worry about anything else about traveling. Armed with your unlimited travel card and the Bible of bus rides, let’s begin!

Day 1

In case you are not aware, Kyoto is world famous for its temples, so will begin the trip with some of its most popular temples and shrines. Begin your day with an early morning walk through the thousands of torii gates at Fushimi Inari shrine. The trail takes you through the wooded area to the summit of the mountain, entire trip taking around 2-3 hours.

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You can return from Yotsutsuji intersection (around halfway point with a good view of Kyoto) if walking 2-3 hours is not your thing.

Grab something to eat in the bustling shops of Kyoto station on the way to next stop, Nijo Castle. You can get good shots of the castle and grounds from the old foundation stone.

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You can also walk to the Kyoto Imperial Palace nearby, however, you can enter the castle grounds only through prior online booking. For lunch, head to Nishiki Market for some authentic local street food. 

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Spend the evening at the famous Golden Pavilion temple or Kinkakuji. The temple complex and the landscape are a unique picturesque combination of natural and architectural beauty. A perfect place for photography indeed!

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You can visit around the neighborhood around the temple thereafter and head to Pontocho for dining. You can find a wide range of dining options there. from inexpensive street food to expensive establishments.

Day 2

Begin the day from Ginkakuji, beautiful temple on the Eastern side of the city. It is also known as Silver Pavilion, and you guessed it right, modeled after the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji.

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From Ginkakuji, walk to the Philosophers’ Walk, especially beautiful during the Cherry Blossom season, when it is full of tourists and locals. There are a number of temples around which you can visit on the way. The walk ends at Nanzenji Temple, which is another good temple to visit.

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In the afternoon, explore Higashiyama district just south of the Nanzenji. It is an excellent place for some souvenir shopping as well as exploring the way to the Kiyomizudera temple complex through the maze of streets going up and down the hills of Higashiyama. Like any other major tourist areas, plenty of options for eating and a good place to sit and eat before visiting Kiyomizudera, the next stop.

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Kiyomizudera is especially beautiful during Fall and Spring illuminations, but definitely a must see regardless of that during other seasons.

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After marveling at the beautiful wooden architecture, head back downhill through Higashiyama towards Gion, which offers plenty of options to spend the evening sipping sake or tea with geiko and meiko entertainment. Most popular street for dining is Hanamikoji street which houses a number of restaurants serving traditional Kyoto cuisine. A perfect place to end the scenic trip of Kyoto!

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Feel free to comment with your suggestions for improving this trip and happy traveling!

Image Courtesy: Japan-Guide

Munich Loves You

The city’s slogan, “Munchen Mag Dich” which translates to “Munich Loves You” just sums up exactly the warmth and friendliness of this welcoming Bavarian capital. Munich may evoke images of beer and ledehosen, but this is a very incomplete picture. The city is sophisticated and has many cultural attractions including art galleries and museums.

Among Germany’s principal cities, Munich is Berlin’s more cosmopolitan alter ego and has treaded an alternate path through history, maintaining sovereignty from Germany till 1871. In the aftermath of WW-I, it became a breeding ground for social movements and a hotbed for Nazi activities, the imprints of which can be seen in the haunting Dachau concentration camps.

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While spring and autumn are the best times to enjoy Munch, winter marks the beginning of Fasching, six weeks of street celebrations before Lent. The end of Lent is marked by Starkbierzeit, a must for strong beer drinkers. The Munich Film Festival is held in June. Of course, in September, you can enjoy Oktoberfest.

It’s easier to get by here without any German language skills than it is in most other areas of the country. It’s still a good idea to know some basic phrases in German in the event you need something and only German speaking people are nearby.

Munich is home to several museums and churches, presenting German history and culture through the ages. The Bayeresches National Museum or the Bavarian National Museum has an eclectic collection including Gothic and Renaissance art.image

For car aficionados, the BMW Museum has a large collection of cars and motorcycles from the inception of the company to the present. Most museums are closed on Mondays, so you should plan your itinerary accordingly. 

Art and architecture lovers will enjoy the ornate historical churches in the region. The 15th century Church of Our Lady contains art and Gothic style architecture. The 600 year old Church of St. Peter is the oldest in the city. St Johann Neponuk Kirch is an ornate church from the Rococo period.

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The Nymphenburg Palace is known for its magnificently vast gardens, stables, winter ice-skating, natural history and science museum and open public parks, while the Treasury at the Residenz has one of the best collections of ecclesiastical treasures in Europe. For a broader cultural experience, catch a play either at the National Theater or the Residenztheater. 

Olympic Park, the site of the 1972 summer Olympics and the Allianz Football Stadium draw the sports enthusiasts among travelers. There are also quite a few tours that you can take while staying in Munich – walking and bicycle tours of varying lengths and interests.image

An essential destination on any European itinerary, this compact, cosmopolitan town has a lot to offer. Like all good things in life, a trip to Munich leaves you wanting more of the city.

Travel Bucket List

Happy New Year! Do you have destinations in your mind for this year? Here, let us help you with some suggestions. These should be on your bucket list, seriously!

1. If you are inclined towards history and architecture, France is definitely a place to be. And even if not, France is a travelers’ paradise.

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Pictured above is Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

2. Then, there is the largest religious complex in the world, Angkor, standing calmly since last 800 years, making me respect all those sculptors who patiently carved almost all the surfaces in the complex, even the roof.

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3. Now, as the threat of ‘End of the World’ is well past us, experiencing the Mayan civilization is the next on agenda. I am sure there are more important lessons we can learn from them other than doomsday predictions.

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Pictured above is Chichen Itza in Mexico

Rounding the list off with two amazing places in India.

4. The magnificent Mysore palace in Karnataka, India

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5. …and the Vittala Temple Complex in Hampi

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Of course, that’s just scratching the surface. It’s a huge world to explore

Would love to know what’s next on your list.

The souvenir dilemma

Have you ever been on a holiday and at a loss for ideas on what to take home for friends and family? Or maybe a souvenir for the showcase. Something indigenous and magnificent to commemorate a fantastic trip, not a kitschy t-shirt or key-chain.

We are here to help. Here’s a collection of souvenirs you can buy during a trip through Europe.

  • Andorra

Andorra, VAT-free so far, has been a popular destination for shopping for everything upscale – electronics, jewellery, perfumes and high end fashion.

  • Austria

Just one thing – Swarovski crystals. More things – Sacher Torte, Lebkuchen, dessert wines, schnapps, pumpkin seed oil. Art lovers can add Gustav Klimt posters, calendars, notepads and handcrafted wooden Nativity scenes to their collection.

  • Balkan Peninsula

If you had to pick just one souvenir from Bulgaria, it would definitely have to be a vial of essential rose oil. You can get it in traditional wooden dolls or decorative wooden bottles.

  • Baltic States

Glowing amber in different shades from the Baltic Sea is shaped into decorations and neat jewellery, widely available throughout the region. You could also pick up some Estonian marzipan, which is available in various shapes and Laima chocolates from Latvia.

  • Belarus

In Belarus, straw is elegantly crafted into various shapes and dolls, which make good gifts. Belarusian linen is also of high quality, with interesting designs.

  • Benelux

Belgium is where Tintin comes to life, and a comic souvenir is a must. Also on the must-buy list are pralines, originally made by Neuhaus. Belgium has a huge range of strong, exotic beers, only some of which are exported. Take your pick of the finest, you may not find it elsewhere. Belgian laces, very pretty with intricate patterns and impeccable finishing, make breathtaking dresses and veils.

If you find yourself in Netherlands, a pair of Dutch wooden clogs, tulips, and blue and white Delftware would be great additions to your home collection. You can also get miniature windmills, which are dainty and look lovely.

Luxembourg produces ethereal crystal, but it is the cuisine, influenced by France, Belgium and Germany that is the real revelation for travellers. Ardennes ham, black pudding and plum tarts are real delicacies, and worth carrying if you live a short flight away.

  • Cyprus

Handicrafts has been a traditional industry in Cyprus, with artisans producing pottery, jewellery and beautiful embroidery. Halloumi cheese is a Cypriot speciality which is great for barbecues back home.

  • France

France is a gourmand’s delight, and if you have an epicure for a friend back home, you will be spoilt for choice. Reblochon cheese,  Herbes de Provence, Armagnac and the range from Bordeaux may require an extra backpack. For someone with a sweet tooth, the Laduree macaroons and gourmet chocolates are a real delight. Perfumes, Laguiole knives and exquisite Puy lace make expensive but memorable gifts.

  • Germany

Souvenirs from Germany are the best and the wurst 🙂 Take home a cuckoo clock from the Blackforest as an archetype of German precision. Classic beer steins are a favourite with all, and Edelweiss pins and Hummel figurines are cute and small enough to tuck into a corner of your handbag.

  • Greece

Statues of the Greek Pantheon are easily available and very “touristy” buys. Also ubiquitous are the owl souvenirs – the owl being associated with Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. Most Greek households also display Matia (evil eye), which travellers really fancy.

  • Ireland

In Ireland, you can get a piece of the Auld Sod or Irish soil to take home and also Shamrock seeds to create an Irish corner in your garden. Take away an Aran sweater and Whiskey to continue experiencing the Irish warmth at home. If you have extra luggage space on the way back, you may consider a Guinness tankard and Shillelagh.

  • Italy

Buy a food basket, you’re in Italy! Fill up with Limoncello, Vinsanto, Cantucci, Tradizionale Balsamic vinegar from Modena,  Panforte. A fashionista’s paradise, you can find ties, scarves and high boots to suit all wallets. Balance out a David apron with rosaries from the Vatican or Renaissance memorabilia. A trip to Venice is incomplete without buying a Murano creation and a Venetian mask.

  • Kazakhstan

If you cannot afford to get caviar for all, despair not. Kazakh handmade felt camels and yurta are incredibly cute and surprisingly inexpensive. Leather whips (kamchi) and saddle bottles are other gifts to consider.

  • Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein has interesting souvenir postage stamps – take one for the memory. Pottery and Balzner marble sculpting are traditional arts here, with a huge range of creations to choose from.

  • Malta

Handblown glass and filigree silverware are Maltese must-haves.

  • Moldova

Ceramics, rugs and woodwork here have a distinctive Moldovan touch. Moldova is also known for its wines.

  • Nordics

A Dala horse, or soft stuffed moose are instantly evocative of Scandinavia. Another piece for the mantelpiece would be a Swedish angel chime or a Toikka bird. Reindeer hide from Sweden or a cozy Norwegian sweater will keep you warm for several winters. Puukko knives and handwoven ryijy rugs are traditional Finnish memorabilia. Last but not the least, don’t forget to buy some surstromming for your enemies back home.

  • Portugal

The Portuguese love their port wine, but their green wine, Madeira and Ginjinha are also worth a mention. The ubiquitous azulejos are also beautiful souvenirs.

  • Romania

Finding mementos in Romania are really easy for a Dracula fan. But if you are not one, you can choose from the traditional vibrant artwork – Bucovina Easter eggs, Horezu pottery and plates and carved wooden figures from Maramures.

  • Russia

The nesting Matryoshka dolls are intriguing and alluring, appealing to people across all ages. Traditional handcrafted Birch boxes and intricately painted Lacquer boxes are fine examples of Russian workmanship. Jewelled Farberge eggs are exquisite and worth splurging on. Vodka was once upon a time a parallel currency in Russia, and is available in interesting bottles – even one shaped like an AK-47!

  • Slovenia

For the connoisseur of fine food, Slovenian salts from Primorska are a real delight. For the foodie, you can also pick some Prsut, traditional Slovenian wines and schnapps. If you are looking for something more lasting, delicate lace from Idrija is perfect for coffee tables. The dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana, and several souvenirs around this can be found in souvenir shops.

  • Spain

In Spain you can find premium leather at reasonable prices, so go in for a leather jacket or handbag, or a more traditional bota for holding liquor. Mantillas and capes are also interesting gifts to consider. Delicate Lladro porcelain may require some handling with care, but you can definitely throw in a box of delicious rabitos anytime. If you make the trip to Toledo, you definitely have to buy one of those famous swords and steel jewellery. If corny is your style, then go in for a Barca t-shirt.

  • Switzerland

Switzerland produces peerless army knives, watches, chocolates, cheese and well, tennis players. Swiss army knives from Victorinox are widely available and the best. You need to set aside a few hours if you love fine watches, the extensive collections are exquisite (and expensive!). You could also buy an elaborate cuckoo clock if watches are not your thing.

  • Turkey

Ward off evil with a charming blue nazar, which every household here displays. Turkish carpet weaving is an ancient art, perfected over centuries to produce opulent designs. Boxes of Turkish delight and apple tea are available in every corner, make sure you load up on these. Sculpted onyx vases and bowls can also be easily found, and lend a very ethnic and unique buzz to your home. 

  • Ukraine

Pick a basket of Pysanky – traditional painted Easter eggs. Straw has been traditionally used in Ukraine for creating adornments, which are widely available. Straw bells are believed to bring good fortune, and also sit pretty on a Christmas tree.

  • United Kingdom

The souvenir shops in London are always awash with the Union Jack and its colours. Pick a replica of the iconic red telephone booth or a double decker bus. An English breakfast tea box with a cosy is perfect for tea junkies. You also must pick up one of those tacky tourist staples, such as a replica of Big Ben or a I Love London shot glass.

  • Visegrad

If you are travelling through the Visegrad, you will have a hard time picking out just a few items from the myriad beautiful displays. Czech crystal is flawless, and Moser and Ruckl are highly famed for their production. If you are on a food trail, you have to pick some excellent Czech beer, Hungarian wines, Polish honey, Tokaji, Unicum, palinka, sliwowica, zubrowka, Torun gingerbread and paprika. Amber from the Baltic Sea is abundantly available in the region, and jewellery made from it is inexpensive and striking.

If you have found some charming souvenirs with happy memories, we’d be glad to about it. Season’s greetings and happy shopping!

What is Holidayen?

At Holidayen, we are building a cool automatic travel planner to help you avoid the hassles of trip planning. We understand that travel should be fun and travel planning should be easy, not a stressful experience with an information overload. Sit tight while we fix up things here and there, and meanwhile share some useful travel planning tips here on this blog! Happy traveling!