Month: March 2018

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

We arrived at Henri Coandă International Airport in the evening and located bus 783 going into town. One was pulling out just as we arrived, but another one arrived shortly. The tickets were sold in a kiosk by the bus stop, setting us back 3,5 lei (about 1 USD) per person. There was a bus stop at Piața Unirii, from where we could walk to our hostel. It was Friday evening and people were already having cocktails in the outdoor patios of the restaurants lining the streets as we walked by.

The following morning we went out at around 10 am trying to score some breakfast, and to our surprise almost nothing was open, save for some clubs with guests who had clearly not stopped drinking since the night before. In the end we found a quite uninspired café that would serve us a croissant. The vacation could finally start!

The national history museum

We went off to visit the national history museum, Muzeul Național de Istorie a României, which is only partially open due to ongoing restoration work. Still, it had enough historical artefacts to keep us busy for several hours, and one area had costumes that you get to try on!

Palace of the parliament bucharest

Palace of the Parliament

After that, we went to check out the Palace of the Parliament, the world’s second largest administrative building once ordered by Ceaușescu. They offer tours in there, and there are several museums on the site, but since the weather was nice and we’d just been to one museum, we opted to just have a look from the outside instead.

On the other side of the big road was an Easter market, with loads of little stalls selling traditional foods and handicrafts. We strolled around it for a while and had a Hungarian langos with cheese.

Cismigiu park

In the afternoon, we walked over to the Cismigiu park, a quite big park near the old town, with walking paths, playgrounds and ponds. It was a really relaxing place, and many local families had come to spend the nice spring day there. Traffic can be a bit exhausting in Bucharest, and this was a great place to get away from it all for a bit.

Where to stay in Bucharest

We had booked two nights in a double room at Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel for the start of the trip. It was located smack bang in the middle of the old town, with loads of restaurants and nightlife nearby. When we came back at the end of the trip for one more night, we stayed at Hotel Opera right next to the Cismigiu park, which was a bit more fancy but still good value for money. I would recommend both for a night or two in Bucharest, although neither is as special as the other places we stayed on this trip.

Planning a trip to Romania? Check out our nine day itinerary!

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Nine days in Romania: our itinerary

Nine days in Romania: our itinerary

Going to Romania had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. Just kidding, who goes to Romania? No one I knew. As a matter of fact, all I knew about Romania, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, was that Dracula came from there. And that novel was mostly set in the UK anyway.

What I did learn was that flights to Bucharest were really cheap, so off I went for nine days in spring. And when I was there, I also learned that people do go to Romania! One segment in particular that goes there is older Spanish and Italian people who don’t speak foreign languages, because those who work in the tourism industry in Romania seem to speak EVERY language. Plus, with all the nice Italian food on offer, Italians must feel right at home.

Our itinerary for nine days in Romania

Where we stayed

Bucharest (1 night)
Sibiu (2 nights)
Sighisoara (2 nights)
Brasov (3 nights)
Bucharest (1 night)

Train travel in Romania

View over mountains from train window in TransylvaniaWe traveled by train between the cities, which was really convenient. The trains were of high standard, were quite punctual, and we could choose between several trains each day for our destinations. For all of these routes, except from Sibiu to Sighisoara, we booked tickets online in advance. I found the website easy to navigate, and all info is available in English. I received the tickets by emails as pdf files to be printed out.

For the local train between Sibiu and Sighisoara, we just showed up at the station and bought the tickets from a window inside. The person who was there at the time didn’t speak much English, but as we were traveling with the next train it was easy. If you are booking for a later train it would probably help to look up the time and write a note with the hours beforehand. All trains seemed searchable on the website, even those that weren’t possible to book.

Bucharest

Bucharest was not a charming city. We stayed in the old town, which is not a quaint and tourist-friendly place, but where all the clubs are. Still, we found enough sights to entertain us for a few days. There is some history, after all.

Bucharest, not an entirely awful place

Sibiu

Sibiu was a lovely small town with a great historical center, and lots of little things to see, such as the museum of pharmacy. We also strolled to ASTRA, the open-air rural history museum with real buildings from the past, located just outside of town, a perfect half-day excursion.

Cultural Sibiu, our introduction to Transylvania

Sighisoara

I’m really not one of those people who can’t walk through a quaint little town without stopping at every corner to take a picture. Oh, wait, apparently I am. Sighisoara is hands down one of the prettiest towns I’ve seen. We spent the better part of two days just strolling around a very small area, chilling on the square and drinking coffees at every place in town that sold them.

Sighisoara, what Pinterest was made for

Brasov

Moving on to Brasov meant getting used to traffic and city life again, but also to excellent dining, long walks both in nature and the city, and to finally get to see the famous Bran castle, also known as Dracula’s castle although there is in reality no connection other than that it’s scary enough.

A Dracula basecamp in Brasov

Some of my favorite guesthouses in Europe

Accommodation is cheap in Romania compared to Western Europe. On average, we paid around €30 per night for really nice double rooms with breakfast at small and homey guesthouses. The standard was really unbelievable. I would highly recommend Casa Timpuri Vechi in Sibiu and Pension am Schneiderturm in Sighisoara. But it was hard to choose, and probably hard to really go wrong, as the review scores for guesthoses in these towns on Booking.com are through the roof.

Being a vegetarian in Romania

I eat cheese and eggs, and in Romania I ate a lot of that. I think I really would’ve struggled as a vegan, as far from all restaurants could offer a single meat free dish that wasn’t a plate of lettuce. The traditional Romanian dishes didn’t work for us, but luckily the Italian influence is strong and the quality of food in general was amazing. We had some really fancy pastas that didn’t seem like the last resort as Italian food often does where vegetarian food is scarce. In Brasov in particular we found some really nice and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and we also did manage to try a more traditional dish, the mămăliga, a polenta-like baked dish with a fried egg on top. It tasted a lot nicer than it was presented.

Mamaliga, Romanian food

9 days in Romania itinerary
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Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

What’s it like to be a vegetarian in Sri Lanka?

When I decided to go to Sri Lanka, I didn’t know a lot about the country. I had previously been to South India several times and had a pretty good idea of what that is like, so I thought this little island just off the tip of India would surely be a lot like that. As a vegetarian foodie, I was expecting a treat. But when I started researching a bit before the trip, I found so many blogs and reviews saying that the vegetarian food in Sri Lanka is no good, mostly bland and uninspired, and that a vegetarian in Sri Lanka will struggle. With this in mind, I was a bit worried.

But this could not have been more wrong, being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka was a breeze. It turned out to be one of my favorite food destinations, with all places we went to being able to serve up delicious vegetarian meals. Every night gave us the opportunity to try a new and exciting vegetable. Now, I’m terrible at taking pictures of food, something that seems to come naturally for so many. My excuse is that I’m always really hungry at dinnertime, so when I come up for air and think of the camera, the plates are mostly empty.

Eat at your homestay!

There’s nothing like a home cooked meal at the end of a long day of adventuring, and we took the opportunity to have dinner and breakfasts at several of our homestays. It was always delicious, and our hosts really made an effort to show us the best of Sri Lankan cuisine. Our homestay in Tangalle, that I can’t seem to stop raving about, was the best of it all, serving some of the best curries I’ve ever had. Maybe in part because the cook was a vegetarian herself. Most nights I had to take out the phone at some point to read the Wikipedia page of the vegetable I had just tried for the first time. And our hosts were always amused, one “oh, you’ve never had wood apple before?” or “you just take regular bitter gourd and fry it with chili!” after the other.

All about our stay in Tangalle

Sign for Roti hut in Tangalle

What is there to eat?

In the evening, and sometimes at lunch, most restaurants serve “curry”, which is like an Indian thali. Lots of rice, and lots of different bowls of other things that you can’t even begin to guess what they are. We never came across a restaurant that didn’t have a vegetarian version of this. Generally, most restaurants had several vegetarian options, even along the coast where most people seem to eat a lot of fish. We never had to ask for a special meal, which can be annoying when you don’t speak the language.

Another favorite was koththu, or kottu, or another spelling almost like that, depending on which sign you read. It’s a lot like fried rice, but with sliced coconut roti in the mix, making it more creamy and filling. My favorite one was served in Galle

For breakfast, there was a lot of roti with daal, fried eggs, and my favorite: the egg hopper! It’s like a thin bowl-shaped pancake with a very soft boiled egg in the middle. Generally, there were so many eggs and so much bread that we couldn’t finish all of it.

There is also plenty of Indian food, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise. My favorite vegetarian Indian restaurant was in Kandy

What about vegans?

I’m not a vegan, so I’m not sure of this, but it seemed as breakfasts are largely vegan if you avoid the eggs. The coconut rotis and daals are vegan, and the hoppers are made from coconut milk and rice flour. Now, I’m sure there are lots of recipes to these, so always ask to make sure. The evening curries we had were also all vegan. Generally, dairy and eggs aren’t used that much it seems.

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? See our two week itinerary for inspiration!

Vegetarian curry served on lotus leaf
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Is Colombo worth your time?

Is Colombo worth your time?

When we landed in Sri Lanka, we went straight to Kandy instead of going into Colombo. The roads are excellent, so outside of rush hour it doesn’t take that long, but we felt like it would just feel hectic to go in and spend the night just to leave again. Another option would’ve been to stay in Negombo, at the beach, for a couple of days at the beginning of the trip. But we were eager to get things started. In the end, however, we wanted to see Colombo before going home.

Where to stay in Colombo…

We booked two nights at the cheapest upscale hotel we could find, the Renuka City Hotel. It did seem quite fancy after two weeks on the road, with a gym (that we didn’t use) and a pool out on a terrace overlooking the sea, and a bar (that we did use) with excellent service. It was right on the Galle Road, meaning that our bus from Galle dropped us right outside, and access to public transportation to get around the city is excellent. The area also seemed really safe, and we walked a lot, even into the old town. So if you enjoy walking, you can really get around most of the places a tourist might want to visit in Colombo on foot.

… and where to eat

When we arrived at our hotel, we looked on Google maps for all the places nearby, and we found a lunch place just around the corner called The Curry Pot. It was very cheap, less than 200 LKR, and you point to what you want and get it served on a lotus leaf! It sounds unbelievably hipster, but most of the other customers were business people on their lunch break.

Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

Curry served on lotus leaf

Gangaramaya Temple, filled with Buddhas

One of my favorite things to see in Colombo was the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple. The grounds are huge, and everywhere you go there are Buddha figures in all shapes and sizes, gathered from around the Buddhist world. My favorite was a room with huge statues in bright colors. The ticket includes a separate temple out on the lake nearby, and while that is not quite as impressive, it’s really nice to be out there watching the busy city from a distance.

Buddhas at Gangaramaya Temple

Shopping in the Pettah

The bazaar district of Pettah is Colombo’s original shopping area, one of those where similar shops are gathered in one street so that you know exactly where to go for light bulbs or padlocks. It’s a multicultural area, very busy and crowded but not in a threatening way. People simply don’t care about the tourists as they go about their business, which is quite refreshing. Even if you don’t want to buy anything it’s worth strolling around to enjoy the ambience of the place. Just make sure you’re not that one annoying tourist who blocks the road when taking pictures!

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here’s our two week itinerary

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