Once again Istanbul has been a great place to stay. The culture the atmosphere and the people have been kind and gracious. If you are considering a trip to Turkey, then I would say without any hesitation, “do it!”
As Australian’s, we’ve been to Turkey for the last couple of years. Last year, we experienced the pilgrimage to the Gallipoli peninsula, which is considered a rite of passage for many Australian’s. Here we paid our respect to the fallen heroes of WWI.
Then we visited Istanbul and had an incredible meal at Mehmet Gürs marvellous Mikla. Both times have come away with the same impression of Turkey. “What a remarkably friendly place!” Although the tensions of the regions have affected Turkey we have found it to be a safe place to go. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed in the amazing history, culture, markets and food.
Therefore, why not dip your toes into Turkey? And if you only decide to visit Istanbul, there is a remarkable little place that showcases all of the major attractions within Turkey called Miniaturk.
Miniaturk, is park consisting of miniature models of the sights of Turkey. It’s located alongside a stretch of the Golden Horn and is a nice place for families and backpackers to discover what Turkey has to offer. If you haven’t finalised your itinerary whilst backpacking in Turkey, stop by at Miniaturk and discover which cities contain some of Turkey exquisite architectural history.
See places like the Galata Tower, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Green Tomb of Bursa, Cappadocia or the white terraces of Pamukkale all in the one park.
The models contained are a remarkable re-creation of these attractions and you can’t help but marvel at all the places to available to see. During our visit, we constantly commented about going to see certain attractions.
Spend some time walking up and down the walkways, it takes a good one and a half hours to traverse the entire site.
There is also plenty of things to entertain you and your family. Miniaturk also has a large playground, games arcade and a small train that the kids can ride on. For the older kids and adults, you can also try the helicopter flight simulator. Who’s the best pilot in your family?
Additionally, Miniaturk has multiple food stalls scattered around the park and a nice restaurant if you prefer something more substantial.
To finish the day, stop into the souvenir store and take home a memento of your time in Turkey.
Overall Miniaturk is a fun and amazing place to visit. Get some inspiration of other attractions around Turkey. At an inexpensive cost, Miniaturk is an ideal place for a young family to experience some of Turkey’s attractions without actually having to visit them. Of course, it is always better to see them up close and personal. But if you don’t have the time, this is the next best thing. So, if you are in Istanbul visit Miniaturk and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
In all our travels, Sarajevo would be one of the top 10 cities that has intrigued me the most in the Balkans. A city still rebuilding. Trying to ensure their past mistakes don’t erupt again. When speaking to its residence you can see their frustration from their “scars and smiles”. Yet, those frustrations aren’t directed towards the different ethnic groups, they are directed towards their over-governed parliament. With unemployment rising, Sarajevo is becoming more reliant on tourists visiting and understanding the beauty, culture and pain of this remarkable city.
During our stay here, we base ourselves at two completely different accommodation options. For the first part of our visit, we stay outside of the city centre at the four-starred Hotel Emiran. Then for the remainder of our stay we head into the old town and experience what hostel living is like at Hostel Franz Ferdinand. It is here that we organise the Scars and Smiles, Urban Adventures tour online. Urban Adventures offer two quality tours, the Story of Sarajevo and Scars and Smiles.
The Scars and Smiles tour starts at 9:00 a.m and our meeting point for the tour is the impressive city hall/ national library building. Our friendly helpful guide for the tour is Almedin, who you cannot miss due to his 205cm height. Almedin is the tallest tour guide we have ever had. No need for an umbrella or a sign, because if you can’t see him, then he’s not there!
Group sizes vary from day-to-day and on our tour, we only had one other guest. Almedin spoke excellent English and was a toddler during the Sarajevo siege, so has an honest family perspective of life during wartime.
During our tour, Almedin speaks passionately about the scars and smiles of the Bosnian people. He talks about why the war occurred, how it ended and specific tragedies that had befallen its residents at the time.
We are taken on a 3 hour journey around the city of Sarajevo and visit important places like the Sarajevska brewery, the only source of fresh water in Sarajevo at the time. Almedin then speaks about the importance of the Sarajevo roses, shows us a memorial for the children and takes us for Bosnian coffee.
An intriguing and at times moving tour, Almedin speaks about life after the conflict and finishes the tour at the Sarajevo National Theatre.
Once the tour is completed, guests can either join Almedin for a drink at a local pub or state their farewells. I suggest having a drink with this kind gentleman and learning more about Bosnian and Herzegovinian hospitality.
Overall for the price, the Scars and Smiles tour is a fantastic way of getting to understand Sarajevo and its tragic history. So, book your Urban Adventure tour today and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
Additional Information for Urban Adventures: Scars and Smiles
There is so much to like about Sarajevo. It’s a city still rebuilding after a brutal forty-four month siege. A cityscape with constant reminders of the destruction and resilience of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian people can be found everywhere. Apartment buildings are riddled with bullet and mortar holes, and the poignant dedications to the victims in the form of the artistic Sarajevo Rose. Sarajevo’s appearance will open your eyes to the effects of war and the countries hopes for a peaceful future. During our stay in Sarajevo we are based at the four starred Hotel Emiran.
Located outside of the city centre this hotel offers affordable stylish accommodation and facilities for its guests. Positioned within 100m from the Nedžarići tram stop, the Emiran is an excellent base to start your adventures in remarkable Sarajevo.
We arrived into Sarajevo by international bus and found the directions to the Hotel Emiran easy to navigate using our Maps App. Public transport tickets are easy to obtain with kiosks everywhere. Just look for the transport sticker to know if they sell tickets. Tickets are 1.60BAM from a kiosk or 1.80BAM if you decide to buy them from the driver. We also found the people to be very helpful, so if you have any troubles someone will be glad to help.
On arrival at the Hotel Emiran you enter a large lobby area divided up into sections. There is a lounge area with comfortable lounge suites, an enclosed smoking area and an open cafe area for the hotels Juicy cafe. With televisions positioned in various locations , it’s a good place to relax and watch a game. Here you will also find the hotel’s small reception desk for check-in.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is mainly a muslim country, and the hotel has a conservative attitude towards a dress code. Therefore, the knees must be covered throughout the main hotel area. We quickly check-in and make our way up to our standard double room.
The room interior is nicely decorated with a cityscape motif on one of the feature walls. Our room contains a queen sized bed, a long desk with two chairs, a television and empty bar fridge. Unfortunately, there is no in-room coffee and tea facilities, so you will have to go to their cafe to get your coffee fix.
Each room contains a private bathroom with body wash packs supplied. As a tip, you may need to ask the staff for some scissors as they can be difficult to open. The rooms are clean and comfortable and serviced daily. The shower has an adjustable shower head with good water pressure and plenty of instant hot water.
Being on the sixth floor, our room also had a nice view of the local area which we were able to easy see the trams running towards the city centre.
For this stay breakfast was included in the accommodation price and was served from 07:00 a.m in the Emiran Restaurant. They offer a decent breakfast spread with a mixture of hot and cold options for you to choose from.
If you are in the hotel for lunch and dinner, food is available to be ordered from the Emiran Restaurant or try one of the lovely cakes on offer at the Juicy cafe.
The Emiran Restaurant serves a range of traditional Bosnian and Mediterranean cuisine. Although you wouldn’t call the food exceptional, it is okay at an exceptional price. One night we were able to purchase two twelve-inch plain Margherita Pizza’s and two soft drinks for 7BAM (AUD$5.35). They also have a takeaway option in case you wish to eat in your room.
For local businesses, the hotel also has a couple of meeting areas to conduct company workshops or management meetings.
Once work is over, why not try the hotel’s Turkish Spa and Finnish Sauna to relax and steam those worries or tired muscles away. Subsequently, if you need to blow off some steam or work off some energy, head to the hotels gym for a workout. But, remember the hotel’s dress code. The Emiran has dressing rooms alongside the gym to change in and out of your gym clothes.
One of the other benefits of staying at the Hotel Emiran is the ability to access the visitors laundry area. The laundry has various washers and dryer available for use at a reasonable price. Additionally, there are irons and ironing boards available the complete your laundry task.
The Hotel Emiran is a little out of the main tourist area, but with easy access to the public transport system, the commute into the old town (Baščaršija) is enjoyable. With clean affordable rooms, the accommodation is comfortable at a decent price. With access to a laundry, fitness centre, health and beauty spa, cafe and restaurant, you can easily spend a day in the hotel, if you decide not to venture out for a day.
Overall the Hotel Emiran is a conservative hotel with friendly staff good facilities. Therefore, when you are staying in Sarajevo next, try the Hotel Emiran and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
Additional Information for Hotel Emiran
Address: Aleja Bosne Srebrene bb, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ph: +387 33 255-755 Website: www.emiran.ba
Nestled between rugged mountains and the Boyana (Buna) River, you will find one of the Vataksi Groups two hotels in Shkoder, Albania. Located at one of the entrances into Shkoder city the newly developed Hotel Vataksi offers limited accommodation with five rooms available at an inexpensive price.
Once an important trading port during the ruling times of the Ottomans and Venetians. Shkoder is a peaceful city in Northern Albania and a gateway to the Adriatic Sea. It is here that many travellers start the popular three-day hike from Valbona to Theth. An intersection of three converging rivers Shkoder’s abundance of beautiful landscapes is excellent for the travelling photographer or fishing enthusiast.
The Hotel Vataksi is a small hotel which offers its customers affordable accommodation with a set breakfast. The hotel originally started as a restaurant but as tourism increased in Shkoder the owners created five comfortable timber panelled rooms. Our room for our short stay has a scenic river view, a queen bed, television, air-conditioner, small desk and wi-fi.
Each room has a small accompanying bathroom, with a toilet, basin and over the floor shower (no separate shower cubicle). The bathroom is clean with sufficient hot water and pressure.
Still under construction the hotel is undergoing various improvements, these works did not affect the outcome of our stay or pose any issues. Travel Vataksi is associated with the hotel with an office in the car park of the hotel. Have a look and see what tours they have on offer. Maybe a riverboat ride along the rivers or a trip to the Adriatic Sea is something you might want to do.
Every morning, the hotel provides a set breakfast plate for its guests. Make sure you advise of any allergies prior so they can cater accordingly. The staff is friendly, with some members having limited English, but communicating wasn’t an issue as they would often summon the English-speaking staff to assist.
In the evening, the hotel comes alive with many locals dining at their popular restaurant. Servings are large and of good quality. The restaurant boasts an Italian trained chef who produces some wonderful food. With modern music playing throughout the dining area, a playground for the children, and an intoxicating view of the river. It is a superb place to watch the evening sun set.
Alternatively, if you’d rather not be too close to the river and prefer a mountain view the Vataksi groups second hotel called Shpija Gjyshit or “Grandfather Hotel” is located approximately 1km uphill from Hotel Vataksi. Also still under construction the rooms are larger than those found at Hotel Vataksi and the views are increasingly spectacular.
In my opinion, Shpija Gjyshit is a slightly more refined product, with swimming pool, larger rooms and better bathrooms. The restaurant looks out across the valley and the whole hotel reminds me of an Austrian chalet on the side of the mountain.
Although, located on the outskirts of Shkoder the Vataksi Group have two comfortable hotels available. It is a good 30 – 45 minute walk into the city centre, but as we like walking it was a good way to start an active day. Alternatively, the hotel can organise a taxi, which are quite cheap into the city. Personally, I would recommend a taxi, or hiring a car to access Shpija Gjyshit as it would be a pretty tiring and steep walk to its position on the side of the mountain.
Overall, both hotels are comfortable and affordable. Honestly, there are better rated hotels in the city centre but of course they are more expensive. Travellers on a budget that are looking for a little more style will appreciate the rooms especially at Shpija Gjyshit. The restaurants and staff are pleasant and it was kind of nice to look out the window at Hotel Vataksi and watch the wildlife along the river. So, book your stay at the Hotel Vataksi or Shpija Gjyshit today and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
If you’ve had the chance to visit Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia, you would know it’s the city of statues. But if you haven’t had the chance to go, then what’s stopping you! Skopje, has statues everywhere! In the squares, in the parks, on the bridges, in the buildings and on top of the buildings. That’s right, Skopje has run out of places to put statues on the ground so they put them on top of their buildings. It is an amazing phenomenon, and one you shouldn’t miss.
For our second part of our stay in Skopje we are staying in the family run Hotel 7. Hotel 7 is a two star hotel with seven rooms available. The rooms are clean with private bathrooms and come with breakfast included. Being a small hotel, they have a coffee station in the hall, so everyone can help themselves. Comfortable and excellent value for money the hotel is only a 15 minute walk from the city or a quick bus trip. The closest bus stop is across the road next to the hospital.
Breakfast is available from a little bakery next door to the hotel. They have a range of delicious Byreks and other baked goods on offer. I enjoyed the meat Byrek, which tastes a lot like an Aussie pasty.
The staff is happy to advise about what there is to do in Skopje and where to go. In total, we spent 7 nights in Skopje and was able to fill in our time well. So, here’s a few things we did.
Join a walking tour
Skopje Walks offers a free walking tour in the city centre of Skopje daily from 10 a.m. This is a terrific way to get your bearings in this quirky city and learn about the trials and triumphs the Macedonian people have faced. The meeting point is the Memorial House of Mother Teresa.
Head up to the Millennium Cross
Skopje is home to the largest cross in the world, standing at 66 metres and looking out across the city, it’s either a day hike or a ride on the local bus. Once there, capture some stunning photos of the city and landscape. To get there, catch the number 25 bus from the bus station to the cable cars. Alternatively, you can grab a map and hike up to the top.
Visit Matka Canyon and Cave
Not too far out of the city is picturesque Matka Canyon. Catch the number 60 bus to the last stop and walk to the Matka Canyon Hotel. Here you can either hike the walking path, catch a boat or kayak down the river. Visit the limestone cave and take in the tranquility.
Hop on the Skopje City Tour Bus
If you’d rather ride the Skopje City Tour Bus, and see Skopje in comfort. The bus runs from 11 a.m – 5 p.m daily. Visit there Facebook page for more information.
Explore the Old Bazaar
Whilst in the city centre, it is a must to explore Skopje’s old bazaar. Walk through the cobbled stoned streets and browse the selection of goods on sale. The bazaar contains museums, bars and restaurants serving traditional Macedonian food.
Watch a game at Philip II Arena
If you are an avid fan of sport, then check out if the main stadium is hosting any games. The home of teams FK Vardar and FK Rabotnički, visit their websites to see if a game is being played. Otherwise visit the popular park alongside the oval and have a drink or ice cream.
Play Spot the Statue
With so many statues scattered around the city, play a game of I-spy with friends spotting the quirky and intriguing statues. Can you find the begging statue, or the girl playing the harp?
Skopje is one of those fun cities that puts either a confused look or a smile on your face. With not many major hotels present in the city, you might find it easier to obtain accommodation at the family run hotels like Hotel 7. Although rated as a two star this little hotel is excellent value for money. With a private bathroom, coffee facilities and breakfast included, you can’t go wrong. Close to public transport, with friendly helpful staff. Book your stay today, and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you.
Albania is making inroads into becoming the Balkan Peninsula’s next big tourist destination. A country which was isolated from the rest of the world by its brutal dictator, is now modernising and accepting foreign investment to improve its attractiveness as a tourist destination. Our first stop in this developing country is where most travellers will start their journey in Albania. The thriving capital city of Tirana. Whilst here for five relaxing days, we stayed at the luxurious Sheraton Tirana Hotel.
To be honest with you when we initially talked about Tirana, we had no idea about the history or culture of Albania. Of course, we knew it was in Europe. Somewhere! But pictured a more rural and rustic type of lifestyle. You know, horse and carts, with farmers and their families working the land and living in little mud-brick cottages. What we didn’t expect was for the city to be a modern metropolis, with many other new buildings under construction. I know that sounds a little sheltered, but we didn’t know that much about Albania.
To set the record straight. Tirana is a modern city, with a vibrant cafe, bar and restaurant culture. Experience this by heading into the old communist quarter. You will find the youth of the city, sipping coffee and chatting about life in modern coffee shops and bars.
Our accommodation, the Sheraton Tirana Hotel is the only major branded hotel in Albania. Its facilities and staff are exactly what you’d expect from a Marriott/SPG grouped hotel. Quality. The hotel has hosted many famous dignitaries like Hilary Clinton and the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Therefore, you never know who you might bump into during your stay.
The hotel is located an easy ten minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Yet, somehow the hotel feels secluded from the rest of the city. This might be because it backs onto Tirana’s popular Grand Park, with Mother Teresa square and the University of Arts and Polytechnic buildings next door.
On arrival to the hotel we are welcomed by the hotel’s concierge and directed to the reception desk. From first impressions, you immediately feel relief as a wave of comfort washes over you. The lobby area is large and well decorated which leads to the hotel’s superb Infinity Bar and business corner.
The Infinity Bar is a great place to relax and have a beer, a cocktail, coffee or glass of wine. For those food and wine connoisseurs, I suggest trying their small tasting plates with matching wines.
We are quickly checked in, and make our way to our Deluxe King-sized room on the fifth floor. The room is large with an extremely comfortable King-sized bed. In fact, it was so comfortable, one day we wanted to stay in bed all day. Alas, that didn’t happen, because we had so much to do, but we wanted too!
The luxurious room also has a single lounge seat, glass table, a decent sized desk and chair, telephone, a fully stocked mini bar and television offering various channels. In-room security is also available with each room having a small safe. WiFi is also available in all rooms with excellent connectivity.
The separate bathroom contains a shower, toilet, basin and a decent sized bath. Rooms are serviced daily and although there are clean, the multi shaded tile colour inside the shower makes the shower area look less than flattering. Sheraton Hotel supplies its own brand of toiletries to use which are restocked daily or on request. An environmental conscious hotel, the Sheraton gives guests the option of foregoing servicing of their rooms in return for 450ALL (Albanian Lek), 500 SPG points, or a donation to a charity per day.
The Sheraton Tirana Hotel has approximately 150 available rooms, from standard rooms to luxury suites. All are homogeneously decorated and look as comfortable as our deluxe room. The two roomed suites are perfect for families as extra beds or cots can be added to keep everyone together.
With summer temperatures in Tirana reaching between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius, you will come to love the Sheraton Tirana Hotels pools. We spent two afternoons cooling off and relaxing by the outdoor pool. It would be easy to waste a day or two relaxing by the pools ordering food and drink from the O2 pool bar. The crystal clear pools were so refreshing with sunbeds strategically placed for the best rays.
If fitness is more up your alley, the Sheraton Tirana Hotel has a manned fitness area available. Let the instructor help you with a program or work out by yourself. They have a variety of exercise equipment at your disposal. Alternatively, if you’re feeling some muscle tightness the hotel has a Thai masseuse contracted to help their guests recover.
The hotel isn’t short of food options for its guests. Breakfast is served daily in the Metropolitan restaurant. Other food options are available to be purchased from the Infinity Bar, O2 pool bar or Il Pomodoro restaurant in the hotels mall area.
In the evenings, let Head Chef, Davide Concas inspire your palates with his standard or special seasonal menu. Once again, match your choices with some of the quality wines available. I couldn’t go past his roasted leg of lamb with wine braised spring onion and mint yoghurt, matched with a beautiful Cadet D’OC Cabernet Sauvignon.
We also ordered a succulent beef fillet with baby potatoes, glazed vegetables and a red wine sauce, grilled octopus and herbed falafel. For dessert, we tried Davide’s homemade vanilla ice cream and his Winter Pudding. The meal was delightful and sated our appetites.
For SPG Platinum members the Club Lounge looks like a wonderful place to spend a few hours. With access to premium internet services, snacks and drinks throughout the day and dinner served at night. This peaceful area is a good place to catch up on some work or with each other.
Overall, the Sheraton Tirana Hotel is a terrific place to stay whilst in Albania. The quality of the SPG/Marriott product and service levels are excellent. The concierge is always helpful with tips on places to visit and the best way to get there. They have an AVIS car rental office on site which offers day tours to other Albanian cities. Or stop at the souvenir shop to buy some presents for relatives back home. The hotel is connected to a small mall area with a few stores, a bank, coffee shop and cinema complex. Alternatively, relax by the pool, or take a walk through the Grand Park. There is always something to make you feel like you’re on holiday.
With plenty of things to do and visit in Tirana, the Sheraton Tirana Hotel will look after you and make your stay worthwhile. Although, a little more expensive than other hotels in Tirana, you can’t go past the quality and luxury of the hotel. So, make Albania one of your stops in Europe. Book your stay at the Sheraton Tirana Hotel and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
Additional Information for the Sheraton Tirana Hotel
If you were to tell me before we started this trip that I’d be going to visit a salt mine, I may have laughed. That would be because in Australia when I think about salt mines, I picture a stark salt pan. Therefore, when we were looking for another tour to do in Krakow we wanted something less emotionally draining than the Auschwitz and Birkenau tour we did the day before. The Krakville tour operator suggested for us to go to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. So, after a bit of umming and ahhing we decided why not?
The Wieliczka Salt Mine was listed as a UNESCO heritage site in 1978 and consists of 300kms of tunnels. The mine has been in operation since the 13th Century (that’s an old mine) and is open for visitors daily from 07:30 a.m to 07:30 p.m. The mine can be visited without a tour group, but you may have a long wait depending on the number of visitors and tour groups.
The tour starts mid-morning and our meeting point for the start of the tour is the Krakville office building in the Old Town Krakow. Once again, we are given identification stickers to ensure we aren’t separated from our group. This straight away tells us that the mine is busy. We all climb into mini vans and are driven approximately half an hour to the town of Wieliczka.
It’s not long before we are at the mine and climb the steps to the mines entrance. On arrival it is raining, but that hasn’t stopped the crowds from showing up. There is a large number of tour group already here and a fair contingent of lone travellers negotiating the throng of people. The mine has some additional souvenir shops and a cafe outside if you must wait for a while.
After a short wait, we are guided past the crowds and into the mine. We are given radio receivers so that we can hear the guide as she explains the enormity of the mine. First, we descend down 350 steps to the entry-level of the mine. Like a column staircase you’d find in a hundred-floor building we descend down and down. It is quite a work out and if you make the mistake and go to fast down, you can get quite dizzy.
At the bottom of the stairs the guide checks to make sure we are all alive after the workout and explains the ground rules of the tour. Like don’t wander off, as there are so many tunnels, therefore getting lost is quite easy.
As we walk through the tunnels we encounter open chambers within the mine providing a visual aid about the construction and operation of the mine. In total there are 20 chambers available to be visited. The guide explains that the workers would construct churches, halls, theatres and specific carvings as they were down in the mine for large amounts of time.
We walk through various places of worship and are shown some of the incredible wall fresco’s etched by the workers. Photos are allowed to be taken at a small additional cost and there are photo permit places along the route. The mine also has an underground souvenir store and a large restaurant and cafeteria area.
Overall, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a worthwhile attraction with the website stating that tourists should allow three hours to visit the site. The temperature of the mine averages 14 degrees Celsius so warm jackets are handy. You will be amazed at the chambers and carvings done by the workers. Photos are a must so my advice is pay for the permit. So, book your tour today and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
Additional Information for Krakville Wieliczka Salt Mine
What are the first things that come to your mind when someone mentions Transylvania? If you are like me you think of Dracula, vampires, dark nights and scary castles. Through the popularity of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, Transylvania has always had an intrigue for travellers. With many fans doing the trek to visit Bran Castle, commonly known as “the home of Dracula”.
During our travels, we always had Romania pencilled in as a possible country to visit and after some investigations we decided to base ourselves in Sighișoara and do a day trip to Bran Castle. Although Bran Castle is the home of Stoker’s Dracula, Sighișoara is the actual birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration behind the character.
Arguably, one of the prettiest villages in Romania, this picturesque village is home to one of the oldest medieval citadels in Romania. With its many Church’s, restaurant’s and residences located on top of a hill the colourful town oozes character.
For our day tour to Bran Castle we opted to go with someone who knew Transylvania well. After a quick internet search about tours from Sighișoara, we came across, Emanuel Enache. Emanuel is the owner and primary tour guide for tour business, YourGuidein Transylvania. Emanuel offers his customers personalised tours throughout Transylvania, so we booked him to take us to Bran Castle. Booking was easy through his website, and he responded back quickly to organise morning pick up’s and inclusive tour information.
The tour commences at 10:00 a.m with Emanuel picking us up from our hotel during our stay the Doubletree by Hilton Sighișoara. After introductions Emanuel places emphasis on us becoming friends from the start. His point of us meeting possibly only once in a lifetime is a good excuse for us to be friends from the outset. It’s not hard to like him, with his bubbly character and charm.
The drive from Sighișoara to Bran Castle takes two hours, which fly by as Emanuel provides us with the history of the Transylvanian region, economy and life. This insight gives us an appreciation of the Romanian people and its culture. Emanuel has no set schedule to his tours, he allows his guests to dictate when they would like to stop for lunch or rest breaks along the way.
Once in Bran, Emanuel allows us to walk around the souvenir tents and food stalls whilst he organises skip the line entry into the castle. The various stalls show off their Dracula inspired souvenirs, from magnets, coffee cups and T-shirts. There is something for everyone!
Bran Castle is one of the seven castles of Wallachia, and although Vlad the Impaler ruled the region during his reign from 1448. It is unknown if he used Bran Castle. This doesn’t take away from the breathtaking visual of this castle on the hill. Today it is mainly a museum to Queen Marie of Romania, who lived in the castle during her lifetime.
The three level castle is impressive, like many castles throughout Europe, so if you like castles then have a visit, the picture of Bran castle on the hill is a good photo to show your friends. Emanuel is excellent explaining the rooms, and the history of Queen Marie and the royal family, there is some rooms dedicated to the vampire myth, but they aren’t that interesting.
Overall, Bran Castle by itself is something I wouldn’t do by myself. It is a nice drive but the castle is just another castle, if you don’t have the story about it. What made this tour especially worthwhile was Emanuel’s information and conversation about Transylvania, the castle, Dracula and the vampire myth. Emanuel’s engaging personality makes is tour worthwhile. Emanuel offers plenty other tours throughout Transylvania and will pick you up from your accommodation.
So you have some holiday’s coming up and are looking for options that are historically interesting, have a night life and hopefully won’t break the bank. Then have you considered the Czech Republic? It has an impressive history. I’m sure you have heard about King Wenceslas. He is the King mentioned in a popular Christmas Carol. The capital, Prague is a usual stop for many tourists, but I also encourage you stay in the beautiful city of Brno.
Brno, is a vibrant university city about three hours from Prague with some quirky stories and hidden intrigues. After a few hours exploring the sights, you will soon become invested in this lovely city. Brno is mainly known for its conferences, festivals and being the current home of the Czech MotoGP race. Each week there is usually something going on in this happening city. For our four days stay here we are at the impressive Holiday Inn Brno.
Located outside of the old town the Holiday Inn Brno is situated alongside the largest convention centre in the Czech Republic. Although approximately 2.5 km’s from the city centre the city has a good public transport system. Hourly tickets are available from reception for Kč25czk each. Therefore, this proximity to transport easily alleviates the distance from the city centre.
A courtesy bus to and from the old town is provided on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between the times of 7 p.m -11 p.m. This is handy as you can have dinner in the city and then have the bus transport you back to the hotel. As we don’t mind a walk, it was only 20 minutes to and from the centre. This allowed us time to casually enjoy the walk and discover the surrounding areas. Don’t worry if you’d prefer a car. Europcar have an office onsite so you can book a vehicle prior to your arrival at the hotel and have it waiting for you in the car park.
The Holiday Inn Brno is a part of the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), and offers quality four-star service and accommodation to its guests. When arriving at the Holiday Inn Brno you are immediately impressed by the outdoor eating area attached to the superb Prominent Restaurant and a lawn area used for general relaxation and yoga. Entry through the automated turnstile brings you into the hotels immaculate lobby.
The hotel lobby is quite large area. Comfortable chairs and tables and a business area are available to meet people and catch up on work. The reception desk is manned 24 hours with the friendly staff always there to assist. Other areas accessible from the lobby are the Restaurant Brasserie, the incredible Prominent Restaurant with its remarkable food and the Lobby Bar for enjoying a drink and a game of billiards.
The Holiday Inn Brno offers three core types of accommodation, a standard room, an executive room and an executive suite. All option are available from their website or through Booking.com.
The Holiday Inn Brno, prides itself in taking care of its guests and the rooms are no exception. Each room is elegantly decorated with one of the most comfortable beds I’ve been in. They either have a single, queen or king bed depending on your booking with a well stocked mini bar. Each room also has a safe, coffee facilities, ironing board and SMART television. The SMART television controls the rooms Wi-Fi, multiple television stations in various languages and the hotels guest directory.
Each room has a good-sized bathroom which is stocked with various toiletries and accessories. The rooms are serviced daily, so as expected the bathrooms are clean with excellent water pressure.
Being so close to the exhibition centre the hotel offers visiting business groups excellent accommodation option. Meeting rooms are also available daily, for workshops, functions and business meetings. Additionally, if you are considering organising an event, then the 400-person Congress Hall with reception area and bar would be the ideal place.
For the health and fitness conscientious the hotel has a small but modern gym on the sixth floor open from 06:30hrs. The health spa called the Relax Zone is open from 17:30hrs with free access to the sauna. Massages, and the whirlpool spa are available via bookings at reception. Access to the gym is via the stairs from the fifth floor.
The Brasserie Restaurant caters for breakfast daily. If you desire, fruit, cereal, toast, cold meats, salads or a hot breakfast the Holiday Inn Brno will not let you go hungry.
For your evening meal, I encourage you to eat in at the Prominent Restaurant. Everything about this restaurant is impressive, from dining areas, service and especially the food. It is so good, I cannot do it justice with a brief description here. So, to give it the exposure it deserves, we have opted to give the Prominent Restaurant its own separate review. So, stay tuned!
Overall the Holiday Inn Brno is an excellent option to stay at when visiting Brno. The hotel staff are professional and if you need any help they will go out of their way to ensure you enjoy your stay. The rooms are extremely comfortable, the breakfast is abundant, and the health and fitness areas are welcome encouragement to keep fit. The lobby bar is a good place to chill out and have a drink and if you appreciate decent food then the Prominent Restaurant is a must.
Brno is a fantastic university city, full of culture and history. In my opinion, you’d be doing yourself an injustice if you didn’t visit whilst in the Czech Republic. So, book your holiday today and stay at the Holiday Inn Brno and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
Poland is a wonderful country, full of history and tragedy. From the outset of this 55 week journey, Poland was probably one of the first countries listed as a must go place. The main reason behind this was so we could remember the tragedies that befell the country during World War II. This beautiful countryside just out of Krakow in the town of Oswiecim was a major area for Nazi Germany’s horrible agenda of genocide and ethnic cleansing. What we know throughout history as the Holocaust!
Since our current worlds in turmoil, we toured Auschwitz and Birkenau with local tour company Krakville to remember the innocent lives affected by this inhuman treatment. Hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself once again.
Krakville tour company located in the Old Town offers a range of small and large group tours to various attractions around Krakow. We arrive at the Krakville office early the next morning to meet our tour group and are given Krakville identification stickers. After checking in we are escorted to the tour bus and driven to Auschwitz first, then Birkenau.
The drive through the countryside to Oswiecim takes about an hour and the first thing that catches your eye is how green and beautiful the landscape is.
On arrival to Auschwitz you instantly realise why they use identification stickers, because it is packed with tour buses and other tour groups. We are escorted to a staging area and enter through a security checkpoint to our awaiting English-speaking guide. Each participant is given an audio receiver so you can hear the guides presentation clearly whilst the information is given.
Auschwitz’s brick buildings still stand as they did back then in WWII. The internal structures have been restored to give the visitor of the conditions prisoners were kept in. The barbed wire fences, guard towers all remain to provide an eerie feeling. Yet the lush green grass hides the tormented past.
As you enter the main camp the words “Arbeit macht frei, Work sets you free” are positioned above the main gate. Unfortunately, unknown to the prisoners, the only way they would be free from Auschwitz was to work themselves to death or be killed.
The knowledgeable guide expertly explains the use of the buildings, the conditions the prisoners were exposed to and the devilish treatment and things the Nazi’s did to break the spirits of the people.
One building has framed pictures of the prisoners who died on the walls, including name, occupation, religion, date of arrival to Auschwitz and date of death. The photos stretch along a corridor leading to glass rooms full of personal items, from suitcases, shoes, and hauntingly a room full of hair.
Visitors then proceed to the underground solitary confinement cells, the firing squad wall and the original experimental gas chamber and crematorium.
Our guide delivers all of the information with as little emotion as possible which creates a sense of loss and awkwardness. We then head back to the bus and head to Auschwitz II, Birkenau.
Auschwitz II known as Birkenau is approximately a ten minute drive from the Auschwitz main camp. Compared to the first camp, Birkenau concentration camp is enormous. Although many of the wooden buildings have perished due to reclaiming of timber after the war and destruction of the camp on the last days before liberation. It is amazing to see the old chimneys dotting a large field where prison housing existed.
The infamous rail gate, where the train enters Birkenau still stands and the selection area and officers building remains. Our guide explains the selection process and the long march to the gas chambers and crematorium.
Not much stands of the gas chambers and crematorium as the Nazi’s tried to destroy the evidence of their crimes just before liberation.
Overall, Krakville’s tour to Auschwitz and Birkenau was an eye opener. Personally, I believe it’s a must do so you can pay your respects to the victims of Auschwitz. So, book your tour today and tell them Simon from Ourworldinreview sent you!
Additional Information for Krakville Tours Auschwitz and Birkenau Tour