Tag Archives: Travel blog

Happy Albanian Independence Day!

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Happy Albanian Independence Day!

November 28th, 1912 is when Ismail Qemali, founder of the modern Albanian state and its first head of state and government, declared Dita e Pavarësisë (“Independence Day” in English) from the Ottoman Empire!

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On this day the Albanian flag was raised by Ismail Quemali in Vlore, Albania to publicly proclaim the independence of Albania from its Ottoman authorities.

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In case you don’t know much about Albania or Albanians (You probably aren’t from New York ha!) – Albania occupies the southwestern portion of the Balkan Peninsula. It’s coastline extends along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas within the Mediterranean Sea. Despite its small size, Albania is home to the largest and most ancient bodies of fresh water in Southern Europe. Lake Shkodër is the largest lake in Southern Europe, sprawling out from Albania into Montenegro.  Lake Ohrid in the southeast is shared with Macedonia and is one of the most ancient lakes in the world and a very popular vacation spot!

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Some fun and interesting facts about Albania:

  • In the evenings, the locals like to walk.  But it’s not just a walk.  Known as xhiro, it’s an official evening walk where every resident comes out to get some fresh air and catch up with their neighbors.  In many towns, the roads close to cars for certain hours! Apartment blocks empty and everyone gathers at various places, walking and talking until nightfall. How nice!!
  • Kinda like our Indian head-bob – when an Albanian is agreeing with you, they will shake their head, and when they are disagreeing with you they will nod.  Be warned and avoid confusion – Yes means no and no means yes!
  • According to a 2015 World Risk Report compiled by the UN, Albania is one of the countries in Europe most at-risk from natural disasters – mainly from flooding. In 2010, the country was hit by major floods, forcing as many as 7,000 families to be evacuated.
  • Though small, Albania boasts more than 3,250 species of plants, which accounts for 30% of all flora in Europe.
  • The Albanian town of Berat, a Unesco Old Town, was rated as one of the most beautiful places in Europe!

One more quick amazing thing about Albania: Mother Teresa ❤

Many countries in Eastern Europe are starting to really trend lately in tourism. Albania is becoming a popular tourist destination and it’s easy to see why! The beaches are GORGEOUS!! Also, it’s Europe and what’s Europe most famous for? CASTLES!!!! 🙂

Some of the BEST places to check out in Albania:

BERAT

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Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful castle on a hill. Now book your flight! Located on a hill at the left bank of the river Osum in the middle of the country, you can find Berat Castle, (originally called Kalaja) a fortress overlooking the town of Berat.

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Berat is also called “ the city of a thousand windows”, because of the large window fronts on the typical house. Berat is a great destination for those who love history and culture.

TIRANA

Tirana is the capital city of Albania. Located on a river some 30 kilometers away from the coast on one side, and on the other it is enclosed by hills. The small cafés at the side of the roads are full of energy most of the times and the city has a really pleasant charm!

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Those who want to immerse into the culture of the country should go to one of the museums or to the Palace of Culture. The Skanderberg place with the famous equestrian statuette should definitely be on your list, as it is the town’s landmark. It actually forms the center of the city, from which roads go to all directions like a star.

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Another place to visit is the Et’hem Bey mosque with the clock tower of Tirana. The capital furthermore contains a castle, of course, which is a great tourist destination. The numerous political facilities, universities, the botanical and zoological gardens, as well as the numourous parks and gardens are all worth a visit, if you have time, as well.

ALBANIAN RIVIERA

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Perhaps the most popular tourist destination, the riviera has a growing reputation as an important music location. The Night life is very popular and draws young people from all across Europe! Beaches are truly inviting! Newly built hotels and attractions also allure tourists and promise a great holiday.

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Also, the countryside is unique and lays behind the beaches. Large, picturesque and dramatic mountain settings extend for miles; and within the mountains, hide numerous small fairytale-like villages!

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GJIROKASTRA

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This southern city was elected UNESCO world cultural heritage due to its unique Balkan-style architecture. It contains small castle-like houses made of stone and is located at the side of a hill connected with artisticly winding roads.

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Gjirokastra has also many cultural attractions, such as museums, theaters and religious places found in large numbers. Additionally every five years they celebrate the national folklore festival in the castle of the city!

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DURRES

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The STUNNINGGGG city, Durres, at the coastline of Albania is the most important harbor city in the country. Cultural events take place all over the year, particularly at the amphitheater, which is one of the most important attractions of the city! The impressive ancient building could provide place for about 20.000 people. Aside from culture and history, Durres is a top spot for beach days and it’s a fun name to say over and over! 😛

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KRUJA

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Kruja is located at the side of the Skanderberg-mountains. The most important building in the town is the Kruja castle, which is a national sanctum for the Albanian people. Further places next to the town are the tomb of Sari Saltiks and the national park Qafe Shtama. This small town has a large historical background and can also be visited as day-trip from the capital Tirana or from Durres.

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VLORA

Another fun name to repeat over and over (and yes, I am getting the correct pronunciation, my coworker is Albanian from Montenegro 🙂 ) Vlora, also known also as Valona, is located in south-western Albania where the two seas, Adriatic and Ionian, meet. Vlora enjoys a beautiful position because it is the gateway to the Albanian Riviera!

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Three stunning things to see in Vlora are the beaches, the port and the town centre.  The town, with its wide boulevards decorated by huge palm trees, has a real southern Mediterranean feel to it! Definately a place not to miss!

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Who would have thought this tiny Eastern European country would be filled with such beauty, history and energy! I’m planning my trip, are you?! Happy Independence day Albania!!

 

-Karen Bahri

 

 

 

 

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A peak inside the Gem of Zanzibar – Stone Town!

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A peak inside the Gem of Zanzibar – Stone Town!

Stone Town is not just any town – it’s a delight for the senses not to be found anywhere else in the world!

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Stone Town is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. Also known as Mji Mkongwe (Swahili for “old town”), it is located in the old part of Zanzibar City, which is the main city of Zanzibar, in Tanzania.

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Its architecture, which mostly dates back to the 19th century, has STORIES to tell, as it reflects the diverse influences of Swahili culture – yet also giving a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements.

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The buildings are honestly a feast for the eyes, despite their deteriorating condition. That only adds charm and character to the entire painting! Stone town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 due to it’s distinct archetecture.

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The most well-known feature of Zanzibari houses are the finely decorated wooden doors.

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You won’t find these giant wooden masterpieces anywhere else in the world! Elaborately carved with astonishing detail, the heavy doors in Stone Town are quintessentially ‘Zanzibar’, and served as a valuable glimpse into the homeowner’s place of origin, profession and economic status.

For example, the Indian doors were crafted by skilled tradesmen out of imported teak. The large brass studs have their origins in India, where they were once used as a defense against charging war elephants. In Stone Town, however, they were used only as decorative pieces and symbolic markers of wealth.

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Arab doors have intricately crafted frames with Arabic inscriptions at the top. The chain, lotus and pineapple are common and culturally significant motifs.

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The heart of Stone Town consists of a maze of narrow alleys lined by houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. The streets bustle along with bicycles and motorbikes as they are too narrow for cars. Stone Town can easily be explored on foot.

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Of course, the beaches in Zanzibar are RAVISHING, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely worth a stroll at some point during your holiday in which you feel like exploring. Trust me, it’s worth it – It is utterly captivating!

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I hope this has given you a good glimpse of a little town you may never have even heard of! Stone Town has an interesting history. Everything about this place will make you feel alive – from the melting pot of African, Arab, Indian and European cultures; the vivid shades of every color imaginable; the textures; the vibrant energy of the seafront and markets; and the locals who greet you with a “jambo!” (hello) and “karibu” (welcome) everyday!

To add to your itinerary, if you have been following me for a while, almost a year ago I wrote about the most unusual and amazing place to check out on the Indian Ocean off Zanzibar (which got a lot of buzz, thank you muah!). You can check that here:

https://karenskaleidoscope.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/the-rock-a-luxurious-fairytale-in-the-indian-ocean/

And OF COURSE I’m sure the main reason for your holiday would be for the astonishing beaches, with a day or so excursion to Stone Town, so I don’t want you to forget what that beautiful pond looks like 😁 —–>

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-Karen Bahri

 

 

 

 

Edivo Vina – Croatia’s first underwater winery!

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Edivo Vina – Croatia’s first underwater winery!

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Ivo and Anto Šegović and Edi Bajurin are the proud owners of the very first underwater winery in Croatia! Recently opened in Drače on the Pelješac Peninsula, travellers can join experienced divers to explore the hidden underwater world of the Edivo Vina winery. You’ll get an up-close look at the wine-making process and swim by an old sunken boat that is located at the bottom of the Mali Ston Bay.

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The wines are aged for three months, then stored in clay jugs known as amphorae under the sea for one to two years. The amphorae gives the wine a specific pinewood aroma, which makes it very unique! Once removed from the sea, the amphorae are covered in sea flora and fauna, including corals and shells, and this makes them unique gifts!

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The bottles are arranged in cages and secured with padlocks to prevent theft. They have also taken multiple precautions to avoid contamination. In addition to a cork, all the bottles have two layers of rubber to prevent saltwater from seeping in.

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The above mentioned sunken boat is used as an underwater cellar and it keeps the amphorae for 700 days at a temperature of 15 to 17 degrees. According to Edivo Vina’s owners, they decided to age their wine underwater because “the sea provides natural cooling in ideal conditions and the perfect silence underwater improves the quality.” It’s also a really, really cool experience to add to your Croatian itinerary!EdivO10040_srcset-large

 

-Karen Bahri

The most Beautiful Small towns in France

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The most Beautiful Small towns in France

Paris, the city the world is in love with! A beauty indeed, but there is plenty more to see in France than just the capital. From wine country to the Alps, there are thousands of beautiful villages and small towns in the country, and each region has its own special qualities. Travelling around some of the small towns in France means travel between hilltops, rocky coastal towns and breathtaking scenery while enjoying the local lifestyles of the people.

Among the thousands, here is a short list of small French towns with such beauty, they can rival any major city in the world:

Annecy

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Sometimes called “the Venice of Savoie,” this lakeside Alpine town is treasured for its sloping hillsides and the small canals that wander their way through the streets.

Pourquerolles

Fort Sainte AgatheÎle de Porquerolles is a Côte d’Azur gem which is an island paradise that’s also a small town. The best thing about this place is that after all these years, the car-free island is still a blissful, peaceful paradise!

Bayeux

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Tapestry is the highlight for most tourists to the town. Bayeux has an appeal of a mix of the classic (the Norman-Gothic Bayeux Cathedral dominates the skyline) and the more contemporary (a somber, minimalist World War II cemetery).

Eguisheim

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Eguisheim is very unique with its concentric layout of streets unlike other towns and villages in France. It is a magnet for tourism because of its flower-filled villages and colorful houses, which give it a fairy tale ambiance. One of my favorites on this list!

Dinan

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The prettiest town in Brittany! Set on a hilltop, this medieval town oversees the river of Rance. Dinan is surrounded with long ramparts or walls, Tudor type houses, port, cobbled streets, art galleries, and shops.

Perouges

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Perouges is a medieval walled town in the northeast of Lyon. The town is so romantic, homey and old-fashioned that it is often used in many films.

Lourmarin

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Lourmarin is poetry in motion. It has numerous cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and ivy-covered streets full of a lavender scent which will give you an exquisite taste of its locality.

Chamonix

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Although Chamonix’s proximity to Mont Blanc has made it a legendary skiing and climbing center. The town, with panoramic mountain views and rows of slant-roofed buildings, is lovely all year round.

Ars-en-Ré

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A charming town of bicycles! With its white-washed houses and traditional green shutters, hollyhocks, salt pans, and relaxing but sleepy beach town vibe, it is a pleasure to explore this tiny seaside village.

Eze

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For a more subdued Riviera experience, bypass Nice and Cannes for Eze, whose rocky hillside location 1,400 feet above the sea makes for stunning views of the Mediterranean.

Etretat

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Etretat is best known for its three natural arches and pointed needle. It attracts tourists and even celebrities because of its peaceful scenery.

And last, but definitely not least:

Colmar

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Picturesque Colmar has a section also known as “Little Venice,” thanks to the small canals that cut elegant lines past candy-colored houses. And locals aren’t the only ones inspired by Colmar’s beauty: some people believe the town was the model for Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast!

~Karen Bahri

 

 

Three undiscovered Caribbean islands to discover now!

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Three undiscovered Caribbean islands to discover now!

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Aruba, Jamaica and The Dominican Republic are a few amazing islands commonly thought about as one tries to figure out which island to explore when planning an escape to the Caribbean. The choice is limitless and you may become confused trying to figure out where to go. I have provided for you three islands under the radar that are less touristy and offer experiences that will appeal to those looking for seclusion, adventure or both; which means you will get the ultimate Caribbean vibe!

The old Caribbean; safe, friendly and charming with exquisite natural beauty both above and below her waterline.

Montserrat

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Montserrat is one of a handful of Caribbean islands still relatively untouched by mass tourism. Known as the “Emerald Isle,” Montserrat has a rich Irish heritage and is the only country outside Ireland that recognizes St. Patrick’s Day as an official holiday. Visitors even get a shamrock stamp in their passports.

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Volcano tourism is the island’s most unique draw. Lookout spots including Jack Point Hill and Montserrat Volcano Observatory offer views of the eruption’s brute impact. The Exclusion Zone, which is the southern part of the island where eerie remains of the former capital city of Plymouth lie buried under a lunarscape of volcanic ash, looks like a modern-day Pompeii. One may become drawn by the slow rhythm, the friendly locals, the fabulous hiking and birdwatching, and the blessedly tranquil ambience.

Saba

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The mountainous island of Saba delivers a remote escape known for ecotourism, including hikes, climbs and spectacular dives.

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The smallest island (five square miles) in the Netherlands Antilles, Saba is primarily a dormant volcano covered in rain forest. A single road (aptly named “The Road”) takes visitors to quaint cottage filled villages, where you can purchase the traditional Saba lace. Saba is ringed by coral reef, it rises sharply from the sea, with the aptly named Mount Scenery — the highest point in the Netherlands — as its misty peak.

Statia/St. Eustatius

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The quietest corner of the Dutch Caribbean, St. Eustatius, or “Statia”, is known as the Caribbean’s hidden treasure. Today, Statia’s few visitors are intrepid scuba divers, and hikers exploring its rugged, volcanic terrain.

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Divers may discover dazzling reefs, gorgeous marine life, rusting wrecks, anchors and cannons are a few examples of what mysteries one may uncover under the sea!

Hiking is also popular on the island. Visitors can take a half-day hike to the 2,000 foot Quill National Park, a classically shaped volcano with a forest-filled crater. Orchids, fruit trees and ferns thrive in this unique environment.

A serene, old-Caribbean pace is highly felt as the sleepy island has a population of around 4,000 inhabitants!

 

-Karen Bahri

 

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Italy’s most Underrated destinations

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Italy’s most Underrated destinations

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Ahhh Italy!!! Italy is such an amazing and beautiful country where there are sooo many famous cities/towns you have to check out. It’s like you have to take a couple months off so you can see everything! All the major cities – Venice, Milan, Tuscany, Florence, the Amalfi Coast, oh my god!! Italy just doesn’t stop!!

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I’m about to make your Italian itinerary a bit more complicated (insert evil smile emoji) Forget the major cities…okay maybe not, but try for a moment. Wouldn’t it be nice to explore REAL Italy?! Outside the major tourist destinations? Wouldn’t it be cool to get lost and see what Italy is REALLY like? Of course it would!! Just brush up on some Italiano and follow my list of destinations in Italy that are a little less “well known” but you get away from the crowds and actually see Italy for what it REALLY is!

MODENA

The ancient town of Modena boasts to have the best restaurant in ALL OF EUROPE (Osteria Francescana) as well as it is the hub of Italian auto making.

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RAVELLO

Amalfi Coast – be damned! The cliffside town of Ravello also offers breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea!

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SIRACUSA

Settlements in this Sicilian archeological wonderland date back as far as 734 BC! Siracusa was once the largest city in the ancient world! It is best known for its Ancient Greek ruins as well as amazing food.

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PARMA

Home of …you guessed it! Parmesan Cheese! Parma is a foodie’s paradise as it is the first Italian city to win the UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy award! It is also home of one of the oldest universities in the world – Parma University.

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MATERA

This ancient city is carved into a canyon believe it or not! It is one of the oldest still-inhabited places on earth and extremely exotic to visit!

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TRIESTE

Visiting Trieste is like pretending like you are actually in Slovenia, but actually you are not! This place is filled with Viennese coffee houses and Slavic restaurants. Uncommon for Italy, Trieste is kind of a melting pot of Italian, Latin, German, Jewish and Slavic people.

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So now which one or ones of these places do you think you want to include on your bucket list next time you are in Italy?? Let me know! 🙂

 

-Karen Bahri