Russian Visa Application

Nov 25

I am heading to Russia in February and recently submitted and received my Russian visa. It is a fairly complicated process but once you understand the rules, it was completed quickly. I will focus mostly on Canada and their Russian visa application in this post.

First, make sure to check up on rules and regulations of visa requirements. Do you even need one? The Canadian government has a great travel website that lists advisories, security, health, laws, climate and entry requirements for most countries. Click HERE for Russia’s page. The United States has a very similar page as well.

Second, go to the Russian embassy to Canada website to find their process. The process can change quite often so make sure to double-check before you go ahead with your visa application. If you note, they made changes in July 2013.

Third, you next must decide what type of visa you require. Most of us will be applying for a tourist visa but there are other kinds such as private (visiting family/friends) and business. We’ll focus on the tourist visa for Canadians.

St Basil's Cathedral, Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

Photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ushakov

Russian Visa Application

1. All applicants must use the online form HERE (citizens of Australia, Canada, Georgia, UK and USA). You will then print it off on one page (back to back) and sign it.

2. Original passport with two pages free of stamps and valid for at least six months after your departure from Russia.

3. One photocopy of ID page of your passport.

4. One original photo (35 x 45 mm) attached to printed out application. I got mine from CAA. Just remember to tell them it is for Russia since their size requirements may differ from other countries.

5. Tourist voucher and confirmation from a Russian hosting travel agency or hotel registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is a reference number on the voucher that you will enter into the Russian visa application.

6. Flight itinerary (if applying for tourist double entry)- a letter from yourself that lists who is travelling, where, when and purpose. I included this even though I was not applying for a double entry visa just in case.

7. Money order, bank draft or certified cheque. Amount will depend on regular processing (up to 20 business days) or rush processing (3 business days) and whether you are applying in person or via mail.

You can apply in person but they only have locations in Eastern Canada so that may be a challenge for some of us that live elsewhere. So if you are near Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal, take the above and go to the Russian Embassy in Canada.

If you live elsewhere, you can mail in your Russian visa application BUT not directly to the Russian embassy. This is one of the new rule changes. You must mail it to a third-party visa agency that is now affiliated with the Russian Embassy – Invisa Logistics Services Canada Ltd. Please go to their website as there is an additional charge so the fee will differ since they are processing it and will courier it back to you. They have a very good website but if you have any questions, email them. I had a couple regarding the vouchers and they responded quickly.

A little more information on the voucher/confirmation – you can have more than one. For my trip, I had a voucher for my hotel in Moscow and for the cruise ship in Sochi. Invisa told me to enter the voucher reference number from my first stop (Moscow) into the Russian visa application since there is only ONE spot for a voucher reference number. You will list in a different spot how many places you are visiting and their addresses but only one spot for the voucher. Make sure to include all your vouchers in the application package.

Now one note on this: I have heard from others that their Russian visa application was rejected due to the numerous vouchers. If you have the time, try it my way first and enter your first voucher number but include all in the application. It worked for me and I received my visa within two weeks. If your application is rejected, you can buy ONE voucher/confirmation that covers your entire time in Russia from a third-party agency such as Travisa, CAA or IVPSC.

One final reminder: for the online application, the “appointment details” is an important part of the Russian visa application. Make sure to select the correct one – this will depend on whether you are submitting online OR mailing it in and the province in which you reside. Invisa lists where each province will submit their application: e.g. Alberta submits to Visa Application Centre (Toronto) and British Columbia submits to Visa Application Centre (Ottawa).

kdmid

Final reminder: check and recheck your application that you filled the online form out correctly and have all the items for the package. You can save it as a draft and go in and make changes until you print it out; no more changes after printing it. You will have to start over if you do.

You should have your visa within a few weeks and it will be pasted into your passport. You are now ready to watch Canada kick some ass in Russia at the Olympics. 🙂 My hotel is booked and I found a great flight. I can’t wait to get to Russia! [Update: I made it and had a great time. Here are a couple posts on Red Square AND the Kremlin]

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Men's Hockey Gold

Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Men’s Hockey Gold

Have you applied for your Russian visa yet?

 

UPDATE: There is talk on some of the forums (tripadvisor and facebook) that you need to have the following on your tourist confirmation (voucher) that says “Sochi-2014 – Spectator” (Сочи-2014 – зритель)” on the special field additional information. I have already applied and received my visa so I’m not sure what happens to my visa. I think Russia is using this to expedite visa applications for the Sochi spectators but I am not sure. So if you have not applied yet but have your voucher/confirmation documents already, please contact the Russian embassy or the third party visa agency you are using to confirm what you need.

You can also keep an eye on this thread on Trip Advisor: it is a VERY long thread but has useful information. You may also be asked to provide a copy or confirmation email of your Olympic tickets. The process is changing quickly so keep an eye on all this.

UPDATE: ILS Canada has posted this on their website confirming the above update.

 

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Ancient Pompeii

Nov 21

A trip to Italy is not complete unless you visit the ancient city of Pompeii, a city once lost to the world for over a millennium after the eruption by Mount Vesuvius in August 24-25, 79 AD.

Temple of Venus, Pompeii

Temple of Venus, Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii was a resort city that housed the summer homes of the Roman rich and elite. There may have been up to 20,000 inhabitants during the eruption with around 2000 perished as they had remained after the start of the eruption. Many other thousands perished in the Pompeii – Herculaneum area.

We must thank Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator and poet, for his account of the earthquake and volcanic eruption four days later by Mount Vesuvius!  Pliny’s uncle, Pliny the Elder, was stationed at the imperial naval base of Misenum, across the Bay of Naples. Pliny the Elder was a senior officer in the Roman Navy but also a naturalist who wrote a series of books on natural history. He also perished during the rescue of a friend in Pompeii when he was unable to leave due to the change in winds. There are questions whether he perished from inhaling the toxic fumes or from natural causes stemming from his asthma.

Pompeii road

Pompeii road

Pliny the Younger wrote two letters to Tacitus, a very well-known historian, around twenty years after the events. Pliny the Younger gave an astounding detailed account of the whole event including a passing remark of earth tremors that were not cause for alarm since they were frequent in the area. Unfortunately, no one connected the possibility of an earthquake leading to a volcanic eruption. In addition, Mount Vesuvius had not erupted significantly since 1800 BC (there was a smaller one in 217 BC) so the people were NOT prepared for raining of fire.

Pompeii bakery

Pompeii bakery

Pompeii was covered in ash, which preserved the city until it was rediscovered in 1748. Excavations started immediately and they continue to this day.  For one full day, ash fell on the city along with pumice and rocks. Volcanic gases filled the city prompting many thousands to flee Pompeii and also Herculaneum. Soon a pyroclastic surge swelled out of the volcano at the rate of 100 km/hr, killing anyone who had remained.  The city was not rebuilt and eventually was lost to many feet of rocks and ash.

Mosaics in Pompeii

Mosaics in Pompeii

Being buried beneath all that rock and debris, it helped to preserve the city. Buildings, roads, paintings and mosaics have survived almost two thousand years. You can even see graffiti on the buildings with silly things such as “Aufidius was here” or  “Marcus loves Spendusa” or even political ads during elections. It is magnificent. My favourite building in Pompeii is the brothel. Erotic art fills the brothel as you can see below with a very comfortable looking bedroom.

Pompeii Brothel Erotica

Pompeii Brothel Erotica

Mount Vesuvius has not erupted since 1944 and the region has seen many small earthquakes over the years. Many people still live on the side of the mountain – I’m not sure that is brave or stupid. Probably a combination of both! 🙂

The easiest way to get to Pompeii is to take a day tour out of Rome. Or hope the train for a two-hour ride to Pompeii yourself. You probably won’t need the audio guide but if you can hook up with a tour group, I would recommend that. The guides are VERY knowledgeable about Pompeii.

It gets incredibly hot in Pompeii (and most of Italy) during the summer so be prepared. If you can visit a bit off-season (October), that is better. The weather drops below 30 degrees Celsius (yay) and there are fewer tourists. I am a fan of October travel!  For more info on travel to Pompeii, try their official website. Remember, Pompeii is actually a very large area and much of it is not even excavated yet. It’ll take many years to complete it (if they ever do).

Plastercast of a victim of Pompeii

Plaster cast of a victim of Pompeii – one of many

I leave you with my favourite photo I took in Pompeii (below). This was on the road and pointed towards the brothel. It gave those weary sea-men (ahem) directions to a house of ill-repute. 😉

Directions to the brothel in Pompeii

Directions to the brothel in Pompeii

So have you been to Pompeii? I’ll have another post up on Mount Vesuvius soon as I did climb up to the crater.

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Eagle’s Nest Germany

Nov 15

Eagle's Nest, Germany - or das Kehrsteinhaus in Berchtesgaden

Eagle’s Nest, Germany

Eagle’s Nest Germany

One of the most memorable moments in all my travels was a visit to Eagle’s Nest Germany. It is also known as das Kehlsteinhaus and is in Berchtesgaden, Germany. I always refer to it as Hitler’s Lair since it was commissioned in 1937 as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler (ready in 1938). Hitler would only visit it a handful of times since he was fearful of heights. To reach Eagle’s Nest, you take a very narrow and windy road to the summit. It is not for the faint of heart. Check out this short video that shows the road and other views from Eagle’s Nest.

I did not enjoy taking a bus on that road. It is a very narrow road where you can see alllllll the way down. I was on window facing out on the way up. I made sure I switched it up for the ride down. I don’t normally have a fear of heights but being able to look down was a bit scary! Oh and it is NOT a one-way road. The Germans coordinate the trips up and down so the buses pass each other on the two lane areas. Yes those Germans are efficient! 🙂

Schwalbenesttunnel, Kehlsteinstraße

Schwalbenesttunnel, Kehlsteinstraße
Photo credit: http://www.kehlsteinhaus.com/the-road.html

I took a day tour from Munich. Half way on the tour, we stopped for lunch. This was my view as we had a tasty German lunch!

Eagle's Nest, Germany

Eagle’s Nest, Germany

Before our lunch was completed, the clouds parted and this became our view next. Nothing better than enjoying a German meal and beer with this view!

Eagle's Nest, Germany

Eagle’s Nest, Germany

After a crazy drive along a narrow road and several tunnels for 6.5 kilometres, you arrive at the top. Take the elevator to the top (120 metres) and this is the view. WOW! Here is a map of the route.  Once you reached the top of Eagle’s Nest Germany, it was worth the nerve-wracking drive. You take an elevator through a tunnel in the rocks. The panoramic views are incredible.

Eagle's Nest, Germany

Eagle’s Nest, Germany – Plus a view of Konigssee Lake in the background

6017 ft or 1834 m high !

Eagle's Nest, Germany

Eagle’s Nest, Germany with a view of Salzburg, Austria underneath the clouds

Tips for Visiting Eagle’s Nest

  • Visit between May to October as it is closed otherwise
  • Wear a warm sweater as it gets a bit cool and windy at the top
  • You cannot drive to Eagle’s Nest yourself – either sign up for a tour from Munich or Salzburg to cover the whole trip or drive/take train to the parking lot at the base of the mountain (Obersalzberg museum area) where you can catch the bus to the summit. Click here for more info!
  • You may also walk from the bus start area to the top – probably takes two hours and you must stay on the designated footpaths
  • You do not need to reserve it advance but it gets pretty busy so come early
  • Sit, enjoy and take in the beauty!

A trip to Germany (or Austria) is not complete without taking a day to visit Eagle’s Nest. Yes stop by Oktoberfest but Eagle’s Nest Germany is a close trip. Have you travelled there yet?

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Guest Post: Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

Nov 13

Guest Post: Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

The adventurous traveler, looking for that extra kick outdoors, will definitely have Peru marked as one of their choice destinations. Not only because of its pristine mountain paths and country sides, but because of its world-renowned cultural sites such as the city of Cuzco, the Colca Canyon or the perplexing Nazca Lines.  The mesmerizing ancient site of Machu Picchu, also known as the Granite City, nestled atop the remote mountain ridge of Urubamba Valley, is the real reason people choose a Peru travel adventure. With the Lares Trek, that adventure becomes even more memorable.

The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu.

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu. Photo-Credit: http://tinyurl.com/kzdegpq

Hikers taking on the popular Inca Trail have been enjoying the unsurpassed beauty of the Peruvian wilderness, passing multiple historic sites on their way to reach the ultimate reward of their strenuous journey, arriving at Machu Picchu.  Standing in a place that was inhabited centuries ago, by a people far more advanced than those in the Western world, and seeing the monumental structures erected by the Inca in ancient times, makes the 55 mile hike, which can take up to 5 days, seem trivial.

The highly frequented trail has led to recent concerns about the number of tourists taking advantage of it and the impacts this has on the environment.  The local Peruvian government has meanwhile restricted the number of daily visitors allowed on the trail, which has led to tours booking out quickly and making it harder to reserve one of the coveted spots on the trail.

But don’t fret; there is an alternative the adventure seeker will likely enjoy even more.

Getting Away from it All

The greatest advantage for the adventurous traveler is that the Lares Trek is a less populated route.  This really gives you the feeling of traveling back in time, following along paths that were walked upon centuries ago, a time when life was less complicated and stressful than it is today. That’s why this hike can bring you peace and relaxation. It may sound like an oxymoron that a three-day hike is relaxing, but it really is. Being away from it all – the noise, the traffic, the hustle and bustle, is very relaxing.

Hiking the Lares Trek

When hiking the Lares Trek, be aware that you will be reaching close to 16,400 feet, which means you have to acclimatize your body to the thin air quality in order to avoid altitude sickness. Most travelers spend at least two nights at a lower elevation of about 11,800 feet, so they can continue on without, for the most part, falling victim to altitude sickness.

The journey begins with a 5 hour bus ride from the village of Lares, hence the trek’s name, to the entry point of the Lares Trek. It takes approx. three days to hike up the mountain and close to Machu Picchu, from where many travelers opt taking the bus, which takes them for a short ride, culminating in their arrival at the Granite City. Although it’s not the dedicated path to the historic site, it is known as an alternate route.

Ancient beauty

The Lares Valley leads through breathtaking natural scenery, interrupted by man-made things only when passing villages of the Quechua, the indigenous peoples of the Lares Valley. Known for their traditional weaving, they offer opportunities to purchase the beautifully handcrafted souvenirs that are appreciated worldwide.

Advantage Lares vs. Inca

Not only is the Lares Trek less populated, making it feel more organic, its use is also free of charge, whereas the Inca Trail has become pricier because of the governmental restrictions. They enforce these restrictions by selling permits to the touring companies using the trail.  As a lesser known trail, it also means that booking a trip to the Lares Trek does not require as much advance planning, though comprehensive plans should still be made in advance to guarantee hotel and train reservations.

What you should have with you?

When heading out on an adventure like this, it’s good to be prepared and have the right equipment with you. Here are some of the most important things to have in tow:

  • Hiking Boots because the rocky terrain will tear up regular footwear. Remember, this is not a paved path; you will grateful for ankle support on the uneven surface.
  • All-weather jacket to slip on in case of rain and long-sleeved shirts for the evenings when it gets colder
  • Long pants for the chilly evenings
  • Shorts for the warm days
  • Flashlight or headlamp when it gets dark up there,  it’s really dark
  • Water bottle and water purifying tablets
  • Hat or cap
  • Sunscreen (the higher the elevation, the more protection you will need)
  • Insect repellent

What are you waiting for?

If you’ve been looking for a new adventure, especially one that isn’t overcrowded with other like-minded tourists, then the Lares Trek may be just the journey you’ve been seeking.  So, book a ticket, grab your walking stick, and lace up your boots, Peru is waiting for you!

About the author: Charlie “Chuck” Bennett is an adventurous nomad in love with exploration and meeting new people.  He writes for the Peru travel experts at G Adventures.

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Ireland Travel Tips

Nov 08

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

I travelled to Ireland several years ago and toured the whole emerald isle (Ireland and Northern Ireland). It is a VERY lovely island. I loved the beautiful countryside and most importantly, the people are the friendliest and funniest lot I have ever met. The men have the sexiest accent is another incentive for the single ladies to visit. Most of my pictures do not have filters; it is that gorgeous there plus I was lucky with weather. So here are my Ireland travel tips!

Ireland Travel Tips!

1. I usually do not advocate taking guided tours but the Irish island has very skinny roads. If you are not a great driver or want a more relaxing vacation, book a tour.  I took a two week tour of the island which of course made me nervous being on a tour bus driving on those roads. I just sat at the back and enjoyed the scenery out the window.

2. This will contradict my above tip but if you are able to rent a car and don’t mind driving the island, go for it. I did not want to do that. I was hesitant about driving in a foreign country (yes on the left side of the road) nor did I want to be stressed out with maps and routes. I rented a car in France for my trip last year and it wasn’t that bad. So buck up and do it. Next time I go to Ireland, I will rent a car.

3. Bring an umbrella plus a rain coat/boots. The weather can change rather quickly plus how do you think those beautiful green landscapes stay so green? Lots of rain. The rain usually doesn’t stick around long.

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Blarney Castle, Ireland

4. I went in July and had almost perfect weather. It is also high season so the big travel sites have long lines. Another good reason for a tour: you get to skip lines. I would suggest going slightly off-season or off-peak. You will save money travelling in the off-season for almost everywhere!

5. Embrace the Guinness! Yes, have a pint for lunch. Maybe skip it at breakfast time but try the beer. If you make it to Dublin, visit the factory. It is a fun tour. Also if you can tour a distillery such as Bushmills near the Giant’s Causeway or Jameson in Dublin, that is fun as well. The best part is the tasting at the end of the tour. Mmmm!

6. Don’t ignore Northern Ireland. I was lucky enough to travel the entire island and it is a MUST!! Northern Ireland has the Giant’s Causeway, Queen’s University, Bushmills, Belfast and the northern coast is spectacular.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

7. Overnights – You should stay at least two nights at each location. I say this for most trips in Europe. You may even want to pick a base and travel to and front that place for three or four days. One night is not enough as you’re packing up almost after arriving.

8. Stop at the Waterford Crystal factory for a tour. You get to see moulding, blowing, hand marking and cutting. It is amazing!

9. Enjoy the pub food – from Irish stews to bangers and mash to fish and chips, nothing beats the original!  Ooooh the homemade bread – heaven!!!

10. The music is the other highlight of Ireland. Go see live Irish music as much as you can. We would ask the hotel concierge each night on where is the best local music? We ended up in tiny taverns with locals playing beautiful Irish music.

11. Pick up the Heritage Card. It will save you lots of money since it covers many places throughout the country such as Dublin Castle, Rock of Cashel, Kilkenny Castle, Glendalough and many many many many others.

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland – no filter at all

 So there you have it – a few of my Ireland travel tips! Has anyone else been to Ireland? What are your tips?

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Top 10 Rome Attractions

Oct 28

 

It is hard to pick just ten. There are endless sights to see in Rome and I highly recommend spending more than just two or three days in Rome. I happily stayed for six days and had a blast. I was lucky enough to stay near the Coliseum which I visited often. It was incredibly enjoyable to take a quick visit to the Coliseum before I went to bed each night. But now, here are the Top 10 Rome Attractions!

The Top 10 Rome Attractions

1. Trevi Fountain – The fountain is not far from the Coliseum and Forum. It is a gorgeous baroque fountain which has been featured prominently in several films such as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. This fountain is very popular and during the day and early evening, you will have a hard time getting close to it. People crowd the fountain and won’t move their asses. Sorry just had a flashback. 🙂  However, it is worth the visit and a few bruises to your elbows. Don’t forget to throw a coin over the shoulder – I totally forgot. I blame the throngs of people.

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

2. Coliseum – This is THE place to visit in Rome. There is nothing else so impressive and awe-inspiring in all of Rome. The Flavian Amphitheatre started construction under Emperor Vespasian (of the Flavius family) in 72 AD and completed by Titus a decade later. It was built on the site of Nero’s Palace and the aim was to dissociate himself from the tyrant and to gain popularity by staging events such as gladiator battles and the massacre of animals. The Coliseum remained in use for 450 years but sustained damage in a lightning fire in 217 AD and an earthquake in 443 AD. Not long after, it ceased to be used for gladiator battles or animal hunts, possibly due to the rise of Christianity. The amphitheater soon was used for a multitude of things: a small church, a cemetery, housing, workshops and a castle during the next few centuries. In 1349, another earthquake caused great damage to the Coliseum causing the outer south side to collapse. Stone and marble were pillaged from the Coliseum for centuries and after the earthquake, much of it was used to build churches and other buildings in Rome. Even the bronze clamps were hacked out of the walls, leaving holes that you can still see today.

I will recommend a “Skip the Line” tour for the Coliseum. The lines are exceptionally long all day long. This way you get to skip the line and you get a tour guide during the tour inside. Do not miss the interior of the Coliseum – it is spectacular! There are many options online – Viator and expedia are two top choices.

Coliseum, Rome, Italy

Coliseum, Rome, Italy – right around the corner from my hotel

3. Basilica of Saint John Lateran – This is the Rome’s Cathedral and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. It is the oldest and ranks first among the four Papal Basilicas of Rome. It was built in the 4th century AD under Pope Melchiade.

Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Rome, Italy

Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Rome, Italy

4. Museo Nazionale Romano (National Museum of Rome) – There are many many fantastic items to see at this museum. My personal favourite is the Disc Thrower – a Roman copy from the 1st century AD of the lost Greek bronze status by Myron circa 450 BC. The Romans made many copies of Greek statues and we should be quite thankful since most of the Greek originals have been lost. The Romans copied the statues in marble which was cheaper than bronze. This copy in the Rome museum was discovered in 1906 in the ruins of a Roman villa at Tor Paterno.

Disc Thrower, Myron, Roman copy of Greek bronze, 1st c. AD, Museo Nazionale Romano

Disc Thrower, Myron, Roman copy of Greek bronze, 1st c. AD, Museo Nazionale Romano

5. Roman Forum – Aside from the Coliseum, the Forum is other super amazing place to visit on my Top 10 Rome Attractions. It is situated right beside the Coliseum and it was the central area of ancient Rome.  Commerce, business, religious affairs, justice, prostitution and all other affairs took place in the Forum. The funeral of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony’s famous oration took place in the Forum as well. This view was taken from Capitoline Hill.

Roman Forum, Rome, Italy

Roman Forum, Rome, Italy

6. Pantheon – This is one of the best preserved buildings in all of Rome. It is a Roman temple built by Emperor Hadrian after the Pantheon of Marcus Agrippa burned down in 80 AD and dedicated to the pagan Gods around 118-125 AD. The Pantheon stands today because Emperor Phocas gave it to Pope Boniface VIII in 608 AD and it was used as a church. Below is the tomb of Renaissance painter Raphael. Several Italian Kings are buried here as well (Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I).

Pantheon and the tomb of Raphael, Rome, Italy

Pantheon and the tomb of Raphael, Rome, Italy

7. Capitoline Hill and Museum – The Piazza del Campidoglio has several museums that make up the Capitoline Museum. A copy of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius is in the courtyard with the original inside the museum. There are numerous items in the museums from the Dying Gaul to the Capitoline Venus to a courtyard filled with fragments of the Colossus of Constantine. I particularly enjoyed posing beside his giant head and hand. 🙂 Below is the She-Wolf of the 5th century BC. This is a symbol of the city which dates back to the Etruscans with the twins added in the 15th century (Remus and Romulus – the founders of Rome).

She-wolf in Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy

She-wolf in Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy – 4th century BC but twins added in 1400 AD

8. Vatican including Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica – You cannot visit Rome without taking a trip to another state, Vatican City to visit the Vatican, its museums and basilica. Below is the magnificent Sistine Chapel, painted by the equally magnificent Michelangelo in the early 16th century and returning to add the Last Supper thirty years later.  Funny, Michelangelo did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel as he considered himself a sculptor before a painter. His David statue is a testament to his sculpting prowess but he underestimated himself as a painter. His work in the Sistine Chapel is breathtaking.

Sistine Chapel, Vatican

Sistine Chapel, Vatican

9. Spanish Steps – 135 steps to heaven! This incredible staircase was built in the 18th century. This is another very busy part of Rome. If you can stop by at night, do so.

Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, Rome

Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, Rome via Wikipedia

10. Appian Way – An ancient road in Rome that at one time, stretched 563 km from the Roman Forum to modern-day Brindisi. You can find numerous tombs in the catacombs on the Appian Way, another must-see on the Top 10 Rome Attractions!

Appian Way, Rome

Appian Way, Rome via Wikipedia

There is the Top 10 Rome Attractions. There are many others you can put on this list such as the Piazza del Popolo, Villa Borghese and Museo e Galleria Borghese. Those are also great Roman attractions.

What was your favourite part of Rome?

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How to Find Cheap Flights

Oct 21

Cheap Flights, Air Canada

Last minute upgrade to first class on Air Canada – not really a cheap flight but oh so delightful

Booking a flight yourself is A LOT of work. All travel-related booking is a LOT of work. Most of my trips have been planned by myself (see Germany; Italy; Russia; Greece; London). But if you want to find the best prices, this is the way to go. Below are some good tips on how to find cheap flights. Before I get into what resources you can use, let’s start with what YOU can do before researching your flights. Below are tips and practical advise on how to find cheap flights.

How to Find Cheap Flights

1. Flexibility – Be flexible with your travel dates. Flights are cheaper on certain days (during the week) so if you can be flexible with your dates, that is one of the most important factors in how to find cheap flights.  FareCompare says Wednesday is the cheapest day.

2. Book Early – I find booking early is a good way to get great prices. I book at least six weeks prior to travelling and sometimes even more. I booked all my flights for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics which starts in February in late August/early September. For big events, you have to book months in advance. I almost waited too long but the flights I wanted popped back up and it worked.

3. Multiple Airlines – Do not become attached to one airline. You should really be open to flying on other airlines or even multiple airlines during the trip. Mixing airlines can be cheaper.

4. Open Jaw – Flying into one city and out of another city is an open jaw ticket. These can be cheaper than flying in and out of the same city. So again, do not be attached to one airline or one city. You can mix and match your airlines and cities that you are flying in and out of. I have flown open jaw twice in the past couple of years: I flew into Athens and out of Rome in 2011 while also flying into Paris and out of London last year. The prices were cheaper than just flying in and out of the same city. Plus you can cover more ground if you do not have to return to start city.

5. Connecting Flights – Yes connecting flights are cheaper (somehow). So if you want a cheaper flight, take that flight that has two connections instead of one. It will be cheaper. Me? No damn way; I have no problem paying a bit more so I don’t have more connections but I’m a nervous flier and do not want to be getting on and off more than the minimum amount of flights that I have to. Yes even after all these years, I am still a nervous flier.

6. Smaller airports – Sometimes flying into a smaller airport can be cheaper: see Gatwick compared to Heathrow in London. This may be related to the airline you are taking as they fly into certain airports only (when I flew to London on my first trip, Air Transat flew into Gatwick only – still does).

7. Sign up for email alerts or notifications – Airlines and flight websites will send you an alert for deals on flights. You can even set up an alert for a particular route. Sign up for their newsletters as well; like them on facebook or follow them on twitter. Flight deals get posted everywhere.

8. Frequent Flier – You can become a member either via the airline itself or maybe with a credit card or hotel. Sign up for all rewards programs that you can. Most airlines and hotels have a reward program and are usually free to join. You can bank quite a few points or even end up with upgrades when you fly.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Top Websites to Use

Now: which websites should I be visiting each day? Where are the best deals? Honestly, this is a LONG list. There are many resources you can use. I will pick my favourites.

1. Kayak – This is a great resource. It searches multiple websites to find you the best flights. You can search +/- 3 days, filter by many options such as take off time, airports, cabins, aircraft and price. This has become my go-to resource for flights. Other sites that are similar (search multiple websites) are: MomondoSkyscannerVayama, Travelocity, and one that I have started using (which I love), Hipmunk. You can set up alerts with most of these as well; that is how I found my Sochi to Prague flight via Turkish Airlines back in August. I had given up hope that this flight would ever appear again and poof, I received an alert on kayak and I booked my preferred route. I like how Hipmunk displays its flights – a grid that you can filter by price, duration, departure and arrival times, and many others.

2. Expedia – I still use Expedia from time to time (especially for booking skip the line tours) but rarely book my flights through them any more. I can find better prices and routes elsewhere. I am not sure when it happened but I found their flights are not great anymore. Do not use this as your only resource. Use it only with the above list.

3. Airfare Watchdog – another great website for setting up alerts.

4. Directly with the airlines – You always should check with the airline’s website directly before you book any flight. You may find a cheaper price (I have) than the above. Also, make sure to check numerous times during different times of the week and day. Prices change quite often. One more thing of note: clear your cache/cookies often. That may affect whether the best prices show up. Also, you can check with an airline’s website in another country. I personally have not tried this but know of those who have found cheaper flights (it’ll charge you in a different currency).

5. Rewards Programs – Have you signed up for any rewards’ programs? You should do this with airlines, hotels, credit cards and so on. Most are free to join and if you use them enough, you will earn enough rewards to book flights and hotels. Recently, I used my credit card rewards (Visa) and booked my flight to Moscow (and return from Prague – hey, an open jaw) through their Avion program. Also check to see if your airline is part of a larger program – Air Canada is part of the Star Alliance with a long list of airlines (including Turkish Airlines) so if you use those other airlines, you will get points for one program. You can really bank points this way! My trip to Russia will include Air Canada, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines and all three are part of the Star Alliance. Ch-ching – more points please!

These tips should give you a really good start to booking your own flights and how to find cheap flights. Obviously, your home base will play a large factor too.

Unfortunately, my home base in Edmonton, Canada plays a large part in my limited flight options. Air Canada suspended the direct flights from Edmonton to London for January to March 2014. Luckily for me, I had already chosen to fly out of Calgary which is three hours to south of Edmonton. I chose that because the flight I wanted had only one connection to Moscow and Edmonton had nothing less than two stops.

So go forth and book a flight. Here is an older post on surviving overseas flights to check out as well.

So what is your top tip for finding a cheap flight?

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Capture the Colour 2013

Oct 08

Thank you to Aryn from Driftwood and Daydreams for tagging me in Capture the Colour 2013 Contest from Travel Supermarket. This was quite a few weeks ago so I have procrastinated long enough. Time to start digging through my pictures and selecting the top picture in the following colours: yellow, blue, red, white and green. This is one of those times I dread digging through the thousands upon thousands of photos I have taken during my travels (mostly to Europe) but this was a lot of fun. Here is my entry into Capture the Colour 2013!

YELLOW

Berlin Wall Germany

Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

This is one of my favourite travel pictures – the Berlin Wall. At the time, I was simply snapping pictures of the Berlin Wall. I was in awe of the Wall. The fact that the beautiful yellow tree is in the picture and looks so gorgeous beside the Wall is an accident. Germany was absolutely breathtaking in October. Go, enjoy and drink beer.

WHITE

Venus de Milo, Louvre, Paris

Venus de Milo, Louvre, Paris

One of the most important pieces of Greek art – the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty or Venus to the Roman).  Created around 100 BC, it was discovered in 1820 on the island of Milos in the Aegean Sea. It rests in the Louvre in Paris now which is home to quite a few famous pieces of art (hello Mona Lisa); however this marble sculpture is equally impressive.

GREEN

Stonehenge, EnglandStonehenge, England

Stonehenge, England

A beautiful sunny day in England on my first overseas trip saw me stopping at Stonehenge for an afternoon. Impressive is really the only word that does justice to this picture. Impressive! I listed this on my London Top 10 list Part 2 simply because you could not be that close to Stonehenge and not visit.

RED

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Gold for Men's Hockey

Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Gold for Men’s Hockey

I was lucky enough to snag tickets to the hockey gold medal game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Canada. I held onto that ticket for over a year, hoping that Canada would make it to the gold medal game. They had a very rough preliminaries, had to go through a qualifying game against Russia (which I attended as well and enjoyed a significant and one-sided victory for Canada), checking the scores each night hoping they had won the quarterfinal and semifinal games. They did and I was there for the gold medal game – Sidney Crosby, the best hockey player in the world right now, scored the overtime goal (THE GOLDEN GOAL) and in this picture, he is waving our national’s flag. There is no better RED than the Maple Leaf in our flag!!

BLUE

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

I have been incredibly lucky during my travels for great and sunny weather. I have hundreds upon hundreds of photos I could use for this but I will select the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Why? I have no idea but I do remember that day – it was my first time seeing and touching the ocean (hello Atlantic Ocean) and I was thrilled. It was just a great day. This photo has a slight filter on it but seriously, the photo came out almost perfectly. Oh and the Irish have awesome accents. 🙂

There is my entry into the Capture the Colour 2013 Competition. I nominate the following people whose sites I stop by quite often (not sure if they’ve been nominated yet or done one up; I think this contest closes tomorrow) – Miss Adventure; Roadtrip Girl; Off the Path; Vagabonette; and Traveling Canucks!

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Greece Travel Tips

Sep 20

Acropolis' Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Acropolis’ Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Greece is one of the world’s most beautiful countries with an incredible history. There are ancient sites everywhere you look in Greece. The food is amazing and cheap. Why have you not gone yet? Here are some Greece Travel Tips!
  • Do not stick to the islands only. There are SO many amazing places to visit on the mainland from Athens to Delphi to Epidaurus to Olympia
  • Make sure to visit the islands as well. I took a day trip to Poros and Aegina which was all the time I had but I regretted not visiting Santorini (It is now on my Bucket List)
  • The best time to go is September or early October. I went in early October which is near the end of the high season and when the islands are slowing starting to pack up for the winter. There are fewer tourists like yourself so it makes for a nicer trip and the prices for accommodation are cheaper
  • Do not be afraid to try the local cuisine or street food. The prices are incredible and damn tasty
  • Try the Ouzo – it is a Greek drink. It is pretty strong but you cannot go to Greece and not try one of their most popular local drinks. I think it tastes a bit like licorice. You drink it straight with no mix or anything to dilute the flavor. Greeks drink it practically at every meal
  • Book early – this tip is almost for any trip but it works. The earlier you book your flight and accommodation, the cheaper it should be
  • Greece is SUPER HOT. Even when I was there in October, the weather was nearing 30 degrees Celsius most days and often it exceeded it. You will not need layers in Greece unless you go to the mountains near Meteora 
Meteora from monastery, Greece

Meteora from monastery, Greece

  • Speaking of Meteora, that is an amazing area that is famous for its monasteries. They sit atop small mountains, very rocky formations, and is quite the trip to visit them. Go visit!!
  • Be prepared for last minutes strikes or protests. Greece is still going through a tumultuous time economically and politically so be prepared. Some historic sites may be closed or its workers are on a one day strike. That occurred to me back in 2011 and I hear that it is still occurring. It can cross over to the transit system and taxis as well
  • Also keep in mind that museums are not opened every day and as is the case in most European countries, they have different hours depending on their summer or winter schedule. Do your research in advance; check their websites online
  • Do not be ignorant – learn some Greek phrases. While English is quite common in Greece, I ALWAYS suggest learning a bit of the local language. The locals appreciate it in particular and I always love learning new words
  • Try the olives. Unfortunately, I HATE OLIVES but they are everywhere in Greece and everyone else loves the olives. I did try them but seriously, I cannot express how much I dislike them. Everyone else? They LOVED them; they cannot get enough. Olive oil is another story; I love that and it is tasty dipping with bread. That I did enjoy!!!
  • Book your accommodation near the PLAKA area if you stay in Athens. It is the oldest part of Athens and a wonderful area to take nightly walks or stop by the wonderful restaurants to try the moussaka (mmmm), souvlaki or gyro. Honestly, I did some good eating in Greece! Once again, I never took any pictures of the food. I am going to force myself in the future to do so
  • A short note about Athens – I loved it there BUT I spent a lot of time at the Acropolis and in the museums. The city itself can be quite dirty with piles of garbage on the corner and dogs roaming everywhere even on the Acropolis site (which I found adorable but others did not) especially on the edges of the Plaka area. Be careful with street vendors and scam artists. They are everywhere as well
Temple of Hephaestus in  Ancient Agora, Athens, Greece

Temple of Hephaestus in Ancient Agora, Athens, Greece

Well those are the top Greece travel tips I can think of off the top of my head. I’ll post something more about my trip to Greece next time. I had a great time: spend a few days in Athens, then went on a tour of some of the ancient sites such as Delphi, Epidaurus and Meteora via a five day tour of the mainland via Viator before coming back to Athens then heading to Italy. Yes that was a GREAT trip!  Mmmmmm the food, the history, the men….oh such a delight.

So have you been to Greece? What tips do you have?

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General Travel Tips

Sep 06

Athenian Treasury Delphi Greece

Athenian Treasury in Delphi, Greece

General Travel Tips for the Inexperienced Traveller

  • Travel in the off-season or during the end of the high season. I have gone to Europe in June and October several times. I love that time of year, especially October. The high season is winding down, there are fewer of your fellow tourists, the weather is cooler and you can still see all the great sights.
  • If going during high-season, consider a “skip the line” pass. I have bought one for the Vatican, Colosseum, the Louvre and others. You get to skip the line, do not have to wait hours in line (yes in high-season it will be hours) and get a tour guide. You can also remain after the tour to look around on your own.
  • You should try to learn the language of the country you are visiting. If you cannot learn the whole thing (which can be time-consuming and understandable), make sure to learn the basics and phrases you will need. You should know: hello, thank you, how much is this, where is the toilet, how far to my hotel, more wine please and so on. Be thoughtful and the people will adore you for trying.
  • Join a free walking tour. I stumbled upon one in Munich and had a fantastic time. You can find these in most major cities in Europe.
Berlin Wall Germany

Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany

  • The most important tip in hotel selection: LOCATION! Research the area to make sure you are not miles from the metro or too far from the city centre where most of the sights may be. Google maps is really your best friend in this case. I find staying in the wrong location can negatively affect your trip. You don’t want to be spending half your day on the train or metro.
  • Pack light! This is one tip I have trouble following. I always take a suitcase with me and yes, I check it. I have been damn lucky so far; never lost my luggage. Fingers crossed! Do I regret taking so much stuff with me each trip?  Hell yes, but I always manage. My last two trips I have taken my smaller suitcase and managed fine. So yes you can do it.
  • Make sure you do your research – some places require reservations. An example: to view Michelangelo’s David in Florence, you need a reservation in advance. You can book this online.
  • I recommend spending more time in each city. Don’t try to see Europe in two weeks. You will be exhausted. I find three nights minimum in each city is the way to go. That way you are not rushed between days. You can return and you should to see the rest of Europe. I did a tour of Germany where I stayed in a couple of places only two nights and I felt too rushed. You really only one full day in that city plus whatever time you have the day you arrived so maybe a day and a half then you’re off. Too rushed!
  • Eurail passes are awesome! I did that for my German trip and it was worth the money. Just research the cost of individual rides to make sure it is worth your money, but it is an easy and convenient way of travelling around Europe! There are many types of passes so lots of flexibility! You can buy these in advance of your trip.  Check out Seat 61 for more European rail information.
  • Buy comfortable walking shoes. If you don’t, you will suffer. I have great memories of my first trip overseas to London BUT I had crappy shoes, ended up with blisters after the second day so the rest of my time was very painful.
  • Wear a moneybelt. Safety first people!
  • If you don’t wear a moneybelt (umm I don’t), wear a bag across your body. I have a small bag (mini-purse) since I don’t like carrying a backpack that I hold in front of me. I basically keep my hand on it whenever anyone is nearby or in large crowds or the metro. If you carry a backpack, safest way is to carry it in front of you.
  • Be careful of scams, petitions or gypsies/street folk selling stuff. Most likely it is a scam so don’t engage them AT ALL. Walk away, tell them to leave you alone, you are not interested and so on. Rome and Athens were horrible for all that: they would not leave me alone. It got to the point where I was NOT polite anymore. They don’t care.
  • Notify your credit card companies before you head off so they don’t flag your card. I had my card flagged when I wasn’t even travelling: I was booking a flight on the Russian airline Aeroflot. So let them know in advance so your charges are approved.
  • Check with your bank: most charge extra for European withdrawals and sometimes charge extra for the currency conversion.

So there you go: a few general travel tips for the masses.  What tips would you include? What has worked for you?

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