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Canyoning: Your New Adventure

If you are looking for an adventure this summer, I would definitely recommend Canyoning in Croatia.

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Cliff Jumping in Cetina Canyon. By: Nour El-Helbawy

What is Canyoning?

Canyoning is considered an extreme sport that combines adrenaline and the beauty of nature together. It involves trekking through narrow valleys, waterfalls and pools of rocks; it’s a different way to experience nature by navigating your way through it. So if you’re looking for your next outdoor adrenaline dose, consider trying this new fix..

It is best described as water rafting without a boat, by routing your way down the gorges and swimming through the water current filled with rocks and clambering over them. It includes other outdoor aspects such as cliff jumping, abseiling, swimming and other rope rigging activities.

It usually takes place in secluded mountains with water and rapid rivers. All you need to do is pick a perfect canyon with beautiful scenery to go to and an experienced entity to provide you with the gear and equipment.

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Cliff climbing from the river. By: Nour El-Helbawy
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Jumping into the rapid river. By: Iris Adventures

My Experience?

I went canyoning on the Cetina River, in the countryside of Omis near Split, Croatia. The Cetina River has created magical shapes in its bed after flowing for thousands of years. The experience involves cliffs up to 180 m high, buried tunnels and waterfalls. I booked the activity through Iris Adventures . The duration of the activity takes up to 4 hours with a canyon distance of 2,500 meters and 180 m deep in some parts. No previous experience is needed, but it needs some fitness to be able to cope with the harshness of the river and trekking for a couple of hours. Once you start, you will be in the middle of the canyon with a long way back.

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Carried away by the Cetina River. By: Nour El-Helbawy

What do you need?

You wont need to get anything yourself except for non-slippery sneakers to help you walk over the rocks, other than that, you should be provided with the proper gear and equipment.

Helmet: Since Canyoning is a daring sport and there is a risk of injury, the first essential item is the helmet with a bright color to be easily spotted in the water.

Rope: It is only needed if you go for the extreme Canyoning, not the Basic Canyoning that involves only hiking, sliding down the rapids, cliff jumping, walking through tunnels and swimming under waterfalls.

Wetsuit & Buoyancy Aid: The wetsuit is going to protect you from the cold waters and the process of getting in and out of the water all the time. The life jacket is also important because of the rapid streams and the waterfalls that make balancing yourself in the water hard to maintain.

Tips before Canyoning?

Check your protection: First of all make sure you are going with licensed guides and put high consideration for your safety especially if you don’t have any previous experience. The probability of hitting a rock or slipping is high and first aid is important.

Picking a Spot: It is important to head to a well-used spot and to check that spot’s conditions. It is also vital to check the condition of your abseiling or climbing protection in extreme canyoning.

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Clambering over the rocks. By: Nour El-Helbawy

Where else to go Canyoning?

If you are looking for some exotic places then Costa Rica (Arenal Volcano) or even Canada (Agawa Canyon) are amazing places for the Sport. Utah is the foundation to some of the most amazing spots around the world (Zion National Park). (Blue Mountains) in Australia and (Cape Town) in South Africa.

The Process?

We were transferred by bus from our meeting point in Split to Omis where we headed to the camp to have a brief introduction to what we were about to do. We were also provided with the equipment needed for the activity. We took another bus from Omis to the starting spot.

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Getting ready before moving to the canyon. By: Iris Adventures
We then started hiking down the mountains to the canyon; rapelling down the cliff into the water was a great start for the adventure. Once you reach the bottom of the cliff, the canyoning quest starts.

 

Then we began swimming down the river while clambering over the rocks and jumping between them. Sometimes you’ll find yourself floating and relaxing your body while the current moves you. There are also some edgy places that you’ll face; you’ll either jump off the cliffs or find another route to move down and through. This takes about 2 hours to reach the other side of the river where you’ll reach a tranquil lake.

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Walking on the cliffs with side ropes. By: Nour El-Helbawy

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Rappelling down the cliff into the river. By: Iris Adventures

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Following the cliff jump. By: Nour El-Helbawy
And then comes another hike out of the canyon until you reach the buses that transport you out of the area. The process is a bit tiring but it is worth it and it is definitely one of a kind. The route is great and you will certainly enjoy it and experience nature at its best.

 

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Our way back from the canyon to the bus. By: Nour El-Helbawy

The Unfortunate Events in My Travels

Anybody who has traveled for any duration of time clearly knows that sometimes you have to face some unexpected dreadful feelings. The list can go on whether it’s a bad flight experience, frauds, sickness, and for some it might be extremely worse than that. The bad days are really inexorable the more often you travel. Traveling can be great and life-changing but certainly traveling doesn’t go as planned all the time; anything can easily go wrong.

Traveled With My Friends’ Passports to Another Country

So I was on my way to Belgium. I was actually on the bus. From Amsterdam to Belgium. My phone wasn’t working because it needed WiFi  and the number I bought from Germany wasn’t working. I got a text from my friends back in Amsterdam (Rana, Rana, Salma) who told me that 2 of them forgot to take their passports from my bag (My bag had a lock and we were staying in a hostel). Their flight back to Cairo was the following afternoon and their visa was going to expire anyway; there was no way out. After we arrived in Brussels, we had to take the metro to find our way to the hostel. It was a very tiring night, we had to walk with our bags for half an hour to reach the hostel. Anyway, I arrived at the hostel in Belgium after midnight, there was no way in hell I was going to take a bus back to Amsterdam and then come back to Belgium. Actually I’ve known them for more than 8 years now and that was the worst event that has ever happened to us. They had all the rights to freak out because technically I was in another country with their passports and they were in another country without their passports AND they had a plane to catch the following day. Poor Rana (the only one who had her passport with her in Amsterdam) ventured to come and pick up the other 2 passports from Brussels in the morning, giving that she had to go back to Amsterdam on the very first train moving from Brussels. Since both of us didn’t have phones to call each other, I felt like I was waiting for someone to arrive at the train station an era ago. I kept looking for her everywhere like a long lost love. Lucky us, we got the chance to take a picture in the rain and grab some Belgian chocolates; our only memories from that day. This was Rana’s 10 minute-visit to Brussels, all I know is that we tried to make it not the worst visit ever.

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Selfie at the train station in Belgium.
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Waiting for the train to take her back.

Arrested-Not at the Airport

I had to stay for a 2-hour layover in Frankfurt Airport on my way back to Cairo from Turin, which means I have to stamp my passport in Frankfurt. I was standing in the line waiting to get my passport stamped. I crossed the yellow line on the floor and presented my passport to the guy working there, you know, usually you have no concerns at this point because you know there can’t be anything wrong with the visa on your way back. His facial expressions started to get weird in a way that I began to feel some unease there. He then looked at me and started to yell that my visa was not valid! I didn’t know what to say, or comprehend what was going on. I kept asking him stupid questions like What? I don’t understand? How?, only to find him closing the shutter in my face and getting two guys with the POLICE sign on their back to escort me to “The Room”. The man started to hand me papers to sign and photocopied my passport, he refused to talk to me or answer any of my questions. At this point anxiety hit me, I didn’t even know if I was going to catch my plane or not. I kept asking for someone to explain to me what was going on since the guy was very rude to me. Another police guy came and  explained that the timing of my plane means that I stayed in Europe for 41 days not 40, which means that I have an “Illegal Stay in Germany for a day”. Of course that made me even more furious, I tried to explain that I gave my documents to the embassy with the flight bookings, and there must be a misunderstanding or an error that might have happened. I also had an invitation letter from Italy with the number of days I needed to stay. The only thing that helped in the situation is when they saw Salma’s passport and realized that the Number of Days of Stay were 45. I had to pay a 150 Euro-fine at that moment, which I didn’t have. By the time they realized that it could be a possible problem from the embassy, they called the plane and asked the captain to wait for us. I had to sign thousands of papers that still mentioned that I did something illegal, even the guy addressed me by saying “Your Criminal Stay”. I was told after sometime that I can take the plane back to Cairo and they will look further into the problem and get back to me and see if I need to pay a fine or not. This was the worst experience that has ever happened to me. It was very overwhelming.

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Flight Back. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Highway Bombing

I was a little younger when that happened, and luckily I wasn’t alone. We were on our way to Damascus from Beirut, before the war in Syria; it was a safer zone back then. There were some conflicts between Lebanon and Israel during that time. I was on the bus, sticking my head against the glass window and gazing when I heard a massive explosion sound echoing its way into the bus. It happened all of a sudden. Everybody started freaking out; I could see the fumes clearly from my seat. All the cars on the highway had to stop and the military forces started to block the streets, we had to stop for a while and this is when we heard that Israeli jets bombed the main road between Beirut and Damascus, which lead to the closing of Beirut’s main artery. The odds were in our favor that day, and we got stuck for a while. It was massive. We were able to reach Damascus after a hectic day; it was just an unexpected twist of events in a regular peaceful trip.

Homeless for 2 Nights

Before I traveled to Italy, I was over the moon when I discovered that Arctic Monkeys were performing in Pistoia. I bought tickets for the concert and booked a hotel near the concert venue, I was trying to look for some affordable places at the time since people were booking all possible spots because it was a small town. So that weekend was approaching, I was with my friend Salma, initially in Turin, so we had to take a train to go to Pistoia. I arrived that morning and decided to go check in the hotel first to leave my backpack and shower before going. I kept asking everywhere in Pistoia where I can find this hotel, no one knew where that was. Google maps wasn’t in my favor that day, and after asking around we discovered that we have to take another TRAIN to reach the hotel. We somehow went out of our way to find the place. After we reached the area, we discovered that the hotel was ON TOP OF A MOUNTAIN/HILL. No transportation there. We had to ask a cab to take us up the winding road to reach the hotel, which cost us more than 50 Euros. It was more of a hotel in an isolated area that is not even remotely close to any kind of facilities. We were in shock when we arrived at the hotel. We stayed there for an hour; showered, changed our clothes and checked out. We had to pay for the night since it was already booked earlier, which was very annoying. We had to call another taxi to take us down the hill and back to the concert venue. We knew that instant it was impossible to find a place to stay that night. All the hotels were booked, which meant we had to be homeless for a day. And it was true. After the concert was over at midnight, we couldn’t find anywhere to stay, so we literally slept on the sidewalk. When it was almost 6 am we changed the sleeping location, and went to sleep in the train station after it opened. We bought tickets for the first train heading to Florence, which was really close. The train arrived in Florence in 30 minutes; we were dead by then. As we stepped out into the bright sunlight from the train station, there wasn’t anything on our minds except for finishing the nap that we were trying to take at the train station. We opened Google maps and looked for a green area. We found a big green garden after a 5-minute walk from the train station. Without even thinking, our bags were our pillows, and we slept until we woke up after the sun gave us a farmer’s tan. Repeat – The National’s concert.

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Outside the hotel, nowhere.
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Sleeping in Pistoia’s train station.

Lost on a Highway

One of the things that I’m used to doing when I travel with a backpack is that when I arrive to a city, I start my tours around without going to the hostel. I prefer going to the hostel after sunset to check in and sleep right away. When I arrived in Rome, the day was just about to start for me. My friend Salma was with me and we decided to go visit some of the touristic attractions in the city. By the time we finished and went to grab something to eat, we realized that it was nighttime. There were no direct buses to take us to our hostel; it was outside the city center. So, as we normally do, we used Google maps to try to figure out which buses to take instead, and the only bus that goes near the hostel stopped 15 minutes away from it. We took the bus. And as we were approaching the stop we noticed that everybody had gone off the bus except for one creepy guy who was giving us the eye the whole time. We started to feel a little uncomfortable but chose to overlook the situation or else we were going to freak out. Little did me know, when we arrived at the stop, the man got off the bus with us. We were in the middle of nowhere in a place full of trucks and lorries on a highway. When we started to walk (according to Google maps towards the hostel) we noticed the man following our footsteps; he stopped whenever we stopped, walked faster as we moved faster. The adrenaline hit me bad; once we realized that this was getting too creepy, we started running like bats out of hell on the highway. I looked behind me, and I saw him running after us. The first signal my brain sent to my fingers was to tap uncontrollably on the touch screen, so now not only was I running for my life, I was also running nowhere. Thank God it was a winding road; we found a closed restaurant and the first thing we thought about was to enter its open garden a hide there behind the bushes. Yes, pretty much what you see in the movies. Our hearts were beating too fast I almost felt like this cannot be happening for real. We rested behind the bushes and started taking small peaks to see where he went. After a while, and after we returned back to our normal selves and readjusted the destination on Google maps, we came out of this haunted restaurant at 10 pm and started crying for a taxi on the road. Luckily, a taxi picked us up and dropped us safely in front of the hostel. He took a fortune for a minute drive; however, we could have been in a real horror show if things had taken a wrong turn.

Bees Love Me

You know when you’re really in the moment, taking a tour around the city and wandering around? For me, this is the essence of traveling; these are the moments that I enjoy the most. I was standing on the side of the street waiting for the pedestrians’ traffic light to turn green on an evening in Amsterdam. So here I am, walking on the pedestrian crossover only to find an immensely stinging feeling moving from my lip through the rest of my face. I found myself screaming and covering my face; the feeling was utterly dreadful. Rana was walking beside me that instant and the initial reaction on her face freaked me out. I asked her if there was something wrong with my face. She did not answer. She dashed across the crowed asking for a nearby pharmacy and all I was thinking to myself “This cant be good.” Actually I felt it right in my face. Turns out a maddening wasp flew straight to my face and stung my upper lip. It was 8:00 pm, after half an hour we found a pharmacy and they assured me they I wasn’t going to die. I only had a double upper lip. They told me that I have to see a tourist doctor immediately, but giving that fact that I’m Egyptian I ended up asking for some ice at a bar and laying down there with ice on my face. I took some painkillers and called it a day. Not to mention that I already had a black eye because I dropped my phone on my face in bed. I couldn’t get out of bed that day; I had a terrible fever!

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My wasp sting.

A Creature in My Room

This is a story about a monster on the wall behind my bed, in an apartment that I was staying at for 6 weeks. It was a huge house centipede; at it was right there above my bed. I’m really against killing any living creature but the first thing I thought about was throwing my Dr Martens at it. That lucky monster escaped and went through the door outside my room in the apartment. Which was a nightmare come true. Now I had to face knowing that I’m living with that until I move back to Egypt. I felt like I was a Ghostbuster in the apartment and I started getting haunting feelings about it. I spent the whole period in the apartment covering the small door slits with bags and clothes. Literally hoping that the bed bugs won’t bite.

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The house centipede  on the wall, and it’s much bigger in real life. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Trying to block the bedroom door completely. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Hope this travel post comes handy, if you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section or in the contact page!

 

All You Need to Know Before Visiting Italy

Why Italy?

If you are looking for a country that has it all, it is definitely Italy. Italy has a fantastic selection of historic cities, the tastiest and most authentic cuisine, gelato flavors you never knew they actually exist, a range of diverse places to visit and beautiful lands with great things to give for whoever wants to land there.

If you really want to explore the Italian culture and indulge in the Italian experience, visit the not-so-popular cities. That doesn’t mean that you should avoid Italy’s greatest cities; by visiting different cities, you give yourself the opportunity to see beyond the regular tourist’s eye.

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Lucca, Italy. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

 

Where to go?

Cinque Terre: The most beautiful coastline. It is known as the “Five Lands.” Those five lands are Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. As you travel along the coast you will discover the five incredible villages that are located along a remarkable trail. Most villages are all about pedestrian pathways, so feel free to explore the villages on foot. You need to travel from one village to another by train.

Note: You will get the most picturesque views when you hike up the trails.

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View as you hike in Cinque Terre. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Venetian Canals: People travel across the world for a gondola ride in Venice. Venice’s canals have been acknowledged for their beauty and inimitability. Nothing can replace the feeling you get wandering in the streets of Venice that are lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces.

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Grand Canal in Venice. – Photo by: Nour EL-Hlebawy

Tuscany: Is home to some of the world’s most memorable Renaissance art and architecture. Tuscany is a combination of everything beautiful; breathtaking landscapes, remarkable art, the best cuisine and the best historic spots. Florence is the capital and it’s a must see; however, if you have plenty of time take the intercity or regional trains on your way to Florence and stop for the smaller provinces such as: Pisa, Pistoia, Lucca, and Siena. They don’t stand out among the big cities but are definitely worth visiting.

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View of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Walking in Lucca. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Hidden jewels in Pistoia. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Rome: The capital that is full of ancient ruins; you can feel the power of the Roman Empire as you walk in the 21st century. Houses the Vatican City, headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, which has St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. You will never run out of places to visit in Rome. Just stroll in this beautiful city and take a look at the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum and Spanish Steps.

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Rome. – Photp by: Nour El-Helbawy

Turin: The Paris of Italy and my second home. I stayed in Turin for 6 weeks so it has a special place in my heart. Its beauty starts with the rise of The Alps to the northwest of the city. A stroll around Piazza Castello and through the Via Roma incorporates many of the best sights.

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Piazza Castello in Turin. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Milan: Not really my favorite, but still a must see! The grand Gothic cathedral, the Duomo, lies at the of heart this previous Roman capital. Also the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent houses Leonardo da Vinci’s mural “The Last Supper”.

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Duomo in Milan. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

 

What to Expect?

1.Probably most of the tourists and travelers have this image of Italy that is full of pasta and pizza with the Colosseum in the back. In reality, Italy is much more than that. Italy has multiple regions; each of them has its own character, its own dialect (sometimes its own language), and its own cuisine. You will be surprised at how different it is moving from one region to another and experiencing their culture.

There’s also no such thing as “Italian Food”, food is different depending on where you eat, sometimes you’ll be introduced to new specialties in certain regions.

2. Siesta. In Italy, it is called Riposo.

During Riposo, you will notice that most museums, churches, shops, businesses (almost everything) close for a long lunch and perhaps a nap specially during the day’s hottest hours. This varies from business to business and where you are staying in Italy. It usually starts at anytime between 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm until 2:30 – 4:00 pm, it lasts around 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Just remember that any place can close for an hour or so during the day, it’s normal.

3.Restaurants are not always open! Restaurants generally open at 12:00 pm and close after lunch, around 2:30 – 3:00 pm; some restaurants also open at night, from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm. However in the south, everything is later than the North. In touristy places, the restaurants have more flexible times than the areas with locals. It’s important to adjust your schedules to fit your meals, you might just miss it!

 

Transportation between cities

Italy is a big country on the map, and moving from one city to another takes time. Italy has  well-established public transportation options, its rail network is wide-ranging and goes through most of the cities. Buses and planes are also available between some cities; however, the rail network eclipses their need. The primary train operator in Italy is Trenitallia.

  1. Know which cities you are traveling to.
  2. Check if it is better to book the trains one by one or go for the Eurail pass.

Eurail pass allows you to travel across Italy; the pass offers a validation within a certain time and number of days for travel. (For example: If you have a 3 days within 1 month pass, you can ride several trains in one day and they all go under the pass for the first day out of the three) The Eurail pass is also suitable if you are planning to travel to multiple cities, and long distances that would cost more if you were to purchase several one-way tickets.

Roughly plan your routes and compare purchasing the Eurail pass and booking separate tickets. Sometimes it makes a huge difference.

  • Check Trenitalia’s website to look for your desired trains, their timings and prices. (Booking earlier gives you a chance for a cheaper price) http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en
  • Eurail has different offers for Youth travelers (12-25):

3 days within 1 month – € 130

4 days within 1 month – € 156

5 days within 1 month – € 179

8 days within 1 month – € 241

You can either book it online http://www.eurail.com/eurail-passes/one-country-pass , or from Trenitalia‘s booth in any train station in Italy.

If you are not traveling on a budget, you can purchase the tickets at the train station, you will find self-service machines there. It’s easy to buy tickets at the station on the day of travel or perhaps the day before. Simply go to the fast ticket machines and you will be guided to purchase the ticket by choosing the language and going through a simple process with a step-by-step guide. You can either use visa or cash for the purchase.

Note: “A Eurail Pass can only be used by non-European citizens or residents. European citizens can use an Interrail Pass instead, available at Interrail.eu

Note: Trains are expensive in Italy compared to the rest of Europe.

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Train ride in Italy. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

 

What you need to know about trains in Italy

Regional trains: Mainly the trains connecting short-distanced cities. Their prices don’t change and no reservation is necessary as the train can never ‘sell out’. You will always find a place on the trains. Sit in any empty chair, or if the train is crowded you will probably have to stand up. You can hop on any train if you have a Eurail pass. If you have a normal ticket don’t forget to validate it.

Long Distance Trains: Frecciarossa, Frecciargento and Frecciabianca are Italy’s fast trains. It is better to reserve the trains if you go for separate tickets. If you have a Eurail pass, you have to book a spot on the train beside the pass for 10 €; you can do so from any self-service machine. Once you book your spot, you can hop on the train with the Eurail pass + your seat reservation (The ticket inspector will ask for your seat reservation if you have a Eurail pass). InterCity trains are also long distance slow trains that stop more regularly than fast speed trains. You don’t need to reserve a seat if you have a Eurail pass.

Intercity Notte: Same as Intercity trains that go for long distances at a slow speed; those operate at night, they are a fit option if you want to take a night train from one city to another at a better price.

 

Transportation inside cities

Most of the big cities in Italy (Rome, Milan, Florence) require that you buy your bus/tram tickets before boarding. You will not find ticket machines next to the bus/tram stops like a lot of other cities in Europe; you have to purchase a ticket from any tobacco shop (Tabaccaio). Once you get on the bus/tram, make sure you validate the ticket by putting it into the machine that will print the date/time used on the ticket. Avoid the annoying fines!

Use Google Maps! Riding the bus or tram is overwhelming for those of us who are not accustomed to using public transportation. By entering your destination and clicking on the bus or transportation button, it will show you which buses/trams you should take to reach your destination and from where and at what time, with all possible changes.

Take care, some bus lines operate until certain times, make sure by the time you’re going back that the bus will still be operating or else, you’ll need to call a cab.

Average prices in Italy (again there might be a huge difference between cities): For a one way local transportation ticket 1.50 €, for a monthly regular pass 35 – 40 €.

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Tram in Turin. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

 

Buying a SIM card in Italy

We all face the problem of using our phone abroad. You have an option of using your home cell phone to roam abroad or using only the Wi-Fi when available. However, purchasing a SIM card from an Italian cell phone provider can offer significant cost savings, especially if you are planning a long stay.

There are 4 network providers in Italy: TIM, Vodafone, Wind & 3

In order to purchase a prepaid SIM card, you need a photo ID (Passport) & its mandatory in Italy. You can get the prepaid SIM cards from the providers’ shops.

Top-ups can be bought from tobacconists (with a “T” sign, you’ll find them everywhere).

Personally, I used Wind. SIM card activation coasts 10 € from any Wind store. Top-ups can be purchased from tobacconists for 5, 10, 15 €, etc.

Wind now offers a Tourist SIM that has been released lately; this includes 2 offers:

1.Italy Tourist Pass: For 20€

100 minutes & 40 countries (Check the list at their website), 2 GB data for 30 days.

This package can be restarted by sending “TOURIST ITZ RESTART” to 4033 for 10 €.

2.Tourist Pass Data: For 30€

5€ of credit & 4 GB for 30 days.

This package can be restarted by sending “TOURIST DATA RESTART” to 4033 for 25 €.

There are also other base plans, combo plans and data-only SIM.

 

If you buy a Wind SIM card, it takes about one hour to get activated after you buy it. It’s the best for mobile 3G data. Vodafone is much more expensive & TIM doesn’t have good Internet service.

You can check Wind’s website for more information about the Tourist packages, and other offers as well https://www.wind.it/eng/privati/tariffe_e_opzioni/abroad/

 

Daily Costs

Depends on where you’re staying in Italy. Normally, it’s not really expensive; however, it is much more expensive in big cities.

  • Pizza or pasta: 6 – 12 €
  • Dorm bed: 15 – 30 €
  • Admission to Touristic Attractions: 4 – 15 €
  • Cappuccino: 1.5 €

I was traveling on a budget and my daily costs were around 50 € including meals, transportation and souvenirs.

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Pasta in Venice. – Photo: Nour El-Helbawy

 

Hope this travel guide comes handy, if you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section or in the contact page!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Hvar Island Guide

Are you looking for your ultimate summer destination?

It is definitely Hvar Island!

Hvar is a series of streets and alleyways that are exquisitely connected together forming a winding maze leading to the beaches and ports. All the streets are lined with lavender, the  pathways take you to vineyards, fishing ports, and small beaches. You can always explore beyond the edges of the island itself by taking a speedboat or a catamaran to the nearest islands and cities, or go on an island-hopping trip. Most of the island visitors come to enjoy the sun in the morning and party at night; Hvar has earned its well deserved reputation  as Croatia’s  best party town.

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Taking a walk in Hvar Town next to the port. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Know more about Hvar

Hvar is one of the islands in Split-Dalmatia County allowing you to explore the Dalmatian coast. It has 4 main municipalities:

Hvar City: The largest town and the main hub with most of the visitors.

Stari Grad: Has the main seaport on the island, most of the visitors arrive from Split here through the ferries and catamarans.

Jelsa: Market town and has a seaplane connection from and to split airport.

Sucuraj: Smallest town and is well known for agriculture.

How to get there?

The closest international airports are Split, Dubrovnik and Brac airports. The most common stop from and to Hvar is through Split. When you reach split, you have to reserve a ferry or catamaran to take you to Hvar Island through Jadrolinja line. You can reserve a seat from their website http://www.jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia . A normal ferry ride takes about 2 hours, while the catamaran takes around an hour. Prices for catamarans are higher during the high season (June – September) around 60 Kuna or higher, and lower during the low season (October – May) around 40 Kuna.

Catamarans take you from Split to Hvar Town, however the  ferry rides are from Split – Stari Grad port. You have to take a taxi from Stari Grad port to reach Hvar Town costing around 100 Kuna.

Note: (1 Euro = 7.51 Kuna)

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 Ferry ride from Split to Hvar. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Accommodation in Hvar

Tourists and explores prefer staying in Hvar town as it has a variety of options. Hvar town is very busy and does not sleep! So it depends on the preference of your stay and the purpose of the visit. If you want a lively area then you should stay in Hvar Town; however, if you want to get away from the popularity, you should stay in Stari Grad as it is as scenic as Hvar Town but with far less visitors.

You will find a variety of accommodation options; you can stay in a hotel, a villa or a private apartment.

There are a couple of hostels in town, but I recommend that you stay in a villa or a private apartment as it is part of enjoying the atmosphere in Hvar. You will find plenty of private flats and apartments with a range of prices. You can also find a decent place if you are on a budget. Personally, I stayed in Apartment Hvar Krizna luka

It had an amazing view, with a 10-minute short walk to the center that has the port and the clubs. The host was really friendly; served us drinks and provided us with maps, brochures and plenty of help to find our way around in Hvar. I highly recommend it! You will also find other apartments near by, the whole area has a lot of places for rent in the summer.

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View from Apartment Hvar Krizna luka. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Closest beach to the apartment. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

What to do in Hvar

1. The first thing you should consider doing is taking a day trip to visit Vis, Green Cave and the Blue Cave. You will find plenty of tours and offers as you walk in Hvar Town. There are a lot of booths there with organized tours that you could book a day earlier to take you to the islands, with prices starting from 350 Kuna. If the prices are higher, that is probably because they offer better services, but choose wisely and also check the kind of boat that will take you to the islands. I reserved the tour through HvarBoats.

And I must say it was a great experience. The only bad thing about it was the dizziness and motion sickness that took over me after 6 hours on a speedboat.

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Taking a speed boat to the islands. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
  • The Blue Cave

It has one of the most unique natural phenomena in the world, it is created by heavenly light refraction of sunlight that enters through a crack in the cave. It is definitely a must-see location due to its untouched beauty.

You reach the blue cave by boat from Hvar, then you have to pay an entrance fee to the cave, which is 70 Kuna. You get on another boat that takes you inside the cave. You cannot swim inside the cave, you just enter by the boat.

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Picture inside the Blue Cave. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
  • The Green Cave

It is located on the islet Ravnik, Vis island. It is not as famous as the Blue Cave, but certainly worth visiting. Here you can stop for a short swim inside the cave.

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Swimming inside the Green Cave. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
  • Stiniva Cove, Vis

This is one of the most stunning beaches in Croatia; here you can jump off the boat and swim to the shore. Amazingly clear water with a peddle beach (you need footwear, the pebbles will hurt). There is also a bar on the beach where you can grab something to drink.

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Swimming through Stiniva gates, Vis. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Stiniva’s pebble beach. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

2. Visiting the Pakleni Islands is a must! They are a series 5 of islands: Sveti Klement (Palmizana), Marinkovac (Stipanska Bay), Jerolim, Galesnik and Pokonji Dol. I visitied Jerolim and Sveti Klement, and from what I saw, every island definitely has a completely different vibe. Jerolim is a completely liberal island, where you can find a bar, a restaurant and sunbeds for rent. It is completely organic and stress-free, with a hippie vibe.

Palmizana on the other hand, has a couple of expensive restaurants and is very crowded with a lot of boats waiting around the beach. There is possible accommodation on this island as it is the largest of the 5. You will find one of Dalmatia’s best restaurants, Zori. I dined in Bacchus, which has an earthier and hip dining experience with all its surrounding olive trees. You will also find a chilled cocktail bar, Laganini.

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Jerloim beach, Pakleni Islands. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Swimming in Jerloim. – Photo by : Nour El-Helbawy
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Jerloim Island’s good vibes! – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Jerloim Island. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
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Walking on Palmizana’s sand beach. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

3. Carpe Diem! Everybody knows what Carpe Diem is in Hvar; it is the landmark of Hvar Town. There is also the Carpe Diem Beach, which is a summer beach club in Marinkovac Island (Stipanska bay. Parties are ongoing through July and August. Taxi boats leave from Hvar Town in front of Carpe Diem club and take you to Carpe Diem Beach starting 12 am. You will enjoy the pine forests, the swimming pool and the not so dark nights overlooking the Adriatic.

There are other popular bars and nightclubs in Hvar such as: Hula Hula, Veneranda and Kiva bar.

4. Hvar Fortress; if you are standing in Hvar Town, you will see the fortress hanging up the hill. Follow the pathways that lead to the fortress and take the winding road leading up the hill. The panoramic view from above is breathtaking, especially during sunset. There is a cafeteria up there where you can enjoy a cup of coffee with a view!

Note: Do not forget your camera!

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View from Hvar Fortress at night. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

5. Get Lost.. Hvar is the perfect place to get lost. You will be surprised at how much you will fall in love with this ancient city’s traffic free streets and cobbled alleyways. The smell of fresh lavender imbues the arena and you will always stop for souvenirs, it’s unavoidable! Explore the island. It is a safe area and the pathways take you to unexpected places, so give yourself the opportunity to explore the area without any maps.

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Alleyways in Hvar Old Town. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Budget

Hvar is much more expensive than the rest of the cities. Entree is about 80 to 150 Kuna. If you are planning on eating fish, it’s pricier and by weight; choose wisely where to have a nice fish meal. If you eat in any of the restaurants in front of the port or close to the main square, expect the prices to be much higher. A regular breakfast with juice or a cup of  coffee can cost you 70 Kuna. A taxi boat to the nearest island’s prices start at 40 Kuna.

I was traveling on a budget, and my average daily costs were around 300 Kuna including food, souvenirs, water, transportation and entertainment.

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Seafood meal at Mustačo Restaurant, Hvar. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy
Hope this travel guide comes handy, if you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section or in the contact page!

Your Plitvice Lakes Guide

Plitvice Lakes National Park is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and I bet it is one of the most breathtaking places that you’ll ever visit in your life. The colors of nature are strikingly beautiful and you will definitely enjoy the hike.

How to get there?

Plitvice is a forest reserve in central Croatia, you can pass by and visit from Split, Zadar or Zagreb where you will find direct buses that take you there. It is easy to find buses going through these routes; however, you can reserve your seat earlier through Bus Croatia www.buscroatia.com.
The bus from Zagreb and Zadar costs around 80 Kuna, and it takes you directly from and to the main bus stations.
You need a full day in Plitvice for the experience, and you might also consider staying for a night in the nearby villages.
The bus stop in Plitvice is right in front of the park gate no.1.
Note: (1 Euro = 7.51 Kuna)

Accommodation in Plitvice

Accommodation near the park is mostly guesthouses but you can still find a couple of hotels near the area. If you are planning on staying somewhere within a walking distance from the park, you will find a lot of guesthouses with average prices ranging from 20 – 100 € per night depending on proximity to the lakes and the review scores.
Personally, I stayed in Pansion Krizmanic for one night, it is situated 800 m from the entrance to Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is a good walking distance. House Krizmanic has an on-site restaurant with great food and comfortable air-conditioned accommodation with satellite TV and terraces.
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My room view in Pansion Krizmanic – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Best time to visit

The lakes are open for visitors all year round. The atmosphere varies with each season, and it is worth the visit anytime. If you are planning on visiting during the summertime, you have to keep in mind that this is the most crowded time of the year. You may have to stand in long lines to enter the lakes, and experience some crowded areas while you are moving on the trails.

Spring and Autumn are good times to visit the lakes as there aren’t a lot of people during this time of the year. Also winter is great but with another experience as the park is covered with snow. IMG_1832.JPG

Picture of the park during summer. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

The Visit

The first thing you should know is that there are 2 entrances to the park (While choosing your accommodation, make sure you are staying close to which gate), the entrance in the North- Entrance 1 is located above the  lower lakes; first thing you see as you enter is the full view of the lakes from above. The other entrance located in the south- Entrance 2 is next to the Upper Lakes and usually is less crowded that Entrance 1. The park opening hours are longer during summer from 7am to 8pm.

There’s an entrance fee for the park, which is  55 Kuna from January to March. 110 Kuna in November and December, during April to June and in September and October.While during the high-season 180 Kuna in  July and August. ( You can get a discount if you are not an adult, student or a group of more than 15 people)DCIM100GOPROGOPR0146.

Your trail from Entrance 1. – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Hiking in Plitvice

The are different routes that you can take inside the lake, you can choose to follow a route or take an unplanned walk around and let the different trails guide you. If you want to follow a specific path, there are 8 different routes (A,B,C,K1,E,F,H,K2). The routes range from 3-8 hours according to the path you choose. You will find signs around with the detailed routes you can take, also the park ticket has a map with some useful tips that keeps you on track. Most of the routes take you to Kozjak Lake that you can cross by a ferry boat.IMG_1767.JPG

Ferry ride in Kozjak Lake – Photo by: Nour El-Helbawy

Tips:

  • You will find few cafeterias inside where you can have coffee, ice cream or a fast small meal (mostly burgers).
  • Outside Entrance 1 there is a small souvenir shop with some drinks, water and snacks that you can grab before starting your hike inside. WATER!
  • Go to Entrance 1 and start the day before 10 am as it is less crowded or go to Entrance 2 and get your tickets from the little booth just across the wooden bridge instead.
  • Dogs are allowed if kept on leash in the park.
  • Take a look at the boards as you walk if you don’t want to get lost, there are some caves where you can find bats or signs for animals.
  • Expect the routes to take longer time than stated on the boards as you always stop for pictures.
  • Swimming isn’t allowed in any of the lakes, but if you want a similar experience while swimming you can go visit Krka Waterfalls.
Hope this travel guide comes handy, if you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section or in the contact page!

The Italian Experience

So it all started when I applied for an internship with AIESEC in Torino, Italy.

This 6-week internship was the starting point for the journey of exploring Italy and walking its magnificent streets. The weekends for me were train rides to different places with new adventures.

Torino, Milan, Cinque Terre, Florence, Pistoia, Lucca, Venice and Rome; each weekend was imbued by the adrenaline that flowed while enjoying this prodigious diverse culture. Originally, this trip was supposed to be an internship at Mirafiori Coperitiva, where I get to participate in activities with kids/teens, spend time with them 7 hours a day; however, it turned into the experience of my lifetime and I would do it all over again.

Turin

This is my second home. Torino is a beautiful, cozy and interesting city. I would say, it is not as touristic as the rest of Italy; you have to stay there to understand the beauty of it. I got the chance to meet a lot of people that I can still call friends there. I was staying at a house in Via Vallarsa, and I enjoyed the randomness of my daily routine. The neighbor’s dog saying Hi in the morning and the several Bonjournos I got after leaving the front door, getting my coffee from the cafe down the street, the long walk on that beautifully planted pedestrian path to catch the tram to work and the squirrels that ran after me everyday to feed them nuts.

I had a fascinating experience with AIESEC. Italians in general are amazing and they are the closest to my heart. I was lucky since I was able to have lunch everyday at work with the kids and the supervisors. Getting to try home made Italian food is a blessing; the different appetizers that always ranged on the table, trying the amazing mozzarella cheese balls, the different risottos, the pesto pasta and the scrumptious Italian pizza. AND ITALAIN GELATO!

Leaving Torino was heartbreaking; I had a lot of good memories there because of the unforgettable people that i met and the hospitality that I wasn’t expecting at all.

Florence

If you shall ask me, Florence is my absolute favorite! I spent 3 days in Florence in Michelangelo camp, with the view of the whole city of Florence surrounding me. I had to go back to Torino with a Florence-Fever! I would absolutely live there. You walk the lives of the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli; you almost get consumed by the virtual reality of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance periods. The architecture is majestic and the holiness of different piazzas leaves you in awe.

Florence is great for people who love exploring as it is a complex network of streets and alleys.. All beautifully preserved. You get lost between museums and galleries; find yourself in front of gorgeous buildings that call you in. The best thing about Florence is getting lost in its city center without planning the routes, after visiting the Duomo! You never have enough time for Florence. I repeat. You.Never.Have.Enough.Time. You can even have food anywhere you want; the food is amazing in any place.

Rome

Bellisima! Travelling between the ancient sites is everything. The main highlights are the Vatican, The Roman Forum and the Coliseum. Rome is much more crowded than the rest of the cities, you have to stand in lines to visit all the important places, and its worth it. It is truly inspiring to see the city that has survived the past era and how it kept its originality after all these years. Rome is an utterly genuine city.

Food can be tricky in Rome because there are some touristy places that are over-priced and don’t serve the best Italian food out there at the same time. There are some apps that can help you find the good restaurants near by, don’t settle for less than amazing food in Italy!