Last Chance for Summer

September 24th, 2015

Being quite busy this year with many events taking place in the summer here in Cluj (like this) we ended up almost losing the sunshine of this summer… By the time we double-checked the number of our available holidays for this year, we realized the time for using them is almost finished. So what do you do when you miss the warm summer months? Well, you go south hoping for warmer weather there 🙂 . As one of my colleagues said: this year all nearby holiday resorts are either war-zones or transit zones for immigrants, so there is not too many places you can go in the south hoping to catch some more little sunshine. Our choice was Croatia: it reaches south enough to have some chance to catch warm weather even in September, it is not a war-zone and it is (well it was) not a transit zone for immigrants. Don’t get me wrong, I am not afraid of the actual immigrants, it was the issues at border-crossings that we were afraid of…
Anyhow, after we chose the country, we basically tried to choose the point furthest to the south where we haven’t been at until now (so naturally Dubrovnik was out). The choice fell to Split: it has nice beaches, some nice islands nearby and even a national park that is close to it. Naturally so many possibilities in the area required us to be able to move around in the Split area easily. So, the choice was, again, traveling by car 🙂 . As usual, when we went by car for similar trips, our mid-travel rest-location fell to a point in Hungary: this time it was Siófok.

A quick-search on revealed quite some possibilities for hotels where we could spend the evening and the night at. Our choice fell to Hotel La Riva, which was very close to the lake-shore, allowing us to do this a few minutes after checking in:
Siofok Sunset
Our stay at the hotel was quite good: we had a very tasty dinner at the hotel restaurant, we had a quite good room, nice private parking and a friendly staff to make our stay enjoyable.

After a relaxing evening at Siófok, we headed south (just as planned 🙂 ) towards Split. At the border with Croatia we had absolutely no problems, the connection between the Hungarian M7 and Croatian A4 motorways went very fluently, although after the switch we got onto a bit bumpier and more expensive highway: Croatian highways are toll-roads, so our short trip (1 hour) between the border and Zagreb cost us ~€6 (compared to this the 10 day vignette in Hungary costs ~€11 giving you unlimited access for 10 days to all highways). Luckily the road after Zagreb switched to the A1, which is much-much better. The A1 is a high quality road, nice tunnels and bridges: an absolute joy to drive on 🙂 . Of course driving on it until Split for about 400 kms will cost ~€30… You can do the math: there and back cost us more than 6 times the 10 day vignette of Hungary… 🙁 . The gates are sometimes misleading saying you can pay only with cash, but I could pay at all “cash-gates” with credit card. So no problem at the means of payment, some of the guys at the toll-booths could use some coaching on how to smile (or speak clearly), though… Same story for the fuel-stations at rest-areas: people were not nice, not fit for working at the cash-register… For a country relying heavily on tourism, I was a bit disappointed…

All the bad feelings I gathered on the highway went away, though, after arriving to Split. The woman greeting us at Adriatic Queen Villa was very friendly, spoke English fluently (like many of the people in Split). She gave us a quick tour of the apartment we rented and made sure everything was OK for us to move in for the week. We chose an apartment in hopes of saving some money with the breakfasts (and we knew it would be hard for a few days to get up in time for the breakfast time of hotels also 😛 ). Actually our breakfasts were quite enjoyable, who could not love drinking coffee like this:
Coffe with a view
I think these apartments were an OK choice, although I really hope they will fix their WiFi, because the way it worked when we were there will come back to them and ruin their reputation quite soon… Also the nearby hospital helipad may be disturbing for some, for us it was a bit of a joy to see the helicopter land so close :):

Yes, it took a while until we got there, but then we had a quite good time. More of that, though, I will write in the upcoming post series 🙂 …


My Candy Store

September 2nd, 2015

This year’s travels, so far, have been basically second looks to stuff I could not see during my earlier business trips. It wasn’t like I planned them this way, it simply turned out that all my business trips in the spring were to the same locations we were planning to go to later. Now ,this second POI in Bavaria was something I was longing to see for a long time. It was this spring that I first set my eyes (with the highest possible zoom on my phone camera) to my “candy store”:

And with the occasion of our 4 day stay in the area, I kind of dedicated a full day to a closer look. The plan was to visit BMW Welt and BMW Museum during the day, and after successfully driving for about 2 hours on the very crowded Autobahn from Nürnberg to München, we were almost at the destination. We just needed to do about two ridiculous round-drives, until I spotted the correct entrance into the underground parking under the BMW Welt complex. Yes, I was so excited I lost my ability to drive normally 😛 …

So there we were, the entrance to the candy store 🙂 : I knew I could not buy anything (well, not yet anyway 😀 ), but I was sure I was in for a treat. The entry to the complex is free of charge, you just have to pay for parking, but you have the possibility to check out some of the hottest models BMW can offer, ranging from all the cars and bikes they make, all Mini models and of course a taste of high-end luxury offered, in this case, by the smallest member of the Rolls Royce family, a close-up glimpse to the Ghost.

No, they do not let you too close to all models (especially the expensive ones), but for us these were enough 😀 :
Us on BMWs
The complex is a must for BMW fans, I am sure of that. What is even nicer, is what comes after a few minute walk on the futuristic bridge taking to the other side of the road: the BMW Museum. With a short stop at a convenient and not too pricey restaurant attached to the museum complex, this was our next target. The entry price per person is 10€ and for some reason they did not accept credit cards. I think this issue was only temporary, but you never know…

The museum itself is also capable to bring a wide smile to any BMW fan’s face, especially when you spot your 10+ year old car among the exhibited models (well, not exactly that, but the same model). This shows two things 1. you really need to start thinking about changing your car 2. you have chosen to buy a car that became a historic model 😉 . The visit can take up to about an hour and gives an almost exhaustive view of what this Bavarian company has given to the world. Almost exhaustive because I did not see all prototypes. I would have been interested in how Gina looked like in real life…

Anyway: yes, it was what I expected, yes I came out with a smile and yes, I had to buy souvenirs 😀 .

Photos here.


Nürnberg sightseeing

August 31st, 2015

As written in my previous post, we had around 1.5 days to fill with things to do while in Nürnberg. You cannot really fill half a day with any major attraction, so we planned to fill only one.

The main attraction of the city, apart from the actual historic center, is Nürnberg Castle. Naturally, we planned the day around a visit of it. But, as it is with a good meal, you can make a lot of your main dish if the side dish is made well. So what was our side dish? As I mentioned above, there are lots of ingredients to choose from in the historic center of the city.

We started our small expedition with a stroll on the old streets of Nürnberg. Going from the hotel, in the south, we basically had to cross the entire historic center to get to the castle in the north. The main things to see, I think, are the very nice gothic style churches: St. Lorenz church, Frauenkirche and St. Sebald cathedral. The second in the list above is actually the main attraction of the market it stands on precisely at noon:

The main market square is also the place for another attraction: Schönenbrunnen, which was sadly under renovation while we were there, so there isn’t anything I can say about it…

So, on to the main attraction of the day, Nürnberg Castle. After a bit challenging march up to the ticket office, which is conveniently placed furthest away from the gate which opens from the city center, we got in line to buy the tickets to be able to visit the interior (by the way, the court and most of the castle premises is open to the public). The ticket per person costs 7€ with audioguide for an additional 2€. For this, one can visit the interior exhibitions, the Deep Well and the Sinwell Tower. The whole thing takes about 2 hours, part of the time is due to the waiting at the Deep Well, which opens only as a guided tour every half hour for 10-15 minutes. If you happen to be there right after one tour ends, you’re in for some waiting… plan your visit carefully if you want to avoid waiting 😉 . All in all it is a nice experience. Not too much, not too little: just the amount of history one can take for a day. It is amazing how this castle was entirely renovated after almost completely being destroyed during WW2.

Nürnberg has a charming old center. It sends off a great deal of “bavaria” through its architecture, through its food and through its small twists. I would recommend anyone at least one day in this very nice city.

Pictures of the experience here


Nürnberg, Germany

August 30th, 2015

After a brief business trip in spring this year, I finally got the chance to actually see the city I stayed at for two days back then. This time our stay in Nürnberg took from Wednesday evening to Sunday evening. Why this specific interval? Well, unfortunately the direct flight from Cluj to Nürnberg is “too young” for now, so WizzAir is still ramping up the project I guess: they got to the huge number of two flights per week (I think it is quite easy to guess by now which days 😉 ).

So, there you have it: 3.5 days to be filled with things to do in Nürnberg. Well, actually 2.5: the main attraction of the trip was a wedding, so one day was taken for that of course. And, then, if you are in Bavaria there is another attraction in a nearby city, that for me was a must (but more about that in another post 😉 ). One can easily see by now, that “hour basket” shrunk quite a lot, so it was not that big a deal to fill it with activities 🙂 .

One thing ,that was constantly in Nürnberg, however, was our hotel, breakfast and dinner. So we had quite a lot of opportunity to check out this city from many angles. But first, let me start by pointing out a vital thing we needed to have, in order to get around easily (after all, it was me, my wife and my parents: moving around 4 people in the area had to be made easy somehow): the car. I decided to rent a car for this period, and the best price I could find was actually through I am not refraining to express my honest great opinion about this site: not only that they found a great deal which was cheaper than renting directly from the rental company, they offered me an even better deal and upgraded to a bigger car. Additionally, when I got off the plane and went to the desk, I got another offer: choose the basic Ford C-Max or get a 4×4. Naturally I chose the 4×4: a Nissan Qashqai. It was a very well equipped version with modern features like start/stop system and a sun-roof and… a surprisingly small trunk. This last thing just kept bugging me and even the very cool camera system, which helped park like in GTA 2, could not make me forgive this shortcoming. Additionally, on the Autobahn, sometimes I wished I was driving my 12yr old beemer instead…

The next great thing: the hotel. We chose Ibis (Hauptbahnhof) as the main base to start our daily expeditions from. It was a perfect location, great value for money (not counting the ridiculously high breakfast price) and they have the perfect underground garage. I already rated the hotel well on, but again: I would recommend it to anyone. They did one little strange thing, though: they blocked a random sum (well, for me it is random, because it is nowhere on the invoice) on my card on top of the room and parking price. They eventually charged the normal price, but after a week that strange sum is still blocked. I contacted the hotel via e-mail, but no response…

So, how to cope with the ridiculously high breakfast price (11€/person/day)? Just walk a few hundred meters every morning up on Koenigstrasse just in front of the hotel and it is easy to find the great solution. I will not place the name of the place, I am confident that people can identify it quickly ;)… The place offers a wide selection of delicious breakfast menus in the 3-4€ price range, so it is worth the short, refreshing walk every morning.

And for dinner? It is easy to find a wide range of local restaurants which serve local food. There is even a wide range of pizzerias, steakhouses offering all kinds of food for people who do not fancy the local food. The prices are varying, but it is easy to find dinner for around 20-25€ per person (including beer of course, after all, we were in Bavaria… 😉 ). Basically each evening we did a short walk in the historic center and chose a different restaurant for dinner… it was fun 🙂 .

There you have it: the basics were taken care of. What about sightseeing? I think I will need another post for that 😉


The Big Trip: Dubrovnik

October 15th, 2014

The sixth morning was a bit melancholic on our cruise. It was the beginning of the last full day on the ship. Nevertheless, it was a day with another great place that we were about to visit. The destination for this day was Dubrovnik, one of the nicest coastal cities of Croatia.
We did not book ahead to any trip in Dubrovnik, we figured, that if the ship is docked, we can explore the city on our own. Boy were we surprised, when we learned, that we are going to be just anchored next to Dubrovnik, using the ships life-boats as tender service to the shore. Luckily the tender service was free of charge, we just had to sign up for a ticket for one of the boats leaving at specific intervals from the ship to the old port of Dubrovnik. In order to get one of the tender-boats leaving at a reasonable time, we had to stand in a HUGE queue (apparently everyone thought it was a good idea not to book ahead in Dubrovnik) and sign up early to them (I was up at 6:30 to get in line before opening time and the queue was already huge). I was targeting the tender leaving at 9:00 but I was not really sure if I was able to catch a ticket to that, because I was quite at the end of the queue… To my surprise I did: apparently the tender-boats were large enough to accommodate a lot of people at once (120 to be more precise). So, I happily went back to our cabin with a big smile having a job well done (well, the queue actually got even bigger after I left, so my timing was not so bad after all), waving the tickets victoriously: we had time to have our breakfast in a reasonable time and get to the shore calmly 😉 .

Since day one I was curious about how the life-boats look like from the inside. I did not want to find out the hard way (that would have meant that ship has gone “titanic”), but still I wanted to find out. So, I was actually quite excited about the fact that we were about to use them. When we got in I found out, that it was much bigger than even the tender boat we used in Santorini (it’s maximum capacity was 150! people). The ride, which took us ashore was also quite fun: the boat was going with relatively high speed and when it hit the wave of one of the returning boats it went into some fun up&down shaking waking everyone up if they did not wake up, yet 😉 . The boat ride took a few minutes during which we passed some of the local boats as well as the life-boats of another cruise ship anchored quite dangerously close to the shore (yes, it was a Costa ship 😉 ). With tourists coming from two cruise-ships at the same time into the already quite crowded city, the outlook for the day was just great 😉 .

After getting ashore right next to the old city wall, we already faced a quite large crowd of tourists heading into the city. Well, we decided to follow the flow and try and not get lost 🙂 . The flow took us through the main street of Dubrovnik, right trough two churches, a few gift shops, until we arrived to one of the entry points to climb on top of the city walls. A lot of the photos of Dubrovnik were views from the top, so there had to be something special up there… We decided to pay the price of 100 Kunas (~€12.00) per person and climbed the stairs leading up to the top. Well, there were a bit fewer people on top than down on the streets, but then again, the path was also narrower. There was a lot more air, so that was definitely better, but the real wow effect was the actual view of the city and the sea from there. It was absolutely fantastic. I could not stop taking photos, and neither could others, making the flow of people on the walls quite slow, which in turn meant that it was going to take quite some time until we walked around the entire historic center following the walls. There are two points where we could have come off, but we decided to do the entire circle, spending about 2-3 hours on the top. This time was about enough of the city and we decided to head off, because there seemed to be quite a long queue at the tenders returning to the ship.

We basically followed the same route to get back to our tender after we got off the walls, so we quickly found the way back to the port, but there the queue got so long that we barely just got through the main gate and we already had to stand in line in one of the queues (yes, there were about three). Here every culture brought its best in showcasing their way of standing in line. I was especially proud to see the Italians just pushing their way all the way to the front, but hey, I lived enough among them not to expect any miracles here 😉 In any case, the tender service got everyone back to the ship in time and nobody was left ashore. We even could have a quite decent lunch without too much running around to find ourselves a place to sit down 🙂 .

And what about Dubrovnik? Well, it was a nice experience, I would probably visit again and stay 1-2 days, preferably when there are less tourist. I do not actually know when that time is, given the fact that there are about 4 million of them visiting each year…

I have uploaded a few photos here.