How I got stuck in Iceland

The best thing that has ever happened to me in Travel was getting stuck for 1 night in Iceland.

When my flight was delayed for 3 hours from Amsterdam to Reykjavik I could already feel that there is no way I will make it to my connection from Reykjavik to Toronto.

I was absolutely right, and Wow Air paid for transfers and the Keilir hotel for the night and even dinner.

I could hear some folks complaining that they are not going to make their connections in time to fly to Toronto, Boston etc. I, on the other hand could not be any more excited about this adventure as Iceland has always been on my bucket list. This was the best layover in my life and it was not even planned.

Icelandic language is very cute with ‘ki ‘ki Reykyaviki kind of sounds. For example: ‘For Your Safety’ in Icelandic will be just 1 word – Öryggisreglur. I also found this language having no intonation whatsoever because when they speak it is all on one tone, one breath, one paste, one everything. Oh well, maybe it was just one hell of a tired flight attendant that I`m talking about.

I knew right away that I want to get to the Blue Lagoon at any cost. I quickly found fellow travelers whom wanted to go there as well and we shared a cab together just after we dropped our luggage at the hotel.

We were rolling down the black roads made from volcanic lava for about 30 minutes. All of the sudden I saw colorful mist far away – we were getting closer to their famous Blue Lagoon.

This natural wonder SPA was expanded in 2016 and is nothing like I ever seen or felt. The water is really blue, it is also half salty so you can’t really float like you do on the sea, but you feel pretty light and pretty good just by being in this warm nutrition filled water. It is not deep, it is just perfect to walk around. No one was really swimming, for some reason it was easier to just stroll through it. There are also saunas, steam rooms and stinky but very healthy small waterfalls where I gave my back a little massage.

I loved the mask station where you have 1 soft facial mud mask that is included in your entrance fee. Just imagine, a tall blonde Icelandic girl is in a coat (because it is windy 2nd of December we are talking about) in Mask Kiosk making you a fresh silica mud mask. After that you are in a swimming suit on the other side of the kiosk in nice warm water applying that mask. I have also purchased with my smart admission bracelet an algae mask for a few Euros because since I am here I need the Young Look mask as well.

 

Special thanks to my sister who just gave me a new bathing suit in Italy as a present because otherwise I would have to soak in Blue Lagoon in regular underwear as I would still go no matter what. There are also massages, restaurants and a gift shop.

 

I had only 1.5 hours before the lagoon closed for the day, but those were the most amazing and relaxing 1.5 hours that I ever had after traveling.

 

While floating in the lagoon, I lost my new buddies that I shared the cab with and on the way back I took a cab alone which was 50 Euros, entrance to the Blue Lagoon is also 50 Euros. In general everything is expensive in Iceland as this country has crazy debts.

   

I found fish and crabs to be cute on the Icelandic króna coins. I found it similar to Switzerland situation except debts because salaries in Iceland are also accordingly high, cab driver told me that his salary equals 5000.00 USD a month.

I woke up so fresh after the Blue Lagoon that I decided to take another cab and go to the Viking World Museum first thing in the morning and to be back by the time of my airport transfer.

I was the only person in this museum at 10 am and I loved it. It gave me chance to try some clothes on, to watch videos without being interrupted and to stare on Vikings and trolls tales for as long as I needed to.

The Atlantic Ocean smelled so good and morning birds were singing around me. I took a walk around the museum and even got the chance to see the Northern Lights through the lenses of my camera. It was a cloudy dark winter morning as we were on the darker half of the year where day light is limited to just a couple of hours per day.

I couldn’t see the Northern Lights with my bare eyes, however when I looked through my camera I saw something greenish in the sky and between clouds. God was sending me signals or Northern Lights were just above me!?

Iceland looked exactly how I pictured it in my head: yellow grass, black roads, hospitable blond people with blue eyes who put paper snowflakes in their windows…

From hotel I saw mountains far away. It is too bad I didn’t see any volcanos or gazers. I have to return to this magical land one day and for now this fresh air makes me tired, let’s fly back home. After all I only have half an ocean left till Canada.

Waiting in check-in line I heard people exchanging their “stuck experiences“ and I felt sad for those who just spent the night in the hotel and didn’t go anywhere. We have only 1 life to live so live it right!

How I got a heat stroke or unforgettable Havana with Poquito

Cuba Time is not a saying, it is a phenomenon that I believe also can be called island time because no one is in a rush and no one is ever on time. After 1 hour of waiting for our excursion and drinking strong Cuban coffee at 8 am in the lobby of our hotel we started to have doubts if anyone is coming for us at all.

After our driver showed up he said that he was late because his car was in a shop getting fixed. That is Cuban favorite excuse and it didn’t surprise anyone because cars in Cuba are as old as my grandpa. His car was this elite old pink corvette. He said: “Not your transportation, this is for photos“. After photo session this man drove us in second vehicle to nearest town of Veradero where we were transferred into a third vehicle to finally start our journey to the capital. There was 5 of us and so we were not scared to transfer vehicles. You just have to look at it as an adventure because if you are too punctual of a person, you would already go crazy after waiting for 1 hour to begin with.

I happened to have the privilege to sit at the front so I started the conversation with our driver:

–  What’s your name?

–  Call me Poquito.

–  Doesn’t poquito means small in Spanish?

–  Aaaa, no. If your dad is Frank and you are Frank that means you are Poquito Frank, comprende?

– Oh, comprende. You mean Junior like Robert Downey Jr.?

– Yes, I am an Iron Man, you can’t tell?

After this phrase I started to realize that Poquito is not only going to be our driver and guide but also a stand-up comedian all in one.

We were rolling through green areas of country pretty fast as for an old car.

– Hey Poquito, what is the average salary in Cuba?

– 20 US dollars per month. Doctor can make 40 dollars a month.

– And how much do you make on excursions?

– I make more than a doctor! See, I have Ray-Bans.

He pointed on his sunglasses and wide smile appeared on his well-rounded mid age face.

The weather was in higher 30`s Celsius on this late April day. There was not a single cloud in the sky. I could feel drops of sweat rolling down my back.

–           Poquito, can you please turn on the AC?

–           Roll down all windows, that’s my AC.

–           Then at least make music louder and how old is this Chevrolet with no seat belts anyways?

–           1957 model, I saved money and got a new engine now!

–           Holy, and how old is that jeep over there?

–           1929 model.

After this shocking number we all agreed that jeep appearance didn’t change much since the 30’s.

–           Where are you guys from?

–           Canada.

–           Oh, I want to go there, it’s a dream.

–           And we want to come here, it’s a dream. Too cold in Canada, Poquito, trust me you don’t want to go there.

He really encouraged us with his motivational speeches such as: “You didn’t come to Cuba to drink water and you didn’t come to Cuba to sleep, did you?! Party and go out and enjoy the beach and enjoy yourself and enjoy your life!“

We asked him a lot of questions about Cuban communistic regime. He said government is the biggest mafia and he kept repeating “Remember, it`s Cuba? Crazy country!“.

I really think this sunny weather has a lot to do with positive mentality of its people.

Two hours later we walked through squares and brick roads, smelling a mixture of sweat, cigars and blooming flowers that cover cracks of old buildings on the balconies, spotting Capitolium and hanging out in square of Revolution.

There was extremely hot and exhaustively exciting day ahead with cheap Legendario rum, snacking on a fresh food market and stocking up on Romeo and Juliet cigars, participating in bribe given to the road police, lining up in a wrong bank to exchange some dollars for the CUC and learning that there are 2 currencies in Cuba. We also will be discovering a statue of naked woman riding the chicken with fork in her hand that represents modern art, visiting huge cathedral with statue of my favorite Pope Saint John Paul II, visiting gigantic Statue of Jesus Christ on a hill with breathtaking view of Havana and the ocean, watching local kids play soccer right next to us…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poquito was extremely proud that Fast and Furious 8 got filmed in Havana.

It will be a few months later that I will watch this movie and with incredible and even somehow childish excitement say: I have been there, I have been there with Poquito!

 

I left my heart in Amsterdam

Have you ever heard of cultural shock? I have experienced it in Amsterdam!

I have booked myself on purpose layover for 1 night in this capital of European LGBT.

Holland is not about mills, tulips and wooden shoes because I didn’t see any of the above.

The Friday night flight from Milan to Amsterdam was packed. Folks were going away for the weekend which is a huge plus of living in Europe: You are very close to at least 50 countries.

A couple of hours in the air and a quick train from the Schiphol airport brought me to stunning Central Station.

A Girl in front of me yelled from the top of her lungs: ‘’I love you, Amsterdam!‘’ at the very second wind hit her face while opening doors to get outside from the Central Station. She scared me a bit but really what is there not to love about this city?

Walking towards Royal Palace, smelling water from canals, passing by Sex museum and famous coffee shops with cannabis products, I made a mental note to myself that Amsterdam is an unimaginable combination of old nice churches and modern leather fetish stores.

If you think it smells like weed in downtown Toronto I suggest you visit Amsterdam.

I do not know why I booked my flight for Friday night but everything and everyone around smelled like weed.

I am pretty sure I got a second hand high because it was nearly impossible not to.

Food smelled everywhere too. Restaurants and kiosks serving amazing pastry and famous waffles all night long. Pick your topping on a waffle, buy Heineken beer and grab a bike from millions of bike stations.

I saw their Christmas tree and I felt their Christmas spirit on the first day of December. Downtown’s stunning architecture cannot leave your heart cold.

  

The same song was following me from Milan’s Piazza del Duomo to Amsterdam’s Dam Square. Through clouds of smoke I saw a street musician playing his guitar and singing:

“She broke your throne and she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah“…

Museum of Prostitution was already closed however I managed to see 1 prostitute in a window closer to the Red Lights District.

If you still didn’t get it, weed and prostitution are legal in Holland so as gay/lesbian marriage. Nice ways of making taxes for the government but let’s not get into politics.

  

It wasn’t my first exposure to Dutch people. I find them disturbingly straight and to the point people. I like them though.

I minded my own business and went to sleep in hostel with 2 complete strangers’ girls in my room who I saw for the first and last time in my life.

Next morning I was walking brick roads back to the train station and through mist I saw totally different Old Town. Cleaners were sweeping last night’s mess, food trucks were delivering goods, paramedics were trying to save life of probably overdosed guy and an Old Catholic church was ringing its bells for those who can wake up on Saturday morning and pray for their sins from last night to be forgiven.

  

Overall Nothing But Thieves were absolutely right when they sing I Left My Heart In Amsterdam.

Did I really think that one night was enough in this memorizing city? Silly me!

I have to come back here, in fact I know I will come back here one day…

Unveiling the Mystery of Transylvania

Only God knows what I am ready to go through for travel…

I’m ready to take days long car rides, fly with crazy long layovers, go through family fights and suffer from a jet lag just to GET THERE, to stare at passport stamps later on, to check mark my bucket list, to catch that rare moment of happiness when you realize all over the sudden that you are making your dream come true and you are doing it right now.

And dreams don’t come true if you don’t work hard for it.

I talked my parent into having a road trip to Romania. I booked hotels, dad filled up gas and mom made sandwiches and next thing you know we were on our way to mysterious Romania.

It took us full day of driving from my native city of Chernivtsy, Bukovina, Ukraine to Bran, Transylvania, Romania.

Sheep were everywhere, not only on Romanian fields but also in the middle of the town crossing train rails. They were extra cute though.

I was lying on the back seat of a car and was watching bright stars in the night sky through the window. Moon was really skinny and was changing colors from orange to red. I had never saw moon so low in my entire life. As we were spinning on serpentine roads while going up on a mountain ridge, mist was covering the surface as a soft blanket. I felt like someone made this extra fog on purpose just to make it scary like in movies. However fog was real and was forming in shape of clouds in front of the car…I was scared that we will get lost and will end up in Stephen King`s Rock and Roll Heaven town.

Dad turned on Europa FM and all mystery suddenly fade away…

We stopped at the restaurant by the road to eat bean soup with smoked bacon and hunter sausages along with cheese plate. Staff was very friendly. Overall Romanian people left very nice impression on my family. I don’t know why they often get associated with gypsies in Europe. I bet they don’t like this association. However some gypsies and magicians are from Romania. There is even a special term for Carpathian magician – Molfar. There is also no doubt that there is something particularity magical about Carpathian Mountains. Count Dracula and even dragons are believed to be from dark forests of ancient Carpathian Mountains.

We arrived to our hotel in Bran almost at midnight and it was too dark to see the full picture of mountains sight. Entire sky was divided into a half. It was half foggy and half in stars.

Hello Transylvania! Hello mysterious land! I’m here, I’m yours for the night…

Romania joined European Union in 2007 however their currency is still Romanian leu (RON). I could still see their Soviet past in some communistic buildings we were driving by. Luck of architectural style can be seen also on some Soviet “box looking“ apartment buildings. I know all those buildings because I saw them in Ukraine and in Cuba.

Our first sightseeing was in city of Bran.

To get to Dracula’s castle you have to go through an outdoor market where you can buy all kinds of Dracula souvenirs and wool clothes thanks to the sheep we saw earlier on the field. Here you can also get good goulash soup, kebab and hot wine, cheeses and sausages for any taste. 

Pay admission fee and walk up to the castle. The castle itself is gorgeous and is located on the top of the hill with breathtaking view of Carpathian Mountains and roads that lie underneath the hill. I have been to number of castles in my life but I have never seen anything like this one. This 640 years old castle has way too many levels and floors to be count, secret stair case, game room, torture room, well, inner courtyard and the list goes on. It also has tourists from all over the world and it is late windy fall, just imagine what`s happening here in summer.

Did you know that Count Dracula, a fictional character in the Bram Stoker`s novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), who was the ruler of Walachia at various times including from 1456-1462. Vlad Tepes adopted the method of impaling criminals and enemies and raising them aloft in the town square for all to see. Almost any crime, from lying and stealing to killing, could be punished by impalement.

Did you know that Bram Stoker has never been to Romania? He did the extensive research in libraries.

Disney tried to buy this castle and turn it into amusement park but Romanians are too proud of their heritage to let this happen.

Are vampires real? We will never know the answer to that questions. However Vlad Dracula was real ruler.

 Welcome to Saghisoara next.

Beautiful citadel, medieval walls and churches, narrow streets, museums and brick roads streets – all this is in one complex on the top of the hill in 14th century town of Sighisoara which is in couple hours of driving from Bran.

This is a native town of Vlad where you can visit the house in which he was born, now hosting a restaurant with dishes names that often include words bloody, red etc.

Vlad Dracula was born in 1431 in Sighisoara and resided here until he was 4 years old.

It is a 3 story house that contains restaurant and Draculas bedroom. In his room there are mostly pictures and also coffin with someone jumping out of it to scare you to death! We got there at 7 pm, restaurant was open until 8 pm however this interesting room was closed already. We were told by our waiter that “coffin person“ works only until 6 pm and that’s why bedroom is closed already.

It was upsetting but what can you do, vampires have schedules too.

Our second hotel was booked in Salina Turda which is a real museum of salt mining in Transylvania. I usually book small family style hotels with the local spirit.

Salina Turda has nothing to do with Dracula and has everything to do with salt.

This centuries-old salt mine is 100 meters deep and 75 meter wide with shape of a bell. It is an extremely interesting place. Pay your admission fee and you can spend there as many hours as you want.

Do you feel like you on another planet there? Yes, you do!

You have to go 13 floors down in the small 7 person elevator to see it as a whole. There is entire civilization down there: From fitness center to billiard tables, soccer field, bowling, fair will, mini golf and souvenirs kiosk, and even amphitheater for the events.

After being amazed you go into smaller 4 person elevator and go down 13 more floors to discover the salt lake. Rent a boat for 20 minutes and have the saltiest ride of your life. Look up but don’t freak out: You are just 100 meters below the ground. Drop a coin to return.

Salt mine is no longer active. Now it is a place for many asthmatics and just curious folks like me visit it to breathe the salt as it makes your lungs and immune system healthier.

After all it is a therapy I am writing about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Europe: Italy, Hungary and Slovenia

Where do I begin to tell the story of how great it can be to travel? Where do I start?
I was looking for a cheap ticket and ended up flying Toronto-Reykjavik-Amsterdam-Milan. Wow air turned out really Wow because it was late, no meals included, you have to pay for the hand luggage, you even have to pay for water. However mission was accomplished  because as I already mentioned it was cheap.
20171115_093634I was going to Ukraine to surprise my mom for her 60th birthday because there is no present like a surprise.
Travel is like a poison and there is no antidote from it. It took over my body and soul. 
 I lived in Milan for 2 weeks earlier this year so all I had to do was to visit the Duomo of course. This gigantic cathedral is the post card of the city and it is beautiful on the inside and out. You never get tired of it. You are not allowed to take pictures inside but just this once and just for you:
I would also suggest checking out the new 3 stories chocolate store in the same square. However not only chocolate candies and mushmellow  bouquets can be found there.
City creators decided that artificial palm trees will look cool in the same square. Well, Italians couldn’t have that happen and burned them down overnight. However, the trees came back to give you this Southern feeling. I bet you it is not going to be long until they will be burned again because it really doesn’t match the style of the church and brick roads.
Travel is my disease and there is no cure. 
While my sister and my cousin were glued to the jewelry store window in the famous shopping Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, my ear caught live music and I stepped aside to see the street musician playing guitar and singing Hallelujah.

This song really inspired me for the Happy Moment that only Travel can deliver: I am in Milan and I am listening to a song that matches this atmosphere better than fake palm trees!
Travel is my air.
After 1 amazing day in Milano and some really good pizza and macaroons, my dad and I took off driving from Italy to Ukraine for 2 days through Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Ukraine.
20171116_141229.jpgTravel makes me stronger.
Never have I ever been in such a long car ride before.
I have never seen clouds as low as I did in Slovenia. The Alps look so gorgeous there. Every mountain came up with different shape and the snow on the top was making my heart melt…It is the end of November and the snow isn’t going to melt anytime soon on the mountain top, if ever. Driving through Italy and Hungary we didn’t see any snow, Slovenia is a really high land country. Also Melania Trump is from here. The Slovenian language is somehow similar to Ukrainian and I could crack a few jokes of similar wording. Where Slovenia ends, Euro currency ends as well. In Hungary you will need Forints. Hungary however is in the European Union so there is no border between Slovenia and Hungary. It makes me feel good to hold 10 000 Forint bill like I just won lottery. It only equals 50.00 CAD though.
 
Travel is my drug and there is no rehab for it.
It is very important that you stop at the Balaton lake as it is biggest lake in Europe. It is also extremely peaceful and beautiful.
We drove through gorgeous Budapest at night and stayed for 1 night in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary. No one really speaks English in Europe unless you are in the UK or in Ireland. The man that was checking us in was showing us how to use a faucet and said: “Open a bit and its winter! Want warm? Keep turning and it is summer now“. I found it brilliant. If you don’t know how to say hot or cold but know how to say summer and winter, you can pretty much work as a translator. Also what I noticed in Europe overall is that if the counter person doesn`t speak English they will show a wait sign with their palm and will come back with the person that speaks some English.
Travel makes me believe. 
If you are ready to travel 5 days in a row and sleep 6 nights in a different bed each night then:
Congratulations, travel is your drug too!