real-life-places-from-top-3-fantasy-movies

Real-life Places from Fantasy Movies You Need to Visit: Top 3

By Kateryna Kirian

Your favorite movie gives you goosebumps? You are still guessing if these stunning locations are real-life places from fantasy movies? Well then, what about visiting a movie scene by yourself? It might be a great adventure to...

3...2...1...Action!

Lucky you! A lot of famous locations are real, and you can visit them right now. You don’t need to cast a magic spell or look for a spaceship for discovering those places. Just choose a movie, pack your backpack, follow the bucket list of top travel movie destinations we prepared for you and brace yourself for one of the most memorable journeys in a lifetime. If you still don’t get itchy feet, here are some great films to inspire your inner traveler. If you want to get to know more about fulfilling your travel dreams in times of the pandemic, check out our article about travel planning with a proper balance of wanderlust and safety.

I. Game of Thrones

If you haven't watched Game of Thrones, at least you've heard of it. This TV show can be called the engine of the tourism industry. For 8 seasons, the film crew managed to feature a huge list of countries. The iconic places that appeared in the background of the series scenes instantly became popular and still attract tourists from all over the world.

Northern Ireland

This country has an immense concentration of amazing real-life places from fantasy movies that could be visited, among other tours, on a Game of Thrones tour from Dublin.

Tollymore Forest Park

The 630 hectares of Tollymore Park forest near the Morne Mountains is a great place to walk or even hike in Northern Ireland. The mountain rivers, caves, caverns and picturesque sea views attracted the film crew here. In the series, it’s a woodland where Nightwalkers are spotted and the Direwolf puppies are found.

The Dark Hedges, County Antrim

The Dark Hedges is perhaps the most beautiful beech alley in the world and one of the most photographed landmarks in Northern Ireland and on the Game of Thrones Map. The trees were planted in the 18th century to impress visitors of Dunluce Castle. The idea was so good that it outlived its creators and still impresses tourists. Luckily, Dark Hedges are currently free to visit, so you definitely must go there.

real-life place from the fantasy movie Game of Thrones
The Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Source: https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/sport/other-sport/iconic-dark-hedges-been-incorporated-13314154

Castle Ward, County Down

Probably the most famous Game of Thrones filming location in Northern Ireland is Castle Ward, also known as Winterfell. Visitors can dress up in the costumes of the Game of Thrones’ characters and play around the castle learning archery. And now you can discover Winterfell for yourself! The National Trust has reopened its outdoor spaces after the lockdown. Don’t hesitate and book your visit there.

Croatia

Croatia is the country where most of the famous episodes of the show have been filmed. Dubrovnik, as a city blessed with stunning landscapes, is proud to have not only the majority of Game of Thrones filming locations but also a lot of other real-life places from fantasy movies.

King’s Landing

King’s Landing is the capital of the fictional Seven Kingdoms - a city with truly astonishing views. This place has witnessed many events such as King Joffrey’s name day tournament. The location is known as ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’ because of a unique old city overlooking the magnificent Dalmatian coast. By taking a tour in the old walled city of Dubrovnik you will be able to see and photograph the Black Water Bay and most of the areas which found their way into the series. The tour lasts approximately 3-4 hours, including climbing the stairs for a bird’s-eye view of the Bay.

real-life location from the fantasy movie Game of Thrones
King's Landing from Game of Thrones, in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Source: Unsplash

Spain

If you plan to visit the amazing filming locations from Game of Thrones in Spain, like Girona Cathedral, Castle of Zafra, Bermeo or Almeria, we would recommend you to rent a car. Some locations can be reached by public transportation, but many do require driving by yourself, especially the more remote ones – which often happen to be the most incredible ones, too.

Gaztelugatxe

Gaztelugatxe is an islet with a small church called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, dating back to the 10th century. To make a wish, you can ring the bell by yourself three times. Although the island doesn’t have a giant castle or actual dragons, fans of the show are coming there from all around the world. Dragonstone Island features the scene where Daenerys Targaryen is planning the war against her enemies.

real-life location from the fantasy movie Game of Thrones
Dragonstone Island from Game of Thrones, also known as a Gaztelugatxe island in Spain
Source: Photo by Luismi Sánchez on  Unsplash

II. Harry Potter

Sadly for all Harry Potter fans, Hogwarts only exists in the pages of the book and on the TV screen. But there are also some real-life places that actually brought these fantasy movies to life. The majority of the amazing and yet real scenes of the movies were filmed in the U.K., and many of these locations are available on the walking routes. If you are really into it, you can find a Potter-themed walking tour or even take a Warner Bros. Studio Tour, where the magic was created:) Anyway, take a look at the list of the filming locations from Harry Potter that will make happy muggles and magicians. Lumos!

real-life location from the fantasy movie Harry Potter
Glenfinnan Viaduct from Harry Potter, in Inverness-shire, Scotland, UK
Source: Unsplash

1. King's Cross Station in London

One of the most memorable scenes from the first movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when freshman Harry tried to board the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 ¾. Interesting fact, that at the time of shooting, platforms 4 and 5 were temporarily renumbered 9 and 10. There is still a Platform 9 ¾ on the station (unfortunately, you can't board the Hogwarts Express). There is a chance to take a picture and visit the Harry Potter shop nearby where you can buy souvenirs from the books and films.

2. Leadenhall Market, London

It’s London's most beautiful Victorian covered market and a popular filming location for other movies like Hereafter, Brannigan and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. That is a place where Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron Pub (42 Bull's Head Passage, in real life). Now you know the perfect place for drinking a mug of butterbeer:)

3. Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester

Gloucester Cathedral looks as a perfect shooting location, indeed! Its glass windows dating back to 1350, however, its history dates back even further with origins being recording around 678 or 679. The cathedral doubled as the inside of Hogwarts on multiple scenes, including the one when Harry and Ron spot an enormous troll down a long hallway. You can get there by car or train and come inside for free.

A part of Hogwarts from the movie Harry Potter
A part of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, in Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester, England, UK
Source: https://canonjjohn.com/event/justone-at-gloucester-cathedral/

4. Oxford

Oxford is a place where the true fans of magic movies can find a lot of real-life Harry Potter filming locations. One of them is Duke Humfrey's Library (the Hogwarts Library) where Hermione loves to read and where Harry takes out a book from a restricted section. Another one is Divinity School where Ron recovers after being poisoned in the episode about The Half-Blood Prince. Those who are not indifferent to the filthy tricks of Draco Malfoy will definitely remember the moment, when Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody transforms him into a ferret. This scene was filmed in the courtyard of New College Cloisters. Fortunately, Oxford is easily accessible by a train or a car. New College is a 1-mile walk away from the Oxford train station. 

real-life location from the fantasy movie Harry Potter
A part of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, in the courtyard of New College Cloisters, Oxford, England, UK
Source: https://onestepwanderer.com/harry-potter-oxford/

III. The Lord of the Rings

If you call yourself a fan of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series, you should visit some real-life places that contributed to the creation of such wonderful and magic fantasy movies. Moreover, if you adore J. R. R. Tolkien's writing, you will enjoy visiting the places which played a significant role in the making of the famous movie and the books. Majestic mountain ranges, fairy forests, ethereal lakes and crystal rivers shown in the movies probably made you think there is no chance they are real! But thanks to New Zealand’s spectacular locations, some of The Lord of the Ring’s most iconic scenes look even more incredible in the real world than they do on the screen.

1. The Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata

For sure, it’s one of the favorite places of the fans of The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, it’s a colorful city where visitors can feel the spirit of the magic world belonging to hobbits. The Hobbiton Movie Set was restored after the filming of The Hobbit, so fans are free to come. These are the real sets and locations that brought Hobbiton and the Shire to life. You can walk in the footsteps of Gandalf, Bilbo and Frodo, explore Hobbit holes, visit Green Dragon Inn and the double arch stone bridge near the mill on the riverbank.

The Shire the fantasy movie The Lord of the Rings
The Shire from The Lord of the Rings, in Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand
Source: Photo by Nikhil Prasad on Unsplash

2. Snowdon Forest, Te Anau Downs

nowdon Forest is the location for Fangorn Forest. This is where Gandalf whistles for his majestic horse, and Aragorn tracks the hobbits’ trail into the forest. What’s more, it’s the home of the Ents, living trees who traverse along the glens of Fangorn Forest. And you can see the home of these magic creatures by yourself! Explore the hiking trails as long as you wish, taking in the beauty of the lush forest.

3. The Putangirua Pinnacles, Wellington

Without any doubts, the Pinnacles are one of the most striking Lord of the Rings locations to see. These otherworldly rock landscapes were used for scenes in The Return of the King, when Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn sought assistance of the Army of the Undead along the Dimholt Road. The Pinnacles constitute the unique geological site that gives off the horrific atmosphere. And it’s quite close to Wellington:)

real-life place from the fantasy movie The Lord of the Rings
The habitat of the Army of the Undead from The Lord of the Rings, the Putangirua Pinnacles, Wellington, New Zealand
Source: https://www.nzrentacar.co.nz/blog/travel-tourism/shot-in-nz-part-ii-lord-of-the-rings/

4. Port Waikato, North Island

In The Fellowship of the Ring, the group of hobbits is left on the lonely peak. Among the ruins, Weathertop remains a safe vantage point from the dark riders. It's one of the most memorable moments in the series with an immediately identifiable location. Port Waikato itself is a somewhat untouched slice of the New Zealand coastline, with fewer crowds and more space to discover. Fishing enthusiasts can delight in surf fishing and river fishing, while food lovers can visit the town of Pokeno nearby, well-known for its giant ice-creams and organic bacon.

5. Mount  Ngauruhoe, North Island

One of the most iconic scenes is Mount Doom of Mordor (in reality Mount Ngauruhoe), the final destination on Frodo’s way to destroy the Ring. If you walk to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you’ll see the active volcano rising from the earth. To see it closer, you can take a hike to the peak of Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s a steep walk up to an ancient volcanic area. Those who make it to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Red Crater and Emerald Lakes.

location from The Lord of the Rings
Mordor from The Lord of the Rings, Mount Ngauruhoe, National Park, New Zealand
Source: Photo by Matthew Buchanan on Unsplash

We hope we managed to spark your interest at least a little. The rest is up to you - pack your backpack and let the adventure begin!


Top 10 Destinations Off the Beaten Path

Top 10 Destinations Off the Beaten Path

By Kateryna Kirian

The Road Less Traveled

Nowadays, more and more of us want to escape the crowds and find more off-the-beaten-path destinations where no traveler has ever set foot. While many countries in the world are struggling with overtourism, there are plenty of breathtaking destinations which are unjustly left out of travelers’ attention. The lockdown limited travelers immensely, but on the other hand, it’s a perfect opportunity to plan your next vacation and make it unusual and memorable. Why not add a few unexpected places to your bucket list and create your own unique adventure? Many travel destinations off the beaten path can surprise you no less than the most popular places. 

Check out Airwander edition of The Road Less Traveled:

How to choose an unusual vacation

Since you have already decided to visit a place that is off the beaten path, why not think outside the box one more time and creatively choose that place too? Check it out - it will never be challenging deciding where to go. Make travel planning your thing!

Check out 5 fun ways to pick an off-the-beaten-path destination for your next vacation:

1. Throw a dart at a map.

This idea tops many people’s Bucket Lists. It’s completely unpredictable and funny. You may wind up somewhere very close to home or exceptionally far away. It’s all a matter of chance.

2. Start a poll on social media and have people vote.

Let your family and friends pick where you’ll go next. The location which gets the most votes wins. It’s interesting to see who picked which location and why.

3. Put a bunch of names in a hat and draw one.

It’s win-win because you’ll choose the place you want to visit for sure. Save the slips for future trips, so that you’ll never run out of inspiration.

4. Roll a dice.

Assign a destination to each number and give them a roll. You can roll the dice during your trip as well for making decisions about where you eat and what activities to do.

5. Choose a theme and then find a city or country that relates to it.

Why not to go to the places where your favorite Indian movie was filmed, walk the same pass as your beloved character and simply enjoy the atmosphere? There are so many possibilities when it comes to themes and ways how you can implement it. There are no limits to your imagination.

Check out 10 top off-the-beaten-path destinations to visit

So after the dice or social media helped you to choose an unusual place to go, you can use these top 10 locations to inspire yourself for the trip.

1. Hidden Beach in Mexico

Suggested by Theculturetrip

Playa del Amor, commonly known as the Hidden Beach with the soft sand and clear aquamarine waters looks like a heavenly place. Be aware that this under-the-radar destination is quite tricky to reach, no boats can make their way into the beach, so you should hop into the water and swim under the rocks to reach this unique location. For those who want to explore more, there are coral reefs in the water, unique flora and fauna. If you do decide to visit, plan in advance to get a spot on tour. Access to the "hidden beach," also known as the Beach of Love, are limited and must be reserved a few days in advance.

the beach in Mexico off the beaten track
Playa del Amor or the Beach of Love, Mexico
Source: https://www.amazingplaces.com/mexico/playa-amor/

2. Bhutan

Suggested by Traveltriangle

It’s difficult to imagine a more persuasive recommendation for Bhutan than the one, officially given by one of its official representatives:

Bhutan decided long ago that we will never be a military power, we will never be an economic force, so to survive we must have a distinct identity. This is the identity you see; our clothes, language, the architecture. You look around and feel that you are in a different world. This is not an accident.
Ministry of Information and Communications of Bhutan

Being in this country is a chance to touch upon something traditional, authentic, pure and divine at the same time. Bhutan is a place of monasteries and fortresses, and these destinations are far off-the-beaten-path. Buddhism is an inseverable part of the soul of the country, which highly supports its cultural beliefs. Additionally, Bhutan is considered as the only country in the world which measure GNH or Gross National Happiness. It turns out that Happiness for them is more important than GDP.

Isolated monastery in the mountains of Bhutan
Taktsang or Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan
Source: Photo by Adli Wahid on Unsplash

3. Namibia

Suggested by travelafricamag

Another country which keeps an ancient traditional lifestyle is Namibia. It’s a perfect solution for those who want to get away from the metropolis and relax, walking through The Namib Desert. This trip will definitely be a good choice for people who wish to find the solitude without crowds of tourists and annoying photo shooting. The country has a significant animal population. For ancient lovers, there is the Skeleton Coast between the desert and the ocean displaying the remains of ships dumped on the coasts. Namibia has saved the traces of the oldest inhabitants of the planet. In the north of the country, you can visit the villages of the Himba tribe, which has kept their traditional way of life. Namibia is one of the safest African countries with a low crime rate, so you can safely walk around the cities during the day and at night.

Namibian desert for off-the-beaten path hiking
Deadvlei Hiking Trail, Namibia
Source: Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

4. Mongolia

Suggested by Onceuponajrny

Mongolia is one of the most off-the-beaten-path travel destinations, which remain undisturbed by mass tourism. Probably thanks to that it succeeds in saving its unique traditions. People say that Mongolians are the most friendly and warm-hearted people in the world. No doubt it’s true. Mongolians don’t need to know English to communicate, they speak with their warm smiles. If you visit Mongolia, go for staying with a local nomadic family in their Ger, the experience will be priceless! 

Apart from incredible Mongolian people, this country if famous for its unique and incredible landscapes, which are made of unspoiled mountains' beauty, waterfalls, valleys, deserts, and pine forests. Grab a tent and go into the wild -  camping under the starry sky without anyone around you for miles.

out of the ordinary starry night in Mongolia
Mongolia
Source: Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

5. Georgia

Suggested by Theculturetrip

Georgia is another country legendary for its hospitality. This is a country with a spirit of freedom and open-minded people. Georgians suffered from various invasions during the centuries, and yet they never lost their faith. They believe that “a guest is sent from the God.” Therefore, they try to welcome any guests into their homes as if they were relative or very close friends. But be careful, they can be over-caring:) Georgian nature is unbelievably rich, it has deserts, ski resorts, Black Sea coasts and alpine zones.

That is a perfect place for climbing on the tops of the Caucasus Mountain in any season. Like its landscape, the food here is very diverse and incredibly tasty. It combines Persian and Mediterranean cuisine in a delicious mix. Once you go there, don’t forget to try an unmissable treat - cheesy bread Khachapuri, whose taste will stay with you for a very long time. 

High mountains in stunning Georgia far away from crowded places
Trinity Gergeti Church, Kazbegi, Georgia
Source: Photo by Iman Gozal on Unsplash

6. Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

Suggested by Airpaz blog

The most amazing places in the world may be overshadowed by more popular vacation spots nearby, so it’s crucial to know where and when to look for them. Vaadhoo Island on the Maldives is a small copy of paradise, but wait until you know more of its secrets yet. A beach on Vaadhoo Island, also known as ‘The Sea of Stars’ looks like a magic place from a fairy tale. It’s filled with glowing blue dots, looking like a pool with floating fairy lights. But keep in mind that it’s better to refrain from swimming at this time because sea plankton can release toxic substances. Vaadhoo Island is easy to reach, it’s located just 8 km away from Male, the capital of the Maldives. What can be better than sitting and enjoying the glow-in-the-dark beach, when warm water touches your feet?

7. Greenland

Suggested by Quarkexpeditions

Remarkable landscapes, exceptional wildlife, iceberg-choked fjords and colorful tundra… it is all about magic island Greenland. It's so far off the beaten path. That is a unique opportunity to see the Greenland ice sheet and feel the distant past of the Earth walking on ice which has more than 110,000 years. Another wonder is Aurora Borealis also known as Northern Lights. That picture must be seen with your own eyes, and no photographs can fully express this miracle of nature. September is the best time to visit Greenland if you want to see them. The freezing water of Greenland is whales’ favorite place. Seeing the majestic kings of the ocean, sailing leisurely alongside is an unforgettable experience.

Offbeat sightseeing of whales in Greenland
Diskobugten, Northern Greenland
Source: https://visitgreenland.com/providers/whale-tours/

8. Zhangye, China

Suggested by Chinahighlights

Looking for a new astonishing background for your pictures? The Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye City enjoy the honors of ‘The world's top ten magical geographical wonders’. Zhangye itself has temples hanging from the cliff sides, cairns also known as stone sculptures and hidden caves to explore. You will need to do some hiking to reach your destination points, but once you go through caves, you’ll see beautifully decorated Buddhist rooms. Other places worth a visit there are Binggou Danxia Park, Mati Temple and Giant Buddha Temple, representing Buddhist culture. Transport connection in Zhangye is quite good, and there are buses and car rental services which offer a huge discount in the off-season. 

Unvisited Rainbow Mountains in China
Zhangye National Geopark, Gansu, China
Source: Photo by Aaron Greenwood on Unsplash

9. Cullen, Scotland

Suggested by Faramagan

From the touristic perspective, Scotland is usually associated with Edinburgh or Glasgow. Still, there is a small, rural fishing village of Cullen, located on the outskirts of the Scottish Highlands, just one hour from Aberdeen airport and one hour from Inverness airport. It’s beautiful because of its golden beach sands which can beat tropical islands. This is a perfect solution for people who want to enjoy the sea view and dolphins leaping in front of you without anyone else around. It’s quite unlikely you’ll meet another person on your walk there. Besides, don’t miss the opportunity to talk to the locals with their great Scot’s dialect of Doric - they’ll be happy to tell you more about some hidden gems.

Unfrequented golden beach in Scotland
Cullen, Scotland
Source: Clydecoast - Ain wirk, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5817252

10. Nunavut, Canada

Suggested by Travelnunavut

Going to the Arctic Circle is a trip of a lifetime for real adventurers. If you are considering planning a vacation in Nunavut, summer is the most appropriate time for it! If you go there, your bravery will be rewarded with crystal-clear icebergs, the company of polar bears or even drifting on a piece of ice in the middle of the ocean. You should pack for that kind of trip really thoroughly. 

  • Apart from warm clothes, take boots designed for extremely severe weather. It's an item No. 1. 
  • Don’t forget balaclava, which will protect you from arctic winds. 
  • Extra food, for instance energy bars will help you recharge your batteries
  • Hand and foot warmers won’t be a nuisance
  • Battery chargers for your phone, camera and laptop may save your life.

Don’t hesitate to ask recommendation from friends or colleagues who have already passed through arctic snows - first-hand experience is priceless.   

Exceptional Arctic Circle experience in Canada
Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada
Source: Photo by Bill Williams, https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/northern-lights-dance-above-iqaluit/

Remember, your stunning off the beaten path travel destinations are just waiting to be explored!    


7 Budget-Friendly Eastern Europe Countries

Whilst it would be ideal to explore as many places as possible, we understand that a budget doesn’t always make that a possibility. We’ve created a list of seven of our favorite budget-friendly Eastern European countries, making the choice easier for you when you do have the money to get away.

Looking at the best things to do on a budget we’ll be starting off the journey in Bulgaria in the south, traveling through Romania, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, and concluding our journey in Poland. Even today, closely integrated with the economies of Western Europe, these countries remain excellent destinations for the budget-conscious traveler.

7. Bulgaria

Source: Pixabay

In 2007, the Belogradchik Cliffs were among the leading nominations in a competition to select the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. They missed out on a place in the final but are still recognized as one of Bulgaria’s most spectacular attractions. Sculpted by natural forces over for than 200 million years, they are just 20 kilometers from the equally spectacular Magura Cave.  

6. Romania

Source: Pixabay

Included on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the Danube
Delta is the second largest river delta in Europe and considered to be the
best-preserved on the continent.

Most of it is located in Romania’s Tulcea county, where the river splits into three separate channels, the Chilia, Sulina, and Sfântu Gheorghe arms, creating – according to Lonely Planet – a constantly evolving 4,187-square meter wetland of marshes, floating reed islets and sandbars. The river has one of the largest single expanses of reed beds in the world, with the region providing sanctuary for 300 species of bird and 160 species of fish.

5. Croatia

Source: Pixabay

Visiting the beach is a cost-effective travel option anywhere in the world. Croatia was the readers’ choice winner of Travel + Leisure’s “Destination of the Year” in 2016, it has some of the most picturesque coastlines in Europe.

For Game of Thrones fans, the ramparts of Lovrijenac
Fortress (the fictional Red Keep in King’s Landing) in Dubrovnik will bring
back memories of the scene from King Joffrey’s name day celebration; while
Diocletian's Palace in Split housed Daenarys’ throne room.

4. Hungary

Source: Pixabay

If you’d prefer a taste of the city life then Budapest is great for doing it all on a budget, if you’re interested in traveling on a bike or tandem. You can admire UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a verdant city park, the “Museum  Mile” cultural avenue, and diverse architectural styles, before restoring your weary legs in a thermal spring.  

Budapest is believed to be the only capital city in the world with thermal springs. “Some 125 springs produce 70 million liters of thermal water a day, with temperatures ranging up to 58 Celsius,” notes Budapest.com. “Some of these waters have medicinal effects due to their medically valuable mineral contents.”

3. Slovakia

Source: Pixabay

Along with previously mention destinations, Slovakia is considered one of the cheapest European destinations to travel to.  As a land-locked, mostly mountainous nation, Slovakia is ideal for travelers wanting to enjoy the snowy slopes. Traveling here in the winter means that you can take advantage of relatively cheap snow sports in the High Tatras Mountains. Whereas, in the summer you can hike the mountains and explore Slovakia’s historic cities, castles, and churches. The easiest way to access the High Tatras is by car, once you’re there then you can use the budget-friendly bus system to travel from town to town.

2. Czech-republic

Source: Pixabay

Just about everyone seems to have visited Prague these
days, which is not to say it isn’t one of Europe’s most enthralling cities, but
you can find yourself being caught out on occasions with “tourist prices”.

Best, instead, to head to Central Bohemia, just a one-hour journey from Prague and also offering a magnificent panorama of castles and chateaux – and a pleasant river lifestyle. What you should definitely see is Karlštejn Castle, established by Czech king and Roman emperor Charles IV to store royal treasures, holy relic collections and the crown jewels; and the UNESCO-listed town of Kutná Hora.  

1. Poland

Source: Pixabay

Poland is rich in culture and home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Fifteen to be exact. The historic center of Kraków and the Białowieża Forest are not only beautiful places to explore, but they can also be budget-friendly.

Along with many historical sites to explore, Poland is home to unique and hearty cuisine. Something worth sampling is the national dish of shadowy which is like a pork chop and is customarily coated with egg and breadcrumbs, fried in oil with onion, and served with sides of beetroot or sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Or, for non-meat-eaters, you could try jellied carp, a traditional dish in Poland at Christmas.

Thanks to Annie Button for writing this article! Follow her on Twitter @anniebutton1994


The World's Largest Tomato Fight - La Tomatina 2015

The co-founders of QuestOrganizer (Ela and Douglas) are on the move from our previous workplace of Málaga to Poland then our new home of San Francisco.

On our way we are taking a road trip across Europe and typical fashion of Questers we are making a few stops on the way. One of them was La Tomatina. It is in the city of Buñol and many people from all over the world have flocked to Valencia where buses take tourists and trucks containing around 145,000kg of fresh tomatoes will deliver locura (more than loco) to this small Spanish city.

How to get to La Tomatina

There are several options depending on your preference of ease. You can book a tour that will provide you all you need: transport, t-shirts, goggles, accommodation, and tickets to the all night after-party. We went with a simple option and for 37 euros we bought ahead of time a bus ticket including confirmed entry ($10 city tax to Buñol) as we were not sure if they would sell tickets at the event (they sell tickets at La Tomatina if you go in 2016).

Our Experience

We saw the many foreigners in Valencia the night before and it is a beautiful city. We then caught our 7:30am bus to Buñol which took about 30 mins to arrive to the industrial ruins and small quaint Spanish town.

Many local vendors sell beer and sangria and other entrepreneurs sell 1 euro goggles which will break before the fight. There is also Paella and many other options to eat and it seemed the local people really embrace the touristic boom and attention this festival brings.

After choosing the entrance that would have the most tomatoes, and in turn the most people. We slowly started our way to try and peek at the craziest participants who attempt to climb a greased pole that is crowned with a Spanish ham. When the first participant reaches the prized jamon the tomato fight begins. Above there are locals spraying hoses out of their balconies and a few overly ripe tomatoes at the giant crowd below. However the crowd returns the tomatoes and appreciates the cool water as we all patiently wait the gun shot to begin the real chaos.

 

Trucks begin to pass through the already fully crowded street where people have stopped pushing through for 20 minutes as it is seen as impassable. The crowd is forced backwards down the street and to the sides where there now is definitely no sign of empty space left.

The fight was crazy, and we can report that tomatoes do not leave a bruise when thrown at full force. It soon became a tomato soup below our feet and that is the reason for the multiple trucks with participant reloading the battle with new whole tomatoes to again toss at the target of choosing. Many people flocked to the side for relief or to the center to be the target of all others. It ended quickly with the smell of tomato in the air. We then followed the direction of the locals to go down to the river for a rinse, but there are also many locals who will hose off passersby as a kind gesture of thanking people for visiting, or maybe to stop the mess from spreading.

In summary, this is an event that I would recommend to anyone who is prepared to get a little messy, but not as a solo destination as it only lasts an hour.

 


7 Awesome Reasons why You Should Travel to Australia

When visiting Australia, the worst thing you can do is staying at one place the entire time. Not because certain cities are uninteresting or not worth seeing, but because there is so much out there – literally out there! Here are seven reasons why you should come here.

1. Big Cities

Australia has always been special since most of its population is concentrated in certain small regions where big cities worth visiting are located. When staying in Sydney, for example, you will be mesmerized by the harbor, the Opera House and the nearby bridge, as well as the Royal National Park and other attractions. It surely offers as much as other most popular tourists destinations, but with so much less tourists.

2. Festivals

Tim Parkinson2
Rainbow Serpent Festival at Beaufort, Australia. Photo by: Tim Parkinson
For those who like partying and enjoying culture, various festivals are the way to go. From music festival in Canberra to the Biennale of Sydney where you can see the best contemporary art has to offer, there is something for everyone. I enjoyed the Writers’ Festival in Sydney the most – with names like Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, Irvine Welsh and even Alice Walker visiting last year, you cannot go wrong if literature is your thing.

3. Food

Photo by: AnneCN
Photo by: AnneCN
Australia’s cuisine includes plenty of meat – even infamous kangaroo meat which is more popular with the tourists than the locals – and tasty dressings from berries and vegetables found in the bush. While the Australian cuisine is now more international-oriented with influences from all over the world, the absolutely best thing to try are deserts: oats/coconuts-based Anzac biscuits and the Pavlova, a meringue cake garnished with fruits.

4. Wellness and Spa

Daniela5
Photo by: Daniela
A visit to a wellness center is a relaxing and enjoyable activity – there is nothing better than being pampered and massaged after a long day of sightseeing. With a wide offer including everything from spa treatments to physical therapies – I could stay at the facial treatment all day long, if you ask me – a mental health retreat at the Gold Coast represents the opposite of city rush and is definitely a health tourist destination worth visiting.

5. National Parks and Nature

Kondalilla falls. Photo by: Andrii Slonchak
Kondalilla falls. Photo by: Andrii Slonchak
Australia is so much more than big cities and when it comes to national parks, Queensland is full of them. Noosa, Tewantin, Mapleton Falls and Conondale National Park present a different Australia from what one expects and after going there and experiencing the untouched nature they offer just once, you are going to want to come back – trust me!

6. Beaches

 Bondi Beach. Photo by: Bluenose Girl
Bondi Beach. Photo by: Bluenose Girl
Sometimes you just want to lie under the Sun and do nothing, and that is why beaches are ideal for a relaxing holiday. Whether you want to swim, dive, surf or get a tan, you will find plenty of options at numerous beaches of the Sunshine Coast. Ultimately, they are the best way to relax after a couple of tiring day spent parading through Sydney.

7. Islands

Kangaroo Island. Photo by: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble
Kangaroo Island. Photo by: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble
This continent has over eight thousand islands including Tasmania, Melville Island, Kangaroo Island and the famous New Year Island – a reserve for endangered wild animals. While not all are suitable for a soothing afternoon swim, many can become a part of your vacation and only after visiting them can you grasp this country’s entire beauty.

In Conclusion

After a fortnight in Australia – a week in Sydney and a week in the Sunshine Coast – I was left with nothing by awe for this place. Its size ensures versatility and those who, unlike me, like to spend their holiday physically active will have a blast here. On the other hand, beaches, culture and good food ensures a good time for more peaceful types of tourists as well.
This Article was brought to you by Marie Nieves. Follow her on Twitter and G+.

Why Great Lent in Greece is Great for Vegan Travellers

The traditional Greek diet uses fresh fruits and vegetables and the Greek Orthodox religion has shaped the local cuisine. That's why Lent is full of vegan food and it's a good time for vegeterian or vegan travellers to visit Greece!

Find a Flight to Greece                                                                          Sample Flight to Greece in April

If I asked you to describe Greek food, the phrase "vegan-friendly" would probably not be the first thing that popped into your head. For most people, Greek food means gyros (the meat you see roasting on a revolving spit in kebab joints the world over), souvlaki (barbecued pieces of meat on a skewer), and plenty of dairy products such as feta cheese, Greek yoghurt or tzatziki. Doesn't exactly sound like a veggie paradise, does it? Well, the good news for vegan travellers is that this couldn't be further from the truth! The traditional Greek diet actually uses meat very sparingly, while fresh fruits and vegetables are found in abundance. While this is true of a number of Mediterranean countries, in Greece it is even more the case, due to the role that the Greek Orthodox religion has played in shaping the way Greeks eat.

The Orthodox calendar includes more than 180 "fasting" days, when the faithful follow a nearly vegan diet and abstain from eating any land animals, eggs, dairy products or fish (though they still eat honey and some aquatic animals such as shrimp or octopus). As you might imagine, this has had a huge influence on the development of Greek cuisine, which includes an incredible variety of naturally vegan dishes. And, while these dishes are widely available in restaurants year round, the best time to look for them is during the seven-week period leading up to Orthodox Easter, which is the most important fasting period and is known as the "Great 40 Days", the "Great Lent" or the "Great Fast". During this time, restaurants are likely to offer even more nistisimo ("fasting") foods than usual. Below is just a sampling of the dishes you can expect to find.

  • Aginares a la Polita: a stew made with artichokes, carrots, and potatoes and flavoured with lemon and dill. aginares a la polita
  • Briám: an oven-baked dish similar to ratatouille in Southern France. The vegetables used can vary but always include potatoes and zucchini.Briam
  • Gemista: tomatoes or red bell peppers stuffed with a rice and herb mixture. Occasionally contains minced meat but is usually vegan.gemista
  • Imam Baildi: A whole braised eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes and simmered in olive oil until soft enough to melt in your mouth. Delicious!Imam Baildi

And don't overlook the mezedhes (appetizers) at the front of the menu. It is quite common to make a meal out of a selection of these small dishes. Here are some to look out for:

  • Tomatokeftedes: tomato fritters with mint, fried in olive oil.tomatokeftedes
  • Gigantes: giant white beans cooked in tomato sauce and various herbs.gigantes
  • Melitzanosalata – a cold eggplant dip similar to baba ghanoush.melitzanosalata
  • Dolmadhes – grapevine leaves stuffed with rice and herbsdolmadhes
  • Skordalia – a dip made with mashed potatoes and lots of garlic skordalia2

And that's just to name a few! While all these dishes are usually vegan, recipes can vary from one restaurant to another, so ask to be sure.

While the above dishes are commonly found throughout the country, there is also plenty of regional variety in Greek cuisine. The island of Crete, for example, is particularly famous for its local dishes and cooking style. If you're heading that way, be sure to look out for Kolokythoanthoi.These are similar to dolmadhes, except that the vine leaves are replaced with the more delicate zucchini flower, which is stuffed with rice and herbs. Just be sure to ask your server to hold the yoghurt, which is normally served on the side.dolmadhes and kolokythoanthoi

Another vegetarian Cretan dish that can easily be veganized is dakos (sometimes spelled ntakos). To make dakos, you begin with a couple of slices of paximadi – a rusk or hard, dried bread made from barley that is a local specialty in itself. These are moistened with a few tablespoons of water and then topped with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, olives and herbs. Feta or mizithra cheese is normally also part of the topping, but it's no problem to ask for dakos without it.dakos without cheese.

Santorini – an island whose sunsets are wildly popular among travellers to Greece – is also known for the high quality of its local agricultural products, thanks to the fertile volcanic soil. Some of the more famous produce items include capers, cherry tomatoes, white eggplant and a legume with the scientific name of lathyrus clymenum that is not cultivated anywhere else in the world. The latter is the main ingredient in a popular meze dish called fava. This name can be misleading, because it actually bears no relation to fava beans (otherwise known as broad beans). Rather, the lathyrus clymenum is a type of pea that is similar to the yellow split peas used to make dhal in India. In Santorini then, fava is a dip made from puréed yellow split peas.fava

Now, with all these naturally vegan dishes found in traditional Greek cuisine, there's not much reason to seek out vegetarian restaurants in Greece. Which is just as well, because you won't find many. As vegan-friendly as Greece is, the concept of veganism (or even vegetarianism) is not that widely known, and if you say to someone that you are vegan they are unlikely to understand you. So vegans, remember the magic word – nistisimo! As long as you ask for nistisimo ("fasting") food and make it clear that you do not eat any seafood (or honey, if that's the case), then you should be good to go. And if you aren't vegan, don't let that stop you from trying some of these delicious Greek specialties! They have been pleasing the tastebuds of Greek meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters alike for generations.

This awesome text was brought to you by Wendy - author of The Nomadic Vegan Blog

 


Best Archeological Sites in Peru

The mysterious Peruvian land was once a home for many ancient civilizations which left traces in the form of cities, temples, labyrinths, bridges and perplexing statues. Nowadays, they are admired for the complex and magnificent architecture. Here is a list of the most interesting archaeological sites in Peru (from my experience of backpacking through a large part of this country).


Choquequirao

Situated at an elevation of 3000 meters in the Andean mountains and surrounded by mighty rivers, this ruin complex is comparable to Machu Picchu in terms of immense size and sophisticated architecture. Nonetheless, it is far less visited. An intense two day hike through steep mountains is the only way to get to this impressive site and only few people a day make it there. If you're lucky you may even have the site just for yourself (contrary to Machu Picchu where you have to share it with roughly 2000 other visitors). The hike there is a lifetime adventure but be prepared for difficulties. The trails are zigzagging sharply up and down and there is no flat surface. It was the most difficult hike I've done so far but how rewarding! The majestic Andes surround you at every step and the mighty river is flowing between the mountains providing epic views during the whole hike.

 

Chavín de Huántar

This ruin complex was once a pilgrimage site for the individuals from Chavin civilization. Constructed between 1500 and 300 BC it consists of a massive temple, plaza and the labyrinth. It was a ceremonial center which offered a spiritual and psychedelic experience. Participants were given hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, then entered the complicated underground labyrinth accompanied by sounds of trumpets and water running below their feet (the site hosted a complex canal system). All that to confuse a person walking in the labyrinth and enhance the spiritual experience. To get the atmosphere even more, try a two days hike in Cordilliera Blanca just as ancient Chavin pilgrims did some 3000 years ago. Locals selling souvenirs at the site sometimes offer tours of the site accompanied with San Pedro cactus consumption.

 

Nazca

Seen only from the plane or high hills, Nazca lines form various designs such as spider, birds, monkey, tree,  possible astronaut. These lines were drawn by moving the black rocks and reveling the light color sand underneath. Due to the lack of rain the lines stayed intact for 2000 years. Multipule theories about why the lines came into existence range from contact with aliens to astronomical purpose, but the version I heard when visiting the site was that Nazca people created them for the gods, who could see them only from the sky. If you're in the area don't miss the Nazca cemetery with its creepy open graves... Many bones that lay aroung the graves were left behind by plundering thieves who robbed the bodies from gold and other valuables they were buried with.

Chan Chan

The largest Pre-Colombian city in South America, Chan Chan was created by Chimu civilization. The site contains various adobe constructions covered with intricate designs. The scale of the site is breathtaking, and the designs on the adobe walls are a reminiscence of a grand civilization that once inhabited those lands. Unlike other ruins in Peru, Chan Chan was constructed very close to the Pacific Ocean. The proximity of the water had influence on the daily activities of citizens of Chan Chan. Those are depicted in various carvings of fish, crabs, turtles, and fishing nets. Another characteristic that makes Chan Chan unique is that the site has many ramps and no stairs.  To increase the farming Chimu civilization created the canal system.  It improved the farming for some time but was later destroyed by flood. A small lake is remaining from those ancient times and it looks like an oasis surrounded by yellow sand of this desert. Unfortunately, a vast part of Cha Chan was destroyed by the centuries of rain and only small part of this once monumental city remains.

Moray

The alien looking Moray can be easily visited thanks to it's proximity to Cuzco. Numerous levels of terraces are aligned in the valley creating  a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. Archaeologists suggest that Moray was an Inca agricultural experiment station. Each level has a different micro-climate, making it ideal for crop testing.  According to our guide, Incas planted different species of potatoes, plantains and other vegetables on different levels. This was done to distinguish which species will do better in cold and hot temperatures. The ones that adopted the best were distributed to different parts of Inca empire to make the most out of their sophisticated agriculture.

DSC_0700         DSC_0759


Machu  Picchu

This very popular tourist attraction was left to the end of the list on purpose. Amazing as it is, it attracts a big number of tourists, therefore it offers a completely different experience then the previously mentioned sites. Regardless of the crowds, it remains a marvelous monument of Inca's architecture and their love for the highlands. It is situated on a mountain ridge which offers magnificent views as well as mystic fog invading the site at different times of  the day. If you travel on a budget it's worth to consider walking to Aguas Calientes (the closest town to Machu Picchu) instead of taking an expensive train. It's  a good idea to arrange the tickets a day in advance as the entrance to viewpoints Huayna Picchu and Montana Machu Picchu are limited.

The story of Machu Picchu is intriguing and is it's purpose is still unknown. The popular version is that Machu Picchu was a holiday resort for elite Incas.  The Incas started building it around 1430AD in this hidden location which prevented it from being destroyed by Spanish conquistadors during their invasion on the Inca Empire.

 

 

 




Visit Chile home to volcanos, deserts, sea lions... and a hitchhikers paradise!

Our adventure in this country started when we crossed the border from Argentina and the city of Valdivia was our first destination. There, we've seen the sea lions which come near  the fish market where people feed them. Later we went to Pucon for the pools with natural hot water coming from the geysers. The pools were beautifully situated in
the mountains. Our next destination was Santiago, the capital of Chile. We were hosted by a friendly couple who made a crevice party the day we arrived. In Santiago we went to the local market and couple of museums. The most impressive was 'Museo de la memoria' - the museum about the Pinochet dictatorship, probably the most difficult period in Chile's history during which millions of people died, disappeared or was tortured because they were considered political enemies.

After Sanitago we went to La Serena, the beach town where we were hosted by the British guy who was a chef of Scotland Yard and now he moved to Chile as he married here. The city was close to Valley Elqui - amazing desert valley, with many sky observatories and pisco factories (pisco- grape brandy produced in Chile). From La Serena we went far north, to San Pedro de Atacama. We were very lucky with hitchhiking as we met Ronny- a friendly guy who gave us a ride and also spend a day showing us amazing places around the area. We went to Valle de la Luna, the valley which resembles moon surface and Valle de la Muerte- death valley- so dry that nothing lives there. We also tried the dust boarding on the sand dunes, which was a lot of fun. In San Pedro we were hosted by a young couple from Chile and England. With them we went to other hot pools (as there are a lot of volcanoes and geysers in Chile, there are also a lot of hot streams and pools with natural hot water).

From San Pedro we crossed the border to Bolivia.  Chile was a fascinating place for us. The country is very diverse geographically, ranging from  glaciers and snow-covered volcano peaks in the south to dry and hot desert in the north. The desert part is especially interesting as it seems like another planet. We met a lot of friendly and helpful people, and we managed to visit all the places we wanted by hitchhiking, which in Chile works very well. We've never waited for a ride more then 15 min. We've learned from the drivers that hitchhiking is very popular in Chile as all the university students travel with their backpacks to explore their country and often hitch a ride.  Chile is also very similar to Europe in terms of culture and lifestyle so we felt like home. We could easily mix in the crowd and feel like locals. When we crossed the border and arrived in Bolivia we encountered a completely different reality, but this will be a subject of another post:

 


BRAZIL - Felicidade e Carnaval !!!

Visiting Brazil was an incredible experience!

This vast country is full of diversities, dance, music, exotic fruits and  beautiful landscapes.

After the initial 4 days in Rio de Janeiro we headed north to Porto Seguro. We spent two weeks hitchhiking 1100km along the cost and stopping  at many beautiful beaches and small non-touristic towns. Each one (some less than 40km apart) offered a new aspect of this diverse country. We made a 13 km hike through the sandy beach, with our heavy backpacks from two small towns of Corumbau  to Caraiva (where all the streets are made of sand and the whole village looks like a beach).  It is very rewarding to carry everything that is needed to survive in a backpack and surprisingly it is not as exhausting as it may seem.

This was an incredible adventure in the tropics. Which was followed by returning to Rio in time for carnival. Every day of carnival was full of street parties (Blocos) happening in every district of the city, and every street was crowded with people. It was fun but also very hectic. We have spent a lot of time navigating through crowds of people that last up to 12 blocks! It is interesting as congo lines naturally formed so that people can move trough the crowd.