Sunday, May 8, 2022

List of Countries and Territories Visited

114. Azerbaijan (3-5May22: Baku)

113. North Korea (27Apr-2May19)

112. Guam (Jan19)

111. Uzbekistan (May18: Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent)

110. Tajikistan (May18: Dushanbe, Khujand, Penjakent, Haft kul)

109. Kazakhstan (Apr18: Almaty)

108. Kyrgyzstan (Apr18)

107. Brunei (May17)

106. Monaco (Apr17)

105. Russia (Apr17: St.Petersburg)

104. Latvia (Apr17)

103. Lithuania (Apr17)

102. Andorra (Mar17)

101. Luxembourg (12Dec16: Luxembourg)

100. Bulgaria (24-26Sep16: Sofia, Plovdiv, Buzludzha)

099. Macedonia (21-23Sep16: Skopje, Ohrid)

098. Kosovo (20-21Sep16: Prizren, Pristina)

097. Albania (18-19Sep16: Tirana)

096. Montenegro (16-18Sep16: Kotor, Ulcinj)

095. Bosnia Herzegovina (14-16Sep16: Sarajevo, Mostar)

094. Slovenia (9-14Sep16: Ljubljana, Bled, Bohinj, Soca Valley, Postojna, Škocjan, Piran)

093. Serbia (6-9Jul16: Belgrade, Novi Sad, Subotica)

092. Estonia (11Feb16: Tallinn)

091. Finland (5-12Feb16: Helsinki, Kemi, Rovaniemi, Luosto)

090. Malta (2-5Feb16)

089. San Marino (1Feb16)

088. Vatican City (29Jan16)

087. Romania (17-20Jul15: Bucharest, Sinaia, Bran, Brasov, Sighisoara, Sibiu)

086. Denmark (8-10Jul15: Copenhagen)

085. Iceland (1-8Jul15: Reykjavic, Laugavegur Trail)

084. Sweden (29Jun-1Jul15: Stockholm, Uppsala)

083. Norway (Mar17: Tromso, 26-29Jun15: Oslo, Bergen)

082. Laos (Apr14: Vientianne, Vanvian, Luang Prabang)

081. Myanmar (1-5Dec13: Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake)

080. Philippines (16-25Aug13: Davao, Cebu, Bohol, Boracay, Manila)

079. Liechtenstein (7Oct2012: Vaduz)

078. Switzerland (30Sep-8Oct2012: Geneva, Bern, Luzern, Zurich, Zermat, Grinderwald and Berner Oberland, St.Moritz and Bernina)

077. Costa Rica (26-30May12: San Jose, Monte Verde, Arenal/ La Fortuna)

076. Nicaragua (23-26May12: Leon, Granada, Ometepe)

075. Honduras (20-22May12): Copan, San Pedro Sula

074. El Salvador (19-20May12): San Salvador

073. Panama (17-19May12): Panama City

072. Ecuador (7-17May12): Quito, Guayaquil, Galapagos Islands

071. Puerto Rico (1-3May12)

070. Croatia (5-8May12: Zagreb, Plitvice, Dubrovnik)

069. Macau (12Dec11)

068. Northern Cyprus (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) (4-8Nov11: Lefkosa, Girne, St.Hillarion, Cantara, Bellapais, Cantara, Agios Filon, Salamis, Gazimagusta)

067. Cyprus (Republic of Cyprus) (4-8Nov11: Lefkosia, Lemesos, Kourion, Kolossi, Akrotiri)

066. Colombia (26 September - 7 October 2011: Bogota, Santa Marta, Ciudad Perdida Teyuna, Tayrona, Cartagena)

065. Poland (12-14Jun11: Krakow, Auschwitz, Wiedenbach Salt Mine)

064. Cuba (26-30May11: Havana, Vinales)

063. Chile (26Feb-12Mar11: Santiago, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine, Puerto Montt)

062. UK (30Dec10-1Jan11: Oxford, London)

061. Israel (17-19Nov10: Jerusalem)

060. Czech (3-5Aug10: Prague)

059. Slovakia (2-3Aug10: Bratislava)

058. Hungary (31Jul-2Aug10: Budapest)

057. Ethiopia (20-26Jul10: Addis Ababa, Lalibela, Bahar Dar, Gonder, Axum)

056. Cape Verde (Feb10: Santiago, Sao Vincente)

055. Senegal (Feb10: Dakar, St.Louis, Goree Island)

054. Maldives (31Dec09-2Jan10: Male)

053. Jordan (16Nov10: Amman, Jerash; 27-30Nov09: Petra, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum)

052. Seychelles (30Oct-1Nov09: Mahe, La Digue, Praslin)

051. Armenia (27-29Oct09: Yerevan, Echmiadzin, Khor Vilap, Noravank)

050. Georgia (24-26Oct09: Tbilisi, Davit Gareja, Mkheta)

049. Iran (16-23Oct09: Shiraz, Tehran, Yazd, Isfahan)

048. Syria (18-22Sep09: Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, Afamea, Hama, Crac des Chevaliers, Bosra, Maalula, Izra, Qanawat, Shahala)

047. Spain (Mar17: Valencia, 23-26Sep11: Barcelona (Merce); June-July 2009: Madrid, Barcelona, Granada, Ronda, Seville, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Segovia, Toledo)

046. Portugal (June 2009: Lisbon, Sintra)

045. Lebanon (2009)

044. Kuwait (2008)

043. Bahrain (2008)

042. Sri Lanka (2008: Dambullah, Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Negambo)

041. Djibouti (2008: Djibouti City, Lake Abbe, Lake Assal)

040. Kenya (2008: Nairobi, Amboseli NP, Lake Nakuru NP, Rift Valley)

039. Rwanda (2008: Kigali, Ruhengeri, Volcanoes NP)

038. Uganda (2008: Kampala, Jinja, White Nile River)

037. Oman (2008: Muscat, Nizwa, Sur)

036. Canada (2008: Montreal, Quebec City)

035. Brazil (2007: Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, Foz do Iguassu, Pantanal; Feb10: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro)

034. Yemen (Sanaa)

033. Tanzania (Serengeti NP, Ngorongoro NP, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar)

032. UAE (20-23Dec16: Dubai, 31Dec15-1Jan16: Dubai, 30Dec11-2Jan12: Dubai, Abu Dhabi; Dec10, Sep07: Dubai)

031. India (New Delhi, Agra, Varanashi, Jaypur, Jodhpur; 4-6Oct14: Mumbai; 24-27Nov15: Mumbai, Nashik, Trimbakeshwar)

030. Cambodia (Angkor Wat)

029. Madagascar

028. Swaziland

027. South Africa (Johanesburg, Kruger NP, Cape Town)

026. Bolivia (La Paz, Uyuni)

025. Peru (Lima, Cusco, Macchu Pichu, Nazca, Arequipa, Titikaka Lake)

024. Vietnam (Ho Chi Min, Hanoi, Hue)

023. Mexico (23-26May11, 30May-10Jun11: Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Mexico City, Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan); 2002: Tijuana)

022. Qatar (11Oct06-30Apr12; 11Aug14-: working)

021. USA (Nov17: San Francisco, Hawaii, LA); 29Oct-5Nov12: LA, Irvine, Palm Spring, Seattle; 2-7May12: Puerto Rico, Orlando: 19-23May11: Chicago, Las Vegas); 13Mar11: NYC; 26Feb11: Dallas; 22Oct-7Nov10: NYC, Miami, Key West, LA, Irvine, Las Vegas; 2002: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Fransisco, 2008: New York, Washington, Boston)

020. Morocco (Marakesh, Rabat, Warzazat, Sahara Desert)

019. Egypt (Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Sinai, Alexandria)

018. Singapore

017. Korea (Seoul, Taegu)

016. China (Peking, Shanghai, Xian, Guilin)

015. Nepal (Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan)

014. Malaysia (17-18June2012; 1999: Kualalumpur)

013. Austria (1999: Wien, Salzburg)

012. Germany (Apr17: Berlin; 10-11Jun11: Frankfurt; 1999: Munich, Berlin, Nurnberg)

011. Belgium (1999: Brussel)

010. Netherlands (1999, Aug2010: Amsterdam)

009. France (Apr17: Nice; 9-13Dec16: Paris, 27-30Sep2012: Paris, Mont Saint-Michel, Chamonix Mont-Blanc; 1999: Paris)

008. Italy (29Jan-2Feb16: Venice, Roma; 16-19May11: Napoli, Salerno, Amalfi Coast, Isla Capri); 1999: Venice, Roma)

007. Greece (Mar17: Meteora etc.,13-20Dec16: Athene, Santorini, Zakynthos, 1999: Athene)

006. Turkey (1999: Istanbul, Pamukkaleh, 2003: Cappadocia, 2010: Istanbul)

005. Thailand (16-22Apr16: Bangkok, Samui, Phangan;1999: Bangkok, Ayuthaya)

004. Australia (Sidney, Goldcoast, Melbourne)

003. Japan (my residency since 1995)

002. Hongkong (12Dec11,...)

001. Taiwan (14-16Apr16, 30Oct-7Nov15,Jul1992, 29Apr13-11Aug14)

Friday, May 6, 2022

Azerbaijan Rechallenge (3-5 May 2022)

at Heydar Aliyev Park
15 years ago, my entry was rejected and I got the biggest trauma in my traveling history, getting stuck in Baku airport since the authority didn't give on arrival visa to Azerbaijan for Indonesian citizen that time. My passport was detained and I needed to stay in the airport for 3 days and 2 nights.

This time, my first traveling after the corona pandemic, even though it is now clear that Azerbaijan gave visa online or on-arrival to Indonesian, I felt a bit nervous about the entry requirements for COVID-19. The first trouble was in Doha airport, Qatar Airways held issuing my boarding pass due my vaccine certificate didn't have the QR code. Finally they allowed me to board after they confirmed with Baku airport after I waited in Doha airport for 2 hours.

I was really happy passing the immigration in Baku airport, finally I said. New addition to my visited country list I haven't updated.

 First impression to Baku was jaw-dropping. Clean, rich and brand new city. The road from the airport to the city, displayed some cheerful colorful illumination at night. The modern architecture was fabulous, while the old buildings dated back to the 18th century were grand. They are brave to show-off with modern architectural uniqueness.

Nizami Street
 

First thing in the morning, I strolled off Nizami Street, a beautiful pedestrian heaven shopping lane with grand tile and European classic building both sides. Met my first local Couchsurfer, Jamal and walked all the way to Sea Boulevard where I could feel the breeze of Caspian Sea, which it was a lake that pumping up oil to make the country rich. The Sea Boulevard also featured Mini Venice and Carpet Museum. Would like to enter Museum in the next opportunity.

Flame Towers from Sea Boulevard

 

Flame Towers from Highland Park

After taking a rest in my room, my second local Couchsurfer, Amrah, with his car took me to Highland Park with the nice view of the city and Flame Towers. We walked the Martyr's Lane to the tower with eternal flame which was off that day. Amrah showed me the White City, a new luxury residential area, another show-off of rich Azerbaijan. Heydar Aliyev Center might be the most popular spot in Azerbaijan due to its architecture. Took some night photos there.

Heydar Aliyev Centre at night
 

On my second day, due to my stomachache, I took a slow day, and walked alone to the Old City. Paid AZN 15 to enter the Shirvansan Palace, which I don't think it's worth the money. In the afternoon, I met with my third local couchsurfer in this trip, Maharram, who took me Baku Book Center, with pretty and spacious interior and dinner Azerbaijan traditional food in the Old City.

Yashil Bazaar

 

On my last day, since I got better from my stomachache, I visited many places, started with Yashil Bazaar, where I took a lot of pictures for spices, vegetables, fruits and fish. Took a lot more pictures in Heydar Aliyev Center. Paid AZN 15 to enter and it's worth it. A lot to see inside, the permanent art installation and exhibitions, including dolls (my favorite), music instrument, history and miniatures of buildings in Azerbaijan. One object of Japanese artist, Kusama Yayoi was also displayed.

Heydar Aliyev Center inside

 

After visiting a beautiful mosque, Taza Pir Mosque, I tried Azerbaijani hamam at Aga Mikayil Hamami (entrance AZN 10, scrub AZN 15, massage AZN 20). Before heading back to the airport, with Maharram, we visited the extravaganza Heydar Mosque, the illumination was jaw-dropping.

Heydar Mosque
Heydar Mosque
 

My favorites in this trip:
1. Meeting the friendly locals through Couchsurfing.
2. The view of the city and Flame Tower at Upland Hill
3. Heydar Mosque at night

I wish I could do day trips outside Baku.


Review and Tips

Accommodation
1883 Boutique Hotel, booked in Booking.com for AZN 213 for 3 nights.
What I like:
- Location was good, with a lot of shops and not far from Nizami Street. Can walk to the Old City (about 20 minutes).
- They can arrange airport transfer for USD 15 or AZN 25 plus AZN 3 for airport entry (Uber/Bolt taxi cost AZN 13).
- They can arrange PCR Test in the hotel for AZN 35. Their printer was only black and white and thin. We can print in printing shops though.
- Their response to questions after booking was quick and informative.
What I don't like:
- In actual, it was mainly attended by Indian staff named Shaker who did okay, but no passion to show local hospitality. Staying in small hotel with capacity about 10 rooms, I expected more friendly interaction with local owner. The place was more Indian flavor than Azerbaijani.
- The hot shower took long, about 10 minutes to finally come out.
- The noise from the street outside at night.
- The corridor smell Indian spice, and the bathroom smell drainage.
- The breakfast was dull and same everyday.

Food
- Bir Iki Donner Shop
A local chain for shawarma or donner. A bit expensive that local shops but with better quality. There is one in Sea Mall food court.
- Qaynana Restaurant
https://goo.gl/maps/do97EM3jfcadHbDk6
Inside the old city. Had traditional noodle soup (Arishta) which was okay. A bit in higher side in price. There was live singing at night.
- Caravan Baku
https://goo.gl/maps/guF3vVgPnAUekjrS8
In Nizami Street and touristic place, but I ordered only Dushbara paid AZN 5 only. Nice bread was provided for free.
- Arishta
https://goo.gl/maps/4fTUKCCz6rL5Li8v6
Recommended by my local Couchsurfer. Ordered Dovga (yoghurt soup) and Piti.
- List of Azerbaijani soups and stew: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Azerbaijani_soups_and_stews

Dushbara, tiny dumplings


Tranportation
- Bus
Using Baku Card, AZN 0.30, easy to use. Google Map direction can be used, but some route not updated.
- Metro
Using Baku Card, AZN 0.30. Be careful at 28 May Station, at the same platform run alternatively Red Line and Green Line trains.
- Airport Shuttle
As per their website time table, running 24 hours, waited for the bus departing 00:00 at 28 May Station but the bus didn't show up.

SIM Card
I bought Azercell in their official shop on Nizami Street (3GB for AZN 16, 6GB for AZN 19, plus AZN 1 for local call). When I tried to buy in the airport, somehow they refused since they could not scan my passport.

Reference Blog
https://www.bucketlistly.blog/posts/things-to-do-in-baku-azerbaijan
https://www.thecrazytourist.com/15-best-places-visit-azerbaijan/

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Trip to Guam, 17-20 January 2019

Avoiding cold Japan, I escaped to the nearest tropical country, Guam. From Tokyo, it took about 3 hours.
Many visitors from Japan (many student trip or company trip), more from Korea and less from China.
Interestingly, I could see the difference between Japanese and Korean here.
While Japanese is more stick to safer and comfortable activities such as marine activities, shopping and dinner show, Korean is more adventurous like renting a car or joining free local trekking tour.
I was more like Korean, instead of enjoying the beach, I trekked a lot, like during my 3 days and 3 nights stay, I went to 3 hikings, one with expensive Japanese tour agency, and twice with almost free local community.

My favorites:
-  Caving at Piggy Pool with Bonnie Stompers. Might be dangerous but interesting experience.
- Driving to the south. The route was scenic and less car. Stopping at Inarajan Pool, didn't snorkel but climbed the rock to see incredible rock formation (like terraced field).
- Hiking to Mount Lamlam (the highest) and Mount Jumullong Manglo (the second highest).
- Dining the local food at Terry's.

I wish I could:
- Snorkeling in the eastern coast, on the way to Inarajan Pool. Inarajan Pool itself,  not so inviting to snorkel since the water was quite polluted and not clear anymore.
- Hiking to Pagat cave.
- Join other trekking from Bonnie Stompers.
- Watching dinner show Taotao Tasi.
- Driving to the north.
- Night Market Wednesdays at Chamorro Village.

Review and Tips

Tour
- I used JTB hotel and air ticket package with the cheapest price, around JPY 50,000 and in actual got the cheapest air ticket, T'way, a Korean LCC and the cheapest hotel in Guam, Grand Plaza Hotel. Wish I chose better package with better hotel.

Flight
- T'way, I think it was a chartered flight. Korean LCC but departing from Narita Japan. Though there was no Korean on the plane, their first language in the announcement was Korean. The seat is narrow and no monitor. They provided snack.

Accommodation
- Grand Plaza Hotel.
Interior, decoration, the room and everything looks cheap in the hotel and it is obvious that the owner is a Chinese looking at the decoration and the background music. Wish I could stay in better hotel like a real resort like Outrigger or Nikko Hotel.
The good part is the location is not that bad. There is ABC Store just next to the hotel. Many restaurants around, including my favourites, Terry's Local Comfort Food.

Food
- Terry's Local Food Comfort
Recommended by my trekking guide, it was truly awesome and the price was not expensive. Located a bit outside hotel road.
Ordered
- Fish & Bull
Located in Merizo in the south. Owned by Korean. Recommended in Japanese guide book Chikyu no Arukikata. Ordered Coconut Crab meal, it costed USD 50, expensive, and the crab was not fresh.
- Dinner Show Fish Eye
http://www.fisheyeguam.com/index.html.en
USD 77 (discounted USD 10 for early bird 3 days in advance) for dinner buffet and show package. Booked directly at their website.
The Observatory deck was quite interesting too.

Travel Agent
- US Explorer & Study
http://usesguam.com/
Owned by a Japanese. Joined the hard course to Mt. Lamlam, costed USD 130, quite expensive. The tour started about 9:30 and ended 14:00. Only Japanese joins, I think.
- Bonnie Stompers
https://www.facebook.com/GuamBoonieStompersInc
A local trekking community, led by some old men (in their 60's and 70's) and younger men. They make trekking tour every Saturday, posted in their Facebook page.
On 19 January 2019, they had two tours, one in the morning to river cave at Piggy Pool near Mount Santa Rosa, and at night to Atillong Acho.
The river cave trekking was quite interesting. We started the trekking by entering a jungle near Piggy Pool then wet entry to the cave. The cave with river and waterfall and narrow entry, sometime we had to squeeze or crawl in the water. Since it was in a private land, they only do the route once a year.
The night trekking was quite stressful. There was no view and the path was quite slippery. We needed to climb up and down two steep hills.

Transportation
- Bus
I saw there were two competing companies, the Red Bus and Lealea.
The JTB package included 4 days use of the Red Bus.
- Car Rental
I booked at Economy Booking with Alamo/National, got a Toyota Yaris at about USD 31 per day including full protection. The trick is don't add full protection at the booking site, since it is already included in the original price. Driving in Guam was easy. Japanese driving license can be used.

SIM Card
- There are 4 companies. They have stores in Micronesia Mall and Guam Premium Outlet. I bought a prepaid SIM Card from I&ET, USD 20 for four days unlimited use plus local/international call worth USD 10. 

Shopping
- Dededo Morning Market every Saturdays and Sundays
Many tourists go there for meal, like BBQ and other local food.
It sells various things, including a puppy.
- Micronesia Mall
A shopping mall with food court and cinema.
- Guam Premier Outlet
A big complex with cinema.

Mount Jumullong Manglo (the second highest)


 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Journey to Balkan Countries, 9-26 September 2016

http://balkan2016.blogspot.qa/ --> full blog and pictures

This time, my traveling was rather intense, visiting 7 countries in Balkan regions in 18 days, started in Slovenia, where I spent the longest duration (5 days) with a friend, then solo travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria. I skipped Croatia, Serbia and Romania since I had visited them before.

In Slovenia, with my Taiwanese friend, Adrian, who lived in Austria, we rented a car and drove from Ljubljana, the lovely capital, to Kamnik, to see a local festival, then to the gem of Slovania, Lake Bled, hiking Triglav National Park and visiting the solemn Lake Bohinj, driving zig zag the Vrsic Pass to the emerald green Soca Valley. We visited 2 famous caves in the Karst Region, UNESCO World Heritage Skocjan cave and the more touristic Postojna cave. After separating with Adrian, I continued to Piran, to see the pretty city on the coast.

I flied to Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, an interesting and complex country. After the war, still they seemed struggling with development due to ethnic/religious division and tension between Serb, Bosniak and Croat, all were Slav people, only historically divided by their religion. Serb is Orthodox, Bosniak is Moslem, and Croat is Catholic. More and more tourists are coming to Sarajevo, due to its cultural and historical charm. Mostar, was much more relaxing, with extremely beautiful bridge, where dare people jump diving into the river 20 meters down there. Stayed in a hostel with extremely passionate owner, Stefan.

Took 8 hours bus to the walled city of Kotor in Montenegro. The fortress on the mountain above the city provided magnificent view of the bay of Kotor and the fjord. I joined a tour to the North, visiting places including Durmitor National Park, Tara Valley and the famous Ostrog Monastry. Due to forgot my passport incident, I visited also Ulcinj, a city near the border with Albania, a nice resort city.

Albania was the North Korea of Europe, before. Now they were completely open, but still the heritage from the communist era was the tourist attracting points, like Bunk'Art. There were a lot of new construction in the capital, Tirana. Would like to visit again in the future to check the new things in Tirana and to trek the Accursed Mountain near Skoder.

Kosovo, the newest country in Europe, was pretty Albanian (with the red eagle flags everywhere in the country). The country was torn by war during its movement towards independence between Serb and Albanian. With involvement of NATO and US, it seemed the Albanian won the war, now we could see the abandoned Serb Orthodox churches in Prizren and Prishtina. I loved the relaxing pretty city of Prizren. The people were friendly and the view of the city and the river from the fortress on the mountain was amazing.

One word to describe my first impression of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, which the formal name was Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, was a "fake." This country seemed struggling finding its identity. The government wanted it so bad to be linked with the ancient Macedonia and Alexandre the Great, that they built a big statue of the Great in its main square. And the Skopje 2014 project, they spent millions of euros to build abundant landmarks around the city. They built new structures and statues that represented the old times. Many people called it Las Vegas of Europe. Nevertheless, the Turkish area was quite nice, with a stretch full of nice bars. Ohrid, the main tourist city of Macedonia, with the beautiful lake near the border with Albania, was pretty and relaxing.

Bulgaria was beyond my expectation. Sofia was a pretty city, one word to describe my impression on the city was "huge". A lot of huge buildings and structures and the main road was huge too. I liked Plovdiv, the old part of the city was nice with some Roman remains. The communist monument of Buzludzha was impressive, unfortunately we couldn't enter inside anymore. Visit to Rila Monastery, Bulgarian most famous tourist attraction, was a nice day trip from Sofia, though it was a so so experience.

Though it was quite tiring, packing my everyday with full of sightseeing plans, I quite enjoyed it. I met some interesting people too during the trip, this was what I liked traveling solo, got new friends.

My best five of this trip, it was quite difficult to choose five since all experiences were unique:
1. Felt and understood the ethnic and religion issues that caused many wars in this region (Orthodox, Catholic and Moslem), and learned the history of this area.
2. Trekked Triglav National Park (Slovenia).
3. Short trip to Prizren and encountered its friendly people (Kosovo).
4. Relaxing in Ohrid (Macedonia).
5. Driving to magnificent communist monument of Buzludzha (Bulgaria).

My best accommodation during this trip:
1. Guest House Old Plovdiv (Bulgaria), stay in a historical mansion.
2. Trip'N Hostel (Tirana, Albania), nice bar and staff.
3. Hostel Mostel (Sofia, Bulgaria), nice lounge area, historical mansion.
4. Golden Bridge Hostel (Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina), passionate Stephan, the owner.
5. Tresor Hostel (Ljubljana, Slovenia), right in the old town.

My best dining during this trip:
1. Destan (Skopje, Macedonia), the best kebab I ate.
2. Tiffany (Prishtina, Kosovo), this establishment was hidden, no name board, no menu.
3. Kaneo Letna Bavcha (Ohrid, Macedonia), you could jump directly into the lake from your dining table.
4. Soup House (Sofia, Bulgaria), very cheap, yummy and open 24 hours.
5. Dzenita (Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina), though the service was not good, the melted burger meet was great and the soup warmed my stomach in the cold morning.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Four Days in Serbia

For detail see http://joelserbia.blogspot.qa/


Got 4 days holiday for the Eid, decided to go to Belgrade 6-9 July 2016 due to following reason:
- Found the music festival event, EXIT, on Fest 300 page, during the period
- Found that with US visa, for Indonesian passport I can enter without applying visa
- Relatively close to Qatar, though not that close, about 4-5 hours flight, with direct flight from Qatar Airways

Arrived in Belgrade just before noon time, after getting local cash from the ATM in the airport, the transfer to my hostel using public bus was quite smooth.
Since the check in was only allowed after 2pm, I went for lunch to a restaurant named "?", recommended by the hostel staff, read about this restaurant before and was willing to try.
My first Serbian meal was not that OK, due to my chose I guessed, followed the waiter recommendation to order bean soup and Serbian salad.
While the soup might be acceptable, I couldn't accept the chopped raw onion in the salad.
Should have ordered the mainstream meat meal.

After a quick shower, joined the free walking tour, like many others in European cities.
The tour was quite enjoyable.
The pretty young guide was quite interesting, teaching us dancing and giving us rakija (Serbian most famous liquor) and souvenir of paper money, the money used during Yugoslavia economically worst period.
I became a friend with one Spanish participant lady and we had a dinner at Restaurant Šešir moj on lovely Skadarska Street.

Early morning, the next day, after eating my "birthday cake" as a breakfast, I headed to the train station to Novi Sad. It was quite funny how difficult to find information from which platform the train to Novi Sad would depart since the lady in the Info booth didn't speak English.
The train was cheap and new, but crowded many people headed to Novi Sad for EXIT.

Arriving in Novi Sad still in the morning, I decided to go to Subotica, a pretty town in the Hungarian border, famous for its pretty buildings.
I missed the guided tour for the town hall arriving 15 minutes late, so I just wandered around the town.
Found a nice decorated restaurant called Boss Cafe.
Decided to go back to Novi Sad by train since I had Couchsurfing gathering for the EXIT at 6pm.

Thanks to Couchsurfing (CS), I got friends to go to the music fest together.
We gathered in front of the Cathedral and met new friends.
Before heading to the festival, we had a picnic in the Danube Park, sitting on the grass, chatting with our new friends.
The group, many local Serbian, and many Turkish, also there were girls and boys from neighboring Slovenia, to the further South Africa and furthest Antigua & Barbuda.
After drinking rakija and stuff, finally we decided to go to the festival to see Bastille, a group famous for its song, Pompeei, I knew this song from the cover in Glee.

So many people, mostly young, and mostly white people joined the festival.
There were many stages, we went to the Main Stages, to see Bastille and Ellie Goulding.
Since I only knew one song from Bastille, Pompeii, covered in Glee, I didn't enjoy their performance.
I enjoyed Ellie Goulding performance since I knew many of her songs, though I think her dress taste was awful. She was wearing training trousers and oversized jacket that she took off later, turned out to be just black tight shirt.
Same awful with the dance.
There were no dancers, only 3 back singers, but the band was good.
One of the band member played piano, sometime guitar, while the drummer was good looking.
Ellie sometime played guitar.
The performance ended and peaked with my favorite and her most popular song, Love Me Like Do from the movie Fifty Shades of Grey.
After the Ellie performance, we moved to the Dance Stage, which looked much more bigger than the Main Stage. So crowded that we could not proceed to be able to see the stage clearly.
There was aerial dancer and laser light play in the Dance Stage area.
Feeling cold and tired, I decided to go back earlier, about 3AM.

The next day, even though I slept about 4AM, I woke up about 8AM.
After having breakfast, I went to the famous beach on the Danube river, the Strand.
It was pretty cheap, only RSD 50 to enter, and it was cool, a lot of bars along the white sandy beach.
The water was a bit cold for me after a dip try.
There were many beautiful young people on the beach.

After a quick pizza lunch, I went back to Belgrade by bus.
Arriving Belgrade, I walked from the train station to Moskva Hotel, passing the buildings bombed by NATO.
I was looking forward to seeing and staying at this famous and historical Moskva Hotel.
Since the price was only EUR 77 with breakfast, I was wondering why so cheap.
But when I entered the hotel, I know that you got what you paid.
Though the exterior looked wow, the inside looked so so, and the room was small, like a business hotel in Japan. I went to the spa, which was OK, with jacuzzi pool, steam and dry saunas.

Having difficulty deciding where to get my last dinner in Serbia, finally I went back to Skadarska Street, to try Restaurant Dva Jelena, opposite of the restaurant I came before yesterday.
I joined the pub crawl tour that departed at 10pm, was looking forward to going to the floating clubs on Sava River.
I might have to believe what people said that Belgrade has the best nightlife in Europe.

My last day, before heading to the airport, using bus from my hotel, I went to a quick photo visit to the famous Saint Sava Temple and Saint Mark Church.

Here are my best 5 for this trip Serbia
1. The cost. Cheaper than most European countries and Japan. One glass draught beer (500cc) costed about USD 2, and had fine dining costed less than USD 10. Hostel bed in Belgrade costed EUR 10, and the intercity train and bus costed less than EUR 10. 1.5L water bottle costed about half Euro.
2. The Serbian people. They are friendly and humble, fun and crazy.
3. Dining in restaurants on lovely Skadarska Street. Lively with people and live music.
4. The Strand, the beach of Danube River in Novi Sad, with live DJ music and beautiful people.
5. Splavs, the floating river clubs in Belgrade. Lots of clubs with different music along the riverside.