Travel With A Spin

Travel With A Spin

Travel stories and tips

Good bye 2019, welcome 2020!

neuschwanstein castle cover

Probably you’ll think this post comes a little too late and it probably does, but I still want to write this short review. 2019 was a year of new beginnings. I’ve changed my marital status and am writing this article from a new apartment after a few months of struggling to bring it to a decent state (and more than a 1-year delay from the real estate developer to deliver it). It was a challenging year, but also full of travels and new experiences. Looking forward to seeing what 2020 has in store for us.

Travel Highlights of 2019

This year took me to so many beautiful places, that it’s hard to choose a top 1, 3 and even 5, especially as some of them have been on my bucket list for years and didn’t disappoint me in the least. I’ll recap my best travel memories of this year and try to stop at 5 though.

Cuba

It would be impossible not to mention this wonderful island. I’ve dreamt about it for the past ten years and finally got there. From dancing on the steps of the Casa de la Musica in Trinidad, to cycling to the beach, to trying to spot as many colorful fish as possible, to exercising Spanish in a local orchard and sipping cocktails on the streets of Havana, I’ve enjoyed enormously every moment there and treasure each of those moments.

Farmer rolling a cigar

Farmer rolling tobacco in Vinales, Cuba

View over Havana from Cristo de Havana

View over Havana from Cristo de Havana

Vintage car of the fishermen we met on the way to Caleta Buena

Vintage car of the fishermen we met on the way to Caleta Buena

Neuschwanstein

A 1000 pieces puzzle of the “castle of the castles” has adorned a wall in my room for the past 7 years or so. It was about time to get there and we did, in December. Traveling in offseason can have its disadvantages, but this time it was all about benefits. Marienbrücke, the spot with the best view over the castle was closed. Fortunately, with a little “off-road” one could still marvel at the same great view, without punching or getting punched by hundreds of other tourists.

neuschwanstein castle

Wroclaw

This is officially the biggest surprise and my favorite city of the year: huge colorful squares, legends, towers and a myriad of dwarfs waiting for the people to hunt them. Add to this great food and no crowds and you get Wroclaw.

main square in wroclaw

one of the many dwarfs in Wroclaw

the old town hall of wroclaw

Gozo Island

I couldn’t help but fall in love with this island packed with quaint beaches and places to swim, enjoy the sun or watch the sunset, historic sights, some of the oldest temples in the world, honey-colored buildings, picturesque windmills, and balconies. What’s not to like? Some of you might say that’s what entire Malta is about, but I’ll contradict you and advocate that Gozo is much better and more authentic. My only regret is not spending more time there. Besides, the prices are better than on the main island and you can learn how the local goat cheese, prickle pear liquor or wine are made.

Gozo Island seen from the ferry

Gozo Island seen from the ferry

View from the citadelle in Victoria, Gozo Island

View from the Citadelle in Victoria, Gozo Island

The area where the famous Azure Window stood, visited for diving and the inland sea

The area where the famous Azure Window stood, still visited for diving and the inland sea

Alcohol tasting in Modra and Krakow

Wine is great, but the people make it even better. We thought we were going to be part of a traditional wine tasting. Little did we know that our host in Modra had something totally different in mind and we were about to help him in the process of making the wine while talking about history, traditions and future plans.

wine tasing in Modra and yes, that's an axe

Wine tasing in Modra. And yes, that’s an axe

I liked Krakow, even if I can’t say it blew my mind. Nonetheless, there’s a specific evening that made the trip unforgettable. I’m not a big drinker and would never have thought that there would be some kind of vodka for me. This did not stop us to go into a local bar and try the various flavors on offer (nuts, elderflowers, cherries, pineapple, coconut, strawberry, lime, mint, cocoa) and I have to recognize that I liked more than one.

Worst travel moments of the year

I have to be grateful that nothing really bad happened this year. There were some mishappens, but not even remotely close to losing the plane back, as we did in Sri Lanka or worse. However, I will still mention the bads, as a reminder that travel isn’t just about happy moments. Trips aren’t always going to be perfect. Some hiccups will get in the way, but this doesn’t mean you should stay home or not enjoy the entire trip.

Malta

What better proof? Malta succeeded to get into both lists. We made some awesome memories there and enjoyed the islands a lot. Unfortunately, there were two ugly mishaps.

We scratched the rental car in a parking lot and were charged 354 euros for it (70 euros administration fee). I’m not going to talk about the amount, which might have been fair or not, as we were insured. And that’s one of the reasons that brought Malta to this list. Two months of back and forth emails with the insurance company followed. Only when I threatened to contact Ombudsman, did they agree to give us the money, which we’re still waiting for, but should receive in about one week. Never rent a car without having insurance. Read the full guide for renting a car for more useful pieces of advice.

The second reason that got Malta into this list was losing all the photos of the trip. After almost finishing the first article about Malta, when I wanted to add the photos, the card broke down and suddenly no device would recognize it, neither the camera, nor any computer. No software worked and I couldn’t recover anything. As a last resort, I took it to a company specialized in content recovery. Although they made no promise, 80-90% of the photos were successfully recovered in about 6 weeks. I’m happy to have them back and be able to finish the articles, but it still cost me 100 euros and lots of nerves.

On the streets of Victoria in Malta

ta pinu church in malta, gozo

victoria from the hill to the citadelle

Macedonia

For the first time in years, I went on a trip organized by an agency/organization with 11 other friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The whole group consisted of 100 people and two buses. It was poorly organized and we never had the chance to eat properly or see anything without crowds.

Furthermore, from a touristic point of view, if you want to get to Ohrid and not reach the most iconic point, the one on top of the hill, join a group trip and you might be just as lucky as we were :).

But that’s not all. Macedonia seemed fake to me. I felt like it was trying to show the world a different face, to hide some real-life aspects from the rest of the people.

Statues of Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje 2014

First of all, Skopje’s city center boasts more than 100 statues, but none of them is old. They are part of the Skopje 2014 project, which most of its population despises and impoverished the country even more. The initial budget was set at €80 million, for 20 buildings and 40 statues. By 2015, the budget had officially been increased to €560 million. And in the end, it cost even more. It looks interesting, but strange and I can’t make up my mind if I like it or not.

Ottoman bazaar from the hill to the Citadelle

Ottoman bazaar from the hill to the Citadelle

Religion

Secondly, a third of the population in Macedonia is Islamic. However, one 66 meters tall cross thrones on the highest hill next to Skopje, I’ve seen at least two other similar crosses on our way to Ohrid and there have been attempts of building another 33 meters tall one, despite the internal conflicts regarding the existing ones. It felt like Macedonia was screaming at entire Europe that they are Christians, no matter the consequences. I’ve seen more mosques than churches in the country (during the Ottoman occupation, churches were forbidden to be taller than mosques, which might be one of the reasons), but still, nobody talks much about this important minority and it gave me the impression that they are somehow trying to hide it, even by taking the tourists only to Orthodox sites.

View over Ohrid Lake from St. Naum Church

View over Ohrid Lake from St. Naum Church

TravelWithASpin in 2019

I’ve started the year with the thought of writing more often. Which I did, for a few months, before the wedding took over and afterwards renovating and redecorating the new apartment. Despite my lack of consistency, the overall views have drastically improved and I appreciate it. Hopefully, next year I’ll keep my motivation and blog more consistently.

Plans for 2020

I’ve got more plans than in any other year until now and hope to make them happen. Four trips already take shape, but I don’t want to spill the beans. I’ll only reveal that two of them are to different parts of Spain. Until now, I’ve only seen Barcelona and look forward to seeing more of this country.

I wish you a year of savoring the moments and living life to the fullest!

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2 Comments

  1. Christopher Bakes

    I am curious about your reference to being taken only to Christian sites and Islam being a minority and discriminated-against religion.

    It is good to remember history. The entire Balkan Peninsula was at one point Christian, until Muslim armies invaded and occupied the land for centuries. The more fascinating detail you could have mentioned, but did not, would be about the remarkable survival of Christianity despite centuries of hostile occupation.

    Reply
    1. Raluca (Post author)

      Christians survived the Muslim occupation, but at this moment I don’t think it’s about one religion surviving the other, but about living together and tolerance. Discriminated might be a bit too much. I should spend much more time in the country to be able to say what they are treated like in the day to day life, but in the time I was there, it looked like they were ignoring the current situation when 46.5% of the children aged 0–4 were Muslim.
      Regarding the touristic sights: we were taken to Ohrid: St. Naum and St. Sofia churches, a church in the Matka, the cross in Skopje and other churches. Unless we specifically asked, the guides (there were 2) did not say anything about the other religions.
      Looking at the touristic blogs, the only sites that appear are still Christian sites. At the hotel, I also took a map of the country and there were indicated even more churches and monasteries, nothing else.

      Reply

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