Romania's Charming Cities: A Photo Essay

One of the most pleasant surprises of my recent trip to Romania was visiting charming and photogenic small cities like Timisoara and Sibiu. These cities are a photographer’s dream. Although I would not consider myself a photographer (I was more into travel writing when I started my blog), I have to say that I took so many pictures in my travel to the Balkans. Now that I've had a bit of time to go through the photos and reflect on my visit to Romania, I realize that the photos help me remember everything in detail. Join me as I re-visit my tour to Timisoara and Sibiu Historic Center.

SibiuThe thick fortified wall and one of the towers along Strada Cetăţii are impressive. The remaining defense wall and four defense towers are the last parts of the third fortification ring built in medieval Sibiu in the 1300s. They were restored in the 60s.

Cobblestone streets lined with colorful houses.
Everybody likes to take a picture of archways, and there's plenty in this town. Notice the flow…

Serbia: A Travel Journal

The Road to BelgradeDo you like the Chinese Highway? asked our guide. We were on a bus ride from Sofia to Belgrade and had just crossed the Bulgarian/Serbian border.  Our guide tried to explain the Chinese connection in order to give us some background of Serbia's complex geopolitical history.  The airstrike by NATO in the late 1990s destroyed a portion of transportation infrastructure and industrial facilities in Serbia and fueled an anti-Western sentiment. Serbia looked to the east and tried to maintain an alliance with Russia and China.  China invested in the infrastructure of Serbia and became a great ally in the Kosovo dispute, one of the issues being negotiated over Serbia's acceptance into the European Union (another complex issue, but worthy of a mention because it kind of answer our question why the process of going through the Serbian border took longer.)

The bus ride was lovely, with a stretch of green flatlands and rolling hills and mountains. It was an exhilarat…

Sofia, Bulgaria

I consider myself blessed by the many beautiful religious places I’ve seen in my life - the Vatican, Jerusalem, and the Wailing Wall, the temples in Kathmandu, the Hassan II Mosque in Morocco, the Blue Mosque in Turkey, Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and Bagan's more than 2000 temples, the Ling Yin Soul Retreat Temple in China - now there’s a new addition to the list: Rila Monastery and my new way of seeing things. WhenTurkish Airlines changed my connecting flights to Sofia, Bulgaria to a much earlier time that no one could not possibly make, I rebooked my flight to an earlier date.It gave me a chance to explore the city on my own before joining a group tour to the Balkans.I had another stroke of luck when out of the blue, I received an email from a travel buddy from my North African past two weeks before my trip.She happened to live and teach at Sofia University, so she gave me a list of things to see and do in Bulgaria.

Another thing about travel is meeting people with the same inter…

Journey Into Ancient Egypt, Part 2: Along the Nile River

As I alluded to in my previous post, the story of ancient Egypt was predicated by the rising and setting sun. The east bank, where the sun rose, was the side of birth. The west bank, where the sunset, was the side of death.  All the Ancient Egyptian pyramids and tombs were constructed on the west side of the Nile River.  The Nile River may have not played a central part in Ancient Egyptian spirituality, but it was the lifeblood of Egypt. The fertile soil along the banks of the river made it easy for towns to form and helped build civilization. 

We left Luxor as the sun was setting so the rest of the day was spent taking photos and videos. The scenery along the Nile was gorgeous. I went back and forth focusing my camera between the setting sun’s reflection on the water and the mountains. Its reflection gave the mountains a salmon-colored hue. The contrasting colors of the dry desert mountain and the lush riverbank lined with date palm trees was a breathtaking sight - a scenery that nev…

Journey into Ancient Egypt, Part 1: Luxor

One of the more popular ways to travel in Egypt is to take a four-day or five-day cruise from Luxor to Aswan or Aswan to Luxor. We embarked in Luxor, where we were able to visit the Karnak Temple and Luxor temple, Valley of the Kings, Hatshepsut Temple, the Colossi of Memnon, and visit more temples along the way such as Edfu or Horus Temple, Kom Ombo until we reached Aswan. In Aswan, we visited the Philae Temple, the High Dam, and the Granite Quarries. I think it’s safe to say that most cruises have pretty much set itinerary because our boat was docked parallel to six other boats in the same port at one time. So, we had to walk through 6 different lobbies to get to our boat.

Glad that I took the Luxor to Aswan route for it was in Luxor that I saw the brightest and the most beautiful sunrise. The sunrise was a great introduction to the story of Egypt and the sites I was about to see - from the East Bank to the West Bank of the Nile – a real journey into ancient Egypt.

Karnak Temple …

Egypt: The Pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza

The Great Pyramid of GizaWho said you can’t climb the Great Pyramid? Well, you can go inside the Great Pyramid and climb more than two hundred very narrow steps to see the spot where Khufu, the most powerful ruler of Egypt’s Old Kingdom, was interred for all eternity. I paid an extra 360 EGP for the experience or so I could claim I climbed the Great Pyramid. Seriously, I wanted to make the most of my visit to explore the last surviving wonder of the ancient world.

At 146.5 meters (481 feet), the Great Pyramid remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for nearly 4,000 years. Constructed between c. 2580–2560 BC, it was covered by limestone casing stones. It was impressive to see the beauty of the structure from the outside and to hear our guide talked about the astronomical and engineering principles behind the structure. For example, the sides of the pyramid are precisely aligned to the cardinal points of the compass. The triangular shape entrance, which is no longer accessi…

Chichen Itza

The last two times I was in the Yucatan Peninsula, I visited some Mayan ruins but not Chichen Itza - one of the new seven wonders of the world.  Last month, I had the opportunity of visiting Chichen Itza while in Cozumel. So I looked into joining a tour to Chichen Itza from Cozumel, but the only tour available was a flight tour that cost almost $500.00.  It was not affordable for me so I left the tour desk disappointed.  But as I walked into an elevator, I overheard someone talked excitedly about his impending tour to Chichen Itza. So, I asked if he was going on a flight tour. 
He said, “No, I’m going by bus”. 
My immediate reaction was, “What? there’s a bus tour from Cozumel?” 
Luckily, I was able to get on the same tour for a fraction of the price. Our day began with a forty-five-minute ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, and a two-hour bus ride (not really a big tour bus, but a van) from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza. As part of a small group, I did not have to deal with the entranc…