travel guide

Airfare to Europe may be on the rise

airplaneIt’s certainly been no secret that the down economy has been hard on airlines, and with fewer people shelling out cash to travel in the recession, airfares to just about everywhere have been incredibly low lately. This has meant for some uncommonly low summer fares to Europe especially. In fact, fares were down as much as 50% earlier this summer, and several flash fare sales and special promotions made getting to the other side of the pond a whole lot cheaper than it was just one year ago.

For those waiting for fares to continue to drop, you may just be out of luck, however. With oil prices creeping back up (though it’s still cheaper than it was last summer), some airlines may be increasing fuel surcharges to make up for the cost of more expensive jet fuel. USA Today reported that Lufthansa (which operates many flights from the U.S. to European cities) and a few other international carriers have already increased their fuel surcharges for domestic and international routes—a move that has many industry insiders wondering how long until many U.S. Airlines follow suit on all their flights.

In fact, many U.S, Airlines have already been forces to bump fuel surcharges on some of their international routes, meaning your ticket to London could already cost more now than it did last week. However, with the airlines still battling against a struggling economy and many travelers choosing “staycations” (god, I will never stop hating that word or concept), there are still plenty of good deals and cheap fares out there for those budget travelers hoping to make it to Europe this year.

The good news is also that while your flight to Europe may cost you a little more than it would have if you booked a few months ago, discount airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet make getting cheap flights in Europe a total breeze. For just a few Euros you can country hop across Europe.

If you are planning on doing UK & Europe travel on a tight budget this year, there are plenty of ways to save money on the road. Luckily, the many great Europe hostels mean that it is easy to find a cheap place to sleep.

While I am a big fan of train travel in Europe, taking the train isn’t always the most economical decision when traveling around Europe. In fact, with so many Europe cheap tickets out there on flights from the UK to France, Italy and Spain, the hassle of heading to the airport and taking a plane might be well worth the trouble (especially when you have extra euros in your pocket to spend on your travels).

If you aren’t so much the hosteling type and would rather spend your nights in a hotel rather than a hostel, the suffering economy has meant there are also a ton of great deals to be found on hotels around the UK and Europe. The New York Times Travel section reported that the Marriott is offering free nights at its 300 hotels across the globe. While those travelers headed to Hawaii, the Caribbean or Thailand get a fifth night free, many of the Marriott’s London hotels are offering up a free night mid-week.

Los Angeles Things to Do

How to spend a vacation in Los Angeles on a low budget

los-angelesWith the glitz and glamour of the entertainment business, a large collection of high end stores, hotels and restaurants, it might seem close to impossible to plan a vacation in Los Angeles on a low budget. But never underestimate the power of planning in advance and doing your research.

Getting to Los Angeles

The fastest way to get to the famous city is by plane. You can find airline tickets to Los Angeles offered by a variety of carriers so looking for a good deal is only a matter of how much time you are willing to spend online.

The largest airport in the area is Los Angeles International Airport and the flights to LAX tend to be cheaper than the ones to the other airports. It’s a major hub for United Airlines so make sure to check their fares first when you start planning.

You should also look into renting a car, as the city is very large and you probably wouldn’t want to relay just on the public transport. Ideally, you should also book LAX parking as soon as you get your plane ticket.

If flying is not your thing, there are other ways to get to LA. However, getting from New York to LA takes 3 full days if you choose the bus or the train. San Diego is closer so you are looking at only 3 hours by bus or train.

Where to stay

The rental car I mentioned above really comes in handy if you want to stay in a cheap hotel. Those can usually be found in the Glendale or Pasadena areas but those neighborhoods are far away from both the beaches and sights.

There are plenty of hotels in Los Angeles but you’ll soon realize that many are quite cheap especially if you want to stay close to the downtown area.

There are also a bunch of hostels in Los Angeles but you need to plan in advance and carefully look for something that is located close to the sights.

What to do

If the budget is low, then the parks are really lovely places to explore. There are hiking trails you can try and of course, you can always enjoy the green space for free (although some gardens do have hefty entrance fees, so watch out for that).

A trip to LA is not complete without checking out the beaches . If you want some peace and quite, you might need to avoid the very popular places such as Venice Beach.

Make sure to visit Chinatown and keep your eyes open to spot some interesting meals or souvenirs.

And if you have some spare time, walking in the Hollywood is a good idea. Plus you can always try to find the star of your favorite actor or musician and take a photo there. When hunger strikes, try the Pink’s Hot Dogs . They are a nice choice for a low budget (but not so nice if you are watching your weight).


Dubrovnik Franciscan Monastery


Address: Placa 2

phone: +385 20 321 410

open: 9 am-6 pm

entrance fee: 6 kn, children 4 kn


Franciscan monastery

Be sure to explore Dubrovnik’s century’s old and still active Franciscan monastery, one of Dubrovnik’s most popular attractions. The large area surrounding and including the Franciscan monastery is located at the very beginning of Stradun (Placa), to the left of the Pile Gate. The side of the monastery church runs along the main street and continues north along the walls as far as the tower Minceta.

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What to know

            The monastery was first built in the 13th century in the Pile area. But as Dubrovnik became increasingly close to entering war, the friars were forced to move, and construction for the new monastery began in 1317, but was not finished for some time. Some parts were destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly.

What to notice

            The large Franciscan church, one of the richest churches in Dubrovnik at the time, was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1667. The portal on the south wall is the only remnant of the former building. The portal has all the marks of the Gothic style, but the figures exhibit the spirit of the Renaissance.  St. Jerome and St. John the Baptist are carved above the door-posts, while the Pietá in relief is shown in the central Gothic lunette. The Pietá symbolizes the Croatians’ compassion for the poor members of the community who sought refuge from the Franciscans anyhow, and the figure of the Creator near the top represents opposition to the humanist world-views that were then prevalent. 

It’s all in the details

            The church was reconstructed in the Baroque style, and the northern wall of the church displays one of the most beautiful cloisters of Dubrovnik. Master Mihoje Brajkov of Bar built this cloister in late Romanesque style in 1360. The Franciscan cloister is one of the most valuable late Romanesque creations on the Croatian shores of the Adriatic. The pulpit in the church was built in the 15th century and the main altar dates from 1713. Also remaining from before the destructive earthquake is the 15th-century chapel shaped like a winged cupboard with painted wood. Dubrovnik’s famous poet, Ivan Gundulic, is also buried in the church.

Refill prescriptions

            The third oldest pharmacy in the world was founded at the monastery in 1317, and it continues to function today, so if you need some medicine, why not grab it at an accredited place? The monastery also owns one of the oldest libraries in the Croatia, globally famous for its collections. The library has over 20,000 books, over 1200 of which are old manuscripts, and 7 books of old church corals.  Spend an hour or so wondering around this peaceful building and try to imagine how life outside of it may have looked in the 14th century!

Croatia travel guide


Dubrovnik’s Stradun

When you visit Dubrovnik, it is almost impossible to avoid the city’s main drag, the Stradun (Straw-DOON) or Placa. The Stradun itself one of Dubrovnik’s tourist attractions, and it’s the place to wander and window shop. The Stradun starts from the city bus stop outside Pile Gate and runs about 300 meters to the clock tower at the other end of town. It is a pedestrian zone, so visitors can walk with the comfort of knowing they won’t be bombarded by vehicles.

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What you’ll see

            Right inside the Pile Gate sits the Franciscan Monastery, which houses one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, operating since 1391.  On the right is a rustic polygonal fountain, Onofrio’s Large Fountain. On the eastern end of the Stradun there is a second fountain, Onofrio’s Small Fountain, carved by the sculptor Pietro di Martino in 1442 according to designs made by the engineer Onofrio de la Cava of Naples.  St. Blaise’s Church, a quaint Italian baroque building, is also on the east end of Stradun.  Gothic Rector’s Palace, built in 1441 is there as well. The palace now serves as a museum with furnished rooms, baroque paintings and historical exhibits.  At the very end of the Placa on the east side, sits the most superb building, the Sponza palace, built in the period from 1516 to 1521. Across the street is a bustling morning market.

What to know 

            The cobbled surface surrounded by buildings’ façades on both sides was at one point in time completely underwater. Years ago, Stradun was a sea channel, which separated the two settlements that founded Dubrovnik in the early Middle Ages. After the channel was filled up, Stradun became a street. Though there are several theories about the way Stradun came to be, this is the established explanation.  Stradun suffered significant damage in the earthquake that shook Dubrovnik in 1667.  Stradun also suffered other damages during the Homeland war in 1991, when numerous missiles landed on the popular street.

Where to shop

            The pavement is made of limestone and shines bright after rainfall. The houses on each side date back to the 17th century, with their height and style all in uniform. For the most part, the shops have the characteristic “na koljeno”—combined door and counter. The “na koljeno” type consists of a door and window in a single frame spanned by a semicircular arch. In the past, the door was kept closed and goods handed over the sill, which acted as the counter.  Though it’s become a bit touristy over the years, shoppers can find authentic Croatian items along with the typical souvenir offerings.   Restaurants offering traditional Dubrovnik-style seafood can be found along Stradun, as well as Vinoteka, (the Croatian word for “Wine Shop”) which sells Croatian and Slovenian wines alongside olive oil and truffles. You can find the shop at the entrance of the Stradun. Other items to buy are Croatian spirits, such as grape-herb and plum based brandies like grappa, travarica and sljivovica, which are to be drunk as aperitifs. You might see bottles crammed with herbs and spices. These lovely packaged bottles make wonderful and unique gifts. 

Early bird gets the chair           

            There is definitely a cafe culture on the Stradun. As soon as the sun rises, cafe owners can be seen setting tables and chairs out for the day. You have to be early and quick to find a seat if you want to spend time people watching on the busy street. It is definitely first come first served.  Come back in the evening for a few drinks when things quiet down a bit, and just observe.  It’s the best place to be after a long day of sightseeing or playing in the water, and the best place to explore for shopping and eating in Dubrovnik.

Croatia travel guide

Samobor day trip

Take it easy

If you’re looking for a break from the faster-paced (but still pleasant) activities in Zagreb, take the bus or drive about 30-40 minutes to the small town of Samobor.  There is a regular bus service every half-hour or so to and from Zagreb all day, and it is well worth the trip for the food and the walking paths. The town is situated in the middle of the mountainous Samoborsko Gorje. Because of this, Samobor offers visitors numerous hiking opportunities in lush forests and beautiful views at the top.

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What you’ll see

The town of Samobor recalls the Baroque period, and it has a long tradition of tourism.  Boasting several covered bridges, a trickling brook and red-roofed houses, this pleasant little town is a great day venture.  Samobor does become very popular and crowded in mid-February during its famous carnival, so if you’re planning on visiting then, make arrangements ahead of time.

What you’ll taste

While visiting, tourists should definitely taste some of the authentic dishes from the region. Order Rudorska greblica, which is a type of cheesecake prepared according to an ancient recipe. Another good option for a treat is Samoborske kremsnite, a flaky and custardy pastry cake. Traditional meals are also a good bet in Samobor. Try Pri Staroj Vuri near the main square and order Samobor’s famous sweet wine, Bermet, before your main course. Cafe U Prolazu and Café bar Ara are two establisments that come recommended.  If you’re in the mood to cool off, try an Kaffe Eis (Ice Coffee), which is more of a milkshake, with whipped crème and icecream over espresso. Not the healthiest of choices, but you can burn off those extra calories with some hiking.

Where to stay

One day is certainly enough time to explore Samobor, but there are a few hotels and private accommodations available, and the price is reasonable compared to hotels in Zagreb. Hotel Lavica is a famous 3 star hotel on the outskirts of the city, while Hotel Livadic is a pleasant hotel in the town center. Garni Hotel Samobor is a comfortable and well-furnished two-star hotel in town.

Where to go

Visit the tourist office in the town square for a map of the area, and get lost in the peaceful forests across from the square. While hiking, you might happen upon the baroque church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, with beautiful baroque altars.

Castle ruins

Visitors might want to check out the ruins of the Samobor Castle, easily accessible by hiking a short distance from the town square.  Supporters of Bohemian king Otokar Pøemisl II built the castle around 1271 on the hill above the town. In the year 1274, the castle was taken over by duke Ivan Okiæki. After that, the castle changed hands often, and the struggle for ownership and privileges lasted for three hundred years. The castle continued to deteriorate throughout this time, and in 1902, the town of Samobor bought the ruins.  It is definitely worth the hike not only to see the ruins but also for the stunning view of the town and surrounding area.  For those eager for even more information about Samobor’s history, the 
Museum of Samobor is located in the Livadic mansion.

Though it touts plenty of natural beauty, Samobor also has a significant amount of ruins and artifacts from ancient times. The oldest artifacts found originate from The Stone Age, while more was dug up from Bronze Age, Iron Age and from the age of the Roman Empire. The area of Samobor was populated by Illyrian tribe of Iapodes. There are several other archeological sites in Žumberak hills, near the villages of Budinjak, Bratelji and Gornja Vas.  

Croatia travel guide

Ancient castle ruins

Castle ruins in Zagreb

Among the many things to do and see in Zagreb, visitors can have an enjoyable few hours exploring the crumbled ruins of ancient castles.  Hundreds of medieval castles are scattered across Croatia, and most are fairly decrepit. From Zagreb, you don’t have to travel far or pay a cent to find them—in fact, there are a few that are right beside the city. Most of the castles in this area were built to protect the city’s inhabitants from the Mongols.  Later, most were expanded and renovated in order to defend against the Ottoman Turks. However, technological advances made the castles mostly useless by the 17th century. Some were destroyed during battles, and others were abandoned, but the castle ruins still provide visitors with a chance to see a slice of Croatian history. Many of the castles sit high on hilltops, providing tourists with a nice forest hike and a rewarding view at the top.

Medvedgrad ruins

Just north of Zagreb on the slopes of the Medvednica mountain range, visitors can explore two castle ruins within the city limits. Medvedgrad is visible from downtown about a third of way up the slopes of Sljeme Mountain.

Getting there

Visitors can reach the castle by driving, but if private transportation isn’t available, it is just as easy to take a bus.  On bus number 102, visitors should get off at the “Blue Church” stop in Šestine. Walk along the paved road that runs up past the church cemetery towards the mountain.  If walking, you’ll pass a restaurant on the right and follow signs for trail number 12, which will take you up to the forest and right to the castle. The hike up from the bus stop takes 35 – 45 minutes and is moderately steep in places. You can also drive to the castle in about ten minutes on the paved road. There’s a café in the restored section of the castle if you get a bit thirsty or need a snack.  In the front, a monument dedicated to the fallen Croatian soldiers is worth a look.  Walk around, enjoy the woods and maybe try a Kaffe Eis (Ice coffee). 

Importance in history

The Medvedgrad fortress was built in the 13th century.  The fortress was in a strategic location, and it was easily defendable during wartime. It took about 70 years to build, and over time, acquired several owners, including noble families.  Croatian king Béla IV, who ruled from 1235-1270 was also one of the many owners, and was in power when the Mongols first invaded the area. Though defeated, he retook the castle when Ghengis’s son, Ogodei, died soon after the battle.

Susedgrad ruins—getting there

Susedgrad is another castle ruin in the city of Zagreb. It is located on the western edge of Zagreb on a low hill, and is 12 km west of the main square, Trg bana Josipa Jelačića. Visitors can reach the stop, Podsused, by following Ilica, the main east-west avenue. Many city buses also take you there, as well as the trams 2, 6 and 11—just get off at the western-most stop. Once you reach Podsused turn right off the highway right before you approach a VW dealer. Behind the dealer is the trail, which climbs through a wooden park. To reach the top of the low hill with the ruins, hike about 10 minutes. These ruins are less spectacular than Medvedgrad, but their proximity to the town square and the pleasant hike makes it worth the little journey. And if you’re in the market for a Volkswagon, well, you now know where to find one in Croatia.

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