Addicted to happiness, a story about Crete

I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.” is what Nikos Kazantzakis was saying in Zorba the Greek. And if you read the words below from our friend Cristina Mihalachioiu we can’t promise you won’t fall in love with Crete and go searching for happiness…in the small details.

“First time I was in Grece, I went to Crete. I stayed in a tidy hotel with a sea view, located on the bar street of what I think to be the liveliest city in Crete: Hersonissos. I could smell the sea from the balcony and stare at the mountains from the window.

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The beaches are not the widest, to say the least, but the sun is welcoming and the waves are hugging you into a cameleonic embrace. There were many days, during my other visits in Crete, when the sea literally changed color from green to turquoise, from blue to black. It’s especially magic during the spring, as it is quiet and controlling. It has a life of its own this sea and it is simply surprising.

Now that I told you about my big love, the Aegean Sea, I’ll tell you also about my other love, eggplant burekakia. It’s an amazing dish – I don’t know if it’s Cretan or Greek, never cared – based on eggplants and feta cheese (I know the entire recipe, but I’m keeping it for myself 😊). This I discovered in a magnificent restaurant called Argo. I think it was there were I fell in love with Crete – they say: “there are people coming to holiday in Crete and there are people coming for holiday in Argo”. I’ve met a lot of the latter and became myself one of them.

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But this piece is about Crete and how amazing Crete is. You see, we’ve come to such a strong bond, that Crete has slowly became a part of me.

The sea is not what Crete or Hersonissos is all about; while the port side is better known for its tavernas, but especially for the bars and clubs along the sea, there is also Hersonissos village, up towards the mountains. It’s pretty traditional, there are special nights and tours organized for tourists. But what I recommend is for you to rent a motorbike and ride it up the mountains. And then stop. Stop to gaze at the sea from above. And now you’re addicted to happiness…

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Coming back to another type of happiness – nightlife in Hersonissos, I think even Greeks find it the best. You have to see it for yourself and not forget to stay responsible. You’ll see you’ll find it extremely difficult with all the joie de vivre around yourselves, but you have to. Otherwise, you risk staying on a bench in front of the hotel for three hours because your friend has the room key, she doesn’t answer her phone and the reception desk opens at 7:30 a.m. :p

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And if you get to Crete you must not miss Matala and Chania and for history lovers Knossos.

Matala is in Southern Crete and has this amazing silver beach, with weird pierced rocks around and used to be a place where the hippies would gather back in the days. You travel there through sloppy roads in the mountains, through olive trees plantations and red lands and it’s worth it every minute of the journey.

Chania is the second largest city in Crete (after Heraklion, the capital) and has this amazing old harbor area very well preserved which deserves at least one afternoon of doing nothing and just enjoing the food in the tavernas around.

Knossos is very well preserved and recommended to ancient ruins lovers only. Otherwise, it’s very hot in the summer and if are not a fan of the type, you would be annoyed.

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Bottom line – the sea, the sun, the food, the Cretans, just amazing and you can only see by yourselves.”

(Story and pictures: Cristina Mihalachioiu)

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Puglia region and the love for the South

There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life”. As you hear these words of Federico Fellini in your mind your feet are carrying you on cobblestone streets and you enter this labyrinth of creamy houses, flowers, stairs…clothes and bed sheets hang from windows or in front of the doors right there on the street…it smells like freshly baked bread from that focaccia in that small shop on a street corner…voices accompanied by hand gestures cut the air around in the port area and the fish smell doesn’t bother you at all…pointy rooftops of trulli houses surround you…a well-practiced movement of hands piles up those Italian pastas you just heard about… orecchiette…someone is talking to you in Italian comfy and relaxed like you naturally understand every word and the thought of sharing a coffee on top of the streets of Matera with that nice old lady that would tell you the most amazing stories makes you feel sad you have not learned Italian yet…

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Where are you might you ask? Well, you are just cruising around Puglia region in South Italy. The Adriatic Sea is right there in front of your eyes and the heel of Italy’s “boot” will unveil in front of you small cities filed with stories, history and the Italian passion of life. Oh yes…of course…and loads of focaccia and seafood to shift your appetite and make you crave for something so simple as bread and tomatoes.

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Intrigued? Take a sip of espresso, heat that oven and throw in a pizza and while is baking read away…

Bari

Bari is an amalgamation of modern and old greeting you with streets for shopping and relaxing while tasting cakes and coffees or just wandering around for window shopping while in the same time teasing you to wander the old city with small streets, churches in unexpected corners, twists and turns, old city walls and small restaurants catching your eye with those traditional Italian plates the most famous of which are Patate, riso e cozze (potatoes with rice and mussels) and all sorts of orecchiette.

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The port area in the morning light with the calm Adriatic Sea, the fish all laid down on tables and those mid-age Italian men having their coffee, drinks and playing games or just gossiping with lots of hand gestures it’s a must.

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And if you are really lucky you can also see in the morning old Italian ladies preparing the homemade orecchiette and knowing this lovely Southern people one might actually invite you in to take a sit and learn some of Italy’s traditions.

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Matera

Matera is home of the Sassi a charming historical centre dating back over 7000 years with dwellings carved in stone, cobblestone streets inviting you to get lost and sometimes running on top of other houses just to make the wandering even more spectacular, churches, archways, stairs running up and down, terraces and corners to stop for incredible views.

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Once you exit the Sassi a new city lies ahead with souvenir shops, small terraces where Italian ladies enjoy a quick espresso perfectly going with a smoke and some gossip, focaccia from the street shop eaten with your hands with a better taste than anything else, a guy signing his guitar to make some extra money or who knows maybe to get noticed…Matera is, no wonder, a favourite spot for filmmakers and soon to be European Capital of Culture.

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Alberobello

Beautiful Tree” (if you guys want to translate it) is a small town with just about 11,000 inhabitants famous for its trulli. What’s a trullo? Well it’s a small house with a conical roof made out of stones piled up one on top of the other. The origins of the design seem to be linked with the high taxation on property people of Puglia used to pay and this dry wall constructions where created to allow dismantling when the inspectors were in the area. Some of these elf size houses have particular symbols painted on the cones including a series of Christian symbols.

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And if you get in the area of Trullo Sovrano there’s this cool trullo house home of a shop of Italian food products where this nice gentleman will tell you a few words about the trullo home and its rooms and invite you to taste all types of Italian liquors you are in the mood to try on…we promise the taste is so precious that you will be tempted to ditch the clothes you carried in your backpack and fill it up with liquor bottles, packs of orecchiette and biscuits.

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Locorotondo

The “Round Place” has a circular historic centre.  The village is considered amongst the most beautiful places to visit in Italy with a labyrinth of white alleys, white houses with the most beautifully decorated numbers graciously showing details of the street where the house is located.

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No cone roof tops in the historic centre (you can gaze at them from the viewing point looking towards Locorotondo countryside) but you will find here the special pitched roofs called “cummerse”. And if this doesn’t convince you know also that Locorotondo produces some good white wines still or sparkling.

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Martina Franca and Trani

Martina Franca has a historic centre surrounded by stone walls with remainders of Baroque and Rococo styles to be fund in the gates, the piazzas and the churches. The streets are small and picturesque and the place is also renowned for white wine.

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For a different view of Puglia you can try Trani a fishing port, historic buildings and boats in the harbour playing around with the sunset light to give you enough time and space to breathe and dream.

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You can reach Puglia region by plane to Bari and from Bari you can easily take a train (under 2 hours) for all the above destinations.

For more pictures from Puglia check out our Facebook page here.

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2015 Rewind

Rum chocolate, Hindi music playing on TV, gossiping friends, Skype calling for New Year wishes, Jaipur home away from home…

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Flying kites on the Jaipur sky…

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Goodbyes on repeat…

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Past midnight, no soul, no wind, no move…just footsteps and cheerful voices of three friends getting lost in the heart of Udaipur

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Window seat in a cosy little café in Copenhagen called Mormors or Grandma going through a memory book while surrounded by ancient furniture, porcelain and black and white pictures…

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Walking and walking to find Den lille havfrue just because it wouldn’t be good to leave Hans Christian Andersen’s “home” without a glimpse of the Little Mermaid…

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Belgian beer and fries in Bruges central square and bicycle rides getting lost on canals in search of colourful doors and small welcoming streets to wander…

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Bruges

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Waffles and brunch time in La Morte Subite in Brussels to remember sweet times…

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Brussels

Hammock in my parents’ garden with that blissful noise a full house makes…

That carrot and cardamom muffin in a small café in Stockholm…

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Reindeers, old time Sweden houses and traditions and that great postcard with Carl, the Royal Prince…

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Old houses, stories from a different era, butter cookies at home…

Hot September day walking around the Grand Palace in Bangkok getting lost in the colours, the crowd, the buildings, the warm feeling around Buddha….

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Live music, Asian rain, strangers feeling like soul mates getting lost on Bangkok streets with no plan, no promises and no tomorrow just a vivid, crazy overwhelming today…

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Train rides, bus rides, hostels, guest houses, bicycle rides amongst Sri Lankan stupas, Oceans, Buddha, sand, sacred tooth, lotus flowers, Sri Lankan strong coffee, tuk-tuk drivers with no clue on how to read a map, tea plantations…

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Cheerful time spent with new friends met on the road with our feet in the sand gently bathe by the Indian Ocean in Mirissa exchanging views on the world and making plans for future encounters…

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That Scottish couple with their map and their happy shinny smiley faces wandering around Asia with an open heart and being the greatest company on a mesmerizing train ride from Kandy to Ella…

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Walking through the crowd of Mumbai with the distinct feeling of how small we are…

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Clubbing and partying with new friends in Mumbai just to discover a new side of India, a modern one, an open minded one…

Home Indian dinners, Diwali celebration, wedding plans, shopping, nights full of laughter and joy with words jumping around in Hindi, English, Spanish and Romanian to remind us that families don’t need to speak the same language to get close…

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One more sight of the Taj Mahal…

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That lady inviting us for coffee in Matera…

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Trulli houses and Italian liquor…

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Watching an Italian lady making Italian pasta, port side in Bari in the morning with the fish market and loud Italians to make you feel at home, mussels, potatoes and rice, olive trees, vineyards, small streets and colourful street numbers perfect to wander around in Puglia region

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Christmas tree, those carol singers that come every year, happy kids, mom’s homemade cookies, warm wine, puzzle madness…

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“We do not remember days, we remember moments” said Cesare Pavese and damn he was right. As we get ready for an Irish New Year we look back with wonder to a 2015 full of surprises and precious moments and wish you all an amazing 2016 living more in the present, sharing, dreaming, investing in family and friends, being kind with each other, challenging ourselves, experiencing, opening our hearts to new possibilities and trusting each other.

Happy New Year!

2014 Rewind

Are you happy?®

If 2014 would have a nickname than that would be rollercoaster. This was the year when we lost old friends and gained new friends, lost lovers and gained opportunities for new beginnings, lost family members and gained family members, travelled a lot, worked a lot, learned a lot, smiled, cried, laughed as crazy, dreamed, learned to let go what we can’t change and fight for what we can change…

Started the year with Spanish Sangria and churros in Valencia…

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had an amazing spring drinking beer in Munich traditional beer gardens…

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meeting up friends in India…

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breathing in the Italian “dolce far niente” in Milan and gazing at amazing views in Lake Como…

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enjoyed a summer of Cyprus beaches with girlfriends…

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street wandering with soulmates on the streets of Prague and Amsterdam…

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Amsterdam

chilling in Budapest…

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going with the flow with no plans in Gokceada, Turkey…

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had an autumn with…

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Romantic City of Lakes or the Venice of the East

Do you want to hear a story about that small island?” my friend asks as we cross over Pichola Lake in Udaipur. The small island with a courtyard is the keeper of a story about a tightrope walker (natani). It is said that Maharana Jawan Singh of Udaipur promised a natani half of his kingdom if she succeed in walking over the lake on a rope that was suspended above the water. When it was apparent that she was about to succeed one of the Maharana’s ministers cut the rope and the girl fell in the water and drowned. Before drowning she cast a spell on the Maharana’s family that of not having any direct descendants or heirs. Spell or no spell six out of seven of the Maharana’s descendants were adopted sons.

Udaipur - View from City Palace

Udaipur – View from City Palace

We reached Udaipur (also called Romantic City of Lakes or the Venice of the East) after more than 9 hour drive from Jaipur and landed right in the middle of a Muslim festival. The streets were more crowded than the usual crowd in India – cars, scooters, rickshaws of all sorts, pedestrians, flags, festival arrangements.

Udaipur

Udaipur

While sipping our coffee on the rooftop terrace of our hotel we absorbed the city that was unveiling in front of us. A labyrinth on hills, small streets intersecting even smaller streets, typical Indian houses tall with rooftop terraces put together like domino pieces, painted in light blue and white, Indian ladies appearing from a window or an a terrace here and there carrying about their normal chores and in the middle of it all the Jagdish Temple blissfully located inside the labyrinth like a sweet escape from the madness outside.

Udaipur

Udaipur

We had less than 2 days in Udiapur so our plan included no plan. We left it all to our feet to carry us around and to the city to uncover its mysteries.

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Udaipur

We went wandering the streets amongst houses decorated with wall paintings displaying colourful and elaborated portraits of men, women, elephants and deities…

Udaipur

Udaipur

We mingled amongst the people praying in the Jagdish Temple – an impressive temple built in 1651 well decorated in a way that reminded me of the temples in Khajuraho and with an open air praying area resembling the Balinese Hindu temples..

Jagdish Temple

Jagdish Temple

We got lost in the rooms of the well conserved royal City Palace and admired the panoramic view overlooking the city and the Pichola Lake. Built in 1559, the palace is considered a fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles. Legend says that the location of the palace was actually pointed out to the Maharana Udai Singh by a hermit that he found meditating while he was hunting in the Udaipur hills…

City Palace Udaipur

City Palace Udaipur

City Palace Udaipur

We chilled in a small coffee shop on the shore of Pichola Lake admiring the impressive Lake Palace. The formal royal summer palace a Taj hotel since 1971, the Lake Palace is both a royal abode and luxury hotel, loved by people like Vivien Leigh, Queen Elizabeth, the Shah of Iran, the King of Nepal or Jacqueline Kennedy and depicted in several movies amongst which the 1983 Octopussy – Bond series…

Lake Palace

Lake Palace

We watched traditional Rajasthani dances…

Udaipur

Udaipur

We took a boat ride to the Jag Mandir Island at the Lake Garden Palace. Currently a hotel and restaurant often used for royal weddings and parties the palace used to be a summer resort and pleasure palace for holding parties by the royal family. The palace served also as a refuge to asylum seekers amongst which the “father” of the Taj Mahal – Emperor Shahjahan when he rebelled against his father…

Jag Mandir

Jag Mandir

We shared memories and dreams, gossips, jokes, laughter, hidden tears on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Pichola Lake with small fires to warm the night and good wine to warm the hearts…

Udaipur - Rooftop

Udaipur – Rooftop

As we listen to the story of the natani our feet carry us through the small streets of Udaipur on a quiet January night. It’s well past midnight and there’s no tuk-tuk to take us to our hotel so we walk. No soul around, no bird, no wind, no move…just the footsteps and voices of three friends talking life. And as we get closer and closer to our hotel and to our imminent goodbyes we know that we are meant to meet again on the streets of Udaipur. Just like the legend says “See Venice and die, but see Udaipur and live to see it again and again”.

City Palace Udaipur

City Palace Udaipur

Click here for our Top 10 Udaipur.

For more pictures check out our Facebook page.

Food & Drinks Copenhagen

Mormors

Our favourite spot in Copenhagen is definitely Mormors cafe which translates to “Grandma”. It’s a cosy little café with tables inside and outside and usual window stalls that you can find in most of Copenhagen cafes. The décor is a special one reminding you of a dream living room of anyone’s grandma, a place where you can find ancient furniture and old time memories, porcelain, old pictures, not matching chairs.

The staff is really nice and welcoming. They serve homemade sandwiches and Danish cookies, smoothies or all sorts, coffee and amazing warm chocolate to take the edge of any day. They even have two memories book where visitors have signed in from 2008 onwards; take time to read through them we promise it will be a fun ride.

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Geist Restaurant

Giest is a very fancy restaurant in Nyhavn area and rather expensive one. It has a simplistic décor, with diffuse light and candles and with everything just in the right place that you instantly fall in love with the atmosphere. The kitchen area is open so you can see the cooks preparing meals. The star and owner of the restaurant is the cook Bo Bech and the menu includes items like baked celeriac with condensed buttermilk, guail with chanterelles and chili, salted and dried young duck breast; the guy won a Michelin star in his fomer restaurant Paustian.

We enjoyed some wine at the window stalls, at candlelight overlooking the Nyhavn area and Geist definitely goes on our list for the next visit when we promise to try some of Bo Bech specialities.

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Spiserestaurant

Located in the Nyhavn area, good restaurant serving also breakfast and brunch for a fixed price (99DKK). The staff is really nice and the food is amazing.

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Café Norden

Located in the centre of Copenhagen on 2 floors it’s the perfect gateway from the city. It was incredibly crowded with locals enjoying dinner and drinks. We tried their Danish beer and their amazing chocolate cake.

Café Dalle Valle

Located near the Round Tower this is a spacious restaurant more than a café like the name indicates. It serves buffet dinner and lunch and it was thus crowded. We had late lunch for half price with pastas and Danish beer and all was very tasty. Prices are also very affordable.

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Café Sommersko

Fancy restaurant that seems to have also some live bands in certain evenings. We loved their steak and fries all together with some Hoegaarden beer.

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Emmerys Cafe

Organic bakery and coffee, light and elegant decor, the usual window stalls and a couple of tables and couches. They serve great coffee, juices and cookies.

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Tips&Tricks volcano trekking Bali

Trekking in Bali is a must try experience.  Below are some tips from our own experience trekking Mount Batur.  Feel free to jump in and add any advice to the below :p:

  •  wear appropriate shoes; the last part of the trek (towards the top of the volcano) has a path made only from volcanic sand so you need good shoes (Gabi trekked up to the top in New Balance while I had some slippery Tommy Hilfiger shoes so not good for trekking);
  • have a cap or something to cover your head and a long sleeved blouse; the wind is blowing stronger on the mountain and the morning is pretty cold taking into account also the fact that the trek will make you sweat;
  • the trek has medium difficulty if you have experience with trekking mountains; for the first timers (like I was) it’s pretty much difficult;
  • trekking sticks are not that useful since the path is sandy and with volcanic stones and it’s hard to find a place for support;
  • pay attention to the stealing monkeys;
  • on top of the mountain eggs boiled in the volcano and friend banana sandwiches are served included in the price of the trek; you can also get hot tea or coffee for small price;
  • you can spend time inside the refugee of the guides if it’s too cold outside and you want to take a rest;
  • buy trekking tours (as other tours around Bali) from the agencies in the city; in Ubud we found the trekking tour for 25 USD per person while or travel agency was selling the same trek for 87 USD and our guide for 65 USD.

Liebster Award, the Italian Backpacker and loads of fun meeting new bloggers

This weekend I got an unexpected message form Stefania from the Italian Backpacker telling me that Are you happy was nominated for the Liebster Award. She seemed so happy about the Liebster Award game and the possibility to meet new travel bloggers that I instantly became excited also about this great opportunity of meeting new travelers. So my many many thanks go to Stefania for thinking of Are you happy and nominating our blog for this great sharing of experiences and we hope to soon meet in person during one of our trip!!!!!!

In order to play you have to:

– Thank the blogger who has nominated you;

– Answer the ten questions;

– Nominate other 10 travel bloggers (with not more than 600 likes or less);

– Ask them 10 questions.

The questions Stefania asked are the following:

1. Why did you start a travel blog in the first place and what to you wish to accomplish?

The idea of this blog came during the trip me and my travel buddy had in India in 2012. I had made very good friends in India with this two amazing brothers who are currently my family away from home and the youngest of the two brothers used to constantly asks us during the 2-3 days we spent in Jaipur, India the question “Are you happy?”. And I remember we were answering with a big smile and a loud voice that yes we are. Back home nobody used to ask if we are happy or not so hearing this in India 7,500 km away from home, from people we were just getting to know was like a revelation to me. Being happy is the most important thing in life even if one is happy only for a second or for a lifetime. Travelling makes us happy, loads of happy. So this is how me and my travel buddy thought to bring together our passion for travel and the most sincere and beautiful feeling that nowadays we seem to forget about – happiness.

2. How would you define your style of travelling?

I would say curious, over excited, organized, people addict 🙂

3. What kind of things excite you the most while travelling?

Well, I am passionate about (not necessary in this order) art, architecture, music, food, history, small details, traditions, festivals….ah…and so many other things. I would say however that the most important aspect of traveling is getting to know people, their life, their passions, their every day life and making such people met on the way lifetime friends.

4. Are there things that annoy you, instead, while travelling?

Well I truly hate it that I am not comfortable with eating spicy food because whenever I travel to Asia I have to refuse all the great food that smells incredibly delicious!

5. Is there a destination you could keep going back to countless times?

So many!!!! Top of the list as destination where I could keep going countless times is Jaipur, India. To be honest, Jaipur easily raised from travel destination to the home away from home and as a I tell my friends I am bound to return to India over and over again craving like an addict for this beautiful country. On the list also is Italy, Spain and Vietnam.

6. Do you ever travel alone? If yes, how does that make you feel? And if no, would you ever consider doing that?
Yes. I either travel alone, with my travel buddy or with friends. I was always a people person so when I faced the situation of travelling alone I was a bit worried I would not like it. Travelling alone prove to be so exciting and gave me that precious feeling of total freedom of doing whatever you feel like doing in any given moment of the day that sometimes I have to admit I prefer the solo travels.
7. Do you believe in the distinction between traveller and tourist?

I don’t know if I can honestly say whether I believe in a distinction between traveler and tourist. I think people travel for various reasons and in various forms, some like to travel alone, some like to travel with friends or in groups, some like to travel in luxury and style whilst other prefer hostels, couchsurfing or a simple hotel, some travel to run away or out of curiosity whilst others travel to feed their addiction of knowing more. I say irrespective of whether you are called traveler or tourist the most important thing is to enjoy trips, keep an open mind and keep travelling.

8. Do you ever feel compelled to do certain things, like a particular day trip or activity that is always mentioned as a “must-do”, while travelling?

Nope. Although I am organized and like to “check” the boxes for what I have planed to visit I don’t believe in “must-do” when travelling. I believe more in instincts and in what each and everyone of us would like to see/visit/do in a certain given day during a travel. And if you feel like riding a bike in the middle of Cambodia or singing on the streets of Rome instead of visiting a temple or the Colosseum I say just do whatever makes you happy! Experiences come from unexpected places :).

9. Is there a country or a city that you have no interest in visiting?

No. I think any country and any culture has something to offer and worth knowing. If only we would have enough time to visit everybody!

10. What role does photography have in your blog?

I enjoy taking photos and I think photos are important for those who visit through our eyes. I don’t however make photography the most important part of the travel; I rather see the world through my eyes and spread the word than see the world always through the camera lens.

Time for the new nominees :D. These travelers can, of course if they would like, answer the 10 question that follow:

Meg and Tony from LandingStanding

GlobeTrotter Mom

Morisca

Janaline

Snowbirds in Training

Inspired in Italy

Cu bagajul la usa

Foodie goes travelling

And the 10 questions:

1. What inspired you to travel?

2. If you could move to any city in the world what would your choice be?

3. Do you prefer to travel with a backpack or with a trolley?

4. Which was the strangest food you ever ate while on road?

5. Which are your favorite on the road books?

6. What was the most important object you forgot at home and proved to be necessary when traveling?

7. Do you have a travel nickname or any other name that your friends or people you met gave you while traveling?

8. Where you ever tired when traveling?

9. Which is the funniest experience you can remember from your travels?

10. Which is the country you visited where people smile the most?

Looking forward to your answers and meeting you online!

Hugs,

Irina