COLLABORATION // PARABO PRESS PRINTS

Parabo Press Collab
Hi Frands and Framily!

I've teamed up with Parabo Press to give y'all a little something fun and free for the holiday season! 25 Free Square Prints - of your own photos - are waiting for you to play around with!

Freebie Code: JCFSQ

That's my initials, with SQ for Square Prints. Easy to remember! It is good for First-Time Customers to get a Free set of 25 Square Prints. You'll just have to:

1. Upload the app.
2. Choose your personal photos from your phone.
3. Pay for shipping.

I wouldn't promote anything that I don't like. I actually have used their products a couple of times in the past and I can attest, quality is top notch. Photos are printed on extra thick matte paper. Details are not lost and colors are unbelievably wonderful. I've used these square prints for various creative purposes, from personalized Christmas Gift Tags to simple wall decor taped down with washi tape. If you love curating your life - if you love to have your photos beautifully printed - then you'll love Parabo Press!

Check out more sample prints of my travel photos below. And, please! Let me know what you think of your prints, if you do decide to order a set!


-jin-
Parabo Press Collab
Parabo Press Collab
Parabo Press Collab

SLOVENIA 2016

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We felt that Croatia should not be the last stop of our epic Eastern European tour. We weren't quite ready to come back to The States! I mean, how did 6 months just whiz by out of the blue? Surely it's not time to head back home already!

With that said, Slovenia seemed like the perfect place to end our Balkan Tour. The weather was getting colder, but not terribly cold. And we still had 7-9 days left in the Schengen region. We asked ourselves, 'When's the next time we'll ever be in Slovenia? In this part of Europe?' The likelihood - very slim. Definitely not in the near future. So ... we went for it.

It only took 2 hours from Zagreb to Ljubljana via bus. Not knowing what to expect from Ljubljana, we wondered around the city for a few days. Our first impressions - very surprised at how modernly quaint and wonderfully walkable this city was, with pockets of delightfully weird hipster spots and cute little European Old World nooks. We absolutely loved checking out the huge variety of food stalls at the daily Farmer's Market!

Ljubljana isn't a very big city, and we often find ourselves back at the hostel by 2pm. Maybe 3pm. The rest of the day was spent catching up on work and photo editing. And because the hostel isn't very big, it was super easy to chat it up with fellow travelers over tea. Honestly, the best part of our stay in Ljubljana! Spent hours upon hours just sharing personal stories and I loved it!

After leisurely wondering Ljubljana for days, we decided to day trip it out to Lake Bled. Now Lake Bled, itself, is a delight. Simply put. The mini island in the middle of the lake, complete with a church on top, is certainly a picturesque scene. Like a page out of a fairytale book. The walking route around the lake takes about 2 hours, with a little detour up a nearby mountain for those into a little adventure. We opted to take this upward path to get a top-down view of the lake. Unfortunately, the Fall colors have not settled in yet, but nevertheless, the views from atop were stunning. Def worth the mini hike! Other than that, there's not much to do in the town of Bled. However, there are these typical cakes of the Bled region to try out, nothing really special, but certainly a must if you're there.

Although we didn't do terribly too much in Slovenia, I felt that we've done enough to make our stay worthwhile. We may not have toured the country's caves, but it's okay, because Texas' Hill country is home to some of the most amazing cavern systems in The States. So I didn't fell like we've missed out on too much. But if you're looking for more activites in Slovenia - then this is def something to consider!

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When: October 2016
Temp: 50-65F
Cities: Ljubljana, Bled
Stay: Hostel Tivoli. $12/night for 8 bed dorm. Free breakfast. Free Tea/Coffee. 10 minute walk to Old Town.
Recommend: Walking Tour, Old Town Ljubljana, Metelkova, Lake Bled

-jin-

CROATIA 2016

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I knew before we started our 6 month travels through Middle East and Eastern Europe that I wanted to spend a lot of time in Croatia. There's something about this country. Something magical. All these travel shows and Instagram photos - they totally did Croatia justice, painting a surreal beauty of one-of-a-kind waterfalls and well-kept seaside landscapes. I was instantly smitten! I had to go and see these gorgeous wonderments with my own eyes! So I psyched myself up. Waited and waited and waited. Finally, it was the last leg of our Balkan tour. Let's do this.

Fast forward to 3 blissful weeks in Croatia.

And it didn't disappoint! All that waiting - did not go to vain! Croatia really is the stunning Pearl of The Balkans that every traveler we've talked to has hailed it to be. A bit of a pricey country, but utterly beautiful.

Yah, I'mma say it: Croatia is my absolutely favorite Balkan country. For now. (But honestly, this might be hard to beat. Greece, you have competition!)


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// DUBROVNIK //
Our first stop in Croatia! And instantly blown away before we even set foot in the city! The bus ride along the rocky seaside offered stunning views of the Adriatic sea. A perfect set up for the Wow moment that is Old Town Dubrovnik - the iconic giant cluster of orange roofs jutting out into the sea. King's Landing of Game of Thrones!! The entire bus abuzzed with delight. It was a gorgeous sight to behold! Nevermind that we were stuck in traffic to get to Old Town. And that it was stupid crowded once we walked into Old Town. And that Old Town itself is mostly covered with a network of steep stairs. It was all worth it. Even the annoying travel setbacks that we've encountered during our 5 day stay in Dubrovnik. Experienced bed bugs for the first time and caught an unknown respiratory virus that has been spreading around like wildfire. All at the same hostel. Overall, Old Town really is quite pretty and a joy to explore!
>> Hostel Stay: Will remain anonymous, only because the owners were really nice and hospitable.
>> Recommend: Rampart Walk, Cable Car Ride for panoramic views, Ferry Ride to nearby beautiful Lokrum Island for leisure mini hikes and THE IRON THRONE.

// SPLIT //
Another gorgeous seaside city with an equally gorgeous Old Town. Split is easily covered in just a couple of days, with panoramic views from Saint Domnius Bell Tower as one of the city's main highlights. But the real 'jewels' are actually off the Dalmatian coast. Daytrips via catamaran tours to Hvar, Blue Cave, Green Cave, etc., are totally worth it. Also highly recommend checking out the famed Krka waterfalls, only a couple of hours away via bus.
>> Hostel Stay: Tchaikovsky Hostel. $13/night for a 4 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: Day excursions to Hvar island and/or Blue Cave via Catamaran tour packages. Daytrip to Krka Waterfall via bus. Consult hostel to RSVP.

// KORENICA + PLITVICE LAKES //
No trip to Croatia is complete without seeing the grandiose Plitvice Lakes! Easily accessible from Split or Zagreb as daytrips. We, on the other hand, opted to stay in Korenica for conveniency. Korenica is a very small town, but as a base, it's only a 15 minute drive to the lakes. Go early to avoid the crowds! And be prepared to be blown away by the stunning scenery. The surprisingly awesome walking trails through the lakes makes the experience quite enjoyable. But beware, these same trails will be uber crowded if you mis-timed your walk!
>> Hostel Stay: Falling Lakes Hostel. $28/night for a private room.

// ZAGREB //
Ended our Croatian tour in none other than the Capital! I ain't gonna lie, we vegged out hardcore here! Mostly walked around City Centre for a few days until we met up yet another friend of mine from the good ol' Spain days. It was super fun catching up with Bernarda and her boyfriend over late night drinks and finger food. For 5 hours! =D Bernarda happens to be a certified tour guide, so she kindly gave us a tour of her hometown on our next meet up and, wow, I totally see Zagreb in a whole different light now! Hearing personal stories from the Communist era, sharing tidbits of life in Croatia vs USA, receiving good foodie recs - this is why I love getting the local's POV! Thank you, Bernarda, for everything!!
>> Hostel Stay: Hostel Bureau. $14/night for 6 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: Walking tour with Bernarda, City Centre, Funicular, Upper Town, Lenuci Horseshoe, Museum of Broken Relationships, Museum of Illusions, Etien Street Art, Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary


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When: Late September / Early October
Temp: 70-75F in the South, 50-65F in the North
Cities: Dubrovnik, Split, Korenica, Zagreb
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.


-jin-

TRAVELS AND CHILL FEATURE

Travels and Chill feature.
Dear Frands and Framily,

Instahusband and I recently got featured on an up and coming relationship-based travel blog called Travels and Chill. So honored to be part of their blog launch! Totally lovin' their motto:

"Redefining relationship goals and inspiring couples to travel the world."

Yasssssss!

Read our interview here --> The Story Behind Us: Jin & Vince.

This article wouldn't have been possible without the love and support and enthusiasm of all our friends and family who've followed our 6 month journey through The Middle East and Eastern Europe. It's a relief knowing that so many understands and respects our life choices, even though it doesn't fit the mold of societal norms. THANK YOU, again, fellow daydreamers and wanderlusters for accepting us for us. =)

Love,
Jincent <3

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA 2016

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On our way back into Croatia from Montenegro, we hit up a cute little town in Bosnia called Mostar. It was a blind decision, as we had never heard of Mostar, and honestly it's conveniently placed between Kotor and Split. So, why not?

We didn't know what to expect in Mostar, but we were pleasantly surprised. And a little shocked. Mostar is not just another quaint Balkan town. Instead, it turned out to be a bit unusual for us as we had never expected Mostar to be heavily influenced by the Ottoman Empire. It seriously felt like we were back in Turkey! Most of Old Town looked like a mini Istanbul! Albeit, a more quiet and cleaner version. The welcome coffee that was offered to us at the hostel, which they affectionately called Bosnian coffee, is essentially Turkish coffee! More or Less!

Anyways, the great Mostar bridge, Stari Most, is really the city's main attraction. A beautifully constructed hump-back bridge of Ottoman design, connecting both sides of Old Town. At 24 meters, it's quite a popular diving spot. In fact, Red Bull was hosting a diving competition the weekend after we left! Unfortunately, it's not the original Stari Most, which hung around for over 400 years until the Croat-Bosniak War destroyed it.

Speaking of the Bosnian War, remnants of the aftermath could be seen outside Old Town. Random buildings bombed to disrepair, peppered all over the city. Kinda weird to see them wedged between occupied buildings, all eerily calm in Modern Day Bosnia.

Like Montenegro, we've stayed in Mostar longer than most people would. 4-5 days? As opposed to the recommended 2. Stupid common cold and/or flu. Being sick WHILE traveling - ain't no joke! Thus, the very reason why we extended our stay in Mostar. Had the very nice hostel workers worried sick about me, wondering why I'm holed up in our private room, coughing and wheezing away. Ugh. Not my finest moment! But I really did like that hostel, like, really really really liked it. It's clean, intimate, easy to meet travelers. Had a chance to conversate with quite a handful of people from around the world, during one of the few times I would escape my room to make myself tea. Felt bad for the guests who had to stay in the room after us, though!

Overall, Mostar is a great place to relax and chill for a bit. Also another popular town for day trips. Such a shame that we weren't able to do some day excursions! Would have loved to make our way to Sarajevo!


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When: September 2016
Temp: 70F
Cities: Mostar
Stay: Guesthouse Taso. $11/person for 2 bed private dorm.
Recommend: Old Town, Mostar Bridge


-jin-

MONTENEGRO 2016

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Towards the end of our stay in Dubrovnik, we started wondering what course we should take. Hop over to Montenegro? Continue our way north through Croatia? At the very last second, we went for it: We hopped on a bus and found ourselves in Kotor hours later. Why not? Heard from fellow travelers in our Dubrovnik hostel how much they prefer Kotor over Dubrovnik. I mean, Dubrovnik's Old Town is pretty nice, but something nicer? Such testimonials had us intrigued. We just had to see for ourselves!

Upon arrival to Kotor's Old Town, it's clear why most travelers rave about this place. It has more personality. More quaint nooks and crannies with many hidden little shops. A LOT more cats here. Most of Old town is thankfully flat - not covered with long, steep uphill stairs like Dubrovnik.

But the one important thing that separates Kotor from Dubrovnik: Less tourist crowds. Don't get me wrong. Kotor Old Town is nothing but touristy, but there's a stark contrast with the amount of foot traffic between the 2 cities. Dubrovnik is stupid crowded. So crowded that the city officials have thought about capping the number of guests entering it's Old Town walls by way of purchasable tickets. Oof. Kotor does get crowded, but it comes and goes in waves. When the cruise ships dock - the city is suddenly alive. By nightfall, the cruise ships are gone and Kotor is back to a sleepy town.

Overall, there isn't much to do in Kotor. It's a great base to do day trips to other parts of Montenegro and Albania. Which we probably would have considered if I hadn't gotten sick. So Kotor, for us, was more of a place to chill out and recover asap. I did, however, muster enough energy to hike the rather steep fortress walls to the top of the mountain. Had to wake up quite early to avoid paying the 3 Euro fortress entrance fee, but so worth it as we beat the tourist crowds AND caught a glimpse of the beautiful early morning light bathing the city of Kotor. Avoided the heat, too! But let me tell ya, the views were insanely spectacular from the top! Only takes an hour to get to the top. (2 in our case if you're anything like us, stopping every 5 minutes for photo ops!) Honestly, probably the only thing worth doing in Kotor if the Old Town scene bores you!

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When: September 2016
Temp: 75F
Cities: Kotor
Stay: Old Town Hostel Kotor. $13/night for 10 bed dorm.
Recommend: Old Town, Kotor Fortress Hike (Go super early in the morning, around 6-7am, to avoid paying 3 Euro entrance fee).


-jin-

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Hostel Greeter: "First time in Paris?"
Me: "No. 1st time was 8 years ago. But yah, I guess it's kinda like the first time."
Hostel Greeter: "Ah, it's been so long that it's like the 1st time?"

Exactly!

Not just Paris, but all of France. Has it really been 8 years since the last we were in France? Oof. Def a way overdue trip. And a much needed break from the Eastern European and Scandinavian adventures! Something about familiar grounds that puts comfort in the heart. I mean, I really really really love it here in Western Europe. At one point (okay, several) I seriously thought about moving out here. Visiting family in these parts since 1992 can do that to ya. Western European gal stuck in an American body! That's me!


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// PARIS //
Ah, Paris. The City of Light and The City of Love - all for good reason. If you've visited this city, then you know what I'm talking about when I say this city is absolutely the loveliest and beyond vibrant and insanely Old World inspiring. We came as tourists so, so many years ago. This time around we came as old friends. We overstayed our welcome, ya know, to really get to know Paris. We took our time. Explored less touristy parts. And revisited the touristy ones for old times' sake. Paris is one of those cities I can't get enough of! Always photo ops at every turn!
>> Hostel Stay #1: Le Village Hostel. 26Euro/night for 4 bed dorm.
>> Hostel Stay #2: Generator Hostel. $27/night for 10 bed dorm.
>> AirBnb Stay: Saint Lazare Terrace. $166/night.
>> Recommend: Le Marais, Montmartre, Rue Cremieux, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Champs Elysees, Merci, Canal Saint-Martin, Laduree, Pierre Herme, Catacombs, La Grande Roue.

// MONT SAINT MICHEL //
A place where I wanted to have a destination wedding, oh, 5 years ago. None of it came into fruition. Until now. I may not be here for my dream wedding, but I gots to admit, not a bad way to spend my birthday and bid adieu to the last day of August! This magical place surrounded by high tides and low tides - this island commune with an abbey in the sky - is so freakin' surreal. Even more surreal (and stunning!) in person. I think we've stayed here longer than most people would. But honestly, every morning for the 4 days we've stayed here, I awoke giddy and eager to see this dreamy motif off the coast.
>> Hotel Stay: Hotel Gabriel. $98/night.


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When: Late August to Early September 2016
Temp: 75-80F
Cities: Mont Saint Michel, Paris
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.


-jin-

DENMARK 2016

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Copenhagen was a welcomed break from the 2 weeks of adventure in Norway. A much needed breather before we head into another 2 weeks of photography fun in France. So dare I say, we didn't do much in Copenhagen.

Ooo, I can feel the judgement emanating from the other side of this screen. Lol.

Honestly, Norway took all our money. People weren't kidding when they say it's one expensive country. Scandinavia as a whole is pretty pricey, but Norway takes the cake. The whole freaking cake. So by the time we made it to Denmark, we were done with the Scandinavian region in general. Don't get me wrong, we're coming back. Next time with a better game plan.

So what the heck did we do in Copenhagen? In an attempt to save $$$ on public transportation, we opted to walk to most of the tourist sights and scenes. Tons and tons of walking. All while constantly revisiting Nyhavn. It's a GREAT place to chill and people watch: the vibrant colors, the canal action, the large lively cafe crowd. Nyhavn also happens to have over-priced eateries, but there is ONE hotdog stand that's fairly cheap. Needless to say we were regulars. We took our hotdogs, found a spot to sit along the canals, and watched the view pass us by.

We also 'splurged' a little bit on a boat tour, ya know, just to get a different view of the city from the canals. Aaaand we cracked one night and splurged on a decent cocktail bar. At this point in our world travels, about 4 months in, the constant moving around ain't no joke. Another reason to leave Scandinavia asap into cheaper territory where we could just veg out ... for at least a week.

Oh! And a cool thing happened while we were in Copenhagen. The Gay Parade. Oddly enough, there was one in every Scandinavian capital that we've been to WHILE we were in those cities, but somehow the parade times eluded us. Thus, weren't able to catch any of them. Until now. In Copenhagen. Always love Gay Parades - they exude unity and love than any other parade I've been to. Glad we caught it!

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When: August 2016
Temp: 70F
Cities: Copenhagen
Stay: Generator Hostel. $49/night for 8 bed dorm.
Recommend: Canal Tour, Nyhavn, The Little Mermaid.


-jin-

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Norway is one of those countries that one needs time for proper exploring and gandering. So we gave it 2 very short weeks. BUT we have to choose well and wise. With only limited gear on us, all tucked away in little luggages, our big dreams of hiking Kjeragbolten, Preikestolen, Trolltunga - or even hardcore hiking in general - weren't quite realistic. So we decided to do other parts of Norway and hit up the rest at a later time (hopefully in the near future!) when we're more prepared.

I know! I was really looking forward to those big picturesque nature scenes that everybody keeps taking pics of! But from what I've heard, it's super crowded and touristy at the moment, peak season and all, so maybe it's good things didn't quite work out?

On top of all the hiking woes, Norway is one expensive AF country! Probably one of the more expensive countries we've ever been to! If not the entire Scandinavian region! Grocery shopping. Def a must.

Alright! Enough of that. Here we go!


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// LOFOTEN ISLANDS //
Picturesque island living at it's finest! Dotted with quaint fishing villages and iconic red rorbuer cabins and commanding mountainous backdrops. No less, in the ARCTIC CIRCLE! (I still can't get over that fact!) And at this time of year, ALL basking in 24 hours of sunlight goodness! (Another fact that I also can't get over!) It made night hiking the Svolvaergeita a memorable and surreal experience. A challenging hike, but totally worth the views that the Lofoten Islands are famed for. And afterwards? Driving back to our place in 2am twilight quietness and glowing Lofoten beauty. With jazz music in the air. Felt like we were the only 2 people in the world. Again, just reiterating this magical place. I really can't believe people actually live here.
>> Stay #1: Rorbu. ~$280/night.
>> Stay #2: Lofoten Summer Hotel. $50/night.
>> Stay #3: Finnholmen Brygge. $142/night.
>> Car Rental: Avis/Budget from Bodo Airport.
>> Ferry Ride from Bodo to Moskenes: $60.
>> Ferry Ride from Svolvaer to Skutnik: $33.

// BERGEN //
Ah. The gateway to fjord country. It's a surprisingly bustling city with it's own Nordic touch, but a nice place to hang out and enjoy the best of both worlds, modern civilization and seaside traditions, before hopping onto a boat to explore the fjords. A couple of days here is enough to get your fill, after all, the fjords are calling!
>> Stay: Marken Guesthouse. $37/night.
>> Flight from Bodo to Bergen: Norweigan Air. $300.
>> Shuttle from Airport to Bus Station: Flybussen. $11.
>> Fjord Boat Ride from Bergen to Alesund: Hurtigruten. $140.

// ALESUND //
I really can't get over the mix of Nordic and Art Nouveau architecture in this quaint town, making it a joy to walk around and enjoy the views. Not much to do here, but Alesund is a great base for day trips to Trollstigen and the kinda-out-of-the-way Hjorundfjord swing that's now gaining popularity through the travel Instagram community.
>> Stay: Alesund Youth Hostel. $30/night.
>> Car Rental: Europcar from Alesund Airport.
>> Train Ride from Andalnes to Dombas: $31.
>> Train Ride from Dombas to Oslo: $50.

// TROLLSTIGEN //
Probably one of the more scenic serpentine mountain roads I have ever seen! Also one of the most crowded and touristy, but it's blatantly clear why it's so popular. Dramatic waterfalls, both small and large, at almost every turn. The bird's eye view is just as dramatic. We actually visited Trollstigen twice. The fist time, it was so foggy that we couldn't see anything! The next day hailed better weather in the forecast. And this time around, we were simply blown away at what was hiding underneath all that fog from the previous day! What. A. Sight!

// HJORUNDFJORD //
An hour drive from Alesund, followed by 2 ferry rides with very limited ferry schedules - and we found ourselves at the somewhat remote Hjorundfjord. All that effort just to get to a famed swing. And it was worth it. This particular swing has been gaining popularity recently, but still under the radar, perhaps due to the fact that getting to it is slightly inconvenient. But we did enjoy 5 uninteruppted hours of swing time. No tourists. No crowds. No one! Just a gang of goats that visited us a few times to see what we were up to.
>> Ferry Ride from Solavagen to Festoya: $14.
>> Ferry Ride from Strandal to Trandal: $14.

// OSLO //
We honestly didn't do much in Oslo after 2 whirlwind weeks of roadtrips and boat rides through fjord country. A much needed chill time was in order and we did just that in the heart of Oslo, everything wonderfully close to our needs. Walking distance to the train and touristy streets and restaurants. Although I'm not sure why everybody says Oslo isn't as pretty as the other Scandinavian capitals. Must be a European thing, because from this American's stand point - it's still pretty nice to me!
>> Stay: My City Home. $90/night.
>> Airport Transfer from Train Station: $20.


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When: August 2016
Temp: 55-75F.
Places: Lofoten Islands, Bergen, Alesund, Trollstigen, Hjorundfjord, Oslo.
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.


-jin-

TRIPS TO ADD TO THE 2016 BUCKET LIST

Meant to post this awhile back. Seeing as we're only in the 8th month of 2016 - there's still time! You have 4 months to YOLO your heart out before the year ends! Better late than never, says every risk-taker and rule-breaker out there!
Refinery29 Travel IG Contest

So friends, I'm beyond honored to have 1 of the 5 winning virtual vacation images curated by Refinery29 and Tiny Atlas Quarterly. 2 major online publications! One for the forward female creative, the other for the travel adventurer.

If you need travel ideas for 2016, look no more. Check out this Refinery29 article of the chosen 5 must-see places to add to that ever growing bucket list of yours. You'll find my Wadi Rum image among that list, and honestly, it's a lifetime trip that will change you body and soul!
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The other cool thing from the win? An Instagram follower, inspired by my image, sketched me riding a camel! Lol. At least the high bun is on point with real-life me!

Keep on adventuring, fellow wanderlusters! Let me know where your heart takes you! Comment below or on my Travel Instagram!


-jin-

SWEDEN 2016

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Hej from Stockholm!

Yas! Yet another capital to bore you with! I hate how we're just hitting up capital cities in the meantime, but it must be done. (Schengen gripes. Ugh.)

We came into Sweden with every Swedish thing we could think of. Dreams of hitting up IKEA and shopping at H&M and hunting down delicacies such as meatballs and herring. Perhaps even buy a pair of Swedish Hasbeens. Oh yes, Ace of Base and ABBA totally made it in there, too.

With the 4 days spent in Stockholm, only H&M and delicious fresh herring were crossed off the list, with a very close encounter(s) with Swedish meatballs. We did, however, discover the country's love for cardamom cinnamon buns. Which, incidentally, is now our favorite cinnamon bun combo. Evar.

But we couldn't go all out gastronomic beast mode like Vince wanted. Only part of the time. Heard the culinary scene across Scandinavia is really something to take note of. Unfortunately, we were feeling the weight of the Scandinavian prices. Hence loading up on basic necessities (Hotdogs, sandwiches, yogurt, water. Cardamom cinnamon buns. Priorities, people!) at none other than - 7/11! Yas! That 7/11! Not the ones we're used to in The States. The Swedish version is super nice! Cafe-like! And everywhere in Stockholm!

The other surprise we came across in this city is the Generator hostel. Only opened a month ago. We had a great experience with the Generator hostel in Berlin that we booked right away in Stockholm, expecting the same trendy coziness. While we still prefer the one in Berlin, this new Generator ended up being more of an upscale hostel with very swank amenities. Coffee bar by day, with pricey breakfast menu. Cocktail bar by night, complete with a DJ. And paid luggage storage! I've never heard of such a thing in a hostel! Overall still a very nice place to stay. Albeit, a bit far from Old Town.

Speaking of Old Town, aka Gamla Stan - it's where we've spent most of our time. It's a good sizable, colorful, lively part of Stockholm, making walkability and exploring a joy. Close to other touristy spots like Drottninggatan, a very long pedestrian shopping street. (Where we've captured Mr. Mime. You know, PokemonGo. Rumored to be exremely rare in The States. Well, if you're ever in the area - heads up!) The hipstery Sodermalm area is also walking distance from Gamla Stan. A completely different vibe, and perhaps a very much welcome reprieve from the massive tourist crowds.

Hmmm. What else?

Oh! Dogs are still treated as royalty this far north! Which we've notice in most European countries we've been to - even in Sweden! All is right in the world.

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 75-80F
Cities: Stockholm
Stay: Generator hostel. ~$26/night for 6 bed dorm.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour, Gamla Stan, Drottninggatan, Sodermalm, Stockholm's Subway Art (T-Centralen).


-jin-

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Helsinki is an obvious choice when coming to Finland. Aside from being the capital and major Nordic city, it's also a major hub to get to and fro nearby countries. In our case: Estonia, Sweden and, particularly, Russia. Because of the Schengen rules, we had to be choosey as to which countries to spend more time in. Unfortunately, Finland is not one of them. =/ With that said, am I the only one who wishes we had more than the allotted Schengen time? Say, 6 months? A year?? There's no way to fit an extensive Eastern European and Scandinavian tour in just 3 months!

Major European travel gripes, people. I will forever complain about the Schengen rules!

We made the most we could in Helsinki, though. Did some touristy things and got some great PokemonGo play time in. Because of peak season, we weren't able to book a hostel the first few days in the city, but instead, an AirBnB. No regrets. I must admit, it's nice to splurge once in awhile! A much needed downtime from our very quick pass through The Baltics. We really just needed to relax. Take things slow. Our trendy Scandinavian 8th floor AirBnB overlooking the city is the perfect place to do so! Missed certain simple things like privacy, cooking whenever, free laundry, walking around in the undies!

There's not much more that I can say about Helsinki other than what you've probably already guessed or expect from a super modern city. Everything is just so nice and clean and nice here. How very Scandinavian. The design scene in Helsinki is amazeballs and it shows when walking about. Some things that we really enjoyed and find ourselves coming back to: Market Square, Esplanade Park, City Centre ... and the calming seaside!

As always, we're not doing any country justice by just visiting one city. Let alone, the capital. If it weren't for the wonky Schengen rules, I'd be exploring every inch of this country! Finland, I'm coming back for you!

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 70-75F
Cities: Helsinki
AirBnb Stay: Jarno's. ~$83/night. Studio apartment. 8th floor. Comes with kitchen and washing machine. Beautiful patio with views overlooking the city. 10 minute walk from City Centre.
Hostel Stay: Eurohostel. ~31EUR/night for 2 bed private dorm. 15 minute walk from City Centre. 10 minute walk from Market Square. 5 minute walk from Kanava Terminal.

Recommend: Market Square, Esplanade Park, City Centre, Temppeliaukio Church, Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Helsinki Olympic Stadium, Magnum Helsinki.


-jin-

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Everyone says to go to St. Petersburg instead of Moscow. It's prettier. Hipper. Cooler.

So we did. =)

Hopped on a cruise ship from Helsinki around 6pm.
13 hours later, we're in St. Petersburg.

Gotta see what the hype is all about! Plus, it's a lot simpler to get a last minute '72 hour No Visa' to St. Petes than having to go through the whole process of obtaining an actual Russian visa. It's no secret that it's probably one of the more laborious visas to get as an American, and as I understand, for other Internationals as well. I know, I know. I can't say much as the same lengthy process goes for anyone applying for a visa to The States. But I'm a spoiled American. It's rare for us to go through actual paperwork! Especially one with many requirements!

Anyways, y'all know this already!

So, yah, Russia. Freaking Russia!! I can't believe we're actually here! This was one of those countries that deeply mystified me as a child, having grown up in the Cold War era. You learn things in Social Studies and seen stuff on TV. Then one day in 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed (which I also saw in real time on TV), igniting a domino of events that led to the eventual demise of the USSR. I was 9 then.

St. Petes surprisingly looks so European. I was expecting something more gray and drab. It's anything but that! This city is colorful and trendy and hipstery. Honestly, it didn't feel like we were in Russia. Aside from the ubiquitous Cyrillic signs and the Russian food finds and the historical sites dotting the city and the occasional older gen cashiers with limited English vocab, it's really quite modern here in every way. Still a joy to walk around and explore, nonetheless. I'm sure if we traveled outside the city, we would get more of an authentic Russian experience. Need more time. Need that Russian visa!

And just when I thought our hostel experience couldn't get any better - in comes Soul Kitchen Hostel! Easily topping Jincent's Top 5 Hostel list! In St. Petersburg of all places! This hostel has unmatched personality that sets it apart from all the other Boho hostels we've stayed at. Beyond clean and spacious, well designed, unlimited tea and coffee, awesome balcony views of the Neva river, TONS of eclectic decor prettiness. Seriously. Quaint kooky art explosion for the eyes - everywhere you look! This is also where we unexpectantly ran into the same fellow Houstonian traveler again! We've met Omar in Lithuania a couple of weeks earlier, and as fate would have it, again at the best hostel ever. He described the place as 'boutique'. Yah, that's the perfect word for this place!

Now I'm more than ever determined to come back to Russia to do it justice. Would love to get to know the real Russia and ride the epic Trans-Siberian Railway!

Hello and Bye, for now, from Russia ... with love!

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 60-70F
Cities: St. Petersburg
Stay: Soul Kitchen Hostel. ~1312RUB/night for 4 bed dorm. Unlimited tea and coffee. They provide a map with great food recs.
Recommend: Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral, The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines.


-jin-

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Ah, Tallinn. Quite possibly my favorite capital of the Baltic countries. And how fitting to save the best for last before we enter Scandinavian territory!

There's something about Tallinn's Old Town. Numerous cobblestone streets and great restaurant choices and random statues peppered all over. A stunning church here and there. With an unmistakable hint of medieval times. Must be the partial fortress wall. Even boasting one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe. But the highlight of Old Town is a few minutes walk up an incline, passing various non-descript buildings, to get to not one but two stunning viewpoints of Old Town's orange rooftops. As well as the rest of the very modern city, as far as the eye can see. You'll also find a seagull or two craving photo ops up there. All posing and conveniently looking straight into the camera. With that said, I've never seen so many people take selfies with the feather creature! These birds! They be loving the attention!

So, yes. It's been a joy exploring the nooks and crannies of Old Town!

Just outside Old Town is Kalamaja. The hipster part of Tallinn and quite honestly a refreshing break from everything Old Town. I freaking love Kalamaja! And I'll tell you why. I've seen some hipster parts of various cities around the world. Heck, I live in one! But this particular one, in little ol' Estonia, is like an explosion of organized creativity in a one block radius. Everywhere you turn is a nod towards the unconventional, the weird, the laidback. The imperfect, the alternative, the grit. Ease of walkability is awesome here and great affordable culinary finds to top things off. Can't get more accessible than that! Also not overrun by tourists, so that's nice.

While Riga is every traveler's favorite, it seems, that's not the case for this traveler. I'm utterly smittened by the big personality of Old Town - the equally big personality of hipster Kalamaja sealed the deal for me!

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 68-70F
Cities: Tallinn
Stay: United Backpackers Hostel. 14.50EUR/night for a 6 bed dorm.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour, Old Town, City Center, Kalamaja.


-jin-

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Like Lithuania, we went straight to the capital of Latvia. And just like Vilnius, we went straight into the old part of Riga. I think at this point of our massive Eurotrip, we're 'Old Towned' out. We've been to A LOT of European cities already. They all have an Old Town. But, ya know, how can you not visit this part of any European city? It's instant history and culture all rolled into one! Convenience, ftw!

Riga's Old Town is nice and lively. But insanely touristy. There's quite an active night life here, too. Rightfully so, as we've heard from other travelers, Riga is the prettier of the three Baltic capitals. Not sure about prettier, in my opinion, but it's definitely more vibrant than Vilnius. Perhaps due to the fact that there are more hostels and bars here. Maybe slightly more things to do, like the huge Farmer's Market or the Daugava river. And there's practically a mini Narvesens at every street corner! That's genius. Talk about taking the convenient store meaning to a literal level. I love that.

Anyways, there's only so much you can do in any Old Town. Grab coffee, find a bite to eat, go on a walking tour, explore a church or museum, take a walk. A long walk. And get lost. The visuals have always been my favorite part of any Old Town. I could spend hours just walking around and taking pix, which is usually the case. There's something oddly mystifying about the resiliency of the old mixed in the sea of modernity.

Another must-see tourist destination, interestingly enough, is the super modern library that looks more like an architectural masterpiece. Unmistakably looking like a pretty, shiny beacon across the river. It's really not hard to miss. You have to cross a massive bridge to get there, but totally worth it, as the cityscape views from the middle of the river is a weirdly calming experience. Everything seems so far away.

Oh! The Tree House Hostel! I don't rave about many hostels. But this one is pretty exceptional. And in Latvia of all places! Clean, comfortable, intimate. Zen environment with a Boho feel. Plants everywhere and lots of natural light streaming in. Yoga is offered and bikes are easily rentable. The layout of the hostel is set up in such a way that it's easy to socialize with other travelers. Highly, highly recommend this hostel.

Latvia will always be an indelible memory for us. Not only has it been an impressionable stay in The Baltics, but we have started our PokemonGo journey here. That's right. The PokeGo craze! It's serious business. Let me tell ya, take a 2.5hr walking tour and you'll build up a nice repertoire of Pokemons!

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 70F
Cities: Riga
Stay: Tree House Hostel. ~13EUR/night for 14 bed dorm. Breakfast included.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour, Riga Central Market, National Library of Latvia.


-jin-

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To get from East Europe to Scandinavia, we have to get through The Baltics first. So why not do a quick tour while we're passing through?

First up on our Baltic stop: Lithuania. And straight to Vilnius, it's capital.

Quite honestly, we really didn't know what to expect from The Baltics. I've heard of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia only a few times in my life, but never really care to delve further. I wasn't even sure where they were on the map! That is, until this trip.

Ok, right! So on to Vilnius and the very obvious spot to hit up in most European cities - The Old Town.

Exploring the old part of Vilnius is like finding a treasure chest full of gems. The historic. The communist. The modern. It's a pretty mix of the old and the new, granted it's quite a touristy spot, but nevertheless, makes for a pleasant visual walk when getting lost. What really sets this Old Town apart from other European Old Towns are the quaint alleyways in between the main streets. The pretty narrow paths sets the ambiance for intimate walks, and paired with cobblestones underneath your feet, it kinda feels like you're stepping back in time. There are a number of cute shops and hidden restaurants in these photogenic alleyways. All waiting to be stumbled upon. Like I said, a treasure chest.

Another interesting tidbit to check out is a small place in Vilnius that unofficially declared itself The Republic of Uzupis. It has it's own flag and anthem and 11-men military, but it's endeavors are purely artistic. Nothing is taken seriously here. Go here to take a peak at the quiet Bohemian lifestyle and to swing above the river. Yes, that's right! A swing suspended from a bridge over running water! Fun place to put a swing in my opinion!

All in all, we probably didn't do Lithuania any justice by visiting just one city. It's capital. But I think it was a nice introduction into the country and The Baltics. Now that we got a little taste of this region, my interest has been piqued. Can't wait to explore more of The Baltics!

--


When: July 2016
Temp: 70-75F
Cities: Vilnius
Stay: Do Re Mi Hostel. 7.50EUR/night for a 6 bed dorm.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour and The Republic of Uzupis.


-jin-

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A week in Poland gone all too quickly. But we're on a time contraint, you see. A race against time to get through Scandinavia before August ends, and coupled with the Schengen rules, it seems we have to be extra choosey on what countries we want to spend the most time in. Le sigh. Wish it wasn't so! Need. More. Time!

Anyhoo. Traveling from Vienna, it made sense to have Krakow as our first Polish stop. Only because it was that close to Auschwitz. And then end our Polish travels in Warsaw, which is conveniently on the way to Lithuania. Our only regret? Not having time to visit Gdansk. Of which we've heard nothing but good things from fellow travelers! A port city with a unique feel that sets it apart from other cities in Poland - I'm sold!

Aside from that minor detail - Time, you def don't play fair! - I'm glad we made our way through this wonderful country, furthering our Eastern European experience into humbling perspective.

--


// KRAKOW //
We were told to go to Krakow instead of Warsaw. It's more cultural than the big city vibe of Warsaw, they say. With every intention of going to Krakow regardless (only because it's close to Auschwitz), our friends were right. Krakow holds an unmistakable huge personality of it's past in the heart of this bustling city. We've heard through the grapevine that there's a Free Food Tour, but we were unable to track it down. Bummer. If anyone has further info about this elusive Free Food Tour, please send it over!
>> Stay: Blueberry Hostel. ~$11.50/night for a 6 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: Free Walking Tour. They provide a map (with discounts!) for local eats.

// AUSCHWITZ (near OSWIECIM) //
This is one of those visits that you just have to go when you're in Poland. It's an all morning thing. One could easily spend 3-4 hours in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. Though the bulk of the time is spent at Auschwitz I - that's where all the mini musuems are housed. And, indeed, you'll go through all the motions. It's mind-boggling and devastating, but at the same time profoundly eery. No doubt, it's a bit unsettling to see such calmness nowadays in a place that held unfathomable horrors in human history. We've opted out of the tour (which is 4-6 hours long) and did our own walk through instead.
>> Bus from Krakow to Auschwitz: 12PLZ one way trip. Takes a little over an hour for one way trip.

// WARSAW //
As much as I hate to admit it, Warsaw really is your typical bustling European city. It's nice. It's modern. And it's huge. Most of the cultural stuff could be found in the 'New' Old Town. New as in, Old Town was utterly devastated after WWII and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Hence the New Old. Not the Old Old. But with a bit of research, we did find a few cultural gems around the city. Though most are out of the way and not easily accessible. One that we did manage to get to: The Neon Muzeum. It's not terribly huge, but it's quaint and full of interesting tid bits from the Communist era.
>> Stay: Oki Doki Hostel. 52PLZ/night for 4 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: The Neon Muzeum. 10PLZ entrance fee.
>> Transportation: 15PLZ for 24 hour transportation. Includes all buses and tram rides.
>> Train from Krakow to Warsaw: 66PLZ. 4 hour ride.

--


When: Late June / Early July 2016
Temp: 85-89F
Cities: Krakow, Warsaw
Stay: Refer to individual towns above.


-jin-

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Hello, Vienna, my old friend! It's been 8 years!

Now this time around it's all about visiting family. Get some bonding time in with the older sister and my youngest nephew. Maybe take a much needed break from all the photographing. Yeah. Put the camera away. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the moment.

Clearly, that happened! =P

Deep down, I really wanted to photo document this trip again. Properly. I felt I haven't done it any photo justice 8 years ago, having only been in the city for 2 days. We crammed an unbelievable amount of touristy activities during that short stay. Then suddenly we were off to the next country. Now, with the gift of time, I've been given the second chance to see Vienna in a whole new perspective. Less touristy sites, more local scenes.

Yeah, local scenes. All thanks to my older sister, Nina, who showered us with nothing but hospitality and tons of souvenirs ... and sisterly memories! <3 So this is how it feels to be spoiled by an older sibling! But yeah, we couldn't have seen 'suburban' Vienna, places most tourists don't visit, without her 15 years of local living. It was such a refreshing experience! The real Vienna!

When we weren't hanging out with my sis and nephew, we walked. We walked through Stephansplatz, we walked through Naschtmarkt, we walked through Mariahilfer StraBe, we walked through some parks, we walked through the museum district - we walked through all the little streets in between. Just soaking in the city life and street visuals. Something we couldn't have fully appreciate 8 years ago.

Yes, things def felt more on a personal level with this city in 2016. We even took a break from the hostel life and AirBnb it for a bit! It was fun pretending we were locals. Sauntering downstairs to the local pub to watch a soccer match, meeting up a friend at Naschmarkt for dinner, making runs to the mini grocery store around the corner. Kinda glad we got most of the touristy stuff out of the way in 2008, because this has been a very memorable trip!

The one thing that we missed in 2008 and still missed out in 2016? It would've been cool to see a Lipizzaner horse show. But they were all sold out during our visit. Peak season, you see. No biggie. There's always next time!


--



When: June 2016
Temp: 85-89F
Cities: Vienna
AirBnb Stay: Lara & Flo's. 63EUR/night. 15 minute walk to Stephansplatz. 5 minute walk to Naschtmarkt. 15 minute walk to Gerngross.
Hostel Stay: Wombat Hostel. 21EUR/night for 7 bed dorm. There is a stamp card for freebies.
Transportation: Metro, 2.2 EUR for one way trip.


-jin-

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After 2.5 months of life on the road, we finally made it to the Schengen region!

Now the tough part begins. The timing. That was never my strong suit. How to squeeze ALL these countries in just 3 months?? Oi.

Welp, we're here. And Budapest is amazing! So amazing, we've stayed almost a week. We're loving the vibrancy, the youthfulness, the laid-backness. There's something about Budapest that sets it apart from just your typical big European city. More unique sites to see. More foodie treasure spots to unearth. Everyday was an adventure of the senses.

Seriously, we really did enjoy hunting down various restaurants and cocktail bars. Yes! We even dabbled in the cocktail bar scene, all due influence to a couple of close ATX friends who are major cocktail enthusiasts. (We really miss you, Kenny + Anthony! =/) When we're not hopping around for foodie finds (oof, good chimney cakes were not easy to find!), we caught a free walking tour, ran into a traveling buddy we've met back in Romania (luckily for Luke's convenience, we were the only Asians in the food truck area! =P), and painted the town red with our hostel mates.

Oh! And checked out a couple of the famous thermal baths peppered around Budapest. A must. We, of course, had to go to THE bath. Szechenyi Thermal Baths. Had to. To beat the heat (unfortunately not the crowds) we arrived late evening. As pretty as it was from the outside, the inside pools were just okay, in my opinion. Walking on wet tiles aren't really my thing (ick!) and the tiny windows gave an eery, claustrophobic aura to the early 1900's architecture.

Now the Gellert Thermal Baths were niiiiice. Uber nice. This time around we woke up around sunrise, to beat the heat AND the crowds, and hauled it over. From 8-10am we practically had the whole place to ourselves. We took our time exploring the grounds, snapped pics at a leisurely pace, and just simply enjoyed the view from the upstairs balconies. While these baths still retain the 1900's feel, everything about it is beyond classy. Very Great Gatsby-esque. Natural light flooding in, sorta in an angelic kind of way. The decor is insanely intricate and borderline opulent. I felt safe walking on rubber mats rather than wet tiles when weaving our way to the thermal baths. Yes. These are my fave thermal baths so far. I could really see myself coming back here in the distant future!

Ah, the distant future. I'm already dreaming of the next time! Now I see why everybody raves about Budapest! So much to do, so much to see, so much to eat! This is certainly not the last I'll see of Budapest.

P.S. -- Special thanks to Alexis. A fellow traveler we've hung out with in Jordan. She used to live in Budapest for a bit and sent over an extensive "insider's" recommendation list. You. Are. Awesome! Alexis! <3


--


When: June 2016
Temp: 85F
Cities: Budapest
Stay: Wombat Hostel. 5658.75HUF/night for 5 bed dorm. Get a complimentary free drink coupon upon arrival.
Recommend: Free Walking Tour, Szechenyi Thermal Baths (4900HUF entrance fee), Gellert Thermal Baths (5100HUF entrance fee), Central Market.

***** AS RECOMMENDED BY ALEXIS *****
- Castle Hill is the classic medieval city rebuilt after WWII; I'd say Ruszwurm Cukrászda is one of the top sights in the city.
- Andrassy Ave. It's a really nice walk down Andrassy ave from downtown to the big park (and the metro line underneath is really old, funky, and fun!).
- Szechenyi baths were my favorite of the thermal baths. It's best to go as late in the day as possible for the minimum # of tourists and kids. Plus the warm water is nicer if it's cool out.
- Rudas Baths might be a nice follow-up to the Middle East section of your travels.
- The Opera House is really neat! Soooo much gold inside. I went to a few ballet performances there and it was very fun.
- The Terror House. If you're in the mood for an excellent, but very grim museum, the Terror House is very well done. I wouldn't plan on doing much after a visit though.
- Parliament is hard to miss, though the inside is less specific to Hungary than some of the other places. The classic view is from the Batthyany metro stop right across the river, where there also was a 24-hour crepe place called Nagy Palacsintazoja when I was a student.
- Lángos and Kürtőskalács are classic junk/student food, the second floor of the Central Market is a good place to get some, or just at one of the random little sort-of-shady hole-in-the-walls in the metros.
- Szentendre is easily accessible via public transport. It's worth a visit, though pretty touristy. There's a Hungarian historical park / farm equivalent of our Willamsburg up there too.
- Debrecen. If you get the chance, Debrecen in Eastern Hungary is a nice smaller city to visit ... and if you're at all interested in horses they do demos of traditional trick riding at Hortobágy National Park which is nearby. You can get to both by train.


-jin-

SERBIA 2016

SERBIA 2016.
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SERBIA 2016.
We weren't really sure what country to head to after Romania. After all, there were a lot of factors to consider. Mostly the question of season. Now in mid June, it seems Summer in Europe is in full swing. Nothing but sun and heat. Heat and sun. And crowds of tourists to fight off, ultimately postponing our Balkan tour to head North in hopes of beating the rising temps. So a quick stop in Serbia sounded like a logical thing to do.

Why Serbia?

Well, we really needed time to sit down and gameplan our way through the Schengen region before we enter the Schengen region. Once we enter, it's a race against time as those of you who know the steep penalties of overstaying the 3 month welcome. And it's not pleasant. Especially for someone like me who frequents Europe quite often to visit family. I ain't taking my chances!

And plus we really were just curious to see how different (or similar!) Serbia is from the other Balkan countries. We've heard from fellow travelers that Belgrade and Novi Sad are quite nice to pass through. Nice day trips and such.

Nice being the word of the day here!

And they were right. Our hostel was practically walking distance from the pedestrian street full of restaurants and shops. Makes for a nice stroll. If that doesn't float your boat, a walk through a nearby fort with nice sprawling green lawns are within it's walls. Also a nice view of the Danube could be seen from the fort, as well. For a bit more of a cultural feel, a stroll through Old Town is a must, with it's cobblestones and handful of kapanas to choose from. Other than that, there weren't really much to do or see in Belgrade. The strolls did serve as nice little breaks in between our research/work at various coffee shops.

Honestly, after a whirlwind adventure travel through Bulgaria and Romania, something more on the chillaxin side was whole-heartedly welcomed! If you need a breather in between the Balkan hopping - Serbia is your place!

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When: June 2016
Temp: 80-85F
Cities: Belgrade, Novi Sad
Stay in Belgrade: Hedonist Hostel. ~1741RSD for 8 bed dorm with 10% off Balkan Backpacker discount.
Stay in Novi Sad: Hostel Rookies. ~1100RSD for 5 bed dorm with 10% off Balkan Backpacker discount.
Recommend: Free walking tour.


-jin-