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Above the sandy beaches of Lithuania

Posted on April 08, 2013 by Swapartment
Tags: Lithuania, Baltic, beach, coast, travel

A Visitor's Guide to Lithuania

Posted on April 02, 2013 by Swapartment
A Visitor's Guide to Lithuania

Lithuania is a small country on the Baltic Sea with a population of around three and a half million. While it hasn’t been as popular as a tourist destination as its fellow Baltic nations, Latvia and Estonia, many who have been to all three Baltic countries have a soft spot for Lithuania in particular. From the charming medieval old town of Vilnius to the majestic castle on the lakes at Trakai, Lithuania, at the right time of the year, can be a wonderful place to visit.

Lithuania became a member of the European Union in 2004. The official language is Lithuanian, one of only two surviving members of the Baltic language group (the other being Latvian). English is quite widely spoken in more touristy areas, however Russian and Polish are also very common in many parts of the country.  


When to Go

The best time of year to visit Lithuania is any time between May and late September. Summers can be quite hot, especially in Vilnius and other inland locations, but the summer months have a wonderful charm about them thanks to the generally reliable weather and the vibrant café culture.

For most people, Lithuania should be avoided during the winter months and during the big thaw that typically occurs in late March. Winters in Lithuania are usually bitterly cold with temperatures sometimes dropping to -20 and lower, and snow covering the entire country for several weeks to a couple of months.


Where to Go

Vilnius, Lithuania's charming capital city, is by far the most popular destination in the country. 
It's a small and manageable city which is easily navigable by foot. There are plenty of charming, rustic side-streets and parks to stroll through when the weather is good. The Town Hall Square, Cathedral Square and Gedemino Avenue are truly beautiful areas of town.

Vilnius boasts various attractions, and most of them can be seen in a few days. The cathedral is an impressive 
neo-classical structure right in the centre and, behind it, the Royal Palace, demolished in 1801, has recently been reconstructed. Leading down from there is Gedemino Prospektas, Vilnius's stunning main avenue lined with upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants.

No other town in Lithuania offers as much to tourists as Vilnius does, although Kaunas and Klaipeda, Lithuania's second and third cities both have charming old towns. 
Klaipeda, Lithuania's port city, is also a short ferry ride away from the beautiful dunes of the Curonian Spit. 
The Spit, known for it’s fine sandy beaches and pristine landscape, is a giant sand dune that separates the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon. The 100 km long peninsula stretches from the Kaliningrad region, all the way to the town of Klaipeda. 
Lithuania's famous pilgrimage site, the Hill of Crosses is also worth the visit. It's a two-hour drive from Vilnius, located just outside the city of Siauliai, in northern Lithuania. The shrine boasts a small hill, covered with a whopping number of about 100.000 crosses, brought here by Catholic pilgrims, over the course of two hundred years.  

The most popular day trip destination from Vilnius is Trakai, a charming town on the lake, about half an hour away by bus from the city. Here, visitors can explore the small island castle or take boat rides and swim in the surrounding lakes, while in the winter months, visitors can get to the castle by walking across the frozen lake even.


Getting There and Around

Lithuania, until recently, was one of the more difficult places to get to cheaply. Since joining the European Union, however, regular cheap flights now serve both Vilnius and Kaunas, although most of them are from London Stansted.

There are many international busses going to Vilnius or passing through the city. International trains are rare and within Lithuania itself, the most common way to get around is to travel by bus.

Local transport within Vilnius itself is cheap and fairly reliable, although, there is rarely any need to catch public transport within the city itself, since almost all of the tourist sites and hotels are within walking distance of each other.


Eating and Drinking

Lithuanian food is typically fairly heavy and meat oriented, with some of the most popular ingredients being potatoes, cabbage, pork, sour cream and dill. It is typically affordable and there are plenty of pubs and restaurants to choose from. Some of the most typical Lithuanian dishes include Cepelinai (heavy potato dumplings stuffed with meat and served with sour cream and bacon bits) and Saltibarsciai (cold beetroot soup). Besides the local flavors, the country also offers a vast number of good quality Italian restaurants, Steakhouses and Belgian pub fare.

When it comes to alcohol, one of the traditional favourites of the country has long been vodka, which in Lithuanian, is called "degtine". Krupnikas, a thick honey-based spirit is also popular. For light alcohol, beer is the favourite drink and Lithuania produces some world-class beers such as Kalnapilis, Svyturys and Utenos. Wine is becoming more common, with many bars being rebranded as "wine bars", although wine is typically expensive or of questionable quality. 
If you want to try a typical soft-drink from the region, try gira, a refreshing fizzy drink made from black bread.

Tags: Lithuania, Vilnius, Baltic, travel

Surfing in Guincho, Portugal

Posted on March 20, 2013 by Swapartment
Tags: Portugal, Guincho, coast, beach, surfing, travel

Visiting Porto E Norte

Posted on March 14, 2013 by Swapartment
Visiting Porto E Norte
Located in the northernmost reaches of Portugal, Porto E Norte is home to history and nature. It's blend of cultural sites and protected reserves makes it the ideal destination for travelers seeking an unforgettable vacation. Porto E Norte is breathtakingly beautiful, historically significant, and culturally authentic.
 
Portugal's past is ever-present in modern-day Porto E Norte. The Guimaraes medieval castle is the birthplace of Portugal's first king, Dom Afonso Henriques; its impressive facade stands out amid the city's other equally stunning historic residences. Porto E Norte's fortified churches serve as evidence of a country in turmoil. These churches were built during the Romanesque period, a time of great instability in the region. The Coa Archaeological Park, meanwhile, has the world's largest collection of Paleolithic rock paintings. This World Heritage Site will give all visitors a glimpse into humanity's ancient past. And the history of the earth itself is on display in many of Porto E Norte's buildings.    
         
Granite forms much of the bedrock in northern Portugal; in historic times, builders used this durable stone as a building material. Several churches in the area showcase granite slabs as architectural works of art - the finest examples are at the Churches of S. Pedro de Rates and S. Pedro, as well as the Church of S. Salvador de Bravaes.

The Serra do Geres protected reserve is popular with families. Teenagers can take to the waters of the Canicada reservoir for swimming and water skiing, while the younger children will enjoy a guided nature walk or a visit to a local village.  Serious hikers can head to the village of Pitoes das Junias; the main road ends at the village's boundary, and the continuing trail winds through a countryside dotted with picturesque waterfalls and streams. 

The Peneda-Geres National Park draws many visitors to its borders with beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife.  Several unique species make their home in the park, including wild ponies, golden eagles and the Castro Laboreiro dog breed. Visitors to the park can bike along a former Roman road and hike through valleys and canyons. The more adventurous explorers can follow the route from Mata da Albergaria to Portela do Homem.  The challenging path is marked by ‘mariolas', stone piles left by shepherds.  The rewards are well worth the effort; the route leads to some of Portugal's greatest natural sights, including thundering waterfalls and scenic lookouts. 
The Minho region also attracts its fair share of adventure seekers. Climbers can scale the peaks of the region's mountains to see views over the vast countryside. Canoeists and white-water rafters, meanwhile, can paddle down the area's rivers - the Minho, Lima, Cavado, Ave and Tamega - while taking in the scenery. Anglers can try their luck in these rivers, since fish are in abundant supply in the clear waters.

But perhaps the region is best known for the Douro River valley. Not only is this vine-lined waterway a scenic masterpiece, it is the birthplace of one of the world's favorite wines - port. 
A World Heritage Site, the Douro vineyards combine to form one of the oldest demarcated regions in the world; the productive vineyards have been producing port since 1756. 
Today, visitors to the region can tour the vineyards and sample the vintages. The Gaia wine cellars cater to couples looking for romance amid the vines.

From seafood on the coast to sausages and smoked meats in the interior, Porto E Norte is known for its rustic and comforting dishes.  Traditional taverns offer informal dining menus ideal for families; the region's modern restaurants, meanwhile, cater to adults seeking an unforgettable night out.
The accommodation in Porto E Norte is just as varied as the menu. Tourists can sleep in a campground, youth hostel, or tourist apartment.  Many hotels cater to families by offering special activities for the younger guests. But an overnight stay in a Pousada de Portugal is the best way to experience the region. These luxury accommodations are set up in historic castles and monasteries tucked into the picturesque countryside. 

Yet no matter where he stays, no traveler to the region will stay hidden in his room for long. The cultural and natural sights of Porto E Norte are always beckoning.
Tags: Porto, Portugal, Douro, river, travel

Hong Kong

Posted on March 03, 2013 by Swapartment
Tags: Hong Kong, China, travel, video

The Top Ten Things to See and Do in Hong Kong

Posted on February 27, 2013 by Swapartment
The Top Ten Things to See and Do in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is famous for its boat cruises, shopping districts and iconic skylines. If you only have a short amount of time to spend in this fascinating city, make sure that you add the following ten things to your itinerary.

1) Go shopping in Causeway Bay:
Causeway Bay is the perfect place to go if you want to get a taste of the most diverse shopping experiences that Hong Kong has to offer. Street vendors sell local soups and fish dumplings, and you will find everything from tiny stalls to world famous department stores (all packed into a relatively small space that would take multiple days to explore). For tourists with a limited budget, the Apple Mall is a particularly smart destination, as it sells luxury items for much lower prices than those you would expect to find elsewhere in the world.

2) Relax in the Nan Lian Garden:
The Nan Lian Garden has a reputation for being the most naturally beautiful place in all of Hong Kong. It offers free entry to visitors and it can easily keep you occupied for a full afternoon. The garden was designed to be a refuge from the hectic nature of the city outside, so it is an excellent place to visit if you are feeling overwhelmed and in need of a few hours of peace. The tea house and the soothing water features provide you with ideal locations for reading a book or taking some time to think.

3) Watch the sun go down from Victoria Peak:
If you have ever received a postcard from Hong Kong, you will already be familiar with the stunning view that can be seen from Victoria Peak. If you take a train to the vantage point, you will be able to see (and photograph) a breathtaking view of the entire city. It is not hard to understand why the Hong Kong skyline is widely regarded as one of the most impressive in the world.

4) Witness the Symphony of Lights:
You can see this dazzling light show every night from 8pm. The Symphony of Lights involves a beautiful combination of neon beams, fireworks and music, and it can be seen entirely free of charge. If you want to see the Symphony of Lights from the best available location, make sure you pick a spot in the Avenue of Stars.

5) Visit Yau Mai Tei:
The Yau Mai Tei shopping area is where you will find the famous Temple Street Night Market. The market is bathed in neon light, and you will find fortune-tellers, hundreds of items of handmade jewelry, busking musicians and all the local food you could possibly want. The Night Market also provides you with the ideal opportunity to haggle, as stall owners are typically responsive to reasonable attempts to bargain for lower priced items.

6) Explore Tsim Sha Tsui:
Tsim Sha Tsui is a bustling bazaar where you can find almost anything you could want being sold for a reasonable price. It is particularly worth visiting Tsim Sha Tsui if you are interested in custom tailoring, as it takes just a couple of days to obtain a smart suit for much less than you would normally spend.

7) Investigate Sheung Wan:
The Sheung Wan neighborhood offers you a chance to see some of the older parts of Hong Kong, and it boasts quirky craft shops as well as well-stocked cookery stores that allow you to sample the finest local ingredients.

8) Charter a boat:
Hong Kong has more than 250 islands, and you can charter a boat for up to eight hours for less than $500. If you are traveling in a party of more than five (or can locate some friendly fellow tourists), this means that you can enjoy a full day at sea for less than a hundred dollars per person. Boat trips around the islands provide amazing opportunities for photography thanks to the ragged coastlines and desolate landscapes.

9) Visit the Maritime Museum:
The Maritime Museum pays tribute to the fact that Hong Kong owes its very existence to its harbor. The museum is inside a striking colonial edifice that has been reconstructed, and it is a must-see for history buffs.

10) Take a ride on the Ngong Ping Cable Car:
From the vantage point of a cable car, you can see beautiful panoramic view of the South China Sea. When you reach the other side, you will also be able to photograph the world’s largest Buddha on the island of Lantau.
Tags: Hong Kong, China, travel