Tag Archives: travel

5 indisputable reasons to stay at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island

1 – The Stunning View

One of the first thing we have noticed upon entering our villa was the extraordinary view. The blue sea and the sky that you can enjoy from the comfort of your bed, the freshness of the available pool or any of the chairs, sofas or chaise lounge available. If you prefer something different, there are villas facing the mangroves area or the forest.

Villa with Sea View at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island

The view from the beach villa at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island

View at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island

Amazing sunsets from Anantara Al Yamm Resort

2 – Astonishing wildlife

 It was surprisingly good to understand that the island is not a zoo but actually a wildlife sanctuary aiming to reintroduce into the wild some species considered endangered until few years ago. During the safari superbly conducted by our South African guide, we have learnt a lot about Oryx, Sand Gazelles, a Giraffe, Cheetahs and many other animals that are protected in the reserve and we managed to admire. Many birds, a rabbit and several sand gazelles were regularly “visiting” our villa.

Cheeta at Anantara Wildlife Park Sir Bani Yas Island

Giraffe at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island

Desert Gazelle at Ananantara Sir Bani Yas IslandOryx at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island

3 – Absolute Quietness

Whether we were sunbathing in the beach, dining at the restaurant or within the comfort of our room, we hardly heard something different from the smooth sound of the sea waves and the happy chirping of the birds. No cars, construction works or the usual noise where are daily exposed to in the city.

Total Quietness at Anantare Sir Bani Yas Island

4 – Superb service

Since the very first moment when we entered the Anantara Resort gate at Jebel Dhana Jetty, we have received a superlative service. The Sir Bani Yas Island crew was always smiling, very prepared, friendly and polite. We have never met someone from within the staff that haven’t approached us with a warm smile, a polite salutation and a request if they could have been of any help or assistance.

5 – Great Accommodation

Our villa was simply amazing. Dining room, living room, a very big bedroom, nicely arranged bathroom with cool amenities, outdoor seating and a private swimming pool (not too big though). Independent from any other villa, guaranteeing absolute privacy and quietness.  There is available also an area to arrange a fire for an amazing evening.

Beach Villa at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island

‘The Frame’ and ‘Dubai Eye’ work progress disclosed!

Two of the most iconic Projects that will characterize Dubai’s future landscape and are deemed to attract many millions tourists are proceeding well and their completion date seems closer and closer.

From my office’s window I have a beautiful view of downtown and ‘The Frame’ and for this reason I was able to monitor the progress of the works constantly. After weeks of activity on the pillars, finally the main contractor completed the frame and started working on the finishing. ‘The Frame’ Project has an estimated cost of almost 44 million USD and is expected to attract 2 million visitors per year.

The Frame - Dubai - Progress

‘The Frame’ Project is expected to be completed in the first half of 2016

The other sensational Project that is progressing at an incredible quick pace is Dubai Eye, the ferris wheel that is being constructed in front of Jumeirah Beach Residence on an artificial island. The works  have recently reached a good point and the skeleton of the supporting structure of the wheel is now easily recognizable.

Dubai Eye in Progress

Dubai Eye Project Progress as of end of October

Japan Public Transportation System and the JR Pass – TIPS

Visiting Japan is one of the easiest things to do. Either you want to visit a single city or travel around the Country, you have a countless number of transportation options that sometimes could seem even embarrassing.

The railway network is impressive. Compared to the old one I have back home, a single line railway from Ventimiglia to Genova built around the end of the 19th Century, it seemed to me to have landed on an alien planet. Tokyo is probably the most densely populated city in the world and it would have been a collective suicide to force 30 million people to use their cars and motorbikes to commute every day.

For this reason, Tokyo has a capillary public transportation that easily connects each and every part of the city. There are several levels and options available for citizens and visitors: subway lines, railways, boats trips, monorails and more. The main railway that you are going to use during your stay in Tokyo is the JR Yamamote Line. It is a loop line that connect Tokyo Station with many tourist places and network nodes such as, but not limited to, Akihabara, Shinjuku, Hamamatsucho (the connection with the airport monorail), Shibuya and more as shown in the below photo.

JR Lines in Tokyo

The capillary JR network in Tokyo. In green at the centre, the Yamamote Line. In red the Haneda Airport monorail.

If you would like to explorer Japan further, maybe adding Kyoto, Hiroshima or other cities to your itinerary, you do not have to worry. Japan is famous for the JR Shinkansen lines, particular railways where special trains (known as bullet trains) can travel at almost 300 km/h, rendering a trip Tokyo/Kyoto of almost 470 km a pleasant journey of less than 2 hours. It connects all Japan in a efficient and comfortable way, making your exploring the whole Country really easy.

Japan Rail Pass Map

The JR group is the biggest in the Country and serves all the major cities.

The next question is: How much does the public transportation cost in Japan?

JR Line Tokyo Fares

In all the stations you will find signboards with the fare to pay, if you do not have a JR pass.

The answer is very simple:a lot since they are very expensive, especially the Shinkansen rides. In the train stations you will find sign boards with the fare to pay for a single ride from the current station (in this case Tokyo Station) to your destination.  As shown in the photo, a one-way ride to the next station, costs in average some 130 Yen (more than 1 USD at today’s rate). There are daily passes available for the JR lines only (the Tokunai Pass – 700 Yen) or for all the lines (the Tokyo Free Kippu – 1,590 YEN). We took an average of 6 rides per day in Tokyo, in order to visit different districts in one day and without the JR Pass, getting the daily pass would have been a wise idea.

The Shinkanses is quite expensive, with a ride from Tokyo to Kyoto at around 14,000 Yen (almost 120 USD) and a train trip from Nagoya to Takayama is almost 6,000 Yen (around 50 USD) just to mention two popular destinations that we have visited. Just to have an idea, during our stay we visited Tokyo (4 days), Nagoya (2 days), Kyoto (2 days), Nara (1 day) and Katayama (2 days) inclusive of all the Shinkansen connections we had to take. We estimated a total transportation cost of more than 65,000 Yen (around 540 USD) in order to visit the mentioned cities.

Luckily enough, the Japanese government gives to foreign visitors the possibility to get a JR PASS valid on all the JR lines at the cost of 29,110 YEN (242 USD) for 7 days and 46,390 YEN (386 USD) for 14 days (regular class, seat not reserved). It is not valid outside the JR circuit that, however, is enough to allow you to visit Tokyo and Japan without trouble, limiting at few times the need to use a subway or a different way of transportation.

With the JR PASS we saved some money (around 160 USD each) and a lot of time. In fact, the pass holders are just requested to show it at the gates, without the need to continuously go to the tickets office and buy a ticket.

Note: The JR PASS shall be bought before going to Japan because it can be purchased only outside the Country by foreigners that will be enjoying a temporary Visit/Tourist Visa only.

JR Exchange Order

The JR Exchange Order shall be bought outside Japan and converted with the Pass at a JR point.

The process is very simple. You shall buy a JR Exchange Order (see photo) either online or from an authorized travel agent. There are many website offering this option, the most complete of which is definitely www.japanrailpass.net/en/ where all the possible information you might require are available. Once you receive the JR Exchange Order, you shall exchange it with the actual Pass that can be obtained in the Airports and in the major Train stations. Just note that the appointed JR offices close at 18.30, hence you might be prevented to get your pass if you land after this time.

JR Pass

The JR Pass you can get once in Japan. It will allow you to use unlimited JR trains inclusive of the Shinkansen.

We landed at 23.35 at Tokyo Haneda Airport and had to buy a monorail ticket to reach Hamamatsucho Station (the first stop and also where we booked our hotel Bayside Hotel Azur Takeshiba). We were then forced to go to Tokyo Station the day after (paying again the ticket) and finally get the JR Pass issued.

Airport Review – Haneda International – Tokyo

If you are planning to visit Tokyo and from there visit some other areas of Japan, you might be asked to chose between two possible airports: Narita and Haneda. Narita is the new international airport and it seems to be exceptionally designed. I have a couple of friends that flew to Narita and they all said the same: great airport but it is 40 minutes by train from the City.

By chance we had to fly to Haneda, the former principal airport and now the reference point for domestic flights and some selected international ones. The airport is extraordinarily close to the city that could be reached in 10 minutes with the available monorail, which links the airport with Hamamatsucho Station where the Yamamote Line (a circular JR line that connects almost all Tokyo neighborhoods), other JR Lines and subways are easily reachable.

We flew from Dubai to Tokyo with Emirates and landed in Haneda whose arrival terminal is very minimal but efficient. Indeed, we landed, passed through immigration and collected our baggage in less than 20 minutes. A high speed WiF is also available, which I successfully used to call home with Skype without any trouble.

The Airport staff are very polite and available to offer information and indication and almost all of them speak English in a suitable way (rare thing in Japan).

Haneda airport facilities

Haneda airport doesn’t offer the entertainment that Narita does, but it is very efficient. – photo from http://www.haneda-airport.com

The departure terminal is al-right with a check-in process efficient even though not really as fast as expected. Compared to Emirates Terminal 3 in Dubai, Haneda seems really small, however,  it offers enough souvenirs shops and restaurants to spend easily 1 or 2 hours while waiting for boarding. just note that some shops close at 10 p.m., hence you might miss that nice bag you wanted to buy “after a quick bite” as we did.

The monorail is perfectly integrated in the airport and is easy to reach. Note that since it is operated by JR you can use your JR Pass to access it. However, if you have bought a JR Exchange Order in advance and need to exchange it with the real Pass, remember that the JR office in Haneda Airport closes at 18.30 Tokyo time and you will be asked to pay for the monorail ride if you land after that time.

The use of the JR Pass can seem quite complicated and its high cost can discourage from buying it but it is a valuable tool if you plan to visit more than Tokyo. This detailed JR Pass guide shows you hot it works.

Hotel Review – Bayside Hotel Azur Takeshiba – Tokyo

When we decided to travel to Japan and to spend few days in Tokyo, most of the best hotels in town were already fully booked or with only super expensive suites available. Among the ones with rooms available at an affordable price, we opted for Bayside Hotel Azur Takeshiba hotel that is conveniently located at 7 minutes’ walk from Hamamatsucho Station, which offers links to the major JR Lines (Yamamote in first place), the airport monorail and subway system.

It’s location is superb if you land at Tokyo Haneda Airport, especially at night, since the hotel can be easily reached in 20 minutes from that airport. Moreover, the hotel  is close to Tsukiji Fish Market and Hinode Pier from where you can get a boat and explore the bay or cruise the river up to Asakusa district.

The hotel is a bit anonymous, with very little decorations and the main entrance is tricky to be found. Just remember that the lobby is located at the 4th floor, hence you need to get the elevator from the 1st floor (note also that the ground floor does not exist in Japan. They start counting from 1).

Bayside Hotel Azur Takeshiba

The hotel is conveniently located close to Hinode Pier and Hamamtsucho Train/Metro Station – photo from Google Images

The hotel staff was very helpful but no one speaks a fluent English. However, they managed to handle a simple discussion about timings, rules and basic information.

As common in Tokyo, the room was very small with enough space for the bed, a tiny desk with chair and very few amenities. We had issues in managing our luggage since there was space to open only one bag at a time. We are 1.90 m tall and found the space just enough to survive even though the bed was surprisingly big enough.

The bathroom was minimal with a smart toilet, sink and shower. A hair drier and some toiletries were available as well as towels. Both bathroom and room were always very clean and in order.

When I booked a standard double room with city view, I was optimistically hoping to have a superb view of Tokyo. Unfortunately, our room no. 715 offered only close buildings and the elevated train rail.  The room is perfectly sound-proofed and we did not get disturbed by any noise coming from outside. However, you might prefer to try a bay view room for a hopefully better view.

The hotel offers a free WiFi connection that works perfectly in the lobby but has sometimes problems in the room. We did not have any meal at the hotel, therefore I cannot provide any comments.

The hotel accepts credit cards (useful to specify in Japan, since many commercial activities accept only cash).

5 Indisputable Reasons to Visit Bucharest – Romania

I have been once in Romania and loved the Country. If you are looking for a destination off the usual tourist path but that offers as many beautiful things to enjoy as the other European cities, Bucharest is the right option for you. The life in the Romanian Capital differs from the stressful rhythm in most of the other European capitals. Therefore you can have a wonderful holiday in a peaceful environment without compromising on the quality of your stay and the number of things to see, experiment or do. Without letting aside the superb food selection.

Above everything, it is worth mentioning that Bucharest is still a relatively cheap city if compared with the other European cities since a stay can cost as little as 40 euro per day in well located hotels and meals are served at 10 Euro per person.

1 – The amazing parks and public gardens

If you think that your city is the best in terms of public parks, once you will have visited Bucharest you might change idea. The city has at least 4 major parks: Cismigiu Garden (in the photo), Botanical Garden, Carol I Parkv and Herastrau Park that give to the capital real fresh air and the constant sensation to live in close contact with the nature. Moreover, there are other open gardens with museums and local markets that are really enjoyable (e.g. the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum).

Parcul Cismigiu - Bucharest

Parcul Cismigiu is simply astonishing and worth to pay a visit.

2 – The surprisingly good food

No matter where you decide to stop for a break, lunch or dinner, you will get something your taste buds will enjoy. I had dozens placinte that are sold in many kiosks around the city. They are a traditional pastry usually filled with cheese, ricotta and dill, apples or just plain.  Romanians love polenta (they called it mamaliga) that usually comes with cheese (branza) or pork sausages (carnati) and pork or beef meat. Among the many traditional dishes available, my favourite is the tochitura that consists of beef and pork stewed chunks served with mamaliga, branza and a fried egg (see photo).

Tochitura pork beef stew - Bucharest

Tochitura is a stew made with pork, beef and sometimes chicken served with mamaliga (polenta) and cheese and a fried egg.

3 – The Old Town

The old town is a most enticing area of the city with the historic architecture, the old churches, the outdoor terraces and cafés and the romantic feel. The Old Town is the old district of artisans and merchants that emerged around the Princely Court, back in the 16th century.

The beauty of this part of the city, a fifth of which was destroyed to accommodate Ceausescu City Project, was recently restored with a series of renovation works that breathed new life in the superb period buildings.

The old town is now the real centre of the Capital with restaurants, pubs and much more.

Bucharest old town

Bucharest Old Town is under constant renovation and is rich in historical building, pubs and restaurants. – Photo from Google Images

4 – The Communist Legacy

Romanians ended the Communist Dictatorial Regime on December 25, 1989 after vibrant protests started in the city of Timisoara that culminated with the capture and execution of death sentence of the President Ceausescu and his wife. The leadership of Nicolae Ceaușescu (also leader of the Romanian communist party) lasted almost 34 years and the symbol of that period of time is certainly the impressive Palace of the Parliament.  This gigantic building was ordered by Ceaușescu in the 80’s and its construction started in 1984 and was completed (only partially) in 1997.

It cost almost 4 billions Euro that were taken from the population as ‘donation’ and therefore it was also called ‘Casa Poporului’ (House of the People). The building is the second world’s largest office building by floor after Pentagon, it has more than 1,000 rooms available, 8 underground levels and a anti-nuclear bunker. Rumours say that a secret tunnel links the building with the airport and the most important places of the City.

Casa Popolurui - Bucharest

Casa Popolurui is immense. Book in advance to visit its interior.

View from Palace of Parliament in Bucharest

The view of Piata Constitutiei from the balcony in the today palace of Parliament.

5 – The Night-life

Of all the wonderful things that Bucharest has to offer, night-life is not the least of them. There is something for everyone in this town: and I mean everyone. From trendy bars to Irish pubs, lounge clubs and jazz clubs and the odd steamy strip shows. Bucharest is a young and energetic city and the renovated old town, packed with pubs, restaurants and clubs, soon became the central night-life strip.

Among the various clubs and discos available, surly the most famous is the Bamboo Club, whereas one of the most popular restaurants and beer hall is Caru’ cu Bere that is a must for all the visitors.

5 Indisputable reasons to visit the Maldives

Almost 2 years had passed since we visited Maldives and our memories are still vivid on our eyes and heart. Maldives are simply a dream destination that you shall visit at least once in your life.

We flew in Maldives from Abu Dhabi with a superb Etihad flight and reached Male’ Airport in few hours. From there we took one of those fast boats that in less than half an hour brought us to our island: Lhohifushi Island, located in the North Male Atoll. Simply a piece of paradise. However, if you still need some further facts to convince you to visit Maldives, here you have 5 indisputable reasons to do it.

1 – The Superb Beaches

We all know that Maldives are very popular for their beaches made with fine white sand, but do you really know how beautiful they can be? Natural sand, great vegetation with palms and mangroves and the astonishing color of the water create an unique environment that you cannot miss.

The superb beaches in Maldives

Our island had superb beaches and vegetation.

2 – The turquoise sea

If the beaches are really beautiful, they are not even comparable with the variety of colors the sea water in the Maldives can offer. Light blue, dark blue and sometimes turquoise that perfectly match the clear blue sky.

Maldives colorful water

The sea water is crystal clear and offers a variety of blue/greenish colors that are astonishing

3 – The lovely accommodation and the peaceful surrounding

Our tour operator opted for a resort organized in beach villas. We thought it was a good idea to have some more privacy and an unique but we didn’t expected to have such a great stay. A few steps from the beach but immersed in a very rich vegetation. The island doesn’t have roads, hence cars passing by. There is no noise at all and after the sunset it is really peaceful and quiet.

Beach villas in Maldives

The beach villas where we stayed were lovely located and beautifully furnished.

4 – The amazing wildlife

If you are one of those people that think Maldives are only sand and beaches, you are completely wrong. There are many different species that live in each and every island. We encountered Hermit Crabs, birds, flamingos, and many fishes that populated the coral reef.

Hermit Crab in Maldives

Hermit Crab in Maldives

Maldivian flamingo

Maldivian Flamingo patrolling the sea

Threao Fin Butterfly Fish in Maldives

Snorkeling is an amazing experience in Maldives. Here with a Threao Fin Butterfly Fish

5 – The perfect sun for a long-lasting tan

Yes, of course you might want to go to Maldives for the beaches, the sea and the wildlife but definitely you want to bring home a nice and natural tan that will make all your friends, colleagues and bosses frustrated with envy. Maldives is the right place to achieve that. The sun is very strong and penetrating and, if your skin is protected in a proper way, it  turns your pale grey-yellowish-city-color in a even and healthy brown one.

The perfect tan in Maldives

The perfect tan in Maldives