bucharest.

In 2013, I traveled alone for the first time because I was speaking at a conference in Amsterdam. I remember being an absolute bundle of nerves, afraid to trust myself and anxious about what it would be like to experience a foreign city alone. It turned out that I had nothing to fear, and I have since traveled to many countries by myself (Italy, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Taiwan) for both work and pleasure. 

Solo travel has been one of the most fulfilling, liberating, and rewarding things I have ever done, and I would highly recommend anyone going abroad alone at least once. Although I have always been a very independent person, it truly took that first step off of a plane into a foreign city for me realize my capabilities. To state it simply: solo travel has made me a stronger and more confident person. 

Pasajul Victoria

Pasajul Victoria

So, once again, I find myself travelling the world without anyone I know and trust by my side. Conferences and other work-related responsibilities have brought me back to Europe. The first stop: Bucharest, Romania. 

Old Town

Old Town

Before arriving in Bucharest, I knew very little about the city, its history, or its people. Apparently, I have connections to Romania through my maternal side, but I sadly know very little about my European roots. 

Bucharest is the capital and largest city in Romania, and it has a difficult history associated with a communist regime established in 1947. When I had time away from the conference, I made the most of my time by seeing all the sights recommended by various guidebooks and bloggers. These included the Romanian Athenaeum, Lipscani Old Town, and Palace of Parliament. 

Palace of Parliament

Palace of Parliament

One of the most interesting places that I visited as part of a walking tour was the Memorial of Rebirth on Revolution Square. On Dec 21, 1989, the Romanian dictator Ceaușescu gave his final speech in what is now Revolution Square. The speech was a pivotal moment in the Romanian Revolution, and it was powerful to be standing in the same place as the brave people who revolted right in front of Ceaușescu’s eyes.

Memorial of Rebirth

Memorial of Rebirth

Although there were some interesting historical spots, my most enjoyable moments in Bucharest were spent visiting cafes. Before my trip, I read that Bucharest is known for “limonadă” (lemonades), which are made with all natural ingredients. Indeed, I had some delicious and surprisingly beautiful lemonades on street patios. I was also thrilled to find a cafe that served vegan and vegetarian options (M60) – a saving grace in a city that has heavy emphasis on meat – and a bakery that made the most beautiful and delicious eclairs that I have ever had (French Revolution).

Strawberry Lemonade from the Urbanist

Strawberry Lemonade from the Urbanist

Being candid, I must admit that Bucharest was not my favorite city that I have visited. However, I did not spend enough time in Romania interacting with locals to find out more about the culture, which I’m sure would have helped me to better appreciate and understand the city and its people. 


Recommendations:

Eat and drink: Artichoke, M60, the Urbanist, French Revolution

ollantaytambo.

One question has been burning in my mind ever since starting this blog: How do you write about travel when you aren’t travelling? Although I try to travel as much as possible, the fact is that I am not a travel blogger and take off only a few times a year if I am lucky. While I do have upcoming travel plans, I won’t be away for a few more months. Faced with this problem, I’ve determined that the only solution is to go back in time and revisit the places that I have already been. So with that, I am going to start from the beginning. A “throwback Saturday series” if you will.

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Back in 2013, my now husband and I went on our first backpacking trip. The destination: Peru. As an anthropologist, I naturally gravitate towards places of cultural importance and historical significance, so Machu Picchu was obviously a huge draw to the country. But we will talk about Machu Picchu another day.

The place I really want to write about first was my favourite in Peru. It is a little village with a not-so-little name: Ollantaytambo. Now, this was six years ago so I have to rely on pictures and memories, but I will try to do it justice.

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Wikipedia has reminded me that Ollantaytambo is 72 km northwest of the city of Cusco, and is located in what is referred to as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Apparently the village is en route to one of the most common starting points for the famed Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu, but we were visiting in September and there were very few other tourists in the village.

Nestled into the valley, Ollantaytambo is surrounded by hills, mountains and impressive Inca ruins. When people think of Peru, I would guess that most automatically think of Machu Picchu. While it is an incredible site, there are fascinating and impressive ruins all over Peru that deserve attention as well. The two Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo are absolutely worth seeing, as they are not only massive but miraculously well preserved.

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As much as I appreciated the ruins, my favourite part of Ollantaytambo was the village itself. In addition to being literally surrounded by centuries-old history, the village itself is a living, breathing historical relic. Ollantaytambo continues to survive on the original stones that it was built upon in the 13th century (!!). The narrow cobblestone streets are lined by homes and buildings that look straight out of…well…the 13th century. I also remember hearing a distinct sound everywhere we went: trickling water. Ollantaytambo has an extensive aqueduct system running alongside streets, transporting fresh water from the mountains throughout the village. It is amazing to me that this Inca invention continues to be useful to people centuries later.

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As far as food, a couple places still stand out to me. The first is Hearts Cafe, where we had a lovely breakfast. Proceeds from the cafe go to supporting the health of children in the Sacred Valley, who I learned suffer hunger and nutritional deficiencies. Due to the remote location of many villages, environmental challenges, and high poverty, many disadvantaged families subsist solely on potatoes. I remember reading that in their menu to this day, and in the back of my mind I still imagine going back one day to get involved in nutrition health promotion programs in the area.

The second place that I remember is a restaurant called Puka Rumi because my husband and I shared a massive bowl of guacamole there. This guacamole was so good that we still bring it up six years later. How can something with so few ingredients be so hard to master on my own!?

Overall, what I remember most about Ollantaytambo is the peacefulness I felt being there. Although I am someone who hates being still for too long, being in this village just made me feel calm and at home. I am thankful that we made it a destination, rather than a place to pass through, and would definitely recommend that anyone traveling in Peru spent at least a night in this sleepy village.


Recommendations:

Stay: Mama Simone Hostel
Eat: Hearts Cafe, Puka Rumi.