Autumn is considered one of my favourite season. As the leaves changes colour and gets ready for winter, the weather is considerably pleasant and the colourful mountains are pleasing to the eyes.
This autumn, we make our way to explore Transylvania, which not only made famous of Count Dracula but also home to large community of brown bears amidst the wonderful landscape and friendly people. Our trip this time is for 7 nights in which 5 nights will be spend in our trusty campervan.
It is our first campervan experience. We have learned so much during this trip and even met a family who has been staying in campervan, touring Europe for the past 1.5 years. All of us adapted to our mobile home, cooking meals on the go, manoeuvre through the city in our bulky car, and the happy faces when get connected to the mall free wifi (most of the wifi in Romania is without password). At the end of the trip, when we checked in to a proper hotel, everyone is grateful for unlimited hot water shower, huge bathroom and proper bed, indeed a great learning experience.
Some tips for campervan:
It’s important to manage the water level in the tank, for us we use water wisely and our tank is good enough for 2 days of shower, toilet and cooking. Hence, we only go to campsite once every 2 days to fill our water.
Campsite in Romania cost around RON 100-150 per night for 2 adults 2 kids including electricity. Some campsite provides self use washer and dryer at additional cost. We camped at Vampire Camping and Ananas Camping during our trip.
In Romania, you can discard the grey water as long as its to the ground, they are not strict on that but do check as some country has more strict policy when it comes to discarded the grey water.
For the toilet, we added a tablet and it is good enough for 2 days. We try to use toilet in mall, and petrol station whenever possible and we never use our toilet for big business. The waste water is not smelly as what we would have imagine so the toilet tablet is super effective.
Romania allows wild camping so as long as you are not blocking the way, there is usually no issue. There are couple of days we slept in the carpark of huge hypermarket and use their toilet facilities in the morning.
On the first day, we bought a selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so whenever needed, we can whipped up easy lunch or dinner while visiting attractions. Example, we make hotdog bun and instant noodle for lunch and pasta for dinner.
When visiting town centre, best to park campervan just outside of city (we usually park at retail park such as Auchan, Declathon, Jumbo etc) and take an Uber into the city as it is difficult to park a huge campervan in the city.
Places we visited:
Peles Castle- a fairylike castle build for the first king of Romania. Set amidst beautiful forest backdrop, it is a nice walk up to the castle. The interior of the castle is very well maintained, exquisite woods carvings and from the garden, you can get very nice view of the castle. Entrance fees : RON 50 adult, RON 12.5 for students (this is price for the ground floor visit). RON 50 for parking.
Bran Castle- made famous by a book called Dracula by Bram Stolker. It is free to explore the castle ground, to enter the castle it cost RON 60 adult and RON 15 for students. Build as a fortress, it later become residence for Queen Marie. The parking here is exorbitant (RON 60 per hour so we just find a roadside space and park there)
Brasov town- walk around the town, passed by Black Church, had lunch at Le Cauen at town square and stroll around Tampa Mountain.
Clay Castle of Fairies. It is a instagrammable place, mini castle made of natural ingredients- clay, stones and straw. But to be honest, it is quite small and not worth the detour. Cost RON 20 per person- same price for children. RON 10 for parking.
Sibiu town- known also as the city of eyes, check out their roof as the city watches you.
Transfagaran Highway- only open end June to early November due to the extreme weather in the mountain. We were lucky to be able to explore this highway, the view is so great, no wonder dubbed as one of the best view highway in the world. We make our way through the hairpin drive (made famous by Top Gear) and head to Lake Balea (RON 20 for parking), the highest water body in the area. We also saw many wild brown bear on the way, they are just too adorable!
Royal Court of Targoviste, where Vlad held his royal court. RON 15 for adult and RON 8 for students.
Sharing the cost of our trip, 8 days 7 nights for 2 adults and 2 teens (Age 11 and 12):
Flight Dubai to Bucharest on Wizz Air : EUR 590
Campervan rental for 5 days: EUR 730
Campsite rental for 2 nights: EUR 50
Accommodation near airport for 2 nights (first and last night): EUR 180
Winter is usually very harsh and cold , so we hardly plan any winter holiday in Europe. First, I don’t do well in cold, the only thing I love to do in winter is snuggle at home with a cup of hot chocolate. Secondly, the daytime is really short in winter and it gets dark by 3.30-4pm, with the shops closing early, it doesn’t seems like there is enough time to wander around. Lastly, in where we stay Dubai, winter is really like the best weather, sunny and cooling so it is really a nice place to spend the winter.
This year, we decided to spend our winter break in Georgia. Yes, the place where in winter, it snows really heavily in the mountain area and super cold! The one and main reason we decide to venture out of our comfort zone is to do skiing in the mountain or rather to let the kids learn skiing. Skiing in Georgia is relatively cheaper than most places in Europe so we think it will be a good start for us amateur skier to get it started here. Plus, we found out that the daytime in Georgia in winter is pretty decent. The sun rises at 8.30am and it only gets dark by 5.30pm and that gives us enough time to explore this beautiful country.
As there is not much airline flying to Georgia, we decided to explore Wizzair for the first time. Although it is not so straightforward, as we needed to fly from Abu Dhabi and touch down in Kutaisi rather than Tblisi. Price wise, it is definitely cheaper than taking FlyDubai who has the option of touching down in Tbilisi.
Our experience with WizzAir has been a pleasant one. Although they change the flight timing couple of weeks before the flight, the change has been for a better timing. Check in is effortless and easy and the flight is quite smooth, relatively comfortable seat.
Touching down in Kutaisi at 7.30pm, we checked out by 8.30pm and got in our transport that brings us to the city centre 30 mins away from the airport. Nino’s cosy home which I booked over on booking.com is a really nice homestay, pretty central with everything we needed in the 82 metres square house.
Our first dinner is nonetheless the most signature khinkali at El depot , open 24/7. Passing by the iconic White Bridge, the city lights light our way.
The next morning, we slept in and explore the town, while getting some chores done (bought SIM card, cash from Revolut). We also visited the Colchis Fountain, Bagrati Cathedral and ah boy got his McD fix at a large Mcd decorated very Christmas-y. For dinner, we visited Lilestan, a really cosy restaurant playing Christmas music all night, decorated in fresh pine tree. Not forgetting FIFA, we watched the exciting match between Argentina and Croatia.
Contrary to many information, there is quite a huge number of establishment including restaurant, shops, that accept credit card. We are quite surprised that a lot of money exchange doesn’t accept UAE so its better to change before coming. Although most restaurant take credit card, all the accommodation we booked on booking.com all requested for cash upon arrival. On top of that, we paid cash for our car rental as well (credit card payment need extra 3%)
Our next leg of journey is visiting the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. The journey was not easy as the road connecting Kutaisi to Tbilisi is not fully highway. There are lots of truck along the way and traffic is not pleasant. After 3.5 hours we reached Tbilisi and its such a pretty capital. Its surprisingly pleasant, we try the sulphur bath which is so good especially in this weather, had hearty Chikhritma (chicken soup), kharco (meat soup) , took the cable car up to Narikala Fortress, catch a glimpse of Mother of Georgia, hike up to The Trinity Church and visited their Christmas Market.
We even make a day trip out to their wine region Kakheti , did some wine tasting and climb the Great Wall of Georgia. On the final night, we went for Thai massage at Good Time Thai Massage and had an amazing time.
Next morning, we packed up and head to Mtskheta , the royal capital of Georgia. It used to be the capital of Georgia before the capital moved to Tbilisi. Now Mtskheta is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a lot of churches, monastery and history in the quaint scenic town. We first check out the Jvari Monastery followed by Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Jvari Monastery, nestled on the top of the mountain, had amazing amazing view of town of Mtskheta, with two rivers converged. Svetititskhoveli, on the other hand, is in the town centre and it’s very pleasant to walk around. Both doesn’t require an entrance fees, though in the Mtskheta town, one would need to pay GEL 3 for parking.
Afterwards, we headed all the way to Kazbegi which took us another 2.5 hours on the Georgian Military Highway but please do not think one could drive smoothly up. We encountered so many trucks on the road especially nearer to Kazbegi as the trucks are heading to Georgia-Russia border.
We passed by so so many snow capped mountain and the view is absolutely fantastic. We finally reach our cute wooden house where we will be staying here for 3 nights.
The next morning, we decided to hike to Gergeti Church in -2 degree Celcius. Yes, you heard me right! Hiking in the cold, it is definitely the first for us. We wrap ourselves up in 4 layers of clothing and venture out. The trail starts from Cafe Gergeti, there is a flat trail besides the stream and a steep trail heading right up. We followed the flat trail, it is not very hard but really long and we did not end up reaching the top. On our way back, we saw a group of tourist coming down from the steep path. They took the Delica Car up (you can take them from the town as private car is not allowed up the church) and then hike down , that might be a better way especially in the cold.
For lunch, definitely go for the restaurant at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, this is definitely the best value food with amazing amazing view of the town, Caucasus mountain, and the Gergeti Church. The food is really tasty, menu is a selection of local and international. We particularly like their Green tea, steak is great too, Mac n Cheese is very yummy as well. They also have some today’s special which the waiter recommended and we enjoyed them as well. We spend the evening at home and to our surprise, it started snowing! OMG, we were very pleasantly surprise and of course we went out and played with the snow. It snowed the whole night and the next morning, the whole town turned white. It was such a fantastic sight.
Of course, we spend the next day building snowman, having snowball fight and just chilling at home.
Our next stop is Gudauri Ski area where we were hoping to enrol the kids in ski classes. Unfortunately this year winter came late and it did not snow enough for the ski slope to be operational. We did see the ski lifts moving but I guess it is just test drive. We ended up exploring the area and chance upon some frozen stream and frozen river. Had so much fun sliding down them.
Also, do not miss the Russian Georgian Monument area. Even if you are not interested in the monument, the view there is out of the world. There is also some activities to do for example: horse riding, ATV and even a car ride out to check out area nearby with frozen lake, with thick snow.
Even though the main ski slope is not open, there is one small patch of slope which we can do our own skiing. We rented the ski essentials (GEL 50 for one day) and did our own skiing. Without the ski lift, it’s much more tiring as we need to climb up and ski down. We spend around 2 hours skiing and then head for dinner at Pasanauri. The food prices in Gudauri is on the higher end (as compared to many town in Georgia), it costs GEL 42 for a burger for example. I would definitely recommend Pasaunari if you are in Gudauri. They serve very nice Georgian cuisine at a very reasonable price, definitely do their kharco (it’s so so good especially in the cold weather),claypot mushroom is great as well and salad is very refreshing.
As there is no snow, we cut short our trip and head back to a small town 30 mins away from Kutaisi airport to relax and spend our Christmas Day admiring the vineyard countryside view. The weather is also much milder in Kutaisi (around 3-7 degree as compared to Gudauri which is in the negative side of the mercury reading).
In conclusion, we definitely enjoyed our two weeks in Georgia. We are very surprised with their 3G/LTE signal throughout the country, even in the remote mountainous area, the signal is really strong and it only cost GEL 9 for a week (unlimited data). Heating in all the accommodation that we stayed was really good and we had no complain with the hot water supply for the shower. One thing to take note is that it is really dry in the mountain area so good lotion and hydration is very important. The people in Georgia are generally very nice, although a few of them doesn’t really speak much English. Credit card is widely used in restaurants and groceries store. Do bring cash for accommodation and car rental as they prefer cash.
TIPS: If you are coming in winter, do waterproof your sneakers/shoes using this waterproof spray. Instead of getting a pair of waterproof hiking shoes, this proves to be a great saving. It really helps and one bottle can spray up to 4 pairs of shoes.
Over the weekend, we went on a camping trip with a couple of good friends. Our previous camping experience was always in the desert as there is endless sandy desert here in UAE. We love desert camping and kids can run around barefoot and enjoying the nature. However, we always have to rush in the morning to pack our stuff before it gets too hot as there is close to no shade.
This time round, we headed to Wadi Showkah instead to camp. With some off-road, we manage to reach quite a big area inside the wadi with a lot of flat ground that is great for camping. We found one that is good for 4 tents and there is also a tree that gives us some shade.
The road leading to the site is pretty bumpy hence a vehicle with high ground clearance would be recommended.
For sedan, this is where you can park (this is about 20 mins away from where we camp):
As it is within the wadi boundaries, surrounded by mini hills, there are many free and easy hiking that one can do while camping here. Kids enjoyed the nature and make their own little enclosure/spot to play. Another plus point for the parents would be there is no internet 3G connection here, so kids had no choice but to blend in with the nature and play.
For meal, we prepared BBQ satay, Korean style pork belly, chicken wings, sweetcorn. We even had tiramisu for afternoon tea and fruit stick for after dinner dessert. Everyone bring little joy to the camp and we had an amazing time.
The next morning, we had a quick brekkie- some croissant and coffee, milk with cereal. Then we leave our tent at the site and went for a hike.
The hiking place is around 40 minutes drive away. Drop pin: 25°06’11.3″N 56°03’42.3″E
Due to rainfall couple of weeks back, there are lots of pool along the hike. Be ready to get wet if you would like to hike. Basically, you will get wet from waist down including your shoes as the rocks inside the water is quite sharp so you will have to wear to shoes.
Note to self: There is another access point to reach the hiking site that is easier on the car. This is the entrance: 25°05’52.1″N 56°01’53.2″E (Water tank parking MTB Meeting Point).
As we enter Al Ain, I can see why the city is dubbed as oasis city or garden city. The city is indeed a green oasis amidst the bare desert, worthy of its title as one of the UNESCO Heritage Site.
Al Ain is part of Abu Dhabi region, as we are coming from Dubai, we need to pass by a checkpoint where we have to show our Al Hosn apps and do an EDE scan. For vaccinated individual, we need to have PCR done within 14 days and for the unvaccinated, PCR test has to be within 96 hours of entry.
We make our way to Al Ain Zoo, greeted by the giraffe, hippopotamus, white tiger and many more. I am really glad we gave Al Ain Zoo another chance. Our first visit to the zoo was not pleasant as we missed out quite a big part of the zoo and saw mainly the oryx and gazelle, and with the scorching sun, it did not help.
TIPS: Do check out the map and make a right at the entrance to check out some of the cool animals before going to the right side where most of the animals are located. Also, as most of the zoo is not shaded, it is definitely a good idea to visit when the weather is cool. It was 17-25 degree Celcius when we visit.
We had our lunch at the Zerafa Restaurant inside the zoo, and the prices are really reasonable. The avocado juice is great and fried chicken is pretty yummy too!
One of the highlight for the kids were the petting zoo, and there are lots of grounds for kids to run around and picnic can be a good option too. The zoo is still undergoing extension and we could see koala, elephants and gorilla coming soon!
Personally, I really like the big cats exhibit where the white tiger, lion, King Kong , and jaguar roaming around. This is another good reason to come in the winter as these big cats does not sleep as much and really walking around, being active.
Time pass really fast and we actually spend a good 7 hours in the zoo, having fun!
Open 9am to 6pm daily, definitely recommended to visit if you have not done so. The entrance fees are super reasonable at AED 31.50 for adults and AED 10.50 for kids 3-12 years old. If you fancy to feed the giraffe, you can do so at an additional AED 31.50 for 4 pax!
Don’t forget you need GREEN AL HOSN to enter the zoo!
We left the zoo at 5pm, heading to check in our hotel at Aloft Al Ain, just 20 minutes away from the zoo. The room is really spacious and modern. Despite not having much facilities in the hotel, we had a really nice stay. Breakfast was not included when we book our room, but upon checking in, we were offered a breakfast deal of AED 40 for adults and kids under 12 eats for free. If you do not fancy the hotel food, there is a good selection of restaurants within walking distance from the hotel. We had dinner at Ziryab followed by desert at Lore. I have to give 5 thumbs up to PULL ME from the dessert menu, definitely one of the most amazing dessert I have ever tested. Their kunafe cheesecake is amazing as well.
The next day, we headed to Jebal Hafeet, the second tallest summit in UAE, but I was quite disappointed as there is no hiking trail on the mountain. I am guessing it is because it is very near the UAE Oman border, hence not advisable to hike around there. They are still constructing the area, so the rest area are under construction. There is no toilet at the submit (at the moment) despite having a small coffee shop. We had ice cream and it is very good price (AED 25 for 4 ice cream at the top of Jabal Hafeet). At the foot of Jabal Hafeet, there is a public park/hot spring but it was not open until 3pm on the day we were there. Seems like it is always only open late afternoon.
Hence, we decided to check out the camel market, yes you heard it right. A camel market, selling camels, for their meat, milk or for pet?
We ended our day checking out Jebel Hafit Desert Park. There is a couple of hiking trails, mountain biking, camel riding and one can even do staycation in the cool looking star bubble clamping tent! The entrance to the park is at AED 20 per family or AED 10 for adults, AED 5 for kids. We reached close to sunset so decided to give this a miss and keep the fun for our next trip down to Al Ain.
1. 500g of skinless chicken thigh (cut into small pieces)
2. 4 tbsp of hoisin sauce
3. 2 tbsp of oyster sauce
4. 2 tbsp soy sauce
5. 4 tbsp sugar
6. 2 tsp dark soy sauce
7. 1 tsp sesame oil
8. A dash of white pepper
Frying the fillings:
1. Some oil
2. 6 cloves of garlic, minced
3. 4 small shallots, minced
4. 100g of green pea
5. 3 tbsp of tapioca flour plus water
6. 2-3 drops of red colouring
WHAT TO DO: In a frying pan, add oil, then stir fry the garlic and shallots until fragrant, add meat. Fry until cooked, add green pea. When the mixture is less watery, add the tapioca flour with water. it will instantly become very sticky. Let it cool down.
For the water dough:
1. 200g all purpose flour
2. 20g sugar
3. 35g unsalted butter, melted
4. 15g cooking oil
5. 90ml water (+/-)
6. 1/2 tsp baking soda
7. 1/4 tsp salt
WHAT TO DO: Mix all together and let the dough rest for 10 mins. Then cut into smaller piece, and follow the YouTube video on how to make.
For the oil dough:
1. 100g all purpose flour
2. 55g unsalted butter, melted
3. 15g cooking oil
WHAT TO DO: Mix all together. Then cut into smaller piece, and follow the YouTube video on how to make.
Add egg wash and bake in oven preheated at 180 degree C for 15 minutes. Then remove from oven. Add another layer of egg wash, sprinkle some sesame seeds, bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown.
I have seen a couple of people sharing Crescent Moon Lake photos using drone and they always look amazing. The fact is the lake really look amazing from above due to the shape and colour.
This is the aerial view we took using our Mavic Mini 1 on 10th September 2021. If you look carefully at the main crescent structure, in the water, the lake is surrounded a thin layer of sand and in the middle of the lake it is all dark green and this is due to the algae growing in the water. Whereas, at the secondary structure in the middle, it is mainly sandy and with a little algae growing in the middle and hence, not as dark green as the main structure.
This is our second attempt to go here and we are glad that it was a success. This area is accessible using 4WD as some part of it are off road and on windy sandstorm day, the sand build up on the road can be quite significant , hence increasing the difficulty to reach the area.
If one would like to come, do choose a day where there is no sandstorm and come in the daytime before it gets dark. There is no clear signage so if you put in Crescent Moon Lake in google maps, follow the main road to Qudra area and there will be an area of Onyx enclosure and that’s where u start to go a little off road. Be careful as the sand build up may be thick or thin depending on weather etc.
The lake is smaller than we had expected and to be honest, the view is not as great as seen from above. Attached are some view we had while we are there. I am lucky to get some sunset shot which are amazing.
I have seen many people going off road into the sandy area further down the lake and it might be a great adventure for those who are adventurous.
1. 1.5kg Glutinous rice (soak overnight, sieve to remove water)
2. Shallot fry in oil
3. 1/2 soup spoon of white sugar
4. 1/2 soup spoon of white pepper
5. 1/2 soup spoon of coriander powder
6. 4 soup spoon of fish sauce
7. 5-6 soup spoon of mushroom water
8. 1 tbsp of dark soy sauce
9. 5 tbsp of soy sauce
WHAT TO DO : Soak rice overnight, sieve. In a frying pan, pan fried shallot in oil until fragrant then add rice and all the flavouring, fry the rice until dry.
1. 1kg 250g of pork
2. 1 tbsp of dark soy sauce
3. 4 tbsp of soy sauce
4. 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil
5. 1/2 tbsp of white sugar
6. 1/2 cloves of garlic, minced
7. 1/2 teaspoon of five spice powder
WHAT TO DO: Marinate overnight
1. 20 pieces of mushroom, wash and soak until soft (keep the mushroom water)
2. 1 tsp of fish sauce
3. 1 cup of mushroom water
4. 1 tsp of white sugar
5. a dash of white pepper
6. 3 tbsp of oyster sauce
WHAT TO DO: Soak mushroom until soft, then add the flavourings and fry until dry.
1. 2/3 cup of dried shrimps, soak and blend
2. Shallot, garlic, dried chilli, soak until soft– blend all together
3. A stalk of lemon grass
WHAT TO DO: In a pot, stir fry blended shallot, garlic, chilli with the lemon grass until fragrant. Remove the lemon grass and add dried shrimps. Fry until fragrant.
1. 250g chestnut
2. 1 tbsp of white sugar
WHAT TO DO: Wash and boil in water for 5 minutes, then switch off the heat and leave it in the pot for 10 minutes. Remove any red lines or impurities, then stir fry with sugar until sugar melted.
SALTED EGG YOLK
1. 12 chicken egg
2. 500g of salt
3. 4 cups of water
4. Large glass container with lid
WHAT TO DO: In a pot, add water and salt, cook until the salt melted and starts to crystallise, this shows that the salt water has reached saturation point. Remove pot from heat and let it cool down to room temperature. Wash the eggs and place them into the glass container. Slowly pour the salt water and salt crystals until all the eggs are submerged. Cover and keep in cool dark place for 3 weeks. Once ready, wash the eggs, dry them and place them in fridge.
BLACK EYE PEAS
1. black eye peas
WHAT TO DO: Soak overnight.
Wash and rinse in hot water to clean the leaves.
Follow this video as visual aid on how to wrap them: