Our Top 10 Favorite Places We Stayed on our RTW

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip, so we’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This edition will cover our top 10 favorite places we stayed around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.

When making this list, we found that how much we enjoyed a place had less to do with the actual accommodations (though certainly it helped when we felt comfortable) and more with the experience or vibe of a place. We loved places that gave us unique insights to the culture of the area, or places where we were able to meet a lot of like minded travelers to create connections.

Amber Tree Lodge, Cape Town, South Africa

The Amber Tree was a really wonderful place to stay in Cape Town. It had pretty comfortable beds in the dorms with substantial lockers, a full kitchen and an awesome common area. The vibe there was also just perfect for us, laid back, fun, but not a full party. We met a lot of really great people there, and had enjoyable evenings hanging out with travelers from all over the world! In addition, it was in a pretty great location – at the foot of Table Mountain, which made for great views from the balcony. It is also not too far a walk from the famous Long Street in Cape Town.

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Pension Oaza, Levoca, Slovakia

We really enjoyed this pension in the small town of Levoca. We had a very large and comfortable room. We had plenty of space to spread out, a refrigerator and microwave, and our very own bathroom! The woman who owned the pension was kind and offered us homebaked goodies. She also told us to grab some of her many tomatos growing in her garden. It was quite a nice location too, located midway between the main bus station and old town.

Our room came with its own table

Agria Retur Panzio, Eger, Hungary

This pension was extremely pleasant. We had a pretty sizable room with a private bathroom, and some skylights above our bed. There was a shared kitchen and meal area that was quite pleasant. We were only a few minutes walk from Old Town and the town Minaret was practically right outside our door!  In addition, the lady owner was so kind and really interested in making sure that we felt at home. We felt as if she wanted to take us under her wing as a mother figure!

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Apartments Samardzic, Kotor, Montenegro

When we arrived at the Apartments Samardzic, we almost immediately decided we wanted to extend our stay. That certainly bodes well for an accommodation! We had a nice queen-sized bed, a good bathroom, a kitchenette, a big living room, and our favorite feature: a view over the bay. We spent most of our afternoons just relaxing the in the living room, looking out over the bay and catching up on things. The kitchen was convenient and the bathroom was comfortable. The hosts live right next door, and were always very kind whenever we had a question.

Ana’s Rest House, Berat, Albania

We were thrilled with our time at Ana’s in Berat. The guesthouse was quite new and comfortable. The bed was large and lovely. There was a small common area which we frequented and met several other interesting tourists. In addition, there was a lovely patio with a stunning view of Berat which we enjoyed on more than one occasion. We also lucked out with the new worker there. He was a native of Berat and was starting a burgeoning tour business. He was around all the time and we really enjoyed a lot of discussions with him from everything from books to American politics to Albanian history. After a lively and informative day with our guide, and several evening/breakfast conversations, he found out that Della was a teacher and he expressed his deep interest in teaching as well. He also was adamant that Della have a chance to see Albanian schools in action. Not knowing what to expect, we said that might be cool. He called a friend, a Peace Corps volunteer from Maryland, who worked in an alternative high school in Berat. This opened the door for us to spend the morning with the Peach Corps volunteer discussing his job and then an hour in his classroom where he works with a partner Albanian teacher to teach English to the students, the equivalent of seniors in the US. We really enjoyed and benefited from our stay at Ana’s!

Eucalyptus Hotel, Patara, Turkey

We were the only guests at this hotel as it was down season in Turkey. But, to be honest, that was part of the charm. We had a comfortable, pretty large room. The hotel provided breakfast every morning as part of the price. They also cooked dinner to order. All meals were served on a lovely outdoor patio which beautiful and comfortable Turkish style. The couple that ran the hotel was very kind and we did get a chance to chat with them a few times when they served us our meals. The owner also drove us to and from the bus stop at no extra charge which was a welcome and necessary service in the down season. We also made good friends with the cat at the hostel. We think they called her “Kedi,” which means kitten in Turkish. She would always join us for meals and follow us back to our room when we headed up.

The patio at the Eucalyptus Hotel

The patio at the Eucalyptus Hotel

Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse, Mandalay, Myanmar

We can’t rave enough about this place! If you are going to Mandalay, you should stay there, no question. The level of service is amazing: everything is done with a smile, the provided breakfast is large and you have to fight to keep from getting extras and the facilities are nice, clean and commodious. The owner, who everyone calls “Mama,” is amazingly kind and generous, and will go out of her way to make you feel at home. She is so sweet, and wants to make everyone her children. On our last day there, she took us down the street to a restaurant, stuck around to make sure that we got excellent service, and then absolutely insisted on paying for our meal. She wouldn’t take no for an answer! We were overwhelmed by her generosity. Also, this place seems to attract a nice crowd of like-minded travelers, and we made a lot of fun connections just hanging out in the common area each night.

Della with "Mama" - the head of our amazing guesthouse - Yoe Yoe Lay

Della with “Mama” – the head of our amazing guesthouse – Yoe Yoe Lay

Payogan Homestay, Ubud, Bali

We actually didn’t find this place, our friend Phill (who is currently on his own RTW – check his blog here!) did when we joined him for our holiday in Bali! We are so glad that he did! The homestay’s owner is the amazingly gracious Ketut. It is slightly outside the town of Ubud and is within the complex of Ketut and his family’s home. Ketut makes sure that you are comfortable and well cared for! He also is an excellent tour guide for sights surrounding Ubud. Make sure to ask for his special pancakes for breakfast! In addition, he is heavily involved in his local temple and made sure to get us involved too. We were so lucky to experience a “birthday celebration” for that temple which meant several evenings of activities. Ketut and his family made sure that we had the correct clothing so we could attend and experience everything. We were so grateful for the opportunity!

Golden Time Hostel 2, Hanoi, Vietnam

There are three locations for the Golden Time throughout Hanoi. We loved Hostel 2, though it was really more like a hotel. The best part about the Golden Time was the friendly staff that work at the front desk. Tony and Ahn, a married couple, always greeted us by name and with a smile. There was always coffee, tea and bananas set out as well, which was refreshing after a long day of sightseeing. The included breakfast also had a good selection. The rooms were nice and spacious, so we slept well. The location was close to the main tourist attractions but not right in the center of the hubbub.

Posing with Ahn, the friendly proprietor at Golden Time Hostel 2

Posing with Ahn, the friendly proprietor at Golden Time Hostel 2

Hotel Bright Star, Kathmandu, Nepal

Hotel Bright Star is unique on this list, as we believe we were some of the last people to stay there. It was severely damaged in the earthquake on April 25. We will always remember the kindness and generosity that the owner of this hotel showed us both before and after the earthquake. This is a passage about the hotel from our blog Kathmandu: Before the Quake.

We didn’t get in until almost midnight, but the owner of our hotel, the Hotel Bright Star, had stayed up to check us in. We had a small room on the top floor – the stairs were a nice preview of what we expected to be a lot of uphill hiking on our trek.

This was only a preview of the generosity that the owner showed us during our three days in Kathmandu. He provided plenty of good advice, and walked us halfway to the tourist office (so we wouldn’t get lost) to pick up our trekking permits.Hotel Bright Star on its quiet streetThat made it that much harder to see him again after the quake. We had left two bags at the hotel while trekking, and we went back into town on May 1 to pick them up. He said on the phone that he and his family were ok, but when we got there it was clear how close they had come to disaster.The hotel next door had collapsed during the quake, and all that was left was a pile of bricks and tangled wires. The owner, clearly shaken, told us that 10 people had died inside. We ran inside our hotel to get our bags, and it was clear that it was the first time that he had been back in. He didn’t want to linger, and neither did we; one of the walls of the lobby on the side of the collapsed building was bulging inwards.The same view after the quake, with the hotel just beyond in rubbleHe said the rest of his family had been safely moved to Pokhara, but he would remain staying in a building down the street until all of the left baggage had been picked up. Hopefully the people who left their bags will return soon…

If you would like to read more about our experience during the Nepal Earthquake, click here.

 

We stayed at plenty other really good and interesting places around the world as well, so it was really hard to get this list down to 10! Still, it seems like this cream of the crop from all around the world is a good representation of the places we would like to stay on future travels as well.

RTW Timeline: First Half of the First Millennium BC

After seeing so many interesting sites and learning many facts about places all around the world, we thought it would be interesting to arrange the different places and events on a timeline to provide more of a context for the different highlights.

Our first installment in the timeline series covered events from the beginning of human history up to 1000 BC. This installment will cover from then up to 500 BC. During this time, one of the great civilizations emerge, and a deity is born.

776 BC – First Panhellenic Games in Olympia, Greece

The Greeks established a tradition of Panhellenic games, in which male athletes from all over the country would converge on a location and compete in contests of speed and strength. The most famous and the oldest were the games held in Olympia, which gave rise to the tradition we now know as the Olympics.

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Around 600 BC – Sounion Kourous Carved

As the Greek population grew and the culture began to flourish, what we now call the Archaic Greek culture emerged. The hallmarks of the art of this period were standing figures carved out of stone; the male figure was called a kourous and the female a kore. We saw one of the more well-known Archaic kourous figures at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

A korous (male)

Sounion Kourous (male)

590 BC – Temple of Hera Built at Olympia

The Panhellenic Games held every four years at Olympia were not just an athletic competition. In addition, they functioned as a large religious festival. To support the religious activities, a large number of temples were built in an area called the sanctuary, or Altis. This temple was one of the first structures erected, and one of the first examples of a Doric temple. Today, it is used as the site where the Olympic flame is lit by sunlight reflected from a mirror.

Remains of the Temple of Hera

Remains of the Temple of Hera

586 BC – First Pythian Games Held in Delphi, Greece

The games held at Olympia are the most famous, but the sanctuary to Apollo at Delphi also hosted a Panhellenic Games every four years. These games had the same athletic events as those at Olympia, and also had art and dance competitions.

The remains of the stadium from the Pythian Games (renovated during Roman times)

The remains of the stadium from the Pythian Games (renovated during Roman times)

580 BC – “Argos Twins” Sculpture Created

This pair of kouros statues were sculpted in Argos, but were found in Delphi, where we viewed them at the archaeological museum.

The Twins of Argos

The Twins of Argos

563 BC – Siddhartha Gautama Born

The man who would attain enlightenment and become the Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal around the middle of the 6th century BC. We didn’t visit this site, but we did see the influence of this event in the countless stupas, pagodas and wats that we visited all throughout Asia.

560 BC – Sphinx of Naxos Created

This is another famous piece of Archaic Greek art that we viewed at the archaeological museum in Delphi. This massive carving of the mythical creature was sent by the island of Delphi as a offering to the sanctuary in Delphi.

The Sphinx of Naxos

The Sphinx of Naxos

554 BC – Mahamuni Buddha Image Cast

Legend states that this bronze image of Buddha was cast in the kingdom of Arakan when the Buddha visited. It now resides in a special temple outside of Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma). Male pilgrims apply gold leaf to the image which has given it a large gold covering.

Males applying gold leaf

Males applying gold leaf

520 BC – Temple of Apollo Built on Aegina

We visited the island of Aegina as a day trip from Athens with Della’s family. We walked by the ruins of this temple to Apollo on our way to the beach, but couldn’t go in because it was closed for the day. All that remains of this temple is a solitary column that we were able to see from a distance.

The lone column remaining in the Temple of Apollo

The lone column remaining in the Temple of Apollo

 

As the first half of the first millennium BC drew to a close, the Greek culture began to reach its apex. In our next installment, we will travel through many of the relics of the Greek classical period that we were able to view.

RTW Timeline: Prehistory and the Earliest Civilizations

After seeing so many interesting sites and learning many facts about places all around the world, we thought it would be interesting to arrange the different places and events on a timeline to provide more of a context for the different highlights.

The first installment of our timeline series will cover the oldest things we saw on the entire trip. In case you’re wondering, this only includes human activity; obviously we saw many natural wonders around the world that are much older.

2.5 – 2.1 million years ago – The Age of the “Mrs Ples” hominid fossil found in Sterkfontein Caves, outside Johannesburg, South Africa

The Cradle of Humankind is an area where many remains of our most ancient ancestors have been found (including a recent discovery). We visited the cave where some of the most famous remains were discovered as part of our visit to the park on the very last stop of our self-drive safari.

One of the hominid fossils from the Cradle of Humankind

One of the hominid fossils from the Cradle of Humankind

Around 4000 B.C. – San people inhabit the Twyfelfontein area and make rock carvings

The site of Twyfelfontein (//Uis-//Ais in the native language) in Namibia contains rock engravings from the San people (a.k.a Bushmen) dated from 2000 to over 6000 years old.

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2560 BC – Pyramids of Giza constructed

We were able to view these ancient wonders of the world during our brief layover in Cairo at the very beginning of the trip.

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Around 2500 BC – The Cycladic culture in the Greek islands produces unique figurines

Around the same time that the pyramids were being built, in islands around the Aegean Sea, an emerging culture was making these distinctively-shaped sculptures. We saw examples of these at the National Archeological Museum in Athens.

Cycladic figurines

Cycladic figurines

16th Century BC – Grave Circle A at Mycenae Formed

1000 years later, the dominant culture on the Pelopponesian Peninsula of Greece was what we now refer to as the Mycenaean culture. These are supposedly the people who fought against Troy in the Trojan War. The site of Mycenae is now in ruins, but some evidence remains to give you a feel for their culture. They buried their dead nobility in grave circles which were filled with treasure. The famous archaeologist Henry Schliemann thought this grave circle was the final resting place of Agamemnon, who led the Mycenaeans against Troy.

Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A

1450 BC – What is now called the Obelisk of Theodosius set up by Thutmose III in Karnak, Egypt

We saw this obelisk in Istanbul, in the ruins of the ancient Hippodrome. It was brought to Constantinople by Roman Emperor Theodosius in the 4th Century AD, but was originally erected in Egypt.

The Hippodrome

The Hippodrome

13th Century BC – Lion Gate at Mycenae built

Back in Mycenae (the site of Grave Circle A), probably the most famous feature is the Lion Gate, the main entrance to citadel. It was build about three centuries after Grave Circle A.

The Lion Gate

The Lion Gate

Around 1250 BC – “Treasury of Atreus” tholos tomb built at Mycenae

In the later years of Mycenae, the main style of the grand tombs was the tholos tomb, built in the shape of a beehive with a large, domed interior. The largest is what Henry Schliemann deemed the “Treasury of Atreus.”

The Treasury of Atreus

The Treasury of Atreus

Around 1200 BC – Palaces at Mycenae Destroyed

Not too long after the last monumental structures were built at Mycenae, the civilization collapsed and the citadel and its palaces were destroyed.

The remains of the palace

The remains of the palace

Around 1000 BC – The Basketmaker People Settle the Mesa Verde Region

Meanwhile, in North America, the culture that archaeologists refer to as the “Basketmakers” settled in the Mesa Verde region. They didn’t leave behind any iconic structures, but we know they were in the area based on remnants of baskets and other agricultural and hunting relics.

One of the canyons in Mesa Verde

One of the canyons in Mesa Verde

 

That wraps our first installment of our RTW Timeline series. Our next post will take us back to Greece and observe the emergence of one of history’s most famous civilizations.

End of RTW Trip Recap

We’ve done quite a few posts about our RTW stats, including things like our budget, our most expensive and least expensive locations, and our favorite things in many categories. But, one thing was missing – a round up of our final numbers as collected from all of our Monthly Updates. So, just for fun, here are our final stats for the RTW:

Countries visited:  29

Countries looked at: 3

Beds Slept In: 103 (One of those was our Self-Drive Safari tent which we set up 18 times!)

Chairs Slept In:  1

Tarps Slept Under: 1

Embassies Slept In: 1 (Hopefully the first and last of our life.)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited:  49

We traveled by 26 planesMiles Flown: 54,353

We traveled by 10 boats.

We traveled by 12 trains.

We traveled 53 long distance buses/minibuses.

We traveled by 2 shared taxis.

We traveled by 4 rental car/trucks. 

We traveled by 2 helicopters.

Eric read 51 books.

Della read 50 books.

Is there anything else you want to know?? Tell us in the comments!

So, What Were Our Favorite… Castles?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip, so we’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This edition will cover our top 10 favorite castles/fortresses around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.

Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa

The Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town was the first permanent European settlement in South Africa, built by the Dutch East India Company in the 1660s. It is quite beautiful, with yellow walls and a star shape. Entrance includes a tour which we quite enjoyed. We also were fortunate to see the “Key Ceremony” at noon.

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Český Krumlov Castle, Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

This building doesn’t quite look like a fairy tale castle, but was fun to explore! It’s free to walk around the grounds, but to go inside you do have to pay for a guided tour. There are a few different tour options; we chose the one that took us through Renaissance and Baroque era rooms (no pictures allowed inside, unfortunately). We also really enjoyed strolling through at sunset. You can get quite high in the castle which makes for lovely views over the city.

Spiš Castle, Slovakia

As you approach the town of Spišské Podhradie by bus, you are immediately struck by the enormous size and majesty of Spiš Castle on the hill above town. The entrance fee includes the use of an audio guide (free as long as you returned it within 90 minutes). We walked through the castle and listened to the stories on the guide. There actually wasn’t very much left of the castle. The royals stopped living in it in the early 18th century, and then in the late 18th century it burned down. What’s left has more of the feel of an archaeological site than the other castles we visited. It was built in the 12th century and went through many phases of construction and purpose. It has 3 baileys, which we learned were walls to protect itself. It is really more of a fortress. It went through many owners, but always was an imposing view over the valleys nearby.  The grounds of the castle are massive: there are multiple courtyards within the complex. After doing the audio tour, we spent some time just soaking in the ambiance from different places within the structure. The view was great as well!

Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia

This palace takes up a good portion of old town Split. It was built for the retirement of the emperor of the Roman empire around 300 AD. There are an interesting mix of original Roman structures and other houses and shops built during the next several centuries after villagers moved inside the walls following the Slavic invasion in 700 AD. It was awesome to see that the area had been inhabited for so long, with people still living and working inside.

Diocletian's Palace is in the background, with all the modern development now surrounding it

Diocletian’s Palace is in the background, with all the modern development now surrounding it

Fortress and City Walls at Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor has a very impressive defense system. Not only does it have thick walls to protect from attacks from the sea, it also has a series of walls running up the hill behind the Old Town that protect from attacks by land. Today, you can pay a small fee to hike up the old walls all the way to a fort at the very top. We took advantage of this one evening, and had great views over the bay as the sun set.

Gjirokaster Castle, Gjirokaster, Albania

The castle at Gjirokaster offered sweeping views of the valley, an eerie collection of old tanks from WWII, and even a tomb of Bektashi, the founder of the Bektashi sect. It also had an old US Air Force jet that was shot down during communism that was just there, ready to play on. It was nice to spend time in the castle where we didn’t see a lot of other tourists. There was also a museum of more old armory which we did not choose to visit. The views of valley and neighboring mountains were absolutely stunning.

Palamidi Fortress, Nafplio, Greece

We took an afternoon to visit the largest of Nafplio’s Venetian fortresses, which doesn’t have much in it but provides excellent views of the surrounding area. You can take a taxi up to the fortress at the top of the hill, but we decided to climb the steps. We didn’t start heading up until 2:00… and were disheartened when we saw a sign at the base that the fortress was closing at 3:00! We raced up the stairs and made it at about 2:30. The good news was that admission was free since it was the first Sunday of the month. We just had time to explore one of the seven bastions, but were quite impressed with the structure. (We think they should film Game of Thrones here!) We were kicked out at 3:00 and regret that we weren’t able to spend more time in the fortress, but we found a piece of the walls that was outside the gates to sit on, and read our books while looking down over the Old Town. It was a great place to relax and then later enjoy the sunset.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was the home of the Ottoman sultan from 1465 to 1856. The palace has four different courtyards and many exquisitely decorated rooms. We toured through all of the areas open to the public, including the harem which required an extra ticket. The grounds were expansive and, despite sort of bad weather, we enjoyed exploring most of the nooks and crannies. We were particularly excited here because it finally happened!! – Someone recognized Eric’s Rice baseball hat. We met a current Rice student (Jones College) who was studying abroad. How fun!

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

We spent a hot and crowded day in Bangkok exploring the ceremonial home of the Thai monarchy, the Grand Palace. We paid our steep (500 baht = $15) entrance fee and headed into the first part, Wat Phra Kaew, a.k.a.the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We first explored the colorful chedis, then braced ourselves and dove into the big crowds squeezing in to see the Emerald Buddha itself. The statue was pretty, but far away and a little small, so we didn’t linger. We left the wat and then walked through the grounds of the palace. This was formerly the residence of the Thai royalty, and there are many fancy buildings that show a mix of Thai and Western architectural styles. Most are closed off to the public, but a few of the throne halls are open, so we wandered through them to see the splendor and take a brief respite from the heat. The splendor of the buildings with colors and sparkles is hard to beat. We also followed a tip from Wayne and Peggy, who had visited the previous day, and finished our visit at the slightly out of the way Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, which ended making our top 10 favorite museums list.

Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam

The Vietnamese city of Hue was the seat of the Nguyen dynasty and thus the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. The main remnant of this ruling period is the ruins of the Imperial City, the home of the emperors. It is surrounded by a large wall, and then within the Citadel is another set of walls and the impressive Ngo Mon Gateway into the Imperial Enclosure, where all of the main activities took place. From there we explored the large site which had been largely destroyed during the French and American wars. However, there is a lot of ongoing restoration work. We explored the Thai Hoa Palace which was used for official receptions and important ceremonies before heading to the Hall of the Mandarins. The Forbidden Purple City was once reserved for the personal use  and residence of the emperor, but there is not much left now. Some of the the most beautiful parts of the entire enclosure were the Truong San Residence and the Dien Tho Residence for the wives and mothers of the emperor.

 

We finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite… Museums?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This third edition will cover our top 10 favorite museums around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

The museum started with the beginnings of Joburg as a mining town, and then went through the first attempts at segregation to the implementation of the full-fledged apartheid system in the 1940s. Then, there were displays about the realities of living under apartheid, and the first wave of resistance that led to Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment. Then, as we went chronologically. We got into the student uprisings of the 70s. For the 1980s, there was a gripping video detailing the horrific violence that brought the apartheid movement to its breaking point. We then moved on to the 90s, which detailed Mandela’s release, then end of apartheid and the founding of the new government (and also showed how close the country came to total anarchy at the time). The museum is particularly gripping as it starts right out with you being randomly assigned to be white or non-white, and then having to enter through the respective door and then garnering a different experience for the first room based on what you picked. While we visited, there was also a large exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela.IMG_9186

Cradle of Humankind Museum, Outside Johannesburg, South Africa

This nice (and relatively new) museum is set up to explain the history of life on Earth and the history of human life as well. Once you enter the main building, you are taken down into the basement and you do this cheesy but fun boat ride that takes you though the different elements necessary for life. We then went through the different exhibits in the large space. There ranged from discussions about DNA,to extinct animals, to the different types of hominids that paleoanthropologists have identified (many of which have been found in the Cradle) to what it means to be human. We particularly enjoyed some of the interactive exhibits, for example, there was a long hallway with illustrations which helped to show the length of different eras in time.

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Shindler Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland

This was the only museum we visited in Krakow, and it was excellent! The permanent exhibits walk you through what happened in Krakow during the years 1939 – 45, during the Nazi occupation. The museum does fascinating things in each room, designed to make you understand the subject with all of your senses. The room for before the war has nice, warm lighting and happy music playing. It feels like sitting in a comfortable room, watching old family movies about Jewish life in Krakow. Then you enter a hall which describes when Germany attacked. It is black and gloomy with red lighting streaking across the walls, representing the fire, and the sounds of shooting and bombs is everywhere. Even the floor of each room played a big role: in the room describing the initial attack, the floor was uneven; in a room describing life for the Nazis, the floor was fancy swastika tiles; in a room for a concentration camp the floor was actual white gravel. The last room was quite interesting as well. To get into it, you walk through a dark room with a spongy floor (we aren’t quite sure of the interpretation). Then, you enter the “room of regrets”, which is stark white and covered with snippets of writing. Upon closer inspection, the snippets are quotes from people who did something (or didn’t do something) during the war period. The building was actually Schindler’s Factory (from Schindler’s List), so his office is preserved and there are a few rooms dedicated to him.

Room of regrets

Room of regrets

Gallery 11/07/95, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

We paid a visit to this moving and disturbing exhibit in Sarajevo – a series of exhibits that attempt to explain some of the tragedies of the war, mainly the genocide at Srebrenica. Our guide gave us a brief overview of what happened there. It’s hard to give a concise explanation in this space, but the gist of it is that over 8000 Bosniak people in the town, mostly males, were killed and dumped into mass graves by the approaching Army of Republika Srpska, even though the town was supposedly under UN protection. We walked through the photo gallery, watched a documentary, and also listened to the stories of some individuals who were affected. The gallery also included a small display and a documentary on the siege of Sarajevo. We vaguely remembered that Sarajevo was in the news when we were kids, but I don’t think we realized the scope of what the town went through. It was under siege for almost four years, which is the longest siege in modern history. The residents had to live in constant fear of being attacked by snipers in the hills surrounding the valley that the city sits in. The documentary, called Miss Sarajevo, was shot during the siege and showed the resilience of the residents in the face of this (and was later turned into a U2 song). It is extremely moving and worth a watch. (If you do watch the documentary, and you should… it’s linked in the previous sentences… and you find yourself as taken with the young girl in the beginning and the end as we were, here is a video of what she was doing in 2009!)

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National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

The museum went in chronological order and was quite extensive. The first major area was the Cycladic figurines and other art, from the 3rd century BC. Then, they covered the findings from Mycenae. We were pretty excited to see the artifacts from Mycenae that we had heard about when at the site and from reading Greek Treasure. The next stop was the Archaic era, where we again learned more about the kore and kourous statues. The next major era was the Severe Style. The sculptures started to get more realistic, but the expressions were stern. For the classical era, many of the finds were split into different rooms. There was a large collection of rooms focused on the art found on tombstones in the ancient cemeteries. There were many elaborate marble carvings to be found. The next period is the Hellenistic era, which was characterized by sculptures which more realistic faces (instead of idealized) and more active movements. The final period covered was the Roman era. Here they tried to copy the Greek styles and were somewhat successful, although the art was less impressive. All of this chronological history was enhanced by enjoying the museum while listening to Rick Steves’ audio tour. There is much more to the museum so it could be worth multiple trips.

The Jockey of Arteision

The Jockey of Arteision

Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil, Sparta, Greece

It may not sound interesting, but we found it fascinating. The top floor of this little museum gives the history of the olive and discusses how it and its oil can be used for a wide variety of purposes: food, light, rituals, etc. The lower floor discussed all about how to make olive oil, and had examples of the different machinery that has been used to make the oil from ancient times until the present.

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Antalya Museum, Antalya, Turkey

This is a large archaeological museum, and we enjoyed seeing the different exhibits that included the Stone Age in the Antalya area, ceramics, Roman-era sculptures and sarcophogi, and finally a small exhibit on life during the Ottoman era. Our favorite exhibit was a room with different sculptures of Greek/Roman gods found at the nearby site of Perge, mainly because each statue included a sign with extensive text describing the myths around the god.

One of the goddesses

One of the goddesses

The National Museum, Singapore

When we visited, we were disappointed to discover that the main exhibits at this museum were under renovation, but ultimately it turned out that the temporary exhibit on the history of Singapore was very good! It walked us through the history as described above in a nice chronological fashion, with good displays. It also worked hard to set the mood and tone of each period in history through the size, color, and feel of the rooms.

The exterior of the museum

The exterior of the museum

COPE Visitor Center, Vientiane, Laos

COPE is an organization that helps provide prosthetic limbs to those who can’t afford them all across Laos. The visitor center describes their work in making the prosthetics, but also talks in detail about one of the main reasons so many are needed: the tons of unexploded ordinance (UXO) that remain in the country as a result of the many bombs the US dropped during the “secret war” as part of the Vietnam war. We also watched a couple of short documentaries about the efforts to go in the countryside and defuse the found items before someone is hurt by them. The problem is especially tough because scrap metal can bring in a significant amount of money, so people will risk harm and handle items that they shouldn’t. The visitor center was small, but we found that it contained a lot of interesting information and was quite moving.

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok, Thailand

This museum is actually within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok and is free with admission with a palace ticket. Our first intention was just to take advantage of the AC and uncrowded bathrooms, but we also checked out the exhibit on the Queen’s fashion and were fascinated. Apparently, before a world tour in the 1960, she helped revive some classic Thai styles and designed nine different outfit styles that are still used by the Thai women today. There was also an activity room that described silk fashions, and Della got a chance to try on a traditional outfit.

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We visited a lot of museums on our RTW the world tour, and came up with a few observations about the ones we liked the best. It was important to us that the museum have good signage and/or a good audio tour. We also enjoyed when the exhibits were interactive or really created a good atmosphere. In addition, the museums that taught us the most about things we didn’t know about or if we were moved by their content.

What Were the Most/Least Expensive Places to Travel Per Day?

As you might have gathered from reading some of our recent posts, we enjoy gathering and analyzing data- especially when this data regards the costs of our recent RTW adventure.

We kept detailed budget information on all of the places that we visited, in part to see how much we actually spent in total for our 10 months of travel, but also to look at the information broken down by country. We recently wrote about how much we spent in total and were excited that we had managed to keep under our goal of spending less than $100/day on the trip.

But for those of us who are really curious about data, or those who might be considering trips to some of the countries we visited, we have a bit more information!

We visited a total of 29 countries on our RTW trip, but for various reasons, we kept a budget breakdown by country of only 17 of them (as well as a budget for our whole self-drive safari in southern Africa). Some of the reasons we didn’t include a country might be: we visited for only a day so the data isn’t that valid or interesting (Egypt, Zimbabwe, Germany, Macau), we visited with our parents and they either changed our mode of travel significantly or paid for a significant portion of the trip so we felt like the data would not accurately represent what we did there (Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina), we visited friends/family/relatives at home (USA), or our activities ended up being so strange and out of the ordinary that they don’t represent a normal trip to the country (Nepal). We also kept our budget for our self-drive safari as a whole rather than separate the countries we visited (Botswana, Namibia).

We took the data that we were keeping which was in categories for spending (Accommodation, Activities, Alcohol, Food, Miscellaneous, Transport, and Visas) and divided each of those out by day to get some idea of which countries were expensive in which categories.

Here are the countries we have full data on in alphabetical order.

expenses per day

As you can see: 17 countries plus our self-drive safari were looked at. They cover three continents: Africa, Europe, and Asia.

We kept a record of how many days we were in each country.

expenses per day days

The shortest amounts of time were in countries that we managed to plan last minute layovers in on our way somewhere else (Ireland and Singapore). We actually are a little regretful that we didn’t spent more time in Poland. As it was, we only crossed the southwestern corner and visited only one city there. Krakow was great and it whet our appetite to see much more of Poland. Hong Kong is small so we spent a short time there, but we ended up wishing we had more! The longest visits were in the places that were farthest away, places where we felt a return trip was slightly less likely. Our self-drive safari took us to 4 countries and was the longest period of time where we did one activity on the entire trip.

Average Accommodation Costs Per Day

expenses per day accommodation

Our cheapest accommodations were, unsurprisingly, in southeast Asia. The surprise there is that Turkey was so affordable. The great thing about all of those is that we also got nicer accommodation in all those places than in some of the others. We almost never stayed in a dorm in SE Asia for example, whereas, our most expensive nights were in Ireland where we rented just one room in someone’s home. Singapore and Hong Kong both were high and both of those rooms were small and relatively uncomfortable. The self-drive safari were all campsites (!) yet this ranks on the more expensive half of our accommodations. Strange.

Average Activities Costs Per Day

expenses per day activities

This is, no doubt, a difficult one to compare. Activities costs depend largely on time of year, length of stay, and interests. Montenegro was low, for example, because we didn’t do a lot while we were there. We took a week to calm down and relax, mostly walking and people watching. Vietnam and Thailand rank more expensive on this list, but that is in part because the cost of activities were so low there, that we chose to do more! For example, we took many day tours in both those places: days with elephants, cooking classes, cave tours, guided excursions, etc. We did none of those things in Albania, choosing more “do it ourselves” activities. However, this does give you a decent representation of activity costs. Ireland and Singapore were very high and that shows!

Average Food Costs Per Day

expenses per day food

Our lowest costs here were in SE Asia again – with the weird standout being Cambodia. We’re not sure what to say about that except that it was the beginning of our experience with hot, humid SE Asia. We weren’t tough yet and looked for places with indoor seating and AC which undoubtedly increased our costs. Bali ranks high because we traveled with some friends who really enjoy food! Our self-drive safari comes in low (for the first time) because we did all of our cooking for ourselves. The same can be said of Montenegro, which also comes in pretty cheap. For our entire week there, we only ate out once. Interestingly though, Vietnam and Thailand come in very cheap and we ate out for almost every meal there! They both are excellent places to be if you enjoy eating! Ireland was just plain pricey!

Average Transportation Costs Per Day

expenses per day transportation

Not surprisingly, our self-drive safari comes in the most expensive here with the cost of renting our safari truck and paying for gas. It is frustrating to see Greece come in so high, especially because the transportation there ended up being so unreliable. Albania was a true winner in this area – easy transport (though not super comfortable) and very cheap prices.

So… What were the most and least expensive places?! Let’s find out!

Average Total Cost Per Day

expenses per day total

Our cheapest country was Albania! Who would have thought that the least expensive place to travel would have been somewhere in Europe? The most expensive by far was our self-drive safari. This also seems a bit of a surprise because we were driving ourselves and staying in campsites along the way. Other things we noticed which muddle the data: We tended to spend more in places were we spent the least amount of time (see Ireland, Hong Kong, and Singapore). We think we felt the pressure to cram the same amount of things in but had to do it in a hurry. This definitely caused higher average per day costs.

There you have it! Check out our activities in each country to get a better idea of how this data might relate to you and your travel style.