Saalbach-Hinterglemm: the green gem of Austria

Saalbach-Hinterglemm: the green gem of Austria

This really green, really airy-fairy place 90 km far from the Mozart’s city, Salzburg was my home for couple of years. Here you will find a colourful blend of my memories and some –mostly outdoor – activities. As I am an eternal lover of summer, I summarized my beloved spots and ideas for sunny days.

Saalbach-Hinterglemm provides several summer events, like the Biker Mania (Harley Davidson), the GlemmRide or the Lake of Charity. You can definitely find everything what meets your crazy or a bit more low-key needs. If you are not an events-fan, but addict to the wild nature exploring secrets of Glemmer Valley, read and enjoy the ideas below.

The playground of nature-lovers

With more than 400 km of hiking trails the area of Saalbach-Hinterglemm is without doubt paradise for those, who love biking, practicing yoga in shadow of the trees or simply discovering the jewels of the nature.

Most of these trails are very well marked, but sometimes it is worth to go off the beaten track and to find rare plants, secret places full of forest fruits, azure-blue lakes, which look like mirrors reflecting the beautiful surroundings upside down. There are several themed trails showing us the flora and fauna of Pinzgau region, letting us take a look into the everyday life of the locals, while the educational paths take us for a journey into the magical world of herbs. If you prefer these wonders of nature to articial remedies, then the Herbal Path is for you!

Except the herbs delicious blackberries are hiding in the bushes, while the famous „Eierschwammerl” – one of common mushroom species in this area – attracts many tourists. It is one of the essential ingredients of several mouth-watering local dishes, but I am writing more about that below, as well as about fabolous huts located mostly on the top of the mountains, or with other words: at the end of the trails waiting for us to crown the day with heavenly good bites and drinks.

The small piece of heaven

 

The Forest Wellness really was my piece of heaven. I am sure, I am not the only one having this opinion about this lush green place hiding on top of the mountain. On the way up I met cows – like here everywhere – picking their vegan lunch, while enjoying the sun. Before reaching the starting point of the Wellness Forest, we can take a rest at Reiteralm, where we even can order picnic basket and do a superb picnic with a marvelous view from the summit.

This place was my adored one, because of its unique ambiance: looking around I got into another world. From world of endless thoughts to the „green palace” of tranquility, or the shelter of fairies. Different jewels of the forest – like blackberries, mushrooms and herbs – were smiling at me, while I found a cute, open-air library standing there, like sanctuary for book-lovers. What’s more, at every corner hammocks tempt the tired wanderers and trust me: it is hard to say no. We tried it and immediately we fell in love. It is something magical to listen the birds’ song rocking in the hammock, whilst the leaves were playing with the sunshine.

I personally am addicted to yoga, so I was very happy seeing wooden spots maden especially for practicing it. If you are into it, don’t miss the chance to immerse you into yourself by yoga and meditation in „garden” of peace and harmony. I have good news for those preferring it in company: every week there are organized yoga sessions with guided tour up the hill and no worries, the yoga mats are provided.

Dear Sunrise, please stay with me!

 

There are several options for guided sunrise-hiking, but here I write about my unforgetable experience: hiking to the Tristkogel, which is located 2095 m above sea level. If you are obsessed with the sun’s first morning lights, don’t miss it out.

I have bad news for the „Sleeping Beauties”: the day begins at 3-4 am. in order to get to the summit in time, namely to capture the moment, how the sun comes up painting the world into gold. The starting point of the tour begins in Lengau, at the end of the valley and the top of the mountain can be reached in 3-4 hours. Please note, if you are afraid of heights or you feel not really in good condition, it is better to choose a simpler hiking trail.

At the beginning it was very adventurous: with a flashlight in hands we started our – little bit back-breaking – way up over steep cliffs and through wet slashes. Of course, I was the lucky one, who ended up in the mud…it was a special „mud wrap treatment” for my tired feet. No, it was not. Anyway, it was fun, but to be honest going up, I was thinking sometimes that I’d rather sit here under the stars and I simply miss the boat. However, I didn’t give up and it was definitely worth the effort. The scene from the summit is truly breathtaking.

When we arrived to the top, we had enough time to change our clothes, prepare some snacks and find the most perfect spot for gazing at the valley spreading in front of us. The misty, airy-fairy view above the clouds, the peace of mind, what meets you after realizing, that you did it, is priceless. Looking at the nature and small towns waking up around me I was sure, I would do this trip again and again. The emerald green pines, the rough mountains and the red-gold dressed sunrise amazed me completely, as always.

The gastro-journey across the Pinzgau region

 

I guess, visiting the „palace of flavors” is for many of us the best part of traveling or holidays. Well, here I collected for you couple of traditional dishes prepared with local ingredients, furthermore drinks, which shouldn’t be missed while staying in Saalbach-Hinterglemm.

First of all, the area is kind of paradise for meat-lovers. The beef, especially the super juicy steak or the local beef-tartare is practically an unmissable element of the menus. I have to admit, the second best beef-tartare – the very best, of course, my mum makes – I tried, was in Glemmer valley. Referring to veggies the traditional Kasnock’n on the „backet list”. This is a savory dish, which comes originally from the Pinzgau region. It is made by coating very small dumplings with many different sorts of melted cheese, caramelized onion and green salad on the side. The essence of the dish is the Pinzgauer Bierkäse, which is a very characteristic, semi-hard cheese. The other popular cheese-dish is rather topping of clear – mostly beef based – soups.

As I mentioned, the Chantarelle is a very popular mushroom variety in this area and according to this there is an endless choice of dishes – like the Chantarelle gulasch, spaghetti or risotto – coloured with these treasures of the forest.

Even the enthusiasts of sweets don’t stay hungry: the traditional Apfel- or Topfen Strudel is a very beloved dessert filled with kind of sweet cottage-cheese or seasoned apples in flaky crust, sprinkled with icing sugar and served with vanilla ice cream. The queen of Austrian desserts is the Kaiserschmarrn, which is kind of fluffy pancake, but splitted into small pieces. The traditional one is fried with raisins, caramelized with tones of sugar, rum and is served with a bit „more” sugar plus apple sauce, while the modern version is „seasoned” with local blackberries.

Except the delicacies dont forget about famous Austrian wine, furthermore the Spritzer – the perfect blend of wine and soda – for sunny days or the best company while enjoying the panorama from the summit: the Aperol. Another classical element is the well-known Schnaps – the Austria’s national drink – made of different local fruits. The destilleries can be visited with tasting tour, but be careful: drinking to much Schnaps causes „amnesia”.Or maybe not? I don’t remember…

Where to eat?

In Saalbach-Hinterglemm there are countless cool places to eat, especially on the way up the mountains with spectacular view. I could write a never-ending list about cute bars and restaurants but I tried to assemble some of my adored eateries.

For breakfast the best place ever is the Sonnalm located up the hill, so we can reward ourselves with a marvelous table full of local delicacies after a short hiking. Seeing the fabolous scene, the traditional, hand carved decoration we just get the feel of it. The icing on the cake is food including different sorts of homemade bread, bacon, local vegetables, ham, marmelades, coffee and of course the eternal companion of fancy breakfasts: sparkling wine or champagne.

Another lovely place – the Wieseralm – even can be perfect for resting after trekking. The restaurant provides tasty dishes for lunch, while the sunbeds tempt us for a drink. The Rosswaldhütte can be reached after a longer excursion, but I assure everyone, it is worth to visit. The valley is changing its colour into thousand shades of green and the wild nature enchanted me totally.

Of course, there are many bars, hotels and restaurants, which can be visited without doing hard „workout”. The Wiesenegg – located „between” Saalbach and Hinterglemm – is the only hotel possesing its own natural pool. As it lays in a fairytale-like area surrounded by sierras, is flawless spot for dinner, whilst admiring the superb panorama. For many, it is alluring to jump into the crystal clear water, but swimming is allowed for hotel guests only, so it is better if you book a room in order to enjoy it to the fullest

The Bärenbach is kind of „all in”: it is a fish pond, cool place for relaxing after an excursion along the river and unique for having a dinner. The main „attraction” is  – needless to say – the trout. The best thing is, that you can catch your own fish and is prepared to your taste. So you need to work a bit for your dinner, but it is fun at its finest.

Singapore: 3 days in luxury

Singapore: 3 days in luxury

Singapore. This wonderful country with its fabolous gardens, museums and unique architecture is to many of us a mystery, something very different compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. For me it was incredibly perfect, like a painting. The perfectly designed buildings emphasizing the importance of sustainability, the rainbow-like gardens and the colourful blend of cultures are definitely worth a visit.

It doesn’t count to the most cheapest countries in Asia, but Singapore provides something diverse: the still-asian-feeling with a dash of limitless luxury, the miniature-like empires of Chinese, Indian and Arab culture and the evidence, that creating a vibrant city – or country – full of sky-high buildings doesn’t mean that we have to destroy the nature.

The country has much more to offer, than the very „touristy” highlights only, but here I prepared an itinerary, ideas for 2-3 days. So let’s see the treasures of Singapore and let’s get lost in narrow streets and jungle-like parks, while the delicious bites of street food take you for a real „multi-culti” journey.

Take a walk around the luxurious Marina Bay

 

The Marina Bay is located in the most central part of Singapore surrounded by silvery skyscrapers and the most iconic architectural gems of the country. The big cities normally are not my favourite destinations, but this place can be perfect place both for relaxing by the water and diving in hustle and bustle of the city life. From getting lost in jungle through feeling like in shopping part of Pretty Woman – in Singaporian version – to getting sun-kissed you will find, what you need.

Walking around you can reach easily several points of interest, like museums and world-famous symbols of Singapore. The Merlion Park is home of one of the most important, historical marks of this wonderful island-state. The giant half lion, half fish monument is a mythical creature telling us the story about a marshland, a fishing village, from which was born this surreal, hiper-modern empire: the Lion City (Singapura).

The Esplanade is providing unique theatre and concert experience, while passing the Helix Bridge we get another fantastic view of the bay. The Art Science Museum is definitely a must! Trust me, even if you have no ideas about physics, even if you are not interested in it, this marvellous exhibition awakes your senses for sure.

There are many restaurants along the bay offering happy hours and pricy food, I preferred to enjoy the Singaporian breeze and sunset on one of the fabolous rooftop bars located in this area. For breakfast and dinner I recommend to visit the markets, which are cheaper and provide something more local, more unique than the classy restaurants.

Get lost in colours of Gardens by the Bay

 

This place was my very beloved part of visiting, but yeah, maybe it is not the dream-pastime of boys! Anyway, the Gardens by the Bay look like a unique, magical faerie. The Gardens are outstanding in the whole world in terms of wide and rare selection of flowers, trees and other plants, not to mention the special, architectural elements, solutions used by creating these futuristic, lush green paradises. The rainwater is collected from the surface of the domes, while the huge amount of bamboo trees – well known for their reservoir capacity – and the modern cooling system facilitate to save the environment.

The Cloud Forest Dome

 

Entering this misty secret world of jungle, I had the feeling, that I am again in mountains of Bali or Thailand. The temperature is between 23-25 degrees, and the humidity is around 90 %, which is perfect for plants, which can be found in tropical areas of South-East Asia.

At the beginning of my journey in this artificial „lost” world I faced the biggest indoor waterfall of the world (35m high). For taking perfect pictures in front of it I recommend to come very early. While discovering the rare jungle plants, the way is leading us to the top of the „Cloud Mountain”, which has a fantastic view. It is worth to take this „small” trip to the top walking in order to pass the small tunnels full with lianes and get relaxed by the music of waterfalls around.

The Flower Dome

The Flower Dome – as its name suggests – is packed full with different, rainbow-like flowers showing us the awesome flora of Australia, South-America and South-Africa. Colourful exhibitons and themes are telling us the kaleidoscopic story of the garden’s tiny „inhabitants”.

Tip for visiting this part of the Gardens: here the temperature is lower, than in the Forest Cloud Dome. Spending here hours, this small adventure can easily get into freezing walk, so take a hoodie with you! For foodies there is a restaurant located in Flower Dome, where we can try international dishes or just relax in the olive grove, with coffee in hands.

The Supertree Grove

 

It is still the part of the Gardens by the Bay, but these giant wonder-trees can be found outside of the high-tech egg-shaped glass houses. Walking among the trees, I wondered, which universe am I in, especially by night, when the Gardens are changing into glittery sky full of vivid diamonds.

The Supertrees and the show of Garden Rhapsody is definitely worth to see! The green giants „dress” every evening (7.45pm, 8.45pm) into magical, dancing lights accompained by music. I advice to come a bit earlier, if we want to get the perfect spot for the show, which can be visited for free. Another – not for free – option is to purchase the ticket for the OCBC Skyline, or spend a fabolous dinner in the fine dining restaurant – the IndoChine – housed in the tallest Supertree, while admiring the mesmerising dance of lights.

The melting pot of cultures

 

Sinpagore is not about landmarks and luxury shops only. It is the perfect place to get a dash of other cultures through seeing their architecture, feeling their religion and tasting their food.

The best way is to start in Chinatown, in one of the most beloved district of Singapore. Here we can find literally everything: the wonderful, old buildings and traditional temples let us go back in time, while the antique medicinal halls take us into the mysterious world of Chinese healing, or simply into the empire of magic. I have to mention, that the Chinatown of Singapore is the only one in the world possessing a Buddhist temple, a mosque, and a Hindu temple in the same street.

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a real architectural gem hiding a secret rooftop garden with atmosphere of tranquility and harmony. Other points of interest can be the Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple of Singapore and the Masjid Jamae, built as a religious place for the district’s Tamil Muslim population. Of course, there are much more enchanting places, temples hiding in tiny streets of the Chinatown, so just let get lost, and enjoy!

For gastro-lovers the Chinatown Food Street is a real paradise of heavenly good bites. My advice is to visit it and jump into the taste-orgy late evening, as most of the food stalls are open its „doors” at this time, and we can enjoy this colourful tour of senses under the mesmerising light of Chinese lampions.

Little India brings us a quite laced and vibrant piece of India with its mind blowing ambiance. Except the beautiful temples and mosques, vendors of garlands, shiny jewellery and dresses faced with gold are waiting for those obsessed with these treasures of the incredible culture of India. After shopping we can not miss the vegetarian delicasies of South India as well as the typical North Indian tandoori dishes like the layered bread (Lacha Paratha) or the famous round pancakes (Roti Prata).

Enjoy the Singaporean sunset

As Singapore is a real kingdom of sky-high architectural wonders, rooftop terraces, there are countless places for enjoying the sundown painting the horizon into gold. If you want something really unique, I have collected for you couple of the must-see spots for sunset and – by chance – dinner.

One of my favourites is located on the top of the world-famous Hotel Marina Bay Sands, which is – I guess – on bucket list of many of us. The Marina Bay Sands has the world’s largest infinity pool stretching among the clouds, which is the most mesmerising place for relaxing, falling in love with the pinky dusk or siping a cocktail under the stars. But here comes the bad news: earlier there were many possibilities to „snake in” and get a dash of the 57th floor’s luxury, but nowadays there are two „legal” options only: either you book a room – even for one night is worth it – or you pay the entrance (20 SGD) for visiting the rooftop bar CÉ LA VI offering spectacular views.

There is no dress code and you can purchase your ticket with entrance to the Skypark. The price includes one free drink, which you can choose from the menu. I assure everyone: this is 100 % worth to see, as the panorama is breathtaking 200 meters above sea level. Gazing at the city’s magical lights, I had the feeling, that I am looking at a glittering picture of stars creating this surreal city.

The Singapore Flyer is one of the Singapore’s highlights, not without reason: it is one of the iconic architectural jewels of the island-state, towers 165 meters above the city, higher than the famous London Eye. It is possible to visit it all day long, but I recommend to book the ride for the evening in order to delight in fabolous, colourful shades of sun going down. For those, who desire something fancy, a four-course dinner is provided above the city in small capsules. It has to be booked in advance and the check-in time starts at 7pm.

Another good idea is to spice the evening with a superb view of the restaurant located on the top of the iconic Supertree. It is simply fantastic, how the descending sun colours the surroundings, the astonishing trees into thousand shades of gold and purple. While admiring this wonderful performance of the nature, we can taste the specialities prepared by the Indochine Restaurant.

As you see, there are countless cool places to dive into the pinky-blue sky. Your job is just to be there and enjoy it to the fullest.

Taste of the Beach

The Sentosa Island – located in the central part of Singapore – could be an independent, little empire, something like the enchanted world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but unfortunately without the weird Umpa Lumpas. Anyway, if you want to escape of the hustle and bustle of the city centre, visiting Sentosa is the perfect choice.

This is the endless paradise for those, who are seeking for adventures, thrills and relaxation at the same time. The S.E.A Aquarium is home of more than 100.000 different marine animals, while the Sentosa Nature Discovery Park let us to take a look into the local wildlife. 

The Universal Studios provides great fun for little ones and big ones alike. If you need something for your blood-pressure, the Mega Adventure Park or the indoor skydiving – which has the world’s largest indoor wind tunnel – can be the best „adrenaline-bomb”.

The themed beaches of the island present diverse forms of recreation. The Siloso Beach is more for watersports, whilst the Tanjong Beach is place of tranquility and peace. My personal favorite was the Palawan Beach. Not only because of its name referring to the Philippines, but because of its tiny „jungle-feeling”. It has a cute lagoon with crystal clear water and crossing the suspension bridge we reach the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. Unfortunately I have to give one bad point for the beaches: enjoying the sun, laying in the golden sand, the view in front of me was kind of sense illusion. Instead of the never-ending blue sky and turquoise ocean giant cargo ships were floating on the water, like huge sentinels at the fortress’ gate.

Montenegro: Lost in Olive Groves

Montenegro: Lost in Olive Groves

For years it was my first spring spent in Europe, and after long searching, hesitating I decided to discover a small part of Montenegro. I had my doubts about this hidden – not so well known – country, but I have to say: it was one of my best choices ever.

As Montenegro was member of former Yugoslavia, counts to war affected areas, and the marks of the Yugoslav War in the 90’s we can still feel and see. The country declared its independency in 2006, so even its union with Serbia was over. I mention this fact, because visiting this amazing country, it can be seen straight at every step, that the Montenegrins try to be as much separated from Serbia as they can. Their official currency is the Euro, though the country isn’t part of the EU. If you don’t want to get unfriendly looks from the locals, it is better not to say or assume , that they speak the same language as the Serbians. The Montenegrins have their own lingo and „that’s it”. Simply do not ask and enjoy the scenic view of mountains hiding wild waterfalls and natural swimming pools.

The way to Stari Bar

Before heading to the little, mediterranean town of Stari Bar, I had one night in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. To be honest, I was not really motivated about discovering it, especially seeing the grey, melancholic soviet buildings. I found plenty of ruins, which take us back in time – like the Depedogen, a fortress from the 15th century, or the Skaline Medieval Fortress – while the contrast between the colourful villas and the crumbling socialist blocks show the huge social differences of the country.

Walking by the Moraca river the atmosphere of the city is a bit friendlier, surrounded by mediterannean trees and flowers. If we cross the Moscow brigde, which is for pedestrians only, we get a quite nice panorama with the Millenium Bridge in front of us. After a long walk several cute restaurants are waiting for their guest in tiny streets, and for drinks. I really recommend the Karver. This unique place – hiding under one of the small bridges – is located in the central area of Podgorica and is not only home to a bookstore, but a bohemian cafe and gallery, too. I loved this kind of hippie shelter with its colourful furniture and awesome music. It was simply the best spot for glass of wine, while enjoying the sound of the river.

Stari Bar

Stari Bar, located 1-1,5 hour drive from Podgorica has definitely much more to offer than Bar, the typical beach-city, crowded with tourists. This real gem is hiding in less popular part of the region, surrounded by rough, emerald green mountains. The old town of Stari Bar, with its tiny cobbled lanes, the wine and cured hame-cheese plates, the women selling their local olive oil and other souvenirs maden from lavender take us into the sunlit „Tuscany” of Montenegro.

Going up to the old fortress we get impressive view over the valley, with the luring sea in background. More, than 200 buildings are still in ruins, so this enchanting town operates as open-air museum taking the architecture-lovers for a fabolous expedition into the world of Rennaisance, Romanesque and Gothic. After discovering marks of history or the labyrinth of nature, delicacies of local eateries are waiting for hungry travelers.

To be honest, for us – as we wanted a little bit of impishness after the yoga lessons – the pomegranate beer and local wine was more attractive than the food. Anyway, trying local fish dishes, like carp from the Skadar Lake, the Buzara – shellfish, prowns and shrimps cooked in red or white wine – or the meat specialties, like the Njeguski Steak – made of pork of veal schnitzel – is absolutely a must! When visiting rural areas of Montenegro, don’t miss out on heavenly good cheese varieties, like the Kaymak cream cheese – awh, I really loved it – and the Njeguski cheese, which is aged in cool mountains.

Under the Olive Groves

Arriving to our place I had the feeling, I am dreaming right now. the castle-like stone house with its lush green garden, river running through and mini waterfalls looked like paradise on earth, but far away from the civilization. The Grove is located in a miracolous valley enclosed by wild sierras and ancient olive groves.

The area – like the whole country – is fairly easy to visit, most of the trails are well marked, not to mention the sensational national parks showing us breathtaking views and hidden treasures of Montenegro. The secret, natural „swimming pools” are a bit off the beaten path, but no worries, just let get lost, and discover the untouched beauty of this enchanted land.

Except the hiking trails, which lead us through wonderful paths full of rare flowers and herbs to the best points of Rumija Mountain, exploring the mysterious maze of aged olive trees fascinated me completely. Walking in shadow of the arbor I met small groups of wide-eyed sheep, while the thousand-year-old olive trees were whispering their secret story. One of the world’s oldest trees can also be found here – more than 2000 years old – called Stara Maslina, unfortunately partially burned due to thunderlight.

At the top of the groves I got a superb scenery with the misty mountains and the little, luring towns spreading in front of me, and on the way back we found a fairytale-like area – the Bartula Olive Garden Camp – which offers marvellous spot for camping, fingerfood or drinks for tired hikers, literally on the idyllic „island” of tranquility.

Adventures by the lake

The Lake Skadar is, without a doubt, the gold pot of hiking trails and water activities. From Stari Bar it is a short (20 min) drive along the coast, so even the way to the lake offers us mind-blowing panorama of steep cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea.

There are several points for starting our day by the lake, I personally visited the cute fishing village, Virpazar, where the most of travel agencies, event- and tour-offices are based. The old villas and the restaurants with damn good fish dishes create the pure Mediterranean-feeling. As the Lake Skadar is Balkan’s largest lake and one of Europe’s largest bird reserves, has much to offer even for nature-lovers. I have to admit: this is a real eden regarding to wildlife – especially birds – and different waterplants.

This amazing flora and fauna can be observed by boat tours or kayaking. I definitely recommend kayaking, as it was fun at its finest. It can be guided or you can hire the kayaks for hours or the whole day. On the way I admired thousands of waterlilies playing in wild colours, while the inhabitants of the reserve were grabbing their lunch from the water. Drifting on the water we took a small sightseeing too: the islet monasteries and the mystical ruins of Grmozur’s prison – island prison – stand in the middle of the lake, like ghosts of last century.

After back-breaking „workout” we reached the Pjesacac Beach, which is accessible by boat or kayak only. There is one cute, local restaurant preparing traditional dishes with organic ingredients, but this small piece of golden-sandy beach is perfect spot for picnic, delighting in the sunshine. It was an idyllic place – in the middle of nowhere – where the birds’ song and melody of the waves was the only „noise”.

The way back was pretty adventurous: the whole activity takes 3-4 hours, but the motivation, which was my best friend at the beginning, at the end disappeared. So the return journey was longer, than expected, not to mention the upwind, which shows up every time like the bogeyman in children’s nightmare. Being almost at the pear, only one thing was floating before our eyes: Wine, wine, wine… and some beer.

In addition to kayaking, there are countless other options to explore the area. Cycling is cool for those, who want to feel a bit more lively through hazardous – kind of mountain-biking – experience. This is mostly guided because of wilder, steep parts of trails hiding in forests and up in the mountains. For foodies I advice the wine tasting tour, which can be combined with a little tracking. If you are freak about local food and wine, you shouldn’t miss it out!

As you see, the Lake Skadar as well as the surrounding towns – like Stari Bar, or Virpazar – are perfect both for lazy days and playing Tarzan deep in lush greenery of Rumija. It is the paradise for backpackers, hikers and those, who are desperately in love with gastronomy.

Cats and cobble everywhere

The titel could be a riddle, but I let the cat out of the bag: it is all about Kotor, the lovely town surrounded by the bay and the fortress high, above the winding, medieval streets. It is true, that Kotor is super-crowded in summertime – mostly because of tourists coming by ferries for a short visit – but out of season it is really enjoyable to spend here a few days, especially if you love discovering bars and romantic sunset-spots of ancient cities.

Kotor is home of several architectural masterpieces and with its colourful history, traditions is listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking across the charming squares and lanes I got a bit of Croatia’s picturesque cities, like Split or Dubrovnik, a dash of Lisbon’s ambiance with the shiny, neverending footsteps and a pinch of Montenegrin everyday life. I think, the best option to explore the town is just wondering around and soaking in everything. Just get lost in tiny, golden-like cobbled streets, feel and try yummy bites of the local cousine and as perfect ending of the day immerse yourself in Kotor’s nightlights tasting craft beer and wine of the area.

Before you leave, don’t forget to take a look into the cute souvenir-shops selling vibrant copies of Frida Kahlo’s or Picasso’s works – but nothing to do with Montenegro – furthermore cool handmade bags and coasters with motives of the Little Prince and Bob Marley, in addition all kind of trinketry can be bought as little gift. Most of the souvenirs are decorated with cats in different colours. These furry little creatures can be seen on every cobbled corner of the town giving us the impression, that there are more cats in Kotor than humans. According to the story they were left here by the medieval merchants from all over the world and today they mean the famous symbol of Kotor.

Mui Ne, Vietnam: the spicy blend of desert, sea & gastro

Mui Ne, Vietnam: the spicy blend of desert, sea & gastro

Mui Ne – located in the southern part of the country – is less popular among travelers, than North-Vietnam hiding real treasures of nature. It is a traditional fishing town spoilt by huge concrete giants and resorts with secret gardens, which lead to the beach.

It can be easily riched from Saigon by bus in 4-5 hours. Regarding the „beach” there are two options for sunlovers and mermaids: there are some guesthouses and hostels with swimming-pool or we can check the luxury resorts providing private beach.

It is not so easy to catch the golden sunset of Mui Ne, while dipping your toes into the water „for free”, but if you are an obsessed foodie or you just have desire for chilling and pampering after long weeks of backpacking, it can be the perfect shelter.

The first impression

After my very hectic and noisy Vietnamese-city-moments I really longed for something different. Something without thousands of thundering scooters and never-ending crowd of people. And then I arrived.

The check-in was adventurous: it means, I went for basic English in order to understand each other at the reception of the – by the way incredibly awesome – hostel. We got our dorm for us only, so it was like we had a whole suite on the third floor, the view from the huge balcony was priceless. There was a nice swimming-pool in the garden: the silent sanctuary after breakfast, the perfect oasis for diving into the refreshing water sun-kissed, the unique spot for stargazing and taking a journey to the Wonderland of Alice. And the fairy-tale like place for falling in love under the shimmering pinky-blue sky.

Are we in Russia?

Yes, it may seem strange the question, but after exploring other parts of Vietnam, one thing is for sure: the basic Vietnamese language would definitely help more than the English or whatever. But here, in this cute fishing village I was sometimes a little confused, where am I?

Most of the locals speak fluently Russian, especially if it is all about bargain and selling the well-known souvenirs embroidered with the red star. The five-pointed red star is not exactly the „embodiment” of nice memories, but we do everything for the business, right?

Mui Ne is a real paradise for the Russians and for reason. There is no language difficulty, the weather is perfect all year round, not to mention the wide range of spirits and wine. A lot of asian countries I have been to, but I didn’t „meet” so much rum, than here.

The heaven of Foodies

Here comes my favourite activity of exploring the world. Vietnam is amazing for waking up your taste buds, but Mui Ne with its heavenly good seafood can be the icing on the cake.

Even here we can find the adored vietnamese flavors of Pho, Bánh Mí or Bánh xéo, however the treasures of the sea are the very best!

Walking on the main road I got pretty confused, what to chose: thousands of local restaurants lured me into their rainbow-like world. Don’t expect nothing luxurious, most of these places wait for their hungry guest with simple, plastic tables and chairs, but the magical music of the waves and the gastro journey licks everything.

The most tasty bites wait for us at the entrance, where we can chose from the fresh – still alive – catch of local fishers. I advice to try as much seafood as you can in order to get the real taste-orgy experience.

And a short introducing about drinks: as I mentioned, there are tons of local and foreign spirits, trust me, everywhere, while from wine the local one – from Dalat or North-Vietnam – is the most popular. For non-drinkers trying the maracuja juice is a must. There are delicious other compositions of vegetable and fruit juices, that it would be a shame to miss it.

For starting or ending our sunny days we took a visit to one of the locals, who was selling mostly beauty stuff, oils, medicinal products and the main medicine served in cute russian, wooden shot glasses: it was a whiskey with fermented cobra, very similar to our beloved Lao Lao – the traditional rice whiskey – from Laos. So we simply couldn’t skip it!

Discover the Fairy Stream

The Fairy Stream is located a short drive away from the centre, on the way to the famous Sand Dunes. It is one of the Mui Ne’s highlights and can be a good idea, especially if the kitesurfing or the endless sneaking into the hotels’ private beaches is already boring.

The atmosphere of this place was magical from the beginning. Slowly stepping down the stairs a mysterious world burst upon my view: the quietly creeping stream surrounded by bamboo, palm trees and lacy rock formations is definitely home of creations of our colourful imagination, the secret nest of Fairies.

The level of the stream never goes upon your knies, so you can walk in its glittering water whilst pampering your feet in golden-red, powdered sugar-like sand. The strange creations of nature – the canyon, the small dunes and the rocks – are changing their mesmerizing colour into endless shades of white, gold, brown and red, while playing with the sun.

If you would like to hike, just do it and capture the moment of freedom looking at the wonderful landscape around you. At the end of the stream a small, but luring waterfall is waiting for us, as surprise or hidden gem of the „fairy-walk”. On the way, in shade of the palm trees tiny food-stalls and restaurants are waiting for those wanting local delicacies or to sip the famous vietnamese beer.

Conquer the White Dunes

At first glance it may seem strange: there is a huge white sand oasis in the middle of this southern seaside village. It looks like a perfect painting, like a crazy blend of lush greenery and desert of the Tales of Arabian Nights or simply the silver playground of fays.

It is possible to rent a quad bike to barrel up and down feeling the sweetness of speed or to discover it walking. If you are fit enough, I recommend to do the latter. Walking through the dunes I got a unique experience: it enchanted me, as the dunes constantly were changing their shape while feeling each grain of sand on my skin.

Coming up to the „highest” point the view is marvellous with the seemingly endless desert surrounded by the sea. The best seasoning at the end of exploring this fairy tale-like place is running down from the top: just „flying” with opened arms, like a bird, whilst feeling as the hot wind is caressing your face.

Catch the sunset at the Red Dunes

On the way back from the White Dunes we ended our day with my favourite pastime: immersed in beautiful pink-purple rays of vietnamese sunset. Going up to the highest point of the „smaller” but still unique Red Dunes the sunset can be a memorable experience, especially if we just sit down and listen to the sand’s faint melody.

Some bad points: here we can find much more tourists, as most of the travel agencies are selling it as the last part of the „Sand Dunes Tour” and apparently there are thousands of sunset-lovers wanting to taste the vietnamese dusk, too. Unfortunately the littering is also very striking, I was pretty disappointed to see the here and there popping plastic bottles and rests of junk food. Furthermore local ladies wait for the visitors everywhere trying to sell plastic stuff for sliding down from the dunes, but I have to disillusion everybody: it doesn’t work unless you are light as a feather.

Anyway, I tried to forget these negative things because nothing is perfect, right? But I can tell you, to watch the dancing silver-blue clouds, the mermerising sunset, while laying in sand was the perfection of the imperfection.

I have very mixed feelings and memories about Vietnam, about the people living there. I could compare this journey to a roller-coaster. Because if you try it, your feelings are changing every second, every moment. Some parts you hate, you can’t wait to leave it and catch the new „chapter”, you are after something more exciting, breathtaking, then comes the „highest point”, the beloved part or the biggest fear full of adrenaline?

Everyone has their own roller-coaster journey. Mine was Vietnam.

Nong Khiaw: the hidden treasure of Laos

Nong Khiaw: the hidden treasure of Laos

Nong Khiaw situated in Luang Prabang Province is one of the most fairy-tale-like destinations of Northern Laos providing limitless possibilities for all types of travelling. This cute, romantic village surrounded by emerald-coloured mountains captivated me at first sight.

It is the perfect place to enjoy the peace and tranquility lying in a hammock, while the sunset paints the magical Nam Ou river into thousand shades of gold.Nong Khiaw is getting more and more popular, not only among backpackers. It is still kind of a sleeping village, but not for long I guess. Unfortunately.

Anyway, we even had the luck to see this awesome, hidden treasure in all its glory and I collected for you some of the highlights of it.

Dive into taste of Laos

The gastronomy of Laos is very diverse, you can find the traditional Lao dishes on every corner, while each province has its own specialty. The meat-lovers and vegetarians alike can find heavenly good bites.

Nong Khiaw is relatively small village, but restaurants and street food can be found easily on both sides of the river. My very favourite restaurant was located near to the bridge, in a tiny, dusty street, owned by a local family. The restaurant not only with normal tables was furnished, but with corners full with colourful pillows: perfect for chatty nights, while tasting amazing Lao dishes, drinking beer and our beloved Lao Lao. But what should we try sitting between these rainbow-like pillows or walking in the maze of street vendors?

Dive into taste of Laos

The gastronomy of Laos is very diverse, you can find the traditional Lao dishes on every corner, while each province has its own specialty. The meat-lovers and vegetarians alike can find heavenly good bites.

Nong Khiaw is relatively small village, but restaurants and street food can be found easily on both sides of the river. My very favourite restaurant was located near to the bridge, in a tiny, dusty street, owned by a local family. The restaurant not only with normal tables was furnished, but with corners full with colourful pillows: perfect for chatty nights, while tasting amazing Lao dishes, drinking beer and our beloved Lao Lao. But what should we try sitting between these rainbow-like pillows or walking in the maze of street vendors?

Khao Niao – Lao Sticky Rice

I could definitely say: it is the very national food of Laos. The sticky rice is never missing from the table, means the very essential part of the dishes. In daily life of Lao people eating is a rather important social „event” sharing the „princess” of the meals between each other and eating it with fingers.

Tam Mak Hoong – Lao Papaya Salad

It is a mixed salad with green (unripe) papaya, nuts and pungent fermented fish sauce. It can be quite delicious, especially if you are real chilli-lover. I have to tell you: my salad was not seasoned according to my chilli-level. So I ate my salad in tears, hours long, but in the end I survived.

Khao Piak Sen – Noodle Soup

It is mostly clear chicken stock served with hand made rice noodles, germ, fresh herbs, green beans and lime. The other version of this soup is served with sticky rice. My local friend told me, it is one of the most important meal of the Lao people, mainly mornings in order to get something filling.

Mok Bppa – Lao steamed fish

One of my personal favourites is served in banana leaves and is steamed with different fresh herbs like lemon grass, dill, kaffir lime. This colourful dish is typical for Nong Khiaw accompained with sticky rice. If you like fish, it is a must to try this delicacy, such as the Ping Bppa – grilled fish – which is seasoned with lemon grass, garlic and salt. As the village is located by the river, unearthly good fish dishes are provided. Believe me, it would be a shame to miss it!

Khao Piak Sen – Noodle Soup

It is mostly clear chicken stock served with hand made rice noodles, germ, fresh herbs, green beans and lime. The other version of this soup is served with sticky rice. My local friend told me, it is one of the most important meal of the Lao people, mainly mornings in order to get something filling.

Mok Bppa – Lao steamed fish

One of my personal favourites is served in banana leaves and is steamed with different fresh herbs like lemon grass, dill, kaffir lime. This colourful dish is typical for Nong Khiaw accompained with sticky rice. If you like fish, it is a must to try this delicacy, such as the Ping Bppa – grilled fish – which is seasoned with lemon grass, garlic and salt. As the village is located by the river, unearthly good fish dishes are provided. Believe me, it would be a shame to miss it!

Try Lao Lao

I am trying to describe it briefly with – or without – my memories. First of all, Lao Lao is a very popular Laotian rice whisky , which is definitely the emblematic spirit of the country. I could write about the very healthy-classy fruit juices, Lao coffee or beer, but my best memories are connected – somehow – to this „magical” liquid.

It is one of the cheapest spirits all over the world, but it has a quite good quality, often “served” with cobra or scorpion in the bottle. Maybe I can attest: I personally did not have hangover. For more infos I should ask my dear friends…

Lao Lao can be found on every corner of Nong Khiaw, and in every small town or village. Better said, the more away we were from the cities, the more Laotian fun-drink we found. If you do not see it in proper bottles, no worries, you just have to ask for it. Mostly it can be purchased in different plastic or glass bottles from Coca-cola, western alcoholic drinks or water. I got my first one in a cute plastic mineral water bottle. I received it in Muang Khua from a French guy as a gift. It was kind of a question for dating, but anyway: it was a cool present.

Try the herbal steam bath

If you need something relaxing after a long day, trying the traditional herbal steam bath is the perfect choice. We tried it, and we loved it! It is possible to combine it with massage or to book the steam bath only.

It is a tiny wooden house for 5-6 people with two small benches. The refreshing, healthy steam was maden by one of the local ladies. The use of the steam bath was unlimited, but to be honest, 1-1,5 hour is more than enough.

To spend time here was a kind of social activity mixed with detox-relax treatment. It was a nice experience to listen to other travelers’ stories, memories, while slowly disappearing in the mesmerising steam of Laotian herbs.

Try the herbal steam bath

If you need something relaxing after a long day, trying the traditional herbal steam bath is the perfect choice. We tried it, and we loved it! It is possible to combine it with massage or to book the steam bath only.

It is a tiny wooden house for 5-6 people with two small benches. The refreshing, healthy steam was maden by one of the local ladies. The use of the steam bath was unlimited, but to be honest, 1-1,5 hour is more than enough.

To spend time here was a kind of social activity mixed with detox-relax treatment. It was a nice experience to listen to other travelers’ stories, memories, while slowly disappearing in the mesmerising steam of Laotian herbs.

Discover the waterfalls

Laos could be called as a small empire of waterfalls, which are often hiding deep in fabolous, lush rainforests. The more popular ones can be visited alone – like the Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang – but for getting into this marvelous labyrinth of the nature around Nong Khiaw I really advice to do it with a local guide.

One of the very best hiking trails leads to the 100 Waterfalls with fantastic view and several opportunities to take a dip into the turquoise blue water. Here I have to mention, that this tour is more accessible and easier to walk in the dry season, otherwise the flooding can make it extremaly dangerous.

We wanted something less touristy, so we did our trekking trail across small, traditional villages seeing the locals harvesting rice, visiting a small Zen cafe and fruit plantation with NO Wifi:

„Woooww priceless, I want to stay here!”

It was my first thought walking between the papaya trees.

Full with energy after drinking a nice Lao coffee we continued our way in shadows of the sky-reaching trees. After a short walk we reached the small stream, which shows the direction to the hiding Tad Mok Waterfall. Slowly getting to it I had the feeling, I arrived to the paradise: 2-3 other people were around (but not long) and nothing else. The tranquility and the music of the waterfall enchanted me. The lunch spent here – under the winding green lianes, listening to the pure nature – reminded me, that the very simple things are always the very best.

We wanted something less touristy, so we did our trekking trail across small, traditional villages seeing the locals harvesting rice, visiting a small Zen cafe and fruit plantation with NO Wifi:

„Woooww priceless, I want to stay here!”

It was my first thought walking between the papaya trees.

Full with energy after drinking a nice Lao coffee we continued our way in shadows of the sky-reaching trees. After a short walk we reached the small stream, which shows the direction to the hiding Tad Mok Waterfall. Slowly getting to it I had the feeling, I arrived to the paradise: 2-3 other people were around (but not long) and nothing else. The tranquility and the music of the waterfall enchanted me. The lunch spent here – under the winding green lianes, listening to the pure nature – reminded me, that the very simple things are always the very best.

Get lost in the emerald green mountains

The entire country is ideal and outstanding for those obsessed with hiking, but Nong Khiaw provides „all in”. I mean, you can immerse yourself in taste of Lao gastronomy, while enjoying the lush nature, falling in love with Nam Ou river or getting refreshed by the steam bath and massage.

You can book trekking for one or more days with a local guide, but fortunately, there are several trails, which can be explored on your own. The Sleeping Woman Viewpoint has a charming panorama for sunrise. By the way: sitting in the middle of nowhere I was admiring the rolling mountains, from wich, after a while, sleeping faces emerged everywhere. So if you are pretty observant, you can see, that the valley of Nong Khiaw is surrounded by mysterious sleeping beauties on every side. Regarding to the spots for sunset I need to mention, that you have to calculate your time well in order to get off the mountain safely. The other – not so back-breaking – hiking trail leads to the Phadeng Peak with fabolous views above the clouds.

It does not matter, what you will decide for, these miraculous creations of the nature full of adventures will not disappoint you.

Catch the sunset on the bridge of the village

Yes, we arrived to my adored part of activities: capturing the perfect moments of sunset. As I am an uncurable sunset-lover, I was seeking for the best sundown spots while backpacking in Laos. But actually, in Nong Khiaw I did not need to hunt for it.

If you stay in one of the bungalows by the Nam Ou river – as I – you have place like a king to admire the sunset. Especially rocking in a hammock, with a drink in your hands. But still, I preferred to look from the small bridge, as the sun paints the whole landscape in bronze and shining gold.

The bridge is not so crowded, so we can enjoy the twilight to the fullest, taking pleasure from the magical atmosphere of Nong Khiaw, while couple of small fishing boats are floating peacefully on the water. Every time I passed the bridge, I stopped and tried remembering to the smallest detail this hidden gem of Laos. I tried remembering the smiling faces, the shining – full of hope – eyes of the locals, the mesmerising scent of herbs, the sleeping mountains hiding secrets, the colours of Laotian sunset and the Nam Ou river, which was flowing silently under the stars.

Catch the sunset on the bridge of the village

Yes, we arrived to my adored part of activities: capturing the perfect moments of sunset. As I am an uncurable sunset-lover, I was seeking for the best sundown spots while backpacking in Laos. But actually, in Nong Khiaw I did not need to hunt for it.

If you stay in one of the bungalows by the Nam Ou river – as I – you have place like a king to admire the sunset. Especially rocking in a hammock, with a drink in your hands. But still, I preferred to look from the small bridge, as the sun paints the whole landscape in bronze and shining gold.

The bridge is not so crowded, so we can enjoy the twilight to the fullest, taking pleasure from the magical atmosphere of Nong Khiaw, while couple of small fishing boats are floating peacefully on the water. Every time I passed the bridge, I stopped and tried remembering to the smallest detail this hidden gem of Laos. I tried remembering the smiling faces, the shining – full of hope – eyes of the locals, the mesmerising scent of herbs, the sleeping mountains hiding secrets, the colours of Laotian sunset and the Nam Ou river, which was flowing silently under the stars.

Israel: Road trip across the desert

Israel: Road trip across the desert

Compared to other countries Israel is something totally different. It is not only about its religion, unusual traditions and colourful culture. The winding roads between the pinky-red secret mountains, across the desert definitely mean one of the best road trip destinations ever!

Israel is a relatively small country with a really well-built road network. It is extra easy to navigate even through the whole country making stops at several points of interest. It has everything, what we would need: rich history and architecture, unique small towns and villages, enchanting landscapes and crystal clear water beaches.

Eilat

As we arrived at Ramon Airport, Eilat, this diving paradise was our starting point. The city is very divisive: I couldn’t decide if I like it or I simply want to run away from this crowded hotel jungle. But still, this hotel jungle can be a real jewel for divers, a playground for families or a shelter for backpackers.

The Red Sea, Dekel Beach

Referring to the beaches the North Beach provides the luxury of five-star hotels with several restaurants and bars, while the South Beach has more „take it easy” vibe. The Dolphin Reef and Princess Beach are perfect for observing dolphins in their natural environment or immersing yourself in the fabulous world of the Red Sea. The Village Beach and the Dekel Beach offers sandy beaches, cool live dj sets and israeli flavours, not to mention the beautiful scenery, as the sea merges with the red painted mountains.

 Red Canyon

It is a short ride (25 min) to reach the Red Canyon from Eilat. Here I have to mention, that the route is quite adventurous: the road surrounded by the vast mountains seem to be endless and to lead to nowhere. The unique formations can be seen by different trails for hikers:

  • Green trail: I can describe it as a small adventure park for families providing short (2km) and longer (5km) version. At the beginning the canyon is wide, but after a while it starts closing and we can reach the deep, narrow part by handles.
  • Black trail: If we follow this trail, we can go back to the parking lot or follow our tour along the Southern Wadi Shani. Please note, the way back to the starting point leads up the canyon and mountains, so I really don’t reccomend it for those who have a fear of heights.
  • Red trail: it is a 6 km long trail, mixed with the black-marked trail.
  • Blue trail: it is much more longer leading to the Mountain Neshef.

Colours of the Red Canyon

The Red Canyon was my top „must-see” place in Israel. I have to tell you guys, it was worth to see: the whole reserve, the surfy creations of nature are fascinating, especially as the sunlight plays upon the rocks changing their mesmerising gold-red colour.

 Timna Park

The next stop of our road trip was the Timna Park located in the Negev Desert. This barren, yet enchanting area – 15000 acres – surrounded by golden mountain ranges hides magical desert tales, which come alive at night under the stars.

Seeing the breathtaking masterpieces of the nature – the different geological formations – I had my doubts: some of them look like man made statues and giant rock-hewn faces.

The Sphinx by night

The park provides marked trails for hikers and for bikers as well. Some animals are active during the day, so not to follow the trails is forbidden. I really recommend to arrive at the park by car, because the distance between the formations and canyons is fairly large, not to mention that the oasis is located literally in reserve’s centre. It is the green gem of the desert with a luring lake, palm trees and super cool camp site in case, if we want to enjoy the „desert-feeling” by night.

 And yes! We tried it, we loved it: the sundown painted pink-purple abstracts on the sky, while the mountains dressed fleming red. The visitors left the park, so I had the feeling the entire desert is just mine. The marvellous creations of the Timna Park are lit up at night showing us something totally different: the „Wonderland” of ancient times. My very favourite one was still the oasis by night. I just stared at the scenery taking a journey to another world, to the fabolous world of Aladdin’s Agraba.

The magical view from the campsite

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea or rather floating in its „wonder-water” is simply one of the Israel’s highlights. We can take a dip in its emerald green, healing water at several free beaches, like in Neve Zohar, in Ein Bokek or Ein Gedi (for an indefinite period closed).

I choosed the free beach of Ein Bokek, but my original plan was to visit the coast in Ein Gedi. Ein Bokek provides free amenities, like drinking water, shower, toilettes, umbrellas. The only think that was not really me: never ending, sky-reaching hotel buildings behind me. For seeing the more natural part with the awesome dried salt clusters along the coast, we had to leave the public beach. Apart from that „swimming” in this incredibly oily-salty water is firmly superb experience. The water is extremely rich in minerals, it has countless health and skin benefits and… to be honest, who wouldn’t want to float carefree, weightless at the lowest place on Earth, while getting younger, silky skin and sunkissed?

The untouched shore of the Dead Sea

For our stay I found in Ein Gedi the best camp site ever! A damn good place with painting-like scene, authentic israeli draught beer, hummus and the best pizza – yes pizza – in the country. The camp site is kind of luring hippi paradise up the hill with the magical Dead Sea in front of you. Ben, the guy at the reception welcomed us following: „Enjoy your stay, and you can do here everything. But really…everything.”

Ein Gedi Camp Lodge

The perfect ending of our Spa day was just looking at the sundown by the sea, listening to mixture of country and jazz music from the hammock and getting high from not our joint. I swear, from not our!

Ein Gedi Nature Reserve

It can be kind of mini stop while staying in Ein Gedi or on the way to Jerusalem. Ein Gedi is Israel’s biggest oasis hiding hazardous trekking trails, siren springs and waterfalls.

The nature reserve is open every day 04.00 pm except Friday and holiday eves. I can assure you, even if you don’t like hiking, you will appreciate the refreshing water surrounded by lush vegetation, hills, desert and the Dead Sea.

Refreshin waterfalls of Ein Gedi

Jerusalem

It is about 1,5 hour drive from Ein Gedi and offers something different after hiking, floating in the Dead Sea and chilling in hammock. This surreal place brings to life the tiny pieces of history and religion while walking silent in the Old City of Jerusalem. The four quarters, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian show us exactly, how special Jerusalem is. For more relaxing time with bars and restaurants is recommended West Jerusalem, the modern part of the city.

In case, if you want to continue your trip, this place is perfect to reach Tel Aviv or Haifa, but we took the direction back to Eilat.

Israel is the place, where the desert meets the sea, the elements of different religions melt and lush green oases come to life in the middle of nowhere.