Brussels

I looked to the window next to me and saw a big, beautiful butt.

My first perception of Belgium was with a bit of culture shock. I arrived in Brussels at Gare de Nord (North train station) and stepped into a gray sky, looked to the window next to me and saw a big, beautiful butt. First I thought it was a mannequin, but IT MOVED! I wish I knew before going to Brussels that it has a red light district. I was standing in the middle of it! I’ve been to Amsterdam before, but I was well aware of the existence and location of the red light district. This time, it took me by surprise.

The second thing I noticed were the mothers and little girls begging for money to eat. They didn’t speak French, nor did it sound to me like Flemish (native tongue in parts of Belgium) so I suppose they were refugees. I, unfortunately, had not a dime of cash nor a bite of food with me since I had been traveling in Germany for about a week and I had recently lost my debit card, BUT that’s another story.

I was tired, sweaty, carrying my luggage and trying to find my hostel with a broken heart. I wish I had at least some snacks to give these people, but then again, that wouldn’t even be close to solving the problem. During my stay in Brussels, I met other immigrants who also arrived in Belgium as refugees and can now share success stories. That definitely changed my perspective of the city, as well as the beautiful Grand Place.

If you think that Grand Place is beautiful during the day, wait until you see the lights of the baroque building reflected into the dark-shiny floor at night, turning the Place into a beautiful dark sea of lights. Absolutely breath-taking.

Grand Place at night
Grand Place

Surrounding the Grand Place you have different little streets to choose your path from. They’re all crowded with souvenir and chocolate shops, as well as mediterranean restaurants, waffle and frites (aka french fries) stands, bars with a wide variety of Belgian beers, and of course, Le Boutique de TinTin. I’m a nerd for comics and I absolutely love TinTin, but no more than I adore his pup Milou, the true hero in the stories. The shop is more of a museum, unless you’re willing to spend about €70 in a figurine. I did get a €2 postcard as souvenir. Right across from this store, I found the most affordable chocolate and souvenir shop in the area, also, the one with the largest variety. It seemed like it was family owned, and at least during Spring Break, it was open until 11pm (23h).

Bruxelles, land of TinTin and Delirium beer.

If you’re a fan of beer, Delirium alley is a must! This alley hosts Delirium Cafe, Monasterium, Taphouse and even a Tequileria. People drink their beers in any of the bars or even in the alley on hot days (or nights). Delirium has a wide selection of beers from wheat, stouts, IPAs, sours and lambics. You also have a choice of size or beer flights if you want to taste a few. Remember, Belgian beers tend to be stronger so keep an eye on the alcohol % so they don’t sneak up on you. The bartenders are friendly and speak English so don’t be a afraid to ask for a taster before deciding on one.

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Just a few beer to choose from at Delirium Cafe


What to see
Something important to know is that Centraal Station is the closest to the city centre (closest to the Grand Place), you also have Midi and North station. Most trains stop at all 3 stations which are about a 20 minute walk from each other. If you’re coming from Charleroi (south airport), the first station is Midi, then Centraal, followed by the North station (opposite if you’re coming from the northern airport). The shuttle bus to the southern airport (Charleroi) departs from Midi Station.

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There are many famous monuments, parks and historical buildings to visit, such as the pissing boy statue known as Manneken Pis and the dog Zinneke Pis.
Just to mention a few more:
– The Atomium sculpture
– King’s Castle,
Royal Palace, not to be confused with Place Royale (the original Royal Palace)
– the still standing Notre-Dame church
– Brussels Park where I accidentally found a small free rave on Easter
Brussels is definitely one of those cities where no matter where you turn or which street you take, you’ll find something interesting.

TInTin Mural
If like me, you’re a fan of street art, you’ll find a beautiful mural by
Okudart right outside the North station. There are also many murals based on comics around Brussels. My favorite is, of course, the TinTin mural, shown here. You can also see the Smurf’s passage, leading to Centraal Station, as well as the Caroline Baldwin and the Broussaille mural.

A perfect way to end the day at Brussels is by enjoying the sunset and the live music performer at the steps in Mont des Arts (featured image on top). This is a very picturesque and romantic area with a beautiful sight in every corner. I was on my own (#foreveralone) but didn’t mind all the embracing couples around me because I was in love with moment and the colorful sky. I also had a delicious chocolate covered waffle to keep me company ❤

Where to eat
GofreYou’ll never taste french fries the same way, since you’ll soon realize they’re actually from Belgium and they’re called Frites! Waffles with maple syrup will no longer suffice either, it’s strawberries, chocolate and chantilly or dead!… ok, maybe I’m taking it a bit to the extreme but there’s a reason why Belgians take great pride in their food.
Frites and waffles are musts in Belgium. I also found mediterranean food to be very popular in Brussels. Here are a few inexpensive and delicious places with great customer service, as well as English speaking staff: L’Express (Lebanese), Hellas (Greek, cash only),  Mykonos (Greek) and Lotus Vert (Vietnamese) for colder days.

Here is the list of every place mentioned in this post for you to save in your Google maps. Don’t forget to download the Brussels map in Google maps so as to save data and time when roaming around Brussels. This city is a great place to just walk around and get lost, you’ll find wonderful things to see or places to eat and drink everywhere you go. I hope you make the best of your time in this amazing city and always, BE PRESENT.

 

Mallorca

Mallorca is a small and beautiful island in an archipelago in Spain called, Balearic Islands. The other Balearic islands are Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera and Cabrera.
What I found to be the most intriguing thing about Mallorca is that it’s a multi-lingual island.
muiltilingual.jpgDespite it being petite, the locals working in the tourist sector speak at least 3 languages, sometimes more! Some of the spoken languages are Spanish, English, German, French, Italian, and of course, Mallorquín. Yes, Mallorca has its own language, which I learned is a dialect deriving from Catalán, the language spoken in Cataluña (where Barcelona is).  Most street signs were written in all these languages. I was amazed by how many polyglots I met during my short stay in Mallorca. This is very uncommon for Spain, which makes this island stand out even more. As if the clear, blue mediterranean ocean wasn’t attractive enough, now you know you won’t have any issues with communication when traveling in this island.

Locals speak at least 3 languages,

sometimes more!

Where to eat
As expected in an island, seafood is fresh and everywhere. Markets are the best way to try local food in Spain. There’s a few markets where you can choose fresh fish and they’ll grill it right there and then. The most popular one is Mercat de Santa Catalina and it’s in Palma, near Plaza Mayor. It closes at 5pm everyday and it’s not open on holidays. Another market in my list, that I, unfortunately, did not have a chance to visit is Mercado Gastronómico de San Juan. It seemed like the perfect place to try different types of food.

In Sollér, I had a delicious and authentic meal with a breathtaking view of the mountains in a hidden alley. Service was outstanding  at Bar Molino but I arrived for a late lunch/early dinner and had no problem finding a table outside. It got busier in the evening, so best make a reservation, specially during peak season.

Cocktail bars & Nightlife
There’s plenty of cocktail bars to choose from in Palma. I had the chance to try a few, including Brassclub which had amazing cocktails and a very chill vibe. Havanna is also a cool cocktail bar in Palma. I specially loved the corky art in this bar but my favorite one is an Italian bar in Santa Catalina named Ventuno. I’m not a huge Aperol fan, I find it to be too bitter but Italians are such experts at mixing it that I absolutely loved the cocktails here. Food looked delicious as well but I did not try it. My only complain is that I wish there was a dance floor or at least more space. Music was too good not to move but there was hardly any space to even stand in this bar.

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Potato quality selfie @ Havanna

Sometimes, it’s best to go with the flow, you’ll be amazed by where the night takes you. I found myself dancing the night away at an Irish pub! Right around the corner of Ventuno you’ll find Molly Mallone. Definitely not the place where I expected to listen to Latino and 90’s music but if you rather not pay the cover for a club, know you can party it up here, at least on a weekend. From here, we walked to a club in the area but I cannot recall the name, it was that kind of night. Never be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. I ended up singing my heart out to THE Spice Girls song with a Dominican friend I made that night and following an Italian group of friends to the next club. C’est la vie!

Catedral
Cathedral in Palma

Where to stay
If you want to be able to walk to the Historic Centre, then I recommend staying in Palma. There’s quite a few bars and restaurants in the area, the Cathedral and beach boardwalk are at walking distance. If you’re worried about staying in a loud neighborhood, Palma is actually pretty  calm and quiet at night. You’ll need to take a bus or taxi back if you party in Santa Catalina, unless you don’t mind the 30-40 minute walk back. Another downside is that if you’re looking to layout at a beach, you’ll need to rent a bike or take the bus since the nearest beach is a small boat port.

Another popular area in Mallorca is Portopí, it’s next to the port, so the beach is not as beautiful as other ones in Mallorca, but it’s surrounded by restaurants and night clubs if you’re planning on partying it up.

I wish I would’ve stayed at least one night in either Port Sollér or Porto Cristo. These beaches are unrealistically beautiful but both locations are far from the action. So it really does depend on what kind of vacation you’re looking for.

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Porto Cristo

Day trips
Sollér & Port Sóller are definitely worth the trip if you have at least one whole day to visit. The small and charming town of Sollér hosts the beautiful Església de Sant Bartomeu (Church of St. Bartomeu) designed by Joan Rubió, an Antoni Gaudí follower. Gaudí is best known for the Sagrada Familia, an enormously impressive church in Barçelona. I’ve become difficult to impress by churches in Europe, but the one in Sollér is so unique since it has Baroque, Gothic and even Modernist elements. An easy and scenic way to get there is the Palma-Sollér train which departs from the historic centre in Palma and arrives in the town of Sollér, next to the church.  You can find the timetable and prices here

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Mediterranean sea entering the Caves of Drach

Porto Cristo is a small yet beautiful beach next to the Caves of Drach. The Caves are a must see when in Mallorca, they were formed from the entrance of the Mediterranean ocean. Their discovery dates back to the Middle Ages but they have been conditioned with en easy entrance and exit, as well as lights and stairs for visitor access. The tour includes a live classical music concert, as well as a boat ride along lake Martel, which is inside the caves. I was at awe with the naturally made stalagmites (I believe they’re called) from hundreds, possibly thousands, of years of water dripping from and onto the rocks. These rocky spikes went in all directions causing a perfect reflection in the calm Martel lake. There’s a limited amount of tours available per day so make sure you plan ahead. You can arrive by bus, the cost from Palma as of 2019 was €8.65 one way. You can find the bus time table here. There’s also tours departing from Palma that include transportation, they range around €40.

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Boat ride in the Caves of Drach

Here’s the list of all the locations I mentioned in this post, along with some other restaurants that were referred to me but I did not get a chance to try.

I visited during March, and even though it was sunny it was also windy, so it wasn’t perfect beach weather. The humidity made it quite chilly at night. On the other hand, it wasn’t peak season so I was able to enjoy Mallorca without being overwhelmed by other tourists. Whenever you visit, even if things don’t go as planned (as they rarely do) remember to appreciate the breathtaking views, delicious food and friendly locals. Mallorca is a beautiful place and I’m sure you’ll agree, so always… BE PRESENT!

Oporto

Oporto, or Porto in English, has become increasingly more popular than Lisboa (Lisbon). It is one of my favorite cities in Portugal, perhaps even in Europe. You can easily see the main attractions in a weekend if you don’t mind the hills. I adore this city because of its friendly people, delicious food, breathtaking views and peculiar street art. There’s a certain charm in the neighborhoods, buildings and street art. It’s not as metropolitan as Lisbon, but the views from Dom Luís I Bridge are unreal.

Landmarks
As always, I recommend a walking tour. They’re between 2-3 hours long and they’re free! You can pay a tip at the end based on what you consider appropriate. Some of the most memorable landmarks are the Dom Luis I Bridge, Lello Library,  São Bento train station, and the fanciest McDonald’s you’ll ever see.
OvelloIf you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll have a familiar feeling when entering  Livreria Lello. It is said that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Oporto after living in the city back in the 1990’s. In the books, she describes the library, where Harry buys his books before attending Hogwart’s, as a place similar to this Lello.

Lello is a small library that charges €4  for entrance, which can be validated towards a purchase. There will most likely be a line of people waiting to get in, which moves kinda fast, but don’t expect to take any pics inside without people in the frame.

Something else you’ll see if you’re in Oporto during graduation season, is that the University’s graduates wear a very similar black cloak to the one Hogwart’s students wear. Another J.K Rowling inspiration.

 

 

São Bento train station is beautifully decorated with hand painted blue tiles. There are about 200,000 blue tiles dating back to the 1900’s. The art in the station tells the city’s story. I remember one of the walls being about a foreign princess who was arriving in Oporto to marry the king. The Portuguese covered the roads in rose petals so the princess wouldn’t realize that the streets were actually covered in horse shit. And if you look at the images carefully you’ll notice small mistakes such as the foot of a horse pointing backwards. These elements make this art even more unique and prove that it was all hand painted.

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São Bento Train Station


Around the corner from São Bento, you’ll see the fanciest Mc Donald’s ever. This building used to be the Imperial Café in the 1930’s. It was restored by the city but no local business owner could afford it. Oporto’s administration agreed to sell the building to the well known fast food franchise under the condition of maintaining the building as is. The food and prices are the same, with a few Portuguese pastries included. If you’re into beautiful cafes, don’t skip a visit to Majestic Café or Café Guarany, both really close by and also totally worth a visit.


Food

An important dish from Oporto is the Francesinha, a calofrancesinharie overload type of sandwich layered with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (smoke-cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika), fresh sausage like chipolata (thin and short sausage), steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce similar, in consistency, to gravy. It is typically served with french fries and a fried egg on top. The flavor of the sauce varied since every restaurant had its own recipe. An affordable restaurant near the river and the Dom Luís Bridge is Restaurante Verso Em Pedra. Expect huge portions. Big enough to share one Francesinha between two people since it’s such a rich dish.

Another typical Portuguese dish is the Bifana, basically a pork sandwich. The pork steak is seasoned and marinated for sometime, making it a bit spicy. The bread is a simple white bread roll, that ends up being moistened with the pork steak sauce. Apparently, the south of Portugal has a different recipe, where the pork is less spicy and tastes more like mustard. I personally detest mustard but love spicy food, so the version I tried in Oporto was not only delicious, but the meat was oh so tender and the bread was so soft and freshly made. It paired great with a Super Bock, a great Portuguese beer. Pictures don’t do this sandwich justice, so I suggest you try it before judging it by its basic appearance. A great place to try out this simple yet very tasty sandwich is Casa GuedesCafe Piolho also serves this delicious sandwich and other typical Portuguese dishes like the green vegetable soup served as a popular side dish.

“I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people
wanting to offer you the best, always.”

Portugal, in general, is also famous for its fresh seafood. Codfish (Bacalao) is the fish of the region and quite affordable. I had it mediterranean style (grilled) quite a few times and even had a waiter tell me once “I’m sorry but our fish is not too fresh today.” So I asked “Why? How old is it?” and his answer was “It was caught yesterday.” I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people wanting to offer you the best, always.

Nightlife
Drinking in public is permitted in Portugal. Locals start and end the night by drinking next to the fountain with the two lions, Fonte dos Leões. You’ll find plenty of bars near this fountain. I recommend starting the night at Porto Tónico. I am not a fan of the Porto wine, since I find it to be too sweet for my taste, but Porto Tonics are delicious! They’re so refreshing, just the right amount of sweet and something you won’t find anywhere else. If you prefer craft beers, you’ll find a great place a 5 minute walk away called Catraio. On a sunny day, I recommend you enjoy a cocktail at the garden in Base Porto.
If you feel like dancing, I had a lot of fun at Plan B Club. When I went, they played electronic and Latin music. Even if you don’t enjoy dancing, you’ll be entertained by the laser show displaying several images, a very unique touch in my opinion. Although, a bit busier, I also had a lot of fun at The Wall. None of these clubs charged a cover and their mixed crowd, locals and tourists, made for a very interesting and fun night where I got to dance with people from different parts of the world.

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View from Gaia

Wine tasting in Gaia
Across the Duoro River you’ll find Gaia. You must hike up the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar. This is one of the best view points where you can appreciate the bridge and all of Oporto. When you cross the Dom Luis I Bridge, be mindful of the fact that you’re sharing the “road” with the tramway. Tourists stop anywhere along the bridge to take pictures without realizing how narrow the pedestrian path actually is once the train passes by.

Gaia,  is known for its vineyards and wineries along the river. As I mentioned, I personally do not enjoy Porto wine. I realized this after a 3 hour long wine tasting tour in Gaia but I truly enjoyed visiting the wineries. They’re all so different, some have terraces next to the river and one even had a rooftop bar and Virtual Reality set where you could “fly” above Oporto. Some of the most famous are SandemanCalemOffley, among others.

No matter what time of the year you visit, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy your time in Porto since it’s such a beautiful city with so much to offer. Even if the rain is pouring down, there are plenty of cozy cafés and restaurants to enjoy the local delicacies. Have fun and remember to always BE PRESENT.

 

 

 

 

Teide

Tenerife is known for its microclimates and diverse vegetation. Near the center of the island lies the biggest attraction of Tenerife, its volcano Teide, which you can see from almost any point in the island. This in itself, is a day trip or a few days trip if you are really into hiking. The regional parks surrounding Teide vary in a lot in views, vegetation, hiking difficulty, weather, etc. Most viewpoints are only accessible by car since there is only one “guagua” (bus) going to the cable car on Teide.

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Exploring Teide and its surroundings

How to get to Teide:
If you’re planning on making it to the peak of the volcano, you have to reserve a permit allowing you to enter the hiking path towards the peak. You need to reserve this at least 2 months prior to your visit. You can reserve it by clicking here.
If there are no more permits available and you really want to make it to the peak, you can book a tour with a third party, fyi… it’s a bit pricey. Tours to the peak are around €60. A company I recommend and have used before in other countries is Viator.
You can also go near the peak without the permit for €27 EUR roundtrip by taking the Cable Car. The officials instructions on how to get to the cable car by car or bus from either the north or south side of the island are here.  There is only one bus around 9am getting there, and the departing bus around 4pm. Details below.

Getting there by bus from the north side of the island: Bus Line 348  Puerto de  La Cruz – Las Cañadas del Teide (www.titsa.com). Departing: 09:15am from Puerto de la Cruz, with a stop in La Orotava, Montaña Blanca and Teide’s cable car. The return bus leaves from the cable car at 4pm (16:00)

Getting there by bus from the south side of the island: Bus Line 342 Playa de Las Américas – Las Cañadas del Teide (www.titsa.com). Departing at 09:15 am from Las Américas, with a stop at Los Cristianos at 9:30am. The return bus departs from the cable car at 3:30pm (15.30).

Driving up Teide is like entering the Twilight zone. First you see palm trees, then pine trees and the closer you get to the peak, the more dessert vibes you get with so many huge rocks and succulent plants. I was at awe with all the sudden changes and beautiful landscapes. Another way of exploring Teide is by hiking the regional parks. I recommend Anaga Regional Park. There’s different paths you can take with a range in difficulty, length and views. You can inquire about the hiking paths in the Anaga information point. There’s parking for your convenience and an amazing view point from the parking lot. The main road to get there is the TF-12 road from La Laguna, which goes past Las Mercedes; and the TF-12 road from San Andrés, if you are coming from Santa Cruz. You can get there by private vehicle and by public transport.

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Mirador in Anaga Regional Park

There are also some stargazing tours around Teide at night. A local mentioned that it’s so clear, you can even see the Milky Way during the summer. If you decide to wait for darkness and enjoy this majestic night sky with its mesh of stars, I recommend you stay the night. The streets are not light and it’s quite dangerous driving down that windy road in complete darkness with opposite side traffic. A quiet and small, but nice hotel near the the cable car is Parada de Cañadas del Teide. It’s across the highway from some impressive rocky magma rocks with an amazing view. A fellow tourist mentioned how this specific area is popular because it’s the image seen in the old Spaniard bills. More specifically, the 1,000 pesetas bill.

Expect the climate to be cooler in the Regional Parks and near the peak. The higher up you go, the chillier it gets. Bring enough layers, water, snacks and a camera. Wear comfortable and warm clothes, as well as shoes with a good grip since you’ll be walking on gravel, rocks, etc. Cellphone service is spotty up there so I recommend downloading the map in your phone so you know how to get back. However you decide to visit Teide, I hope you enjoy this majestic location at its fullest. When you’re up there breathing the fresh air and gazing upon the stunning views, remember to be leave all other thoughts behind and enjoy the moment. Always be present.