Nantes, The Best of This French Hidden Gem

Nantes left an impression on me despite its gloomy weather so much so that I’ve been here both during Christmas time, as well as summer. This college town offers so many attractions as well as good public transport. I’m a sucker for Belgian beer and Nantes’ Delirium Cafe was never as crowded as the original in Brussels. Surprisingly, Nantes is the sixth biggest city in France, yet it does not have many international tourists.

What to Eat in Nantes

The center is pretty walkable with plenty of restaurants where to try the famous Gallete Bretonne (salty crêpe), as well as the Kouign-amann (buttery cake) aka Bretonne Cake, pronounced “Queen Aman”. Don’t forget to pair your Gallete with the Bretonne cider. A small but great spot in the center is Crêperie Au Vieux Quimper.

L’Epicerie is a cozy and delicious tavern looking restaurant that is opened late and serves delicious and local food. A good option for a cute date night. I can’t even remember what I had, but I do remember it was cheesy and damn delicious. Sorry for the blurry pic, but I also remember being really hungry after the first spot we stopped by had no tables available on a Saturday night. Always a good idea to try to make reservations!

L'Epicerie
L’Epicerie

What to See in Nantes

 stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre et Saint-Louis is beautiful and has an amazing show during Christmas season. The front of the cathedral serves as a canvas where stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music. Not that it was related to Christmas, but I saw exotic birds flying in a forest, among other landscapes. You can get a glimpse of this odd but beautiful show in my Instagram Highlights.

Catedral
Cathédrale with Christmas light show

Another beautiful landmark in the center of Nantes is the Castle of the Duques, shown as the Feature Image on this post. There’s an entrance fee but if you have the time, I truly recommend exploring this Château (castle). It is not far from the train station, so definitely worth a visit, if you have an hour to kill.

One of the most visited areas in Nantes apart from the castle is the Passage Pommeraye. This Renaissance-inspired mall is quite fancy. I personally do not care for high-end brands, but walking through this mall was free and offered many great selfie corners. It is beautifully decorated during Christmas as well.

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Passage Pommeraye


Last but not least, my favorite place in Nantes, even more so than Cafe Delirium, is
Les Machines de l’Île, The Machines of the Island. This place is hard to describe, but it’s basically a steampunk paradise. There’s a gorgeous and sophisticated carousel with a variety of mechanical creatures. You can also ride through the center in a larger than life-size mechanical elephant. Or if you decide to pay the museum fee, you are also able to drive a mechanical spider and look at other mechanical animals such as hummingbirds. Even if you’re not into steampunk, this place is worth a visit when in Nantes. You don’t need to pay the entrance fee to appreciate most of the machines.

 

Where to Shop in Nantes

After living in a small town (Saint-Brevin-les-Pins) and riding horses every day for two weeks during my Workaway experience, I was in dire need of a new pair of jeans. Passage Pommeraye is not an option for my unemployed self, so I had to resort to the well-known chains such as H&M, Zara, Bershka, etc. You can find these stores, as well as some small locally own boutiques near the center on Rue de Calvaire. It leads to other small streets like Rue de Budapest. It’s all very walkable.

Where to party

I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of

Bar Tabarnak
Bar Tabarnak

Being that Nantes is a college town, some bars are more affordable but crowded with college students, especially on weekends. I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of their “vin chaud”, hot wine or mulled wine. One of my FAVORITE winter drinks!  Bar Tabarnak was quite spacious, with outdoor seating and friendly staff.

Le Chait Noir (The Black Cat) is a cool speakeasy type bar with live music and a good wine selection #France.

Delirium Café is always a good idea if you’re a beer fan. It’s a good spot to go as a group or start the night, maybe even a pre-dinner drink, or even after dinner, why not? I could have Belgian beers any time of the day (no judging please). If cocktails are your thing, La Ribouldingue, which is a way of saying “party” is a cool spot with a terrace and a DJ on some nights.

Whatever your reason may be for visiting this jolie ville of Nantes, you are guaranteed a memorable time. Enjoy your visit, bring an umbrella or raincoat and always BE PRESENT! Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more pics and other travel ideas.

Where to Eat and Drink in Madrid

I’ve made three posts on Madrid so far since I lived in this lively city for two amazing years. I don’t claim to know this city inside and out since there are new things popping up all the time, but I’ve listed the places I frequented making it “My Madrid”. For info on landmarks or for a brief and efficient visit, check out my first post. For insider tips on the city and best day trips check out the All You Need to Know About Madrid post. This one is for the foodies, a comprehensive list by neighborhood of my fave taverns, bars, holes in the walls, etc.

WHERE TO EAT

Lavapiés is a short walk from Sol and one of the most affordable neighborhoods near the center. It has numerous bars and restaurants to enjoy and is home to Tapapiés, a food (more specifically, tapas) fest celebrated in October. Many of the restaurants in the area offer a special and affordable (€1-2) tapa for the event. Beware of the many Indian restaurants in the area, most of them are tasteless.

Tapapiés
is how I found one of my favorite spots in Madrid, Toscanaccio, a small and family-owned Tuscan bakery. I honestly visited this place weekly. It is delicious, affordable, and offers veggie and vegan options. It has both savory and sweet choices. Besides Toscanaccio, I also frequented Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés.

This food market offers options from all over the world!

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Ceviche peruano in Mercado San Fernando (man butt not included)

My faves are, no doubt, the Mexican spot as well as the Peruvian since you’ll find delicious ceviche in the latter. The Mexican restaurant has amazing micheladas and several types of tacos, as well as tamales. Near it, there’s a Puerto Rican and Lebanese spot. This Mercado also has all types of Asian, including Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, etc. Check out their opening hours since its best to visit during the day.

Taberna Sanlucar
La Taberna Sanlúcar en La Latina

La Latina is near Lavapiés and it’s the most famous barrio for dinner. My favorite restaurant in this neighborhood is La Taberna Sanlúcar, which is a cozy and delicious tavern serving Andalucían food. The menu might take some time to decipher but the waiters are so kind and will gladly offer suggestions, I do recommend you try the “vino de Jerez”. Sanlúcar is next toOff Latina” which is a legit flamenco venue if you’re planning on catching a show.

Buo
Tortilla from Buo en La Latina (objects are larger than they appear)

If Tortilla (Spanish omelet) is on your list to try, which despite being egg-based is enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I suggest Buo. There’s one in La Latina and another in Chueca. It also has its sister restaurant, La Buha. Despite location, I never found any differences between the two. The one in La Latina has a terraza (outdoor tables), so you could enjoy your dinner outdoors when the weather permits, just beware that Spaniards are avid smokers. Buo has a large selection of ingredients for their large Tortilla and it’s only €10. It will feed at least 6 people. Another famous Tortilla spot is Pez Tortilla. There’s one in La Latina and another on Calle del Pez in Malasaña. Pez offers raciones (slices) of a wide selection of tortillas, as well as craft beer.

Extremeño
Tosta de Pulpo & Sangría Blanca, El Capricho Extremeño

El Capricho Extremeño is a must on Rastro days (Sundays) and only serves Tostas which is toasted bread with a variety of toppings. They also have a delicious white sangría that pairs great with the Tosta de Pulpo. La Extremeña offers veggie and vegan options. The line is long, but it moves fast since it serves pre-made toasts “To-Go”.

Also in La Latina, Lamiak has the best pintxos, which are bigger tapas from the north of Spain. It gets really busy so it’s best to arrive for US dinner time instead, considering that Spanish dinner time is between 9 and 10pm.

Txirimiri is a chain so there’s a few locations in different neighborhoods.  It serves Basque country cuisine and it has the best Solomillo I’ve ever had, which is a very tender beef bathed in a type of light gravy

Juana la Loca is near Sol and is a great place to go with groups. Reservations are available. The decor is very original and cute, but the real deal are the delicious and affordable tapas.

Los Artesanos 1902  Churros & Chocolate (fudge) are a thing in Spain, especially during cold weather. This place has the best chocolate I’ve had in Spain, taking into account that it’s a thick fudge for dipping, although some locals sip on it.

WHERE TO DRINK

Madrid has probably more bars than people, hence the long list below. I listed a few bars I frequented with the reasons why. Keep in mind that there’s a plethora of options depending on the kind of night, or day, you’re looking to have.

La Playa de Lavapiés is a bar frequented by locals that serves Estrella Galicia on tap. Believe me, it is much better than the popular Mahou. La Playa is not far from the Lavapiés metro stop and it’s on a popular street filled with bars and terraces, which are a hot commodity unless it’s raining since everyone wants to smoke and drink at the outdoor tables.

Chinaski
Beer Menu at Chinaski in Lavapiés

If you’re a craft beer lover, you need to stop by Chinaski. It is on Calle de la Fe and conveniently located across from Toscanaccio. Chinaski has plenty of indoor seating, perfect for a rainy or cold night, but the biggest attraction is the wide variety of European craft beer at affordable prices.

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Yayos at Casa Camacho

Casa Camacho is a landmark and a must when in Malasaña. A great way of starting the night in Madrid is with a “Yayo”, the staple of Casa Camacho. A Yayo is a small glass of  Vermouth, gin and tonic water. Beware of the alcohol content, don’t be fooled by its size.

Sala X1
Decor in Sala Equis

Sala Equis is an old porn cinema turned bar. It is difficult to describe this place since it is still a cinema but showcases modern films. Downstairs there is stadium seating with some lounge chairs facing a projected film. Upstairs is a bit more intimate and covered in red neon lighting. Cocktails are great and there’s a good selection of Spanish beers.

Pepe Botella is an indoor and typical tavern frequented by locals with plenty of seating. It is ideal for an intimate night with friends or a date.

Vacaciones Cocktail Bar is a cute but small summer-themed bar, great for dates too. Fyi, there’s more seating downstairs.

Ojalá is another interesting place in Malasaña, it is known as the “sand bar” because the floor is covered in sand. I’ve heard the food is good here but I’ve only been for drinks.

La Realidad was my go-to place, especially for dates since its corky decor and dim lighting make it a perfectly cozy place to get to know someone. It is also near, Pirata Malasaña, which is another one of my go-to craft beer bars, along with the recently opened Mikkeller Madrid.

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Stranger Things decor at Twist&Shout

Next to Malasaña, you’ll find the famous ChuecaI could write a whole post about this popular neighborhood, but I’ll stick to mentioning one of my favorite, and the nerdiest bar in Madrid. Twist&Shout is decorated with Sc-Fi and comic book fandom. The drinks are themed as such, and you’ll find anything from Butter Beer to Game of Thrones and Disney themed shooters.

Fuencarral street is known for its many shops during the day, but further up towards Tribunal metro stop, it is known for its lively nightlife. You’ll find a mix of locals and expats in this area, drinking at bars such as Freeway, Triskel Tavern, or dancing the night away at La Vía Láctea, unless you’re looking for a club, then Teatro Barceló is nearby.

BEST COFFEE SPOTS

HanSo Café  best avocado toast I’ve ever had! Free Wi-Fi and great place to work in Malasaña. Just remember that it’s pronounced “wee-fee” in Spain.

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Cafelito with Sarah ❤

Cafelito, cozy and cute coffee shop in Lavapiés with an affordable  and wide menu, including all types of plant-based milks. Conveniently near Toscanaccio, my fave Tuscan bakery.

La Doña is quite affordable, centric, and spacious. it is located next to the Noviciado metro spot. It has plenty of seating and a clean bathroom. The only downside is that the Wi-Fi is limited to about an hour per visit.

Wherever you go and however long you stay in Madrid, you are guaranteed a good time. This city has something for everyone and I hope my list serves as a guide for an unforgettable time. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more pics & travel ideas. Enjoy beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT!

How to Make the Best of a Few Days in Copenhagen

Copenhagen has something for everyone, street art, craft beer, beautiful views, colorful neighborhoods, a themed park that leaves Disneyland in the dust, a sense of community, and even, good ‘ol Mary Jane 🌿.

I list the coolest neighborhoods and landmarks, tell you how to get there and for how much, as well as share some of the best places to eat and drink, which were recommended by locals. And last but not least, you’ll read about how to legally get marijuana in Copenhagen (but technically not Copenhagen).

Famous Neighborhoods in Copenhagen

Nyhavn

When I first moved to Madrid from Los Angeles, I had a 5-hour layover in Copenhagen. I saw how easy and quick it would be to go from the airport to the city, so I went for it, suitcase and all! I took the metro to Nyhavn, which translates to New Port. This area reminded me a bit of Amsterdam because of the canal and numerous cyclists, but Nyhavn’s canal is much wider, surrounded by colorful buildings and flooded by tourist boats. Definitely check out this area but beware that the bars and restaurants along the canal are tourist traps, in other words, overly expensive. Drinking in public is legal so it’s a good idea to get a beer from literally anywhere (souvenir shop, food market, train station…) and enjoy it while overlooking the canal.

You’ll find a few cafes, restaurants, and shops in Christiana

including the sale of marijuana.

Christiana
Front of a shop in Christiana

Two years later, I’m back in Copenhagen with more time to explore. My first stop is the neighborhood with the most street art! Christiana is only a 15-minute walk from Nyvhan and a MUST when visiting Copenhagen. “Christiana is an autonomous society where each individual can freely develop under the responsibility of the community.” There’s a palpable sense of community when you walk in. I enjoyed strolling around this neighborhood and taking in the diverse and large amount of impressive art, including murals and sculptures.

You’ll find a few cafes, restaurants, and shops in Christiana including the sale of marijuana. Yup, totally cool since this is an autonomous community with its own rules. The restaurants, bars, and shops vary from more affordable than the rest of Copenhagen to more high-end places. All the money spent here stays in the community and serves its residents. Something worth noting is that there are no pictures allowed, except for a few shops which will have a sign posted allowing you or not to take pictures. Be respectful of this when visiting Christiana.

The Meatpacking District is in the district of Vesterbro and next to Central Station. This neighborhood is very centric. I recommend lodging in this area, especially if you’re only visiting for a few days since its home to the trendiest bars, restaurants, and cafes. Some are actually affordable and there’s a wide variety of places for all types of tastes.

Where to Eat in Copenhagen

I recommend Vesterbro Chinese Food (that’s the restaurant’s actual name) is quite, quaint and surprisingly for a Chinese Restaurant, it has offers good cocktails. Hyggestund has a great brunch menu and outdoor seating for summer days and it’s right next to Mikkeller Bar.

Mikkeller is a microbrewery founded in Copenhagen that has become internationally popular. I first tried it in San Diego, California, but have also visited their branches in Los Angeles and Madrid. You’ll find that they have MANY different types of beers. Do not feel overwhelmed, you can ask the bartender for a taster or get a small glass to start with to allow yourself to try different kinds. Beware of the high alcohol percentage, it will be written on the board.


For the freshest, most legit Mexican restaurant in Copenhagen, you have to visit La Neta. The rumor is that the founder of Mikkeller visits Mexico so often (makes sense since he was breweries in California) that he hired a chef from Oaxaca to open La Neta in Copenhagen.  The tacos and quesadillas are sooo good, just like they would be at home (remember I’m Mexican). The best part is the salsa bar! It has many different types of salsas ranging from what I called the “no pica” (mild) one to “no mames” (spiciest). La Neta also offers delicious vegan options.

The decorations also brought me home, along with the cumbia playing in the background. Of course, they only difference from taquerías back in Mexico is the price per taco. Converting from DKK they’re around 3 EUR each. Still, that’s a price I’m willing to pay for good Mexican food while living abroad.

The Best Landmarks in Copenhagen

Little Mermaid
Apretando la sonrisa, because I can’t keep a straight face.

The Little Mermaid statue is not in the center, but not far from Central Station. It’s about a 20-minute metro ride. You can take any line (metro or train) 2-3 stops (2 for train, 3 for metro) to Østerport then walk towards the port. There’s not much to see in this area, but the statue is in a park facing the ocean, so a picnic is a good idea if the weather allows for it. Be mindful that the statue is small but the crowds might not be, especially if there are tour buses parked nearby. You’ll have to be patient if you want a picture with the statue, or of the statue with no one around.

The Royal Library is locally known as “The Black Diamond” since its Copenhagen’s new pride and joy. It’s a very modern and beautiful glass building by the river. I definitely recommend this place to watch the sunset. Check out their website for visiting hours.

Børsen has one of the trademarks that makes Denmark’s architecture stand out and it’s what I call the “unicorn horn”. A twisty and pointy tower erected from almost every building. Turns out that it’s a spire representing 4 intertwined dragon tails. You’ll also find dragons everywhere since it’s a symbol of the city.

 

 

Church_of_Our_Saviour_-_2013
The Church of Our Savior

Vor Frelsers Kirke (The Church of Our Savior) is a small church with an incredibly tall tower that is only open when there’s good weather since it goes really high up. Unfortunately, it was drizzling when I went so the stairs were closed. I’ve heard that the views are unreal from up there, definitely worth the 35 DKK (about 4.60 EUR) or 25 DKK with a student card. You can see if they’re open on their website.

Rosenberg
Rosenberg Castle in King’s Garden

Another good place to have a picnic is at the King’s Gardens. This is a pretty large park where to get lost in and admire unique sculptures, as well as the Rosenberg Castle. The castle is guarded off with a fence and soldiers, but you can pay to visit the inside of the castle, its gardens, and the museum where you can see the crown jewels. If you’re interested in visiting you can find details on their website.

Last but not least,one of the most gorgeous places in Copenhagen…

the Tivoli Garden

Last but not least, in my opinion, one of the most gorgeous places in Copenhagen is the Tivoli Gardens. I might be biased since I visited in spring when the gardens were in full bloom. I saw enormous and beautiful tulips and lilies everywhere. Some flowers were in colors I’ve never even seen before! I avoided paying the entrance fee (about 12 EUR) until my last day in Copenhagen when my brother persuaded me to go in a rollercoaster with him for all time’s sake. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to scream my heart out in a socially acceptable environment.

Tivoli Gardens
Entrance to Tivoli Gardens

Rumor has it that Walt Disney was inspired by Tivoli when creating Disneyland and I can certainly see the resemblance. For starters, the mascot at Tivoli is a monkey with red overalls and big yellow buttons. The park itself is divided into different sections, including a type of “tomorrow land” and every Saturday night, the park closes with a beautiful fireworks show that can be appreciated from the surrounding neighborhoods. Tivoli retaliates by selling Disney character merchandise.

Surprisingly, the prices inside the park are quite affordable compared to the city’s. Although the ride prices add up, food, drinks, and souvenirs are the cheapest I saw during my trip. There are also packages you can buy if you intend to go on many rides with the additional benefit of reentering the park as many times as you’d like.


You can find the entire list of places I’ve mentioned here, including some beautiful and peaceful cemeteries with cherry blossoms, which I believe bloom around February but the petals are quickly blown away by the Danish wind. Remember, you can download Copenhagen’s map on Google maps to save data. For instructions on how to download offline Google maps in your phone check out my The Essentials post. Follow me on Instagram joyzcortez for more pics and travel ideas.

Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer so I hope you enjoy every moment despite what the weather might offer.  Even when exhausted from walking all day remember to look up and take everything in… always BE PRESENT.

The Best of Helsinki, on a Budget

Spring in Finland was a beautiful experience despite the cold. Although it’s known for being an expensive city, my private tour guide (aka my Finnish friend) showed me there are many inexpensive and even free places in the city. I’ll list all you can do in Helsinki while on a budget and how to get around this stunning city.

Finnish Tradition

If you’re visiting when it’s cold, which statistically you will unless you visit in the heart of summer, you need to join in the Finnish tradition of sweating your butt off in a sauna. I’m lucky enough to have known a local who invited me to share in her apartment building’s sauna. There are many public options available. A famous one is Kotiharjun, keep in mind that it’s closed on Mondays.

How to Get Around in Helsinki

The metro and bus tickets can easily be purchased from your cellphone with the HSL app. You only need to show the online ticket to the bus driver or ticket controller in the metro. Honestly, I never got asked to show my ticket in the metro, but my local friend mentioned that the fines are quite high, so I rather pay the €2.80 one way or €8 for the full day and be on the safe side.

The more days you include in your ticket, the cheaper it is. The one-way ticket includes transfers since it’s valid up to almost 2 hours from purchase. Helsinki is divided into zones A, B, and C. For transport to and from the airport you need an ABC ticket. You can also map your route using the HSL app and it will show which is the quickest way to get there with public transport along with up to date time tables.

“Free” is my second favorite word.


FREE Places to Visit

“Free” is my second favorite word. The first one being “food”, of course.
If you travel loads or you’re on a budget here are some great ways to explore Helsinki.
There’s a small but cute botanical garden in Helsinki known as the Winter Garden with no entrance fee. You’ll find diverse flora, such as succulents that transported me back to Mexico, palm trees which reminded me of California, beautiful orchids, lilies… etc. This seemed to be the place where locals get their wedding photos taken since rain or shine, it’ll be safe in the greenhouse. Also, it’s worth noting that there is a free and clean restroom available inside. A very important note when you’ve been exploring the city all day.

If you’re in Helsinki on the first Friday of the month,

you can enter any museum for free!

Iiu
Iiu Susiraja, Finnish artist

If you’re in Helsinki on the first Friday of the month, you can enter any museum for free! I chose to check out Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art, where I immediately became a fan of the amazing Finnish artist Iiu Susiraja. Her self-portraits are so thought and laugh provoking, I was truly inspired by her boldness and colorful portraits.

There are many other museums to choose from such as the National Museum of Finland where you can learn about Finland’s history, including the civil war from where the bullet holes in certain monuments come from. There’s also the Finnish Museum of Natural History, famous for the sculptures of the coffee drinking-sun bathing giraffes on the balcony. Here is a list by Culture Trip of the best museums in Finland. If you’re undecided, you can see the current exhibits on display on the museum’s website or simply, flip a coin.

Island hopping in Finland is a thing!

How to Visit the Islands in Helsinki

When in Helsinki, a day trip to Suomenlinna island is a must. The ferry is not technically free but it is included with the metro day pass. You also have the option of going island hopping for €10, a good idea on a sunny day. Suomenlinna is a world heritage and an old army fortress where you can explore the old tunnels and touch the huge cannons (pun intended) facing the Baltic Sea. It also has some beautiful views and beaches where you can chill. Above all. we happened to pass by a pirate ship on our way back to land. Anything can happen in Helsinki.

There are two places that stayed with me from my visit…

Unforgettable Landmarks

There are two places that stayed with me from my visit: the Uspenski Cathedral and Sibelius monument.

cathedral
Uspenski Cathedral

After exploring so much of Europe, cathedrals rarely impress me anymore, but Uspenski was a breath of fresh air… literally, it’s next to the port.

This beautiful brick, turquoise and gold cathedral sits on top of a hill surrounded by boulders. The interior has a very minimalistic decor, definitely not what I am used with Spanish, Italian, French or Belgium cathedrals. It is easy to locate since it’s next to the port with the ferries departing for the islands, and also near the market.

Sibelius
Sibelius monument from behind

It’s hard to believe that the Sibelius monument was built in the 60’s since the design looks so modern and it’s 600+ metal pipes look shinning new.

It gives a magical feeling because it seems to be floating above the water when seen from a distance facing the lake. Jean Sibelius is a Finnish classical music composer during the romantic era. The monument was built by Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen. A smaller version of the monument sits in the United Nations building in NYC.

The Best of Finnish Food

Cinnamon buns! These are not as sweet as the American version since they’re less glazy and more cinnamony, which I adore. Cinnamon is life for me, especially in coffee, so few things are better than Finnish coffee with a cinnamon pastry…. except, of course, for tacos.
Another must-try are the potato and rice cakes. Imagine open-faced empanadas filled with either mashed potatoes or rice. The best way to have them is with the eggy butter, which is literally melted butter mixed with mashed hard-boiled eggs. You can find these cakes in the market near the port, but they are much more affordable at supermarkets, although you’ll need to make the eggy butter yourself. Definitely an easy recipe.

Salmon and Reindeer are very common in Finland. You’ll even find reindeer kebabs in the market, as well as their antlers for sale at the outdoor market. I didn’t have the heart to try the reindeer meat but I did have an amazing salmon burrito worth the €12 at Soma Sushiburrito. I also remember seeing a huge salmon sandwich in the market for only €6.

 

Alcohol is restricted in the city


Where to Drink in Helsinki

Helsinki is known as an expensive city, so expect to pay up to €8 or €9 for a beer. Also, alcohol is restricted in the city. Hard liquor, wine, and high percentage alcohol beers can only be bought at bars or in liquor stores which have limited opening hours.

If you’re into craft beers, I recommend B-Side Bar. It has a very chill vibe, friendly bartenders and it’s in an artsy square that holds concerts in the summer. Another artsy and lively area in the summer is Kulttuuritehdas Korjaamo (cultural center). It is an old tram hall that is now used for outdoor drinking, music, art exhibits, food and it even has a movie theater. Definitely worth checking out during the summer or warmer days.

Another artsy and chill bar, despite the name, is Bar Molotov. The walls are covered with random stuff and you could spend the whole evening exploring all the knick-knacks used as decoration in this bar or you could also relax after a day of touring the city while playing board games and enjoying a long drink. This is a local specialty cocktail with gin and different flavors such as cranberry and grapefruit. Don’t expect anything fancy since it’s premixed and comes from a tap, still pretty good.

There’s quite a few bars, restaurants, and cafes you can check out on Vaasankatu street (where Bar Molotov is). It’s a hip area with some cool street art, worth exploring during the day or night.

For more activities in Helsinki, you can visit the city’s website. You can also save in Google maps all the list of all the places I’ve mentioned above. If it’s too cold to explore the city, I recommend taking a break in one of the many malls in the city. There are some underground ones with loads of restaurants and shops, including the famous Moomins stores. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas. Enjoy your time in this beautiful city and always BE PRESENT.

The Authentic Side of Brussels

Everyone knows to try Belgium chocolate, waffles and fries. But you might me surprised by how multiculturaly rich is Brussels, especially when referring to food. I was amazed to find such an open community, as well as unforgettable art at every corner. I’ll share how my perception went from fearful to this being one of my favorite cities. It was overwhelming at first, but it’s so easy to get around and meet people in the capital of the European Union.

Brussels at First Glance

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

My first perception of Belgium was 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 were several narrow streets brimming with souvenir and chocolate shops, as well as mediterranean restaurants, waffle and frites (aka french fries) stands and bars with a wide variety of Belgian beers.  Despite all this deliciousness, one of my main reason for visiting Bruxelles, besides Belgian beer, is 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 that is now pinned to my wall.

Bruxelles, land of TinTin and Delirium beer.

If you’re a fan of beer, Delirium alley is a must! In this alley you’ll find 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. 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


How to Get to Brussels

Something important to know is that Centraal Station is the closest to the city centre (closest to the Grand Place), there’s also 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.

What to See in Brussels

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Pissing Boy Statue

There are many famous monuments, parks and historical buildings to see, such as the pissing boy statue known as Manneken Pis and the pissing dog Zinneke Pis.

Just to mention a few more:

Brussels is definitely one of those cities where no matter where you turn or which street you take, you’ll find something interesting. Defintely a good idea to have your camera ready and charged at all times.

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 above. 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 the moment and the colorful sky. I also had a delicious chocolate covered waffle to keep me company ❤

Where and What to Eat in Brussels Center

You’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.

Gofre
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:

Here is the Google mpas list of every place mentioned in this post. 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. Follow me on Instagram joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas. I hope you make the best of your time in this amazing city and always, BE PRESENT.