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…”

Famous Neighborhoods & Where to Stay
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, and 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 and 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 def cheaper to take a beer from literally anywhere (souvenir shop, food market, train station…) and enjoy it while overlooking the canal.
Nyhavn

There’s a few cafes, restaurants and shops, including the sale of marijuana.

Christiana
Front of a shop in Christiana

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 the wide variety of impressive art, including murals and sculptures. There’s a few cafes, restaurants and shops, 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 ones. All the money spent here stays in the community and serves its residents.

The Meatpacking District is in the district of Vertrebro and is next to Central Station. This neighborhood is very centric. I recommend staying 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
I tried and recommend Vesterbro Chinese Food (that’s the restaurant’s actual name),   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 and to allow yourself to try different kinds. Beware of the 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. 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.

Landmarks
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 near by. You’ll have to be patient if you want a picture with the statue, or of the statue with no one around.

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

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.

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Church of Our Savior

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.

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.

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 the some 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 museum with the crown jewels. If you’re interested in visiting you can find details on their website.

Rosenberg
Rosenberg Castle in King’s 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.  There were huge and beautiful tulips and lilies everywhere and some in colors I’ve never even seen them in before! I avoided paying the entrance free (about 12 EUR) until my last day in Copenhagen where my brother persuaded me to go in a rollercoaster with him for all times 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 in the city. There 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 blow 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.

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.

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.

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.

Getting around
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 and includes 1, 2 or all 3 zones. 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 live 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 were locals get their wedding photos taken since rain or shine, it’ll be safe in the greenhouse. Also, it’s worth nothing that there is a free and clean restroom available inside. A very important note when you’ve been exploring the city all day.

Next to the Winter Garden, you can walk over to Linnanmaki, a fairly large attraction park. Also worth nothing that the restrooms are clean and free, but most importantly, there’s a tall tower where you can get a panoramic view of the city. Entrance to the park and the tower is 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 was introduced to an amazing Finnish artist Iiu Susiraja. Her self-portraits are so thought and laugh provoking, I was truly inspired by her boldness.

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.

The islands

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 hoping 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. Also, we happened to passed 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…

Landmarks

There are two places that stayed with me from my visit: the Uspenski Cathedral and Sibelius monument.
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. Definitely worth the visit since it’s next to the port with the ferries departing for the islands, and also near the market.

Sibelius
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 has a magical feel 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.

What & where to eat
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, specially 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. They’re like 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.


Where to drink

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 the draft, 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. Enjoy your time in this beautiful city and always BE PRESENT.

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.

beers.jpg
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.

Havanna.jpg
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.

Porto Cristo.jpg
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

caves
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.

drach boat
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.

Train station
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.

 

 

 

 

Day Trips from Dublin

If you’re spending time in Dublin, please check out my post on my quick trip to this amazing city.

There are a few options of day trips from Dublin, but the most popular ones are The Cliffs of Moher and the Game of Thrones shooting locations. The roads in Ireland are narrow, windy and foggy so renting a car is not recommendable unless you are accustomed to driving in these conditions. There are plenty of companies offering bus tours that include a brief visit to small towns along the way.  The prices range from €40-60.  Below is the research I did before going to the Moher Cliffs.

Get Your Guide Viator Finn McCool
– Moher Cliffs – Moher Cliffs
– Kilmacduagh Monastery
– Doolin Village
– Wild Atlantic Way
– The Burren
– Galway City – Galway City
– Galway
12 hours, 50 EUR
14 hours, 40 EUR
45 EUR

The differences between tours are minimal. I opted for the Viator tour, which turned out to be the same as Finn McCool since our buses had the Finn McCool logo on them, and the itinerary was the same as their website.

What you need to know:
No matter when you go, take a wind breaker or a raincoat. Umbrellas are practically useless against the strong winds nears the cliffs and beaches. If you go in the winter, there are not enough layers to keep you warm. Make sure you carry a beanie, gloves and boots. Your tennis shoes/sneakers/trainers, or whatever you want to call them, will get wet. Your chances of slipping in rocks or along the cliffs are larger with shoes that have no grip on the sole. Now, onto to the fun part…

monastery
The first stop was a quick one at the Kilmacduagh Monastery. An impressive and small cemetery next to the road towards The Burren. I personally enjoy visiting old cemeteries, especially medieval looking ones. This place is eerie and wonderful at the same time. It has a small church made out of stone. We were here for 15-20 minutes since the weather was bad. Strong winds and rain. You read about the monastery’s story here: http://monastic.ie/history/kilmacduagh/

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Fighting against the wind from the Cliffs of Moher

About 4 hours from departure, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher. The bus was already shaking from the strong December wind. We waited out the rain and wind inside the museum where you can take a green screen picture “in front” of the cliffs. Pretty useful since we didn’t get to spend much time outside admiring the cliffs. When we finally stepped out of the building and head towards the cliffs, I truly feared for my life. At first it seemed like a nice challenge to venture against the wind, but there were times when I thought that I would fly away. The wind pushed back even the strongest person. Imagine a 5 foot (1.5 meters) woman, fighting against mother nature for the sake of an adventure. The rain slapped your face repeatedly, still, we laughed at this situation and were grateful for a clear day. I was warned on the the biggest risk of visiting the cliffs… the fog which can impede you from seeing anything at all on certain days. So, I’ll take strong winds over fog since admiring those 300-million year old cliffs was more than words can describe.
wind
Three strong Latina warriors against that Irish wind

On our way to Galway City, we stopped by The Burren where the sun graced us with it’s presence. This beautiful place is a region in the southwest of Ireland known for the view below, a beach paved by limestone dating back to the ice age. Mind you step when walking in this bedrock of cracked limestone.
burren
The Burren

Not far from The Burren you can visit either Doolin Village or Galway City. I wish I would’ve chosen the tour stopping by Doolin Village since it’s known for its folklore and cute pubs. Galway is also charming small town but with more city vibes. For example, the mall. We spent most of out time in there due to the weather but there’s a small Christmas market, if you go in December. We explored it within 30 minutes or less. Here, I finally got to taste some authentic Irish coffee!
Galway
The Christmas Market at Galway

No matter where you go, no matter the weather… remember to enjoy every sip of that Irish coffee (or Guinness), remember to take a deep breathe of that fresh Irish air and remember to enjoy every moment of your trip. It’s your time to make the most out of this adventure that you’ve decided to embark on. Always, be present.
irish coffee

Dublin at Christmas time

I somehow convinced my friends to join me on a trip to Ireland in December. I had a long weekend and the flight from Madrid was short and affordable. I’m not sure if my Mexican/Californian blood is getting used to real winters or I overly prepared with a coat that barely allows for movement, but the cold Irish winter seemed bearable. Going to the Cliffs of Moher, of course, was a different story.  I will share my notes on this weekend getaway so you can take advantage of your time there.

To and from the airport
The airport is not too far from the city. The Airlink express (747) bus leaves every 15 minutes from the airport and will take you 30 minutes to arrive at the Gardiner Street stop, where most hostels and B&B’s are. This bus costs €7 for a single trip or €12 for a roundtrip. The last one departs from the airport at 12:30am (00.30).
Bus number 41 and 16 lead to O’Connell Street, which is near Dublin One Mall,  good centric point of reference. These buses cost €3.30 for a single journey and the driver accepts exact change only. Another option is the Aircoach, which runs 24 hours a day. It costs €8 for a single journey.
A taxi would cost €25 roughly to the city center. Lynk is a popular company and their phone number is 00 353 14600000. Uber is not commonly used, therefore, there aren’t many drivers out there.
All information and timetables can be found on each company’s website.

Landmarks
As always, I recommend a walking tour. This time I chose the popular SANDEMANs. They have free tours departing at 10am, 11am or 2pm (14:00) from Barnardo Square in front of City Hall. Check their website for updated times and departing locations.
Dublin is very walkable but be prepared for rain and wind, especially during the winter.

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Dublin Castle
Dating from 1204 it has 2 small museums and gardens. One of the gardens is small, cute and patio-like located on the rooftop. Perfect place to chill over the summer. Inside the castle, you can also find the Chester Beatty Library with cushions to seat and relax. I went here to warm up and rest after the walking tour.

temple bar
Temple Bar
Temple Bar, is not only a famous bar among tourists, it is also a popular neighborhood along the river. Its cobble stone streets give Dublin such an old timey and distinctive vibe along with the crowded pubs hosting live music.

Trinity College
Trinity College
This beautiful college is located in the center of Dublin, surrounded by many shops and restaurants. It’s a notorious tourist destination because of its library holding the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin dating back to the 9th century. I personally opted for not visiting the library despite hearing good things since I only had one day to explore the city. Another reason being that I’m on a budget and the €14 (€11 for students) entrance fee was not feasible. You can still appreciate the beauty of the campus for free.

Where to eat and drink
You’ll find delicious food in any pub. An important thing to remember though is that kitchens close at 9pm (21:00). Pints range from €5-7 depending on the beer and most pubs have a good selection of draught beers.

Cornucopia is famous amongst locals for its big portions of delicious and healthy food. You choose from several mouthwatering vegetarian and vegan dishes. The restaurant is large and homey. It has several dining areas and is decorated as if you’re having lunch or dinner at a relative’s home. Definitely my favorite place for food in Dublin.
Bunsen simple menu, good burgers.
There are many kebab places in Dublin, but Zaytoon is the most popular one. It’s not the cheapest option, but it has the freshest ingredients. They even have a salmon kebab! There’s a branch in Temple Bar.
For dessert, Murphy’s  is a must try while in Dublin. This ice cream parlor is known for its extravagant flavors, such as salt, gin, brown bread, etc.

Pubs
Porterhouse ended up being my go to pub. It’s a 3 story pub with a good selection of home brewed craft beers, good service, decent prices and great live music. It’s right around the corner of City Hall, also near Temple Bar.
The Brazen Head claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, dating back 1198. I only drank a pint of Guinness but the food looked amazing. A reservation is recommended for dinner time. Although it was not my favorite pub, I did enjoy relaxing by the fireplace. There’s live music every night at 9:30pm (21:30).


The Wild Duck an expensive but gorgeous pub in Temple Bar. It’s quite big so you have a bigger chance of finding a seat. As in any pub, the decorations are plenty and random, but I liked the art in the Wild Duck the best. I was especially attracted to the entrance which was filled with lights during Christmas. It made it hard to miss despite it being located in a small alley.
Mulligan’s is an 18th century riverside pub frequented by an older crowd of locals, hence a chiller vibe. The decorations are simple, unlike the bars on Temple Bar but without lacking a good selection of draught beers.
McNeill’s is also frequented by locals since it has the cheapest pints (€4), but keep in mind they only accept cash. There’s live music on Thursdays at 9:30pm (21:30).
Copper Face Jacks was recommended by a local as THE club to dance in Dublin. Also serving lunch.

Museums are free!
All of the national museums are free! These are the National Gallery (next to Trinity College), the Irish Whiskey Museum, the Archeological Museum, which is next to the National Library, and the Collin Barracks Museum, exhibiting military uniforms and replicas of weapons.

In general, Dublin is an expensive city, but it has so much to offer in return. In other countries, you normally pay a cover at a bar if there’s a local band playing while running the risk of them not being any good. In Dublin, there’s no such risk. Not only are the shows free, but the musicians are also talented, at least, in my experience. I really loved the random decor in most pubs, the variety in beer, the amazing food and portions, as well as the friendliness of the local islanders.