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.