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.

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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.

 

Tenerife, Isla Canaria

It was December in Madrid and I decided to escape the cold winter by visiting my first Spanish island. I’ve heard great things about the weather in Tenerife and how it has micro climates, making it always beach weather. The more research I did, and the more advice I received, the more I realized this trip wouldn’t be as easy as other cities in Europe where I get to know the city, and see all that is worth seeing with a walking tour. There is no metro in the island, only “guaguas” (buses). These are reliable but since they connect long distances, they don’t run as often as city buses in big cities.

The island is divided by the north and south side. They’re so different it almost seems like a different island. Sometimes, I even forgot I was still in Spain, specially in the south, which is overflowing with tourists from England, Ireland and Russia.

Near the center of the island lies the biggest attraction of Tenerife, its volcano Teide, which you can see from almost any point in the island. This in itself, is a day trip or a few days trip if you are into hiking. Check out my blog post on Teide for advice on visiting this volcano.

North Tenerife
The neighborhood of La Laguna is a must when visiting the north side of Tenerife. It’s a short 10min drive from the North Tenerife Airport. You can get a taxi at the airport. It shouldn’t be more than 11. If you land in the southern airport, but prefer to start your trip in the north, here’s how to get from South Tenerife Airport to La Laguna: 
1. Take the 111 guagua (bus) to Santa Cruz. It costs approximately €9.
2. About an hour later, arrive at the bus station in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Take the 015 bus to La Laguna.
3. It’s a 15 minute walk to the Cathedral, a centric point in La Laguna.

la laguna
Stunning mural in San Cristóbal de La Laguna

You can quickly walk through the center of La Laguna around Iglesia de Concepción and admire the colorful aesthetic of the buildings and discover the street art decorating different areas of the neighborhood. There are so many restaurants and cafés in the area that your only concern will be deciding on one. At night, I really recommend El Rincón de TinTinthis is where the locals go enjoy craft beers from all over Europe at an affordable price. Some nights you’ll be blessed with great live music. I was lucky to have heard an amazing blues band.

La Laguna is known for its great hiking paths and because of it’s proximity to the beach of Las Teresitas within a 20 minute drive of the center of La Laguna. A beautiful contrast of mountains and beach which reminded me of California because of the succulent plants growing next to palm trees. I also recommend driving or hiking up to the view point, El Mirador Las Teresitas. Beautiful views, especially during sunset. It reminded of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

 

mirador las teresitas
El Mirador de Las Teresitas

Another short drive from La Laguna or Santa Cruz is Puerto de la Cruz; a stunning beach, popular by it’s black sand and lively boardwalk. This area is a bit more touristy. The restaurants and bars had an older crowd. Still, the exfoliating black sand was impressive, but I’m sure it gets really warm by absorbing all the sun rays in the summer.

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Sand art in Puerto de la Cruz


Garachico
is a small but pretty town known for its natural rocky pools, which were created by lava from the volcano. Worth visiting if you have the time. 
La Caleta, is another rocky beach worth checking out, but not somewhere where you could lay down in the sand since there’s an abundance of rocks.

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Jardin Victoria in La Orotava

La Orotava, is one of the cutest Spanish towns I’ve seen. You can do a DIY walking tour in about 2 hours. We started the day by parking near the houses then walking to the tourism office. There, we were provided a map with many landmarks that were walking distance from each other. Among them the Jardin Victoria, the museum Casa de los Balcones, and you have some amazing ocean views from Molino de Gofio. From La Orotava we drove up to Santa Ursula, less than 15mins away. We were hunting for the famous “guachinches”.

The Food
Eating at a Guachinche is the most local thing you can do in Tenerife. These are small restaurants in people’s houses. They have a set menu based on what they fished that morning and they’re located near the town of La Orotava, in San Ursula. There were also a few in La Orotava. I recommend a car for this trek since it’s high up in the mountain. There are many Guachinches in the area, the best way to decide on one is to ask a local. We heard several recommendations but opted for the only one opened on January 2nd.

Seafood is popular in Tenerife for obvious reasons. You can order a grilled-mediterranean style fish, or bathed in sauce. Rabbit seemed to also be a common dish in the north. The most iconic side dish is “papas arrugadas”, these are boiled potatoes with “mojo”. Mojo is a very delicious sauce that goes amazing with many things, especially seafood. There’s the green one, which is cilantro, garlic, oil and other spices. The red one tends to be spicier. Every restaurant seemed to have their own mojo recipe, encouraging us to try all of them. I apologize for not having any food pics, but my mind was focused on only one thing whenever food arrived. You gotta trust on this one, everything was delicious.

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Twilight in Costa Adeje, South Tenerife

South Tenerife
Costa Adeje is a popular destination in south Tenerife because of its abundance in beaches, as well as shops, restaurants and bars. Definitely a very touristy area. Never had I seen so many Irish people gathered together in the same place. Not even in Dublin! where I found a more international crowd. My friends and I walked into “Temple Bar” in Tenerife and we were the only two black haired people in that pub. We had a great time but we didn’t get to meet any locals in this area. Expect the same all over Avenida de las Americas, a popular strip that despite the tourist prices, it wasn’t as expensive as other main cities in Spain. You can find many British pubs and if you’re looking to dance the night away, there are many clubs in the area, among the most popular ones are Papagayo Beach Club,  TIBU, and Envy.

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Los Gigantes

Los Cristianos is another lovely beach frequented by tourists. It’s walking distance from Costa Adeje and Playas de las Americas.  If you have a car or the time to take a “guagua” to Los Gigantes I truly recommend it. The trip was easy and cost roughly 4 and took about 30-40 minutes one way. We took one big green bus from Playa de las Americas to the Los Gigantes bus stop. The cliffs, aka “Los Gigantes”, are huge and beautiful. I suggest walking up to the viewpoint, El Mirador Archipenque. You can also hike around the cliffs, but a tour guide is recommended if you’re not an experienced hiker. This whole neighborhood has many family-owned restaurants with authentic and delicious “mojo” recipes. We met the owner of El Pescador, an authentic Canarian restaurant with ocean views. He spoke about how he’s related to every staff member in the restaurant and how he’s daughter is teaching Chinese in the U.S. Quite an interesting experience. He definitely made us feel like another member of the family.

La Gomera is the closest island to Tenerife and can be visited in a day. You can easily see it from Los Cristianos beach in the south of Tenerife. The ferry departs from Los Cristianos port and arrives, an hour later in La Gomera. 2 companies connect both islands: Fred Olsen and Armas Naviera.

TL,DR… Tenerife is amazing! Even if the flight is expensive, the island is not. The weather is great, even if the north was a bit chilly. Don’t be discouraged from learning that you either need a car or patience for the Guagua (bus). There’s something for everyone in this island, so I hope you you’re able to visit and enjoy every moment just like I did.

 

 

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.

Dublin Castle.jpg
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.

Zaragoza & Las Fiestas del Pilar

Spain has many festivities throughout the year. A good way to celebrate the beginning of Autumn is by visiting Zaragoza in Aragón during Las Fiestas de la Virgen del Pilar in mid-October. Zaragoza is a gorgeous small town between Madrid and Barcelona.  It’s possible to see it in a day or you could also stay the weekend. Beware, that’s “puente” weekend, meaning that it’s a long weekend, so travel and lodging prices might be higher than usual.

Below are only a few of the many places to visit in Zaragoza:

basilicaBasílica del Pilar
Stunning Renaissance Basilique. It holds Goya paintings and concerts inside. Check the schedule here. The best views are from the bridges. There’s also a path along the river where you can appreciate the reflection of the Basilique almost geometrically aligned with the actual Basilique.

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  • Puente de Santiago & Puente de Piedra
    Both these bridges offer amazing views of the Basílica del Pilar
  • Plaza del Pilar
    Both bridges lead to La Plaza del Pilar where most of Las fiestas happen. The parade ends here since the Basilique is in the Plaza.
  • The parade
    If you go during the festivities you’ll be able to see the Reinassance outfits of the local families marching from Plaza España to the Basilique where they offer flowers to La Virgen del Pilar.
  • Plaza España
    It feels like every city in Spain has a Plaza España, including Mexico, but they vary so much in size and aspect. You’ll find many shops and restaurants here.

    teatro

  • Museo del Teatro de Cesaragusta
    Ruins from the theater during the Roman Empire. It’s fun walking around it and pretending you’re in the middle of the ring with a crowd surrounding you. The museum is free during the festivities. You can check out prices and hours on their website.

  • Palacio Aljafería
    A UNESCO World Heritage-11th century palace with Moorish influences. As of October 2018 prices are 1 EUR for student and 5 EUR General Admission. Consult prices and schedules on their website.
  • Food truck garden
    Along the main road that goes from Plaza del Pilar to the Palacio de Aljafería, we found a food truck garden. It had craft beers brewed by Ambar. As well as trucks with food from all over the world. This area was not as busy as the city center so it was easier to find seats and relax.
  • El Tubo Quarter (Tapas District)
    Narrow pedestrian road with many local bars and restaurants. Most bars have affordable drinks and gorgeous gardens. It leads to Plaza España.

Zaragoza has many other museums including the Archeological & Fine Arts Museum and the Goya Museum. It also has lively and friendly locals who pour out of the many cafes and bars. It is a small city but with plenty to do over a weekend. My favorite moment in Zaragoza was admiring the Basilique from the path along the river. I can’t decide if it was more beautiful during the day or at night. I’ll let you be the judge. Enjoy your time in this magical town and remember to enjoy yourself even when trying to get through a crowd or parade in a narrow-cobblestone road. Remember you’re looking at everything for the first time. BE PRESENT!