Madrid like a local

My first Madrid post serves the tourist who’s visiting for a few days. It gives basic info on the MUSTS in Madrid such as Rastro, which is the Sunday flea market. As well as a DIY walking tour of landmarks in the city center. I also listed some amazing places to visit outside the center for you to pick from.

The second post is on Where to Eat & Drink in Madrid. A comprehensive list of my fave spots I frequented during my two years living in this lively city.

“This post focuses on the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid,
as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local.”

BEST BARRIOS IN MADRID

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

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

“If you’re a risk taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats…”

Plaza 2 de mayo
Botellón @ Plaza Dos de Mayo

If you’re a risk taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats, then stop by Plaza Dos de Mayo in Malasaña. Beware, it smells like piss most of the time. The reason being that this is the most popular area for “botellón” which is the Spanish tradition of sitting and drinking on the street. It is not legal to do so, but most days, the police looks the other way. Police cars will show up later in the night to disperse the crowd so as to avoid noise complains, and I have heard stories of people who have been fined in this plaza, so this is an “at your own risk” experience.

La Latina is the neighborhood for foodies. It is home to the many restaurants in taverns for all tastes and budgets. I made a list of my fave restaurants in this area including El Buo and La Taberna Sanlúcar in the Where to Eat and Drink in Madrid post. For drinks, I recommend Hopper, which has amazing cocktails and a great happy hour. On hot summer nights, I went to the rooftop of El Viajero, just be mindful that you’ll have to be patient to get seated. Another great roof top that is frequented by tourists, since it belongs to a hostel, is The Hat. A cute place with a terrace near the metro stop is La Bobia, famous for its delicious and affordable Asturian cider.

There are infinite options to choose from in La Latina. You can walk around and look at the menus posted outside, just be mindful that most places close after lunch and open for late dinner.

PintaMalasañaMalasaña is home to numerous boutiques, bars, restaurants and local specialty stores, as well as a lot of original street art because of a festival called “Pinta Malasaña” where shop owners select an artist to decorate their store front. This fest is celebrated annually, keeping the art fresh and different every year, while making way to new local artists.

Malasaña is a cultural hub and also the home to the Conde Duque Cultural Center, which hosts all kinds of events. From art exhibits, to free concerts, even beer fests.

Goya
Plaza de Goya

Goya is a “pijo” area. Meaning that people with funds tend to live or visit this area. Hence, it is a bit posh but has the best stocked stores in my opinion. It is near Retiro park, so you could easily exit from the north side of the park and walk around Goya. The plaza is known for the Wizink Center where many international artists have performed. Unlike Gran Via, It is not usually crowded nor are the stores picked out. It is beautifully decorated during Christmas and there’s plenty of local restaurants, so this area definitely deserves a visit if you’re in Madrid for a longer stay.

 

 

 

 

Don’t buy day trip tour packages and don’t pay for museums.

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Museums are free during the last 2 hours.
    Arrive 30 minutes before the free hour (6pm or 7pm, depending on the day) to get in line. It will be long but it will move fast as soon as the doors are open for free visitors. Check each museum’s website for their schedule:

  • Thyssen Museum is free on Mondays but closes at 4pm.
  • History Museum of Madrid is always free
  • Avoid route buses during rush hour.
  • Avoid bocadillo de calamares.
    I love calamares but fried calamari on a dry baguette is not the best. Drier than a  torta de tamal.
  • Avoid taxis departing from the center.
    Use Uber or Cabify., they cannot enter the small streets but can pick you up on may avenues that are always near. Taxis tend to overcharge and taking longer routes, with the additional fee if you get picked up at the center.
  • Tap water is potable and tastes fine.
    Don’t pay for water, buy vermouth or wine instead.
  • Don’t buy day trip tour packages.
    These are sold at kiosks and they’re rushed and overpriced. It’s really easy to move around in train or bus to other cities. Below are the details on how to DIY day trips like to Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, Zaragoza and El Escorial/San Lorenzo from Madrid.
  • Spanish schedule:
    • breakfast 9-10am
    • lunch 3pm (shared raciones & tapas or menú del día)
    • dinner 9-10pm
  • Eggs are also for lunch and dinner
  • Paellas in Madrid tend to be frozen.
    It’s best to try it in Valencia or Murcía, even Andalucía
Toledo
Toledo. Castilla La Mancha

DAY TRIPS

Use the renfe website for checking train schedules. Cercanías trains move within the Comunidad de Madrid, meaning the outskirts. For example, you can take the Cercanías train to El Escorial which is still Madrid Comunidad, but it’s not Madrid city.

To visit Segovia or Toledo, you need a Long Distance train (tren de larga distancia) which is also renfe. If you want to go to Barcelona or Málaga, you can take the AVE, which is the fast train to further Comunidades. Barcelona being in Catalunya, for example and Málaga in Andalucía, but Segovia is Castilla León and Toledo y Castilla de la Mancha, which are the neighboring Comunidades to Madrid. Easiest way to understand this is imagining that the Comunidades are like States.

Once you’ve arrived in the station you can use public transportation to get to the city center or wherever your lodging is. To explore the schedules of metros and buses in Spanish cities or in other European countries I recommend using Citymapper and the Moovit app. You can see The Essentials blog post where I explain how to use these. Google maps tends not to have accurate info on buses in small cities like Toledo.

Feel free to reach me with any questions regarding travel within Spain, especially departing from Madrid. I was once a lost tourist and know the struggle. Spain is incredible easy to travel, not only because of its size, but also because its many transportation options within the country. You have the option of using low cost airlines, fast trains, comfortable buses and BlaBlaCar. This last one is a ride sharing app where you travel in a local’s car. Much more affordable and faster than other road transportation options.

Wherever you go, I am sure you will have a blast in this beautiful and diverse country. Enjoy every moment of your travels and always BE PRESENT!

Where to eat & drink in Madrid

I’ve made 3 posts on Madrid so far since I lived in this lively city for two amazing years. I don’t claim to know this city inside and out since there are new things popping out all the time, but I’ve listed the places I frequented making it “My Madrid”. For info on landmarks or for a brief and efficient visit, check out my first post. For insider tips on the city check out the Madrid like a local post.

WHERE TO EAT

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

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

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

Besides Toscanaccio, I also frequented Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés. This food market offers options from all over the world.

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

 

Taberna Sanlucar
La Taberna Sanlúcar en La Latina

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

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

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

 

 

 

Extremeño
Tosta de Pulpo & Sangría Blanca, El Capricho Extremeño


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

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

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

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

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

 

WHERE TO DRINK

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

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

Chinaski
Beer Menu at Chinaski in Lavapiés

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

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 7.59.45 PM
Yayos at Casa Camacho

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

Sala X1
Decor in Sala Equis

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

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

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

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

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

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Stranger Things decor at Twist&Shout

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

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

BEST COFFEE SPOTS

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Cafelito with Sarah ❤


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

Cafelito, cozy and cute coffeeshop in Lavapiés with an affordable  and wide menu. Conveniently near Toscanaccio, my fave Tuscan bakery.

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

Wherever you go and however long you stay in Madrid, you are guaranteed a good time. This city has something for everyone and I hope my list serves as a guide for an unforgettable time. Enjoy beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT!

Musts in Madrid

I’ve been postponing this post since I have so much to say about the city I called home for two years. So I decided to make at least two posts of Madrid. This one being about the best things to see and places to visit, including a DIY Walking Tour that I would give my friends when they visited.

DIY Walking tour in the city center

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Km 0 marks the geographical center of Spain

1. Start at Puerta del Sol
This is the busiest and most centric area in Madrid. It is also where you can find Km 0,  the point from which distances are measured in Spain.
The most tourist thing to do here is take a pic with the sculpture of the Madrileño bear. You’ll have to be patient since many tourists line up for this pic. I personally preferred the picture with Km 0, something that tends to go unnoticed.

 

 

 

 

Plaza Mayor 2
Plaza Mayor

2. Walk to Plaza Mayor
Take Calle Mayor towards Plaza Mayor and enter from any of the many of the passages leading to the Plaza. During the day, you’ll be able to appreciate the fresco-like painting covering the façades. It is also beautifully lit at night.

San Miguel
Bird’s eye view of Mercado San Miguel

3. Mercado de San Miguel
I had my first vermouth in Spain and my life will never be the same. This has become my drink of choice, and although Spaniards drink it as an aperitif, I drink it at any time of the day. There is a wide selection of types of vermouth in Mercado de San Miguel, starting from sweet, dry then bitter. My personal favorite is the “Andalucía” because is a good blend between sweet and bitter. Enjoy your vermouth with any of the many delicious tapas that the Mercado has to offer. You will need the strength to continue your walking tour. Remember to save your receipt since they’ll ask for it before entering the restroom, otherwise it’s ¢50 which is not bad if you are in dire need of a clean restroom in the center, but then you also have Corte Inglés for free.

 

Palacio
Behind the Royal Palace, above the gardens, sucking at posing

4. Sabitini Gardens & Royal Palace
The Sabitini Gardens are located behind the Royal Palace, which can be easily accessed without entering the palace. The best pics are from the stairs heading down towards the gardens.

5. Plaza España from behind
Walk out of the gardens and head towards Plaza España. There’s a monument of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza next to a pond on the back side of the Plaza. If it’s not too busy, you’ll be able to take pics with the monument without too many tourists around.

6. Parque del Oeste & Templo Debod
Enjoy the views from Parque del Oeste and, if you’re lucky, Templo Debod will have water. At sunset, the reflection of the temple can be appreciated along with the colorful sky. The temple was donated by Egypt and it’s a must see while in Madrid. The park hosts free concerts during the summer.

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Templo Debod in Parque del Oeste

7. Plaza España from the front
Walk back down to Plaza España, but this time walk in front of it, towards Gran Vía. This side has a large fountain representing the Birth of Water and other large sculptures. Definitely, more impressive with lights at night.

8. Gran Vía
Walk up to Gran Vía and check out the shops and theaters. I consider this area to be more beautiful at night with all the big city lights. If you plan on doing some shopping, most shops close around 9 or 10pm. Primark is a must if you want cheap shopping, but you have to be patient because this store will be crowded with every tourist in Madrid. Luckily, there’s toilets, Wi-fi, chargers and couches for shoppers to take a break. A local tip is to go pay and use the fitting rooms on the floor before the last. This is the floor with men’s clothes and home accessories.

Places to visit outside of the center

Retiro Estanque
Lake inside Retiro

Retiro
This is biggest park closest to the city center and it has several entrances. It is famous for the Crystal Palace and a lovely man-made lake where you can rent boats. The Crystal Palace is free and has a rotating art exhibit. Keep in mind there might be a long line to enter in peak season. Next to the Crystal Palace there’s the Palacio de Velázquez, a free museum. You can spend the whole day exploring Retiro and never get bored. There’s an innumerable amount of cool looking fountains (including one of the devil with its demons), gardens that look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, even peacocks.

Casa de Campo
This is another huge green area but it might be a bit dry if you go in the summer. Casa de campo is mainly for sports like biking and running, but it also has a beautiful lake surrounded by lounge chairs and restaurants. Inside Casa de Campo you can find one of the entrances to the Cable Car (Teleferico). You can either take it one way from Casa de Campo to Argüelles (where Parque del Oeste is) or viceversa. Roundtrip is 6 EUR as of summer of 2019.

Faro de Moncloa
Arco de la Victoria next to Moncloa Tower
Faro Moncloa Views
View from Moncloa Tower

Moncloa Tower (Faro de Moncloa)
Besides the cable car, another great way to overlook Madrid is Moncloa Tower, which is also near the center. It’s 3 EUR to go up an elevator and once up, you’ll be in a well ventilated lobby with an amazing bird’s eye view of the city.

Circulo de Bellas Artes
If you prefer the view without protecting glass, then I recommend going up to Círculo de Bellas Artes. This rooftop bar charges a 4 EUR cover and tends to have a line but that sunset view over Gran Vía is totally worth it.

Matadero
One of my favorite places in Madrid is a little further south from the center. Matadero is off Legazpi metro station on lines 3 (yellow) and 6 (gray). It’s an old brick slaughterhouse along the river that is now an art hub. It is free to visit and it hosts rotating local art exhibits (naves) along with some free or cheap movie showing in the beautiful theatre. There is also a cantina with a lovely patio that serves drinks and pizzas, as well as a larger cafeteria with plenty of outdoor and indoor seating, including a small theatre inside. Make sure to check out the calendar for the many free events, such as concerts, food festivals, farmer’s markets, etc. It is also located next to huge, new mall if you prefer to avoid the crowds in Gran Vía.

Rastro
If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday make sure to check out this enormous flea market. It begins in Embajadores every Sunday from 8am – 3pm. You will find everything from antiques, handmade jewelry and clothes, the cheapest coats and shoes, the most affordable souvenirs made by local craftswomen and men, and anything else you can think of. Beware of pickpocketters since it gets very crowded. I found that the best times to go are either 9am or 1pm, so as to avoid the rush.

In my other post I will make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, best times to visits the museums, where and what to eat, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local.

Enjoy your time in this magical and underrated city. If you ever become annoyed by the heat, cold or crowds, just stop to have a caña (small beer) and tapa anywhere. You’ll be surprised how affordable this metropolitan city is. Have fun in beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT.

 

 

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.

Church_of_Our_Saviour_-_2013
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.

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Just a few beer to choose from at Delirium Cafe


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.