SAN FRANCISCO

 

- CITY BY THE BAY -

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San Francisco was the first stop of my trip to California a few years ago. I admit, it had been a long time since I had put the laid down and seldom foggy Californian city on my bucket list. So, when the trip to California finally started materialising the decision to begin it from here was immediate.

San Francisco has been longly renowned for being home to hippies, techies and fashionistas for decades and always had that special mystique ever since the 60´s. It was the city of love and freedom, the cultural phenomenon that shook the World, a revolutionary place that changed the customs and shifted traditions.

 

Part of that magic is forever gone now ever since the Bay Area became America´s (and the World´s for that matter) greatest technological hub; as the city became a magnet for start-ups, flocks of tech geeks from all over the World started arriving to the city replacing the once dominant hippie culture.

That tech culture is now also a big part of the city´s DNA in the present. You can feel it in most of the people you come across  in the streets and you cannot imagine San Francisco without associating it to the technological powerhouse that it is.

When you get to visit San Francisco it will stick to your heart forever. You cannot explain if it is the air from the Pacific ocean, if it is its either foggy or clear blue skies or if it is its easy life and people... but something special in this place touches you. 

 

Now, with that in my mind I tried to put together my top 10 reasons why everyone should always include San Francisco on their travel bucket lists:

 

The Weather

The “City by The Bay”´s weather unpredictability is also what some might call its biggest charm. It is true that a cloudy foggy day isn´t anyone´s cup of tea. But San Fran without its summer cold foggy days covering the bay wouldn’t´t be the same thing. Apart from that, San Francisco as well as most of California enjoy great weather all year round so the city is always a great choice for any travel you decide to plan;

 

The Landscapes

San Francisco´s unique topography is perfect for almost anyone. The city is great for walking and is also one of the best in the World for bicycle lovers.

You can actually discover it in one day if you walk fast enough. The transportation network is near perfect and the best part of it is that the city is incredibly photogenic with countless of astounding views either from its hills, the sea promenade or even from one of its beautiful iconic bridges.

 

The People

Like it was already mentioned, part of San Francisco´s magic is connected to its cultural diversity. You find people here from all parts of the World and the city is a gigantic melting pot rich in culture, traditions, different origins and influences. Enjoy it for being different.

 

Alcatraz, The Golden Gate Bridge and The Presidio National Park 

It´s somehow awkward that one of a city´s major attraction is a former prison located in an island. But Alcatraz was no ordinary prison as it is claimed that during its 29 years of operation not a single prisoner was able to escape from its walls. Alcatraz history goes back to its construction date on the 19th century but it only became famous when it was tuned into an high security facility designed to contain prisoners who continuously caused problems in other federal prisons.

 

 

Most of its prisoners were notorious bank robbers and murderers which only increased its popularity. Even Al Capone was held within its walls. Most of the ones who tried to escape it eventually died in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay.

The former prison receives daily tours coming out of San Francisco city center piers all year long if you want to visit the facilities and learn more about its history. 

 

 

 

Right in front of Alcatraz Island sits San Francisco´s most iconic landmark. The Golden Gate Bridge.

Stretching for about 3km it divides the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean and connects the city to Marin County on the North.

The bridge opened in 1937 and still stands as the most photographed bridge in the World.

 

Haight-Ashbury District and The Painted Ladies

The most famous district in San Francisco stands as the birth place of the hippie culture back in the 1960´s. First seen as a relatively cheap place to live it became the perfect location for the counterculture bohemians of the Summer of Love generation. For some time this area became home to a new cultural utopia born out of a desire for freedom and where music, literature and also drugs played a pivotal role. Nowadays the area was invaded by affluent yuppies which occupied the beautiful Victorian style houses and most of the shops are now chic restaurants, fashionable cafes and high-end boutiques. Haight-Ashbury stands only as and the memory of a gone time.

One of the best examples of the Victorian age buildings that still populate parts of San Francisco are the Painted Ladies, a series of colourful houses near Alamos Square Park. They are known as “Postcard Row” since they are part of one of the most celebrated images of San Francisco

 

The Golden Gate Park

This public urban park is one of the biggest ones in the States and is composed by a large number of gardens, museums and lakes. You can easily spend a full day exploring it. Some of its major highlights are the Botanical Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, the De Young Museum and the Stow Lake. It is usually very crowded in weekends and it is easily accessible by bus or car.  

 

The Waterfront

San Francisco´s waterfront suffered a major renovation after 1989´s earthquake and is now one of the most enjoyable areas of the city. The seafront promenade stretches for almost 4km starting from the beautiful Bay Bridge all the way into the famous Pier 39.

It is perfect for long walks, jogging and cycling. Along the way you can step into the celebrated Ferry Building, have a look at the Coit Tower standing up above Telegraph Hill, the Embarcadero and when you finally get to Pier 39 you will be so hungry you will only want to delight yourself with the incredible sea food and fish served in the large number of the area´s restaurants.

Pier 39 claims itself to be the third most visited place in the States and from there you will find great views of the Bay, Alcatraz Island and have a look at the countless sea lions that live in the dock´s platforms. The Pier 39 Venetian Carousel is also a major attraction and it is a great place for souvenir shopping. 

 

The Palace of Fine Arts

 

 

I don´t know how to explain it but this place became my favourite spot in San Francisco. I cannot explain if it was its peacefulness or if was its classical architectural features that are a photographer´s dream - specially at sunsettime - but truth is, everytime I think about San Francisco, I think about this place.

 

 

The building was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific exposition to exhibit works of art.

 

 

It was designed by Bernard Maybeck and built to look like a ruin from a distant time. It was so beloved that it remained as the only structure from the exhibition to be preserved and still standing nowadays.

 

It's Perfect For Food Junkies

Due to its incredible cultural diversity San Francisco became a reference in terms of gastronomical influences. So you get to find the best restaurants all over town. From Thai to Chinese, Caribbean and even 

Whatever you wish or crave for you will definitely find a great choice. There is a flavour for all and from all over the World. 

 

The Largest and Oldest Chinatown

San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and it played a very important role in the city´s multiculturalism. Chinatown works as a city within a city, with its own customs, traditions, shops, worship places and it is one of the most visited areas in the city.

It is estimated that more than 100.000 people live in this neighbourhood which has steadily increased ever since the 19th century. If you want a taste of the diversity that represents the city be sure to spend some time walking its streets.

 

Well, and this is it. My major highlights for San Francisco and for a visit to the city. There is also much more to explore and it will always depend on how much time you have to spend here. But one thing is certain, San Francisco will surely have something for your taste and it will not disappoint you.

Now be sure to visit my full San Francisco photo gallery here.

 

<<< VISIT THE SAN FRANCISCO GALLERY >>> 

 

BANGKOK

 

- THE GOLDEN CITY -

 

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Thailand was the first Asian country I got to travel to and that is probably why  the country and its people sticked to my heart so much. I keep telling everyone that Thailand is, side by side with Italy, the best country in the world to travel to…

 

 

You´ve got a different, rich and traditional culture to discover, extraordinary ancient well preserved cities, incredible landscapes, the best beaches and islands in the world and finally, one of the most important things for me as a traveler: the tastiest food!

 

And from all the countries in South East Asia I have been able to visit, Bangkok remains hands down my favourite city to visit.

 

Bangkok can be as wild and thrilling as its fame generally precedes. But it can also be a vibrant, cultural and glamorous place. It´s your call and you can go which way you want in the city.

 

 

 WHAT TO SEE

 

The city offers a huge amount of things to do and places to visit either by day or night.

And even though the fact that Bangkok is mostly known for its rich temples - which are so well preserved you can´t almost believe it is true - truth is that the city also became a major shopping and business destination as well as a travel hub for all the South East Asia region.

 

THE GRAND PALACE AND WAT PHRA KAEW

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The true highlight and the one attraction you must definitelty visit in Bangkok is the The Grand Palace (pictured above). The palace is a big complex composed by a large number of buildings and temples, being the most well-known, Wat Phra Kaew - the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

The Palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782. It is to these days one of the finest representations of Thai art and creativity and noone can stay indifferent to its beautiful details.

Expect long queues to get in as it will be overcrowded with tourists -  but which place isn´t these days, right? Also, be sure to be covered from shoulders to feet or you will be asked to rent clothes at the entrance. The Grand Palace and The Temple Of The Emerald Buddha are Thailand´s most sacred site so absolute respect is expected at all the times.

Apart from that, the palace complex is an architectural masterpiece with its beautiful coloured different buildings, halls, pavilions and gardens spreading around an area of almost 220.000 square meters, the equivalent to almost thirty soccer fields.. Be sure to save at least half a day to admire it properly.

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WAT PHO

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Wat Pho, one of the most visited attractions in Thailand and best known as the Temple Of The Reclining Buddha, a Buddhist complex directly south of the Grand Palace.

The complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand including a 46m long gold leaf covered reclining Buddha. The statue is one of Bangkok´s biggest attractions. The image of the reclining Buddha represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations.

The temple also houses a large number of halls and gardens. It is also one of the most beautiful temple complexes of Thailand with its bright white walls topped with red and golden ceilings.

 

WAT ARUN

On the other side of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace lies Wat Arun, or as some call it, The Temple of Dawn.

Its riverside location is one of its most different features and the temple stands as one of the most iconic images of Bangkok and Thailand. Be sure to spend at least an hour in the Temple and climb the step steps with an incredible view over the river.

Wat Arun can be easily accessed through the Chao Phraya River, and ferries travel across the river towards the Maharaj pier.

 

WAT SAKET - THE GOLDEN MOUNT

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Wat Saket or as the westerns refer to it, The Golden Mount, is an artificially man-created low hill to house the Temple's grounds.

After climbing its more than 300 steps you are greeted with the temples beautiful gold chedi and an incredible view over Bangkok.

 

The path is weel-paved and the climb relatively easy if you avoid going at midday or during peak summer months.

It is not the most beautiful temple in the city but it is one of its main worshipping places and to be honest not many places can beat its view at sunset. Expect queues at the end of the day as it is one prime spot for photography.

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CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET

 

The Chatuchak Weekend Market is the city´s biggest market and a gigantic maze of small shops and street food stalls. Being one of the biggest markets in the World, the smells, the sounds and its vibration are really incredible; It contains over 8.000 booths that sell goods from every part of Thailand so be sure to save enough time to wander freely between all its small shops.

 

You will most certainly get lost so be sure to find points of reference like metro and trains stations. Like most of Bangkok, Chatuchak is a relatively safe place, so the usual safety measures apply: just be sure to beware of pickpockets and keep an eye on your valuable items.  

 

THE ROOFTOPS

For incredible views of the city head off to one of the countless rooftops available. Most of them are overpriced but you are paying for one of the urban views of a lifetime. Plan ahead and make sure that you arrive before sunset. From the top, you can see the city slowly starting to light up, the changing colors in the sky and the buzz and noise slowly calming down. Grab a cold drink, sit back, enjoy the view and relax.  

My favourite rooftop bar is the Scirocco on top of the Lebua hotel. The view is beautiful with the rooftop overlooking the Chao Phraya River and it offers good reasonably priced drinks and cocktails. The food on the other hand is overpriced considering you can eat from less than 5USD or EUR almost everywhere in the city

The Rooftops of the Banyan Hotel (Vertigo and Moon Bar) with its incredible cityscape views are also a must see as is the Three Sixty on top of the Millennium Hilton Bangkok on the other side of the river.

 

NIGHTLIFE and FOOD

When you finally get back down in the streets, by night, things have completely changed in the city… Be prepared for the fuss and craziness you have always heard about… The smell of food in the streets, the lights and people trying to sell you everything. And I really mean everything.

 

THAI FOOD

If you want the true experience, taste the street food. Get away from the so called restaurants and try to eat like the locals do. Besides being much cheaper, the experience is incredibly more rewarding.

Since my first visit to Thailand, Thai food became a personal obsession as big as sushi or pizza and I usually say that you haven´t lived until you tried a Pad Thai… Most of the dishes are spicy but the food is so tasty and incredible you will want to keep on trying something new every time.

 

Personally, for me, the dish that rules them all is the Shrimp Pad Thai - fried noodles and beansprouts served with shrimp but also cooked with chicken.

Most of the people tend however to Tom Yum Goong, a spicy shrimp soup filled with lime and lemongrass; the Som Tum, a spicy green papaya salad that is so strong and spicy you will cry while eating it; the red, yellow and green curries, incredibly aromatic; and finally the Khao Pad, the fried rice with eggs, served with chicken, shrimp or crab, it is as simple as it is tasteful.

You can also try to take one of the many available Thai cuisine courses available throughout town.

Shrim Pad Thai, one of Thai cuisine´s favourites.

Shrim Pad Thai, one of Thai cuisine´s favourites.

NIGHTLIFE

Everyone has also heard about the crazy Bangkok nightlife where anything can happen. It´s true, from young women to lady boys, ping-pong shows and even threesomes or foursomes in bathtubs someone will try to sell you something you have never seen before.

 

Khao San Road has got all the hustle and life if you want to try the real Bangkok nightlife. But if you want to really dive in Bangkok´s wild side you need to head up into Soi Cowboy, the famous local red-light district or Patpong, known for its infamous Go Go Bars and Ping Pong Shows. Just beware of scams that sometimes can cost you a lot of money or even get you in trouble. And always ask in advance how much you are going to pay before getting into any bar.

A Muay Thai show is also something you can do if you are into live fight shows and a truly Thai experience.

For  more upscale options there are countless clubs in town and most rooptop bars offer exclusive parties most of the nights.

In the end, Bangkok´s underground life has something to offer to almost anyone. Whatever you want to explore remember to stay safe and respect the local regulations and customs.

As a further precaution and information, Thailand is one of the strictest countries in the World concerning drugs possession and consumption so always take extreme precautions on that matter.

 

FLOATING MARKETS

 

 

You all heard about the thai floating markets which are some of the most talked about attractions. I must tell you that I only visited one, Damnoen Sadhuak, and I was fairly disappointed.

 

Even though it is an extraordinary opportunity for great and unique photos the floating markets were turned into giant tourist traps in the last years. You´ve got countless canals filled with shops selling exactly the same things on and on; all displaying the same clothes and souvenirs all sold at the same price.

 

The experience of buying on a boat is interesting but this markets no longer work as the place where locals go to to buy and trade traditional products.

 

Plan the visit ahead as Damnoen Sadhuak is actually far away from Bangkok and closes around lunch time. There are mini vans leaving the city center almost every hour so it is fairly easy to find your way there. Upon arriving to the market the mini vans will leave you right next to the boats where they will try to rip you off by convincing you that it is the only way to get into the market. Actually you can walk by the road until the market area, but the most rewarding experience is to cross it by boat, just try to bargain the value and avoid getting scammed.

 

WHERE TO STAY

 

I suggest staying as close to the center as you can as it is where everything happens; Bangkok is considerably big and if you don´t plan on spending much time in the city you certainly don´t want to spend it all getting from one place to the other.

Besides, like in any other Asian big cities its traffic can be an issue if you want to make the best of it.

 

 

Depending on your traveler style and expectations you can choose between three or four different areas to stay while in Bangkok.

 

Hotels and accomodation are relatively cheap in Bangkok and that is why the city remains one of the best desinations even if you are on a budget. The city still remains as a backpacker´s favorite spot brcause of it

 

The most well-known areas are Siam, if you are a shopping addict; Silom, if you are in Bankok for its nightlife or in a business trip; the Riverside, if you want to splurge a little, for the views and a more relaxed stay; or, near the Old City on Khaosan if you are in town mostly for temple and historic exploration - this is the ideal area for backpackers.

 

WALKING AROUND

 

Apart from being a big metropolis with its 6,4 million people, it is actually really easy walking by and getting around. Most people travel by bike and the subway and train system is actually very efficient.

As a tourist the easiest way to get around between small distances is definitely by tuk-tuk which, when shared, are mostly unexpensive.

Beware, however, with scams; some drivers will try to lead you to illegal clothing shops at smaller rates. Always demand to be taken straight to your destination even if you have to pay a little more. Then, just hang on tight and enjoy the city.

If you want a different experience try to go up the river by boat. Either by day or night, the views of the city are stunning.

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SAFETY

 

Bangkok is a relatively safe city to walk and visit so just take the usual precautions when being in a culturally different country. Stay safe, keep your things safe and always keep your passport near you or locked in a safe place; don´t leave valuable items alone and always beware of anything strange that happens around you. Don´t walk alone at night and avoid dangerous parts of town.

Most of all don´t trust in very well intentioned people but don´t shut yourself to the experience of getting to know the locals… Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason… it´s because its people are genuinely nice.

 

WHEN TO GO

 

The best months to visit Bangkok - as well as Thailand - are from December to February; these make up the ‘cool months’ when humidity and heat are relatively low. Bangkok's weather during these months is largely settled and calm too, meaning blue skies almost every day.

The weather is dominated by a tropical monsoon climate which means there are three main seasons: a hot season from March to June, rainy season from July to October and cool season between November and February. As Bangkok holds claim to being the hottest city in the world, expect daytime temperatures to be in excess of 30 degrees centigrade throughout the year. From April to May and September to October are the steamiest, characterised by high humidity. The southwest monsoons arrive between May and October bringing unsettled, cloudy conditions and, rain most of the time.

One thing is for sure… for good or bad reasons, after visiting it you will never forget Bangkok.

And be sure to visit my Thailand Gallery here for much more photos and other destination spots in Thailand.

 

<<< VISIT THE THAILAND GALLERY >>>

 

 

NORWAY

 

- A STEP AWAY FROM THE NORTH POLE -

 

On January 2013 I found myself in a bit of a standoff; I was burned out by my job and in desperate need of a getaway. I really needed to be away for a few days, so I started asking some of my close friends to take a few days off and head somewhere.

I started suggesting different locations lowering prices and costs on each new try. For each suggestion I kept getting different answers and "no´s"... Soon I realized I was getting ditched by my friends... and there was nothing wrong with that. Sometimes people are just not into your frequency or cannot align with your timings.

 

Two weeks later I got tired of it and found myself thinking that if I was to wait on someone I wouldn´t be going anywhere fast. And that´s when I made one of the best decisions of my life; I picked up my phone, looked up for skyscanner and searched for the cheapest flight I could get to run away from home for a week.

The first choice that came up was Milan… which I had already been already a few months before... Much to my surprise, the second one was Oslo... Oslo, capital of Norway, said to be one of the most beautiful countries in the World… Norway... a "home" to the aurora borealis, the magnificent northern lights, which had been in my must-see list for years. Without a second thought I decided that I was going to buy that plane ticket and figure out later how to get to Lapland and into the cold North. Two days later my sister got on board and joined the trip.

This is how my unforgettable trip to Norway was born. And this is how, two weeks later I was landing in Oslo and heading up into the Artic Circle and on the verge of the North Pole in the next day...

 

- OSLO -

 

Oslo is definitely not the most beautiful or appealing city in the World. Specially on Winter and when there are only three hours of daylight.

It is a city much more prepared to live rather than to know or visit. There are not much touristic spots and instead you get streets filled with restaurants, cafes and the largest number of designer shops with the baldest (and most expensive) furniture design in the World. 

Money is actually the biggest concern you need to worry when visiting Norway. This is probably the most expensive country in the World (and it is probably also the richest ...); coffee price, for example, is prohibitive and you cannot get a burger for for less than $20/16€...

Oslo is not a very big city (even by european standards) and with freezing cold temperatures and low daylight it can get a little gloomy. By contrast norwegian people are generally very nice, warm and welcoming. Almost everyone speaks english fluently as english is considered their second language. Trust me, it a big plus, as you will not understand a word of norwegian.

When in Oslo be sure to check the harbour area and spend some time on its waterfront. There are not many places to visit so you will most likely get to know the city in one or two days. The Opera House building, Operahuset, is arguably its most well-known building and attraction; and it is obviously a must-see, specially by night, when its lights bring a different life to it. The Royal Palace and its gardens are nice to walk or pass by and the recent Aker Brygge neighbourhood is also worth a visit as it shows you the new architectural ways the city is developing.

 

- TROMSO AND LAPLAND -

 

To arrive in Tromso is the same as arriving at the end of the World. Tromso is considered the northermost city in the World with a population above 50.000 people. It is your last outpost of civilization before the oblivion and the eternally peaceful North Pole.

Tromso is widely considered to be one of the prime spots for aurora borealis sightings. On clear nights, the northern lights can be seen hovering above the city if you get far enough from its lights. If not, if you rent a car or book a specialized tour, half an hour drives and clear nights will most certainly guarantee you some good sightings. But remember, the northern lights don´t show up every night and it can be a longshot.

 

 

 

 

Anyway, even if you are not able to have small glimpse of the northern lights (which would be a shame when you travel this far north) you will certainly be able to enjoy the city.

 

Tromso has got a charm only reserved to small cities lost in the middle of nowhere far away from civilization. In Tromso you don´t feel isolated but you will most certainly feel disconnected. And, that, above everything else, is a blessing.

 

- THE ISLANDS: KVALOYA AND SOMMAROY- 

 

 

 

 

In our second day in Tromso and since weather conditions were favourable we decided to rent a car, leave the island and explore the surrounding area and roads that cross the well-known norwegian fjords.

 

Believe me, it is completely worth it. The roads are easily driven, well kept and snow cleaned regularly. The landscapes are mesmerising... You can drive for hours and miles and not be able to see a living soul. And the peace and silence when you stop by the water is something you cannot describe.

 

 

 

 

Along the way you will find small fishing villages that invite you to stop and enjoy the quietness of this simple way of living.

 

It is not only the silence of the fjords and the mountains that moves you. It is the solemnity and grandiosity of the landscapes that surround you. You can´t help but feel the weight of eternity in this almost untouched place of the Earth.

 

When you return to Tromso at the end of the day, you just wish you could stay here forever.

 

 

- LYNGEN ALPS AND DOGSLEDDING -

 

I will not deny that Dogsledding was always a very ambivalent issue on my mind from the day I decided to travel to Norway. As an animal lover and an animal rights supporter, I had  always perceived dogsledding as animal abuse. But I cannot also deny that the images you usually see from this nordic activity always transmit such a sense of freedom that I had always thought of one day doing it.

From a lot of online testimonies I had decided that I would give it a try and book a dogsledding activity from a company that had positive comments concerning animal care. And I decided that upon getting there if I had the minimum doubt that dogs were not taken care or being subject to abuse or even unhappy I wouldn´t do the activity and would report it.   

Well, the thing is... I couldn´t be more wrong with my concerns. As soon as you get to the camp, you can´t imagine the happiness and strong, happy welcome you get from these amazing dogs. When they spot humans arriving they start jumping and running around you just wanting to meet you. Some of them put themselves right in front of the sled looking at you and waiting for you to ask them to run. And you can immediately notice the strong connection and bond between the dogs and the people that take care of them.

 

The fact is that Norway is extremely cold. As in, -20ºC cold this time of year! And these dogs are not meant or "designed" to be kept quietly and calmly in the cold. In fact, running and exercising is the only way to keep them warm and hot.  So, as soon as they spot you they know that their exercise is about to begin. And one can argue about the weight they will be carrying... well, these are not regular dogs and each sled has a minimum of six dogs attached to it; these are strong, environmentally adapted dogs... when you divide the weight by the number of dogs each of them ends up sliding (not carrying) less than 15kg each. And you cannot imagine the joy that explodes when they start running.

Clearly speaking, each sled has a brake you can use if you feel that the sled is going toofast... Believe me when I tell you that these dogs don´t want you to use the break!    

 

And then, there´s the sense of freedom I had always got from the pictures I had seen. Well, I must tell you that it is true... It is one of the best feelings in the World and one I must tell you everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. One image that will stick with me forever is the one above... Running like wild, going down a mountain with a view over the sea and the amazing fjords of the Lyngen Alps region is a tremendous feeling. For a brief moment I closed my eyes and I can tell you I was flying... 

 

- TROMSO FOR A DAY -

 

For the next day we decided to just rest, hang out and explore and enjoy the city for a day; no activities planned, just walk and eat. We were fortunate that the weather helped a lot during our stay in Tromso. If not for that we would not have been able to appreciate its magnificent waterfront the way we did...

Tromso like most of the several last outposts of the World gives you that feeling that there is nothing more beyond that. At least nothing more than the raw power of nature in front of you. 

 

 

Tromso is not a big city. Actually you can easily get to know it in one afternoon. It is separated in two and divided between two islands only connected by a beautiful bridge that when lit up in at night gives the city a distinct unique character. Reduced to its size you can understand why some people call it the "Paris of the North". On the other bank you can also visit and see the Arctic Cathdral, designed by Jan Inge Hovig, inspired by the Sydney Opera House and shaped almost like an iglo.

 

Its minimalistic interior is amazingly clean, bright and admirably lit only by glass panels. You need to remind yourself that at this time of year you can get less than three hours of daylight so it is even more surprising how bright it can get. You feel like you are inside an ice palace.

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- THE NORTHERN LIGHTS -

 

I feel like I saved the best for last. Like I wrote before, the initial reason for this trip was mostly due to my desire to watch the Northern Lights. We were in fact blessed by three clear nights that allowed us for some displays of the aurora borealis. They were not extremely strong as solar activity was not at any peak during these days but the fact that I was able to witness one of the most amazing shows that Nature and this planet is able to give us was more than enough for me and I couldn´t have asked for more. 

Norway is one of the best places in the World for these sightings. Besides being an amazing beautiful country it is located right on spot on the Arctic Circle, the only places on Earth where you can watch it. You only need to ask for a clear sky, no light around you and solar activity happening during that period. 

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Suddenly, on one of those nights, while looking up the skies on a cold icy beach  I found myself thinking about my grandmother and on how many saints she would be praying to just by watching it; and how fortunate I was for being able to be in that place. Like I already wrote on one post on my Iceland trip, "if there was a God, this would be the way that he would write".

In fact, the will to travel to Iceland was born on one of these nights. These days in Norway could never be the only times I would look at an aurora borealis

 

And this is it... a memorable week in the northernmost part of the World... Lapland and the Artic Circle in all its glory and might. I hope I was able to make at least feel the will to get to know it one day. 

But I also know that Norway is much more than this. It can only be too late when I am able to land on it again....

If you want to see all the pictures from this trip check my Norway gallery here or follow the link below.

 
 

COPENHAGEN

 

- A CITY FOR ALL -

 

Late May 2012 a friend of mine that had moved to Copenhagen a few months before called me asking me if I had plans for the portuguese June holidays that year. I promptly answered him "no" for which he immediately replied: "what are you waiting for to buy a plane ticket and come visit me in Copenhagen?"

It didn´t take me long to start checking for flights and prices and making plans to visit Copenhagen.

So, I landed in Copenhagen on the second week of June. And now, after I´ve already been in Norway and Iceland on Winter I must tell you it is almost a blessing to arrive in a nordic city or country in Summer time; days are extremely long and clear and the weather is warm and pleasant. You will need some time to adjust to the long days (sun was rising at 3:00am and setting down at 11:00pm...) but after a day or two your body is already fully adapted.

Copenhagen is, more than anything, an enjoyable city. It is suited for everyone and everybody´s tastes. The city is, after all, on top of most of the more livable cities lists published. And it is widely considered as one of the cities with better quality of life in the World. After minutes walking in its streets you can understand why: the city just WORKS... everything and everyone flows... calmly and gently.

 

People are nice, quiet and calm and everything looks like it is on its right place. There are hardly any cars or traffic on the roads and instead you´ve got hundreds of bikes that cross the streets on an orderly manner much contrary to what happens in cities like Amsterdam or even Paris.

Even most of the buildings and streets look like you are walking in a town filled with oversized dollhouses of different colors. It was this the way the city found to bring some life and joy to the long dark winters that stretch for months.

For those of you who have already been to Copenhagen, my "a city for all" claim is certainly something you can relate to. The city is surprisingly adjusted to everyone, whether old or young and the word that best describes its lively streets is "diversity"; there is this feeling of being modern without modernity.

 

 

Since the city became an important cultural hub in the last years attracting artists from all over the World, it also turned out to be one of the trendiest places in the World to live or work in... 

Misteriously enough, in the last years, the city also became the capital of the gastronomical world being now home to the largest number of awarded Michelin stars restaurants in the World: 15 restaurants and a total of 18 stars granted. NOMA, the most celebrated one, is already a city institution. Furthermore, Copenhagen is now also one of the most iconic centers of the design world, attracting designers from everywhere searching for the modern nordic influences. 

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Like most of the cities I love, Copenhagen has a sea front and harbour that invites you to stop and simply enjoy a special moment by the water. Nyhavn, specially, is a kind of magical place with colorful buildings by the water filled with small restaurants and coffee shops with nice danish traditional food.

 

Exploring the canals around it is mandatory; after it, try stopping by Nyvahn and have a glass of wine while quietly facing the ships in front of you.

 

 

 

Copenhagen is filled with places to explore and wander about. From narrow alleys and streets filled with cafes, record stores and fashion shops, to open squares, churches and palaces you will surely find something that suits your taste.

 

Unmissable is a visit to the incredible Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park where you are sure to feel like a small child for a few hours again.

 

Be sure to have time to pass by Kongens Nytorv square and also by the impressive Amalienborg Palace and its square right in front of Frederik´s Church and its green dome.

 

Also be sure to walk around the star shaped Kastellet on your way to the obligatory Little Mermaid, Copenhagen´s most iconic and photographed attraction. On a walking distance you can also visit Rosenborg Castle and its gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The neighborhoods around the center are also worth exploring, specially Norrebro and Frederiksberg.

If you dare, walk down to Christianshavn, a small independent conclave populated by artists. This is a no man´s and no law land where community life is the rule. You are forbidden to take pictures there but exploring it is definitely a must-do.

In the end I feel it will be extremely difficult for anyone not to like Copenhagen. Danish people are extremely friendly and polite and are always trying to help you.

If you sit on a bar having a drink you will most certainly be joined by a group of danes trying to get to know you and welcome you into their fantastic city. 

 

Below is my must see/do list for Copenhagen:

  • Explore the Nyhavn area and its canals;

  • Take a picture in front of the Little Mermaid (everyone does it... so why wouldn´t you?);

  • Have a different gastronomical experience; the city is filled with great restaurants suited for every wallet;

  • Spend one night in the Tivoli Gardens and feel like a 5 year old again;

  • Rent a bike, the easiest way to explore the city;

  • Amalienborg Palace and Rosenborg Castle are a not to miss for royalty admirers;

  • Have a beer with a dane, or two, or three, or with the entire bar which will probably end up happening anyway;

  • Visit the surrounding neighborhoods, specially Christianshavn and Frederiksberg;

  • Admire the fashion and design scene on every corner of the city.

 
 

IRELAND

 

- THE EMERALD ISLAND -

 

We can be clear from the start... When you think of Ireland you immediately think of two things: rain and beer.

And let me be as honest as I can... These are probably two of the things I hate most in the World. Personally, I really cannot think of something more dreadful than a cold rainy day and a drink more painful than beer... And that´s why when I was asked to join a trip to Dublin in the beginning of November last year I initially considered dumping it and skipping it without a second thought.

Dublin is definitely not part of the list of the most beautiful cities in the World... But the promised expectation of a four day road trip south of Dublin made me quickly change my mind. And looking back I´m glad I did it....

So on a cold November rainy day I landed in cold dark Dublin...

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Dublin is a small town by Europe´s standards. With a population of about 500.000 people and with a metropolitan area where about 1.8 million people live, Dublin sums up to around one third of the entire irish population.

The city is divided in half by the Liffey River. On the South bank you´ve got the "old" and historical Dublin where the majority of the city´s (few) most known attractions lie. This is where you will find St. Patrick´s Cathedral, the Trinity College, the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin Castle, the Christ Church Cathedral and also the Guiness Storehouse.

Even most of the exciting nightlife spots are located here. This is where you will find the extremely popular Temple Bar on Fleet Street; the infamous street crowded with the well known Irish Pubs and where if you hang out for time enough you can also hope to enjoy its very famous street brawls. At least we did, and only ten minutes after arriving at Fleet Street.

 

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On the North bank you will find the Financial Center as well as the town´s main commercial area. Dublin is filled with most of the major chain stores that you also find on every other european capital. If you´re into shopping head out to O´Connell Street or into Strand Street and you will not be disappointed.

In the end you will probably find yourself enjoying Dublin. It´s true that it lacks the charm and history of most european cities . Don´t expect to be amazed here as you are in cities like London, Paris, Rome or Vienna. It also lacks the sun and life of cities like Lisbon or Barcelona. But Dublin is cosy and welcomes you well. You can visit it on one day and it is definitely a rewarding and a calm weekend break destination.

Then, if not for anything else, at least enjoy it for the cultural cradle that the city is. This is the city where writing masterminds George Bernard ShawBram StokerOscar WildeW. B. YeatsSamuel Beckett and James Joyce were born. Dublin is also the birthplace of U2... The city must be doing something right, no?

So, lower your expectations and you will probably end up enjoying it a lot.

 

THE SOUTH

 

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After leaving Dublin and heading South the first stop was at the dry, foggy and eerie Wicklow Mountains. The Wicklow Mountains are also the location of one of the most mysterious villages I have ever visited: Glendalough.

The next stops while roadtripping the south of the island would take us into Limerick with its incredible riverside castle and in the end all the way into Killarney National Park.

Killarney National Park is the biggest and oldest National Park in Ireland and a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It is known for its ecological diversity and beautiful landscapes. It is also home to one of the most iconic irish castles, the Ross Castle.

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After spending a night in the Killarney Park region we started heading north through Ireland´s western coast. In here you are faced with a completely different landscape where small fishing towns give place to green plains and high cliffs that sit over the undomitable ocean. It is a rough beautiful landscape... The winds speak loud here; it gets deep into your bones.

 

 

 

Our next and ultimate destination would be the iconic Cliffs of Moher, Ireland´s most famous natural landmark. The cliffs stand at 214 meters height and rank among some of the world´s most beautiful landscapes. Somehow, in here you feel like you are both at the edge and top of the World with an infinite blue ocean spreading ahead of you.

 

 

Right in front of O´Briens Tower, Branaunmore stack seems like a dagger pointed at the bottom of the ocean at the mercy of the ocean´s onslaught. It is a sight to be remembered.   

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In the end, Ireland is an incredible beautiful island. The air you breathe here and its absolute quietness leaves you wanting for more and hoping to return here soon.

Below is my top of must-see places in Ireland:

1 - Cliffs of Moher
2 - Dublin Historical Center and the pub scene on Fleet Street
3 - Glendalough
4 - Killarney National Park and Ross Castle
5 - Limerick
6 - Galway
7 - The Dingle Peninsula
8 - The Wicklow Mountains

And I know... You all heard about the Giant´s Causeway and the Dark Hedges on Northern Ireland but unfortunately I wasn´t able to visit them. And if I ever return to Ireland, Cork, the Ring of Kerry and also the Aran Islands are on top of my must-see list. Time isn´t spoiled at the Emerald Island.

If you want to find out more about Dublin and this incredible roadtrip through Ireland´s roads you can have a look at the full gallery here or through the link below:

 
 

TUSCANY

 

- ENDLESS GOLDEN FIELDS -

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Tuscany is probably one of the few places in the World that is part of almost anyone´s bucket list.

And rightly so...  Tuscany is, after all, a part of Italy which is definitely one of the best countries in the world to visit and travel. There you´ll find the tastiest food you can eat, the incredibly delicious wines, the religion, the history, the unique culture, and last but not least, its people. 

So it was with great pleasure and surprise that in mid May last year I received an invitation from a friend to join her for a few days on a trip to Tuscany in June. The original plan only included a weekend break in Florence with a chance of a stopover at Pisa... That plan didn´t last long as I quickly turned it into a week long road trip over Tuscany´s winding roads and secluded villages.

Very soon I was landing in Florence, the city of arts and one of my most anticipated destinations ever since I was a teenager. 

The next six days would take me over an unforgettable road trip on which I would drive almost 2.000km across the entire tuscan region. Its endless golden wheat fields are only ripped apart by neverending roads that will make you remember it forever.

If you want to know more about this trip and why Tuscany is considered one of the most beautiful places in the World, visit my photo gallery here or by clicking the link below:

If you need any suggestions on itineraries, acommodation or even where to eat drop me an email at cfferro@me.com. I will be more than happy to help you. 

 

TUSCANY PHOTO GALLERY 

 

ICELAND

 

 - THE LAND OF FIRE AND ICE -

visit the full gallery here

 

Iceland had been on my radar for a long time since I started looking for a way of chasing the elusive and unimaginable beautiful Northern Lights.

The first mental image you get when you think of Iceland is of an inhabitable icy dry place. The true Land of Fire and Ice, filled with active volcanoes and immense glaciers. So, every time you think of it you start scratching your head wondering why on Earth would you think of laying your feet on the island. 

So, last year, during one of those usual hot days in my home country, Portugal, I decided that I had waited for too long and I would finally go to Iceland in October; I would once again try to have a glimpse at the beauty of the Aurora Borealis and its dance on the North. One year before I had watched it over Norway´s skies, but it was not enough... A one week roadtrip plan was designed and I started bracing for the expected tough conditions of the country.  

I couldn´t be more wrong about Iceland and the extraordinary surprises and beauty it reserved for us. It is the Earth as it was created; one planet condensed in an island lost in the North sea, with the size of Spain and with the population of a middle sized city. Nothing short of an uncanny experience.

If you want to know more about the trip, you can find it out here or through the link below.

 

ICELAND PHOTO GALLERY