Helsinki, Finland

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Helsinki, Finland – EUR

Technically, this was my second time in Helsinki or the airport at least. We (me and my sister) arrived at the airport after a 15 hours layover in Berlin (keep an eye peeled for that one!)

Finland has a special place in my heart. When I was in high school, we did something similar to a world expo and I was assigned Finland. I have to explain everything about Finland like for example, the capital, national animal, economy, history, currency (before they joined the EU) to every person that stop by and give them a flag as to show they have stop in Finland. It was a fun experience that has stayed with me.  It was exciting to finally experience the country I have talked so much about that day. 

I used AIRBNB to book all my stay except for Copenhagen, which we stayed in a hotel. In Helsinki, we stayed technically outside the city but closer to the airport. This wasn’t really a problem since we were really near a bus and tram stop (The Worker Class – Not a great name) . Transportation in Helsinki was very easy and tourist friendly. There are two tram line,  2 and 3 which technically takes you to all the touristy sightsee (It’s actually one but going up is one number and going down is another). We bought a day pass which allow you to take tram, bus, and subway, unlimited for 24 hours. It is the best way to roam around the city.

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Helsinki – Market Square

Our favorite area was the market. It was vibrant area filled with people, music, and foods’ aroma. We had lunch in one of the orange tend (all of them are orange) and had Salmon with potato (of course!). After walking around the market, we wandered off and walked to other areas without really paying attention where. We found many coffe places and restaurants and each of them were very unique and very inviting. Finnish people I found,  were very nice and polite despite all the stereotypes about them been very reserved and not talkative to strangers. In many occasions when I looked utterly lost, someone will ask me if I needed help. Most of them time, I did.  

Helsinki has a very strong coffee culture but not in a South American way but more like in a Starbucks way; Very popular and accessible. I wasn’t a fan of the coffe. Maybe I’m not used to Finnish coffee.

We stayed only for two days in Helsinki and on the second day we took a night cruise, Viking Cruise, to Stockholm.

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Lovely Coffe Shops

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All pictures were taken with Fuji X100S
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Bahamas Here I Come!

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Bahamas Cruise

I have no more vacation days left from work (I’m going to LA in May and saving the rest for Europe). Stretching your vacation days with long weekends really helps. Some workplaces won’t allow it but if they do, take advantage of it (this should be a no brainer). So, what do I have left? Keep in mind, I live in Miami, three days cruise to Bahamas! Leaving 4;30 pm on Friday and returning Monday at 7 am. Let me tell you, I am NOT a big fan of cruises. I have always thought cruises are for retired people and families. Not for a world explorer like moi. Then, I thought, I AM a world explorer and anything that means leaving your county and border counties count! So here I am, getting ready for my three days cruise to the Bahamas with Royal Caribbean. I will suck it up to the bad food and overly cheese and touristy cruise, in exchange for a relaxing weekend and crystalline water.

I started writing this post before I went to Bahamas so now I am back…

Getting off the cruise to Coco Cay

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Coco Cay

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Blue Lagoon

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I have to say, it wasn’t nearly as bas as I thought it was going to be. Food was ok, I mean I ate four times a day so there you go. The first night I felt overwhelmed with all the people and the rush (my plan was to relax). On the first night, I had a massive three-course dinner and went to the night show (it started very bad but the second part was surprisingly good) The next day we arrived to Coco Cay which is a man made island owned by Royal Caribbean. It wasn’t too bad, the water was clear and it wasn’t too busy so I got to take a nap and relax. At 3 I went back to the ship and got ready for another three-course dinner. The third day we arrived at Nassau and we (me and my sister) an excursion to Blue Lagoon (pay extra for this but it included transportation and food). The water was nice and clear. The only downside was the scheduling. The last ferry to your cruise leaves at 2:00 pm (it takes around 45 mins to get back), which is two hours before the cruise departure.  By the way, drinks are not included. You must BUY whatever drink you are going to have. The only time you get free water, Ice tea, or lemonade is during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They will try to push you to buy the bottle water but keep in mind that you could get water or ice tea for no additional extra charge. In total I spent:

Cruise $250

Drinks: $60 (I had to have orange juice and water during the day)

Excursion: $30

I think the price wasn’t bad at all since it includes room, food, and transportation (ferry and bus shutter) just food alone, I probably ate $200.

Service was excellent.

There’s a $20/day package (the basic water, juice, and coffee) which may be worth it but keep in mind that a bottle of water or juice cost $2.50 that means that you have to drink at least 8 bottle of water to make it worth it.

Now I know that any weekend that I want to get away, I have Bahamas.

I skipped all the “parties” and most of the activities. The only thing I did do was the night shows.

Guatemala, The Full Experience – PART III

Things to keep in mind:

  •  $1 = 7.8 Quetzal
  •  I went with my Guatemalan friend so I did not plan
  • All pictures were taken with FUJI X100S
  • No editing on any of the pictures

Day 4

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I woke up early and couldn’t wait to go out and start taking pictures. My room was on the first floor and had a sliding door that gives you access to the hotel’s beautiful garden. I was in such awe to discover such a beautiful garden with the two volcanos in the background. I couldn’t wait for my friend to wake up so I got ready and took off to the garden. I was really glad I woke up early that day because I got to shoot the volcano with barely any cloud covering them. It was just wonderful. I returned and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant and sat outside with wonderful view.

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My view during breakfast.

 

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All you can eat breakfast.

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Loca fisherman.

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Tourist Kayaking.

 

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Off we go!

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We rented a boat for 400 Quetzales from the Hotel to take us to Santiago. We were three so we divided the fee and the tip and it was worth it.We asked if we could go around the lake instead of a straight line and the driver was kind enough to drive us around. It was so worth it because I took enough pictures and I got to see all the wonderful houses around the lake, people kayaking, and the local fishermen in action. We tip the guy 50 Quetzales. He went to Santiago, a small but very tourist town. The boat waited for us and took us back around 4pm. If you are on a budget, you could probably get a ride for 20 Quetzales but you have to be aware of the time since they won’t wait for you.

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After lunch we went to the other nearby town San Pedro. I was so surprised this town was more of a hippy backpacker utopia than a local town. Performers everywhere and locals won’t even bat an eye when they see random people singing and walking around without shoes. San Pedro was the only town I found the best souvenir. If you come to Guatemala, you will see backpacks, shoulder bags, and many other type of bag made of either leather of their fabric or huipil. But there was this little store that had the best quality and price I have seen. I was holding my spending to find the perfect item and I found it in this store. Don’t be afraid to negotiate! When they give you a price offer half. It may seen cheap to you (converted to USD) but they are ripping you off (unless you don’t mind).I didn’t take any pictures in this town but the main street is alive with restaurants, cafes, and bars.

 

Antigua, Guatemala

Things to keep in mind:

  •  $1 = 7.8 Quetzal
  •  I went with my Guatemalan friend so I did not plan
  • All pictures were taken with FUJI X100S

 Day 2

The next day, I woke up early and started parking for our day in Antigua. Keep in mind, I have no idea of where I was going or what to expect. We left around 1 pm and there was no traffic. The ride took us approximately an hour. We stopped at this apparently very famous restaurant, Chichoy. It started as a small restaurant and grew to what it is today. It had fresh tortilla, made right there and then and the best chicken soup I have ever had in my life. I spent around 90 Quetzales for soup, papaya smoothie, and tip.  A lot of people stop here on their way to Antigua or Lago Atitlan.

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If you are driving,  you have to get a parking pass, which will allow you to park in the city for a day.

As soon as we drove in, I started awing everywhere I looked. The first thing I noticed, were the tourists with their huge cameras. I immediately felt relieved that I could relax and not feel so paranoid with my new camera. After all, my camera looked like a little old worthless camera compared to those huge DSLRs hanging on all those tourists’ neck.

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I felt in love with this little city. The colonial façade, the rustic look, the natural feel, Antigua was simply amazing. I have always preferred big cities over small town but Antigua has proven me wrong. Their locals were very welcoming and I cannot describe how much I loved this place…

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After settling down at our wonderful hotel Palacio de Doña Leonor and let me point out first, I could come to Antigua just to relax in this place. It really takes you to a  different time and into one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel. We walked to the nearest typical Guatemalan restaurant.  Needless to say, I stuffed my face as per usual. Each dish was probably around 50 to 90 Quetzales. After lunch/dinner we walked around the city.

Day 3

We had breakfast at the hotel and enjoyed for awhile the calmness of the place. We did more things on day 3 than the day before. We went to a monastery ruined by earthquakes and another monastery infamous by the way they used to punish their nuns. They will lock them up in a room where a drop of water would fall on their head until the water breaks the skull and kill the nun.  Yes, you just read that. Around 4 we left this beautiful place and back to the city. We stopped at another famous restaurant, La Cabaña Suiza. I honestly liked Chichoy much much better. We made it back to the city, packed again, and head out once again this time to Panajachel.

From Guatemala city to Panajachel takes around 3 hours. We arrived late at night and I’m glad because I didn’t get to see where we were driving. I would have panicked with the narrow roads and buses driving narrowly close to you.

We settle at our hotel Hotel Atitlan and went to bed early to wake up fresh the next day.

Guatemala, The Full Experience

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Guatemala, where do I start? I absolutely loved this country. The people won me over and the nature… simply couldn’t get enough.

Things to keep in mind:

  •  $1 = 7.8 Quetzal
  •  I went with my Guatemalan friend so I did not plan
  • All pictures were taken with FUJI X100S

Day 1

I have to admit, I was really nervous with all the horror stories I have always heard about Guatemala: Robberies, killings, drug lords, kidnapping, should I continue? Maybe not. My flight left around 8 in the morning and had a short layover in Salvador, which we almost missed because our flight was delayed. My impression of El Salvador was unimpressive and I was afraid this is what was awaiting for me in Guatemala. My face must have said it all because my friend told me not to worry. Guatemala is much nicer.

We finally landed in Guatemala and I was relieved and surprised to find out that Guatemala’s airport actually looks nice. This was a good sign. We stepped out of the airport and a crowd of people willing to carry our luggage and taxis drivers offering their services, greeted us.

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The first thing we did was to get something to eat. We went to San Martin, which is like a bakery where you could have breakfast and lunch (A coffee place if you must). They didn’t allow me to take pictures but I managed to snap a few (I too like to live dangerously). You can find the bakery, San Martin, all over Guatemala city or at least in the nice areas. I finally understood why my Guatemala friend kept nagging about the fruits you find in the US. I could not get enough of the fresh fruits in Guatemala. They were amazingly sweet and fresh. Yay for Guatemala fruits! We stayed in the city the first night at my friend’s apartment.

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After breakfast, we went to downtown or Zona 1 to buy our bus ticket to Peten. If you are somewhat familiar with Guatemala city, this should sound like the beginning of a horror story. We were in the car waiting for the green light on our way to check out the Casa Presidencial (still zona 1) when 3 men ran toward our car and started banging the window and pulling the door handle. I immediately froze and went into shock. All I could think of was if they break the window, I would have no choice than to use my new camera to defend myself. My friend’s mom started honking and driving the car back and forward with the little space we had until everybody in the street started noticing what was happening. The three man decided to give up and left. Thankfully, the door was locked, no windows were broken, and it wasn’t more than just a scare. So yes, that happened. After the incident, I was shaken and paranoid even though, I was assured that it doesn’t happen too often and only in selected areas. That didn’t really help. The two pictures above were taken through the heavily tinted window. Who need to take pictures with the windows down? right?

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At night we went to very nice open-air mall/apartments complex filled with stores and restaurants. Wherever I went in, there were security guards and police with weapon bigger than my leg. I was more worried about a miss fired from those weapons than the druggies from earlier today. After walking around we ate at a bar called La Playa.

After dinner, we decided to call it a day.

My breakfast the next day…

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They said I got the full Guatemalan experience. I’m still debating if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Just an FIY, Guatemala City does not look like Zona 1. That is just that area.

Zhangjiajie and The Train Ride – Part I

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It started to get warm in Shanghai. I forgot the exact month but it was announced to us that we had two choices to pick for our 5 days vacation. I can’t remember why I picked Zhangjiajie but I think it had to do with the description; “UNESCO Word Heritage Site” I think it was definitely that.

The train ride, I was told wasn’t going to be easy. I had a fair memory of riding the train in China (in 1997) when I was much much younger. Of course at age 11, a three-bed bunker felt like a castle and the top bed made me feel like the king (not queen or princess, The King). We were a group of 60 students, maybe more or less. I actually can’t remember. You will see a picture and if you have free time, you can count them. We took the entire car train and it felt a bit chaotic but the good kind. We were picking beds and each group picked a section. Each section has 6 beds. I, took the top one. Continue reading

2014!

Looking back at my last year resolutions, my “realistic new year’s resolution”…  It was a joke. Let’s be honest, I didn’t do any of it. Ok, just one out of six which does not qualify as accomplished.  This year, I plan to accomplish that list and this time I’m serious but with some minor changes. I may not be able to snowboard. Long story.  January firs feels like a reset button all of a sudden everything is new and different.

My plan for 2014

  • Travel to Europe and California or anywhere out of the US
  • Finish several books (and I mean more than one)
  • Take more pictures (I always regret not taking more)
  • Take more care of my finances (I majored in Finance for god’s sake. I should be able to do this!)
  • I really want to blog more often but one, I have no time and two, I want to be able to post beautiful pictures but that’s not always possible so I skip it.

Travels,

I am planning to go to Spain and France again. One of my friends is doing her MBA in Paris and she invited me to join her. I also have other friends there and one of them is a very popular hair stylist. And by popular I mean he does fashion shows for Dior, and other famous designers. He has offered to show me around which I’m very excited because he knows a lot of people and I love traveling like a local. I was sold when he said underground. So keep posted for more of this…

Books,

A few weeks ago, I bought a few books even though I have so many books I haven’t read. I had to go to my parents’ house to pick up a few of them (since I have my mini library there. My place is too small for a mini library) and bring them to my place so I wouldn’t feel so bad.

Current book I’m reading: A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (I’m already half way through!)

I had high expectation for this book but it was such a let down. I’m reading it so it won’t go to waste. It is ok I had worse.  According to The Telegraph:

“A Beckettian masterpiece. . . . The finest work to date from an influential figure in American letters.” –The Telegraph (UK)

I trusted you Telegraph UK! I really trusted you.

Books I just got:

  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I just found a list of books to read for 2014 which I’m excited. They all seemed very good. That will be on another post…

What’s yours?

Seoul Part IV

Seoul for shopaholic is the equivalent of liquor store for alcoholics. You could literally shop anywhere and anytime! 24hrs shopping center, underground shopping, shopping mall, shopping area, little shopping areas, blocks of shopping areas, it was so hard to avoid shopping. It was impossible.

Continue reading for more pictures…

Continue reading