Coquimbo and La Serena: beach, sun and sand

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The title of my article is pure poetry, I am inspired these days 😊La Serena has much to see, the city is quite attractive for tourists and I would say that it’s pleasant to live also, it has about 200,000 inhabitants, so one of the largest cities in the entire country. The city is located on the Pacific, its symbol is an immense sandy beach and the Monumental Lighthouse (it’s called like this, and yes it’s huge) on the beach, which makes the city very movie-like. We were very happy walking barefoot on the beach, enjoying our Chilean life. In Croatia we don’t have sandy beaches, so the enthusiasm was great. So, for lovers of the beach and sea sports, I think that the Coquimbo region is almost a paradise.

There are also small islands in the vicinity (for example, Isla Damas) that you can go to visit and where you can see various animals, such as penguins, otters, dolphins … There are so many things to do, but we dedicate a whole day to going to Elqui Valley so we didn’t have time for the islands. It will be the next time. And remembering that I said that three days is enough, it’s not true, I was lying.

Well, something more about La Serena, which is not only beach and sand, although I could spend a whole day on the beach watching the waves and strolling there, eventually having a coffee with a view of the Pacific. The city center preserves some very beautiful buildings and in general a very neocolonial architecture, which makes you want to walk more and more through the city.

If you get bored of that beautiful architecture and good food, you can always go to the Japanese park of La Serena, officially called El Parque Jardín del Corazón.

It’s a very nice, large and quiet space, as Japanese parks tend to be. The entrance fee is symbolic, and it is really worth going.

In La Serena you eat quite well, as in the whole country, so that was not a surprise. If you are in a hurry, you can go eat a completo or churrasco on the first floor of the Recova market. If you want a whole menu, you can have it in any of the restaurants in the city center, it’s almost impossible to fail that mission.

If you by any case eat too much, you can always go burn those calories and go up a bit to something that I think was a fortress before and where there are now the military forces, but they let us in without asking. From there you can have a nice view and it’s interesting to change the perspective a bit.

To finish with the theme of La Serena I give you a couple of more details. We were staying in an excellent hostel, very nice, and I think it was one of my favorite hostels where I stayed. With a large and ornate yard, full of colors, where you can eat breakfast or have a coffee. The hostel directly helps the person to be in a good mood when they get up and start their day. Very well done.

By the way, the people in La Serena, as in the entire region, are very friendly, really. The only negative that I am going to highlight is the stray dogs, just like in so many other coastal cities around the world. It’s a problem that apparently does not matter much to the people or the authorities. But the truth is that walking around the city after sunset can be a bit unpleasant because there are like 5 dogs following you. Chileans are used to it and treat them like old friends, but it must be recognized that these dogs are homeless and could be sick and, therefore, even dangerous for people.

Now, I will tell you a little bit about Coquimbo, a city from which we didn’t expect anything special, but in the end, we realized that there are some details that make it quite peculiar and unique in Chile. For example, there is a spot on the coast where sea lions are just lying in the sun and doing nothing, which seems to be the whole purpose of their life. You can get close, but not very close to them, you have to leave them their space they chose to have peace. Nor should you give them food, since they are perfectly capable of going hunting. The only thing we can do is observe these big and very friendly animals from a respectful distance while they are enjoying life. One of the things that I like the most about Chile is that, the fact of having the not so common animals there on the street, or in a corner or place that they chose to be. I have never been to a zoo nor do I plan to go, it’s something that doesn’t make any sense, but having the privilege of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is something that I find impressive.

In addition to the city’s pets, Coquimbo has another peculiarity. When entering the city on one of the hills there was a giant cross. Well, nothing to say, Latin America is still one of the regions of the world where there are more Catholics, although every day fewer practical Catholics, but what really surprised us was what we saw on the other hill. We saw a building whose architectural style seemed quite… exotic considering the area, we could put it that way. And my friend said look it’s a mosque. I made fun of him right away, because how a small city in the north of Chile it was going to have a mosque in one of the most prominent parts of the city? That is impossible. And so, we discussed a few minutes, and I went to google it, and indeed, to my great surprise, it was a mosque. I had thousands of questions in my head, where did Muslims come to Chile from? What is that? Since when does Chile have an Islamic legacy? And I am extra hyper curious even nosy sometimes, why didn’t I know about that? But, reading a bit more, I realized that it was a huge project that was going to show the unity of religions in a single city, putting symbols of those religions on each of the hills around the city. In the end, due to lack of money, only the mosque and the cross were made, nothing more, the mosque being financed by the King of Morocco. Mystery solved. Obviously, the three of us were very curious and we decided to go up to the mosque to visit it and investigate a little bit more. When I got there, already used to putting the veil on when entering, I began to put it on and take off my shoes, and at that moment the man who works there laughed and said “No need, we don’t do that here, come in please, with shoes and bare hair.” I laughed thinking how Latin culture had an influence on Islamic customs in South America. Guess it’s the region where people put less clothes in the whole planet. The man was very happy to have visitors and explained to us everything we wanted to know, among other things he told us that only for the most important dates they have a maximum of 20 to 30 people who come to pray, but if not, almost no one comes. Of course, as I was saying in the first place, in Chile there are really no Muslims. It was a very good experience to visit that place, the mosque is quite beautiful, so I recommend going.

The neighborhood that surrounds it doesn’t seem to be the safest in the world, so be discreet and do not look around much or take photos (as I did, I told you I’m nosy), it’s my recommendation.

That was all from me. Coquimbo is not as interesting and beautiful as La Serena, but it has its peculiarities, and it’s nice to go see. If you can, to visit that region you should take a week to see everything, including La Serena, Coquimbo, Valle del Elqui and the islands. Of course, it all depends on your preferences. For my part, if one day I return to Chile, I would like to go to the Coquimbo region again, because it brings back good memories.

North of Chile: Elqui Valley

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I have been to Valle del Elqui twice, but there are so many things to see that maybe after 50,000 I wouldn´t have anything interesting to see, so when I have the next opportunity to go, I’ll go again. It´s a very special part of Chile for several reasons, it´s actually incredible that in such a small area there are so many interesting things, there is something for everyone, lovers of food, literature, alcohol, mysticism and astronomy all would be happy with what Valle del Elqui can offer. Everything fits there.

It´s where Gabriela Mistral, the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born; where pisco is produced, the Chilean alcoholic beverage par excellence; where due to the tilt of the planet the stars are seen even with the eye in a spectacular way; it is where you can eat the best empanadas in the world – filled with goat cheese; It’s where the legend says that a special energy from Tibet was spread and for that reason you’ll feel enchanted in that area and that is why there are many sects and mystics that go there … I think there is no need to list more, there is everything. And in addition to everything that makes Valle del Elqui famous, it’s also a very picturesque area, with small towns that have peculiar architecture, not alternated by modernity, intact nature, very simple and friendly people willing to help and explain whatever you need … there are plenty of reasons to go to the area.

On my way through Valle del Elqui, I was in Pisco Elqui and Vicuña. The first time I went there, as I mentioned in the article about the flower desert, it was on the recommendation of a friend who told me that story that the stars look great there and that there are observatories, but that it’s possible to see the stars also only with the eye and that it’s said that this is all due to that special energy of Tibet that promotes the spirituality of the place. Honestly, I went there out of curiosity and because I was on my way to go to the flower desert, I didn´t have many expectations, firstly because I am not very spiritual person nor am I interested in being one, and secondly because I come from a very small village in Croatia, my house is next to a forest, there is almost no artificial light at night and the stars look great at night, especially in summer. I thought I was going to see something similar there. And there I learned a nice lesson which is: never underestimate Chile. Again, as in the case of sea lions in Valdivia, I was not even aware of what Chile is and what kind of spectacular things you can see there, and we cannot even imagine seeing them in Europe. Here some things are normal and in other countries are considered either very exotic or surreal. When I saw that starry sky in Pisco Elqui, I almost lost my balance and fell from the shock caused. Incredible, it seemed that the stars were glued to my eyes, never in my life had I seen the stars so closely without the help of a telescope and whatever. Of course, that has its scientific explanation, but it’s simply incredible that a single country has the driest desert in the world, places where you can observe the stars the best in the whole world, penguins and sea lions walking around, a lot of volcanoes, the only native people in both Americas that were never “conquered” by the settlers, two poets who won the Nobel Prize when you know how difficult it is to win that prize for poets, the Pacific, glaciers, a part of Antarctica, the Andes mountain range, the fact of being the most seismic country in the world and with the strongest earthquake recorded in the history of humanity… that is, they have everything, all extremes. Didn’t leave much to others, did they? And that there are so many countries in the world.

After that reflection, I continue with Valle del Elqui. After that first experience, the second time I took my two Croatian friends to an observatory, I think Mamayuca, to see the stars with a telescope, and a guy explaining all that to us, because I was sure it would be a unique experience for them. And yes, it was, they loved it, and I was fascinated to see that in reality the stars and planets in the end are not as distant as they sometimes seem, we are part of the same system and I even had the honor of seeing the rings of Saturn, something that really fascinated me, was like having it right there in front of me. I would say that actually the mystical and the incomprehensible there becomes normal and usual, something common. But for us it was quite a spectacle and surely a beautiful memory for life.

And then Vicuña. I think I just had a coffee there and took a walk, I didn’t have time for more, but it’s the place where Gabriela Mistral was born, and it shows in every step. Everything bears her name, even a hill is called Gabriela Mistral, not to mention the monuments that represent her and the number of schools and all kinds of institutions that have her name. Well deserved, because she was a person who promoted education for children from poor families.

Something that also bears her name is pisco, one of the most common brands of pisco is the one that bears her name, I suppose because she and pisco share the region of her birth. If you are interested in seeing the production of pisco or to taste it, Valle del Elqui is the right place. It’s a drink that looks a bit like whiskey in my opinion, but they say that the closest thing to pisco on an international level is cognac. I can’t say because I never had cognac. In any case, pisco is quite strong, so many mix it with cola, so we have piscola, as one of the favorite drinks of Chileans. We prefer to drink natural juices, there are also many typical of the area. In the video below you can see the tasting:

As I said, in Valle del Elqui there is everything in such a small area, and it’s a region that makes combinations in what one would not say is possible. You have to go see, that’s all I can tell you, if it were up to me, I’d stay there for a whole month to see if that energy from Tibet infects me.

Zakopane: a magical town with mountain view

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I say village, but Zakopane is actually a city located in the extreme south of Poland, next to the Tatra Mountains and near the border with Slovakia. The city has just a bit less than 300,000 inhabitants and it`s a very quiet city. That is not that important, but it`s a detail that I noticed. I must say that I loved the city, I didn`t expect it to be so beautiful. I mean, I was expecting it pretty, just not so much. It is amazing, with the beautiful wooden houses everywhere, especially in the center. It even seems from another era – I personally thought it would be the perfect scene for the magic town of Hogsmeade, Harry Potter fans will understand. Like it has an atmosphere like that, and well, I’m very creative 😊

And what makes the center even more beautiful, pleasant and delicious, yes you read that correctly, there are many people in the area who sell their products in the streets, they have their small improvised sales kiosks, and what is appreciated with the Poles is that they are not disturbing while trying to sell. I mean, let’s see, I love Latinos and Turks very much, I adore them, but with selling things sometimes they are impossible, and they insist too much. Poles are not like that, they are very friendly, and they like to talk and explain when you ask them a question, they like to talk to foreigners, but they are not aggressive and don’t attack the possible customers. So, I bought a delicious honey and a jam that I think I ate in less than a week. What they also sell a lot in Zakopane is a goat cheese called oscypek that is very typical of the area, and in addition to buying it alone, it can be bought in a very particular form and they serve it with raspberry jam. Taking this to go and eat walking through the incredibly charming streets of Zakopane reminded me why I love living in Poland. It was perfect. The food, the view, everything. Sometimes I think that Poles are not aware of how wonderful their country is.

Well, since we were there all weekend (staying in a nice house made of wood, we found it on Airbnb) we took the time to go to the mountains, the Tatras. There are many ski centers there, but we decided to do trekking to Morskie oko (translation would be “The sea eye” because it`s in a form of an eye), a very beautiful and very accessible lake to go there. I was afraid that -as we were already in November- there will be no people and there will be bears, so I even looked for websites specialized in bears where they explained how to act if you see one. In the end much drama for nothing, the road to Morskie oko is one of the most popular trekkings, it`s paved and not as adventurous as I imagined. Mind you, we did see a couple of deer and they were very cute.

The lake and the whole road were very beautiful and if you walk more or less quickly you can get there in an hour and a half. If not, two. Clearly, in addition to Morskie oko, there are more lakes that are just as beautiful, but not as easy to access. I hope I can go back to Zakopane and the Tatras and see a bit more lakes and mountains.

To go to Morskie oko it is preferable to go in the morning because it will take a minimum of three hours round trip including trekking and the bus from Zakopane to the national park within which the lake is located. The bus at the moment is paid in cash, but the entrance to the park can be payed by card, like almost everything in Poland.

Anyway, going to Zakopane was totally successful and gave me another perspective of the country, and I already had so many. It`s one of the largest and most diverse European countries by region, in my opinion. I’ve seen enough, but with each trip I am motivated to learn more, there is still a lot to discover and it`s something that makes me happy.

Flower desert

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Sometimes, and especially when several years of the trip have passed, I prefer to see the photos or videos that I have to remember a bit how it was, and always with the help of the photos I manage to remember some details or anecdotes that I would otherwise forget. Except when it comes to Chile, and this trip in particular. I saw the flower desert on my first trip to Chile, which was also my first trip to Latin America, which was a dream come true for me. Perhaps that is why I remember all of them, even the smallest details, remained etched in my mind for the rest of my life (I hope that amnesia and Alzheimer’s do not reach me). In the first place, I didn`t plan to go to see the flower desert, even if some of my Chilean friends told me that it would be nice to go because it was estimated that it was the largest flower desert in the last 20 years and it is not known when a phenomenon like that will happen again. At the time everyone (myself included) thought that I would be there just spending some weeks and who knows when I`ll be again in Chile. It was not like that, but it`s part of another story, this text serves to try to describe in words the magic of the natural phenomenon called the flower desert (desierto florido in Spanish), something that with less or greater intensity happens every year in the south of the driest desert in the world, Atacama. It`s between the cities of Copiapó and Vallenar where the phenomenon can best be perceived. In an area that is the driest and most arid in the entire world, more than 150 species of flowers appeared, many of them endemic, marking the beginning of spring. Since we are talking about the southern hemisphere, it`s a phenomenon that happens in late August or early September. There are entire hills full of flowers of different colors, kilometers and kilometers of flowers within the Atacama. Obviously, a spectacular moment to be there for a human being.

 

But I tell you how I got there in the end. I was at a meal with the family of a friend of mine who, by the way, hosted me in Santiago and they insisted on convincing me that it would be silly not to take advantage of this special moment, and they showed me the photos of the flower desert, they told me where I had to go to see it well and enjoy it to the fullest … and I don’t know, there was also September 11 when in Santiago (historical reasons, date of the 1973 coup) there are violent protests and then they also thought that the best thing for me is to leave that day out of the capital to a quieter area. And nothing, suddenly I decided to follow the advice, not only from them, but also from another friend who advised me to go to Valle del Elqui, which is not so far from the flowery desert, that is, everything going north. But it`s again something that deserves a separate text.

The thing was that I arrived at Vallenar at around 5 in the afternoon, I checked in at the hotel and immediately asked them how I can go to see the flower desert. They told me that it seems to them that there was nothing left that day and that I should wait until the next day. Obviously, I am a very tenacious and persistent person (that’s why I fulfilled the biggest dream of my life at the age of 25) and I went to the center of the city and started asking around at the open market where to direct me if I want to go to the flower desert. In my mind full of everything but brain, I asked a lady how I could walk there. Walk. I mean, me walking alone into the desert. Now that I say it, it seems like either a joke or a suicide attempt, but I was very serious, I came there to see the flower desert and nothing and nobody was going to stop me from doing it. The lady, very nice and friendly, by the way, told me that it`s not possible to walk there, but that she had a contact with a lady who does private tours. The contact was immediately passed to me, she called her first to tell her who I was and the lady said that there is no problem there was another person interested to do the long tour the next day. And well, I realized that I had to stay one more day to do everything I wanted, but I was going to do it. I was on vacation so there was no rush. And  the next day the guide, the driver and another lady who was on the tour came to pick me up, we got into the truck and left. I can tell you something that I suppose you know, the most beautiful experiences you are going to have in this life are the ones that happened spontaneously and unexpectedly. Just like that tour. The guide was a woman who knew all the flowers and plants and their uses and colors and absolutely everything. She is a very wise person. Besides that, she, like the other people present on the tour, had a very good mood. It was a day full of jokes and laughter, as well as spectacular views and landscapes. Together with the guide, the driver Francisco and Ines, the other passenger, they were an endless number of jokes and anecdotes. Like a full day stand up comedy. I even remember the jokes! Amazing! We spent most of the day on the tour and saw so many different flowers, we had the opportunity to walk around, without clearly damaging the flowers, and admire the beauty and occurrence of nature.

 

Suddenly there were very dry and arid landscapes, with almost no plants and fewer colored flowers, and that is actually typical Atacama, and then, just behind the corner there was a hill full of yellow flowers, then one full of pink flowers … incredible, to think that you are in the Atacama and you see that is simply spectacular. For European readers, imagine Sahara full of flowers, it`s at that level.

 

That day I was in a state of pure happiness and not even aware of the beautiful memories I would have, I was there with the guys, obviously making jokes, and that’s how the day passed. And even now, writing this I have a smile on my face. Already just seeing the greatness and power of a desert is impressive, but with flowers, it is magic. And I say that I don’t need photos to remember those moments, but I do have photos, and the one I remember the most is the photo where I am sitting in the field of flowers just being happy. I wasn’t thinking about anything at the time, I wasn’t just laughing “for the photo”, no, I was laughing because I was happy. It was one of many moments that made me fall in love with Chile, the most beautiful country that these brown eyes ever saw.

 

In the end, what else to say, but to thank everyone who convinced me to go alone from Santiago to the north. Guys, remember that sometimes it`s good to follow the advices! It was a unique and unforgettable experience. To prove it, just watch this video below and us in the truck listening to Despacito and enjoying the flower desert at the same time.

Poland part 1: How Warsaw captivated me in less than 24 hours

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They say first impression is very important, and I couldn’t agree more with that. Taking into account all my experiences of perhaps not so much travel but more of my expat life, I have to admit that the first impression has almost always been the one that, in a way, marks my stay in a country. This happened with Chile, Belgium and now with Poland. Let’s be honest, I had prejudices about Poland, I had never been to this country before and in my imagination, I drew it differently. It was a combination of what I heard during all my life from the media, from older people in my country who remembered Poland in Soviet times, travelers, foreigners who at some point in their life lived in Poland, Poles living abroad,… A lot of people said a lot of things, and some of them knew something about Poland, and some knew almost nothing. When I stepped into the Polish ground in Warsaw in August 2020, I didn’t come with high expectations, but yes with curiosity.

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In short, my first impression of Poland literally stayed with my mouth opened from surprise of acknowledging how beautiful Warsaw was. I loved the city. That afternoon (and night) I was captivated by a place like few times in my life. There was a surprise effect, everything was much more beautiful and modern than I expected. I walked until my feet started to hurt. If not, I would have continued my walk until dawn. And that was actually just the beginning of this, for the moment, beautiful, Polish experience.

Many Europeans of the so-called West believe that they can have an opinion on everything and that this opinion is valid and very valuable, although in reality it’s the most false and in the end it’s useless. Sometimes I think it’s just because they want to show that they are the best and that everyone else, despite the eventual effort to develop, cannot ever beat them or their incredibly developped and open minded countries. I could see that living in South America. Every Western European ever has an opinion, often somewhat negative and absolutely wrong, of that continent, its systems, its climate, its culture and its people. But well, it’s something that we can connect with Eurocentrism combined with a high level of ignorance and that’s it, but in the case of Poland I don’t understand.

Poland is a country of 40 million inhabitants, which has been part of the European Union since 2004, which means that Poland and, for example, France have the same parliament. Yes, Croatia too, Denmark the same. The European Parliament, the one that is in Brussels. In other words, one could hope that among the countries and peoples of such a small continent we know each other a bit better. But no. Poland is one of the countries with the most negative publicity in the entire EU. I still thought, in my small Balkan brain, that Poland is a less developed country in every sense, than for example France or Italy. And I thought about it without ever setting foot on that land. Very stupid and prejudiced, another slap that my travels and expat life gave me, although I thought that after Turkey it was no longer possible for a country to be so different from what I imagined. Yet it is. And here my Polish adventure begins. Warsaw is the beautiful Polish capital. Definitely a city worthy of being called a capital. It has it all, nightlife, impressive skyscrapers, people from everywhere, lights, large avenues, interesting architecture,…

And yes, the answer to everyone’s question: Where is the Soviet architecture, there must be a lot of it? Yes, it can be found there, I leave an example below. But no, it’s not something that predominates in the city.

And, as I just mentioned, Warsaw is in many ways a typical European capital, the city center is full of restaurants, bars, fancy places, people like to dress up when they go out, it’s a city of almost 2 million inhabitants and it’s living 24/7. It looks magical and vibrant at night, and quiet in the morning, before people get up to go to work, or do whatever they want. We already know that in large cities you can find everything. Having said all that, we can talk about the differences between Warsaw and other European capitals. Besides some remnants of Soviet architecture, the other differences seem to favor the Polish capital more than the other capitals. Oh, is that so? Yes it is. In Warsaw, if you are a woman, you can walk wherever you want whenever you want, without fear of being harassed, mugged … it’s a very safe city. It’s something that in the center of Brussels, Athens or Paris is no longer possible. In addition to that detail, which is still quite important, there is another. Warsaw is a very clean and well-kept capital. It’s difficult to find rubbish lying around or unpleasant smells spreading around in the streets, something that cannot be said for the center of Rome or even Prague. Luckily I have something to compare with and I am a person who quickly frees myself from prejudices when seeing that they have no foundation. It’s not so serious to have them, it’s serious not to accept our mistakes even when the evidence of how wrong we were are before our very eyes. Warsaw was totally destroyed by the Nazis, but the Poles raised it from the ashes and today it is a true capital that welcomed me with open arms and in all its splendor.

In case you haven’t found out yet, Poland ceased to be part of the Iron Curtain in 1989, now we are at the end of 2020. Polish cities are cheerful, full of life and colors. Many people speak English, even more people travel at least once per year. The country developed incredibly fast in the last 10 years, not only because they received the money from European funds, but also because someone made smart decisions and because people work hard and want to advance in their professional lives. Anyway, it’s time to get over the “east and west” thing.

Denmark: Copenhagen – the fairytale city

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General information: Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, a country located in northern Europe. People there speak Danish, a Germanic language, similar to German and English. But, almost all Danes also speak English quite well. The currency used is the Danish crown, even if the country is part of the European Union. Remember that not everyone implemented the euro as their national currency. Copenhagen does not reach even a million inhabitants, so it’s a not so big city, it´s quiet, perfect to enjoy it.

What to see?

Tourist attractions  :

1) The Little Mermaid, clearly. The famous monument of the character of the fairy tale written by the Danish Hans Christian Andersen, is one of the main tourist attractions of the city. It’s a small monument, but so powerful and it causes so many emotions that I understand why it’s so popular. I could spend hours looking at the monument. Unfortunately, there are many tourists around and some are very disrespectful. It’s very sad that people are like this, but the little mermaid doesn’t lose its charm. In fact, it even seems that the way her head is turned is to look more to the sea and not even look at those curious who come to bother her. Her kingdom is the sea. That moment, all that it represents reminds me of the poem by Charles Baudelaire, called Albatross: “Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées, ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.”

2) Nyhavn: When someone uploads a photo of Copenhagen to social in 90% of cases it’s a photo of Nyhavn. Now that I say that name, it sure doesn’t sound like anything to you, but believe me, you would easily recognize that place. Basically, it’s a canal surrounded by houses of many different colors of course there is a bridge where everyone is taking photos.

Continue reading “Denmark: Copenhagen – the fairytale city”

France part 1 : the magic of Paris

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How many articles have been written, how many films have been made, how many photos have been taken, how many stories have been told about “le charme” of Paris, that mythical French capital. Many, infinite, in so many different languages. Paris was, is and will continue to be a source of inspiration for everyone: artists of all kinds, travelers, everyone … Here are my impressions of this impressive city that I visited twice and I know there will be a third time.

General information : With its 10 million inhabitants it’s one of the largest European cities. It’s also a very expensive city, which is not surprising if we know that it’s the center of the second economic power of the European Union as well as one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. The currency used is the euro. People speak French and yes, it’s convenient to learn at least a few words of that language to be able to communicate and also because the French people appreciate if someone tries to speak to them in their native language. As in all large cities, you have to be careful with thieves. Do not be obsessed, just take care of your things.

How to get around the city?

By metro – it’s quite fast, we use this kind of transport a lot, much more than the bus for example. In such a big city it’s the easiest, especially if you don’t have so much time and want to see more things.

How to come?

I was going by bus for the first time from Croatia and it is an experience that I do not suggest to anyone because there are many hours and time = money, so take a plane, you save a lot of nerves and bad times. The second time I was going from Brussels and we took a bus, but you can go by train anyway – it’s a bit more expensive and quite fast.

Where to stay?

I would recommend an Air bnb or something like that if there are more people, it was quite good for us, and also we were not that far from the things we wanted to see because if you stay outside the city then you will have to take RER, the train that goes to the suburbs and it’s quite dangerous at night, especially if you don’t know the neighborhood . So it’s best to book a bit in advance so that it’s cheaper, but to have a good connection by metro or bus.

What to eat?

Please don’t eat just at Mc’Donalds. If you don’t have money to eat well for at least one day in France, go to other countries. That advice would give me the “me” of now to the me of the first time in Paris. Why? Well, because it’s important to try some of the local gastronomy and also because Mc’Donalds / KFC and the rest are pure junk food and do not give the energy to walk around Paris all day. Anyway, what you have to try is: croissants, crepes, creme brulee, some meat … if you don’t have money to eat well, better buy a gyros or kebab, or a sandwich at the bakery or supermarket, at least they are fresher and healthier ingredients, don’t go to junk food places, Paris is huge and beautiful, you will want to see it all and you will die of exhaustion if you only eat at the mentioned junk food chains. I insist on that because I made that mistake the first time and I don’t want it to happen to others. There are beautiful European countries and cities where food is cheap and accessible to everyone. Don’t be prejudiced. Bosnia is as wonderful as France, and there you can eat well in the local restaurants. Here I am going to stop because I see that I strayed a bit from the topic.

Tourist attractions :

1) Montmartre: for now my favorite place in the city. First, because it’s located on a hill from where one has a spectacular view of the entire city. Second, because there is also the Sacré coeur basilica. In other words, turning to one side, the beautiful basilica and from the other, that view. Amazing. That sure looks like a movie. And also, the entire Montmartre neighborhood is known as “the artists’ quarter” with a lot of galleries and works of art, long and narrow streets, many cafes where they offer breakfast at a good price … the whole neighborhood is so beautiful and it is for sure the first place I will go when I return to Paris. I could spend a whole day there.

2) the Eiffel Tower – the symbol of Paris, even if nobody wanted it when they built it and they said it made the city ugly. Honestly, it’s not something spectacular, after all it is an iron tower. In my opinion there are many more beautiful things, but of course, if you are already in Paris go see it, take a couple of photos and bye.

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The same goes for the Louvre museum, I was twice in Paris, but I didn’t feel like going inside (even if the entrance is free for those under 26) Instead, I preferred to go elsewhere or wait for my friends while I had a delicious coffee and a couple of as well delicious macarons. My weakness is coffee and cafeterias and in Paris there are so many that have such a good atmosphere. I bought a couple of books for one or two euros – there are open markets in the city center with cheap old books – and I went to a cafe with a very nice view, quite close to the opera. In Louvre there are always a lot of people, they all want to take photos and you can’t enjoy art, that’s what everyone who was inside told me. As a good Croatian, I prefer to use that time to have a good coffee in peace.

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3) The Champs Elysees: it is actually a giant avenue with trees next to the street, and the beginning of the avenue is at the Arc de Triomphe, made by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is undoubtedly the most famous avenue in Paris and one of the most famous worldwide. There are all the luxury stores you can imagine, including Chanel, Cartier … it’s nice to walk there even if you don’t want / can buy anything.

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4) Luxembourg Park: in my opinion, the most beautiful and pleasant park from the city. It is a kind of oasis within that giant city. It has it all: flowers, lakes, palaces, a lot of green, tranquility – there are chairs by the lake and people will sit and enjoy a moment of peace.

5) Quartier Latin (the Latin Quarter): it is a quite cheerful neighborhood ( especially the part called Saint Michel), full of shops, noise, small restaurants, very lively at night, but it is also close to several important monuments such as Notre Dame or the Pantheon. The history of this neighborhood is quite interesting because during the 20th century it has been the meeting point of many Latin American artists, who came to Paris for different reasons, some to be famous, to make themselves known or simply to be at the world center of events. of fashions, trends, learning, representing your country and teaching others about the country they come from.

Personal Observation: As I already mentioned, I visited this beautiful city twice and I hope to visit it again very soon. It’s a huge city where I think there will always be something new to see. The architecture of Paris captivates, as its small cafes and “creperies” where you can breathe that French identity so connected to gastronomy and that very French sense of a detail. I think this city is a very good option for those who travel alone, because it is so interesting that they will not even realize that they are moving around the city alone. But both times I traveled with other people. The first time I didn’t like the experience, I think it would have been better to travel alone. The second time I was with a small group of friends and it was great. Unfortunately we were only able to stay for the weekend. I look forward to the next time in Paris, alone, with friends, family, whatever … Paris is always a good idea.

London part 2 : what everybody wanna see

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General Information: London, as most people know, is the capital of England and the United Kingdom. It’s a cosmopolitan city, expensive (not as much as they say, but still yes) and giant. It has about 12 million inhabitants with the surroundings. It’s a city where you can find everything and it’s truly fascinating. I didn’t expect it to be this way and I didn’t have so many expectations, because I had an already created image of a distant, cold and gray London and, nevertheless, again the travels overthrew my prejudices. It’s the best thing about travel.

In this article I am going to list which are more or less the places that one “has to see” if you travel for the first time there. If that doesn’t interest you, well then read my previous article, where I talk about the most alternative things that not everyone sees and that seemed to me the most beautiful of all.

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London part 1: what not everyone sees

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In this article I would like to talk a bit about a face of London that not all tourists really see. As it’s a giant city, there are a lot of important things to do and see, especially if you go for less than a week. I already had a list of less flashy and touristy things that I wanted to see, but it also helped me to spend the afternoon with a Croatian friend who lives there and took me to see the things that she likes. You know that I always like (if possible) to have a local experience because you always find out very curious things. So in this article I leave you with what I recommend you to see in London.

1) City: it’s a very interesting part of the city. It’s the financial headquarters of the whole UK and beyond, it’s the city within a city, since it has a certain autonomy. Why is this allowed only in the case of City? Because it’s a part of the city that brings a lot of money to the British government budget. The money comes, nobody cares how and where, and the economy continues. It is a neoliberal utopia, within a more socialist country, in my opinion. What you can see in City, plus thousands upon thousands of people in fancy outfits running to get their sandwich, eat early, and head back to the office, is Sky Garden, one of numerous skyscrapers with spectacular views of the entire both City and city. And best of all, it’s free. Of course, you must sign up in advance, a few weeks at least, it’s very easy, everything is done online.

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Portugal part 2 : Coimbra

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General Information: The city of Coimbra is roughly halfway from Porto to Lisbon. It’s actually closer to Porto. It’s a university city and has around 150,000 inhabitants. In other words, it’s not a big city and you can see everything you want by walking. Ok, there may be some hills so you kind of need to be in shape for Coimbra but it’s a good training.

How to get there?

I went by train, it’s not such a long trip and it’s very beautiful to see the landscapes. Of course, back it was longer because the train was slower and we stopped in all the small towns, even had a time for some coffee in Aveiro.

Where to eat?

The showcases of so many restaurants, cafes and bakeries invite you to enter. I loved the food, it doesn’t matter where you eat, whether sweet or salty, everything is delicious.

Tourist attractions:

1) The University of Coimbra: it’s the oldest in Portugal and among the oldest in all Europe. In addition to the quality of its study programs, it’s famous for the peculiar clothing of its students, the same that inspired the famous British author J.K. Rowling for the official costumes of Hogwarts students. I only visited one part of the building because it was getting late, but by the time I get back I have to go to the library, they say it’s very nice.

 

2) The Santa Cruz monastery: a very nice monastery founded in the 12th century. I recommend entering because the walls are full of tiles, which I love and could stay to see them the whole day.

Personal observation: Honestly, I traveled to Coimbra just to see the university and the students clothing, because this is where J.K. Rowling was inspired by the Harry Potter saga. But, I will describe that in another article that will talk about my wanderings around the places connected to the Harry Potter story. Spending a day in Coimbra was very beautiful, I must admit, with or without Harry Potter things, Coimbra has magic and the visit is worth it. Actually, I think it could even be two days, a weekend, to be able to see and enjoy the city well. It’s nice and there is good food everywhere, quite a temptation. So I think my friend and I spend more time eating and drinking coffee than walking around the town.

What I have seen of Portugal so far (and I hope to see much more in the future) implies that good people live there, that they eat well, that there is a lot of history, culture and art out there, at each step a different legend, an old tradition, something special, … but also, it must be recognized that the country recently experienced an economic crisis. Of course, there are many tourists who don’t realize it, because they are on vacation just wanna relax and nothing else matters. But it seemed very evident to me, so many damaged facades, the depopulation, the pessimism of the Portuguese are out there, they float in the air and are easy to grasp. After all, it is the homeland of fado and saudade, melancholy and regret run through their veins. Don’t be fooled by appearances, Portuguese may seem Spanish and Mediterranean, but in reality they are not. They are from the Atlantic, much calmer and more nostalgic. Well, besides when they are partying. Because if I know something well, it’s the nightlife of the north of Portugal, and I can say that these people from the Atlantic have quite a good time. At the party there are no regrets, they are left in oblivion to remember them the next morning.

Small dictionary of Portuguese :

Hi – Olà

How are you ? – Como vai?

Where is… ? – Onde está?

When is the next train ? – Quando é o próximo trem?

Thanks – Obrigado

You’re welcome –Por favor

Welcome – Bemvindo

Check, please – A conta, por favor.

Can I please have a coffee with milk ? – Um café com leite, por favor.

I love this town. – Eu amo essa cidade.

How much is it ? – Quanto custa?