Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

I have a moment to tune in to the Weekly Photo Challenge contests that brought me so many great impressions (and yet so many great friends). This week’s theme is Earth: and as you would understand if you have ever opened my blog, I just could not pass such a topic.

My love for outdoors was not inborn. I am coming from the heart of a 5 million city, and for many years nature was something I mostly saw in books and on TV, something very theoretical. For a long time, landscape beauty for me equaled city skyline and fine architecture. The only sunsets I saw were that over the cities. Apart from my summer time in a Southern city where my grandmother lived, I have never seen the stars.

And then I moved to Finland, to the capital city smaller than my hometown’s central island. Finland has taught me many things, for which I will be forever grateful. Appreciation of (and introduction to) nature was one of them.

I have traveled a lot since then, and have seen many amazing cities. I fell in love with New York, Berlin, Lisbon, Rome and Havana. I gave my heart to Paris. But when I think about all my travels, the images that come to mind first are that of nature: the sunset over Oia, the turquoise waters of Crete, Morocco desertIguazu Falls. Cities make imagination wander, nature captures hearts. Even for a die-hard urban person that I am.

And Rio, Rio has it all. ❤

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Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

🙂

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay: Latam 2016 Last Stop and Highlights

Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay was the last destination of our Latam 2016 trip. To be completely honest, we chose it for three reasons: 1) we were nearby, 50 km across the Narrow Sea; 2) we had never been to Uruguay (and did not exactly see ourselves coming back to Latin America just to visit it) and 3) visiting three countries on a new continent did sound exciting. Plus, Colonia del Sacramento is listed as UNESCO heritage, travelers’ photos were gorgeous, so it all got us fired up to go.

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Was it a good idea?..

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Rio: Why Love It and How to Handle

The year I was turning 30 I had no regrets but one: not having some extra 2-3 years to live in Brazil. 20s are great for many things and freedom of flirting with cities, cultures and possibilities, is one of them. 30s, at least in my head, are more a time for responsible decisions: decisions that shape your future. I could, of course, live everywhere I wanted, but the costs now were too high: trading off post-MBA job options, throwing away some precious years of EU residence track (yet again). So I did not go live in Rio. We call is strategy. And, sometimes, discipline. The dreams though continue to live inside of us, showing us images, calling us to places. For me, Rio was such a dream. And if I could not live there, at the very least I could visit.

Rio was the main goal of our spontaneous trip to Latin America with Louveteau. It was everything I dreamt about and more. Rio is so many different things. It is very rough but very true. Very green and very psychotic in terms of the weather. It is the city of contrasts: posh houses of the last wave of economic success next to favelas, homes of no one, which officially do not even exist. One moment it is sunny, with music, laughter everywhere and life flowing to the beach, and then suddenly there is a thunderstorm, a pouring rain, and the city is completely deserted. People of Rio are like that, as well. Many don’t have much but offer a lot, and many take what (they think) is their by the law which precedes any civilized legal system.

I could write volumes on Rio, and yet it would not be enough to convey all of its faces, its moods and its magic. You should probably be born in Rio to breathe in unison with it. As its guest, you could only go as far as falling in love with it.

So, falling in love with Rio is not really an option. What about handling it?

Rio was a rare case, for me in the last years, of well researching a place before going there. I read tourist guides, forums, blogs. I asked around. In the end, I had a hand selection of things I wanted to do: those that were ranked top by millions of people I have never met and a few recommended by friends whose opinion I trusted. Here is what I picked from all this.

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Birds’ Park (Parque das Aves), Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls

Time to go back to my Latam adventure. My story about Iguazu Falls from the Brazilian side would not be complete without Parque das Aves, The Birds’ Park. 

I remember us visiting it on the last day of our stay at Iguazu, on our way to the airport. It took us around 2,5 hours to visit (which was not enough to take the iconic photo with a parrot in the end of the visit, for which, it seemed, the entire park was queuing for). I did not exactly remember what I have from that day on my camera and first thought that The Birds’ Park visit might make a boring topic for a post. To my sheer delight, I found not only tons of amazing shots of tropical birds but also a series of flamingo’s love making scenes. (Several weeks’ journeys tend to blur the impressions into a rotating kaleidoscope. Travel photography allows you to keep the precious moments. So TAKE PHOTOS).

I’ll start with the flamingos because I am sure you all want to know (well, don’t you?).

Difference in male and female psychology. I was (taking photos and) thinking: “Wow, he takes off with such a grace. Should be uneasy with this long and awkward body”. Louveteau watched silently, took a reflection pause and said: “My friend, I don’t want to sound judgemental but it was a little bit short”. While I was preparing this post, the subject started trending, and we have almost scientifically established in a wide circle of MBA/ Masters’ that in the animal kingdom, only pigs can boast about long love making sessions with as much as 9 orgasms in a row. Talk about the value of education.

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Iguazu, Brazil

Today is a public holiday in France, and that makes a room for one more post this week before I hop on a train to London tomorrow to take a trip down memory lane and to celebrate Louveteau’s birthday. I am going to share with you the memories of one of the happiest days in my life, and my heart is full of radiant anticipation and gratitude to life for having experienced all that.

As you might have noticed, I travel a lot and have been doing that for quiet a while. With every picture I sneak, every city break I carve out in my schedule and every new country I pin on my Travel Map, I get increasingly more and more difficult to surprise, overwhelm and amaze. Iguazu scraps all that luggage of travel experience and resets my ability to be blown away to zero. Once again, I am a kid who crosses the geographical boundaries for the first time and steps in the unknown. 

Iguazu can not be compared to absolutely anything you have experienced before (I am saying “experienced” because this place is constantly engaging all of your five senses, and sometimes even the sixth and the seventh ones). For starters, that’s the first thing you see when you enter the park: the flocks of friendly coati! Have you even heard about coati before?

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Coati, numerous inhabitants of Iguazu National Park

We booked Iguazu free of any expectations and we going to stay for two nights, just in case. Ele has recommended us Belmond Hotel das Cataratas because it is the only hotel located on the territory of the Iguazu National Park. At least, from the Brazilian side (Argentinian side is much bigger and has its own hotels, Sheraton among them, for SPG lovers). Our stay would not have been that magical had we picked a different place.

We made it to Iguazu late in the day (I am sparing some drama about a missed flight from Rio and some vivid flying/ landing impressions). The day was still on, so we parked our bags and rushed along the sightseeing route. That’s what we saw. 

We ended the day in the huge open swimming pool of the hotel, watching the sun glares dissolving in the velvet water and listening to the murmuring sounds of the rainforest as the night was stepping into its rights.

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Gringokids 2016: How It All Started

Last thing I was planning to do in the end of 2015 was going to Latin America. I mean, Rio has always been my dream, sure. And sure, with my travel map being almost completely painted in Europe and Asia being my parents’ place, Latam seemed an absolutely exciting place to explore.

There were no upcoming signs.  In early November, I just broke up with my French boyfriend of almost a year and invited all my best friends over to Paris. I was wholeheartedly anticipating the holiday season in my newly free status and planned back-to-back business trips and weekends in European capitals to fill the waiting time. A few weeks after, I was at La Maison Blanche, casually playing 36 Questions to Fall in Love. Falling in love was the last item on my agenda, along with the trip to Latam, but I read about this game in The New York Times and was finding this experiment entertaining. I was cheating when playing, of course (it was my game, after all): always asking the questions first, listening to Louveteau’s answers and only then giving mine (in theory, partners should take turns). Somewhere between the main and the dessert, Louveteau said: Can I ask you a question as well? How do you see the development of this relationship going forward? Going forward. 

Next thing I know, we landed in Rio. Together.

In short, our trip looked like that: Paris –> Rio –> Iguazu (Brazilian side) –> Iguazu (Argentinian side) –> Buenos Aires –> Colonia, Uruguay –> Buenos Aires –> Rio –> Paris

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What I learnt from travelling to 37 countries (and living in 9)

I have recently posted a teaser on stepping out of the comfort of the place you come from and setting a foot to wander the world. Here is my learning on what happens when you actually do.

Credit card, passport, phone. You will probably forget something somewhere. And most likely, more than once. As practice has it, any travel gap can be covered by a credit card, passport and a phone or a combination of the three. So make sure you hold on to these fundamentals. Everything else is replaceable. It is still useful to pack as few valuable as possible (and in some case, like when travelling to Brazil, to avoid taking any at all), to lock the few you take with you in a safe and to check the room before leaving the hotel for good. Knowing what is enough though will save you a lot of time (and peace of mind) when packing.

Follow your (photo) hunch. Places make first impressions, too. And these first impressions matter. So take pictures of whatever catches your eye. The palm trees will become a usual part of the scenery after a few days on an island, the magic of the Mediterranean sunsets will fade away after a few nights, so keep the memories of the things as you first see them. And remember: imperfect photo is better than no photo at all. In a few months, you might find things that you hated in this picture less dramatic. In a few years, they might become a source of a great story.

Some of the best travel memories happen at 6 am. I learnt it the hard way: waking up that early is the last thing I want to do on vacation. And it can be oh so worth it. My trip to Iguazu falls would never be even nearly as amazing without a 6 am plunge into the smooth surface of the swimming pool followed by the breakfast in the sunrise rays (and a walk to the falls in the only company of coati). One of my best pictures from Rio is its sunrise, which Louveteau and I captured on our last day in Latam when we could finally catch the sun after several days of clouds at the dawn.

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