Kythira: The Pristine

– Pigeon, where should we go this May? – I was jumping with excitement anticipating our annual trip with Sofia the way a small black car jumps on MyTaxi app when an order is confirmed. (I remember one friend asking us: “But why, why do you call each other pigeon?” The world might never understand best friends but together, best friends will understand the world.) – How about Malta? I have never been.

– I have been, I would go again… What about Spain? Check out the top beaches I sent you.

– Spain, mmm… – Somehow I have never connected with Spain. I love Barcelona – but then we already went there together, – had a good time at Tenerife (more than a decade ago, running away from November in Finland), and was absolutely not impressed by Madrid. And Madeira. – Or we can go to Montenegro. You know, because when else would we have an opportunity to travel there on an exploratory mission, and who else would sign up for it?

Or I can take you somewhere romantic, where the green dissolves in the blue, a place with gorgeous beaches, nature, waterfalls and serenity. And the Greek food, of course. Like Kythira.

A few weeks later we were boarding what turned out to be a very small plane (with barely any luggage head space, a note to a savvy traveler) to Kythira, a tiny island a short flight away from Athens.

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Wandering in the forests of Kythira, Greece

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Buenos Aires: The Real Deal

As I was saying in my post on Caminito, Buenos Aires is not the most beautiful city on Earth. In fact, when, inspired by the stunning views of Rio, we asked the hotel concierge what the best place to get a panoramic view of the city would be, he was truly puzzled. Unable to get a meaningful answer, we have soon discovered that the best place to see the city is, in fact, our hotel room at the Park Tower Hotel. That’s why I am sort of overusing different versions of this picture in my posts on the Argentinian capital.

For instance, that’s what you get during the day time.

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View on Torre Monumental from the Park Power Hotel, Buenos Aires

So Buenos Aires is almost the opposite of Rio. The comparison, however, runs in the opposite sense as well: the Argentinian capital is everything Rio is not, too. For starters, it is not dangerous: an 8 year-old with a gun asking you to hand him over your money and your passport (true story) stays in Brazil. You see people wearing jewellery, expensive watches, branded sunglasses and they are fine. That’s refreshing after Rio. What you also feel right away is a different level of life sophistication. Buenos Aires has it all for a good life: truly great restaurants, art markets, Miami-like neighbourhoods with hipster cafes, endless parks and classic and contemporary museums with the world’s finest collections. It opens up a totally new perspective on a daily life in Latin America, making you feel at home, but with a twist of tropical set up.

Nothing illustrates Buenos Aires better than this modern-slash-art-deco building, tucked between the classic European style baroque houses and a splurge of posh green.

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A twist of arc deco and modern in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Unlike Rio, with key monuments far from each other and unreachable by foot (well, unless you have a lot of time and have been practising for this trip), the best way to discover Buenos Aires is by foot. Like a European city. You take a map and wander through the neighbourhoods of Palermo (for trendy places and posh meals),  Puerto Madero (for modern skyscrapers), San Telmo (for a whisper of history and an artisan market), Microcentro (for the business vibe) and Belgrano (for a taste of upper-middle class Argentinian life). The only place that might require a taxi ride is La Boca, where the Caminito is: theoretically, you can get there by foot but the way is not that spectacular and you would be better off spending this time over some delicious lunch at Palermo or an art hunt at San Telmo.

Here is a hand pick of famous spots of the Argentinian capital. Make sure you stop by Floralis Genérica, The Steel Flower of Buenos Aires, which is designed to open and close its petals in rhythm with the Sun. You too, try to catch the rhyme of the Argentinian capital and move in the unison with it. 

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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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Berlin: Ultimate Insider’s View

I wanted to explore Berlin as long as I know Anastasia. Which is, let me think…, for almost ten years. To breathe its liberal air, wander its rough historic streets and go to all the posh restaurants, bars and clubs she was describing when calling me to Helsinki. More than ten years and around the same number of countries ago for both of us. Back in the days Skype did not exist and to call abroad you had to dial a 10+ digit number, and then the number you were calling to. Remember?! Let me rewind. I wanted to explore Berlin with Anastasia. Because no one knows this city like she does.

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Iguazu: Argentinian Side And Some Travel Tips

It’s the first weekend home for me in a very long time, and it means that I can go back to my Latam story. For many reasons, travel and personal ones, this trip has become so meaningful to me that coming back to it is always a joy.

I have already written about the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls, a series of amazingly spectacular waterfalls at the border of Brazil and Argentina. I still hold my breath looking at their pictures, amazed by the majesty of nature (and by the capability of my camera to take great photos without me really knowing what I was doing, at the time). At 26, I was impressed like this by the skyscrapers of New York.

The Argentinian side of the Falls is equally impressive, yet in a very different way. The Brazilian experience we had was very private. Waking up with the sun at 6 am. Exploring the Natural Park, closed to the general public, at 8 am. Running down the rainforest paths surrounded by coati. Dining at a very, very good restaurant of the hotel. Watching the evening sun dissolving in the velvet water of the pool. And then you come to Iguazu from the Argentinian side, and it is like Disneyland.

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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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Nice: freezing under the summer sun and a few tips of heavenly food

Here is an altitude view of Côte d’Azur. It probably is the best airplane picture I have taken.

Below lies Nice. Enchanting, captivating, quiet, magical and mysterious, under a sparkling carpet of lights, from here Nice is probably at its best. Back in the days when Côte d’Azur was my dream destination, I pictured it somewhat like that. 

The real Nice, however, is far from all that. If a notion of mass tourism is applied to the South of France, Nice is the most touristic of all the coastline cities: airport taxi at 35 EUR (not to mention the buses) provides quiet an easy access to everyone lured by the glamour of Côte d’Azur. Proximity to the airport and, relatively to the next door Cannes and Monaco, high population and some historical heritage, attracts crowds and all that comes with them: construction boom of experimental architecture of 80s-90s, multilingual restaurants with long menu in pictures and high density on the narrow pebble beach stripe. That’s not to say that Nice is not worth its fame: the sea is still there and it captures imagination (and hearts) as soon as the plane lands on what seems to be from the window a water surface. Personally, I prefer small cities like Menton close to the Italian border or Eze village on the way to Monaco but occasionally give in to the allure of Nice or Cannes.

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Farewell to Nice from the plane’s window

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