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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Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus

This week’s photo challenge, Focus, is asking to share one’s favorite focus (or out of focus) photo. Now, there are two “aha” moments in every photographer’s life: the moment you try your first full frame camera and the moment you get that low aperture lens to play with focus. Focus (or, more precisely, its strategic lack) is what made me fall in love with photography. (Ok, there is a third “aha” moment and that is when you take and process – successfully – your first RAW photo.)

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A cup of Turkish coffee at the Café des Délices in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

This photo of a Turkish coffee in a Tunisian cafe is my latest absolute favourite. I love it so much that I am using it as a background photo to my mobile chats, – this and what is means to me (not to mention my favorite color combo of white and blue). And it means… focus. On this cup of coffee, on the moment of pleasure it offers, on a creative break, on living and breathing, in the now. How often we let beauty, taste and creative pass unnoticed, busy with our daily concerns, daily thoughts, daily messages, news and chats.

I keep it precisely where most of this noise is coming from, on my phone, to remind myself. To focus.

🙂

Tunis: The (Hidden) Gems

A promised sequence of Tunis: The (Obvious) Great Things: The (Hidden) Gems. The hidden gems of Tunis are its restaurants (at least, three of its restaurants) and the biggest mosaics museum in the world, Le Bardo.

The surprising fact is that restaurants are not a big part of the Tunisian culture (coffee shops, on the contrary, are). Food is big in Tunis but people mostly eat at home, cook at home, buy already prepared delights for home and entertain at home. An exception to that are sandwich shops, which are many, (apparently) delicious and as diverse as a sandwich shop can be. That’s why I have marveled that much at Dar El Jed, Fondouk El Attarine and The Cliff.

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Tunis: The (Obvious) Great Things

The first thing that the mind links with Tunisia is the sea. This post is not about it. Well, not exactly. The sea has been been such a great power in the country’s history, culture and soul that Tunisia is unthinkable without the sea. This post is about the the capital, Tunis. I have decided to split it into two parts: The (Obvious) Great Things and The (Hidden) Gems.

The things Tunis is best known for are Carthage, Sidi Bou Said and The Souks. Why talking about them if they are so well-known? They are still stunning.

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One of the famous blue doors of Sidi Bou Said, Tunis

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Heritage

This week’s photo challenge is Heritage. To me, heritage is much about history and much about culture, – two things that growing up in St Petersburg, home of one of the world’s largest museums and a scene of many, well, interesting historical events, has deeply ingrained into my character. That made me put work aside for a moment and go through the pictures of my recent travels.

As you might have noticed, I like learning new things. A few weeks ago I discovered a new country for me – Tunisia. It’s capital, Tunis, has the world’s largest mosaics collection, Le Bardo. And that’s just breathtaking: hundreds and hundreds of square meters of history laid out in gorgeous rainbow colored tiles, floor to ceiling.

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Which museum have you recently discovered?

🙂

#travelhacks to Bali

I am launching a new category on A Girl with Geography: #travelhacks. Travelhacks are the most useful travel tips I got before taking off to my new adventure – or the things I wish I knew before I went. All gathered in one place, a shortcut to your greater travel experience.

I will start with Bali, a place I put on my travel map a few weeks ago. I loved my time in Bali, and largely thanks to the great travel advice I got from all of you before going (and while being) there.

  1. Fit in between. The second best travel advice I got on Bali was to go there mid April: just after the rain season ends and the main tourist season starts. From Google maps, Bali seems like a pretty manageable place distance-wise, with some 15-50 km between the key sights. Only that it might take you more than 1h to make these 15 km, and that’s outside of the main tourist wave! If you don’t want to spend much of your time stuck in traffic, come before everyone else does. The prices are better, too. Which leads me to the next point.
  2. Don’t even think of driving there on your own, especially with a car. That was the best advice I have got, and I am forever grateful for it. Not only there are traffic jams that can only be cut through some 1 lane path through the rice fields for both ways traffic, not only the driving is on the left side of the road, not only the cars compete with scooters which all the foreigners think they can ride. Not only the roads are narrow and live by its own rules. They are often closed because of the religious ceremonies which happens all over the country in its numerous temples, leaving you the rice field road or the mountain road as an alternative option. So really, don’t. Instead, take a driver for as much as 45 EUR/ day, tolls, car fuel and pathways knowledge included.
  3. Bluebird is the only legal taxi company in Bali. So if you need to take a cab (for example, when you are going to a restaurant in a city you are staying), ask for this one. (Do the same to come back from that restaurant.) Everything else might charge you wildly. There is a Bluebird desk in Denpasar International Airport, so take it from there. Uber works, too, but is not accessible in all the areas: for example, in Jimbaran, the beach with the most stunning sunsets, the closest you can get with an Uber is a 10 min walk from the beach. But then, you can’t get there with the Bluebird taxi, too. The only way to get out of Jimbaran is its own hijack taxi – so negotiate. And be tough. P.S.: Uber is charging 26,000 IDR, or something around 3,5 EUR for 1 hour of waiting: an option you might want to use.
  4. You don’t need a visa for a stay less than 30 days. Even if the official websites, slightly outdated, say that you do. I have diligently passed by the Visa counter on arrival to learn that. Just go to the Immigration.
  5. Chose location to chose experience. There are two main resort areas in Bali: Seminyak and Nusa Dua, both with the beaches. Most of the familiar hotel names are concentrated there, with the exception of the Four Seasons, stashed on the slopes with boutique hotels and small villas, away from the sea. Unless you surf, sea is not really the reason to come to Bali and pools are usually a better choice (never thought I would say that). However, Nusa Dua and Seminyak provide for spacious green areas with increased security (and fountains on every corner), which cater to tourists only. Arguably, you won’t experience the real Bali (think little cozy streets with street side cafes, bars filled with music and locals, massage salon on every corner) there, but you will also be free from everything that comes with it (think traffic jams, compromised air conditioning and no pools/ small pools). Your call.
  6. For fruit juices, go for local and ask for no sugar. Apparently, Bali people think that life is better with some sugar in it (a lot of sugar in it, actually), and generously add it to the tea, coffee and fruit juices. (Sort of how the Americans feel about ice.) Ask to free your juice from it to feel the flavour, and go for the local fruits: mangos (depends on the season), coconut, melon, watermelon, papaya (if you like papaya, of course). Orange is not a local fruit, and orange juice might well be not what you have expected. Fruit smoothies are great, too. A personal favourite is mango.
  7. Stock on wine. In general, alcohol is a doubtful substance in Bali, as everything foreign to locals and catered mostly to tourists is. Cocktails can be pure ethyl and wine… At best, wine will be very expensive – think 4-5 times the price you would pay in Italy or France (for Italian or French wine, if you are lucky enough to find it). Australian wine is usually ok, even though even Australian wine starts at around 30 EUR/ bottle (in a supermarket that is). We found a decent local white wine for 20 EUR (from the winery shop in Bali Collection, a shopping complex in Nusa Dua). You get the idea.
  8. Pet the Luwak. Luwak wild cat, the main source of the expensive coffee in Bali (and probably the most expensive coffee in the world because of the way it is made, more on that later) is pictured as a savage animal at coffee plantations where it is kept in a cage (though the owners promise to rotate Luwaks and keep each animal locked for no longer than 3 months). However, the sunset temples, especially Tanah Lot, offer you a different picture: fat and happy Luwaks the pets, sleeping all over the small cafes and letting you touch their coffee smelling fur. Still go to the plantation for the coffee and tea tasting sessions, they are great, reasonably priced and often offer fantastic views. But to cuddle the Luwak, look elsewhere. And don’t trust the image of a fierce animal.
  9. Believe in sun burn. Bali sun really burns. Even before the main tourist season. I am generally very sun resistant, tan quickly and never burn, but a few hours on the first day (with 30-50 SPF) got me waving good bye to my skin a few days later. So bring your strongest creams (a small bottle of Nivea would cost you 25 EUR from a local store) and apply generously.
  10. Do mental accounting. As in the U.S., the prices you see in Bali are never final and are subject to a local tax and service fees, which, unlike in the U.S., vary wildly (from 11 to 30%) even in the same geo location. So plan for that when spending (or planning what to spend on) – and read the fine print.

These are my travelhacks to Bali (some of them are really hard won!). In my next post, I will share my travel route and places to see in Bali. What are your travelhacks?

🙂

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

🙂