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

🙂

Havana: Winds of Communism and Love

Havana is a city which is very much alive. Like the other cities that leave their mark on you forever – Paris, New York, London, Moscow, – it is a city of contrasts. Buildings of breathtaking architecture falling apart. People on the street, asking sincerely whether you like their city. Classic designs in brightest colors ever invented, gorgeous antiques in palace-like apartments where rooms are rented at 50 EUR per night. Family details, left for tourists to observe, share and make part of their own story. Pictures on the walls with the owner’s father energetically shaking hands with every political leader of the last century, from Fidel to Nixon. Smiling triumphantly, full of confidence and national pride. Tiny pizza stores, where you as a tourist you can still buy food in local currency (and at local prices), seller helping you out sort out CUCs and pesos. A very honest city. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was right when he said that Havana had been and remained one of the most beautiful cities of Earth.

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Prepared to explore Havana, Cuba on my first morning there: thrilled, untanned, not sure what to expect

You can love Havana or hate it, what you absolutely can’t do is stay indifferent to this city. I had heard many contrasting opinions before I went, from astonishing delight of people comparing it to Paris and Rome, to bitter analogy with St Petersburg of the 1990s, the early days of post-communism in Russia when classic architecture, food supply and confidence in tomorrow were all falling apart.

Communism is still strong in Havana but it doesn’t have this larger than life feeling it had in the Soviet Union I remember. As I wrote in 10 Facts About Cuba You Did Not Know, adherence to communism was more of a forced choice for Cubans and has never been absolute. Love for Cuba, on the other hand, was – and still remains the dominant feeling on the island, in Havana as well. Love for the country was the link between the Cubans and their leader and kept Fidel popular for 64 years (and still popular even after his death). His secret? Even though Castro controlled all of the important decisions in the country’s life, the revolutionary genius made Cubans part of them. For example, once a Mexican president was not sure whether to invite Fidel or not to the event with the other political leaders. In the telephone conversation, which Fidel had recorded and later played on the national television (I love the term, as if Cuba ever had any other television), he told the Cuban President to show up to the earlier part of the reception, quickly eat and then tactfully disappear before the American politicians arrive. Did Fidel do it? Absolutely not. And his country backed him up, every one of them. This national unity is still felt on the streets of Havana.

And at the same time, Havana was the last city that fell for Fidel and his movement of 26th of July. While Cuba was suffering under the endless Batista rule, its capital flourished. Those close to power could always enjoy the perks of the Olympus, and Havana was offering plenty at the time. Generous support of the U.S. to maintain the political power they could control together with more than generous cash flows from the Miami gangsters turning Cuba into the land where all illegal dreams come true, created a privileged class. A class enjoying the wonders of the imperial world, a class building new Havana and effectively shifting the city center towards Malecon with its pompous hotels and casinos. A class nourished by politics, vice and entertainment, dancing the nights away and living the life just 10 min car ride away from the Old City with its colonial good manners, Art Deco and antiques. Havana was a city of contrasts already then.

I let the pictures of Havana speak for this city, each capturing one of the million things that makes it city so magically special. Each telling a part of its story.

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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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Buenos Aires, Last Chapter: La Recoleta

I left the last, my favorite, piece of Buenos Aires for last. The most attentive of you have noticed that missing from my sight’s list from the last post is La Recoleta, the famous cemetery of the Argentinian capital. I am not a big fan of cemeteries, to put it mildly. I was always accelerating to pass the one close to my house in St Petersburg, changed route to avoid the green spaces of Munich cemeteries and even in Paris, made it to the famous Père Lachaise only when my history-obsessed friend Ele came to visit (which was a great experience: our quest for the tomb is Sextoy was epic). I could never get how people find peace walking in the cemeteries, or jogging there, or doing yoga (seen in Munich), or walking their dogs. For me, so many things are wrong about it.

Yet there is something about La Recoleta that makes you feel very fine with the concept. It does not feel like a cemetery, in fact. Located in a middle of a well off Recoleta neighborhood, it looks more like an endless gallery of the most fine European art, exposed along symmetrically perfect alleys under the gorgeous blue summer sky. And given that most of the monuments and tomb construction materials were brought here from Paris and Milan in the 1880 -1930s, it is no wonder that the place is comforting: everything familiar is. But most of all, it really does not look like a cemetery. Well, not exactly, not how you would picture one.

See it for yourself.

 

So what’s the story of this place?

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Buenos Aires: Caminito

You would think that Buenos Aires would be somewhat similar to Rio, because both are big cities in Latin America (at least, I did). But shame on me and on my chronic lack of preparation for trips, there could not be two more different cities! So now when you know what Rio is like, you can easily make up what Buenos Aires is not: picturesque, spectacular and breath-taking. It certainly is not a love at first sight. However, once you get to know Buenos Aires, it results in some serious attachment. If Rio is an amazing place to visit, take pictures and tell you kids all about it, Buenos Aires is more a city to live in. 

Caminito is probably the most photographed area of Buenos Aires. A part of a poor La Boca neighbourhood, it is a splash of bright lively colors, in a stunning contrast to a gloomy (and a bit dodgy, really) surroundings. There are many stories about Caminito’s origin, and the one I like the most is about the Italians. Buenos Aires became a meaningful city in 1880s, when as many as 6 million foreign immigrants poured into it. Many were Italians, and many were from the port of Genoa. Italians like familiar things, so they stayed at the port of La Boca. To add some colors to the place, they used whatever they could get their hands on, namely shipwreck, container leftovers and some paint.

And they did add a lot of colors: look at Caminito now! Personally, I like that.

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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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