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Showing posts with the label scenery

Helsinki: One of the World's Most Livable Cities

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Finland is a country of extremely positive circumstances. Despite being the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world with very high marks in levels of education, economic competitiveness, quality of life, and human development.
Finland is also consistently on the list of "happiest people in the world", has been awarded "most stable country" continuously for six years (2011-2016), and is at the top of the Global Gender Gap ranking, meaning men and women are treated almost equally in terms of pay, opportunities, and benefits.

* And this utopia of a country is ruled from its capital Helsinki, which certainly lives up to its country's accolades by being named "world's most livable city" a bunch of times in the past two decades.

Other Cultural Attractions of St. Petersburg

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Thanks to its prime location on the Neva River, at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg has become a cruise ship destination hotspot. 
And when visiting this majestic city, it is not enough to see the sights from its streets, plazas, and squares; for some of St. Petersburg's most majestic views can only be seen from the water!

* A typical St. Petersburg cruise generally starts along the vast and open Neva River, which is filled with water vehicles of all types: rowboats, sailboats, motorboats, luxury yachts, and massive cruise ships.

Viking Route on the Baltic Sea: Sailing From Sweden to Finland

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While sailing across the Baltic Sea has historically been of the raiding type (i.e. Vikings sailing along the coasts of Scandinavia, Northern Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland), there is a much more extravagant, comfortable, and blood-less way to get around, and that is via an overnight cruise.
Here are some memories from our voyage from Stockholm, Sweden to Helsinki, Finland.

* Our home for tonight, the dazzling Silja Serenade: full of restaurants, indoor pools, duty free shops, a night club, casino, and several drinking spots (hurrah!).

The Golden Pavilion and Other Temples of Kyoto

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Along with the futuristic megacity of Tokyo and the foodie heaven of Osaka, no trip to Japan would be complete without visiting its cultural capital, Kyoto.
Home to the Japanese imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is full of palaces, temples, shrines, and gardens; which thanks to not being targeted by Allied bombing during World War II, has been preserved in all its authenticity. This is Part 2 of our Kyoto Series: Temples.
Kinkaku-ji Temple: The Golden Pavilion

* The most famous of all of Kyoto's Temples, the Golden Pavilion is made of, you guessed it, gold; with the top two floors of the building covered in pure gold leaf.

The Art of Spanish Bullfighting at the Famous Maestranza

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A few things come to mind to be as innately and inherently Spanish, as Bullfighting. Also known as corrida de toros (running of the bulls), the blood sport is an icon of Spain. And there's nothing quite like this deadly struggle between man and beast to conjure up the passion and bravado of Spaniards everywhere. 

* At the center of the bullfighting world is this massive stadium of the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla (whew, what a mouthful), more affectionately referred to as the "Maestranza".

The Palaces of Kyoto: Home of the Emperor

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Along with the futuristic megacity of Tokyo and the foodie heaven of Osaka, no trip to Japan would be complete without visiting its cultural capital, Kyoto.
Home to the Japanese imperial court for over a thousand years, Kyoto is full of palaces, temples, shrines, and gardens; which thanks to not being targeted by Allied bombing during World War II, has been preserved in all its authenticity. This is Part 1 of our Kyoto Series: Palaces.
Kyoto Imperial Palace

* From 794 AD to 1869, Japan was ruled by its Emperor from his Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Plaza de Espana: A Tribute to the Spanish Empire

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At the peak of its height, the Spanish Empire ruled supreme over territory that now includes Western and Southern United States, Mexico, half of South America, the Philippine Islands, Naples and Southern Italy, and the Low Countries (Netherlands and Belgium).
To showcase the diversity and cultural richness of its formerly vast and far-reaching empire, Spain held the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929 with the city of Seville playing its host. 

* And at the center of the Exposition, stood the splendid Plaza de España, one of Sevilla's main landmarks and an icon of Spanish tourism.

Crossing No Man's Land: A Journey from Finland to Russia

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The end of the Cold War in the early 90's ushered in a lot of positive changes for Europe: military deescalation, the emergence of democracy in the former Soviet Bloc countries, a more relaxed atmosphere across the continent, and the opening of tourism. Finally, Western tourists found themselves being able to take a peek behind the Iron Curtain and actually visit Russia itself. 
From Finland's capital, Helsinki, we drove past the densely wooded countryside of Finland, into the no man's land that signified the neutral zone between the former adversaries of the Soviet and Western powers, and finally into Russia.

* Unlike border control procedures within the European Union, the experience of entering Russia is an adventure in itself! Entry can take over a couple of hours with immigration officials having the discretion to take as much time as they wish.

Novgorod: The Birthplace of Russia

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While the general public is very much aware of Moscow, as the capital of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union, and of St. Petersburg, the most European and Imperial of all Russian cities, few know the history, vastness, and grandeur of the early Russian people.
Russia in all its greatness started as a small city in the patch of land directly between Moscow and St. Petersburg; the city known as Novgorod.

* It was my great pleasure and honor to be able to visit and explore the Cradle of Russian Civilization.

The Portuguese Palace of Sintra

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Sintra is one of Portugal's most visited (and Instagram featured) tourist destinations! 
A triumph of Romanticist architecture, the town is stocked-full of areas to explore: palaces, ruins, historic estates, villas, gardens, cafes, and Michelin star restaurants.

* And from this view, we can see why Sintra is one of the Iberian peninsula's most sought after real estate markets; home of some of the wealthiest people in the European continent!

Trinity Lavra: Russia's Most Important Monastery

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An integral part of WHY I travel is my personal desire to visit and pray in as many spiritual centers as I can. Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, Muslim, Hebrew, I personally believe that each faith offers wisdom, guidance, and philosophies to help us be what we were meant to be: good human beings and dependable people. 
In Moscow, I had the privilege of visiting the Russian people's most important monastery and spiritual center, the Russian Orthodox Church of Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius.

* Located almost two hours from downtown Moscow, the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius can be found  in the town of Sergiyev Posad.

Stockholm: City of 50 Bridges and Pop Music

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There really is something special about them Scandinavians. From the land of the "world's happiest people", Denmark, we now travel across the narrow strait, to the "world's cleanest country", Sweden. And lets not forget the land of attractive blonde men and women, Swedish meatballs, pop music hits, and ABSOLUT Vodka.
At the center of all of this is Stockholm, capital of Sweden; a city spread out across fourteen islands, linked by over fifty bridges.

* Stockholm is exactly how I imagined it to be: architecturally impressive, progressive, extremely walkable, and clean.

Mt. Fuji: Japan's Most Sacred Mountain

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When I used to picture the land of the rising sun as a child, somehow Mt. Fuji and its perfectly shaped cone always came to mind. You know the school activity: draw a horizontally-longer triangle on a piece of paper, add criss cross lines near the peak to signify snow, add a sun behind the peak, and you have Mt. Fuji.  It was grand yet mysterious, elegant yet mystical.
So when I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo, I knew that it was the right time to pay my respects to Japan's most sacred of mountains.

* And boy did she not disappoint! Despite the freezing temperature, what a view!

Roadtrip: Denmark To Sweden

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I personally love long drives. There is nothing quite like spending a day on the road looking at wonderful scenery armed with a good book or a solid podcast on my iPod (yes an iPod), to get the creative juices flowin' and the life batteries rechargin'. There was plenty of this to be had on our road trip from Copenhagen, Denmark to Stockholm, Sweden.  

* Our trip would take us from Copenhagen, up the coast to the Danish city of Helsingor, where we would then board the ferry to take us across the Oresund strait, separating Denmark and Sweden, to arrive at the Swedish city of Helsingborg, continuing on across the Swedish countryside until we arrive at its capital, Stockholm.

Cabo Da Roca: The End of the World and Other Portuguese Towns

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Aside form being home to imperial monuments and maritime wonders, Lisbon is also the entry point to several charming towns and sights. And like the rest of Western Europe, roads are organized and well-maintained, transportation is easy to find, and the spirit of adventure is high.

* Cabo da Roca, apart from being one of the most dramatic looking coastlines I have ever seen, is more famously known as the westernmost point of Europe.

A Walk Around Quirky Copenhagen

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Denmark is considered one of the most developed countries in the world. Economically, while the Danes have INSANE income tax levels which range from 45% to 60%, Danes have access to FREE education, health care, and welfare protection.. which are ALL of excellent quality! 
Income inequality is low; which means that the gap between the wealthy and poor is miniscule. Social mobility is high; which means that a person's status can actually go from poor to rich based simply on merit or how hard that person works. Corruption levels are one of the lowest in the world. Per capita income is one of the highest in the world, I guess, to make up for the high income tax. 
Furthermore, the Danes enjoy and practice a wider range of freedom and civil liberties as compared to other countries in the West. One truly FEELS free here, like you're part of an ideal society.
No wonder the Danes are referred to as the "happiest people on earth"!

* Like most European cities, street performer…

The Royal Castles and Palaces of Denmark

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Denmark, like many of the former great European powers, is a monarchy.  And as such, Denmark's main (and largest) island, Zealand, is dotted with gorgeous Royal Castles.

* Such as the incredible, Frederiksborg Castle, the largest Renaissance castle in all of Scandinavia.

Belém and the Legacy of Portuguese Exploration

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Enduring for over six centuries, the Portuguese Empire was actually the first colonial empire of Europe, leading the continent's Age of Discovery. With superior cutting-edge maritime technology and having a who's-who of historical explorers and sailors, the Portuguese mapped out whole coasts of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, while its European rivals were still squabbling on the main land. 
And Lisbon's Belem district, contains monuments and landmarks to this proud Portuguese legacy.

* By far, the coolest monument in Belem is that of the Monument of the Discoveries; featuring some of the world's most important explorers and situated right on the port where ships used to depart for Africa, India, and the Orient.

Copenhagen: From Viking Village to Royal Capital

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Copenhagen.
What started as a small Viking fishing village eventually grew to become the seat of the Dano-Norwegian Empire, and current capital of Denmark.
Now while Denmark is well-known for being one of the world leaders in design, clean energy, and sustainability, as well as liberalism, human rights, and modernism (free education, healthcare, and social security for all), its capital contains multiple treasures to its glorious royal past!

* Like most people from Scandinavia (the people formerly known as the Vikings), the Danes LOVE the water. One of Copenhagen's most picturesque spots is the waterfront area known as the Nyhavn.

How To Skillfully Navigate Venice

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Short answer: Don't! 
To anyone but local Venetians themselves, Venice might as well be a labyrinth. Built over an archipelago of 118 islands linked by bridges, the city is a real challenge to accurately navigate that one might as well purposely wander around and trust in the gods to find the way back home. 


* A few random turns and we find the infamous Bridge of Sighs (in the far background). Local legend has it that it was called so as this was the bridge leading to the prison from the Doge's Palace, and convicts were known to "sigh" as they got one more glimpse of the beauty of Venice before being incarcerated.