Read more about the article Havana – Cuba
Havana - Cuba

Havana – Cuba

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Rome of the Caribbean, Paris of the Antilles

One last flight and trip for the year 2017, the beginning of a longer holiday until mid January. A year full of surprises and great travelling experiences which will be hard to beat to such an extent as this one. 91 planes, 21 countries, 7 of which never been before, and 92 cities. If this sounds mad and crazy, let me tell you in the year 2016 that was 99 flights; my all time record, yet the combination of kilometres in the air were 144577. 2017 topped anything I’ve ever done before with 186422. Yes, I keep a record of every single flight I’ve done in my life with all its details:, airport names, flight number, booking reference, aircraft model, airline, date, time of departure and arrival, miles, kilometres and even the cost for each flight. If I would only manage to calculate the hours in the air that would come to a shock I am sure.

Anyway, statistics apart, now it’s time for what really matters: the capital city of Cuba, Havana, or La Habana as it is known across the non-English speaking world. For so many years one of the most desired trips ever, but always been so in generally “prohibitive” in prices during the time of the year we wanted to go, December/January hence the reason why we usually went instead during this period of the year to Central America. Nevertheless, even though we managed to grab a nice flight deal with Iberia, the hotel situation was a very different story. In Cuba, you will end up in one of the most expensive places considering the already lower than average standards, quality and service you will receive.

With Havana being the starting point for a big trip discovering the entire country west to east, you won’t want to leave. This city is somewhat unique, like the country itself, a real time capsule, for the good and for the bad, where even some of the bad things you will experience are memorable part of the trip, many turned into beauty. The 4th largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean (or the West Indies as it’s also referred this region too), is also the city with the most number of historic sights, splendid colonial architecture and some of the nicest and warmest people with the most relaxed and most peaceful life. No rush for anything. Beware and learn about this, just simply merge with the locals and chill-out; everything takes its time, probably way too long; however as a tourist you should take advantage from this and enjoy the peaceful snail-speed life. Welcome back in time to the 1950’s. (more…)

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Read more about the article Buffalo – USA
Buffalo - USA

Buffalo – USA

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The Queen City, City of Light

Although not originally in my plans, it was a terrible temptation not to come here and let the occasion go. After all, what other occasion I will see to reach Buffalo? Perhaps no other than returning to the Niagara Falls in the American side then. So as the plan developed when I was researching information about the Niagara Falls, it turned to our luck that during the Christmas season they do a show of lights projections in the falls, visible anyway when at dusk. So what to do the rest of the day after visiting the falls in the morning and waiting for the night to come? Buffalo seemed to be the right choice. At only 35 kilometres from the falls, and although considering the border crossing since we came from Canada side, it was way, way worth it. The very good side around this region are distances. We were barely 170 kilometres from our base, Toronto. And even the border to cross into the USA took little over 15 minutes altogether! Returning into Canada took around 5.

Now, Buffalo you might ask, why? Well, believe it or not this is one of the cities long time in my wish list. There are more such cities I wish to visit in the USA alone, for example Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Portland… I am heavily in love with industrial architecture and everything to do with the art-deco style and movement. Some of these cities are simply unique jewels on this, with Buffalo no exception.

Further to this, if you see its perfect urban plan, legacy from the early 1800’s where avenues and wide tree-lined streets radiate and meet at grand squares and a grid system branching out from downtown, you immediately appreciate a city with a great taste for design. This is the work of Joseph Ellicott, the same architect of Washington D.C. The only difference between one with another are the buildings. While in the nation’s capital these are grand neo-classical structures, generally low-rise; Buffalo was the playground of architectural styles being the most imposing the art-deco.

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Read more about the article Niagara Falls – Canada
Niagara - Canada

Niagara Falls – Canada

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The most powerful waterfall in North America

A first time ever trip to Canada could not be without coming to one of the most spectacular natural places on the planet, the Niagara Falls. So yes, while planning Toronto I did know this will have to be also part of the deal on the trip, even considering our rather very short time, just 4 days in total. Still, good enough to enjoy both beautiful Toronto over the Christmas period and the awesome falls. In this case, with 2 different views, one during the day time, and the other during the night with the amazing Christmas light show installation. Now this was the real deal, the truly winter wonderland.

Before I continue, let me also add some notes in here about the falls itself for someone like us, having been to the grandest of the waterfalls in the planet, the Iguazu. Niagara is when comparing, tiny. In height and especially size, however the major drawback I see in Niagara are the hideous, horrifying constructions right on the edges of the falls! How on earth did this get allowed remains a mystery. It is actually hard to even capture a nice picture without anything man-made visible. But building high-rise buildings, hotels and casinos by the edge is just very, very wrong. How to turn one of the most impressive natural heritages in the planet into an amusement park, that’s all they’ve done. Whenever you get to Iguazu, and likewise my friends who have been to Victoria Falls in Africa, you are completely surrounded by nature, where man-made structures are restricted to the minimum in order to enjoy what you are really supposed to enjoy, the nature at its finest.

The falls are shared by both Canada and the United States of America. The best side is the Canadian from where you can enjoy the horseshoe in its grandest and luckily to everyone, without any hideous extra construction. You will enjoy an absolute clear view; although when looking towards the American Fall from this same side (Canadian), you get to also see the viewing point towers and hotels by the edge. Worst is the Canadian side in this though from the USA side, with views to all the high-rise buildings, viewing towers, casinos and other paraphernalia built by the edge, and a limited view towards the horseshoe. (more…)

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Read more about the article Toronto – Canada
Toronto - Canada

Toronto – Canada

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The New York of Canada

As unexpected as it sounds, planning a trip to Canada this year was never considered, however returning one more time to New York City was the plan to enjoy once again the Christmas rush and feeling in December. But with such sky-high air fares and way over an already higher average fare for a hotel, it was definitely not optional. Instead, why not Toronto? I cannot believe it I gave it a miss for such a long time. Now all I am thinking is in returning, see more, and enjoy the city in another season other than winter, and other places in this huge country. What a great choice for coming here! And no matter how cold it was (well actually not much colder than back in London anyway), it was still well worth it and not just for Toronto itself, but for being able to see the Niagara Falls during the winter and the Christmas light display during the evening and nights in December, and a brief visit to Buffalo in the USA with a dinner at the mandatory Anchor Bar, the birthplace in 1964 of the now worldwide dish fried chicken wings.

So with Canada, I mark the country 88 visited. I know Canada is vast, and Toronto and Niagara as just a tiny point in the immensity of the country, but that’s another number anyway to add in the list. And from today, it is just 2 weeks to be in country 89, Cuba. From the deep of the winter cold, to the nice summer weather in the Caribbean. How wonderful is to travel. I wish I could be on holidays the rest of my life just travelling.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada, and one of the 4 largest in North America considering its metropolitan area and population. While originally settle by indigenous people, the first Europeans to come were the French, who built the Fort Rouillé in the area now occupied by the Exhibition grounds in the mid 1700’s, however it were the British who truly developed it from 1793, who named it York until 1834 when it was renamed as Toronto. Nowadays, it is said to be one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world, often ranking among the top 3 in the list. (more…)

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Read more about the article Cahuita and Puerto Viejo – Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo - Costa Rica

Cahuita and Puerto Viejo – Costa Rica

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The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Our last days in Central America after 3 weeks’ long trip were for relaxing and recovering from such busy days we had. Then what’s best than the Caribbean coast along Puerto Viejo by the nice beaches and warm waters? While in Costa Rica you have the choice of both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, it is merely up to you what you are really looking for. Either cold waters, long beaches with strong currents and big waves, ideally for surfing and other sports alike, or nice calm warm waters along small beaches. In our case it was not even optional thinking about the Pacific.

So after our rather disappointing experience so far in Costa Rica, were quite skeptic already in what we could expect. Anyway, we did a good decision although there was a very big downside in any case: getting here from San Jose. Yet again, another very lengthily drive, aggravated with the super long queues of cars and tracks because of the improvement works being carried right now at the road (January 2016). But with or without any road works, expect to be driving for 4 hours minimum, even the total distance is not that much. It is the only and main road for everyone going to the Caribbean, and onto Panama via the Caribbean side. Also because of Limon is the largest and main port in the country, hence the hundreds of lorries slowing down the flow enormously.

Once you reach Limon, the last 40 kilometres are easy and fast parallel to the coast. At first impression you will see dirty beaches and horrible landscapes. We were worries at this point! But hold on until you reach Cahuita, and beyond. This changes dramatically, with extremely beautiful unpolluted beaches, lush forests and nature. But you won’t be “alone”. You will be part of the many tourists all over the area. (more…)

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Read more about the article Monteverde and Arenal – Costa Rica
Monteverde - Costa Rica

Monteverde and Arenal – Costa Rica

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One of the greatest Cloud Forest in the world

Continuing our tour in Costa Rica, we spared today for enjoying the nature at one of the most worldwide renown forest the country is famous for, the Cloud Forest. While you can find it at many parts in the country, the nicest one, also the “easiest” to reach is Monteverde. Being at 150 kilometres from San Jose, it is the nearest to the capital, since the other forests that actually surround the capital are Rain Forests.

Before coming here, the four of us were quite excited about the possibility to see animals. After all, those forests and overall the country itself, is famous for the incredible biodiversity. With such small land mass it houses the most % of biodiversity of anywhere else on earth. Our expectations were to be able to see sloths, toucans and the likes, but well, that did not happen! At least, not for us. Although they strongly promise you over the internet at the many tour operators selling you tickets for any activity in Monteverde that you will see animals, they also mention the unsocial hours for this to happen. So unless you are brave enough to arrive around 5.00am, later than that you will only see a plain forest without any animal, not even birds.

So 150 kilometres from San Jose where our base was, meant driving for almost 4 hours! Yes take that note. And thankfully we had a powerful big car, otherwise forget about even getting closer to Monteverde. While for the first half of the journey you will be driving on the Panamerican Highway, the following quarter will be on a tiny bending road, and the last quarter on an unpaved narrow road, climbing up and up the mountain. This section was never ending and the one to blame for the trip to be that long and tiring. (more…)

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Read more about the article Cartago – Costa Rica
Cartago - Costa Rica

Cartago – Costa Rica

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Former Capital City of Costa Rica

On our second stop while in Costa Rica we visited the former capital: Cartago. Named after the Spanish city of Cartagena, name taken from Cartage in Tunis and taken to Spain by the Romans. Like it happened to many other former capital cities in Central America during Spanish colonial times, it was destroyed after many earthquakes and volcano eruptions hence the need to build a new capital city at a safer place, San Jose in this case.

The city, merely 25 kilometers from downtown San Jose is considered a major tourist destination in the country. Not sure why it gets such ratings though, I must really say here that bearing the ruins of Saint James Apostle Church and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels there is nothing else worth to mention, nor to make the effort to come here should you be short of time and days while in Costa Rica. We visited as part of San Jose, and took us not even 3 hours to walk few streets and see all the sights. I cannot imagine any longer in this place, and this was the feeling not only of myself, but the other 3 friends we came together. A very big disappointment of place.

On the other hand, the only good side is the near distance to San Jose, for what makes it extremely easy to come here; also considering that San Jose was quite another disappointment for us, hence a good excuse to spend the time and so something, otherwise I would have gladly been at the hotel’s pool all day. Now I know, back then we did not know and had to give the city a try.


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Read more about the article San Jose – Costa Rica
San Jose - Costa Rica

San Jose – Costa Rica

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Named in honor of Joseph of Nazareth

Arriving to the next country, Costa Rica, making it number 77 on the list of countries I’ve been to this date. To be honest, full of expectations and very excited to finally come here, yet as I will explain later on, it ended up in being a total deception. In this occasion we made San Jose, the capital city our base for the next 3 days, in order to visit Cartago, Monteverde and Arenal; then for another 2 days we made the base in Cahuita by the Caribbean coast, and finally, one last day back in San Jose to rent after 3 intense weeks of travelling non-stop before heading back to Europe.

This was a short flight from Managua to San Jose in one of the smallest planes I’ve ever flew. That was fun! Really fun. I love the experience of being in a plane never been before, and specially if this is a tiny one. It was a Costa Rican airline, Nature Air, on a LET 410 UVP E20. Everyone in this flight was excited to fly, all of the 19 tourists including myself. The only major downside are the super high costs of flying through Central and South America in general. We had no other option, unless to lose an entire day and travel by bus instead, something unfortunately we could not afford due to our very limited time.

So, San Jose. How to start. A city of mixed feelings, or two different cities in one. At one side you have many very nice and beautiful old buildings, although scattered through the entire city mixed with many other horrible buildings all over. The reason for such a great loss on architecture is like anywhere else in Central America, earthquakes and volcano eruptions; but gladly, a lot have survived in the case of San Jose, as opposed to Managua or San Salvador, the most seriously impacted. And in the other hand, it is a city full of beggars, overall insecure feeling, and where everything closes super early leaving you stranded even without restaurants where to go nor shopping centres opened! (more…)

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