A photo from my archives: Umeå

Umeå, Sweden, 2004.

This is another shot from my trip to Sweden several years ago. Umeå was my last stop before returning home. After 2 weeks in semi-remote areas in Lapland, I was invited to spend a couple of days in this city and I had the opportunity to visit the lake nearby at sunset. As you can see it looked so peaceful  and the colours were amazing!

A photo from my archives: Abisko

Abisko, Sweden, 2004.

My trip to Swedish Lapland came to mind yesterday.

Abisko – a small village about 250Km within the Artic circle – was the northernmost point I reached during my trip, and the most isolated one.

Travelling, as I did, at the end of the summer tourist season brought a different perspective to the area. Apart from the locals there was hardly anyone around, I was the only guest at the hostel on one of my nights there, the large convenience store at the end of town had almost a surreal feeling.

What I loved the most there was the lake. I walked down to the shore on my first evening in Abisko, it was very cold (around 4C, I had to buy gloves and hat) but the peaceful and serene atmosphere was what I wanted. When I look at this photo, with the red wooden hut by the shore and the mountains behind, I still find it very calming and it reminds me of my short stay there.

A visit to Echternach, Luxembourg

Just over an hour by bus from Luxembourg City lies Echternach, the oldest town in Luxembourg.

I picked it over Vianden Castle (another popular destination for short trips from Luxembourg City) for no particular reason. Except that I was curious about crossing the border into Germany – just a walk across the bridge over the river Sauer – and back…

Yet the main attractions here are the Abbey of Echternach, which was founded in the 7th century, and the Roman Basilica, rebuilt after World War II. The museum of the Abbey is only open during the summer, though, so I couldn’t visit.

The town itself retains a medieval feel, with its narrow streets, old churches, town walls, towers and a marketplace with a Gothic townhouse. This makes a stroll around very enjoyable.

Echternach has also been recognised at European level for its cultural value: in 2008 it was rewarded by the European Commission as “European destination of excellence”. In 2010, the famous Dancing Procession that always takes place on Whit Tuesday became part of UNESCO’s Intangible World Cultural Heritage.

For the summer, there is also a lake and lots of opportunities for outdoor activities. Unfortunately a cold day wasn’t too suitable for that.

A lot going on for such a small place – really worth adding it to your to-do list for Luxembourg!

Discovering Luxembourg City

The capital city of the small landlocked country of Luxembourg (the only Grand Duchy in the world!) is a mix of old and new. Easy to walk around and with enough to keep you busy for a day or so, it is a good destination for a European city break.

I certainly didn’t expect I would find it so interesting!

My visit wasn’t blessed with good weather, though. Heavy rain and freezing temperatures were my companions during my discovery of the city. Less than ideal but that didn’t stop me!

The UNESCO-listed Old Town (especially the part called the Grund) is the most picturesque area of Luxembourg City. You could wander around for hours exploring the alleys, walking along the corniche – by the riverside – and discovering the old fortress. I must admit that, because of the weather, I quite enjoyed adding cosy pubs to my sightseeing list!

Unfortunately the Casemates, underground galleries used as refuge during military attacks in the past centuries and one of the main attractions of the city, are closed in winter so I couldn’t visit them.

The medieval town core of Luxembourg City is in the Ville Haute. This part of town is home to many historic buildings such as the Palais Grand Ducal and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as famous squares like Place d’Armes and Place Guillame II.

There are also some interesting museums. I spent almost two hours wandering around the National Museum of History and Arts, which is spread over several floors and dedicated to displaying artwork and artifacts from all times of Luxembourg history. Another museum hosted an unusual exhibition about football seen as a religion of modern times (“Football Hallelujah!“). Although unrelated to Luxemborg itself, it was quite good to visit.

Tired of sightseeing? Why not stopping at Chocolate House for some sweet treats?

Luxembourg "Ville Haute" "chocolate house"
Chocolate House

A visit to the country of Luxembourg would not be complete without heading out to the countryside and the villages. Look out for my next post for this!

Luxembourg here I am!

How did I get here? Luxembourg had never been anywhere near my top 20 countries to visit…

But when my Emirates airmiles where converted into an EasyJet flight, all I could reach from London was Luxembourg. So I thought: why not?!

And one Friday evening I found myself on a bus from the airport to Luxembourg City, listening to announcements in French and wondering what to expect from the city.

It didn’t take me long to get excited at the idea of a new destination to discover, though! And with the help of a map, a travel app and an ice cream – while relaxing at my hostel – I quickly set my itinerary for the following day.

A new adventure was about to start!

The Art of the Brick: DC Superheroes

A new exhibition has just opened in London. Set under a huge tent in a car park by the Southbank, it features some of the Lego artwork by award-winning artist Nathan Sawaya. The focus here is DC Superheroes. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the like – so to be clear.

But who is Nathan Sawaya, I hear you ask.
Former attorney, he quit his day job in 2004 to become an artist. A LEGO artist! His artwork combines the creativity of an artist and the precision of an engineer. His production is now featured in museums worldwide and his global touring exhibitions have attracted enthusiastic comments from art critics. This guy has already become my hero.

As the owner of Lego keyrings in the shape of Batman and Batgirl, I felt that this exhibition was something not to be missed. So I went on its day two.

And I loved it!

The exhibition features more than 120 original pieces ranging from Superheroes (real scale as well as half size) to reproductions of iconic covers of DC Comics magazine. All is made in Lego bricks and I can only begin to imagine the painstaking effort of building the pieces to such incredible level of detail!

 Some may wonder whether this can be defined art. Well I think this is definitely a form of art and all credit goes to Nathan Sawaya for taking Lego into the art world as a medium!

Travelling on long distance buses in Mexico

I have travelled around Mexico a few times and always catching long distance buses. I find it easy, cheap and a good way to travel.

ADO, the largest bus company in Mexico, covers the whole country – some parts more than others – and you can even buy tickets online in advance. I used www.ado.com.mx/ado2 to check travel times and www.clickbus.com.mx to buy my tickets. In one occasion I decided to change my date of travel and changing ticket at the ADO station was a quick and smooth process.

Long distance ADO buses are very comfortable, with wide seats, lots of leg room, TV, a/c and toilets on board. They are also reasonably priced: a first class ticket from Cancun to Chetumal (6hrs) cost me less than MEX$400 (around £14)!

I caught ADO also from Cancun airport to the main bus terminal in town. The airport bus service runs every half hour and takes around 35min to town. For MEX$70 it’s a much better deal than any form of private transport (taxi or hotel shuttle).

When I was in Bacalar I then discovered another bus company, called Mayab. It is part of the ADO group, serving mainly the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, and provides cheaper service than the main ADO. The downside is that buses are not as good and travel times are longer due to the higher number of stops, yet they offer a valid and cheaper alternative to ADO. Tickets can be bought online using the ADO website or at bus stations themselves.

And how about the experience of travelling with lots of local people and discovering the country at a slower pace?!

Happy New Year 2017!!!

This January why not start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about things that happen. Then, on New Year’s Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened that year!
Below is my jar 😊

Isla Mujeres – part 2

What can you do in Isla Mujeres once you are tired of lazing around at the beach and going shopping?

A popular attraction is the Tortugranja, a turtle farm run by the Government in partnership with private funding that can be easily reached by taxi or bicycle. The centre was established to protect the sea turtles and increase their population. Accessible to visitors, in addition to the indoor and outdoor turtle pools there is also a small section with other marine life like fish, crabs, seahorses.

Not far from Tortugranja there is a beautiful hidden cove that was indicated to us by a local lady. Most tourists go instead to the beach and restaurant area by the Playa Tiburon restaurant. It is still interesting to walk around there and watch local fishermen on their boats or preparing seashells for sale. And don’t forget to try the Tikinxik, a local traditional fish dish!

I also recommend anyone should hire a bicycle and go around and explore Isla Mujeres this way.
Cycle to the island’s southern point, where you will see the ruins of a tiny Mayan temple as well as an open air art exhibition. You may also come across a few iguanas enjoying the sun along the walking path.
Wander around the streets outside the main tourist area for a more authentic feel of the place. Have a fresh conocut from a stall by the side of the street. Enjoy riding in the sea breeze.

Then return to the main town for a drink and meal in the warm evening weather.

 

Isla Mujeres – part 1

mexicophotogallery_062
Statue of a woman in Isla Mujeres

The Island of Women. This is what the name “Isla Mujeres” means. Half hour by ferry from Cancun, this small island (7Km in length) has become in recent years a very popular tourist destination for those who are not so keen on the Cancun party scene and prefer a quieter environment.

mexicophotogallery_066Yet for me, arriving from quiet Bacalar and largely undeveloped Caye Caulker, it was like being in Las Vegas by the sea. I hated the crowds that packed the beaches during the day and the streets/restaurants/shops/bars in the evening. Too many tourists, not enough authenticity.

But there are reasons for the crowds: the island is beautiful.
Playa Norte (North Beach) – with its crystal clear waters and white sand – is amazing. I spent a lot of time in and out of the water, also to cool down from the heat.

The Malecon (esplanade) offers opportunities for leisurely walks. It was especially busy with families on Christmas day, everyone enjoyed the waves and the sea breeze. A section of the Malecon gets busier towards sunset, when fitness-addicts  appear for jogging and a varied range of outdoor gym-related activities. After dark you will also find people sitting for a relaxing end of the day in front of the sea.

The main town is certainly full of tourist shops but if you just wander away from the crowds and explore the streets further away from the main pedestrianised area, you will find interesting sights, including lots of beautiful murals painted on the house walls.

And if you want to buy souvenirs, avoid the overpriced shops along the main drag and head to the Artisan’s Market just off the town centre. Nothing is better than buying something that has just been sewn in front of you! And how about those old Singer sewing machines?!

More on Isla Mujeres in my next post…

Travel & Photography

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