The enchantments of St. Petersburg, Russia

St. Petersburg is a place like no other. The distinctly regal feeling, the glamour, the imperial history and its long summer nights make this city an unforgettable destination. There is so much to see and do, you will probably need a few weeks there. I will list the highlights of our trip so you don’t get lost.

Let’s start with the Hermitage museum. One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, it was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764. Originally, there was only one building housing the collection, but nowadays the museum encompasses many buildings on the Palace Embankment and its neighbourhoods. The Hermitage has three million pieces of art in several buildings across St. Petersburg.

29 kilometers away from St. Petersburg, the imperial estate of Peterhof is one of the most popular day trips from the city. The Grand Palace is opulent and extravagant, but the highlight of Peterhof is the Grand Cascade – a series of about 150 fountains and canals behind the Grand Palace. Beyond the Grand Cascade, there are impeccably maintained gardens with fountains, gazebos and some smaller palaces.

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The view of the Grand Cascade with the Grand Palace behind is truly breathtaking.

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The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one the most famous sights in St. Petersburg. It is located where Tsar Alexander II was killed in 1881 and it features 7000 square meters of mosaics on the interior. The church was built between 1883 and 1907, funded by the imperial family.

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Two of the best performances I have seen in my entire life were in St. Petersburg. Inside theNickolayevsky Palace we saw an unforgettable folkshow performance. Two hours of a dynamic and colorful show, with folk songs and dance.

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The other grand performance was the russian ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. The Swan Lake  has become a symbol of Russian art itself. A trip to St. Petersburg is not complete without seeing at least one of those performances.

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And…if you are lucky enough…you will stumble upon a bear cub around the city:)

 

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Riga

Europe is overflowing with quaint, old, exotic and modern destinations. So many options for every taste and budget. One of the countries we chose to visit was Latvia. Completely understated and unnoticed, people normally do not consider Latvia as a destination. However, the country pleases nature lovers, cosmopolitans, culture and history buffs.

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House of the Blackheads in Old Town

 

 

Latvia became an independent country in 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved, and for this reason, Soviet influence is still a complex subject of discussion there. Latvia’s long history is worth reading before travelling there though.

 

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St. Peter’s Church seen from Town Hall Square

 

 

The capital city, Riga, is the biggest city of the Baltics. It has very impressive architecture, offers a large variety of foods, and reasonable prices on most goods and services. Its medieval Old Town is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and is filled with old, well preserved buildings, castles, restaurants, and churches. Most historic buildings were bombed during WWII or destroyed by fires, but have been rebuilt after the fall of Soviet rule.

 

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The Historic Centre of Riga has the finest and largest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world, with more than a third of the buildings built in the style. The competitor of Gaudi,  Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein, was the designer of most of the Art Nouveau buildings in the city.

 

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Art Nouveau detail

 

 

 

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The Daugava River, known as the River of Destiny, bisects the city, is 1,020 km long and drains portions of the countries of Latvia, Belarus and Russia before pouring out into the Gulf of Riga. It was the only route between east and west, “a road from the Vikings to the Greeks”.

 

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The Vanšu Bridge over the Daugava River

 

 

Outside the historic center, there are many other interesting things to do, like walking around Bastejkalns Park, where you can visit the Opera House, the Freedom Monument, the chocolate factory Laima, or Kayak along the Daugava River and Riga canal at night when the city’s bridges and fountains are lit up.

 

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Opera House

 

 

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The Nativity of Christ Cathedral

 

 

Outside Riga, there is a fantastic beach resort in the town of Jūrmala, perfect for a day trip in the summer. The area is famous for its curative mud and mineral waters as well its many activities offered such as art exhibitions, local and international concerts.

 

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Beach near Jūrmala

 

If you are not convinced Latvia is a fantastic travel destination yet, then watch this video!

 

 

The unexpected charm of Tallinn, Estonia

On the shore of the Gulf of Finland lies one the most interesting cities I have visited during my years in Scandinavia. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, aka the Silicon Valley of the Baltics or hometown of Skype, has been listed among the top 10 digital cities in the world. Although Tallinn is not on many people’s bucket list, the place is not only remarkable for its technological and mobility infrastructure, but also for its history, art and architecture.

P1030722Old Town lookout (May 2008)

The Old Centre is a walled area full of old buildings and fortifications. It was first expanded by the Danish who arrived and started ruling Tallinn in 1219. The Swedes invaded the city next in 1561. Then, in 1710, the Russians. In 1918, Estonia declared independence from Russia, but fell to the Nazis and then the Soviets during World War II. Despite all the wars and invasions, Tallinn’s historic centre has survived remarkably intact. It is so well preserved that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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If you are going on weekends, you have to get there early in the morning before the crowds to get the most of its medieval charm. It’s the best time to sit and marvel the beautiful architecture and to picture the life there hundreds of years ago.

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Curiosities

  • For a period of time, Tallinn attracted many young men with the lure of cheap booze and prostitution. You can still see a great number of people taking the ferry in the Finnish capital and crossing the Baltic just to take advantage of the slightly lower prices of drinks, goods and services.
  • Estonian artists have recycled  13,000 mobile phones to make benches in the downtown area.
  • Not too far from the capital, there is a village called Kaali, on the Estonian island of Saaremaa. The last known occurrence of an impact event on a populated area happened there. The tourist area resembles a film set for The Game of Thrones. You can experience an authentic medieval meal at the surroundings.
  • Tallinn is the oldest capital in Northern Europe.

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A waiter showing one of the meals at the Olde Hansa restaurant.

 

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Our meal at Olde Hansa

Next time you plan a trip overseas, consider visiting an unpredictable destination like the Estonian capital. Just don’t forget the best time would be off-season when crowds are gone and you can dream yourself alive in a Game of Thrones setting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paraty, Brazil

In the middle of protruding peninsulas and secluded beaches, lies one of the most charming and exquisitely preserved historical gems of Brazil. Paraty has been a National Historic Site since 1966 and is not only remarkable for its historical architecture, but also because it has it all:  spectacular beaches, history, an abundance of islands in the bay, a rainforest and a range of hills that provides the fascinating backdrop.

 

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The town gets even more interesting with the presence of vacationers from all over the world, as well as, artists, writers and chefs, both Brazilian and foreign.

 

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Nossa Senhora dos Remédios Church

 

 

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Several pristine beaches are within minutes driving from Paraty by boat or bus, while inland, there are parks like the Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina which provides protection for a remainder rainforest.  You can’t miss the boat tour around Paraty and the visit to Trindade!

 

 

Trindade is a village located 30km from Paraty. It has some of the best and most beautiful beaches in Brazil, and is also surrounded by the rainforest. A hidden gem!!!

 

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Cepilhão Beach

 

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Rocks at Cepilho Beach

 

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Meio Beach

 

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São Gonçalo Beach

 

And if you are wondering about where to eat in Paraty, we highly recommend Galeria do Engenho restaurant. It was so good it was the only restaurant we visited 4 times during our stay. It is a simply decorated restaurant that gets busy but the quality and value are worth the wait.

For more information, visit:

http://www.infoparaty.com/en

Top 5 things to do in Paris

Paris…how not to fall in love with the city of lights? City of romance, fashion, restaurants, culture and wine.

Get ready to walk! Because that’s what you need to do the most in Paris!

The following suggestions are really touristic, and if you haven’t been in one of them, you haven’t been in Paris.

Tour by bus

Tour by bus in Paris
Tour by bus in Paris

image: http://www.francetourism.com.au/upload/images/CR%20tour-eiffel_133764870094914.jpg

Why should you take this tour?
It’s totally worth it, because you are going to have an overview of the city. Later if you have more time, you can choose other places you would like to visit.

Big Bus Tours – Les cars rouges
L’Open Tour Paris


Visit the Louvre Museum

Louvre Museum - Rebeca
Louvre Museum – Paris

Why should you visit the Louvre Museum?

The Louvre is one of the most iconic museums in the world, and it is a must-stop for tourists in Paris. Featuring a massive 652,300 square feet of space, the museum is home to 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art. This visit will take hours and hours (actually, you should plan a full day over there) admiring paintings and sculptures and learning a little bit more in each exhibition.
So, take your time,  and do what you can… it will be worth it anyways!
You can’t miss: Mona Lisa and Vénus de Milo
Louvre Museum Website


Take a walk around Tuileries’ Garden

Jardin des Tuileries - Paris
Jardin des Tuileries – Paris

Image: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuileries#Jardin_des_Tuileries

After you leave the museum…take a walk around Jardin de Tuileries, get an ice cream and enjoy the view!
Paris Tourism Website – Jardin des Tuileries


Go to Champs-Élysées Avenue

Avenue des Champs-Élysées - Paris
Avenue des Champs-Élysées – Paris

image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champs-%C3%89lys%C3%A9es#/media/File:Champs-%C3%89lys%C3%A9es_from_the_Arc_de_Triomphe.jpg

One of the most beautiful avenues in the world. Spend some time taking a look at the beautiful architecture.
Some of the shops offer some kind of interaction service. It is different and you will have a great time around there.


Shop at Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette - Paris
Galeries Lafayette – Paris

image: Andreas Praefcke – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Galeries_Lafayette_Haussmann_2008_2.jpg

Probably one of the best malls in the world. You can find just about anything: bags, shoes, dresses, accessories, lingerie and much more. Just be careful not to spend all your money there 🙂
Galeries Lafayette Website

 

 

The image in the top of the page is from Paris skyline flag colors | Image by VectorOpenStock.com.