Home >> 2012 >> July

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hey Colosseo … why ban climbing on ruins?

Just coming from Roma a couple days earlier … nothing has changed except for one thing … you can no longer take an EPIC picture in the Coliseum.

I feel like my pictures from our previous trip to Roma are now even more special, since I would have to operate like a Ninja to get pictures like the following

or my Roman EPIC picture …

Of course, I completely understand why they would want to ban climbing on the ruins. Makes complete sense, except that it now robs people of EPIC pictures in the Coliseum

Barcelona graffiti artists are awesome …

Walking around Barcelona, you cannot help but be amazed by the quality of the graffiti on all the walls and shop shutters all around the city. The colour and intricacy of the designs really add to the overall flavour of the city. You can find Graffiti on walls, trains, in art gallerys, and even legally painted on the shutters of shops. The last space is very common in Barcelona and out of it, collectives like “Persianes Lliures” and “Entrotlla’t” came into being. These projects represent a way for writers to run free their creativity in a legal way, which also brings the writers some income through their passion.

I don’t know how I wasn’t really aware of the vibrancy of the scenes in prior visits to Barcelona; I guess as my awareness as a photographer has grown, so has my awareness for non standard scenes and pictures. I find it awesome that shop keepers would let the artists use their shops as a canvas for all sorts of expression.

Reading up about the graffiti scene there I also assume that there is an unwritten law between artists about how you should respect a piece and leave it up for a certain amount of time, as I’ve realized that some previous works have been there for months.

Then there are awesome pieces that you see demonstrating political and social messages, like this one in a shop window …

Or graffiti like this where the artist obviously had some time to construct his vision, although I don’t know what’s more awesome, the graffiti or the “erased” graffiti tag with “My Dog Sighs”

Here is more owner sponsored art …

fuji sports in barcelona graffiti

Or walking to our new fave bar in Barcelona … Soda … but I would definitely add looking for awesome graffiti to your Barcelona list. It’s as good as the graffiti we saw in El Salvador – I’ll post a blog on that later on

original sports in barcelona

Barcelona = bars, Jamon Iberico and Clara con Limón

I’ve been to Spain enough times now to know the following

  • Breakfast wouldn’t be breakfast without a café con leche and summer wouldn’t be summer without sipping a clara con limón at a terraza on a long, hot night.

  • Arguing over serranos and ibéricos is pointless but I’ll still try to argue with the best of ‘em. However I will never know the correct way to slice a bone-in jamón.

Finally … 4 am fast food … boom!

La Sagrada Familia …you’re still a piece of artistic crap

Well you would figure after visiting this thing for the 4th time, I would start to be sufficiently impressed. Nope! I’m always impressed by the sheer scale and size of this colossal art abortion, but nevertheless it is and will always remain to me … an abortion of art. However, I’m always laughing at the signs in there … and one should really pay attention to them. This sign is clear to me …

This sign is a little bit unclear to me … what does it mean?Maybe you dear readers can tell me what it’s supposed to mean.

  • No gays allowed?
  • No improper dress allowed?
  • No man with a cross dresser allowed?
  • No bikinis allowed?

But back to the sheer scope of the thing … the front as usual looks like something if Christ met the Alien from H.R Giger’s nightmare’s … it looks like something out of a bad movie.

However one can admit that the inside with all the pomp and spectacle is quite beautiful, even though it almost has nothing to do with the outside of the damn thing. Again the size and scale become a lot more evident once you’re on the inside of the thing. Math professors must have nuclear brain meltdown with all the geometry and patterns inside the church.

The detail in the ceiling is extraordinary though … with all the patterns and symmetry.

With all the stained glass within the church, there are all these examples of Chiaroscuros … yep I used the word in a sentence. Boom! Don’t speak Italian … neither do I … but here are other examples of Chiaroscuros in my photography.

It’s also impossible not to go photo mad inside the church. Every element inside it is different yet traditionally Gaudi. Down to the stairs and columns surrounding everything.

However like it or hate it, it definitely stimulates conversation and isn’t that the point of any piece of art?

Finally here is my overall video tour of the inside …

24 hours in Helsinki – The Trini Way

Hey! So you’re in Helsinki for 24 hours and you want to absolutely have the best full 24 hours that is possible over there. Before I actually give you a decent itinerary on what to do, here is a bit of a preamble on my adventure here.

Lesson #1 … do NOT go in winter but rather sometime close to midsummer.

Don’t go for the actual midsummer week as there will be no one in Helsinki, as the Finns all end up with family and going to Lapland or some obscure lake type place. If you have tons of Finnish friends and you’re going along with them for drunken naked lake diving and drowning (yep, I wish I was kidding – it’s like a national sport for Finns to go out on a boat completely plastered and fall in) – then by all means, head up here for the midsummer week.

Where should you stay?

Once you’ve come into town, the only place you should consider staying would be the Hotel Kamp : Pohjoisesplanadi, 29 Helsinki,00100 : (358)(9) 576111. I have a fully comprehensive review of the suites at the hotel and the hotel is spectacular – you might even get one of the Presidential Suites, if you’re lucky. Additionally, by staying at the Hotel Kamp, you will make a lot of friends at bars because everyone will think that you know Hilary Clinton or Bono, as this is the swankiest place in town. Again … a huge shout out to Sheraton and the SPG Cash & Points program.

How do you get into town?

Getting from from Helsinki Airport to the Helsinki City Center can cost you a lot or it can be fairly cheap. You can do this one of three ways …

    1. Take the commuter bus … it’s cheap, but seriously a waste of time
    2. You can take a taxi and it’s about 40 Euros, which is a lot of money and will definitely take away from your drinking money here … you’ll need all you can save, unless you’re actually Bono!
    3. I highly recommend the Finnair bus service. It takes you from both terminals at Helsinki-Vantaa airport into the heart of Helsinki City Centre, terminating outside of the main railway station. The service has a limited number of stops – from the city centre to the airport, it stops only once behind the Scandic Continental and Crowne Plaza Hotels.
      • Total journey time is around 35 to 40 minutes; the cost is 5,90€ each way.
      • They accept cash and major credit cards (Visa, Master Card, American Express and Diners Club International)

Should you get a Helsinki Card for 48 hours?

I bought the 72 hour Helsinki Card … it was a stupid decision and fraught with utter worthlessness – here is my comprehensive analysis, linked on here.

On to the itinerary

From 7am – 5pm
If you’re staying at the Hotel Kamp, then you should see the Esplanadi park (Esplanadinpuisto) outside your window.

Follow the park east towards the sea. Along the way stop at the tourist info at the corner of Pohjoisesplanadi and Unioninkatu to ask for help in booking a dinner cruise (see later). When you reach the eastern end of the park, turn north along Unioninkatu to reach the Senate Square (Senaatintori). There you can view the Lutheran Cathedral and the neoclassical old city centre. From the square, follow Aleksanterinkatu to the east turn south to Mariankatu. After one block you will see the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is worth visiting at this point. Then walk along the Pohjoisesplanadi street. Between the street and the sea lies the Market Square (Kauppatori), which is worth seeing during the market hours.

  1. Helsinki Senate Square (Senaatintori)
    The Senate Square is one of the most popular places to visit in the city as it’s home to the stunning Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin Tuomiokirkko), which is one of the top 10 attractions in Helsinki.
  2. Aleksanterinkatu Street
    Aleksanterinkatu Street is one of the famous shopping streets in the city and it’s right next to the Hotel Kamp, you’ll be walking along this street everyday, if you’re staying downtown.
  3. Helsinki Market Square (Kauppatori)
    You’ll end up booking a dinner cruise and probably get the best smoked salmon in your life from any of the fish vendors here. I highly recommend having lunch or a coffee here for at least an hour. The people watching along with the fountain is absolutely mesmerizing. The pictures show more of an evening scene after all the vendors have left but it definitely worth watching

  4. Greek Orthodox Cathedral
    It’s pretty and after seeing the Cathedral, makes for a good contrast. You can do any of these 4 in any order you like, there is no set pattern to see – which means if you see any Japanese or Chinese tourist groups, then you can run to any other direction that they are not in.
  5. Esplanade Park
    For me, staying at the Hotel Kamp offers you a couple hours, just walking up and down the park for great people watching. The park that sits between Pohjoisespalnadi (North Esplanade Street) and Etelaesplanadi (South Esplanade Street) is the heart of Helsinki. It runs from the Swedish theatre to Kauppatori (Market Square) by the sea. The park  is lined on either side with shops, restaurants and cafes.
  6. Temppeliaukio Kirkko – the Rock ChurchThe architecture of this unconventional looking Lutheran church is simply awe-inspiring. The copper dome roof concaves inward to give a vaulted ceiling effect and complements the earthy-toned décor impeccably.

    The main highlight is that it’s made entirely out of solid rock, which is what makes this church unique and unlike any other. And the texture of the rocks retains its original condition, so it gives a natural look and provides a very special atmosphere inside. It’s one of the foremost attractions of Helsinki.

    You can even light a candle inside for good luck. It is closed during religious services and ceremonies, so you may want to call in advance to ensure its availability. Admission is free of charge.

  7. Walk through the heart of Central – Helsinki Casino, Central Rail Station
    You can spend another 2 or 3 hours just hanging out at the

From 5pm – 10pm

  1. Suommelina Fortress:Off the harbor of Helsinki lies a block of sea fortress islands, Fortress of Suomenlinna (Caste of Finland), which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was originally called Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea), but the name was changed in the early 1900s for patriotic reasons. The original name is only used by Swedish-speakers now.If you are the daring and bold type, I recommend walking to the island as your mode of transportation! During the summer time, you can hop on one of the routine ferries and make your way over, but it is much more exciting to be able to walk over, which of course, is only possible during the winter months!
  2. Grab an Archipelago cruise
    If you do the cruise with some fantastic dinner and the best smoked salmon of your life

    Then you’ll be taking a lot of video during those couple of hours.

From 10pm – 7am
Finns are very curious people and are definitely willing to make friends quickly. If you walk around the town and happen to meet anyone of diversity, you’re probably going to make friends. Spend the next 7 hours bar hopping … the midnight sun is awesome at ensuring that you don’t require any sleep whatsoever. Be careful that people might ask for piggy back rides though. If you’ve had enough to drink, then the scene below will magically replicate itself – with the blurriness included.

With this overall plan in mind, you should have had an EPIC 24 hours in Helsinki! If you’ve enjoyed Helsinki, please drop me a line and let me know your progress.

Is the Helsinki Card worth it? … HELL NO!

In all my research online, I figured with opinions of others was worth something so I bought the 72 hour Helsinki Card … it was a stupid decision and fraught with utter worthlessness. See a picture of my card … the only use of the card was really for taking the picture of the card to prove how useless the card is.

I’m not saying that the card doesn’t have tons of uses … it actually could be quite useful, if you’re going to take the subway or metro – which you will never do, if you’re staying downtown Helsinki. Even if you visit a friend outside of town, you’ll need to visit a lot of friends outside of town to make this even remote useful.

If you’re planning a trip to the Finnish capital, chances are you’ll see the Helsinki Card advertised as a “must-have” for visitor discounts. But at a hefty €36 – €56 for 1 -3 days of visits, the tourist pass was a bit of an investment for cost-conscious Cheapos like me. Helsinki is an expensive city and you really will want any opportunities to cut cost – but getting the VisitHelsinki card is just not worth it, unless you’re going visit 10 museums in town over 48 hours, it’s completely worthless.

Here is a basic overview of what the card offers

  1. The Helsinki Card includes free admission to 40 museums (including the wonderful Ateneum and Kiasma art museums), as well as unlimited travel on Helsinki’s tram, bus, and ferry system. The card also offers a free city tour and discounts on day trips to nearby city of Tallinn, Estonia.
  2. For those planning on sampling some traditional Finnish culture, the card also offers discounts at a number of restaurants—and even the city’s famous swimming hall and sauna.

Cost Overview

Here are the 2012 prices for the Helsinki Card:

  • 24-hour Helsinki Card costs €36 (€13 for children under 16).
  • 48-hour card costs €46 (€16).
  • 72-hour card costs €56 (€19).

Should you buy it?

There are only two things to consider before deciding if the Helsinki Card is worth the euros and they both won’t make a difference.

    1. Firstly, do you plan on hitting up lots of museums during your stay? If not … then don’t waste your money.
    2. Even if museums are a top priority for you, note that many museums offer free admission of the first Wednesday of the month. Are you really that interested in Finnish culture, such that you can’t plan around one Wednesday? Even if you are a museum freak … the card still sucks and you suck for pretending that you will care that much.

Also worth considering is how often you’ll use transportation. Helsinki is a small city, and most sights are within walking distance of one another. That said, there are a few notable exceptions located outside the city center. To reach the famous Sibelius Monument or the seaside ice-swimming Rastila camp site, you’ll need to take the tram or metro. If you’re staying in the center of town, however, there’s no need to step aboard at €2.50 a pop; the city is best explored on foot.

The bottom line

  • The card sucks and is a waste of money unless you plan to never go out during the 22 hour days for drinking
  • The Helsinki Card is really only worth the euros if your trip is jam-packed with sightseeing and museum-visiting over 2 or 3 days.
  • Save your money, spend a couple Euros for the island fortress of Suomenlinna ticket and take a first class Linda ferry to Tallinn.

Latte Art in Antigua, Guatemala … don’t mind if I try!

I’ve gotten into the coffee tasting business rather late in life. I’ll never really be a coffee aficionado since my first love now is Single Malt Scotch. That being said … I do like when we have guests over and I can offer them an excellent cup of coffee that they’ll ask about. If you’re in Antigua, Guatemala, you’ll have an opportunity to have some excellent coffee. In Guatemala, it’s one of the most priced commodities and some of the best coffee plantations around are just a few minutes outside of Antigua.

There is the Finca Filadelfia coffee plantation, where you’ll have the opportunity to do a coffee plantation tour, which is highly informative and give you some good background into the plant and the trade. It’s interesting but as an experience … I rate it as a “MEH”. However, if you’re lucky to meet up with Josue Esquivel at the plantation, I would highly suggest having a chat with him and doing the latte art course that they offer at the plantation. You’ll end up going through the general aspects of espresso machines and the mill, the grain and espresso preparation, as well as the different varieties of drinks, the properties and types of milk, etc. You will have yourself  the opportunity to prepare your drinks and designs, led by the barista / guide.

Here are three great reasons to do the class here

  1. You’ll never have to worry about wasting coffee beans
  2. There will be tons of workers to drink all the great lattes with horrible art that you will make
  3. There is no pressure to actually be good at this stuff, which will make you much better quickly

For both Diane and myself, we had a blast and both Josue and his expert barista, were ridiculously patient and answered a lot of technical questions about coffee, espresso, crema and dealt with my chemical questions very easily. They know their stuff here, that’s for damn sure!

We ended up taking 15 videos throughout the 2 1/2 hours they spent with us. We’ve tried many times to learn from other YouTube videos, but we were never able to do it properly. Here is one of the longer videos, to help you get a flavour for what you’re going to do in the class.

Another great thing about spending time with these guys, is that there were no other people with us. It was a great private session with Josue and company 😀

By the end of the class, we were able to figure out the proper way to make foam, use the chocolate/moka bottle for designs, as well as use the toothpicks to come up with decent designs.

Here is another video of how to make a star in the course

After everything, we weren’t experts but we did have tons of fun creating our designs!

Epic romance at Meson Panza Verde in Antigua, Guatemala [Meson Panza Verde review]

I’m the first one to admit that I’m not the romantic person in the world, so when I actually find a place that knocks it out of the park, then I have to spread the word. Antigua, Guatemala is a very pretty and really romantic little town all by itself, but Panza Verde seriously ups the ante. As a hotel, it’s pretty awesome – we booked room #7 above the restaurant and it was a fantastic colonial style room. It’s to the left of the main entrance to “La Cueva”, up a flight of stone stairs. The French doors open onto a private patio overlooking a Zen Courtyard, with views of Volcan Agua. Here is the view from our private terrace, just above the restaurant – which is very, very convenient!

The shaky room video will at least give you an idea of what you’re going to get while you’re there. I personally think it is one of the most worthwhile hotels I’ve ever been in, just for the overall setting, convenience and space that you get for an overall romantic weekend experience.

Here is the kicker, even though the room was great, what sets the hotel apart from most places is the restaurant (Meson Panza Verde) which is easily one of the most romantic I’ve been to in the world! The whole place oozes with atmosphere and definitely sets the tone for any wooing you’re going to do that night :) The entire dining room was open to us at 7pm on a Thursday …

Yep you saw a splash of blue in the top picture, which comes from the azure lap pool next to the tables.

That being said for the tables by the pool … the best seat in the house is the little table for two with a completely unrestricted view of the tiny stage for Ignacio and his trio.  A couple thoughts at this point …

  • If you come for the hotel, you’ll be impressed.
  • If you get room 7 above the restaurant, so you can stroll downstairs for dinner … you’ll be happier.
  • The food and service itself are fantastic … I recommend their Thai dishes and a well done Ribeye
  • Finally, if you get table 1  with Ignacio Perez Borell on a Thursday (He only plays on Thursday!) … it’s pretty much a home run!

Senor Ignacio, whose father was an original member of the Buena Vista Social Club, began playing with them at the age of six.  It’s like watching living history. As the music began and not only was Ignacio’s voice and work on the congas hypnotic but his flutist and pianist were also pretty fantastic as well. Here is a clip from the night and I have three more videos on my YouTube Channel.

If you’re looking a ridiculous high value location with a low overall cost, then I highly recommend your next proposal be done here! And no … there was no proposal from me on this night 😛

Overall Price Notes

  • Dinner for two : 170$ with tax and propina
    • 2 Appetizers : Scallop Asian Salad and Asparagus Milanesa w/ Prosciutto
    • 2 Entrees : Thai Plate and Rib Eye Steak
    • 7 Belvederes & Soda
    • 1 bottle Napa – Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Hotel Cost
    • 175$ per night for a Master Suite

Funny Wall Signs … Part 1

When you’re travelling on the road, there are the regular traffic signs and warnings. Typical sign include

  • Don’t Pass
  • Yield
  • Children Crossing

However when you’re faced with the following signs, I typically have to stop and actually figure out what the hell the sign means …if just for a second or two.

Some signs are pretty self explanatory like this sign in Helsinki, Finland

Other signs are self explanatory … maybe a bit severe but they at least convey the point, that they’re not joking, like this sign in Antigua, Guatemala.

Some signs are pretty self explanatory, but then you wonder why does the fact need explaining? For instance, does this place in Santa Ana, El Salvador really need two signs to say this?

Then there are some signs that completely missed the point of actually being a sign … like this one in Gulfoss, Iceland.

This one asking me to yield for Goats? Sheep? Fat dogs with horns? is yet another gem from Reykjavik, Iceland

One of my all time classic signs though, has to be this gem from just outside the Panama Canal. The combination of No Parking with Yielding for Big Assed pedestrians? Like really? This sign would actually cause me to run over someone. I don’t know why the sign has to have an extremely over emphasized rear end?

If you’re reading this and have an example of a funny sign, I’d love to see it and feature it on a future post!